I really loved my time in Southern Mexico. I look forward to going back.
The people are just so kind and happy. In fact this is true throughout Mexico and Central America. I had read and heard so much hype about all the dangers from drug cartels and kidnappers, but found none of that.
I felt as safe there as anywhere I traveled so far and safer than several places I’ve been to in the USA.
I got to Oaxaca late because of the bus issues. At the station stood my new Couch Surfing host and his two other surfers. They were all smiles and I was so touched they came to get me and make sure I got back to the house safely.
My host, Christopher, is 18 and lives with his wonderful parents. They Welcomed me with open arms. His dad had been a taxi driver in San Francisco where Christopher had been born. Now he owns and drives what the call a TukTuk.
He spoke some English. But the mom did not. So we smiled a lot and nodded a lot and I said Si, Si, Si a lot (actually that was my mantra through all of my travels south of San Diego).
We spent a bunch of time in the town square drinking Micheladas (Mexican slang for “my little cold one”). This is one of my new favorite drinks and have made it several times since coming back to the States… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelada
1 ice cold Mexican beer: Corona or Negra Modela for example
2 tablespoons of course salt
1 tablespoon of chili powder
2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
1-2 dashes of your favorite hot sauce
1 dash of soy sauce
1 dash of Worcestershire sauce
Lime wedge for garnish
1. Mix together the salt and chili powder on a small plate. Rim a beer glass with a little lime juice and then dip in the salt and chili mixture to cover the top of the glass.
2. Fill mug with ice (yes, ice in a beer is popular in Mexico and other parts of Latin America).
3. Add lime juice, hot sauce, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and a pinch of black pepper.
4. Slowly pour in beer. The salt on the rim will cause the beer to foam up, so be careful while adding beer.
5. Stir. Enjoy.
One night all of the Couchsurfers and our host, Christopher, went to see a wonderful outdoor concert. It seemed so magical as the stage was set between two ancient churches on the plaza. The lights came down from the towers and the moon shone so bright.
Even though I cannot speak Spanish like they do south of Mexico City I could follow the beautiful story of Oaxaca that she sang about http://www.susanaharp.com/2010/ . It was a real treat.
I did have a hard time with all the street sellers. On the buses, at the square, on the street, in the bano. There seems to be no where they will not walk up to you and it is hard to get them to leave. Even if you aren’t interested. They exploit children too and this made me very sad.
Oaxaca is a cosmopolitan place. European influenced for sure.
I love Oaxaca and will be back for sure…
I did a lot of exploring and traveling by bus while I was in Mexico and Central America. I was told that the commuter buses in Mexico are some of the best in the world and that proved to be true. And they go everywhere. There does not seem to be anywhere in the country where they don’t go.
These buses are so economical and they run on time and arrive on time. You can do all your buying online, go a day ahead to the station and purchase there or wait till your travel time and hope there is a seat left. There are several that are luxury (I did not travel on any of these), but all have extremely comfortable seats that recline -and seats can be reserved where you want to sit, air-conditioning, ample storage space and movies showing on several screens throughout the bus.
I love cheese and the cheese here has me eating with a smile.
I have fallen in love with tlacoyo. These are GREAT even if I still cannot pronounce it I will forever love them. Fried green like folded tortillas. Mine was filled with white sauce, cheeses and onions. I love them. For a dollar. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TlacoyoI did a lot of eating on the street. I did not eat the meat that was hanging. I have not yet gotten that courageous. I am sure, knowing me like I do, that I will in time.
Here is a picture of me ordering my first meal alone. It was kinda cool. You can just go to the corner and they have all these covered stands to sit down and eat at. My friend here was very kind and helped me to order my first solo meal in Mexico. I had to do some crying to show I wanted onions but it was all good.
Here is a really good site I found for Mexican Street Food and some tips on eating it: http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/2098-wrap-it-up-a-guide-to-mexican-street-tacos-part-i.
The markets were yet another adventure. There seems to be two kinds of markets here. One is sorta like Walmart stores in the USA. With food and all. The second kind is more of a free for all.
The second are the more interesting and seem to be more common. They are sorta inside a building but there is a lot of stuff happening on the side walks as well. Booth to booth is something different. Meat hanging from hooks, chickens being cleaned right there, vegetables on display, shoes for sale, cut flowers, pigs being slaughtered and cleaned, holiday wares, all types and sizes of chilies, plus lots of places to sit down and eat while your shopping, the list goes on and on. The shocker to me and I would venture to say most of us from the USA is the lack of care when the stray dog or two strolls by.
Of course food is not the only cultural experience to be had in Mexico City. There are more museums than one city should ever have. And all of them had people in them on the Sunday I went. Sundays are free and it seems a day where everyone gets out and about. There are 20 million people in Mexico City so it tends to be a lot of people enjoying their Sundays.
Here is a site about all the museums: http://www.solutionsabroad.com/en/cities/mexico-city/museums-in-mexico-city.html.
I recommend going to at least two and many more if you like museums. They are all very beautiful.
