Mexico

An Ancient Energy Ritual, Chocolate Crepes and Castration in Oaxaca, Mexico.

This morning I wake up to witness from my rooftop - Consuela and Carlos taking part in what looks like a religious ritual in their courtyard garden. There is a table laid out with great swathes of rosemary and freshly boiled eggs - and another man (some kind of priest) looks like he is blessing Carlos. I'm guessing they are not Catholics! 

I google it later – and i'm right its an old Zapotec ritual. Curanderismos are healers - Meso American energy workers. Aztec Ometeotl is a sacred union that looks into the heart and soul of the patients. 

Altars are placed in all directons then the patient in question goes through an "undrowning" to let out what is in their heart. The Limpia or spiritual cleansing uses eggs, flowers and fresh rosemary which are all seen as representing and indeed having life giving properties. 

Today I visit Monte Alban temple and settlement which the Zapotecs who set about levelling off a mountain to build it. This (in case you were wondering) is the Number 1 # Archaeological site in Oaxaca. There are a series of tombs, altars, palaces, temples and pyramids. There is also an ancient sports court. The Zapotecs played something called Juego de Pelota - a type of football. Fun came at a price - the game was tricky in that players had to manipulate the ball using their knees, hips, elbows and shoulders and losers were often put to death by being sacrificed! 



One of the tombs - Los Danzantes (building of the dancers) has large stone slabs outside with grotesque dancers carved into them with large phallic shapes. Apparently they used to cut off the members of men and push them into their mouths before sacrifice...mmm tasty - although i can think of a few men i would have liked to do that to...! 

I get back around early afternoon and doze like a seal, its thundering ominously outside (well it is rainy season.) 

Oaxaca is famous for its dark chocolate so I have a hot chocolate followed by a chocolate crepe to celebrate this fact and then decide to have a “holiday day” rather than a “traveller” day. 

I wander around the brightly coloured schools of the main square and visit its main church and former monastery - the 16th century Santo Domingo. 

I go clothes shopping and buy some playsuits and a pair of white shorts, walk in the park and sit in the sun, then go for a lovely lunch of lobster tacos and beer in a seafood restaurant The waiter follows me out: 

“I have your number?” he enquires hopefully. Er. No. 

Zeb is baking his suffolk beer cakes back home. I miss him. 

The tents occuping all of the streets around the main square are beginning to annoy me now – I constantly have to bend over double to avoid being garotted by their lines. Time to ship on out and head for the mountains -and somewhere i'm very excited to see - San Christobal de la Casas.

Churches, churros, Palenque and the Friendly Vagina in San Cristobel - Mexico.

I arrive into San Christobal de la Casas– a gorgeous little village high in the mountains...first thing in the morning. It is such a pretty little place. Back home – the UK is going into Union Jack bunting overdrive for the Jubilee weekend.

Here the Mexican village has strung a dainty, peach coloured doily cut bunting that criss crosses the cobbled streets and laces between the pastel painted houses. In the main square there is a Sweets market that Willy Wonka would be proud of.

 

Tables are piled high with sticky marzipan fruits, lollipops and syrupy sponges – all thickly dotted by a moving blanket of wasps. In the background are the dark green smoky hills. In the Zocolo are stalls selling carved wood animals, embroidered clothes corn on the cob and churros – all manned by women in traditional dress - long black furry skirts and rainbow striped shawls . There are modern shops too, I find a place that does amazing hot chocolate and an arts centre teaching pilates and yoga. I try and schedule a date with pilates. I fail miserably by getting time wrong and console myself by eating deep fried churros in chocolate sauce - yum. 


The main churches are in the Zocolo. San Francisco church is a peach coloured building with terracotta vines and laurel leaves decorating a rusty door. San Juan Pablo however is quite possibly the prettiest church i've ever seen. Its a huge white wedding cake of a building -trimmed in forget me knot blue. It has a light and twinkling interior lit up with crystal chandeliers and candles. 

