The next couple of days, I got a taste of Mexican factory culture.
In the north side of Chihuahua, there are a ton of maquiladores, or factories. The hotel is actually right on the edge of the industrial park, although you wouldn't know it from the inside. At the factory, most of the people I was working with spoke very good English, which is a job requirement. However, that means that I didn't get a lot of chances to practice my Spanish. It's pretty sad because I used to be so fluent that I sometimes dreamed in Spanish, but since I haven't used it in years, I can only understand people when they speak slow enough that I can hear all of the syllables. The factory culture is in some ways very similar to our factories in the US. All of the people are very friendly and very helpful. There are different people who are experts at different things. The line workers are very clock-oriented, as they are getting paid by the hour. The engineers and management have their own schedule. The factory culture is in some ways very different from our factories in the US. You have to pass through a metal detector on your way in an out. The factory serves breakfast and lunch. I don't mean a cafeteria where you can purchase meals. I mean they provide them for free to everybody during their breakfast and lunch breaks. It's just a standard part of having a factory there. Also, they have a nurse on site and a doctor that visits the plant on a regular schedule- not something we have in the US. Breakfast at the factory seem to always be some sort of eggs, beans, tortillas, and fruit. Oh, and salsa. Can't forget the breakfast salsa. Lunch was a bit more of a challenge. There were fresh veggies for salads (which we're not supposed to eat because of the water they'd be washed in), tortillas, and then there was some sort of cooked meat. The first two days I was there, there also were vegetarian options like rice, so I was all set. And of course, salsa. Can't forget the lunch salsa. There were also jalapenos. Whole, raw, jalapenos. One of the guys taught me how to bite the top, see where the veins were, and then eat it like a cob of corn, but don't eat the part where the veins are, because that is the hot part. I could get away with it because I'm not from there. Everybody else was calling him a sissy though, and was just eating bites of jalapenos in between the bites of other foods. Of course, I worked hard all day, but that's not the topic of this blog.
For dinner the second night, I was again taken to el Retablo. I was fortunate that night in that the people who took me out were speaking Spanish, but would slow down enough for me to get it. At the end of the meal though, they decided that I had been in the country too long ot not have had tequila yet. I resisted a little, but ultimately, they ordered me a "Tres Banderas," which translates to "three flags." This is 3 cups, which is actually a lot to drink. The first cup has some sort of sour, fruity, red drink with salt on the rim. The second cup has lemonade, although I would be surprised if there was actually any sugar in it. The third is straight tequila. You're supposed to take a lot from cup one, some from cup 2, and a little from cup 3, and swish it around together in your mouth, then drink. Not worth it. The drink is so incredibly sour it's almost undrinkable. Plus, the swishing in your mouth means you have to taste it all- great for something that tastes good, but not for something you're trying to down as fast as possible just to be polite. In the end, I didn't even get through a third of the drink because it was so bad.
For dinner the third night, I was taken to La Quinta, another Mexican restaurant with a nice view of the city. The city is actually quite beautiful. The cerros (somewhere between a hill and a mountain) that surround the city are quite nice scenery and the city itself is very colorful. No cookie-cutter developments here. The houses can range in architectural styles (colonial Spanish to Art Deco) just as much as they can vary in color (white to hot pink). The food was ok, but really, the view was worth it. Again, the colleague I was with insisted on an after dinner drink or tequila. When I told him I had tres banderas the night before, he just scoffed. "That's horrible," he said. "You can't put all that nonsense in tequila, it ruins it." So, I had a small glass of tequila con crema. Unfortunately, it came on ice. I had been so good up to that point as far as not eating anything that was washed in the water but not cooked, not drinking the water, and not having frozen water. However, the water here seems a lot safer than in many other places I've been and I was hoping that the alcohol would kill any bad things in the water, so I drank it. It was simple, but there was some sort of undertone (maybe chocolate?) to it. That was worth finishing, but probably not ordering again. In the end, I didn't get sick, so it appears that the risk wasn't so bad after all.
After dinner both nights, I got shown around the city a little. I saw the cathedral lit up at night, the downtown area, and a great view of the city from the top of one of the cerros. At the top, there was also a rock store. Yes, I do mean a store that sells rocks. Not diamond rocks, not ruby rocks, not even polished rocks, just plain rock rocks. Some may have had a little quartz in them, but most of them were just rocks. Shelves and shelves of rocks for sale. Pea-sized rocks, fist sized rocks, even a few cantaloupe-sized rocks. I'm really not sure what people are doing buying and selling rocks or what they do with the rocks. I have to say that is a very unique experience. I have never been to a rock store before and am not sure that I will ever get a chance to go to a rock store again.
Each night, I retired relatively early and was able to get 8 hours of sleep. This may be a work trip, but I'm getting twice the sleep as at home, so I'm pretty relaxed. This is more of a vacation in some ways.