Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Back Across the Border

We are at last, home. Home!!! Will write more later. :)

Monday, July 13, 2009

¡En el camino!

Bags packed and ready to go... Tapping into some wireless internet at the airport Starbucks, gotta love it... flight leaves in 3 hours... we're on the way!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Estamos en México...

...but only for a few more hours. Our time here has come to an end.

Tomorrow, at 9:54 AM, we'll leave Mexican soil and arrive in (appropriately enough) Washington, D.C. some four-and-a-half hours later. Barring any flight delays, we'll be in Chicago by 6:30 PM, home again with family (with more family to come soon!) at last.

We awoke this morning in the light of the Mexican sun, looked outside and saw the green trees and red-and-purple flowers, heard the birds chirping and - yes - the cars speeding by on the busy street. Still lying in bed, I stared out into that Mexican sunlight for a long while. It will be strange to wake up on Tuesday in another land, another place, another patch of creation on God's great earth.

Thanks again, a hundred times over, for all of your well-wishes, blog comments, emails, thoughts, prayers and everything else you've sent our way this year. It's helped to sustain us, more than we can say. ¡Muchas gracias a todos - y hasta pronto!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Photo Gallery: Mexico City's Southside

In which: Matt & Chris visit peacocks at the Dolores Olmedo Museum of Diego & Frida stuff, Estadio Azteca, and the Tres Coyotes taco stand. Awesome day. Only 3 days to go!

Pavos Reales, Estadio Real, Tacos Reales

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Photo Gallery: Museo Nacional de la Antropologia

More fun in Mexico City! Another short photo gallery, fully captioned.

Museo Nacional de la Antropologia

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

New Blog

Hey all... It's that time of year. Time to start a new blog and shamelessly self-promote it on the old blog! Be the first on your block to bookmark this brand new, just-created website:

As with the current blog, the new blog will no doubt evolve and change over the first few weeks and months. There probably won't be much on it for a month or so until after we get back to the States (think mid-August). And, ultimately, as you might imagine, I won't be writing nearly as much as I did this year, since I'll be immersed in internship instead of swimming in free time.

But I do hope to post a story or a photo album when I can. I'm also thinking that next year my writing will be less travelogue (though there will be some of that, as I've never lived in the Pacific Northwest!) but more introspective and "extrospective" (?) thinking about vocation - a different focus for a different kind of year. No matter what sort of epistle eventually finds its way online - whether from me or, I hope, Chris! - you'll be able to find them by pointing Firefox to the address above.

PS - The new blog title comes from a U2 song (and of course references the Puget Sound). Ten points to whoever can identify the song (I'm looking at you, From Michigan With Love - you're the only reader who I know who owns this album)...

Photo Gallery: Day in D.F.

This week I'm exploring the city while Chris does a few final days of research in Mexico City's various archives. On Tuesday I went to check out a fantastic exhibit of colonial missionary art, climbed the bell tower of the Metropolitan Cathedral, and stumbled upon another exhibit of super-modern art with spiritual themes. It was pretty great.

Since I want to go right out exploring again today, I figured I'd just post a short photo album with captions instead of regaling my readers with tales of the day. Enjoy!

Day in D.F.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Monday, July 6, 2009

Photo Gallery: Back to Coyoacan

Photos from our weekend back in Mexico City, fully captioned.

Back to Coyoacan

Transition Journal: Back to the City

Is this place for real? We lived here for nearly five months last fall; I thought I’d remember how it is. But I was wrong.

We left Lagos before dawn and almost immediately fell asleep on the bus. When we awoke, it was light out, but the greater change was in the landscape. No longer were we surrounded by the dry brown land dotted with arid spindly trees and cactus-like maguey plants. Instead we looked out the window and saw one color: Green. We were definitely heading south.

