Flowers and My Filthy Fluffmonster

Last week, on Christmas Eve, Brendan and I went to the Mercado Medellin to buy food and flowers.

After I asked which flowers smelled the best, one of the florists talked me into buying two stalks of giant lilies. Nearly a week later, they are still opening, not showing any signs of wilting. The house has smelled like fresh flowers this whole time.

Price? 40 pesos, or about $3.

Enjoying Mexico City’s Rare Quiet Times

On a day-to-day basis, you’ll find me sitting at my home office, five flights up, editing articles while periodically stopping to watch two hummingbirds duke it out for the nectar in the feeder.  In some ways, I get to hover above all the clamor (which is constant). Still, the city finds a way to interrupt me, whether that be via huge trucks that rattle the apartment or street vendors who ring the doorbell.

Right now, though, the city is far more peaceful than normal, since many residents don’t have to work until the New Year. Along with Easter week (Semana Santa), it’s the quietest time of the year.

If only this could last much, much longer.

Parque Mexico, blissfully free of screaming kids and dogs running around off the leash.

OK, but there still are balloon sellers and couples making out (PDA is a favorite Mexican past time).

A fruit vendor, bored.

I took all these photos while walking my dog. Ordinarily there are way too many distractions for me to do both at the same time.

I did find a bit of activity inside Foro Lindbergh, a big plaza inside the park. Various local designers were selling jewelry, clothes and other arts/crafts. Typical of my ultra-cool ‘hood, there was also loud, hip music. Although it was a perfect day (70 degrees, a slight breeze, no humidity), it was tranquilo.

Donning Our Gay Apparel

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Mexico City approves same-sex marriage! The actual law now permits the “free uniting of two people.

This city may have a lot of perplexing problems, but I do love its leftist/libertarian bent, even in the face of some pretty extreme Catholicism.

Wait, What Did That Bandleader Just Call Me?

Yes, that's a shrimp in a crown holding a scepter. What else could it possibly be?

I turned 33 years young this weekend, and to celebrate, a group of us went to my favorite restaurant, La Embajada Jarocha. “Jarocha” means someone from the Mexican state of Veracruz, which is located along the Gulf of Mexico. And “embajada” means embassy. Get it?

Along with having some of the most sumptuous seafood dishes in the entire world, and bewitching tropical music, Veracruz is also home to people who like to swear. Yes, as in, they say bad words and then laugh, a lot. (Yes: These are my kind of people!)

La Embajada Jarocha, which is, after all, the Veracruz Embassy, lives up to these three hallmarks. Every time we’ve gone before, the band has stopped several times a night to shout random things, including a few phrases I understood, like “chinga su madre!” (It’s a bad phrase, in English it would rhyme with zothertucker.) We weren’t sure why this was happening, but appreciated it all the same.

Then, there’s the food: Among the menu items are ceviche de jaiba (freshwater crab ceviche), tacos de langosta (lobster tacos), deep fried plantains stuffed with seafood, world-famous snapper a la Veracruz, and my favorite, cocos rellenos de mariscos, which is a coconut stuffed with seafood and baked until the coconut has infused the seafood.

And to go along with all the intense swearing and food is the music. A scene from last night:

But the best part of last night wasn’t the food or the music, although under normal circumstances those suffice.  No, the best part of last night was the swearing, which, finally, was directed at me.

It all started when my friend Julie noticed the bandleader talking to us. So, we started paying attention to the chit-chat.

“De donde son?” he asked us. Where are you all from?

“Alemania?” he asked. Germany?

That got a laugh from our table, where some of us are blonde and a lot of us are pale. At that point, he said something to the effect of, “well, anyway we just want to wish Jor a happy birthday.” We all stared back at him, confused.

“Where is Senor Jor?” he asked.

I started looking around for Jor, which I assumed was short for Jorge, and well, that’s a crappy nickname, I told myself, because it’s also unfortunately similar to the English word whore.

But, he kept staring at our table, and it became clear that he meant me, Joy. Apparently my friend Jesica had slyly written him a note asking him to wish me a happy birthday, but he had a hard time with her handwriting. He requested that I, Jor, stand up so I could receive my well wishes.

