Friday, July 3, 2009

A Pyramid, a Palace, and a Potty

Round one of the highlights of our trip to Mexico City. I think the title explains it fairly well. The first two are sights that thousands of people before me have already immortalized, but the last one is all mine.

First, the ruins at Teotihuacán. There are two main pyramids: Pirámide del Sol (Sun) and Pirámide de la Luna (Moon). Here we're on the latter:

An entire town surrounds the pyramids, and some of the paintings have been preserved quite well. There are brochures and guided tours that explain what each brick used to be and what the residents most likely used each area for, but we had more fun coming up with our own explanations. Besides, I've read enough history to have a basic idea. Playing fields? Check. One-room homes? Check. Sacrificial altars? Check.

The brochure says it's four kilometers from the parking lot to the Moon Pyramid, so we walked at least 8K, and that's not counting the hike skyward. Ibis and I are both in good shape, but the elevation in Mexico City is nearly a mile higher than here in Zihua and my lungs could feel it.

The following day we went on a tour of downtown Mexico City. Yes, that meant more walking, but fortunately the majority of the trip was on a double-decker tour bus, aka turibus.

This is the Mexican white house -- El Palacio Prediential -- where Felipe Calderón does his thing. There was a small barricade surrounding the building, but nothing compared to the security in Washington, DC. I didn't notice many guards there (besides in the doorways) but another building on the plaza had at least 30 armed guards all lined up along the pedestrian pathway. Maybe Felipe was getting lunch there?

Finally, one bizarre story for today. You can't really see it, but in the middle of the block there's a blue sign that says "WC" (water closet). Yes, this is the infamous bathroom.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, a couple days ago I mentioned in the comments that Ibis and I used a bathroom in the heart of the city and had an experience that ranks up there as one of the most bizarre of my life.

We paid our three pesos each (four for me because I wanted paper -- shocking, I know) and were directed down a narrow passageway. There was only one entrance but a woman waved us both through. We stepped hesitantly into another hallway and were plunged into darkness. Plunged. Buried under six feet of dirt plunged.

A single beam of light bounced it's way toward us and a woman mumbled at me to go into another room off the hallway. I guess this was the ladies room. She held up the flashlight so I could see the row of cloth-covered doors, then ran away, leaving me back in the darkness.

I should point out that before I split up from Ibis, there were several people wandering the first dark hallway, all seeming a bit lost and confused. Ibis was shuttled further down that hallway and I never saw him again until he emerged back outside (after me). I did, however, hear his voice from time to time, and that made it all a little less freaky, although I never did figure out what it was he kept saying.

Back to the stall -- I locked myself in and tried not to think about what might be going on in such a weird place. It was quite cramped so I looked over my shoulder to get a lay of the land. Nothing. I was sure there was a toilet but I sure as hell couldn't see it. I was wondering what to do (for you men who've never had to squat over a toilet when you can't see what you're doing, this was quite daunting) when I noticed a small flashlight balanced on the edge of the stall door. Score!

I grabbed the light and set about doing my business when a woman came running into the room and started yelling at me. There were a lot of voices echoing in there so I couldn't quite tell what she was saying, but I did hear "lampara" (flashlight). There didn't seem to be anyone else in that particular room, so I knew she was talking to me, and man was she was pissed! I shoved it at her under the stall door and she snatched it away, plunging me -- you guessed it -- back into darkness.

Now let's evaluate the situation for a moment. Squatting, darkness, nasty cranky woman, and an inability to see ANYTHING. Yeah, I didn't flush.

I burrowed my way towards the light, yelled to Ibis (who I assumed was still in there) that I'd wait for him outside, and promptly ran into a man trying to enter the bathroom. As we were trying to figure out how to get past each other, a little girl opened the stall door (from inside) that happened to be between us. I never expected to play mediator between a grown man and a little girl in a Mexican bathroom, but that's what I did.

I stumbled outside, blinded by the midday sun, and wondered if I should stop the unsuspecting people heading inside.


LurkerMonkey said...

This is a great story (and well told, to boot)! I wonder, why did the woman insist you pee in the dark? Was she trying to protect the privacy of other patrons? Was she trying to conceal the horrid condition of her bathrooms? Perhaps there was no toilet there at all!

I love moments like these, because I often find myself stopping in the middle of an absurdity and thinking, "I can't believe this is really happening, in real life."

Melanie Avila said...

Lurker, it was truly bizarre. I left out one detail that will sound too gross to Americans who aren't used to the way Mexican bathrooms work (involving toilet paper).

I can usually get my point across in Spanish, but when Ibis came out I made him translate to our niece and nephew that "this was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life". Coming out into the bright light just amplified that.

Lauren said...

I love the picture of you two at Teotihuacán. The double decker tour bus sounds like fun.

That is a very bizarre story about the restroom. Wow... Hard to even imagine stuff like that goes on. Is that unusually weird "off the beaten trail" in certain parts of Mexico or bizarre even for there?

Robin said...

Beautiful pyramids, and freaky story. That is just too weird. Why do they keep it pitch dark? That is just too bizarro.

