Sigh. I have totally lost interest in my blog. I haven't got the strength to keep it up. It was a fun thing to do during the winter when I didn't have much to do. But now I have other things to keep me busy, so I am going to put it on hold for a while. Thanks for all of your visits and your comments, I really enjoyed them!
Friday, March 16, 2007
Sigh. I have totally lost interest in my blog. I haven't got the strength to keep it up. It was a fun thing to do during the winter when I didn't have much to do. But now I have other things to keep me busy, so I am going to put it on hold for a while. Thanks for all of your visits and your comments, I really enjoyed them!
Monday, March 12, 2007
The first day of the tour we went to the two pyramids of the Sun and the Moon at Teotihuacán, the first city established in the Americas and the beginning of Mexican civilisation, home to 250,000 people back in it's day. The Aztecs rediscovered the ruins and believed the structures lining the Calzada de los Muertos, or Avenue of the Dead, to be tombs, but in fact they were residences of the elite. There were other areas designated to artisans, merchants, and labourers.
My roommate climbing the Temple of the Moon
The pyramids there are the second tallest in the world, after Egypt’s. The Temple of the Sun is 222m by 70 m, with 248 steps, and built in 100 AD from 3 million tonnes of stone, brick, and rubble, without the use of pack animals, metal, or the wheel. So we walked to the top of both of them. They actually don’t know much about the history behind the pyramids so all they could tell us were theories. The entire complex was burnt sometime in the seventh century AD, possibly looted, and then completely abandoned before being rediscovered by the Aztecs.
The Temple of the Sun
They were completely buried over by river soil and vegetation before they were rediscovered again in modern times. The president at the time of the latest rediscovery wanted to get them cleaned up and excavated for the Mexican Centennial celebrations and the archaeologists were falling behind schedule. So he told them, I don’t care what means you use, get those things cleaned in time for the celebrations. So amazingly for archaeologists, they used dynamite and blew up the top part of the temple of the sun. Amazing that people would be so destructive to their own national archaeological treasures. Then they get all annoyed that there are pieces of their history held in museums around the world rather than displayed in Mexico. But what the heck, if they are going to blow up their own stuff and allow the remainder to get stolen by their own citizens for their private collections, then perhaps the French and the Germans ought to look after it for them until they can demonstrate that they are responsible enough to mind them themselves.
On the way to the pyramids we stopped at the cathedral of Guadalupe (where I picked up the annoying habit of saying constantly, wadda, wadda… wadda lupe!!), built on the site where the peasant Juan Diego had a vision of the virgin on Dec 9th, 1531. The church wasn’t particularly interesting to me, I don’t like Mexican churches, they all look tacky and cheap (the new thing is neon signs on the altar). It’s amazing how much blood they depict in the images of Jesus, he is dripping with the stuff and it’s all very gory and he looks like a victim of a spectacular axe murder horror flick. Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico and people travel from all over the country to worship at this church. It is specially designed so that the giant cross above the altar extends to a lower level room below the level where the services are held, so that the masses can get as close to the cross as possible without interrupting a service. To maintain the flow of traffic they have installed a moving sidewalk to take the pilgrims across the foot of the cross and then another moving sidewalk back again, so they can do two laps and get funnelled back out again. The person designing the walkway asked the architect how long and fast the walkway should run, and he said, enough so that a person can do one Hail Mary each way. Never seen anything like it.
