Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Zonkey Show

When I started planning my first ever pilgrimage to the San Diego Comic Con (oh, don't worry...that blog is coming soon) with my friend Jarrett, the chief concern was cost. A four-day pass to the convention is about $100. Plane tickets back to the states looked to be a minimum of $600, and hotel reservations that coincide with a big event (i.e. SDCC) can set you back a thousand or more.

A little research determined that I could fly into Tijuana and hoof it across the US/Mexico border for around $300 bucks. Evan, an old friend from college that currently lives in San Diego, was kind enough to let us mooch some couch space. And Jarrett, giddy at not having to pay for a hotel room, footed the bill for my convention tickets (At least I think he did. If I was supposed to pay you, just let me know...).

Sounded great! My only concern was how, pray tell, I was supposed to get from Tijuana to San Diego.

That's when I decided to contact my good Facebook friend and blog buddy, Lisa. Lisa is an EFM like me, accompanying her husband on his Foreign Service adventure to glamorously exotic foreign locales. Current post: Tijuana. Blog: Click Here.

Lisa and I hold the distinction of stalking each other online and having attended the same FS events without having ever officially met. So it was a complete surprise when we had the following conversation:

Me: "Hey. I have a question."
Her: "Ok..."
Me: "What is the easiest way for me to get from the Tijuana airport into San Diego."
Her: "Having me drive you there. Send me your flight details."
Me: "..."

On Tuesday, July 19th, Lisa not only picked me up at the airport, but drove me to downtown Tijuana so I could see what I have always felt is the most awesomest thing she has ever blogged about: A Zonkey! Now, I find it hard to believe that I could say this any better than Wikipedia, so I won't try:

A zonkey is a cross between a zebra and a donkey. "Zonkey" is not the technically correct name for such a cross. The most commonly accepted terms are zebonkey (or zebronkey), zebrinny, zebrula, zebrass, and zedonk (or zeedonk). Another name that is sometimes used is "zebadonk".


Zonkeys are very rare. In South Africa, they occur where zebras and donkeys are found in proximity to each other. Like mules, however, they are generally genetically unable to breed, due to an odd number of chromosomes , disrupting meiosis.

Okay, so now we know that they aren't a total fraud...but the Wikipedia post says nothing about Mexican zebadonks. A quick Google search turned up something of interest from

Going back to the thirties some bright entrepreneur in Tijuana Mexico decided to paint their donkey with black and white stripes to look like a Zebra, the idea was to make the animal look better on black and white photographs. Most of the donkey’s were white or fairly light and photographed badly in the bright Mexican sun. Like any good idea, others followed and decades later the tradition continues. The zonkeys or painted donkey are there for the tourist, it’s amazing how many people will spend the $10 or so to have themselves photographed wearing silly Mexican hats and ponchos with these dopey striped animals.

I bet your pardon. It may have been fake, but I only paid $5 for my photo, thank you very much.

After humoring my adolescent curiosity, Lisa was gracious enough to not only take me to the border, but also a little further into San Diego so that Evan could find me more easily.

Oh, I should also mention our friend Vicente. He doesn't have a blog, and I've seen him in person lots of times. But he's still super cool because he drove me to the airport, bought me breakfast, and helped me check in. No, i'm not airport-ically challenged. I'm capable of checking in on my own. But he works for the airline I was flying on, so he was able to expedite the process.

Honorable mention to our friend Serch, who offered to take me to the airport when it looked like Vicente might not be able to.

Lisa, Vicente, and Serch. Such great friends The hospitality on the southern side of the border is amazing, and I am eternally grateful.

And yet, I was soon to learn that the northern side can be a bit more...difficult.

Surprise Visitor

We received a very pleasant surprise in mid-June when our French friend Gwen contacted us via Facebook.

Gwen: "What are you doing this weekend.?"
Us: "Nothing."
Gwen: "Would it be okay if I came for a visit?"
Us: "Um. Sure. From Paris?"
Gwen: "Yes."
Us: "Okay. How long would you like to stay?"
Gwen: "Just Friday night through Sunday morning."
Us: "Um. Okay?"

Dear readers, I cannot even begin to express how flattering it is to know that there are people out there that care enough about us to spend what had to be over $1,000 USD and 17 hours (more or less when you throw in layovers) in travel time both ways just to spend a weekend with us.

(Especially since all of our US friends have been too scared/busy/disinterested to show up thus far. You know who you are.)

Because of this, we wanted to make sure he had a fantastic time. Friday night we scooped him up from the airport and enjoyed a lively night out on the town.

The next day we woke up ridiculously early and our friend Antonio joined us in Tequila for a tour of Mundo Cuervo, one of our favorite things to do in/around Guadalajara...probably because of the free samples.

Nothing says "good time" like a free margarita

The next picture is only being shown because it'll probably embarrass Gwen. See what a good friend I am?

Hairnets must be worn inside the distillery
so that you don't get your funk in the tequila

Pictured here is a cookie. This cookie is made out of Agave fibers. You see, there is a lot of waste created in the production of Tequila. Once all of the juices and whatnot have been squeezed out of the plant, there's not much use for the plant. Rather than simply throw it away, tequila distillers have started to come up with creative ideas for the use of the byproduct. They've started making paper products. And cookies. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, "Self, I just can't imagine a cookie that is made from things that are also used to make paper could taste very good." And you'd be right. This was by far the most disgusting, flavorless thing I have ever eaten. And that green goop on top that's supposed to be in the shape of an agave plant? Well, you'd think that surely that would have some flavor to it. But you'd be wrong.

We returned to Guadalajara in time for lunch at El Abajeño, where I had shared a delicious birthday dinner with friends in March. It was then that we learned that El Abajeño does not have a knack for consistency. But we got to see some native dancing...

...which was a good segue into Sunday morning, in which we took in a performance of the Ballet Folklórico at Teatro Degollado (but don't' tell our friend Genaro! He's been wanting to take us for months. Oh, wait. He reads this sometimes. Oops.).

We also spent some time roaming around El Centro showing Gwen the sights...but I had a Winnie the Pooh moment and forgot to bring my camera. Lame-o.

We returned home at 4pm for a quick power nap so that we'd be well rested for a final night on the town...only to wake up nine hours later. A note on the coffee table informed us that Gwen was adventurous enough to take himself out on the town, so TJ and I went back to bed like the old men we are clearly becoming.

Thanks for the visit, Gwen. It meant the world to us. We hope you had enough fun to join us in our future adventures around the world. We promise to take some caffeine pills next time.

Guadalajara's Top 20, Number 7: Ajijic

Wow, it has been forever since I did an entry in the Top 20 series (In all fairness, our visit to Ajijic occurred on May 30th, but even accounting for that, it has still been a while...). Good thing I still have about 15 months left here in GDL to get through the final 13 entries!

It's a shame that this falls into the Top 20 series, because "Mexico: It's Closed on Mondays" would have been a much more suitable title.

Monday, May 30th, was Memorial Day. And since diplomats living abroad enjoy the benefit of observing most US and local holidays, we found ourselves spending a Monday away from the office. We took advantage of this and invited our friend Antonio to come visit from Tepatitlán. This would be an excellent opportunity to take him to the zoo, which he had been wanting to see and we had been putting off.

Except after driving to the zoo, we found that it is closed on Mondays.

So then we drove back home, deciding to walk around our neighboring municipality, Zapopan. This would be great, as I have not yet blogged about Zapopan (and really, it's all about blogging). We parked and headed to a local Greek restaurant, hoping to grab some lunch. Except that, at noon they were still only serving breakfast. And not even Greek breakfast. No, it was chilaquiles...a delicious meal, to be sure, but certainly not what I want to take away from a Greek dining experience. So we excused ourselves and decided to walk to a nearby museum.

Except it, too, is closed on Mondays.

Frustrated and not knowing what else to do, I suggested that we go to Ajijic. It's a nearby town that we had not yet been to (meaning that I hadn't blogged about it), and is for all intents and purposes the sister city to Chapala, which was my first entry in this series.

