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January 2008

The Dusty Road to Veracruz from SMA...

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Leaving San Miguel de Allende was pretty tough. I am just blown away by how many truly good people there are in that little mountain village--from the locals all the way to the expats.  So many opportunities for good food, deep volunteering and random exploring.  Ah but...I'll be back in the summer (and really, should I just move there?).

The hardscrabble road to Veracruz from SMA is about 450 some-odd miles and full of trillions of fruit stands (my fave is ice cold tamarindo juice and the pina y coco combo), taco carts and auto hotels.  I am still so confused about the auto hotel.  What the heck is that thing?  I even stopped in one to take a look-see and the guy explained the entire situation to me--in Spanish.  Oh right, I don't speak Spanish (less now than ever, it seems).  So I never figured it you--something about 3 hours, time, pesos and the word "also".  Hmmmmm....another thing I must get to the bottom of.  Add it to the list.

I hauled ass through pouring rain, crazy dense fog and cold gusts of wind (saw a couple of accidents and really, I am so impressed with exactly how much a little Mexican truck can haul) 'til I hit the coast of the Veracruz.  The weather immediately changed once I was in Veracruz--meaning that my naturally curly hair shortened to about 1 inch from the humidity. That's always how I know when I'm in a real honest place.  My hair starts to look pretty dreadlock/funkdified.

Veracruz is a giant city on the beach that is actually pretty cool once you get off the main drag--which I did immediately.   The side 'hoods reminded me a little of New Orleans and have this whole French vibe going on.  I only stayed the night there because I wanted to see the stretch of coast just south of there in the daylight, but it was a happy accident.  More in the next post about that southbound adventure....because that's when things started to get good.

And, bless these poor guys hearts.  It's like, "Hon...It's cool you want my email and/or digits, but REALLY...you live in the middle of Mexico on a dirt road that I will never, ever cruise back down again.  How in the world do you think we will connect again in this lifetime?  Tell me, please..."

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Outta San Miguel de Allende and Onward to the Sea...

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There is nothing in the entire world that I love more than whipping out a slew of maps and trying to figure out my next/future destination.  Highlighters are busted out, post-it's are put to good use, the net is utilized, a drink or three is had, and all batteries are in charge mode. 

By the time you read this, I be somewhere deep on the Yucatan coast.   I've packed up my trailer and tucked her into a safe spot in San Miguel de Allende so I could haul on over to Isla Mujeres to get my PURE Pilates Retreat in order.  In SMA, I've spent weeks torturing myself with Spanish classes when I know the whole reason I didn't go to college was because I HATE classes.  I've learned that the Mexican culture is one I could live with as if it were my own, and even connected in a way that I'm not sure I ever even connected to Chicago with.  I have met a trillion amazing folks and I guess, really...I can't wait to come back.  A new home has been created in this little speck of a mountain village in Mexico because SMA is a gem.  A sheer delight.  Listen to nothing the cynics say about the white man taking over. It's still alive and kicking in pure Mexican style and I bet it stays that way forever.

In other breaking news, I have developed a really terrific fascination with my Mexican broom.  It kept me so tidy in all sorts of windy dust storms.  Weird, I know...but ah, tengo feliz.  Also, I had no idea that Yatz was so small compared to my truck.  Interesting.

More manana from blue, blue waters...

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The Michelada Meets MST

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Ah-ha!  I have figured out the name of the beer drink I was talking about in an earlier post that I'd seen quaffed at El Pulpo.  I had to go back to get some more octopus and this real cordial table of local muchachos invited me to sit with them at their table--the only table.  They immediately set to ordering me a drink, the infamous Michelada, a real tasty beverage of beer, lime, salt, chile and various seafood in the bottom.  I mean, what an ingenious invention!

I wolfed a pulpo y camarones dish and then one of the guys, Jesus, wanted to show me his house he'd just built, which was just around the corner.  He rents it out to people who might be on the hunt and it was fantastic...with breathtaking views of the entire city. On the way, we stopped in at his families place and imagine my surprise when we strolled in and his entire family was having dinner.  Riddle me this one, friends--one of the men at the table was his brother and ALSO one of my regular pals at Bar Casanova.  He recognized me immediately and I just couldn't get over what a small world this village life creates.

