UNION JUAREZ, Mexico - There's nothing like a drive to a rural mountain community to unveil the hidden charm of another country.
With our interpreter and volunteer tour guide Darine Ruiz pointing the way, I spent Tuesday afternoon and early evening exploring the natural beauty of Tancana Mountain in Union Juarez, located in the state of Chiapas. The Washington State University journalism students arrive Tuesday evening and l've spent the last two days trying to learn as much as possible about the area.
Union Juarez, a community of about 2,500 people, is typical of what I've seen of small communities so far in Chiapas. Life is slow here and the poverty is striking. Ruiz said Chiapas is one of the two poorest states in Mexico. Thin, stray dogs lumber around town unchallenged. Many store fronts are vacant. There's an elementary school here, but those who manage to reach high school must travel down the mountain daily to Tapachula for their education.
Union Juarez and the mountain area are home to numerous coffee plantations. Many of the plantations are German-owned. One of them, the Braun plantation, has a bit of mystery about it. Local myth has it that Eva Braun, Adolph Hitler's mistress and eventual wife, was a member of the family owning the plantation. The home now contains a restaurant and museum, including a table displaying a large portrait of Hitler next to an equally large portrait of Braun. There's also a small hanging portrait showing five Braun family members, including two young girls. Was Eva one of them? It's never been proven.
But enough about evil. The drive up to Union Juarez was spectacular. The lush green palms, banana and mango trees, coffee plants and waterfalls were beyond expectations. Most of the drive was on a nicely paved road, but we also traveled some of the roughest stone and dirt roadway that I've ever encountered.
I saw native parakeets dart about palm trees. Can it get any better than that?