Like Chapala, Ajijic is home to a large number of retired Americans and Canadians (est. 7,000) that wish to experience life in a small Mexican community while not being too far removed from the conveniences and luxuries offered by life in the big city.

Ajijic offers quite the array of activities for the country club set: golf, tennis, horseback riding, and boating, to name but a few. The town is full of tiny art galleries, restaurants, and boutiques. It comes equipped with your standard town square & church combo that we have found to be so common in Mexico.

There's also this really awesome looking dive bar located on the dock called The Pier and Bar/Restaurant. I say it looks awesome, not that it is awesome. I wouldn't know if it actually is or not.

Because it appears to be closed on Mondays.

We were only in Ajijic for about an hour before we got bored and headed over to Chapala. We got bored pretty quickly there, too, but at least we were able to find a restaurant that was open for lunch...though I guess the Greek restaurant may have been open for lunch by this time, too.

After visiting Ajijic and revisiting Chapala...especially having now seen all of the other wonderful things I have seen since the initial visit...I frankly don't see how either could make it onto a Top 20 list. They're great for what they are, but at the end of the day they're just small towns like any other. I wonder if it's the large concentration of Americans and Canadians that allowed them to wrangle two slots on the Top 20 list away from worthier candidates?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mexico City, Day 7: Diego Rivera, the National Palace, and Frida Kahlo, Too!

Bear with me folks...we are now, finally, entering our last day in Mexico City (Well, there was an eighth day, but that was mainly travel, so I'll spare you the boring details)!

Our seventh day in Mexico City began with a very nice complimentary piece to Day Six's visit to the anthropology museum.

Whereas yesterday we learned many things about the societal origins of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, today's visit to the Palacio Nacional taught us many things about the country's political history.

The National Palace has acted as a base of operations for Mexico's ruling class since the days of the Aztec empire. It is currently home to various offices for both the Federal Treasury and National Archives. And, of course, a sprawling museum exhibit.

Visitors to the palace are first treated to (or horrified by, depending on your outlook) a video honoring the 2010 bicentennial of Mexico's independence, as well as the centennial of it's Revolution. The video is 100% propaganda and, although beautifully rendered with copious amounts of national pride, did have the (un)intentional consequence of making the only two gringos in the room feel just a tad bit out of place.

Upon exiting the indoctrination chamber...I mean viewing room, one is treated to a gigantic mural painted by Diego Rivera. "The Epic of the Mexican People" (1929-1935) adorns the main stairwell and various walls of the second floor. It tells an illustrative history of Mexico from 1521 to 1930. The murals have the honor of being the only items in the palace that one can photograph. So, here's a small sample for you.

Remember waaaaay back on Day 1.5, when we talked about the relocation of the bodily remains of the heroes of Mexico's War of Independence? Well, the National Palace is their current resting place. Ta-Dah! The remains underwent modern techniques for continued preservation before arriving at their current location by way of horse-drawn carriages escorted by armed soldiers. They will remain on display at the palace through the duration of this year's celebration.

The remainder of the museum contains an impressive collection of presidential portraits, the style of which changes with each decade and artist. As with Chapultepec Castle (and the White House, Versailles, etc.) there are also dozens of rooms cordoned off by velvet rope permitting a look-but-don't touch approach to palatial living.

Our final stop of the day (and trip) was the former home of Diego Rivera (see above) and Frida Kahlo.

La Casa Azul was the birthplace of Frida Kahlo, the most renowned Latin American artist in the world. It was in this house that she lived for a time with her husband, artist Diego Rivera. In 1958, four years after her death, La Casa Azul was turned into a museum, and has remained so ever since.

This particular museum was of great interest to us, and we thought that perhaps we had saved the best for last. We unfortunately found ourselves more than a little disappointed by the modest blue house. It was by no means a large collection of art. But at least what they did have was beautiful.
But like the National Palace, photography was not permitted.

I found myself harassed by the staff on more than one occasion. Once, when I was yelled at to throw away a soda bottle (empty since before my entrance, I assure you, and seen by at least two employees prior to it suddenly becoming a security issue) and again when our path through the museum was called into question. Apparently your entry fee of $65 MXP only permits you to walk through the museum once, and in a specified direction.