Soon we approached the city. Smaller homes and businesses began appearing outside the window, the poorest areas of the city ringing the wealthy interior. The buildings grew in number, and grew, and grew. The city went on and on and on, and still we were not at the bus station. We had forgotten just how big the city is, a population center of 25 million people that makes the population of 100,000 in Lagos de Moreno seem even smaller than it really is. (This, I realize, is why I always thought of Lagos as “a small town.”)

We drag our luggage out of the bus to a taxi and take off. The first thing we notice are the billboards, billboards that tower over you advertising all manner of movie, cell phone, and political candidate – and the political advertisements in the city, we notice, are very different, with very different emphases, from the political ads in rural Los Altos. And, now that we are back in the city, we spend an unfortunate chunk of our taxi ride haggling with the taxi driver over the price of the ride and the admittedly heavy weight of our stuff. He expects a big tip, and we give it to him. Welcome to the city.

The whole place feels like another planet. People have asked me about culture shock going back and forth between the US and Mexico twice this year. But the real culture shock is not crossing some arbitrary border; the real culture shock is going between the monster of Mexico City to the sunny SoCal feel of Guadalajara to the dry rural ranchlands of Los Altos and then coming full circle by returning to the Mexico City monster that eats you alive as you enter it. That, my friends, is culture shock.

But for all the culture shock of our taxi ride, arriving at the Lutheran Center feels, oddly, like coming home, or at least coming to a kind of home. We’ve been here before. We’ve lived here before. The maintenance man on duty opens the door for us; he’s a familiar face, and we greet him by name. They’ve repainted the buildings in the Lutheran center to a bright yellow; that’s a change, but a good one – it looks great. We drag our stuff up the stairs into what will be our room for the next week, our final home in Mexico, and then we head out to find some food.

On Sunday we sleep in – we were exhausted – and then have breakfast at our favorite restaurant in San Angel; the food is cheap and good and plentiful. We walk to Coyoacan, our favorite neighborhood in Mexico City. The leafy streets that lead to it are even leafier than we remember; the sun dapples down through the trees throughout our walk on this beautiful Sunday afternoon.

When we visited Coyoacan in the fall its main plaza was torn up and fenced off; the neighborhood was still cool but a giant chain-link fence blocking your way at every other turn brings the prettiness level down significantly. But now we find – wonder of wonders! – that the fences are gone, people fill the plaza, and at the plaza’s center a fountain shoots water over a sculpture of two bronze coyotes at play. Did we mention this is our favorite neighborhood?

And to walk through Coyoacan’s market stands… San Juan de Los Lagos is full of merchants selling their wares, too, but San Juan’s wares are principally religious or bedding-related; lots of shiny rosaries and Chivas blankets abound. But there is not a rosary to be seen in Coyoacan. No, this market is more affected by the massive university of the UNAM a few blocks from here than by any Catholic basilica; its wares are made by who Luis would call los jipis (Spanish for hippies) and political activists and indigenous artisans selling all manner of colorful arts and crafts. Chris finds a scarf – so popular at the UNAM – and I find a magazine full of guitar chords for Café Tacuba songs. Then we stop at an unpretentious taco place on the main square to watch Mexico take on Nicaragua in the Gold Cup soccer tournament.

Ah, Mexico City. For all your craziness, we’d forgotten how much we liked you.

Photo Gallery: Los Altos de Jalisco, Ultimos Días

Photos from our last days in the Highlands of Jalisco, with captions and everything.

Los Altos de Jalisco, Ultimos Días

Transition Journal: Adios a Los Altos

Editor's note: I cannot possibly describe the fullness of our experience of last few days. But this is my attempt to try.

San Juan

I will never forget my first trip to San Juan de Los Lagos – mainly because of how we arrived. We walked for four hours to get there, following pilgrims along the side of the highway under a hot afternoon sun in the semi-desert of West-Central Mexico. Pilgrims on the road: this is how I was introduced to Our Lady of the Migrants, “Chris’s girl,” La Virgen de San Juan de Los Lagos.

