Friday, December 24, 2010

Feliz Navidad

I'm spending this very merry Christmas at a convent in the capital city of Aguascalientes where 8 aging nuns supervise 39 orphan girls. We've been having a grand and festive time this evening. It's always interesting spending a holiday in a different culture. The girls are all outside at the moment whacking a sparkling pinata with a long stick while blindfolded and singing.

I've made a lot of southward progress through a lot of territories. Once in the mining district way back in Parral, I was technically out of the Chihuahua Desert, but one wouldn't really notice. The vegetation is a bit thicker, though far from 'lush', and a few of the rivers actually have water in them, but it's the dry season everywhere and the varieties of cactus are more numerous, so it all still looks very deserty. And feels it - every type of plant has prickers or spines or some other barbed weapon to use against me with vengence.

Desert it may be, but it provides! Out bushwhacking, I inadvertently bypassed a village (single-story mud-colored cubicles blend into the surroundings remarkably well). Without the village to refill my water bottles - actually Platypus bags, which I highly recommend for their collapsability - I had a dry and thirsty hot afternoon. The Nopal cactus is in full bloom this time of year, and beautifully adorned with bright red fruits called tunas. Having seen these fruits for sale at the market stalls, I was compelled to give them a try. With a leaping swing of a walking stick, and using my sombrero as a catcher's mitt, the harvest of a hatfull of fruits was easily made. De-spining them a bit more challenging. A few whirls around the inside of the hat gets most of the invisible barbs off of the tough skin. Peeled with a small pocket knife, an egg-sized brilliant red juicy fruit is left. Tasty, refreshing, and a bit seedy, akin to pomegranate and entirely thirst-quenching. A hatfull left me satisfied and with pricked fingers stained pink.

I crossed the Tropic of Cancer a few days ago... winterpilgrim in the tropics; it's an oxymoron! I haven't seen a cloud in the sky for well over a month. Every day is in the mid 20sC/70sF and every night at the freezing point. A bit warm for my comfort, but not bad at all. I wouldn't mind a few clouds, though. Even in the desert, every day was like walking through an aviary and the further south, the greater variety of songbirds. Many people keep caged birds for their singing abilities, but the birds hidden in the trees produce a remarkable volume.

I took advice opposite of what a priest told me and headed on a dirt road into the mountains rather than the path alongside the highway. I was rewarded by a day's walk in a beautiful deep canyon lined with steep villages and terraces with stone walls. This is what it is to be a pilgrim on foot... I'm sure the priest isn't aware of this canyon, unseen from the highway on the plateau above. I wonder how many other Mexicans are aware of it. I wouldn't have missed it. The principle town in the canyon is San José de la Isla, founded back in the 1500s on the conquistadors' march to find mineral wealth. The tricky part is, even though I was able to find a map of the state of Zacatecas, most villages are not indicated, many of those that are present, are placed in the wrong place, and a good number of them are given the wrong name. So having a map isn't such a benefit after all. San José de la Isla is listed on the map as Genaro Codina, a name change in the 1950s to promote revolutionary figures. Ask anyone and they'll tell you the town is San José. Agh, how to cope sometimes. Nonetheless, an excursion off the beaten path is well worth the effort.

The further south, the greater the population density. Finding villages is getting easier, and finding a day's destination 30 to 35 km southward is now quite reasonable. I'll take a day of rest in Aguascalientes for Christmas day and make some repairs before continuing southward. I'm targeting January 12th for the arrival at the Basilica in Mexico City, which means averaging less than 33 km per day from here on. Easy-peasy.


Margaret Meredith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Margaret Meredith said...

Merry Christmas, Ann, and all good wishes for 2011!

I still remember wih pleasure when we met in Santa Domino de la Calzada almost two years ago.

You blogs are wonderful and your energy overwhelming! Keep on trekking.

Margaret Meredith

PS. I just finished my 6th Camino after
walking nine weeks.

Anonymous said...

Feliz Navidad! Glad to hear you are in the "easy" part of your pilgrimage. --Karen