This is not Mexico, you are in the Yucatán…

Walking off the plane in Merida from Mexico City was a contrast of pace. The intense hustle and madness of Mexico City was met by calming Caribbean style music and a warm Yucatan breeze.

Our hotel is simple, spacious and clean. The Luz de Yucatan https://www.luzenyucatan.com/en/home-2/ is right in Centro Historico so we walk out to the Merida night. Music echoes through the streets as restaurants wake up for post comida and what we call dinner is La Cena. La Cena starts about 7pm and builds into the evening. 

We walk the streets taking it all in and feeling the warmth of the Yucatan. Warmth in the weather and the people. One man we met asked us; de donde eres?Where are you from? We answered: “vivimos en San Miguel de Allede aqui en Mexico.”  He answered quickly in English.  “This is not Mexico, you are in the Yucatan.”  The people of the Yucatan hold on to their Mayan heritage like no other. They continue to hold on to the Mayan language and customs. He is angry about Mexico, the gangs, the crime, the extreme violence. “We do not rape women and kill people.”

To the people of New York, Paris, or London, “death” is a word that is never pronounced because it burns the lips. The Mexican, however, frequents it, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and most steadfast love. Of course, in his attitude perhaps there is as much fear as there is in one of the others; at least he does not hide it; he confronts it face to face with patience, disdain, or irony.

The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950)

He said. “Do not be afraid, you are in Yucatan. We did feel the difference. We stick out as tall big headed Americans but they did not hawk us, only sincere questions about where are we from and gentle smiles.

We have seen the capital city of the Yucatan by night. The next day we awake to walk the city and learn. We walk to Casa Azul. A beautiful hotel we researched. http://www.casaazulhotel.com/ We arrive at the entrance and it is locked. We ring the bell and a young man greets us. Santiago tells us the hotel is private and always locked. We ask in Spanish, “es possible ver bonita hotel?” Si! Santiago answers and we walk into a beautiful French colonial mansion with only eight rooms. The courtyard is lush and green with tropical plants. He points us to the front desk to show us the 4 star diamond ratings. Santiago walks us out and directs us two blocks south to the most famous boulevard in the Yucatan. Paseon de Montejo. A wide boulevard with more French colonial mansions bright white as well as pink and blue. Giant sidewalks with monstrous trees creating a shaded tunnel to protect us from the sun. 

On Sundays streets close, Mercados open. Street food stalls on one side as the smell of meat and fish on the grill fills the air. Beautiful craft stalls on the other side and music frames it all. We stop on one corner to soak in the music, color and love as people of all ages dance together, swaying, laughing and caressing. Just another Sunday in Merida.

Merida is also a city of day trips. You can explore Mayan and Aztec pyramids, cenotes and a biosphere reserve to protect birds and the cleansing mangrove forests.

Day three we jump the local bus to Celestun, a small village on the Gulf of Mexico. The bus ride is wonderful as we pass through small villages picking up and dropping off kids going to school and mothers headed to market. A man jumped on for two stops selling peanuts. The peanuts were fresh roasted and still warm. Twenty pesos for three small bags. Yum!! The bus ride took two hours and costs 60 pesos each or three dollars. 

Celestun is still trying to hold on to its fishing heritage. As you walk about town you see nets strung and rolled being repaired and prepared. How long will the fish last? Overfishing is a problem and rules and catch limits are ignored here. The only thing this village has to hold on to, whether they know it or not, is ecotourism. People are coming here by the bus loads to see the Pink Flamingo. Thousands of them migrate here and live here in the estuaries digging shrimp in the mud from the almost pink water. It is said that the pink color of the Flamingo comes from the shrimp. We planned our trip to be an overnight trip. We always love seeing small villages and learning about how people live. We booked the Santa Julia hotel. The reviews were off the charts for this 2 star hotel. I know that sounds strange but the truth is this is a poor village with few options. Santa Julia was simple, clean and our host was kind and helpful. 

We take a funky tricycle cart pushed by a motorcycle to the lagoon to meet the boatmen for our trip out to see the Pink Flamingos. Our boatman Filipe and his son of the same name welcome us to the 18 foot skiff with a 60 horse Yamaha outboard. We ease out of the marina and soon Filipe presses the throttle forward and skips us over the estuary out past thick Mangrove forests  and flocks of Pelicanos.

