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Nine Month Trip

Introduction    California    Mexico (Dec-Jan)    Mexico (Feb)    Boston (one week)    Paris

Mexico City and the Yucatan

1 - Departure and Arrival
2 - Pyramids
3 - Frida and Diego
4 - Secretario de Educacion Publico (SEP)
5 - Last Day in Mexico City
6 - Getting to Chuburná
7 - The Beach
8 - Power, Flamingos, Making a Video
11 - Mérida Jaunt
12 - Flamingo Video and Bicycle Jaunt
17 - Renting a Car and Chichen Itza
17 - >Malek Alloula
22 - Penultimacy
24 - Dawn's Wrap up
the girls
No, the girls are not with us, but Tess was disappointed in the screen shot we took of a FaceTime session, so we are putting one in here they they approve of. We think it was taken in Istanbul last summer.

February 1
Departure and Arrival

We called the taxi from our house in Guanajuato early enough so we had time to meditate at the bus station before starting our journey. The buses are really comfortable in Mexico. We got a complimentary sandwich and a water or juice as we got on. We watched two movies (without sound) as we worked our way down to the capital. It had rained the night before so everything looked better than the last bus trip where Mexico seemed to be copying American Westerns where Mexico is only dry, dusty and desolate. Now the land is greening up a little and has a prosperous air.

We are sad and excited to leave Guanajuato. It had become a home for us, and we were deepening our relationships with Adam and Rachel and Hugo and Julian. But the road calls us.

But does Mexico City? At first we came here because it is the only way to get to the Yucatan, and then Kenny. our neighbor, insisted that we stay and see some of this great city. He mapped out a four day itinerary for us, the fulfillment of which I think we failed at, but we succeeded at other things. Margy Bemejo is a singer in Mexico City and the mother of a former grad student of Dawn's at Mass Art. She first met us for dinner and then took us a few nights later to a small production of an interpretation of a Greek Myth in a theater in our neighborhood of Condesa.

We are staying in the Red Tree House in Condesa, a beautiful small hotel/B&B. It is the number one rated B&B in Mexico City according to Tripadvisor and we came here because Dawn had a lot of trepidations about this city, Twenty-four million people is a lot of company and the Red Tree House provided a respite in the middle of it all. There is a social hour (or two) for all the guests each night before dinner and everyone is very interesting. There are young men around to call you a cab or change large notes (from the ATM) into smaller ones so we we can pay that taxi. We love the place and recommend it to anyone coming to Mexico City, especially if you are coming for the first time.


February 2, Monday
The Pyramids

Looking up
Looking up
Looking up
Looking down
Looking up
Restored wall carvings in the Quetzalcoatl Palace
Avenue of the dead
from the Pyramid of the Moon
The Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon: Téotihuacan: "Ruins" of an amazing, huge community that was taken over by several groups of indigenous people at various times, but no one really seems to know who built this place, between about 200 BCE to about 100 CE.  We climbed the Pyramide del Sol, 243 steps, I think. Climbing to our casa in GTO prepared us well for this venture. The vastness of the place, and the multitude of pyramids, the wide avenue leading up to the Pyramide de la Luna, and ruins of many other buildings is very impressive. When you think of the Acropolis in Greece, the Forum in Rome, places like Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon in the American West, it makes us wonder why we seem to think that our current civilization will last "forever." Some day Manhattan Island may be visited by tourists who will wonder at the vertical dwellings that people inhabited in another age. Who knows?


Taxis have entered our lives. We take them in Roslindale from the Orange Line to home when the buses are infrequent or once in a while from Sanders Theater after the T shuts down, but that's about all. Now we took cabs in Guanajuato when Dawn's knee was recovering or to get to a museum out of town or to the bus station. The city bus is only 5 - 7 pesos each, but a cab is only 40 - 70 pesos. Chipping in with Andy and Susan, we hired a driver to take us on a day long tour of Churches and the town of San Miguel.

So this day we hired a driver and his cab to takes us the 50 minutes ride out to the pyramids and then wait for us while we visited the place. Not only wait, but drive up to the other entrance so when we had seen all we wanted to and had walked up the mile long Avenue we didn't have to walk back, but just exit and find his car waiting in the parking lot. There were a lot of white cars in the lot, but I had taken a picture of the car and license plate to make it easier to find.

