I know myself. Even with the whole point of this trip to be finding myself and figuring out what I want in life, I know myself well enough that I knew I would need some ocean after 2 months in big inland cities in Mexico. I love the Caribbean, I love islands and being on them, I love being so close to such beautiful water. The humidity is something that I have learned is agreeable to me and the water is warm and some of the prettiest shades of blue I have ever seen. But there are a lot of islands in the Caribbean so why Puerto Rico? Because I wanted to contribute to the local economy here and support small businesses on the island. Yes it’s been two years since Hurricane Maria and Irma devastated the island but there is still a lot to be done. And my original plan was to do a work exchange. Save some money but also directly contribute in a sustainable way. Unfortunately nothing was solidified with the people I reached out to, so I booked a hostel 2 blocks from the beach. Unexpected/unbudgeted cost but oh man, it is a great location and it is actually pretty cheap.
In addition to the beach, I chose Puerto Rico because they speak Spanish and I figured another 3 weeks of Spanish immersion would be ideal. Well, that ended up being a bust. Their accent is really different…they don’t like to say their “s”-s and there’s so much English around that my brain is having such a hard time and I’m reverting to English for everything which makes me sad. Also, the slang and names for some general things are different. For example, orange (like orange juice) is not “naranja” like I’m used to. It’s “china” here in Puerto Rico. Bananas are not “platanos”, they are “guineos”. Basically this is just a great excuse to go back to Mexico to practice my Spanish again.
Being here has been incredible. The heat, the humidity, the beautiful blue water. I live for Caribbean days. My hair is happy, my skin is happy – except for the bug bites. My wallet on the other hand is not happy! The sticker shock! Not only is every price the actual price now (no more needing to convert from pesos to USD) but it’s also island prices. There isn’t a whole lot of agriculture here so pretty much all the food is shipped in which makes it expensive. On top of that, local dishes are super meat heavy. I’ve been very good about not eating seafood. I hade ceviche twice in GDL and none in CDMX so I was on a roll. But I ate some crab alcapurrio on my 3rd day here because there were no vegetarian options when we visited this really non-touristy area with delicious street food. The beaches weren’t the greatest for swimming but they were still great to be at. The beach by the hotel though is amazing and I have been going everyday!
Maybe it’s because I got burned out a little bit by the constant go-go-go everyday in Mexico, but I haven’t been doing shit here! I’ve been relaxing and going to the beach and cooking all my own food (mostly because restaurants here are so freaking expensive!). I have been going out to bars and dancing at nights when people in the hostel are going so I have been experiencing local nightlife which has been so much fun. Bomba, plena, $1.50 Medalla’s. Puerto Rican’s party everyday of the week and after going out every night my first week….I had to chill. I have been going to the beach everyday because it’s so close and convenient to go to, it’s free, and it’s also a place that I can spend time alone. Being in a hostel has had its pros and cons. One of the cons is privacy. I’m currently in a cafe in Old San Juan at the end of week two writing part of this piece because every time I have tried to write in the hostel patio (which is awesome) someone ends up striking up a conversation with me and I get no writing done. I’m not mad about it though because I have really enjoyed getting to know all the people coming through the hostel, whether it’s for a day or three. But I have also been really needing alone time.
I thought Puerto Rico was going to be chill and I wouldn’t have a worry in the world. But alas….I had to decide whether or not I wanted to go to NCSU for grad school. I knew deep in my gut that it wasn’t where I was supposed to be, but that didn’t make it any easier. I was giving up a PhD, with full funding and admittance into a highly regarded professional development program for minorities. But I knew my research wasn’t going to be what I wanted it to be if I went there. And honestly it made me really think hard about whether a PhD will be beneficial for me. I’ve been spending a lot of sunsets alone on the beach just listening to music and thinking. About this decision, about my future, about what I want my life to look like. Unfortunately it’s not in Raleigh, NC that’s for sure.
But I’m going back to St. Croix (Details in a later post) and I couldn’t be happier! I feel like I keep putting off being an adult. But I like the fluidity of my situation. I like that I have options. Anytime I look at normal jobs I have this sense of feeling trapped when I try to imagine myself filling the position. Will I always feel like this or is it just something I need to get out of my system. Or maybe I just haven’t been looking at the right jobs and I don’t have a reason to be grounded and tied to anywhere at this moment in my life.
Being here in Puerto Rico has eased that feeling of unease though. There are three women who are doing work exchange with the hostel and if I would have stayed longer I would have signed up for that. These three women have very different stories and backgrounds, but two of them are very similar to me in many ways. Two of them specifically are in Puerto Rico for self discovery. Judith is from Hungary and has done this several times. She works for a few years, saves up money, and then travels until her money runs out. Kat is from North Carolina and quit a job she hated. She’s in Puerto Rico for a couple months to re-evaluate life and what she wants out of it. It seems that everywhere I’ve gone on this trip, there are people who dropped everything because they were unhappy and are looking for new perspectives, new inspiration. Clarity. Kinda makes me wonder about the people who seem to have all the stability and direction in the world. Are they just really good at faking it? Or am I just a wanderer who has also found wandering souls? Either way, I now have a handful of amazing friends because of this wandering adventure.
