Thursday, August 10, 2017

Adios, Chicken Pizza

This is it, the last post from Mexico City. Those eight months went way too damn fast.

The next handful of days hold transition and chaos for all of us. As sad as I am to leave Mexico, I am looking forward to being back with the Seattle crew. I am also really looking forward to squeezing my crazy dog and poking Stella the bird in the belly with a pencil (the eraser end, I'm not a monster). I'll even be happy to see Bobo the bearded dragon; he may not emote much but I'm sure he will also feel reunion joy somewhere in his lizard heart.

We're finally comin' home, girl!
(Though I suspect she stopped looking for us out that window
a long time ago.)

Let's finish this road trip. Let's do this finale. There's probably no better way to celebrate our time in Mexico than by continuing to wax nostalgic about vacation and posting a barrel full of photos of this magnificent country.

(Part One here, Part Two here, Part Three here ....)

After Merida we took a slight detour to another pueblo magico, Izamal. Izamal is also known as The Golden City (or is it The Yellow City? I don't know, tick tock, no time to research, nothing about this thing is gonna be fact checked) because every building in town is painted a bright egg yolk yellow.

Izamal also has several pyramids in the middle of its town. We visited them via horse drawn carriage from the center square. I usually refuse to entertain the idea of horse drawn carriage tours because I don't think it's very nice to make horses drag people around cities all day. Horses aren't meant to work in big cities on hot pavement with cars whizzing past them all the time. The stories of horses collapsing in Central Park from exhaustion and stress were enough for me to swear off of them forever.

But check me out, I'm Captain Hypocrite!
(our horse driver and our car driver, Mario, chatting in the front)

Alex knows my feelings on horse drawn carriage so first approached the man to discuss the care of his horse. Looking around Izamal, it's more of a quiet village than a city. There are very few cars whizzing around and at the time of our meeting him, our horse Picasso was munching on some grass and looking pretty chill indeed. I sure hope he likes the color yellow, though, because if he hates it he is living in his own personal hell.

I believe this is our final giant city sign of the trip. 
Behind us, a horsedrawn carriage, though that is not our Picasso.
If I look more closely, that horse appears to be wearing a humiliating pink hat.
Well, shit.

That is one wild pyramid.

Lucien was shat upon by a bird,
likely one who did not believe
he is an authentic tech expert forever.

There is one Mayan ruin you must see, according to the world. If you're on the Yucatan Peninsula, you must visit ye olde Chichen Itza or, for the more refined, also known as Chicken Pizza.

I did not love Chicken Pizza. I have friends who have loved this place but for me, it felt like the Disneyland of Mayan ruins. The lines forming out the front may actually make Disneyland look tame and easily accessible by comparison. Vendors are everywhere, lines snaking all over the place, millions of people standing around fanning themselves with tour bus brochures, at least half of them bused in from Cancun resorts and wearing "Official Boobie Inspector" t-shirts.

We arrived very early, aware we'd be far from alone at this most popular ruin, and were into the site within half an hour. The ruins are nice, it's true, but it's like visiting ruins as if strolling through an art museum. You can't climb anything, you can't touch anything, and your entire experience will be shared with many, many, many other people all craning their necks to look at the same thing.

Chichen Itza was one of the first Mayan ruins to be excavated and is listed as one of New 7 Wonders of the World, alongside the likes of the Great Wall of China and Macchu Picchu. I understand its significance in the history of history and that is nothing to be trifled with. Thank you for your service, Chicken Pizza, but my opinion still stands -- there are many ruins more worthy of visiting than this one. (See my best friends Palenque and Uxmal)

Chicken Pizza gets a sad rating of 2 out of 5 pyramids. 

I liked the columns, though.

They are all Official Boobie Inspectors. All of them.

I may have bitched mightily about the vendors clogging up the place but I did pick up my favorite souvenir of the entire trip at Chichen Itza from one of those very vendors. Hola again, Captain Hypocrite!

The kids saw it and said, "Mom, I'm scared" and I knew I was onto a winner --

This is all I can show now because he's nestled nicely into his packaging. 
I'll take another picture when he's hanging in his glorious new Banister Abbey location.

We weren't at Chichen Itza very long. We kind of ran through, bought my scary dude and escaped. The place was crazy by the time we left. The line for tickets was ten times longer and the parking lot was a hot mess of 50 tour buses. My advice, if you feel it's important to cross Chichen Itza off your list, is go early, run through, and run away. Buy something amazing from a vendor if you must.

