Mexico City is worth the trip
if you've never been. A huge sprawling monster with 28 million people. Bursting
with energy and as noisy and gritty as any other large Latin American city,
except that here you can turn a corner and suddenly find yourself on a
tree-lined street with elegant shops and restaurants (though I suspect that may
only be true in the Distrito Federal). And on Sunday you'll every local
park filled with people just having a good time - music, food, drink and
of course - dancing in the street. (Good name for a song that.)
Much to see of course, but one of the
highlights has to be the Museo de Anthropologia which bears comparison with any
museum we've seen anywhere in the world. Frida Kahlo's house, the Diego Rivera
museum and the pyramids at Teotihuacan are also at the top of the list. And
discovering that Mexican food is actually really interesting and bears little
relation to the crap we had become accustomed to avoiding in other places -
particularly the US. Chiles Poblanos stuffed with meat and fruit, then covered
in walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds. Green, white and red the colours of
the Mexican flag - Chiles en Nogada. That has to sound
more appealing than refried beans!
But sometimes, the most memorable
things about a place are not the great tourist attractions, nor the famous
restaurants, but some little bar you find down an alley where you just happen to
have a great time. In Mexico City ours was Guamo Cafe a little fast food restaurant
we went to on our first night - and every night when we were too exhausted after
a days touristing to seek out anything more exotic. I think we were
probably the first gringos to ever eat there. You need to speak Mexican to
understand the menu, Spanish is not enough, there are just too many indigenous
words and dishes that only exist here. Though Tacos de Tripa doesn't need
much translation, so isn't too tricky to avoid!
||"What's Nopal?" we ask the waiter.
He's struggling. Imagine someone asking you in a restaurant "What's a
potato?" Then his eyes light up he disappears to the kitchen to return with
.................... A cactus leaf! Right, we'll have one of those
then. In the end we gave up interrogation and just ordered. None of
the dishes was more than a couple of dollars and most of it was really good -
even when we didn't know what it was. A reminder that although they
sometimes do seem to be synonymous - fast food doesn't have to mean bad food!
By the time our last visit arrived the owner was asking us to stay and offering
us free drinks - and it wasn't just because by then we had tried the entire menu.
||But after a week as tourists, it's back to work. We are due to arrive in Ajijic
on 12 September for house
sitting once again, with 3 cats. I suppose after all our excellent experiences up
until now, we were due something a little less good, to bring us down to earth.
It's not terrible, in fact the house and gardens are very pretty. It just
doesn't really work as a place to live as far as comfort is concerned. (eg.
have better cooking/sleeping/everything facilities on the boat!)
no room for the owner as well as us, so until Joyce flies out to Europe she is staying with
friends and just coming to visit. We move a single bed into
the guest room with the single bed settee to create vaguely civilised, if
split level, sleeping arrangements. It is very many years since either of
us has shared a hard single bed with another person and we can assure you that
without copious amounts of booze, drugs and teenage hormones it's not to be
recommended. Split level is definitely an improvement!
||The whole Guadalajara region is blessed with a near-perfect year round climate and
that, combined with Mexico's relative cheapness and its proximity to the USA,
has sucked in huge numbers of (mostly) American/Canadian retirees. There are
also a significant number of luxury villas belonging to wealthy Mexicans which
are visited just once or twice a year. Nowhere is this migration more evident
than in Ajijic - population c.12,000 vs. membership of the Lake Chapala Society
(the gringo club) c.3,000. A significant infrastructure has grown up to service
this influx providing jobs and incomes for the local population, but with an
equally inevitable upward pressure on property prices. A story repeated in very
many locations around the world - Southern Spain, The Canaries, North Wales in
the 80's??? The Rio Dulce springs to mind with the gated communities in Ajijic
replacing the marinas there. There is though no VHF net, so at least if there are any
Mexican Train Dominoes games we remain blissfully unaware of them.
Outside of the commercial relationship the two populations don't seem to have
integrated significantly. Most days, if you walk around the town square you
find the bars and restaurants busy, but you'd be forgiven
for thinking that Mexicans rarely visit restaurants - except to work in them of
course. But go to the same square on a National holiday (it was Independence day
this week) and you will find it bursting at the seams with locals with their music
and their dancing and their horses (also dancing). Hardly another
gringo in sight!
Or be here for
the Dia de los Muertos. That sucks in plenty of tourists, but it's
pretty clear that the locals are still doing it in spite of the
tourists, not because of them.
Or make your way to the
football pitch for the hot air balloon festival. As a child your mother
probably warned you that tissue paper and fire do not mix. Well
here they prove that they do. Well
Ajijic may not be on our list of
places to return to, but Guanajuato certainly qualifies. Every year they have the
month long International Cervantino Arts Festival and we were lucky enough to be there for
the final week. Guanajuato is an old silver mining town high in the mountains
which make it a spectacular location piled up on the hill side with roads/tunnels
drilled through the rocks like Swiss cheese. That said the locals tell us
that, Cervantino apart it's a pretty sleepy destination and we can well believe
that to be true. It certainly fills up for the festival, but most of the
tourists are either Mexicans or other Hispanics. Great restaurants, great
music in a unique location. It should be on everyone's bucket list.
Be warned though, that one odd
anomaly of this "International" festival - ticketing handled by the
equally "international" Ticketmaster - is that it is impossible to buy a ticket online without a Mexican credit card! You can't even ask a friend to buy
them for you, because you have to present the original credit card with
identification when you
collect the tickets. Having a US or a European Ticketmaster account
doesn't help either. We asked the girl who managed the apartments where we
would be staying if she could buy them for us. Of course, she'd be
delighted. Sorted! Well not quite - it took another week for Copelia
to get back to us to say she, A - didn't have any money to buy the tickets
and B - didn't have a bank account/credit card, so we couldn't send her the
money. Of course she didn't!! This is México and it's pretty much
the same in every other Latin American country. We should have thought of
Well we did finally find a way.
Some of the shows we had wanted to see were sold out, but I don't think that
ultimately mattered at all. We picked other events instead and we wouldn't
have missed a single thing that we did actually see.
||One completely unexpected stress
during our stay was Hurricane Patricia. When we left Ajijic it was a
tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Tehuantepec
which would head north off the west coast of
Mexico and of no concern to us. By the time we arrived in Guanajuato it
had become forecast as the fastest developing and most powerful hurricane ever
to hit the Pacific Seaboard and was heading straight for Ajijic. We hadn't
left the house prepared for a hurricane! All the outside furniture,
parasols, etc were standing around on the terraces just waiting to become
missiles! We couldn't contact anyone who had access and we couldn't even
go back ourselves. At the speed Patricia was travelling she would arrive
before us and in any case, not withstanding our natural disinclination to head
towards a hurricane, the coastal towns were being evacuated to Guadalajara, so
we probably couldn't get there at all.
All we could do was fret and we
did, but in the event all passed without drama. Patricia did indeed
develop the highest wind speeds ever measured anywhere and it did crash into the
coast as a category 5 hurricane, but enormously powerful though it was, it was
tiny, with max winds only extending about 10km either side of the centre.
The area of devastation was largely uninhabited and thankfully did not include
Ajijic. Big sigh of relief - though I don't expect we'll ever leave a
house again without wrapping up the parasols!
All the excitement over, it was
time to begin packing. On 1st November we would visit Guadalajara for a
few days but then it would be back to New Orleans, with a new 6 month US visa in
our passports, and
time to get on the road again - another good name for a song!