Travel Writing - Mexico 2013-2014
is Potosí, San Luis Potosi, Mexico Sunday, June 23, 2013
Arrived in San Luis Potosi at 7 pm on Sunday 23rd of June 2013 after 10 days in and around Mexico City. First impressions are great. Seems like a small desert town after the megapolis. Mexico City ( D.F. - Distrito Federale) is an amazing place and I can imagine that everything and anything happens there. I only saw a small part of it.
Arrived in DF after 6 days in Buenos Aires, staying with Gabriela and her family. I was put in contact with Gabriela by Noelia, an Argentinian couch surfer, who, with her boyfriend Blas, stayed with me in my home in Wilderness, South Africa, a couple of months before I started traveling again. When i had bought the cheapest available ticket to Mexico, it had a stop over in BsAs, and I contacted Noelia in case she knew of any cssers who might want to host me for a few days. She had put up a notice on the university website noticeboard, and Gabriela had responded to it. We struck up a Skype affair that became pretty intense weeks before my arrival, which continued during my stay with her. She took me everywhere by busses, crossing sometimes the entire city on a two hour ride. My best experience was going to a circle dance meeting that I had been told about by Fleur, a South African circle dancer that lives in Argentina. Bettina was the host and we danced on her rooftop. There were 10 of us. For a mid winter's night it was very pleasant out.
Buenos Aires seemed a bit tense, and the people cowed under a wildly fluctuating economy and currency and a, to me, very confusing political situation. There is a rich colonial history, and an erstwhile time of opulence and aspirations to being the Paris of South America, but also a sad legacy of oppression of the indigenous population, and a tumultuous, but typical for Latin America, political history. The Argentinians seem tough and resilient, and my impressions were obviously only informed by Buenos Aires and not the rest of the country, and any big city has it's sadness, it's desperation, but the people did seem unhappy. There was a strong military police presence, and a sense of unease pervaded my time there.
I did some of the things one has to do, such as visiting the Boca area, famous for it's Tango dancing, also the gaucho cultural center, and the Colon Theatre, one of the most beautiful, by all accounts, opera houses in the world. According to the tour guide, Pavarotti said there was only one problem with the Colon, the acoustics are perfect.
Mexico City created an immediate perception of people who were much more at ease, much more relaxed, possibly also due to an economy that is doing well. The women are beautiful. I was feasting my eyes from the moment I arrived. Everywhere you see couples kissing in public, oblivious to the world, in crowded subways. I had been invited to a Temazcal ceremony before arriving. My couch surfing host, Mariana Luna, knows a guy. He has ceremonies in his back yard, and on the first weekend, we set off for Morelos, a neighboring state, called Eternal Spring, for its climate and flora, flowers and fruit in abundance. The ceremony, which is basically identical to sweat lodge ceremonies I have attended in the Native American tradition, was accompanied by a small dose of peyote, and was a beautiful welcome to North America. The songs were mostly in Spanish and in Native tongues, and I sang some in English and Sanskrit. I was welcomed and extended blessings on my travels.
My dear friend Peggy Fok, a Chinese American who had lived near Sedgefield near my home in Wilderness many years ago, and who I had magically bumped into in Bali in 2010, had put me in touch with someone she had met in Mexico, Carolina Toussiant. She took me to the less often visited pyramid complex at Tenango, a couple of hours outside D.F., but only after visiting an old lady in a nearby township for some psilocybin mushrooms. We spent the afternoon wandering from pyramid to pyramid, talking, laughing and doing some reiki and healing for each other. Had quite a significant insight into my heart condition during her work on me. It seemed as if me being born with a hole in my heart had something to do with me coming to heal something in my mother, her sadness, her anger. My mother had once told me that she thinks she developed cancer, which she died of years later, because she did not fully learn the lesson she had been taught by my birth defect. She didn't say that she was getting it then, so I hope it wasn't all in vain. My own lessons keep on getting more profound. Carolina also asked me to draw a card from her Osho deck, and I drew Conditioning, a lion trying to cloth itself in sheep's clothing. I try so hard sometimes, to fit in, to be accepted, to be liked, instead of just letting my magnificent self BE.
San Luis Potosí, San Luis Potosi, Mexico Monday, July 1, 2013
Just finished giving my first English lessons. What a great feeling, being able to earn money while traveling, connecting with locals, and being useful to them.
I have to say that I was a bit worried that I have taken on a new career, with new demands and expectations, and that I might not enjoy it, that I should probably just stick to what I know and try to get by with my old skills and talents. When I started the week long teacher training/orientation at Berlitz, I felt trepidations. Am I cut out for this? During the week I did feel that I just wanted to get into a class with real students to see what it was like. And that's what happened today. Only two students, but I saw what it was all about, and loved it.
Berlitz are now sending me to Aguascalientes, a small city about 2 hours away. The urgent request for a teacher came in last week while we were finishing off our training, and Salvador, our trainer and the director of 4 schools, asked us if we were interested. I had a look on line, and asked people about the city, but the main motivating factors for me making myself available for the move, was that I would be given many more teaching slots there, and that they would be able to give me Spanish lessons. The one thing that I was looking forward to about my job at Berlitz was that they offered free Spanish lessons, but they did not have any current courses happening in San Luis.
