It took about an hour and a half to get here from Mexico City, traveling by bus. And not just any bus, mind you, but a “Pullman de Morelos” – Pullman, of course, being a reference to the luxury train cars based out of Chicago’s South Side a century ago. Last year I worked in a church near the Pullman Historic Site, so my jaw hit the floor on that little connection.
At the bus station Chris was asked how tall she was (seriously, it happened - Chris tells me this happens to her all the time in Mexico), and then we made our way to our assigned seats and settled in to ignore/distractedly watch the "in-flight" movie. It’s all rather like an airplane flight in the U.S., and not at all like the schoolbus-with-chickens image so many people have suggested to us back home.
South of Mexico City, the countryside is as peacefully gorgeous as the city is bustlingly crazy. Pastoral farms and jagged mountain cliffs with smoky clouds obscuring the higher peaks, just like they do sometimes in West Virginia and other parts of Appalachia. These mountains are, hands down, one of my favorite parts of Mexico.
We arrive in Tepoztlan and immediately our bags are grabbed by a taxi driver, who throws them in his trunk and asks us if we’re going to la conferencia. Si, we tell him, and Chris explains where we’re staying. I’m a little tired of taxis by now – they’re more expensive than public transit is back home, the drivers insist on helping you with your luggage (presumably for a tip), and when you don’t know your way around it all feels a bit helpless, with someone you don’t know driving you down back alleys that you hope are the right ones. On the bright side, this particular taxi driver was quite chatty, and took us right through the market, literally, while explaining the sights to see in this little town.
Our lodgings for the next week unfold this way: We arrive at a gate in an alleylike cobblestone street. The gate is just a big slab of metal painted bright green. We walk through the tiny doorway. An unbelievable scene opens up before us – huge green lawns with little small buildings dotting the landscape, roosters squawking nearby and clucking around in the corner of the yard, all with a backdrop of mountains unlike any I’ve ever seen before, with jagged cliffs that seem to drop off like a frozen waterfall of khaki stone. We make our way to our casa, and find our assigned private room within. This is a posada, and it will be our home for the next seven days.
For lunch we wander up the cobblestone street toward the town, breathing heavily because of the altitude and the lack of water. In the states I drink a couple of Nalgene bottles worth of water a day; here I look for small bottles of water that have to suffice until I can find another place to buy a small bottle of water. In any case, after turning the wrong way down the street we were looking for, we finally find a place to eat lunch. The place is just about perfect, and we stuff ourselves on chicken tacos, guacamole, super-spicy salsa, and Esprite (Sprite).
When you order Esprite, or una Coca, or any other inevitably Coke-brand soft drink at a restaurant here, it comes in a glass bottle which the waiter pours into a small glass for you and then sticks a gigantic straw into the small glass. I’m fascinated by the size of these straws…But what’s probably more interesting is that restaurant pop is distributed so differently here than it is in the U.S. In the U.S., Coke arrives at restaurants in boxes containing bags of syrup that are hooked up to a C02 tank and a water supply. Here, they come in glass bottles that are returnable – which Chris tells me is not just recyclable but literally reusable, sent back to Coke and then refilled. The look of the bottles themselves tells the story; my bottle of Esprite had definitely been around the block. But the Esprite was no worse for the wear – I obeyed my thirst, and it was quenched, happily.
This evening there was a boisterous reception for the conference-goers where we made small-talk and met other scholars from the U.S. (the East Coast is way over-represented, as usual) and Latin America. Since it’s a transnational conference people are speaking in both English and Spanish, with a lot of Spanglish. I try to pick up what I can.
Now we’re back in our room, and Chris is reading to prepare for tomorrow’s presentations and discussions, and I’m writing and making sure she stays awake long enough to finish everything she needs to read. I imagine the rest of the week will go much like this. And I certainly can’t complain about that.