30. Nightfall: Naucalpan

At the beginning of my trip I tried to avoid walking at night, thinking it was more dangerous. At this stage in the game I was tired, my shoulder was hurting badly, I had no way of defending myself and I was eager to be home. Beyond that distances to hotels were large. Naucalpan is very big. It was getting dark later. So I started taking the risk of walking at night to move forwards more quickly.

I was struck that the early night on the periphery was much more lively than during the day when everybody was working in the city. The nighttime was when husbands and wives were reunited and the children came back from school. The dirt roads filled up with people streaming out of small buses and walking up the dirt paths of the neighborhoods. Stands with snacks popped up. Briefly, this valley covered with concrete on the outskirts of Naucalpan seemed almost festive. And for a moment the community in full force walked among the meandering ravines with its little rivers. People greeted each other smiling, young couples embraced. Office workers walked with their heels and button-down shirts over the dirt roads.

Then after ten at night the streets died out and everybody was inside again.

This supposedly was the dangerous part of the night. But I reasoned that nobody would be waiting in some deserted corner of this labyrinth of concrete on the off chance that some victim to mug might wander by.

I walked up along the now-silent streets. There was practically no street lighting. I hurried along in the dark, occasionally a dog would bark from a roof or somebody would pass by. I discovered that in the dark I was no longer a tall, strange looking foreigner. In the dark I was just a shadow to be avoided.

I liked the dark. No photos to be taken, nobody to talk to, just the patter of my footsteps up stairwells and down streets. Even the dogs were inside. And here on the edge of the city there was no traffic at night and all was still.

At night as the city faded away in the darkness the city felt more like itself, like one thing and not a collection of houses and roads and people. I could almost hear its breath as I heard my own, now practically jogging through the night. There was no hotel in sight and I knew there wouldn’t be until I reached the ridge along which the Mexico-Naucalpan highway descended to west.

My arm hurt and I was afraid in the dark, but also exhilarated by the sense of moving through the shadows alone, along the immensity of the edge. To my right the looming darkness of the hills marked the beginning of the mountains. And up and down the ridges of Naucalpan like waves across my path.

Finally I came to a steep stairway up the ridge with the highway from Naucalpan down to the peripheral highway.

I limped up the stairway, passing shadowy shapes walking downwards amid the occasional roar of a truck above. When I reached the top a little road restaurant was closing its kitchen. They said the first hotel would be far further down the highway. I walked off the highway’s verge along the grey concrete houses built steeply up the hillside. The yellowish sheen of streetlamps and headlights illuminated the grey concrete landscape.

Finally, amid the steel tangle of a pedestrian bridge I saw the sign of the hotel Naucalli Inn. I turned left off the highway towards an entrance in a side street. The hotel was modern, well lit and about five stories high with the cool, clean, finishing. I was advised that I would have to check out in exactly twelve hours.

I went up to the room and walked through an anonymous white corridor. When I opened the door I was surprised to find a Mondriaan-line modernistic finishing. Sand-blasted windows were placed between the bedroom and the shower. The shower itself had waterspouts coming from all angles and a nameless camel-shaped piece of furniture lay on the floor in the middle of the room next to the king-size bed, mirrors and colored blocks. The next day I would read on a bronze plaque in the lobby that the hotel had been designed by an architect who had died at 24. This hotel was her monument, one of the best of its genre.