HOW TO USE A LATIN AMERICAN CONCRETE SINK?

Ok, I admit I’ve been traveling Central America for 6 months already and I just clued in on how to use the typical 3-sided  pre-cast concrete sink that one sees all over Latin America.

It always baffled me as to why the locals would fill the middle basin up to the rim where dead bugs and leaves would accumulate. I know that I am not the only traveler to have been puzzled and frankly annoyed with this custom. For example in Antigua, at the Touristic Police where I stayed, there was only one basin to do your dishes and it was full to the rim. The water was already dirty with someone else’s soap and food scrap. The only solution would be to dip your arm to the elbow and pull the plug. Even in well-established campgrounds I noticed the workers fill up the tanks to the rim. I figured there was a reason, a way of using it that I hadn’t understood yet.20170424_093555

Well, the answer came to me this week and frankly I feel a bit ashamed of my ignorance.

As a person used to unlimited running water, I could not have understood the utilitarian purpose of the 3 compartment sink. It took a stay at a garage in Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa for me to learn the hard way the importance of a basin full of water!

In need of repairs and upgrades I found a garage to do the work. They allowed me to stay in the van while doing the work. Being in the sun, the heat, the dirt and the bugs – for a whole week, you need to shower and do the dishes at the very least. I had arrived with just a ¼ tank of water, never thinking that I would stay for that long.

The first day, I was able to fill my tank up to ½   using buckets as the water pressure was too low to use a hose.  This is heavy work and to protect my back, I thought I would add a few bucketful every day. Understandably, to preserve my own water,  I went to the basin to do my dishes. And there it was again: a full middle basin! I did my dishes in it and rinsed them with the tap on the side basin. Well! The next day my mechanic saw the dirty water in the sink and was furious! Who dirtied my water? Those guys, he said, blaming the other mechanics… (knowing full well that it had to be me). I watched, puzzled, as he emptied the main sink and proceeded to scrub it clean with a brush for this purpose. I got from this experience that the main sink is to be kept clean, but I still didn’t have a clue as to why and how to really use this. I almost wanted to ask Eduardo but that would have been admitting guilt, so I didn’t.

The answer soon came to me when both taps on the property ran dry – for 2 days. It’s only then that I noticed the buckets full of water everywhere. Eduardo had even brought me one by the door. That day, when I went to the stand-up sink to do my dishes, forced into thinking on how to preserve the integrity of this precious clean water, I found the solution.

You never contaminate the water of the middle sink! Using a small bucket you take some clean water and do your dishes, your laundry, or wash your hands, in one of the side tanks with a drain. That middle sink contains gold! You never know when you will have running water again, even in a good-sized town such as Santa Lucia.

Sure enough during my week stay here, there have been more days without running water than with. When the taps are dripping, the men fill up all the buckets and containers again.

Having now experienced a total lack of water in the blistering heat, I will take bugs and leaves infested water for my dishes and my sponge bath any time!

So please gringos, learn how to use a stand-up sink and never empty or contaminate the middle basin. Use the container (there is typically one around – it could be a cut-up jug, a plastic container, a bowl) to take some water and use it in one of the side basin where it will drain. That middle basin filled with, what to our standard we would describe as “dirty” water, is precious.

I know I am not the only one to have been puzzled by this and thought that I should pass the word around:)

And if you’re still not sure watch this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Op45rv2cOZ8

Happy travels and stay wet!

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Kiki

THE VISITOR UNDER MY BED

I realize, dear reader, that I am due for a cute little story – the kind I used to write when I started my journey and everything was so new that even a pee-pot made the news. After that novelty period, everything became more business-like. Describe my travels, my adventures may be, from a neutral point of view (verily, how can a single white female, first time traveler in the Americas, driving an old RV along the Pan American highway be neutral?).  I’ve been wondering of late: where did that woman go – the one that saw humor in everything? And may be, part of sharing is also about my everyday life in a camper along bumpy, dusty roads that might be lined with “bandidos” lying in wait.

So, if not for my own story telling pleasure here is the tale of the visitor under my bed. And since I do not have related pictures to post, I will relish you instead with photos of my stay at the Santa Lucia garage – I know you can’t wait!

I first noticed it Chez Pierre on Lake Atitlan. Every morning I would wake up with huge welts on my toes. They didn’t hurt, but when I scratched the itch, they would atypically swell and puce. On cool night I had put on mini socks to keep me warm and in the morning I found the bite just above the sock line! I knew then that I was being eaten by something hiding in or under my bed. From the bite marks we could see the outline of little fangs – definitively a spider!

My bed is a story in and of itself. It originally had a custom-made mattress to fit the cubicle, with a cut corner to allow room for the corridor to the bathroom. I am pretty sure it was the original mattress and so was 34 years old. It was quite comfortable despite its age, until I started to sleep on it nightly. The support caved in and the coils jutted out! As I was reorganizing the camper for my long trip, I decided to convert the cabin above the driver’s seat, which was set up as a sleeping cabin with a thick foamy, into a storage compartment where I would store all my heavy bins full of shoes  and purses (hey I’m French!– some had to make the trip with me! Believe me the cut was brutal), a pharmacy, extra bits and pieces for my engine should I need to repair it en route… you get the idea! I put the foamy on top of the mattress and that was comfortable for a few months until it became agony. Finally, in Belize, when I was decluttering the van one more time to make room for my daughter’s visit (I had already purged twice) – I gave my mattress away to the campsite owner, who was delighted to take it, despite my warning him of its bad condition. I guess when you sleep on the floor a bad mattress is definitively an upgrade!

The foamy was heaven for about…1 month until the center line where I sleep mostly, lost its bounce and I was basically lying on plywood. I put all my blankets and sleeping bags as underlay with a special focus on the middle line and so far so good. I however have no doubt that down the road I will have to purchase a proper mattress for it.

My sleeping platform sits on top of my external storage bins where I keep all my hoses and engine fluids. I also have a bit of storage for personal items. For the most part it is open to the dust of the road and unwelcomed visitors could easily climb in.

