Sunday, November 30, 2008

Love Those Avocados and Limons

"So what do you eat down there?" my mother asked recently.  While our guide book says the average Mexican eats almost a pound of tortillas a day, we are nowhere close to that.  I eat tortillas every day after school with beans, cheese, salsa, and avocado, and some days every meal, but I'd say everyone else in the family is eating them more like every other day.  Although after Tom learned in cooking class to make homemade chips out of them, the kids have been clamoring for that way of eating tortillas.

Tortillas are available everywhere, from the smallest tiendita to fresh-made on the street to the that's-all-they-make tortillarias.  We've spent time at a huge open market here that has a second floor where you can hang over the railing and watch the tortilla-makers work.  We're also enjoying the produce, which is most fun to purchase in open-air market stalls.  I love the avocados, we buy lots of bananas for smoothies, fresh strawberries and watermelon are available, and we recently discovered the joys of homemade limonada.  
Squeeze six limons, which look like small limes but are actually lemons, add sugar and water, and you've got a pitcher of refreshing drink.  Tom plans to bring the limon squeezer he bought home so he can make it in the states.  If we can find limons there.

The family tradition of breakfast dinner once a week survives.  The mix says it is for "hotcakes," and we buy syrup and jam and nutella to put on them.  One major change is that we've eaten very little pasta here.  It's available, but maybe we burned out on it a little after the summer bicycle tour where we made one-pot pasta every third night for six weeks.

Before school, breakfasts are toast or cereal.  A slight wrinkle in the make-your-own-toast routine is that the casita's toaster oven is affixed too high for the kids to reach; Noah can just do it using long barbeque tongs.  Then the kids pack lunches (some kind of sandwich, yogurt, fruit), Tom and I pack snacks (we get out of school earlier than they do) and we're off for the day.

On Sundays, two of us hike down to the Mega, a supermarket that's at a mall, to stock up for the week.  In the photo, the mall is the complex of white buildings.  
We procure several kinds of juice (my favorite is nectarine) and fresh breads from the bakery, which you use tongs to select and place on a metal tray you carry around the bakery area.  Then you bring the load up to the counter and they bag and price the lot for you.  It is the same routine in the panadarias (bakeries).  During the week, we get barbecued chicken from Carlos, fruits from the market stalls, and shaved ice after school from the gentleman with the red ice chest bungied onto a dolly who always has two flavors but they vary every day.  Noah's been adventurous (limon with chile), and Dana and I like mantecado (vanilla with nuts and raisins).

We've been out to eat at an open air taco place that also does baked potatoes, a teeny-tiny Japanese restaurant, and a cafe where the tables are on a bridge over a pedestrian walkway.  We also had an excellent Thanksgiving feast which included cranberry margaritas, turkey with mole instead of gravy, and cornbread stuffing with chipotle peppers. When we are out on the coast in a few weeks, we understand seafood and tropical fruits will be standard fare, but we're certainly enjoying the food here.  And I who love those avocados and limons, am trying not to worry about having to give them up in January.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Visiting 100 b.c.

With our weekend Nissan Tsuru rental, camping gear in the trunk, and a sort-of-accurate road map, we headed towards our first pyramids at Tula.  Three hours later we presented our student cards at the Zona Archeologia sign, and were waved through with no charge.  Turns out kids and students are given free entrance to not just museums, but archeological sites.  What a great country.

Tom read from the Archeological Mexico guidebook about the ancient ball courts and Toltec warriors, we clambered around the pyramids with Mexican families, and Dana picked out a ceramic whistle or flauta to bring home.  Then it was on to the town of San Juan Teotihuacan to locate the campground Tom found on the Internet.  With one missed toll road junction we got there a little after dark, but campground owner Mina was happy to see us.  And we were happy to see a huge section of thick green grass - very unusual in Mexico, at least in our experience.

Sunday morning was chilly, but we got going by 9am, with only a slight delay due to Tom being pulled over for going the wrong way on a one-way street.  The policeman checked our documents with a severe expression, but then waved us off.  We were car #5 in the parking lot at Teotihuacan, gained free entrance again, and were up Piramide del Sol shortly after.

We spent the rest of the day wandering the ruins, talking about what the city might have been like when it was thriving back in 100 b.c. to 700 a.d., climbing the pyramids, and taking direction from Noah, who was getting footage for his next film.  I'm sure it will be posted soon on  Yes, he talked me into getting him a URL of his own.
Teotihuacan was amazing.  Until you can catch a glimpse of it in a future Fringlerfilm, you can check out our photos.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Volcanic Hiking This Week, Pyramids Next

We continue to hike the Guanajuato area, and when our volcanologist friend Dave Tucker visited, we learned a lot more about the volcanic nature of our surroundings.  Now the kids know breccia from ignimbrite, and we see a little more of the geologic story in the mix of rocks.

Last weekend, with Noah at home recovering from a cold, we hiked with Dana and her friend Danae to a feature on our horizon that we call the Balanced Rocks.  The uphill was rather pokey from spiny plants, but once we cleared the ridge it was a wide open traverse to the rocks.

A highlight on the last uphill section was a scattering of bleached white cow bones.  The girls were very scientific in their explorations of them, and very impressed with the thickness and depth of bovine teeth.
Once at the rocks, there were some scrambling opportunities, peanut butter and jelly roll-ups (on tortillas) and a symphony of burro voices discussing who knows what across the hills.  We
 admired more wacky rocks and wished we had Dave with us to explain, then wandered down via a different route which brought us into town and
 our favorite shaved ice vendor before heading home.

Next weekend we're going to climb the pyramids of Teotihuacan north of Mexico City.  The guidebook says the Pyramid of the Sun there is the third tallest pyramid in the world.  With our almost weekly hiking here, we hope we'll have the stamina for that pyramid, the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Plumed Serpent as well.  Noah has checked them out on Google Earth, Tom has rented a car and found a campground there, and the kids have Monday off school, so it will be a long weekend of adventure in a new area for us.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Day of the Dead meets Halloween

Goodbye Pink Bathroom, Hello Fish Sink

Our apartment with the colorful city view has been exchanged for a two-room casita that looks out towards La Bufa, our neighborhood cross atop a rocky hill.  The apartment was a great place to land in Guanajuato, and helped us get acclimated.  I remember on our very first day when I looked at the microwave, and realized that I really was in a new land.  Of course the start button would say "inicio" and the stop/pause button would say "borrar/parar."  I just didn't know those words yet.

Similarly, the apartment taught us that the sink knob labeled "C" gets you hot water, not cold, because "C" is for caliente (hot).  Retooling other habits sometimes took a little longer.  Dana ended up making signs for the bathrooms that said, "Don't drink the water" and "Put the toilet paper in the waste basket."  And still we would forget sometimes.

But now we've got it, and we also got used to the apartment's restroom choices: the pink bathroom or the blue bathroom. The former might well be named Queen Barbie's Beauty Palace, just as a character named her room in Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos, which Tom and I just read.  The blue bathroom became Noah's domain, after Dana was grossed out by the way he left the sink and jumped ship to the pink bathroom off the adults' bedroom.

In the new house, we're sharing one bathroom, and it has an amazing fish sink, so I'm sure Noah won't leave it toothpaste streaked.  The casita of the amazing view has outdoor space to play in, Internet service, a loft bed for Dana, is quiet, and is in the same neighborhood - just over the hill from the apartment.  We're enjoying the change, yet glad that the kids' school is still close, and we can still see the neighborhood folks like Carlos, Tom's buddy who sells barbecued chicken in the afternoons.  So if you asked us what's new for November, I might just have to say that it's goodbye pink bathroom and hello fish sink.