Travel Solo. Mexico City
Si, the whole world knows and dreams of “the good life” here in Los Angeles. We avoid the repetitiveness of normal work life, and socialize in a sexy creative crowd beneath the sunshine. Naturally, I’m not interested in the lifestyles of the rich and famous, but luckily for me there is more to LA that I love. My favorite part, LAX. I like to refer to LAX as the city’s heart. With its 24-hour bustling beat, it provides us access to the world, and welcomes most to LALA land. It pulses and disperses people through out the city using the network of blood vessels, our famous not so free freeways.
Here, we use our brains to function, our creativity to thrive, and our instincts to survive. But as technology advances, and “the good life” is getting even easier, it’s time to challenge ourselves, and check ourselves. For those of you purposely confined to your LA pocket while ignoring many contrasts through out the U.S’s most populous county, take my advice. Utilize LAX, and take off somewhere you’ve never been before, outside US borders, SOLO.
One night after a long and beautiful day on set in Malibu I met a Mexican buddy for a drink at El Cid’s jazz night, on Sunset Boulevard in Silverlake. As it has many times before, that drink turned into a case of beer at home, using the computer to electrify us with our favorite jams of the week. Created amongst the debauchery, we have 2 flights to Mexico City that leaves in 8 hours. When we really woke the next morning, plans disintegrated, as they tend to do. Here I am on a redeye flight to possibly the largest city this planet has ever hosted, SOLO.
I feel a little bummed my amigo couldn’t come, but it’s short lived. Que Sera Sera (Whatever will be, will be). For bailing on me he was automatically designated to be my ride to LAX from east LA. At my age living in Los Angeles, there’s a whole generation of us out here chasing our dreams. Sometimes single, sometimes not, sometimes up, sometimes down. It’s a rollercoaster life that would be impossible not to puke up with out our friends, our “LA family.” Those friends that we take, and who take us, back and forth to LAX from across the city, at any time of day or night. Just want to give a quick shout out to my LA family. In LA, I am NOT SOLO.
Dropped off, dark, surprisingly cold, but luckily delirious, I find a hostel for I am in desperate need of a disco nap. Not able to get a bed until 10am, I crash on the couch in the lobby. Four hours go by with no recollection, until finally a girl wakes me to move me to an available bed. But, as I climb the stairs my blood starts flowing and I realize, I’m in Mexico City! I change my manties, have a quick laugh at the passed out travelers scattered around the room, claim my bed with my bag, and bounce out of there for coffee, never to return.
I’ve only been to Europe once, Budapest, for work. If I’m taking a trip on my dime I’m most likely going to visit the natural world, and Europe has pretty much depleted that from their part of the planet. I blame in on the intense development of the church long ago that cursed many wild “beasts,” along with anything different. Ironically the exact opposite of what Jesus tried to teach humans, just saying.
Anyways, EL Centro Mexico City shocks me this morning; as the architecture is as elaborate as the best in Budapest. Immediately I fall deep into thought about the history of this country, this city. It was built by the Spaniards, but seems to have been brilliantly graffitied with vibrant colors in the middle of the night by the descendants of Aztecs and Mayans that would’ve come together in middle Mexico.
Mexico City- a beautifully built European Style City, but closer to the equator, brilliantly colored, alive with music and dance, smelling of carne asada, and wet with welcoming, sensual people. I’m in love.
I get lost in this massive metropolis, jumping in and out of flooded rivers of humans on a constant search for the next thing that catches my photographic eye. With the morning light and the excitement of my newly discovered settlement, I’m in focus with my camera. But, as the intense afternoon sun breaks through the ancient buildings directly above, and my hunger and thirst grow strong inside me, it’s time to eat and drink like a Mexican.
The first words revealed into my Mexican dream are tacos and tortas, of course. About every fifteen yards on each street lives a food joint that all blend in and seem the same when you’re hungry. But, if you look around with your mind and not your belly, you’ll notice even the little food joints that make up a huge portion of Mexico City culture, have a culture with in themselves.
Some are welcoming, “Bienvenidos”, with a sign that simply says Tacos, Quesadillas, Tortas, Sopas, decorated with jugs of colorful juices above and alive with little woman in constant motion, making it all happen and instinctively focused on feeding the next generation, always to the beat of Mexican music. Inside, the tables are covered with almost blindingly bright cloths, and cluttered with sauces, covering all colors of the tomato rainbow.
