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!!

“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. 

San Miguel de Allende—The Sun, The Moon, and Love:

The opening sentences of Juan Rulfo’s Perdro Paramo.

‘I came to Comala because I had been told by my father, a man named Pedro Paramo, lived there.  It was my mother who told me. And I had promised her that after she died I would go to see him.  I squeezed her hands as a sign I would do it.  She was near death, and I would have promised her anything.’

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Pedro Paramo by: Juan Rulfo

We were given this book to read to help understand the culture of Mexico.  Caroline and I devoured the book; it scared us and helped us to understand the culture of Mexico.  Carmen, our friend here, gave us a copy in english to read and also blessed us with it for our own collection.  It is a prize and if you find it you must grab hold as it is 139 pages of emotion, surrealism and frightening Mexican culture. 

We live most of the year in San Miguel de Allende in Central Mexico.  The beauty here is hard to describe but easy to see and even easier to feel in your heart and soul.  The town is said to be built on giant beds of crystals.  The way the Churches line up with the sun and moon is not an accident. The sun sets right down the middle of Calle Umarán as color and light simply beam as the bells of the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel ring through the city with the throaty melody of a baritone singer.

Calle Umarán and the Paroquia
Sun setting perfectly in line….

Cañada de la Virgen is an Otomi archaeological site that has been recently excavated.  (Started in 1995) The site was ruled by the Moon, the Sun, and Venus, as demonstrated by archaeoastronomical studies conducted by the National Institute of Anthropology and History. Its main features are: Ceremonial Avenue, House of the Wind, House of the Longest Night- scientists believe has some relationship with the Otomi’s belief in the duality of the heavens and earth (Sun and Moon, Man and Woman), and House of the Thirteen Heavens.

 

 

Our fantastic guide Albert Coffee tells us that archeologists believe it took 500 years to find the location and another 500 years to build the pyramid.  Perfectly designed archways and man made mirror pools line up exactly on the first day of Spring with the sun and in October the moon sets directly in line with the doors of the Pyramid.  Off in the distance is San Miguel de Allende and the beautiful Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel that also lines up with the Pyramid.  When Spain conquered Mexico, Coffee tells us, they attempted to crush the Mayan culture.  Part of Spain’s strategy was to build their own buildings, and Catholic Churches right over the top of of the Otomi, Mayan and Aztec Indian sites which were brilliantly positioned and built to respect and honor the earth.  Building over the top of these sites to crush a culture only protect and honor it even to this day. 

Albert Coffee
Archeologist Albert Coffee

My own history in Mexico touched down here in 1978 while in college I studied Spanish in nearby Morelia.  The moon and stars lined up that year as I learned that one of my best friends that I had not seen in over two years had lived in San Miguel de Allende.  Pre cell phones and email.  Only hard mail letters, phone calls from parents and friends led me to San Miguel with zero communication with Tia. 

I took a bus alone from Morelia to San Miguel de Allende in search of a friend and love.  I walked to the Jardin that night and asked an American student if she happened to know a young woman named Tia.  She said, ‘yes and I think she is right over there in that bar playing congas in a band’.  Excited, I walked in to the bar and found my way near the front of the stage and stared quietly at Tia as she grooved on the congas.  It took Tia 15 minutes, as I thought what am I doing here?, to notice and recognize me and her rush off the stage and in to my arms was one for the movies and especially my memory.  Thank you Tia for showing me San Miguel and teaching me the importance of travel and learning. 

Here we are now in San Miguel studying at the same school Tia studied 40 years earlier.  Seriously?  How could it be so long?  We walk the same streets of the Jardin that I walked when I was 19 years old, when my thoughts were, like many of my friends today, ‘how far away is the beach or where is the beach?’  The beach is far and Mexico is so much more than beaches.  

Calle Umaron and the Paroquia
Sun setting perfectly in line….

We do have a few adventurous friends that have visited us here.  John and Miriam Larson.  Laurie Flynn, Laura and Lorna Shirley and Andrea Jewett.  Make the trek friends!

 

When you do come to San Miguel you will meet people.  People like Gabby.  Today we took a vegan cooking class with Gaby Green.  We chopped, cooked, laughed, shared stories and listened to each other and learned from each other.  We learned to cook traditional Mexican food which Gaby taught us from Mayan history is vegan.  We cooked Chiles en Nogada, Cebiche de Verduras, Green Mole, and Nopales Jengibre-soya.  All 100% vegan and delicious. 

In the Kitchen with Gaby Green

We sat to enjoy this beautiful meal with Gaby and our friends from the States Laura and Lorna Shirley they are here visiting us, getting away from the stress of the US, learning and laughing as a mother daughter duo.  Mom and daughter cherish the gift.  Moms and daughters cherish the gifts.  A cooking class, a horseback ride, a shared glass of wine and a kiss on the head goodnight.  Cherish the gift of shared experiences.

