Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Michoacán, among other things

May 8, 2010

Last weekend we took a short trip through Michoacán. We stayed at a cute little hotel in Patzcuaro and explored the pueblo one day, passed through Santa Clara del Cobre and then made our way to Morelia for another day. The sights were nice and the shopping was very good.

In Patzcuaro we bought some artisan chocolate, a nice tablecloth and I finally was able to buy some dried whole linden flowers for tea. I have seen this in Guadalajara, but always in really busy markets and it is hard to ask vendors lots of questions when the crowds are so large. There were no such crowds in Patzcuaro and I was able to quiz the lady selling the flowers in front of the basilica. I asked her so many questions; she gave me a half packet of fresh linden flowers for free. She said the fresh ones were only good for adding to necklaces and painting the petals with nail polish. She said the tea from the fresh flowers is too bitter to drink.

We had lunch at a fabulous little lunch place, which served strawberries and cream for desert. We were so full we were unable to eat dinner.

The next day we headed over to Santa Clara to shop for copper things. Many of the pueblos in this area are still specializing in one item, material or style of artisanal work. Near Santa Clara del Cobre are pueblos specializing in wooden chairs, guitars, lacquer or something else. I came home with a burnished copper vase.

After the shopping we headed on to Morelia, the capital of Michoacán. We walked around some more and saw the sights. My favorite walk in Morelia is the pedestrian walk parallel to the aqueduct and leads to our favorite restaurant in town, La Inmaculada. The next morning, we had breakfast on the main square and then headed back to Guadalajara.

The very next day, I presented an hour-long talk in the class I’m auditing about my thesis work. It was very rewarding and I really liked the dynamic – lots of good questions and the professor helped me out with some questions which were outside the scope of my work. This was the first time I ever presented this work in Spanish and it went pretty well. Where to go from here…. Hmm….

Meanwhile, I just finished my third week of running. I’m working off a program called Couch to 5K and so far, so good. The program is really helpful and I’ve found a good route.

We in the midst of the hottest part of the year now and we are sweltering. I’m trying to keep the garden watered as much as possible, but haven’t tried to plant any seeds for the next go round. I’m mentally preparing some things, but I need to wait for a break in the weather first.

I finished two knitting projects, the shawl and the gift, and am now working (slowly) on the sweater and trying to remember how cold I was in January.

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tourism at home

September 13, 2009

We had a very eventful weekend with Adolfo’s brother and girlfriend, which included the Ballet of Jalisco, a ceramics studio in Tonala, Guachimontones and raiding the lemon tree down the street.

The Ballet was nice to see and I hope they get better and better. They are a very young company, only just formed in January, and their first show was canceled due to swine flu.  Of the four pieces, one was very nice and showed a lot of promise.  Three of the pieces were kind of painful to watch.  But, I think they show promise, some of the dancers were very good, and I hope the city continues to support them.

Yesterday, we traveled out to the suburbs of Guadalajara to Tonala, a town known for ceramics.  We got a tip from Adolfo’s father on how to find a ceramics studio and with a map were able to find our way to a plain-looking door leading into a small house.  In the entryway, we met two brothers whose father, Nicasio Pajarito, started their studio and they showed us the pieces on display.  As Adolfo’s brother and his girlfriend looked over the cups and water pitchers, Adolfo chatted with the brothers.  As they chatted, one of the brothers said to the other, “Well, looks like we aren’t going to sell anything today….” and Adolfo said “What are you talking about? We’re here to buy things.”  And, the brother explained, that since their father wasn’t in the shop today, they couldn’t sell any of his things.  Adolfo suggested they call the father, but they said he was out in the fields harvesting corn and wouldn’t be available.  Finally, they decided they could sell some of their own pieces, which were purchased with gusto.  We were able to see the kiln and the areas where they form and paint the pieces.  When Mom and Dad come to visit, we are going to return and see if we can get one of the sons to give us to a tour.

