Tag Archives: Mexico City

Getting high outside Mexico City

3 Jun

Last weekend, I was the highest I´ve ever been in my life.  La Malinche (a.k.a Matlalcuéyetl, Matlalcueitl and Malintzin) is a huge dormant volcano in Puebla and Tlaxacala states, east of Mexico City.  The summit´s 14,641 ft—almost exactly half as tall as Everest—and very pointy.

don´t fall dano!

Me, Kisiev, and his friend (now my friend!) Daniel bussed down to Puebla, where we met Miguel(ito) and Iris.  Spent the night at Miguel´s mom´s house and then rocked la Malinche the next day.  Slippery, loose-rock -strewn, steep slope for the last few miles (and hours)…fun, and definitely worth the altitude sickness!

steep steep steep!

we found him on top of the mountain like this, zenned-out

Spent the next few days hanging out in and around Puebla with the banda…Miguel´s mom fed us some great meals, including a breakfast feast of chiliquiles con pollo and pirrian, sort of spicy, light orange mole type dish.  Also got to visit Miguel`s god-mother`s homemade temescal (traditional steam room), where we steamed the soreness out of our post-Malinche muscles, rubbed ourselves with salt and honey, received expert (and spine-cracking) massages from his godmother, and chatted about politics.  Lush! (sorry for stealing your word, Andy).

Then, a few days convalescing in my hostel in DF, a few days staying with Daniel and his parents in southern Mexico City, and back to the mountains!  Dan, Kies, and I bussed down to Tepotzlán, a gorgeous little colonial town with a street market filled with excellent food.

Fried fish, long, veggie-stuffed quesadillas made with tortillas from blue corn, and super-refreshing micheladas (beer with lime juice and tons of spicy chili powder on the rim of the glass…too bad i was on antibiotics the whole time, so didn´t down one on my own).

Also, Tepoz is surrounded by cliffy mountains, and there´s a cool, old stone temple halfway up one of them.  So, we hiked up to the temple, farted around a bit, and then continued scaling up to the top of the mountain.

Fun times with the banda, and once again, a sad goodbye as I continued on to San Cristóbal de Las Casas.

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Cheap Motels, Monarchs, and Eggy Wine

24 Dec

Adventures! My first three fantastic, wild months in Guadalajara were coming to an end, and my roommate Andy was leaving Mexico for Peru, so we decided to have one last adventure: a 10-day road trip across Mexico with Cuahtemoc, our hilarious and slightly paranoid Mexican roommate.    I’m now back in Vermont, snug in my fire-lit, cookie-filled home with my cats and parents, but  I’ve eaten, seen, and experienced so many new things in the last 10 days that I could live off the memories for months.  For now, my appetite for adventure is sated!  So, here’s what happened:

The trip started off with a bang.  Also, a crunch.  The bang came when we plowed into the back of a delivery truck that braked in front of us when we were trying to merge onto the throughway 5 minutes from our apartment. The crunch came when we pulled away, and the truck’s squashed bumper, which was attached to the frame with a shaggy blue rope, sagged even lower.  Temoc handled the situation like a pro, jumping out of car and shoving a $200 peso note in the front shirt pocket of the surly, mustachoied driver who stepped out of the front door.  The argument lasted about 30 seconds, and I heard the driver demand $2000 pesos for the damage.  Temoc said no, jumped back into the driver’s seat and we pealed out, swerving around the protesting driver.  Needless to say, we drove very, very fast for the next 20 minutes.  What a getaway!

We drove for hours through the slightly-parched, cliff-bound landscape around Guadalajara, and made it to a dusty working-class town named Zitácuaro.  The streets were filled with old cars and blinking neon signs on top of shabby casinos.  We saw more than a few brothels.  Looked like perfect spot to find a cheap hotel. Also, it easy drive from our objective, Mexico’s huge Reserva Mariposa Monarca, a biological preserve surrounding the winter habitat of  monarch butterflies from across the U.S. and Canada.   After a bit of haggling (again, Temoc’s forte), we ended up paying $3 to sleep on thin, springy mattresses in a cold room overlooking the street.

We woke up early, breakfasted on the white bread and peanut butter we’d nabbed from our apartment, and drove up into the mountains into the Cerro Pelón reserve.  We passed an interesting looking roadside stand in front of the entrance, tended by an old man who flagged us down.  We stopped in to see what he was selling, which turned out to be a drink concocted of fresh-pressed orange juice, a type of locally-made wine called jerez, and two raw quail eggs.  I was hungry and in the mood for something new, so I tried it.  The eggs were slippery and proteiny-tasting, the wine sweet and expansive, and the orange juice tangy and delicious.  After getting over the instinctual gagging reaction that kicks in when you slurp down two raw eggs, the drink was pretty good, almost like a red-wine mimosa with a protein boost.  The taste stayed in my mouth for the rest of the day.  Definitely worth it.

We pulled into the reserve and found a guide, Cesar.  He was wearing frayed jeans and shoes that didn’t look great for hiking, but as we started to climb the steep track into the forest, he quickly outpaced us.  Two huffing, sweaty hours later, we were at the top, in a piney forest carpeted with dead butterflies.  At first, I didn’t see any live butterflies, and was a little disappointed.  Cesar pointed to a shaggy-looking tree in front of us and said “They’re sleeping now.”  We looked closer, and the grey, shaggy mass that I’d taken for foliage took definition.  Orange-gray wings and white-spotted bodies emerged…the entire tree was made of monarchs!  In fact, all the trees around us were covered, from the lowest branches to the top, by quiet, gray, clinging monarchs…must have been millions!  As the sun emerged and began to warm their wings, the most precocious of them detached from the huddling mass and began flapping around in the sunlight.  Soon hundreds were populating the patches of sky above us, and the sound of their fluttering wings drifted down to us.  We watched them for forty-five minutes, seeing how they responded as the sun was enveloped by clouds and emerged, and lunched (more pb sandwiches and chips) while some of them landed on nearby bushes to dry their wings (by twitching them rapidly up and down).  Magic!

We descended back through the misty forest, and hopped into the warm car.  It was already getting that “road trip” smell, a mixture of well-used sleeping bags, piles of crumbs from cookies and chips, and damp socks.  We decided to push through (as Temoc would say, “Fast Tourism!”), and drove 12 hours through the heart of Mexico city and the middle of the country to make it to Oaxaca, where we had slightly giddy, very emotional reunion with our best friends from Guadalajara, who’d already been on the road for a week.  I love travel.

Pyramides, Pozole, y Mezcal: Part I

28 Oct


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.