Fresh Wind & Strange Fire: Travel Writer Lyn Fuchs Ventures into the Lesser Known Wilds of Mexico

fresh_windIn Fresh Wind & Strange Fire: One Man’s Adventures in Primal Mexico ($11.95, 138 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-172-9), travel writer Lyn Fuchs takes the reader to the more primitive and elemental regions of his adopted country, providing historical context and cogent and satirical commentary along the way.  Fuchs’ first book, Sacred Ground & Holy Water: One Man’s Adventures in the Wild, recounted his travels all over the globe. Chris Ord, Editor of Travel Rag, says of Fuchs’ writing, “Grips you, holds you, and leaves you with something profound.”

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“Gonzo tourist Fuchs’s account of way-off-the-beaten-path Mexico makes Anthony Bourdain appear reserved. His approach style is primitive and organic, with no first-world intercession or assistance. Only three pages in and he’s solicited a fake passport, trial-and-errored peyote dosage, and had a tooth extracted with wincing crudeness by a “dentist.” While he’s more author Hunter S. Thompson than travel guide Rick Steves, and certainly sensational in his gleefully gritty pursuit of the real Mexico, he’s not exploitive, cloying, or insincere and more often than not he reveals with acuity and bite a talent for finding the conceit (with prickling quotability). Verdict Though not your standard travel guide—no maps, agenda, index, or even photos are in this book—it is nonetheless vivid, and illuminatingly dense with lost histories of an unconsidered culture. Fuchs rambles (sometimes escaping) from Mayan and Mixtec barrios and villages to cities and towns, and opens up to everything from mafiosos and mystics to moles and iguanas. Fuchs offers unpredictable reading, recommended to those who like travel to challenge their perspective.”

—Benjamin Malczewski, Library Journal

Fresh Wind & Strange Fire is earthy, raw and vibrant. It has the B. Traven authenticity with a Hunter S. Thompson fire. The stories are graphic and well-written. They show you a side of Mexican society that most foreigners and many Mexicans will never know – sometimes seamy, sometimes just alive and real. The author spins his tales with well-written prose and vivid description. Individual cities and towns are highlighted, but more as a backdrop for the human stories. I know nearly all the places the author mentions and (except for the dark sides, which I do not know) he does a good job summing up the atmosphere of the towns. This book is not for those with sensitive imaginations. Some may even find it disturbing. But if you can read graphic modern detective novels and watch modern crime shows, you should enjoy it.”

–Mexico Mike Nelson, Author of Live Better South of the Border

Fresh Wind & Strange Fire is smart, divertido, and so cleansing that I think I can defer a trip to Catemaco for a limpieza!”

–Tony Cohan, bestselling author of On Mexican Time and Mexican Days

“A uniquely witty and perceptive take on Mexico, Fresh Wind & Strange Fire: One Man’s Adventures in Primal Mexico again shows Lyn Fuchs (who previously authored Sacred Ground & Holy Water) to be not just a mere travel writer, but a practical philosopher à la Montaigne, with a dash of Henry Miller’s American humor and sexuality …. One must, however, question Fuchs’ sagacity, and sanity, when he arranges to interview a Mexican drug lord – though he comes to his senses mid-interview and realizes what a dumb venture he has wrought. The sequence, like other episodes, is both hair-raising and hilarious. Bottom line: Fuchs writes of his adopted homeland, Mexico, with love, vigor, wit and a discerning, unsentimental eye.”

—Rick Skwiot, winner of the Hemingway First Novel Award and Willa Cather Fiction Prize finalist, author of Sleeping With Poncho Villa, Death In Mexico, and San Miguel De Allende, Mexico: Memoir of a Sensual Quest For Spiritual Healing

“The writing is almost poetic and the history, philosophy and comedy reek of the human spirit in Mexico. I feel privileged to have read this work as it fulfilled everything I want out of a book. Comedy, suspense and self-reflection. This work demonstrates all of these, and the exemplary writing grasps the ‘show, don’t tell’ philosophy that many writers fail to practice.”

