Cabo Pulmo, Sea of Cortez, Southern Baja California, Mexico. (Farkling with the Fam)
We were 1560 miles apart, yet with uncanny telepathic unison, we both scrambled up to the last minute to get our bikes together before boarding flights to Mexico. Although our bike boxes were bigger than the over-sized size, and we could have gotten nailed with fees, we were both only charged $50 to ship our hot new bikes.(P flew Alaska while J rode American Airlines). The people checking baggage didn´t seem to sweat the the size or weight but we had printed out the regulations from the airlines websites just in case. Since we were both running on empty by the time we landed on Mexico´s sun-kissed and gringo-infested shores, we decided to spend the beginning of our trip Assing Out.
The first week there in Cabo P was muy tranquilo. Lots of sun, sleeping on the roof, surfing attempts, smashing in the dune buggy. We also designed and started a better laundry to landscape greywater system for the house, played games and drank margaritas at night (can´t forget mom´s grouper face), and pracited our Spanish a bit. Luckily, both of us had spent some time South America in the past and had an OK grasp on the language. So now we´re just brushing up and expanding our vocab.
Planning our Route:
Much to the bemusement of our jefes, we only came with vague notions of where we wanted to go. We knew we wanted to try to connect with and find like-minded peeps (ie punky, hippy, bikey, hip hoppy) as well as see a lot of the anient sites and try to get a better understanding of the country´s history. We also didn´t want to get caught up with drug runners along the border. Thus, all signs pointed to the south where the rebels and ruins comingle in the sun.
We decided to skip the ferry from Baja to Mazatlan because we got some solid advice about that part of the coast being sketchy. J´s brother, Tyler, was heading to Mexico City (aka Distrito Federal, D.F.) from Cabo so we decided to catch the same plane and head out south from there. Looking in our gringo bible (lonely planet) guide book we saw that there was a ton of stuff around the capital (the largest city in the North America) and figured it´d be good to base there for a few days, see some sights and then take a bus a good distance away before actually beginning the biking part. Also, P´s wheels had gotten rather f´d in the plane ride. His -poorly built at 2 am on the morning of his flight- cardboard, duct tape, and twine box had exploded in transit resulting in more than one bent spoke. So we figured the city would be a good place for repairs as well.
Lesson 1: Ship your bike well, get the little plastic guard pieces from a bike shop (probably for free).
The first week passed in a warm breeze and after saying our farewells we all loaded into the car and set out for 2 hour drive to the airport.
Lesson numero 2:
Take all your heavy stuff with you in your carry on or you might end up dumping everything out on the airport floor and reorganizing to avoid paying $333(!!!) in over-weight fees. Thankfully the broha was there to absorb some weight as his carry on and we shuffled things around and got the fees down to $111 for our bikes and assorted huge pile of stuff. We were still definitely those guys on the plane grazing people with out bloated carry-on´s as we passed down the asile though.
Also, Peter couldn´t fit his rear wheel into his new box so we thought he might get away with taking it on the plane with him. Sadly, bike wheels are actually terrorist weapons and don´t count as carry-on´s. Bummer. He had to cushion the axles and cassette with cardboard and tape, check that puppy with no other protection and hope for the best.
Flying into Mexico City you can clearly see the blanket of nose-bleed inducing (for serious) grey smog before you drop into it. The city sprawled as far we could see, swarming over hills and packed tight with parachueted houses. It seems impossible to believe that this place was once covered in water, with the original city of Tenochtitlan being an island in the midst of a great lake. As we descended we could see the tops of beautiful purple jacaranda trees in bloom all throughout D.F.
We had booked a hostal for our first few nights and ended up sharing the room with J´s brother, our attempt to sneak him in and pay less failing miserably. However it seems the hostels that get the big ratings online seem to cater to the partying and uber tourist crowds. Not our scene as the Aussies whiled the late night hours over cheap beer dressed in unfortunate and racists costumes. Whatever.
That night we walked around the historic central district a bit, getting tacos from the street venders and respectfully gawking at the Aztec dancing in the plaza of the sacred Templo Mayor (the center of the Universe for the Pre-Hispanic people).
Friday, March 23rd: Muy Touristxs
It turns out that the free breakfast at the nice hostels includes linguine on some days and cherry Jell-O on others. WTF? Luckily we had the almond butter from the Cabo CostCo (free tequila samples on Easter!) with us for the white bread.
