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Mexican Letter #2

16 September 2003

            I had great hopes of getting away for this long weekend, which we celebrated Independence Day.  In the States, Cinco de Mayo is touted as Mexican Independence Day, but it was really the state of Puebla that defeated the French (although no one seems to remember that a year later, the French returned, kicked ass and occupied Puebla for a couple of years.)  The original plan was to camp on the beach with a group of my fellow teachers, but my mentor, A—, who’d arranged the whole trip, informed us that it was supposed to rain nearly the entire time.  (One of the weather jokes around this region is:  if you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes.)

            I really had to make up things as I went.  I hadn’t been outside of Monterrey since I’d arrived about six weeks ago; so I consulted my Lonely Planet Guide and read the directions to get to Grutas de Garcia (Garcia’s Caverns).  My roommate, M—-, skipped gym day to go with me.  I think we were both so excited to escape the city for a spell that we hadn’t realized that we’d missed our turnoff by a longshot until we entered Coahuila, a neighboring state of Nuevo Leon.  I turned around and made the correct turn about 30 minutes later.  Then I promptly overshot the second turn we were supposed to make.  After turning around yet again, we saw all sorts of signs for the caves.

            Grutas de Garcia was a very well kept tourist attraction.  They’d even built a cable car to take tourists up to the top of the mountain where the caverns were.  If it hadn’t been so hot, the hike would have been more interesting.

            I’d visited some caverns before and this one wasn’t as spectacular, but I enjoyed trying to translate the signs of the formation attractions and understand the tour guide.  We definitely got our step aerobic work out, going up and down all of the stairs.  Part of the adventure was trying not to wash out on the slippery floor and stairs.  The caverns were still alive with trickles of water still adding a tiny coating of sediment.

            I took a much quicker way back home.  We regrouped and headed downtown around 11:30.  Downtown doesn’t really come to life until around midnight.  We went to La Hacienda, which is the one place we know that has a rooftop bar and dance floor.  La Hacienda has yummy strawberry margaritas and delicious food.  We could scarcely get our drinks when two guys approached our table.

            I always feel that M—-’s the man-magnet since she’s 5’8” and blonde, whereas I’m the sideshow hair freak (especially that night when my dreads refused to point in fewer directions than 20).  Although we were anxious to get rid of them, we talked to them a bit.  A few minutes later, one of the guys ordered each of us a bandera (flag).  Since the main colors of the Mexican flag are green, white and red, this three shot drink consisted of a shot of lime juice, a shot of sangria, and a double shot of clear tequila.  Unlike us gluttonous Americans, Mexicans find it perfectly acceptable to take a sip of all three shots in order rather than just downing them all in three gulps.  I sipped a bit from all three then added the remainder of the tequila to my margarita.

            Thank goodness, those two guys politely wished us good night soon after our food arrived.  We went on the roof to listen to music and I even got up to dance with a couple of guys who looked as if they’d just started shaving.  At least they were good dancers.

            Before we returned to the car to go home, we walked to the city theatre to see what time the experimental show started.  Apparently every weekend, Friday through Sunday, there’s a low budget production of some sort in the basement of the city theatre.  In order to get to it, one has to walk down some stairs that lines a small courtyard. 

            I’d walked down to check the sign and when I turned around to come up again, I saw that M—- was flanked by two police officers.  At first, I thought they were just working the beat and making small talk.  Yet, the older one approached me, speaking Spanish and gesturing. He asked if I’d been drinking.  I told him yes.  He then asked me to blow in his face; so I did.  He asked the same of M—-.  Still communicating in Spanish and charades, he asked us if we’d been drinking there on the theatre grounds.  We responded in very broken Spanish and charades that we’d just come from a nearby bar and came to the theatre grounds in order to check the time of the experimental show.

            I think we’d made ourselves clear, but the older cop then asked to see our ID. M—- promptly showed hers and I tried to explain that she was driving so I didn’t have mine plus there’s no ID check in Mexico to go to bars.

            M—-’d begun to panic a bit and asked the older cop what had we done wrong.  He ignored her and said to me that we’d been drinking there.  Again, I explained what we’d done.  During this whole exchange, the younger cop said nothing and was pretty amused while the older cop and I attempted to communicate with one another. 

            Finally, the older cop pointed to a wall.  We looked, but didn’t see anything.  Then he said, “baños? (bathroom)”  At that point, I’d had enough.  I’d tried several times to tell him where we’d been and why we were there, but accusing us of pissing against a wall was the last damn straw. As if two women could’ve watered that sidewalk to that degree in the brief time we had been there. I walked off in a huff, not even attempting to answer the accusation.  M—- quickly followed my lead.

            Even though she’d heard them laughing as we left, she told me that what I’d done was dangerous.  She speculated that I could have been put in jail for not having ID and then just walking off like that.  I informed her that I would start carrying ID with me at all times, but if those cops seriously had anything on us, we’d both be in jail.  Besides, at nearly three in the morning, those cops were just looking for cheap entertainment.  Fortunately, the cops around Monterrey are supposed to be the least corrupt.

            That little tidbit didn’t help C—-, who used to be the other Black teacher at our school.  If anyone would’ve seen C—- at school, one would not have guessed that he was a severe weekend alcoholic.  He was rumored to be a great teacher, always prepared weeks in advanced, and a snappy dresser.  That all apparently went to shit on the weekends.

            Last weekend, he got drunk, hit a parked car, and seriously injured the young man who was riding in the car with him.  Plus the incident occurred in a part of town known for drugs.  One sure way to get thrown in a Mexican jail, besides drunk-driving, is driving without car insurance.  Regardless of the circumstances, if you cause a car accident and don’t have insurance, you’re thrown in jail until you raise the money to pay for the damage.

            C—- had even went so far to lie about what had happened.  He told his boss that he was on his way to church when a woman caused the accident.  In the meantime, his Black ass was calling from jail and no one else knew about this woman.  His roommate had to bring him food and water since those luxuries were not provided.

            I was blown away when I learned that a month earlier, C—- had had his first drunk-driving accident, but apparently hadn’t learned his lesson then.  Of course, he’s been fired and the school’s in the process of hiring another foreign teacher to replace him.  So if you know of anyone willing to relocate to Monterrey and teach fifth grade, let me know.

            The following night, M—- and I attended our first experimental show.  Fortunately, we had a Mexican friend with us to interpret, but it was just so wonderful that for $50 (the dollar sign is used for pesos as well; so we paid $US 5), we can go to the local theatre.  Eventually, I’d like to get in with the artist crowd.  Hopefully, one among them will speak English although I’m learning quite a bit of Spanish just trying to do different things.

            Tomorrow, I’m going to take my first capoeira class.  It’s a Brazilian dance that has African roots and some martial arts flavor.  Mostly men do this dance, but I’ve always wanted to give it a try.  It’ll be interesting since I don’t think anyone at the studio speaks English.  Monterrey’s supposed to have 50% of its population who speaks English, but it’s rarely the people who I’m trying to talk to!