Archive for the ‘Mexico’ Category

Mexico to me, at least this area, seems to me to be much more North American than it did last time i visited three years ago. And i don´t think much has changed here – tourism is coming back and Oaxaca is blossoming once again – but it is the direction i am travelling in. Last time i arrived – first in Cancun – from the United States and Canada, so what i noticed the most in this area (Oaxaca, Chiapas) was its latin american character and the indigenous flavour of the latter. But coming northwards – from Costa Rica to Nicaragua and from most recently Guatemala, i see more the north american (and European) flavour of Mexico – for this country is a mixture of all.

Yes, it is riding the buses that i wrote about, and coming in to this town on an overnight bus, arriving at 530 am in a modern brightly lit station with a cafe which had a microwave oven and also sold many shiny magazines, and a chain convenience store – full of middle class mexicans. And there is more of that here and not just in the capital city which i have never visited. And the roads are wider and it seems more organized. And the country is large like other north american nations – you think of Oaxaca and San Cristobal as somewhat close, but the bus took over 11 hours and it was not because we were driving on dirt roads. Yes, like the US near its southern border. Mexico has more of a police/army presences than i have seen elsewhere (even in El Salvador) with frequent (cursory) checks of the bus and trucks that drive north – we were boarded at least 5 times last night, though baggage was not manually checked. And there is more widespread graffitti so it seems. And maybe it is because there are so many more large and real cities here. And Mexico seems to have a much greater middle class, and cultured class that elsewhere, and things are more expensive and you see more cars. And the arts broadly defined, both contemporary and historic are so rich and textured. Yes, there are collectivos and shabby buses as well, but there are more modern clean taxis. And yes, there is the market areas, with food and goods and so much more sold on chaotic streets, and slums up the hills.
But it seems a blend – yes you see many of the concrete block homes and narrow sidewalks, and the language is spanish, and the family is important, and it is a looser feel than to the north, but coming here makes me fill that i am on my way home – for better or worse. And maybe it is bacause i see many more Americans than i have since  Costa Rica, and probably more than i did there. While we in the United States and Canada often forget that Mexico is part of North America – it is – not just the poor that we imagine (though it definitely exists) but is such an immense diverse country – different energies within as everywhere, but also different than both what is to the north and to the south.
Where you have come from helps define how you see a place, and also returning to a place makes it different than it was the first time – here there is familiarity, and i am more in a comfort zone though my spanish has declined once again. I feel more at home, though this is not it. And i feel that i am in a return.
And how would my journey have been different if i had gone from north to south like so many do – maybe i would be more enthralled by the uniqueness of Mexican culture and find Costa Rica so American, and Guatemala cheaper and the people nicer if i had not been to Nicaragua before, and would have found some of the places in Nica safer and more down to earth – it is hard to say, but the direction you travel has its consequences.

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My energy has returned and i feel lighter once again – in early – a return from the zocalo (center square) here in Oaxaca where all is alive – music plays on a stage with dancers, people gather, children play with the helium balloons in the multitude of colours and shapes that are for sale, other young children sell chewing gum, candy and individual cigarettes. It is a tourist show to be sure, but it is alive – vendors selling corn – elote with mayo and cheese and lime and spice, and hotdogs and more, and tables line the wide walks in front of the restos on 2 sides of the square. Smiles abound and life seems lite. And tomorrow there will be more – special event of some sort. The cathedral with its sculptured facade and domed ceiling on the other side is fairly empty but i and others wander in and out – is grand but not as ornate as the Santo Domingo church up the pedestrian street – gold and baroque and saints on ceilings and all around – overwhelms, decor wherever you look to remind you of the saints and god though that church was full of tourists and the holiness temporarily seemed secondary – but it was alive and i forgot my camera so could not snap a photo at 6pm when the setting sun shone in and lit the gold. I stopped in another plain church for a moment, and after the grandeur of some i also see the beauty in the simplicity – keep your mind focused. and the streets are alive, and life is good. The time is now.

