Flip Flop Flying

Rain, pasties, and drawing loads

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Thanks to the generosity of a couple of friends (gracias Pepe y Samuel), on the last day of June, we had guest list tickets for the Flaming Lips concert at the Auditorio Nacional, a big concert venue with: (1) a capacity of around 10,000, (2) Latin America’s largest pipe organ, and (c) some woefully under-staffed bars. Queues of 50-odd people waiting for plastic cups of beer. Fuck that shit. I’d rather not drink than participate in such business. The show was general admission within each of the various price categories. Guest list tickets were, it seems, all up on the balcony, about 35km from the stage.

It was a weird night for me. My girlfriend and her pals seemed to really enjoy it. All around us seemed to enjoy it. All of the people downstairs seemed to enjoy it. Me? Not really. There were some pretty lights, I’ll give them that. But all of the dancing creatures, it was a bit Teletubbies meets “Stonehenge.” It kinda felt like all of the theatrics were covering up for a set of songs that were, on the whole, sounded fairly average.

But, a good night of post-concert boozing hanging out with friends, chatting, listening to music, was kinda the perfect way to start a mini holiday: three nights in Real del Monte. It was a perfect start in an unexpected way: because of the drinking and the late night, it kinda forced me to not wake up and rush around in the morning. The plan was to be up, out, and at the bus terminal for about 9am. Tired brain told me NO.

I was a bit stressed about work stuff, so a few days away seemed like a good idea. I would be revisiting Real del Monte (or Mineral del Monte, not sure which is the proper name, but you see signs for with both names in the area), a place I’d first visited a couple of years back. It’s just outside Pachuca, which is about 90 minutes on a bus northeast-ish from Mexico City. It’s a pretty simple journey: subway to one of the main bus terminals in Mexico City, have a look at the bus times, find one that is going soon, buy a ticket.

The guy checking bags and metal detecting asked where I was from. I told him Inglaterra, and he asked, in English, how was the correct way to say “Tott-eng-hem Ho-spor.” I told him he was close and pronounced it as clearly and English-ly as a member of the Royal Family. The bus journey is nothing special, really: no particularly nice landscape or owt. I listened to Marc Maron’s interview with Barack Obama over the sound of a dubbed version of the Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis film “The Campaign” blaring from the bus’ TV speakers.

Once in Pachuca, there’s a dude directly outside yelling the destinations of various small combi buses. I told him I need to go to Plaza de la Constitución, he pointed at a combi. I squeezed into the tiny van that waited until it was rammed full of people (that is to say, had about 10 people inside) and we were off. I’d made this journey once before so kinda knew where I was going, but I was sat in the middle and couldn’t really see out of the window. By the time that everyone else had got off, I asked him where the plaza was, and he took me a few hundred yards further and told me to nip through the market and there it is.

I followed his instructions, bought a new cable for my phone in the market (it’s pink with tiny blue UV lights inside and only 35 pesos!) asked another guy where to get the Real del Monte combi and was soon in an almost identical tiny vehicle heading out and up above Pachuca. It’s a nice wee journey. I like the contract of arriving in Pachuca, seeing a relatively decent-sized city from street level, then a few minutes in the hills and the same place looks pretty small.

The combi stopped at various points in Real del Monte before getting to the central square and church-y bit, where I got off. I knew there were a handful of hotels, but I didn’t bother booking a room. It was a Wednesday, not really tourist-y season, no special festivals going on, and most importantly: I love arriving somewhere and not knowing where I’m going to sleep. I wandered to the hotel I stayed in last time. Door was locked. It was about 2pm. Knocked on the door. No answer. Knocked again. No answer. So I asked the security guard at the museum next door and he said they’re probably having their lunch.

So, I just went to another hotel instead. I was very thankful that I only bothered to pay for one night in advance, cos when I got to the room, the view was of a breeze block wall about 30cm from the window. Ho hum. I couldn’t be arsed to make a fuss, so I just dumped my stuff and went back out to get some food. And food, dear readers, is pretty much the main reason for visiting Real del Monte.

When one lives in a foreign land, as some of you might have experienced, food from your home country is one of the things you miss the most. There’s a level of comfort that dribbles through the mind, like a slow-moving river of melted white chocolate, when I think of British food like Marmite, Branston pickle, scotch eggs, pork pies, Cornish pasties. And in Real del Monte, they have pasties. Oh yes, muchos pastes. (Eff why eye: the Spanish spelling of pasty: paste. Plural: pastes.)

