A Travellerspoint blog

June 2010

Tourism cram

Just like my trip to PR, I get to the end and realize that I haven't seen much real tourist stuff. I have had some authentic experiences, which is good, but it's also nice to see what the city has to offer.

After work, I was taken to Pancho Villa's house, which is one of the main tourist attractions in town. Yes, it has the car (with a crank on front!) that Panch Villa was shot in, but there's actually more to see than that. If you're big into guns and knives, you'll enjoy it as there are tons of old weapons scattered about the place. There's even a cannon where you can see how friction with cannonballs has caused the metal on the place the cannon balls come out to flow. If you're into decorative doors, walls, ceilings, and tile work, there's something for you. The whole place is a huge (my house could fit in once of the courtyards) mansion that is decorated very ornately. Some of the walls have these amazing murals on them. Of course, if you're into history, you'll also be entertained. If you're not into weaponry, art/architecture, or history, you'll probably breeze through it pretty quickly, unless you stop to decode the descriptions. I think they just dumped the Spanish into babelfish and printed the results.

We then went to look at the jail in the middle of the city. It looks like a castle in some ways. Apparently, it's still in use, but definitely minimum security. I am told that the real prison is further out of town.

I also got to see the church of the Sacred Heart. It's a very nice church, with all the requisite stained glass. One thing I've never seen before is that in the corner, there was a rack of ribbons. Many of them had messages for the saint that the rack was nearby, and I'm guessing that the blank ones had messages mentally spoken when they were put on the rack. I thought that was pretty cool.

Further downtown is the main plaza. Like a typical Spanish colonial plaza, one side had the government buildings and one side had the cathedral. The cathedral is pretty standard with ornately carved stonework all around. The stonework is a little damaged from all of the pigeons, but they have stopped the damage from continuing by putting up netting over the stonework. In the plaza are a few gazebos, some of which were real shoe-shine stations with real shoe-shine boys shining real people's shoes. The plaza had fountains, trees, and benches as well- all the things you need to just sit and relax.

Of course, I was drawn to the street vendors. Here, everybody had Elote, os of course I had to get some. Elote is an ear of boiled corn. On top, they put butter, chili powder, thick cream, lime juice, and that white cheese that goes on DoriNachos. It was all very good.

As soon as we were done eating, we went for dinner. I was pretty full already, but that has never stopped the folks I'm with from ordering us tons of food. Again, we had a girl come to our table and make salsa from scratch right in front of us. We got queso fundido, which I had recently found out was a mostly northern Mexican dish. I got crepes as well. I didn't finish it all, but I was so stuffed.

Cathedral

Cathedral


making elote

making elote


Pancho's courtyard

Pancho's courtyard


Pancho's mural

Pancho's mural


Pancho's mural

Pancho's mural


shoeshiners in the plaza

shoeshiners in the plaza

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Sushi

Tuesday, I was taken out for sushi to a brand-new place. The restaurant played American pop music, which I normally like, but don't want to hear in Mexico. Actually, I've noticed that a lot of the restaurants I'e been taken to play American music (maybe because that's just catering to their clientele, I don't know). What about Mexican music though? I want to hear some of that. In any case, I've never had sushi with cream cheese in it, and pretty much all of their sushi had cream cheese. It goes quite well with the chipotle sauce that comes with the sushi (instead of wasabi and ginger). Also, my sushi wasn't round. I found it quite interesting to see how different it can be, yet be clearly identifiable as the same thing I'm used to eating.

Today, we went for sandwiches, which wasn't much of an adventure. However, the people taking me had quite an adventure. Their neighborhood pump broke in the thunderstorm the other day, so they were out of water. Since all of the houses have their own reservoirs, it's not a big deal on day 1, but it is a big deal on day 2. Apparently, there are trucks that will come and fill up all of the neighborhood reservoirs, but that's only a short-term solution due to the cost.

Sushi

Sushi


desert plant

desert plant

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Weekend at the hotel and discourse on the water

The weekend was very relaxing. I spent it mostly at the hotel because some plans fell through, but it was nice to catch up on some projects that I had started 3 months ago. For food, I took a walk to a local convenience store and picked up essentials like tortillas and cheese. I'm noticing that the cheese here is very unexciting and bland- probably because they need it to cool down the spicy peppers it is always eaten with. I went for a swim at the pool because it was very hot. It felt like 90 to me. Apparently, it was 110. However, it is so dry here that 110 is not actually unbearable.

Monday was back to work. At work, water was a hot topic. The weekend was very hot, and since the water is only on for a few hours each day, a couple of my colleagues ran out of water over the weekend. I was amazed that the water is only on for a few hours, but the explained that because it's so dry here, the water is in short supply. You fill up your basin when the water is on, and then use it until the water comes on to fill your basin again. I guess it works here. My engineering brain says that if the water is on all day, but people still use it like they do now, it is going to still be the same volume of water taken from the reserve, just not stored in individual tanks. I don't really see why they can't just do that, but clearly there's something cultural here that I'm missing. After work, we went on a treasure hunt to try to find me a tortilla press so that I could make tortillas at home. It seemed that all of the little shops were closed by the time we got there, so we started trying chain stores. I don't prefer buying from chains, but if the little shops won't stay open long enough for me to buy, that's what I have to do. At the supermarket (at least it was a Mexican brand) we finally found my tortilla press. I also picked up exciting food (like chili tamarind candy) for people back home. Another cool thing about the grocery store was that there was a little marketplace in the front of it. After the cash registers, there were tables of local artists selling locally-made products. There was a lot of beaded jewelry, some candies, and plenty of woodworking. I almost got my brother another musical instrument. Afterwards, we went to the mall to get a Mexican cookbook. Most of the stores sold shoes, but other than that, it was a regular small mall- not really my cup of tea, so I got the book and got out of there.

