[ Mexico's Oldest Church - Photo by BRM ]
Until you have journeyed down into one of the 'timeless' places in Mexico, you will not fully appreciate the meaning of the expression 'Old Mexico'. I used to think that the expression was just a way of making a distinction from New Mexico, USA. I was very wrong. There are many areas of Mexico that give you not only a sense of Colonial Mexico of 400 years ago - but also a feeling of what it was like with the native cultures of a thousand years ago.
My first experience with the country was in 1965. I spent my junior year in college (anthropology major) as a student at the University of the Americas, Mexico City. I was keenly interested in Meso-American archaeology and thought that this was the opportunity to get a jump on the experience of living and working in Mexico and Central America as a field archaeologist. Students and teachers at the university represented over 40 different countries - so it was a very multi-cultural event to interact with them. It also opened my eyes to the reality of how different the rest of the world really is compared to my own background. It certainly made the concept of being a 'world-citizen' seem more interesting then just being a hick from Washington!
The school schedule was not a tough one, so besides the socializing and studying, I managed to get on the school paper as a photographer. This had been a hobby for some time, after taking a couple photography and photo lab classes in junior college, back in California. There was also enough time for exploration, which took two courses - mountain climbing and long trips in the utility van I outfitted for travel. I could not get enough of the experiences we were encountering with the land and culture - it was great!
[ Ismas of Tehuantepec - On the Way to Chiapas ]
Rock climbing and mountain climbing had been hobbies back in Washington - Mt. Rainer and other high places in the Cascades. But here in Mexico they had some very high peaks that looked even more inviting. Popocatepetl and Orizaba - 17,883' and 18,405' respectively. I would put that in meters, but it looks more impressive in feet. I took a shot at Popo and almost over did it. The day of the climb (you start at the edge of the ice cap, about 14,000') there was three groups attempting to go to the summit, about 15 people, and it turned into a foot race, of sorts. It was too steep to walk strait up, so you could either zigzag up or climb sideways, or both. Although I beat everyone to the top, I almost beat everyone back down as well because I had passed out for lack of oxygen on the summit. It was just the luck of my falling in the right direction (onto the relatively level ground of the very narrow lip of the volcano's crater) that prevented me from sliding back down the mountain in an unconscious state and joining the previous unfortunates who's crosses stand at the snow line in mute testimony of their untimely deaths. Climbing that high without the benefit of canned oxygen calls for some prudence. I climbed down into the crater for a look, but didn't hang around long as the sulfur fumes are worse then being down wind of a Washington paper mill. My lungs were taking a lot of punishment with the climb and fumes. My Mt. Orizaba climb got canceled three weeks later when my son made an unexpected arrival - his birth was not due for another month.
[ Down in the Crater - Hot Spot on a Cold Mountain ]
During the school breaks we took van trips all over the country. Surfing in Acapulco, fishing in Vera Cruz, visiting Aztec / Toltec / Omec / Mayan sites - we tried to experience everything. Of all the different areas of Mexico -the jungles of Chiapas and the lost Mayan cities were the most intriguing to me. On the way to San Cristobal de las Casas we stopped in the capitol of the state, Tuxla, to see their zoo of indigenous animals. The animals were so fascinating that the experience sparked a great interest in me to know more about tropical wildlife.
Continue to; Mexico - Page 2