Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Extremely Long Fifth Siesta of the Third Voyage (Day 150-215) aka What the hell have we been doing all this time?

Many apologies, faithful Ravenaires, for the long and blogless period. I wish I could say that we’ve been busy brokering peace accords, curing cancer, and ending world hunger but unless scrubbing marine life out of strainers, eradicating roaches, and keeping the local bars in business count as humanitarian efforts then I guess there’s no excuse for not at least checking in now and again. Plus, I’ve had writer’s block and/or I’m sure you’re tired of us bitching about the heat, the mosquitos, and the roaches. Editor’s Update (and feel free to skip over if you’re tired of the aforementioned bitching) The magic switch was flipped and the weather is officially fabulous! Days in the mid-80s with low humidity and nights on the chilly side (and by chilly, I mean that t-shirts have replaced tank tops) have become the norm. Mosquitos? Still get the occasional bite, but vitamin B and double doses of antihistamine keep the discomfort to a minimum. And the great roach war? We’ve added Ortho to our regular RAIDing parties and have dispatched our new secret weapon: Borax. Supposedly, it not only boosts your laundry detergent, it butt-kicks your pests as well. A light sprinkling on the counters—perhaps a tempting little sugar cube in the middle—and the borax gets stuck on their legs. When they get back to the nest, they clean their legs and promptly die. And because roaches aren’t just nasty, they’re uber nasty, the live ones eat the dead ones…and promptly die. Editor’s Note to the Editor’s Update: if you’re one of those people that think that’s cruel, then instead of Borax, I’m sending the next roach down to the nest with a one-way ticket to your house.

So best to start with current events:  the Deck Boss had surgery! Ten years ago, in her lubber days, the Deck Boss had this great idea to take down a window shutter right after a heavy rain. Soggy ground, cheap plastic step stool. What could possible go wrong? Quite a lot, actually. Having thoroughly destroyed her right knee and everything below it, she dragged herself to the back patio and called my dad who promptly fell and, given his health problems at the time, could not get back up. By the time the Captain and I got over there, I had two parents splayed on the family-room floor and immediately thought aloud, “Is this a test?” Luckily, a Sophie’s Choice was averted as it was quickly apparent that my mother could not be moved and so an ambulance was called. Three hours of surgery, one titanium rod, nine screws, and three months of immobility/rehab and she was finally back on her feet. Fast forward ten years and the ensuing knee pain became unbearable. How unbearable? Let’s just say that I come from a long line of not-so-silent sufferers—and married into a family of them. Scenario:

NSSS: My God! The pain is excruciating! I may die!
Me: Do you want to see a doctor?
NSSS: Nah. I’m okay.
(Repeat as needed.)

I, on the other hand, believe that if there’s a pill for what ails, then who am I to poo-poo possible relief.

At any rate, the fact that she visited a doctor at all should give some idea of her distress. And so it was that we made an appointment to see Dr. Gutierrez. Now at this point, some of you are probably thinking (and I say this because people here actually asked us), “You’re having the surgery done in Mexico?”, “You’re not going back to the US for this?”, “Do they even have doctors in Mexico?”, “Aren’t you worried about the drug cartels?” (This comes up in most conversations with our friends to the north.) And our answers are, “Yes.”, “No.”, “Of course.”, and “Really?” Some may assume that healthcare here is “third-world”, but that is unequivocally not the case. Both Dr. Gutierrez and Dr. Marron McNaught, the orthopedist who performed the surgery, are highly educated, speak English fluently, and have stellar reputations. The facility was clean, modern, and had a higher ratio of staff to patient than most US hospitals. The procedures are progressive—having the metal removed from her leg was secondary to repairing the knee which entailed removing the calcification, smoothing out bone spurs, and taking stem cells out of her hip and injecting them into the knee to regenerate new tissue. And the cost? Sit down because this will blow your mind. Four pre-procedure consultations, X-rays, lab work, EKG, the surgery itself including the anesthesiologist, hotel stay for post-op recovery, and all medications: approximately $3500. This is why places like Puerto Vallarta are turning into “medical tourism” destinations. Come here for a procedure that’s probably less than your US healthcare deductible, then recuperate in paradise. Oh, and the doctors make house calls. Mind blown.
She was having some trouble with the crutches, so to get the Deck Boss from the taxi to the hotel room, we “appropriated” a chaise lounge from the pool. The Captain doesn’t just think outside of the box, he crushes it and spits on its carcass.

