Swooping along the ridge of the Sierra Madres, I'm in the zone, smiling and inwardly applauding the civil engineers who so perfectly cambered the tilt of this mountain road as I flick the bike from left to right and back to left, over and over, for 80 km sans any other traffic to speak of. Riding into the city from the mountain pass to the East, my route parallels a 250+ year old stone aqueduct that casts some welcome shade in the afternoon sun. I arrive in el centro of this Mexican town and find its stone architecture beautiful and impressive.
It can be hard finding hotels while riding in Mexican cities, due to the colonial architecture, which presents a featureless facade to the street with only doors and a windows to break up the visual plane of an entire city block. My concentration is also distracted by the frenzy of cars and motorbikes weaving between lanes during rush hour here in the center of town.
Mexican hoteliers generally don't put flashing neon signs out front like their American counterparts, but often paint an unobtrusive sign or affix a small plaque near the door announcing their service instead. So I park and begin trekking the town on foot in search of affordable lodging. The first place I spy looks lovely but the nightly tariff of over $200 US, forces me along the boulevards in search of more economical digs. Eventually I find a cute little hotel in a centuries old building a few blocks from the plaza. They offer clean, windowless rooms for about $22US, and several deluxe rooms with windows
, ($33US), which face the street, a beautiful church, and a park. I opt for a window room in spite of the extra cost and what I know will mean more street noise.
The church across the street from the Hotel del Carmen
This city has a reputation for drug-related violence, but you wouldn't know it by observing what I've seen. It's a spectacularly beautiful town, with a colonial heritage and a cosmopolitan blend of people. Sidewalk cafes abound, and a mix of young and old, urbane Mexicanos surround me as I join a amiable late afternoon crowd to read my Kindle and enjoy a cerveza following the day's long ride. Two young men playing chess at a neighboring table finish their game and ask me about my electronic book, and we launch into a discussion of its properties, then move on to books and authors we've enjoyed, and eventually segue into a meandering discussion of the nature of being.
Our conversation is one in which before we've scratched the surface of the topic at hand, I'm in over my head due to my tenuous command of the Spanish language. Nonetheless, it's interesting and rewarding to try to construct complex sentences, so less mundane than the solitary traveler's norm, which generally consists of ascertaining how much a hotel room costs, or explaining what one wants to eat for dinner. Thankfully one of them spent 5 years in London, and speaks passable English, so when we broach the more arcane metaphysics he becomes the de facto translator between his friend and myself. Our exchange is as intense as the conversations and laughter surrounding us are light-hearted.
Jose is a Toreador of the bullring, a man of action, and Catolico. He believes in God, thinks the divine being is often unhappy with his creation, and is not always a benevolent god. Geraldo is cerebral, an agnostic musician studying physics at a local university, and is of a Jewish family here in a country that is overwhelmingly Catholic. He's engaged but is concerned that once married, he'll see the door close permanently on his musical career. Both men are in their twenties and count fewer than half the years of my own life.
When Geraldo asks me where I'm staying, I tell them the name of the quaint little stone hotel a few blocks away. They look at each other and laugh, telling me that the hotel is famous for its hookers. Geraldo warns me that if I'm inclined to partake of this particular vice I should beware, as not all of the hookers are of the female persuasion, and that
particular fact might not be readily apparent until one gets up close and personal with them. I laugh, and ponder my seemingly inherent ability to inject myself into interesting
When Jose checks the time, we are all surprised to find that we've been talking for almost 4 hours. Good company can be hard to find, and I offer my thanks for the serendipity of these new friendships. As we bid each other goodnight we make plans to meet again tomorrow evening to continue the discussion.
It's good to have some stories to tell, so when I return to the hotel and the park fronting the church, I'm vaguely disappointed to find it devoid of hookers and transvestites, but am somewhat consoled by the presence of a small street performance group and their audience along the promenade.
A subsequent evening was spent with an unusually nervous manager from Mexico's financial sector. During that evening's conversation he told me that Che Guevara was an icon for him in his life as well as in his thinking about finances and monetary policy. Surprised by this admission, I commented as to how rare I thought such a predilection might be for those working in the financial sector in the US. We then segued into a discussion of Che, Latin-America, emerging economies, and the importance these economies will have on the economic and political direction the world will take in the near future. I wondered afterward if his nervous tics could be manifestations of some cognitive dissonance between his job and his socialist philosophy, or if alternatively they might be from his obvious need to cheat on his wife while traveling for business.