Had a great day yesterday with my couch surfer friend Elî. She and her mom picked me up around noon, and we went to their house for lunch. In the afternoon Eli took me to the local "Ghost Town". Cerro de San Pedro was a flourishing mining town hundreds of years ago, but became a ghost town when the mining collapsed, partly due to the lack of water resources. About 4 years ago a Canadian mining company began operations in the adjacent hills and mountainside, much to the chagrin of the few locals who still lived in the area. The incredible scarring of the countryside is very apparent as you approach the town, but even from the center of the picturesque setting, gazing out over the 17th century church and historical houses, the backdrop, or view of the mountains above the town, is one of total environmental degradation. Entire hills and mountain sides dug up. Open pit mining.
The local Mayor, after opposing the project, was assassinated. I left the area with a new awareness of corruption in Mexico. People complain of corruption in South Africa, but how often to people get assassinated?
At lunch Eli asked me if i like sport and I told her I do watch some football matches. She mentioned that she and her mother were going to watch the confederations cup final between Brazil and Spain later in the afternoon. So we were heading home for the match, which was a feast of great football. Spain humiliated 3-0. Eli being a passionate Brazil supported, having lived in Brazil, was elated.
Aguascalientes, Central Mexico Sunday, July 21, 2013
It's been two weeks since I arrived in Aguascalientes, a small city also in the central northern area of Mexico, about 2 and a half hours from San Luis Potosi, to take up a post in the local Berlitz language school. I was offered this position during my in-house training at the Berlitz in San Luis. The fact that the name of the city means "Hot Waters", and that there are supposed to be plenty of hot springs in the area was an added attraction.
They did not tell me that the summer school program was for young children, and within the first couple of days of this "hot water" initiation into teaching, I was convinced that they were using the often employed technique of "break 'em down and then build 'em up". I was way out of my depth, mainly due to the fact that the great bunch of kids I was given to work with, were all at very different levels of English proficiency. Two or them could really not speak a word. One of them, a little all rounder who brought his electric guitar to school on the "Entertainment, Leisure and Sports Activities Day", had the most accomplished abilities playing soccer in the court yard, and was the class clown and entertainer, was virtually fluent in English. Mauricio, teacher's pet!
Thirteen year old Alexa had very limited English, but was soon able to express a certain predilection with her new language skills. In listing likes and dislikes she was very clear that she did not like going to church, and she likes smoking! Favorite free time activities - listening to music and smoking.
After the fourth day I was visibly cracking. I didn't know what to do with them. One of the most charming, but certainly the naughtiest kid, and with the greatest resilience against learning a new language in his summer vacation, (4 weeks, 4 hours a day!!!) little Salvador, would just make funny facial expressions when I was trying to get him to say one single word in English. On top of the pressure of keeping the kids entertained while trying to teach them English, I was having my own crises of fitting into a corporate environment, being part of a larger structure, a company, and being a small cog in a big wheel. I had only ever really worked for someone a few times in my life. Working on a movie set was like that. And being a free-lance massage therapist and yoga teacher at the Wilderness Hydro was similar, but also way different. Almost my entire life I had been my own boss. Self employed artist, musician, therapist and video producer. It felt good at first. In SLP I was very comfortable in arriving in semi formal clothing and being part of something bigger than me. I was being employed. I was also being assisted in having my passport processed through the immigration authorities and was waiting for my temporary residence status to be confirmed.
In San Luis Potosi I had become very comfortable with the pleasant environment created by Salvador Estrada, the person who had hired me after a skype interview, and had trained me in the Berlitz method when I arrived. He was also the head of the franchise which comprises of four schools in four neighboring cities, including Aguascalientes, where I am now working. In SLP, the academic co-ordinator is a very interesting Canadian called Jason, who it turns out, is also a master in Thai-chi, Qi-gong, Muay Thai and a bunch of other martial arts. You wouldn't say so, he's tall, but he looks quite scrawny actually. He isn't active in the practice right now. And he tells me he lost about 40 pounds in his first month in Mexico due to gastric problems from food he ate. The SLP director was also a very nice Mexican lady called Christina.
My nemesis appeared in the form of Lia Pettersen, the academic co-ordinator for the school in Aguascalientes. She seemed very nice at first, welcoming and friendly. However, I think there is a clashing pheromone situation going on between us. She has been very insistent on ever increasing levels of deodorant and breath freshener usage by me. Ok, I have to admit that I like the au natural approach to personal hygiene, and showering twice a day (in this climate) was I have always thought, adequate. I kinda think people should be able to smell each other, and not be clothed and housed in a mask of artificially created odors. There is plenty of information out there on the toxic contents of these products too.
Ok, so I'm off to work freshly washed, with anti-perspirant and anti-deodorant and mouth spray causing a slight head-ache and dizzy-ness every morning, and slowly fitting into the corporate structure. Towing the line, and learning how to be a brick in the wall.
On one level I think it might also just be her way of keeping me in line. I am after all by nature a free thinker and anarchist. And her style of governance is rubbing me the wrong way. While I so enjoyed the office dynamics in SLP, where I was treated as a colleague, here it just feels like a time and space to be tolerated till I can move on to the next stage of the journey. In contrast to the local pyramid of command that I am finding quite exasperating, I am really enjoying the teaching. I was relieved of the trial of teaching kids, they gave my classes to a young Mexican guy, and am now teaching adult groups. I really like it! And I think I am very good at it. I am also enjoying my Spanish classes, and have found a salsa dance class close to where I live, so I am happy for the moment. I have also found a chess group that meet every day in the Casa de la Cultura downtown in the very charming Centro of Aguascalientes, one of the oldest colonial cities in Mexico. My class schedule only permits me to go there once a week though.