I accompanied Chris to San Juan twice in our last week in Los Altos. The first time, on Tuesday, I mainly went for the tamales and ended up being swept up in a whirlwind adventure with one of San Juan’s most colorful characters. (Later I discovered our tour guide depicted in a painted mural in the municipal building. That’s right. He’s so famous in San Juan that he’s in the mural. Seriously.) And then the second time, on Thursday, I was privileged to accompany Chris as she said her last goodbyes to la Virgencita.

I was supposed to be a research assistant during this leg of the trip, a role I haven’t exactly filled all that well. Appropriately enough, then, Chris decided to put me to work on her last day. We went into the archives of the parish church (a smaller church for locals, distinct from the virgen’s Basilica). Entry into these nationally-certified archives involves a very simple procedure: Chris smiles hello to the church secretary, who waves her on distractedly. Chris briefly explains who I am, but nobody cares. This is, Chris tells me, a very different procedure from the bureaucratic monster of the National Archives in Mexico City, where gloves, a face mask, and most of all certified credentials and identification are a must.

Our goal for the day, Chris told me, was to count all of the marriage records between 1957 and 1972. She had already taken oodles of data from these records, but did not yet have an accurate count of exactly how many there were. Given the organization of these records, this task involved counting our way through 80 heavily hardbound books. Chris figured we could do this in about 2 hours. An incredulous look washed over my face, but I quickly rubbed it away: Today, as they say in Mexico markets, I am a sus ordenes – at your service.

We flipped through page after yellowing page, sometimes moving quickly, sometimes very slowly, depending on the quality of organization for each set of records. As lunchtime neared, we realized we weren’t going to finish on time. The parish closes for lunch at 2pm, and besides, Chris had an appointment for lunch, a goodbye meal with one of her local contacts. We would have to return later in the afternoon, after the parish re-opened two-and-a-half hours later.

(That’s right: Two-and-a-half hours for lunch. Now, it’s the main meal of the day and you probably won’t eat go home from work for the evening meal until 8 or 9 pm, so it all makes sense, but still: Subway used to give me fifteen minutes for a lunch break. Fifteen minutes versus two-and-a-half hours. I like Mexico better.)

While Chris dined with her compañera for the last time, I grabbed some food at a grocery store and wandered around San Juan’s markets. It’s funny: Every previous time I’ve visited these markets I’ve barely given them a second look. It always seemed like there would be another time, yet now… now I have no time. I avoided the rosaries and virgencita dolls, which we already have enough of, but was drawn in by the soccer jerseys, which we… ok, which we also have enough of. But now I discovered that amid the cheap knock-offs were some really high quality jerseys. I admired them longingly. (My future internship supervisor asked me how Mexico had changed me. Does “I became a die-hard soccer fan” count?)

After the long lunch break I waited for Chris at the archives, and then we went back in for a second round. I told Chris about the soccer jerseys. She promised to buy me one for my birthday when we were done in the archives. Suddenly I moved twice as fast as I had in the morning… We finished our counting, said goodbye to the parish secretary for the last time, and went out into the streets of San Juan.

I told Chris I still hadn’t seen the murals in the municipal building up-close, so we stopped to see them before we left. They were, I was surprised to find, amazing, one of the best murals in the country right here in a public building that I’d walked by dozens of times without even thinking about it. In the mural, the Virgen of San Juan was front and center, of course, but the artist presented her in a way I’d never thought about her – or rather, in a way I’d forgotten to think about her in the midst of all my theological wrestling.

There she was, held up by two local people, depicted in a golden dress filled with the outlines of dozens of human faces. Behind her was the map-like shape of the country of Mexico, full of people coming from every direction to San Juan de Los Lagos, where a mother and daughter were planting a tree in the center of town, in the shade of the basilica. Here in this place, the mural seemed to say, people are brought together. They bring their sick, their weak, their little ones, in the hope that maybe, just maybe, here, in this place, where they are all gathering together, the ones they love will be healed, the ones they love will be made whole.

Before we went to the bus station, we stopped in the basilica to say goodbye to the virgen. We stood for a few moments in silence as the priest spoke the words of the afternoon mass, and then Chris turned to me. “Ok,” she whispered. “I’m ready.” And then we left.

