Wednesday, June 14, 2006

City Tour Continued

Okay, so continuation of the city tour experience starts now!

Historic center: We drove from San Felipe back down the hill and through the center on our way to the squatter settlement. So while we didn’t stop here, the traffic was horrible and the teacher protest makes it a bit prohibitive, I have been down there a few times. This portion of the city is the one you see in all the pictures, Spanish colonial architecture, the center square, impressive church etc. This is where the “old money” resides I guess and real estate in this portion of the city is very expensive for some obvious reasons but also because it has basic services. Oliver informed us that most residences consist of three courtyards. You walk in the door that borders the street into the first courtyard which was essentially where you used to entertain guests but now many have turned this portion of the home into a business. The second courtyard was where the family lived but again this is today not always the case as many have transformed these structures for other uses. The third courtyard was for the servants. This part of town is beautiful, well the part I can see that is not blocked by protesting teachers anyway, and I can’t wait until I can see the zocalo without campers in it.

Lower income area: This is just south of the historic center and is a major area for shopping, drinking and prostitution. The large markets are located in this part of town and are apparently something to see on Saturdays. I haven’t yet gone but have been warned that when I do I need to place any valuables very close to my person. Those who can’t afford to shop at the new malls come here for everything imaginable. Buses for this area are labeled “Central” and buses for the historic center are labeled “Centro” which has apparently caused some confusion with students in the past. Oliver warned us to make sure we caught the right bus and also cautioned against coming to this area at night. However, if you want to catch a veneral disease apparently this is the spot! At least now I don’t have to go searching around town for my VD, I know exactly where to go to get it.

Squatter settlement: This was probably the most interesting portion of the tour for me as Oliver pointed out many things about these types of settlements I didn´t realize. The first was the fact that these settlements are highly organized, you must have a large group of people, from 50 to 300 to build these areas. They erect homes of tin and wood literally overnight and work with political parties to achieve legitimacy. The PRI (the political party that governed Mexico for 80 years) would recognize and support squatter settlements in exchange for votes and political support. The leader of the settlement, the organizer if you will, essentially became the political representative for the group and negotiated for services with the PRI. The residents of the settlement would then vote for a candidate and show up for political rallies at a certain time and place to give the illusion of an enthusiastic base for candidates. At these scripted rallies the squatter residents cheered, waved flags etc. and in exchange received a meal, a hat and shirt and maybe a few pesos. Eventually as the squatter settlement gains legitimacy and backing from the government they replace tin with cinder blocks and begin to make improvements to the area. The settlements are actually quite safe and are kind of “upwardly mobile” as Oliver put it. The organizer of the settlement can gain entrance into politics through this arrangement which is the road to riches in Mexico.

River/Sewer System: The last and stinkiest stop was the river which doubles as the sewer system for the city. The river comes down from the mountains, goes through the city and then south of the city the sewage is emptied into the river canal. We are here during the rainy season so the river was flowing quite well, which, as it turns out, is a very good thing. In the dry season the stench and the floating debri, if there is enough water to make it float that is, is quite pungent. We didn´t stay long.

So that is essentially the city tour, or at least the highlights. On our way back to the school we drove by Sam´s Club, McDonalds, Burger King, etc. which is where the middle and upper class do a lot of shopping. Kind of close to the river/sewer actually, I wonder if that means anything.

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