The motorcycle appeared to be running well again so I spent a few more days in Mexico City before I shoved off again. I made other small repairs and had a new rack built for the saddlebags because the high speed vibration was causing wear on the vinyl. I spent a very fine day visiting the Plaza de la Constitución and the Catedral Metropolitana. Inside, standing before an enormous backdrop of carved saints and martyrs brilliantly leafed in gold, the priest sermonized of the “enfermidad del sexo, alcohol y oro” (“sickness of sex, alcohol, and gold) and I appreciated the irony of the latter. In the afternoon I visited the Museo Nacional de Antropología where a casual visitor could fill several days and an aficionado could lose himself for weeks. The museum is a marvel and the exhibits dispelled any prejudicial doubts I had that Mexico is poor in cultural heritage.
In the evening Memo and I had dinner and a few drinks. He told me of the terrible Mexico City earthquake of ’85. He was very young but he and friends obtained a truck and drove water and food into those in the affected area. He spoke of the poverty of his country, of his family members in the Oaxaca region that still go without shoes. There was great sadness in his eyes and his voice and I saw the soul of a good man.
The evening of the next day – the 14th of January – I left Mexico City for Toluca, which is on the way to Ocampo in the state of Morelia where I wanted to visit the monarch butterfly sanctuary the following day. In Toluca I stayed with a young lady, Male, that I had met through couchsurfing.org. In the afternoon we went to the Cosmovitral, which is like a cathedral to this natural and beautiful. Stone paths meander among lush flower gardens and bubbling fountains and streaming tinted sunlight pours through enormous stained glass images of cosmic creation that decorate the simple gray stone walls.
In the evening, Male, her sister, Erica, and I took the car to go out of dinner. It drizzled and the night was dark but for the rushing headlights along the freeway. Male drove in the fastest of the three traffic lanes. Rising on an overpass she noticed an approaching car traveling fast. She moved to the center lane to let it pass but quickly found that she was approaching too quickly upon the car ahead of her. She swerved left too hard and then back again right to compensate. The sedan hydroplaned and went into a uncontrolled spin as though the wheels were skies and the rain slicked tarmac icy snow. We made a turn and a half as we barreled to the right, clipped the car that Male had tried to avoid, and careened backwards into a concrete-reinforced rail post at the top of the overpass. I saw the whole thing happen in slow motion, aware of everything – of the spinning, of the crashing, of the broken glass shattering inward upon me from the rear window – fearless, strangely, but also impotent, powerless to control an uncontrollable situation.
The reinforced post halted us and prevented us from breaking through the railing and falling the dozen or so meters to the pavement below. There was a moment of shock before the three of us reacted. Male launched into hysterics but her sister, Erica, was cool and levelheaded; I was impressed by her. After we calmed Male into a stunned silence, I said that we needed to call the police. Instead the girls called their parents and then the insurance agent. Eventually, but only eventually, the police arrived, although they had not been summoned. A woman in the other car had severe whiplash and I thought it a terrible thing that the police were barely an afterthought. The police regulated traffic, which had mostly ground to a standstill and much later I head the approach of an ambulance but it was ages in arriving because in Mexico nobody yields the roadway for emergency vehicles.
The injured woman was finally taken to the hospital and Male was reviewed and released by the paramedics. Male and Erica’s parents came and the insurance adjuster came and began the paperwork. It was wet and very cold and the middle of the night now, the rain still falling in a light sprinkle. Eventually we were taken to the police processing station and there was more waiting while we waited for word to come from the hospital regarding the severity of the woman’s injuries. Eventually the terms of the restitution were agreed upon and we left. At the house, cold and exhausted, we had hot tea and quesadillas and talked little before we went to bed.