Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Mexico in under a thousand words

I have been a more active blogger of late, and now I think I’ll go one better by sumarising my trip through Mexico, keeping it as brief as I can to try and avoid the type of excessively verbose posts that have become typical of this blog. So here goes:

(BTW, I’m not counting this preamble in the self-imposed 1,000-word limit.)


I arrived in Mexico for the third time in my life on 1 October. Technically speaking, I then arrived for the fourth time in my life on the same day: Sam, an English bloke I had met that morning, and I had to go back into the USA for ten minutes to remove our green cards, when we realized we could literally just walk into Mexico like some kind of free, open-air concert. How apposite.

Everything I had heard about Tijuana made me decide not to stay there long. Two hours was enough. We had a beer in a tacky, touristy square and then headed to the bus station. On the way, I had my first of countless conversations with Latino taxi drivers – all of which follow roughly the same lines. This driver, as I recall, was interested to hear if we had seen the movie King Arthur and quizzed us on the truth of the legend. Anyway, Sam and I boarded the same bus that evening. I got off after 12 hours – in the city of Hermosillo - while Sam continued all the way to Guadalajara.

Hermosillo was a very northern, very working-class Mexican town, where I inexplicably spent four nights without really meeting anyone. My one cultural experience was going to a pool hall on the Friday night I was there. I left everything of value in my hotel room, took just enough pesos in case I needed to gamble, and went alone to a pool hall a few blocks away. Entering the room was a classic everyone-stops-talking-and-drinking-and-stares-at-the-gringo moment but soon I had settled down to a game of eight ball with the pretty waitress – until she warned me that her extremely jealous boyfriend was watching. I then played several racks and drank several beers with the local drunk, an interesting character called Califax, who played variously outstanding and appalling pool. I left after about two hours.

But I don’t have time to go into that much detail if I want to keep to my word limit. I will have to be more sweeping and poetic.

I left Hermosillo after four nights with the hope of bussing it to Creel, a small town in the Copper Canyon and on the Chihuahua-Pacific railroad, supposedly one of the world´s most beautiful railway journeys. I could have made my task easier by going straight from Hermosillo to Chihuahua, Chihuahua, but for some reason decided not to. History no longer records that reason. My journey to Creel effectively took two days (see an earlier blogpost for the description of that trip), but when I arrived I knew it had been worth it. After five days alone, without seeing a single gringo and without speaking any English, I immediately (and I mean immediately) met a big bunch of gringos and went out for a beer.

The next day I met Richard from Jersey in a hamburger place and, as backpacker groups are want to do, from the two of us a gang snowballed out until – later that day – I had agreed with Tanja and Annette from Denmark, Vivian and Nathalie from Switzerland, and Carol and Kent from New Zealand to do an excursion to the village of Batopilas, 1800m deeper into the Copper Canyon. The drive the next day lasted five hours and transported us from one climate to another: from cold, arid Creel to baking, even more arid Batopilas. A swim in the river was a delightful respite from the heat.

Two days later I had returned from Batopilas and boarded the train to the pacific. There was only one slight problem: a hurricane warning was advising us not to travel to Los Mochís, the city at the end of the line. But, hardy traveler that I am, I ignored this and headed straight into the hurricane’s path. It was a dramatic journey. The scenery was stunning, I chatted to the charming Angelita for a few hours and then, as we approached our destination, the train began to shake and rattle in the face of gale-force winds. It didn’t help knowing that a train had been de-railed in recent days. But arrive in Los Mochís we did, and Tanja, Annete and I hitched a lift into a city with no electricity or running water, found a hotel room and went to sleep in the heat of the Mexican pacific.

Very few words left: can I do it?

After a night in Los Mochís I travelled alone overnight to San Blas, a small town on the coast about 5 hours out of the place that had loomed over me for so long: Guadalajara. San Blas was sleepy, quiet and nice. I read War and Peace and swam in the Pacific for the first time in three years. After two days I set off for Guadalajara with almost equal amounts of excitement and dread. Seeing Darcy, Hugo, Gustavo and my “grandma” was sweet and moving. If I have a regret: I didn’t make time for a trip to Sandra’s grave. If I have a regret. Next Morelia: a city I had always wanted to see. Beautiful, colonial, northern climate, southern vibe, it makes it into my top five Mexican cities. Quickly now: Papantla was next - a small town on the other side of Mexico City. I went there for my one set of ruins on this Mexican trip: “El Tajín”. Not a disappointment. I boarded a bus to Mérida, a Mexican island in the Yucutan peninsula and a lot of fun. Backpackers came and went I went eventually: to Izamal – on the toss of a coin. Mistake. Next Playa del Carmen. A mini USA. Coin toss: tails – Puerto Morelos. Beautiful solitude for one night. Then Saturday night: Cancún. Tanja and Annete wanted to mark the Day of the Dead. I was skeptical. But we went to a cemetery and I reflected. A single red rose for Sandra and the end of my Mexican trip. Sunday, Monday: beach. Tuesday 4 November: Obama; Colombia.

999 words

1 comment:

Richard Smith said...

It's surely one of the beauties of a long trip that while still on the trip you can reflect on an earlier stage. When will you write about your trip to the Lost City?