Armchair Travel Blog

Adventures from Paris onwards circa 2012

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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!

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.

In the most delightful Way

We ended up doing several activities yesterday, and I have the brightly colored fluorescent wristbands to prove it. For some reason or another, the Ticos (the name of the local population here) love to attach brightly colored wristbands to any and seemingly every activity that you may happen to wander into.

on one hand, I am less than thrilled with the never ending need to pay for all the activities, sometimes at gasping prices. (But in truth its not like we flew all the way here just to sit outside the windows). On the other hand, I realize that for many folk here, tourism and Eco-tourism in particular is their primarily means of earning a living. Which I suppose makes these next few months – their winter – particularly difficult. An example: we alone are the sole guests of the Cerro Chato Lodge where we find ourselves.

but man do they mean rain. It rained all last night and into the morning, but I’m pleased to say hat as of writing it has let up enough for me to sit outside and tae in the view of the mountains as the clouded roll on by. Still, I think that by tomorrow I will be ready for some sunshine and tan lines.

to recap yesterday – on a post that will inevitably have to come later due to the difficulties of dealing with technology – first world problems at their finest – we slept soundly like a log.

but before today’s big adventure begins, we still need to head into a the town of La Fortuna to grab a pair of proper shoes and underwear for my brother. He came out to breakfast at the lodge this morning wrapped in a Sarong.

The 70m waterfall was stunning. It makes the 500 step descent well worth it so that you can swim in the pool of a single drop cascade. The $11 entrance fee – well that’s another matter entirely. Notwithstanding the fees, it’s clear that the money goes towards preserving and maintaining the reserve.

If you happen to believe in coincidences or not – here’s one to mull over. At the base of the falls, we met another couple from Washington, D.C., the girl sharing my name, handedness, and chosen profession. What’s better is that when we went to the ziplining adventure, they too were there and we went together whizzing through the trees. Before then, I had turned to my brother and said, “how much do you want to bet that we will see them again before the day is out?” Then we pull into the “ecoglide” parking lot, and boom there they are.

Maybe be we both read the same tour books.

My my sister and mum passed on the ziplining, mum for her fear of heights, and sister because she had been twice in the past year.  What I regret the most, was that you’re zipping down the line at a good 15mph (if I had to guess) but it hardly gives you anytime to see any animals. Not that it much mattered, you’re far to busy enjoying the breathtaking views as you fly down the mountain and suddenly you understand why birds gave up limbs for wings.

the best part by far was the “Tarzan swing”. I liked it so much that I went back twice. Mostly because as your toes are hanging over the edge of a 15m ledge holding on to nothing but the rope tying you in, there’s the swell of fear and anxiety, but you don’t even get a chance to think too much because next thing you’re dropping and the rope catches you sending you into a high arc up into the canopies.

It’s a shot of pure adrenaline. conquering fear has been a big driving factor for me lately, and so nervous as I was the first time, the exhilaration of it sent me climbing right back to do it again. Relief for being alive, joy for living life to the fullest.

The books don’t lie when they tell you that Costa Rica is a bird watchers paradise, and even though I couldn’t begin to name even one of the birds, they are spectacular to see with their red bellies and yellow beaks and glossy plumage. I am excited for today’s adventure which hopefully will bring sloths and anteaters.

Its a pity that we’re in the rainy season, since we have had to strike Monteverde from our trip itinerary as everyone says it’s even more wet than La Fortuna. Hopefully Manuel Antonio will bring better wildlife viewing opportunities as well.

While my brother and I were busy playing Tarzan through the trees, my sister and mother went to a “soda” to grab a bite to eat and to scoop out the various thermal baths littering the base of the volcano. If you want to speak of staggering but swanky thermals, there are plenty to choose from. Not that we actually went to those fancy ones – opting instead for a place called “las termslitas” – a local swimming and relaxation hole where we were the only gringos.

