Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Death Of Reality

I do not have a travel or adventure story to talk about because my mojo is being busted by having to work. I am counting down the days to my road trip back to Canada, which now stands at 14 but then again road trip is an understatement as it is more of a taxi, bus, taxi, bus, plane, bus, subway, train and finally a very cool black Dodge Charger road trip. This is all great because I honestly enjoy the travel part of traveling which probably confuses some people. Regardless the countdown to quality chicken wings and pizza has begun with the first stop priority being Jakes Chip Truck.

I will tell you that the last couple of weeks I have allowed myself to be sucked into and be immersed in the events of the world. Global terrorists attacks and how the West cherry picks the reporting, insane shootings in the United States and say what you want they are being accepted as the norm, a coup in Turkey and the solidifying of power of a Dictator in a NATO country, the debacle that is the situation leading up to the Rio Olympics, Russian athletes being repeatedly busted for steroids with the Russian government being a part of it and the IOC not banning them from the Olympics and of course the absurdity that has become the American Election. Did you know that the Gladiator Games in Ancient Rome were created to distract the masses from what was becoming the deterioration and eventual fall of the Roman Empire? What is distraction you right now? Are you seriously Keeping Up With The Kardashians?


Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama  wrote in his incredible and controversial 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man  that at the end of history, nostalgia would be seen as an escape from the boredom of the present. At the end of reality, nostalgia is a place to hide while the world burns. 
Go Pokemon Go !

Here is a link to a very interesting interview with Fukuyama about his book. If you have an hour its a good listen.

I have an American friend who shut down their Facebook page because they were sick of seeing everyone re-post news stories about the garbage that is happening in the world. Is it not bad enough we have a 24 hour news cycle that people think they need to re-post shit on social media like anyone is not aware of what is going on? She said fuck it, packed her bags for 2 months in Europe and would not be deterred by the Mass Media Mayhem. Sure bad things can happen but bad things are happening daily all over the good old US of A so if you are terrified and want to live your life turn off the TV, put down your phone, go offline for awhile, read a book, go for a hike do something, do anything just get off the Media Merry Go Round.

Anyways July is over and August is upon us. I am living my routine and have mentally checked out of the last two weeks of school. It will be a personal challenge to put together interesting lessons for my final 8 teaching days and then the final exam. Wish me luck as the road trip countdown has begun.

Anyways part 2 - Today's world view rant was brought to you by watch all 4 seasons of Vikings. A wonderful escape from the reality of the world that is upon me.

Jeff Becks single "Scared for the Children" from his new album Loud Hailer nails what he thinks about the future. This album is classic Beck and speaks volumes in the low key that is Beck.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Puebla - Day 3

Cholula should not to be confused with Chalupa. Cholula is a historical town about 30 minutes from downtown Puebla where as Chalupa is a tostada platter in Mexican cuisine. It came as no surprise that while I was asking around for the bus to Chalupa I kept getting sent to the market. "Excuse me, can you tell me where the bus to the tostada platter is?  Pronunciation is everything!

Cholula is a town at the base of a huge hill adored guessed it, a church. However the hill was not what it appeared to be as it turned out to be one of the largest pyramids and pyramid complexes in the Aztec world. The Great Pyramid of Cholula can be explored either via a labyrinth of interior tunnels, or above ground by walking through excavations at the pyramid’s base. Naturally I was going in through the tunnels.

The Aztecs were not a tall people and the height of these wondrous achievements are a testament to that. I would have been recruited for the local Aztec basketball  1000 years ago because I did not have much clearance. I had to duck in a few places and these bad boys could be a bit claustrophobic if that is your issues. Lined with modern lighting, safety barriers and metal grated foot walks the 20 minute hike through the complex was easy enough.

 sacrificial alter used for kids aged 5 to 7
When you leave the interior the sunlight blasts your eyes and when they adjust you are greeted by...a woman selling candy. So, playing along like she was an ancient Aztec vendor I dig into gummy bears and gummy worms which I am to understand was the snack food of choice of the ancients. I adore these true cultural food experiences.

