Thursday, July 04, 2013

Mexico 1987, Part 10: The Long Way Home

Dec 3
San Diego
This isn't Mexico. This bus is leaving on time, a bus much different than the bus I got off of about 48 hours ago. THAT bus was a Mexican bus. We got on with tickets that assigned us seats 11 and 12, but those seats were taken and the driver, not willing to honor our assignments, offered us 2 different, non-adjacent seats. I said no, we had to sit together. A 36-hour bus ride faced us and neither of us wanted to sleep on any strange Mexican shoulders. The only seats left together were 35 and 36, which I accepted blindly, having just been sent off from Andele's with 2 tequila slammers and not realizing those seats were right in front of the bathroom. It was the first time I hadn't gotten the seats I was assigned; usually they were fussy about keeping you in your proper space. But as long as we were together, I didn't care. Until, of course, we saw the seats. They reclined about an inch, no more, and the window seat was broken and slid forward and back with the jiggling motion of the bus.

Dec 11
North to Tijuana
We pulled out of the P.V. bus station at 8:40 pm., 40 minutes late. In the first few kilometers it became clear that the trip was to be horrific. It was impossible to sleep sitting bolt up right, with your head falling front, or to one side or another, and the stench from the toilet (which broke down shortly after we left the station) was sickening.

That's when Window Wars began. In the window seat in front of us was a father of 6, all sitting beside him and across the aisle. He was in charge of 2 of the bigger children and his wife across the aisle tried to keep the other 4, of varying size, in check. Tamar was at the window, which closed just beside the head of the father, so that he had control of it. As we drove out of town the window was open, but once we were on the highway one of the drivers asked everyone to shut the windows so they could turn on the air conditioning. With the windows closed, the smell of urine thickened around us and Tamar cracked the window again, just to get a small but steady stream of fresh, breathable air. Then, after a while, the father felt the draft and closed the window. Tamar waited a few minutes for him to nod off, then opened it again. This went on all night in about 15 minute intervals.

Four people got off in Mazatlan 8 hours later and I asked one of the bus drivers if we could change seats. There were seats available now, I explained, and since we were originally assigned seats 11 and 12, I thought it only fair that we be moved up now. But the driver was already giving our seats to older, bigger Mexican women and, he kindly explained to me, it wasn't possible to move us. I reminded him that 4 people had gotten off and I tried to impress upon him the inhumane conditions we had been forced into in those seats in the back of the bus. But he was not moving us and said we'd have to wait until Obregon to change seats, sometime the next day. This seemed less than reasonable but we had to accept it, under the circumstances. At least we'd get some sleep tomorrow. We just had to make it through tomorrow. Then we saw on the map that Obregon was nearly 3/4 of the way to Tijuana, a very dim light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

I was sitting by the window now; it was 6am and my turn to play Window Wars. I had my head pressed against the window to breathe in the skinny stream of air from the open crack. I had just begun to fall asleep when Tamar said, in a level yet forceful tone, "Goddamit. Monique, open the window." In my daze I hesitated, but she was adamant. Then I saw why. A pregnant woman, trying to make it quickly to the bathroom, had just thrown up on Tamar's chair. Tamar had just leaned up against the seat in front of her and was considering waking me up to switch when the wretch occurred. It was dripping down the back of her seat and had slightly wetted her shirt and skirt. She had to ride that way for at least another hour before we made a stop and were able to reach our bags.

Tired and angry, I approached the second driver at the next station, while Tamar changed clothes in the bathroom. I tried to calmly explain this new predicament and our more urgent need for new seats. He cleared the bus and sent a man to clean up the mess, and I thought he was going to rearrange us, putting single passengers together to make room for us, making it so no one had to have those miserable seats. But he intended no such thing. I had seen people retrieve their luggage and disembark and I again reiterated the problem, pointing to a very disheartened Tamar, stressing the fact that she had just changed clothes and we were not about to sit back in those dirty seats again. But the driver most graciously pointed out something I had not yet realized: This was not the United States, this was MEXICO!

