The Tall Traveller

I am a (tall) British expat currently working in Mexico as an English teacher. Read on for amusing stories from the classroom and my travels

Monday, 7 April 2014

Weekend wayfarer

Weekend 1 - Camping


Well, three weekends actually. Whilst this post may be a bit of a composite of some of my latest adventures, it should serve to highlight what one can get up to over the weekend in Mexico.

The pictures at the top of the page are from a camping trip my friends and I took to the small, high up town of San Jose del Pacifico. San Jose is one hour from where I live, and is a well known stop off point for travellers heading to the beach. Apparently they are good places to flog your home made furniture as a bloke managed to cram himself and 20 small pine chairs into the minibus. So much for a pleasant one-hour ride. There are four bays around the city of Pochutla which are well known beauty spots and hippy hangouts a little quieter than the resort towns of Puerto Escondido and Huatulco.

Zipolite beach on the Oaxaca pacific coast
 Its altitude makes it cooler and there are great views of the surrounding valleys. Whilst it is normally very quiet, you'll be sure to see a few hippies complete with 'happy pants' and woven backpacks, lured in by the promise of tranquillity, nature, good food and mushrooms. One of these types approached us in a café and asked in Spanish if we were going to Pochutla (the beaches around 4 hour away). I don't know what made him think that three white guys and two Asian chicks with camping packs were native Spanish speakers or had a car, but his request was met with an apologetic 'no'. Hitchhiking seems like a lot of fun, but you've got to go through a lot of waiting and rejection before getting a ride. The poor bloke was still asking passing traffic for rides two hours later. And all this to save a $5 bus fair.

The area is famous for growing magic mushrooms (rainy season only), and most cafés and restaurants are adorned with pictures of the naughty fungi. The town has a kind of tourist liaison, and older guy from the Yucatan who owns a ranch just out of town. He's a nice guy who studied holistic medicine and grows all of the plants he needs on his property. Bizarrely, he used to manage possibly the most famous 'spring breakers' bar Señor Frog's in Cancún but he gave it all up to set up shop in the mountains.

Last time I visited I did a temazcal at his ranch. It is a traditional indian steam room where you crawl into a darkened Tipi and sweat out half your body weight which is replaced with a herbally infused tea. Being at 3,000m above sea level San Jose isn't particularly warm, so the obligatory cold shower after the steam bath wasn't too welcome.
Navarro (left) pictured with
Tony from Hollyoaks and the Temazcal below 
Our camping trip went down without too much bother, although we did manage to bring about 50kg of stuff each, even if it was for one night. We had a nice traditional camping meal of Frankfurters and beans and sat around the campfire toasting marshmallows and singing kum-ba-yah renditions of my song about the Istmo.

We walked on to another nearby village the next day with an obligatory rum induced hangover and dehydration. By the time we reached San Marco we were gasping for a drink and found a small shop. The woman inside was so concerned about maintaining the cold temperature of the fridge and saving energy that she wouldn't let us open the door and select our own drinks. We were each chided in turn for daring to purchase our liquid refreshment. I don't know what she was worried about, my Sprite was luke-warm anyway! We headed back to Miahuatlán just in time to see our 'Classico' football bets go down the toilet thanks to some questionable refereeing and a certain rubber-legged dwarf Argentine scoring a hat-trick.

Weekend 2 - Vive Latino




Upon arriving to the metro stop in Mexico City where my friend lives, I discovered a metro worker casually parading around the platform with a bird of prey on his arm.

The Harris Hawk, who was named Luis, seemed content to ride the train to a statio with troublesome smaller birds and would then be let loose to scare them off. There can't be too many cool jobs on the hot and sweaty metro, but being Luis's handler must be the exception.

On a quick note about the D.F. metro, the price has increased to 5 pesos per journey (25p) and the signage has been updated with it. There is no discount if you buy multiple tickets, but the signs have the prices as follows:

1 ticket - 5 pesos
2 tickets - 10 pesos
3 tickets - 15 pesos
. . .
50 tickets - 250 pesos

I'm not joking, the signs actually go up to 50 tickets. Mexican logic.

