Saturday, October 20, 2018

My Butcher Is A Vegetarian

One of the people I wanted to see when I returned to Tehuacan was Phil the Butcher. When I lived here in 2016 I would wander down to his shop on a Saturday afternoon. We would share a beer and sit for hours just hanging out with him and his buddies. The first time I saw him when I returned he looked different. He was fit, thin and looked incredibly healthy. I never inquired about it until today.

I went into his shop just to buy a few things for dinner and for what ever reason told him I have not been eating to much meat in the last couple of months. It has not been for any other reason except that I delve into beans and rice twice a day now. Not great for the people around me but good for my health. He gave me a huge Cheshire cat grin and excitedly told me that he has not eaten meat in over a year. Seriously, my butcher is a vegetarian!  He mentioned that he has stopped drinking and has been exercising because he had a health scare. Now I bring him coffee and we talk fruit, vegetables and healthy lifestyles. I am living in a Mexican twilight zone.

Anyways, time has slipped by and I have let my writing slip as well. I kept giving myself the excuse that there was nothing to write about. We know that there are stories around us every day. It is just our ability to uncover them that is the secret. I also gave myself the excuse that I was coming off a 6 month tour of SE Asia and then sipping pints in England and Wales. Again its the same lame reason I have not explored much since I have returned.

We are now half way through the semester and my hunt for a permanent place to live is on going. This semester has been challenging at times. I am teaching and I am also learning the processes and procedures of the Teaching Supervisory role. Sprinkle 3 hours of Spanish lessons every week on top of that little bundle of fun and you will understand my desire for a bit of weekend fun, which naturally starts on Thursdays.

As for an apartment it can be a battle. This is a working class Mexican town and what is acceptable to some is downright horrible to others, including me. Don't misunderstand me, there are great places to live here, it's finding them that is the mystery This is not China where good apartments are abundant. It will work out, it always does.

I have not traveled around anywhere since I arrived on August 14th. I have had no desire to get on a bus however there is a 4 day weekend coming up for Dia de las Muertos, the Day of the Dead. This is one of the most important holidays in Mexico. It is also something we could all learn from. Honoring your families heritage with celebration.  That being said I was offered the opportunity to climb Pico De Orizaba the same weekend and needless to say that caught my attention. Orizaba is the 3rd highest mountain in North America after Denali and McKinley, rising a majestic 5600 metres. If I do climb, it will be the highest elevation I have reached. It is ranked 2nd on the "easy to climb scale" for non technical climbing. There is a long list of climbable 6000 metre peaks. Time for a new challenge.

I need new clothes! That realization came to me recently when I put on one of my favorite travel shirts, a blue Columbia. It is in many of my photos over the past 8 years. This old friend has been with me the entire time. That being said I have had most of the same clothes for the past 2 years since I left for China. There has been the odd purchase here an there but I am ready for a clothing make over...well as much as simple living allows for a makeover. Hello Canada, Hello Value Village.

That being said, Yes, I am heading back to Canada, December 15th to the 31st. My old friend Ken Parker will pick me up at the Buffalo airport which will result with me being face first into a huge plate of hot chicken wings before you can say "where is the bathroom".

My return flight leaves on the 31st. Yes it's New Years Eve but the fares are cheap and I will be in Mexico City in the early afternoon. New Years Eve in Mexico City sounds like it might be a bit of a good tequila induced time. The Bills play the Dolphins on Sunday the 30th so my sister Kelly, nephew Nick and his baby mama Katie are heading to the game for a bit of shenanigans. They will drop me off at an airport hotel after the game eliminating any unnecessary border crossings. I will get some sleep and enjoy what I am sure is a huge buffet breakfast in the morning.Toss in  a free shuttle to the airport and I will be basking in the warm glow of Mexico in no time.

Not exactly sure how long I will stay in Tehuacan, but it will be at least another year. I have a job offer back in Bangladesh starting in September of 2019. Who knows, maybe another trip to Asia is in the cards before I take a more serious look at my long term options in Mexico. Oh and lets not forget that small 6 month trip to Africa that I am planning for 2020.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Zapotitlan Salinas

Tehuacan is not a major stop on any travelers' itinerary and the EXPAT community's name is Eric (the tall guy in the photos with the great hat). This is a working class Mexican city and only makes the news for all the wrong reasons. However, in April of 2018 the entire Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The recognition makes Zapotitlan Salinas a double UNESCO World Heritage site, a very unique qualification as it is now recognized for both its Natural and Cultural heritage. It was time for a revisit to what is one of my favorite places I have ever been to.