So the total time lapse between the first consultation with Dr. Gutierrez and the surgery itself was about one month. And that’s only because we had already planned another sojourn back to the states—this time to Corpus Christi, Texas, where the Deck Boss grew up and where many of her friends still live. It was important to make an appearance so she could prove to them that she was still alive and somewhat sane after a year and a half of voyaging. On our way back, we stopped and spent three days in Mexico City. First impression from the airplane? Good God, that’s a lot of humanity! Mexico City and its surrounding municipalities sits in a large valley in the high plateaus of central Mexican and every square inch of said valley is covered in dwellings. House after house after building after building—all crammed with humanity…21 million people worth of humanity. Second impression? It’s one beautiful city. And not at all what I expected. I was expecting Tijuana on steroids, but it’s is more like a microcosm of Europe. Castles, palatial homes, cathedrals, wide boulevards, big open green spaces, and extravagant public buildings abound. After three hundred years of Spanish rule, it’s a given that much of the architecture reflects old-world Spain. But as the Second Mexican Empire was ruled by the French, there are entire sections of the city that wouldn’t look out of place in Paris. The Palacio de Bellas Artes out-neoclassicals anything from Italy. The modern skyscrapers could be from Germany. And the hotels are brought to you by IKEA. Intersperse this with a bit of pre-colonial Mexico (think Aztec meets hacienda), sprinkle it with an abundance of monuments, add a liberal dose of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and garnish with millions of people and you have Mexico City. Outside of the city proper is another story. Endless neighborhoods full of small, boxy homes packed tightly together, each painted a different bright color and sporting a satellite dish in a complimentary color—some middle class, some lower, some with a hint of squalor, but all with character. One particularly poor outlying municipality is split by a multilane highway, so the government installed a gondola—like the kind you’d see at a ski resort—to go over it. Now the people can get from their homes on one side to the markets on the other in about 15 minutes. It may look like the barrio version of Aspen, but it did cut the commute time by about 90 minutes.
The people of Mexico City were friendly, but much more aloof. But it’s not something to take personally. I think it’s a big city thing—the go-go-go mentality. The people walk faster, talk louder, and seem more preoccupied. And in the early evenings, everyone gathers in the parks so they can walk, talk, and be preoccupied together. And they all have a car. All 21 million of them. The honking, beeping, tailgating, stalling, edging, blocking, and near-miss side swiping was unbelievable. The Captain and I did one of those Hop On/Hop Off tours where you ride a double-decker bus, get off at someplace that looks interesting, and when you’re done, you just hop on the next bus that comes by. In between there is audio commentary and you can sit on the upper deck and try not to get hit by low-hanging branches and powerlines. Unfortunately, this was late Friday afternoon. So it was more like a “Hop On/Sit in Traffic for Three Hours While You Slowly Freeze to Death” tour. Where was the Deck Boss? After we spent a good portion of the day clambering up the hillside to visit Chapultepec Castle, she hobbled up to her hotel room with a bottle of wine and “hopped into” bed.
Atop the Hop On/Hop Off bus. We sat in this intersection for a good fifteen minutes so a photo seemed to be in order. I think this company must own every radio station in Mexico. In the time it took us to get across the street, they had acquired five more.

