Sunday, January 27, 2008

These Three Days

There is something disquieting about these last three days; these three days in Mexico City, these three days in a spot on earth whose human history began to be measured 7,000 BCE in the cultural zone known as Mesoamerica, millennia before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. Is this spot really all that different than where I come from? Or, is it that I am numb to the incongruities in my earth spot and navigate blindly, tragically impoverished, sensorially unexposed at the level of nerve and spirit to the angst of all living things, be they flora or fauna subjected to the arrogant, unconscious, domination by God’s most precious creation, us humans? Nazi Germany, Israel and Palestine, Iran, and Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Senegal, Liberia, South Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tibet, New Orleans, Haiti, the rain forests, the oceans, the rivers, the skies, and all those that call those firmaments home, and more, and more, and more.

I can’t remember fearing for my health-by-air as I did these last three days. Their prized architectural structures impregnated with smog-become-soot, so too my lungs. Was it my cold, the 7,000’ elevation, or the blackened air that made breathing a thing of perpetual thought?

Despite the mass of 50 mil, civility prevailed—speed of cars, pace of pedestrians, competition for shared space on sidewalks and subways, and tolerance for non-Spanish-speaking tourists infinitely more than in NY and far more than in my Chicago spot on earth. Yet, when the shroud of night would fall, so too would the heavy metal gates protecting their portals bolted to the cement earth with 10 padlocks the size of man fists. The finer establishments wore armored gates whose vertical poles were each an inch in circumference and 15 feet tall. Many second story windows wore barbed wire. Street lights, if any, bore the brightness of a bathroom nightlight. How do I reconcile these dichotomies?

We didn’t see the cultured aristocratic neighborhoods in these three days, but we did see 2,000 foot mountain after mountain forested by hovels called home to millions made of cement, adobe, and tin. Footpaths were the only routes from top to bottom for people, rats, and sewerage.

The 9:00 a.m. weekday ringing of the National Cathedral bells each redundantly chiming like that of a piano tuner tuning a single key is reported to be the Church’s effort to pique the Socialist government workers in the neighboring building regarding their social stance toward homosexuality and abortion. While the issues are worthy of social discourse, monotonous bell ringing seems passive-aggressive, and impotent.

Something is not right to be accosted by 6 year old boys shining shoes on a rush hour subway, or 5 year old girls selling 1 peso packets of chicklet gum in the subway station, or mamas with immobile, papoosed babies begging anywhere, or haggard, bandaged, amputeed, and psychotic lame loitering as Garibaldi fixtures each hoping for some needed elixir of salvation.

The Mariachis on Garibaldi Square had not quite cranked up for their nightly serenade battle so we took a little walk in search of cup of Starbucks. How unconscious I was!! Starbucks is no more available in Garibaldi Square than a Verdi Opera is available in Marlboro Country. But walk in search of the elusive Starbucks was an adventure. We wandered into a two-block long market of family operated taco cafes that would have ended this Gringo’s vacation instantly had I introduced such untamed, local flora to my pristine gut. A pack of friendly, family peros ran up and down the market in search of fallen scraps. I don’t think they found any. The market of cafes ended in an unlit alley on to which rotting landfill spewed from between the slats of splayed gates of timber disgorging their contents. The hour was not yet 10:00; we wondered when the rats would start their scurry; soon we imagined.

Returning to Garibaldi for some Mariachi night sounds we did find a coffee/tea offering. These vendors pushed lame grocery carts loaded with a huge 20 gallon urn with, presumably, hot water with which they would be happy to make me a cup of coffee—powdered Nescafe. No gracias.

Walking the mile and a half back to the hotel, the Friday Night Lights were both red and strobed on floors above the street pulsing with every form of music: biologique, electric, acoustic, exuberant, and mournful all in hope of the pleasure of momentary escape.

How do I respond? Not an easy answer. Maybe I’ll better know after cycling many meditative and prayerful miles which I’ll begin in February.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Last Day In Mexico City

And the last night I'll be sleeping on a king sized mattress perched on top of a wooden platform. Best Western forewent the expense of springs. Kirk relocated to the non-pull-out sofa the first night to find a little softness for his tender shoulder. I must say it beats a mattress perched on top of a cement slab as we saw in some of the low rent hotels on Isla Mujeres, the island a fast ferry ride from Cancun.

A 9 passenger van picked us up at 9:00 for a day at the pyramids by way of La Villa de Guadelupe. Our van of tourists turned out to be delightful: two 20-something females from Chile, two 30-something females from Australia, a single 40-something French woman in town for a business meeting, a Mexican 50-something couple from another state in Mexico, and two 60-somethings from Chicago, that would be us. Great conversation transcending the language and culture barriers.

Every Mexican schoolchild knows the story of Juan Diego to whom the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared on three separate occasions at Tepeyac Hill back in 1531. Since then three churches have been built on the site. As a Protestant it's really hard for me to get all that worked up over this piece of textile, but clearly it has meaning for the 15 million people who make the pilgrimage each year.

The pyramids of Teotihuacan are about 30 miles north east of the heart of Mexico City. The pyramid of the sun, third largest in the world, and the pyramid of the moon are remarkably well preserved, and are there for the climbing. That I was able to climb both is a testament to my physical healing. I had to experience the climb of Chichen Itza vicariously through Kirk a few years ago.

Tomorrow will take us to Cancun. We dream of wave sounds from the day we leave to the day we return, nearly 1,100 days.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mexico City--A Day With Frida and Diego

My comfort drink of Early Gray tea misto with steamed leche de soya (steamed soy), honey, and stevia was only a block away at Starbucks. It was a nice accompaniment to an egg white omelet with cactus at VIPS, a Denny's equivalent.

