NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

It is time for our bimonthly roundup of my poetry and travel writing which continue to appear in journals and on websites around the world. Today, we travel to various corners of Latin America, including Mexico, Chile and Ecuador’s enchanting Galápagos Islands.

Spend the afternoon browsing through the list (with links) below …. and stay tuned for more poetic and narrative journeys coming up later this month!

Until we next meet …..

Safe Journeys!

 

The Daphnes and other Galapagos Islands from on high. Capture the magic of flying from the Andes to coast, to the Enchanted Isles with my poem “Journey of Changes.” photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Isla Negra” in Blue Fifth Review (Spring Quarterly, June 2017)

“Trickster Songs” and “Canyon Winds” in Mojave River Review (May 2017)

“Journey of Changes” in Topology Magazine (May 2017), theme: Borders & Boundaries

 

Sunflower seastar (Pycnopodia) in a tidal pool. Playa Orgánica, Isla Isabela, Galápagos. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

            Insider’s Galapagos / Galapagos Travel Planner

Galapagos Islands’ Best Snorkeling Sites – No Cruise Required

Galapagos Islands’ Best Snorkeling Sites – Western Islands

New Galapagos  Entry Requirements

Galapagos Islands’ Best Snorkeling Sites – Eastern and Central Islands

Snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands

9 Galapagos Islands Day Cruises

 

 

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Recipe Corner : CHILI

 

 

The perfect cold weather dish: Steaming hot, spicy hot Chili! photo © Lorraine Caputo

The perfect cold weather dish: Steaming hot, spicy hot Chili! photo © Lorraine Caputo

The changing seasons herald steaming bowls of Chili. The instable weather of the coming Spring and of Autumn’s end are the times to sit down to this gut-warming classic of Capsicum hot peppers.

In the US – the purported birthplace of this dish – October is National Chili Month, whereas 23 February is National Chili Day.

Chili Mysteries

I love coffee, I love tea

I love the java jive and it loves me

Coffee and tea and the java and me

A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup

 

Boston bean (soy beans)

Green bean (cabbage and greens)

I’m not keen about a bean

Unless it is a chili chili bean (boy!)

 – “Java Jive

by Milton Drake and Ben Oakland

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Chili became a life-saving meal for many because it could be made cheaply for hordes of hungry people. This stick-to-the-ribs dish was often served along with a cup of Joe, as this song from that era reflects. Chili, though, is a dish much older than the Great Depression.

In fact, two huge questions loom about Chili: What is it and what are its origins?

For most United Statiens, Chili is a spicy stew of red kidney beans, ground beef, tomatoes and lots of hot chili with other spices with its roots in Texas and the US Southwest – all formerly part of the Mexico.

The International Chili Society response to the query seems to support this. It states, “The mixture of meat, beans, peppers, and herbs was known to the Incas, Aztecs, and Mayan Indians long before Columbus and the conquistadores.”

And indeed, in ole Mexico, you will find beans spiced with lots of Capsicum and some pork fat back thrown in. But if you ask a Mexican about what United Statiens call Chili, you’ll most likely get a blank stare and a fierce denial that the dish has its roots south of the Río Bravo.

North of that river (called the Rio Grande by those Anglos on the other side), Texas claims Chili as its official state dish. According to legend, this Tex-Mex standard was born on the broad Texas plains during cattle drives. It was a dish easy to throw together over the evening campfire. And ask any down-home Texan, and you’ll get the emphatic answer that chili is ONLY meat and hot chili peppers – no beans and no tomatoes.

No matter – here’s my recipe, ideal for the hostel kitchen or on your camp stove. I’m a devoted chili bean aficionada, which makes this dish perfect for vegans, vegetarians – and yes, even carnivores!

¡Buen provecho!

 

CHILI

Estimated cooking time: 20-30 minutes

For: Vegans, Vegetarians, Carnivores

 

2 tablespoons of oil

1 pound / ½ kilogram of beef (ground, or cut into 1/2 –inch / 1.5-centimeter chunks) – optional

1 large onion, diced

1 large green pepper, diced

2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

3 large tomatoes, diced

1 teaspoon salt

1 can of red or kidney beans

2-3 tablespoons chili powder and/or 1 hot pepper, minced

Heat the oil in a 3-liter pot. Add onion (and beef) and sauté until golden. Add the green pepper and garlic, sautéing until soft. If using fresh chili pepper, toss in and sauté until the aroma rises. Add the tomatoes and salt; sauté until tomatoes begin to juice.

Throw in the can of beans plus one can of water, and the chili powder. Mix well. Turn down the heat and allow the flavors to merge, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve hot with crackers crumbled in or with cornbread.

 

Tips

  • In Mexico and Central America, the chili pepper is properly called chile (pronounced chee-lay). In South America, it is called ají (pronounced ah-hee).
  • Chili powder can be difficult to find in some Latin American countries. When you find it, stock up! Note: Avoid ají para seco in Ecuador; this is primarily a coloring for food and has no kick.
  • For extra seasonings, you may also add cumin (comino) or oregano (oregano).
  • Vegetarians can add gluten, soy or other vegetable protein if they like.
  • Some folk like to toss in diced carrot, zucchini, corn or other vegetables.

 

And for something different ….

  • For a one-pot meal: After about 10 minutes, layer the top with cornbread batter. Cook covered for 15 minutes more, until the cornbread springs back when lightly touched. Do not stir the chili!
  • You can also mix in ½ cup of quinoa with the beans. Increase water to 2 ½ cans.

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

It has been quite an insane month with projects coming and coming. And so I haven’t had much time to pop over to this corner of cyberspace to share with you.

My poetry and travel writing is continuing to appear regularly in journals and on websites around the world.

This week I present to you my latest publications.

Safe Journeys!

Ever ready to give a poetry reading: My “traveling poetry” books with over 25 years of works, in English and in Spanish. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Ever ready to give a poetry reading: My “traveling poetry” books with over 25 years of works, in English and in Spanish. photo © Lorraine Caputo

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Sunday Dinner,” “Voids” and “The Chaco War” in the 2016 edition of DoveTales: An International Journal of the Arts, a publication of Writing for Peace

“When,” “Full Moon in May,” “Wills” and “Dream Trilogy” in The Syzygy Poetry Journal (Volume 1, Number 3)

“Black Echoes” in In-Flight Poetry Literary Magazine (Issue 7, April 2016)

“Juana” in “Suite: On the Train,” Canopic Jar: an arts journal (a US-France publication)

photo © Lorraine Caputo

photo © Lorraine Caputo

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

Insider’s Galapagos (ghostwritten articles)

7 Ways to Help the Galapagos Islands

New Protections for Galapagos Marine Life Announced

Galapagos in solidarity with Ecuador’s earthquake victims

5 Reasons to Visit Galapagos Now!

AN AFFAIR NEVER-ENDING

I have spent many hours studying the hatched lines to see where the rail roads go. © Lorraine Caputo

I have spent many hours studying the hatched lines to see where the railroads go. © Lorraine Caputo

Imagine, if you will, that I found a new passion after I left my mate of many years.  I was not looking for a new love. Nay – you could say, it found me.

