Sunday, April 27, 2014

Trinidad de Cuba

Uncertain we were in the right place, we waited underneath a highway overpass where a Trinidad bound bus would hopefully be making a stop. We weren't alone there. There are more people in need of rides in Cuba than there are seats to accommodate them, thanks to an overburdened transit system and a scarcity of working vehicles. This leaves Cubans relying a great deal on hitchhiking for their commutes. Any driver with a seat is supposed to be obligated to lend a spot to a hitcher, but those hopeful to score a ride will often wave cash around for better assurance. In some areas denser with hitchhikers, government officials in yellow uniforms referred to as Amarillos organize the hitching process, giving higher priority to women, children, doctors, and nurses.

Photo by Brian Linzmeier

Brian and I enjoyed the idea of hitching as an experience and way to save money, but didn't want to rob a needier local of a seat. Eventually our blue Chinese tourist bus stopped by for us and we were on our way to Trinidad de Cuba.

...until our bus broke down. But not before the entire coach was filled with fumes. After a sweaty while and the driver's fiddling about the engine, a mechanic dropped by and replaced the broken part and we were on our way again.

We stopped for lunch at a tourist oriented rest stop with a mini-zoo featuring a tree full of sleeping jutia, giant tree rats that are eaten in some parts of Cuba.

Trinidad, once we were finally there, proved to be a gorgeous town as dense with music as it is color. Spiraling away from the grand Casa de la Musica next to the town square is a great variety of excellent venues in which to enjoy live salsa music and cocktails. Every night, I believe, ended with cigars, mojitos, and bar hopping based on what our ears caught wafting out of various clubs as we strolled around. We carefully resolved that the specific combination of rum, tobacco, and salsa music was a formidable one, and that we could never tire of it. If a spot was particularly bumping, the sparse amount of space in front of the band would fill with whirling salsa dancers. We made friends with a shrunkenly old black salsa genius with a permanent smile that would grab a the hand of a different young lady each song, and regardless of her skill level, make her look marvelous on the floor. He'd even take ladies right out of the arms of their partners, and he was so charming there was clearly no point in resisting him.

During the day, every ninth corner and doorstep or so was ornamented with a dapper as heck old Cubano merely minding his cigar and looking awesome. I think I want to become a Cuban when I reach my senior years.

We found ourselves frequenting a brand new creperie that served the best piña coladas in town – right out of the pineapple. I rarely stick around in one place when I'm traveling to be recognized by locals, but our piña colada chica quickly recognized us as good tippers and would cheer “papi!” when she saw me coming. I threw in an extra buck on my last night and in turn she ran kisses up my arm. We met the proprietor and were shocked to discover he was an Italian immigrant. Cuba is definitely transitioning into a more open version of itself, even if only incrementally; with great regularity we found the information we would digest on line to be outdated, even when published recently.

I told the owner of the creperie that we wanted to become the kings of salsa dancing and he gave us the number of a friend that took us back to her place for private lessons. I realized our aspirations weren't going to be realized in a mere couple of hours and resolved to take lessons each day after Brian left and I would be then doing Cuba solo.

At the bottom of the great steps that led to the Casa de la Musica, we bumped into a couple of Dutch girls we gave a lift to in Las Terrazas, and then took them on an impromptu tour of Trinidad's night life – because we are such experts. The night ended in a cave on the hill behind the city that hosted a nightclub popular with the younger locals. We danced ourselves sweaty to Latin top 40 hits until the lights were turned on at three in the morning.

Trinidad, we read, has access to the finest beaches you can find outside of a resort in Cuba. The four of us rented bikes and spent a great afternoon of snorkeling and beach side mojitos. Brian had a nervous encounter with a sea snake.

We stayed with a Jorge that was pretty charming but very aggressive about pushing his tours. We let him talk us into scuba diving when we found out it would only be $25 a dive.

The dive instructor has no hair save for a mustache and a manicured tuft at the tip of his forehead, a concave chest, and would consider it criminally neglectful to drive by a young woman without giving her an attentive honk from the car horn. After a brief fitting and briefer tutorial on how one scubas, we were off and then under the turquoise blue water.

