In Mexico, kids don’t send their letters to Santa through the mail. Instead, they roll them up, tie them onto the strings of red and green colored helium balloons, and then release them into the air. Off to the North Pole they float. Maybe not the most environmentally sound of practices, but both of my children were enthralled by the several balloon release events we found ourselves attending.
Ever since arriving in Guadalajara I’ve been polling anyone and everyone about weekend trip possibilities. A place called Tapalpa is always on everyone’s list. It’s even considered one of Mexico’s “magical towns.” But when I ask what there is to do there, I get a lot of stammering about nothing. And so off to the Internets I went, looking for more information about why exactly people visit Tapalpa. And I found… not a lot. The biggest attraction seemed to be a collection of giant rocks.
But, Tapalpa is only two hours from Guadalajara, quite a bit closer than any other weekend trip possibilities, so last weekend I booked two rooms at the nicest hotel that I could reserve online and off we went for an overnight—down the toll road every bit as nice as Interstates in the U.S., and then up, up, up into the mountains, along a curvy cliff-side road dotted with frequent in memoriam markers that don’t let you forget just how steep the mountain and just how close the road is to the edge. I tried to look out the window as little as possible, despite the great views, and before long we’d arrived.
Our hotel was lovely. Family owned and operated. Twenty something rooms, all with unique and different decorations. For one of the first times since arriving in Mexico, it felt like we were truly in Mexico.
Off we went to explore town.
We shopped. We peeked into a big church.
And into a tiny church.
We ate delicious meals.
We walked. We hung around. In the evening we tried alote, a traditional drink somewhat like eggnog, and Mexican hot chocolate too.
We bundled up in sweaters and stared longingly at the fireplace in our room that, being moderately responsible parents, we decided not to light.
And we visited those giant rocks, of course.
There’s not a lot to do in Tapalpa, but after visiting I realized that’s kind of the point. Between the wooden buildings, cobblestone streets, chilly temperatures and mountain views, it’s just a whole different atmosphere than most of Mexico. It feels calm and quaint. That’s why you go.
Because the day after Thanksgiving was set aside for administrative work at the Consulate, and because we still had a lot of HHE to put away, I decided to take that day off.
So off I headed to the mall on Black Friday. Of course in Mexico the day after Thanksgiving isn’t really a special occasion. In fact, I was disappointed to get to the mall and find the department store where I needed to pick up baseball tickets (more on that in another post) didn’t even open until 11. I walked around the nearly deserted mall, Wal-mart, and Home Depot (admittadley not my most authentically Mexican day) thinking about everyone back home packing their way into stores for the best deals. I was sure glad nothing like that happened in Mexico.
Or I would have been glad if it weren’t for what we experienced two weeks ago.
While Mexico doesn’t have Black Friday, Mexicans certainly understand the concept. And a few years ago, in order to spur economic development, the Mexican government and a number of commerce organizations introduced their own version. Occurring in November every year on the same long weekend as the celebration of the Mexican revolution, Buen Fin is the Mexican equivalent of Black Friday. It even has its own logo, which I kept seeing for about two weeks without really knowing what it meant.
It wasn’t until we were about to leave work on a Friday afternoon, planning on heading out of town the next day, that a colleague told us what we were about to miss. Neither of us our huge fans of Black Friday in the US. Or crowds. Or malls. So we weren’t too disappointed, but it still would have been interesting to experience.
Lucky for us our route home from work passes directly by one of the largest malls in Guadalajara. Our normally easy 25 minute drive turned into an hour-long trek through Buen Fin traffic. We may not have gotten any great deals, but we can at least say we experienced our first Buen Fin.
Though my cone is public diplomacy, I’m really liking my consular tour. All officers must do some consular work early in their careers, and since my first post was a public diplomacy one, it’s consular for me this go around.
Not only am I enjoying the work — getting brief glimpses into many people’s life stories, making decisions that have major impacts not only on those people but also on the security of our country’s borders — but I’m enjoying the hours. In consular work, at least at the level I’m at, when you’re done, you’re done. Public diplomacy was fun, but frequent evening and weekend events can be draining, especially with young kids at home.
All of this is just to say that I’ve been at post for four months now and not until last week did I have any after-hours diplomatic responsibilities. That break was great, and it made the arrival of an evening event a welcome rather than dreaded occurrence.
Foreign Service folks: How often do you have to head out after hours? What would be your ideal schedule?
We had a long weekend a few weeks back, so we headed to the beach. We have some truly phenomenal beaches within driving distance — the sort of places where celebrities splash around. The famed Puerto Vallarta. The surf bum haven of Sayulita. The popular cruise ship stop of Mazatlan. We plan to visit those and more (short flights open up our options substantially) in good time, but this time around we opted for somewhere a bit closer: Manzanillo. It’s a port city without much of interest, which is why we chose the nicest all-inclusive in town and didn’t once leave.
Before the Foreign Service, an all-inclusive resort would have sounded like a nightmare to me. “Why even bother traveling overseas if you’re just going to sit around in a resort that you could find back home?” I can imagine my former self saying. Funny how your perspective changes when your entire life is navigating another culture.
I ate exclusively seafood, which I don’t get much of home because Andy won’t touch it. The food was great. Although the one meal I scheduled for all of us at a fancy sit-down restaurant — a sushi joint — was a bust. It was kind of all downhill from the moment when Flynn realized chopsticks fit perfectly in his nostrils. And… back to the family friendly buffets we went.
The boys were both sick, so much so that one day at 10 a.m., while swimming, Flynn actually asked if he could go back to the room to rest. But they managed to have some fun anyway.