Dolores Hidalgo // Escondido Place

Sunday morning came and went really fast.

I guess time flies faster when you really don’t want it to – and are anything but ready to leave Mexico after such a great time.

Either way, Sunday also means tlacoyos at the Tangis Market.

The Tangis is a huge open air market when and where you can get just about anything youre little heart desires from action figures to chinese knock-off versions of Nike shoes and all the fruits and vegetables that your heart desires.

The tlacoyos are also served somewhere in the mess, in between the fruit stands and the jeans.

My family has been going to this market long enough that everyone knows them by name, and they know everyone there too by name.

they’re also really sociable people.

Tlacoyos are traditional Mexican fare, and are masa stuffed with a variety of meats, vegetables, cheeses, or any combination therein.

While I was the lone one out who didn’t want chorizo in their tlacoyo, I settled on leg (which I am never sure if it is pig’s or beef) and had it covered with nopales and cream.

These are the sorts of things that I will miss the most heading back to the United States.

And after heading to Costo and the Supermarket to buy the family’s food for the coming week, it was time to say our goodbyes.

(With a little luck the whole of my USA family will be back for Christmas)

Packing everything into the car – and it would lead to be quite a pile in the end – we gave our kisses and hugs to the family. Not that it was an early or quick departure, for by the time we made our rounds it was past 14.00

As I heard it from my aunt “ya nos vemos, y si no, ya nos vimos” which can be translated to “we’ll see you soon, and if not, at least we saw each other”

We made a quick pit stop (haha “quick”) at San Gabriel with the intention to buy one wall pot for my aunt’s garden.

By the time we were through we had bought 3 pots, 1 vase to put candles in and send shadows across the wall, and a giant metal iguana (how I am going to take this home remains to be seen).

Frankly I am very happy that I got the iguana that I came looking for, and for a good price (not at all the 700 pesos they asked for in Playa Del Carmen, the theives)

My aunt wanted to show me Dolores Hidalgo but better than that would be the thermal waters of Escondido Place. Because we got there past 18.30 they were closed, but we decided to spend the night in Dolores instead.

And traveling with dogs – even if they are little proves to be quite a challange. So too would be finding a hotel.

We went to no less than 4 places to find a bed.

And the fourth place would leave me with something to remember it by, because if it wasnt enough of a rock for a bed – the mosquito bites have me looking like some redacted form of chicken pox.

I literally have 14 bites on my left arm and am bitten quite throughly everywhere else, from belly to ankles to nape and fingers. To say the mosquitos went to town would be understating it.

But the reason we ended up at place where we did – where once I have stayed before – was because twice we were turned away because of the dogs, (and they didnt take credit cards) and the third place – and this is where you my reader will drop your teeth – didnt have reciept paper.

Which to me is basically saying that the hotel doesnt have toliet paper. Not having recipet paper is unheard of, and we turned away a soft bed for my bug bites. So because there was no repicept paper, there could be no credit transactions.

(I still am bitter at this place).

So we landed on the fall back. The best part was smuggling the dogs in my backpack to the room so that they would not freeze over night in the car.

I am happy to report that the dogs made zero scandal or mess, and we were able to get them in an out without trouble or additional fees.

(Thanks for the memories!)

But dinner was great! Enough to say that it made the sleep ok.

Don’t let me dissuade you from a visit to Dolores, but be sure to bring ample bugspray if you happen to come during the rainy season.

While the restaurant didn’t have either the meat or the herb for the dish I had originally wanted, I was not disappointed in the least.

The beef was tender and high quality and smothered in some peppered cream sauce that even had my aunt – even though she should not eat red meat – nibbling a few bites. The dish gave the meal I had the El Cardenal last month a real run for it’s money, in terms of quality and finger-licking goodness.

The restaurant was right in the middle of the plaza with the doors and windows thrown open facing the plaza so we saw the nightlife and the band playing in the gazebo in the center of the park, and in the morning we would decide to have breakfast there.