 

 

Gaby is brilliant.  A film study, an artist, a chef, she speaks German, Spanish, English and is working on French.  Gaby’s heritage is Mayan, Jewish, Russian, and Austrian.  She told us people often ask her if she wants to live in the US. Her answer:  ‘I’m Mexican and Jewish, I have tattoos and a girlfriend.  In the US I would be considered derelict; here in Mexico I can be me!’  It feels, to me, that in the US we used to think this way.  No?

These are a few sentences from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a famous writer from Colombia in the forward to Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo: 

‘I felt like I had many novels in me, but I couldn’t conceive of the convincing and poetic way of writing them.  That is where I was when Alvaro Mutis climbed with great strides the seven storeys up to my apartment with a bundle of books, extracted form this mountain the smallest and shortest, and said as he laughed himself to death: 

-Read this shit and learn!

The book was Pedro Paramo.’

We are learning, learning so much about language, culture, people, and ourselves.  Thank you Carmen, and thank you Gaby for your guidance and friendship.  Thank you Caroline for your love.

Guatape and “The Rock”

La Piedra Del Penol, Spanish for “The Rock of Guatape”!  The rock shoots 2,135 meters or just over 7,000 feet, straight out of the earth.  The elevation here is 2,000 feet higher than Medellin.IMG_2355

The drive from Medellin is over an hour out of the valley and over the mountains through beautiful countryside dripping with green.  The fincas, or small farms, dot the landscape of rich Colombian soil that grows fruit, vegetables and flowers all year long in this land of “eternal spring”.

In the distance you begin to notice the rock, a mountain jetting from the earth that our guides tell us is four times as larger under the surface.  It is quite beautiful.

Our plan, like many, is to climb the rock’s 659 steps to the top.  The man made steps are stitched into a crevice of the rock and go straight to the top.  The hike is a switch back of cement stairs that climb to the top of the rock. The altitude and steepness of the climb get the heart pumping and the head light.  The view is spectacular with waters in the distance as far as the eyes can see.

We were driven and guided by Juan Camilo and Esteban of All Access Colombia.  They are great guys that will take good care of you from start to finish.  Juan Camilo speaks perfect english and Spanish and when we told him…”Somos estudiantes de Espanol qui en Medellin y en Mexico.  Necesitamos practicar por favor.”  The Spanish flew inside the car as they explained Colombian culture and  told us stories of friends and co workers.  It was fantastic and as we listened we understood.  We are getting this Spanish language.  We are hearing the words and understanding.  I know we will speak well soon!  I know because now when I can’t sleep instead of counting sheep I’m conjugating verbs and thinking in Spanish. 

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Medellin-Steps-The Metro and the Pick Pocket

In Medellin we walk!  No cars, no taxi just walk and the metro to get us in and out of our longer walks.  We set our step goal at 12,000 steps per day which is about 5 miles.  What a great work out at any altitude.  Especially this one.  Medellin sits at 1,495 meters which is just under 5,000 feet.  We just stride on by the honking, noise of the motorcycles, trucks and taxis.  Oh, and by the way. Do NOT expect them to stop for you while crossing in a crosswalk.  Caroline jokes that she hears them step on the gas as we cross the streets.

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Medellin!

We arrived to live in Medellin in mid July for 5 weeks.  Our first seven months in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico were fantastic but we set out on this journey to live in three or four places a year.  We are living here in Medellin and learning here.  We meet people, talk to people and learn the culture as best we can.  The city is clean and fresh especially after a hard rain.  We are feeling at home and relaxed. 

Photo Jun 22, 3 16 16 PM
Medellin, Colombia

We are in school in Medellin at Total Spanish and we are learning new verbs and phrases different from Mexican Spanish.  Both work together well and we continue to learn.   Our teachers are kind and patient.

The barrios are incredible! Including Comuna 13 which was once considered the most dangerous neighborhood in Latin America.  We learned that Hip Hop Art continues to be credited with bringing the barrio back from the brink of crime and drugs.  We met the artists and saw the amazing spray paint art that changed a neighborhood. 

July is when the Fieria de las Flores takes place.  A festival of flowers that fills Medellin with flowers, people of course, music and food.  The Orchid competition and display at the botanical gardens is world class. 

Parque Arvie is an ecological and archeological park in Medellin that sits high above the valley.  Recently a gondola  like tram was built to bring people in to the city from the hillsides and to deliver people to the beautiful park above the city.  Check out the video of our trip down.  Just like a ski lift at your favorite ski hill.  Mine is Snowbird!

Photo Aug 13, 12 04 43 PM

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