Kiki Suarez is a German artist that now lives in San Christobal and she has her own shop - Kikiworld – devoted to her. Although her big, bold primary coloured art is something I'd usually consider a bit too “greeting card” for my taste usually – I feel drawn to her sentiments. One in particular – "The Path to a Happy life" resonates with where I am at the moment. Nearing forty – i've handed in my notice in the middle of an economic downturn to travel the world and then who knows what. I'm not blind to the fact i'm having a rather fabulous sort of mid life crisis. 

Do you remember that Honda advert – hate something...change something. It featured bunnies in little earphones drilling things. Rabbits are my favourite animal so it recommended itself to me. Anyway. That is what I'm doing with my life. 



Hate something...then Change Something. 

The next day I decide to do an excursion to Palenque (famous Mayan ruins.) Its a five hour bus ride there and back. I get terrible motion sickness so ask to sit up front. I have to sit in the hard middle seat which – being bony of bottom – is incredibly painful but slightly more preferable to abject nausea. We journey up into the winding hills – shreds of cloud are still hanging low on thegreen and wooly slopes not yet burntoff by the morning sun. We stop first at some waterfalls (more water than Iguassu) and then arrive into Palenque around midday. Here the weather is hot and sticky, there are huge jungly heart shaped leavves that hang from vines.,mos covered stones and leaves the sizes of armchaires that I could sit in. Mexicans lounge in the grounds in wide brimmed hats, selling little figurines made of quartz and strange gimp masks constructed out of shell. Here the Jaguar King reigns. I meet a British girl and a kiwi and we join together to walk around. The Brit talks animatedly about the three Australians she's shagged that week – how average the sex is how her vagina is making friends all over the world. 



We climb up one of the temples remarking on how large the stone steps are considering how small the mayans were and sit at the top in companiable silence. 



The next day and I feel exhausted. I have ignored my instinct to go to the local village San Chuemala and try and discover more about the energy healing rituals – and have taken the tourist route of visitng Palenque instead. I realise that I don't need to try and do and see everything. I need to give as much time and credence to the journey within as to the one without. Ths isn't just about ticking off sights. 

I sit in the main square and have a huge breakfast of granola, fruit, yoghurt and hot chocolate. I think how lucky I am i've avoided traveller's tummy so far....little do I know...i have a little wander around town and then finish in the evening in a small local restaurat eating Mole – a traditional mexican casserole of beef,with carrots, courgette, and corn. Little children in raggedy clothes come around selling wooden toys. 



In the square there is petitioning for the forthcoming elections/ Reds versus Whites. The Reds have erected a bandstand and are playing loud rock music. When you dont understand the language and can just hear the frenzied hyperbole and the hype you can see how politics becomes like football – just whipping the masses into a frenzied, excitable crowd. 

It feels cold up in the mountains. Time to head South for Guatemala.

Mezcal and Mitla in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Conseuela and Carlos are a lovely little old couple who run the bnb that i've booked. They have twinkling eyes, grey hair and hug me with great warmth on my arrival. They don't speak any English but i'm gradually getting by with my Spanish and the Mexicans are very patient with my Argentinian pronounciation! Carlos heaves the 'bastard” onto his shoulders and I follow him up a winding little staircase in the middle of a huge open courtyard with a large tree growing in the middle of it. 

My bedroom is at the top with ensuite bathroom and even an English book on the bedside to read. Outside on the balcony (more of a roof with a sheer drop onto the courtyard below!) there is a little wooden writing table and a bird cage with two bright red love birds inside – pecking and bothering each other, like lovers do. 

There is also an enormous cockroach in the toilet bowl. I end up peeing standing up. Oh well its good for my quads. I don't feel too guilty - if they can survive a nuclear holocaust then he can survive me peeing on its head. 

Downstairs there is a huge Toucan that solemnly observes me down his long banana shaped beak with a doleful green eye.

There are too many bars here for my liking that are hiding this beauty. I'm not a fan of birdcages literal or metaphorical.... 

 



Breakfast is home cooked by Consuela – and consists of tortillas, green beans refried beans and scrambled eggs. They sit down and join me and after watching me try and eat a tortilla with knife and fork (how British!) Carlos demonstrates how I should eat it with my hands. 

