FRIENDS

FRIENDS
Part of travel is making new friends, and sometimes rekindling old friendships. How quickly with distance we forget. Now here in Patzcuaro again we have rekindled our friendship with the local patron of the Mezcaleria, Beto, … And Arturo, who now for eight years holds yet the same table at Lupita’s on the Quiroga Plaza where he paints and sketches. ….. with whom I speak of master watercolorist, Tony Van Hasset, our neighbor in Maine … Explaining drawing to young kids. Same cap beret. …Two years hence to meet the same fellows as if, although it has, no time had passed at all and to pick up where things left off. ..
Throwing an I Ching before we left, advice was my friends are in the South West. Here we are.
And we have made new friends quickly. Our neighbor who introduced himself when we arrived and we found the street was closed to cars and who helped us move in up the hill when we arrived. He is very pro US having worked there a number of years but has hair raising stories of crossing the border illegally years earlier when one older companion died basically of thirst and when he himself, while running from the Border Patrol, was badly wounded by cactus spurs. Presently he drives Coca Cola truck between Patzcuaro and neighboring villages or towns, not an easy or enviable task over the mountain roads
He drives us to Madero, a Town NW of Mexico City, like most Towns well into the mountains. Francisco Madero, a visionary statesman and leader of the Revolution, who as President of Mexico paved the way for the adoption of the Mexico Constitution in 1917, was overthrown in 1913 and like too many Mexican statesmen assassinated by his opponents. There we visit the Hacienda where a friend of is grows the cactus from which Mezcal is made. He also distills it. We bought three (unflavored) kinds ofthe best Mezcal. I am told Mezcal is distilled from Maguay, a variety of the Agave cactus and Tequila just from the Agave cactus. Our new friend’s brother in law, a former Tai Kwon Do Mexican champion, (student of Dom Suk Kim), who also won tournaments in Las Vegas, Chicago and Cuba, has undertaken to instruct us in the sport.
We find a local language school, CELEP, and for about ten dollars a lesson for us both, have undertaken instruction in Spanish. Our instructor, a Puerhepeche artisan who learned to weave complex designs from her grandmother, is fluent in Spanish and English. Along the way, she introduces me to the works of Michoacan poet Amado Nervo (1870s to about 1920), whose poetry I look up on the Internet.
… And of course the same chess player, a British Columbian whose game has improved much more than mine has over the past two years, is here and spreads his canvas board across the table at the local café… And a new chess playing friend, available to play in the Square if he is not where more people are to be found as he begs his living, cheerfully. He reputedly supports a wife and two children, which is not surprising given his personal charm. Having no legs, a friend pushes him in his wheel chair.
Our friend, the retired lawyer for a number of Native American tribes, returns and regales me with more stories, of the present and his fight against a pipe line which is taking his land by eminent domain, or trying to, of the impact of oil fracking on local farms, and stories of the past, of his mentor and friend, Reuben Snake, an impressive Native American Activist and road man) of the 1960s and 70s.
Around the corner our neighbor opens up the garage to his house and cooks over a hot round tin in broth delicious tacos, beef, pork, onion, hot peppers, maybe pursuant to a secret recipe… all.
It being the season of celebrations of the Virgin of Guadelupe (December 12 to January 6) there are candle lit processions, it seems every evening, led by young girls happily enjoying their dress up as Angels, crowds of children and parents following, to sites where numerous prayers are cited, after which young kids struggle mightily to bang at and to bring down showers of sweets from the Pinyatas hung across the street, after which the festivities continue through the night. The Celebration of the Patron Saint of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadelupe, eclipses any Christmas celebration although a large Christmas tree is placed in the Square where Bing Crosby and Johnnie Mathis Holiday songs are often to be heard on the loudspeakers in the Square! There seem to be a number of inexplicable juxtapositions but one is foolish if he would deny the magical element to it all.
In the morning, rather early each morning, in addition to the deep ringing of the copper bells from many churches, calls to what we do not know, we hear, untranslated, a deep voice, resonating with the bells, repeating a phrase we cannot figure out, sounding almost like a morning Muslim call to prayer. Eventually our friend explains the mystery: “Oh, it is the Agua truck.” The driver bears five gallon jugs of water for sale, up, down and around the narrow streets, calling out “… Agua …Agua Purificado … Agua …” The melodious sound perhaps reminds the awakening dreamer, as well as of the need for physical water, of the words of the Persian Poet Hafiz:

“…Water of life dost seek?
Like Hoary Khizar know
The fount of that sweet life giving stream is love
The capital of everlasting life is love!”