The day before that, we went to see the local pyramids!  We have pyramids!  Way over here in Western Mexico.  And, the best part is – they are circular.  Check it out. They were only just discovered in 1970 and the reconstruction/reparations began in 1999.  They are currently building a museum at the entrance and when we arrived there was almost nobody there.  It was much more green than the link shows, and maybe Adolfo will put his pictures up soon.  Guachimontones is only an hour from Guadalajara and a very easy day trip for some very interesting sights.

And lastly, we stop off at the lemon tree down the street and brought home about 30 lemons – and there are many more on the tree.  This weekend, while walking to Adolfo’s mother’s house, I passed the lemon tree and the gardener was outside raking leaves.  I stopped to talk to him and mentioned that the tree looked like it was ripe for the picking.  He agreed but said, “there’s a problem with this tree”  I said, “oh really?”  and he continued to explain that the problem with the tree is that it’s not a lime tree and it’s not an orange tree.  He said the owner doesn’t really like the fruit and I could have as much as I liked, whenever I wanted.  Apparently, the only thing this tree is good for is making “aguas” or fruit-waters, but even then you have to add a few oranges or it’s undrinkable.  So far, I have two quarts of preserved lemons in jars.  I made a bunch of lemonade, some lemon curd (and biscuits to go with) and still have five lemons left over.  I’ll be on the lookout for more lemon-based recipes.

Quite an eventful weekend.

New York City vs. Chicago

August 13, 2009

We made it back from New York on Monday and I’ve been very happy puttering about the house and neighborhood for the last couple days, getting myself back on track on the home front.

New York leaves me with conflicted feelings. I love that we got to see all the good friends and family there and eat good food. We wolfed down the food, flavors and ingredients we cannot find in Guadalajara – corned beef and pastrami sandwiches from Katz deli, herring from Russ & Daughters, hole-in-the-wall dim sum in Chinatown, Pakistani food and NY style pizza. We sat around the breakfast table with good people having good conversations. We went to bookstores and stocked up on books in English. It was a great vacation.

But, New York City always leaves me feeling melancholy. The first time it happened I was visiting friends in Brooklyn and I said to my friend Max, “I know they don’t feel sorry for themselves, but I feel sorry for the people who live here.” She responded, “You’re right, they don’t feel sorry for themselves.”

So, this visit I was prepared to like the city. We were staying with family and we had a low-key agenda (books and food, food and books). But still, I can’t shake the feeling. I feel sad in New York. I feel lonely and isolated in the congested city.  I don’t know what it is and have been pondering my reaction for days.

Chicago, on the other hand, was really special and surprising.  We were there last month after our trip to Missouri.  We were shocked by the super-friendly locals, to the point that we considered them somewhat ill or in recovery from the harsh winters.  Over and over again we were treated far nicer than the usual tourists.  A friend tried to confirm our theory with a local and was told it is absolutely not the case.  We still don’t know why they are so happy and friendly.

The food was very good, if you could find the right places.  The Publican, Sweet Maple Cafe and Hopleaf Bar being the stand out favorites.  The architecture was outstanding, we went on three different architecture tours.  There was public art everywhere and it was being used by the public.  The art museum was free on one of the afternoons while we were there and it was packed.  The parks were swamped with people.  We were happy just wandering around the city.

Now, back at home, I’m trying to get the garden back on track and the kitchen back into shape.  Most of the garden survived and we’ve been getting really violent thunderstorms for the last couple nights, so I hope the seedlings can hang on through the wind and hail.  We have visitors already marked on the calendar, but we have no plans for leaving the country for a while now.  It’s good to be home.

a quick trip to Missouri

January 20, 2009

Well, the new year has started as a hectic, whirl-wind of events.  We hosted some friends from San Francisco for a few days, attended a very nice wedding in Mexico City and I then received word that my grandfather was very sick.

I left  Mexico City for Missouri, and landed in a shocking cold front.  My grandfather passed away on January 13th and all of his grandchildren were able to attend the visitation and funeral.  I am sad, but it felt good to be with family.  I was also reminded by a friend today to be thankful for my current job (which I am) and had I been still with my previous job I would have had to fight to leave for a week (I would have quit on the spot).