Lagos de Moreno

I woke up on Friday, our last day in Lagos, feeling great. It was the end of a strange spring, a time in my life that was likely never to be repeated or even imitated, and the goodbye was certain to be bittersweet. But at first I only felt sweetness, a gratitude for this time, a happiness at having been alive in this place for these four months.

I went out for my last run in the park, and pounded the dirt with my tennis shoes for nearly an hour. I ate breakfast, and went to pick up the laundry. We packed our things, and our suitcases slowly filled up. Luis, our landlord, stopped by to show the apartment to some prospective tenants. He promised to pick us up the next morning – at an absurdly early hour – to take us and our things to the bus station. And then we packed some more.

We went to lunch at our favorite torta place, and ordered our usuals, our two delicious meals combined costing us less than a lone Big Mac would back home. We took a long walk, looping around our favorite old haunts – the Templo de Merced, the Rinconada de Capuchinas, the central plaza. We walked up Calvario hill and gazed out at the landscape for an hour or more, remembering the times we’ve had here.

They haven’t been easy times, not by a long shot. I’ve struggled to figure out what to do with infinite free time that sometimes seemed to stretch out endlessly before me. Chris left the library behind and struggled to do her work by a method, oral history, that she’d never tried before, a method that called for skills she was honing for the first time in her life. Both of us struggled to figure out how to live in a context different from any we’d experienced before. This place, Los Altos de Jalisco, was as different from Guadalajara and Mexico City as Mexico is from the United States. We had essentially started our journey all over again when we moved here in March. We had to figure everything out again from scratch; we had to start again.

And yet, and yet. This was the place where it happened, all the good and all the bad. This was the place where we struggled, where we learned, where we grew. We had good days and bad days, days that felt wasted and days so filled with good things we could hardly believe they all really happened. All of it here, in this place. We are ready to move on, ready for the future. But this place, after all that has happened here, will always be a part of who we are.

We went back home to finish up our packing and then went out into a Lagos evening for the last time. Before I joined Chris at the coffee shop, however, I wanted to stop at my barbershop one more time. I did need my hair cut, but, truth be told, I also wanted to say goodbye to my barber, who had always been friendly to me.

I walked in, feeling awkward as ever about my Spanish; somehow all my language learning seems to evaporate the moment I walk through the doorway of that place. But my barber was happy to see me anyway. I told him we were leaving in the morning. “Oh,” he said, “that’s too bad.” The radio was playing music broadcast from the local cultural center, Casa Serrano. The barber pointed this out, and then was shocked to discover that I had never visited it. He starts quizzing me about Lagos culture. “Do you know the writers from Lagos?” I name Mariano Azuela, author of Los de Abajo, the most famous novel of the Mexican Revolution. “Si, y que mas? – Yes, and who else?” Um…I name Juan Rulfo, another famous author from Jalisco, but of course this is the wrong answer because Juan Rulfo is not from Lagos. I am in for a lesson, I can see that already…

My barber names four other authors, and gives me the titles of their books. Then he moves on the visual arts, and shows me a magazine with the work of a Lagos artist inside. “This artist lives just down the street,” he tells me. Then he goes in a new direction: “Did you know that I am also an artist? I meet regularly with other artists in town, we have a little artist’s collective.” I look around at the paintings on the wall – which are, quite frankly, really good. “Are these yours?” Si, he says, of course! He finishes cutting my hair and asks if I’d like to see more of his work. Sure, I say. He takes me upstairs, behind the barbershop, to his tiny workshop.

There must be a hundred paintings in here, some huge and covering the entire wall, some small and finely detailed. They are done in a variety of styles and with a variety of materials. Many of them are of local places and people, Lagos landmarks and Lagos characters. All of them are excellently rendered, professional, clearly the work of someone who knows what he is doing.

