Monday, October 12, 2009

Two for One

My second trip out of Mexico City was to the state of Michoacan. My first stop was the city of Morelia. The bus ride from Mexico City was not too long. Once at the bus station, I took a cab to the hotel. The first thing I notice as the cab starts driving through the city is the abundance of graffiti. As we get closer to the historic center, I notice how the city seems to clean up. I found a hotel that was right by the main cathedral and had called them from the bus station to reserve a room.

As I check in, they explain how the hotel used to be an old house. Easily it must be over a hundred years old. It’s always exciting to know you’re in such an old building, but I also feel a bit uneasy when I think about all the old stories that must have been trapped there. There’s some life-like painting of the original owners in the courtyard, they explain, and I try not to think too much about it as I walk to my room. The room is great, and there’s a side view to the main plaza.

As I step into the city, the first thing I see is a demonstration outside the Palacio de Gobierno. I’m not sure what it’s about, but there seems to be a lot of tension in the air. I proceed to explore the beautiful Catedral and the adjoining Plaza de Armas. Using a map, I start walking the streets. I walk for a good while, my eyes taking in every single detail. The streets are pretty narrow for traffic at times. There are actually hardly any stop signs at the intersections and somehow this seems to work effortlessly. I pause to take pictures on occasion. Older ladies didn’t seem to like this, since I got more than a couple strange looks from them.

As I’m walking the streets and start to see more grafitti, I wonder how far I should stray from my starting point. I see a street blocked off by a slick cop and his parked motorcycle, which is causing some tension with some of the drivers who have to detour. I see a commotion on that street, so I decide to check it out. It’s a student protest and from the look of it, it has been going on for a while. There are cops everywhere and I try to sneak in a picture or two.

After all the walking it’s time to eat. I had seen a few places to eat, but I was clearly not in the right area. I needed more options. I start heading back and find myself outside the local mercado. I spotted it when I saw guys carrying the heaviest-looking pieces of meat I have ever seen, all on their backs. As I step into the mercado, I realize I must be there at the wrong time. Most of it is empty. I go upstairs and find plenty of places to eat, though. I settle for a place and have a simple but satisfying meal. I overhear the gilrls talking about the “man with the flowers” and how someone beat him up yesterday, as they look down to the first floor. The idea of someone beating up the man who sells flowers makes me feel pretty uneasy.

I explore some more churches and then go to the Museo de Arte Colonial, which has an impressive collection of Christs. It was almost surreal to be able to see the all the detail of the sometimes very bloody depictions of the crucifixion. After this museum visit, I decide to visit the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. I know it’s a walk based on what I see on the map, but of course it ends up being a lot further than I had anticipated. It was mainly another excuse to explore the streets of the city.

The museum is adjacent to a park, which I visit briefly. I see a handcuffed young man with a beat up face sitting in the back of a police truck. His friends are searching his pockets, pull out a cel phone and are having a back and forth conversation on what number to look for. This is probably not the best place to be hanging out, so I decide to head into the museum, which had a very interesting exposition on women.

I start walking back to the hotel, tired and starting to feel very hungry. I step into a church on the way back while they were having mass. The chuch was small and there were only a few people in attendance. I wasn’t sure who was leading mass, as I couldn’t see anyone standing up front, but the voice came through the speakers was loud and clear. They had some electronic red candles up front that made the mysterious voice a bit surreal. Someone started singing and playing guitar through the mic and I decided to sit for a bit longer. I found the music very soothing and it helped me relax.

I step out of the church energized and ready to start the night. I walk back to the main plaza and find it packed with people. There’s a band playing and everybody seems to be dancing. I hung out there for a good while, enjoying watching the people rejoice with the music. The dance floor was packed and no one seemed to leave to sit down. They just kept dancing.

I have dinner close to the dance and then head to the hotel to relax for a bit. I looked online for some bars and leave the room after a good rest. I had a gaspacho, which I had been craving. It’s basically a huge fruit cup. I then go to a bar and sit in the patio along with the locals. I order a beer and they bring me too, but only charge me for one. I take them, a bit confused, and start drinking. I only stay there a while, I was mainly killing time before going to the local gay bar I had read about.

I walk into the bar, not expecting much. The place was very crowded and although it wasn’t officially a gay bar, they certainly weren’t fooling anyone. I go to the bar to order a beer and get two again. I must be dreaming or this must be my lucky day. Men were fashionable (I spotted a guy in MC Hammer pants) and the DJ was great. After a while I find myself buying another beer, which of course turned into two. I leave the bar pretty drunk and decide to have some tacos. Of course they also had a 2x1 special and I end up with four tacos when I ordered two. My stomach didn't agree with the tacos too much, as I had a stomach ache later that night, times two.

