I realized I could have described our travels better in previous posts, telling you of women gracing the streets in white dresses bordered with colorful embroidered flowers, and cafes where mariachis in full regalia serenade sighing lovers sipping margaritas while the scent of roasting meat wafts over from street carts selling tacos and tostadas, pungent with chili and lime. In another corner, a tourist chugs a Corona, a timeless and enduring symbol of Mexico.
We toured the ruins, where thousands of people were sacrificed in gruesome ways to appease various Gods. At Chichen Itza, we saw a platform where sacrificial victims’ heads were put on spike for display, as well as a sacred well into which virgins of both sexes were thrown as gifts to the rain god, Chaac. As if virgins didn’t have it tough enough! (This is also probably the real reason you shouldn’t drink tap water in Mexico). Of course, it was hot and irritating, climbing these ruins. You kind of understand why the Mayas sacrificed people. After hours in this sort of heat, you just want to down a tall glass of limeade and sacrifice a dozen war captives or so.
Not all of the sights were happy. Along the colorful streets of San Cristobal, which was mercifully cold, the indigenous Americans, mainly women and children, sold scarves, necklaces, and other trinkets. The city was our favorite, since the hot chocolate was so good in the mountain weather, filled with bits of cocoa nibs and chili, and there were quite a few amazing vegetarian restaurants. But it was hard to enjoy when each of our meals cost more than what most street vendors made in a week. It was very inconsiderate of these poor people to make us feel bad when we were just trying to enjoy a glass of wine (1/2 day’s wages) and some tofu empanadas (2 days’).
At night, San Cristobal’s streets are a whirlwind. People drank and hung out until 3 a.m., and yet there were always vendors, including children, selling trinkets. On our last night, Jameelah and I were going to a bar, attracted by the upbeat Cuban band, when we encountered a woman and her son. It was 11 p.m., and a soft rain fell on the cobblestoned path. We made a terrible mistake of making eye contact. Suddenly, she and her son felt too real. We bought some trinkets. “Do a lot of people buy?” I asked. “No,” she said, “there’s too many of us; we sell to mainly buy food.” Little Jose, I learned, liked to draw and dance. “He loves to dance the Gusanito [Little Worm],” said Marta. We found out her husband died shortly after Jose was born. Her eyes registered a haunting combination of pain and determination. The rain fell, and we were paralyzed with guilt and unable to move. We sat down next to them on the curb as they waited out the rain, finding weird comfort in suffering with them. Jose held two hand-made giraffe dolls; slowly he nodded off, leaning against my leg. “Jose,” I said when he woke, “this is for you. It’s for good luck.” I placed a US quarter into his tiny hand, and he beamed. We waited and talked, getting more and more depressed at their plight. No 8 year-old should be out at 11 p.m., carrying three dozen cheap necklaces and two giraffe dolls. The rain fell some more, splashing their worn plastic sandals. After a while, Marta pulled out her cell phone to check the time.
Jameelah and I looked at each other. If she could afford a cell phone, her situation couldn’t be that horrible! I know, that’s an awful way to look at it, but for a minute, we were relieved. When the rain tapered, we bid them goodbye. We have returned to Seattle, and life is starting to get back to normal, which means Netflix, traffic, and pervasive sense of dread and doom and the gnashing of teeth (i.e., work). But Marta’s haunting eyes and Jose’s little-boy smile still burn in our minds as indelible images of Mexico. Along with the Corona-chugging tourist.
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