The exterior of the temple are large and the excavating is a slow process. Like other sites I have visited such as Tikal Guatemala and Palenque Mexico there is not enough funding to dig up these ruins. From the looks of things this will be a major find when it is fully restored.

This is my 10 Aztec/Mayan historical site and with each visit the enormity of their influence and achievements becomes more profound. From Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador there are 51 know major sites all designed and built in relation to the earth, the stars, the seasons and each other. We as a "modern society" think we are so smart so toss in a bit of Inca, Egyptian and South East Asian temples of history and we do not even come close. Sure they had human sacrifices to their supposed gods but our staring at screens to the gods of consumerism may be viewed the same way in 1000 years, if of course the human race still exists. Mother nature has perfected mass extension and does so without impunity so my guess is that our abuse of the planet as we know it for the commercialization of profit will be taken care of in due time. Mother nature wins every single time.

 The hike up to the church atop the mountain was easy enough and the views were worth it. As I said I have seen enough Colonial Churches but I peeked inside and it was indeed quite beautiful as I have come to expect. Churches rich, people poor has any of that changed through history.

I wandered back into Cholula and as far as small towns go this one was quite nice. The building were all neatly painted and the streets were clean.  There was construction on a new rail line that looked similar to the one in Puebla so I am wondering if they are connecting the two towns with a new rapid rail system, that would be impressive.

Wandering was easy and as usual food was plentiful. I sat in the Zocolo staring at yet another yellow church eating a huge empenada and realized that I could live in this town. It is small enough to be quaint, has everything you need and is 30 minutes to Puebla so working and commuting is a possibility.  Although when you thin about it commuting is commuting and no matter where you are and regardless of how pretty the town is or whether by GO Train or Scary Bus ultimately commuting sucks.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Puebla - Day 2

You want a historical day? This day crossed the centuries from a buried Aztec Temple to yet more colonial churches and finally to the Forts of Loreto and Guadalupe which were critical in the Battle of Puebla. This battle in which the Mexican army defeated the armies of Napoleon III was given the historical date of the 5th of May, better known as Cinco de Mayo. You see there is a historical significance to that day and its not just a random day the Mexicans came up with to celebrate spring or Mexican Independence which is September 16th. Did you know that the French had invade Mexico in 1862?

These colorful Puebla signs are located all over the city
After enjoying my city bus tour yesterday my priority today, after coffee, was to get back up to the Forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. Once a history nerd always a history nerd. I mean this is the exact location where the phrase "Cinco de Mayo" originated so how could I not want to hang around there for a while? I like to walk as much as I can when I can. Cabs are for emergencies and this was a confirmed emergency, TAXI!!! Fifteen minutes and 40 pesos (C$2.75) lighter there I stood at the site of the Battle of Puebla.

Being from Niagara Falls I have access to quite a bit of historical monuments including forts from the battles of the War of 1812. Fort George, Fort Niagara and Fort Erie are all impressive but they were made of wood and I suspect vulnerable to cannon fire. Loreto (yes for those from the Falls that is Loreto with one t) and Guadalupe not to be out done from about the same time period were made of thick concrete with deep moats which were incredibly impressive and made to withstand cannon. There were remnants of the battle scarred all along the outer walls. I do not know why we need to see bullet pot marks to validate a battle field but it does lend some credence to the story, sadly.

Apple Soda and chips, lunch of champions
As is the case when I visit sites such as this I am not going to pontificate a history lesson about the Battle of Puebla but a quick recap. The 1858–60 Mexican civil war known as The Reform War had caused distress throughout Mexico's economy. When taking office as the elected president in 1861, Benito Juárez was forced to suspend payments of interest on foreign debts for a period of two years. At the end of October 1861 diplomats from Spain, France, and Britain met in London to form the Tripartite Alliance, with the main purpose of launching an allied invasion of Mexico, taking control of Veracruz, its major port, and forcing the Mexican government to negotiate terms for repaying its debts and for reparations for alleged harm to foreign citizens in Mexico. In December 1861, Spanish troops landed in Veracruz; British and French followed in early January. The allied forces occupied Veracruz and advanced to Orizaba. However, the Tripartite Alliance fell apart by early April 1862, when it became clear the French wanted to impose harsh demands on the Juarez government and provoke a war. The British and Spanish withdrew, leaving the French to march alone on Mexico City. Napoleon III wanted to set up a puppet Mexican regime. -- Wikipedia

