Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Chile Chase Nearly Stumbles Into Guatemala!

Its funny how things work out...

Last Sunday, we left the Yucatán peninsula for Oaxaca, where we had arranged a meeting with a chile researcher form the area. As we headed South and West from Tulum (on the Caribbean coast), the driving conditions rapidly deteriorated as rain fell steadily throughout the state of Tabasco. When we reached Villahermosa, streets were flooded, farms were under water, and the storm was in full force. This was to be the beginning of the worst floods in the region in 50 years( over half a million people are homeless and all the crops are lost). But back to the chase… once in Villahermosa and back in cell phone range, I get a call that our meeting had been canceled and that we would be on our own for tracking down wild peppers in Oaxaca. Rather than push through the bad weather, we decided to taka a small detour and head to San Cristobal de Las Casas in Chiapas. Because of the rain, we made it to Tuxla Gutierrez, Chiapas, that night. After dinner and checking email, I found that my collaborators in Aguascalientes had tracked town some potential contacts in Chiapas after all. What great timing! Following this lead, the next day we walked into the state botanical and ecology museum and to the herbarium, where dried plant samples from all over the state are kept and catalogued. After a look at their Capsicum specimens and taking note where the plants had been found, the director of the herbarium volunteered to take us around Chiapas on a wild chile hunt, leaving the next morning. We spent the rest of Monday in the public market, learning about some of the local cultivated chile varieties and how chiles are used (and stored) locally. Here is a brief photo interlude…

Chile blanco in the market
Chile mira para arriba - literally looks up - a description of how the fruit grows on the plant.
In Chiapas, the pickled chiles are made with pure lime juice rather than vinegar. 
The ladies of the market love the chino loco who asks about chiles. 

Tuesday morning, we were off “on the chase” again. The director of the herbarium wanted to aprovechar (take advantage of, but in a benign way) this trip to run some papers to various offices around the state! Off we go to Comitán, near the border, and using the local name for wild chile, tempenchile, we ask about whearabouts. Down that road another 40 minutes – and we’re redirected again, further on.... another 40 minutes and we are 5 km from the border of Guatemala! Here we finally find what we’re looking for in the ejido of San Caralompia. A friendly older farmer takes us to his milpa (across a river on a great suspension bridge!) and offers us as many of his tempenchile as we can fill sample envelopes with.

Heather tests out the suspension bridge with apprehension!
These are the chiles we are looking for... after a long chase to the border. 

Over the next day and a half, we made a few more collections in Chiapas, seeing much of the state’s central valley in the process! And to think, none of this would have happened had the weather and a cancelled appointment not forced us to detour. Its hard to plan these things…

Guatemala is to your left, just off the picture.

1 comment:

wineman said...

Well, as I am so fond of saying, "90% of life is spent in plan B". And so it goes for your latest adventure! I love your blog - very informative and interesting to read (and see the photos). Hope the trip continues to go well.