I was able to spend a good amount of time with my grandma and we worked on a particularly frustrating jigsaw puzzle.  I wanted to have more time to look through the recipe box she showed me, but this visit wasn’t particularly conducive to reading recipes.

There was a lot of good food, stories and photos.  And, I am thankful for all of them.

How to become wide awake at 4am

November 11, 2008

A couple weeks ago I was in Xalapa again for work.  It was lovely as always and every time I go, I try to do or see at least one new thing.  This time I was in town for Day of the Dead and there were lots of alters and invitations to tamales and hot chocolate. (and I didn’t get one single tamal!)

I was able to go see the Symphony.  The Orquestra Sinfonica de Xalapa is one of the best symphony orchestras in the country.  About 90% of the performers are of foreign origin, which is amazing for such a small town (Pop. 500,000 is a small town when compared to Mexico City).  We heard a Bassoon solo played by a guy from Illinois!  The concert hall was packed with a wide variety of concert goers.  The price for tickets is $70 pesos and I believe there must be a student discount based on the number of student-aged audience members.  The audience was also musically educated and there was no clapping between movements and people were very enthusiastic and polite at the same time. 

That night I prepared to return to Guadalajara and laid all my clothes out for my 4am alarm, in order to catch my 5am bus.  When I woke up I started brushing my teeth and getting dressed.  I went to put on my pants and sort-of shook them out in front of me and as I started to put my leg in my pants…. a scorpion crawled out of my pant leg and went directly under the bed!!!  I had never seen a scorpion live and in person and this one was about 4 inches long and black.  I was immediately wide awake.

As, I had packed all my clothes and had no other clean pants, I had no choice but to put on the pants that had housed a scorpion all night and head out to the front desk for my taxi.  It was quite a send off.

Veracruz

August 22, 2008

I’m in Xalapa, Veracruz, and enjoying a break from the city life. I’m here for work, but have managed to see some new things and even managed to buy some local organic coffee. Today we (my boss, a student, a professor and I) had lunch in a small town called Coatepec. Coatepec is a Pueblo Mágico (like Tapalpa) and is very picturesque and only about 30 minutes from Xalapa. We had lunch at a restaurant, which specialized in fish, which is not uncommon in Veracruz. The interesting thing was the particular fish in which they specialized was trout. I hadn’t had trout since I left the states and it was rather good covered in a guajillo chile sauce.

After lunch, we wandered around the pueblo and the others had some local ice cream (flavors of guanábana, macadamia nut and mamey) and stopped in a panaderia, which specialized in wood fired bread. It smelled fantastic. Later we wandered into a store advertising “productos ecologicos” and I bought a half-kilo of organic coffee. I am really excited about trying out the coffee.

I still have on my list a return to La Sopa to stuff myself with enfrijoladas. It’s good to have goals.

Boca de Iguanas

July 31, 2008

Last weekend we took Friday off and headed out to the beach.  We decided to go camping at a beach that Adolfo had visited regularly throughout his childhood.  Unfortunately, the campsite of his youth was purchased by some developers and is being turned into a boutique hotel.  Fortunately, there is still another campsite called Boca Beach near where the old site stood.

So, we borrowed some gear (tent, sleeping bags, a cooler and other camping supplies) and headed out into the rain.  It rained most of the way to the beach, but once we hit Manzanillo the sky cleared and gave way to a brutal humidity.  And, the cornfields turned into banana fields and coconut farms.

Interesting thing about the banana farms – all the hanging hands of bananas I saw were covered in plastic bags.  Why?

When we arrived at the campsite we could see the beach.  We read the warning signs informing us that the campsite owners were not responsible for any damage caused by the natural falling of coconuts.  And, in a moment of genius, we opted for the more expensive campsite with a palapa.

We threw up the tents (a couple friends joined us on the adventure), changed into our swimsuits and headed into the ocean.  The water was fantastically warm.

We headed back to the campsite when we started to get hungry, and then the wind picked up and the sky became very dark.  We waited out the storm under the palapa (which actually kept us dry) but my friend’s tent was sadly permeable to water and most of her things were soaked.  After the storm, we assessed the damage and moved our tent under the palapa and moved my friend into our tent.  Finally, around 5pm we were able to eat some lunch.

