Mexico Travel Adventures Continued

Gail Howard's Travel Adventures in Mexico in 1957

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At the flower market, I bought a huge bouquet of roses and sent them with a note of thanks to Ricardo’s mother. Then I went to see the Shrine of Guadalupe, a huge church worth millions of dollars because of all the jewels and 22 karat gold inlay on the walls. This Shrine was similar to Lourdes in the sense that people come from all over the world to be cured. They make a promise to the Virgin of Guadalupe to crawl on their knees from the gate to the Miracle Room, a distance of about two city blocks – both before and after the miracle. I saw several people walking on their knees on the cement outside and on the tile inside.

People dressed in their best clothes, and one man I saw was dressed in a beautifully tailored new suit. No one would consider wearing anything but their finest clothes for this important occasion. By the time they reach the door of the Cathedral, their knees are bloody and raw and sweat is pouring down their faces. People prayed fervently here, usually with tears streaming down their cheeks. And tears were streaming down my cheeks, as well.

Inside the church flowers were everywhere. Six and one half tons of flowers are given to this church every day. Poor Indians who cannot afford to give money to the church give flowers. Over 20,000 people pass through it each day. The legend was that a poor Indian who was on his way to fetch a doctor for his sick father was spoken to by the Indian Virgin Guadalupe. She asked to have a church built in her honor on that spot. He went to the priest, who thought the Indian was loco. The Virgin cured his father. The third time the Indian went to the priest, the latter asked for some miracle to prove she really was the Virgin.

The Virgin of Guadaloupe asked the Indian to pick an armful of roses – in December when there were no roses – for the priest. When the Indian placed the roses before the priest, there was a perfect image of the Virgin on his poncho made from the pollen of the flowers. That was 300 years ago. The pollen on the poncho still existed in this Shrine. There were plaques all over the Miracle Room, many in languages other than Spanish, thanking the Virgin for a miracle. Letters and pictures were pinned on the wall, also small silver arms and legs and other body parts.

In those days, much to my delight, the U.S. dollar went a long way. My room in the heart of Mexico City cost only $14 a month, and I fed myself on a dollar a day. Breakfast (25¢) was freshly squeezed orange juice and a raw egg blended into a foamy brew. Lunch (50¢) was a glass of zanahoria (fresh carrot juice) and a torta (a French roll filled with sliced turkey, avocado, tomato and lettuce). Dinner (25¢) was enchiladas, tacos or other Mexican fare, which I purchased from street stalls. I was thus able to coast on my meager savings for quite some time.

Cholula and Puebla

Ricardo took me 86 miles out of the city to a town called Cholula. I learned that in every city and pueblo in Mexico, there is at least one beautiful, wealthy, cherished church. Cholula has 365 of them and a population of 13,000 people. Each church is open only one day a year. Within each beautiful church there seemed to be an infinite number of statues, paintings, and carvings coated with gold leaf.

Next we drove to Puebla which is said to have the strongest Spanish influence of any city in Mexico. Almost every building has carvings on it or tiles splashed in wild designs. Even more striking to me than the architecture were the people in the streets. There were beggars—too many to count—blind and crippled, yet I never saw anyone giving anything to them. Women passed carrying babies tied in their rebozos (shawls), while other children clung to their skirts or straggled behind.

In the Mercado (marketplace), there was a withered old man from whom I bought a peso’s worth of pepitas (squash seeds). In fact, my peso, worth about 8 cents, bought half the wares he had to sell that day. (A peso went much further outside of Mexico City.) I also purchased comates for my Senora, who is especially fond of sweets. This candy, which is made from sweet potatoes, was available in several different flavors.

I loved the Mexican method of buying and selling. The banter of bargaining was really an exercise in matching wits. Even though you bargained furiously and sometimes called each other thief and robber, it was a friendly transaction with smiles and teasing.

On the street I bought six hand-worked handkerchiefs. The woman who made them has no shop. She just walks along the street and sells them. She asked 36 pesos for six.

I let out my “bargaining gasp” along with wide pop eyes, and breathed out, “Muy caro,” (very expensive). I looked them over carefully and openly admired the beautiful workmanship, then started to walk away. She went down a couple of pesos.

“Mucho dinero,” (a lot of money) I exclaimed. I offered 18 pesos.

She gasped, “Imposible.”

I shrugged my shoulders and walked away. I had walked half a block when she panted up to my side and said, “30 pesos for six.”

I countered, “20 pesos.” She came down, I went up. It was 22 to 24, so I suggested a compromise of 23 pesos, which she accepted. Now if you don’t think that is more fun than walking into a department store and buying the same thing for 20 pesos, never come to Mexico. I thrived on it.

My landlady, Senora Serrano, immediately became my friend, teacher, advisor and confidante. We spent one afternoon reading her son’s personal love letters (in English). The letters were beautifully poetic and sensuous. The Senora was very proud of them. In the evening, her friend Caroline came over and taught me Flamenco chords on her guitar.

Next morning, the Senora awakened me early and brought me some limon tea. I caught the Estrella de Oro bus and headed for Taxco, a charming city with tile roofs as far as the eye could see. It had many ruins and salvaged ancient buildings.

Narrow cobblestone roads – very hard to walk on – wound up and down steep slopes leaving houses on a number of levels. My hotel’s entrance was on the ground floor, but I had to walk down three flights of stairs to reach my room, and when, when I looked out my window, I was three flights above the street!

I wandered along the winding street until I came to the shop of “Sigi.” While in Mexico City, I had fallen in love with one of Sigi Pineda’s creations – which he proudly told me had won first prize in a silver competition. He took me through the ‘factory’ – where everything was made by hand – and we ended up at the drawing table, where we spent the next two hours talking.

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