Days 8 and 9: Andrew Gets Lost

I read a few guidebooks to Mexico before I came down here, and none of them provided the following advice:

When jogging through long underground tunnels, do not assume you know where you are when you get back to the surface.

Yesterday I went out for a run through Guanajuato’s downtown tunnel system. It’s a bit freaky, running through dark, narrow tunnels, on a foot-wide sidewalk while buses go speeding past just inches away. The tunnels snake underneath the city, with offshoots leading to the surface in some places and side tunnels heading off in this direction or that. I ran through the tunnels for about 20 minutes, finally emerging in a part of town I hadn’t seen before.

Thanks to my innate sense of direction, I took my bearings and headed off in the direction for home. Or, as it turned out, in the direction of Guatemala. It wasn’t long before I realized I was completely, absurdly lost. The direction I thought was home didn’t seem to be heading home, and I couldn’t see any of the landmarks that are easy to see from most other parts of the city. I was also hot, thirsty, tired and the only person wearing jogging pants and a t-shirt.

I backtracked, intending to head back into the tunnel and re-trace my steps if necessary, but eventually I came to a sign pointing for Guanajuato Centro. It was, in my opinion, pointing in the exact opposite direction as my innate sense of direction told me it should be pointing, but I followed the road anyway. The next sign also pointed in the exact opposite direction that I thought it should have, and this continued through two more signs until I popped up in a part of town I recognized. To say that I got turned around in the tunnels is a major understatement. It’s like if you got up in the middle of the night to get a drink and found yourself in Sweden. [Note: If you’re reading this in Sweden, please substitute “Ethiopia” for the previous reference. Also, if you’re reading this in Sweden, I’m very fond of your meatballs. Well done!]

I eventually returned home, hot, sweaty, tired and ready for a phone meeting. For some reason, it turned into a video chat meeting, and I spent most of the meeting snacking, somewhat oblivious to what it must have looked like on the other end to see a disheveled me pounding almonds and cheese like it was happy hour at the hors d’oeuvres factory.

Last night I went out for dinner and had a bowl of mediocre posole, which was served with a basket of chips and salsa, as well as a platter of fried tortillas (i.e. giant chips) and lettuce. That may be too much chips for one sitting, as I dreamed last night that I was so late to a ComedySportz road show that they replaced me with another player, and I was simultaneously disappointed to miss the show and thrilled that my team followed protocol. Also, the show may have been in Spanish.

This morning was a work morning, interrupted by the gas man coming to check the propane tanks. The upper tank is currently low, and he explained how to switch the gas to the secondary tank when it runs out, i.e. in the middle of a shower that suddenly becomes an ice bath.

After work I went out for a shopping trip, stopping by the close tortilleria for a stack of five to go, which I hoovered down post haste. Then I stopped at a café for the hottest cup of hot chocolate I have ever had. Seriously, the boiling point of water here is 199 degrees, but this cup of hot chocolate was at least 450 degrees. I think I scalded some of my ancestors.

Next I hit my favorite tortilleria for a stack of 20, ate a few for quality control (Quality: Excellent) and then hit Mercado Hidalgo to get some fruit, veggies, nuts and chicken. At the chicken stand, the proprietor was expertly hacking up chickens with a small machete. Speaking as someone who has cut up his fair share of chickens, that sucker must’ve been sharp.

Then it was back home, where I discovered a few neighbor girls had turned my front steps into a makeshift fort. They apologized for disturbing me, and I smiled and told them not to worry. Or maybe I told them that I was considering a career as a chicken bifurcater. They didn’t run away screaming while I unlocked the door.

It’s hard to get used to all the locks around here. Every house has a locked front metal grate over the front door, as well as a sturdy lock on the door and bars over all the windows. The house that I’m in has a total of nine keys to open the various doors on the premises. The guest book makes a point of insisting that all doors be locked at any time I’m not here, so I spend the better part of each day locking and unlocking doors.

After dinner I headed back into town for a concert at the Teatro Principal. It was a choral group, accompanied by a solo pianist, singing Vivaldi’s Gloria and a few excerpts from Handel’s Messiah. They were delightful.

Guanajuato audiences are extremely sophisticated. Not only do they know where to clap and where not to clap during classical music, but they also understand that standing ovations should be reserved for the most transcendent performances. Contrast this with, say, Portland audiences, who believe that standing ovations are warranted any time the performers are carbon-based life forms.

It does appear that the encore is a standard and expected part of any performance here. I’ve been to three shows, two of which were classical, and in each one the audience demanded an encore, which the performers had clearly prepared for. And in both classical concerts, the encore was simply a repeat of a particularly interesting passage of music from earlier in the night. It’s a charming custom.

One more simple pleasure from today: At the mercado I bought four tangerines and squeezed them into a refreshing glass of juice to quench my thirst following the afternoon walk. It was sweet and delicious and vibrant, a wonderful way to put an exclamation point on the day.

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