I guess we have entered the age of being efficient.

Mexico cityDuring Cocktails we arranged to go to dinner at the Capital Restaurant on Neuvo León with Bernie and Judy, a couple from Northern New Jersey. The staff gave them a call to make sure there was room. In a smart marketing move, they always make the reservations in the nameof the B&B so the restaurants know where the customers are coming from. Another Argentinian restaurant, very chic, perfect design. I got vegetables, they were a little undercooked, but the evening was fun.

Afterwards, we walked home. The photo on the left shows a path that goes down the middle of a street in our neighborhood through this little parklet.


February 3
Frida and Diego

Mexico city We took a break from taxis and took the Metro to Frida's Kahlo's Homewith Diego Rivera, but then overpaid for a taxi to their studios and then a Metrobus which is a city bus on steroids with their dedicated lanes and elevated platform that allowed for stairless entering and exiting. The Metro had been crowed but this was packed. Too packed for us, we didn't use it again. After the two visits, we took a long walk down a tree lined street with beautiful houses to get to the Metrobus. Beacon Hill was the closest neighborhood that I could think of. Mexico City was not.

At cocktails, we decided to go to Azul Condesa, another easy walk.


February 4
Secretario de Educacion Publico (SEP)

Here is the greatest collection of Diego Rivera Murals anywhere...and it is free! (because it is a public government building.) Two floors of his murals surround a huge courtyard. It was hard not to photograph all of them, but below is a sampling.

Diega Rivera
The Overseer
Diega Rivera
Mujeres (women)
Diega Rivera
I think the title of this one is something like "Solidarity."
Diega Rivera
Mine Workers
Diega Rivera
The Capitalists' Dinner (pretty hilarious)
Diega Rivera
Day of the Dead
Diega Rivera
Don't remember the title, but we love the way the painted figures relate to the actual architecture of the building.


After the Murals, we couldn't find a restaurant that we liked so we took the metro back to Condesa and ate a late lunch in our neighborhood. Then we had some down time before meeting Margey at her house for a little wine and snacks which is dinner in Mexico before walking to the Theater to see "Psiche".

February 5
Last Day in Mexico city

It has been a whirlwind of Museums and Theater and Music concerts. This place has shown its elegant side. We had forgotten how exhausting it is to be a full-time tourist. Today we went to the Castle in the Chapultepec Park. It is up on a hill with a beautiful view of the city. The outdoor spaces are beautiful and serene while the rooms are surprisingly small. It has been Maximilian's castle, the president's house, a military college and now a museum.


We also got to the Tamayo Museum that shows contemporary art. The exhibit that most engaged us was Sophie Calle's. I guess it has been touring around the world because I remember my French friend, Isabelle, telling us about it years ago. The premise of the installation that includes video, written documents and photographs, is an email that the artist received from her then partner in which he broke up with her. She gave a copy of that email to fifty women...artists, composers, a policewoman, a judge, a psychologist, singers, dancers...and asked each of them to respond to that email in any way she liked. While at first it seemed daunting to wade through all those responses, the exhibit was actually fascinating, touching, and even humorous. It also seemed to be an homage to all those women who generously gave of their time and talent in their responses.

We had a late lunch in a nice cafe at the museum and then had to decide whether to return to the B&B for a leisurely shower and "happy hour" or to stay out in town before meeting Margarita at the chamber music concert later that evening. Although my feet were killing me, I succumbed to Stephen's thought that this was our last day in DF (Distrito Federale, like Washington, D.C.) and we should take the subway to Hidalgo, walk through the park, see the Belles Artes building in the daylight and get a drink somewhere before the show. Whoa. This was one of the most intense subway rides I have ever had in any city. It was way hot underground and totally packed at rush hour. The good news is that they have guarded barricades to allow for cars where only unaccompanied women or women with children can ride. However, since I was with Stephen, we went in the "everybody" car. Picture this: a guy comes through with a mini video-screen blasting kids' Disney-type movies...selling them, I guess? Then another comes in with an amplifier/speaker attached to the front of his body, blasting his music and selling CD's. The most tragic was a man literally crawling on the floor of the subway car, "cleaning" the floor with a rag, pushing his way through people's legs,and trying to shine people's shoes for a few pesos. Since he was crawling, I could see that the soles of his shoes were practically worn through. I try to keep some change in my pocket to give to street people, but I didn't have any at that moment, and the scene broke my heart. I was also reminded of two former students who did floor-scrubbing performance art pieces, one to remind us of slavery, the other as an act of generosity to her colleagues....but those were "performance art." This was life, and a sad slice of it.


