Sunday, August 27, 2006

Some Aspects of Travel in Mesoamerica

1.The food.

I´ve never been so affected by the public and intestinal presence of fried meat. It is more common than bread in this country, impossible to get away from, so why resist? As a result, I have been on some accidental version of the Atkins diet for four months now, and the results have been as advetised. The idea of me eating to lose weight is thoroughly insane of course, but what can you do when you live in a shoe, hecho en Mexico?

That´s been my policy from the start, and 500 or so tacos de bistec later, I feel this strange absence of... fresh vegetables and fruit, most grains, anything steamed, etc. The cornucopia of bistec, chorizo, rais, pollo, carnitas, and so on is so omnipresent that it becomes difficult to disassociate food and eating from the inevitable heaps of fried meat piled in every corner.

In Mazunte, I discussed the dietary situation with a medical student from Conneticut, who corroberated the symtoms I was experiencing: a very slight light-headedness/other-worldliness combined with a distinctly hollow feeling around the solar plexus, as though having just been probed with a cow tongue. Unhealthy, but survivable was the conclusion.

The interesting thing is, of course, that Mexican food, as Mexicans themselves are always saying, is
muy sabroso, muy rica, que delicioso
. The quickest way to get a Mexican totally excited is to ask him/her what good foods are available for consumption. The eyes widen in excitement as the long list of chalupes, chiliquiles, enchiladas, ceviches, sopas, tlayudas, tamales, etc is revealed with great detail, hand-to-pursed lips gestures, and general fervour. Too much for an aphasic like myself to remember in proper detail of course, but the fine and rich mole, a semi-unsweetened chocolate sauce covering chicken, rice, tamal/anything edible, has not gone unnoticed I happy to say.

A typical example of all this being the other night when I wandered back to my friend Odet´s house to find the courtyard covered in streamers, and a surprize birthday party for her mother in full swing, including a band blasting out the best country music of the state of Tabasco.

I had some bread rolls in hand, my idea of a meat-free dinner, and Odet kept asking me if I wished to feed properly. Like a typically guilt-ridden norteño guest, I protested repeatedly throughout the evening until finally I wandered into the cocina at about 1am to find enough uneaten pollo de mole con arroz to feed an army. Having been primed by a few ´taqilas de refresco´, i.e., hard liquor hideously mixed with goldish yellow pop, I finally indulged a little while being interrogated about the translations of ´puta´,
´fuck you´, ´mierde´, ´cabron´, etc. by a gang of sweet-faced 12 year old schoolgirls and boys(some still in their uniforms), cousins of Odet, who I was meeting properly for the first time. In such moments of pure Mexican hospitality you quickly learn to forgive other moments of pure Mexican lieing, filth, and general city-of-20-million-people craziness.

2. Cycling.

Some people have asked if I, bicycle addict, have done any cycling in this country, with its incredible mountain vistas, etc. Cycling in Mexico has much potential, and I of course regret not bring my own bike along. While teaching in Chiapas I was lent a kids 24¨ mountain bike of the K-mart variety for a month or so. It had been in a crash and had the mild issue of a permanently loose steerer tube, one half-broken pedal, and bottom-of-the-line untightenable brakes didn´t stop me from ascending from the bottom of the Chiapas valley to the mountain pass and descending to the next valley (Suchiapas)whenever I had the chance. The one thing that worked on that bike were the gears, and despite its overall heaviness, I could climb reasonably well on it. Well, that is, for a bike with a maximum (knobby) tire pressure of 45 lbs., which is lower than what´s on my dad´s 1963 Raleigh cruiser. When you have nothing at all to ride you learn to appreciate a piece of crap that gets you out of a hot, polluted city and over a lush, cool green mountain or two, and back again in a couple of hours.

I rented a couple times and rode mountain bikes at altitude, in St Cristobal and Oaxaca City. The trouble is, the Mexican idea of mountain biking, at least to those renting bikes to touristas of unknown experience, is hilly roads, some possibly without pavement. Despite repeated pleas for ¨senderos de bici de montaña¨, I was always handed a roadmap with hills.

In Oaxaca, this amounted to a large circuit through a part of the Valle Central, which began with the ascent of Monte Alban, a proper 2000 metre ¨puerto¨ that nearly hospitalized my hapless Danish companion of the day, Martin, who was already having trouble just living and breathing in the general altitude of the state. Well, he looked young and strong enough. It turned out that Martin´s primary knowledge of mountain biking was being acquainted with his neighbour back in the very flat Danmark, who was on the Danish Olympic mountain bike team.

At more than one point, I was riding with one hand on Martin´s back (which was mostly covered by a horribly swaying Guatamalan dufflebag full of odds and ends), pushing him upwards. It was slow.

After we finally summitted at the semi-famous Zapotec pyrimid and registered the complete insult of a 45 peso entrance fee, we descended a ways to the dirt roads of the countryside, and I sent Martin packing after a short discussion weighing the mild shame of returning a full day´s rental after an hour-and-a-half versus that of abandoning and being stranded halfway through a 50km loop in the heat of the day.

The real lesson is that having your own bike is the answer, as you can ride it all you like, where you like, for as long as you like, without Martin coming along.

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