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Work 4 Peace,Hold All Life Sacred,Eliminate Violence! I am on my mobile version of the door-to-door, going town-to-town holding readings/gatherings/discussions of my book "But What Can I Do?" This is my often neglected blog mostly about my travels since 9/11 as I engage in dialogue and actions. It is steaming with my opinions, insights, analyses toward that end of holding all life sacred, dismantling the empire and eliminating violence while creating the society we want ALL to thrive in

Monday, February 14, 2011

Finally Oventik!

 I see the little tienda and the cement road with the cinnamon gates before I see the sign for Oventik this time. This is it, I think.

I try to confidently park my truck, grab my passport and acceptance letter, and stroll over to the gate as if this is the most natural thing I can do.

Unfortunately, it appears to be the same man’s eyes that are examining me and my papers. I attempt to tell him I am accepted into the language school for a week.

He asks me to remain there and leaves.

The mist and fog has never completely left this part of the mountains. It is not as cold as yesterday but it is still colder than it was in San Cristobal.

I wait, leaning against the cement wall of the guard station, trying to remain calm. I feel the womyn guarding the other side, watching me. I try to be friendly and wave, saying buenas dias to their subdued buenas dias.

Finally I see the short, masked figure materialize through the fog, holding my paper and passport. He nods at me and says si, se puede.

I point to my truck and he motions I should drive in.

I am ESTATIC! I am just so happy I don’t think about whether I’ve missed a lot or anything. I just follow the guys that direct me down the steep cement drive, to the bottom of the muddy hill where the road ends and the mud begins.

On the right road, I HOPE!

I am driving to Oventik! Finally. As I could not see anything along side of the road yesterday when I drove back to San Cristobal because of the rain and thick fog, the only way I know I’m on the right road is the potholes and places where I have to stop to figure out how to pass.

The road seems too good to be true. I remember many broken spots in the road, but I wasn’t driving yesterday with the thought that returning would be so difficult. When I came down the hill to San Cristobal, it seemed like a straight shot.

But turn-offs and splits in the road were not visible then in the fog.

Today, it is sunny and bright and visibility is as far as I can see. But I have gone many, many miles without finding Oventik or even Bochil – finding only beautiful countryside and sleepy villages.

There are two taxis on the side of the road, one broken down with the lid open. The guys who are driving the taxis appear to be 13 years old maybe.

They tell me this is not the road to Bochil. They gesture to the other side of the mountain, that we can see over the valley, and I think they tell me, that’s the road to Bochil.

I have to make a u-turn on a very narrow, two lane road with no shoulders. As I am turning a womon materializes as if it was foggy and suddenly she’s there. She has on a colorful top and black skirt, traditional clothes of the indigenous womyn here.

She rapidly approaches me, thrusting out her arm, as her shawl falls away, revealing a wrist the size of a skinny 3 year old. Her feet are bare, swollen, and mud cakes her legs until they disappear under her long skirt.

Her long hair is tied back in a loose ponytail and a drunk old man weaves behind her. He appears to be decades older and does not follow her into the street.

Her eyes, black, wide, boring into my, she asks me for two pesos; and then one peso. I am in gauntlet mode and shake my head no. She says 50 cents.

I think about the change I have in my ashtray and want to stick my arm out and snake it around her thin waste, holding her up to my window and dashing off as her long hair whips around us, pulling her into the truck and race her towards Oventik and a new life there perhaps.

But I don’t do anything but give her my codepink hat. In my rear-view mirror, I see her jam it on her head and stroll as jauntily off as any codepink womon heading to protest, in her same direction.

I DREAD going one more time thru the gauntlet. The whole time I’m driving back, I’m praying to the road goddess that these men will have left or I can turn off before reaching them.

I stop at a couple of simple tiendas that have a handful of fruit and lots of cocacola products for sale and ask if they know where Bochil of Oventik is.

In one shop, a young man is a woodworker and making furniture. He doesn’t seem at all surprised to see me and he regrets not know where I am going to.

