[Photos: Miguel Ángel López Virgen, Daniel Vigenor, Ernesto Rosas Pineda | Text: Maxi Schaible]
My plane landed in Mexico City late at night and I had to continue by bus straight away – two hours south to Cuernavaca. Since it’s situated at an elevation of some 1,500 meters above sea level, it has a mild climate and is also called the “City of Eternal Spring”. But the image of a clean and flourishing city has suffered in recent times, which I was to learn later on. After the bus ride through the highlands, I met up with the rest of the crew, who waited for me with Micheladas (a beer-mixed-drink) at the place we got from Airbnb. Later that night I woke up because I thought I heard gunshots in the neighborhood, but the guys told me at breakfast that it was only fireworks. Just when we left Cuernavaca three days later and headed towards Mexico City, they told me that I most likely heard gunshots. They just didn’t want me to worry. Even to them, the city didn’t seem really safe anymore. In fact, Cuernavaca is a pretty sketchy place and is known to be the most dangerous city in Mexico. They went on telling me that only half a year ago, during public fights between the so called “Narcos” (local drug gangs), the corpses of the enemy cartel were hung from highway bridges and that their heads were showcased at public places all over the city.
"Their heads were showcased at public places all over the city."
In the car they were joking about how much luck we had that “el güero” (the white, the blond, the “pale-skinned”) hasn’t been kidnapped already. Due to the city’s location in the mountains, the big forests around it, and the huge green areas surrounding the houses, Cuernavaca offers an ideally chaotic terrain to abduct people. By now the so-called express kidnapping is in vogue, they told me, where you are held by the abductors for only as long as it takes you to give them all your valuable belongings and withdraw all your money from your cards and bank accounts. If I had known this beforehand, the night session in the center of the city surely would have felt quite differently.
Frontside Wallride | Photo: Ernesto Rosas Pineda
Traffic jam party
My homie Carlos assured me that we will be able to hit the streets with a photographer, have a car, and go on missions with other Mexican guys in every city we go to. Thinking about Mexico and the sessions ahead of me, in my mind I instantly saw certain parallels to the well known Spanish laid-backness and the Latin American way of life. In reality it turned out to be less chill to skate in Mexico City. That was already due to the fact that I had to deal with a jet lag, which was heavier than I thought because of the time difference and the night session right after my arrival. I was pretty surprised when I didn’t hear the expected “sometime around noon” when I asked them at what time we will get going the next day. Rather we got going at 7:30 am, which is fairly unbelievable for skateboarders! Furthermore, it was nice to get into a five-seater with eight people after breakfast – including all the boards and gear of the photographer and filmer…This was to be my morning routine during my stay in Mexico’s capital. The reason for this ungodly departure is related to the sheer size of the city – with its metropolitan area of 3,037 square miles (7,866 square kilometers), it is almost ten times as big as New York – as well as the absurd traffic. It took an average of two hours till we reached the next spot. This explains why you can only skate two, if you’re lucky, three spots a day in Mexico City. In between those spots, you were stuck in a five-seater with eight guys for hours.
„In this quarter you could buy a real crocodile within five minutes.“
Thank god there’s 7-Eleven, OXXO, and Circle K because with snacks and Coronitas our spirit never hit rock bottom and to the enjoyment of the whole crew there was still el güero – I never got rid of this nickname, with which basically every stranger I met addressed me. During the hours we spent in the car, I saw the many faces of this city, reaching from rich areas with mansions surrounded by high fences to the borders of “Tepito”, the neighborhood that not even the locals dare to enter without some sort of connection. Only one of the guys has been there so far. They explained Tepito to me like this: “In this quarter you could buy a real crocodile within five minutes.”
Bluntside Transfer | Photo: Daniel Vigenor
During the three weeks I stayed in Mexico, we went to four different cities. The photos of the distinct places are at the same time unforgettable impressions of the diversity inherent to the cities and their differing looks (from the forested Cuernavaca to the juggernaut of Mexico City and the completely opposite small and laid-back Aguascalientes up to the modern Guadalajara). To get from city to city, I mainly used buses besides planes and cars. Due to a booking error, I had to switch to another bus heading for Aguascalientes, the hometown of my homie Carlos. My terminal was about one hour north of the center of Mexico City – which is still in the urban area thanks to its size, however in a rather dangerous area.
"Every one of them has told me how he got robbed by now"
Right before I left our apartment, the guys advised me to hide all my valuable things in different places and gave me an old iPhone 4. “Use this as long as you don’t sit in your seat,” they said to me. Every one of them has told me how he got robbed by now. Whether in the subway, the bus, or in any other unexpected moment, not one of them has been spared. Carlos, for example, came out of the subway station one day when he suddenly felt a knife in his back and heard a guy telling him: “If you turn around, I’ll stab you. Give me your phone, your wallet, and go on as if nothing has happened,” which Carlos did accordingly. So everything was split up and hidden and I sat there with my credit card and cash in my socks in the Uber ride (cabs are not the best idea, because you can be kidnapped taking them) on my way to the bus station. The driver had to smile when el güero entered in an area which is rarely entered by any non-Mexicans and started complaining about the miserable conditions in Mexico right of the bat. Corrupt government, corrupt police, bad temper in the population, and now to top it all there’s Trump, who has been talking about building the wall by this time of his election campaign. He also emphasized how lucky I was for not being kidnapped already (whereby he sounded way more serious than my Mexican friends) and explained to me that when we would stop in the area we were in at that moment, we would probably be robbed. Whereas he probably meant el güero when saying “we”. In the same breath, he started telling me how his daughter got kidnapped one year ago when she was on her way back home after work. He outlined how he had to negotiate and get ransom money till they finally let her go. When he was done with his story, I realized that by now I’m running short on time because the totally chaotic traffic absorbed a lot of time. We were around roughly 500 meters away from the bus terminal and in order to catch my bus, I started to get my bag out of the car and run across the completely jammed four-lane highway in between all those cars.
Ollie | Photo: Ernesto Rosas Pineda
All the stories illustrated here may convey a very criminal and tense impression of Mexico, but despite all the problems they have there, I had a very good time with the guys, gained deep insights into the country, and made it back unscathed after all. I have rarely been welcomed this hearty and the hospitality of the locals was incredible. Mexico is an extremely exciting country with a great, deeply rooted culture, tasty food, amazing Mariachi music, and the special “Spanish” they speak there. Not forgetting the incomparable look of the spots. The day I left, those guys invited me back for next year and I can only recommend to travel to Latin America yourself.
Switch Frontside Crooked Grind | Photo: Miguel Ángel López Virgen