Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I left my  camera at the airport in Chihuahua, it was expensive and a well thought out purchase. I will miss it a lot.  I have a feeling someone turned it into the lost and found, or something like a lost and found.  I'll see if I'm correct when I return to Chihuahua. 

I bought a cheap camera here in Morelia, but I can't upload the pictures until I put some software into my computer, and I didn't bring my disc drive.   The photos will have to wait until my return to Chihuahua

Domestic flights - Mexican Style

My boarding pass reads I'm to be at gate ? at 8:10 am.  We will be boarding at 8:40.  I was at loose ends for a moment, but then I realized there are only 5 gates so it wouldn't be hard to figure out which gate I'm to use when the time comes.

Air travel in Mexico is like taking a trip into the past, with only a few modifications.  Although my bags were checked, the security guy simply unzipped than rezipped the bag destined for the the cargo compartment. His expression of boredom lead me to believe he wouldn't have found anything in any bag, if there was something to be found.

My carry-on went through the x-ray device, but no one asked me for photo ID.  Nor did my computer need to go seperately through the x-ray device.  Water, hand cream, bottle openers were all allowed onto the plane. 

Nations are graded according to their security regulations.  Canada gets an A, the United States a C+ and Mexico an F.

The airport has no provision that allows  planes to fly into the terminal.  Regardless of your flight you walk onto the tarmac to board the plane.

People drifted on moments before take-off, the way I  did  in the early 80's,  before security became such a time consuming issue.

The flight attendants are all young woman nicely dressed in pretty uniforms.  There are television screens onboard that indicate our height, speed, temperature and when we will arrive at our destination.  I'm quite certain if the flight was  longer a movie would have been shown

Arriving in Toluca we board a tram for a very short jaunt to the terminal.  It would have been dangerous for passengers to walk to the terminal because of all the air transport traffic.  Toluca is a busy airport and a lot of luggage is being moved around in much the same way it would be moved in more advanced countries.

There is a new airport terminal being built.  I wonder if it will enable planes to fly into the terminal.  Toluca is a hub.  Interjet, a Westjet like discount airline that was started three years ago has limited access into the Mexico City airport.  And so, many people destined for Mexico City will fly into Toluca, which is a twenty-five minute drive away from Mexico City.

In the terminal there are only two carousels.  Only one is in use.  There is a woman standing in the middle of the carousel calling the city from which the luggage currently going around the carousel has come from.  We passengers who have arrived from Chihuahua can see our luggage piled up on a cart outside.  When our turn comes the luggage travels smoothly around the carousel.  

Although confused by the differences in air travel here and other places, now that I've had my first venture on a Mexican domestic flight  the simpler way of  Mexico is better.

Driving to Morelia

There is no car rental counter at the Toluca airport.  I thought Avis was to meet me in front of the terminal. They weren't there.  I can't work my cellphone. I find an information desk, and the people at the desk help out.  Avis arrives and I'm shuttled to their office.

The Avis people set me up with a GPS, programming it for my hotel in Morelia.  They assure me that it will work.  Alas, the GPS keeps telling me to turn left, when there isn't a left hand turn.  I find my way onto the freeway and follow the signs.  I reprogram the GPS, which tells me I have reached my destination, but  I'm 100's of kilometers away. 

So far the GPS has proven to be useless, but it's easy enough to find my way on the toll roads. The freeways (cuota) are expensive with many tolls.

While traveling to Morelia there is a detour.  The drive off the freeway is quite an experience. Bumper to bumper all the way with street vendors lined up on both sides of the highway.   I have no idea how long I will be on this road, but I could walk  faster, and I have roughly 200 km. to travel before night arrives.  It is about three in the afternnon.

On these very busy and very slow moving secondary roads there is a  way to pass the slow traffic.  Although I follow the lead of the locals, this may be a very dangerous situation.  

Every once in a while there isn't any oncoming traffic.  So, we pass the slow moving traffic. Maybe four or five cars at a time pass , maybe six,  seven , eight slow moving vehicles, and I do mean slow moving.  I've never driven like this before.  And, I don't know why there are these occasional lulls in oncoming traffic allowing us such a long time on the wrong side of the road.

What if the traffic from the other direction comes along?  How would we get back into our lane?  With the narrow road and the street vendors lined up how would we all fit? 

 "No problem,"  is very much a part of the Mexican custom.  Even when I see a a big problem.  

Eventually I find my way back to the freeway.  My little bit of Spanish has served me well in the small village I found myself in, as a result of the detour.  My goal is to reach Morelia before dark.  I succeed.

Finding my hotel

My hotel is situated in the historic center of Morelia.  The streets were constructed in the sixteenth Century.  The city fathers had the good sense to make the main streets very wide, but the side streets are very narrow.  There are many one way streets.   And the name of each street, other than the main through fare seem to change every four or five blocks.

The street signs are very small and on the sides of buildings and impossible to read when driving.  Luckily the cathedral is easy to find and my hotel is only a few short blocks from the cathedral.

The streets are very congested.  There are no stop signs and very few traffic lights.  The custom is to depend on the other driver knowing it is your turn to cross the intersection.  I think it's sort of like invisible four way stop signs.  It's a little hard to explain.  I think for most people living north of the boarder it's impossible to understand, but intuitively I got into the swing of things.

Although I'm very close to my hotel,  I  can't find it.

Idea #1 -I'll pay a cab driver to help me.  I'll follow and he'll lead me to the hotel. It worked one time in San Antonio Texas.   I stop the car in a no parking spot and flag down a cab driver.

 "Hablas ingles?"

I try, but failed to explain what I want, it is too complicated for my limited Spanish.

