Drive Like the Wind

“And I’ve got such a long way to go, to make it to the border of Mexico.” Ride Like the Wind by Christopher Cross

We said our goodbyes to our friends in Guadalajara and packed up for our trip north.  It was hard saying goodbye, even to our favorite street taco ladies.  We loved our time in Mexico and we’ll be back soon, so that made it a bit easier to say adiós to the wonderful people we had the pleasure of meeting.

Our plan was to take the trip back to the US almost as slowly as we had meandered south six months ago.  We assumed two small children would make travelling any more than four hours a day almost impossible.  But, as it turned out, our girls were amazingly patient with being in the car, so we just kept driving as much as they’d let us.  Our marathon day was Wednesday, when we drove from Zacatecas, Mexico, to New Braunfels, Texas.  Google puts it at a 10 hour drive, but that doesn’t include any breaks or, most importantly, the border crossing!  Including those things, it was over a 12 hour day and we were exhausted.  We also cut it a bit close being able to cross the border before dark, but we did it and all was well.  We did the 28 hours of driving to my parents’ house in Iowa in four days, what we felt was pretty amazing, but we were all more than ready to not be in a car.

Here’s iola in her customary ROAD TRIP shirt.  Our time in Mexico went so fast, but then I look back at pictures of iola during our trip down to Mexico six months ago and wow has she grown!  Click here to see pictures of her in the same shirt in early November 2015.

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Our first stop after Guadalajara was Zacatecas, where we spent a night and celebrated Halloween in early November.  I can’t stop staring at all the colonial architecture when we’re here.

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One final Kinder Surprise egg (illegal in the United States.)

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…and one final OXXO (convenience store) cinnamon cappuccino for Carrie.

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One final Mexican potty break.

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And one final run-in with the law…as in for some reason the police parked right next to us despite dozens of other open spots.

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We had to stop into a Mexican government office to cancel the temporary import permit for Carl Car and then crossed the bridge to the US.  We sat in line for about 45 minutes before it was our turn to be questioned.  Frida was not excited about leaving her country of origin and cried the whole time in line, so Carrie finally just held Frida on her lap.  We must have seemed honest, boring, or sick of having a crying baby, so we got to pass right through.  That’s good, because I really wouldn’t have felt like re-packing the car, which was jam-packed in expert fashion.

Many Mexican stoplights feature all sorts of vendors…food, newspapers, windshield wipers, etc.  It was only appropriate that we had one more shot at buying pirated DVD’s while waiting in line for US Customs on the bridge over the Rio Grande.

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Back in the US, yeeeehaawwwwww!

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Couldn’t pass up an IN-N-OUT Burger in North Texas.

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A break somewhere along the Kansas Turnpike.

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Here’s Carl Car, back safely in Iowa.  246,000+ miles and still running like a champ.  Thanks for your hard work, Carl, you’ve never let us down.

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-Ryan

 

Let the Dust of Mexico Settle on Our Hearts

We’ll admit that it took us some time to embrace the organized chaos that is Mexico.  If you want an always predictable, organized reality, stick with Hawaii for your vacations.  Or for that matter, the Mexican vacations that aren’t really Mexico, like the spring break destinations.  But for us, soon enough, the dust of Mexico settled on our hearts.

Mexico always offers unexpected experiences if you care to wander off the beaten path.  While the US has many good things going for it (very clean, much better roads, etc.), it’s not as easy to stumble upon such unique findings as it is in Mexico.

Before leaving Tapalpa, we went outside of town to the neighboring village of Atacco to where I was told a straw bale house had been built.  There are various ways homes can be constructed using straw bales.  They end up being much more insulated than typical homes and they’re even fire resistant because the straw is so compact.  The bales are covered with plaster and can look very nice.  I enjoy natural building methods so I was excited to go and try to find this house.  We stopped where we were told there was a natural medicine store.  The woman there was part of the women’s group that built the straw home as a model home to help encourage and teach others to build using the affordable & sustainable technique.  She told us how to get to the house, which involved walking through the empty town plaza, underneath a conveyor belt loading bags of corn onto a truck, and up a rough path past shanty houses.  And there it was, a beautiful little home made of straw bales, not quite finished.  I hopped the gate and lifted iola over because the women’s group had lost the key for the padlock.  I checked out the house, homemade ovens & stoves, water collection system, and composting troughs.  I never would have guessed there’d be such a cool project in this small, poor town in the middle of nowhere.

Back at the medicine shop, we browsed their garden that produces the raw ingredients for their homemade remedies & the old chapel that’s still standing.  We bought soap, skin healing cream made out of a flower, & eucalyptus oil, before heading out again.

