Saturday, August 24, 2013

Mexico: How To Marie-Style

Welcome to another installation in "How does she do this if she is not filthy rich."

Though if you've been here a while, you probably already know from your own experience that the whole "Travel is expensive" thing is a sham perpetrated by people selling advertising in their publications. Travel is only expensive if you buy into the notion that hotels should be $100-300 a night or more, and that you should fork over endless huge amounts of money for things you'd buy at home for normal prices.

We all know I don't have a job at the moment. I'm not unemployed. I'm overemployed. But I'm freelance. So you might be wondering how I could do this, but the truth is, by going to Mexico, I spent LESS than staying home for that time.

-I used American Airlines frequent flyer miles (mostly collected on my Aadvantage Mastercard) to fly from Dulles (near where I was visiting my mother) to Queretaro, the nearest airport to San Miguel de Allende. Normally, I'd have had to fly to much-cheaper Mexico City, but on miles, you fly by zones, so smaller, pricier airports use the same number of points as larger destinations. So I got within an hour of my destination instead of having to take a 3.5 hour bus journey as soon as I landed. There's a shuttle, like SuperShuttle, from the airport to the town. That was $29.

An Unexpected Turn of Events

Back on the Hampton Inn shuttle at the crack of dawn. Back to the airport for another mediocre breakfast of eggs with a side of eggs. Board for Newark. Disembark at Newark, collect luggage, jump on Airtrain, wait ages for train to Newark, switch to PATH train, zip to Grove Street.

Stop at the greengrocer for some delightful berries and lactose-free milk. I've decided I can have berries on my no-sugar plan. I've also decided I'll have lactose-free milk, since lactose has sugar and I am not trying to drive myself nuts, just trying to have as little sugar as possible.

I walk home. The day is stunning. Sunrise was stunning. The brownstone I live in on Hamilton Park is stunning. My apartment looks fantastic—Yancey and his family took great care of my (their) apartment.

Home is so beautiful this time of year. I realize I missed summer here.

But that's okay. I spent a summer in Mexico. I feel incredibly lucky, suddenly, to have had work where I could go abroad so often and even work abroad. To have traveled around the world twice, to have lived in Berlin, Australia, Barcelona, Uganda, Namibia, Kuwait, Cairo, and now San Miguel. To be a working writer/editor with plenty of freelance for the moment.

I stand in front of my building for a moment, grateful for all the opportunities I've had in life. My life has been far from normal and I've spent too much time complaining about being single when the truth is it is wonderful. I'm sure all you married people enjoy your lives too. But there is surely nothing wrong with mine.

I head in, as it clicks.

Being off sugar is making me weird.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Leaving Mexico

Today it was raining in Cancun.

That was all right. I was working in my room until check-out time. And it wasn't just raining—it was alternately pouring and raining. 

Lucky for me, the rain slowed to a drizzle after 11 AM, then stopped completely by around 11:30. 

Time for a break to the bus station, I knew. 

I checked out and pulled my bag across a slightly flooded lot, in between two buildings, and over to Tulum. I didn't want to risk jaywalking with luggage, so I went down to the crosswalk. Or what appears to be a crosswalk. It's really a semi-speedbump where pedestrians take advantage of the slow speeds of vehicles to cross in front of them. 

At the bus station, I approached a counter with the word AEROPUERTO signed above it. I bought a ticket—just a few bucks for what was a small fortune by taxi—and boarded the bus to the airport. 

Where I proceeded to get off at the wrong terminal. It came back to me now. There was the big international terminal, then there was the domestic and Cuba terminal, where you rock up to the desk and buy a visa. 

I got on the shuttle bus to the international terminal. No harm done. I had the most disgusting, expensive lunch I'd had in Mexico, made all the more insulting by the wide variety of food on offer in the food court behind Security. But I'm off sugar, so it was chicken or chicken. 

The flight to Miami was startlingly short, and on arrival, I went out to the curb and used my cell phone to call the Hampton Inn Blue Lagoon for a pick-up. I was able to communicate again! That was nice. And at the hotel, I ordered dinner in from the Cuban restaurant across the street. The hotel was pleasant, but it didn't matter. I was asleep early. Tomorrow I'd get up at the crack of dawn for the flight to Newark.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Lost in Cancun City

What? Really? I swear I clicked the little walking icon.

