We arrived back in Guatemala City from Antigua in the early afternoon, (see Volcán Agua), and reserved seats on the Tica Bus to Mexico City departure of the next day. That evening we went to a nearby pizzeria and early to bed; there was no water and the electricity supply was at best, intermittent.
At about 23:00, I woke in a sweat, with an excruciating pain in my bowels. In the dark, I scuttled to the communal toilet, to which most of the other guests seemed to have preceded me. With no water supply and unable to flush the toilet, the stench was diabolical; it was a trip to the toilet that was to repeat itself many more times that night and the next morning.
What to do? We had already paid for the tickets to Mexico City on a bus with no toilet for a 1,400 km journey. If my gut spasms persisted, could I hold out until each of the next scheduled stops, on average about every two hours. I decided to go for it.
And thankfully I made it without undue embarrassment… but only just. As soon as we arrived in Mexico City, I went to the first pharmacy that I encountered and sought relief. The pharmacist listened to my symptoms and gave me some pills that he was confident would eliminate the problem. They certainly worked, almost instantly; I was totally blocked up for most of the next two weeks.
We found a room in a clean and inexpensive hotel, close to the two great plazas of the city: the Alameda and the Zócolo. It was a perfect location in the historic heart of the city.
Nearby was the Alameda, a large central city park, with a complex layout of paths, statues and fountains. Originally it was the Aztec marketplace. At the eastern end of the park is the Palacio de Bellas Artes, an opulent building dedicated to the performing arts – music, dance, theater and opera, and exhibitions of art and photography.
To the east of the Alameda is the Zócolo, known as the Plaza de la Constitutión, a massive square measuring about 250 m by 250 m. On one side is the Cathedral, on another the Palacio Nacional and on the other two sides various Federal Buildings. In the centre of the plaza there is an enormous flag pole.
We went to the Palacio Nacional to see the murals painted by Diego Rivera. Now I am not renowned for my enthusiasm for things artistic, but a friend had told me that I would find a visit to have been worthwhile. I was not disappointed. The murals were most impressive, covering the history of Mexico from the pre-colonial era, through the Spanish conquest and the modern-day rise of the working class. I felt very small looking up at them from the stairs and the adjacent corridors.
That evening we went to the Frontón México, an art-deco building that was the home of Jai Alai in Mexico City. It is a few minutes walk to the west of the Alameda.
Jai Alai is based on a similar game originating from the Vasco region of north-eastern Spain. It is played on a long rectangular court with walls on three sides and a high ceiling, similar to an elongated squash court, with one wall removed and glass screening to protect the audience.
The ball is rock-hard and is caught and slung against the end wall with a hand-held device called a cesta. It is renowned for being the fastest ball sport.
Most of the crowd were there to gamble and as a game progressed, the odds were constantly changing. The book-takers ran up and down the steps taking bets and issuing receipts. The noise level was impressive and I entered the fray, with my small bank of pesos that I was prepared to lose as part of the experience. I survived for a couple of hours, sometimes up, at other times down, until it was gone. It was a fun night.
On the way back to our hotel, we went to the Plaza Garibaldi, a short walk to the north of the Alameda. The Plaza Garibaldi was known for its mariachi bands and we were not disappointed, for there were at least a dozen of them. Each one consisted of violins, trumpets and different forms of guitars, some with a harp, at times each musician taking turns to sing, at other times singing as a group.
And here you can hear how a mariachi group sounds…
It was with the sound of a dozen mariachi bands reverberating in our ears, that we wandered back to our hotel in the early hours of the morning.
And my bowels slept serenely that night…