February 6
Getting to Chuburná

Good-byes to folks at the Red Tree House, and an easy taxi ride took us to the airport where we flew a very pleasant Interjet to Mérida, on the Yucatan. Stig had arranged for Ishmael (call me Ishmael...) to drive us from the airport to the Flamingos Inn, here in Chuburná on the Flamingo Coast. Wow, what a change! From urban density and dry air at 6500' above sea level to completely flat, sandy but green terrain at the beach. It feels wonderful to be back at sea level! I love the humidity. The B&B here is beautiful: four rooms; we have the top suite, the penthouse! We kind of forgot that it has a pretty complete kitchen so we could have bought more supplies when we stopped at a big market with Ishmael on the way here from the airport.

Here we fall asleep and awake to the sound of gentle waves. The rhythm of the place is so different from Guanajuato. There it was sonicly raucous: from the barking dogs to the nightly firecrackers to the loud music, to the vendors shouting "AGUA!, AGUA CIEL!" or the political propaganda coming from PA systems in cars, or the drum and bugle groups that seem to celebrate something every other night, or the cacophonous Posada song...John Cage would have loved it; never a dull moment. While not always conducive to peaceful sleep, we too felt the personality of the place was exuded through this symphony of quotidian sounds.

Ah, but here it is waves and wind. just waves and wind. So we connect to water and air and the Pelicans that glide about five feet over my head when doing yoga. Oh, yes, well I should mention that Stig has two pet Guacamayas that can make a screeching racket when they don't like something...and three dogs, but I haven't heard any of them bark...yet.

Our deck and bedroom window are literally right over the Gulf. The beach below us is about 25' wide, then all you can see is coast and water and horizon.


February 7
The Beach

After a copious breakfast and meeting the other four guests, we took a long beach walk, then I did some yoga and took a pool dip. Stig lent us a couple of brand new, locally made bikes, with fat tires for sand riding, hand brakes, but no gears. We took a leisurely ride, mostly on the sandy back roads and found a great little seafood spot for an early supper. We are very much reminded of Costa Rica here. It is not a resort area by any means, but there are a number of Canadians and Americans who have found, built or renovated places here. Stig is Norwegian, and his place has that sleek, clean Scandinavian design look with touches of Mexican tiles or decor. The community still feels very Mexican. The buildings are low and vary house by house as to how kept up they are.


February 8-10
Power, Flamingos, Making a Video

Dawn and Stephen Hanging Out

From Youtube

It seemed we needed to make another video, mostly because the electricity and then internet has become a little spotty and doesn't support Facetime very well. No planning just editing on IMovie and then adding music. There is a little unexpected treat at the end of the sunset.

Wind ... When we look at weather forecasts, we don't look at wind very often but I guess we should. Here, there is wind sometime everyday. I think it is part of the weather pattern for this time of year. It is the "El Norte", which brings waves and seaweed to our North facing beach. Also, except for two other buildings and the Cruise ship that we can see docked in Progreso, six miles away, our rooms are the highest thing around being on the third story of our inn. One night, the wind whistled through the guy wires to the internet tower most of the night sounding like an outboard motor. But the moon is bright and the stars brighter, so the nights are magical.

The days are pretty good also. We rode over to the marsh land where the flamingos hang out. They are beautiful and it was great to park the bikes and sneak down a short path cut through the bushes to sit and watch them. It turned out that it was better to watch a hundred flamingos than the thousands or tens of thousands that gather elsewhere or the hundred of thousands that you see in Africa on the nature channel . Here there were twenty or thirty right in front of us and then small groups up to a mile away highly visible in the late afternoon sun behind us. We could distinguish the larger males and wonder if the head curved unto the back means that the bird is sleeping or sending mating signals. A pair will occasional pass by flying, maybe to join a different group or to find better food. We will go back with the movie camera and its zoom lens to try to capture a moment or two.


