Monday, October 12, 2009

Two for One

My second trip out of Mexico City was to the state of Michoacan. My first stop was the city of Morelia. The bus ride from Mexico City was not too long. Once at the bus station, I took a cab to the hotel. The first thing I notice as the cab starts driving through the city is the abundance of graffiti. As we get closer to the historic center, I notice how the city seems to clean up. I found a hotel that was right by the main cathedral and had called them from the bus station to reserve a room.

As I check in, they explain how the hotel used to be an old house. Easily it must be over a hundred years old. It’s always exciting to know you’re in such an old building, but I also feel a bit uneasy when I think about all the old stories that must have been trapped there. There’s some life-like painting of the original owners in the courtyard, they explain, and I try not to think too much about it as I walk to my room. The room is great, and there’s a side view to the main plaza.

As I step into the city, the first thing I see is a demonstration outside the Palacio de Gobierno. I’m not sure what it’s about, but there seems to be a lot of tension in the air. I proceed to explore the beautiful Catedral and the adjoining Plaza de Armas. Using a map, I start walking the streets. I walk for a good while, my eyes taking in every single detail. The streets are pretty narrow for traffic at times. There are actually hardly any stop signs at the intersections and somehow this seems to work effortlessly. I pause to take pictures on occasion. Older ladies didn’t seem to like this, since I got more than a couple strange looks from them.

As I’m walking the streets and start to see more grafitti, I wonder how far I should stray from my starting point. I see a street blocked off by a slick cop and his parked motorcycle, which is causing some tension with some of the drivers who have to detour. I see a commotion on that street, so I decide to check it out. It’s a student protest and from the look of it, it has been going on for a while. There are cops everywhere and I try to sneak in a picture or two.

After all the walking it’s time to eat. I had seen a few places to eat, but I was clearly not in the right area. I needed more options. I start heading back and find myself outside the local mercado. I spotted it when I saw guys carrying the heaviest-looking pieces of meat I have ever seen, all on their backs. As I step into the mercado, I realize I must be there at the wrong time. Most of it is empty. I go upstairs and find plenty of places to eat, though. I settle for a place and have a simple but satisfying meal. I overhear the gilrls talking about the “man with the flowers” and how someone beat him up yesterday, as they look down to the first floor. The idea of someone beating up the man who sells flowers makes me feel pretty uneasy.

I explore some more churches and then go to the Museo de Arte Colonial, which has an impressive collection of Christs. It was almost surreal to be able to see the all the detail of the sometimes very bloody depictions of the crucifixion. After this museum visit, I decide to visit the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. I know it’s a walk based on what I see on the map, but of course it ends up being a lot further than I had anticipated. It was mainly another excuse to explore the streets of the city.

The museum is adjacent to a park, which I visit briefly. I see a handcuffed young man with a beat up face sitting in the back of a police truck. His friends are searching his pockets, pull out a cel phone and are having a back and forth conversation on what number to look for. This is probably not the best place to be hanging out, so I decide to head into the museum, which had a very interesting exposition on women.

I start walking back to the hotel, tired and starting to feel very hungry. I step into a church on the way back while they were having mass. The chuch was small and there were only a few people in attendance. I wasn’t sure who was leading mass, as I couldn’t see anyone standing up front, but the voice came through the speakers was loud and clear. They had some electronic red candles up front that made the mysterious voice a bit surreal. Someone started singing and playing guitar through the mic and I decided to sit for a bit longer. I found the music very soothing and it helped me relax.

I step out of the church energized and ready to start the night. I walk back to the main plaza and find it packed with people. There’s a band playing and everybody seems to be dancing. I hung out there for a good while, enjoying watching the people rejoice with the music. The dance floor was packed and no one seemed to leave to sit down. They just kept dancing.

I have dinner close to the dance and then head to the hotel to relax for a bit. I looked online for some bars and leave the room after a good rest. I had a gaspacho, which I had been craving. It’s basically a huge fruit cup. I then go to a bar and sit in the patio along with the locals. I order a beer and they bring me too, but only charge me for one. I take them, a bit confused, and start drinking. I only stay there a while, I was mainly killing time before going to the local gay bar I had read about.

I walk into the bar, not expecting much. The place was very crowded and although it wasn’t officially a gay bar, they certainly weren’t fooling anyone. I go to the bar to order a beer and get two again. I must be dreaming or this must be my lucky day. Men were fashionable (I spotted a guy in MC Hammer pants) and the DJ was great. After a while I find myself buying another beer, which of course turned into two. I leave the bar pretty drunk and decide to have some tacos. Of course they also had a 2x1 special and I end up with four tacos when I ordered two. My stomach didn't agree with the tacos too much, as I had a stomach ache later that night, times two.

