El Festival de Los Locos

The other day on our way to La Gruta hot springs, our taxi driver asked us if we were going to go to El Festival de Los Locos. I asked him if he meant Locos as in ‘Borrachos’ or locos as in, well ‘Locos.’ He said it was a parade similar to Carnival in Brazil where people worked on their costumes all year in preparation. It is a parade to honor San Antonio de Pádua and is held every year on the Sunday closest to June 13th. It begins at La Iglesia San Antonio and snakes down six streets before ending at the Jardín Central in the Zócalo at the center San Miguel de Allende.

We decided to check it out this morning, but had no earthly clue what we were in for. We were told that preparations started at nine and the parade would begin at 11. We set out around 10 for our morning caffeinated beverage of choice and then proceeded to look for a place to sit and watch the parade. The streets were already blocked off and lines of string partitioned off the sidewalk from the street. The few shady spots on this particular street were already taken, so we popped a squat on a vacant curb and began to wait. I had no idea that we would continue to sit there in the sun for another two and a half hours as a sea of humanity swarmed in around us and made me feel like I was trapped in a situation that could go south very quickly. Vendors walked up and down the streets and made a killing selling everything from snacks and beverages to umbrellas. I would find out soon enough that the umbrellas were used more for catching flying candy than they were for shade.

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Popping a squat
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Sombrillas….a.k.a. Unbrellas
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The streets are starting to fill up. Look far down the road…
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Papitas con chile y limón

We were sitting on just one tiny street and thousands of people passed us over that period of time looking for a place to squeeze in. If you suffer from claustrophobia, this was definitely not the place for you. Honestly, I was beginning to think that this might not be the place for me either. When the sun reached high above us and the temperature hit what felt like 90, we were about to call it quits. There was no hope of leaving our spot for water or a bathroom break as simply standing to stretch sent a sea of people your way in hopes of finding a spot. At around one o’clock we heard drums from afar and murmurings in the crowd signaled that the parade was underway. For the next hour and a half we witnessed one of the most amazing spectacles I have seen to date. The newspaper said 15,000 people were to be in the parade and I do not doubt it for a second. It was simply jaw dropping. The costumes were fantastic, the music was intoxicating, and the intermittent storms of candy that rained down upon us made my children giddy. It was simply overwhelming and certainly an experience not to be missed.

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When the parade seemed as if it might go on forever, we decided to make a run for it. Pilar had already succumbed to the sidewalk fifteen minutes before and when I saw that Carmela was green, I knew it was time to finagle our way through the intimidating crowd. We somehow joined the parade for as long as it took to find a plausible exit, and were lucky enough to find kind people who lifted the barricade and allowed us to escape. We left just in the knick of time, for Carmela was cold to the touch and told us she had actually just blacked out right before our escape. We ducked into the first restaurant we could find, made her down a bottle of water, and quickly ordered food. They were both dehydrated and starting to suffer from heat exhaustion. Are we good parents, or what?

Twin #1 down.
Twin #1 down.

I have decided that El Festival de Los Locos is named such not for the crazy people who dress up and parade for miles, it is for the crazy people who wait in the heat for hours to witness it. Or perhaps it is named for them both. Regardless, it was absolutely nutty and terribly fantastic.

¡Viva el festival de los locos!

El Bautismo de La Gruta

Up until today, I was under the misleading impression that I was relaxed. You know, I am on vacation and despite the bustle of Mexico City and the heart-wrenching pain my children cause me each time they cough, I felt that I was as relaxed as I could be. I was wrong. This morning we caught a taxi and headed 15 minutes out of town to the hot springs of La Gruta. We spent roughly $10 getting there, and our cabbie agreed to return four hours later to pick us up. There were six different pools lined with rock walls and amazing greenery, each with varying degrees of warm to hot fresh spring water. The warmest pool was connected to a long narrow tunnel that made me feel like I was Indiana Jones about to discover something precious. The tunnel became progressively darker as you slowly moved down it, and opened up like a gift into an amazing domed rock grotto. After about an hour of sitting in the hot water until I was sufficiently pruned, I changed scenery to a tree-covered table in the shade. Listening to a symphony of birds and watching the clouds float by, I had this sudden epiphany that indeed, I was now officially relaxed. Wanting to take full advantage of this odd feeling, I made my way one last time through the narrow passageway that led to the sauna-like cave and waited my turn to take my place beneath the source of the hot spring water. It had the feeling of a veritable fountain of youth and there was a line of folks waiting to wash away whatever plagued them. I was no different. When the time came to stand beneath the deluge, the deafening roar of the water combined with the back pounding massage was enough to wash away any worry that might have preoccupied my mind. I emerged from the tunnel unable to rein in my gigantic smile. IMG_8133

