It’s been three months since the heat of Mexico prickled under my skin. There are still moments in days where I catch myself staring vacantly into the Brisbane sky, waiting for the waft of toasting corn chips or the squeals of Mexican children yelling ‘Hola’ to the pasty white tourists being herded through the protestors in the Zocalo. Mexico was all and nothing that I had imagined.
I had pictured myself eating crickets, being laughed at for my white-washed sensitive sunburnt skin, and I’d pictured the dancing that would happen in the famous clubs of Cancun. What I hadn’t pictured was the way a country like that could stop you in your tracks and drag you back there three months after you’ve been home and continued the never ending cycle of work, washing, gym and grocery shopping. The Mexico I’d seen, or ever known, was founded on the stories of the drug trade, the escaping people across the borders of Texas, the skulls of the day of the dead plastered on the skin of ‘the alternative’ in the streets of West End. I was expecting the heat, the ruins and the Spanish but I wasn’t expecting a new lease on love for refried beans at breakfast.
Two years prior I’d been to Los Angeles and stumbled across a Mexican market place. The bougainvilleas, the walls of wrestling masks and the bright plastic flags swallowed me whole. I bought a pack of plastic flags and hung them above the front window in my house. I looked at them daily and had made a decision long before I bought them that a place where wrestling and tequila went hand in hand was probably somewhere I needed to be. I bought a skull moneybox and the saving began.
My Mexican adventure came from the back of two and a bit months of Tex-Mex American and French Canadian adventures. I’d been travelling solo a long while and had grown used to making part time friends and spending the endless hours waiting for something to happen. That’s what people forget to tell you about solo travel, it’s not the eating alone that’s tiresome, it’s the waiting. Waiting for transport, for other people to finish in communal bathrooms, on buses, planes, in restaurants and queues. That’s the time solo travel will get you. It’ll eat you up and spit you onto the first plane home if you’re not careful.
The taxi ride to the hotel was uneventful. If I closed my eyes and just listened I could have been anywhere. Another big city filled with the sites and smells of too many people and not enough space. The food carts, the market places, the hanging ‘rip off’ merchandise, it could have been the back streets of Phnom Penh. It was when we rounded the next insane traffic corner that I saw it. A Lucha Libre wrestling arena. The walls and windows of a building that was probably once state of the art and ready to rival Madison Square Garden had fallen into a state of disrepair. The paint was peeling, there were holes in the walls and the posters of upcoming events were serving less as advertising than makeshift walls. I let out some semblance of a choked chuckle and the cabbie glanced at me in the rear-view mirror. He smiled and pointed at the mask layered in fluoro green and silver and gave me a thumbs up.
I spent two days lost in the throng of Mexico City. Walking along its grubby streets, taking photos of its once opulent buildings and searching for the entrances of the hidden subway system. I sought out palaces and gardens, churros and hot chocolate, mariachi bands and ponchos. I turned an innocent looking corner one afternoon and stumbled into Mexico. There were no tourists, no signs in English – a small pedestrian street that was filled with Mexican cantinas. The locals ate set menus and simply ordered by meat. I took a seat and the locals smiled. My Spanish was limited to ordering a beer and I had no hope interpreting the chalkboard menu. The small family next to me smiled and nodded at my presence. The little girl kept staring and broke out into all round laughter. Her mother scolded her and smiled at me apologetically. I could only imagine that she had said something similar to my mother when I used to get caught staring at people who looked somewhat different than I did.
I ate what I can assume was an enchilada drowned in green sauce and rambled aimlessly around a city I still couldn’t quite understand. With soft serve ice cream machines on every corner, over the top and fancy dress shops and locals who spent more time outside than in their own homes, Mexico City was a city of contradictions. I’d spent that last afternoon waiting to meet my tour group hopelessly lost. Not being able to read a map and having a political conversation about the state of affairs in Mexico with a woman named Ophelia, the woman, in broken English, was able to point me in the right direction. Two blocks to my left was the hotel.
I had invented a number of excuses not to make it to the meeting. Got stuck in traffic, wasn’t driving. Got lost, was in the lobby. I knew I’d have to meet them eventually but there is nothing like that sense of dread when you meet a new group. Not knowing how many of them are in couples, how old they are, will there be anyone who thinks like I do and what if this time I am that one person in the group everyone else just can’t seem to stand. I’d spent two and half months on my own and was beginning to crave the company of others. I was conscious of coming across too desperate to make friends and had made a plan of action to keep myself together.
I knew our tour leader’s name was Jacob. We’d emailed a few times about wrestling (watching – not doing). He seemed intelligent and his emails were witty and funny. I was going to make him my friend whether he knew it or not. Turns out, like most things I am afraid of in this world, the fear was unfounded. They were well balanced in ages and interests and there seemed to be a representative from all walks of life and most of them liked beer. I was worried about nothing.
In the next two weeks we bused and walked our way through central Mexico to the coast. We laughed after the fifth descendant of the Ancient Mayans and Aztecs clapped in front of the eighth pyramid we’d seen that week and reeled at the tales of eaten hearts and beheaded ball game captains. We stifled in the heat up the third mountain and slapped at the mozzies in the overgrown forests. We crawled down the rickety ladders set in old tree roots and jumped from the wooden platforms built in underground cenotes. We clambered at the bar for another glass of mezcal and threw down another cerveza. We danced our way through Coco Bongo and swam with the largest fish in the ocean.
It was nothing that people had said it would be. Instead I had been treated to a people overly generous with their food and culture, willing to share their space and heritage and show us what Mexico was best at, tequila and cactii. While I spend my days whiling away the time between my trips I am still haunted by the Mexican sun. The whiff of a bougainvillea, the whir of an ice cream machine, the radiating heat of a desert sun; I can see, hear and feel it all the moment my mind begins to wonder. I regularly meet two of the members of my tour group for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant and we laugh at the three corn chips sitting up right in the refried beans. One dinner, mid-laugh, I glance up and see Lady Guadalupe smiling from her alter on the wall. I smile back and give her a wink. She can feel the Mexican sun too.
Anna travelled on Tucan Travel’s Magical Mexico Adventure Tour.