Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Lost World

Alex, Juan, and I caught a 6am bus that was slightly late and packed and only minutes after leaving we hit a roadblock. Guatemalan protesters had cut down trees and were blocking the road, we were told they’d be a slight delay so we sat tight and tried to take sneaky pics through the windscreen. That was until a dozen guys in balaclavas armed with machetes started marching up the road towards us. The lone police car did a runner and we were a little worried. Turned out they were only handing out leaflets and when they turned round and were all wearing tiny rucksacks they looked like little kids trick or treating, was actually quite funny.
Once we were let past, it was quite a long journey until the breakfast stop where we discovered everyone else was on a jungle adventure, also. Was a fab buffet breakfast, expensive at 5 bucks but just what we needed.
After a few more hours clunking through the jungle on a dirt road, I thought we were just being dumped but were taken to the immigration office where after a bit of ug ug uging we paid a few dollars and got our passports stamped. Then it was off to a boat.... it was a beautiful boat ride and pretty fast. Strange thinking we were actually traveling between to countries.. where actually were we?
When we hit the other side it was an hour wait for our connecting bus. Then it was on to the immigration office to enter.... no ug ug uging this time, plain and simple.... we give them money and they´ll stamp our passports.
The bus we had was a ratty clunker - half the windows were smashed and the seats were extremely bumpy, add that to the fact the journey was 3hrs by dirt track through the middle of nowhere and you can imagine my discomfort.
Eventually a cheery old fuck got on and told us they were no cashpoints in town and refused to take us to the hostel we wanted to go to it annoyed me a tad.
The three of us managed to sort some money and found the hostel. A little jungle like oasis on the weird island city that was Flores. It was dead cheap, had a bar, and served amazing food. Had hammocks everywhere, and turtles, a couple of cute green parrots and loads of plants, including bananas.
Alex, Juan and I sat around talking to some guys who’d been to Tikal and were insistent we didn’t wanna go to Belize cos it was expensive and there was nothing there....gave me something to think about!
The following day had nothing planned, it was to be a rest day as we’d had such a hectic time and give ourselves time to do boring stuff like laundry, dirinking, smoking weed, etc.
Only as soon as we’d hand washed our clothes the heavens opened and that shit wasn’t gonna stop. That was until I donned my plastic poncho and as I headed out to explore - was immediately bombarded by the brightest sun ever. Went and got me sunglasses and it rained again.
Flores is a cool little island - you could stand by the church on the little hill and see water in all four directions.
Explored across the bridge to Santa Elena, wish we hadn’t bothered cause it was a big shithole, especially in rain...there were no pavements only mud...and certainly nothing to look at.
Headed back to Flores and some nachos for lunch. Then remembered we needed some money - so got a cute Tuk-tuk across the bridge to Santa Elena again, cost virtually nothing and was kinda fun - Tuk-Tuk's is a little scooter with a cart thing on the back that carry 2 people...and with a head full of booze and weed, hilarious!
That done - tried to buy me some cigarettes, except nowhere in the whole of Flores had any change. It seems to be a huge problem out here....if you have anymore than the equivalent of a five dollar bill, you can’t buy anything. They have to ask everyone in the town if they can change your money. Its crazy, I think someone somewhere must eat all the small change.
Back at the hostel, we were planning to have an early night, but a couple of Canadian lads insisted we join them and some girls for a drink, we agreed as long as we went somewhere we could get food, cause we was hungry.
Ended up going to a little place on the lake, sat right out on the water on rather precarious bits of wood, where we enjoyed cheap tacos and several beers....oh yeah and good company, too. Stayed until the Canadian kids had to run to catch their night bus, and we headed home to a very early morning tomorrow.
Got up ridiculously early, like 4:30am. Our bus was due to leave at 5. Headed down to the bus stop still half asleep...wouldn’t you? Still apparently it’s the thing to do. Our bus to Tikal arrived if a little late and we all piled on.
Was quite a long drive, but eventually reached the entrance the park, figured we must be nearly there. Actually it was still some miles....deeper and deeper into the jungle. The signs on the road were funny, apparently we had to watch for turkeys, jaguars, snakes and some other strange creatures crossing the road - saw millions of turkeys - the driver having to stop numerous times to let them cross.
Alex, Juan and I arrived, paid our fee and went off exploring. Juan chose the way, his thinking being we would get the temples which were further away out of the way first. Agreed, why not?
Problem was the temple we had chosen to see first was deep in the jungle...and it was kinda freaky to be in the middle of the jungle at 6am, with no-one else anywhere else to be seen, and trust me it really is in the middle of the jungle.
Arrived at the temple and then Alex decided he should get his guidebook out to see what it was about, only to read it said you should avoid this temple because it was dangerous, people were often mugged or worse! Headed to another group of temples....were cooler, but still scary. Then we had no idea where to go, the paths and signs seemed to have disappeared...started heading into the jungle, but then decided...thank god....that it was pretty stupid, as we had no idea where we going and ended up retracing most of our steps, till we found a sign. Followed it through more scary jungle and eventually reached an open area and some people meandering about. Not many people around though, it was still early - and it was kinda nice - gives you the whole spiritual feeling about the place, and it isolation. Checked out some cool temples opposite each other and the huge acropolis between them.
Went to find the toilets. Were just leaving when the cleaner came out of the toilet to show us something....I was terrified it was some huge spider....I wasn’t far was the biggest beetle it was bigger than you could ever imagine....its was the size of his hand...and he had just found it in the toilets. Creepy.
Walked the ‘lost world’ and its pyramid of the sun. This is the one to climb - so had to do this one at least. The steps on all Mayan pyramids are stupidly high....god knows how the 4ft Mayans ever climbed them (someone said to us they reckoned someone had built the steps the wrong way up...they should have been wide not high), and these were very eroded. Still people were climbing it so figured it couldn’t be that bad. So up we went.
God it was scary. Some of the steps were bigger than me. Ended virtually crawling up - thanks to a pack of smokes a day, I reckon. One slip and you would have been in a crumpled heap at the bottom. Still we made it, and it was worth it. The views of the jungle and temples peeking through were amazing! Very scary to stand close to the edge and look down though, and I’m not normally scared of heights.
Sat and rested, taking in the view. Alex whiped out the weed and we smoked in awe of the Sun god - long discussions on literature and Mexican/American politics. Disappointingly didn’t see any wildlife, but it wasn’t a great day...misty and threatening rain. Then we had to go down. Now I thought up was bad, but down was a million times worse - the main thing being you had to look down. Took us hours to go down....well not literally but it was ages....had to go one foot at a time, having to slide down on my arse at times.....god was I glad to be on solid ground again.
My legs were like jelly and my left thigh muscle had forgotten how to work - Alex decided I should hop, and for some reason I agreed, and my leg gave way and I nearly fell on my ass.
Saw heaps more temples.....some of the biggest. One they were restoring painfully by hand, chipping away at bits of rocks with chisels, and one which they have rebuilt (which was cool to see how it should have looked). Alex and Juan of course had to climb them all with me in tow.
It started to pour so - we sat in the picnic area. Explored one of the acropolises...and Juan went up a wet and slippery and very dangerous temple - just cause he could - and that was pretty much it. Had a long walk back to the exit through more cool jungle...this a little safer with half decent paths - I struggled to keep my leg from giving way...but somehow made it.
Then waited for our bus back - in the pouring rain. Looked like we had timed it perfectly, would have got drenched if we had come any later. Was a cool experience....magical and scary at the same time.
Back at the hostel we were starving, so ordered burgers for lunch from the hostel. Oh my god, I don’t think I have ever seen such a big burger - it had like 3 slices of bread, pineapple, avocado....and Lord knows what else.
Ended up talking to a couple from Essex, who had come in for food, and had been waiting for hours for it - they do make you wait, cause it is all prepared from scratch but man is it good. Went for a walk and when we got back the couple were still there, they had finally got there food and agreed it was worth waiting for.
Chilled for the rest of the day...our washing still not had never stopped raining for gods sake.
Juan met these two Guatemalans who agreed to take us deep into the jungle to spot jaguar and meet a tribe that still takes Yage - that herb that William Burroughs searched for in the 1950’s. I mentioned it and the short one named Ignacio said he knew a brujo that would mix me up some.
I am a little wary, Ignacio and his friend Rene are a little on the scruffy side and something just doesn’t seem right about their demeanor - something wrong. I sit at the hostels rinky dink computer typing this out and the four lads are over on the patio laughing and drinking and smoking weed. It took Alex a coy look and sweet talking to get me to go - but, I guess I am on a day trip tomorrow into the jungle…

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Border Crossing.

