Guelagutza me out of my Mind

The Guelaguetza is a annual festival held in the city of Oaxaca and the surrounding villages. It takes place during two weeks, dated on the day of the prehispanic god of the maiz. The festival celebrates the diversety of the indigenous cultures of Oaxaca. Each region has different traditional dresses and dances which are precented on stage. The Guelaguetzas are goods, which are distributed by the performers to the crowd, at the end of a dance, such as sweets, fresh onions or tamarind sauce. The dances and differ from village to village, it is hard to find background informations on them, so pictures explain the Guelaguetza better than words, see for yourself.

The title refers to a little anectote:

Gary, our friend from the Mezcal fair, is a photographer of the traditions of Mexico (his instagram is garykarolli, check it out, the pics are amazing!). Gary kindly escorted our little group of new found friends to the various parties. As it was a lot of times us and the family of his friend, we rode in the back of the pick up truck to the villages. Not very safe but so common in Mexico, everybody does it and the police gives the example by riding in the back, standig up, with the machine gun around the head.

The drink of the region, Mezcal, was omnipresent and served out of gas tanks to the visitors for free. Saying no, was not accepted for an answer, so the smoky liquid run down our throats many times. Yet the Mezcal was not what made our heads turn the most in those days.

One night we decided to go on a mexican teacup ride, and as we got on, I was joking with my ride comany, Luke, that the price was so high, maybe the ride would last thirty minutes. We both laughed and squicked with joy, when the ratteling, old lady of a ride, started. Our handle didn’t close and a floor plate was missing half of the screws. At some point, the employee started to grab our teacup and spin it even more manually. Now that was kind of intence, but still fun! The ride went on and on and on and the lesson that experiencing more of a pleasure does not allways accumulate to extacy, slowly sunk in. Now the guy had stopped turning us manually and as I look around, to check if he went to stop the ride, I realized he left. The ride had been running for about ten minutes at this point. I started to feel sick, anxious and sweat from every pore. It felt like we were stuck in the moment, in a different time dimension. With every round it got worse. When the guy finally got back, only our signals made him  put a end to the madness. We all need a moment, before getting up. As we walked, we must have looked like a group of drunkards, not being able to walk in a straight line. The dizziness lasted for another hour, we defenetly got our moneys value from that ride! Later, as the best Tlayuda ever helped our stomacks settle down, we highly insisted on not drinking Mezcal!

 

Protesting Teachers, Mezcal and Grasshoppers

So there are places which hold objective beauty but they are still easy to pass through. And then there are the places where you plan to stay a few nights, but man they get you and you can’t seem to be able to leave. Welcome to Oaxaca.

It was mere coincidence I ended up here at this time. I had visited the Frida Kahlo museum the day before and met there three lovely women from the state Veracrutz, while I waited in the seemingly endless line. They told me about this festival going on in Oaxaca at the moment, called Guelaguetza. It sounded amazing, and would go on for another two weeks. This suited me, as my plan was to travel to Puebla and go slowly south. Yet the next day I stood at the busstation and somehow spontaniously chnaged my mind,next thing I knew, was me sitting in the bus to Oaxaca. It was luck and good timing as the buses had just started to serve this road again. For one whole month teachers protest had been blocking all roads to and from Oaxaca. Teacher of the southern states Oaxaca and Chiapas have been off school since May, protesting against gouvernemts efforts to reform the desolate public education system. Changes include evaluating teachers and creating a competetive enviroment for open positions. Most of the uninvolved people and students used to claime a nutral position on the matter, but recent efforts of the police to clear the roads violently: causing the death of nine people, let support for the teachers grow.

Maria sits beside me in the bus, she explains me that she understands the teachers but their protest are an economic desaster for her and her family. She is a weaver of traditional tapistry, like her grandmother and great-grandmother. The lack of tourists put them in struggle to make a living. Maria is tiny and incredible warm. Her first language is Zapolteca, she is a decent of one of the many pre-columbian populations of Mexico. Due to few remaining road blocks, our trip takes eleven, instead of six hours. I find myself in Oaxaca at eleven o’ clock at night, with no secure taxi in sight and am quite clueless on how to get out of that situation. Then Maria appears again, like the saint the was named after, weaving out of the car of a friend who has come to pick her up. She insists I come with them, wanting to make sure I get to my hostel safe. I am very grateful!

