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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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!

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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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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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Au plaisir de la route!

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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Au plaisir de la route!

20161215_114445

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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Au plaisir de la route!20161220_173726

Kiki

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHRISTMAS, MEXICAN STYLE

I wish you all a merry Christmas in pictures:)

Feliz Navidad muchachos y muchachas!

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Until next time my new road amigos!

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Au plaisir de la route!20161223_115536

Kiki

 

 

GUADALAJARA

A good thing my campground was off the periferico boulevard because entering Guadalajara, the second largest metropolis in Mexico with 4.3 million people was a bit of a zoo. Thank God for Google Map to guide me because Gloria, my not so glorious GPS that day, insisted that I retraced my steps to take the paying highway (she gets all upset when I take the free road).

We settled in at the campground, a very quiet and shaded park, so I was comfortable leaving the pets in the truck during the day while I played tourist.20161218_095604

The next morning I took the direct bus to the old Guadalajara.  It was a 1 hour ride, but there was so much to see that it went very fast. When I got there, I had plans to visit a few monuments, perhaps a museum or two, but I got infected by the vibe of the place and decided to soak it in by just wandering the streets instead.20161217_152953 I did go to the famous cathedral and happened to be there for the noon mass. I must say there is something very special to enter a church and smell frankincense. They don’t use censers in many churches anymore and what a shame because it adds so much to the mystical experience.20161217_115635 The burning incense, the procession, the singing and the fervor of the congregation added to the grandiose structure of the cathedral itself was breathtaking. It was a magical experience for me and I took the time to thank my angels for my good fortune to be on this amazing journey.

Religion is big business is Guadalajara. Shops and stalls selling religious objects are everywhere. Stores specializing in garments for communions, baptisms and such were numerous. I saw a young girl coming out of the Cathedral, dressed like a bride, with veil and all, at her father’s arm. I am guessing this was a first communion?20161217_115417

Guadalajara had many plazas with beautiful official buildings, narrow busy merchant streets, open squares with the usual souvenir vendors. It was busy without being rushed and stressful like most big cities. I guess I stayed in the touristic area, so most people were enjoying themselves.

At one point I found myself inside a covered market and realized how huge it was when I saw upstairs floors. It was crowded and busy of a different kind. This is where the locals shopped. It was a little bit too much for me, too many people in very tight spaces! I am not used to that.

I have to say that for me part of discovering a new place is to sample to local foods. Guadalajara had many treats and I settled for a large cup of fresh fruit. I passed on the chili that is usually poured over everything you order, from chips to fruit!

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Can i have mine without bees por favor?

I had a really good time but after 4 hours of walking around I was ready to go home. I took the same bus I used to come in, but discovered that it took quite a bit of a detour into an adjacent little town before resuming its course on the boulevard I wanted. I got home at 6 pm.

Sunday market in Tonala:

I really enjoyed my time in Guadalajara and wondered if I should go back there for one more day. My guide book recommended the Sunday market in the suburb of Tonala so I decided to check it out.

After a 3 hour commute where I almost lost my cookie because of the hectic driving I finally arrived in the busy streets of Tonala.

The narrow streets were lined with stalls with awnings creating covered walkways. It was busy and relaxed at the same time. The flow kept moving making it difficult at times to stop and look at the merchandise. I was looking for the center plaza where I hoped to find a terrace for a quiet coffee and recuperate from my nausea, but there was no quiet to be found.

When I found the plaza, it too was completely covered and taken over by food stalls. So I decided to sample some of the local food. I had the “Orden” a slow fried mix of meats with onions and bacon (Amazing) served with of course Frijoles (beans) and tortillas. It was wonderful! I also sampled a meat taco dripping with juice and a large cup of fruit. The prices were very competitive compared to Guadalajara, but still more expensive than in the little villages on the side of the road. I did buy a few terracotta cookware typical of the region and new curtains for my mosquito netting.20161218_132313

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I bought this little piggy!

