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News 4 Baja California

23.09.03 Goodbye Angelinas. On the road again...direction: Mexican border and Tijuana. From L.A to San Diego, I conscientiously repeat the Spanish dialog relative to “formalities of customs" from the book "The Spaniard for Travelers”.
I am already in Mexico but where are the US customs??? U-turn back to the customs: I stay in line with thousands of Mexicans entering the United States.
In this direction things are much more complex! Explain to an American customs officer (!) that, contrary to appearances, I am not trying to go into but to leave the United States… that I come from Los Angeles and not from Tijuana. I
take my “nice-girl-a-little-hyppie-peaceandlove-who-travel-only-for-tourism-until-Buenos-Aires" look... (who said crazy?). However after looking under my car seats (looking for a hypothetical companion maybe) they refuse to sign my papers referring me to their colleagues in Florida (???). Nada for the “exit documents”.
Fortunately, the kindness of the Mexican customs officers is proportional to the Americans’ suspiciousness. A small cabin, an old TV, a table, a Mexican, 2 chairs: I come for my tourist card. “Abogada! Muy bien, Muy bien”, he rolls his
eyes, “soltera, oooaaahh”. I get my pass with warm encouragements made in Mexico. And last but not least I am finally IN Mexico ! (while being still in the United States on paper). And as we say in French: the first gherkin is the most difficult to get out of the bottle, after that the others come out easily.

BAJA CALIFORNIA is not much visited by the Europeans but very appreciated by its American neighbors. With its vertiginous cliffs falling into the blue sea and its giant cacti set out to take the sky and its infinite white sand bays… I
drive for hours without meeting a soul…as if nobody was living in those arid hills. Ensenada to La Paz 1800 km, 30 hours on the road, 6 military check-points, 16 bananas, hundreds of curva peligrosa, countless car carcasses in the surrounding
gullies, million cactus, billion butterflies… I pass with honors (and the entire village applause) the famous-car-killer- jump on the traitorous speed bumps (thanks to the travelers who warned me!). I especially liked the scenic road between Tijuana and Ensenada, the Bahia Design and La Paz’beaches. In Guerrero Negro, you can see the whales giving birth between January and April. In Loreto,
I could observe through my room’s window the pelicans plunging like scuds into the sea. “Marty Hurricane” has devastated Baja California a few days ago. In some places the water level was 10 feet high. The unique and only road (The Mex 1) has been devastated, torn apart. Tons of mud slided down from the mountains and have distraught the coast. The fatalistic Mexicans are fixing and cleaning as quickly as they can while the tourists are waiting. I met Swiss surfers who bought a sixties-baba-kitsch van in San Diego and who gonna try each beach until Panama. In Guerrero Negro I met biking Japanese who left Los Angeles on September 12 and aim for Buenos Aires.

La Paz- Cabo San Lucas - San José del Cabo- La Paz I wanted to see the end of the end of California where the Pacific and the Cortes Sea convene. As much in Todos Santos is charming, American and Italian artistic communities, as much
mass tourism has denatured the Southern farthest point of BC. Finally at 100 miles of La Paz, I am definitively forced to turn back: the road is flooded and the cars towed away by cranes. Well intentioned Mexicans recommend me to reconsider my next stop (in 300km), because of the condition of what is left of the road. That evening, I take the ferry to Los Mochis, to go back to the "main" ground.

I had a taste of adventure these last days crossing rivers, driving straight down the ills, hazardous diversion improvised beside the ruined roads, taking the car on the sand to reach buried beaches.

 A hotel: The California Hotel in Todos Santos, no website yet, I let you know...

Hasta Luego.

News 5 Mex: From Nayarits to Jalisco  

28.09.03 Los Mochis- Puerto Vallarta

The La Paz ferry arrives at Los Mochis with the rising sun. I have my tacos of cabeza’ breakfast at the market. The next  step of the journey is the Tarahumara Sierra. It is from this point  that the “ Del Cobre” trains go through the deepest canyons  of the world. Here the Indians use peyotl, an hallucinogenic cactus’  roots.  

