Zocalo and Teotihuacan and the Last Day of Vacation

I forced Jamus to wake up early yesterday in order to maximize the amount of time we had seeing Mexico City. After a breakfast of fried tortilla chips, cheese and some salsa verde (I can’t recall the name) we headed from our hotel (on Isabel la Catholica) to the Zocalo, the central square of Mexico City. It’s an imposing sight, with the huge cathedral on one side, the National Palace and other such buildings on all flanks. As we walked through the general Historical Centre district old well preserved colonial buildings were everywhere. A bunch of the museums in the area (which we didn’t get time to see) were housed in these buildings.

Our plan for the day was to head to Teotihuacan, the pyramid most recently used by the Aztecs. Since we only had the day, we took the subway over to the North Bus Station to catch a bus to the complex. The subway system in Mexico City is awesome. To start, it’s two pesos (roughly $0.20) to go anywhere on the map. No worrying about transfers or zones or anything. Just two pesos and go. The signage is unlike any I’ve seen before. Each station has a unique icon and the lines have both numbers and colors. So when you’re on a train car and looking at the line map inside, the icons are there for each station, and if it’s a transfer station they are half (or one third) colored with the connection’s line color. The fonts and colors used in the labeling are also very 70s-ish, but in a way that does not look tacky instead looking like it was intentional. Lastly, the train cars were those not-often-seen rubber tire types like you see in some lines in Paris. All the rolling stock looked exactly the same across lines, which is also unusual (Bombardier manufactured).

The last line we transferred too was shut down during the weekend for work, but they had bus replacement service, which we took to the Autobus station and bought tickets for Teotihuacan. The ride was short (I slept for most of it) and we started to explore the area around Teotihuacan. Jamus and I both felt, that while imposing and grand, the temples of Teotihuacan seem to pale in comparison to the ones on the Yucatan. The Temple of the Sun is undoubtedly huge (third largest in the world) and took quite a bit of effort to scale, and the Temple of the Moon quite attractive and more interestingly appointed. But in general, they just didn’t seem as elaborate as those of the Mayans. In any case, we spent a good amount of time walking and exploring the grounds, many of which you could see excavated apartments and homes, which were definitely cool.

We left Teotihuacan around 430 and found a bus heading back to Mexico City. While waiting, we ran in to some Japanese guys who asked Jamus where to buy bus tickets in excellent Spanish. We were quite amused by the exchange. On our way back, we got out at a bus stop too early since we saw a running metro line near were the bus pulled over. Figuring that it was close enough, we got off and ended up stuck at some other bus station. After some searching we managed to find the entrance to the metro and got some tasty beans/cheese/onion tostadas from a street vendor. We made our way back to the Zocalo where there were a some random Saturday festivities going on. We stayed and watched them for a while, then headed back to our hotel.

For dinner, we ended up at a hole in the wall where I ordered some sopas with queso Oxhaca and a gordita. Tasty for sure although super oily. Food in Mexico did not disappoint at all. After dinner we went back to the Zocalo and went to the rooftop bar/restaurant of the Hotel Majestic (owned/operated by Best Western, gag) to have a drink overlooking the streets below.

Thus ends five weeks of traveling around the world. Starting in Shanghai, to New Delhi, to Mumbai, to London, to New Jersey, to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and to Mexico City, I’m on the flight heading back. I can’t complain much, having had such an awesome trip and now returning home in style. I’ll post some of the cool pictures to the blog later this week.

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A Very Long Day Getting to Mexico City

originally posted 24 march 07, 7:14am.

RedYawning is down again, so this is going to be posted on LiveJournal until RY is back up.

Yesterday morning we did a walking around tour of San Jose and ended upon the Post Office and what seemed like a few of the central square-ish places. The people in San Jose were quite attractive, compared to some of the other places we have been. The post office itself was cool with a colonial exterior and the inside was a bit cavernous. We got brunch at this little hole in the wall on the street somewhere (good memory, eh?). For me, it was a fantastic plate of a fried egg, rice and beans (gallio pinto), and tortillas.

Our flight to Mexico City was long and pretty uneventful. We arrived at the airport in San Jose around 1pm and did not arrive at the hotel in Mexico City until about 1230am. The first flight was short and landed us in Panama City, where I took some cool pictures of the Panama Canal. While not very impressive from 10,000 feet, the sheer number of boats and ships that are in the waters in the area near it is unlike anything I have ever seen. The flight out of Panama City was delayed an hour after they had boarded us already and we had to deplane. When the flight arrived, it arrived on the complete other side of the airport so we had to walk for something like 20 minutes to get to imigration. Plus, the imigration agent only gave me a 30 day entry visa while Jamus got 90 days. Go figure.

