Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mexico-part 1 Mexico DF

It’s been almost 4 months since our arrival to Mexico and Central America, and to be honest it already feels like yesterday. Just the thought of going to Mexico and even more south gave me mixed feelings. I was trying to give myself courage but sometimes I was hearing news about the violence in Mexico and suddenly I would become depressed. The trip in USA was ending and although I would not like to live there I feel I understand more about this big country and maybe I have a bit of melancholy for some places that I enjoyed a lot.

But time has come for a new adventure and during our last weeks in Florida, we bought the plain ticket to Mexico DF where a new adventure will begin. Sometimes I think I do not like developing countries, or poor countries but then I always find them interesting and enjoyable with all the sorrow and sadness but in the same time some sort of peacefulness and acceptance of the people living in these countries. To be honest I did not know much about Mexican culture, both contemporary and the past. I never take the news as the main information source so I began to read more about this amazing place that is part still of North America and even if it is quite gringonised ( a word in spanglish that means Americanized) still preserve its own immense cultural heritage and identity. The main impact that we had once putting our feet on the Mexican soil was the faces of the people. There were no more mixed people….most of them are indigenous or Spanish looking (with a bit of indigenous)…very latino as they say.

I liked discovering this new universe of faces and on our way to our host, Jan, (all by public transport in DF) we could observe all these new people and their behaviour. Travelling by metro is your best option by far in DF and so we also took advantage of this well built and cheap mean of transport. One ticket costs as much as 0.25 cents of euro and you can make with that large distances in this capital of 9million people and located at an altitude of 2300m. No wonder that when we arrived directly from Florida….with just few meters of altitude, we felt tired for a few days just by doing nothing. It was because of the altitude change and strong air of the city. Our host Jan is a czeck guy married with a Hungarian girl and living in Austria for sometime and now working for UN Human Rights protection Agency in the city. He offered to host us for a few days in his beautiful apartment in a good area of DF ( Roma – Condesa) in the metro station Sevilla. We received a whole room just for ourselves and we were so surprised by the confidence that Jan showed us, giving us the keys of his home even before we could meet him. His hospitality was great and so we connected on many levels pretty easy and began to share meals, talks and walks together. We went out with his friends, had good conversations and many nights we played board games at home. In the same time he was hosting two Singaporean girls also on their journey through central and south America by bicycle. Although their journey sounded interesting it lacked the soul and we felt they were using the people of CS just to have a free place to stay with minimum interaction unless the people praised them constantly. alth
So there was a big lack of communication with Jan and he felt like he cannot enjoy their project because in a way he was feeling like he can’t connect with them. We thought the project of these girls sounded interesting but in the same time we could not interact more with them so we just left the things as they were until they found a new host and left. The thing that in a way bothered both us and Jan was that they would organise these events for their project but they would end up asking for money….its understandable in a way to try to get help but not sure if they should do that through couchsurfing.
Slowly slowly we began to discover the beauties of DF and there is a lot to see and do here. No wonder so many telenovelas began their story in this city. Since I was small my grandma would always watch the telenovelas on the TV especially the Mexican and Colombian ones so I have to thank Mexico and my Grandma for the help they provided in me learning Spanish.
The Zocalo is one of the most important attractions in the Capital, with a big pedestrian street going from the Palace of Bellas Artes to the main square. The whole area is good for an afternoon walk and also the park of the Bellas Artes offers a good range of street food. Inside the Palace of bellas artes one can enjoy the paintings of Diego Rivera, the most important painter of Mexico and then there is another museum for his wife Frida Khalo (also amazing painter). The Zocalo in DF is built on top af a Aztec pyramid. The Spanish when they colonised the place they kind of did that to the old mayan temples in order to show to the Aztec descendants their superiority and also their religious superiority, ending up by making of Mexico one of the most Christian countries. The good thing in Mexico is that they still preserve through their indigenous tribes and villages their Aztec and Maya beliefs and customs.
The city of Mexico is built on soft soil that used to be the base of lake Texcoco which they drained in order to build so many houses and old buildings and it will surprise you in Mexico DF because their structures are in a worse situation than the Tower of Pisa.
Being on a mountain plateau the climate is quite dry and the air can be so dry and dusty that it can hurt your nose. During our stay in Mexico Df we did a day trip to Teotihuacan, one of the biggest ruins in Mexico (protected by the UNESCO- A prehispanic archaeological site) and an impressive site to see. The ethnicity of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan is also a subject of debate. Possible candidates are the Nahua, Otomi or Totonac ethnic groups. Scholars have also suggested that Teotihuacan was a multiethnic state. The ruins are located 40km away from the city, about 1 our in the good buses of ADO ( the best bus company in Mexico and the safest). Once there we walked the whole midday and afternoon, also climbing the main Sun Pyramid…with a bit of difficulty because of the height and the steepness. The religion of Teotihuacan was similar to that of other Mesoamerican cultures. Many of the same gods were worshiped, including the Feathered Serpent (the Aztecs' Quetzalcoatl) and Rain God (the Aztecs' Tlaloc.The dominant civic architecture is the pyramid. Politics were based on the state religion; religious leaders were the political leaders.