The road towards Puerto Vallarta brings me into a damp and dense jungle full of coconuts and banana’ trees. The heat  becomes increasingly intense. The air is moist. My camera is fogging up automatically giving a David Hamilton touch to my sunset’  pictures. My notebook pages crinkle, my dress is sticking to my  skin... The place of John Huston’s "Night of Iguana" is a “little Acapulco” with an immense beach of white sand, a scaled beautiful  colonial city with night and day vivid life...  

I stay in a pretty place: the Azteca Hotel for a good price: 150 Pesos (15$).

29.09.03 Puerta Vallarta to Manzanillo

When I planned my journey  I wanted to see this coast discovered 30 years ago by Brignone,  an Italian banker. This is a place where tortoises come and lay  their eggs during full moon nights. This location is presented  as a certain state of mind, a place of harmony between primitive  nature and plain architecture, and a place of absolute relaxation  where to break away from the rest of the world. I stop at the Alamandas  Hotel, well known through design’ magazines. But I would not  pass the door (well) guarded by henchmen: I do not have reservation.  No way I can get anything: no information, no visit, no small talk  with Isabelle Goldsmith the hostess of this paradise. I wanted  to ask her how she manages mosquitoes. We can only go to their  website to feed our dreams about this very protected place:

A little further,  Tenacatica is a sublime beach away from the road with multiple and adorable  restaurants built with palm leaves. I plunge into the ocean alone  in the world, tossed on the Pacific’ waves …under the puzzled  eyes of waiters awaiting for the customer.

News 6 Mex : On the Independance Road

High plateaus and valleys of the Sierra, Zapotec and Mayas sites, zocalos (city square), churches and cathedrals, Indian sanctuaries, colors, music, dance, festival, Mexicans’ soul, markets, romanticism,  I am under this nation spell. It is surrealistic: my eyes my senses  are overwhelmed…so many emotions... I am under the charm of this extraordinary country.  

29.09.03 Guadalajara the intellectual

Guadalajara is the second city of Mexico. That is the Mariachis’ birthplace, a city famous for its fountains, with four main squares, its colonial splendor, its palaces, its churches. This is a charming city that is ignored to often by the travelers. The inhabitants of Guada are preparing their October Festival, which will celebrate tales and legends. Octobers’ Fiestas will start  open with a procession of floats with multiple fantastic shapes: witch, sirens, pirates, headless knight or others legendary characters.  It will continue with concerts shows and entertainment during the  entire month. I am wandering in the students’ Guadalajara. People  have coats on, the altitude is 1550 meters. I still wear my “tong” a total “clothing discrepancy”. I go and admire Orozco in the Palacio de Gioberno. 

Not too far is Tlaquepaque or Mexicolor:  with striking galleries and handcrafts sold in the street by the Nayarits Indians. I start to experience intensely Mexican surrealism.  The further I progress on my journey, the stronger the feeling, particularly with the ubiquitous depiction of Death. The celebrations of  November 2 (All Souls' Day) are well known, particularly in Oaxaca.  

A Hotel: the Hotel Frances: beside the Cathedral, the oldest in the city, posada built in 1619 and acknowledged national monument.  In the evening, I am soothed by the mariachi’s serenades until  late at night. I leave my half-opened door (Piensae me)...  
Shopping:  in Mercado Libertad, for the country’s huaraches: the leather sandals.

30.09.03 Guanajuato the political

Located at an altitude of 2000m, Guanajuato was the world mining capital of gold and silver. It was recognized as a part of the UNESCO cultural Patrimony for its splendid colonial buildings and its colorful houses clinging to the hills. Another feature: the underground alleys using the  galleries of the old mines. They seem going nowhere and suddenly lead to a plaza. It is a complex street arrangement quite useful when it comes to find my way for the price of a propina. The streets are so narrow that in Callejon del Beso, two lovers can kiss one  another by leaning from their windows. The city was one of richest in the planet, generating a quarter of the world’s silver for  two centuries. The student population is significant and the Cervantes Festival of Theater begins on October 1.