Soon we see the pink hue on the horizon and within minutes we slowly approach a flock of Pink Flamingos, many standing a meter tall in about 8 inches of water.

There are hundreds standing, cuddling and posing mostly for each other. More Flamingos join the gaggle flying in stretched out looking like F18’s coming in for a landing.

We see a few babies, which are white, and the sound the birds make is a low warble as they flirt, talk and dig shrimp from the mud. We sit quietly floating amid these beautiful creatures with our boat mates Sophia and Etiene both from Mexico City. We all look at each other in amazement. As we slowly edge the boat back away from the birds Filipe turns over the outboard and we are now flying down the other side of the estuary. Without backing off the throttle he banks us into the mangroves through a small tunnel. Felipe pulls back the throttle and we glide into another world.

The mangrove trees reach for the sky as the roots dig into the water. The small river like waterway takes us inside the forest.

Birds small and large find life here and you can see fish down into the clear water. These forests and estuaries clean the waters of the Gulf of Mexico as well as provide shelter and life for so many species. 

The only place we had ever seen Pink Flamingos had been the plastic yard art outside the beautiful American Mid Century modern homes. We will now appreciate these beauties even more.

We have so much more to explore here and look forward to all the warmth the Yucatan has to offer!!

Living and learning in Mexico

We have now lived in Mexico for 2 years!  We are learning Spanish and so much about Mexican culture. This little bit of knowledge and language skill gives us confidence to now travel inside Mexico. 

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.

Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

This recent trip to Mexico City from our home in San Miguel de Allende starts at the bus station in SMA. The bus system in Mexico is top notch. Premiere buses are luxury buses with Wifi and TVs at your seat. The reclining seats are comfortable with lots of leg room. The buses travel fast and safely over the Mexican highways. A rash of car jackings have plagued our beautiful area around San Miguel de Allende. Seventy (70) over the past three months. Banditos somehow get cars pulled over and at gunpoint get you out of the car, leave you beside the road without shoes and take the car and everything inside. Everything! Passports, laptops, wallets, suitcases and jewelry. While this has not happened to us we are aware and take all the precaution we can to avoid this nightmare. Yes, gun barrels to the forehead is frightening. The best advice: Don’t resist! These buses move fast and strong and feels like the best way to travel on the highway. 

Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world with over 25 million people and the crime rate here is one third less than Washington DC. You arrive to chaos and energy and a lot of pollution this time of year because of inversion. Cold air up high trapping hot air below. A lot of hot air from a lot of carbon powered gas cars. 

Ángel de la Independencia

We like the neighborhood of Polanco. The streets are clean and parks are woven between busy streets and sidewalk cafes reminding us of Paris. The people are dressed sharp and greet you with a smile when you greet them with the traditional Mexican courtesy of buenos dais, buenos tardes, and buenos noches. These are important to know and understand. The culture here is strong and knowing just a little will get you through a lot of bad Spanish. 

We walk, talk and shop through the streets of Polanco, thinking in Spanish. What a feeling to cross over to this point. Our Spanish skills are by no means perfect but we are doing it and it is amazing. Our efforts have paid off and the smiles from the Mexican people warm our hearts. We are comfortable here!! We stop for a glass of wine and a beautiful frijoles soup at Dante and just around the corner is Cerveceria Polanquito. Beautiful food and people! There are many world class restaurants here in the city. James Beard award winners with months or more long waits for a reservation. We enjoy finding smaller places with fun bars and bumping music. We love to sit at the bar and find a way to eat plant based. “No comemos carne.” We laugh and speak Spanish with the bartenders while they practice English with us. So much fun!  

Cerveceria Polanquito

Remember, comida is the big meal of the day here and it starts at 2 or 3pm! Yes, 2 or 3pm and restaurants are packed with business people making deals. Saluts abound and wine glasses ching ching! The ”’Three Martini Lunch’ is alive and well here in Mexico City. Every company in the world wants to be part of Mexico and especially Mexico City. Here are just some of the brands with a footprint in Mexico City: The NBA, the NFL, Major League Baseball, Starbucks, Steelcase, Knoll, AT&T, HSBC Bank, yes Huawei (don’t plug in!), Toyota , GM, BMW, even Gino’s East Pizza from Chicago! 