WendyCinNYC said...

That's so weird. Does your left-out detail involve a bucket of water?

Cause that was my experience in India.

Melanie Avila said...

Lauren, that was in the middle of the plaza! The only reason I can think they operate like that is because it's mostly tourists -- the locals probably know better than to go in there!

Melanie Avila said...

Robin, I'm sure it's an electricity issue, but they should really warn people.

Melanie Avila said...

Okay, Wendy, I think we're far enough down in the comments that only the people who really want to know will read. ;)

A LOT of the plumbing in Mexico is old so in the majority of places, you don't flush the toilet paper. The general rule is if there's a garbage can in the stall, you put your paper there. It took a long time for me to get used to because it can be NASTY, but now it's normal.

Well, if I can't see a toilet, I certainly can't see a garbage can, so I just threw my paper over my shoulder. lol.

Melanie Avila said...

Oh, and it's also quite common to have a bucket to flush with. The house I lived in when I first moved to Mexico didn't have running water so the paper went in the trash can and you poured a bucket of water to flush.

JLC said...

I know about the trash cans next to the toilet. We had to teach the preschool students at a school I worked at to throw their tp in the toilet. Because, at home, they don't.
And we were constantly reminding kids to wash their hands.

Have you had your Hep shot lately?

spyscribbler said...

Ohmigosh, Melanie! I didn't know you were going to tell us, and I'd googled it. That's not so bad. The pitch black bathroom IS! Ohmigosh, it's not like you want to feel around to find the toilet or anything else! Geeze! And then I start imagining all the other people who didn't know where the toilet or the trash can was, LOL! I hate touching anything in a public bathroom. That is just awful!

Melanie Avila said...

JLC, we hide our trash can when our family comes to visit. It's easier than having a conversation about where to put their TP. With our nephew we just let him throw it away and deal with it later.

Hep shot? *hangs head*

Melanie Avila said...

Spy, I am a freak about germs, especially in public bathrooms. I usually carry a thing of antibacterial gel whenever I'm traveling and it's very necessary in Mexico. I don't know if that bathroom even had sinks -- I didn't see any on my way out (how could I?) and I wasn't going to hang around to look.

I had the same train of thought as you once I left. Fortunately my pant legs were dry...

Nadine said...

You are very very brave. I'm a bit of a germaphobe and on top of that, would freak about being in a pitch dark place. I probably would have taken one look, and then gone elsewhere with my camel bladder. :)
(nicknamed so because I'll usually wait till I find a nice place or till I get home) :P

And I can't believe she came and took your flashlight!

Melanie Avila said...

Camel bladder. *snort*

I've gotten used to some nasty places, but we'd already paid and I didn't want to piss off Ibis by backing out.

As for the flashlight, I did yell back at her.

Anonymous said...

Oh, what a fabulous post.

I was really feeling envious of you when I saw the great picture of the pyramid. Then I read about the bathroom experience. I'm guessing it's a good thing it was pitch-black in there. Ignorance is bliss and all that.

Melanie Avila said...

Gypsy, I agree 100%. I've actually blocked out a lot of the details so I just choose not to remember how crowded it was.

WendyCinNYC said...

Okay, mine's even more gross. Here's what I had in India (rural village--no plumbing whatsoever): small building, complete with large hairy spider. Hole in ground, perhaps with some chemicals thrown in, perhaps not. No toilet paper. Bucket of stale water for washing your left HAND. Ew!

I drew the line at wiping with my hand, for god's sake. I mean...just, no. No no no. So I brought my own biodegradable TP in my backpack and would bury it.


Melanie Avila said...

OMG Wendy, that is horrible! Remind me not to go to rural India. I knew they wiped that way, but I don't think I've actually spoken to anyone who's been in that situation. Eek!

Good call on the TP. And I'm glad you mentioned that you buried it because as soon as you mentioned it, I wondered what you did with it.

I had a few instances when I first moved here and threw the paper in the toilet out of habit, then tried to get it out with my bare hands. Yeah, that was fun.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Horrible experience = great story pretty much every time.

I hope you write this up as a short story or flash non-fiction because it's fabulous!

Melanie Avila said...

Thanks Amy! You think? I hadn't thought of it in those terms... but that's something to consider. My FF group on Facebook seems to have vanished, so I haven't written anything new since May.

Amy Mullis said...

I'm sure I have a comment, but I can't even think how to put it into words! I just know it shouldn't be that much trouble to go to the bathroom. Congratulations for surviving that part of the trip!

Melanie Avila said...

ROFL, Amy! I agree.

Rachel Burton said...

Awesome bathroom story. I can totally picture the people stumbling around all confused. Though I still don't understand why the flashlight was a no-no. And after spending quality time in Peru, I'm all too familiar with the trash can next to the toilet scenario...

Melanie Avila said...

Rachel, that was the most confusing part for me too. I figured she wanted it on the top of the stall so there was some light in the room, but honestly, the light was so weak that it didn't do much good.

I'm always glad when other people know about the TP customs of other countries. :)