I am living in a nice house, renting a room from a nice old lady, in a nice quiet street. I have a nice room, with enough space for me to do yoga. And I have free, unlimited, high speed internet access. In contrast to South Africa, where the speed is slow and costs expensive, here in Mexico the internet is fast and cheap. Cell phone costs are however much higher. My classes are covering my living expenses, and I have plenty of free time. I am enjoying good sleep with plenty of dreaming, slowly becoming more lucid. I feel healthy and have lost some unnecessary weight. Mexican people are great. Friendly and open.
Aguascalientes, Central Mexico Monday, August 19, 2013
I met Natalia on Friday night. Coincidentally my first day of freedom, after having worked at a company, a corporate entity, for a month and a half. My struggle to fit in, to live the life of an employee in a corporate machine, had taken it's toll, and I had met very few people outside the office, and none of a spiritual nature. Really my only friend, apart from a young couchsurfer who had invited me to a few outings with him and his friends, (notably, to drink pulque), was one of my students, a woman named Judith, who was studying English to qualify for a job on the Cayman Islands. Judith had approached me for private English classes, as she felt that the school program was not enough for her needs, and we had formed a friendship based on teaching each other Spanish and English. She introduced me to her family: sisters, brother, and in laws, and her eldest sister after chatting with me at a Sunday lunch, decided that I should meet her friend Natalia, who spoke the same language I did - esoterics, new age thinking!
Today, Monday, my last day in Aguascalientes, I climbed the feet of a dead man with Natalia. At our meeting at the Pulqueria Posada on Friday night, she was appalled that I had done almost nothing while being in her beloved city. She had grown up in Aguascalientes, but had lived in England for almost 10 years, where she had become conscious of her spiritual life. She immediately suggested that we go to climb the hill called El Picacho, the feet of the mountain range called Cerro Del Muerte, "The Dead Man", that looks like the silhouette of a reclining figure. The place is steeped in legend from pre-hispanic times, of ancient priests, betrayal, and the dead bodies of a tribe piled up to form the mountain. Legends that include stories of underground tunnels, which is corroborated by fact. Most of the tunnels in the area are covered up due to the dangers, and unexplained disappearances. Natalia also claimed that she had been told by a Mayan shaman, that the hill had an energetic link to a mountain in the Chilean Andes which is one of the planet's new kundalini energy points, having shifted there from the Himalayas. She also believes that the ancient Lemurians live underneath the hill!
What a relief it was to meet a kindred spirit. After living in a town I had all but written off as conservative and devoid of interest, she opened my eyes to it's hidden beauty. Over our mug of pulque on friday night she told me that Aguascalientes was also the dead center of Mexico. That, in fact, the monumental pillar, with a giant eagle on the top, that was located at the center of the main plaza, Plaza del Patrio, was the very center of the land of Mexico, The Navel, the solar plexus. She also told me of a place in town called the Alameda, which was apparently a portal between dimensions, and was known for UFO sightings. It was now surrounded by traffic, increased in recent years, but was still home to an avenue of ancient trees. Mexico is full of history and the architecture of the buildings, much of it colonial Hispanic, tells stories. After driving down the Alameda, Natalia took me to a residential area close by, where there was a neighbourhood of small American style bungalows, built by American railway workers in the 19th century, all completely different to the Mexican style, all with these quaint stoops off the front of the house. Some of them abandoned, and some meticulously restored, and strictly protected by heritage laws. The abandoned ones obviously the ones that are haunted.
I have lived an interesting life in Aguascalientes. Every day was punctuated by my classes at Berlitz. Almost every evening I had classes till 9. The only evening off was Tuesdays, and I would try to make it to the chess club in the Casa de la Cultura in the old historic center of town. Salsa classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 9 till 10. I had to rush from work, catch a bus and arrive as the class was starting. The rest of my free time was spent on my renewed yoga practice, reading, and downloading and watching movies. Low cost unlimited high speed internet is one of the great things about Mexico. Watching Bashar videos on YouTube has really had an accelerating effect on my consciousness. He advocates deliberate attention to that path or choice that leads towards your highest excitement.
My mother had introduced me to Joseph Campbell's work, and his concept of "Follow Your Bliss" almost 30 years ago, and I have to say that my life has been guided by that premise. Bashar elucidates eloquently. Imagine your preferred reality, the way you want it to be, without being invested in any specific outcome. Now I had been visualizing my passport in my pocket, and my freedom to travel and work in Mexico, yet had become more and more impatient and desperate for the desired outcome. And so I explored Bashar's technique deeper. The visual image of the desired reality is only a vibrational frequency that represents the feeling of excitement that is itself the vibrational frequency of your true self. To be tied to an outcome might mean that you are selling yourself short. You have to realize that your physical mind/brain can only conceive of what it knows, believes, feels and thinks. Your higher mind/true self is on another level, and you need to be aware that what is possible could be a lot more exciting than what you can conceive of. So if you are invested in an outcome, you might be preventing something better or more suitable from happening.
The next step is to act on your feelings of excitement. In every moment to take the path, the choice that represents the highest excitement to you. You have to show your higher self that you are willing to walk the walk. This will lead to an every increasing feast of synchronicities. In any case, in my case, I decided to call the person who was dealing with my passport and visa application instead of waiting for my director and the franchise director to get back to me about it. Lo and behold, when I called, she said the passport was waiting for me.