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I will head back to the US in a few days – to the west coast, california which has called for so long and now i wonder why i go. Why i clung on. I have been heading north and home since i came to Central America almost 4 months ago, and now i feel that what i have hung on to has blocked my journey and is in reality empty, it was an illusion, Maya – not the people who live south of here, but the illusionary world of the buddha.

I had been yearning for a place to be outside, to walk safely, for the moderate climate, to sink into a pool and for more, for a place to call home i imagined this place as an ideal, vague, nothing concrete, an ideal. At the retreat centre i felt like i ws dying, dying to myself, ad i let go but then i said i wanted to be among the trees of the west coast, see the ocean further north before i went and then i crawled back, stopped the process.

But then the night before i bought my ticket, which i almost didn’t but i did, partially out of fear, atm problems once again and hope i can make it out, i remembered why i left there, so many times, not only the cost, but the pot scene to the north, i thought of harbin and then the sleezy side of the place, and now i have returned to another city where i have been before, a beautiful city which i will write about, but feel blank and stressed once again, a feeling i have had here before. and my mood has changed since coming to Mexico, am heavier – and is it the country or is it because i am returning to a place, something that i am to do again and have so many times and something i have written about before – for when i do i no longer branch out, an no longer totally in the present for i rely on old memories and reinforce those neural pathways, instead of open up new ones

I had visions of me in Sn Francisco and on te coast – were they real and is that my call that i should not fight. I have had visions of it falling into the ocean, living the wrong kind of life.
I do not know. I do not have the enthusiasm that i need, the light that calls on, but no place really calls, could i have stayed in one of the quiet places, but i felt that ws not my place. So was it memory, a clinging to the familiar, to the illusion of safety that called me there, or is it my true call that calls me.

But i feel the energy heavier, is it that i have reentered the zone of the familiar, or te zone of cities?

