Friday, November 11, 2011

Tuesday Morning in Quiotepec

Well, I'm actually still on Monday afternoon--but I'll get to Tuesday.
After beer and bread, we were taken out to a field of huge golden pompom marigolds to gather flowers for our altar. All families have an altar, and Eric decreed that since traveling together made us a family of sorts, we should have one too. The cabin that Bob and I got is built into the side of the mountain and had a natural shelf, so it became the altar space. I temporarily stored the marigolds in the shower--it was rather decadent and wonderful later to take a shower in a stall filled with flowers (and be grateful--I didn't let Bob take a picture). Flowers are everywhere--they are said to help guide the spirits back to this world.

Dinner in the beautiful dining hall was a new favorite of mine: tlayuda.  Sort of a Mexican pizza--a large crispy torilla with a spread of black beans, topped with bits of meat, crumbled cheese, tomatoes, and avacado.  Really have to figure out how to make them.

Time to turn in.  We sat for awhile on the steps to let the night fold around us.  Up in the mountains, in the desert, the air is impossibly clear, with more stars than can be imagined.

Tuesday morning we got up early (to the sound of Isabel playing the Mexican national anthem on the loudspeaker) to go witness the Unburying Of the Tamales. A tamale is corn dough, often with a filling, wrapped in cornhusks, and normally steamed. But in Quiotepec, twice a year--for their saint's day in July and All Saint's day--they pit bake them all night. A fire is built in the pit during the day, and then layers of bananas leaves and tamales are put in (several familes bake them together, each family's worth separated by banana leaves). The final pile is covered in woven mats, then dirt, and left to steam all night. The tamale itself is also unusual--normally they are a thickish layer of dough, with a filling inside. These were make more like a jelly roll--thin layers of dough and bean filling. They are wrapped with an avacado leaf (giving a delicate anise flavor) before going into the cornhusks. Delicious. Although we later noticed that in general these were not being eaten; we would see them on the altars and the graves.

Although the tamales would have been enough, our hostesses had breakfast ready for us in the dining hall. Black beans and scrambled eggs with nopales (prickly pear cactus leaves). I had not had nopales before--I had heard that if not cooked properly, they have okra's tendency to be slimey. Our cook knew what she was doing, and they were delicious. So were the cups of chocolate.

Tamales, beans, eggs, and chocolate--how is one to work all of that off? With a good hike, that's how. Back into Eric's van, across that old railway bridge, and off to see some meso-american ruins on the mountainside. It's not a long hike up to them (Eric said about a mile and half), but we're Florida Flatlanders and it was mostly up (except for returning, which was mostly down). The huge candelabra cactus were impressive (how big? That's me standing in front of one--that is estimated to be 800 years old). More subtly impressive was the industriousness of the people of Quiotepec, who not only cleared paths and edged them with stones, but made stone rings around most of the trees (if you build it, will they come?) Not all of the ruins have been excavated--you can see pyramid-shaped mounds when you learn how to recognize them. Only a few of the excavated ones have been partially restored. We've been to ruins in Mitla and Monte Alban that have been cleaned and restored and opened to the public--but these, mostly unbothered, gave more of a sense of their great age, and yet gave more of a feeling of the people who were once there. This place may look inaccessible to us--but it's at a meeting at the rivers, and in it's time was an important crossroads and trading area. And for us Flatlanders--the view from up there was magnificent.
After the hike, we return, dealing with the Quiotepec version of a traffic jam--a large herd of goats on the road. Lunch (beans and torillas and fresh guava juice), and it's time to build our altar (that will be the next post). We retire to our various rooms, to rest for awhile, and listen to the wind. The afternoon wind in the mountains is a living entity, wrapping around the buildings, shaking the shutters. The wind is why we will be getting up before dawn tomorrow. In the city, the Return of the Souls and the visiting of the graveyards is done in the evening. Here, the wind would scatter the flowers and blow out the candles, so the vigil is held before dawn.

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