Circus, Costume, Culture & Curry
Jake has left on an adventure with his mate Rosy around Oaxaca. A group of us have arranged to meet up with them both in Mexico City for a few days to include my birthday. It’s been months since we left the jungle and feels like even longer. We are all nervously looking forward to it.
My son’s place in the jungle cabin has been temporarily filled by one of my oldest and ugliest mates from the UK who has arrived with us for a few weeks. He lands at PV airport where we have agreed to meet him. Pablo and I haven’t seen each other for a few years now but he is a distinctive bugger and easily recognizable from across a muddy field.. We soon spot the tell tale mop of hair and straggly beard but the eyes behind the glasses are a worrying shade of orange and his skin is clammy and yellow. He hugs me weakly and makes a pathetic noise. He smells ripe even for him. Turns out he is the victim of a Travelodge sausage. His strategic pre-flight night in the cheapest motel in Manchester and free breakfast did not work out so well. An hour into his 11 hour flight all hell broke loose in his trousers. This only served to distract him from his spontaneous vomiting. Much to the delight of passengers and aircrew alike the plane was down one toilet cubicle into which he was installed for 9 straight hours. When he was finally deemed empty the aircrew helpfully offered him water and oxygen. He is not in the best of shape.
We manage to get what’s left of him into our van and head home. A shower and a few days sleep should sort him out. I’ve seen him in worse states but those are stories for another time. To help matters further our van decides that this is the time to pack up on the highway. We limp it into a side road close to Jesus (one of our many chosen mechanics). We call a taxi and decant our shopping, bags and half dead mate into it. We arrive home an hour later. Pablo is still showing signs of life. We absolutely insist he showers before collapsing. We don’t see him again for 20 hours. Good start.
Turns out the van’s new transmission is now the newly broken transmission. We have arranged for a tow to our favorite mechanic and a new new transmission to be arranged. We are resigned to be without the van for many weeks. Our only vehicle is the Razor ATV. We don’t intend to move very far from home (with the exception of Mexico City) so it’s workable.
Circo de Los Ninos is putting on their annual show again. After last year’s surprisingly excellent offering we bought tickets well in advance. The plan is to meet a bunch of mates, see the show then head to Mexico City the next morning. It’s another superb offering. Cirque du Soleil’s costume department has created unique outfits for the kids and their training is clearly top notch. Another very polished performance. Remarkable for such a tiny little Mexican town.
Circus in Mexico is a proper mixed bag. As excellent as this well supported production is there are a much larger number of less ambitious, but still highly popular, versions. Some weeks ago we decided to sneak a bottle of tequila into a local travelling animal-free circus that arrived in town. The big top tent was packed with kids who queued noisily to be served day-glo candy floss balanced on electric neon flashing sticks served by a short well built guy called Leo in a silver suit. Show time arrives and a familiar looking spectacularly muscular bloke in tight silver Lycra balances himself on sticks in such a way to show off his unfeasibly perfect buttocks to the adoring crowd. I’m reliably informed by an enthusiastic 80 year old woman next to me that this is in fact Leo the sugar vendor. We are then treated to the sight of a now very familiar looking figure on a motorbike with fire spurting out his head as he rode inside a large spherical cage. Leo removes his helmet to wild applause and then struts magnificently around the crowd with a bucket for tips. He is openly stroked and fondled by women of all ages. My 80 year old friend sticks 50 pesos in his very tight pants. We are then treated to Leo in a clown hat surrounded by his aged Mother and his very young sisters all dancing semi-erotically in outrageously revealing outfits. It’s almost impossible to watch but disturbingly almost impossible not to. The finale is a small person in a rather grubby Peppa Pig suit stumbling around the ring being chased by the under-aged pole dancers. I’m glad I brought the tequila.
We leave the care of our cat and our vanilla to a Russian spy who has been staying with us and has agreed to stay for a few more days to look after the place for us. She gives us a ride into town where our lift to the airport awaits. The two of us, Pablo and two further friends are on our way to the Federal District, also known as Mexico D.F./Mexico City (DF). Larry is an ex Hollywood movie guy from LA whose white shirt is already covered in Pablo’s lunch burrito that escaped his face for a moment. Desiree is another Calgarian girl who turned up at our place in January and is still here. She has a mate in Mexico City that we have arranged to meet up with at the Lucha Libra wrestling arena on my birthday. Flying into DF is an event in itself. DF is a rather large place. Looking out of the plane window it is a stunning span of building reaching out to all horizons. The city is 1500 km2. The metropolitan area has a population of 21.2 million. This many people moving around is a mind bending logistical issue. Getting anywhere takes time. Thankfully I am a famously patient individual and Ubers are cheap and plentiful. We grab one.