I love the tempo of pueblo life in the morning because at 09.30 it is alive and people titter to and fro but it is not loud and busy and rushed like in the big cities of the world.

To me it strikes a perfect calm balance of time and freedom and Monday morning get-to-work.

Needless to say our breakfast was prolonged to simply watch the people go by.

But then the thermal waters were calling our names, and so after a pit stop to buy my aunt a swimsuit, we were headed off jubilant.

Even though the price had gone up from last year at 35 to today’s 100 pesos, it still is quite a catch because the place is as the name implies, and absolutely worth it.

Well tended gardens and footpaths lead to many a swimming pool or thermal bath where water falls from the walls and different chambers have different temperatures.

There are outside coves hidden from everything but the sunshine, and the water is so fresh as it should be on a hot day.

But the best bit?

The hottest cavern – or coupola – where they let the steam rise up in thick tendrils and the sunlight filters in through a central hole and you swear you have only that beauty in that moment.

The light is beautifully highlighted against the steam as it moves around the dome with the hours.

My aunt tells me that a long time ago there was a monastary and that the monks would come to this place to bath, sing, and meditate.

It’s easy to see why.

The dome echoes, and it must be beautiful with chanting but for me the best part was when I was alone in there, or there was perfect silence. It is this calm and beauty that washes over you and your troubles seem so far away.

Your muscles relax, your face relaxes, your mind strays to places and things far away.

We ended up spending five hours there, jumping from water to water, and finishing with a picnic – eating an avocado like a banana for lack of a knife – and being eaten alive by mosquitos.

The drive home was calm and fairly rapid, at which point I set myself to pack and write some of the last posts of my Mexican chapter of this blog.

Calling the family to confirm we had made it alive in one piece, and that departure is coming soon (and plenty of wishes for a safe and smooth flight)

Packing is interesting, what with all the hodgepodge I have collected – and it doesn’t really hit you until you see it all in one corner of the room and you mutter to yourself “dear god, how am I going to get this all into two suitcases under the weight limit?”

And if you do, youre some kind of modern-day Houdini. (A little help from the aunt doesn’t hurt either)

The question about my iguana remains to be seen – but he is coming home this time around, no questions.

And the list of things to do for and by tomorrow grows shorter, but laundry still needs to be done and my conch shell varnished.

So much to do so little time!

Guachinmontones

Saturday was the trip (and a nod) to my history.

Well, in the Spanglish snese of the word, at least.

Rememeber how I said that there were few and far inbetween archeological sites in Guadalajara?

Well it turns out that since 1979 I have been wrong. This is a brand new site in terms of archeological discoveries and timelines, but if today is any indication to go by, it will go far and do well in the coming years.

The site, as the title of this post may tell you is called the Guachinmontones. Pronounced in a garbled the Spanish way – and you “Gwa-chiin-mon-ton-es” The name comes from a mix of Spanish and Nawatl which means the mountain of the “guachines”; which are a type of tree.

While the ticket is nothing like the tickets they give you in Mexico City or Cancun, their museum far outstrips any of the other arechological museums I have been too.

The whole family – save for one cousin – came along for the day trip, and my grandmother was able to hang out in the air conditioning while my aunts and I took our somewhat leisurely stroll around the site.

Which is nothing simple to get to, because after the 20 minute documentary of the site that the museum screened, it was a mere 350 meter climb to get to the site.

My grandmother was given permission to take a car ride to the top – the rest of us had to hoof it.

While Aunt 2 and Uncle 1 were in no mood to listen to the tour guide – Aunt 3 and 1, cousin and myself all stayed to listen to the half truths of the tour guide that was provided.

I only say half truths because the site is new and while they say things like the Guachintecos (i kid you not with the name) did not make human sacrifices and played the ball game to resolve their disputes, I beleive that we’re all human at heart, and we all need to and like to make war.