The Center Plaza is spectacular in and of itself. It is huge and runs diagonal through the city. Much like NYC it has a lot of street performers and beggars. It is its own event.
Here is a great site for all things about the Center: http://wikitravel.org/en/Mexico_City/Centro.
The last thing I will mention is the public transportation systems. They are amazing. The metro runs just like NYC. There is a train coming and going every few minutes all for $3 pesos. That is less than a quarter. The buses on the street come at the same intervals and will stop where ever someone flags them down. I have never had an easier let alone cheaper way to get around town in my life.
Mexico City Metro: http://mexicometro.org/
The final bit of advice I want to give is that the buses that travel from one part of Mexico to another are simple the best. The chairs go down so far you are all but horizontal. There is food served and bathrooms. The days of the chicken bus in Mexico are gone – I’ve been told they have been gone for 30 years – forever.
This is a site for all the Autobus stations with buses leaving Mexico City for other places in Mexico City: http://gomexico.about.com/od/mexicocity/qt/df_bus_stations.htm.
And the bus company I took to go south was ADO. They have several different classes of buses: First, Second, Premium and Platinum. I took the first class south. To Oaxaca just over 300 miles away I paid $31.00 and for Tapachula over 550 miles away I paid $28.50. The website for ADO: http://www.ado.com.mx/ado/index.jsp.
Funny thing is everyone here keeps telling me how cheap Guatemala is….
I want to start by saying this has not been my favorite place of the many places I’ve visited. But I am willing to attribute it to several factors. For one I was tired from all the planning and getting to Mexico. Also I don’t have any real understanding of Mexico and trying to get from the airport to my host’s home as I mentioned in the previous post was a challenge. But besides all of this Mexico City is LOUD. From the noise to the colors. It is a lot to take in all at once and all by yourself.
I went out for lunch with my host’s parents and had a really nice first meal. Lots of things to learn in the food department here in Mexico. I did learn that it doesn’t have to be spicy. Thank goodness as I cannot handle spicy when I’m in my own country let alone trying to get used to the changes in food and too many chilies.
After a bit of very broken conversation due to large communication barriers with the family at their home, I went up to my host’s apartment to get settled in. I was tired so I just took a shower and got in bed to read for a while.
The next morning my host asked me if I was interested in going into the Center and going to some museums. I was definitely interested. So he took me. And, left me. He said he had to go back to do some work (This happened to be a lie as he went back to watch football and was too chauvinist to ask me if I liked football. He just assumed as a woman I didn’t.
I am glad that he didn’t stay. I was able to go where I wanted and do what I wanted which included going to many museums and taking lots of pictures.
Now I am going to finish with my discussion of my host and my time with him and tell you about Mexico City and all there is to do and see there and how to get around.
Next up the culture…
I have never had an easier time flying as I did on my trip from LAX to Mexico City. I was certain that I would have trouble and I was wrong. My friends, Chris and Amanda, picked me up at my couch surfing place in Long Beach a couple of hours before my flight (had to be there that early because of it being an international flight and all).
Luggage in hand we were off. Fun conversations mostly about my time in Southern California and we were there. Hugs goodbye and a picture or two.
I had bought my ticket on Alaskan Airlines a couple of weeks before for a crazy great price of $74.00 one way. I got to choose my seat when I bought them while still online and then checked in online within the 24 hour time period. With no luggage to check I got to walk straight through to security.
Now I thought since it was LAX and I was going to Mexico which has some pretty high security warnings right now and it would at the very least be slow going through security. I was wrong. I was on the other side of security and headed to my gate literally within 3 minutes. I was shocked.
The only official thing I had to do was show my passport at the gate once I got there so they could make a mark on the ticket that it had been seen. No one was at the gate booth but me and the attendant so that took no time either.
That gave me about an hour and a half to eat something then to call family and say goodbye. I read a bit of my book and it was time to board.
One of the things I did at the airport is change some money. I know it costs more at the airport, but I wanted to at least be able to ask some questions and understand the answers. Those of you that know me know how much I struggle with money amounts anyway, so I know dealing with money in foreign currencies is going to be one of the biggest struggles of this journey. I exchanged $100.00 which was the least I could do with my Visa. She explained that I needed to take one of the zeros off the pesos and that would give me a rough idea on how much it was in American dollars. This actually is on the high-end as the current money exchange rate between Mexican pesos and US dollar is: 13.20 to 1.
After a couple of mishaps some that actually were to my advantage I am beginning to have a grasp of it.
Once on board I was set. I was in the first row behind First Class so I didn’t have to walk down the aisle bumping into everyone. I sat on the aisle with an elderly Mexican woman who, of course, didn’t speak any English. She seemed very thankful for my help in getting her carry-on in the storage area and her comfortable in her seat.
The ride was great. Free drinks and breakfast. I have not been on a plane in almost twenty years under 12 hours that serves free food. For those of you who have read my post on my trip to Denver from Knoxville know that I was in wonder that the plane arrived 25 minutes early. Well so did this one. Cant believe that. Back in the day if it was less than 15 minutes late we thought it was early. Ha.
