Saturday, 10.V.14toWednesday, 14.V.14

Easy to Cancun. Easy to hotel. Room floodlit blue.

Take an unexpectedly long walk along empty, wide, dark streets to a cafe under canopy. Order a quesadilla but it's not what I thought (hoped) it would be. So I order more, approaching the alien menu with a reckless scattered approach. Get soup, unexpectedly.

Return to hotel and sleep, so gladly. In the middle of the night, about 2am, I attempt to persuade myself - unsuccessfully - that the day has not yet begun. So I lie there in the dark listening the loud drone of the air conditioner, waiting with mild anxiety for daylight and the moment when I will rise.

Leave Cancun as soon as I can. En route to Valladolid I see a large, drooping vinyl poster advertising a barbecue cafe. A whole third is taken up by a photo of a brown sheep, shot at night with heavy flash and deep shadows. The sheep looks disturbed, its eyes glinting wildly. I listen to Beethoven's third symphony and feel disturbed myself.

When I arrive in Valladolid, Octavio Paz reminds me that a human consciousness without games and work has to confront its innate aloneness. Travelling - at the beginning at least - is neither a game nor work.

But in the evening at a café on the edge of a square I enter the first mescal haze of the trip and all anxieties become replaced by an empty consciousness throbbing with the easy primitives of the kinetic world. Then, in a cloistered courtyard with a fig tree and a fountain, sincere guitar strumming echoes with tension around the columns and I eat well.

Woke up to an army of cockerels crying out in terrifying unison, as if to announce an imminent apocalypse. Amidst and over their bloody wailing, a jeering whoop, whistle, and shriek rings out from what I imagine are those skittish dark bobbing birds with talons that are far too long. These birds have also sensed the apocalypse but welcome it with a nihilistic glee and find the cockerels' simple terror hilarious. The end does not come, but I take shelter underground nonetheless.

A short cycle ride takes me to two cenotes: caves that resemble vast buried condensation flasks, left for centuries to mold over and fester. Both have small apertures in their ceilings where the sun knifes through and explodes in turquoise blades across and into the surface of the water. Bats flit and cheep overhead and hang by magic from the damp jagged rock of the ceiling; black, blind catfish gently stir in brownian motions; and gods crouch invisible, waiting for some sacrifice that has now been so long in coming.

This morning I leave early to reach the ruins of Chichén Itzá before the tour buses from Cancun arrive. On the combi (collective taxi) is a British couple, pale and early thirties, and a backpacking pair of girls, both speaking english but one identifying as Dutch. I try with concentrated determination to appear as distant as possible, although my first tactic of defence - to feign a lack of english comprehension - gets dismantled early when the Dutch girl asked me where I was from. After that lapse, however, no more words are required of me and the backpackers drone backpacking stories exclusively to each other.

All along the short walk from the entrance to the first temple vendors are neatly laying out their skulls and rugs and small statues of fallen gods. The path soon opens out onto a huge expanse of short, dry grass and a towering towering temple: four-sided with steep staircases up each side and several other powerful stone structures distantly surrounding it.

With no forewarning and no premeditation a vivid image comes to me of this expanse from some 1,000 years ago. It is almost unchanged except in place of the gawping tour groups in their matching safety-orange t-shirts there are short naked Mayans walking about, fearing the temple and its volatile gods, ignorant of Cortés and his steel, and unsure whether the sun will rise again the next day. The thought that all of this once was and is now no longer is so immediate, unexpected and painful that for a brief moment, tears come my eyes, spill over the frames of my sunglasses and roll down my cheeks.

As the day quickly matures the sun redoubles its power. The tour groups multiply and the vendors begin their subtle trade. They don’t push hard or pursue long; just a mild “Hola. Buenas días” as you walk past. One man offers a “Good morning” to a british woman in a pink strapless top (and pinker neck) to which she audibly sighs and in her best brummie accent squeezes out an exhausted “Morning”. Bloody immigrants.

The most forward sales approach involves demonstrations of a leopard-growl instrument. Every few minutes or so you’ll hear a vicious snarl from behind some bush and hope that this time, just maybe, it’s a real leopard and that soon to follow there’ll be some authentic human screaming as a sweaty foreigner gets savagely disembowelled (sacrificed) by one of those sacred, swift, and violent beasts.

On a stone platform two iguanas are in battle. The larger of the two lizards has the other’s throat in its mouth while the smaller flails with it a gaping open, presumably trying to reciprocate. They writhe and hiss and circle one another in violent jerky movements. Overlooking them is another lizard, at least three times bigger than the fighting pair, unblinking, unflinching. And overlooking all of this is the temple and its gods.

More ruins today at Ek Balam. Much smaller than Chichén Itzá but with well preserved stucco reliefs with evidence of colour: a glimpse into the reality that how these “ruins” appear today, all dusty white and crumbling, is a far cry from the ornate and vividly coloured world the Maya would have experienced.

On leaving, I follow an overgrown footpath that Google Maps promises will lead to the extant village of Ek Balam. Halfway along I realise I have managed to reenter the ruin site, bypassing the official entrance and toll collection. I Continue nonetheless. Soon I come to a barbed wire fence guarded by a boy sitting under the powerful sun. I ask him if I can pass. This troubles him. He is clearly finding it difficult to find a reason why not but knows that he really shouldn’t given that guarding this fence is the sole purpose for his sitting there.

He asks me why I want to pass. To go to Ek Balam I say. Why? Because there’s a cafe there. Hmm.

Grudgingly, he says I can pass, but manages to somewhat satisfy his role as gatekeeper by making no effort to assist me with the barbed wire. I look sceptically at the strips of rusty spikes. How do I pass? I ask. He gestures vaguely at the fence. I gesture vaguely at the fence. Finally he gives in, gets up, and lifts up the barbs the smallest amount. I squeeze through, thank him, and carry on towards Ek Balam.

There was nothing in Ek Balam. The cafe was closed until August and everyone was asleep. How will I get back? I suddenly start to worry. There’s no question of returning the way I came via the boy and his fence. I ask a man asleep in a hammock. He doesn’t know. I ask two more men also asleep in their hammocks. They don’t know. One of them seems to think buses come by “sometimes” that will take me all the way back to Valladolid.

There's a taxi parked under a tree with all its windows open so I sit next to this hoping the owner will turn up shortly. Ten minutes pass and a man walks past. I ask him whether this taxi will go to Valladolid. His shrugs suggests a negative. I ask him how I might get back to Valladolid. He doesn't know. I suddenly get the idea that there might be taxis at the ruins that will take me back. I ask him if he thinks so. Yeah, probably.

Google Maps shows a road back to the ruins, a lot longer than the footpath shortcut. Standing at the edge of the village I look down this road. It stretches a long way into nothing and is buzzing with the high midday heat. So I walk back to the ruins.

Three quarters of the way there, a man pulls up on a red motorcycle. He offers me a ride. I look at his bike and its shiny-slippery black seat. I look at the road and its the shiny-hard black tarmac. And I look at his head, fragile and unhelmeted. I say no thanks. He buzzes off. The sun intensifies. And I immediately regret it.

Almost back at the ruins now, a taxi comes past going in the right direction and I wave at it frantically. It speeds past. I can’t actually see the face of the driver but I see his face as sneering. Another taxi comes past and I wave again. It speeds past. Then it slows. Then it stops. I run up:

“¡Bueno! ¿Puedo?”
“¡Bueno! ¡Muchas gracias!”

I look at the back seat and there are the two glum english people from the bus yesterday to Chichén Itzá. They’re looking at me bitterly. I thank them, in Spanish, take my place up front next to the driver and together we all speed off back to Valladolid.

On returning I get a haircut. In the baking hot salon, and the 35ºc outside, the first thing the hairdresser asks me is: “So, is it hot outside?”. I tell her it is and she asks if I’ve got children. No. She looks concerned and asks if I’m married. No. Well, how old are you? 27. Oh you’ve got plenty of time, she laughs nervously.

Thursday, 15.V.14toSunday, 18.V.14

Movement today: from Valladolid to Tízimin to Río Lagartos. It rains heavy in Tízimin but I have an hour to wait for a bus. So despite it being only midday and despite having just eaten a large breakfast I decide to visit a well recommended restaurant. On the way I get mildly lost and very wet and when I do arrive I order relleno negro, which literally translates as “black stuffed”. A bowl of black viscous liquid arrives with lumps of black sticking out and lumps of black-stained hard-boiled egg sticking out. This is the black stuffed. And I regret. But I drink my beer, manage to eat some black, then hurry back.

At the bus stop there’s a large glass box on the wall. Trapped inside is the Virgin Mary holding an infant Jesus. In front of the case is a small prayer stool with a neat little coin slot sliced into the arm-rest. I wonder who receives the proceeds of this device; whether there is a company that installs these machines in bus stops around the area in exchange for a cut of the profits...

It’s said there are flamingos in Río Lagartos but I didn’t see any of them. Then again, the Spanish did name the place “Alligator River” despite there being no river - it’s a lagoon - and despite there being no alligators - they’re crocodiles. So no flamingos but plenty of pelicans.

Travelling again, this time from Río Lagartos back to Tízimin and on to Mérida. But before I leave I take a final walk around this beautiful, colourful place. Overhead I hear a series of strange squawks. I look up and see long necks and spindly legs, a big wingspan and a vague - it’s hard to see with such heavy backlighting from the sun - shade of pink. These are flamingos! There are flamingos!

They have trouble keeping a straight course in the heavy wind and although it seems like I can walk and keep up with them they soon disappear over the horizon and once again reenter non-existence.

Mérida. Wandered. Mostly aimless.

In a rusting yellow and green box on the wall I post three postcards. Although this box has the graphic design of a postbox - a soaring bird with an envelope in its mouth - its current condition and location suggests it is no longer a living postbox. Thus did I ponder after having posted the letters and I must admit that I found the idea of them sitting there for decades to come, mellowing in the heat, poignantly enjoyable.

Did some wandering around the market. Here I adopted a technique I’d developed in Peru. Set camera to fully auto, thumb on shutter, lens at hip, and point and click rapidly, all the while looking up, browsing calmly, trying hard to appear as if not photographing at all. The result? Many photos of nothing. Many out of focus, under-exposed, over-exposed, blurry, or some combination of all four. Some of these photos could have been really good photos had more care been taken but fear gets in the way.

In the radically different setting of a museum in a bank, there’s a curious painting of a girl, about 9 years old. She’s wearing a lacy white dress with blue embroidery and a blue ribbon tied round her waist. The base of the dress expands voluminously and rapidly in many layers and her hair forms tight ringlets that rest upon her shoulders. In one hand, resting on her side, is a small bouquet of flowers, and in the other is a pink rose which she holds out as if very suspiciously offering it to us. Her face wears an expression of ambiguity (or so memory recalls).

What’s particularly striking about this painting though, is the light. The dark room in which she’s standing is shaded by a curtain of deep red, and the sun, in its attempt to penetrate it, casts a red shadowy glow over one half of the girl’s face and body and renders the whole scene scarlet and equivocal.

Monday, 19.V.14toThursday, 22.V.14

A giant American tour group bumbles about the entrance foyer of the Uxmal ruins (pronounced "oosh-mal"). They have large orange stickers on their chests with either "1" or "2" written on them. Suddenly, a short, loud Mexican man shouts that all the number 1’s have to form a line, two-by-two, on this side - he points - and the number 2’s have to line up on that side (points again). Then, he and his assistant go and stand at the turnstiles in front of each queue and hand out tickets to the Americans as they file past. The Americans in turn hand their ticket to the guard at the turnstile and, with permission, they squeeze their own way in. As a few start to make their way up the path, the loud Mexican shouts after them, telling them to wait for him at the entrance gate.

They’ve chosen this. Maybe they like it.

Inside I climb the tall temple. There’s something very exciting about climbing a temple. Partly it’s the view of the jungle stretching out all around, but mostly, I think, it’s the privilege. Access to the top of a temple must have been quite restricted; the ruler and a few priests were presumably the only ones allowed climbed it. If you were anyone else you were probably on your way to be sacrificed.

Slightly strange breakfast of nachos covered in beans and a liquid, mildly sour, green sauce, topped with squiggles of yogurt. Then a bus to Campeche.

On the bus there’s a Tom Cruise movie showing called “Oblivion”, dubbed in spanish. Not that you’d notice though because they’ve turned the volume right down: not so low that it wouldn’t disturb you but not loud enough so as you could actually hear anything other than the bits with explosions and gunfire. Given this and given my bad spanish I found it very difficult to understand much of what I could clearly see happening. (There is a happy ending though; I can spoil it for you that much at least.)

The next film they show is called Labyrinths and I’ve seen it already. This makes the language/volume issue less of an issue. But it also means that I know there’s going to be some pretty gruesome torture scenes in about 20 minutes and this coach load of innocents are all going to be traumatised (perhaps). 15 minutes later we pull into the depot and everyone gets off.

Walking back along the Gulf of Mexico sea at dusk the drooping dark clouds which have been throbbing all evening eventually give way to rain: warm raindrops big enough to fill a shot glass. When the storm subsides I wander the streets looking for a shop that’ll sell beer. Were none. That evening, I learn that in Palermo, Sicily there were fireworks at noon.

A strange feeling when your eyes start to sting because of the salty sweat running down your forehead.

