Thursday, October 6, 2016


"Ajalpan is a city in the southeastern part of the state of Puebla in Mexico. It has come to fame recently for lynching two pollsters in October, 2015, when townspeople mistook them for kidnappers and burned them alive." That is the first thing I read when I did a search for Ajalpan, a town we were going to visit on the weekend. The reality of small town Mexico strikes again.

New Hand Made Hats. Travelers Being Tourists
Ajalpan may have had an issue with Census Takers last year by killing and burning them but they are know for a few other things aside from misplaced vigilante justice. Red clay roof shingles known as "tejas" adorn most homes. Then there is the sometimes delicious and sometimes disgusting Paletas de Hielo which we know as Popsicles which the Mexicans take to whole new level. Click here to see a few images from Google. New level you ask? How about avocado, fried pork belly, Oaxacan cheese or chapulines (grasshoppers) to get you started. Finally there is the hand and foot weaving of baskets and from carrizo. Not so much bamboo but a reed like plant that grows along the canals and waterways of the area. A few years ago the artisans formed a co-operative in order to succeed with creative ideas and fair trade. This article will give you a quick insight into it. The idea was to move beyond with is known as "Mexican Selfish Behavior" and so far it has been a success.

Rows of carrizo, a bamboo like plant
Alma is the "cultural guide" for the teachers at the school and she puts together small trips to show us the real Mexico. For what ever reason there were only 4 of us heading out on this beautiful Sunday morning. Aaron, Dan, Tom and myself were expecting Alma to show up to take us to a Combi which in turn would be our magic carpet ride. Instead she arrived with a big smile and a very little car. To her amusement we piled in for better or for worse and off we went.
Leaving the city we drove through San Diego which has a pyramid site but it is closed as well as Altepexi and Coxcatlan. What we easily noticed along the way was how many "romantic hotels", gentlemen's clubs and other assorted tidbits. "The hotels are not for tourists" giggled Alma, "they rent by the hour". "The hour !" a few of us said in un-reheared unison. What are these Mexicans, porn stars? A long laugh from everyone set the tone for the rest of the day.

Our first stop was the local market for some deep fried goodness.  BBQ chicken empenadas, spicy pork empenadas and a spicy bean ball that was incredible. The market was loud and active but everyone was very accommodating to the white guys gorging themselves. Elma then took us to another food section where we tried Mole, a spiced sauce over rice. It was good but I would not be in a rush to get it again.Lunch and the market tour over it was Paleta time. The 4 of us wandering behind mother hen just waiting for more food.

Suddenly there it was, a shop specializing in Paletas de Hielos and there were freezers full of them. Naturally we needed a photo with the two pretty young shop girls who, like many Mexicans I have met, shyly agree but once the ice is broken become great friends. Lots of talking, attempts at English and photos and selfies galore.

I had pumpkin, others tried pistachio, cheese and various flavours. Nobody ventured into the vegetable, meat or insect section of the freezer and the girls could not understand why we did not want the chapalines (grasshoppers) because they are delicious. Mexicans love their chapalines, fried or otherwise. My pumpkin was sweet to say the least but a good sugar buzz never hurts from time to time. Stop number 2 on the Ajalpan Express was another success.

Next stop, the factory of the weavers with factory being a very loosely used term. The artisans home was behind a rustic old door that you would walk right by without knowing it. It opened to a sprawling courtyard complete with raw material, finished products, a kiln and for whatever reason a large flock of turkeys. We were given a demonstration on how the raw material is split into two using a long knife then softened and flattened with a large stone. From here the "skin" is peeled off and the workable material is exposed. Then our guy did his thing and it was impressive to say the least. Hand, finders, feet, toes and sometimes teeth were all a part of the processes. Each basket takes about a work day (whatever that may be) to complete and with a staff of about 50 they produce quite a few per month.

We also discovered that most of these creations were bought and shipped in bulk, along with others in the area to Canada, the USA and Europe for retail sales. So the next time you purchase that hand weaved Mexican basket "on sale" for $20 I purchased one for $2 so you have to wonder what they are being paid for bulk purchases. The factory was profitable but not in a "first world" kind of way. This is a creative skill that should never be undermined and as usual I am happy to have gained a new appreciation of something I always took for granted.

We have a few more "cultural" events planned and I will not miss any of them. Next up is "Dia de Muertos" or the Day of the Dead considered one of the most important days in the Mexican Calendar year.

As of tomorrow I have 70 more days here in Tehucan with Heslington. I am finished on December 16th and I have a flight booked from Cancun for the 23rd. I booked a room for 2 nights in Tulum to see the ocean front ruins and from there it is a 2 hour bus to Cancun for some sun, sand, and a bit of reckless fun with a visit to Chitzen Itza squeezed in. It will be time to get my Maya back on.

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