Teotihuacanians practiced human sacrifice: human bodies and animal sacrifices have been found during excavations of the pyramids at Teotihuacan.

Scholars believe that the people offered human sacrifices as part of a dedication when buildings were expanded or constructed. The victims were probably enemy warriors captured in battle and brought to the city for ritual sacrifice to ensure the city could prosper. Some men were decapitated, some had their hearts removed, others were killed by being hit several times over the head, and some were buried alive. Animals that were considered sacred and represented mythical powers and military were also buried alive, imprisoned in cages: cougars, a wolf, eagles, a falcon, an owl, and even venomous snake.
During our stay in the capital we also visited el barrio San Angel ( a neighborhood where they organized a nice arts and handicrafts market, Coyoacan ( a neighborhood interesting for the night life), the big market of DF, La Merced, where we walked and had lunch with Yunuen, a Mexican girl that we contacted through CS. In the same market, while we were walking and shopping and taking some photos, an older lady approaches Jan and asks him if he is taking interviews. Jan replies half afraid half surprised that No, he is just taking photos….and then the lady says:”- If you see the president, tell him he is killing us with these prices”…and then, as sudden as she came, she left on her way, feeling probably happy that she met a close friend of the president and he will tell the president what the people need to make him hear. It was funny and sad at the same time to live such an experience.

Before leaving DF and moving south towards other interesting places, we could not leave without having a nice picnic with Jan in the Desierto de los Leones (close to the city in a nice wood at an even higher altitude but with more fresh air) and also we could not miss a good free dinner but for which we had to pay the price by learning how to play drums. It all happened with the help of a friend of Jan, Eider, a Basque girl that worked for the Mexican Government in collaboration with the Spanish Government and who told us that there is this big holyday at the Basque cultural center and if we dressed for the part and played the drums we could eat for free ( the dinner was about 25$ per person).

So we all enrolled for this adventure and we dressed up as Basque cooks and played the drums for an unforgettable dinner party- it was fun). After so many adventures and good times in Mexico DF, we felt sad when we had to say goodbye to Jan but a new city was waiting for us : Puebla and Cholula where our first local host Mario was waiting for us.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Travelling south!

Once we have entered Washington Dc, we went to the house of Masha, Mack and Gianna, 3 interesting young CSers with whom we enjoyed 3 nights. They lived in a nice house in Alexandria, a satellite town of DC. From here we could easily go by car or public transport to the capital of this big nation. Dc is a must see in USA because this is the political capital of this federal country. Here is the place where Obama lives, where the great museums of USA are (the Smithsonian) and where the American politics are being drawn. We have visited several important places, like the White House ( from outside), the Capitol Hill, the downtown of Dc where we went to a nice Chinese restaurant and enjoyed a great cheap meal. We were challenged by Mack to participate to the world’s worse movie ever made and called The Room. The idea was to go around midnight to the cinema where they sell the tickets for this bad movie and to buy and drink alcohol inside the theatre while throwing spoons at the screen when there was a dissonant scene or when the movie or the ideas did not made any sense. I must admit it is the worse movie ever made but the experience of seeing it and laughing at the scene for how bad they were, the people dressed as the characters and the spoons and the throwing of a ball …it all sounds weird and it actually is but I enjoyed this release of energy through laughter.

