Our short stay in Puebla was a mixed bag. On the one hand, this big, bustling city is full of color and creativity around almost every corner, and the cuisine here is some of the tastiest in the whole country. On the other hand, there is an undeniable accumulation of poverty and filth throughout the city, and at least for us, there was a large dollop of misinformation. Never in my life have I encountered so much false information in one place by so many different people in such a short period of time. None of these cases did us any real harm, and I doubt that any of these people had any ill intentions, but so many different folks all over the city fed us stories that soon after we got the information, we were able to confirm it as complete nonsense. Haruka and I now affectionately refer to Puebla as ‘The City of Misinformation’.
Here’s one example of ‘The City of Misinformation’: We originally decided to stay in Puebla instead of one of the neighboring smaller towns because we found a website for a bicycle rental shop in Puebla, and thought that bicycles would be an ideal way to explore the area. We went to the address given on the website, which was in some out-of-the-way neighborhood and quite difficult to find, and we eventually discovered that the address didn’t even exist. We asked the woman who lived (probably for her entire life) where the address should’ve been, and she told us that there had never been a bike rental shop in that neighborhood. However, she was happy to inform us that there was a bike rental shop near the Zocalo (Town Square). Relieved, we flagged down a taxi and asked the driver to take us to the bike shop in the center of town. He told us that we must’ve been misinformed and that there was no such shop, but that we could rent city bikes from the bike racks in the Zocalo by using our credit card in the automated machine by the bike racks. We had done something like this several years ago in Paris, and were happy to know that Puebla had such a system. We thanked the friendly driver and gave him a nice tip for his helpful advice. When we got to the bike racks, we found that the machine did not accept cards, just tokens that could be used by members of the bike rental system, and apparently memberships could only be purchased at special bike rental offices, of which there were none in the immediate area. So we headed to the Tourist Information Center to find out where to get a membership. The woman at the desk informed us that in fact there IS a bike rental shop in the Zocalo and that would be better for us than trying to get memberships. She even marked the exact spot of the shop on a map and sent us on our way. When we arrived at that exact spot, there was no bike shop, but instead just some restaurant. We searched the entire block for a bike rental shop, but nothing. In our state of exasperation, we spotted a small tourist info booth and asked a woman behind the booth where the bike shop was. She smiled and said, “Oh yes, follow me!” She then escorted us into a tourist agency that conducts bus tours around the city. The manager of the agency informed us that there isn’t and never has been a bicycle rental shop in Puebla, and that the bike rental system is for residents only, not tourists. At that point, 3 hours into our search for rental bikes, we had no idea what to believe anymore and we officially threw in the towel and decided to enjoy the city sights by foot. A shoulder shrug and smile of surrender was our best option at that point.
The episodes of misinformation continued through the day and into the next morning until it was time for us to leave Puebla. We took a taxi to the central bus terminal and somehow in the early morning haze of exiting the taxi, I managed to leave behind my iPhone SE. By the time I realized it, the taxi was out of sight. I couldn’t call my phone because it didn’t have an active SIM card in it. I had simply been using it for its internet, mapping and camera capabilities. I also had an enormous amount of music stored on it along with a bunch of other useful data. The incident immediately struck me with a sickening feeling of loss. I allowed that feeling to brew for about 10 minutes…a yucky sensation indeed. And then I realized what I’ve known for a while now…it is I and I alone who has control over my feelings in any given moment. So I chose a feeling of self-forgiveness and total contentment, and then went into the bus station and bought a cheap Android phone to bridge the gap of losing all of those technological functions all at once. Needless to say, we weren’t super sad to be leaving Puebla behind, but we weren’t feeling terrible about the place either. Tremendous lessons had been learned… stuff is just stuff and false words have no power over us if we give them no power. So we gave our gratitude to Puebla and set our sights on smoother sailing, but our lessons for the day were not yet concluded.
