Tag Archives: Couchsurfing

Seashores of Mexico

When I arrive into a foreign country by plane, I always find the trip from the airport to my hotel, one big blur. I try to take it all in, but all the buildings and billboards, and cars and colours all just mash past and flash up so that there are no details, just a vague sense of the place. This is especially the case, when you’re zipping in and out of traffic in a terrifying manner in a beat up old car at 90km / hour.

My friend Christian came to my hotel to pick me up. I had met Christian in Wollongong five or six years ago, when he was studying at the University where i worked. Christian’s half Mexican and half Cuban. His father was a very famous featherweight boxer. Christian is one of Mexico’s true gentlemen. I teared up when I saw him. I think because, while we talked about it years ago – I just never really believed that one day I would be visiting him in his home town. I was in goddamn freaking Mexico!

The City spans an area of approx 1500 sq km, which is approximately the size of Hobart. There are some 8.8 million people living in Mexico City compared to about 212,000 in Hobart.

So it’s a good thing, my friend knows this city like the back of his hand. He immediately hailed a cab to a pretty area called Coyoacan. Because I was absolutely starving, we grabbed a quick bite to eat in one of the little makeshift market places, where pop-up kitchens were moving Mexican morsels quicker than your local bartender can open a Modela Special.

We then made our way to a gorgeous old stone building housing a restaurant and bar which overlooked a park, where families strolled around with balloons, and young lovers sat on park benches, kissing and canoodling.

We caught up over cervezas and mezcal cocktails, while deflecting the attention of street urchins selling candy and trinkets and things we had no need for. We bantered with them, gave them our orange slices, and sent them on their way – they seemed pleased enough with that.

Claire later called to say she was in town and so Christian saw me back to the hotel which I had booked for us two gals. Claire would have to be one of most favorite people; and she had changed her flights just so she could see me for a few days. I was most complimented and very excited to be seeing her again.

She had been travelling throughout Mexico and South America for more than a year now, and her Spanish was most impressive. She had so many stories to tell and some good advice to give me.

As she climbed into her bed, she sighed over how luxurious the place was. As i climbed into bed, I told her i thought we were going to have very different nights, as it was possibly one of the hardest mattresses i’d ever slept on. And having come from the Intercontifuckingnental… I just wasn’t sure how i was going to deal. She called me a princess. We laughed.

We hung out for the next four days, doing a lot of that, as well as eating, drinking, shopping, gossiping, philosophizing, and just generally talking shit.

On Sunday, we cruised around Centro Historico, saw the Catedral, got a juice (you can fill an hour like this, when you’re in Mexico), mooched around the markets and had a kip. We had dinner in one of Claire’s favorite tacareias, where they make a great alambre – which is a tasty mixed plate of finely chopped barbecued style meat & bacon, onions & peppers, all grilled with a hot layer of cheese on top and served tortillas. We then proceeded to the top of the Latin American Tower for cocktails and the best, free! views of the whole city. It was virtually empty when we went there, which I just couldn’t get over. The marketer in me, just wanted to tell them to start promoting it, and charging. I’m glad they don’t.

The next day, Claire took me to a swish restaurant for breaky and we set off to find Frida’s house. We took our time, stalling in a very modern mall where Mexico’s elite upper class shop. It was filled with shops just like we have back home. Claire attempted some shopping and I had some very expensive but fresh sashimi and sushi.

We finally made it to the Museo, only to discover that it (as all museums are in Mexico) was closed on Mondays. I suggested we go find the lovely bar that Christian had took me to, as it was very close by.

We stopped and asked a sweet old lady in a tourist information van for directions. A lot of walking, asking more folk for directions, a lot of bum steers, a short train trip, a collectivo bus ride, and oh, approximately two hours later we got to the bar which was- as fate woud have it about 50meters from where we first asked the sweet old lady in the tourist information van- who we now wanted to stab in the forehead with a blunt instrument – for directions.
It took a lot of alternate venting for each of us to get our heads around just how close we were to where we wanted to be, when we asked for directions. And why this woman would send us on such a wild good chase if she had NO FRICKING IDEA where the bar was.
Meh.

Tuesday, i just read, wrote, and slept while Claire did some Embassy admin and we had dinner that night in an area called Condesa at a beatiful seafood restaurant called Lampuga. We shared a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio to commiserate Claire’s last night in Mexico. She had been on quite a journey in more ways than one, which had started with her visiting her English father in Guadalajara, who had married a Mexican lady, and meeting her half brothers and sisters for the first time.

