Guanajuato is an enchanting city. The historic center is perched atop a maze of tunnels, once used to channel rain and wastewater out of the city, and now pedestrian and automobile routes. Google Maps won’t help you down there. I drove in circles a few times before I figured it out. If you drive there, expect to pay a lot for parking. There is almost no street parking in the center. I paid a dollar an hour, with no discount for the day. Still, it was worth it. I felt every one of the 6700 feet of elevation walking up to my hotel and around the city. I was only there two nights, and spent the day in between exploring a couple of nearby archaeological sites, so I will need to go back at some point. In the meantime, here are a couple shots.
Hierve el Agua is a spectacular travertine formation outside of the capital city of Oaxaca. It is a very popular tourist destination. Like many, it was closed during the pandemic. Mexicans were and are much more sensible about Covid 19 than Americans. There was no politicization here. Early on, there was limited information, and access to vaccines trailed the US by about three months. Nevertheless, people waited hours in line to get their shots, and the percentage vaccinated is now equal or better to that of the United States. Masks are still worn by almost everyone except a percentage of entitled and often arrogant American tourists, temperatures are taken, hand sanitizer used. If you go by the NYT map, cases per capita are far lower than in the States.
Hierve el Agua was closed longer than most of the bigger tourist destinations, such as pre-Columbian sites like Monte Alban and Mitla. There are two communities who control access to the site, one via the autopista, and one by a dirt road over the mountain. They were in dispute for some time over whether to open to tourists. One did, the other didn’t. It got unpleasant for a while. I chose to stay away until they reached an accord. That finally happened in July, so I took a couple visiting friends up. We went in by autopista and (accidentally) left by the mountain road, which was gorgeous. Here are a few shots.
I finally overcame my inertia/fear and upgraded this site, eliminating my long unused painting and photo websites in the process. I guess it will take up to 5 days (seriously? in the age of FTL communication?), but eventually this blog will be at davidscottmoyer.com. I’m not sure if davidscottmoyer.wordpress.com will still work. Anybody know?
I’ve been busy writing on WordPress, but in the private blog I use to create my lastest novel. I’ve also been reading a lot, 28 books this year to date. Some incredible, some solidly mediocre. I post music videos and the occasional personal note on Livejournal. I post pictures and interact with other authors on Instagram. I always intend to spend more time here, but never seem to make it. Once I get this book off to beta readers, I’ll likely exercise my need to write over here. Until then, here is an exchange I had with a writer on Instagram.
There is much I agree with in this quote. I had one small difference of opinion. All is subjective!
And there you have it, the meaning of life according to me and some other random author I hardly know on the internet. You are most welcome!
San José Mogote was the first major cultural center of the Zapotecs in the Etla valley of Oaxaca. There is evidence of a farming community as far back as 1500 BC, and significant political power with the attendant construction of temples, etc, beginning in 1300 BC, or 800 years prior to Monte Alban. Most of the site has yet to be unearthed, which is probably a good thing, as INAH, the Mexican governmental agency tasked with administration and protection of such sites, has barely enough to continue operating established tourist operations. There was no controlled entry here at all, and paths cris-crossed the entire site, with grafitti defacing some upper walls.
I chose to present these in B&W to accentuate the age of the site. Afterwards, we walked around the town of Guadalupe Etla a bit.
I really hope INAH gets the funding they need to properly excavate and preserve this and other priceless heritage sites around Mexico. It would be a shame to lose this history.
Founded in 1779, Real de Catorce, named for 14 Spanish soldiers who were killed by the people whose land they were stealing, was a wealthy silver mining town until the beginning of the 20th century, when the price of silver tanked. At one time, it had a population of 15,000. Now it is around 1000, along with as many tourists as they can pack in on a given day.
It is accessed by a 27 kilometer cobblestone road and a 2 kilometer one way tunnel. Many people, as I did, stay in a hotel or B&B on the downhill side of the tunnel. These next few photos are from the small community there.
My first day there, I drove up to the tunnel in the early afternoon. I had to wait about two hours, until sufficient tourists had left the town to allow parking inside.