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The tunnel

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The grotto

 

Going to La Gruta was definitely a good idea! We emerged happier and healthier at four o’clock on the dot to find our lovely taxi driver waiting for us, just like he said he would. I know Mexico gets so much bad press lately due to the cartel violence, which the locals will tell you is definitely real in certain areas. I chose to take my family to tourist friendly places on this trip for that exact reason, but I am happy to say that thus far, the places we have been are still just as fabulous as they were twenty years ago. My girls are falling in love with Mexico, and that was the main goal all along. How cool is that? Oh yes, and their Spanish is improving too! (At least when it comes to ordering food and going shopping.)  I’ll take what I can get, I suppose. IMG_8169

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Pela Pops – Weird popsicles that you peel

The Art of Doing Nothing

There is a book in this house that sits by my bed. It is called, “The Art of Doing Nothing.” When I saw it there yesterday, I glanced at the cover and did not give it another thought, too busy being exhausted from five days in Mexico City. I went to bed last night with the stress of being in another country while my child coughed incessantly, had diarrhea, and threw up… pretty much simultaneously. However, my ever-optimistic husband promised me it would all be better in the morning. I hate to admit it, but when it comes to things like this he is usually right.

Low and behold, this morning we were all well rested, Pilar felt much better, and we set out for a day with no plans except to find breakfast. As it turns out, ‘the art of doing nothing’ is exactly what we stumbled upon and it was truly the most glorious day.

We passed several old, gigantic, ornate doors advertising breakfast and on a whim chose door number three…Juan’s Café. It was a small, airy café adorned with plants, art, and an inconspicuous guitar player in the corner who softly entertained us with an acoustic set of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Bossa Nova classics. The food was amazing and the relaxed atmosphere beckoned us to stay for a good hour and a half. After breakfast we leisurely strolled down cobblestone streets and alleyways looking at art and local crafts. When Pilar announced that she needed a bathroom NOW, we ducked into a Starbucks we spied on a corner with the idea that surely they had a decent bathroom. Two hours later, we were still sitting in an amazing adjoining outdoor courtyard making art and listening to music. Marty gave us an art project and we sat there chatting and drawing to our heart’s content.

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We left with the intention of going to a nearby art museum, but were quickly sidetracked by an indoor artisan market advertising an exhibit called “Prison Art.” Well, we never even made it to that gallery because inside the building was a restaurant showing a friendly U.S.A. and Germany soccer match on T.V. We sat for another two hours drinking beverages that rhyme with cheer while the girls downed their new favorite culinary delight… guacamole con totopos. Marty was screaming at the T.V. like a true soccer fan and as all three of them sat there with their favorite soccer jerseys on, we were asked on more than one occasion where we were from. The looks of shock when we said “Tejas” were priceless.

We finally headed back to the casita for a little nap, and then ventured out again in search of an art store and dinner. Again, we found our destination with ease and on the way back to the center of town we stumbled upon a tiny café called Vía Orgánica.   We figured a little healthy food wouldn’t hurt, so we walked inside and found the same guitar player that we met at breakfast. It turned out to be the most delicious food yet and the two for one specials were icing on the cake. We patiently waited for our meal while drawing in our sketchbooks and enjoying another round of acoustic guitar. When dinner was almost over, a woman who had been sitting next to us the entire time approached our table. She felt the need to congratulate Marty and I on being such wonderful parents. Apparently, she had not seen a family eat out together without the use of electronic devices in a long time and was moved by the fact that we spent time together without them. She told us that last summer she had taken her grandchildren on a trip to San Miguel and was so disgusted with the amount of time they spent on their phones that she vowed to never do it again. She said she was proud of us and to keep up the good work. I actually got a little teary-eyed, I mean when complete strangers give you compliments on your parenting, that can’t be a bad thing.