Upon realizing that I was feeding a spider every night, I searched, aired out, and vacuumed my bed and platform, knowing full well that it was futile. Short of fumigating the van, which is out of the question since I live there and because of the health hazards to my pets, I haven’t done anything else about it. I don’t know if I chose to ignore the signs or if I was in denial, but I swear that the bite marks disappeared for a while. I thought may be my rummaging about scared my blood sucker away.

And so, weeks later, here I am in this dusty, dirty, mosquito and fire ant infested garage yard (and I swear a huge rat which scared Patouffi so much he hasn’t ventured out from under the sofa!) to get my RV fixed and I am covered with bites. There were a few big ones on my legs that looked different than your usual mosquito or ant welt, but still I didn’t clue in that my visitor was back!

One morning I decide to add my wonderful wool blanket to my underlay and air out my bed in the process and what do I see? A h.u.g.e black spider! I am not afraid of spiders but this one was big. It was not moving, just chilling there, digesting its feast of the night. This gave me time to look around for a weapon to finally get rid of the beast. I wanted a rod-like object with a rounded end to poke it dead from a distance and settled on the fishing rod. Of course I missed and Dracula was on the run, until it fell near my feet and I dropped everything and screamed like a girl! It made its way back to the compartment under the bed. I looked and searched but the sucker was well hidden.

Soooo, plan numero uno: Go to the store and enquire about my options short of fumigating. Numero dos, which I will have to do anyway when my new undercarriage compartment is installed, take everything out from under the bed and vacuum the hell out of it… it might still hide in a crevice. I definitively will feel better if I see the culprit die. I do hope it doesn’t have a family waiting to take up the baton!

What eats spiders I wonder?

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I do not know if it’s because of the heat or the noise, but Marley has taken up residence in the cat’s litter box!

Until next time my new road amigos!

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Au plaisir de la route!

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Kiki

 

 

 

PUEBLA, WORLD HERITAGE CITY

I loved my stay in Puebla!

First of all I was lucky to find a sweet parking spot, safe and free, within walking distance of the touristic centre. The pets were in the shade and I could meander the beautiful village-like streets of the Zocalo (the city centre) without worrying about them or the safety of my truck. This made a world of difference. I had loved Cholula, but because of the parking situation I was not able to stay the extra day to visit the town. Conversely, I decided to extend my stay in Puebla and enjoy the museum and the antiques market.20170114_111924

The first thing you notice is the impressive Cathedral occupying the entire block south of the Zócalo. Around it is a beautiful park, the most attractive one I’ve seen so far, with its lush mature trees, a pleasant fountain and other water displays. Surrounding the square are the terraces, restaurants and boutiques one would expect. The atmosphere is pleasant and relaxed. Tourists and locals alike taking the time to stop and enjoy an ice cream or other street snacks.

The cathedral is grandiose, inside and out, but a little too ornate for my taste. Its architecture is a blend of severe Herreresque-Renaissance and early baroque styles (and I am quoting “the Lonely Planet guide to Mexico” here). The interior is heavily and elaborately gilded and the centre is “cut” by an island (I don’t know how else to describe it) containing 3 beautiful organs, each from a different period. The effect creating a disconnection from the spaciousness and awe-inspiring sentiment that one would feel in such a grandiose environment. It felt cold, devoid of the hushed whispers generally accompanying devotional practices.20170113_113952

I followed the Calle 5 de Mayo, a wide pedestrian street in full market swing on which most of the recommended Churches seems to be. Every style of church was there, from extremely gilded and ornate to the quietly simple. The Santa Monica church was unmemorable in itself, if it were not for the shrine to the Lord of Marvels (“El Senor de la Maravillas”). A bloody rendition of the Christ carrying the cross under glass which is subject to one of the largest pilgrimage and devotion in Mexico.

I enjoyed my walk and regaled in the many food stalls and street vendors selling home-made baked goods and such. I stopped at a brazero fascinated by the cooking process to discover that what they were serving were tacos! Not the kind that I’ve seen in Canada that’s for sure.

I took a short video that you can view here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-k5Rp8tPRtQ

On my way back, I came across a street market and a fish market and I stocked up on beautiful fresh produce and the rare dark leafy greens. I also treated myself to a large steak from a white fish of some kind and couldn’t wait to have it for dinner. It tasted like butt! No matter what I did, even adding my Portuguese chili sauce it was still disgusting – a bottom dweller for sure.

The next morning I decided to visit the Museo Amparo, the largest private collection of Pre-Hispanic artifacts.  It was well worth it!

It also happened to be Sunday and the weekly antiques market was but a few blocks away. I found it in a colorful area of town, with pretty stores and cafes and opening into a small plaza. I was surprised to find it very undescript except for the occasional typical Mexican wares. I did however find 2 wonderful pieces of pottery for my collection.

I also had to sample one of the many traditional dishes that make Puebla’s cuisine famous, the Mole Poblano. The restaurant was very pretty and the dish divine!

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I just had to take a picture of this poster of the famous “mano a mano” wrestling typical of Mexico!

Until next time my new road amigos!

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Au plaisir de la route!

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Kiki

 

 

CHOLULA: PYRAMIDS, TUNNELS AND VOLCANS

 

A church on top of a pyramid, that was the appeal to visit Cholula, a beautiful suburb of Puebla, the capital city of the State of Puebla.

After spending the afternoon at the bank and the Aurrera grocery store, a Costco-type store to restock on big essentials, I quickly found the only RV park in town and settled in.

The owner had told me that it was an 8 blocks walk to the pyramid, so off I went, early next morning armed with water bottle and sun hat. The closer I got, the prettier the streets, with brightly colored homes lined with Bougainvilleas still in bloom.

The church stood on top of a grassy hill with a wide winding pathway leading to it. Where is the pyramid?  I hope it is not a tourist trap, I thought.  The church itself was very interesting, celebrating the cult of Our Lady of the Remedies, a 12th century Spanish legend. I am not sure what started the worship of this young woman and her baby, but it grew in size until the catholics built this beautiful, delicately feminine church in the 16th century. Whether they knew at the time that the hill was indeed a pyramid or not is left for debate.

