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15 Jul 2008
Poverty Part III

Here's the problem we all deal with: scarcity. We can't simply conjure our basic needs out of nothing. So, the core economic questions deal with what is made, how it shall be made, and who receives the production thereof.

Once mankind produced food surpluses on a consistent basis, civilization and urbanization followed. From that, specialization. This we all know. From that specialization came the creation of wealth, the addition of new things to make lives better and to solve existing problems, but at the same time, inequalities in wealth, social status, and gender status also emerged.

I absolutely agree that incentives are the best means to encourage people to innovate, create, and make the world a better place in whatever way we can. I agree that money eases the transactions necessary to both reward producers with return on their work and customers with goods and services they desire and need. State intervention in markets is necessary to enforce contracts and to punish fraudulency. Beyond that, regardless of the economic system, state intervention acts as a hindrance on those out of power and a boon to those in power. The Great Leap Forward, for example, starved tens of millions of Chinese (bad for those out of power) but served as a suitable backdrop for a purge of the Chinese Communist Party going on at the same time (good for those in power). In the United States and similar nations, "iron triangles" exist between legislators, lobbies/contractors, and bureaucracies: these serve to increase the power and wealth of those involved at the expense of taxpayers and interested parties without access to wealth of their own to match that of the participants in the iron triangle arrangements.

While command economies are flawed because they typically lack sufficient distribution networks and the inability of planning committees to think of all the details needed to resolve an economic problem, all economies are hamstrung by the actions of those willing to abuse the system by making end-runs around it. That's where the poverties of the world are created and reinforced.

Most religions addressed the poverty issue and came down in favor of having the rich help the poor in some way. This is almost universal. There are many rich men and women throughout history and even in this day that take their riches and do what they can to alleviate suffering in the world. Heck, Angelina Jolie bought a cow for every family in Cambodia. Whether motivated by religion or altruism, people are capable of doing good.

People are also capable of evil, and evil is most often carried out coldly and bureaucratically, not by some Disney villain. For those who choose to do so, it is all too easy to pick and choose moral principles and to wrap one's self in the flag or an ideology to cloud what is actually going on.

The glory of Greece and Rome was built on a foundation of slaves. China's might came about from its forced labor schemes. The Aztecs rose to power from subjugating nearby states and forcing them to pay tribute. These are definitely parasitical examples of elites.

Capitalism provided vehicles for parasites, as well. With the parasites, came impoverishment. The British East India Company was practicing capitalism when it sold opium to China. American clipper ship owners practiced capitalism when they took on British opium cargoes and sold them in China to evade the Chinese ban on British ships in their ports. When the Chinese moved to completely shut down the opium trade, the British East India Company used its own private security forces (troops raised and trained in India) to fight a war with the Chinese government and force it to allow the opium trade to continue. That would be an extreme form of interest group lobbying, but that's pretty much how it went over in England, where the men running the whole venture made a great fortune, indeed. The loot from China and India helped finance industrialization in England, and a great deal of progress was to be had there at the expense of the rest of the British Empire.

For a more modern example, I refer to the way in which Chevron secured drilling rights to Cabinda. In 1975, Portugal freed its colonies. Cabinda was one of those colonies, and its people were rather excited about the prospect of becoming "the Kuwait of Africa." Chevron negotiated with them over drilling arrangements, but did not offer terms acceptable to the Cabindese. Chevron then approached the Communist MPLA with the same deal, conditional upon the MPLA's invasion and conquest of Cabinda. The MPLA agreed, conquered Cabinda, and continues to hold the region in spite of a continued guerrilla resistance among various Cabindese liberation groups. Today, Angola is one of the top 20 petroleum exporters to the USA, but I do not believe the profits from the sale of oil are generally enriching the populations of Angola.

It's not all a bleak landscape of brutal capitalists beating down the world with fascist bully-boys from the government at their beck and call. But they're out there, and they're the primary agents in creating unfair non-market conditions for an elite few able to exploit governmental arrangements to their benefit. Praising my toasters and scented soaps does not dispel my responsibility to do what is right in my own life, nor my responsibility to my fellow humans to insist that we must try to treat each other fairly and to oppose, however we can, that which is wrong in the world. Acting as a cheerleader for an economic system serves no good purpose. Like a journalist, I feel a teacher's role is to question those in power and to demand of ourselves a better way of doing things, whatever that may be.

by Dean Webb

14 Jul 2008
More on poverty...

The unregulated free market is much better than the regulated one. The trouble is that the regulations frequently creep in, and they are structured to benefit those with power. From a world history perspective, we can look at early Jewish, Christian, and Muslim prohibitions against lending money with interest. In the Confucian world, merchants were on the lowest rung of the ladder and seen as parasites, no matter what their beliefs on the afterlife involved. Even in the classical and preclassical times, bankers were identified as being ultimately predatory upon the poor. Although they could provide short-run benefits, the long-run interest payments resulted in the flow of funds from the exploited to the exploiter. However, each religion permitted lending at interest to those not of their faith – they tended to also permit other forms of mistreatment to those not of their faith.

In the Muslim world, banks became institutions that would purchase capital and then make it available on rent-to-own schemes. The failure of industrialization in places like Egypt had more to do with British regulation than with problems in the Islamic banking system, which found a way to make an end-run around the proscription on lending with interest.

Jews became a unique case. After the spread of Islam and the initiation of persecutions against Jews in Christian countries, they lost their majority status nearly everywhere and were thus free to engage in lending with interest for the most part. As the postclassical economy developed in Europe, Jewish bankers became an important part of that development.

Christian banking followed later. While still defined as sinful, Christians could make sizable donations to the Church to obtain forgiveness for lending with interest. Make too much money? Pay for the construction of a chapel or fund an orphanage and you’re back on the path to heaven. This development of culture is interesting because of the way it connects wealth with heavenly favor in early modern European thought. This became even more pronounced as Calvinist religions spread in Europe. Calvin himself declared that lending money at interest was not a sin and the doctrine of predestination led many to conclude that ill fortune in life was due to divine providence, not social prejudice or exploitative economic practices.

From this, Europeans developed the notions of people not as individuals, but as property. Non-Christians could be bought and sold as chattel slaves. Christians could become indentured servants, which were de facto slaves, given that most contracts were to work for seven years on a plantation where most workers died after 3-5 years. They would be worked side by side with the slaves. This, incidentally, is where laws and sermons against racial miscegenation arose: to keep the subjugated populations separated from each other and keep the risk of slave uprisings low.