What I love the most is when one of my new Mexican friends insists on dressing my drink for me. I am so used to creating bites for people that it is so refreshing to have someone want to present me with the best sip or bite of food...dressed the way they would want it (salt and lime sprinkled, smeared and rubbed just so).  Mi amigos, these SMA'ians.  Sad to go.  I already miss Mago.
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BBQ Bob's, La Brasilla and Spanglish 101

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Traveling alone always makes for a good time.  People are so friendly and seriously just want to practice English.  Anytime, anywhere.  It's like this big circle around all day, everyday.  Even when I just want to step out for a quiet dinner alone, I am befriended immediately by a local and over a cold drink, we set to Spanglish 101.  I teach them, they teach me.  Bar napkins are used as chalk boards, low-ink pens are straggled up and drink-studded lessons begin. 

And it's funny because the look of pure awe on their face when they finally comprehend the difference between, let's say---he, she, them, woman, man, women, men, they, it, you, me---well, it's astounding.  Just like when the connection finally hits my foggy mind.  Hell, man I still don't think I have it, but day by day, minute by minute, I find myself having conversations...or at least understanding what is going on...when just a few weeks ago, I knew jack crapola.  Maybe even less.  In fact, I may know EVEN LESS now, but I seem to understand with great clarity, which is real, real scary.

BBQ Bob's is a good place to sit a spell and get to learning.  It's a funky little restaurant just down the road from my fave egg and cheese torta place, La Brasilla, and has this little organic produce stand attached to it. Their beers are double the price of my fave cantina (Bar Casanova)--but what's $2 when there is free wifi and a string of contenta folks streaming through?

PS--Seriously, when looking for a taste of sheer heaven, especially late night, you cannot beat the deals at La Brasilla.  A cold horchata to wash down an egg and cheese torta con avocado y mayo is enough to slay any girls soul.
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Casa de Los Angeles Gets the Chi Love (and Donation)

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The other day, I finally unloaded all the huge bags of clothes I've been hauling around for months.  A bunch of pals in Chicago had donated tons of great clothes, stuffed animals, etc...for me to bring to Mexico and I ended up finding a great organization to donate them all to.    

Casa de los Angeles is a bright and cheery daycare center just off Pila Seca in SMA that assists poverty striken single moms---by providing FREE day care for their kiddies.  Little ones that would otherwise stay home alone while their mama went to work trying to make a buck.  Everyone is under the impression that SMA is "the rich part of Mexico," but I'm here to tell you...deep poverty does exist here.  I've been able to have wheels here since my little trailer is a tow behind and I've been up and down so many of the streets, side towns, and outskirts---on foot, with friends, and on my own.  There is need everywhere and this safe, and very loving, haven helps out those in dire straits.  Those strong women who had nowhere else to turn. 

I came from no money and I know my parents always struggled to keep me and my bro kickin' it in the game of life.  Odd jobs, constantly moving around and having to make new friends (thx for that one!), simple home cooked food--that is the story of my life in childhood (and oddly, now in adulthood--I guess I came by it honest).  I can imagine what it must have been like to get a big care package of goodies for these women. 

Big, mad, loving props to all my buds in Chi who were cool enough to respond to my "I need help" email.  Besos from me and Casa de los Angeles in Mexico. They readily accept volunteers so if you are into coming down to work with some adorable babies and a great team of volunteers, contact them here.

In the meantime, I am DELIGHTED that my truck is free and clean again...now it's ready for the next batch of goods to come down!  The last photo is my PACKED truck when I left Chicago.  Good God, I am still amazed I made it all this way...well, not really...but sorta...
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Nieve Alert on Canal in SMA

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Just down the hill from the animal shelter where I volunteer is a scrap of a store that has something to do with mens clothing.  I wish I could tell you what it has to do with mens clothing, but I can't get past the nieve their hawking on their front steps.  I've looked at the giant yellow contraption every day on the way to play with Mago and finally yesterday, I had to have some. 

I was cruising around town running errands in preparation for my departure (the best $5 car wash my truck has ever had, new windshield wipers to replace the threads clinging to my windshield, etc..) and I just happened by.  Full pit stop.  Now, I've had nieve (a kind of Mexican snow/ice cream) all over SMA and Mexico, but this is far and above the best I've tried.  After tasting the queso (cheese), my two top flavors of the day were coconut and strawberry (coco y fresa). 

This grande cup was a few bucks...and gone in about 45 seconds flat.  I flipped through an old issue of Islands magazine while sucking down the last of the grated coconut and watching trucks full of kids roll by.  A truly perfect moment in time.
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El Pulpo is My #1 Spot So Far...

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I have unearthed what I think is my favorite food cart in San Miguel de Allende.  Just across from the crazy-hip art house Fabrica de Aurora is a itty-bitty pulpo y camarones (octopus and shrimp) cart called El Pulpo.  That's all they serve and you can mix and match your cocktail up any way you want to.  I snatched up a pulpo and each tall glass comes packed with huge chunks of tender octopus, avocado, pico de gallo, cilantro, and a tomato-y sauce.  It's $5 and I kid you not, a total joy to partake in. 

I plopped down at one of the four stools at the counter and watched the two cuties running the joint whip up each dish in an instant and some guy at the only table had ordered a giant beer that had been dressed with hot sauce, lime and shrimp in the bottom.  What a great treat after sucking down a cold beer on a hot day (the days are starting to really warm up here)---to get a couple of beer soaked shrimp down the gullet.  The counter is lined with a dozen different hot sauces for you to peruse from, but mine was made PERFECT as served.  All you need are a few crackers and hard corn tortillas (which are just plunked on the counter in the box they come in). 

Another perfect find in a town I don't want to leave.  But, I am headed toward the beach soon...more seafood is on the horizon!
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Tacos Skina, Cervezas, and Complete Strangers...

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See now here is an exact reason I love San Miguel de Allende.  I'd run into this guy, Norwin, yesterday whilst searching out a place to get a pedicure.  He has a teensy-tiny cornerside taco joint, with a daily special of 3 tacos and a bowl of frijoles charros (beef, fish, shrimp, chicken, etc..).  I stopped in around 11, but since he doesn't open til noon, I sweated it out with my love Mago at the animal shelter.  We had a rousting play date and then I skipped back to the taco house to partake in my favorite version of tacos...fried shrimp. 

Whilst there, I met an adventurous man who had just sold his house in Colorado to the owners of Patagonia and was now on a massive travel expedition trying to find his new just-feels-right home, as well as a cute little gal who'd adopted a Mexican puppy, was attempting an new acrobatic career and was trying to sell some jewelry on the street.  While the three of us were chatting it up about life and travel, N kept scooting across the street to the $5 car wash to grab me some cervezas (he is a BYOB). 

I watched him and his crew make guacamole and three different kinds of salsa on the spot and it all just made me real, real happy.  Life is good.  Mexico is better.  Tacos are cheap and on top of that, it's 75-80 degrees here pretty much every day.   
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What Makes a Mexico Day?

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What makes a day?  What do you spend your time doing?   That seems to be the question that floats around the trailer park every time you stop for a chat...and it rolls off the tongues of everyone I meet in the street-Mexicans and Americans alike.  Where do the hours go?  Well, let me lay out a day for you. 

After scarfing a lovely breakfast of blackberries, granola and peach yogurt in my little casa, I head over to my favorite cafe to get hopped up on a sugary sweet cortado before struggling into my Spanish class at the Institute.  Two  hours of MST mass confusion one-on-one, with me trying to trick mi maestro into thinking that I know what the hell she's saying.  And, trust me I DO NOT.  And, I most likely NEVER WILL.

