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The Kindness of Strangers

This is Ernesto.

Ernesto and I had a delicious lunch of tacos barbacoas at a pop-up mercado on a Sunday afternoon in Mexico City. How we got there is the story. Here it is.

Ernesto is an Uber driver in CDMX. He’s also a husband, a father, and a sibling.

He’s also my new friend.

He picked me up in the early afternoon outside the BnB where I was staying to take me to a Tacos Barbacoas and Pulque Festival in a Mexico City neighborhood. I’d seen the festival in an article in Mexico News Daily and it sounded interesting.

Better still, it was fairly close to the BnB, per Google Maps.

I put the street address in Uber and out came Ernesto to take me there.

He spoke very little English and I am still working on Spanish, yet we managed to chat a little and enjoy the trip. I told me about the festival and we talked a little about pulque, the slightly alcoholic beverage made from cactus milk.

However, when we arrived at the destination, it didn’t look anything like a festival. And it wasn’t. It was a wedding.

Ernesto checked the address. It was correct. But it was the wrong neighborhood.

Rather than letting me out to fend for myself, Ernesto told me he’d get me to the right place.

Off we went.

We drove for quite a while and then drove into a neighborhood with lots of traffic stuffed into narrow streets. We crawled along.

In the meanwhile, Ernesto called his son, who spoke English to confirm the address and the neighborhood and the name of the festival. Yes, we were headed in the right direction. However, the neighborhood didn’t look all that promising.

Ernesto’s son told me that his dad would take me to the festival and then stay with me to make sure I was safe–if that’s what I wanted. Or, Ernesto would take me anywhere else I wanted to go.

On we forged.

Finally, we arrived. Ernesto parked the car and we went off in search of pulque and tacos.

The streets were teeming with people. But all we found was (very) loud music and lots of pulque and no tacos. Ernesto got me a sample of pulque and after two sips, I knew it was not for me. We poked around a little more and then agreed that we would leave. I paid Ernesto for the trip thus far. It seemed quite inexpensive for all the time and effort he had put in.

I asked him to take me to where I could get some good tacos.

After a short ride, we arrived at the pop-up mercado and were served scrumptious tacos on which we feasted.

By this point, we were both using spanglish and we seemed to be communicating just fine.

Ernesto told me about his family. His sister lived nearby.

After I took his picture, he took mine and a selfie of the two of us. I noticed the photo on his phone which he told me was his daughter and he told me a little about her. Turned out too that his son is an opera singer which I enthused about.

Finishing lunch, I saw Ernesto reaching for his wallet. I insisted that the cuenta (bill) be given to me, that lunch was my treat. He was effulgent with thanks.

Before we left however, Ernesto stopped by the to see the cook and get a take out order. For his mother, he said.

Mexicans take care of their families.

Then Ernesto and I headed back for my BnB. I moved from the back seat to the front and we rolled on. When we arrived, Ernesto pulled over and played me videos of his son performing opera. A very talented young man.

I tried to pay for the ride back, but Ernesto would not hear of it.

He told me that anytime I visited Mexico City to let me know and if he was available, he’d take me where I needed to go.

A stranger at first, and then a friend.

This is Mexico.

A Visit to Calaverandia

As part of the Day of the Dead celebration, an innovative Guadalajara-based entertainment company staged a pop-up theme park dedicated to highlighting the origins and practices of Day of the Dead. Our neighbors and I made our way to Guadalajara before the actual Day of the Dead to take in the park.

We were a little hesitant. The admission prices ran $500 to $1000 pesos or about $25 to $50 U.S. dollars. Pricey for around here. We’re glad we didn’t let that stand in our way.

The evening was wonderful.

The theme park was staged in an actual city park. Even on a Tuesday night, lots of people were in attendance. We waited for about fifteen minutes to park and the parking was free!

Stopping to buy our tickets, we were intrigued by the variety of lights and sounds emanating from the site. Up at the ticket booth we learned that seniors get a 20% discount! Lovely!

