Somehow two weeks whizzed by without me managing to write a blog word. More Air France problems spiked my return (missed connection, delayed baggage etc) but that all fades into the far distance compared with life in Mexico. Technicolour, highly charged, incredibly warm people, endlessly varied… the superlatives are legion and oh so true.
Above all something unexpected lies round every corner, not least the weather. On the local weather-map little clouds and slanting raindrops were dotted all over, quite normal for June. The reality? one tropical downpour in Mexico City and one overnight storm in a village of Veracruz – cracking thunder followed by the chimes of the morning tortilla van, the equivalent of a wake-up call. Otherwise it was dry dry, sun sun and blue blue with temperatures creeping up into the high 30s in the Yucatan. So global warming marches on.
Talking of the unexpected, there is of course crime or, more precisely, drug cartels. On my last day, the newspaper headlines read “Wave of shootings: 20 dead”. And that’s one day.
But back to more prosaic matters. Getting TO Mexico from the UK is a lot more difficult than getting AROUND Mexico. Long-distance buses run often, to the minute and are utterly comfortable, rental cars come cheap (though drop-off charges are still outrageous) and domestic flights are better and better value as competition hots up. I booked them all online without a hitch. The only problem is lateral routes, as Mexico City seems to be a fixture on every schedule. We got to know the terminal and in particular Sala B very well. Unfortunately we also got to know an airport hotel when, through no fault of ours, we missed the last flight to Oaxaca. It did get us on the first morning flight and straight up to Monte Alban before the hordes though.
Monte Alban, along with Palenque and Uxmal, is one of my alltime favourite sites. Built by the Zapotecs on a levelled hilltop about 2500 years ago, it really feels close to the gods. Clear air, endless views all round, the odd ‘farmer’ wandering round flogging clay animals and a rowdy group of Mexican schoolkids at the top of one of the main structures – that was it. So on this visit I revelled in quietly soaking up the past from the shade of a tree. Down below me was Oaxaca and its magical valley, all of it now suffering from the aftermath of last year’s political upheavals and occupation of the city. Before that tourism was big here – but no longer. It does, admittedly, make it 20 times nicer to stay in but in the end those empty shops, restaurants and hotels start to hurt.
One Sunday morning the photographer and I were given a ride out to a village of the valley to experience a local football match and to photograph a top local chef, the goalie. The kids mostly had the right gear on and the match was fast and furious. The village looked ramshackle and distinctly sleepy. Then a horse and cart rolled out from a gateway behind us, soon after a herd of cows was shepherded past, closely followed by goats, then a man pedalled slowly past on a bike pulling a horse on a rope. Finally a pick-up truck bounced along the dirt-road. Out of nothing comes everything it seems. Then it was time for us to go to catch a long-distance bus, so a kid was dispatched on his bike to find the local taxi. Action was not the word for this dusty little place. And, true to promises, ten minutes later a taxi rolled up and we were whisked over the topes (that’s speed-bumps – very ubiquitous) back to civilisation.