We passed by Tlatelolco, where around 400 students were massacred by police during a student demonstration just before the Olympics held in Mexico City in 1968. Not only did they fire onto the unarmed students in the plaza, they also took up positions in the surrounding buildings and sniped down onto them, chasing the students into nearby dormitory buildings to hunt down the fleeing ones and shoot them in their rooms. We asked if anyone boycotted the Olympics because of this, but the local guide didn’t know, he probably wasn’t even born then.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Pammie sharing a sheesha pipe with Gala and Antonio in Egypt
Mexicans only really eat two meals a day, one big breakfast in the morning around 8 or 9 am, then their main meal at around 2 or 3 pm, and then a snack in the evening. Not a bad set up, and good for me too when I travel alone. I tend not to eat dinner when I travel because I don’t like being out and about at night, but, the meals must be evenly spaced and snacks can be critical to the success of avoiding a cranky pammie. So we talked in the bar for a while, then they took me back home. We took the metro which is very efficient and just as good as the one in Paris, with trains running every few minutes and the network of lines spider webbing throughout the city. It is much cheaper to use than the Paris metro, and a ticket will take you anywhere you want, without zone restrictions. I think the tickets were only about 10 cents each. Like the Paris metros (the trains are made in France, too), they are packed with people including encamped homeless people and travelling musicians playing for handouts. The metros here also have vendors walking from carriage to carriage hollering out that they are selling pens, candy, pirate CD’s, etc.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
That night we met our tour guide, Jessica, who is a Mexican girl who looks all of 14 years old but was actually 23 I think, she had just finished her BA last year in fine arts, majoring in painting. Predictably unemployed as fine arts graduates tend to be, this was her first time working as a tour guide but she has been to all the towns we were visiting and seems pretty competent, very conscientious, and well organised. One thing though, she doesn’t ask us for our travel insurance details (which is good on the one hand since I didn’t get any and the brochure threatens to leave you behind if you don’t get insurance, so I was hoping to pass my medical insurance off as travel insurance. On the other hand this is also bad in case all of us are engulfed in a giant fiery bus accident, then no one at the tour company has our insurance details….). In addition to Jessica, we have local guides at each place we visit so it is no tragedy if she doesn’t know all her facts and figures. She also loves food and enjoys translating all the menus for me and if she is not certain about the details she asks the waiter for us. She indulges my choices for restaurants and seeks out the very best for me, or looks at my recommendations. This is good because the restaurants I want to go to are a little more on the expensive side, but no one else ever realises the difference since Jess and I make all the restaurant decisions (it’s always wise to leave it to the experts). I’m pleased with this because often people take budget travel to the extreme and live on discarded scraps of food, but are quite happy to fork out endless supplies of money for cigarettes, drugs, and beer. I have my priorities….Anyways Jessica is great, very conscientious and with so many people asking questions and translations she gets a bit flustered sometimes and speaks in Spanish to us and English to the wait staff.
Our guide Jessica. Too cute.
There are 10 of us on the two week tour including the Jessica. Unusually enough there are two South African women, one a Chinese lady and the other an Indian lady, but both in their 50’s and born in South Africa, and both overweight. The Chinese lady is built like a walrus and her tiny feet can barely support her weight, and if she gets her upper bulk out of balance with her lower half then her tiny feet have to scurry to catch up with the momentum of her mass until they are in equilibrium. Their accents are funny...they don’t speak Afrikaans as first choice although they know it, but they have an unusual accent. They are both from Port Elizabeth, the Indian lady will later be referred to as the pizzatarian.
Then there's an Australian boy who works as a psychiatric nurse and is a bit of a hippie spaced out druggie love child (he smokes pot and does magic mushrooms the whole time we are there. Another thing our guide forgot to do was tell us the rules about no drugs, etc) and carries his guitar every where and sings songs to match every situation we are in. It seems we have quite a few singers in the group so the Australians sing along with him, and also sing Australian national songs, which I enjoy listening to. He doesn’t drink, which is a plus, since Australian male drinkers can be a bit of a problem sometimes. He is on the trip because he is following the Australian cricket team on their tour of the West Indies and was in the neighbourhood. He's also cut his own hair and ran out of energy or forgot to do the back, so he has this weird clump of hair sticking out of the back of his head.
My travel mates. From the bottom left we have the pizzatarian, the walrus, the comb-over, the drug-boy obscuring my roomate, the Irish builder and his wife to the left, the annoying Argentinian, and Jessica.
Then there's another Australian, a guy who works in the complaints department of a phone company despite having a degree and an extensive background knowledge in politics and history and is an exact reincarnation of one of the engineers at work (Moonie): same pale translucent moon-like skin, same manner of speaking, delivering abrupt definitive statements brooking no argument whatsoever in a piercing voice that could penetrate one end of an in flight 747 to the other, but about 50 kg overweight and thinning greasy unwashed hair with the dreaded comb over. A major know it all, like Moonie, but blessed with more accuracy and breadth of information which makes it more bearable.Then there's an Australian girl, a lesbian, also overweight, who works in a hardware store. It turns out that she is my roommate and she is quite reasonable, and easy to get along with. She’s a diabetic though and suffers from the infrequent and oddly spaced meal times, and gets a bit aggressive if her insulin schedule gets out of whack.
The worst one of the group is an Argentinean girl who moved to Australia as a child, she speaks Spanish which is handy for translations but not good when talking with Mexicans, because nearly all Latin Americans dislike Argentineans for being arrogant. She is one of those non-stop rapid-fire talkers, laughs hysterically at every comment to the point of physically collapsing on the nearest supporting victim, and monopolises the guide in Spanish with urgent and lengthy complaints about the unsophisticated Mexican service.