Oaxaca is a beautiful little town, filled with cobblestone streets and pretty churches leading down into the main Zocolo. Its raining huge drops and the streets are filled with tents of teachers protesting for more pay (more protesting!) In the evening fireworks light up the stones and I can hear the music from an open air concert in the hills. 

I go on a day excursion to Mitla and am joined by a San Franciscan called Susie who is tanned with great teeth (like all Americans) and mad staring blue eyes. She is a counsellor who specialises in post traumatic stress disorder. She informs me that traumatic events have now been renamed and are called "adverse life events."

Can it really be healthy to rename the truly terrible things that shatter our lives

"yeah it was awful, my lover left me, my house burnt down and then I had a road accident"

"Oh really, i'm sorry to hear that how... adverse..."

Then again, words are very powerful. Maybe choosing a less impactful term dilutes the impact of the event itself. I don't know - my internal jury is out. 

Mitla means "City of the Dead" and was inhabited by the Zapotec tribe – an indigenous people -from perhaps as early as 900BC until at as late as the Spanish invasion in the 16th century. It is one of the most important archaeological sites in the region and is typified by the ornate and intricate mosaic tile work on its friezes. 

We see a 2000 year old Tula tree with a 42 metre diameter and also watch a carpet weaving demonstration given by an old Teuluan woman,  slowly spinning wool like an ancient sleeping beauty on her wheel. The tour guide demonstrates how they make the red dye – cochineal - through crushing the shell of the insects that live on the cacti – and then change the colour to vivid lilacs or burnt umbers through adding lime stones or lemon juice. 

 

426406057412953.jpg



We go to a Mezcal distillery to learn how the smoky tequila based liquor is extracted from the agave cacti – and then do a tasting of different flavoured shots inluding easily downable cappuccino and strawberry flavours that leaves us all a little half cut. The traditional way to do the shot is a ritual with a slice of lime rolled in crunched up worm mixed with chilli. Like anything rolled in spices and salt and downed with almost neat alcohol - the worm tastes great! 

And then we visit my favourite place of all –Hierve el Agua (literally Boiling water) ..... High up in the mountains, bubbling calcium rich springs have toppled over and calcified to give the appearance of petrfied waterfalls. The view over the misty mountain tops is cool and calm and ever so tranquil. Leading down to the cliff tops where the frozen salt streams cascade - - are bone white honey combed dips and shallows where litte pools of water have collected. An american kid takes of his socks and sits down to cool off his feet. People gravitate to the edge and then sit. This is a place to just sit and contemplate. A bride and groom are having their photos take, she froths out her veil and watches as the wind picks it up and blows it out behind her. 

We go for lunch where they are servingsome traditonal Mexican delicacies. Susan and the Colombian student she's been joined by have just decided to have beer as they can't afford the lunch. I fill up my plate with cactus salad , tacos and their crunchy pickled accompaniement. 

"I've brought back some extra grasshoppers" I say – 

" in case you want to try them." She looks horrified. 

They taste like all pickled things- a bit briny only with more legs. I was hoping for more of a peanut butter flavored crunch but they are not unpleasant. 

We leave late in the day.  Our tour guide Manuela berates us for being late (again.) We are all a little bit drunk still from the many different flavoured mezcal shots and i'm ashamed to say it but we really don't care.

« Previous Entry

Mexico, Condessa district

I am staying with a girl called Gaby in downtown Mexico city. I have found Gaby on airbnb. I rock up at the flat and am greeted by a pretty, skinny, 29 year old Mexican with elfin hair and large green eyes. Her apartment is gorgeous, huge and light and filled with plants. She has green tea on the shelves and a quote in the kitchen that reads: 

The only journey is the one within. 

On her wall in the living room is a postcard from Foyles – a British book retailer . The lovely Susan had a copy of the same promotional postcard on her desk when we worked together – no doubt to keep her sane from the madhouse of Network Rail. 

So there you go, it doesn't matter if you are in downtown Mexico or just off the Euston road – poetry is the all. 



