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Life in Mexico City

Subtle Messages…

We fly out of Mexico City bright and early tomorrow. As sad as we are to leave, I do feel we’ve been getting small, subtle signals from Mexico that our time here is meant to come to an end.

1) We got rear-ended last Thursday, 3 days after having $6000 pesos of car work done to fix up the Maxima from all the ills and suffering of driving in Mexico. We were stopped trying to merge off one major road onto another, as was the car behind us, and someone flew up & slammed into that car which then hit us. The best part was, John didn’t even stop. We just kept on going; it just wasn’t worth talking about it. :)

John mockingly offers the Mexican "thanks" gesture in the area of our bumper where we now have an imprint of a stranger's license plate. Luckily that was the only very minor damage we had. :)

2) The closest I got to seeing the much-heralded Michael Phelps at the Festival Olímpico Bicentenario was in these photos for sale on the street.  (But I did read a great quote from another Mexican athlete that it would have been much cheaper for the Mexican government to have hired some strippers to take their shirts off & entertain the crowd instead of Phelps doing the same for roughly 2 hours @ a price of $100,000.)

This was unsatisfying.

3) I unintentionally viewed several middle-age men prancing around wearing what seemed to be baggy leather boy-shorts. To be clear, men who shouldn’t have been wearing leather boy-shorts.

This image is seared into my mind forever. What sport was this anyway?

4) While on our hotel’s 16th-floor lounge/roof deck, we discovered we could still hear an organ grinder on the street level of Zona Rosa. For those who haven’t heard this sound, remove all preconceptions of “precious, old-timey music makers” from your mind. These sound like dying cats.

Stop. Please. Just stop. Learn a real instrument. Or consider having that one tuned. But in the interim, just stop.

5) A bird with serious gastric distress unloaded on our car while it was parked on the street near our hotel. Really, I’m no vet, but this bird *probably* needs some sort of medical care. ASAP.

You know it's bad when you drive around Mexico City for a day & no one volunteers to wash your windshield at a traffic light.

6) I saw an advertisement for food in the subway that almost made me want to throw up a little bit in my mouth. Just because your product has a new image doesn’t make me want to eat your Sphinx-shaped potato substitute.

What is happening here, exactly?

7) And last but not least, I was nearly attacked by a massive owl. I think he felt threatened by me.

This was a narrow miss.

It brought back terrifying memories of that time John was almost eaten by a lizard. I believe this owl attack may have been brought on by me mocking his family earlier this week.

I dropped & broke my camera that could actually take decent night photos, so you will just have to live with this vague image of me using my sweater to simulate owl-wings in front of this horrific movie poster.

All these signs combined make me think it is probably time to go, for now at least.

I’ve been considering continuing with this blog for a few more months, at least while I get through the backload of hundreds of photos I’ve snapped, trips we’ve taken, tasty restaurants we’ve discovered, hot Mexico tips we’ve learned, etc. There are still a variety of posts I’ve been meaning to get around to (Yucatan/Quinanta Roo trip, Huatulco trip, Baja California Sur trip, how to become a luchador, my friends’ witty anecdotes of dating in Mexico, where the mother lode of guayaberas can be found in the Centro, Bicentenario photos, etc.).

So, if y’all still have any interest, I may try to keep doing the occasional post until I run out of Mexico experiences to discuss. :)  And I promise to largely avoid the topic of our impending dull, American lives back in Washington D.C. unless something happens that is super-hilarious or Mexico-relevant. What do you think?  (And don’t worry; I won’t be offended if you tell me, “Julie, you just posted a photo of bird-doo on your car windshield… maybe it’s time to close-up shop.”) 😉

What do you think about public transit in Mexico City??

I received a random email yesterday from the Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad (a.k.a. the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness). Take a look at the text below:

***************************

Dear Julie,

I work for the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO), a local think-tank focused on issues of competitiveness. I’m currently involved in a project about urban mobility in DF and its suburbs. One of the channels through which mass transit and mobility affect the local economy is tourism. I ran a quick search of “mass transit DF tourism” and found your blog. Although you are not/ were not a tourist, I think you might have a few ideas as to how the local mass transit system can better serve the needs of foreign visitors. Obviously our initial premise is that more people would come to DF, and stay longer, if mass transit was more “foreigner-friendly”. If you could share some thoughts on this topic, we would be very grateful indeed. I have not been able to find any surveys or field studies about what foreign tourists think of Mexico City’s transit and how that affects their sight-seeing patterns.

Best regards,

(name withheld to protect the innocent)

*************************

Needless to say, I was flattered to be viewed as a possible resource for any organization who falls into the category of think-tanks! And while I certainly have some ideas of how to improve public transit in Mexico City, I figured– why not also solicit feedback from my loyal readers??  (That’s you, Mom & Dad.)

Anyway, if you’re part of the majority of my readers who either live in or have visited Mexico City, please take a minute & leave a comment below. Mexico City is trying to polish itself up for you folks!  Help it help you, people. :) If you have any hot suggestions of how mass transit here might be improved to make life easier for tourists, please let me know & I shall pass it along to the investigator at the Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad. Perhaps on your next trip to DF, you will see your brilliance implemented & will be able to tell all your kids about the time you consulted for a think-tank. (pro bono) 😉  Thanks much!

Mexico Driving Hazards

We’re staying in the Marriott Reforma for our last week here in DF, so please forgive the lack of communication– internet in our hotel room costs $250 pesos/day (gag). I’d been having luck standing against the window of our spot on the 14th floor & connecting to “Mexico Ciudad Digital”, the only unsecured network in the area. But after 20 minutes of holding my computer on one hand at shoulder-height and mashing the touchpad with the other hand, I gave in to Marriott’s “much worse of a deal”– $50 pesos for 1 hour– to see if anyone  had written back dying to purchase our couch. (No such luck.)

As I stay online at 12:41AM getting my money’s worth of the full hour, here’s my fav pic from today’s drive to Xochimilco (we went to visit the Museo Dolores Olmedo upon recommendation of our good friend Cynthia— totally worth the visit!). I question whether this taxi driver’s peripheral vision is up to recommended standards….

We passed this taxi quickly, trying to avoid conflict...

In other news today, the Festival Olímpico Bicentenario was as random as you might have expected. Favorite sights included:

Hot guys playing sand volleyball

Loads of little kiddos ready for a swim...

....all rapidly diving into the pool at once, which seemed to be functioning quite well after being set up in 24 hours!

There were an impressive number of handicap-accessible events, like this adaptation of soccer for the blind.

Similarly, they had an incredibly impressive dance troupe of young boys/girls, half of whom were in wheelchairs, dancing to traditional Mexican songs. They were precious.

The group festivities were followed by samba dancing in pairs, again equally impressive & not held back by their wheelchairs in the least!

Tomorrow AM we are off to a “Despedida con Arepas” courtesy our good friends from Venezuela, so off to bed to prepare for more cross-cultural farewells!! :)

Olympic Festival this weekend in Mexico City

If you’re hanging around Mexico City this weekend, consider checking out the Festival Olímpico Bicentenario. This Bicentennial thing just keeps on coming!! It wouldn’t be a festival in Mexico if a major thoroughfare wasn’t closed off, so of course several blocks of Reforma are shutdown as of last night through Monday. Unaware of this excitement, we chose the Marriott Reforma for our “last few nights in Mexico” hotel, which turns out to be right in the thick of the action. Luckily I can sleep like the dead, but John awoke this morning to the soothing sound of hundreds of angry drivers honking up a storm at the ensuing traffic cluster. :)

I’ve not had much luck finding a detailed itinerary of what’s happening on Reforma (this programa offers the helpful guidance of “start of activities & exhibitions” for 2 full days). But I do know they are setting up multiple olympic-sized pools, basketball courts, gymnastic areas, tennis courts, rugby fields, and more. This is basically the equivalent of setting up a mini-Olympics along Lakeshore Drive in Chicago & completely blocking the most heavily traversed part. It just makes sense, people. You can see the general area below, but you have to go to the website to see the map showing exactly how many fields/courts/pools are getting set up. Hilarious.

