The Return to Veracruz

    After returning from my stroll through Coyoacan, I was greeted by David at his apartment.  It was early evening and he had a friend named Lydia who would be arriving at the bus station shortly, coming from Acapulco.  We just had enough time for a quick beer before heading out to meet her at the Toscaña station on the South side of the city.  When we pulled up to the station, the traffic was swarming around the front entrance, so David pulled his car up along the sidewalk further down the street and I hopped out to go find Lydia.  After only a few minutes of searching, I quickly found the only tall blond girl in the building and yelled out her name across the crowd.  From the first moment of meeting, we began conversation as if we had known one another for years.  Lydia was living in Brooklyn, New York, and had come down to Mexico with her friends for a break from the city and, like me, had found a view into another amazing world.  She had a completely laid back and comical aura about her, and although I had been enjoying mingling with the people of Mexico City, it was refreshing to have someone from back in my old town to cut up with, and so we did.

    We headed for Lydia’s hotel on the Northeast side of the city, near Condesa, and after she had settled in and changed for the evening, we headed out to search for some entertainment.  Unfortunately, as it was a Sunday night, and the night before Cinco de Mayo, downtown was a bit of a ghost-town, so we thought we would check out the Zona Rosa.  As we navigated through the little streets of the normally busy neighborhood, we soon found that it was the same story here.  However, as we walked down the quiet streets, we heard the thumping sound of fast paced salsa music floating down from the second story of corner building nearby.  Ready for a drink and not too optimistic about our options, we readily redirected in the direction of the music and were soon upstairs, sipping incredibly weak cocktails (which turned out to just be pineapple juice) and subsequently opening Pandora’s Box – tequila shots.  After a few drinks and raucous laughter, it was time for some dancing, and as the little rainbow of disco lights wheeled about the dance floor in the dark bar, Lydia made her best effort at showing me her Dirty Dancing moves.  And indeed, we were quite a spectacle as we both struggled to lead and bounced along to the quickly increasing tempo of the kitchy latin music blaring around us.  Another few hours of this and it was time to head out and get some sleep.  Fortunately, I hadn’t hit it too hard with the alcohol, and not long after, I was back at the apartment and out for the count.

    When I awoke the following morning, bright sunlight streamed in through the sheer white curtains draped in front of the wide glass windows of the fourth floor apartment.  I heard conversation in the living room and assumed that, as had become the custom since arriving in the D.F., it was probably somewhere around noon.  Feeling somewhat groggy and ready for a shower, I grabbed a change of clothes and headed out to the bathroom.  When I opened the door to the living room, I was greeted by two new faces, Couchsurfing friends who had come in from Guatemala that morning.  Genevieve and Mateo had been traveling together for the past two months and were returning to Mexico City after their voyage before heading home.  Although I wasn’t quite ready for conversation this abruptly after waking up, we all introduced ourselves and I continued on to the shower, hoping that a good rinse would wake me up and put me more in the mood for socializing.  Fortunately, I was right, and after I had cleaned up and dressed, I sat in the living room with the new arrivals and we began to get acquainted.  Genevieve had been living in San Francisco for the past several years and had a genuinely lively personality, conversation flowing flowing forth from her without inhibition.  And the somewhat quieter Mateo was from Quebec, but had been traveling for the past three years.  He maintained a wizened silence a great deal of the time, but was completely amicable and walked the streets of Mexico City without shoes for the entirety of his stay.  By the time we had all gotten to know one another, the afternoon was already begin to dwindle away, and as David had some errands to run, the other three of us prepared for our day’s excursion.

    First we headed for the markets near downtown to search for leather and fabrics for Genevieve’s burgeoning purse making career.  We pushed through the bustling street, crowded with tented kiosks, wheeled vendor carts, and throngs of locals, ducking into side alleys behind the tents to discover covert fabric stores.  After a few hours of searching and battling crowds, we decided for a change of scenery and headed for the Plaza de las Tres Culturas (after a brief stop to search for a Skype microphone, making the metro connections somewhat of a hassle).  When we emerged from the metro station on the north side of the city, an eerily still and quiet park greeted us ahead, not particularly pleasing to the eye, and complemented by a somber pale gray sky looming beyond.  After asking for directions to the Plaza, it was only a few minutes longer before we found the intersection we were looking for.  As we crossed the elevate pedestrian bridge over a major thoroughfare, the Plaza came in to view on the other side – and although filled with history, somewhat aesthetically less appealing than I had expected.  We roamed around the site for the next hour or so, passing along the periphery of the ancient pre-hispanic ruins, slowly pacing through the old gothic cathedral, commenting on the rather dull, late 20th century architecture, and finally making our way back towards the metro station after a stop for some vegetarian pizza.  That evening, when we returned to the apartment, David and Lydia were there to greet us and we lolled around, chatting, listening to music, and occasionally breaking into dance when the right beat struck us.  As we grew weary, we planned to meet up to head to the witch’s market of Sonora the next day, and wrapped up our long day of exploration.

