18 March 2016

Tecolutla - Part Two

The place with the tongue-twisting name: not all the warmth came from the sun by any means. The residents exhibited nothing but pleasure in greeting two gringo visitors. Many of them are clearly descendants of the ancient Totonacan region around us. The native language heavily influences their Spanish pronunciation. Tecolutla was always a fishing village, both sea and river. It has two or three main streets intersected by small side streets, very easy to navigate. Of course it has the expected central plaza, or zocalo as they say.
Part of the zocalo with the municipal building
typical art

As the days went by on our first trip, we got to know middle-aged Hector ... sort of ... according to jumbled communications. His domestic arrangement was a mystery. The sweet Rosario, who looked about seventeen, appeared to be his wife; the word esposa may have nuances! While Hector took care of hotel business, which was none, since we were the only guests, Rosario cooked for him and took care of him. She was also the general factotum for hotel cleaning. The two of them were gaga over the toddler Hector Jr., affectionately called Torito.
Rosario was excited to have us meet her parents in the mountain village of San Pablo. It's the same mountain range we had followed in southern Tamaulipas state. Her father had an orange "rancho" there, we understood. Her Spanish was so heavily accented that for ages I thought his name was Chili-choro. Hello, Teodoro! Who was actually a labourer for an orange plantation owner. Like any grandparents, they were thrilled with a visit from Torito, not to mention the gringos. 

San Pablo is a (literally) dirt poor village. The huts are vulnerable to the elements, constructed of cement blocks, boards, and sticks. There is no water running from a tap, no plumbing or electricity. They only had about two chairs. Recent rains had washed downhill, turning the paths into mud. Reaching the outhouse, slipping and sliding past the prized family pig, was an epic journey.
And yet these people were warmly hospitable despite the language barrier, giving us their best meal, tamales cooked on a very large pan over a kitchen fire. They take corn to a mill on the river to have it ground for their staple corn meal. Rosario proudly showed us the village church where we assumed, in our faltering ignorance, she and Hector had been married. Some time later we established that this is where little Hector was baptized. We never did resolve the marriage question.
Meanwhile, we spent a lot of time on the beach. No beach vendors. No hard sell anywhere. We were ahead of Easter when the town experiences one of its booms; other prime times are Christmas, their large (ocean) fishing derby in May, and summer holidays. The first thing on the beach that attracted us like a magnet was El Rincon de Don Juan ... Juan's Place, a restaurant and bar, occasional night club. It was then we met the irrepressible Juan Carlos, chief booster for all things Tecolutla.

El Rincon became a daily destination as we listened to JC's ambitious plans for the town to become a destination for NorteAmericanos. We spent hours weighing options and logistics, trading stories. A sociologist by training, he "came home" to help develop local interests, environmental concerns being a big part of it. Sometimes his musicians would show up for lunch or dinner. Sometimes even the cook would show up.

Otherwise the little town fast became familiar. And because it was off-season everyone got to know us, even though some businesses were not reopened yet for the expected Easter rush. We could put names to passersby. There were casual restaurants to try, veracruzeano cooking. It was like eating with a different family each night. Shops that were open had few local crafts and no souvenirs. But natives of Guatemala were arriving to sell their crafts on the street. 

Telephones were utterly unreliable. Television was patchy at best. The internet was still years from having an impact here. The only sign of outside life was an occasional helicopter flying in to the one grand hotel (surrounded by a privacy fence). Whereupon Juan would shrug, "gobierno políticos." Watching the river fishermen throw their nets; a visit to the tiny museum; trips to the larger town of Zamora to explore; it was a world unto itself.

One day we were entranced by a visit from the voladores, practitioners of an ancient Totonacan ceremony. They come from nearby Papantla, the centre of preserving this heritage. It is believed to have originated as a performance begging the gods for rain. Part of the mystique may involve the spring equinox which was then approaching. Five men in elaborate costumes danced along the street to the zocalo. They climbed a very tall pole and four performed the flying ritual while the fifth played a flute and small drum. As the men slowly descend and whirl, they represent the four elements earth, air, fire, water and also the four directions. Meanings and symbolism have changed over time.

 Mr. Gringo always found some local project he could help withbuilding, measuring, painting. By the time we left, that first time, Mr. Gringo had invested in Garabatos to Hector's delight.

© 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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