Idea #2 -  I park again in a no parking spot, this time in front of the tourista trolley.  Surely the trolley people speak a little English.  I'm given a map and directions.  But try as I might I can't follow the directions, the narrow streets, the custom of driving without stop signs or traffic lights, the dark of night and the bumper to bumper traffic is all I can handle.  Finding the hotel by car is impossible.

Idea #3 .  I'll simply find a legal parking spot, park the car, find the hotel on foot and ask someone at the hotel to help me find a taxi driver who will take me to the car , and we'll pick up my luggage and find a place to park my car.

I'm exhausted.  My  El Paso trip  the day before I left Chihuahua,  my drive over unfamiliar terrain in a country where I don't speak the language, and my current challenge turn me into a muttering fool.  "This time you've bit off more than you can chew.  You are really f---ed.  Well, you can sleep in the car.  People do sleep in cars.  But there isn't a bathroom.  I have to go to the bathroon.  F---, F---, F---!!!!"

Looking back, I was simply very inconvenienced.  But at the time the challenge that lay before me seemed beyond me.

I drive around until I find a parking spot.  While changing into walking shoes, I hear English speaking voices from across the street.

"Do I hear English?"  I call out.


"I need help.  Would you mind coming over ?"

They live in Chicago.  She's in Mexico studying the history of enchiladas.  She's doing this research for an undergraduate course.  He's come along for the ride.  They're compadres and grateful for the skills they can lend each other.  She speaks Spanish.  He's a good guide.

They offer to help with my luggage, which means I won't need to come back to the car tonight, or do I?  Is the car safe on the street? 

She explains the signs around the city with  big E's indicating parking availability. Lo and behold, right in front of us there is a parking garage.  Car problem solved. 

They go back to where they just came from and get me what they feel is a better map than the one the trolley people gave me.  The map nicely marks where the car is parked, so I'll be able to find it again, and indicates where the hotel is.

The three of us walk to the hotel.  This young couple have become my temporary best friends.

I offer to buy them dinner.  I want to even the score.  They say it isn't necessary.  I insist.

After I'm settled into my hotel room I think it's time to introduce ourselves. 

My new friends are Nicole and Ryan.

We have dinner at the hotel restaurant, their choice.  We say our goodbyes, and we go our separate ways.

Nicole and Ryan thought what they did wasn't such a big deal because the direction we walked together would likely have been the direction they would have walked anyway.

On the other hand, as Nicole thought about it,  she realized that from my point of view they had been extremely helpful, saving me further aggravation.

The advantage of traveling with a friend is that two heads are always better than one.  

The advantage of traveling alone is being forced by circumstance to meet new people.

Nicole and Ryan - it was a pleasure knowing you.


It's Christmas Day.  I haven't been outside yet, but I have a feeling restaurants, and perhaps shops, will be open.  (I've stocked up on food here in my hotel room just in case I'm wrong)

Christmas vacations are becoming increasingly more common.  Morelia is an ideal Christmas spot, full of cathedrals, holiday displays and beautiful weather.

Morelia, found in 1541 was first called Michoacan, which is the name of the state. In 1545 the name was changed to Valladolid.  It became Morelia  in 1828.  Morelia is the birthplace of Morelios who was among the leaders of the war of independence.  

Much of the activity that lead to Mexico's independence occurred here.

The  center of Morelia covers roughly 150 city blocks, which encompassed Morelia's urban area at the end of the eighteenth century.  An  excellent example of Spanish colonialism, Morelia is a UNESCO world heritage site.  There are approximately 1,000 buildings and sites. 

It is a very clean and lovely city.  Unlike Chihuahua the sidewalks are well maintained. Everyday men walk the streets ringing bells that call the people to clean.  All the people pick up garbage, sweep and scrub the sidewalks.  The method is hundreds of years old, but it works.

The plaques tell a story, hero so and so, shot in this square, priest so and so hung here.  The wealth of the Catholic church and its stronghold on this country, the violence caused because the socialist revolutionaries wanting to get rid of the influence and greed of the Catholic Church play a large role in the struggles of  this country.

There is a drawing of a beggar woman in the museum.  The picture is very old.  She could have been in Calcutta because her clothing is the same as a Calcutta begger woman, cloth shawl covering her head, curled up on the sidewalk, cup in hand.  The large shawl covering all but her face and hands.  

The beggar women, looking the same as they did 300 years ago are still here.  With permission I took a photo of a beggar woman, and pay her handsomely for her trouble.  (("Puedo la pintura por favor?" - Can I the picture please?) Begging, I suppose, along with prostitution are the oldest professions.

The violence, the poverty, the desperation, the struggle for equality are all here along with the immense beauty that wealth can produce.

Morelia, Independence Day, September 15, 2008, drug cartel members throw grenades into Morelia's celebratory crowds, killing eight people and injuring 135. 

This holiday season the Federals, charged with fighting drug crimes, are making their presence known with their parades (police car in front - army trucks with armed soldiers in the middle and a second police car flagging the rear)

There are those who firmly  believe that the Federals are an integral part of the drug cartels.  A part of the problem, not part of the solution, pretending to fight the war on drugs, but doing nothing.   
I don't know.  The incessant sirens, fire trucks and ambulances mostly, have become the background noise of my existence.  

Peace on earth and good will toward all people.

Morelia Photos

The main cathedral. There is a grand cathedral or church on what seems like every corner. And each cathedral has beautiful plazas and fountains. The wealth of the church juxtaposed with the poverty of many people and the corruption of the government gives me pause. At heart I'm a revolutionary.

The view of the rooftops was shot from one of the many Morelia museums.

The portico is an integral part of Spanish Colonial architecture, bringing the outside in and the inside out.

Until not too long ago the aqueduct brought water into the city, and water would, and does flow, in the many parks and gardens around the city.

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