We stopped at one last ruin, Ek' Balam, on our way to Cancun. It was a welcome change from Chichen Itza -- uncrowded, accessible, fun to explore, terrifying to climb. We were right back in it.

It's a small site with not a ton to do but it's adorable

The palace was impressive,
thatched roofs there to protect carvings underneath.

And we felt pretty badass at the top of a very steep
and very hot climb.
We nearly passed out, which would have been pretty bad.
You get 3.5 out of 5, Ek' Balam.

Then straight to Cancun, the town where humidity reigns and everything, including the folded clothes in your closet and your bedsheets, is moist. We parked our butts on the beach at our resort in Playa Mujeres. I have never been an enthusiastic fan of all-inclusive resorts because the cheesiness can be off the charts. But this one in Cancun had been recently visited by Seattle Mom and Irish Mom with much raving upon their return. It sounded kinda heavenly.

By the time we reached Cancun, we were burnt out on ruins and driving and posing with giant city signs and were happy to have a breather. And by "breather," of course, I mean napping on lounge chairs, drooling a little, and waking up to find a well-dressed waiter has placed a drink in your hand.

All-inclusives are full of sloth. There are many people who float around in the pool for hours on pool floats near the swim-up bar; others would stake out beach lounge chairs early in the morning then stay in them all day. I was jealous of their contentment and ability to be completely still; I'm too antsy to be still for long. I was instead a hopper; I hopped from pool to pool (there were many pools) to the beach, to the restaurants, bam bam bam I'm a resort mover and shaker.

The people in that pool haven't moved for hours. 
I hope they're OK.

The resort, Finest at Playa Mujeres, was a classy joint. Beautiful place, delicious food at its many restaurants, and no Official Boobie Inspectors to be seen. The service was great and the Kids Club so entertaining, we didn't see Coco for days.

Lucien was on the older side for Kids Club so chose to go swimming all day with me. Alex was usually napping or in the resort's gym. He likes working on his body but I don't care much about my body on vacation.

Lucien and me, underwater selfie.
Nailed it.

The Loosh and I followed a baby stingray and a crab as they swam/scuttled along the sea floor. We warned two guys there was a crab directly at their feet but they just looked at us blankly and continued their conversation about the New York Giants lineup. Fine, assholes, get clamped, I tried.

One night Alex and I tried to take Lucien to the fancy formal French restaurant at the resort. We were not quite prepared for the dinner dress code requirements. Dinners at some of the restaurants are "elegant" affairs and we didn't have too much that could be considered "elegant." We were more rife with "dirty" and "sweaty" and "crunchy."

Alex kept shoving me ahead of him into restaurants because I like dresses and brought several, so I was by far the most formal of all of us even though my dresses hadn't been washed in weeks and all reeked of old sunscreen and bugspray. Alex was hoping they'd see me at a distance, register "acceptable" in their brains, then he and Lucien could slink past unnoticed.

We were worried about our outfits but we should have been worried about other things. As we walked into Le Petit Plaisir, we were stopped at the door and told the restaurant was for guests 18 and over only. We didn't know that beforehand but Alex didn't miss a beat. He immediately gestured at Lucien and said, "What, him? He is 18."

Lucien, on cue, stood on his tiptoes, dropped his voice as low as it can go for an eleven-year-old, and began discussing the U.S.'s crushing student debt problem. The lady at the door didn't budge, just shook her head at us. We dragged Lucien out as he continued moaning, "Oh no, how am I gonna pay for college, it's so expensive....."

Our last night we attended a pirate show on the beach where we learned pirates love juggling fire and resort audiences don't like to applaud. Those poor fire-juggling pirates entertained us in near silence for an hour. Awkward.

Then we came home. I love flying into Mexico City because it is a monster --

And now we're getting ready to go. The kids have been awesome in this hectic week of preparation. They've cleaned out all our rooms and filled six bags of garbage, then schlepped them down to the basement. I think they're ready to go home because I've never seen them so motivated.

Mario took Lucien to a movie two days ago to keep him entertained while I met with the movers. We are going to miss that sweet man. We will miss Paulina, too. She cried yesterday when she left. The kids gave her a gift -- a framed photograph of Seattle with a photo of them taped to the front. They wrote on it, "We're in Seattle now but we miss you and we love you."

