A lone scraggly dog nipped at the heels of my horse as we trotted through the rocky path into the open acres of the Hacienda. I eyed its bared teeth, gnarled coat, and crazed look, gripping my saddle.
The horse didn’t seem to mind its presence; though, I wished she would tromp its vicious head – if only I knew how to command it. We sped up before I could do anything about the mongrel.
“Whoa!” I pulled back on the reins, but the horse chose to interpret my action as a change in direction and plunged into the brush. Her hoof stomped at the dust and dirt as I finally got her to stop.
The brown eyes of a shirtless boy peered from the shade of a ragged bush. Curls twisted around his head in an unwashed crown of netted hair. A smile stretched across his face.
Before I could frame a question in Spanish, the horse plunged me through a hidden path and back out onto the trail.
A cloud of dust told me my companions had passed on ahead. I caught up with them only to be greeted by the barred teeth of a larger, darker dog. I couldn’t help but raise my feet and off my horse went again.
We passed the ruins of a Spanish servant’s quarters. A tin sheet lay tied to the top of an uneven brick frame. A colorful tarp swayed across a brick entrance. Time had reduced the original doorframe to a collection of uneven bricks, ascending in miniature stair-step fashion.
A toothless woman peered out, watching us. Her dark leather skin and piercing eyes looked past my soul. The marks of struggle she bore reduced the petty things I dared to call problems into nothing.
We crossed a shallow river. “¿Quantas mías mas?” I asked the guide.
“Up…There.” He pointed to a plateau opposite a ravine.
“How long will that take?” I asked more to myself than to him.
A lone turkey vulture soared over the dormant acres of the Hacienda. The huge outstretched wings and wrinkled head hung eye-level as we crested the ravine’s summit. Its merciless, silent form scoured the brush.
Later, behind the sturdy wall of the hacienda I found time to rest in a hammock. By the pool I peered out over the barren acres, unable to see the servant’s quarters we’d found earlier. Perhaps the architect had made sure of this.
That night, back in the town, I took advantage of the time and explored. The uneven cobblestone streets reminded me of the castle-like walls of the Hacienda. I watched a lady sweep dust from the streets of the main square. She placed it in a bucket and hauled it away.
In the town center a vacant gazebo stood. A musician had been there our first day.
A statue of Miguel Hidalgo watched behind the gazebo. A young couple sat concealed by palm trees on a bench behind it.
The great frame of a Cathedral at the north rose, a backdrop to the town center. Echoes of children in the plaza bounced above the noise of the few cars. “GOOOAL!” one of them shouted, a ball bouncing from the railing of the Cathedral steps.
A shaded corridor separated the police station from the Cathedral. Both buildings reminded me of a fortress.
From the roof of our hotel, I could see the entire town. The police paraded through the street at the change of guard, marching in formation, automatic weapons bared.
Our fiesta lasted into the night. Large speakers blasted music over the vacant square. The sound bounced around the smooth stone of the buildings. I looked up at the darkened sky. The music and people were familiar, but the place belonged to someone else.