Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Holloween Party To End The Week

There was quite a bit of effort put into the school holloween party. Most of us were just happy not to have to work on Friday night as a half day off is a luxury at this time in the schedule. We were encouraged to put together a costume with any or all of our classes with the winning class recieving a free Taco Party. Most classes were ho hum about the prospect however my 10 am Pre Intermediate class was all gung ho. "We are going to win free tacos" was the chant led my Montse and Luz Marie. When Mexican woman have their mind made up about something stay out of their way. If you want to survive and come away unscathed do as your told.

Barbara is an impressive make up artist
We were all enouraged to participate and if I did not put some effort into it my taco desiring class would have beat me senseless. The finals descion was that I would be a "Catrine" or male skeleton and the girls would be "La Calavera Catrinas" or Elegant Lady Skeletons. The two other guys in the class were less than enthused so I was to be the go to Catrine
Barbara is a friend of a friend who agreed to come in and help us out. She is a well respected make up artist who works on films and photoshoots through out the State of Puebla. She also gave us a crazy discount of 50 pesos for any design we wanted. This would be the best $3 I could ever spend. She spent about 45 minutes on various teachers and administration staff and naturally everyone was something different. From my skeleton face, to a dead zombie, papa smurph and a phantom of the opera priest she nailed each one perfectly.

Edwin, Dan, Lucy, Kim, Keane, Ashlynn, Matt, Allan, Jess, Ken, Sarah, Tom, Scott, Alyshia , Manuel

Everyone did a great job thinking up costumes. Edwin - Zombie, Dan- Poncho Villa, Lucy - Psyco Patient, Kim - Average Girl, Keane - Spirit Priest, Ashlynn - Minion, Matt - Mexican Papa Smurph, Allan - Mexican Cop, Jess - Mother Nature, Ken - Skeleon, Sarah - Fairy, Tom - Cowboy, Scott - Suicide Bomber (voted most inappropriate so he was happy) and Alyshia and Manuel were an Oreo Cookie.

Now a Lucy story. My pal Lucy wanted to be a mental patient and she pulled it off. The one thing she wanted to perfect her costume was to have her mascara run and she asked me to do it. She figured I would just say mean things to her until she cried. That expection in itself pushed her to Real Mental Patient territory. Well I came up with an idea. I flicked her nose and hopefully that would work.The first time she flinched and she could feel the tears welling up. Ok do it again she said. So I did, 6 times to be exact with each flick getting harder and she took it like a champ. Thats how you get into a role I guess. The results above show a combination of her strength and courage and what should be considered my abuse if it was not so funny.

Luz Maria, Paula, Ken, Carmen, Montse loving our victory for best costumes
The party itself consisted of lots of food and a few lame ass games that nobody wanted to do. Then came the costume competition for the Taco Party. Everyone stood in a circle and Edwin had each group enter the circle to dance and show off. We crushed it and look at how amazing the girls are. They put a serious effort into this. There were rounds of applause to decide the winners and it was close until it was our turn and we crushed it and the tacos were ours. Now as this is a day class, we are going to have a taco breakfast next week which will suit all of us just fine. As I mentioned before if Mexican woman have a plan stand back and watch it unfold. Stay out of the way, do not have an opinion and say yes to what they ask. The results speak for themselves. Great job Luz, Paula, Carmen and Montse.

Odd picture behind me when this photo was taken

What do you do when you are all dressed up? Well you and all your pals head to you favorite bar for cold beer withour remove anything, thats what you do. Oddly after a few smiles and curious glances nobody batted an eyelash at us, after all this is Holloween and upcoming Day of The Dead and this will become more of the social norm than the exception. This is a serious festival in Mexico and the more time I spend here the more I appreciate the passion Mexicans have for their country and their heritage.

Good bye Nicaragua. You have been replaced as my future permanent home.

Grampa Keeps Pouring Mescal

When you say "Mole de Caderas" the people who live in Tehuacan stare off into a romantic eyes glazed trance and with excited smiles robitically claim " it is the most delicious of the moles and you must try it"

Stirring the soup with Uriel
Mole de Caderas is a soup made from the spine and hips of a goat that is not given any water but lots of salt for a period of time. It adds to the flavor we are told so who am I to argue. The soup is made in a huge pot with the spine and hips of the goat with the slow cook bone marrow the delicacy of the night. People start talking about it in August and for whatever reason it is only available during October. It was a pleasant surprise when Uriel, one of my students who I have had for both semesters, brought his family in to meet me. After pleasantries I was invited to have Mole with the family and I immediately accepted. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I was told I could bring a friend so naturally I brought Lucy who fits in where ever she goes with her great attitude and infectious laugh. Uriel and his father picked us up at the school for the short ride to their house. It was only after we walked in and saw the 4 long tables set up that we were told that the entire family was joining us or more to the point we were joining them. With a beer in hand we were off and running.

