I’ve traveled a fair amount in my years in Mexico. The culture and food vary greatly from area to area, as does the geography and climate. People often ask me about my favorite places and foods, so I’ve decided to write a post about some of my favorites.
Tlaquepaque is still in the lead. It is a quaint typically Mexican area only 20 minutes away from central Guadalajara. The Jardin Hidalgo, Calle independencia and Calle Juarez were my favorite haunts. Dia De Los Muertos is amazing. The best churros, rotisserie chicken and pizza are found here. The shops are quaint and ATMs are plentiful. But best of all, the locals are all friendly and there is always music in the air night and day. Uber and public transit are accessible, making commutes to Parque Mirador, Tonala, Zapopan, museums, art galleries and parks easy. Lots of day trips to smaller pueblos in Jalisco are most enjoyable.
I’m about to begin my third month here in Aguascalientes. I live in Las Flores, a neighborhood adjacent to the Centro Historico. People are friendly and I have found a wonderful church two blocks from where I’m staying. The best gorditas are two streets over. My favorite coffee shop, Buenos Aires Cafe, is close by. The woman who runs it is from Argentina and the food she prepares is outstanding. The best omelets are at Loncheria Fer, run by my friend Fernando. Day trips to Leon, Zacatecas and the three magic towns are great. There are museums, art galleries and churches to explore.
I spent two months this winter in San Ciro de Acosta in San Luis Potosi. This small town didn’t even have a bank. People are friendly and collectivos are available to Rio Verde, a larger town that even has two museums. Christmas celebrations in the plaza were most enjoyable. Day trips to other areas in the state as well as in Queretaro are best done by car, as buses and collectivos don’t go to many of them. I found the food very greasy as everything is fried. Finding fresh vegetables was difficult as beans, rice and tortillas were the norm to accompany the main course. I did find one place that made Chinese food, but it too was quite greasy and used frozen vegetables in their dishes.
Culiacan is probably the most dangerous city I’ve lived in here in Mexico. It’s also home to the best tamales and incredible bakeries. I go back there often as my Mexican family live there. The first school I taught at in Mexico is also here, and occasionally I go back to visit. Culiacan has some lovely parks and the main cathedral is beautiful. I also explored art galleries and museums when I lived there.
I first went to Mazatlan in 2010 and dreamed of retiring there at some point. I moved there in 2015 when I was still teaching. But after three years, it was time to move on. The quaintness is gone and the city has become far too touristy for me. But Mazatlan has the best beaches and the most beautiful sunsets, and I’ve been to quite a few beach towns along the west coast. When I lived in Guadalajara I even preferred Mazatlan to Puerto Vallarta. Carnaval is the third largest in the world. Fabulous concerts are found at the Angela Peralta Theater. Motorcycle Week and Semana Santa I can easily do without.
I think my favorite park is Chapultepec in Mexico City. It boasts a castle, a zoo, botanical gardens, boats and more. The city itself is much too large for my liking, but it does have so much to offer in terms of art galleries and museums. The pyramids in Teotihuacan are awesome and are a must for visitors. My least favorite place in this city is definitely the airport which desperately needs more than a face lift.
I was very disappointed in Rosarito in the Baja. A few years ago I had planned on spending the winter there. After one week of a very dirty beach and warnings of not to go out after dark because of the high crime rate, I headed back to Tijuana, another not so great place, and then found my way back to Guadalajara.
I also lived in Irapuato, Guanajuato for a few months. This is another area I wasn’t too fond of. Day trips to Leon and Guanajuato City were good escapes. There really wasn’t much to do in this town. Even the Centro are was disappointing.
Let’s end this post on a positive note. A ride on El Chepe in the Copper Canyon is the train ride of a lifetime. The spectacular views made this quite the experience. I opted for a five day tour with overnight stays in four towns along the way. I actually hope to do this again someday.
Mexico is one huge country and there is so much more I want to explore. My plan is to explore the Yucantan next winter. I also still want to go to Oaxaca, Chiapas, Morelia………the list is endless!
I’ll be honest. I’m still trying to find myself. Yes, I know that this expression is decades old. But so am I, and I still crave adventure and who knows what else. I have been so many different people throughout the years. Baby to child to teenager to adult to wife to mother to name just a few. Babysitter to bookkeeper to manager to business owner to counselor to social worker to motivational consultant to teacher to writer to fitness instructor to name just a few. But who am I really?