I think I started making dinner almost immediately after we finished lunch, but the enfrijoladas again turned out spectacularly and are quickly becoming a new favorite of mine.  (Recipe coming soon)

Adolfo saw a coconut fall off a nearby palm and retrieved it so we could put the water in with the curry we were having for lunch the next day – excellent.  Unfortunately, the meat on the coconut was not that well developed, so we just used the water.

We went into the little town nearby (La Manzanilla, not to be confused with Manzanillo) and bought some fresh fish for lunch (fish curry with noodles) and frozen shrimp for dinner.

We chatted up the fish guy and he told us stories about living in the states for 13 years and the comparative benefits of driving a truck on the West Coast and selling fish at the cooperative of a fishing village.  His conclusion: Everybody has to work.

We did all the beach things you are supposed to do: we swam, built sand castles, collected shells, ate fish, took long walks on the beach and got sunburn in the places we forgot to put sun block (the place on the front of your shoulder, right above your armpits!).

It’s just that life got in the way…

May 27, 2008

There are too many things going on here. I left the old job, started the new job and was promptly whisked away to Xalapa, Veracruz. I’m back in Guadalajara now and still working on getting settled into the new job, which is fabulous (in case you were wondering). Things are good and the blogging fell by the wayside.

The review of Xalapa is that is was great. Adolfo came with me and we really liked the town.

Xalapa is also spelled Jalapa, but pronounced the same – an H sound like in HOT. The people there are called Jalapeños. Guess what kind of chile they are known for producing….. Xalapa is not on the coast, but up a bit in the mountain side, but not far enough to get cold. It is pretty warm this time of year and humid like a Missouri summer. Nearby there are coffee farms and a lot of the business moves through town. It is also the capital of the state of Veracruz and the site of the main campus of the Universidad Veracruzana. It is known as a university town and it seemed to live up to that reputation. Veracruz is a long thin state on the Gulf Coast and is know for its port, fish dish (pescado a la veracruzana), humidity and transvestites. There is an oft repeated saying that the best looking women in Veracruz are men.

We stayed in a very nice (but not expensive) hotel called the Posada del Cafeto and they had coffee trees growing on the grounds. (that sounds like a pun, but wasn’t meant to be) In short time, we found two places to eat which we became very fond of over the 5 days we were there.

One was a local institution called La Sopa, which is located in Callejón del Diamante. We ate dinner there one night and had enfrijoladas, which play on the same concept as enchiladas, that is – they are tortillas pulled through a refried black bean sauce and rolled or folded over some shredded chicken and sprinkled with a hard salty cheese. They are obviously more filling than enchiladas, which are tortillas pulled through a chile sauce. So, Adolfo and I split one order and felt very good about that decision. I later ate there again and had a Pollo Manchamantel which was excellent. It was a chicken thigh covered in a chile sauce, like a type of mole. Manchamantel means “tablecloth stainer” so I had to drop my fork down the front of my shirt for the proper chile stained effect.

The other favorite place to eat in Xalapa is a relatively new café called La Galaria Barragán, which seems to occasionally have art exhibits. While we were there they were changing the exhibit. We spent a lot of time in this café and the second time we stopped in the cook recognized us. We had a chat with him about the menu and his experience working and cooking in Puerto Vallarta and he told me to send him a message the next time I am in town and he will reply with the menu for the day. Excellent! The only thing the Galaria Barragán is missing is a properly functioning internet connection.  Hopefully, when I return in August, it will be up and running.

We also went to the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa, or MAX, which is pretty impressive.  It is known as one of the best museums in Mexico.  The museum houses 7 giant Olmec carved stone heads and they are really stunning.

I will probably be traveling to Xalapa 3 times a semester, which means I should get to know town pretty well.
I still haven’t seen the market or the other museums in town.  I’m looking forward to going back.