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Another city, i sit and observe, watching life stroll by, drink coffee, smoke and write. A sadness overwhelms and i do not know what i do here, why i am here. Awoke this morning to the sound of cars rather than of birds or dogs or something. I sit here watching – i know that i am part of the interplay of life that goes on, just as i see others, others see me, but despite all the people i feel alienated and cut off in a cafe in the main square. San Cristobal is both a tourist town and a real city with people going on about their lives, and i do little, like i have in many places, and here i feel lost. I know the calm inside should be regardless of where i am, but i dont know why i am here. Life goes on – work, study, family, friends, suffering and indulgence, but i cannot relate. I want to talk to god and the spirit, but i do not connect with the spirit that lies inside us all. And i walk up and down the streets, over and over like i have so many other places. looking but not seeing, hearing the noise but not the voices, feeding myself on coffee, smokes, a bit of food, but not on god, or so it seems, though i try. I do the circle of the churches, not ornate and welcoming as i remembered (but i now think that was another city, or was it just my imagination) but they seem harsh and cold, with flat ceilings and bloody crucified Jesuses on crosses, and dark painting of pious looking saints in the front above the altar surrounded by gold (or copper) – it is austere and not joyous – though one on the hill was full of flowers on the altar and people praying and a louder procession left from the cathedral yesterday – but they are not places that lift my spirit and call to me. in a few i sit briefly and others i walk around, stare blankly and leave, feeling cut off and wanting to join with god.
So i sit and drink coffee – the pace of life goes on with little boys incessantly, persistently, selling their wares, forceful at times, almost aggressive and refusing to leave until you get harsh on the 6th no. And the women and little girls and grandmothers left alone selling. And i remember this feeling – as i sit here, rich compared to them, indulging in a coffee with time to sit, becoming at times closed and hostile, not a five minute break, cannot be.
And i remember thinking, in san marcos, thinking of my return to the us, where i am on the outside, one of them, that we/they – the beggars, the homeless, the poor, are but shadows – shadows of poverty and wanting that exist in the shadow of indulgence and ¨the good life¨ – a life not for all, denied to many, and with the disparity borders get drawn even more intensely, and the gap grows and i sit here drinking my coffee – a privilege, a normal habit but a luxury for some. And it is more here, a little barefoot girl – 3 or 4 goes around asking for pesos, learning to beg – but am i really any different. And the guilt grows, i buy a trinket, but it is just a drop in the bucket, more to assuage my guilt. At times i think they are there to teach compassion and loving and giving.
But it is more in the tourist zones and in places where the gap is big. The eyes that look longingly at the table – mainly of the young who have not yet learned to avert them, the young like the shoeshine boys who later sit outside another cafe indulging in a frozen mocha. But i know that look, face to face with what you cannot have, standing outside, looking on, longing, for i too have had that look many a time.
And the peddlers and beggars are more intense here than they have been elsewhere in central america. Is is just the gap – for you go through much of the rural areas (except near here) where people are poor, but still seem to have something – not as ground down. Or is it also another loss, a poverty that is not only material, but spiritual, a poverty that is deeper, that cannot be solved by buying a trinket today. I think of my time in Nica, which was poor in material things, but also seemed rich – a sense of spirit and connection that existed in places with the very basic simple life. Or is it the people – but no – i have seen the maya in their communities and know that not all are pushy sellers, the aggressive merchants, but here with those who now live in the slums on the edge of town, the aggression is worse. Or where there is the gap – tourist land, pana at the lake, or the frequent thefts in san marcos. but i drift away from this place.
And is that what i see here, amongst those, like me at times, the travellers who wander, looking, or those who live the good life – possibly materially wealthy, but spiritually poor, and seeking to fill up. A woman with goods walks by, i avert my eyes, do not want to see, cannot buy from all, she reminds me, i hang onto what i have, close my heart instead of open it, or do i, for it aches with pain and guilt. A smile, a kind word is not enough, and their resentment of me turns to resentment of them. i try to open my heart, send love, a smile.
And the traffic circles on and people walk through and i am back to searching, on how to leave this place, feeling trapped, no where to go, enthusiasm down, flight to usa in a week and have no home, my temporary privilege, the one sitting on the seat facing the square is over, to i the one who looks on longingly and cannot join in. And in many ways does not want to – the feeding of emptiness, of internal poverty.
And in the city i long once again for where i am not – a place to be in nature, commune with god, and light up and see the spirit inside all. and perhaps i am here to learn, to do that here as well, the calm inside when there is noise without, and to feel the interconnectedness of all, and not apart, and to remove the veil from my heart and soul in the places where it is more difficult.


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I write this from what i have written in my journal for it all seems so far away – yes a bus ride and a day and a half but it seems so much further ago than that – it is a different zone, an energetic zone, a place of being, an area and i have now reentered the colonial town zone and wonder what i have done.

I visited Palenque three years ago on my last trip to Mexico and i wanted to go back there – the place made a deep impression on me then – not just the ruins, the pyramids and ancient architecture, or even mainly them, but the faces i saw in stones in the waterfalls, faces that were made real and spoke of the decline of the place, and of shifts and rises and declines of places the world over – i called them the monkey men to myself at the time for i had no other name, and i imagined i saw them in other powerful stones where i have been, and in sculptures and carving. There was still something there, though i did not see it at first as i stood on the low suspension bridge, taking off my glasses so i could see so clearly. Then i saw the face, and others, not as haunting as before, but still there, still speaking of some deeper mystery.

And perhaps why it was not as intense is that i have experienced many energies in stones since, presences of the oh so distant past, of those who were here before us, and therefore it is not so shocking to see. And this time they did not seem to mock me, or ^us^. And why did i need to go back – to prove to myself that they were there, that i had not imagined it, but i know they are.  I came back to see, but now to move on, for something is changing.