On Sunday one of the biggest streets in Mexico City, Reforma, is blocked off to allow bikes to travel miles without traffic. It is a Sunday tradition as people on bikes travel freely from neighborhood to neighborhood.

We enjoyed our visit to the Anthropology museum but only had time to spend a few hours. You could spend three days!

Museo Nacional de Anthropologia

We will return to beautiful Mexico City and find more favorite places to explore, eat and drink!

Muchos Abrazos Mexico City!

“To do no wrong is to do nothing”

Our hearts, home and life are in Southeast Asia for the next five weeks.  Our plans are not plans.  We have a ticket to Bangkok and a flight leaving Bangkok.  That’s all we know.  For two hard driving sales people this is a big challenge.  We plan, we execute.  On this adventure we let things go, and check out our surroundings, we talk to people, learn and make adjustments.  Come to think of it that is a solid sales trait as well. 

Bangkok where we find beauty, the hustle of a big city and the peace of the Thai people. 

The traffic here is intense and it only takes us one trip in a taxi to learn that the streets are not the place to be in a car.  We learn the sky train and everywhere we go we find our way to and from on the train.  Caroline is a transit genius and has taught me to appreciate public transit and how to understand systems all over the world. 

We tour the Chao Phraya River in a classic long boat.  Our skipper is proud of his brand new boat.  It’s only one month old, with a powerful 6 cylinder engine.  The boat is at least 50 feet long and holds about 15 people. Long BoatOur driver skips us over the water through the middle of Bangkok.  We see beautiful hotels like the Mandarin Orient, The Peninsula and the Lebau Tower where the movie Hangover II was filmed.  We turn from the main river to a side channel which winds us deep into the underbelly of Bangkok.  We see small ramshackle homes on the channel some with beautiful Orchids dripping from the decks right over the channel.  Catfish boil in the water and giant lizards lounge lazily on the decks below the Orchids.  In this back channel away from the city is where I see a hand painted sign. 

“To do no wrong is to do nothing.” 

We make mistakes.  We have to move on. 

On our way back to the train we walk by  a brand new condo building with an open sign so being the real estate addicts that we are we pop in for a look.  The materials are beautiful.  Cool white marble floors and well crafted doors and windows.  It’s small about 600 square feet with a small kitchen a nice bathroom and a great bedroom with views to the river or the city.  The pool sat on the 18th floor and looked out over the city.  Price tag was about $260,000 US or $9,000,000 Thai Baht.  What do we think?  How exciting to think what it would be like to live here for a few months a year.  We decide if we are to do that renting is the best option.  So fun to look so fun to dream so fun to stop before you make one of those mistakes we learned about. 

On day two the heat intensifies and we jump the train back to the river to tour the temples riverside.  This is the Wat Arun temple built in the 1700’s.  Across the river we visit the Wat Pho temple which is an amazing campus of temples and tombs.  Monks mix in with the tourists from all over the world especially China.  The Chinese travel in groups, large groups and take over almost every tourist area.  It becomes too much and we beat it away from the temples and to the comfort of the sky train.

Back to our neighborhood in Sukhumvit we find an hour long foot massage for 250 Baht or about $7.  The foot massage is magic that finishes with a strong shoulder and back massage. 

Day three we grow to love this city!  The coffee is amazing and today we find the Siam Paragon mall. Every brand, every shop that you can imagine.  In the basement much like Harrods in London is a gourmet grocery store with rows and rows of beautiful food, produce and like Harrods lunch counters serving champagne and caviar.  We skip the caviar but enjoy a few nice glasses of champagne and seared tuna.  Where are we? 

There are many neighborhoods in Bangkok of course.  We are staying on Sukhumvit which is a large thoroughfare through the city.  The Sky Train hovers overheard and hums with efficiency.  We like it here and love to explore the Sois which are streets that stream off Sukhumvit.  On one side the even numbers on the other odd.  Sois 2 and 4 are in the Nana district which is known as a red light district.  Bars and foot massage parlors are the flavor of these Sois.  We wander up 4 and over to 6 winding our way to 8.  Each So has it’s own personality and it is so fun to find your favorite Soi.  At night we head to Soi 11 which at first looks seedy.  Then the restaurants, hotels and apartments appear and the vibe is fantastic.  We sit at the bar at Oskar’s and enjoy a few drinks and soak up the local flavor. 

