2.5 hour bus ride went into planning the places I wanted to see in one of the largest cities in the world, because I was very busy the whole week (Read: lazy). Should I visit the museums in the city which hosts the largest number of museums in the world, or should I attend the concert and party with my new friends in the awesome nightlife, that was the question.
I decided to simply walk in the Mexico city that Sunday.
After exploring some pathways in Chapultepec Park, which is literally twice the size of NYC’s Central Park, and its inbuilt castle, I went to the Tequila Museum because entry to museums is free on weekends and I don’t drink (I like to add some irony on my trips). On my right was the historical center of the city bustling with people, and on my left was the part of city about which you are usually warned not to enter, but which has a certain ring to it, the part which is not specified in travel magazines or websites, the part which calls you out from its dark secluded corners and whispers out your name. I call that calling adventure.
After walking through some group of Mariachis waiting to get hired, I would find out that it was not.
This part of city had worn out buildings and undeveloped roads. There were some infrequent black and white murals on the walls, the meanings of which were open to interpretation. The number of people went down exponentially after 10 mins of walking and I could only see 1-2 passerbys occasionally who would stare back at you if you smile at them. You wouldn’t imagine that there is a lively city just 4 blocks from here.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, ‘Disculpe’, and I jumped in shock.
It was an old woman with more wrinkles and freckles on her fair face than the rings on a tree trunk. Her eyes were as glassy as a clear night sky and her expression was grim. She whispered something in Spanish.
“No entiendo Espanol!”, I said sheepishly. (I don’t understand Spanish)
She looked at me confusingly, as if a kindergarten kid is allowed to sit in a university exam. After 2-3 long painful minutes and her fluent native tongue, I understood some words like ‘Policia (Cops)’, ‘No’, ‘Aqui (here)’, ‘Segurida (safe)’ etc. She then pointed at my camera and widened her eyes. I realized that she was trying to warn me and advising me to be safe. I smiled at her, but she had already turned back. ‘Gracias…’, I tried.
The streets got narrower and emptier, stares grew longer, the sky got cloudier, the corners got dirtier, and I was totally lost after walking and turning into random alleys for the next hour. My camera was safely packed in my backpack and I was taking pictures with my phone every now and then, and thrusting it back in my pocket as soon as I was done with it. I wanted to ask for help but was scared by the looks on the faces of the people. I passed an abandoned church. At a distance I could hear some sirens, maybe I could ask the cops!
As soon as I went near, I knew instantly that it was a big mistake. There was blood on the street and a cop laid unconscious. There was an overturned motorbike and a totalled car, as if a heavy sized truck had crashed into them. The whole scene was surrounded by another two dozen policemen and some handful of civilians. Everything was quiet and only some radio buzzes were to be heard.
After standing there like a statue for the next 30 seconds, I turned back quietly and my walk turned into a light jog. I needed to get out of that place! Curfew, shooting, or accident, I didn’t want to find out. Someone called out after me, but I didn’t turn back to know who it was. It won’t be an exaggeration to point out that I was scared shit for my life, and not for the materialistic things I had in my bag, for the first time that day.
A small compass on my bag told me that I had to keep going towards north if I want to get to the city center, but I couldn’t find anything even after walking for more than an hour. I was tired, terrified, and it was getting dark. And that’s when I heard it.
A church bell!! That means people. 2 rights and I was facing an ancient wooden door with rusted iron spikes. The entrance was small but the hall inside was gigantic! The church walls were old and broken, and you could see the construction material with which it was built. The stiff seats were antique, and the ceiling was high and boring. It was dark for the most part, except a bright light in the front. Am I dead? I thought.
There was a mini mass going on with a priest reading verses from Bible in fluent Spanish to a small band of 5-6 people. I went and sat in the first row, right in front of a big statue of Mother Mary holding Baby Jesus, who were adorned with white drapes and illuminated by numerous candles. In the background there was a chapel and a cross with Jesus on it. I lowered my head and took some deep breaths.
A beautiful lady came up on the scene and started singing while playing a piano. There was something in her voice and her choice of hymn that made me relaxed instantly! I could feel a teardrop sliding across my cheek, but I didn’t bother wiping it away. The light coming from the colored windows on the ceiling, along with the candles, was reflecting from Mother Mary and falling on me. It was so calm and beautiful, as if 100 angels have stepped down from the heavens and hugged me with their soft feathery wings. In that moment I loosened my grip on the bench, removed my backpack, and smiled a little. I felt safe.
I sat through the whole ceremony, which I guess lasted for 40 mins. Later, a friendly couple who became my friend at the church showed me the way to the city center, which was only 10 mins walking from there (the compass worked, yay!). I took a metro, and by 9 pm I was at my host’s place for the night.
I am not a religious person. I have travelled and explored more than 50 cities intricately, and lived in more than 10 cities at least for a considerable amount of time. Never in my 24 years of life I have experienced such a black and white feeling where my emotions changed so rapidly from sad and fearful to joyful and calm. Maybe this is what religion and God is supposed to make you feel, or maybe the universe provides you with a light when you are in such a desperate need of it. I would like to believe in latter. Still, everytime I feel sad and lonely now, I close my eyes and the statue of Mother Mary comes up with a hymn playing in the background in a language that I don’t understand, and I start smiling. After all these travels and personal scientific theories about God, I found my happy place in a dark unknown corner of a city, in a church.
Like I said, I like ironies. 😉