At the start of the age of industrialization, Europeans ended the practice of chattel slavery. Europeans began using even cheaper Chinese and Indian coolie labor. In the 1840’s, plantation owners in the Southern USA realized slavery would never be practical in California because Mexican wage labor would be even cheaper than slavery. As mentioned above, European dominance of non-European economies meant they would discourage the development of industry in those regions in order to make those regions consumers of goods produced in Europe. The rewards of industrialization flowed to the nations that were both first to industrialize and able to keep other regions in economic and political subjugation.

All during this time, the notion that poverty was a result of laziness and not a matter of public concern beyond encouraging better industriousness among its members developed further in North America and Europe. Socialism arose as a response to this notion: in nations where Socialism took root, their modern-day Gini coefficients show that the disparity between rich and poor in those lands remains much less pronounced than in regions where Socialism did not become a dominant philosophy.

Meanwhile, as the European empires came apart in the modern era, the legacy of colonialism – lack of industrialization, artificial states, and notions of European cultural supremacy – remained to hobble the development of former colonies. Latin America, while not politically controlled by Europe during the previous era, was still under European economic dominance and in the modern era still remained beholden to European sources of capital. Much of East Asia went Communist, and cut itself off from European capital, which left most of the population there “equally poor.” Japan escaped poverty because of the way its government moved to industrialize the nation independent of European capital.

Today, poverty remains even though there’s enough stuff in the world right now to help everyone here have access to enough food, clean water, and shelter so as to avoid the horrors of grinding, bare subsistence poverty. Yes, nations are industrializing and boosting their per capita GDP: but look at the Gini coefficients and one sees that the per capita GDP is truly concentrated in the top echelons of the population.

I’ll close with a photograph I took in Shanghai in November 2006. I think it sums up my argument.

by Dean Webb

13 Jul 2008
On Poverty...

Someone recently posed the question to me, "why is there poverty?"

When I cover this question in my classes, I use my favorite quote: “Behind every great fortune, there is a crime.” – Honore de Balzac

I would submit that the only reason there is poverty is because there are individuals willing to create and perpetuate it for their own gain. Consider the terrible things done for economic benefits: chattel slavery, indentured servitude, the opium trade, debt slavery, wage slavery, and the biggest one of all – government contracting. All a person need do to make a fortune is to befriend someone in power, get a contract with his government, and enjoy the benefits of overcharging and having auditors dismiss those overcharges with a wink and a nod. The government need only raise taxes on the people who pay them in order to have enough cash to honor those contracts.

In all those cases, the money (or other resources) flow from the exploited to the exploiter. The exploited become poverty-stricken – or move incrementally towards that level – and the exploiters carry on with what Arthur Machen described as the purest of evils: “Then the essence of sin really is… in the taking of heaven by storm.” They do not break a single law, for they have written them all. They create heavens on earth where they are like unto gods in their power and authority. Those who support them are rewarded. Those who oppose them are punished, often with death, by those who support them. The exploiters are best off when the populations underneath them are docile. They will constantly point to some paltry benefit they have provided the lower classes in order to justify their great fortunes which then occludes the crime by which their fortunes were attained.

While I’m not a Marxist, I understand the urges behind it… the hope that, somehow, by killing off the rich, things will somehow get better. H.L. Mencken said it best: “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” But then the cycle repeats itself as those closest to where the bodies lie take their treasures, get a taste of wealth, and do the things to get more of it.

I then put it to my students the proposition that great wealth is a curse, and not something a man should want. Those who seek happiness and spiritual peace do not find it where wealth is. If no-one sought wealth, there would be no poverty. The problem is that there’s always that one troublemaker in every group…

by Dean Webb

09 Jul 2008
Update After Landing...

I had a dream last night that there wasn't enough room in the museums for all the art in Mexico, so it was hung to display all over the city. Every block, a police officer would collect a peso or two as an art toll, so I decided I might as well look up and see the amazing works. I could look ahead on different blocks as I walked, to determine which way I should go based not upon the direction I needed to travel, but upon the art I was going to see.

I could totally see that happening in reality, by the way.

by Dean Webb

07 Jul 2008
Day Fourteen in Mexico

This one's tough to write, since it means I'll be heading home soon. I'd love to be with my wife and daughters, but I honestly wish it was them coming here for a few more days. There are many things about Mexico that I'll miss, and not just the uncensored Looney Tunes they show in the mornings.

But, oh well... better I leave Mexico, wanting more, than to take a chance on overstaying my welcome.

We started our last Sunday on Saturday night. I asked Calvin where he'd like to go to again, if we had one more day in Mexico to go there. His first choice was Teotihuacan, but I couldn't deliver that. His second choice was Chapultepec, so we agreed to go there. I had the subway tickets already bought - I'd planned to use them on a day we were sick, but since we were all better on Sunday, that's when we used them.

Sunday morning was another day all the roads around our hotel were shut down.

Except for bicycles, of course. There weren't any big parades scheduled for today, so it was safe to hike on down to the ol' subway station...

... and get on to a rather uncrowded subway. Well, uncrowded by Mexico City standards, at any rate. Getting on around 10AM on a Sunday morning seems to be the best time.

We got out at Bosque de Chapultepec and stepped out into a gorgeous day.

I saw a clown unloading his problems to a good friend... or maybe just a concerned stranger... but it just goes to show that even clowns on their day off prefer Chapultepec as a place to unwind, unload, and relax.

Our first stop was the National Museum of Modern Art. It was AMAZING in there. Even though half the museum was down for exhibition installations, we got the permanent collection, along with a display of Remedios Varo's works. I took a zillion pictures that I'll get to when I'm writing about Mexican art. I'll post a few samples here, though, as a bit of advertisement for that museum:

This painting is not based on some surrealist's dream. It's based on an actual photograph. Yeah. That's Mexico, baby!

This one is a great example of Diego Rivera's iridescent capabilities. I love how he can make parts of his paintings positively glow with some sort of inner fire.

Abstract works aren't necessarily without meaning or interpretability. This one is called "Unknown Port". I'll leave its interpretation to you, the reader, for a while.

This is "My Hands Are My Heart." Again, I confront you with the image, without commentary.

This last one is one of Varo's. I love the way she combines surrealism with late Renaissance styles to create fantastic vistas and portraits. The covers of the US releases of Harry Potter books are very much in her style, and I would say that any fan of the fantastic would be engrossed in Varo's amazing canvases.

We left the museum and crossed the street to head to the Rufino Tamayo Museum. But first, we had to have a bite to eat.

Those cups were FRESH. She had just gotten there, and we were her first sales of the day. Oh man, that mango was gooooooood! I followed up with one of these babies:

No, that's not a gigantic corn chip. It's a chicharrone. A sort of fried pig skin. Really tasty, almost like bacon. Well, I had the most fun with my mango:

... while Calvin swore he could hear the sea in his chicharrone:

The Tamayo does not permit photography inside. So, I didn't take any pictures of the avant-garde exhibits within its walls. They were pretty interesting, especially the interactive parts of the installations, but you'll have to go there to see them for yourself.

