Where to go, what to visit? Between searching online, or asking people for tips on where to go, what places to visit, there are always an unlimited amount of suggestions that come up.
Depending on who we would ask, of course, we would either get the “High Society, Mister!” answer of our richest of the rich mirreyes (lit. ‘my kings’, as kids flaunting richness are mockingly called) students with spas, theme-parked resorts, and bea-uuuu-tiful shopping malls, the most extensive holiday cabins with private golf courts (well, maybe not that), jacuzzis (probably), and not even realise you’re in unique place A, B, or C in Mexico…
… or, we would hear about big cities to visit, beautiful waterfalls, cenotes (flooded sinkholes), and teeny-tiny villages. The big cities like Guadalajara, Monterrey, DF (Distrito Federal as Mexico City is called) are quite established, mostly attract tourists by simply existing in the way they are.
A lot of smaller villages, however, usually seem to have an attractive and well-kept city center, clean and safe parks, and usually some eco-tourism to the side, in the periphery. They are officially advertised as Pueblos Mágicos. Today, I want to take you with me to one of those, one called: Villa del Carbón.
In the middle of advertising our soon-to-be ex-belongings, one of my Spanish teachers asked if I wanted to join her and some friends on a weekend away to her boyfriend’s friend’s parents’ ranch. They hadn’t seen the boyfriend’s friend in a while, and they finally, really, wanted to take him up on his request to come visit him and his parents on their 2.5 hour drive out of the big city. As for my Spanish teacher, I knew her fairly well. Just to compare, still, I realised that in Holland it had probably been a stretch to so colloquially invite a friend of a friend.
I could not refuse! One of the big reasons that Couch Surfing is so popular, is because you, if you’re lucky, immediately get the experience it sometimes takes months to cultivate: an experience with someone who gives you their undivided attention and takes you to places the public isn’t always welcome, and the marketing department doesn’t yet know about. I would never pass up on such an opportunity, and besides: buena onda. Good vibes.
So, we met up. There we went. After 1.5 hours, we finally made it… to the neighbourhood in the city where we’d meet the rest, and where we’d leave from. This neighbourhood was beautiful, village-like with houses painted in vivid colours, and as I’d learn later: one of the many cities engulfed by explosive expansion of ‘DF’, while maintaining its village core. In getting out of the city, I usually take a plane or just fall asleep while a bus takes me out of the city, but here it was strikingly clear: getting through the city, is almost half the trip.
We were terribly hungry, and caught the last of the penalty series between Italy and Germany, live, at a taquería – a taco restaurant. When we went on our way, the cityscape quickly changed from the vividly coloured facades to erratic half-finished houses without plaster, from tight corridor-ed streets to broader pseudo-highways, with the building density slowly, but steadily decreasing.
As we reached the periphery of the city, we joined others on the intertwining, towering low-ways and high-ways, as we reached higher on our way out of the valley, flanked by monochrome urban hills, and the gray haze of smog fogging out the bigger city behind us, like a game designer’s trick to leave the far, unrendered.
Eventually, ahead, our metaphorical graphics got better. The sky became clearer, the colours more vivid. As my teacher strikingly said, “Guau, aire fresca,” as she lit her cigarette. As is quite typical, the road now and then had a taquería or a comedor, an ‘eatery’, attached to them. Sometimes, there were more houses, which almost made it seem as if the road was built straight through a village – or more likely, the road had provided a reason to live and work there, as the Rotte river served for Rotterdam, the Amstel for Amsterdam, the Ris for Paris, and the Lond for London. …Right?
2.5 hours later, we arrived at the slim urban sliver we could call the outskirts of Villa del Carbón, where we stocked up. We needed: beer, beer, snacks, as dinner was already being taken care of. We got back in the car, went right up the hi-WAIT.
No mames. No way.
We didn’t have tortillas. Frustration. Despair.
It was getting late. Call the others. Turn around the car.
Make fun of the ‘How do you get a Mexican at a total loss?’.
Que carajo. Oh shit. The stores were closing.
I tried to say that the supermarket seemed to have tortillas?….. but I didn’t understand. Those taste like carton. No valen madre. They were not worth shit. We needed to find an open tortillería.
We’d have either fresh tortillas or…. No, we just simply needed to have them. Our kingdom for fresh tortillas. 2 times around town.
…and, a hole in the wall tortillería. Blue corn tortillas. And the crowd went wild.
Freshly arrived at the ranch, I bonded with the family pretty quickly. An ‘everyone-is-welcome’, ‘a-friend-of-a-friend-is-our-friend’ attitude, being able to talk with them in fluent Spanish (?), stating some facts about the mouth-watering-in-all-colours-of-the-rainbow Mexican cuisine seemed to be on the right wavelength (and a dash of Mexican government bashing probably didn’t hurt either). The Malinchismo, the fondness of foreigners (and Westerners in particular) seems to be pretty present still, although honestly: I wouldn’t see it as any difference from a healthy interest in the unknown, which-some-people-in-some-EU-or-soon-to-be-ex-EU-countries-seem-to-lack.
Three dogs, lots of chickens, turkeys, and geese on a background of the twilight sun (for once, not smogged up) made for an atmosphere that you’d easily forget possible in the rush and tush of an entity that never sleeps.
The barbecue got lit up, and soon the Nopales (cactus leaves), spring onions, chorizo, longaniza (a type of chorizo), bistek (read that one aloud), and sausages were sizzling their way to deliciousness.
Mandatory limes and home-made red & green spicy salsas accompanied the food, and we just couldn’t stop eating. The silence that falls when delicious food is eaten, seems to be universal.
After a long night with tacos and arcade game machines, we heard some loud noises the next day – confused, I walked to the front, and saw a family member punishing one of the dogs. Most of us seemed to be as confused as I was, as we pretty much all stayed awake past our due.
“Mató a un pollo..” my teacher said.
It seemed a bit surreal, but all so real when the dog was dragged to the lifeless body of the chicken, to show what the dog had done to it, and that it was wrong. I felt a bit sad and appalled, but immediately also so utilitarian: I didn’t have a problem with seeing – well, knowing about – a chicken being “put to death” for consumption, but this… what had happened, seemed wrong. Pointless.
Later, the family explained to me that this dog, Maya, had grown up in the city. Their other two dogs, hadn’t. The latter ones had always been around the geese, chickens, humans, and other animals, without their instincts overriding to attack or kill any of those. Maya, however, did not have that emotional connection, and however harsh it seemed, this family had been training dogs for decades. In a couple of months, Maya will probably stop. I definitely hope so since it wasn’t her first time – this 3 months old chicken was her 6th victim in 2 months.
So, what was going to happen to the victim? An hour later, she was already in the pot. A bit after that, the mom was plucking it and it would finally serve as food for the dogs. Well, the dogs – minus Maya.
It was time to head back. On our way through the mountains, from the fresh green highlands back down the into the valley of smog, I couldn’t help but simply smile. These were the memories I wanted to have fresh in my mind, leaving Mexico. The memories of mouthwatering food, the warmest of hospitalities, and a tiny show of the beautiful nature Mexico has to offer.
We will be back!