Then there's another overweight Australian girl who is on her honeymoon with an overweight giant of an Irishman also living in Australia, a builder, who is nearly impossible to understand, with such a thick accent. All in all, a pleasant enough if slow moving and out of shape group of porkchops, although I think the Argentinean will be the pain in the ass.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Since it was a Monday, the day of closure for museums world-wide, there wasn’t much else to do but go to see all the famous neighbourhoods. William Burroughs and several of his Beat Generation friends lived in Mexico City for a while and this is where he played William Tell in a bar with a glass on his wife’s head, only to have her raise up on her tip toes at the last minute and cop the bullet in the forehead (or so he reckons. She was a drug addled mess, addicted to Benzedrine, and could hear people whispering at the other end of a street block in New York City. He is an interesting character, a Harvard graduate and lifelong heroin addict and heir to the Burroughs adding machine family. He used to line up his wife's Benzedrine bottles on the mantlepiece and shoot them off with an air rifle while sitting in an armchair. He also used to make art by putting a spray can in front of a piece of white cardboard, then shooting the spray paint can to see what designs it would make on the paper). He only went to jail for a few days for this. I could have visited the house where Trotsky and his wife hid under their bed to avoid an assassin’s bullets, but decided not to (he was later successfully assassinated by a fanatic posing as his assistant who hammered him in the skull with the business end of an ice axe).
I walked through the Zona Rosa, formerly the hippest neighbourhood in town, and perhaps I didn’t go to the right places but it looked pretty ordinary to me, which perhaps explains why it is now described as the formerly hip area. So I went back to the historic center around my hotel, and had a look at a shop called Casa de Azulejos, built in 1596 and covered with pretty blue tiles (no doubt hence the name Azulejos, as azul means blue. I might be incorrect but I believe the word for tiles is azulejos, perhaps because tiles were commonly blue back in the old days) shipped from China on Spanish galleons and now has a Sanborn’s department store inside. I was going to go to San Angel Inn, which is a famous Mexican restaurant and supposedly has the best margaritas in town, and also to Café L’Opera, where you can still see a bullet hole Pancho Villa shot into the ceiling, but I ran out of energy (Pancho Villa is a former cattle rustler turned leader of the Mexican revolution, who was particularly well known to Americans because he signed a movie contract to film his battles. He even organised to have his prisoners of war executed during the best lighting conditions).
The Casa de Azulejos in Mexico City
For lunch I went to Los Girasoles, one of the trendiest new restaurants in town. I tried huitlacoche, which is a black fungus that grows on corn, sounds terrible, but was served in little tortilla purses. I’d forgotten that quesadillas in Mexico City are not as I know them: two flat thin flour tortillas grilled with cheese and maybe chopped chiles in the middle. The ones in Mexico City are made from corn dough called masa (which also makes the flat corn tortillas), but are much thicker and heavier textured, and formed in the shape of empanadas. The ones I ordered were made of blue corn. In fact flour tortillas are expensive and not common in Mexico City, they favour the corn ones. Flour tortillas are generally a northern Mexico thing, while they prefer the corn ones sin the south. Just as well for me because overseas you can only buy the flour tortillas (although in sold packages with a one year shelf life, scary!!), not the corn ones. A Brazilian guy sitting at the next table introduced himself to me, and was also interested in food, so we traded restaurant names and dishes to try.
Monday, February 26, 2007
After visiting the Palacio de Belles Artes, I went back to my hotel, had a shower, and went back to the ballet. Like I said there was hardly anyone there and I was in the middle of the 4th row back from the stage. It was two hours of all kinds of Mexican dancing and music with about 32 performers and a big mariachi band, so it was very colourful and lively, with all the famous songs and dances and clothes I remember as a kid. I don’t remember where I have seen all these dances before, perhaps in visiting performances when I was in school, or on TV or something (well, I did grow up about an hour away from Mexico so that might explain it). They do the famous Mexican hat dance, and then there’s another one where they hold one hand behind their back, hold their shoulders and backs stiff and straight upright, and swish around red handkerchiefs and stamp stiff legged with their boots. They use a lot of tap dancing with the hard heels of their boots, and the guys were very cute in tight white pants and were having an absolute blast performing, it was fun to watch. The girls didn’t seem so happy. The Tiffay glass chandelier at the Belles Artes Theatre
The stage curtain was made by Tiffany’s of NYC and is made of nearly a million pieces of coloured glass, and shows the valley of Mexico City, with mountains, lakes, and streams in beautiful blues, greens, and pinks. When they shone the stage lights on it, the glass tiles changed colours, and as the curtain rose with the lights dimming for the performance, the scene appeared to shift from dawn to dusk, and then finally nighttime, with everything in darkness except the lakes still shining with a blue white light, as though reflecting the moon. It’s the prettiest crystal thing I’ve ever seen.
