Missing the US, Missing Mexico, Part 2

Things We Won’t Miss About Mexico  

Despite our obviously huge affection for Mexico, there are some things we won’t miss, including:

·       All the beggars and people missing limbs
·      Having to carry small change to use public toilets ·       No seats on the public toilets
·       No (sometimes) paper in public toilets
·       Having to carry toilet paper everywhere, just in case
·       Poor WiFi
·       Random power outages
·       Having people come up to us in public spaces or restaurants trying to sell us stuff
·       Being stalked by salesmen or women in stores or galleries
·       Occasionally paying the price for bad street food with four or five days of stomach discomfort
·       Creepy crawlies, especially:
o   The large frequency of spider sightings
o   Massive bugs, some on the ground, some on the ceiling, some flying
o   Cockroaches
o   Scorpions
·      Aggressive street dogs on our running route in Guanajuato
·       Dodging dog poop on the ground while walking in any town
·       The occasional stench of sewage while driving through Guanajuato
·       Car-eating topes (speed bumps), often unmarked
·        How hard it is to ride our bikes
Riding on the Via RecreActiva Sunday mornings in Guadalajara,
when closed roadways created our only opportunity
to get out on two wheels
I think that’s it! As we come up with more, we may update this blog. Thanks for reading!
Lisa, Beto and Gavin

Missing the US, Missing Mexico, Part 1

Now that we’re back in the United States for the summer, we’re experiencing a bit of a culture shock! We’re realizing there were a lot of things we missed about the US when we were living south of the border, and we’re delighted to get to experience them again.

But even more surprising – or perhaps not – is how many
things we miss about Mexico.
Enjoy our lists!
Things We Missed About
the United States
These are some of the things we missed about the U.S.
when we were living in Mexico:
·       English-language book stores (especially Barnes
& Noble)
·       Noodles & Company
·       Really good hamburgers
·       Brick oven pizza
·       Having white wine on restaurant menus
·       Lilacs
·       Yards and green grass
·       Being able to put toilet paper in the toilet
·       Being able to drink water from the faucet
·       Being able to brush our teeth with water from the faucet
·       Did we mention being able to drink water from the faucet?
·       Cheezit crackers
·       Toilet seats on public toilets
·       Toilet paper always available in public toilets
·       Being able to ride our road bikes
Things We Miss about Mexico
Here are a few things we miss about Mexico, now that
we’re back in the States:
·       Low prices for everything
·       Tlaquepaque, and the fact that there was always something free going on in Plaza Hidalgo
Ballot Foclorico in Plaza Hidalgo, Tlaquepaque
·       The incredible views of Guanajuato below and the eye-popping, jagged mountains beyond from every window at Casa Estrella
Guanajuato views
·       The fervent Roman Catholicism, including:
o   Gorgeous churches, basilicas and cathedrals, even in the humblest villages
o   Bloody Jesus statues and other curiosities inside churches
o   Parades to accompany statues of Nuestra Senora (our mother Mary) from church to church
o   Easter pageants, especially the bloody Jesuses carrying their crosses, accompanied by costumed throngs
The Virgin of Guadeloupe. She’s everywhere.
·       The food! Especially:
o   Nieve de garafa (fresh, hand-stirred ice cream made inside metal barrels, with
unconventional flavors such as tequila, elote and blackberry cheesecake)
o   Michoacan ice cream
o   Cuarto de Kilo (awesome Guadalajara hamburger chain with crispy, lemon-pepper-dusted French fries)
o   Pollo Pepe (great chicken place, also a chain)
o   Gus’s, our favorite the taco place in the basement of the mercado (market) in
o   Mercado fruits, veggies, breads, and fresh chicken and fish
o   Valentina’s, our favorite pizza place in Tlaquepaque, with its rooftop garden
o   Cat-shaped bolillos (small loaves of bread) from Pasteleria Don Pedro
o   Amazing donuts everywhere in Guadalajara (who knew Mexico was such a big donut destination?)
o   Mexican street food, especially elote (corn) and chayote (a unique Mexican squash) with queso y crema (cheese and a uniquely Mexican thick cream), then doused with salsa. The lonches (meat sandwiches), tacos and fresh-made potato chips were also excellent.
Elote in Tlaquepaque
o   Pasteles (cake) and pan de elote (corn bread) from La Petit Plaisir, the French bakery across the street from the Guadalajara Language Center
o   Chocomilk in any restaurant, which is a refreshingly frothy, blended confection
o   Cremax cookies 
o   Raspadas (shave ice with fresh fruit and syrup)
Raspada Frambuesa (raspberry)

