Saturday, December 1, 2007

Mexico Nov 4 to 20th, written Dec 1 in Guatemala

It’s taken quite awhile for me to get to somewhere where I am able to take a full day to rest, relax, and write. I’m actually already in Guatemala, and now I am in Guatemala City, and rather than tackle the polluted, traffic-ridden city, I’ve chosen to take a rest day.

Mexico…I got back to Mexico City on 3 November, and was not happy at all to leave Patzcuaro. There is definitely a magical quality about that place, and it is probably most visibly apparent during the Day of the Dead festivities.

Mexico City is, well, chaotic. The night of the 3rd, I went salsa dancing with Magally and her sister, and it was good fun. It was only then that I realized that salsa dancing in Mexico is entirely different from Cuba…and yes, I am biased…nobody dances like the Cubans. We were out til about 4am, so the 4th was a resting day as well. I had breakfast at Magally’s house in Xochimilco, a district in the south of Mexico City, and it was good fun. Her family is lovely, and we talked about Latin American politics and avocados and other such things. In the evening, I went with Octavio and his Japanese wife to dinner, and then Octavio and I went over to CU, Ciudad Universitaria, to see the last of the ofrendas. All the artists, sculptors, musicians, and other volunteers come together to make large ofrendas every year. After the displays are taken down, they are bought to prisons around Mexico City.

On the 5th, Octavio and I went to the Bosque del Chapultepec, a large forested area within Mexico City. Again, how refreshing to be in green space in the midst of a concrete jungle! Afterwards, we went to Zona Rosa, the gay part of town, with lots of international restaurants. I couldn’t resist, and we had a Japanese meal that was surprisingly good and cheap. We shopped for a suit for him, and then Alisa came to meet us. The 3 of us walked down Reforma, one of the main avenues going through Mexico City, and saw the ofrendas as well as an exhibition of calaveras – skulls. Various artists are given the mold of a skull and they can do what they choose with it. The result is a surprisingly large variation of color, themes, and stories portrayed through one shape and size.

On the 6th, I headed down to Yautepec, in Morelos State. I had been in touch with Reynold since before I left Japan, and was eager to get out of the city for a few days. What a pleasant little vacation! I loved it. Over the 3 days I was there, we went to various villages in the state; Tlayacapan, with beautiful adobe architecture and traditional pottery; Cuautla with its Agua Hervionda, stinky water pool, coming naturally from the ground; Amecameca, with great view of Popocatepl volcano and a tranquil yet lively town center; Cuautla where Emiliano Zapata is buried; and Tepoztlan, nestled in the mountains of Morelos State, with great ice cream. What I really loved about Morelos is that it felt like a true part of Mexico. Obviously, all parts of Mexico are true parts of Mexico, but for me, Morelos was one of the places that seemed to be exactly what I would imagine Mexico to be. Nice architecture, lively markets with delicious treats, artisan wares that are functional and used by everyday people, not just tourist attractions, mountains, rivers, and clear air with a perfect climate.

On the 8th, I went back to Mexico City. It’s funny the effect that that city had on me. It was as if I was stuck, paralyzed. Everyday I would think, ok, it’s time to go, and then I would think, oh, I need another day here. But then I would look at a map and be so overwhelmed I wouldn’t know where to begin. After having lived in some of the world’s great metropolises, I would not have expected this reaction from me, but in fact that is what happened. On my return from Morelos, I did decide that I was going to start doing tourist things in the City so that I could get moving soon.

On the evening of the 8th, Alisa and I went to see Los Monologos de la Vagina; the Vagina Monologues. It was a long time overdue that I hadn’t seen them, and I thought it would be a good test to see it in Spanish, to see how much my Spanish has improved. It was a great performance, with obviously more women in the audience, but I was surprised by the number of men there, who laughed along and didn’t seem too upset about some of the jokes that other more machista men simply would not stand for. After the show, we went to Magally’s house, then Alisa and I continued to go to a birthday party of one of her cycling friends. Lots of refrescos and cake!

On the 9th, I started my machine-like sightseeing. I went to the Museo de Antropologia, an enormous structure dedicated to all the different cultures found in Mexico – and man are there a lot. Starting in the north, with the cultures in the desert, all the way down through mountains and the ocean and the jungle, Mexico is truly blessed with ethnic diversity. I only hope that it stays that way with the exploding globalization within the country. After this museum, I went to Museo Rufino Tamayo. Tamayo was an Oaxacan artist whose modern style caught the eye of the world in the mid 1900s. I really love his work. Alisa came to meet me, and we did a pretty quick tour of the Museo de Arte Moderno; also quite impressive. What I love about Mexican art is the bursts of color, and the non-conformity to what would normally be allowed in art in terms of shades, tones, and juxtaposition. It’s creative and fresh and certainly eye-catching. After this we went over to Tlatelolco for the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, a Plaza with Prehispanic ruins, a Spanish church, and the modern skyscrapers. I feel that this is in essence the epitome of Mexico, hanging onto, or trying to, the indigenous cultures that have existed here for milennia, while mixing with the Spanish culture brought in the 1500s, and now, the new, modern Mexico; skyscrapers and business suits and fancy cars.