Lucy's photo op with Uriel
We were quickly introduced to Uriels mother and two grandmothers who were cooking up a storm in the kitchen. We were taken to the Mole pot and explained how it was prepared. Ingredients included the goat spine and hips, large bean pods, avocado leaves which gave it an intense anise taste plus tomato, onion and various herbs and spices. It smelled fantastic.

The came the grandfathers who could not have been more polar opposite. Grandpa 1 was calm and reserved, polite and welcoming. Grampa 2 would be considered clinically insane in any other country other than Mexico...but in the good insane way.

We sat with him immediately and with a big smile and a huge that could crush a car Lucy and I knew where we would be spending our time with. Grampa was going to be fun. Lucy immediately spilled her first beer which was a prelude to how our night was going to go.

Grampa and his Mescal
The first beer was delicious and another just appeared when my head was turned talking to Grandpa. He then summoned Uriel to "show them the Mescal bottle" but this was not to be a show and tell display. Like Ninja warriors one of the Grandmas appeared with tall shot glasses and a devilish grin. They had an evil Mexican plan for the gringo teachers.

As family members started arriving Grampa poured another shot. "Mescal makes you strong, look how many children I have". Later we found out there were 150 direct family members in the vicinity, tonight there would only be 50 showing up. Way to go Grampa!
Uriel we are finished the mescal, get the tequila. Lucy looked at me and we both had a sudden realization that this Sunday afternoon was not going to be a simple meal with a students family. We just fell into the deep end of the pool with Grandpa holding the life preservers.

So out comes the aged tequila
 I have to admit both the mescal and tequila, which are a little bit different, were both delicious. They were nothing like the harsh headache inducing gasoline we choose to hurt ourselves with in Canada and Australia. We had tequila with lemon, tequila with lemon and salt, "get Lucy and Ken another beer", tequila with nothing (my personal choice). More new family to meet and Grandpa pouring more to celebrate their arrival. Everyone greeted us warmly and with huge hugs and what turned out to be knowing smiles. It was a family conspiracy I say, a conspiracy.

Finally the soup..and more mescal
We arrived at the house around 2:30, by 3:30 we were being destroyed by Bad Grandpa and his Legion of Distruciton that included Bad Grandmas. The soup arrived along with a small plate of pasta followed by chicken soft shelled tortillas with a nice white cream sauce and cheese cake. Each course separated got it, a few more mescal and giggles from Grandpa. Needless to say the food was tremendous and the Mole, although an interesting mix was impressive. Dinner ended around 6:00 and I figured we were home free. A fund afternoon with good food and great new friends but I need to remember that Mexicans love to party, especially with family.

Mole and Mescal a perfect combo
As Lucy and I are deciding our exit strategy in walk a man and his two kids carrying speakers, assorted cables and microphones. Oh shit, Karaoke!  As it turned out they were the entertainment for the evening and each of them could belt out a tune. Uriels father comes by with more beer and now Lucy has taken charge of the tequila bottle. "So what its a Sunday afternoon turning into a Sunday night and we both have to teach early in the morning" says anyone having this much fun. We had one moment of family concern when Lucy went outside for a smoke and probably a bit of a break. I went out to check on her...and so did everyone else who came right behind me. They were genuinely concerned but once they realized it was just basically a fresh air break they were OK. They were seriously concerned and the entire party stopped to make sure Lucy was OK. Amazing people.

The longer we stayed the more fun we had. Various family members lost their inhibitions and come over to chat. As usually everyone fell in love with the antics and laughter of Lucy. I had a couple of younger kids sit near me and start asking questions about Canada, did I like Mexico?, Do you like Mescal?..and yes the 8 year old kid poured me one. It was hilarious really. However, the thing I noticed was no kid or teenager was disrespectful to us or any adult. They helped the woman in the kitchen, cleared plates when asked and just seemed to enjoy themselves and being with each other. Nowhere in site was there a mobile device. It was family time and everyone respected that.