The tour guide also did not include a session about the astrology/numerology of the site, but I would find it a very hard pill to swallow if they too did not have superstitions about the number 52 and Tlaloc and Quetzacoatl – as it has been found in every (count that six) different site.

Still, she gave a good 50 minute tour and answered all of our questions as best as she could. Because the site has not been given full funding for restoration, we were allowed to climb one of the pyramids to take in the landscape.

Unfortuantely this pyramid was brought to its knees in the 1950s when the Mexicans were building their highway that cuts through the town of XXX. they stumbled across this big pile of rocks and thought, “hey free!”. At the moment it provides us with access to one of these cake layered pyramids, but on the other hand, its impressive to see the cut out of the stone. I also have a hard time beleiving these 1950s people didnt see the stairs and carefully placed stone surrounding the pyramid.

Or if they did, they just didnt care enough to do anything about it until the government stepped in.

The pyramids look like a lego cake, but circular. They are surrounded by 10 to 12 square platforms, which they say were other temples surrounding the major one, to get closer to their gods.

Here, the big god is not of rain, but of wind. And I do wonder why. (Questions, questions, always questions)

My theory is that Tlaloc stil reigns supreme.

So after our snapshots, (and as it turns out we were up there for almost 2 hours), we came down to a hungry family, who while we were drinking in the architectural history of Jalisco, had gone out to buy an assortment of goods.

We settled on a place by a lake not to far from the site and in town. They served seafood, and because I was feeling gutsy and because I believe you must try everything once with an open mind (and in this case mouth and stomach) I ordered frog legs.

And they were tasty!

The meat feels more like chicken, but while this doesnt say much, its a soft flavor that only comes through in the end. And with the garlic seasoning, I found it delicious. They are light and not greasy, and it turns out uncle 1 too loves them. the one odd thing I found was that the taste was more of fish, and a little damp, but in no way overwhelming or unplesant.

So now I can say that I have knocked that off my list of foods to try, and that it was for the better, and I would happily eat another plate. The best dish by far, however, was my aunt’s “coco salmon” which ate almost like a dessert.

We all piled back into the car and those in my car went to eat ice cream.

Specifically, gelato.

And specificaly a portion size equivilant to that found in Italy. (Huge).

Happy and full, I came home to a phone call with the parents, and would spend a good while talking to them about the last few days, and my impending departure to home.

The rest of the evening would be spent watching movies from “Calendar Girls” to “the Quartet” and rounding out the evening (at no less than 02.00) with “the best exotic marigold hotel”

if you notice a theme, you’d be correct, but I can say that while the British like to recycle their 20 different actors (and I feel sometimes its less than that haha) they are all splendid movies and I reccomend them to those who have not yet seen them.

turns out Aunt 2 has pretty good taste in movies,

and so sunday would bring our departure from Guadalajara.

It’s The Final Weekend

<Thursday was a slow day in the house, wherein which we camped out in Aunt 2's house watching movies and playing on the computer with the afternoon rain pounding on the windowsill

by friday things had picked up considerably, and the day was spent on the road – and somewhat in the style of ping-pong as of Wednesday.

Friday morning was spent going for an 8k run before it would get too hot with the sun out – I hear that the heat wave back home has finally broken

With breakfast in our bellies, and with the morning to whittle away before the fish and shrimp tacos that would come with the afternoon, we took the 40 minute drive to the Guadalajara Zoo.

What makes this zoo special is that there are certain areas where they allow people to come into close interaction with some of the animals they have there.

The two that we had time for was to get into the monkey walk and the kangaroo walk. The animals are kept free in the area, and you could in theory touch the animals – if they allowed you to.

The monkey pen had groups of ring tailed lemurs, doing what they do best – eating fruit and grooming one another. It was very special to see the animals so close and not within the typical confines behind glass or bars or wires.

There were two other small species of monkeys who got a lot closer to the spectators than the lemurs, but the signs outside telling you to ward your belongings was warranted, because monkeys are naughty.