I had very early on found that I was not suited to the work environment, or at least the office politics and dynamics at Berlitz in Aguascalientes. Having never really been employed in a hierarchical structure before, I had tried to make it work, while patiently waiting for my passport to be sent back from the immigration department, but I had already decided that I was leaving as soon as it arrived. As the weeks dragged on without any word, I became more and more entangled in a web of bizarre dynamics between the academic director, Lia, and myself. After I had complained about her to my original employer, the director of the entire franchise who was based in San Luis Potosi, she became very sweet to me. However, we had one more incident where she was very rude and patronizing to me ( it seemed that she really just needed to remind me that she was in charge), and I handed in my resignation with two weeks notice. I had decided that I was not going to take any more of this abuse, and that even if I had to leave without my work visa, I had had enough. There was no bliss down this path.
I decided to take on the task of being an English teacher, for several reasons. It was a sure way of traveling and earning money while traveling. It was a way to meet and interact with local people. And it was a way of getting a work visa, which would allow me to, hopefully, also do other work, such as therapy, yoga and video production. I am now heading towards the south, to the Caribbean coast. There is a place called Playa del Carmen. It is near Cancun, but less glitzy, and is an ideal place to live and look for work in the areas where lie my passions. It is also near many of the Mayan pyramids and temples, my main reason for coming to Mexico in the first place. The journey begins. Tomorrow I am taking the bus to San Luis Potosi to pick up my passport, and then another bus to Mexico City. Then on to Playa del Carmen.
Mexico City, Central Mexico Monday, August 26, 2013
I have been to the immigration office in San Luis Potosî, have given my fingerprints, and will receive my work visa card in 2 weeks, so am spending the time waiting in Mexico City, a place I had to come back to for one main reason - Teotihuacan. I had twice delayed my visit to this ancient city complex during my first 10 days in the city, and had to leave without seeing it due to me having to report for work in San Luis Potosi. There is also much else to do here obviously, it is a megalopolis. I am staying with my friend Mariana Maldonado. We shared a room in Chiang Mai when we were both studying Thai Massage together in 2010.
I visited Teotihuacan on Friday, and was suitably impressed. I am left with a prevailing sense of a high culture, close to nature and integrated with spiritual values. I have not yet seen the Mayan structures, but have also read recently more about their civilization. According to one historian, the mysterious decline or disappearance of the great Maya civilization can be ascribed to a simple cause - peasant revolt. That the people lost faith in their leaders. Indeed the sense one gets from these massive structures and the piecing together of the history is one of very unequal societies, with the higher classes, rulers and priests, living in a rarified atmosphere, served by the lower classes. Having recently read Terence MacKenna's Food of the Gods, I am now even more aware of the difference between Dominator cultures and Participant cultures. I don't claim to be in any way an expert on Meso-American cultures, and indeed one can conceive of benevolent dictators, and I would love to believe that these massive structures can be created by a communal sense of purpose. Or do we accept that in our history we have needed great leaders and hierarchical structures to organize our societies in such a way as to advance our arts and sciences to the level of achievement we have reached today? Is it a matter of course that great systems become too big to manage, or become corrupted by greed and pride?
Are the rise and fall of civilizations inevitable? The benefits of astronomy in determining the times for planting, and the refining of agricultural and storage techniques have been a causal factor in creating large scale communities. This must have contributed to the fields of arts, music and science and accumulative knowledge and libraries. We can see the eventual outcome in the creation of the world-wide-web, and the incredible advance of cultural expression and scientific knowledge through being able to share information across the board. But are we too about to witness the fall of our civilization through the hubris of our leaders? How do we prevent the inevitable collapse of a hierarchical structure when it seems that renewal is the only way to keep things fresh and true. Can we create a new society that is equal and fair? Can we live in such a way that the strong do not dominate the weak? Can we learn from history and live in harmony with one another?
Mexico City, Central Mexico Friday, September 6, 2013
I tried it at a market the other day. I didn't even have to open my mouth to reveal my gringo, or at least foreign, (cause in my mind Gringo is Americano) accent. I just made the sign - "how much". There is a vast lexicon of Mexican sign language. I have also been taught how to say; " Call me" ( the universal gesture), and then slightly different movement of the same sign, "Let's have a drink" and "Your girlfriend is cheating on you"! Call me later is "call me" followed by a rolling gesture.
The same sign for "How much?" can also be used when asked - "Why is she marrying him?", to say " For the money".
If your mouth is full and the waiter brings you another dish, there is a sign for "thank you" - lifting your hand shoulder height with the palm facing backward. I've seen someone using it when crossing the road to thank a motorist for letting them pass.
As far as I can tell the rudest sign, is the universal sign for "OK", with thumb and index finger touching, but held down to the waist with the back of the hand towards your body.
Touching your fist to your chest can mean." He's gay".
There's certain motion of the hand that means, "it happened a long time ago."
I am starting to see why Latin people speak with their hands.
I have not been so diligent in learning Spanish, being fairly content to just be able to make my way around with some of the basics. I am still lost when trying to follow someone's conversation, but if they speak to me and I ask them to speak slowly, " hablame despacio, por favor", then I can have a rudimentary conversation. I am however becoming more and more enamored by the Latin American temperament and way of life. I am predicting a lengthy stay, especially if I can earn a decent income with work that I enjoy possibly on the Caribbean coast.
