Monday, October 11, 2010

Grandpa's Farm in The Isolated Hills of Mexico State - Part 1, The First Visit

The Valley Where Grandpa's Farm is Located
My wife's grandpa lives on his farm isolated in the rugged, hilly countryside on the border of the State of Mexico and the State of Guerrero, a few hours southwest of Mexico City.  They say "rancho" in Spanish, but what we call a "ranch" in English has virtually nothing to with the kind of place where my wife's grandpa lives - except that neither are urban.  Imagine an old adobe hut nestled in the bottom of a valley, surrounded by patches of cornfields and woodland.  No electricity, no paved roads, no phones. Up on one of the wooded hillsides you can the town, which is about 100 houses, and the tall catholic church standing out at the center.

The first time I visited, we took a bus from Cuernavaca to Ixtapan de la Sal, a small town which draws a handful of tourists from Mexico City to its outdoor swimming parks, but is pretty much just a little town in the hills, with a picturesque old town centre, focused around a lively town square full of market booths and a nicely kept up, traditionally white painted church.  None of this, however, seems very touristy, but rather very practical for the day to day needs of the people who lived there.  Some of the stands on one of the newer, wider roads sell nick-nacks and handicrafts for visitors.  On our second visit, an old lady selling stuff was so impressed by my one-year-old son, that she gave him a rattle.  He loved it.  (The first time our son wasn't in the picture yet.)

Leaving Ixtapan de la Sal, we took another bus to a smaller town an hour or so down the road, where we got off at a bus station.  From there we walked a short distance to catch a "collective taxi" - a taxi that works pretty much like a bus along a designated route with set fares, where there aren't enough passengers to justify a bus.  When a passenger needs a ride, however, the taxi drivers will fit up to 8 people into a small Nissan!  This is both out of respect for the passengers, who might be waiting a while before the next taxi comes by, and for better income for the driver.  Mexicans are small, but not that small.

The taxi dropped us off at an intersection in the middle of the woods, where the countryside had become very hilly, and the roads very winding.  Everything up to this point had been paved, but this new road was dirt - not gravel, just dirt.  We were lucky enough to catch a pick-up going by.  The driver gave us ride in the back, and hung on for an bumpy ride.  I can't remember the details exactly, but at some point the pick-up dropped us off at another intersection, which was our final road.

This new road curved around a hill, which, as my wife explained, used to be home to her grandpa.  Her family used to climb up the hill from this point, her dad carrying a bag of dried tortillas (which used to be cheap enough, even for the poorest of families, to just toss left overs into sack to give to farmers for their animals) an my wife's younger brother.  This was when he used to own the hill and have his house at the top.  Some time ago, as he got older and couldn't manage the land anymore, he sold the hill and moved his primary residence into the bottom of the valley, where the other half of his land was.

Our final road led around this hill, opening onto the side of the somewhat narrow and deep valley.  As we were walking, a little old pick up, coloured red, with a speaker strapped to the top, drive by announcing the ice cream the driver was selling.  He picked us up, and gave us a ride, explaining that ice cream was a decent business even in these isolated hills where money is hard to come by.  Working men, stopped and came out of their little fields to buy, and children came running, apparently out of nowhere; so far there were no houses to be seen.

The Cousin, 4 Daughters, Great-Uncle and Me (back center)
My wife finally recognized the point where we needed to head down into valley.  We walked down a walkway, sometimes zigzagging along the hillside, other times just heading strait down, until we came to two little adobe houses, one of them fenced off with a wooden gate.  This was (and still is) grandpa's house.  It's old, the adobe is cracked and falling apart in some places, and some of the clay tiles on the roof were missing.

Entering through the gate, we were greeted by some barking dogs, and then a young woman - my wife's cousin or second cousin, I'm not sure - and her 3 daughters (by visit #2, there were 4, as you can see in the picture).  A bit later, her grandpa arrived from the fields, and we met her great uncles as well.  This family - the grandpa, great uncle, cousin and daughters - lived together in these two adobe homes.

Something seemed to be missing in the picture.  I knew that my wife's grandma had passed away many years ago, and that her great aunts lived either up along the main road, and one of them in Mexico City.  But it didn't occur to me until we were leaving after our second visit a year and a half later that there were very few young men.  There were a number of old men, and more young women, with many small children; most of the fathers of these small children were off in the United States.  The event that drew this to my attention belongs to later part of this story.

This was my first impression of Grandpa's farm.  The sights, the food, the people and the way of life all impressed me.

But since this story will probably go on for a while, I'll continue in part 2, tomorrow.

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