Growing Branches

Posted on 30 January 2018

Flowers by Baikal

I did something which I perhaps should have done long ago – I made a Facebook page and an Instagram for this blog of mine. If you want to see more photos, or hear more thoughts (in smaller doses!), give them a follow.

Alas my busy life makes it difficult for me to give my travel writing, and this blog, the time I would like, but hopefully this year I will 1) write more (and travel more – I have plans!) and 2) these other venues will allow me to more frequently share words and images that I hope you’ll appreciate. Look for you there!

Patterns

Posted on 28 January 2018

As you zoom in on a map, from country to region to state to city to neighborhood, somehow more, rather than less, appears. Dimensions and edges and corners reveal themselves, and the expanse of what you’ll never quite grasp makes itself clear yet again. Planning for a trip is an exercise in this realization that there is too much space, too many layers, never enough time: one article leads to another, one destination to another, and then you realize you have a month rather than a few days on your hands. At least. But still, these research endeavors do reveal things, and that is how we came to drive from Mexico City, up over and through Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl National Park, to Puebla.

As time would have it, we had one day in Puebla. And dammit, this is another place where I found myself wanting to stay.

Cathedral and Wall in PueblaPuebla Center

Puebla is Mexico’s fourth largest city, and the capital of the Mexican state with the same name. It sits in a valley in the shadows of volcanoes. Over three million people situate themselves in the metro area but, perhaps because we just were in Mexico City, it doesn’t quite feel it – we drive into villages, then towns, which blend into Puebla itself, its high-rises interspersed with cathedral towers and interrupted by public squares. Its size comes softly.

Catedral de Puebla

Given our limited time, we mostly contained ourselves to the city center, a UNESCO World Heritage site dominated by the high-reaching Catedral de Puebla, the second largest in the country. I struggled to frame it with my camera. This cathedral is one of many, some of which were still roped off and surrounded by scattered rubble due to the recent earthquake. Grandiose buildings, impressive indeed, but what I was really drawn to were the typical buildings of the center, lining the streets, showing off different colors, different tile work, and different states of upkeep. Each turn might reveal a new favorite, but we couldn’t wander the streets forever.

Puebla BuildingsOld Puebla Building

The downtown is lively with shopping and people sitting in the numerous parks, big and small. The tourist market stretches down a pedestrian street and I weave my way through, stopping to get a trenza that brings back a flood of memories of the last time I got one, five years prior in Sucre, Bolivia. We walk up and down a street called Los Sapos, apparently after the frogs that used to come out when the river that had run through town flooded. Lights are strung overhead. As night falls we sit in the main square, the Zócalo, and people watch. If I catch someone’s eye, they smile.

Los SaposMe and my Trenza

We wander a bit more in the morning before we have to leave. I have my favorite breakfast of the whole trip, a build your own chilaquiles deal, at Xilaquitlán (go there). The waitress is patient with my Spanish and the chef comes out to say hi and ask us about our trip. The sun shines into the room and hits our table, warming us up. I don’t want to leave, but I do want to see our next destinations. I should say I want to stretch time.

Puebla ParkChurch and trees, Puebla

I visit a place and learn what there is more to learn, and see only a fraction of what I know can be seen. And I often want to go back even though the whole world beckons. But really, Puebla would make a fine stop to go and study Spanish for a while. The plans spin in my head. I don’t want this day to have been my only time. Add it to the list. I go, I see, I want to return. The grandiose and the ordinary, the well kept and the crumbling, the near perfect and the chipped – I want to see it all. I want to burrow ever deeper into the map and absorb it, tunneling my way through the infinite everywhere.

The Sun and the Moon and Here We Are

Posted on 8 January 2018

The one-hour bus ride from Mexico City turned into three but at least buskers kept us company with their music. Traffic sped, slowed, and crawled to an almost stop. One accident ahead was all it took to throw everything off.

At one point, Teotihuacán was the largest city in the Western hemisphere, and one of the largest in the world, home to some 100,000 people, perhaps more. Moreover, though we don’t know exactly who built it, we do know that multiple ethnicities lived there. Its grandiosity is all the more staggering when you consider it was constructed roughly 2,000 years ago. Humans have really been very capable for a very long time. What else have we been?

