The birthday in Tepoztlan was beautiful. The hike up to the pyramid is exhausting but incredible... 2 kms of steep uphill climbing, coupled with the fact that you are ascending about 600 m in an hour (at some point my ears began to pop!). Especially beautiful on weekday mornings, when ther are few people around, so you really have a sense of both the history and the ecology around you... the entire hike is in a preserved ecological park, not a single puesto or shop from when you enter until you reach the very top, and impressively almost no garbage either. I had to stop more times than I care to remember, and I coudnt help thinking that if that´s how out of shape I am, those kids in Zoatecpan are going to destroy me! They run about the mountainside like little goats, and since we will be accompanying them on their trips to photograph local flora and fauna, we will have to keep pace. They are going to have fun laughing at us city folk, ah well, it´s a well earned laugh! Almost all those children have, from the age of 4 or 5, been accompanying their mothers to bring firewood and water from far off places: their little legs, arms, and backs are incredibly stronger than most of ours have ever been. Who knows, maybe 3 weeks of working with them will whip us into some kind of shape, in ways that are much more fun than going to the gym! ;)
At any rate, despite the one mandatory moment of "I give up, I can´t complete this hike," when you do get to the top, the view makes up for everything. The cliffs around that area are beautiful and strange, one can spend forever looking at them and looking for shapes as one does in clouds. And when you get to the top, you also feel a certain camaraderie with whoever else is there... people who would never have stopped to exchange glances in the city suddenly smile at each other and make small talk, as if we now know that we are together in the moment. After a Spoken Word night at SLC some weeks ago, JS said something about the magic of the fact that it took millions of years of growth in different parts of the earth to ensure that all of us shared that night together in that teahouse... I felt something similar about being on top of that pyramid, by myself, and with groups of strangers who came and went while I sat there drinking it in. I spent more than hour at the summit, soaking in the view, soaking in the history, trying to imagine the past, wondering at the generations and centuries that have been part of this spot-- the Aztecs, the Spanish, and now tourists like myself--, marveling at the journey that has brought me from my childhood home in a little mountain town in the Himalayas to this little mountain town in Mexico. In so many ways, I felt incredibly fortunate. In a place where hundreds of thousands have prayed, I offered a prayer of gratitude as well. it´s the kind of place that makes you pray, regardless of whether you believe in prayer.
The descent was much easier, although I was so exhausted that at one point, I realized that whenever i stood still for a moment, to catch my breath or admire the view or tie my showlace, my legs began to tremble unconrtollably (keep in mind that I was staying in a guest house all the way across town from where the ecological reserve begins, so before the hike even began, i had already walked quite a bit). Finally decided I´d sit down for a few minutes at one of the rest stops, and struck up a conversation with an old gentleman sitting there. He had come from another state with his family, but by the time they got to the about the halfway point on the hike, he didn´t feel up to carrying on, felt it was too much of a risk at his age. So he sat down at this spot, and his family continued on. he asked me how much longer he shoudl expect to wait, I had to tell him it would be at least an hour and probaby more before they got back, and he sighed saying "they didn´t even leave me the car keys!" We chatted a little longer, he asked where i was from and what I was doing there by myself, and I ended up telling him a little about the project in Puebla and about how this little trip out of DF was my birthday present to myself. He wished me a happy birthday, then asked if I would allow him to give me a birthday hug. Sweet old man, hugged me and wished me all the very best for the project and for my trip, assured me that God would fulfil all my desires... I thanked him, and we parted ways, he continued to wait for his family, and I continued my descent. I stopped for lunch 8around 4:30 PM!) just outside the ecological reserve... I actually just stopepd to read a menu, and an old lady dressed in a traditional dress of one of the indigenous communities called out to me, "What can I get you, hija?". I swear, she could have offered me plain toast and I would have probably agreed, so sweet and grandmotherly was she. I asked her for something traditional and she offered me itacates-- how should I explain them? Think of it as a sandwich of 2 mini paranthas with chicked or potato or whatever stuffing you want inside. She slapped the dough into perfect traingles with her hands, just the way the señoras in Zoatecpan make tortillas, none of those city machine made tortillas, and two of those itacates were more than enough to fill my stomach. I thanked her, paid, and carried on, warmed by her warmth... even though this was a commercial exchange of a meal, it felt so much more personal than a regular meal in a restaurant. Both of those encounters reminded again of the warmth of this culture and its people, especially in small towns and villages, which in turn reminds me so much of home in India.
All in all, a beautiful day. Got back to DF later that night, absolutely exhausted, and every muscle in my body hurt yesterday. And yet, when I sat in on L´s more traditioanl birthday celebration last night, with cake and alcohol and a room filled with people, I felt so glad and so grateful for the way in which i got to spend mine. Don´t get me wrong, I definitely had my moment of missing everyone and wishing I could have come home to close friends and family that night... but all the same, I felt so happy and so complete out with nature and the indigenous gods, it felt like the right way to spend the first day of the next 25 years of my life!
And all your wonderful emails and facebook messages only made the day more special, brought all of you here with me. I love you all.