It was 1988 and I struck out to learn, face to face, mouth to ear — about Mexico and Central America. Twenty-nine years old and I reclaimed my self, my independence. And during that ten-week sojourn, I took the first honest-to-goodness train of my life. We ain’t talking ‘bout no rapid from the east side to the west. We’re talking ‘bout El Oaxaqueño, 12 hours from Mexico City to Oaxaca. Ay, how I relished the mystery of traveling through the night, awakening in the morning amidst hamlets nestled in the folds of rock, cliffs so close I could study their formations.  The slow reach of the sun over one and another range of the Sierra Madre del Sur. Wood smoke scenting the crisp air. The food offered by the women who boarded, the conversations with other passengers and the workers. The squeal of wheel upon rail as we hairpinned through those mountains, finally descending to our destination.

 I then knew that riding the rails is a perfect way to learn about a country. Many times the train goes where no road goes. You travel slow enough to be able to see wildlife from those smoke-hazed and cracked windows, critters scared by the traffic of highways. You can catch glimpses into homes set close to the tracks.  And beyond passing through pueblocitos, within the train itself forms a community. You can talk, share lives and food, walk about. Face it, you can’t even begin to do that on a bus.

If I could, through my poetry and stories, share these experiences, put a human face on the names of pueblos from Alaska to Patagonia through these rides. I decided to devote every cent, every opportunity to travel by train.

But come 1997, the raison d’être of these journeys changed. No, it deepened.

With the signing of NAFTA, Mexico had to agree to privatize its national holdings, including the railroad. In five sectors it was sold off to consortia, made up by Mexican capitalists and — in larger part — by US cargo train companies: Union Pacific, Santa Fe-Burlington Northern and others. By early 1996 freight services were in their hands.  Then 1 October 1997 — I came to discover — marked the official turnover of the passenger services.

I didn’t know this when I crossed the border on an October day, planning to again to ride the rails. I wanted to go to a friend’s family’s village in the Sierra of northern Durango State.  I could make it totally by trains.

Or so I thought.

 

14 October 1997 / Matamoros, Mexico

Just after dawn I cross the bridge from Brownsville and arrive at Mexican immigration.

“How will you be traveling?” the official asks.

“By train.”

“Well, you’ve missed today’s train.  It left at seven this morning.”  He turns to a co-worker. “Isn’t that right?”

The other man raises his eyebrows and shrugs his shoulders.

My information says the Tamaulipeco leaves at 9:20 a.m.  I head off for the station, through the streets of this awakening city, in hopes of catching it.

I stop at a stand where a brazier and pots of coffee steam in the cool of morning. “Which way is the train station?”

The man replies, “There are no trains, no hay.”

Further down the main road, I find a tourist information booth. Two men are inside, one behind a desk. “The train station? It’s up about four more blocks. Pero no hay.”

Next door is the government tourist office. The young woman shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s best to go to the station and ask.”

Once more I make my way up the now-busier street. At the next corner, near the tracks, a tourist officer and several taxi drivers sit on a bench. They all say, No, there is no service from here because of privatization by the government. Pero sí hay from Reynosa.  It leaves at 4 p.m.

A loud train horn disturbs our conversation. We all cover our ears. A long chain of Northwestern and other cars come rumbling along. It stops. Security men begin searching between the cars for stowaways, pulling them off. A few jump and escape.

I turn back from my quest and catch a bus for Reynosa.

 

Reynosa

Out front of the bus terminal, I ask a man where the train station is. He responds, “No hay trenes.”

I walk up to a taxi driver (they always know). Yes, he agrees, at 4 p.m. there is a train. He gives me directions.

Later I stop by a man selling roasted corn at the curb. “No,” he answers, “there are no trains.”

“But in Matamoros they told me there is, and a taxi driver here said so, too.”

“Look,” he says adamantly, “you can believe me or you can waste your time. But there is no train.”

“Since when?”

“Oh, at least six months now.”

Another man comes. “For Monterrey? Yes, there is. My sister took it Sunday. It runs every other day. So, yes, today there will be.”

With this hope I follow the tracks to the blue and white station.

It is boarded up, the doors locked with heavy chains. Some of the windows are broken. Through their white paint peeling away, I see the schedule blackboard still hanging by the ticket window. The blue seats in the waiting room remain.

Between the old station and the abandoned restaurant next door, a man sells gum and candies. “Excuse me, sir. Why is there no passenger service?”

“It’s because of a company del otro lado, from the other side. It bought it and decided there will be no service.”

“Since when?”

“Oh, since three or four months ago.”

Right at that moment, a lengthy string of US freight cars halts, brakes clanking. Black-coated men begin searching among the cars for stowaways.

I return to the bus terminal and stay until night to go to Monterrey. In the women’s bathroom, I recount to Socorro, the attendant, my fruitless search for the train to Monterrey. She is surprised to hear the news.

 

15 October 1997 / Monterrey

I grew bored in Reynosa and finally took a bus here, arriving at 1 a.m.

At about three, I wander outside and ask two taxistas there. They conclude, “With the change of owners, no-one knows the present schedules. It’s best to go inquire there.”

“Who are the new owners?”

“Some are Mexicans, others are from the US.”

I wait until the light of day begins washing the city streets and I walk as fast as I can with this forty-pound knapsack to the train station. A man sits behind the ticket window.

“Is there still a train for Durango?” I shift the pack on my back.

“Yes. It leaves in fifteen minutes. For only one? Ninety pesos.”

Ay, I tell him of my misadventures with the Tamaulipeco. “Since when doesn’t it run?”

“Since January.”

 

We leave behind those saw-tooth mountains of Monterrey, swirled with white rock. The chilled dust of early morning blows through my shattered window. Our train of hard foam cushioned seats, of dirty floors and dirty floors rocks and sways past a hamlet of rubble of once-homes destroyed.  From the ruins of one flies a zopilote. Forests of ages-old yucca trees. A hawk soars over the green desert thicket. Encrusted sand dunes sculpt the earth. I snuggle into the warmth of the sun as we pass by a village of old-fashioned adobes.

And I awaken at Paredón. In those hazes of sleep, I expect this car to be full of Mexican Revolutionaries.

The train winds through low mountains, then horseshoe-curves around a flatland. Once more it begins to corkscrew through mountains. A hawk sits up on the rise of ancient basalt boulders. The desert sand is laced with dry streambeds and footprints, horse trails, coyote tracks.

We zoom past cornfields and jolt past a sky-blue circus big top as we enter Concordia. There, a black-hatted, sun-glassed man boards. He strolls up the aisle and back down, playing a beat-up guitar and singing a corrida. He gathers his tips, then goes to the back of the car. He performs a few ballads, a fellow passenger joining in.

