A Small town – where?
Imagine a small town situated on the banks of a large muddy river… Surrounded by dense forests… mills spewing out smoke into the clear blue sky…
Sounds a bit like Quesnel, doesn’t it?
But deep in the heart of Veracruz, on the banks of the Papaloapan River, lies the town of Cosamaloapan. Surrounded by dense forests of sugar cane, the refineries chug away converting the raw stalks into sugar.
This is a typical Mexican town. It is hours away from the ocean, there are no archaeological sites nearby and no tourists. People turn and stare at me and I’m not even blond!
Cosamaloapan is a traditional town, not just Vilo’s birthplace, but that of his grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother…. back until the beginning of time… Everyone is related, if not by blood, then by generations of friendship. And nearly everyone lives within a block of where they were born.
There are thousands of towns just like this in Mexico so I thought I would share some of my impressions…
The climate is very hot & humid. It is often in the 40s in the summer and a cold damp day in the winter may drop down to 20 degrees Celsius. Everyone wears coats and talks about the cold weather from the north. During the rainy season, the river often overflows its banks and floods the town. Weather is a constant conversation theme. It is the same as in Canada, if we aren’t complaining about the cold, we are complaining about the heat!
There are visually many contrasts – There are brightly coloured houses with flowery gardens with swaying palm trees and bougainvillea flowing over high rock walls. Interspersed with these are old abandoned shells surrounded by patios that used to ring with laughter, but now are covered with moss, the yards full of weeds and garbage.
Going for a walk is an interesting proposition. You have to wait until almost nightfall to avoid the sweltering heat. Of if you go in the morning there is a heavy wet fog hanging over. One day we went around the block to stretch our legs and passed a tarantula spider walking down the sidewalk – seemingly with same attitude as a dog, confident in his right to be there. I almost had a heart attack on the spot. A man with a broom soon put an end to his airs. As an almost-arachnophobiac, I couldn’t really feel too sorry for it.
Everyone is busy working in or out of the home. Preparing meals takes most of the day. Food is an extremely important part of the culture. And they eat a lot of weird things, in my humble opinion. As a special treat for an honoured guest, my sister was served a fish head with herbs and salsa wrapped in aluminum foil. When she opened it, she screamed! They eat everything here – and I am too squeamish to try most of it. Who wants to eat tacos made of eyeballs, ears, cheeks, stomach, colon, yuk… I’ll have fried chicken, thank you very much, and don’t give me the feet!
As you can guess, going to the market is quite an adventure…
In Mexico, the market is the heart of the city – or more apt – the guts of the city.
You see everything. Artistically arranged fruit looking like a brightly coloured buffet on a cruise –mandarins, mangoes, papaya, mamey, zapote …. Vegetables that we haven’t even heard of… Rows of dried fish & shrimp, funny piñatas, cheap bad copies of movies and music, clothing… Rainbows of dried beans of more varieties than you can count…
Whole plucked chickens, complete with heads and feet – still looking oddly alive…
While choosing some freshly picked bananas for breakfast, I had the strange feeling of being watched – I turned around and there was a huge pig head hanging on a giant hook, swaying back and forth, catching every movement I made.
The noise level is almost unbearable at times. Every little business has their speakers outside turned to full volume. And they don’t sell earplugs! There are Volkswagen bugs driving around town with huge loudspeakers on top announcing the latest specials and events, and sometimes even the obituaries!
Every town has a main square, situated in front of a Catholic church. This is where families gather, young people flirt and dramas act out.
There are always vendors selling food, interesting fun toys like balloon animals for the kids and cold drinks and homemade popsicles…. Parents rent battery-operated cars that their kids sit in and drive around the park, sometimes avoiding the people, learning maniacal ways of driving, so when they get older they’ll survive on the streets here. Road laws are definitely made to be broken…
Family is the number one priority. The favourite thing to do is get everyone together and eat and eat and eat… Music is a very important ingredient to every gathering. Almost everyone here plays an instrument and sings. Although the town sometimes appears boring from the outside, inside the houses are families interacting – without having to make an appointment first – and really enjoying each other. Last night our 10 year old niece dropped in to visit us, and she made us dinner! Immersed in a happy culture like this one, you have to feel good about life!