So I stood, and someone shouted “motor” (same meaning as in English, but pronounced mo-tore). I didn’t know it at the time, until it was explained to me later, but the beginning part of this ritual always includes shouting out a random word that rhymes with the recipient’s name. This explains all the random words being tossed around during our previous visits.

And then it all fell into perfect place, becoming the (first and probably – ? –  only) birthday celebration in which I was repeatedly called a very bad word.

“Motor! (drum beat)

Motor! (drum beat)

Motor! (drum beat)

Que chinga su madre de Jor!!!!” (*cymbals crash*)

For the rest of the night, we didn’t bother correcting him, and I let myself, like a true Jarochan, be called Jor.

More:

My normally dance-phobic huzzband even danced with me. Maybe he was proud to be dancing, for once, with Jor?

We danced so fast the camera couldn't keep up. We're that good, people. (Or Jesica forgot to use the flash.)

Me, Julie and Jesica, before we all hit the floor and showed off our German dance moves.

If you can't go see the real thing, this mural of Veracruz's Orizaba volcano is a close second, no?

The night was made all the more fun with the purchase of a bottle of Flor de Cana rum, which is the closest thing to "paradise in a bottle" that I've ever found.

Sensory Overload: Photo Tour of a Mexican Mercado

Although I’m not much of a cook, one of my favorite aspects of living in Mexico has been our frequent trips to the Mercado Medellin, a large  market in Colonia Roma Sur, about a 15-minute walk from our house. As the name implies, the Mercado Medellin also specializes in South American food products, and outside, there are a number of Colombian restaurants.

Because “going to the mercado” is a functional, practical experience for us, we haven’t taken any photos of it ourselves. But our spate of recent visitors amassed an amazing collection of mercado photos, both of the Medellin, and the mercado in Xochimilco in the south of the city.

Although it’s not difficult to see the invasion of other cultures in Mexico (including Americans like me walking around!), the mercados are a strong throwback to Mexico’s ancient past, when various indigenous cultures would meet at pre-determined locations to trade and sell products.

As a result, we now strongly urge all our visitors to go to at least one, to get a sense of how many Mexicans still obtain their groceries, socialize and retain a strong part of their culture. They can be overwhelming — this is no sanitized experience — but they are breathtaking, too. Along with fresh produce, most mercados have meat/chicken/seafood vendors, lots of dried products, pinatas, cheeses, housewares, and as everywhere, prepared food stalls.

Details: Mercado Medellin, located on Medellin between Coahuila and Campeche. View Map

First, photos by Chrissy:

(Squash blossom flowers)

(Cheese vendor)

(Green mole, made with pumpkin seeds)

(Day of the Dead sugar and chocolate skulls)

(Candied yams and pumpkins).

Photos by Connie. More of her photos can be seen here.

(Corn fungus known as huitlacoche, cactus fruit and garbanzo beans in front of a veggie soup mix)

(Me and a lot of fruit)

Photo by Hugh. More of his photography here.

(Fishmonger’s gloves)

Photos by Martha

(Trying dried grasshoppers (chapulines))

(The dried, spicy grasshoppers)

(Lime slices fail to make these goat heads appetizing)

Motherlode of Poinsettias Invade Parque Mexico

We live next to one of the prettiest parks in Mexico City. It really doesn’t need any embellishments, but the city can’t seem to leave well enough alone lately. For Day of the Dead, park workers planted thousands of marigolds, which, while gorgeous and festive, quickly wilted  from lack of watering, and/or were trampled on by dogs (snobby Condesa dog owners consider themselves too good for leashes).

A few weeks ago, I saw the big park trucks unloading poinsettias by the hundreds. They’re known in Mexico as the flores de noche buena — holy night flowers, as in Christmas Eve. Poinsettias are native to Mexico (read about their history here), and this time of year, every little corner florist has them for sale, at about $2 a pop. I think their popularity is probably bolstered by the fact that they’re also patriotic, only coming in the colors of the Mexican flag (except for the more pink variety, I guess…which I think were probably invented in a lab and don’t naturally come that way.)

