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Three weeks ago I had never been out of the United States. A month before that I had never once considered going to Mexico. Low and behold I just spent the last two weeks traveling across Mexico in car with four other people - all spurred by an off hand comment by Byron in a bowling alley.
The details were all a little blurry, but I didn't ask for many either. Once I got the go-ahead from work I promptly bought the same seemingly strange flight that Byron was on; flying out of Boston to Chicago, immediately flying to Dallas for the night, and then back on route to Morelia.
It turns out we would be meeting up with Anna and Peter along the way in Chicago and share the same flights for the rest of the trip. It was at the Morelia airport that we would meet up with our final traveler, Elena.
Our drive from the airport takes us through variety of social economical environments and provides us with an opportunity to get to know each other while setting the tone for the rest of the trip. A conversation with Elena stands out in my mind where she tries to prepare our minds for our time in Mexico. She urges that Mexico is safe and filled with truly good people, despite what may be shown in the news. She makes a curious remark about a concept of an "aged soul" in reference to the concept of reincarnation. I immediately relate to the concept and am able to help decipher where she is going despite her unpracticed english, and my utter lack of knowledge of the Spanish language - this is one of few time I am of any use in such translation along the trip. Elena further clarifies her belief that Mexico is country of many new souls; that the people of her country are kind, but learning and may not have the experience of many past lives. I am intrigued immediately and this thought is engrained in me for the rest of the trip, not only for what the statement means at face value, but for the insight and reflection that requires of one to bestow on their own surroundings.
We spend some time in Morelia, staying at Elena's sisters house, and explore the area from here. Our first adventure in Mexico is to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. As it turns out Peter and Anna are able to provide a little back story to this incredible place that I had somehow never heard of. As it turns out, all Monarch butterflies migrate to this one mountain to in the winter. All of them. The sight is incredible and unreal. An unimaginable number of butterflies makes their way to this mountain side to them mate, and over several generations (living 2-3 weeks each) fly by to Canada during the warmer seasons. The final generation results as a "Super Monarch" of sorts that ultimately makes the migration back down to Mexico over a several month period.
We make our way out of Morelia and begin traveling west. Our first stop, and first hostel is in Guadalajara, Mexico. It appears to be a rather large city that we explore a small but lively part of. Our group dynamic continues to grow and we begin to discover our first issues with a language barrier, initially arriving at what turned out to be the wrong hostel. It is hard for some to see in the moment, but our vulnerabilities while traveling bring us closer.
We leave Guadalajara with the ultimate goal of reaching Puerta Vallerta, but I suppose if you're in Mexico and driving by Tequila you can't pass up the opportunity to go. Much less can you pass up the opportunity to take a city/brewery tour in a truck shaped like a giant chili. A cultural theme that had been building since we entered Mexico becomes unavoidable once we arrive in Tequila. We are immediately bombarded by tour guides fighting over our business and trying to out do one another for our business. The honesty of all of them is questionable but we luckily have Elena's keen insight and business mentality to help us decipher situations like this throughout the trip.
As we arrive in Puerta Vallarta, the Americanization of this tourist town is unavoidable. As we make out way toward Winston's home (Byron's cousin) I am not sure what to expect. We are driving though what appears to be a large American city when we are suddenly directed by the navigation to pull off onto a cobblestone road in what appears to be a small town amassed by a maze of cobble stone streets.
We meet Winston's fiancé, Tiffany, first and I am immediately relieved by her hospitality and simultaneously thrown off by yet another perspective of Mexico I am granted. We spend the next few days wandering the streets, sitting on beaches, and sleeping on roofs. It is relatively tranquil and perhaps we grow to comfortable, if even for a short amount of time, before moving on.
After spending an entire day looking for where we will sleep next, we finally setting in San Fransisco. The town is quaint an mostly consists of one main street that runs about a mile from the highway road to the beach. The residence of this town fit the mold of a person you would imagine hearing about a town that only consists in one road, ending in a beach. We find ourselves surrounded by a mixture of true locals and, from what I gather in brief conversations, retirees fleeing from Texas and Southern California for the calming pace of an unplugged life.