“I am in a group with other Lagos artists,” he tells me again. “Some of them paint, others sculpt, some are musicians and some are writers.” I nod, but he isn’t satisfied that I understand. “We have so much culture here in Lagos! There are many artists here, and lots of culture.” And then I get it. Here in the upstairs artist studio of a local barber I realize – no, I am told flat-out – that after four long months I still haven’t seen the half of this place. There is so much I still don’t know about these people.

I leave feeling amazed. Who goes to get their hair cut and ends up seeing the barber’s personal art studio? I find Chris at the coffee shop. We think about saying a long goodbye to the baristas, but they’re busy with the Friday night rush, so we suffice with an “hasta luego – see you later” – they respond with the familiar “¡que te vaya muy bien! – may you travel well!” – and we walk out of there for the last time.

On the way home, I insist that we stop into the Super Fruteria produce store to say goodbye to its manager, who has always been so incredibly friendly to us. Luckily, it is still open, and he is there. He gives us a big smile, as always, and greets us by name: “¡Hola Cristina! Hola Mateo!” We tell him we are leaving, and his smile disappears. “Ay no, already?” We chat for a few moments about Chicago, where, we discover for the first time, he has family. The things we don’t know about the people here…

Then he asks us the question everyone seems to be asking us when we say goodbye: “When will you be back to visit?” Someday, we say, but not for a few years. “But don’t you have any friends here to visit?” he asks. We look at each other and smile sheepishly. We’ve met lots of friendly people here, to be sure, many of whom know our faces and some of whom even know us by name. But friends? Not really, we think, and shake our heads no. “Well,” he says, “I hope you come back soon. Tiene un amigo aqui. You have a friend here.” He smiles a great big smile, shakes both our hands, and tells us to travel well.

As we go to bed in our mattress on the floor for the last time, I find myself unable to sleep, overwhelmed by these last few hours in Lagos. Chris and I have moved so many times in the last few years, from one state to another, from one country to another, from town to city to city to town. But, with the exception of saying goodbye to our friends at seminary, this is the first time that we have had to say goodbye to so many people, people we will probably never see again. It is a realization that says something about our time here, something I have only realized now, at the end of things.

In the morning, while it is still dark, I take one last look at the view from our rooftop. I say a prayer of thanksgiving, and then it is time to go. Luis picks us up in his truck and drives us to the bus station. We shake his hand and thank him for everything, and then we are off and on our way, our time in Jalisco finally come to an end.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Coyoacan = Awesome.

We had forgotten!

Had a great day in our favorite Mexico City neighborhood. Tomorrow Chris heads to the Archivo General de la Nación (the National Archives), while I hope to find a place to do some writing on Monday, the day when all of the city's museums are closed. Until then...

p.s. - this is our 300th post! (drop balloons...now)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July from Mexico City!

We made it! Safely checked in here at the Lutheran Center in our old San Angel neighborhood in Mexico City. It actually kinda feels like home, or "a" home, which I suppose makes sense because we lived here for five months last fall. Still, it's kinda of a weird feeling, all this familiarity combined with the RADICAL culture shock of going from little Lagos to massive Mexico City. It's hard to overstate how crazy this experience is. Mexico City makes Chicago seem rural...

I hope to do some writing later this weekend to collect a some of my thoughts about the last couple of transitional - and, truth be told, emotional - days. The internet connection is not that reliable, though, so I can't predict when I'll post again - I hope soon. Thanks for continuing to keep up with us, as always.

Oh right - and Happy 4th of July!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Moving Day... Otra Otra Otra Otra Vez

(Above: In our beloved coffee shop for the last time.)

Well, friends, we're on the move again.

We've spent the last few days saying a lot of goodbyes to people and places. We thought we'd be used to this by now, and besides, we're excited to be heading home to waiting family and friends... and yet somehow it's still hard. Amidst the bittersweet feelings, though, we're also feeling really grateful - grateful to have had this time together in this place, grateful for the visits of friends and family who came here to visit us in Jalisco, grateful for all the thoughts and prayers that have helped sustain us, grateful for everything.