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We finished out the evening playing a heated round of cards on the terrace as we watched the sun set. On the whole, we really did absolutely nothing today and it was fantastic. I look forward to doing nothing again tomorrow!

Phase Two: San Miguel de Allende

Phase 2 of our vacation started today and I have to admit, traveling with a sick child is not necessarily my idea of a good time. Pilar is a trooper, though. No complaints, just sad little eyes as she follows you everywhere you go. We spent our last day in Mexico City walking around the Historic District for a few hours in the morning, and then we holed up in our hotel room for the remainder of the day in hopes that Pilar would get some much-needed rest.

Despite the minor complication of traveling with 4 people, I have to say that traveling these days is such a breeze. ATM’s make getting money a piece of cake, and if you are into that sort of thing Wi-Fi hotspots everywhere allow you to pull up maps and Google whatever it is you might be looking for. It kind of takes the adventure out of travel, but it sure makes it easier. For example, I needed bus tickets from Mexico City to San Miguel de Allende. Years ago, I would have had to go to the bus station hours early in hopes of finding a bus that had seats. I remember one time when I was 20, two friends and I were traveling to southern Mexico from Oaxaca. The only bus of the day had 2 seats left. Needless to say, they got on the bus and I stayed behind. This was actually how I ended up staying in Mexico City for a month, but that is another story.

So, as I began to search for ways to get bus tickets for my family, I was pleasantly surprised to find a website called Bus Bud. You can use this site to find bus schedules and buy tickets online all over the world. Seriously, it was quite possibly the most hassle free scheduling endeavor I have had thus far on this trip. I paid online, printed out our tickets at our hotel, and showed up at the bus station this morning ready to go. Even better was that our bus was one of those gargantuan double-decker numbers with movies, games, Wi-Fi, food, separate bathrooms, and reclining seats with foot rests. There was so much room to stretch out and relax, it was literally like flying first class on an airplane. It was a four-hour bus ride from Mexico City to San Miguel de Allende and it was super! Kid’s tickets were half price and adult tickets were $30 USD. Not too bad, seeing as a shuttle would have cost me $250 for four people. And, we never once felt like we were not safe.

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Breakfast at the bus station
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First Class Bus!

For our stay in San Miguel, I rented a “Casita” on VBRO, and other than the owner telling us 50 things to remember all at once, it is lovely. We have the entire 2nd floor of a 3-story house. There are 2 bedrooms, one bath, a full kitchen, and a lovely rooftop terrace that overlooks the city. It is the perfect place to spend eight days relaxing and making art with my family.

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Now for Pilar…. I decided to take her to a doctor to make sure she did not need antibiotics like Carmela got 3 days before we left. In Mexico City, as well as here, there are several pharmacies with ‘consultorios’ or doctor’s offices attached.   You need a prescription for meds just like in the U.S., but here the doctor consultations are free! I literally walked into a pharmacy and waited for about 2 minutes to see the doctor. We went into a tiny room that was about as small as a walk-in closet. On one end there was a young doctor sitting behind a desk with a computer, and on the other end was an examining table. He handed me a somewhat dingy digital thermometer out of his desk drawer and instructed me to check Pilar’s temperature. I thought that was a bit unsanitary, but I was about to stick it in her mouth when he screamed…No! Put it under her arm please. Phew! He then listened to her chest and decided that as long as she had an appetite and was not running a fever, antibiotics would not be necessary. He typed a prescription into the computer and then proceeded to pull out a tiny hand-held printer from under his desk. Literally, it took about 15 minutes from the time I walked in to the time I left. After being unable to talk to doctors for two years in Taiwan, I can’t tell you how nice it was to be able to communicate freely here. It makes a big difference when your kid’s health is involved.

We have no plans for the next week. With Marty in charge of our daily itinerary, you never know what to expect!