I've been told "I clicked walking" were Ernest Shackleton's words too.

All I wanted was a salad. I ended up in a Mexican food court eating fried meat in a tortilla.


That's Senor Thor to You

I worked on my Thor book instead of going on the whale shark trip. Not because I didn't want to see the whale sharks, but the annoyingly (and ineptly) flirty boat pilot had put me off the idea of hanging out with him again, and I had work to do. Plus, I'll happily have a reason to come back to Isla Mujeres in the future.

My hotel, Bahia Chac Chi, had an included continental breakfast, but since I'm not eating sugar at the moment, toast, cereal, pastries, and flavored yogurt didn't interest me. I headed back to the walk street for an amazing dish of poached eggs and a kind of spicy sauce. 

The no-sugar thing had me eating stuff I would normally approach cautiously. But I was quickly realizing we'd been led astray about what to eat and what not to eat. I seemed to be eating gobs of eggs and meat—food I thought wasn't good for me—and I was losing weight. I hadn't gone into this no-sugar thing to lose weight, but that was what was going on. I'm sure not arguing with it. 

I wasn't in a hurry to get back to the spastic Internet of the Radisson, so I checked out just before noon and headed back to Cancun by ferry. I followed the other passengers out to the bus stop, waited ten minutes, then caught the bus back downtown, where I checked into the Radisson to find my new room had as bad a connection as the old room had. I went out for a salad, ended up with fried meat in corn tortillas, and headed back to my room. Thor, Thor, and more Thor


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bad Hair Dive

I felt a little queasy from my underwater sculpture dive, so I relaxed in my room in the afternoon. I had looked ridiculous when I checked in—one thing they don't tell you about diving is you ooze lots of snot. Another is the mask and the salt do terrible things to your hair. Any vanity you might have disappears when you notice someone looking at you. Is my nose running? It my hair a giant tangled mess? 

In this case, it was no to the former and a resounding yes to the latter. But this is an island with lots of divers. I knew I wasn't the first tangled mess the hotel clerk had checked in.

After a delicious salt-free shower, I worked on my Thor book for the afternoon, and went out to see the town at sunset.

You wouldn't see a travel agency
like this in the States
Isla Mujeres is lovely. Two parts touristy and one part over the top, but all heart. I wandered around the walk street, reading menus to see about finding some sugar and bread free food for dinner.

One guy asked me if I wanted to come into his restaurant and sit down. "Well, the thing is...this is really expensive," I said a little apologetically. "Actually, it's all expensive." I waved an arm down the whole block. He nodded sagely, to my surprise. Yes, it's expensive here. I'd been in Mexico long enough I knew these prices were unusual.

I settled on a Cuban restaurant. Wasn't I close to Cuba? I ordered ropa vieja, ignoring for the moment that there would be vinegar in the sauce and I wasn't supposed to eat vinegar.

It was delicious. I walked around a while longer after dinner, and as the town shut down, headed back to my room. 

Afternoon (Non) Dive

Our dive master, Rodolfo, signalled us to ascend. Up we went, slowly, equalizing a few times. We weren't far down to begin with, but I went slowly and equalized anyway. 

At the boat ladder, I removed and handed one fin, then another to the boat's pilot. I took off my gear and handed it to him, until just me and my wetsuit were left. I climbed the ladder and collapsed onto the boat, watching as the other divers joined me. 

"That was great!" Everyone agreed. We were all fans of diving the underwater sculpture garden, or MUSA. 

"Now we'll go to the other dive site," said Rodolfo. 

"I'm done" I declared. "My diving career is over." 

Everyone looked at me with surprise. 

"I don't really like to dive," I explained. "I just wanted to see the sculptures." Then, seeing their disappointment, I added: "I'm retired until there's something else I want to see."

Morning Dive

My hotel is the white square directly
over the bright blue boat cover.
"How will I know where the hotel is?" I wondered as the ferry jetted from Cancun over to Isla Mujeres. I knew it was near the ferry pier, but that could mean anything.

I poked at my iPhone map and swore at Apple. My hotel wasn't marked, and I wondered too late how I could go about putting Google Maps onto my phone instead of the Apple map.

But then as we approached Isla Mujeres, I learned quickly I had nothing to worry about. The hotel I'd booked with bank points rose up over the harbor, just to the right of where we were docking.