Hi All!
Greetings from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala!
I had a fantastic time in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico. The town was beautiful and the temperature was refreshingly cool in the mountains. Went on a day excursion to Sumidero Canyon for a fantastic boat ride. In addition to the beautiful scenery, I managed to spot some crocodiles on the banks and spider monkeys in the trees. I was a little shocked by the amount of litter that was in the canyon by damn feelthy tourists, but the place was still very scenic.
After San Cristobal, took a 3 hour bus ride to the Guatemalan border. Guatemala is a very scenically beautiful country, but the cities and towns are quite dusty and dirty. Guatemala is a very poor country, but there is still a lot of life and happiness to see in the locals. Many of the men dress like we would in the States, but the women wear bright multicolored clothing and linens that they drape themselves with - wonderful explosion of color.
After crossing the border, boarded a chicken bus, which are old buses from the USA that were donated to Guatemala for public transportation. The buses are painted ridiculous colors and decorates with all sorts of stickers and religious slogans. Our bus from the border had portraits of Jesus painted on the front and had a bleeding heart and Garfield motif. The chicken bus is not a comfortable mode of transportation - but it was still a great experience. Chicken buses provide a great opportunity to see how regular Guatemalans travel and you get to mingle quite a lot. This is mostly because they cram up to 4 people in a seat! My luggage rode on the roof. There is a drivers assistant that collects the fares from the passengers and also takes care of the luggage. This means that on a windy mountain pass before a stop in a town, the assistant will crawl out of one of the bus windows, climb up on top of the roof, untie the baggage, chuck it down to the people getting off, and climb in through the back door of the bus! This was often done while the bus was in full motion! Sadly, we did not have any chickens on our bus, but one that passed us had two huge baskets of turkey chicken strapped to the roof. They did not look too happy to be there. After our 5 and a half hour ride was done, stopped in Quetzaltenango for the night. This is a pretty large city but nothing much seemed to be happening. This was only our stopover on our was south to the Lake District.
Met two guys on holiday from Monterey, Mexico on their way to Tikal. We struck up a conversation at a food stop - Alex and Juan. Two cool guys and they speak English! I explained my wayward travel and they thought it was downright ridiculous - yeah, I said, I get that a lot in life. We decided to take this last leg together to Tikal.
I must be honest that I was very nervous to be venturing into Guatemala, but I have been pleasantly surprised. Hopefully the rest of Guatemala will prove to be the same experience!
The end of Mexico with my new super amigos was almost upon us. We had returned to the bus station in Tonalá to catch our last bus, which of course by now could only be Gran Lujo, to Tapachula right next to the border between Guatemala and Mexico.
We arrived around 6 in the evening and what was becoming a regular theme to a heavy downpour what we were starting to learn that there is a good reason why it is called the wet season, but its not rain as I know it, dribbles that last for days with grey skies, no this was a tropical downpour, almost like a bucket being throw over you that lasted for maybe an hour but the heat... well that just stayed the same.
So like usual Alex, Juan, and I got a taxi to take us to hotel that we had found in the every useful guide and we headed off into the soaking city.
Taxi drivers are the best, no matter where you go there are always two types, grumpy bastards or talkaholics where nothing is taboo and their opinion is what counts - period. So when the taxi driver of our cab who looked like a Mexican version of Ravon from Phoenix Nights asked where we were from and then proceeded to tell us that in Spain 90% of the people are swingers there was nothing anyone could do but agree because its was his cab and his word goes. Arriving at the hotel getting out of the cab "El Ravon" clearly looking at the gringo and made a comment to Alex letting him know that he "was up for it" then his boyfriend (me) was not to bad either... it was one of those tumble weed moment that no one really knew how to take but it was shaken off with a nervous laugh as scurried into the sanctuary of the hotel. Tapachula has more of a central American major city vibe than that of Chiapas of where it is located, dirty busy streets with a bustling street vibe of ever inquisitive people asking you what your business is and earn a few tourist dollars, random drunks and a sleazy underworld that would not be too hard to find if you scratched the surface.
That is not too say it is all bad but like Tijuana it was a border town that was reflected through the businesses and restaurants and although it had recently seen a 70 million dollar investment to try and take advantage of its location and inevitable passageway into central American this place was still waiting to break away from the pack.
After dumping our bags amongst the funky 70´s decor of the amazingly large room with views (a bit like the views in Bladerunner to be honest) we braced ourselves and ventured out into the night. The clientele was interesting to say the least. I think after 5 minutes I had seen a lady, boy and a child of around about 10 absolutely trolled on the booze... but still there was never any real sense of danger.
The only thing that cut our little tour short was the sudden down pour that if you don’t recognize the first warning signs then you will be literally soaked, luckily we were in the main plaza and with a large covered terrace right next to us so we just dived in there. It was the last supper and there was no messing around with the food, it was be spicy and to be washed down with Mexican beers a plenty. With stories shared and plans made for the second leg we sat there well into the night only having to move inside later on as the rain forced several leaks to come through the roof and on to our table. When we finally chanced the weather to run back to the hotel it felt weird that we would not be tackling another Mexican chapter with Alex and Juan the day after but with the news that the both of them are thinking about setting up home in Mexico city, well it almost certain that the return leg will start there.
We found a rakish little dive bar with good tunes on the rockola. We closed the place down! Drunk, tired, happy - we returned to our ratty room. It must’ve been the cheap beer, because those two decided it was in the best interest of diplomacy to take liberties with my person. The three of us had sex until dawn, crawling bleary eyed to a local café to wash our hangovers down with some juevos ranchero and delicious coffee…

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Howl of the 12 Monkeys.

Time to move on. Made the long walk to the bus station...and it was a long walk. Booked my tickets, glad I didn’t have long to wait. Insidious. Very confused at the departure/arrival time of my bus? Didn’t understand, then happened to look at the clock...and it said an hour earlier than my watch? I knew I couldn’t have not noticed crossing a time zone several days ago...and then it dawned on me, that the clocks must have gone back. So had a little longer wait than anticipated.
Eventually got on the bus...another luxury bus...probably the last. Sat under the TV and had to endure movie after movie in Spanish. Did get one in English about native Indians...very odd choice but quite good. The road was twisty and the bus seemed unable to stop - as very glad to get off on reaching Palenque. Scenery was quite cool....lots of little houses...with the usual chicken and other farm animals wandering the streets.
Had no idea where to get a bus to El Panchan - wandering the streets aimlessly when a bus pulled over and asked if I wanted a lift - righty-oh! The type of bus - a clinking, clanking school bus from the ‘50’s, or so it seemed - was what they call a collective...a minibus in fact! Threw my bag on the roof, only to stop just down the road and take it off again cause it started down pouring!
Arrived at El Panchan, was now dark, and I couldn’t seem to see anywhere to check in! Ended up at a bar - where they offered me a cabana - a small shack, basically, but the price was reasonable, so why not…wouldn‘t you? Dumped my stuff and headed to the bar for food.
Was really cool place, in the middle of the outside bar with thatched (I say thatched but it actually made with palm leaves), and good food. Had pizzas made in a real wood oven....damn good and a few beers, and even got treated to cool Latin American music for free. Looks like a cool place to hang out…
The next day it was time to explore the ruins. Had breakfast in the same bar...more good food. Then decided to walk to the ruins which were only supposed to be about 1 mile away. Entered the park, had to pay, and got a groovy wristband from the man with his gun. But then the walking got tough, it was all uphill and sooo damn hot. Had to rest when we got there.
Then went exploring. The place was dead, no real surprise there - loads of cool temples - and nicely cut grass. Very impressive structures, many of which still had temples on top unlike those of the last place. I had to climb them all, I soon got bored it was so damn hot!!!! There were loads of people selling amazingly colorful painting of the local art on bits of suede. Decided had to have one, and got down to some serious bargaining. Wasn’t easy but kinda fun and I got a good deal in the end!

