I got the most wonderful surprise this weekend. I was walking to grab a bite to eat and I started noticing that things looked a little different. There were flowers literally everywhere! Wrapping the doorways, draping over balconies, arched into tunnels, and even arranged into adorable animals. I had run right into a fabulous springtime event called "Polanco En Flores." I was absolutely floored...there were literally thousands of fresh flowers. It was just beyond gorgeous and smelled so good. Because they are fresh this event only lasts 3 days. So what is a girl to do? Take the diplo-babies on a selfie tour with the stunning arrangements. Please keep in mind as you view these photos that the flowers are all real! There is not much more to say so this post is basically a gallery of springtime glory in Mexico City. If you are planning a visit to Mexico in 2020, I recommend to come for this event.
Yes, I said it. The Popo is erupting! No no no (clutching my pearls) I am not speaking of Moctezuma's revenge or the intestinal distress often caused by travel in Mexico. A classy lady never speaks of such things. I mean the volcano! "El Popo" is the nickname for the Popocatépetl volcano which resides about 50 miles southeast of Mexico City. Popocatepetl means smoking mountain in the native aztec language. I'd say that is a pretty fitting name for him. I took this picture from the the car one day when we went to a Christmas tree farm at the foot of the volcano. Below that is a professional shot by Roy Salazer.
The last time this guy had catastrophic eruption was about 1,000 years ago and he was considered dormant for about 50 years until 1994 when he spewed back to life. The Popo is one of the world's most active volcanoes. Well recently he has not been on very good behavior and they have just raised the alert level from Phase 2 to Phase 3 (yellow alert). Great. I move here for like 3 years and suddenly, after 1,000 years, the volcano wants to live it up a little! The government has been circulating flyers about what to do should he blow. These are things I have NEVER thought about. I knew I was moving to earthquake country but being born and raised in San Francisco this did not bother me so much. Still, volcanos are like another level. This is a stratovolcano the likes of Krakatoa, known for its catastrophic eruption in 1883 and Vesuvius, whose eruption caused the destruction of Pompeii. I am willing him back to sleep.
In case you are wondering why I refer to him as a he, it has to do with aztec legend. Apparently he was an aztec warrior who died of sadness after returning from battle and finding his love had died of a broken heart when she received the false news he had been killed. She is the neighboring volcano Iztaccihuatl. The gods were touched by their story and transformed the humans into mountains so they could be together forever. Here is Artist Jesus Helguera's rendering of the volcanos and the legend's characters.
Below you will find more shots taken in the last month by Roy Salazer of "El Popo" in action. YIKES!
In Love & Tacos
People think diplomatic life is all crystal and fine china. What the movies don't show you is that the diplomatic lifestyle can be isolating and lonely. Yes there are cocktail parties but as the spouse of a mid-career diplomat these occasions are only a handful of times a year, if that. I am lucky to be in a posting where I speak the language fairly well but it takes a LOT of mental bandwidth to be social in Spanish. My personality is different in Spanish. I am more shy and less witty. If I really want to relax and connect with people with ease, I have to seek out a few other expats who speak English to really feel like my full social self.
As I have done that by joining expat groups in the city, it has been fascinating to listen to other foreigners perspective on Mexico. They don't want to leave! We have diplomatic friends from the UK who I really wanted to have a nice transition to Mexico. The wife and kids know zero Spanish. We met them the first week they arrived and I checked on them often. A few weeks in I asked how they were feeling living in Mexico and they assured me this monstrous city was a piece of cake compared to their last posting in India. Mexico City was like a lush assignment. Life here was western and much easier than where they had been. They were already off and exploring the city and country and taking Spanish lessons.
Then this week at an English speaking moms coffee I met a women from Barbados and one from Turkey. Their husbands are engineers in Mexico on a project. They were talking about how they didn't want to leave Mexico. They love it here. The mom from Barbados said she never wanted to go back to island living. My jaw dropped. "Why" I asked. I mean I have been bugging my husband about when we can get posted to St. Lucia so I can just hang out beachside all day. She explained that you cannot get all the creature comforts on the island that she had grown accustomed to here in Mexico. She had gone back for a visit and said she was cursing people daily for not having the stuff she wanted available. She was told by store clerks that the next shipment of stuff would arrive in 6 weeks. Also, she insisted the food was bland. All the years in Mexico with salsa, chile, and every delicious sauce one could want had spoiled her tastebuds. She was praying the project would continue for at least 4 more years.