The singing was impressive and we just sat back and enjoyed it. Around 800 we decided we needed to show some responsibility (we laughed pretty hard when we said that) and get make our escape. We started to say good bye to everyone but there was one last gift to us. There would be a tribute song that we had to stay for, so we did. Naturally it was more for my pal Lucy but all the attention turned to us as the singers belted out something I did not understand. It could have been in English but I only was understanding Mescal. I grabbed Lucy and did a little dance to which everyone went "ahhhhhh, bonito esposos", they thought we were married. I guess the thought of  a 54 year old Canadian and a 23 year old Australia being married did not even phase them. We naturally played it up.

We finally said our good byes and stared the walk home. I vaguely knew where we were and Tehucan is in a grid so finding home was easy enough. Along the way one of us fell down and started laughing so hard they could not get up (YES YOU LUCY IF YOU ARE READING THIS). After an incredible afternoon with the most hospitable people followed by a funny walk home we walked into the house to the staring eyes of our roommates. "Jesus what happened to the two of you" is all I heard as I headed upstairs and went immedately to bed. I think it was 8:30

As an epilogue Uriel did not come to school the next day regardless of the fact his class is at 7pm. It was on Tuesday that he told me that at 10 pm they ran out of booze and went searching for more and that the party did not end until after 3 am. Lucy and I were lightweights compared to the Grandpas.

"Mescal makes you strong, look at how big my family is". Yes Grandpa, your a bit crazy but a lot of amazing. It took me 2 full days get feel a little bit normal and I am sure you woke up at your normal time and was at the garage working without any issues. Your a Mexican Mescal swilling rockstar Grandpa. So much so you deserve a second picture.

Grandpa looks like the Mescal bottle

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Ex - Hacienda Chapultepec

The Ex Hacienda Chapultepec are ruins of what was an ammunition and safe place during the Mexican Revolution. The ruins are located  in Chapultepec is a village in the municipality of Tehuacan with 59 inhabitants, in the State of Puebla near the town of San Diego which itself is home to Mayan Ruins that are still not open to the public. Locals batting for control of the Combi routes is the rumor. Yes sir, forget about opening the ruins to the public until you can see who will make the most money. Greed is a rampant world wide problem to say the least.

This was going to be an easy hike heading away from Cerro Colorado towards San Diego with the usual suspects on the trail. Eric has been this route a few times so along with his girlfriend Wendy he was going to lead the way. There would be simple twist to start the day as we did  not have to start as early as usual. We were going to meet near the Purisima market and it's bustling market neighbourhood and start our day with warm Atole and Tamales.

  I was unsure of Atole knowing it was a warm corn based drink but let me tell you that when in Mexico find a corner market that sells proper Pulke and you will not be disappointed. Sipping this while eating a hot tamale, yes I said hot tamale, is a fantastic way to start a hike. It kicks oatmeal and granolas collective asses. I honestly forget at times that there are other options for food in a country I am in and I can not explain it aside from routine. Not a big concern but this simple breakfast awakened the need to get out of my nutrition comfort zone.

With the messa of Cerro Colorado to our left the trail was surrouned by gorgeous fields of vegtables and flowers. The flowers were in full bloom and it only took a moment to realize that they were going to be harvested and sold for the Day of The Dead celebrations that were a few weeks away. This is a holiday that is taken very seriously in Mexico and we are going to have the opportunity to see it in all its glory on Nov 2nd in a town called Chilac. More on that later.

The ruins themselves are no so much dramatic as they are historical. Most of my students have no idea they exist let alone their historical significance.On the other hand I am a history and ruins nerd and was somewhat awed by it because of its historical significance during the revolution. Mexican history is unbelievably interesting and naturally we Canadians know nothing of it. We are spoon fed Canadian and American history because outside of that our education systems realize that nothing else is important....IDIOTS.

The ruins themselves are closed to the public with a large fence surrounding the compound. One look at the unstable rock and mason work explains it. I did have a thought of climbing under the fence and getting inside to have a look around but my better judgment prevailed (which is odd) when Wendy told me that the locals on the hills above are community gatekeeper's that keep watch all day and night. They are quick to call the police who show up even quicker which can lead to any sort of confrontation that always ends up with pesos leaving your pocket and magically transferring into theirs. The view from outside the fence was just fine.