Election Sunday

It is Sunday, Election Day, and the streets are teeming with people. Perhaps they are packed every Sunday, but probably not with the massive police presence surrounding the city center. Honestly, I feel extremely safe. I have yet to feel threatened or unwelcome in any way. Yesterday, we spent the entire day in Chapultepec Park at the Modern Art museum, and then perused the Mexican History Museum at Maximilliano’s castle. Twenty plus years ago when I would travel to Mexico during the summers and other holiday vacations, I had the privilege to be taken to what would be considered the most important places in Mexico City by my old friend Lisandro. This time, I am revisiting some of the same places with my family and I get to play tour guide for my girls. Yesterday we rode the subway and a public bus, ate street food, and learned a bit of Mexican history. In the afternoon, we met up with Lisandro for coffee. All of the things that I loved about Mexico 20 years ago, I still love today. The people have all been extremely helpful and friendly, always glad to tell you about their city and guide you in the right direction. And of course, there is the food. It amazes me that regardless of where you go, the food is always outstanding. Last night we popped into a random restaurant to get out of the rain, and were surprised with the best dinner we have had yet. For three days in a row we have randomly picked little hole in the wall cafes for breakfast, and we walk away in shock at how good it has all been. From bakeries to food stalls at the market, the food is simply out of this world. Needless to say, thank goodness I walked about 5 miles today, otherwise my pants would cease to fit.

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The Subway
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A random mural
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Coffee and games at the Modern Art Museum
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Walkiing in Chaplultepec Park

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Mi amigo Lisandro y yo
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A local bus
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Las chicas y la ciudad
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Monkey head and ceiling murals
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A random Indian shop in the middle of Mexico City

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Today we trekked a few miles through the ‘Quinceañera District’ to El Mercado La Lagunilla. La Langunilla is the largest Sunday market in Mexico City and it was a trip! There were hundreds of stalls selling everything from clothing and jewelry to antiques and furniture. There were thousands of people walking about, and after Marty making me spend too much money, on top of walking down endless aisles with blaring music and screaming vendors, I was ready to call it quits. However, it wouldn’t be a real market experience without food, so we stayed to consume fried plantains, crepes, and huge stuffed blue corn ‘gorditas’ topped with noplales, queso, y rajas (o chiles). The two-mile trek back about did me in, except that we got to window shop down literally 7 blocks of shops catering to nothing but Quinceañeras. I kid you not, I know kids back in the states have quinceañeras, but here it is a BIG deal. There were even stores that rented out pink Hummer limos and an even bigger ‘ride’ that was pulled by a semi. It was astounding and Carmela commented that she would not be wearing one of ‘those dresses’ in a million years. I will be sure to hold her to that.

Now we are resting back in the hotel trying to recuperate. In an effort to cause pain to their parents, I am sure; the girls continue to cough incessantly. I would imagine Mexico City and the pollution here is not the best place for children with bronchitis. Oh well… we carry on and hope for the best.

Tonight the election results should be announced around 8. We will stay inside around that time, just to be on the safe side.

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Breakfast stop number one of three!
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El Mercado La Lagunilla
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Platanos Fritos
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Waiting for soccer shirts and watching a game on TV
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Lunch # 3
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One of MANY quinceañera shops!
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Never say never!
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Don’t you need a tiara with that?

 

Museos y Manifestaciones

Today we hit the Anthropology Museum. After an amazing breakfast at a street café laden with pastries galore and awe-inspiring caffeinated beverages, we shoved 6 people into a little taxi and we were off. The Anthropology Museum houses Mexico’s historical artifacts ranging from its earliest inhabitants to its modern day people. The biggest attractions have to be the Mixtec, or Aztec, relics. It took us roughly four hours to make it through the bottom half of the museum, only scratching the surface of the indigenous cultures that existed before the Spanish conquest. Needless to say, although Marty and I came here once before 13 years ago, he was like a kid in a candy store. With his camera and sketchbook in hand he slowly meandered through each hall while the girls and I left him far behind.  We preferred to focus on the big sculptures and peruse the gift shops. Trying traditional candy was also a must.

On our way back to the Zocalo, we were detained by rallies, or manifestaciones, that were occuring near the city center.  Our cab driver explained that due to the upcoming elections, disgruntled groups across the city are staging demonstrations in protest.  The streets were rapidly being barricaded by enormous amounts of police.  He advised us to buy a few bottles of wine and hole up in our hotel Sunday, just to be on the safe side.  Of course, my friends here say it won’t be a big deal, but we might follow the cabbie’s advice just in case.