That experience, and many others like it, is the reason we learned to love the unpredictability of Mexico.  It’s often used to portray the bad aspects of Mexico, but for us the positives far outweighed the negatives.  What nice, fantastic people we had the pleasure of meeting all around Mexico.  We made great friends both from Mexico and from abroad.

The dust of Mexico settled on our hearts and we’re excited to go back soon.

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iola found a broom & dustpan and got busy cleaning.

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-Ryan

Go Chasing Waterfalls

South of Tapalpa is the largest waterfall in the state of Jalisco, the Salto del Nogal.  We drove 40 minutes on mediocre roads before reaching the remote parking area.  A cattle rancher with three cows and a horse appeared out of nowhere, told us it was an hour hike to the falls, and disappeared just as quickly as he had appeared.  We had imagined a calm, meandering hike through some woods to reach the waterfall and we were very wrong.  Instead it was a somewhat intense hike down a steep, rocky path into a canyon where it was hot and shade was little.  We considered turning back multiple times but our stubbornness prevailed and we’re glad it did.  The end result was AWESOME.  It will be one of my top three memories of our time in Mexico.

The waterfall is 345 feet high and unfortunately was way more impressive in person than the pictures portray.  We’ll be excited to visit again next time we’re in Mexico.  Making it even better was that we had the whole place to ourselves and it was pristine.  We relaxed, iola took the most scenic potty break she’s ever had, and I took a dip in the cold water as a refresher before starting the climb back out of the canyon.  We left after about an hour in order to get back to Carl the car in plenty of time before sunset.  We did, albeit soaked in sweat from the hike.

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-Ryan

Go Fly a Kite

As we’ve written many times before, Mexico is fun because of the diverse landscapes, culture, and history that are available within just a few hours of driving.  The magic town of Tapalpa hadn’t been checked off our list yet, so we decided to make the two hour trip from Guadalajara to see it.  Carl the car hadn’t moved in over six weeks, since before Frida was born, so it gave us a chance to stretch his legs a bit before leaving on our long trip back to the US.  Likewise for Frida, it gave us a chance to see how she’d do in her car seat.

Tapalpa is a quaint little town full of charm (I think “quaint” and “charm” are my go-to words for all small Mexican mountain towns…sorry, can’t help it.)  You can rent nature cabins in the hills surrounding the town, but we went with our usual hotel room in town so we could walk around.  Our hotel room once again didn’t disappoint.  It was very nice with lots of natural wood beams, french doors leading out to a balcony, a wood-burning fireplace with wood & matches provided (imagine that in the US!), and an amazing breakfast that came included in the price.

The town plaza features two different churches built in the 1500’s.  Surrounding the plaza are shops, hotels, & second story restaurants with outdoor balcony seating overlooking the main square.

Just outside of town is a place called Las Piedrotas.  They’re huge boulders that look out of place in the middle of the surrounding pastures.  We relaxed in the shade of one of the gigantic rocks and attempted to fly our new kite.  We had a rough start, forgetting the string for the kite at home in Guadalajara.  The hotel owner saved the day and gave us a spool of nylon string she had leftover from a curtain project she did 20 years ago.  After that brief hiccup, we’re proud to say we redeemed ourselves from the last time we tried to fly a kite.  While searching our site to link to the last time we flew a kite, I realized there was yet another time two years ago when we tried flying a kite in St. Paul and failed.  3rd time is a charm I guess.

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-Ryan

Fight Freely

Carrie was adamant that no Mexico experience would be complete without a trip to see Lucha Libre, the WWE-style fake wrestling known for its masked fighters.  I was hesitant, as I often am with Carrie’s ideas, but agreed to go along for “family night” last Sunday.  The chocolate donuts made it all worth it…and the ice cream…and the beer…and the popcorn.  That’s right, all those items are delivered by vendors to your seat in a baseball stadium-esque fashion.  We also had the option of getting fresh fruit cups, soft drinks, micheladas, what we think were onions or pickled pork skin (?), and more.  The best part: two big chocolate donuts, strawberry ice cream, a bag of popcorn, and two Coronas added up to a grand total of 111 Pesos, about $6.  These items were crucial to getting iola to hang in there for two hours as well, minus the beer.

The next best thing after the food vendors were the middle-aged men in the audience by themselves who clearly took this stuff seriously: standing up to scream, making gestures at the referee, and the fact they were 60 years old and there by themselves.  Every match included the good guys and the bad guys.  The crowd cheered the good guys and taunted the bad guys (yelling things I shouldn’t translate to English, but mostly involving the fighter’s mom.)