The next day I start trying to get into a routine of waking up and doing some yoga and/or pilates. I have some green tea then take a little walk around one of the big parks nearby. It only takes me asking two policemen to find my way out again. My sense of direction is definitely getting better. 

I write to Nico via facebook. I think at the age of 37 I may have just sent my first love letter. Oh well. Its a start.... 

Later I go in search of dinner and find a street food stall – there are two men cooking up bits of meat on two huge hot plates. There are men gathered around it ( I think they must be cab drivers.) 

I stop and stare at what's going on. They have lots of different meat – carne (beef) pollo (chicken) and chorizo, being chopped up and fried on the hotplates. On the other hot plate there is lengue (cow's tongue) but instead of the delicate pickled slivers from Buenos Aires, here the whole tongue is on the side and they are hacking off great chunks. I order a carne and am about to dress it with coriander, chopped onion and the two salsas when one of the men warns me off the green sauce – "muy picante!!" (very hot.) Then he suggests I try a pollo and a chorizo and I have one from the other plate too. He leaves and I wave goodbye – when I come to pay I realise he has paid for mine too. Free dinner! What a lovely guy – I like Mexico. Later i'm telling Gaby about it... 



"There were hot plates and meat and you put the meat on these little discs of pastry..." 

"er you mean tacos??" enquires Gaby laughing. Oh yeah - tacos! only authentic. 

The next day I awake, have a green tea and go for a run in the nearby park. Fifteen minutes and i'm left wheezing. I come back and buy some salad vegetables en route at the local supermarket where I notice they also have piles of raw meat stacked up and a plethora of cacti or Nopales as they are called. This is the type of cactus with the large flat oval shaped discs that branch away from the main body of the plant. There are little food stalls outside Gaby's apartment with men cooking up tacos and shaving off the spines from the Nopales before frying them. 

The mexicans are a short and swarthy race, I feel like a very long legged, skinny pale giraffe that's accidentally wandered into the buffalo pen. I tower above the men folk – but give them their due their staring is polite and nowhere bordering on obscene level of sexual harassment that the Portenos excel at.Before I arrive in Mexico City I am given all sorts of scare stories about kidnappings and how its worse than Columbia now for safety – my parents are convinced i'm going to be taken hostage. But sitting in Gaby's light filled apartment drinking green tea and then going for a wander around Condessa the local nearby arty and boho neighbourhood - the scare stories really seem just that. The North of Mexico has been dominated by the drugs trade and is unsafe for tourists to visit...but my personal experience of Mexico City and of the Mexicans that I met was that it is a safe and friendly city as long as you apply the usual laws of the street.

Coming from London I am already well prepared in that area – don't wander off the beaten track, stay in well lit areas, don't take your eye or hands off your personal belongings, don't flaunt wealth, don't allow yourself to get too drunk in an unfamiliar area – and if in doubt ask a local which parts of the city you should avoid. 



Condessa is a lovely leafy neigbourhood with prettily coloured houses and shops. I find a little cafe with fresh flowers on the table and have a capuccino and a coffee eclair. Then I wander into a local church. They are in the middle of a flower giving ceremony to the Santa Rosario. I am given a bunch of white and yellow carnations and gladioli. I line up with the other women and children and lay them aross an effigy of the saint and then leave. As with South America the churches here are ornate and heavily decorated with candles, gold leaf and half life sized statues of saints and Christ. The depictions of Christ, his blood and wounds are gorily life like. Catholicism is still strong and even on a week day there are often locals knelt in prayer in the churces that I venture into. 

Mexico is hot and dusty after the cold cold Autumn of Buenos Aires. I try and go into Mexico City to see some galleries but am exhausted by the time I get to the main square – called the Zocolo in all of Mexico's cities and towns. When I arrive there is a huge multicoloured market, hot dust, men dressed up as purple druids, a massive Mexican flag and a hundred tents filling the space – some kind of protest. I have developed a litte cold no doubt thanks to the poor but fabulously unhealthily tasty diet of Buenos Aires and decide to take these few days as a detox and time to get bettebefore travelling to my next destination – the little village of Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaca – like the Thomasina Miers Mexican chain of restaurants...)