Saturday, June 25, 2016


With Co-Teachers Mariah and Mackala
Peñafiel is a Mexican mineral water brand currently owned by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group. I walk by the factory every day during my 30 minute walk to Discovery Middle School. The exterior including walls, parking lots  and signage is spotless. There are free historical tours every Saturday and a great way to spend a couple of hours. Plus you get a free bottle of sparkling water at the end of the tour. I had two, strawberry and mandarin that were pretty darn delicious.

I drink Peñafiel carbonated lemonade a couple of times a week. With it being as hot as it is you get exhausted drinking 2 and sometimes 3 litres of water a day. A guys needs some flavor that is not the sugar water that is  Pepsi or Coca Cola. 

Under ground tunnel entrance
The tour starts with a walk through gardens showcasing various types of cactus. This country is freaking proud of their cactus. We slowly descend down man made tunnels which were originally used to haul the pure water up from the underground springs. Cleaned up and touristy but not in a Graceland kind of way our guide provided insight and information dating back several hundreds of years to the Aztec times. He spoke fairly quickly so I was able to understand about 30%. I just smiled allot.

Historical Fresco
 A very beautiful historical fresco was displayed around a stream of pure fresh water flowing from porous rocks that our happy group was slurping with huge smiles and shouts of "delicioso". The water was actually sweet tasting. I have heard people in the past talk about "sweet water" from various areas of the States, particularly Texas. Now I have an idea what they are talking about. The fluoride and processed garbage that comes out of our taps is just that, crap.

That is a lot of flavored water varieties
 The tour kept heading down until we reached the pools from which ancient civilizations hauled water to the surface and their villages. It was interesting to learn that this water originated from the snow covered peak and  natural runoff of Pico de Orizaba, a  huge volcano near Mexico City. Pure water from the top of a volcano purified through porous rocks flowing downhill underground until it reaches Tehuacan. I realize this is the case for much of the spring water in the world but..why do were screw it up with processioning and why do we allow companies like Nestle to steal our ground water from every community they can get their nasty talons dug into with the promise of jobs?
Take this tour if you wander into Tehuacan. It is interesting and insightful to know how the company keeps their standards but try to hold to old traditions while "working with" the earths water. At least it sounded good when our guide said it with a straight face. A climb up a creaking and winding metal stair case brought us to the surface and across the street from our starting point. I left the group and found a quiet place to sip my small bottle of strawberry water. I then let my imagination wander a bit (as I do) thinking back to Aztec and Conquistador times and how this must have been a spiritual place (as depicted by the fresco) wondering all the odd, interesting and possible violent things that must have occurred.  I was snapped out of my imaginary wandering but a loud blast of a passing Peñafiel transport truck. 

The reality that this was still a capitalist money making venture smacked me back to reality.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Yes Sir That's A Cactus

Teacher, travelers, hangovers, cactus and a bumpy Combi ride.
Freddi, Ken, Tom, Fleur, Rebecca, Pudy
Approximately 30km outside of Tehuacan is the Cactus Botanical Garden located in the Biosphere Reserve Tehuacán-Cuicatlan, I had noticed all the rolling hills covered with cactus when I came into Tehuacan a few months ago so I jumped at the chance for a guided tour knowing it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I was not disappointed.

As a part of the "Culture Experience" put on by The Heslington School where I ply my trade this was a great opportunity to also spend the day with my colleagues outside of the school. Included in this trip were Tom and Rebecca whom I spent the day on the Combi 42 adventure and post McCarthy's Pub drink the day was a bit slow to get going. Others included Pudy (USA), Fleur (UK), and Freddi (Canada), our driver and guide. Slogging to wake up and be at the meeting point for 9 am I had time for an OXXO (variety store, think 7-11) breakfast, as did most. A cold days old sandwich, prepackaged cheesecake and a bag of Doritos later I was right as rain. No better way to prepare for standing in the desert sun surrounded by 20 - 25 metre tall plants.

7 metre elephant cactus flipping us the bird
The ride out to the gardens was spectacular to say the least. Rolling hills covered with cactus plants as far as you could see. Volcano Popocatepetl majestically hung in the background as the guardian of the garden. This beast of a volcano is constantly erupting and as much as I would love the challenge it is closed. That being said, Volcano Orizaba becomes, but this is a post for another day. We passed through the hillside town of San Antonia Texcala which seemed to be gearing up for some type of festival which got everyone excited. The road was winding but good and our driver was extremely safe. As I mentioned the views were mesmerizing and any photo would not do it any justice.