Today we head out to the huge pyrimad complex that is near MX city. I cannot recall the name but it is supposed to have the third largest pyrimaid in the world. Ruins! Then back to SF tomorrow am.

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Travel Down to San Jose, Costa Rica

We made it to San Jose today. Our plans had been to try to depart for Costa Rica in the early afternoon but after talking to folks last night we decided to just leave when we woke up. We caught a chicken bus (e.g. an old school bus) from San Juan del Sur to Rivas, a small connection town about an hour inland and closer to the Interamericana. We ended up having lunch/breakfast in the middle of some market that a women and her mother cooked for us at a few tables she had setup inside the market. All told, Nicaraguan food is not much to speak of. I was hoping for better, but alas, I was disapointed in the end.

From Rivas we took a taxi to the border and spent about two hours crossing. It was totally chaotic, with no clear signage or path or route to follow. Just random windows, random stamps being put in passports and small amounts of dollars flowing out of our pockets as “taxes” or some sort or another. In any case, we arrived in Costa Rica around 12:30 after being admitted from immigration. However up until this point we had no idea once in Costa Rica were we were going to go. It was either going to be Libera or San Jose. We started talking to people and found a bus going to San Jose and decided on a whim that we’d head to San Jose, a six hour ride starting at 1:30pm.

The bus ride was long and slow and painful. The bus stopped for every traveller on the road, so it took all six hours to get down the 290ish kilometers. At least I know if I’m ever stranded on a road in Costa Rica, there’ll be plenty of buses for me to jump on. Also, for the first perhaps hour or two after the border we were pulled over twice or three times at police crossings to have our passports checked. They always took mine and looked at it, while for Jamus just looking at the over was enough and once they didn’t even take it out of his hands. Talk about profiling.

We made it to San Jose around 7:45 and found a taxi at the bus stop to take us to a hostel that was recomended and that’s where we are now. Funnily enough, we went to the hostel’s other building to have dinner and ordered some awesome comida typical (I love Costa Rican food) and two beers. As the order run up we realized we didn’t have enough money to pay with colones and the dollars were back in the room. So we asked the guy at the counter where an ATM was near by and he said the nearest was too dangerous to walk there at night. This corrobrated what the scene had looked like outside as we walked from one building to another (a few prostitues and a guy or two sleeping on the sidewalk). The taxi driver had also mentioned that the area near by has lots of non-Costa Ricans in the are who are in to drugs or in the drug trade or somesuch. It doesn’t feel unsafe at all, but it was enough for us to hand back the beers to bring the bill in check with the amount of cash we had on hand.

Tomorrow we fly to Mexico City. We’ve booked a shuttle that leaves at 1pm and should be in Mexico by 10pm (we fly via Panama City, so it’s a bit indirect). Hopefully we’ve got a hotel booked right near the Zocalo, which will be great. Trip has only three days left! Five weeks are nearly done and the real world is right around the corner. I just got email in the last few days about when to show up for work to do paperwork and about temp housing and the lot. While I’m ready to start heading back to SF, I know I’m going to miss this laid back holiday.

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San Juan del Sur

We took the shuttle today from Granda to San Juan del Sur, near the border with Costa Rica on the Pacific side (I was wrong earlier thinking it’s on the Carabian side). The trip was a quick two hours over some bumpy roads and we settled down at Casa Oro as the recomended hostel in the area. Nowhere near as nice as the place we stayed in Granada, it’s kinda in a sad state. There’s no running water at the moment, but they say that’ll start working soon.

Anyway, the beachfront here is picture perfect beautiful. Blue skies, little boats in the harbor, huge sand banks, the works. The beach here in town is a little gross. When walking on it later in the afternoon, we found jelly fish washed up to shore and some gross looking yellow foam. Apparently you have to go like 10km up or down the coast to find the really epic beaches in the area. We had lunch at a little place on the beach. Sadly there wern’t many options for me (beans and rice), but the seafood look good. Jamus and I walked along the beach and the town area for a while, which isn’t much more than a strip of pavement and some small streets that go back, then headed back to the hostel.

After getting back and relaxing for a bit, we met up with some other travellers and went out and had some more drinks and food. They’d also just arrived from Granada, so we were swapping stories. We went back to the local beach and hung out for a while and tried to avoid (but coudn’t) the kinda-gross water. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll make our way out to the better beaches; there are a few groups of travellers here in the same situation as us that might go as well (e.g. arrived too late to make the bus out).

Now we have a bit of a quandry on our hands. Our flight to Mexico City leaves Friday at 4pm from San Jose, Costa Rica. I want to go to the beach tomorrow morning and leave for the border thereafter, but transportation is hard to come by. The border crossing takes a few hours due to the traffic at it, so if we leave tomorrow morning we’ll get San Jose probably some 6 or 8 hours after we leave. Thus, we need to figure out what we’re going to do. Later tonight, it’s probably just dinner and hanging out. This sleepy little town doesn’t have much going on, outside of travellers and a some 6,000 locals so it’ll be a quiet evening.

