Trip to Mexico Dia 6 Guadalajara alone, more tacos, mas cervezas

This trip occurred in 2014. I had written these posts a long time ago on a different computer which I just gained access to again.  I hope you enjoy Mexico as much as we did. It is a wonderful place to visit and live. 

 

In the courtyard of our hostel was a small grill with a short menu of breakfast items. Beans and eggs primarily, but no free breakfast options as I’ve seen before at other countries hostels. It was delicious and inexpensive, less than $5 for a plate of food that would fill you up. I noticed a disheveled man wander into the courtyard while we waited for my friends’ taxi. The porter and he spoke for a few moments and the guy sat down. Soon after they spoke, a plate of food was set on the table and he ate quickly. I spoke to the chef/hostel clerk after the bum left and he told me he was fed every day. The bum never bothered anyone, he was just hungry. Beside, the hostel was doing well, it wasn’t much money for a plate of food to help someone, so why not?

I talked to the guy behind the grill, same guy who checks everyone in, and he said I was ok staying in the same room alone as it was open for the night. He said I was lucky we were there during the week when it was less crowded. There was an English guy seated at the table next to me whom I had briefly met the night before. I struck up a conversation, eventually joining him for a smoke while we talked about what brought him to Mexico from England.

He taught English at university there and was near the end of the semester. He ended his lease at another place in town and was staying at his favorite hostel in the city for the final two weeks of school. After final exams, he would take a train down south where he would crash on the beach for a month, living in a tent. He didn’t make much money as a teacher, just enough to pay for good living, drinks and food. He hadn’t been back to England in years and did miss his mates, but he was very happy here. He realized that it was basically the same life, in a much more hospitable environment. He said he was always just scraping by living in London and saw the future clearly: work all day to make just enough to buy a flat a bit closer to town with each raise, fight traffic commuting to work every day, repeat until retirement. In México, he made more than enough for a nice apartment, he could walk or ride his bike around town, loved the food and music, and the weather was near perfect most of the year, why not live here and be happy? I too was struggling with this reality my new friend was currently living. Is it worth it to give up friends and family to live simply, as you want?

What made it funny was how obvious it was to the few others around but to this kid, he was getting away with something. He had sunglasses on and would turn his head side to side, then the pipe was raised, lit, exhale, smile. Every single time for 10 minutes. It was hilariously obvious and I tried not to stare in his direction, thankful I had on sunglasses. I could glance his way with my head pointed towards the church, like I was checking out the architecture or something.
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 Turns out the cathedral plaza is many city blocks so there was even more on the other side that we’d not seen. It was a drum circle and dancing to a boom box. The drummers followed the tune playing on the boom box, the dancers moved as they saw fit, some to the rhythm, others clearly to the beat of their own drummer. I am not sure if this was a church supported event or a regular occurrence. Everyone celebrated more down here as it seemed everyday was some war anniversary or remembrance day. Festivities included music, dancing, parades, costumes invariably.
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I walked through the plaza past the drummers and dancers, past the bland but famous restaurant in search of street tacos. To my surprise, my travel companions were a bit hesitant to eat street food, preferring the comforting golden arches, restaurants and snacks. The closest thing I’d had that was street food was the breakfasts at the hostels. A couple blocks and there sat a guy on a corner serving tacos. A couple guys were standing near the grill, eating so I felt this was a solid option. There were no seats or chairs, you ate standing up. There was no menu, just tacos and sodas. This wasn’t a food truck, it was a food trailer as this one was attached to a motorcycle though some were manually pushed around.

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On the asphalt sat a cooler, inside was meat in plastic bags to one side, limes and beverages on the other with a no doubt sturdy divider separating the items. He shot a spray of oil onto the hot, metal sheet which immediately smoked, he plopped some meet onto the grill, which sizzled, and then a tortilla soon hit the metal. He took his time letting each one sit for what seemed too long before flipping. Back and forth he worked until at some point, they were combined. I am fairly sure it was chicken I ate, but it might have been pork, there wasn’t a menu. The pink meat was cut into strips so it was unidentifiable. All I know is I was eating the best tasting taco I’ve ever had. The tortilla was a bit crispy but still soft so it held together unlike a hard-shell taco so you could hold it and not drop everything to the ground. I quickly ordered another one, then another before waving goodbye. These tacos were 10 pesos or about 2 bucks

I snaked up road after road, through neighborhoods, dodging cars and scooters the whole way. Where the hell was I? All I knew was the sun was to my left and that meant I was walking towards the avenue a bit north of our hostel. As long as you could recall at least two known points, such as  street name or orientation with the sun, you can find your way back. If not you can pop into a bar or restaurant and ask, no worries. Unless you are the only person around for miles, I’ve learned you are never truly lost. I enjoyed walking in a new area and trying to figure things out. A short time later, I was on an avenue I recognized. The sun was just beginning to set so I hung around to watch it disappear behind some mountains.

This avenue was the same street that had the British pub on it so I decided why not, I was on vacation. I had a couple pints, watched Mexican sports and videos on the ring of TVs. I had found a choice place to people watch, which is my favorite activity in bars. You’d usually have a couple in love or fighting at a table, a group of friends laughing at another, a lone guy or girl waiting for a date. I ordered a couple Mexican beers I’d not had yet. The cervezas I bought was a very light, pilsner style, which was the most common option and a black ale, both were made with rice.

 

Before too long, I knew I had to leave. I located another taco truck on the way home and had a couple. Again delicious! I bought one for a passerby that was how good I thought they were. We all had a laugh, they enjoyed how much I loved their food. There were a few people hanging out inside the hostel so I bought a beer and hung out with them in the media room. It was just a place with a couple couches and TV. There was the cool couple from Sought America, just traveling the country and a couple other guys, one of whom continued to fall asleep in his chair. They were sort of watching a movie, but mostly talking and passing around a pipe whilst sitting under a sign that said No Drugs. This was the first conversation in a different language that I completely understood! A guy was explaining how he was late for a train and was running after it until he jumped on. It was in very basic Spanish which was the only common language we all had, no one spoke English but me. We all understood and laughed at his tale. After awhile I grew tired and wished them all a good night.

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Trip to Mexico Dia 5 Jalisco, Tequila tour, fiesta

This trip occurred in 2014. I had written these posts a long time ago on a different computer which I just gained access to again.  I hope you enjoy Mexico as much as we did. It is a wonderful place to visit and live. 

 

We had talked to two different groups of friends and both recommended taking a bus to Tequila to see how the beverage was made the old fashioned way. We had to taxi over to the west side of town and that is when I learned how big this ‘small city’ actually was, and since we were in Mexico, traffic was horrible the whole way. We popped into a wal-mart to get some fruits and nuts for the trip. It would be over an hour and we weren’t sure what eating options there were in this small town. The wal-marts look exactly the same down south, everything was pretty much in the same spot as I’ve seen before. The difference being this place had a much larger bakery section, no deli for sandwich meats and the lines were very long. Even in the express lane, it took 30 minutes to check out. I selected a trail mix with chocolate bits mixed in with nuts and fruit. I also got an apple and banana and ate the apple on the bus ride in, saving the banana for later. I figured I wouldn’t have a way to wash the apple once I got on the bus.

It was well over an hour ride on a sparely seated bus so I looked out of the window as long as I could before falling asleep. We likely had only slept a few hours the night before and the previous day was 18 hour long adventure. In my head I heard Spanish coming from the movie that played on a couple small TVs that were strategically placed so everyone had a good view. I slowly drifted off to sleep.

I awoke as we pulled into the city. Tequila was very much like the México I’d seen in movies and cartoons: I swear we saw a cantina as we walked into the city square. We walked down a street towards the many distilleries in the city. We encountered a couple pitchmen from different tequila makers, everyone was trying to get us in their place so they had different prices or deals for ‘more than two people.’ They created ‘deals’ based on who they were talking to, I figured. Some pitched a more rural excursion, to see how the agave was harvested from the ground. Other tours focused on just the distillery. We selected a tour at the Jose Cuervo distillery as we had heard of it and we figured the tours would be pretty much the same.

The distillery was very nice and resembled, in certain places, someone’s home or estate. They went over the history of tequila, how it was made from agave, tasting each step along the way. We had agave nectar, which was sweet, and we had pure tequila, which was much stronger than you drink in bars. This elicited a bit of a cough, it was 60% alcohol and had a bite to it. The whole trip I wondered what caballero figured out if you uprooted this very large agave plant after a decade in the ground, boil it only taking the evaporated moisture, storing that liquid in barrels, finally age it down so that it was a certain alcohol % and color. This was hard labor process so who thinks about doing this? The newer the tequila, the lighter in color it was, Any color is a result of the barrels it’s stored in. A fascinating tour and well worth the trip.

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We meandered around a very stereotypical city plaza after the tour. I swear I saw a burro pulling a cart, a guy passed out or just sleeping, and a real caballero wearing spurs and a sombrero walking around. This is a city that I wanted to spend the night. Just wandering around, it was so cool, so old, and full of vibes. Tequila was the quietest place we visited in México, I was sad to leave.

I had a window seat on the bus ride home and was amazed at how many agave plants surrounded the town. As far as the eye could see, there were rows and rows of agave plants, miles and miles of them. As we learned on the tour, it takes 8+ years for an agave plant to mature enough to make tequila. It made sense that every few years I’d hear about a tequila shortage. Only agave plants grown in the state of Jalisco can be labeled tequila, just like only grapes from Champagne region are used to make that beverage. I can assure you, everyone uses the same process, and it’s just a name and location they get to cash in on.

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We arrived back into town after nightfall. The ride was much longer due to the many stops we made, plus traffic. To get back to the cathedral plaza, we took a bus/tram, best way to describe it. Everything was situated like a tram that traveled in a segregated part of the road, but it was a wheeled bus that resembled a snake due to its accordion like sections that allowed it to take sharp turns.

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We had heard great things about a restaurant, but so had everyone else as we saw the line down the street so we decided to wait it out until we could go in without waiting. Luckily, there were some events going on in the plaza. We moved on to the plaza and watched a woman turn some tricks with a lasso. She came over and talked to us for awhile, telling us about how she learned her skills. This was her only job, just going around to different cities to perform; usually people she met after her shows would invite her to an event or refer her to another friend in a different city and off she’d go. A real, pro cowgirl!

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We finally made it into the most popular restaurant in Guadalajara and I have to say I was underwhelmed. Everyone filed in past an open kitchen where ladies prepared the dishes. There were probably ten women, dressed in the same white, nurse like uniforms, stirring boiling cauldrons, frying eggs or plating dishes. I ordered a sampler platter that included the broiled chicken that made this place famous. It was bland, they cooked the flavor right out of it! I was shocked, I figured due to the line and how full of flavor most things in México were, this would be a meal to remember.

It was better than the McDonald’s we visited daily. One of my companions liked the salads from there so every day we’d pop in for a salad snack. I only ate once, the rest of the times I was entertained by the crush of people in the place. They even had a bathroom guard, a guy whose sole job was asking for a receipt before you could use the restroom. I encountered a bathroom monitor in every McD’s we visited in Mexico. He always had an encounter with a homeless person he would have to escort outside. They seemed ok with people just sitting around but you had to buy something to use the restroom.

We made our way back to the hostel after dinner. My traveling friends were leaving in the morning, while I’d planned on staying one more day. We arrive and the hostel was in full party mode. Another clerk was working and he poured me a shot of tequila. There was a group of guys in the courtyard smoking and drinking large quarts of beers. I sat down and instantly had a quart in front of me. This was how the whole evening went: someone would finish and another would get up and buy both of them beer. The hostel had a beer fridge which we exhausted after midnight. I overheard an Irishman and his friend saying they were going to Cuba in the morning. He explained mainly for my benefit how to get to Cuba if you were from the US. You had to pay for the plane ride in cash, no phones, no checking in on ‘fooking facefriend and shit, they’ll find out!’ Then you had to fly back to Belize or other nearby country, then back into Mexico. Thus your passport would be stamped properly so it looked like you went to a neighboring country, then  back in to México. Cuba would stamp a loose sheet and advise you to hide it after leaving. Such a silly process, I said. He just smiled at me and said ‘no one else had to do that,  just you Americans.’

Trip to Mexico Dia 4 Mexico City to Guadalajara, mercado, schwarma

This trip occurred in 2014. I had written these posts a long time ago on a different computer which I just gained access to again.  I hope you enjoy Mexico as much as we did. It is a wonderful place to visit and live. 

 

It was still dark when we checked out at the front desk. In the same spot near the cathedral the souvenir sellers and shaman were setting up. They were more into the mystical side of Catholicism here. I saw people’s arms outstretched like Christ while another person waved burning leaves all around them, enveloping everyone around with smoke. Words were chanted and souls were absolved. Baptism by smoke was an option here. The sun slowly peaked through the buildings casting an ominous mood on the activities as the light was refracted by the smoke.

 

We had left so early, we had to wait for the train station to open. We were not alone, many homeless and merchants meandered out front of the metal gate until it opened. Everywhere you went, especially trains or buses, people were selling candy, pencil sharpeners, most everything you could think of. I didn’t fully understand this until we popped into a store; the lines were at least 10 people deep. There is definitely no such thing as a quick trip to any store so everyone had to put up with a barrage of sales pitches wherever they went. If you wanted gum or candy to quiet a screaming kid, you got those types of items on the trip to work or home.

It was a short flight to Guadalajara, maybe an hour. There weren’t too many people on the plane or at the airport. I was again amazed at how big Mexico City was as we flew over for over and there was buildings, houses as far as you could see in any directions. The City was surrounded by mountains and even had a small one in the middle, one of the few places that weren’t covered by buildings in the City. Most of these smaller mountains did have radio towers so they tried to build everywhere.

There were more mountains around Guadalajara, but a lot less buildings. It seemed very much like a small, college town. Less people, less traffic, less rush were all evident as soon as we hopped into our taxi. We were en route to Tequila Backpackers hostel, a place that was the most highest rated online and had an intriguing name. Upon check in, a friendly guy came over and poured me a shot of tequila, my friends abstained. He said that they made this tequila out back, it was their house blend. This place was very nice; it was a former residence for a large family, so everyone got their own room. There were a few rooms adjacent to an open courtyard where people were already drinking and swaying in hammocks. It was before noon. Our room had two beds, a wardrobe and TV. A large window looked towards the courtyard and lit up the room. I got a bed as I found the room while my friends shared the other bed.

We walked down the street after settling in our new room. We were going to check out another cathedral and then meet up with some other friends who were staying in the city. It was about 30 minute walk straight down the street in front of our hostel to the square. Once we arrived, I noticed that the cathedral grounds had a lot of performers so I skipped checking out the inside of another cathedral. Whenever I traveled, I usually found a square with people performing, tumblers you could say. They flipped, somersaulted, and generally nearly face planted as often as they could for 10 minutes or so. There was usually a main guy who announced each performer and most importantly, passed around a hat for tips. There was also a sound guy who controlled a large boom box. There was always one really good guy who did the most stunts along with a couple others who would just do basic tricks. They took turns until the really talented guy got tired, and everyone applauded as a hat made the rounds for tips.

We met a couple friends in the square and quickly agreed to go with them to a huge shopping area. It was like a mall, but without walls. In fact, the amazing thing about this place was everything was handmade, sewn. We found a cooking stall where we were told to get a torta ahogada, a sandwich covered in sauce. What was surprising is that the red sauce was hot, but more like an Italian sauce with oregano, sage, not cumin or cilantro. You eat it with a spoon as the sauce makes the bread pleasantly soft.

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It tasted very good and was just the right size for a snack. We walked all over the large, two story market, passing your standard Mexican foods to sushi prepared by Japanese guys. There were many souvenir shops selling magnets, shot glasses and other Mexican items. There were many clothing shops, bag shops, hat shops, all filled with hand sewn items. I picked up a small hand bag as I’ve found all my pockets full of various items accumulated walking around all day when I travel.

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Our new friends were in route to a futbol game so we parted ways but promised to meet up later that evening for beers. We wandered back to the cathedral, the plaza de armas. There we watched a local symphony play against street performers. They did what they could during the quiet sections as the ever present boom box pumped out beats. The scene was an interesting mash up of strings in one ear, bass in the other, which we could only endure for so long. Plus there were many older people around trying to watch the symphony so we gave up our seats to them and moved on.

My friends communicated used a voice mail like system, speaking in rapid Spanish or Portuguese to each other in different countries. My friend received a message to meet later at a real British style pub a couple blocks in the other direction from our hostel. It was pretty authentic pub, nearly everything on draught was English, but they still had a fair selection of Mexican beers. When traveling, I enjoy tasting local beers to gain an idea of local flavors. In this part of México it seemed darker, amber ales were more prevalent than the lighter pilsners. Surprisingly I saw Corona everywhere whilst in Mexico and for some reason I thought it was a US beer they just built a brewery in Mexico just so they could label it as an import. Corona was everywhere the difference here was I saw it quart sizes usually, they drank quantity down here.

We drank many beers, even my friends who normally don’t drink had a couple. We soon wound up at a place that had Mexican schwarma! It was exactly as I’d seen in Europe: a large leg of beef or pork was slowly spinning around heat making a crust on the meat. We each ordered a plate mixed with vegetables, I elected to get cheese on mine. This would be the only thing I ate with cheese during the whole trip. You can get just a cheese taco, quesadilla, but cheese isn’t seen as a topping, more of a main ingredient. Aside from the torta I ate earlier in the day, this was the best thing I ate in Mexico. It was a perfect end to a very long day as we staggered back to the hostel, full of beer, schwarma and joy.

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Trip to Mexico Dia 3 Boats, buses and Estadio Azteca futbol

This trip occurred in 2014. I had written these posts a long time ago on a different computer which I just gained access to again.  I hope you enjoy Mexico as much as we did. It is a wonderful place to visit and live. 

 

It was nice to develop a bit of a routine on vacation. The view from the balcony was a great way to start the day, as was the delicious eggs and beans they served. I’ve become more grateful for good coffee because most of the time on the road, you drank instant coffee or cheap, Robusta coffee, which is bitter. Most places had milk so I was able to improve the taste, but it wasn’t like what you get from a coffee shop back home. Just about all the coffee you drink in the US is Arabica beans, which are naturally sweeter. They probably should just serve Robusta coffee due to how much milk, cream and sugar most people add.

 

We agreed to check out boat rides on the advice of friends. It took about an hour and two trains to get far enough south to the canals. The specific district was named Xochimilco and they had gondola style boats to take you through the waters to see small islands. People apparently lived on small parcels of land in the middle of these canals and some had decorated their land exotically.

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If you’ve ever heard or seen pics of doll island, this is where we were heading. Some guy had hung hundreds of plastic, baby parts all over his land, giving an already creepy area a near hell like status. We all noticed this area felt a lot different than the City. Much smaller, a bit less people and we stuck out as tourist a lot more. We found the launching pad for the boats and discovered that all were available, no one had rented a boat yet so we’d be the only ones out on the water. Also no one would know we went out at all except the couple guys milling around the dock, drinking beers. After discussing with locals the logistics and cost, we all felt significantly spooked to forget the whole affair. It wasn’t tourist season, they explained but they had one guy that would take us out. Would he take us back is what we all wondered.

We got out where we switched trains, it was hard not to notice the immense futbol stadium, Estadio Azteca from the window. I’d never seen a live futbol match and had heard how crazy but fun they were. We investigated and were subjected to many scalpers the entire way to the ticket counter. The match was later in the early evening so we had several hours to kill. We picked up tickets and headed back to the train. We had another top site to see, El Angel, and it was closer to where we were at now vs. Zocolo.

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This stature was the symbol for Mexico City and appeared on TV shows and other programs to indicate where they took place. The statue itself is a tall column with an angel on top, rising up in the middle of a huge four way intersection downtown. Crossing the street to get to El Angel is not for the slow or faint of heart, cars are constantly whizzing by from all directions and traffic signals are a suggestion at best. You just saw an opening and ran for it. You can walk around and through the base. I learned that tickets were available to enter all the way to the top of the statue. A special pass and permission from the police was needed so we weren’t able to see the view.

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We continued walking, ultimately to another train station, but with the goal of seeing things along the route. We took a break inside a wonderful park. Trees, futbol, and food were all around our table as were what seemed to be a gallon bottle of Coke at another family’s picnic. Further up a steep roadway was a castle that now housed the City’s history museum. Chapultepec Castle was its name, but they charged admission for a tour. We didn’t think we’d have enough time to see the castle, eat and train back in time for the game. A wise choice we realized upon arriving at the train station. Every car was packed and we had to wait for a couple trains before we could board. It was shoulder to shoulder all around, adding extra heat to an already hot environment. It seems the heat got to one person as the train sat a long time at the station. A police officer showed up and side carried a guy who had passed out off the train. I’d say we sat on that car sweating for about 20 minutes before I realized what was going on.

On the train to the stadium, I was near a young girl who put on makeup the entire ride. In the time I boarded to the time we got out at the stadium she went from a little girl to woman. I wasn’t sure what her profession was, it could have been anything as most products are pitched by women, seductively dressed in short, short skirts and full make up. Didn’t matter what it was, phones, gum, trinkets, they all used females as saleswomen. Many guys would stop and talk, maybe some would buy but these ladies dressed to receive your attention. I sure hope she was just selling something safe, like phone plans.

They take tailgating to another level in México! Hundreds of people milled around out front of the stadium grilling meats and corn, selling beer and playing carney style games. We stood and watched while we waited in the security line to get inside. I noticed they made everyone raised their hands and patted everyone down, searched purses and confiscated items. I saw several guys’ belts taken, likely due to their big buckles, but they let me keep mine. We kept walking around and around, up and up, on a concrete ramp until we were at the top level where our seats were. Stepping out into the arena was a sight I’ll never forget. I’ve never seen so many people inside one place and the noise, my god it’s the loudest thing I’ll ever hear! Thousands of people cheering and singing different songs at the same time at the top of their voices, a band played along with both. Sheer cacophony!

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We made our way to our seats, in a not too crowded section, there were a few empty seats around us, making getting in and out much easier. The game was already underway, as was drinking. There didn’t seem to be any limit on beers, so long as you could physically say what you wanted, they sold you a beer. I bought one and settled in to watch the spectacle unfold. The premium box seats were at either goal and surrounded by a chain link fence. In fact, chain link fences were all over the stadium. It separated sections and fans of different teams. These games were not for sitting in the opposing teams section, they would probably beat you up or physically remove you. The air was thick with tension, that was for sure. Behind each goal was a section just for police in riot gear. Surrounding the ledges on most sections were more riot police, with shields and batons. The home team was called the Americas.

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Things were going well during the first half, but it was 0-0. During halftime some very loud, drunk guys behind us began walking around to others in our section. They chanted a lot. I wasn’t sure what was going on, so I hoped they were just singing special fight songs. I decided to turn my attention to the cavalcade of people parading onto the field.

They turned the goals into breadboxes to advertise a bread company, many banners and other sponsor swag was on display. I couldn’t believe there was a way to get more ads at a sporting event, but yet here it was. Everywhere you cared to look had an ad for something on it. What’s this, a couple guys were walking down seats into my area. They said in broken English, ‘drink cup,’ and preceded to hand a cup with a hole in the bottom. My friend translated they wanted me to chug beer from their cup. I put the cup with a hole to my lips, mind you they’d been going around to other guys for awhile so my lips weren’t the only ones to have been here, and poured beer rapidly into the cup. I chugged as fast as I could but didn’t fully get it all down, a bit dribbled onto my beard and shirt. Everyone around me cheered! I was relived and humbled, most people are friendly if you give them a chance, and I wish more people, including myself at times, realized this.

Things intensified on the field after the halftime break. The Americas fans chanted ‘puuuuuuuuuto,’ whenever the opposing team’s goalie kicked the ball. They were calling him a pussy, thousands of people, kids, everyone. After a bit I noticed a commotion behind the goal. Several people were yelling down to another section. I saw beers fly, well I hoped it was beer, more than likely it was pee in a cup, raining down onto most people in the lower section. A man tentatively scaled the chain link fence but didn’t make it all the way to do anything, just yelled up at them. Surprisingly, no one intervened.

The Americas scored the lone goal of the game to win and the place erupted with cheers.

We rushed out as soon as the game ended though a lot of people didn’t move. Once we made it outside the stadium, the reality of the situation was driven home. Several police surrounded a bloody headed guy, his arms behind his back. They made it to some stairs and he took a deliberate tumble down them. For sure, if you were arrested for intoxication, fighting, the police here ensured you felt your mistake physically. A bit later we saw another guy get batoned to the ground, not sure why. I began to worry about the train situation. How long would we have to wait, there were thousands of people? Luck was again with us as we didn’t even break stride and walked onto an express train that would take us towards Zocolo. I felt a great relief as the doors closed and we pulled away from the chaotic scene at the stadium.

It was quite the end to a great stay in the City. We had decided to split up our trip between Mexico City and Guadalajara, the most time spent in the City, three days, four nights. Our flight was very early and we had to leave even earlier to catch the train to the airport. That was the rub, car traffic was unknown. The train left very early, but its arrival time was much more accurate. I was as happy and as tired as could be when I laid down onto the top bunk that night. I’d survived and had a great time in Mexico City, a place several people discouraged me from visiting due to the violence. I felt that danger is everywhere, in whatever city you live in, there is somewhere that you could get shot, stabbed or kidnapped. I figured if any of these happened, doing it experience a new city is the best place for it vs. just making a wrong turn into a seedy area at home.

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Trip to Mexico Dia 2 Pyramids, cathedrals y luchadores

This trip occurred in 2014. I had written these posts a long time ago on a different computer which I just gained access to again.  I hope you enjoy Mexico as much as we did. It is a wonderful place to visit and live. 

 

 

We woke up and took turns getting ready. I was the late sleeper on this trip, but not by too much. My friend usually woke me up before he showered so I had enough time to prepare to follow after he finished. This way by the time I was back to the dorm, they were done getting ready since it took longer for two people, including a woman, to go through their morning routines. We walked up a spiral staircase to the rooftop breakfast buffet. You never knew what you’d get at these places, from free fruits and oatmeal to just pancakes. This place was buffet style, a tray of eggs, tray of mashed, black beans, fruit, yogurt and cereal. The beans were great; I had to try them even though I am usually not a bean fan. When you visit somewhere, you should eat what they eat and today it was beans. I poured myself a cup of very bitter coffee and added milk. We chatted about the day’s activities, while a cool breeze blew past us. I enjoy hostels, there is always a lot of travelers and they are generally very friendly. I’ve overheard plans being made after people met to hang out at each other’s home country.

Today we were going to the pyramids outside the city, Teotihuacan. We talked with the hostel desk clerk and he immediately told us which train stop to get out at, look for a specific bus, directions he likely told countless others. Our first stop was to get water for the day at 7-11. We ended up using the same liter bottles the whole stay in the City thanks to the hostel’s large water dispensers. We weren’t taking any chances drinking from water fountains or any faucet water. The Zocolo train stop was a couple blocks away and we were soon feeling the heat of the tunnels. Actually after watching some trains come into the station, I am not sure if they are really trains, the compartments were sitting on ten huge truck tires, so maybe this was more of a bus? At every train station, there was always a couple making out either at the platform or on the ride, sometimes both. I saw many same sex couples making out on trains, at the stations or just holding hands. No one gave any mind.

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We bought a full day pass to and from the pyramids, but when you buy a ticket on the bus, be prepared to stop. I’m still not sure how these buses work, we stopped at places there is no way marked as a bus stop, hell we stopped on a highway to pick up a guy. Seemed like if you were walking and waved to a bus, they would stop and then negotiate a fare based on where you were going, not necessarily the pyramids. We drove into the next district or municipality; drop off and pick up more people. Also boarding at every occasion were the snack vendors. Usually nuts, candies, and pastries were offered as the hawker walked the aisle front to back. Even on the trains, there was someone trying to sell you something.

The pyramids were 30 miles outside of the City so it took over an hour with all the stops. It reminded me a lot of all the small towns you’d drive through in west Texas, except they were all right next to each other here. We all departed the bus and walked quite a ways to enter the pyramids. We had to walk through the gift shop to enter the grounds, which also are very spread out. I believe its right around a mile from one end of the ruins to the other, lots of small stone structures dotted a very clear main path in the middle. To one side, there was an area that looked like a playing field of some sort as it was a large rectangle and what to me were dugouts on either side of the field for people to watch or wait to play. Sight line was at field level. Most structures were roped off so you couldn’t further damage them, the weather was doing a good job already. Lots of crumbling rocks, some places that no longer looked safe due to erosion, bore the age of this place. Still, you had to hand it to them, they built a large city with rocks thousands of years ago and it was still here. They created homemade concrete many centuries ago and it was still holding.

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The largest pyramid was scale-able, but the way up was stairs. Nearly 90° incline was negotiated aided by a chain. Many skipped this due to fear of falling and I wonder how many have taken a header on this steep climb. Once scaled, it was for sure worth the view of the grounds. Other than mountains, this was the highest place around so you could see a bit of the City in the distance as well as rest of the ruins and mountains. As I walked around many were short of breath and one woman barfed due to the steep climb up and smog. Or maybe she had eaten too much?

Walking around the ruins were hawkers of all sorts of souvenirs. Jewelry, candy, pottery, and jaguar growlers were sold at make shift stands or by people walking the ruins. The wood was intricately carved into the shape of a jaguar’s head; an open back was used to blow air into creating a rrraaaaaaarrrraaarrrr sound, like a jaguar. Of all the usual junk souvenirs I want to buy but don’t, not buying this one is a regret. I’ve never seen this instrument since and I can imagine the fun of playing it for people or scaring them a bit, hiding in the shadows. They even painted a jaguar face onto the front for extra jaguar.

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I fell asleep on the bus ride back, which took a lot longer than the ride to pyramids due to even more traffic and stops. The bus stopped several times on the highway, picking up and dropping people at random locations. I gather things were based on mileage and so long as the bus had an empty seat, they’d stop until it filled up. Our bus slowly crept along during the middle of the afternoon, it wasn’t even rush hour traffic, and this was just 2 o’clock in an overcrowded city. We wondered if we could just have the bus take us to our next destination!

We caught another train to the western part of the city. My travelers were Catholic and wanted to see another cathedral, or was it a basilica? Im not sure I know the difference between the two.

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We were headed to the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

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I was ok with it as churches are old, ornately decorated, full of locals and free. I am into all these things when traveling. Walking up to the doors, we saw a lot of people knee crawling their way to the cathedral. There are many whose feet have never touched the floor of this church as a lot of people would walk to the threshold, cross their hearts (hope to die) and fall to their knees for the rest of the service. They were in the middle of a small wedding, I think it was, and that’s when I looked at all the stained glass and statues. Now I really understood the image on the backs of trucks, tattoos and flags, it was Lady Guadalupe.

A long, winding flight of stairs outside the main cathedral lead you to small chapel. Wow, everything was so bloody here. Lots of blood streaking down Christ’s body, head, hands, side and feet. The place actually felt like a horror movie set, it was intense.

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I didn’t stay long inside, mainly due to the great view of the city just outside, but also due to the violent images. It was a long way up to the top and I noted that at nearly every level or floor, there was a food place of some sort or souvenir shop. The walk down was more pleasant, as it past flowing waterfalls and fountains with more statues of Guadalupe.

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We then made our way to a restaurant for tacos. The food here in the City was similar to US Mexican foods in some ways. They had tacos, beans and rice, but what they don’t do is add vegetables or cheese. All the tacos I had were as they were described: chicken, steak, pork in a corn tortilla, nothing else. No lettuce, tomato, onion or sour cream. They do not give you free chips and salsa, maybe pickled carrots, peppers. They love Coke in México so that’s always an option at meal time. All the other tables in the restaurant had many empty bottles and it seemed that most people just ordered two at a time they drank them so fast. I did see in some convenience stores, soda was poured into a baggie with a straw. The most popular choice for beverages was reusable bottles. You’d see stacks and stacks of red plastic crates full of bottles to be returned sitting out front of most restaurants.

I really wanted to catch a wrestling match while in town and luckily in the train station we found a computer room to research options. We asked the attendant if he was into wrestling and he knew of the arena that hosted events nightly. He may have confused our inquiry as we initially got out at another event complex hosting rock music in a not so good part of town based on his directions. I only say that as there were less people around and it was not well lit. We had to snake through an open market, sometimes walking on the street to pass by the vendors. Another train to a different part of town led us to a large complex that took up half of a block. Outside the arena were taco ladies and mask sellers. We procured tickets to the match and I picked up a very excellent luchadore mask that was basically a steer’s face with long horns jutting out of the top.

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The ticket prices were more expensive the closer to the mat you sat. We picked some seats on the 2nd level so we could see everything. On the far side of the arena was a long runway where each wrestler made a grand entrance with music and fireworks. It was a quite a spectacle as each luchador had their own personality and style that shown through. Not all of them wore masks, most didn’t wear them, to my surprise. Some smiled and high fived everyone, others were combative and flexed their muscles and middle fingers to boos from the crowd. The crowd also actually hissed at some of the wrestlers, mostly the female ones. They cheered the loudest for a large women with long, dark hair, dressed all in black. She sat on people and generally did whatever she could to perform moves that showcased her wide ass. Every event this night was tag team, from duos to quartets. All the matches followed the same format: each team took turns winning, each wrestler got about ten minutes of winning time where they showed off their moves. One of the teams would clearly be the most popular based on cheers and that was the team that won. It was a great time and took me back to watching wresting as a kid.

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We hustled to the train after the match as it was getting to be after 10. We popped into a store where I bought a couple beers and took them up to a balcony on a lower floor of the hostel. We talked a bit while a guy slept or was passed out on a chair on the other side of the balcony. We watched a drum circle with dancing happening below, near the cathedral. Mexico City was loud, there was always something going on, a parade, musicians playing, cars honking, ambulance sirens blaring. Nearly every car was blasting tunes, there were devices of all sizes and age in every store, too. People were out at all hours too, full families with kids in tow, all walking around the plazas at 11, midnight, usually eating ice cream without a care in the world, a smile on all their face.

 

After finishing my beer we all retired to our room and saw our roommate. We talked for awhile and heard his amazing travel stories. My friends were from Rio, which he had been multiple times so they had a lot to talk about the city and futbol. Our roommate was a futbol fanatic and had partied at most World Cups, including the one that had just happened in Rio. They talked about a couple parts of town that I would visit next year, unbeknownst to me at the time. This trip began  with talks of going to Rio to visit my friends’ family, but he couldn’t get enough time off. A 2 hour flight to México is much better at maximizing vacation time.

 

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Zocolo when I visited.

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Zocolo 2 days before visit. Read up on why they were protesting.

Trip to Mexico Dia 1 Dallas to Mexico City

This trip occurred in 2014. I had written these posts a long time ago on a different computer which I just gained access to again.  I hope you enjoy Mexico as much as we did. It is a wonderful place to visit and live. 

 

One of the strangest things about living in Texas is despite how strong the Mexican influence is, from food, fashion and holidays, most native Texans have little to no desire to visit the country. Ask anyone and they can surely direct you to the best taco or elotes spot in town or maybe where to pick up some tres leches cake, but to suggest trying these in Mexico, most everyone I told about my trip got a bit queasy. Talks of gangs, kidnapping and water quality issues were raised as reasons for their concern, but isn’t it true that I can drive to certain areas of Dallas where the same things could happen? Better to die traveling and exploring a new city I felt. I had two friends with me so it would be a bit harder to kidnap me or at least I would have witnesses.

The only issue for me was this trip’s early departure time coupled with a late night at work made for a rude awaking. My phone jarred me awake and I noticed that not only had I slept through my alarm twice, I’d missed calls, likely from the shuttle I’d arranged. I frantically ran out to see the blue shuttle waiting. I opened the door and apologized and was greeted with the best words:

Don’t worry about it. You are my only ride today, plus its Thanksgiving. Take your time,’ the driver told me.

Wow, did I need to hear this! Thanksgiving Day is the least crowded time I’ve ever seen both on the roads and at the airport, it was nearly deserted. At least I was able to sleep more and charge my phone with the extra time on my hands. Shuttle services schedule pickups too early, especially this ride as I was the only pick up with zero traffic, I had two full hours before boarding. I really do not like any part of the airplane boarding process. It is way too unknown and I wish it were more efficient, to the point where there is an ER line, should you find yourself near boarding time, but still have to navigate security.

I caught more shut eye on the brief flight south. What I didn’t realize is how close Mexico really is by plane. Maybe two hours in the air and we were in Mexico City. What is remarkable about the City is how massive it is, not large, massive. You hit the outskirts of the city minutes before you land, the entire time you see building after building, and the sprawl is miles in every direction. It’s not like some of the DFW sprawl, this is totally unbroken, downtown cramped, people living feet from each other level sprawl for miles and acres of land.

We had to go through a lot of security and it was then I realized how bad my knowledge of Spanish was. I speak a little Spanish, but not when spoken to me rapid fire that is the style of the locals. The guard switched to English after I answered incorrectly a couple times. He laughed and waved me through. We spied some money changers and I decided to go all in then and there to change my dollars to pesos. I didn’t think we’d get that much of a better rate in town; it was 4 to 1 conversion rate, so we were doing well already. I changed nearly the full amount of cash I brought, save $20, because you never know. As it would turn out, I still had pesos left over; it was very affordable in Mexico.

We had a moment to contemplate taking a bus or a taxi to our hostel. We had a lot of time before we could check in, plus we wanted to see the city so a bus it was. I think it cost maybe five pesos to ride, so maybe a dollar. We crept along on the narrow roads, speeding up and stopping, over and over, there was so much traffic. Also a lot more homeless, graffiti, pretty much amplify anything you see in any other downtown, x10. That is how much larger Mexico City is vs. just about any other big city you can name. NYC is dwarfed by Mexico City in terms of size.

We arrived to Zocolo, the part of the city we were staying near city centre. I had found a very cool hostel, Catedral, which was maybe a block away from the Metro Cathedral and Zocolo train station. We stopped into a 7-eleven and I picked up a Mexican beer. We were still bit early to check in so we walked around the blocks to check out what was in our neighborhood. Lots of small eating, drinking spots, and clothing booths were all around.

 

The hostel is five stories, a bar on the ground floor. The next floors were dorms and a rooftop bar & restaurant that had an amazing panoramic view of much of the City. It was a fine old building, most buildings around were over a hundred years old I’d say. Cranes dotted the areas that were further away. Modern structures mingled with older structures as far as the eye could see. I really enjoyed the view of the square, watching merchants selling, dancers, and people mingling, all unaware anyone was looking.

My friend I was with spoke Spanish and he handled the introduction with the desk clerk. We arrived around a shift change and the morning guy was not having it today. He was not about to check in anymore people, and he was eating, too. He told us to get a drink at the bar and to wait for the afternoon person. The afternoon guy was late, so I asked them to signal us when the guy arrived and grabbed a beer from the bar. After a beer, we were checked in and found our room. We took three out of the four beds in a mixed dorm so it was just like how it would have been at a hotel, but a lot cheaper and closer to city center. Inside we met our roommate, a Canadian, and selected our beds from the bunk options. He was in town for a month, following futbol with some friends. He was about to take a nap and we wanted to walk around some more so we parted company.

We were staying literally a block from the city center square, the square that had held thousands of pissed off protesters burning the president in effigy only days before. This protest was due to 40 students who had disappeared and local, state police where believed to have been involved with their disappearance. They wanted answers and nothing was coming. They wanted to trust their government, the police, someone who supposedly sworn to protect them, but wasn’t for sell. Drug gangs were also suspected and the police either helped them do it or let them get away with it. There were riot police all over the city, at all the busy traffic intersections. The few interactions we had with them asking for directions were all pleasant. It is a bit hard to laugh with someone with several guns strapped to their body, I can say that, but they did smile.

This was my first experience with heavily armed police, basically the military everywhere we went in the City. They had assault weapons, shields, tank like vehicles, and paddy wagons should they need to transport people away. They had to be ready, the various gangs around had guns, too, so it really did come down to who had the most might, the most fire power. Thinking on it now, a war is certainly a possibility. I do not know what keeps the peace, why they do not go after each other? I was also a bit surprised at how many women police there were and most of them were very pretty. All the police wore bulletproof vests; others also wore helmets with face guards or just a black military style hat and knee high boots.

We walked through the immense cathedral, taking it all in. We felt safe in the church, for sure nothing bad would go down there. One of the first things I noticed about Mexican cathedrals is how much more bloody the images of Christ are vs. US images. Lots of focus on the bleeding crown of thorns, more blooon the hands, wrists and feet. I think several statues and paintings were crying blood. They were taking more away from the suffering he had endured instead of say, love and community. I saw many people slowly making their way to the cathedral on their knees. Through pain there would be gain in the afterlife.

 

We then walked our way through the square, in the center stood a very tall flagpole, the red, white and green flag swaying and flapping in the wind. The flag and cathedral behind it was a powerful image so we took many pictures, as did many around us.

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Across the street from the square was the garment district. Every building had many small businesses each selling different clothes from dresses to suits, as well as yards of fabrics to make your own. Some stalls were not much larger than a closet, but each made full use of their space. They generally had items on their arms and showed them to passersby or they shouted their deals to anyone walking by in loud Spanish.

We then had to find our way through the immense traffic jam that was occurring out front of the garment stores. It wasn’t even five o’clock, after work time, it was middle of the day. It was chaos and I don’t know why they let cars drive through what is basically an outdoor market. There were certainly many more people on foot than in cars, trucks. We followed a larger group of people out, safety in numbers. A motorcycle would suddenly coast through, nearly hitting a car or pedestrian. Everyone seemed to have ear buds in their heads and seemed more concerned about other things than driving safely. Still, I never saw a wreck when in was in the City, traffic just worked out.

We walked west towards the sunset, hoping for a park or place that wasn’t surrounded by buildings. We walked through an entertainment district or maybe it was a just large boulevard as there were many people dressed up in costumes. Most were dressed as video game characters, like Mario Bros. or Tim Burton movies: Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland. People walked up and paid to take a picture with their favorite character. I presumed this was the street performers’ job? The costumes were spot on and very well made, nothing cheap here, they were movie ready quality.

We then bought some ice cream, which is everywhere in the City. Most of the times if you saw someone eating in public, they were eating ice cream. We located a park and watched the sun go down. Traffic was still backed up from rush hour, which at this point, they should just call it rush day. I don’t think it was ever low traffic when we were downtown. We heard some sounds in the distance as we finished our cones. Was that horns and voices? We turned follow the sounds, which was a great decision. We’d found mariachi plaza! About a dozen small mariachis in full dress milled about the square. All you had to do was talk to them, negotiate a song or two and pay a fee. The band leader would call the songs to the others, sometimes a brief huddle was in order to sort out unknown parts. To my untrained ear, it all sounded pretty much the same. Upbeat with lots of aaaaahhhhhhhs or somber and morose with mourning horns.

Next to the mariachi plaza was a food court. Small operations right next to each other serving sometimes the same foods, others specializing in unique foods. You would walk by a couple places selling meat tacos next to seafood options. The food stall line stretched a long ways and each person would smile and try to get you to buy their food. We walked the length of the place hoping to find something cool, but ended up eating at the first option, which was also the largest. The rational of our choice being that the food court owners hopefully would put the best option first. I ordered goat tacos so I could say I’d had them.

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Goat was on most menus that I saw, very common option in Mexico. It was very tasty, a pork/chicken like flavor and texture. The tacos here are just meat, you had to ask for onion and cilantro, but that would the only options they might have. On the table sat four bowls of salsas of all spice levels and colors. They varied in flavor and heat, but most of them were not spicy at all.

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We took in some more sites on the way back to our hostel. We stopped in at the hostel bar and I had a couple beers. My friends didn’t drink so we all talked with the bartenders and other workers milling about the bar. I tried some Spanish on them, they laughed. We all laughed a lot that night. Mexico City is a lot of fun.