I strolled off the boat, following everyone else around some construction. I turned right and when I got to my hotel, I learned I was too early to check in. I'd gotten the 11 AM ferry, so it wasn't quite 11:30 yet.

I went into the mujeres room by the hotel pool and tried on my old bathing suit. It was neither too tight nor too loose.

"I've seen worse," I thought. I could do this.

Across the Caribbean Sea

The wardrobe I packed for a month of sitting at a desk and wandering the cobblestone streets of San Miguel turned out to be lacking in the sporty-diver-on-Isla-Mujeres department, I realized as I sorted my gear into 'stuff I was checking with the bellhop at the Cancun Radisson' and 'stuff going with me for a night on Isla Mujeres.'

Maybe I can get away with wearing my pajamas on the boat, I thought. But I'd probably be given a wet suit for the scuba diving later today. I was less sure about tomorrow, when I planned to go to the whale sharks.

I was running late, and panicked a bit when I looked at the time. I had half an hour to get to the ferry! I ran downstairs, checked out and left my bag with the bellhop, and confirmed the location of the bus stop with the receptionist. Only a block away.

At the bus stop, I was a little confused. Too many buses stopped at one time, and I couldn't see past them to see what other buses were approaching. Then a van pulled up with a sign reading JUAREZ.

I jumped in. "Gran Puerto?" The driver nodded. The door shut—automatically, which was a nice touch—and we were off.

The journey to the ferry took only ten minutes, and the stop was obvious so I didn't have to sweat it about knowing where I was. I scampered in, carrying my 40 peso tote bag 'Cancun' luggage I'd picked up on Tulum Avenue the night before, and bought a 70 peso ticket.

The ferry was waiting, but loading hadn't started yet. A second after I joined the line, we were off, filing into the shaded, air conditioned cabin for the twenty-ish minute ride over to Isla Mujeres.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cancun Tuesday

I slept in, enjoying the comfort of the Radisson on the edge of downtown Cancun. None of that hotel zone stuff for me. I'm a city girl.

Plus I could use my Radisson points here, making my stay free. And at least it wasn't raining this time, as it had been when I'd been through one night in January, 2010. I'd been en route from a city I'm not supposed to mention back to New York, and was glad to have a night in Cancun to sleep off the overstimulation of a certain small country between Miami and Cancun.

The only problem was the hotel's wifi drove me batshit for the first 18 hours I was there, until I complained in a ferocious uncaffeinated whir—the room service guys hadn't collected my breakfast door slip. Between being pissed off about food and coffee and being timed out off the internet every five minutes, I was pretty grumpy.

Eventually, after the world's most boring breakfast (remember, I'm still off sugar including all fruits and breads, and I am seriously craving a banana), a man with a laptop and router privileges showed up and worked some Internet juju on the router.

Which was great. It was speeding along reasonably well as I sat there working on my Thor project, until the housekeeper called. She was sick of waiting. I had to make a Skype call at 12:30, but is was not quite noon yet, so I figured I'd take my laptop to the business center and make my call there.

But the signal didn't read, almost at all. I think it was the position or composition of the wall. In a panic, I rushed back to my room at 12:20. The housekeeper would live.

She had the TV on loudly in the room, which I hate, and she did everything loudly. Fluffed pillows with fury. Followed towels with anger. I think she was pissed at me for coming back. She finally left just a few minutes before I made my call.

And the wifi was back to cutting off every few minutes.

Monday, August 19, 2013

By Bus to Cancun

First thing on a Monday morning, I found myself on a 2nd class bus from Chichen Itza to Cancun. The first-class bus didn't depart until 4:30 PM, so 2nd class seemed like a good idea when I'd booked it.

This was less appealing when I realized the "2" in "2nd" stood for "stops every 2 feet."

That's because the 2nd class bus is the local lifeline for communities along the route. I was standing twice for part of the four-hour journey, having given up my seat to two of the dozens of babies on board.

Stopping in small communities was fun for a while, then repetitive, especially once I found I'd drunk too much water.

I couldn't wait to get to Cancun.

Shiny, modern, well-plumbed Cancun.

Two things you don't want to see after a four-hour bus ride when you have a wheelie bag since you were dragging around a bunch of work stuff like an external keyboard and an external hard drive.