We spent the next day wandering the Zocalo, the central part of the historic district where most of the bigger protests are held or end up. It´s one of the biggest plazas in the world and is surrounded by the Templo Mayor (the central temple of the ancient city),
Model of Temple Mayor and surrounding sacredness. Backed by a painting of the island of Tenochitlan.
the monstrous Catedral (blanged the f out to the grossest degree),
(Note the two All Seeing Eyes…)
We wandered some mercados in search of more murals and a few museums, and eventually headed back at night to chill and repack while Tyler went to get drinks.
Saturday, the 24th
Today we headed out to the Bosque de Chapultepec to one of the best archeology museums in the world, El Museo Nacional de Antropologia. We ended up spending over 6 hours trying to absorb the immense history of the country from the earliest ancestors to the Olmecs, Toltecs, Aztecs, and Maya (among others). Of particular note was the lack of acknowledgement about the mysterious and mind boggling complexity of these cultures and their inexplicable mastery of mathematics and astronomy among other things. But we´ll save that for another post. The musuem was amazing in any event and got us jazzed for the real shit in the weeks to come.
After leaving the museum we descended into a hangry daze that only thickened with every wrong street we took looking for an organic hippy restaurant that might serve us some other form of vegetable besides beans.
After, we got a weird kind of drunk on pulque (fermented manguey juice), played dice and headed home early since the pulquerias all close at 9. We´ve since been told that the early shut-down is because Mexican´s tend to start drinking the snotty-booze at 3 or 4 in the afternoon. That night we went sleep as the accordion echoed from the lobby..
Sunday, the 25th
Damn this is a friendly city. We had gotten so many responses from people off couchsurfing.org to stay at their place but ended up going with Paulina. So we got some guy to strap our bikes on the roof of his little car and drive us to her place across town. Oh, and when you plan to go on bike tour it´s a good idea not to forget your wheels at the hostel when you check out. Woops…
Super awesome Paulina took us little fledglings on our first bike ride through the city in an attempt to try and track down a roumored bike rally against the papa (pope). Traffic is crazy here, but it´s really true that you´ve just gotta go with the flow. A good place to ride is in the Metro Bus lane after the bus passes. No other cars are allowed in the lane so you´re good to go unless you accidentaly get in front of a bus. Then you need to pedal your culo off. Another thing we learned was how to take our bikes on the Metro (the subway, not the metro buses). Apparently you can only do this on Sundays. The cop who guards the gates will let you thru a door next to the turn-styles and you have to ride in the first or last car. The Metro, by the way, is AMAZING. It only costs 3 Pesos! That´s like $.25cents! Next to free, that´s about the most reasonable cost for public transportation ever! Also, during 3-9 PM the front cars are reseved for women and children. So cool!
We never got to rage against the Papa but we went to a sweet art exhibit at the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) that was definitely raging against fascism, capitalism and Big Macs (same team as the Pope). Later we soaked in the night-lights of DF from the 41st floor of the Torre Latino America. Peter pointed out that it looks just like Portland at night. Only hella bigger.
Monday, the 26th
Tepotzlán´s tag line is El Pueblo Mágico. It´s an hour and a half south of Mexico City so it makes a good day trip. To get there you have to go to the Terminal Sur which is about as far as you can ride the metro. But that´s ok. It means you get to listen to two seconds of all the songs on the new and classic hit compilation CDs which the halkers blast at you ear-breakingly loud from their back-pack sound systems. Yesss! Or you could buy a pen that writes in three colors, or a pack of flesh colored bandaids, or a box containing thirty chickles with double the fresh mint flavor, or a really good book about who-knows-what for only 5 pesos each! Or micorpore tape, or a map of the city, or…
Tepotzlan is a weird town that draws newagers and woos of all kinds. For some reason the Indian clothing and Aura spray shops seemed more out of place among the cobbled streets than back home. Is that messed up?
The reason we had come was for the view from up on the hill overlooking the town as well as out to the valley of D.F. A steep climb but no biggie. Once on top we wrote and drew and soaked in the hills, feet dangling over the edge of the temple with all the other couples making out. For real, Mexicans have no problem with being sweet in public. Stupid repressive America..
This Tejon racoony guy went into the trashcan and picked out the bag of ketchup packets and cucumber peels i had thrown in, tore into it and, and spread it all over the ruines. Punk. Always gotta pack your trash out….