Dancing Dora

On my first full day in Veracruz I had breakfast next to the hotel (a very bland American breakfast came with the room). I wanted to go to the beach that day. The city is a port, so the good beaches were a 10 minute cab ride going south. I had one beach in mind and asked the guy at the restaurant about getting there. You could take a cab, but you could also take a local bus. I opted for the bus. I asked around and figured out which bus to take. It was a great feeling being on the local bus, carefree and listening to the loud radio. I was starting to feel part of the city.

The bus left me a few blocks from the beach. There was a large aquarium, and to the right there was a small beach area. The beach didn’t look that big. As I descended the very uneven ground to get to the beach, I saw a number of small boats and restaurants. I was immediately approached by a lady who was offering me a seat at her restaurant. Telling her I just had breakfast, I asked about the boats and how this beach compares to the ones further south. She said most of these beaches were the same and that the boat ride was worth it. I decided to go for it and pay for the boat ride, telling her I might eat something once I get back.

The boat would do a tour of Isla del Sacrificio, the local island. I didn't really ask much about the tour, I figured whatever I saw would be interesting. I took my shoes off and got on the boat, along with three girls visiting from Monterrey. Three other people would join us before parting. A couple of guys were guiding the boat. It was great to feel the cool air as the boat parted, leaving the city behind us. We finally stopped close to the island and the younger guide shares some of the history of the island (there was a very good reason why it was named Sacrifice Island).

Next we made a stop in the middle of the ocean. We were told the water was shallow and we could walk around. It was hard to believe this could be true, but we could see the ground a few feet below us when they stopped. I was wearing my regular street shorts (didn't know I would end up in the ocean). We get off the boat and start exploring the area. I was very excited as we see a school of beautiful yellow fish approach us. The guide would also bring us random starfish that we could touch.

We ended up staying in the area more than 20 minutes. By the end I had taken my shirt off and everything out of my pockets. I just laid there in the water, completely relaxing as I watched the fish swim around me. I also laughed as I watched the younger guide flirting with the three girls.

After a good twenty minutes in this one spot, we returned to the mainland. Once back at the beach, I was approached by the same lady at the restaurant. It was now around noon and I sat in the shade, facing the ocean. She proceeds to tell me everything on the menu and I order a large shrimp cocktail and a couple of Coronas. As much as those Corona commercials bug me, I felt like I was part of one.

As I was eating my meal, I was approached by some lady who offered to read my palm. She said it would be 20 pesos. Now this is something I've never done before and I figure why not. She sits to my right, takes my hand, and starts reciting a number of things about what she's about to tell me. Most of what she told me is now a blur. She was close on some of the things she said, but she was off on many others. My hand was in an uncomfortable position - my arm was twisted to my right and my hand was suspended mid-air. After a few minutes my hand started to shake because of the uncomfortable position, making the session very awkward. I was glad when she was done and I could get back to my meal.

I finished my meal while engaged in a conversation with the restaurant lady. It turns out she had a fear of boats and rarely had been on one. As much as I changed the conversation, we always seemed to come back to that. It was a good conversation though. I spent another hour or so walking along the beach, hoping my shorts would dry soon and wishing time would slow down so I could stay there longer.

I took a bus back to the hotel, showered and relaxed for a bit. I spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening walking around, taking pictures, visiting the Mercado again, etc. The humidity and the heat were always present. When I decided to visit a museum, my back was itching and I noticed it was because of some insect bites. Great, it must have been where I had just had a meal. The museum was empty, so I spent most of the time standing in front of a huge fan, hoping my tourist wounds would stop itching.

During the evening, I went to the Malecon, a very touristy area. There you could buy all sorts of souvenirs, including the expected silly t-shirts. There were some buses that offered a historical tour of the city. There were a few buses parked, waiting for people to load. I get on the one that should be leaving soon and go to the second story and wait. The buses have cheesy dance songs playing full blast. Not only that, but they had people in costumes dancing to the music, inviting the people on to the buses. I had Dora the Explorer on my bus, later joined by a very upbeat Goofy. Kids seemed to be hypnotized by Dora, as they waved incessantly from the sidewalk. Once the tour started, Dora and Goofy got off and we listened to pre-recorded bits of history as the bus drove through the streets. The weather was very cool now and we could see a thunderstorm in the distance. This was my last night in Veracruz and I was as happy as Dora and Goofy appeared to be, showing their dance moves on that bus.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Midnight Tacos

The hotel I picked in Veracruz was right on the Zocalo and was founded in 1794 (they say it's the first hotel in America). It has an elevator with a plaque that states it was the first elevator in Latin America (the plaque has one of the worst english translations I have ever read). The girl at the counter had a very soft voice and laughed a lot. I was just never sure what she was laughing at. I asked her if I could get a room with a view to the Zocalo and she said it was more expensive than the regular one. Meanwhile, I had started feeling a weird itch on my legs, close to my ankles. I was wearing shorts and I realized I had been scratching my ankles with my shoes. I told her I would take the room with no view, wondering if it was the right decision. The itching was getting worse, so I couldn't even think straight. Plus the room with the view might be very loud.