The lovely mom from Turkey was talking about other available projects in Saudi Arabia, Barbados, Paraguay, Thailand, etc. She said she really wished she could stay here forever. That this was better than home (for political reasons) as well as the other available assignments. She mentioned how from Mexico City you can drive an hour or two in any direction and end up in another great place to explore for the weekend.
As these women were speaking it struck me, the irony. All the rhetoric going on in the US about Mexico, all the bad press, the bad hombres, all the travel advisories to reconsider travel to half of the states of Mexico. Foreigners from everywhere else in the world loved it here, and some even thought it was an ideal place to live and raise their kids over their home countries. I guess it is all a matter of perspective depending on where you came from, but it is amazing how hyped up rhetoric about a place can tarnish its reputation to one group of people, while the rest of the world is clamoring to get to stay.
Ask anyone north of the border what is a margarita and they will likely say it is a Mexican cocktail made with tequila. And oh do Americans love their margaritas. The funny thing is Mexicans don't really drink margaritas, and further, of the 5-6 stories about the origins of the margarita several don't even claim the drink originated in Mexico. If you are headed to the beaches on vacation, go ahead, order away because these places are equipped to handle American taste buds. But I will advise anyone heading to the interior of the country and planning to patronize small local restaurants and bars, you might get some side eye if you order a margarita. Of course you can find margaritas in Mexico City at large hotels and upscale bars, but don't ever show up to a house party or your in-laws Sunday comida and ask if they can whip up a margarita.
Lucky for you there is an alternative. The Paloma! You will still get a nice salt rimmed glass, lime juice and tequila but the other ingredient is grapefruit soda such as Squirt or Fresca and it comes without the side eye and hushed giggles about the gringo who wants a margarita. Somewhere along the line my husband introduced me to this drink to help save me from embarrassment and I never looked back. The Paloma is a well loved, widely consumed drink in Mexico and I wonder why it doesn't get the same love north of the border. It has been referred to as "the lazy man's margarita" as well as "the poor man's margarita." Either way, in my opinion, it is better and more refreshing. The Paloma is my go to Mexican cocktail and it should be yours too. Or you could, of course, just woman up and drink tequila the way it was meant to be. Gasp (clutching my pearls)...no not like that you teenaged college binge drinker...it is not meant to be shot or poured into your friend's belly button. The complex flavors of a good tequila are meant to be sipped slowly and savored over time with friends and family.
-Served in a highball glass
-Add lime and salt to the rim and fill with ice
-A shot (or two) of tequila (depending on your goals)
-Anywhere from a tablespoon to the juice of 2 whole limes (depending on your tastes)
-Fill with Fresca, Squirt or other grapefruit soda to the top
-Garnish with a lime wedge
-As the night wears on forget the salted rim, lime garnish and even the lime juice. Who has time for all that juice squeezing? You can't miss Tío Lucio's* lost in translation story about the time he accidentally asked for a nipple instead of a napkin at a restaurant in San Francisco. Refill your glass with tequila and grapefruit soda as needed.
*Name changed to protect identity
In Love & Tacos
Facepalm! Have you ever seen a traffic signal that facepalms! It is so millennial. Often walking around Mexico City I feel it is a bit like walking around New York City. People are on the move here. And due to traffic and "Mexican Time" they are also likely late. You better make sure your body is moving at the pace everyone else is or you are just going to annoy everyone around you. Once you have bobbed and weaved your way around the slow pokes looking at their phone or the dog walker with 15 dogs, you might find yourself at a red crossing signal impeding your progress forward.
Every morning with my two kids and dog in tow, with seconds to spare before I will be forced to do "the signature of shame" in the tardy book, I look up at this man tapping his toe and hitting himself in the face and I have to laugh. He gets me and how I feel in that exact moment! He understands my most private thoughts and feelings. Why did I press snooze? Why did I not get the uniforms dried on time? Why did my daughter decide to refuse her go to breakfast this morning? Why did my son forget his homework on the way out the door? Who in God's name put the dog's leash in the bathroom? Why did the neighbor hold up the elevator at her floor? And why didn't we make this light? In my mind I am also impatiently tapping my toe and slapping myself in the forehead right along with him. I love him.