Many followers of my blog know me personally. However there are others from around the world who read my posts and have never met me in person. So this post is dedicated to you. Here is a glimpse of who I am as I travel through this journey of life in an attempt to find myself.
My name is Karen and I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Winnipeg is the capital city of the province and is smack dab in the middle of the prairies. It is infamous for the brutal winters and has justly earned the nickname of “Winterpeg.” Other than a brief few years in Oak Bluff, Manitoba I lived in Winnipeg all my life until November of 2010.
I still vividly recall the day I left. First stop was Grace Hospital to say goodbye to my daughter, who was a nurse there at the time. From there my son took me to the airport where another tearful goodbye transpired. I was on my way to my first ESL teaching job in Mexico. I had never been apart from my children for more than a couple of weeks at a time, and this was going to be a ten month separation. I cried all the way to Minneapolis and my first layover on the journey to Culiacan. And I must admit that I am still tearful as I don’t see my children often enough. I love them, I am so very proud of all their accomplishments and I miss them terribly. But we are all adults and we all have our own lives to lead.
I returned to Winnipeg in July of 2011 and halfheartedly began looking around for a job and a place to live. I also had legal issues to deal with as my divorce decree was nowhere in sight although the marriage had ended in January of 2009. And then I received the phone call.
Are you interested in coming back to Mexico? We have a job opening in our private school here in Irapuato. Really? Hmmmm, teaching in Mexico was to be a one year plan. But the Skype interview went well and a couple of weeks later I was on my way back to Mexico.
It is now February of 2018. And I have retired from teaching. I’m into my third year here in Mazatlan after a few years in Guadalajara. I have also discovered a new summer home in Leavenworth, Washington where I lead an active life including a fair amount of volunteer work. Yes, summer home. Mazatlan is far too hot in the summer.
I have published two self-help books. “When Glad Becomes Sad” deals with depression and anxiety. “Alive Again” deals with separation and divorce. I am currently working on a book of fiction and enjoying writing it immensely. I have contributed articles to books published by other authors, and hope to publish more of my own poems and short stories in the future.
When I’m not writing, my favorite pastime here in Mexico is attending music and dance performances. I enjoy traveling and meeting new people. I belong to a Red Hat group and I play Hand and Foot regularly. I spend hours walking along the malecon. I love the ocean. That is what influenced my decision to leave Guadalajara. I like to watch movies and am hopelessly addicted to Candy Crush. I also take hundreds of pictures with my smart phone. And I have more recently begun volunteering at a Christian mission. And as an aside to my friends in Leavenworth, yes I am still coloring.
I am forever indebted to former Tlaquepaque housemates Omar and Sean who encouraged me to begin writing a blog on WordPress. And I am flattered that so many people take the time to read my posts. And I now have the time to read other writers’ blogs.
Now that I am retired, my focus will be on my writing, especially my current work in progress. I have no idea what my next post will be about. I hadn’t anticipated this one until the words began to flow. So we’ll all be in suspense until the next one.
A memory showed up on my Facebook page today. Four years ago today I had just arrived in Tlaquepaque and had begun teaching at Culturlingua. One night after class I went to a bar called Otro Nivel with some other teachers. There was a fabulous Mexican band playing awesome English rock music from the 60s and the cerveza was 2 for 1. I live in Mazatlan now and that night at the bar still seems like yesterday although years have passed by.
Life is for living. There are so many adventures out there just waiting in the wings. Of course the hitch is that this involves change, and many people thrive on routine and the security that it provides. I’ve come to the conclusion that I thrive on change, not on routine. Otherwise I would never have arrived in Tlaquepaque in October of 2011.
In July of 2011 I returned to Winnipeg after teaching in Culiacan. I halfheartedly began searching for a job. But Mexico had stolen my heart, and I knew that I no longer wanted to call Winnipeg “home.” I received a job offer from a school in Irapuato and a month later I was on a plane headed for Leon.
