Posted by: lianadevine | 19 December 2007

Xalapa: the uneXpected

We’d been to Xalapa. We knew there was no campground in Xalapa. We have friends in Xalapa. Carl and Patricia knew we were coming and approXimately when, but we were unable to contact Julio and Ana-Patricia in advance. We knew we wanted to be with our friends in Xalapa for Virgen de Guadalupe Day, to celebrate with them, MeXican-style.

The road to Xalapa winds down from the Central Plateau through pine-forested mountains, dropping about 4000 feet within a half hour’s drive of the city. On our arrival into Xalapa, we headed for the PemeX gasoline station on the south end of town, which would be our eXit route. This is where, seven years ago, we had phoned Ana-Patricia and waited for her to come and lead us back to their home; Xalapa is not a bus-town.

Now, there’s a Costco there, right neXt to the PemeX. So we went in and asked permission to spend the night, promising to contact our friends and move to their place the neXt day. There was an armed guard* at the PemeX, so we felt safe and secure. After settling in, I was all for tuning in to my new MeXican telenovela (soap opera), but Calvin insisted we try calling Julio and Ana-Patricia. All I had was their business cards from ten years ago and a house address which we were not sure was current.

When we were unable to make phone contact, I suggested we take a taXi to the address of Julio’s bar, a family-owned business since 1947. Alejandro, our taXista, doubted the bar was still there, but I encouraged him by saying, “Let’s take a drive anyway, are you up for an Adventure?” He had to consult his map, ask passersby and other taXidrivers, but eventually we found the bar – closed. The people in the store neXt door said they closed at three, so we left a note in the door for Julio to find the neXt day. Then we asked Alejandro to take us to the address on the second business card, a restaurant that Julio was a partner in. This also proved to be an obscure address, and we’re not sure how circuitous the route we took really was, but eventually Alejandro pulled up to the restaurant. The woman inside told me she only rented the space, and suggested the owner may live neXt door. When we knocked on the door, a man there seemed to know Julio and after a few minutes, came up with a cellphone number. I called from a payphone on the street, and within moments was speaking with Julio and then his daughter MaruXa, who spoke English. Our neXt destination was back to Costco, where we agreed to meet with our newly-found friends. We had spent an hour and a half with Alejandro, criss-crossing Xalapa by night, so we more than compensated him for his time on our Adventure.

Although it was nearing nine o’clock, Julio, MaruXa, older daughter Angie and her husband Gonsalvo and their baby RodrigoAngie, Gonsalvo and Rodrigo soon appeared at our bus. They quickly greeted Spike, then insisted we go with them to eat. So we all piled into their compact car and went to a great restaurant that served a delicious feast of grilled meat, cheese and vegetables, accompanied by tortillas and frijoles charros.

At the table, I apologized for the short notice, eXplaining that the only contact numbers I had were obviously old. We had wanted to be with people we knew for Virgen de Guadalupe Day, so we could learn the customs surrounding this holiday. Angie said, “But we don’t celebrate it.” I replied, “Well, we have other friends in Xalapa.” Laughter all around.

The joke was on us, because when we contacted Carl and Patricia the neXt day, we learned that they don’t celebrate it either. But we spent a pleasant day with Carl, walking around his neighbourhood, then when Patricia returned from work, we went out for a filling lunch of soup, chicken in guajillo chile sauce and dessert. We had arranged to meet the family at the zocalo so we could go out to nearby Coatepec to Angie’s house, but did not specify where in the square block park we would be. It was nearly dark when we finally saw Maru and her mom, Ana-Patricia, approaching us – they had been circling the park, looking for us and looking for parking.

In Coatepec, preparations were being made for Virgen de Guadalupe Day: florist shops were arranging flowers and decorating the pallets that would carry the images of the Virgen in tomorrow’s processions, vendors were preparing food for the pilgrims who would pass by on their way to the church. We stopped to buy some garnachas to take to Angie’s, watching as they assembled, cooked and packed the meat-and-cheese tortillas fast-food-style. To our surprise, Maru’s friend, Celia, whom we had met seven years before, also lived in Coatepec, and was waiting for us at the house. It was great to see her again, and to learn that she spoke English, having lived in the US for several years. Dinner at Angie’sIt was fun and funny conversation that evening, some English, some Spanish, some Spanglish. We decided it would be difficult to come into the city tomorrow because of the processions clogging the streets, so they should all come out to our bus at Costco for a fiesta in the evening.

On Wednesday December 12, we arrived at Carl and Patricia’s early for breakfastCarl and Patricia’s for breakfast, before any processions had begun. Actually, I saw four nuns walking on the street, and this was as much hoo-hah as I saw of Virgen de Guadalupe Day. We invited Carl and Pati to our fiesta, and when Pati asked if there were anything she could bring, I said “No, thanks, I have Costco in my backyard.”

Calvin and I returned to the bus, shopped for supplies at Costco (where I’d promised the manager we would buy for the privilege of parking in their lot for another two nights), and made preparations for our fiesta: Calvin’s famous mushroom-garlic sauce on sliced pork and tortellini with Caesar salad and garlic toast on the side. Not a tortilla in sight.

Julio, Ana-Patricia and MaruXa arrived promptly at 6, bearing a lovely flower arrangement of tulips and stargazer lillies. They apologized that Angie and Celia were not able to come from Coatepec due to procession traffic. We enjoyed good food Bus Party!and good conversation along with a bottle of Roadtrip Red, courtesy of Green Tortoise Tours. We were just showing them some of our trip photos when Carl and Pati arrived; as Calvin served them a late dinner, I ran back to Costco and bought the dessert I’d coveted since our arrival: frozen chocolate-covered mini-cakes.

It was a bittersweet leavetaking, but we promised Ana-Patricia and Julio it would not be another seven years before we would visit them again. Julio again made us the same offer he had after our first brief meeting ten years ago: if there were anything at all we needed while we were in MeXico to please give him a call. We felt so humbled and honoured by this family’s kindness, generosity and hospitality. When Carl and Patricia left a short time after, we knew we would be seeing these good friends again here or there – they are used to travelling and dividing their time between countries.

Thursday December 13, we set out early leaving Costco and Xalapa behind so we could keep to our schedule and arrive in Bacalar before Christmas did.

*Talk about tough guys: one of our armed guards, a wiry macho type who wore his shades well into the evening, took a liking to Spike as I walked him on the boulevard between the PemeX and Costco. Imagine a cop dressed all in black, a rifle slung over his shoulder, bent down with arm outstretched making pssspssspsss noises to call Spike over so he could give him a chinscratch. Oh, for a camera!

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Responses

  1. Seems like your Xalapa experience was a kind of “gypsy road”—a series of meanderings that improbably ends up with an unexpected but still positive result. Hooray!

    I’m very glad to know that you eventually reconnected with Julio, Ana-Patricia, MaruXa, Celia, Carl, and Patricia for El Día de la Guadalupana, but it’s ironic that no one whom you visited celebrated it! Another “gypsy road”!

    Your ending was very special—and a bit surreal. “Oh, for a camera!” indeed! What an image that would’ve made!

    How does it look for Bacalar by Christmas?

    Muchos abrazos—

    Dennis in Phoenix

  2. Hi,

    I found this through its writingmatrix tag, second in the list at the moment. What a great blog, what a great trip. Having fun. Do you ever get comments or msgs from Writingmatrix students? It seems someone should contact you. Cheers, V


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