Saturday, April 25, 2009

Waterpark in the middle of the desert...? Sure!

It was crucial to make it home from Puebla in time to head out the following day with some pals to a Balneario (which literally translates as spa according to my Spanish-English dictionary; but here means, water park. Yeow!)

Kacki, Laura, Caitlin and I meet up outside the baseball field to hitch a bus towards Yagul. We're anxious for a hike under the morning sun, followed by some water slides. Aren't you?

The hike is a bust, as the guard at the Yagul archaeological site won't cut us a break and let us hike in the surrounding hillside paths without paying the 35 peso entrance fee. "Mi jefe está en el sitio hoy, entonces..." (My boss is here today, so...). No one feels much like paying to hike--so we head back down the 2-kilometer road towards the highway and start trekking to the balneario.

We're some kind of anomaly at this water park--as all heads turn to watch the four gringas walk in. I suppose they don't get many foreigners out this way; the water park seems to be mainly frequented by nearby villagers. Being watched closely because you're a foreigner isn't something new for any of us in Oaxaca. And yet, it's not what you hope will transpire when you're about to stretch your swimsuit over pale, unshaven legs. We feel flumuxed, then agitated, then downright pissed when a local woman approaches us in our swimsuits (she is fully dressed) and asks if we'll pose for a picture. Whatta huh? We uncomfortably giggle and beg off. But she insists, "No, we're all friends here. It's just a picture. Nothing strange or bad." (Someone saying "nothing strange or bad" only makes them sound more sinister, no?) We have to insist, "No. We're sitting here in our swimsuits. That's weird. We don't know you."

The thing that makes water parks in Mexico so fun (much like roller coaster rides) is you can't be totally sure that they are safe. (thrill seekers apply here) Mexico's not the litigious community the States can be. Thus , you can't really trust that a water park will have the customer's safety in mind at all times. This makes their water slides WAY MORE FUN, in my opinion. We squeal without too much embarrassment as the giant slide whips us around, snaking down towards the dangerously shallow water. I'm the only one who will try for a second time the slide that seems to straight drop to a "break pool." It's a thrilling drop--but requires a small loss of skin on the elbows, and you end with you suit wedged inside your butt. Fun!

We snack on Tlayudas and naranjadas, cookies and plums. We lounge poolside, each with a book or magazine. But when the music level soars and hoards more arrive from the surrounding towns--we decide to take off. All eyes follow us out the door. Oh my.

Little did we know that the following day, pig flu would descend...

Caitlin, Laura and Kacki - hitchin' a bus ride home

Friday, April 24, 2009

City of Angels, nope, not LA

I woke up at 3:40 this morning. Mau and Judith are headed to Taxco by way of Mexico City. I take the chance trip as an opportunity for a free ride to Puebla--where my poor, ailing computer will find a "doctor."

We leave in darkness, the roads and hills peeling away from us as we wind our way north. Small clusters of lights appear off in the distance (a sleeper community) only to disappear the next time I open my eyes. By 6:45 the streaks of purple reach across the sky in the distance. And though everything around us seems dark still, it is a sign that dawn is approaching. When Puebla pulls up around us, cement tenements and ads abound. Traffic becomes.

I'm prepared to just get off on the side of the road--as Mau has explained to me he doesn't navigate Puebla very well, and can't spend an hour getting un-lost. But as the moment approaches for my disembarkation he decides he'll take me into the city a bit, just enough off the highway so that it's easy for me to find a cab. I'm betting the presence of his girlfriend has made him less inclined to leaving roadside. It turns out I'm not that far from the computer shop; seven minutes in a taxi, and only 35 pesos.

Puebla is square and clean. There' graffiti and trash, like any city--but somehow Puebla doesn't seem to be losing the war like Oaxaca. It's more urban; more traffic; more pavement, sure; but, also more organization, it seems. The buses have numbered routes (gasp!). The streets are labeled. And the Centro Histórico is laid out in a grid of ascending numbered streets spreading out from the Zócalo. It's a marvel for tourists. You can actually orient yourself using signs. Miracle!

Monuments and churches are marked with informative plaques. And though both the Ahorros Pharmacy and tourism office people of whom I asked directions were pretty cold--the rest of the folks seem nice. Puebla's not quite as overwhelming or grimey as Mexico City (for which I am very grateful at this early hour, being a stranger in a strange land). Yet, it's not as walkable, nor as cluttered as Oaxaca.

Brightly-painted tiles bric-a-brac the city in small and large places. They border marble floors, they climb walls, they adorn dishes in artisan stalls and restaurants. It this Baroque style? I don't know. I haven't done any reading. I'm a tourist in blunt observation alone today. It reminds of pictures I've seen of Sevilla.
They say Puebla was reluctant to secede from Spain--taking on all of Spain's culture and prejudices into its folds quickly. Perhaps that's why it looks so different.

After dropping my computer off for her diagnostic (computer spa!)--I spend a large part of the morning and afternoon walking the streets of Puebla. After a quick online search using the computers at the tourism office, I find some suggestions for Puebla's specialty foods (thanks, Chowhounders!). So amidst aimless strolling, craning my neck to stare at the superficies of buildings, or ducking my head into sweets shops and artist niches, I eventually land myself at Antojitos de los Portales, across the way from the Teatro Principal, at the suggestion of a very wise Chowhound. There I order a street food specialty in Puebla, the pelona.

"Pelona comes from "pan pelon" ("fraudulent bread"; historically, a bread that incorporated a lower grade of flour), is cut in half, fried and stuffed with beans (scented with avocado leaves), guacamole, and one's choice from a very specific range of possible fillings (pollo deshebrado-often hand-pulled on order, sesos, tinga, hongos etc)." --Chowhound

Mine is filled with beans and tinga de pollo. A heart attack in sandwich form--but tasty! As school has most likely just let out, I watch as group after group of adolescents and teenagers come to play a game of "hey come and check out this fountain; no, closer--SPLASH! Hahahaha."

Eventually, I make my way back to the computer spa. It's the logic board. Shit. They say it will be at least 10 days to order the replacement part from the States--and then install it. Bummer. I can barely imagine what life will be like without my computer.

It's off to CAPU, Puebla's giant bus station to hop a ride home. I brave the strange bus system. (How hard can it be? They've got actually numbered routes here, afterall.) I make it just in time for the 7 o'clock bus back to Oaxaca. The unfortunate part is that the bus is full. The doubly unfortunate part is that I can already tell by the looks of my seat mate that this will be an uncomfortable 4 1/2 hours. He's spread out in a way that makes me opt out of telling him that he's in my window seat--opened soda cans tucked into the backseat pocket, armrest up, bags tucked between his legs, appendages spreading into the aisle seat. He's not asleep. But I can tell he's a snorer. A person knows. I look at my ticket, up at the seat numbers, down at him, back to my ticket and just plop down in the aisle seat. He's burping and gurgling at my right. I sigh, and turn to him, reaching for the armrest tucked between the seatbacks, pulling it down between us, forcing him to readjust his gutt and move over, saying with a charming smile, "I'm going to need this, friend." The in-route movie comes on--oh boy, it's a dubbed version of Rush Hour 3. I have to turn my iPod up to a painful level in order to drown it out. It's a long ride home.