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 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.

Dream trip Day 80 Krakus Mound, taco Tuesday, late night

Woke up to a break in the rain which meant I could explore a bit during the day.

My friend had pierogi he bought from a small shop nearby and encouraged me to eat them soon as they are fresh, no preservatives.

To heat them, drop in boiling water for 1-2 minutes.

It was my first encounter with sweet pierogi, too. These had blueberries inside a wonderful doughy shell. Delicious!

Plus, these were much larger than I had seen before, probably close to fist sized dumplings so 2 was enough to get the day started.

He had also picked up gołąbki or cabbage rolls filled with minced pork and rice. All hand-made in a small store a short walk away. I was going to eat like a local!

Once I was outside the apartment, I crossed the Vistula River via bridge which lead to a small business district that had  food options as well as a tailor shop.

There was definitely a lot older professions like cobblers, tailors, woodworkers in this country than the US.

EU and UK seem much more attached to repairing worn out or older items vs US. Seems like I recall just donating broken things but here they had specialist for whatever needed fixing.

I soon entered a large forest, park area as I began to walk uphill.

Park was very lush, green and welcoming. It was very close to downtown too.

I wound my way through a residential area next to the park and heard car noises. A highway blocked my path.

I followed a very cool spray-painted wall until I arrived to the pedestrian bridge over the busy highway below.

Off in the distance, I saw tall smokestacks next to what I presumed were nuclear power coolers. Both billowed white smoke, I hoped it was steam.

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Further research revealed this was the Krakow CHP Coal Power Plant. It was disarmingly close to the city, I felt.

Such a juxtaposition: to the south, a beautiful park. To the east: a coal-burning plant.

After the pedestrian bridge, I passed through a gravel road that surely homeless and teenagers drank at due to all the empties littering the ground. Very sad to see what could be a nice area destroyed by people.

I began to encounter a lot of other people so I knew the mound was near. After passing through a canopy of trees, the path opened up and I saw the tall, looming mound directly ahead of me.

The way up to the top of the mound was via a dirt path that wrapped around the mound slowly ascending up.

Once ascended to the top, there was a wonderful view of Krakow.

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To the south was an abandoned salt mine.

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I made my way back to the area around my friend’s apartment. It was Tuesday and to my surprise, Taco Tuesday is very much a thing in Poland!

My friend’s co-workers went out for tacos every week to a Mexican style restaurant a few blocks away in the Kazimierz district.

A short walk through shops and restaurants I arrived at the place. I knew it would be a good meal based on the large tequila selection behind the bar.

The table was full of people who made room for me across from my friend Chris. Beer, tacos and margaritas were soon ordered and conversation began.

I was seated next to a Spanish guy and Polish girl. We took turns asking about Spain, Poland and EU from each other, trying to learn about things to do and see.

My pastor tacos arrived and I was pleasantly surprised, they were very good. This coming from eating tacos since I was a kid.

The main difference is that these were fancy tacos, not street tacos, so they had large chunks of avocado and sour cream.

Talk soon turned to a venue change. There was a Spanish match on so we followed our friends to a small pub that had wall sized screen.

My friend had to duck out early as he had an early flight to Paris, which is really the best excuse.

Friendly bets were made between co-workers over beers as the match began.

I chatted up a guy from the Netherlands as well as continuing to talk to the quiet Polish girl with short hair.

She slowly came out of her shell after each beer. I thought she was intriguing, meaning she may not be the first girl you’d notice in a place, but she was pretty and most importantly, interesting to talk to.

Soon cheers rang out and shots arrived. The loser wound up buying shots for everyone.

We continued our evening at a diner bar, Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa. I was convinced I’d see the Fonz or a couple slurping a milkshake with 2 straws here it was fairly authentic.

This place is more a shot bar, cheap too, maybe a dollar per shot.

Our group order a tray and then another. I opted for their only draft beer.

During the evening I found myself at the center of attention as my Dutch friend and Polish girl were on either side of me slowly stroking my beard.

Just ask if you can do that, don’t just put your fingers in someone’s beard or hair without permission, I was taken aback by the attention.

I soon realized that I’d have to find my way home and by the jolliness of my companions, they weren’t leaving anytime soon.

I bade goodbye to my new friends and began walking in the direction I thought my apartment would be in.

Luck was on my side as I found the road I knew just as it began to sprinkle rain.