I am now sitting at a restaurant at the bus station in San Luis Potosi, having taken the overnight bus from Mexico City to come and get my work visa from the immigration authorities. I'm just waiting for the offices to open.
Mexico City continues to enchant and confound me. It is too big to comprehend; one just has to experience it. I have returned now several times to an area called Condessa. It is a fashionable inner city neighborhood, adjacent to the equally beguiling Roma, with shops restaurants and clubs in close proximity. Last week I was invited by a couchsurfer there for a drink. Having proclaimed my fondness for pulque, she took me to a club that is known for serving the marvelous beverage. It was three floors packed by the city faithful, plus another roof area, where we had to stand around underneath an awning, sheltering from the unusually continuous rain that has been falling this summer, till we managed to get a small table. On our way down the dance floors had started to come alive. Salsa downstairs, and techno/electronic upstairs.
Playa del Carmen, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico Saturday, October 12, 2013
Playa del Carmen was a small little fishing village 20 years ago, and at one stage was the fastest growing city in the world. It is still a small city (population 150 000), but still expanding due to a booming tourist trade. Situated right in the middle of the fabulous Maya Riviera, more or less half way between Cancun and Tulum, it is not as glitzy and commercial at Cancun, and not as bohemian and laid back at Tulum. I was told, and it seems to be the case, that to live, I would probably prefer Tulum in the long run. It really has more nature, forested area, chilled locals and spiritual events happening. However, Playa just has more work opportunities and generally more happens here. I am currently going to 4 dance classes a week! Salsa and Bachatta. Playa does have a great vibe, and there is a large international expat community here. Unfortunately my Spanish in not being developed as fast as it should be due to the fact that almost everybody speaks English.
Well, I have been here for more than a month now, and it looks like I'll be settling here for the winter months - high season for the Mayan Riviera. So this means until round about March or April 2014. That's the plan anyway, the intention being to ground myself in a pleasant and hospitable location where it is possible to ply my trades - yoga, massage and wedding video production. For all three of these I seem to have landed in a hot spot. I was told that there is fierce competition for massage therapists, but this also means that there is plenty of work if you know what you are doing. Anyway, I went ahead and bought a massage table, and printed some cards and flyers, and have had a few clients come to my apartment for treatments. It is still very low season, the lull before the storm, I believe, and I have not gone into full promotion mode yet, but I did drop my cv and flyer off at a local physio/rehabilitation center. The owner of the center called me a few days later and told me he was looking through my stuff, and thought, mmm..., I need one of these treatments, and booked me for a deep tissue. While working on him he was so impressed he booked a treatment for his wife, and wants me to work on the rest of his staff and to work on a freelance basis at his center. They will start promoting me next week.
I also dropped into one of the local yoga centers, Palapa Suuk. It has a great vibe, quite rustic and relaxed, and they immediately told me I could start my own scheduled classes there, meaning I'd have to build my own student base. They do give me 80% of the class fees, though, which is a great deal. I have been teaching there for 2 weeks, and have only had one student! She is coming twice a week though, and has also booked me for massages. She tells me that she is bringing a friend to the class soon. She is a shiatsu therapist, often traveling the world doing chair massages at poker tournaments. She and her boyfriend, a top online poker player, live here since the US banned online poker (apparently tax issues).
I also had a promising response from a local photographic company. After showing him some of my work, the owner told me they would give me a try out on a wedding shoot, and if they liked what I did, I would probably be shooting one or two weddings a week. Very promising. They have not called me yet though, so I am also going to try to promote myself through websites and wedding planners.
I have met a number of colorful locals. A facebook friend of a friend, Cindy Blue, gave me some great leads soon after I arrived here, and pretty soon I was making contact with really nice people who were all very welcoming an encouraging, very willing to help with advice and suggestions on finding work and places to stay. She and her friend Francine made sure that I had a great 50th birthday 3 weeks after arriving in my new home. Francine took me on a day outing to Tulum and the Mayan ruins, Turtle Bay where you snorkel with large sea turtles (beautiful creatures), a great lunch at a restaurant there, and then two cenotes on the way back to Playa. Cenotes are unique to this coast. The entire area is located on lime stone, which over the millennia have eroded and developed into large underground lakes and rivers, coming to the surface in many places to create the most wonderful recreational water holes of sweet, cool water. The Mayans relied on them for their drinking water, and they were sacred spaces where the gods were worshipped. Today they are truly divine still, the most picturesque scenes imaginable.
Later in the evening Cindy hosted a little pre-going out drinks and snacks at her house for me, and one of the highlights was a wheat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, diary-free chocolate and berry cake that was truly divinely delicious, made by Francine. I nearly got choked up with emotion. Here were my new friends, and some I had only just met, giving me a real birthday party, the best I'd had in years, with a cake! Two Mexican guys even sang the Mexican song they sing on birthdays. Afterwards we went out to a beach bar called Zenzie to dance. There we met with another awesome person, Misty, who's birthday it was too! My sister! She and I had one of the best dances of my life. Salsa in the sand. She was such an incredible dance partner, but then she is a professional dance facilitator, and owner of a world wide dance movement called The Groove.