Once we wrapped up at the Tamayo, we stepped out and heard the sounds of drums... always the drums, just outside... and I remembered the Voladores... Calvin agreed to go see them, and we arrived there just as they had begun their ceremony of ascent and flight down to earth. Calvin filmed it all, and I have to say it was as breathtaking to experience as Teotihuacan.

I have no other words to describe the grace and beauty of seeing something like that.

After the Voladores, we were satisfied we'd seen what we'd come to Chapultepec to see. Even so, there were some more sights on the way out...

And though we thought the day was done with surprises, another surprise jumped up into our subway car on the way back.

These guys could jam out! I donated 10 pesos to their cause and bought their CD for another 10 pesos. I had never liked the New-Agey Andean music, but these guys weren't New Age at all. They were vital, warm, and full of positive energy. They were, by far, the best advertising I'd heard in the Mexico City Metro. If you see them, buy their CD and encourage more of their great playing. It's either them, or sweaty guys shouting out the virtues of their trinkets.

And though we thought that NOW our day was done with surprises, I looked out my window and... and... THE POLLUTION WAS GONE!

We could see all the way to the mountains, and the rainstorms that were starting to come in. One more breathtaking view of Mexico City. It was as if the city knew we were leaving and it wanted to say good-bye to us in a special way.

For supper, we had to go back to the Taco Inn by the museum. There was one in the food court next to our hotel, but this one had the full menu and great desserts. Once again, our order looked like the inside of a ZZ Top album:

And we were very happy, indeed.

That night, I wound things up with some long exposures from my window and a brief stroll along well-lit streets for Mexico City's nocturnal beauty:

I'll miss Mexico City. I'd love to come back again, one day. Hasta la vista, Mexico. Hasta la vista.

by Dean Webb

05 Jul 2008
Day Thirteen in Mexico

Calvin still wasn't feeling up to romping all over town, so I went out solo today to secure a few things to munch on and a bit of entertainment. I was tired of watching Nickelodeon in Spanish, especially Zoey 101. I now hate that show in two languages.

Right, so off I went... getting snacks was easy. So I added to the degree of difficulty by getting Mexican-only snacks.

OK, so the Sprite doesn't count. I got that to help soothe any upset stomachs in our future. But the Pepsi Retro is only available in Mexico. Its flavor is quite unlike that of a US soft drink. It's almost like an herbal tea with fizz: a sipping cola, not a drinking one. Next to the Pepsi Retro are some Carlos V Xcuizi. Imagine a tube of toothpaste with chocolate in it. That's the Xcuizi. It's a frustrating candy, because one can't get all the chocolate in it. There will always be some left that you just can't get to. BAH! Still, it's pretty cool to mess with just once.

Next came that bakery stop...

The reason Mexicans have such outstanding bakeries comes from the legacy of the French occupation in the 1860's. Fresh bread, every day. That's a great way to live, I tell you. I picked up some items for breakfast and I'll go back later on to get stuff for tomorrow so we can sleep in if we want to. And those donuts there are amazing. I must confess that I favor the conchas...

And as I loaded up on baked goods, I remembered we needed some more toothpaste. So I dropped off my purchases at the hotel and headed 'round the corner to hunt some down. I didn't hunt long: the local farmacia was well stocked:

Yay them. What else?


Entertainment! That's right! I still hadn't found any lucha libre movies at any legitimate outlets, so it was time to hit the pirates. I stopped by a number of booths, but didn't find any properly provisioned until I hit a guy that had Mexican movies on display: no US movies or TV series... I asked, and he delivered: nine lucha libre movies starring the great Santo el Enmascarado de Plata and one with Profesor Zovek. SCORE! And these movies are so bad, they're excellent. I strongly recommend them to bad movie lovers everywhere. They're fun for the whole family and just before you start thinking too much about a plot twist, a fight breaks out, so it's all good. China is to kung fu as Mexico is to lucha libre. Keep that in mind as you watch the big fight at the climax where the hero does a flying scissors hold to take down the bad guy.

So I got those... I also needed some REAL Mexican sweets. My guide recommended Dulceria de Celaya, on Cinco de Mayo street. I headed out that way and, yep, there it was:

Been there since 1874, so I don't think it's moving any time soon. I scored some candy there, and it's mighty fine stuff.

On the way back, I continued in my quest to find French comics somewhere in Mexico. I'd read that they were very popular here, but I couldn't find even an Asterix or a Tintin. I went into my last Mexican bookstore today and while I found one more Santos movie, no sign of any comics, even though the staff there knew exactly what I was talking about. Looks like I'll have to get them in France... or Canada...

And then I went back.

Well, I did see some interesting stuff along the way, but there's no way I can really explain it all, and not all of it needs an explanation. So here goes a roll of pics...

That's the front of my hotel.

I must commend the Mexicans on their corners. I really love staring at them.

This was a tunnel that had a photo-essay on pulque, one of the spirits derived from the maguey cactus, the other being tequila.

This is one of those I can't explain. So I won't.

One thing that fascinates me in Mexico City is how it's so obvious that the city is sinking. I am constantly enchanted by these sorts of sights.

This was some game show, I think. It resembled an auto-da-fe without the more egregious tortures.

So, yeah... Mexico City... I can say that I've loved my stay here. I miss my home, to be sure, but I'm glad I got a chance to come here and see the sights and people.

by Dean Webb

04 Jul 2008
Days Eleven and Twelve in Mexico

This two-day update won't be a mammoth one, simply because today can be summed up with one word: disease. More on that, later, with some cool historical info.

Before that, though, how about a recap of the fun on Day Eleven?

Having done LOTS of history and art and stuff for the last ten days, we decided to hit only two museums: the houses of Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky. This involved riding the subway all the way to Coyoacan - now a neighborhood in the megalopolis of Mexico City, but once a town on the south shore of Lake Texcoco - and hiking on out to the houses. It would be a lot of walking, but we were sure we could cover the whole trip in under 5 hours. Turns out, we did it all in 3.5. We rock the walk!

To be sure, we didn't want to leave too early. To make sure we wouldn't leave too early, I had Calvin play on the computer a while:

That killed plenty of time. Good job, Calvin! Around ten, we sauntered on down to the subway station for our big ride:

The subway feels a lot slower than it is. Rolling under the traffic, we got from our station to Coyoacan in 15 minutes. Beats walking or idling in traffic.

