Thursday, June 25, 2020

Heading South - Christmas In Mexico (part 2)

I found my way out of the muddy roads and onto the highway again to find a place to sleep in my van. There was a rest area just outside Ensenada but it was locked down for the night. It was well lit, with bathrooms, and right on the beach. With all the talk of highway bandits in Mexico the last thing I wanted to do was sleep among them. I drove past the rest stop and backed my car through the exit drive. This would make a fine place to sleep. I stowed my tripod and set up my little mattress and pillows. I needed the sleep. I needed to clear my head. I bundled up under the blankets and began to drift when there was a bang on the window. A nice police officer had stopped to tell me that if I was going to sleep here I needed to hide my private things and valuables so that nobody would walk up and see them...inviting highway robbery into my van. I had never done that before while sleeping on the road...I had never needed to. Sage advice from a man with a gun. So I stowed away my private and valuable things for the night so that I could expose them again the next morning.

I awoke to the sound of surf and numb toes. Even Mexico gets cold during Christmas time. There was a young boy selling peanuts and other natural things in plastic bags. He stood there waiting for me to get out of my car and buy his goods. After the usual shuffle of shoes and stretching, I proceeded to my usual morning piss. After which I walked right over and bought his food. I even took a couple pictures of the beach boy selling his usual beach fare. There were a few cars and trucks in the parking lot with some kids wandering around. The front gate was still locked. I guess they backed their cars in too.

I got into my van determined to take pictures that were good and real and not obtrusive. I wanted these pictures to be for me and not anyone else. My first stop was three blocks away at some giant gold heads. They were in a small area that was obviously some sort of Mount Rushmore like tribute to past Mexican leaders. The gold was shiny and it glistened like it was real on the oversized heads sitting there stoically looking out over the street...these heads that were gold that everyone could see but the eyes on the big heads could see nothing. These heads sat there day after day solid gold and giant, blinded by the sculptors who made them. I took a few pictures of the heads and got a cough in my throat. The weather can do that. I finished taking my pictures and on my walk back to the van I looked at the pictures and wondered why I had taken them. I looked at one of the pictures in my camera and thought, I don't know who this giant head is...I don't recognize him at all. They were just unrecognizable gold faces that seemed interesting when I drove by. And really, they were just giant heads.

It was at this point that I decided to head straight down Hwy 1 until dark and see what I could find on my way. I had no idea where Hwy 1 went, or in which direction it headed, but it was an easy decision to make because I was already on it. The main drag in Ensenada turns into Hwy 1 two miles past the giant heads. It turned out that this highway headed directly south into hills with checkpoints that had actual “Federalis” with very large guns in hand. They were only there to insure the safety of the tourists. I only saw them at a couple checkpoints but it was enough to make sure that they showed a presence in this far away countryside to keep travelers safe as they passed through. I felt pretty safe but they were carrying very large guns which begged the question in my mind, “What on earth would they need guns that large for? What kind of people are they protecting me from?”

The drive was beautiful. The country side had cattle, and old gnarled trees, and vineyards for wine, and tequila. My mind was slowly clearing as I drove and thought of being alone. I like being alone with my own thoughts un-bothered by anything but what I see and the music I play. That is valuable time for me. It's that time to try to take off all my masks before one gets stuck to my face. Time to be myself. I have been hard pressed for that sort of time lately. With my job, and kids, and bills...and seems that I rarely ever take off all of my masks...I rarely ever stop playing a role. I breathed in and I breathed out...and drove staring blankly ahead...alone in my van driving through the Mexican Country side. I chose this route South and I wanted to see what there was along the road on my drive down, and my drive back up the next day.

The Vineyard was already harvested for the season but old orange leaves clung to the vines in perfect rows that went on as far as I could see in one direction. The vines were dead and the dirt was dry but the perfectly planted lines, and the green hills behind, invited me in. There was barbed wire fence around the entire pretty scene with a giant locked gate at the head of the vineyard. I wanted in. I wanted a pretty picture so I slipped between the rusty barbed wire and entered the vineyard where nothing was growing. What attracted me to this spot? My photographers eye said that there was some neat pictures to be taken. I took some very cool pictures of the rows of vines stretching off towards giant trees in the distance. The wide angle lens that I was using would take in the entire scene. I shot those pretty pictures and got some that were keepers but before I left I took some self shots among the dried earth and vines. I did not smile into the camera at all. I wasn't sure why...I just didn't feel like it. And yet I still felt like taking those pictures of myself among the tangled vines. I chose this place to take real pretty pictures...of the earth and the trees. And I did but I couldn't leave without one of my myself...standing with a somber face under the Mexican sun. I left the vineyard over the top of the locked gate and thought things to myself.