Some of these plants dated back to the Spanish Conquest. Yes, there are over 500 years old. They grow 3 cm a year so it is quite easy to put an age to them. Plus there are over 2000 varieties of cactus plants that grow in various shapes and sizes. These include the Blue Agave from which both tequila and mescal are made. I licked the Blue Agave Cactus hoping for some type of out of body experience but I just got a mouth full of dirt and bugs.  Additionally the word mezcal comes from Nahuatl mexcalli which means "oven-cooked agave". Despite the similar name, mezcal does not contain mescaline or other psychedelic substances, something only an idiot would have believed (nope not me, never ever).

With Rebecca
The wonderful thing about traveling is the beauty that can be found anywhere. A cactus forest, a calving glacier, windswept sand dunes or a roaring volcano. You choose but keep your eyes and mind open otherwise you might miss something while your staring into your phone searching for a picture of what is right in front of you.

With Freddie
We we guided through the park for a couple of hours, stopping to learn what we could while soaking in the surroundings. A shaky and poorly constructed observation platform allowed for quality yet harrowing photo opportunities, a few bumped heads and one big guy scared of heights who suddenly became a whimpering mess. We were all of 10 feet off the ground but I get it, even though that did not stop the abuse I hurled his way.

One the way back into town we stopped at a market just outside of  San Antonia Texcala which we learned was a mining town that dug up onyx and marble. The local artisans created some wonderful works of art including chess sets, figurines, wind chimes, and other assorted merchandise. You would have been foolish not to purchase something.

Next week as a part of the Cultural Program we are heading to the caves of the Penafiel water and bottling factory (owned by Dr. Pepper and Snapple). I walk by it every day on my way to The Discovery School. I am told it is an impressive tour so I look forward to that. Along the way we are also going to learn to weave baskets (I will probably miss that day) and learn to cook authentic Mexican including the proper process to make and bake tortillas. I will be down for that regardless of the fact that I am certainly "taco-ed out".

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Random Weekends

The mountain Barrio of Zapotitlán. The End of the line for Combi 42

Lets jump on Combi 42 and see where it goes? As I am always up for a "what the hell moments" with magic phrases like that off we went, Tom (Wales), Rebecca (England) and myself into scary Mexican parts unknown. Forever warned by anyone with vocal chords that it was too dangerous we took heed. Hitting the food court at the El Paseo Shopping Mall we devoured lunch of Chinese Food (which was oddly delicious) and had some spirited albeit dirty conversation, we were off hunting for the elusive 42.

Enjoying the view with a Paulito
Combi's cost 5.50 Pesos (C$.38) to go anywhere in town. We found the street where the magic bus was running and jumped aboard to well deserved quizzical "what the heck are they doing on this bus" looks. The initial ride was a typical ride through town, then we turned onto a cobble stone road that quickly turned to a dirty track and just as quickly started going uphill. Local passengers continued to call out their stops and in no time the 3 Indiana Jones wanna-Be's were alone and digging the ride. At the summit of the road we turned into what turned out to be Zapotitlán, a mountain neighborhood of Tehuacan.

We jumped off the bus at what was the last stop and turn around point which was in front of a house where a couple of guys stood staring at us in bewilderment. We were getting quite a bit of that. As we were deciding which way to go they called us over more out of curiosity I suppose. As it turns out they were really helpful talking about different things we could see in the area. "We do not get many tourists here" said Herr who looked like he was the guy in charge of the Combi's that were coming and going. We finally decided that Herr and Paulito would be happy to be guides for us to various places in the area as some are "a bit dangerous because the locals smoke to much weed". We also discovered that the entire area was an ancient Aztec Site and there were monuments and relics up one of the mountain in the distance, again they would take us for safety. Details were exchanged and off we went thinking what a nice bonus. This was just the beginning.

Caves of the revolution
As we start walking to look at the view Paulito joins us to show us something. I figured this is where we are going to get "whacked". He leads us to a trail that dips down along a side road to a group of caves. His story was that these caves were used to store ammunition during the revolution of 1912. The caves were covered with soot from past fires and I had no reason not to believe him. We toured around inside and out and he excitedly began to tell us all he could about Mexican history. We later found out that he was a tailor and made clothes eking out a living making clothes for locals in the town. He never went to Tehuacan markets. I did not pursue as to why not.

My partners thinking this is a tough hike. Poor souls
As we bounced around the slight trail listening to stories of Mexican history we decided to head back up to what we considered the viewpoint overlooking the valley. Rebecca commented how "I ran up and down the trail like it was nothing leaving then all far behind". "I am in my perfect element" I said and with that simple comment I realized that teaching is going to be a short term or secondary thing for me. My passion really is on "The Trail".

As we stood on the look out Paulito mentioned that he has binoculars and we will go to his house to get them. The 3 minute walk took us past a few houses and more that a few curious stares. As we walked back to the lookout enjoying the view Tom, who is about as chatty and social a person I have ever met, notice a group of curious onlooking hanging about. With a cheery "Lets go talk to them" off he went and so we followed.

What happened next is the magic of a simple day. We a group of young mothers who wanted their kids to meet and play with us. Some of the older members of the community stood just far enough to be a part of the goings on but not close enough to have to be involved, with the exception of one man. He was 76, fit, strong and his mind was clear as a bell.(Sadly I forget his name) and rode up on his bicycle. He to proceeded to regale us with tales of Mexican History all the time using rocks to draw maps and people on the ground around us. He was mesmerizing. We heard stories of  Spanish Conquest, the Aztecs and the Mexican Revolution. How was he so knowledgeable? Were these stories handed down through generations? Nope, seems our boy loves the public library. How about that?

New Friends
After about another hour kids appeared with worn out Ipads and snapped selfies with us. We took photos and said our good byes. We were walked down the mountain by the Paulito and our old boy on the bike talking about coming back to see the amazing things in the area, which we are going to do.

We decided to walk back into town. We stopped for much need water, found a delicious taco shop, watch some local play soccer on various closed fields that could easily be ball hockey rinks and then found ourselves at Indepencia Avenue, 3 blocks from McCarthys and we knew it was happy hour. So there we sat, relishing in what turned out to be a true Mexican cultural experience. What started as a dare to take "old 42" into the mountains ended with new friends and possible guides into parts of the area where very few if any travelers have ever been. The people we met were warm, friendly, curious and inviting and all we had to do to receive these gifts were to be kind, open and friendly right back.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

China Rising

I realize that this is becoming more of a diary than a travel blog. Reason being is, well I am not traveling. However I have finally pointed by Pisces decision making self in one direction now but being distracted by shiny objects or a bumble bee is my forte. The direction I am heading is East to Xian China, home of the Terracotta Warriors.

Why did I decide on China even after receiving a nice offer from Puerto Cortez, Honduras? I love Latin America and especially Central America and one day I am going to kick back here permanently, do you hear that Nicaragua? I have been to every country, my Spanish is passable, there are many opportunities for work and I am comfortable moving around in any country. But there you have it. I am COMFORTABLE here in Latin America, be it Nicaragua, Guatemala or Mexico. I have decided I need to follow my own advice and set my bar a bit higher. It is time to get out of  my comfort zone and drop into what can only be the insanity that is Asia, namely China.

This blog post will be interrupted by the following video below created by Prince EA. I use his videos for the kick in the pants when it's needed.

So, China is rising. I received very favorable messages from one of the jobs I am pursuing in China and now it's all about the paperwork and I am down with China. I decided against Honduras, which I know would have been an interesting challenge and Malawi is a volunteer position and will always be there, as will Belize or anywhere else for that matter. As an aside if China does not happen Belize in January jumps to the top of the list.

If the stars align and I get this teaching opportunity I know for certain that when I land after 15 hours in the air and 26 hours with the time difference my groggy yet adrenaline pumped self will look around, suddenly realize where I am and go WTF have I done and I will then try to get back on the plane? I clearly remember that happening in September of 2010 when I landed in Guatemala City, Guatemala.

I have also been chatting with Topica Nativa, an online tutoring service from Vietnam. This is where my future is. Teaching, well tutoring 45 minute online classes for 4 to 5 hours a day. I can live anywhere in the world and do this. In my perfect dream like world now, I would get the job in China and work during the day then head home and put in a few hours at night with Topica Nativa. It could be an interesting situation and with some focus I could put away some decent $$ which would allow me to travel Asia for a year or so once my contract with the School in China is complete. Again, this is my dream world but a funny thing happens in my dream happens in real life....often.