The deceptive curtain of reflective blue on the water's surface hides a different world entirely. Right away I felt like I was exploring a world more exotic and interesting than the surface of Mars. The white sand that flows from the coast becomes incrementally taken over by coral – first in pocketed islands but eventually becomes all encompassing. Multicolored fingers, fans, tentacles, tubes, lilies, and large bulbous brains define the landscape and are further populated by darting fish that are even more colorful still.

The complex textures and dazzling colors fill each part of your mask and create a powerful contrast when you feel inspired to turn your head up and look at the glassy pane that separates the worlds of water and air, and is so familiar from the other side. Looking up, the mask is filled only with blue save for the distorted rays and ripples of sunlight or maybe a jelly fish pulsing gently, riding the rhythms of the ocean, delicate and dangerous at the same time. Farther yet, the contours of the ocean floor grow more complex with great rocks and then deep crevasses, creating underwater canyons that eventually yield to sheer cliff faces overlooking a place where the water becomes somehow purple and then black. Every inch of the canyons is covered in coral and on our second dive we descended into one of these great cracks in the Earth.

It was thrilling to be entirely encompassed in this very organic and alien feeling world. The experience is simultaneous serene in the utmost way and, even still, full of danger. Every meter of depth amplifies the potential for harm and Brian and there were without experience, navigating narrow passes that tugged at our gear and housed deadly lion fish close enough to grasp. It felt like perhaps something we shouldn't be doing in a country where we don't even have an embassy, and yet it felt precisely like the kind of thing we should have been doing.

Brian had his flight to catch nearly a week before my own, but I had to return to this beautiful place. I was taken back to that cliff's edge and this time we descended into it. By the time we were 25 meters deep, fish could no longer be seen. It was just a wall of coral on one side, an iridescent wall of purple on the other, and us in between. In this colorful space devoid of sound and fish I lost all sense of proportion and felt rather more like a single cell organism floating around a microscope slide than a novice diver in foreign waters.

On the return, passing long trumpet fish and leering moray eels, the landscape gradually transformed back to the familiar forms that seem actually plausible, and there were crabs dancing on the rocks above the water break to celebrate our return. The instructor pressed me against the rocks with a degree of alarm and explained, “uno momento; there are cops on the beach,” and then I realized why those dives were so affordable. Back on the sand, I left my unlicensed dive instructor a tip, enjoyed a cocktail with a girl in the London music biz, and then headed back to Trinidad in a sky blue Chevy.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Soroa y Las Terrazas

After nearly a week in Cuba and the better half of $100 spent in wildly overpriced dropped calls and internet that makes your AOL dial-up in the nineties seem like a sexy speed demon, I managed to secure my departure flight out of Cuba. It took all of a half hour to book due to loading times, and it was completed with a narrow couple of minutes left before the hotel computer was to log me off (here you buy internet scratch cards with the codes you need to log-on at $8 an hour). Comically, the airline's page crashed to an error screen after I put in my credit info, but I was delighted to find a confirmation message in my email's inbox.

With that out of the way, Brian and I were free to explore Soroa, another beautiful outdoor destination in western Cuba. Soroa is up in the hills, is densely green thanks to high annual amounts of rainfall, and is frequented by fewer tourists than some of the bigger destinations nearby.

We started for a mirador (viewpoint) atop the sharp hooked peak of the nearest mountain. At the top we were greeted by a few dozen turkey vultures circling the peak sometimes close enough to see their individual feathers flutter. It was exhilarating to stand on the edge and let the jungle below fill your vision, and then see the breeze you just felt tug at your shirt alter a vulture's flight path. To share that same wind so intimately felt magical.

A river that cut around the base of the mountain led to a lovely thirty five meter waterfall where we drank rum from coconuts and stripped down to our underwear to swim in the water. I'm not sure anything makes me feel quite as happy or so at peace so quickly as a waterfall can, and I loved feeling its water beat down on me and blur my vision. We swam with enormous tadpoles, bigger than my big toe. I didn't think they could ever be so big, but we were endlessly delighted at how many surprises nature still has for us.

