Sunday July 26, 2009
It’s four in the afternoon and I’m zooming along inside a Volkswagen bug taxi typical of Mexico City. Sharing the backseat with me are a farmer, his wife, their loquacious two-year-old daughter, some luggage and eight empty nine gallon buckets. Lucky for us, a majority of the beetle taxistas don’t bother with a front passenger seat, allowing us some extra room.
We are on our way to the pueblo, or the village. They following a somewhat onerous routine and me on an exciting quest for corn fungus. I pondered this present reality as the city flashed by my window. I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my vines. This is why I love being a journalist: venturing out to discover new things. I loved that I was headed to a rural community and didn’t know exactly where I’d be sleeping that night. But then I turned and looked at the farmer and little Judy, dozing off in his arms. For them this was an almost daily regimen they kept just to make a simple living. I highly doubted that, for them, this was fun. I felt guilty and grateful at the same time.
Nearly forty minutes later we stopped at a bus terminal in the south of the city. Fifty pesos, the driver demanded. That’s less than five dollars. I helped the family lug their baggage to the ticket stand where for sixty more pesos we bought tickets to Ixtlahuaca, an hour and 45 minutes away.
On the bus, the featured flick was The Illusionist with Edward Norton. Outside we drove by tall blocks of modern silver buildings and large minimalist billboards. It felt like the 20th downtown scene I’d witnessed in this gargantuan city. We past a hilly urban terrain that reminded me of a cruder, dirty version of San Francisco, then passed under a mountain tunnel and mile by mile I realized that Mexico City does in fact come to an end.
On the way to the small town of Ixtlahuaca we past by factories for Nestle, Bayer, and Nissan.
From Ixtlahuaca it was back to another taxi that would take us 20 minutes out to the village of San Andres del Pedregal. The farmer, Pedro Torres, has a two room home made of concrete. There is no running water or gas and the bathroom is a two minute walk away in the backyard. He and his wife built the house with their own bare hands two years ago. You enter into a long room that’s both a kitchen and dining space. In the back corner there’s an alter set up for el Santo Nino de Atoche with flowers, streamers and multi-colored balloons. The next room was the bedroom. One queen size bed, a tiny twin and bunk beds. A small television, a wooden wardrobe and piles of worn clothing in bins were set against walls and a floor of dull gray concrete.
I now have a new appreciation for farmers. After buying a bunch of squash flowers I cooked for quesadillas I complained that cooking them was far too much trouble. I hadn’t thought of how much work went into getting them to market. They must be picked, trimmed, washed, shaken dry and left to bloom. Before dawn, the farmers carefully package them in plastic bundles and carry them on taxis and buses into the city. All this is done outside in the evening and early morning hours outside the temperatures dip to the fifties (Fahrenheit) or less in the village.
The night we arrived in San Andres, we had a simple dinner of roasted chicken and pan bolillo. Judy and I played with the new Barbie I’d bought her at Walmart the day before. At 10:30 it was off to bed. I was the only one who bothered to wash my teeth and face outside in a concrete “sink.” Back inside, the alarm was set to 4 a.m. I slipped off my tennis shoes and socks and slept in my street clothes.
At 4 a.m. it was cold and I piled on the layers. The T.V. was switched on to an infomercial promising a remedy for an enlarged prostate and erectile dysfunction. Pedro was outside packaging the produce. We took a taxi back out to the Ixtlahuaca bus terminal where a bustling outdoor market was in full swing at 5 a.m under faint starlight.
I left Pedro selling his produce, one among dozens of other farmers selling almost exactly the same thing. A nice surprise the Torres family gave me once we arrived in the village was to tell me that they didn’t exactly have cuitlacoche in their cornfields– they weren’t mature enough. But maybe we could find another farmer who did? Great, wonderful.
So my plan was to look for farmers with cuitlacoche at this market and ask if they’d take me to their fields that same afternoon. I needed to catch a bus back into the city by 2 p.m. But for one reason or another I couldn’t find a farmer able to help. Luckily, just as Pedro came to find me and I was ready to give up, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and said I could come to her cornfield at 11:30. Perfect!! Meet me in front of the church in the village of Santo Domingo de Guzman, she said, I live just around the corner.
Then I committed a cardinal sin of journalism. I didn’t ask her full name.