Next time you hear from me I'll be back in Seattle, baby. I think there will be much processing of Mexico after I return to Seattle. I didn't blog here as much as I'd hoped, most likely because I was always writing about Paris. I may write more about Mexico in Seattle than I wrote about Mexico in Mexico. Then again, I get my Paris manuscript back from my editor on August 15th so I may write more about Paris in Seattle than Mexico, too. This is all very confusing.

Goodbye, beautiful CDMX. I'm going to miss you something awful.

I'm going to miss all the sidewalk cafes and restaurants
full of beautiful chatting people
across the street from bustling artisan markets.

I'm going to miss showing my kids things
like this beautiful old fountain.

I'm going to miss our fun friends.

I'll definitely miss this view from our apartment.

Coco took this one as we stood outside enjoying one of our last sunsets.
She insists on taking pics with fisheye.
She thinks it's hilarious.

I'll even miss the times we didn't do anything at all,
just sat around our mod apartment,
watching TV and playing video games.
Though I suspect we'll be doing some of that back in Seattle, too.

Bye bye, guys. It sure wasn't long but it sure was great.

Thanks for the memories, Mexico.
Adios, amigos.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Pyramids, pirates and parkour

R-E-S-P-E-T-O, find out what it means to "yo."
(pretty weak joke, agreed, bad Spanish grammar to boot, but it rhymes.)

Part One of our hasta luego, Mexico road trip is back here and it's glorious. Part Two is back here and is slightly less so. This is Part Three and will probably be the worst of the bunch because this thing is going to be a monster.

Then I'll write Part Four tomorrow and you're gonna be "enough already!" I'm processing a lot of emotions plus logistics right now. Dysfunction and short circuiting, that's what I'm doing.

The movers were just here to survey our stuff and left me a stack of forms to fill out before they can pack all our stuff on Friday so now I'm jittery and annoyed. I hate forms, especially ones with mysterious blank lines on them after words such as "attach copy of travel orders in invisible ink to Page Zero" and "apply corporate seal here -- and by "seal" we mean the animal, so go find one now, godspeed and good luck" and "we're killing you with all these forms right now, ha ha ha, don't care."

This hurried and frantic and annoyed Part Three picks up where I left off last time -- on a winding twisty nauseating road where people with nail boards made us stop and give them money

That winding road eventually deposited us in Palenque, which is frankly not a very interesting town. I'm not going to mince words, Palenque, your town is ugly. Our hotel was nice on the outskirts, though. It had a pool roughly the size of several postage stamps into which many sweaty tourists deposited themselves at the end of blazingly hot days.

The kids had a blast in the pool, as kids always do, but I swam a couple laps and surfaced with a wad of dark hair woven in between my fingers so that was enough for me. Thankfully the pool also had bar service so I watched the kids swim in hair while I enjoyed a couple beers in the sun. That is a win-win.

But here's the thing. The town is not charming but you absolutely must go to Palenque, Chiapas if you ever find yourself anywhere near it. Reason being, the Mayan ruins of Palenque are spectacular, my favorite of any ruins encountered thus far in the journey.

I wish I had known how popular the Palenque ruins are because I would have been a ballbuster about getting my family out of the hotel room at an early hour. As it was, we moseyed into the site's parking lot around 11:00 and holy hell....just holy hell.

Tour buses were everywhere as we approached, never a welcome a sign when you like your ruins quiet and solo-ish, and a very long line of barely moving traffic snaked into the parking lot where, of course, all spots were taken. We got lucky, though; a man appeared to offer us a parking spot right near the entrance and a car wash, all for the small fee of 400 pesos, about 20 bucks. (400 pesos is not a "small fee" in Mexico, it's a big fee, but for us at the moment given the circumstances -- helluva bargain, my friend, and thank you for the shiny car.)

The line for tickets was longer than long so the kids and I left Alex and Mario in line and went to drink water bottles in the shade. For the record, entertaining kids for the wait is roughly equal in difficulty to standing in a long line. So, so many rounds of I Spy.

The ruins at Palenque are the best and most interesting ruins because they are half hidden in the jungle. Even cooler and more mysterious, there are apparently still a ton of ruins back in that thick jungle they haven't yet been able to get to and excavate.

It is so weird and whispery and perfect.

The earliest signs of inhabitants at Palenque date from 100 B.C. but the city reached its heyday around 700 A.D. That good old late classic period, those were raging good times.