I couldn’t take pictures of the interior, nor did I find postcards.20170111_133657

From the top courtyard one has a panoramic view of Cholula and Puebla. But what I enjoyed the most was the sight of the two active volcanos overlooking the city.  I had followed Popocatepetl, the imposing and snow caped volcano on my drive to Cholula, but to finally see it unobstructed, majestically guarding the ruins from a distance, with a clearly defined wisp of smoke coming out of its peak was truly awe inspiring. Next to it sits Iztaccihuatl. I’ve never been near an active volcano before, so this was quite a beautiful experience. What a force of nature -you can feel it in the air and I couldn’t help wonder how living in the shadow of an active volcano would affect the population?

On my way down I followed a path that wound  around the back of the hill, revealing  a large archeological site at the base. From this site and looking up at the church it becomes then apparent that this is indeed a large pyramid. Indeed, Pirámide Tepanapa is the world’s largest pyramid by volume: bigger, in that sense, than the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt.20170111_140927

After the tour of the ruins I went in search of a Cocina Economica for lunch and happen to discover this amazing vegerarian, self-sustaining and organic restaurant on top of an old building! I decided to try the Chilaquiles a local dish consisting of a bed of blue corn taco chips covered in a red chili sauce, with beans and cheese and a fried egg on top! It was delicious.

I decided to skip the street snacs of Chapulin – grilled and spiced grasshoppers. I hear it is crunchy and you only taste the seasoning… I’ll take their word for it!

 

My ticket allowed me entrance to the small and humble museum and to the tunnels.

Archeologists discovered a labyrinth of tunnels running underneath the pyramid. So far 8 km of network has been uncovered, 800 meters of which is open to the public. I was surprised by the size and the shape, allowing a person to stand, as well as the extent of the system, with at least 3 levels that I could see.20170111_162809

The other great appeal of the city is the incredible shopping – a pre taste of Oaxaca, the State, along with Chiapas that is the richest in folk-art and craft. Indeed every time I asked the origin of an article I liked, the answer was inevitably “Oaxaca”.

I didn’t tour the many beautiful churche of Cholula. It is said that Hernán Cortés had vowed to build one church per day of the year in Cholula for his victory over the Aztecs. Cholula doesn’t have 365 churches but boasts about 45 of them which, for a town of its size, is quite impressive.

Because of its charm, culture, location and relaxed atmosphere Cholula is now number 2 (after San Miguel de Allende) on my list of places I could see myself settle down.

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Until next time my new road amigos!

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Au plaisir de la route!

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Kiki

 

 

 

THE WONDERS OF TEOTIHUACAN

The fact that I didn’t do any research on my next destination certainly added to the WOW factor. All I knew about Teotihuacan was that it is the largest archeological site in Mexico.

I arrived late afternoon in the only RV park in the area, in the little town of San Juan Teotihuacan. The park is nestled right in the center of town, which was great for browsing and shopping.  The owner Mina, an elderly woman who spoke excellent English was an absolute sweetheart and went out of her way to make everyone comfortable and welcomed. You can tell that she absolutely loves this part of Mexico and wants to share it with her visitors. Although she is not a native of these parts, her passion for the pyramids and their ancient history is evident.

Mina offered to drive me to the gates, a mere 2 kilometers by foot, but since I am still recuperating from my back injury and knew I was going to do a lot of walking in the archeological park, I gladly accepted.

We took off early in the morning and I was there by 8:30 am before the sun was high in the sky and the tourists thronged the gates. As it happens, there were not that many tourists – a recurrent observation throughout Mexico right now it seems.

I entered through the uppermost gate, the one closest to the Moon Pyramid, so that as I meandered my way down, I would finish my visit at the gate the closest to the campground.

The first buildings that I visited were called the Temple of the Jaguars, aptly named for the exquisite and brightly colored murals of jaguars. It consisted of living quarters, around an inner courtyard. Main buildings still had murals of birds and carvings of the typical 4-petaled flower that is found on many of the artwork unearthed in the area.

I tagged along a French couple who had hired a guide and listened at a distance, but decided I didn’t like his preachy tone. I then came across a larger group of English speaking tourists with an elderly guide and immediately liked his enthusiastic and theatrical personality and so I started following them, at first at a distance, and then completely merging with the group. I never got the guide’s name but I found out he is the most senior guide of the Teotihuacan pyramids at age 90.

We then entered the Pyramid of the Moon’s Courtyard. What a grandiose sight, with the pyramid flanked by 12 platforms, 6 on each side, sitting at the northernmost end of the Calzada de Los Muertos, the Avenue of the Dead – the length of which only becomes evident once you have climbed the top of the pyramid.

As you can see the climb up was quite steep, but coming down was even more daunting, as you are now facing the void, and your legs are a bit weaker from the recent climb. Hang on tight!

But the view from the top was breathtaking. From there you really grasp for the first time the sheer size of this archeological site. It spans kilometers of buildings, structures, plazas and of course pyramids, as far as the eye could see!

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The Pyramid of the Sun to the left

Our guide then led us to a platform where it is believed they performed Sun gazing rituals, and so in his theatrical flare, he dropped his cane and led us through a short meditation of feeling the sun’s energy coming down and filling up every part of our bodies. I liked this guy more and more!20170105_104325

We slowly made our way down the avenue to the Pyramid of the Sun. Even though it is much higher than the pyramid of the moon, since the latter sits on higher ground, they actually have the same height. But the climb is a different story! At the foot of the pyramid, our guide blessed us in Latin for the safety of our climb, we all burst into laughter!

The world’s third largest pyramid, only surpassed in size by Egypt’s Cheops and the pyramid of Cholula (my next blog!), you climb it through a series of tiers, with thankfully leveled terraces in between allowing increasingly weary tourists to take a break.  This gave me the opportunity to chat with one of my new companions, Steve.  Steve and his wife had been visiting friends who now reside in San Miguel de Allende and decided, along with some American friends to charter a bus and a guide to visit the area.

I was glad for the lack of tourists when I saw the switchback cordons designed to line up people for the climb. Imagine having to wait 2 hours in the blistering sun before climbing to the top, side by side with hundreds of other people – Yikes!

From the top, you have a clear view of the valley, the villages surrounding the area and – is that another pyramid in the distance? with the avenue that continues on until it fades! I also noticed where the museum was and made a note of it.

