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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mundo Pequeño...

So when I last left you, I had just moved to Robin's place. Spending time with him was like meeting up with a long-lost friend. We did a lot of nothing in particular ... The first day I was over there I got to meet a few of his students as he works as an English teacher.  Some of the students come to take classes at his house, and he also leads an English conversation class/group thingie at a café run by a Canadian woman named Sunny.

She was fun to meet (and I found out from her IF I had cable which channel I could watch for a brief recap of the Olympics, but alas no cable), and I also met her business partner, Maria, who it turned out had attended the same school in Guanajuato that I am starting tomorrow and loved it. That was reassuring to hear!  Both of these women moved from Canada and the US, found a new life here, and ended up marrying locals and living happily ever after.  Robin also introduced me to Ray, who runs the Queretaro Language School I was thinking of attending, and he was a fascinating delight as well. A Filipino guy who grew up in Turkey and then moved to the US before enlisting in the Peace Corps at which point he was placed in Chiapas and then met his (Mexican) wife. He speaks Turkish, Cebuano, English, and Spanish fluently and accentlessly. Someone to admire! I felt guilty for not having enrolled in his school, as they really include some medical experiences for doctors. If this current gig goes well, I might go to San Cristobal next year where he is starting up a similar school in Chiapas.

Other things I got to do with Robin including tagging along to his acupuncture appointment, during which a crazy woman came in complaining of diarrhea and then tried to panhandle me when the acupuncturist told her to come back later, and a Scrabble night that he organized that no one actually attended at Sunny's cafe -- but it was a fun, close game, and we met some other English teachers, including one from Orinda of all places, small world that it is. And walking past a cafe which was having a very extensive butterfly and scarab-beetle exhibit which the proprietor? waiter? explained to us in extreme detail in Spanish. Luckily I did understand most of it so it was actually interesting. The collection was not just from this area but from all over the world. However, the Canadian monarch butterflies do apparently migrate to Michoacan state, about 2-3 hrs away from here, around this time of year, and that would be very cool to see.

Robin and I also rented one of those audioguide walking tours offered by the tourism office and managed to get to about 6 of the sites before returning it and then succumbing to liters of Micheladas for 40 pesos each (this is for you, Koren!). The audio tours were horribly dry and boring. Basic deal is that the city has been around since 1531 as part of Nueva España ("new Spain") and there is lots of history regarding the old rich Spaniards who lived there and then the revolution that rose up to get rid of them, part of it plotted by a woman called La Corregidora. We also got to see the pretty amazing acqueduct system (photos to come) that has 70+ Roman arches and was supposedly built by someone who was in love with a nun, to impress her.  It didn't work.

Anyway the biggest charm to this town is walking around the downtown on the cobblestony streets and looking at all the cool architecture, painted interesting colors ...


I was able to take the bus downtown from Robin's house and back without difficulty, totally safely, no problems. I did that on Saturday and was supposed to be back by 2 pm when his wife was going to arrive with her friend to pick us up for the party we were going to in Ezequiel Montes (a smaller town about 45 minutes away). Right. I should have gone on that wine and cheese tour that was only going on Saturdays that I was interested in and I STILL would've gotten back in time to have met them given the time we actually left. I also really wanted to see the Mercado de Santa Cruz and cut short my time in order to be on time (which just means I'll have to go back there again! ;-).  I did end up sitting in one of the lovely public parks where several women clad in white offered me a free blood pressure check. Doesn't even happen that much in the US!

So yeah -- apparently Mexico is really truly a "mañana" culture where when someone tells you they will do something or will definitely be somewhere, good luck. Most of the time it doesn't happen. At least, not on time. This is one of the things that I think frustrates both Robin and Juan Carlos about living here -- they don't operate in that sphere and get disappointed when it turns out that everyone else does. So, Gerardo, the friend of Diana (Robin's wife), turned up late to pick her up in Mexico City and go to Ezequiel Montes to set up the party that they were sort of planning together in a family home of his (which was stunning), then realized he didn't have the keys, then considered climbing up and entering through a 2nd story window, then realized they could borrow a ladder from a relative of his, etc., etc., etc. So she didn't come and pick us up till 6:30ish pm for his party which was to have started at 3 pm, which obviously didn't.

