The weekend before last, three very important events coincided. Our first term at CEPE ended, Halloween happened, and Mexico celebrated el Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Antsy to get out and join the festivities, Holly and I took our final exams one day early and headed over to the DF (Mexico City) to visit Kisiev and his family. What followed was an eventful weekend; we came back full of stories, mescal (like tequila on a bad hair day, burning rubber at a stop light in a `63 Mustang) and pozole (a delicious chicken and maize soup endemic to the state of Guerrero, where we spent the Day of the Dead). But I digress.
Holly and I were hoping for a restful bus ride after a tiring few days of (mostly) cramming for exams, but we were sorely disappointed. About halfway through the 8-hour trip, once the Disney movies on the overhead TVs had been muted and we were slipping into nap mode, something hit the right side of the bus, and we came to a shuddering, noisy, and very abrupt halt in the middle of the highway. Our driver, looking a little shaken, hopped out into the dark night, leaving us puzzled and little alarmed in a bus filled with equally alarmed Mexicans, and some now-screaming babies to boot. Poking our heads out of the door, and finally jumping down onto the cold concrete, we discovered that our bus had completely totaled a silver Chevy coupe. It`s passenger side door was completely crumpled, and the two wheels on that side were completely folded under the car, causing the scarred frame to tilt towards us garishly. It`s bumper was laying a solid 50 feet behind us, and there was a small piece of flaming something in the grass on the side of the road even further back. And, most noticeably, there was no one in the car. After a confusing and cold few minutes on the shoulder of the highway, watching our bus driver and various other men in uniforms surveying the scene and tutting, we overheard that the driver had grabbed the car`s stereo and literally run for the hills right after the accident. What presence of mind! We waited a few minutes for another (very full) bus from the same company to pass, and I ended up sitting in the aisle behind the driver for the rest of the way to DF. And, in a recurring theme, I was once again rudely awoken just when I was going to sleep, this time by a mother holding a baby and a can of soda, spilling the latter on my leg. At least she didn`t drop the baby!
We finally made it to DF around 2:30, and stumbled out into the freezing, open terminal with bleary eyes and an immediate need to sleep (I also had a sudden urge to find and drink a licuado, but the food stands were all closed). We met up with Kisiev and his sister, and we drove across a very deserted-looking Mexico city to the apartment where he, his sister Itzel, and mother Silvia live. After a snack of chocolate rice cakes, we crashed hard (for the second time that night).
The next day brought a savage, and wonderful, adventure. After scarfing some finger-licking, sugar-coated pan de los Muertos (kind of like angel food cake but more bready and delicious), we hopped in Kisiev`s car and drove two hours, past barrios creeping up hills, roadside vendors (by which I mean folks with carts standing in the middle of the four-lane highway), power plants, and factories, to Teotihuacan. Teotihuacan is the site of an ancient city, so old that the Aztecs discovered it already abandoned when they moved into the Mexico valley and founded Tenochtitlan on the site that is now Mexico City. Teotihuacan is still very much a mystery to archeologists, and new digs are uncovering deeper, buried remnants of even older cities below the surface.
Above the surface, it`s impressive and humbling…rough, angular stone structures are scattered everywhere, massive walls and long plazas abound, and the world`s two largest scalable pyramids (that is, the biggest ones you can get on top of) dominate the landscape. Sweet! Petulant weather and a heavy mist gave the whole place a mysterious, brooding, and slightly dangerous feeling.
That mist soon turned into a downpour, and we sprinted for cover under a steel-roof structure protected a recently-excavated house. After wondering around in the house for twenty minutes, with barely a let-up, we decided to press on to the Temple of the Sun, hoping to get a chance to climb to the top before the entire place closed at 5. As we moshed through sodden grass plazas, we started seeing flashes on the horizon, and before we knew it we were in the middle of a vicious, slightly worrisome lighting storm. After many piggy-back rides (for Holly, not me) over river-like drainage runs and deep puddles, we were staring up at the huge pyramid from the base. Streams of water shoot down from protruding stones along the sides, and the steps looked steep, numerous, and slippery! By the time we got to the top we were utterly soaked, cold, and triumphant. Me and Kisiev let loose our best barbaric yawps in the direction of the other pyramid, and I felt more alive, with water streaming down my face and neck and lighting bolts erupting around us on three sides, than I have in a long while. We could actually see the bolts hitting within the remains of the ancient city, and the interval between flash and boom was getting steadily shorter. We scrambled down and squished back to the car as fast as we could in the pelting rain, and I have never been so happy that cars come with heaters.
The highways were totally flooded, and what started as slow, sloshy progress through the three-inch high water soon turned into a total, dead-stop traffic jam. We spent hours sitting, lights and engine off, playing every road trip game we could remember, even resorting to truth or dare out of sheer boredom (Kisiev ended up climbing out of the sunroof of his car in the pouring rain, and running around to the driver`s door to get back in on a dare. I drank a full 1.5 liter bottle of water, and ended up getting out and taking a leak in front of a fully occupied passenger bus, although only the drinking was part of the dare).
We made it back to the center of Mexico city four soggy hours later, where we picked up Kisiev`s very enthusiastic mom at her workplace (she`d brought a bag of cookies and soda to perk us up). She took us to a middle-east themed taco join called DonEraki, where we ate grilled steak with onions, peppers, and sheets of melted cheese on puffy, thick pita-tortilla things. Excellent green and red salsa, and a liter of Horchata each. Warm, stuffed, and satisfied, although still wet!
We spent the evening at Kisiev`s getting clean and dry, trading favorite youtube clips, and dancing to Celia Cruz. I admit that the first vid I put up was Michael Jackson`s Thriller, which was still bouncing around in my head after our salsa class performed it in front of our whole school, in full zombie getup, the day before halloween (see below). Sometimes a little public embarrassment can be good for the self-confidence.
Stay tuned for adventures from Tixla, the second leg of our weekend trip and the town where Kisiev was born, in the second installment. A quick preview: first encounters with Mescal, dancing demons, little vampiros, marching bands, a street fight, and an encounter with a man known only as “I`m from Texas baby!” Johnny.