364 days on from my 2019 visit to Mexico
  • Day31

    Mexico City: a dog's life

    March 6 in Mexico ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    On a Metro excursion I notice that despite the sardine-like crowds, people offer seats to people in La Tercera Edad (3rd age) even when the latter's back is turned. Again, how often does this happen north of the border or east of the pond?

    I spend the final day locally, breakfasting with a student from Veracruz applying for a USA visa to study veterinary medicine. He has contacts in Los Angeles and I hope it works out. Roma is great for people- and dog-watching. You get a better class of dog around here and dog walking is a respected occupation. On a return visit to the nearby Dog House they greet me like a long-lost friend. With its English theme, it does a very decent hoppy IPA beer and chicken tikka masala. With seating for no more than 25 people and TV football (with the sound turned down), if I lived in Mexico City this could well become my local.

    It's sad to say farewell to Mexico but I hope this is only "hasta luego" or even "hasta pronto". Could I have planned the trip better? Maybe a longer stay up north to ensure a thorough exploration of the Copper Canyon area. With a bus service from Chihuahua, there are ways of seeing it without the railway. Next year the carnivals are due to start early so one could be squeezed in before the C.C.

    But all this is subject to the growing coronavirus threat. At the airport all the security staff are now wearing face masks. As I write this at the end of March, Mexico is only about 50th in the grim league of cases and deaths but as Angel said last month, it will require a Herculean effort to contain the scourge. I only hope it will pass without too much pain.
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  • Day29

    Mexico City: Sales & Marketing

    March 4 in Mexico ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    After another overnight bus, early morning finds me back at the Terminal Norte in Mexico City. The long-distance buses, while not always being punctual, are generally comfortable and efficiently run. They are classified (this one is first class) and by checking in at the Manzanillo ticket office, I get notification of the vehicle number. Always useful to ensure one gets on the right one. They tend to take breaks only to swap drivers which leaves no time to get food en route but most services provide sandwiches and water as sustenance. At Terminal Norte I deliberately avoid the fast food chains and find a downmarket but perfectly adequate place for the morning fix of huevos rancheros. when they ask for my name to call out when they're ready, I say Alan---quite a common name in Mexico and easier to pronounce than James!

    Back in Roma it's like coming home. Hard to believe I've been away less than a month. I get there via 2 changes of Metro, one of which involves a 5+ minute underground walk. But a bargain for 5 pesos (20p). The empty lot next door to Oaxaca 21 where there was such a commotion on my last stay has been tinned up. Otherwise no changes.

    A siesta to recover from the journey charges me up for the markets. The nearest one is Mercado Medellin, where stalls specialise in products from around the continent. By a coincidence I find Chile and Cuba next to each other both here and on street names in the city centre. The biggest one in the centre is Mercado Merced, at least 10 times the size of a football pitch and every conceivable item is sold, all assembled with microscopic precision. But how will they---both stallholders and customers---manage when the virus strikes?
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  • Day26

    A new month: Manzanillo

    March 1 in Mexico ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    Back along the coast, I'm in Manzanillo, the largest seaport on the Mexican Pacific. For me it lacks some of the attractions of Mazatlan or its Gulf rival Veracruz but there are diversions. My hotel, the Colonial, echoes the styles of earlier centuries despite dating from only 1942. The city is squeezed by the hills into whatever apace it can get, as happens in Rio de Janieiro. It's famous for fish, despite the meaty menu on the wall and the seagulls standing on the dock of the bay. At dusk the Mexican flag is ceremonially lowered and folded.Read more

  • Day23

    Barra: another carnival

    February 27 in Mexico ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    Continuing south-east along the Pacific, I arrive via another overnight in Barra de Navidad. In the 16th century it was the starting point of a Spanish expedition to the Philippines. In the 21st century it's a small beach town about the size of Mazunte, the Pacific resort where I stayed last year. It's popular with overseas visitors but the character is very different: while in Mazunte the beads 'n braids count was in the hundreds, Barra attracts North American retirees both short- and long-term. It's nice not to feel a fish out of water.

    Barra is quite musical as well: after an afternoon siesta, from nearby I hear a female singer belting out James Brown's "I feel good, I got you". And one evening the lilt of a blues harmonica drifts in from a restaurant and tempted by this siren blow, I enjoy classic sounds ranging from Jimmy Reid to Taj Mahal. But not everything is English: the bridge from blues to salsa is crossed by another singer playing "Oye como va", which first fell on northern ears thanks to Carlos Santana---who of course comes from Mexico.
    And there's more music with the carnival, sensibly planned a week after the major ones.

    Back at my friendly guest house, conversations turn from the B word (Brexit) to the possible worldwide legalisation of marijuana (another Mexican word, of course). But how distant these subjects these seem now, with the first reported coronavirus cases in Mexico on the last day of February.
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  • Day21

    !Carnaval!

    February 25 in Mexico ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    Mazatlan's Carnival is one of the largest in the country. There has been a parade on the Sunday before Lent and the finale on Shrove Tuesday stretches along the sea front for 5 miles. This year the theme is every one of the 20 Latin American countries, all the way to Argentina. Rather than take many photos of the floats, impressive as they are, I focus on individuals or groups taking a break before the procession proper starts. The girl in green represents Brazil and the red girl, Cuba (complete with baseballs). The brass bands back up the floats or perform for small parties.

    On Ash Wednesday all that remains is confetti on the paving stones. And had the start of Lent been later in the calendar, there would have been no Carnival at all.
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  • Day19

    Mazatlan: Jack Kerouac was here

    February 23 in Mexico ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    Writing this on 27th March, I note that virus cases in Mexico are rising sharply and wonder if the measures being taken will be sufficient to halt the scourge. Today there is a protest at the Arizona-Sonora state border trying to stop people getting INTO Mexico. Did anyone expect this consequence of the Beautiful Wall?

