Waking up to the sun on the tent was like waking up inside a womb. I was warm and peaceful and everything was glowing red. I lay in my sleeping bag for a long time, not wanting to leave but finally my curiosity got the better of me. For starters, what time was it? Would the boys be back soon? Could we see them working their way down the mountain? I had to get up.
I found Sarah outside on a rock, sitting in the sun, reading and watching the slopes up above with occasional glances. I joined her, scanning the scree frequently, looking for dust clouds kicked up by people descending. A couple of the climbers from the guided groups trickled into camp, they clearly hadn’t made it if they were back so early. We estimated that if the boys weren’t back yet they had probably summited. By our calculations we could expect them any time after 10:00am, and we figured we would definitely see them before 12:00pm. We read and we napped and we watched. And then, right around 10:30am I spotted what I thought was Carl, descending quickly. I searched above him and found a figure wearing a red backpack, traversing the steep switchbacks down. It was them. They looked good and they had made great time. I called out to Sarah to let her know and we watched them grow from little specks to full sized humans as they came into camp. They were both elated, they had summited!
We spent some time hearing about the climb. After I had left them the maze became more challenging, and since they had struck out ahead of the guided group they had to find their own way, but they said they did so without difficulty. Above the maze they hopped onto the glacier, far ahead of any other group, and headed up the mountain. It sounded cold, beautiful, and pretty steep. The glacier was long and Kyle said he was extremely grateful I had left him with my gloves, which are significantly warmer than his. After a long long slog they finally decided to take a break, only to discover a couple of minutes after beginning to climb again that they had been a mere 300ft below the summit. They were on the top in no time, the first people to summit that morning. They celebrated and took some photos but didn’t hang around long because it was pretty freezing cold. They had both climbed in all their layers without shedding so much as a sweat bead. They turned around and headed back down, passing the guided groups down lower on the glacier, who were looking pretty rough.
Back in camp we turned to look up at the summit, where they had been standing just a couple of hours before, only to find it suddenly socked in with clouds. We took down our tents and packed up our bags, heading down to the hut where it was warmer to wait for our ride. Señor arrived in the yellow wagoneer and Kyle jumped for joy. Our ride down was entertaining, Señor did a lot of flirting but we also managed to learn a lot about the area. He told us about how they burn the grass and stopped to show us how the space around the fence line has been cleared of debris to stop the burns from getting out of control. He told us that Mexico had a vote to choose a flower for their country, but someone suggested that instead of choosing a flower they choose plastic, because littering is so out of control. He then pointed out every piece of plastic that he saw for a couple of minutes. It was a lot of plastic. He claims that they decided to make plastic the national flower.
After a long, dusty, bumpy ride we were back in Tlachichuca. We showered, napped, wrote some emails from the corner internet cafe, ate some Mexican cookies, filmed a pack of dogs running around, and finally had another yummy homemade dinner. The next morning we boarded a bus for Puebla where we caught our next bus to Mexico City. We checked into Dos Fridas y Diego, a funky hostel in the heart of Mexico city, relaxed for a while, and eventually went out to find dinner. The hostel was lovely, filled with art and color, and had an adorable back patio. However, the proprietress was clearly used to dealing with very uptight unadventurous tourists. She tried to send us to the mall, after which I basically tuned out everything she said. I did not travel to Mexico to go to a mall. We headed out from the hostel to go for a short walk and then to find some food. I had a hankering for pozole, so when we found a place serving it we headed inside. Dinner was delicious.
The next day we were moved from our communal room into a private room, which had an incredible huge mural of Frida Kahlo on the wall. The hostel fed us breakfast and then we walked to the Anthropology Museum. I had been there before and it was lovely to be back, they had an amazing new exhibit featuring Huichol art. Afterwards we went for a wander through the Bosque de Chapultepec, a large park that is across the street. I was realizing there was so much to do and so little time to do it. We didn’t make it to Frida Kahlo’s house or the Zócalo. Instead we made it back to our neighborhood where we found the most amazing tacos we had eaten thus far. The restaurant was a classic taqueria, with plates so old they were cracked like the desert floor and meat delivered in huge plastic bags in the heat of the day. We made friends with our young server and assured him we would be back for dinner.
We did just that, returning a few hours later to eat MORE tacos before heading to a Mexican wrestling match. Our server was happy to see us, he actually sat down with us for a full hour to practice his english, and we discussed Glee and his favorite american actors. It was sad to say goodbye to him, but we had a fight to watch. When we got to the big arena, where the wrestling matches are held, we discovered it wasn’t just a fight. There was a whole night of fights, five or six to be exact. The night started out with the least popular fights first, and then moved on to the more popular luchadores. It was the physical manifestation of experiencing people speaking another language that you don’t understand. Everyone knew what to do, they were a seamless part of the show, booing and cheering in a pattern that was unfathomable to us. We just watched in amazement, oogling at the theatrical nature of the event, laughing and staring around in disbelief. Hours later we emerged, clutching our souvenirs and babbling about how much fun the show was.
The next morning we were up early, heading back to our own country. I was sad to leave. My sadness was two fold. For starters, it had been so long since I had visited another country and I had forgotten how amazing it is to travel. To be able to see how different and yet how similar things are on the other side of an imaginary line, that is a blessing. I was hungry for more, for that feeling of not knowing what is happening but wanting to find out. But it is also something specific about Mexico. I lived in Mexico for a short period of time but it has become a really special part of my life. When I was living in Oaxaca I immersed myself in many parts of the city, in the food, in my host family, in the streets and the art and the smells. Being back brought up so many extremely nostalgic emotions. The warm air and the mingling smell of sewage and people scrubbing their sidewalks, the man yelling “Tamales!” at three o’clock in the morning, the exact jalapeno chips I used to binge on, the danger of being run over by a car if you step off a curb a moment too soon. A lot of different emotions, especially in this strange time, of confusion and hope and pain for those suffering and the shameful privilege to return to my own country and my comfortable way of life. The paradox of being a tourist. It was good to come and it was hard to leave.
What had been a trip to climb a mountain ultimately meant so much more. Of course, you can take the girl out of Mexico but you can’t take Mexico out of the girl. And I mean that literally, for all of us, because until very recently Mexico was still living inside us and messing with our intestinal tracts… So there is that.