Now, there's a park on our guide book map right by the subway station we got out at. The park, however, is no Chapultepec:

There was a moat of stagnant water on the other side of the fence and trash all along the exterior. Inside, we saw a lot of unmowed grass and then jogging trails. It looked better-kept on the inside, but there was a forbidding wilderness at its periphery.

Coyoacan itself has some brightly-colored buildings and some beautiful flowers.

But all the buildings are high-security affairs, with locked garages and security attendants just on the other side of the doors. It's a quiet neighborhood, too, with a minimum of street vendors. See for yourself:

Some places had electric wires running along their walls... Still, lots of pretty places there...

Seems like a pleasant enough place to hang out. And it was, indeed, for one Frida Kahlo, famous Mexican artist. Our guide said she lived in a blue house. Well, you can't miss this blue house:

Right there at the corner of Allende and Londres, where it should be. None more blue, I dare say.

This is where Frida Kahlo was born and grew up and where she spent the last 14 years of her life, from 1941-1954. The gap in the middle was when she lived in a house next to Diego Rivera's during her first marriage to him. Those houses were over in the nearby neighborhood of San Angel. While Frida lived near Diego, Leon Trotsky ran into a bit of trouble.

While Trotsky had been best buds with Lenin,

he wasn't on the best of terms with ol' Joe Stalin. After Lenin died, Stalin proved to be the better political machinator and drove Trotsky out of Russia. Stalin murdered many of Trotsky's family, including his children, and Trotsky only barely managed to escape Russia with his wife and grandson. As you can see in the above chart, Trotsky had difficulty finding a steady place for asylum. Everywhere he went, he faced either Stalinist assassins, Nazi assassins, or governmental disapproval of his stay. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera used their contacts within the Mexican government to secure asylum for Trotsky in Mexico.

Since Frida wasn't living in her Coyoacan house, she let the Trotskys crash there. Trotsky would have preferred to go to America, but Mexico was where the offer of asylum was, so that's where he went.

Things then got bumpy for the Trotskys, Rivera, and Kahlo.


... had an affair with Leon...

... and then pretty much broke up with everyone, even though she wrote that "I love D. and that is all!" around that time. On the outs with Frida, Trotsky had to move his family to another house, north of Kahlo's place. Although Frida divorced Diego, they soon remarried in San Francisco. When they returned to Mexico, however, he stayed in his home in San Angel and she went back to her, now Trotsky-less, home in Coyoacan.

Now, you may be wondering why I don't have any shots of the interior of the Kahlo home. That's because photography is prohibited inside the home. Otherwise, I'd have some amazing scenes of Kahlo's portraits of Stalin - which she started after her breakup with Trotsky - and other treasures like her doodles, her studio, her bedroom, and what I consider to be the most beautiful piece there: a painting of a bunch of opened watermelons, with the words, "I love life" written on one. She painted that in 1954, the year of her death, and I found it to be such a moving testament to how, in spite of all kinds of pains, we can find the beauty of existence.

Meanwhile, Trotsky didn't live much longer past his breakup with Frida. His home bears witness to his hardships:

If you thought security was tight at other Coyoacan homes, you haven't seen the Trotsky house. The brickwork came about as a result of the first attempt on Trotsky's life.

Stalin wanted Trotsky dead. There were no two ways about it. Those in the international communist parties maintained a loyalty to Moscow, and that meant the party faithful in Mexico were out to get Trotsky. One of the staunchest communists, the muralist Siqueiros, led a band of assassins to kill Trotsky. Siqueiros and his band had served in the Spanish Civil War, and they were die-hard Stalinists. They came in through this doorway:

... which was guarded by one Mr. Harte. Harte was a guard of Trotsky's that was in the pay of Stalin's spies. In fact, most of Trotsky's staff were on Stalin's payroll. They had been planted there on purpose because, as I mentioned, Stalin wanted Trotsky dead. Even so, Trotsky had an immense degree of trust for his staff. In Harte's case, even though he let the assassins in, Trotsky trusted his loyalty because Harte was later found murdered in the wilderness outside Mexico City. As things turned out, recently opened KGB documents reveal that Harte was indeed a Soviet agent. He wasn't loyal.

Siqueiros' band surrounded Trotsky's house and opened fire. The bullet holes are there:

But, in spite of the fusillade, Trotsky and his family survived. They hid in a corner of his bedroom as the assassins raked the house - from the other side of closed doors and windows...

Why the shooters didn't kick down the doors to make sure they got their man, I'll never know.

Well, after that attack, Trotsky bricked up the exterior windows to his home, including that lovely porch on Vienna and Morelos, and had three guard towers put up on the property.

Stalin's next killer came by way of guile. He got the confidence of some of Trotsky's staff and managed to get in to visit with Trotsky to show him an article. Sitting next to him at this table:

... the assassin pulled out an ice axe and drove it into Trotsky's head as Trotsky read the article.

Trotsky died 26 hours later and his assassin spent 20 years in a Mexican prison... when he was released, he went to Russia, where he was hailed as a national hero for killing Trotsky.

Trotsky's ashes are buried at his Coyoacan home:

His grandson now oversees operations to maintain the museum. Interestingly, the battle over Trotsky continues: in 1990, communists within the Mexican government tried to have the Trotsky home condemned to make way for an office block. The Trotsky family fought back, and the museum stands today.

Both the Kahlo and Trotsky museums are amazing and are definitely worth a day and a trip on the subway.

On our way back from the Trotsky museum, we crossed a busy street in front of a bus that didn't really get the idea of "pedestrian right-of-way". To celebrate our survival, we had some mango cups from this vendor:

One should always celebrate life with fresh fruit: we had learned that from Frida Kahlo.

We made our way back to the hotel in record time. We were early enough for me to stretch out and watch some cable before taking a nap.

After nap, we went out to get some batteries and something to eat. Along the way, I took some pictures of what I felt were scenes typical of what we'd seen so far.

By the way, my papaya-orange juice beat Calvin's soft drink in the battle of the beverages:

After supper, we found Mexico City's Chinatown...

Seeing signs in Spanish and Chinese was a real trip...

The above was from a shop in a street where EVERY SHOP dealt with some sort of spare parts. Blender spare parts... carburetors only... vacuum cleaner parts... all along the road... it felt very industrial there...

And in a break between buildings there, I picked up three CDs from one of the best pirates I've ever met. One was a live album from Poncho Sanchez. It's so good, I plan to buy it for reals. Then there was a cool disco samba cd from another group I've never heard of, but the best of all was "Tropical Tribute to the Beatles". You haven't lived until you've heard Celia Cruz singing a classic Lennon-McCartney lyric in Spanish. On this album, the Fab Four meet Cumbia and everyone's a winner.

