SPEED COURSE: TOURIST
If you turn your holiday into your daily life, it’s no longer a holiday. Twelve years ago I got on my bicycle for my first cycling trip. My motivation: independency, to see the world, curiosity, challenge and to grow as a human being.
At that time I wasn’t aware of all that, the feeling was the same and through the years I’ve learned what lies beneath that feeling. The motivation turned into a necessity and the vacation turned into my ‘daily life’. Add some tasks to that that you would usually ‘leave at home’ during a holiday and you get an unusual combination. Who designs his life that way is, even though the terms ‘traveler’ or ‘world citizen’ are used more often nowadays, in my eyes best called a ‘nomad’. Add some work on a laptop and the internet and you’re part of the modern phenomenon ‘digital nomad’. If you turn your holiday into your daily life you never have a holiday anymore? Hmm, good question.
1 An extended period of leisure and recreation, especially one spent away from home or in travelling.
1.1 A day of festivity or recreation when no work is done.
There we go, ‘away from home’, I don’t have a home so I can’t be away from it. And work? What is that exactly?
1 Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result.
That is exactly what I do every day! So far for the English language. Let’s decide to for a moment see it like this: nomads travel and tourists go on holidays. I know, it’s shortsighted, but we need a common starting point to give the title of this blog meaning.
My course ‘tourism’ started about three weeks ago in Guadalajara. I pedaled my bicycle a 1000 vertical meters up to the ‘city of colors’ at an altitude of 1996 meters. It was the ‘good week’ before Eastern, ‘Semana Santa‘. In the center of town, you could ‘walk on heads’ (that’s a Dutch saying, obviously meaning: it was crowded). Mainly Mexican tourists, but it was impossible to interpret this crowd as the local population. Behind every beautiful old facade hid another souvenir shop or overpriced restaurant. When Shaun told me about the ‘mirador‘, a viewpoint from where you could overlook the colorful city in its totality I imaged a quiet open place somewhere on the hillside. About five hundred steps later I bumped into a sea of souvenir stalls and a busy square and wide stairs where maybe a hundred cellphones on selfie sticks floated above the crowd. We zigzagged our way to the balustrade for a indeed beautiful view over the city and a ‘unique photo’.
From Guanajuato I biked on to San Miguel de Allende, what was promised to be ‘very beautiful’. While Guanajuato had all colors of the rainbow, this city was painted in all different shades of red and yellow. On ‘Good Friday’ the city was overrun by tourists from all over the state to see the famous procession. Statues of saints of which the names unknown to me passed on the shoulders of men and women. The Romans where in flesh with plastic helmets and spears. Two martyrs walked with bare red backs walked in front of them while the Romans horsewhipped them. And finally the statue of Jesus, bent under the cross on his shoulders, as I got to know him here in Mexico; black and blue bruises, big wounds dripping with blood, his eyes full of suffering and ‘real’ hair. In every church it’s a surprise again how horrific he’ll look this time. I missed the ‘moment supreme’ on which he would raise his head, through some hidden rope system, up to his mother on their meeting. I miss the endless patience of the Mexicans to watch a tremendously slow procession in the burning sun, between thousands of others. After seeing all the statues appear I wondered off into a quiet side street and found a empty restaurant to have much needed lunch.
In my last blog I wrote about ugliness and how all my senses were filled with dung. Now I’d reached a beautiful part of Mexico, but with that also the tourism.
Near San Jose de Iturbide I visited Mineral de Pozos and old mine, where one of the only two still living miners told me about his work there.
The next day I rode into the mountains of the Sierra Gorda and from the dessert into the jungle. Strange enough it was still Semana Santa (even though it was now the week after Eastern) and the Mexicans had holidays. On the road, that climbs 1200 meters and descends again to climb 2300 meters to the Puerta del Cielo (heaven’s door) at 2680 meters and descend again for a last climb of 1400 meters, it wasn’t too busy at all. Visiting a waterfall, where I was ‘no alone’, a man asked me if I was the person that belonged to the bike he saw parked at the entrance. He turned out to be a passionate triathlete, a champion even in his class. From the moment that I descended to the waterfall I regretted having to ride back to the main road again. I had been told that the road would be flat, but instead it had the steepest downhill in it that I’d come across in a long time, pretty much impossible to cycle back up. Manuel accepted the challenge to ride my bike the 3km back to the road and I sunk into the comfortable passenger seat next to Theresa. It was a great encounter and the start of a friendship.
