PD, Cholula, Mexico
Happy birthday Jeremy!
So the last week or so has been one of contrasts. We spent much of it in a luxury hotel, and some of it in busy hostels, in Mexico City. Some of the contrasts with van life were not what we expected. We felt worse, for one thing.
We were at a posh hotel because we were working at an international union conference there. And of course we accepted the gratis king size bed and deliciously tasteful en-suite, as well as the limitless supply of coffee and cakes, with gratitude.
But the thing is, we missed the van. I know, I think we are weird too. And by the time we left that hermetically-sealed air-conditioned hotel four days later we were head-achey, bleary eyed and feeling rather lethargic.
Some might say we are just allergic to work these days, or that the altitude of Mexico City – at 2,240m – was the problem. But I’m sticking to the original theory – luxury hotels just make us sick. On the upside, we are now stocked up on enough soap and body lotion to last us until 2013.
After the conference we spent the rest of the weekend exploring. Mexico City fizzes with energy – walking around involves weaving through packed avenues of shouty street-food vendors, political protesters, musicians, shoppers, tourists and – at the moment – Christmas shops. Preparations are in full swing and we were around for the big festive light switch-on on Saturday, with a tree the size of a skyscraper in the Zocalo.
We structured our sight-seeing around the inspirational Diego Rivera, Frida Khalo and Leon Trotsky set. Gazing at the murals, artwork and homes of the three takes you to astonishing buildings and one of the hippest suburbs of the city, but also illustrates so much about the cultural, political and social history of Mexico – and beyond – as well as the incredibly alluring times the three lived and died in themselves.
We paid a second tribute to Trotsky at the house where he was finally murdered, having visited 10 years ago – well, it’s not possible to have too much of Trotsky. Unless you’re a Stalinist, I suppose.
Much as we love the city, it was a relief to navigate our way out of it, hit the road again, and feel the wind on our cheeks.
We have spent most of the last month or so in towns and cities. We are currently camped near Cholula, which not only shares a name with our favourite Mexican condiment, but is a suburb of the beautiful multi-coloured city of Puebla.
And for a couple of atheists we are spending an awful lot of time in churches and cathedrals. As anyone who has visited a Spanish colonial-designed town will know, they are the literal and cultural heart of every village, town and city.
They are, almost without exception, beautiful places to visit and an important part of Latin America’s history. But they do stir up the same old questions time and again. How did the colonisers manage to convert, on such a breathtaking scale, the indigenous people of an entire region? Those that they didn’t kill or enslave, or both, I mean.
There are still some communities that reject Catholicism, but proportionally very few.
And how does the Church justify the obscene opulence of so many of their places of worship, while so many of their worshippers still languish in abject poverty? If this is not too simplistic, are those things necessary for prayer or perhaps – maybe – could some of those gold-adorned statues, blindingly shiny chandeliers or priceless paintings be utilised to help people in some way?
It’s not only churches we are seeing in their hundreds. We’ve noticed a few other things that are prolific in every town. Mexicans must worship shoes too. We’ve never seen so many shoe shops. And wedding dress shops. And dogs in clothing. In one incident, near Mexico City, we saw a dog in a dress and pink bootees. The dog looked mortified – if I’d known the number for the Mexican RSPCA I would have phoned them.
There is no photographic evidence so you’ll have to take my word for it. Talking of pictures, one friend emailed this week to say she was boycotting our photos because they were depressing her more and more, as the Scottish winter closes in.
So it’s just as well I’ve fallen so far behind on uploading any photos onto Flickr. You won’t believe me if I say I’ve been too busy, so let’s just say I’m being kind.
Things we now know to be true: It doesn’t matter if shoes are a national obsession, that’s no excuse for putting them on a dog.