Monday, March 2, 2009

Big Move

We finally got ourselves out the door at 9 am. Chris called the taxi, and we lugged everything down the steep and narrow flight of stairs and out into the street. The taxi driver was surprisingly nice to us about our heavy baggage, and managed to fit everything in the trunk and front seat, with just enough room for us and our backpacks in the rear. Everything loaded up, Chris dropped our apartment keys into the mailbox, as we were instructed to do. “This is crazy,” she says. “My key ring is empty. I have no keys to anyplace. We’re officially without a home now.”

We speed off and arrive at the bus station in 25 minutes or so. As we begin to drag all of our luggage out of the taxi, another taxi driver standing nearby asks me where I’m from. He’s wearing the biggest sombrero I’ve ever seen. This makes me feel a little better about my own hat, a cowboy-style sombrero that I’m only wearing at the moment because there was nowhere else to pack it. Then another taxi driver asks me if I want to trade hats with the other sombrero-wearer. “Look!” he says. “His is so much bigger! It’s a good trade!” They all laugh, and continue to crack jokes I don’t quite understand while we struggle mightily to get everything out of the taxi and into the station.

Chris goes to buy the tickets. The next bus to San Juan de Los Lagos, we find out, doesn’t leave for another hour and a half. We find a seat in the lobby and I flip open my laptop to use the internet inalambrico (wi-fi) for awhile. There’s a story about U2 in the New York Times, and I almost forget where I am for awhile. Suddenly it’s time to go.

To our great relief, the bus company doesn’t seem to care that we have a crazy amount of luggage. We load nearly all of it into the luggage compartment underneath, then collapse into our seats. We take a deep breath, and look at each other. “Somos locos,” I say, smiling. Chris smiles back, and then we both fall asleep.

Before we know it we’re in San Juan. We collect our baggage and haul it out to the street and then, much less successfully this time, into a taxi. My giant guitar case is across Chris’s lap in the back seat, and my oversized backpack is on my lap in the front seat. As the taxi pulls away, Chris asks the driver to take us to Hotel Gina. “Oh,” he says, “No es possible.” As he explains why, I get a sinking feeling. Chris translates for me: There are too many people downtown to get to the street that the hotel is on. He can either drop us off three blocks away from the hotel or we can choose another hotel. We deliberate, flustered, for all of fifteen seconds before we decide that yes, he can drop us off three blocks from the hotel. What can we do? We don’t know the other hotels; this was the one we had researched, priced, and decided on, so we decide to just go with it.

He lets us out at a corner on a narrow side street. We try to walk it, but the sidewalks are very narrow and they are full of people – not very conducive for two people rolling three big suitcases and a guitar case between them. Finally Chris decides it’s best if we split up: She’ll go find the hotel with one suitcase, and I’ll wait on the street with the rest of the luggage.

After she disappears, I realize I would have no idea what to do if she took awhile to come back. I have no cell phone. I don’t know where I am and I have no map of the city. My Spanish is far better than it was last summer, but if someone started talking to me rapidly I’d probably be up a creek without a paddle.

Some people walk by and point up at the giant vinyl banner I’m standing under. “Bananas For Sale,” it says in Spanish in great big block letters. Oh no, I think. I hope they don’t think I’m selling bananas out of these suitcases… But before anyone asks me for a banana, the giant vinyl banner suddenly comes loose from the wall and flutters down onto my head and over all of our luggage. Now I’m worried someone is going to come out and yell at me for knocking down their sign. I pull off the banner and try to inch away, but it’s kind of difficult with all these bags… I pull my sombrero down further over my eyes and wait, nervously.

Finally Chris appears out of the jostling crowd. “I found the hotel,” she says. “It’s not close.” She takes another of the bags and leads the way. She’s right – it’s not close, and lies around several winding, zigzagging corners – but the worse problem is that the streets are absolutely packed with people. Some of the many vendors even shove rosaries into my face, trying to make a sale as I push my way past, laden down with luggage, with nary a hand free.

We make it to the hotel. While Chris checks in, I allow my eyes to become glued to the TV set in the lobby. Back in Mexico City, my beloved Pumas are playing, up 1-0 with about 15 minutes to go. Chris gets the room key, and I tear myself away. We find the elevator, find the room, and collapse onto the bed. We turn on the TV – the Pumas game is tied now. Chris leaves to go find some water. While she’s gone, one of the Pumas scores an incredible goal with his head – a “go-LA-zo," a "cabe-ZA-zo,” they call it – and my team wins 2-1. I’m not sure exactly when sports became such a lifeline for me here.

The bells of the cathedral are ringing loudly outside our window, an unmistakable confirmation that we have, finally, made it to San Juan. They seem to ring like this every half-hour or so. I stare at our luggage and wonder what in the world to do now.

I can’t think of anything. I just feel tired, and slowly drift off to sleep.


Later, after it gets dark, we decide we’re hungry and head outside. The dusty streets are almost deserted, save for a few people here and there scurrying about. The massive tourist market that lines the streets during the day has vanished; metal garage doors have been pulled down to cover nearly all of the little tiendas (stores). It’s kind of eerie.

When we reach the main plaza, though, we find a four-person mariachi band playing on one street corner, and some people have gathered around to hear them. A few little beat-up wheeled kiosks have been pulled out into the pedestrian streets. Some sell popcorn, others fresh churros, other tamales and atole, still others elote – corn on the cob slathered in your choice of mayonnaise, chili powder, and lime juice. It isn’t lively, exactly – not like the boisterous weekends in Morelia – but it is life, peppered with food and music (and really, what else do you need?). It’s as if, in the evening, the top layer of tourism has been peeled away, leaving something else in its place.

It’s going to be an interesting couple of months.


From Michigan with Love said...

I was disappointed there was no Wiki-link on the word 'sombrero'

Zach Parris said...

great post. i agree, we may only need life peppered with food and music.