1) Stairs to the sanitarios.

2) Turnstiles.

Perhaps you begin to see why certain luggage is better for certain purposes.

On arrival in Cancun (after navigating the turnstiles and swearing aloud in front of children), I pulled my wheelie bag across Tulum Avenue and up the street to the Radisson, which I'd booked on Radisson points I'd begun saving up back in Varanasi in 2011. (Free stuff requires dedication and patience.)

 I did my laundry in an actual machine down the block and bought some pecans at the supermarket. Then I retired to my room to bask in the ease and comfort of a hotel room without a 'Do not flush paper down the toilet' sign.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I Want One of These

I was kind of annoyed about the location of my hotel, but I survived. Plus my hotel had a coffee fort.


Chichen Itza

As I walked along the shaded entry path into the central courtyard of Chichen Itza, the vendors were setting up along the perimeter of the walkway, across all the spokes around the core of the site. They left me alone this early. No time to sell right now, they seemed to say. They were setting up for the big fish coming in later in the day, the hordes of tour buses from Cancun.

The main shebang, El Castillo, revealed itself as I walked. You can't climb it or go in it and I think that's exactly how it should be. I was a little shocked at how we could climb all over the pyramids in Mexico City. I thought about how it's cool that El Castillo is a calendar, but it's easier to just have one on your phone. At least easier to carry.

I continued on to the ball court, where the acoustics really are amazing. But I still couldn't hear what the two souvenir sellers in the corner were talking about.

Palenque to Chichen Itza by Bus

Oh, crap. The overnight bus from Palenque to Merida was full. And I was so disappointed. The first class buses I'd been in back in Guanajuato state had been bright and shiny new coaches with leg rests and free water and those folding wings for your head and neck. They'd have fancy men's AND women's rooms. And wifi. But this? This wasn't first class. These ADO buses were...well, essentially Greyhound.

Sniff.

Good thing I'd purchased my ticket ahead of time, at least. I'd tried repeatedly online, first in Safari, then in Firefox, first with Visa, then with Mastercard...it couldn't be done on a foreign card on the ADO site, though Primera Plus had a great online system. I finally called, and never got past the phone tree. Exasperated, I'd marched up to the ADO counter in Mexico City before heading to the pyramids. They'd sold me a ticket for later in the week.

Go to Chichen Itza early if you want empty
A tiny woman sat next to me, which was a plus. But when two seats ended up open across from us, I scooted over. No one sat next to me all night, and I only woke up a few times. Plus, I got to watch Frankenweenie in Spanish. Fortunately, it was pretty easy to figure out the story without having a clue what any of the characters were saying.

My luck ran out when the third Pirates of the Caribbean came on. I doubt that made sense in any language. I'd missed it by a few days in Bangkok back when it had come out. That now seemed like a good thing.

The bus pulled into Merida around five. Five on a Sunday morning. I pulled my bag into the terminal and stood perplexed. Now what? I had hours before the town woke up.

Later, this entry hall (note the faux-Mayan arch)
would be overflowing with people
So I walked up to the ADO counter and bought a ticket on the next bus to Chichen Itza, which was only about an hour and a half away. I'll have to visit Merida some other time.

When the ADO bus left me in the parking lot at the Chichen Itza main gate, I was a little surprised no one else was there. But then, it wasn't quite 9 AM.

Okay, not no one. Workers were setting up. I put my bag into the free luggage storage and bought my entry ticket. It's a ticket in two parts and not cheap. Maybe part is for the site and part is for the ruins? I wasn't sure.

I ate at the little restaurant
on the end here
I headed to that restaurant on the end for breakfast. Because one thing all these years of travel have taught me is to always maintain a regular eating and coffee schedule. And drink water. Even if you eat nuts and Nescafe, even if you are reduced to the worst fast-food burger in your memory, eat.

I also charged my phone while I ate. In case I ran out of camera power on my Lumix. I'd used both all day yesterday at Yaxchilan and Palenque.

Finally, after breakfast, it was time to get in and have a look around before the masses poured into Chichen Itza.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Yaxchilan and Bonampak

Even by my standards, today was ambitious.

Yesterday morning, I'd left Mexico City via metro to shuttle bus to plane to shuttle but to Palenque, seen the ruins, and kind of collapsed.