Next-door is a man’s world. Sign says- Tortas, Corona. The pace seems slow and appealing to me after a few hours walking the crowded streets. I don’t usually choose a torta over a taco but I have a feeling these senors have nailed it. My decision is made, and I walk in, anxious for my first Mexico City meal. I am surprised by the diverse selections of tortas written on the wall inside, but I snap out of it, make my moment with the Mexican sandwich artist, and go with the porka torta, por favor. I grab a Corona from the cooler, find the best table where I can observe and soak in life around me, appreciate the simplicity of a man next to me enjoying his torta alone, washing it down with a beer, and fixated on futbol on the scratchy TV above as his rancher hat rests on the chair next to him. It reminds me to take off my hat. I finally realize at this moment why I have made a quick run away to Mexico. I was in search of simplicity, and I Ironically found it in one of the world’s largest cities. It’s almost like my heart had to check on the people outside Hollywood to make sure there is still a place out there not corrupted by American Pop Culture. A place where I can run to, when I need to.
After gorging on the giant greasy and yummy Mexican sandwich, I struggle to walk much further. SO, I figure, I’ve already started drinking, the humidity is soaring and the storm clouds are developing, not to mention it’s Friday and the music is getting louder. I think it’s time to play on a different level. I find a dark and sensual cantina on a grimy street that is obviously closed during the day and alive at night, just in time before the late afternoon downpour. As the family style jugs of beer flow and baskets of pork rinds are soaked in hot sauce and showered from squeezed lime, new friendships develop and grow strong though out the night. The pork rinds turn into tequila, and the tequila turns into a lot of laughing and dancing. I’m having a blast to the beat of spicy Latin music, and feeling real good about myself as I get more and more attention as the night goes on. I know, and want you to know; that I believe this moment wouldn’t have come to me if I were afraid to come Solo. When you are Solo, strangers instinctively open up to you. Exotic relationships are born.
The next day we eagerly jump on the underground train as almost to leave behind the past, and the strip. We pop up above ground far away, and begin a walkabout through one of the most beautiful neighborhoods I have ever encountered, Coyoacan. Weaving through the colorful antique gardens and buildings, ducking from ancient tree branches, and treading over broken cobblestone paths, we wander through the tranquil and quite plaza, following the sound of a wealthy man’s weekend feast, craving our own. Inside, this traditional cantina is filled with hierarchy, the futbol is roaring, guitars are vibrating, bellies are stretching, and the tequila is transforming. We join in on the mandatory fiesta and like magic, my hangover is cured. My amigo doesn’t speak English and I am working on my Spanish, but you’d never figure the way we get along. Truthfully, some sentences are a total flop and we have to get over the awkward moving on moment, but those that make it across the table are a laughing hit. Hours later, belly’s full, and brains altered again, our friendship fiesta soon turns into a friendship siesta in the park.
In this moment, time is simply passing away and seems to just turn off as I gaze into the plazas water fountain of wolves. Concentrated on the constant cycle of wetness on the wolves, I begin to feel the drops of water on my own body. I know I came here to get away from the dream world, but I have never felt so dreamy in my life as I do now. Drip, Drop, I am so intoxicated by tranquility that I am magically sharing the cleansing water of the wolves. Am I that desperate to be one of them, or amongst them? Did I swallow a magic worm in the tequila?
Nestled under a canopy of trees and surrounded by city, the sky is almost invincible to us, but the unmistakable sound and air pressure of an afternoon squall makes its presence inside the community. Like kids stuck in a storm far away from home where Mama worries, we run and jump through the streets and cut through the woods as the sky opens its floodgates. I land on an underground train, sharing the same wetness with so many others, except my friend. Where is he? The noise of the trains closing doors distracts me to look, and catch the last glimpse of my friend still on the platform, searching for me. In the last moment, we make eye contact, I smile, but he seems saddened, a slight breath is sucked out of me, and this image of my surroundings is permanently planted in my life. Adios Amigo.