The family we stayed with was a very warm and cooked what were definitely the best meals we had in Cuba. They filled the dinner table with rice, beans, fried bananas, squash with onions, yucca and boniato (Cuban sweet potato), fresh salad, a tasty vegetable saute, and one night this weird fruit shaped like a giant scaly avocado but with flesh that while moist and fibrous like a pineapple, dissolves in the mouth with a slightly sandy quality like a pear, has giant black seeds, and a pleasant sweetness (I would later find out it is called a chirimoya).

Nearby Las Terrazas was our original destination, but as an eco-tourist village with only more expensive hotels for accommodations, we were advised to save money by staying in a nearby casa in Soroa. We took a car to Las Terrazas and were dismayed to find out it was prohibited within the park to hike any of the trails – none longer than just a few miles – without an expensive tour guide. We were a little burned out on the way we had already been dropping dollars, the requisite hand holding in Cuban parks, and had in the days prior logged a great many miles on the trails, so we discussed it and realized would be cheaper to hire the driver for the whole afternoon than to take one of the offered treks, so we did just that.

We started the afternoon by scrambling over the ruins of an old coffee plantation that had once been tended to by hundreds of slaves. A stray dog, perhaps the most charming I've ever met, kept us company and had us winded as we played games of catch and tag up and down the terraced rubble beneath a great stone tahona that had once crushed coffee beans. A restaurant there had rather decent coffee.

The hottest part of the day was spent in a wide stream popular with locals. While Brian and I were chatting up a couple of Candian girls while sipping on a Buccanero and Crystal cerveza respectively, I found a tick dug deep into my right side. I likely would have spent the rest of my trip paranoid about infection if it weren't for the fact that one of the Canadians had already looked into it and knew there wasn't lyme disease in Cuba.

Fire from a lighter did nothing to deter the little bloodsucker, but our driver stepped in and dug it out with his nails (I looked it up since, and learned you should save the ticks that bite you just in case). I ambled over to a bartender by the river and in broken Spanish asked for 'un poco de ron' to prevent infection. He obligingly poured some into my hand which I rubbed into the sore, then he insisted I tilt my head back so I could take some more medicine orally for good measure. What a good doctor.

For lunch, our driver took us to a place that would serve us in the infinitely more affordable pesos nacional. Parked outside was a hatchback full of well over a dozen goats. The owner of the goats we found in the back over a sandwich and I told him my cousin was in the market for goats and wanted to buy three. After lunch he took us back to the car and showed us there were in fact 20 goats total in the hatchback and perhaps two hand fulls of chicks in the front we missed. I promised to send his brother in Miami a photo.

Back in Soroa we went to the world's second largest orchid garden and there saw the world's smallest bird: the bee hummingbird, which is endemic to Cuba. We strolled home to finish the evening with another excellent dinner and then cigars and rum on the porch, which I think will become my principle past time when I become an old man.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Our taxi driver asked if we minded if he made a quick stop to take care of something and we obliged him. Then he turned into a hotel parking lot on the edge of a cliff and everyone in the taxi, my cousin, two Polish girls, and myself, joined in a harmonized “woooooow!” as our vision was filled fully with a lush valley of tobacco fields backgrounded by green covered limestone cliffs: the very same postcard vantage that made me so determined to come to Viñales months ago.

Earlier in Havana, we were dismayed to find the bus we needed well past full, but we were sure there would be some other disappointed Viñales bound travelers besides ourselves and we resolved to stay planted and find new friends to split a taxi with. The plan worked and we beat the bus by a good couple of hours.
Viñales is a verdant rural town famous for its tobacco production and dramatic limestone cliff formations. Walking about the main village, teeming with dogs, chickens, pigs, boys with baseball gloves, and classic American cars, it felt like we were walking around a tropical alternate reality version of 1950s middle-of-nowhere America. The street cuisine does little to dispel that feeling. Pizza, spaghetti, and sandwiches seem to take a significant share of a Cuban’s diet and are available in restaurants at nearly U.S. Prices or in local stalls for around forty cents and paid for in a different currency entirely (It's 24 CUPs to 1 CUC, with the CUC's value being fixed to the USD – but don't bring USD to Cuba because you'll incur a 10% additional tax penalty in the conversion). So most meals consist of white starch, a heap of cheese, and a smear of vaguely tomato-esque paste. Cheap college food.

