Monday, June 20, 2005

Our Arrival in GTO

number thirty-eight

This is an installment in a nine-part series detailing our first big Mexican vacation. This installment is about our travel day between México City and Guanajuato. 2,106 words.

[NL; composed in GTO 6/10/05-6/11/05]-We pulled into the bus station in Guanajuato a little before eleven. The trip had been pretty great; I have always really liked traveling by Mexican bus. It had taken a predictably long time to get away from the DF, over an hour heading northwest from the Centro del Norte, and the light had held out throughout much of the five-hour ride. Occasionally the bus would stop to switch drivers or let on some new passengers. Once, when heavy traffic had us stopped for a while at an underpass, a woman had gotten on the bus to sell taquitos from a brown paper bag. The half-empty bus was well air conditioned and comfy. In case the five hours seemed too short for the ticket price, two terrible movies were screened. The first was an action adventure I had seen before, the second was a cowboy comedy that I had never heard of and wish I had never heard of still. It had a talking horse. So I did my best to spend the whole trip looking out the windows at México gliding by.

The bus station in Guanajuato was friendly, but mostly closed. The people from our bus had scattered immediately, leaving us nearly alone on the platform. We walked out of the terminal, and to a waiting cab who quoted us the expected price for the ride to town. This was a nice switch from the long lines at the taxi stands in México City: worry free and immediate. It took us about six minutes to get far enough into Guanajuato to start seeing how very interesting this town is. Wedged into the crevasse-like valley formed by a number of rolling hills, Guanajuato quickly ran out of space and began to dig its major thoroughfares below the city. Originally, this had been a city plan: one way roads heading west were to be on the surface of the city, and roads going the other way were to be underground. As Guanajuato progressed, it was realized that the narrow Spanish roads on the surface were not going to be able to handle even half of the traffic, and more underground roads were completed. This was pretty easy for a town with a long and uninterrupted history of mining: they just used their tunneling machines to dig some roads for street cars. The older sections of the underground road system are about one story under the town, and look much like asphalt canals where the surface of the city breaks into deep stone trenches overhung by flowers, bridges, and houses. The newer subterranean roads are tunnels through the mountain.

Eventually, we drove onto the surface of Guanajuato where people were strolling and lively music was playing. There were restaurants and little food stands and things to do. I wanted to get out of the cab immediately, but we needed to get to our hotel room first. The cabbie took us to a dark, unmarked building and asked us: “is this it?”

We were unsure. I handed him the address we had written on the back of a receipt. He said, “no, I guess not,” seeming unsure himself. Then we headed through the exciting little town some more, and stopped right beside a arena with giant statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, which we took to be the Plaza Cervantes reportedly near our hotel. Still, there was no sign of the hotel itself. To the driver’s credit, he seemed rather concerned for us. We obviously didn’t know our way around, and it was getting to be eleven o’clock. We had called ahead to let the Casa Méxicana know that we would be arriving pretty late, but we were going to have to find the place sometime before dawn. Actually, the cabbie was going to have to find it for us.

He got out of the cab and tried to hail another cab to ask its driver where this Hotel was. At last someone stopped for him, but that guy didn’t know either. So the driver walked down to a grocery stand, and then on down the street. He eventually came back to where we were parked in the middle of the busy street, and said that the hotel was back behind us about a block. There was no way to get the cab pulled around in the other direction on this one-way street, so we were going to have to walk that block. Then he gave us detailed directions. Then he apologized. We already felt like this guy had gone way over and above the call of duty, so we tipped him really well, loaded up our stuff, and started to walk in the dark and uphill direction that he’d indicated.

Of course the hotel was right there beside the statues. I am glad that Sunshine noticed the very small plaque that said “Casa Méxicana Guest House” above the narrow wooden doors, because I was already heading past those doors and starting up a pretty severe-looking hill when she did.

The door was locked and no one was coming to answer it. She knocked for a while. I sat the heavy luggage on the curb and then I sat down on the curb, too. Sunshine walked to the adjacent grocery shop, and asked about the place. They told her to knock loudly; that there was supposed to always be someone in the office at night. Sunshine then knocked loudly. The bar next door was louder, with live music and celebration, so she knocked even louder. I was beginning to embrace my new homelessness by the time a young man answered the door and ushered us in.

The way Casa Méxicana works is that guests are given a key to the room as well as a key to the outside door. There is no one letting people in and out all night. After looking for a while, the young man told us that he was unable to find our reservations, and that we could wait until the morning to work out our room charges. The night guy didn’t seem to want to deal with our money, but was willing to get us hooked up with a room. He took us to a very big, tiled, geometric shape awash with hideous flesh-colored fluorescent light that was, Sunshine pointed out, both too bright and too dim at the same time. Luckily, there was a cactus-shaped lamp on a bedside table with a more normal light. There were three beds, but we were assured that we were not going to have to share the room with anyone else. Casa Méxicana is a travel hostel as well as a real hotel and they sell bunks to less privacy-minded people for sixty-five pesos a night (right around six bucks). The night guy handed us our keys, and told us good night.