Fort Loreto
 History aside the views were impressive and it was no wonder these fort were built where they were built and tough to defeat. I took my time in the museum then wandered around the fort picking various locations to sit and take it all in. Although a bit covered by clouds Volcano Popocatépetl loomed in the distance. My camera is crap so all the pictures of this active beast were washed out. As one of the most active volcanoes in Latin America I did sit and stare, hoping, like a freak.

Meat and Cheese Cemitas and lime soda
After spending an oddly long time at the site it was time to walk back into town to get a decent lunch. There was a little hole in the wall restaurant with an open air spit that near my hotel that I walked by a few times and now it was time to dive in, inhibitions aside. The grill was outside and inside the grey concrete walled room there were 4 small plastic tables with 4 chairs each that barely fit along with the prep stand and the beverage fridge (coke branded of course) and it was busy with "comida para llevar" as the main option. Me, I was staying and through a break in the crowed I ordered my Cemitas and lime soda and asked a young family of 3 if I could sit with them. They politely pulled out the chair and with big smiles we introduced ourselves ( Imara, Daniel and young Gabriel) then chatted a bit. It was mostly about me as they wanted to know where I was from, did I like Puebla and Mexico etc. When my food arrived they let me eat quietly after a detail explanation about what a Cemita was and why it was famous in Puebla. Boy do I love genuine kindness and it is small moments like this that I hope I can carry with me and pull from when I need them. The expected silence was not uncomfortable mostly because I was devouring my 50 Peso lunch like a hyena to the delight of young Gabriel. Smiles all around and quick good byes and I was off.

I was fully fueled up and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering and exploring and came to slightly understand why this downtown is an UNESCO World Heritage site. Each street is colorful, clean and historical. French, Aztec and Spanish influences were everywhere now that I new how to look for them thanks to the Bus Tour guide yesterday. Up and down Cinco de Mayo and continuing along 16 de Septiembre I went until I came across the oddly named  Alley of the Frogs (Callejon de los Sapos). This is a true flea market street as stalls were overflowing with old coins, metal toys and other assorted antiques plus the odd and interesting people that go along with it. One stand has a series of small metal Mexican soldiers that would have been a compliment to the WW2  German Metal soldiers I have in storage and I did not even ask the price. Each street brought new interesting sights, sounds and smells (not all good) but I was ready for a big sit down and a cold beer.

I was not in the mood for the Zocolo as I was all "Spanished" out so I stopped at the OXXO near my hotel and grabbed the first beer I saw and in this case Sol, not my usual choice but they would do. I rushed back to the hotel to my comfy patio chair, kicked of my shoes and smiled knowingly at the unmistakable sound of happiness being opens. I tilted the can and readily drank and it took about 3 seconds to realize that something was wrong in paradise. I looked at the can and knowingly I read "beer mixed with clamato". 

"Ah man that stings a bit" I thought as I finished the first can in about 10 seconds.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Puebla - Day 1

"Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose."
- Yoda

I woke to the un-mistakeable sound of a steady rain hitting neighbors plastic patio coverings which are right outside my window. I have 4 days off and a bus to catch so the last thing that is going to bother me today is a bit of rain. Hell I like everything about the rain including walking in it and maybe splashing in a puddle or two. It is cleansing, therapeutic and the most sober fun you can have with your pants on. Hang on, what about being drunk and walking naked in the rain how much fun would that be? Maybe that is an adventure and post for another time.

In the Zocolo
Before I left for the bus station I walked to the laundry to pick up my clothes. It was closed and it being 9am that was not unusual because it appeared so were all the shops in the area. Who knows, it was probably some tribute to a random Catholic Saint that gave them half a day off and trust me when I say stranger things have happened here in the land of Speedy Gonzalez.

