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Left Behind In A Mexican Town, Part 1

The street blocked in Chilapa, Guerrero, Mexico by a Christmas parade.
Mónica Ortiz Uribe
The street blocked in Chilapa, Guerrero, Mexico by a Christmas parade.

CHILAPA, Guerrero, Mex. -- Disorder in Mexico can turn out to be a good thing. That's hard to imagine, especially for an American. For us, Mexico can sometimes come across as a hopelessly disorderly. But sometimes opportunity hides within dysfunction.

I was on a grimy old bus winding through the mountainous region of the state of Guerrero after dusk. I'm currently on a two-week reporting trip across the country. Four hours into a nine-hour journey back to Mexico City, all I wanted was a few hours sleep in a soft bed. When we arrived at our first stop it was clear that wasn't going to happen.


Four blocks away from the bus terminal in the city of Chilapa, the driver came to a complete stop. The cars ahead were also stopped and it didn't take long for a line of cars to back up behind us. We were warned that angry residents often blocked rural highways in Guerrero to demand things like better infrastructure from the government. But here we were in the center of a midsize city just moments from reaching our destination.

After five minutes or so it was apparent we weren't going anywhere. Cars in front of us and behind us stopped their engines. I tapped the driver's shoulder and offered to walk a few blocks ahead to investigate the hold up.

Turns out it was a Christmas parade -- a five-hour Christmas parade. There were clowns in Santa outfits, cowboys on ponies and Virgin Marys in glass cases. Nobody had bothered to set up an alternative route for oncoming traffic.

Lucky for us the parade was just winding down, but it would be at least an hour before the street cleared up. So my fellow bus passengers joined me outside where we had an ample choice of street food.

I picked a quesadilla joint run by a older woman from the garage of her home. As I sat and munched, I chatted with the woman's brother who was visiting from Mexico City.


"Tomorrow morning there's a fantastic artesian market in town," he told me. "It happens every Sunday. We come to buy stuff to sell in Mexico City."

via Google Maps

I was instantly interested. The more he talked about the artesian market the more I wanted to go. I've learned that, in Mexico, if you want to find the best art you ought to go to the source. Chilapa is the nearest big city to the indigenous mountain communities where Guerrero's signature works are crafted.

I finished my last quesadilla and noticed the bus driver rounding up the passengers again. We'd be back on the road in a few minutes. Not me though, I decided I to stay.

The bus driver was amused by decision and cheerfully grabbed my luggage from the bottom of the bus.

"Good luck," he said.

I was going to need it. I was in a strange city at 10 p.m. and didn't know where I would spend the night. I walked up a few blocks away in search of a hotel and saw vendors already setting up for the morning. One older woman in an apron and braids chose to sleep on the sidewalk underneath the tarp covering her hand-painted pottery. She grinned at me and said, "Come see me tomorrow."

Turns out all the hotels I stopped at were booked solid. My bus back to Mexico City was long gone. The streets were starting to clear out. Now what?

To be continued …