That one has a story... the guy in the roadway is going after a dart of his that went into the street... they were standing on the sidewalk by a building, tossing darts at a board set up in his tent. When they went into the street, they had to go fetch them, lest they be hit by passing cars...

We did find a bakery and picked up some bread for breakfast on Friday. I'm glad we did, because it went down well and behaved itself.

And that brings me to today... the disease part... first, a link: That's some wild history, there, and is really interesting.

Now for the current events... you remember that fruit stand in Coyoacan? I think that's the culprit. While the mango cups were absolutely yummers, its location is what leads me to conclude it was the vector in our uproarious bowels. It was right up next to all the festering trash, stagnant water, and whatever else was at the edge of the park in Coyoacan. I've had a few rumbles in my time here, but mostly from the fried food all the time. Today's discomfort, though, was enough to take out Calvin and was... well... let's just say it wasn't like the other stuff I'd dealt with. If you read the article, you'll notice the parallel.

So, today, I recall the diseases brought by the Spanish and the diseases the Spanish left the people of Mexico subject to because of the harsh conditions the Spanish put on the Mexica. We'll make a video about that and upload it with the other videos after I get back.

by Dean Webb

02 Jul 2008
Day Ten in Mexico

Today, we took on a massive challenge: El Bosque de Chapultepec. That place is crazy huge and we only went to three museums... there are a bunch more museums there, paddleboats, and a zoo! A person could rent a room in a nearby hotel and spend a week taking in all the sights in Chapultepec. It's amazing.

But our hotel wasn't nearby, so we took the subway there. We got on the subway around 10:30, after rush hour, and had no problems getting on and off at the right stops. Tickets are only 2 pesos per person, and as long as one never exits, one never spends any more for a transfer, going across the city, or anything like that. It's an incredible bargain... if you plan it properly. More on that, later.

There's a lovely green sign to let you know you've arrived at "the lungs of Mexico City". The breathing's easy when you get into all them trees.

Even the trash cans are cute. That grasshopper, by the way, is from the name of the place. Chapultepec means "place of the reclining grasshopper". Neat, huh?

One of the first sights one sees upon entering the park proper is the tribute to the six military cadets that chose to die rather than surrender to United States forces at the battle of Chapultepec in 1847.

Every time I reflect upon their story, I become emotional. Texas has its Alamo, Mexico has its Chapultepec. Don't ever forget that.

On a lighter note, we did spot a fellow that enjoys the company of animals:

Calvin and I think he might be a relative. We have our reasons.

Our first destination was the fortress itself, which is up on a big ol' hill. That's what made it such a good defensive spot. Back in Cortes' day, it controlled the aqueduct to Tenochtitlan. When Cortes captured it, he was able to sever the fresh water supply to the Aztec defenders - and yet, they did not surrender.

But now, rather than being a place entirely given over to things of war, it is part of a beautiful park.

Now, on the way up to the castle is "El Caracol", a spiral museum of Mexican history. It was fantastic! There were dioramas a-plenty in there, and they covered Mexico from the Spanish conquest up to 1917. I'll be using my pics of them when I write my book, you betcha. Unfortunately, there were some reflectivity problems, but I took them in stride. One of my faves was this one of Iturbide being crowned in the Metropolitan Cathedral:

At the end, though, was no diorama. No, it was a national treasure of the United States of Mexico:

The very Constitution of 1917. It was truly humbling to be in its presence. El Caracol is an amazing museum, and should not be missed by the history buff.

After El Caracol, we forged ahead to the Castle of Chapultepec, which was used as a palace by both Emperor Maximilian and Porfirio Diaz.

Inside are some stunning treasures... all the more stunning when you realize they were paid for with the taxes of ordinary Mexicans and used to benefit only a few people at the top of the social structure.

By the way, one isn't supposed to take pictures of these rooms. I found that out after taking this picture. Oops. One can take as many pictures as one wants of the outside, though.

The last is the spot where the six cadets chose death over surrender. Truly moving, again.

On the west side of the castle is a lovely garden that should not be missed:

So, yeah, the place is an example of man's inhumanity to man and the injustice of the Mexican social system, etc., but all that opulence certainly does look lovely, you know.

For the way back, Calvin and I opted to take a train. We'd traveled nearly every other way since getting here: we felt it would round out the experience. So we waited a bit, and there it was:

And thank goodness for that train! Phew! After El Caracol and the castle, we still had the Museum of Anthropology to get through, and that was a few kilometers away. As we walked up there, we saw some wonderful sights, including the world's largest Rubik's Cube...

And there we were! At the big ol' honkin' National Museum of Anthropology. This thing is like ancient artifacts meet an amusement park. You can walk for hours in the place and still not see everything. Since it was around 2PM when we got there, we decided to first eat at the cafeteria, down below.

People eat outside in Mexico City a lot because the climate is fantastic when it's not raining. At the time, it was only cloudy.

After lunch, we hit only the ground floor of the museum... and we were exhausted when we finished. Here are a few highlights, though. (I suppose I'm still a touch on the exhausted side, or I'd write more about them, wouldn't I?)

I think those are six of the five best pictures that represent the amazing collection that museum has to offer. If you only have one day in Mexico City, then extend your stay so you can take in this stop along with Teotihuacan and the Zocalo: at least three full days, if you can manage.

Well, we were REALLY tired after two full hours of wandering around the museum on top of all the hiking we'd done around the castle... and we still had to walk on back to the metro. While we were in the museum, it had started to rain...

And I had to get another umbrella. Trying to crowd in with Calvin under our small one just wasn't working. Once I had my own, we could head back to the hotel in style. We got to the shops just outside the metro and made a mistake: we bought stuff there to either carry home or consume before getting on the train.

The stuff heading home with us got kinda smooshed and there are no trash cans between the shops and the exits, so we were stuck schlepping our empty juice cups onto the subway.

We also found out that rush hour on a Mexican subway is to be avoided at all costs.

I won't complain about the crowds. I expected that. I will complain about how insensitive the people getting on the train can be. They have one goal in mind - getting on that train before the doors close, and if they have to shove someone trying to get off back on the train, too bad.

When we were getting off at our first station from a very crowded Line 1 train, that's what happened to Calvin. He couldn't muscle past the guys shoving inward. Now, I know it's important to keep track of valuables when traveling on the subway, and Calvin is my most valuable valuable. I was constantly checking over my shoulder, and when I saw him start to recede, I yelled, "HEY!" and lunged back into that crowd to grab his arm. I'm a foot taller and a good deal more massive than nearly everyone else in Mexico, so my noise and size was able to make an opening to pull Calvin out of that mosh.