I continue back down the road, dreading the juncture where the gauntlet might be. A pick-up truck taxi starts to pull around me to pass and I wave it down.

Three men jump out and approach me as I approach them. I ask them if they know where the road to Bochil and Oventik is.

They laugh good-naturedly and tell me I’m so on the wrong road. In rapid Spanish, the fire off directions. I am lost before they say the first word.

I must have looked forlorn, cause they laugh again and tell me to follow them! I am thrilled and relieved. At least I will be able to try to hide behind them if we reach the gauntlet again.

And we do. I am so molded and the men show their surprise to see me again. I duck behind my hands and arms to express my embarrassment. They seem to realize I am following the taxi in front of me, and this time, they wave me through.

And this time, I can see they are working on the road, working hard, laying on rock by hand after another, to make a smooth surface. I am sorry I cannot give them some money and I vow to return there if Oventik denies me entrance.

The men in the pickup pull over very shortly after we pass the working men, and show me a road that branches off and heads of the hill – an unmarked road with no lines painted on it, a road that looks primitive.

I shake each of their hands, thanking them profusely, and we go off in our separate directions. I hope I haven’t made them late for anything, as they had to go very slow, waiting for me to make it up mountains and around curves.

I travel the road again, heading up, and this time I notice other turnoffs. I THINK I am staying on the main road, I HOPE I am staying on the main road.

I am now late for the first class, which I don’t think will act in my favor. But I can’t help it. I focus on getting there and getting in.

Mob of angry men

I confirm with the gas station man the road to Chamula, which is on the way to Oventik, and up I start. I see towns and people and steep cliffs and lots of water – all things I couldn’t begin to see yesterday when we headed down this road.

I pass Chamula and Larrainter, as Sylvia has instructed me. I THINK I am on the same road I was on yesterday but it is very hard to tell.

Suddenly, there are about 20 or 30 men standing on either side of the road, leaning on shovels, milling about. As I get closer, they put up a string across the road and stop me.

I stop and greet them. They are asking for money. I am confused. These look like able-bodied men, they don’t look particularly religious either.

I have been stopped a couple of times by old and infirm, disabled; by young, desperate children, and womyn who seem religious.

I have few pesos to make it up the hill and these men are demanding $20 pesos, almost half what I have left.

I shake my head and tell them no, I don’t have any pesos. They are incredulous I will not spare what is less than $2 u.s. dollars, one jovially points out to me.

I cannot understand all they are saying. They point to the broken road in front of me, again demanding $20 pesos. I have to pay to cross potholes?

I ask them if this is the way to Bochil. I do not know if they are Zapatistas, or friendly to the Zapatistas, so I do not ask for Oventik.

And I don’t want them to track me down to extract $20 pesos at some later date!

In unison, they tell me I need to turn around, I am not on the road to Bochil. The men somewhat begrudgingly but making jokes and admiring my driving skills and narrow turning radius I am sure, help direct me in the right direction – if I can believe them!

As I drive back through the line, they ask me for my glasses, to which I reply in fake horror, NO I’ll be blind. They jokingly ask for a tire or two, the baby seat, for me to open the back. I try to give them a CodePINK hat, which is worth $20 u.s. but they don’t want it.

Finally I am through the gauntlet TWICE, and I head back the way I came, thinking I must have missed a turn. Stuart did say if was hard to explain how to get to Oventik, but I didn’t know if that was because he didn’t know/trust me, or because it really is so difficult.

Before I know if, I am back at Chamula, very close to San Cristobal. I am sure of this first stretch of the road, but now I see one other road to go down. I stop and ask the womyn working in the tiendas there where is the road to Bochil?

They don’t know, so I ask Oventik? I cannot tell if they are not so friendly or if it’s my imagination, but they shyly shake their heads no.

I proceed into Centro, the market just beginning to be set up, and with steeled determination, ignore the amazing smells, curls of smoke, and piles of fruits and veggies being presented for the Monday morning shopper.

I ask a couple of taxi drivers where the hell Bochil is at and they direct me back up the road from which I just came.

I am crushed. Did those men misdirect me simply because I couldn’t pay them? I HOPE not.

