Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Field Trip Recap: July 11...Day Two..Jalapa to Ixtepec

The morning after my courageous encounter with the roaches, I woke up bright and early, completely exhausted from very little sleep. One of the other women in my group and I decided we would have a "bag-off" to see who had the biggest luggage under their eyes. I think we decided the winner would be determined by the best 2 out of 3 as we expected them to get progressively worse as the week wore on.

In Jalapa it seems there is a town alarm clock that conveniently wakes you up at the crack of dawn. Around 7am someone starts yelling into a loudspeaker or a megaphone and blankets the town with a total racket! What are they broadcasting so early in the morning you ask? Weather? Road conditions? Something that makes sense or is vitally important to town functioning? Nope. The man shouting is selling food! He shouts, "Tamales! Mole! Pan!" etc. at the top of his damn lungs. Even my trusty ear plugs could not dampen the noise. One minute the announcement would be extremely loud, like he was standing next to the bed with a megaphone, and then the next broadcast would sound quite far away. He must have been circling the block in a car, or been positioned on top of some sort of rotating platform making sure he reached every quarter of the city. That morning we had tamales for breakfast (they were delicious!) and I wondered if they were from the guy shouting at 7am. I think I decided they were so I wouldn't be so bitter about his early morning advertising scheme.

After the group was fed, we jumped into the van and drove out to the dam to have a look. It looked pretty much like all dams do, fat on the bottom, skinnier on the top, lake on one side, stream on the other. etc. There was a cement statue of Benito Juarez on one end which added a bit of variety. I should mention that statues, likenesses and mentions of Benito are ubiquitous in Oaxaca. Benito is from Oaxaca, this is the 200th anniversary of his birth, and he was the first indigenous president of Mexico. The fierce pride many Oaxaqueños have for their indigenous heritage has many forms of expression and this is one of them.

We visited the mojarra hatchery, just below the dam, lots of fish there, some old, some young, just as you might imagine. After looking at the fish we went to the river's edge and were treated to a talk about the history of Jalapa from one of the town elders. He was a wonderful old man with a very leathery face and he spoke briefly of the town before and after it was moved. We dipped our feet in the river for a few minutes, returned to our homestay, ate (again), packed our bags and headed to Ixtepec.

The Beautiful Hotel San Juan
We reached Ixtepec in about an hour and pulled up in front of the luxurious Hotel San Juan, a stone's throw away from the very railroad tracks we had been cautioned to avoid. The facade of the hotel was a bright, minty, nausea-inducing green, though the dirt on the walls dulled the green sheen a bit. My initial hope for an air conditioned escape was of course quickly shattered when we walked into the lobby. They did have rooms with AC but we were staying in the rooms with fan only, the AC rooms were "todo ocupado". Our rooms were 100 pesos each, a little less than 10 bucks, and let me just say the expression, you get what you pay for, is in wide use because it generally holds true. We grabbed our key and my roomie and I headed upstairs, which was also painted mint green, to explore room 6.

The room contained two beds, one twin and one full (incidentally the bedspread on the full was the same material as the curtains), a desk and a fan that mercifully worked very well. The bathroom was a bit sparse, the medicine cabinet no longer had a door and its remaining shell was very rusty. This was one of those bathrooms with a drain in the middle of the space and no division between toilet and shower, so when you shower the entire bathroom gets wet. My roomie described it as a "prison bathroom" and we both wore our flip flops to shower. We had to push the beds together to allow the bathroom door to close all the way, and even then it wouldn't completely shut. This inability to close might have been because there was no longer a door knob, only a small hole in the wood where it should have been, or it might have been due to the fact that the door was actually larger than the space created to accomodate it.

A sliding glass door (I use this term loosely) led out to a balcony stretching the entire length of the building. The door would not actually slide but instead I had to sort of pick it up and push it along. This door also would not close all the way. Luckily someone had punched out a large hole in one of the lower panes so we got some ventilation even when the door was shut.

I believe I opened my bottle of Moka Mezcal not long after we arrived (my roomie actually ended up drinking about half of it in an hour) and settled in. We decided that putting our sleeping bags on top of the bed and sleeping on them might be the best course of action and despite my dashed hopes for a shangri-la on the Isthmus I was quite content. This contentment was not only a product of the mezcal but I also took a tour of the rooms others in our group were assigned. The girls next door had to share a bed, their bathroom shower did not have a drain cover, instead there was a large gaping hole in the floor, the bathroom smelled like poo (which permeated the whole room because their bathroom door didn't shut either) and the toilet seat had a spattering of brown stains. Overall, I think I lucked out.

Ojo de Agua
After a bit of free time we headed to a natural spring a few kilometers out of town. Our group spent the rest of the evening swimming in wonderfully clear, cool water, drinking beer and talking. Water began our day and ended it, the only relief from the hot, humid weather responsible for the afro I sported all week.

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