Wandering Teotihuacán

Teotihuacán takes time to wander. We walked all over the city, and it was a city; from the Pyramid of the Moon, the Avenue of the Dead stretches out into the haze that obscures its end. We walked the paths lined with tall brush, approaching the Temple of the Sun. Jaguar growls repeatedly pierced the rustling in the grass as vendors showed off their wares. Teotihuacános had a panther god and today we still appreciate its representation: panthers biting skulls, intricately painted faces. Draw the threat close and perhaps you’ll know enough to survive.

The Pyramid of the Sun looms high. If people used to be shorter, the stairs would have been all the tougher to climb. And yet, we clambered up the 248 steps, resilient grasses poking out between the rocks, to reach the highest height we could and see out over it all. The grandiosity trembles as you look down from whence you came.

Teotihuacán StairsOn the Pyramid of the Sun

Archeologists and historians aren’t exactly sure why Teotihuacán collapsed. There was likely a fire, but why? One thesis posits that there was an internal uprising of sorts against the elite, who did, after all, ensconce themselves in the nicest buildings, displaying their status and likely hoarding the gods’ favor to themselves. This may have been complemented by environmental disturbance from droughts and volcanic eruptions, which set the stage by exacerbating class divides and grievances. At any rate, the city’s large population plummeted and it was abandoned during the seventh century. This rise and collapse forms a pattern; other civilizations in the Americas, such as the Maya, experienced booms and busts even prior to colonization.

Pyramid of the SunTeotihuacán Pyramids

We like to glorify those who came before us, whether they are of our own culture are not. People used to be in harmony with nature, we proclaim, and while we certainly aren’t now, it seems many prior civilizations were only bound by their more limited technology. Even when humans first stepped foot in the Americas, or in Australia and Oceania, we caused destruction, sending nearly all megafauna to extinction. And though over time many societies collapsed, or were conquered by others, humans as a whole proliferated, enlarging our footprint physically, atmospherically, and digitally. All the while we’ve warred, we’ve set body-altering beauty standards, we’ve manufactured societal divides based on gender, class, ethnicity, and basically anything we can figure out. There are exceptions to a degree, of course, but that means there is an overall rule, a pattern of human behavior. To idealize earlier civilizations and cultures is thus, in a way, to deny them their humanity.

On the Pyramid of the Moon

It is beautiful, the view from the Pyramid of the Moon. The Pyramid of the Sun looms to one side of you and the Avenue of the Dead stretches before you. There is beauty beside us and yet a questionable unknown ahead. And isn’t that how we are? Isn’t that how we’ve always been?

That night, back in Mexico City, we wandered the streets until we found a spot to have dinner. From our second floor perch, we watched the passersby as we ate our tostadas. Trickling by: a mass of humanity, varied, not knowing each other every one, coexisting, rising, falling, prospering, struggling. Here we are.

CDMX

Posted on 31 December 2017

Mexico City is encompassed by land and air, by mountains, hills, volcanoes, and haze. But it cannot be encompassed by words. Or not by mine. I saw a fraction of this enormous city. But I do have impressions, and those I will share.


Dogs

Claudio

With one of the three dogs who were our Mexico City flatmates.

I had no idea, but there seemed to be almost as many dogs as people on the sidewalks of the La Condesa neighborhood and nearby. It seems half of the people must have dogs. Dog walkers strolled with packs of ten, or let them lounge together in one of the many parks. People briskly took their dogs on laps around the block. We sat in a park and watched a woman play fetch with her two Belgian Malinois until a group of eager children approached and took over the task of throwing from her. So many types of dogs, happy and healthy! And, in case you wonder: poop on the sidewalk wasn’t really an issue.

Food

The Mexican food one typically finds in the U.S. isn’t really the same. Try this: a quesadilla with quesillo, squash flower, and huitlachoche. Trust me, corn fungus does taste good. Get those chilaquiles for breakfast. Join the queue for one of the popular street stalls. Have churros and chocolate (the drink!) for dessert. Non-vegetarians can venture into the territory of eating chapulines, that’s grasshoppers. But really, try something new. Burritos are good, but there’s a world out there.

Bicycles

Ecobici

An Ecobici dock on a tree-lined street. Typical and lovely!