Real del Monte has a strong English–specifically Cornish–influence. Back in the day, when the people in this area found stuff in the ground, they need to mine it. Load of Cornish people came over to work in the mines and they brought three things in particular with them: well-good mining techniques, pasties, and football. Real del Monte was the first place in Mexico where football was played. I saw several ceramic tiles painted in bright colours around the town celebrating the football history and there was a big advert painted on a wall for a football museum which I couldn’t find, sadly.

The pasties are great. It’s been two-and-a-half decades since I was in Cornwall, but the “tradicional” variety of pasty in Real del Monte is as good as I remember any being in Cornwall. I say “tradicional” because pasties come in lots of varieties in Read del Monte. At Pastes el Portal which is, in my opinion, the best of the pasty places in Real del Monte (and have no fear, I tried several) you can get mole, beans, chicken, sausage, tuna, and “Hawaiian.” They also do sweet pasties: peach, apple, pineapple, strawberry, coconut, chocolate, and vanilla. (I tried the vanilla one and mmm, mmm, mmm, delish.)

I had a couple of traditional carne con papas pasties, then had a wee walk around. I went to the tourism booth outside the town’s indoor market and asked the nice people there a few questions. Specifically, about the opening hours of the English cemetery. On my last visit, we walked all the way there and found that the gates were locked, so I wanted to be sure. They were friendly, so I signed their guest book thingy and got a wee map of the local area.

It started drizzling, so I stopped for a beer in bar. The bar had Old West-style saloon doors. Inside there were lots of pictures of two things: Club América football team, and naked women. The toilet had no door, it was simply a urinal in the corner of the room with a curtain for privacy. It looked like you might vote there, not piss.

Another bar, this time with insanely loud music (yeah, grandad…) and I was soon back at the hotel, in bed, and asleep well early, and having a dream about getting back to Mexico City to find my apartment had been burgled. Joy.

I tend to wake up early quite a lot anyway, but on holiday, it’s pretty much a given. 7am is late for me on holiday. 7am, though, is still very early, it would seem, for the cafe owners of Real del Monte. So was 8am. Basically, it was 9am before anywhere was open for any breakfast. I went to a place around the corner, ordered the desayuno Realmontense from a bored-looking owner, a man whose who being screamed “the waiter/waitress isn’t here yet, so I’ve gotta deal with this shit.”
The breakfast was shite. That weird concentrate orange juice that is way too sweet, coffee that comes pre-sweetened, even the bread was sweet. Of all that, I had a few sips of the orange juice. The main part wasn’t sweet, thankfully: chilaquiles verde with chorizo.

I went back to the first hotel that I tried and there was someone there. Yes, he did have a room for two nights. Do I want to see the room? Normally, I don’t bother with that business, but after the breeze block view, I did. Lovely big room, lovely view over the town. I paid, went back to the other hotel, packed my stuff and checked in to the new place, where, incidentally, the lobby was full of pictures of Marilyn Monroe.

I asked the guy where I need to go to get the bus to a nearby village called Huasca de Ocampo, and traipsed off in the direction he told me to go. Up and above the main part of Real del Monte, to the main road that runs by the town. There was an old lady waiting there. I asked her. She told me to wait for the green bus. Plenty of buses went by, vaguely slowing when they saw someone stood at the corner. The sign on the front of the bus was really small, so I was squinting. Is it… is it… yes! I stook out my hand, the combi screeched to a halt, and I sat on the only available seat. The teenage girls sat across the way kept glimpsing at me, the gringo. The driver’s CD player was blasting out eighties hits. Arthur’s Theme, I Wanna Dance with Somebody, and Careless Whisper. As we bombed around the curvy mountain roads, I looked down and figured that, if I was gonna die in a bus accident, I’d quite want George Michael to soundtrack my demise.

Huasca de Ocampo seemed to be a smaller version of Real del Monte. A perfectly lovely little Mexican town. As far as I can tell–and I’m obviously no expert–small villages fall into two categories here: Pueblos Mágicos and non-Pueblos Mágicos. An explanation: the Magical Villages Program is something that the tourism board do to promote, err, tourism around the country. There are 80-odd of them, of which I have visited ten. Some are better than others. Some are indeed magical. Some, well, you get the feeling that the mayors of some of them used their influence to get the magical status. You can see it straight away: the streets are cleaner, the town squares are tidier and there’s generally an air of expecting tourists.

