Remember that discussion I had about karma way back when I was living with the hippies in Ashland? I think suffering is a part of karma. If you suffer through something, there’s usually a reward at the end. Like that horrible cleansing diet that people do with tea, lemon, and laxatives. You suffer through ten days of hunger and weird liquid shits to come out feeling cleansed – at least that’s how it’s supposed to work. The suffering we experienced on the Road to Comondú was our weird liquid shit.
It’s funny coming to a place that isn’t used to bicycles. Our white, gringo skin already blinds people in Mexico when we arrive. But coupled with our bicycles we are like eye magnets drawing everybody’s attention. Women in the streets paused their conversations, men suspended bags of concrete on their shoulders, and children picked up their soccer balls to watch us bounce down the cobbled streets. You have no choice but to meet every face and return it with a smile and a wave. Everybody is charmed to see us and it makes every new place warm and exciting. Smiles and waves generate a certain electricity that is very comforting. All the way to the Mission we basically rode with one hand on the handlebars.
Oranges and poinsettias provided a bright outline to the grey stone church. Paintings of priests and their children (the normal rules of priesthood apparently don’t apply when you’re opening a new land to evangelization) lined the walls inside the cool building. At one time there had been three structures connected by a hallway. The Mission was the largest in California until most of it was exploded in the early 1900’s. The literature at the Mission says it was dynamited so the materials could be used to build a church but there are also rumors of a huge stash of silver left behind by the first admiral to come to Comondú. You can find a lot of treasure by blowing stuff up. While at the Mission, Acey plucked an orange from the trees to eat. Julie and I were aghast. You can’t pick God’s fruit! We thought it was very bullish for Acey to think that he could just take fruit without knowing of the traditions or whatnot of Comondú, even though there were plenty of fruit trees blooming everywhere. But on second thought I’ve come to realize that the earth provides. It grows and gives what it wants and if it gives to everybody than anybody can have it. The trick is not being greedy, and if you are part of the community, giving back. Acey wasn’t being greedy, nor was he being sneaky. He was simply delighted that there were fresh oranges hanging in a place where he could enjoy them. Even though Julie and I didn’t then approve of his actions we still accepted Acey’s sharing of the orange. After one bite all of the enamel on my teeth dissolved from the acidic juice. It wasn’t exactly ripe.
We had no money, and little food so our trip to Comondú was over. We headed towards the highway and didn’t get very far before Julie fell in love with a cliff face and wanted to investigate if it was climbable. While she hiked Davin and I chucked rocks at date palms for another snack and Acey finished his book. A car approached us and a young woman got out with her laptop. She introduced herself as Wendy. She studies Tourism at the University of La Paz and is doing a project on Comondú. The town used to be the captial of Baja California with a population around 200,000. Hundreds of farms thrived off the lush land fed by a healthy river. Then, Ciudad Constitucion was established and people started moving away leaving only 300 people in the town and very little industry. Wendy was compiling data for an upcoming conference she was hosting in a week. The data was like a census, the number of farm plots in the area, people’s occupations, family legacies, etc. The state is trying to revitalize the town and Wendy wants to develop a tourism economy that is designed around growing the town and keeping it Mexican. She had been living there for about 5 months and knew every person in the town and their families. It was very fun riding around with her and learning about the intricacies of Comondú. She took us to an unmarked paintings on a cliff face. Faint red and
white streaks made rectangles and long, undecipherable lines. One of the depictions was of a crowd of people with stretched oval bodies beneath a larger person. When the Jesuits arrived back in the early 18th century they asked the native people about the paintings, but they were not the ones who had created them. They told the Jesuits of an unknown and ancient tribe of giants. So many mysteries in this unknown land. I sat down on a large, flat rock that was surprisingly smooth, like wax had been rubbed all over it. Wendy told me the rock was where the people had committed sacrifices to use the blood as paint. The smoothness was probably from dried and softened human juices. After exploring the paintings, Wendy introduced to her friend and research partner,
Alicia, who is in Comondú studying abroad from Spain. She had long, curly red hair, freckles and a gleaming set of braces. They treated us to a lunch of delicious and cold enchiladas served in a cocina. Cocina’s are like restaurants but they are in the actual kitchen of someone’s home and only have one, usually long, table. The enchilada’s had a faint taste of bananas. I don’t think this was intended but a relic of a former meal. After lunch, the two friends invited us to stay with them at the property where they were hosting the conference.
The ride out to their temporary home was a beautiful one filled with bougainvillea and poinsettia gardens. But the beauty was only an appetizer for what awaited us. At the home, a finely crafted stone driveway sat at the top of a property overflowing with edible grace. A tree grew twisted with large branches swooping down off the trunk to graze the stone driveway and provide benches. A winding path walked us down over a trough that brings water to the large orchard of oranges and royal lemons. Avocadoes, pomegranates, and bananas are also part of the garden’s palate. Grapes grow in a sunlit clearing waiting for the day they are to be turned into wine through a traditional process that only one woman in town knows. And in the middle of it all is a concrete and palm frond palapa. A living room absent of walls is decked out with enough tables, chairs, and half-beds to host a hazy jazz set. I’m sorry to report that I did not take any pictures of this wonderful place. I was too busy eating food and resting from that horrible road, soaking up Comondú.
That night we talked about a lot of things, but what sticks out is our discussion of Mexican and American cultures. We discussed the similarities and the differences. Something that I have been battling with this whole trip is how to engage and explore Mexico without being too aware that I am from the United States. I have this thought that Mexicans don’t really appreciate people from the States coming down because when they do they seem to erase a bit of Mexican culture and replace it with their own. Hence, Wal-Marts, McDonald’s, higher prices for goods. I know all about the horrible things that the United States has and still does to Latin American countries. I asked Alicia if she worries about it as well since Spain were the first instigators of abuse in Latin America. I applauded her country for quitting, while ours has not learned to stop exploiting our neighbors. We got on the topic on visiting the States. Alicia will be in Arizona soon for studying. Wendy said that the last country she would ever visit is the United States. She said this because she does not want to give anything to our country. And as a student of tourism she understands how powerful that is for an economy. Tourism is the leading industry in Oregon and probably many other states. The Rev South crew had varying reactions to Wendy’s statement. Julie was offended and thought that Wendy’s statement was a bit ignorant. Julie feels there is a lot of beauty in the States. My reaction was sad, for reasons similar to Julie’s. I’m sad that someone would just to skip out on all that the States has to offer because our government and corporations have done such horrible things. It’s awful that the corruption is so bad that Wendy would forfeit seeing that just because of a country’s politics. We’ve got beaches, forests, canyons, rivers, mountains. Actually, the United States truly has a lot to offer for a tourist. I hope that either we can change our ways or that Wendy changes her mind so that she can experience all of the splendor and grace that is in the United States. Perhaps the evil things that have been done to Mexico are their weird liquid shits and something spectacular will happen here for all of its citizens. I hope so, because after what I have experienced and the hospitality that I have been given, Mexico and its people certainly deserve it.