My mental maps from my first years of travel are much like the maps drawn by ancient mariners. Coastlines carefully plotted but with great empty spaces inland (save for the odd dragon or airport or two). If it was more than 50 miles from a surf spot, I wasn’t interested. The temples of Ubud? No thanks. Not while Padang Padang was breaking. Komodo dragons? Just big lizards really and at least two days travel from Lakey Peak. Celtic Castles? If they were on the coast, perhaps.
I arrived in Mexico in this frame of mind. And all went more or less according to plan. Arriving at night, flying over city lights that stretched horizon to horizon, we slept over at the airport. The next morning we used my carefully researched notes to get us to the right bus station on onto a bus to Puerto Escondido. For six weeks we surfed up and down the coast. In the melting heat and thumping marcismo of Puerto Escondido. In the sleepy surf camps in bandito country in Michoacan. In the dilapidated concrete shell hotels of Pascuales. I didn’t go any further inland than Tecoman. That was a trip to the bank.
We did end up, after all that, stuck for couple of days in Mexico City though. It was just the way the bus and plane schedules worked out. The first evening we were wandering round the safe but still hectic Zona Rosa, half-heartedly trying to do something, when the sky began to rain ash on us.
“Pretty bad smog, aye”
“Yeah, wow what a polluted city.”
Pete scrapped a big glob of the stuff off a car windscreen. “Glad I don’t live here.”
“Yeah. It’s actually pretty hard to breath. Let’s go back to the hotel.”
The next morning skies had cleared. Big billowing clouds puffed and bulged above the horizon but above us it was fine. And the pollution seemed to have gone.
“Let’s do something.” I think it was Bill’s idea. He went and asked at the reception about day trips and they told us to go to Teotihuacan.
My Spanish was still pretty bad but it sounded, I told Pete and Bill, “like there might be Pyramids there, or something.”
And so, with misplaced accents and forlorn verbs searching for objects, I navigated us via the metro to the right bus station and on to the ancient city.
We bickered a bit wandering through the tourist stalls. Pete was driving irritating me. I was bugging him. And we were both driving Bill nuts. I’m not sure we really started paying attention until we made it to the top of the, ‘Pyramid of the Moon.’
“These buildings,” a guide explained to some tourists next to us. “We ancient even to the Aztecs. They didn’t know who built them. Their legends had that the pyramids were the creations of an ancient race. Or Gods, perhaps.”
“That Pyramid of the Sun, which we are looking at, is the World’s largest pyramid outside Egypt.”
It was impressive. Hewn geometry. Jabbing into the sky. It shone lazy yellow in the sun. Behind it, the dark clouds billowed, threatening.
“Looks like thunder,” I wondered allowed.
“Thunder?” a German tourist looked at me like I was an imbecile. “That’s the eruption. You know, the Volcano?”
“Yes the one that everyone’s talking about. In the news. The ash cloud that smothered the city yesterday?”
“Ash shower? Oh. That ash shower.”
The German gave up on me and I went back to staring over the ruins. The ancient city and monuments, as old as legends, sun-gold against the eruption-dark sky north of us. And I decided that seeing I’d come all this way I should probably take notice of the land as well as the sea. Every once and a while, at least.