Monthly Archive for July, 2010

Adventures in Juarez Dining

I’d like to say I used the unexpected day off to something wildly interesting but the honest truth is I ran errands and did housework. I think I entertained my community guard though. I have a tiny patch of grass in front of my house that is too tiny to use the lawn mower on. So I hauled out the weed whacker to deal with it. The day guard never sees me so I swear he hoped on his bicycle and started circling the street (which takes 30 seconds since it is a tiny street) just for the sheer entertainment of watching me trying to cut the grass without chopping down my bouganvilla shrub.  I lost a good solid branch in the struggle but now I can get into my garage without driving through branches and the grass is no longer taking over my driveway, so I declare win.

After my early morning gardening, this being Juarez and being so close to the border, we wound up trekking across the border to the U.S. for shopping. So there you have it, probably the most adventurous part of the day was when we went out for Sushi in Juarez. It was certainly like no sushi I had ever seen. I had a banana roll which was actually pretty delicious and a “Texano roll.” You could tell it was Mexican sushi because like most things in Mexico they chucked the whole thing in the deep fryer before serving it. I suppose I should be pleased since it probably isn’t a good idea to eat raw fish this far from the ocean… but really? Deep fried and breaded sushi? Don’t get me wrong it was actually pretty good if you adjust your idea of what sushi is, I just cringe to think what anyone from Japan would say if they saw this bastardized version of one of their signature dishes.

Hiking in Gila

Yesterday I decided to get out of Juarez. I planned on going to Franklin Mountain State Park in El Paso to do a little hiking but

The opera house in Pinos Altos, which was my first "ghost town" experience!

the weather was cool, in the 80’s which practically frigid here, and my GPS said Gila Forest National Park was only 2 and a half hours away, so I kept going. 4 hours later I rolled into the park. The GPS neglected to calculate that although the speed limit for the last 35 miles is 55mph, that it is impossible to go any faster than 15 mph without flinging yourself over the edge of a cliff. So deciding that I was in favor of not dying a horrid albeit pine-scented death, I took the trek at a leisurely pace. The drive was absolutely gorgeous though! There were pine trees! There were trees! It was green! So my joy at seeing green things probably sounds a bit insane I’ve been in the middle of the desert for nearly 3 months, so seeing green trees and a light drizzling rain was an actual treat.   It was also in the 60’s up in the forest, so it was totally worth the  long drive.

On the long meandering drive up the mountain to the park, I stopped at a “Semi-Ghost Town.” I call it Semi-Ghost because there are still people living there and a lot of motels and cabin rental places, so it wasn’t really an abandoned town.  Adding a little to the authenticity was the fact that it was a Sunday afternoon so pretty much everything was closed.

After checking out the little town, I and my honda civic continued our trek up the mountain. I’m pretty pleased that my little hybrid has managed to tackle mountains, deserts, and monsoons over the last 3 months. If only it could handle the Himalaya

Misty mountains in the desert.

sized speed bumps Juarez has constructed at random intervals (aka the middle of the freeway), life would be perfect. The forest was stunningly beautiful. It was drizzling a little bit up in the mountains but rain is another thing I’ve started to miss out the in the desert. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed rain so much before, when we get 2 drops in Juarez I practically do a happy dance.

There were a couple of scenic overlooks on the road up to the cliff dwellings, so I pulled over and took a few shots. It is pretty amazing to be able to peer over a cliff and see and smell pine forests but also see the desert just beyond. There were also various cacti growing between the stands of pine trees. Having lived most of my life in Maryland, I’m not used all these cacti yet!

The real reason of course I have been dying to go to Gila is the cliff dwellings. They were definitely worth the trek. There were probably only about 10 people on the trail so it felt like I had the park to myself.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings

Apparently the people that lived in the dwellings spent 15 years building them, and then only lived there for 10 years before taking off for greener pastures, though where those greener pastures were no one is exactly sure. Because the park was pretty empty I had plenty of time to talk to the guide at the park, who apparently once wanted to join the Foreign Service as well. So despite the fact that my GPS lied to me about the total travel time, it was definitely worth the trek. I think next time though I will stay overnight, because apparently there is another ghost town out in them thar hills that I missed.

I’ve also reached another important milestone. Clearly I cross the border too much. I get stopped every time coming back into Mexico by CBP for my out of state plates. Yesterday when I crossed back in one of the guys glanced at me and said “she’s good, she’s with the consulate.” Yep, when CBP starts to know who you are, I think it is a clear sign your crossing to often. Perhaps Juarez costco and I will have to bond… I’ve stopped going to my local supermarket because I think I’ve denied visas to every cashier in the place. I do believe that costco is still safe though…

Life in Juarez take 2

I’d been told many times before I got to post that eventually almost everyone in the Foreign Service gets a housekeeper. I was sure I wasn’t going to be one of those people. I’m used to living in 450 feet of space, which takes about an hour to clean and I like

This is my dining room, and living room, with a view of the outside patio. Part of the 1400 square feet of doom that has defeated me and my plans of cleaning my own home.

cleaning. Well, after two and a half months of trying to keep 1400 square feet clean, I’m calling uncle. My entire house is tile, which is lovely except that I get cat fur tumbleweeds rolling across the floor. So this morning I met with a lady who works for several people at the consulate. Not only did she put up with my pathetic Spanish and pretend to understand me, she seems really nice and judging by her work at other people’s homes, does a great job. There are a lot of things about foreign service life that take some serious adjustment, but despite my earlier thoughts I think having someone to help out around the house isn’t one of them. I’m so relieved that I don’t have to spend every weekend cleaning anymore. Instead I can refocus my efforts on gardening. The bushes that were in the yard before I got here seem to be thriving… the grass not so much. All the plants I bought at Home Depot died pretty quick, but oddly enough the morning glory seeds I planted are thriving and starting to climb up the columns in my back yard.