In Love & Tacos
Can you hear it? You can hear the jingle now, can't you? Avocados from Mexico! Well there you have them. Perfect little green, nutrition-packed pods from heaven. I do not claim to be a food blogger because there are lots of people with lots more food credentials and many who focus solely on all the incredible elements of Mexican food. But I happened upon this mountain of the green goodness, and I had to stop and take the picture. They say you are what you eat, so if I just so happen to need a doctor to slice me open one day, they might find something like that pictured above. Just as you would assume, one of the best things about living anywhere in Mexico is the local markets. I have been to plenty. They are teeming with energy and engage your every sense. The colors, the smells, the flavors, the sounds. It is an all immersive experience that everyone should have once. As it turns out there is one that pops up in our neighborhood every Saturday and we didn't even know it after 6 months living here. We were walking to take our kids to their favorite park last Saturday morning and there it was. Well we couldn't resit, and even with no planned market run, we walked out of there with mangos, grapes, apricots, local artisan purses, obleas, algerias, tlacoyos, and some Peach "O" Gummies. You can be sure we will be returning here A LOT! This one happens every Saturday starting around 8:30am at the edge of Lincoln Park in Polanco at the corner of Calle Aristoteles & Calle Emilio Castelar. Come visit and you too might walk away with a new shirt, fresh honey, a dog food bowl and some avocados (you know kinda like going to Target, but better!)
In Love & Tacos
The holidays are upon us here in Mexico City and like any good diplo-wife I tried my best to keep our family's holiday traditions alive despite our new location. Some things I was successful at. I researched and found a place to cut down our tree near a volcano close to Mexico City, we did our annual mall Santa pic, and our Elf on the Shelf, Garrett, had a whole new house to find places to hid in. I even managed, with the help of my mom, to get Christmas cards out to friends and family in the states.
But there were a couple of things that indeed proved challenging. Maybe I procrastinated too long, but I found Christmas wrapping paper hard to come by. Perhaps everyone uses the in store gift wrapping service when they buy the gift, or maybe bags are just more popular, but I was shocked that my four go to supermarkets and corner stores did not have any?! I even chanced upon a Christmas market with all kinds of awesome Mexican decorations and saw a stack, not a roll, but a folded stack of wrapping paper. I asked how much and was told by the seller, "10 pesos por...(insert word I don't know)." I thought he meant per pack, but I eventually understood it was per sheet. The sheets were not so big and at .50 cents a small sheet it would have cost a fortune to wrap my family's presents. Gringa price? Maybe. But he did not offer a lower price as I walked away aghast and clutching my pearls.
As Christmas Day approached I hit my second challenge...baking in a new country. In order to fully participate in my Mexican In-laws Christmas Eve celebration, I offered to bring dessert. When I attended family occasions in Mexico the last 10 years of our marriage, we were always flying in and were basically treated as out of town guests without the means or time to actually help in the preparation of the event. But now that I live here I need to step up my game. The out-of-towner excuse would not fly anymore.
I have done a decent amount of cooking since our arrival but no baking. And as any kitchen dweller knows cooking can be spontaneous and less accurate, substituting items here or there with decent result. Baking on the other hand has to be precise. Follow the recipe, every ingredient and measurement, or else. The amount of time I spent Googling at the grocery store on my tiny phone screen was almost unbearable. Google, how to you say baking powder? Google, how do you say baking soda? Google, how do you say powdered sugar? I speak Spanish decently well, but when you get into specifics these were not things I knew off the top of my head. Of course the first thing I did was go to the baking isle assuming I would just recognize these basics, but I was sorely mistaken. So after Googling these basic items in Spanish, I was enlisting help from the employees. Found some items but not others. "No, señorita, no hay bicarbonato de sodio." No baking soda?!?! How can this be? "No, no manejamos azucar glas." What no powdered sugar?!?! "Impossible, how to Mexicans bake," I thought to myself. And I swear I just ate a cookie with powdered sugar yesterday, so I know it exists. I figured this store sucked and I would find it at one of my other go to spots.
For my cream cheese, Google, how many grams is 14 oz.? For my butter, Google, how many grams is a 1/2 cup? and so on and so forth. Trying to convert my recipe measurements was another reason to buy stock in Google. What did people do before Google and smartphones? But give or take a few hours, I managed my way through and knew I would be relying on my old friend again soon to convert Ferinheit to Celsius. But two stores later, and still no baking soda or powdered sugar. I was dumbfounded and my first attempt to be helpful during my in-laws holiday dinner was almost ruined. But at my third store, God sent me a little baking angel. As I stood staring blankly in the baking isle wondering why I couldn't find that little orange box with a muscular arm on it or something similar, a little old lady who worked there asked me what I was looking for. Then came the words of the savior..."Si, el bicarbonato esta en la farmacia."