Mexicans, here anyhow, surely like music! Indeed Mexicans seem to be quite constantly going to or about to be going to a party. Our friend Jorge, the Tae Kwon Do champ, introduces us to the music of Michoacan Province, of which Michoacans are very proud. One can find the Lilguerillas of Michoacan on the Internet, two ladies who have sang Michoacan love songs, campana songs, and not least the Cancon Palomas Mensajeras for many decades.
“Palomas Mensajueran devuelban a sunido. Siban al paraiso sobiebolando estanhay Michoacan.” I think are the opening lyrics.
The workers painstakingly having dug out, leveled, mixed and filled the excavation with cement, chiselled and laid each rock with painstaking detail and labor have almost finished the Escalaria 600 plus feet walk from the Square up to our Casa, a walk good for the heart in more than one way. Along the climb up as elsewhere in town, the presence of children keeps one young, I would venture that one making the walk will remain young forever, as he passes at least a dozen very pretty young mothers, their infants wrapped in their Rebosos, often followed or accompanied by gleefully smiling five to eight year olds, and three year olds. The little ones from two to five or six years old, often do not need a hand to hold, but make giant steps and easily handle the stone stairs. If needed, they hold the hand of an accompanying grand mother. One does not hear these elders, not a few septuagenarians like myself, complain of the climb. Nor often do they seem out of breath.

… All this may to some smack of a smug and romantic account of life in Mexico, especially viewed against the backdrop presented by hundreds of thousands of Mexicans facing daunting Immigration and deportation problems in the U.S., against the background of economic impacts in Mexico from devaluation of the Peso in response to raising interest rates by U.S. Banks, against the fact of criminal enterprises (which go so far as to assassinate Government officials rather often), stoked in part by modern day drug policy of prohibition, in the U.S., and against the background of alleged wrongdoing by foreign corporations from Monsanto to Canadian Railway Companies, and domestic Mexican corporations such as PEMEX, and against continuing reportage of significant levels of corruption.

This tourist, with superficial knowledge and extremely limited linguistic abililty over many months however never experienced a hint of crime, or corruption, or bribery or intimidation.  An American married to a Mexican here forty years said he had been stuck up three times and that is the worst this tourist heard of actually happening.

Recently it was reported in the news that Mexico’s wages are near the lowest in the Central American area.  At the same time it is estimated that sixty percent of the economy is informal, which I take it means cash.  My experience mostly in the informal economy is that Mexican President Nieto’s positive affirmation of Mexico as an emerging major force in the world economy and as an important and significant Friend to the U.S. is on the mark.

PLAYA AZUL

>PLAYA AZUL

Our experience of Patzcuaro weather is it is generally a sunny farenheit 70s in the day and high 50s at night during the winter months. El Nino, the weather pattern this year has made it slightly cooler this year and our casa has not a lot of Eastern sun, which it is good to have. My chess playing friend stays at Hotel Rosa on the Gertrude Bocanegro square where he says the plastered walls absorb the sun and let out the heat best during the day.
We decide to take a week at the beach. This trip I will preview was great and involved wonderful swimming and sun, but as well involved serious rumination and consideration of whether we might invest in a Mexico winter home at the beach.

After a few unplanned turns, we ended up a three or four drive away from Patzcuaro in Playa Azul, a beach town in Michoacan Province, a short distance from the major port Lazaro Cardenas, whose namesake was a general in the Mexican revolution and statesman who served as President of Mexico from 1937 to 1944, and is noted among many other things, for establishment of the ejidos in the Mexican agricultural sector which gave communities and peasants ownership to land to grow crops on but did not give individual titles to land.

