Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Solo to San Miguel

San Miguel is nestled in the mountains near Quéretaro Mexico in the state of Guanajuato and one of the most popular non-beach tourist destinations in Mexico. It has become a kind of mecca (in a world of meccas) for artisans, artists and people who love them and want to buy their wares, especially people from the US.

I took the bus there alone and the journey was nice. In Querétaro I decided to get a second class ticket to San Miguel as I had sprung more for the 1st. class ticket to Querétaro.

Second class busses to San Miguel weren't quite as clunky and funky as the ones in Oaxaca and other states, but it still stopped everywhere and packed in people from the countryside until it was standing room only. There was a guitar player for awhile who saranaded us with the classics.

When on the bus in central Mexico you spend a lot of time climbing and descending mountains while looking at small, impossibly insignificant villages, dry scrublands, lush tropical forests, pine forests, and busy cities. All this could be in fairly close quarters. If you're riding second class a lot of people pile in over time, usually carrying stuff or just going to work, or both.

I believe that many people from "el otro lados" to the north and in Europe who, having realized the great exchange rate and cheaper prices of retirement in Mexico have migrated down to Mexico for retirement or whatever and San Miguel is popular in this vein. There are some stellar houses here. It's a very beautiful, manicured town in the central part and English is widely spoken. There is a peaceful central square with bubbling fountains and some great stores for buying art crafts. Apparently San Miguel was once popular with painters from Europe and elsewhere for it's extraordinary light.

It was grey and pissing rain on the day of my arrival, but the next day when the clouds parted and I could see what people were talking about.

There is an clear and crisp quality to the sunlight. Maybe it's the clarity of the air and the fact that the town is up in the mountains that makes it so. Mexico City sometimes has light like this when the air is clean. At any rate I can see why the place has been popular for so long. It's quaint, temperate, fresh, bright, and peaceful without being dead either. I basically wandered around ducking under awnings to get out of the periodic deluges, bought some coffees, looked at stuff. If you're from Canada or the States then you won't want for anything here. There are veggie restaurants, coffee bars, Jazz joints, clubs, lotsa shops, and even trendy food like pressed panini sandwiches. If you don't swing this way, you can always look for a place over on the other, less popular, side of town where most of the locals probably live. It looked nice there too.

Some people here say that San Miguel is too manicured and I can kind of understand what they say. Many cities have this now. It's like when Chinatowns decide they're real, "Chinatowns" and begin the erection of all kinds of plaques, dragon sculptures, statues, etc... Theme cities and theme neighborhoods. If you ever find yourself in Vancouver or if you're currently there, like me you'll understand exactly what I'm talking about. See the "totally drive certified" embossments in the pavement on Commercial Drive in order to induce wretching. Well San Miguel is still pretty nice. And I recommend a visit and stay in one of the many pleasant hotels around there. You may never leave or at least return with your matured yet insufficient RRSP cheque in the future. If you are lucky enough to have one that is...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Metro Pantitlan

A coupla times a week I teach an early class on the eastern side of the city at the Benito Juarez Airport. I usually take the metro out there and I have to be on the train at 6 to get there at 7. I descend into Metro San Antonio at around a quarter to six if I'm making good time on the western side and it's usually a pretty tame affair. At six the Metro is still tolerable in that neighborhood. It's a long trip and I need to transfer 2 times.

By twenty to seven the train shoots out of the ground on the eastern side of Mexico City and on a good day the sun will just be starting to come up, breaking dramatically over the sprawl of Delegation Pantitlan. Sitting right in the middle surrounded by a six lane highway, baffling traffic glorietas, thru-ramps, a water pump station, steaming taco stalls, Tamale hawkers, and a bus plaza for incoming suburban busses, is Metro Pantitlan.

Pantitlan is the terminus of 4 metro lines, and many many suburban Collective busses. The busses are all private, loud, large, and in all manner of shape. Some are relatively new while others belch diesel clouds. The first indication you are getting near the pantitlan area is the acrid, smell of sulphur. In the surrounding crowded neighborhood light industry and people are packed in tight little streets. By the time I reach it, Pantitlan is in full swing with no signs of stopping.

It seems that the entire city of Mexico is trying to squeeze through it's turnstiles. Everything is grey slab concrete. Papers swirl around in the bus plaza below the platforms as busses, hundreds of busses with names like "Pepe, 'Lucia", and "El Perdido" make thier way through the unorganized lanes. Out on the streets a endless river of trucks, busses and cars are slowly trawling by honking incessantly. Some honk in rhythm others use special "General Lee" styles of musical horns. In places of mass transit there is always an Ad-hoc establishment of food stalls and other market items like cellphones for sale called "Tiangis". Down in the bus plaza a woman is making tortillas, tacos, and quesadillas, while her husband sells fresh squeezed OJ. Dogs abound. There are dogs in the plaza, doggies on the platforms, dogs in the street and a special black doggie that I've named "el pancito" who always wanders in the same place on an overpass stairway I go through.

When I first set my eyes on Pantitlan I realized that here is the Real Mexico City. While the fountains and plazas of Coyoacan and La Condessa are much more attractive and pleasant to actually be in, Pantitlan Station is where all the other millions of Mexicans who're priced out of the downtown real estate index come into the city at 7 in the morning to work. Horse carts sometimes clop along with the traffic and men with cardboard boxes full of plastic cell phone holsters await the next train to the Zocalo. Mexico City has many such "nodes" where people transfer from the State of Mexico to urban transit in the city. Of course there isnt any visible line where the city ends and the outskirts begin. It all seems to be one solid flat slab of humanity. A slab that I am soon to leave after nearly 2 years.

But it will always be here as has been the truth for thousands of years. And I look forward to coming back soon.