Tuesday, the 27th. Getting the wheels fixed or spinning them trying.
Somedays, little errands that you think will take an hour end up taking more than half of the day. Like when you just want to replace a few measly bent spokes in your wheel…
First you get a little lost and turned around in the metro. Then the street addresses rebell against order and next, the place you trekked so far for (recomended by someone online who seems to have a fear of anything that doesn´t look and charge you like a US shop would) is closed. Luckily, the rule about shops in DF seems to be -where there is one there are many- so you go to the next high-end bike shop just around the corner but they don´t have your size spoke. They send you down the road where there are two more. There the mechanics say they can replace your broken spokes, but it´s going to take 4 days. Luckily Paulina texts right then to tell you where the peoples´bike shops are.
Fuck these fancy spots. Another metro ride and you are in Bikelandia! So many bike shops all in one place, as far as the eye can see! Where to begin? How do they all stay in business when they´re basically all selling the same things? Believing that victory is just around the corner you go to a promising looking shop only find out that they, like everyone else, only sell parts. You have to go find the mechanic to get anything worked on. Thwarted again! Another round of human pinball (bouncing from person to person asking directions) and you make it to the mechanics….a dark, grimy hole in the wall with no sign spilling out onto the side walk and buzzing with bikers in need of repairs. YES. This is clearly the place to be. Fucking Victory at last.
The get there go to metro stop Pino Suarez and get on Ave San Paublo. Ask around for the only mechanic. we forgot to get the address but its very close to a plaza. It´s just a random door on the street, no sign. But if they are open there will be a line of people getting their stuff fixed and tires pumped for mere pesos.
Not! They don´t have spokes. You have to go buy them. Ha! And you thought you were going to see some musems today. Fool. The hunt is on again, back to the bike strip for some spokes that you don´t know the size of. After about six more attempts you find the spokes (purched in bulk from two different shops). This was harder and much more frustrating than that summarizing sentance made it sound.
Whatever. The speed and mastery of the mechanics made up for it. For real, these guys were awesome. They replaced 4 spokes on the front and 12 on the back wheel, balanced both wheels, and filled the tubes in like 20-30 minutes for 50 pesos! WTF that´s like $4. That would cost at least ten times as mich in the US. I kicked the guy a tip and gave them the extra spokes I didn´t need.
So, with half the day wasted we made our way to the Mecado de Senora.
Catering to the religious, ceremonial, spiritual, and otherwise vibing crowd, the Mercado was the central spot for all your herbal medicine, amulet, salt, and sexually controlling powder needs. Apparently it´s also the place to fulfill your endangered animal needs, tho we didn´t see any of that behind-the-curtain business, just piles of sad puppies.
We then tired to go find the torture museum but the more was asked for directions the farther from it we seemed to get. That´s ok. We tortured ourselves instead trying to find something to eat for dinner besides tacos.
Wednesday, the 28th.
Teotihuacan, The place where gods are born
In his (must read) book Fingerprints of the Gods, Graham Hancock writes of the many mysteries surrounding this ancient city, the greatest metropolis ever built in the pre-Colombian New World. Going against accepted theories on the history of global civilizations, Hancock lays out a solid argument that the anomalies of history can be explained if we take the so-called myths of ancient cultures as having a basis in some degree of fact. The bottomline being that many cultures around the world tell of great teachers arriving on ships to teach them the ways of mathematics, astronomy, time, and all the facets of the great civilizations. And indeed this would explain how so many great cultures seemed to have arisen overnight, with no evidence of a long and arduous evolution in to their earliest, fully fleshed out forms. It takes Hancock 500 pages to lay it all out so I won´t attempt to summarize the whole concept here. Rather, I can try to point out the anomalies we come across here in Mexico.
Today we read from his two chapters on Teotihuacan on the bus ride from El Terminal Norte. Hancock writes that while the ancient city was inhabited by the Aztecs when the Spaniards arrived, it is unsure exactly who originally built it or when. Contemporary archeologists will place the construction at around the time of Christ. However geological evidence suggests it could be several thousands of years older than that.
