Cute Row House or Crazy Cactus Trees? Lord, I Don’t Know

About 7 1/2 months ago we arrived in Mexico City. In a week or so, we’re headed back to whence we came, New York City, for a week-long trip.

When I first moved to Mexico, I didn’t miss New York. I’d lived there for about 5 years, and I spent a lot of time in self-imposed austerity mode (renting apartments in questionable neighborhoods, eating lots of home-cooked meals in the world’s best restaurant city, shopping at Old Navy while surrounded by fashionably dressed people). The goal of this was saving for a home, perhaps a modest row house in Astoria, Queens, with a small backyard and within walking distance to the train. That didn’t seem like too much to ask out of life, especially for two people who have worked long and hard, even if their industry happens to be editing and writing, which doesn’t make many people rich. A house is what a lot of people plan for. We would have planted lots of flowers and fed the squirrels.

We came close to buying once, but backed off at the last minute after we thought about what life would be like paying that much for a home — pretty much living without hardly any disposable income whatsoever. Because we weren’t tied down to a barely affordable property, we were able to jump at the chance to move to Mexico City when it came up. We had had great times as tourists here, loved the culture, loved the food, and knew it would be a great adventure. And so far it has.

But I’m still kind of bitter about the New York real estate situation, while also bitterly missing New York, too. And I feel guilty about being angry, because as living in Mexico will teach you, I wasn’t suffering, and I’ve got nothing to complain about compared with people who have to worry about the price of tortillas climbing along with the cost for just about every other basic subsistence food.

Every once in a while, we think about where we might go after our Mexico City time is up. I know that if we had family in New York, I’d be far more convinced of going back, despite never owning a charming one-family house. It’d almost be a no-brainer. But being in New York, when your family is in Texas and Minnesota (or a stone’s throw from those states), is a lot like being in Mexico – it’s a long flight, it’s an expensive trip, and it’s terrible to travel during the holidays. You spend a big chunk of yearly vacation seeing family. And being away from family, you never feel as though you belong, at least not quite like your co-workers or friends who have parents or siblings a quick train ride away.

So, I still don’t know where I want to go next — New York, or Somewhere Else. It’s a perpetually moving see-saw, New York: Yes!, New York: No!

I probably wouldn’t be thinking so much about going home to the U.S. if circumstances here were slightly different. It’s obvious I won’t ever get very good at Spanish, our families are still far away, I’ve gotten terrible bouts of food poisoning three times already and I can only do this work-at-home thing for so long. It’s a lot of various forms of social isolation, on so many levels, and while most of the time I cope quite well, sometimes it seems like too much.

That said, I’m not quite ready to leave, either, especially if I had more time to travel. Being able to explore Mexico is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one that I’m wholeheartedly enjoying as I watch Huapango dancers swirl around the dance floor, or stare at exotic, enormous cactus trees from the bus window.

¡Bailamos Huapango! Well, Sort Of…

Huapango Banda en Queretaro

This weekend, in Queretaro, we saw posters advertising: “25 FESTIVAL DE HUAPANGO ARRIBEÑO EN XICHÚ Y 15 EN QUERÉTARO ¡VAMOS A BAILAR HUAPANGO!

I didn’t know what at least two of those words meant (Huapango and Xichu), but, as we’re so used to doing these days, we used our powers of language deduction (gracias a cognate “festival” and the very simplistic “vamos a bailar“) and realized it was a dance festival. (We’re such geniuses of language. Sigh.) Anyway, what the hell, we thought, porque no?

Turns out that Huapango is a style of music common to Northeastern Mexico, and it’s a cross between spoken word poetry, mariachi, folklorico and a jig — complete with frantic dancing that looked remarkably like Irish step dancing.

Most of the dancers at our festival were dressed normally, but a few were all gussied up like Frida, which I ate up, being the goofy turista that I am. It’s no secret that Mexicans love to dance (go to Plaza de la Cuidadela in Mexico City on a Saturday afternoon for proof), and the night was beyond entertaining. Women and men of all ages weren’t the least bit shy about jumping up on the elevated dance floor, and, for lack of a better phrase, jigging the night away. (Some of you may be thinking of folklorico music, or the Mexican hat dance, which I understand, but Huapango is not quite the same.)

But, no, we never worked up the nerve to join in on the dancing. Have you ever seen Riverdance? Would you ever attempt that in a foreign country surrounded by strangers who are acutely aware that you’re not from there? With absolutely no alcohol in your system? And one of you is the tallest person at the festival?

I didn’t think so.

I’ve searched and searched online for a video that would illustrate what he we heard and saw. Sadly, nothing really compares.

A good song sample, though, can be found here: el gusto

And here’s some pretty decent video of students attempting to learn it:

Querétaro, Mexico: It’s Oh-So-Pretty

Queretaro Mexico

This weekend we took a three-hour bus trip north of the D.F. to Querétaro, a lovely city of about 700,000 people. (Why does that now seem tiny? Must be because I’ve spent the last 8 months among 20 million.)

Querétaro is unique. It’s a “heartland city” like San Miguel de Allende, but has far fewer Americans and tourists. The streets are spotless and the economy is thriving, something that was obvious the moment I saw an Auto Zone store and other American outlets (sadly, this is one way to measure a strong economy here — are multi-nationals opening chain stores?).

The Centro still looks like Mexico, though — whew. On Saturday afternoon, it was downright sleepy, but beautiful. At night, of course, things got a bit more exciting (more on that on my next upcoming post), but overall, still quite manageable.

More photos: Continue reading

Review of Los Flamingos Hotel in Acapulco: Pretty But Needs Work

acapulco vista


Pool at Los Flamingos

It’s been a quiet couple weeks since my parents and Dora visited, and I keep finding myself looking at the photos from their trip. When they were here, we spent a few days at our apartment in Mexico City, and a long weekend in Acapulco (5-hour bus ride). Unfortunately, I was very ill during the Acapulco trip (a doctor even had to make a housecall to rescue me from dehydration) and I’ve been a little upset ever since: I really wanted to swim in the Pacific Ocean. The scenery was lovely, but hard to enjoy from el bano.

Hibiscus, Los Flamingos

Anyway, enough of my sob story. We decided to stay at the affordable Los Flamingos Hotel, in “Old Acapulco.” Here are the things I/we liked about it:

  • Amazing view of the Pacific Ocean — you can see the curve of the world from the hotel. In the winter, you can see whales cavorting. Also, fantastic sunsets.
  • Perfectly landscaped grounds, with ripe mango trees, almond trees, coconut palm trees and flowers everywhere. You seriously have to watch out — fruit was falling all the time while we there, landing loudly in the background, splattering in the shady nether areas behind the pool. We all liked the large, weird cactus in front of the pool.
  • Friendly staff. Miguel (aka “Cheetah” — inside joke) at the front desk was exceedingly helpful and polite.
  • Fun history. Los Flamingos used to be a popular hangout with Hollywood starlets in the 1950s (like Tarzan) and even through the 80s. There are pictures of them hanging in the main entrance.
  • The Tarzan room. Four to six adults can stay in this private circular structure located off the swimming pool. It has its own cliff, private walkway and seating areas, hammocks and generally uber-relaxing vibe.
  • The restaurant was affordable and good. They don’t overcharge.
  • The pool is small, and in need of some small repairs, but gorgeous.

alberca-pool

What I didn’t like:

  • The rooms need a lot of work/repair. We all stayed in air conditioned rooms — and there’s only a few of those room available. The a/c’s were ancient (but they worked). I can’t imagine staying in one of the non-a/c rooms this time of year — I would not recommend it. And, we had a variety of insects (including this large black scorpion in Dora’s room) and geckos sliding in through the many large openings in the screened windows and front door. I don’t mind reptiles, but large, poisonous arachnids are a bit much, even for me.
  • We didn’t have much hot water or water pressure the entire time. Try suffering from gut-wrenching, painful stomach flu and then find yourself standing in a shower, with just a cold trickle coming out of the nozzle. Oh god, it’s the worst.
  • The hotel is not within walking distance to anything, not even a beach. However, not too far in a taxi and a ferry ride is Isla de la Roqueta, which has several beaches. If you go on a weekday, it’s probably tranquil, and even on crowded holidays weekends, there are walkways that take you to some lovely, secluded beaches. But the main beaches on Isla are like Times Square, with sand and babies swimming in diapers-and-floaties.
  • Tourists on cruise ships stop by on weekend mornings for a quick drink and tour of Los Flamingos. There’s nothing like having a quiet breakfast with your husband and best friend when you’re suddenly surrounded by 400 very old, very naive American tourists murmuring that “Mexicans are a very hospitable people.” (I’d add “patient.”)

I very much want to return to Acapulco, when it’s not quite so steamy outside and the marine mammals are on vacation, too. I don’t think we’ll ever stay at Los Flamingos again — but I’ll go back for the view and have a drink above the ocean…while the whales are at play.

view from the bar at los flamingos

(Photos by: Dora Naughton, Betty & Don Victory)

Another Mexico City Bargain: Gorgeous Hand-Blown Glassware

Recently purchased: 6 cocktail glasses (second photo), 6 drinking glasses (first photo), one large margarita pitcher (first photo) and 6 glass stirrers (both photos. Yes, that’s a whale. And a calla lily).

Total cost: $30 USD.

Margarita pitcher

Drink pictured here? Sotol-mango-pineapple smoothie. Joy’s own special adult beverage creation.

blue hand-blown glass mexico

Drink pictured here? Sotol and diet grapefruit soda. A Brendan creation, I think, mas o menos.

Oh No! Watch Out! It’s Tuesday…the 13th?

It’s a dark and stormy day here in Mexico City, and a crisp wind is blowing into our living room, adding to the drama that is today: Tuesday the 13.

*cue thunder claps, baying wolves and banging doors*

What ever do I mean? It’s a random and totally harmless Tuesday, right?

Well, no, not here in Mexico, and most of Latin America. Today is a very superstitious and peculiar day. In other words, if the Friday the 13th movies had been filmed in Latin America, they would have been named after today, martes trece. Today would be the day to see a random serial killer wearing a hockey mask…er, wait, there’s no hockey here so perhaps a… soccer jersey?…pacing the sidewalks, wielding a bloody machete, waiting to disembowel hot chicks.

Why Tuesday? Well, in Spanish lore, the word martes stems from Mars, the Roman god of war, and 13 is hated around the world, for reasons I don’t completely understand. Read more: Martes 13.

And be careful: I warned you!

Why Working at Home Isn’t All that Great, Or, Oh, How I Miss Bagel Day

I’m trying to work, but the wireless connection is running as efficiently as the New York DMV….

So I decide to dig out the wired-network wire and plug it into the laptop….

Then I notice the dog’s back-up “pee papers” need replacing. Fan-freaking-tastic. I fold them up precariously, and head to the kitchen trash.

But it’s full. So I close the trashbag up and pull it out of the trashcan…And get leaky mysterious trash juice all over me, because the bag has ripped…And the bottom of the trashcan is full of mystery trash juice, too. (I ponder: Is there anything more gross?)

I let out a loud sigh, shudder disgustedly, and search for paper towels and disinfectants.

I clean out the trash can, and get out two more trashbags — one to put in the trashcan, and one to double-bag the leaky trashbag…since it will be a couple more hours before the trashmen show up, and we don’t have a place to stow the trash in the interim (trash removal in Mexico City: always complicated)…and I don’t want to deal with any more trash juice, so I decide to use extra plastic, and say screw you, Mother Nature.

I then wash my hands thoroughly, put down more dog papers, find the yellow cord, plug it into the laptop…And ten oh-so-inefficient minutes later, resume working.