Feliz Navidad from Mexico City
In a winter devoid of snow and blistery winds, one has to work a little harder to bring the Christmas spirit to life.
In the latter part of November, Ajijic holds its annual nine-day fiesta in celebration of the town's patron saint, San Andres. One evening, I took two visitors to the plaza to enjoy the festivities. We walked around the square, basking in the warm evening weather and watching with delight the Mexican families celebrate San Andres. Booths of food, drinks and small trinkets outlined the plaza. I stopped at one and picked up a confetti egg. The top had been cut off, the egg cleaned out and then filled with confetti before being sealed again.
I explained to my friends that young men use these eggs as they stroll around the plaza in the opposite direction of the young women. "When they see a girl they fancy," I said to Beatrice, "they do this." I suddenly broke the egg over her head, covering her hair and shoulders with confetti. I still laugh remembering the look of shock on her face.
She purchased several to take back home to her friends. At a cost of three for one peso, they're practically a give-away. We stayed to enjoy the fireworks shoot off in all directions from the thirty-foot high castillo, constructed of bamboo, while small children ran around under the flying sprays of fire protecting their heads with pieces of cardboard boxes.
Mexico City and Taxco
Just two nights ago, my friends and I returned from a whirlwind trip. Nancy, Caroline and Marcy have all been here several times and we thought seeing new parts of Mexico would be fun. I planned to fly into Mexico City to meet them. They were to fly out of San Francisco. Wrong.
When the Popocatépetl volcano burst its top, United Airlines cancelled all flights to Mexico City. By midnight, the girls arrived. None of us had been in Mexico City before and it was a place I had never lusted over. However, we had two nice days there.
My friends suggested we rent a car and I drive. "Nope." I said. "Not in Mexico City." I'd also heard driving in Taxco didn't make any sense. After arriving, they understood. The traffic was bizarre. Twenty-four million people live in Mexico City and some of the larger one-lane roads sported seven to eight lanes. The line for taxis was easily two city blocks long and after spending two days in airports, standing in that queue didn't improve any of our attitudes. A supposed taxi driver came up and offered to take us in his van for another 180 pesos. Of course, we'd all heard about being careful with illegitimate taxis in Mexico City. He insisted he was an authorized driver, although his van was white and not marked as an airport taxi.
Since I'm the only one who can speak Spanish (passably, not fluently), I was nominated to guarantee our safety. After speaking with the traffic policeman on duty, he assured me our driver and van were legitimate, showed me the license in his van and the number on the window. We headed to El Ejecutivo hotel. Tony, our driver, spoke English quite well and served as a guide as well.
Two of my friends wanted to see the ruins and pyramids of San Juan Teotihuacan. Tony picked us up the next day and walked us through the fantastic ruins of a civilization who had lived there as early as 700 B.C. Construction of its two great pyramids, the Sun and the Moon, began around 100 B.C. Archeologists estimate that up to 200,000 people lived there in 500 A.D. Having lived in Europe for three years, sometimes I feel I've had my fill of old churches and ruins (broken stones, my British friend calls them), but the scale of Teotihuacan took my breath away. No, we didn't climb either pyramid. I'd climbed the pyramids of Egypt when I was twenty and insisted they bring in a helicopter to take me back down. I was terrified of heights. They didn't and I survived. Now, much older, the 248 steps of the Sun Pyramid at an elevation of 7,482 feet were a bit much for us. However, I highly recommend the experience to you!
We managed to fit in some shopping and then spent the evening dining and walking around the Zona Rosa. We were glad we'd packed earplugs. The loud traffic made them a necessity at night. The following morning we took another taxi to the Bazar Sábado (Saturday Bazaar) featuring great artwork at tempting prices. We wandered in and around several other tianguis (outdoor markets), oohed and aahed at one flower market and the next day headed south to Taxco.
Taxco affected me much the same way Venice does. Its charm is unique. Built upon hills that remind me of San Francisco or Guanajuato with cobblestone streets, it is a romantic city. It's also the silver capital of Mexico. We stayed at the Loma Linda hotel. The bus ride from Mexico City took about two and a half hours. Getting a vehicle to take us to our hotel that was big enough for four women and four large suitcases created a hardship. The taxis, primarily old VW bugs, all had removed their front passenger seat. We could have taken two taxis, but my friends preferred to stay with me since I could manage with the language. Finally, a converted van, sans the large door on the side pulled up. We were able to fit ourselves and our luggage into it and eventually arrived at the front of our hotel. Perched on the side of a mountain, the hotel's view is spectacular. On the mountainside opposite us, Christmas lights provided additional sparkle.
The acoustics would have been the envy of any auditorium. Every sound traveled up the mountain and two nights of roosters crowing, dogs barking, horns honking, children playing and partridges cooing in a pear tree again made us glad we'd packed earplugs. I don't know if I've told you I like playing board games, but this group of ladies is semi-addicted to Rummy Tiles. I had packed my game, so we set up a table from one room as a bar and snack table, another with our tiles and played well into the wee hours. We reminded me somewhat of the ladies in the Joy Luck Club.
It's hard to say which we enjoyed more, Rummy Tiles or shopping for silver. I suggested the first day just be spent getting the lay of the land and that we wait to purchase until we'd figured out the best places. Of course, no one paid me any heed. By the second day we'd discovered the underground wholesalers and tianguis. You can buy from wholesalers with a minimum purchase. This varies from store to store. Mostly, they require a minimum purchase. All silver is weighed and then a calculator is used to multiply the grams by the day's silver rate.
I'd say we did ourselves proud. We managed to walk away with Christmas presents, birthday presents and "be good to ourselves" presents. The silver is as breathtaking as the town. We asked around and found great restaurants. The second night we watched a gathering of people beneath our window seat. Inside the restaurant, a volcano erupted on the television set and outside, the locals gathered to watch the mini-buses parade around a glorieta (round-about). Someone set off fireworks nearby and the town came alive.