I arrived at the ADO bus station downtown and without checking the schedule online my bus was leaving in 15 minutes. A quick 140 pesos or C$9.75 and a window seat later off we went. Next stop Puebla. It was an eventful and smooth 2 hour ride and I fell asleep with ease. ADO as do most Latin American bus lines put North American bus services to shame. When I arrived in Puebla I took a minute to adjust because what looked like the inside of a modern airport terminal was indeed a bus terminal that was easily the largest, cleanest and most modern I have ever been in. Do you hear that Belize City? A quick 40 peso cab to the Centro and I was at Hotel Rio in no time. I decided to splurge on a clean and quiet $18 a night room instead of the $4 a night shared dorm because sometimes I just like living large!

The cab driver, being the wealth of information that most cabbies are, made sure to let me know about the "mujers en la calle". Well because sometimes it takes a bit for me to understand Mexican Spanish because they speak so quickly and the fact I am just dumb at times I did not "entiendo" until I walked the block to the hotel. Lining the streets at random intervals and in between shop entrances were made up young ladies plying their trade and nobody took notice...well except me as they are right outside the hotel door. Mind you this is not some seedy Hollywood drive slum, this is a working class street filled with restaurants, pharmacies (ironic) and other shops. You can see the in action here.

First stop in any trip to a new town in Latin America, the Zocolo or town square. This was an easy 10 minute walk down Cinco de Mayo street which is a walking street with no cars. Stephan Avenue Mall in Calgary, Sparx Street in Ottawa or Whyte Avenue in Edmonton are all the same. Street vendors, shops, performers and food, lots and lots of food leading down to the Zocolo which was a nice easy way to start the day.

After a quick beer and some touristy photos I spied an open air city tour bus operator. For $80 pesos for a two hour tour of the city and its neighborhoods, something I really like doing when I get to a new city, so off I went camera in hand. We went through various neighborhoods including the artisan area, candy street and the oddly named Frog Street which comes to life on the weekend. There were stops at a pottery factory and the Cinco De Mayo Fort with fantastic views of the city. Two hours was plenty and our friendly guide stood hand open at the end for the prerequisite tip. $20 pesos seemed about right, he was good and informative. Oh and the churches that are everywhere he had a story for each one.

All that glitters is indeed gold
I jumped off back at the Zocolo and headed into The Rosary Chapel, famous for being lined with gold. As I have said my times in the past, sometimes pictures do not do any justice to what you experience. I have seem scores of Catholic Churches in Colonial towns and each can be beautiful in its own way but this church, the priests had their "Liberace" on when they designed it. I can not explain it the absurdity of it all as peasants were starving and the church was being lavish upon itself but history is filled with incidents such as this. Garish for sure and of great historical significance but I can honestly say I am "Colonial Churched Out"  and yes I just used the noun church as a verb in the past tense.

A bit more wandering and following the tell tale smells of an open air market  (think fish ) I was hungry and knew that I could get something delicious there and I was not let down. After wandering aisles and rows of food and fish I came across a family selling "Tortas" or Mexican Sandwiches which turned out to be as big as my face. I washed it down with a cold Victoria, chatted to the family a bit, paid my 70 Pesos and headed in. I had a quiet clean room with hot water and it was time to snooze in my big comfy hotel room bed. First stop was the hotel patio where I exchanged pleasant small talk with a few people but then settling into a huge comfortable chair with a few more Victoria and watched "Casualties of War"  
* As an aside this hotel has amazing WiFi and I am a torrenting mad dog right now.

The colorful and aptly named neighborhood of artists
There were no barking dogs, no roosters and no heavy bass beats from any near by dance clubs. I drained my beer and quickly went across the street for a few more. I knew there was a bar just down the street because I passed it a few times during my journey. The devil on my left shoulder said "go, have some fun" while the angel on my right shoulder said "go back and enjoy the peace and quiet". The Angel won this time but I know the Devil is making alternate plans.

Friday, July 15, 2016


Road Trip! Who does not feel the twinge of unknown excitement when you hear those two glorious words. Inhibitions disappear and happiness grabs a hold of your total being while you day dream about what lies ahead. It does not matter where your going, it matters that you are going. I wonder why we do not approach every day like it was a road trip.