—Jairus Reddy, publisher at Hobbes End Publishing

“Fresh Wind & Strange Fire: One Man’s Adventures in Primal Mexico will appeal to readers and armchair travelers who crave more than an in-and-out experience. Fuchs delivers with his exploration of the dualities of non-tourist Mexico: a largely unknown land that is both intimidating and immensely inviting.”  Read more ….

—Lori A. May, ForeWord Review

Fresh Wind & Strange Fire is just as the title suggests: fresh, original and passionate. Fuch grips the reader, from beginning to end, with his historical detail, humor and socio-political anecdotes. This is a must read for anyone who lives in or aspires to travel extensively throughout Mexico.”  Read more …

—Deanna Proach, News Blaze

“In Fresh Wind & Strange Fire, the intellectual mixes with the traveler while still remaining charmingly down-to-earth. The book might be about high places and lofty thoughts, but it is never pedantic or patronizing …. Apart from his spiritually tinged adventures, the book makes a strong case for legal immigration with a stomach churning account of the slavery that existed in the region, which is now transformed to a traveler’s paradise. It is unusual for a travel book to be this honest and it adds to the book’s character…. All in all, the book is a philosophical adventure through the realm of the Mayans that will make you smile, wince and introspect. A definite winner as far as the genres of both, spiritual literature and travel fiction are concerned.”

—Shweta Ganesh Kumar, writer and travel columnist

Are you ready to travel beyond where even news reporters fear to tread? Fresh Wind & Strange Fire is author Lyn Fuchs’ journey through stranger-than-fiction primal terrain. As an American professor in a Mexican university exploring the southern reaches of his adopted country, Fuchs knows the territory as only a local resident can and is uniquely qualified to convey its essence to English-speaking readers.

Fuchs’ adventures include buying fake documents, eating iguanas, ingesting peyote, scaling glaciers, train-hopping with migrants, splash-fighting with Mayans, joking with narcotraficantes, being exfoliated by fish, having a tooth extracted without anesthetic, and interviewing the last living witness to a Latin American extermination camp. As mystics exalt the lotus for its stately blossoms arising out of muddy waters, Lyn celebrates life by gleaning hilarity and wisdom from bizarre reality.

Says Fuchs, “I think many Americans have a lover’s quarrel with their own culture. Americans living in Mexico often feel great love for their homeland, but also great freedom from the limitations of its worldview. I sometimes tell friends that Mexico offers all the good things in life, plus just enough violence to keep the wimps out. (I’ve suggested this slogan to the tourism department but haven’t heard back.) In Fresh Wind & Strange Fire: One Man’s Adventures in Primal Mexico, I try to share some of the freedom and courage I’ve found in Mexico with my compatriots, who assume they live in the land of the free and home of the brave. It’s true that newcomers to surreal Mexico often feel vulnerable, but long-term expatriate residents usually feel empowered. Life in Mexico provides fewer safety helmets, but more wind in your hair. If you’d like to take a primal spiritual journey into the deepest heart of Mexico without the infected and scarring mosquito bites, this book is for you.”

Fuchs’ travel writing has appeared in Outdoor Canada, Monday Magazine, Canadian Ethnic Studies, The Dalhousie Review, Eclectica Literary Journal, Rose and Thorn, Gam Magazine, Paperplates Literary Journal, Travel Rag, 3:AM Magazine, artist-at-large, Long Trip Home, Crank Literary Journal, The Kinte Space, Travelmag, Hack Writers, Trip 101, Raging Face, Traveling Stories, The Best of Bluefoot Publishing and others. Click here to find Lyn online.

Fuchs is a professor of communication at the University of Papaloapan and has earned his associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in communication and philosophy. Fuchs’ first book, Sacred Ground & Holy Water, is also available from Coffeetown Press.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Take a bus bound for the Caribbean. The farther we go, the denser the mango trees, the kinkier the hair of boarding passengers and the louder the Cumbia music played by the driver. Our bus ride transforms into a rolling party. At one stop, barefoot kids selling fresh banana chips board the bus. At the next, a fat woman distributes cards inscribed with prayers for donations. Later, an old man strums a guitar and sings love ballads. Finally, a pink, turquoise and purple clown with big floppy feet entertains us with bawdy jokes until we arrive in Tlacotalpan.