It is written that the ejidos are usually owned by a community of local people and the land is passed down from generation to generation within the communities which own the parcels. Pretty difficult although legal for a foreigner to buy such land. As a casual tourist it is hard to get a grasp on but a significant amount of work appears to be done on a collective basis and a significant number of real and personal assets and income to be shared on a collective basis.
To purchase sea front property was and is a tempting idea from the viewpoint of nothing ventured, nothing gained. According to what we are told and independent research land can be bought in Mexico on the beach provided the correct legal procedures and conditions are fulfilled.
To greatly oversimplify, we are led to believe that for land within 100 kilometers of the beach, foreign nationals may own through a fidecomiso (a trust) set up through a bank and which provides for ownership of the land in all but name. The trust holds the deeds to the property, and you and/or other named persons which you specify are sole beneficiaries to the trust (and therefore, the property). You have full rights to do whatever you like with your property: it can be developed (in accordance with local planning regulationsn- if any), rented, leased, sold, or given away. (MexExperience on the Web has a page describing Real Estate purchase and sale issues.)

Title to the beach property at present if we understood correctly still has to be in a Mexican’s name. This is not evidently a problem. They are happy to serve as title holders and make sure the property is not misused in the owner’s absence for a small fee.

The rules on ownership although evidently being liberalized are subject to complete change when a new government comes in.  (That is another risk factor) And although I have no idea if it is true, some said the Familia, (which either means equivalent to organized crime or just the local informal power structure) so called, can exercise considerable control and if they don’t like you, you may have to leave. So one might fear that if political changes suggest this land of yours should be taken and given to a developer, you may up the creek.

For this parcel we looked at, electric to the land is not there. The challenge can be solved if one has the ingenuity to put in solar power and or use a generator. We are told that solar power materials probably have be obtained in the U.S. and brought down to the site. There is water at this site we look at, but for drinking one has to build a tank for pure water. Evidently there is sewage.
Another consideration is that in a hurricane any structure would be at risk and on this property then back flows from inland water, where a river runs along the beach inland a few thousand meters, possibly bringing snakes and other life may be a risk. Perhaps this is all a bit paranoid but, although the jury is still out, it makes one think it might be safer to rent.  Also we learned a little bit about house building also. Extreme damage occurred during a hurricane in Playa Azul during the 1980s, according to one seemingly knowledgeable Canadian, because of the way Mexicans build. According to him, the iron reinforcement bars within the concrete most structures are made from is not built in as watertight as desirable and when assaulted by water and highly driven wet winds oxidizes. This appears to cause the concrete to crack and the structures to fail. Whatever the case may be, many buildings along the beach and in town appeared abandoned. In addition our new friends after they bought and built found their neighbor was putting in a restaurant which has quite loud music not infrequently.  So one must think twice anyway…. even though this is a beautiful place!

When we arrived in Playa Azul, we found a number of open hotels. While exploring and driving along the beach road we saw a sign for Copacabanas, which on the name alone I voted to stop at. It was as close to the New York City Night Club of the past, somewhere I had wanted to get off at, as I could get. It turned out a lucky bet.

For  $18 (US$) a night, we got a fine cabana with kitchen and upstairs bedroom, on the beach, with beautiful sunsets, the pounding sound of the breaking surf all day and night, warm water swimming, safe if one keeps close to shore (but not safe further out at all), wild palms swaying as if troubled in the wind, pelicans patrolling the beach to sweep down and grab in their long beaks their prey from the ocean. Magpies, crows with long tails and egrets also.