We stayed in our first Casa Particular, a rentable room in a Cuban's home; an interesting recent exercise in free enterprise and the most affordable way to sleep in Cuba. We based our pick of casa on how well its outdoor space accommodated dusk time cigar smoking and settled on a casa close to the farms with a table on its roof.

In the morning our hosts introduced us to Diosnel, who would take us around the valley. Our day started at a cigar factory where we were walked through the process of making cigars, though the tour's being done entirely en Español limited our comprehension. Sweaty shirtless men packed the leaves tightly in bundles using a giant metal press. The leaves are then fermented in a powerfully acrid aging room. In a warehouse room full of dozens of middle aged women, the leaves are stripped of their steams and then separated into wrapping and fillers.

We stopped next for coffee at Diosnel's home and he sold us maybe a dozen really crappy cigars for way too much – probably dollars to a few cents (a wildly typical scam here – in the cities you learn to drown out the sound of “Cigar!?” as you get around).
Diosnel drove us deeper into the valley until the roads made the car no longer practical, and we loaded into a horse cart led by the noble Reggaeton. We discovered the right way to motivate a horse was with a nasally, “cabaaaaaaaallo!” We plowed through muddy trails past thatched tobacco huts and cigar smoking farmers in ox carts and we learned more intimately the nuances of those dome capped cylindrical lumps of limestone covered in bushes, palms, vines, and moss.

Eventually we landed at a tobacco farm where a handful of farmers greeted us with complementary cigars – their tips dipped in honey – and a cocktail they called Coco Dios: a coconut split open and filled with honey, orange, grapefruit, pineapple, and of course, rum. Brian had been lugging around a bottle of Bushmills he bought at the Mexico City airport in anticipation of St. Patrick's Day, and we decided it would be a good moment then for a cultural exchange. The farmers' eyes widened when they learned the bottle cost about what their monthly stipend from the government was. Before pouring the whiskey for each of us, a portion was spilled on the ground. For the saints they said. But not too much. (This ritual seems to be pretty closely adhered to elsewhere too – I'd seen several bartenders since pour a little on the ground even when no one was supposed to be watching)

One of the farmers took us for a hike through a series of fields, occasionally pulling out a sample from the soil for us to try. Yucca, boniato, and malanga are terrible raw, but I would later learn each are wonderfully delicious when prepared properly. We saw red young pineapples poking out of bushes – somehow I had always thought they were borne of trees.

We walked past pig pens, plantain trees, termite mounds, and up a hill crest with lovely views of the valley to the south and then the ocean when facing north. We liked the farmers and decided to buy enough cigars there – decent ones this time – to last us the rest of the trip.
The next day, despite being discouraged from doing so by several locals, we struck it out on our own on the trails. Very quickly our boots were saturated with clay red mud. Early on we saw a silly mural commissioned by Castro, depicting a scene of the history of evolution as a child with crayons might. Shortly after, we stumbled upon a crippled farmer's home where three day old piglets were stumbling about. The farmer's wife handed us a bottle of goat's milk and let us feed the newborns. I'm not sure I've ever freaked out so much from cuteness before, but I freaked out real hard.

Viñales is an incredibly beautiful place to get lost in, and we did get lost. In arguments concerning bearing, Brian tended to be correct more often than not. We chatted up a few farmers, enjoyed the valley from every angle, drank deep from coconuts, and peeked into a cave carved into a hillside by a brown river. We were plenty winded just prior to sunset and managed to flag down a car and hitch a ride back to the village we found a main road at last.

Friday, April 11, 2014


La Habana is like the grandest seashell in all the ocean, built centuries ago by the king of crustaceans as a colorful tribute to lavish living and boundless extravagance – but this same crustacean has long been gone, and another creature has since moved in and made its home there. The shell now has cracks plentiful in its colorful design and this new sea creature is too miserly, tired, and disinterested to be bothered with its maintenance.

Now, this metaphor is trying to speak to the system and history here, and not so much its people. I haven't a bad thing to say about the Cubans I've met so far (well okay, except perhaps for the numerous and very persistent jinteros, or hustlers, that are about just about anywhere tourists are). On a first glance, they seem athletic, wonderfully diverse, and share a strong sense of community on both local and national levels.

