There were no ice-cream trucks or boardwalks with caramel corn and Italian water ices, no pizza shops with huge slices for sale. No beach tags required, no cotton candy. There were grandmothers walking the beach with food for tourists and they amazed George. Despite the heat and their age they walked the entire length of the beach in long colorful skirts with huge tupperware bowls perched impossibly on the tops of their heads. After meeting a few he realized that each was carrying something entirely different than the other. One woman had a collection of hard pastries that had been baked in the nearest city. Another had peanuts and home-made candybars that looked like a box of Cracker-Jacks compressed into a solid rectangle. She explained that she had made them herself the day before. For lunch he bought three fish tacos for one U.S. dollar from a grandmother who lived one town away and explained that this was the fourth and final beach she would walk that day. Her son was a fisher and gave her the fish she had used. The red salsa she poured over them was incredible and she had made it herself. The guidebook he had been reading warned against eating local lettuce since it held alot of water that may affect digestive systems not used to the local bacterias... but George wolfed down the three tacos and loved them. He simply could not let the threat of diarreah keep him from this kind of food. It all just made so much sense. The tortillas had been made that day locally, the lettuce was grown nearbye, the salsa was homemade and the fish had been swimming in the ocean in front of him just yesterday morning. All for a price so reasonable it made him feel guilty.
A young teenage boy pushed a wheelbarrow half filled with coconuts up to him. "Coco Loco?" the boy asked and George said yes without knowing what that was... just knowing it would be neat to have a coconut like the ones hanging from trees above him. The little man grabbed a well used machete resting between two arms of the wheelbarrow and sliced a section off the top of a green coconut with four firm chops. He poured a shot of rum inside the small hole and stuck a plastic straw in it, asking for three dollars. George paid, thinking how much more work went into the fish tacos that cost so much less. The coconut milk was sweet and satisfying, he would have preferred it without the rum... which made his hot head feel even heavier in the heat. When he finished the Coco Loco a more experienced fellow tourist from Canada showed him how to split the remains open and use the original chunk of cut coconut shell to scrape the inside. He would never have realized all that fresh coconut meat was waiting in there for him... this was possibly the first edible beverage container he had ever used in his life.
The next morning he awoke to the sound of roosters crowing. At first he was able to ignore them and rest a bit more, but there were alot and they became more insistent as the morning sun crept into the sky. He began sweating too much to lie there anymore. The San Cristobal had a restaurant on the beach side of the hotel in the beach sand. He sat down at a table for two and looked over the menu. There was no way he was ordering a soda when the menu listed fresh squeezed orange, mango, pineapple and watermelon juice. The same fruits were listed as pitchers of "Licuado de" which the waiter explained was a mixture of the juice with water and sugar. He ordered what turned out to be his favorite beverage until the day he died... "Una mezcla de licuado de pina y sandia, por favor senor." It was watermelon and pineapple juice mixed with sugar water. He noticed a cup of coffee cost 10 pesos (one dollar) which was the same as it cost in Wawas from New Jersey to Virgina. He had read once that the Wawa stores were named after a small Pennsylvania town which had in turn been named after an Ojibwe (american indian) word for goose like in the poem "Song for Hiawatha"...
"All the wild-fowl sang them to him,
In the moorlands and the fen-lands,
In the melancholy marshes;
Chetowaik, the plover, sang them,
Mahng, the loon, the wild-goose, Wawa..." ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
George had learned how to enjoy coffee from Wawas in high school. Many people did, Wawa sold over 165 million cups a year. But this cup was so much better. It was pure Oaxacan beans... so sweet it reminded him of hot chocolate. Corn and coffee had lined the road to town for many miles in dry fields with patches of pale green. His pancakes were small but delicious... the waiter brought a tiny pitcher of local honey instead of maple syrup. The taste was much more delicate than the lucious molasses of tree sap. He pinched some chili powder onto his eggs then salted them with another pinch... there were no salt and pepper shakers. In fact there was no black pepper in sight. The chili powder more than made up for it. The salt was in a small glass dish and he noticed a mexican couple using the salt quite liberally... they were pinching it out of their dish and sprinkling it on their plates while they chatted.
As he admired their bronze complexions and beautiful smiles it occurred to him that there was really no such thing as a "mexican". Gilberto, the cab driver from the day before had explained to George that he also was an American just like George was... although not a citizen of the United States of America he did in fact live in the heart of the Americas... which stretched from Alaska to Cape Horn, Chile. He had further described the switchbacks and cliffs they were driving through as the middle of a massive and continuous chain of mountains called the American cordillera, "the spine of the world". So all these mexican hosts were really native americans; totally indigenous Americans and people whose ancestors had mixed their bloodlines with the rest of the world. If they were within the fifty states George would have called them American Indians. Gilberto had described himself as Zapoteca, his people had built pyramids in the area more than 4000 years past. This part of the world had invented corn. But Gilberto had explained that his people had not made the corn... the corn had made his people. There were many beautiful legends of the Corn Mother as Creator across the Americas... the very life and harvest cycles of corn were central to the religious beliefs and ceremonies of most indigenous American cultures. For example, he said, the Maya regarded corn as a gift from the gods and it was a sacred duty to cultivate it for them. In fact, humanity was originally fashioned from corn after the gods had tried with other materials and failed repeatedly.