Come to Mexico City's pseudo-Olympics & see money being well-spent!!

Additionally, word on the street is that Michael Phelps is supposed to be town for the excitement. This begs the question: how do I get to see Michael Phelps, one of the few people in the world who probably has even longer monkey arms than me? Anyone with a Michael Phelps connection, please advise. Maybe I can get access as a member of the press??

Photo of someone who may or may not be Michael Phelps stolen from the Festival Olímpico website. We are totally going to be hanging out this weekend, I'm sure of it.

After 2.5 full days of packing/loading, the movers seem to be almost done packing our apartment here in Polanco, so I am excited to return to our hotel on Reforma to see if the pools are ready for me to take a dip!

P.S. I think there might be synchronized swimming. This is going to be awesome.

The preferred moving company of Mexico

This Wednesday, the movers arrive to start packing up all of our worldly possessions. The move is all taken care of by the Embassy, which is fantastic & something of which I am incredibly appreciative. HOWEVER, if the Embassy wasn’t arranging movers for us, I know exactly which company I would be hiring.

Transporte de Cristo Jesus: preferred by believers worldwide

The term you see in Mexico is “fletes y mudanzas“, which loosely translates as freight and moving. In addition to household moves, you’ll see guys with fletes y mudanzas signs outside of stores (especially those selling furniture & other large items) who will be happy to help you get that new treadmill home to serve as a clothes drying rack.

While I feel this particular company is making a rather bold claim (to be the “Transport of Jesus Christ”), I nonetheless appreciate their ambition. And since marketing helps me decide, clearly I would pick Jesus’s movers over someone whose claim to fame is, say, moving flowers.

Come on, guys. ANYONE can transport a bunch of flowers...Time to hire a new brand manager.

He’s all mime, ladies

Once upon a time, John had a great idea. We could tell by the light above his head.

The Idea Man

You might be wondering, was his idea to buy a pug?

Prop Pug courtesy Burro Hall Enterprises, Ltd.

Well, that is a constant idea in his mind… But this time, his idea was to infiltrate a clown/mime convention happening in Coyoacan this weekend.

You can imagine his displeasure when right as he discovered the entrance, he got trapped in a box.

Sign reads: "Clowns - Mimes --> Entrance"

It was pretty ironic.

A Visit to the Corona Brewery (aka Cervecería Modelo)

Have you ever thought to yourself, “What could I do today to support a giant, soul-crushing monopoly?”  If you happen to be in Mexico City, I have just the ticket: a visit to Cervecería Modelo, just north of Polanco!

The iconic Corona sign hovering over the large brewery in Mexico City.

The name Grupo Modelo may not immediately ring any bells for non-Mexico residents, but it is the company responsible for many well-known Mexican beers– Corona, Pacifico, Negro Modelo/Modelo, Leon, Victoria, Estrella, Montejo, and Barrilito. It also holds 63% of the Mexican beer market, with nearly all the remainder covered by Heineken/FEMSA; between the two of them, they make life difficult for any young upstarts in the Mexican beer world who are going after that last 3% market share.

That said, I am a fan of both Pacifico and Negro Modelo, and I imagine there may be other readers who have been swayed by Corona’s impressive marketing efforts, so I decided to go check things out this afternoon. I took some guidance from my husband, who went on a Modelo brewery tour a few months ago– he felt the tour was interesting if you’ve never seen the brewing process before, but if you’ve been to other breweries, this tour likely won’t knock your socks off. Needless to say, this girl has seen one or two breweries in her day, so I decided to skip straight to the good stuff: the gift shop.

WHERE: Finding the brewery was easy, and the appropriate entrance was fairly obvious. The map on Grupo Modelo’s website shows roughly where the door is located at Lago Alberto 156 in Colonia Anahuac, Mexico City. You can actually walk there quite easily from the Polanco metro station– once you exit the station, just walk up Arquimedes going north. After carefully crossing a busy street (Ejercito Nacional), you will cross under an overpass (Rio San Joaquin) and then take a right onto Lago Alberto.