But the sugar cookies in the small cafeteria were good. And the interior courtyard was beautiful.

But, alas...since photos are worth a thousand words, and I have no more photos...I find myself out of things to say about this particular destination.

Good-bye, Mexico City...I hope to see you again some day!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mexico City, Day 6: Museo Nacional de Antropología

Located in the heart of the San Francisco Sierra in the state of Baja California Sur, the Painted Cave is one of the most important ceremonial centers featuring "cave art" in the North of Mexico...This composition, reproduced at almost full size, shows a fragment of this great wall painting.

This imagery, and the accompanying text, are the first thing to greet visitors of Mexico City's impressive, expansive, Anthropology Museum.

One barely finds himself scratching the surface of this sprawling collection before being hit by a dawning realization:

"Now I understand. I know why US Anthropology museums suck."

It's because the United States has very little anthropology to speak of.

From a purely scientific standpoint, Merriam-Webster defines anthropology as "the study of human beings and their ancestors through time and space and in relation to physical character, environmental and social relations, and culture."

Look Familiar? How about now?

Okay. Great. But we as Americans don't identify with our Native American predecessors who were first to roam the land. We define ourselves by the colonial settlers who founded the United States of America. Our history begins in 1776. 1492 if we're going back to Columbus's arrival. That's only 235 years. 519, tops. And even then, humanity as it is now known had pretty much developed. America must look east, towards Europe, for it's anthropologic origins.

But Mexicans? They cast a much wider chronological net. Mexico was first populated over 13,000 years ago. Complex indigenous cultures were prevalent long before the Spaniards arrived. And although there is no argument that, as in the United States, a mixing of races occurred, Mexico managed to hold onto it's identity. The United States was born in Europe. Mexico was born in Mexico.

And because of this, one does not feel quite so detached when viewing these ancient artifacts. Because one understands that they are still pertinent to the people that live here.

The pottery. The hand-carved figurines. The reproductions of burial grounds and family housing. The native clothing. They are all relevant to the people of Mexico. Because chances are, their ancestors possessed these things. And, perhaps, painted the wall that opens this blog post.

In the United States, history museums are a fascinating look back at the origins of our independence, while anthropology museums are a quirky footnote in time. In Mexico, history and anthropology are forever linked.

Perhaps one day the US can say the same.

Or maybe not...

"Hulk SMASH history!"

Mexico City, Day 5.5: Zoológico de Chapultepec

Our day in Chapultepec Park continued with a visit to Zoológico de Chapultepec (est. 1923).

A day at the zoo is always relaxing...and yet incredibly stressful. Relaxing because you don't have to actually do anything. You just walk around and look at the pretty (or pretty ugly) animals. Eat a hot dog. Drink a Coke. Nothing to it, right?


Because, you see, I am a shutterbug. I take pictures of everything. And I don't want to just take any old picture. I want the perfect picture. And do you know how hard it can be to take that perfect picture at the zoo? Half the time the animals are hiding/sleeping in a secluded area. And the rest of the time they are sleeping out in the open with their butts pointed straight at you.

Chapultepec Zoo really is no exception. We left Chapultepec Castle walking at a brisk pace (and by "we" I mean TJ. I was busy taking pictures of water and trees and trash cans or something. We (TJ) knew that the zoo would be closing in just a couple of very short hours and we (TJ) had to cram as much into those hours as possible.

We spent the majority of those hours walking up to cages/dens/areas of captivity, looking at the empty surroundings, reading the nearby sign post, and walking away at least knowing what we SHOULD have seen.

You see, there are two types of zoos. There is the kind that puts the animals first, meaning that they have lots of space to eat, frollick, and sleep, thus greatly reducing your chances of seeing them. And then there is the kind that locks the animals in teeny, tiny cages where they are miserable but you can see them readily. I suppose this zoo falls into the former category. Good for the critters, bad for the visitors.* But hey, it was free.

Why is it that the camels always pose so well?
This half-blind bird stalked a squirrel and entertained us for 10 mintues.
(The squirrel survived)

I got a great shot of a real rhino...but this is my fave.
This is the face that matches the butt posted above...