The Guelageutza features a couple of side events, one of them being the Mezcal festival. Mezcal is a Liquor brewed from the Agave cactus, like its more famous brother Tequilla. Wheras Teauilla is brewed in other regions, from the blue Agave only, Mezcal comes in many different types, brewed from other types of Agave. Somehow Alice and Luke from the UK and me got into the sold out festival, half accidentally walking in through an exit. This must be celebrated with free samples! Mezcal is strong stuff, it only takes a few samples to be in a very joyful mood, to say the least. We chat to a group of Mexicans which challenge us to drink Mezcal from chillie peppers, decorated at the edge with even more chillie powder. Viva Mexico, I feel like my throat and internal organs are on fire. The bottom of the chillie holds a worm, which comes from the Agave and gives certain types of Mezcal its flavour. I pass on the worm but try some of the grasshoppers. They are here, in this region eaten as a snack, friend and served with chillie, onions and garlic. They taste is not so bad, but the thought of legs being stuck between my teeth horrifies me a bit. The night blurres into the next morning. We wake up with a terrible head ache but we had made an awesome new friend. Gary will show us in the next days proudly his home and makes sure we get a authentic Guelaguetza experience. Stay posted for the next entry!

Sources: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/27/world/americas/mexico-teachers-protests-enrique-pena-nieto.html?_r=0

Journey to the Land of the Wayúu Indians Part Two

Once the comming of age girl is trained all the skills required to be a Wayúu wife, she is considered ready to me married off. Most marriages are arranged by the mother and her brother, who is considered to be the head of the family. The father plays little to no role in the life of his children. The family of the groomas to pay a dowry, which is payed in goats. Swiss people will remember the folk song telling a tale of a man in the orient, who was not able to afford enough camels for the girl he was in love with, hearing this. After a joyful wedding ceremony with traditional dances and drumming, the husband moves in to the houshold of the wifes family. The Wayúu people allow polygam! which means that the husband lives his life sometimes between the different households of his wifes families.

After having been and lulled into sleep by the sound of the waves in the comfortable hammok, I wake up to the sun burning down from the sky. Back in the jeep we pass now through many small settlements and are stopped by the ropes, handing our candy out. Some women sell shrimps and snails to the few cars which pass their terretory.

The more north we go, the fewer the settlements, the dirt road fades slowly, the car makes his way now on rocky ground, sand parts, sea shells amd salt flats testifying that this ground once belonged to the sea. Even the cactuses are suffering from the drought, displaying a poor condition with brown leaves. We stop at different points to view the stunning coast line, populated by strangely beautiul snails and maiestic pelicans.

We reach punto gallinas in the afternoon, the most northern point of the continent. There is nothing and nobody, exept the one “hotel” which hosts all the travellers making this journey in beautiful croched hammoks. The silence and peace of this place is humbeling, everyone of my group enjoys the sunset by themself completly in silence.

 

 

 

***little anecdote:

Next day on the market, back in town, I am buying one of the wide, colorful Wayúu dresses, called “Manta”. An old Wayúu woman has come to town to sell her bags to the market people.

She: Are you pregnant?

Me: No, just like the dress.

She: But you do have children right?

Me:  No

She: But you do have a husband right?

Me: No.

She: Ayayayyyy ayay!!!! Hmmm…. Would you like to marry a farmer of ours? I know a really good one?

Me: Very kind but no thank you.

She, with a diabolic smile to the market woman: Look I am marrying this one to a farmer of ours!

Me: No really thanks, couldn’t handle the polygamy, really liked the landscape though….

Journey to the Land of the Wayúu Indians: Part one

I am sitting in a 4×4 Jeep with five other tourists and our guide, Luis. We left the proper road and the laws of Colombia behind us. The most northern part of Colombia, the Guajira, is populated and self gouverned by the Wayúu Indians. Uniqly within the indigenous cultures, the Wayúu fougt against the Spanish, defending their terretory with guns and horses. They learned how to use both, stealing it from the Spanish or buying it from smugglers which frequented the region.

Having developed a growing fascination with the indigenous cultures of the continent, I can’t wait to learn more about the customs and lifes of the Wayúus. They are the, today largest group of indegenous people, in Colombia. The first encounter occures when the car ist stopped by a wire held up across the road by two children. They scream “Caramelos” through the open window of the driver, their open hands streched out. It is a custom, that non-Wayúu people have to pay kind of a road toll to cross into Wayuu lands. In the past the toll has mostly been sweets but shocking research right before the trip made me buy oatmeal.

Only after having booked the tour I learned about the recent humetary catestrophe which the region has been facing. The El Nino weather phenomen caused on of the worst draughts in history, while the state has been building a damm, holding back the water of the important river, Rancheria. The state is suppused to help in theory, but all of the funding disappears in the pockets of the local, corrupt politicians, just like drops of water in the burnt soil. Children have been dying from thirst and malnutrition during the past years, under the eyes of the officials.
Learning this, I honestly doupted my decision to travel the region, but eventually stuck to my plans, willing to wash only very little in order to save water.

Once handed the goods, the children lower the leash and let us pass by. We drive through the dry landscape, every now and then we pass settlements with simple houses that are made out fo the crooked wood branches which the resistent thorn bushes grow. Women in colorfull wide dresses, called Mantas, buid a beautiful contrast to the ever same yellowish dry ground. Every now and then goats rest in the middle of the dirt pist and Luis, our driver has to honk them away.

