Desert spirits, fine arts, steep glaciers

Puebla Travel Blog

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Sax quartet at 2,760m above sea level in Real de Catorce

My recent three weeks were loaded with very diverse experiences (pics are here) …

We were lucky to be in Real de Catorce during the Desert Festival and had a chance to see supreme performers from all over Mexico. Imagine how artists themselves were excited to perform under open skies at almost 3km above sea level! Paco Renteria and his team (Mexican guitar super star who recorded soundtrack for Las Bandidas movie) went for 2.5 hrs instead of planned 60 minutes. Flamenco, modern dance, contemporary saxophone music, folclore singing - all that was on the list.

A day after the festival was over and the city was getting back to its daily routine, our team followed our peyote guide down into the desert.

Do you know how to handle peyote?
I had been reading Castaneda works during the previous several weeks and got quite curious about taking the cactus. Having reached the place by 10am we set up a camp and spent quite a while to relax, calm down and clean up the thoughts. By 6pm we were sort of ready for the “hunt”, at least, our guide thought so.

My meeting with peyote was an interesting almost dream-like adventure. I described both the “hunting” technique and my own sensations when “under influence” in my notes. The bottomline is that instead of answers to my questions I had before the practice, I was asked a question, which puzzled me a lot and influenced my further experiences in Mexico.

The question, which I actually sensed or experienced rather than heard, can be translated into human language as following: “Why are you spending your time here in physical world trying to get back to where you just came from? You are here to play with physical matter and concentrate on that.

Ready to eat !

All other curious aspects of two peyote sessions were seeing (in my imagination, with my eyes closed) the eyes and sometimes the face of a cactus-like somebody who was watching me and who was trying to scare me from time to time. Also, the clarity of my regular thoughts was way better than in my normal state. Finally, my body felt certain energy waves coming every 30-40 seconds that were starting in my feet and were going up trying to reach my upper body. My body reacted funny to the upward movement of those waves - it would feel very powerful tinkling in leg and lower back muscles and would experience strong convulsions. Those waves continued for half an hour or fourty minutes.

My third day in the desert I felt uninterested in any further peyote practice and just spent a wonderful fully relaxed day reading, making campfire, baking potato in ashes, fooling around with Julia, hiding from thunderstorm and lightnings, and doing many other great things.

Wet from the rain and dirty from the desert dust, Julia and I made a long way to Mexico city having changed 3 buses.

Taxco cable car
Natalia Klimovich, a friend of mine from the world of Russian-speaking MBAs, was so kind to let us stay in her super-cool and wonderfully designed apartment in the most prestigious part of Mexico city - Polanco. That was particularly dear to me, as it sounded almost like a beautiful Moscow neighbourhood - Polianca. Natalia, thank you for being so brave and letting in two homeless bums from a desert!

My peyote experience and the quite artsy minimalistic ambiance of Natalia’s apartment dramatically changed my Mexico city plans. Suddenly, I felt an unbearable hunger for cultural things. Julia and I forgot about budget discipline and rushed for the Covent Garden ballet (Sleeping beauty by Chaikovsky), Ballet Folclorico (targeted at high-fly European and US tourists), jazz jam sessions, day trips to the Mesoamerican mecca of Teotihuacan, and Taxco - the nowadays mecca for silver art aficionados, etc.

Resting on Pyramida de la Luna in Teotihuacan
Thank God, the local Theater of Dance was closed for summer break, otherwise I would’ve spent all my time there.

What a beautiful and kind-hearted city it is. I cannot imagine how that metropolis of 18 million people manages to stay so human and not expose much poverty and public disorder. By the time we were leaving Mexico city I got another epiphany. I sensed Mexico (the whole country, not only the capital) as a very young individual, almost childlike. Kids are everywhere, very curious and outgoing, always laughing and playing, like kids should be. That amount of very young and happy energy definitely impacts the adults. Most Mexicans I met seem to be happy with what they have. Overall, it is an innocent, family-like community, where stranger feels very comfortably from the very first minute. I guess it is this innocence that older people in Russia are so nostalgic about, that some Americans still remember - isn’t it how Russia and United States used to be in 1950s, right after the War?

Anyway, my hunger for enjoying my physical form was not fully saturated by our cultural experiences in Mexico city (which actually reminded me of my years in Moscow).

Julia at the summit of Nevado de Toluca
I wanted more. So Julia and I went for quite challenging hike and summited the fourth tallest peak in Mexico - volcano Nevado de Toluca. At 4,690m above sea level it is 270m higher than Mt. Whitney in California, the highest point in contiguous USA. For Julia it was quite an achievement - she had never been at that altitude, not even close. But she did great - we started at 3,200m and reached the summit 5 hours later gaining over 1,400m in altitude.

On my way down I was already planning my next adventure - summiting Pico de Orizaba. At 5,636m it is the highest peak in Mexico and third tallest in North America after Mt. McKinley in Alaska and Mt.

With my guide Israel on the rooftop of Mexico - Pico de Orizaba 5,636m
Logan in Canada. Two and a half days later I was meeting the sunrise on the northen side glacier of Orizaba. My guide and I summited at 7:40am - six and a half after we took off for an alpine ascent from the refuge at 4,260m. Many things on that hike were the first time experience for me. I have never climbed a glacier so steep - 35%-40% and so long - over 1.2 km long (600m elevation gain). And I have never summited such a tall mountain. In 2004 I was climbing Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina and reached 6,500m altitude but I didn’t summit.

Now happy and relaxed I’m enjoying Puebla and I only have a vague idea where and when we are going next.
Poblanos are always having fun
I am happy with what I have… so far
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Sax quartet at 2,760m above sea le…
Sax quartet at 2,760m above sea l…
Do you know how to handle peyote?
Do you know how to handle peyote?
Ready to eat !
Ready to eat !
Taxco cable car
Taxco cable car
Resting on Pyramida de la Luna in …
Resting on Pyramida de la Luna in…
Julia at the summit of Nevado de T…
Julia at the summit of Nevado de …
With my guide Israel on the roofto…
With my guide Israel on the rooft…
Poblanos are always having fun
Poblanos are always having fun
photo by: Biedjee