Maravilloso Mexico

    Alright, so if you must know, life is absolutely amazing right now.  Of all of the decisions that I could have made with my life right now, I couldn’t have chosen one that gives me more satisfaction, excitement, and beauty every single day.  Although at times I do struggle mercilessly with the arduous riding and oppressive heat, and although I have encountered moments of solitude and loneliness, it is all far better than the dissatisfaction and frustration that I felt with the society and and American life before I left for my journey.  If this is the third world, then maybe being first is very overrated.

    So, were to begin?  Right where I left off, I suppose.  After descending from the hills of Papantla and reaching Costa Esmeralda in Northern Veracruz, I encountered two gentlemen on the beach who had passed in their truck while I was riding along on the highway.  I had spent several days riding incessantly and through some rather sweltering weather, and when they offered me a ride up into the high hills of Xalapa, I eagerly accepted.  Moments later I was in the back of their pickup with my bicycle and speeding off to the cool higher altitude.  The day after I arrived in Xalapa the sun was shining and the air felt fresh and pure.  I met with my new friend Aldo, from CouchSurfing, who proved to be a fantastic host and ambassador to the city.  Aldo truly loves his town and made himself completely available to show me everything that he could in the time that I was there.  I quickly took to his scrupulous nature and playful manner, and before long we were joking like old friends and putting forth our best effort at trading languages.  He invited me to lunch with his friends at the home of Doña Vicky, who cooked us an amazing four course meal and took me on a tour of her beautiful backyard, filled with various types of exotic flowers and flora.  We walked the city, meandering through beautiful and lush parks at dusk, tasting chicharrones, elotes, mole, and other delicious Mexican dishes.  We hiked our way through the thick green canopy to the top of a hill beside the city, passing recreations of Aztec statues, visiting the tiny natural museum, seeing hawks falcons, and finally arriving at the summit to enjoy a magnificent view of the city spread out around us far below in the mist.  Although one of my days there was spent completely bedridden due to an unfortunate illness, Aldo attentively took care of me, cooking a delicious chicken soup, serving me fresh fruit, and making sure that I took my medications on time.  And when I found myself alone while Aldo was at work, I found satisfaction in roaming the quaint streets of Xalapa, winding up the colorful and bustling Diamond Alley, and wiling away the hours in local cafes.  By the time I was finally planning to head to Mexico City, it was difficult to say goodbye, although I knew that I would see him once I returned to Xalapa.

    I had opted to catch a bus to Mexico City, rather than ride my bike, because almost everyone I had encountered had warned me of the treacherous traffic and insidious crime that permeated the city.  Although I never did find the city to be at all dangerous (at least not in any of the places that I went), it seem to turn out to be the right decision to leave the bike behind, although it would have been heaps of fun to ride through the pinball machine streets of the D.F. (Distrito Federal, what everyone here calls Mexico City).  I had really only intended to visit Mexico City for four days, but after falling completely in love with its many faces and never seeming to find enough time to see all of its gorgeous and fascinating faces, I found myself lingering on for much longer.

    Upon arriving in the D.F., I caught the Metro (train) to the apartment of my host, David.  David lived in an area of the city called Portales, a few kilometers south of downtown.  The neighborhood was lively and had all of the amenities that any visitor could ask for within a block or two – groceries, taco and torta stands, fruterias, bakeries, etc. (umm, yes, all of the amenities that Paul ever needs generally have to do with food…).  David himself turned out to be an amazingly welcoming and outgoing person, not only sacrificing his time to help me find a place to fix my camera within a few moments of meeting him, but also sharing an entire world of experience, language, and travel with me.  We instantly became very comfortable around one another and complemented each other well in our desires to learn one anothers’ languages.  I also met David’s cousin Rodrigo, with whom he lived, and his romantic interest, Samantha, whom had come from Australia to visit Mexico City and had found herself staying for several months.  That evening I also met beautiful Cecilia, the girl with the smile that could make anyone feel welcomed, and surrounded by my new and wonderful friends we headed out for a night of laughter, cochinada tacos, gringas, and salsa dancing at at a ridiculously fun and sleazy salsa bar called Barbazul.  