Vendors were gathering in great numbers now, selling their wares. I had already bought a circular piece of local obsidian that the Aztecs used to look directly at the sun. There were so many things for sale, sun hats being number one! Then came the jewelry, some cheap, some exquisite. Local arts and crafts. It was beautiful. I am curious by nature, so I would stop and look at their wares and was polite and patient when some of them would aggressively follow you and put their articles right under your nose. But they also had ceramic jaguar heads, beautifully decorated, with blow holes that would mimic the jaguar’s roar. It was actually quite awesome to be sitting at the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, trying to imagine how this site would have looked like thousands of years ago, brightly coloured, busy with people coming and going, with an open market may be somewhere… and to hear the sound of jaguars roaring in the distance – it added to the illusion!

The descent got tedious for me, by now my bum leg was giving out so I had to climb down facing the other way awkwardly clutching the rope railing from behind, but there was no other way. A tumble would have met sure death and I am sure even our friend’s blessing could not have saved me. When I finally touched terra firma, I knelt and kissed the ground! I too have a theatrical streak! I should have asked one of the chuckling tourists to take a picture as I am sure they felt the same way I did and would have enjoyed participating in the play acting.

I meandered my way through the peddlers, buying beautiful turquoise jewelry for the price of bread and finally arrived at the museum.

Funny side note: reading the entrance sign, this is what I learned:

Teachers are called Maestros in Spanish – Love it! Pets are called mascottas – how appropriate, but the best one is for retired citizens : Jubilados! Isn’t that the best descriptive term for retirees? It gives the impression of people jumping up in the air, jubilantly celebrating their freedom from work! (The truth might be different, but I love the image of what it should be like don’t you?)

I was also very puzzled by the sign indicating that bows and arrows were not allowed inside the museum – very curious indeed.20170105_130342.jpg

The museum was exquisite, with a large collection of artifacts found on site, an interesting history of the area and its evolution in time and best of all: skeletons! Who doesn’t like mummies and skeletons, right?

These were sacrificial victims buried at the foot of that last lone pyramid I had seen in the distance, the Templo de Quetzalcoatl – a definite must see I thought to myself.

The group of 4 young women was particularly touching. I was evident that they had been laid to rest with great care, almost love and tenderness. They were adorned with heavy pendants, ear discs and obsidian arrowheads were found all over the site. The 8 gentlemen ranged in age and in social status, indicating that they volunteered for the honor of the sacrifice. The necklaces they wore were made out of bones and ceramic to look like human jaws.

By the end of my visit to the museum, I was tired and famished. I had noticed on the map of the site that a restaurant La Gruta (The Cave) was just outside the gate. My walk there quickly made it clear that this was going to be quite out of my price range, but I decided to continue to investigate and I was not disappointed!

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La Gruta restaurant, San Martin near Teotihuacan

Back to the gates I asked the guard if he knew of any “cocina economica” in the area and he pointed me to the group of men handing out pamphlets at the gate. Each one was harranging tourists with the menu of their restaurants nearby. I picked one, having been promised an economical menu. A car came to pick me up and delivered me to the restaurant I had selected.

And here’s something I’ve learned about Mexicans: they always say yes and promise you whatever it is you are asking for. Once in, you discover too late that it was not so.

My cute mechanic had told me he had a blow torch to fix my truck, but when it was time to cover the patched up hole with a metallic plaque, he seemed surprised. What blow torch? I don’t have one! So sitting down at my restaurant I found out this was no cocina economica and ended up having the only thing I could afford, a delicious Aztec soup and my now favourite beverage, a Michelada (a beer with clamato juice and spice).It was however wonderful to enjoy my meal being serenaded by 2 musicians playing traditional music. I learned, watching my neighbours, that you can purchase a song at your request.

The staff dropped me off at the southernmost gate, right in front of the famous Templo de Quatzalcoatl.

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Look at that beautiful Aztec nose! My chauffeur was a good sport and let me take a picture of his stricking profile:)

To get to it, you enter a courtyard flanked on each side by 4 plateforms. You can tell that more structures are to be uncoved. An unassuming pyramid stands directly in front of you. But the jewel of Teotihuacan, in my humble opinion, lies just behind it! Upon climbing the first small pyramid, the temple comes into view, right behind it, so close in fact that when you descend the first pyramid on the other side, but 5 meters away stands the other one.

Why did I like this pyramid so much you ask? For several reasons: First of all it is the only one that still has the snake or dragon-like figures standing out of the rocks. On each side of the staircase detailed carvings are wonderfully preserved. One can still notice where shells were inlaid in the jaws of the animals. But most of all it was the atmosphere of the place that took you in. Being sheltered by the pyramid in the front, it created a cocoon of stillness in the welcomed shade and one couldn’t help but sit and meditate.

I noticed the handful of tourists that discovered this site at the same time I did couldn’t resist closing their eyes and take in the specialness of this place. I could have stayed there for hours – but it was closing time and had to find a taxi back to the campsite.20170105_162659

Did any of you readers visit Teotihuacan and what were your impressions? Please do share – I would love to hear from you:)

I stayed a few days in San Juan Teotihuacan. I liked the fact that I could walk a few minutes and treat myself to dinner in the street. One night, I was walking Marley, the sky was stormy and the evening air was full of bird songs. For a moment I thought I was back at the pyramids with the peddlers blowing into their musical pipes. But no, it was hundreds of blackbirds typical of the region, swarming  and dancing in the sky, creating this musical concert. I realized then that bird songs are a particularity I truly enjoy in Mexico!

I didn’t know if I was going to enjoy visiting ruins or not, but now I am hooked and I was off to the next stop on my itinerary, the beautiful town of Puebla, capital city of the State of the same name  and home of the famous church on top of a pyramid – who can resist that?

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Until next time my new road amigos!

Please subscribe, tell your friends and add your comments:)

And don’t forget to follow me on YouTube! Kiki’sRvAdventures

Au plaisir de la route!

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Kiki

 

 

 

Accident in Queretaro!

I will not pretend to have seen Queretaro and will not comment on its touristic center because I never made it there.