I missed dinner because it was 10:45 pm or so by the time I got out of the theatre. It had been raining, and I had to scurry home past Alameda Park in the dark and hope not to get mugged on the way home. It isn’t that far of a walk, and I could have run out into traffic on the busy street if I had been hassled. There were still a few street vendors around taking down their stands.
The next morning I went back to the Cafe Tacuba for my breakfast and had enchiladas with green sauce, beans with cheese, orange juice, coffee, and hot chocolate again. After breakfast I went to the central cathedral, the oldest and largest cathedral in the Latin America (built in 1525), but couldn’t go to the main part because a service was on. I wanted to see the national palace which has another famous Diego Rivera mural in it, but the guard said they weren’t allowing tourists in that day because of a demonstration in the Zocalo (the Mexican word for Plaza) across the street. I saw a banner that said something in Spanish about human rights for indigenous people. I thought it was interesting that in English, the word right, as in right and left and human rights is the same, and so it is in Spanish, derecho.
The Zocalo is the main square or plaza of a town, and the one in Mexico City is very big, and gets it’s name from a rock plinth that used to stand there but is now long gone. Even today all the other towns in Mexico call their main plaza the Zocalo, after the one in Mexico City. They are usually pretty nice square areas decorated with hedges, fountains, and grass for picnics and vendors selling balloons, toys, and food, with mariachi or other kinds of street musicians.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Another Diego Rivera mural
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Chapulines and guacamole at Casa Merlos. If I'd gotten the gem-like pools of brilliantly coloured moles, I would have photographed them too.
On the way back to the metro from the anthropology museum, I passed by a tall iron barred fence around a park where a photographer had hung many excellent photographs of the different environments and animals of Mexico. This reminded me of the aerial photographs by Yann Arthus-Bertrand that mom and I saw hanging from the fence at Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.
For lunch I went to a restaurant called Casa Merlos. The guide book said it was in a bad neighbourhood and not to go there at night. It was also quite a ways from the nearest metro station, and because of the taxi reputation I was forced to walk from the metro to the restaurant, perhaps not such a great idea since I didn’t have a map and only a vague idea of where it was. I was walking in a pretty scary barrio, with all kinds of low riders driving Chebbies around. I asked three different women for directions before I finally found the place in kind of a roundabout way. There was a sweet old man at the door who tried to help me with the menu, but he didn’t speak much English.
I had been recommended to ask for a tasting platter of moles, which are different types of sauce that take about two days to prepare. One reviewer said that when she was there, she had about five or six different brilliantly coloured moles served with a piece of pork or chicken in little gem-like pools in each little white dish. I vividly recall this phrase. But they didn’t seem to understand this concept of brilliantly coloured gem-like pools and so they pretty much ordered for me. The old guy finally dredged up a lady from the back who spoke some English, so I mentioned the tasting platter of moles to her and I thought I had it solved. But it turns out they only had three different types of mole available that day, and so she brought me three small coffee saucers with a spoonful of the three different moles, and nothing to dip into it, except the tortillas I had on the table. So I was kind of disappointed that I didn’t get my little gem-like pools of mole. Coffee saucers wasn't quite what I had in mind. Anyway I tried the three sauces, one was made of peanuts, kind of like a satay sauce, the other of mole poblano which is the most famous of the moles, and is made with chiles and unsweetened chocolate. This by far was the best, with a very deep, smokey flavour. Then the other was made of pumpkin seeds and was called pipian verde, and apparently I ordered this because a plate with a single white boiled chicken breast covered in green pipian verde showed up, nothing else with it.
For my appetizer I ordered chapulines served with tortillas and guacamole, which are grasshoppers fried with chile and served with lime. Yikes they were on the big side and it took a bit of effort to eat them (although they were not as big as the ones in Tanzania, which I tried once). These fellers actually look more like stripey yellow and brown crickets than grasshoppers, to tell the truth. I wonder what happens to all those cucarachas, by the way….. So I made two grasshopper tacos with guacamole on top and tried to make sure I didn’t look at their little faces before taking a bite. I hate it when antennae get stuck in your teeth... I told the English speaking lady they also ate grasshoppers in Tanzania but they were the big bright green ones, she said she could only hack the small ones personally, and the ones I were eating were the medium ones, a bit on the big side for her stomach. So I figured two tacos worth was enough of an Aztec experience. I could have also tried other Aztec specialities, such as gusanos de maguey, the worms which live inside cactus pads, or escamoles, ants larvae, but passed on that.
