Saturday, September 24, 2016

Puebla Redux Part 2

The Tunnels of Puebla


The Puebla Tunnels are a system of tunnels under of Puebla. Long considered to be an urban legend, they were rediscovered in 2015 during construction in the city. They are believed to be up to 500 years old and to extend for more than 10 kilometers. Although we could only explore about 500 metres which was open to the public they were impressive none the less both in their structure and historical significance.

What I found the most interesting is that the tunnels are though to go up to Fuerte Loreto which was the site of the Battle of Puebla (Cinco de Mayo). The Mexicans defeated the French who were far superior in battle field experience and were putting a siege to the fort. The French could not figure how the Mexican's kept coming at them. "Where were all the new men coming from?". History now suggests that the tunnels provided a sanctuary and safe passage for soldier to advance to the Fort and battle undetected. History is amazing and I love being a history nerd.

Pyramid at Cholula
Next up, the bus to the interesting little town of Cholula. I had been here before and was happy to return. I think that if I was to ever come back to Mexico to work I would possibly live here. That being said and this being Independence Day weekend it was a chaotic scene when we arrived. In typical Mexican fashion it was party time in the Zocalo. There were food stalls and people everywhere and as we were all stumbling around a bit from last night the ability to grab a variety of quick, tasty and inexpensive food as we walked around eased our pain significantly.

The pyramid complete was insane to visit so we walked around it from the outside. Again I had been there in the past and found it interesting because I am odd that way but my partners in crime for the weekend we content, and in this case very smart, not to deal with the crowds. Cholula is not going anywhere. We could take photos through the fence as we walked up to Santuario Nuestra Señora de los Remedios church at the top of the hill, which is the buried remains of the Mayan Pyramid.

An awaking Popocatépetl

Back in Puebla after spending time in Cholula it was time to relax. We had found "Candy Street" which is exactly what the name implies. The artisan area where you could find interesting and quite nice pottery and other works plus Alley of the Frogs (Callejon de los Sapos) which is a local market where you can find anything from old currency and trinkets to touristy junk. We found beer.

I like Puebla and have been here twice but there are other towns and places to explore in Mexico. This country is really starting to get into my soul much like Nicaragua did. The shitty main stream media and news cycles do not do Mexico any justice. The people are some of the warmest and most hospitable I have ever encountered. There is a kindness and gentle nature about them but as with most Latin Americans they have been through a tremendous amount as history has shown. They are aware of the struggles and challenges they face which are very real plus the imaginary perceptions that have been created. They are also some of the smartest people I have ever met and are NOTHING like what you might think or perceive. I was a victim of this obtuse thinking and I am so happy that I have spent "real time" here, not just "resort time".

Happy Independence Day, Viva Mexico!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Puebla Redux Part 1

This was going to be an interesting 3 day weekend in Puebla. There were 6 of us heading out early and 2 more that were joining us somewhere along the way and because I have been here before I was unceremoniously selected as tour leader. These are dumb people I work with.

One of the reasons I am obstinate about being self sufficient while on the road showed it's ugly head at the ADO bus terminal early Friday morning. There had been a discussion of one person heading to the station a few days early to purchase everyone's ticket. "We need to sit together" is something that I can not process. It is a bus and most of us will be lost in sleep or our Ipods. Long conversations are not a usual option for me while on a bus, train or plane and I think that is usual for most people, even those who will not admit it.

Well went to the station first and purchased my ticket for the 8:00 am bus as nobody could make up their mind what time to leave. That put my crew into a bit of a scramble to get organized and sorted out but to no avail all tickets were purchased. When purchasing bus tickets on most Latin American bus lines you reserve your seat and ADO is no different. At the counter they show you a seat map and you choose your seat. I try to get a set a few rows behind the driver for a couple of reasons. First, if there is an issue I am near the front door and second if there is an issue while driving there is a natural tendency for a driver, any driver, to swerve away from the issue so where ever the driver goes I am right on his tail. Hopefully my logic never gets tested. I was the first ticket purchased for that particular time and day, seat number 5. As were were walking to the station Jess had mentioned that when they bought their ticket they noticed that seat 5 was still available and I had better check to make sure I had the right bus. I am thinking, "nope, I am good" because all tickets are verified and reviewed at the counter before you leave. I start thinking "I wonder if they picked the wrong time, nah they would have double checked before they left the ticket agent."