Today's intrepid group consisted of Neimh (Ireland), Lauren (England), Adam (USA), Tom (Wales) and of course Eric (USA and is now the Expat community in Tehuacan). You may remember both Tom and Eric. Both were teachers here 2 years ago. Tom decided to come back for a semester the same time I did. Eric now works at the local university. Familiar faces in all the right places.

The day started with a 7:30 am meet up at the Zocalo (city square) and as none of us went out after work the night before we were all fresh faced and eager to go. From there we walked to Eric's house, about 20 minutes towards the Purisma market area. A place that is notorious for pick pockets and petty crime, but whatever. Walk the streets like you own them! He had the oatmeal cooking and coffee brewing and I brought some bananas (yeah I know, a big surprise). We then settled into basic locker room talk torturing the girls but they were good sports and could give back just as fast. This was going to be a good group to spend the day with.

We found the bus, paid our 12 pesos (80 cents Canadian) and settled in for the 45 minute ride. Needless to say we were the only foreigners on the bus full of locals heading out into the countryside. They were either heading out to work or heading home after being in the town markets for a few days selling whatever they grew or made in their little communities. Their serious looks turned lighter and there were even smiles when we loudly boarded the bus but started rambling back in forth between Spanish and English to each other. It was obvious that we were teachers because those are the only westerners here with the exception of a handful of university students. Tehuacan had a huge university population since it does have 2 of the top universities in the State of Puebla.

I had been here a few times in the past and as a hiking freak I became the defacto guide. We paid our 45 pesos and were prepped by an actual park ranger about the Reserve including the do's and do nots. Remember this is more than a cactus reserve. It is thousands of square kilometers and is filled with Aztec and Poco Loca ruins, dinosaurs bones and foot prints. This entire area was an ocean a few million years ago it is loaded with aquatic fossils and sea shells. Yes, there are sea shells all over this desert.

There was the standard well marked trail that circled the entrance and touristy shops and we wandered that for about an hour. Adam and Lauren climbed a 2000 year old holy tree that could have gotten all of us arrested, but you have to have those selfies. The views were great from a few of the viewing points and towers and the morning was easy. The sun was shining and it was getting hot by 10 am. I mean Mexican desert hot. Most of us had already drank a couple litres of water. We needed more because I was about to take them out of the main part of the park. We went back to the centre where we bought water and cactus flavored popsicles. Trust me they taste better than they sound.

The back-country hike started down a gravel road that lead to a camping area. There are fantastic cabins that can be rented with hot showers and they are solar powered. We also picked up free wifi on our mobile phones. The serenity and eerie quality at night must be overwhelming. The amount of stars viewed would be extraordinary in such a remote location with no city lights for miles around. We were told by the park panger that the coyotes would howl all evening but would never come into camp. There are large cats, puma or lynx like from what I could understand. The setting would be the ultimate overnight in the desert. Naturally none of us thought to ask the price.

We spent about 5 hours hiking past the camp ground, heading towards a few lookout towers where we had snacks and just relaxed enjoying the situation. We then saddled up and hiked through hard desert dunes that held large deep crevasses and unsteady footing. I remembered the route and we wound our way down an eroded gully that lead into the valley. We walked along an old riverbed and were surrounded by high almond colored cliffs. There were restrictions, as in the area there is a working salt mine in the area. This being Mexico when you come to a No Trespassing sign, you obey it.

Along the river we did come across paw prints that were neither dog nor any hoofed animal. They were cat, a very large cat of some type. Time to turn around. We climbed back up through the dunes and through trails surrounded and overgrown with as many varieties of cacti as you could imagine. Yes we all yelped in pain at one time or another. Stopping at the watchtower there were eagles gliding in the updrafts, large iguanas dashing from boulder to boulder and other critters scurrying about. It was on the way out that we came across a huge spider that we were unsure we gave it a wide birth. There are snakes, spiders and scorpions here that can and will kill you.

A good lunch in town with a few large cold beers capped a great day. I have every intention of coming back. There are a few long hill hikes that lead to ancient ruins which both Eric and I will get to. We will need a guide but it will be worth it. Then there is the camping. Secure cabins in the middle of the World's largest biosphere surrounded by hundreds of varieties of cacti, yapping coyotes and billions of stars. Pot is now legal in Canada. I might just have to take one for the team here in Mexico.

Happy 420 Canada, Mexican style.