Today wasn't a rest day, though. I'd read about Yaxchilan and Bonampak, two less-visited Mayan sites. The former was so hard to get to, you had to take a boat. And then I had an overnight bus right after that.

It would be tough to do both of these by public transport in a single day, but most travel agents in Palenque offer day tours to both sites. There are day tours to some spectacular waterfalls too, but I had to make choices. And have reasons to come back.

At six, I left my luggage with hotel reception and stood in front of the hotel until a van pulled up for me.

"Marie Javier?" The driver got out and showed me a receipt with something sort of like my name.

"Close enough."

I jumped in the shotgun seat. There were three other passengers in the van, but it was dark and no one was terribly cheery at that hour.

We picked up another couple, drove and hour and a half, then stopped for breakfast.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Palenque Afternoon

I strolled into Palenque on a Friday afternoon. Man, was it humid. I've been hotter, for sure, when I lived in Cairo over a summer (I was never in Kuwait during the summer, thank goodness), but the wetness of the air was just ridiculous.

Still, wasn't it worth it to run around and look at this stuff? Yep.

After, I visited the on-site museum for a while, then caught a minibus back to town, where I claimed my luggage, then walked up the street, around the corner, and to my hotel.


Morning Journey to Palenque

On this particular Friday, I got up at hell-o'clock and didn't shower. I just closed up shop and checked out of Hotel San Diego, pulling my bag through puddles in the dark to the Mexico City metro.

I had been worrying the metro might be too crowded for me to get my luggage onto a car, so I made sure to board by 6:30 AM. The trains were still crowded, though not unbearably so, and I let one train go on without me. At home I would have barreled in, bag and all, but that's not my place in Mexico.

I took the metro to Observatorio stop, where I promptly got lost trying to find the Poniente bus terminal. It's right behind the metro but I didn't see any signs. I finally found it with the help of a vendor who spotted me looking deer-in-headlights-ish, and bought a ticket on the shuttle to Toluca Airport. I was flying on VivaAeroBus, a budget airline, and they fly out of Toluca, near Mexico City. When you fly budget, you pay in irritation.

How to Get to Toluca Airport

If you ever need to get to Toluca Airport from Mexico City, and you might because Toluca is the base for some of the Mexican budget airlines, here's how you do it.

You catch the Caminante Aeropuerto Shuttle. It's easy. You just catch Metro Line 1 to the end, to Observatorio. It's not far. The only tricky part is working out how to exit the metro and walk over to Observatorio (Poniente) bus terminal. It's close, but not well-signed.

At the bus terminal, you'll see the Caminante Aeropuerto office right in front of you. Buy your ticket and board the shuttle. Easy.

But the shuttle goes to the places on this sign too.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

An Utterly Average Day, and How That's Nice Sometimes

Hotel omelet, your shittiness is exquisite in its shimmering puddle of grease and your contrasting flat browns and amarillos.
Yes, I'd just composed an ode to a bad omelet. But that seemed only part of the answer to this flat yellow overcooked disappointment on my plate. I put down the exact amount of pesos to cover the cost and fled the hotel restaurant for the cute coffee shop down the street.

I wasn't in the best part of town for an interesting Mexican breakfast. When I'd been at Hotel New York, I'd noticed all kinds of sidewalk cooks hawking their wares in the morning. But I hadn't needed them at that hotel, because breakfast had been included and delicious. Here at Hotel San Diego, the rooms were a step up but the breakfast a long way down.

I ordered some eggs and coffee at Gradios Deli/Cafe and enjoyed my meal while a Doors album played on a loop. This sounds annoying, but actually, it hit the spot on a sunny Mexico City morning with a brilliant blue sky peeking at me from past the glass doors to the restaurant. The day felt optimistic. I did too, oddly. I don't know if this is a byproduct of being away from the uncertainties back home or to do with me quitting sugars and breads on the advice of a San Miguel doctor. Feeling great is feeling great, whether it was caused by the Doors and a cafe or eating better.

