Once I walked from Ajijic to Chapala and back. I don’t remember how many hours I spent doing it, but I remember being present for big chunks of time, taking it all in with new and thirsty eyes. I avoided the highway for all but a two or three block stretch in a couple of spots where it was the only choice. I walked through cobblestone streets in the villages, past horses and cows and goats on the dirt roads on the outskirts. More than once I sensed I was walking where gringos didn’t show up very often, and probably not on foot, a woman alone. I didn’t feel afraid, only conspicuous from time to time.
I hugged the lakeside when I could. I passed old brick buildings, glassless windows, the courtyards swept clean, women doing laundry outside by hand, the cluck of chickens behind low brick walls with bougainvillea spilling over them. Once I stopped for a long time watching a heron standing still in the shallows near the shore, and I felt the richness of the life there, the birds, the water, the place where fertile earth and decay overlap, reminiscent of my visit to the deep south here, maybe Biloxi. I marveled at the idea of owning land beside this lake, how much that would mean to me, but wondering if it could feel like that same opulence to the locals in their poverty. East of San Antonio Tlayacapan there was a stretch where the road became more of a walking path than a road, dotted with shacks, more plywood lean-tos than dwellings. I passed a man and two children. They were sitting at the edge of the road, a piece of plywood for a table, a bag of bread between them, the makings of sandwiches. I remember the surprise on their faces when I appeared. I felt like I’d just walked uninvited through their living room. I can still see the man’s face. He is chewing, and he nods to me in response to my greeting. But his eyes are wary, resentful. I am the invader.
This morning I let myself drink two cups of yerba maté. I bought two tea bags from the health food store here on Saturday, my latest approach to letting myself indulge in this addiction now and again. Each sip is delicious, the unique, bitter aroma, the coconut milk and agave a divine alchemy with the sharp flavor. I think of the even more wonderful maté I can buy in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs. But I don’t let myself buy it because I’ve learned I’ll drink it until it’s gone. And then, I remember the first time I drank that same quality of yerba maté, and it carries me to Ajijic.
I am on the sidewalk near the little health food store two blocks from my apartment on Aldama, the one on the frontage road north of the highway, beside the nursery where I bought my bougainvillea for my balcony and that lovely oblong rectangular terra cotta pot. The health food store is run by a woman and her husband who live in Guadalajara. I like them both very much. I pause before the nursery next door, run my eyes over the plants spilling out onto the sidewalk, inhale the scent of gardenias, then move past and enter the open store front. Yerba maté is not a thing in Mexico–it’s more a South American drink–so I don’t really expect them to carry it, but I ask anyway. I’ve forgotten in the moment the owners are from South America themselves. The woman is there today. She nods then smiles at my surprise, walks toward one of the shelves in the small space, hands me a large bag of loose yerba maté. I am shocked they have it, dismayed it’s not in teabags. I buy it anyway, then buy a small sieve from the Soriana in Chapala. I brew it in a glass pitcher in my rental kitchen, strain it with my new sieve.
In Palm Springs now, I use the sieve every day, to strain my alfalfa, oatstraw, horsetail, to catch my seeds when I make a glass of lemon water. But this morning I use the two precious Guayaki teabags I have allowed myself. I sit in my courtyard and savor every sip, relish the clarity of the mountains before me, the peace of the late autumn morning. And then I am back in my rental kitchen in Ajijic, the ridge of the hill outside my window, running that deep green Argentinian maté through my Mexican sieve. I mix in the half and half and local honey I bought from the tiangis. I walk out to the balcony, and I sit in my big chair. I sip the creamy hot sweetness while I look out across the lake below, and the crimson flycatcher makes acrobatic swoops from the neighbor’s chimney across the narrow cobblestone street.