CHAPTER V. ON THE TRAIL IN MICHOACAN
My compatriot strongly opposed my plan of walking to Uruapan - at least without an armed guard! The mountains were full of bandits, the Tarascan Indians, living much as they did at the time of the Conquest, did not even speak Spanish, they were unfriendly to whites, and above all dangerously superstitious on the subject of photography. There are persons who would consider it perilous to walk the length of Broadway, and lose sight even of the added attraction of that reputed drawback.
I was off at dawn. Hundreds of Indians from the interior had slept in scattered groups all along the road to town, beside the produce they had come to sell on market day. For it is against the law to be found out of doors in Zamora after ten! My compatriot had twice fallen foul of the vigilant police there and been roundly mulcted - once the bolt of the hired carriage in which he was riding broke, the conveyance turned turtle, mashed his foot, and covered his face with blood, and he was imprisoned and fined for "escandalo." On another occasion he spent some time in jail because his mozo behind him accidentally knocked over the lantern of a policeman set in the middle of the street.
But let us leave so straight-laced a spot behind. The rocky "road" could not hold to the same opinion for a hundred consecutive yards, but kept changing its mind as often as it caught sight of some new corner of the landscape. The Indians, who crowded the way during the first hour, were not friendly, but neither did they show any dangerous propensities, and never failed in greeting if spoken to first. There were many of them of pure aboriginal blood. The stony road climbed somewhat to gain Tangantzicuaro, then stumbled across a flatter country growing more wooded to Chilota, a large town with a tiny plaza and curious, overhanging eaves, reminiscent of Japan, stretching down its checker-board streets in all directions.
The trail, which had gone a mile or more out of its way to visit the place, no sooner left it than it fell abruptly into the bed of what in other weather would have been a rocky mountain torrent, and set off with it in a totally new direction, as if, having fallen in with congenial company, it had entirely forgotten the errand on which it had first set forth. The land was fertile, with much corn. In time road and river bed parted company, though only after several attempts, like old gossips, and the former took to climbing upward through thin forests of pine in which the wind whispered an imitation of some distant, small waterfall. For some miles there were no houses. Up and down and in and out of valleys thin with pine we wandered, with now and then a rough shelter of rubbish and thatch, halting places of traveling Indians or the guard-houses of their fields, while the sky ahead was always filled half-way up by peaks of many shapes wooded in every inch with brightest evergreens. Michoacan is celebrated for its forests.
The population showed no great difference from the peasants elsewhere. I ran early into their superstitions against photography, however, their belief, common to many uncivilized races, being that once their image is reproduced any fate that befalls it must occur to them in person. When I stepped into a field toward a man behind his wooden plow, he said in a very decided tone of voice, "No, senor, no quiero!"
"Why not?" I asked.
"Porque no quiero, senor," and he swung the sort of small adze he carried to break up the clods of the field rather loosely and with a determined gleam in his eye. I did not want the picture so badly as all that.
There was no such objection in the straggling town made of thatch and rubbish I found along the way early in the afternoon. The hut I entered for food had an unleveled earth floor, many wide cracks in the roof, and every inch within was black with soot of the cooking-stove - three large stones with a steaming earthen pot on them. There was carne de carnero, tortillas and water, all for five cents. The weak-kneed table was spread with a white cloth, there were several awkward, shallow, home-made chairs, and against the wall a large primitive sideboard with glistening brown earthen pots and carefully polished plates and bowls. When I had photographed the interior, la senora asked if I would take a second picture, and raced away to another hut. She soon returned with a very small and poor amateur print of two peons in Sunday dress. One of them was her son, who had been killed by a falling pine, and the simple creature fancied the magic contrivance I carried could turn this tiny likeness into a life-size portrait.
Beyond, were more rocks and wooded mountains, with vast seas of Indian corn stretching to pine-clad cliffs, around the "shores" of which were dozens of make-shift shacks for the guardians against theft of the grain. Later I passed an enormous field of maize, which more than a hundred Indians of both sexes and every age that could stand on its own legs were harvesting. It was a communal corn-field, of which there are many in this region. They picked the ears from the dry stalks still standing and, tossing them into baskets, heaped them up in various parts of the field and at little temporary shanties a bit above the general level on the surrounding "coast." As I passed, the gang broke up and peons in all colors, male, female, and in embryo, went away in all directions like a scattering flock of birds.