Mexico, High and Low by Elizabeth Moore
My creative director husband spent many years traveling all over the world. He’s visited roughly thirty-eight countries. I once joined him for a two week trip to Mexico City. Although he had to work the first week, he’d be free for the second. We arrived at the busy airport, where a company driver waited. He escorted us to a black Mercedes and drove us to the super posh Four Seasons Hotel in the city. We would stay in a room booked and paid for by the company. I’d been warned about the dangers, but felt capable of looking out for myself while my husband worked long hours putting a show together.
Our room was ridiculously booji. Double arched windows overlooked a beautiful courtyard. The bathroom was spacious, big enough for an antique Persian rug, twin vanities, a gigantic jetted tub, separate shower, and a separate room with a toilet, bidet, small sink, and telephone. We no sooner checked in than my husband had to hurry off. I was on my own. I went down to the concierge desk and booked a trip to a museum the next day. I ate lunch by the fountain and visited the hotel shops.
By the third day, I felt confident about venturing out on my own. One of the guides from our trip to the museum told me I must walk with purpose and pretend I belonged on the street. I shouldn’t consult a guidebook, as touristy behavior attracts criminals. I decided to visit some of the antique shops in the neighborhood. I decided to stop for a cappuccino first. I read a magazine while I treated myself to a pastry to go along with my coffee. Sufficiently caffeinated, I hurried off, briskly traversing crosswalks on wide boulevards filled with throngs of pedestrians. I kept my head down and walked with purpose, as instructed.
Entering a shop packed floor to ceiling with gorgeousness, I admired Colonial treasures I knew I could never afford. Noticing a majolica earthenware jug, I reached for my reading glasses so I might read the price scrawled in tiny script on a tiny sticker, and discovered they were gone. I must’ve dropped my only glasses in the coffee shop! The clerk approached and said something I didn’t understand in Spanish. My command of the language is not the best, and I acted out a mime to indicate I’d lost my glasses. She swept me outside and pointed to a sign a few shops down. It wasn’t difficult to see what she was trying to tell me, a giant pair of eyeglasses dangled from a wrought iron bracket. The optometrist spoke English and sold me a pair of readers for a dollar. I was back in business
#3 La Opera Bar
At the end of the week, the show was over, and we were finally on our own. My husband hired a driver to take us to a far less expensive room in a hotel right off the Zocalo (the city’s massive public square.) Javier showed in a well-cared for, extremely-bright-gold Lincoln Continental. He told us he had lived in California as a young man but preferred Mexico. And Javier issued a warning before dropping us off, there was to be a large public demonstration in the Zocalo the next day, he told us to return to the hotel no later than three. The following morning we ventured out, visited ancient Aztec ruins, and drank beer in La Opera Bar, where Pancho Villa supposedly once rode in on his horseback and fired his gun. As the day wore on, we kept spotting gangs of people wearing differing colored shoulder bands, around town. As the streets grew more and more crowded, we decided to heed our driver’s advice and return to the safety of the hotel.
We sipped margaritas on the balcony of a restaurant at the top of the hotel as tour busses dropped off various groups from various Mexican states. Bandstands set up. Soon speeches blared from loudspeakers. People marched, carried banners, and shouted at each other. We’d never witnessed such a massive and dramatic revolution before, and were thrilled to have a bird’s eye view of the spectacle. A party of Brits arrived and chose the table next to us. A white-haired woman spoke her mind for all to hear, announcing how exasperated she was with the management of the hotel. “They should have warned us,” she shouted over the racket in the Zocalo. “We could be in danger!”
“I hardly think we’re in any danger,” I said. “Not unless we leave the hotel.”
She glared at me. “And just where are you from?”
“That explains everything,” she muttered. A sudden crack of thunder shook the building, and then another and another. A speaker down in the square blew up, sparks flew. A torrential rainfall commenced. Crowds dispersed. Tour bus after tour bus filled up. Within a matter of minutes, the Zocalo had cleared.
My husband arranged for Javier to take to us south, to Taxco. Once again we climbed into the bright gold Lincoln. He stopped in Cuernavaca on the way and dropped us at a restaurant. We ate fish and gazed at a pastoral setting complete with peacocks and tennis-clad Europeans. We toured the Palace of Cortés, which had once belonged to Cortes, the despicable conquistador who caused the fall of the Aztec Empire. We also visited the summer home of Emperor Maximilian and his wife, Carlota.
I chose Taxco because of a photo and description I’d found in the hotel guidebook. Little did I know we’d scheduled our visit during the national silver fair, lucky us! Our hotel in town was reasonable in price. The room was a far cry from the Four Seasons, nothing more than two single beds and a small bathroom, but it was clean and close to all the excitement.
Before returning to Mexico City, Javier dropped us off at a resort high up on the mountain above Taxco. “You can take the tram back down,” he said. The resort was palatial but creepy. It had definitely seen better days. We sat on a terrace and waited for what seemed like forever, only to be served watery guacamole. I’m afraid of heights, and there was no way in hell I was riding a tram in the dark. We had to ask three or four people before we found a maid who pointed us in the right direction.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said, as soon as I saw the sketchy tramway with its ancient operator. I reluctantly climbed in, and we began the 175 meter decent. It’s tough to remember how terrified I was, my brain wants to protect me. I don’t know what we expected, but the tram let us off in a seedy neighborhood, at dusk. A carload of teenagers circled us, twice. Back then, international cell phone service was unreliable at best. My husband’s phone wouldn’t work. Luckily, just as the teenagers approached for the third time, a Volkswagen bug pulled up and the driver cried, “Get in before they rob you!” The doubtful looks on our faces prompted him to add, “I’m a taxi driver and this is my cab.” We looked at him, and then we looked at that car full of leering teenagers. We hopped in the bug.
Bio: When Elizabeth’s not writing feverishly, you will find her out walking or sightseeing. She’s crazy about coffee, books, cooking, good wine, cairn terriers, miniature ponies, historical houses, tapas, and witty people.
She resides in the foothills of the mountains in Southern California, with her tall, dark, and handsome creative-director hubba-hubba-husband, a yappy blonde dog, and one feisty Chihuahua.