01.10.03 San Miguel de Allende the touristy

Two weeks ago I  received an email from Guadalupe inviting me to San Miguel de Allende (SMA) for the October City festival. During 5 days, I am treated  like a queen, at the ringside seat of the festivals... I have a  meeting in the radio XESQ’ studio where "Lupita" (who has 2 long  braids: "Lila Dawns copied me") and Adolpho produce a cultural  broadcast. They introduce me to the director of the radio station (a well known social leader), to the University dean, which invites me to give a lecture about international law. I also meet with their friend Yolanda a Tae Kwando trainer who is hosting me. They have close ties to the Cuban singers from “Buena Vista Social Club” and are preparing a tribute to Compay Secundo (also old friends), in  the presence of Roberto Viscayn (Grammy Awards 2000). The following  day, Adolpho introduce the Los Hermanos Aquascalientes’ group on the Zocalo. They open the festival. The next day, I take part in the preparations of the procession. I will follow the procession step  by step in San Miguel and I will be able to make very close pictures.  What I have discover:

> SMA: The Bohemian one, the mystic, it is in this City that Allende took the weapon and initiated the revolution of independence.  Today retirees, soldiers and artists share here peaceful days:  20% of the population is of foreign origin. The North American children come here in the summer, at the SMA Institute to study  art. You can admire an unfinished Siqueiros in Escuela de Bellas Artes. Here Vincente Fox (the current President) has celebrated his son’s first communion, a Roman princess organizes receptions for tycoons in one of her multiple properties, and antiquity’s store are worldwide famous and jazz festival takes place in November.  
> The syncretism: the Holy places of a triumphant and conqueror Catholicism rub shoulders with Indian Sanctuaries. The Indians accepted Christ providing that they may keep their god. And those gods are now inside and the result produce small chapel next to the churches and crosses without crucified Christ...  
> The Virgin  of Guadalupe is in Mexico City. More beautiful than the Christian virgin, more tanned, she symbolizes the Mexican syncretism. From the poorer to the richest: everybody pays respect to "Lupita" homage every year on December 12. You may see her miniature everywhere in taxis  $hotels and in all Mexicans’ home.  
> The temascale: a purification ritual held during full night moon that combines the 4 elements: earth fire water and air.  
> The ex-votos: naive paintings representing a miracle along with a short text thanking the virgin. Diego Rivera and Frida had a collection of 2000 ex-votos exposed in their Coyoacan blue house.  
> The true Frida to the screen is Ofélia Médina in the first film that Mexico realized about the painter  
> The botanical garden: internationally famous, house of thousands cactus.  $It is in the reserve that Guadalupe and Adolpho created their ecological house: using candles’ light and enjoying the ponds ‘view while  relaxing in their hammock. 
> To eat:  Nopales’ salad (cactus), tacos filled with huitlacoche (mushrooms), quesadillas and the zucchini flowers, “mola” (difficult to describe: a dark brown mixture with spices and chocolate taste), tamales (made of semolina rollers and presented in corns’ leaves)… and of course Mezcal with everything!  
> Pulque: the Aztec’ alcohol: as white as milk  
> The Muses (and of Diego Rivera’ mistresses): Maria Felix, Dolores del Rio  
> Mexican Music compilation: Tania Libertad, Toña Negra, Chevala Vargas, Lila Dawns, José Alfredo Jimenez  
> The “4”: Diego  Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros, Tamayo and their girlfriend Frida Kahlo 
> The  poetess: Juana Ines of Cruz  
> The writers: Octavio Paz, Carlos  Fuentes  
> Queretaro: UNESCO Cultural Treasure: 3000 historical  buildings, beautiful colonial houses  
> Peña del Bernal: energy  resource, the lovers engrave here tender words on the cacti.  

“Our  poverty can be measured with the number and the sumptuousness of  the popular festivals. The festivals here are our single luxury  ". Octavio Paz.