Today was the day I was supposed to make my second assault on Creepy Doll Island, Isla de las Munecas. I'd even pulled a thousand pesos out of the ATM in preparation for this. I had a metro ticket and my light rail ticket. But last night, I'd given it some thought and concluded that I didn't really want to do this today:
  • Take the metro to Taxquenas at the end of the line.
  • Take the tren ligero to Periferico. 
  • Catch a pesero to Cuemanco and find the embarcadero. 
  • Convince a punt guy to pole me to Isla de Las Munecas and to do it there and back in three hours so I didn't go over the 1,000 pesos.
  • Sit with him for three hours making small talk. 
  • Return, find the pesero or a taxi back to the light rail. 
  • Take the light rail back to the metro. Take the metro back to town. 
Plus, I had to do a Skype interview for the Thor movie book at 11 AM.

Screw it, I thought. If I see the creepy dolls some other time, great. If not, I'll collect my own and decorate the base of the Pulaski Skyway.

Instead, I did the interview, then walked to the Misslene, the hair salon I'd gone to on my last trip to Mexico City, made an appointment, left for the anthropology museum (noted that when people get on the metro in Mexico City during rush hour, it's like every train is the last chopper out of Saigon, and remembered this happening in Cairo too), then went back to the salon for a haircut. I picked up a takeaway salad on the way back to my room.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A'Touristing We Go

My iPhone alarm went off at 4:30 AM.

I'm really learning to hate that sound.  But for once, I didn't hit the snooze.

I got up, showered quickly, ate my oatmeal and drank some coffee, packed the last bits into my bag and zipped it up. I was about to put the bag outside the door and slam it shut with the keys inside on the table, when I remembered the one time someone else had been staying in the building this month. They' double-locked the outside door, which only opened with a key.

I went downstairs with my bag, checked the front door, went back up — the motion-sensors had gone off and the hallway was completely black —and left the keys on the table, pulling the door shut behind me.

That's it, I thought as the outside door shut. Better hope I have everything.

I really better, I knew, since I'd waited too long to leave and was worried about how long it would take me to get to the bus terminal. I have a wheelie-bag for non-extended trips, and now it made funny noises as I rolled it over the cobblestones against the silence of the San Miguel night.

Can't be helped. 

A taxi with two men pulled up next to me. Great!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Last Tengo in San Miguel

On my last day in San Miguel, I dropped off my laundry, then headed to the bus stop.

BOOM! A firecracker went off ten feet from me. I swore out loud. In English, but I don't think I fooled anyone.

I caught the bus and noticed as soon as I boarded that a man was playing guitar and singing off-key (and loudly) from the rear of the bus. Great. We headed up the hill to the Tuesday Market, stopping by the panoramic viewpoint to let a clown board.

A clown. 

San Miguel was testing my devotion to her, here on my last day.

The Tuesday Market, you may recall, is a kind of magnificent outdoor dollar store. A massive flea market with lots of used stuff, cheap plastic crap, and food stands. I wanted to check out the Otomi embroidery. I'd eyeballed it in the shops in town and priced it from-the-source in the artisan's market, but I wanted to check the big market before I committed to buying.

But I spotted no embroidery. And by now, after having looked at these textiles, I wanted one.

I had to have one.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mi Casa

Here's where I've been staying all month.



It's cute, right? But it's not for everyone. It you aren't good with stairs, for example, this isn't the place for you. 

Boxed In

I packed up my donkey plate and my other souvenirs this morning. I hadn't meant to buy anything. But here I was with a small packet needing to go home. I held it in my hands, weighing it against the buses I'd be taking, against the stairs I'd be pulling my bag up and down in the Mexico City metro.

Nah. Send it, I thought. Don't carry it.

I knew there was an Office Depot or Office Max up by the Soriana supermarket, but it seemed silly to take a bus up the hill to buy a box. And the post office here wasn't in the business of providing boxes.

I pulled out the San Miguel guidebook I'd carried upstairs from the Reception area when I'd realized I was the only person staying in the four-unit house I was in.

Aha...there it was. Mailing supplies. FedEx...DHL...various pack-and-ships...then, in a little box, there was a note about a store selling cheap boxes. Around the corner from me? Really?

I walked over and sure enough, there it was, a jumble of boxes inside a storefront. How many times had I passed it?

A Change in Diet

My ears were ringing one morning in May.

It was a quiet morning, and I could hear birds outside and the thump-thump-thump of a tennis game in Hamilton Park. But inside, all I could hear was a high squeal. In my head.