Oh! Of course, that's why we have to suffer! I tried to smile because tears were roiling up into my throat and I didn't want to give the driver the satisfaction of seeing me cry. We retook seats 35 and 36, covering the pukey seat with a towel, staring blankly out at the Mexican desert rolling by. By noon, the sun got very hot by the window and Tamar moved to an empty window seat on the other side of the aisle. When the mother of 6 - who smacked her kids every time they so much as squirmed - saw that the seat beside me was vacant, she told the most hyperactive son to sit there. He had been playing on the floor and his white shirt and white pants and every other exposed part of his body were nearly black with bus filth. I didn't want him sitting next to me and I glared at him. That deterred him a little, and he grubbed a little more on the bus floor. But eventually, mother's glare won out and he slid onto the seat beside me.

Down the road a ways, immigration officials (we were told) pulled the bus over. We had to take all our baggage off the bus and they wanted to go through all of it. The night before, when they had stopped us, they had just asked to see our passports or identification cards. They took a guy and a woman traveling with him off the bus - who, we guessed, didn't have an ID - and we continued on without them. Now everyone stood out in the desert sun fanning themselves while the officers picked through our bags for guns or contraband.

Back on the bus, the driver decided it was time to try that old air conditioner again. Everyone closed their windows and waited for the rush of air that we so deserved on this first class bus. But it just got hotter, the stench from the bathroom thickening, and I could feel the bile rising in my stomach. Back to Window Wars. I leaned forward so I could inhale the air from the cracked window. The kid in the blackened white clothes was asleep in the seat beside me and, except for the nausea, it was somewhat peaceful.

Pretty soon, people started figuring out that this was Mexico and not the U.S. and that the air conditioner on this first class, air-conditioned bus didn't work and they opened the windows again. Then, of course, we came to another station. The first bus driver, now dubbed "Chuckles" by Tamar, came back to see what seats could be offered to new passengers and became slightly miffed when he saw the dirty boy asleep in the seat where Tamar should have and Tamar in the seat that should occupy someone else. He woke up the boy and put him back in one of the 4 seats (containing the family of 8) and asked Tamar to retake her assigned seat. I said, "What did it matter? That seat was vacant and clean and by a window." And he said, "Bueno, but that's the seats you'll keep." And I said, "Oh no, you said we'd be moved up in Obregon." And he sort of winced and screwed his face up and rolled his eyes and threw his hands upward as he pivoted back up the aisle. Tamar and I grinned at each other across the aisle - this was surely somewhat of a coup.

At about 4 a.m. we hit Obregon. After everyone was off the bus, it disappeared to get cleaned or filled with gas or something, and everyone stocked up on bus station food, which in Mexico is homemade food like tacos or tamales that a woman made in her kitchen and travel books say you shouldn't trust. The bus was gone for quite a while and, when we looked around, we didn't recognize anyone. I wondered aloud if Chuckles had gotten the last laugh and left us there. It wouldn't have surprised either one of us. It would even have been funny. Things were so bad by then, all you could do was laugh. But the bus reappeared and Tamar and I smiled at Chuckles and he finally smiled back. Then he disappeared with the seating assignment. Tamar said to his absent self: "Please don't give us new seats. We love our seats. We're just happy Americans in Mexico."

We boarded the bus and I looked at Chuckles for that long-awaited seat change, our release from hell. He had assigned us 15 and 16 - we were free!! As we took our seats across from the fat Mexican ladies who had taken our originally-assigned seats back in P.V., the closest one smiled and said, "So, you're always a winner." We still had about 15 hours to go and this was Mexico, not the U.S.

I just smiled back.

[Tamar just reminded me that, when we got to the border in Tijuana, we were pulled behind closed doors by men in white, short-sleeved shirts, badges and guns and asked to open our luggage. I had bought some tea for one of my friends back home who had recently developed ulcers - I was assured the tea would cure them, but it did look a lot like the shake of those days - and we had to explain what it was. After they pawed our stuff and sniffed my bag of tea, they eventually let us pass]

Mexico 1987, Part 9: Holiday! Celebrate!

Nov 29
Puerto Vallarta
Oh lord, how do I even start? We're leaving Puerto Vallarta (for the 2nd time) in 6 hours. A guy who's been bothering to play his guitar for us for the past week is here on the beach, trying to woo Tamar, singing - well, making up words to some song and strumming - to her. It's hard to keep from laughing. Oh good, he's gone.