We all filled out our paperwork to get into Mexico while inflight. These included The Migratory Form for Foreign Tourist, people moving to Mexico, business travelers and dignitaries. After the forms are filled out and checked they are stamped by a customs officer. The officers than give it back to the person coming into the country to keep with their passport to be able to leave the country again. This form has a bar code on it and a blue stripe across the top saying “Estados Unidos Mexicanos”.
If this card is lost there is an issue! I was told that if it is lost or misplaced that I would have to go back to the airport in Mexico City (which is a problem since I am not going to be in Mexico City for most of this trip, but much further south) and beg them to let you fill out another form and pay the fine and get another card. It is up to them if they let you do this, but I’m not sure what you would do if they wont. I guess go to the Embassy?
Now for Customs. Lots of trepidation here. Not only is it a bit disconcerting to see all the military everywhere with oozies, but I have no real understanding of Spanish. So I was a bit concerned.
No need to be. Although none of the airport employees or immigration officers spoke any English there were several passengers who had been through this airport many times before and were more than willing to help me through the process.
Again, not having any checked luggage proved a huge advantage. I just walked through a small security metal detector thingy (I am pretty sure that is the technical name for it) and then into a short line for Customs. The first part of line the Customs Officer just checked the paperwork and gave me back the card mentioned above. The second part of the line I put my stuff on a conveyor belt and waited for a green light at the end.
If it is red you have to go to another place and they go through all your things. If it is green you push a large button to reset it and pick up your things and you are out of customs. My light was green and the woman behind the conveyor belt watching the camera gave me a big smile and say “Benvientuto Mexico”. Loved it.
At that point the sights and sounds kind of assaulted me.
My host in Mexico City had given me way too many different directions to get to his house so I was completely confused. I got to the street where the buses are and decided it would just be best to take a taxi. The taxi got me right there in about 20 minutes instead of the hour and half and four buses it would have taken. It only cost me $150 pesos which is about $11 and I was there.
My host’s house was in a neighborhood called, Colonia. There are many many neighborhoods, which they refer to as districts, that make up Mexico City. It was a quaint neighborhood with lots of people on the street all saying hello and asking how you are. Very nice.
It was easy to find the gate that led to the house, but it was locked. I waited and tried to ask in Spanish how to get to my host. I didn’t realize that once the gate was opened there was like a long passageway with several houses touching one another facing in ward on either side. Not just one person’s home.
Finally a lady pointed out my host’s mom coming down the street. She was with her sister-in-law and they welcomed me with open arms. They spoke very broken English, but enough between all of us that we could have spotty conversations.
My host, Carlos, lives in an apartment above his parents. It truly on the roof. So once his mom had introduced me to his dad (who speaks NO English), she took me upstairs to put my luggage away.
Once she opened up the door there was a note from Carlos saying that he had gone out for the day and would not be back till midnight because he had been invited to a party. He said he would be back at midnight and we could then go to another party. I thought it was rude.
But, his parents and aunt invited me to go to lunch with them. I thought that was very kind and I had such a good time with them. I sat next to the dad and he yelled the menu to me in Spanish. Like people in the USA apparently he thinks if he yells it loud enough I would understand. Not the case, but it was humorous.
The menu was actually written on the table and I spent the meal learning some common dishes in Spanish. The food was really good and not spicy. Although there were tons of chilies and sauces to add to everything.
Back at the house we hung out for a bit and I went to Carlos’ apartment to rest.
He did get home about midnight and I was asleep.
By the time I leave for Mexico City via LAX I will have been in Southern California exactly 3 months to the day. That’s this coming Saturday when I will be leaving for Mexico City for the beginning of the International part of my journey!!
I wish so much that I would have kept up my diligently with this blog as I have done many cool things here. But I didn’t. So I will just touch on some of the stuff now and hopefully write much more on future posts.
Like I said I got here on July 29th, 2011. The next day I went to a multi-year high school reunion. Had a BLAST!!! Lots of people and lots of memories. I’ve stayed with couch surfing hosts and friends. Been from Long Beach (where I spent a great majority of the time) to Temecula, Moorpark and Oceanside.
I have gone hiking, drinking with former teachers, visiting long lost family members and beach volleyball playing. I have watched the sunset from rooftops, boats, bay windows, hillsides and cars. I have been to Chinatown in LA to the Mexican Border. I’ve been to 3, yep THREE, high school reunions which is pretty weird since in 30 years prior I had not been to one. I have seen many many people from my childhood and teenage years that meant the world to me and helped save me from a very difficult life. I was able to say thank you to many of them. I got to volunteer at the community theater in Long Beach and to go to Disneyland with some dear friends from the south.
I have traveled by car, ride-share, bus, hiked and biked.
All in all I got to be both tourist, local and explorer. I love my life!!
I really do hope I can spend quiet time and write more specifically about so much of my time here in the very near future. I will!!!
Next stop…………MEXICO CITY…………….