Our large, strangely featureless, 4 story AirBnB is in a central location where we arrive to meet Jake and Rosy who have been in the city for a few days checking things out (usefully mainly cocktail bars). We settle into the place and efficiently check out the most local bar. It’s a front room on the street opposite our place that’s open til very late and serves immense beers for very few pesos. Jake has brought a bottle of Mezcal from Oaxaca so we are all set. We explore the local area, table football and tequila.
The first morning arrives and we are all pretty exhausted before we start. There is no Mezcal left which accounts for the slow pace. The girls have made a plan. We have a schedule of events throughout the next three days all within an easy-ish commute. First on the list is to visit the Blue House where Frida Khalo the iconic Mexican artist and her family used to live. It’s obscenely early (nine in the morning). We plan to fill ourselves with coffee, take two Ubers and be in the front section of the large queue before the place opens at 10 am. By some miracle we succeed. Frida is one of the most popular figures in Mexican history and revered worldwide. Her distinctive image with a lady mustache and mono-brow is plastered on just about every item imaginable in every Mexican gift shop. Her art is dispersed around the house which is open plan and surrounds a peaceful garden space. Her painting style is an acquired taste but well loved. Her life was undeniably quite remarkable and portrayed quite brilliantly by Salma Hayek in the 2002 film Frida which I recommend heartily and will save me from writing any spoilers here. Look her up. My daughter is a huge fan so I managed to irritate her by sending sneaky photos of us in situ. We are all happily sucked into the scene and the history and the art. We head out into the city for lunch.
It surprises me that at no time do I get the sense of the number of people I’m sharing this city with. The architecture is low rise and so far quite colonial. I’m not a fan of the big city and certainly more of a country mouse and most recently a jungle dweller so I was relieved beyond measure that the feel of Mexico City is light and spacious rather than the expected overcrowded and hectic.
Our next event on the list was a complete wild card recommendation from a girl in Oaxaca that shared a Mezcal tour with Jake. Sensorama is an interactive immersive theatrical experience. Knowing this we were still none the wiser but turned up to an office on a side street where about a dozen others were waiting to find out what comes next. The theme of the experience, we are told, is “Things that Only The Dead Know”. We all store our things in lockers and stand expectantly and bare foot in the center of this very unremarkable office space. We are given glasses to wear that let in the faintest amount of light but make us effectively blind. It’s over an hour before I take them off again.
We are led away in single file with arms on each other shoulders to maintain balance. It is dark but there are flashes of soft colour visible. We are separated. An invisible handler gently and expertly guides me to the floor. Some one whispers in my ear that they love me and they will miss me. I am invited to remember my childhood, a soft toy is placed in my arms, sweets are placed under my tongue. Further whispers guide what is becoming a hypnotic meditation where I experience the process, sounds, smells and certainly some of the emotion of dying, being laid out, buried then moving on. At some point in the gently guided process I experience the feeling of standing next to the sea surrounded in a pastel green light with breeze in my hair and all the associated smells and feels and tastes. Time has passes in a way which can’t be measured. We are joined together again and I follow the line shuffling somewhere else. Where we have been and for how long is impossible to tell. Slowly and silently we are instructed to remove our glasses. We are once again standing in the center of the unremarkable office in a side street in Mexico City. We look at each other and share the next moments in silence. It’s not necessary to talk. It takes a perfectly timed unnecessarily extravagant dinner at a pretty special Thai restaurant before we can talk about it. We all describe a very different version of the same experience. Absolutely recommend it.
We have arranged to meet with Desiree’s mate outside the hugely hectic Mexico City Wrestling Stadium. It’s Lucha Libra time. Nothing quite prepares you for a super camp Mexican wrestling Friday night spectacular. Buying cheap, tacky and slightly brilliant masks to wear is certainly a start. We look terrifyingly ridiculous. It was slightly worrying that we find out there about six separate events with multiple wrestlers that could take many hours. Already a mob of abandoned 5 years old kids are making a teeth achingly obnoxious noise with hand pumped air klaxons right beside our heads. We have one large bottle of tragically bad tequila cocktail so end up taking the taste away with cold cans off the boys and girls whose job it is to get you drunk with cheap beer. Perfect.
