“ Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” - Gustav Flaubert
A Facebook friend of mine had posted a photo of El Angel de la Independenica, and said she would be traveling there soon. I commented that I stayed near there when I was there last month. So began our conversation, which ended in a personal message asking me to join her on her trip to Buenos Aires, Uruguay, and Mexico. Her father could arrange a discounted buddy pass ticket as he is retired from Delta, and he didn't really like that she had planned to go alone. At first I said no; it seemed too self-indulgent to be going so soon after my own major trip last month. But after talking to a couple of people, most importantly my mom, and looking at my bank account, I said yes.
This was my first time ever to visit Canada. I had to think about this when asked, because I know I have wanted to for a long time. I remember I did a country report on Canada in the 5th grade. I have never met a Canadian that I didn't like. They don't have the "ugly American" stereotype that we do. I know I'm generalizing., but my short trip there only confirmed my preconceived ideas. Nice people, great urban planning, community-oriented.
I have a friend, Nuria, a professor at Pacifica University in Southern California, whom I have known since I lived in Honolulu. We were colleagues and worked at the Youth Development Project together for a couple of years, developing and implementing a theatre project which had as its goal empowering youth through drama. She is an amazing person, and just spending time with her was an adventure. She has fascinating stories about her life and also of the people that she has collaborated with over the years. One of them is the subject of a mural that we made a point to see in Mexico City - Maria Guardado (powerful woman, will write about in another post).
Nuria is from Mexico, a city called Puebla, which we visited on my last week there. Our time together was a combination of places that she has never been before, and places that she wanted to revisit to share with me. I didn't really have a list myself, but I knew I wanted to see art, and Frida Kahlo was at the top of my list.
Nuria had never been to Xochimilco, which is in the area where Frida was from. In one of my favorite books by Barbara Kingsolver, the Lacuna, (fiction) it is a setting for a romantic encounter with Trotsky, who she is supposed to have had an affair with. I recognized the location when I saw it.
As soon as we got off the bus, we didn't have to wonder where the river was, helpful "guides" were there to show us the way. We didn't realize until later that they were trying to steer us to their particular boats. But we made it there, thought that they were asking too much for the ride (350 pesos) and determined that it was enough for us to see the bright yellow and red boats on the dock. We really weren't trying to get a better deal, but a teenage boy came running after us and offered to take us for 100 each for one hour. We agreed.
We stopped by the Dolores Olmeda museum and saw a little bit of Diego and Frida's art, but we were really determined to go to the Museo Frida Kahlo, or La Casa Azul, where she grew up and lived. I regret not paying the extra fee to be able to take pictures. Truly amazing to see where she was confined to her bed, the posters and artifacts that showed her obsessions, such as the poster of fetuses as well as one of butterflies. She also had a collection of toys in her bedroom. I think I remember reading that an urn on her dresser contains her ashes. We both felt a presence there. It was more than a house. There was mana, as we say in Hawaii. She is interesting, wild, mysterious. Her art, especially her self-portraits, are provocative, painful.
YAY! I made it! Bonus: Strange beauty moment seeing butterflies at the top, when there didn't seem to be anything there that they would feed on. Nuria later said that they were my Nahuatl, like my aumakua.
Later that evening, we went to the Zocalo, the city center, where the main cathedral is. Nuria knew there were also some ruins near there that we might be able to see. We found the area, but it was barricaded at the end of a dark, quiet alley. I looked around and saw a sign that said, La Casa De Las Sirenas, and a picture of a mermaid. That reminded me of Guam, so I was struck by it. There was no one at the door, but it appeared open. We walked up two flights of stairs and came to a restaurant. From the edge of the restaurant, we had a view of the Zocalo and the ruins that Nuria knew was there. We relaxed there for a while. I had a tamarind margarita. It was a good, unplanned find.
At the Museo Nacional de Anthropologica, I got a sense of the magnificence of the different indigenous cultures in Mexico. Fascinating.
Much more to see here in Mexico City, but needed to move on to the next leg of our journey.