This is a very long story, which starts on November 18 when I got to P.V. at 6:30 in the evening and Tamar was already here. We cleaned up and took off to find a good margarita, which brought us to Carlos O'Brian's. That rowdy place turned out to be our home away from home and provided us with unlimited men, booze, dancing, laughing . . . FUN!

The first guy we met was from Yugoslavia. He offered us stools at his table and said, "Mi casa es su casa," to which Tamar replied, "Mi cerveza es su cerveza!" That night is somewhat of a blur - it is still taking us a while to remember. One guy, Mr. Carmel, kissed my tattoo when I wasn't looking and got a swift reprimand from Tamar on the dos and donts of tattoos. I found a guy just perfect for Karin - tall, blond, mustache, muscular, showing off his chest with his shirt left unbuttoned to his navel. Mr. Chest, from Vancouver. He was a regular.

Somehow Tamar wound up sitting with two Germans who spoke very little English, but we were already a few sheets to the wind and not looking for conversation. I believe my guy was quite handsome - and kissed great! After Carlos O'Brian's kicked everyone out we somehow found our way to a disco - we didn't know the name of it for another 2 days of partying there - and danced until 4am when the place closes. But even after the bars close, the ocean is still open, and while Tamar and her German necked on the sand, my German and I went swimming!

[That's all I wrote about our stay. Madonna's "Holiday" and the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues," on rotation at Carlos O'Brian's, are songs that will forever remind me of those heady, carefree days on my first trip to P.V. We partied until dawn, slept 'til noon, then languished on the beach drinking fruity cocktails until sunset. We imbibed countless margaritas and queso fundido, and  made dozens of friends - both tourists and locals. In the market, where I thought bartering was expected, Tamar taught me that quibbling over a few dollars when our lives are so rich is not admirable. Thanks, gf, for that valuable lesson.]

Rolo, our favorite waiter under the
palapas on Playa de los Muertos

Both these photos are marked by
a flood that ruined all but a
few photos from that trip.

Mexico 1987, Part 8: Coffee & Cigarettes

Nov 15
Spent most of the day daydreaming, the rest of it with Raoul Roquet and his friend Antonio de la Plata, a once-great Spanish tenor. We had lunch at his house; Aidee is sick with a bad flu. My daydreams were - are still - romantic ones. Reading an article in Harper's about detective stories, I recall what Roberto says about his smoking filterless cigarettes: "I smoke Lucky Strikes. Marlowe, Tom Waits and I smoke Lucky Strikes." Scorpios are so naturally poetic, so in tune and intertwined with romance, life as romance, as poetry, it is no wonder that I am so feverishly attracted to them, more than any other sign. Leo's are fiery, true, and the other water signs are romantic, but none can match wit and emotion with such intensity as a Scorpio. Ay, lassie, there are sharks in these waters. Those shark bite bruises on my thigh and shoulder serve as candid reminders.

That last night in Merida, when we celebrated our birthdays and our farewell under a full moon, I, in black, with sharp black eyeliner and all my witch jewelry; he, looking so handsome, freshly shaven but still you could see the dark shadow on that soft face. I gave him my big amethyst because he admired it so and we talked about other realities, that sometimes he thinks he's a bit crazy. His sharp criticisms of U.S. imperialism and his fervent devotion to the revolution, to communism, made me feel ashamed and a little stupid, naive. We ate salad and drank a bottle of wine and two daiquiris, then sat in the park, still talking, still necking. We could become brother and sister, if we lived in the same place, so easy it was for us to communicate, to relate and empathize. I'm not sure that we could survive long as lovers - his fullness of self would soon suffocate me. He is engaged, but the girl doesn't want to marry yet. I picture her with big, dark eyes and thick black hair to her waist. She is prettier than me, obviously. It's the hair. One day I'm going to buy a wig. Roberto gave me a list of suggested readings, even offering to send me the one he was sure I wouldn't be able to find. Communist writers, of course.