I started up Spanish classes again! I enrolled at Frida Spanish School in Colonia Roma and my first impression was mixed. The classrooms were very separated and my class in particular was large. Going from 4 students in my class at my last school to 12 here was a big difference. The teacher was actually really great though and a couple people switch to different levels after the first day so it was a bit smaller throughout the week. And I met some amazing people who I ended up spending every afternoon with after class. We developed a routine of getting juice at this little cart and then tacos at another cart across the street during our lunch break. Then after classes we would always go get some coffee at the different cafes all around and just spend an hour…or more like two or three….talking and people watching. I was nervous my first day at the school that I wouldn’t find a friend because everyone was considerably older than me, but Vanessa-an anesthesiologist from Perth, Ulf-a designer from Germany, and Jon-a virtual nomad from the US, ended up being great buddies who I was so happy to keep hanging out with and getting to know.
Some afternoon adventures the second week I was in CDMX included churros and hot chocolate after being the ultimate tourists and finding the house that they filmed Roma at. Note to travelers, Chocolate Espana at El Morro cafe is THICKKKKKK. Chocolate Mexicano is the way to go. Another day involved happening upon a brewery with a hanging piano in the middle of the building. It was kind of hilarious because we ordered flights which included 4 choices….. they only had 3 options for us to choose from. Two of the beers weren’t actually hooked up! Maybe it was because we were there at 4 in the afternoon? Haha Anyways, Vanessa, Ulf, and I ended up sitting there for 2 hours (and this was after we had gotten drinks at a cafe together) and it was great bonding time. Vanessa is a anesthesiologist from Perth who goes on at least one epic trip per year and Ulf is a freelance designer from Berlin who’s wife is from CDMX so they are in Mexico for the month before heading back to Europe. During our talks, the “why” and “where” I’m traveling came up and I now have a place to crash in Berlin when I get there! Both of them are in their thirties and it was so great getting advice from them and hearing how, in certain aspects, we had similar experiences in life. It was also very refreshing to meet a fellow solo female traveler who was not also a retiree. Vanessa had an epic three month travel that started off with an expedition to Antarctica and after leaving Ciudad de Mexico, she was traveling all over Mexico. I was inspired.
On Friday, Ulf, Vanessa and I went to a cafe and then ended up going straight to downtown and caught part of the march happening for International Day of the Woman. It was awesome to be there for the march. So many women were there and of course the signs and chants were fire! I think any march like that is powerful and this was no exception. We went to the bar in the Latinoamericana building that overlooked the city and it was quite the view. Just be forewarned that it is a tourist spot and they will charge you double or triple what you actually owe, so pay extra attention when you get your bill and they run your card. A $310 peso bill ended up being $760 because they were being sketchy and we were in a hurry that I didn’t catch the switch until it posted on my credit card account.
We ended up meeting a solo traveler at the bar. His name was Christian and he was originally from Australia but living in Greece and we made plans to go out the following night because we both wanted to visit Patrick Miller, a night club with a cheap cover, cheap beer, and fun 90’s music. Well we discovered at about 5pm that Patrick Miller is only open in Friday’s….and it was Saturday. So we adjusted to meeting up at a Pulqueria Bar nearby.
Before going out on Saturday night though, my Saturday morning was super exciting! I woke up at 5am to get on a bus at 6:15am to go to Teotehuacan – an archeological ruins site about an hour outside CDMX. I went with Vanessa from my language classes and I am so happy we were insistent on finding a tour that left early in the morning. It was so hot by like 8am but we were able to beat the crowd, the extreme heat, and our tour guide was great! The stairs up to the top of the sun pyramid were intense! My legs were on fire and holy shit did I feel out of shape. But we made it, and it only took about 15 minutes (but it was steep y’all) and it was amazing being at the top and looking over the valley below with all the other ceremonial buildings and the moon pyramid in the distance. I found this out later, but apparently there is a stone at the very top center (there was this mound at the top that you had to climb up – no stairs or rope and there were a ton of people all over it so I didn’t go up) and you’re supposed to touch it to absorb the energy given off by the pyramid. It’s just one of those things that would have been cool to do especially since I was basically right there but I guess it’s a local thing because the guides didn’t mention it to us. It was a local who told me after the fact. Teotehuacan is just one of so many incredible ruins throughout Mexico and I am determined to visit as many as possible.
Jumping back into modern day activities, going out that night was a night to remember. I went to dinner at a place called Volver. They had vegetarian burgers that I wanted to try and so I went there to eat before meeting up with Christian at the pulqueria . Well to my surprise, I started chatting up a guy named Josue sitting near me and we hit it off. I invited him to the pulqueria and he, Christian, and I had a super fun night of beer, conversation, and then dancing until who knows what hour. It was so much fun! We started off at Pulqueria Los Insurgentes, then moved on to Phoenix and Pata Negra for dancing. And while it wasn’t my first time going out dancing in CDMX, it was a night where I didn’t have to be on guard and deflect unwanted advances! Hahaha I felt so carefree and the music was all the spanish songs I love along with the English pop songs that I was into. It just felt like a perfect night.
