Welcome to the Adventure
Living in Mexico is often indescribable...you just have to live here. I have been journaling experiences for a while, and I hope you can get a feel for stupid-ass gringos trying to get it. But I am still here, and that says a lot for those of us sticking it out, as the payback is what makes life so good here.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Oaxaca living....PEMEX, baby Jesus, and such
Living in Mexico is like getting a gift, that takes years to unwrap. Evidence the photo to the left. An altar, with baby Jesus dressed in a PEMEX uniform (we think they used a girl doll), on the lawn of maybe 2 PEMEX (the only gas stations in Mexico, as the oil/gas is a federal government operation) stops before you hit a reasonable bathroom (one that has a seat, although not mandatory in an emergency, and one does not have to carry in a bucket of water to flush or your own TP....). What can I say, most travelers plan their stops around known PEMEX locations. We have them down from here to Veracruz, and of course to Oaxaca. But, by far, my favorite is the PEMEX located about an hour and half out of Oaxaca. We always stop. Always. This is also the only PEMEX on the road that charges you to use their bathrooms. The two peso charge is reasonable, I’m thinking considering everyone, truckers, collectivos, the army, stop by here for gas, and junk food. I'm even thinking of doing a PEMEX guide for southern Mexico.
But it would be so wrong not to stop by PEMEX baby Jesus, just to pay respects. As you go to the bathrooms, there is a little piece of “park” bordering the open, utter wildness of the mountains. Whatever, in the middle of the lawn is the altar, and baby Jesus is there in the PEMEX suit. Immaculate. Everyone wanders over to the altar... tourists and nationals alike. But it does say a lot about Mexican culture, and their sense of humor, and their spirituality and maybe more stuff than I can come to right now, but it is a holy site. It is respected. No one messes with it, it’s been there for as long as we have been driving the road.
One of Oaxaca’s major events, the Guelaguetza, begins next weekend (July 25), (see the website, you can change it to English, but it will give you an idea (http://www.viveoaxaca.org/2011/04/guelaguetza-2011-25-de-julio-y-1-de.html). This is almost like a Pow Wow, at home, as 16 + “ethnolinguistic” groups or “tribes” come together and dance, up on the hill above Oaxaca city, in a stadium dedicated to this event, period. It’s an act of solidarity that is tourist and national oriented alike, and the town parties, and every artisan comes, and it is an amazing few days in Oaxaca. Which I will miss again, as I pound my head, because it just never works out. Just like the Radish Festival in December, where the zocalo is filled with carved radishes of all sorts (not your salad radishes, but radishes on hormones, 3-4 ft tall and lbs, yet still red and white), but mostly of the Virgin de Guadalupe, because December belongs to her here, until the arrival of the baby Jesus.
Huatulco locals/those born and raised here, (pre-Fonatur and development, just about 30 years ago it all started) reflect the dual spiritualty part of Oaxaca, as seen in things like altars and dances. I know I’ve mentioned this book before, The Edge of Enchantment: Sovereignty and Ceremony in Huatulco, Mexico, Alicia Maria Gonzalez, author; Roberto Ysais, photographer, produced an amazing book, a history of this area and it’s people. People who live here usually have a copy around, and I see on Amazon that it is running $139. and I almost choked (like maybe we spent $20 new). It is a wonderful, articulate, beautifully illustrated book that looks at some of those ethnolinguistic groups, centered in the Huatulco area. When you visit, glance through it, you will get a sense of a spiritualness that reflects European POV with native sensibilities. Let's just say it isn’t the Catholicism some of us were raised with. Mingled with the beliefs of local Indian groups, it all makes perfect sense, and certainly showed the canniness of those Catholic missionaries who came and oppressed people who were perfectly happy in their belief system if not their lives, I’m sure. (It’s that history teacher thing that tweaks my view by the way). So it isn’t lost, but has been infused with indigenous symbols and beliefs.
The Guelaquetza, like the shrines along the highways, like Jesus in a PEMEX suit, blend two cultures. We have watched altars put up on a road, then seen elderly women burning herbs, saying prayers and moving about the altars, in a tradition long in place here before the Spaniards had their way. In traditional clothing, you see a reflection of the Spanish culture of the 1800’s, a combination of a baroque, almost Victorian tinge, mingled with indigenous designs and handiwork. The dances reflect the cultures as well, with European courtly styles of dance, woven into traditional dance and music. Layers and layers to unwrap.