Only 2km of the 5km “Avenue of the Dead” (so called by the Spaniards) have been currently uncovered, the rest, as well as the surrounding city of Teotihuacan, being now covered by modern buildings and roads. The city was estimated to once house some 200,000 inhabitants, more than the Rome of Ceasar. Now all of that has been plowed over to make way for Walmarts and more lanes on the freeway. We find a reoccuring theme presenting itself in Mexico thru the legacy of the Spaniards: the contant destruction and burial of ancient history to make the way for the thrust of “progress” in to the future. More recently, the great Pyramid of the Sun (a made up name as nobody knows the original purpose of the buildings here) was horribly “reconstructed” in the early 20th century by archeaologist-hack Leopoldo Bartres under the oversight of then Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz. Bartres not only removed over 20 feet of plaster, stone, and frescoes from the pyramid´s faces but even chisled in a new 5th terrace for no reason and sold-off the mysterious embedded layers of Brazilian mica (that had somehow made it´s way to the Pyramid from over 2000km away). Christ.
The Pyramid is nevetheless still staggering. It is the 3rd largest in the world, at a height of 233.5 ft and with an estimated 1.5 million tons of stone used to build it. Also of note it that the ratio of its perimeter to its height is exactly 4pi. This is something historians would pass off as coincidental as pi was not “officially” disovered until the third century BC byArchimedes. However, like the Great Pyramid in Cheops with its 2pi perimeter:height ratio, this supposed coincidence cannot be by chance. The Pyramid of the Sun is built at the awkward angle of 43.5°. Had this 4pi ratio not been of importance, the builders would likely have constructed the pyramid at the much easier 45°.
First we headed to the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, (one of the best preserved archeaological monuments in Central America) a smaller structure in the middle of a plaza estimated to hold over 100,000 people to witness who knows what kind of ceremonies. The feathered serpent heads go to our man Q, and the fruitloop faces are attributed to Tlaloc, the god of rain.
We then headed down the Ave past excavated smaller temples and pyramids arranged on either side and showing evidence of the succesive layers of devlopment over the centuries of inhabitants. Fake jaguar growls and eagle cries rang out from 5 peso toys the herds of students were ravenously buying and poorly souding off. “No gracias” ing the merchants, we reach the Pyramid of the Sun and climb to its summit. This all powerful location (likely) once reserved for only the greatest priests of the city is now a heyday for yokels and tourists from all corners. The ignorant and racist Americans spouting off about how short the Aztecs were reminded me to say I´m from Canada. We chilled off in a corner of the top and drew for a while.
At the north end of the Ave is the glorious Pyramid of the Moon. Smaller than the Pyramid of the Sun, both once sat with level tops, surmounted by long gone temples or alters. From up top the view of the area is ineffable. The building laid out before us stand silent as they have for centuries. We try to imagine what it had once looked like, the now bare rock walls and pyramids once being covered in multicolored frescoes and murals, the dominating statues filling the plazas, and the Ave itself being composed of a series of large reflecting ponds holding water and perhaps used for seismic monitoring. Even with an encroaching blanket of smog and power lines making its way closer and closer to this great site, the power it holds still cries out that it will not be forgotten.
When the orginal inhabitants left Teotihuacan, they seem to have intentionally burned and buried many of the strutures here. Several building further north of the Pyramid of the Moon have yet to be uncovered- buried in dirt and vegitation they appear today as small hills.
We spent all day with the buildings and ended up missing the 3 museums on site. A bummer, yeah, but one that was worth it.
Thursday the 29th.
On the suggestion of Paulina´s roommates we went to the nearby Tlatelolco Plaza this morning to see the site´s poorly presented pyramids and monument to the student massacre of October 2, 1968, The Night of Tlatelolco. On that day police violently murdered a crowd of students protesting the corruption of the goverment and police. The irony is so thick it´s disgusting. This move came after months of student unrest and in the face of the Olympics to be held in Mexico in the coming days. The uprovoked slaughter offically counts the dead at around 40. Our guide book says estimates hand more in the 3-400 range.
Walking up to the monument we see an old man sitting on the steps in front of the large stone bearing the names of the reported fallen. He asks us if we speak Spanish and when we affirm he asks why we are there. “We want to know more about the massacre and the history of the Night,” we say. Surprised, he hands us a magazine, turned over to show us the back cover bearing a nearly exact image of what we see before us: the same man, sitting in the same position, holding up two fingers in a sign of peace. He tells us to read the caption below the image. A witness to the Night, it reads that this man, Carlos Antonio Betrán, who had been one of the professors at the university, had just gotten out of prison after 42 years for participating in the student movement.