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
In Mexico, baking soda is not found in the baking isle or the cleaning isle (I checked there too).
The baking soda is in the pharmacy!!!!
O the amount of time I could have saved if someone had told me that. And she had further information for me. I could find powdered sugar in the specialty store across the street which sells candy. Why grocery stores don't sell powdered sugar right there next to the regular sugar and brown sugar, I will never understand, but at least now I know where to find it. Christmas dessert was saved.
This story is such a classic expat experience. And below are my three takeaway lessons for living abroad.
1. Never take it for granted that even the most basic stuff will be like it is at home
2. Allow more time to accomplish even the smallest errands, and
3. You should probably just go ahead and buy stock in Google.
In Love & Tacos
Here we go. My inaugural post. This section of the blog is indeed titled "rants," but there is enough negativity coming through our screens everyday. I decided to have my first post be a positive one. Top 5 things I LOVE about life in Mexico. It won't be the usual stuff like great tacos, lots of history, or fabulous beaches. It is the positives you might not know unless you spend some time here.
#5 Altitude Makes You Lose Weight
This is specific to life in Mexico City and not all of Mexico. As it turns out living in altitude makes you lose weight. Well that is a bonus! I am eating all sorts of delicious foods and the weight is just falling off of me. I remember when I used to come visit family, I would always return a couple lbs. lighter. I attributed that to some fun Mexican "bichos" or bugs. But my system has adjusted to life in Mexico and I am still losing weight. 15 lbs in fact. My husband lost weight too. There are some other contributing factors. More walking is one, and I have a theory about fresher foods and less preservatives that I believe helps as well. But even with that, it turns out living in altitude alone does make you lose weight. Your body has to work harder just to be and the altitude suppresses your appetite a bit. There are studies supporting this you can look up. I have also confirmed this experience with other people who move back and forth from the US to Mexico. Head to the US, gain a few, return to Mexico, drop them again. I think the tourism ministry should seize on this market. "You gotta come up to get down" or "Come to MX, lose the XL" or some catchy slogan should do the trick!
(Image from greatruns.com)
#4 Fresh Juice Everywhere
This wasn't such a big deal to me back when I was a DINK (google it if you don't know). Back then I was more worried about quality cocktails and great wine, but now, fresh juice matters. The kids actually have options besides water or milk. If juice is not your thing, then there's always agua fresca "fresh water" which is water infused with all sorts of things. There is pineapple, cucumber and lime, hibiscus flower, strawberry, watermelon and a hundred other types. Almost all restaurants and street corners have it so it's a very accessible, all natural option with no funny ingredients or food coloring. Juice or infused water the way nature intended it. So refreshing. I found the best juice I literally EVER have tasted at Ojo de Agua, one of my other favorite local haunts. It is mango, maracuya, and coco and tastes amazing, but they have probably 50 more to choose from.
(Image from Facebook)
#3 Let's Talk Meds
I know this is sort of an odd topic but Mexican access to medication has made me question what the US is really up to and why. Read on and I promise you will be clutching your pearls in disbelief too. We have three medications I pick up monthly for the family. With one insurance in the US I had a $10 co-pay, so $30 a month. We changed insurance and later had a $15 co-pay, so $45 a month. Keep in mind these were with a prescription after seeing a doctor, so after 6 months I would have to call to renew the perscription and we had to be on top of the yearly appointment or they would cut off our prescription entirely until we made it in...that can't be healthy for anyone. If we were traveling, I had to make sure that we had enough, but remember you can only get the next month after 25 days had passed, so everything had to be scheduled just right. Getting a special exemption from the insurance was always a hassle. It was a big stress inducing balancing act. I know, I know, the purpose of the "rules" is to control addiction issues, but none of our medicines are addictive. They are for cardiovascular health.
So I was very concerned moving to Mexico that I would have to rush to find a doctor without time to properly research the best. I needed a new prescription before my last one ran out, right? Sure, yeah, find a great English speaking doc who comes highly recommended and get a new patient appointment within 30 days while dealing with drama of moving, shipping the dog, and getting the kids started in school. Luckily a response to my stressed out text to a family member a week after arriving in Mexico set my mind at ease. The response "I don't think you need a prescription for those" was like manna from heaven.
