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Ron & Donna Miller - Publishers

Learning While Out And About In
Central And South America

The Izapa ruins in the Mexican stote of Chiapas.

In the July issue, I told you about the first half of our trip through the Panama Canal, checking an item off the top of my husband’s bucket list. We left from Fort Lauderdale in Florida, traversed the Canal, stopped in Costa Rica, and headed north, up the west coast of Mexico toward San Diego.

The next port of call took us to Puerto Chiapas, in Mexico on its border with Guatemala. This was one of the most interesting of the stops, as we toured the Izapa ruins. These are very early Mayan ruins, pre-dating the more well-known and much larger ones in other Mexican states. The Izapa ruins are on privately owned land; the owners refused to sell to the government when the ruins were discovered in the 1940s, so they serve as a source of income to the family that owns the land. The Izapa ruins are only about two stories high, as compared to the pyramids of the later Mayans.

A brightly colored bag from Chiapas, Mexico and a small zippered mole bag from Panama are typical of the brightly colored fabrics found in Central America.

At the museum in the town of Tapachula, the artifacts dug from the ruins are on display, as well as some of a pre-Mayan culture known as the Oltec. The Oltecs forbid marriage outside their own group, and consequently it appears many children were born with Downs Syndrome. Several small statues of figures with Downs Syndrome facial features were on display and research indicates that these children were treasured as “a gift from the gods.”

Nopal cacti are edible, both raw and cooked. There are over 100 varieties. The spineless ones are, obviously, preferred for eating purposes.

In Huatulco, Mexico, a little farther north, we visited several rural communities - not really villages, but large and extended families living on their own lands. At one place, we were served nopal cactus, both fresh and cooked. At another, we watched bricks being made out of river mud and water, which was also what their dwellings were made of, and had more good things to eat, including a goody made of sesame seeds and honey. That same place had a medicinal garden, full of plants and herbs that could cure just about any common disease. The people at the third stop earned their living by weaving and making baskets - Ron bought several and I bought a scarf. And at the fourth stop, we watched the grandma of the family making tortillas and were then served them, complete with a spicy hot tamale inside. The talents shown by all these hosts of our tour were simply amazing.

A large tortilla basket and a small covered basket from Huatulco, Mexico; a carved wooden parrot from Panama, a turtle vase and small pottery vase from Costa Rico; and a colorful figurine from Colombia, on a woven Mexican scarf are examples of the handicrafts made in South and Central America.

I also enjoyed seeing the contrasts. While they were performing tasks in old ways that still worked for them, they did so with the help of pick-up trucks and cell phones. And while the older women wore conservative dresses, the teenage girls wore short, short shorts.

A featured item on a stop in Puerto Vallarta was a tequila factory. Puerto Vallarta is known for mariachis, tequila, rodeos and fire opals. We saw three of the four - there wasn’t a rodeo going on.

We learned something important. Tequila does not have a worm in it; that’s mescal. Tequila is made from the blue agave plant, while mescal is made from green agave. I’m sure that’s information you’d all like to have!

The glass factory in Cabo San Lucas produces bright and colorful glass. Much of it resembles the glass produced in the United States in the mid-20th century.

Our final cruise stop was in Cabo San Lucas. This has grown enormously in the last few years as a tourist destination, but the hotels and resorts along the 22-mile “tourist corridor” have to make their own fresh water. The area around there only gets 40 inches of rainfall a year in the mountains and that is reserved for local use.
We visited a glass factory here, and recognized much of the glass as things we see in this country. In fact, it had an entire row of glass roosters, identical to those we’d received as favors at a convention a few years ago. Probably most of the output of this factory is sold to American tourists.

Sculptures along the waterfront provide an interesting contrast in the old part of the city of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico.

Back in southern California, we had a chance to enjoy a few things we hadn’t seen in our own country. The flower fields in Carlsbad, 40 acres of ranunculus, bloom from March to May, and are a beautiful sight. We toured the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier/museum now permanently housed in the harbor in San Diego. We went to the market held every Thursday evening in downtown Oceanside. And we bought some chopped nopal cactus at a roadside stand - and learned we don’t know how to fix it so that it tastes very good.

Along the pier in Oceanside, California, a pelican poses for a picture.

And finally, we got to actually antique shop one day at the Antique Warehouse in Solana Beach. However, I couldn’t use the hard bargaining skill I’d learned in Colombia here. I’ll have to remember that if someone at first rejects my offered price, they’re not going to come running after me, saying, as one man did, “Some money is better than nothing.” [I’ve heard that from our columnist Harry Rinker.]
And then, finally, we shopped our way back home to Oregon.

My overall impression of the trip - a great respect for the skills of the people in the central part of the Americas.

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