Speaking of 5 pesos, I managed to buy a second hand baseball cap from a nice gent on with a street stall who was so excited and honoured that we had come from England he threw in another hat for free.

The music festival Vive Latino is a four day event held at a large sports complex at the end of March every year. Many of the acts featured are Spanish speaking and the music styles range from dance, rock, reggae, hip hop, cumbia and many more styles. This year was its 15th anniversary. It does have a festival vibe due to all of the merchandise stands and food trucks etc, although it is a little lacking in green space.

Coming from the relatively conservative and frugal Oaxaca, seeing the rampant commercialism in Vive Latino was a shock. Rich Chilango kids wearing their glad rags and spending fistfuls of pesos on questionable beer and bad jewelry. It was nice though to see some other festival goers with long hair and different dress senses, its all a bit traditional in Oaxaca.

Upon entering in the afternoon, you are bombarded by the official vendors wandering around trying to sell their wears. Domino's pizza, Subway, tacos, Indio beer, ice cream, Doritos and many more. We worked out that the vendors must be on commission because they were running around with trays of beer and food like their lives depended on it. The tray beer was generally flat and a bit gross, but you didn't have to move for anything, the food and drink comes to you!

One bizarre promotion was that of Cigarettes. My mate had his fags taken off him at the gate and was told that you can only buy packs inside. However, the cigarettes were hideously marked up like everything else on site. For $3.50 you could buy a pack of Marlboros.

In their wisdom, Marlboro had employed a bunch of overly beautiful people to go around selling cigarettes and doing customer research. Our friend (a highly educated government employee in Mexico City) was left grinning ear to ear and was proudly showing off his cool lighter that he was given as part of the promotion. Another strange twist in the tale is that Marlboro put up three cigarette 'vending machines' with gorgeous girls wearing tiny red dresses who would sell you a pack. They were actually locked inside these tiny boxes (probably for their own safety from the drooling teenagers with their faces plugged full of metal). I didn't get a picture as I thought it was a little too creepy.

Silverio the 'DJ'
I'm certainly not 'having a go' at smokers, in fact I think tobacco companies have as much right to advertise as anyone, it was just interesting to see as that kind of thing was probably banned in the UK when we had a King not a Queen.

The group of friends that I was hanging out with were certainly no exception to rule that Chilangos want to spend spend spend and are very open to gringo culture. The group arrived to the festival after work on Friday and were very much in a party mood. I had gone 40 hours with almost no sleep at that point so I was trying to tactically space out the beers. No such luck! Despite my protestations large cups of flat Indio beer were thrust into my grasp at every juncture. I left with seven or so people squashed into a car with even less headroom than the Nissan taxis and a rather ample fellow sitting on my legs.

The next morning we got some tamales for breakfast, which prompted some ribbing from our Mexican friends. Nick is now known as a man who loves a torta de tamal (a corn cake with chicken and spicy sauce in a bap). The snack is nicknamed a guajolota (a peacock). On our way out on Saturday night whilst searching for a late night torta we had already made up several guajolota based songs including:

(the Who) - "Talking bout my guajolotaaaa"
(the Rolling Stones) - "I can't get no . . . guajolotas"
and (la cucaracha) - "la guajooooolota! la guajooooolota! ya no puede caminar!"

I didn't escape the food banter either due to a Spaghetti Bolognese purchase on Friday night. With a lack of sleep, a ton of beer and a late dinner I was not in the mood to wait for my food and 'angry Phil' started to surface. Festival food trucks should be rapid service, but these wannabe Italian chefs decided to cook each order of spaghetti individually and then pass the pasta to the saucier who returned it to the tiny individual frying pan before daintily putting the order into a pot. I was pacing up and down and cursing during the 30 minutes it took to get my food and gulped it down in one when it finally materialised. I would say that it wasn't bad actually (especially for 70 pesos), but every meal I consumed thereafter was punctuated by Juan Pablo asking me if I was eating spaghetti again.