The spring semester at Heslington has ended. Our mid term exams are on Wednesday and with some effort I need to grade my exams and have the marks entered by the end of the day. I have 5 classes with a total of 40 students so I had my work cut out for me if I want to get on the ADO bus to Puebla. I do have breaks in the day and between classes plus I can mark papers while students are writing their exams which is a time honored teaching tradition. I figure by the end of the day I can easily finish all my work at home by 10:00 pm which will make it a long day but the morning will bring a spring in my step as I bound out the door. It will be so.

On another note I booked my flight to Toronto from Mexico City for 12:20 am on Saturday August 13th arriving at 5:50 am. It is a direct flight and the extra $$ I paid for it is worth not stopping over in the States on the way home because I just want to get there. A 5 hour direct flight beats the crap out of a 14 hour flight with stop overs even though the longer flight is a bit cheaper however the flight back to Mexico will be different. Anyways things line up pretty good. I land around 6:00 am and figure 60 to 90 minutes to get through customs and pick up my back pack. Who knows how many planes will be landing at that time so it may be a shit show and the lines brutal. Who cares I will be steps away from a large Timmies. I will have up to 90 minutes to get to Union Station for the direct GO train to Niagara Falls which leaves at 9:00 am and arrives in Niagara Falls at 11:04 am (that should be an uneventful 2 hour nap). I am being picked up by Lynne at the train station and then off we go. I was recently informed that on the weekend I arrive there is a craft beer and food truck festival downtown so I know where I will be living that weekend, sorry Mom.

I booked my return flight to Puebla with stops along the way in Cleveland and Houston. I will have to put on my happy face and endure what can be American Customs and Security, it really is hit and miss with them. I will be heading back to Mexico and The United States is just a blip on the trip but oddly I do love watching the bored TSA agents who are the front line to my supposed safety. Puebla puts me 2 hours from Tehuacan instead of the 5 from Mexico City. Landing late and I am sure frazzled from the shitty flight I will book a hotel near the airport and start the trip to Tehuacan the next morning. I always think is is best to start fresh after flying, especially after multiple stop overs,  and I will ready to revisit morning tacos and coffee.

A thought about booking flights online. I use to be loyal to however they merged with Expedia a few years ago and that killed that. As you know there are hundreds of booking sites out there. Some are re-sellers and others are re-sellers of re-sellers. There is not a huge difference in prices from one to the next. I like my PC points but PC Travel is the most expensive of any other them. Here is the rub. A flight on the Air Canada website sells for $400 and the same flight on Orbitz is $400, no big deal right. The flight on the Air Canada site is in Canadian Dollars and you guessed it the same flight on Orbitz is in American Dollars or about $120 more. Be diligent and have no loyalty when it comes to booking online. Some websites have more flight options which is nice but they are not Discounted at all. Look at your airlines website first for their pricing and go from there, it may surprise you. One site that was sent to me is surprising, Secret Flying. You need to be flexible and most travelers can be.

Anyways, there may be surprise deals out there if you are persistent and have nothing better to do than spend hours and hours searching online to save $50. Usually the cheapest flight is also the longest and has the most stops so look down the list a bit because. For $20 more your options increase and become better. My advice is stop looking for the cheapest flight because when you have a 10 hour layover you spend cash on food and drink, think about that next time you are excited because you think you got the best fare.

My Next stop is the UNESCO World Heritage city of Puebla and the nearby town of Cholula which combined is home to over 700 Catholic churches. 700 Catholic churches, man that is a lot of guilt in two towns.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

On Your Marks, Set, Burn

Dear America:

I find myself deeply saddened by what has become of your once mighty nation.  As a child I stood proudly with you on many occasions. I cheered when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and cried when the Challenger exploded. You once held your head high and walked proudly with a bit of a swagger and that impressed me. You were John Wayne. How things have changed. You may continue to raise your pinky when you drink your tea but you are no longer the proud royalty you once were. That is your painful illusion and the only one who does not see it is you. The entire planet, well not everyone, but so many of us want to give you a loving hug then smack you upside the head with the intervention you need because now you are Johnny Manziel. You don't realize that your bullshit can have an effect all of us.

