On August 24, 2015, we flew out of Puerto Vallarta for an extended trip to inland Mexico, both to escape the heat and humidity of PV, and to increase our Mexican cultural immersion. Success achieved on both counts! The weather inland was perfect – never too hot, never too cold, and a refreshing rain each day in the late afternoon. And the total number of foreigners we spotted anywhere in our entire voyage could be counted on two hands. We saw incredible beauty in architecture, dance, cobblestone streets, indigenous markets, magnificent caves, historic ruins and festive celebrations; we ate foods we had never eaten before; we became intimately familiar with the extremely convenient and well-planned Mexican bus system; we enjoyed a heartfelt reconnection with my old friends in Cuernavaca; we met some very kind Mexicans who generously shared a part of themselves with us; and we felt we had experienced a level of intimacy with the Mexican culture unavailable to those who isolate themselves by language barriers, taxis, airplanes and expensive hotels.
In all, we visited 9 cities in 8 states. I realized I will never finish this post if I try to fit it into just one post, so I am doing it in parts.
After landing in Mexico City, we immediately hopped on a luxury bus for the 90 minute ride to Cuernavaca, a city of 350,000 people and the capital of Morelos State, just south of Mexico City. There, my old friends Delia and Eugenia, who I hadn’t seen for 28 years, picked us up at the bus station and drove us up to their home and retreat center on 40 hectares in the mountains between Mexico City and Cuernavaca. We were neighbors when I lived there through 1987.
We spent 4 days with Delia and Eugenia, roaming around their beautiful retreat grounds, being fed breakfast, lunch and dinner by them, and staying in their retreat center. We ate Pozole in town, walked over to the house I lived in 28 years ago, reminisced, and updated ourselves on each others’ lives.
Both Delia and Eu escaped their home countries with real threats against their lives during the extreme violence accompanying rebellions against political dictatorships in the 1970’s: Delia from Argentina and Eu from Guatemala. They met in Mexico. Eu fell in love with Delia’s singing. One of my favorite songs of Delia’s early days is this one: click here: One of Delia’s earlier songs, rerecorded by the University of Argentina When Delia and Eu finally gained their Mexican citizenship in 2000, Delia spoke at the citizenship ceremony as the representative of all peoples in Central and South America who fled their countries for a better life in Mexico; she was even embraced by then President Vicente Fox! Knowing their histories makes their incredible successes in life even more remarkable.
Having known Delia and Eu intimately when we were all starting out in life and then seeing them again almost 30 years later with few updates in between, was an incredibly moving and uplifting experience. They were just finishing building their house when I left Mexico. Since then, they bought the 40 hectares downhill from them and built a retreat center on the grounds, with multiple buildings and housing for dozens, glorious gardening structures and a butterfly hatchery. They are both professional musicians and psychologists. Their retreat center was devoted to teaching young children how to work together through a number of ingenious outdoor games, but now they are transforming the center as a place for adults to practice a high form of QiGong called ZhiNeng. Eu attributes her very existence to ZhiNeng QiGong, having survived a life-threatening illness through its practice.
But the most heartwarming part of seeing them again was to realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have such remarkable people in my life again. The whole time we spent with them felt like an experience in higher consciousness. Every conversation was meaningful and intense. They were so PRESENT! While most people our age are on a road to disengage themselves from the world, either through retirement or drudging through a job they are bored at, Delia was actively pursuing a musical performance contract and Eu was focusing on the expanding practice of QiGong, possibly with a trip to China to study with the masters, along with an active psychotherapy practice.
And they were so incredibly accepting of Rick. They were so happy for me that I had found such a wonderful partner and they welcomed him with open arms. They tried desperately to communicate in English for him, and I was surprised at how much English they actually knew since our conversations had always been exclusively in Spanish, but their passions only truly emerged when they spoke in Spanish. It was a great opportunity for me to finally have some Spanish conversations beyond the superficial, and it was a wonderful experience for Rick to tune his listening and comprehension skills, especially since they included him so much in the conversation that he had to keep on topic and ask me to clarify if he didn’t understand. What a wonderful way to be reintroduced into the Latin culture, after so much time along the coast where the foreign tourist culture abounds.
The only unfortunate thing that happened while we were there was that their long-term full time employee, a grounds keeper and cook and maid all rolled into one, was bit on the lip by their dog and had to be taken to a local health clinic and then to the big hospital in Cuernavaca. They were with him until late in the evening. In Mexico, employees, especially domestic workers, almost become the personal responsibility of their employers. If they are hurt on the job, there is no workers compensation, just the employer paying for whatever treatment is necessary, and maybe giving them a few paid days off at their discretion. They took good care of him, as they needed to.
I just had to walk over to the house I rented when I lived their with Isabel 28 years ago, where my dog Cacho was buried, where I had so many memories. I was disappointed with all the changes that had been made there, but the street corner looked pretty much the same, just older.
Delia and Eu also took us way down to the south of Cuernavaca for me to visit the Tecnologico de Monterrey, Cuernavaca Campus. I was the Director of the Language Department for the Preparatoria for two years for this prestigious university, but at the time the campus was situated elsewhere, closer to town. I was completely blown away by what the university campus had become in my absence. As I starred at the magnificent buildings and the high tech atmosphere, it was a back-to-the-future moment to realize that this could have been my alternate future had I stayed in Mexico – I could have been working there today. I feel so fortunate that my life has made all the twists and turns that have brought me exactly to the place I am today, and I wouldn’t change any of it, but there was something profoundly satisfying about knowing that the Univeristy I once called my employer had made so much of itself.
With sadness mixed with heartfelt appreciation for my friends and for all they had done for us, Rick and I took the bus down to Cuernavaca to spend one night alone in town before moving on to our next town.
After one of those bureaucratic “only in Mexico” nightmare stories of trying to get our senior discount passes for months in Puerto Vallarta, it was surprisingly anticlimactic to obtain them in a matter of only a few minutes in Cuernavaca. As a result, we saved hundreds of dollars in the rest of our bus travels throughout Mexico, even on the fanciest of buses.
While in Cuernavaca, we visited the Palacio de Cortez with our first of many views of a Diego Rivera mural, visited the new Museum of Contemporary Indigineous Art, had a taste of the good stuff at a Mescaleria, roamed around the shopping district, spent the night in small room in an inexpensive hotel for only about $23 USD but with a little private terrace, had breakfast at an outside restaurant beside the Zocolo, and caught a bus for Taxco early enough to get there before dark.
The city of Cuernavaca itself was a little disappointing compared to what I remembered of it. Of course, I was a glossy eyed 31 year old then, and this was the first Mexican city I had lived in, so it held and will always hold a special charm for me. But the years and the bad press of cartel activity has obviously taken its toll. Once known as the center of Spanish language learning, it used to be teaming with young foreign students studying Spanish abroad for a semester. This time, I don’t think we saw one foreigner in all of Cuernavaca. The businesses giving bus tours of Cuernavaca were closed down. The bus out to closeby Tepozlan, a once popular new-age Mecca, didn’t even run except in the weekends anymore. The Jardin Borda, always a popular tourist destination, was closed for renovation. But the Zocolo still had its delicious licuado fruit stands under the center gazebo, showing me that some of my favorite things were still there, and the stage setup for the Gay Day Parade celebration the next day reminded us that not all the changes were bad.