Tapalpa

March 22, 2008

This past week we skipped town with the rest of Guadalajara and headed out into the countryside. More specifically, we spent most of Semana Santa in Tapalpa, Jalisco. During Semana Santa, most of the big cities in Mexico empty and the beaches are packed with all the people from Guadalajara and Mexico City.

Tapalpa is about an hour and a half from Guadalajara and up into the mountains. Tapalpa is known as a place with really good cheese and very large rocks. There are quite a lot of cabins for rent and most people seem to stay outside the town and in cabins in the pine forests. We stayed at the cabin of my friend’s aunt.

The first day we arrived we unpacked the car and then headed into town. By chance we stopped in front of a house with a sign proclaiming “Productos Lacteos”. We entered off the street into the sitting room of the house. The smell of boiling guavas filled the room, we walked through the sitting room, filled with family photos into a small room with a refrigerator and stove opening onto the courtyard. The room was filled with preserves and rompope, and the guavas boiling on the stove. The owner, Carmelita, came through the courtyard to give us the big sell. She showed us the various kinds of cheese she had – queso fresco, panela, aged panela, aged queso fresco. Carmelita told us that she aged the cheeses for more than a month before they were ready to sell.

We were given taste tests of the cheeses and samples of the different flavors of rompope; we smelled the guavas and opened our wallets. We bought fresh and aged cheeses, two different flavors of rompope and peach preserves. I felt like I was operating with great restraint.

After the shopping spree, we wandered around the center of town and checked out the market and the church. We sampled the local specialties, which included tamales de acelga (or chard tamales) covered in cream and queso fresco. Across the street from the woman selling the tamales, there was a family selling churros. So we had desert, too!

I eyed the pots for boiling beans in the market and bought a new wooden spatula. We bought honey from a man loaded down with honeycomb and surrounded by bees. My friend laughed at the people asking the man if the honey was “all natural”.

We relaxed at the cabin and ate good food and played dominos while keeping warm by the fire. On our last day, we returned and left town loaded down with more cheese.

We also went to visit the big rocks, or Piedrotas, which were impressive to some people, but I was more impressed by Carmelita’s. We took her card which reads:
Productos Lacteos
Quesos, Panelas, Pegostes, Conservas, Rompopes, Ponches y Repostería
Carmelita’s Toscano
Hidalgo no. 248, Tel. 43 200 57, Tapalpa, Jalisco.

Alone

March 9, 2008

Adolfo left for Mexico City yesterday and now I’m home alone for the next few days. I’ve been reading about people (in emails and blogs) who are housebound due to the winter storms hitting the Mid-west, and for some reason am feeling a little jealous. So, I think today I’m going to pretend to be housebound. There are a lot of things to do out in the city today, and I don’t feel like doing any of them.

Friends of mine are on movie marathons right now because the International Film Festival is happening right now. Last night I went through the schedule and tried to make a plan. But, honestly, although the movies look really good, I can’t get worked up enough to try to find these movie theaters and get there by myself.

I really don’t even feel like going grocery shopping. And, I know perfectly well where the grocery store is. On second thought, I have to go grocery shopping today; I don’t really think I have a choice about this.

I think part of my resistance to getting out of the house has to do with some anxiety I’m feeling about work right now. Among other things, I have one more week before the spring vacations and there are about a thousand things that need to be accomplished before we shut down.

I am excited about the upcoming vacations. I get a ridiculous amount of vacation time with this job. However, contrary to any other job I’ve had in my life, vacations are non-negotiable and non-movable. And, the entire university closes. You will take vacations when they tell you!

With the structure of our currently employment, I will almost never have the same vacation time as Adolfo. Except on the occasion of Semana Santa, which practically every single Mexican has off. Adolfo has Semana Santa and then goes back to work. I, however, have Semana Santa, Semana Pasqua AND the following Monday. So, I’ll be returning to work for the 1st of April.

But, until the end of the day on Friday, I’m panicked about how much needs to be accomplished before the lights go out.

So, today I think I will try to focus on vacations instead of panicking about work. We are going to stay in a cabin of an aunt of a friend in a little town called Tapalpa. So, I think today I’m going to plan a menu and maybe pick out some books.