In the evening it rains again so I lie in my room watching a television. Four Weddings and a Funeral is playing - no dubbing! - so I watch it as if sipping from an oasis. Such a novel feeling to be understanding long, complicated sentences once again. But when the weather worsens and I become less inclined to go outside, the television signal cuts and Four Weddings disappears. When the weather improves, Four Weddings returns. Thus I spend the evening in a transfixed state: staring desperately at a blue screen whilst thunder and lighting rumble outside, and then, when the sun begins to shine invitingly, I am stuck on my bed, unable to turn off Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell. I think this is what’s called a "Mexican adventure".

Before today I had not seen one sex shop on this whole peninsula. Today I see two sex shops, a few doors down from one another, within the old walled city of Campeche. One was called Sekso, and the other, written on signage that would not have looked out of place on a mother-and-baby shop, was called Tienda de Amor.

The other observation I made today, unrelated I’m sure, is that in every Mexican town, every teenager is in love with another teenager.

As I’m drinking coffee in a perfectly decaying colonial courtyard a bald man enters. He’s bald but stubborn tufts of wiry grey hair are growing their way out of the back of his bronzed, creased head. Because the tiles are smooth he can slide his flipflop quite a long way before lifting it for the next step. He makes proper use of this opportunity as he swishes over to my table (my table first).

My automatic response to these occasions is a half-smile and a “no gracias”, I don’t want to buy your woven bracelets/hat/hammock/something from the box at the front of your bicycle. My response was no different on this occasion but the offer was. This man wanted to sell me his poetry.

He held out to me a thin paperback with a photo of a cloudy sunset as its cover, all oranges and umber. I wasn’t able to see the full title but it included the word “natural”.

“¿[Something something] poemas?” he asks me.

Poems! He was selling poems. And I know they were his poems because I saw a small photo of him on the back cover as he glided off to the next table. A poet, going table to table, personally hawking his verse, an activity that seems at once absurdly hopeless and urgently necessary.

In the market, bouquets of flowers bloom proudly next to yellow chickens that dangle from hooks in their necks. A pig’s head hangs from another hook and stares fixedly ahead. Women in front of piles of dried fish swat infinitely at the notion of flies. And someone, somewhere, sharpens a knife.

Saturday, 24.V.14toThursday, 28.V.14

Back in Merida, in the main square, a man is conducting a survey with another man sitting on the bench next to mine. The survey man turns to me and asks where I’m from. "Reino Unido", I say. “Wheeey!” he says pumping his fist in the air, clearly thinking hard for a suitable verbal accompaniement to the action. Fails. Goes back to asking questions to the other man.

A few minutes later he says "Ringo Star" at me. I look over.
“Ringo Star. You look like Ringo Star”.
“No. More like Oasis, you know, Gallagher”.
“You like rock-and-roll? You play music? You play an instrument?”
"No, no toco nada."
“Relax” he tells me, and waves his hands downwards as if trying to calm a suddenly volatile goat.

A few minutes pass.
“You know, there’s a party here tonight.”
"Sí, lo he visto," I say pointing to a large balloon floating above the square advertising the party.
“You can meet the large hipped women.”
"Bueno, gracías."
“You’re welcome,” he laughs. “Welcome to my city!”

I cross the peninsula today to Tulum on the Caribbean coast. The town is essentially a strip of gift shops, gringo bars, hotels, and scuba diving tour operators.

My hotel is run by Italian hippies. When I arrive a spaced out dude is super-reclined on a couch, open-eye-blind and deep-stroking a dog with his bent left hand. He's friendly enough, shows me to my room and hands over the keys. In the room there is a small bed, a large bed, a hammock, and two towels rolled up like phalluses.

When it gets dark I leave to stroll. At the bar where I have a tequila there was a refrigerated counter which contained the following (in this order): a carrot, some chocolate cake, a pomegranate, another carrot, a sponge cake, and an apple. For further illumination, I should mention that both the carrots were large, unpeeled, and nobbly in all sorts of unattrative ways.

On Tulum beach the sea plays out its resigned repetitive (infinite) churn: affecting weariness but secretly, unsubtly, thoroughly content. In other places where there are rocks, there is a more determined level of business to its ebb and flow; its work is harder here leaving no time to ponder the metaphysical.

About 200 meters before the ticket booth at the Tulum ruins there’s a false entrance with a kind of souvenir mall, more souvenir shops and a few restaurants that advertise “happy hours” [sic.] - 2 for 1 beers - with no prescribed time range. There’s a roundabout around which brightly coloured trailers get pulled by tractors so the visitors can get to the ruins without using their feet.