Tomorrow is Sunday, and I am going to meet my other new bunch of friends for some volleyball. Last Sunday i was coming back from a long beach walk when I approached some people at one of the many volleyball nets along the beach. They were very welcoming and we played for hours, teaming up against another bunch later on. Two of them, a Canadian called Laurence ( or Lorenzo, and by the way, I might just become Enrique here, Quique for short) and his Mexican partner Karina, might become wedding video clients of mine.
Today I've been in Mexico for 4 months. I have a one year temporary residence permit/work visa, and I do think that my plan to live in Mexico for one year before going into central and South America will pan out. Prospects here look good. There is a chance that I might put down roots here, or even as many of the Playa swallows do, come back here for the winter months. The summer is sweltering, and now still in October it is hot. Apparently it starts cooling down halfway through November. Come April I plan to be visiting the highlands of Chiapas, and the more energetic of the Mayan pyramids at Palenque. Planning also to visit Oaxaca and the pacific nude beach hippy paradise of Zipolite next year. The Guatemalan Mayan site Tikal is also beaconing me, and I hear stories of spiritual retreats and communities of healers in the central highlands of Guatemala. The road ahead seems very inviting. Best case scenario i make enough money over the next 5 or 6 months to buy a car to continue my travels in. Traveling with my massage table and some musical instruments would be great.
San Cristobal de las Casas, Central Mexico and Gulf Coast, Mexico Sunday, February 23, 2014
I have arrived in the small city of San Cristobel de las Casas in the Chiapas highlands, a place recommended by every person that I spoke to before coming to Mexico. I've been here for two weeks now, and from the first moment of being here, it felt great. After the coastal heat and humidity I was energized by the clean fresh mountain air and the high altitude (around 2000m), and inspired by a unique atmosphere of freedom and creativity in the open air cafes along the walking streets, the richness of color and textures and design in the craft market, and the incredible abundance of the food market. The cost of living here is also very affordable. I have found a room in a shared apartment for 1000 pesos per month (R750/$75), and the food prices in the market are really low.
It has been about 4 months since my last update upon arriving in Playa del Carmen, so let's catch up a bit. Playa is a city of light and dark I was told by several people, with different explanations of the description. Light and dark are always subject to one's personal reflections, and the lightness of having a good time, dancing, drinking, and partying can represent the dark side for some of us. There is a certain dark underbelly of Playa that was exposed while I was there by the arrest in the US of a prominent Playa business man caught with a small plane load of cocaine. It seems many of the businesses in this coastal resort town are funded and used for money laundering by drug and crime mafia cartels. I ended up staying clear of the party scene, mostly, and focused on my massage therapy practice and my yoga classes. Had some drinks on my birthday, 28 September, 3 weeks after arriving, salsa dancing at a beach bar with a co-birthday girl who became a good friend, and then again on Halloween, which is a big deal in Playa, and along with the day of the dead, is celebrated in a big way across Mexico. Of course, on the solstice I had to go to a local big Trance party in nearby Tulum, with great international acts. Let my hair down and had a good stomp on the dance floor meters away from the warm Caribbean sea.
What I saw as another aspect of the dark, the power and influence of Money - out of control development and the very commercial and superficial aspects of a resort town (not nearly as bad as nearby Cancun), has a reflection in my own motivations for being there. I had chosen Playa as a place to live and work due to what I perceived as the better opportunities for earning Money. Of course, the fact that it was located on the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, and close to some of the Mayan temple complexes that I wanted to visit, were added attractions, but my primary focus in picking Playa above, say Tulum, a more laid-back and closer to nature environment, was earning potential. I had also brought my video equipment, and was hoping to break into the lucrative local wedding video market. This was not to be. If I had been more realistic I would have left my expensive and cumbersome equipment at home in SA. The wedding industry is invariably booked and arranged a year in advance, and the only jobs I was attracting were for November and December 2014. Living in Playa for a year or more was not on my agenda, and I eventually spent a lot of money sending my equipment home via courier, after spending another big sum on an aborted attempt to promote on a Mexican website. Total loss on my attempt at shooting weddings in Mexico - 11 000 pesos ($800!)
However, I have never worked so hard as a massage therapist, and was experiencing the level of engagement I knew I was suited for. I had been developing my trade for 25 years, and was for the first time in an environment where I was appreciated for my skills by more that a few locals and the odd tourist visitor to my little cabin in the Wilderness in the Garden Route where I had lived for the last 12 years. The dollar and euro market is huge in Playa. Most of my clients were from the US and Canada, paid in dollars and were very good tippers to boot. I was able to cover all my living costs, my losses in the misadventure of video production, and still add about $1000us to my travel kitty. I was teaching 3 yoga classes a week, and made some good friends at the center where I taught. The light side of Playa is represented by the many yoga teachers and yoga schools, healers and therapists, the local Mayans who live an uncomplicated and serene life seemingly unaffected and uncorrupted by the attractions and allure of glitter and gold, and the beautiful energy of the blue waters and surrounding forests.