One cool fact you may not realize about poinsettias is that they can get HUGE, like trees. Case in point: This photo I took in November at a friend’s wedding in Coyoacan:

At an ex-hacienda in Southern Mexico City

As expected, the park’s noche buenas have not held up well to the arid dry season conditions and trampling from the dogs. Still, I did my best to to take some nice photos today for you, dear readers, while out walking my very leashed dog, Charlie:

Many of the plants are arranged in Christmas shapes, like stars and Xmas trees. This one, dunno. It almost looks like it spells out "100?"

It was hard to find a grouping of flowers that weren't partially trampled.

He looks every which way but at the camera.

This was taken on the side of the park where the Mayor lives. This is his view, basically, from his apartment.

Same view, just a vertical shot.

Proof We South Texans Don’t Take Ourselves Too Seriously

I just spent a week in my ancestral homelands of Corpus Christi, Texas. We celebrated Christmas…meaning we drank a lot of margaritas and ate a lot of tamales.

I capped off my week  at a magnificent waterfront home out on Padre Island, owned by family friends Rebecca and James. Every year, Toys for Tots and island residents get together to hold the La Posada Boat Parade. Little baby boats all the way up to monster yachts bling themselves out in Christmas lights. It’s really fun, except when the boat riders throw out candy and most of it lands in the water.

The challenge, for spectators, is photographing the boats. My camera basically wigs out under such abnormal conditions. But my parents and I managed to get a few good photos of our very holy, spiritual revelry.

After this photo was taken, a boat passed by and the captain shouted "That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen." (I'm proud of that fact!)

After we took this photo, a boat came by and the captain said "that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen." Also, the guy in the white rocking chair -- he drank more champagne in one night than I have in my entire life.

Just like the three wise men!

My Dad, who is a teetotaler most days, was in charge of making grapefruit 'ritas.

This is a boat, with lights strung up in the shape of a martini glass -- with an olive. There was also a couple of fake drunk people hanging off the glass (I think they were paper mache).

One of the more modest boats of the evening. The eerie green glow is not the holy spirit, but underwater fishing lights that Texans put there because they attract fish. Before you ask, Texans do stop short of shooting the fish -- we use fishing poles like most people.

A flamingo -- doesn't it just scream Silent Night, Holy Night? All Is Good, All Is Right, or however the heck it goes.

This is how most of my photos turned out, and it wasn't just because of all the tequila I consumed.

Yes, children, Santa wears sunglasses at night, and travels on a boat named "Cuz We Can."

I was hoping this one was going to dock at the house, and Brendan would pop out with a bottle of champagne and shout "Merry Christmas, I bought you a yacht!" But, no.

On an unrelated note but no less merry note, my Dad has been making lots of progress on his restoration of a 1926 Oldsmobile.

Visiting a Mangrove Paradise near Acapulco, Mexico

When Lesley and I were on our recent mini-vacation to Pie de la Cuesta, we spent one afternoon on a tour with Coyuca 2000, a restaurant/tour operator that offers trips around Laguna Coyuca, a large lagoon situated behind the beach. (See the main photo here — the lagoon is on the left.)

Laguna Coyuca near Acapulco

Amazingly, despite its proximity to sprawling and gritty Acapulco, the lagoon is clean, relatively undeveloped and contains a now-rare protected mangrove forest. All this added up to a tour well worth the $350-peso fee ($27).

We decided to take the tour mostly, I think, out of curiosity — we randomly ate dinner at Coyuca one night, and the menus advertised the boat tour, with amusing, hard-to-resist translations like “take photo with crocodile and iguana,” “visit site where of Tarzan and Rambo 2 was filmed” (true story!) and “see in her the many birds and of migration while in catamaran” (Her being the lagoon, of course.)

Perhaps because it was a Friday and the weekend throng of Mexico City visitors hadn’t arrived yet, but we mostly had the lagoon to ourselves. It reminded me a lot of Lago de Patzcuaro — a big body of freshwater with islands, surrounded by large mountains — but more tropical and hot.