As fake as the fighting was, we were impressed with the agility of these guys.  There was no blood, but there were cool flips, jumps, & stunts throughout the night.  If they didn’t really know what they were doing and have things coordinated, someone was going to get hurt.  iola even got into it and was clapping for the fighters.  Frida (somehow) slept through almost the whole thing.

I left with a whole different opinion of Lucha Libre.  We decided we’ll for sure go back next time we’re in Mexico.  iola also went home with a mask that might be her cutest wardrobe accessory to date.

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Here’s a famous fighter “El Gallo” (The Rooster) in action, along with his small person sidekick.

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Here’s the donut man:

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Here’s sleepy Frida:

-Ryan

 

Bring the Kids

This won’t come as any surprise for most of you: the Mexican culture as a whole loves children.  This has been obvious during our experience here for lots of reasons, more than I can name or even recall.  A few recent experiences made us think we should write a blog post about it.  Neither story I’m about to tell is groundbreaking whatsoever, but they illustrate the Mexican love for children.

During Carrie’s closing of the bones experience there were three midwives: Maria, Francesca, and visiting midwife Miriam, who was not at the birth but has attended a few of the postpartum visits.  Each time she has brought along her own baby, beautiful little Iyari (pictured further below).  In the background of the many videos I took during the closing of the bones you can hear Iyari chattering or requesting her mama.  Everyone is different, but we suspect in the US this wouldn’t usually happen, that the person getting the massage would expect complete silence and might be put off by having a child in attendance.  We, on the other hand, love it.  There’s a level of inclusiveness and concern for children that we haven’t seen before in other countries.  Sure, if you schedule a massage not associated with birth or pregnancy, it might be kind of weird for the masseuse’s child to be there.  But if the whole thing you’re working on has to do with children, why not include children?

Next example: Restaurants.  Years ago, before we had kids, we went out to eat with our friends Steve, Jillana, and their infant son Logan at a Mexican restaurant in the US.  During our meal the waiter picked up Logan and walked around with him, even taking him to the kitchen, while we enjoyed our dinner.  This gave us Americans a good laugh, of course not being used to this sort of thing.  As I’m writing this post I’m sitting in a hotel in Tapalpa (more on that in a future post.)  This morning at the hotel’s (amazing) breakfast the waitress asked to pick up Frida and walked around with her for awhile, showing her to all the kitchen staff while we ate.  Last week Carrie read a New York Times article about Guadalajara (good read) and wanted to walk by a restaurant the article mentioned that has animal bones for its decor.  It’s a high-end, classy sort of place. A security/greeter guy was outside and I started talking to him.  He quickly welcomed us to enter.  We politely declined, casually stating we’d go sometime without the kids.  He immediately reassured us that kids are more than welcome and many families eat there all the time.  This is a broad stroke of the culture brush, but my gut told me that a similarly exclusive restaurant in the US would not be excited at all about having kids in the establishment.  We’ve been to many restaurants in Mexico when toddler meltdowns have happened (I won’t name any names, but we only have one toddler.)  No one really blinks an eye.  It’s a great feeling.

Here’s lovely little Iyari at Carrie’s closing of the bones

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-Ryan

 

Close the Bones

It’s been amazing to me how quickly we’ve settled into Mexico.  When I think back just five months, shortly after arriving to Mexico, there were so many things that were glaringly obvious differences from the US; the way people drive, the food, prices for all sorts of things, the physical currency itself, Mexican Spanish (many different words versus castellano from Spain), etc.  Now, most things in Mexico just seem normal to us, in a good way.

We got a very happy reminder last week that we are still in a different country and there are still plenty of fun, unique experiences to enjoy.  The midwives came over to perform a “closing of the bones” on Carrie.  It’s a practice done in traditional midwifery as a way to give thanks to the woman’s body for all that it’s done before, during, and after pregnancy, and to help it heal and return to its original state.

Carrie first got a head-to-toe massage.  Next was the “closing.”  This is done with a rebozo, a long traditional scarf used for carrying babies (or other things.)  It was wrapped and pulled tightly around Carrie’s body while she was laying down, one rebozo-width at a time, starting from the head, moving down to the feet, then back up to her head.  The midwives told her things to think about as they did it, a sort of meditation.  On the way down to her feet there were thoughts of thanks for her body for all it’s done.  On the way back toward her head the thoughts were about returning the body to its pre-pregnancy state to be ready to do it again if she wishes (that one made Carrie laugh!)  Finally, she got a warm bath with a homemade mix of herbs prepared by the midwives.

It was a very unique & warm experience.  The midwives have been so sweet, kind, and generous to all of us.  Gracias, Maria, Francesca, Miriam, & Lupita!

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-Ryan