The Greatest Bathroom Signs I Have Ever Seen

Now I have made many mistakes along my journey especially with bus tickets and times, usually messing up morning and evening times which costs me the price of a second ticket. As I said, I am obstinate about being self sufficient at times. Those who know me I can hear your sarcastic "reeeeeallies". As we are lining up and starting to board I hear a very meek "hey people are in our seats". I board first, find my lucky seat number 5, say good morning to the woman beside me, sit and and while settling I notice my partners in Puebla crime are nowhere behind me. I can hear outside the bus in loud Spanglish "Ok, wait here for us, we will change our tickets".  You guessed it, my happy crew had book their tickets for the Saturday 8:00 am and were rushing back to change their tickets. Nobody bothered to check the date on the tickets and I had found out that the tickets were purchased by Jess who has minimal Spanish skills. It all worked out as it usually does and became a funny talking point that night over beer. HOWEVER, this enhances my trust issues with other people managing my affairs while on the road. I do not care about mistakes, errors, screw-ups, or doing something dumb ass but if that is going to happen I am going to do it myself because I like to think I know how to laugh it off and then Chuck it in the Fuck it Bucket.

We Arrived Alive
We arrived in Puebla in what I  think is the greatest bus terminal I have ever been to. Large, well massive, clean and organized. It could easily be confused for an airport terminal. We found a cab for 60 pesos (although the bus was 7 pesos) it was only 20 pesos each and off we went to the UNESCO Heritage Town Centre. It was as crowded as you would have expected it to be on Independence Day with the lead up to what turned out to be a massive parade. I was excited for the parade because 4 of my English students were marching in it with their school.

The parade as it turned out was a combination of military showmanship and high school bands with Mexican traditions tossed in. I am not a military person and I am tired of our obsession with it but both Lucy and I agreed independently that it was cause for concern that that military and police received a larger ovation than the proud student bands. It should give us ample observation as to where we are as a declining species and as to why that is happening.

This was a nice way to start Independence Day. The parade was loud, energetic and fun to be a part of. It lasted about 2 hours and the sun was starting to beat down on my bald head pretty good so after the high school band from Tehucan marched by it was time to wander and explore Puebla. There was fun to be had.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Viva Mexico

"You can come up with all these great phrases, and great quotes and aphorisms. But if you're not applying them to yourself, if you're not living those things, if you're not putting them into action, then they're not really helping you." -- Bruce Lee


September 16th is Mexico's Independence Day and they take is very serious here. Like most countries who celebrate their independence from an occupying foreign power there is a huge national party with fireworks and speeches. Yes Canada (July 1st), USA (July 4th) and Australia (Jan 26th) to name a few, you were once under the control of a foreign power which oddly enough for each of you was England.

Here in Tehuacan there were lots of options however the Zocalo (main square) was the place to be. There was a huge carnival type atmosphere with vendors selling anything possible. The rains had kept many people away and it almost kept me home. FU** IT, this was Mexican Independence and a bit of rain was not going to keep me away. The one nagging thought that kept creeping into my brain was the words of so many of the students when I asked about the party at the Zocolo. "Teacher, don't go there, it is so dangerous". When I pressed to explain why they all seemed confused at the question like I was an idiot and it should be obvious. Stupid Gringo. It boiled down to drunks and thieves with a possibility of knives and gun play. Who would want to miss that?

The rumor de joir, I mean de facebook, was that there will be riots because the President let Donald Trump visit and Trump was not destroyed or tossed in prison. I love the modern fear machine that is Facebook. Off I went alone as my posse stayed home as it was raining but I move faster when I am alone. The rains slowed and then stopped just as I arrived and the Zocalo did not let me down. There were people everywhere but this was not the drunk and dangerous abyss I was warned about. There were families everywhere plus people young and old smiling and having a great time.