The town itself was ridiculously full. I had to inch my way through the narrow winding streets to the far side and down a hill to park. Then, trudging back up at over 9000 feet elevation was a workout. I wandered around a bit and took a few photos, then had dinner and left. The next morning, I went to the tunnel early, before the people with walkie talkies got there. At that hour, you can drive through the tunnel, but you risk meeting someone half way, at which point one of you has to back up. I followed a pickup into the tunnel, and, no surprise, we did meet someone. I and the pickup reversed course to a slightly wider part of the tunnel, let the others pass, and then continued into the town. It was much nicer devoid of tourists. The day before had been Sunday, arguably the busiest day of the week. Even later, when the cars started pouring in, it was less crowded on a Monday. The following are photos from Real Catorce itself.
In the fall of 2007, when the race to replace George W. Bush was heating up, I put my house on the market and traveled to India to get lasic surgery and explore. My plan was to vote for Dennis Kucinich in the upcoming Democratic primary, and to move to Costa Rica on my return. Plans change. My father used to respond to my plans with this statement: “I will monitor all events.” My house sale fell through, I moved in with my then girlfriend, proposed to her, and voted for Obama.
This is a selection of my writings from that trip to India, copied and pasted from the bowels of this blog, where I migrated my Livejournal. I was just beginning to feel my identity as a writer.
The recommendation of Shantaram still stands.
the train trundles through the night, past the myriad trash-fires which warm the untouchables just enough to keep them alive for another day of hardening the hearts of the rich and middle class.
i am not, however, permitted to close the curtain on my windowless upper berth and remain oblivious. every so often, smoke, wind, and the direction we travel conspire to remind me by sending us directly into one of the acrid plumes rising from the fires. it is sucked in by the probably filterless air conditioner and pumped into my lungs, leaving me as laryngitic as if i had smoked a pack of cigarettes in my sleep.
i share my berth with a canadian couple. he was born in calcutta, but has lived in the west for 31 years. she was born in british guyana (of jim jones fame), but her grandparents were from india. she tells me that 70% of guyanans are indian, and not just because an ignorant italian misnamed them.
there is an “indian style” bathroom and a “western style” bathroom on the train. need i explain?
on the train from delhi to kalka, i saw:
cow patties formed into discs by hand and lined up or stacked in piles, rows or patterns to dry by the thousands: fuel.
a solitary woman wrapped in a colorless sari sitting against a wall in the trainyard: sad but dignified.
(it seems only the poor and devoutly religious wear traditional clothing these days, in delhi at least. everyone else is trying to be as western as possible. they’re somewhere in the 80’s.)
people everywhere, living by the tracks, on the platform. a small girl brushing her teeth with a stick in a filthy mudpuddle.
animals: cows, goats, donkeys
then we left the delhi trainyards.
for miles and miles it was like travelling through a landfill, but an inhabited one, women and children everywhere scavenging through the garbage; families huddled around trash fires.
seemingly endless slums.
later: in the middle of a more agricultural area, tall (30′ or so) conical chimneys atop brickmaking kilns dotting the fields. raw and fired bricks stacked everywhere.
a goat in a t-shirt.
a man tightening the bolts on the rails. not with a wrench, with his bare hands.
a bright orange, lifesize plastic? palm tree in an otherwise nondescript rural town.
i sat in a cafe having a more traditional breakfast, and watched the adults file past, in both directions, from wherever they sleep to wherever they work. each group different according to station or employment? but cohesive groups, nonetheless, based on dress, age, what they might be carrying (on their heads if they are women). i didn’t even try to distinguish the hotel workers from the restauranteers from the shopkeepers, or the roadside stand operators, but i got the impression that they walked together, regardless of which they were. it was like small battalions of brightly uniformed soldiers going up and down the street.
then the children. hundreds and hundreds of them, descending on the town for the festivals (not christmas) happening right now. there are festivals all the time, but the holiday they get is christmas. thank you britain. anyway, they filed through by twos, usually holding hands, with adult minders at the front. middle, and rear of each column, like schoolbuses without the bus.
these groups are individualized by dress as well, some with uniforms, some in traditional clothing, some mixed. girls and boys always segregated. one group came to a halt in front of my cafe, because a man was giving a hairbrushing demonstration on a wig sitting on one of those head and shoulder shaped wigstands. the girls were fascinated and crowded around him while the male minders tried without success to get them back in line. the boys watched, bemused but not without interest from their place in line.
