Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Puebla and Mexico City

We pulled off the highway after twelve hours and 1000 kilometres of the most tense and intense driving of my life. When we got into Puebla and I saw a hotel on the side of the road I begged Wil to turn in to the parking. It didn't matter that the hotel was the most expensive in Puebla, just that it had a parking lot that was wide enough to turn around in without needing reverse. Wil performed a clever little trick of going up a hill and then using the pitch to roll backward into a spot we could get out of in second gear. It was such a huge relief to get out of the car and to leave the anxiety behind for a little while. The high count cotton sheets didn't hurt either!

We asked the waiters and the security guards, anyone we met, about someone who could rebuild the transmission. We had a lead to follow up on on Monday morning but in the meantime we were determined to relax a bit. We took a colectivo to the Hidalgo market and walked around for a couple of happy hours. We hadn't seen this market when we were here last week and I realize that my impression of Puebla had suffered because of it. So much of what happens in Mexican towns and cities happens at the market. Any one who needs to buy any thing comes to this labyrinth of colourful stalls. The Hidalgo market has got unusually high ceilings for a mexican market which, despite the hordes of people flowing past in all directions, helps keep the inevitable claustrophobia at bay. Mexicans have a different concept of merchandising. The idea here seems to be to get it all out there even if it means that there is very little space left for the actual shopper. The displays are uniformly overwhelming, as is the high volume music pumping from every stall.

Cesar, one of the security guards at the hotel, had told us about a transmission rebuilding business down the road, a place he assured us we could get to without first gear. After drawing us a half dozen maps, he stepped out into traffic to help us get across into the opposite lane without killing our momentum and we were off. We pulled in to Bronco Transmisiones five minutes later and waited for the owner. When he turned up, a tall Mexican version of MacLeod (remember MacLeod? the only thing missing was the sheepskin coat), he called his associate, who runs the standard transmission wing of the business, and he came over to confer. They both seemed quite sure that they'd be able to find a gear box to replace ours. I'll believe it when I see it, but they were dismantling it a few minutes later. The owner gave us a lift downtown where we picked up another yummy garochita and chatted to the kitchen ladies about tourists in Puebla. We found a new hotel and headed off to the Lucha.

Puebla lucha is like lucha everywhere else, each wrestler embodies a different persona, the ninja, the scotsman, the caveman, the devil. The good guys are predominantly dressed in white, the bad guys in black. The Puebla arena is a small one so there is little fanfare as the wrestlers are announced, no girls in bikinis and boots, no light show, just a foggy announcement and some loud music. A little red door opens and out comes the wrestler trotting to the ring. They usually appear wearing capes which they pass down to the security guard after they have stood on the ropes and saluted the cheering (or jeering) crowd. Most of them have little or large paunches hanging over their tight pants and shiny, patent leather booties. When six wrestlers have been announced and have paraded around, hanging over the ropes to have their pictures taken with the kids that are lifted up beside them, the fight begins. There are usually four half-hour fights in a night and the quality of the show improves as the night goes on. The arena is separated into three tiers. The floor (numbered seats), the next level up and the nosebleed section are general admission. The seats are all concrete and obviously designed for Mexican proportions. In the nosebleed section are two groups who sit on opposite sides of the arena and provide the colour commentary for the evening — deafening drums, noisemakers, coloured t-shirts and a string of expletives & lewd hand gestures. One side supports the guys in white, the other side the guys in black. One side drums and cheers and then the other side takes over. The crowd is full of small kids, despite the fact that the show starts at 9 on a Monday night. Young moms hold their sleeping babies wrapped in fleece blankets. The vendors are everywhere. The caliber of food at the Puebla arena is a step up. Men carry around big baskets lined with banana leaves, and inside juicy shrimp served with lime wedges, valentina & a sprinkle of salt or fried filet of fish. Other baskets hold cemites (the Puebla sandwich), a special cemita roll filled with deep-fried potato slices, sautéed red and green peppers, breaded pork, avocado and oaxacan cheese. Beer and refrescos, cotton candy, masks and t-shirts, you can find it all.

