ERRORS AND OMISIONS

In the first blog post we forgot to mention some things.

In Quebec, I was able to meet with some of my now former (but at the time current) coworkers from Soprema.  It was great to see all them and for them to treat Gino and I to lunch at the new and improved St. Hubert’s. I worked very closely with them for nearly 5 years, and it was great to say goodbye in person. So thanks Pascal, Monique, Raymond, Karen, Louise, Clarisse, Kim, Dianne, Michele, and everyone else I was able to see in Drummondville. Best of luck!

In Phoenix we were able to see our Cousin Alicia for the first time in years. It was wonderful to catch up with her and the family, and enjoy some burritos. It is really awesome to see her doing so well for herself. It was like old times when Alicia, Lindsey, Jamie, Mario and Gino would all play at Grandpa’s house.

 

CABO

Earlier in the year our cousin Steve and his wife Andrea told us that they were going to be in Cabo San Lucas in early October to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Gino and I told them that we would probably be there around the same time, and that it would be great to meet up with them.  In September Steve texted us and said that his going away gift to us would be to host us for two nights at the resort they were staying at.

We met them at the Resort and checked in. We were really looking forward to the all-inclusive life. We had been camping through most of the Baja peninsula, which is a humid dessert.  Pools and Pina Colladas sounded real good.  The setting was very beautiful, right on the beach with great pools, restaurants and bars. It felt great to take a load off for a few days and just hang out at the pool and beach. Meeting their friends who were there was a delight, very nice people from northeast Ohio; it was great to get to know them. As we were getting ready to leave, Steve offered to let us sleep in the living room of his room. Gino and I immediately accepted, got back in the pool and ordered drinks.

It was fantastic to spend time with Steve and Andrea. Thank you so much for the generosity of hosting us. We really loved it!

LA PAZ

After four days at the resort we left and headed back north to La Paz. Gino had booked our ferry passage from La Paz to Mazatlán on the mainland. We chose to spend a few days at a campground we stayed at on the way down. It had great facilities and was empty; it was like we had our own summer camp. We spent a day at a secluded beach north of the city, it was a bay and you could wade out 100 yards. We had bought some snorkel gear in Cabo, but did not use it as the beaches there are rocky and the rip currents can be severe. We deployed the gear here, and it was really cool.

The next day we putted around, and did a little shopping. In the evening, we were playing on the swing set (don’t judge, there is A LOT of down time on a 10 month trip across the hemisphere, have to keep entertained) and saw a decked out 4Runner pull in. It was Ernesto and Taisa, who we had met in Joshua Tree and Ensenada.  Really good luck that we met up with them again. We spent two great days in La Paz with them. We checked out the city, which has a nice sea side boardwalk, had some great food and watched some movies. Best of all we convinced Ernesto that he should hawk up like Gino and I. So we all got fresh Mohawks. Needless to say, we look pretty awesome. It was great to see them again, they have become good friends. Hopefully we can meet again, but I think from now on we are going to be much further ahead of them.  The next day, Sunday Oct 11, we broke camp. They went south to Cabo and Gino and I prepared to board the overnight ferry to the mainland.

THE FERRY AND MAZATLAN

We missed the Ferry.  Minor email misreading error on both our parts. The next sailing was not until Tuesday afternoon.  If this were a normal vacation this error could have been really devastating, but for us we just went with it. Thankfully we have 10 months, and a few days aren’t going to kill us. We went back to the camp, where we just checked out from, and stayed for two more days. When we arrived there was a new person there, Daniel, a German who lives in DC and is a professor in International Studies. He and his dog were making the trip to Patagonia during his Sabbatical. Really nice guy and we were able to have some great conversations and enjoy some excellent cervices.  Here is his blog https://dctopatagonia.wordpress.com/

We eventually got to the port at the proper time to sail to the mainland. The vessel, “La Paz Star” is essentially a semi-truck ferry, which also takes cars. There was a lounge with seats that one would see on a touring bus, a cafeteria that served dinner and breakfast. Nothing exceptional, other than we were on a ship sailing across the Sea of Cortez. That night Gino and I strapped our hammocks to the railings of the top deck and slept into the breeze and under the stars.