After the first few fights we are now absolutely frantic dead in the wool Lucha Libra fans. A highly noticeable girl with a black bikini brings up the round numbers. From a smoke filled stage bizarrely dressed huge masked lunatics dance through the wiggly girls and launch themselves over the ropes and into the ring. The crowd goes proper wild. Huge amounts of highly coloured bloke fly around crashing into each other in progressively more inexplicable ways. It’s completely ludicrously excellent. Round 4 introduces us to a gaggle of brutal looking woman chucking each other around by the hair It’s the fight you always wanted to see in your local pub but was never going to happen. Round 5 we are getting feral. Delight abounds as a massively round black man with a bone through his hair (not kidding) leaps from the top rope over the ring and flattens some poor equally massive lump of shiny lycra. Crowd goes insane!!
Final rounds are kept for the top boys who somehow launch themselves just that bit further and make their knee strikes to the head just a touch more convincing. Lots of smoke and black bikini girl makes two rounds of the ring. She is definitely my favorite. It has been noticed that about half the fighters bear a strong resemblance to Pablo. There is certainly opportunities for a career move. He is yet to be completely convinced.
We are slightly drunk on fake violence, bad tequila and cheap beer so head off for further adventures in town. Desiree’s mate is the local so takes us to her favorite big night out spots. After a slow walk through the center of this amazing city to see buried temples we find it’s too late and temple viewing has shut down for the night. We decide to give cultural things a miss and head for a pint or two. It’s now 11 pm and my birthday is in an hour.
I have mentioned this before but Mexican express joy and love through volume. At no time has the phenomena been better demonstrated. We walk down the central town main road from North to South. The terribly irritating noise coming out of the clubs four floors above the ground was truly ridiculous. On the street below we were having trouble talking to each other. I declare myself to be too old for this bollocks and demanded in my loudest wail to get me out of here. We soon discovered that all attempts to escape are futile. In the next bar an embarrassingly bad volume 11 cover band kicks off as soon as we arrive. We start to move quicker now and lose all faith in our deaf tour guide.
We walk at pace out of the center towards darker quieter spots. A much less offensive bar invites us in. Unbeknown to us every square foot of the ceiling is lined with speakers. An unseen DJ throws himself into his set. My hair moves with the base woofer wind as we all have an ear bleedingly loud Michael Jackson mix forced into our heads. It’s impossible. We drink fast and make a hasty retreat while communicating by the medium of mime. We get an Uber back to our local. Relative peace and huge beers for few pesos. Happy Birthday me.
The plan is for us to get up at a more decent hour, be slow, get a feed and head out for some culture. No rush.
We all manage to make it to the world renown Anthropological Museum. Designed in 1964 the monumental building contains exhibition halls surrounding a courtyard with a huge pond and a vast square concrete umbrella waterfall supported by a single slender pillar. The halls are ringed by gardens containing outdoor exhibits. The museum has 23 rooms for exhibits and covers an area of almost 20 acres. When we enter the main hall I am a bit over excited and head off by myself at speed. We all do the same as we realize trying to get around what we want to see with others would soon become irritating. Alone at last. There is enough extraordinary things here to keep me entirely entertained and inspired for many hours.
We agree to meet up after 3 hours and see how we are going. I head straight away to the great Sun Stone which is one of the most famous Aaztec pieces. The 24 ton, 3.5 meter diameter calendar stone was carved around 1470. The next few hours pass quickly. The many ancient Mayan cartoon symbolic style art and sculptures completely get to me. I want to try and get this symbolic style into our place in the jungle. I have decided to work out how to create sculptures and murals when I get back. Someone will know how to create something excellent I’m sure.
We have all been invited to a house party near by. A friend of a friend has introduced us and the host has agreed to host us at an “event” at his house. Before that we head to a bar that is No.11 in the world for cocktails. Limantour is a small narrow bar with little room for the seven of us. It opens at 5 pm. We have an hour to kill. The girls all disappear to a world famous chocolate and churros establishment which is packed. Boys take the opportunity for a quick meditate on some rather comfortable benches before waiting out the final half hour in a posh gin bar.