That done, we explored the palace with its hundreds of tiny rooms and cool carvings, then I climbed the remaining buildings, just in case there was some amazing carvings up there - which there weren’t. I climbed the last one, which had amazing views of the whole site...and I sat and chilled for a while taking it all in. That’s when I first heard the monkeys, I mistook them for dinosaurs at first, but since that possibility was pretty unlikely even in the mostly undiscovered jungle - I decided they must be howler monkeys. Man are they loud. Pretty scary to be honest...still not sure how something that small can make that much noise! Couldn’t see them though.
Took a collectivo back to town.
For the rest of the day just chilled. I hung up my hammock outside the cabana, then I realized I had no money so had to go to Palenque to get some...when I returned from a mad attempt at locating an ATM, I chilled in the hammock.
Then ate lunch, it was more like dinner though as it was so late. Saw some actual howler monkeys in the trees at the entrance to my place. They were tiny!! Even saw a baby! Who needs jungle tours when they are on your doorstep? Chilled some more, then deciding there was nothing else to do - did what comes naturally - went to the bar. Spent some time thinking about money, got a bottle of wine, then decided I should get some food, still wasn’t that hungry since I had eaten so late, but it wasn‘t that filling. Had amazing pasta...but couldn’t eat it all. Had more music, and then got kicked out of the bar at about 11, after they had packed away the whole bar, literally around me!
Next day decided to take a tour to some local waterfalls that sounded cool. Had breakfast before I left...yes more food. Then waited for my lift. Got picked up in a mini bus...picked more people up, then had to change to another minibus cause there were too many people - was quite cozy. The smells of indigenous locals…ahhhhh. Wasn’t long till I arrived at the first stop, a really cute waterfall. Had no idea what was going on cause our driver didn’t speak English, but just followed the others.
Checked out the falls, which were really cool, cause you could actually walk behind them, where you got soaked - which was a Godsend it being so hot and humid. Then it was onto the next place.Was a reasonable drive, not too bad - it was a nature reserve. A pretty little lake, with an amazing looking wooden bridge. Again had no idea what I were supposed to do, so went off walking. Crossed the bridge, which was pretty damn scary. It was basically 3 bits of wire with wooden slats, most of which were missing or broken. And man did it sway. Was kinda cool though. Walked a little way further, and then cause I had no idea how long I had, headed back. A pretty pointless stop, but also kind cool.
Then it was more bus trekking. Basically heading back the way we had come from San Cristobal, the falls being somewhere between the two, so had to endure the twisty road again, was a little bumpier in the minibus, too.Finally arrived at out third and final stop - more waterfalls! These were a series of falls that went on for like 8 or 9 miles! All uphill too!!The first part was the most impressive, not that I saw them all, was far too hot to walk 8 miles. It was wide and rocky, and the water was all white - not clear and/foamy but a whitish hue. Odd. Walk more up, but the heat started taking it’s toll.
Chilled back at the bottom, where you could swim. Water looked so tempting, so in I went. So refreshing - and was kinda fun trying to swim against the strong currents. God knows how powerful it must have been at the base of the actual falls. Sunbathed for a while, got a snack and watched all the local people selling mini bananas.Was a long drive back, everyone fell asleep.Back at El Panchan I were so tired. Relaxed in my hammock, then headed to my fav restaurant again for more food. Really gotta start conserving my funds. But, there really isn’t much to do after the ruins and falls except eat and drink.
Decided to have Mexican food as it was my last night in Mexico (boo hoo). Were just about to order, when some Australians asked me to join them for dinner, cause they wanted some people to talk to. Was kinda fun discussing America with them. Enjoyed some amazing enchiladas and fajitas, listened to more cool Latin American music - and some even cooler Peruvian music ( a whole orchestra, with an amazing array of instruments, then headed off to bed, as I have a ridiculously early get up in the morning. Went to sleep to the sound of music and howler monkeys - being in the jungle is cool.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Big in Chiapas.

My twelve and a half hour chicken bus journey high into the mountains was overtly uneventful, though I surprisingly slept for most of the way - as I mentioned so many times before, trouble sleeping on moving vehicles. The route was on a narrow road with sheer drops on one side into misty ravines, the driver careened around the corners that at various times I thought that we would go hurtling over the edge! I sat white knuckled and saucer eyed as the other indigenous passengers stared into space with bored apathy. Soon the road flattened out and I was smoothed into relaxation by my pint of aguardiente I casually sipped through the mountainous roller coaster ride.
I am now in San Cristobal De Las Casas, a small city located in the mountains in the state of Chiapas. Maybe, more famously known for the freedom fighting Zapatista group who reside in the mountains in this area. Luckily for me, my trip here has been quiet from the meddling of pesky revolutionaries, and from what I have heard the group has been fairly quiet of late. The Zapatistas are fighting for the freedom of Chiapas, which from what I have seen is a very different Mexico than other places I have trotted - this due to the huge population of indigenous people in the mountains. In a way I don’t blame them. Anywhere in the world, totalitarian oppression sucks.
San Cristobal is beautiful, upon arrival, I noticed how much colder it was, being up in the mountains is quite refreshing after the heavily polluted cities of Mexico I have so far experienced. Walked about a mile from the bus station to the centre of town - the Zocalo - which is a town square, plaza - every city seems to have one. I sat down and had a coffee in a peaceful sidewalk café and people watched a bit. As the sun swung in that bright sky, I knew I needed to get up off my rusty dusty and find a cheap room. I walked around the nearby streets and found one - very basic, but friendly and clean, the family lives downstairs and rent out the rooms upstairs. The withered old matron who is the owner practices Mayan Medicine and is a typical "Senora" - plaits in her hair, dark wrinkled skin and bossy.
Walked around the city, exploring the cathedral, the Santo Domingo church and walking around the handicrafts market in which a lot of indigenous women from the surrounding villages come to and sell their beautiful, colorful wares. Think baskets, blankets, weaving - such stunning items.
From there, left the historic streets of San Cristobal and walked into the area where many of the locals reside. There was the standard big local market - selling fruits, veggies, pirate CD’s and the like, there were taco stands and juice stands. The local school had just kicked out and so the place was heaving with people, I walked on through the streets and up to the very interesting museum of Mayan medicine.
The Mayan’s are indigenous people, whose history goes back before time BC. Today in some of the villages practices are still as traditional as they were back then. The museum was excellent, and really explained to me the way the Mayan population prefer to use herbal remedies rather than visit the local doctor, it also went into detail on pregnancy and childbirth which was fascinating, so much so that things are still used now so they must work. I even had the pleasure of watching a video of a local Indian giving birth the traditional way - on her knees, with the midwife massaging her tummy, she in the arms of her husband - yuck!
Today I took a tour (the safest way to do it in these parts I am afraid to hear) and spent the morning visiting two Mayan villages in the mountains outside of San Cristobal. In fairness, our guide was fantastic, and explained the traditions and fiestas of these people, he told us about education, their religions etc etc. It was all very interesting and in one of the villages San Juan Chamula, I were able to visit the church. There religion is very closely linked with the Catholic religion that dominates this part of the world, but also mixed with Mayan which made it all the more interesting. The church floor was covered in pine needles, and as I had learned yesterday in the museum they’d burn different colored candles for different reasons and different saints or gods. The brujas carry eggs in bags that they would hold and rub over the person they are praying for, they drink the local drink POSH, and soft drinks - all for different reasons. This church has become known as the Coca Cola Church! For the reason being that as part of their rituals they use soft drinks, this is usually coca cola, but can be any soft drink containing sugar during these arcane proceedings. I witnessed a family sacrifice a chicken, which is still today a practiced ritual. Amazing.
I took the opportunity to walk around the village and the local market (unfortunately I could not take photos, these people like many others I have encountered around the world believe that by having their photo taken their soul/spirit is taken), so postcards will have to do in this case. They all wore the traditional dress of their village which was always colorful and stunning.
Visited the second village of Zintantulan (excuse spelling), there I saw a Mayan cemetery and visited a local weavers house. These kind and happy people prepared the most delicious tacos and I tasted the local firewater POSH. Brutal! At least they allowed me to take photos of them, as the guide explained the traditions, languages and culture of this particular village.
Headed back to hostel. San Crisobal is a bit of a strange place...full of western style shops, internet cafes and coffee shops. Very cute little buildings though...and quite a contrast with its perfectly straight roads, not unlike the American grid system. Hung around in the hostel....they were just lighting a barbeque when it started to rain...and man did it rain. The locals were gob smacked when it started to hailstone! It didn’t stop, but the locals managed to build a makeshift barbeque under shelter and rescue their charcoal, before the rain put it out. So I watched them cooking huge piles of thin cut steak and eating their way through a truck full of tortillas! They even gave me one and it was yummy! Had a beer then decided to go and find food.
I want to visit the stalls that have been set up in the Zocalo for a local fiesta weather permitting, and then tomorrow we shall head over to the ruins of Palenque - really looking forward to those ruins and the ones in Guatemala.
Addition: Was walking through the Zocalo after the downpour and met three local guys that are attending this evenings fiesta in the Zocalo. Juan, Peter, and Marcos. They are students and Zapatistan supporters - they think my meandering is quite funny. Will write a full report on the party and my new friends manana…

