Monday, April 21, 2003



As I said before, Birgit’s parents and sister came to visit. The began their journey in the US on 4 April. After landing in Atlanta, they were whisked away by my parents to Gulf Shores, Alabama (if my dad’s Grand Marquis, filled with all the luggage Delta Airlines would allow and five adults can be said to “whisk”). On the Redneck Riviera, the Goesspersons were treated to time with my aunt and uncle (who have a place there) and visits to things in the region, including Fort Morgan and some sort of naval museum in Pensacola. Later, everyone trouped up to Jefferson County, where they stayed with my parents in Gardendale. My folks arranged for a visit to a friend’s farm (Birgit’s parents come from farm families around Ruethen) and a ride on a fire engine courtesy of my dad’s former employer, the fire department of the city of Bessemer (Birgit’s dad was a longtime volunteer firefighter). The capper to the whole deal was a family shindig, which included many of my (very fertile) cousins, who pressed the Goesspersons on when and whether Birgit and I would ever marry and spawn. Shrugs all around, and rightly so, on those questions (I could have answered: marriage when it seems like something that would be of use, spawning only by accident [to borrow from the band Cracker: what the world needs now is the fruit of my loins like I need a hole in my head]).

You’ll need this information soon: 10 pesos = 1 dollar (more or less).

The Goesspersons arrived in Guadalajara on 10 April (late in the evening). On Friday we went into the city to look at old buildings. On Saturday we went to Tequila (yes: it is a town) and toured the Cuervo distillery. If you ever find yourself in Tequila, you could do worse than lunch at a restaurant on the street Juarez behind the church (I can’t remember the name).

On Sunday we drove to Patzcuaro, which is a lovely place. There we saw several things worth seeing, did a bit of touristy shopping, and ate some lovely food. I recommend the restaurant Dona Paca and the Hotel Posada de la Salud. On Monday morning we took a boat out to Isla Janitzio, which is nice, and I climbed the big statue of Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon. When I stuck my head up out of his fist, the wind almost took away my hat, so beware. That afternoon we had a late lunch with the in-laws of one of Birgit’s co-workers. That was really nice, as they are a really nice family, but it sucked because it took so long . . .

and therefore delayed our setting off on the drive to our next stop. Let me just put it this way: a foreigner, with limited Spanish skills, driving a totally-packed (rental) Nissan Sentra, on a 4-hour trip into the night, with no good map, for the first time, into the largest city in the world. Amazingly, nothing went wrong as we approached Mexico City and our hotel in the suburb of Tepotzotlan (Hotel Posada San Jose, with Restaurant-Bar Pepe). It was just late, and I was stressed from the drive. We arrived Monday night.

Tepotzotlan is a good place to stay if (Jeebus forbid: more on that below) you ever drive into the Mexico City area. There is a lovely (understatement) old Jesuit mission in the town which is now a museum of the viceroyalty. The church bit of it might well be the most ornate of all the churches I’ve ever visited. When it was restored in the early 1960s, 250 kilograms of paper-thin gold were used. If you’re into that sort of thing (and who isn’t?), check it out. Also, right across the street from our hotel is a bus stop where you can catch a ride (for 10 pesos) into the city. The bus ride took one hour exactly (amazingly, the return trip took exactly the same amount of time) to the subway station Cuatro Caminos. From there you can ride straight into the city center, or go a few stops, change trains, and journey to the national museum of anthropology. We did the latter. The museum is excellent. Have you ever seen the “Aztec calendar”? Probably you have. It’s that round thing with a sun and faces and stuff. It is in the museum. It is BIG.

The museum was in the morning. In the afternoon we went to the city center and looked at the ruins of the Templo Mayor (last significant bit of Aztec building left in Mex City) and the cathedral. We ate lunch in the Sanborns (a decent chain restaurant) in the oh-so-pretty Casa de Azulejos (worth a look: see the link).