You will see these large beer vats as you approach the brewery... Walk forward along the left side of these and then turn right (walking along the far side of this fenced-in area); this will put you on Lago Alberto

The view as you walk towards the entrance of the Cervecería Modelo. Your entrance will be under the flag/seal, just past where all the beer trucks are turning in.

Cross Lago Alberto & enter beneath the seal:

This was taken seconds before I got yelled/whistled at by the security guard in the middle of the photo, who obviously sensed that I was snapping highly-sensitive pics FROM A PUBLIC STREET as part of my plan to infiltrate the brewery.

Once you enter, tell the security guard at the desk that you are there to visit the “Tienda de Propaganda”. You’ll be asked for an ID (so bring some sort of ID with you), signed in & given a badge. Then someone will lead you to the gift shop. The gift shop is open Monday – Friday from 8AM to 5PM.

WHAT: The amusingly-named Tienda de Propaganda is wisely hidden inside the factory, rather than being easily accessible from the street for tourists. 😉  A Modelo employee will lead you along a roped-off sidewalk, while large trucks & carts zip along nearby. Eventually you’ll be dropped off at the uninspiringly-signed hallway leading to the store.

Just look for the Propaganda sign, and take care not to get mowed down by a rapidly-moving forklift.

I think I was hoping for a more over-the-top gift shop (and maybe the chance for a beer sample, let’s be honest), but Modelo’s Tienda de Propaganda nonetheless fulfilled its reason for being: there was no shortage of Corona-covered kitsch to be purchased!! If you are a big beer drinker and/or Modelo-brand beer fan, you should at least find some products here that will help you outpace the Jones’s in the “beer accoutrements” department. :) A lot of the stuff there, neither John nor I have seen elsewhere (though admittedly we may not have been looking that hard).

In the event that you’re on the fence about whether the Corona (and friends) Gift Shop merits a visit, here’s the smattering of its offerings that I was able to surreptitiously photograph:

Oversized 2L plastic beer bottle with screw-on plastic top? Check! ($34 pesos)

A whole bunch of shirts with beer logos/commentary on them in a mixture of English & Spanish? Yes! (prices unclear on my grainy photo, but I believe <$100 pesos)

Old-timey beer trays with old-timey ad images + a tacky surface to prevent glasses from sliding all over the place? Yep! ($42 pesos)

German-looking beer steins that would probably crack in shame if beer this light gets poured into them? Check! And Corona-branded dominos to show up the locals during your next cantina visit. (Dominos ~$140-150 pesos)

Miniature coolers with handles, a magnetic top & a built-in bottle opener? Absolutely! These are one of my favorite items-- John got us the red/blue Corona one a few months back. Prices seem to range from $350 to $600 ish. John estimates ours might hold about 18 beers, so a fun item to have on your counter for a party.

The inflatable section! I succumbed to buying a 1.5m-tall inflatable Pacifico beer bottle. And if we weren't moving back to a pool-less townhouse, I would have definitely bought the sand + palm tree floating bottle holder. I mean, your beer can float next to you in the pool AND be covered in shade at the same time. Brilliant. ($40 pesos for tall bottle)

MY 2-CENT BREWERY TOUR: As previously mentioned, I didn’t do the official brewery tour, but I did snap a couple photos on my way back to the entrance (for which I also got yelled at by a concerned man in a suit).  You’ll quickly be able to decode all the secret details I captured & perhaps start your own competitive brewery, or create an elaborate scheme for breaking into this one.

Apparently Corona & friends come from the cleanest, purest, mountain-fresh water known to man.

To keep morale high, there is colorful old-timey truck & fake beer barrels inside the main entrance. Que preciosa, eh?

The best part is that no one yelled at me for taking a photo of the Modelo cerveza-making process:

OMG! It's all out in the open now, people. I trust you will have no problem replicating these beer-making and packaging processes to create your own brewery intent on world domination!!

