Valley Friends June Report – Viva Mexico!

From Joan Steel

Our speaker, Val Brown was an English teacher in Mexico who spent a fourteen year ‘trip’ moving from school to school in various areas of the country and therefore experienced the real Mexico. She said it is much bigger than we think with a 2,000 mile border with America in the north and with Belize and Guatemala in the south. The population of over 122 million is a cross between descendants of native Indians and Spanish invaders. These were the first people to use the name ‘Americans’. Mexico City, a Spanish Colony, was designed on the French style grid system and was established as the capital city in 1550. The cathedral, built in 1575 on unstable ground is constantly being repaired and volcanoes on the edge of the city steam continuously but rarely erupt. The economy is stable and food is easy to grow.

There is evidence that Incas, Mayas, Aztecs and nomadic tribes settled in the area 10,000 years ago. The ruins of an Aztec city with pyramids now attracts tourists and researchers. Today’s inhabitants have picnics and take punts on the canals near the city. Mariachi bands with strings and brass are hired to play on these, (some good, some not!), the players wearing traditional costume.

Acapulco with its beautiful, almost circular bay, is frequented by tourists, but is extremely polluted due to the very narrow outlet for the tide. Turtles lay eggs in the sands there. Many visitors come on 3rd October for the world-famous swallow divers’ festival. The divers pray at shrines to former competitors before climbing to the top of the rocks and diving into the rocky waters far below. Val said it was a lunatic way of earning a living!

Aztecs believe that life and death are the same and families visit the dead to give gifts of things liked in life. Picnics are held on graves and the ancestor is told all the family news. Children recite, read or dance for them. It is not at all gloomy; processions move through the towns with candles which are placed on the graves and all churches have bands for the processions. Schoolchildren have to make a ‘befriender’ which is like a set of shelves exhibiting fruit, bread and many items to please and honour the dead. Skeletons are dressed as hierarchy.

Val took a holiday to see dolphins, turtles and whales which were amazing. The train journey to the coast was spectacular and seen from the air showed the track with hundreds of hairpin bends over mountains with views 7,000 feet down into canyons. A tribe of Indians lives at the bottom of Copper Canyon, (about the size of Wales), living a traditional life and keeping goats. There are many rivers and waterfalls, some with boiling hot water. To reach the top of the canyon takes about four hours on rocky paths. There are also rich silver mines in the area and of course, some very wealthy people.

Val, her husband and many tourists loved Mexico and Val wrote a book about her travels. Norma thanked her for a really entertaining talk.

On July 1st Edwin Rye will talk about David Austin’s Roses. We have a Pot Luck Supper in the Small Hall on August 5th and our next meeting after this is on 2nd September.