16. Ghosts and memories: Tepetlaoxtoc

I continued my ascent from Tepelaoxstoc upwards into the mountains towards the fabled musicians of Santa Catarina del Monte. In the twilight I walked along the highway to Tuxpan. Finally somewhat hidden behind the barriers of the freeway I saw a large, weathered building and a sign among the foliage of the trees in front saying Hotel. I entered and a friendly woman in work clothes, around sixty years of age, received me at the hotel’s reception.

The reception was large but empty. And as I walked over the grounds it seemed that the hotel was empty except for me. There was a pool but it was closed. The room was simple and spare but light and airy. It reminded me somehow of spa towns in Europe, now semi-deserted in the competition for tourists. The garden plots were filled with weeds and trees hung over the footpaths among the buildings. Traffic on the freeway roared in the distance behind the small forest separating the hotel from the outside world.

I went to sleep that night in the chill mountain air under clean but thin sheets wondering about the wisdom of my detour to Santa Catarina. I rationalized that the city was only meaningful if compared to the countryside. The city after all was once fields and hills, animals and campesinos.

This hotel was once a place for well-to-do families seeking to enjoy the countryside on cool flanks of the mountains. Now it was a lost cause, abandoned to memory.

The next day I saw the woman from the reception pulling weeds between the paths among the different building of the hotel. She told me she was the owner.

The hotel had been her parent’s and she had spent a beautiful childhood in what was then an enchanted place with gardens, games and guests. The hotel had once been quite successful. Her parents had died and left her the place. Then the toll-highway was built, cutting the hotel off from passing traffic. The slow death spiral began. Employees were let go. Rooms were closed.

Now she was left alone to look after the vast decaying premises. She would not leave, her whole life had been spent here and she had many happy memories of the place. Yet at the same time her case was hopeless. This hotel would never return to its former glory with a toll highway in front of it. It had lost its purpose.

But the woman had not and still maintained the grounds as best she could – receptionist, gardener and plumber – the last flicker of life in a dying body.

Parts of the city sometimes seem haunted by the past, kept alive by a shape and some weathered paint, an old person shuffling through, or the patterns of walls and foundations in a grass field. Form remains long after function has disappeared.

The edge of the city is full of such ghosts. Old buses which have been abandoned and forgotten, carnival rides with peeling paint, balancing between being scrapped and being renovated, half-built buildings, ruins of haciendas.

Maybe with time some other purpose will be found for this hotel out beyond the edge of the city. The world changes and leaves us without purpose. All that seems firm vanishes into thin air. And all that remains are memories.