And, finally, the grand entry:

There were lots of workers doing maintenance, keeping the park clean and giving information. Others roamed the park allowing visitors to buy wristbands loaded with pesos that had to be used for any purchases made in the park. No money could be used in the park. Only the wristbands, which could be loaded either using cash or, definitely preferred, credit or debit cards.

Displays were everywhere. And photo ops.

There were several stages in the park with different shows. These were typically short productions with music, dancing, acrobatics and lights.

And there were several walking displays. One took us on the journey that the dead take in the stories here in Mexico. Mythical and interesting.

Of course, there was a grand altar at Calaverandia in honor of all the dead in Mexico.

Calaverandia is a reference to the tradition of Catrina, originated early in the twentieth century. The Calavera Catrina.

It was indeed a night to remember.

Of course, there was lots of food available and well-priced. And looked totally yummy. Next time, we won’t eat before we go!

Lots of fun and lots of memories.

 

 

 

El Dia de Muertos 2019

Chapala celebrated the Day of the Dead last Saturday, November 2.

We’ve learned a lot more about the celebration and could appreciate its richness even more this year.

One of the essences of the holiday is to mock death itself. The “dead” live on in the hearts and memories of those living. The holiday is one of remembering and celebrating those who have passed on to another existence and yet are well-remembered here.

Every part of the holiday is imbued with meaning. Sure, there’s lot of fun involved too. Costumes, face painting, dressing up. And lots of art and artistic expression in building pop-up monuments to the departed.

Everywhere you go you encounter lots and lots of Calavera Katrinas. This tradition was founded in the early part of the twentieth century artist Jose Guadalupe Posada who satirized Mexicans who were trying to emulate Europeans in dress and style. The satire caught on and now Katrinas are everywhere.

Here’s one with me!

Centro Historico in Chapala is dedicated to the celebration of El Dia de Muertos.

Celebrants start early in the morning building their altars and monuments and then these are displayed during the day and lit up with candles at night.

This year, the theme seemed to be teachers and educators. Even to the founder of Montessori.

Each tier of the displays have particular meanings.

Notice the intricate artwork and the time and effort that goes into each of these monuments. Quite inspiring.

And there were several Xolos, the hairless Mexican dog breed that is thought to be a guide for the recently deceased on their journey to their next existence.

It was quite a day. We look forward to next year’s.

More Changes in Chapala

There are several indicators that Fall has arrived in Chapala. One is that the rainy season ends. Another, that the pelicans return to the lake. Yet another is that repair and construction projects go into high gear.

This Fall there are a number of projects.

First, the main drag, the carretera, is under repair. Admittedly, it’s a bumpy ride. Over the years, the heavy traffic through the town has left the carratera a wavy undulating surface rather than a smooth flat surface.

It’s not paved; it’s not being paved. Instead, the carretera is bricked.

It’s being repaired block by block, involving an army of workers, moving earth and smoothing, bulldozing and flattening. And then, the bricks are being laid by hand. It’s quite a process.

Along with the carretera being repaired, there are a number of building projects along the carretera. Excavating into the hill and taking out old decaying buildings and rebuilding. One project will be a number of apartments. The others? I’m not sure. We will see.

Not only is repair work happening, street artists are out decorating stairs and walls.

And the main carretera that runs along the lake is being repaved. At least we think it’s going to be. Right now the only work we see is the installation of a bike path. We’ll see.

Finally, the pelicans are returning! How glorious!

On the Trail of the Taco Chronicles, Part Two

Prior to our visit to our stay in Morelia on our first Taco Chronicles run (which you can read about here), we went to find La Casa de Blanca, the owner of which appeared prominently in the series.

Turns out the restaurant is in one of Mexico’s fabled Pueblos Magicos, so we thought we’d get a twofer–seeing the pueblo and having a wonderful meal. It was not to be.

Late in the afternoon, we arrived in Tzintzuntzan, nestled on the shore of a grand lake, Lago do Patzcuaro.