An uneventful 2 hour bus journey brought us to the small city of Pachuca, where we had a 2 night reservation with Airbnb to stay in someone’s private residence. When we arrived at 2:00, the host wasn’t home, so we got some lunch and then camped out on the sidewalk in front of his place, waiting for his return. By 4:00 we were getting a little antsy, so I decided to navigate the nuances of my new phone and try to make email contact with our host. While I was struggling to get my message through, this very, very drunk guy decided that he had the right to put his head between me and my screen and get all up in my business. I told him to back off, and he slapped my shoulder. Any of you who know me, know that I’m not a violent person, but I felt forced into standing up, staring him in the eyes and telling him that if he didn’t go away, things were going to get real ugly, real fast. I was about a foot taller than him, and he could just barely stand up, and I guess he had enough common sense left over to realize that he should just walk away, which he did, while flipping me off. Whatever drunk guy… Haruka just shook her head, and I went back to figuring out my new phone. Despair was starting to set in.
About 15 minutes later, a young woman carrying a heavy bookshelf plopped it down in front of us and stated with a sweet smile, “very heavy!” (in English). It was the first English we’d heard spoken by a local in days. And by the way, all of the interactions in these stories were happening via our very rudimentary, yet somehow functional Spanish. She was a beaming light in our otherwise hazy day… a breath of fresh air in our moment of mental congestion, and she was wondering why we were sitting on our backpacks on the sidewalk. We explained our situation and she immediately invited us to her apartment right around the corner. At least now we had a comfortable spot to wait for our Airbnb host to return while we got to know our new friend, Yolo.
By most American’s standards, Yolo would be considered quite poor, but we soon found that she possesses a type of wealth that very few people in my country ever come to fully embrace… the wealth of compassion. Yolo is a single mother of 2 small children who are being taken care of by her mother in Veracruz while she earns money for her family that has no male breadwinner. Soon, her mother and kids will move to Pachuca to live with her in her modest apartment while she attends medical school. Her goal is to become a surgeon with a deep knowledge of plant medicine so that she can return to her hometown to help her local people who she says are sorely lacking in good health care. Haruka and I were quickly moved by Yolo’s air of selflessness, and that really hit home when she offered to let us stay with her if our host didn’t show up. Every so often I’d run down the street to see if our host had arrived yet, but to no avail.
By 5:00, Yolo had to head to work, so we went to market with her and bought her dinner. As we passed through the market, she dropped coins in street musicians’ cans and purchased trinkets from disabled street people “so that they can get something to eat tonight”, she explained. For someone living with such limited means by our standards, her generosity was literally bubbling over. We were so moved. Just before 6:00, we went our separate ways, as she caught a bus to take her to her waitress job, and we headed back to her apartment with her key.
By the time we finally heard from our Airbnb host, it was after 8:00 and we had already resigned ourselves to staying at Yolo’s place. He had gotten our arrival date mixed up and totally dropped the ball, but rather than being bitter about it, we were basking in the glow of being “rescued by an angel”, as Haruka put it. We got a good night’s sleep in Yolo’s cozy abode, and the next morning we went into the town to treat her to breakfast. On the way back from the restaraunt, Yolo purchased biscuits from a street vendor. We thought that she was still hungry, but no. These biscuits were for a crippled, homeless man on the corner, and we got the impression that she had supported him before, and I’m sure many others as well. Haruka was kind of blown away and said, “You’re so sweet”, to which Yolo replied, “No, I’m just human”. With that Haruka and I were both overcome with emotion. Tears were flowing.
To be sure, it was a difficult couple days of travel for us, and as long as we travel, there will be days like that from time to time. However, this isn’t about the difficulties we endured, but rather about the blessings that shined through those challenges. I’ve often given what extra I’ve got to those less fortunate than I, but not always with the consciousness that Yolo displayed. She reminded us why we’re here and what it’s all about…We’re humans. That’s it. I feel that there are a lot of people on this planet who’ve forgotten what that really means, but for my part, I’m going to do my very best every single day from here on out to remember. Thank you Yolo, for the reminder.