 Wandering the fence line gave us great views and photo angles and at the back was a small church that was in great shape, almost like it did not belong. Whether it did or not did not matter as it provided a great resting and vantage point over the ruins and the surrounding countryside. With the mountains to our left and the city to our right this little gem was worth the gentle effort to find it.

We started to head back and found a combi that would take us back to the Purisima neighbourhood. I was pretty hungry and know that a half BBQ chicken was to be easily found for about $2. The combi was just being given a thorough cleaning when we happened upon it so the only thing dirty inside was us. We went through San Diego which gave me a good reading as to where we were and within 15 minutes I was face first into a platter of chicken and tortillas with Lucy and Dan.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Random Happenings

I told myself  "Self, you are going to climb Cerro Colorado 5 times before you leave Tehuacan" and with that began my second trip up the historic trail. I needed a hike, better yet some time in a natural environment where I can get a big warm hug from Mother Nature. We had a small but energetic group heading out with myself, Lucy, Dan, Ashlynn and Jess up and at it by 8:00 am.

Dan, Lucy and her great hat, Ashlynn and Jess with some new mountain friends

I had a feel for the trail as we had climbed Cerro Colorado about a month ago. I did remember it starting as a nice walking trail but as you progressed it became rocky, steep in sections and strewn with rocks of all shapes and sizes, an ankles worst nightmare. The hike was uneventful except for the fact that the hike itself was an event. We were greeted by a huge herd of goats being tended to by a few local farmers and oddly there were various groups of people along the trail. It created nice short conversations and smiles with that "knowing feeling" of connections along the trail.

Oktoberfest at an Irish Pub in Mexico, that's how we roll here in the land of sun and mescal and the night did not disappoint. McCarthys has become a bit of a staple next to our primary watering hole, Cervezo.  Keane, Lucy, Dan, Eric and Ashlynn. There were a few students at the bar which always means free beer and looks of confusion because the teacher is actually in a bar drinking beer.
As the night progressed and the sillier we got the more entertained the wait staff became. Suddenly it was free mescal, beer chugging and Habenaro pepper sauce challenges which put all of us over the top for the cab rides home. The only thing "Oktoberfest" about the night were a few waiters in Lederhosen. Think about that for a second, Mexicans in Lederhosen in a bar whose catch phrase is  "Touch Yourself". I am not sure that they understand the translation of their catch phrase. Naturally the more we drank the more literal we took it. We thought all it was funny.

Then there was  Lucha Libre in all it's ridiculous hilarious and insane glory. Now I am no expert when it comes to any type of wrestling. There is the "fake" wresting of the WWE or whatever it is called but those guys move, are skilled and get hurt and too many have died before the age of 40. It is only fake in it's story lines and over the top characters. Lucha Libre is just so ludicrous you could not help but get "into it" and enjoy yourself. They have a standard routine of chairs, fighting in the audience, high flying antics and crazy costumes and the crowd went wild, myself included.  
I was to understand that we were watching the "training athletes" and to watch real Lucha Libre I needed to go to Mexico City. Challenge accepted.

Next up was dental Work at the Clinica Real Dental. I had a front filling without any freezing that took 30 minutes and cost 400 pesos. The next day I returned to have my teeth cleaned for the same $400 pesos. Total equals about $55 Canadian. The office although tiny was clean, modern and both the dentist and assistant were professional, careful and skilled. At least there were diplomas on the wall that look real. Seriously, toss any fears you have about getting dental work in Mexico right out the window. I will take a few photos as I have a FREE follow up tomorrow just to check out that all is good.

Toss in Cuban Dominos at Mattew Poy's house with home made chili, too many teachers and too much alcohol followed up by a city wide cultural festival with great food and interesting music options and the last couple of weeks have been anything but boring.

We are less than 60 days to go in this semester and this week is mid term exams. Like usual time is flying by. I will have spent 8 month in Mexico when it is all said and done. This is a great country with fantastic people and as much as I think Nicaragua will be my future permanent home I now suspect it will be Mexico. Whoda thunk!

Thursday, October 6, 2016


"Ajalpan is a city in the southeastern part of the state of Puebla in Mexico. It has come to fame recently for lynching two pollsters in October, 2015, when townspeople mistook them for kidnappers and burned them alive." That is the first thing I read when I did a search for Ajalpan, a town we were going to visit on the weekend. The reality of small town Mexico strikes again.