    The following day I found myself tagging along with Rodrigo and Samantha for a delicious breakfast (of which I think the dishes were called chancles, or some other synonym for sandal in Spanish) and to the overwhelmingly abundant Jaimaica Market, while we searched for gifts and props for Rodrigo’s sister’s birthday.  The market was filled with endlessly bright colors, millions of flowers, enough fresh fruit to put Whole Foods to shame, candy, piñatas, freshly butchered meats, and endless other goods.  We wandered around for several hours, and then headed to the historic district to search for silver wire, with which Samantha intended to design a set of entwined amber earrings for Rodrigo’s sister.  As we drove through the little streets surrounding the zona central, I was absolutely enchanted with the lovely myriad of old European architecture which stretched throughout the area and looked forward to the next few days when I would return to stroll the streets at a more leisurely pace.  When we returned to the apartment, the two had plans of their own and I was ready for a little relaxation and decided to stick around the apartment and do some reading.

    Later that evening, I headed out to meet a new friend for the first time, Rafael.  Showering and putting on a fresh outfit (thanks to Aldo’s washing machine!), I walked the ten blocks down the tranquil evening streets of Portales to the metro station.  After of course missing a train right as I was entering the station, I waited several minutes and was soon headed towards Condesa and yet another side of the city which I had not yet seen.  When I emerged from the Patriotismo metro station I was slightly disoriented (as one often is when in a foreign city), but after walking a few blocks Rafael came out to meet me on the street and we made our way towards some local bars for a little taste of D.F. nightlife.  Although Lady Luck didn’t seem to be on our side at first, as the first two spots that we headed to were just closing, and the next two were completely inundated due to the Dia de los Niños (a national holiday in Mexico, where it seems most of the city was off work the next day), the streets of Condesa were delightfully serene and lovely, and Rafael proved to be a witty and intellectually stimulating character to converse with (especially for a traveller who had experienced social withdrawal after spending far too much time in Tamaulipas).  After several strikes, we finally found a hip and glitzy little bar with dark stained wood paneling and stylish victorian furniture where we were able to weasel our way in.  For the next several hours we laughed, sipped some rather novel cocktails, and I met a few of Rafael’s somewhat colorful friends.  All in all the evening was declared a complete success.

    The following morning I headed out to explore the historic district at my own pace, and after strolling the streets around the Zocalo, admiring the lavish architecture, I was met by Rafael, who showed me a fantastic little downtown cafe for lunch.  Afterwards we headed for the Torre Latinoamericana for panoramic a panoramic view over Mexico City.  Once we had descended and lingered about the Alameda to enjoy the scenery, we returned to Condesa for the evening.  After relaxing at Rafael’s apartment briefly, we decided that a taste of mezcal would be a fun diversion and soon thereafter were in a tiny and vibrant mezcal bar, sipping the potent little shots alongside a few cervezas and Oaxaca cheeses.  We had plans to meet some of Rafael’s friends at a restaurant a few blocks away, and once we had boosted our mood with a few drinks, we headed that way.  Once we arrived, we were greeted by a lively and deliciously entertaining group of companions for fantastic conversation and a glimpse into the wonderful circle of friends which Rafael had accumulated.  The next several hours were spent dining amidst vivacious laughter at a sidewalk table out in the relaxingly mellow evening atmosphere of Condesa.

    The following morning Rafael left for a weekend trip to Miami and I found myself once again searching for diversion amidst the massively intimidating options of Mexico City.  I decided to head back to the Alameda where we had left off and to visit the Palacio de las Bellas Artes.  The building itself was an architectural masterpiece, and although I only spent a brief while within its galleries, exploring the historic national video exhibit and murals, I was quite content to marvel at the building’s design.  Afterwards I found myself leisurely ambling past the fountains and courtyards of the Alameda in the direction of Paseo de la Reforma.  Once on the wide avenue, I stopped into a few artisan markets and took care of a few overdue errands, while stopping to photograph the tasteful monuments which decorated the central islands of the street.  After a few hours I had stumbled into the Zona Rosa and enjoyed its colorful pedestrian walkways, passing my innumerable restaurants, edgy clothing stores, and raucously blaring bars.  The day had begun to turn to dusk and I began to feel the pangs social longing as people passed by me amidst friends and jovial conversation, and I hoped that David would soon be returning from his day’s tasks so that we could meet up for an evening of diversion.  Upon calling him, he informed me that he would head my way in an hour to pick me up and search for some excitement.  I found a quiet restaurant tucked away in an alley off the street and decided to stop in for a beer and some reading while I waited.