The next day I went to see the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a gorgeous building which is home to some of the more famous Mexican muralists’ works, including a couple of Diego Rivera’s pieces. I met up with Claire for last drinks, and waved her off in a cab. Hasta pronto, me amiga xxx

On Thursday, I went to Chupaltepec to the very famous Anthropology Museum. It rivals the Louvre, in terms of space and provides such a rich detailed history of mankind… I highly recommend it for anyone who has an interest in these sorts of things. I forgot, I don’t. Actually that’s not true. I do have an interest in these sorts of things. Just when contextualised by human stories. When told through the eyes of artist or photographer or writer. I’d choose a gallery or a book or film over a museum any day. There I said it.

On Friday i decided i’d get a pedicure, as my feet were starting to resemble a homeless man’s feet. Lucky i didn’t have anywhere to be, as it took nearly 3 hours from the time I walked in, to the time I walked out. Iguanas move faster than the folk of Mexico. Love it.

I met up with a local boy, Walle who’d contacted me via Couchsurfing to accompany me to Frida’s home. Finally! Such a gorgeous peaceful space, that housed so many stories, affairs, fights, parties, and sadness. And filled with a bunch of her really famous pieces. She was such a juxtaposition in every sense. I loved it. It was nice to have Walle’s take on things, it was like having my own personal guide. We hung out at a bar, swapping travel stories – until Christian came to pick me up for dinner.

A few of his closest friends were having a dinner party just up the road. An Australian girl, Melissa – who had moved to the city a few years before, who had come here with no prior knowledge of Spanish, who had completed a Masters (in Spanish), and who had set up her own catering business – was overseeing the cooking when I arrived. It was an amazing vegetarian meal with a lot of Asian influence. Lots of fresh vegetables. I was in heaven!

There was a lot of wine, translating, laughter and dancing. I’m not sure if it’s the altitude but I only had maybe 3 wines and I was very merry and most ready for bed by 230am.

The next day, with a raging hangover (wtf?) – all i wanted was a bacon & egg roll with BBQ sauce and a quick dip in the sea at Bondi with my mate Tobes. I treated myself to a BLT with views of the Zocalo from the top of the Holiday Inn, instead. Close enough.

Christian came by to pick me up again and we went to the markets, stopping in at a freakish farmers market where they sold all sorts of surely illegal animals in their whole and otherwise forms. I was offered fried crickets as I walked in. I was still feeling hungover, so declined. What we saw would be enough to turn most people into vegetarians. Bird eggs still attached to their ‘mothers’, the testicles of some unidentified animal, skinning in actions, roos with their paws still in tact… Having grown up with parents who once brought home a live duck to slaughter in the backyard of our suburban home, I have a fairly strong stomach for this sort of thing but it was pretty full on.

We wandered through some artisan markets which was far more pleasant. More drinks, dinner, and Christian and I sadly, said our farewells. It had been so lovely to catch up with him after all this time.

It struck me as i had my last breakfast, in the simply beautiful Cafe Tacuba with a mariachi band serenading me – I was now on my own. I had no plans to meet anyone else. I had had such a brilliant time jetsetting across the States to meet Naomi, Angie, Charlotte, Faith, Maya, Dave, Rita and Jamie. Then to Mexico to meet Christian and Claire.

Now it was just me, myself and I. I knew there would be times ahead when I was going to feel lonely, and really miss my friends, or just having some easy company. But I also knew I was going to love the solitude and i was also excited about all the people, who would come into my life for a moment or more.

Smiling, I left for Isla Mujeres on the Caribbean.

19 June

Baby, please don’t go

I had bagged an absolute bargain with the mystery deal on Bookit and ended up in the Intercontifuckingnental just 2 blocks away from the French Quarter. I figured it was probably the last time I was going to get to enjoy luxurious bedding and a beautifully apointed bathroom, for quite some time. But it does feel a bit weird walking into a foyer of a 4 star hotel with a dirty backpack on. The staff were nothing but gracious.

I went out exploring straight away, wandering down Royal St with all its beautiful little galleries and gift shops.

I landed in a Gumbo restaurant, sampling the local fare: gumbo soup, creole shrimp, jambalya and rice & refried beans (which i have to say, I’m not a big fan of – and yes, I know this is going to be problematic when I get to Central America). I was served by a very handsome waiter by the name of Bennett, who had the laziest Louisiana drawl…

This was just the start of me falling in love with Nawlins boys all over the shop. These men would have to be the politest men I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, they clearly love women and were just raised right. I came to love the sound of their dulcet tones lingering all over my skin. Everyone calls you M’am or Miss or more often than not, Baby. I loved it.

It was a lot more humid here than in Houston. This place was sticky, and sexy, and sultry. Hot, in more ways than one.