There was a huge stage with live bands playing great Regaton and other Mexican music that even had me dancing a bit with the friendly locals who "wanted to dance with a gringo to show them how nice Mexico and Mexicans were".  At 10:30 came the speech of the mayor which quickly killed the fun vibe of the party and became somewhat dystopian in it's delivery. Starting with celebrating the army and the police he asked for a round of applause for all the security forces. There was nothing and a huge hush fell over the crowd to which I could feel the tension creep in from all directions. The speaker (who again I think was the Mayor of Tehucan) repeated himself but a bit more forceful to a small scattering of applause. I guess the abuse of security forces in Mexico is very real.  I took notice that the small groups of security personnel that were in the park had formed into units and made their way to the front of the crowd in front of the balcony from where the mayor was speaking. There were absolutely noticed as again the mayor asked for a round of applause and the crowed cheered before he could get the words out the third time. I was time for me to take my naive Canadian butt out of that predicament and find a cold beer, better yet leave the park at the quickstep.

"I am catching the 8:00 am bus to Puebla with 6 other teachers so I do not want to sleep in" where what I kept telling myself as I heading home. I hate traveling in a pack where the herd mentality is usually rule. I have way to many issues with a herd because there is to much time standing around going "where should we go", "I need food", I want to.." so inevitable that the herd will split at times which is a great thing and regroup at a later time,  otherwise the herd will run right off a cliff.
I am staying at the same hotel I stayed at a few months ago when I was here, Hotel Rio. A proper hotel that is safe and clean with a great staff for $20 a night. A bit of a splurge for a guy making Mexican wages. The others are staying at a hostel in the dorms for $9 a night. I will always spend less on booze and sleep well with some privacy when I can. Dorms are great (for me) when I am on the road. This is a 3 day vacation so that requires a little comfort and the ability to have some alone time away from the masses, a healthy option any day of the week.

Indio has the most beautiful beer labels I have ever seen

How many more good days do I have? How many more interesting times will I have? I do not know the answer to those questions but I should remember to ask them to myself once in a while to keep myself sharp. Next up for me is Mexican Independence Day in Puebla Mexico where the beer will be cold and the people will be smiling. A great thing to look forward to. What are you looking forward to tomorrow?

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Mind Unleashed

There is nowhere to go and nowhere to be. Death is waiting for us all and it’s more important to slow down and live in the moment. It’s infinitely more important to appreciate the now than to be in a hurry for the future. Patience and focus is incredibly important and vital to long term success. 
-- The Mind Unleashed

This is just how I am feeling today. Check that, this is how I have begun to think every day....and it is a very good thing.

It's a mystery to me
We have a greed
With which we have agreed
You think you have to want
More than you need
Until you have it all you won't be free
Society, you're a crazy breed
I hope you're not lonely without me
When you want more than you have
You think you need
And when you think more than you want
Your thoughts begin to bleed
I think I need to find a bigger place
'cos when you have more than you think
You need more space
Society, you're a crazy breed
I hope you're not lonely without me

Society, crazy and deep
I hope you're not lonely without me
There's those thinking more or less less is more
But if less is more how you're keeping score?
Means for every point you make
Your level drops
Kinda like its starting from the top
You can't do that...
Society, you're a crazy breed
I hope you're not lonely without me
Society, crazy and deep
I hope you're not lonely without me
Society, have mercy on me
I hope you're not angry if I disagree
Society, crazy and deep
I hope you're not lonely without me

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Cerro Colorado

Any town that I have to in Latin America has something in common. No matter Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Bolivia or all part in between. At the highest point in the surrounding mountains or the highest natural area there is always a huge cross. These being dominant Roman Catholic regions of the world can lead credence as to why a huge and usually brightly lit cross looks down upon the local town and Tehucan is no different.

I notice Cerro Colorado my second day here in May. High steep cliffs surrounded by bright green forests and cactus it's siren call has been in my ears since that first sighting.  In mythology The Sirens were beautiful but dangerous creatures that lured the sailors with their beautiful voices to their doom, causing the ships to crash on the reefs near their island. Doomed sailors aside when I hear the siren call of a mountain hike it is pretty hard to keep me off the trail. The distant cross of Cerro Colorado has looked down on my for 4 months and it was finally time to meet, face to cross.