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oaxaca and fried grasshoppers.

I am now are in Oaxaca (Wah-HAH-kah, for you gringos that are Spanish deficient) in the south of Mexico. The journey down took several hours and 2 chicken buses, the first like a freezer on springs and the second like an oven on springs. Mainly due to me having the last seats, right at the back of the bus - like a local and all. Loud tourist - some Brits - guffawed and yelped up front with the quiet locals behaving in the middle.
The scenery from Guanajuato to Oaxaca was amazing - vast rolling mountains, volcanoes, black and grey plateaus, fertile green valleys and beautiful forests rolling off into a quiet horizon all under that bright clear blue Mexican sky.
Ever since I saw Jack Black in Nacho Libre I’ve been looking forward to coming to Oaxaca. I pictured the place in my mind like it appears in the movie - a little dustbowl of a town with narrow streets, outdoors markets, and quirky locals. In reality its much bigger, although the streets are narrow, and trying to maneuver on them is like going through an obstacle course. There are people everywhere, and most of them are all on the hustle.
Oaxaca is much different to the other cities I have been to, there is a much larger indigenous Indian population, and no high rise buildings due a series of earthquakes, throughout its history. 70% of the city was destroyed 30 years ago, in the last big quake.
On the bus, I struck up a conversation with a thin lad named Eduardo. He was traveling from Mexico City back down to Oaxaca to stay with his family. He confided in me that he was living in Central California working the wine fields when immigration swooped in and deported him and his friends. Again - another hard worker, not breaking any laws, just staying long enough to send money back to his family. He grinned and said he will be back working in California the following month.
It was good that I met Eduardo, he knew the city well. I explained what I was doing and he agreed to hook me up with cheap digs and after returning home - to meet me later in the Zocalo to take me around town.
We took a taxi to the small hostel Eduardo recommended and luckily they still had a room available. He’d found me a nice little place called Hostel Santa Isabel - very laid back place with mostly Spanish speaking bohemian travelers. We checked in and chilled out for a while over coffee, noticing how much hotter and humid it was this further south. The hostel is really cool, small spartan furnished rooms set around a cobblestone courtyard just a short walk from the centre of the city.
I check out the room, threw my bag on the floor and did some sight seeing as Eduardo left to visit his family. He explained he would be looking for me in the Zocalo in a few hours.
My unguided and random tour round the city was enjoyable yet uncomfortable at times due to the searing heat of the sun. It was markedly warmer here (especially in the evenings) than in the previous cities I had visited, being 1000m closer to sea level and that bit closer to the Equator, I recon.
Sitting in the Zocalo, the charming flower and fountain filled main square of Oaxaca, despite the barricades and riot police negotiated at its entrances, you are surrounded by a wonderful sense of calm which is only enhanced by a plate of nuts, lime and an icy cold corona. It would be nice to say that I did something other than sit in a cafe around the Zocalo during my time in Oaxaca - but to do so would require me to lie. And as regular readers would know, this blog contains only complete truths.

Indeed, Oaxaca's Zocalo is magnetic - its tranquil presence conspiring with the forever closed museums and galleries to ensure your constant return. And so, as American writer sits in the Zocalo - his companion arrives inviting me to embark on the great Oaxaca Market Shop of the Devil of the Death - the words 'una mas cerveza' appearing frequently on his lips...
So, a little heady from the heat and booze, Eduardo and I headed to The Meat Market. The Meat Market?? Is he hitting on me? The meat market is an experience in itself. Let me explain... It’s a long steamy corridor in a huge indoor market with many butcher stalls lining the walls on both sides, all calling to you to buy their meat and whistling in some sort of code to each other.
Each stall has a BBQ, which they cook your meat on after buying it. You also pick some onions and chilies from another stall and place those on the coals to cook. Another stall brings Tortillas and you put all the food in a big wicket basket. Its a bit confusing, we had no idea who to pay for what and we hadn’t even got to the tables yet!
When your meat and vegetables are cooked you take the basket to the tables, stopping off on the way to pick up your sauces (Cactus Salsa, Guacamole, etc) then you snuggle in with the locals and tuck in. Great food in a amazing atmosphere, my best meal yet.
With our appetites generously satisfied, Eduardo and I had a hot chocolate, another specialty of Oaxaca. We exchanged stories and traveling plans - Eduardo was a very funny and sincere guy. He is the reason for this trip, to get away from the gloomy effects of America on the Tijuana locals and to seek out real Mexico and their people. This boy is so cool - not fake, pretentious, or out to swindle a buck. Just a friend for a friendship’s sake.
Eduardo told me, Oaxacans love their chocolate. A bowl of steaming hot chocolate and a sweet bread roll to dunk is the perfect warmer when the winter sets in at 1500m above sea level. The mix to which water or milk is added, typically contains cinnamon, almonds and lots of sugar as well as ground up cocoa beans. There are many chocolate shops here, where you can watch it being made, the smell is delicious. Decided to pass on the chapulines which are fried grasshoppers with chili powder, onion and garlic, high in protein and supposed to be good with a squeeze of lime, maybe manana.
We visited El Tule to see the biggest tree in the world which is over 2000 years old. Caught the local bus, leaves right beside the big market. The tree is the widest in the world, so don't expect the tallest. Worth a gander though.
Suitably adjusting to the Mexican lifestyle, we took a late afternoon siesta before venturing out for an evening of Guelaguetza entertainment. I was unfortunately visiting Oaxaca at the wrong time for the actual festival of dance, but Eduardo assured me, I would be witnessing the next best thing.
When we arrived at the venue, I felt a little disconcerted by the fact that Eduardo and I were the only ones there. I had anticipated some amount of audience participation, but had expected it to be shared around a much bigger crowd. No amount of Mezcal would prepare me to be dragged on stage for the duration.
Thankfully, a party of just over a dozen French tourists arrived, shortly followed by a separate family of three - my odds of surviving had just increased. That evidently turned out to be the sum of the audience, which was a real shame for the fantastic dancers, who took us through an amazingly colorful routine of regional dances. Eduardo was in his element, and I happily looked on. Until it was our turn to join in.
We were both gently 'persuaded' to partner up with a dancer of the opposite sex and perform The Ejuteco Dance, somewhat poetically, I thought, related to the celebration of home-made Mezcal! I was fine at the stomping part, but was seriously out of my depth with anything that required finesse, or in fact, co-ordination and rhythm. With my eyes searching pleadingly around the room, an overwhelming sense of gratitude filled my entire being as the music stopped and we were led back to our table.
Once we recovered, my new friend and I hit the town for a night of traditional drinking at a bar recommended by Eduardo, one of the men took a bit of a shine to me. Instead of defending my honor, Eduardo decided to take embarrassing pictures and videos of the incident on his cell phone with which to humiliate me at a future point. However, even the gays of Oaxaca - though still under the confining shroud of Mexico Machismo - are the most friendly people I have encountered in many a moon. Eduardo and I stood at the bar with other friends of his - drank, laughed, chatted. At the end of the night, I was so bushed, I just stumbled back to my room and fell into a fitful sleep.
Oaxaca really is an amazing dream...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Accepting your Time/Space Location.

