A couple from Nova Scotia arrived in the small restaurant where we were eating on the second floor food court of the Mercado in Santos Reyes Nopala. We had spotted them from our balcony seating as they walked through the small park. Gringos stand out in Nopala. It is off the beaten path, sprawling and not pandering to tourism.
Anita helped them through the food ordering process. It will be rare to find an English speaking habitant in the mountains above Puerto Escondido. As is often the case with strangers in a strange land we engaged in conversation with the distinctly tourist couple – she carrying her Moon Travel Guide close to the chest, a crib sheet slathered with notes protruded from the binding.
”We are looking for a possible place to live in Mexico” she reported. “We sold our house; the kids are grown and off on their own. We are here for adventure,” stated with an enthusiasm that left no question about that.
“We like Oaxaca City, but the weather, oh the weather, in Puerto Escondido is wonderful, isn’t it?
We could easily imagine just how terrific the weather might be just now to a couple that had a few days before escaped the frigid climes of Nova Scotia.
“The other day it was colder than Mars! No really! It was minus forty-three; colder than being on the surface of Mars.”
But now like us they were here on a sunny afternoon outing in the mountains above Puerto Escondido, in Chatino land, an area where coffee is grown steeped in history. We had Google-prepped, learning the Chatino people had been in these mountains for more than a thousand years. Some historians believe Chatino people have been in the area since 2,300 B.C. Many of the natives living and working in Puerto are Chatinos although few speak the language of their grandparents.
One of the sights in the center of town at the City Hall are stelae stone slabs (carved stone slabs). The stelae are from the 6th to the 8th century, now embedded in the surrounding walls. The slabs were found five kilometers from the city. In 1966 they were brought from their original sites by ox teams over steep mountain passes. This arduous task was performed to preserve the stelae as reminders of the classic period of Chatino culture.
Our new companions from way north of the Rio Bravo wanted to see a coffee finca. We were here on a mission to locate a special artisan who was reported on our local Forum to make specially crafted machetes.
On our way to eating we stopped in a local shop. A wide brimmed sombrero caught my attention. We inquired as to where to eat. The amiable shop owner provided information, and would hold the hat for me until our return from refueling our bodies.
Upon our return to the hat shop we found the owner enjoying a siesta. I caught a photo before Anita woke him.
We asked about the machete craftsman, if he might know of him? “Yes, you are looking for Señor Mateo Galvan.” There seemed to be little he did not know about his town.
He gave us specific directions and even drew a small map. We learned we were within walking distance (about 4 long blocks as it turned out). Off we headed down a steep road looking for a turnoff to the Panteon (cemetery). The steel foundry would be found directly across the street.
We were to look for an abarrotes (grocery store) named Tres Hermanas (three sisters). This was run by Señor Mateo’s sisters. They would direct us from there.
We asked along the way as to where we would find the cemetery. All pointed directly ahead.
On the opposite side of the street we spotted the sign “Herrería Galvan” Our destination found.
Anita asked at the grocery and we were directed down a long alley way.
As we turned into a small entry we spied three hombres mid-striking a red hot piece of metal laid upon a seasoned stone. I quickly took a photo.
Señor Mateo Galivan stopped what he was doing and acknowledged our presence. He was affable. It was easy to see he was excited to have gringo guests explaining that just a week or so before he had also been visited by gringos (see Forum note).
He proudly declared he was 83 years old and confirmed the shirtless hombre was his son Ignacio, and the other sledge hammer wielder was his grandson. Three generations pounding red-hot auto leaf springs into tools. We have read that the steel in leaf springs makes excellent quality knives and gardening implements.
We learned Mateo Galvan is the first generation machete craftsman however even his ten-year-old grandson was being taught the craft. It will be passed down father-to-son to son and on.
Ignacio brought out two completed machetes both enveloped in stylish sheaths. We learned that the handle of one was crafted from cow’s horn and another was plastic. Both were fashioned as horse heads.
We opted for the cow’s horn model. Senor Galvan provided us with chairs as he began to sharpen the machete, his son Ignacio was already honing the tool that would be used to file the final edge on the marvelous machete – truly a work of art. He suggested that as a useful tool, it should last at least five years. Ours would be for a lifetime as a Folk Art collectible. We already own several utilitarian machetes.
While the sharpening process continued, we enjoyed conversations with the sister’s and the wife of Ignacio as well as the children that gathered around us to meet these curious strangers. It was a family affair by this time. Children came and went to get a view of the rather odd looking foreigners.
After a half an hour or so we gathered up our new machete needing to head down the road before dark as the winding road was pock marked with holes along much of the way. We arrived down the slopes just as the sun was going down. A fun adventure had been garnered. The day trip is recommended. Stay Tuned!