20 August, 2019

Today I’m taking a more serious tone. Summer in the coastal towns of México are HOT. Hot AND Muggy. Today in Mazatlán it’s 92 f/33 c and the humidity is 71%. This is a dangerous combination if you don’t prepare yourself.

Today was also a cruise ship day. During my brief (yes, it got too hot even for me. I stopped when my fitbit said I’d walked my 10k steps) stint as a Mazatlán Tourist Aide Volunteer I saw several cruise ship passengers whose faces were bright red. After exiting the cruise ship terminal, tourists can elect to see Mazatlán a few different ways.

First, they can take a tour from a tour group. Big, air conditioned buses with tinted windows that drive them around the city and have someone who speaks English giving them history. Second, they can take a pulmonia (it’s like a fun golf cart) or a taxi, or an auriga, or a mini-van. Pulmonia’s hold about four people. Taxi’s might hold five. I’ve seen about ten people in an auriga (they’re red converted flatbed trucks). Mini-van’s hold about the same as an auriga, but they’re not open-air. Whichever of these are chosen, they normally provide the same kind of experience as the group tours – but are a little more personal. And they stop in the places the tour buses are too big to go. Third, they can walk. There’s a blue painted line from the cruise ship terminal that leads people into the historic section of town. It’s not a short walk if you aren’t used to walking.

And it was the latter group of cruise ship passengers that I saw having trouble today. HOT. Did I say it was HOT? The fifteen to twenty minute walk from the cruise ship terminal to Centro might seem a short time – but it can wipe you out in this heat. Please bring/buy a big bottle of water. One for each person. Stroll, don’t power walk. Sit in shade (yes, you can find it here) when you feel the need. Stop at a restaurant for a bite and something cold to drink so you can cool down. Scrap the walking idea and grab a pulmonia for a tour. Do whatever it takes to avoid heat exhaustion/heat stroke. Whatever it takes.

We actually had a couple, already sweating profusely (and no water bottles in sight), tell us they’d rather keep walking than spend six dollars to have a pulmonia drive them to their destination. Don’t be these people. Whether you’re playing tourist, or resident – be mindful of the weather and just don’t take chances with your health. We want your visit in Mazatlán to be memorable – because you fell in love with our city, not because you had a medical emergency here.

Please take a couple of minutes and read the article about heat exhaustion from the Mayo Clinic. They give symptoms and steps to take to prevent you from getting it. Being informed is the main step for never getting to the point where medical attention is needed. And when you’re in a coastal city in México, enjoy! But check the weather and plan accordingly.

Mazatlán Summers are HOT!
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19 August, 2019

Today’s topic: Gas!

Most of the houses/apartments here in Mazatlán use liquid propane gas. Either 30 liter cylinders or the bigger tanks that are usually located on the roof. Either variety will eventually run out, and not at a convenient time!

My apartment uses gas for my little hot water tank, which holds enough for a shower and about 5 minutes of washing dishes. I also have a gas stove. I’ve been fairly lucky in that my gas has run out during cooking and not in the middle of a shower! Even luckier, it’s been the stove top and not the oven – so I notice right away.

It would be convenient if there were a meter of some sort on the cylinder, but alas there is not. Some people do have a two tank setup so when one runs out the other kicks in. Neither I nor my neighbors are so lucky!

The predominant propane company in Mazatlán is Gaspasa. They have both the trucks that are loaded up with cylinders, and trucks with a giant hose they pull up to your roof if you have that large tank. Ordering is very straightforward, but they don’t speak any English. I start the conversation with “¡Buenas tardes! Mi Español is muy malo” (Good afternoon, my Spanish is very bad). Then I tell them “Necesito un cilindro de repuesto. Mi dirección es ____________” (I need a replacement cylinder. My address is ________). Of course, if you have a tank on your roof, don’t tell them you want a cylinder! They actually have my address pop up from the caller id, so giving it to them again confirms they have the right account. They will respond with the estimated time until delivery and the price. The price is usually printed on the side of the truck too – just in case you need a reminder! When they’re done, I tell them Gracias, and hang up. If you need to let them in at a door on the street, make sure you’re keeping a lookout for them at least 15 minutes before they told you the driver would arrive. I’ve found the estimates are very generous and they’re at my door pretty quickly.

Every time I get a receipt it has a different phone number on it. Today I called +52.669.981.05.05. The receipt they gave me has +52.669.980.10.10 (my cellphone has a different area code, and it makes me enter the +52.669 before it’ll let the call go through). If the first number doesn’t work, try the second! If neither work, walk over to a busy street and do some window shopping. When you see a Gaspasa truck coming, flag them down!