·       The drinks! Especially:

o   Horchatas and horchata fresas (a rice and cinnamon drink, sometimes accompanied by strawberries)
o   Aguas frescas (fresh water with the essence of fruit, including mandarin oranges and jamaica, a therapeutic flower)
o   Tequila and mescal
o   Mexican craft beer
o   Limonada (lemonade)
Horchata fresa and tacos in the Tonala mercado
·       The sounds! Especially:
o   Mariachi music
o   Church bells
o   Crowing roosters (who expected to miss this sound?)
o   The song played by the Zeta Gas truck (“Zeta, Zeta, Zeta Gas!”)
o   “Agu-AA!” yelled by the Pura water garafon (jug) delivery man
o   The daily jangling bell of the trashmen
·       Atlas FC Futbol (soccer)
·       Lucha Libre (wrestiling)
·       Adorable roof dogs
·       Waiters never rushing us and always waiting for us to ask for the check
·       The weather (warm days and cool nights, with the occasional dramatic downpour but not a speck of snow)
·       Speaking Spanish all the time
Got this shot into the goal at an Atlas futbol game
Next up … Part 2: Things We Won’t Miss About Mexico

Casa Estrella: Our Hillside Home in Guanajuato

It’s a shame we ever stayed at Casa Estrella: We will never be happy anywhere else again.

Thanks, Donna

My friend Donna Bryson recommended we spend time in the World Heritage city of Guanajuato, where she and her family enjoyed a vacation a couple years ago. Since Donna was my favorite partner in exploration when were young, single and living in NYC, I trusted her advice and we decided to visit for five weeks or so on our way north from Tlaquepaque.
Lodging proved to be a little bit of a challenge, though.
Guanajuato is a colorful, astonishingly well-preserved city of 150,000 with narrow cobblestone alleys and winding underground tunnels carved out of rock, neither of which was very welcoming to our wide black Tacoma Toyota truck. Hotels and apartments in El Centro (the historic center) don’t have convenient parking, if any at all, and guests have to navigate narrow, steep  pedestrian walkways to get to their entrances – hardly practical when you have as many possessions as us, in addition to
three cats and two bikes.
So we widened the search beyond Guanajuato City, and ended up at Casa Estrella Vacation Rental Homes in Valenciana, a village about two kilometers up the mountain from Guanajuato. And although it would have been nice to be able to step out of our lodging right onto one of Guanajuato’s nine plazas and walk a block or two to a restaurant, Casa Estrella offered unique benefits that made it the perfect choice for us.

Car- Friendly

 Casa Estrella was one of the only places to stay in Guanajuato that offered secure parking for the truck, though because of the hillside location, getting the vehicle out the couple of times we used it was a spine-tingling tight, logistical challenge. So once we parked the Tacoma, we left it to collect dust, and used buses, cabs or Uber to get around. Buses only cost 7 pesos (37 cents) a ride, and Uber or a cab cost 60-70 pesos ($3.65-$4.20) per ride. 
Once we got down into Guanajuato, we used our feet for transportation.