Our first stroll through Old Havana seemed a densely choreographed show. Cubanos with a destination would stop to talk with every familiar face peering through painted bars of open windows or leaning over balcony railings. For a minute it seemed like the sky was falling for all the things flung down from balconies to open hands: keys, cash, and whatever else. Flirting was done publicly, aggressively, and as often. Small packs of boys would line a section of street to play baseball with a wooden stick, pausing to let bicycle taxis, horse drawn carts, and classic American cars pass. Every door and window seemed to be open and dared you to peek at the world inside. More than once a peek would become an invitation, and we were waved into a backyard boxing ring for young boys and later a dingy little bar with forty cent glasses of rum where a beautiful dark skinned Cubana in a headwrap showed me pictures of her kids and complained about her hypocrite man.

As you head to old Havana's downtown it almost seems as if there's a very specific line you cross, and all of a sudden the streets and buildings are in good repair and the cast on the street gets widely replaced with upper middle class white tourists. Despite a vaguely Disneyland-esque cultivation of the government planned tourist zones, there's no denying the beauty and authenticity of the downtown architecture. Strolling through bright cathedral laden colonial plazas and waterfronts mounted with fortresses and cannons, it isn’t hard imaging retired privateers in many buttoned coats with a cigar in one hand, an expensive prostitute in another, and bottomless chests with decades worth of plunder in the basements of their lavish mansions. A fedora toting casino running gangster wouldn't look out of place either, and neither would Hemingway himself – though, his old haunts are now obnoxious tourist traps and terribly overpriced. The worst and most expensive cocktail I had in my nearly three weeks in Cuba was in El Floridita, which claims to have invented the frozen daiquiri and sports a bronze statue of Ernesto sitting at the bar in the corner.

Music, much as I was hoping, was abundant in Havana, and certainly one of my principal motivations for sneaking away to Cuba. That and the rum. (Cigars too, I suppose. The country side, architecture, and history are strong selling points as well.) I had my first Havana Club daiquiri just weeks prior to my trip while still in New York – and I hate hearing the word sinful to describe Epicurean pleasure, but that's just how it tasted. Already a damn fine product, the rum was made all the more delicious by its being forbidden. If I'm going to be committing some light treason, I sure as hell might as well be enjoying myself.

For my cousin Brian's birthday, we decided to buy our first cigars and plant ourselves at a jazz club recommended by the bartender at our hostel (the first hostel in all of Cuba and a relatively new thing in the country). But first, we purchased a bottle of aged rum and took a stroll upon a malecon, a waterfront drive with dramatic views of the new downtown, Vedado, and occasionally interrupted with tremendous Caribbean waves that pound their way upward into the air after hitting the rocks below. We stopped briefly before the jazz club in a large clearing full of university aged Cubans. We talked at length with a young Engineering student set to graduate. He seemed terribly embittered about his lot, knowing that were he to be embracing his new career just about anywhere else in the world, he would be compensated well beyond his needs for comfort, but soon, as a Cuban engineer he'd be making the same roughly 20 to 25 USD per month as everyone else. He told us that happiness for him and his family is a great struggle (something I heard more often in Cuba than many of the much poorer nations I've been to, unfortunately). 

An older man came by and attempted to join the conversation. He seemed very insistent on getting everyone's names and circumstances with great specificity. Brian couldn't shake the suspicion that he might have been a plain clothes cop that might have stumbled upon some subversive dialogue with foreigners – something not taken lightly here – and we hope our friend's candid conversation didn't land him in trouble.

In the jazz club we lit our cigars, which were far from the priciest cigars I've ever bought, and I enjoyed the best tobacco I've pulled on to date. The smoke blew thick thick thick but felt silky in the mouth and there wasn't a trace of that ashen accumulation I've come to expect from even good cigars. After a couple of mojitos we were rocking out to the jazz and the saxophonist poured himself out through those windy brass tubes and stole the show.