I had deep thoughts while i was there – up on a trail above the central square, and in the cross group where i sat at watched people walk up the stairs to the main structure, their being light, close to translucent against the denseness of the stone. And it was that one group that spoke to me, the religious centre, for in the site i felt the power of war and decline and inequality and a society turned inside out – upon itself, the elite and commoners divided, and the elite losing track of god and more, a loss of what had once been at its core. And i wondered who these people were, so many theories and i have no answers, from elsewhere – or more so than those of us here now – and were they the maya as we now know them, the people here today, descendent of the rulers or the ruled and were they the same group of people or were they two. But all is linked and intertwined. at least those are the thoughts that came to me.

And the energy of palenque did not seem as strong as i had remembered – had the place changed or was it me. For some was still familiar. I stayed once again at el panchan and felt it a place in decay, yes the jungle and its humidity claiming back buildings and more constantly, but it was more, an unkempt feel, a feel that it had seen better days, that energy was chaotic and still, flowing out and not in. That it was living on past laurels, and that we, as visitors, with the partying and drugs and drinking, while some a celebration of joy, but some, a decay, and adding to it, and becoming a part of what had transpired once before.

Still i slept well and now in part yearn for the jungle and what i experienced. For the jungle was lush and dense and with shiny greens, and fragrant and heavy, the air heavy, and the sounds at night before the music got going and in the morning at dawn – insects, birds, the eerie sound of the howler monkeys and more and i lay in my shabby wood and screen (with some missing) cabana listening i felt conected and at peace. Here is some of what i wrote in my book

I feel sad – the jungle here is lush and green and heavy and so is the air, the dark squiggle so much more visible here, a denser heavier feeling here in the lower lands, cloying almost, but the foliage is dense green and it keeps the ground cool blocking out the intensity of the sun, a world beneath the branches where all comes to life. and it is moist, so moist, the earth dark and the moisture on all, on the worn footbridge and on the buildings on all, on me too i´m sure, clinging, fading paint. And i feel that this area is worn and the denseness clings to me – molecules moving slowly, but live comes, slowly spinning, dense. Tomorrow i will head to a new zone one where i will probably crave the lushnesss that is here – the undergrowth and the soil. Still here i could see the changes in vibrations more clearly… (not i have felt that denseness many times, when i come out to the pacific in the northwest, getting off the bus for the ferry to vancouver island, and it envelops and hugs the body, caressing, but then heavy and clinging and at times both, a heaviness that descends upon me)

I lay in bed listening to the sounds of the jungle, birds of diverse sorts call, i do not know their names or even their sites but their sounds.. i listen to the sounds of nature and of god, feel the air come in and sleep deep.

I felt it was not a place to stay and came for the city, and now i walk around wishing to leave, commune with a deeper being. Still, Palenque was revisiting for me, a site of the past, one that we have dug out from hiding and rebuilt and keep trimmed, a memory that more existed before. And in my memory all is similar and different – both the site more manicured, have been with it and can walk away, and the zone of el panchan

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Those Mexican buses – i forgot how luxurious they are, with cushioned reclining seats that you reserve, plenty of leg room, curtains on the windows, reading lights, air-conditioning, toilets (with soap and paper), and movies – and now with over head speakers that you can turn off (but still have the sound around) and baggage claim tags for your bags that are placed in locked compartments under the bus, and even a real ticket office.

I took the bus from Palenque to san cristobal today, a journey of about 6 hours over mountainous roads full of topes (speed-bumps). At first the luxury astounded me as i sunk into my individual seat, and for a moment i loved it – especially after cramped vans, chicken busses and the like. It has been two months since i rode a first class bus on my journey up from Managua , and this was so much nicer. But then i began to feel removed from the land i passed through – a feeling i remember having on the Tica Bus.

I looked through my window at the villages, the homes, the low lush mountains and then the higher drier mountains with pine and coffee and scrub, and the people wanting to sell fruit and corn and barbeque chicken at the side of the road, and those who walked the road and i felt so separated from them all. High above, peering through. The movie could be heard in the background, a film with willie nelson, a film which most people watched with curtains drawn. I did not hear the sound of outside, or feel the air, or smell the smells, and i was one of the few who saw. The window was a barrier, acting like a veil, something between us.