For dessert I had rice pudding, and a Mexican coffee. They were so happy to have me there and asked how I had heard of them. She gave me a little booklet of recommended restaurants in Mexico City. She even brought out the chef, a lady in her 60s, who owned the place, to come meet me and shake my hand. The English speaking lady asked me how I had found the restaurant and was appalled to hear I had walked there. Why they have their restaurant in such a bad part of town I don't know. So she ordered a safe taxi to take me back to the metro.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
There are 20 million people living in Mexico City. Or is it 28. Well, what’s an extra 8 million when you are talking those numbers. Nearby is Popocatepetl, at 5,452 m (17,887 ft) the second tallest mountain in Mexico (the tallest is Pico de Orizaba at 5,760 m or 18,898 ft). But Popo is better known for it’s major eruptions 5,000, 2,150, and 1,200 years ago. It’s been letting off steam, gas, and small eruptions since 1994. So if that thing goes like Mt St Helens, there are a fair few people in it’s path.
Then I take the metro to the anthropology museum. It’s pretty big and has displays on all the different states and peoples of Mexico, plus the origins of people in the Americas. The main information boards are in English but the rest in Spanish. If you wanted to read everything it would take you forever, but I've long since given up reading all the info in a museum. But I was amused to read one sign that described a carving of 40,000 rabbits, which is apparently the behaviour one regresses to after drinking too much tequila. It took me about three hours to get through the museum. The Mayan room was shut, kind of disappointing, since that is the most interesting culture aside from the Aztecs (whom they referred to as the Mexica, I didn’t realize they were the same thing as the Aztecs till a day later and I had wondered why they left out the Aztecs from their displays….). I later learnt that some priceless articles had been stolen from the Mayan rooms a few years ago, inside jobs planned by museum staff, and the rooms have been closed ever since. In fact many pieces have been stolen from the museums and are in the hands of rich Mexican private collectors.
The first people arrived in Mexico around 20,000 to 25,000 years ago. The Olmecs formed the first organized culture during the Pre-Classic period spanning from 1400 BC to 300 AD, and are credited with developing the first measurements of time. They also created the first permanent religious sites in the Americas, wrote with hieroglyphics, and developed a 365 day calendar. With increasing trade and pilgrimages to their holy sites, the Olmecs began to integrate the customs of new peoples and so their influence declined. The Zapotecs and later the Mixtecs (who mixed with the Zapotecs, no doubt hence the name) rose to prominence during the Classic period from 200 BC to 900 AD. They formed powerful empires and their culture reached the peak of arts and sciences. They built the military fortress at Monte Alban, which we would see later on our tour.
The abandoned fortress at Monte Alban
Teotihuacán, with a peak population of 200,000 people by 600 AD and the sixth largest city in the world at that time, is considered the most important site in all of Mexico, and was contemporary with Monte Alban. Teotihuacá dramatically collapsed for unknown reasons around 600 AD, at which time the Mayan people were reaching their peak, with up to 14 million citizens forming urban centres ranging from the Yucatan down through Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize. Like all of the previous cultures, the Mayans adapted the ideas and skills of their predecessors and the people they came into contact with. Their culture also mysteriously collapsed in 900 AD. The cultural standards raised during the classic period, particularly by the Mayans, were never to be reached again. The post classic period followed, from 900 to 1519 AD, dominated by more militant and aggressive societies, beginning with the Toltecs and Huastecs, who engaged in extensive animal and human sacrifices and made displays of skulls and heads. Unified dynasties were on the decline and from them rose independent states. The Aztecs were the most efficient of the military forces and conquered more and more independent states, absorbing their cultures and traditions. By the late 1400’s the Aztecs were the most powerful culture in Mexico. The last leader was Motecuhzoma who lived to be only 18 years old, and died in 1520.
Avenida de Muertos, or street of the dead, at the abandoned city of Teotihuacán
Later I asked our leader why we in the US refer to him as Montezuma, and she said she presumed it was because his real name was difficult for us to pronounce. Motecuhzoma was in power when Hernan Cortez and the Spanish conquistadores arrived in 1518, and part of the reason why the Spaniards were so quick to defeat the Aztecs was because the Aztecs believed the bearded, white skinned, blonde, and blue eyed Spaniards to be the legendary return of their god Quetzalcoatl, arriving from the east to destroy the Mexicans. The Spanish discovered this superstition and manipulated the Indian’s fears to their advantage. Hernan Cortez was commissioned to explore and conquer Mexico, and he advanced on the Aztec capital from the east and destroyed all the buildings within a few weeks, using rifles, horses, armour, the support of the Tlaxcalans, traditional rivals of the Aztecs, and the deliberate spread of smallpox to gain his victory.