The staff at Casa Estrella happily welcomed our three cats and considered them part of our family. And the cats loved our two-bedroom apartment, Casa Estrellita, from the moment we opened their traveling cages and released them from their travel confinement. Ellie swiftly took over a round blue chair in the living room, though all three cats alternated through at one time or another. Kaylee liked to hang out high up on the second-floor landing, regally surveying her domain. Noxy ambled from bed to bed, and eventually befriended a corner chair in the dining room. He managed to escape one day when the cleaning crew came, and relished the opportunity to amble around the little courtyard below our apartment before coming back to our door and waiting for someone to notice he had been gone.
Equinox and the Monk statue
Smoitie in the kitchen

One day, Casa Estrella’s resident cat Toby, who was the spitting image of our old cat Jiji  who died in 2012) except for a scarred right eye, came to the door and meowed loudly, as though asking our cats to come out and play. Lex and I did just that, hanging out on the stairs petting Toby for a long time. Toby belonged to Inge, a Dutch retiree who  dispensed wellness advice, astrology readings, and essential oils from her little apartment across from the fountain below us. The cats never met him.

People- Friendly

 We knew Casa Estrella was going to be people-friendly from the moment we parked our car. First, the manager, Javier Salazar, greeted us warmly. Then three male staffers swooped upon the truck and rapidly carried all of our heavy suitcases, duffle bags, musical instruments, and other assorted paraphernalia up the stairs to our apartment before we even had a moment to breathe. What service! By the time we could blink our eyes, our stuff was in our rooms and we were ready to settle in. 

Casa Estrellita

Our two-bedroom apartment, Casa Estrellita, was absolutely stunning. With a warm pallet of many-shaded oranges and royal blue, with bright pink accents, its warm glow enveloped us. The dining room had a bar with a wine rack in one corner, and a domed brick ceiling with a chandelier hanging over the handmade round wooden table. A newly-constructed breakfast patio overlooked the city of Guanajuato below and awe-inspiring mountains beyond (and Javier brought a lounge chair when he saw how much I enjoyed spending time there reading).  
My favorite breakfast spot

The kitchen was large and well stocked. The dinnerware consisted of individually crafted, hand-painted ceramic plates, bowls and mugs from the local Gorky Gonzalez Pottery Studio. The rest of the house was also filled with decorative pottery – on shelves, walls, the bar, along the steps and even on the fireplace mantle—from Gorky Gonzalez, Mayolica Pottery of Santa Rosa, and other local artists.

Both bedrooms, on the second floor, were generous, with sliding doors and balconies showcasing the incredible view of Guanajuato and the mountains. Beds had heavy, hand-carved headboards.  The master bedroom even had a fireplace and a changing room, and the master bath had a sunken jetted tub, which Aryk enjoyed, and a hand-painted sink, which Noxy occasionally napped in. 
Master bedroom with fireplace
The volume and quantity of the artwork throughout the apartment made my jaw drop daily. A brightly-painted, skeletal, smiling Catrina statue stood inside the front door, next to a small painting of a Lucha Libre warrior. A handcrafted wooden monk statue looked down from a lighted alcove at the bottom of the wide stairway. There were painted ceramic serving platters, a full-length copper lamp, a basket crucifix over the bed in the master bedroom, a Diego Rivera print in the main hallway, hand-woven rugs, and tapestries.



Diego Rivera print

The Grounds

 And beyond our apartment, there was so much more to explore and enjoy! Casa Estrella’s public space was beautiful and comfortable, with leather couches, a huge solid wood dining table with a tile-covered wall over the banquet, a large covered deck, even a big double-kitchen for use by guests staying in rooms without kitchen facilities. (Casa Estrella also provided a delicious, healthy daily breakfast for an additional fee, consisting of yogurt, granola, fresh fruit, tamales, and coffee.)
Yoga with Blanca
Beyond the main building, there was a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi. Down the steps, the Fiesta Fitness Room offered an elliptical, complete weight set, free weights, Bosu, exercise ball, barre and more, as well as a large patio for weekly outdoor yoga classes (by Blanca of Casa Quatro in Guanajuato) offering the mountain view as the perfect “dristy.” There was also a spa room for massages, a botanical garden, a tennis court, an RV park with a beautiful bathroom and shower, an organic garden, and other public spaces.


