Part 2: Humans
The Grand Canyon and the Redwood forest are so deep and grandiose that the mind can get swept away by staring at them. The vastness of the canyon and the longevity of the forest, tucked away in wilderness bring people to ponder the reason for their existence. Las Pozas in Xilitla provides one answer in showing how to create a world inspired by our minds and harmonized with nature.
In the morning the bushes and trees turned from black to bright green in a damp warmth. I had set-up camp knowing that Xilitla was close but in my fatigue I wasn’t brave enough to possibly pump for it in the dark. Well if I had known it was less than an hour from where I camped I would have gone for it. Precious little towns balancing on stilts dotted passing mountains. I tried to take pictures but the humidity lay a fog on my lens. A particularly tall and skinny mountain sat in the valley and provided shelter for a town. I found it odd that the homes were on the steeper, prettier mountain than on the opposite, uglier mountain. It has also got me to thinking how strange it is that humans have based their lives in mountains. Harder construction, harder transportation and I would imagine harder farming. But none of that has stopped people from building homes on top of mountains both fertile and desolate. Maybe it’s a validation of existence to the gods, or an acceptance to a challenge. Or perhaps humanity once valued beauty above all else. Now all of those mountain people probably have the most pure view and hold of the earth than the prolific valley-dwellers..
What first attracted me to Xilitla is Las Pozas, a place described so wondrously and surreal I had to see it. But I was also excited because it was in the jungle. I’ve never been to one, but I knew I was in it once I saw all the green. It was all-encompassing, even the sky was masked by it. Vines, and leaves bigger than your head do a good job of that. And the colors! Red, orange, blue, purple, yellow growing unfettered. Bananas, lemons, papaya, flowers, birds flashing brightness in a living, thick-breathed rainbow. Incredible! No joke, the birds sounded like excited R2-D2’s. In the daze of morning they bleep and bloop to each other. In the awareness of the day they are a bit more reserved and hold themselves to swooping whistles and cries that sound like balloons rubbing when something (namely a wild-haired bicycle-tourist) approaches. When we see each other in person, ask me to do an impression. Just make sure you aren’t drinking something when you ask (unless you like milk out your nose…Collin).
The first hotel I came to was nice, and the owner had done a bicycle tour from Barcelona to Rome to witness the Olympics back in 19longtimeago (okay, 1960). It was a bit expensive, plus I had heard of a very bizarre hostel in the town. I headed towards downtown where a huge market was taking place. The streets were so jammed I had to walk and literally push people apart to get through the covered stands. People from all of the surrounding towns come to Xilitla to buy and sell in the market and take part in the dance in front of the stone church. Since it was still early I decided to have some pan, coffee and a juice in the main plaza and watch the groovedown. On top of a wooden stage and in front of a three-piece rancho group with an unplugged youth “jammin'” along, the people clomped up and down in perfect step. Each head rose and fell simultaneously like a dock on a lake. Nothing fancy. Women in simple dresses of floral or solid-color print and the men in jeans, a brown jacket and a cowboy hat. There is something special in seeing something so monotonous, such unplanned yet strict uniformity. Which is probably why I felt more stares sitting next to my eccentric bicycle in a red jacket and white skin than any other part of Mexico. I had some lunch in the indoor portion of the market and an old woman sat down and ate with me, urging me to try her food, eat her tortillas slathered in salsa. I felt like part of the restaurant as the owners sat down to talk with her and with me. A local flower vendor came over and the old woman urged him to teach me some Nahuatl. He taught me how to say “I love you,” and “My name is.” Unfortunately, just like Icelandic, I have forgotten how to say them. I remember it being fairly difficult and my accent stirred a lot of laughter in that kitchen.
Finally, I left on a stone-rutted dirt path for Casa Caracol, the hostel that I had heard about and seemed like a hippie-breeding ground. I came upon a clearing with a single stone arch standing equally with giant jungle trees with strange shapes perched on top of it, my first glimpse of Las Pozas. A man in baggy striped pajama-style pants and a half-shaved, half-super dreaded head ripped by on a motorcycle into a downward-sloped housing entrance. I had found my destination. I rode past the more expensive cabanas that were very conventional and crossed an iron and wood bridge over a small creek. On the other side a bright green adobe structure appeared through branches and a short arch with a large dangling hexagonal mobile. I passed through the arch and the rest of the scene came into view. The green building was two stories with a covered circular area at its center and a patio with breakfasting travelers leading to a spiral staircase. Tiny mirrors polka-dotted the building and reflected the small gardens and trees on the nearby hill. Chickens pecked around stationary tables and chairs and two dogs chased each other around sculptures made from found pieces and adobe. Tall teepees stood in the distance amongst banana trees with various murals painted on them: a day-glo dragon snaked around one and opened its mouth for a crouched opening, one was simple and purple with bottles sticking out in wavy patterns. A cement path pebbled with tiles, bottle caps, mirrors, and rocks wound through flower gardens and grass to connect them all to the central structure. After meeting all the friendlies staying at the hostel I wandered around the central structure. A vine-covered wooden railing encases the grass-covered living room with more mirrored-hexagonal mobiles littered with flutes and trombones. Guitars and books dangled from the ceiling, begging to be toyed with. The attached kitchen is absent of windows and trees grow in through the vacant spaces and tickle the furniture that seems stuck to the walls but is actually supported by stones placed as cupboards and shelves. Meanwhile on the hill, giant and vibrant eyes built into colorful cabins peer down from above and observe all with a knowing and unintimidating stare.
The visitors came from all over the world and had all been to the hostel before and were working on some sort of project. A French-Canadian/Mexican couple were putting the finishing touches onto the dragon. A Spaniard was doing maintenance and sculpting huge heads to lay by the unfinished hot tub. A Mexican woman was hosting a course on permaculture to other Mexicans. Reading the guestbook showed fantastic displays of thoughtless drawings and quotes in all sorts of languages. The owner says it is a place without time. The absence of a truly functioning garden and a habitat incorporated into the earth along with a rotating community was proof of that. Its delight seemed fit to harbor drug-hunting hippies and provide a functional medium for them to be themselves.
The next day I journeyed into Las Pozas. A physical dreamscape designed, crafted and lived in by the surrealist Sir Edward James. The man transplanted his art into the jungle as a mansion weaved along the banks of a river of waterfalls. Paths wind to buildings with roofs as functional spaces, arches that support nothing and staircases to nowhere. I wandered through the land trying to get to every space and see every nook and cranny, completely draining my camera of battery. This was the first and only place I have felt alone. It is hard to be in such a bizarre place and not be able to explain or describe what you are seeing to someone. I was so bewildered and desperate I interrupted a couple’s date and tried to explain to them how I saw. I became absorbed by the shapes and forms in the architecture and how to capture them on my camera to help me remember. Because of this a different phenomenon, one that I have already experienced on this trip occurred. It is hard for me to articulate in words what I experienced because that part of my brain was absent during the exploration. All I have are vague ideas and pictures in my head, and no words, no similes, no epiphanies. So, I will leave it to my pictures.