read previous: Crossing the Border
July 4 and 5, 1968
Back in the United States, it was Independence Day; in Mexico, it was just another day. This would be the first among many times when traveling beyond our own borders would vividly remind us of the fact that the United States is not the center of the universe around which the rest of the world revolves.
In preparing to leave Ciudad Valles, we found that our morning routine had to accommodate a new experience. Hotel personnel brought to our room a small pitcher of very cold water from the restaurant. We were told that the water in the pitcher was pure but the water from the tap was foul. We learned that we had to brush our teeth and wash as well as possible with the icy water from the small pitcher.
After the brisk wash-up, we enjoyed a great hot breakfast, with delicious coffee, which is always a good sign! Charles had hotcakes and ham, and I had minute steaks and fried potatoes. On the side, we also had what I now realize were probably refried beans, but not knowing what they were at the time, we just let them be.
After our past disappointments in trying to find lunch or snacks along the way, we decided to purchase lunch from the hotel restaurant to take with us. While it wasn’t the barbeque we would have been having at home, the price was right. For 12.50 pesos (US$1.00), we bought a cheese sandwich, boiled egg, small roll, potato chips, bottles of water, and some candy.
Charles had driven most of the day before, so today was my turn. The drive was like a ride on the flying turns at an amusement park. The curves were tight like bed springs and we would have to lean on our sides as we rounded them. The mountains sometimes looked like stumps and clumps of shrubbery, with patches of gardens and rock up and down the mountainside. When we got high enough, we realized that what we thought were shrubs were actually tall trees growing very close together. Some of the trees were growing out of solid pale-colored rocks and slabs of stone. With the shadows, sometimes the pale stones seemed as if they were bleeding a black liquid.
Curving around the mountains, we met oversized buses and trucks, as well as women, men, and children standing in the road selling odds and ends. Highway signs were few and far between, so we never knew what to expect when rounding a curve. There were small dwellings up the sides of the mountains and skinny animals everywhere. Frequently, we saw women washing clothes or bathing children in the clear streams flowing down the sides of the mountains.
Charles and I talked about how even when people were not wearing shoes, the clothes they wore were clean and presentable. What we saw caused us to reflect on how, regardless of the level of one’s means, people can choose how they express their dignity with whatever resources they have.
The higher we drove up into the mountains, the cooler the air was. We turned off the air conditioner and stuck our arms and hands out the windows to touch damp cool puffs of clouds.
When we arrived in Mexico City, we found a place to wash our clothes and had an excellent meal at the Chalet Suizo, a Swiss restaurant. I don’t know what we ate, but the meal was so good that we spoke of this restaurant for years to come.
After dinner we took a walk before retiring to our luxurious Hotel El Presidente. Full stomachs and excitement about being in Mexico City kept us awake. We had not been drinking much water throughout the trip, so we were thrilled when we saw a sign on the faucets in our beautiful bathroom that read “aqua purificado.” Surely this meant pure water. We drank a lot of water that night.
During breakfast at the hotel, we noticed that the water we were served was in a bottle labeled “Mineral Water.” We wondered why they would serve bottled water when there was pure water from the tap. After inquiring about this, we learned that “agua purificado” did not mean we should drink the water! We were informed that if we had wanted drinking water, we should have called room service. Wide-eyed, gagging mentally, and anticipating stomach cramps or worse, we began to laugh—if we had been thinking, we would have realized that if there were no glasses in our room, we were not expected to drink the water. I don’t recall now what makeshift way we were able to drink the water; we probably had empty bottles from our lunch. Leave it to us to tempt fate.
After breakfast we started walking to find the market. We walked for hours through construction work, along side streets, and through rain, but never did find the market. We did, however, visit the Palace of Fine Arts and the Zocalo, and even went into the Cathedral and National Palace near the Zocalo. Since it was raining, we took the bus along Juarez and the Reforma to go to Chalpultepec Gardens. Because the rain was incessant and the air was so cold, we decided to return to the hotel rather than take the tour. Yes, it was cold in July!
We showered at the hotel and dressed for dinner at the “Focalare Restaurant of Italian Cuisine.” Everything was DELICIOUS! By the time we finished dinner, it was almost 9:30 p.m. Since the rain had stopped, we took a bus back to the Zocalo, which was lit up the way we imagined Times Square would be at night. People were all around, and it was exciting just to be there. From there, we went to a famous restaurant on Genova Street to see the Can-Can and have drinks. Great day and evening!
Next, let’s tour Mexico City!