I take a shower and notice red marks on my legs. It must be mosquitoes. I started walking around the city. It was very hot and I was hungry. I wanted to go to the mercado to find something to eat (I just love going to mercados). I asked a police man and he gave me a super detailed explanation on how to get there. I find him very friendly and thank him for his time. His directions were perfect, I got there no problem. As I get close to the mercado, I pass another plaza, this one a lot less touristy than the main one.

The mercado seemed to be endless. I walk around the food area once to get a feel and sit at a place that sells shrimp cocktails. They have cocteles for 15 pesos and they say they come with two shrimp. I think they mean two kinds of shrimp, but at that price I have to wonder if it's just two individual shrimps. There were plenty of shrimp in the coctel, thankfully. I also ordered a Pepsi (pronounced Pecsi by the guy taking my order). They were playing some salsa song that kept on repeating "hazme olvidarla, hazme olvidarla..." (make me forget her). The sounds of salsa music made perfect sense there. I was humming that tune all day long.

I walk around some shops outside the mercado and get some t-shirts. I was able to find shirts that were my size, thankfully. There were stands and shops everywhere, you could get lost shopping there. I also stop at a guayabera store to buy a guayabera (got a strange look from the man when I told him I wanted to buy a shirt, not a guayabera). I continue walking around the city and head to the zocalo. By this time it's starting to get dark. There's a live band at the zocalo and it's packed. There are many couples dancing danzon, old and young, so I stay there for a while. It's still very hot and humid. Now I understand why women are always holding a hand fan while dancing danzon.

Later that night I walk around and look for bars that I had listed down. Most of them were closed or no longer existing. Great. It was Thursday night, and the bar I did find open was pretty empty. The bartender told me that Friday was a better day for the bar. Not a problem, since I was staying until Saturday. There was a guy next to me, and he paid no attention to me while I was there.

I have a couple of beers, then walk out looking for a different bar. It's close to midnight. It's really nice outside, so I decide to hang out and leave the bars for the next day. I look for some tacos and find a place right away. It was a stand on a busy corner, although at this time it was pretty slow. I order some cochinita pibil tacos. The tacos are in a rolled tortilla and you eat them with a spoon (I didn't know that until he handed me the spoon). Then I notice a guy eating there, with tattoos all over his face and arms. He looks very menacing, but his conversation sounds like nothing out of the ordinary. I sit there, both afraid and excited, to be eating next to such a character. I wonder if he's part of the Mara Salvatruchas.

Once he left I ask the guy in charge of the tacos what those tattoos on the face meant. Just to see what he would say. He looks at me and tells me they don't mean anything and that the youth today don't value anything anymore. He goes on to tell me he was crazy during his youth and almost got a tattoo, and that he used to sleep in the jungle by the rivers and all sorts of crazy things. The story went on and on. I should have kept my mouth shut. Meanwhile, the guy that was next to me at the bar was now having some tacos and kept on looking at me, obviously interested in me now. It almost made me uncomfortable, but I kept on acting like I was into the conversation.

I went home after all that and went to bed, excited to have a full day of Veracruz ahead of me. I had been wanting to go to Veracruz for so many years. It was great to finally be there.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What to Eat

I woke up early in the morning to walk around and take pictures around Papantla before heading to Veracruz. I was a little hungover from the night before, but these were my last hours in Papantla and I was going to make the best of it. I started walking around and bought a cup of fresh sliced mango to start the day. It was already hot, so I needed a drink after the mango. I walked into the mercado and had a papaya shake. I had a conversation with the owner about typewriters and their future (he fixed old typewriters).

Still feeling hungry, I went to a different mercado and bought some fruit and a tamal. The man I talked to the previous night told me where to get good pork tamales. I took the tamal back to the zocalo and planned to eat it. It was intricately wrapped in banana leaves and very slippery. I struggled for a few minutes and decided I was going to have to eat it with my hands. Just then a man sitting on the shoe shine chair approached me and handed me a spoon wrapped in a napkin. He said a customer had left it with him and he hadn't used it. He noticed I was struggling so he wanted me to have it. I was so touched and thanked him with a huge smile. I ate my tamal, which was delicious, and put the spoon in my bag. I thanked the man again as I left the zocalo, feeling good all over.

I walked around for the next couple of hours, taking pictures and enjoying my last moments in the city. I wanted to eat something before the bus ride, so I went to the taco place I had been to the day before. I had seven tacos (the are tiny) and a soda. I wasn't sure were this hunger was coming from, but I was enjoying every single thing I ate that morning. A man sat next to me and started talking as if he knew me. I thought maybe I had talked to him the previous day. I really could not understand most of what he was telling me, but soon realized he wanted me to give him money. It made for a very uncomfortable meal, but he left pretty quickly.

I walk to the bus station and bought my ticket for Veracruz. The station was very small, so I waited outside for the bus. I leaned against the wall and noticed a spider eating a fly in a little hole in the wall. I fixated on the scene for a while, remembering that poor dog that had been run over. I felt very alive and a lot closer to nature than I normally am.

