In Zochimilco, men with bulging biceps — the Mexican version of gondoliers, I suppose — use poles to push hundreds of pontoon boats up and down broad, manmade waterways.
The boats are primarily loaded with extended Mexican families, who drink and picnic and party as the boats cruise the floating market. Other vessels carry everything from floating taquerias (taco stands) to mariachi bands. When you see something (or hear something) you like, you motion the boat driver over. A few pesos can buy anything from an icy bucket of Victoria beer to a serenade.
A permanent carnival has sprouted around the waterway. There are games to play, stores selling handicrafts, every conceivable sweet treat, and costumed men performing the “Palo Volador” — or pole-flying ceremony. Four men climb a tall pole, tie their ankles to a gear at the top, and then launch themselves outward. As they spin in circles, the rope they’re on gets longer and longer, until all the “Pole Flyers” reach the ground, right themselves, and take a bow:
There were many things in Xochimilco we had never seen before. And there was one thing there I didn’t see: a bit of spoiled or undercooked chicken in the taco I purchased at one of the food stands.
The next day, I woke at 6 a.m. not feeling very much like myself at all. Despite having slept all night, I was dog-tired. After showering and shaving and getting mostly dressed, all I could do was collapse back into bed, exhausted. Minutes later, as the food poisoning set in, I was sicker than I’ve ever been in my life.
In six hours, I vomited more than twenty-times. Since even a swallow of water would prompt another round of vomiting, I dehydrated pretty quickly … and by that afternoon, I was incoherent and in agony.
I don’t remember it, but Clyde tells me our hosts hooked him up with a local doctor, who made a house call for the princely sum of $75.00 (!). He evaluated me and wrote five prescriptions, which we filled at the pharmacy across the street for, again, just $75.00. (Can you imagine what a house call — if you could get one — and five prescriptions would have cost me in the United States … even *with* insurance?)
The drugs arrested the nausea, and once I could keep down Gatorade and water, I came back to life pretty quickly. I spent the next day just lying around the B&B and nibbling on crackers and bananas. Today — four days after the poisoning — I’m practically back to normal.
All that drama — and two days of vacation lost! — due to a tiny, invisible batch of bacteria in a below-average taco. It boggles the mind.
Will I go back to Mexico City? Oh, yes. I want to see the Pyramid of the Sun, the museums, and the other destinations I missed.
Will I eat tacos from random stands in small towns? Um, no. Lesson learned!