Armchair Travel Blog

Adventures from Paris onwards circa 2012

Month: January, 2017

Chinese New Year a la Mexicana

Last week was a slow week and thus there was very little to report. However, the growing influence of the Chinese Lunar New Year has made its way into Mexico City, into what is colloquially called, “the Chinese neighborhood” (which in truth is little more than 2 city blocks long and equally as thin).

And if I ever had any doubts about the density of the city, dear reader, let me put your mind to rest and say that yes, this is indeed one of the largest cities in the world. The was very little by the way of “celebrations” – what my cousin and I found was a veritable marketplace with stalls on either side of the street and the throngs of people so thick that one could only pass going sideways.

We asked about three different people if there would be any sort of events aside from the various chinches and bags of fortune cookies – but the only response we got were the inconsistent ones that perhaps, maybe there would be a show at one, three, four o’clock. So much for Chinese New Year a la Mexicana.

Given that I am not one much to feeling like a sardine, my cousin and I decided that it would be a better spend of our day to go someplace else. Given that I have already been (by my count) to nearly all of the museums in Mexico and much of the touristing – it took a moment to find a place to go. Where we settled was the Palacio de Mineria, which apparently only takes guided tours anymore. All well and good, since aside from the giant stone buildings of all of downtown Mexico City, it would be hard to tell the history from it.

Heres a fun fact: the building took 16 years to build (the Mexican war for independence occurring during this time) but only took 9 months for the weight of the building and swamp land of the city to cause it to start sinking and sinking. No worries, the neo-classical architecture building still stands (albeit slightly askew). And what a beautiful building. Classes originally were tiny, as the requirements to joining were super strict and reserved for the upper echelons of Catholic Mexican society. The original purpose of the building – that is studying geology and mining – has been outsourced to one of Mexico’s universities, but what I probably found the coolest was that the building still currently holds a 14,000 ton meteorite of unknown age and origin. And if that is the size of the rock that actually made it into the atmosphere to land, the original meteoroid must’ve been some dozens of miles long.

Mexico City really is a foodie place if you know where to look, and my cousin took us to eat fish tacos; because obviously having lived here her entire life, she knows the best places to ferret out a meal. Which while at the time of lunch was delicious – to someone with a more sensitive stomach (aka me) it was a hard evening having what felt like elephants on parade in my intestines. Not that I regret it, not one bit. The place we went to for coffee was also tremendously hip – barring the fact that to get there took swimming in what felt like a literal sea of people. But hey, we sat and talked over our green cappuccinoes and modern 3 leches cake.

Sunday morning we went to the Modern Art museum, which was housing a few eyebrow raising exhibits. What I find curious is that they allow you take pictures, but the moment you want to take video, the guards come and stand over your shoulder until they are sure that you deleted the picture. If the admission is free (on Sundays) and art is to be shared, then I remain flummoxed at why or how this distinction comes in. Alas. I did manage to snag a few interesting pictures of Kazuya Sakai‘s work, but the museums held little else of interest for me.

In other life updates, this morning I bought my ticket to Cancun, Quintana Roo to visit my cousins and probably also soak up some sun while I am there. I will be leaving in just under a week’s time and will be staying for a week – just long enough to celebrate one of my cousin’s birthdays. It has been about four years since I saw them last – and I am looking forward to eating more seafood, sand between my toes, and taking the penultimate week in Mexico for all that it has to offer.

Between then and now, I believe there to be a trip to Tequisquiapan for some sort of cultural festival that will be happening this weekend.

I almost can’t believe that we’ve made it to February, and that my trip is more than halfway through. Still, I look forward to what Mexico has to bring almost as much as I look forward to burying my face in my kitten’s fluffy belly.

Much love from Mexico, and stay tuned for further adventures!

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Queretaro

What you may not know, reader, is that Mexico is a federal republic composed of 31 states and one capital city (Mexico City). Lying somewhere between a 1.5-2 hrs drive from Mexico City is Queretaro, Queretaro. It’s a gorgeous  colonial town where my aunt, grandmother, and I could play tourist for two days over the weekend. We arrived around noon on Friday and left after dinner time on Saturday, because we had more birthday celebrations for Sunday afternoon.

