Updated: Oct 24, 2021
Looking back on my journey through Mexico and Central America: Part I.
As I post this, today (October 11, 2021) is Indigenous People's Day. Diego Rivera's murals in the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City dramatize the encounter between the Mexica people and the Spaniards. This particular mural shows the rich life the indigenous had in Mexico long before the Spaniards showed up. For reference, this was the same time of the Protestant Reformation, not too ancient history. While Europe was using chamber pots, the Aztecs/Mexica people had flush toilets. Photo from author's collection
I am starting a new series of posts here on the blog. I am doing a review of my life and travels throughout Latin America, and I thought I would unearth my former blog for you, dear reader. I first wrote these next posts on my way to Costa Rica back in 2008. That was when, in August, I flew to Mexico City and proceeded to take buses through Southern Mexico and the four other Central America countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua) until I reached Costa Rica.
I had decided that this would be a good idea, since I had friends in all of the capitals of these countries. It would be like a classic US-road trip to see friends, just on King Quality (Greyhound-style) buses, with border crossings and passport checkpoints, sleeping in hostels or in indigenous villages in the jungle, and carrying all of the possessions that I planned on using for the next year of my life. Mom and Dad, how you let me do this trip, I’ll never know, but I’m glad you did.
It is at once inspiring, terrifying, embarrassing, and nostalgia-inducing to read these posts. I like to think that my writing has improved some since I wrote them. And my confidence. Some of my “major insights” or observations from back then today do not seem all that major. I miss being 24 and jetting off to explore countries I love. And I also don’t miss it – after all, I now have a great husband (who at this moment is folding clothes, taking out the trash, and putting away groceries), two fun kids, and more good fortune than I or anyone deserves.
I am embarrassed and surprised to read some facts in these lines, because of how I felt at the time, or because I had totally forgotten about them until going back and reading. Some of them are important (I’ll show you a real doosey when I get to Managua, Nicaragua in a couple of weeks)!
Here is the first installment, originally entitled “DF” (Distrito Federal is the name of Mexico City, much as how the “District of Colombia” is the name of the US capital).
August 25, 2008
So, last night I arrived in Mexico City. I took a cab from the airport and immediately felt at home. Strange.
Mexico City is huge (20 million people), and it seems that there is a little of everything, here. It is very different from northern Mexico, where I traveled with church groups from Valpo. There it seems that the ranchera music really fits in — more rural, dusty, desert, slower pace. Here, people are rushing around, cars and buses, business suits…
Along one main road, Insurgentes, there is an Apple store, a Porsche store, Burger King, etc. Even a Sirloin Stockade! Haha.
Scenes from Zócalo, México, DF. Left: Mexico was preparing to celebrate its independence day in September. Center: From Rivera's murals - "What the world owes Mexico: corn, beans, tabaco, chocolate, cotton, tomato, peanuts, prickly-pear flower, maguey, avocado, pineapple, gum, etc etc etc. Right: the National Cathedral , built on top of an Aztec temple in Tenochtitlan. Photos from author's collection.
The smell is the same that I remember in other Latin American capitals — gasoline, sometimes garbage, food wafting out of different restauarants, dust…
One different thing, here, is that I rode the Metro. It is a lot like any other light rail I’ve ridden — in Chicago, DC, etc, but here teenage guys get on, wearing backpacks that are really speakers, and they play samples of songs that they are selling on a mixed CD of MP3s. A lot of people are walking around with headphones on, and they can add to their playlists right there on the Metro! The first mix was some ranchera music and cumbia, the second was Christian pop, and the third was Enya. Ha!
I find the women around here to be very nice. I have asked several older ladies for directions. Last night I was trying to find Frida Kahlo’s house before it closed, but no one seemed to know where it was. Finally, some women selling candies in a stall pointed me in the direction of la señora de los dulces al lado de los periódicos (the señora selling candies next to the newspapers). SHE knew where I was talking about, and gave me good directions.
The only problem was that I prefer not to take buses, but would rather walk, if it is close. She told me that the street I was looking for was 5 blocks away, and warned me that I should not walk — it was too far. I thought, 5 blocks! Can’t be that bad. So I started out, and 40 minutes later, I still hadn’t reached my destination. So, I asked another nice lady which taxis she thought were safe, and she was very sweet and I was soon reveling in the Museo Frida Kahlo.
The best part, by far, was her bed, with the mirror in the canopy, where she painted while she was bedridden, in pain. Sitting on the bed was her body cast, with her painting on it, which she did as she was laying there. I wish I had had more time, there. Today I saw Diego Rivera’s murals at the National Palace — pretty incredible, and inspiring, as they lay out the history of Mexico in amazing detail.
Clockwise from top left: Frida and Diego's blue house. Frida Kahlo's bed. Courtyard at the blue house. Aztec life of farming and cooking (Diego Rivera, National Palace). Further description of cultural contributions made by Mexico to the world (mathematics, astronomy, hydraulic engineering, architecture, painting, etc). Spaniards (one with a venereal disease) making a sale of items/land/people they had stolen (Diego Rivera, "Exploitation of Mexico by Spanish Conquistadores," National Palace). Photos from author's collection.
If I could add a photo, I would add one of a little girl (maybe 6?) I saw last night, by herself, wearing a checked skirt and black shoes, a blue sweater, hair flailing, smile exploding off her face, skipping across the street. Maybe because that’s how I feel, being here.
Thank you for reading the New Backwater blog! If you like this story, please let me know by clicking "like," leaving a comment, or subscribing to read more! You can also follow New Backwater on Facebook, or find me on Instagram at katsodak.