I visited 3 Mayan sites, Tulum, Coba, and Chichen Itza. the latter being the most prominent and most recent of the great Mayan cities. Did the tourist thing one day, taking the ferry to Cozumel Island with Nohara, who was surfing my couch, went on a snorkeling trip and visited the local museum depicting the natural and fascinating cultural history of the island, long a sacred site dedicated to the goddess Ixchell, and also the site of the first landing of the Conquistadors. After leaving Playa del Carmen together, Nohara and I paid a visit to the very impressive ruins at Palenque, a huge complex that thrived between the 6th and 8th centuries, in the high mountains of Chiapas, surrounded by dense forests and mountain streams and pools. Having recently read an amazing book by Martin Pretchel, "The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic", largely about his time living in an intact Mayan village in Guatemala in the 70's apprenticed to a healer/medicine man, I have been greatly impressed by the indigenous culture of the Mayans and especially their close relationship to nature and it's cycles. Visiting the ancient ruins of the Aztec and Mayan cities, I am filled with mixed feelings towards any civilization that becomes top heavy, that relies on separation of classes in a hierarchical structure, fueled by warfare, weakened by it's own success and the depletion of resources, and eventually toppled by wars or peasant uprisings. Weather the higher aspects of science and art are also fueled by this kind of civilization that allows a ruling class the free time to develop knowledge of architecture, agriculture, astronomy, mathematics and wealth in the form of stored and traded produce, is an interesting point to debate. Once again I find myself thinking about that Utopian egalitarianism, apparently, according to some scholars, a feature of pre-agrarian societies, when resources were shared, not bartered with, and co-operation and partnership was valued above competition and domination. Can we find our way back, or forward to a new form of society that is based on shared values and equality?
After having taken the bus together from Playa and spending two nights in Palenque on route to San Cristobel, I said goodbye to my partner of the previous two months, Nohara Rubio, the 24 year old (what is it with me and 24 year olds?) Japanese/Spanish couch surfer who had surfed my couch and later my bed. After our first few days in a hostel in San Cristobal, I moved into my own rented room, planning to stay and investigate the suchness of this magical town, and she continued her travels with some young party animals from the hostel. She had been my first companion on my journey, and even though our paths were destined to diverge, our parting was a bit messy, fueled by a drug and booze party at the hostel she hooked up with another traveler. The coming and the going. Still learning the way of clean and pure coming together, with no agenda, and the clean and pure parting, with no attachment. With a little bit of help from our friends…. - Ian Light posted a sentence from A Course In Miracles on Facebook: "Our pain doesn't come from the love we weren't given in the past, but from the love we ourselves are not giving in the present."
Sharing a kitchen, lounge and bathrooms with a very nice Spanish couple, I am very happy in my peaceful room in the authentic Mexican burrio of La Isla, only a few minutes walk from the old colonial town centre, now a trendy cosmopolitan hub consisting of two perpendicular walking streets lined with cafes, restaurants, bars, chocolaterias, craft shops, churches, a craft and food market, and blocks of streets leading off into all kinds of interesting places. There is even a very active chess club here, something I was missing in Playa, and several salsa classes to choose from. A week ago my housemates invited me to a Temazcal (sweat lodge) ceremony being held in the wooded hills in the mountains that surround the city. My second since arriving in Mexico, I was able to connect to the womb of the mother and sweat out my troubles, cleaning and purifying myself for the new phase I was about to enter.
I have found a place to work from, Luna Maya, a therapeutic centre, mostly focused on pre-natal care and natural birth, have given my first treatment there, and have also given my first English lesson at a local language centre. San Cristobel is proving to be more of a gem than I expected. Even the street surfaces and pavements are beautiful! Apparently the real beauty of this place is in the people who live here, and I have started meeting them...
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Western Highlands, Mexico Friday, May 16, 2014
"Can you lend me 10 000 pesos?"
This was the question, and the subsequent unfolding event, that caused me to stay in San Cristobal de Las Casas for the next 4 months and not the 2 weeks or a month that I was planning to. I can now state that it was all for the good, even though there were weeks that I was cursing myself for not trusting my gut feeling that something was wrong.
I had been seeing Citlali for about 2 weeks. We had met at the Feria Terapias Alterativas a few days after I had arrived in this very charming little city in the Chiapas highlands. I was so taken by the wonderful clear air and energy of this old colonial town full of interesting and creative people that I had decided to spend some time here before heading either to the Oaxaca coast or straight on down south to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, and I had rented a little room near the town center. Checking out the Feria deTerapias Alternativas, a weekend therapies festival, I met Citlali, a Thai Massage therapist, and we agreed to exchange treatments. A week or so later we started dating. It was going very well, and I was happy to be involved for the first time with a Mexican woman. My friends in Playa del Carmen had advised me not to go out with Mexican girls, and until now I had had to agree that I couldn't really "get" Mexican women, and couldn't understand the game or the rules of the game, (my Spanish flatmate, Sergio says, generally Mexicans and Latinos all act as if they are in a soap opera, drama and intrigue), they seemed complex. (yes I know, women are more intricate and complex than men in general). I had noticed and heard that the men were very "macho", and my new (expat) friends in Playa had told me the women were the other side of the coin, jealous and manipulative. But Citlali seemed different. A gentle soul who was just going about her life quietly, raising a 9 year old daughter by herself. She is also a Spanish teacher, a crafter/artist and into making music. We had a lot in common, and were really enjoying our time together. I was now giving her massages for Spanish lessons. Her English is really good, having been brought up by a mother who was an English teacher in Mexico City. We also spoke about the possibility of giving training workshops together.
One morning I received this strange phone call from her, and was quite surprised that she was asking me to lend her such a big sum of cash. 10 000 pesos (about $800) was a big chunk of my travel fund, and about the sum that I had saved up from my time in Playa del Carmen. Citlali told me later that she immediately came to me because I had told her that I had done well in Playa, and she knew I had some "spare" cash.
