Thanksgiving in Mexico

Mexico has two Thanksgivings.  The “Canadian Thanksgiving” which occurs on the second Monday in October, and the “American Thanksgiving” which occurred yesterday.  They are essentially identical food-wise, but spaced about a month apart, as the harvest in Canada occurs before our own.  Snow, all that.  Mexico seems to have no parallel holiday, except for their enthusiastic harvesting of the dollars generated by their north American visitors eager to recreate the holiday they are missing at home.

Nearly every sizable restaurant offers a Thanksgiving feast on both occasions.  Frozen turkeys fill the Costcos and Walmarts (yes, I’m sorry, there are these stores here).  Although there are some good feasts out there, they just aren’t the same.  People go home full, but disappointed, with stories of beef gravy being poured over undercooked turkey.  Something’s missing in even the best of meals.  I call it the “Grandma Factor”.

I was itchy to try something different this year.  I miss my family, and wanted a novel event to take my mind off them.  It would be too easy to just join friends in a local restaurant on the beach.  I decided to join Pam Thompson’s group who each year charter a bus and head up into the mountains to San Sebastian, about a two-hour drive.  Just outside of town is 250-year-old Hacienda Jalisco.  They rent out a few upstairs rooms, each with a fireplace and lanterns, as there is no electricity.  The walls are thick, and a deep porch wraps around the upstairs, and provides a cool spot to watch the sunsets and the thunderstorms.   I was told it was so quiet at night you could hear your heart beat.  A small stream runs through the property, and you can walk into town on a rocky footpath in about twenty minutes.  I was tempted to try, but did not think my flipflops were up to the task.

I knew only a few of the people on the bus, but we quickly turned into a jovial bunch, touring the grounds and the museum, the “John Huston” room.  That guy got around.  There were stories of Liz and Dick, extravagant parties and way too much alcohol.  I’m sure the stories get better every year.  In any case, it is an impressive place, and well worth a trip to see it, or spend the night.

The dinner was fine, but “Grandma” still not there.  I was not there for the turkey as much as the opportunity to take a road I haven’t taken, see what’s in the rugged mountains to the northeast of Puerto Vallarta.  I don’t have a car, so take every opportunity I can to see the area.

We drove through the suburbs of PV, then made our way east through the little towns as we journeyed towards the mountains.  They are real mountains, the Sierra Madre foothills.  San Sabastian is at about 5000’ elevation, and the trees change, the air gets crisper.  The mountains are steep, lushly forested, and the road precarious and winding.  And this is the new road.  On the plateaus are little hamlets, just a collection of small homes at a crossroad of some sort.  Each one has its little tienda, it’s Mexican Dogs (medium size, short hair, all with fleas) flopped down in the shade by the house or the store.  Barefoot kids on bikes.  Every house has its flock of chickens flapping about, excited by every passing car.  These level areas are intensively farmed.  Corn – fed to the animals – is planted and watered by the summer thunderstorms.  Squash is planted under the corn.  By the time our bus passed their towns, the corn was dry and being harvested, and tied into tight bundles.  This provides more sun to the squash, which is nearly ready for harvest also.

Not only the levels areas are used for farming.  This area supplies much of the marijuana that makes its way into the US and Canada.  It grows on steep slopes, in the hidden ravines, accessible by foot and brought out on the backs of mules on little rocky paths, similar to the ones my flip flops decided not to tred.  This is a quiet, peaceful operation at this point.  There are not cartel shoot-outs, helicopters, the high drama that makes the news.  It is just another crop, just other farmers, and it, too, is ready for harvest.

Our bus makes it way back down the mountains sooner than we would like.  It’s best to stay off these roads at night, however, as the cattle wander onto the highway, and frequently other drivers don’t use their headlights (I don’t get it either).  It is dark by the time we approach the city.  There is some problem, a burst water main, that brings traffic to a near-standstill.  We wait, half asleep with the turkey and the rumblings of the bus.

There is surely a giving of thanks throughout the world, when the next crop comes in, when food is assured for the people, their children, their animals, for the next year.   We express it one way in the US and Canada, and I’m sure similar observances and small prayers are offered elsewhere.  I am thankful for being in this beautiful country and celebrating another harvest, another year.  I am thankful my family is together, celebrating “American Thanksgiving”.  But I miss them.  I miss Grandma, too.

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