    Anyway, back across the divide, I have arrived in Mazatlan after an overnight bus. Before checking in at my apartment, I sample tacos with mushy beans at a simple but friendly al fresco stall. Mazatlan is a popular stop on the way from the USA to Mexico City; it has a lively expat community but long before this was established, Jack Kerouac stayed here in the 1950s. It's a lively fishing and shopping city as well; Liverpool is an important department store chain founded when the Mersey Sound was at its peak.

    Not to be overlooked is that mainstay of all Mexican cities, the municipal market. The musician, while his back-up music is all recorded from the box, is an impressive tenor.
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  • Day16

    Amerimexicana

    February 20 in Mexico ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    The short journey to Guaymas is a 20-minute bus ride to the Holiday Inn. A slight fish- out-of-water feeling as I normally prefer family-run guest houses but decent accommodation in Guaymas is scarce and the H.I turns out to be very nice. The staff sort out a Wifi problem; technical matters on the phone in Spanish are not my strong point but they are very helpful and patient.

    Guaymas, while not a Colonial city, was founded long enough ago (1880s) to suggest a historical heritage but almost everything has been swept away in the 21st century tide. There seem to be no restaurants serving traditional food so I make do with an international fast-food chain which actually serves quite a nice Mexican version of the usual burger and fries fare.

    But the reason for my being in Guaymas is the annual pre-Lent Carnival, one of the largest in these parts. It gives an opportunity not only for people to air their grievances but to let it all hang out. Literally in one case: the event typically kicks off with the symbolic hanging of a national hate figure. The costumes are inventive and exotic; the floats are impressive but I prefer the less formal portraits of revellers getting ready for the show or taking a break. The youngest generation get into the party spirit too.
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  • Day13

    Carless in San Carlos

    February 17 in Mexico ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    Heading further north in search of desert scenery, I return to Los Mochis, get a 6-hour bus to Guaymas and from there a taxi to San Carlos about 10 miles up the road. It's billed as a coastal resort but the beaches in the immediate area don't look up to much.
    The overcast weather hardly justifies a taxi ride to the more distant places and most people get around by car anyway.

    Still, there are things to appreciate, including several candidates for the "name 10 depressing things about this picture" award. However the lady in the 4th image is anything but: she sells Talavera pottery and asks me modestly why I would want to take her photo. I reply lamely that it's always good to have a human element in a picture but the camera doesn't work very well anyway.

    Finally the weather clears and I hike around looking at perhaps the main reasons for my coming here: cacti! The cardon that grows here is one of several species that thrive from Mexico to Argentina and what fascinates me is that such giant beasts can flourish in such an arid landscape. These ones are ubiquitous in this state of Sonora and in Baja California. Bring them on!
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  • Day10

    San Valentin in the north

    February 14 in Mexico ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    In the 10 or so days since my last posting and trying not to state the obvious, the global situation has changed out of recognition. Much of the world has shut down as coronavirus cases rise by the day and there is a huge anxiety everywhere about what will happen next. "The past is a another country; they do things differently there" is never more appropriate than now, 6 weeks on from when I was in northern Mexico. So these posts are very much on the "that was then, this is now" basis. The virus broke out in Mexico some weeks ago but as I write this, the country doesn't list on the Top 20 of the world's worst hit places. I wish the people well and am thankful to have completed this trip without incident.

    So, back to mid-February, I've reached the small town of El Fuerte via a 4 hour bus from Guanajuato, an overnight bus from Guadalajara and a minibus from Los Mochis. The latter is the rail head to the famed Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre) but is not recommended as somewhere to stay and indeed, El Fuerte, a small historic town of about 15,000 people, is much nicer. I am there more in hope than expectation of getting on the train. Its website says that tickets should be booked up to 4 months in advance but helpfully doesn't say how to do it. I meet a couple who have managed to find a travel site that does this but I meet one person who tried to get on at El Fuerte station but was turned away.

    There are consolations: kids have a road train to ferry them around town. I join an excursion to an indigenous village where they show us traditional dances and how to make tortillas. There's also a charity long-distance run the next morning and people pose for the prize giving.

    I miss a lot of the fine natural scenery but heading down to the river, I come across the uplifting sight of dozens of weekenders chewing the rag with a little help from music and beers. It seems they hire local bands to play personally for them; it's called "norteno" music and even a twosome can sing in excellent harmony. If our British climate was better, I could just imagine how fun this would be to pass a warm afternoon with friends.
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  • Day6

    The hanging gardens of Guanajuato

    February 10 in Mexico ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Monday sees me on the road again and 4 hours out of Queretaro and through a series of tunnels, I arrive in Guanajuato. This is many people's favourite in Mexico and my first good sighting is the small front patio to my guest house. The fountain is dry but the plants are not. The guest house lies off the super little Plaza Baratillo, one of several in the city carrying on their parallel lives. This one features another fountain, a flower stall, a stationery shop, a traditional fast food stand and a Chinese takeaway!

    Guanajuato is another former mining city but being on steep hills (hence the tunnels) its layout is more like the traditional Moorish type with no straight lines that is seen in Spanish cities. It offers all manner of interesting perspectives with steps and hills everywhere. The longest flight is a rumbling funicular which offers a fantastic view of the whole city.

    The final picture shows flags in the Callejon del Beso (Street of the Kiss), so narrow that it's said to be possible for people to lean across from opposite windows and get intimate.
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