News 7: Following the Maya

The Maya have lived here for 3000 years. In Popol Vuh, the bible of Maya’s beliefs and knowledge, the humankind came from corn. Ixchel is weaving, medicine and pregnancy’s goddess and the past goddess of the Moon. The Maya were brilliant mathematicians and astronomers, had an improved calendar, their own alphabet, but did not know the use of the wheel. They used very geometrical forms, hyper-Symbolists; the faces take  the form of squares. The babies had cranium crushed by a vice to obtain a flat face and the piercing of all the body by means of  spines was frequent. For soccer’s lover, Sports newspaper don’t  tell you that the Zapotecs were playing, at that time already, with knees, hips and right foot…and that the captain of the winning team had the honor to be decapitated for the gods’ satisfaction. The figurines have a funny look as they were from "Chicken Run".  The descendants live now in Chiapas area and in the Guatemala mountains. It is possible to reside with a Maya tribe: the Lacandons, and learn their language thanks to the Na bolom foundation: 

Chronologically from Mexico City to the Caribbean Coast: 

Teotihuacan, close to Mexico DF, the city of the gods: 3e larger pyramids of  the world, after the Egyptian’s, they evoke the Sun and the Moon.  It was one of the world most important cities, exceeding Rome by ts size. You have to climb the 242 steps of the pyramid of the Sun to experience the presence of Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent.  

Monte Alban: magic and religious city, vestige of zapotec civilization, Monte Alban is in the center of the Mesoamerica and was as prestigious as Tikal and Teotihuacan.  * close to Oaxaca 

Palenque: the most beautiful the Maya city,  the most romantic: surrounded by trees, crushed in the jungle. * in Chiapas 

Uxmal: Puuc style, you meet with Chac the god of the rain, he has a hooked nose. The soothsayer’ pyramid is oval  which is very rare in Mexico. The governor palate (100m length) sit imposingly in the middle of the site.  * in Yucatan 

Chichen Itza: the most mythical, the Kukulcan pyramid with 91 staircases  at each of its 4 sides and its central surface, representing the  365 days of the year. Site of countless sacrifices, according to  my guide, several princesses were killed here. On the top, I expect  to see a god in a jaguar skin... The greatest play of ball are  here.  * in Yucatan 

Tulum: a fortress at the seaside, on a  cliff overhanging the Caribbean. The "harbor" site of the Mayas. 

A  book: Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties  of the Ancient Maya, by Simon Martin, Toby Wilkinson and Nikolaï  Grube, Thames &Hudson ed.

News 8 Mex : Arriba Mexico!

06.10.03 Mexico City I was scarred of Mexico City. Too dangerous, too large, too polluted… but it is also a city with a prestigious past and a sumptuous architecture. I thought of leaving the car in Teotihuacan - at the Club Mediteranee where I stayed the day before- and having a round trip by bus to the city. Finally, after some discussions and preparations with Guadalupe and Adolpho, I decided to go there and find a hotel with parking. I remained only one day in the big City (too short, just to get a first impression) and everything went very well. It is a chaotic city in which you can find the best and the most surprising... I slept in the middle of the temple of electronic counterfeit and illegal copy of all kind. CD pirate copies cost less than 10 pesos (< $1), even cheaper than in Madrid... Police officers and counterfeiters get along quite well  (only the uniform differ, police is well known to be corrupted). Who sell what to whom? Markets where you can find everything surround the Zocalo. From battery to hairbrush, alarm clocks and cell phones: sound all over “it is the bazaar. Pharmacies are gigantic and promote discontos on their fluorescent poster promoting vitamins and slimming pills. Mexico is Beetle’s country and Mexico City is jam-packed with green Beetle taxis. To return...

To make a pilgrimage on line with the Virgin of Guadalupe:

Coyoacan: Frida Kahlo, the painter with the mono-eyebrow was born here in la casa azul. The house is full of her love for Diego Rivera: embroidered on the cushions "do not forget me my love", on the kitchen walls where their names are united by ribbons held by doves… And everywhere her paintings conveying pain and suffering with such power. You can see the traditional dresses she liked to wear, her private diary and the portrait of her idols: Stalin, Lenin, Marx, Engels and Mao at the top of her bed... One of her painting is named " Marxism will confer health". Trotsky and André Breton resided here. Diego Rivera and Frida then lived in San Angel in “twins” geometrical houses, inspired by Le Corbusier. A footbridge between their terraces -in order to meet when they were not fighting- joined the houses.  