In the middle of the roundabout is a naked blue flagpole around which sit several Mexicans on rocks, wooden planks, or plastic chairs. They’re dressed up kind of “traditional” with white shirts, embroidered red sashes, red trousers, and black boots with cuban heels. A few are blowing into wooden flutes without melody or rhythm or any purpose beyond the animal need to respirate.

A group of six Americans in sunglasses and cameras sit down on one of the benches nearby and without any hesitation or communication all the “tribesmen” jump to attention and make their way towards the flagpole. Their instruments coalesce into a kind of tune and the two of them that have little drums on the end of their flutes bang them. They walk in a stuttering circle, occasionally pausing, lifting a leg, and changing direction. Sometimes they make synchronised deep bows towards the paint-spattered base of the flagpole.

Eventually the marching ends and they high-five and fist-bump each other. One of them takes something out of a plastic bag and sets it on fire causing much smoke and a strong smell of burning plastic. Another walks up to the seated tourists and asks for some money. The ceremony now over, they return to their previous positions.

Walking along the beach - white sand, turquoise sea - wearing a large black backpack, black jeans and black boots, I couldn’t but help feel like a pervert.

Back in Cancun!! The final stop before I leave the peninsula.

With an afternoon to spare in the dullest of downtowns, I head over to the hotel zone, a long, narrow stretch of land running north-south along the east coast. On one side is a murky-green lagoon and on the other is the turquoise caribbean sea. Yet for the entire length of this strip there’s no sign of any sea or beach because the coastline has been completely obscured from the road by giant, balconied, hotels. The only way to the sea, it seems, is through their lobbies.

At the northern most point of the strip several giant-mouthed nightclub venues face each other looking grubby in the intense sunlight. There are also several malls filled with shops selling infinite repetitions of the same small trinkets. Between a nightclub and a mall I find a dark and dirty alleyway with a blaze of blue peeking at its end. I follow it and am suddenly thrown onto a beach with a spectacular rendition of living colour.

On the packed bus back to the downtown area a man gets on carrying an amplifier. He puts the amplifier on the luggage rack and begins to fiddle around with some cables and a microphone. After a few minutes of this fiddling we hear his voice, amplified and with a stadium-style reverb. He tells us he wants to talk about God - the particulars escaped me - but first he wants to play us a song. More endless knob twiddling as he tries to get his phone to play through his amplifier.

When finally he succeeds, the whole bus - mostly tired hotel employees - is put upon by a one-dimensional power ballad about how wonderful things happen when some guy raises his hands. As all things eventually do, the song ends, and our on-board evangelist does the switch-back-to-microphone trick with his amp. When he’s done doing that he starts talking again. I can follow almost nothing of what he’s saying and no one else looks like they have even noticed him. Fifteen minutes later and we’ve arrived back in town. He thanks us, begins to dissemble his equipment and eventually gets off the bus.

I rise in darkness this morning to get to the airport in time. In the hotel lobby the receptionist is asleep and the front door is locked. His head is resting in both hands and he's sleeping heavy; I have resort to knocking on the desk to wake him up and let me out.

He wakes up, looks distressed and goes to unlock the door. Outside my taxi is waiting and soon we’re driving fast through the dark and empty streets of Cancun. This afternoon I arrive in Veracruz airport, get a bus to Xalepo where Eric meets me and we drive to Coatapec to meet Oonagh, Sam, Anne, Lily and Cora.

Thursday, 29.V.14toSaturday, 31.V.14

The buns here look so great and there are so many different kinds but the temptations of the exterior evaporate so rapidly upon eating, leaving behind only the disappointment of their taste and texture. In fact, the bland monotony of their insides is the absolute negation of the exciting multiplicities of their exteriors.

We move to Xalapa today and I get my shoes shined in a square. The seat is very high, upholstered in peeling faux leather and is padded like it belongs in a racing car. The shoeshiner applies some kind of black liquid with a paint brush. It bears an uneasy resemblance to ink and when it dries it creates diffraction patterns like pooled petrol in a gutter. I watch the whole process intently with curiousity and not without some nervousness and feel no need to distract myself with the Playboy magazines in the armrest.

Shoes now blackened, all I need to complete my wedding outfit is a guayabera. I find a plain white cotton one and it’s made by a brand called Kyke. Perfect.

In the evening, by way of Adam’s final parade as a stag, Sam and Eric have planned a trip to see some Lucha Libre. There’s a queue round the corner which ends at a small grilled aperture behind which two people sit with a seating plan, the unavailable ones crossed out with a marker pen.