During the time of Henry VIII, Mexico City was larger than the City of London (I mentioned this fact to an Englishman at work and he said, yeah, well all Mexico City was back then was a bunch of tack-o stands!! Note: no one else on the planet knows how to pronounce the word taco except for people from the Americas). The Colonial period followed, with disease and harsh treatment in the mines and farms reducing the indigenous population from 25 million in 1519 to one million by 1650. Mexican independence from Spain was spurred by increased taxes imposed by Spain on Mexico to meet the economic losses Spain had suffered in the wars in Europe following the French revolution. Miguel Hidalgo called for independence in the town of Dolores on October 16, 1810; his supporters seized several towns but he was captured and beheaded in 1821. Hidalgo’s downfall was due to the lack of support by the Creoles, white Spaniards born in Mexico filling most of the colonial administration positions, who feared they would be persecuted if independence succeeded. But a military revolt in Spain in 1820 forced King Ferdinand VII to adopt a constitution, and the ensuing disorder in the Spanish military meant that Spain was unable to provide soldiers to prevent further uprisings in Mexico, and so were forced to recognize Mexican independence.
One of the most famous Mexican leaders during the early stages of independence was General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who was president 11 times between 1833 and 1855. He was a little eccentric and decorated his house in European fashions, insisted on being referred to as His Most Serene Highness, and had his presence announced by 21 gun salutes. He lost his leg in 1838 but had it interred in 1842 and paraded through the capitol, and placed in an urn during an official government ceremony. Earlier, Santa Anna led forces into Texas for the Battle of the Alamo, killing Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. Sam Houston defeated and captured Santa Anna a few weeks later, forcing him to sign a treaty granting freedom to Texas, formerly a Mexican territory. Santa Anna renounced the treaty upon his release, provoking the American-Mexican war of 1846, which resulted in the surrender of 55% of Mexican territory to the US, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Texas. Six years later Santa Anna regained the presidency and sold another parcel of land to the US before he was overthrown.
From here on the presidency went back and forth between different factions, including Benito Juarez and Porfirio Diaz, who encouraged economic growth with foreign investment. But elections were rigged and political repression was rife, leading to the Mexican revolution from 1910 to 1917, during which nearly two million Mexicans lost their lives, or 1 in 8 of the population. Famous leaders of the Mexican revolution include Pascual Orozco, Emiliano Zapata, Venustiano Carranza, and Pancho Villa, with Carranza eventually gaining office at the end of the revolution. His successor, Calles, formed the PNR (later renamed the PRI) in 1929, which has controlled the Mexican government since the election of Fox, a former Coca Cola executive, in July 2000. So there you go, a small history of Mexico. I have the feeling that I borrowed heavily from my guidebook while writing these notes years ago, so credit goes to the Mexican travel book writers of the world!
Saturday, February 17, 2007
On the plane from Miami to Mexico City (3.5 hours), the Mexican businessman sitting next to me, who hadn’t spoken to me the whole flight, asked me how I was getting to my hotel and advised me not to take a taxi except for the special airport taxis. I had already read this in my guide books: not to flag down taxis on the streets because they are notorious for robbing, beating, and raping their passengers, and to only take the registered taxis at the airport or have restaurants and hotels call the expensive registered ones once you are in town. There is even a US State travel advisory against taking taxis in Mexico City. Crikes. Amid warnings against travel in Iraq, stepping on land mines in Cambodia, getting caught up in civil unrest in Angola, is the warning not to take the taxis in Mexico City. Sheesh. But it was nice of the guy on the plane to give me the advice.
So I get to my hotel in one piece at around 11 PM, reception has no English, and they don’t know who I am. Finally I convince them that me llama es Pamela and I have a reservation, and go to my room. It hasn’t been cleaned from the last tenant. I go back down to reception and get another room; it has someone else’s suitcases in it. So I go back down to reception again and get a third room, this one doesn’t have air conditioning that works very well but at this stage I am happy for any room and it doesn’t face the noisy street. It’s not too hot so it doesn’t matter about the air conditioning. I take a shower and remember the Mexican thing where hot water only happens at certain times of the day (I later learn this is a feature unique to my room only). Oh well.