If you’re interested in a more elaborate tour of the Cervecería Modelo than what my photos can provide, drop an email to visitas@gmodelo.com.mx. I even received a same-day response to my inquiry! Their tours seem to skew more towards large groups, but the email I received indicated that if I was alone, I could be attached on to an existing group. Lic. Flor Santillana is the woman from the PR dept who coordinates tours, and tours are available Monday through Friday, seemingly at 9AM, 11AM and 3PM, but I would definitely call/email first, as I’m not sure they’ll accommodate you if you just show up. Additional questions, you can call 55.5262.1200 ext 2336.

Tours are available at Modelo’s other breweries as well, so if you’re in Zacatecas, Guadalajara, Ciudad Obregon in Sonora, Mazatlan, Tuxtepec in Oaxaca, or Torreon in Coahuila, check here to get the contact info & set one up!

I hope this satisfies anyone who was curious about where Coronas come from before they end up in a million photos of people’s feet on a sunny beach…. or where you should go once you convince your wife that this should be your new dining room table:

Ahhh if only we had a proper Man Cave for John back in our townhouse in Arlington, VA...

As we say in Mexico before slurping down a cold beer, ¡Salud!

http://www.primus.com.mx/

Questionable Ladder Usage…

Now, I’m not saying that this guy isn’t a highly-trained professional…

As seen in Polanco this weekend

….I’m just not saying that he is….

"...just...a little...farther...I can...almost....reach it..."

Anyone in Mexico City offering review courses on ladder operation? Perhaps something like, “Slanted Ladders: Which Side is Your Friend?”

P.S. Bicentenario pics coming soon to a blog near you!! Honest!!

What to eat at the Tacos & Mariachi Fest in Mexico City

We visited the aforementioned First [Annual??] Tacos & Mariachi Festival after work today in Plaza Garibaldi, as I was curious to see what kind of festival could be organized in two weeks. I really should not be surprised to discover one does not need that much time to bring together numerous tasty taco vendors in Mexico City!

While business was a bit slow at 5:30PM on a Tuesday, there was a very respectable turnout of taco vendors (maybe 20-30 stands? I am unable to estimate things…). One of the workers told us there had been a great turnout over the past weekend and they had high hopes for this coming weekend (the festival ends this Sunday, September 12), but activity during the week was looking a tick sluggish. (Which means YOU, Chilangos, should go support these diligent taco vendors, since it’s not like there are taco stands on every block in Mexico City…  Err… well, maybe there are… but I digress.)

If anyone reading this has the fortune to be in DF this week, here were our highlights…

First Stop: We were drawn into the Molcalli stand by smell alone. When we realized it was only mole, we almost reconsidered (as John & I are not huge mole fans)… but luckily the pointman for this stand was an excellent salesperson and seduced us in for some samples.

Molcalli had probably the best moles I've had in Mexico. Fair enough, I've not tried *a zillion* moles in Mexico, but these were really good. :)

Here are Susan, Luis, Margaret & John sampling our blue corn tortillas + meat in mole sauce + rice. Note the witty pointman dancing in the background.

These moles (which covered various types of meat– pork, turkey, etc.) were fantastic– my top three in order were the almendrado one, the adobo, and the verde.  There was also a pipian option & some romeritos that were both underwhelming.  If you don’t make it to the Festival, Productos Molcalli is located at Mariano Escobedo #22, San Pedro Atocpan, Milpa Alta D.F., molcalli@yahoo.com.mx, phone 55.5844.2350.

Second Stop: we got thirsty. Since Luis & Margaret are new in town, we felt it was ok to deviate from the festival stands briefly to stop by La Hermosa Hortencia pulqueria to ensure they sampled some pulque.

John & I display the mango and fresa (strawberry) pulque options available today at the pulqueria in Plaza Garibaldi.

I have to say, I was fairly impressed with both pulque flavor choices. I now realize the mistake I made by first trying pulque in its “au natural” state (i.e. natural flavor) when I moved to Mexico City– that stuff tastes/feels like snot. Flavored pulque = quite tasty, once you get over the texture. :)

Third Stop: Ayluardo’s, where I was drawn in by their display of “Tacos en Nogada.” This struck me as a brilliant way to cheat on the true Mexican Independence Day dish, Chiles en Nogada. Genius!