And honestly, the weather could not have possibly been better. Clear blue skies the color you wish the Atlantic ocean was, with not a cloud in sight. We took a double-decker bus ride around the historic center of the city, and this is an excerpt from some of the neat historical facts that I’d like to share. (Taken from the VisitMexico website:)

The city was founded in 1531 by Franciscan monks. It is both literally and figuratively an important crossroads of Mexican history. Four of the most significant events in Mexico’s history took place here. First, plans for Mexican independence from Spain were hatched here in 1810. Second, in 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was ratified in Queretaro, ending the Mexican-American War, and surrendering 55% of Mexico’s territory to the U.S. Third, in 1867, Austrian Archduke Maximilian was executed on a hill overlooking the city. And finally, in 1917, the Mexican Constitution was signed here.

Friday night my after depositing my grandmother at a fancy-pants hotel (she has a difficult time walking more than 5 minutes at a time; much to my aunt’s chagrin), we hit the streets again to soak in what nightlife there may be. We ended up sitting outside by one of the town’s main plazas, listening to live music and sipping Mexican beer. This is the sort of town where one can live outside all year round. It was simply wonderful having the opportunity to watch couples walk hand-in-hand, children running about playing with their toys, and even the peddlers who came every two minutes to sell us the same variety of tourist souvenirs was welcome.

Saturday was more of the same – walking along the cobbled sidewalks which are so narrow only single-file works to stay on the sidewalk, or pass by the side of the road. Enjoying the weather, and finding – because Friday’s lunch was a disgrace – a real place to sit down and eat proper Mexican food. And yes it was totally worth it to get waay from the tourist packed plazas into the smaller roads of the town to find the places where the locals go to eat, pretty much always.

My aunt doesn’t know how to ride a bike, but she bought one on Tuesday because the way she figures it, it’s about high time she learned. And I couldn’t agree more. And ok, it’s slow going trying to learn to ride a bike – especially as an adult, but despite some knee scraping and four falls in the span of an hour, she seems to be in good humor and ready to try it again. (Apparently there is also a thing such as adult training wheels, so she may decide to look into that, silly as it may seem. But hell, everyone should know how to ride a bike)

It seems that every weekend comes with its own gathering and party, and this weekend was no different. The birthday celebration that we had the last week with some 50 people present was held again, but this time only 16 of us. (The “comadres” as my aunt calls them)  Or it would have been better if the food hadn’t settled so poorly in my stomach leaving me with an uncomfortable night. And upon waking, an ear infection burgeoning, yuck!

It was nice to seem my cousin – for she too showed up at the birthday celebrations – and we now have plans for this weekend to spend Chinese New Year in downtown Mexico City for the year of the Rooster.

But first to shake this ear infection!

Luz E Imaginacion

Mexico City has undergone a re-branding, newly dubbed #CDMX; short for “Ciudad de Mexico”. (Whatever happened to the good ole’ “DF” I guess I’ll never know)

And with it, there has been some heavy advertising campaigns promoting various aspects of Mexican culture and identity. Being such a fan of the telenovelas as Mexicans are wont to be, I have come across a fair share of advertising for a particular museum exhibition of the above titled “Lights and Imagination”.

Taking public transportation is one of my favourite things to do in a city, and even though the Metro line doesn’t extend all the way to where my aunt lives, it was still fun to ride the rails as men come through sampling various songs on CD for sale, magicians, and still others peddling chewing gum, note pads, and candies. The metro stops all have names and pictures for the illiterate, which I think is a kind gesture to the undoubtedly thousands without any formal education.

The sheer amount of people riding the rails as well, it’s almost as if there is a city underneath a city. There is something like 14 different lines, which makes is more robust than many other American cities. While I find it admirable and a frank assessment of the reality that is – there is an entire section of the metro cars dedicated to women and children under 12- I find it distressing that such a distinction need to be made in the first place. If the prevalency of harassment is so large that entire Metro cars need to be dedicated as safe spaces, it doesn’t overall speak well of the machismo culture that is so pervasive here. Happy to report that our ride to and fro passed without incident.

Located in the heart of downtown Mexico City in a colonial-era stone building, the exhibit plays with lights, shadows, and sounds. Visitors are encouraged to interact with the light and the spaces. All of the artists are Mexican and they all take different approaches to the medium and the space. It’s not a particularly large exhibit – my aunt and I took about 30 minutes to explore the entire expo, but it is so COOL! The exhibits are well thought out and each one unique, taking a different perspective and aspect to how humans perceive and interact with light.

The best room by far though, is the last room, where there is something like 130+ individually programmed lights that turn on and spin to a programmed circuit that matches with sounds from a thunderstorm in the jungle. We stayed in that room the longest, watching people drift in and out and throughly enjoying our selfies that we were taking.