We now have a new plan: on the train, Calvin holds on to ME, not the bars in the train. That experience was way too close, and I will not let us get separated again. We're also going to do all we can to get out of that subway before rush hour starts. Tomorrow, we've got a short trip to Coyoacan planned, so we should be able to pull that off, no problem. We'll also be traveling on a less busy line than the Line 1.

Coming out of the subway, I got turned around - I didn't realize we'd exited on a side of the street opposite the one we entered on - and headed down the road in a direction opposite our hotel. I realized my mistake when I saw a park, like I expected to, but with this guy in it:

That's Morelos, a hero of the 1810 independence movement. He's not in the park across the street from our hotel. Thanks to him, I checked our guide and realized my mistake. We went back up the road, stopped at an OXXO convenience store to load up on Carlos V candy bars. That was nice.

On our way back, we were bombarded by music blaring from storefronts while shopkeepers extolled the virtues of their wares. This we'd gotten used to. But then we saw these women dancing on behalf of a shopkeeper... well, I had to take a picture. This is Mexico, folks.

Dancing in the streets, for whatever reason, every day of the week.

When we got to our hotel neighborhood, I stopped in here for a quick bite...

It's next to Robles and Trevi... I had to eat there, too, I figured. The food was nice 'n' hearty, but what I thought would be an appetizer was a full-blown entree! Man, they make big servings in this country...

Calvin ate one of our donuts for supper. I figure he'd earned it for being such a trooper. After that, we had a Carlos V and watched Fist of Zen. Man, that's a disturbed show, no matter what language it's in...

by Dean Webb

01 Jul 2008
Day Nine in Mexico

Lunch. Right... I had my eye on a place near the hotel, next to the Cafe Trevi: Tortas Robles.

It was a walk-in closet with a griddle and packed to the gills. They do four tacos for 11 pesos there, and this is what they look like:

Those bad boys are amazing. I'd eat 'em again in a heartbeat and with prices like that, I sure can afford to! We ate in the park in between our hotel and the Tortas Robles...

... and from there, we plotted our next move.

We were going to head up Juarez, cross Paseo de la Reforma, and head on to the Plaza de la Republica. Just like that, right? Heh. We knew better. Crossing Reforma meant a series of crosswalks around the roundabout perimeter... not an easy maneuver, but we felt fit enough after our stretching out at Teotihuacan, so we went forward with our plan.

This statue is another caballito, but there's hardly anything -ito about it. It's huge. Mexicans like things big: pyramids, traffic jams, art... I guess that's where we Texians get it from.

By the way, communism is not dead in Mexico:

So watch what you say about Diego Rivera's use of certain types of imagery in his works...

Now, you'll know you're at the Plaza de la Republica when you see this massive thingy:

The Museum of the Revolution is down and to your right, if approaching from Reforma. We headed down that way just as it started to sprinkle.

Now, the history stuff in there I'll discuss in the book I'm gonna write. I'll touch on the high points here. First of all, you'll be happy to know that Calvin, in addition to being conquistador-sized, is also revolutionary-sized:

I'm happy to note that Calvin was picking up on details in exhibits we saw and finishing my sentences when I was rambling on about something I'd rambled on about previously. I'm glad he spoke up, as it meant he'd paid attention previously to my rants and that he was able to help me save my wind for other topics. Good show, Calvin!

If you go to the Museum of the Revolution, be prepared to read a lot of Spanish. Knowing the history beforehand will help you keep everything straight. A bonus at the end are a few Siqueiros murals:

So a good time can be had by all with an interest in Mexican history. The exhibits there really are top-notch and will make you sit down and think on more than one occasion.

As we stepped out, we noticed it had started to rain pretty steadily.

I was thrilled.

Really. I was.

See, today was July 1, the day of "La Noche Triste", when Cortes' men tried to flee the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs had surrounded them and when the Spanish tried to break out, it was raining. Not a hard, stormy, pummeling rain. A steady, slow, sad, cold rain... and when an Aztec woman cried out, the Spanish found themselves surrounded by thousands of Aztec warriors, determined to destroy their would-be conquerors. As the Spanish fled, they were slowed down by the causeway from Tenochtitlan to the mainland: the Aztecs had removed all the bridges and the Spanish had to use their own portable ones. When one was destroyed, the Spanish had to swim to cross the gaps in the causeway, and many died when the gold they were carrying weighted them down. Pedro de Alvarado, Cortes' second-in-command, is said to have jumped over a massive gap in the causeway, using his lance as a pole vault. Many historians doubt that really happened, but "El Salto de Alvarado" - "The Vault of Alvarado" is nevertheless part of Mexican mythology. Well, on the way back, we met up with this massive puddle:

Since I jumped over it and didn't get hit my any oncoming traffic, let it be hereafter known as "El Salto de Webb".

To get out of the rain a bit, we stopped in a bookstore or two and scored a few CDs and a biography of Nezahualcoyotl that included much of his poetry. Yay us! After those, we headed on to a certain little shop our guidebook raved about:

This churreria makes a mean cuppa hot chocolate, let me tell you. Calvin and I both had a cup of Mexican-style chocolate with four churros. YUM! YUM! YUM! It was awesome. After that, we wanted to try a nearby place that our guide said had the best ice cream in town, but this is all we found there:

A stoopid 7-11. Thus we see the perils of using a guide that's eight years old because Lonely Planet didn't want to publish a Mexico City guide on its own and we didn't want to have to lug around an all-Mexico guide. Travel guides should be portable, first and foremost. We don't need info on Monterey while we're snooping around the National Palace, let me tell you... but, otherwise, our old guide wasn't too far off except for the prices...

All told, we weren't having a Noche Triste by any measure. That chocolate was downright yummy, and we really couldn't complain over not finding an ice cream store. We moved along Old Mexico streets such as this:

to arrive at our next destination, Potzocalli.

Was it good? Well, let me answer that question with a picture:

The place was packed on a Tuesday afternoon, just before 5PM. I'd say that was a good sign.

We had some great tacos and enchiladas. We both understood we weren't going to get anything close to Tex-Mex down here, but we didn't care. I, for one, will remark that the enchiladas I had there were very much enchilada-y and that, again, the Chinese have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to enchiladas.

The best part of our dinner, though, was the ice cream: a double scoop of our waiter's recommended flavor... coconut.

We thrilled to the taste of the fresh vanilla and coconut in that helado. Yummers!

So, while this was the 489th anniversary of Cortes' La Noche Triste and we had the very rain his men were faced with, we didn't face the rest of his issues. We may not have seen ice cream where we wanted it, but we found it, all the same.

We also had a great shot of the Palacio de Belles Artes on the way back:

So, yeah, can't complain.