Typical Saturday afternoon crossing the border. Behold the glory of the Sentri lane!

One of the other things I hadn’t anticipated was how expensive moving overseas and having a home would be. For the first time I’ve to buy things like extension cords for a lawn mower, a weed whacker, trash cans for 3 bath rooms, a rake, shovels, sheets for all the beds, ect.  There are a lot of things that you need for a home that you don’t need for a tiny little basement apartment. I have been taking advantage of the proximity to El Paso to get a lot of those things, since it is probably cheaper to buy them here then it will be in the future. That means that I’ve wound up crossing the border almost every weekend. One of the things that makes life on the border a lot easier is a SENTRI pass. The trusted traveler program lets me cruise right on through. The funny thing is that I have no problem getting out of Mexico in the U.S. It’s when I try to get back into Mexico that I have a problem. I get stopped every time going back in because of my Maryland plates. I guess that is pretty weird out here, so I get the third degree. Not that I mind, the CBP guys and gals are pretty nice, especially once they realize I work at the consulate and I’m just trying to get home. It also gives me a chance to practice my English one last time before heading back into Mexico.

Catching up!

It’s been a busy few weeks so I’ve sort of slacked off on the blogging. I’ll try to be better in the future! So in the past few weeks I’ve survived my first 4th of July party, obtained an open water dive certification (yes, in the middle of the desert), returned to White Sands for some sledding in 105 degree weather, attended a change of command ceremony at Fort Bliss, and adjudicated a lot of visas. The verdict on the sledding is that it is terribly fun, though it is much easier on the snow and next time we need to check the weather report before we decide to spend an afternoon frolicking in the hot sun. The 4th of July party was better than I expected. The 4th is the major representational event for most embassies and consulates overseas so it’s a working holiday for us.  The result is no one in the Foreign Service really seems to look forward to the 4th.  It is a big deal and we invite a lot of important members of the local community. I don’t have much to compare it to, since I’m in the first year of my first tour but I think like most things in Juarez, our party was a little different than those at other posts. It was held earlier for starters because of the Mexican elections and it had a county fair theme so there were games and cotton candy, which sort of set the mood for what I thought was a more relaxed and enjoyable event. I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of interesting people from the Juarez community and I even managed to get through the night with my limited Spanish ability, or at least the lovely people I inflicted my Spanish on were polite enough to pretend they understood me. We also actually got to have the 4th or in this case the 5th of July off, which was an added bonus.

In other representational related events news I had the opportunity to go with a group to the Change of Command ceremony at

All lined up for the review of the troops.

Fort Bliss. Not having a military background, I found it really interesting. It was also just another example of how different a

Foreign Service post this is. In most places I would guess that a significant chunk of the representational events aren’t us representing to another branch of the government. Fortunately it wasn’t a hot day, which is amazing given that it was southern Texas in the middle of July. I would have felt bad for the troops if it was 100 degrees of blazing heat as usual.

On the downside, anyone who has followed the news lately knows the violence in Juarez continues and has been getting worse. Most days it is really easy to ignore. I spend most of my time at home, in El Paso, or at the Consulate, with the occasional lunch, happy hour, or dinner outings thrown in. There was an incident at the mall across the consulate which is one of the places I do go quite a bit. It starts to become a little more real when it encroaches on my little corner of Juarez. Last week was the first time I felt unsafe, it didn’t last long but there are moments when it sneaks up on you. Despite the situation here, I can’t imagine a better group of people to be at post with and we do have a lot of fun.

Outside of work I’ve spent the last three weekends doing class room, pool, and open water sessions for an open water certification. About 8 years ago I went diving on the great barrier reef and had a blast. I meant to come back and get certified then but being a broke college student it wasn’t in the cards. I was hoping to get posted somewhere near water so I could finally

Near Balmorhea- this is the slightly greener part of the desert.

get certified… but well, here I am in Juarez with all of the sand and none of the beach. But lo and behold, there is scuba in the middle of the Chihuahua Desert! Last weekend I went up to Balmorhea State Park in Texas for the open water sessions. It’s a spring feed lake and there were some interesting puffer-like fish there, not quite as spectacular as the great barrier reef but I think I was a little spoiled by my first dive. I’m completely hooked though now and I love the irony of having obtained my cert in the desert. The idea was to get certified before my trip to Cancun in November, though in order good news it looks like I may have the opportunity to hit the water a little sooner. I found out today that I’m going to get to go to Guadalajara for a 3 week TDY in late September. Guadalajara was actually one of the higher ranked posts on my bid list, so I’m incredibly excited to go. It also has the added bonus of being a 40 minute flight from Puerto Vallarta, so hopefully there is some more diving in my near future!