25 April 2009

getting tense

When my friend said that's why school was closed, I laughed.
Influenza, like that movie we watched in sophomore Bio.

Here's the deal:
My school is shut down until May 6th.
This is...unbelievable.
I might leave the city if that is at all possible.

No one REALLY knows anything. It is my belief that numbers are being over-reported in the US and under-reported here in terms of the number of people taken ill. CNN says 1000, Mexican newspapers only discuss deaths. No one really knows those numbers either, but yesterday the count was 20 dead in the city, around 60 dead between a few states within the country.
Museums are closed, metro use has been discouraged.
Someone planted the 'quarantine' seed of thought and now it is roto-tilling in this brain.

Here we go.

14 April 2009


Semana Santa is also known as Holy Week, the week of Easter. it is also the Mexican version of Spring break! Days before this break my friend asked if I would be keen on going with her to the Caribbean Coast of Mexico, in the state of Quintana Roo. Of course, I agreed. The stops planned were Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Isla Mujeres.

Tickets: the cheapest flight there was on Mexicana, the cheapest flight back was a red-eye on Interjet. Fly, you say? Why yes, because by bus it isn't much cheaper and is around 12 hours. Boo! Fly into Cancun. There is a bus booth that sells tickets to Playa del Carmen. Going through playa by bus is the only way to get to Tulúm. You might as well stay a night in Playa, but if you skip it you are not missing a whole lot. Pretty touristy, but an OK beach and semi-fun nightlife. Good shopping (brands), good food, lots of pharmacies. But overpriced souvenirs! Don't even think about buying that 25 USD sombrero. We stayed at Hostel Rio, but there are others around for less the price and better amenities. Just do a bit of searching.

From Playa we took a colectivo (kind of mini-bus that stops wherever) to Tulúm, but I suggest you take an OCC charter bus. Less expensive and more comfortable. They will drop you off in the middle of nowhere-ish,so arrive in the daylight hours and be prepared to walk to find your cabaña on the beach...and you know you want one. We stayed at the cutest little place, Zazil-kin. We paid 175 pesos per person per night, but there were four of us to two double beds. But there are lots of places to choose from, and even a way to hang your hammock and stay for less than 8 USD per night. Such a cool idea. In my estimation, Tulum is where 'it's' at. Beautiful beach, clear blue water, laidback lifestyle, good breakfast places, and oh yeah---ruins. Mayan ruins! Mayan ruins visible from the beach! No more needs to be said, just go here. It is also good for diving (especially if you have your license already) because you can check out the cenotes.

After Tulum we visited Isla Mujeres. To get here, we took one of the hourly buses from Tulúm back through Playa and into Cancun. Here we caught a taxi, but you can also get a colectivo too, to the Benito Juarez Port and jump on a ferry leaving for the island. It is not that expensive and takes less than half an hour. We stayed at the Poc-na Hostel, which is highly recommended. Very fun nightlife and the people are so nice. Also, it has a beach bar with music, lights, and all the craziness that comes with partying under palm trees!

This is a cute island, full of color and life. The people are very very friendly, but not in a put-on sort of way. Main modes of transportation are golf cart and moped, and cars stop for you when you cross the street. It is a happy medium here because people will speak to you in Spanish if you try/want, but most of the vendors also speak english. However, after Tulúm the beach does not compare. This is the type of place people come and get stuck, and if you visit you will understand why. Kind of like a Mexico on steroids.

From Isla I took the ferry to Cancun and a taxi for 150 pesos back to the airport. They were successfully talked down from 200 pesos, and I believe that armed with a little Spanish and a smile you too can accomplish this! And if your flight is in the day transport will be even cheaper.

Some tidbits to consider:
-There is a hostel in Tulúm that apparently has bedbugs, so watch out and read reviews before staying at places.
-In Tulúm the fixed price for a ride into town in a taxi is 45 pesos. Don't try to talk them down, they won't budge. A friend thinks it is because of solidarity, and the taxistas don't want to go into competition with each other. How sweet, huh? Workers uniting is definitely worth 45 pesos.
-For many hostels you need your own lock for the lockers. Luckily, some hostels sell locks. If not you can get one from a random store. Combination ones are best, if only because you never lose/forget your key.
-You can get to isla without going through the "Cancun" parts of Cancun. Never fear.

It was such a fun vacation with lots of good times, and I highly recommend checking out Quintana Roo.
(photos on the flickr account!)

as promised

before it begins, new photos up from Tulum and Isla Mujeres. See next post for info about those trips in general, and transport to/from said places.
It all started with some shoes. My two pairs were both new when they were brought here to the city---a bad decision from the start. Never underestimate footwear. At home I had grown accustomed, in a delightfully bourgeoisie way, to wearing a particular type of sneaker. And by the time I left for Mexico my latest pair of these particular kicks was kicked. The only downside, they wear out. So they were left behind, and the thought was that if they became absolutely necessary to buy they could be purchased online. Wrong! For some unbeknownst reason there are so many stores that do not ship to Mexico. This is perhaps due to the inefficiency of the post office, but that is besides the point.

