I’m hunched in the shade writing this, my 30 minute run along the beach this morning has equated to a skin colour widely considered as neon. The sun is strong in south Mexico, even the stray dogs gather under hammocks and palm leaves for relief. We had been told about this particular stretch of sand by a fellow backpacker in the hostel in Zacatecas. From his joyous account of Chacahua National Park, (“it’s empty! It’s untouched! It’s beautiful!” etc.) we’d decided to make it our location for Christmas Day. It turned out to be quite an ambitious undertaking.
The drive to Chacahua from Mexico City is easily a two-day slog. We headed south down the toll road, which was infamous for how heavy the tolls were. However, as we were driving through the territory where those 43 students had gone “missing” at the hands of the local government and the drug cartels, these tolls had either been greatly reduced to encourage tourism or, in one case had been wiped out completely – the toll booths in question were riddled with bullet holes and kiosk operators were replaced with local hawkers demanding we buy overpriced snacks to pay for the ongoing search for the 43. Surreal stuff.
We stopped in San Marcos, out of necessity really, as Gina’s electronics had stopped working (apart from her headlights thankfully) and we fortunately found a mechanic who got her fully buzzing again in half an hour. (10 quid for that, plus his wife made us dinner next door). Gina also had a hiccup the next morning, her battery refusing to charge after we’d filled her up at the petrol station. A family heading north stopped by and one guy poured water on the battery and then ionized it with a coin, which looked like the car-equivalent of homeopathy or witchcraft, but sure enough Gina roared and we gambled onwards to the beach, which is where we’ve been for the past three days. It’s as good as that guy in Zacatecas said it was, and leant itself very well to our Christmas celebrations, which featured – secret santa presents under a palm tree, smashing a piñata full of sweets (well a wee local girl had a shot and demolished it before we could), a running race, lots of swimming, eating and tequila. We also got the chance to go up the lagoon and dive into a carpet of luminescent plankton. Turns out that bit in Life of Pi was pretty accurate, it was fantastically odd to look down below the surface and see your body lit up like a pasty Christmas tree. We got out the water when the guide let slip we were also in crocodile territory.
All this serene nature has made a welcome contrast with the vast morass that is Mexico City, a place that in my mind was to feature endless one-storey slums and open sewers. Once again, Mexico confounded expectations and we were in a Latin American Shanghai. Modern, bustling and packed with atmosphere and music, it’s actually an incredible place. Driving there was a proper nightmare though. First up, we couldn’t enter the city on a Friday as our number plate ended with a ‘9.’ The government has brought in a bunch of measures to ease congestion, the “number plate lottery” being one of them. As we entered the city boundaries, people were honking and waving at us to turn around. Upon realising our blunder we U-turned and slept in a nearby village instead. The next day we got in successfully, only for a delivery cyclist to undertake us when we were pulling in for directions. Cue cyclist falling into a nearby car and some grumpy locals demand we pay for the damage. Cyclist being ok, haggling over damage costs completed, we got out of there £50 down. Thankfully we found free parking for Gina for our brief stay in the capital, which allowed us to enjoy Frida Kahlo’s house, Leon Trotsky’s house (where he was killed by a Stalinist and ALSO where he and Frida conducted a brief affair) some incredible Mexican wrestling (featuring dwarves and one guy performing suplexes whilst dressed as The Grinch) and the anthropology museum, hassle free. A special mention to the anthropology museum actually – thanks to the English speaking guide, I’d say it was one of the most fascinating museum visits of my life. Mexican history is dripping in a lot of stuff, mostly blood actually, but it is so varied and odd, and carries this crazy burden of the Spanish arrival in 1519 (or thereabouts) that I was transfixed in every detail. For instance, the Aztecs and Mayans played this ball-game that was somewhere between football and volleyball. The winning team had to sacrifice one of their players to the gods after the final whistle. Sacrifice was deemed such an honour that this was a legitimately sought after prize. I’d just stick to ping pong personally.
A final mention must also go to Ale, an old chum from Camp America who let us stay with her in the prosperous city of Queretaro. We were about 2 hours late to meet her unfortunately as I was navigating. I had her address down as Calle Santa Rosa. She lives on Avenue Santa Rosa. Calle Santa Rosa was 10 km south and in one of the city’s most dangerous slums. It was a hairy drive. Mexican slums are to be avoided. Finding our way north, we located Ale’s plush house which was a in a gated community and had it’s own security guard. Bit of a contrast there. Ale took us out to eat the local speciality of fried grasshoppers and worms (verdict was 2 “goods” from the guys and 2 “never agains” from the girls) and even woke G and me up at 4am to carry on drinking with her as she’d got back so late from a Christmas work party. It was a long day the next day. And this has been a long post. I’m off to rub moisturiser on my bright red face and body. Scot Abroad!