 I mention all these things because Casa Estrella’s focus is on wellness, and I left feeling so relaxed and serene. Javier, the manager and concierge, gave us exceptional service to made us feel truly pampered. If you ever decide to visit Guanajuato, you can learn more about Casa Estrella here. Tell Javier that Lisa sent you!
Saying goodbye to Javier., the manager and concierge at Casa Estrella.
Hasta luego!
By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

Torture and Death in Mexico

We visited three morbid museums that reflect a certain
obsession with death and torture in Guanajuato, Mexico.

El Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato 
(The Mummy Museum)

The one that attracts the most tourists is El Museo de lasMomias de Guanajuato, or the Mummy Museum of Guanajuato. This underground museum tucked into a corner
of the old city displays scores of naturally mummified bodies found to be in surprisingly good shape when they were disinterred to make room for new bodies in the cemetery above.
The mummies were discovered in the late 1800’s after the government instituted a perpetual burial tax on the cemetery. If the families of the buried did not pay, the bodies of their loved ones were exhumed. It was during this process of evicting the dead for back taxes that the mummies were discovered, beautifully preserved.
After exhumation, the mummies were stored in an ossuary beneath the cemetery, where they are displayed today. Each mummy has a tag with a little information about them and theories on how they died. Many of them are still wearing the clothes they were buried in.
The most interesting to me was the mummy pair of a mother and her unborn child, advertised by the museum as the smallest mummy in the world.
In addition to the mummies, the place is full of existential quotes such as the following:

“Man must open himself to death if he wants to open himself to life.
The cult to life is also cult to death.
A civilization that denies death ends up denying life. “

–Octavio Paz

La Casa de Los Lamentos
(The House of Wailing)

La Casa de Los Lamentos is a cheesy House of Horrors located in a historic 18th-century mansion where serial murders occurred in the 1890s and early 1900s. The story goes that the owner, Tadeo Fulgencio Mejia, was obsessed with trying to contact his dead wife, Constanza, and committed an unknown number of murders as human sacrifices to perform rituals in an attempt to reach her. Human bones were supposedly found in the mansion’s basement.



The museum uses red and flickering lighting, slammed doors and other sound effects, a Hitchcock-style video in a picture frame, and ghostly holograms to scare the BeJesus out of the unfortunate who walk in and pay the 45 pesos admission. We stumbled upon it while exploring the Valenciana neighborhood and it was a hoot!
But we were the ones wailing at the end, because we came out of the museum to a colossal downpour. We had walked half a mile down the hill from Casa Estrella and had to wait out the tormenta before we could walk back. But what a diverting hour or two!

El Museo Casa del Purgatorio
(The Purgatory House Museum)

We stumbled upon El Museo Casa del Purgatorio, tucked innocuously into an alley near the Templo de San Cayetano (Saint Cayetano Church), while walking around the little village of Valenciana, down the road from our lodging. Aryk and Lexie were with us for this exploration of a museum that turned out to be about methods of torture and killing during the 18th century Spanish Inquisition in Mexico, when people were persecuted and killed for being Catholic.
Methods of torture we experienced through our guide included a spinning wheel into excrement (sort of an extreme sort of water boarding), the stretching table, the guillotine, and of course the gallows. The museum even featured a small cemetery with a replica of the tomb of El Pipila, the hero of the Mexican Independence movement – despite the fact that this iconic miner hero wasn’t even caught and tortured, but apparently lived to the ripe old age of 83 before dying in his hometown of San Miguel de Allende.