I return the way I came, scouting out possible turn-offs. I REALLY don’t want to encounter 30 angry men demanding money in a language I don’t understand completely, on the road again.

Unfortunately, I return to the same place where the men are ready and waiting to pounce on me, it feels like. I try to tell them it wasn’t nice to send me in the wrong direction. But I don’t remember the word for ‘wrong’.

They seem guilt-free as I try to ask them why they are not nice. I tell them I STILL have no dinero. They are not having it. My toll, ignored but not unnoticed by me, has gone up to $40 pesos.

I try to shine them on and start my truck forward, shaking my head no and putting up my hand, only to be stopped by a swell of yells and a rocking of my truck.

They have placed boulders, tools, and other debris in front of the wheels of my truck. I protest loudly. I jump out of the truck to be eye to eye with them and to show them, I HAVE NO DINERO!

I cannot give them everything I have. I don’t understand why they are standing there demanding money from me. Several other cars are allowed to go around me, toll-free.

I am creating a huge traffic jam on the little 2 lane road with no shoulder. A man works his way through the crowd of men surrounding me to talk with me in limited english to make sure I understand they want pesos.

I demand to know why they are being so unkind. I tell him I have traveled for three months in México from California, and not once, has anyone stopped my truck like this.

He repeats what I’ve said to the men. I think he says exactly what I said but they seem to understand him and not me.

He asks me if I have anything at all, 5 or 6 pesos, 1 or 2. I think of my ashtray that might have a few small pesos hanging out in it, but stubbornly say no.  I offer them $2 worth of quarters that are in my door. They laugh and tell me they are worthless.

I feel myself getting angry. I ask them, is this their work, to stand all morning with a rope, stop people and demand money?

They back off a little and then inform me I can proceed. One of the men tells me Bochil is back the way I came. I told him that is not nice, I’ve already been there twice.

I drive on and on, released from my toll, and happy that I still have time to make it to Oventik before 10am, I HOPE!

From San Cristobal to Oventik - again!

This is it. I am trying to make plans A, B, C if the Zapatistas reject me again today. In one plan, I consider not even trying, just heading straight for Guatemala. It is a long way up the mountain, a lot of fuel (as I still haven’t found, and haven’t put much energy into finding, veggie oil), just to be rejected again.

My roommate has given notice. My passport is expiring in 3 weeks. My money is funny. There is no way I can travel AND pay rent on my apartment.

And now the Zapatistas may not be allowing me to land there for a week of Spanish school.

Trease has set the alarm for me, without my having to ask her. I awake up at 4am anyway, plans and re-plans circulating around my brain. Her alarm goes off at 5:30am.

Last night, Trease asked me if she can interview me! She’s a filmmaker and seems to appreciate my story. We sit in a room, in front of a piece of rainbow-appearing fabric that is really an indigenous flag for the background, as she asks me about my life and Joiyssey.

This early morning, she has offered graciously to accompany me to the truck and help me get to the other side of town, where Stuart is driving a 15 person van up the mountain to Oventik – and where he said to join him to follow him up the hill.

We pick our way through the early morning bustle of San Cristobal, almost heading down one way streets – the wrong way – and other times almost getting trapped in a narrow lane.

But finally, with Trease’s amazing navigating, we get the corner where Stuart was to be. And, yes, there is no Stuart. It is 6:45am and the street is deserted. No Stuart, no van, no backpacks of people waiting to be taken up the hill.

Trease takes pictures of my truck in the early morning light and I continue to talk about the building of my home. She films inside my messy home and I’m thankful I don’t wear underwear so there are no dirty underwear hanging about.

I talk some more, about the mural, the paintings, my search, my haircut! And Trease films, asking more questions as she studiously focuses her camera.

 I thank her so much and we give each other a big hug. Trease invites me back if I can’t get in this morning, and if I do get in, she invites me to return before I head to Guatemala.

I only have a little more than $400 pesos on me. I take the risk I won’t need $$$, put $350 into the tank and begin the trek back up the hill in the brilliant morning sun.