Sunday, April 16, 2023

Mexican Mountaineering

The gymroids are all younger than I.  They have more money.  They have expensive cars and vacation homes and travel whenever they want.  But. . . 

"You're like a Venus Fly Trap," one of the gymroids said.  "The Shaman just sits and waits, and one of them falls in. . . ."  

"You guys are full of shit.  You're like a bunch of summer lizards when you go out, but you don't want your wives to know.  I'm a sweet boy.  I'm romantic.  I just want love."

Oh, man. . . that breaks them up.  

"You're a tranny.  You like playing Uno in the steam room and snapping towels with the boys!"


Whatever.  I've never cared what the boys say.  This is all I've ever had.  Or what I had.  Just a big imagination and a desire for love and adventure.  

It was my father's fault.  That is where I got it.  As I've said before, he got itchy feet after going to the Pacific in WWII.  He wanted to see the world.  And he loved camping and being in nature.  In upcoming videos made from the old 8mm films I am still scanning, a daunting and miserable task, I will show you much of what I am saying.  He quit his job twice to take the family on cross-country trips just to see things.  We camped, mostly.  My father wanted to see the national parks.  After those two early trips in the 1950s, and after the flooding of our basement by the Little Miami River in Ohio, he moved the family to Florida.  It was a bold move.  We ended up in a cracker neighborhood, but he bought motorcycles and boats, and on weekends we went fishing and crabbing and shrimping.  But we never took the long adventure trips again.  He and my mother worked.  Later, after they divorced, his dream was to finally quit work and sail away.  We watched nature shows together my entire life, Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom," National Geographic specials, and "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau."  

He gave me the bug.  In my senior year of high school, my friend Tommy and I took scuba diving lessons and went on several deep water cave dives with the (in)famous record holder for the deepest dives in history at that time, Hal Watts (link), using rented diving equipment.  Eventually we bought our own gear and struck out on our own, often foolishly, for several years.  When I got to college, I decided to be a marine biologist and got the degree, but I discovered two things.  Life at sea on an oceanographic research vessel wasn't as beautiful as the t.v. show and there were no good paying jobs for a guy with a bachelor's degree in zoology.  When I graduated, though, I wasn't thinking of work.  I was seeking adventure, and with a backpack, a sleeping bag, a cooking stove and a tent, I set out to re-discover America.  

Eventually, I bought a sailboat that I sailed for years.  

When I sold it, my mountain quests began.  

Skip ahead.  I'm going to be telling travel stories, but they will not be chronological.  The simple reason is that I don't have the materials all together and at hand.  There is a lot of search and find going on right now.  I've kept everything, but not well.  I am not a very organized person.  Someday I'll show a photo of my office at the factory.  It was famous for being--well--a mess. . . much like most of my life.  I've hoped that being interesting would make up for it somehow.  And it would, sometimes. . . for awhile.  And there would be someone who loved me and would organize our lives together.  But the vat of photos, brochures, letters, notebooks. . . those have remained a mess.  

And so, we begin. . . somewhere.   This story takes place around the turn of the century, on one side of it or another.  This was pre-computer journaling, I think, but not pre-computer.  That much I know.  Or think I know.  I made many trips to Mexico to climb, some before, some during, and some after the years I was married.  But I know this trip would have been close to one side or another of my divorce.  

But let's back up.  When I had very long hair and was working out with the criminals at America's Oldest Gym, a gym started by the German Strong Man, Milo Steinborn in 1960 (link), there was a group of kids who started training there.  They all went on to be college athletes, but at the time, I later learned, they wanted to be as big as the hippie.  My Yosemite buddy played college baseball and was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he chose to become a stock broker instead.  Good choice, for he made enough money to "retire" at thirty and become an outdoor adventure guide.  Just after he took the job, he asked me if I wanted to come play basketball with the boys on Saturday.  By this time, I was already mountaineering and had "guided" a group on a mountain climbing trip in Mexico.  My buddy wanted in, and I took him on both his first high altitude and his first rock climbing trips.  But the kid was a maniac and a tremendous athlete, and it wasn't long before he was far more accomplished than I.  

Jesus. . . I have gotten lost in the weeds with this.  So. . . skip ahead.  I am on a trip he has organized and sold to a couple fellows.  He asked me and his sometimes adventure travel business partner from Chile to come along.  Call him Santiago. 

Here we are, Santiago and I, on a life-threatening hotel balcony somewhere in Mexico, most likely Tlaxcala.  We were probably in as much danger standing on this balcony as we were on the mountain.  The cities of central Mexico looked like war zones at the time, the result of numerous devastating earthquakes that had toppled many of these structures made from too much cement and not enough rebar.  Building codes in Mexico were not strict if they existed in reality at all.  It is difficult to actually know the purpose of this balcony ledge upon which we stand, but it was pretty standard.  This was after the climb when we are clean and becoming citified.  Santiago was an even better climber than my buddy, more skilled and more experienced at climbing some of the most dangerous mountains in South America.  He was also much adored by women.  I was no longer in the league of either of these two, was older, and was doing my best to be a hero.  


But I had my advantages.  Here nearing fifty, I had "experience" and attitude on my side.  I mean. . . I could spin a good yarn.  

This is my buddy. . . let's call him. . . Parks.  Yea. . . that will work.  Parks was still married at the time, but he was staying six months of the year in his van in the mountains.  He was living a climbing bums life.  I was surprised once when I met up with him in Yosemite and he ate the food people left on their plates at an outdoor restaurant.  He had become a hard man, but he was a climbing bum with money and a nice home in the sunny south to come back to.  I mean, unlike a lot of other fellows in the west living in tents and vans, he had a reason to want to survive his climbs.  And he had done some good ones, climbing both El Capitan and Half Dome, sleeping on portaledges hanging from beaners clipped to the rock wall.  

As I say, he'd surpassed me by miles.  

The clients, Apopka and Kentucky, standing with Santiago as we wait.  

I met Parks in Mexico City where he was picking up his clients.  From there we bussed to a small village in the mountains where we would begin to acclimatize.  We would, we hoped, eventually be climbing to an altitude of 18,500 feet, so we were going to hike at some lower altitudes first.  

We took a bus to the small town of Puebla where we spent the night before getting a lift the next day to the park surrounding La Malinche.  We would camp for the night and then climb our warm up peak at an altitude of 14,500 feet.  

But our first night on the mountain, Santiago got sick.  Really sick.  He had been drinking the tap water in Mexico City.  WTF?  But he said he had been broke in India and couldn't afford to buy bottled water and so he drank water from taps and was fine.  But now he wasn't fine.  Although he set his tent far away from ours, we could hear him puking and shitting all night long.  In the morning, he said he was going to stay in camp and try to get well, so the four of us said goodbye and started our trek.  

This is getting long, and I will have to leave it here for today.  Were I really writing this, I'd do some research.  I'd do a little of the Peter Matthiessen thing and describe the dry, rocky slopes and name the shrubs that cling to them, and maybe show pictures of the colorful algae that grow in the cracks of rock and cause it to weather and to break.  

But I'm not.  I am trying to remember things I might forget or have forgotten, and that seems difficult enough.  But who knows? 

And so, until tomorrow. . . . 

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