(Yes, I know I promised to write about Mexican Roman Catholicism, but this is so much more fun!)
When David was born, my mother came down to help us out, as she did for all Mayra’s pregnancies. One day she walked to the chicken store and bought some legs and thighs, pointing to her leg and thigh to illustrate the point. We joked with her afterward that it’s good she wasn’t wanting to buy other parts of the chicken!
A lady followed her back to our house. I still remember the rather confused look on her face when she sort of pointed behind her and said, “Rod, there’s this lady following me!” Not sure what she may want…” That lady was Karen, seeking English help for her 9 year old daughter Allison. So she followed my mother, and met us.
To make a very long story shorter, Karen gave her heart to Christ about three weeks later at a Bible study in our house, and Ivan trusted Christ about three years later. Turns out they owned a house smack dab in the middle of Santa Bárbara, Ixtapaluca, the neighborhood where we eventually moved to in 2004, several years after initially meeting them. You guessed it (maybe), the first church building in this area is the very much modified house that Ivan and Karen sold us. They were also among the first group baptized from here in 2005 (although they do not congregate here, as they continue to live in Mexico City proper (Iztapalapa).
We rarely see them, but when we do it’s always a great time. Several weeks ago they invited us to spend a couple of days with them at a house they own near Yautepec, Morelos. The nearest city with any sort of name recognition would be Cuernavaca. On of my favorite pasttimes in Mexico is exploring towns I’ve never been to, and boy, I was not disappointed when Ivan mentioned we would be driving to Amatlán. If you don’t know where to look, it doesn’t matter what map you’re using, you’ll be hard pressed to find it.
One simply amazing aspect of Mexico is its lack of commercialization. In the U.S., any cool spot is broadcast miles away, and road signs make sure you get there. Here, road signs generally are non-existent, and phenomenal places seem to take a certain delight in rewarding the more persistent vagabond. So we followed Ivan, always detecting the speed bumps that he either did or did not detect on the isolated, bumpy roads of the Tepozteco!
Finally we reached our destination, and what a place it was! The town seemed nearly deserted, save a shaggy European hitchhiker and his girlfriend, hanging out for what could have been their busride to another universe. Ivan mentioned a place called La Puerta, where legend had it people could be mystically transported to other far-away states in Mexico. After parking the vehicles, we walked down a dusty, rocky road to The Door.
We met Reynaldo, an Argentinian who was the part-time volunteer tour guide, care keeper of what was truly an eclectic hippie hangout. Reynaldo explained causally, and with an easy smile, that the plants within the small compound provided food for the hostel. Coffee on site was picked, roasted and brewed. He made cake with the platano manzano, a special sort of banana that tastes more like apple than banana. Wild plum trees yielded much fruit that could be sold for $8 a basket, even the human waste from the latrines was mixed with sawdust and used as compost. Organic would be a good way to describe his philosophy of life! A special temazcal hut, a vapor spa/sweat lodge made with hot rocks with herbal cleaning properties added purified both body and soul.
Seven or eight Indian-style teepees dotted the hillside, some with one double bed and others with five single beds arranged end to end inside the teepee, resting on round, cement foundations. The two focal points of the camp where the legendary portal, a sort of elongated crack in the rock face of the mountain, and the huge roots of a large Amantla tree, from which the town derives its name. Placed in the crevice of the “portal” were all manner of trinkets and idols, fetiches and burnt candles. One could imagine a host of people dressed in white, fingers pinched together, visiting such a place at equinox or solstice celebrations. It was environmentalism combined with mysticism, with a bit of the occult and folk religion thrown in for good measure. As Daniel quoted as we were leaving, “This place is super-weird. I just want to go home and be normal.”
So much more I could write about this place, but I’ll conclude with this. As were were leaving, we met to bonafied hippies. They were from Germany, but had driven their totally hippie style Nissan van up the whole way from Chile. At least I think they did. They were both really tall, and called each other “brother” but who knows if that mean they were physical brothers, or just soul mates. The last thing we did at La Puerta was take our picture with the two of them. “Just don’t put that picture on Facebook,” they said.
Quote of the Day: Racial pride and cultural narrowness cannot coexist with the gospel of grace. They are mutually exclusive. One forces the other out. Because of the self-justifying nature of the human heart, it is natural to see our own culture or class characteristics as superior to everyone else’s. But this natural tendency is arrested by the gospel. Keller, Timothy Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (p. 139).