This morning just after we had gotten up I was using the internet and Jesika was in the shower, when I felt a tap on my shoulder and behind me was Jesus!! What a wonderful surprise. He had come to say goodbye in private. He was going down the the coast today to visit his relatives before heading to Guadalajara.
It was so good to see him and then when we went outside to see his motorbike there was his father. So a double surprise and a really good start to our day. We had breakfast after he had gone and then went down to the Zocalo area to change some money. Most said they opened at 10am but we found one that said 9am. It was 9:20 so Jesika went in and they said come back in 10 mins. So we went and sat in the square and watched the world go by. Then we went back and they still were not ready – typical Mexican!! So we wandered about and found another place a few streets away that was open AND was ready to serve us!!
From there we walked down to the Central where all the buses and taxis congregate. It was really busy, people and vehicles everywhere. It is really hard to describe it all, the sights and sounds and smells are so diverse. The traffic is incredible, the cars and buses just seem to converge and push and shove until someone manages to get ahead, the buses sometimes are squeezing down narrow roads almost cheek to cheek, in fact you often wonder if there is room, they also drive so fast, I cannot believe there are not more accidents. The funniest sights though are the buses. They have a driver plus another guy who stands in the doorway leaning out and yelling their destination to entice customers. The drivers are paid by how many customers they take each day so have to drum up business. When they stop the extra guy hops out and yells down the street and stands beside the bus banging steadily on the side to make the driver aware that there are still people getting on or off. When all are in or out he gives two quick bangs and hops in fast as the bus zooms off again! The busses go past the stops, there are no timetables, you just go to the stop and wait till you see the bus with the destination on the front that you want then you wave your arm out for it to stop. They are usually quite obliging. Nathan has quite got into the hang of this and has caused a lot of hilarity because he will see a bus coming and wave it down even if it is not the one we want!! He loves the buses. We never us public transport at home so this is a real novelty to him and he is adapting well. Reckons it is way better than the bus system in San Francisco!!
The side walks are very narrow so you are constantly avoiding oncoming people, ducking onto the road to pass or avoid banging into others and then avoiding being hit by the cars. They are also very uneven so you have to have eyes in all directions. Ahead to keep up with Jesika, behind to make sure Nathan is still with us, around to not knock into others, down to avoid tripping or walking into unmentionable stuff. Then there are the smells, one minute you are being gassed by exhaust fumes and the next overwhelmed by fresh bread being sold from tricycles or basket vendors. As you walk you pass in quick succession shops selling modern clothes, arts and crafts, cell phones, unisex hairdressers, traditional clothes, meat, photography, computers, tortillas, hardware, carparts, basic eating places, breads, flash restaurants, fruits and vegetables, – there is no order, there are no large glass windows displays, the doors just open to let you see what is inside. Most shops are very small, barely big enough for one or two customers.
There seems to be no order to any part of Mexican life. It is a total mix of chaos, and yet there is order in amongst it all, there is dirt and rubbish and yet it is clean, noisy but peaceful, – I love it!!!
Heather had given us directions as to how we could be to San Agustin, a small place near Etla. So we went in search of a collective taxi to take us there. Collective taxis are very cheap, ie 10pesos per person as opposed to 80-100pesos in a normal taxi. But in the collective taxis you share the cab with any other folk who may be going your way.
We couldn’t see the Etla sign and were begining to think we would have to take a normal taxi, we didn’t want to ask any passing taxi driver because they will just try and get you to hop in their cab whenther that is where they are heading or not!! So we asked a man on the street where to find one. He then lead us across the street and thru some markets and there were a heap of collectives. He then told the driver what we wanted and sent us on our way. We are finding that the loacls are very helpful and hospitable and will go out of their way for us if we need help.
It was a lot of fun heading out of the city. We saw for the first time the severity of the blockades, the main entrance to the city had burning logs, barbed wire, tyres and rocks etc and many people across it so all the traffic has to divert. They don’t seem too violent at the moment. The driver was very chatty and told us all about Etla. It is a lovely town with very good water supply, I think it may supply a lot of water to the city too. There are many Americans and other foreigners living there, it is an area of artists. When we got to Etla he said he would take us all the way to San Agustin for another 30pesos so we agreed as it was 5km further. He took us to the first paper factory. It was all open but no-one around. It was also not the place Heather had told us about. So he took us up the hill further to a large white church. Beautiful surroundings and pools. He went and asked someone where the place was we were wanting to go and then said he would take us there. We pulled up outside a large wooden gate and knocked on it. We were met by Alberto. The driver said he was happy to wait so he did. We went in and had a fantastic time. Alberto was so interesting. He and his wife Anna (who unfortunately was not home) run this organis paper making business. He used to be a biologist and about 9 years ago met a Finnish couple and he became interested in discovering ways of making paper that is not detremental to the environment.
