I awoke Wednesday happy to be with my friend Ruben. The next few days were fairly uneventful, which was nice. I borrowed the bike and shopped for food at the local mercardo and Bodega (super store). We went for a drive to the local pulqueria and had a lot of laughs (pulque does that to you). I didn’t have any as I don’t like the texture, nor the flavor. I stopped by Sergio’s Paleteria and found out that after 10 years of business, he’s closing up shop and opening a cart. He owes 8000 pesos in electricity and business has been really bad since 2008. There’s a myth that the economic crisis of 2008 is over – it’s not in most parts of the world, and Mexico’s selling of Teohitihuacan recently to American or Japanese interests is just one example. During the 2 months I’ve been here, I’ve heard more about privatization of Mexico’s natural resources such as gasoline (PemEx) and electricity. Where have all the socialists gone?
I watched a movie about the life of Elvis Presley as told by his daughter Lisa and his wife Priscilla. I was sad to see how his life ended, that he wanted so desparately to be with his family even though he hadn’t given a clear indication of feeling that way before. We also watched the film Ray about the life of Ray Charles, and one on the life of Bobby Darin, which Ruben kindly gifted me. Again, I was struck by the incredible talent in Darin – singer, composer, player of 5 instruments, actor (nominated for an Oscar in his supporting role in a film with Gregory Peck). What a loss – he had rheumatic fever as a child and was told that he would not live past the age of 20. So he lived as if he were going to die tomorrow, and that feeling drove him his whole life, till his last breath at 37. In the end, he performed 12 performances back to back, and felt worse and worse, but stuck to the adage “go on with the show”.
Thursday, Sergio and his assistant Alfredo visited Ruben’s, and we had a fun few hours, laughing and joking about a friend of theirs that they call “el gordo” (a common term of endearment here in Mexico). Sergio would joke about Ruben being gay, and Ruben would feign anger. Francisco, a friend of Sergio, lives on the money from collecting plastic bottles. He is a very lovely and kind man who used to guide tours in Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Yucatan. He has a voice like a mockingbird and gifted me with obsidian when I left for Puebla. Because he doesn’t have a birth certificate, he is ineligible for the social security that most Mexicans receive (I wondered why he was still collecting recyclables at an advanced age). Women are eligible to receive their social security pension after they reach 55 years of age, men after 60. The dollar amount of the pension here is about 1/10 of that in the US – I’m not sure if it’s based on previous salary earned.
An unexpected and nice surprise – Le, Ruben’s son, made the long trip from Coacalco, Villa de las Flores, for a visit. He showed us pictures of the house he’s been remodeling for his mom, and of some natural areas near his house. Sergio wanted to see pictures of my trip as well, and we spent a while figuring out how to hook the camera up to the TV. Alfredo, Sergio’s employee, told me that he is trying to find work to help his family, but to no avail. He said that they often don’t have enough to eat. I wished I could do something to help him, and suggested that perhaps he could go into IT, as he is very able in fixing electronic devices.
A sign of the times: Sergio’s Paleteria business has tanked in the last year or so, due to the lack of spending power of the common people. He practically gives away his paletas (popsicles, usually fruit but also cookies and cream, rasberry, and other flavors). He sells them for 3 pesos each, while La Michoacana, a chain of paleterias, lesser quality paletas for 12 pesos each. Even at the low price of 3 pesos, he has no business.
The next day, Friday, we had a nice breakfast (mid-day), and I spent some time at the internet, as I needed to reserve a flight home and realized that my ATM card would expire at the end of September. Without an ATM card, traveling is very tough. I think 4 months is long enough for this trip. I’ll spend the month of October (after a week-long apprentice retreat with a tibetan buddist teacher) car camping in the US. I look forward to it. At 4pm, Ruben, Le and I headed out towards the center of Mexico to visit Enrique, a friend of Ruben who was celebrating his 53rd birthday. He works at a market and sells all manner of fruit. A bright, smily man who seems to have inexhaustible energy, he generously made us a lovely fruit salad and gave us a huge cup of pomegranate seeds as well. He told us about his ranch and life that he left when he was 13 years old. We also met his wife and son, who work with Enrique. People here don’t sit down – they can stand for hours, but after an hour or so I sought a chair. Standing for hours is hard on my ankle, which is still swollen and slow to heal.
We spent several hours with him, the 3 guys consuming 12 beers between them, and then left to return to Ixtapaluca. A friend, Hector (with whom I had stayed for a week when in Mexico City before) invited me to a party at his house, but I was unable to attend, as I wanted to spend more time with Le and his dad. We got home late. The next am we awoke fairly early (9am) and I once again set out for internet, only to find that it was closed (possibly the entire day, or at least till 10am). Actually, the 5 internet locations within a mile of Ruben’s were all closed. I packed and the 3 of us set off for the metro. Ruben decided to accompany us to the center. Le was going to take care of some things in town, while I was headed to the museo de anthropologia. We had some yummy deeep fried fish at the metro stop Tacayupan, then went our separate ways, Ruben and I heading to Chapultapec to the museum. I had a feeling I wouldn’t see Le later in the day, as it is hard to coordinate with people in a city of 21 million people. I’m impressed that people in the city can connect at all, given the immensity of the population.