The next day I took a rest day I went to Xochimilco with Vanessa and the friend that she was staying with. Xochimilco is a network of canals in the south of CDMX. You rent a boat and the driver takes you to your selected destination by pushing the boat along with a long stick. Smaller vendor boats constantly pass you by so if the snacks that you brought aren’t enough, then you can buy elotes, esquite, micheladas. You can even buy a mariachi performance. It was a very nice boat ride and a very welcomed day relaxing after the pyramids and dancing the day before. We took the tour to Isla de las Muñecas, a place that a man had strung up dolls to calm the spirit of a tourist that had drowned in that spot of the canals. It was super interesting and super creepy. Immediately after getting off the boat, I just felt weird. It was a place that had a lot of history and was surrounded by stories of spirits and I’m not gonna lie, I could feel something.
Later on in the day I went back to El Moro Cafe with a friend to get churros. My whole mentality in Ciudad de Mexico was “I’m in Mexico, let’s do it!” And there was no exception when it came to food.
The next week was more class and coffee shop adventures but I also had afternoon/evening adventures with Josue. One day, we visited Chapultepec which is a massive urban park in CDMX and there is a castle there…like a legit castle. It was beautiful! And there’s a lake there. I had a field day with my camera. Another day we went to El Centro Historico and walked around and spent time at Parque Alameda Central, saw Bella’s Artes and the post office.
On my last day of Spanish class, my class took a trip to the university and visited the art museum there. Afterwards we went to Casa de Toño, a local chain that is known for good food that’s cheap and fast. I wish I had known about it sooner. It was so good and so simple and I went again before I left because I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
My last weekend in Ciudad de Mexico wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped because my right knee was killing me. Like pain when I walked and kinda swollen….basically I was walking too much, had worn out the cushion on my sneakers and the streets/sidewalks in CDMX are hard. I had tendinitis that I didn’t help by cracking my knee. But as a last hurrah, I visited Museo Nacional de Anthropología and Museo Soumaya my last two days. Museo Nacional de Anthropología is huge and I was only able to get through a little less than half of it before I was too hungry that we had to leave. But it is 100% something I want to finish one day.
When it came time for me to leave…..I did not want to. I was having such a great time and there were so many things that I had just discovered or wanted to do again. I was saying goodbye to a lot of people who I really bonded with. I was saying goodbye to food places that I had dubbed favorites. I was saying goodbye to the hectic and crazy city that was so much fun to be in every single day. I fell in love and I was not ready to say goodbye.
I had a flight so obviously I did leave but this was just my first trip of what I feel will be many in CDMX…..I said that about Guadalajara too didn’t I? Well I guess I’m moving to Mexico!
As I am coming up on one week in Ciudad de Mexico, this post is going to be pretty long. I came into this city with a “why not” mentality and it has been a great decision.
My first week did not disappoint and Sunday (Yesterday) I made the executive decision to not do ANYTHING today because I needed to recuperate. What did I do? Buckle up y’all
So I flew into CDMX on Tuesday afternoon and hung out there for a few hours waiting for my Airbnb host. She was flying in from Bolivia and so we rode back to the house together from the airport. After unpacking and getting myself situated, I decided to go out and get some food because I was starving. Of course I got some chilaquiles! Something I’ve been doing a lot is going onto google maps and looking at what kind of food/dessert/drink places are nearby. I do it if I’m bored or can’t sleep and the save function on the app has been awesome. Because of this, I had a place nearby I wanted to hit up. It was called Tamalito Corazón and did not disappoint. The chilaquiles were different than I was used to….they just poured salsa on top of a pile of dry tortilla chips which I think is kinda weird. But they were still sooooo good. The salsa verde was actually very tasty – I’m more of a salsa rojo kinda gal – and they were very generous with the crema, queso and cebolla. The egg on top rounded it off well and they included a bread roll to soak up all the extra salsa at the end. It was filling, cheap, and delicious. I went back again later in the week to get the chilaquiles with salsa roja and I will most definitely return several more times before I leave.
Anywhoooo, I decided to eat my chilaquiles this first day on a park bench that was nearby. As I was eating, someone came up to me with a dog and papers….they looked like they were trying to have me sign up for something. When I told them I didn’t understand…they switched to English and started asking me about where I was from. Then BAM. “Are you Japanese?” Are you kidding me! I was doing so well in Guadalajara. People were surprised when they found out I was a tourist! I was blending in until I started to try and speak. Well, that has not been the case here in CDMX. I stand out. It’s either my clothes, my height, just the way my face looks. I don’t know, but people stare EVERYWHERE! The handful of locals that I’ve met here, when I mention this to them I generally get the response of “ya you do look like someone from Guadalajara”. I don’t know what a person from Guadalajara looks alike, but hey I guess I fit that mold better than I do the mold of someone from Ciudad de Mexico. But ya, I keep getting long stares, and they are so obvious it’s kind of annoying but there’s nothing I can do about it.