Surprisingly, about 15-20 people did turn up for it, all much later than it even started. The party did not include food, and we had to go across the street and eat sincronizadas, and then back at this beautiful house it was really clear that the party was organized by a guy when it turned out there was no toilet paper or soap in the bathroom and the toilet didn't actually flush... ;) Total guy kinda thing.  However, he was really friendly.  And then later there was some sort of charades/20 questions type game organized with male vs. female teams where someone was supposed to describe a famous person and their team had to guess the name. Well, most of the names were not names I had ever heard before, and I could barely follow along with everyone kind of drunk and screaming stuff out all at the same time in Spanish, so let's just say I was not much of an addition to the team...

Robin and Diana and I ended up sharing a huge bedroom in the house and were really tired and went to bed around 1 am. However, the incredibly loud music went on till 6 am. I tried to cower under the blankets and put on my Ipod earphones to drown out the other noise. Actually, somehow I managed to pass out! In the morning we got up and realized how even more beautiful the house was in the sunshine...

Then we took a little walk around town, found some some very dry tamales that made us look for something to drink, and then some fresh squeezed orange juice from a woman who has been squeezing it on the corner for 20 years.   We got a peek at the lovely local church and square, too.

Then we found the bus depot and I got on a local bus back to Queretaro, complete with musicians playing. Once at the Queretaro bus depot I bought a Primera Plus bus ticket leaving in an hour for Guanajuato.

On that bus, I happened to meet two men from New Mexico who were on their way to attend the same language school starting tomorrow as well. Of course! Wouldn't you know. We worked on a Sudoku together and talked about language school plans. One guy was staying in a sort of dorm, the other staying with a family about a 20 minute walk from the school. I felt embarrassed to tell him apparently my host was a 1 minute walk from the school, when I'd booked so recently!

Anyway from the Guanajuato bus terminal I easily got and haggled down a taxi to my host's house. Guanajuato is basically a very wealthy and gorgeous town carved into a valley in the mountains with lots of tunnels and stunning architecture and the whole downtown being primarily cobblestone-clad pedestrian streets. I was fairly blown away by the beauty and then discovered that my host was in the absolute best location she could possibly be, in a beautiful grand old house built in 1846. The whole family had waited for me to come and eat lunch. They were lovely! She has 5 adult kids, one daughter is currently in India with her boyfriend, another son is doing a radiology residency in Guadalajara, and others live more locally. Including her American daughter-in-law! And there is also another woman from Washington state studying at the school who has only been there a week and really does not speak Spanish well at all. She told me she thought I could teach courses rather than take them, which once again means she speaks poorly enough to overestimate the Spanish I speak! Nice compliment though.

Anyway I think I'm going to be happy here. I asked my host if every day here is as stunningly blue-skied and perfect, and she said "pretty much":)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cansada en Queretaro...

So, it was a birthday filled with travelling, with almost no sleep beforehand.  I guess that's not so terribly unusual for me, but at least everything went off smoothly without a hitch. I was picked up at 3:15 am, then by some miracle since I was checking in with United I didn't get charged that annoying $25 fee to transport luggage, even internationally.  Slept the entire flight.  Landed early in Phoenix, took the shuttle to the other terminal at that user-friendly airport, then slept the entire flight to Mexico City.  On both flights I was in a cluster of 3 seats where the middle seat was empty, so that was nice.  Then after clearing aduana y inmigracion, I got some money out of an ATM, went to the bus ticket office, then right downstairs to the waiting Primera Plus bus and got right on.  Nobody hassled me in any way, and the next thing I knew I was Queretaro-bound on a luxury bus which included reclining seats, individual tv screens, and a sandwich and drink.  I convinced the lady across from me to let me use her cell phone to call my host to let him know an arrival time, then slept the rest of the bus ride only waking up to witness an absolutely spectacular sunset over the countryside between the two cities.  I was about 5 minutes too late to capture decent photos.  Bummer!  The sky is pretty stunning in this area.  It is considered semi-desert...