Wednesday morning began with great optimism. It was then that we looked at the Jesuit dealy before setting out on what looked (on my bad map) to be a rather easy skip across the northern fringe of Mex City to our destination. We took a side road. We erred. We were pulled over by federal police, who were checking VIN numbers against a list of cars reported stolen. We passed that test. Then we came to a fork in the road. The main bit of road curved off to the right and I, thinking of it less as a turn than a curve, drove on without the aid of a blinker. We were pulled over by local cops because I had not blinked. If you have ever been to Mexico, you know what a crock of shit that is: NO ONE USES THEIR BLINKERS! I COULD FUCKING TEACH A COURSE ON ROAD COURTESY COMPARED TO MOST OF THE DRIVERS HERE! When you are pulled over for a bullshit reason like that, it means only one thing: bribe time. Even worse, we learned that our papers were not in order on the rental car. Long story short, 400 pesos (the alternative was my driver’s license or the car). Having greased the first set of palms, we moved on. Within 1/2 hour, a new set of palms was presented to us for greasing. Again with the papers for the rental car. These cops managed to explain to us that it was not bullshit: we finally understood that there was an important sticker missing from the window of the rental car (the sticker signifies that taxes had been paid on the vehicle for the year). Again the alternatives were presented and a price was agreed upon. 400 more pesos. We managed to get a note (on a piece of scrap paper: *very* unofficial, since this was a bribe situation) from these cops to the effect that we had already contributed generously to the policeman’s ball fund-drive and that all other cops should kindly allow us to keep gas money so that we could fucking get out of their fucking hellhole of a megalopolis.

Both bribes would have been more expensive had Birgit not negotiated the price down, by the way. Yes, you can haggle with corrupt policemen.

F(ucking)INALLY we got out of Mex City and into Teotihuacan, our goal. The *short* drive (30 miles or so) had taken 2.5 hours (mostly because of traffic: the cops were quite efficient by comparison). My aching ass embraced the opportunity to climb the pyramid of the sun. Look at the pictures and then make plans to visit this place. It is awesome in the original sense of that word.

Determined, as I was, to never again drive towards Mex City (did I mention that it sucks to drive there? Fly? OK. Bus? OK. Drive? NO!) we took a long detour through the state of Hidalgo. We didn’t stop in Pachuca (the capital) but it might be worth it for you: the city claims to be the original home of soccer in Mexico, as Cornish miners brought it with them. You can buy Cornish pasties there, allegedly. We drove on, instead, to the town of Ixmiquilpan. There we stayed in a decent hotel on the square next to the city hall. I can’t remember the name, but in the cafe next to it I had some excellent chilaquies.

Hidalgo is a lovely state, and we saw (nothing but) mountains, semi-desert, and farms as we drove through it, Thursday, towards Guanajuato. Thursday night and Friday night we stayed with a family in their extra rooms (we got in touch with them through a German travel book called Reise Know-How) and that was nice. Guanajuato is, quite simply, the prettiest city I’ve seen in North America. I cannot endorse it strongly enough. Go there. Now. Food? Oh yeah. Chicken in spicy cacao sauce.

Saturday morning, after a nice visit in Guanajuato, we toured two silver mines (one still in operation) and then drove back to Guadalajara.

Sunday we went to a get-together at a family home (the family of the wife of one of Birgit’s former colleagues). That was nice. The mother of the family spawned 15 children and people from the neighborhood come to her for her healing hands. I shit you not. The former colleague (visiting, with his wife, from their current home in Germany) brought his best friend along. The best friend is a trained, professional nurse-practitioner type (medical massage and what the Germans call “Krankengymnastik”, among other things) and he said that the matriarch does things that could earn her a fortune if she were to charge for them. And she’s self-taught. Pretty cool.

This morning (Monday), Birgit and her family have flown off to Cancun. They will stay on Isla Mujeres and visit Tulum and Isla Contoy among other things before Birgit flies back here and the family flies back to Germany. I have to work this week, or else I’d be with them. I should be working now, but I’m sick. I feel all Charley Brownish.

Oh and the rental car? The rental person swears she’s never had any problems of this sort before. She didn’t call us liars (which is good for her, because that would have prompted me to call the police so as to discover whether her “agency” [run out of her apartment] is legal) and she wouldn’t give us the 800 pesos (we told her 1000, expecting trouble) but she did give us an extra day for free (Sunday) and let Birgit use the car to drive to the airport (thus saving cab fare). Not so bad, in the end.

Viva Mexico!

Oh, and how goes the empire? I totally did not miss keeping up with the news for the first time in my memory.


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