We ate our sandwiches on the street and did more touristing as I sent off postcards in what is – in my opinion – the most beautiful post office I have seen. There was also an art museum of questionable taste (Imagine 1500-1800s style semi-mediocre paintings of religious scenes or portraits of nobility, like the types of which you’ve probably seen a thousand of), but it didnt hold a candle (pun intended!) to the first museum.

Then, because my aunt has not yet learned to ride a bike, the next adventure began.

Which is to say, that after a 16:00 “lunch” (dinner?) we spent the next two hours going between shops looking at the various bikes they have on sale and for the dimensions and specifications that she wants. (Believe me, there was plenty of walking to be done between stores) We finally found a nice women’s city bike that will be ready for pick up on Saturday. Then the real fun begins as I get to yet again teach another the joys and pleasures of self-propelled wheeled locomotion. With the lake being so nearby, I figure she should be able to pick it up in no time. (I hope)

Stay tuned for more adventures!

It’s Not Easy Being Veg

Ask me what my favourite cuisine is and hands down authentic (stressing the word “authentic” here) Mexican by far and away. Still, it doesn’t mean that it’s an easy life for a an up-and-coming vegetarian like myself. I’m happy to note however, that I have made a pointed effort to eat cleaner and leaner. And until yesterday’s birthday fiesta, I had managed to do exactly that! Huzzah for vegetarian life-styles 🙂

Mexicans (Latinos generally?) love to eat meat. Pork, chicken, beef, rabbit, grasshoppers – it’s hard to go out to eat and find a dish that *doesn’t* have meat in it. This is why I have been in large part capitalizing on cooking at home, and learning some of the kitchen tricks that my aunt has up her sleeve. There’s plenty of vegetables and especially varieties of fruit that one cannot get in the US, such as mamey or guanabana. Learning to cook vegetarian is a real treat, as it requires an inspiration and creativity that simply throwing a steak on a grill never achieves.

Still, yesterday was a long-time neighbor and friend of my aunt’s birthday and they invited us and about 30 other people to eat, drink, and dance well into the evening. The cuisine was standard Mexican fare – of tostadas and quesadillas and beans and tequila. Everything came full of meat, and particularly tasty was the pork leg tostadas that held an excellent texture profile, even if a little muted under the cream. I wasn’t about to turn down a tostada, and ultimately I am glad I didn’t, although I think the line between affirmatively eating meat, and going out to buy meat can be a little tenuous at times.

Dessert and the cake were by and away meh, but that shouldn’t surprise you – Mexican food is excellent for a meal, but their takes on what dessert constitutes are sorely lacking, in my opinion. Also, artificial cherry is just about the worst flavor profile there is, so flan and cherry flavoured gelatin is not my idea of a good birthday cake. But hey, my aunt gladly had my portion, and it wasn’t my birthday, so what can I say?

But okay, have you ever had some of the ways that they can prepare a dinner plate? Tender, falling of the bone, salsas complex and the right kind of spicy, mmmm #worthit (Except perhaps the chicharron, but I feel that has more to do with my trauma surrounding a particular spring day in Japan more than anything.)

The music was a little country for my taste, but put enough tequila in 60+ year olds and they’ll dance to just about anything. As for me, I dance freely to just about anything with a beat. (With the exception of the glitchy techno-music sub genres of EDM). It’s quite an experience getting into a dance circle with these ladies, disco lights and all; watching about four generations of family come together to celebrate the life of another human being. Definitely got in the middle of the dance circle a few times to bust a few moves myself, to the bemusement of all. (Because yes, I am just *that* good)

My aunt really is an excellent human being, because at this party there was a wheel-chair bound woman sitting at our table. When it came to dance, my aunt was first up to grab the chair and take her out on  a spin on the dance floor. The smile on the woman’s face is not something that I think I will forget anytime soon. She, waving her hands in the air, and wriggling her knees, was dancing just as hard as the rest of us, and when her chair was parked, my aunt made sure that she could see the rest of the parties nonsense.

I think that too often we are quick to overlook, forget, erase our elderly. I think it disgraceful how too often they are pushed to the corners of society, for not wanting to deal with their being. My grandmother has very poor short-term memory, but I couldn’t care less for the five topics of conversation we have on the daily – I just hug her and tell her how much I love her.

And so when I saw my aunt being the first on the dance floor and being attentive to this lady, well my heart just filled with love for my aunt and an understanding that this is what is important in life and how to be a good human being. Watching the face of a woman get to participate in something she didn’t think she could – that is just a beautiful moment.

The neighbors up the street were also having a fiesta of their own, and around midnight my aunt had to call the cops to ask the neighbors to turn down the volume of their karaoke. I for my part, was soundly asleep and only heard of this news secondhand.