We then unpacked some stuff, planning to take a small walk around the neighborhood and get a bite to eat. We’d see the things we had ignored while we were trying to find the hotel, now that we were more relaxed. While sifting through her belongings, Sunshine noticed that her ATM card was missing. She’d just used it in DF to get cash for our trip, and now it was nowhere to be found. Relaxation went right out the window. We began tearing through our baggage, emptying everything out onto the blue bedspreads and sorting through it all piece by piece. The card never did turn up. We began to suspect that it had been left in the ATM machine in México City, of all places. Sunshine called the desk at the Galleria Plaza, and they said that no one had turned in a lost card. Then Sunshine called her bank and was told that there was no one around to cancel a lost or stolen card, and she should call back Monday morning. It was Friday night. Sunshine said that her local branch would be open until noon the next day, even though it was Saturday. Then we began to count our cash. We had a good deal of money, but nothing like what we needed to stay at a hotel for eight nights and also eat food. It reminded me, as everything seems to, of traveling in México before: the constant attention to monetary reserves, the planning and budgeting. Somehow, though, the nostalgia was losing a battle with the fear of poverty for my mood. Or the fear of having to return from vacation early.

We still had a credit card, though, and that small stack of cash. Nothing more could be done tonight, so we headed outside to see what we could see. What we found that first night was that we were staying about three blocks away from what the guide book calls the “beating heart of Guanajuato’s social scene,” its verdant and lively zócalo, el Jardín de la Union. Here, under trees cut so cubically, and grown so close together, as to make a ceiling; on very old tiles worn so slick and flat that they looked more like a kitchen floor, we ate our first meal in Guanajuato. It was a charming little plaza restaurant with outdoor tables chosen primarily because they took credit cards. I had a XX Lager, crêpes stuffed with mushrooms and cream cheese, some sauce called queso fundido, and another XX Lager. The night was wonderfully cool compared to other Mexican places, and the air was crisp and utterly clean. There were night birds twittering about, children and dogs frolicked. Mariachis played in a gazebo in the middle of the plaza, and grown men and women were dancing. After our meal, the walk back was peaceful, and it was hard to remain as concerned as we should have been about the bank card. At a little after one am it looked as if Guanajuato was already closing up for the night. The bar next to the hotel was quiet, and the adjacent grocery was locked up. We let ourselves in with our key, and headed to our room.

The next morning started earlier for me than some because of my early bedtime the night before. Sunshine had been up for a while, calling the bank and getting her card cancelled. She was just stepping into our room’s freakishly triangular shower as I was stirring. In the past, I have stayed in Mexican hotel rooms where the bathroom was a toilet and a sink with a drain in the middle of the floor and a shower head in the wall over the other fixtures. This bathroom was a little less severe than that: the right triangle of the room sported the sink and the toilet at right angles from one another—the doorway was directly between them—and the shower head was tucked into the acute angle to the left. The other acute angle incorporated a tall, thin window with smoked glass. Along the hypotenuse was a little wooden table, carved with flowers. There were no towels, and Sunshine dried off with a t-shirt.

I took the opportunity to explore around the hotel. Upstairs from our room (number ten), there was a little laundry room, a little wooden shelf with dozens of folded towels, and a rooftop terrace with plastic tables and chairs. The room across from us (number eleven) was a better color, had nicer tiles, and a bathroom with a tub and a sliding glass door. It was a better room. Downstairs, there were more rooms arrayed around a two-story courtyard filled with plants and tables with umbrellas. It seemed like every room was empty except for ours. All of the rooms had a large number of beds, but many also had more lamps. When I got back to our room, I told Sunshine about the other rooms and the roof while she dried off with a t-shirt because there were no towels. Then I told her about all of the towels I had seen. While I took my oddly acute shower, Sunshine went to the bank to see about getting a cash transfer, and was told that we could do that on Monday. This meant that we only had to get through two days of rationing our tiny amount of money. This was good news, and pretty much put to an end our worries of the night before. Sunshine also signed in at the front desk, and paid for the hotel through the weekend. By the time I had gotten out of my shower, she had also rented some towels.

Museum of the mummies, next!

Panorama from Casa Mexiana rooftop © the Author

Quiet Reading Room

This is a quiet reading room. Often, I find it is uncomfortable to digest long tubes of columned text directly off a computer screen. This journal is dedicated to the collection, percolation, and ultimate integration of my personal experiences. Subjects that I want to examine and then talk about--sometimes talk a lot about--€”are presented here. This central content can tend to thousands of words, maybe millions. I was afraid that readers were leaving the presentation boggled, spinning, googly-eyed. Or perhaps when confronted with twenty-four inches, or yards, of monitor sprawl they were just giving up. I am not even certain that I have necessarily solved this inevitable content problem of modern information enjoyment, but here is what I have done.

After long and highly scientific routines manipulating double-blind control- and test-subjects, peer reviewed journal publications, and hours and hours of hands-on experimentation, I have crafted this quiet reading room. There is no scientific way to control the length of the articles I write, but careful handling can somewhat soothe the contextual presentation. In other words: I have dropped the traditional speculation about lexicon, and attacked the question of the matrix itself instead. Brilliant. After years of diligence what I eventually crafted is this reading room.

The walls are contoured to relax instead of constrain; the paper is made to soften instead of reflect. The light is dimmed--just so--€”to prevent strain, angled to prevent umbra, and color-coded to soften harsh red lights and deepen wimpy light reds. There is nothing I can do to control aural environment, but my recommendation is that it should be kept quiet. About ambient sound: these entries are probably best read as far as possible from emergency vehicles, preferably from beneath the muffler of a vintage fire fighter pilot's scarf, puffy old duvet, or snow that is still falling.

My theory is that the wide web world is filled with potent and material opportunities that are just too difficult to digest for many people to take part. Enjoyment of this stuff is regulated to the routines of crawlers and robots at the peril of humankind's peaceful future survival. In an attempt to delay this likely outcome: welcome to this quiet reading room. It is for people like you to relax, kick back, and hate my content for better reasons than the dizzying vertiginous specter of its lousy dpi presentation.

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