Plague Diary 12: Ways of Escape

I Keep Looking for a Way Out

For the first thirty years of my life, I was stuck either in Cleveland or in school. I loved my parents, but they wanted to control my life—and my whereabouts—for much longer than I thought was right. So one day in 1975, instead of taking a flight to Cleveland and remaining stuck in childhood, I flew to Mérida in Yucatán. Ever since then, I saw Cleveland as part of a past that I just happened to sidestep.

Now, during the awful coronavirus plague of 2020, I feel once again that my hands are being tied tightly behind my back. The only difference is that there is a matter of survival involved. For a few weeks, I could stay at home and remain more than six feet away from everyone but Martine. But my mind is traveling. While I eat, I page restlessly through an old Lonely Planet Mexico guide (cover illustrated above) picking places that look promising. Places like Bahía Kino and Alamos in Sonora, Morelia in Michoacán, or San Blas in Nayarit.

It seems that travel has become necessary to my feeling of well-being. I would even pick an American destination so that I can travel with Martine. Of late, she has shied away from going to foreign countries. She has even neglected to renew her passport. I would prefer to travel with Martine, but above all I need to travel.

Have I developed a thousand-mile stare? Perhaps I have. I guess spending a childhood in Cleveland will do that to one.

 

 

Fish Frenzy

The Perfect  Place for Filete de Pescado a la Veracruzana in Champotón

As I get older, I begin increasingly to tend toward being a vegetarian. Except where fish is concerned.

In my recent trip to Mexico, I visited three fishing ports: Campeche, Champotón, and Progreso. In each of them, at least one meal a day was dedicated to seafood, mostly filete de pescado a la Veracruzana, which consists of a filet of fish with a sauce of tomatoes, onions, and green olives. The best were at a place called something Tortuga something at Champotón, the Marganzo in Campeche, and Shark in Progreso.

I do not usually eat a lot of shellfish, though I had some excellent ceviche de pulpo (octopus) in Campeche and Progreso. Typically, I do not eat shrimp because of some bad experiences with symptoms resembling a sudden onslaught of strep throat. I usually tell everybody that is because of the mercury levels in coastal waters by large cities. In fact, I don’t know the real reason; but I do know I can eat shrimp caught in northern waters or in the Caribbean—though I usually just don’t. I have had similar experiences with lobster.

Ceviche de Pescado at Mérida’s Marlin Azul

Ceviche is one of my favorite dishes. It consists of raw fish or other seafood “cooked” by marinating in lime juice and served with chopped onions, tomatoes, chiles, and cilantro, as in the photo above. The fish actually tastes cooked, though it is always served cold. I grew to love the dish when I visited Lima, Peru, where it is the lunch dish of choice, but is rarely served at dinner time.

The only other place in the world when I went crazy over the fish was Iceland. Rarely did I eat at restaurants there which were not practically in view of the local fishing fleet. And the types of fish were radically different from what I was used to.

 

 

Autobuses de Oriente (ADO)

The Service Area of ADO First Class Buses

There have been many changes since I last visited Southeast Mexico. Among other things, Autobuses de Oriente (ADO) has merged with Ómnibus Cristóbal Colón (OCC) to pretty much monopolize first class bus service in Yucatán. I remember the days when I had to ride the rackety old Unión de Camionéros de Yucatán (UCY) second class buses with their broken seats and cracked windows. There are still a number of second class carriers, but UCY is no more.

Before going any further, allow me to clarify what first class and second class mean. First class buses directly connect larger cities and do not allow passengers to board or alight from a bus between its origin and its destination, unless the city is of a certain size. A bus from Mérida to Mexico City would typically be first class, stopping only in larger cities en route such as Campeche, Ciudad del Carmen, or Coatzacoalcos.

Second class buses connect small towns with larger cities, or with other small towns. When I go from Mérida to Izamal or Uxmal to Campeche, I will have to take a second class bus. The fare will be less per mile, the passengers poorer, and the bus less deluxe. Most importantly, the trip will take longer because passangers can board or exit anywhere they want.

There is also another class of bus usually referred to as combis. These are multi-row vans connecting even smaller cities. Typically, they do not leave until they are full.

ADO Bus at Station Platform

Instead of renting a car, I will travel around Yucatán and Campeche states almost entirely by bus. In some cases, I may join a tour organized by a local travel agency, but only to visit some ruins that are harder to get to via public transportation. When I return from Mexico, I will hopefully have some stories about bus travel in the Sureste region, as well as scads of my own photos.

 

 

Haibun: At the Ruins of Dzibilchaltún

The Temple of the Seven Dolls at Dzibilchaltún

A Haibun is a uniquely Japanese medium in which prose and haiku poetry are interspersed. I will attempt to memorialize some of my travel experiences using the Haibun genre from time to time. My intent is to follow the style of Matsuo Bashō:

First look at the ruins
My eyes glued to the chess board
Losing to my guide.

