Thursday, October 29, 2009

Veracruz - Thur., 10/28 '09

For some reason, I wasn't among the rest of the students and staff who were awakened at 4:30 AM by an earthquake. Some said they were nearly shaken out of their beds. News reports placed the epicenter of the 5.5- magnitude temblor 45 miles south of here in Las Tuxtlas. Luckily, we've heard of no major damage or injuries.

Thursdays are all-day field trips. Of the four destinations offered, I was the only student to opt for Zempoala and La Antigua trip. So I had Rebeca, who's becoming one of my favorite teachers/guides, all to myself. During the 45-minute bus ride, and throughout the day, we chatted almost constantly— about things we were seeing, about the finer points of the language, and about our respective lives in countries at once very similar and worlds apart.

During our transfer from highway bus to local "chicken" bus, we sat down on the bus stop bench next to a pair of 10- or 12- year- old boys. They noticed this "older", very tall, very white guy and this attractive young Mexicana together and practically jumped in our laps in their curiosity and eagerness to hear my attempts at their language. When they realized I was for real, the shorter, more jovial Luís asked me if I could translate into Spanish for him the huge pop culture anthem that was hot five or more years ago in a U.S. beer commercial: "Wha's ah-h-h-p? Only after about 20 minutes chatting with them, did we learn that Carlos (he insisted we call him Charlie) was selling pan de muertos, the special sweet bread traditionally made only for Day of the Dead. He seemed delighted when I bought one, and proudly pulled it out of the bag on his lap and placed it into a smaller bolsita.

While the rest of this week has been quite hot and humid, today the heat was oppressive. There was little escape, as we were outside with little shelter from the sun for much of the day.

Zempoala is the site of a small, but well-restored, Totonaca ruins. It was here that, in the early 16th century, Hernán Cortés brought his trusty, tri-lingual (and beloved) Indian translator La Malinche to help form the conquerer's first key alliance with the cacique, or local warlord.

We strolled around the grounds among the several small pyramids, the gladiators' ring and the sacrifical altar, taking frequent breaks under the few scattered trees. Aside from a couple of school groups and a pair of women who looked like Americans, we were the only visitors. On our way, several people who work at the site and live in the pueblo of Zempoala, stopped what they were doing and, as if they had nothing better to do, took 10 or 20 minutes to explain layers of the history we hadn't read on the signs. (I'm finding this generosity of spirit to be the rule among many Mexicans I've met, but it seems especially prevalent here in Veracruz.)

On our way back south to La Antigua, we stopped at a restaurant perched on bank of the Rio Huatzilapan and enjoyed sharing tastes of each other's delicious fish dishes. Mine was my first taste (at least in Veracruz) of Pescado a la Veracruzana, one of the signature dishes of this state. Rebeca had moharra, another very tasty local fish.

La Antigua is where Cortés first landed in Mexico and built his home and offices. What remains of the walls is crumbling here and there and blotched with moss and black mold. Huge Banyan-type trees have nearly consumed the structure, their roots flowing like hot wax over the brick and coral head surfaces. There was very little guidance— personal or through signage— at this site, so we just strolled around, took a few pictures and enjoyed the lovely shade.

On the bus ride back to school, Rebecca and I got to know each other better and worked more on my pronunciation (and a bit on hers, in the few words of English she's picking up from students). The word she's having the most trouble with: return. Turns out it has several sounds and combinations of sounds that are quite foreign to an hispanohablante.

Tonight, Laurie (from Kansas) and I grabbed the bus for downtown and enjoyed a nice dinner in the zocalo, getting back to school before ten.

1 comment:

Hubbs Center said...

That's a great picture of the tree that ate the building. Wow!