We arrive with great anticipation as Jake has banged in about this place since we got here. I pull out my ‘bar tester’ immediately. It’s not on the menu but can you make me a Vespa please. A Vespa is 1/2 oz Vodka, 2 oz Gin, 1/4 oz Lillet Blonde. Shaken over ice until well chilled, then strained into a deep goblet and garnished with a thin slice of lemon peel. It was made famous by Ian Flemings James Bond. In the movie Casino Royale, when Vesper asks Bond if he named the drink after her “because of the bitter aftertaste”, 007 replies that he named it for her, “because once you have tasted it, you won’t drink anything else.” Our young attractive bar girl doesn’t even blink and provides what is without doubt a very fine Vespa. I order another.
We all take a serious attempt at the entire, equally impressively executed cocktail menu and are suitably refreshed. We head to the mystery party we have been invited to armed with a few beers and a bottle of Raicilla. Raicilla is a famously potent Mexican agave based liquor that is the blackest sheep in the already murky tequila and mezcal family. We find the apartment and are let in by buzzer. We take the stairs to the fourth floor where a door is open in anticipation of our arrival.
We are greeted by the unexpected and gloriously fabulous sight of a number of large hairy gay men. They are all covered in jewels, wearing hats, loin cloths and nothing else. Pablo starts to hyperventilate and opens the Raicilla for comfort while Larry holds onto his pants with both hands. Our host greets us. He is wearing the finest of hats and leather loin garment. He is a costumier and has a separate room packed with theatrical costumes, hats and jewels. We are all invited to participate in one of his infamous dressing up parties. You don’t have to be gay but it helps apparently. It takes Pablo & Larry a full 10 minutes to get into the spirit of things . Within the hour we are all undressed and redressed while having the best of times with Mexico City’s finest. Our host is a spectacularly accomplished artist. The apartment is covered in his work. I am mesmerized by a painting of Lucha Libre wrestler.
A few hours later we are reunited with our original clothing and regroup at a packed taco bar across the street contemplating a quite extraordinary day. Tacos and tequila before arriving back at our local street bar for more over size beers for very few pesos. Happy Birthday me.
Next morning we find ourselves a little stunned by the previous day but keen to fill our remaining hours before flying home that afternoon. The plan is to take advantage of the big city and find ourselves a feed that we can’t get at home. We wander the streets in a random fashion and discard the many Mexican breakfast offerings. We come across a huge Indian supermarket and restaurant. Much excitement. Ruby! Ruby Murray! Curry! It’s closed. We are invited back in an hour when the chef is due to arrive. We fill ourselves with coffee and stalk the place until he returns. We make the traditional mistake of over excitedly over ordering and create an impressively colourful, delicious and huge lunch. Our first proper Ruby for a very long time. Miss a Ruby we discover. We are stuffed. It has the effect of slowing us down further.
There is one spot In DF that I have wanted to visit for a long time. Carlos Slim was listed as the richest man on earth from 2010 to 2013. He owns the mobile telecommunication company Telmex which is by far the largest player in Mexico. The story goes that he spent 70 million $ to create a feature architectural building that houses the Soumaya Art Museum. Named after his wife, dedicated to his family and gifted to Mexico. It’s free for everyone to visit. The 151 foot six story structure is the only curved shape amongst DFs traditionally boxy high rise commercial center and to make it more distinctive it is covered in 16 000 highly polished aluminum tiles. As impressive as the building is, the contents are mind blowing. The museum has 66 thousand articles on display from 30 centuries of art. A recent value of these items has been reported as well over 700 million $.
We arrive slowly still in a post lunch reverie. It’s a slow climb up the six floors as just about everything is entirely distracting. Insanely intricate ivory tusk carvings, classic grand master canvasses and a entire floor of world famous sculptures. There are over 100 exhibits by Rodin. It takes us a few intensely entertaining hours to work our way up and down the skate board type ramp that spirals around the inside of the building. We are now satisfyingly full of culture and curry.
One over indulgent “classic DF” burger later we are at the airport and heading back to PV. It’s too late to get back to the jungle so we all bunk in at our friends’ house close by. Our few days in Mexico City are tough to describe in any meaningful way and impossible to summarize. This is why this blog is so painfully long. We decide not to bother so much and decompress. Jake makes us rounds of Old Fashioned’s. We sleep hard and long. The morning comes and we take the long relaxing bus ride back to our jungle life in our beloved San Pancho to meet up with our Russian Spy, vanilla and cat.