This might come as a shock to you, but before this climbing trip to Pico de Orizaba Kyle and I had never traveled abroad together. Crazy, huh? Our trip to Mexico would be our first time in another country together. However, Mexico wasn’t new to either of us. I studied abroad in Oaxaca in college and Kyle spent a couple of months in Mexico while he was in school. We were both excited to go back.
We were not excited to find ourselves on the floor of the LAX airport at one o’clock in the morning. We had left Seattle a couple of hours earlier and had a five hour lay over in the middle of the night at LAX. We had prepared by packing our z-rests onto the airplane. We found a semi private spot between a row of seats and a mysterious covered hulking shape in some random terminal. After a restless couple of hours we woke in order to venture out into the LAX airport, in search of our next flight. What we found was the undeniable fact that LAX is perhaps one of the worst airports of all time. Have you been there? There is no signage, no order, to people to help you, no logic, just chaos and disorder. We wandered aimlessly, unsure of where we were even trying to get to. Finally we stumbled across a bus that would take us to terminal six, where AreoMexico was located, a fact we discovered by googling help groups for the LAX airport. When your only method of answering questions is looking through feeds and forums for answers on the internet, you know you have a problem.
We didn’t have to stay at the LAX airport forever, thank goodness, although we did joke that maybe we would just spend the next week trapped traveling from one terminal to the next. We spent another four hours in the air, watching movie after movie and finally landed in Mexico. Smoggy, warm, ramshackle, wonderful Mexico. It was now time to start speaking Spanish. Luckily I had been able to warm up on the plane. Kyle and I hadn’t been seated together and instead I had the honor of meeting Ingrid from Guatemala and looking through every single one of her family photos from her recent trip to the US. Not only did I know the intricacies of her family tree by the end of the flight but I also knew all about her secret lover in the United States and the leg amputation that saved her mothers life.
Kyle and I burst from the Mexican airport, clutching our safe taxi receipt, and commenting on how much less luggage we would have to carry if we were just going to the beach. Upon being ushered into a taxi I quickly remembered that the most dangerous thing we were going to do the entire trip was let other people drive us around the streets of Mexico City. Our taxi driver weaved and dodged through the fast moving traffic, often slamming on the breaks and checking his phone for texts. I couldn’t help but grin as the perfectly warm breeze blew my hair out of my face.
Our hotel that first night was perfectly fine, as long as I shooed away thoughts of how crushed we would be if there was an earthquake. Kyle and I solicited a taqueria recommendation from Martín, the bellhop, and went out to stuff our faces with tortas, and tacos al pastor, and gringas. When we were so full we could only waddle we waddled back to the hotel for a nap until Sarah and Carl woke us up, shuffling through the door of our room and scraping the walls with their giant duffle bags. We all cheered about making it to Mexico and then went straight back to our taqueria and ate more tacos. We went to bed early that night, after watching Hércules (basically a Spanish version of Gladiator) and laughing at the terrible cinematography.
The next day our travel continued. We woke up early, ate breakfast, hopped into a hotel-called-taxi and headed to TAPO, the main bus terminal in Mexico City. Heads up, I might occasionally refer to Mexico City as DF, which stands for the Federal District, and is how Mexican’s commonly refer to their capitol. At TAPO we secured tickets on a Estrella Roja bus and in the comfort of very plush seats headed to Puebla. The Puebla bus station was a little confusing for us, compounded by the fact that I had to pee something bad. Eventually we located the Valles bus line ticket counter and gulped down some very sub par tortas before boarding our significantly less fancy bus to Tlachichuca.
Tlachichuca is one of two towns near the mountain where it is popular to stay before heading up to the Piedra Grande hut on the mountain. We had elected to stay at Summit Orizaba, one of the many hostels available, after it had been recommended to us by our climbing instructors, Dana and Katie. We arrived there around three on Sunday afternoon after a short walk from the bus station. Tlachichuca is a small town, but it is clean and colorful, festive stars strung between buildings, and town dogs roaming the streets chewing on flip flops and corn husks. We all liked it immediately. Our hostel was even more wonderful. We rang the bell and were greeted by Marivel, the proprietress, and welcomed into a cool courtyard, bathed in shadows. She pointed to our room and waved toward the three bathrooms which opened onto the patio outside her house. Dinners and breakfasts would be served inside and from the rooftop we would have a fabulous view of the mountain. We dropped our stuff in our room and sprinted up the next flight of stairs to see what we could see, stopping to breath heavily at the top (we were already at around 9,000ft).
There was Pico, towering over the town at a distance. Only the very top was covered in snow where the glacier was and it is an extremely conical mountain, like a sharp cone. It looks exactly the way you imagine a forbidding volcano to look. And it was still huge, despite the fact that we were already at 9,000ft. To the left of the mountain we could see the saddle where the Piedra Grande hut rested and to the right was the Sierra Negra, a smaller mountain that people often hiked to acclimatize. We all stood on the roof, gazing. I don’t know what othera were thinking. I was feeling excited, a little nervous, antsy to get up there and see what things were like. I was also feeling calm and so pleased with how wonderful the trip had been so far. Marivel called us down for dinner.
It is amazing how nostalgic food can be. We were fed a paper thin piece of tough steak, tortillas, beans, and half a canned peach. I thought it was one of the most delicious dinners ever. Afterwards we played Catan (we had packed and brought both Settlers of Catan and Boggle), laughed at Kyle’s persistent and hilarious attempts to include as much Spanish into his speech as was possible, and used every single blanket available to us to make the extremely uncomfortable mattresses more bearable.
Regardless of the coiled springs sticking into my back through our z-rests and five sets of blankets I went to bed very content, my heart pounding a little harder than usual in my chest. We were in Mexico with good friends, we had laughed all day, and now we were getting into the real adventure of the trip. The real unknown. Altitude and the Mexican countryside lay ahead.