We get fifth row seats in a vast dark room. Bass pumps deep and you can feel your trousers vibrating. Above the ring hang a modest collection of tungsten bulbs and the blue mat below glows a warm yellow. The faces that line the caged balconies above also glow yellow. In a corner, beef and chicken and chorizo are being fried for tacos and men with ice-buckets of beer and soft-drinks circulate.

When the wrestling begins, six men enter one-by-one (three per team) accompanied to a muffled announcement and then either boos or cheers from the crowd. Everyone seems to already know who’s good and who's bad and when the fighting beings, the distinction becomes toally obvious. There are the bad guys who use chairs and sneak in disallowed punches when the ref’s not looking. And then there are good guys - the victims - who are faster and more agile and do backflips off the top ropes.

Many wear leather masks decorated with spikes and flames and laced tight at the back like a corset. Some masks even obscure the eyes with a finely perforated material allowing the fighter to form a pointilist composite of the scene. Those who do not wear a mask obscure themselves by other means.Drag, for example. The crowd have a fondness for these mincing wrestlers in make up but like to be outraged when they wield their special moves of kissing and butt-bumping (for which their rivals punish them harshly with dropkicks and slams to the mat).

We leave before the last fight so that the next day’s groom doesn’t get to bed too late. The score, as we left it, was 5-1 to the bad guys. A surprising outcome I thought. What conclusions might we draw from this about the spirit of the nation?

Today was the day with the wedding.

It began with the vows. Then many signatures on a large certificate. Then the bride and groom’s thumb prints. Then they were married.

When the ceremony was over over a long queue formed in front of the matrimonial gazebo so that everyone could get their photograph with the new couple. And then there was some dancing.

The principal pair began on their own for a brief while. Then the bride’s parents cut in forming two dancing pairs (mother with groom, father with bride). They were soon replaced by the groom’s parents, and then the rest of us: stepping our steps, offering our congratulations, and moving on.

Speeches. Then eating.

There was a buffet that started with tortillas, led to stews, and finished with salsas and frijoles. The mexican guests took their tortillas - one for each stew - and laid them out open across their plates, slightly overlapping. They then ladled some stew into each tortilla, folding it over neatly and moving it to one side. This was repeated for each of the stews. At the end, they applied the accompaniments, sat down and ate their neatly wrapped wraps.

In contrast, us british guests folded up our tortillas and placed them out of the way on the side of our plates. We then ladled the stews onto out plates forming intersecting puddles. At the last stew station a member of the waiting staff would note the chaotic state of our meal, smile warmly, and reach behind the counter to retrieve a hidden fork to our relief. In trying to make our wraps post hoc we failed entirely.

After the food there were some more rituals. First, the bride and groom stood on chairs: bride in front, both facing forward, with the groom holding her veil to form a bridge between them. Then all the female guests formed a chain and ran around them in a figure-of-eight, apparently trying to knock them over. When they gave up doing this they gathered in a huddle behind the bride and awaited the throwing of the bouquet. It was thrown, there was commotion, it was caught.

Next, the bride sat down on one of the chairs while the groom danced in front of her to Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees. Still moving to the beat, the groom began to reach under his new wife’s wedding dress, finally coming out triumphant with her garter in hand. This achieved, they ascended to the chairs once more but this time with the groom in front and wearing the veil. All the men linked up, did the figure-of-eight again and still failed to knock anyone over. They too then gathered up behind the couple and waited for the groom to throw the garter, although this time they’re meant to avoid catching it; as before, success here foretells imminent marriage.

Perhaps as revenge, a bunch of men now pick up the groom and carry him round the room to the accompaniment of a funeral march. They take off his shoes and socks and throw him up in the air several times. Throw and catch, throw and catch (the ceiling fans were turned off during this ritual). Finally he’s put down, sat down, and his wife does a dance in front of him, moving smooth, gliding, putting back on his socks and shoes.

From here on in there’s dancing. Serious dancing. From everyone (apart from us british guests). I look on with envy and incredulity as a whole party full of people dance with such profound skill and joy.

The dancing is interrupted briefly by Mariachi band who arrive with tight pendant-studded trousers and large bow ties. They sing sad songs of love and for a while no one’s dancing. But very soon they start playing more joyous songs of love and people return to the dance with untempered vigour. Without any warning the Mariachi leave, walking out the way the way came, serenading themselves the whole way home.

The dancing continues of course but the ceremonies and rituals have come to end. Gradually the dance floor clears. Cars fill up and drive off. Only close family remain.