On the ship we met Dennis, a 22 year from California. He was born in Bulgaria and spoke fluent Russian. His family moved to Sacramento when he was 7. His plan is to travel through Mexico and the Caribbean making money as he goes by juggling knives in the main plazas of cities. As the only 3 English speakers on the boat, we spent a lot of time together. Even though his plan is crazy, he was a very normal and cool guy.

We arrived in Mazatlán, in the state of Sinaloa on the Pacific coast. The city is beautiful; it stretches along the ocean and has the longest seaside board walk (Malecon) in Mexico.  Gino and I were planning to drive directly to Guadalajara. We offered to give Dennis a ride into the city to the Hostel he was hoping to stay at, The Funky Monkey. His plan was to see if they needed a staff member who would help out, and in return be offered free lodging. Unfortunately they were fully loaded with staff; however, Gino and I elected to stay at the hostel for the night, as a 6 hour drive after a 20 hour ferry ride did not seem appealing.

In my past travels I have never been interested in Hostels, it seemed unnecessary as I had money to pay for Hotels or an Apartment and didn’t want to be in a “dirty” dorm. This was not that. Gino and I had a private room, which was essentially a small apartment, for roughly 30 dollars a night. Not too bad. The best part was meeting the people who were there. Some really cool people, some of which were young people taking time to travel, others were long term vagabonds. Dennis was still hanging around, and we went to lunch in town. When we returned we started talking to one of the workers, Donna, who is from Sweden. Gino found out that she was tired of working and wanted more of a vacation, so he suggested that she and Dennis put together a plan for them to switch places, he work and she become a guest. We all went out to dinner, and took a “taxi” which was a pickup truck with benches in the back, but it was only 50 cents per person, so I can’t complain.  During dinner we spoke with Tomek, the manager of the hostel. He is from Poland and has lived all over the world. Really a cool guy, takes great photos. We like a lot of the same movies and have been inspired to travel by some of the same film, specifically 180 Degrees South. He thought our trip was awesome. After dinner Donna announced that Tomek had agreed to let Donna quit and give Dennis a job. All I can say is Dennis is lucky to have met us. 

We enjoyed our evening and the city so much that we chose to stay another night. The next day we went to the beach with Dennis and the other workers, Donna, Adam and Nicole. That evening we grilled out on the rooftop patio and enjoyed some good conversation and cheap booze. The next morning we sadly left The Funky Monkey. It was a great experience and changed my opinion on hostels. We said our goodbyes and wished Dennis well as he continues his travels across Mexico.

GUADALAJARA AND MORELIA

Dennis, and many at the hostel, told us about an app called Couchsurfing. It is essentially a traveling community where you do a homestay with a local host in the city. Someone in a city says that you can stay with the for free. We decided to try it for Guadalajara; Gino created a profile and the people at the hostel all gave him good ratings to boost the chance of someone accepting.  Thankfully someone agreed to take us in, Francisco.

After a 5 hour drive we arrived in Guadalajara Centro. The city it one of the biggest in Mexico and is beautiful. The central district is full of plazas and great colonial streets. The cathedral is gorgeous. After a few hours of exploring we left to meet Francisco. We did not know that we had changed time zones, so were a little later in arriving at Francisco’s home in Guadalajara.

He is a software engineer and has done couch surfing in Europe. He graciously told us to make ourselves at home. He then took us to a wonderful taco place, and afterwards to a bar where his friend, Ernesto, met us. He is also a Software Engineer; they have been friends for nearly 15 years. They both spoke fluent English. Francisco lived in Canada and England, and Ernesto in Australia.  Later they took us to a rooftop night club called Lupita (Little Guadalupe) where we were frisked before we could enter. It was a very cool place, with a nice view of the city.  Staying in Mazatlán another day meant we could only stay one day in Guadalajara. I don’t think we did the city justice, but Francisco certainly showed us a wonderful time and was a tremendous host. It was a pleasure to meet him and spend a fun evening with him and Ernesto. They are welcome to stay with us anytime.

