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Another brick in the wall

Campeche state in the Yucatan peninsula is not just tropical, it is Caribbean. The sun in the afternoon really is more golden than other places. People take it slower, in thongs with filthy feet, unshaven or pregnant. Yards are full of banana trees, or on swamp or inlets. Many rural houses are made with thatched roofs of palm fronds, some with a single oval-shaped mud wall, and if the house's roof isn't like this then the carport is. In the DF such houses would be made of hateful besabricks of which no amount of orange paint can kill the bleakness. I think I've determined how these palm houses are built (without nails), and with a supply of palm leaves could build one in Papa's backyard. Adding to the Caribbean feel was that Campeche, capital of Campeche, is much like Havana, with Spanish colonial battlements.

That is because of the pirates.

This was once the richest port in the Caribbean, shipping dyed wood (?), and so, a raft of famous pirates, including Francis Drake, attacked it more than any other port in the Caribbean. After it was burnt to the ground in 1663, it was rebuilt as a fortress. The guide books talk about the 8-metre-tall stone walls with the 8 baluartes (mini-fortresses) distributed at the corners and gates, but they don't mention the ingenious design of the town itself: an almost perfect grid of straight streets, with the barred windows of flat-faced buildings to the straight streets, leaving invaders nowhere to hide once inside. All roofs are flat, allowing for riflemen to shoot down from each block. It would have been a bloodbath. In fact, once the walls were built, only one pirate ever entered the city; he had captured the governor on the open sea, and was allowed in to the city to collect his ransom with the governor's word of honour for safe passage. He collected his ransom, and left unmolested.

Today, over 1000 of the internal building have been restored and 7 of the 8 baluartes are still intact, with museums inside. 2 long sections of the wall, those containing the gates, are also intact. So, it's all UNESCO now. Furthermore, a couple of kilometres along the coast in either direction, there are more stand-alone fortresses. I suspect, however, that the palm trees which abound were not so close to the walls back in the day.

And yet, despite living in a relaxed Caribbean setting, the people here seem unhappy in paradise. I don't think they are any more poor than anyone else we have seen in the country, and they are not especially affected by the drug war, but for some reason there is a melancholy in many of the people we met. In one case, we were having tapas for lunch under a palm shelter in the courtyard of an idyllic bar, full of locals, in a colonial building (the bar was around a support pillar, with bottles on shelves around said pillar). The man who served us had such an air of sadness that we would have wondered if someone had died, except that we had seen similar in the eyes of other people in town.

Campeche, like Taxco, actually has good souvenirs. Always when I visit somewhere I think "They should sell x, y and z, it's so obvious. Do they do no market research?" But here, they have that stuff, or at least x and y if not z. Maybe here their taste is just skewed in the same direction as mine. Any ways, they have good t-shirts, of good quality, designs you would actually wear. No cheap looking fish in fluorescent stripes above giant letters of the place name, all of which are from one printing screen and with cheap ink. Rather, well-printed designs made by graphic artists above small place names, from multiple screens with good paint, and of interesting themes. Pirate flags, Mayan gods or counting systems, cannons, galleons, good fish in proper colours. When shopping here we found a continuation of a theme: we are buying the same items for Nae's 2, 4, and 5 year-old nephews and nieces (saying that seems much easier to me these days in one collective noun, as it is in Italian and Spanish) and for my 27 year-old brother. Large size difference taken as read, obviously, but they get equal joy out of the same things (and that's because they are awesome things).

This lunar cycle

April 2015
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