    About an hour after waking up we were already arriving at Sonora that following morning, as both Lydia and Genevieve had to catch their flights back home that afternoon.  Our little party of travelers ducked and weaved through the narrow market alleyways, spotting skulls, mystic herbs, candles, and eery undead statues around every corner.  However, it was a quick visit, and although we had intended to find some tasty insects to sample, we had apparently come to the wrong part of the market and were already heading back to catch the metro before accomplishing our goal.  Soon thereafter we were saying our goodbyes to Lydia at the station, and already planning the next time that we would meet – hopefully in South America in the next few months.  Genevieve, Mateo, and I headed back to the apartment where Genevieve finished packing before Mateo escorted her out to the airport.  Feeling a wave of exhaustion sweep over me, I deemed this a perfect opportunity to take a quick nap in the relaxing afternoon warmth and amber haze of Mexico City.  When I awoke several hours later, it was to the sound of Mateo’s voice out on the street several floors below, asking if I could let him in to the building.  We decided to cook at home that evening, and took a stroll out to the nearby markets, buying heaps of fresh produce, baked breads, and stopping for a quick paleta on the way back.  The menu for the evening was a delicious vege-pasta, and as we sliced tomatoes, zucchinis, and carrots, we had ample time to catch up on one another’s lives – where we had come from, the crossroads of our lives, and where we saw ourselves down the road.  As we finished cooking dinner and the pasta sat steaming away in a large bowl on the living room table, David returned and we sat to enjoy dinner together.  Afterwards, I headed out to meet up with Rafael and catch up on the news from his out of town trip over the weekend, as well as some unusually comical conversation.

    On Wednesday I figured I would stroll around Condesa and Roma by day, so as to enjoy the picturesque streets by sunlight.  Several hours and a number of shops later, I was ready for a change of scenery and found myself meandering down Paseo de la Reforma to Chapultepec Forest, the Central Park of Mexico City.  I mingled with crowds of tourists making their way down the cobblestoned paths to the zoo in the hot afternoon air, admiring the view of the city over the emerald colored lagoons on my way.  As I spotted the Castle of Chapultepec up on the hill nearby, I decided to make that my next destination.  Not long after, I was chugging along up the spiral walkway that wound up the hill to the summit.  When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by the gorgeously intricate detail-work of the magnificent castle, and the black and white checkerboard courtyards that wrapped around the structure.  The views from the balconies over the city wrapped around in every direction and helped me to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of neighborhoods that I was now finally starting to become familiar with.  By now the afternoon sun had left me feeling rather sticky and with a thin layer of perspiration soaking through my clothes, and as I made my way back to the metro station, I chatted with a new friend that I had made while exploring the castle.  Unfortunately, some of the trains in the D.F. haven’t quite discovered the beauty of air conditioning in public transit, and it was quite a sweaty and crowded ride back to Portales.  By the time I had climbed up the four flights of stairs to the apartment, I was quite ready for a shower and started to get ready before heading out for some drinks and dinner in Condesa that evening.

    When I met up with Rafael several hours later, we both agreed that a few sips of mezcal would be a fun way to start out the night.  We took a stroll down to the nearby mezcal bar which we had visited the week before and, once the potent little liquor had painted big smiles on our faces, we headed to a nearby restaurant to meet up with some friends for dinner.  Unfortunately, by this time I had started to feel a little under the weather, and as I tried to focus to piece together some of the fast paced conversation at dinner, I hoped that my stomach would soon start to feel better and allow me to enjoy the rest of my evening.  But alas, it was not to be, and when we headed out for a few drinks at a bar shortly thereafter, my clock began ticking before the point that I knew it was most definitely time to go.  That night and the next day were spent almost completely bedridden, as I battled yet another bout of unfortunate stomach issues, and began yet another regimen of meds in the hopes of finally solving the issue.  Fortunately, Rafael’s maid was in that day and was more than gracious enough to take care of me, cooking a light lunch and making sure that I was attended to.  That evening was spent lazing around Rafael’s apartment, troubleshooting a cantankerous Apple TV installation, and passing away the hours with several episodes of Nip Tuck.

    The next morning it was finally time for me to get myself in gear and get out of the D.F., and after Rafael headed to the airport for Cancun, I made my way to the TAPO bus station to catch my ride back to Xalapa.  By early afternoon I was on an ADO bus back to the highlands of Veracruz, and six and a half hours later was finally disembarking the bus in the chilly evening air.  I headed down to the Palacio Municipal by the Xalapa Zocalo to meet up with Aldo, who was still at work, and pick up a set of keys for the apartment from him.  We briefly caught up on the events of the past two weeks as we stood in the Palacio courtyard, the live music of a Friday night wafting across the Zocalo towards us.  Then I headed back to the apartment, where I began packing for my departure the following morning.  

    As usual, the next day saw me taking much longer to get my bike loaded up and ready to head of town than I had planned, but around midday I was bidding farewell to Aldo, thanking him sincerely for his wonderful hospitality, and then pedalling towards the highway to the Port of Veracruz.  As I sped along the hours of downhill roadway towards the coast, I though back over the incredible past two and a half weeks that I had spent in Xalapa and Mexico City and felt that I was finally beginning to understand and be welcomed into Mexican Culture.  What I had seen so far and the fascinating and eclectic friends that I had made had whet my appetite for adventure and new social encounters, and as I neared the hot and humid coast I could only hope that life would bring another wave of sights and unusual characters into my world.


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