Lake Chapala is the largest freshwater lake in Mexico, and happens to be only a forty minute car ride from Tlaquepaque.
I blew off writing lessons plans yesterday to go to the lake with one of the cousins, Fernando, who owns the store down the street, his nephew, and The Brit.
It’s a great relaxing, comfortable place. We ate an amazing lunch of seafood cooked in a stone pot with queso all wrapped in tortillas. Jorge, our young cat man, managed to eat one and half before running off to play in the sand.
It is a good thing there is a gym on the corner of my block. It costs less than $20/month, has free in house personal trainers at all times, and is full of buff, sweaty Latin men. I go everyday.
Which is a necessity since I can’t stop eating! Taco stands, tostadas, tortas, empanadas, sorbet, chorizo, fresh fruit by the kilo con creama. Which is actually a real thing. It wasn’t a mistake that I was eating fruit with creama, it is sometimes eaten with fruit. And it is good.
I can only eat rice so many times a week. But tortillas. Tortillas I think I could eat everyday. I’m not even close to being sick of tacos yet.
Some people come to the plaza for Jesus and the cathedrals. I come for the food.
Last Sunday, as I lamented waiting until the day before my week’s worth of lesson plans were due to actually do them, I needed a taco break. Finding the right balance between getting to explore my new location and do a good job at a quite demanding work load makes procrastination a necessary part of life. I procrastinate to spend hours learning Spanish phrases from the cousins who own the shop down the street. I procrastinate to wander in the Friday-only market to get the week’s fruits and vegetables and try out my new phrases.
On Sunday, I really was going to just have a ceviche tostada and then come right home and finish. I was not at all expecting an evening of music and magic.
I had been to this tostada stand once before. The people were friendly; the son lived in Texas for a while and speaks a little English. Since the first three questions you are likely to hear in either Spanish or English are respectively, “what’s your name?”, “are you married?”, and “how many kids do you have?”, I was able to establish quite quickly that he has nine kids by four different women.
In comes Roman, who I at first took for a potentially homeless drunk using his guitar to coerce pesos out of gringos hands. (Ok, so travelling can make you a little jaded at times.) When he called over to me, my first response was to resist the urge to roll my eyes. I decided to play nice, and it was a damn good choice.
Roman speaks a little English, more than most I’ve met, and is a full time musician, not homeless, although probably rather sauced at most times. Playing the worst guitar I’ve ever seen in my life, he sang a few English songs, pretty darn well, and all the people working started singing along. We chatted some more and I mentioned that I sing and write a bit. He handed over the guitar graciously, and without any of that Nashville worry that it might be taking the spotlight from him. The strings were loose, the neck was held on by a wood screw, and the low E string (extremely important in how I play) hardly stayed in tune for more than one verse. But they loved the song anyway.
A rather somber looking gent at the end of the stand had a beer sent over to me. Roman and I kept chatting and handing the guitar back and forth for a song, and people kept sending over rounds. The somber man invited us across the street for some tequila. At this point I got a little leery, but the waiter and Roman both assured that it was a genuine and unmotivated by unsavory intentions invitation.
It turns out the Somber Man, Pancho, is the owner of the tostada stand, as well as a very expensive and nice club across the street. He is also the brother of the mayor of Tlaquepaque, and he and Roman have been best friends for as long as I’ve been alive.
So we sang more songs, and drank more tequila. The people here are insanely proud of their tequila. It is nothing like Tequila you would drink at a bar in the states. It is smooth as butter, rich, tasty, and doesn’t resemble rubbing alcohol going down. A small glass is sipped with a plate of salt and a bowl of limes. Salt and lime the hand, sip, suck the hand, enjoy. While my compadres gracefully sipped and salted, I managed to get lime juice all over my pants, and couldn’t seem to figure out which hand to salt and which to hold the glass.
So on to another song.