Our Mexican MacLeod seems to have found all the bits we need, a new transmission and a new clutch but they need one more piece from Monterrey. We decide to head into Mexico City (or Dé Efe as it's known in Mexico) for the night. We hop on one of the busses that leave every fifteen minutes. It's a totally painless way to travel. Wil smiles happily beside me, patently relieved to be on the road in a vehicle that is not his responsibility. Mexico is just as great as last time. Vast and congested, bustling with the whole population of Canada in one city. While beautiful, the infrastructure of the city is crumbling apart. Traffic is a nightmare, the roads are disintegrating but it's so very alive. We got ourselves a great hotel room in the Zona Rosa, a mellow neighbourhood that reminded me a lot of Barcelona, and headed toward the Zocalo. Although surrounded by some very regal, albeit colourless, buildings, DF's zocalo has zero charm. When we've seen it, It is often just a huge, desolate square. Approaching it up a wide boulevard, the spire of the massive cathedral that faces it is far from vertical. Mexico city is built in a lake bed and the unsteady soil has slowly but steadily been claiming the city's heaviest buildings, notably the Bellas Artes and the Cathedral. We spent the afternoon in the Palacio Municipal, a long, low, beautiful building that frames one side of the zocalo, checking out the beautiful museum it now houses. The history of Mexico is brought to life with flags from every era of Mexico's past, uniforms, paintings, maquettes and video displays. It is not a happy history, slaughter & slave trade, suppression & struggle. A quote from one of the fathers of Mexican Independence described the Mexican people as "either rich or wretched", a description sadly as apt today as it was two hundred years ago. It was fascinating seeing the faces and the achievements of all the characters and getting a grip on the events that shaped Mexico. This country's history is very much kept in the present; every town and city has a street named Cinco de mayo, 15 de noviembre, Independencia, Insurgentes, and on and on. Diego Rivera's incredible, larger than life murals tie it all together. One massive mural over the main staircase paints the entire history of the country in mind-boggling detail and beauty.

Outside, the familiar shouts of the vendors standing behind handbags and stuffed animals and sunglasses. Suddenly a whistle sounds and they all hustle to jam their product into black garbage bags. A moment later, a jacked-up black police pickup appears, full of armed officers. The vendors have suddenly disappeared, melting into the crowd. The truck makes its way up the street and, within minutes, all is as it was, products on display everywhere. The Mexico city metro is a marvel. The pictographs for each station and unbelivably cheap 3 peso tickets mean that it is accessible for all. You can't go longer than from one station to the next without a vendor coming on board selling pens or chiclets or pirated cds blasting out of mini-speakers in their backpack. Nothing ever costs more than 10 pesos.

We had dinner out at a great Italian restaurant where we chatted with the owner, a Mexican-Italian who spent some time in Victoria. A nice bottle of wine, cocktails for the kids. We had a blast.

We were heading out for breakfast at a restaurant when Frances froze in fascination in front of a food stand to watch a man making tacos. We couldn't resist. A plate of two big tacos, hot tortillas under a mix of chopped, seasoned beef and french fries, with a squeeze of lime and some salsa verde. My mouth is watering just remembering it. We started with one order and ended up getting three. Juicy and tasty and a bit greasy — the perfect hangover cure. Back on the bus to Puebla to get news of the van.


A Friend Indeed said...

I'm so glad you inherited your father's gene of optimism in the face of adversity. We're hanging onto your every word and hoping the transmission will be fixed for good.

Cathy Marie Buchanan said...

Just lovely, especially the paunches hanging over the tight pants.

Sarah Gilbert said...

wow wow wow...!

sarah cobb said...

three authors I love & respect commenting on MY blog. It's like a dream. Thanks ladies!