News 9 Mex: Colors, amazing colors… 

08.10.03 Oaxaca   

After a wonderful road: the highest, the most sinuous… after superb mountains, I arrive in Oaxaca: city of gods and festivals. Immediately I adore this human, photogenic city. Oaxaca and its beauty: the colors, churches, museums, the Zocalo and its marimba (xylophone) music. Yes, the city casts a spell on me…. These striking dancers -with this typical aquiline nose- that I’ve seen in Los Angeles, were from Oaxaca. It is the city of chocolate, coffee and mescal but it is also, with the Chiapas, the poorest part of Mexico. The mood is different here: the Indians more "assertive", but I start to understand why when I pass busses full of anachronistic travelers: Monte Alban, the Zapotèque site is very close.

I start my last day in Oaxaca by going to the mass at Santo Domingo Iglesia; the church seems small surrounded by its "baroqueries" and overwhelming gold. The sumptuous statue of the Blessed Virgin hypnotized me. This church, packed with faithful at this early time of a weekday, impressed me. Later, I visited Mitla where I had lunch at the Indian market amongst flowers and spices. 

To visit: The Museum Rufino Tamayo, my favorite in Mexico. The collection of pre-Columbian Art of the famous Oaxaca painter comprises statues: Olmèques from Vera Cruz, Aztèques from Altiplano, Zapotèques from Oaxaca area, and Mayas from Yucatan... the meticulousness is in the esthetic and the originality of the figurines.  

News 10 Mex: Viva Zapata!  

10.10.03 San Christobal de Las casas

Here starts the Chiapas territory: rough, hostile. It is in these mountains and jungle that Sub-Commander- Insurrectionist-Marcos-of-the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) is confronting the Mexican army. After five centuries of domination, the Indian communities are looking for their freedom and try to find an identity and a share of autonomy in the management of their own businesses. But what is it behind Marcos cagoule? Icon of the antiglobalization movement, Manu Chao body, brilliant webmaster of the jungle, he is a man whose words and humor are the chief weapon. But Mexican government does not have the same sense of humor and the guerrilla carried the dead of 300 Zapatista. At San Cristobal de Las Casas markets, Indian women sell an army of Marcos in miniatures: puppets, key chain, tee shirt with his picture, postcards of the 1.111 walk. As in Oaxaca you find here colonial style small houses, very colored, with arcades and patios. Inside this ochre, mauve setting, Indians women, wearing embroidered clothes, are sitting on the ground amongst woven fabric, ponchos and multicolored textile picturing broad flowers. It is a profusion of colors but here no one takes photographs of the native: it is a way to preserve their soul in a society that dispossesses them of everything already. 

Music: Clandestino from Manu Chao 

A place to stay: Na Bolom (see le coup de coeur ), an hacienda difficult to leave, with firewood in the bedroom to warm up chilly toes ( altitude is 2200meters) 400 Pesos/night (< $40). During the guided tour of the museum-house you learn that the Lacandon chief Chan K' in Viejo lived 125 years, had 5 wife, 25 children whose last one is 97 years old: all this thanks to the bamboo juice (the local DHEA) he was fed with when he was a baby. Here, the powerful and famous of this world ate at the same table than the native. As well did Joris, from Belgium and Paulo from Portugal. We decide to go together to Palenque and to have a closer look at " la revuelta campesina" in Zapatista area.