I get on the bus and start my trip to Veracruz. There's some ridiculous movie full of warlocks and horses playing on the screens, full volume of course. I wonder if I'm the only one who thinks a movie about warlocks is the furthest thing from reality for the people on the bus. Once that movie is over, it's on to Flubber. Thankfully, there were plenty of interesting things to see outside the window. The bus was riding along the coast, so I was looking at the endless line of businesses (hotels and restaurants of all types) and houses by the ocean.

After a number of hours, I start noticing the city approaching by the increased occurrence in graffiti. Soon enough we were in the bus station. I didn't have a hotel reservation, just the name of a hotel. I call to make sure they have rooms and then take a cab to downtown. It was hot, just like Papantla, but this time I felt the sun burning my skin. I get in a cab and am welcome by the AC, something that would be very important in this city, I would notice later.

Hot Weather and Smiles

I was up early in the morning to catch the 9 AM bus to Papantla. Much to my delight, the movie of choice was High School Musical 2. Great. Good thing I had my headphones and the outside view. There were beautiful landscapes everywhere, and I started noticing an abundance of palm trees as we got closer to Papantla. When I got off the bus, the heat was too much for my light jacket. I got my bags and asked around to find the hotel. The hotel was only a few blocks away, but it was all uphill and I took plenty of wrong turns.

I got to the hotel, feeling exhausted from the hike. I know I was sweating profusely. It was very humid, so I took a shower before heading out to the archeological ruins of Tajin. Tajin was the reason I went to Papantla. I had some tacos at a local market, which were 3 pesos each. They were tiny, but they were still 3 pesos. I took a local bus to Tajin, which took me through many hills and plenty of curves. It made me feel very much like a local.

Once at El Tajin, I step out of the bus and start walking. The bus had stopped right next to where a dog had been run over, lines of ants and flies were already all over the body. It was a shocking sight and it stayed with me for a while. The walk was about 15 minutes, but it was so hot and humid that it felt longer.

Once at the ruins I was lucky to see the voladores de Papantla. The voladores climb a tall pole, then descend by spinning around the pole with rope tied to their feet. I then entered the ruins and was impressed by the beauty of it all. The area is huge, so there was plenty of walking around to do. I probably spent two hours there, enjoying every minute of it. Oh yes, sweating every minute of it too. My mind was just flying imagining how people used to live in the now ruins, so many years ago.

As I left the ruins, I prepared to walk back to the bus stop by the road. I bought a raspado to cool off and start walking. The bus ride felt a little faster this time, and I got off next to a big church. I walked in to the empty church and took a few pictures, noticing that there was a huge metal fan near the altar. I felt it looked odd next to the Christ statue, but after that day's heat I understood why that fan would be necessary.

I got back to my room and showered yet again. I went to hang out in the zocalo, just enjoying the people-watching. I see an older man walking with a megaphone, selling newspapers and reading the headlines of the day. There were plenty of shoe-shine chairs lined up along the sides. There were kids feeding the pigeons, people talking and relaxing. The zocalos are always a good place to relax after walking around all day. It's as if time slows down when you're there. One thing to note is that there was plenty of security around the zocalo (as in most of the zocalos that I've been to). Some of it was police, some military.

I proceed to have dinner in a place next to the Zocalo. I picked a dish but was regretting it later, as it was super spicy (I should have expected that since it had the word 'chile seco' in the title). I had a couple of beers to help with the spices. There was a novela playing on the big screen next to me. Right before I finished, they changed it to the soccer game (Mexico vs Honduras). I was one of the last people in the restaurant, so I decided to go to a bar instead. There was excitement since this was one of the last games that would decide if Mexico would be in the world cup.

I walked around and saw a bar that sounded pretty loud. I walked in to the packed bar, not seeing a place to sit, and stood next to the bar. People were glued to the TV. I ordered a beer and noticed they were 12 pesos. By the decoration, I could tell the bar had been there for decades. I found a table later on and watched the game next to two locals. The game was very intense. There was so much tension in the air, and there was complete relief when Mexico won by a penalty kick near the end.

I walked out of the bar after a number of beers and decide to have some ice scream at the zocalo. There I was approached by an older man in designer jeans. We talked about many things (he was the one talking most of the time, since I was exhausted). I got the feeling he was hitting on me (maybe the jeans made me think so), but allowed myself to enjoy the chat. It had been a wonderful day and I was headed or the city of Veracruz the next day, although part of me wanted to stay in Papantla longer.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Walking in the rain

I woke up early on Tuesday to make my trip to Jalapa, Veracruz. The trip was to last 4-5 hours on bus. I was on the bus by 9 AM. A supposed plus on the buses is that they play movies during the trip. The problem is that the movies are usually bad and the volume is too loud. I'm not sure what I would have done without my headphones.