Darkness falls and the cicadas replace the beat. The venue owner’s dog at last gets let out and she barks with boredom at the strangers waiting in the potholed car park. Twenty minutes pass and we learn that the taxis aren’t coming. More taxis are ordered and the wait begins again.

The movement, sound, and ceremony are completely vanished by now and the wilderness of the world has reclaimed all. The night is chilly and damp and for a long fifteen minutes we all stand alone in the dark, half hearing the half-real echoes of the day just gone. Two taxis pull up slowly, grinding lightly over the gravel. What a sight through the headlights we must have been; suits and dresses, shivering and vulnerable, huddled alone in an extinct jungle.

Sunday, 01.VI.14toWednesday, 04.V.14

For the last bit of my time in Mexico I board a bus from Xalapa to the capital. In the queue to board, three people back, is a man of extreme proportions. His shoulders are at least three times wider than his tiny pinched waist, and his arms are just about as thick as his legs. This man has lifted many heavy objects.

His hair is shaved back and sides and the slightly longer top is gelled up into black needles. He’s wearing a large, sparkling stud in his left ear and a pair of insectoid reflective shades. Everything about him has an edge.

To complete the drama he wears a skin-tight red elastic tank top that only amplifies the sharp V of his physique. Through the fabric, thinly stretched over his huge left breast, a large and precisely tattooed black swastika offers its opinions. Our tickets come with seat reservations and there is a chance his will be the one next to mine.

It isn’t.

When the bus arrives in Mexico City I get the metro to where the airbnb apartment is. The doorman recognises my backpack as signifying that I am a customer of Carlos’ and fetches him from a café down the road. Carlos comes over and shows me around the apartment. He explains that he will be going away but that his mother lives nearby and could be of help to me if I need it. So he takes me back to the café and introduces me. His mother is wearing large Armani sunglasses and during our conversation pauses often to pour salt onto her white, wine-stained pashmina.

In the evening I walk the starkly uneven pavements of Colonia Roma, a down and out Brooklyn with decaying colonial buildings and the many shits of stylish dogs.

The museums are closed today. All of them. You’d think a few would take advantage of the open goal and close on a Tuesday. Even the giant park in the centre of the city is locked off. As if someone powerful has decided that on Mondays there is to be no culture in the capital.

And so I walk with little purpose from Roma to Condesa. I lunch on a taco filled with a chile stuffed with marlin fish. From there I get on the metro and ride to the Zócalo, the giant square in the middle. Even the square is closed: fenced off while they dismantle tents dedicated to obscure countries. A giant flag of Mexico writhes silently at its centre. At one end are both halves of the cathedral (or the two cathedrals?) where people kneel and pray to variations of Jesus and his mother.

Outside the cathedral(s), on the wide and packed pavement, sit several beggars with their deformities on display. To the left of the cathedral’s entrance sits one man with a skeletally thin left leg. A few meters down is another, this time with an elephantine bloated left leg. If only they could they could average over themselves... I theorise. Has the same thought occurred to them?

From the Zócalo I walk towards the Sonora market, famous for being a place to buy witchy-type stuff. On the way are endless streets of semi-market - both stalls and more permanent shops - carefully zoned by theme and each vendor dedicated to minutiae.

It begins with party/celebration equipment - banners, decorations, and balloons etc. - then transitions to fabrics and fabric accessories, then to stationary, then to household items. One stall is dedicated to every type of plastic bag. Another to brush heads, sorted by bristle length and stiffness, head gauge, and colour. This theme continues for at least half an hour of brisk walking.

The Sonora market itself begins innocuously with kitchen utensils and piñatas. Next are live animals in cages - from chickens and pigeons to dogs and ducks. Out of the corner of my eye I see a goat being dragged off. Then fancy dress costumes. Finally, at the back, comes the magic. Magic and religious iconography.

Giant bundles of herbs and other dried things pour out deep medicinal smells. A few shucked snake skins nestle delicately amongst them. At other stalls, the potions are ready-made: rows of dusty plastic bottles filled with shocking coloured liquids and armies of candles in the same hues, all labelled with the kitsch iconography of the dark arts.

Miniature Santa Muertes and plastic skulls huddle in dark corners. Every fifth stall or so eschews the heresy of witchcraft in favour of the joy and hope of Christianity's martyring saints: pierced St. Sebastians, bleeding Jesuses, weeping Marys, etc.

Because it's Tuesday, all the museums are open today. So this morning’s outing is to Frida Kahlo’s house, the place where she was born and where she died, painted blue and red and green. The house is charming, wrapped in complicated ways around a courtyard of ponds, flowers, and sculptures. In the kitchen, above a long wood-fired hearth, tiny cups hang from the wall spelling out “Frida” and “Diego”. On the facing wall more cups hang in the shape of two symmetrical doves with branches in their beaks. A peculiarly tender whimsy in the face of their otherwise tumultuous relationship.