Nourished, we walked a block and a half to Palacio Nacional. Originally the official residence of colonial viceroys, later presidential offices, and today various state departments, the real tourist draw is 18 years worth of Diego Rivera's murals highlighting Mexican history and culture. We hired a guide to help us just begin to take in the immense glory of the work. In one mural alone he captured 1,100 faces.

From the Palace we went to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera's home in Coyoacan via the Metro. Their Metro puts Chicago's CTA to shame! For starters it is still only 20 cents to ride anywhere in the city. The price hasn't changed since Kirk was here 20 years ago. Trains come every 1-2 minutes, instead of 5-10. Stations are newer, cleaner and with better signage.

I am such a fan of Frida and Diego's art style, their passion, their content. Their colors are my colors--deep blues, oranges, reds, purples, yellows. Hope we can figure out how to bring some of that into our house someday.

Another short train ride took us to Cafe Gloria, a hip little place where we got some awesome Mahi Mahi ceviche about 3:00. Walking home through Alameda Central, a park created in the early 17th century, we stopped for what has to be my favorite-of-all-time way to visit a museum. This was the Museo Mural Diego Rivera. Not only was it a mural that had to be every bit of 30 yards long, rich with "every man and woman's" silent dreams dreamt on a Sunday afternoon, you are provided with sofa's resplendent with big cushions so you can drink it all in for 30 minutes without your body getting to weary to enjoy.

It was fun to walk home in 75 degree weather, knowing that it was only 8 degrees back home in Chicago, but the impact of polutant grime that is evident everywhere makes birds, trees, buildings, and even people look withered, weary, and much older than they really are.

Centro Historico Night Sounds

There were lots of night sounds that kept us company last night, and I'm sure for they will do so again each night we're here in Centro Historico. I found humor in the fiery, staccato police whistles each trying to outdo the other directing the masses of humanity and metal around cobbled corners during rush hour.

When rush hour was over there was the clanging of the metal grates that secure shop after shop of gold watches and bracelets. Each metal gate was secured with as many as 10 pad locks, the locking arm being at least 1/2 inch in diameter.

When night had fully fallen some indigenous people took up dancing in a circle on the corner. Maybe 20 of them dancing round and round and round to the steady beat of a drum that finally wore out about 10:00. That was when it was quiet enough to notice a rock band playing their hearts out on a huge stage miked into mega speakers.

All of these events were under the steady eye of literally 150 gendarmes. This being government center and the site of gatherings and demonstrations, if something is going to get out of hand, I guess this will be where it will be.

When all the dancers and musicians had gone home, the thunder started clapping, someone or something in the hotel started jackhammering, and the cathedral bells kept time.

Through it all I mostly slept.

Mexico City

January 22--We left Chicago in 12 degree frozen tundra to plummet to sub 0 numbers by night. I'm hoping the sun and warmth of Mexico City's 70 degree days will help burn out my head and chest cold of 12 days that is showing no signs of remitting. Then again, that pedestrians are walking around wearing face masks to defend against the visibly black particled air is not a good predictor for respiratory health. Maybe I'll have to wait till we get to Cancun to get well. Hope I don't descend from virus to bacteria before then.

For a city competing with Tokyo for largest in the world, hovering around the 25 million within the city limits and 50 million in the metro area, we found the Mexico City Airport amazingly empty with no one in line to go through customs, get cabs, etc.

We're staying at a Best Western in Centro Historico one block from the Templo Mayor, the great pyramid of Tenochtitlan, the site of coronations, dedications, human sacrifice, and other important religious and civic events. We walked the partial reconstruction of the pyramid itself and then spent some good time in the museum by the same name.

The Cathedral Metropolitana is outside our hotel window, her church bells bonging out the quarter hours. She looks refined and elegant at night with various domes lighted against the night sky. But by day she looks worn down, decrepit, and far older than her stated years of having been finished in only 1813.

No bike on this trip. Don't think I could ride anyhow with this lingering bug in my head and lungs.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2007 In The Books

Numbers were big in 2006, the year of the Southern Transcontinental from San Diego to Tybee Island, GA. The mileage in '06 also had a recognizable, seasonally dependent bell shaped curve, save the spike in September when I was transconning. 2007 has a few outlying peaks and valleys worthy of a note.

In June 2007 Kirk and I went on a Mediterranean Cruise for two weeks immediately followed by my crewing for RAAM for a week. So, in all of June I only rode 8 days.

October would have had 225 more miles had I not abortred the Cochise after only 27 miles making October 2007 look much like October in 2005 and 2006. (For Cochise details go to the rides labeled Cochise Classic).

Mid November I began working with Bart Bowen, a cycling coach, from Carpe Diem Coaching out in Bend, OR. That days are short this time of year, that weather is unpredictably unfriendly toward riders, and that I live in a very urban, Necco Wafer flat part of the world, my Bart work is done in the trainer. I've produced a very steady effort in the trainer, but it is not a way to bulk up on miles. So, December saw me outdoors only about 4 times and for only short distances in order to save my strength for the trainer workout.

And so, 2007 is in the books; 2008 awaits with expectation; and 2009 dances with the sugar plums of another Transcon with PAC Tour. :-)

Volae-a-size This

As reported in an earlier post, (Beta Volae, November 10th) Hostel Shoppe in Stevens Point, WI remade my frame to include a stop bolt to prevent posterior frame rotation.

Joanne and I went back to SP just before Christmas, about a 500 mile round trip, to pick up my new, new steed. They put on a 10 mm longer stem which has made a huge difference allowing my knees to clear the handle bar, especially when turning or going over bumps.

Next is to get my panniers to carry stuff and to hook up with Ken in Chesterton, IN in early February to route plan for the GA trip. WooHoo!