When I finally got my life settled, I waltzed into my corner pharmacy and asked if they had what I needed. They did, and they asked how many boxes I wanted! No prescription, I could buy more then a 30 day supply, and to really knock your socks off, all three prescriptions were $13 total. That is less then my co-pay for one of the medicines back home. Wait, wait it gets better. If you sign up for the loyalty program, some are eligible for deeper cuts. After 3 boxes you get one free! I can't even imagine the cost of our prescriptions at home without insurance. How is this fair? There are people suffering all across America deciding between meals or meds or skipping doses to make it stretch longer. What is going on in the US? Where is all that profit going? Why is the system so painless here and so complicated and down right unfair in the US? I want answers! I remember hearing when I was a kid growing up in California that people would go across the boarder to Mexico and fill their prescriptions. I thought, "How crazy. How dangerous. Who would do that?" Man was I naive. I get it now. Yes you need to be careful and can't just go anywhere, but there are very reputable pharmacies. Rest assured I go to the best.
Just to triple down on why the pharmacist had to pick my jaw up off her counter was this...they can deliver to your house. Yep, they just throw what I need on the back of a bike and send it down the street to my doorstep. Let's summarize. No prescription, over 30 day supply, dirt cheap, loyalty program for filthy cheap, and home delivery. I mean, I just, wow, I can't even...hence meds made my top 5 list. And please, someone fix the medication debacle back home.
#2 The $3 meal
Yes, you can eat a filling meal with a soda in Mexico for $3, maybe even less, if you find the right stand. When I think back to my time working in San Francisco, I recall that you couldn't find a filling meal for under $12 (that was in 2010!) It would have helped my budget tremendously to have $3 meal choices. Currently, my favorite $3 meal is a flauta joint within walking distance. It is a sort of street side hole in the wall that I was afraid to eat at the first few weeks. But I walked by frequently, and started to notice it was a popular business crowd lunch spot with a wait. People in ties and skirts were hunched over in little plastic chairs eating with their fingers. In their fingers was a large crispy golden tortilla dripping with cream, cheese, and a beautiful green sauce. Tried it. Sold! $1 per flauta, two is enough because they are big, plus a $1 soda and done! It also comes with a free cup of broth and a tower of various salsas to boot. There are many more $3 meals to be had in Mexico, I just used my favorite as an example. I can feed my family of 4 for the price of my lunch in San Francisco.
(Image from Foursquare)
#1 People Genuinely Like Kids
I don't was to generalize, but most Mexicans really like children. Strangers will actually look them in the eye, greet them and engage them in conversation like the tiny human beings they are. Maybe a bit more unsettling, but it is not uncommon for people to reach out and touch them on the top of the head. They sort of tussle their hair even if we are just walking by someone. I was taken off guard at first, but now I find it sort of endearing. Like they are complementing how cute they are without saying a word. Maybe it is because they look like gringos, but it happens so often and in different parts of Mexico, that I don't think it is just my kids.
American parents, brace yourselves. Mexico has restaurants with play spaces/nannies. Even the fancy ones. Like, society accepts that children might join their family out for a nice meal and they accommodate everyone! I have seen separate tables in the corner with arts and crafts, rooms with games and activities, rooms with tvs and toys, and glass enclosed climbing spaces in more casual restaurants. Usually you just tip the nanny whatever you think your sanity is worth. The best one I ever saw was at a casual beach style fish place called Pacifica that had a full room sand pit! The kids could have stayed there all day. And someone else had the job of making sure no sand ended up in the other kid's eye. Another margarita please.
(Image from Foursquare)
O, Man. That was a long blog post for my first ever. Are blog posts supposed to be that long? If you are reading this...thanks for hanging on until the end and I hope you learned something new.
In Love & Tacos
Rants of a Diplomat's Wife
Hola, I am an American married to a Mexican Diplomat. I am on my 3rd post as a trailing spouse. The first two posts I joined were in the US, and in July 2018 we moved to Mexico City. Maybe it was the fact that I was pumping out my diplo-babies, or maybe I didn't think anyone would be interested in diplomatic life at my US posts, but I didn't blog then. Now I am in Mexico, and perhaps you might find it interesting to know what life is like here. This is where I share my adventures and thoughts at my current post.