Of course I wanted to know what the money was for. She was quite cagey about it, and when I insisted she said it was for a friend who had to go to hospital. She said she couldn't say more at the moment and just wanted to know if I could lend her some money, if not the full 10 000, then whatever I could afford. I could hear that it was an urgent situation and that she was really upset, so I agreed to meet her, thinking that I would lend her a few thousand if I could talk to her and get some more clarity. I met her 15 minutes later in the center of town. She slipped me a piece of paper, and indicated that I should not say anything. The note said, "they have Xiuh". She had her phone in her hand and showed me that she was on the line with someone. They had kidnapped her child!
I had heard that this is quite common in Mexico and Latin America, but in San Cristobal? And she is not a typical target. She just makes ends meet. Why would they pick her? I immediately thought that it doesn't add up, and felt targeted myself. Maybe they had seen her with me, and thought that the gringo has money. I also immediately thought of the 5000 pesos that I had lost in a deal with the one other Mexican woman that I had trusted and almost become involved with - the aborted wedding videography project.
The story goes as follows. She got the phone call a short while after dropping her daughter at school. The voice said that they had her daughter, and she heard a young girl's voice screaming that they had put her in a van. From that moment she was in a panic and never really thought clearly, merely following the orders of the voice on the phone. She was not allowed to hang up and was only allowed to make one phone call from a public phone which they were monitoring on her cell phone, which she had to keep on. She could only think of one person who had cash available in that instant, and called me. When I heard that Xiuh was in danger, and saw the state that Citlali was in, I never really hesitated, despite the alarm bells in my head and the nagging suspicion that it didn't make sense, and we went to the bank where I withdrew the full amount on my credit card. Citlali disappeared after I'd given her the cash. She was convinced they were watching her. She was also thinking about the one incident when the aunt of someone she knew was kidnapped and kept for months before the ransom was paid.
I didn't hear from her for an hour or so, and when I called her (she had no credit on her phone and had also given them every cent that she had, her rent money included) she told me that Xiuh was with her and to meet her in the center again. A totally unperturbed Xiuh and her still shell-shocked mother greeted me. It had all been a hoax! In retrospect we could all blame her for not making doubly sure that they really had her child, but the tricksters know all the tricks and kept her in a state of panic throughout. Apparently, they phone random people, the cops told us later, even from prison sometimes, until someone falls for it. And apparently most people don't even report these incidents to the police. There is a general perception here that the police and the gangsters are in cahoots, or that there is a level of tolerance, and the crooks are allowed to get away with certain "jobs". There is also a fear that reporting an incident will lead to further victimization.
I had gone from being the hero of the situation to being the fool that had put up the cash. We subsequently approached the matter as an impetus for us to put into action our plan to give workshops together, and for her to act as translator, as my Spanish is still rudimentary. She also started paying me off (we’d agreed that the money had been a load), with more professional Spanish lessons.
Citlali and I are soon to finish our second joint venture in offering massage courses in San Cristobal, and together we have managed to earn back the full amount that I had lent her and then some. We are not involved romantically anymore, but we have both gained from the relationship in some degree, both of us becoming teachers in the field of bodywork therapy. Money has been a problem area for me in the past, and even though I have had a relatively easy flow over the last few years, the tension and anxiety and lack of trust I had felt over the potential loss of 10 000 pesos, only melted away as last minute unexpected and unregistered students turned up on the days the courses started. Many lessons were learnt. Can I still say I should have trusted my gut feelings and not given her the money? Would that reaction have merely been avoiding the gifts that life brings, sometimes in the form of a boulder in your path that turns out to be the stepping stone your small mind cannot see.
I had been through many emotions and some resentment in the last months, feeling trapped in a place and situation that I had no control over, waiting for things to be resolved, not necessarily filled with confidence that we would have enough students to make it worthwhile. A very similar feeling to being trapped in Aguascalientes and the bad work environment, waiting for my work visa and residency to be processed. It has worked out very well though. We had 5 students for the Chi Nei Tsang course, and 6 students for the Thai Massage course. I have been wanting to start teaching healing modalities for quite a while, and have now really enjoyed it and found it very rewarding. I feel that I have so much to teach. I have been doing bodywork trainings since the age of 21, in many different techniques and approaches, and working in the field off and on since the age of 23, and again more intensively for the last 14 years. Teaching is a new and natural direction for me to take. It makes sense. You can only give so many people treatments, but if you train others, they go on to work on an exponential amount of people. The owner of the one venue where I have been doing some work and where we gave the Chi Nei Tsang (Abdominal Detox Chi Massage) course, Luna Maya, a natural birth center, is opening a branch in Mexico City and they are now looking at arranging for me to teach some courses there as well as another one here in San Cristobal. One of my students is also offering to host courses for me in Mazunte, on the Oaxaca coast.
San Cristobal de Las Casas has not been a bad place to be "trapped" in, (I've been trading massage treatments with other great therapists - craniosacral therapy, wow! - and also trading Thai treatments for great yoga classes at the Ananda center), but I am looking forward to heading towards Guatemala in two weeks time, a week before my one year Mexican visa expires. Lake Atitlan is calling! And further south, the Andes. My planned route runs through Guatemala, El Salvador, Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua, and some tropical beaches, more dollar work opportunities in Costa Rica, and then Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. But anything can happen along the way, as the road rises up to meet me, melding my destiny with chance and synchronicity. What lies around the corner and down the rabbit hole?