February 11

The food was good. We went to a place where the woman makes the food in pots which she also sells. It is in the outskirts of Merida, a colonial city of about a million people. We all thought the food was good, but what we all really agreed on was how beautiful the woman was. She had a heart melting smile and beautiful eyes. She had an impact. I am not sure that I could pick her picture out of a group, but of course would recognize the smile in a flash.

After dinner we were driven in to the Zocalo, (town square) and let loose for an hour or so. We are beginning to recognize Mexico by its energy. We got there around 9:45 and the place was hopping.

February 12
Making another VideoWPP KFC

We took our bikes back to the same place and found what seemed to be the same birds hanging out together. We locked our bikes together and crawled through the same hole in the trees and set up the camera. I hadn't really set it up when Dawn said "Look" and I pushed the record button. We put that shot at the end. The whole thing is just over two minutes.

Flamingos/Yucatan from Stephen Buck on Vimeo.

Short Video of Flamingos In the Yucatan
Frederic Chopin:
Etude #1 In A Flat, Op. 25/1, CT 26, "Aeolian Harp"
played by Maurizio Pollini

February 17 - 19
We rented a Car...

and got up early and went to one of the modern seven wonders of the world, the ruins of Chichen Itza. But first I must interject that although it might sometimes seem that we are expert travelers, this is not the case. It might be true sometimes, but it may just be a matter of luck. A case in point...

Dawn and Stephen going to Valladolid:

Dawn decided that we should see some ruins, especially after reading Tim and Lily's description of their time there. (They are now in Nicaragua). We decided to get the car on Monday afternoon so we could leave early Tuesday morning in order that we could get there before the tour buses arrived. So far so good. Next we decided to stay in a nearby town said to be full of quiet charm and worth a visit. I looked at hotels and decided to go with Stig's recommendation and stay in one right on the main plaza. A good idea except that this was Carnavale, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday so the joint was jumping and the music seemed to roll through the restaurant and up our stairs. Rick Steeves, the "Europe Through the Back Door" guy, always says to bring earplugs for this nights of being close to the action and I agreed with him until I have heard the subwoofers of a bad pop band fire up. The sound comes through your skull and breast bones totally by-passing your little eardrums totally. Of course, the solution is to be out there dancing until one in the morning when the band quit, but this band's music did not inspire us. But this night was my fault, not the band's or the hotel's. We were in the right place at the wrong time.

Once this mis-timing gets started, it can be hard to stop. The next day we drove the back roads to an even even smaller quieter town, Izamal, known for its artists and artisan workshops. But now it is of course Ash Wednesday, and everything seemed to be closed. A waiter in a restaurant even told us that he didn't have any coffee and seemed as if he couldn't wait for us to turn around and leave. So we continued on back roads back to the Flamingos Inn, where Stig and the guests seemed happy to see us and we sat around some beers, all of us relating our various adventures of the last two days.
Chichen Itza Chichen Itza
And we did have adventures. We got to the ruins of Chichen Itza early enough to spend some time without the crowds. The Castle Pyramid is beautiful. It has a reserved beauty, it rises up even as it just sits. It is smaller than the pyramids that we visited near Mexico City, but it has less sprawl. It has its temple on top intact so it feels more complete. They no longer let people climb any of the structures here so it has much more a feeling of serentiy.

The ball field looks like a handball court on the scale of a football field. Here groups of tourists serve a function of providing scale. There are two perpendicular side walls, maybe thirty feet tall, with ruins of temples at each end. There are stone rings from the top of each stone wall which look like sideways basketball hoops big enough for a person to go through.

sombreros We bought a gift here. It was a request, so when we saw it we grabbed it, although not before he snapped a picture of us. He was the last vender on the way to the cenote. As we walked, we learned a few words in Maya so that we can say hello and goodbye. We didn't get the courage to ask how to say "No, gracias". This was our first look at the sinkholes that dot the landscape of the Yucatan. Cenote This one was considered sacred by the Maya, and had many precious item and some bones on its bottom. Not so many now. A sizeable portion are at the Peabody Museum at Harvard after they left Mexico illegally. I guess some time in the future it is possible that some expedition will be digging up our bones too. We should ready with our curses.

