So I went to Mexico for the holidays with my partner and friend Leonel who was born and raised in Orizaba, Veracruz, before moving to Nebaj (which, by the way, is pronounced “neb-ah,” I failed to mention that before). We left around 4am following a classic night of scrambling to finish pending assignments, meeting up with his father. The first bus to Sacapulas left at 4:30 and we had one beautiful view of the little bowl of a valley that Nebaj sits in, glowing with lights as I put on “Christmas with the Rat Pack” on the ipod to inspire some Christmas spirit.
We transferred at Sacapulas and again at Huehuetenango and again at La Mesilla where we stamped on the Guatemalan side, crossed the border, and taxied to the Mexican office about 15 min in from the border. You get a 6 month visa upon arrival, but what they don’t mention is that if you stay for more than 7 days you have to pay. Keep $306 mexican pesos handy for your return crossing, as I did not, which led to running around in circles for atm machines and street money exchangers and 4 extra taxi trips.
From the border we took a small bus to Comitan, missed the direct bus, stopped for tacos, and then hopped to Tuxla (stopping for tacos again) and then Cordoba, then Orizaba, where we took a taxi to their home. Coming from a small nuclear family, to be introduced to over 30 new people who are so open and loving and ready to treat you like family was overwhelming in the best of ways for me. And so the next few days were filled with family parties and exploring Orizaba.
There’s a tradition unique to Veracruz called La Rama, the branch, which was introduced to me in a cantina when a kid of about 12 walked up to our table holding a pine tree branch with a balloon pinned to it and some shiny streamers. Feeling nostalgic, Leonel requested a singing of La Rama, and the kid broke into a quickly recited poem which I failed to catch much of. The lyrics of this poem-song vary among a few different versions but basically exist as a cute way of asking for Christmas spending money, much like trick-or-treating for candy on Halloween. Para los que hablan español, http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rama_(tradici%C3%B3n). Over the course of the days leading up to the 25th, I lost count of the number of kids I saw carrying their own ramas through the streets, and going door to door.
On the 25th we made an impromptu decision to drive up to the Distrito Federal (the capital, Mexico City) with Leo’s sister and cousin and spend a few days being tourists at the museums. In El Centro we saw la Catedral and el Palacio Nacional, where some of Diego Rivera’s mural work is on beautiful display, and in Coyoacan I made pilgrimage to la Casa Azul, Frida Kalho’s cobalt blue home-turned-museum. Many more tacos were had, as well as some pulque and horchata, and we got some glimpses of el D.F.’s bar scene. We also made a day trip to the pyramids at Teotihuacan, where I tried to feel the good vibrations on the top of la pirámide del sol before being spooked by Leo from behind.
We returned to Orizaba for New Years with the family and spent the last few days relaxing our way through the first two seasons of Breaking Bad and eating our fill of home-cooked food. Back in Nebaj now, and ready to start these last few months in Guatemala.