First thing I did was have a wee look inside the church in the town square. Tick. Yep, that’s that done. A nice cup of coffee (that is to say, not thick with sugar) and I asked a taxi driver how much it was to go to the nearby Basalt Prisms. Just 60 pesos. Muy bien. The Primasa Basálticos are these tall colums of rock in a ravine kinda thing, with a waterfall that does its water-y business there. It was quite lovely. Here’s some photographs:

50 pesos entrance fee. Impressive stuff. Not too crowded with tourists. I was pretty much the only non-Mexican there as far as I could tell. Half way around the ravine, there were a couple of souvenir shops and a place selling drinks. I saw other people with cocktail-y kinda things, and assumed they must be just fruit punch or something, but no! Actual alcohol. I asked if they had a beer. Yep. 50 pesos. Okay, seems steep, but it’s a tourist place, and it’s hot, so sure. It wasn’t steep. It was a caguama, a nearly-a-litre bottle. So I had this huge beer, and I’d kinda seen everything, so, well, I wandered around again, just with a massive beer in my hand. And boy was it worth it. It was nice to look at everything a second time, notice things I’d not seen before. I don’t know how it’s taken me this long in life to look at things twice at a tourist attraction, but I will be doing it again, caguama or not.

At the entrance/exit area, I asked the ticket woman if I could wait around here for another taxi to drop someone off, so I could jump in and go back to Huasca. She told me I needed to call for one. I had no credit on my phone, so asked if she could call one for me. 50 pesos. Bloody hell, that’s a bit steep to make a phone call, but, pfff, I guess it’s better than just waiting around for ages. When the taxi driver arrived, I saw the woman give him 50 pesos. Aaaah, my suspicious mind was embarrassed. It was just paying in advance for a taxi. I felt bad. The driver and I chatted all the way back to Huasca. He asked if we spoke ingles in Inglaterra. I confirmed that we did. And he said, “”aaah, like the United States…” He, like seemingly every taxi driver I talk to in Mexico, was a Chivas fan.

Back in Huasca de Ocampo, I had lunch: trucha al a diablo. Trout in a spicy sauce. Bloody lovely it was, too. Dead tomato-ey, spicy, and served with rice and tortillas. After lunch, I made a half-hearted effort to look more at the town, but really couldn’t be arsed. I’d seen the basalt prisms, which was why I went in the first place, so found a parked combi, and sat inside with a load of locals until it was full and we were heading back towards Pachuca. I got off at the junction where I got on in the bright afternoon sunshine, and by the time I was back at the hotel it was cloudy and a bit rainy. It’s another lovely thing about Real del Monte: the English weather. I know it’s a crappy thing that ex-pats always say when they live in hotter countries, but it’s true: I miss the British weather. And it is nice knowing that when I get bored of the sunny-every-dayness of Mexico City, I can nip up to Real del Monte and wear a coat and wipe the rain off my glasses.

I spent the evening in the hotel listening to podcasts and drawing. As you might have noticed on the blog recently, I’ve been doing a lot more simple things, brightly coloured. Not sure why this has been happening. I’ve been specifically doing a lot of things that I refer to as mountains. They are not, I guess, what one would normally consider mountains, but they were mountains to me. I kinda think they are drawings that combine some of the colours of living in Mexico, with shapes or landscape, balloons, and stuff. I dunno, they feel really Mexican to me. I’m enjoying them. You can see a whole load of them here.

And while we’re talking about drawing, here’s one I did of the Prismas Basálticos. I did a pen drawing in my notebook while I was there, photographed it, and then drew over the photograph in the Brushes app on my iPad:

It was a bad night’s sleep. Not sure why, cos the bed was ace. I love those hard mattresses with big plump pillows where you can make an inverted V shape around you head so that every time you turn over, there’s still a load of pillow there. It was all perfect, but I was awake a lot. It was nice, though, when I heard the rain on the tin roofs outside. Rain on tin roofs: second best sound in the world. (Best is obvs rain in a forest or jungle.)