I get to the Jalapa station and proceed to get a taxi, which was a confusing process. Once I had the taxi ticket I was able to get one and headed to the hotel. The weather was a little hot and sunny, but slightly overcast. I ask the driver about a good place to eat and he points one out. That was the one and only time I would see that place, since I could never find it later. The hotel used to be a colonial house that was built some 200 years ago. It was great. I dropped off my stuff and started walking around the city.

The city has plenty of steep hills and streets seem to run in all directions. The hotel was right next to the zocalo and the main church. There were people camping out in front of the Palacio de Gobierno, with banners saying they won't leave until they are heard. There was an American-style bar on a second floor nearby that completely stood out. I saw a tourist having a drink in the upstairs patio and wondered why anyone would want to have a drink in such a generic-looking place.

I find a place to eat and relax for a bit. I stumbled into an alley full of vendors, and see a lot of interesting things. At the top end of the alley there are kids hanging out, playing reggae and selling hand-made jewelry and things. I got into a trendy shop and after buying a t-shirt ask them where the gay bars are. They mention one called Cabaret, a few blocks down. A bar called Cabaret sounds promising for sure. I continue walking around the city for the rest of the afternoon. I stop at a very interesting museum, dedicated to a local priest. That was to be the only museum I visit, since I spent most of the time walking the streets.

After hours of walking around, I decided to go back to the room and rest. I turn the TV on to some novela and quickly start falling asleep. I wake up over an hour later to the sound of some gossip show. That was one great nap. I shower and head out again, looking for a place to eat. I find a place a block away. Now I had heard that it rained a lot in Jalapa, so I was not surprised when it started raining. I was, however, surprised that it was raining so hard. This was now going to get in the way of my night exploration.

I step out of the restaurant and watch the rivers forming on the streets. The hotel is so close, I decided to make a run for it. I did have an umbrella, but it was not match for the rain. Somehow i crossed the street that had become a river and got to the hotel entrance. My pants and shoes were soaked. I was in the room for close to two hours until the rain slowed down. I could have stayed in, but I wanted to have one drink somewhere.

I had looked a couple of places on the internet, so I left the room with a few potential bars in mind. The Cabaret place was closed on Tuesdays, I found out. After walking a couple of blocks, I started thinking I should have stayed in the room. It was still raining pretty hard and the streets were deserted. I struggled find the place I was looking for, but finally found it after a long walk. My jacket and pants were now soaked in water again. As soon as I start getting comfortable, they tell me that they're closing. Awesome. I decide to at least buy some beer and take it to the room. I get to a small convenience store, that's also closing, but they don't sell beer. I buy some water and juice and walk back to the hotel.

Right before I get to the hotel, I notice music coming from that American-type place. I should have thought of that in the first place, it's half a block away. I go up the stairs and am welcomed by some Peter Cetera song. I have a relaxing time listening to 80's ballads, having a couple of beers, wondering how I'm going to dry my jeans for my morning trip to Papantla.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

El Zocalo

I went to El Zocalo with no real agenda. I got on the metro, enjoying consistent flow of vendors that get on each train - chicles, MP3 cds, snacks, etc. Their sales pitch is almost in a form of a song, perfected from saying it so many times I'm sure. Once at El Zocalo, I go visit La Catedral. I look at the paintings and statues, impressed by it all.

After Catedral, I head to Palacio Nacional. I'm there to see the Diego Rivera murals. Access is free, although the entrance is a little intimidating as there are plenty of soldiers guarding it. Once in, I enjoy the feeling of being in such an old and important building. The murals are impressive and I could not be happier. They represent 2,000 years of Mexican history. I read them carefully, scanning every single image. There's a local guide explaining each mural to a tourist, so I trail them from time to time to get a better understanding. Near the end of the walk, I hear someone say "There's so much symbolism, dude. He really did an amazing job!" I cringe at the idea of someone saying 'dude' when describing a Diego Rivera mural. I turn around and see a tall guy with long hair, wearing a rico suave bandana. HIs comment made complete sense based on his looks.

After the murals, I go back outside and plan to go shopping. I've been to that area before, so I know there's plenty of street vendors everywhere. After all the water I've been drinking, I use a public bathroom and pay 3 pesos. It's at the end of a tight retail space, and you have to squeeze through a bunch of vendors to get there. The bathroom is what I expected, and I stare at a small poster of a beach scene over the toilet.

I proceed to walk around the stands, trying to remember what direction I'm going. Although there are plenty of picture moments, I decide this is not the proper place to be pulling out my camera. I'm looking for t-shirts, but can't seem to find any. As I walk deeper in, I find myself in some sort of toy district. I think I saw more stuffed animals than a human needs to see in a lifetime. I have some papaya at a local mercado, then continue walking.