From Kahlo’s house I go north to Buenavista where there is a Geology museum. Lunch is a stew with goat called birria, served in a dark, hot room where two giant pots boil and large chunks of the animal are grilling on the open flame of a hob.

The geology museum is old and shows little sign of change, filled with 19th century cabinets of dark stained wood, glass, and bronze trimmings. The specimens inside them are older. Apart from the basement, which is filled with “interactive” displays - buttons that do nothing and VHS-driven displays tirelessly recounting their decade-old messages to empty dark corridors - no attempt has been made to modernise.

A small assortment of mammoth skulls and a few complete dinosaur skeletons - one still only partially emerged from its womb of bubble wrapping - are as fancy as it gets. For the rest, we are satisfied by rows of stones and minerals and their typewritten labels.

Most tradespeople on the Metro actually sell things: headphones, lighters, chewing gum, and the like - and they announce their wares (always homogenous in kind) with a relentless, loud, repetitive patter. The majority of passengers behave as if nothing was happening but occasionally a sale is made.

After the vendors, the next most common type of participant is the singing blind person. They enter a carriage at one end with an amplifier strapped to their chests. With one hand they navigate down the carriage, and with the other they hold a cup full of small change and a microphone, into which they sing their sad songs of woe. The already squeezed passengers squeeze some more to let them pass. Some singers have their eyes closed while others keep them open, their milky-white dead eyeballs rolling with the train.

The strangest method I witnessed involved two cooperating participants. After boarding the carriage together, one of them emptied out crushed glass from a folded t-shirt onto the floor of the train. He then lay down next to it and began smashing the glass pieces with his already heavily scabbed elbow. Meanwhile, his companion walked up and down the carriage giving some kind of angry sermon. As the train pulled up to the station, the man on the floor carefully picked up all the glass, including a few shards that had escaped under a seat, and folded it back up into the t-shirt. No one had donated any money. It hadn’t even seemed like they were asking for any.

Today was my last day in Mexico and instead of it being meaningful and significant, it wasn’t.

First thing was a metrobus ride south to La Bombilla to another house where Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo had lived. The building, commissioned by Rivera, was a beautiful construction of geometric concrete and large grids of windows. The neighbourhood is rich and filled with other expensive and bespoke houses, all hidden behind high walls and security gates. The streets are empty except for the various servicemen tending to the endless needs of the inhabitants.

From here, a long ride north to the Bosque de Chapultepec, a large park in the centre of town. I visited the zoo which is free to enter but charges $4 (20p) to use the toilets. It’s a pleasant place with large and densely shrubbed enclosures. This is probably good for the animals but it does somewhat undermine one of the reasons of their being there: to be seen. The hippopotamuses, though, were huge and very visible.

After the zoo, the anthropology museum. On entering, hunger overcomes me and so I head to the in-house cafeteria: a buffet of high presentation and low quality. I leave after paying vast sums, but not before witnessing the entrance of at least 100 academics, presumably in herd for a conference: a lovely carousel of awkward small talk and subtle job seeking.

The museum itself is a giant space filled with thousands of artefacts from a vast span in time and space of the Americas, documenting the deep and rich civilisations of its past. The central room, at the furthest mouth of the long courtyard, is dedicated to the pre-Cortes capital of Tenochtitlan and teaches an interesting lesson about the origins of Mexico.

In November 1519, seven months after arriving at the coast of Mexico, Hernán Cortes arrived at Lake Texcoco, and the island state of Tenochtitlan. Two hundred years prior, the Méxica had built the city as a centre for their expanding empire which had been conquering all the smaller nations around it. Tenochtitlan arose complete with its own creation myth and personal council of gods, borrowed and adapted from all the cultures the Méxica had consumed. The beginnings of a singular nation of Mexico.

At this ripe moment, Cortes enters the city, and through disease, mystical terror, and modern weaponry, subsumed this nation into the Spanish crown. The old was swiftly and violently destroyed by the conquerors. An alien creation myth began to propagate; the old gods - reduced to crumbling stones - were replaced by a holy trinity from Israel; and out this crater a new and confused nation began to try and refind itself.

In the evening I pick up my laundry. Shower. And pack for my flight home the following morning. Then I walk to a bar and order a mezcal.

It begins to rain. Heavy, dark, linear rain. So instead of walking somewhere else, I eat where I am.