For almost every dog I saw, there was a cyclist – and sometimes a cyclist with a dog jogging alongside. I was very impressed with the bicycle infrastructure in parts of Mexico City. Ecobici, the bike share program, seems to be commonly used, as I saw people cruising along on them all the time. I saw not just bike lanes, but protected bike lanes, what a dream! The bicycle infrastructure was better than in most U.S. cities I’ve lived in, and it was definitely being utilized. Though, bonus points for the guy I saw rollerblading down the highway, cigarette in hand, keeping up with the slow-moving traffic. There’s that option, too, it seems.

Green Space

Chapultepec Recycling

In Chapultepec. I was enthusiastic about the recycling and compost options on offer.

The street we stayed on was lined with trees, and trees divided the lanes of traffic. Almost every three blocks it seemed as if you would come across a small park. And then there are the huge parks. We spent some hours wandering in Chapultepec, the most iconic, which hosts museums and a zoo. And we also walked all through Parque Viveros, surrounded by other strollers, and by runners, and by groups of yoga and martial arts practitioners, and by picnickers, and by, as my friend says, “impertinent squirrels.” But those greedy little squirrels! I would stick my empty hand out and they’d pull it down, peering over to see if I had any food for them. Green space is important, and dispersed green space in such a large city is a wonderful thing indeed.

Amsterdam, CDMX

My running route.

Balconies

Mexico City has some wonderful architecture, but alongside the more grandiose buildings is the common and humble few-story apartment block or home, with a small balcony reaching out over the sidewalk. And there’s the second-story restaurants with their fresh air section, from which you can watch passers-by. Balconies are connections. There should be more balconies.

Palacio de Bellas Artes

Not a place to hang out on a balcony, but pretty nonetheless! Palacio de Bellas Artes.


I can provide these snapshots, but the city is beyond what I want to try to frame. We didn’t have enough time in Mexico City (when is there enough time anywhere?) but we traversed many miles of it, across many neighborhoods. Before we went, we were warned, be careful, about Mexico in general, and about the big city in particular, by people who’ve never been. And indeed, we were the only obvious tourists we saw at our gate while waiting for our flight. So I want to say this too: don’t worry, and visit Mexico City! I felt safe – and went for a run by myself and saw other women doing the same. It’s a big city, but what you can say of it is what you can say of other big cities, for good and for bad. But mostly for good.

Snake and Eagle

The Edge We’re On

Posted on 22 November 2017

You can tell you’re on the east side of the mountains. It’s drier, more grey-orange, scrubby. The ground smolders around us as we drive up to the trailhead, remnants of the summer’s fires. It’s getting angrier. The earth, I mean. And I understand.

The mountains are a great place to highlight precariousness. It’s not just that I nearly froze up walking along in a spot where the trail narrowed and the rocky land to my left slid down, down, down. It’s that even these enormous mountains are fragile, in a way. If you pay attention, you can tell. Mountains are edges: things hold on until they can’t anymore. And then something’s falling.

Hike to Lake Ingalls Hike to Lake Ingalls

Don’t walk off the path. And I mean because of the vegetation. It’s holding on. Until the snowpack is altered and the warmth creeps along the edges to where it is, anyway. Or until you step on it.

Well, we’re tramping around up here to see some of the vegetation: the larches. You can see precariousness in where they stand on the mountain, at a certain elevation, on a certain side. Altitude is necessary, but up to a point. And there’s the need for a certain light, a certain soil. They’re all over where you’re in the middle of them, but zoom out on a map and they inhabit mere slivers of the land.

Hike to Lake Ingalls 3 Lake Ingalls Mountain Goats

Mountain goats half observe and half ignore our scrambling, utterly clumsy to them, I’m sure. We’re clumsy creatures with a lot of power. The mountainside can kill us, but you know, we’re killing the mountainside in that we’re killing much of what is living on it, just in a drawn out way that’s too slow to easily discern. Or is it? When we bother to mind, we know we’re causing a catastrophe, and we can name some of what we’ve already killed. Most times we don’t, even when we’re reveling in the wonder of what we’re destroying.

Hike to Lake Ingalls 4 Hike to Lake Ingalls 5 Lake Ingalls

I didn’t have all of these gloomy thoughts on the mountain, only some of them. But mostly, honestly, I felt great, happy to be outdoors, happy to see this beauty, happy in the higher, fresher air, happy in the clean-looking snow, happy.

Look, and then don’t look away.


If you care about humans, animals, plants, fungi, and/or the earth, consider: