Baseball Stadium trip Game 5- Wrigley Field Chicago Cubs

 It was an afternoon game so we didn’t really have to get there at noon, but we did. We had to walk around, had to take it in for as long as we could. This stadium had had so many great players on its field. They likely walked were we did at some point. We were a part of the history now, we had placed foot to concrete. We took a couple rounds the park walks to take it all in. the smells of grilled onions and brats, the hawkers selling peanuts, the random pre-game announcements. I broke away and called my dad as I was walking around. It was pretty emotional; we had tossed around a ball for years, now I was in one of the places it had all started! It’s a favorite moment to think back on, there were lots of pauses, we both likely teared up a bit. I composed myself enough to get a brat, eat it in the right field bleachers with a beer. That’s all I needed.

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We were front row bleachers that day and as we found out, you really want to be about three people in on the front rows. They have a security guys stand at certain markings so if you are first seat, first row, you have zero view. We found out just in time to get people to move over a bit but the security guy was indeed a dick about it. He wasn’t there to discuss this, you need to move over, my position is here. We felt he could lean on the other rail instead of directly in front of us, is all. A call out to the bleachers we found a bit of room, shove down, a bit more, ok! We caught a glimpse of Sammy Sosa who was on a hitting streak but was on the DL today. Toenail thing, a foul off the foot. It was yet another good day for baseball in Chicago.

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When leaving we got a Right Field Bleachers shirts and discovered we had been parked  in. We literally had to wait for someone to leave and even then, it was expert back and forth with some good fellows directing us outside. Surrounded by cars on all sides.

You guys are in the Cubs lot, they stay the whole game and then some! Yup most people may leave their cars overnight, too, yeah. Ha-ha’ he cackled.

We had to thank him profusely as he spent 5 min helping us get out. Back up an inch at a time, a few inches forward, then back… But on the other hand, he wasn’t doing much, that beer in his hand wasn’t going to drink itself, you know. He’s the man for that job.

We arrived in Oklahoma City about 7-8 am the next morning. We pulled into a truck stop for gas and encountered some ladies of the night, they were working the scene. They said hello first and asked where we were coming from, sort of gas filling up small talk that happens in smaller towns. Then one of them came out with it and asked if we are partying, if we want to party with them. Nah, pass on that. I don’t think they were too either way, pretty or ugly. It cannot say I’ve encountered prostitutes who propositioned me in a gas station before or since.

A short time later I was back in Denton’s warm embrace.

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Brazilian Adventure Day 7 Trip to faraway beach, caju fruit, stroll in outdoor mall, churrasqueria

My friend me woke me up with a plan. Put on your swim trunks and we will swim today and catch some sun! I was all in. Who wouldn’t want to swim in a promised cool beach in Brazil?! We drove probably an hour an a half south of the city. Everything just suddenly ended! The sprawl of building and concrete gave way to sand.

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I decided to let my friends swim first, I would go after they were done. My friend was so nice to let me come down, meet his family and stay at his house. I wanted him to have a lot of fun with his lady. I was the 3rd wheel so the more alone time they had, the more they would think of this as their trip.

I put headphones in and played Brazilian radio mix on my phone. I had about an hour of chilling alone time on a Brazilian beach, watching fine ladies swim and dude bobing and surfing in the water. Rough waves though. By the time I got in it was a no go. Just huge waves crashed down on me. It was really a game of do not drown in the part of the ocean.

Soon enough we all wound up on our towels, drying off and taking in the sun for about an hour. We hopped into the compact and away we headed towards a new part of town. We met his parents at a roadside bar. They brought cashew fruit! I couldn’t believe it and figured my friend had a hand in their fruit decision. There it was, a red fruit attached to a much larger cashew nut. My friend’s dad explained that you couldn’t eat this cashew nut yet. I paused chewing on the fruit but he said that part was totally safe. The cashew nut we eat is this seed roasted. You have to dry out and evaporate whatever is in the cashew nut that is bad for humans if eaten raw. In the span of 1 day I drank caju fruit juice and ate caju or cashew fruit.

We were heading towards my friends family apartment near a trendy part of town. I was in shock. They had so many houses and places to stay, why we could have easily stayed in a different part of town every night. Amazing. We decided to just park our car and walk the outdoor mall. We had about an hour or 2 before we met our friend for a night of meats.

The outdoor mall was great and pretty much like an American mall. Jewelry stores, a useless bong/weed trinket store, shoe stores, panda express, that sort of things were here in this mall, minus the ceiling. It was outside, very cool!

A hasty change in the apartment restrooms and I was ready for a night out! The plan was to drive over to true Brazilian steakhouse, a churrasqueria. Our friend was all smiles as we walked up. The place was named El Toro and it was full bull. I mean this was truly a house of meats! I’ve never eaten so much meat nor so much quality meats as at this place.

Pork steak chicken bacon organs all were served on long skewers and you had to wave them off to stop serving you. Hell even when I tried to wave them off they still shaved off some meat onto my plate. I think they really didn’t want me to have an empty plate. The salad bar was a vegetarians dream, the sides could have worked too if you didn’t care about butter. The mashed potatoes were yellow with butter and wonderful. A huge yet delicious and distinctly Brazilian dinner experience. It cost maybe 20$ and my plate was never empty, my glass never dry.

Next to the meat heaven was a skate park. I just walked over there and started watching. I had to see sk8rs. They are good in Rio, great tricks. My friends indicated they wanted to go to another bar a few miles away. We headed out and ran into parking issues again. Once we found spot we lasted 1 beer before the new friend that joined us got tired. I was ok with this, my belly full of meats.

To my surprise yet delight my friends said they wanted to grab a beach bev. We found a table at a bar on Ipanema Beach. On 1 side of the bar a guy was chopping coconuts by the order. My friends got one and this guy took a round or football shaped coconut down to just white rind and a straw hole in about a minute. Fast chops took off the rough husks, then a well placed strike for the straw hole. I bought a beer because I had the national beverage of Brazil already so I had to drink local brews.

To our left in the distance were the favelas, all lit up on the side of a mountain. Dots of fires lit the dark skies. The poorest of the poor had likely the best views of Rio, especially at night. These shanty towns were a huge squatters areas the whole side of a mountain to one side of Rio. Each neighborhood was owned by a local leader who made all the deals. Watch City of God to get an idea of what Rio favelas were really like. To my horror there were favela tours one could take. You could tour where people lived in abject deliberate poverty. Rio, Brazil could totally pay for and fix these areas. They could plug them into the existing city services, but they choose not to. No reals, no pipes.

I looked up to the favelas for a long while pondering what made us different, those up there and those down on the beach. What did it all mean? If you don’t have money are you are out of luck? Why can’t we find jobs and houses for everyone? If you live in a neighborhood, why not pay people to keep that part of their town trash free? The city could pay by the pound of trash turned in each day.

Heavy thoughts on our final night in Rio. Behind us were kids and adults playing soccer after midnight. Waves crashing, moon beaming, scaffolding going up. The next weekend was a huge beach concert. Over 1 million people were due to be on the beach for new years. Intense, i thought there were all ready too many on the beach and it was November, non tourist time!

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On the way to the faraway beach we stopped near the favelas to take some pics of the far side of the beach.
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Pretty much the ending shot in Fletch were he walks the beach with his new lady.

Brazilian Adventure Day 5 a dip in the ocean, Ipanema Beach views, gondola ride, caju

It was a cloudy overcast morning. I woke up and started coffee. A shower was in order in a very small bathroom. The shower was tiny for me just enough room to soap up. I had just bought some quick dry boxers so I was able to wash a pair with my daily shower and wear another pair. I draped the damp pair in an inconspicuous location in the restroom. I warned my friends that I had a drying pair but not to worry it had been washed with soap.

 

The plan was to hit the beach and then check out a nearby rock if the clouds cleared up. We had to wait it out, the forecast wasn’t accurate. I put on my swim trunks and sandles and we headed out. The sand and water were blocks away, a very short walk. I was the only one to swim today, it was a rather overcast and cool, not the ideal conditions to swim. Neither was the water as I found out. The waves in Rio are extreme, you cannot wade or bob in the water as I had been used to swimming in lakes or Gulf of Mexico. Here waves were always rolling in and over your head. You typically just ducked waves and swam around them as they crashed. I soon swam back to shore.

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My friend told me about one of these island only has poisonous snakes on it. There are so many scientist have never bothered to explore it.

After drying we walked over to the end of the beach, where there was a trail over the rocks. People had fishing lines in the water but I am not sure what one could catch here. There was a lot of graffiti on the rocks to my surprise. Kids are dumb all over, just tagging things that are best left untouched.

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After a hour on the rocks the clouds cleared up. We walked to the car and piled in. We zipped around a new part of town. When we parked, a guy standing around waved us in. My friend handed him a real note and we walked toward the gondolas. My friend explained that in this neighborhood it was that guy’s job as far as parking cars and ensuring no damage occurs while they are there. The question was is the damage caused by this guys’ neglect or does he bash up cars if you don’t pay him?

Before heading onto the gondolas my friends tell me they are hungry and want a snack. We enter a fruit joint where I see they have acai. This is a fruit I had only heard about due to my job. We had just rolled out an acai slurpee but I knew this wasn’t that fruits real flavor. I ordered a small bowl and was shocked when a huge cup overflowing with a dark purple semisoft mass was handed to me by the girl behind the counter. It was super delicious once I got a spoonful in me. After a few bites my friends told me I should get a caju juice to quench my thirst. After a couple of more spoonfuls of acai I was suddenly very thirsty. I got a caju juice and asked my friend what it was after I nearly sucked down my cup in 1 gulp.

its cashew juice. I grew up drinking it, it is all over Brazil. Haven’t you heard of it,’ my friend asked?

Wait a cashew is a fruit that you can get juice from?! I thought it was just a nut!

After my cashew revelation we boarded the gondola up the mountain which soon afforded us great views.

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I watched a plane land on this runway. I was properly terrified for the passengers and crew.

 

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After a couple of hours wandering the grounds of the mountain, we had to get back to town. Those parking spots filled up fast! We decided to take a walk down one of the main roads and would pop into a place to eat based on what looked good. I made the motion we stop by the apartment for a quick wardrobe change so the compact was navigated through the thick Rio traffic until we found a spot.

We walked about a mile before we found yup an all you can eat buffet! The lone difference worth noting was we were soon joined by an american girls basketball team. I knew this because they were all tall and fit ladies. It was so great dining on delicious Brazilian food with a view of pretty ladies. I don’t think my friends girlfriend liked the experience.

Back to the apartment and my friends wanted to stay in. I went out again but this night the whore bar was closed. I guess it wasn’t a 7 days a week spot. A couple of blocks and I found another huge outdoor seating bar. A venture in and I had a Brazilian set up at my tiny table: liter of beer in a cooled vessel and a glass cup. I scanned the tables and surrounding businesses. Yup that is a strip club next door. I was not tempted to enter. Those places are just tourist traps. They are in a tourist area, Ipanema. Everything is in English thus not for people from Rio. Its on a street corner. I figured I would people watch as they spilled out after a frustrating evening.

Litres came my way. I noted more than 1 table was engaged in chess. One guy made a hand signal to an apparent homeless guy who disappeared behind a building. The homeless guy returned with a pack of cigarettes. The chess player then motioned to the bar proprietor and a litre of beer was delivered to the homeless guy. Ah Ha so there were shops open late, you just had to know the person who knew where they were!

Across the street groups of guys went inside the strip club in joyous spirits only to exit 1-2 at a time, forlorn and dour. Without fail guys poured out of the club and would be in the midst of a yelling argument with a lady or the bouncer. The club knew what they were doing and would squeeze as much reals as possible from tourists, usually British, before ejecting them for some infraction. No refunds! I enjoyed my light Brazilian beers taking it all in.

I got another litre and soon smelled that smell while sitting at my table. I investigated. Sure enough 2 guys were passing a joint and I joined in. No sooner had I taken a couple of puffs and handed the joint back to one of the guys, an angry man announced himself. We were taken to task for being so brazen with our smoking. Kids may walk by or families! I chuckled due to the time, it was midnight, no families out. He was adamant, next time the police! I sauntered back to my litre.

It was a great night of drinking and people watching. I nearly stayed up all night! It was around 3am I had a notion of staying up to see the sun rise over the ocean. It was only the realization that the sun would come up away from the ocean that I made my way back to our apartment.

Tomorrow the Jesus!

Brazilian Adventure Day 4 Park walk, record store, back to Ipanema beach apartment, tourist bar

My friend and I decided after waking up we were very hungry so we headed off to a store my friend visited before school sometimes. On our drive I became aware that there were no stop signs nor yield signs. It was expected that everyone just slowed down at every intersection so they were slow enough to stop if they encountered another car or hit the gas once they saw it was clear. I didn’t see 1 wreck or damaged car on this entire trip so it seems this way worked.

It was a quick delicious breakfast, coffee and croissant. We were going to eat again soon so no reason to go all out and get some eggs or anything heavy. There were a lot of breads, pastries, cakes and pies in addition to hot savor foods. It wasn’t like any grocery store I’d seen before, it was like how I hoped grocery stores looked like. Why don’t grocery stores cook more fresh foods at cheaper cost than buying things raw or uncooked? I feel we should all shop at grocery stores for hot chickens, meats and basic things that most people eat. Why bake a chicken, have the grocery store rotisserie chicken. Doing things this way will lower the cost of meats, well that’s what should happen.

We were en route to a park my friend wanted his girlfriend to see. Sounds romantic so I opt to walk a ways towards a small shopping area and explain to them to just meet me over there whenever they are done. A quick search showed there was a pub, record store so I was set for a couple of hours. My 1st stop wound up being my only stop, at the record store! It was so cool and cozy, by which I mean small but had an excellent selection. It was a well curated shop in the parlance of our times. I soon came to the attention of an attractive lady who soon introduced herself as the owner.

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She was actually from Portugal or Spain and had come here chasing a boy and never left. We talked local tunes, what sorts of things should I buy to remind me of my trip. She said to be sure to buy the original version of The Girl from Ipanema by Antonio Jobim not the Stan Getz version. I soon knew I had to get something more substantial than a CD.

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I didn’t want to carry around a record for the rest of the trip as well as the long flight home. A t-shirt was the winner. Problem was this was Brazil, they are much smaller, mostly skinnier than those from the US. I was directed towards a nook of the store, a pull on a unnoticed knob a door opened up to a toilet-room. I mean literally when the door was closed there was enough room to sit at the toilet or look at the mirror. The sink was outside in the store. I pulled the shirt on and despite being at one of the lowest weights of my life a XL just barely fit. Satisfied I bought the shirt and postcard.

Near perfect timing on my part my friends had finished their walk through the park. I fully expected them to be engaged, I really felt like a 3rd wheel. We headed back to our side of town, I had my shirt ready to wear out that night. Tonight would be different, I determined as we passed the favelas. Tonight I would hit up the bigger bar on the beach. The bar in our building was cool but it was full of whores and no one would really talk to me like I had hoped. I wanted to talk to a local about Rio, about Brazil.

My friends turned in and I headed out. I was warned more than once to watch out for travestias, transvestites, men who looked and acted like women. No worries, I saw them before walking around the streets of the city. I wasn’t even thinking about talking to the female prostitutes that were in our very building, the ultimate in convinience. I guess I wanted to land a girl the old-fashioned way, to be interesting enough.

This bar was huge and to my surprise, ladies were on full display out front. I mean a literal line of women all wearing tight or very revealing dresses stood by the entrance. They purred right in your ear, they got right to your ear and purred like cat, man! 

” Oh baby I’m so horny, take me home papi!”

My god it was unsettling how obvious it was, just ass on display like a meat market. Oh well, something for everyone, my option this night was inside.

I located a chair near the bar and ordered a caipirinha a beverage my friends family said was a local option. It is a fruity drink made with cachaca raw sugar and lime. I would soon adopt this into my evening routine alternating between beer and a caipirinha. To my very fortunate surprise there was a live band playing all the Brazilian hits, bossa nova, reggaton, anything to get the crowd dance. I spied a very lovely waitress and kept watch as my seat was near the waitresses beverage station. She had long dark hair pulled back into a tight bun, I guess I was intrigued by just how long her hair really was, it was a large hair bun!

Soon the piano player singer made his way next to me. We struck up a conversation a fter I thanked him for playing, in Portuguese I might add. It took literally, actually a minute to type in ‘how to say thank you for playing good music in Portuguese. He smiled broadly and said

Obrigato. Where are you from? What are you drinking?’

‘I’m from Texas and I am having a beer. I do enjoy caipirinha.’ I replied.

‘My friend you do not have to pay for a caipirinha anymore. Hahah, I live in this place, they give me as many as I drink. I drink a lot, lot. Many many cachaca! Let’s drink one now! Haha

This dude laughed at so many things, he had a permanent grin on his face. We sat and drank a shot of cachaca as well as a caipirinha. He had to go back on stage but he returned afterwards. I alternated beer and caipirinha going outside to take in the ocean breeze and people watch. The traviestas were painfully obvious. Like 1 step away from a bearded guy in a dress, just way too manly to be dressed like that. I went back inside once I encountered someone who insisted on trying to get me to go home with them.

I really liked this place, but soon determined the food was way overpriced yet affordable from my perspective. It was a good option so long as you drank there. The food was around 15$ a plate which was expensive for Rio. My caipirinhas were maybe 3$, for sure my tabs here were significantly cheaper than Dallas. Plus I didn’t have to pay whenever my band leader friend was with me. It was a night full of win at the beach bar in Ipanema!

Brazilian Adventure- Day 1 DFW to Rio de Jenerio, Brazil, Ipanema, liters of cerveja

This trip occured in November 2015.

 

Best day to travel is Thanksgiving Day. Zero traffic (most people are at home or waiting in line at a store) and hardly anyone at the airport either. I learned about this one year when my family went to Bermuda for my mom’s birthday. Sometimes it is hard going without turkey and the usual sides, but that just gives you a reason to make a turkey day spread another time.

I was going on this trip with a work friend who was from Brazil. This was his one trip back home for the year, his parents fly to visit him so they rarely went six months without a week or 2 of family time. Joining him was his girlfriend. This was her first big trip outside the US, as it was my 1st trip to S. America,

My itinerary I soon realized was insanely put together as it involved an airport change in New York City. I had figured out there was a bus twice an hour between these airports, but as I strode outside the door, I saw it pull away. I had maybe an hour before my international flight and this was NYC, a city known for traffic. Facing the reality of the situation, I hailed what would be a $40 cab ride. I arrived about 20 minutes to spare. I am not sure if that was any better than my friends 6 hour layover. Why do airlines do this to their customers? These are not cheap tickets either so where is that money going? I also foolishly called to see if I could use my air miles to upgrade to business class. To upgrade my coach seat cost full fare, same cost as my seat! Business class is more expensive than a five-star hotel room.

I texted my friends  after passing security and met up at a bar near the terminal where we spent a few moments talking. I had a beer and then ordered another when they called for boarding. I chugged my beer in several big gulps and walked to the restroom. Best thing I could tell anyone is to use the restroom before you get on a plane, no matter how long the flight. Sliding by people, bumping people walking the aisle, plus that tiny airplane water closet are all the reasons you need to take a trip the loo before you board.

I got a window seat next to 2 brothers in their early 20’s. They introduced themselves to me via handing me a can of Pringle’s. I happily poured a few into my hand and we began talking. They were with a church group, missionaries in a new land spreading the word. They had also taken trips to the Philippines, but this was their firs to Brazil. The family decided to make these mission trips their yearly family vacation. It was a bit cheaper to travel in a group, and they got a place to stay at one of the structures these groups built. They went primarily to rural locations as they were usually a bit safer than in big cities. Of course, being eaten by a bear or something was a very real possibly.

We all settled in and I turned on the TV located in the back headrest in front of me. They have so many movies on planes, it is great, new movies too. I was in the middle of a good one when I realized it was lights out and my two seat neighbors were both fast asleep. What to do? Do I elbow them; try to hop over and between them? I asked this question the entire 9 hour flight as a alternated between naps and movies. I think I watched three on the way down. For sure I saw Ant Man. Finally the sun peaked out and they stirred. I faked yawned and tapped the guy next to me on the shoulder. I have to say this was by far the longest I’ve ever gone without peeing. Next time I am elbowing my neighbor, I was likely harming my body.

We walked down a long hall and were separated by those with Brazil or US passports. The Brazilian line had the most people checking passports so it was faster. Once they finished, they cleared through the US line as there were 15 agents. I joined my friends when I realized it didn’t matter which line so long as you went through and learned how to say thank you in Portuguese, ‘Obrigato.’ I tried this out after a brief interaction with the passport official, a very pretty, dark-haired lady. We were in Brasil!

We walked quite a ways before finding his family near a parking garage. We split up into two cars, his parents and girlfriend in one, his brother and I in another. I soon learned his brother was a very smart guy with several degrees. He was working on a law degree and worked at the Brazilian Mint. He was helpful pointing out different areas and scenic vistas. We snaked around the city en route to our apartment near Ipanema, the famous beach and neighborhood.

We had lucked out and a friend lent us her apartment while she was away visiting her family. I learned that owning multiple apartments was very common here, usually one residence was near a beach and was for the weekend trips. They have their main house in town close to work. My friends family had sevearl residences I would discover, a new place each day. I also learned in Brasil they do not use z, it was spelled Brasil everywhere. I was also able to figure out they typically replaced a z with a j, as in cerveja vs. cerveza.

We arrived to our part of town blocks from the beach where I was told that parking is very hard. We drove around and around before locating a spot. His parents had brought groceries and we packed everything into a fridge. His mom cut up guava for us to eat. It would turn out that every time I saw his parents, they had a new fruit for us. They are great people, fruit bearers!

We walked out to a mall to do a bit of shopping but mainly eat. Just about everywhere we would eat would be buffet style. Everything was weighed and you paid by the ounce each time, a lady would take your check and add the new weights each food trip. These buffets are a great way to try a lot of different foods. Many types of rice and beans, meats, chicken, salads and lots of fruit were at each spot. It all tasted great, but I had no idea what each thing was until I sat down. My friends would fill me in on each item. They all spoke rapidly in Portuguese, catching up, occasionally pointing out someone passing by or the next activity planned. I couldn’t keep up with how fast they talked but it was in a halting, cadence. Very fast clipped words, pause, a word or two, pause, ciao.

We walked around the mall for a bit. It was pretty much like any US mall I’d been to. Clothing stores, shoe stores, food court, music shop. We walked back to the apartment, through a narrow bridge, cars and buses flew by, a bit too close. It was a hot day in the city. I found I usually broke a sweat if I was outdoors. Back at the apartment my friends’ dad showed me a piece of paper and explained the conversion ratio. He picked the high and low and agreed to give me the middle rate between the two so I wouldn’t have to go to a money changer. I readily agreed and we exchanged dollars for Brasilian reals. The money was very ornate and featured animals found in Brasil’s rainforest such as a sea turtle, monkey and bird. We again had a favorable exchange rate, but not like when we were in Mexico, here 1 real equaled, 25¢. 4-1 conversion in our favor, always a good thing.

My friends’ family left after eating some more fruit at our apartment. We decided to walk the beach, see how the area would look at night. It was about three blocks to the beach; this apartment was close to the action! I spied a large bar that I thought about checking out later that night. The night beach scene was always the same: buskers singing songs, people playing futbol or volleyball, couples making out or holding hands as they walked. Nearly everyone was in a bikini or speedo, no matter their fitness level. Brave people, they let literally everything hang out and it didn’t seem to matter.

We returned from our walk and my friends decided to retire early. The apartment wasn’t large, only one room with a bed and big window. I slept on the pullout sofa in the receiving/living room. In-between the master bedroom was a shelf with a TV that we only occasionally turned on. I didn’t hear anything from my friends the entire trip; I hope I didn’t bother them with my late night comings and goings.

On our way back to the apartment I’d saw a small bar that previously wasn’t there. On the ground floor of our apartment building, directly below our window was a tire changing place. The spot next to this was closed during the day with metal doors, opened at around ten every night as a bar. A very small bar, maybe six seats at the inside bar, out front were four tables. If you indicated you wanted to sit, a lady brought out a chair. This place was run totally by one pretty lady with long black hair. She retrieved liter bottles of beer, Antarctica, and served them with a small glass cup, holding maybe eight ounces. The tall bottles of beer were nestled within a chilled vessel that perspired leaving a small pool on the table. Drink pour drink pour until you finished your liter.

There were several couples out front, laughing, smoking, and dancing with each other, by themselves or passersby’s. The music was provided by a nearby video on demand TV. You gave the lady a few real, scrolled through a sizable list of videos and she would play whatever you wanted. I was tired but it was the too tired to sleep excited tired. I wanted, needed to sleep but I knew I would just lay there, thinking about what had just happened, what I was going to do for the week. I had to totally unplug and best way to do that was to sit and have a beer. When you purchased something here they told you the total in Portuguese and showed you a calculator so you always knew how much everything cost.

I returned to my seat and ordered another liter of Antarctica beer. I watched the ladies dance while I drank, pouring cup after cup. I caught the moon in-between buildings and smiled. I’d wanted to visit Rio since seeing Fletch with prime Chevy Chase, specifically the end scene of him walking with his new lady on the very same beach I was now mere blocks from. I finished my liter and paid my tab. I was immediately stopped by one of the pretty ladies who asked me if I spoke American. I did and she took me into her arms.

I have a place nearby, with marijuana and good times, let’s go!’ she purred.

Well damnation I was hanging out at a prostitute bar! The ladies had rooms in the building as they needed a place to take their clients after meeting them at bar downstairs. I smiled at her and thanked her for her offer but I had to decline. I would be back I told her, maybe later that week. She hugged me and I walked away. Just about as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was fast asleep.

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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.