After 3 days we felt we need to go south so we drove for 2 days until we reached Beaufort, South Carolina. Here we have been welcomed by Erika, a very nice girl living in a sweet home.

We connected very easy with Erika and we talked about her experience in Japan, her world and job here in USA and her plans for the future. South Carolina is part of what is known in USA as the Deep South. Here is the place where the civil war was fought and where many people still identify themselves as southerners and the rest as the occupying nation. Anyway we felt very comfortable although the landscape was completely changed and the climate was still warm although we were in late November. Erika and her family offered us to spend the Thanksgiving Day in the family so we bought a bottle of Champagne to share with them and to celebrate this great American holyday, dated one month before Christmas. We were surprised that people did not enjoy here champagne or wine…just beer but we could share the bottle with Erika! Her family was very nice, offering us the specialty of the south: Deep friend Turkey. Normally the turkey is cooked in the over, but here in the south they use 15 litres of oil and a big frying pan and fry their turkeys. Nonetheless it tastes GREAT!!! Erika also had a day free and showed us around town, went with us to see some old African American farms, and took us to meet some of her interesting friends; oh and surely we went to shop at the thrift stores and to party to a local bar. I had a great time and so did Jan and the last day before going we went to visit Charleston, a very beautiful little town with historic importance and also we visited Savannah in Georgia, less beautiful but also important.

I must say that the travel through USA was approaching to an end and I was feeling less and less interested in new places and things. We drove the next 4 days till we arrived Miami, but before arriving there we have visited NASA. Although expensive, getting here and visiting the space shuttles and the museums and trying the simulators is very interesting. The entrance costs 50$ and is valid for 2 days.

We have arrived in Miami on the 1st of December and we were welcomed here by a great Brazilian girl, Jackie. She hosted us for 2 nights including the night of the 3rd of December when we celebrated my birthday in a Brazilian lounge with mojito’s.
During the day I did some shopping with Jan and rested on the beachfront of Miami. There is nothing much to do in Miami if you are a traveller. It’s very touristic, but more like vacation tourism. After staying with Jackie we had another host. Ted replied positively to our request and as soon as we arrived at his place we felt comfortable. He is a sceptic, a scientist and with Jan they engaged in many interesting conversations. I had 4 days of relaxation but also we played some poker and visited the Everglades. After Ted, we continued our travel to Fort Myers where Lori, a very nice lady was waiting for us. Her home looked amazing, nicely decorated and comfortable. She was not home when we arrived but the house was open so we made ourselves at home. Lori prepared for us a big room, with a nice elephant made of towels. I cooked dinner and when Lori arrived it was like we are welcoming her. It was funny for us this feeling. We all felt very comfortable and although she is new in CS, she is eager to learn and we are eager to share our experience. After a few days in Lori’s house, as it was mid December already and we kind of felt the pressure of the holydays, I took a deep look into the hosting situation on our route to Texas and saw that especially during Christmas and NY our possibilities of being hosted will drop considerably. Also there was the selling of the car issue that we still have not figured out, so, I told Jan that my idea is to spend the end of December here in Florida, possibly at Ted’s place ( he offered to host us more). Also I told him that I see better possibilities of selling the van in Florida then Texas or New Mexico. Immediately I searched for flights to Mexico from Florida, Texas and New Mexico and realised that the cheapest will be from Miami. The same day we bought the flight tickets for the next 13th of January. The flight was about 200$but it was worth, because we would skip the last month of driving, the problems with selling the car and crossing the border of Mexico on foot. I was really terrified by the option of crossing that border and travelling the north of Mexico, where all the drug problems occur. I just did not trust myself with another border hassle and with the difficulty that I have always to adapt to new countries.