I chose this route because it crossed the beautiful nature of the Sierra Gorda, unaware that it was an area with several touristic attractions and popular campsites. In Xilitla I found that Las Pozas was one of those attractions, a surrealistic sculpture garden created by the rich and creative Englishman Edward James between 1949 and 1984. At 7:45 a.m. I queued up with the other tourists along the souvenir stalls to wait for the garden to open at 9:00 a.m. When I got in I paced past the forty people that all stopped at the first structure like a herd and I had the garden to myself for the first 30 minutes. When I left it two hours later it was overrun by people and the queue outside had grown to passed the sign that said ‘waiting time 2 hours’. Disneyland..
But the best/worst was yet to come. In Aquismon I met up again with Shaun for a jointly trip to the biggest waterfall of the state. Cascade de Tamul. Shaun warned me that the entrance had looked like a anthill of tourists, but since I detoured specially for this I now wanted to visit and see it! I adjusted my expectations and prepared myself for a fest. It turned out a fiasco. You could visit the waterfall in a 20 person rowing boat. We joined a group, unaware of what would follow. The cooler that the guys lifted into the boat worried me a little but I decided to ‘go with the flow’. Sometimes it’s just better to let yourself bob along instead of trying to pedal upstream. A rowing instruction however was skipped and so we went into the river, smacking pedals into paddles, that is when there were actually people making the effort to paddle. The guys behind us were too busy smoking, drinking beer, being loud and throwing water on other tourists. Public drunkenness, cigarette smoke in nature, noisiness and egocentrism aren’t my favorite ingredients, let alone being forced to endure it in an unescapable boat. I underwent the 3,5 hour during excursion like an execution, with the disappointing catharsis that we could only view the waterfall from a big distance from an overcrowded ‘monkeys rock’. Shaun underwent this all undisturbed while I, overwhelmed with powerlessness, cried under my sunglasses.
"Sometimes it’s just better to let yourself bob along instead of trying to pedal upstream."
What a pleasure to get on my bike again the next day and ride a surprisingly quiet road through beautiful jungle to Matlapan. The rain fell, as it does daily now, from the sky in the afternoon and cooled everything down nicely. In the little village of Matlapan I felled in place again, as a nomad between the locals. Cause what else is a nomad then a local with an ever-changing location?
A nightly bus trip got me to Pachuca, where I waited at the bus station for the sun to rise. From there I biked to San Martin de las Piramides to visit the Piramid del Sol, with its 75 meters the third highest in the world, and the ruins of a city from the year 100 that is expected to have housed a quarter million people and is the biggest pre-Columbian city in the Americas. Semana Santa was over and on the archaeological site that stretched out over kilometers I could look around the impressive pyramids and ruins in my own pace.
Meanwhile I’ve reached Mexico City and I’m staying with my new friends Manuel (triathlete) and Theresa (whose great great grandfather was president of Mexico for 30 years, Porfirio Díaz Mori) in a beautiful authentic Mexican neighborhood. No tourists that comes here, far from the city center, but the houses by itself are a sight.
Before I dive into this city of 22 million inhabitants I stop and look back on what I’ve learned over the last weeks about ‘playing tourist’.
Lesson 1. Don’t do it when ‘everybody’ has vacation.
Lesson 2. Make sure you’re well informed about the character of the attraction and the way to it.
Lesson 3. Consider which is worse, crowds or sunburn and base your chose when to go on that.
Lesson 4. Always carry earplugs.
Lesson 5. Expect nothing but be prepared for everything.
If you turn your holiday into your daily life, it’s no longer a holiday. If that also works the other way around I will test this summer when I fly to the Netherlands from Costa Rica to visit my family and friends. It’ll give a ‘holiday in your own country’ a new meaning I expect.
But for now, MEXICO CITY!
Photo camera, sunscreen, water, city map, metro plan, sunglasses. I’m ready!