Laundry in Mexico


I love the colourful lines of fabric stung together over ever outdoor surface in this country. It's beautiful. I could do without hand washing soiled clothes though.

The above photo was taken out the back of our flat in San Blas at sunset, right before a rain storm.  On a related note, I've been approved to sell photos on iStock. Yay!

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On Arriving in Puerto Vallarta


Will Smith’s Family, Feeling Queasy and Cursing in Spanish

A few days ago we traveled by bus from San Blas to Puerto Vallarta, which is about a three hour drive south through the mountains that line the Pacific coast of Mexico. For anyone with any penchant for motion sickness at all, it isn’t a pretty journey. Buses here are air conditioned, but they appear to have no shocks and the roads are bumpy and windey. Not fifteen minutes in and we both felt queasy.

The only thing that makes me feel better when I’m nauseas is sleep. The bus was cool, the bus was quiet and at the exact instant that I began to drift away some little kid put on a ripped copy of the new Karate Kid film starring Will Smith’s rug rat on full volume. The sound system on buses in Mexico isn’t good. There’s a lot of static and the bits you can make out sound like they are being shouted through a long, echoing tin can. And of course it was dubbed, quite poorly, into Spanish.

I will forever associate that cocky little Smith progeny with nausea and a wall of fuzzy noise.

I felt sick enough that, with my head leaning on the curtain on the bus window next to my seat, I started to drift off anyway. I could hear the tinny Spanish dub of the Karate Kid but it became part of my dream – my squeamish stomach so far away that I couldn’t really feel it anymore. I felt the bus stop and heard some people get on and sit behind me, toward the back of the bus.

In these circumstances, my instinct is to dread the arrival of children but if I’m honest, it’s never usually the kids who cause a ruckus, but their parents.

“Little Roberto – do you want some chicken?!” the lady yelled in Spanish as though little Roberto was either deaf or on a bus in the town over. The word for chicken in Spanish is ‘pollo’, pronounced “po-yo”.
Little Roberto: Huh? (Maybe he was deaf)

Lady: Pollo! Pollo!

LR: Pollo?

Lady: Pollo!
This went on for awhile until it was eventually determined that indeed LR wanted some chicken. My eyes were closed the entire time, so I am assuming they thought I was sleeping and just didn’t care. Then, about ten minutes later and I really was starting to fall asleep again when suddenly the curtain I was resting my head on, covering the window next to my seat, was wrench out from under my cheek, causing it to slap against the bare, warm window.

I opened my eyes to see a thirty something man – another of the little Roberto clan – standing over my seat trying to rearrange my curtain by roughly pulling it back and forth. I should note that he had his own window and curtain, which he could have arranged without touching mine.

You know when you feel so angry that for a moment you can imagine yourself reaching out and doing bodily harm to another human being? That’s how I felt.

One of the challenges of being in a country where you aren’t fluid in the language is that you need to look things up before saying them. As Roberto senior was messing with my curtain, I’m fumbling in my Mexican Spanish book trying to work out what I want to say to him. Whoever makes these language books should include a section called “Insults to Hurl At Locals Who Are Pissing You Off.”

I gave up with the book and settled for a “Hey!”, a nasty look and then I roughly readjusted my curtain to where I wanted it, where it was before. Roberto senior looked at me like I was crazy, as though on buses in Mexico you should expect the person sitting behind you to yank your curtain out from under your sleeping head if he feels like it.

Incidentally, the word for rude here is ‘grosero’.

Mr. Bean Makes an Appearance

Upon the conclusion of the Karate Kid, it looked like a DVD featuring Mexican wrestling was going to be put on but following the opening credits, it was abruptly removed and replaced with a Mr. Bean DVD. I’ve never been a big Mr. Bean fan and generally think the character is a dick, which might explain why the guy behind me chuckled at his antics right until he got off the bus just outside of Puerto Vallarta with little Roberto and the loud lady.

Taxi Drivers and “Geese Hotels” in Mexico

We pulled into the central bus station in Puerto Vallarta and headed directly to the taxi stand. We had no idea where we were going and with our huge backpacks, weren’t willing to spend hours trying to navigate the confusing public transportation system here.

At the taxi stand we walked up to the first car in the queue, which was driven by an old man who didn’t speak English. Before we got into the car, a younger guy who seemed to be in charge of the taxi stand, walked up and asked where we were going. I’d written down the name and address of our hotel and showed it to him.
“Zat de ‘otel of de geese.”

“Huh?”

“De geese! De geese!”

