I’m calling it ‘the town where time stopped”, C.C.tells me as we set out to explore one of the town’s back lanes that leads off from the main square. He has named it so in honour of the clock tower whose hands have not moved since we arrived in Pluma Hidalgo, two hours into the Sherren Madres, high up in the mountains that we can see from the coast.
We have come to visit a coffee grower. “It is the real Mexico,” our host Guillermo tells us.
And I can see what he means with every curve in the road, with every S-turn navigated where, once we leave the main highway, there are no signs strategically situated to warn drivers of “Curves Peligrosso”, dangerous curves ahead.
I see it in the tiny plots of land that someone has painstakingly carved out of the forest. Tiny shacks sit perched on the hillsides along the sometimes dirt, sometimes paved road, and sometimes indistinguishable surface, upon which we travel.
They are the paradox of this exotic and beautiful and wild land. Along the sea, million dollar homes sit, white and pristine, perfectly perched to gain the maximum effect from their million dollar views of the mountains and hills and forest and ocean beyond. They have electricity and running water and servants and air conditioning and all the amenities to make life full of ease and grace. In these homes, children laugh and splash in azure blue pools of clean, clear water under the watchful eyes of Nonas resting on lounge chairs lining the pool deck.
In the mountains, tiny shanties sit along the road. They too have million dollar views of the valleys and mountains beyond. They have no glass for windows, no wood for doors. A dusty ragged curtain sometimes blows in the doorway. Blue and white discarded milk cartons make up their walls. Children play on the dirt floor outside under the watchful eyes of wandering chickens and roosters and dogs whose rib cages stick out like the paintings vendors sell in tiny shops in villages, or from the backs of cars. Paintings of macabre dogs of white skeletons with bared teeth and colourful hats upon their heads.
This is a land of great riches and staggering poverty. In a 2014 article, it stated that 52% of the 120million population live in poverty. The country boasts 16 billionaires, each worth $9 billion or more.
Staggering wealth. Staggering poverty. A land of great contrast and contradictions.
And oh so beautiful.
Like its people.
At Caffe Palma Diamanté in Palma Hildalgo, Don Gabriel regales us with the specifics of coffee growing. His hands are worn and twisted with arthritis. His smile missing teeth. And his eyes twinkle with passion and love for this tiny bean his family has grown for generations. He has a large paneled display that he carefully walks us through — each photo a description of the bean’s journey from seed planting to seedling replanting. To harvest. Separation. Cleaning. WAshing. Culling. Husking. Roasting.
Coffee growing, I discover, is not easy. It is a labor of love.
In the tiny shop where they sell the beans to the few tourists who make it up this high into the hills, and the locals who come because they treasure the richness and freshness of his beans, Don Gabriel’s son pours pale raw beans into the roaster, carefully watching to ensure it roasts to just the right dark, rich hue.
The smell is glorious. The taste, when we sip a cup of freshly pressed brew, divine.
After wandering the streets, we journey back down the moutain to take a side road back up into the hills to visit Finca Gabriel Hotel and Restaurant. Traveling the rutted dirt road, backing up when construction blocks our way was an adventure all by itself. Beside us lush tropical forest edged its way in an attempt to reclaimon the road, rock slides blocked lanes and one-way bridges spanned rock strewn streams running down the mountains.
At Finca Gabriel we feasted on Sope made on the outdoor oven with roasted chicken and chorizo and spicy salsa. We sipped ice cold Cerveza and chatted with the three generational family that sat at the table beside us. We wandered the path up into the forest, past the pool to the vista point at the top where the view of the valleys beyond took our breath away.
And when we were done, we made the winding journey back to the coast, our bellies full and our hearts fuller.
This is a land of paradox, of contradictions, of passion and heat. It is a land where time moves slowly under the hot equatorial sun and where, in some places, it stands still.
“With every change of government, we hope for better,” our host Guillermo tells us. And he shrugs his shoulders. What is there to do? Thus far the changes needed to help the people most have not happened. It is the way of the land.
It is not an easy land to understand, this Mexico. But it is easy to love in all its fierce and wild beauty.