Mine Our Own Business

After breakfast and the pool, we walked to Mina El Eden, a 16th century silver mine that’s now in the middle of town.  iola fell asleep on the walk, rocked into a slumber by the rough, rocky roads.  What she didn’t know was these same rocks nearly ejected her from the stroller multiple times.  She quickly woke up when she saw the “choo choo train!!!”  we’d be riding deep into the mine.  That train is the only thing she liked about the mine visit.  The sobs for “more choo choo train!” didn’t stop the entire time we were in the mine.  Take a guess if a toddler’s cries echo a lot inside an old mine.  Luckily our Mexican tour companions were nothing but kind and understanding…to our faces.

There was a cool rock museum inside the mine and then a tour of the mine that showed how they extracted the rocks manually since the 1500’s.  If I had any doubt conquistadors were a-holes, that doubt is gone.  1 to 3 slave miners died on average PER DAY.  A slave was lucky to live to the age of 30.  Meanwhile we were frustrated our child wouldn’t stop screaming, or might throw Carrie’s phone down about 1,000 feet into the acidic pool of water below us.  Seeing pictures on Carrie’s phone was the only thing that kind of made her stop screaming, afterall.  Funny the “problems” we have these days.

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The mine started collapsing so this picture is blurry.  The choo choo train barely got us out in time.

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-Ryan

Stay in Cheap, Great Hotels

Hotels are cheap in Mexico.  Old and rustic (in a good way) or new and modern, your choice for less than $50 US per night.  Our breakfast at the cool, old, downtown hotel in Zacatecas included the following:

  1. Toast with butter/jellies
  2. Guava juice and coffee
  3. Generous plate of fruit for each of us: pineapple, guava, & cantaloupe
  4. Our choice of hot cakes or a variety of scrambled egg options, all made to order.  Carrie & iola had pancakes, I had a revuelto con chorizo.

Our breakfast bill for even a cheap greasy spoon in the US would have been at least $20.  The total hotel bill, which included the free breakfast, was $45.  Crazy.

iola was excited for her pancakes and even more excited to swim in the amazing pool.  I was excited the hotel had free underground parking.  I’m perplexed by the economics of these hotels.  Are construction costs that much cheaper? Are food costs that much cheaper?  Are labor costs that much cheaper?  How is anyone making a profit?!  I will continue to investigate this.  I will also continue to enjoy the great hotel options in Mexico.  Just stay clear of the roadside love motels.  Lots of those, too!  Those will set you back about $20 (or less) per night should you find yourself in the market for one.

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It’s amazing how quickly one gets spoiled.  Effective immediately I am too good to wipe with anything that isn’t ornately folded.

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-Ryan

Celebrate Los Fieles Difuntos

Today we made it to Zacatecas, capital city of the state of Zacatecas.  What a beautiful city.  We knew some celebrating was still happening today leftover from Day of the Dead, but we had no idea what was happening, exactly.  Today is All Souls Day in English, although the literal translation is The Deceased Faithful, and that’s a better fit for how they celebrate.

We left the hotel for a relaxing afternoon of walking around the city with our only goal being to ride the sky tram that takes you from one mountainside to another.  We did that and explored the area where it takes you up high above the city.  We walked down the mountain on a steep windy path and ended up by the cathedral.  This is where our day got unexpectedly awesome.  We showed up right as a parade was starting.  A Halloween parade would be the closest explanation in the US, but they take their costumes very seriously.  One guy had a real animal head and bones on a stick (see below).

We enjoyed the celebration for some time, then decided iola should be more involved.  All the other kids were going from shop to shop in their costumes singing a Day of the Dead song and getting candy in return.  Carrie, with her amazing foresight, had packed iola’s pumpkin costume and pumpkin basket in the car.  We went to the hotel, dressed her up, and went back out.  She loved it!  If we’d stay in a store too long she demanded to go back to the street.  She got lots of love back.  She’s a little blonde in a sea of brunettes.  What a fun, unique, unexpected night.  My second favorite part of the night, after seeing iola trick or treat in Mexico, was eating street food.  Pizza (60 cents), tamales (60 cents), chocolate filled churros (43 cents), all delicious and at a price I can’t afford not to eat them.

(If you haven’t figured this out yet, you can click on pictures to see them larger)

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Tamales and a sleepy little pumpkin.

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-Ryan

Leave Our Guns Stateside

We spent a quick night in Laredo, Texas, then headed out early this morning for the border.  Of all the days in the year we could have done this, I think we nailed it choosing Day of the Dead to cross into Mexico.

I don’t often think about all the time I’ve put into learning and practicing the Spanish language, but it’s times like this border crossing that I’m quickly reminded how handy it is to not be lost by Spanish-only signage.  It was confusing enough even knowing what the signs said!  The border process on the Mexican side took about two hours, which consisted mostly of waiting in lines.  First our passports were approved, then we waited in another line to obtain a permit to temporarily import our car into Mexico, with a limit of 180 days.  If we don’t return within that time-frame we will lose a $200 deposit and won’t be able to take a car over the border again.  Evidently they were having issues with people taking cars over the border to sell in Mexico without paying an import tax.

Leave your gats in Texas, gents.

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iola’s first order of Mexican business? Do her business.  Please note the yellow ball fringe hanging inside our windshield.  We got into the Mexican spirit a few weeks ago.

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Sports drink bottle soap dispenser, and don’t you dare try taking it.

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Flowers for sale everywhere for Day of the Dead cemetery decorations.

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Mexico so far is rough around the edges, but beautiful at its core.

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For those of you that don’t speak Spanish, this sign means, “Lift with your knees and wear a sombrero.”

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Trash cans are located along the highways every few miles.  Great idea if you ask me.