Things weren't all bad, though, and we were able to snap a few pretty pictures. And by "we" I mean me. TJ was too busy walking briskly.

Though I suppose one could make the argument that it was totally my fault that the zoo closed before we finished our walkthrough...

*Before anybody gets uppity, I do not now, nor have I ever, condoned the unethical treatment of animals. I love animals. They're delicious.**

**Before anybody else gets uppity, I sincerely believe that animals should be allowed to live out their lives with the utmost peace and dignity. I am an omnivore, so yes I eat certain types of animals...but I firmly believe that they should all be treated with respect while living their short lives, and even more so when those lives are taken. Except snakes. Snakes suck and should die horribly.***

***Before anybody gets uppity about snakes, I...well. No, I got nothing. I really, truly, deeply hate snakes.

But I LOVE squirrels! Look at this little guy! He's eating ice cream!

Awww. I hope he's not lactose intolerant...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mexico City, Day 5: Chapultepec Castle

I returned from a week of fun and excitement in San Diego yesterday afternoon...with a brand new Macbook in tow. What this means is that I can finally resume blogging! And as much as I would love to share my California adventures with all of you RIGHT NOW, I feel that I must continue this blog chronologically, and so we now return to Mexico City before any more of its vividness is lost forever.

This is Mexico City, Day 5. And although I write this on July 27, these experiences occurred on May 19th. Yes, we are that far behind. Sigh.

Day five saw us venturing into El Bosque de Chapultepec, or Chapultepec Park. Measuring in at a whopping 686 hectares (1695 acres), it is the largest city park in Latin America. For anyone that is curious, New York City's Central Park is only 843 acres.

Prior to Spain's occupation of Mexico, the park was something of a retreat for Aztec rulers. Chapultepec Castle was erected during colonial times and holds the honor of being the only Royal Castle on the American Continent. Emperor Maximilian I resided here during the Second Mexican Empire, which also makes this the only Royal Castle in North America that was used to house sovereigns. But that isn't what makes this location so important.

On September 13, 1847, los Niños Héroes ("Boy Heroes") died while defending the castle from US forces during the Battle of Chapultepec (Mexican-American War). The castle served as the national military academy at the time of the attack. Although Santa Ana allowed the boys to retreat, many stayed behind to defend their home. One boy, Juan Escutia, is said to have wrapped himself in a Mexican flag and thrown himself from the building in lieu of surrendering. A mural painted on the ceiling above a stairwell in the main entrance of the castle honors them.

A statue situated at the east entrance of the park, Monumento a los Niños Héroes, contains six columns, each of which represents a child that died during the battle. They are:
  • Juan de la Barrera
  • Juan Escutia
  • Francisco Márquez
  • Agustín Melgar
  • Fernando Montes de Oca
  • Vicente Suárez
September 13th is a national celebration known as "Dia de Los Niños Heroes de Chapultepec."

The castle became the Museo Nacional de Historia under a 1939 decree by President Lázaro Cárdenas.

In its current capacity, the castle acts as a palacial museum, playing host to many stereotypical palacial museum-type things, including:

Fancy living quarters, fancy staircases...

...fancy courtyards, and fancy stained glass windows

I've had the pleasure of visiting similar locations in the past, but this was by far one of the most expansive and well preserved/cared for. I'd go so far as to call it the Versailles of Mexico.

And, as such, visitors should take care to respect their surroundings. So, please...

...always remember to have your friend turn the flash off before he pushes the button...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ocho Años Juntos

Today marks the eighth anniversary of the day TJ and I looked at each other, decided we probably couldn't do much better without a lot of effort (and who needs that hassle?), and settled down together.

We met shortly after my mid-May 2003 arrival in Orlando. I had just completed my BBA at Texas A&M and was having one of those "Anywhere But Here" moments. I fled the state of Texas as quickly and quietly as possible and headed for the only other place I had ever known (thanks to a 2002 internship at Disney).

I arrived on the scene with a whole lot of no's: No Job. No Savings. No Friends. No Clue.

