Monday, July 17, 2006

Field Trip Recap: July 10...Day 1...Jalapa de Marquez

After our mezcal tour and a few bathroom stops (mostly at my request), we arrived in Jalapa de Marquez around midday. Our group would be staying in the homes of two Jalapa residents arranged by a woman associated with our school who was from the town. I chose to stay in the first house we came to along with 9 others and the family that inhabited the place, 13 people total I believe. There was a nice big porch with 5 or 6 hammocks strung up and I thought it looked quite relaxing. After unloading our luggage from the van we were treated to mojarra, a fried fresh water fish the town is famous for. After comida and a brief rest we took a walking tour of the town ending up at the Palacio Municipal, very sweaty at this point, to meet a town councilman (or something like that) who was scheduled to speak to our group about Jalapa.

Peeing in the pants
While we were waiting for the man to show up, I inevitably had to pee since it had been at least an hour since I had gone last, and so asked someone where I might find a baño. It was inside the Palacio and because I only half listened to the directions were, I was focused on finding my TP, I ended up peeking into hallways and rooms in the Palacio where I discovered a single jail cell! Very exciting stuff and it reminded me of Andy Griffith and Opie for some reason. Anyway, I found the bathroom and then went back outside to join my compañeras sitting on the porch of the Palacio.

Just as I sit down, around the corner of the Palacio appear some police escorting a man, a very drunk man with a big wet pee stain on his jeans and no shirt, into the Palacio and I assume to the jail cell! Behind him were a young man and his girlfriend and an older woman who I'm guessing were his family as they looked very solemn and embarassed. Since I knew there was a jail cell in the building I was able to inform the group that I was pretty sure this was where our drunk was headed and felt a certain satisfaction at having garnered this knowledge. I felt this was a vindication and sort of implicitly proved that constantly peeing can come in handy sometimes! A few moments later however, the drunk comes back out of the building with the same entourage and they all pile into the back of a pickup truck and drive away. It was a very exciting 20 or 30 minutes. When our speaker arrived the group headed to a public building and we sat around a large wooden table and listened to the speaker describe the history of Jalapa.

The town which sits in a rather flat and dry landscape, was originally at the junction of two rivers. During the period of development, agricultural "progress", the Green Revolution etc., roughly the 50s and 60s, it was decided by the powers that be that the rivers should be dammed and the water harnessed for agricultural purposes to benefit several towns downstream. The dam was built, the town moved and the original town was flooded; you can in fact still see the top of the old church sticking out above the surface of the lake. In order to persuade the residents of Jalapa that a move was a good idea the government promised roads, schools, potable water etc. in the new town but very little of this was actually delivered and the town is still recovering from the move that took place so many years ago. The new location of Jalapa is on relatively arid land with poor soils which makes agriculture very difficult and not a viable livelihood strategy. This loss of income forced much of the population to leave when the original town was flooded, one man reported that about half the residents moved away when the original town was flooded, and migration is still an issue. The fish they are now so famous for is one of the only sources of income for many and because of this the government is sponsoring a hatchery to stock the lake.

After this discussion we took a stroll to Aguas Calientes, a hot spring that has been capped and is now used by women washing clothes, some goats and kids who want to splash around. Our big group of gringos lined up along the side of the spring and watched the women doing their laundry on the stone wall. They must have wondered what the hell was going on, 16 gringos staring at them. One of the youngsters (20 year old) in our group asks why the water is hot and Oliver says "anyone with a physical geography background want to explain this?". I of course raise my hand even though I don't have a physical geography background and say, pointing to the ground, "What goes on down there?". Oliver just looks at me and laughs and tells me that is a great explanation.

Gringo Swim
After our trip to the hot spring we returned to our homestay and put on our bathing suits for a dip in the lake. The 10 of us staying in our house jump in the van while the other 6, staying down the road, jump in the back of a pickup truck and we head to the lake. This was also entertaining for the local residents as I don't think they had ever seen this many gringos swimming in the lake before. They were leaning back against their truck just staring at us all and I can only imagine what they must have been thinking. "What strange gringo ritual is this?"

Post-lake swim we head back home for dinner and to get some sleep. The plan, as we knew it, was to sleep in hammocks outside under a tin roof (much as I had imagined), however this was not to be. The family (who were so wonderful by the way) normally sleep outside in the hammocks and leave the beds for nights in December or January when it is too cold for hammocks or they use them when they need some privacy. It is really hot and humid on the Isthmus of Oaxaca and in Jalapa everyone has a hammock strung up outside for sleeping. So the family insists that we should have the beds and they will take the hammocks, these people are not stupid at all, they didn't want to sweat in the beds! Upon receiving this information I immediately pick the bed closest to the bathroom which also happens to be the room with a nice breeze and a ceiling fan that blows like a jet engine! I actually got a tad cold, it was great!

So there are three of us in the room which contains the only bathroom, me and my roomie sharing a bed and another classmate on a hammock actually strung up next to the bed. This appeared to be the room of Elba, the daughter of our hostess, a young woman attending college in Juchitan. Elba and I sat and watched a telenovela for awhile talking about which one of the male stars of the novela we thought was the cutest or in Spanish, a "taco de ojo". As we discussed this and finally agreed on the same guy people would walked in and out using the bathroom. Finally I strapped my eye mask on, put the earplugs in and tried to go to sleep. Talk about crazy gringo cultural rituals.

Roach face off
I should say that earlier in the day I had spotted a big roach in the bathroom but it was far enough away that I was able to pee very quickly and get out of there. I had also noticed one or two dead roach bodies in the house and so knew that the possibility of running into one these jerks was very high. My first (of three) pee trips that night proved my powers of deduction were keen and strong!

I pushed aside the curtain that served as a door for the bathroom, turned the light on and there were TWO big roaches on the wall. TWO! I stood there for awhile, somewhat frozen with fright and indecision, but finally made my move for the toilet. Well, as I do this one of those bastards also moves closer to the toilet! I move away, stand for a minute, then move back towards the toilet and he comes closer! We are playing a game of chicken and he is winning! I tried flailing my arms about to scare him away but this only seemed to embolden him, he did not turn around and go to the far corner with his friend as I had hoped. He was probably laughing at me flailing my arms around like a crazy person. I decided that if I was ever going to pee I was going to have to take desperate measures. I took off my flip flop and stood on the ball of my now bare foot and swung my flip flop as hard as I could and killed the bastard! I think I must have had the strength of ten men with all the adrenaline pumping through my body because I squished him good! The other roach appeared to notice my lightning fast roach killing ability and stayed put while I peed. Needless to say I didn't get much sleep that night but I did feel that I had prevailed over the roach and I now have a new found bravery in my continuing fight to rid the world of large, scary roaches.

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