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Declare a Library Winner & Say Adios to San Antonio

Carrie & iola are in love with libraries.  Carrie has declared the San Antonio Central Library as the coolest library she’s ever been to, and we’ve been to libraries all around the world.  (The coolest bookstore in the world that she’s seen, however, belongs to El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, Argentina.)

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Even the elevators were unique.

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The icing on the cake was a sculpture by my favorite sculptor Fernando Botero.

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Goodbye, San Antonio.  You are a great time.  We’ll be back!

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Get Spooked in Austin

Austin is almost nothing like we expected it to be.  That’s not bad or good, but a good lesson that having expectations is a fruitless endeavor because reality is rarely like what we’ve come up with in our heads.

Leo Babauta of zenhabits.com says:

What’s a life without expectations like? It means you accept reality as it is, and people as they are, without expectations, without trying to force people into the containers you have for them, seeing things as they are.

We tried putting the city of Austin into one of these containers based on what we had heard about it.  Shame on us!  As one example, we both imagined the whole area being really flat.  Not true.  There are hills all around that make you feel like you’re in California.  We also both imagined Austin being a quaint city with large pedestrian areas, not much traffic, and a hippie vibe (based on the tie dye “Keep Austin Weird” t-shirts I used to see in airport gift stores).  Are there components of these things?  Sure.  However, the reality is Austin is like most modern, sprawling cities.  Lots of new construction, lots of traffic, lots of suburban housewives in $70,000 SUV’s, and mostly chain restaurants & stores that you find all over the country.  Of the thousands of people I saw in Austin, I noticed just four that were visibly hippie.  That’s a pretty small percentage, but that’s not to say there weren’t many more inwardly hippie folks that snuck below my “let’s stereotype some hippies” radar.  I saw very little of this supposed Austin weirdness either, but maybe we avoided the weird section by accident.  In all fairness, we were there a couple of days so despite our best efforts we only saw a fraction of the city.

Austin is a very nice city with lots going on, but I’m vowing to show up next time without so many ideas in my head of how the city should be and let it be beautiful for what it is.

The Texas capitol building was gorgeous.  We took a Halloween “Rest in Peace” tour of the capitol where we were told about all the people who have died in or around the building.  That lasted until iola decided it was nap time about halfway through the tour.

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I’m starting to sense a star theme around Texas.

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Hoards of people stand on and below the Congress Ave. bridge to view the huge number of Mexican free-tail bats that leave their home under the bridge at sunset for a night on the town, each and every night, before they migrate to Mexico.  The internet never lies, and it says there are 1,500,000 bats living under that bridge.  Insane, but very cool to watch, and the timing right before Halloween couldn’t have been better.

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I’m too lazy to carry around a tripod, so don’t expect good nighttime bat pictures out of this guy.  Click the picture to make it bigger and you’ll at least get the idea.

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Last, but most important, any place on earth feels more comfortable when you know someone there.  Our friends were nice enough to lend us their home and iola was more excited playing with her new friend, albeit seven years her elder, than she has been in a long time.

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-Ryan

Swim in (Not Hot) Springs and Ponder What Gold Bond Is For

Between Llano & Austin, Texas, lies Krause Natural Springs & Camping.  Of course when we heard “springs” our minds thought of “hot springs” and we didn’t put much thought into the advertised year-round constant temperature of 68 degrees.  We quickly realized they weren’t hot springs, or even warm springs.  Carrie and I each took quick dips, and we’ll admit it was refreshing, but not a place you want to just hang out in unless it’s really hot outside.  The big plus: the setting was absolutely gorgeous.  Just ignore the No Smoking signs nailed to trees…sad that isn’t just a given in a place like this.

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We were awakened at 5:00 am for a pretty funny reason…dozens and dozens of vehicles rolled into the place for none other than the production of a series of Gold Bond advertisements.  They had huge trucks with snow making machines for a scene with snowball fights.  We inadvertently wandered through a scene they were filming from above of a girl running on the rock formations.  We named her Sporty Spice, and we thought she was just practicing until we heard the guy’s radio say “Action!” as we walked by and she took off running.  Oops.

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Sing “Oh Abilene, why can’t you be true?” Even Though Those Aren’t the Lyrics

On our way from Caprock Canyons southeast of Amarillo down to Austin, we stopped and spent two nights in Abilene.

Texas is huge, feels like a separate country, which it was at one point.  They compensate for the vast amount of space with ridiculous speed limits.  Roads that in the upper mid-west would have a 55 mph speed limit have a 70 or 75 mph speed limit in Texas.  We’re talking two lane highways with hardly any shoulder & lots of curves. 70 mph.  Add a couple lanes, but still not much shoulder and no median separating opposite-going traffic, 75 mph.  Another item that stands out about Texas is the huge amount of gigantic pickup trucks.  It seems about 90% of the traffic consists of big trucks.  The moral of the story: if we have a collision in our 1998 Toyota Camry we can pretty well guess the outcome!  On a bright note, gas is very cheap, less than $2.00/gallon in most places.  I’d like to say that’s why they don’t mind driving gas-guzzling trucks all the time, but I’m pretty sure that has nothing to do with the gas prices.

We initially treated Abilene as simply a place to stop & relax for a couple days, not a city we’d be excited about.  Turns out though, Abiline is a cool place!  It’s big enough to have a fun downtown area and lots of other stuff without being so big that we hit lots of traffic.

It’s been proclaimed “Storybook Capital of Texas”, which meant they had lots of cool sculptures of children’s book characters all over downtown.  Appropriately enough, we started our day downtown at the library’s story time.

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Characters from storybooks around town, even on top of buildings.

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Downtown Paramount Theater, amazingly preserved.

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Great bakery for desserts.

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Overall a fun place to visit.  Thanks for the great time, Abilene!

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