I step off of the bus, a disparaging piece of public transportation with grimy blue plastic seats littered with empty vending machine wrappers and soda cans, and into a heat that slaps me like a scorned woman. I’m prepared for this, wearing a loose sundress and sandals, but it takes my breath away. It’s well after sundown, nearly 9pm.
The bus chugs away and even in darkness the sidewalk in glimmering in neon hues. The area’s popular nightclub is buzzing with activity, and a steady stream of noisy Australians who followed us off the bus head straight to the lime green sign high above our head. Congo Bongo! It is a club that has been heavily advertised since arriving at the airport just a few days before, shining signs that welcomed guests post-escalator ride and just before customs.
My head gravitates toward the sky; Vegas comes to mind. There are a handful of glowing signs that keep the area lit enough to mask the evening well. Pockets of tourists surround bars I recognize from home – names that in no way seem to represent the culture I’m allegedly experiencing. In a deep pocket of a run-down mall filled with more familiar restaurants and retailers, grimy men hold up their prized possessions – live animals. I’m not talking about parakeets or puppies, the living creatures that catch my eye are squirrel monkeys and snakes.
I make a beeline for the monkey. Snakes just aren’t my thing. When I approach the man holding his “friend" (rather than merely a job I so mistakenly call it), I avoid his eyes. Instead I lock into the furry creature with soft features who wreaks of something sweet and sour. She’s sucking on a bright green Jolly Rancher, which I can only assume is making her so docile. I outstretch my finger toward her little primped face, and her caretaker throws her on my back. She doesn’t squirm; it’s just part of the routine.
She’s soft and her perfectly groomed blond hair doesn’t stand on edge as she makes her way into my arms. The man keeping guard reveals it's $10 for a picture from his camera. I shake my head and just laugh. I keep petting until the man drops his price, just $5 for a picture on our own camera this time. But just one picture, and no more. After a few more minutes petting what I equate to a house cat with a sweet smell, it's time to walk away. I have experienced enough Mexico for the night.