Wednesday, being my first actual day in the city, was when I went to the Frida Language Center to set up my two weeks of classes. I took the placement test and placed into intermediate as expected. After that I was starving and so went to this restaurant called La Bohême in the Roma neighborhood. I was just walking around trying to find something open and they ended up being the place that looked vegetarian friendly. Trying to switch things up I opted for huevos rancheros instead of the chilaquiles – shocking, I know! Since Roma is quite the hipster neighborhood, it came on some type of dense sheet of bread instead of tortilla like it normally does. I was good. Not something I’ll get again, but I didn’t hate it. The agua de pepino was super good though. 10/10 for that. After getting some groceries I went home to rest and had my first moment where I needed to hype myself up and say “just do it!”
While I was resting, I went on the CouchSurfing app and looked to see if any events were happening. There was a meet up at a Pulquería only a couple blocks away. I had never had pulque before and there was going to be a live band playing salsa music. It sounded like a lot of fun! And I almost didn’t go. Walking into a random bar in a city you don’t know to meet up with a bunch of people who you also don’t know is pretty intimidating. This is where they hyping myself up came in. About 45 minutes before it started, the internal battle I had with myself to decide whether I should get dressed and go or lay in for the night was intense. But I ultimately told myself that there was literally nothing to loose and I would be trying pulque for the first time, just go! So I did and I had a great time. I danced with so many people…..and some people danced me because I do not know how to dance salsa and Mexican men sure as hell do! I had a piña flavored glass of pulque, pretty good but oh my god it was a heavy and sweet drink. That one glass and I was done! There’s some alcohol it but I couldn’t taste it and it was the feeling of fullness in my stomach that stopped me from drinking anything other than water for the rest of the night.
On top of being just a super fun night of dancing I met a couple people who ended up inviting me out to super fun things later on in the week.
On Thursday, I went to Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul. It was incredible. I waited about an hour and a half in line, in the sun to get my ticket but it was completely worth it. I purchased the videoguide to go through the house with and I’m glad I did. I’m not super informed about Frida Kahlo’s life or her marriage with Diego Rivera (please tell me you think he is unattractive as well? Like I don’t understand how he had so many affairs….well he was rich and super famous so I guess that was it….) so having the background information on what I was seeing with a narrative of her life was worth the extra $80 pesos. It was much more meaningful because of it. One thing that hit me really hard was her desire and lack of ability to have a child. It’s something that seems to be ingrained in Mexican women from a very young age. Even though I wasn’t raised with a whole lot of Mexican culture, the idea that you will get married and have kids was always present. There were always babies around, either from my own family or from family friends. As soon as my sister got married, everyone started asking about kids. When my sister got married, people started asking when my ex and I (who were still together at the time) were going to get married. Everyone in my family wants weddings and babies. I grew up with that and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s not like I’m rushing into any of it, but damn. Being in Mexico has been making my ovaries EXPLODE. There are so many cute babies everywhere….like literally so many chubby squishes with their dark hair. It’s funny how hard my hormones are fighting my rational thought process. I don’t actually want a baby right now…or do I?…. no I don’t. Like that thought actually terrifies me. But there was also something about being in Frida’s house and seeing her paintings of her miscarriages and the fetuses that hit me really hard. Whether it is irrational or not, I am scared that I will have trouble getting pregnant in the future. I love having an IUD and the peace of mind that comes with it. But I also wonder what will be the effects of a decade with something in my uterus. I trust medicine when they say I will immediately return to full fertility upon removal…but I think that nervous ‘what if’ will always be there until I actually get pregnant. In the far future. Far. Far. Future.
After leaving Fridas house, I went to the mall near the metro station. Not only did I figure out the metro all by myself, I bought my ticket and got to the right place in the right direction. This day I also got a lady at Sephora to help me shade match a foundation. I hate doing that in the US in English. And I managed it in Spanish…I was so proud of myself. Also Fenty is MAGIC!
On Friday I walked aaaaaaaalllllllll over Centro Historico de CDMX. The cathedral was like nothing I had ever seen before. The amount of gold that was inside was mind boggling. I walked to a bunch of different museums, didn’t actually go in but I got my bearings for what was around downtown. Then that night I went out to Zona Rosa with one of the people I met at the CouchSurfing event. It was a super fun night of dancing and drinking beers but it ended up feeling like a date because the friends that were coming with him showed up super late and then left early when another person didn’t show up. The dude was super nice and all, but I was not into it and it was also just a nice reminder that I do not want anything serious with a random stranger in a different country. When it comes down to it, my heart is somewhere else, with someone else (not my ex, don’t worry guys haha) and this dude was super into me. I’m not about to lead him on when I literally want nothing romantic. I felt a little bad for not responding fast to his texts the next day and not continuing the conversation but I would rather have that than accidentally lead him on even more. Don’t get me wrong, the attention is nice. And something I’ve been working on during this trip is being aware of how I make others react. Like I’ve always had self confidence issues and for a long time, I’ve had the mentality of “there’s no way they actually like me back” but I’m cutting that shit out. I’m cute and I’m nice and I’m trying to acknowledge that more. I know I missed an opportunity with someone because when the timing presented itself, I told myself there was so way he was actually into me too…..well I’m still into him and I’m pretty sure he’s into me to. But timing is a thing and when you’re traveling the world solo, discovering yourself, that doesn’t seem the be the best time to confess your feeling.