By the third day in Havana we couldn't help but laugh each time we caught a jintero telling us it was Havana Club's anniversary and that they wanted to take us to the party (a comically common scam where the jinteros get kickbacks from overpriced drinks). It was Saturday, and Brian wanted badly to see a baseball game, and while not originally enthused, I had a really great time at the stadium. We killed some beers before going inside, as they were no longer for sale in the stadium thanks to repeated instances of the crowd getting drunk and out of hand. I've never seen anyone enjoy baseball as much as the Cubans do. The sound and the energy would have been right for gladiatorial combat, with persistent yells, horns, and drumming. It was the nation's premier team, the Industriales, versus the team from Santiago at the far end of the island, and the Industriales mopped the floor with their opponents. We closed the evening out with drinks near the capital building (which resembles our own but is supposedly a few centimeters taller), with a number couchsurfers and then another bottle of anejo at the malecon.

Photo by Brian Linzmeier

Oh, I seem to have omitted my experience with customs when arriving in Cuba. What a tense and drawn out mess. While in line, we were first interviewed by a plain clothes officer in great detail. He asked us about nearly every stamp in both of our passports and then took my journal from my hands and skimmed through it, asking occasionally about its contents. Then we got our tourist cards stamped (no passport stamps for Yanks, thank you). Baggage claim took forever. The only luggage out for a long time was that which would be pointless to search. Strollers and the like. Then came innumerable bags wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. I suppose those in the know know that the wrap deters closer inspection and then saves you time. Well after that, every other checked bag. I assume that every bag was searched by hand, and I have since resolved to be more like Brian and join the carry-on only club.

Before we progressed any farther, we were asked to wait to the side by another customs officer who took our passports away for another uncomfortable ten or so minutes. Another agent came and led another interview while writing down each of our responses. I was actually starting to sweat a little because I had stupidly bought my forward flight flight for the wrong date, a date well beyond the permitted 30 day tourist visa limit. Despite the thorough questioning, I was never asked to show my exit flight ticket, nor did anyone inquire about the liquor we both checked in our baggage from Mexico. Our agent ended with, “sorry, it's my job” and then “welcome to Cuba.” Oddly, many of the agents were crazy beautiful, an observation a German friend we made also shared.

You can take me to the back room if you want,” he said.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mexico City

Zocalo, Mexico City's central square – one of the largest public squares in the world – in a way, is the spiritual center of the whole country. When Cortez governed from the overlooking palace, it was the heart of New Spain. Before he marched upon it, it was the main square of the Aztec capital. Modern Mexico City is a city build upon cities, and physical fragments from each of its incarnations remain still.

Stand before la Catedral, the biggest church in all of the Americas, and you might find yourself on a reinforced, but translucent, platform. Look down and you'll see the ghost of a city: exposed stone walls, some even with human skulls embedded in its surface. Between the cathedral and the palace: ruins of a native civic building. There stands a wide pedestal exposed to sunlight in one of the subway transfers I frequented. As the new city grows, we see more of the old city, and our understanding gains further definition with new excavations.

Native culture doesn't merely remain as a lingering architectural feature, but lives on also in the language and in the blood of the Mexicans – and this is something I greatly admire about our neighbors to the south. I wouldn't dare say anything like the natives of what would eventually become Mexico endured any less suffering or cruelty there, but by contrast, it seems that in the states native heritage has been largely sequestered away and forgotten by by the American main stream; isolated from our communities and our conversations in remote and often squalid reservations. In Mexico, native culture is in the public art and in the food. It's celebrated. The Mexican regard for its European forefathers seems somewhat more complex, with a more coherent regard for the wake of bloodshed and suffering they left in their footprints.

The night of my arrival, Zocalo – normally full of entertainers and happy loiterers – was occupied entirely by an exposition put on by the Mexican special forces. Attendees were welcome to climb aboard tanks and helicopters and pose with anti aircraft weaponry. Demonstrations of basic training and canine units drew large crowds.
The service men on the inside of the show were as well armed as those on the streets. The police and federal officers maintain a strong visible presence most places I went, armed with shotguns and imposing fully automatic weaponry. Given the numerous accounts of theft and violent crime prevalent in Mexico City I've taken in, I was usually happy to see them around.