I do end up finding what I was looking for, but there are not many shirts that look appealing to me. Hollister seems to be the most popular brand around, with Ed Hardy coming in a distant second. I find one stand that has shirts I like. I ask him if he has large sizes (I'm a large in the US, but in Mexico I have the hardest time finding shirts that fit me). He pulls out some Ed Hardy shirt. Of course he doesn't have large sizes for the shirts I like. I do end up finding a place with shirts that fit me and I make my purchase. I've probably been in this area for close to two hours, so it's time to head back to el Zocalo. I need to pee again, so I find a bathroom, this time for 2.50 pesos. The location is a lot more run down that before and I quickly notice that 50 cents can make a big difference in quality.

I go back to El Zocalo, to relax and people-watch. It's almost time to eat, so I head in the direction of Bellas Artes to eat at the legendary Cafe de Tacuba. Shops are a lot nicer in this part of the city. Not many street vendors and plenty of well-dressed people. Once at the restaurant, I enjoy the contrast between this nice sit-down meal and the papaya I ate at the mercado. Some fresas arrive and sit next to me, once of them boasting about the incredible dress she just bought (obviously not close to where I bought my shirts).

After my meal, I exit toward Bellas Artes. It's close to 6 PM, so I plan to take the metro back to my friends place. I see that there is some protest across the street, so of course I head in that direction. It's a group of farm-workers, complaining about the way the government treats them. There are banners that read things like "Treat us like you treat Obama." I sit to watch it all, next to some very young street kids that are apparently angry at each other and are smacking each other with plastic coke bottles. The protesters flow in and out of traffic, banging on drums to an incessant samba beat. That's when I noticed the Obamas. There must have been more than a hundred protesters lined up in front of a building, wearing Obama masks. What stood out to me the most was the way they danced, wondering if the real Obama could match their perfect coordination. I cross the street and walk past them, only to see another group dancing next to the drummers.

It was now time go get some rest, so I head to the metro. I get in the packed metro (rush hour) and had to elbow myself to make my exit. Excited to have seen el Centro Historico, and mentally preparing myself for my trip to Veracruz the next day.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

the bench in heaven

having visited coyoacan previously when i was in mexico city, i knew i had to go back some day. there's a wonderful atmosphere. the streets are colorful, art is everywhere and there are interesting people walking in all directions. i had breakfast at one of the many great places. i had a long walk in the morning, so i was ready for a sit down meal. i sat by the window and ordered cafe de olla (a cinnamon coffee) and some breakfast. it was some of the best coffee i've had in a long time.

i proceed to walk the streets of coyoacan all afternoon. there was live music everywhere, from the street musicians (heard some live jarochos during breakfast) to the many musicians at the different forums in the area. the main plaza had full line-up, including plenty of jazz. at a smaller park, lined with artists selling their paintings, there was a live band playing old standards. a number of old couples were slow-dancing and making requests. i bought a paleta de mango con chile and sat at one of the benches to listen to the music. a couple of older ladies come to my bench. it was going to be a tight fit, so i smile and tell them that we can all fit as i move to the side. one of them smiles back and says "if we're all going to fit in heaven, why not here?" that comment made me feel right at home.

i go to a cultural center later and there was yet more music. this time it was classical mexican music played by a symphony. there must have been over fifty musicians sitting together. i recognized some of the songs. i stood there enjoying the music, and also enjoyed watching a bee repeatedly fly over some lady's reddish hair right in front of me. inside this cultural center was a large exhibit showing the origins of sugar. this was all free and very interesting. that might have explained the confused bee.

i called up a friend i made the last time i visited mexico city and went to her place for dinner. my friend laura and her daughter were there too, and my new friend from london joined us later. we sipped mezcal, ate carnitas, drank wine, listened to gardel and played some corridos. laura, her daugher and i leave together. it was raining pretty hard and i pulled out my borrowed umbrella. it only made laura laugh, since it pretty much only covered my head. most of the wires were exposed. good thing her car wasn't too far away. we listened to the rain as we drove back to her place. i made a mental not to buy my own umbrella in the morning.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

el angel

i decided to have a mellow day on my third day in mexico city (mainly because i had been so active the day before). i was invited to the super (the market) in the morning, which ended up being wal-mart. i was told it's considered the gay supermarket in mexico. now that's something i've never heard. i had not slept enough and was hung over, and now i had to stare at rows and rows of meats while my friend was shopping. later i go out and take a walk, thinking i already know the area. i took a wrong turn on a cruicial street and ended up getting pretty lost. it was a very interesting walk, but not you want to take when you're lacking sleep and feeling hungover. i made it back ok, only wiped out from the long walk.

once at my friend's place, i took a long nap and relaxed. i didn't go back out until late at night. i walked toward the bars at zona rosa, only to be distracted by some commotion at el angel de la independencia. much to my delight, there was a large crowd of people celebrating mexico's win at that night's soccer game against costa rica. i'd always seen that on tv, so it felt great to see it in person. there were hundreds of policemen guarding the angel and the side streets. but the atmosphere was fun and peaceful. people were ecstatic, chanting and dancing. out of nowhere it seemed, large crowds would start running around the angel, carrying flags, blowing whistles and using these cans that would spray foam. yes, there was foam everywhere. i had to constantly watch myself, didn't want to go the bars soaked in foam.