If I want to make it happen I will. Then again oil is above $50 a barrel and companies are looking for drivers in Ft. St. John British Columbia.

Oh look, a bumble bee.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Aging? So what?

I am what I am, and that's all that I am - Popeye

I am 54 years old. I do not lie about my age ever with the absurd hope that some young sweet thing will believe it. I can not imagine meeting a great woman who is a younger (not creepy old man hitting on a high school girl younger) and telling her I was 44, or whatever. Then we connect only having to let her know that one of the first things I did was lie to her, with justification. It is kind that people say I look and act younger than I am however that is usually a case of people being nice and trying not to hurt my feelings for being older. I know some people really struggle with aging and I may have at one time but now I really do not give a shit. Popeye said it clearly and it is weird that something that lucid from a cartoon character can resonate with me but who cares.

Helen Miran said it best when she was asked what she would tell her younger self. "I would use the words 'Fuck off ' more. Helen I hear ya baby!

So why the talk about aging? I was putting on a shirt today and as I pulled my left arm through the sleeve I felt a twinge and a bit of a sharp pain. I literally hurt my shoulder putting on my shirt.
Full Disclosure: 4 years ago I tore the rotator cuffs in both my shoulders while zip lining in Costa Rica, the left one a bit worse than the right. I could not raise my arms above shoulder height, touch my fingers behind my back and had various other limitations. I was not going to have the recommended surgery and opted for various Chiropractic, Physiotherapy and laser treatments. It took 2 years but the body healed itself, as it will. Today's shirt episode was just a reminder that although "healed" I was just getting older and it was worth a giggle. I have had hip and lower back issues since I was in my early 20s so pain management is in my DNA because I do NOT take prescription medication. For those who know and see how I tend to walk like a gorilla, well there you go, no pain.

Why this topic. I honestly believe that aging, like having lots of money, breeds caution. Our comfort zone increases, are big wall of excuses is built higher every day and our fears become rationalized so we keep the routine and live in "someday". I think it also justifies our need to complain about anything because we stopped challenging ourselves a long time ago.

"The average person dies when they are 25, but is not buried until they are 75"

My take on this quote...
A man dies when his hope dies.
At the age of 25 most people  have built up a negative ideology about the world and life.
And their hope, ambitions and dreams die.
Those people begin to just exist.
But the age of 75 their body dies and hence they are buried.

What happened to me today?

I woke up today and hurt my shoulder putting on my shirt which got me angry. The pain was real, I felt it and got really pissed off because I am sick of pain management. 

I woke up today and hurt my shoulder putting on my shirt which got me angry. Then I remembered my friend who is over 60 days into his Stem Cell therapy for Leukemia.

I woke up today and hurt my shoulder putting on my shirt which got me angry. Then I remembered an Uncle who lived a life of real sickness but never complained once.

I woke up today and hurt my shoulder putting on my shirt which got me angry. Then I remembered my best friend in the world who has battled through 2 cancers and never faltered teaching me what real strength and courage are.

I woke up today and hurt my shoulder putting on my shirt which got me angry. Then I remembered any variety of news stories from war and famine ravaged areas of the world.

I woke up today and hurt my shoulder putting on my shirt which got me angry. Then I remembered the great people I have in my life.

I woke up today and hurt my shoulder putting on my shirt which got me angry. Then remembered the journey that I am currently on and it put everything clearly into perspective. Living in Mexico setting the course for the next leg of my journey.

I woke up today and hurt my shoulder putting on my shirt then suddenly realizing it was the greatest feeling in the world.

The glasses are not rose colored but I can see clearly through them. Well as clear as bad old eyes with a strong prescription can see through them. Remember aging is like shit, it happens.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Simple Twist Of Fate

This has been an interesting week here in the heart of cactus country. I have had Skype interviews for jobs in China, Honduras and an attempt with the Dominican Republic. The Dominican guy was "soooo busy" that he gave me a window of from 1 to 5 that he would call. That in itself had red flags all over and I was not going to hang around online for 4 hours waiting for a call that may not come because "busy boy" does not know how to plan his day.
People really have got to stop saying "I am so busy" because how much are you actually getting done? Your busy being busy so cut the shit. Anyways I will travel to the Dominican when I island hop around the Caribbean.