“Hay gasolina” is written everywhere and deserted stalls with Coke bottles containing the orange liquid are hanging from improvised stalls. Here, 70 km from the “oficially” closed Venezuelan boarder, gas smuggeling is flourishing. Colombias neigbour is on its knees, there are hardly any goods that can be bought in the shops. Last week end the boarder opened for some hours, letting desperate Venezuelans in which bought toilet paper and other goods that cant be found in their homecountry, they exchanged stacks of inflation ridden money to a few colombian pesos.

After some hours on the dirt road we reach Cabo de la Vela and part of me is really content. Having looked for the end of the world in many places of this journey I feel like I finally arrived.

Yes, there is Coca-Cola but no Oreo cookies, no shops, no cell phone stores, nothing. A couple of houses, the small huts besides the beach,which are open on three sides, where our hammocks for the nigts hang. There is a “fruteria” but when I ask for a juice the owner tells me that the next delivery of fruit arrives the day after to tomorrow. A group of Wayúu women selling their traditional craft: beautiful, colorful bags and wrist bands to the few, sacred tourists. It takes one week to crotch one and they sell them for 10 Dollars, each one an unique piece of art. This thought disturbes me deeply, it hurts to think of it! The girl with the most beautiful bags looks like she is only 13-15 years old.

Age is a different matter here in the Wayúu culture. As soon as a girl gets her first period, she is the. sent off to a hut in the desert, parted from the village. There she is tought the traditional crotching skills, cooking and all that it takes in order to be a real Wayuu wife. She is on a diet of “chicha” a fermented corn brew.

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jun/18/colombia-water-drought-rancheria-corruption

http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/04/17/indigenous-wayuu-children-dying-corruption-and-stolen-river-colombia-160016

 

 

 

Has Backpacking become “Backpacking”?

So here comes a moment of truth my dear friends and strangers, I have to talk about it, as my imposture syndrom is growing stronger. As I told people of planning to travel the Americans by myself, the rections ranged in between somewhere from finding it adventourous to plain insane. I do not lie, I have some quest for adventure, however, travelling Southamerica has up to now been far from it.

In the 80ies, early nineties, backpacking meant, being away from life at home, the only way to let your folks know how you are well off, was to send them a letter. This letter or postcard would then take weeks to arrive and do so only if the mule high up in the Andes hadn’t lost it from his baggage on the way to the next city. Well, I dropped last night both of my parents a mothersday message via WhatzApp from the bus (nope I was not raised by lesbians but equality should go both ways).

Back in the days money in foreign currencies was a real struggle, you could never know where your bank card would work, so you would carry part of your budget in traveller checks and US dollars in a sweaty money belt under your fleece jacket, looking for a not to sleezy money exchange office as you would arrive in a new city. Well, I carry three different bank cards in my sweaty money belt, one of them works always.

Arriving to a new city meant that you had to study on the way there THE BOOK carefully, noting a adress with one of the hostels listed in there, in order to keep the gringo vibes in the taxi low. Of course speaking Spanish was a must, as only few people could afford and take time to travel, back then. If you had a sensetive digestive system, it was as well advisable to seek out some restaurants from THE BOOK, in order not to be struck by the revenge of Montezuma. Nowadays, both can be found within 2-3 minutes spent of Tripadvisor. The taxi driver may not speak English, but charge the tripple price with a understanding smile for the poor attemts to pronounce the destination, as hundrads of gringos have sat in his car before. In 2016 travelling Southamerica seems to be a must for western youth, wheras interst for culture and language does not necessairy seem to come along with it. Well, my edition of THE BOOK became a victime of space problems in my backpack as going to the cold required buying woolen gear.

The holiday romance from the one day at the beach your grandma told you about, one girls night, the one who kissed her after a lemon gelati, on the one day in her life she spent at the beach. Well, my romance (weather it be hypotetical or real) will probably be able to congratulate me to my 3rd set of teeth via facebook.

***What inspired me to write whis text? The weird guilty feeling which crept upon me in the bus ride from Lima to Trijullo. I took a 10 hours busride, which cost me 20 dollars on busbud, a site which hooks travellers up with bustickets worldwide. First I had to weight my baggage at the baggage drop of of the company, then I was handed a reciept with a number to get it back. No need to drag it to the bus myself. Embarking the bus, every passanger had to go trough a body scan and leave their fingerprints. Once I sat in my leather seat, I was handed a snack and drink, along with a freshly washed blanket and pillow. It became hiddeous, when Jose George Martines Garcia, our second steward, according to the shield on the wall, would ask and note weather I would prefer one or two sugar in our tee after the dinner (really I am not exaggerating!!!).

“Backpacking #Travel