The next day we did something a little different. If you ever find yourself in Mexico City, do yourself a favor and take an extra day to travel outside the city to Teotihuacan, the ancient Mesoamerican city that’s home to three major pyramids including the Pyramid of the Sun, third largest in the world after the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Puebla, Mexico, and that other one in Egypt (you know, the one with the better publicist.)
At the city’s height—around 400 AD or so—Teotihuacan had something like 250,000 citizens. What was fascinating was that it was a planned city with large plazas, markets, artisan and trade workshops, paved streets, and a sewer system. The people lived in what can best be described as apartment buildings—first class buildings were nearest the temples, the other classes spread out from there. Only 7% of the city has been excavated but the size is still notable. And obviously, the main draw is the Pyramids along the Avenue of the Dead.
During their heyday, the three major pyramids—Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon, and Temple of the Feathered Serpent—would each have been covered in limestone, adorned with colorful mosaics, and topped with an elaborate temple. The view from the top—250,000 inhabitants (the old-world equivalent of seeing 21 million people from an airplane)—must have been impressive. Probably, the only one not impressed would have been the virgin being hefted up the 100+ steps to the temple to be sacrificed to the deity du jour. “All these people and I’m the one getting lugged to the top? I knew I should have checked off the ‘Harlot’ box on the questionnaire.” they’re probably thinking. Surrounding the major pyramids were hundreds of “ceremonial platforms” which were basically baby pyramids with their own temples dedicated to their own gods. And each of them got a virgin, too. Archeologists differ as to how many sacrifices would be performed but it wasn’t uncommon in Mexico for each temple to have one daily sacrifice. So with, say, 300 temples at one virgin each (two on special occasions) over 365 days that comes to…a sh*t ton of virgins. Most victims came from neighboring tribes, others were procured through war, and quite a few came courtesy of the local families. As they started running out virgins I’m sure the standards became a little lax. Virgin Procurer: “Are you, or have you ever been, a virgin? You have? Okay, come with me then.”
Like many other Mayan and Aztec cities, the population just kind of disappeared one day. It could be they ran out of people to sacrifice and when the last two sacrificed each other, that was it. Or maybe they just moved the party south (into virgin territory so to speak). However, archeologist have noted that in the 7th century the city was sacked and burned…but only the nice parts of town. In other words, the rabble turned on the elite. Probably because they kept all the good virgins for themselves.
But at any rate, what’s left of the city is awesome and if you don’t mind a thigh-burning climb up and a stomach-churning skooch down, you too can stand atop the pyramids where the ancient Aztecs stood and take in the same view. I took in the view and it is indeed breathtaking. The Captain, who suffers from extreme acrophobia, took in the view for approximately 15 seconds before handing me the camera and quickly making his way back down. He said later that going down was easier than going up because the faster you descend, the less steps there would be to smack your head on if you fell—and that’s a great motivator. I asked one of the guides how many tourists fall down the steps each year, but he very diplomatically waved off the question and instead said, “The priests would cut out the still-beating heart, then tip the body over the side and let it roll down the steps.” Which I think is guide speak for “history repeats itself a lot here.”
We visited Teotihuacan through Amigo Tours and would highly recommend it. Be forewarned though: they start early to get a jump on traffic (this tour takes eight hours; the tours that start later are 11 hours because…traffic.) and they have this nifty little trick wherein after clambering about the pyramids in the hot sun for four hours, they stop for a “tequila tasting” on the way to lunch. After one to two shots each of three different tequilas on an empty stomach, you’re set loose in the gift shop. Needless to say, we bought two bottles.
Pyramid of the Moon:  Pre-tequila

Pyramid of the Moon: Post-tequila

On our final night in Mexico City, The Captain and I were witness to a demonstration. About four hundred protestors from one of Mexico’s many political parties were calling on the government to release documents in regards to the 43 students missing since 2014. They were impassioned, they were loud, and apparently, they were hungry. They had marched the full length of the Paseo de la Reforma to their final rallying point at the Benito Juarez Monument in Alameda Park—about 9 miles. Trundling along beside them were dozens of food cart vendors, selling everything from chalupas to tortas to sodas. That’s what I love about the Mexican people: they find an opportunity in every situation—good, bad, or otherwise.  I can just imagine the scene in Teotihuacan…a body, devoid of heart, tumbling down the steps of the great Pyramid of the Sun. It comes to rest at the bottom. A throng of people stand in silence until a lone voice cries out, “Tamales!” 
Riot police wait for the protestors…and the taco trucks.

Meanwhile, back at the boat...

Edgrrr up to no good. As per usual.

Because apparently the water in his dish isn't as tasty as the toothpaste cup.

Want to see the “real” photos of our trip to Mexico City?  Go to the page marked “Totally Not Boring Travel Slides”