Dancing Dora

On my first full day in Veracruz I had breakfast next to the hotel (a very bland American breakfast came with the room). I wanted to go to the beach that day. The city is a port, so the good beaches were a 10 minute cab ride going south. I had one beach in mind and asked the guy at the restaurant about getting there. You could take a cab, but you could also take a local bus. I opted for the bus. I asked around and figured out which bus to take. It was a great feeling being on the local bus, carefree and listening to the loud radio. I was starting to feel part of the city.

The bus left me a few blocks from the beach. There was a large aquarium, and to the right there was a small beach area. The beach didn’t look that big. As I descended the very uneven ground to get to the beach, I saw a number of small boats and restaurants. I was immediately approached by a lady who was offering me a seat at her restaurant. Telling her I just had breakfast, I asked about the boats and how this beach compares to the ones further south. She said most of these beaches were the same and that the boat ride was worth it. I decided to go for it and pay for the boat ride, telling her I might eat something once I get back.

The boat would do a tour of Isla del Sacrificio, the local island. I didn't really ask much about the tour, I figured whatever I saw would be interesting. I took my shoes off and got on the boat, along with three girls visiting from Monterrey. Three other people would join us before parting. A couple of guys were guiding the boat. It was great to feel the cool air as the boat parted, leaving the city behind us. We finally stopped close to the island and the younger guide shares some of the history of the island (there was a very good reason why it was named Sacrifice Island).

Next we made a stop in the middle of the ocean. We were told the water was shallow and we could walk around. It was hard to believe this could be true, but we could see the ground a few feet below us when they stopped. I was wearing my regular street shorts (didn't know I would end up in the ocean). We get off the boat and start exploring the area. I was very excited as we see a school of beautiful yellow fish approach us. The guide would also bring us random starfish that we could touch.

We ended up staying in the area more than 20 minutes. By the end I had taken my shirt off and everything out of my pockets. I just laid there in the water, completely relaxing as I watched the fish swim around me. I also laughed as I watched the younger guide flirting with the three girls.

After a good twenty minutes in this one spot, we returned to the mainland. Once back at the beach, I was approached by the same lady at the restaurant. It was now around noon and I sat in the shade, facing the ocean. She proceeds to tell me everything on the menu and I order a large shrimp cocktail and a couple of Coronas. As much as those Corona commercials bug me, I felt like I was part of one.

As I was eating my meal, I was approached by some lady who offered to read my palm. She said it would be 20 pesos. Now this is something I've never done before and I figure why not. She sits to my right, takes my hand, and starts reciting a number of things about what she's about to tell me. Most of what she told me is now a blur. She was close on some of the things she said, but she was off on many others. My hand was in an uncomfortable position - my arm was twisted to my right and my hand was suspended mid-air. After a few minutes my hand started to shake because of the uncomfortable position, making the session very awkward. I was glad when she was done and I could get back to my meal.

I finished my meal while engaged in a conversation with the restaurant lady. It turns out she had a fear of boats and rarely had been on one. As much as I changed the conversation, we always seemed to come back to that. It was a good conversation though. I spent another hour or so walking along the beach, hoping my shorts would dry soon and wishing time would slow down so I could stay there longer.

I took a bus back to the hotel, showered and relaxed for a bit. I spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening walking around, taking pictures, visiting the Mercado again, etc. The humidity and the heat were always present. When I decided to visit a museum, my back was itching and I noticed it was because of some insect bites. Great, it must have been where I had just had a meal. The museum was empty, so I spent most of the time standing in front of a huge fan, hoping my tourist wounds would stop itching.

During the evening, I went to the Malecon, a very touristy area. There you could buy all sorts of souvenirs, including the expected silly t-shirts. There were some buses that offered a historical tour of the city. There were a few buses parked, waiting for people to load. I get on the one that should be leaving soon and go to the second story and wait. The buses have cheesy dance songs playing full blast. Not only that, but they had people in costumes dancing to the music, inviting the people on to the buses. I had Dora the Explorer on my bus, later joined by a very upbeat Goofy. Kids seemed to be hypnotized by Dora, as they waved incessantly from the sidewalk. Once the tour started, Dora and Goofy got off and we listened to pre-recorded bits of history as the bus drove through the streets. The weather was very cool now and we could see a thunderstorm in the distance. This was my last night in Veracruz and I was as happy as Dora and Goofy appeared to be, showing their dance moves on that bus.