On Saturday I went out with another Courchsurfer friend who took me and another traveler around Coyoacan and el Centro Historico. We went to Diego Rivera’s studio. I ate quesadillas (they are fried and stuffed with filling, waaaaayyyyyy different than the quesadillas I”m used to in the US) for the first time and holy shit…..incredible! Later on we went down to Centro Historico and found this really cool little sound museum. We ate esquite and Venezuelan -Aleta’s with alcohol. I tried mezcal for the first time and had some great chocolate. It was a very long but very fun day. And this is also when I meet Sara. She’s a Peruvian travel who’s travels started 3.5 years ago just like mine are starting now. She’s a teacher so she is able to travel for 3 months every year…how fucking awesome is that! We really bonded on the metro women’s cart when we realized that our stories and catalyst for starting to travel were almost the same. She had some great advice for me about being free, enjoying the people I meet along the way, and to look forward to all the eye candy in Europe. She basically said “take your time, wait until your ready. But be a hoe with all the beautiful men you meet. It will change everything for you! You are going to be so exotic in Europe and trust me, you will find so many men that are so attractive.” Now I don’t know if I’m going to take her advice but girl I bow down to you! I applaud you for owning yourself and doing whatever you want, going wherever you want!
A huge part of traveling to Mexico for me is to get better at speaking Spanish. I knew that 3 weeks in Guadalajara was not going to be enough to get a good hold on Spanish so I chose to go to Ciudad de México for more Spanish immersion.
Why did I pick Ciudad de México,specifically? Well it is a huge city – the 8th richest in the world with almost 9 million people living within city limits – with unbelievable architecture and historical sites. Let’s not forget to mention that vegetarian/vegan Mexican food is popping right now! There are so many restaurants dedicated to fusing traditional Mexican dishes with a vegetarian/vegan twist. And this city was cheap! Flying within Mexico is so affordable and my 3.5 week AirBnB only cost me $250 for a private room smack dab in the middle of the hipster neighborhood of Roma. I looked into language schools after I had already booked everything, but the school I liked the most ended up being in the same neighborhood. Only a 20 minute walk away. It’s perfect.
Ciudad de México is also about getting completely out of my comfort zone. It’s a challenge for myself. Not only the language but just consciously choosing to take more opportunities, no matter how big or small. I know no one in this city, the language is not my own, and it’s a huge place. But that also means that there will be tons of opportunities. Opportunities to meet new people, to try new foods, to have fun. I’m a little late writing this post (I had planned to write these the day I get to each place, in transit, but I hit the ground RUNNING and it is currently my 5th day here). In all of my conversations with people near my age, I have heard nothing but good things about this city. There’s so much to do and see, and the people know how to have fun. My female friends tell me about the dancing and the food. My male friends have told me about the parties and the alcohol. Basically everyone is friendly and knows how to have a good time, something that I think characterizes most travelers experiences with Mexicans in general.
Whenever I told anyone who was a bit older that I was going to Ciudad de México……the reaction was much different. My family in Guadalajara was so scared for me to come. “Don’t wear your necklace out.” / “Don’t take the train.” / “Don’t be out after the sun goes down.” I could keep going on with their warnings. My dad was the hardest to talk to about going to Mexico is got closer to me leaving for me trip at the end of the year. He was constantly bringing up bad things he’s seen in documentaries or read about in articles. Not like these things are untrue, but only the most fantastical stuff is what makes it to us in the US….that’s kind of how it is with every country. You have to take it with a grain of salt. But his concern is completely valid. I am his youngest daughter. I’m traveling by myself. I don’t know the language very well. But one thing I don’t thing very many men realize, including my dad, is that navigating the world as a woman is very different than moving through it as a man. His biggest concern was that I would be by myself and that something would happen to me while I’m walking down the street for example. And I understand that. But I have never not been aware of myself, my surroundings, and anyone around me for as long as I can remember. I don’t have the luxury of absentmindedly walking down the street. Anywhere. That’s just a fact of life (it shouldn’t be, but I won’t go into that now). Anything that could happen to me here in CDMX is the same thing that could happen to me in Los Angeles. I’m careful, I’m aware, and I’m not scared of something bad happening to me here. I’ve had 25 years of practice keeping myself out of bad situations and I have my size and stature on my side. I’ve been called flaca in México several times already (means skinny and I guess compared to the average lady here, I am) but I’m strong and I’m tall. I also know how to put on one hell of a bitch face when I need to – stops strangers from wanting to approach me – and I know how to just smile and say “no gracias” or whatever is needed and then exit a situation.
Safety concerns aside, I am so excited about this city. I wasn’t able to really experience the nightlife in Guadalajara because of the living arrangements. I needed my family to let me into their respective houses and they were older so I didn’t want to be out partying when someone was waiting up for me. Here, I’ve got my own set of keys and don’t need to go outside to turn on the hot water to take a shower (yea that was a thing, and it was loud. I felt so bad for waking up my moms padrino one night early on). There are also way more young people in the language school that I am attending here in CDMX and in the neighborhood I’m living in. Ciudad de Mexico is just more of a traveler destination so I’m really looking forward to being a part of that scene.
CDMX is about pushing my limits and I’m determinged to say yes to as much as possible.
I’m leaving a piece of my heart here in Guadalajara.
