The Great Zacatecas War

Hi, it seems to be that time again. Since my last e-mail I’ve been to Guanajuato, Guadalajara (again), Barra de Navidad and now I’m actually back in Puerto Vallarta. However, while the last few days have been relatively quiet, I think that by the time I finish with Zacatecas I’ll have had enough for tonight.

The day after the callejonada (see the last e-mail) everybody slept pretty late, and once we were starting to feel semi-alive again myself, Johnny (Eng), Cristina (Swi) and Heiko (Ger) walked to the outskirts of town for La Morisma, an annual festival where people come from all over to watch local participants re-enact both a battle between the Christians and the Moors and the Spanish versus a Muslim uprising of some sort. To be honest, none of us were very clear on exactly how these battles actually unfolded, and we were certainly none the wiser once we finished watching Spanish conquistadores fighting side by side with bearded Muslims and armoured Christians to defend the Turkish castle from the awful Moors…..and their Spanish allies? The costumes of the thousand or so soldiers (ranging from 10 years old to 70) were really impressive, the bands remained in sync despite the confusion of the armies themselves, and the spectators were loving it. Unfortunately, it was really cold (Zacatecas is at 2500m elevation), windy, and it took nearly four hours to get underway even though it seemed on the verge of starting right when we showed up. Oh, did I mention that all of the “soldiers”, including the kids, and even some of the spectators, were armed with real muskets? These, along with dozens of small cannons, were fired off in a constant barrage of deafening noise and blinding smoke until eventually my ears almost reached a state of comfortable numbness. And, since they couldn’t point the guns at each other, even without real ammo, the battle often looked more like hundreds of guys offering up a military salute into the air than a deadly confrontation. Also, I should mention my personal favourite, a tiny old man dressed up as the spitting image of Russell Crowe in Gladiator. A Mini-Gladiator, if you will. Truly a memorable experience, if not as enjoyable as originally hoped.

The next part of the story needs a little background explanation. The night before I arrived in Zacatecas, Johnny and three others went to a bar called Sensorama. Briefly, the way it worked was that they were blindfolded, music was played, and they were given things to touch all through four different themes – war, tranquility, ocean (I think) and….. erotica, of course. Not surprisingly, this part involved topless women and some, er, petting. Afterward they had to all sit around on cushions and “discuss their experience”. Apparently Enrique (San Fran) was only interested in talking about his hard-on. Anyway, I digress. Three nights later, upon returning to the hostel from La Morisma, there was a note left for three of the four (Ramiro, from Guadalajara, was not mentioned, hmmm) from two of the Sensorama girls, as they came to be known. Well, by this time Johnny was the only one still in Zacatecas, and only minutes after he got the note, the girls actually showed up. While Johnny “talked” to them outside (he doesn’t speak Spanish, they don’t speak English) we headed into the common room where a girl sitting there by herself that I recognized from a big poster in the kitchen. I think it was for some kind of pageant or something. We exchanged names, my country of origin (the only Canadian city she knew was Winnipeg for some reason), found out that she was “fine, thanks”, and that just about exhausted my repertoire of Spanish small-talk so Heiko took over for awhile. We never did figure out who she was, exactly, but she ended up coming to the bar later where she seemed to know everyone. Anyway, soon Johnny came in with his little entourage (which was now three) helping to round out one of the most awkward social situations I’ve ever been part of. We had four girls who spoke only Spanish (three of whom were under suspicion of prostitution), two guys armed only with English for the most part, along with Heiko, the German guy, and a Japanese girl who were both learning Spanish and passable in English. Add to this that nearly all of the participants were virtual strangers, and the “conversation” was doomed from the start. Our only real hope was Cristina, who is fluent in both English and Spanish, but she was regarding all the other girls, especially the Sensorama triplets, with a look that would normally be reserved for a vomiting cat, or possibly a grain of rice that had suddenly moved. No help there. So, just when twenty minutes was going on three days, someone mercifully suggested that it was time to go to the bar. At least in loud bar people usually only pretend to understand what the person next to them is yelling into the side of their head, anyway. Most of us didn’t want to go in the first place but we couldn’t very well abandon Johnny this early in the game, with all parties still sober and all.
Once at the bar, poor Johnny would sit for minutes at a time wracking his brain over all the Spanish words he knew until he could lean over and say something clever like “Do you like music?” or “Band good, yes?”. He helped it along, of course, by adding enthusiastic facial and bodily expressions. The table itself slowly evolved into just him and the Mexican girls and several of their friends who joined us over the course of the night whenever a chair came free because one of us finally decided that we had fulfilled our obligation of moral support. Thus, the day I thought might never end eventually did just that. The next morning Johnny informed us that all that work paid off in spades when he received a very tender and meaningful hug, culminating in a pleasant peck on the cheek. Don’t you just love a happy ending?

Well, the time soon came to move on, this time to Guanajuato, another Spanish colonial silver city and home to one of the first battles for Mexican independence. The entire city has actually been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site (which is good, I think). I took the bus there with Micha and Talya, both from South Africa, who had been counselors at a Jewish camp in New York until a week earlier. It took us almost a day and a half to find out each other’s names because we were all thinking that we’d been told and didn’t want to admit that we’d forgotten. I also assumed that they were a couple until I witnessed the confusion and indecision that resulted when the good deal they were about to get on a private room in the hostel turned out to only include one double bed. Never mind the look on her face later that night at a salsa bar when Micha rushed over from the table of Mexican girls he was determined to wheel to ask “Hey, what’s our room number again?” She wasn’t exactly sure what he was up to but was fairly certain she didn’t want herself, or her bed, to be part of it. The next morning he volunteered to escort a hot, blonde German chick to Mexico City and back to pick up a friend of hers and that was the last I saw of him. Strange guy.

Well, that’ll do for now. I’ll wrap it up in a couple days. See you then.

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