And true to its title, Tzintzuntzan lived up to its appellation. Driving in, it just felt magical.

First, we stopped at the malecon which could pass as a big rest area in the U.S. A few boats dotted the lakefront which was covered with shrubs. No beach here. Notice below the proverbial dog, lazing by the lake. So far, every town and city we’ve visited in Mexico sports lots and lots of dogs, just hanging out.

Every angel must get its wings and here at last, Bonita got hers!

We drove through the town, letting Google Maps guide us to the restaurant. At last we parked in front of the town’s mercado and went across the street to our destination.

But alas, the restaurant wasn’t serving, so we went away disappointed.

Despite that, the mercado and our exploration of the town proved most delightful.

The mercado, it turns out, features brightly and brilliantly colored Christmas decorations as well as many other local works of arts and crafts.

The main attraction however is the Monastery of San Francisco, founded in the sixteenth century. 

Typically, both towns and cities in Mexico have a square, an el centro, which is anchored by a cathedral. Here in Tzintzuntzan however, not so. We were wondering where to local cathedral was and, as we had read about the monastery, where it was as well.

One of the merchants pointed us toward a wall at the back of the mercado. We headed that way and walking past dozens and dozens of vendors hawking all kinds of merchandise and art, we passed through a gate in a wall into a garden of tranquility that is the monastery.

A truly lovely and almost otherworldly place, it features three cathedrals. I could go on and on here, yet, I’ll go by the old adage of a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll leave you with a montage of the stately place.

We hope you enjoy it as much as we did. (And come visit!)

 

 

On the Trail of The Taco Chronicles Part 1

I hope you’re been introduced to the wonderful Netflix series, The Taco Chronicles.  If you haven’t and you at all like food (and Mexico), you’re in for a treat.

The Taco Chronicles are six half-hour explorations of the various types of tacos found in Mexico. Yes, it’s food porn. I salivated watching it. At the same time, I learned a lot about Mexico, its history, its tradition, its food, and its people.

We watched it and our neighbors watched it and immediately we began looking at the map to see whether it was feasible to visit some or all of the places chronicled in the series.

Turned out that several of the locations were definitely drivable. The State of Michoacan, the State of Hildago, and Mexico City.

We planned out a trip to Michoacan, where there are several Chronicles locations.

It’s a beautiful four-hour drive to the city of Morelia. All the entire drive is on toll road, very well maintained and relatively uncrowded.

Michoacan is a beautiful topography, quite different from Jalisco where we live. Mountain after mountain with lush valleys filled with crops.

We totally loved the scenery. (That’s broccoli growing in the picture just above, for as far as the eye can see…………….)

Yet, we were on a mission: to check out and experience the Taco Chronicle locations.

First up, was Carnitas Don Raul.

Now, without spoiling The Taco Chronicles, the main ingredient of carnitas from Michoacan is pork long simmered in its own fat, often cooked in large copper vats. (An amazing process–watch the show)

Carnitas Don Raul is a restaurant with sit-down service. Sparkling clean. We knew we were in the right place when we walked through the front door to see an employee artfully carving meat.

The food was absolutely mouth-watering, everything we expected and even more. The food is the star here. Mounds of moist melt-in-your-mouth, bursting with flavor pork.

Yes there are accompaniments, mostly veggies with vinegar to cut some of the “sweetness” of the meat.

Our server, Angel (pronounced with a hard “A” and more of a hard “K” than a “g”), watched over us and kept us supplied with whatever we needed.

Totally wonderful.

And the trip had just started!

Welcome to Mexico, or in the Land of Random Acts of Kindness

Lots going on here “down under” (at least “under” Texas and that now infamous border). Got some good posts lined up.

Yet today I want to relate a couple of experiences from this past weekend.

