Monday, October 6, 2008

A Little Mexican Night Music

Walking the streets of Mexico after darkI wrote about half of this entry in my notebook in the very back of a midnight bus from Veracruz to Oaxaca, with my crank-powered flashlight dangling from where I'd jammed the wrist strap into the A/C vent. I wrote most of the other half in a $10 room in Xalapa at (I kid you not) the Hotel California. The finishing touches were scribbled out in my current hostel in Oaxaca while surrounded by its two black cats, three basset hounds, two black labs, and one beagle. So if it all seems a little mixed up, that's probably why.

As I've told a lot of people, I've been saving up for this trip for a long time. One of the ways I've done that is to put little things I'd want to buy in perspective. I'd look at a teriyaki lunch in Downtown Seattle during a half hour break, but then I'd tell myself "yeah, I want that, but it will taste better if I save the money and use it to get some in Japan." So I would save the cash, knowing it would be put to better use later. The gelato will taste better in Italy, the samosa will taste better in India, and the hot chocolate will taste better in Mexico.

A few nights ago, after hunting live music by streetlamp, I found myself writing by candle light on the cobblestone square of the Artist's Barrio, sipping Mexican hot chocolate and listening to two guitars and a violin playing latin jazz in Puebla, Mexico.

I was right. The chocolate did taste better.

The week has been filled with churches, museums and markets, but also especially with music. On Thursday, a few friends I made in Puebla took me out to a couple of their favorite bars and clubs. I left my hostel at 9:30 pm, and didn't end up back in my bed until I wandered in around 9:30 am, groggily grabbed breakfast and stumbled back into the dorm for the two hours I could use before checkout. I haven't pulled an all nighter like that since college. Get yourself a club that plays both club music and salsa/meringue/etc, stuff it full of people who know how to handle both, and you've got yourself a great party. I didn't even know the name for half the partner stuff I danced to, but I guess I did okay-- after sitting down, one of the girls I'd been dancing with asked me if I knew how to dance to the kind of song that had just started playing. I said I might be able to guess. She took my hand and said "let's guess together." This is a culture I could get used to.

Then on the other end was two nights ago in Veracruz. I'd been talked into seeing Veracruz by a native who had two rules: 1. No hablas mal de Veracruz (you don't say bad things about Veracruz) and 2. No hablas mal de Britney Spears (...same thing with Britney). So I was a little dubious of his judgment. Especially after running into a Spaniard in Puebla who went on at length about how ugly the city was. But when I got there, and Saturday night fell, it was a whole different ball game. Live salsa bands peppered the city center and people were dancing everywhere. I saw one talented singer who couldn't have been much older than twelve (and also his adorable little brother who wandered onstage and covered his ears). Then of all people, I met a Mexican man who had spent 10 years in Edmonds, WA (or "Deadmonds" as he called it), just outside Seattle.

"Veracruz is ----." He told me confidently. "The place is ----, the people are ----... they just don't ------- want to work." He added, "This is my country, so I can say whatever the ---- I want about it, know what I mean?" I pointed out that the music was good, and he couldn't disagree with me there. He himself has spent three years doing what I'm doing now, traveling the world. He's got back problems from his old external metal frame backpack. Not that he has to worry about it anymore. It was stolen on a second class bus between small towns in the state of Veracruz (part of why he's less than happy with the place). So he's got plenty of advice for backpackers like me.

"Backpackers like me" brings me to another reason why this trip has been so great so far. One of the things I enjoyed the most and now really miss about college is that I was surrounded by smart people close to my age from all over the country. But now, in hostels, I'm surrounded by smart people close to my age from all over the world. Bonus: we're not here to sit in class and do homework. We're here for adventure. Within two hostel stays I've met travelers from the UK, Australia, Switzerland, Spain, Brazil, Italy, and Belgium. None from the US so far, interestingly enough...

For those of you keeping score, I've gone from DF to Puebla, to Xalapa, to Veracruz, and am now in Oaxaca, where last night after climbing a nearby mountain, I made myself sick off of Oaxaca chocolate (...but it's so good!). Up next is Chiapas, then with any luck the Yucatan. Either that or I'm just gonna say screw it all, I'm going south to the beach. We shall see.

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  1. I'm following your moves, Joel, and I appreciate very much your sharing your impressions and thoughts with me and others. Your adventure is the adventure of all who read your "journal" and see your snapshots. Travel Blessings to you! Fr. Dan

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  3. Thank you! Say hello to everyone at Epiphany for me, and see if anyone who isn't already joining me is interested. They don't have to be with Agros to go overseas!

  4. Love your blog XD, I really hope we can guess how to dance much more songs together again!! XOXO B