Oh – if your delivery person has to lug the tank a distance, or up flights of stairs, consider giving them a little propina (tip). I’m on the third floor and there is no elevator. It really does not look like they’re having fun when they’re carrying my tank to my apartment. Fifty (or more) pesos will get them a little lunch, and won’t break your piggy bank.

30 Liter Gas Cylinder
30 Liter Gas Cylinder

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14 August, 2019

I have a little gift to myself in my refrigerator!

Yesterday, after my Mazatlán Tourist Aide Volunteer shift, I stopped at Las Changueras (the Shrimp Ladies)! Un kilo (2.2 pounds) of shrimp, and I’m going to be a happy camper today!

Mazatlán says it’s the shrimp capital of the world (I think Thailand might have an edge, but since I live here I’m not going to bring that up). Surprisingly, there are a lot of places that can’t seem to cook shrimp properly. Today I’m going to give you a little lesson in the way to cook shrimp that will shock and amaze your friends and family!

First, shrimp and American cheese, no matter how assembled, or wrapped in bacon, or battered and fried, DO NOT GO TOGETHER. Don’t do it. Don’t encourage others to do it. It’s just wrong.

When buying shrimp you want to buy them with their shells on. I also buy them without the heads as they aren’t that much cheaper with them on. My sauce suffers for it, but it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make. You also want fairly large shrimp. The 16/20 would be about the smallest to use. 16/20 means that there are between 16 and 20 shrimp to a pound.

Next you want to get your equipment ready. You will need a bowl large enough to completely submerge your shrimp in water. You’ll need one chopstick – of the pointed end variety. You’ll need one pot (with lid) large enough to hold the shells, one wooden spoon, a strainer, a cast iron skillet, and a small saute pan. You will also need a colander.

At the sink, you will want to turn your cold water on so that a very slow stream is running. Grab a shrimp in your left hand (assuming you’re right handed) and hold it by the tail. Peel the first two or three segments of shell away from the body at the point where the head was removed. Placing your thumb and forefinger at the point where the last of the meat is in the tail, squeeze hard. The shrimp should come clear of the shell. If it’s being stubborn, you can loosen the shell a little more. Place the shells into the pan.

Take the shrimp meat and lay it flat in your left hand, curling your fingers a little to secure it. With your right hand, push the chopstick all the way through the cavity in the shrimp where the digestive tract and innards are. You might have to poke around the shrimp to find the opening – but it’s there! Now, lift up on the chopstick, ripping through the thin layer of flesh at the top of the shrimp. Remove the digestive tract and any innards that may be there as well. Give the shrimp a rinse and toss into the colander. Rinse your hands. Repeat until you’re done.

See, that was easy! A little time consuming, but easy!

Now, add water about 1/2 way up the shells, cover, bring to a boil and then turn down and simmer. Every once in a while, stir the shells and mash them down with a wooden spoon. About 10 minutes after the shells have turned pink, remove the lid and strain the liquid into the saute pan. Throw away the shells. Place the saute pan on the stove, turn on high, and boil until you have about 4 Tablespoons of liquid left. You are going to add this to whatever sauce you make for your shrimp!

Now you want to prepare the shrimp. Rinse the shrimp and place in the bowl. Add enough water to amply cover the shrimp, then add a couple of Tablespoons of salt. Stir things up with your hand until the salt is dissolved. Cover and refrigerate between 1 and 2 hours. Remove from the fridge, drain, and rinse the shrimp in clean water several times to remove the salt. Lay the shrimp out on a baking sheet and pat dry, then return to the refrigerator (uncovered) for a couple of hours, until the shrimp have dried completely.

Melt two tablespoons of butter in the cast iron skillet over medium. Add a clove of minced garlic at this point if you desire. Place a layer of shrimp into the pan – don’t have more than a single layer of shrimp. When the bottom of the shrimp turns pink, wait 15 seconds, then flip the shrimp. When the shrimp are totally pink on the outside, but still just a tiny bit grey when looking at the place you removed the digestive tract, take them out of the skillet. They will continue cooking a little, and you’re going to add them to something hot (noodles, rice, sauce, …) which will make them cook a little too.

That’s it! Perfectly cooked shrimp. Plus you have a shrimp reduction to add to your sauce, and don’t forget the butter (and garlic?) from the skillet. These are great with noodles, in rice, as a stuffing for shrimp chili rellenos, on top of steak, added to some steamed broccoli and cauliflower – basically anything that isn’t a slice of American cheese!

And now that your tummy is happy, have a little dance with las changueras of Mazatlán!