From San Miguel de Allende you enter Queretaro via highway # 57. The entrance into this big industrial city is not very appealing. The roads are lined with huge international factories, including Nestle to my surprise. You then make your way into town, where highway # 57 turns into a complex eight-lane boulevard with an extra 2 lanes on each side to access the side businesses. The signage was confusing, telling you to merge into the side lanes and a few meters later telling you to go back to the main boulevard. It was very frustrating, especially when you drive a 27 foot long truck that cannot easily weave in and out of traffic. It was noon and the traffic was congested and intense with huge trucks driving like crazy, and believe me Mexicans still find a way to drive like crazy at 40km/h! I was really not comfortable and made the decision to just get out of there as soon as possible,  too bad for El Centro, but I was not going to try to find it in this kind of traffic. So I decided to follow the signs for Mexico City instead, which happened to be in the same direction as the touristic center.  I was waiting for the turn off where traffic would finally start to flow.

I was stopped in traffic when I felt the distinctive jolt of someone rear-ending me!

Getting out of the vehicle to assess the damage was dangerous because traffic had resumed and I was in the middle lane. I found out that I was hit by a commercial truck. The middle aged driver had kind eyes and like me didn’t quite know what to do. His bumper had hit my spare tire, bending the post it is mounted on and in so doing ripped a hole in the back of my truck. My rear bumper was torqued as well, but all in all no major damage.20170103_120218

I hesitated, should we call the police or just drive away? Finally he asked me to follow him, I assumed to the nearest police station, but found out that he had taken me to his company. His boss came out, assessed the damage and offered me to pay cash for my repairs. Cash suited me fine.  He offered to give me $1,000 pesos, I had $5,000 in mind at which he laughed.  I had no idea how much it would cost to fix the damages. He finally took me to a mechanic, to do an estimate I thought, but in fact he asked the mechanic to do a quick fix repair job to send me on my way. The bar on which my spare tire was mounted was wobbly and needed to be stabilized. One of the clamps securing it in place was broken and all the mechanic could do in such short notice was fix it and nothing else.img-20170103-wa0000

I was still not sure what to do and how much to ask for, so I asked for $2,000 pesos and we settled for $1,500 cash. As he was about to leave for the bank the mechanic’s son told me I should ask for the man’s ID to make sure that he would come back. Oh I thought, good idea – I was completely out of it!

So he gives me his voter’s card, which I learned later is the equivalent of our driver’s license in Canada that we use as our main ID card.

While the mechanic was working on my car, he tells me “this is very high quality metallic beam you have for a bumper and it will cost at least $6,000 pesos to replace it. Do not replace it in Mexico, we do not have that quality here.” Then he added “this man is a very bad man, he is not honest and he has the money. You should tell him that you spoke with your husband in Canada, who spoke with your insurance. Tell him you e-mailed pictures of the damage to your insurance and that they estimate the repairs to be around (and I picked $1,500 Canadian – which would be $21,000 pesos) and that you will not accept less than (I wanted $5,000 pesos) but the mechanic insisted that I asked for  at least $10,000 pesos. “That man has the money” he would say. I really feel that the mechanic was my guardian angel at this point, making sure that my rights were protected. So when the boss came back I gave him my Google translated speech, at which point he refused. I asked him to call his insurance for an adjuster to come and make an estimate, but he argued that it would take 3 to 5 days for someone to come and take a look at the damage. I said that I would not stay in Queretaro for 5 days,  that I was just passing through. In any case, would he pay for my accommodations while I waited? Of course not!  Having had enough of this charade,  I called my Mexican insurance (which I realize now, I should have done right away). My adjuster arrived in 10 minutes! Seeing this, the man quickly calls his insurance and his adjuster arrived in 30 minutes. 3 to 5 days really!

I was very detached from the whole incident, may be a bit confused as to what to do, but  I had no doubt that my interests were being protected. I patiently waited for the  two adjusters to come up with a number and the three of us, each using Google Translate to communicate  finally agreed upon $2,500 cash so that I could fix the vehicle anywhere along the road. My adjuster confirmed that this was a good offer, that my company would probably only have offered 10% more.

$2,500 pesos, that’s $178.57 Canadian dollars people! You certainly cannot repair a car for that price in Canada, but remember, I am in Mexico!

So I agreed to be sent a money order redeemable at a Banorte Bank for the amount of $2,500.

It was 5:00 pm when we finally wrapped everything up. The boss came to shake my hand and apologized. I am not sure if he was apologizing for the accident, for his attitude or may be for both!

I decided to park the RV on the side of a little road and spend the night.

Despite our early departure the next morning we were still caught in traffic, but this being another itinerary we were quickly rerouted outside of town and on our way to Tula.

I never saw Tula as I missed my turn off and didn’t want to back track, but I did stop on the way at a mechanic shop tended by two young guys. One of them did a really good job at jamming wood planks between my two beams to prevent the spare tire mount to wobble and hit the back of the truck again. He also straightened the metallic jagged edges and covered the hole with sealant. I will have it properly sealed with a metallic plaque down the road, but this quick fix only cost me $30 pesos and I gave him $50 because he worked so diligently at it and he reminded me so much of my son, before he joined the army.20170104_121132

So there, no sightseeing in Queretaro, but my little adventure ended up making me a little profit.

I wonder if the fact that I was wearing flowers in my hair and flowy hippy pants that day has anything to do with the fact that the boss probably thought I was a dimwit?20161225_194242

Until next time my new road amigos!

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Kiki

 

 

 

SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE

San Miguel de Allende took my breath away!

Here I am, 10 days later, still at the quiet Hotel San Ramon, but a 5 minute bus ride into town, unable to decide to hit the road again.

When I first got into town, I was lucky to be dropped off just around the corner from the artisanal market. I met a family that left town and totally missed it! What a shame because this market is a treasure trove of handcrafted, genuine Indian arts and crafts of this region and the adjacent ones. Intricate embroideries, naturally died carpets and rugs, silverware, carvings, beautiful hand painted tin crafts, knits and loom works, weaving, jewelry, pottery… it had it all.

I decided to take a picture of the items that I really liked and write down the prices along the way. This was an excellent technique that allowed me later to narrow down what I really wanted to buy and where I had found it the cheapest. I also allowed me time to ponder: “do I really want to buy this? Can I afford that?” So when I was ready to buy I actually saved M$700 from my original wish list. Only one article got sold, and I do hope to find it somewhere else along the way. It was so much fun to wander about the long narrow street that stretches several blocks.

