I wanted to start with the trees in León. Because I fall in love with cities of lush trees, and decent sidewalks, and bike lanes, and wide, open spaces to add to that. Somebody tells me that Guadalajara actually has more trees, but I still love the fact that even non-major roads in León have trees. It tells me that the vision to have preserved them goes beyond superficial beautification and a main thoroughfare showoff. Being from a city—and a country—where it’s mostly bad sidewalks and dangerous roads for bikers, I get fascinated with places that offer the opposite. I like bringing home the good news that it can be done.
There is also something about a church next to a church, that is next to another, and plazas next to them, that feel very much like home. Although gatherings at plazas, in some cultures like ours, have been stereotyped as uncool or “baduy” in the Filipino language, I think that the practice is part of a heritage that societies need not be ashamed of. The plazas represent a central activity for genuine human interaction—conversations, stories, music, dances, crafts, or the arts, in general. It has ties to something of historical significance that has been passed on through generations.
As almost everyone realizes, the culinary heritage of Mexico is one of the best, and it has raised my standards for good food. One doesn’t have to be a connoisseur to know good food, I think. And, yes, appreciation is subjective, but the creative, or intuitive, ways in which Mexicans cook or prepare food and the delightful blend of flavours in most dishes that I have tried is heaven. The combinations of different salsas and guacamole, dishes stuffed with cheese, or with chipotle sauce, the hint of smokey sweetness and the blend of flavours they create together is something I will probably not find outside of Mexico. I hope yes. The variations in the softness or the hardness of the tortilla depending on the dish, I think, is also cunning. I love chilaquiles paired with fajitas de arrachera and fried banana. It’s my kind of perfect gastronomic combo.
I love having seen the city of Guanajuato within the state of the same name. León is also in Guanajuato. While León is more of a commercial center and industrialized, at that, Guanajuato is a colonial city—a picturesque setting of bright-colored houses sitting atop the hill and the valley below, baroque architecture, cobbled pathways, alleyways and underground passages that bring you from one place to another.
I have been told that it was once a mining city, why the tunnels. One thing about being in Guanajuato that takes you on a dreamy experience is the celebration at almost every turn—not material, but rather ethereal, from the singing and dancing, or musings at paintings and monuments and the sight of remembrances of the present past.
Cultural heritage dictates how we live and defines what is important to us and, therefore, what we preserve—or, at least, what our societies try to preserve.
I have seen lovely sights and tasted heavenly good food. I met wonderful and warm people and said I would like to come back. But what I find most intimate and sacred about the time I spent in Mexico is having participated in a Temazcal ceremony. We sit in two concentric circles, around a pit filled with a pile of hot rocks, inside an igloo-shaped mudhouse. It is pitch black darkness inside when the door is closed and only tiny sparks of light are given off when the temazcalero swirls water on the smoldering rocks, infused with different kinds of herbs, that give off different scents—one, pungent, and the other, breezy. The rocks give off hot vapors, or steam, each time the water hits it. And we sweat, moderately, in the beginning; profusely, as the heat intensifies. The temazcalero says a prayer, another tells a story, invoking the spirit of grandmothers from ancient past to allow our healing and purification. They pray, and chant, and sing in a Spanish that I could only barely understand but at the same time understand in a language that speaks to me without words. In the beginning, I feel fear from the fact that the door is closed, and that the lodge is an unfamiliar territory. But as I listen intently, and feel the reverberating sound of the drum, of the singing female voice, and then more voices, my fear subsides, my body sways from left to right, eyes closed, sometimes wide open, feeling home, feeling that I have been here before, grateful that we remember and that we offer our intentions.
They say that the ritual has been passed on from ancient Mayans and that it is performed to do physical, emotional, mental and spiritual cleansing. Out of a few reasons I’d like to go back to Mexico, Temazcal is one.
Back when I used to sing Soul to Squeeze a lot, I would sing my heart out and sing it loud when I say “where I go, I just don’t know, I might end up somewhere in Mexico.” And I did