I spend most of my time in the central city, though I go up to the zocolo, at times quite steeply, and down to Las Jales where Vanessa lives, another long climb back up. But since this city is built on several mountains, at times I go up, up, up, and then up some more. Such was the case, today, when I accompanied Irma to visit Rosie and her daughters Denise and Rubi in Casahuates in the “nose-bleed” section of town, high above almost everything except the “Christo” (Christ) statue at the very tippy-top.
To get there we take a combi, a micro van fitted out as a taxi. Imagine a passenger van with all the seats removed and replaced by narrow benches, one on each side (behind the driver facing backwards, along the back, and lining both sides).
They seat 12-16 comfortably (depending on the size of the people) but have hand rails attached to the ceiling for extra passengers to stand in the middle (if short enough to do so) raising the capacity to 20 or more (however many can or want to squeeze in.) Got the picture? Sort of a sardine can on wheels.
Now combi drivers are a wild lot, somewhat akin to kamikaze pilots but with their wheels on the ground (well, most of the time anyway.) You know this because the ceiling above the driver is filled with icons of Mary and other saints, presumably providing protection from anything bad happening. I think they get paid by the trip because they seem to fly through town, weaving and dodging, stopping just long enough to let passengers on or off, and off they go again, making change on the fly. Perhaps they even wish they had the wings of their kamikaze brethren so they could skip the traffic all together.
Combi rides through town are exciting enough but when they start uphill it gets even more exhilarating — twisting and turning along narrow cobblestone roads designed for donkey carts not cars, weaving around people, stray dogs, front steps, taxis, and other combis with mere inches to spare. There are houses built to the edge of the road on one side and a concrete wall on the other designed to keep you from falling off the edge of the mountain. Though the paint scrapes all along the length of it did not inspire much confidence in me, I have to admit the wall IS still there, and where it isn’t, the view is spectacular, though a loooooooong way down. I digress though —
The truly exciting part is the ride down; it is as exhilarating as any roller coaster at Great America only remove the seat belts! It had me holding on for dear life as every twist, turn, or bump in the road meant sliding off the plastic covered seat, flying out into midair, and desperately scrambling to grab whatever was within reach (which was not, for some reason, the handrails) to keep from landing on the floor. I would, hand over hand, inch myself back to my seat only to fly around the next curve or over the next bump and repeat the process all over again. I guess there was a reason that everyone on the combi had already claimed the undesirable seats (behind the driver where you ride backwards or in the back where you jamb your knees against the wheel well.) Wheeeeeeeeee!!!!
I think it is true, what Vanessa says, that “Mexicans must have special glue on their butts.” How else do you explain how they sit there nonchalantly as I fly?