Flynn made good use of the rule that boys with sore throats can eat as many ice cream cones as they want.
Our next weekend getaway is coming up next week. Where to? Stay tuned.
Thirteen weeks after we arrived in Guadalajara, our stuff finally showed up too! To put things in perspective, let me remind you that our shipment arrived in Benin in only 7 weeks. Why’d it take almost double that amount of time to travel south of the border? Lord only knows, but the important thing is that the wait is over.
In addition to being excited to get our place set up, we were growing increasingly curious about what we even shipped. Last time we didn’t own many things, and our house in Benin was huge, so we just sent everything. This time we sent some stuff to storage, but it was hard to remember what.
We were a little worried when a tiny truck rolled up to our house. Um, what? Had we put waaaaaaay more stuff in storage than we’d anticipated? Luckily a normal sized one pulled up shortly thereafter.
The State Department gives you two days off work to deal with the arrival of your things. That’s great, but unfortunately, two days isn’t usually enough. I worked dawn to dusk and am still not done. And I have to do this all over again just two short years for now? A three- or even four-year posting is looking better and better. So is finding our way back to our pre-children, minimalist ways.
The good news is that the end is near. Hopefully the place will be presentable enough for us to post some photos soon.
Last weekend I participated in a group tour of two pottery studios in the town of Tonala, about 30 minutes from where I live.
Tonala is known for handicrafts, but not overpriced tchotchkes that are peddled off to naive tourists. There’s good quality stuff, things that get sold in bulk to Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel, but available in Tonala for cheap.
We watched some of it be made and learned a bit about the history of the traditional styles.
We didn’t end up having much time for shopping, however. I’ll need to venture back on my own for that. Make your Christmas requests now!
“Queremos Halloween!” Bat-Flynn chanted enthusiastically as he ran through our neighborhood on October 31.
I grew up in St. Louis, where in exchange for your candy on Halloween you had to tell a joke. Picking out your joke–or your joke rotation if you were especially ambitious–was one of the best parts of Halloween, and I remember being shocked and saddened when I moved elsewhere after sixth grade and realized the joke tradition was a local oddity.
Admittedly, Halloween festivities move along a little more quickly when all kids have to do is yell “trick or treat” before feeling another plop in their pumpkin-shaped bucket and taking off for the next house. There’s something to be said for not having to worry about finding yourself stuck behind an enthusiastic three-year-old who’s old enough to insist on having a joke of his own but young enough to not be able to execute it successfully (or quickly).
Mexicans, however, are even more efficient than trick or treating Americans. There’s no allusion of jokes or tricks. ”We want Halloween!” they yell in Spanish. Flynn quickly caught on. (It turns out he’s quite good at picking up new phrases when there’s candy at stake.)
It wasn’t just the terminology that was to the point. In our neighborhood, at least, kids gathered in a pack at the community center, waited for a bell horn, and when it sounded, bolted off running in a pre-determined path around the neighborhood, cleaning out a house’s entire candy stash in a few minutes before moving en masse to the next. I can’t say I liked that aspect of Halloween in Mexico, especially with a tiny elephant in tow who insisted on walking despite the near-constant threat of being trampled by a pack of wild trick or treaters.
But I definitely did like that one of my neighbors rented a churro cart to hand out treats more delicious than candy. And I liked that everyone gathered for a dance party at the clubhouse at the end.
Later, back at home, we were all amazed by Flynn’s haul. Silly me to have thought that we’d be the cool kids on the block with our full-sized candy bars. No, here it seemed custom to hand out cellophane bags packed full with goodies. Some were even professionally put together.
We quickly ate up all the few Snickers and Laffy Taffys, and over the next few days taste tested the craziest of the Mexican candies, tricking one another into licking something that we swore was really, really good. In truth, the verdict about Mexican candy: uniformly awful. Who dreamed up tamarind as an ideal candy flavor? And it just got worse from there. We’re nine days out from Halloween now, and the big bowl of candy is still full. I guess in some ways that’s a win.
I screwed up. I was going to take Flynn to a movie. We picked the only movie for kids that was in English, because I’d shown Flynn some trailers in Spanish and he’d seemed a little overwhelmed. But we got to the theatre late. And I was in a hurry buying our tickets. And I accidentally bought ones for the Spanish screening of the same movie.
“I thought this movie was going to be in English,” Flynn said a few sentences in.
“I’m sorry buddy, I messed up,” I explained, expecting a major tantrum to follow.
“That’s okay,” Flynn assured me. “I’m learning more and more Spanish every day, you know. I think I can practice during the movie. I think my teachers will be very proud of me.”
You might have heard the buzz about Costco’s big bears. They’ve arrived in Mexico too. Jonah’s not exactly a fan.
Yes, we have Costco here, and yes, we’re members. We never joined stateside, but here they carry some products you can’t find elsewhere, so we caved.
It’s hard to feel sorry for our “hardship” of living overseas given the existence of a Costco in our post of assignment, isn’t it? We would have killed for one when we were in Benin. And this Costco happens to be right across the street from a swanky mall with an Outback, a PF Chang’s, a Cheesecake Factory, and any American clothing store you might want, too. And it’s just one of many swanky malls in town.
We’re trying to steer clear of American chains as much as possible, because we didn’t move overseas to live like we would have back home, but I’m not going to lie — it’s nice to have the option to visit familiar places from time to time.
Although I maintain that living without a Trader Joe’s still constitutes some level of hardship.
What American store do you miss most?