I've done pretty much all I want to do here. That is, except sit around and do nothing. Sitting in cafes, taking a lot of pictures, reading a book a day. It's fantastic. I may go to a couple more museums just so I don't feel too useless. But I'm having a great time.
Speaking of, met a delightful chatty old fuck named Epidio Simeon. Claims that he lived in Mexico City as a young boy and his neighbors were Jack Kerouac and Bill Gains - gains for the unwary was the old junky tat first gave William Burroughs his first taste of heroin in New York City. Gains relocated to Mexico City - to cool off from the narcs - and eventually died there. Senor Simeon used to run errands for Gains and Kerouac. Us sitting in an outside cafe people watching, he recalled that Kerouac was reserved but liked the booze, chased as much women as he could and had his fair share of the old morphine with Gains. With a distant smile, he also mentioned that Allen Ginsberg hit on him on more than one occasion. I smiled, "Old fruits."
Earlier today, I was on a bus that was stuck in traffic. Staring out the window and watching this woman setting up an impromptu vegetable stand on some stone stairs leading into a little alley. I watched as she engaged in a Sisyphus-like struggle with these bell peppers. She would place them on the top and they'd tumble down the few steps to the ground. She'd pick them up, place them on top of the pile, and they'd bounce down once again. Watching other's misfortune has never entertained me. I don't like watching people get kicked in the groin, or get beat up by cops, or any of the other sadism that entertains a lot of people. So watching this woman struggle with her vegetables didn't please me. Except that she wasn't at all bothered by it. In the minute I watched her, she never altered the way she placed the peppers back on the pile. She never made a special effort to keep this same result from happening again and again. I guess it was just a part of her day. Neither good nor bad. It's just something she does. And she'll continue to do it. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year. She understands and has come to terms with her Time/Space location.
Fear not it isn't all corpses in Guanajuanto. Met up with Mario and joined a gang of locals and tourist in one of the many street parties that pepper this wonderful city. Went on a magical mystery tour around the windy streets of the town centre with a bunch of mariachis who serenaded our wandering street party with Mexican love songs. Unfortunately we missed the kick off where they sell little flasks of red wine but the whole spectacle was amazing and made all the more amusing by the presence of a newly wed couple on their honeymoon. She was Mexican, hammered as all out and having a ball in a totally unselfconscious way. Unfortunately her husband was wearing his pants up to his armpits and could only do the jerky robot dance. Jeff Guberberg as we fondly called him. They were very sweet though. The whole thing was free, and loads of Mexicans were doing it which is always a good litmus test of authenticity.
Mario and I finished up in the Calle de Besos (Alley of the Kisses) where a smooch on the 13th step guaranteed continued happiness between myself and himself for the next 7 years. (Thank goodness for that.) Mario did surprise me with a quick smack on the lips under the giggling eyes of a food stall vendor.
Mario and I finished off at this crazily adorned bar before walking back to the hostel to pack for Oaxaca...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Guanajuato Junction