As we pull into the next town, a new voice and masterful strumming is heard. All women’s eyes turn to that man, black hair pulled back into a curly ponytail.  They nod, smiling, whispering to one another.

Near the tracks, nine students stand. Their brass coronets gleam in the now-afternoon sun. A few practice notes, and as we pull away, they play a clarion call.

The strolling musician is gone.

We fast clip upon these old rails. The diesel engine hums deep. Vineyards and orchards neatly crisscross this wide valley.

Over a soccer field in Gómez Palacios bobs a blue and yellow kite. Children gather in the stands, watching its dance. A colorful clothesline flaps its laundry in the cool sun.

At Torreón, an elderly woman boards. Her silver hair is covered by a black lace scarf. She holds one corner of it in her mouth, hiding the right side of her face. It falls away for a second, revealing a misshapened nose, a cheek deeply incised with wrinkles, a sunken eye, a sneering mouth.

A little girl’s dark eyes peer over the seat in front of me, then dart away as I grin. Next they appear around the side of the seat and retreat with a shy smile.

As we ride into the sunset, we hug mountains of folded rock.  Shadows fall deep and long. The red soil is shaped into irrigation ditches and plowed rows of golden maize. The bright-yellow sun nears a blanket of gilt-edged periwinkle clouds touched with peach. I listen to the music of this train and wish I could write its symphony.

Dá-da-da

Dah        Dah

counterpointed by squeaking springs.

Just before the sun sinks beyond, the bottoms of the clouds are etched in magenta. Then the landscape falls into greys. The pastel sky drains. Out there, to the north, a long spume of white smoke blows from an orange bundle of flames.

I turn my eyes to where the moon has risen above the sierra. The rest of our way to Durango, I gaze upon her fullness.

 

17 October 1997 / Durango

Sunrise is beginning to wash the eastern sky. The once-full moon disappears in the western. The chill of this semi-desert morning hovers around and within this caboose. In the warmth of a diesel stove, the conductor, an old farmer and I huddle.

“Come Monday,” the conductor says, “there will be no more passenger service — only cargo. The day before yesterday there was a passenger car. Now they ride in the caboose.”

“Why will there be no more passenger service?” I lean towards the stove, holding my hands out.

“The new owners have decided the tracks are in too bad of shape.”

“Who are the new owners?”

“Union Pacific here, Santa Fe elsewhere. They own the tracks, stations, everything. And they’re ending a lot of services.”

Así pues, I wanted to take the train from Matamoros to Monterrey, but there is none now. But there is from Reynosa, they told me. So I went there by bus. Pero no hay.”

The farmer shakes his head. The conductor nods his, “But we believe some will return once repairs are done — like that one.”

“Well, the story is much the same up north. Before, all the passenger trains were run by the freight companies — Union Pacific, Santa Fe and others. But during the 60s and 70s they decided to do away with them. Then in 1976 the government said we needed them again. But AMTRAK, as the passenger service is now called, doesn’t own many lines. It has to pay the freight companies to use theirs. So AMTRAK can’t make much money, and fares are high.”

The conductor checks the fire.  “, money is more important than the people.”

The old man nods.

The conductor falls silent as several other workers enter. He hands me a cigarette and lights it, hands cupping the flame.

Once they leave, he continues. “One has to be careful of what one says. There are many animalillos.” He draws a finger across his throat.

“Even on el otro lado,” I respond, “people are afraid to speak up. For fear of losing their jobs, their homes, their cars and all else.”

We talk about our pueblos, our people on either side of the Great River. Of how US corporations are robbing the people of the trains, the farmers of their lands.

Soon the day is lighter and more passengers board.  Our conversation ends. I take a perch in the cupola. The old man stays at the table, near the stove. The conductor begins his work.

At about 8:30 a.m. we leave, with two locomotives, seven open hoppers, this caboose, a car with barred windows for security guards and a payroll car behind.  Over two dozen passengers are crowded in here.

 

Past shantytowns of wood and cardboard homes and into the desert, its edges and mountains hazed. The rocky land rises, studded with fruiting nopales, and it falls away to dry stream beds.  Through forests of mesquite, the ashy soil beneath carpeted with sage. Campos of maize sprinkled with sunflowers, fields of frijol. Cows graze near the tracks. One’s breath steams the morning. Another, chewing its cud, slowly moves off to a quieter place, away from our clicking train.

We stop at a village. The sun strokes my face through this open cupola window. The farmer looks up at me writing these words. With a slight laugh I wave my pen, writing in air. He nods and smiles. I lean out a bit and notice in the third hopper up front rides a white-jacketed, white cowboy-hatted man.

A herd of seven bulls begins stampeding, one by one, across a high field of grain. Above them flies a flock of low-swooping black birds. And just as suddenly the bulls stop.

In the yard of a blue and turquoise house, a young boy runs. He pauses to watch our train go by.

On the stove the workers heat some chiles rellenos and water for coffee. One of them warms his hands.

We arrive at another village.  On the gravel road traversing the tracks a bicyclist stops to look. Before we depart with nine new passengers aboard, he pedals off.

A yellow-sweatered boy climbs up to sit on the cupola floor.  He calls to his nervous brother to join him. I squeeze myself closer to the window to share my seat with him.

Lucia — a pueblo of raw adobe walls. A woman with her young daughter runs alongside us. The conductor leans out the vestibule.  “Where are you going?”

“To Canatlán.”

“Get in the caboose.”

En serio?  They told us there was no passenger car!”

And more pots appear on the stove. Their smells waft up to my hungry nose. The conductor motions me down to share lunch with them.

As we slow for the next stop, Los Pinos, the old farmer waves good-bye before darting out the back door.

The conductor rummages through his black sports bag. His ball cap comes flying, landing at my feet, as he puts on a gnarl-faced mask and turns to us at the table. He tosses that aside and digs out a cassette player. Between stops he listens to music through the headphones.

A woman sits upon the bed platform in the rear section. Her young fingers skillfully crochet a doll’s dress. Her son Josué puts on the Halloween mask. Papa reads today’s paper. Over his shoulder, her green eyes study an article he shows her.

At this workers’ dining table sits Mary with her four-year-old niece. Next to me is Rosario. Rosario, now 18, yes, has finished her studies. “A ver – we’ll see,” she says with a shrug when asked about her future. Mary, 23, finished only secondary school. She has no job. “No, I’m too old to finish my studies,” she says with a tilt of the head, a lift of the shoulders.

We ignore, then parry, and ignore again the chiding of men.

Through the partly opened window, I catch glimpses of countryside and villages, of children waving, of workers in the fields. Lakes glitter in the noon-day sun.

Esfuerzos Unidos, Alisos, Nuevo Ideal. Family by family, person by person, the caboose begins to empty. Angelita, Las Flores, Chinacates. A wagon drawn by two horses trots across a field.