Because elections were soon, there were political signs every 3 feet for some candidate or another. I got quite the earful in the car as to who was a %&*@#$ and who wasn't. I also got a good education on Mexican politics and the 3 main political parties (the green, blue, and yellow). As we were driving and I was learning about politics, I was told that I was going to be taken to a place with good salads for dinner (Garufa). At this point, I felt the need to ask the water question: "Isn't it unsafe for Americans to drink the water?" I also asked if the other people who visited the plant got sick. The answer was a strong "maybe." The guy I was with said that basically, the water at the factory and the water at nice restaurants is ok, even for Americans who haven't built up immunities. Those types of places have their own filtration systems. However, he won't even let his daughters who grew up here drink the water from or eat at some of the shadier places. (His daughters wouldn't have been able to have the DoriNachos from the street vendor.) He also assured me that the number of my colleagues who visited and got sick was small, and that it could just as easily have been from spicy food or regular sickness. I was still a little on the fence, as not everybody would tell that they got sick and the percentage of sick people seemed higher than normal. However, I had been having good luck with drinking the ice and eating the tomatoes at the plant, so I did decide on the salad. I'm glad I did. The goat cheese on it was coated in wood ash. I'm not sure why, but I've never had that before, so it was exciting. Also, the salad I had was great. It had no lettuce, just the rest of the veggies that would normally come with a greek salad. The dressing was possibly all acid- they didn't bother with any oil, which meant that the salad had plenty of flavor, just how I like it. I'm pretty happy I took the risk, because now I feel comfortable eating raw vegetables here, which is nice to have in my diet.

On the way home, I got to experience quite a rare treat- it rained in Chihuahua. It rained hard and there was plenty of lightning. The roads were flooded like PA roads and the drivers all had their flashers on because they were driving slow. It was actually a really neat sight to see. the whole area was nice and cool to the point where I wished I could just open my hotel room windows.

When I got up the next morning though, everything was bone dry again. That is the Chihuahua dryness.

election posters

election posters


rainy Chihuahua

rainy Chihuahua

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Relax

Friday is dress-down day back at home, but certainly no jeans, so I left mine at home. Here, it is jeans for everybody. Oh well, I missed my opportunity to wear jeans to work and have it be acceptable.

Lunch on Friday was my first challenge. The only thing vegetarian was beans and tortillas, which I had had plenty of and already had for breakfast. I needed a little something more, so I went for the tomatoes. This is a risk as the tomatoes are raw and washed in the facility water. However, I was hoping that it wouldn't be a problem as I had been eating off dishes washed in facility water, eating with my hands that were washed in facility water, and other people from my company surely had eaten here before. My hope was that if they had gotten sick from the water, somebody would have told me. Also, it was Friday. If I got sick, I had a whole weekend to sleep it off. Turns out, I didn't get sick at all. Yay.

After work, I was taken downtown to walk around and see some more of the city as well as pick up a few things for some people back home. On our way to the souvenir shop we passed a fountain park where several street vendors were set up. I happen to be a huge fan of street food, so I asked the guy I was with what they had. I decided that on our way back to the car, I was going to have some. We continued to walk around the downtown shopping area. It seemed that there was a huge fabric store on every block. There were more fabric stores in that area that Dunkin Donuts in Boston or Putt-Putts at the beach. Rachel would have had a ball. The rest of the stores were mostly shoes and clothing. There were a few carts selling kids toys. I was able to buy some of the stuff I needed and then we headed back to the car.

From the street vendor, I purchased DoriNachos. "What are DoriNachos?" you ask. Exactly what they sound like- Dorito Nachos. First, the vendor slices open a bag of regular Doritos. My bag had a prize in it that I got to take out before he continued. Then, he throws (boiled) corn on top. Next comes a white crumbly cheese, yellow nacho cheese, jalapenos, and sour cream. The chips get soggy and you eat the whole thing, straight from the bag, with a spoon. Yum! This is definitely a "recipe" that I will be making for my friends when I get home. For dinner, we went to someplace new. I'm beginning to notice that most of the restaurants with table service are mostly empty all of the time. With my newfound ability to handle the water (at least to some extent) I got my favorite soda (an apple soda) and didn't send it back just because I forgot to ask for it with no ice. I also got chile relleno (one of my favorite Mexican dishes). Supposedly, the Menonites around here make the best cheese. These chiles (which were sweet and definitely not spicy at all) were filled with it, so double bonus! Towards the end of the meal, a live band started playing, which was fun, but a little loud. I wish I remembered the name of the restaurant, because I would recommend it.

the making of DoriNachos

the making of DoriNachos


Shops of downtown Chihuahua

Shops of downtown Chihuahua

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Working

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.

View of Chihuahua

View of Chihuahua


Chihuahua Plaza

Chihuahua Plaza

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)