And the kangaroo pen had about six different kangaroos hanging out in the shade and grooming themselves, closer than I had ever been with any kangaroo. Because they are so accustomed to human noise and presence, the animals were relaxed and allowed me to take some great photos.

The creme de la creme however, came in the form of the polar bear. The polar bear was hanging out perched on the ledge of the water, blowing bubbles through her nose, and watching us watch her. The glass gave a full view of the bear, and she was pressed right up against the window, allowing you to see the size of her paws, and the soft fur on her belly.

While I do feel really bad that such an animal has no place in Guadalajara unless it is kept in a special and icy climate, it still was really cool to be able to see and experience a polar so close and personal.

Even if there were about thirty other kids there all snapping photos, and even knowing that as much as you would love a good cuddle with the bear, the bear probably saw you as a morning snack.

It was really lucky to see the bear so closely as that too was something I had never experienced. She would later swim to another part of her pen and the hand-to-paw photo I got against her paw would be lost to other visitors.

I did like the zoo better because the animals looked much better fed and tended, and their pens were beautifully kept and maintained, even as the hippos and crocodiles were lurking in the water with only their noses poking out.

But then it was time for the rendezvous for fish tacos and we booked it home to have a family luncheon.
Most everyone came, with the exception of a few, and it was a first for shrimp tacos.

Greasy no doubt, but also lip smacking. The fish and the shrimp were breaded and lightly fried then tossed onto a corn or flour tortilla with a bit of lettuce.

There was a full condiment bar to put generous amounts of guacamole and tomatoes and all sorts of other sauces to spice up the taco.

And while it would keep me full for the rest of the day, I say that I was a true mexican with my beer and fish tacos sitting at the bar for lunch.

The afternoon brought a Woody Allen film – the name of which I don’t even know in Spanish – but it left me laughing. I think it is called “Whatever Works” but I could be wrong in this matter. I still do recommend it because it is Woody Allen at his ironic, cynical best, but always sweet at the end.

And I too have seen the Abyss but we can watch something else.

Then, even though the food had barely begun to be digested, my uncle came because I was promised tongue tacos that evening.

And so my cousin, uncle and I went to a little place that in the evenings gets packed with people and ordered a quarter of cow tongue to put in more tacos.

And man if the smell was anything to tempt me by, the taste is even better!

the USA is really missing out with these tacos because they are delicious, and a very honest taste of beef. It’s somewhat soft in the mouth but also tender, and goes very well with lemon and onion

(As all mexican food does)

I only ate a bit of it, for the fish had all but done me in, but it was worth it, and I hope to wat at least one more tongue taco before I leave. I know it may be a little weird, to eat the tongue, but I promise it is worth the try if you are adventurous with food – or even if you simply like beef.

(The diet always starts tomorrow, right?)

Coming back more than stuffed, Aunt 2 told me to get changed because we would be going out for the night.

so my aunt, Aunt 2 and I went to Leyendas Del Rock, a video bar. And while the music was way too loud to converse over, and we hodge podged ear plugs, it still was fun.

The music was from the 70s and 80s mostly, and was hit after hit and even I knew most of the songs, and everyone was singing right along.

But by midnight we had had enough so we went to La paloma for a nightcap and something softer to talk against.

There was more live music there, with a better singer than the band at the Video Bar, and while we missed all but his entire set, we managed to catch a few songs.

And we stayed there on the patio in the balmy weather until 02.00 in the morning when your eyes still and body numb from the tiredness.

Saying goodbyes we made it back to the house and collapsed into bed until 08.00 this morning when my Uncle made chilaquiles for breakfast and for my Aunt 2’s birthday, even if it was a week late.

And man can my uncle cook! They came out very tasty (I feel like most everything is tasty here) and he’s welcome to cook for me any day.

Then after the chilaquiles we went to the Guachinmontones – from where my people come from –

but that is for the next post.