The wooden crucifix and rosary beads above this table sway with the train’s rocking. We begin winding our way down through the heights of the Sierra Madre. Rock walls hug this train.

The conductor goes atop. Another worker hops out a cupola window to join him. There I see them standing, coated against the wind, speaking into walkie-talkies. One leans through my window and begs some matches.

At Kilometer 157 we make a short stop. A sow leads three piglets across the dirt road. The conductor climbs down to talk with some fellow workers there about when their paychecks will come. “We have the payroll car here.”

“No,” one states, “I got my letter.”

“Well, after Monday, no hay tren.”

No me digas — Don’t tell me,” another says surprised.

A lone zopilote soars over a land of bleached bones. Two yellow butterflies dance above a yucca. Beneath the shade of mesquite a burro lies. He lazily turns his head to these clapping cars. We still creep through this mountain chain, metal screeching against metal. Not far from a swift river sits a lone adobe house. In the front patio grazes a tethered horse. A small waterfall tumbles. A black bull wanders to the shallows to drink from the clear waters.

At Santiago Papasquiaro we wait. The locomotive pulls away. A dust devil picks up trash & egrets in its whirlwind. We finally depart here. Three young boys jump on a trampoline in a yard. The man with the white sombrero is gone. A dog on a rooftop barks as we gain speed.

Rosario, now in the cupola, squeals as one of the brakemen walks through with the mask on.

Within the cloudless sky a hawk dips and rises above the scrublands. A roadrunner darts among the brush. Above a pool of steaming sulfur springs hovers an orange and white dragonfly.

The conductor sits at the table reading the news. After a while he falls asleep. Rosario and Josué sit across from me up here, singing corridas. A six-pack of Modelo goes around the caboose. One by one, the cans of beer are popped open.

A pair of blue and black butterflies appears alongside us. But just as quickly, we leave them behind.

At Presidio Rosario gets off, a bit tipsy from one beer. A family of four women and a boy come on with hand-made ribbon wreaths protected by clear plastic bags.

We journey along a river that occasionally cuts cliffs and other times winds through the plain. At Corrales the new women and boy depart. They walk across the wood-plank bridge, across the river, into town.

We arrive at Tepehuanes, only seven passengers left, the end of this line. The adobe station is pink-painted bricks. The train goes a bit further to begin loading timber for the paper mills down south.

 

Next door to the station is a hotel. My room is large, with thick adobe walls. I open the shutters of the window and begin spreading my work on the table beneath it. Before sunset I head for dinner, crossing the bridge over a brook, climbing the hill into town. After I return, Magdalena invites me to join them in the kitchen. An adobe stove in the corner warms the interior dimly lit by one bulb. On tomorrow’s south-bound train, she will be leaving on a “trip.” Later, she confides she is going to el otro lado. Since the train will no longer be arriving, there will be no guests for their hotel — and so to make a living? She will leave her 113-year-old mother in the care of a young Lola. Lola’s mate, José still doesn’t believe the train will end come Monday, that this was indeed the last train to Tepehuanes.

I spend evenings in that kitchen, seeking the heat of that stove, chatting with Lola and José. Doña Julia dips gingerbread cookies into her glass of warm milk, gumming her words. One night of chilled stars and the sierra silhouetted against the waning moon, she tells me of when she met Pancho Villa. She was down by the river washing clothes with other women. No, she laughs, she rejected his invitation to join the revolutionary forces. I ask her if it were true he had many women. She only gives me a demure, silent look.

My plan is to spend a month here, then travel down to Durango. From there I will take the train to Felipe Pescador, to make the connection with the south-bound Ciudad Juárez-Mexico City train.

I spend the days writing, and talking with the local people about the end of this train, and of those to Aserraderos and Regocijo. One late afternoon several women and I drink coffee in an eatery. Candy, who works for the village, shakes her head. “I had heard such, but…” The waitress is shocked. “There is no train for Regocijo? But, but I was going to go visit my sister there in a few weeks! How will I be able to afford it now?

The Day of the Dead comes and goes. And every other day, when the cargo train is due in, I go down to greet the workers.

 

7 November 1997 / Tepehuanes

I go to dinner about 4:30 p.m. Afterwards I decide to walk down to the station to see if the cargo train had come in. Several workers and I sit on the platforms.

“Today is National Railroad Day,” says one.

“Ay, there used to be bands greeting us here and elsewhere,” another reminisces.

“But now there is just silence.  All is mute.”

The conductor turns to me. “Since two or three days ago, there’s no train from Durango to Felipe Pescador.”

“What?  How are people going to get there?  There’s no road!” I interject.

The workers dejectedly nod.

“There’s talk, too,” he continues, “that there won’t be one for Torreón nor from Mexico City for Juárez come the 13th or 14th of this month.”

“When I was in Durango, I asked about those trains, and I was told that they would continue to exist!”

“Well, that of the Felipe Pescador line was a bit abrupt. The jefe de patio got a telegram saying, ‘As of tomorrow, service is cancelled.’ What could he do?”

I look at the shadowing ground. “How is it now without passengers?”

Triste, sad.”

 

I arrive in Mexico City 15 November and go to the Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México. A woman in a 12th floor office shows me the official schedule as of 29 September 1997. She has received reports that between 40 and 50 routes have been cancelled since then. No, she didn’t know about Tepehuanes, nor Aserraderos, nor Regocijo.

In the next few months in Mexico, I madly dash after disappearing trains.

A copy of the rail map the FFCC de México used to give away, with most of the rides I’d taken marked. © Lorraine Caputo

A copy of the rail map the FFCC de México used to give away, with most of the rides I’d taken marked. © Lorraine Caputo

I look at my map of Mexico, noticing those black rail lines that go where no road passes, a web covering the nation from Baja to the Yucatán. I think of the routes I have taken over this decade of traveling. I think of the rides I will never get a chance to experience.

I shall miss the awakening from dreams, to see the full moon shining upon a sleeping home. Hushed voices in unlit cars of passengers coming, passengers going. The golden mesh of lights filling the valley as we’d come into Mexico City at night. I shall miss seeing the morning sun reach its fingers into the crevices, range by range, of the southern Sierra Madre mountains, morning mists over jungle cerros of Tabasco. I shall miss storm clouds mounding, then bursting upon the afternoon desert, sand imprinted by coyote, correcaminos running for shelter. Sunsets painting the western horizon.

I shall miss leaning upon the vestibule half-door, the wind blowing loose strands of my hair about, listening to the clickety-clack over wooden ties, the softer rhythm over concrete ones. I shall miss the smells of those women offering me gorditas de nopales con queso and atole in Chihuahua mornings, volovanes de cangrejo and coffee come Veracruz evenings. The bite of wood fires in crisp darkness. Of burning fields of sugar cane in the zafra.

