Thursday, September 9, 2010

Street medicine and island views

Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2010

The morning dawned clear with clouds hanging over the mountains on all sides of the lake. It was cool and moist, but the sun shown for a while. John said he looks every morning to see if there's any sunshine, then quickly does a load of laundry so his clothes have a little time to dry. It was breezy this morning too, which speeded up the drying process.

We both slept better with the cat locked up, and even the cat seemed to have a better attitude, not quite so aloof and haughty. Contrite would better describe him. Perhaps he learned his lesson. Probably not. He yowled when there was someone to bother. Locked up and alone, he probably didn't let out a peep. But who would know? He was in a little building not attached to either of our rooms.

Around 10:00 we headed into Patzcuaro for business purposes. We decided to go to the seat of the revolution for El Grito on the 16th of September. This is Mexico's 200th anniversary of the revolution when they broke away from Spain. It all started in Dolores Hidalgo, so we suspect the party there will be huge, the fireworks innumerable, and the crowds giddy. It will be like being in Boston or Philadelphia in 1976 on the 4th of July. John knows a woman who will rent us a little apartment for the week, and we had to transfer money to her account in order to secure the rental. I also wanted to take advantage of the fact that Bancomer here would cash my traveler's checks, so I cashed the rest of them.

From now on, I will keep traveling money in a separate account and transfer money to it when needed. That way, if someone were to get my account number and password from an internet transaction, the most they'd get would be the little amount in there at any given time. Security in Mexican online banking is not what it should be. When I was in San Miguel, I joined an online Yahoo group that consisted of mostly ex-pats. The horror stories were numerous. Some people had their checking accounts cleaned out and attached savings accounts as well. It scared me. But taking a large amount of cash on vacation is equally stupid, so I opted for traveler's checks. Who knew it would be such misery to get them cashed?

Janitzio Island as seen from Eronga.

Once all the business was attended to, we had lunch at two seafood stands that were next to each other on the edge of Plaza Chica. We got a shrimp cocktail, one from each vendor. Mine was exquisite. It was served in a large glass like they used to make hot fudge sundaes in, tall and tapered at the bottom. It was filled about three quarters full with cooked shrimp, topped with onions, hot peppers, a large chunk of avocado, and then filled to the brim with tomato sauce that was tangy and sweet. At the other stand, John ordered a smaller version that was not sweet at all, his was peppery and had a stronger tomato flavor. They were both delicious, but I liked mine a lot better. The peppers were hot enough to make me sweat and I have quite a tolerance for spicy food. It was the best meal I've had here so far, and it was from a street vendor!!

Janitzio Island with fisherman.
When I took a shower yesterday I had a muscle spasm in my neck. It was probably caused by toting luggage or carrying around heavy bags. My neck was stiff and sore most of yesterday and this morning it was so bad I couldn't lift my right arm above my head. So after that wonderful shrimp lunch we went in search of a masseuse, or maybe a chiropractor. The owner of the stall where I bought my jacket the day before walked past, so we asked him if he knew of anyone who could help. He took my by the hand and led me out onto the street. He looked up and shouted to some guys who were hanging a sign on the balcony. He pointed at me, told one of those guys I needed some attention and shortly thereafter, the guy showed up downstairs. He asked what I needed, assured me that he could fix it and then we went into an electronics store where he parked me in a chair behind the cash register. He grabbed a bottle of some liquid from under the cabinet and began to do a deep tissue massage on my neck.  After a few minutes of massaging, he took hold of my arm and said "Suav-vey, suav-vey…." several times while wiggling my arm up and down. Then wham, he jerked it hard. It felt like my arm came out of the socket! Not only that… it had strings attached directly to my neck and those ripped out as well. I was stunned. But immediately the pain felt different. He massaged some more and did a few more 'cracks' to my neck and arms though nothing like that first one. In a few minutes I could lift my arm over my head with no pain whatsoever. And all this behind the cash register in an electronics store!!

A resort seen from the boat to Janitzio Island.
Feeling much better, I told John I'd like to go see Janitzio Island after all. We hopped on a Combi and went to the pier to catch a boat out to the island. The boats are long and almost flat-bottomed with long benches on either side. About 20 of them were lined up at the pier, but Wednesday is not one of the big visitor days so all but one were empty. The boats have a roof and plastic curtains that can be pulled down in case of rain. The trip took about 30 minutes. Janitzio is further away than it looked, and quite a bit bigger than I expected. On the way across the lake, a  4 man combo played traditional Mexican songs and then passed the hat for tips. Since the island is inhabited by mostly Purepecha Indians, the boat was full of people returning home, some from working in Patzcuaro, some school kids in their uniforms. The women were all doing embroidery work, and they wore beautifully stitched skirts, aprons and blouses with colorful edges and flower designs. The guide book called Patzcuaro lake "impossibly blue" but with so many little towns surrounding it, and none of them with adequate sewage treatment, I found the lake to be "impossibly brown". However it doesn't have an odor. I have no idea if it has fish in it or if they're edible.

Women on the boat, doing embroidery.

I think the island might be a volcanic spatter cone based on it's shape and the color of the exposed rocks. On the flattened top of island is a monument to Jose Maria Morelos, a hero of the revolution. It is a huge statue of the man with his right arm raised to the sky in a fist. John had no interest in climbing up to the statue, an elevation of about 500 feet, so I left him in a restaurant where he ate little fried whole fish that resembled french fries and drank a beer. The route was up staircases and sloping streets. There are no motorized vehicles on Janitzio, so I have to assume that people carry everything to the top by hand or with the aid of donkeys, all their home furnishings and goods for the little stores. Weekends the island is packed with tourists, but on a Wednesday the vendors are hungry. Each one of them attempted to sell me something as I huffed and puffed up the steep hill. Entrance to the monument is $6p, about fifty cents. The thing is huge and views from the base are amazing. Rain clouds were moving in and there was lightning off to the southwest. I entered the statue through a narrow door and inside were six levels accessed by staircases. On each level there were 10-12 murals depicting Morelos' life from birth through his life as a revolutionary leader, to his trial and execution. The Mexican revolution didn't go quite as well as the American one. All of the leaders were executed before the war was over, and their heads were displayed in cages for years in a plaza in Guanajuato. I saw two of the actual cages, skulls long gone, in a museum there last February. In the raised arm of the statue, a staircase leads to the 'cuff' of the statue's jacket, and from there one can see unfettered views in all directions. I was alone inside and the stairs were steep and narrow. It felt like I could fall backwards at any moment. The staircase inside the arm was more dangerous, there weren't even rails to hang onto. Finally at the top, I was too short to actually see over the cuff edge, the lightning and rain drove me back downstairs. The area around the base is filled with stalls and small restaurants, most of which were closed. The rain came down hard and I was fairly drenched by the time I got to the bottom. These middle-aged knees don't care much for downhill walking and with cobblestones wet and slick, it was slow going. The ride back was bumpy and the water choppy, but the little band played valiantly and I hope they got plenty of tips.
Bass player in the boat band.

John headed back to the house and I went again to Patzcuaro to check out the Aurrera grocery, which he said is the equivalent of Walmart. Not quite but close. I wanted to purchase soy milk, olive oil, and parmesan cheese, none of which are standard fare for Mexican markets. After an hour looking I managed to find all three items and a few other things including green oranges from Veracruz that turned out to be the juiciest oranges I've ever bought. A Combi ride home to make squash with parmesan cheese for dinner, and it was time to hit the sack. Whew.

Fried whole fish,
called Charales.

John about to down a fish.
Down the hatch!!!