As soon as that was set, I contacted Ted and we talked to him about the possibility of him hosting us for 20 days more in exchange of money. He totally agreed to the idea of hosting us but he refused any payment but we agreed on helping him around the house and cooking some food. Next day we told Lori that we will be on our way back to Fort Lauderdale, so in the morning I cleaned the car and the moment that we tried to start the engine, the car did not work. We tried to recharge the battery and to jump the car but still it did not work. We were getting worried because in 7 months we never had any problems with the van. We ended up calling AAA and they took the car to a workshop where they changed the battery for 100$. The car was working again so we decided to leave the next day in the morning towards Coral Springs where Brandee was waiting for us. Before that we stopped also in Naples where we have been hosted 2 nights by Elisabeth, a very new CS member who did not have any experience in hosting people and so it was one of the first hosts that did not let as in the house during the day and also we could not use her wi fi. She was nice but as she was a beginner she was eager to learn. During the day we were working in the public library (all the public libraries of US have great facilities and internet is free). We left Elizabeth’s house being sure that she will continue hosting people and sharing this beautiful experience.

Brandee, our next hostess in Florida, welcomed us in her lovely apartment in Coral Springs. She is a very active member of the community and she also knows a lot the area, also introduced us to the Meet-up website ( a website that helps people with similar interests to meet and enjoy each others company, doing different activities-we went to a art gallery walking night and to a game night). What was very interesting about Brandee was the fact that she has been a police officer for about 20 years. She works as traffic agent, so one day I could go in a police car. I have never been in a police car and definitely being in an American police car was so exciting for me. We shared several dinners together and talked about people and travels, also she explained us her plans for spending Christmas in Costa Rica, away from the thoughts of her ex-bf. I understood her, it is difficult when you brake up with someone, so sometimes is better to do something that puts you in different situations so you can stop thinking about this person. I hope it worked for her. Right before leaving Brandee’s home, our van stopped working again, and this time we realised it can be a more serious problem than we initially thought. We called again the AAA and then Ted and so we took the van to a workshop that Ted recommended us, and we left the van there, took all our stuff to Ted’s house and waited there. Again without a vehicle, we felt deprived of the possibility to more around. Us is definitely not a country for walking. Next day, the workshop called because they found the problem. It cost us 450$ but we decided to pay these amount and try to sell the car and recover the investment. We began to advertise the van on Craig’s list and on eBay. We also called several companies that buy second hand cars and we realise the van is at least worth 1000$ (minimum). Ted offered to buy the van in case we can’t sell it on time for 1000$. We waited because we had at least 25 days to sell it so we were looking onto the best offers. We spent Christmas with Ted, dining in a restaurant where he invited us and his family, and in the evening we went to a party in the house of someone from CS. There was a lot of food and deserts and drinks and about 30ppl.

Also for the New Year we had planned to go to Miami with a large group of CS people and dine in Hard Rock café on the Beach front and then watch the fireworks. It was nice spending the holidays in Florida; we could relax, thanks to our great host Ted and recharge our batteries. Probably from the 2 of us I needed it the most and I fully took advantage of it. The week before leaving, we found a couple through eBay that was interested in the van. They came to see the car, they liked it and so we negotiated the price. They ended up paying the price that we were ready to accept: 1600$. Also before leaving the states, the computer that Jan was using, started to brake down, finally he decided to buy a new one for 600$. It was an investment worth doing, because he works so much with the computer for his books, that if the computer would brake down in some remote place, he would have problems getting a new one and get depressed jeje. Time was flying so fast and the more we were getting closer to the date of departure the more depressed I was getting. To be honest I was getting a feeling similar to Pakistan but I was trying to convince myself that Mexico cannot be that bad, that there is much more tourism than the middle east.