Werner was standing at a table full of people outside the bar on the lawn of the Hotel Maria Cristina when I walked up. I had called when I arrived at the bus depot, early, and woke him up, so he knew I was back in Mexico City. Unfortunately for me, his ex-wife and daughter were also expected later and the people at the table were mostly colleagues, partners from Germany, and he had no time to spend with me. He kissed me cordially, the polite German, on each cheek as greeting and delivered the sad news, but I could see in his eyes that he was a little sorry, too, for the bad timing. I sat inside the bar with a margarita, thankful that I had planned to only spend one night and therefore would not be waiting around, hoping to see  him. When he learned I was only there for the day he said, "I'll make time." But I know it was just wishful, lustful thinking. He said he'd finally received my letter - it took about 2 weeks - and in this throaty, grunting voice he said, only loud enough for me to hear, "Very sexual. I almost got a hard on." Which, of course, was my intention. He bought me 2 more margaritas and insisted I call him when I got back to my hotel room and give him the phone number so he could call if he was able to get away. I knew that wouldn't happen, what with his friends and family being there, demanding his presence, and I said so. "I don't want to want you," I said. "No, please, " he rasped. "I want to see you. It's beautiful making love to you." And with a kiss and a grin I was off into the street to find a taxi.

Imagine, after 3 margaritas and nothing to eat, I decided to get out and walk. I ate a steak in a semi-fancy restaurant and then set off in the direction I was told my hotel was in when it started to rain. But RAIN!! I stood in the doorway with a few other people, in the dark wetness, and asked which direction Allende street was in. Per usual, I was given 3 different directions. Finally an older man came along and escorted me to my doorstep, but not before offering to get us a hotel room for the night in which we could stay together. I declined.

I harbored only a faint glimmer of hope that Werner would call in the morning but didn't wait around, I had errands to run, shopping to do. I had so fantasized a sweaty reunion, but that will have to wait. Werner is not very affectionate. In fact, except for the kisses on the cheek and kiss on my bare (tanned!) shoulder, he didn't touch me again until a little kiss goodbye. With him, it seems, kissing is for making love. And one would have to be very comfortable with sitting alone or with finding others to talk to (although when I did that their attentions made him angry) because one would never be the center of attention, except during those raging moments of union - hours really, with him - and after that, his attention is lost on something else: the T.V. or a shower or his room service. After we made love I couldn't get too close. We lied with our legs intertwined, watching T.V. (the Twins game, actually, the World Series winning game) because, he cautioned, he'd get horny again. "Be careful or you may be very sorry." And he wasn't kidding!! Imagine, after 2 hours of fucking he'd still have energy and lust for another round, when my legs were cramped and I could no longer move my hands from the numbness. But we did it again! For 3 days it went on like this and I needed each night to recuperate from total fatigue and frazzle. I felt, at the end of 3 days, like I was on speed or at the butt of a 3-day acid trip, so much energy had been released, passed between us, and taken in. I felt like the end of a frayed wire, spitting and sparking with electricity. I wonder how a Mexican woman (his ex-wife) could handle that lack of affection? I couldn't, if I were in love with him.

I'll have someone like Roberto, who is always touching in one way or another: holding hands, a kiss on the neck or shoulder when you're both sitting quietly reading, not really paying attention to each other. Even at night when we slept, if he'd half awaken or if I moved and awakened him, he'd caress or kiss me. It made it a little hard to sleep at times but I felt wanted  - and what GREAT FEELING! Unfortunately, the love-making always left me wanting more, which is exactly the opposite of sex with Werner. It's as if they were each half of the whole man I want. Werner is rather successful, dressed with style and taste but not stiffness, lives in Mexico City half the year or more and Germany the rest. He speaks 4 languages (that I'm aware of) fluently, has a great thirst for bars and booze and the society of it all, and makes love with a vengeance. Ah, but he's not very attractive, too much a man's man and, although quite a gentleman, it's probably more out of chauvanism than out of true appreciation. Roberto, on the other hand, is attentive (but tends to focus back on himself too often), in support of women's liberation - so much so that his appreciation  for equality has left him dry of that old-fashioned charm called chivalry - and actually enjoyed spending time talking with me, hugging and kissing, or just reading quietly together. He was a good friend and companion, handsome and considerate, well-read, articulate, bi-lingual and shared many of my interests. And he's a Scorpio who loves to travel and meet new people. But his love-making, although it has passion, lacks the real zest I enjoy.

