Zapotitlan (Land Of The Vultures)
Vidal is my brother-in-law. He and Areceli, his wife, both teach at a rural school where Vidal also is the director. He is a nice guy. He smiles a lot, is generous, and it seems when anyone needs help, they go to Vidal.
Vidal loves anything with a motor in it and he loves to make deals. He made a deal with Juan, a schoolteacher from another school, to buy his medium size commercial van.
While this was going on, Juan saw my 1981 Honda Prelude and fell in love with it and wanted to buy it. I told him it had a gear missing but that didn't make any difference. He couldn't drive anyway. It was a pretty car, with a new paint job, a sunroof that worked electronically, etc.
The deal was: Vidal would pay twenty thousand pesos for the van. Juan would pay me ten thousand pesos for the Honda. Then Juan was to take ten thousand and my Prelude and Vidal would pay me back later.
Early one Saturday morning, Vidal and I left Tlaxco in his VW bug that he had been nursing along for years. We drove north to Zacatlan and then headed east, toward Zapotitlan and then Timixlan, the village where Juan's family lived. After driving a couple of hours through beautiful mountainous country we turned off on a gravel road. We were at the entrance of Zapotitlan and the road to Timixlan.
We stopped to have a coffee at a café. On a steep hillside, on the other side of the intersection, we watched two men planting corn. The ground had been cleared to some degree. One man punched a hole in the ground with a pointed stick. The other took grain from a cloth bag hung from his shoulder and dropped grain in the hole, just as their ancestors had done thousands of years ago.
The owner of the restaurant offered to take us on a guided tour of a cavern on his land. Apparently it was impressive but not lighted for tourist trade. We were however, anxious to arrive at our destination and so declined.
We passed indigenous people in their native dress, straw hats, huaraches, and machetes slung over their backs, either going to, or coming from, work. Some of the men are childlike in size, but handsome, well proportioned and hardened by work.
The windows were down and El Bocho (our valiant VW) rocked with choice Mexican music coming from Vidal's new stereo system. We passed a village where people, mostly in indio dress, came to town to sell their produce, to do their buying, and to just enjoy themselves. Most of them probably started early in the morning and walked to town. Others, from the ranches, rode their horses to town.
We arrived at Timixlan around mid-day. Juan's father told us that Juan would not be home till the next day. They invited us to stay overnight at their house. The house was a two-story, cement block structure, without stucco. Very simple construction with all the normal conveniences.
The father was maybe six feet tall. He wore a white T-shirt, the native white pants that are gathered at the ankles with a wraparound waist, and huaraches without socks. He spoke good Spanish while his wife spoke a mixture of Nahuatl and Spanish, which no one could understand unless they spoke both languages. She was about five feet tall and dressed entirely in her native tradition. They lived a rather simple life but had put five sons through college. They owned several hectares of coffee trees.
Having a lot of free time on my hands, I decided to walk around the village. There was a small market in the village plaza. I found some vendors with peanuts spread out on a cloth on the ground. I asked the price and the two ladies started to giggle. A lady next to them told me they didn't speak Spanish.
At the entrance to the village was a man buying coffee. He had his pickup truck and a set of scales. Los indios would bring in a sack of coffee beans, he would weigh them, and then pay. Sometimes not a word was spoken.
I walked around the church, which was also on the plaza, and was probably hundreds of years old. It was deteriorating due to lack of maintenance, but was still used. Many of these churches were built shortly after the conquest, using stone from the ceremonial centers and Indian labor. Lack of maintenance was probably due to economic changes in the area.
Back at the house, the conversation turned to one of the most common topics among men: buried treasure. The subject is not to be taken lightly. for some mysterious reason, many people have become prosperous overnight,. Companies have been formed solely for the purpose of searching for hidden treasure.
From buried treasure the conversation may drift to caves. It seems that bandits often buried their booty in caves. There was mention of nearby caves and they asked me if I was interested in seeing them. Of course.
So we piled into El Bocho and drove back toward Zapotitlan. From where we stopped I could see a hole in the hillside. It was just big enough to crawl into. And I did. Once inside there were two more holes that you had to get on your belly to enter. I took the one on the right. With a cheap flashlight, I inched myself forward till I could see a slightly larger cavity. The walls were covered with small black scorpions that seemed frozen in place by the light. I slowly inched myself backwards and outside.
I was a little shaky, but my companions didn't seem at all nervous. As a matter of fact they recommended another cave nearby. You could actually enter standing up. The first twenty feet was like a passageway in a mine. Then there was a chamber with a diameter of maybe sixteen feet. There were scorpions on the wall but not as many and enough space that you didn't need to rub noses with them. The floor was covered with a pool of water so I didn't venture farther. Plus I didn't have much confidence in the flashlight.
On the way out I shined the flashlight in the water to see where to step. I saw red in the water and put a finger in it to see what it was. It felt like blood. I looked around and didn't see anything that was bleeding. I looked up and there was a ball of bats just above my head. That was enough of caves for the day.
Juan didn't show up till late Sunday morning.
I took another walk while we waited and meeting some young men, started up a conversation. Among other things we discussed minerals. One of the men wanted me to look at some minerals he had and to tell him what I thought they were. We went to his house and he brought out a bag of nodules, some grown together. They were the color of iron pyrite, but one that was split, showed fine crystal rays, radiating from the core outward. I had only known iron pyrite to have cube type crystals.
I bought the bag for fifty pesos and took them home. I checked my books on minerals and found it was iron pyrite. They form such gradient shapes when cooled under extreme pressure. These nodules were found in a very hard stone that was quarried and then shaped for building blocks.
Our objective for the day was to get the van started and to head for home. After charging the battery it still would not start. After pushing it some distance the engine finally turned over. The sun had gone down but there was still some daylight. It had started drizzling rain. Vidal had arranged with a man who was familiar with the van, to drive it home. That suited me fine.
Before we got to Zapotitlan the engine died several times. Each time we got it started by pushing it with the lights off. A couple of times people stopped to help us. One such case involved a family in a nice car. The whole family got out and helped push in the rain.
We finally managed to get to Zapotitlan and parked the van. I stayed with the van while Vidal and the driver went to look for a mechanic.
Light from the lone street light extended and was refracted by the heavy mist. Fat toads had ventured out of the tropical vegetation onto the gravel road. They waited patiently, motionless, until an insect with moisture-laden wings fell to the ground.
The hypnotic sound of water rippling over rock came from the wide but shallow river at one side of the road. Close by, a red steel bridge glistened from the mist and the street light. A young couple stopped half way across the bridge and gazed at the river.
Vidal found a mechanic but it was too late and too wet to do anything that night. In the morning the truck was fixed and the rest of the trip was uneventful.
Some time later I asked Vidal what Juan had done with the Honda. As far as Vidal knew, it was still sitting in the Juan's front yard. Well, for a thousand dollars, Juan had bought a nice yard ornament, which probably gave the family some prestige in the village of Timixlan.