The Art of Getting Lost ~ Teotihuacan, Mexico

I shared a version of this story in May 2015, in my first few days of travel. But I love this story, and all it represents.

~ May 6, 2015 ~

Today was one of those days that is so full I simply don’t know where to start.

Which is actually quite fitting, considering the day started off with me getting lost.

It was my own fault. I didn’t really look at the map closely enough, and jumped to an assumption that had zero business in being an assumption in the first place. And found myself in an industrial area that was nowhere near the bus station. After several blocks of “this can’t be right”, I stumbled upon a couple running a fresh-squeezed orange juice stand (random, given the location) and a customer. I tried asking for directions, and in super limited Spanish, I managed to get the following. First, surprise, as in “What the hell are you doing here?” Second, gestures and the occasional “metro” and pointing in the direction I came from. After a few minutes of this, I got the message: “Try again,” ie, get your butt back to the Metro station and look at a map. So I did. And discovered I was at the wrong Metro station – I needed one two stops to the south. Which, when I took it, came up directly in front of the bus station. Super easy. Just had to actually look at a map.

I had found instructions online about how to get to Teotihuacan this way, but managed to completely ignore them up to this point, at my own peril. Determined to get back on track, I found the bus company quickly. Two men in front of me, obviously tourists, were also buying tickets. Always a good sign. I bought water (which turned out to be a very good call), and headed outside, promptly forgetting the gate I was supposed to be at. A ticket taker noticed me staring helplessly at the buses. I knew it was 7 or 8, but neither looked right. She eventually came over, looked at my ticket, and pointed to the bus directly in front of me. The two men were sitting in the first two seats, watching me. Very smooth on my part.

Upon reaching the site, the three of us set off in a general direction, still strangers, and each quietly hoping the other knew where they were going. They obviously were traveling together and had a guidebook. (Well, one did. I thought of him as “Guide” and the other as “Photographer.”) I was walking very purposefully, quite possibly into a parking lot for all I knew. When in doubt, act like you know where you’re going. We were approached by a representative of the tourism ministry, or so he said, who offered us reassurances that they had just been placed out there due to people getting confused and the lack of maps, but he’d be happy to show us around for 200 pesos each. It took a few glances for the three of us to band together, refuse his offer en masse, and head off purposefully towards a parking lot. I walked faster, so I got lost faster. But, stumbling through, I found the entrance, and bought a guidebook, and actually looked at the map in the back.

Teotihuacan is an archaeological site, an ancient site of a pre-Columbian people dating from between 100 BC to 550 CE (at its peak), though survived as a city until the 7th or 8th century. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987, and shows up on many tourist itineraries. But, the crowd was sparse today. Perhaps because by this time, it was around noon, and the sun was blazing overhead. It is no exaggeration to state that there is absolutely no shade at noon in Teotihuacan. You have to be somewhat masochistic to visit midday, but so it was.

First was the Citadel and the main temple, most of which is gone. I climbed around a bit, and the two brothers-in-arms were right behind me. Having succeeded in our common cause, we now offered each other shy smiles. I moved ahead down the Calzada de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead) towards the Temple of the Sun. There are a lot of stairs and ruins in between, up and down, and you’re free to climb all over. Something you wouldn’t see much of in the US, where everything is roped off. I stopped to take photos, they moved in front of me. And so we leap-frogged around each other all the way to Temple of the Sun. At the base, I asked Photographer to take my picture, which he happily did. Guide and I were on the same pace up the stairs, laughing and gasping at the steepness, and pausing to catch our breath at the same points. At the top, they laughed at my attempts to take selfies with the Temple of the Moon behind me, and I sheepishly found a better position – out of their view. Other than asking Photographer to take my picture, we hadn’t spoken.

I was a bit disappointed when I reached Temple of the Moon and hadn’t seen them in awhile. It’s actually quite easy to find allies and company if you simply trust your instinct. The climb at the Temple of the Moon soon distracted me with an even steeper, though shorter, climb part way up. The top is closed, as the stairs eventually lead into a jumble of rocks. The views of the Avenue of the Dead and the Temple of the Sun were amazing, even from the lower vantage point.

After exploring the ruins of the palace structure – including the underground portion which was blissfully cool, I ran into Guide, who, in broken English, asked me if I was taking the bus back. The bus stopped at this end too – we didn’t have to walk all the way back. At least, that’s what his guidebook said. I was fairly excited about this information – it meant not walking all the way back down the Avenue of the Dead and through the parking lot to where we started from. I asked if they were leaving – he responded shortly, his friend was looking in the little shops at the exit. I left to take pictures, and sure enough, retracing my steps to the shops, saw both of them. While Photographer examined various trinkets, Guide and I chatted more.

They were from France, and he admired me traveling alone. He loved to travel, but always with a friend. He asked where I was going, for how long. I rattled off countries, and when I got to France, he asked if I was going to Paris. He seemed excited at that prospect, and I was sad to disappoint him. I’d been before, and wanted to stay in the south. He brightened – they were from Nice! A happy surprise – I planned to go through Nice. By this time, Photographer had joined us, and we’d confirmed the location of the bus, walking and talking along the way. When Photographer heard I was going through Nice, he rattled off in French that I should call them and we will go out to eat, and when will I be there? Much to their surprise, I understood him, and details were traded.

 

 

We parted ways at the bus station in Mexico City. They were off in a mad dash to try to make it to the Freida Kahlo museum, and I was headed to El Museo Nacional de Antropologia. But the proposed date was reiterated, and I couldn’t help but think about how getting lost this morning put me on their bus, and now I had a date in Nice in a couple of months. Sometimes you have to appreciate the true consequences of getting lost.

***

While schedules didn’t align for my brief time in Nice, the happy circumstances of our meeting in Mexico were a comfort to me. In my first few days of solo travel, I had managed to get hopelessly lost. And due to the mishap, had met two wonderful people who invited me into their lives on another continent. It’s the beauty of solo travel… and of getting lost.

With curiosity and courage,

Kelly

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