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When You Wake Up Too Late (Or Another Day in Granada)

We woke up at 930am, a tad bit late for the 830 bus to San Juan del Sur. Woops. So we stayed in Granada for the day. We lounged around the hostel for most of the  morning. Sadly, they were out of their typico breakfast (which has been by far the best Nicaraguan food I’ve had thus far) so I had to settle for a “continental” breakfast. We didn’t leave the hostel until about 1:30pm and made our way around the colonial city parts of Granada. Quite pretty, reminded me a lot of Georgetown in Malaysia.

After walking for a while around the central square and the Cathedral, we ended up settling in for lunch at Tesoroes Ohos (or something that meant third eye), and I had a very good meal with little tapas. Not really Nicaraguan, but good food is good food. We ordered a drink called Michelada Nacional, which was a beer with something that tasted like Worchester sauce and black pepper. It was very different than anything I’d had before. I can’t say I really liked it, but it was worth trying. Apparently it’s all the rage in Mexico right now.

We finished lunch around 4:30pm then went to the museum for a little bit. It turned out to be a pretty sad state of affairs so we only stayed there for a short while and left, retraced our steps back and came back to the hostel. As short as our jaunt out was (3 hours or so) we managed to take 170+ pictures. We chilled at the hostel again for a while until we started to feel hungry and walked around to a pizza place that Jamus had ate at with the PCV folks a few days back. The pizza was good and by around 10:30 we were back (yet again) at the hostel and relaxing in the hammocks. A peaceful and full-of-nothing day in the end.

Our tickets for San Juan del Sur are booked for tomorrow from the same company that brought me from the airport. It was funny, when we went to the ticket counter, it was the same folks who had actually picked me up from the airport. So we leave for SJDC tomorrow at 8:30am. I’ve packed up my pack and we’re ready to leave to the (supposedly) unspoilt and untouristed beaches on the Caribbean coast. Now it’s off to bed as Jamus and I are playing potentially friendship ruining would-you-rather.

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Laguna de Apoyo, Granada

We went today to Laguna de Apoya, a small (ish) lake cut out a crater. Our bus left at 10am and Jamus and spent the entire day lounging around the lake in the small cabana-ish area that was outside of it. The lake was made from a volcanic crater that resulted an a very blue and windy pocket between mountains, all made seeminly from the same volanic activity. I had forgotten to bring any swim gear for this trip at all, so I did not get to go in the water (even tho they had kayaks!), but I did manage to buy a swim suite this evening.

For lunch, we walked along the beach area to another resturant up a little from where we were in hopes of getting true Nica food. We found it, ordered some dishes recomended and much to our disappointment, they were pretty awful. Full of oil and fried cheses (and not in the good way), we must have ate just over half of what was served to us. We spent the rest of the afternoon just lounging in the sun and talking the usual nonsense that we do (including a few rounds of would-you-rather).

Our bus went back to city proper at 4:30pm, so we got back around 5pm. I got my camera and went out to the city to take some pictures. For the first time on this trip, I felt uncomfortable carrying my DSLR around so I didn’t stay out for too long (plus, the light was leaving). We found a grocery store, bought some stuff that we needed and headed back. Generally speaking, walking around here is a little sketch. Nothing to be afraid of, but I’ve heard some bad stories that have put the appropriate level of concern in me that I’m letting my spidey-sense be overactive.

After putting the camera back, we found a swim suit for me and then came back again to the hostel and took a dip on the pool for a while. The water was super super cholorinated, and it was slippery in my hands. Needless to say I rinsed off intensly after getting out. We went to a Nic/Mex place for dinner and had a NZ guy who was also at our hostel join us. He’s been working-traveling for the last four years all over the world, refusing to settle down in any one location more than a year. His current plans take him to Chile. Awesome.

We have yet to figure out what we’re doing tomorrow. One option is Leon, another is some island in a very big lake that’s the landmass created from two volcanos, and another is a beachy area near the Costa Rican border (San Juan del Sud? the name escapes me at the moment). I have a feeling we’ll stay here in Granada for another day and head out on Wednesday for another location in Nic.

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Arrived in Granada, Nicaragua

Finally, I´ve made it to Nicaragua. I left Jersey this morning at 630am and almost missed my flight since the people at the airport could not for the life of them figure out how to reissue my ticket today with the new routing. I ran thru Newark and made it with minutes to spare on a little Embrair to Norfolk, VA. The flight was quick and quite beautiful. It went down the entire coastline and there acutally was lots to see. Norfolk seems like a cute little area, with beaches and trees and all sorts of stuff that would make it a fun place to spend a few days in the summer. I´ll have to go back again for a holiday.

