Tacos, Tequila and Too Many Late Nights
Mexico City, Mexico
To be honest, it was my tongue that drove me to Mexico. The thought of bargain authentic nachos drizzled with cheese, guacamole, sour cream & chili, washed down with a few mugs of Corona, seemed a pleasant – if not self indulgent – way to pass a few weeks. But I quickly realized that the Mexico experience was a little more than I bargained for.
My first taste of Mexico was from above. Peering out of my tiny window in the last 10 minutes of the Heathrow-Mexico City flight gave me a bit of a fright. Mexico City is HUGE. Home to over 20 million people, the metropolis alone covers 2000 square kilometers. That’s every Australian on earth (plus a couple of million for good luck) living in one place, sharing one water supply, one metro system, one set of highway routes. Need I say that the city has major problems with traffic, pollution, waste disposal and (well, you would think) daily supplies of fresh meat and fish.
It’s a fact (and I think I have photographic evidence to prove it) that Mexico City is sinking. You see, water for 20,000,000 souls is a little hard to come by. So water is pumped up from the depths of the earth, right beneath central Mexico City. The obvious consequence of this is that roads, buildings, skyscrapers, people begin to sink into it, swallowed by the earth.
Considering its unsustainable proportions, its pollution, the fact that everyone speaks Spanish, it may seem surprising that Mexico City is my favorite city I have visited so far (Paris being a close second). It has the charm, the culture, the wealth, the poverty, the history, and the “atmosphere” of any other city multiplied by 10, just because of its mere size.
I’ve never been a fan of fancy architecture because although it may be pretty, it lacks meaning. I get the feeling that grand buildings are designed to impress, to intimidate, rather than to please. But the buildings surrounding my hostel, in the centre historical of Mexico City, have an element of grace, beauty and I have to admit superiority, which no tourist could overlook. The president’s palace, the national concert hall, many of Mexico City’s never-ending list of museums, the national post office, are adorned with humbling art work. Art by the likes of Diego Rivera and other famous artists I really should remember. Culturally like Paris, Mexico has soul.
But unlike Paris, Mexico City has an element of chaos, disorder, spontaneity and friendliness that can only be found in the developing world. Things are cheap, the food is good, and the company at my hostel is even better.
After Mexico City I headed south. I had been staying with Carlos Einstein; a famous Mexican photojournalist turned witch doctor, who runs a hostel on a quiet tropical beach in southern Mexico.
When I say it’s on the beach, I mean it is built on the sand. We share our floor space with brightly colored crabs. At night, I would fall asleep on my hammock (yes, it was a little rustic) to the sound of strong, crashing waves. And, at 8 am, I would wake up to Mozart. You see, Einstein had a fetish for dramatic classical music; the type used slightly sarcastically on cartoons or at weddings. Also, Einstein didn’t want his guests to waste another beautiful cloudless morning in bed.
One of Einstein’s witchcraft contraptions was a large, shell-horn type thing that was encrusted with many gems. At regular intervals throughout the day he put it to use. The sound would echo throughout the whole of Muzanti (our village) reminding travelers and locals of his presence, and possibly even his power. Then he would shout ‘mi casa es tu casa’, welcoming strangers for some mango puree or a plate of his delicious food.
Many hours in Muzante were spent discussing life, politics, happiness and travel with other travelers. The whole making friends while travelling thing is a funny business. Because you know that your paths will only cross for at most a few days, it’s an accelerated friendship. Because you know you will never see them again, you are often more open to sharing your inner thoughts, your inner world. But most of all, a travelers friendship is a lesson in non-attachment. Although you meet so many interesting and varied people, at the end of the day travel is a solitary thing; it’s about learning to enjoy your own company.
The other day I meet some French and Swiss guys, and decided to accompany them on a mission to track down a blowhole some random person had mentioned. Armed with jandles (thongs, flip-flops) and no food or water (the promised me it would be a half-hour expedition at most), we journeyed deep into the jungle. We marched up mountains and, not only spotted but also sort of chased a couple of snakes. Eventually we found ourselves on the edge of a cliff with waves crashing far below. Although it wasn’t the best of angles, I spotted the blowhole, and leaned precariously over the edge to take a photo. But when I looked up my friends had deserted me. I looked around and eventually spotted them rock climbing down the cliff. Now this really was pushing me a little far. But, I took a deep breath and scuttled down behind them. I couldn’t let a bunch of Europeans show up a Kiwi girl. We finally reached the blowhole and (I should have guessed) seeing it was not enough. The guys ripped off their T-shirts and dived in, the huge swell crashing them over and over again into the rough, uninviting rocks. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what I did.