And i thought of the bus as a container, one that takes people from place to place. The journey is only a means to an end on this bus, as it is on all for most. But here you have your own environment and need not be affected by what is outside – yes you feel the twists and turns and a bit of a bump as you fo over the topes, but the ride is smooth and you need not hang on on the curves. You become contained, a world onto yourself.

And i thought of meditation practices, of the stillness inside, of not being swayed back and forth by what is outside, but does that mean being disconnected. For the bus acts as a barrier, the in and the out firmly defined. For in reality all is porous and connected.

I arrived here, rested, back and legs in one piece, my ride was comfortable and safe. Yet somehow it did not seem as fulfilling as many other journeys though the landscape was spectacular and varied, crossing zones, lush jungle to what had been pine forests, through villages and towns, of plankboard homes with dirt yards, to build up towns of painted concrete blocks, sweeping vistas and close up view of chickens and pigs and people and children working and playing. Yet in the comfort a feeling of separation grew, with both outside the bus and within as bodies were not forced to touch and vendors did not come aboard with food and other smells, and except for the group of young mexican tourists in the back who joked between themselves for a while, no one needed to interact, no ayudante calling out a stop, or people jostling for position. It was comfortable and safe, but cut off from life outside.  The life i saw looked beautiful, one i wanted to see, but what if we had cut through harsh lands, industrial landscapes, – would i then want to be in the container. The stillness with meditation it to be still in all, for all is connected and all we pass through.- 

And i felt something missing, a disconnectedness. But when we pulled into town and passed the lines of crowded collectivos, or through another town past lines of camionettas (trucks) i did not want to crawl down out of my comfort. The other looked so hard, though i have done it before. The zone enclosed me, and made me hesitant to step outside of it.

I will ride another bus in another time, for all is part of the journey – from the back of trucks, to the painted school buses, to vans of varying quality to the luxurious first class mexican buses – all is different but similar.

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I was right last night when i said that i would miss the oppressive air of the jungle (entry still to come) and in some ways i was right. Tonight i find myself in San Cristobal and i wonder what i have done. I have been here before, three years ago, and it was a significant place in my travels then for it was here that i turned back and did not continue on my journey south to Guatemala and to las pirimides, a journey that i now have done. And it was here that i made that phone call – to my mother – after no replies from her on my last blog – and realized that she no longer wished to speak with me and that i had been cut off – and that i would never see her again. So this place is significant, and maybe that is why i had to come back to truly let it all go. Or at least that is what i thought this morning, laying in bed, in shoddy cabana, listening to the sounds of the jungle – i had bought my ticket yesterday. And this was the place i imagined going way back in October, when i planned this journey on rainy october day in Buffalo – the place where i was born. And maybe this central american journey has been a bit of the same as my last trip to mexico – a fleeing when i felt rejected. But i finally made it to the other places, and now maybe i can break free – not let old pain stop me or block my path – or twist me up inside.

And so i am here, already thinking of leaving but to where i do not know. i am not giving it my full energy i know – maybe i already had let it go. Again i am at that point – my ticket out of Guatemala City in a week and a half, into NYC, but there i have nowhere to go, and returning here, and to palenque the other day, i question my previous desire to return to the west coast. But i must make a decision.

It is interesting returning to a place you once visited, (but unlike the circles i have been making – in the more distant past – 3 years – but a lifetime ago) memories of place return and in some ways you question them. I am staying in the hostel where i stayed last time – but i remember it as calm and nice – now twice as many beds in the dorm, packed. And the city seems bigger, and livelier with more tourists around – prices still low, but the tour operators no longer have discounted prices listed outside. And another street, so it seems, has been closed to traffic and is filled with restos and cafes and people wandering up and down. Or maybe it is just a saturday night, where people come to let loose.