Continuing to follow Tim and Lily's lead, we headed for the village of Yokdznot. A few years ago, the women of this village banded together in a cooperative to clean up the cenote and make it into a place where tourists could come and swim. It took two years of working every afternoon clearing trash, building walkways, cobstructing buildings while the rest of the village ridiculed them. There is no parking for large tourist buses, the largest vehicle that could go down the road and turn around would be a 12 passenger van. There seemed parking for six cars.

We ate first because we didn't have time for breakfast and it was now past lunch. It was a simple buffet with six or seven things all of which I took. I think that when they started they were serving local, Mayan specialties, but now it seemed typical Mexican.

When we were finished, we changed into our swim suits and followed the path into the cenote. Cenotes are sinkholes, not ponds, so they are at the level of the groundwater, which seems to be around forty or fifty feet below the surface. There was a German speaking group that was just getting out so we waited for them to come up the steep stairs and go up the path and then we had the place to ourselves, the limestone formation of the walls, the tree roots reaching all the wall to the water through the air, the little striped fish, the water reflecting on the wall. We took a couple of swims, some pictures and videos which will appear here when we get better WiFi. Also, we just sat and admired.


February 18
Malek Alloula
Malek and Dawn

Wednesday morningI got an email saying that my dear friend Malek has died of a virulent cancer. He was 77.It has been25 years since we met as artists-in-residenceat La Napoule, France. Some of you may remember my sand solo, "Sahara" for which he read one of his poems and Martha made me that beautiful costume. He and I were very close, and since his partner Veronique entered his life, the four of us have been close, spending time together in Paris as well as at her house in Provence.

I have an email from him on January 7, saying how well his writing project was going in Berlin and that he would come to meet us in Paris March 3 when we arrived, to give us keys to his apartment and explain a few things about the neighborhood.

In addition to being stunned and sad about this sudden loss, we had been planning to stay in his Paris apartment for three months while he was on a grant to write in Berlin. Now, it would be too sad for me to stay there, and thankfully not necessary because his family will clear out the apartment out soon and terminate the lease. We have found something else for March, then will stay flexible for April and May.

What pains me so much is that I never got to say good-bye. In fact, the last two times we were in France, we were on opposite sides of the country and didn't get to see each other, always saying "la prochaine fois" - the next time. Friday there was a service for him at the mosque in Paris...and I could not be there.

I am still kind of stunned.

Such losses are always reminders to live well and generously, as you all do,and to appreciate all the gifts that life brings.


February 22
We have decided that they are spirits that have descended from the walls of the pyramids, not the ones here in Mexico, but the ones in Egypt. They look like dogs at first, even if they don’t have dog ids (Charlie and Alex), but then we noticed while they have tongues, they are always in their mouths. They don’t lick, even if they have sprinted the length of the yard to greet us on our return and I have put my face down. Alex will just touch his nose to mine. They would never think of jumping on us. They are never cute. They have the three horse gaits: walking, trotting and galloping, They don’t cock their heads or moon into your eyes. Kind of aloof - if one them wants your attention, he quietly leans on you a little bit with the side of his body. It is hardly noticeable at first, but he persists quietly until you grant him some attention. They hold their heads in profile a lot, as if they would like us to admire them.

Stig Have we mentioned that they are greyhounds, and from Norway? We thought that greyhounds would be nervous and high strung like thoroughbreds, but these dogs are calm with a serene, muscular presence. They are well trained, running off to their room at a single Norwegian word from their owner Stig. They are as slim and fit as he, who is our host at the Bed and Breakfast, Flamingos Inn.


There is another dog here, named Canela for her cinnamon coloring. She is quite the foil to the grace and elegance of the Greyhounds. Stig rescued her from the street when she was pregnant. He took care of her and found homes for all her puppies, then had her spayed. Canela is small, kind of round, slightly awkward, and pads about the place. She has no interest in people. All of us have tried to nicely lure her over to give her some affection; she just looks and then slowly walks away. I have, however, caught her on occasion lying in the most vulnerable, undignified position imaginable: on her back, all four paws in the air with her belly and nipples exposed to the sun. I wondered if she had been maltreated; hence her avoidance of people, but Stig believes that she is simply shy.