I’m so excited to fly out to Mexico City tomorrow but I am sad to say goodbye to this beautiful city. Going to Spanish class, meeting Jack and Nicolas, Steve, Stuart, Maura, Jade, Roy, Christine they all had incredible stories for why they were here and it was so great being in a place, in a community, where I felt at home. Getting to know my Mexican family was also really great. I finally have faces and personalities to put with the names. Lucero drove me by the old house my nana used to live in. It’s not a residential neighborhood now, all the buildings were converted into industrial storefronts, but it was still great to see where she lived when she was a child. I wish she could have been here with me, showing me her house and the old church she used to go to. But even though she’s not here, it was still soooo special.
Discovering Tlaquepaque was probably the highlight of my time here. It was quiet enough that it wasn’t overwhelming, but there was so much to chose from in terms of food and cafes and just places to see. I don’t think I will ever not stop by Almuerzo Feliz in Mercado Juarez whenever I visit in the future. If I’m being truly honest, I think bachata was the actual highlight of my time in Guadalajara. Not only was it fun bonding time with my Spanish class friends, it was also cool to “meet” locals. I say “meet” because there wasn’t a whole lot of talking involved, but there were so many faces that I saw everytime I went. Plus I got to dance, which makes me happier than I gave it credit for. And I learned that literally just a smile goes a long way when you’re in the hands of a stranger….literally. I also may have fallen in love with one stranger in particular. He only went on Sundays but both times we danced together after the instruction ended. The chemistry was palpable. Looks were served, eyes were made…..I almost ran after him yesterday to give him my number but I didn’t because by the time I decided to do so, we had already turned a corner. He was so cute. Jack, from language school, is going to be the ultimate wingman for me and give him my number next week. Stay tuned for the wedding folks! Hahaha I don’t even know his name so we’ll see what fate has in store. I can’t forget to mention that he goes to the dance classes with his mom. Fucking adorable.
I think that is one part of travel that I am loving so far: falling in love with strangers, both romantically or platonically, for a day. These people who you never would have met otherwise, from places far and wide. Some you may only meet once, others you may know for a few days or weeks, and the lucky few who end up being in your life to some capacity for a very long time. One thing I realized really quickly is that you have to bear your soul to these strangers, because it’s a similar type of person who just up and leaves. Or a similar life event that instigates the leaving. What I discovered is it’s either a breakup (holla at ya girl), the realization that the corporate job is not worth it, or – which I think is at the root of everyone’s decision to travel – they just need a break from the mundane, something different and exciting. The opportunity to meet new people and see new things. And you really connect on another level when you share your story, not holding anything back. We all have thins in common and bearing your soul brings you closer….it think is also very healing. I used to cry or tear up when I talked about my ex or how things ended. But I haven’t done that in awhile. I can honestly say that I’ve closed that chapter of my life and talking about it now has really helped me reflect on where I went wrong so I don’t make the same mistakes in a future relationship (bachata dance partner?) …….big thing I’ve realized is that I just need to trust my gut. It told me a lot of things that I reasoned away, but it was right everytime.
Being here in Guadalajara also changed some things for me regarding the rest of my trip. I am going to spend the money and stay in hostels or Airbnb’s in Puerto Rico and Europe. I am so thankful and happy that I got to stay with family, but it also made me realize that I do not want to constantly have to worry about someone else’s schedule on the rest of my trip. I didn’t stay out past 10:30 because I knew someone was waiting for me to get home safe – when I was with my mom’s godparents I tried to be home by 8:30 because they went to bed early and I needed to be let into the house. The contrast of being in Hawaii where I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted was very apparent very quickly here in Guadalajara. Luckily, nothing is really set in stone after Mexico City so I can keep my freedom by booking hostels.
I’m really looking forward to coming back to Guadalajara though. It had been too long that my moms side of the family hadn’t come down to visit and I think me visiting was the push that was needed. A few days ago, my Nina sent me some documents from Ancestry.com. It looks like I’m a Tapatio (what they call locals around here) by blood through and through. My dads side of the family immigrated to the US in the ~1920’s and they were from a small town just outside of Guadalajara here in Jalisco. I didn’t have time to visit this trip, but on the next one I will for sure. And there absolutely will be a next time, and soon! I’ve got my future husband to visit after all (LOOOOOOL because I don’t even know what his name is).
This week in Guadalajara was just straight up fun.
I think the ultimate highlight was going to Bachata class for the first time on Tuesday and then again on Thursday….and the AGAIN on Sunday. I love to dance and it is something I almost never did in LA because going to clubs that were crowded with people and potentially getting creeped on was not a way I wanted to spend my time or money. But in Guadalajara, an hour dance class is 50 pesos, equivalent to about $2.75 USD in February 2019. I couldn’t say no to that when a classmate of mine asked me and a couple other students to join him in the class. The dance school offers salsa, cumbia, and bachata. My schoolmate, Stuart, took bachata classes before and that was the class he went to on his own so that’s the one we all went to. My introduction to Spanish music back in the day was listening to Romeo Santos and Prince Royce – among others – on Pandora in the Catering office while I did office hours as an undergrad. If you don’t know who these artists are, they fall under the bachata category. I listen to reggeaton almost exclusively now….Maluma and Ozuna just got all those fire beats….but I was definitely brought back to those bachata days when they started up the music in the class.