Tuesday afternoon became cause for a joyous reunion, when my cousin Brian walked out of a cab and into my hostel's reception. He's a seasoned traveler that I've always seen quite eye to eye with and I felt very privileged to share the road with him.
I poured him a welcoming shot of tequila and led him on a walking tour of the Centro area (I went through the same motions on Monday, but everything in Mexico City – EVERYTHING – is closed on Mondays). We saw some of Diego Rivera's better known socialist murals in the Secretary of Public Eductation building and in the National Palace. We got a good look inside the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes, art noveau on the outside and 30s art deco on the inside. We took a stroll through Alemeda Park, which used to be the main market in the Aztec city, and is now a rare green space in a city that's somewhat monotone and grey compared to much elsewhere in Mexico. The green is occasionally cut with the flower blossoms all over jacaranda trees, which punctuate the city all over with an out-of-place seeming but still soothing purple hue. We finished our stroll at Opera Bar, a classy space where we sipped mezcal served with spiced orange slices, and which sports a bullet hole left by Pancho Villa.

We took the metro – which is cheap, clean, and fast, though it does have trouble keeping up with the volume of riders – to Arena Mexico for an epic match of Lucha Libre wrestling. We didn't forget to drink a few cervezas and buy masks first (my wrestler name is El Puño – The Fist). The best match was a three vs. three bout where they would tag each other into the ring, but order would occasionally dissolve into inside and outside the ring into six man madness.
My team of choice was composed of Diamante Azul, Titan, and Maximo. The first two were lucadores of classic pedigree: old fashioned masks and thick oily muscles. Maximo, on the other hand, was a flabby unmasked wrestler with a pink mohawk, effeminately floppy wrists, and his signature move was planting a smooch on his opponent's lips when he had him cornered. The crowed loved Maximo and pleadingly chanted “Beso! Beso!” if Maximo got ever close enough to lock lips.
My team was decimated in round one by Scorpion Rey and his cohorts, a villainous duo without masks dressed like cavemen. Given how wrecked my wrestlers were, it was truly unbelievable how they were able to recover so swiftly and with such strength that they were able to fight back with high flying kicks and throws enough to win the two final rounds and send those goons back home.

Gigante Rojo y El Puno
I didn't catch the names of the wrestlers in the final one on one round, but given the shouts from the spectators, I would guess their names were Puto and Cabron.
The next morning saw us on an early bus to Teotihuacan, a series of native ruins featuring the second largest pyramid in the Americas. Driving in the city's perimeter, you get a greater sense of just how enormous Mexico City really is, and then just how many of its people are impoverished. Once a native city of modest size built upon a lake set island, the lake has now been long since drained and the metropolitan area has swollen to over 20 million people. Far from the the classical architecture of the central zone, the hills are dense with small concrete boxes in a dull grey that mirrors that of the low hanging clouds. On the undulating hills, the houses almost seem as if they are growing organically but reduced to simple geometry, like some kind of sad grey coral that only grows in 90 degree angles. The density of population in these spaces is reportedly one person to every square meter. I was startled when it occurred to me these communities weren't structurally so dissimilar from those built up and down the hills of Guanajuato – these here were merely devoid of color. That simple element can paint the difference between a scene of joy and a scene of sorrow.

Eventually as we passed along the road, the houses thinned out into clay colored hills and patches of green cactus, and the stony tops of two great pyramid pierce their way into view.
The layout of Teotihuacan was planned cleverly in accordance with astral movements and the four cardinal directions. The two main pyramids are named after the sun and the moon and are each echoed by the mountains they foreground as seen from the area's central plaza. Running up the sides of several temples remain stone depictions of gods: the feathered serpent form of Quetzalcoatl and a stone god chiseled into right angles with binocular scopes for eyes.

Much of the ruins remain underground and there were several teams of excavators hard at work during our visit. At each corner of the pyramid of the moon, skeletal remains of bound children were discovered, placed in ceremonial poses suggestive of human sacrifice. In lunar based intervals of a duration I can't remember, a male youth was selected among his peers as being a living god among men, and his was a life of prestige. That is until the cycle was up and his life was taken with a great ceremony.

The people that built the pyramids abandoned them for reasons we still don't understand, but the Aztecs that arrived from the north around 500 b.c. Found here the fulfillment of their prophecy: that they should found a capital in the place where they find an eagle perched upon a cactus swallowing a snake.