My friend (hereinafter, El Amigo) had emailed me instructions to "just get off the bus, grab a taxi and come to Hotel Mi Casita and yell" his name. The taxi brought me as far as it could go: there were still the narrow, cobbled walk and the huge, stone stairs to climb to reach the gate of the hotel. I rang the bell, and the gate slowly opened. At the top of the narrow, curved outside stairway, a lovely woman greeted me at the door, probably thinking I was a guest checking in. When I mentioned El Amigo's name, she looked puzzled; she had no idea who he was. She was extremely hospitable, however, and invited me to sit at a table in the small lobby, where we explored the possibility that I had gotten the name of the hotel wrong. We looked through the phone book, but there was nothing that even remotely resembled the name of her hotel. I had to fire up my laptop to find El Amigo's phone number (as I'd forgotten to write it in my daybook). The lady brought me a phone, and the problem was solved when El Amigo's voice instructed me to walk out the door of the hotel and look up. There he was, grinning at us from his balcony across the way. As soon as the hotel owner saw him, she realized that she did know who he was. She sees him every day. She just didn't know his name. If I'd mentioned "el viejo gringo," she would have known who he was right away.
Seeing me toting much more stuff than I will ever need for a few months in Mexico (what was I thinking?), El Amigo called down, "Where's the burro?" I answered, "I am the burro."
That evening we had a light supper, with El Amigo sharing some of his observations and experiences over the course of visiting and living in Taxco for the past three years. There were things I would find helpful as leads into deeper understandings of the local culture, and there were things I would have to know, since I'll be staying in El Amigo's casa while he is away for a few days. For example, El Amigo called my attention to a loud whistle that sounded as if it was coming from just below the balcony. "Those whistles you'll hear outside, they're like codes. Every group has a unique whistle that identifies its members to one another." During my first week in Taxco, I listened for these whistles, and for the yelling, and for other ambient sounds of Taxco. I heard church bells from Santa Prisca and from another church down the hill, and noticed that they were rung approximately hourly but never once on the hour. A couple of nights ago, it seemed that the bell ringers from both churches were having a friendly competition to see who would get the last ring. The number of times the bells clanged was far more than the hour would have indicated. I liked this place right away.
The next day, El Amigo and I took a combi (a white VW bus that is the main form of transportation in Taxco, along with the white VW beetle taxis) outside of the city to Tenango, where there is some land he is interested in buying. The land already has an old adobe house on it, a real fixer-upper. One of its best features, besides an incredible view and a lot of peace and quiet, is that it has fresh water from a mountain-fed creek year-round. El Amigo discovered it while photographing an old silver mine located there.