As another terrible series of events unfolds you are coming apart at the seams and you find yourself crawling, no running, to the point of no return and you blissfully ignore it. It's your self aggrandizing illusion that "America is the greatest country in the world" that is distorting your reality. For shit sake they killed someone with a robot (DRONE) by sending it in with a bomb to blow him up and you cheered. They are using drones to kill domestically now,  justifying it, and you are buying right into the insanity. Even Timothy Mcveigh had due process?

There have had ample warnings but you have become immune to it all. As a person are you waiting to be physically affected to realize that something needs to change? Be patient because you will be affected? No matter how the Government or the press spin this the fact is people are starting to fight back. The starting gun has been fired but this is not a reality TV Show. Good luck America and keep fiddling while Rome burns.

Obama says Dallas shooter a 'demented individual,' does not represent Americans. The defense rests.

In other news, I had a showdown with a large street dog. Hairy, angry  and German Shepard large. He got me in the hip (my underwear are pulled down low) and I booted him in the jaw. We both drew blood so I will call it a draw although he did sneak up on me from behind. Freaking Land Shark!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Eat, Sleep, Teach

It's not as exciting as Eat, Pray, Love but then again I am not a middle aged woman. Eat, Sleep, Teach has become my mantra for the last little bit but it is starting to bore the shit out of me. Do not get me wrong, I have 5 hours a day to create better lesson plans and hone my skills as an ESL teacher but I work split shifts every day and that gets old pretty quickly.

I have 36 days left in this contract counting tomorrow. I give a mid term exam next Wednesday and then have a 4 day long weekend. I give a final exam on August 11th and there is a good bye BBQ on Friday the 12th and there are 5 weekends (10 days). That totals 15 days which means I have 21 teaching days left or 105 classes remaining. May dragged a bit and June flew by and we are crushing July. How does this "time flying" happen without much regard? Routine. Routine. Routine.

I like Paulo Coelho. I have read The Alchemist, Like the Flowing River and The Witch of Portobello all of which I enjoyed. I do find him a bit over the top religious and preachy at times but I always take that with a grain of salt. Anyways his quote above being one of my favorites smacked me right in the face this week. Routine is lethal. Don't get me wrong, I am not 25 or 30 years into a career that I had and am just "putting in time" so I can retire.

Catedral de Tehuacán
First I am working and living a very easy lifestyle of my choosing right now in Mexico. Tehuacán is not the life of the fiesta but then again neither am I but I wake up every day living and working in Mexico and that is a good start to the day for me. Second I have been asked to stay for a second semester so I must be doing something right. I like this option for a few reasons. It is an easy school to work at with limited pressure. I can continue to enhance and grow my teaching skills and build my resume for my next job. I like the school and the people involved. I get free accommodation in a pretty nice house and the only worry I really have aside from school is laundry and groceries. Now lets put that into perspective. I dropped of my large bag of laundry at the "Lavanderia" this morning at 10:00 am and it weighted about 4 kilos. I picked it up at 4:30 and I was charged 27 pesos or  $1.87. At the local market I can fill my day pack with enough fresh fruit and veggies to last the week and I might pay $3.00 depending on if I get avocado's or strawberries which are the expensive produce here for whatever reason.

As I am developing new skills and now winding down and "killing precious time" I realized this week when I was internally ranting about routine that my routine consists of exactly 3 months, then I am doing something new. I can choose to stay in Mexico which is really growing on me or I can jump on the big bird and head to Asia and let the cards lay where they fall. What I do have coming up and what I desperately need is a road trip. A jump on a bus to Puebla and hang out kind of road trip.

Puebla is a UNESCO World Heritage city, It has over 375 churches, amazing neighborhoods, fantastic views of the very active Volcano Popocatepetl and also gives me quick access to the ruins at Teotehuacan. I always loves me some Mayan ruins.

This post is not really about anything but a quick realization of where I am and what I am doing, plus I have not written anything in a while. I am really trying to avoid creating a "daily diary" situation but fu** it and who cares. I like to write and will write about whatever I want to. Maybe tomorrow I will write about the value of Gummi Bears in emerging market economies.