In the morning I walk several blocks down the street to the Cafe Tacuba, which is also the name of a well known Mexican rock band. The café was established in 1912 and has pretty stained glass windows, high arched ceilings with sunlights and different coloured tiles on the floors and walls. I have huevos rancheros which are two fried eggs on a corn tortilla, with green enchilada sauce on top, and refried beans, queso fresca, a crumbly dry white cheese the Mexicans use. I also have a fresh orange juice and a coffee with milk, served in a tall glass with a bit of coffee essence poured into the bottom and then hot milk poured on top from a great show-offy height. Afterwards I have a hot chocolate, which Mexico is famous for (they invented it, but the Spanish introduced milk to it).
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Now I am not so happy about my delayed flights because I have ordered tickets to see the Ballet Folklorico in Mexico City, show time scheduled a slim two hours after my originally scheduled landing time, and I am going to miss it. The ballet is a two hour spectacular (according to the brochure) of all the regional dances and music throughout Mexico, and has been performing for many years and tours the world. For the past few weeks I spent hours at work surreptitiously trolling internet sites looking to buy tickets online. My guide book says there are performances on Wednesday and Sunday evenings only, and I will be there Saturday evening, so I can make the Sunday performance. They book out fast, they say, hurry pammie hurry!! Gosh I have less than a week before the performance, I’m frantic. Ticketmaster Mexico has tickets for $400 on Wednesday only, and I won’t be there on Wednesday, what the….$400!!! Sheesh, I don’t like the ballet that much, far out. I delete that browser window fast.
I realize later that the peso is also designated by the $ sign, and there is 10 pesos to the dollar, so US$40 for a ticket. Heh heh. Wouldn't be my first currency exchange confusion. Ticketmaster has a plan of the theatre seating arrangements so you can select where you want to sit. I check Ticketmaster every day up to the Friday morning before I leave and they still never offer tickets for sale for the Sunday performance. Meanwhile I've been keeping my eye on another dodgy looking web site that advertises tickets for $18 for Saturday night, the night I arrive. So I buy those tickets at the last minute. I wonder why they have performances on Saturday, since all my information says Wednesdays and Sundays only? but what the heck.
The dodgy website has no plan of the seats so when I buy the tickets on their form I type in a request in the comments field I ask for the best possible seats and please not on the balcony because I hear you cannot see all the stage from there, and Pammie has suffered bad experiences with expensive box seats before, in Vienna, for instance (13% view of the lower left stage where no one ever stands, and 87% view of the box seats opposite). They write back and say they have bought my tickets for me and to collect them at the box office, but that it is free seating (I always wince at these words and imagine a huge shoving crowd free for all fighting for the best seats), and there is no balcony, I must be thinking of the theatre in San Juan, which does have a balcony. Huh? I have no idea what they are talking about.
I finally make the next flight from NYC to Miami (3 hours), and have an hour’s layover there. I see on CNN on the TV terminals that they have caught the guy who let off the bomb at the Atlanta Olympics, and am appalled to see the hyper dramatic news coverage, with thundering increasingly hysterical movie theme type music blaring and flaming red hotrod headlines zooming across the screen. How embarrassing. Why can’t they just report the daily news from around the world instead of turning this one incident into a big Hollywood event? It seems like CNN just lurches from one dramatic crisis to another.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Every trip has to start with the dramas of air transport, because getting there is never guaranteed from Africa, and never seems to go smoothly. This was the route: Starting with a two hour flight from Bulyanhulu, just south of Lake Victoria, on the company Dash 8 (seats about 35 people) to Dar es Salaam, leaving at 10 AM. On arrival at the domestic airport the company mini van dumps us at Dar es Salaam international airport. The guards will only allow passengers into the terminal two hours before their flight, so we kill time with lunch at the Flamingo restaurant above the terminal, rather than wait for a chance to sit and sweat on the two continuously occupied park benches outside the terminal. This is our last chance for African food poisoning. Fish n chips with hot pink ketchup.
Check in, departure 3:20 pm. 3.5 hour flight to Johannesburg. One hour time difference (South Africa is 1 hour behind Tanzania), two hour layover at Johannesburg airport then a 17 hour flight to New York City via Ilha del Sol, a previously unheard of island lying off the coast of Ghana, used as a refuelling station. The plane bursts a critical hose and so we spend three hours in the middle of the night on Ilha rather than the scheduled one hour. I have two hours before my flight to Miami from New York City so I am doomed. But not to worry, booms the confidence inspiring captain over the intercom, they have radioed ahead and South African Airways ground staff in NYC have checked our flight schedules and have rescheduled all our connecting flights. Just check with the ground staff and they will assist. Phew.