“It’s the hotel of the geese? I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

“De gay-eese.”
Then it occurred to me that this funny, cross-eyed man was trying to tell me that my hotel was “the hotel of the gays”, in other words a gay hotel. This made me quite angry. First of all, I was pretty certain that even if our hotel was ‘gay friendly’ it didn’t ban straight couples; also I’d booked through Expedia and although it was explicit that no one under 18 was permitted to check in (a bonus for us) there’d been no warning about being straight. I was also pretty certain that the taxi driver probably had some deal going with some other hotel in town and received a commission by funnelling tourists to them.

“Well, we’re staying at this hotel and we’re not gay.”

"Done say I dee not warn you," and he gave us a 'you crazy gingos' shrug and walked away but not before explaining to our taxi driver how idiotic he thought we were being and having a chuckle. I had momentary visions of kicking him in the shins. 

Mexico is a fairly Catholic country and perhaps the threat of homosexuality is interpreted to mean “they will ass rape you when you check in.” (Which didn't happen, by the way). After five weeks in San Blas, all I wanted to know was: are there dog size spiders and do the toilet flush.

For the record, our hotel is a little bit ‘gay’. There are mostly gay men staying here and working the front desk; and the neighbourhood is also filled with rainbow flags and well-dressed men having fancy meals with one another on verandas.

Give me a hotel of the “geese” any time over one that is intolerant. As long as it doesn’t have spiders.

Image Credit: Picture by me - this isn't the hotel of the geese (thank goodness!)

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Canary



My father gave me a canary and a revolving globe ... I used to open the cage and let the canary go free. It developed the habit of sitting at the very top of the globe and singing for hours. For years, as I wandered insatiably over the earth, greeting and taking leave of everything, I felt that the top of my head was the globe and a canary sat perched on the top of my mind, singing.

- Kazantzakis



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One Night in San Blas

I really need a new video camera - my old Flip is so grainy. Or I need to learn how to properly compress video files for Youtube. Ah well, here it is:



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New Theme Song?



"You better close your face and stay out of my way if you don't wanna go to fist city." I wouldn't mess with Loretta Lynn.

Oh, this song would have come in handy about four months ago!


(song via Tea Pots Full of Gin)

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Things That Can't Be Kept

Travel demonstrates as much as any personal intimacy that we cannot elicit perfect, unmoving loyalty. Writing anything down is basically sentimental, an act of preservation, an attempt to hold a moment or image still. Travel writing wants to defeat the impermanence of being in any one place. In keeping records of the intangible—people or places or experiences –we attempt to forget that the things we love are not, in fact, things, and therefore can’t be kept, preserved, or possessed.
-- From the brilliant The New Inquiry - one of my favourite blog finds of late. 
 I've felt a bit untethered the last few days and this essay on The New Inquiry perfectly captures the sad, futile act of trying to cling to moments. I am desperately ready to leave Mexico but strangely sad about it at the same time. I feel like I am trying to capture sand in a bucket filled with holes. 

The rainy cooler days are gone and the humidity and heat is back up. The storms blow in and the thunder rolls for hours but there's not a lot of relief from the heavy, thickness of the air. And the mosquitoes are trying to drink us dry so we are mostly hiding in our flat, working and reading, which I love but I don't really even feel like doing that. I feel a little bit like a character from a Tennessee William play - Maggie the Cat.

The other night I had a bad dream about my sister followed by a wonderful dream about Paris. I woke up longing for a place I've only visited twice and missing people I haven't seen in nearly a year.
What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

- On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Two nights ago we were walking home in the dark and saw a giant coral snake just outside the gate to our complex. I can't stop thinking about the surprise we felt as we came upon it moving around in the dark; and I am obsessed with all the loveless animals I want to rescue from this heat and loneliness.
He began to feed her pomegranate beads, two or three at a time, and she stopped weeping long before her lips were stained red.

- Last Night in Montreal, Emily St. John Mandel
I'm trying to embrace this feeling as part of the experience of traveling that people don't really talk about. It's not all rainbows and sunsets. And I know I will feel better soon.

x

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Dan and Amy go to Tepic

My old Flip camera is rubbish and the Internet is slow here so I had to compress the heck out of it, but here is a little movie about our trip to Tepic, the capital of the Nayarit region of Mexico. We went primarily for the Walmart because San Blas doesn't have a lot of creature comforts and we realized that there are a lot of things we would need to stock up on to make it through all six weeks. The bus trip costs about $8 USD return each and takes about two hours. We've been twice and this is the time when I didn't feel like puking the entire way.

Oh, and my hair is really bad. I need a haircut. Quite seriously. Yeah, and not so good with the iMovie and not sure how to fade out music. Apart from that, it's wonderful!



