I’ve finally done it, I think fearfully. I’ve killed my mother.
“Ma, are you alright?” I ask her solicitously.
My mother looks up from her untouched steak dinner. Her eyes are glazed. Her face is gray and sagging. I wonder where the nearest hospital is and if it’s even safe.
Surely her American insurance would be of little use in a Mexican hospital.
Mom nods tiredly and draws a small sip of water. This is the hotel restaurant, and I feel pretty confident that it is purified. After about a half a glass of the drink, her face pinks up a little, and she begins to cut into her steak.
We had started early that day from our $14 a night hotel. It’s true that the neighborhood was sketchy and that there were hookers turning tricks in the hotel’s garage. But families of peasant vendors slept in the lobby each night, and as long as you were back at the hotel before dark, there was no real danger.
It was still a family hotel, just poor families.
I had found this place from a tip given by a cabbie, the last time I visited Mexico City.
It was the cheapest Hotel I could find that wasn’t a whorehouse.
As long as I don’t have to share a toilet with strangers in the middle of the night. I have no need for rich accommodations. The Hotel Managua was only a stopping off place for an overnight or two before traveling to my real destination: Oaxaca City, Oaxaca.
We set out early for Teotihuacan. It’s a magnificent pre-Columbian city with Pyramids and temples, only an hour out of our district.
In Mexico, history is only a dig away, in most people’s back yard.
The ride isn’t bad on the bus. After you have located your assigned seat, (always ask for the shady side), some sort of stewardess passes out a little package containing two miniature cookies.
They are as satisfying and filling as a communion wafer. I coax my mother into letting me have her cookies too.
Teotihuacan isn’t a short stroll. It’s a quarter mile or so just to walk onto the actual site, once you have arrived in the bus parking lot.
In desert heat.
If you want to do the whole thing properly and see each structure, you can put a good four miles on your Keds in one visit.
But try as I might, I could not convince her to climb one of the Pyramids.
We might have been fine if I had kept our day down to that one visit. But we got back to the hotel relatively early, and our bus to Oaxaca did not leave until midnight. It was a seven-hour ride.
Mexico City boasted the world’s largest Walmart. I wanted to find some kind of portable heating contraption so that I could make my own fucking cup of tea and be spared the drama of it all, whenever I wanted one.
I am addicted to my Twinings Earl Grey tea like it’s crack. I brew each cup with two bags, and I drink it with milk, no sugar. At the end of each day, I treat that box of tea like it’s a six-pack of beer and I am cranky as hell if it is denied to me. The coffee and tea situation is the only problem I have with Mexico, and each time I visit, I never resolve it to my satisfaction. One of the problems is that I only travel with carry-on luggage and the other is the cheap shitholes I stay in.
We spend four hours getting lost in the heat of the day, on one city bus after another. Neither of us can speak much beyond high-school Spanish.
My mother finally insists, despite my protest, on hailing a cab.
Independent drivers were kidnapping Americans every day. In Mexico City, not using a taxi-stand to call a cab is a foolhardy move.
So is catching any kind of police attention.
My mother doesn’t understand that much of the law enforcement in Mexico City consists of criminal cops, looking for an opportunity to ‘fine’ you for any number of trumped up charges. Especially Americans.
And an American woman alone, well that carries a whole new set of problems.
But my mother only knows that her own Daddy was a Sergent for her hometown force and insists on waving over a beat cop who regards me like I’m the pig at a Barbeque.
He walks closely next to me, his head tilted towards mine as he began to ‘direct ‘ us.
“I think he likes you” Ma giggled. She hates my fiance almost as much as I do.
“That’s a problem MA,” I complain in English.
I spy a restroom and apologize to the cop and grab my mother. We hide for twenty minutes until I feel sure he has lost interest.
To be safe, I change our direction and let Ma convince me to hail a cab just this once.
My Hotel may be a shithole, but it still has a decent restaurant and modest prices. A Bistec Dinner is only five bucks, so I order one for my mother and myself. We have checked out of our room and will be heading out in another five hours.
That is if Ma lives through the night.
Mother perks up for a bit. Long enough to consume her meal, though she doesn’t seem to be enjoying it.
We spend an hour on an uncomfortable couch in the lobby until one of the staff offers to call us a cab, which is the safest way to procure one.
I am putting off heading to the bus station too early because waiting around for hours in that place, will not improve Mother’s mood.
At midnight, we are finally able to embark onto the bus. At the back next to the lavatory is a table with a thermal urn of coffee, some tiny styrofoam cups, and packets of sugar and dry fake creamer.
A young assistant walks by, passing out more tiny packages of cookies. My mother hands her’s over to me wordlessly. After finishing both, I tuck my daypack under my neck and lay my sweater over me like a blanket.
This is a hair-raising ride through the mountains, and these drivers are in a big hurry to get to Oaxaca, so they aren’t fussy about speed limits
I prefer to close my eyes and miss the whole spectacle.
Not so for Ma. She sits upright throughout the night, glaring out at the steep drops beneath her widow. She keeps the Bus on the road by her sheer will all night long.
When we land at the station at the break of dawn, my mother shakes me hard.
“Jesus Christ!”She hisses. “Have you ever SEEN the trip we have to take through those mountains?”
“Once,” I yawn, covering my mouth with the inside of my elbow. “But it was too scary, so I prefer the night ride.”
Even though the sun is up, there won’t be any open business in town for a few more hours. I haven’t secured a hotel yet because I am too intimidated to make a reservation in Spanish over the telephone.
I prefer to walk from hotel to hotel, popping my head into each establishment asking “Cuanto cuesta, para dos camas?”(How much for two beds?)
I direct the cabbie to the center of town, the Zocolo, hoping some enterprising restaurant has caught on to the need Americans have for early morning coffee. But when we reach the center of the colonial city, nothing is open yet.
It isn’t the safest thing to do, leaving my mother alone on a park bench with all of our gear piled atop of her. But the old gal is just too pooped to march from hotel to hotel inquiring about prices and availability. Since I am carrying the money, I am not too concerned about my mother being robbed.
Even though I want to stay at the Hotel Pombo, I know Mom will object to the homeless that sleep in the courtyard each night.
And that all of the beds stand in buckets filled with liquid pesticide.
To me, the pesticide dip was a comfort, and the rooms were only eight bucks a night. But if you want a hot shower, you have to get the tiny boiler started by yourself, with a bag of wood shavings for fuel and matches to light it. The fuel and matches cost a few extra pesos.
I sighed as I passed by it. Instead, I choose the more Euro-popular Hotel Francia. It had huge rooms, a restaurant, and was rumored to home D.H. Lawrence at one time.
I thought after my mother’s ordeal, we could rest here for a day or two, and then I would guide us to cheaper accommodations.
I paid fifteen dollars for the night and hauled my mother back to our latest digs.
Ma flopped back on the bed.
Staring at the high ceiling, she questions me. “Tell me again, why we had to take that bus in the middle of the night?”
To save the price of a room overnight. I tell her smugly.
“How much IS this room?” She asks.
But I don’t dare confess that I have punished her this way, to save seven and a half dollars apiece.
“Whatever it costs,” my mother says observing my silence, “We won’t be doing it that way ever again.”
Mexico, winter of ’97