On a hunch I checked the map and discovered that Tonala was actually closer to my campground without having to go back to Guadalajara Centro. I also didn’t want to spend another 3 hours in buses. So I tried to get into a taxi. Well, that proved more difficult than I thought. I was turned down by 3 cabs because they would make more money running around Tonala than drive me to Guadalajara! While I was negotiating a cab ride, a family harangued me and offered me a ride for M$150, instead of the $250 the cabs wanted. By the way, there are no meters in cabs, so you better agree upon a price before setting off! I hopped into the car, with Teodoro, Sandra and their teenage daughter whose name escapes me. Teodoro wanted M$200 after looking at the map. At this point I just wanted to get home and it was still cheaper than the cabs, which didn’t want my business anyway. So off we went and chatted on the way. He kept teasing his daughter that she couldn’t chat with me in English after all the lessons she has been taking! He drove in typical Mexican fashion, weaving at high speed in and out of traffic, taking a shortcut and dropped me off in 26 minutes flat, when Google said it would take 45 minutes! I was just glad to be home in one piece.

I stayed at the campground the following day as I was quite tired and wanted to write my blogs. The internet service was so slow that I was unable to post anything. This internet issue is becoming quite a problem! When you have one, it is often so slow as being absolutely useless. When on the road or boon docking I am without internet, which means that I will post a whole bunch of articles at once when I am fortunate to get a good signal. So thank you readers for your patience and understanding:)

By subscribing, you will receive an e-mail notification each time I post something, so you don’t have to keep checking my site and get discouraged.

Also did you know that when you click on the content of the e-mail it will direct you to my website where you can click on the pictures to enlarge them for your viewing pleasure?

palm-tree

Until next time my new road amigos!

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Au plaisir de la route!

Kiki   20161217_144746

 

 

 

 

TEQUILA!

I arrived in Tequila early afternoon, plenty of time I thought to visit one of the many distilleries. I had selected Mundo Cuervo as my preferred choice for 2 reasons : It is the Jose Cuervo distillery, one of the largest and oldest in the world, and it is located right in the town’s main plaza. I had assumed, wrongly, that they would have a large parking area for the busloads of tourists and once parked I would be able to browse the town.

First of all I couldn’t find the plaza and got lost in narrow and poorly paved cobble stoned streets. When it became obvious that I was going in the wrong direction, I turned around and retraced my steps where I knew I must have missed my mark. On the way there, obviously lost, parked on the side of a busy intersection and with my map on my lap, a truck stopped near me and the driver asked me in English if he could help. He showed me the way and led me to an even narrower street saying “count 7 blocks and turn right, and 2 blocks and turn left”. One block into this road I was panicking a little with huge trucks coming my way, oh my, I thought, I’m never going to make it in one piece! Traffic relaxed a bit and I even stopped on the way to purchase a Santa Clause Piñata to give the truck a bit of a Christmas atmosphere.

The closer I got to the center the busier the streets. I asked for directions and knew I was close. If only I could park the RV I could just walk, I thought. By sheer miracle I found a parking space on the side of a typical narrow street that still allowed room for trucks to pass me by without scraping the RV. I got the pets settled in, and walked to the town’s main plaza, which happened to be only a few blocks away.

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Can you see Santa in the window?

The plaza was a large and beautifully decorated open space, lined with churches, cafés, boutiques and arched terraces.

I walked around in search of the Mundo Cuervo distillery and when I found it decided not to spend the money on a tour and be rushed through the last guided visit of the day, but go to the adjacent Tequila museum instead to learn about the process of making this wonderful beverage. My guide book had indicated that a small hacienda in a village outside of Tequila is always rated as number one by the visitors of the touristic Tequila Tours that abound in the region. This would be a better and cheaper choice I thought.

I decided instead to enjoy the sounds and sights of this wonderful town. While browsing I had noticed a tourist sipping a drink in an earthen ware jar. Interesting I thought. I also compared prices and with the help of pictures on menus I had decided to try the “carne en su jugo” a slow cooked meat in its own juice. It looked delicious!