Taking the bus in Mexico is an experience. People get on and off constantly with things to sell. In the case of the guy with the nuts (in the video) he came on, gave us all nuts, told us what I'm guess is a sad story about his life and then came around expecting either money or his nuts back. The last time we went to Tepic, on the way back we'd dozed off only to be awoken by buskers who got on and decided to play a rousing mariachi for twenty minutes, and not well. It was funny and a little bit embarrassing - like watching a really bad American Idol audition, two feet away and it goes on for a really long time. I wish I'd had the Flip for it.

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New Project - A Tramp Abroad


I've been toying with the idea of launching a travel website for awhile now; there are so many things that I learn every day, so many moments that remind me how far from home I am in both good and bad ways. There are a lot of travel websites out there, but most of them are either quite commercial or very personal. I am really excited for the new site,  A Tramp Abroad, to focus on helpful, quirky tips but also feature really outstanding longer form travel writing. Oh, and our tag line is 'Inspiring wanderlust." Perfect, no?

I'll still be writing here - this will always be the place I feel like I can unload about all the more personal experiences and feelings that are niggling at me and on occasion I'll post links to any longer form pieces I write on the other website.

We've got some shorter news pieces up already along with a few bits of original content that I hope you'll check out -

It's still very much a work in progress but feedback is very much welcome. Also, we're looking for guest bloggers so if you have any ideas, please let me know.
x

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Live Where You Fear to Live


Yesterday the rain started in San Blas, the temperature dropped and the breeze picked up just enough. After six weeks in the heat of the Phoenix desert followed by nearly three in Mexico with very little reprieve from soaring temperatures, the relief we felt at the shift in weather was tangible. As we walked into town for dinner last night under a light cool mist of rain, the streets were filled with glowing puddles and, maybe it was just me projecting, but a sense of relief - a slowness for once not precipitated by the imposing heat and humidity.

Last night, I slept under a sheet for the first time in weeks and I even woke up once at dawn to turn off the fan and cover myself up because I felt a bit too cool. The amazing pleasure of feeling cool - I cannot tell you! Happily the weather has held and after a long dozy sleep-in, we've spent the better part of the day inside the flat reading and writing to the cacophony of birds who seem to be singing more persistently today. It feels like a quiet celebration.

***

There are a few authors that I've been obsessed with over the years; some of these have stuck and others have fallen away as I find new sources of inspiration. I've loved Sylvia Plath since her Ariel poems and journals sustained me about ten years ago. I had embarked on a misplaced romantic adventure to Northern British Columbia to go to university in a town that literally made my lungs close up from the pollution churned out by the local pulp mills. I'd imagined it would be like living in a Margaret Lawrence or Alice Munro book but instead it was a strange kind of nightmare; we were poorer than I've ever been in my life (or ever hope to be again), I was constantly sick with sinus and bronchial infections and the town and university held a deep hostility towards women and girls that I'd never experienced before. The town was located along the highway of tears and we were always aware of the young women who disappeared - some of them found, their bodies mangled alongside the highway like discarded refuse, others just vanished. Within the town and even the university, women were afraid. I worked in the Women's Centre and so many Monday mornings were spent listening to crying women who had been drugged or raped over the weekend; on one occasion a girl had been chased into the woods behind the school by her boyfriend who was wielding an axe he'd broken out of an 'In Case of Emergency' container in his dorm. She hid in the woods until he finally gave up looking for her or until the police came, I can't remember which.

Over the Christmas holidays that year, I was called at home by a representative of the student's union. He wanted to know if I would participate in a search of the isolated woods on campus for a Russian exchange student who had been missing for over a week. We set out under a cold, steel December sky and finally found her, hanging by her neck from a tall fir that had been felled and was leaning over a big rock. It was declared a suicide, but I've never been able to work out how she managed to get herself up there.

It was a dark, long year. For weeks the sun barely came out and most days, it was through a thick cloak of fog - partly natural and partly pollution from the nearby pulp mills. Sylvia Plath got me through that winter.

A few years later, back in Saskatchewan, I came across Rumi. I think my interest was piqued by the Kate Winslet film Hideous Kinky (story of a young mother played by Winslet who moves to Morocco in search of something meaningful in life), which had a few scenes with whirling dervishes. I've never been a religious person and definitely don't relate to the tangible Sharia laws of traditional Muslim society, but here I was drinking in the words of this mystic poet and completely transfixed with the notion of whirling dervishes - dancing their feet off in ecstatic celebration. I haven't thought about Rumi in awhile, and today I came across this poem quite randomly, on a blog I've never visited before:
…We must become ignorant of what we have been taught
and be instead bewildered.

Run from what is profitable and comfortable.
Distrust anyone who praises you.
give your investment money, and the interest
on the capital, to those who are actually destitute.