 

MORELIA

One of the things that we were looking forward to most was visiting Morelia, Michoacán. Our Great Grandmother is from Morelia. Gino and I would be the first people from our family to return there. The drive from the coast into central Mexico is picturesque. The Sierra Madre mountains run the length of the country and you quickly gain elevation, and the heat and humidity of the coast is left behind for much more temperate weather.  The city is nearly a mile above sea level, and for the first time in weeks it felt like autumn. The city itself is large, nearly a million people. It is the capital of the state of Michoacán. The historical center sits at the top of a hill and the more modern city sprawls into the valleys.

Gino and I have approached this trip with no expectations. This happens naturally as it is impossible to plan every detail of a trip this big. Thus we go into most places with no prior knowledge, and generally we come away impressed and pleased. Morelia was a total unknown, and it was magnificent. It has the feel of a European city, like somewhere out of France or Spain. The architecture is Baroque colonial. There are several large churches in the centro, the largest being the Cathedral de San San Salvador which houses the archdiocese, and the Cardinal, who we saw in a brilliant procession through the church prior to Sunday service.

The city left us truly impressed. There were virtually no tourists that we saw, only locals going about their normal lives among the colonial streets. We hope that we can bring more people from our family back here. It really is special, perhaps we are biased because our family comes from here, but we both agreed that it was one of the finer places that we have had the pleasure to visit.

We booked a stay in a hostel down town. Gino had attempted another couch surfing stay, but the two that responded both already had guests. They were going to be out in Centro that evening and we planned to meet up with them. At the Hostel we met Davina, an Italian from Switzerland who is winding down a year of travel around the world. We offered her to accompany us and the couch surfing crew in the tour of the city.  Areli and Luis met us at the hostel and introduced us to their guests, a couple from Japan who had decided to travel the world for their honeymoon. Areli and Luis showed us around the center and took us to a great place for dinner. I ordered way too much, as I wanted to try a few different typical dishes from the region. Thankfully I was able to power through.

Luis had studied Italian for years and was desirous to practice with Davina.  So, with us, Davina, and Luois, there were 4 people speaking in Italian in the middle of Mexico. It really made me realize how good my Italian is (Thanks Benny!) especially when I compare it to my nonexistent Spanish, which is only made passable with the extensive use of hand signals.  Later they took us to a very chill bar that was composed of several buildings linked together. There we enjoyed each other’s company; sharing stories of travel and home. Areli had lived in the US for a long time and we talked a lot about what was happening in Mexico and how the state of Michoacán had changed. It has become quite dangerous, especially in the south, not near us. It was a wonderful evening and really pressed on us the uniqueness of the couch surfing experience. The idea is that travelers are inherently similar and would enjoy each other’s company. I think we are hooked on it!

Top R-L - Ricardo, Gino, Mario, Joji and his Wife / Bottom - Louis, Areli, Davina

The next morning, Sunday, Gino and I went to a small town about an hour away to the south called Patzacuaro. It was a very nice small colonial town, full of Mexican tourists. Very neat. That evening we returned to Morelia and went to get dinner with Davina. We talked a lot about Italy; her family is from Lecce, Puglia, a state that we have never been to. Her family moved to the French speaking part of Switzerland when she was young, thus her primary language is French. I hope to someday be able to speak several languages as well as her, and many others we have met. What a skill.  We went back to the rooftop terrace of the hostel which offered a terrific view of the illuminated cathedral. We talked a lot about life and work and how Gino and I approach them.

DF

The next morning we left for Mexico City, which is called D.F. (Dee Effay) which stands for District Federal. We had rented an apartment a few weeks earlier for a week. Generally we try to keep lodging expenses low and to camp when we can. However, when we are going to be in one of the trip’s premier destinations we are going to spring for an apartment. It was a lovely place in the Roma neighborhood, which is one of the more affluent.  It is hard to describe how big the city is; over twenty one million people live in the DF.  That is nearly three times more than NYC. It sprawls in all directions. Physically, it is at about 8000 feet above sea level and sits in a valley. The elevation keeps it cool and comfortable most of the year, but the surrounding mountains keeps it hazy from the smog.