I love Frida Kahlo, the famous Mexican painter – but how many Frida themed articles does one need really? I’ve already bought 2 and think that you can’t get enough Frida around the house LOL

When you get to the end of the market, you turn left into the road that leads to the main square in front of the cathedral. The narrow, lazily winding streets were so beautiful with the facades painted in many bright colours and with cobbled  stones that I took hundreds of pictures. I was not the only one! I saw many a tourist in a state of awe taking pictures of every corner, just like me.

And then you turn a corner and you are welcomed with this incredible sight: a pink cathedral! Yes ladies: PINK! This is the cathedral to Archangel Michael. Unfortunately its doors were closed and I was unable to see inside.20161224_162515

This being Christmas eve, I thought that I would stick around for the evening mass maybe, or at least to see the evening lights come on.

I walked around the main plaza, lined with expensive boutiques. I found the same articles than at the market for double the price. I also found exquisite, high quality artwork that was definitively a notch above. The atmosphere was festive and lively and grew more crowded as evening approached.

It is a SMA tradition for women to wear beautiful dried flower wreaths. They were sold on the plaza and many ladies of all ages wore them around town.

A group of westerners started singing Christmas Carols. But at 7pm a procession arrived on the square, with children playing the nativity scene and musicians. Locals were following, singing Christmas songs in Spanish. They entered the square and settled in front of the beautiful nativity scene displayed at the center, complete with real sheep and a donkey.

The gringos kept singing their carols, which I thought was becoming very disrespectful. The young priest made a beautiful speech about love, living life from the heart and the spirit of Christmas. I loved it! Mass in the streets, among the people! What simplicity, what communion. The musicians started playing and people sang a lullaby while “Joseph and Mary” rocked baby Jesus to sleep.

The whole square had turned magical with the Christmas lights on. It was an enchanting night.

I decided to catch the last bus as this had been a long day of walking about.

The next day, I took the bus again and wandered the streets, this time around the main square where I discovered more beautiful churches. At the Templo del Oratorio, mass was in progress with a full congregation. The priest started to sing. He had a truly beautiful singing voice. With the congregation singing back to him and the way the sound echoed in the church it was absolutely mesmerizing. I taped it on my phone. I am certain that the popularity of this particular church was due to the singing prowess of the priest.

As for the food, SMA is where I sampled my first Michelada, a beer with clamato juice and spices. I am hooked! I’ve had a few delicious meals and also tried various buffets. These are great to sample local foods. But I am at the point where I am missing more bland, natural, healthy and GREEN food.

So with New Year’s Eve being tomorrow, I decided to start my list of resolutions. The first item on the list is to purchase a large canister of powdered greens and have a glass every day. I also want to meditate and study Spanish for ½ hour daily.

I have decided to stay at the Hotel San Ramon for 2 more nights. I need to rest, get off the internet, and go to the organic farmers’ market tomorrow.

I have noticed that I get dizzy around 3pm every day and I don’t know what that’s about but it is sending me on a quest to eat healthier, to take my anti-parasites herbs and to resume my spiritual practice.

I know this trip has a purpose for me that I have yet to discover. I consider it a pilgrimage of sorts. It is definitively changing me and I know that I will be a different person at the end of it. I welcome every experience as purposeful and consider myself very blessed indeed to be on this journey.

And so, with these words, I wish you all to start the New Year with this question: What makes my heart sing? And if you are not already doing it, ask yourself what you can do to start. Sometimes things may appear absolutely impossible and out of reach, but I assure you, when you take the first step, the leap of faith in the direction of your heart’s desire, everything will align itself to make it possible.

MAY 2017 BRING YOU JOY, PEACE AND HAPPINESS:)

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Until next year my new road amigos!

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GUANAJUATO CITY

There are 3 towns that are usually declared as “must see” in the area. San Miguel de Allende (SMA) is in the middle, Guanajuato to the west and Queretaro to the east. I am currently staying in San Miguel. Upon reading in my guide books that it is impossible to park anywhere in Guanajuato, I decided to make it a day trip by taking the bus. I was pleasantly surprised by the air conditioned, roomy and modern bus and by its punctuality

The 80 minutes’ drive was very pleasant with beautiful landscapes and sceneries. But as some of you may know I suffer from motion sickness – 20 minutes before arrival time I got very nauseous and barely managed to keep it all in! I am sure the other passengers were very grateful! However, the sickness to my stomach didn’t leave me all day and somewhat spoiled my experience of this beautiful town.

When you arrive you first notice the brightly colored homes clustered together and strung upon the surrounding hills. A very cheerful sight.20161227_114214

I was dropped off by my taxi (who charged me (M$100) right at the beginning of the touristic zone.  I needed to eat something to calm my stomach and noticed right away a store selling candied fruit, with oranges in particular. I have a very fond memory of candied mandarins. My grandmother and I would go to Saint Raphael, a little town on the French Riviera and treat ourselves to a cup of tea and a candied mandarin. The memory of the taste of this treat has remained with me since then. They are hard to come by, and I have yet to find one that will even remotely come close to what I remembered – until that day in Guanajuato . This orange came pretty close with a tougher chewy candied rind and a soft and still juicy center.  Too bad my nausea didn’t allow me to fully enjoy it! I had decided to buy more on my way home, but I was rushed to get a taxi and forgot:(

Right away you enter a large covered market center. I was told that I could find the same things in Guanajuato but cheaper than in SMA. I was misinformed. I searched for a genuine indian arts and crafts market place, but all they had were the cheap souvenirs for tourists. However, Guanajuato was full of wonderful candy and chocolate stores. The abundance of sweet treats was something new. In this one shop I was able to sample almost each one of them. Again, I was not in a condition to fully appreciate my treats. What a shame!

I followed the river flow of tourists to a beautiful plaza where the cathedral sits. The interior was gorgeous, in gold and with huge crystal chandeliers – the energy of the place was wonderful and I felt a cheerfulness that I haven’t felt in any of the other churches I’ve visited so far. It was as if this glorious environment inspired joy and gratitude from the congregation and these sentiments permeated through the walls.

