Archive for the 'Travel' Category

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Viva Mexico!

A flower market in Mexico City

So I have to admit that I haven’t quite felt like I have been in Mexico. Juarez is definitely not the U.S. but it isn’t quite Mexico either. It is a bit of an amalgam so although I have lived in Mexico for almost 4 months now (where does the time go?!!), I still haven’t felt like I have really experienced Mexico. Part of that also has to do with the fact that Mexico is big, really big, and so I imagine that it is pretty diverse in terms of culture much like the U.S. Last weekend though I finally trekked down with one of my fellow Juarezident’s and A-100 classmate to Mexico City for a sort of a 148th Team Mexico reunion. We had a pretty good representation of the 148th’s team Mexico. Our class sent people to every post except Nogales and we had 148thers from Juarez, Mexico City, Merida, Nuevo Laredo, and Hermosillo rthis weekend! Mexico City was fantastic and incredibly different from Juarez. For starters our sushi was not deep fried and there were people out walking around the city. It was also a little disconcerting to see the Federales just being ordinary police, meaning wandering around in much smaller numbers and without their semi-automatic weapons out and ready at all times. Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying my time in Juarez but I’d forgotten how nice it was to just be able to walk around a normal city.

We started our weekend by walking around the Zocalo and tromping through a few of the markets in the city. Since the Mexican

Chile en nogada in honor of independence day

Independence day is next week the whole city was decorated for the celebration. Juarez unfortunately had to cancel the festivities because of the violence, though I have seen a few of the commerciantes out on the street corners selling flags and mustaches regardless. Interestingly enough I found that in Mexico City it was a lot easier to get by with English than in Juarez; I would have thought there would be more English speakers here given the proximity. I also saw my first mariachis! The two drunk guys with guitars that “serenaded” us at the local burrito shop last week in Juarez didn’t quite count for me. Since the city was decked out for the upcoming holiday I decided to embrace the spirit and try Chile en Nogada which is a seasonal specialty in honor of Independence day. It is a poblano pepper stuffed with beef mixed with raisins, apples, and walnuts and then covered with a walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds. The dish is has all the colors of the Mexican flag. It is an incredibly sweet dish. It was actually a little too sweet for me and I have a pretty healthy sweet tooth, but I was glad I tried it! Continue reading ‘Viva Mexico!’

El Otro Lado

Last weekend I took my first real vacation since joining the foreign service. My family has a summer home in the Adirondack Mountains about an hour and a half away from the Canadian border, so I went from one end of the country to the other. Despite a series of unfortunate events caused by Delta Airlines, I managed to have a lovely vacation. I hate to rant but after the abysmal experience I had with Delta if I can scare even one person off using that airline and save them the pain, then I’ve done my duty! After losing my bag and spending 3 days continually telling me that it would be delivered in a few hours, it finally turned up in Vermont. I flew in to JFK, I was flying out of JFK. If I’d been given the choice I’d have preferred to get it there. Instead they made me spend a day driving to BURLINGTON, VERMONT to get the bag, never mind the 9 times they told me they would

The Vermont Wildflower Farm billed as the "seediest place in Vermont"

deliver to me. To top it off the “lovely” customer service rep informed me I was basically out of luck and if I was truly blessed I would be reimbursed for the $30 worth of supplies I bought to shower and continually wash the 2 outfits I had with me. Never mind the money wasted on gas and the fact I spend 3/4 of my vacation waiting for a bag and trying to get in touch with Delta. The best part is if you try to call their complaint line you get “due to high call volume we can not take your call at this time.” I bet. Anyway that’s my story, I’ve sworn off Delta, proceed with caution when booking with them!

However, make lemonade right? So the impromptu trip to Vermont was not wasted. We visited a wild flower farm, a teddy bear factory, a vineyard and farm store for cheese. I found a pouch of wildflower seeds that are supposed to be specially selected to grow in the Southwest… we shall see if it can survive Juarez. To improve my mood I also acquired a cow-spotted bear for the bear factory. The drive to Burlington was a bit longer than it should have been because the bridge between Vermont and New York was washed out, which meant we had to take a car ferry! Which was pretty cool. It was funny being up at the other border, instead of Spanish everyone was speaking French and in place of a million Chihuahua plates there were a plethora of Quebec plates.

Inside the Main Street Ice Cream Parlor in Chestertown, it just oozes charm.

After reclaiming my luggage we trekked back to our cabin which is near a tiny town called Chester. Actually the Cabin itself is near a town called Horicon which is so tiny I don’t there are actually any businesses in it anymore and I don’t think it is even on the map. Comparatively Chester with its grocery store and 2 restaurants is the big city. My favorite place is a old fashioned soda fountain with a view of the mountains out the window.  It’s not a trip to the mountains without my yearly sundae! It was pretty much a low key weekend, spent visiting with family. My Aunt and Uncle have the cabin across from us, so it is a bit like the family ancestral stomping grounds. The cabin itself is over a 100 years old and until recently didn’t have such fabulous amenities like running water or at one point, a floor in the kitchen. Since it’s my home leave spot it’s nice to finally have a functional place. I’m sort of looking forward to home leave in about 2 years, it will be kind of fun to go from one border to the other. Oddly I’ve only been to Canada once. I think next summer I’m going to have to bring my passport and trek on up to Montreal, since it’s so close.

After all the hassle with Delta and the fact that it is a long trip up to upstate New York, I was glad to get back to Juarez. To

Sushi, Juarez style! Meaning deep-fried and featuring chipotle sauce, chili peppers, and bananas. It actually is really tasty.

celebrate a couple of friends and I went out to savor the delights of Juarez sushi. You know you are back in Mexico when you get jalapenos wrapped in your sushi and it’s topped with chipotle sauce!  We also seem to have made friends with the waiter at Sushi Express. When we walked in he asked us where the rest of our friends were. The music also seemed to change to “American friendly” meaning a lot of Lady Gaga once we arrived. Ah.. it’s good to be home. Back to work tomorrow!

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…

White Sands

While Juarez might not be the awesomest city in the world, it is near a lot of cool stuff that I’ve been dying to see. One of those is White Sands! I had planned to go about 2 weeks ago until I saw that it was 110 degrees out… I opted to go to Mesilla that weekend instead to check out the galleries and shops. Today the high was a more reasonable 90ish. I was so excited about seeing White Sands that when I spoke with my sister today I mentioned the trip. She asked “oh, so what’s there?”

“Um…. white sand.”

Silence. Okay,  so maybe the world isn’t as enthralled by rocks and dirt as I am but I did major in Geology and I stand by my verdict. This is a seriously cool place. The trip took a little over an hour. I started off by doing a 1 mile “nature walk” through the dunes and some of the interdune area. It is amazing how quiet it is out there and how blindingly white the sand is.

There is a nice drive that takes you to the heart of the sands, where there is just basically, heaps, and heaps of white sand. That’s where everyone sleds or golfs apparently. I spotted a golf ball in one of the piles of sand. During the drive at one point I noticed some of the sand was moving, or running to be precise. I pulled off and this gentleman obligingly stood still long enough for me to get a picture! I think this might be one of those places that I have to get back to, except next time with a sled and some sunblock. I did stop and play in the sand long enough to make a sand angel, I’ll post that picture in the gallery. I’d post it here but it is a little disturbing because I didn’t want to put my head in the sand, so it is a headless angel. So it may just be “white sand” but I thought it was pretty amazing.

The Road to Juarez Part II

I have arrived in El Paso! Tomorrow morning I’ll cross into Juarez bright and early. Sunday morning

Thanks to the ban on flash photography this is a bit blurry, but I think this captures some of the glory that is graceland!

I awoke bright and early to get a taste of Memphis “culture”. I started the day at Graceland which was fairly amazing. Amazing in the sense of “wow, I can’t believe how tacky this is.” Yes, all my hopes and dreams were fulfilled. It was just as I hoped. I think my personal favorite was the Jungle room which was covered in green shag carpet.
Continue reading ‘The Road to Juarez Part II’

The Road to Juarez

After 8 months of training I finally left DC yesterday. It’s amazing how quickly my months at FSI went by. I’m still in a bit of disbelief that I’m finally going to post, of course I’m also in a bit of a daze after 14+ hours of driving. I left late last night after having one final outing with some of my friends who are also heading off to post in the next few weeks. Before I left one of my friends gave me 6 different varieties of M & Ms, because she knew  that I like them but couldn’t remember which type was my favorite. It almost perfectly works out to an M & M bag per state. Since Texas is big I think perhaps I will have to do one in central time and the other in mountain time.

Delmonico Vineyard, located next to the train tracks but apparently axel grease does add a certain je ne sais quoi to their wine, because it was tragically drinkable.

I drove 330 miles last night and stopped in nowhere Virginia, AKA Marion, VA and followed that up with another 570 miles of driving to Memphis today. The idea was to get to Memphis quickly so tomorrow morning I can go to Graceland. I did make one stop on the road today. Last summer I was out in Oklahoma and visited a local winery. I was rewarded with the most abysmal tasting wine in the world. As a connoisseur of the ridiculous I had high hopes that Tennessee wine would surpass the vinegar of Oklahoma. So I pulled off at a random Vineyard on I-40. My heart was filled with joy when I saw it was right next to a set of train tracks. Tragically the wine was actually drinkable and I wound up buying a bottle of “Whisper Peach.” Ah, well there is still Texas and Arkansas ahead on my road trip, two other “renowned” wine-producing states, right?

I'm apparently in Elvis Country!

Thanks to the time zone change I managed to make it to Memphis by 7 which left me plenty of time to find BBQ! After surfing around online to see what looked good I found a place that was known not only for their food but their fleet of pink limos which they use to ferry people around to their hotels. So on the recommendation of google and Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives I headed over to Marlowe’s for some ribs. I don’t think I have ever been called “Sugar, gorgeous, or baby girl” so much before in my life. Just, wow… The ribs were quite tasty though and slathered in barbecue sauce.

Finally, after dinner I headed down to Beale Street to check out the scene and per a suggestion left in a comment by a Memphis native, to stop by Rum Boogie which was pretty happening since it was Saturday night and all. Being old and lame I only lasted an hour on Beale Street before I decided head back to the hotel but not before I snagging myself a crepe on the way back. I seriously hope that my HHE arrives

Beale Street on a Saturday night

with my treadmill very, very soon after I get to Juarez because I have not had much luck reigning in my inner foodie during this road trip. Tomorrow I’m embracing my inner tourist and heading to Graceland and then onward through Arkansas.

Un Viaje a Guatemala

So after having our first flight canceled due to snow in Atlanta of all places, I thought we were going to be good to go on Sunday. I was over at one of my fellow immersees apartment waiting for our 6am flight when another of our group called at 1am to let us know our flight had been delayed yet again and that we were going to miss our connecting flight. Apparently they hadn’t heard of road salt or something in Atlanta so the runways refroze overnight. Fueled by brilliant 1am logic we decided to cancel our flights and switch to a flight that went from DC to Chicago to Houston and then finally on to Guatemala. I never thought I would buy an international ticket 4 hours before the flight left and yet it is amazing how a week of snowapocalypse makes one desperate to escape the cold. Miraculously it worked and managed to be cheaper for me than our original flight. So after all the flight craziness we finally made it to Antigua. Continue reading ‘Un Viaje a Guatemala’