I was excited to be back in Mexico although life in Irapuato was definitely different from life in Culiacan. A sleepy little pueblo where the highlight was the soccer stadium didn’t have much appeal. The school was a disaster as the actual job in no way, shape or form resembled the promises on the Skype interview. But my supervisor Pilar became a good friend. The last Saturday in September, Pilar and I were sipping cappuccinos at The Italian Coffee Company when my phone rang. I glanced at it briefly and Pilar asked who I knew in Mexico City, as that was the area code on the call display. I remarked that it must have been a wrong number or a telemarketer as I didn’t have that number stored in my contacts. My phone rang again a few minutes later and the same number showed up. Annoyed, I turned it off.
I returned home several hours later and turned my phone back on. That Mexico City number had called another four times! Intrigued, I decided to call that number. After all, what if it was an emergency or someone was dying and they were frantically calling my number in error? But it was no error. Instead it was a job offer.
Greg was the owner of Culturlingua in Tlaquepaque. A teacher had left unexpectedly and he was looking for another teacher. He’d seen my resume up on Dave’s ESL Cafe and had been calling me all day. I told him I needed some time to think about it. He gave me until later that evening. I hung up on him and tried calling Pilar but got voicemail.
And I pondered the situation. I was dissatisfied with my job. My housemates were less than desirable. The school had yet to provide me with promised health coverage. But the best was that they had not provided me with a contract either so there really was nothing tying me down to Irapuato. I called Greg back and accepted his offer. And I left a message for Pilar.
It was now after 8 pm and I had a lot to do. I had to pack and that was complicated by the fact that I had two heavy suitcases that I needed to somehow get down the stairs. Nate and Margie came to my rescue. They were teachers from Hawaii and were as disillusioned with the situation in Irapuato as I was. They agreed to meet me early in the morning and help me with my suitcases. I was so excited that night I could barely sleep!
Early the next morning before anyone in my house was up, Nate and Margie arrived and helped me with my suitcases. We had to walk a couple of blocks down the street until we found a taxi. I felt like I was fleeing a prison! Did I mention that the director of English at the school lived next door to me in the same house as Nate and Margie? He was pretty livid when he realized I was AWOL. But by then I was on a bus headed for Guadalajara. I should add that Nate and Margie made their own escape shortly thereafter.
I have never looked back. Moving to Tlaquepaque was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I have met some amazing people, have taught awesome students and have had incredible adventures.
My move here to Mazatlan was far less dramatic. I miss Guadalajara and the friends I have left behind. But I am drawn to the beach, to the calming azure waters and the smell of the salty sea air. And I know that more amazing people and incredible adventures await me here. Life is about living. Life is about change.
I arrived in Mexico City on a flight from Houston on November 2, 2010 and tentatively approached the Immigration area in the airport. My knowledge of “hola, adios and cerveza fria por favor” would not be of any great help here. I foolishly assumed that there would be someone here who spoke English. Consequently, I left the area without the highly coveted copy of my tourist visa. But that’s a whole other story for a different blog post.
Living in Culiacan that year was quite the experience. This is a city where hardly anyone speaks English. The principal at the school where I taught did not even speak English. Nor did the lady whose home I shared. Nor did the staff at the grocery stores or pharmacies or bakeries or convenience stores that I frequented. But it often made for some interesting purchases.
My next job found me in Irapuato, a city considerably smaller than Culiacan. Other than the other English teachers at the school, only a handful of people who spoke English. However I was unprepared for the animosity displayed by the locals because I was a gringa, especially that of the Mexican teachers at the school. They refused to make any attempt to understand English, and instead expected the English teachers to overnight become fluent in Spanish. The hilarious part was that the school provided us with Spanish classes, but they were taught by a gringa and not a native speaker. A total waste of time as she taught only vocabulary as she herself did not know the grammar.
My next home was, and still is, Tlaquepaque, a suburb of Guadalajara. For the most part, that first year I spent my time with other English teachers who were native speakers. And we usually made ourselves understood when traveling or shopping although our knowledge of Spanish was limited.
Flash ahead and I am now in my fifth year in Mexico. I am nowhere near fluent, but I am also well beyond survival. Duolingo has become one of my best friends and we spend hours together regularly. I can definitely empathize with the difficulties my students have in learning English. Learning a new language is not easy.
Spanish is a beautiful language. It has a unique melody of its own. Now, if it weren’t for all the irregular verbs and the strange rules regarding pronouns and………. Yikes! I’m starting to sound like my students!