Saturday, September 8, 2012

Oh, On to Oaxaca!

My week-long stay in Mexico DF has been a fruitful one indeed. Despite spending almost two full-days sipping ice tea and doing some additional research online at Starbucks, I leave the Distrito Federal with zero regrets and the intentions not to return in a long, long time.

Bi-Centennial ornaments at the Zocalo Square.

Mexico DF follows the same pattern as Los Angeles: a smoggy, monstrous city with several independent nuclei, called colonias. For most of the time I stayed at the Colonia Del Valle, a posh, upper-middle class district with very uppity neighbors and low crime. For all that time I remained safe, yet I had two awkward encounters with the local authorities –the Policia Federal...

...the first one was an unintentional violation of Mexico City's smog law. While I had heard of vehicles not being permitted to run on certain days of the week, I wasn't sure if that would apply to a foreign plate. Sure enough, it did: I got pulled over because my license, ending in a "5", was banned from circulating on Mondays. The officer said the penalty was close to $250 and several days at the local depot... unless I wanted to try an alternative route. Aaaah, I see what you did there. A $40 tip let me off the hook with a secret "code" to circulate the rest of the afternoon. At the end of the day, and despite the sketchiness of the deal, a good amount of research later revealed I had saved myself a good amount of money. Future overlanders take note: foreign vehicles on do have to comply to smog laws, so get a custom license plate without numbers on it, just letters! Here's a link to this anti-pollution law in Mexico City.

...the second encounter happened while I was adding some input to my GPS in my usual spot. The police officer approached me with professionalism and courtesy, asked me a few personal questions and took a look at my license. He told me someone in the neighborhood had expressed concern about the car being abandoned and wanted it towed. In other words, something closer to the following line: "Please, officer, hurry; there is an unsightly, older vehicle amongst all our new imports, parked right on the street! It's ugly and I want it gone". This officer, however, perfectly understood that, while I was not rich, I wanted to stay in a secure neighborhood. In fact, he vowed to patrol my street more often to see if the car and I were doing well. Woo-hoo!

In the few days that I spent parked in Patricio Sanz #1249, I got to identify many of the locals. Some of them were passionate lovers that kissed for a while before waving each other goodbye; others were humble doormen who had no other occupation to clean cars at the entrance of their buildings. Yet, the most special one was the 9 o'clock tamale seller, Giovanni. Every evening, at 8.45pm, I heard the monotone recording advertising his steamy delights –Tamales Oaxaqueños, calentitos–, and only once I stopped his tricycle to buy a couple. We chatted for a while; he told me he really wanted to attend culinary school, and was currently working as a tamale seller because the job offered a lot of flexibility. "You don't live in your car, do you?". I nodded, his eyebrows raised. "I am about to go teach in Oaxaca", I told him. "Wow, that's funny; well, not funny, just... not common", he said.
As well as being a near-bum in the streets of Mexico, I visited a few places that my friend, Dani, recommended. However, upon my own insistence and much to my surprise, my native friend had never been to the world-famous Basícila de Guadalupe, a place for pilgrims only second to the Vatican. No photography was allowed inside the museum, so I have been forced to use other people's work to give you a full experience of what we saw inside...

Old Basilica of Guadalupe. The actual painting of the Virgin is located in the newer, 70's monstrosity next to it.
Exvotos (painted offerings) from people who thanked the Virgin of Guadalupe. Photo from El Pueblerino Ilustrado.
Perhaps the most important painting in all of Latin America. Photo by Joaquín Martínez.

For some reason, Dani and I were left breathless, as if the air was thinner. Elevation was not significantly higher than normal, but we were both panting at the end of our museum visit. To compensate for this tiring morning, we ate a succulent pot of Mole de Olla (a spicy meat stew) in a local restaurant, as well as the most delicious banana-bean wraps I have ever tasted.

Once my friend Dani left town, I was left on my own to explore the Anthropological Museum. I spent close to 2.5 hours driving in zigzags to avoid construction in what should have been a 40-minute route. Thankfully, and by some twist of Universal Karma, I was greeted with a free pass because it happened to be Sunday.

Modern architecture wraps thousands of years of civilization under one roof! Photo by Hanneorla.
 The first thing I have to say about this museum is that it is the most alive museum I have ever been to. Not only its pre-Hispanic collection surpasses that of the Metropolitan and the British combined in quantity and quality; but the amount of youth visiting the building was ASTOUNDING. Several families had made a day event out of knowing their people's history, and many middle and high-schoolers ran from room to room, furtively taking notes, laughing at the phali and making hilarious comments about some of the statues. I would like to join them now by saying that this one statue looks like Humphrey Bogart...

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship...

The Aztec calendar, said to be more accurate than our own!
Stone-by-stone transplants are also part of this incredible complex.
The second floor of the museum represents the enormous variety of typical attires, music, architecture, food and craftmanship from all corners of Mexico. It was a true delight to see the History that is still alive, built on top of its noble Mayan, Aztecan, Toltec and Olmec roots.

If you think this is breathtaking, just wait until you see the inside... Photo by Hanneorla.

At the end of the week I decided that I had been sleeping for enough (16) days in the car and that I should treat myself to a little luxury and hygiene. I found out a marvelous hostel called Casa Gonzalez, right in the heart of the Paseo de Insurgentes. For $30, I could not be wrong!

Chilling in the heart of Chapultepec, overlooking the vessel of this journey!

Before taking off for Oaxaca, I decided to do some preventive maintenance in Livingstone. I had a few driveshaft parts I didn't have the time to install in the USA, so  quickly looked up the Bosch Service Center directory and found a competent mechanic near the hotel. As soon as I showed up in the shop I was flabbergasted: not only they serviced local taxis and police cars; amongst the curiosities in their stalls there was a 1940's Packard, a 1940's Jeepster and a W108 Mercedes 220SE. I had the strong intuition I was in good hands, and left Livingstone there for day and a half.

As soon as I got out of my little hostel, I was surrounded by modern skyscrapers.
Zona Rosa, a touristy commercial neighborhood with a taste of Barcelona.
Why is most of Mexico overweight? Because candy is delicious and readily available!

In this time I wandered aimlessly throughout the area, and had the honor of tasting Pozole, a pre-Colonial stew made out of corn, chunks of diverse meat and other delicious veggies. Other than that, I have been doing lots of research through other overlander websites, writing in the "articles section" and jolting down a few very important facts and addresses on my paper journal. The road to Teotihuacan will be exciting to say the least, and I can't wait to spend a day in Puebla. I am beginning to develop some ideas for English lessons for the kids of Oaxaca, and the panorama looks very, very promising!

1 comment:

  1. Very nice Miguel ! . keep up the good works . -Nate