If the colorful Mission District is the epicenter of murals in San Francisco, then Balmy Alley is the concentrated core of that epicenter. Painted on concrete walls, garage doors, and wood fences, the murals of Balmy Alley will inspire and educate. One beautifully haunting mural called “Un pasado que aun vive” (A past that still lives) depicts El Salvador, including scenes of a flowing river of blood and a woman holding a child and reading a letter from her distant husband. Another mural takes on local gentrification—a recurrent issue in the Mission District—depicting condos as a giant Transformer-like machine stomping through the neighborhood. And just to throw a random flavor into the cultural mix, the last mural on the left is a depiction of Manjushri, a Buddhist figure representing wisdom, dedicated to the Dalai Lama.
5:30 am. Sukhumvit area of Bangkok. It is still dark and you decide to take an early stroll down to Lumpini Park, Bangkok’s green zone of leisure in the midst of this giant Mexico City of South East Asia. You haunt the streets virtually alone except for a few women dressed in high-heels and mini-skirts out finishing a night’s work and the ochre-robed monks just beginning their begging rounds. Soon early commuters arrive, sharply-dressed and walking briskly or racing on motorbikes. Arriving at the park you see it is already hopping with people doing martial arts and tai-chi, badminton and jogging. Some are wielding swords, practicing thrusts and jabs. One man is selling snake blood and bile. Snaking canals, landscaped flower beds, elephant shrubs, and gorgeous lotus ponds surround you as you stretch and greet the beautiful day.
The soft sand squishes between my toes, as I carefully avoid the dark clumps of washed-up green sea plants. It feels particularly refreshing after the 1.9 mile hike in on the Laguna trail to Coast Camp along Point Reyes National Seashore. I came here for a friend’s wedding and camping celebration. Seeking solitude and reflection on Santa Maria beach I found a friend in the form of a pinniped sunning himself, who was gracious enough to allow me to hang with it for an hour. This stretch of beach has is one of the quietest, cleanest, and most alluring beaches in the greater Bay Area. On one side, towering bluffs and carved rock formations. On the other side, the wide ocean view with the heads of other sea lions bobbing playfully.
These kids spontaneously put leaves on their heads as Geraldine and I walked by. San Pedro la Laguna (on Lago de Atitlan), Guatemala.
I am intoducing another new Travelin’ Bones feature: The Travel Smile. I will regularly throw a Travelin’ Smile up here and on my Travelero twitter. The Travel Smile will usually be a photo of someone I met on my travels who is smiling or it could simply be a photo that make me (and hopefully others) smile.
My friends are enjoying the music and outdoors up north, but I didn’t make it to the High Sierra Music Festival this weekend like I wanted to. I did get as far as Dolores Park for the premiere of the awesome SF Mime Troupes. But I will be going to Power to the Peaceful in September, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in October, and perhaps Outside Lands next month. I’ve often wondered about the effects of 10,000s of people showing up to the same place at the same time to hang out for several days. This summer perhaps millions will be visiting music festivals, drinking beer (or in my case tequila) and enjoying live shows. And of course also burning lots of fuel to get there, leaving lots of wrappers and food waste, and perhaps drinking out of lots of plastic bottles. What is the environmental impact? What are ways in which the impact is being mitigated? I looked into a handful of festivals to see and wrote about it in my article “U.S. Summer Music Festivals Gone Green” on Matador Nights.
Today I am launching (sounds pretty official, right?) a new Travelin’ Bones feature: The Travel Bone. I will regularly throw a Travel Bone to you here and on my Travelero twitter page. The Travel Bone will be a cool (or not) travel stat, factoid, or brief destination profile regarding travel and world cultures.
Travel Bone #1: What is the largest pyramid in the world?
Nope, it’s not the one you might be thinking of. The Great Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico is the largest.
The Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt is taller, but the pyramid at Cholula is much larger at the base and in total volume. I visited Cholula in the state of Puebla during my 2-month journey through Mexico in 2006. The pyramid, which was started around the 2nd century BCE and not finished until the 15th century, is 1,476 feet long on each side of the base and approximately 217 feet high.
The pyramid was dedicated to the god Quetzalcoatl and is now covered with grass and trees. A giant yellow Catholic Cathedral called Nuestra Señora de los Remedios sits somewhat incongruously at the top.
Because of this, it doesn’t strike the visitor quite the way the Egyptian pyramids do, but it is quiet impressive nonetheless. And because of my rare condition–I call it claustrophilia (I love dark, narrow confines)–I enjoyed exploring some of the 5 miles of narrow tunnel pathways beneath it.
Yes, I admit it: I love cavernous spaces in the hollow of the earth. I revel in that sensation of the silent heavy weight of the earth surrounding me, the slightly damp stone walls, the ancient musty smell! For a few minutes I had complete silence, an escape from the ongoing raucous cacophony that typifies Mexican cities. I took a moment to relish being in the bowels of one the greatest architectural achievements of the Americas–indeed, of the world.
Mexico City isn’t exactly on the leading edge of sustainability. It faces serious environmental challenges, including water shortages, smog, waste disposal problems, and of course traffic congestion. I looked into the Mayor’s Green Plan and found a place for bicycles. See more about the city’s Bike Plan from my post on Planetwize: