Category Archives: Inspired

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What is That in There?

Refrescos

Unmarked mysteries in the fridge

What the Hell is That?

Explaining some of those mysterious things lurking in that fridge.

If you are traveling in the Yucatan, and stopping here and there, especially in the smaller towns and villages along your route, you will perhaps see unusual things (along with the usual assortment of commercial brand soft drinks) in the corner store refrigerator that you might not have at your Seven Eleven back home. Here is an example (photo) of such a fridge and a brief explanation of what it is you are looking at, top left to bottom right.

Top Shelf

  1. Flan Casero. This means home-made flan and when I asked the young lady what it all had she said “huevo… y no sé que otra cosa” which means that she knows it has eggs in it, and that’s the extent of her knowledge of this version of flan. Flan is flan, so no need to go any further with the explanation, I think.
  2. Flan Comercial – this is flan from a box. Jello brand makes a flan that you add water or milk to and voila. That’s what’s in this larger cup.
  3. Those white liquid bottles are horchata. More on that when we get to the main horchata section.

Second Shelf

  1. Jamaica. Pronounced hah-MY-cah, this is an infusion made from a plant very similar to rosehips but much stronger. With fantastic diuretic and antioxidant properties, jamaica, along with its pale cousin horchata, are the most commonly found drinks along with sodas, in any self-respecting taqueria. Note that it is sweetened, as the original version with no sugar will make your tongue curl.
  2. Cebada. Cebada (seh-BAH-dah) is a drink made with barley. It’s kind of a strange, acquired taste kind of drink and those barley bits are a bit like bubble tea with the rubbery tapioca balls, and personally I am still struggling with it. But hey, it’s a drink with a source of fiber built-in.

Bottom Shelf

  1. Horchata. The rice (and sometimes almond) drink that accompanies jamaica in every fridge where Mexican food is served. There will be sediment on the bottom, which is a good thing. Give it a shake or two and enjoy it’s almond/cinnamon taste. Again, very sweet and most times made from concentrate. If you find the home-made version, marry whomever it is that made it because this is a true delicacy and becoming more and more rare in the world.
  2. Tamarindo. The fruit of the tamarind tree is a paste and it is extremely sour. Mixed with sugar, it becomes an excellent base for sherbets and drinks. Mixed with sugar, salt and chile it becomes the ubiquitous Mexican candy that will certainly give you the runs when you first try it.

There are other things in the fridge as well. In this case, as it was a taqueria, there was a giant tub of raw meat on the floor of the fridge. Do not be put off by such apparent disparate refrigerator ingredients and be thankful that you don’t live in a land where nanny-state laws prohibit such practical solutions to every-day restaurant problems.

The Death of the Kankirixche Cenote

As the owner of a tour company specializing in off-the-beaten-track adventures I have seen, over the last 10-15 years, a notable increase in tourism traffic to places that used to be quiet, beautiful and often magical.

This is unfortunate but natural, given that

  • a) we have more people in general so there is going to be more traffic everywhere, not only on the heart-attack-inducingly congested Prolongacion del Paseo de Montejo on weekdays around 1 PM
  • b) we have the ubiquitous internet to thank for the massive diffusion of any and all information so now potentially everyone knows where everything is and how to do it or get there
  • c) tourism authorities rack their brains to come up with new and exciting promotions to places that are often not ready to receive the influx of tourism that comes from said promotion
  • d) politicians not involved in tourism but who are anxious to be patted on the back for their social awareness and for helping the ejidatarios and campesinos in becoming better political clients, throw massive amounts of money in their general direction (with plenty left over for splatter to cousins, compadres and family members who carry out their ambitious projects) in the form of infrastructure and development.

Case Study – Kankirixche Cenote

Located between the towns of Abalá (which in Mayan means not much going on here but we like to spend money on lamp posts) and Mucuyché (we’re a rustic pueblo but our hacienda is fancy) the Kankirixche cenote is a large, mostly open cavernous cenote that was absolutely gorgeous, and difficult to access both in terms of the road and also the actual climbing in and out of the water.

You would drive along an extremely rustic and rough former railway trestle, hoping for no oncoming vehicle since this would mean you had to back up from whence you came, and would park under a tree near the cenote. You might find a pickup truck there with diving tanks and other related paraphernalia, and in the water, lots of bubbles and lights from below as you lower yourself down a rickety ladder strapped – in pieces held together by wire, rope and faith – to the roots of a magnificent alamo tree growing out of the middle.

Aside from the divers and occasionally some local kids who arrived by motorbike, the site was serene and lived fully up to how cenotes are described in glossy tourism promotion materials: magical, mystical places full of history and home to aluxes and the spirits of the ancient Mayans.

Fast forward to 2019.

There is now a giant blue government sign marking the turn-off to get to Kankirixche cenote. The sign has the symbol for the cenote, for a restaurant, etc. All very civilized. The road has been somewhat widened here and there, so there is no more backing up except for perhaps a few short stretches, and that is a good thing because there is now a LOT of traffic going in and out.

When you arrived you are greeted by a handful of constantly changing campesinos from nearby Uayalceh, who claim that this cenote falls within their jurisdiction ejidatariamente speaking and so it is they who are entitled to charge you 60 pesos (gringo price) to enter the cenote. There is a rope that is lowered once you have paid so you and your vehicle can proceed. Your laminated “tickets” you will turn in to yet another individual who is sitting under the dilapidated life jacket structure, where you will pay extra to rent those should you so desire. There, is also the rocky parking lot, which is now usually filled with at least 5 cars and vans (on a good day) and up to 20 vehicles on a holiday or weekend.

 

That laurel tree growing from inside the cenote? It is now dead, having been blown over by a chubasco, a small whirlwind storm that hit the area some years ago. Its carcass is still lying there, in the trampled brown dirt and dust-covered rocks. The desolate scene is accompanied by the shouts and shrieks emanating from the water inside the cenote, which you can now access via a rickety wooden staircase and which is covered with clothing, sandals, backpacks and more, all of which belong to the hordes in the water, who are screaming and hollering like there is no tomorrow.

Whatever spirits inhabited these caves have long since departed in disgust, as you might also do upon encountering this disturbing scene. There is no magic here, no mysticism. It is a swimming hole, pure and simple and a very commercialized and crappy one at that.

I haven’t gone into the infrastructure details that are a modern feature at Kankirixche. The powers that be, in all their infinite wisdom and benevolence, have provided the campesinos with everything they need (this is at many cenotes throughout the Yucatan by the way) and that means the ladder access, the life jackets, a massive palm thatch roof structure to be used as a restaurant, accompanied by a fully equipped industrial kitchen with refrigeration, giant gas stove, oven, and even an extractor. There are solar panels on the roof for electricity. There are bicycles for rent – stored in chains among the upturned tables and chairs – that have never been moved except when the palapa restaurant floor is swept which happens rarely as the restaurant is NEVER open. There are change rooms, and bathrooms with composting toilets.

The campesinos have been given all this infrastructure in the form of a handout, with no conditions attached either in the form of repayment (insert guffaws of laughter here) or even teaching these people the basics of business to help them become self-sufficient and therefore actually achieve what was the purported goal of the program. And so, the campesinos could care less about making anything to sell, which means the restaurant is always closed and the entire infrastructure WASTED, sitting there like the white elephant it is, a monument to government waste and unrealized social program potential. The campesinos are happy to extend their hand for more money when something breaks and yes, if they vote for the party doing the handing out, they will receive the money.

On the last visit I made to this once beautiful spot, I was greeted by the usual shirtless men who charged me the entry fee, along with the sight of a family’s laundry hanging among the trees in plain sight. Pots, pans and dirty dishes were strewn among the tables in the restaurant, as were more unwashed pots and pans in the kitchen. Women, presumably the wives of the men, lounged in hammocks hanging in the restaurant. When I asked what they had cooked up that the answer was the same as it always is when I ask this same question: “hoy no cocinaron” Today they didn’t cook. Yes, well, there were only 10 cars in the parking lot at that moment and so it probably didn’t make economic sense to USE THE FREE INFRASTRUCTURE TO BRING A GOD DAMN CHICKEN AND SOME TORTILLAS to make some food for the approximately 100-200 people that would be visiting that day. It’s so much easier to just sit there and collect money.

Are you in a tourism destination or a village on laundry day?

looking back at the giant palapa built with a no-repay loan for the ‘poor’ campesinos thereby dooming them to a continuation of paternalistic handouts and no education or self improvement

Speaking of laziness and lack of planning, it is interesting to note that the garbage that is collected in bins at the site is simply dumped in the underbrush a few meters from the parking lot. Stroll into the forest, such as it is, and follow the trail. You will come upon piles of glass and plastic, as well as toilet paper (used) and evidence of human defecation with the charming sounds (huge flies) and smells that accompany an open toilet.

Yes, that’s a pile of human shit at the bottom left. How about we clean this all up before we go to Berlin to the tourism fair?

Kankirixche cenote is a perfect example of human laziness, blind mismanagement, government misspending and how a pretty tourism spot can be completely and utterly ruined by over-promoting it to the point of surpassing its capacity.

RIP Kankirixche.

Speaking of Traffic: what’s your route and how long does it take?

Merida is not the charming small city it once was. Being the safest place in the country, close to international destinations by air and with things like queso relleno to eat, the city has attracted folks from all over, growing exponentially in the last few decades. Architects and construction companies in cahoots with indifferent and self-serving politicians delight in destroying the little green we have left and replacing it with heat-absorbing concrete and cement fraccionamientos and malls. So many malls. Parks? Nah. Not profitable, so no one cares about those. Climate? Buy air conditioning.

Again I digress. Back to the subject of traffic.

In the interest of science and traffic technology, it would be interesting to see what routes people are taking and how long does it take to complete these routes.

For example, my personal longest and most frustrating trip was from Calle 21 in Chuburna to the Altabrisa mall. This relatively short-distance jaunt turned into a 45 minutes nightmare odyssey of stop lights, topes and slinking bumper to bumper traffic. Thank goodness for podcasts, as Terry Gross was able to calm my increasing desire to unload a shotgun on those around me.

What about you? Perhaps one or more of the 19 readers currently reading this blog could chime in on their favorite (sarcasm) routes and the time it took them. And anything remarkable along the way that might have ocurred.

Thanks!

Public Transportation Prices Drop, Uxmal and Chichen Prices Rise

The powers that be have decided (link at the bottom of the page) that a drop in the price of your local bus ticket is warranted and starting February 16 the price will drop from 8 pesos to 7.50. This represents a huge saving of course for those using the buses, and those 50 centavos will be put to good use elsewhere in the family expense budget.

But wait. Have you ever seen a 50 centavo coin?

There are several versions of this cute coin from Mexico’s glorious past kicking around; little silver-colored things made of some worthless metal that range in size from tiny to microscopic. If you have ever tried, you know that picking one of them up off the ground or floor is a geriatric nightmare. Plus, who actually uses them anymore? Do you really think that when you pay your bus fare with a 10 peso coin you are going to get 2 pesos back AND that 50 centavos coin too? That bus driver, already overworked and underpaid for his 12-hour shift, is going to be very pleased to provide this extra service.

Maybe they will have a redondeo, OXXO-style, to benefit some charitable organization that exists only in the minds of its creator.

Enjoy the new bus fares, everyone!

Meanwhile, the Yucatan’s archeological sites are getting a makeover as new tariffs are introduced, doubling the current entry fee price for visitors. Expect huge and amazing changes as the sites are upgraded. Uxmal, a UNESCO World Heritage site, might even get phone service in 2019!

Just kidding. Of course, there will be no improvements forthcoming. All that money will go the way of the Elton John concert money, for which there was little to no accounting and whose destiny is a mystery still, years later.

Besides the huge increase to see the Mayan sites in the state of Yucatan (one of the few states in the country to charge people an additional entry fee along with the INAH ticket) the folks in the hallowed halls of government have also decided that since people don’t have anywhere else to park their cars, buses, and vans, it would be a grand idea to raise the price there as well.

Parking at one of the sites – and there are no other options for leaving your car anywhere nearby – has gone up by 167% from a symbolic 30 pesos to a whopping 80 pesos. And it’s not like it’s an incentive to use some sort of alternative transportation system to get to Uxmal or Chichen (or Ek Balam or Dzibilchaltun) because there is none.

 

Things are going swimmingly. Happy 2019!

https://sipse.com/novedades-yucatan/gobierno-mauricio-vila-dosal-disminuye-precio-camiones-merida-323741.html

Friends with Benefits – Giving Away Your Business

In the years I have lived in Mexico, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon among business owners and their friends, that I can only attribute to cultural differences between where I grew up and where I live now.

In Canada, and I suspect this also happens in the U.S.,  when you open a new business, you put out the word and where do you start? Friends and family of course. And your friends and your family will come and check out your new venture, congratulate you perhaps and wish you well; they will also buy stuff. No matter if you are making empanadas or ear wax candles, they will probably pick up something to support your latest entrepreneurial effort. They appreciate the time and work put into the logo, the concept, the locale if you have one, and the actual products themselves and they want to support you, so they buy something, even if they really have no use for it. They’re your support base and they want you to succeed, so they do.

Here in sunny Mexico, things are a little different. You open your doors or Tupperware container on the corner and let your friends and family know. They will all show up of course; they do love you after all and most of them want you to succeed except for the ones that don’t who will voice unwanted opinions on your product, your idea, your enthusiasm. The goal is to not let you get ‘too big for your britches’ so to speak; they do it out of love and for your own good and that when you fail, you won’t feel so bad and they can say “te lo dije” And, as George Lopez would say “so you learn”

And while they love you, they love anything free even more. And this invitation to see your new business is exactly that: an opportunity to get something for nothing because you’re family! So instead of buying anything, they will ask – in some cases demand – that you invite them to everything on the menu, or in the case of ear wax candles, a free candle to take home. This is not hinted at; no, this is expected and you had better cough up or else your friendship or familial relationship will be in peril.

Where does this come from I wonder? I am not an anthropologist but would love to hear from anyone who has a theory.

Canada has a gender neutral national anthem. Here’s what’s missing.

In the current climate of political correctness, many well-intentioned people are heartened by the recent change in Canada’s national anthem to make it gender-neutral. Personally, speaking as a white, Canadian male with obvious privilege issues, I am ambivalent, but this is the state of the world today and while it was probably a step in the right direction, there remains much to be done to make the song, most often heard at hockey games and the winter Olympics, more inclusive.

The one (just one!) line that changed went from this:

“True patriots love, in all thy sons command”

to this:

“True patriots love, in all of us command”

a line which doesn’t make much sense to me but what do I know about archaic Canadian grammar. It could just as easily have been rewritten as:

“Blue farts and doves, in all our pants demand”

and still make the same point which is … who knows.

In any case, more changes absolutely need to be implemented as there is a plethora of other terminology that could be deemed discriminatory. For example:

“With glowing hearts we see thee rise”

This is obviously a very serious snub to the sight-impaired formerly known as the blind, who can’t see anything rise, let alone the ambiguous non-visible concept of (and this is the next line) a country called:

“The true north strong and free”

North? What about the southerners? Most Canadians live in the southern part of Canada given the country’s hostile climate. Are those people to be left out? This is not good and the good folks from Vancouver to Toronto will most certainly feel left out. I see a lawsuit coming.

But wait, there’s more:

“Oh Canada we stand on guard for thee”

Here we are leaving out those who, for lack of a better term, can’t stand. What if you are in a wheelchair? What if you’re bedridden. You can’t stand so you’re not included? Shameful.

“God keep our land…”

The whole mention of God raises all kinds of red flags. Which God? Whose God? Also, atheists, of whom there must be a few in the far and wide land, should – and rightfully so – feel left out. A major re-write is necessary here as well.

The challenge is enormous and to really bring Canada into the PC world of today, the entire antiquated anthem; this relic from another, more innocent and homogenous time, needs to be consciously examined.

I suggest a Royal Commission. You can contact the prime minister’s office here:

https://www.ourcommons.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members/Justin-Trudeau(58733)

Chichen Itza – Random Imagery

A menagerie of tourists
wandering herds of pampered human flesh
bright white sneakers, tomato-red faces, tank tops with sunburnt arms dangling

scrawny brown vendors en masse
hogging shady trees,
waving shiny trinkets, “Juan Dolla!”

weary, burnt-out guides
in mirrored sunglasses, white guayaberas washed to the point of transparency
“now look over here, my friends” ad nauseum

wrinkled wizened face
the ancient tiny Mayan lady’s sad eyes
“hankie 10 pesos” her only English

sweaty lineups
crowded bathrooms and overpriced ice cream shops
tourists in heat-exhausted stupors, indifferent employees

“hat my friend, hat my friend”
brown woman ignored by the pale masses
climbing the stairs to their overheated destiny

flocks of silver buses
motors racing, air conditioners on high
parked, waiting for their victims to return, the driver snoring in his undershirt

Wonder of the World
Chichen Itza Disney-fied
and cash cow to the government

Paying it Forward – the Houston InfoDesk Volunteers

PART ONE – I am stuck in Houston, thanks for a mental seniors moment that caused me to miss my flight back to Merida today. A couple of things stand out from today’s experience, which really doesn’t upset me that much as make me feel stupid and will help be a little less relaxed next time I travel.

Having arrived well after the airplane doors would have been closed, I was sent off to the side and after waiting an interminable amount of time in line at the United customer service desk I played it as humbly as I could with the unsmiling lady behind the counter. It’s hard to play the indignant customer when the fault was entirely mine. Having already  checked on line it was no surprise when she told me that tomorrow’s flight was booked solid with the exception of one business class seat at $1300 USD. Now that is pretty steep even if you do love leather and cutlery but I thought, what the hell, and told her to book it. Perhaps I could get some credit for the flight not taken and if not, well so be it.

She stabbed at the keyboard for a while and told me that she had to check with someone to see if in fact that seat was still available. She was put on hold and told me that it would be at least 10-20 minutes. By this time she and I were on good terms and I suggested maybe Cancun would be an option. Cradling her phone between her shoulder and cheek, she hit a few more keys and a morning flight appeared for $500 and then, miracle of miracles, she announced an 11:30 flight that could be had – at no charge at all.

I was so happy I almost jumped over the counter to give her a hug but that would have been inappropriate and so I settled on a hearty and thankful handshake. When I then asked about a hotel recommendation she actually gave me a coupon for a discounted hotel stay, the kind you get when THEY screw up. I was most grateful and again thanked her enthusiastically.

PART TWO – I am at the info desk at terminal E, the United terminal where two elderly folks in red uniforms are helping people with questions related to all manner of things. They wear tags that have their names on them and the fact that they are volunteers. The lady whom I will call Lady helps me with a phone to call the number on the United coupon to set up the hotel, offering to let me use her cell phone in case their courtesy phone didn’t work for what was obviously a non-local number.

Meanwhile the man whom I will call… Man, is dealing with a sloppily-attired individual who demands to know the flight schedule of ANA from Tokyo to Houston. They are obviously flummoxed and can not pull up any information on their computer, which seems to be not working. Mr. ANA is very rude and sarcastic with them, telling them that any Google search would display the information – oblivious to the fact that these are senior citizens and probably not the most tech-savvy people in the world. It is obvious from their expressions that they don’t even know what ANA is. I wonder why he doesn’t check it himself on his own computer or a rental somewhere.

As I complete my hotel booking over the phone, I can hear a lady in the wheelchair behind me loudly ask if there is a time limit on the use of the phone, to which Lady answers ‘no’ which is met with ‘well there should be’ which I choose to ignore since she is already in a wheelchair and I don’t want to further complicate her existence with a smack on the head with the telephone receiver.

The Man has now consulted with the Lady about Mr. ANA and they both are now trying to find some info on the computer and at the same time apologizing to Mr. ANA who remains unfazed and continues his eye-rolling and relentless questioning.

An elderly lady of the oriental persuasion appears and demands attention in that impatient and oh so charming way that some older folks have developed. Lady points her in the direction she needs to be moving.

Throughout all this, both Lady and Man are smiling, patient and while frustrated, they do not take it out on their ‘clients’.

I pull up the FlightTrack app on my iPhone and find the ANA information and tell the guy what he needs to know and finally, to the relief of Lady and Man, he walks away. What possible satisfaction this man gained from knowing that ANA’s flight from Houston landed at 3:55 PM at Narita airport is beyond me.

Wondering what motivates them to be there in the first place, I ask if every day they had difficult people like this guy. Their features relax and they smile a tired smile.

Lady answers first. “Some days, yes.”

But they both shrug it off.

“I just wish that coffee line wasn’t so long” says Man, pointing at the Starbucks outlet in the corner, where a long line of people waiting to order coffee stretched into the terminal, almost blocking the children’s Christmas choir doing their best to sing Jingle Bells in tune.

“I’m going to buy you a coffee” I tell him.

He comes back with an energetic “No, you are not!”

But I go stand in that line anyway, which takes forever as this is the one Starbucks in all of the great state of Texas that has the winner of the Slow-as-Molasses Ass-Dragging Contest working the till. Her companion, whom I will briefly refer to as Scruffy Mexican, looks out at the line with dead fish eyes, bored beyond belief and chewing his gum with a gusto reserved for recently rescued shipwreck survivors when fed their first meal.

I buy a couple of coffees; black – who knows if Lady and Man have milk allergies, high blood sugar or whatever – and a couple of packages of biscotti. I then head back and set them on their counter. “Merry Christmas” I say.

Man makes a move to reach into his back pocket. “How much do I owe you for those?”

“Absolutely nothing. Just want you to know that you are appreciated. Thank you for what you do and the way you do it” I tell them.

I shake their hands, grab my bags and head outside to wait for my hotel shuttle feeling like I have returned a little of the goodwill I received from the United lady earlier.