There were lots of churches, some almost devoid of any attention from the tourists and locals alike, yet with an ultimate atmosphere of peace and serenity. Others were busy little chapels, but devoid of any interest. The styles ranging from byzantine to gothic.

I found a beautiful open and shaded plaza to have a very sedated lunch (by choice) of chicken cutlet and boiled vegetables.

The narrow roads meandered up the hills to a cliff face with a beautiful statue of Don Quixote at its base. Don Quixote is a theme here, every square has a statue with a  rendition, sometimes abstract, of the Spaniard and his lance . This is because of the now famous Festival Internacional Cervantino (popularly known as El Cervantino) which takes place each fall.

The origins of the festival are from the mid 20th century, when short plays by Miguel de Cervantes called  entremeses (singular entremés) were performed in the city’s plazas. In 1972, this was expanded with federal support to include more events to add a more international flavor. Since then, FIC has grown to become the most important international artistic and cultural event in Mexico and Latin America, and one of four major events of its type in the world. It is a member of the European Festivals Association and the Asian Association of Theater Festivals.

When it was time to go back to the bus station, I caught a cab, which only charged me M$50 for the same trip, but this time we drove inside the tunnels that run underneath the city. It was quite impressive.

Arrived at the bus station I could see a bus under the banner “San Miguel de Allende” and was told by the young ticket clerk that it will not be leaving for another 10 minutes. So I decided to sit in the waiting area and prepare myself for another bus ride – will I lose it this time? Then I noticed the bus pulling away! OMG they didn’t even call our departure time and there it was leaving! I started running after it and a family of 4 having the same realization as I, started running too. I was finally able to reach the side window and tap on it to get the driver’s attention who finally stopped the bus. However, he resolutely refused to open the doors! So there I was standing in front of this giant and I was not going to budge until I got on! “I have a ticket, I have a reserved seat on this bus” I would say. The daughter was shaking her phone at the driver saying that he left early! We were creating quite the commotion and finally a manager came to find out what was going on. He told us that the driver couldn’t open the doors,  that we had to take the next bus! I simply refused, this would be in another 2 hours and poor Marley, who granted, has the bladder of an elephant, would have been alone for 12 hours by then. This was not an option. So there I was, as the daughter described it later, like the young student at Tiananmen square, making a stand in front of the bus. “I am getting on that bus”! Wwwell, we had to concede or they would have called the police. They took us to a young employee how spoke English. Another group of tourists was standing there asking if this was their bus to SMA that just took off? The officials finally got concerned because there were now a good 10 of us with the same complaint. Finally, one decided to take a look at my ticket and said: “Oh, that bus was not going to SMA, yours  is late and hasn’t arrived yet!” You cannot imagine the mix of emotions this news brought! Overjoy and relief, a bit of shame I admit and we all burst out into laughter at our little scene… for nothing it appeared! And I thought they were so punctual!

When our bus finally arrived we all rushed in! We were not letting that one go without us!

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Until next time my new road amigos!

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20161227_140554   Kiki

 

 

ON THE ROAD TO SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE

Okay, so you know by now how much I love driving and how taking the free road usually leads to discovering little towns and villages, roadside markets and other wonderful unexpected sights.

Here is a collection of pictures taken on the road from Morelia to San Miguel de Allende (SMA). Other than the fact that I got lost along the way, it was a wonderful drive.

I have to say though that signage in Mexico is not the best. In Guadalajara for example the vegetation was so overgrown on the boulevard that you couldn’t read the signs until you were right on top of them, and usually too late to change lane. I really should make a folder of pictures. Half torn signs – you have to guess what they say. Directions given at a major and complicated intersection but then nothing for miles to confirm that you are on the right road, or then you come to a fork in the road and nothing – you have to guess which way is the one you need. This is how I lost my way.

But I have to say that since my post where I complained about having to tip everyone for their help, I’ve had so many locals come to my rescue from their heart – my angels were listening:)

In Guadalajara for example, I was looking for my bus connection to Tonalá when a young woman offered to take me there. A good thing too because it had been diverted due to constructions. It was a bit of a walk and I needed to pee real bad. She took me into a store and waited for me to use to washrooms before resuming our search for the elusive bus stop! As soon as we found it, I could tell she was eager to get going and was not asking for a tip. I gave her a big hug which she clumsily received.

When it became obvious that I had somehow missed my turn to the free road to San Miguel de Allende, I was parked on the side of the road with my map on the steering wheel, when a gentleman stopped and asked me to follow him. He took me back to the Celaya’s major roundabout, down this way, down that way and voila. I was paying extra attention to the signs: did I miss one? Nope! There were none to be seen that could have led me in the right direction. I guess they assume you know where you are going.

So back to my drive to SMA. Across a lake, through beautiful quaint villages with narrow cobbled streets, cities with large boulevards lined with stalls, beautiful curving roads revealing rolling hills, ancient monasteries, it had it all.

And then you arrive in San Miguel de Allende (there are many San Miguels, which could be confusing) you are taken aback by the vivid terracotta colours and the hillside views. Oh boy, I’m in for a treat!

 

Until next time my new road amigos!

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Kiki

 

 

MORELIA – SO MANY CHURCHES!

I don’t know why I thought Morelia was going to be a cute little town like Tequila. May be it is the name itself or that it is the migration point of thousands of monarch butterflies, but really the fact that it is the capital city of the  State of Michoacan should have clued me in!

As an exception, I decided to take the shorter route by going on the toll highway. It ended lightening my wallet by M$ 1,000 which to me is a lot of money. I do not convert into US or Canadian dollars, but compare it to my budget. M$ 1000 is one full tank of gas or about 1 and sometimes another  ½  day of driving; it could also be 4 to 5 days in a campground.  However, the free road usually runs parallel to the toll highway, and in my opinion is more picturesque, but in this case, it was weaving in and out, up and down and I thought it would add too much time to my driving day. Oh well.

Getting into the city centre was a breeze: straight through! I arrived late afternoon with a soft sun bathing the beautiful Cathedral and its plaza in a gentle glow.