I promptly ignored this, after buying one of those ear-cleaning kits and trying that for a few days. I had way too much going on between closing the office, finishing my job, and re-tiling the bathroom floor. Ears were just going to have to be considered later. I didn't even manage to pay attention when I bashed my toe, so ear-ringing simply wasn't a priority.

It didn't stop, so on Friday, I went to the ENT in Hospital de la Fe. My appointment was at 11:30 AM, and I gave myself an hour to get there. I was still late, because I got lost. I took the bus, and missed my stop, overshot, and had to walk back. But couldn't figure out how to get to the hospital even though I could see it. Eventually, I found it, and ten minutes late, I stood outside Dr. Lillian Hernandez's office on the second floor.

"Marie?"

"Yes."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sudden Afternoon Storm

It's the rainy season here and we haven't had much rain since my first week, so I'd kind of forgotten about it.

But today the rain kicked up with a vengeance. I happened to be out in my flip-flops and umbrella so the rain didn't bother me much today.

In the second photo, you can see the drainage pipes from the roofs at work. The water is spewed onto the street.

Again, good thing I had my umbrella.



Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Gasman Cometh

video

I've been trying to get a recording of the gas man jingle all month, and this is the best I've done so far. Just ignore the image--it's easier to upload a video file than an audio file here.

He's like the ice cream man, driving his truck around the neighborhood and playing a song to let everyone know it's time to come get some of that tasty propane! 

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Field Trip to Dolores Hidalgo and Pozos

The days are counting down to when my month here is over.

Already! I'm definitely not ready to leave. I've started looking at real estate listings and wondering if staying here for an extended period of time would be a good option for me.

Anyway, I have a few things to see still. I think I've given up on day trips to Guanajuato and Queretaro—I'm running out of time and it's good to have a reason to return—but I knew I had to see Dolores Hidalgo, which is the birthplace of Mexican independence and right down the road. That's an easy trip. All I'd have to do is catch the local jitney to the bus station, then hop on the next bus for the hour-ish ride to Dolores Hidalgo. What's to see there? The church. The zocalo. Some pottery factories. The exotic ice cream stand.

The lilac color creates the ultramarine glaze.
But I also wanted to see Pozos, an old mining town that nearly became a ghost town but now has a few thousand inhabitants. From Dolores Hidalgo, I'd have to take two buses. That was turning into a day of six buses and two jitneys.

Ugh. 

We all know I like a little inconvenience, but that sounded kind of unpleasant.

But when I'd done the local walking tour, it had finished in the library courtyard, where a man had handed me a flyer. Seems the library was launching field trips. And one of them was to Dolores Hidalgo and Pozos. Sixty bucks? But it's a fundraiser for the library.

So I signed up. "Your guide will pick you up at nine," said the woman who took my pesos.

Great. I only had to go out my front door to get a lift.

At quarter to nine, my cell phone chirped.
Brushes are made of squirrel tails

"Hello?"

"Hello, this is Francisco, your guide for today."

"Hello," I replied to Francisco, my guide for today.

He paused.

"Can you hear me?"

"Yes."

 "Hello, this is Francisco, your guide for today."

I kept quiet this time and waited to hear what he had to say. I hadn't intended to confuse him.

"I will be 10-15 minutes late to pick you up. So 9:10 or 9:15."

My doorbell rang at 9:10. I don't know how he knew which bell to ring. I bet he rang them all.

I went downstairs, hair still wet, and got into a red Suburban. Francisco drove me to a much swankier part of town than where I live and we picked up three other tourists, all friends.

We drove an hour to Dolores Hidalgo, along long straight roads running through fields of broccoli. Francisco showed the others where to get off the bus to go to the hot springs, and how they could take a walk to a small town on the way back. He explained we were going to a Talavera ceramics factory first in Dolores to see the process Dolores was famous for.

The factory was fascinating, but there's this.

"The pottery makers in this town are highly skilled," said Francisco.

"Francisco," I asked. "Does that mean they are paid well?"

He paused. "Sadly, for many, this is all they know how to do. They grew up in this town. Some of them get minimum wage, which in Mexico is per day. For some, maybe eight or ten dollars a day."

He later explained that while San Miguel de Allende is one of the most expensive places in Mexico to live, the higher minimum wage is in the cities. This is not SMA, at least where we are looking at ceramics, but while SMA is a beautiful place to live, it can be pretty tough for a Mexican who isn't rich to live there.