On my first trip to Yucatán in November 1975, I ordered guide services from a company called Turistica Yucateca. The lady who ran the company couldn’t speak a word of English, but we managed to communicate by nouns more or less common to English and Spanish. As my first destination, I chose Dzibilchaltún, about 20  miles north of Mérida. My guide, who had his own vehicle, was Manuel Quiñones Moreno who spoke good English and was well educated. I spent a few minutes looking at the ruins, which were mostly fairly ramshackle; but then he brought out a chess set, and we played several games. I lost all of them.

I have always loved chess, but not with any degree of proficiency.

In any case, I didn’t hold it against Manuel. I hired him the next day to show me the ruins of Acanceh and Mayapán. I kind of wish that Turistica Yucateca were still around, but that was almost half a century ago.

Things change.

 

 

Haibun: The Norte

A Norte Storm Lashes the Gulf Coast of Yucatán

A Haibun is a uniquely Japanese medium in which prose and haiku poetry are interspersed. I will attempt to memorialize some of my travel experiences using the Haibun genre from time to time. My intent is to follow the style of Matsuo Bashō:

November norte
White-clad Maya point and laugh
Paper boats bobbing in the street.

It was November 1992. I was in Yucatán with Martine and three friends from work: George Hoole and Jin and Christine Han. On the last day but one of our trip, the peninsula suffered a storm called a norte, because it originated in the United States and gathered strength as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico. The streets of Mérida were flooded: There was no walking without wet stains halfway up the leg. We were staying at the Posada Toledo, an old mansion turned hotel, near the center, worried whether our return flight the next day would be able to take off. Jin Han lightened the mood by carefully folding paper boats and setting them adrift in the street. They aroused considerable hilarity among the passersby.

 

Traveling with Bashō

Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) in a Print by Hokusai

I cannot help but see myself in this haiku by the great Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō:

Another year is gone—
A travel hat on my head,
Straw sandals on my feet.

Two weeks from today, I will be in Mérida, Yucatán, reacquainting myself with the world of the Maya. In many ways, Matsuo Bashō is the poet of travel. His book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, is the ultimate vade mecum for a traveler. The record of a 1,500-mile journey through the main Japanese island of Honshu, it captures with great beauty and subtlety the joys and sorrows of a life on the road.

The sound of a water jar
Cracking on this icy night
As I lie awake.

The extreme conciseness of the haiku form can lead to poetry that is brilliant—or banal. One has to somehow put two ideas together (as the ice and the sleepless traveler) with an absolute minimum of embellishment. Ah, but when it succeeds!

On the withered grass
Shimmering heat waves rise
One or two inches high.

I will, as usual, travel with a blank notebook. I would love to compose haiku relating to my upcoming journey to Mexico. It’s possible, but, alas, not likely. Even though I don’t usually go out evenings (except in Mérida), I will probably find myself too busy reading from my Amazon Kindle, which is fully loaded with hundreds of works of literature and history.

 

 

Foreign Lucre

Painter Diego Rivera on Mexico 500 Peso Bank Note

Before visiting any foreign country, I always like to get a supply of banknotes in that country’s currency for the first few days of my trip. So today I headed to Bretton Woods Currency in Brentwood to pick up a couple hundred dollars worth of pesos. The act of handling another country’s currency is always a magical moment for me: I suddenly feel the reality of my impending vacation—in this case, exactly two weeks from today. I got three denominations: 500 Pesos, 200 Pesos, and 100 Pesos.

My favorite is the 500 Peso note, which shows painter Diego Rivera on the front and his wife, the painter Frida Kahlo, on the reverse.

 

Mexican Patriots Miguel Hidalgo and José Maria Morelos on the 200 Peso Note

 

Nezahualcoyotl, Pre-Columbian Poety and Ruler of Texcoco

Above are the 200 and 100 Peso bank notes. I was intrigued by the figure shown on the 100 Peso note of Nezahualcoyotl, “Coyote Who Fasts,” who died some fifty years before Hernan Cortés landed at Vera Cruz with a party of conquistadores.

In the article on him in Wikipedia, I read the following interesting description:

Unlike other high-profile Mexican figures from the century preceding Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire,  Nezahualcoyotl was not Mexica;  his people were the Acolhua, another Nahuan people settled in the eastern part of the Valley of Mexico, settling on the eastern side of Lake Texcoco.

He is best remembered for his poetry, but according to accounts by his descendants and biographers,  Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxóchitl and Juan Bautita Pomar,  he had an experience of an “Unknown, Unknowable Lord of Everywhere” to whom he built an entirely empty temple in which no blood sacrifices of any kind were allowed — not even those of animals. However, he allowed human sacrifices to continue in his other temples.