Day four becomes night four for this story.  As we explore doing something even if it is wrong.  We head out for sunset at the Lebeau Sky Bar.  Yes, Hangover II filmed a memorable scene here.  Sky Bar!The view is spectacular and the people are beautiful.   The circle bar is 64 floors above Bangkok with the river winding through the city below. 

They are serving Perrier-Jouët Champagne and it is amazing.  Rick’s family name Jewett is from the French name Jouët.  We are told the story of the Perrier and Jouët love affair. We laugh, drink champagne and imagine the year 1811 and being Jouët.  We enjoy a bottle and a few more glasses as the sun sets and the music begins.  By the time we get the bill it is enormous.  We didn’t ask the price or look at the menu.  If you have to ask you shouldn’t be here.  Right?  We learned the next night that there is a 400% import tax on wine in Thailand.  “To do no wrong is to do nothing.”  I don’t think we did anything wrong.  Next time a glass not a bottle. 

“One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble.”  This Murray Head song is stuck in our heads, and we had four nights in Bangkok.  We may have more?  The trip now shifts to Chiangmai, Thailand in the north.  Stay tuned…More to come. 

In Mexico we play! In Oaxaca we eat and drink!

Culture here respects and honors the art of playing.

We arrive in Oaxaca straight from Las Vegas.  We left Las Vegas the day of the massacre.  Such tragedy in America’s city of play.  One of Rick’s best friends is Phil Tom who lives in Las Vegas.  Phil is the Lord of playing and fantasy.  Phil grew up in Indiana and played multiple sports.  He would shoot baskets in his backyard for hours pretending he was Larry Bird.  The base of much of his success as a kid and adult is anchored in his own desire and need to PLAY.  Phil designed an 18 hole golf course around his home in Las Vegas as a place to PLAY and created golf’s fifth major.  The holes are narrow, short and a huge challenge for golfers.  Caroline’s Dad and Mary came to see us in Las Vegas and they too walked the course with smiles.

Phil Tom on the famed Lake Shore 6th hole
Lake Shore Golf and Country Club

For the past 19 years Phil has put on the Lakeshore golf tournament for the Make a Wish Foundation to help benefit kids who are fighting for their lives with little opportunity to PLAY.  This year the tournament and party raised over $10,000.   The total for 19 years of is over $200,000.  Thank you Phil. 

We wake up in Mexico to our phones blowing up with concern from friends and family that knew we were in Las Vegas. We turned on the news to the horror of the morning aftermath of a mad man that fired upon 22,000 people at PLAY, listening to music, dancing and singing.

The timing is perfect for our first visit to Oaxaca, in southern Mexico where only two weeks earlier the area was rocked by three major earthquakes that killed hundreds and left thousands without safe shelter.  We called our contacts prior to our arrival to make sure all was well and that we would be welcomed at this time of disaster.  Everyone asked us to please come!  Ciudad de Oaxaca was rattled but okay.  The city is ancient, the land around the city is mountainous and green.

Ciudad de Oaxaca
Ciudad de Oaxaca

The people, oh the people of Oaxaca thank you for showing us your beautiful spirit and welcoming us to your city!

First stop is the city’s indigenous, botanical gardens. We are toured by Carole Turkenik a famous, retired, American botanist who loves Oaxaca and lives here most of the time.  She is in awe herself as she explains to us the origin of the chile pepper.  Every chile pepper in the world originated here in Mexico and specifically here in Oaxaca.  Can you imagine Thai food without chile peppers?  Chinese food without chile peppers?  Indian food without chile peppers? They are all from here!  The garden is called an indigenous garden to help represent the 16 different indigenous cultures here in Oaxaca.  Amazing!