Tomorrow, before dawn, we leave for Mexico City, taking a six-hour bus ride to el D.F., where we'll check in at the Lutheran Center once again and begin the final week of our year in Mexico.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


So here's something fun I just discovered. Check out the "Adventures Across the Border" photo album.

Adventures Across the Border

Yep - it's our whole year in 476 pictures, all there on one page. I'm kind of bowled over by it.

An Unexpected Adventure to Kick Off July, My Favorite Month of the Year

(How's that for a Sufjan Stevens title?)

Yesterday Chris and I had an unexpected adventure. Well, for Chris it wasn’t so unexpected – she’s been doing stuff like this for months now. But for me it was definitely out of the ordinary.

I had gone to San Juan with Chris in the morning in the hopes of getting tamales for breakfast. We aren't eating at home much this week, ever since our gas tank ran empty. We didn't figure it was worth paying the forty dollars for another one for only one week, so we're living our last week in Lagos with cold showers and cold food. Yes, it's true - my adventures in the Mexican kitchen have come to an end.

By the time we arrived in Lagos it was pouring rain, but we found our tamales and champurrada and took shelter on some steps inside of one of San Juan’s many markets. After breakfast Chris had an appointment, but we agreed to meet in the afternoon to go visit a lesser-known church in San Juan, the Templo de Santo Niño de Mezquitic. For reasons I’ll explain later, I’d wanted to visit this church before we left Los Altos. (You might also notice that I didn't provide my usual Wikipedia link with this one - that's because Wikipedia has no entry for it. Nope, not even a short one. You know you're into deeply local territory when Wikipedia runs dry.)

While I waited for Chris, I went to mass at the Basilica, then re-read one of my Mexico anthologies in a coffee shop for a few hours. Finally it’s time, and Chris comes through the door to find me – only she has unexpected news. She had been interviewing one of San Juan’s elder statesmen at his home. “He says he’ll take us to Mezquitic in his car, and that we should eat lunch with he and his wife beforehand.” She shrugs apologetically at this change of plans, but there’s nothing for it; we have been invited and we must accept. She takes me to his house.

He and his wife are very welcoming and, truth be told, very funny. They tease each other throughout the meal, and I laugh whenever I understand the Spanish well enough. This is the first time I have shared a meal in a Mexican home since December; I realize how much I have missed it.

Then it is time to go, and we pile in his rusty red sedan and rumble our way down the street. Our plan was to go straight to Mezquitic, but when he finds out that we haven’t yet seen the panoramic view of San Juan from a nearby hill, he insists that we drive up there first.

This detour proves to be well worth it. I think I have seen this view of San Juan in postcards; from here you can see the river that runs along one side of the city – a river that has already begun its yearly refill now that the rainy season has begun – and all of the many churches and hotels that fill San Juan’s central district. As we climb through some barbed wire to get a better look at the panorama, I realize how much of San Juan, this city Chris has worked in for four long months, that I have never seen.

We pile back in the car and head around the edge of town to neighboring Mezquitic. The surrounding landscape is beautiful, much more beautiful than the landscape we’ve seen on bus rides back and forth from San Juan to Lagos to León. The land is green, much greener than it has been at any other time since we have lived here. No wonder the rainy season is so welcome…

Along the way we pass lots of massive posters and painted billboards for various political candidates, all of whom our driver seems to know personally. “¡Hola, Chacho!” he says as he passes one of these signs, which inevitably feature a giant photo of the candidate's face next to his nickname. Have I mentioned that our tour guide for the day has been speaking nonstop, with barely a moment’s pause? He’s a hoot, and regales us with stories of San Juan’s past and present, often breaking out into spontaneous song as we roll along the city’s streets and surrounding highways.

We also pass a treasured nineteen-year-old landmark in San Juan: The outdoor “stage” where Pope John Paul II gave mass during his papal visit here in May 1990. It’s a fascinating structure that looks as if someone placed part of a steepled church on top of an Aztec pyramid. But it’s fallen into disrepair, and the paint is peeling. Apparently it now sits unused, its precious green space empty, a permanently fenced-off reminder of a proud moment in San Juan’s history.