It also struck me as being quite European. The French and Spanish influences over architecture, food and attitude was everywhere. New Orleans a heartbeat, a soul kinda feelin you won’t find elsewhere in the States. Don’t get me wrong – there’s also a terribly touristy and terrifically tacky side to all this too. Strip shows, souvenir shops selling everything from colorful shiny beads to plastic voodoo dolls.

But what got me, was Everywhere there was music. Sweet sweet music. My kinda music. Blues, jazz and old school rhythm and blues.

And a fair bit of psydeco, which really ain’t my bag, but it’s easy enough to avoid what you don’t like for what you do.

I saw bits and bobs of bands banging out tunes, all up and down Bourbon St ‘lmost every day i was in New Orleans. But the one act that sticks out the most in my mind, was an a’capella group: 5 suited and booted beautiful, big black men harmonizing their lil hearts out under a gas street light, late one night.

The Street gets going around midday and doesn’t relent until the wee hours of the morning. It’s a cacophony. Of sounds, sights, smells. And just was it was in Vegas, you got people wandering around with drinks in their hand from start to finish. It’s no dramas to buy a drink in one bar and take it into the next.

On my first day, I got caught without an umbrella in a flash hailstorm. I dashed into the nearest pub which, I later discovered, was famous for the introduction of Hurricanes, a popular cocktail right across town. Inside, it was dark as night, and people were smoking and listening to some dirty swampy blues. When I went to the restroom, i had to pass through an old venue which apparently only comes alive at night; on the stage, two beautiful old grand pianos proudly stood. I was reminded of the time I saw Christa’s dad, Dick Hughes and Leonie, the pianist from her band, dueling in the Studio.

Later that night, I met up with a guy I met via Couchsurfing, to see his band play in a dive bar on the outskirts of the Quarter, in an area called called Marigny. It was all loud experimental slash post punk slash indy rock slash slash slash. Noise. And to be fair, it was noise done well. But I got over that kind of ‘music’ in 3rd year of uni. I was knackered and bailed for bed in the witching hour.

On Wed morning, I got my hair cut by a young lass who managed to fuse countrygrl with edgy fashonista. She was all tatts and pretty red curls. Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth but she knew what was what. She directed me to the cool part of town- a street peppered with cafes spilling over with locals and vintage shops filled with gorgeous things i didn’t need or couldn’t carry.

I met another couchsurfer, a visiting Swede, for a tasty seafood lunch. And then we just cruised around for a while, poking around in the shops by the riverfront.

The next day, I went back to buy a beautiful hand crafted Mardi Gras mask from a vivacious Iranian woman I’d met on my 1st day. Everywhere you could buy cheap and nasty, plastic, made in China versions. This shop was the real deal. I watched her handsome cousin make one while I was there. We made plans to catch up on my last night.

In the afternoon, I met up with the Swede to take the last working paddleboat down the Mississippi. She was an absolute beauty, working hard to make her way down a big ole dirty brown river with many stories, and a lot of history attached to it.

A body of water which constantly gives the people, who choose to live by it, such a hard time – but clearly she holds so much appeal they can’t tear themselves away. We saw some of the remains of the devastation that Katrina had wreaked.

People here are very loyal to the city and all it stands for. They have rebuilt and bounced back. Their attitude is about living in the moment, celebrating the now.

I got to go down into the engine room of the Nachez, much to the satisfaction of the tomboy in me. Old machinations fascinate me. Plus, I got a happy snap of me with the Captain!

The Swede had organized a meet up with some of the Couchsurfing locals, so I tagged along. A bar called Love Lost. I immediately got chatting to an interesting bloke at the bar whose job was a town planner, who specialized in the prevention of homicides. We discussed best ways to murder a person and the imminent demise of his relationship.

I later teamed up with some of the locals for some pool (those who know me, know I have a very small window where I can actually play pool and it’s somewhere between the fifth and eighth drink. I think I was on drink number 9 by this stage).

They had the coolest jukebox ever, all rock and roll and blues and GOOD singlalong stuff. None of this Shits of Summer 99 rubbish. They even had some ACDC. And it was something stupid like 8 songs for 2 quarters. I was in jukebox heaven!

It was still so warm even at midnight, and i wanted to walk home but the boys insisted on hailing me a cab. I slept well that night.

On Friday, my last day, I had a lazy day, just eating and sleeping and reading and writing.

I later met Sha’hlha and her handsome cousin for a few drinks which turned into a lot of drinks and then a lot of shots, and I think there might have been some karaoke and maybe a pash. With the handsome cousin, whose name I can’t even remember now. He walked me home.

And then I went back out. To get a shrimp po’boy. Note to self: tequila and prawns no more. I woke up at 7 for my flight, cursing my inability to expel nausea in the usual way. I just felt crook for the whole flight to Mexico. When will I learn.

11 June