How tasty do these tacos en nogada look?? They were great, AND they were served warm-- to me an added bonus vs. the traditional way of serving chiles en nogada cold.

Ayluardo's also offered a nice, spicy cochinita pibil + pickled onions.

Good job Ayluardo's on your cohesive marketing plan-- easily visible prices/menu AND sample food offerings displayed along with their variety of salsas.

I don't cover this a lot on the blog, but here's a little snapshot into my life-- constant height comparison opportunities. I mean, truly, if I had a nickel for every time...

The tacos en nogada are definitely worth a try. In real life, Ayluardo’s is located at Aldama #72, Colonia Bo. de San Pablo, Iztapalapa, Mexico D.F.  Phone #55.5685.3288. We really felt like we formed a bond with these guys when, after we’d already moved on to stop #4, one of the workers ran over with the following note:

This note informed us of an upcoming "Fair of the Enchilada" that will be celebrated October 7-17 somewhere in the Delegacion of Iztapalapa... I think in La Explanada of Iztapalapa, if I read that correctly.

We were flattered to be invited to the Enchilada Fair next month in Iztapalapa. I could not find any further details online regarding the 8th annual event in 2010, but I did find proof that it happened last year. Keep an eye out for further Enchilada Fair details!!

Our last stop was two stalls to the left, though I forget the name. This place lured us in with a charcoal grill heating up two wee little vats of queso fundido (as well as some bistec).

Hello, individual-sized pots of queso fundido.

Here we are with a bounty of salsas & accoutrements.

This spot offered your more traditional Tacos al Carbon fare, and a variety of salsas to match… but I would have to nonetheless rank it at the bottom of the 3 taco stands we visited. Still very good, but the wee pots of queso were not novel enough to top tacos en nogada and dancing mole vendors.

We paused briefly to watch the action on the festival stage:

The stage is set up just in front of the soon-to-be Tequila Museum.

During our visit, it featured age-mis-matched couples (i.e. 55 year old woman + 15 year old boy) dancing to music that seemed to be sourced from Looney Toons cartoons (probably one where Sylvester is chasing Tweety Bird). BUT it was full of life & entertaining, and surely the mariachis were going to perform next. 😉  As you may have gathered, our experience at the festival was a bit light on mariachis & heavy on tacos, but I’m certain you can suss out more mariachi action if you see fit. If you’re looking for bustling activity, go on Friday or Saturday night, but if you’re just looking for tasty tacos, go tomorrow!

Enjoy! :)

1st Taco & Mariachi Festival in Plaza Garibaldi!

Alert to any Chilangos and/or Mexico City visitors during the week of September 3-12, 2010: two of my favorite things (tacos & mariachis) are being celebrated in yet another Mexican festival!!  (Lest anyone forget how successful the LAST festival was that I recommended, please feel free to revisit my Burro Festival recap.)

Another brilliant mascot!! A sombrero-wearing, guitar-playing taco who's just waiting to be dipped in the roja or verde salsas at his sides.

I am hoping this is the first in a series of awesome Mexican-themed events to occur in DF in the run-up to the Bicentennial excitement this September. To be fair, if I was planning this event (at which CANIRAC anticipates 100,000 attendees), I might have started inviting taco vendors prior to 10 days ago… But I did learn when I was coordinating events at TI that excessive advance notice just doesn’t sit well ’round these parts (or at least may not be as effective as you might think when trying to get people to attend something), so I’m counting this as “cultural differences”. :)  Perhaps the 2-weeks notice is right on track for the taco vendors!

Regardless, I know for sure that the mariachis will be amped up & ready to go, so any “artistic events, cultural events, Mexican snack sales & many more surprises” will just be frosting on the cake!! Mark it on your calendar, people. Not sure where Plaza Garibaldi is? Check the map here. And for anyone of the opinion that Plaza Garibaldi is a den of iniquity & thieves, I beg you to give it a chance– you might have as much fun as these folks did. :)

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