On Tuesday they split the class up into beginners and more advanced students. Since it was my first ever dance class, I went to the beginners. We started off with the basic 4 count side to side step then slowly added a turn for the ladies. Then a turn for the guys. About every 30 seconds or so we switched partners. On Thursday, which was Valentine’s Day, we were all together in one large group and the moves were a little more complicated. The instructor threw in a sensual bachata body roll since it was Valentine’s Day and whoa! It was very interesting being that up close and personal to a stranger. Over and over again! Like I said, every 30 seconds or so we switched partners so it was being chest to chest and then body rolling into about 25 strangers. That’s one way to get over any inhibitions about personal space! Haha
I was so tired after two hours of dancing on Thursday, but it was honestly the best way to spend Valentine’s Day. It was my first Valentine’s Day as a single lady in the past six years, which is pretty crazy to think about. It’s not that I’ve ever really paid all that much attention to Valentine’s Day in general – it’s a studip Hallmark holiday, but it’s also a fun excuse to be a little extra cute with your partner. Well, spending the day at Spanish school then finishing it off with dancing and a group dinner was quite a treat. My emotions were a rollercoaster this week because it was that time of the month, but of all days that I theoretically should have been the most emotional, aka my first single V day, I was the most happy. This whole week I went out a couple time with my school friends. Every time it was a blast and every time it was a different michelada to try!
I was feeling very homesick at the beginning of this week. The thing about traveling long term is that you are out of your comfort zone all the time. I have created some consistency with Spanish class every day and there are a few cafes/restaurants that I keep returning to, but as a whole every day is super different and the constant countdown of leaving is always in the back of my head. A lot of shit happened this week and I was super hormonal on top of all of it so it was rough in the moment. I coped by calling N Money and then A-hole (they know who they are ;D). I have good news (that I will announce at a later point in time when I’m ready) and I needed to talk about it to. To talk it out and vocalize the turmoil of emotions that was happening inside of me. In a single email my entire life was changed and that was fucking overwhelming. That happen on Wednesday/Thursday. And it was just another nice reminder of how awesome my friends are. It really helped me come to terms with the fact that my future now has a plan and it’s wilder than I could have imagined!
The weekend was about chilling because I was exhausted from the week. On Saturday a group of us from the language school went to Guachimontones, an archeological site about an hour and a half outside of Guadalajara. It was super hot this weekend but it was cool seeing these ancient mounds and ball fields. We got lunch at a restaurant near the lake after and to make the afternoon even more interesting, our car broke down on the way back to the city! Thankfully Uber saved the day.
Sunday (today) was another bachata class and I have the best time every time. I always see at least 1 familiar face which is nice. The instructor asks the class what kind of advanced bachata move people want to do for the class, there’s a couple different styles, and everyone always want to do sensual bachata! Today, instead of a body roll, it was flow-y arm movements, a windmill spin for the ladies, and a synchronized hip roll and bump. There’s something so satisfying about finally getting the move down and then totally nailing it with your partner. About 5 minutes before the hour the teacher puts on a song and you can either start packing up to leave or you can dance with someone for the song. My last partner and I kept dancing and we killed it! It was moments like that where I wish I could say something more congratulatory that just “Gracias!” with a huge smile and high five, but oh well! I’ll get there at some point. I’m 100% keeping this up in Mexico City and Puerto Rico….and the place I end up after I’m done traveling…so hopefully by then I can converse with my awesome dance partners.
Week 1 in Guadalajara
It has been just over one week since arriving in Guadalajara and I’m absolutely loving it. There are so many things that are so different than anything I’ve seen before and I’m loving taking everything in, both the uncomfortable unknown and the familiar. Let’s save the best for last and talk about some of the things I have struggled with during week 1.
After about two days of being in Mexico, I realized that I was really going to struggle with Spanish and so I decided to enroll in a Spanish language school. Thursday was my first full day so I know I’m just beginning, but damn. It is really hard to keep up with strangers talking really fast. In class, I can follow along pretty consistently, a lot of vocab lookup but I know that’s something I will have to do for a long time. I have a much harder time with actually speaking and responding. I know the congugations and I know the tenses. Deciding in a split second not only which word to choose but also which tense…….my brain just goes “aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhggggggg……” But that’s why I’m taking the long classes right?
I am also struggling with getting enough vegetables in my diet and I’m eating WAY more sugar than I’m used to. Friday night I just ate a carrot raw because after going over what I had eaten all day, the list consisted of corn tortilla/corn masa, cheese, avocado, an egg, and beans (I had a sope con requeson y aguacate por desayuno and chilaquiles con queso, un huevo, y frijoles por almuerzo. Beyond delicious, but a girl needs her veggies too. I was also very spoiled in LA having access to water fountains pretty much everywhere I went. I fill up my water bottle in the morning before leaving the house and there is a large water cooler at my language school where I can refill, but if I go out walking around the town for a few hours – which is something I have been doing and want to keep doing – I have to be very aware of how much water I have and where I can buy another bottle. Also, ordering water at a restaurant is not really a thing. Agua fresca and soda is way more common at restaurants than water and I’m so used to ordering water when I go out both to save money and because I don’t need to drink my sugar. But water bottles are super cheap here because water from the tap is not good so it’s not a huge issue, it’s just a matter of adjusting habits while I’m here. It was also interesting figuring out the public bathroom situation. They’re public, but you have to pay for them. People set up tables outside the restroom doors, you pay 5 pesos and then they give you toilet paper. They are always very clean, but I also have yet to go into one where the toilets have toilet seats. A little trick I have realized is to go to a museum. They have all been free to enter and they have clean, free bathrooms with seats on the toilets.