along with the soccer fans, the vendors also flocked the angel. whistles, neon lights, flags were all for sale. of course there were also plenty of things to eat. at times i wondered if the vendors outnumbered the fans. feeding from the energy and not really wanting to leave, i bought an elote and enjoyed the celebration from the sidelines. the bars could wait.

i did end up going to the bar that night. after a few drinks i stood next to a pretty boy who ordered a glass of wine. he must have been the only on at that bar drinking wine. i ask him if he was celebrating at el angel earlier that night. he gives me a disapproving look and asks "por que, me viste cara?" (why, do i look like i would?). his reply wasn't rude at all, it just felt like a natural reaction. i found it very comical. i guess running around el angel just isn't his thing.

Monday, September 7, 2009

i am finding what i'm looking for

on the morning of my first full day in mexico, i decide to keep my walking local and focus on zona rosa and maybe la condesa and la roma. my friend laura gives me the number of one of her friends who lives in condesa. she suggest i call him, since he is free that day and could show me around. he's from london and has been in mexico city for three years. i call him and think we will have to converse in english, but his spanish is almost perfect and i don't see the need. he tells me where he lives and we agree on a time. i walk out of laura's apartment and feel just wonderful. it's my first walk in mexico city in four years.

i walk to parque espana, taking pictures along the way, and meet my new friend at the neveria under his building. he's having a conversation with the man behind the counter, something about how getting a free pizza from someone doesn't mean he's your friend. pretty random and a bit uncomfortable. he introduces us and they continue talking for a minute or two. we go up to his place and of course it's awesome. everyone's place in mexico city seems to be that way - always in an interesting building, with great furniture and great art on the walls. we start walking and decide not to have a real agenda, just see where things take us. we go have some tea at a local spot and sit facing an open area with view to the park. now more comfortable with each other, we have discussions about life, relationships, work, traveling, etc. plenty of vendors stop and offer their goods, including an older man blowing on his harmonica. we stop at his place and i ask to use the bathroom. he stops to pick up a sweater and a jacket. i was fine in a t-shirt, so i gave him a hard time for that, wondering how he used to dress in london.

after the tea and more walking, we proceed to get some comida corrida. i choose the consome, rice and enchiladas. the meal came with a pitcher of guayaba water. he told me he normally won't drink water like that, hinting that it's unsafe, i presumed. the water was delicious and without noticing it, i drank most of the pitcher. we continue walking and stop at his place on the way, to pick up a couple of umbrellas in case it rains. i had told him i didn't bring one and he offered to lend me one, but said it was not in the greatest conditions (i would find out exactly what he meant a couple of days later). i feel the urge to pee and use his bathroom. he has a laugh because that was the second time i pee that day.

we head to a hand-craft fair at a park, and by the time we get there, i need to pee again. i prolong it as long as i can, knowing he would laugh at me again. i end up buying a t-shirt and we start walking again. he wants to stop at sears, so i go use the bathroom there, much to his amusement. we go have more tea later and then say goodbye. i felt a slight need to use the bathroom, but decide to wait until i get home. of course when i get to my friend's place i really needed to pee. dang that water!

i relax in the evening and that night we went to a bar called mojito place, i believe. it was far from exciting. i wasn't too happy that it was a salsa bar, and that we needed to buy a bottle of rum to get a table. we leave at midnight, thankfully. i was excited to hear the salsa version of u2's "i still haven't found what i'm looking for" and the classic "pedro navaja".

we walk back and eat some quesadillas along the way. they had a tv there and were watching a show called decisiones extremas (extreme decisions). i guess it's a different case each time. this time it was about a guy making some tough decisions in prison in order to survive. pretty brutal stuff. not the show you want to see when you're walking around at midnight in a strange city. somehow after that meal, i still had the energy to go to a bar solo and have a few drinks. it's in a very nice area, but the street is lined up with young male prostitutes. i wasn't about to make any decisiones extremas with any of these guys, so i walk straight to the bar and have a few drinks. the atmosphere at the bar was nice and i felt right at home. it was a great place to end the night.

that was my first full day in the city, and i can say it was a great one, full of pleasant surprises. as the pedro navaja song goes "la vida te da sorpresas, sorpresas te da la vida..."