For dinner, we dined at a fancy fusion restaurant where my personal highlight was guacamole topped with grasshoppers. It was actually quite delicious, and we rounded out the evening with another trip to the icecream shop.  As the sun went down, we found ourselves hanging out in the Zocalo again where we spied an interesting contraption… an 9-passenger bicycle that you could rent for a dollar per person.  The next thing I knew, we were winding our way though the congested streets of downtown Mexico City. I must say it all happened so fast, I was not expecting the workout I got being the 9th passenger.  It was a lot like being a passenger on the last bench on a yellow school bus. Each pothole sent Marty and I flying off our seat. In retrospect, I suppose it was good that I worked off the Enchiladas Tres Marias that I had for dinner. I would attempt to wax poetic about the myriad of adventures we had today, but the adventures have rendered me exhausted.

Tomorrow I get to meet up with old friends and we are taking the subway to see a bit of modern art. Personally, I am looking forward to breakfast again. The food in Mexico is simply fantastic!

 

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The Anthropology Museum

The Zocalo
The Zocalo and the Cathedral

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A REALLY big flag and La Policia
A REALLY big flag and La Policia
Manifestaciones from our passing taxi
Manifestaciones from our passing taxi
Guacamole with grasshoppers
Guacamole with grasshoppers
Biking at night
Biking at night

 

Bienvenidos a Mexico

¡Bienvenidos a Mexico! Although I made the plans for us to spend 3 weeks in Mexico over 5 months ago, it was not until yesterday that I actually gave our trip much thought. I literally threw clothes in a backpack and worried all night that I was forgetting something. I have not done any planning for this trip other than plane and hotel reservations, so at least I minimized the worrying to one day. We left Kerrville at eight this morning, drove to San Antonio, and after a short 1 hour and 40 minute flight, we landed in the sprawling megapolis of Mexico City. As the plane descended into the anthill that is interrupted by intermittent lush mountains, you start to realize that the dark blanket surrounding the city is not rain clouds, but pollution. The girls were a bit shocked when I pointed that out. We exited the plane and instead of walking through a tunnel to the airport terminal, we were met by a bus on the tarmac. We climbed aboard and then promptly sat there, not moving. Standing there, I realized that although it is a cliché, being on “Mexico Time” is a very real thing. I have never figured out if it is a byproduct of bureaucracy, or if most other countries in the world other than the United States are simply just not in a hurry. Either way, we sat on that bus for a full 20 minutes before actually going inside the airport.   Upon entering, we found the migration line for foreigners and were a bit dismayed to see roughly 150 people in line ahead of us. We snaked through the line for another 45 minutes and luckily got our passports stamped with no problems. Walking outside to catch a taxi, there were several choices. I have read that cabs from the airport are generally safe as long as you get a prepaid one. I went to the first kiosk and was quoted a price of 380 pesos… roughly $20USD. When in Mexico, you should always shop around for a better price, so I went to the next kiosk…280 pesos. The third and least fancy kiosk was the charm…180 pesos. These kiosks were literally right next to one another so shopping around was a breeze. Our cab driver was friendly and despite the fact that we almost had at least 4 wrecks we arrived at our hotel in one piece. Carmela commented that Mexico “looks like India minus the cows.” She meant that it is filled with little shops and there are people everywhere trying to sell you things. Sitting in traffic, we were offered water, chips, cell phone cases, gum, and of course window washing services.

As we approached the Zocalo, or city center where the government building and the main cathedral are housed, we noticed a huge number of soldiers positioned every 20 feet carrying automatic weapons and bullet shields. It is not uncommon to see soldiers outside of buildings in Mexico, but this number seemed excessive. Apparently, government elections are being held this Sunday and in anticipation of civil unrest, the troops have been dispatched. Great!

We met my aunt, uncle, and cousins at the hotel and spent the rest of the evening walking around, eating dinner, and enjoying ice cream in the rain. Our hotel is over 100 years old and houses the 2nd and 3rd elevators to be introduced in Mexico. It is beautiful, but there does not seem to be hot water and the aircon does not blow cold air due to energy shortages and rolling blackouts in this part of town. Imagine watching a heated soccer match on TV with rolling blackouts. Doh! When in Rome, I suppose.

Tomorrow we plan to spend the day at the Anthropology Museum.

IMG_7817Hanging out at the airport

IMG_7823The migration line!

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Hasta mañana.

The Second Six Weeks

Hooray!  We have made it to six weeks #2!

Check out our new material and songs under Spanish 1, Spanish 2, and Las Canciones.