Tom, Freddie, Jess (kneeling), Ken, Eric, Ashlynn, Daniel
 Friday night is fun teacher fun night and the night before the hike was no exception. Classes finish at 9:00 and the full sprint to La Chopperia for cold well deserved beer begins. We were set to meet at the Zocolo at 7:30 am on the Saturday morning so most of us had good intentions of a few drinks then home for a decent nights sleep. At least we had good intentions.

With an alarm ringing in my ears at 6:30 I dragged myself out of the warmth of my cocoon, put the coffee on an prepared to get going. Our intrepid crew all managed to meet at 7:30 a bit bleary eyed but ready to go. Although the forecast called for thunderstorms the sky was clear (Mexican weather forecasts are as accurate as North American) we needed an early start because the heat of the Mexican day intensifies as the day wears on.

I can not explain why but I feel "at total peace" when I am on the trail. I am in my element and happy place. Any attempt to explain would be futile but I will say I am enveloped by a total calmness, a huge warm hug by mother nature if you will.

Carlos our guide, Daniel, Freddy, Ashlynn, Ken, Tom, Jess
For me the summit, although always climactic, is more times than not secondary to the hike itself.  The views from various levels and directions never bore me no matter where I am. The findings on the trail some down to the simplest of pleasures. Colorful flowers, strange plants, stranger insects, squawking birds, rock formations and in this case fossils that were found everywhere. Tens of thousands of years ago (not sure exactly) this entire area was covered with water and we were hiking the bottom of the sea. When you take a minute and look at the canyons and valleys and use your imagination (something I am trying real hard to develop) you come to realize the enormity of what "could have swam and lived here"

Skip ahead to 500 years ago and the Aztec and Mayan peoples used this area to live and worship. There are temples and ruins at the top near the cross and that was our secondary destination. We would not be awed in the beauty when were arrived but looked around solemnly at the mounds of dirt covering the historical artifacts. These ruins have not yet been uncovered and it makes you wonder how many more unearthed testaments to the past exist in Mexico and beyond.  True to form Carlos our guide, who has been hiking this trail for 50 years, told us that we would find shards of pottery near the top to which we all thought "sure old man, keep telling stories to the gringos". Well to my surprise there they were scattered all over the trail and around the covered temple zone. Pottery shards and pieces dating back 500 years. I put a few larger ones in my pocket then thought "these, although special right now" will end up being tossed somewhere down the road" so I put them back where they belonged. I was not even thinking to take a photo to share and I do not know why but it just felt wrong too. Dam ancient and scary Mayan gods!

Another summit reached, another cross visited
There was and exposed wall (again no photo) that could be seen when we climbed what was the highest hill at the top. Knowing that underneath us was at one time a building or temple used by an ancient culture made the moment very serene and oddly everyone seemed to realize it almost all at once. Our excited chatter suddenly stopped as everyone took it in. No words needed to be spoken and as it should be the moment was just savored. I love being a history nerd.

When at the summit and after embracing the ruins and history we walked back to the cross to relax and take it all in wit the views, the history and the "I wonder if's". Adding to the mystique was the clouds started rolling in and Carlos started playing his flute. You could not have asked for a more embracing moment even if I was stuffing my face with Doritos. Not the food of the gods but a close second and my "summit snack"  of choice.

The hike itself was not a huge challenge at 1800 metres. There were a few steep rocky areas but I have developed great Billy Goats skills in the last few years, bounding up them without issue. Passing some who were 25 to 30 years younger who were complaining, sweating and panting their Facebook addicted lives with every step. I am exaggerating a bit...but not a whole bunch.

