Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Scad tacos for dinner!

Yesterday we bought a meaty fish called jurel, or scad, that the fish market people recommended as an alternative to the unavailable tuna we were looking for.  We transformed it into soup with tomatoes, garlic, onion, chilies and cilantro, cooked it in garlic butter for tacos, and whipped up some limeade.  This scrumptious feast for four set us back seven bucks, which makes it rock even more!

A & H: Still married after six weeks traveling together!

Another snap of us in paradise, aka the El Descabezadero waterfall, over the weekend.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Back in the 'Cruz for Part Two

I'm not usually a big fan of malls, but I confess that when it's 95 degrees F outside and 95% humidity, and one does not have air conditioning, the Centro Comercial Las Americas is a godsend.  Lightly air conditioned and dotted with elegant jungle-y reflecting pools and classy, yet affordable cafes, it is a place of respite from the oven-like climate of the hyperactive city of Veracruz.  As I type, I periodically raise my head to observe the impressively diverse food court, offering everything from burritos (extremely rare in Mexico!), to bubble tea, to crepes and Chinese food.  Yacht parking for the mall is under construction.  Seriously.

Generally speaking, the state of Veracruz, and this city in particular, has a disparate feel from neighboring Oaxaca, Harold's home state, where we have spent most of our time since our arrival in Mexico.  The city of Veracruz is the largest port in Mexico and possesses the dynamic culture and economy characteristic of a port city, with notable Caribbean influence in food, music and architecture, and the presence of many large US companies affecting local consumption patterns.  Supermarkets out-compete open-air markets, American clothing brands dominate, and (manicured!) fast-food chains fill up to the hilt in the evenings. Children can be seen participating in baseball, American football, and basketball almost as much as soccer.  The Mexicanity (I learned this word from The Office) of the area is not lost however, as evidenced by the myriad taco and ice cream stands, extensive cattle ranches, uber-festive atmosphere, and the large traditional cafes of this coffee-growing region that fill on Sundays.  Adding to the cultural mix are descendants of numerous indigenous cultures of the area, escaped African slaves from the Transatlantic slave trade, and more recent Lebanese and Chinese immigrants.  

Founded by the famous conquistador Hernan Cortes in 1519, the city soon built a fort to protect itself from pirates and foreign invaders.  Nowadays, the city is a center for the Mexican military, the presence of which is undeniable, as groups of Marines patrol the streets, on foot, by helicopter and in pickup trucks, on the lookout for individuals involved in drug trafficking and related illicit activities.  Meanwhile, the city thumps with activity, as its one million inhabitants go about their daily lives with a certain jarocho (Veracruzian?) flair, and a soundtrack of reggaeton or American house music in the background.

Here we are in front of the oldest church in Mexico, built in 1524.

Marimba music!  Commonly played in the city, adding to the Caribbean vibe (at least from the perspective of someone who hasn't yet been to the Caribbean....).

The zocalo.  

Harold and uncle Victor discuss a historical photo display on the waterfront.

"In memory of all of the Spanish emigrants who arrived in Mexico through this port, in search of a better future and with their work have made this generous and hospitable Mexican nation a great one".

The sun sets over the shipyard.

A luxury hotel.  Miami-esque?

Night scene.

The moon rises over the fort.


Lunch the next day at La Villa.  

Tender chicken in red salsa, with rice.

Victor's dog, Molly.  

Enjoying a "lechero" coffee at the Cafe de la Gran Parroquia, a city-wide chain celebrating its 203rd birthday.

The beautiful coffee-making equipment at La Parroquia.

At El Descabezadero, a remote river a two-hour drive from Veracruz city.

The crystal-clear, cool water was pure paradise.

It was cold!  Even for us Northwesterners.  

Victor thinks it's really cold!

These flowers show off the "red only" function on my camera, which is the bomb.

The river emerges from underground off the side of a cliff, forming a waterfall.  Gorgeous, and so refreshing!

Tlacotalpan, a world heritage site.  You'll have to get used to viewing the weird shape of my hat- it has a wire around the edge, and I haven't been able to get it to hang right.  


Lazy dogs.


A whimsical photo of my foot on a park bench.  

Ice cream man!

