Back in 2013, I met a woman in Bali who was researching children and their learning process through cultural rituals. She was a Mexican professor abroad doing research recommended by her friend to come to Bali. For me, it was great to be around somebody who was also curious in the learning processes of art and music.
Three years later, I sent her a message on Facebook and she gladly welcomed me to stay a bit in Tepoztlán. Two days after I got into Mexico City, I met her at a Metrobus stop in the south and she and her husband drove me towards Tepoztlán. Oh, am I so glad she gave me a taste of what it was like on the country/pueblo-side of Mexico.
Her name is Yolanda and when I saw her in the summer of 2016, she was just as with the spirit of a child as before. When I talk to her, I feel like she is going to tell me the grand secrets of Mexico to me. There's something about the way she says “Ah yes, but have you seen...”, “It IS very beautiful, yes?” Once, she was also showing me a collaboration of her's with a university in Colorado, USA. The children on the USA side and the children on the Mexican side teamed up to study and give children a chance to delve into the world of photography. By giving children a new tool and a project to work at, they also could see how children perceived their world. What were the places they valued and what were the places they avoided.
I also got to meet her family including her new dog, aptly named Bali. The dog is a xola, a breed native to northern Mexico where Yolanda is also from. Bali would get happy all of the time seeing us in the house... so happy, in fact, that her tail would wag so wildly that it brought the rest of the half side of the body with her. So if you woke up in the morning in the kitchen and she spotted you, she would power walk to you as her hips swayed madly from side to side and the rest of her body would be focused on walking in a straight line. The closest equivalent I can think of is a fashion model in fast forward down the catwalk. I was so amused that I played catch with her and chase her around the house just to see that mad swaying walk.
There were three main attractions for the rest of my time in Tepoztlán:
- The central market
- Climbing up to the Tepozteco Pyramid
- The celebration for Dia de San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist's Day)
I'm not too avid of a shopper or collector, though nowadays I think I'm starting to look out for gifts I could give to my friends now. However, in the marketplace, there were tons of trinkets but the one that stood out to me were these beads. The mysterious thing about them is I also was attracted to the Tibetan Buddhist mandala paintings and some of these have a similar feel to them. Perhaps their spirituality and way of thinking is not as far as I thought...
I came back from the mercado with a few presents for my niece. I had some bracelets for my nieces. One with brown and gold-colored beads and another with these smooth but also sharp pointed black rocks.
One thing Yolanda told me to do was to visit the Pyramid and what a trek. I had no idea what kind of hike I was getting myself into. The entrance towards the pyramids doesn't really declare itself except perhaps by this tree and the stone bricks. Walking up one of Tepoztlán's streets, the road starts to shift to dark, wet stone. In the summer is when the wet season is. At the bottom of a hill, I was greeted by a magnificent tree trunk split in half. Climbing up the hill, there were tons of steps upon steps with tree roots and rocks guiding the path towards the top of a hill. There may have been some parts of the path that are a bit treacherous but nothing too challenging. The whole hike took me about an hour towards the top... and once you get to the top, what a view! As I stepped onto the pyramid, I was accompanied by some meditators who sat facing towards the pueblo of Tepoztlán. I didn't meditate, but I just tried to imagine how the temple was used and how the chambers could have felt like being inside them when the pyramid still had its complete form.
As more tourists started approaching the pyramid, there were more of these wild raccoon-like creatures that started to edge their way toward us. Looking for food...
Dia de San Juan Bautista
When I scheduled my trip, I looked at the calendar to see if there was a Mexican holiday I could overlap with. I found Dia de San Juan Bautista. Before coming, I asked Yolanda about it and she said she could ask when the time got closer.
What eventually happened was our trip to San Juan. People gathered for mass at the town church and afterwards people would go to a house to celebrate and eat. I didn't quite get a picture of the whole church exterior but I saw this amazing lasso made of churro. I could feel at any moment, the churro vendors could use their churro lassos to rally up cows and horses or any person lookin' to cause trouble in these parts. Yolanda and I were the first to enter because the tables and the chairs were not even set up. The ground wasn't level at all but with a bit of wood and dirt shuffling, all of the guest furniture was ready – about 8-9 long tables and many chairs. This is the day to have a big feast with as many people as you can get.
The food was rice, nopales and stewed beef. And like many Mexican places, you have an infinite supply of tortillas and salsa to go with that. For drinks, there was juice but the new thing for me was pulque.
This was the first time I drank pulque. White, creamy-looking, a teeny bit viscous. Pulque is an alcoholic drink native to Mexico. It is another drink that comes from the almighty family of agave. The taste was a bit sour but this pulque was sweet enough. Another surprise that came was this whole band of merry people showed up not only to eat but to also sing and play music. Part of the band included one man who looked and dressed like Mark Twain. He told me he's been living like a bum for a while. Another man looked just like a my English theatre professor from UC Santa Cruz. In this situation, he was singing and playing the harmonica. They had a whole book of Old Songs of Mexico or something like that title. It also had a brown and black cover that made it look like it was published in the 50s or 60s. I realized during the meal these guys were from the Milano Centro Cultural Comunitario.
It was also on this trip to San Juan that Yolanda revealed to me an interesting animistic ritual. A few days after I would leave Mexico City, she said she and her family and her guide would climb up the mountain by San Juan to give the mountain some offerings. There were three things she was to give. One was the very decorated breads, another was flowers and I don't remember what the third one was...