Mexico | Salsa Man

Maaan I’m a bad writer. Not in the sense that what I write is bad – no. What I write is glowing brilliant amazing, fuck you. I’m a bad writer in the sense that I just don’t… do it. I spend my time thinking about writing and getting excited about it, and then I simply do not do any writing. But whatever, I’m here now. Hello.

Alright: Mexicoooooooooooooooooooo!

After our day of splashing around in the cenotes, Nienke and I left Vallodolid to take the ADO to Merida. I didn’t know much about the colourful city Merida – I don’t know much about anywhere. Megane told me she didn’t find it particularly interesting, so I was a little apprehensive. It looked much like Vallodolid, but more built up and lacking the small-town charm.

We stayed in a hostel called Che, which sat well with me because Senor Guevara is one of my biggest heroes. The dorms are huge and beautiful – ceilings five metres high. It’s apparently one of the oldest hostels in Mexico, and the girl who checked us into our dorm told us that every day they get people turning up on the doorstep asking for a look around – they stayed there in the 90s and return for the nostalgia. Olatz had taken a later bus from Vallodolid, and I bumped into her later at reception.

“Hohooo, if it isn’t my favourite quesadilla,” I teased her.

First night in Merida was pretty quiet – I think we just drank beers and chilled talking to lots of people. On the second day, in the morning, we did a walking tour. It was quite lame: I think there’s just not that much to see in Merida, and the tour guide instead showed us around a lot of restaurants he recommended, listening their menus and prices. He showed us a statue, and a church, and a bank that used to be a house. The tour went on for the best part of two hours, after which I was very surly and tired but I still tipped the guy 200 pesos because I don’t like to be a bastard.

The evening got better, hooray. There was a free cocktail making class at the hostel, and the majority of the hostel took part (I drank a beer watching from afar, as you had to wear a big sombrero and stand on a box when it was your turn to make your Pina Colada with everybody watching and laughing and heckling, and it’s just… not my scene, man). After, when everybody was warmed up from their free cocktails, it was time for a free salsa class: hence my trembling solo beer.

I’ve done salsa only once in my life previously, in Cuba, but I was very drunk and remember none of it. I was nervous to try the hostel salsa, because I have this very unique phobia of looking like a massive fucking bell end in front of lots of women. The teacher arrived – a flamboyant and svelte man with narrow hips – and he lined us up and counted out some basic steps for us. Forward and back, side to side. Olatz was a natural, hands held out above her waist, turning elegantly like the winding limbs of a tree. I looked like a tree also: a tree that has been chopped down and turned into matchsticks and somebody has taken those matchsticks and glued them into the shape of a sweat-glazed white guy desperately trying to move his feet and count to eight without falling over and clattering into a nearby table.

We were told to take pairs, and I went with Nienke. Thankfully, she is as clueless as I am (sorry, Nienke). Together we learned a few steps and spins and some clapping and whooping bonus moves, and it was awkward and embarrassing but by the end of the hour I felt elated. The teacher ended the lesson with a round of applause, and the effect I was feeling seemed to be shared by everybody else – nobody wanted to stop dancing. As the dancefloor cleared, I watched each backpacker sashay away doing little ‘1, 2, ,3, 4s’ in their heads.

This older traveller, a middle-aged woman from Texas called Mary Kate, joined a young Dutch guy (Bron? Brom? Broom?) in the middle of the now-empty courtyard. It seemed they’d already had plenty of lessons, because together they span and twisted arms, and Mary Kate had the biggest grin on her face as her dress twirled around. It was a joy to watch.

We’d all got a taste for it, of course, so a dozen of us headed out for dinner at some trendy food market somebody knew – didn’t feel wildly authentic Mexican, but tasty food is tasty food – and after we found a salsa bar nearby. The place was a huge open venue with a covered dancefloor on which twenty Mexican pairs were winding hips and clutching hands. It was simply beautiful to behold, this spectacle: the language you can speak with your body! How did I miss this all my life? It felt like peering through the keyhole of some secret door and within witnessing a covent of humans enjoying a hidden sixth sense. They did things I never knew you could do with your body. I became overwhelmed with an enormous desire to learn.

I danced with Olatz, and she led me through some very simple steps before she was whisked away to dance by a succession of Mexican men, some young and slim, some old and plump. It didn’t make a jot of difference to their dancing. Every few minutes, the couples on the dancefloor – couples you assumed were romantically involved and had been for many years, judging by their synchronicity – thanked one another and split in search of a new partner. It was hard to separate the sexual element of the dancing – I don’t know if salsa is thought of as innately sexual or not, but when you watch a couple meet on the dancefloor, pair up, and meander around one another with looping pelvises and flowery arms, it’s impossible not to picture them shagging.

dramatic reconstruction of me busting moves

*****

I woke up the next morning face down on my bunk, hungover but happy. It was fun before going to sleep – Olatz and Nienke and I had a dance-off around the bathroom while brushing our teeth. Never a dull moment if you travel with the right people.

Olatz was supposed to leave us the next day, as Nienke and I were headed to a town called Palenque to meet up once again with the Dutch guys, Luuk and Bas. Happily, however, Olatz changed her plans at the last second and said to hell with it: our trio would continue our adventures together, and would soon be a quintet once more.

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