When you wander the planet in search of something, some feeling, or someone, of course there are moments when you feel lost, whether in a city or a jungle. Don’t be scared, but be aware, aware of signs around you. As I walkabout this giant swap meet of a city, I have to filter through the clutter and find what is mine to take. Exhausted, I end up finding a bed and a shower, sleeping the rest of the day away.
En la manana (morning), I lay for a while, awake to the beat of Mexican music outside the window. At first it becomes the theme song of my dream, but eventually rises me to real life. I am alone, in a slummy motel, at the same planet coordinates of over 10 million people. I lay here, expressionless, and in total peace. With the comfort of trusting, my day will be memorable.
My coffee and juice craving eventually forces me to get up, so I simply walk out my door and score some cheap breakfast. On my Sunday mornings in Los Angeles, although hardly ever on an actual Sunday, I like to get my fresh squeezed OJ on the street, and watch the fruit juice make its way from the orange body, into mine. Here, the fruit is greenish and sour, cheaper, and simply more wonderful. I chug my juice but sip my coffee, and play with my Mexican bread with sugar sprinkle. I’m acting like I’m minding my own business when really I’m staring at others eating around me in envy of there obviously close relationships. I am still glowing, realizing how humble such a big city can be.
After being busted too many times watching others, I start to admire the infamous tackiness of the classic Mexican restaurant décor. It reminds me of my own apartment. I spot a somehow familiar picture of a Volcano on the wall behind the TV, playing a Mexican Comedy morning show. You know, the ones that suck you in at the laundry mat and numb out your brain with goofiness. I wait for the waitress to make her way back around with the bread bucket, I ask. “Donde es eso?” (Where’s that?) She spits out a sentence too fast for me to comprehend, I think I naturally just smiled and laughed to myself. Humored by my lack of knowledge, she rips off a piece of paper from her checkbook and writes down “ AmecaAmeca” and points to the volcano. I instantly slip into a fantasy of me frolicking up the massive mountain. I ask, “How do I get there?” She smiles/ smirks at my enthusiasm and writes down “ Metro Sau Casado,” and points to the metro entrance across the street. La quinta (the check) por favor and I begin expedition volcano.
Four pesos, three super crowded train rides, two strangers that swoop in and direct me, two more words on my piece of paper, and I am on a bus headed away from the city to the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, hidden by clouds on this day. Yes, the same mountain range that cuts right through the heart of California.
As expected, it takes a while to get out of the city. But no worries, there’s entertainment. Forget to grab road trip snacks? Todo bien. Every single stop and go, which is probably every 20 yards, is not an annoyance, but an opportunity to shop. The culturally in-tuned bus driver opens his doors and gladly lets a wave of ambitious vendors run up and down the isle, displaying colorful temptations attached from all different body parts. The lazy ones, or people who have been hustling this city for just too long, simply reach up through the windows from the busy street. Eventually, the city starts to scatter, and the rock solid structure of the old European style buildings, gives way to vulnerable shanti towns, with the lucky homeowners shaded by alcohol billboards. Interesting as it is, I am becoming increasingly anxious for fresh mountain air, and natural life around me.
Roughly a two hour ride, yet only forty miles away, I get off the bus at Amecameca plaza. The center of “this world.” It looks typically beautiful. A classic clay orange Mexican Plaza, with a church and market, probably full of the same people every day. But here, in the morning before the clouds have developed, a giant guardian puts everything around into perspective for us mortals below. I’ve never seen a volcano, and I’m so curious of life amongst one. I can already feel a different vibe in the air, one I’ve never felt before.
I see a hotel but usually hotels on a plaza are more expensive, and all I ever just want is a bed. I ask around, and before long I realize that this is the only hotel in town. Ok, sold. I am happily greeted by a few classic small town Mexican men playing cards in the entrance, all eager to help me with my bag and welcome me with a cold Mexican coca cola. They ask “ Qieures TV?” Si, but let me explain to you. I don’t plan on going into my room and watching TV sprawled out naked with the fan as close as possible, but, in Latin countries, you can always find a cheesy music video channel, that I promise, will make you happy. I blast my Latin beats as I shower away the city, energized by the coca cola and high on my life.
Refreshed and reset, I begin my curious walkabout. Just one block over and I am out of the plaza and into the hood of a real Mexican town, much like I imagine one, my whole life. Such bright and reflective colors that for a moment make me crave my first world sunglasses that I never will wear while traveling. Sunglasses are a way of blocking others out, making you unapproachable. In Mexico, like Southeast Asia, it even seems to put out a sense of hierarchy, that I am not.
The town seems to be made up of one big, one story structure. As I walk the streets and alleys, I walk along a constant wall, diversified by paint and tapestries, alternating with homes, church’s, corner markets, hardware stores, and cantinas, with entrance doors carved out every ten yards or so. I climb up the wall for a peak behind the scenes and discover a land of tarps, hanging laundry, fruit trees, gardens, cooking fires, picnic tables, tapestries, compost piles, and of course, alive with kids chasing each other through every ones home, spooking the stray dogs and chickens. Back on the street, I am aware of the eyes on me, but it’s only out of curiosity. I am tall, unfortunately not as tan, but most of all, simply just a new, approachable face in town. My walk by anyone feels in slow motion, because there is nothing else around to distract us from each other. My slow walk of discovery places me in the middle of this sun-scorched maze. I stop and feel relieved that this place, these people, and these volcanoes exist.
It’s becoming that time of day down here when the equatorial sun is firing off its last rays for the day with all its might, before giving way to the thunderstorms. I’ve had my eye on the hilltop church that you can see from anywhere in town, this is my window to climb. I find churches fascinating, especially ones that teach of a magical creation of life and earth, next to the constant spewing evidence of scientific creation shadowing it from the north. Do remember, creation is constant. It didn’t just happen once.
I am mostly eager to see and feel this place from a bird’s eye view. I climb the ancient and so un-American pathway up to church, passing by grandma making her way slowly as she has probably done everyday during her entire life. I think; where I come from, people are so busy building driveways and hand rails while wearing seat belts to church, that they forget that this life is NOT supposed to be made easy. The entrance to this church feels so symbolic to me. If you want to feel the magic that comes from the top, you have to hike to the top, without handrails.
The church has been built into the hill like its peak was not so simply carved and painted. The dedication that had to have come into this is quite moving. At sun set, below this house of prayer, the gardeners take advantage of their daily blessing of rich volcano soil and the short window of cooler temps and daylight on one side, while on the other, the town border is protected by a joyful game of futbol that sets the rules of simple playfulness inside this town. I can share with you what I see from up above, but the feeling I have is only for me. Hike it yourself, SOLO.
Darkness is here, an everyday time of blindness to the volcanoes mood swings, and even more so at its mercy. In the dark, I tread down the hill, following the music and reassured that I am getting closer to town by the growing teenage population hiding off the path, doing what teenagers do. I concentrate on how to find the cantina I stopped in earlier for a cold beer, and a quick friend. Guided back by my instincts, I find this place amongst the maze, and find my friends who welcome me back with the enthusiasm of a good buzz, good company, good drinks, and good music. Sit sit, as they all start talking to me at once. I can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed trying to translate four questions at one time in my head, and in response I just grab the bottle of tequila and quickly get a swig in my system. They laugh, one of the men gets up to use the bar phone, followed by the arrival of his son Alfred, one of the only people in town that speak English. I have stumbled upon the nicest three generations of Mexican men I have ever met. As curious as I am of their life here with their family, neighbors, friends, and the ultimate, the volcano, my curiosity is matched with four of me. I get it. I can tell its not everyday an American boy sits at this table, but their focus and mentality surprises me. They must know,” Por que estas sola?” Why are you alone?
I live amongst Latinos in LA, and I think they are the ultimate family oriented culture, possibly my favorite part about them as people. But I realize now, in this small little Mexican town of AmecaAmeca, how strong a family bond can actually be, as they are having a hard time even comprehending any other way. I might even say it matches up to any in the natural world. Even Orcas, or wolves.
Yes, they are making this subject as fun as it can possibly be, but they are being sympathetic towards me. At first I can’t imagine why because I am feeling so blessed right now, but for a moment, they do make me wish, ya know. I’m finding it difficult to explain to them how I ended up all the way here by myself, but at the end I make them know. “I am not alone, look around me.” With this mutual understanding amongst anyone with eyes, the subject change spares my heart.