A friend of mine from Phoenix flew down to hang out here in Chapala for the early part of last week and then the two of us flew down to Mexico City. Mainly for some music–we went to see Muse (us and about 80,000 of our closest Mexican friends.) Wonderful show, I might add–the best I’ve seen in my life, and I don’t think that’s recency bias speaking.

That was Thursday night. On the rest of the weekend, we explored Mexico City.  On Thursday and Friday we used Uber to get us around town.

Then on Saturday we decided to try the Metro system, which features buses with specified traffic lanes and a modern subway.

We walked down to the nearest station and of course we needed tickets. No human interface though, just several machines that looked easy enough to negotiate. However, we just couldn’t do it. Our credit cards didn’t work; feeding in pesos didn’t work; and watching the locals use the machine didn’t seem to explain it either.

So we slunk down out of the way to decide what to do.

And began asking what we considered to be likely suspects if they spoke English.

Sure enough, one man offered to help. And did he ever. Up to the machine we went. He tried to get us tickets too, and couldn’t. But then out of his wallet he pulled a specialized transit card and asked how many trips we needed (at 5 pesos a trip). We gave him a 20 peso bill and he loaded the transit card with the money and gave us the card.

We were bowled over. Such a kind act.

Then, once we were downtown, we needed to switch from the bus to the subway.

And once again, a lovely young lady stepped in to help two, ummmm, mature gentlemen (???) negotiate buy a ticket and then actually using it. To boot, she guided us right to the correct platform and showed us exactly where to stand to get the train.

Another kind act by a seemingly random stranger.

When I asked my friend what were the highlights of the trip to Mexico City for him, he replied with those two acts of kindness without a moment’s hesitation.

We had seen Muse; we had seen one of Rodin’s sculptures of both the Thinker and the Four Gates of Hell. We had eaten some amazing food. We had taken in vibrant lively art and music. Yet, it was those two moments of human interaction that was the highlight for us both.

Independence Day in Mexico

September 16th is Mexico’s July 4th.

And it’s a big holiday here. Building are festooned with red, white and green banners and decorations. Flags are flying. Centros are spruced up.

On the day itself, Mexico turns out. The streets are crowded with families walking and eating and laughing and just having a good old time.

The malecon here is Chapala was packed.

On a nice warm day, ice cream (or helados) is a big seller and lots of vendors along the malecon are happy to supply it.

There’s also the Mexican version of three card monte. I got corralled into trying it out. It’s played on a board resembling the Chinese Checkers board I used to play as a kid. And I was given three marbles. I’m supposed to drop the marbles and wherever the marbles land, the points are added up. That total then is worth a certain number of points, or you can lose a number of points.

If you accumulate the requisite number of points, you have your choice of prizes. Flat-screen tvs, kitchen appliances and the like.

People are lined up for boat rides on the lake.

Everybody wants their picture taken with the Chapala sign.

And some families engage the floating bands of musicians to play for them.

It was just wonderful.

Yet the star of the day was definitely the greased pole. While I was walking down the malecon, I saw a pole being installed close to where the volcunaros practice. I wasn’t sure what it was. On my way back, a big crowd had gathere around the pole, from which now huge several very large plastic bags with goodies inside.

I asked one of the bystanders and found out that this was the Mexican equivalent of the proverbial greased pig chase. Whoever could climb the pole and could pull down the prizes got to keep them.

And oh what fun it was. The crowd cheered and several young men tried and failed. Then several of them banded together. And the magic happened. Enjoy the videos!

A Day Trip to Another Pueblo Magico: Mazamitla

We’re slowly making our way to the Pueblos Magicos of Mexico, at least some of the more local ones. Even so, the attractions of the selected towns seem so attractive, we’re looking ahead to visiting some that are further and further afield.

Yet, for now, we’re exploring those in our home state of Jalisco.

This weekend we visited Mazamitla. It’s been labeled as replicating a Swiss village.

We kinda missed that resemblance. It’s pretty, to be more, but in a traditional Mexican way.

Mazamitla is a drive around to the south shore of Lake Chapala. The road snakes along, sometimes seemingly right on the lake and at others, the lake is nowhere to be seen.