This photo-ready village, where the Papaloapan River flows out of the rainforest to meet the Gulf Coast, is a United Nations World Heritage Site. Yet, few tourists seem to know. The architecture and street music reflect Native, Spanish and Caribbean influences. The food is downright sexy.

On the riverfront, I slouch away all afternoon at a restaurant patio table. The Pescado a la Veracruzana (fish simmered with tomatoes, onions, chilies, olives, capers and herbs) is succulent. The empty cerveza bottles in front of me speak for themselves. What should I have next? I order a Dulce de Leche. This handmade milk confection is a pure delight.

Two churches on the town square dominate the skyline behind me. One is aqua-green with a bell tower; the other is cloud-white with sky-blue stripes and an enormous clock. The patron of fishing is the divine avatar of local choice. Many peasants come to these shrines and pray passionately for fish, while I snap my fingers and receive the same in abundance. How ironic.

Many of us pray for pregnancies in our forties and managerial jobs in a recession. When our desires remain unfulfilled, we sometimes become bitter. We complain “No one is listening up there!” Still, we tell children “No means no!” and “Stop that tantrum!” Meanwhile, multitudes ask humbly and submissively for fish. Who do we think is up there—a god or a lackey? If it’s all right to demand a heavenly server, is it okay for me to demand the kind they hire at Hooters?

I set off, walking along the cobblestone streets in the evening light. Every house has a colonnade but a different one. Each is painted in its own cheery tropical color. Above me are green-algae-covered terra cotta tile roofs and soaring coconut palms. As the sun sets, lamps come on in the garden around the central plaza. A din of food and fellowship rises in sidewalk cafés. The smell of lechero (coffee with steamed milk) plus anise liquor makes all seem right with the world.

Stroll under a full moon toward the Teatro Nezahualcóyotl. This opulent theater has four balconies stacked on top each other, constructed of carved wood and wrought iron. The stage has olive satin drapes and a mustard silk curtain. Men in khaki pants and red cotton shirts play fast and furious eight-string guitars of various sizes. A watery, soothing harp accompanies them.

Girls come out in flowing white-lace dresses to swirl, as boys stomp in orbit around them. Background singers wave ornate black fans to the beat. Red scarves are used to enact a human bullfight with undertones of mating and fertility ritual. Jarocha and Fandango dances alternate like a woven tapestry with whoops and whistles erupting. House lights extinguish. A soloist performs a haunting melody about the solitude of a fisherman. Women revolve in cross formation with burning candles balanced on their heads. Full lighting and fancy footwork resume, then hats fly off. Viva Mexico!

While exiting, I pass a Tiffany stained glass window and a bronze sculpture of the fifteenth century indigenous poet for whom the building is named. On the wall are a few lines of his verse: “I love the song of the cenzontle bird and the color of Jade and the perfume of the Copa de Oro flower, but most of all I love my fellow man.” Can’t say I totally relate, but after my time in Tlacotalpan, it’s definitely three down and one to go.

Loving one’s neighbor is a lofty goal. Maybe one should start by simply acknowledging their existence. Most people in the world have it rougher than I do. Walking to work daily or cooking family meals constantly isn’t cruel and unusual punishment. It’s life on earth as most folks know it.

In Mexico, one finds that not all respond to hardship or injustice with trauma and drama, as if the laws of the universe have been violated. This is strange to gringos. When I see how hard many people struggle, it’s almost a relief that the heavens don’t jump to my privileged demands. I don’t wanna be that spoiled. Having more is nice, but enjoying what you have more is better. Give us this day our daily bread … and some fish would be cool, if that works for You.

I spend the night at the airport hotel with planes keeping me awake. Actually, it’s a grandmother feeding a baby and making airplane noises as the spoon approaches the infant’s mouth. Tlacotalpan has no airport. However, if I complain about grandmas and babies, I’ll go straight to hell. The hotel is lovely at sunrise. A courtyard has marble floor and columns, inlaid tile arches and cornices, plus green ferns and a yellow wishing well. Mesh-backed cedar rocking chairs fill the breezy alcoves.

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