I received a formal offer from the Atlantic Bilingual School in Puerto Cortez Honduras. The position would run from August 16th to mid June 2017. It includes paid airfare, paid accommodations including all utilities, wifi and 2 luxuries, air conditioning and hot water. You may not realize but hot water is not available everywhere however with the humidity in places such as Leon Nicaragua and now Puerto Cortez cold showers are a relief. Besides hot showers in many places have the rightful nickname "suicide showers". Were we not told as kids to never stand in water while holding a plugged in electrical appliance. Well toss that good advice out the window, well in this case down the drain.

The other positives include:
- a monthly salary of about $800 which is more than enough
- a 30 hour work week where I am finished by 2pm every day
- weekends and holidays off plus 3 weeks at Christmas
- I will be literally living on the Caribbean and can walk to the beach
- I will be a short hop to Roatan and Utila and could finally get off my but and get SCUBA Certified
- Its a port town and not a tourist town which means the "real Honduras"
- The beach town of Omoa is close
- They will get me a working visa so no 3 month border runs

There is a negative side and it carries some weight:
- Its a port town and not a tourist town which means the "real Honduras" meaning I will stand out like a sore thumb
- Puerto Cortez is the largest, deepest and busiest seaport in Central America and is considered the "eye of the drug traffic hurricane" and with that brings as much trouble as you can handle.
- It is an hour ride from San Pedro Sula, the most dangerous city in the world. Drugs, gangs and guns
- My getting into some kind of trouble ratio would increase. The world is not all sunshine and lollipops. Here is an article on the reduced murder rate. This is not a safe town.
Trip Advisor "Things To Do" in Puerto Cortez. Not that I use TA as my travel lexicon but it sure hits to the heart of Puerto Cortez being a real ass working port town
- They want me to start August 16th. I could leave directly from here but my passport needs to be renewed which will hinder my working visa

My heart says "give it a go, it could be the fundamental and non tourist experience that you need. My gut says "nope, not going to happen". I always go with my gut.

Now lets look east to Asia and in particular the enticing China.
Jilin Younovo Education accepted me without hesitation which is normal. Its not that I am "super awesome" but China needs English teachers. Thousands and thousands of them. The position is in the north, whatever that means however again timing is everything. There is the required paperwork and she would like me to be there mid August. As some of the paperwork requires me to visit the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa or the Consulate General in Toronto. I will put this one on the back burner because I am heading back to Canada because as I said I need to update my passport and chicken wings await.

Why is the title of this post "A Simple Twist Of Fate". Well sir, it's like this. One of my house mates Scott lived and worked in China for three years. He loved it and will head back there permanently once her travels around a bit more. He was in Xi'an which is home to the Terracotta Warriors which rank high on my list of things to see and do when I do get to China.
The city is also considered the Eastern start of the historical Silk road and where HAN (Chinese dynasty) met the world. It goes without saying the food options are not only ridiculously cheap but varied and crazy delicious.
He reached out to his old employer and she came back with a job offer for me. I am just awaiting the documents. Scott was there for 3 years and having first hand knowledge about both a school and it's location is worth it's weight in noodle soup.

Finally, on this glorious Saturday in June I received a Skype interview request from Topica Native. On online tutoring school located in various places in Asia. The thoughts of tutoring online really peak my curiosity. I could do it from anywhere in the world however I would head to Asia and go for it. Teach online for 5 hours then the rest of the day belongs to me. That sounds like a pretty good deal. 

My thoughts are that as ideal as that sounds I think I want to be in the classroom a little while longer to get the experience I want and need. However working from home where my home is in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand or where ever sure sound appealing. There are also many options to teach in private schools a night if the spirit moves me.

My friend was accepted to the Wild Tracks Conservation in Belize for a month which opens up that option if I push teaching into February however that does mean I could tutor online from the comforts and beauty that is the Canadian late summer and fall. Then scampering like a chipmunk when the snow starts flying. It would give me a chance to drive my mother crazy for a while, which is one of my life's simple pleasures.

Thanks again to everyone for their support, thoughts, ideas and feedback. Now its back to the reality of being in hot and sunny Mexico and it's time for Tacos and maybe an illegal beer as it is Election Weekend here in Puebla. That puts the Dry Law into effect. No sale of booze 24 hours before an election and no sales of booze on election day (tomorrow). Time to break a law in another country.