Finally we arrive in Mezquitic. Here in this outlying neighborhood of San Juan is a church like the Basilica of the Virgen, but smaller. It, too, is dedicated to a holy statue, but, well… smaller.

The Virgen de San Juan de Los Lagos is a little shorter than my arm. The Santo Niño de Mezquitic is a statue of Jesus that is a little smaller than my thumb. He is so small, in fact, that very few people actually call him by his official and church-sanctioned name of Santo Niño de Mezquitic. Instead, he is known as… well, this is how the Los Altos tourist guide puts it in its helpfully-included English translation:

“Located at Mezquitic de la Magdalena, in San Juan de los Lagos, 4 kilometers away from the city, you can worship the image of a miraculous baby Jesus whose size is no bigger than a peanut. This is the reason why it is known as “El Niño del Cacahuate,” the Peanut Baby.”

Actually, I have more often heard this Santo Niño referred to as “El Niño del Cacahuatito,” which adds the diminutive “ito” to “cacahuate” and makes it the “Baby of the Little Peanut,” as if just plain “peanut” didn’t convey the smallness well enough.

In any case, the tourist guide is right: the Santo Niño de Mezquitic is small – really, really small. It could probably fit inside of a peanut. Like the Virgen de San Juan, el Santo Niño is also covered up to its head in an elaborately decorated triangle dress and placed on top of a stand behind a glass case.

Appropriately, its temple is also small – perhaps the smallest chapel we have seen in Mexico. As you enter it, though, its connection with the Basilica in nearby San Juan is proclaimed clearly: There is a poster with a photo of the Virgen de San Juan and underneath the words: “Encontraron al Niño con Maria, su Madre” – “You will find the Child with Mary, his Mother.”

Like the Basilica, the Templo del Santo Niño also features a room of retablos, prayers for miracles to come and thank-yous for miracles received. Unlike the Virgen de San Juan, however, el Santo Niño is a specialist: This room is almost exclusively full of baby clothes and little toys, usually with papers clipped to them on which are written prayers to the Santo Niño for protection of a baby or a small child.

On our way out of the temple, we stop to buy some peanuts (yes, they sell peanuts, cheekily, outside of the temple gates) and listen to a peanut-seller try to convince us that the Santo Niño de Mezquitic is older and more indigenous than the Virgen de San Juan. Our tour guide is not convinced, and tells them so, and then he continues on with our tour, which we had thought was at an end.

First we stop at the house of one of his friends to chat for a bit, then we drive on to the San Juan branch of the Cruz Roja Mexicana – the Mexican Red Cross. The Red Cross is very important to our tour guide; he drove ambulances as a Red Cross volunteer in San Juan for fifty years (his fifty-year celebration photos are on the wall here next to a parked ambulance). He gives us a tour of the center and shows us the two newest ambulances in the fleet. I have flashbacks of being in Nebraska, where we were also shown ambulances and hospitals as part of our area tour.

We look at the time – nearly seven o’clock, eight hours after Chris first began her appointment this morning. We need to catch a bus, and before that Chris has some books to return to another gentleman, so she tells our tour guide that, sadly, we need to go. Rather than bid us goodbye, however, he drives us to where Chris needs to drop off her books – a good distance up and down a hill – and then, seeing that we are about to miss our bus, races us to the bus station. The ticket agent at the counter tells us the bus has just left; he points at the bus as it turns the corner. Maybe we can catch it, he says. We say a quick goodbye to our tour guide and race down the street, running as fast as we can, until the bus finally notices us and opens its door to let us on.

We collapse on the bus and catch our breath, winded by our backpack-laden run but mostly exhausted from a very long day. It has been one of our last days in Los Altos; Chris has only two days left in San Juan de Los Lagos. Some of our best days, it seems, have been saved for last…