So one day this mission was set out upon. It meant taking new metro lines, new buses, and a dash of hope. Two malls later and mission accomplished. Or so I thought. It felt good, but what would have felt even better was to understand the chaotic system of buses that are arbitrarily driven around the streets of Mexico City. Knowing what I do now, it would have been simple enough to take a microbus down the other side of the street the mall was adjacent to (Miguel Angel de Quevedo) and end up at the Tren Ligero station (Tasquena), and mere stops away from home. But instead I tried to get fancy.

This meant buying a carrot juice and circling the Reforma offices more than once. I wandered into a bus terminal attached to a metro station. It seemed simple enough. And in one bus window was a sign: Torres. There is a Tren Ligero stop called “Las Torres”, and so being a curious little person I asked the driver, “Este es Las Torres como el Tren Ligero?”. He assented with a vigorous nod. Pleased, I inserted 5 pesos and took a seat. In hindsight it all did seem all a little off. These were not the usual people that one sees on south-bound city buses. This bus was not even a south-bound city bus in appearance. And this is because it wasn’t. It was bound for...the suburbs. Which midday would not have been a problem. However, nightfall was approaching.

The ride was excruciatingly long. Hours, two and a half to be exact. Why did I stay on? Why did I not hop off at the last metro stop in view on Linea Rosa? Why did I not notice we were very very clearly cresting the rim of the city at dusk? Questions that will never be answered. But the fact of the matter was, after a bizarre and jolting trip I jumped off the bus and found myself on the side of a walled highway. There were no stores, there were no homes. Just a cave of an autobody shop and a woman deep-frying gorditas. Here fear set in.

“Oh my god. What have I done?”. Trying not to seem frantic I marched up a steep street to see if there were any taxis about, a learned behavior from the city. But there was nothing. I had no idea as to my whereabouts. Knowing that it was a terrible idea to flounder about on the side of a highway in Mexico in the dark (it was now past eight) and thinking about all the previous warnings about uncannily fitting into bags, I walked against the traffic and put my hand out. Barely a car passed before a white van with an official airport sign pulled up . “White van! The worst kind of vehicle to get into,” I thought. So pulling on all that DARE training we get in middle school about talking to strangers in cars, I stood away from the door and asked about a taxi. The driver looked at me quizzically. “Get in”, he said with a smile. I wasn’t having any of it, and he could tell. He explained further (and this is all in Spanish), “I am going to the airport, there is a metro station. Really, it’s ok”. He seemed earnest enough. I got in.

He pulled up a few feet and let people in through the side door of the van. It was a shuttle, in essence. He drove about and we chatted about the weather I tried to recover from the shock of being told that we were way out of the city. Anxiety began to set in when all the people trickled out of the van within minutes and he pulled up beside a pool hall. A large man came out, and they spoke languidly. Having already explained the situation, this friend of the driver said that the road I was dropped off on is called “Torres”. Confusion cleared, at least partially. They tried to convince me to play pool with them, but I kept repeating that I wanted to get back in the city before it got too late to use the metro. He started the van again and driving down the street on the way back, presumably, into the city he got stopped by some teens that wanted to know about the tricked out lights flashing around his rearview mirror. They ran up to the open driver’s window and banter rolled rapidly from them easily.

Noé, the driver, explained where the lights were purchased then we were on the way. This ride was shorter and more comfortable than the bus ride, though it took a good hour to get back into the DF. When he picked up passengers it was with a seatbelt attached to the inside handle of the sliding van door. He seemed to know all the stops and where there were people almost by instinct. The inside of the van was decorated brilliantly. Next to his seat there was a bag of pink sugared bread (pan dulce), and all about the mirror were ornaments of vaguely religious value. There was even a blacklight, and he liked how my tongue ring and stripes of my skirt glowed when he flicked it on. Noé explained that everything decorating the van was for good luck and driving safety. The hip hop blasted, and we listened to one song nearly five times. But on the fifth play we had reached the airport metro. On the metro I breathed out heavily. It was unbelievable. Anti-climactic, even.

On the subway a man fell to the floor and instantly opened his eyes. The metal seats are not conducive to sleepers. The night-subway is different from those in the morning or afternoon. Here the people selling math books or opera cds are less insistent. The tabla players are laid back, people feel camaraderie. I wear those shoes a lot now, but they already have rips. But they’ll last a little while longer.