I shall miss the children looking over their seats at this loca writing, or playing with their toy cars in the aisle, or sitting with me and this map, seeing where we had been and where we were going. Of sharing my sleeping bag with families migrating north, dressed in nothing more than thin cotton clothes.

I shall miss the stories of a doña Juana telling me of her childhood during the Mexican Revolution, before roads cut the Durango deserts. I miss sitting next to a doña Teresa embracing sweet azucenas to her Tehuantepec-huipil breast, like a Diego Rivera painting. I shall miss the conductor’s wife offering me a croissant, a banana and coffee, the workers offering me fish tacos or chiles rellenos.

I shall miss the sharing of lives and hopes, food and love with others, whiling away the time on those endless, timeless journeys.

Traveling by train no longer became a way to enjoy the country, to learn of its culture and life, to share community. No, riding became much more than that. I had to face deeper realities of the importance of these trains.

What will happen to those people who supported their families by selling to us passengers? On ebon nights, awaiting in the lights of the station, boarding with their baskets and kettles steaming in the chill air, stepping over bodies wrapped in thin blankets, sleeping in the aisles. The voices of mothers and their children quietly calling

Arroz con leche

Café       Atole

Tamalitos       Enchiladas

Gorditas . . .

How shall campesinos get their cheeses and fruits to market? How will they feed their families tonight, tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow?

What will happen to those villages whose lifelines were the silver rails?

Will abandonment beat the dirt roads, melt adobe homes into the earth? Will wooden doors bang in winter winds sweeping down from the north? No longer will laundry sway in a blue-white sun. No longer will small circuses pitch their ragged big tops for a few day’s pesos before moving on to some other pueblo. How many of these families have had to pack their trunks and bundles, migrate to a city in hopes of survival? How many of these communities are now rent by these winds of thoughtless change?

How will folks visit one another? How many will be able to afford a bus ticket for everyone in the family, to see abuelito, to celebrate Tía Rosa’s birthday, to take a holiday? Before, the bus was up to three times more expensive than the train. Who will be able to afford those bus fares spiraling, spiraling upward, now that there is no competition?

How many lines might continue to because these new owners deem they can jack the prices up, rake in the big bucks from the foreign tourists? Or because of protest by the people?

For now the vestiges of the Mexican Revolution continue to fray in the northern winds. Perhaps those days of train travel are gone. Or perhaps not. Maybe someday a new government shall come to power that recognizes the importance of the trains to communities, to the families, to the economies of these pueblocitos — as is happening in other countries.

Or perhaps a new Revolution is brewing in the Sierra Madre. Maybe one day former workers and a village will take up “arms” of máquinas and carros, appropriate the tracks, and with no funds from anyone keep the lines alive and gleaming silver to the ejidos, giving campesinos a way to get their products to market, for the ill to receive medical attention, for kinfolk to visit.

It may seem this affair has ended, but I still study my map, tracing those black lines. This is a love that has deepened with the years. I still search, every time I am in Mexico, for whatever visage of those train adventures. And, ay, when we meet once more, what a ride we have!

Sí pues, as long as there is a train upon which to journey, this shall be an affair never-ending.

 

© Lorraine Caputo

 

Would you like to continue riding the rails in Mexico? All aboard!

ADVENTURE ON RAILS (Nuevo Casas Grandes – Cumbres, August 2003)

DESERT REIGNS (El Águila Azteca – Mexico City to Nuevo Laredo, December 1996)

THE CONDUCTOR AND HIS WIFE (División del Norte – Mexico City to Ciudad Juárez, March 1994)

A TICKET TO RIDE (Torreón train station, October 1992)

EL JOROCHO (El Jorocho – Mexico City to Córdoba, December 1996)

THE JUNGLE TRAIN (Córdoba to Mérida, December 1996)

RANDOM ACTS (El Oaxaqueño – Oaxaca to Mexico City, April 1996)

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel

My poetry and travel writing appears regularly in journals and on websites around the world.

This week I present to you my latest publications.

Safe Journeys!

Ever ready to give a poetry reading: My “traveling poetry” books with over 25 years of works, in English and in Spanish. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Ever ready to give a poetry reading: My “traveling poetry” books with over 25 years of works, in English and in Spanish. photo © Lorraine Caputo

 

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Juana” in Canopic Jar – Suite: On the Train

“para Dora” & “Freedom Is …” in The Beatest State In The Union: An Anthology of Texas Beat (Beaumont, Texas: Lamar University Press, 2016)

“Peace Flag” and “A Thousand and One Nights” in ANU presents : Voices for Peace Anthology (December 2015)

 

Tumaco and its Playa El Morro is just one of my recommended destinations in Southern Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Tumaco and its Playa El Morro is just one of my recommended destinations in Southern Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

 

AndesTransit

12 Fun and FREE Things to do in Quito!

11 Sensational (and Sensible!) Destinations of Southern Colombia

 

Insider’s Galapagos (ghostwritten articles)

The Top 5 Reasons to Visit the Galapagos Islands in 2016

What does El Niño 2015-2016 mean for the Galapagos Islands?

Solving Darwin’s Evolutionary Puzzle

NEW YEARS EVE IN LATIN AMERICA : A Photographic – Poetic Journey

At the stroke of midnight, eat one grape at each toll, making a wish of what you desire the New Year to bring you. ©Lorraine Caputo

At the stroke of midnight, eat one grape at each toll, making a wish of what you desire the New Year to bring you.
©Lorraine Caputo

Tonight, as this old year ends, people will be celebrating throughout Latin America. Fireworks burst across the midnight sky, and twelve grapes are eaten with each stroke of that hour, to bring twelve wishes to fruition. Viejos (Old Man Year) are set afire, finally exploding into a million sparks shooting into the new year. Food and liquor flow into the wee hours.

One of Latin America’s most common New Year Eve traditions is the Old Man Years, often representing politicians, sports stars or other people in the news. photo © Lorraine Caputo

One of Latin America’s most common New Year Eve traditions is the Old Man Years, often representing politicians, sports stars or other people in the news. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The most explosive of the customs is the Años Viejos (Old Man Years). These effigies represent politicians, sports figures, entertainment celebrities or other famous persons. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, they are dragged to the middle of the street and lit ablaze. Once the flames reach the center of the effigy, the fireworks stuffing explodes.

Some Latin American neighborhoods have contests for the best one, in which civilians and public services, like the bomberos (fire department) will participate. In Ecuador, the end-of-year custom also includes displays summarizing the year’s events in political, sporting and other arenas. Often Años Viejos are accompanied with a testamento, a word of advice or with a list of the things to be burned before the New Year begins.

Colombians believe that a sheath of wheat placed in your home brings abundant food and prosperity in the New Year. ©Lorraine Caputo

Colombians believe that a sheath of wheat placed in your home brings abundant food and prosperity in the New Year. ©Lorraine Caputo

Colombia has a bevy of traditions (agüeros) not practiced in other parts of Latin America. They believe that a sheath of wheat placed in your home brings abundant food and prosperity in the New Year. At the stroke of midnight, Colombians will walk the block with a suitcase (to bring lots of travel in the next year), count money over and again (to make it multiply), or take a champagne bath (to ensure good fortune and prosperity). They also have a number of other ways to draw wealth, good luck — and even divine the future year.

