Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bienvenidos a México

Dancers perform during the bicentennial parade in Mexico City Sept. 15, 2010.
Mexico celebrates the 200th anniversary of its 1810 independence uprising. (Miguel Tovar/AP Photo)

Just last week, I decided to cancel my April trip to Japan because of the earthquake and tsunami that has not only devastated the landscape of Japan but it has, understandably so, traumatized its people.  The country struggles to recover and it will be quite a long time before life returns to some semblance of normalcy for those who were affected by the disasters.  As if the loss of thousands of lives and homes was not enough, the earthquake wrecked damage to one of Japan's nuclear reactors and today, two weeks after the quake, Japanese engineers are still struggling to prevent a meltdown.  Almost on daily basis, reports of radiation leakage continue to occupy US news.  The fear of radiation poisoning was enough for me to cancel my trip.  So, I've closed down my Japan travelogue for now but, Mother Nature willing, I will be there this time next year.

Santo Domingo Church and Convent, Oaxaca
The constant traveler in me has been aching to hit the road since my trip to India and Bhutan and I was very sad that I had to take Japan out of the picture.  I had to come up with an alternative.   Oh.....so many places I want to explore.  Iceland was on the list of possibilities as were Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Russian and the Baltics.

But for some reason, Mexico kept tugging at my heart strings; for some explicable reason, I have a soft spot for Mexico.  It's been nearly 30 years since I first went and now seems like a perfect time for a return trip. 

To many of my friends, Mexico is either Cabo San Lucas or even more popular, Cancun.  Places built for American tourists - full of resorts and activities that make Americans happy when they're vacationing. None of that stuff holds any interest for me.

No, for me, I want to explore the heart and soul of Mexico.....a country rich in history and cultural heritage.

Yes, I have been to Cancun but back then, it was barely a town.  Now, it's like considered by many to be the Mexican Riviera.  I have no desire to go back there today.  Today, I want to visit places like Oaxaca and Veracruz and Catemaco and Puebla.

Back then, I climbed all over the buildings at Chichén Itzá, long before the rest of the world referred to it as one of the Wonders of the World.

Yes, that's me (no comments on how skinny I was back then!) standing at the top of the "El Castillo" (the Castle) with the Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors) in the background. It was quite a climb to get to the top of the El Castillo which is a step pyramid. I remember the steps being very high in height and there were a lot of them. There was a chain link rope that you could hold onto to to help you get up the steps. It was an effort to get to the top but as you can see, the view at the top was breathtaking! You could see the jungle landscape that makes up much of the region surrounding. Here's me (no comments on how skinny I was back then!) standing at the top of the "El Castillo" (the Castle) with the Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors) in the background. It was quite a climb to get to the top of the El Castillo which is a step pyramid. I remember the steps being very high in height and there were a lot of them. There was a chain link rope that you could hold onto to to help you get up the steps. It was an effort to get to the top but as you can see, the view at the top was breathtaking! You could see the jungle landscape that makes up much of the region surrounding Chichén Itzá.

Photo by Luis Reyes-Galindo.
Today, I'm told you can't climb up the buildings but nonetheless, I would love to go back to Chichén Itzá as I would have a greater, deeper appreciation for why it's so treasured by so many people around the world. But today, the magnificent Mayan ruins at Palenque also beckon me.  Palenque rivals Tikal in its significance in Mayan history.  Of course, having visited Tikal recently, how can I not go to Palenque?




Back then, I ate cheap street food, enjoying everything from huevos rancheros to simple grilled seafood because I couldn't afford to eat in fancy restaurant. Today, I can well afford to eat in the fancy restaurants but I have no desire. I still ache for good street food except that now I have a palate that has become more finely honed thanks to years of being a foodie.  I can now better appreciate the flavors that I savor and the ingredients and cooking methods that created them. Back then, I was happy just to have a full belly.  Today, I want to salivate over the mole in Oaxaca and the seafood in Veracruz. I want to get lost in the markets of Mexico City and sample everything and I mean everything!  I want to drown in a giant pool of mole!  I want to eat like Rick Bayless!

Back then, I loved walking through the quiet streets of what was then a sleepy town called Cancun.  This is a photo I took of the street vendors nearby our hotel. We'd wake up early in the morning and walk down the street to vendor who sold us freshly squeezed orange juice from his cart.  The most sour orange juice on the planet but we thought it was cool to get it from a vendor off the street. Today, I still love walking through a town's streets and I love seeing people going about their daily lives.  But it won't be Cancun's streets I'll be wandering.  Today, the streets of Merida are calling. I wonder if they have vendors selling freshly squeezed juice from cart or is that something of the past?

Back then, I didn't make it to Mexico City. Couldn't afford it.  Today, I have the means to go and I will.  I've always wondered what the place is like.

Back then, I was captivated by the Hispanic designs and vibrant colors I saw everywhere - in the clothes, the pottery, the artwork, the tapestries.  Back then, I could only afford to buy a small Mexican rug which I have cherished through the years.  Today, it graces the floor of my guest bathroom.  Today, I can afford to bring back another treasure and I have absolutely no preconceived notions of what that might be.

Back then, I didn't really know anything about Mexican music and dance.  Today, I still don't.  Something for me to learn about so I can appreciate the musical sights and sounds when I get there.  Maybe even catch a show.

Back then, I knew only a handful of Spanish words.  Today, I'm a little better and much less shy about speaking in pidgin Spanish.  Somehow, I manage to communicate even if it evokes a puzzled face or two from the person I'm speaking with.  I must practice some more before I go.

Back then, Mexico had a reputation for being a poor and dangerous place; a place where drug cartels reigned supreme. People I knew stayed away but I went and fell in love with country and it's people.  Today, there is still a lingering perception that Mexico is a dangerous place to go as the drug cartels still exist but here is the view of the US government as posted on the US State Department's website.


 So I will apply common sense to ensure my safety and that of anyone who might be traveling with me.  That would be the responsible thing to do.

Back then, I knew very little about Mexico except that I enjoyed every minute of being there.  Today, all these years later, my love affair with Mexico has not died and I am very excited to be able to return and experience it with a whole new set of, wonderfully older eyes. to visiting it with a lot more life experiences under my belt.