Forget safety. Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.
I have tried prudent planning long enough.
From now on, I’ll be mad.
I feel like I've been trying to find ways to live more fully for years; even though romance has been the excuse for so many of my adventures (to Northern British Columbia, to England), it has really been an excuse for tumbling, albeit a bit naively and blindly, into the world. When my lovely fiancee and I made the decision to begin this around-the-world trip months and months ago, we were on a train between Cardiff and London. We were exhausted and unhappy with so many things and ground down by unkind acts by a few negative, ruthless people (at the time it seemed like there were so many of them, but with distance, I can see that there were actually only a small handful); as it became a real possibility, this journey became a way of finding places and experiences to remind us of how exciting and fresh life can taste - to reconnect with the possibility of life as an ecstatic and slightly crazy celebration.

I don't know where we are going to end up or if we'll find any answers this year, but more and more, I am beginning to believe in this notion of reckless abandon mentioned above by Rumi. Even in the darkness of my year in Northern British Columbia, I came away with experiences that continue to change me, in ways that I couldn't have imagined or planned for.

Here's to a little bit of madness, with gratitude for the rain fall, the birds songs, this quirky small Mexican town, and for the sighs and keyboard tapping of my love working away in the adjoining room.


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Where I Am Right Now

"The place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you." Hafiz

I am generally not one for inspirational quotes or God talk but I read this quote today on the lovely Meg's blog and it jarred something in me. I've been fighting Mexico a little bit; the physical discomfort, the strangeness and the inconvenience of so many things compared to what I'm used to. But today, I'm feeling really good about being here. It's the first truly overcast day we've had since arriving so the weather is cooler, there's a sea breeze making the curtains next to my bed float up and down and I've discovered some beautiful, strange things about this town in the last 24 hours that have my brain buzzing with ideas for creative writing and photography projects.

I feel really grateful for a lot of things today and for the first time in nearly a month, in this moment, I feel like I am pretty much exactly where I belong.

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Guacamole and Grilled Cheese



I swear that this isn't becoming a food/cooking blog but lately I've developed a bit of an obsession based mostly on the fact that, for maybe the first time in my life, I am in a situation where it's hard to find the things I'm used to or want to eat. There are wonderful meals to be had here - like the amazing corn on the cob grilled over charcoal on the plaza with chili oil, salt and lime - but few things are convenient, familiar or reliable. We'll decide on a restaurant for dinner and head into town only to find that it's not open - there isn't any reason and no sign to explain the disruption; it's just that they've decided to stay closed. Or, after finally finding a store that does decent cheese, they'll suddenly stop carrying it and we'll be back to Kraft Singles.

In the grand scheme, none of this is a big deal and I've had some amazing food here not least of which is the local seafood, which is probably the freshest I've ever had. But it means that I fret and think about food in a way that I don't do when it's just available and abundant. I'm a bit spoiled by a culture where anything is available and in London, it's also available nearly 24/7. I recognize the impropriety of this along with the environmental and social impact of consumption - but it's my reality.

This new food reality in Mexico has led me to some interesting combinations of ingredients that would probably never have occurred to me anywhere else. It will be interesting to see how all the different places we visit over the next year will change how I cook and think about food. So, because I am having a love affair with the beautiful Mexican avocado, here's my favourite new lunch dish: 

Guacamole and Grilled Cheese Sandwich (pictured above)

One medium avocado
One small onion
One clove of garlic
Splash or two of hot sauce
A few sprigs of Cilantro
One small lime
One small tomato
Two pieces of bread
A small pad of butter, margarine or some anti-stick spray
Two slices of Kraft singles (or any other kind of cheese - I've only used singles because they're all I had)
  1. Fine chop onion, garlic and cilantro and put it in a bowl. 
  2. Cut open the avocado and remove the pit. Put the 'meat' into the bowl with the onions, etc.
  3. Squeeze lime juice into the bowl and add a few splashes of hot sauce. Use a fork to mash the avocado and mix everything together. I like my guacamole chunky, but it's up to you. 
  4. Fine dice the tomato and mix it in with the guacamole. This is an optional step - I just like tomato. 
  5. Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and put a bit of butter or non-stick agent in it. 
  6. Make a sandwich with the cheese and bread and put it in the skillet. Keep an eye on things so that it doesn't burn. Once it's browned on one side, flip. To help the cheese melt you may want to cover the skillet for a few minutes towards the beginning of this process - but make sure you end with the lid off so the bread crisps up. 
  7. Once the cheese is melted and bread is toasted, remove from heat. Pry open the bread and put lots of guacamole in there. Close back up again and eat. This recipe makes more than enough Guacamole for two or even three sandwiches, if you aren't selfish like I am.
So yummy!

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