I land, make it through customs (this is always a nervous procedure for those of us who have, um, maybe forgotten to file a tax return for the past, um, 14 years), and ask to see the ground staff so I can find out about my rescheduled flights. But I see no friendly helpful South African Airways ground staff eager to assist with my reconnections. Airport staff say perhaps they are waiting on the other side of that door eager to assist, no, they are not there, hmm, perhaps they are beyond the next door, nope, the next one? Finally I am spat outside, no ground staff anywhere, and they won’t let you back inside the terminal once you step through that final door to the outside world. I see the captain leaving and complain to him about the no ground staff situation, he says, I suggest you take control of your own destiny, run to your next terminal, you never know, your flight might be delayed. So I make a run for the terminal bus and get to the check in counter 2 seconds after my flight leaves. Oh well. And don’t you know, the non-existent South African Airways ground staff have in fact NOT rescheduled my flights.
The guy at the American Airlines counter says not to worry, just telephone them at this number, toll free, but you have to put in 50 cents or something to get the call to go through first. Well Pammie hasn’t got any American coins. So this guy lends me 50 cents or whatever it costs to make a telephone call these days out of his own pocket. I dial up, and reschedule my own flights, thanks a lot South African Airways ground staff. I give the counter guy his change back. Now I have five hours to kill at John F. Kennedy international airport. I could go into town but what do I do with my luggage, they don’t do lockers these post Sept 11 days.
So I get to know all the scary black hustlers who hang around airports directing confused travellers and their bulky luggage to their terminals, hoping to intimidate them into tips. I ask them which are the best terminals to hang in, since there’s 9 terminals. I ride in circles from terminal to terminal on the bus, and see the same guys from time to time, we are becoming familiar, they say to me, see ya in terminal 6! Now I have a chance to eat some US food, yowza. So what do I do just before going to Mexico, I go to a perfectly spotless white brushed steel Mexican place (never a décor to recommend a Mexican place) and have a not very good freezer style burrito. Hmm. Should have had that fatburger at TGI Friday’s in terminal 9 after all. So I decide to travel to terminal 9 anyway and have dessert at TGI Fridays and order a hot fudge brownie sundae. It is incredibly sweet and I can only eat two spoonfuls. Disappointing. I am always surprised by how poisonously sweet American food is, I don’t remember it being like this.
Now I’m thinking, wow, I can buy some cool sunglasses for cheap! Maybe a nice watch! Some American clothes! But those terminals are useless, nothing in them. No internet café!! You would never even know you were in the US in fact if you landed there blindfolded. Every one is speaking Spanish.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Left hand side of the master bedroom closet. The wire basket is for dirty clothes. At the very top of the unit is space for some short Ikea boxes for additional storage.
The spare bedroom closet. I need to work on my linen folding skills. There are two drawers for visitors plus hanging space and two shelves, because the towels will be hanging in the bathroom when they visit. And more storage above for the short Ikea boxes.I had the entryway closet done in white because it is nearly twice as cheap as the brown stuff. The box to the left now has the vacuum cleaner and the iron in it. I was disappointed at the amount of hanging space, I should have made it wider, but the designer assured me there would be enough room for my stuff and for visitors, but in fact I had to move four of my jackets to the spare bedroom.
All in all it's been worth it. They were very professional, the stuff is good quality, and it has a lifetime guarantee for everything from chipped shelves to sticky drawers.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Last night on the train I went to the toilet, and while doing the usual juggling act of trying to keep the shorts down but up off the floor pan, all of a sudden one of my shorts pockets felt a lot lighter than it was before. I thought, the heck was that? My little phone had dropped out of my pocket and fell flat on his face in the toilet! I looked down in mid-uh, you know, pee and saw my little phone now being watered on. I instantly rescued him, now totally soaked, and these toilets do not have flushes!! Amazingly this toilet had a pan at the bottom, most of them go straight down to the train tracks, I could have lost it forever. I started to think about the guy who was there before me, and then thousands of others there before me, then all the billion people in China, how many with digestive tract disorders?, all using trains, how old was this train? divided by how many toilets per carriage? And they're selling beer on these trains? So how many visits to the toilet per trip? I'm starting to do the maths, agh!!! Now all over my phone's little white face....I was in denial, wiped the little pee tears off his face with my toilet paper, went into the washroom and wetted down a tissue and patted him down, took the phone apart, wiped down all the inside bits...damn. Luckily it wasn't a normal western toilet or the little dude would have drowned for sure...then again I wouldn't have effen dropped him either....I took him back to the train where one of the Australians lent me one of those sano-wipe things and gave him another wash....I am so not happy about this!! Anyway he is working fine. I have a new screen saver which is a frowny face, he is not happy at all either! So now when I am talking on my phone, it is through a WHOLE lotta people!