Churches are as much a part of the Mexican country side as vineyards. There are little churches all over the place. Some drew me in for a picture and others seemed old and boring. There was this one little chapel on top of a hill that was white and lovely with a bell by it's side for ringing in the sermon. There were white steps that curved up the hill towards this place of worship. The steps were inviting me up and the church had the charm of something old and mysterious. Half way up the steps I looked back and my shadow stretched across the steps. For some reason, probably the time of day and shooting away from the sun, my shadow was in a lot of my pictures. On many of my photography trips the old “shadow of the photographer” picture happens occasionally and I would either get out of the way of my own shadow or take the picture as an interesting self shot. On this trip I couldn't seem to hide from my shadow. After a while I just started taking the pictures anyway and let my shadow be where it needed to be. I snapped a picture of the long steps with my shadow stretched across them.

The chapel was quaint. I have always enjoyed taking pictures of things with the sun behind them. I love the glow that it gives to the subject. This is nothing new but I like the effect on certain subjects...especially places that are quiet or holy. The pictures of the chapel and the bell were beautiful. The chapel was nothing ornate and the bell was old, but framing them with the halo of sunlight behind them made the pictures pretty...made the church pretty. When I entered the little chapel, the brightly colored tissue paper flowers and bleeding Jesus made me sad. Neither fake paper flowers or Jesus being tortured are anything I want associated with a holy place. There were plastic cherubs and a statue of Mary off to one side. The inside of the church felt quiet and I could even understand holy to some people. To me it seemed a painted mockery of faith. I stood at the alter where Jesus hung and Mary stood in the corner watching...and took a self shot with both of them behind me. I stood with a somber face with the sunlight outside framing things with pretty bright halos. I walked away from the alter and left the church to face my shadow again on the white steps below. My van was already started when I saw the Padre in his white robes walking towards the steps. He looked like a holy man and he talked softly like one too. I asked him for a picture and he agreed to one in front of the painted steps leading up to his church. As I drove away I could see him walking up to his people sitting at the alter waiting to worship the plastic and the plaster.

The next church I came to was very different. It was plain and deserted with the doors locked. What struck me was the front courtyard. By courtyard I mean reddish dirt raked into rows that almost looked like someone was farming crops here in the front of the church. The church sat closed with this giant empty dirt field in front of it. I knew exactly what picture I wanted to take. I walked through the gate and headed for the very back of the front yard. I sat down, and then I actually laid down and took some shots of this far away little chapel with the neatly raked soil stretching out in front of it. It was beautiful sitting on it's own alone with the doors locked. Nobody had used it for a long time and it was perfect where it sat. There was no sun behind it or long shadows in front of it, just rows of soil waiting for seeds to be planted.
Sometimes a certain scene will appeal to me for reasons unknown at the outset. It's an impulse towards the outwardly ugly. For some reason I wanted to take a picture of this white, square archway with a locked gate to an old abandon farm of some sort. I took the pictures and got into my van when I noticed some old wood structures farther back in the field. I climbed over some more rusty barbed wire that was there for no reason whatsoever. Dried up horse apples and dead grass made up the “farm” land. The old wood fence looked like it had not been used in twenty or more years. At first it looked like a horse pen. It was hard to tell with the condition of the wood and broken spots in the fence all over. It wasn't until I walked around the entire thing and got a good look that I could see what it really was a outdoor slaughter house. There was a cement ramp with narrow fencing on both sides leading up to the top where the senseless cows were killed to be eaten later by people far away who didn't want to see the killing but loved to eat the steak. I took a picture of the platform from below with it's high and narrow wood arch over the top of it. I framed the arch with the sun behind the top horizontal piece of wood to make it look like something other than it was. No amount of sun glow could make that picture anything other than what I knew it was. I knew what that place felt like when I stood there taking the picture. That's all I needed to know. The picture was actually interesting and nobody looking at it would know what it really was...but I would.

Giant Gold Heads

Clinging To The Vines

A Chapel All Alone

The Gate

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