New Hand Made Hats. Travelers Being Tourists
Ajalpan may have had an issue with Census Takers last year by killing and burning them but they are know for a few other things aside from misplaced vigilante justice. Red clay roof shingles known as "tejas" adorn most homes. Then there is the sometimes delicious and sometimes disgusting Paletas de Hielo which we know as Popsicles which the Mexicans take to whole new level. Click here to see a few images from Google. New level you ask? How about avocado, fried pork belly, Oaxacan cheese or chapulines (grasshoppers) to get you started. Finally there is the hand and foot weaving of baskets and from carrizo. Not so much bamboo but a reed like plant that grows along the canals and waterways of the area. A few years ago the artisans formed a co-operative in order to succeed with creative ideas and fair trade. This article will give you a quick insight into it. The idea was to move beyond with is known as "Mexican Selfish Behavior" and so far it has been a success.

Rows of carrizo, a bamboo like plant
Alma is the "cultural guide" for the teachers at the school and she puts together small trips to show us the real Mexico. For what ever reason there were only 4 of us heading out on this beautiful Sunday morning. Aaron, Dan, Tom and myself were expecting Alma to show up to take us to a Combi which in turn would be our magic carpet ride. Instead she arrived with a big smile and a very little car. To her amusement we piled in for better or for worse and off we went.
Leaving the city we drove through San Diego which has a pyramid site but it is closed as well as Altepexi and Coxcatlan. What we easily noticed along the way was how many "romantic hotels", gentlemen's clubs and other assorted tidbits. "The hotels are not for tourists" giggled Alma, "they rent by the hour". "The hour !" a few of us said in un-reheared unison. What are these Mexicans, porn stars? A long laugh from everyone set the tone for the rest of the day.

Our first stop was the local market for some deep fried goodness.  BBQ chicken empenadas, spicy pork empenadas and a spicy bean ball that was incredible. The market was loud and active but everyone was very accommodating to the white guys gorging themselves. Elma then took us to another food section where we tried Mole, a spiced sauce over rice. It was good but I would not be in a rush to get it again.Lunch and the market tour over it was Paleta time. The 4 of us wandering behind mother hen just waiting for more food.

Suddenly there it was, a shop specializing in Paletas de Hielos and there were freezers full of them. Naturally we needed a photo with the two pretty young shop girls who, like many Mexicans I have met, shyly agree but once the ice is broken become great friends. Lots of talking, attempts at English and photos and selfies galore.

I had pumpkin, others tried pistachio, cheese and various flavours. Nobody ventured into the vegetable, meat or insect section of the freezer and the girls could not understand why we did not want the chapalines (grasshoppers) because they are delicious. Mexicans love their chapalines, fried or otherwise. My pumpkin was sweet to say the least but a good sugar buzz never hurts from time to time. Stop number 2 on the Ajalpan Express was another success.

Next stop, the factory of the weavers with factory being a very loosely used term. The artisans home was behind a rustic old door that you would walk right by without knowing it. It opened to a sprawling courtyard complete with raw material, finished products, a kiln and for whatever reason a large flock of turkeys. We were given a demonstration on how the raw material is split into two using a long knife then softened and flattened with a large stone. From here the "skin" is peeled off and the workable material is exposed. Then our guy did his thing and it was impressive to say the least. Hand, finders, feet, toes and sometimes teeth were all a part of the processes. Each basket takes about a work day (whatever that may be) to complete and with a staff of about 50 they produce quite a few per month.

We also discovered that most of these creations were bought and shipped in bulk, along with others in the area to Canada, the USA and Europe for retail sales. So the next time you purchase that hand weaved Mexican basket "on sale" for $20 I purchased one for $2 so you have to wonder what they are being paid for bulk purchases. The factory was profitable but not in a "first world" kind of way. This is a creative skill that should never be undermined and as usual I am happy to have gained a new appreciation of something I always took for granted.

We have a few more "cultural" events planned and I will not miss any of them. Next up is "Dia de Muertos" or the Day of the Dead considered one of the most important days in the Mexican Calendar year.

As of tomorrow I have 70 more days here in Tehucan with Heslington. I am finished on December 16th and I have a flight booked from Cancun for the 23rd. I booked a room for 2 nights in Tulum to see the ocean front ruins and from there it is a 2 hour bus to Cancun for some sun, sand, and a bit of reckless fun with a visit to Chitzen Itza squeezed in. It will be time to get my Maya back on.