There are three striking qualities of the south shore.

The first is the close-up view of what at a distance appear to be greenhouses. They’re all over the slopes of the mountains that ring the lake. And, to be sure, they’re not really greenhouses. They’re not enclosed. They are heavy plastic on metal frames under which are grown a myriad of crops. What we saw appeared to be mostly tomatoes.

The second quality was the heights of the mountains on the south side. One of the tallest was shrouded with clouds on the sunny Saturday of our trip.

And third, the south side seems to be dominated by agriculture and by country living in Mexico. No lines of stores and restaurants. No big box stores, no, not even a Walmart. Instead, quaint villages and not gringos in sight.

To get to Mazamitla, we drove west to the end of the lake and then circled around to the east until we seemed to be directly across from Chapala. Then we turned south and make our way through a rolling mountain pass and finally into the pueblo.

Like every village centro we’ve visited on a Saturday, it was rockin’ and rollin’. We keep our eyes on the cathedral spires, knowing that the centro historico would be right there. Parking was at a premium; not by price, but by availability. We finally found our way into a private lot and set off to explore.

One item of particular note: there were Voladores, the flying natives that are prominent in many Mexican towns and cities. The costuming has been identical each time we’re encountered them. It was here too. However, we saw no pole for them to fly on.

Instead, there was an odd contraption the use of which was not immediately apparent. So we settled in to await the dance and the show and sure enough, the show in Mazamitla is different from any other we have seen.

(Sorry about the video quality! I’ll try to do better, I promise.)

We walked around a little, soaking in the sights and finally landed in a restaurant on the square for lunch. We shared a paradilla which pairs grilled sausage, beef and chicken, with cheese, onions, nopales and yummy little egg rolls.

All though the meal, a caged parrot kept its back turned to us.

And the dragons on the lamp kept watch as well.

A thoroughly enjoyable day here with the magic of Mexico!

Comida Chronicles of Chapala

Netflix recently unveiled a short series called The Taco Chronicles. Yep. All about tacos in Mexico.  We’ve been devouring it (pun intended!).

Mexico City is prominent in the series as are several states to our west. The state in which Chapala resides, Jalisco, is not featured in the series.

Still, Jalisco has its very own tradition of comida (Spanish for food and in Mexico, my Spanish teacher informs me, also refers specifically to lunch). The local specialty is goat, marinated and slow cooked til it is literally melt in your mouth. It’s served with a rich broth, beans, cheese, onions, and tortillas. Truly wonderful.

In several of our discussions of food, my Spanish teacher strongly suggested that I visit a Guadalajara establishment called Karne Garibaldi.  I checked it out on the web and made the trip. As Bonnie was in the States at the time, my intrepid neighbor made the trek with me.

We arrived around 2PM on a Saturday. The place was rocking and rolling. We got seated immediately but the place was pretty densely packed and full. (By the time we left there was a line out the front door.)

We managed to order with our limited Spanish and the wait staff limited English. And immediately we had food. Up first, a plate of tortilla chips and one of Karne Garibaldi’s signature dishes, frijoles con elote (beans with corn) and guacamole.

Yes, we do know that we’re supposed to present the pictures of the food in their splendid glory before they are tainted by munching and crunching. But we couldn’t resist. It looked so good, and, well, you’ll have to take our word for it, it was that good.

What we didn’t know was that the frijoles with corn and chips was the house staple. When we’d finish a plate, a wait staff member would pop by, take the empty and leave us a replacement. Don’t we just love restaurants???

Our order can very quickly as well. And I mean very quickly. Turns out that Karne Garibaldi holds a Guinness Book of World Records record for fastest service.

And all without sacrificing any quality for a sit-down restaurant.

We had karne in its own juices. Literally melt in your mouth.

One of the treasures of Jalisco. Hopefully The Taco Chronicles will spawn more programs about Mexican specialties. The food is indeed wonderful here.