So, here I am flat on my ass in Guanajuato...
I heard of a really neat city that was only a few hours bus ride from San Miguel. Decided to check it out and stay for a few day or two. It is called Guanajuato. The name means place of frogs. It was originally built over the Guanajuato river which flowed through tunnels underneath the city. Later a dam was built and the water was redirected. The tunnels were lit and paved with cobblestone and today are used as an underground road network to navigate the city.
This is also where Miguel Hidalgo, the leader of the Mexican Independence movement, was caught and executed. Old Miguelito as well as three other revolutionary leaders had their heads hung with care from the corners of what is now a state museum. This was a warning to the residents of Guanajuato. I didn't really stress over it...
The teeming metropolis of Guanajuato is a charming colonial style city. Set in beautiful surroundings in midst of ravines and gullies. Its streets flow into steep twisting alleys. It was one of the richest cities in all of Mexico - once. The Valenciana silver mine once produced an astonishing 1/5 of the world's silver - and not the kind sold by streets vendors to the unwary tourist that turns black in an hour.
The innerestin hillsides are a spectacle for the eye. Loaded in hundreds of brightly candy colored colored houses. The city has a slogan of The Old City with a Young Heart. There is one of the oldest universities in Mexico located here. It has over 8000 students. It also boasts one of the largest places in Mexico for mathematical research. As with these teeming masses of squirrelly students - especially the guys, guess I had better mind my P's and Q's.
Hit a spot of confusion entering the city from a peaceful bus ride from San Miguel.
Not really having much of an idea where to get off the local bus from the central station as it seemed none of the roads were named, the passengers and I were driven through one of the quirky and numerous subterranean passages that Guanajuato is famed for. After witnessing most of the passengers disembark, thought it best to jump off at the next stop. Fortunately, the exit was near some crumbling flagstone stairs returning to the surface world and actually, not too far from the hotel I had chosen.
First things first: in my mindless wanderings in Guanajuato, I found a spot up a hill that certainly came close to the most perfect place for a cerveza Sol I’ve ever seen. You have to go up this touristy thing called the funicular - and the way was packed with flabby, petulant tourists, but a short walk away from where the big statue and viewing platforms and stuff are, there’s a little place called the Cafeteria Encantado, with 180 view of the whole town, run by a cute old couple who also sell really random souvenirs (you get the feeling some of it was just scrap and knick-knacks that were lying around their house). The sun was warm, the beers were cold, the snacks were salty - I sat and drank with indefatigable voracity.
Guanajuato was really interesting. Despite my earlier derogatory musings about museums, I realize now the exception for me is the presence of actual dead bodies. El Museo de Momias, in fact, is nothing but dead bodies. The story goes that a while ago they excavated some of the bodies in the cemetery in Guanajuato to make room for more (?!), and they discovered that something with the combination of soil type, mineral and pressure here had preserved the corpses. So they built a museum in which to exhibit the bodies to the public, I mean, wouldn't you?. I love this country! You pay your 25 pesos, and just walk in and see hundreds of dead bodies. Up to your arm pits in shriveled brown corpses - more than you can shake a stick at if one felt inclined.
However, even this morbid sicko Yours Truly was a little perturbed by tourists laughing and taking photos of dead baby mummies. Also, they’re still putting bodies in there, but only when families can’t afford the ongoing costs of a plot in the cemetery. Can you imagine something like that ever, ever being allowed in States? Whatever your ethical objections to the whole concept (Like I would care), it was really fascinating stuff. Step right up, folks and bring little Timmy and Suzy! The grotesque facial expressions! The still-intact boots! The pregnant mummy! Nothing like viewing 300 dead bodies to remind you of your own mortality, though, and the best argument for cremation I can think of.
This town was also the birthplace of Diego Rivera, the Mexican artist who had the tempestuous relationship with that diva about town, Frida Kahlo. Shrugged off my reluctance to be indoors, and went to his family home, which is now a museum (sadly lacking in actual corpses), and an art gallery of his work.
Saw my first Mexican Emo here too, ha haa. I don’t even want to know what kind of quantity of product it took to tame that Latino mane into a dead straight asymmetrical fringe, but I’m sure whatever it was it was worth it to him. Emo isn’t just another fashion fad, it’s a serious lifestyle choice, okay? And though a little frail for my tastes - he was quite a looker.
Stayed in a hostel conveniently located near the entertainment precinct, however when choosing it I didn’t really think through the implications, given the Mexican propensity for late nights and louder than shit ranchero music. I bet you didn’t know that every Latin pop song has EXACTLY the same beat, learnt this through the muffled throbbing coming through the pillows I was squeezing my head between till 4am. Eventually drifted to sleep to the gentle lullaby of 100 drunk Mexicans having a shout-along to Man, I Feel Like a Woman.
Woke up this morning with the feeling I’d been gargling shards of glass all night, and with throat glands practically the size of tennis balls. Oh no, my outrageous good fortune runs out! Going to take it eeasssy today, with a long bus ride to Guadalajara, five hours south-west. To be honest I’m getting a bit antsy to hit some laid-back coastal fishing towns, but we’ll see how it goes. Guadalajara is only an hour from the actual town of Tequila - too dangerous...
The downtown center is a great place to wander on foot. Vehicles are prohibited, so it makes for a nice atmosphere. The main Jardin ( a park in the center) is the place to hang out. There are lots of trees for shade, and pretty gardens to sit and relax in. Mariachi bands are in abundance, especially at night. There are lots of cafes with outside seating around the park.
Sitting in a outside cafe table, I stuck up a conversation with a student named Mario - he was funny and kind. I explained to Mario what i was doing and where I was headed - he, like so many others haha - decided to be my unofficial guide and show me some of the Guanajuato night life.
The first place we hit was a bar called La Botellita - This restaurant/cantina is colorfully eclectic, with the bar area looking something like a Mexican wrestling ring. The decor is eye-catching and gives off a casual, yet elegant feel. It's located next to the Jardin Union, an easy walk from anywhere in the downtown area. If you're looking for a great eating experience with a little people-watching included, this is the place for you. Mario and I sat and swapped stories. Unfortunately he was helplessly heterosexual - so, I didn't drop the fag bomb on him.
So, on that note - a little drunk we staggered over cobblestone streets to Capitolio Disco - Capitolio is one of the best clubs you will find in Guanajuato, its tradition and music makes it a firm favorite with the locals. Music here is as varied as the clientele, however predominately playing techno, dance and house. I drank so many Long Island Ice Teas - I even...okay, you ready for this? I even danced with this girl! It was a friend of Mario's and we boogied all together for a few songs.
2am rolled around and after the three of us munched on some tacos - three as Gaby, Mario's friend, came with us - we said our goodnights and I blearily staggered back to the hostel...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Following the Beats

The Main Bus station of Mexico City is a wonderment in Kafkian derangement. Grabbed a ticket on the ADO bus line and headed south. Comfortable for third class and relatively cheap.
After the 24/7 chaos of Mexico City, I was definitely ready for some cobblestone-street, local-characters, clear-air highland action.
San Miguel de Allende was recommended to me by Jorge, my waiter friend that I had met at a cafe in DF who started up a conversation (a Spanglish combination of my awful Spanish and his only slightly better English) after he noticed I was reading his favorite book, the ultimate loner’s tale Catcher in the Rye. After showing me around the sights of DF, he stayed the night - was really sad to see such a positive, well mannered guy go. But, I had to do what I had to do...
San Miguel had a huge influx of 'alternative' Americans looking for something different after WWII, and was quite a Beat hangout for years, I do recollect Burroughs and Kerouac both wrote about it. In fact, Neal Cassidy, the real-life hero of On the Road died here, allegedly wandering the train tracks in some kind of drug coma. Sounded promising, I thought I'd check it out. Wouldn't you?
As the bus chugged and shuffled along over a pristine highway, the view was of rural Mexican barrios and farmlands and massive cactus fields. On the bus sitting adjacent to me, I met José Gonzalès (sadly not the indie singer-songwriter, but a still very cool old local), who told me I had to stay at La Villa de Pancho.
Indeed it turns out Pancho runs the coolest show in town, and my planned one night stay in San Miguel immediately turned into two when I saw his crazy rooms and the price of his cervezas Sol. (I digress, Sol beer are a food group, right? Somewhere near the bottom of the nutrition pyramid, requiring around six servings a day, right?).
I went for a long stroll around San Miguel, which was aesthetically perfect in every way. (Sadly not audibly perfect as there were a few too many gringo accents around the main areas for my liking - damn 'Mericans...). On my walk I accidentally became an honorary crime-stopper when I heard yelps and hideous screaming. I unfortunately didn’t witness the crime but was the only person around to see a scrawny guy with a bloody nose run off and duck into a house down a little alleyway. Eventually the police came on scooters, no less. By this point I was having a Corona on a little ledge I found that overlooked the whole town (so beautiful), but decided to do my civilian duty and tell them where he went. The fat cop/skinny cop decided to play the I Don't Speak English And Don't Understand Your Spanish routine. Ended up just miming someone punching someone else and pointing to the door where he went. I don’t think they found him though, which is really a bit of a worry because it was a pretty small house. I wanted to ask them if they’d looked under the bed but it didn’t seem appropriate at the time. And that was the end of that excitement and I went back to my Corona...
However, my attention was attracted by the description of the small colonial town of San Miguel de Allende in my trusty and well-thumbed copy of the Lonely Planet Guide to Mexico. The town is named after Ignacio Allende, one of the heroes of the Mexican War of Independence of 1810 to 1821, and has been declared a national monument by the Mexican government.
I decided to explore the hilly cobbled streets and myriad of churches, plazas and gardens. It has rightly earned its charming reputation, and now has a large number of expatriates and an artistic community attracted by its mild climate, clear light and invigorating highland air. Unfortunately, as with many other Mexican towns with stunning settings and a kindly environment, the streets are now clogged with cars, the sidewalks full of jostling tourists (including Your Repoerter!) and the original character is slowly dissipating. Despite this, it was easy to spend many hours enjoying the gardens of the Plaza Principal, and marvelling at the pink 'ice-cream cone' spires of the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel (another imposing cathedral modestly described as a parish church) - its design apparently based on a picture postcard of a Belgian church, and its plans etched in the sand by the architect.
Realizing quickly I’m not much a 'sights and activities' person- my favorite thing to do by far is to go for these long, random walks around the town I’m in to just see what happens - find the indigenous locals or some mad artist, followed by having a beer or coffee and people watching - art galleries are great in small doses, but I’m afraid museums don’t hold my attention for very long - I can only take so many Catholic statues depicting one saint after the other with that same look of satisfied contempt of the poor. Only seen the one set of ruins so far, which were awesome, but we’ll see how I feel about them in a month or so, I imagine by then I will have ruined them for myself (where oh where would my sense of humor be without lame puns?).
A nice tranquil day here in a sleepy town. Sat drinking in a bar and planned a few more days in small highland towns before hitting the coast by the weekend.
Tired - found one internet cafe where I can pound this out. Will write more manana...adios!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

"Sometimes, They Do What They Do."