This is how to get lost in Mexico on a Sunday. Go out for tostadas at 3, and come home liquored up at 10. Not too bad for a Sunday’s work.
Tonight Pancho invited me to play music at his 50-something birthday party. I’ll be the token gringa, sing pretty, and enjoy some fine company. But, I’m bringing my guitar this time.
I arrived in Mexico on the last day of Christmas, January 6th; The Twelve Days of Christmas is not just a kids song here. Late in the evening as I took my first walk around, peddlers in the streets were trying to get rid of the last of the end of Christmas bread. Rosca is a festive, colorful, circular bread with a baby Jesus hidden on the inside. My friend Alex from Guatemala said in his country, whoever gets the baby Jesus is responsible for hosting a party for all the others that shared the bread. I’ve gotten mixed responses for what it means in Mexico, but it seems to mean having the privilege of doing something kind of generous for others, not just the “winner” of the prize.
For me, this is representative of my first week here. The people are truly warm and genuine. The closest place I’ve been to that is similar is my time spent in Nepal, (well, and Kathy Hussey’s song circle in Nashville). It is quite different from my last teaching assignment where my introduction to the country was a 12-day quarantine and the accusation of being an HIV-riddled, drug-addled pedophile.
So far I think Tlaquepaque is a wonderfully comfortable place to live. The weather is gorgeous (sorry for all of you up north reading this), the food is fresh and vibrant, and the people the same. As far as foreign living goes, either I have become too accustomed to notice or be bothered by differences, or this really is an incredibly easy place to live. There aren’t the stark cultural and behavioral differences that exist in Asia, just the language, which I am plodding through much more easily than say, Korean, Mongolian, or Nepali.
I had a good laugh with a local shop keeper that I have been trading language lessons with. He has cousins in the US and strong English skills. I’ve been buying a homemade substance in plastic cups called “creama” that I thought was yogurt. He asked how I could possibly be using so much creama, and I told him I eat it with papaya every morning, which got a quizzical look. Apparently it’s homemade sour cream, although neither sour, or thick, or in anyway resembling any sour cream I’ve had, and quite delicious on papaya if I may say so myself. But now it would be too embarrassing to buy it again, so I bought some yoplait and a big jug of milk to start making my own yogurt again. Ironically, considering that I’ve never been much of a cook considering that I’ve spent a large portion of my adult life living out of hotel rooms, hostels, and places where the grocery stores are filled with unrecognizable ingredients, I’m the only one of the four of us in this house keeping and eating any groceries at home – even if it’s not what I think it is. Is this the nomad version of settling down?
I stumbled into a Saturday Mass at a Catholic Church last week, and may do it again tonight. It’s interesting for my listening skills (almost non-existent), and the part where they shake hands with all the people sitting near them and wish them well for the week is almost unbearably lovely.
Our house is the orange one. There are four of us, three Americans and a lone Brit.
The courtyard of our school.
Picking a new direction everyday, we walk. Although we’ve been warned against eating street food, it’s both delicious and all we can afford on a standard Mexican teacher’s salary. So far no one has gotten sick, and the pursuit of the next best gordita stand has become a house past time.
I took a walk with a co-worker on Sunday that brought us to the scenic route of the industrial zone. Unfortunately we weren’t walking in the direction we thought we were, and did see much besides walls of graffiti.
So far life is little except planning lessons, teaching, planning, teaching, planning, eating, teaching, sleeping, eating, planning. But hopefully that will even out soon.
I am in a new country, a new city, and a new language yet again. This is one I think I can wrap my brain around though. After years of Asian adventures, please join me on the next adventure teaching English in Central Mexico.
As you can see, I did arrive safe and sound in Tlaquepaque just in time for an evening stroll, some street gorditas, and a margarita.
By the time I finish editing the photos, I don’t have much left to say. The town is very nice, the rommates alright, the room definitely has something to desire, but over all the house is fine. Have a meeting at school tomorrow. For now, just take a stroll with me.