Then I met TJ. He started out as a wonderful friend that helped me find my first full-time, post-college job. He soon became a wonderful boyfriend that gave me my first (and, I'll brazenly assume, last) serious adult relationship.

Almost seven years later, as we were leaving Orlando to move to DC and begin this crazy Foreign Service adventure, my life looked completely different. I had a good job, modest saving, great friends, and, if not "A" clue, then I had at least managed to purchase the board game somewhere along the way.

And now, a year after that? We live in Mexico. Freakin' Mexico! And we love it. Who in the world would have thought something like this would ever happen?

Certainly not me.

Thanks, babe. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hell Week

Depending on your stage or vocation in life, the term "Hell Week" could refer to a number of different things.
  • Perhaps you are pledging a fraternity and are in for an old fashioned hazing.
  • Or maybe you are desperately cramming for your final exams.
  • You might be in the midst of your Police Academy or Navy SEAL training.
  • Or are you an actor going through technical rehearsals?
Most of that sounds fun, if not a wee bit painful/stressful. Sadly, my Hell Week was a monster all its own.

One of the job requirements for Foreign Service Officers here in Mexico is that you return to DC for a training called "Name Check" after you've hit your six-month mark at post. What it's about or whether you actually learn anything new, I couldn't say. I'm not a Foreign Service Officer, so I didn't have to go. Now, I did have the option of going and enjoying some vacation time while TJ worked, but since I leave for vacation in San Diego on July 19th, and especially since the thought of DC causes the slightest hint of bile to rise in my mouth, I decided to stay behind. And I gotta say, the thought of some alone time was appealing. I mean, we work, eat, and sleep together. Sometimes, you just want some space. So how'd that space work out for me?

Well, TJ was gone Saturday, June 25th through Sunday, July 3rd. While he was off enjoying "Mamma Mia!" at Wolftrap and "Wicked" at the Kennedy Center, I was falling victim to one calamity after another. Let us count them off, shall we?

On Wednesday, June 29th, at approximately 9:00PM, Chloe decided to get a little territorial and attack Zelda over a bowl of kibble. I have now been to the vet on no less than four separate occasions. One final trip is scheduled for Sunday morning, at which point the stitches will be removed.

On Thursday, June 30th, at roughly 7:00AM, I took a tumble down the stairs. I'm being a little dramatic here, as i only fell down two stairs and landed safely without injury. But I did have a horrifying moment of imagining myself having to call the neighbor for help, as I was naked as a bluejay.

Gravity (that cruel mistress) attacked again later that day, this time resulting in a collision with a brick pathway on my afternoon jog. Several decorative scabs currently adorn my right elbow, knee, and calf. I was fully clothed this time (much to the relief of my fellow joggers) but on the way down I had two thoughts: #1 - "Oh, $%*&# this is going to hurt"; and #2 - "Why did I choose today to leave my cell phone at home?" Fortunately, it hurt like a beast but not to the point of actually needing to call for help. And in my grandest moment of manhood yet, I got back up and finished my run.

On Saturday, July 2nd, I invited our friend Antonio to go with me to Instituto Cultural Cabañas to see this really awesome exhibit that I had seen there a couple of weeks prior. I had gone the first time without my camera (I know, I know. When am I
ever sans camera?), and really wanted to snag some shots for posterity. So, of course, the exhibit had closed for good two days prior.

But the worst calamity of all actually occurred before any of the others, on Sunday June 26th. That was the day that I foolishly put my laptop on the couch's I always do. This was the first time, however, that it tumbled off and hit the floor. Screen is cracked. Can't see a thing. Which means I can't access the photos for all of the blogs that I've been meaning to write but have been getting to at a snail's pace, including but not limited to:
  • The last half of Mexico City
  • The latest entry in Guadalajara's Top 20
  • An unexpected yet welcome visitor
I'll be picking up a new computer in San Diego later this month. I'll also be taking my old one and asking if, pretty please with sugar on top, they can somehow transfer all of my photos and music over to the new one. If not, well...we'll just have to deal, now, won't we?


On the bright side, the bad luck disappeared when TJ returned. With his very own iPad. *grumble*