It was full on rain as I turned the corner to my apartment after about a 20 minute walk.

Glad I decided to not have 1 more beer for many reasons.

Great night out in Krakow!

Beer: Warka

Song: Chopin  Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9, No. 2

 

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Dream trip Day 42   Barna, Churches, mercado, tacos

At our apartment I find there is only instant coffee, plus a water boiler. I decide to give it a go.

It’s not bad, not good either, I find adding a spoon of sugar helps. Instant coffee definitely has a kick to it and I’m buzzing, ready to go.

Near Arc de Triumph we stumble on a taco joint and decide to try it.

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Spanish food is very different from Mexican food. Tacos are not a thing here it is mostly rice dishes paella or chicken on rice.

This place cranks out an amazing amount of tacos quickly and all were very tasty too, made by one dude in the back.

They have 5 sauce bottles from mild to very hot on the tables, plus #6 which you must ask for as its supposed to be insane hot.

It’s a bit spicy but not bad, maybe a bit of habanero, just not an eye watering amount like you’re lead to believe as it’s behind the counter.

We are in search of a gothic cathedral Jeremy wants to tour so we walk through narrow streets in the Gothic part of Barcelona and soon locate it.

There are always buskers playing guitar or accordion out front of these cathedral, also bubble men: guys with ropes and dish soap creating large bubbles to pop to the delight of children and annoyance of adults without kids.

Si and I wait out front and eventually grab a beer whilst Jeremy tours.

We are near a main walking route and are hounded by beggars. Please, por favor, American! Un poco?’

So many beggars you just don’t know what to do or say. The hardest to deal with are older ladies who just stick out their hand and wait. Sometimes they walk into you so you have to stop and they wait, saying nothing, hand outstretched.

We find Jeremy out front and head over to a Picasso museum close by.

On the way we spy another mercado, this is where Si and I will check out whilst Jeremy views art.

It’s a small mercado, nothing comparable to the huge Valencia one or the packed Madrid mercado.

We get a fresh juice, I chose strawberry, and it’s sweet and satisfying.

After walking a bit we sit down at a small tapas place. Couple beers, couple snacks, nice breeze.

An argument occurs near us between a couple buskers, very loud, to the point I feel a fight will happen. They take their music turf seriously over here, certain restaurants are moneymakers it seems.

Jeremy joins us and we have another beer and plot the evening.

I spy a table full of Asians, one has a bag and is distributing individually wrapped chicken wings to her friends. The package is clearly from an Asian market and it makes me wonder how is the chicken not spoiled? What sort of Asian magic makes long ago cooked, room temp wings edible?

We decide to head back to the apt, I feel an instant coffee is needed for the evening.

It’s time to visit La Rambla street, a long road that leads to the port.

Out host warned us upon check in to watch our pockets and front, it’s full of hookers and pickpockets.

A short metro and we soon find a big road that opens up and splits, one way traffic on each side and large walkway in the middle with restaurants

We are starving at this point as Bfest was hours ago and only coffee and a croissant.

It’s close to game time, only 1 night game now that opening round is over. We have to pick something quick.

A diner is chosen as it’s the only one with a TV and table open.

Tapas for me, pizza for Jeremy as it’s an Italian joint.

Rather expensive meatballs, but pretty tasty.

Now the games are less interesting as teams, defense are better so usually 1 goal or shootout is decider.

We stroll down La Rambla in search of a pub, but only find whores, very aggressive ones at that who grab at you but clearly are in search of your wallet.

The road turns into a port so we have found the ocean again.

A lighthouse is shining towards the sea, even after all these years, that’s the best way to alert ships of land.

An Irish pub is found and pints are procured.

Another singer guitarist is playing multi song medleys to the delight of the crowd while we have pints.

The metro stops running at midnight but our host told us that taxis are cheap and they do not charge extra per person thus making a ride cost about as much as the metro when split 3 ways.

It’s late and there are all sorts of loud, wasted people all over the street, it begins to feel dangerous.

There is a long queue of people at a busy intersection so we get in line as taxis swoop in taking people away.

Sure enough it works out to €2 per person, a bit less than a ride on metro.

Another groc store is found and supplies are procured, ham flavored chips only sound like a good idea, I can attest. Just buy real ham, especially if you’re in Spain, ham country.

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Beer: Murphy’s Irish Red
Song: Hitabaldääs   Towards the Black Hole (Sau Poler remix)