Another breakfast debacle the next morning. This time I asked what type of coffee they had, and specifically was it pre-sweetened. Yes it was.
Do you have it without sugar?
“No.” He told me they had Nescafe.
No thanks, what type of tea do you have?
“Camomile, mint, green.” They had no black tea.
Sigh. Okay, nothing thanks, just orange juice, please.
He looked pissed off with me for being a picky English prince. He brought me some good chilaquiles (I don’t eat chilaquiles often, so when I’m out of town, I like to indulge myself) and asked if I wanted an Americano. Yes, I’d very much like that, please. He came back with a mug of dark liquid that tasted exactly like Nescafe. Cheeky bugger was trying to trick me. But I drank it.

As mentioned above, last visit, we’d tried to go to see the English cemetery, the Panteón Inglés, but it was closed. It’s a long uphill walk because the cemetery is on top of a hill. Nice place for a cemetery, no doubt, but it was quite a warm morning, and I couldn’t be arsed, so I got a taxi. Best 35 pesos I spent.

A fifteen peso donation for upkeep. It was kinda nice, kinda odd, to see so many English names in a Mexican graveyard cemetery. (Update: I just read on Eamonn Griffin’s wonderful Benches of Louth blog that “if it’s got a church in it, it’s a graveyard. If it hasn’t, it’s a cemetery.”) Specifically, loads of Cornish surnames. You don’t have to spend long in the panteón to learn that mining wasn’t good for the health back in the day. Lots of graves of people in their 20s and 30s. It was a nice place, though. All the graves bar one were facing England. I don’t usually feel any swell of patriotism, but I did when the woman who took my donation told me about that. There is one grave, though, that doesn’t. The grave of an English clown who lived in Pachuca, who specified that he wanted his grave to not face England.

Still sunny, a very pleasant downhill saunter back to the town. I’d kinda done all the tourist-y stuff I wanted to do, so after lunch (pasties!) I went back to my room and did a simple sketch of a drawing I wanted to do while I was in town: a drawing of the view from my hotel room window:

Line drawing complete, feeling good about what I’d done, I went out for a beer. Not really in the mood, so it was just a beer. It was raining like billyoh. Kinda soaked, I saw a beautiful sight: an actual coffee shop. A place with a proper machine. I sat down, listened to the wonderful selection of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll they were playing, and had two wonderful Americanos.

I accepted the internal shame of having the same thing again and again and had pasties for dinner, did some more mountain drawings, and sleepy sleepy slept.

I woke with a plan: start working on the drawing of the view out of the window before I go out for breakfast, then finish the drawing afterwards, hopefully quick enough to be out of the hotel before the 1pm checkout time.

It was Saturday morning, and bloomin’ heck, Real del Monte felt totally different. The Pueblo Mágico-ness was kicking in ready for the weekend tourists. Cafes and restaurants that had been closed were suddenly open and I had a lovely load of eggs and coffee at one of them while an absurdly-loud-for-the-time-of-day TV blasted out the sound of three woman yelling and cackling interspersed with pop videos. This type of TV show seems very popular in Mexico.

Back to the hotel, I packed up my stuff, then dragged the chair back to the window to continue drawing. I’d finished with 40 minutes to spare, so went over to the good coffee place, had another Americano ready for an afternoon of travelling. This is how the drawing turned out:

And here’s a wee clip of the process of drawing:

I checked out and went to Pastes el Portal and picked up what I had ordered earlier in the morning: a box of pasties to bring home.

The reverse journey–two combis–back to the Pachuca bus terminal was dominated by the smell of the warm pasties on my lap. Oh my. It was a delight.

On the bus back to Mexico City, the woman in front of me was one of those people who reclines all the way just because they can. Those people need to be made extinct. It’s a 90 minute journey not an overnight flight to New Zealand, luv, calm the fuck down with the selfish behaviour.

I did another iPad drawing on the bus, which was fun. I started drawing quick doodles of things I saw along the roadside at various points. Basically, I was making notes, but as I did more and more, I realised I was doing a composite of what the roadside outside of Pachuca was like, and, y’know it ended up like this:

Y’know, it’s kinda hard to believe that when I was doing my travels in 2008, I used to write blog posts like this every day. I’m out of practise. This one took ages.

Written by Craig

August 4th, 2015 at 7:46 am

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