This all came back to him in a flood of memory that afternoon as he smoked a cigarette after a late lunch. He had noticed a younger girl with food in a tupperware bowl that alot of "mexicans" (now he grimaced at the thought) were buying from. He asked her what she had and to his surprise she was selling iguana tomales. A leave of corn was wrapped around a paste of moist cornmeal and chunks of iguana. He had never had iguana for anything but a pet once in college. Other than some thin bones similar to one that had been in the fish taco the day before, it was tasty, especially with some of her salsa. George would taste anything once, he knew he would eat some iguana again. He was swinging lazily in a large and extremely comfortable hammock while the midday heat baked the white sand and Grandmothers hid in the shade of their tupperware bowls. It occurred to him that this was paradise. The land of eternal spring. If the bananas were not in season than the mangos were, or coconuts. He could have swam to the huge rocks near the shore and scraped mussels off their wet sides. Except for three to four months of rain each year, a pair of shorts was the only clothing needed. The only thing he really needed besides a place to keep his things was alot of water, as the heat made him sweat constantly. A five gallon jug just like the ones at office watercoolers cost him one dollar, the truck drove through town daily. Another truck drove through town daily, the driver announcing the different fruits and vegetables he had that day for sale. His voice was distorted by static and the poor quality of his ancient speakers. There were people living on the beach here that didn't even have a room for the night... they rented hammocks and slept under the stars.
The sun was falling lower in the sky and George noticed that it was likely to drop below the ocean in between the cliffs on the shore and a large rock that jutted out of the water where the waves were crashing, just offshore. He was running low on cigarettes so he began the short walk to a nearbye market. He didn't want to miss his first mexican sunset. Even though he was a tourist from the land of capitalism and corporations... he felt everything was different here. He felt it in his bones. This was going to be an indigenous sunset as opposed to the suburban ones he had enjoyed for most of his thirty years on earth. He had seen other natural sunsets... ones without power lines and jet contrails... without the eerie discolorations of the smog stained sky. He would never forget sunsets in the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico where he felt so alone but empowered by the silent majesty of a days end. Here they called it la puesta. People were beginning to gather on the dunes to watch la puesta. The tiny market was at a bend in the dirt road and only had two refrigerators. They were filled with beer, Gatorade, Coca Cola, Fanta, milk and yogurt. He realized then that some corporations had established footholds wherever electricity existed. It was probably a global rule that where refrigeration existed there was Coca Cola to be bought. He opted for a yogurt, having read in his tourism guidebook that it contained live organisms that were very beneficial for digestive systems. When he was a child his parents had vacationed in Acapulco. They returned with a beautiful rainbow colored blanket with corn and a person across the center. They also came back with horror stories of the terrible diarrhea they had experienced, his father had called it Montezuma's revenge. Montezuma was an Aztec ruler who had lost his empire to Hernan Cortez 500 years past. His father had told him that the illness was a curse Montezuma placed on all invaders to his lands when his rule ended. George was certainly not looking forward to this revenge, but he supposed he deserved it... he had been raised in the strange mix of European and American cultures that had evolved in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He knew virtually nothing of the Aztecs or the Zapotecs but here he was immersed in their land and culture and loving every minute of it. Other than the money he was giving the town for food, rent and cigarrettes he was doubtful he had brought anything truly meaningful to their paradise. Yes, revenge was well deserved. George had a more practical take on the situation as well. Any germs he ingested that caused him an upset stomache he would eventually build an immunity to... so each battle would only make him stronger. He wondered if the immigrant latin american workers in Pennsylvania experienced Montezuma's revenge as well... they probably did... but for leaving, not entering the mighty rulers lands. Many of the immigrants could be found in front of Wawas and Home Depots early each morning, looking for work. There was alot of manual labor for them to do in George's suburb... high school kids nowadays were too busy to mow their own lawns let alone their neighbors. Many of the pizza shops George frequented were run entirely by latinos (he winced again at the thought, native american seemed a much more respectful term now) and most of the housecleaners, cooks and dishwashers in his area restaurants and hotels were native american also. Indigenous. With all his neighbors and friends making big money at desk jobs there was an urgent need for people that were willing to actually work with their hands.