We took a long look at the gift shop, but there was no way for me to get any of this home since I had to fly a budget airline to the Yucatan (luggage restrictions) and then take buses along to Cancun.

If I ever renovate a non-Victorian, I'm coming down here in my car and filling it up with tile.

I did buy a donkey plate at a smaller shop we passed on the way to the church where Hidalgo had made his famous call for Mexican independence. We went inside to look around the church then tried various odd flavors of ice cream from a vendor on the corner of the square.

I tried spoonfuls of a type of butter pecan, coffee flavored, chocolate, avocado, rose petal, some kind of purple cactus flower, fruit, and a bunch of other stuff I've forgotten. I refused to try the octopus-and-shrimp.

"How did it taste," I asked the one guy who tried it. He made a face.

"It tasted like octopus and shrimp."

We drove on then to Pozos, for a delicious enchilada lunch in a lovely hotel, then checked out a storefront with indigenous instruments, then drove out to an old mine to take a look around.

I never could have seen that by public transport. This was a full day, but a good day.

After we dropped off the other tourists, Francisco drove me back to Animas.

"How do you think that went for the first trip?" He asked.

"First ever?" I was surprised.

"Well, I've done it before with a tour group, but this is the first one where I am volunteering with the library."

Excellent. I couldn't have been happier with it. I visited the library the next day to see when their next trip was. Unfortunately, the only other one running between now and when I depart was an overnight trip to Mexico City.

I'm sure that one will be great too.





Monday, August 05, 2013

More Island of the Dolls

Here are some photos of Isla de las Munecas, the Island of the Dolls I was trying to go to back in Mexico City.

These are by a local photo teacher. She's really the expert on this place. It's her fault I'm so interested in going. She showed me her book when I stopped by the photo center. Unfortunately, it's no longer in print and the used copies are way out of my price range. 

A Thorough Cleaning and a Little Texan Philosophy

I headed to the dentist for a cleaning today. Compared to Bangkok, the dentist here is expensive at about $47. But I could have sought out a cheaper one. Instead I went to one in the middle of the centro,  right behind the American Express local rep. She has a huge client base of expats. I decided it made more sense to just go to her instead of trying to find someone cheaper but without me having any recommendations. A guy I met in Cafe Contento the day I got sick told me lots of expats liked this dentist. His own dentist was a bit farther out and I'd have to take a bus or a taxi.

I don't have anything wrong with my teeth, and I did just get a cleaning in January in Bangkok, but I always like to take an opportunity for a teeth cleaning that doesn't set me back more than $150-200, like it does at home.

I had to wait a half-hour, though I arrived on time.

"I think she had an emergency," explained the garrulous Texan sitting in the waiting area with his wife.

His wife went in a minute later, and he continued to chat.

"I'm 78, she's 76, and at 50, we had all the energy to travel, now we have the money but no energy. Don't wait, retire when you're fifty!"

I had to laugh. Not only is retirement really not in the cards for me right now, but I haven't exactly put off traveling for when I can afford it.

A bit later, the dentist called me in.

The dentist, Dra. Alma Godinez, was great, if a bit over-the-top on the cleaning. She congratulated me on my good dental hygiene and went to town the way a hygienist does at home.

I think I've found a place to go if I ever need major dental work. Bangkok is still in play of course, as I've been going to that dental office since 2001, but San Miguel de Allende is a lot closer than Bangkok.

The dentist did say I needed to gargle with hydrogen peroxide for two days, and the reason in Spanish sounded a lot something was dead in my mouth. Like something-muerte. Hmmm. That was a bit worrying.

I bought a tiny container of agua oxigenada on the way home and hopes that would kill off whatever was dead in my mouth.


Sunday, August 04, 2013

The End

We had a good run, me and the old job. I was surprised how long this continued, but it's over now. I put together the last issue on my laptop while complaining about screen real estate while having InDesign, Illustrator, and Acrobat open at once.

Being in Mexico has been a godsend as it's allowed me to focus on simple things like where to buy paper towels, and to forget about how my job of seven-and-a-half-years has vanished into the world of corporate politics and acquisitions, with a generous helping of Arab Spring thrown in.