Coffee and Even More Massages: Quetzalan Part 2

The first half of this week was spent at the integrated traditional medicine and western medicine hospital while the second half was dedicated to the more tourist-y events. After my first day with the curandera, Thursday was supposed to be spent shadowing at the actual hospital. That ended up being a bust because once we were introduced to the doctors and spent fifteen minutes doing rounds as a 16 person group, the director split us up into smaller groups. The smaller groups were assigned to doctors from different specialties but there were no patients to see so we ended up standing around for an hour or so. 

Thankfully we went to hang out at the traditional medicine half of the hospital and ended up learning how to make medicinal tea, soap, and gel. We got lots of free goodies including massage oil, anti-stress tea and bug repellant. We even got anti-itch stuff after a demonstration at the hotel! There was also an interesting “post-modern” photoshoot by one of the girls with my camera while we were solving technical difficulties with the blender. Every time I go through those pictures, I crack up. These photos include extremely up close pictures of faces, ears, and to my dismay when I was finally able to review them: butts. To preserve the anonymity (and sanity) of the subjects (of whom I am a part), I’m going to keep the photos to myself and not share them with the internet. 

A commonality throughout the entire trip was the level of consumption of sweet bread. We usually started each meal with two or three plates such as the following but ended up having the staff bring out several more platters. It was extremely delicious and sugary, especially when dipped in the coffee we were served at every single meal. 

On our second day out in the community, I went with a guisero or a bone-setter to his home. He demonstrated his craft on several group members which involved, essentially, popping our backs. I was excited to travel with him initially because the musculoskeletal system is by far my greatest passion but was less impressed than I could have wished. All of his treatments centered around popping backs (which releases endorphins making you feel better) and massage. Even though I was none too impressed, the work that this man does for his community is very impressive and I give him a lot of credit for that. Also, his son is adorable.

His wife also taught us how to make corn tortillas which are traditionally made in the home for each meal. The typical fare is a soup with some solids like beans or meat and tortillas to sop it up with. Each person consumed at least five to seven tortillas with every meal. All the climbing up and down the mountain must do wonders for your figure because everyone there seemed to be in great shape despite the carbohydrate overload! 

That night we had our final immersion in traditional medicine by undergoing the ritual of Temazcal, an igloo shaped sauna-like ritual. We were prayed over before going in with incense and adorned with funny colored bandanas to keep the sweat (and toxins) out of our eyes. Eight people were allowed at each of the sessions and because the boys of our group wanted to bond, another girl and I were with an all male group. The ‘igloo’ was made of adobe and had a hole in the center in which white hot stones were placed. The woman who led the ritual scooped herb infused water onto the stones to provide the steam. It was an incredible experience that I have never had before and probably never will again. There was loud (off key) singing, beating on drums and real talk. Not to mention the sweating. Lots and lots of sweating. If I have the opportunity to do it again, I would not hesitate to bring other people with me to experience this aspect of traditional medicine and indigenous culture. Although I would hope that they have a basic understanding of Spanish because it would be challenging to translate with all the steam and humidity impeding proper speech. I would still be happy to translate if I could convince someone else to try it. 

The next day we had our tourist-y activities with our Notre Dame coordinator which were all outside. Of course, it poured and was freezing after a week of being too hot and sunny.  Despite the rain, we explored a beautiful archaeological site and made inventive anti-rain costumes. 

We also traversed through the jungle to get to a beautiful waterfall that may or may not have been worth the 1.5 hour trek. I’ll never tell. Some courageous daredevils hopped right in and swam around. I satisfied my ‘swim in a waterfall’ desire by going in knee deep before fleeing in fear of hypothermia. 

The night ended with walking through a beautiful old cemetery and a Notre Dame gamewatch. Our amazing coordinator, Lisette, paid for us to use the WiFi at dinner so we were able to stream the game and watch the Irish’s victory over Oklahoma. We sang the alma mater in the parking lot to the confusion and potential amusement of the guard at the gate.

Our final morning in Quetzalan was primetime gift purchasing time. The streets had become a thriving market overnight with what seemed like everything. The tienditas ranged from livestock to clothing to children’s toys! On the way back to the hotel, we saw a man bagging a turkey. Yep, he just wrapped a turkey in half a burlap sack and handed it to the woman. 

Last but not least, I got to share my love for Mexican street corn which is covered in mayonaise, lime, cheese and/or chile with a friend before hopping back on the bus for the four hour journey back to my bed and bad water pressure in Puebla. I freaking love Mexico.

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