We spent the next day touring the historical center of the city. The Zocalo, or main plaza, is expansive and is surrounded by the city’s basilica, and the federal buildings. The center contains one of the largest flags I have ever seen. We toured the presidential palace, which has many exhibits about Mexican history and it’s revolution. Many walls are covered in murals by Diego Rivera. The city center is large and has many significant monuments and buildings. Generally, the city is very pretty and modern. I really enjoyed it. I know I have been guilty in the past of thinking Mexico was a backwater, full of desserts and burros, but it is a beautiful country and DF is one of the great cities in the world.

That evening we saw a post on the couch surfing app where locals and travelers meet at a Cuban restaurant and partake in a salsa dance lesson and have dinner afterwards. For only 60 pesos ($3.65 USD) you receive an hour dance lesson and a Cuban food buffet. It was really neat, and was a nice way to spend the evening. We met some locals who were able to provide us some tips about DF and what to see, as well as for some of our other destinations. Interestingly, Riccardo, who hosts the event, is an engineer for General Electric and lived in Beachwood for a year while working on a project. He loves all things Ohio: The Buckeyes, Browns, Cavs and Indians.

The next few days we continued to explore the city. There is an excellent anthropology museum in the city, and it details the history of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. It was quite interesting. We fixed a rattle that was coming from the rear wheel, which necessitated us taking the tire off in the middle of the street and unbolting the brakes. Thankfully it was a simple fix and the incessant rattling which has plagued us for weeks is now gone. We were able to take care of some excel work that needed to be done regarding expenses. I may not speak Spanish, but dammit I can fly in excel. Like riding a bike.

On Friday there was another couch surfing event: Luca Libre. This is Mexican wrestling, and if you have ever seen the Jack Black movie Nacho Libre you know that A) It seems awesome and B) we had to see it. Everyone assembled at a metro stop near the arena. There were nearly 20 people from places like: Australia, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, Canada, Hungry, plus the local Mexicans who were hosting or attending the event. The 40 peso ticket provided nearly two hours of wrestling entertainment. It was fun and cheap. I am not a wrestling aficionado, but it seemed much more dangerous than the US version. Alberto, a local Mexican told us that last year a Luchador (wrestler) died in the ring when a stunt went wrong. Gino and I both love the movie Nacho Libre, so it was neat to see it in person.

After the match we went out for coffee and a beer. Our group consisted of Alberto from DF; Eoin from Dublin, Ireland; and Kevin from Melbourne, Australia. Alberto had worked for a big tech company, but recently quit. He was incredibly generous with his time in showing us the city and hanging out. His English is flawless; he was making subtle jokes that had us all laughing. Eoin (pronounced Owen) and Kevin are really cool guys. They have both been traveling the world for about a year. They originally met by chance early in their trip and decided to team up for a while. Then after about an 8 month break when they went their separate ways the met up again and have been touring Mexico and the Caribbean. 

Alberto was gracious enough to invite us to a soccer match the next day for the team Club Americas, which is one of the most popular teams in Mexico. He drove all five of us to the Azteca Stadium, which holds over 110,000 people. It was not close to full for this match, as the team is down this year. The ticket was 100 pesos (6 USD) and our seats were at midfield about 10 rows up. Unbelievable! I can’t imagine how much those seats would cost at an NFL or OSU game. The game itself was rather boring, but the experience was fantastic. That evening Alberto took us to, in his opinion, the best taco stand in the city; Super Tacos Chubacabra. The line out the door testified how good it was, hands down the best tacos we have had in Mexico.

This last month on the road has been extraordinary. First meeting Steve and Andrea at the resort, seeing the beauty of Mexico, and meeting all of these interesting people along the way. Before we left our mom really pressed us to try to meet new people on the trip. The first part of the journey it was difficult to do that, as we had to cover so much ground, and also we were staying so much with our family along the way. This second leg has allowed us to slow down a little bit and be able to meet more people. Couch surfing is a definite game changer. I am so glad that the people in Mazatlán told us about it. It is really wonderful that people would go out of their way to host a stranger in their home, or to show them around a city. We have been able to meet some very interesting people though it, and the hostels, and it has significantly enriched the trip, truly is has been a breath of fresh air and makes us excited for the possibilities of meeting new people in the future.

Next we are off to the city of Oaxaca, where we will spend two weeks at a language school. Our Spanish is in desperate need of improvement. Hopefully it will be a worthwhile experience.  Thanks for reading.




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