When I found the place that was selling the mysterious drink in a clay pot, I treated myself to a Cantarito. First they put ice cubes at the bottom and sprinkle a few grains of coarse salt. Then comes the freshly pressed juice of half a lime, orange and grapefruit.  They poured in orange soda for fizz and a LARGE glass of tequila! But that is not all my friends, in true Mexican fashion Chili had to come in somehow, in a sweet granulated fashion. Give it a swirl and Voila! It was divine and dangerously deceptive! No wonder everyone looked so happy, they are all half drunk!

I slowly made my way to the restaurant I had selected for my dinner.

The waiter was very helpful in showing me how to eat this traditional meal Mexican style. You add the side dishes to the main one and roll a tortilla that you would eat in between spoonful of stew.

Even on its own the stew was very flavorful, but when the other ingredients, chopped fresh white onion, cilantro and avocado were added to the mix, it added quite a bit more contrast and was simply fun and delicious to eat.DCIM100GOPROGOPR6086.

I made my way “home” and decided that I might as well stay put and spend the night right where I was. I took Marley for his evening walk and discovered that I was close to another bustling shopping area. The night had fallen and I felt safe walking the busy boulevard with Marley by my side. What fun! I usually never go out after dark, but this felt very safe. I bought 2 cheap skirts, treated myself to a large glass of Coconut Frescada (half of it was finish the following night with Tequila!) and enjoyed the night scene of a small town such as Tequila. No tourists now, but lots of young people and it seems that’s when the general population do their shopping – when the sun is down. I got back to the RV it was only 7:30 pm!

The road I was on was very loud and busy and I had to keep the windows closed because of the exhausts, but after a while, I am guessing 10:00 pm it grew quiet and didn’t resurrect until 7:00 am the next morning, so we ended up having a good night sleep after all.

Because my parking spot was so perfect and I wanted to enjoy the town some more, I decided to treat myself to a coffee at the town square and take Marley with me.  We sat at one of the cafés lining the square and discovered that people were setting up booths for the week-end! Bonus I thought, I’m going to look for gifts and trinkets later on.

I eventually ordered breakfast, which came as I am discovering must be a Mexican fashion, with lots of extras in pretty side dishes. First came two pieces of buttered cinnamon-sugar toast. Yum!

My omelet arrived with a side of “frijoles” (slow cooked beans) and salsa of course!img-20161216-wa0000

I decided to follow the street alongside the Jose Cuervo building. As I was climbing up a pretty hill with picturesque homes, I happened to pass by the private gardens of the Cuervo distillery when the gardeners were there and they allowed me in to take some pictures.

I continued on my road, all the way to the dead end.

When I came back to the square, the market was in full swing. I found some wonderful pieces at a very reasonable price (much cheaper than in Guadalajara).

We were just a few hours outside of Guadalajara and I wanted to allow plenty of time to find my campsite on the outskirt of town as well as visit a distillery on the way.

It was a spur of the moment thing, when I saw the ample parking space in front of the Tres Mujeres Tequila distillery, to stop for a tour. I discovered to my great surprise that it was free! Even better!

Here is my guide, Christina, is showing me how tall the agave plant can get. This one is only 3 years old. They are usually harvested when they are 8 years old. I enjoyed my private tour. In the cellar where they mature the tequila in oak barrels from France, classical music was playing to relax the wine. I then sampled the different quality of Tequila, dependent on how long it was aged.

The Blanco (white) Tequila is unaged while the Tequila Reposado (rested) has been aged for 3 months and there is already a distinct difference between these two stages.

The Tequila Añero (vintage) came in 3 years or 8 years of maturity (black label).

In the store, the best vintages were sold at over $100 and are best savored neat as you would a good Bourbon. I wanted to recreate the Cantarito I had in Tequila, so I bought the cheapest one. No need to mix the good stuff with fruit juice! I learned that you can add Tequila to Chocolate milk, but I am sure chili and such is added to the mix as well. Margueritas here are with pomegranate juice – I have yet to sample a true Mexican Marguerita – something I look forward to doing, may be while sitting at another picturesque town square?

palm-tree

Until next time my new road amigos!

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Au plaisir de la route!DCIM100GOPROGOPR6076.

Kiki