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8 August, 2019

Summer in Mazatlán is a little different this year. Rain usually comes at night, in torrents with spectacular thunder and lightning shows. This year it’s coming whenever it wants. Drizzle, light rain. Medium rain. An hour of torrent. Mix and match. Maybe thunder and lightning. Maybe not. And while it’s hot and humid, it’s been easier to tolerate than previous years. I miss the shows, but easier to tolerate I’ll take!

Ok, quick note on the upcoming travel plans. September will find me in Seattle for a couple of weeks. I’m flying to Tijuana and walking across the border. Staying in a hostel in San Diego, then taking the train to Los Angeles, where I’ll take the Coast Starlight to Seattle. I like the train, and haven’t had the opportunity to do the full run – am looking forward to the views on the Southern California coast!

After Seattle I’ll be flying to Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, and Budapest. Two weeks in Europe – my first visit! Somehow I timed it so I’ll be in Munich during Octoberfest! That hostel stay should be interesting!!! I plan on doing the hop-on-hop-off buses everywhere, but I did schedule several days in each location so I can wander and stuff myself full of good food!

Coming back, I’ll be spending a few days in Boston. I’ve been through Boston three or four times, but never had an opportunity to stop and smell the McDonald’s Lobster Rolls! Lots of USA history to experience, and I’ll appreciate a little slow down time before coming back home. Am flying to San Diego then doing the San Diego –> Tijuana thing, then flying into Mazatlán from Tijuana.

Two days after I get back to Mazatlán I’m off to México City for 11 days. I have to visit the Chinese Consulate to get a visa, and their website says it can take up to 4 business days. I’m allowing for problems 🙂 Plus I’ll get to eat some good food and see a few things I wasn’t able to see in June. From México City I’m going to my timeshare in Puerto Vallarta for a week. That’s going to be my relax and enjoy life time!

Oh, yeah. China. About a year ago I signed up on a airfare alert website called Secret Flying. They email me a recap of the day’s discounted fares every afternoon. That’s where I saw $288 (usd) round trip between Boston and Paris. They recently sent me one for $305 (usd) round trip between Los Angeles and Beijing. I couldn’t pass it up! So early in November I’ll be racking up some more frequent flyer miles and giving myself some travel bedsores with a 10 day trip to Beijing!

I really need to do some things at my house in Seattle, so I may just go up there after getting back from Beijing – but I have to be back in Mazatlán by January as my residency needs to be renewed.

And here I thought I’ve already been busy traveling!

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3 August, 2019

Adventures in Mazatlán: Acapulco Edition!

I’ve caught up on my sleep and have slowed back down, temporarily. More travel coming up but for now I’m home in Mazatlán enjoying the Summer heat. It doesn’t quite feel as hot/humid as last year. Could I be acclimating? I do have my air conditioners on, but they’re set to 87 f.

Acapulco was amazing. The city was vibrant and full of tourists, but very few from outside México. I did not encounter any problems with security/safety. In fact, I felt very safe during the entire trip. And while there wasn’t any wandering outside the hotel zone at night (other than the one early evening watching the clavadistas), I did travel to a couple of places I don’t think many international tourists go.

The bus ride from Mazatlán to Acapulco was a killer. First, the bus was three hours late. I’m fairly certain that it actually wasn’t three hours late, but that they canceled the first bus because there weren’t enough passengers. I think this because a few of us wound up having tickets for the same seats, and the driver had to do some quick re-arranging! At this point I was just glad to be on the bus, and wanted to sleep (it was after 11 pm when we pulled out of the station). The bus ride is almost 24 hours, and doesn’t have many stops. I have more stops on the bus to Puerto Vallarta, and that’s only 7 hours! And that may get you wondering – Hmmm. 7 hours to Puerto Vallarta, and 24 to Acapulco? Is Acapulco really that much further? Well, if you’re going down the coast it’s not. But this bus for some reason goes through Guadalajara, Querétaro, México City, and Cuernavaca (very pretty! I think I’ll add it to my places to visit) before heading over to Acapulco!

I finally arrived in Acapulco and checked into my hotel, the Playa Suites. I have a timeshare in South Lake Tahoe that I don’t use, so I bank the week with a trading company, RCI. My one week every two years in Tahoe gets me two weeks at most places in México. With the fees, it’s about what I pay for my week in my timeshare in Puerto Vallarta, so I come out a happy camper. Reviews for the Playa Suites in Acapulco were not good, but it was a great location, and not all inclusive, so I decided I’d give it a try. I’m glad I did as it’s on the playa tlacopanocha and the main drag (Av. Costera Miguel Alemán), the room wasn’t dirty, housekeeping did a great job, the front desk people were helpful, and the dining room buffets were tasty – and not horribly overpriced! The greeter in the restaurant even started remembering my room number! While the place was a little older, it was a solid three/three and a half stars. And it was right next door to the funky shaped HS Hotsson hotel (used to be the Crowne Plaza) so I always knew where I was! I’ll definitely be going back there!