This museum was so gruesome that Lex had to leave and waited outside. The rest of us enjoyed it in a perverse way.
By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

Mexico, My Tummy and Advice from Kelly Clarkson

I am sitting by the pool of Casa Estrella in Guanajuato,
looking out at the spectacular view that has become warmly familiar in the five
and a half weeks we have been here. I have barely eaten in three days.
Blame my tummy. And my determination to experience everything
Mexico has to offer.

Gastronomic Curiosity

Since we are trying to experience true Mexico and not
tourist Mexico, we are NOT eating at the Hard Rock Café or the typical tourist
traps. We are eating the Mexican way.
My first street food foray, in Leon:
An Agua Fresca Mandarina (Mandarin Orange Fresh Water)
straight out of a plastic bag. It was delicious,
gave me no side effects, and emboldened me to be adventurous!
We only drink bottled water, like all Mexicans. We buy local
produce, bread, chicken and fish at local mercados (markets) and tianguis
(pop-up markets), which means we have to ignore the presence of the flies and wash
everything carefully with disinfectant before we can eat them. We enjoy meals from
puestos, food carts, often with seats, eating tacos, tortas and lonches (different types of sandwiches, filled with meat and cometimes smothered with sauce) and gorditos (little filled pancakes).
We love buying raspadas, which are shave-ice and syrupy fresh fruit, often
accompanied by sugar-drunk bees.
A delicious cup full of salmonella
(Just kidding –  raspadas never made us sick.
Only supremely happy. Every damn day.)
We love to eat at out-of-the-way, hole-in-the-wall places,
where we have made some magnificent discoveries. I found the best green salsa I
experienced in Mexico, with mouthwatering chunks of avocado, at a walk-up food
stand in the Mercado at Plaza Embajadoras. Whenever I can, I indulge in Horchatas
and Horchata Fresas, a uniquely Mexican rice, cinnamon and vanilla drink that
is made even better by adding fresh strawberries.
My favorite street food in Tlaquepaque: Elote (corn)
with a (mystery) crema (cream of indeterminate origin)
and queso (shredded cheese)
We drink Mexican craft beers, local mescals, and a variety of
tequilas. We indulge in nieve de garafas, ice cream handmade in metal jugs
with ice and energetic stirring with a wooden mallet. Flavors include elote
(corn), pay de manzana (apple pie, with real pieces of pie), queso de zarzamora
(blackberry cheesecake), Ferrero Rocher, Nescafe, and often 10 or 20 more. Bob’s
favorite place in Tlaquepaque offered at least 60 flavors.

Hecho a Mano

Everything is handmade in Mexico. Who knows how often hands
are washed. You just have to not think about it.
The best salsa in the world …

… and the pork tacos I smothered with them
And the fact is, sometimes you don’t have a choice where you eat. You’re driving to the beach and there’s only one restaurant to choose from at the mid-point when everyone’s hungry. So you chow down and hope for the best. And sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind if you really want to experience a place.

Paying the Price

So occasionally we pay the price for our adventurousness with
a few days of service to the commode. I
don’t think you need me to explain the symptoms. It has happened to Beto and me
twice and Lex only once (she is not as adventurous, which may be a good thing). 
Each bout takes four or five days to recover, during which
we rest a lot (because we’re weak and moving is painful) and enjoy a riveting
diet of ginger ale, Saladitas (Saltine crackers), Gatorade and chicken and rice
soup. We call them inadvertent dieting opportunities, which have given us a chance to shed the pounds we gained scarfing down ice cream through every city we visited in Europe last fall. I assume each tummy bout makes our systems stronger and more acclimated to whatever may be in the food.
I look at it this way: When we first moved to Mexico, I had issues with my legs, calves, and Achilles tendons for the first two months as my body adjusted to the fact that I was walking many miles every day on hard sidewalks or cobblestone in flat shoes. My stomach has had to make the same adjustment to different foods, spices, and even microorganisms. 

To Quote Kelly Clarkson

As Kelly Clarkson would say, “What doesn’t kill you makes
you stronger!”