He spent ages with his assistant Pedro, who spoke as much English as Jesika does Spanish, and they explained all the different things they use to make paper complet with a very scientific brekdown on the ways these plants are made up. He showed us bark, cactus fibres and cotton as examples. The bark consists of cellulose and lignun, the cactus consists of cellulose and carbohydrates and the cotton just of pure cellulose. The different consistancies give different results and make the process times different. It really was a very fascinating science lesson for us all but poor Jesika was really struggling to interpret as she doesn’t have the scientific background. It was really funny though because even though I don’t speak Spanish I could pick up what he was meaning because a lot of the words he was using I remembered from my high school biology classes. So I was understanding while Jesika was struggling to work out what they were meaning. It was very educational for us all in many ways!!! We also discussed the natural colours they use. Purple comes from a snail, reds from the cochineal insect that burrows into cactus leaves, different dirt and rocks give interesting colours as well. Copper based rocks make greens. He also said that they do not use caustic soda to break down the fibres like the commercial paper makers do as it is destructive to the environment.
After this Alberto decided that they would give us an example of how they make paper from banana leaves. Pedro took us around the garden and showed us each step. First the leaf – the main part of the leaf is used in a Mexican dish called Tamales, so the thick centre stem is discarded. This is the part they use. They soak it in large barrels. It fermants and begins to break down. Then the mush it with a basic machine they got from Japan. They then cook it for a few hours depending on the toughness of the fibre. They then wash it very thoroughly to get all mildew and mold out of it.
He had a large tin bathtub size container full of water and some cotton fibres so he showed us how to take the sieve and plunge it into the water and bring it up vibrating it gently to settle it in the frame. Then you have to turn it out onto a large piece of felt giving it just the right amount of pressure to squeeze out the water. He got Nathan and me to have a go, we both did really well although Nathn was a bit more violent with his vibrating so had to do a 2nd dip!!! I asked if he made larger sizes and he showed us the large sieve. So he got Nathan to have a go. It was very heavy to bring up through the water but Nathan managed to do it with a bit of help from Alberto. Once the paper is dried a bit they hang it on cardboard supports and leave it to dry overnight.
He then took us through to his display area and showed us what the women make with the papers. They make such cool books, photo frames, envelopes and note papers. His dream is to not only research and find new ways but to teach the younger folk how to do it and also provide work for people. At the moment it is only a small business but a vision unfolding. He was so interested in finding out about New Zealand, our farming, home schooling etc, we could’ve talked for hours. But our taxi driver came in and asked how long we wanted to be because we had already been 2 hours!!! So we quickly sorted out papers to buy and hopped into the taxi for our return trip. On the way through Etna he stopped to pick up two more people, we were wondering where he was going to fit them when he got Jesika to move across beside him and sit on a cushion in the middle. We were quite glad he never stopped to pick up anyone else!!!
We came back to the hostel to unload and then walked down to the Mercado de Artesanias – the craft market. It was fun to walk around and see everything, it is so hard to look at things though because if you show the slightest interest the stall keeper is bringing out all the wares and showing you everything they have. We bought a few things we liked and decided to head back to the hostel tounload. Then we walked to the Santo Domingo church. It is a huge church with a beautiful courtyard. We went inside to have a look, although it is quite foreign to us to have such ornate paintings and statues in a church we had to admit that it was an amazing work of art. The whole building is decorated to the max! But it also is hard to balance the opulance with the poverty we have witnessed outside the church.
There were people ariving dressed up in their totally best clothes, we wondered if there was a wedding but no, the lady at the church said it was a school graduation. We went downt he street a wee way and found a Crepe restaurant that had been recommended to us. It was upstairs and we had a table on a small balcony so we could watch the world go by on the street below. My first thoughts when all three of us crammed out onto the balcony were that I hoped that it was a lot stronger that the Cave Creek lookout!!!
The meal was superb, and as we hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast we all enjoyed it immensely. While Jesika was paying – (I leave her to sort out the pesos, I haven’t got my head around them yet!!) – Nathan & I went down to an art market we had seen across the street. Some of the paintings were really good. I was taken by a painting of 7 children all dressed in the regional costuimes representing the 7 areas of Oaxaca. So when Jesika arrived I bought it. The artist spoke good English and was most appreciative that I had bought the painting because he hadn’t sold anything all day. The tourist numbers are way down so business is very slow for everyone. He gave me is business card so I can email him if I have any more questions about the costumes. I got him to write on the back of the painting which was from what region.
We got back to the hostel a bit earlier than usual for us so had time to book a couple of tours for Mexico city as we only have 1 more day here and don’t want to waste our time up there by missing out on the 3 specific things I want to do.