After more than a month of feeling self-conscious about my shoes, but refusing to toil up and down the streets in 3-inch heels like every other Mexican chick 12 years and older (I swear they are born in them), I broke down and bought not one but two pairs of "knock me down and fuck me" pumps, the kind with a closed toe and ankle straps. One pair in blue and one white. I'm wearing the white ones now and they're killing me, but I feel more like one of "them." My Spanish gets worse by the day so I need something to make me feel less alien. Guadalajara is shoe heaven - a shoe store at least every other doorway, some streets have nothing BUT - and I'm here for 5 days! There's something about a new pair of shoes, even if they are cruel shoes. Mexican women don't shave their legs; Brazilian women do, isn't that interesting?

The Roquets are playing in a club here and I would like to go see them but I can't find an escort. I need and escort, see, because they are playing in a whorehouse. Without an escort I would be assumed to be "at work."

I have a pretty cool hotel room in this place I'm staying at. It's an old building with ceilings that vault about twice as high as necessary. You first walk up a curved, marble staircase to the second floor, where there's an indoor patio with ferns and song birds in cages. My room is at the far side, across the large tiled floor. It's bigger than my place in Minneapolis (which isn't saying much) but with furniture: a big bed with great big mushy down pillows, an armoir, a dressing table and mirror, a huge bathroom and small terrace with huge wooden doors with shutters. I even have a small table and chairs and pictures that aren't Jesus holding his heart in his hand or the virgin smiling deftly down upon me, and a little vase with fake flowers in it.  Quite cozy - and hot water! All for 8,000 pesos a night, which doesn't include breakfast - no place here does like they did in Brazil, which is somewhat disappointing.

But, I found a place with REAL COFFEE, Cafe Madrid, just 2 blocks away: an espresso machine, steamed milk and all. Most places serve hot water and the big, family-sized jar of Nescafe or hot milk and the family-sized jar of Nescafe. This just about drove the Italian to tears. But the toast is the same flat white American variety as most other places, so tomorrow I'm having what looked like scones . . . I hope the taxi driver I invited doesn't show up so I can read my magazines in peace.

[I ran into Werner a few years later on a flight to Frankfurt. Roberto and I corresponded and met in Italy twice between 1988 and 1991. We are now Facebook friends]

Monday, July 01, 2013

Mexico 1987, Part 7: B's the Bus, the Bouncing Bus

Nov 8
These jungle birds, with their wild noises and space cries - Star Wars in the morning - make for some pretty crazy dreams. Roberto got off at Valladolid 2 days ago, and I continued on to Tulum, Quintana Roo, to witness for myself the amazing BLOOOOness of the Caribbean and visit my first ruin. Not a stirring sight, until you climb up on the largest pyramid and look out over the sea. EXQUISITE! One has to double-take again and again to believe let alone describe it. Most of the tourists get off the bus at the ruins, then get back on when they're finished looking, probably heading back to Cancun. The rest, a sparse few, stay behind in the one small hotel we're in, or the cabanas on the beach, where I had intended to hang my hammock. There were 2 French girls on the bus with me, and since it was dark, we decided to take the last room - clean sheets and HOT WATER! - and avoid the mosquitoes and the cold morning ocean breezes. The feeling while on the beach is non-belief. You're sure you're going to wake up and find yourself back in some blizzard, scraping ice off your car. Lori says it snowed already.

The Frenchies turn out to be good companions - Natalie and Francoise - and are as enchanted with the paradisiacal (is that a word?) totally dream-like beach, so unbelievably post-card pure and virginal. The sand is nearly as white as paper, and the WATER! Transparent aqua marine to turquoise to azure, clear and clean to the white sand depths. One more day of heaven, then back ON THE BUS.

The buses are old, with windows that don't shut (or open!) all the way and at night the drafts are COLD!! The city buses are plastered with religious pictures, stickers on the window, the crucifix hanging in the front windshield next to the driver. The bus to Celestun had quite an impressive crucifix and I'm sure I felt safer. And there we were, the whole bus LOAD of people, pulling into a gas station to filler up! In the market you can buy and repair just about everything - there was actually a sign hanging in one of the stalls "reparacione de los santos!"  - reparation of saints! For surely they must get broken from unfulfilled wishes. Roberto says in Italy saints who don't grant requests are broken and thrown out.

Nov 11
Back on the bus, in the dark, a pretty fancy bus, too, decked out like a sleezy night club. Red fur around the rear-view mirror, sort of looks like a toilet seat with the lid up. But what's really special are the holes cut out  in the shape of a cross in the black backing of the destination sign at the front of the bus!! Ooooo looks really neat when they turn out the inside lights, like Christmas!!