Red car, red-trimmed building.

Harold and the weird hat chick in the zocalo.

Delicious seafood restaurant an hour outside of Veracruz.

Shrimp tostadas.

We were hungry!

Seafood salad!  Eaten with tostadas and crackers.

Half of a traditional quartet that composes individualized songs called decimas.  Mine sounded good, but revealed few observations about my character other than that I was from Oregon, but found myself in Veracruz, had strange hair and liked to drink beer (I only had two!).

On a personal level, you may wonder what we are doing here.  In short, our Canadian residency paperwork process brought us here, as certain documents are unavailable in Oaxaca.  Luckily, Harold's uncle Victor, a mechanical engineer at a multinational steel tube company in Veracruz, has graciously offered to host us for as long as we decide to stay in the area.  (Oops.... He may be sorry!)  We are having a blast exploring the area and plan to be here for at least another week, so stay tuned for more photos and commentary.  Have an awesome week!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Zapotec Territory: Monte Alban

Dear Billy Ray Cyrus:  just wanted to make sure you were aware that your 90s hit, "Achy Breaky Heart", was translated into Spanish and has, for some reason, become a perennial Mexican party favorite.  In fact, the energetic strains of "No Rompas Mas Mi Pobre Corazon" from the birthday party next door kick off the soundtrack to tonight's blog post.

To the rest of our readers: today we went to Monte Alban, the Zapotec political and economic center from 500 B.C. until 800 A.D.  A few weeks ago I posted about the prior center of Zapotec civilization called San Jose el Mogote which, due to internal political alliances, led to the foundation of Monte Alban, which was inhabited by Mixtecs long after its abandonment. Due to a lack of colonial literature about the area, it is unknown whether or not it was inhabited at the time of the Conquest.

In the ten years since I last visited Monte Alban, slums have risen up into the hills, nearly enveloping the ruins into the Oaxaca City limits.  An overpriced cafe graces the grounds, providing stunning panoramic views of the city and nearby farmlands.  Sundays are free for Mexican nationals and residents, and regular admission is the equivalent of $4USD.  The large, sunny site attracts a steady stream of tourists, but maintains a calm atmosphere that allows the visitor to imagine what daily life would have been like, way back when...

Monte Alban skeleton.  Remains of many children and adults of the site indicate osteoporosis, due to the low calcium content of the otherwise nutritious diet of game, beans, squash, corn and chilies.

I have visited tons of Mexican museums and archaeological sites and am repeatedly impressed with the variety and creativity of the ceramic works.  In deeply religious Zapotec society, many anthropomorphic figures represent deities and reflect a deep admiration of animals.

An apparently hooved food/drink vessel, observed in the museum housing remains discovered at Monte Alban.  

A funny figurine that looks like a cartoon rat.

We head up the steps of one of the many temples, presumably dedicated to different deities.

The roundness of some photos is due to an ancient lens shade I purchased here for four bucks, which cuts off the corners in its effort to reduce the amount of light in the photo.

One of the many panoramas I shot of Oaxaca City from the top of Monte Alban.

The area that used to be the town center.  If you stand in the middle and clap, you hear an echo.

Another panorama.

The steps are steep!

The most poorly preserved building in the site, presumed to be another temple.  The vegetation pattern on the steps caught my eye.

Chilling atop one of the eight or so buildings we climbed.

Another portrait of the downtown, dotted with tourists, most of whom were Mexican or from a variety of European countries.  By the way, I'm obsessed with the polarization setting on my camera.

Me in a classic travel outfit.  I like to think it looks like something Jane Goodall would wear.  Anyway, it looked stereotypical enough for a group of locals to request a photo with me.

Gorgeous blooming cacti.

A bee extracts nectar from a cactus blossom.

Harold contemplates the surroundings.

These figures are supposed to represent political prisoners captured from other ethnic groups in the area.  They were not treated nicely.

Here we are!

In this nerdy photo, the placard states that Monte Alban is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tuna sorbet!  Can't get over how gross that sounds....  But seriously, this frozen dessert made from the fuchsia-colored fruit of the prickly-pear cactus is heaven-sent, especially after all the climbing at a mile and a half above sea level.