He flipped open the bilingual dictionary that was in his black backpack. "Indigenous ~ born or engendered in, native to a land or region, especially before an intrusion, especially of plants and indigenous peoples." George decided he wasn't an indigenous american even though he was born and raised in Pennsylvania. As far back as his great-grandparents, his family were native Pennsylvanians, he knew that for sure. But William Penn wasn't even a native. His bloodline was native to European ancestors and his culture and lifestyle came from a world that was being made after an intrusion... video games and televisions, radios and cars, jet airplanes and cell-phones, microwaves and ... everything that occupied the majority of George's time. Many thousands of traditions came to the Americas for 500 years from Europe. American culture had always reflected and absorbed them all.
He had been born after the nations of Europe intruded. When Spain, France, and England claimed American land as their own it became a cultural war with everything indigenous. Here on the dirt road in the shade of a palm tree a rooster walked in front of him and he felt more indigenous... if such a feeling even existed and wasn't a delusion of his heat riddled mind. It was simply that here on the southern coast of the middle of the Americas it was apparent that European influences were still regarded as foreign. Most technological icons could be found here but they were novelties that intruded on Nature and the very natural pace of life all around George... where the ocean met the land in sheer cliffs and stunning mountains. He could probably have found a microwave somewhere close by but why would he want or need one when a man was standing at the edge of the road roasting chicken and whole white onions with a fire that he tended almost unconsciously, with a quiet pride. George wondered if chickens were a European import or natives like the wild goose, Wawa. The road rounded a bend and he noticed a hand painted sign on the huge stone cliffs to his right. "It is Illegal to kill Iguanas and you will be arrested if you do" is basically what it said. Looking above the sign he saw some movement and realized that he was looking at a wild iguana. He stepped away from the steep rocks and studied the craggy face of stone. As he smoked another cigarette he counted five iguanas spread across the cliff. He had kept one in an aquarium for two years in college, he had eaten some for lunch, this was the first time he had ever seen any that were indigenous. They were impressive. Some were 30 feet or more above the road, all were apparently comfortable in their precarious perches. They moved with the slow ease that only comes with confidence. They looked large and ancient. George wondered where the local girl had gotten her iguanas... he decided then to ask her if he ever recognized her again. He remembered she had a lazy eye and looked tired from likely walking all day.
It took him about five minutes to find a trashcan for his yogurt container, once he learned the word was la basura he was quickly accomodated. That was yet another difference between "his" world and this more indigenous one... his had alot more trash. Here most trash including toilet papers was burned near sunset... he could see a few wisps of smoke across the street as someone got rid of their own. But plastic and aluminum were not fit to burn, and so much of his Pennsylvania trash was like that. Unnatural packaging destined for land-fills. Fruit was so much simpler. After a coconut or a mango was eaten, the animals and the earth appreciated it when the remains was left to just rot naturally. Compost piles just made sense and these starving wild dogs sure loved them as well. He walked back onto the beach sand as the sun grew close to the watery horizon. It was a deeper red now and the low distant clouds were glowing purple and pink. The only people that were not staring at it were the Grandmothers who walked in his direction, hoping for a final sale before heading home for the night. A young couple walked over to him and the guy asked for a smoke. They spoke as the sun set, it turned out they were from Texas and poor... George guessed they might have been hiding out way down here in Oaxaca. They spoke of having a fire on the beach shortly, they had some fish and were going to cook it. George suggested he could hit a market and join them for dinner, they agreed. Heading back to the same mercado George could not notice any iguanas in the fading light of dusk. He thought about what to bring to the Texans fire. Some roasted onion would be nice, like he had seen in the street earlier. Some chicken would be great as well. He made a mental note to try the street vendor's pollo asado soon and compare it to the feast he was planning for that night. He should probably tip the man well for the inspiration. The onion was easy to find but he didn't see any chicken. He didn't see any meat section at all. He knew the familiar shrink wrapped meat cuts were not in either of the two refrigerators either. In his halting spanish, he asked the couple at the register if they had chicken. The man looked at the woman and she returned his questioning gaze. He looked at George and asked, "How big do you want your chicken?"
George didn't really understand the question until the man started to make sizes with the two hands in front of him. In a sickening rush of comprehension that began in his gut and ended with his humble reply, George realized that they were going to head into the backyard of the store and kill one of their chickens for him. "No thank you, just eggs and cheese please" he stammered. It almost felt as though the woman was as relieved as George was by the time he left the store.Despite the laughter of the Texans when they heard his story, the onion omelets were delicious, lacking only chili powder. Contrary to that very morning, George was glad he would awaken to roosters crowing.
He heard a flute as he sat in the open air table at a restaurant standing at the edge of Roca Blanca calle. White rock street. It wasn't an arbitrary name, or a family name.