“ Que estas haciendo aqui?” ( What are you doing here?) I’m here for the volcano. My determination and fascination seems to remind them of theirs, and here and now at this table, I witness my new amigos planning a family hike to the volcano, to help fulfill a strangers dream. Their kindness stundz me, and I stutter as I try and express it to Alfred. He says,” It’s not kindness, it’s common courtesy. “ A little surprised that he knows the saying, but I think in LA terms what he meant was, DUH! With enough to drink, we all decide to go home and rest up for our future day that starts super early, after a late night street taco of course. Buenos Noches.
I rise before the sun, a little tired from this adventure but still passionately pop up out of bed, just as I did in my fishing days growing up. I sit outside on my hotel stoop shivering because I’m underdressed for now, but I know my amigos are bringing me a jacket, todo bien. I use the cold to wake my body, and for my mind; quality entertainment by the stray dog society that has come together in the plaza to reinsure the packs hierarchy, and have some sex of course. A red pick up truck drives straight through the middle of the pack, stuck together or not, they are eventually forced to scatter momentarily, but only do they at the very last moment. I know it’s for me, not because I am expecting them, but because growing up in South Carolina, my father had a landscaping business that used only red trucks. Its printed in my head, the red pick up is always for me. It is Alfred who hops out of the passenger seat to let me in the middle. I think I might be the smallest out of us, definitely in the waist, but its really supposed to be about the legs. If it were my friends or sisters back in South Carolina I’d argue this decision. We bounce and jerk our way through the pot whole infested town until we stop. As if I couldn’t feel more comfortable and cared for, we are back at home because heaven forbid we start our day with out coffee and Mexican bread served by the woman of the house. A kind and quite lady, focused on filling us up much like my own mother, minus the quite part. She knows the men can get too comfortable at the table so she interrupts man- time and shoos us on our way so we don’t miss the sunrise.
The unpredictable weather in the area was brought up last night over liquor, this morning over coffee and bread, and with the sun starting to peak on our drive, its triggered all over again. On top of being inside the tropic high pressure belt, where the afternoon clouds develop daily and hide the peaks of the sister volcanoes, apparently the volcanoes themselves create their own weather as well, for their very own ecosystem. I am feeling so lucky this morning as the faint massive grey smoking mountain comes to life before my eyes, clear as day and night. Remember, this is the first time I’ve seen the active volcano because by the time I made my way yesterday, the clouds and fog had already blanketed the beast. In fact, this is the first time in my whole life ever seeing any active volcano.
Can we please stop and recognize what’s happening to me today. This active volcano is a part of what scientist like to call, “The Ring of Fire.” The earth’s “Ring of Fire” is the bases of all change in the natural world, even from the very beginning. It is real, it is powerful beyond our imagination, and with half of billion people and countless animals literally living in it’s over 1,500 shadows around this planet, you cant help but to feel the force of letting go as you approach one. Everything in my mind, and my heart, and my life, has seemed to suddenly melt away.
Closer now, it is clear to me that this Popocatepetl volcano has not had a major eruptions in almost a century. The dark forest beneath and the pathway to its peak, is full of old life, and grand old trees. Expecting palms and such, some how this volcano has created a seasonal Pine forest in Central America, and filled it with vulnerable life, that one day, it will sacrifice. On almost every turn is a daring old little woman, with her taco stand and shelter. The old and alone women hear the truck coming and almost desperately make their presence known. I even saw a woman throw liquid on her fire to enhance the smoke. Letting us know, “I’m cooking!” We continue driving as high as we can drive, of course after many moments of “ déjame salir, quiero tomar una foto !“ (let me out let me out, I want to take a photo!)”
I notice the trees have shrunk, but now suddenly give way to open grassy rock lands that to my surprise, have a car lot, small but full. I’ve been so wrapped up in the idea of a fantasy world above these clouds that I totally forgot that I’m not the only person in need of enlightenment. We park next to a total retro rescue truck and padre leads the way.
Nothing is ever entirely what you imagine. I didn’t imagine fellow humans on this hike, but as we walk by the sleepy tents, one of them comes alive with a hilarious laugh from what sounds like a teenage girl. Her contagious laugh seems to distribute a sound wave through the canyon, sparking a wildfire of happiness in this ecosystem.