The site is so big that even with the uncomfortable number of tour buses parked out front, you can still find yourself poking around on a ruin all alone, surrounded by thick jungle vines and reached only by a set of mossy green steps. Parts of the site are silent save the sounds of wind through trees and rustles of animals in brush. It's very Indiana Jones, only with fewer booby traps and more tchotchke vendors.

Me and the Loosh enjoying ourselves in front of  my favorite structure,
the one with a jack-o-lantern face.

Some ruins are off limits as they are too fragile but those that are available to climb are not scary. The stairs are wide and the levels many, which always makes for a more relaxed climb and descent. If someone should happen to lose their balance and fall, they'll bruise extensively, sure, maybe break an arm or a leg or both, but multi-leveled wide ascents are preferable to the heartstopping death fear of the steep narrow things at Tonina.

Even Coco enjoyed Palenque, at one point said the actual words,"Mom, I like this place!" That is the highest possible praise because Coco is a very crabby ruins-visitor indeed. Because of all the above, Palenque earns my VERY RARE and VERY SOUGHT AFTER rating of 5 out of 5 pyramids! Wow!

Our driver, sweet kind Mario, asked Coco to take a picture of him 
in front of the ruins to send to his wife.
She is six inches from his face.
She is such a punk.
(These two are peas and carrots. She makes him laugh a deep belly laugh.
He has become a good friend, 
and we are going to miss him very much.)

There's another kind of dumb thing you can do near Palenque, and that is the Misol-ha Falls. Alex liked it because he could jump in and swim right next to a pretty waterfall. I did not like it much but that is because I am a killjoy.

That's Al swimming in the water hole.
He had just been whistled at by many whistle-carrying employees
because he swam too close to the falls.
Alex is a rule breaker.

The next day was a smooth ride to Campeche City in the state of Campeche. At home in Seattle, I am the driver. The kids once asked Alex if he knew how to drive and he was highly offended. But he knows that I love to drive, that I like little more than sitting behind the wheel cruising down the open road (or, as is more likely within Seattle city limits, sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, which is admittedly less enjoyable.)

What I realized driving to Campeche was sometimes it's nice to be driven, too. I sat in the second row of our sweet minivan and zoned out with my headphones listening to my tunes and looking at the gorgeous scenery. I would sometimes snap back to attention when I noticed one of my family members waving frantically at me. I would remove my headphones and they would say, "We can't talk to you like that!" and I would say, "Yep, that's the point."

If Palenque were my favorite ruins, Campeche was my favorite city. Campeche is a sleepy little town, likely because temps in the summer run hotter than hot so everyone hides indoors. The buildings of Campeche are painted pastel colors and the streets are narrow and seldom used by cars. It's a glorious mixture of pretty and uncrowded and full of good food. It's too hot, though.

Campeche used to have fairly serious and upsetting problems with invading pirates. They built a wall around the city for protection but those damn pirates just kept coming. Campeche has now embraced its pirate past; there is a pirate-heavy history museum and you can find a guy dressed as a pirate sweating profusely on nearly every corner.

This is the nightly pirate show.
The guy on the ground is drunk, of course.
Perpetuating drunken pirate stereotypes.

When the sun goes down, Campeche comes alive. All the people who have been hiding from the sun come out for a nightly show in the main square. This one was traditional Mexican dance. The kids asked me what a traditional American dance was and I said, "I dunno, I guess a barn dance, or like a square dance?" and they seemed disappointed. They don't understand how heartstopping I can make the Virginia Reel.

There is also a nightly light show projected against the library on the main square. It celebrates the history of Campechans. The light show is so well done, we watched it two nights in a row, even hurriedly finished our cochinita pibil the second night to get there in time.

Hell yeah, celebremos Campeche.

Now a brief Campeche cell phone picture explosion --

Coco running through the streets at night.
Finally deliciously cooler.

Coco and Alex have found a pirate.
What a surprise.
(It's not a surprise at all)

The kids and I
on my favorite giant sign.

The C and A and M represent three of our first names.
Lucien was offended so decided to add an L somewhere.
We debated between "clam" and"calm" 
and decided "clam" fit us better.

Coco up on the wall surrounding the city 
ringing a warning bell.
Pirate issues again.

Our next stop on the itinerary was Merida up in the Yucatan. I have heard many great things about Merida but we did not love it as much as we'd hoped. It's not Merida's fault it's 500 degrees during the day in July, and that we'd been on a long journey before reaching it, but by the time we drove into Merida and began strolling its beautiful streets, we were wilting like fragile flowers and very pissed off about hot charming Mexican cities.