Now let’s talk about all the things that I am loving…..there’s a lot so get ready. Enrolling in the language school was such a good decision and I’m so glad that I did it. I’m taking classes at Guadalajara Language Center in Tlaquepaque which is like a suburb little Pueblo of Guadalajara. It is an adorable place that I probably never would have discovered had I not found this school. I’ve taken two full days of classes so far and meeting all the other individuals in the school has been so fun. Hearing their stories about why they are here now, what they did in their past life, listening to life stories. They come from all over the US and Canada and span a large age range and it’s been so great getting to meet all of them. The school organizes or helps facilitate group activities as well so it’s been really nice having a group to do things with if I want.
I’ve been trying to go to a different place for every meal that I eat…..but I have definitely eaten chilaquiles everyday this week. Chilaquiles for life. I don’t think I have had a bad meal yet, but the food in the mercados is by far the best, the quickest, and the cheapest. On Friday, I went into the Mercado Juarez in Tlaquepaque for lunch and randomly picked a place. Mercados are super intimidating especially when you don’t speak Spanish well. There are lots of people and it’s loud. The workers at the restaurant food stalls are always hustling to serve the people at their counters (in a very small space) and there is a person at each restaurant dedicated to yelling the options at you as you walk by. This was the third mercado I have been to in Guadalajara but the first time I was by myself in a mercado and it was intense.
I almost walked out. But I was hungry and didn’t want to spend a lot of money so I sucked it up. I was near the back corner of the mercado where it was a bit quieter but next to a stall who’s counter was pretty full. My motto has been “if it’s busy, it must be good.” I asked a lady behind the counter if the chilaquiles came with beans (in Spanish) and they did so I ordered them and sat down. Immediately, the guy sitting next to me leaned over and said in English “you picked a good place. Be careful of the salsa though, it’s very spicy. I can’t even eat it.” I laughed. For many reasons. First off, that fact that I only said like 5 words in Spanish and this guy knew I was an English speaker…..maybe it was my little backpack or the fact that I was alone that screamed tourist. Or maybe I just sound so blatantly American even saying foods in Spanish I know how to say super well. I also laughed out of relief. This dude could speak English, and he spoke it well. We talked throughout lunch as we each ate our respective meals. He had a lot of good things to say about Mexico City (which is where I’m going next). We kept switching back and forth between Spanish and English and I’m not gonna lie – I had no idea what he was saying at certain points. But there were other times where I did, so small victories. Hopefully conversations with strangers at mercado meals keep happening because I love hearing people’s stories.
I also found a cafe called La Borra del Cafe near the school that serves matcha lattes and I was on cloud nine. The chilaquiles there were not great. Too much sauce and the chips got soggy very fast. But my té matcha, frío en las rocas con leche de soya was soooooo delicious. I’ve gone there three times this week. They also have great WiFi and an amazing rooftop terrace with a plant wall where I can see the tops of the two nearby churches. It’s a very nice place if I want to quietly sit somewhere out of the sun. I took my watercolor kit (finally remembered to put it in my bag) there on Saturday evening and did my first watercolor painting of one of the plants. Needless to say, I’ll be going back more these next two weeks.
I’ve been staying in Zapopan with my mom’s cousin which is pretty far from Tlaquepaque and the school so I’ve been Ubering everyday. It ends up being about $10 per day but it’s still cheaper than paying for a place in Tlaquepaque. And I kind of like that it makes me see different parts of the city that I probably wouldn’t be seeing otherwise. Driving (being a passenger really) in Guadalajara has been hilarious. Motorcycles regularly have way more people than should be on them – the most I’ve seen so far is 6. People, including infants, are in the back of trucks. Sometimes it seems like there aren’t actually lanes and everyone is just squeezing their car into where ever they can on the road. The crosswalk system is interesting as well. Some places have crosswalk signals where the little person starts to run faster and faster as the time runs out, while other places you just kind of look and go whenever you won’t get hit by oncoming traffic. I love seeing the neighborhoods during these drives. The style of houses is beautiful. Some people at my language school liken them to living in cages because they have large gates separating the sidewalk from the patio/driveway of the house and the front door is further inside the gate. I personally like the way it looks and being inside is really nice as well. At my mom’s godparents place, it was so soothing having the windows open at night with the cool breeze. Yeah, you hear the cars driving by as well but everywhere I have been has been calm at night. A lot of places have nice patios or courtyards of some sort. I’ve always loved the Spanish style homes in Southern California and these houses I’m seeing are just adding on to all the ideas I have for my future house.