News 11 Mex: It is 1000 facets of Mexico

12.10.03 Campeche   

(On the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2002 Ancient Maya City of Calakmul, Campeche). We leave San Christobal Las Casas early in the morning. We were told that that the 100 miles/ 180 km to Palenque are time consuming (+/- 7hours). First because the road is so beautiful that you stop frequently, second because the road is “roller coaster-like” and last because of the “tope”; the passenger in the back hits his/her head at the ceiling first and after that crushes his/her coccyx while falling back on the seat. The guides warned us: "Be careful with the ambushes. Do not stop if you see a string across the road, nor if somebody is lying transversely...” I still do not know how to manage this array of situations but thank god we were not tested on the matter. Just after a curve and a photo-stop, farmers, who put boards full of nails on the road, block us.

The Mexicans stopped as well as we are arguing and seem quite angry. We will be able to pass on the condition of helping with a financial "contribution" to education, agrarian development and urbanization, a financial support that the government does not grant them. We pay 100 Pesos, more than anyone else. It is a mini-racket veiled with "good" cause. But everything is relative if you compare with the toll fees or Pemex* cost. We stop later on at the Agua Azul cascades but they are not “azul” at all after the recent torrential rain. It is very hot again, after the cold of the mountains. We liked Palenque (see Note 7 about Mayas sites). We continue towards Campeche, "boosted" by our traveling stories, Kim Wilde, Fred & José musical compilations, the designer Flemish Bataille and Ibens, our projects, bed and breakfast, Ostende, Arno, the Champoton’s good places. Campeche has been put recently on the Unesco World Heritage list but the hotel amenities are not really ready yet.

* Pemex: Mexican Oil Co.: monopoly for gas station where you pay only with cash, same for highway tolls.

13.10.03 Playa del Carmen

The road leads me through the Yucatan: from Campeche to Playa del Carmen passing through Uxmal, Temozon : the old colonial hacienda where sisal was cultivated , Chichen Itza and the Valladolid Cénotes: caves where Mayas used to bathe, and eventually, late at night I arrive at the Deseo hotel.

I love my Deseo Hotel, all of it. It looks as on the photographs: veils floating around baby blue beds, decoration as inspirational as simple, lounge, music in the room, objects hanging on the white wall, kindness, good advice, soft light, view of the stars, check-out at 1 p.m. and so many other pleasures and attentions. I want “my” Deseo. Playa Del Carmen: the touristy Mexico with gorgeous beaches and, off Cozumel, the nicest reefs in the world. Because of my accent people ask: "are you a farmer"? …given that at the recent World Meeting in Cancun in September, French visitors were staying in Playa. 

14.10.03 Tulum la baba

The cabanas in Tulum are like other dream sites in the world: white sand beach, turquoise sea, coconuts and hammocks: a place where backpackers get together and bond with nature by drinking Corona and smoking pot. The paréo are worn very low, Gothic tattoos located in the lower back or a miniature sun amid scapulas, rings around toes, Indian ornaments, Maori necklace, dreadlocks, tee-shirt with the Hinano Vahine in order to prove that you have been in Tahiti, headband in the hair... I share the Diamante K dormitory (suspended beds) with Sally, an Australian from Sydney visiting friends in Mexico City and planning a trip to Venezuela.

A tip: Bid at “Nouvelle Frontieres” : Monday in Belgium, Tuesday in France. Starting price for Cancun is $165. Spend a few days at the Deseo and a few days at the Cabanas del Diamante K in Tulum. To read below the coconuts: “The Tortilla Curtain” by T.C. Boyle: an “American Beauty" about Hispanic illegal immigrants.

It is the end of my Mexican exploration. It is 1000 facets of Mexico, from Tijuana, where “Chicanos” die while trying to reach the United States, to the seaside resorts of Cancun and Playa, passing through the poor areas of Oaxaca and the Chiapas where most tourist see no more than the postcard aspect. It is the Mexicans’ Mexico, the Mexico from high mountains to infinite beaches, the historical Mexico, the artistic, surrealistic, overwhelming, the adventurous. I discovered Mexico with its the huge cities such as Guadalajara and Mexico City.

The Mexico of Internet that is everywhere and the Mexico of The Plumed Serpent haunting minds. You could spend here an entire life without ever getting bored...

Catherine, Chetumal, October 15, 2003

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