Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Vist to a City Condensed Beyond Belief

El Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park)
Less than 24 hours after landing in Mexico City, I end up dancing solo for a crowd. Go figure.

I was entering Chapultepec Park when I was hailed by a clown (red nose, face paint, big shoes, and all the rest) with a microphone, "¡Oye! ¡Güero!" he yelled. I pointed at my chest, and he said "¡Sí, usted! ¿Hablas Español?" And from there we were off to the races.

I wasn't totally alone-- after having me dance solo he pulled three volunteers/victims out from the crowd to dance with me, plus a team of kids in pairs to compliment the show. I even got to practice some meringue and salsa near the end-- lifts and dips included. Good way to start the day.

That wasn't even the beginning, and it certainly wasn't the end. I've been here since Saturday and have been to multiple parks, ruins, museums, rallies, bars, and I've lost track of what else.

One of the highlights was definitely Teotihuacan. About an hour's bus ride from the City's north terminal, it's arguably the most important archaeological sites in the state, if not the country. And that's saying a lot; this is a place where such sites are so common that you can find pyramid steps in the middle of a subway station. Teotihuacan has two of the biggest pyramids discovered on the continent (yes, of course I climbed them), extensive living quarters between them, well-preserved murals, and more.

I banded together with two girls from the UK and a guy from Mexico City and hired a guide. We learned a ton more than we would have otherwise. Among other things, apparently the world is going to end in the year 2012. There's going to be a massive earthquake when the planets align ("Of course," responded one of my British companions, "just in time for the London Olympics."). Not all of it was quite so ominous. The calendar used by the builders (we think the Olmecs, but to this day, we're not 100% certain) was quite advanced, and the numbers used were everywhere in the place's construction and art. The main route is aligned to precisely on 15.5º east of North. There are acoustics such that our guide often stands on the tops of the smaller pyramids in the evening-- a good distance apart-- and easily converses with the guards standing on any of the others. Some of the pyramids haven't been excavated due to budget shortfalls. If you look behind the smaller exposed pyramids, you'll see some hills about the same height. Those are pyramids that haven't been uncovered yet.

I've uploaded pictures of this and more-- If you look on the sidebar under the map, you'll see a slideshow. I'm still playing with this gadget, so it might get stuck. There's a link underneath the pics to the whole album online.

The rest has been one amazing blur. I'm in a really posh apartment, right on the main drag of the city, with a pair of great hosts, Jorge and Ruben. Not only has my stay been comfortable, but also informative. Jorge is an experienced traveler himself in both Latin America and parts of the Middle East, plus Ruben is from Veracruz, one of the places I'm headed soon. So I've been learning a lot from them both about travel in general and also of course in Mexico City (or D.F. as it's known here). Zona Rosa is a great place for nightlife, but don't go there if you don't want to get hit on by someone of the same gender. The National Museum of Anthropology is one of the very best of its kind, be sure to check out the massive sun stone in the very back room. The Subway system is great, if a bit crowded during rush hour. One speedy trip anywhere in the city costs US$0.20. And watch the Mexican tequila-- it became the first drink, not only to give me a hangover, but to give me a hangover before even getting me drunk, (though I suppose five hours of sleep and four and a half in an airplane might have had something to do with that too).

If I keep writing, I'll be here for hours, and I should leave soon-- early birthday party tonight. I'm already meeting people left and right (funny how travelling alone works that way). Tomorrow, I'm headed east to Puebla. I just met a med student from there at the Frida Kahlo museum, so with any luck, I'll be able get beyond the tourist bubble there too.

Check out this post's Photos

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Traditional (Pretentious?) Metaphor at the Start of a Journey

The Chicago Tribune Tower has chunks of something from every state of the union embedded in its outside walls. Not only that, but it has a few things from other places all over the world alongside them. Look hard enough and you can find just about anything from the Parthenon to the Berlin Wall.

I can imagine some people wandering up to the walls, scratching their heads, and asking "why did they do that?" It's a fair question. Why does some newspaper out in the Midwest want a building with little bits in it from random other islands and forests and buildings on the other side of the planet?

The truth is that I'm not sure I could tell you in words. I could be a cynic and skim it, just saying they wanted impress people, but I don't think that's the real reason why.

But after taking this picture of it and looking at it a little more closely, I didn't need a well-worded reason to like it. I just do.

Some people ask me why I'm doing this. What's so great about an adventure, anyway? Why have I picked up a backpack with about 25 lbs of stuff and decided to haul myself away from my home, family, friends, pets, and everything else I'm leaving behind. I don't think I have a good answer in words. Once again, it's not to impress people. If I wanted that, I'd do something easier, like sword-swallowing.

Obviously there's a lot of other, better reasons, like all the stuff I'll learn, the people I'll meet, the places I'll see, things I'll try/explore/record/eat/whatever-I-can-do-with-it. But it isn't any one of those things that led me to do what I'm doing. I don't know if I could give you one reason in words why I want this adventure.

But I like it.

I've spent the last few days back in Chicago chatting up a new director on his vision for his first play in Univeristy Theater, planning a fiction submission for a friend's litmag as she tells me about the "skeeziest conversation she's ever had about semicolons," getting travel tips from one of my favorite professors (eats lots of local yogurt, the bacteria helps your system adjust to local food), walking my cousin's husky-collie and border collie mix out by Lake Michigan, talking up scav at the local watering hole and tons more besides. It's been a great visit, I'm really glad I got to see all the people I ran into, ate with, carried boxes and or groceries for, and everything else. Thank you all, hope to hear from you and maybe even see you on the road!

With any luck, tomorrow is going to be the big day. The last one I spend in my home country for a very long time. My last night at home in Seattle was a sad one, looking at everyone and everything I'm leaving behind. But now that I'm on my way, things are looking up.

Next stop: Mexico City.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Packing Up

There's an old traveler's joke about how to pack. Take all the stuff and money you think you need, and put it on your bed. Halve the stuff and double the money, and you'll be set for the trip.

On this couch is almost everything I'll have for the trip. It all fits in the backpack with room to spare.

The last few things I have left are mostly paperwork. I'm waiting for the "special" ballot I ordered from King County so that I can vote in the upcoming general election before I leave. The original plan was to have one of my Agros teammates pack my regular absentee ballot with them so that I could vote in Guatemala and have them bring it back home to drop off. But they're not sending out absentee ballots until the day my team arrives in Guatemala. So I had to change tactics.

Aside from that, I'm figuring things out like travel insurance and how to file my taxes from abroad. That and picking up a few final pieces of gear (like deciding between a thin regular towel or getting one of those "quick-dry travel towels" that feel like felt and purportedly start to stink after too much use, even after washing).

Five days until I leave Seattle. I'm taking a pit stop in Chicago to see friends and family, and then I'm starting for my first international destination: Mexico City. It'll be my first time in Mexico at all. A little embarrassing considering I'm from a neighboring country and have taken Spanish classes starting in kindergarten. Still, better late than never.