Nearby to Plaza Azul is Lazaro Cardenas – one of the two largest ports in Mexico and bigger than many in the U.S. One sees daily on the horizon three or more tankers and container ships, perhaps two football fields in length — or more —- from bow to stern (we estimated), at a time. We understand there are cargoes from North of calcium or chemicals used in mining iron ore and cargoes of iron and we do not know what else between here and China. According to some, there is significant cartel influence and money laundering in this area. (Given the history of the Longshoremen in the U.S. this makes some sense to me) Certainly the news has covered a number of shootouts between local cartels, Federal forces and vigilantes in the Province. Anecdotally a big company refusing to pay informal taxes on the goods it traded found its offices all disabled or destroyed one morning, and a town not agreeing to pay some tribute may find the truck taking its wares to the port destroyed, a weeks work or more for the whole town gone Up the road in the river we are shown five crocodiles. Down the beach a mile we are informed that sea turtles come in to lay their eggs which are protected by the local people.

the evening we swing in the hammock. We watch snipes, crows, haws, seagulls, other birds on the beach, and watch the Pelicans glide pass overhead. We watch the fishing boats, beached in the day, be launched by two or three fishermen in the evenng, and push their way through treacherous tides out to sea. They are mere lights in the night, which they spend with nets spread beyond the breakers and close to the horizon. In the morning they came in and we obtained fish for the days meals. There is much time to paint. Strangely, as far as we can see, the moon is full three nights in succession.  ….There are crocodiles in the nearby river! Sea turtles also lay their eggs just up the way …

[ FOR A NIGHT AT SEA[/caption]

SOME SIGHTSEEING

We have seen considerably more of Michoacan, including Caracuero, to which before driving us a week after, our friend walked on the 15th Visita to Al Senior de Caracuero, the Black Jesus, one hundred and twenty meters from Tacamboro through mountains and valleys to Caracuero. Two thousand people we understand made the walk, in the end many supplicants walking on their knees as they came to the Iglesia which holds the crucifix with the black Jesus. We drove, ourselves, or were driven by our friend, through (with apologies for getting some of these names wrong) Tacamboro, Cuesta del Toro, Arroya Frio, Arroya de Apo, Loma Larga, San Antonia, El Limon, Las Cocinai, Nocupertaro any many other towns, most not on the map, through Avocado growing country, grape orchards, corn fields, on country roads and main highway to Caracuero.
Also we have visited briefly almost all the villages around Lake Patzcuaro, also most not on the map, Uranda Isla, barely an Island in the Lake, Huecaro, Tzentzuntzen, Tocuaro, where we drank some Pulque, a beer derived from the Maguey cactus, San Bartolo, Juaracuaro, Francesco Uricho, Erongaricuaro where also a local variety of Mezcal is made, Opondio, Ichuipio and Tarerio, called Puerto la Cielo, as it looks across the lake into the mountains and broad sky. The restaurant, overlooking the lake, had pictures of the restaurant, and of the owner, who joined us after lunch, and her family. The pictures were from 1959… The women in bobbs and American skirts… The spirit of the pictures indicated, unlike the present where Americans fear to travel, a more prosperous time when tourists and travelers could be expected… We went on to towns I think named Puacuaro, Del Sandio, Chupicuaro, with good beaches on the lake, Santa Fe de la Laguna, Patanbicho, where two peninsulas run into the Lake, and which are called ”Ojos de Agua,” the eyes of the lake. Also again to Ihuitsio where a coyote statue is in the center of Town and where also the impressive pyramids are, and a town with the hardest name of all to get down, Ukasanaʹstacua. We understand that much of this land, separated by carefully constructed stone walls, and featuring many small herds of steers, bulls, cows, and vaqueros on horse or foot, is owned collectively.
The Towns each hold histories and mysteries of their own we do not know. The style of building in all these and other towns seems to follow the Spanish model. The buildings line the public streets, privacy secured by high walls and strong gates, more often than not iron, then inner private gardens, and lastly the homes. The Moorish influence brought with the Spaniards, in the cities is pronounced in the Arches and I am told other architectural aspects.
On arriving back from the tour, we passed again by the first statue one encounters on arriving in Patzcuaro, I think called Tanean as well as Rey Tarejaqui. Again I may have the name incorrectly. But the man in the statue was a famous warrior king of the Puerepechas and in the statute is clothed as was the custom in an impressive long cloak. Around 1520, he or his father or son, (my fault for not being able to read the plaque well enough), although humiliated by the Spanish invaders, saved his empire from the ravages inflicted on the neighboring Aztec empire by making peace with the invading Spanish.