Saturday, September 5, 2009

vamonos a mexico

the day of my mexico trip finally arrived. as it always happens, getting to the airport was a stressful ordeal. it didn´t help that i had gotten pretty drunk the night before. it's hard to say no to $4 pitchers of beer. i think i got a headache in the morning from just trying to count how many we drank. as soon as i picked up my carry-on bag, i realized the strap was broken. too late to do anything about it or to lighten it's load, so i had to drag myself and the bag to the gate.

some five hours later i'm on mexican soil. this is after some brief but scary turbulence and listening to a lady with an annoying voice ask a spanish-speaking german guy a thousand questions (not even my headphones could block out the long questionnaire). my friend said she would pick me up from the airport, but she also said that her driver might be there. i waited almost an hour for either of them, only to finally spot the driver holding a sign with my full name on it. i felt relief and a silly sense of importance.

once at my friend's, we go pick up some blankets from a friend of hers to help make my bed. she's been remodeling the house and sold all her furniture. so there was no bed for me, and we had to improvise. we go to her friend's work and pick up the keys to his apartment. we then get a complicated explanation on how to open the door to his apartment (3 keys and one of them needed some special trick). my friend takes the keys without hesitating and we're off to his place. i wondered how it was that she remembered all those details. we get to his place and to my surprise she knew which keys to pick out. we just couldn't figure out which one was the trick key, and struggled for a few minutes, but of course it seemed like an eternity. i just had to laugh at how i had just landed a couple of hours ago and now i was having to solve some intricate key puzzle at some random building.

once at her place, bed created and a quick meal we go to an event at coyoacan. the bar is called bipolar. this was some special event and the place was packed with hipster fresas. it was fun watching the young and not-so-young dancing to songs like 'another one bites the dust', emf's 'unbelievable', vanilla ice, blondie, etc. it was the fine line between the cool and the ironic music. after a few Leon beers and dealing with a waitress with annoying short-term memory, we decide to go home. once at the apartment, i lay in my new bed and think about all the possibilities involving a 3-week mexico trip. life is good for sure.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Wedding

I recently acquired a wedding album, dating from 1987. Looking through the pages, I imagined all the stories hidden within the pictures. I imagine that a wedding has to be one of the most important days of your life. At least it must seem that way while it's happening. I see the camera man as the silent observer, capturing all these special moments. There is no way to know what was really being thought in each of the pictures, one can only imagine.

I selected the pictures that I felt were more expressive. I photocopied them, then thought of the captions later. I combined the images into two different 8-page books. I call this series 'The Wedding'.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Traffic Jam

Went to Venice Beach yesterday, where the people watching is always fantastic. As soon as I got there I saw a few girls clumsily riding their bikes and was shocked when I saw one of them hit a baby carriage and almost tip it over. I soon realized that there was no baby in the carriage, only a pile of clothes. A couple of strange ladies were pushing the carriage and apparently got a big laugh from the whole thing. As I walked away I heard them laugh at the 'traffic jam' they caused on the sidewalk. It seemed to take them forever to go their separate ways, and I could hear their laughter echoing as I headed to the beach.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Building what's right

The main page from one of my new 8-page books. A picture of a perfect family, doing what people expect them to do. What goes on behind those walls? Well, we all know it's not always perfect.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Streets

This weekend, as usual, I've done plenty of walking around my neighborhood. As always, you will see the most random things. A man yelling at another man while holding luggage, or a man crying in front of a closed taco stand (not because he was hungry, I presume). Random events that always have more meaning if you stop and pay attention. I'm not sure why the guy was yelling like that, or why the guy chose to cuddle up in front of the taco stand and cry the night away.

I had a long conversation about eclipses with the guy selling hot dogs this week. About the energies created and the overall feeling of change that they create. Maybe next time we have one the streets will fight back. Because we know there's plenty to fight about these days.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Opposing Parts

A couple of images from my book Making Waves. I'm not a fan of explaining my own work since I like to leave it up to the viewer. I enjoy the many different interpretations that my art can evoke.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A New Horizon

I recently started volunteering at a local tutoring center. This has been my first experience working with kids and I am really liking it. For the past couple of days I have helped kids create their own time machine, write caveman tabloids and create their own country. It's easy to forget how much imagination children have. I'm enjoying being around all this creativity.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Where have you been?

Heard this track the other day and was immediately drawn to this band. I wanted to do a mock album cover for them, but found no dinosaur images in my books. When I came to this astronaut image, suddenly the idea of dinosaurs on the moon made sense to me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sometimes we do things on purpose just to break the rules. What happens when you break the eggs? Will you get what you wished for? Will you ever?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

As life in general seems to be getting faster and faster, do we have time to find the meaning? As we become more dependent on technology, we expect faster results. We don’t have time to wait for a song to download or for the commercial to finish. Things have to happen now. How frustrated do you get when you feel like you’re waiting too long at the drive thru? How often do we stop and think that there actually are people in there trying to do their jobs while our car unnecessarily burns off more fuel?

As we become more connected through technology, do we become more isolated as individuals? I see people glued to their cel phones, texting one of their friends instead of actually saying hi to the person in front of them. Things are not likely to change. There was a time when you actually had to get up to change the TV channel. There was a time when there was no TV. How different were we back then? For now, can we at least hold the remote together? Maybe that way we feel a connection.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It’s been a while since I update the blog. Other matters have come into my life, but I am finding the time again to update the writings here. Have been busy lately working on new books. The books are all eight pages long. So far I’ve finished four books, so I have plenty of images to share!