Mercado--20 Noviembre
Mercado–20 Noviembre

We learned where much of the world’s great foods originate and now we learn to cook! Our cooking class started in the markets of Ciudad de Oaxaca.  Markets in the world should take note of these beautiful markets filled with color, smells, food and drink.  From stall to stall you are greeted with big smiles and ‘buenos días’!   Fresh, clean vegetables are gathered by our guide and chef Esperanza as she works her way, with us in tow and eyes wide open, through The Viente Noviembre Mercado.  The mercado is well designed with well lit stalls and wonderfully displayed products from classic Oaxacan chile peppers to lush local chocolate.  We arrive at our kitchen for the day and meet our classmates.  Julie, Maya, and Carrie all friends from New York.  What a fun day to spend with new friends in the world. Augustine is the head of school and the English translator.  He greets us with humor and welcomes us to his home.  The kitchen fills with the smells of roasted garlic, grilled onions and roasting peppers.  We learn to make authentic tortillas, guacamole, and beautiful red mole.  We taste Mezcal and drink beer as we help Esperanza cook and teach us indigenous recipes.  We get to know each other and share our meal together along with a bottle of Mezcal that makes us all laugh as we toast each other to one more.  Salud!  In Mexico we play!

The next day our driver Erick picks us up for a day of exploring.  First stop, a cypress tree that is the widest tree in the world.  Its boughs fall with grace from the sky as gentle feathers. 

IMG_2578

We stop at a textile mill where men and women perform an ancient dance with ancient weaving machines as they stomp and  pull the old wood contraptions and slap the cotton or wool threads into beautiful designs. 

Our next stop is a Zapotec village where families still weave wool rugs with designs from ancient Zapotec symbols.  The colors are created from nature.  Walnuts help create browns, marigolds brighten yellows and red comes from a parasite that only lives on the Nopal Cactus.  As Spain conquered Mexico they began to mass produce and export the color to Europe.  The beautiful color soon became the third most exported product from Mexico behind Silver and Gold.

Picture from Craft in America web site
http://www.craftinamerica.org/artists/j-isaac-vasquez-garcia/

Now modern medicine, science and the food industry seek the parasite because it creates a red that does not cause cancer.  J. Isaac Vasquez Garcia is a family run weaving business and is honored as the best in Mexico.  The story is good and the products are fantastic. 

Photo by Zygi Goldenberg
Our trip through nature continues as we visit the Don Agave Mezcal tasting room and distillery.  Our guide walks around the grounds showing us agave plants in various stages of life and explains the process of identifying and harvesting quality agave for Mezcal production.  We see the ancient beds where the agave is buried and cured with hot volcanic rocks.  The rocks and mesquite wood create the smokey flavors so unique to Mezcal. The ancient process of grinding the agave using a giant stone wheel being pulled in a circle by a horse still exists.  The end product is pure 38% alcohol and a treat to taste if you know how to taste the elixir.  My friend Dan asked me on Facebook.  “Doesn’t Mezcal taste like paint thinner?”  Actually no, we learned from our guide.  To taste and drink Mezcal the art is almost like smoking.  Fill your mouth with a small amount of Mezcal, swish it around your mouth to taste the flavors.  Swallow the Mezcal and as the flavors reach the bottom of your stomach exhale as if releasing the Mezcal back through your mouth and nose.  The flavors then return as you taste a variety of essences.  Flowers, oils and some smoke.  So good!  We taste Mezcal and eat roasted Grasshoppers!

http://www.mezcaldonagave.com/
http://www.mezcaldonagave.com/
http://www.mezcaldonagave.com/

We ended our week on a the rooftop of Casa Oaxaca. Chef Alejandro Ruiz is a top chef in Mexico and the food proves that fact. 

Red salsa ground from roasted tomatoes and tomatillos, red chilies, garlic and onion using a Molcajete to mix the ingredients together right at your table creating an aroma and mouth watering salsa to begin your meal.

Table side Salsa!
Table side Salsa!

A beautiful bottle of Cabernet from Valle de Guadalupe, which is Mexico’s premier wine region. To finish us off a beautiful piece of Sea Bass arrives cooked to perfection.  Firm, rich and full of taste as if right from the beach.  Above a full moon begins to part the clouds and below a parade begins to take shape.  We learn that a new University has come to town and the young people dance, weave and sing below us to welcome the new school.  They are playing and celebrating life in Mexico.  We sit in awe and talk about how grateful we are to be in the presence of these people in their country.  We are welcomed by everyone we meet. The kids in the street, the people at our hotel which is the holiday inn express.  We think it’s the best in town and Trip Advisor agrees.  They care for us and greet us with smiles, buenos días and ask us how we slept.

We love this country of Mexico, the people and their culture.  Keep making time to PLAY Mexico and we will continue to learn and play.  This is fun!  Come and see us. 

Next up, we will be playing with two Australian Shepherds!  Stay tuned!