We had one more bit of fun today: after getting to our room, we flipped around the channels and caught the last half of an awesome Lucha Libre movie: "Asesinos de la lucha libre". Oh man, this one's got it all! Wrestling, eye-gouging, biting, ref punching, shooting, mariachi singing, and other manly endeavors. Hardly any story in it to get in the way of the plot. Now I want to check out more Lucha Libre movies. I've already seen "Luchadoras contra la mumia azteca" ("Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy") and that was as every bit as good as this one. I sense a trend... maybe I'll see some in a stand somewhere later on in my trip.

Tomorrow, we plan to go to historical Chapultepec... and this will involve our first venture into the Mexico City Metro.

by Dean Webb

Days Seven and Eight in Mexico

I'll make this a sort of uber-post to take on the backlog of blogging. Suffice to say, a good time was had by all on both days.

I woke up Sunday morning a little early so I could get ready for Church. Before I woke up Calvin, I decided to look out the window to see another morning in Mexico City. That's when I noticed this:

That's a zoom-in on a political rally forming up around 8AM. The red cones you may see were there to shut down traffic on Paseo de la Reforma, the main road outside my hotel. Those same red cones were deployed up and down Juarez, effectively closing off traffic on the roads in the area. I decided to let Calvin sleep some more. We weren't going to get anywhere by car, I figured. Instead, we had some quality father-son time and talked about a lot of things. I'm very thankful for the time we have on this trip, but especially so for those moments on Sunday morning. Calvin is a great son, and also a great friend and I'm very happy to say that.

After our heart-to-heart, we decided to follow through with the rest of our plans for the day: hitting the nearby museums that had free admission on Sunday. We left early enough to try and catch breakfast at the Taco Inn, but we did hesitate to get some fresh-squeezed orange juice from a vendor in the Alameda.

Even more of the political demonstration was gathering, and we jumped a bit when someone set off a string of firecrackers. Calvin and I both decided it was a Good Thing we weren't planning on going to the Zocalo today.

As we walked through the Alameda, we heard some loud explosions. Since nobody else ran in any particular direction, we figured they were either firecrackers or tear gas cannons and, as such, neither really applied to us. We hoped, however, they were just firecrackers. Mexican police have spilled blood at the Zocalo before, and it was not impossible to imagine such could happen again. And, really, since the explosions weren't accompanied by any mass of screaming voices, we're pretty sure they were only firecrackers.

That's not to say the folks involved weren't passionate about their politics. Many had on shirts that said "Say no to privatization of PEMEX!" Oil is vitally important to this nation, so I can understand why that would be such a sensitive topic.

We made it to Taco Inn without further incident and enjoyed a hearty breakfast. And, by hearty, I mean WOW.

Any time your spread of food looks like the inside of a ZZ Top album cover, you're doing it right. We had two heapin' plates of breakfast, juice, and two pan dulces, all for 100 pesos. We felt like kings. Therefore, it was only appropriate that our first destination be the Garden of the Triple Alliance, just across the street from the Taco Inn. I snapped a shot of my favorite Mesoamerican, the great poet-king of Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl:

Then, we went on to the other place with a king in front of it: The National Museum of Art, also just across the street from Taco Inn.

If you ever have an evil plan to take over Mexico City, it must include securing the Taco Inn on Tacuba. It is a strategic location.

Anyway, the king in front of the museum is known as "El Caballito". It's an equestrian statue of Carlos IV of Spain. It's kept for its artistic value, and not for any special treatment for Carlos IV. The special treatment is reserved for Carlos V, who gets his own candy bar that is downright delicious.

A word, if I may, on food advertising in Mexico: Calvin and I have observed that if we see someone getting a beatdown in a commercial, it will almost always be a food advertisement. Consider Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. In the USA, the genial Tony the Tiger encourages kids to do their best, etc., all while eating yummy Frosted Flakes. That they are sugar-frosted is downplayed in the USA... In Mexico, first off, they're Zucaristas. They're not just sugary, they're a POPULAR FACTION of sugar power! Second, El Tigre Tony is much tougher than his northern cousin. He encourages kids to get the edge on the competition by eating his cereal. He's a man's man, advertising an awesome set of flakes. Sure, they taste the same, but I'd much rather be part of the Zucarista Movement than eat some lame flakes in a bowl that *might* contain sugar. Three cheers for violent Mexican food advertising!

There's another ad where a guy bothers a lady on a bus. When he doesn't back away, she summons the power of the cookies she's eating: suddenly, about 8 guys in Roman soldier outfits show up and really rough up the pest, then shove his sorry self off that bus. Triumphant, the lady consumes the cookie which gave her access to the awesome power of the Roman Empire military machine. We love that ad. If one ever has an evil plan to take over Mexico City, it must definitely include an interruption of their supply of tasty treats, which will not be easy to do. Maybe it could be done by swapping out their sugar and replacing it with high fructose corn syrup...

Back to the museum...

In the museum, we saw art. Lots of it. This was expected. What we didn't expect was to take a picture of this painting:

and then be asked by a security guard if we had permission to take pictures.


We'd gotten three-fourths of the way through the museum before anyone bothered to ask that question. Well, we trotted on down to the front, paid 5 pesos to get photographing permission, then trotted back up to where we had left off.

I'll save the discussions of art for another day: this is about our adventures in the land of the Mexica. We wrapped up our two-hour visit to the National Museum and then headed on down to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, where many murals awaited us.

There, we discovered another great irony of Mexico: in a building that is so very European on the outside:

There is art that is so very Mexican on the inside:

The murals in the Palacio must simply be seen in person. One can see small-scale versions of the works, but they must be confronted in their full size to have their full, awesome impact. Make your vacation plans now and be sure to set aside a good hour at least to enjoy the works in the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

We then spent some time, strolling through the Alameda Central on a Sunday afternoon...

Very interesting, and yet, refreshing. Our day wouldn't have been complete without seeing Diego Rivera's mural, "A Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park", conveniently located just to the west of the Alameda Central.

Again, it's another packed panel from the master of the mural, and I just love this piece. My favorite part is this one:

But I don't want to spoil the fun just yet by explaining it. See if you can figure it out. There are about eight major things in this detail that are what I consider to be important for understanding it. Try and find them!

Well, after all those museums and parks, we were ready for some chow. We struck out to the restaurants between the museum and the Alameda and came to Cafe Trevi:

It's a great little pizza joint in the heart of Mexico City and has been there for 53 years. That's our justification for eating there. We know pizza's not native to the area, but the cafe is an institution. Couldn't not eat there, don't you know. The pizza itself was Neapolitan style, which means New York pizza snobs would not approve of it, but everyone else that doesn't want a pizza on a cracker crust would find it a pretty good pie.