Once again I have been fortunate enough to have wonderful people agree to host me.  Have I put in enough plugs for Couchsurfing yet?  1.7 million people are now a part of this global network, which you can read about at   My first hosts were Juan Carlos and Maria Jose, and their two kids who were actually quite smart and cute.  They are originally from Guatemala and are happier living in Queretaro because it's so much safer ... They live in a beautiful neighborhood called Milenio III that was built about 10 years ago, up in the hills to the east of town.  The windy roads up reminded me of my own neighborhood!  And the houses are painted in sort of adobe and dusky pink and beigy colors, sort of Arizona-like.  There is lots of light everywhere and it was a lovely house.  JC was kind enough to make dinner and we talked about Guatemala and Queretaro and lots of other things late into the night.  They warned me that their kids wake up around 6:30 am and that they didn't think I'd be able to sleep through the deafening noise, as I was sleeping in a doorless room.

I was comatose.  I slept till almost 9.  Recuperating from the previous work weeks.  Then I got a lift into town with JC and had the loveliest time meandering around the downtown fairly aimlessly.  There are lots of public parks and green spaces, and they all have free wi-fi, in case you needed to be convinced of how civilized this place is. The downtown architecture is beautiful, and there are lots of andadores, which are streets closed off for pedestrian strolling.

One of my first stops was to an OXXO shop (much like 7-11 in Thailand, they're *everywhere*) in order to buy a cheap crappy cell phone with SIM cards and minutes already included, for 299 pesos (about $23.50 USD) since despite my well made plans, my regular US cell phone doesn't work here because it's locked, and my unlocked phone which I bought in Thailand and which worked all over SE Asia didn't work because it refused to pick up the Telcel signal. Grrr. So now I have a cell phone for each of various parts of the world! Registering for the network was a non-intuitive pain in the ass as well, but the lady at the OXXO shop took pity on me and helped me out.

Next I overheard an orchestra practicing, so wandered down that street and just sat and took it all in, they were wonderful, about 35 or so men with brass instruments. A few other people were sitting and watching and they were sort of amused by me being there, or so I thought.

I also went to two museums -- one was Museo Regional which had an amazing "féria" exhibit in miniature, it was like a whole Mexican pueblo with various vendors, people celebrating different stuff, very colorful and adorable.

The other was the Museo del Arte, situated in a beautiful ex-convent, which I guess a lot of museums are in, usually with courtyards in the middle. They had a David Alfaro Siquieros exhibit, and a great exhibit called Apariciones by Humberto Spindola, whose stuff was really fanciful and again very colorful, which I like. It was more modern. Of course there was the usual colonial era art, and European art, most of which seems to involve stuff like crucifixions and raptures and things of that nature. I gave that a quick perfunctory glance and then went back to the cool multimedia different versions of clouds and such.

Then a visit to the tourist office where I discovered that there is a lovely wine and cheese tour that goes to the nearby villages of Bernal and Tequisquiapan, but they only go if there are 5 people signed up and the tourism business is sadly kinda slow.  I think I will end up renting a walking tour headset which they have in multiple languages and takes about 3-4 hours walking around town.

Somewhere along the way I found an absolutely lovely quesadilla with guiso de patate, made at a little hole in the wall place called Cafe de Olla. Then I met up with JC and got a ride home and just lazed around in the evening and then talked for hours and tried some tequila that he had. Only a small amount, as us old people (which I somehow became on Tuesday) are only prone to debauchery and insanity in occasional spurts.

This morning JC brought me to my next host, Robin, who is a friend of his. He is from Australia and recently married a woman from here who unfortunately is out of town in the Big City (DF) for work this week. He is a lovely baker and cook and I got to sample some of his homemade treats and also saw the huge colony of leafcutter ants who are very industrious, luckily outside the house, not in. I am currently using his computer to blog while he teaches an English class in his home. Next we are going out to a pub that he's going to do a conversational English class at and I guess I will be like a guest-English-speaker with a different, funny accent! Tomorrow, walking tours, and a party on Saturday in another town... Below: a photo of Robin in the best Indian restaurant in Querétaro -- Bhaji!

This is a delightful town and the weather is sunny and in the 70s during the day but comes down to the 40s at night being semi-desert ... but perfect for daytime exploring, so looking forward to doing more of that! No crazily bizarre adventures as of yet, possibly because Mexico feels so non-foreign and I do speak the language. But we'll see what comes up! :)