Today, it was another meal invitation at another neighbor’s house, with some of the same people from the night before. More meat in a green mole sauce, but I swear, the lady of the house makes the best frijoles anyone could ever ask for.

We talked politics, political culture, and swapped various family stories. Decidedly less music this time.

So, in sum, I’m doing better by my standards on eating meat, but I think that to really keep to my codes, it will require more cooking at home than not. Which suits me fine, because I can pick up various techniques, and hopefully translate them when I get back stateside.

 

On Mornings and High Altitude

Mexico city is a city in the clouds. Sitting in at  7,316 ft or 2,250 meters above sea level, the thin air is definitely something that takes getting used to. It also gets cold here at night. Not the sort of cold where below freezing happens, but the sort of cold that allows you to see your breath and feel the ice pricking at your lungs with every raspy inhalation. I’ve always been a morning person, and waking up as the first light breaks the day has always been one of my great pleasures in life.

New year – new me. Or so I keep telling mself. But with the lake some five minues walking from the house, I lace up my sneakers and go for my morning run. (Trust me, sometimes there is serious internal debate about leaving a warm bed for sore muscles and shortness of breath. I’m 3/3 at the time of writig, so I guess I’m doing well.) Or scuttle, as both the altitude and my being out of shape make it difficult to keep the tempo up the entire time. I remain undaunted; perhaps this will be the year I sign up for that half-marathon after all.

My aunt got a serious case of conjunctivitis, and so we went to the opthamologist yesterday for an examination and a prescription list two pages long. It’s been quite the adventure let me tell you, about wiping down all the doorknobs with Lysol in a hopefully not vain effort to prevent the rest of us from catching the eye gunk.

First weekend here, and later today we have a rendezvous with some of my aunt’s friends for a dinner gathering and much chattings. More updates to come; stay tuned!

Mexico, Again

Hello Dear Readers!

Have you missed me much? I realized I sort of stopped chronicling my Costa Rica adventures about halfway through, but if ever there was a more beautiful country, I still haven’t found it. So today, instead, we pick up in Mexico some three years after my last prolonged stay.

When I said that I wanted to travel internationally at the start of the year I hadn’t thought that I would end up back again in Mexico quite so quickly. It was a quick turn around, I’ll admit – the sort of idea that pops into one’s head and then before it feels the next breath can be caught, I’ve already boarded a plane. The notion is that given where I was and where I am headed (with respect to bar exams) that this would offer an opportunity for concentrated study and a brush up on my Spanish. (Turns out I need some work with my prepositions and conjugations, although I hold myself proud with my vocabulary usage). I also hope to use this opportunity to get myself back into a semblance of shape, as there is a beautiful lake – I forget if I have already mentioned it in prior posts – to go running and other outdoor activities about a quarter-mile from the house. The houses here don’t have internal heating and are made of solid concrete, so even though it hits highs of 21C (70F) during the day, the house stays chilly. I still think that its miles ahead of the months of snow and ice facing those back in the States. The juxtaposition can be a little bit jarring in the sort of reverse way that coming from warm houses and a cold outside is.

Still, I find beauty and comfort in our moon. Knowing that no matter who you are or where in time-space you may be, everyone always looks at the same moon. Theres a connectedness to all of life on Earth, that if you take a moment to pause and look up, you’ll be sure to see it. It makes the homesickness a little more bearable when the feeling comes for the people left stateside. (And if you have looked up in the past few days you would have noticed that she’s been in particularly fine form.)

I’ve been thinking a lot these past few days about what it means to return to a place, on definitions of home. It’s silly how quickly walking back into this house felt like home. Everything from the two little chihuahuas to the places of the dishes, to the first days light in the bedroom feels familiar and welcome. Its easy to forget how loud and busy homelife can be, and what silence feels like when there really is a whole day ahead of you. I felt that the last time I was here I was at a cross-roads, and in a way, I feel that this trip will do me the same sort of good that I need to prosper in 2017.

Needless to say, I already managed to cock-up my first day here as an over enthusiastic turn about on stairs landed me with a bleeding shin, the likes of which had my entire leg throbbing well into the evening. Turns out, lime is a natural antiseptic and despite way more blood coming out of a shin than I ever thought could happen, I am happy to report that today it generally feels better and with a little luck won’t be anything but a memory in the weeks to come.

I can’t say where the next five weeks will take me, I can only ask that as breathe new life into this blog, you’ll stay with me long enough to read it.