From Norfolk, I caught my flight (on another Embrair) to Houston. It was a bit long, but I managed to sleep through most of it. At the Houston airport I parked myself for a while in the Continental club, which is perhaps the best club I´ve ever been to (altho I can say I have not been to a lot). Well decorated and located, plus the amentities were excellent too. From Houstin, it was on to Managua, where I landed about 20 minutes early. The imigration officer had a nice little chat with me, confused that I looked like I could speak Spanish but my name didn´t make any sense to him.

The van service I´d had arranged for was ready to pick me up right outside of bagage claim and it was a quick 50 minute ride or so to Granada. I came to the Oasis hostel, which is really nice. Free internet, phone calls, a garden in the middle and more I´m sure. I found a place to make a call to Jamus, and he´s on his way here now from dinner to meet up.

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Snow and Canceled Flights

I’m snowed in. In grade school this would have been an awesome day but it means my flight from Newark to Houston has been canceled and there’s no way I can make my Houston to Managua flight today. I called Continental this morning to try to reschedule and it said the hold time was “290 minutes”. Um. I ended up calling the number for Continental in Nicaragua and got through in about two minutes. The lady wasn’t very useful and my mobile phone dropped the call, so I ended up calling the number in the states again which just rang busy.

So I called the number in the UK and was connected within a minute to a very helpful lady who searched routes on partner airlines, other airports and the lot. In the end she was only able to get me a flight out on Monday, so I took it for the time being and figured I’d call back later. Indeed, I called back later to the US number after looking for availability online. I got through within ten minutes, but the guy at the US call center was completely unhelpful and useless, so I gave up with him and called back later.

The next lady at the US call center was equally useless and I basically had to tell her what to look for and how to route the flight and what options were available to her. After much haggling, I ended up showing her a route via Norfolk, VA tomorrow that she could book and she was able to move me on to it. I feel bad for most folks who don’t have most hubs and partners for airlines memorized, that they have to deal with these incompetent ticket agents. They probably end up hitting a brick wall with them and get stuck in these places until like Tuesday (as the lady first suggested to me).

We dug the driveway out of snow and ice this morning, which took an hour and a half. The weather has seemed to warm up (it’s 1C right now) and they’re saying the storm has passed so fingers crossed that I’ll get to fly out tomorrow.

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New York City (and Moma) and Philadelphia (and Franklin Institute)

Monday was NYC. I left from Lyons station in New Jersey on Monday around noon or so and made it to Penn Station around 1:30pm. I was heading to MOMA, about 20 blocks up and a few avenues over, so I ended up walking it, going through Times Square and some other parts of town whose names I have no clue about. MOMA was awesome. Given that I’d seen the Tate Modern the week before, it was a great follow up with their modern and contemporary collection. Seeing van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the Tate then seeing Starry Night the next week was amazing. Starry Night, for whatever reason, takes your breath away when you’re in front of it.

After seeing MOMA, I walked through the area and ended up around Central Park. I continued around for a while, trying to find a decent place to have a snack and a cup of coffee and settled at a place called Le Pain Quotidian, which had a cool farm-house style interior and a good latte. I walked through 5th Ave and Park Ave and a bunch of other areas until I took a train and headed south to Chelsea. I stopped by this apothecary that I’d read about in Wallpaper called Malin+Goetz and bought some stuff there. They had a great little retail space on 7th Ave at 20th. I continued from there down to Union Square, where I met up with Derek for dinner at Zen Palate, a vegetarian Asian-style restaurant of some repute. They had lots of great items and dishes and I ate till I was stuffed, plus it was great to catch up with Derek as well and see how he was doing. I caught a cab back to Penn Station and got home around midnight.

Wednesday was Philadelphia. We had bought tickets earlier in the week to see the King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute. This was the first time in 30 years it had been in the states from Egypt and the last leg of its US tour. The exhibit was awesome; they’d collected items and artefacts from many generations of Tutankhamen’s ancestors and the displays were will signed and had interesting stories painted on the walls. After the museum, we went down Market Street to City Hall and the old Wanamaker Building and walked through the general downtown area. We stopped in the old Pennsylvania Railroad Suburban Station building, which had awesome art-deco details in the lobby and elevator halls. Philadelphia is a cool city, I had no idea that it was as big as it with (with a subway/metro and all).

It’s snowing here in New Jersey. Wednesday it was in the 70s and today it’s in the high 20s. Over a 1000 flights have been canceled on the eastern sea board, but they say the storm will pass around 2am so hopefully my flight won’t be impacted. I leave tomorrow in the early afternoon for Managua, Nicaragua and I’m planning on taking a bus from the airport to Granada in order to meet up with Jamus. Next post will hopefully be from Granada, Nicaragua!

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