A lone fisherman in Laguna de Coyuca. This looks so much like Patzcuaro, in Michoacan...

...except it's a lot more tropical here

We had little to no expectation for the tour, other than we’d get to ride around in a boat in a tropical lagoon. But it was so much more than that. First, we crossed the lake to circle around an island where there were many pelicans, cormorants and other large birds.

Bird island (a grey heron on the big rock, and a white heron over on the right).

I wish I could tell you what type of bird this was.

Then, we docked at a pier, where we were told we were going to “walk through the mangroves.” I looked down at my flip-flops and hoped they’d suffice.

The dock on this pier required some gymnastics. Over on the end of the pier -- see that lattice-looking structure? You have to climb that, to the top. Over on the right, a mangrove tree.

At the end of the pier, a guide appeared from the eco-tourism company Paraiso de los Manglares, explaining in English  that we’d be doing a half-mile walk through protected “manglares” (mangroves). We followed him to a suspended walkway that looked a lot like those bouncy wooden structures you see in kids’ jungle gym sets. We stepped onto it,  jiggled (and giggled), bouncing down the rickety path.

The guide explained that this area has two types of mangroves — red and white. And how they are incredibly important to regulating the world’s climate, saying they produce more oxygen than most plant species. He took great pains to explain the flora/fauna of the mangrove forest, and I can proudly say I now know what a mangrove seed looks like.

The uphill climb on the suspension bridge

Lesley is dwarfed by the mangroves.

Near the end, the walkway angles upward, leading to a large platform that overlooks an iguana sanctuary. The iguanas live in a very normal setting and there were also other animals living among the iguanas, including an affectionate deer. As I petted him, I realized I had just crossed a mangrove forest and was petting a deer. It was turning into an awesome day (and before I forget, we also saw a whale out in the ocean that morning, while waiting at the beach for the tour to start).

After we left, he stood by the gate, watching us, just like a dog. I was ready to bring him back to Mexico City with me.

After that, we visited the crocodile sanctuary, where a humongous herd of Polish and Mexican tourists were taking photos with injured/recovering crocodiles. I didn’t get photos of the mayhem, though Lesley and I watched, rapt, as tourists got into an enclosure with “Chewy” — a formerly abused crocodile — and took pictures with him. The whole scene seemed seconds away from bloodshed. We chose not to harass Chewy, especially after we learned he spent his first five years of life chained up at a restaurant, with shackles on his back legs growing into his skin, nearly killing him. (The pressure to pet Chewy was the one part of the tour that crossed over from “eco-tourism” to “tacky tourism.”)

Still, the offerings from Pariaso de los Manglares was impressive, considering how low our expectations were. The grounds include a restaurant, spa and jaw-droppingly-gorgeous pool. When we mentioned to the guide how we hadn’t read about any of this in our travel books (Lonely Planet, time for an update, perhaps?), he explained that the union-organized tourism industry in Acapulco has resisted allowing his organization to advertise in the city, so they rely on people who visit Pie de la Cuesta to spread the word.

After that, we got back on the boat, and Paulino took over to Paraiso’s restaurant, with a private beach. We had homemade Pina Coladas and chilled out for an hour or so, before boarding the “catamaran” (a pontoon boat) and heading back to the dock.

About.com Looking for Mexico Resort/Cities Writer

If you like writing about Mexican beaches -- who doesn't? -- we're looking for a writer!

Amigos, my co-worker Suzanne is looking for a writer for her site, http://gomexico.about.com

Suzanne is really easy-going so I think she’d be a pleasure to work with…I recommend this if you’re looking for extra income and the chance to be associated with one of the best-known web sites in the world:

More details can be found here: Writing Opportunities at About.com

While working alongside our Guide to Mexico Travel, you will be providing first-time and repeat visitors a comprehensive look at all these popular tourist destinations have to offer, without overlapping or duplicating existing content. The ideal candidate is a published writer (with clips) who either lives or has lived in Mexico, or who visits regularly enough to be considered an expert; experience writing for the Web is a plus.