Coffee and Massages: Quetzalan Part 1

We got in last night around 8pm and went straight dinner with the briefest of delays as we put our things in the rooms. I’m rooming with two other girls in a room that has two double beds and a twin. There is also a shower with moderate water pressure and heat. We’re in heaven. What’s more, when we got to the table for dinner, courtesy of Hotel Taselotzin, there was steaming coffee in ceramic pitchers calling our names. Now, if you know me, I am not a coffee drinker – I prefer tea by far. However, Quetzalan is known for its coffee and coffee making process. We even have a tour and tasting session scheduled for later this week. Therefore, I feel almost obligated to try some. I only drank three cups a little.

Now wide awake after our five hour bus ride, the group gathered in one of the rooms for a resounding game of Mafia. If you have never played Mafia before, well, honestly you are not missing that much. The game has a narrator who selects mafia members, a nurse and a police officer from the townspeople. The goal of the game is to kill off the mafia members before all the townspeople are dead. In retrospect, it is slightly morbid but the impromptu narration and arguments regarding who the mafia could be made the game. We hung out as a group for a few hours more playing other summer camp-esque games until we were about to drop from exhaustion.

Today, we split up into three groups and went out on the mountain. Two groups were with curanderos who are traditional healers and the other group was with a partera or a midwife. I was with curandera Juanita and we walked with her for at least an hour down the mountain (We’re in the Sierras.), through streets and finally through grass and mud to get to her home where she awaits patients. She works 24/7 and is always available when someone in the area needs her. Juanita sees from five to eight patients everyday and even more on the weekends. She specializes in limpias which is a ritual cleansing using plants and occasionally an egg or candle to extract the ‘bad air’. Her work was very religion-focused to my surprise. Her patients faced a home-shrine to Christ and Mary, Mother of the Earth, during the cleansing as she said prayers over them.

After the limpia, she gave full body massages. I took a lot of notes on what she did as she gave each group member a limpia and a massage. She and I ended up discussing massage technique during mine. It was extremely surprising to see how similar some of the things she was doing were to what I witnessed while observing at a physical therapy clinic back home. The joint mobilizations for hip and spine were eerily similar to how spinal injuries are examined and evaluated in the US.

Once we were all relaxed and she had seen several patients, we were treated to a genuine Mexican meal of spicy soup, a piece of fresh chicken, and handmade tortillas. The chicken was extremely fresh. How do I know that? When we arrived in the morning they were in the middle of plucking feathers. I am 99% sure it was the same chicken.

We spent way too much (and way too little) time talking about medicine and the differences between life in Quetzalan, Puebla, and the United States before we had to start our hour long walk back up the mountain to the hotel. We were an hour late and missed most of our break time for the day but it was worth it. I think I’m starting to understand why past students have lauded Quetzalan as the best trip of the semester.

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