Here are some of the highlights of my first (and hopefully not last) Vive Latino:

El Gran Silencio - A real 'festival band' from Monterrey, Mexico. They play a mix of ska, cumbia, ballads, rap and rock.

The carpet - At one point, some enterprising festival revellers ripped up the stadium carpet underneath them and proceeded to use it as a big sheet to fling people into the air with. I didn't get any good pics of it, but by the time they got the technique right some of the smaller girls were going literally ten or fifteen feet in the air.

Camila Moreno - a decent singer-songwriter from Chile with some additional quirky instruments.

Silverio (picture above) - A rather strange DJ who jumps around the stage in red pants and shouts popular swear phrases like "Chinga a tu madre", or just "Perrrrrrrro!" over his beats.

Autoramas - A surf-rock group from Brazil who managed to create a noise much bigger than their three members warranted.

Outernation! - A New York Mexican group with a great guitarist and a good mix of Latin and rock music

The hail storm - It rains in D.F. and hails too! About 500 people were huddled in a kind of garage between stages for about an hour. All we needed was a bit of music for a garage rave.

Calle 13 - A Puerto Rican super group fronted by a rapping male-female duo who love themselves just a little too much. They've got good tunes and great lyrics (although a little too political at times).

Emir Kusturica & the no smoking orchestra - A large group of older Bosnian guys who play gypsy rock an played excerpts from the Pink Panther theme tune as a segway between all of their songs. Gypsy rock is pretty awesome.

Carnevale di vendetta - One of many good Argentine acts at Vive latino. Unfortunately we only caught one song.

Juana Fe - An 11 piece party band from Chile. Brass, percussion, vocals, guitars and bloody well everything on stage.

I would like to shout out to Daniel, Lalo, Juan Pablo their respective WAGS for being generous, hospitable and good fun. Also to Nick for the pics (although I took most of them so really, well done me). I'll see you all in October for Corona Capital!

Weekend 3 - Sports



Oaxaca certainly isn't the most sporty of Mexican states but it's worth a little write up. I have always wanted to go to a baseball game even though I find the sport tedious and of course inferior to the fascinating nuances of cricket. American sports are always long enough to consumer plenty of junk food and beer, and it was for that reason that I finally decided to get to a game. Bring on the hot dogs.

Oaxaca has a team in the national Mexican baseball league called the Guerreros. Enjoy the pics of the action below.

I got to see a couple of home runs for Oaxaca, but I didn't find anything wildly exciting. The most exciting moments are when the ball goes into the crowd. One little boy was hit on the head (although luckily at a slow speed) and one of the Veracruz players was struck by a foul ball and needed medical attention. The crowd seemed to find this hilarious though.

One gringo import for Oaxaca call Wes somethingorother was hit on the helmet by a rogue pitch. He reminded me of Kenny Powers (from TV's Eastbound & Down) a bit, although he didn't enter the stadium on a donkey adorned in the stars and stripes. He dropped like a sack of spuds and eventually was walked to first base. I can't help wondering why they don't have face protectors on their helmets. What happens if you get hit in the gob?

You might see a blurry picture of 'Drum man' too. He is the Guerreros No. 1 fan and walks up and down the stands banging his drum in a monotonous fashion.

I think the crowd seemed to enjoy the tradition of the baseball game. They knew how to sing and clap along with the small snippets of music played, the mascot and cheerleaders did a dance and everyone stood up for the "7th innings stretch". There isn't much room for being creative as a fan.

Well, Oaxaca's second division football team will play in the Mexican cup final this week against Tigres and future outings may include a trip to the gee gees. Maybe sport is picking up a little in the state. Two small towns outside the capital boast racetracks where local towns pits their best horses against others. Perhaps it'll be a little more Arkansas than Ascot but as ever, I'll report back with my thoughts and winnings hopefully!

Bring on the next weekend!

Hasta pronto.

You might like . . .