I had decided to “pull a Tequila”, ie. spend the night parked in a little side road. Once again I was lucky to find the perfect spot, but a few blocks away from the Cathedral.

I tucked in the pets and went for a stroll. My first mission: find a post office and a bank. I was sent left, right and centre by conflicting directions but finally found the post office inside of the museum. The only reason I went in was to ask for directions and there it was! I sent my package registered and was told it will take about 20 days to reach Calgary. As long as it arrives, I thought!

After my stop at the bank I was ready to unwind. I picked up a few goodies off the street on my way home: Gazpacho is a town’s specialty. Finely chopped fruit mixed in with salt, chile and lots of juice. It was delicious. Then I had Churros, noodle-like donuts and finally I decided to try funny looking beans in their pods that you eat like you would edamame (they are called garbanzo beans if you are interested). They too were dowsed in spicy chile sauce. I got into the van and was not feeling too good. It must be all that chile I thought. I was positively dizzy and my body was quivering. When traffic eased up, I opened my bedroom window for fresh air and finally fell asleep.

The next morning, Marley and I went for a walk. I love our morning walks in cities. The sun is gentle, the streets are quiet but for the merchants opening their stalls. We came across a huge covered market in the process of setting up.

When we got back to the RV I was on a mission to find an internet café and post all my backed up articles. I knew that I would be traveling next to beautiful colonial towns and could not afford more delays in my posts. I googled and selected the closest opened cyber café and found it closed! On the way there, I noticed an Acupuncture business and went to inquire. It was set up in typical Mexican fashion, with a front like a garage space turned into a reception area. There was a wall and glass partitions separating the office to the public. The fees were M$ 250 for a consultation. Ok, cheap for a Canadian, but I wondered how expensive it would be to a local. I noticed many medical consultation rooms set up this way. I even saw a beautiful couch sitting in a narrow corridor and discovered that it was facing the door to an ophthalmologist’s office.20161221_111708

In many ways Mexico reminds me of France when I grew up, before the big mega superstores of every kind.  When you needed something you went to a small, specialized, family owned business. Papelerías are “papeteries”, where one buys anything to do with school and office supplies, paper supplies of any sort. The French “quincaillerie, crèmerie, fromagerie, ferrailleur, cordonnier…” all have their Mexican equivalents.

I even saw a Mexican “pet store” with fluffy bunnies and cute puppies alongside chickens and full sized turkeys!

I found a beautiful café with internet and sat down for a coffee, but we were unable to sign in, and the young waiter tried his hardest to help me connect. Disappointed I went on my way again. It was lunch time and I was close to a restaurant highly recommended by my guide book. At the very least I would have lunch I thought, but with luck I was able to connect to their Wi-Fi and spent a good 3 hours finally updating my website.

I decided to sample Michoacan’s specialty, the Aporreadillo:   a stew like dish, in which machaca — dried, shredded beef — is mixed up with scrambled eggs and served under a warm blanket of spicy tomato-chile sauce. It was delicious and with a bit of a kick, but just right! I decided to eat it French style, with a side order of rice (as opposed to rolled up in a tortilla). I love the way they cook their rice in Mexico, this one was pink and fragrant. I also treated myself to a nice glass of red wine. It turned out to be a very pleasant and relaxing afternoon. After I finished my meal, I wandered about the restaurant to discover that it had many rooms and hidden terraces. I was set up in the front room for the internet, but the rest of the place was much more inviting.20161221_170050

Commonly in restaurants, musicians would come in to serenade the patrons for a tip. It is actually quite pleasant.

It was late-afternoon when I got home and decided to take Marley for an evening walk and enjoy the town all lite up for Christmas. I got dizzy again and noticed that it was at about the same time as the night before. Curious, I thought, what can it be? Pollution I thought. And then it dawned on me! The RV is filled from exhaust and I had carbon monoxide poisoning! Oh my God, and the poor pets had been in this polluted environment all day! As soon as I turned the fan on to suck the air out, we felt better! So, note to self: when parked on the street, make sure I have my ventilation system on!

Off we went, in the setting sun, to the main plaza. We were greeted with live music, light displays, tourists happily meandering about and street vendors of every kind. It was wonderful.

I have never seen so many churches in one place than in Morelia. This is the Cathedral. After Guadalajara’s it was ok, and the old priest who looked bored out of his mind didn’t help.

Every street corner has a beautiful church. They are everywhere.  So on our evening walk, we followed beautiful archways to a courtyard facing yet another beautiful stone church. This square was lined with native arts and crafts and completely strung with traditional Mexican Christmas piñatas. It was beautiful.

We continued our jaunt unto the main plaza which was filled with nativity scenes, Christmas trees and light displays. I had brought my Go Pro camera which allowed me to take some beautiful wide angle shots of the Cathedral.DCIM100GOPROGOPR6176.

How lucky am I to not only visit beautiful towns, but during the holiday season to boot where everything becomes magical under the twinkling lights, street concerts, amped up street food selection and festive ambiance ?

We meandered about for a while and when I got hungry and tired I knew it was time to go home. I had noticed street kitchens under the arcades earlier and felt like having a large bowl of – non spicy – soup. Stove after stove had big pots of boiling broth. Some were white, others were in a tomato sauce, but upon investigation, they were all serving the same thing: Pozole! I had sampled some at the food fair with Nadine in Kino and we had not been impressed. It is made from what looks like large white corn kernels, but are very floury and bland in taste. Fine then, I will have the Pozole for dinner, “para yabar, por favor” (to go). I selected one whose broth looked rich and inviting. Once home, I poured it into a beautiful bowl and discovered that it was delicious, not spicy to boot – a winner!DCIM100GOPROGOPR6200.

Christmas was fast approaching and I was eager to get to my next destination, the one I would spend Christmas at: San Miguel de Allende. We woke up early to the sound of a hand bell. Someone was pacing the streets up and down ringing a bell, how curious. I was just about to take off when this man came about with his bell. I had to ask: what is it for? It’s for the garbage truck he responded. Oh I get it, they notify people to move their cars out of the way to allow the garbage truck down the narrow streets. I love it! Mexico is full of ancient traditions adapted to modern living!20161222_082937

Until next time my new road amigos!

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Kiki