In the afternoon we went to relax at CU, the largest university in Latin America. As with most universities, a nice, youthful, intellectual vibe pervades the university, with free art exhibitions, and the large courtyards full of students playing sports, practicing theatrical pursuits, exercising, reading, relaxing. That evening, I met Elsa and Alex at Pata Negra, one of the hot nightlife spots at the moment located in the trendy Condesa district. This led to salsa dancing at Mambo Café, and I truly had a great time dancing with Alex.

The 10th was another full-on day. Alisa and I went all the way to Xochimilco and went to the Dolores Olmedo Museum. As far as I understand, this was an extremely wealthy woman living in a mansion, and one of her good friends was Diego Rivera. Now, her house is a museum and many of her interesting collection of artwork, household goods, and other articles are displayed in addition to a large collection of Rivera’s works. The property itself is gorgeous, with large maguey and cactus gardens, and Prehispanic hairless dogs running around their enclosure. Certainly not the most attractive animal I’ve ever seen.

After the museum we went to the boat area. Mexico City was built on a lake originally, although now that lake no longer exists. An exception is Xochimilco, which still has canals and waterways running through it. Trajineras, similar to gondolas in Venice, can take you around. The difference is that instead of black, trajineras in Mexico are explosions of pink, yellow, orange, red, white, and any other color you could imagine.

Next to Coyoacan, which means place of Coyotes. Coyoacan used to be its own pueblo, town, but as Mexico City grew and expanded, it literally swallowed Coyoacan. What’s interesting, though, is the notable difference between Coyoacan and its neighboring districts. Coyoacan still has cobblestone streets and the architecture is much more colonial.

That evening, Magally and I went out dancing, just the two of us, but it was a lot of fun. I slept in her apartment in Sevilla so that I could get an early start on Sunday.

Sunday the 11th – got up early, went to Octavio’s to get my stuff, and went to meet Hideki. We just sat in the park and chatted but it was really nice; I almost feel like he’s my brother, it’s so weird. Alisa came to meet me to help me with my stuff and off I went to Patzcuaro!

Yes, something drew me back to Patzcuaro. I think part of it was that I wanted to see the place without tourists to experience it with its own people, and part of it was the people I had met there. The 12th and 13th were spent going around the lake, visiting small pueblos, and cooking. On the 13th, Jeremy and I found a large festival for San Diego, with crowds of Purhepechas in colorful attire with traditional dance.

On the 14th I went into Morelia and spent the day with Josue, wandering around. I really like Morelia as well. In the evening, Jeremy and I went to a Hungarian Jazz Concert as it was the International Music Festival in Morelia, and we ran into Oscar there. Afterwards, all of us met for a drink until it was time for my bus to Puebla.

November 15th, 5.30am, I arrived in Puebla, exhausted. Took a cab to Ivan’s house and after a nap, went into Puebla. Puebla, which is about 2 hours southeast of Mexico City, is famed for its talavera tiles, mosaics with blue, white, and yellow. The center of Puebla has beautiful preserved colonial architecture, but the real reason many go to Puebla is for the food. Mole poblano is considered one of the best dishes in the country, and I agree.

I spent the afternoon in Cholula, checking out the Grand Pyramid which would have been the largest pyramid ever built if it had been completed, and wandering around the small, cute, town center. That night, I took a late night bus to Oaxaca and arrived at 4am.

The 16th I wandered around Oaxaca and in the afternoon went to Monte Alban, the famous ruins just 20 minutes from Oaxaca City. Great views of the surrounding mountains. On the 17th, I went to the very interesting Jardin Etnobotanico and learned a lot about the plants that are endemic to Oaxaca and how they are used by the different peoples living there. The garden is not so big but you can tell how much effort and love has been put into it, and was a highlight of my trip to Mexico. I met Alejandrina, my hostess, and we went to Central de Abastos, the large market downtown. We had a shrimp and nopales soup (nopales is prickly pear, cactus that is commonly eaten in Mexico), memelas, tortillas with cheese and beans on top, and hot chocolate with cinnamon and other spices thrown in. Delicious. In the afternoon I went to Mercado Benito Juarez, and after resting at home for a bit, came back into downtown for Noche de Luces. This festival features various free concerts around town, and there was a display of charreria, basically doing tricks on horses and the associated dances and cockfighting. It was the first time I’ve ever seen it live so it was interesting.

On the 18th, I had a really big day. Went to Mitla, a small town about an hour east of Oaxaca, and saw the ruins there. From there, I went to Hierve el Agua, natural volcanic pools with a petrified waterfall. The views from here were stunning. I came back via Tlacolula, which has its weekly market on Sundays. The traditional dress of the many different groups of people in Oaxaca (most prominent being the Zapotecs) and the different languages being spoken in the market were really beautiful. I took a late night bus to Puerto Escondido that night.

I arrived in Puerto Escondido on the 19th, and the 19th and 20th were pure relaxation. Beaches, sleep, food.

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