This was a city that Nuria had not been to before, and it had been recommended to her by some friends. There are a few universities there, and had a college town feel. Though it seemed on the surface to have little more than that, we had such an incredible time there, after all. The hotel (Meson de Alferez) was a cute, colonial style house. One that used to be a rich person's house (there's history to it), and now a hotel. My bed was in a loft and the stairs were kind of tricky, but it was so quaint and comfortable, I forgave the stairs. There is a great restaurant there and continental breakfast is included in the hotel rate, but if you want a fancier breakfast, they apply the cost of the continental, so you get a discount. Really good breakfast here.
We walked around the town in the morning, and then headed for the Museo Anthropololgia in time to get out of a heavy downpour. It was an incredible museum of the Olmec people. I was amazed and captivated by the many aspects of this culture. Here are a few photos.
We made it to a concert held at a community center. Wonderful music and dancing. I was asked to dance, and I wish I knew how, but I tried my best to salsa and had fun. (No photos yet).
Nuria tells me this is the typical dress of the men in this area (Vera Cruz). They were so lovely.
There was a restaurant that Nuria wanted to go to for dinner, Parroquia. It is known in Vera Cruz and has several locations, one was in the heart of Xalapa. We were on our way there from our hotel when we starting hearing some chanting and singing, music, and then we saw lots of bare brown bodies, I would say hundreds, on the steps and grounds in front of the church in the Zocalo. It was such a joyous sight, but we had stumbled on a huge political protest. Mostly men were in their underwear, dancing! The church is located across from the main government building, so their protests were directed at them. They said they represented 400 towns. I was just amazed at the unity there, how committed they were to each other to all stand up to be recognized. I'm going to assume that the man they are wearing in their shorts is some kind of politician they are directing their ire at.
Dinner at Parroquia was great. We shared an appetizer, had soups, and shared an appetizer. The entree was huge, so it was a good thing we shared. I only know my soup was Sopa Azteca (tortilla soup) and the entree was some kind of seafood casserole. We were stuffed. Note to self: take pictures of the menu so that you will be able to say what you ate.
So that was our two days in Xalapa. Eventful!
Cholula is a beautiful, interesting town. Yes, there is this awesome pyramid there. But there is also a very strong Catholic presence. 365 churches. Easy to remember that number because there is a church for every day of the year, so every day of the year, there will be a festival somewhere in the city. Now, how's this for lucky. We were there during the festival for the Lady of the Remedios, which is the huge church on the top of the pyramid. We had thought that the fair was to celebrate Mexican Independence, which was evident everywhere throughout our trip. It turns out, this is the festival for the Lady of Remedios. There was a market, and a fair with rides, games, vendors of all kinds. I did not have enough money (Note to self: convert twice as much as you think, and bring your ATM card) for everything I wanted to buy, but I did get some saffron, molonqui stalks (an indigenous hair treatment) and a tortilla press. We also had a nice dinner. Later, we met some young entrepreneurs selling pulque (fermented from the agave plant, I love it!) among other things.
That pretty much was my week in Mexico. Everyone I talk to about Mexico asks if I felt safe there. I am grateful that Nuria was my guide and host. She changed our plans to be in Taxco, which is in Guerrero state, and has a very high security alert from the US state department. In Xalapa, there was a news report of students being kidnapped. On the buses, there are huge signs warning kidnappers that the penalty is life in prison. I wouldn't travel there alone, for sure, especially not being able to speak Spanish. But Mexico is a big country, and there are some places that have no threats at all. I do love Mexico, and I would go back again. It shakes you up. They have infrastructure problems, such as the tap water and plumbing, even in nice hotels. And there is poverty there so much worse than in the US (which is why they seek a better life in the US). I would love to learn Spanish there, and Nuria told me about an organization that would trade teaching for Spanish lessons. One of these days.
I have traveled quite a bit, and am using this page to record some memories. Travel is a wonderful education, expanding your view of the world, of other cultures, of the beauty of diversity.