    When David pulled up along Calle Londres, we decided to head downtown to a hipster hangout called Patrick Miller.  We stopped for a quick bite at a restaurant around the corner first, and moments later were standing in line outside of the popular urban venue amidst a rather eclectic crowd.  At last, we reached the front of the line and headed inside where David and I grabbed a few beers and joined the crowds in a voyeuristic circle amongst locals watching pairs of club-goers dance to 80’s electro remixes.  Once we had had our fill of cheap beer and laser lights, we decided to head to another spot to meet with David’s friend Valeria and her companion.  We arrived at the hole in the wall bar where high energy Mexican jams spilled out onto the sidewalk, and were soon inside the shoulder to shoulder crowd ordering buckets of beer and bouncing to the wild music as I pretended to hear what my group of friends were saying as I nodded my head and laughed whenever it seemed appropriate.  Finally, circa four in the morning and completely exhausted, we headed back to the apartment where I soon passed out after my long day of adventure.

    Needless to say, I awoke some time in the afternoon the next day, and lacking the motivation to explore far from the apartment, I decided relax for a while.  David had gone to pick up a friend of his from San Francisco who was soon planning to move to Cuernavaca, and when they returned we decided that we would head out to pick up David’s little brother on the North side of the city and then drive to the canals of Xochimilco on the South end.  Well, this plan was all good and well, but after battling Mexico City traffic for several hours, the day was already beginning to dwindle away as we headed back south, and when we neared Portales, our appetites had grown and we opted to pass back by the apartment to cook dinner before heading anywhere else.  David prepared a fantastic vegetable penne which his friend from Italy had shown him while visiting, and we all sat at the table in the living room as dusk descended upon the endless city in hazy hues of pink and pale cobalt outside of the wide glass windows of David’s fifth floor apartment.  After dinner the rest of my company decided to head to the cinema to watch Iron Man, but not being much of a movie buff myself I was content to stay at the apartment and do some reading.  However, as is typical with me, after several hours the party had not returned and I was growing restless.  So of course, being a Saturday night in an alluring foreign city, I decided to get myself cleaned up and go look for some trouble.

    I emerged from the Insurgentes metro station unsure of where exactly I was going or what the night had in store for me, but honestly believing that I would show up at some bar, wander around alone for twenty minutes, get bored, and then head back to the apartment – having satisfied my curiosity.  But after discovering a somewhat happening looking bar, waiting in line for almost a half an hour, and paying a cover charge reminiscent of Manhattan, I had no choice but to stay and live it up.  Fortunately, once I had acquired a cocktail and wandered up to the third floor rooftop deck, I soon met with two hilarious young ladies from a city just north of Mexico and found myself lost in conversation and out on the dance floor until the early hours of the morning.  

    When I awoke the next day, right around lunchtime (Mexican lunchtime) I mentally checked my list of places that I had yet to visit in the D.F. and decided that the bohemian neighborhood of Coyoacan would be just the ticket for some Sunday afternoon leisure.  Finding myself in no hurry and no direct metro route to Coyoacan, I began walking southwest, and about half an hour later I had stumbled upon Frida Kahlo’s famous blue house.  I popped into the now converted museum to enjoy the ample art and history, stopping especially extensively to admire my favorite piece, a timeline of Mexican history through Frida Kahlo’s eyes.  Upon completing my tour and passing out of the tranquil blue courtyard, I followed the adjacent street south towards the heart of Coyoacan and found a cozy cafe, where I felt it was only prudent to stop in and sample some of the renowned coffee which the neighborhood is famous for.  Fortunately, the cafe was also equipped with wireless and I was able to while away a few hours catching up on the inevitabilities of life.  When I finally packed up and continued my tour of the quaint city streets, a somber sunset had bathed the rooftops in dull, fiery tones and the long shadows of the buildings clustered close to the street set a languid mood in the early evening.  I waded through a crowd gathered around a rock performance by the Zocalo and made my way a few more blocks south, peeking into warmly lit cafes and restaurants before ducking down peaceful tree-lined alleyways and then making my way back to the apartment.  It was an entirely romantic evening, and although I only had myself for company, the sense of timelessness and endless distance from the world that I had left behind was enough to bring me pure contentment.


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