He goes on to tell us his story without much provocation. The night of the demonstration, around 5 PM, over a thousand students and civilian protesters had gathered to voice their frustrations. Soon thereafter tanks began to roll down the streets, surrounding the plaza in an act of intimidation. The people were not scared, he told us, for there was no reason for the police to become violent. Time passed and eventually the block was surrounded by police and militars. Suddenly a shot rang out from a balcony (most likely fired by a goverment agent) and instantly the police erupted in fire, slaying all the people that filled the square. Shot in the arm and leg, Carlos was able to escape with the help of a student. Along the way he found a small boy who had also been shot and was bleeding heavily. Picking up the child, they ran to the surrounding storefronts and buildings but all doors were locked tight, windows shut. Luckily they were eventually able to find someone to let them in who turned out to be a doctor. Carlos refused care and asked the doctor to take a look at the boy. But by then the boy had already died.
On the verge of tears he told us this part of the story and we all looked to the sky. He said that over 1,200 died that night but none of the other survivors will talk due to threats from the police. They even tell him they will kill him if he talks. To this he only laughs and replies, “Fine, you´ve already killed me 8 times,” referring to the number of accounts of his death floating on the internet.
We didn´t understand when exactly he was arrested for his involvement but we did hear the part about his being locked up for 42 years. In confinement he recieved only 3 tortillas, a plate of beans, a cigarette and a glass of water 3 times a day and no access to sunlight. He suffered in this horrible condition for 30 years before being transferred to another facility for the last 12. Upon his release the police detroyed his documentation and took all that he owned, destroying the evidence of his existence. He eventually made his way to the plaza where we found him. The police stop by and harrass him regulary, having assaulted him once and stolen his clothes. The garments he now wore are donations from a local taco vendor. His legs were weak and he could hardly walk as thugs had stolen his wheelchair. So now he sits here to tell his story to anyone that will hear him, fighting hunger and cancer. He told us he hadn´t eaten in a week and we undestood the meaning of his words. We thanked him for his story and gave an unsolicited donation for the account and for continuing to bare witness to history.
To be fair, our Spanish is nothing special but between the two of us this is what we were able to gather. We feel this account is quite close to the man´s words. We left in a daze to catch the metro to Plaza de la Revolución to catch some history on the country´s ups and downs with dictatorship. The Revolution Museum was hard to understand but we got the basic idea that there were some bad dictators and some good revolutionaries in a century long battle of peoples rights vs industry and colonizer thirsts. The revolutionaries allegidly won, although its kind of hard to tell what with the 7/11s on every corner and the brutal stories we keep hearing of corrupt cops.
Continuing our theme of mexican Rebels, we went to the UNAM (public university) to meet friends at the Che Guevara, a squatted building and autonomous space that has been occupied by students on campus for decades.
Fanzinoteca. We left some copies of our works for the collection.
Nowadays they run a cheap, rico, vegetarian cafeteria 6 days a week, a fanzinoteca infoshop, a large audotorium for preformances, weekly events and parties, a women´s only feminist space, and free ongoing classes every day of the week including permaculture, screen printing, scencil making, tango, audio recording and more. The day before we went there had been a mycology workshop! Awesome, but such a bummer that we missed it! For real! There was also a cob barrel oven outside for bread making classes. Natural building and mushrooms….clearly our kind of people. The folks we met there were super sweet. Stoked to tell us all about their infoshop and later ended up letting us spend the night at one of their collective houses. If you ever find yourself in DF the Che Café is highly recommended.
Later we went to Frida Kahlo`s House which is now a small museum featuring her and Diego Rivera`s works, as well as those by some other artists and a bunch of their household stuff. They had a super cute kitchen with a traditional wood fired tiled stove that was the length of the room. Since not much of her artwork was at the house, $75M each seemed like a pretty steep price to mostly see Frida`s personal collections of Mexican Kitch…..but I would probably do it again….
That night we got to go to an all ladie`s co-op house. Their feminist art and performance collective does lots of great projects with the intention of creating a Mexico a place where women aren´t second class citizens, where they present their own images of self insted of being told who to be by society, and where they can feel safe everywhere without fear of being harrassed or accosted (en la calle, en la casa, en la cama!) They showed us a hilarious shrine they made to la Virgin de Panoche- a type of brown sugar but also slang for Cunt. In protest to the idealised woman that the virgin represents in Mexican society- the prefect mother, subordinate, overcoming temptations and chaste- they created this saint to represent pride in one´s body, autonomy, self-sufficiency, and pleasure.
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