And maybe my discontentment has to do with where i have been – Antigua, Granada, colonial towns – and in many ways so similar – tourist zones. The central square, the old churches, the cobblestone streets, and the restored historic buildings and the dedication to tantalizing the senses – much a pleasure to the eyes (especially compared to the chaotic practicableness of regular towns of concrete) with nice places to stay, to eat, to drink, to live the good life but on a cheaper budget. All so nice, but somehow lacking a soul – devoted to tourists pursuing please with historic ambiance mingled with modern conviences. A place to relax, being ¨cultured¨, though without the plethora of museums and arts – some, for us. It is nice here and cool (maybe even cold), but it merely seems indulgent, the ¨good life¨ a surface pleasure and not a deeper resonance. A tourist place all the same – the colonial town – a zone, a place though it has many different physical locations in different countries – it is oh so similar. I look at more crafts, drink a coffee, walk the cobblestones, eat a meal, look at a church and feel empty. The novelty gone.

What will tomorrow bring?

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I have crossed into Mexico. I did so yesterday via the back route from Flores to Palenque on another 8 hours journey via shuttle, boat and collective, through the back roads of El Peten to Bethel, a few minutes up the river, and then a collectivo to here, in land where hills return, many of them reminding me of pyramids and making me wonder what they contain.

While the crossing was yesterday, i felt like i was in Mexico when i entered into El Peten, the flat lowlands of northeast Guate, and had to keep reminding myself in Flores, that yes, i was in Guate and not Mexico. Had my mind left already onto my next destination, or are national borders misleading, not representing the borders between zones. For El Peten was very different from the other locations where i had been in Guate, and reminded me more of the Yucatan in Mexico, and Flores is at the crossroads, people travelling in and out from Mexico and Belize. The land was low, flat and hot, so hot. And the women in traditional Mayan costume disappeared, replaced by those in ¨regular¨ clothes, and the road was straight, and the homes had awnings, and many, even in rural areas, were painted, not the grey that dominates so many indigenous peublos in Guate – at least in my memories. And once in Santa Elena, the road was wide, and just seemed Mexican. And in Tikal, or perhaps it was that i had seen other ruins on my previous visit to mexico. I don´t know

And driving to the border, stopped in small town, mainly men to be seen in the early morn, a reverse of the usual woman filled towns, and through villages where dogs, chickens and pigs wandered down the dirt road on which we drove, oh so slowly. Isolated, few trucks or buses or collectivos around, a flat land, full of fatter cows grazing, with the white birds that accompany them. Woos homes with dirt yards and laundry hanging spread out, a papaya farms . As we approach the river, some hills, finally some texture to the landscape.

It was peaceful – i felt calm though i know this corner is used to smuggle both people and drugs to the north and there were only 5 of us in the shuttle. Get exit stamp from guate then enter the in between zone of the river that divides the two countries – exited one but not yet entered the other – on the river on the narrow lancha as clouds became thicker. Land on the other side and walk up the hill to get new stamp – out of guate, of the C-4, into a new huge country. Didn´t seem that much different,

Drive the lonely road in a collectivo – now not just us 5 gringas who got on in Flores – some locals just off another lancha, The driver stops, talks to man in back, do you want to get out, they go outside, just up the road a checkpoint, and the family in the back seat is sent back south, decided not to go for it on the road. A few more check points on the road, some immigration, some military,  – were none on the other side, the flow is northwards, a baggage check several kms up the road, cursary, dont check main bags, dont seem to care, put in face time, a brief glance, but that is it.

The town of Palenque is more north american then i remembered – signs, organized bus terminals with shiny buses and more.

Where is the border really and what does crossing mean. Yes, entry into a new nation, one with new possibilities. But we draw borders in our minds, and to cross over can be stressful . I always nervous with border crossing – will i be let in and for how long. In my dreams there has often been a bridge that i could not cross, but i did a while ago. And this border is only a river, a dirt road on one side, and up river a paved road on the other. But once you cross, can you turn back on the journey. What does the border represent. Who put it there and why. And how many borders do we have in our minds.

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