Yellow for luck in life, red for luck in love. ©Lorraine Caputo

Yellow for luck in life, red for luck in love. ©Lorraine Caputo

One custom that Colombia shares with its southern neighbor, Ecuador, is wearing yellow underwear to draw good vibes. Red will fulfill passionate desires.

Ecuador’s most unique New Years’ custom is the Viudas Alegres, or Merry Widows. ©Lorraine Caputo

Ecuador’s most unique New Years’ custom is the Viudas Alegres, or Merry Widows. ©Lorraine Caputo

But besides the fireworks and the Viejos, that equatorial country seems to have something all its own: the Viudas Alegres, or the Merry Widows. Ecuadorian men dress up as women and joyfully greet all on the streets. Why do the men do this? Some state that these are the Merry Widows of Old Man Year, so happy to see him finally gone and done with. Others say, to disguise themselves from the problems of the old year, so those troubles don’t follow them into the New Year. But you’ll see everyone, man and woman, child and adult, dressing up. Quito’s Centro Histórico streets are crowded with vendors selling everything from cheap, florescent wigs to pointy witches’ hats.

Street vendors and shops begin selling colorful wigs the day after Christmas. ©Lorraine Caputo

Street vendors and shops begin selling colorful wigs the day after Christmas. ©Lorraine Caputo

The perfect eyelashes to go along with your new hair-do. You may also pick up shimmering, pointy witches’ hats, and an array of body parts: breasts, tushes, and aprons covering the (ahem) nether regions. ©Lorraine Caputo

The perfect eyelashes to go along with your new hair-do. You may also pick up shimmering, pointy witches’ hats, and an array of body parts: breasts, tushes, and aprons covering the (ahem) nether regions. ©Lorraine Caputo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Ecuadorian custom is to have a baño – or spiritual bath, to cleanse oneself of negative energies. Business owners also sweep their stores clean, from back rooms to the front door, with brooms made of eucalyptus, rue, chamomile and other herbs, then lock the shop up tight until the New Year.

To enter the New Year spiritually clean, Ecuadorians line up for a baño. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

To enter the New Year spiritually clean, Ecuadorians line up for a baño. photo ©Lorraine Caputo

 

Since 1988, I have spent most northern winters travelling in Latin America. I have rung in the New Year in large cities and small towns in Mexico, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina.

One scene that stays with me – that I have never witnessed before or since – are the fireworks in Santiago de Chile: The burst formed one giant blue heart, from which emerged another blue heart and yet another and yet another … Such a beautiful way to end a night of feasting, drinking and bottle dancing in the middle of a street at a block party.

In Trujillo (Honduras), like everyone else, I dodged the Bárbaro. This Garífuna custom involves a bare-chested man dressed in a grass mini-skirt, covered in rouge or grease, demanding spare change from all on the street. (The money is used for community parties and projects.) If you don’t give him even a mere centavito, he will give you a big bear hug – thus covering you with grease (or rouge).

In Havana, I spent the night with Cubans, eating and dancing to the world’s best music. At the midnight hour, the national anthem played, everyone singing along, to mark another year of the Revolution. (Yes, that scene from the Godfather II is true: At the stroke of midnight, dictator Fulgencio Batista announced he was throwing in the towel and, loaded down with millions of dollars in cash, art and jewels, boarded a plane into exile, thus handing victory over to the guerrilleros after their decisive victory in Santa Clara, under the command of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.)

In Bucaramanga (Colombia), at the invitation of the hostels’ family, I lit a candle for my next year. In Puerto Ayora, Galápagos (Ecuador), I saw the beauty pageant, in which those lovely Viudas Alegres showed off their talents, modeling and answering “probing” questions.

In Mexico, I pondered what the New Year would bring to a world on the brink of war. In Ecuador, I watched a Syrian refugee immerse himself in the local customs.

Today, let us poetically journey to these celebrations and ponderings.

May the New Year be full of Light, and wishes come true.

Safe Journeys!

 

“ … & at that hour / they are burnt …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

“ … & at that hour / they are burnt …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

WELCOMING THE NEW YEAR

(Colombia)

Midnight approaches

without a

bell toll

 

Already rockets burst

in green & white

in a red heart

against a sooty sky

The old men are dragged

to the streets

 

& at that hour

they are burnt

firework stuffing

exploding

 

& we eat grapes, one

by one

Gabriel counts his money

over & again

Rice is thrown, scattering

in the still air

Someone walks around a block

suitcase in hand

 

To welcome in a

better year

 

published in:

The Blue Hour (1 January 2013)

 

“ … blasts of fireworks / To scare away the demons …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

“ … blasts of fireworks / To scare away the demons …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

NEW YEAR’S TRIPTYCH

(Mexico)

I.

Outside the empty

streets echo

with blasts of fireworks

To scare away the demons

that lurk in the shadows

of time a’changing

 

& within this silent house

my mind echoes

Scare away those demons

of war, hunger, disease

Scare away those demons

of misery & poverty

Scare away those demons

of corporate greed

that is destroying this planet

 

II.

At midnight

the streets fall silent

I eat a grape

at each stroke of the hour

& wish

May there be no war

& wish

May there be peace on earth

 

& then

more cracks to scare

the last demons away

 

III.

Come dawn

the smell of a fire

creeps along the

abandoned streets

A police car’s red-blue-red-blue-

yellow lights silently

reflect off windows

 

Standing in the

ochre fog that slithers

past sleeping homes

& closed shops

I look for an answer

of what this new year

may hold

 

published in:

The Blue Hour (1 January 2013)

 

“& the man in the bright pink wig dances …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

“& the man in the bright pink wig dances …” photo © Lorraine Caputo

DANCE FOR A NEW YEAR

(Ecuador)

The near-midnight streets

are littered with

the frenzied sales of this day

Someone sweeps them

into large piles

& sets them ablaze

On one corner a family sits

drinking to music

 

& the man in the bright pink wig dances

 

On corners

& midways down blocks

the Merry Widows of this dying year

stop cars for coins

dancing, lying atop hoods

 

& the man in the bright pink wig dances

 

On stages decked with eucalyptus

Old Man Years slump in plastic chairs

a DJ spins, a young woman sings

 

& the man in the bright pink wig

dances with abandon

 

The midnight hour

the Old Men are dragged to

the center of those cobblestone streets

gasoline poured & set afire

 

& the man in the bright pink wig

dances with frenzy

 

As far as the streets climb

steeply up, the fires blaze, fireworks

explode

 

& the man in the bright pink wig

frantically dances

to forget he cannot go home

to his war-rent country

his family cannot get out

his uncle dies of poisoned water

a wife to be found, a family to be formed

 

Heavy smoke filled the narrow streets

stinging eyes, burning lungs

creeping past shuttered shops

creeping past the migrant indigenous

families come to the city for work

round dancing to Andean cumbia

 

& the man in the bright pink wig

dances, dances

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

 

Another year ends, another yet begins. ©Lorraine Caputo

Another year ends, another yet begins. ©Lorraine Caputo

MIDNIGHT TOLL

(Ecuador)

Even before those

midnight bells ring

 

This valley resounds with the explosion, the sizzle of fireworks spiraling green, white, red sparks against the yellow-light speckled hills.