At the end of another great hike
I hope to climb Cerro Colorado a few more times while I am here. It is close and a good way to spend the day, well any day hiking is a good way to spend the day. I had a great crew to hike with, the views were beautiful, this history of the area mesmerizing and the Doritos were delicious.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

It's A Bugs Life

A few of the new teaching crew.
 I am now one of the veteran teachers at Heslington. It gives me good perspective when I meet and talk to all the new teachers and remember I had the same feelings of trepidation and excitement. I can certainly use both experiences as I move on to my next job in January, but lets not get ahead of ourselves.

The new teachers are a mix of Americans, Canadians, Australians and Brits that mix in the the existing Canadians, Americans and a Welshman. They are the best group of the 3 that I have been a part of and a few are crazy energetic types. "Lets go hiking, Lets go camping" and other great ideas to spend time on the weekends.

My schedule is decent enough and I picked up an extra class in the morning. That gives me an extra 350 peso's a week to spend and will actually allow me to save a bit of money for the end of term, and by save money I mean about $300 for 4 months. I have 10 days off before I head back to Canada for Christmas and I want to hit up the Yucatan Peninsula before I leave Mexico. We shall see. My schedule is as follows:

9:00 - 10:00 Beginners 6 students
10:00 - 11:00 Pre-Intermediate 6 students
5:00 - 6:00 Fluency Workshop  7 students
6:00 - 7:00 Beginners 11 students
7:00 - 8:00 Pre Intermediate 8 students
8:00 - 9:00 Fluency Workshop 6 students

That is 44 shiny happy faces staring at me everyday. Ages range from 12 to 45 but most fall between 16 and 25 and every student in every class is polite and eager to learn but I am sure that will change a few months down the road once the "new car smell" comes off the class

Gorgeous mural tells the story of Mexico

My new housemates are Allan (55 from Canada), Daniel (40 from England), Lucy (22 from Australia), Jess (27 from England) and Scott (40 from the US). So far everyone is in lock step with each other about living and respecting boundaries but again lets give it some time. People who spend so much time living, working and socializing with each other are bound to start bugging the shit out of each other.

As a part of orientation there is a cultural walking tour of the town on the first weekend. The tour offers views of the Monastery, Cathedral, The Central Street Market, The Town Hall (above) and a wonderful historical and factual narrative of both Tehuacan and Mexico. It finished with a delicious lunch at one of the restaurants in the town square. I get so wrapped up in my routine sometimes that I forget about how busy and interesting Tehuacan can be.

Now we return to the market where I came face to face with the very real world of Mexico.Worms, crickets and grasshoppers all spiced up with chili and ready for consumption. A few of my students told me afterwards that you always choose the grasshoppers. Thankfully, well I guess thankfully I chose the worms. Spicy, crunch and full of protein I was told so I had at it. It did take all my courage to put the little bugger on my tongue and when I did I just closed my eyes and hoped that I did not puke right then and there

It was delicious. Yes that is exactly what I said. It was delicious. So much so that I bought a small bag of them and munched on them for the rest of the tour. Each one was 5 pesos or about .14C so it really was the cheapest lunch I have had in my 5 off and on years in Latin America. I will not eat a tomato at home because they gross me out, but spiced bugs in Mexico, no problem at all. This is definitely not Taco Bell.

The rest of the first week here I did a movie and music swap with a few other teachers, found a new laundry service that was cheaper and better than the old one. 11 pesos for a kilo of clothes which are washed, dried and folded nicely into a reusable plastic bag.

I find myself eating more fruit and veggies so its off to the market a few times a week where for 50 pesos ($3 Canadian) I can bring home 3 decent sized bags of food that lasts a week. Toss in a trip to the butcher for 30 pesos of chicken ($2) and a bit of bread now and then from the bakery I am eating for about $6 - $8 a week, and eating very well. This semester there will be no skittles, snickers, chips, fresca or other sugar laden snack food. So far so good.

So that is it. I am back until December 14th after which I will have 10 days more to discover Mexico. I have to choose between the Yucatan (Cancun, Chichen Itza, Merida, Uxmal, Tulum) and the Pacific Coast  (Zihuatanejo and Ixapa, Cabo San Lucas) before heading back to Canada for Christmas. In my bumbling I forgot to pack anything close to a warm sweater or jacket for the return back. That should create a "Cool Runnings" moment for me.