OutpostTomorrow is our last day before we return to Boston. It is beginning to feel like an outpost. We have been here over two weeks and we are on the edge of something. Certainly the continent. If we took a running leap off our balcony we would get half way to the water. The continuation of our trip? New understanding? Messages come to us in the form of new guests from Norway, Canada, the US and Cuba. Are we a listening post? At the moment we are hearing about a young Norwegian couple's travels with their two young daughters. They have been out for three months and much of the time staying with local families. They started in Sri Lanka and have worked their way across the Pacific They stayed with a Mayan family deep in the woods down a dirt road, learning about the communal land ownership that they use, while we congratulated ourselves a few days ago for “shun-piking” across the same area, slowing down as we went through the towns.

From our post here, we have made forays into town for carnivales, to make a video of flamingos, to eat at local restaurants or find vegetable store. Stig’s two bicycles are our steeds. We neglected to take a picture of the guy with the cooler strapped to the back of his bicycle full of fresh fish when he stopped by our front door. We treated ourselves to fresh shrimp because here we are on the gulf where the shrimp come from.

YogaLittle things occur like the electricity stops, or the internet becomes spotty, or the gas needs to be switched to a new tank or the water pump needs to be turned on. These trifles teach us the way most of the world works. They also create a sense of adventure, because they are not really a problem. Stig takes care of them in a moment, (except for the internet which may be a function of the wind.)

From our third story terrace we can see to the curve of the earth. Stig asked for some photos of yoga being practiced around his place so we took some and are sharing two here. Sharing is something that gets done around here a lot. After our return from Valladolid, distraught, he provided us with two large piece of delicious lasagna that he had made. We needed only to heat them in the microwave. The very definition of comfort food and we needed it.

Flamingo Inn

This morning, I went out and sat by the pool so that the girls could go into the water while their dad finished his coffee and his conversation with the other guests. This afternoon, Marshal is going to bake a pie. I hear that he is really good.

We lived on the top floor just underneath the water tanks. The second yoga picture was on the yellow wall you can see through the door from the beach.


February 24

Dawn's Wrap-up

To me, Mexico seems to be a land of contrasts. There is great physical beauty, culture and history. There are all kinds of wealth, from economic to spiritual. At the same time, there is serious poverty and either a lack of awareness or a failed infrastructure that makes huge trash heaps a recurrent part of the landscape. For example, riding the bikes out to the beautiful lagoon filled with wading birds, including the Flamingos, a couple of sections of the road have dumps on either side. Even the little path we took from the road to the wetlands had an old, rejected toilet lying amidst the foliage. Still, in cities and pueblos, you see people sweeping the streets or paths in front of their own casas, however modest they may be. Many of the towns have a perplexing combination of well-kept places and what seems to be a kind of construction-zone/trash mess. It is unpredictable to me where these clashing scenes are going to pop up.

One phenomenon we have seen, especially in the Yucatán, is the three-wheel bike/cart. Most of them are human-powered by pedaling, although a few are motorized. They carry everything from produce to craft works to people. We saw them not only in the city of Mérida, but also in the small towns and on the roads between towns, making me wonder how far these people actually pedal in the course of a day. Also, many people walk. We remember in Costa Rica in 1997 how few cars there were and how many walkers, day and night. Proportionately there are probably fewer walkers here in Mexico than there were in Costa Rica back then, but there are still many. In Chuburná, we saw a little boy, barely four, pedaling one of those carts that was way too big for him.

Last summer, when we told friends and family that we were heading to Mexico, many people were concerned about our safety. In fact, all the guests that we met at the Flamingos Inn reported the same thing: their friends said, "Why would you go to Mexico?" Of course we stayed away from the areas that had recent problems, but even in Mexico City, we did not feel threatened. Almost every Mexican person we encountered was friendly and courteous and welcoming. Particularly now, the American dollar is very strong against the peso so it is appealing from the point of view of economy. We can see why so many Gringos move here.

Would we come back? I am not sure. If we do, I would want to visit Oaxaca. Guanajuato of course has its charms. Going back to Stig's place would be lovely also. We became good friends. He and so many of his Norwegian guests helped me reconnect with that part of my heritage. Who knows, we may take them up on their invitations and visit Norway in the spring.


Next, we are stopping off in Boston to see Friends and Family and get some different clothes
Introduction    California    Mexico (Dec-Jan)    Mexico (Feb)    Boston (one week)    Paris

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