…And loving words they speak ought to be written in rapid winds and water flowing by.*
Catullus speaks about women, or one particular woman, rather, but we were in the 21st century last time I checked, and one can surely take the artistic liberty to transpose, especially given the circumstances.
Yes I know. Flying to Mexico from Thailand doesn’t make much sense, and it certainly doesn’t qualify as low-carbon footprint holiday. One may also assume that at some point I may lose the bad habit of engaging in certain escapades, but A) assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups, and B) I can be accused of many things, but certainly not of doing things that make any sense (or making any sense myself). Let’s just say that at the time it looked like there may have been some sense to it. It turned out there was none, which is fine, and let’s leave it at that. I still saw a country where I hadn’t been before, and I saw it with a local, which is always good. Does all this make any sense? Probably not. However, JAL are my new favourite airline: Hi-tech japanese toilets with heated seat and adjustable bidet jet in economy. American Airlines, on the other hand, are about the same quality (not price) level as Easyjet.
December 19 – 22 & 27 – 29 #I♥CDMX
Ciudad del Mexico is amazing. It’s of course enormous and the traffic is as you’d expect from a city that has 20+ million inhabitants. It also looks like it recovered from the September earthquake much better that I had expected. Yes, there are still some collapsed or closed buildings, but destruction is not an ever-present image. The strangest thing (for me) is 25 degrees and warm at Christmas. Nonetheless, there is a skating ring in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral. I walk around in shorts and flip-flops, which gains me a few strange looks (as the locals of course parade their winter gear, leather boots and downs jackets and whatnot, because this is apparently as cold as it ever gets). This is the first time in my life I have tanned legs and I am determined to show them off while the colour lasts.
I cannot judge how dodgy Mexico is. I was always with locals and we were staying in middle- to upper-middle class areas. I have taken the tube alone and it was perfectly fine. For local transport, I used either Uber or taxi (but because I had no idea of how the local buses worked, but I’m sure they are safe). The city centre is as you’d expect any major metropolis to be: you are as likely to have your wallet disappear in Prague or Paris if you’re not careful. I have heard horror stories about restaurants being robbed by armed men, but thankfully did not experience anything like that. I could also understand 90% of the language, thanks to being fluent in Italian, which helped. The only annoying thing was that I was constantly being taken for a Gringo. It’s like anything foreign must be american.
Few things to do in the Capital: Museum Frida Kalho. Book your ticket on the internet. I didn’t, hence I don’t manage to enter (queue for idiots is about 5 hours long). The house where Leon Trotsky was assassinated, on the other hand, is empty and located just 10 minutes walk from the house of Frida. It is worth a visit. If nothing else, it’s interesting to see how the Mexicans are convinced that Trotsky’s family was the one most persecuted in the Soviet Union, while millions of others suffered the same fate (only they had not played a key role in building the delirious empire nor had been given a chance to escape abroad while leaving everybody behind).
Museo Soumaya: the local multibillionaire Carlos Slim (an Armenian émigré naturalized Mexican who is single-handedly responsable for something like 6 % of the country’s GDP) built this beautiful building to house his extensive collection of art and named it after his late wife, Soumaya. The museum is free of charge, the building itself is breathtaking and it has a glass roof, so that one can admire the large collection of Rodins in natural light. The collection must be the most valuable in Latin America and includes pretty much anything from Botticelli to Turner. Just next door to Soumaya is Museo Jumex, that displays contemporary art. Ok, I admit I had a few glasses of wine with my light lunch after walking miles and miles among european paintings, so I probably wasn’t in the best condition to face contemporary installations to start with, but the exhibition in Jumex would have been bizarre even if I was stone-cold sober. So, there is this artist guy who grows a colony of yeast, which is subjected to outer inputs, which may be visitors playing a piano, or selecting a specific video to be played. The yeast is attached to a computer that supposedly interprets changes in its behaviour (caused by the external inputs) as changes in colour and intensity of light in the exhibition room. Basically, this guy plays music and movies to bacteria and pretends they care. You find yourself in a room full of floating inflatable fish, listening to weird music and watching psychedelic lights. It’s like being on acid. Well I guess, I have never been on acid. But I am surely a little bit under the effect of one glass too many, and it’s awesome.