I'm leaving Palenque, Chiapas, in the pouring rain, weather nobody understands for this time of year. The ruins were FABULOUS, in a clearing in the middle of the jungle, with long skinny paths through the vines to who knows where? My legs were almost cramped from climbing so many steps. One should definitely see the ruins when one is young and in good shape . . . I'm already planning the itinerary for the next trip to Mexico. One can stay here a year and barely scratch the surface. Tomorrow, after 16 hours on this disco bus, I'll be in Mexico City again. There I want to see the museum of anthropology, which will be enough museum for this trip. I wish I'd read more history and paid attention in Anthropology 101. I have a lazy mind.

Roberto regretted his decision to go our separate ways and tried to catch up with me. I learned this in a letter I received from him about a month later, which contained this photo and a Lorca love poem that I only just disposed of in one of my purging fits.

Mexico 1987, Part 6: The Italian Job

Nov 1
A bus ride from Vera Cruz to Campeche, through the night. There's cracks in the window frames like crazy and I freeze my butt off and can't sleep a wink, so that when we reach Campeche at around 8 or 9 a.m. I am too tired to deal with it. I retrieve my bag that has been deposited in baggage claim and back ON THE BUS. "On the bus," the analogy for life - you're either on the bus or off the bus. Sleep a little, very little. It's much warmer now. It doesn't take much time to get to Merida. What I really want is a cozy beach, not a city where people would stop to chat with the gringa on a street corner out of curiosity. There's a guy on the bus who's been watching me. He's not Mexican, I'm sure of that, maybe Brazilian or some dark European. Come to think of it, no Brazilians I know look like him! At the information counter at the bus terminal in Merida, he's looking for a cheap hotel, too. In Merida, the streets are numbered, not named. All of them. Why do I find this so confusing? There's a hotel with a price that appeals to both of us, Hotel San Jose, so we trudge off in the streets together, packs on our backs making us so obviously un-Mexican. I am so aware of looking like a stranger. I guess it has been an asset so far, but at the same time I feel self-conscious, maybe it's my need for acceptance. Check in at the hotel - pretty damn cheap, 7,000 pesos. We agree to meet back at the restaurant for lunch after a shower. He is Italian (I won't write his name since he's now lying beside me in the sand) and speaks very good Spanish but no English. Oh well, I speak pretty good Spanish but no Italian. We'll make out somehow  . . . and indeed we did.

After lunch, which included 2 beers a piece, we set out walking to check out the surroundings and after 10 minutes or so ended up in a bar. Far out! We already have something in common, we are both alcoholics! Turns out he's a Nov 17 Scorpio - another plus. AND, I found out last night, the same year. 1959!! Cool city. But these are just pluses. After we left the bar, 6 beers a piece later, we headed off in the city to find another bar, arms around each other, drunk, kissing on street corners. This is the most carinoso man I have ever met! I have been asking for him for years! Bloody YEARS! He fulfilled one of my greatest romantic fantasies, which is to sit on a park bench on a warm summer night under the palms, town's people strolling about, to sit and neck in public on a park bench, like young lovers, unashamed, like they do in these countries where the blood is hotter than chili. Everything about him is affection: his smiles, his kisses on the neck, inside the elbow, his caresses, his tender nibbles on the shoulder, his not-so-tender bites on my thigh! (a good-sized bruise that'll last about a month!)

Nov 3
So there's Roberto, in the hammock, reading "The Conquest of Mexico" by Cortez, in Italian, smoking a cigarette, constantly smoking, and actually LOOKS like he should be smoking. We have a day, maybe two, left together, before we each continue our personal trips. Today we took a boat to see the flamingos. Celestun is one of the few places on earth where there is a flock of flamingos, and a flocking lot of them at that! You have to go down this long lagoon to see them, jungle on either side. From far off you see this pink line stretching across the lagoon and you know what it is but you don't BELIEVE it. They are the silliest looking birds, especially when they take off, with those spindly legs. Quite a sight, and it really made me laugh. This trip has been thus far more than I had hoped for. I'm hoping it doesn't end here, that the high continues! Travel is such a delicious, sensuous drug and I am so enjoying this wonderous high!

Roberto shooting flamingos