unlike hampi, where every building is either a restaurant, a shop, or a hotel geared to tourism, badami is a real town, with real people living real lives. the historical landmarks have yet to turn it into a tourist mecca.
i spent yesterday hanging out with a 26 year old german whom i initially pegged as an aussie because he learned english there. we strolled around the narrow back alleys of badami, pretending to be spanish to confound the omnipresent hordes of children who know how to say only “hello!” and “you from?”
they hadn’t a clue how to respond to “buenas tardes” and “como se llama?”. after saying “hello” and “america” and “david” (to the third question) about a billion times, it was refreshing to be able to sidestep. i remarked to steve that we must be like trained monkeys to them, always responding on cue to their prompts.
we spent a while talking, as i have with so many travellers, about the lack of concern indians seem to have for their own country. it may be that they are no worse than americans, but they have four times as many people in half the space, so it is out of control. still, there is a complete carelessness about everything beyond their personal appearance that baffles me.
we decided to go to the “silver service” restaurant at the posh hotel just outside of town for dinner. this hotel charges 10 times what i am paying in town. i didn’t see the rooms, but they are probably freshly painted with bleached and starched sheets, soap and shampoo. there is a manicured grass courtyard and a swimming pool. in short, this is where rich indians and the occasional well-to-do foreigners come to avoid actually interacting with the real india. they stay there, swim in the pool, and are shuttled around the sights for about $150 a day.
we go into the restaurant, which is empty, but would seat about 120, and order our meals, which cost only about 25% more than the identical dish in town. so, it’s all about the ambiance, right? maybe. the waiters are wearing shoes, there are white table cloths, and odd pillow case things slipped over the backs of the chairs. there are real glasses and silverware (cheap). as soon as you look closely, however, you begin to see that it is a barely executed surface luxury. the waiter’s shirt is filthy, the people who painted the room obviously didn’t even carry a rag to clean up their mistakes, there are mismatched touchups all over the walls, wood has been replaced in the trim with mismatched stain, and the floors are streaky. then, in the middle of dinner, the lights go out, just like everywhere else. so we are wondering how anyone could consider this luxurious. for the americans and the europeans, it probably isn’t, it’s just a way to see the sights and be insulated from the reality around them. it’s easier to spend $5 on a meal when you don’t have to think about how it’s a weeks pay for the people around you. for the indians, though, it’s different. i think maybe they are so used to walking around with blinders on, so to speak, not seeing the filth and squalor and the people who live in it, that they really don’t see the flimsy facade of the “resort”, they actually, perceive it as luxury. they overlook all those little things just as they do the little people.
the cave temples were overwhelmingly breathtaking. going to some more temples today.
THINGS THAT TASTE GOOD, BUT AREN’T, AND OTHER OBSERVATIONS
US brands are everywhere in india, as they are wherever i have travelled. coca cola owns most of the private water reserves in the world, and it is hard to find bottled water that doesn’t come from them or pepsi. lays potato chips are ubiquitous also, although i must say they have a greater variety of flavors here; masala, mint, hot and sweet, and several others, along with the same old boring sour cream for unadventurous westerners (why are they here anyway?). this whole cow thing is ridiculous. there is enough beef and leather wandering the streets to feed every starving person for a year, and give them all jobs making shoes, which they could then wear. not to mention the reduction in greenhouse gases. dead cows don’t fart. someone said to me today that we have to treat india like another planet, and behave like the crew of the enterprise, obeying the prime directive of non-interference. interesting. not that i want to interfere anyway. i just like to whine, complain, and judge what i don’t understand. what a typical american.
seriously, i am in the middle of reading a wonderful collection of indian short stories. it makes me feel much better about this place and its people, in some strange way. i also remember being 19, driving through the woods drinking beer, and laughing as i threw the bottles out the window. four times as many people, half the space…
there are a lot of peacocks in jaipur, and they are all afraid. the fastest still have most of their tails.
tata, india’s car company, is coming out with a model which will cost only one lach (100,000 rupees, or about $2500). traffic will be absolutely impossible as people replace their scooters and motorbikes.
