The first I heard of it was on the BBC news website on the saturday I arrived in Guadalajara. By saturday night, it was still something for people in far-off Mexico City to worry about. It wasn´t until sunday that it began to become clear that everyone was taking it very seriously indeed.
On the saturday, hardly anyone was wearing a mask, and the streets were still full of people, including numerous girls dolled up to the nines celebrating their quinceañera (the coming of age ceremony all Mexican girls have when they turn 15).
By sunday afternoon, I’d say around 50% of people were (no idea where they were getting them – we couldn’t find one for love nor money), and the drastic restrictions came into effect – all bars and nightclubs closed. All museums and art galleries closed. Football games played behind closed doors. All sites managed by INAH (the national archaeological society), including all the major pre-hispanic ruins were closed too. So began a very quiet couple of weeks, as options for things to do were so limited.
Luckily I’d met up with my two friends from England who live in Guadalajara the day it all started, so at least I had company, and we resolved to have a good time anyway by finding outdoor things to do that weren’t closed. So we managed to find a balneario (outdoor pool & spa) fed by hot springs on the shores of Lake Chapala, just outside Guadalajara, where I had my first experience of a head to toe mud bath, which was a very peculiar feeling, but at least despite my scepticism about all the alleged health claims, it finally cleared up the dry skin I’d had since an allergic reaction to Mexican soap in Mexico City (being allergic to cheap Mexican soap was rather unfortunate on my part, considering WHO advice for avoiding swine flu included washing your hands several times a day with soap and water. I chose to ignore that one).
One plus side of the swine flu panic was that the few things that were open were empty anyway, as all the tourists had been scared away and the Mexicans were largely staying at home. So when we visited Guachimontones, site of some of the world’s only circular pyramids, we had the site entirely to ourselves, which was both beautiful, and quite a relief as I’d be lying if I said the swine-flu paranoia hadn’t effected us – every time someone sneezed on a bus, we’d be imagining the worst.
After five days in Guadalajara, and no end to the crisis in sight, we decided the change our travel plans: originally we’d planned to head overland via Morelia, Cuernavaca, Mexico City and then on to Puebla. However at the time, we thought the safets option would be to skip Mexico City, which meant flying direct to Puebla, which added a fair bit to my budget, but we figured it was worth it for the peace of mind.
The flight itself was beautiful, as central Mexico was bathed in a sheet of thin cloud, leaving just the volcanoes poking their cones up into the air. Just before landing in Puebla, we circled round two of the most famous, the extinct Istaccihuatl and its neighbour, smoking Popcatepetl.
Puebla itself was more of the same though – masks everywhere, everything shut (although that didn’t stop the trade unions marching on May Day, many of them carrying banners denouncing swine flu as a government plot to keep the workers down – if nothing else, the Mexicans love a good conspiracy theory, especially one involving politicians). So almost as soon as we’d arrived, we hopped on a collectivo to nearby Cholula, home to the biggest pyramid ever built. Not that you’d know it – it was already overgrown and abandoned even before the Spanish conquest, and as soon as they arrived they decided to plonk a church on the top. It’s not all that exciting a sight (although on a clear day, it can look spectacular with Popocatepetl looming away above it in the distance), but at least now I can say I’ve seen the 1st, 3rd and 4th biggest pyramids in the world now (the 3rd & 4th are in Teotihuacan). Now I just need to visit Egypt to see the second.
With little else to detain us, we moved on the next day, hoping that the swine flu panic would have subsided by the time we got there.
You can see more of my photos of Guadalajara & Guachimontones, Puebla & Cholula and the effects of swine flu over at my Flickr page.