Walking down dark alleyways smelling of putrid beer, seared meat, shit and vomit - pass the old lady next to a mangy dog that asks for a smoke - the lady you understand. Old smile as she takes the cigarette, says Gracias and farts. I light the Lucky for her. Pools of light open up to a neon kaleidoscope of bars and clubs purveying to all kinds of filth for both sexes. An open window reveals brightly colored sofas and metal bar stools inhabited by mostly young, same-sex couples. They hold hands, drink coffee and occasionally kiss.
Jorge motions for me to hurry up - my legs sluggish and fingers numb from how many tequila shots earlier that afternoon? I lost count. I had met Jorge at a cyber cafe near my hotel and explained to him what I was doing and why in hell I was doing it. With lights in his warm brown eyes he decided to be my guide for my last night in Mexico City.
Welp, both being fags by acts of International Trade Agreement, Jorge wanted to take me on a whirlwind tour of The Pink Zone off of Insurgentes. This is D.F.s fag central - a real gay hullabaloo. All over the Zona Rosa, in the heart of macho Mexico, young men walk arm-in-arm, check out passers-by and congregate on street corners. Men greet each other with a peck on the cheek in McDonald's. Lesbian couples, though fewer in number, nuzzle each other as they lounge against storefronts.
Over cobblestone streets the bars are lined up - we cut into one. A room full of screeching gesticulating queers gives me the shivers. I think the joint was called El Viena. Not feeling it, downed our beer and cut to The Oasis. Not two minutes in the place and several of the locals raise their heads like animals sensing danger. A new gringo in town...
Sat at the bar and struck up a conversation with a tall, skinny guy with spikey hair. Javier, I believe - and he worked for the city, he says. Several beers later we are in the mensroom, drunkenly my back up against the pink tiles with our tongues wrestling each other, fingers groping our exposed erections - all under the fey eye of the ancient bathroom attendant. Security finally arrive and barked for us to cut that shit out.
Back at the bar, Eduardo from Veracruz decided to join our little party - wild eyes and wild hair - stood behind me as I sat like a fool on a stool and pressed his rather impressive erection against my backside. "You like?" He breathed into my ear at each thrust.
Jorge had enough of this goofy shit until Eduardo mentioned that someone was having a house party a few blocks away. Two caguamas later and my three comrades and I stumbled down dark cobblestone streets to a row of large Spanish style houses lined up making an impenetrable wall.
Ranchero music blared from one adobe walled house with people meandering out front. We entered the double wooden doors - Eduardo and Jorge casually saying hola to several of the twenty people that stood in the stone hallway leading to a central patio.
Laughter, chatter, and music was cancelled out by a band tootling like the Star Wars Cantina Band on crack in the corner of the court. Several people danced. I took a cup of beer in a plastic cup given to me by Eduardo and looked around - mixed crowd of young and old, working class. Old shriveled mamacita - face wrinkled into a orgasmic smile - danced to the claps and yelps of those nearby.
Had a festive time meeting people, answering the "How do you like Mexico" question over and over and not a junky in sight. Jorge and Eduardo burst into an obscene mambo with three other guys to the wild cheers of their appreciative fans - granny danced along. After years of saying this - I really have to learn to mambo, dammit!
More beer and pawing from Javier and Eduardo and we all hit the streets again to a mega-disco called Liverpool 100 - Upscale club with several rooms all with a different decor and a Warholian sensibility. Boogied the night away to house and top 40's beats.
Around 5am, I informed my constituents that I really need to leave - I had a bus to San Miguel de Allende at 10am. After much groans and pleas, I left but with the velvet tongued Jorge in tow. Hopping a taxi, we jet to my hotel. Up the staircase to my room. Clothes flung and lips touched. Several positions later, we caressed in the darkness silently until our breathing subsided. Lighted a cigarette and lay there, listening to Jorge sleep in the calm coolness of my small room. Outside, the sun began it's eventual creep over the sooty dirty city and I wondered if I was going to make my bus on time...

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Mexico City Blues

Hurtling through the stratosphere at night from Tijuana to Mexico City on a rattling Mexicana jet. Most of the passengers slept as I stared out to the misty dark through the plastic window. Screech to a halt onto the black tarmac as the sun - that blaring bloody unrelentless Mexican sun - creeped up over the horizon. Dart through customs, grab my bags from prying potbellied customs officer - his tongue green from clorets in a vain attempt to hide the smell of alcohol.
Went straight to my hotel in Mexico City - well, attempted to go straight there but the cab driver couldn’t find it due to the obscure street - cross-eyed dingdong driver ended up taking the scenic tour of the neighborhood in awful traffic. Gotta milk that gringo fare, I reckon. Pass millions of early morning bussling commuters, my taxi driver playing kamakazi roulette with other taxis, busses, cars, pedestrians - all in a swirling mad dash of chaotic speed.
The smog makes it hard work on the lungs and head. Michael Palin describes the place as a city of 20,000,000 million inhabitants that smells like they have all farted at once. I have to agree - feel like I'm suffocating as there isn't much oxygen at 2,300 ft. above sea level, but guess I'll gradually get used to it. Its a good reason to give up smoking on the whole unable to breathe thing. I light a Lucky and we finally pull up to the hotel.
Mexico City is ominous. Brassy loud, frantic, interesting - a visual buffet for the eyes and senses - racing bumpily along in the voltswagon taxi - snatching glimps of handsome eyes walking, staring curiously at the gringo, I stare back.
I snaged a great hotel only a few blocks from the Zocalo at the Hotel Montecarlo. According to my guidebook, DH Lawrence once stayed here. It has a great double spiral stairway all in cracked marble (there are a lot of sagging and swaying buildings in Mexico City due to earthquakes, spongy soil, and building on top of Aztec pyramids - some of these buildings are shockingly and obviously crooked to the casual observer, yet are still in use). As a bonus, my hotel was really cheap - 180 pesos per night. Checked in by an old fag at the reception and showed to my room by a smiling old woman named Erma.
My room was small and narrow, with high vaulted ceilings, a good bathroom, and scorching hot water. Adorned with elaborate, old, and scuffed up furniture placed ontop really old crazy carpet - it had the feel of an old converted house - in my travels, 'cozy' usually translates into 'tiny and filthy' but it was pretty spot-on with lots of lamps (you know I love lamps right? No? Guess you don't know crap about me then, huh?) and Frida Kahlo paintings and Virgin Mary statues. All a bit worn, but immaculately clean. And the best thing - not a cockroach in sight. Yet.
Threw my bags on the bed and went straight out to sample some local fare (i.e. Coronas), and wasn’t disappointed.
I went on a long walk in the general direction of the famous Zocalo, which is the main plaza, it was mostly just to get a feel for the city - and the 'feel' I got was mostly 'holy shit this is a big city', but I’m into that massive, dirty chaos thing that makes you feel really small and insignificant and like eating a taco. Sat munching at a sidewalk stall scoping out the hotties jetting back to and fro - making a mental note that I must visit The Pink Zone before I head south.
My favorite part of the visual eye candy though was the street art everywhere - lined everywhere on walls and some over lapping each other, many posters of state-sponsored stuff (which was quite impressive in a totalitarian Orwellian style) also stencils and kelideoscope colored spray-paint, massive murals of provocative subjects, on every corner. Everyone is not only socially aware but also socially active here, mostley in an anitgovernment slant but it still makes me feel lame for always lounging around whining about how crap everything is whilst being fanned with palms and fed peeled grapes.
Some observations on Mexico City (or DF, Districto Ferderale as the Mexicans call it):
It's much more of a European city than a New World one - i.e. it would fit far better into Europe than it would North America. It has wonderful old buildings with HUGE doors as the entrance to the courtyards surrounding the houses. These doors are of wood and are about twelve feet tall - sometimes more. Many building facades are like those in Lisbon, Portugal, with tiles covering the outside.
As like Tijuana Centro, here the streets are crawling with hawkers, selling everything from corn on the cob to tortillas to razor blades to contact lenses to clothes to just about anything you could imagine. They call out to passing traffic what they are selling but I rarely saw anyone purchase anything except for the food. And the food vendors are on every street.
The streets are also full of small shops. Each street seems to sell a different type of item. For example, the street my hotel is on has only book stores on it for an entire block, then the next block is camera shops, then the next wedding dress shops. It's very good, however one would wonder how they make money with their competition right next door.
Again, finding the air a bit hard - doesn’t help that there are millions of cars on the roads and most of them seem to be quite old.
Spent the day wandering around the Zocalo seeing old Aztec ruins and Diego Rivera murals, market stalls and the Palcio Nacionale where the President has his office.
The Temple Mayor is the original temple of the Aztec people who were the people living here in Mexico City when it was conquered by the Spanish. The Aztec built a temple once they had conquered a another tribe they built over the old temple with a new one. Consequently, they ended up with 7 layers of temples (they started building in 1325). The Spanish destroyed the last temple and built over the others, using the stones to build the Cathedral and the streets. Electricians discovered the sixth temple in 1978 and since then they have excavated down to the second temple. You could still see the paint used to color the outside of the temples
The weather has been quite mild - on Tuesday took a trip out to the Teotihuacan ruins about an hour to the north of Mexico City. These are the ruins of two huge pyramids and an imperial city built around 200 BC to 800 AD. The larger of the two pyramids, the Pyramid of the Sun, is similar in size to the large Egyptian pyramids. Magnificent and awe inspiring - being my first real encounter with pyramids. The difference is that these were used as a temple (on the outside only as they are solid). The priests performed sacrificing ceremonies - many including including live humans - on the top of the pyramids to the Gods. Climbed up to the top of both and with the thin air about 2500 meters above sea level - it was hard work! The pyramids were only re-discovered in the early 1900's and still have much to excavate however funding is poor and that is a pity - with government recourses going to much more important tasks, like the Cartel War..
Stopped at a tequila factory on the way back and I had tequila - was very surprised to find it tasted quite nice. The mezcal - a more southern Mexican - drink was actually a bit nicer as it wasn't quite so harsh on the throat. Returned to Mexico City with that warm glow of fine tequila in my belly.
That evening took the metro. A very crowded experience but cheap - only 2 pesos - about 25c a ride - out to the southern suburb of Coyoacan where Frida Kahlo and Diego Riveria lived. And what a train ride...I have right away a good impression of this city when I get in the metro. Somebody is stealing my notebook out of my pocket. Luckily, I feel what he his doing and when I ask him "Hey, Amigo" he drops the notebook and looks as innocent as a sheep. I think they work in groups, like five of them, they come and stand around you in the already busy train, pushing you in a corner, suggesting they don't know each other, Et Voila! there goes your money! Good it was only my notebook, and good I noticed, but I am more prepared now!
The museum itself was the house Frida was born and died in. Always dug her work. It was interesting to see her actual paintings - also fascinating was her ashes and the original back brace she wore for years.
Wondered around the streets of this obviously quite prosperous suburb. It was interesting to see the difference between the centre of the city where I had been based and these huge houses with gates and armed thuggish guards on the corners.
A case in point about the socially active thing: on my way back to the hotel, out of nowhere hundreds of riot police started lining up across the street (okay maybe this is the point where a sane person would have equated 'riot police' with 'potential riot' and hightailed it out of there instead of hovering around to see some action - actually in retrospect it’s kind of like just before the tsunami in Indonesia, when the ocean was sucked out for a kilometer and all the tourists (not equating 'massive water out flux' with 'massive water influx') all wandered out onto the seabed with their cameras like, "hey, where’s all the water gone?").
But I digress...
A few minutes later, I start hearing all this chanting and the general chaotic noise of lots and lots of people coming towards me - turned out to be the most massive protest I’ve ever seen. They were protesting about the situation in Oaxaca, literally thousands and thousands of people walking past with signs, some in costumes, chanting, yelling and riot-police-taunting. I was standing there for at least 20 minutes, people just kept coming and coming down the main street, it was crazy. You could only see people in both directions down this street. However, I actually got bored and started walking home, it was so big. The way I went was the way the protest had come, and all the way back there were anti-capitalist slogan and stencils sprayed on the banks, Starbucks, etc. The whole thing was pretty interesting, but speaking of Oaxaca...
What is it with me and revolutions? Been kind of planning to go to Oaxaca in the next few days, but there's been unrest there for a few weeks, a McDonalds was firebombed, and an American and a couple of other people were shot and killed last week sometime. I think the U.S. has issued travel warnings and there's been a fair bit of media attention, but I know from experience how these things tend to be a little over-exaggerated - I guess the best way is to talk to locals, and from what I can gather the firebombing only caused a bit of seat-charring (don’t they teach their revolutionaries how to make decent Molotov cocktails these days? Standards, people), and the American who was shot was a journalist taking photos at the front line of the blockades after a few days of rock throwing activists and gas bombing police. No excuse I guess, but I think avoiding the troubled areas and not throwing shit at police should render me pretty safe.
Well, I digress .
On in the night of the protest I went for a walk and found this place called Papa Beto's Jazz Bistro, where a live band was playing (jazz aficionados will go nuts in this joint), what a place and Papa Beto was an absolute chief. Was also treated to a bitching drum solo by this guy who the jazz band drummer said was one of the best drummers in Mexico.
Quite a first day, anyway.
That’s about it from Mexico City. On Thursday I'm off to the southern Mexican town of Oaxaca about 500m from Mexico City where I hope the air will be cleaner and a bit thicker!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Iguana Doesn't Live Here Anymore.

I have hit a writers block like you can't believe. I have wracked my overly compulsive brain with this new work I am typing out and quite seriously the subject matter has put me in a frumpy depression. I mean, personally - and I wouldn't have it any other way - I am living the life that so many of my fellow readers have long windedly bleated about for so many years. I now live an extremely sedate life in a comfortable house in a quiet neighborhood on a beach. Exactly like you wanted.
Don't hardly go out, hardly drink, talk with a few good friends. Hell, even got a book published and working on a second monstrosity. However, traveling is in my blood and I need a shot of chaos once in a while. It's driving my adventurous side utterly mad.
So, yesterday took a shambling bus downtown and purchased a flight with Mexicana Airlines to Mexico City. My plan is to stay there a few days, then meander down to the ruins of Pelenque and the final destination will be the Mayan City of Tikal in Guatemala - chatting and getting to know the locals along the way. And me being the freaky weirdo magnet - I can only imagine the adventure that awaits.
Reckon I will finish Tweeker upon my return and maybe fresh material for a new book.
No time limit - no schedule. Just a general idea of where I want to end up...
Wanna come along? If not, don't worry - of course, I will file a full report...