The Old Men are dragged to the streets & set afire. Eager to see this year ended, people leap over the flames, beckoning luck to come.

 

Yet I await that

new year hour to toll

 

Awaiting to embrace my future dreams

bursting, sizzling before

 

The fireworks die … fading. Silence fills the streets. Music of distant parties throbs in the land’s crimps.

The smoke of Old Man Year’s fires & of the fireworks lowers with the silence, mingling with the clouds lowering, obscuring this valley’s slopes.

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

CHRISTMAS IN LATIN AMERICA : A Poetic – Photographic Journey

Navidad procession in El Cocuy, Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Navidad procession in El Cocuy, Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The streets are crowded with people rushing from shop to shop, buying gifts. Vendors call, Wrapping paper, five sheets for a dollar! Barely heard above the ruckus are the greetings of the jolly fat man dressed in red, perhaps accompanied by two curvaceous elves dressed in micro-minis. At schools and workplaces, partiers are dressed in costume, and bags of candies or large boxes of viveres (dry goods) gifted.

Pase de Niño. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Pase de Niño. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Processions wind through narrow streets. From before Christmas through the Feast of Epiphany, city traffic will be stopped for the Pase del Niño. Schoolchildren dress as José, María, the three Wise Men, shepherds (pastores) and angels to accompany the baby Christ. And, of course, in the novena leading up to Christmas Day, the pre-dawn prayers and song of the faithful softly echo down the cobblestone lanes.

Large manger scenes decorate the churches, homes and even hilltops. In living rooms, families read the novena in front of the nativity scene. On Nochebuena (Christmas Eve), they go to the special mass where the baby Jesus is presented, kissed by all, then placed in the manger scene. The midnight sky is painted by the bursts of hundreds of fireworks, celebrating the birth of the Lord Savior. After the mass, families retire home for a big feast and to exchange gifts. (In few places do they keep the custom of gift-giving on the Feast of Epiphany, the Day of the Three Magi – 6 January.)

Christmas-season dinners differ from country to country. There may be turkey or tamales (a.k.a. hallacas). A Mexican side dish is ensalada de Nochebuena (Christmas Eve Salad), made of apple, celery and walnuts dressed with heavy cream. In Argentina, they’ll be sitting down to a parrillada (barbecue). A common desert is pan de Pascua or panetón, similar to the Italian delicacy, panettone (a sweet bread with dried fruits and nuts). Rompope, a drink very much like eggnog, will be spiked with rum; this typical drink is called cola de mono in Chile.

Every year, Quito (Ecuador) erects a manger scene atop the Panecillo, on the south side of the Centro Histórico. The city claims this is the highest nativity scene in the world. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Every year, Quito (Ecuador) erects a manger scene atop the Panecillo, on the south side of the Centro Histórico. The city claims this is the highest nativity scene in the world. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Everywhere, villancicos are sung. Some of these Christmas carols are familiar, like Noche de Paz (Silent Night). Others are unique to Latin America, such as El Burrito Sabanero. Unlike northern European (including US) traditions, caroling from house to house is not common.

In Latin America, the weeks leading up to 25 December are like much elsewhere. But each country, each place also has its traditions.

In Mexico, are the posadas, nine days of processions through neighborhoods, topped off with tamales and hot atole drink. Also in Mexico – specifically Oaxaca – is the Noche de Rábanos, or Night of the Radishes, celebrated on 23 December with a popular competition of the best-carved giant radishes.

In Trujillo, on Honduras’ Caribbean coast, the Indio Bárbaro accosts people for donations to community projects. If you happen to be out on the street when he passes by, and you refuse to give him a “tip,” he will bear-hug you with his grease-covered body! Another Garífuna tradition in these Black Caribe towns, is Hüngühüngü (also called Fedu), the women-oriented processions of the singing, dancing grandmas.

Cousin Its in Málaga, Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Cousin Its in Málaga, Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

During the Christmas novena (16-24 December) in the small mountain village of Málaga (Colombia), teens dress up as Matachines (masked, Cousin-It-looking creatures). They prowl the streets, brandishing gaily painted, inflated cow’s bladders. Money collected from would-be wallop victims is used to fund the carrazo floats in the parades at the beginning of January.

Everyone heads to the beach during the Christmas-New Year holiday, if they can. Prices rise – for transport, lodging and food – and the strand is über-crowded with lots of drinking people blaring music. This is definitely a time to witness Latin American partying at its finest. (If you prefer your beach scene to be, well, rather saner, I recommend you wait. Leave the beaches to the locals during holidays – you can go any time.) And some folk, in order to finance these family vacations, resort to petty thievery in the weeks leading up to the holiday: Keep an eye on your belongings!


Since 1988, I have spent most northern winters travelling in Latin America. I have passed the Christmas season in large cities and small towns in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina.

I have witnessed and celebrated many of these traditions. My encounter with the Indio Bárbaro in Trujillo (me, barefoot, recuperating from a broken toe, returning from the beach with nary a centavito in my shorts, is one of the culturally most embarrassing moments I’ve ever, well, enacted …) In Estelí (Nicaragua), I shared a meal with a Quebecois, of whatever special things we could find in the market ($1 US for an apple!). In Chile, I took a train on Christmas Eve, arriving in the capital like the Virgin Mary: no room at the inns.

Today, let’s take a poetic-photographic trip through the sights and sounds of Navidad in Latin America.

And however and wherever you are celebrating this holiday, may your season be bright, and the New Year be full of wishes come true.

Safe Journeys!

This beautiful pesebre in Iglesia Señora del Carmen (Pamplona, Colombia) extends half-ways down the nave. photo © Lorraine Caputo

This beautiful pesebre in Iglesia Señora del Carmen (Pamplona, Colombia) extends half-ways down the nave. photo © Lorraine Caputo

For the past few weeks, Catholic churches and public spaces throughout Latin America have displayed crèches, These Nativity scenes – called belén (Bethlehem), nacimiento or pesebre in Spanish – display Mary (María), Joseph (José) and the three Kings (Tres Magos or Tres Reyes Magos) along with shepherds and angels.

Beyond the usual cast of characters, though, is a motley assembly of animals: Among the expected sheep, camels and burros are farm animals – chickens, pigs, cows, etc. – and local fauna, like llama. The animals and humans are of a variety of sizes. It is not unusual to see a cock towering over a Magi.