Day trip to the Pyramids of Sun and Moon in Teotihuacan: Magnificent. I have no words to describe it.
December 23 – 26: San Luis Potosi
Christmas. I was warned it was going to be cold in the North. Yeah, the winter is coming. Not to Mexico. It just gets a little bit cooler at night, but I still walk around in short sleeves. San Luis Potosi is an industrial centre built around metallurgical and automotive industries. It’s small-ish by local standards, just short of 2 millions. I spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with 25 people, most of whom I’ve never seen before, but they make me feel like I’m part of the family straightaway. Starting with teaching me how to drink tequila. In Europe, tequila shots is what you do at university when you want to get drunk and look sophisticated about it (because otherwise, there is always vodka). Also, the tequila we get in Europe is pretty gross. Now I know that the proper way of savouring tequila is “la bandera”, or the flag, for the colours of Mexican flag. You get three glasses, one with tequila (white), one with lime juice (green, with a bit of imagination) and one with spiced and sweetened tomato juice (red). And you take a sip of each in turns, you don’t down shots like you’re 20 and ignore that “morning after” may refer to headache, not just the pill. And guess what, it turns out to be an enjoyable drink.
San Luis Potosi:
Parco Bicentenario (made with disused machinery fromthe nearby zinc producing company)
Sanctuario del Deserto:
Nearby village Armadillo:
December 30 – January 3: Oaxaca
The New Year’s Eve trip is amazing, starting with 6 hours drive through Mexico’s dramatic scenery towards Oaxaca, a spanish colonial city with a charming historical town center and wonderful surroundings. Benito Juarez, the first president of independent Mexico, an indigenous, was born here and we are reminded of it pretty much constantly. Just few kilometers away from the city lay Montalban and Mitla, archeological sites with beautiful pyramids, and about an hour drive away there’s Hierve el Agua, where mineral springs create natural pools and petrified waterfalls on a high cliff over a beautiful valley. We go there on the new year’s morning at sunrise, assuming (correctly), that everyone else is bound to be hungover and we will have the place to ourselves. Which we do until about 11 am, by which time I take all the photos I need, and even sneak in a naked swim. Because everyone should swim naked on the New Year’s morning. I’m sure it’s a tradition somewhere.
Hierve el Aqua:
Oaxaca is also famous for its cuisine and mezcal production. Not that there is any shortage of amazing food in Mexico. What we know as mexican cuisine in Europe has nothing in common with what people actually eat in Mexico. Every street stand and market stall sells delicious things. Fresh guacamole, out-of-the-oven tortillas, tacos with pretty much anything (grilled meat, ox tail, tripe or black pudding, fish, seafood, squid, you name it), pozole (a soup made from pig’s head) served with corn, all sorts of stews and moles (black mole is a spicy sauce made with chocolate, for example) all spiced to perfection. In Oaxaca, they add crushed dried worms or grasshoppers mixed with chilly to everything (including mezcal), and though it may sound a little dodgy, it is very nice. The Mexicans season everything with fresh lime juice and chilly, often before even tasting the meal. Unfortunately they do the same thing to their beer. I am – given the hot weather – able to forgive mixing beer with lime juice, just about. But seriously, putting tomato juice, lime juice AND chilly into a lager is sacrilegious.
Therefore, even though the trip did not have an outcome I was hoping for – well, I wasn’t really hoping for anything to be honest (am I ever hoping for anything at this stage?), I was just acting upon (an unfounded) benefit of doubt – I saw and ate marvellous things. Which is always a good enough reason to visit any country. Enjoy the photos.
Kacenka vs Mexican food (and drinks):
*) Catullus, Carme 70, translation by A. J. Robison:
Nulli se dicit mulier mea nubere malle
quam mihi, non si se Iuppiter ipse petat.
Dicit: sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti,
in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua.
My woman says to me that there is none
With whom she’d rather spend her days than I,
Should even Jove himself ask her to wed.
Yes, so she says, but women often lie,
And loving words they speak ought to be written
In rapid winds and water flowing by.