We once again spend most of our time on the beach. I spend one day in bed due to what I can only assume to be the one thing everyone has warned me about with the water and vegetables; you can extrapolate the rest from there... But the beach is relaxing again, the surf is unimaginable huge, and the sunsets unlike anything I had ever seen before. We all seem to settle in in the last day, truly relaxing before the long drive to our final destination in Mexico: Uruapan.
After 9 plus hours of driving through winding mountain passed, spiraling desert views, and tense village check points, we arrive at the beautiful home of Elena. I can feel the trip coming to an end and I sense that everyone else does too. We are all a little tired, but endlessly seeking for adventure and discovery in everything we do. Our first checkpoint in Uruapan is to see the Cascada de la Tzararacua. It is a long walk down loosely kept stone stairs with passing checkpoints of where zip lines used to run from the top of the mountain down to the pools of water at the base of the waterfalls. It the only recent use for the lines seems to be for transportation of supplies to the bottom, there crumpling retaining walls and pathways are loosely held together with fresh cement. The falls at the bottom are hypnotizing. I could likely stay here all day, mesmerized by echoing sounds of the vast falling waters.
We return to the city to visit the oldest cotton mill in Uruapan as well as the Parque Nacional Barranca del Cupatitzio. The visit to the mill provides insight into the past of Uruapan, as it is the source of both the first electricity to the city as well as the first consistent jobs available to the residents many years ago. We hear how over the years, as tourists are driven out of Michoacan, the mill has taken tolls and combined with fewer reliable clients around the world the factory has had to shut down many of its looms and work on a much smaller scale. The empty halls hold a lost potential that you find in many abandoned buildings; as if one day all of the people disappeared suddenly, leaving behind the echoes of the work once tirelessly performed day after day.
Our day ends in a way that non of us could have predicted. As we leave the Parque Nacional Barranca del Cupatitzio and wander back towards the town square, we find our selves head on with a parade. Colorful costumes and paper mache bulls wrapped in fireworks held about the heads of men flow past us. There is a mixture of pure confusion and sometimes delight as people in the parade pass by Byron, Anna, Peter, and myself. Suddenly a member of the parade walks up to Byron with an egg in there hand an promptly smashes it over his head. Confetti exposed and puff around him and we see more coming for us. Person after person steps out of the march of the parade to crack more eggs on the heads of those lining the streets. A young boy jumps out of the parade and in very clear english assures the four of us "Don't be scared, this is our celebration, we have been working for 3 months to prepare this!" he then hands us each an egg of our own so that we can have our own hand in the festivities. We are told to meet in the town square later that evening if we wanted to see the fireworks. Naturally we can't pass this up.
When we find ourselves in the square later, there is already a large circle of people formed. In the middle we see one man dawning a paper mache bull above his head light the first firecrackers. He begins running around the circle, sparks and colors flying everywhere. Some members of the crowd run and yell while others seem to play chicken with the frantically running bull man. We all move closer and are quickly asked if we will "dance" with two members of the parade. We follow suit and join arms, forming a line of six, and begin moving as one forward towards the bull, and retreating backwards quickly as he turns towards us. This continues with greater and greater intensity and speed until of the the firecrackers have been spent, and small fires extinguished.
Elena had spoken of the kindness and hospitality of the people of Mexico since we arrived. This was one of the firs true instances that I felt this undeniably and it was truly remarkable.
As the firecrackers simmered down the four of us quickly and unexpectedly became the focus of the crowd. Children and teens asked for photos with us and the local newspaper photographer didn't miss a shot. Peter was particular popular and Byron made sure to take advantage of this. Un beso! Una más!
Our last day in Uruapan was spent touring little towns, riding on a small boat around a large lake and dinning on the freshest fish I've probably ever eaten. There was no rush, no deadline, just calm.
Our last adventure consisted of catching a bus followed by a taxi from Uruapan to Morelia. All of which went smoother than expected. By the time we landed in Dallas and sat down to eat our last meal together it hardly seemed like we had even spent the last two weeks in Mexico. Each day felt so long that even leaving Elena's home earlier that morning seemed like weeks before. It will probably be quite some time before I see Peter, Anna, or Elana again, but I can only assume it will feel like no time has passed at all when we meet again. There is something about traveling together that makesconversation seem endless, each thought and comment is merely paused until you cross paths again.