MÉRIDA MAGI

(Mérida, Mexico)

In the oldest cathedral

on the American continent

built of Maya temple stones

On the day the Three Kings

visited the manger

in this side chapel

Mary tenderly places the Christ child in his cradle

Joseph presents him with out-stretched hand

Slowly the Magi approach

passing by a giant cow

by a giant tapir

Yellow lights drape the plastic pine boughs

& dried palm fronds hung

with colorful glass ornaments

They wink in electronic rhythm to

 

Oh, All ye faithful coming

shepherds     magi     & others

Hark! Do you hear the herald angels singing

with the jingling bells?

Even Santa Claus is coming to this town

on this silent night

when joy has entered the world

Frosty the Snowman watches

those who come a-wassailing

 

Through the open windows

wrought-iron-grilled

the sound & smell of traffic passes

The chapel begins to resound

with the cathedral bells pealing

for five-o-clock mass

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

Iglesia San Sebastián, located on the eastern flank of the Panecillo (Calle Loja and Calle Borerro) reflects the barrio’s indigenous heritage: José and María are from the Shuar nation. The three Magi are from Otavalo, Esmeraldas and Tsáchila. The scene also includes the fathers and nuns of the Oblate order doing missionary work among Ecuador’s other indigenous nations. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Iglesia San Sebastián, located on the eastern flank of the Panecillo, reflects the barrio’s indigenous heritage: José and María are from the Shuar nation. The three Magi are from Otavalo, Esmeraldas and Tsáchila. The scene also includes the fathers and nuns of the Oblate order doing missionary work among Ecuador’s other indigenous nations. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The infant Jesus is not added to the Nativity scene until tonight, 24 December. At the night mass, the infant is presented to the congregation. Each devotee shall kiss him, before he is tenderly placed in the straw-filled cradle in the center of the pesebre.

The Latin American custom is for the family to attend mass together (however, the Misa de Gallos, or Midnight Mass is quite rare these days), and then break fast with a huge family meal.

NATIVITY

(Valladolid, Mexico)

Near midnight       on Christmas Eve

Within the aged church

A line of people slowly passes to the front

 

Each stoops to kiss

the Christ child nestled

in the arms of a woman

A nun stands next to her

handkerchief in hand

ready to wipe away lipstick

 

Fathers with their young sons and daughters

stop in front of the manger

framed in winking lights

to ponder the miracle

of the still-empty cradle

 

After the last mother, the last child

has welcomed that baby

He is laid into the straw-bedded cradle

his hands wide open to this world

his fat legs kicking the air

 

& the families step into the streets

washed clean by the rain

the sunset lightning had forebode

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

In many Catholic homes, families also present a manger scene. In the evenings, they gather around it to say the novena and sing villencicos (Christmas carols). It is not uncommon for the manger cradle to hold more than one infant Jesus. They are the personal Christs of several generations of the family: mother, daughters, aunts, grandmother. photo © Lorraine Caputo

In many Catholic homes, families also present a manger scene. In the evenings, they gather around it to say the novena and sing villancicos (Christmas carols). It is not uncommon for the manger cradle to hold more than one infant Jesus. They are the personal Christs of several generations of the family: mother, daughters, aunts, grandmother. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Nativity scenes aren’t just relegated to churches. Many homes and businesses will also have one set up – like this inn in northern Mexico.

COURTYARD CRÈCHE

(San Fernando, Mexico)

The moon is almost full

sometimes visible through

the swift heavy clouds

 

Beneath, within the black of this night

Mary recently full, now illuminated

stares down upon her child

Her hands are crossed

against her full breasts

Joseph looks plaintively

upon her child

They are framed

in winking multi-color lights

Each strand alit for just a moment

then still in the gusty night

 

The courtyard is dark and quiet

Puddles from the days of passing rains

glisten in the holy lights of this chilled night

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

The crèche in Iglesia La Merced, in the Historic Center of Lima, Peru, occupies one large side chapel of the church, and includes scenes of the Peruvian life in the countryside and the city. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The crèche in Iglesia La Merced, in the Historic Center of Lima, Peru, occupies one large side chapel of the church, and includes scenes of the Peruvian life in the countryside and the city. photo © Lorraine Caputo

We grow up with the tale of ghosts of Christmas past. In Northern European indigenous traditions, ghost stories are told around the Yule log. This season, it is believed, is one of the times of year when the veils between the World of the Living and the World of the Dead part, allowing families and friends to once again reunite.

One year in Buenos Aires, I could sense those spirits and I thought about relatives who had immigrated to that port city almost a century earlier.

MIDNIGHT NAVIDAD

(Buenos Aires, Argentina)

In these narrow streets

of San Telmo

lit by a nearly

full moon

Midnight Navidad

erupts with the burst

of fireworks

set by boys & men

The sparkles reflect

in windows of

Gardel’s day

The cracks splinter the

mourning song

of bandoneón

In the shadows

of doorways stand

families shawled in

the cool of summer’s eve

& the spirits perished

from cholera & yellow fever,

of immigrants surviving

in cramped conventillos

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

Iglesia Santo Domingo (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo

Iglesia Santo Domingo (Quito, Ecuador). photo © Lorraine Caputo

One thing – especially for travelers from the Northern Hemisphere – that is much different about Navidad in Latin America is that a White Christmas exists only in song. Only in the extreme north of Mexico (perhaps, depending on the year) and the highest of mountains will you find snow. Most of the region is located in the tropics, and it is summer south of the equator.

RESISTENCIA CHRISTMAS EVE

(Resistencia, Argentina)

All day
the heat, the humidity
strummed sultry,
multi-grey cumulus mounding
high into the heavens

until late afternoon
when its crescendo
erupted into thunder
pulsed by lightning

a rain washing
the blistered streets raw
& the clouds
into a uniform tone

Near midnight
the cathedral is dark
A man eats cake
before resting
on his blanket
upon the steps

A few kiosks are yet
grilling sandwiches, serving beer
to customers
at sidewalk tables

All else is closed
(save a pharmacy)
security guards murmur

Festive lights pulsate
in darkened windows
The laughter, the music
of a party drifts
down a deserted street

As that twelve o’clock hour nears
the crescendo of rockets
mounts, pulsed by sprays of
multi-colored sparks across
the heavens, clouds of gunpowder
drifting skywards
Resting birds startle
from a tree

The hotel watchman
sits in a lawn chair
on the front walk,
sipping sidra &
listening to chamamé
on his radio

 

poem © Lorraine Caputo

The scene in Quito’s most luxurious church, La Compañía, has a classic air to it, in harmony with the temple’s Baroque interior. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The scene in Quito’s most luxurious church, La Compañía, has a classic air to it, in harmony with the temple’s Baroque interior. photo © Lorraine Caputo