Ruben was much more patient than I expected, as he is most comfortable sitting in front of his TV watching the news or listening to music from “aquellos anos” (those years in the past). We spent 2 hours looking at customs of the Huichol and people in that part of Mexico, as well as the culture of Teotihuacan. He left after 2 hours, and I stayed 2 more, resolving to return Sunday. I made my way to La Condessa by foot and sought out Hostel Home at 303 Tabasco. I’d read favorable reviews and thought it’d be a good place to stay. As usual, it was almost completely booked. I don’t like making reservations, especially if I’ve never seen a place, because I may not like it. In any case, they miraculously had 1 bed in the female dorm, of course a top bunk. It was about 10pm, and I took off in search of food, finding an affordable rotisserie chicken place and a taco cart near the Seville metro station (you can always find affordable food near the transit stations). I returned and tried to sleep, but as in all dorm life, people came and went at all hours, and I probably slept 1 or 2 total.
Next day, I headed on foot to the museum, and spent 8 hours there, only seeing a fraction more. I took 100’s of pictures and combed the sala Norte, Maya, and part of Oaxaca. Unbelievable amounts of objects. I’ve never seen such a collection anywhere in the world. Maybe the British Museum in London is a close second. I don’t know as I’ve never been there. The difference is that here, the objects are from Mexico, not looted from other cultures as in the British Museum. I’m glad that Mexico finally clamped down on the selling of pre-hispanic art. Diego Rivera amplified his collection before that law was passed. I met a very kind gentleman, Gerard, with his niece and nephew, visiting from Guadalajara. He is a naturopathic doctor and asked if we could chat after I left the museum. We met in the park and walked for a few hours, talking about medicine and his ideas of oxygen therapy. He is making a proposal to the municipality to incorporate his alternative medicine practices into clinics. There are 200 clinics in the city, but he said most of them are unknown to the inhabitants.
I awoke the next day thinking I’d move to a private room in a hostel on the next block. Finally got some writing done, then talked with 2 nice guys staying at the hostel (one from northern Spain, the other from Romania). Robert, from Romania, showed me his impressive collection of photos from 49 countries in the world. He sells his photos to fund his travels, and is developing a travel magazine. His images are beautiful, and I gave him some suggestions of where to go in Chile, as he is heading back to Lima, Peru, and then to Chile in a few weeks. He’s been on the road for 10 years, has a house in Tulum (beautiful spot), and has his business here in the city. I found out that my bed in the dorm has been reserved, and that I need to change dorms. I checked out Hostel 333, but didn’t like it, so decided I’d change dorms at Hostel Home.
I headed to Museo de Anthropologia and stayed till close (7pm). I want to go back! Maybe I’ll return instead of taking another trip to Tehotuihuacan. I spent Monday walking around La Condesa, then took the above ground bus to Coyocan, and enjoyed a lovely walk to San Angel through the back streets which snaked through beautiful haciendas and parks. The rain added to the mystique. I had hoped to rent a bike for 3 hours in Plaza Conchita, but had the sad realization that everything is closed on Mondays (most public offices, including museums and government run bike rental). Insurgentes Sur, the main thoroughfare south of the center of Mexico City, is incredibly posh. I had no idea, and felt like I was in NYC on Fifth Avenue. The contrast between rich and poor is shocking here.
Tuesday am I spent wandering around La Condesa, exploring the neighborhoods. Sadly, while doing a brisk walk in Parque Espana, I tripped on a low-cut bush (1 inch off the ground, to be exact) and fell headlong. I lay there winded, while a very sweet woman came over and kept saying tranquilla (calm). After a break I started walking, only to realize that I had severely sprained (or broken) my left big toe. So I limped about, trying not to put any pressure or push off on that toe, which is hard to do. I secured some ice, then met a friend and headed to Tepotzlan. What a beautiful pueblo, south of Xochimilco (on the other side of the mountain range). I was amazed by the trees and vegetation – south of Mexico enroute to Cuernavaca is verdant. My friend wanted to hang out with some massage therapists and healers he knows in town (this is a kind of healing haven – temazcal, massage, therapists of various kinds on every block). As usual, it was raining, and the cobble stone streets were slippery and awkward. I keep trying to forget my ankle, but it’s hard when I’m practically tripping over it.
Gerard suggested that I hike up to the temple atop the mountain. Even with an injured toe, I was game. I walked awkwardly, doing my best not to put any weight on my toe. I saw a fair number of spry families bounding up the myriad stone stairs through the verdant rain forest filled with ferns and tall trees. About an hour later, I arrived at the top, in time for another rainstorm. I had a long chat with the local archaelogist in charge of the site, who told me about the history of the people in that area, the influence of the Maya, etc. Possum-like mammals with colored ear tags proliferate the temple area, drawn by human food and trash. There’s a psychologist studying their social behavior, noting their movements and actions. Only the structure of the temple remains, though apparently it’s still in use. It was a beautiful spot, and there is still a pilgrammage to the top one day a year in honor of the Tepotzil chief that converted to Christianity. Oh how the Christians co-opt.
Spent a nice time on top, met a class of english speakers learning Spanish from a school called Universal-Spanish centered in Cuernavaca. Made my way back down the mountain, and headed for the Casa de Salud, thinking that perhaps I could get an x-ray of my toe. On the way I saw a homeopathic store, and got the help I needed from the assistant to the homeopath who lived in Mexico City and only came on weekends. I bought some arnica cream (already had some), some homeopathic arnica pills (she bathed them in an alcohol solution of arnica before giving them to me), and I elevated my foot, iced my toe, and rested for 20 minutes. She told me about the temple pilgrimage and life in the pueblo where she grew up. Grateful, I rushed back to the bus stop, suddenly aware that the last bus was about to leave.
I spent Wednesday am walking (hobbling) around La Condesa, then headed to the Central Norte bus station and took a bus to San Miguel de Allende, to La Catrina hostel.