i’m not shopping.
i apologized to my driver, who would have received a commission from anything i bought. i said “i know i’m strange”. he said i was like a coconut, strange on the outside, but soft and sweet on the inside.
yesterday i took my driver for a mocha. he had never even been inside the coffee shop, much less had a mocha, which costs 20 times the cup of chai he drinks. today, i took my driver to lunch at his favorite restaurant. awesome food!
when i arrived, i didn’t like the place at all, even though it was fascinating at times. i have since dropped most of my judgements, found things and places to love in india, and gained a small understanding of, and considerable respect for the people, although there are still things which make no sense and frustrate my western sensibilities.
if you can handle a 1000 page book, read Shantaram. now.
There are a number of things I like about President Biden, most of them related to the fact that he is the polar opposite of the President-Who-Will-Go-Down-In-Infamy. There are few things I really like about him. One of those is his love for trains.
When I was a child, I rode a train from Montana to Georgia to see my grandmother. Memories from that age tend to come in flashes. I see images of lily ponds and backyards festooned with drying laundry. I remember it was a grand adventure. That adventure is no longer possible. The steel rails which criss-cross the United States, and indeed much of the world, look like this today, overgrown and abandoned. In the US, many routes have been torn up, the rails melted down, and the right-of-ways converted to hiking, biking, skiing, and snowmobiling trails. Instead of efficient, affordable transportation and shipping routes, they are now playgrounds for those who have the time and money to play.
Here in Mexico, the railroads survived the onslaught of General Moters and their carbon-spewing bus and truck routes for a much longer time. Mexico and Mexicans simply weren’t rich enough to be that wasteful.
In the end, the demise of the railroads here, as far as I can tell, has been to the lack of maintenance, rather than deliberate replacement. Again, it is due to the scarcity of resources. According to the gentleman I met crossing the tracks as I was taking tourist photos, you could take a train from here to numerous destinations as recently as one or two decades ago.
Two decades ago, the communications revolution was just beginning. When I traveled, I bought a cheap cell phone wherever I went and had to hunt for internet cafes with bandwidth barely above dialup in order to post on my LiveJournal blog.
Now, we all carry the Library of Alexandria in our pockets, we make video calls around the world for free from the local coffee shop, and, in a few countries, there are functioning, state-of-the-art railroads. Sadly, in this hemisphere, what few trains we have are barely out of the 19th century.
I had hoped that Biden would have coattails in the Senate and House elections, enabling him to pursue a more ambitious agenda, including a real infrastructure plan with a full revitalization of our rail system rather than just a few billion bandaids.
Alas, it was not to be, so I will Just have to wait paitently and eternally hopeful like this railroad dog.
When I went to Atzompa three days ago, I sighted this spectacular tanager in a tree. I didn’t have my “real” camera with me, however, with its attendant telephoto lens, so I didn’t get a photo. Two days ago I went back. I tend to go to places multiple times around here, both because I want to, and because I like to take my friends places. Anyway, this time I took my Olympus with its 300mm (600mm equivalent) lens. Red was waiting for me, and let me get almost close enough for a great shot.
I’m pretty sure this is the same type of tanager that I saw often in Tucson. I’m guessing that, like many Americans, it is down here for the winter.
I also snapped this photo of an open seed pod on a Ceiba (Silk Cotton Tree). This is the national tree of Costa Rica and is also one of the trees you see growing on the buildings of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, along with Strangler Figs. People here consider the tree sacred, and the “cotton” is harvested and used to make ceremonial garments.
Speaking of Ceremonial, I was also back at Yagul the other day, and finally managed to find the intriguing rock wall that you can see from the parking area. I tried a month ago, but couldn’t locate it. This time, I did. It turns out that it is more of a bridge than a wall, leading out to a giant split rock, high above the valley floor. I imagine it was a place where a priest (shaman) went on the solstice, but nobody knows. It definitely serves no practical purpose.
Isn’t it interesting how so many of the things we value, pursue, love, explore, keep, and miss have no practical purpose?
I have been woefully absent. I promise to write something later today. It may or may not be interesting.
Meanwhile, here’s a happy accident photo from my phone last year. Get vaxxed, mask up anyway, and live life.