I’d describe Acapulco as Puerto Vallarta all grown up. Mountains to your right, beaches to your left, great local food, both mercados and new shopping malls, AND the cliff divers! Pretty much everything anyone would want in a Méxican beach town. The city and the beaches really are beautiful, and the people are friendly and welcoming.

While I was there, I went to two off-the-beaten-path locations….

The first was the Isla de la Roqueta. Specifically the restaurant Palao. Think big tiki hut on a remote jungle island! The boat ride over was in a glass bottom boat and included a stop for one of the crew to climb up some rocks and do a nice dive into the ocean (please tip the dripping boy after his dive!). I passed on the options for lunch, a show, and a jungle tour – but the show was held right where I was sitting, so I got to see it anyway! Ordered an appetizer and a beer off the menu and I was all set!

The second place was the adventure of a thousand buses. Ok, there were just two buses and one boat – but it took quite a while! And it was my lesson into the finer details of the Méxican bus system! In addition to the city buses (urbanos) there are re-purposed vans called collectivos. To get to my second trip, Barra de Coyuca, you take an urbano to the end of the line, then you grab a collectivo to someone with a boat who will take you the rest of the way! Barra de Coyuca has to have the longest stretch of beautiful beach that I’ve ever seen. And it was virtually empty. There are a couple dozen palapas/beach restaurants – and they were ghost towns other than the families working them. Summer is definitely the time of year to go if you don’t want crowds!

I’m going to wrap this up so you can get to looking at the pictures to see for yourself what Acapulco has to offer! Just a quick note on the clavadistas at La Quebrada – there’s a nice restaurant at the hotel Mirador where you can sit and have apps/beverages/dinner while you watch the divers do their thing. They charge a cover if you aren’t staying there, but they charge at the lookout point as well. The only drawback is that while you can see everything quite clearly, an inexpensive travel camera doesn’t quite do it justice.

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9 July, 2019

Templo Mayor and Zócalo

Every town in México has it’s zócalo. Usually there is a cathedral on one side, a government building or two on another, and a plaza in the middle. México City is a little different as it has an archaeology site as well! The original city, Tenochtitlan, was razed by the Spanish in 1521 so they could build the cathedral and other buildings. They didn’t do a great job, and much of the antiquities lie just below the foundations of the colonial buildings in México City’s Centro.

The Templo Mayor is located just next to the Cathedral. As of this post, admission was 75 pesos. INAPAM cardholders enjoy free admission. One of the most accessible and interesting sites in the city.

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7 July, 2019

Adventures in Mazatlán – México City Edition

I’ve been back a week, but with over 3,000 pictures it took a while to organize them! I’ll be sharing, in a limited way, and giving a little overview of the México City I experienced.

I’ve previously posted a couple of pics of the Juaréz area of México City, so let’s start with Chapultepec Park ….

Once inside the park, many options are available. The ones I visited were the Chapultepec Zoo, Chapultepec Castle, The Botanical Gardens, The Museum of Anthropology, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of National History. Admission to each of these was 75 pesos, unless you have an INAPAM card (senior discount card) – then admission is free.

The Zoo – Something fun to do, and only takes about an hour to make your way through the entire zoo. Two if you take your time and read all the signs.

Chapultepec Castle – Incredibly beautiful and excellent views of the city. Well worth the admission and hike up. I went three times and saw new things each time!

The Botanical Gardens – Only one greenhouse, and an area around it. No admission to this though!

Museum of Anthropology – This one will blow your socks off! Plan at least 3 hours here for your first visit, and plan on going back at least one more time. There’s a restaurant on site so you can take a break and let the fire in your head calm down. This isn’t in Chapultepec Park proper, but across the street near parking and some food carts. If you do one thing in México City, this is the place I’d go.

Museum of Modern Art – No pictures allowed inside, but they have some sculptures outside! There’s also a nice café if you want to stop for a cup of coffee. This would be the one I’d skip if I was short on time, along with the botanical gardens.

Museum of National History – at the castle. Make the hike!

And there you go with the main attractions I saw in Chapultepec Park! My favorite was the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, by far. I spent a week exploring, and I only hit a small section of the park.

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11 June, 2019

Adventures in Mazatlán – Teotihuacán Edition

Took a bus from México City to Teotihuacán yesterday. I’ll be here until Thursday – enough time to wander around the pyramids! A few caveats with the bus – first, don’t believe the ticket counter people when they tell you what gate the bus will leave from. They’ve told me the bus departs at gate 8 twice, and this time it was 7. Ask someone when you get outside. Second, I wanted to arrive at gate 2, but this bus only went to gate 1. Just means a little further to where I wanted to go. Third, Uber. Just say no. App scheduled a driver and said he was 15 minutes away. Five minutes later he canceled the trip. The app showed the next driver doing doughnuts in the freeway at 11 minutes out. For 10 minutes. It’s a hike, but you can do a nice slow walk to the hotels around the perimiter – or pay too much money for a 5 minute cab ride. I paid 🙂

The bus I was scheduled to take broke down 10 minutes out of the terminal. Thankfully all the buses go the same way, so the driver flagged the next one (they go every 15 minutes) down. Just enough room for everyone, and an hour later we were at the site.

There’s a touristy restaurant called La Gruta just outside the gate behind the pyramid of the sun. I’ve wanted to go on my other two trips, but have never made it – so I walked over and had some dinner. La Gruta’s dining room is in a cave. Food was good, but not cheap. It’s still an experience not to be missed, and I’m glad I finally did it!

I’m doing the trip on the cheap this time (well, except for the cab), so I booked a $20 USD a night hotel/motel room for the stay. I read the reviews. I did. I didn’t think the no hot water thing would bother me too much. It does 🙂 Next time I’m finding something between the $90/night place I usually stay at and here!

Pyramids are fantastic. If you haven’t been here, this should be on your bucket list. This is my third time here, and I’m still finding new things. And I never come for just one day! So many things to see and do, you need at least two full days to fit it all in.

Just a note on prices – the bus is 56 pesos each way. Half price if you have an INAPAM card (senior discount card for nationals and residents 60 and older). You can pay the return fare at the bus when you come back. Admission to the pyramids is 75 pesos (I think I’ll double check). Free if you have an INAPAM card. I believe it’s free for nationals on Sundays (EDIT: Free for nationals on the first Sunday of the month). Don’t come on a Sunday – I hear it’s packed. The museum on site charges a small fee – not sure what it was because … it’s free with the INAPAM card.

So today is Tuesday. I have tomorrow to explore the site again, and then Thursday I’ll walk back to the bus stop and return to my AirBnB in México City.

May the fun never end!

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3 June, 2019

Adventures in Mazatlán – México City edition.

Made it to México City!

15 hour bus ride, easy but was not pleasant! From Mazatlán to Guadalajara the bus was full. Then from Guadalajara to Querétaro there were 6 passengers. Lost one in Querétaro so 5 from there to México City. I’ve decided that buses need to be like airplanes for me. Aisle seats so I can get up and move around every hour or so. Sitting in one place from Mazatlán to Guadalajara gave me a very good idea how people get bedsores! My tush still hurts!

The bus left Mazatlán at 11:00 pm, so no roadside burrito vendors in the middle of the night. We did stop for lunch though. I had a taco de barbacoa. Not too hungry, as I’d brought half a torta de pierna with me 🙂

So, the bus arrived at del Norte, but the youtube video I watched that showed where the subway entrance is was wrong. Do NOT go to gate 1 – not there. It’s outside from gate 4. If you look for the metro logo you’ll see it. Bought a few tickets and made my way to the platform where I took line 5 to line 3 then to line 1! The subway platforms are marked by the last stop in the direction the train is travelling – which the app I was using didn’t bother to mention! I’m now using a better app 🙂 But I did it, in a decent amount of time.

Now comes the snafu. And it’s ongoing and I’m not sure why. Google maps pointed me in the opposite direction of where I needed to go. I’m about 4 blocks from the subway entrance. After walking six or seven, I rebooted my phone. Still gave me funky directions, but at least I was headed in the right direction. It wouldn’t have been bad if I hadn’t been wearing my 50 lb. backpack! I hit my 10,000 steps as I was approaching the AirBnB (and that’s counting being on a bus most of the day)!

Have been wandering – yesterday down to the Ángel de la Independencia. Today to one of the Chinatown’s. Weather is a cool 75 with low humidity, and some afternoon rain. My sinuses are having fun with the smog and have given me a sore throat. I think in a couple more days I’ll acclimate; or I’ll hit the drugstore for some cold meds.

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29 May, 2019

A month of food!

Well, perhaps not an entire month, but a selection of the meals I’ve had in May.

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