Like an ant colony, us humans are feeding the same hunger. So, one by one, we each find a space to jump onto the skinny path, and climb up the inactive volcano. This rare beauty we walk on should not be overlooked. Although not an “active volcano” these days, because she is who she is, she is able to gently sleep the age away beneath a floral blanket of snow, occasionally shifted by her sister who stands her ground to the east. Still out of my site.
The air thins dramatically, and my friends check in on me. Alfred asks, “ Do you need a break?” “no I’m ok”. My thighs are burning and the less oxygenated air up here has me breathing heavy, but I’m fine. I ask “ Are yooouuu ok? Maybe you should rest.” He is panting like a cheetah after a chase. I somewhat pretend to want to stop here and take some photos so he can catch his breathe with out losing his ego. But, I don’t give him much time before I move along. I can see the morning sunrays beaming over the summit. The stage is set, and my anticipation is erupting.
So close now, I investigate my approach. The path leads to a rocky natural platform that has attracted the exhausted bodies and hungry souls of humans, so my instinct is to detour. I tie my camera tightly around my neck, and use all four of my limbs to crawl up the backside, purposely risking loose rocks to unstabilize my life, more. Like diving into the sea, or surfacing, my hands reach up and pull me above the last boulder, naturally revealing another world to me.
As hermanoearth, I believe there are few characteristics that separate humans from other animals. We all have our own features that make us more extraordinary then others, in our own ways. I definitely feel no one species is more special then the other. But, I’m not sure if I have ever witnessed an animal feel the emotion I am feeling right now from what is simply a sight in the natural world. As I observe a foreign land of volcanoes poking above the clouds as far as the human eye can see, and probably even further with an eagle eye, my body is warped. It is reacting so emotionally to what my eyes can see that my body temperature seems to fluctuate with the beat of my rapid heart, up until I run out of oxygen. I am stunned as I seem to have to try very hard to take another breath. If I were a Lion, I think I would feel a sense of pride up here, and a priceless contentment knowing I was in my element, king of the jungle. But, would it throw me into an orgasmic state? I just don’t know.
When I calm down, I am able to soak in the more realistic pleasures up here. The sounds of absolutely nothing, the clear air, the contrast colors between land and sky, and the obvious curve of the earth’s surface. This is probably as close to space as I will ever be, and it truly feels “out of this world.”
I climb down to reunite with my pride, and benefit from the cookies and water being passed around. The hike up here drops our blood sugar, which probably helped fuel my intense emotions earlier, that and the fact that I’m a total Pisces. One bite, and my real world energy is back. We don’t say much to each other, but through eye contact and energy, much is understood. Our brotherhood is strengthened, and our world right now, seems to be a better place.
My first step down marks the spot where I begin my journey back to Los Angeles, and back to work producing photo shoots. I’m having a hard time believing that my flight leaves from Mexico City in only a handful of hours, as I rotate around soaking up the view, still waiting for it to really hit me. It’s ok though, maybe this means it will linger longer in my head as I try to wrap my mortal spec of a brain around such endless wonders.
The climb down becomes a science book flashback to me, a more familiar tingling that gets me going on a regular basis, from wherever I am. I study the changing tree line and approaching fog as the land descends, and remember the illustrated pictures inside grade school memories. You know, the ones with circulating arrows explaining natures ways to those of us with photographic memories.
The air thickens and my body readjusts itself back to human habitat. I playfully jump from rock to rock, photographing the flowers and fog that too, thrive in our mutual habitat. Hungry as usual, I investigate the mountaintop market that has appeared in the parking lot during our short absence. Let me guess, more daring little Mexican women that rule their element. These particular cuties face off today’s rising wind and dropping temperatures, hardly phased by the flapping tarps around them as they hand craft tacos that taste as if mother earth made them herself.
The irie drive down through the clouds and back to town is quite and reflective. I decide to say bye to my amigos, and make my way to the bus station, SOLO. Before I go, they assure me that I always have a place I can come to, their home in the shadow. It’s a nice feeling. I walk away, having no idea what direction to go. I search for the hilltop church knowing it will help me, but I turn a corner and hit a wall of colors. It’s the Sunday market, the ultimate barrier between me, and my way home.
Espero que hayan disfrutado mi viaje en solitario tanto como yo lo hice. Gracias por leer.
-Michael Wysocki. as hermanoearth