Calvin went with a chicken pizza and French chocolate to drink, while I had straight cheese and sangria soda for my beverage.

After that repast, we returned to our room, and reflected upon the day's events. I blogged on Saturday's wild ride and then went to sleep when the Internet cut out. It was all for the best, as it would turn out, for we had a HUGE day ahead of us in Monday...

Monday, we got going early so we could beat both the crowds and the heat at Teotihuacan. We moved into action and were out of the hotel before Mexican traffic had a chance to wake up. Early as we were, we were still subject to the guile of the Mexican road signs:

... but we were undaunted. We got to Teotihuacan without once getting lost, sidetracked, or uncoordinated. Or killed. I now realize all those days spent driving in Veracruz really paid off. If you ever want to drive in Mexico City, start somewhere else first, then work your way up to the big league.

All the way between Mexico City and Teotihuacan are a series of slums.

Again, evidence of hyperurbanization at work. It's not that the government is ignoring them, either. There simply is no way to get infrastucture out to the slums as fast as they're being built and filled to the brim with people hopeful of some sort of a better future in the city. Sure, the USA has a massive issue with illegal immigration, but it's nothing like the illegal squatting that's straining Mexico City.

We drove on to Teotihuacan and confronted the Pyramid of the Sun:

Lest you think it just another big pile of rocks, let me place Calvin in front of a million cubic yards of stone:

Now you have a proper appreciation of its scale. Even so, like a Rivera mural, Teotihuacan simply must be seen in person to appreciate its massiveness.

It must also be climbed in person to appreciate its tallness. It's the third-biggest pyramid in the world, behind the Pyramid of Cheops (2nd place) and the Great Pyramid of Cholula (1st place, and in Mexico). I got up the first flight of stairs and severely doubted my ability to get up the rest:

But there I was, at the pyramid itself... with my son... who was very eager to climb it all the way... but who would understand if it was too much for me...

I also knew I could count on him to help me on the way down. I told him on Sunday that I trusted him. Now was the time to let him know I really meant that in a way that pretty much put my health, if not my life, somewhat in his hands.

We made it to the top, I'm happy to say, and the view is spectacular.

That's the Pyramid of the Moon, as seen from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun.

In joy, I claimed the Pyramid for Texas:

... and Calvin got Apocalyptico, again... couldn't blame the lad, though. He'd only climbed the Pyramid of the Sun...

We then spent a good deal of time dealing with the "wow" of it all... the ancient ruins we had climbed and the speculation of what it was like when the place wasn't a ruin... There's no way to describe it, so I won't. We were there, so we know what it was like.

Going down was not easy. I have issues with my balance, so I leaned on Calvin's shoulder all the way down. He was there for me and said a lot of reassuring things. More than saying, though, he did. I'll always remember that with a smile on my face. Thanks, Calvin.

When we got to the base, guess what? We ran into a whole zone of LDS missionaries there on their p-day. If you don't understand that sentence completely, then you won't understand why we were so happy to see them.

But we were happy to see them, and they, us. It was a very "OH MY HECK!" sort of moment for us all.

We then headed on down to the Palace of Quetzalcoatl part of the ruins. Along the way, we learned that the people of Teotihuacan embraced the notion of topes, as well:

Those stairs were a pain to go up and down over constantly. Also, notice their plumbing. I have great respect for ancient civilizations that know how to plumb. But for those who may curse the plethora of speed bumps all over Mexico: I submit this evidence as proof that the concept of such things is a cultural tradition there, dating back millennia.

Well, we wandered around some more, and I have plenty more pictures of rocks and trees, and I'll post those later, if I do post them, because I want to get this up and online so I can go eat lunch.

Speaking of which, we went to #25 of the restaurants on the fringe of Teotihuacan: the Tonatiuh. It was very yummy, and the highlight was eating fried cactus:

That was a tasty delight that made our day all the more fun. WE ATE CACTUS COOKED IN AN AZTEC STYLE! YES!

We also had a huge ice cream bar after lunch. We knew it would be good because five people got the crap beat out of them in the commercial for it.

But ahead of us was the most daunting part of the day... returning the car to the airport... even now, my blood chills just thinking of it. There are no cute pictures to go with this. No clever dialogue. We simply got on the road and did what men have to do sometimes.

We drove towards the airport, but the road we were on veered away. There was no exit to go to that airport: it just went in that direction. Thinking quickly, I doubled back on another street and successfully got into the airport.

But where to go to return the vehicle? We had no clue, whatsoever.

I headed to a terminal, hoping for a sign. I got one: a National passenger van. We followed that guy until he tried to shake us by parking in a roundabout with his hazards on. Then we put ours on, too and asked him if we could follow him back to the rental place. The driver looked relieved that we weren't bandits and showed us the way back to the rental return place. We got rid of the car and went back to the airport to get a taxi, courtesy of the same passenger van we'd tailed.

A side note: Benito Juarez airport is way more busy after 10AM than it is before. When we'd gotten there, it was a cakewalk getting through it. One week and a few hours later, it was a madhouse. If you're coming to Mexico, it's worth it to take that first flight of the day.

We paid for a cab ride in the airport and got into the cab. I like that idea of paying for a cab in advance. Then one doesn't mind if the trip should turn scenic, as ours did in a bid to avoid both construction and traffic. In the course of that trip, we went past the LDS temple in Mexico City:

... which always has a meaning for me.

We got back to the hotel in one piece with all our stuff at 4PM. Not bad, but we could still do more. We blew about half an hour waiting in line at a bank (we later found out that day was PAYDAY for everyone) for a teller to tell us that all cash advances on credit cards had to be done at an ATM. The ATM line was huge, as well, so we opted to pay the slightly higher fee at the hotel so we wouldn't have to die in line.

But our experience at the bank wasn't all in vain. While standing in line, I noticed a Chinese restaurant:

Yes, we did go eat there. I'd once tried, and failed, to find a good taco in China: I would now see if there was good Chinese food in Mexico.

Even though the Chinese part of the menu was only one-fourth of all the offerings there, it was still pretty good. It was also pretty huge. I couldn't eat all of mine after the huge lunch we'd had at Teotihuacan. While the food itself was not the best Chinese food, ever, it was still Chinese-y enough to qualify as such. Therefore, I must throw down the gauntlet to China and demand that they make a proper taco over there!

That about wraps up our adventures for the last two days. Now it's time to have some adventures for today, starting with lunch.

by Dean Webb

Posted at:10 Jan 2009 06:22:21 PM

No Words portraits and romantic illustrations.

What's there to say?

I got words and pictures.

I got a message board.

Like I said, what's there to say?