After I roll out of there, I swing by the animal shelter (SPA), where I have been volunteering.  I've fallen in DEEP LOVE with a puppy name Mago.  What I do is called puppy socializing and it's my job to convince former street puppies that humans are not out to hurt them.  Let me tell ya...me and Mago have had some words (re:  I practice my Spanish on her).  When I first went in, she was always cowering and running...just so scared.  And, then the magic barrier was broken and she and I are now the best of buds.  In a way.  Today I got her all riled up about a ball I wadded up for her out of paper and when I started paying attention to another pup, she flew into a jealous frenzy.  Made my heart soar.  Please, please adopt Mago.  She is a gem.  Or if you are in SMA, just volunteer.  You will be such a better soul for it!

After chillin' with the pups in the afternoon, I cruise back through the village of SMA, usually taking a few different dusty side streets (SPA is way off the beaten path, so its perfect for me and my exploring roots).  Maybe a taco is had before I swing back thru the trailer park and set to cleaning up my little trailer.  There's sweeping to do, a spoon to wash, ice to procure (I only have an ice box), rugs to shake out, a plant to talk to, pictures to be downloaded, emails to check, organizing to do and socializing galore. 

Everyone in the park is always busy going about their day---sunning, eating, strolling, walking dogs, chatting and usually around the early afternoon time frame, first drinks are broken in to.  Cerveza being the drink of choice, but sometimes I see a gin being mixed or a martini being sucked down.  Wine is also on hand usually.  I've found the perfect connect between the trailer crew and the locals.  I've really made some cool connects with the locals---and everyone knows someone who knows someone. 

Today, though I went out on the hunt for a place to get a pedicure and met a chubby cutie with a shrimp taco stand on the way.  While I was talking with him---on a really narrow alleyway--a bus slammed into a car.  Nobody's fault...instead I took to the bar on the corner to watch it all unfold.  The police were there within 10 minutes and a new bus was shuttled through to pick up the stranded passengers.  I was just finishing up a cold beer when the only other customer offered to buy me a drink.  Of course, sir!  I'm happy to accept your offer.  Well, this then turns in to Spanish/English lessons for me, him and the bartender of the cantina. This is the very best way to learn and when I tired to pay my tab, I was informed that I had no tab (this happens quite often).  They were just happy to have some conversations, so what's a few bucks to them?  And, it's these chats that make me realize that maybe I do understand what the hell people are talking about.  Si. Si. That's it.

After saying adios to my new pals, it's back to the trailer park where more drinks are had, with good honest convos all the way around.  Politics, off-grid living, high tech gadgets, the best street food, current movies, remote travel hot spots, etc...those are the primary topics of chit-chat.  Maps are whipped out, ideas are tossed about and nobody has any idea what time it is...or even what day it is.  Very educated people live in trailer parks, trust me.  And, snacks always abound.  Cake, nuts, pepitas, etc...are always being doled out to the great delight of all.  And, then night falls, stars shine, roosters pipe down, doggies nap and my little solar trailer GLOWS with joy.

What a funny, quirky, blissful world, this Mexico I'm calling home.
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It's a Downright Food Orgy in San Miguel de Allende

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Here's the thing.  The food I keep coming across in SMA just keeps getting better and better.  There's the whole fried fish and the never-ending row of tres leches cakes at the gigantic Tuesday market that I wolfed down today (under $5 for all).  There's the little bags of slightly salty churritos (corn snack stick) doused in chile and lime that I munch on at Bar Casanova.  There's the whole chopped coconut that I just inhaled--of course squirted with lime.  There's the delicious BULL NECK that I somehow managed to sample after one too many cervezas at Casanova (imagine my horror/delight).  There's the big plastic cups of fresh fruit (con limon) on every corner.  There's the torta de huevo y queso and the frijoles charros that blew my mind last night at La Brasilla.  There's the glistening sweet potatoes that must be cooked in nothing but sugar water that I keep taste-testing at different cantina's.  I can't seem to stop eating.  Someone help me.  Thank God I walk everywhere in this little town or else we might have some trouble on our hands.  And, please...don't even get me started on the juices~
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