There were some great parts. The mansions along the Malec√≥n are without equal -- 

old mansion tour

As are the "conversation chairs" lining the city's main streets and squares --

It's another giant sign.
I'm very stressed out and sad right now.
Just work with me, please.

We tried a bus tour in the hopes of air conditioning but were disappointed to find the bus didn't have such a thing. We sat on the top of the bus in hopes of a breeze but there wasn't much breeze to be had. We jumped off early because even our fancy fans purchased back in San Cristobal couldn't help us.

The best part of adding Merida to the road trip? MORE RUINS. I gotta have more ruins. Between Campeche and Merida we stopped at the nearly perfect Mayan ruins of Uxmal --

We are out of control.

I have great news, guys. The Mayans have figured out rounded corners and modern construction techniques involving mortar --

she's a beauty

We got to Uxmal early in the AM, having learned our lesson at Palenque, so were there nearly alone. Many others arrived later so while it's not without its crowds, you can avoid nearly all of those damn tourists if you arrive early. And no, of course, we're not included in the "tourists" category because we are TRAVELERS.

What did I love most about Uxmal? The rounded corners and mortar techniques, of course, wouldn't that be everybody's enthusiastic favorite? Second to that was the intricacy of the carvings still affixed to the buildings. I also loved the size of the site. We were poking around and exploring for hours, so much to see and all of it spread out and all of it interesting. We ran out of stuff to see at the exact moment we all thought, "yeah, we're kinda done now." Perfect size.

Fourth, I loved the bats. Lucien heard them first in the old palace, a faint squeaky chittery sound I never would have noticed without my animal-loving son in tow. He said, "Mom! There are bats nearby!" and I was like, "Yeah right, whatever" but then he poked around for thirty seconds and found them. The squeaky chittery sound stopped immediately as soon as he was directly under them. The bats had noticed the child in their midst. Lucien peered up into the crack above his head and there they were, a bunch of little bodies swinging upside down and staring right back down at him with their little shiny eyes.

We are looking at another 5 out of 5 pyramid rating here, people. If Palenque and Uxmal decided to duke it out for my affections, I would frankly be like, "Stop the childishness, you are both perfect to me and I will love you both forever." And then I'd just bail the town because who wants to stay in a weird town where pyramids fight.

Back to the bats. It's not easy to take a picture up into a dark crack full of dark animals but I did my best --

The outlines of their little bat heads are cute if you ask me. But Uxmal is where I learned Alex hates bats. We yelled to him we'd found bats and were confused when Al said, "nope nopeity nope nope, no way in hell" and hightailed it in the opposite direction.

We all have something we can't stomach and would prefer to avoid, of course, but I never pegged Alex as a "no bats" guy. In my mind he's more of a "no area rugs" or "no leg warmers" or "no toast" kind of guy because he's just a little different, a little out there, that one. Bats seem far too common a thing to dislike for my Al. Good to know he can still surprise me even after all these years.

Uxmal explosion --

The picture directly above is the Pelota field at Uxmal. Pelota was a popular game of the times so you can find a Pelota field at nearly every ruins site through Latin America. In Pelota, a ball was bounced off the hips and forearms to put it through the hoops at either side of the field. It also often involved human sacrifice at the end of the match. And get this -- it was often the winners who were sacrificed because they were the strongest and best offerings to the gods. It was an honor, you see. 

Every tour guide through Mexico makes the same joke after they relay the above information: "This is why Mexico never wins their soccer matches."

Anyway, it's rare to see an intact Pelota hoop like the one above; almost all are crumbled away or removed to museums. It was the best I've seen. *calm down Palenque, I love you, too*

La Casa de las Tortugas at Uxmal.
It's the house of the turtles.
That is adorable, Uxmal.

I have neglected to mention thus far
how many big lizards hang out at all of these ruins sites.
We always think of our Bobo, of course.
(Lucien saw this guy above and said, "Mom! Lizard parkour!")

Nicely done, Uxmal, nicely done.

I'm not done writing about this trip, may never be done! But I also may take a break just for a second. Mario is taking me to the ciudadela today, which is the huge artisans market in the centro historico. I'm going to stock up on souvenirs in a major way.

Tomorrow, the adventure will continue. I am blogging so fast these days my fingers ache. It's nothing compared to what's coming with those damn forms, though.

Lizard parkour!