I always remember having the luxury of an American life (perhaps with the exception of camping in the Buttermilks in Bishop for a month). Even when I road tripped in my Sprinter around North America for 6 months, my online job with Mad Rock covered the minimum of gas and food.
Every weekday morning at 6am I took the opportunity to use the bathroom, then bask productively, in a Starbucks café, enjoy free coffee refills with my earned Gold Star Level Rewards, and pound out several hours of work. Then I would continue my drive to the Grand Canyon, or up the California Pacific Coast, or off to The Chief, or down to New Orleans.This was America. Rich, warm, and full of surplus luxury. From those six months living in an aluminum can, I hold many fond memories of warm, cozy 24-hour joints filled with students, equipped with fast wi-fi, and offering beautiful views.
When my boyfriend and I moved into Monterrey, Mexico, the Starbucks may as well have been the Four Seasons. It had a history of being raided when the government was in turmoil.
For traveling rock climbers, northern México, needless to say, is a whole different story than the US and Canada.
The poorest parts of Monterrey are filled with urban flotsam and jetsam, an endless sea of city debris tossed overboard by the cement square ships, simple houses that flood the valley below the Cerro de las Mitras as though they were mollusks and mussels swept in by the hurricane several years ago.
Tumbleweeds, brown plastic bags discarded and filled with air that roll and bounce on the streets, follow the uneven pavement past glassless barred windows and doors. Those without bars, have the openings covered with thin crate pieces with faded cursive brands, resembling a capitalistic collage. A string of graffiti runs along the walls of the canal that separates the city, like an elaborate caption to a disparate picture of shacks and glossy glass buildings.
The feeling of walking through a poverty-stricken barrio like Lomas Modelo is one of resignation. In the barrio, there is no luxury, no aesthetics. The children make toys of what they find, like the leftovers of someone’s torn piñata or a deflated ball. The roofs of the houses are piled with trash and broken plastic chairs, flung there by the tide of poverty.
At night, the puddle of lights laps at the foothills of the mountains, where inhabitants can see the city’s nakedly exposed quarries. Above the urbanization, in the air, a haze obscures the towering peaks of el Cerro de las Mitras, which are faded to near-solid opaqueness. This could be mining dust, pollution, or, on those drizzly days, a mixture together with high humidity, the water molecules trapping but not grounding the CO2 and other flighted chemicals.
The jarring image of poverty is unbelievable in Monterrey. Higher on the hills, the dark eyes of 10-story abandoned cement structures gaze emptily out at the city, and overgrowth hides the many dilapidated buildings between rich estates guarded by high walls, metal spikes and barbed wire.
There’s so much that can be improved here, but the general attitude towards humanitarian improvement is like that of a child who has too much homework to do over the weekend, simply drops it in the trash, and makes up an excuse to the teacher.
Though not everything can be fixed in the world, a program that focuses on the national park, on education, and on ethics can improve the mindset of many children, and at least bring the first step to the path of the city: self awareness.
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