One Sentence on Each Country

Earlier this fall, the New York Times ran a contest that was right up my alley. The famous NYC daily took applications for a single travel writer who would spend 52 weeks – the entirety of 2018 – traveling around the world, spending seven days apiece in each of the newspaper’s 52 places to visit in 2017.

The application process was easy enough; applicants had to provide links to their social media accounts and to write a 500-word essay, but the competition was ridiculous. The job opening was posted for roughly 14 days; the paper received 3,100 applications in the first 72 hours alone!

I threw my proverbial hat into the ring, even though I had already visited many of the destinations in question, such as Stockholm and Puerto Escondido. Considering the competition, I know that I – along with every other applicant, for that matter – face an uphill battle towards job acceptance, but I would definitely savor the opportunity and believe that I can excel in the role.

In my essay, I wrote about how my having already visited 70 countries makes me the ideal candidate because, having traveled internationally every year since 2000 except 2014 and 2015, I am not only a seasoned traveler but a tireless one as well.

Will I get the job? Probably not. But the application process inspired to think back upon some of the places I have traveled to. I compiled a country-by-country list, and thought I would share it with you, Loyal Reader. Without further ado – and taking the definition of “run-on sentence” to new levels – here is one sentence on each country that I have visited:

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Mexico on My Mind

Mother Nature has been angry lately. Flooding in Nepal, Bangladesh, and East India. Hurricanes Harvey, Katia, Irma, José, and Maria. Wildfires in California, Montana, Wyoming, and the Pacific Northwest. And no fewer than three earthquakes – one as recent as this morning – to strike Mexico in just 16 days.

It is Mexico, my one-time home for almost two wonderful years, about which I am especially worried.

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The Walkability of Mexico City

You probably know that the entirety of Mexico City’s Centro Histórico is walkable, with a concrete grid of sidewalks connecting every inch of the city’s storied, teeming humanity between Lázaro Cárdenas (Eje Central) in the west, Anillo de Circunvalación in the east, Granaditas (Eje 1 Norte) in the north, and José María Izazaga in the south. If that isn’t enough, no fewer than 10 metro stations, one metrobús route, and a cable-powered trolebús (not to mention countless peseros) pass through those same storied streets, ferrying commuters hither and yon.

Wider, better-maintained sidewalks link the Centro Histórico with the city’s green lung, Bosque de Chapultepec, via Palacio de Bellas Artes and Paseo de Reforma, the city’s grandest thoroughfare. Plans are underway to build a seventh metrobús line that will supposedly run along Reforma, but since public transportation improvements move at a caracol’s pace in CDMX, I will believe it when I see it.

My casual stroll this past February along the Ferrocarril de Cuernavaca, a railway line-turned-walking and cycling path, prompted me to wax further nostalgic about the walkability of Mexico City in general…not just in the aforementioned city center area, but in outlying sections of the city as well. Traffic congestion has become such a problem that a recent CNN Money article named the city as having the second-worst traffic on the planet! To me, any chance to walk, rather than drive, is a welcome one.

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A Day Trip to Dolores Hidalgo

I recently blogged about my four-day trip to San Miguel de Allende, a small colonial city a few hours north of Mexico City. San Miguel, which for decades has attracted older Americans and Canadians – many of them retirees – instantly shot towards the top of my list of favorite places in all of Mexico.

Many foreigners own vacation homes in San Miguel, so the city is not cheap, in comparison with other highland cities and towns in Mexico. As such, many backpackers visit it as a day trip from either Querétaro or Guanajuato, larger cities that are just an hour away by bus. I recommend staying longer, not just because San Miguel casts an enchanting spell, but also because the city itself makes a great base for day trips to various points of interest.

I spent several hours day tripping from San Miguel to Dolores Hidalgo, a Pueblo Mágico (magic town) and the one-time residence of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a not-so-humble priest who lived here when he kick-started the Mexican Revolution (one of several revolutions in Mexico’s turbulent history, but, alas, the ultimate one) against Spanish rule. I suspect that most visitors hit up the Museo Casa de Hidalgo, the house-turned-history museum about Hidalgo’s life and times, and then leave. But while a far cry from being the most exciting Mexican town, Dolores Hidalgo is a pleasant place and deserves a bit more exploration than just the museum.

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Four Days in San Miguel de Allende

The colonial cities and towns of Mexico, with their leafy public squares, Baroque churches, vibrant markets, and colorful architecture are quite special. Oaxaca, Querétaro, Guanajuato, even much bigger Guadalajara…all are worth visiting. For years, the small city of San Miguel de Allende, acclaimed by countless travel writers as among the very best, alluded me. One planned visit was canceled after I caught the flu. Another was aborted following a schedule change at work. But this past March, I finally made it to San Miguel de Allende…

…and it was worth the wait.

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A Sunday on Doll Island

I had the opportunity, during my recent February trip to Mexico City, to make a return visit to Xochimilco, the canal district and delegación that has much to offer visitors and Chilangos both. Xochimilco is most famous for its canals, tranquil (albeit polluted) waterways that zig-zag through largely agricultural acreage. This was my fourth or fifth trip to Xochimilco, but rather than take the tren ligero (light rail train) to the market-church-and-canal trifecta that I call Xochimilco Town, I opted for a longer, spookier trip. My destination: Doll Island.

La Isla de las Muñecas (Doll Island) is a small island in a remote section of Xochimilco’s waterways that, as its name suggests, is home to children’s dolls. Hundreds of them. Decaying.

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A Reunion of Amigos

Q: What do an entrepreneur, a human resources executive, a high school English teacher, a middle school history and science teacher, and a graduate student have in common?

A: They live in Mexico City, and they are my friends.

My long-awaited (for me, at least) return to “CDMX” was a resounding success. I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to see, nor was I able to hit up every one of my former stomping grounds, but on the whole, I was able to stroll through some of my favorite neighborhoods and spend time with old friends – even if it was just for a quick drink.

Would you like to meet them? (Apologies in advance to mis amigos for posting these pics – although I don’t think the content is anything too compromising.)

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Onward and Upward: Four Years of Blogging

November has, thus far, been rife with disappointment. On a personal level, I have slowly been making peace with my mother’s passing, less than two months ago, while weathering a relationship break-up that felt like a sucker punch. Regarding the former, it took several weeks to even register the fact that my mom was gone. As for the latter, I’ve been trying to assess what I must have done wrong, but am slowly coming to the conclusion that I will never know for sure. All I can say is that I haven’t been sleeping well.

On the world stage – and for the second occurrence in my lifetime – the better candidate for the United States Presidency won the popular vote but lost the election. And the other day, I logged onto social media to learn that one of my favorite mood poets, Leonard Cohen, had passed away at age 82.

At times like these, I tend towards the melancholy. I spent much of yesterday doing some archiving and came across a few blog posts from 2013. I realized that it was Election Day, 2012, when I moved to Mexico City and established gringopotpourri.com. My blog has changed a lot over the years. For one thing, the writing is better now than it was then. Darker, perhaps, but also better. The regionality of the content has also shifted from being mostly Mexico-focused to being largely Tennessee-focused.

To “celebrate” my blog’s four-year anniversary, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite posts for you, along with comments on how those posts either came to be or how they hold up today. And as always: Thanks for reading!

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Portrait of a Neighborhood: Pedregal

The next Mexico City neighborhood that I have decided to profile lies in the south of the city, beyond the reach of the subway. It is a ritzy area of palacial homes, double-decker shopping malls, Aztec ruins, desert gardens, and some of the worst traffic in the city.

Pedregal (full name: Jardines del Pedregal – “Rocky Gardens” en inglés) is an urbanization of land that sits immediately north of Periférico Sur and west of Avenida de los Insurgentes, in the shadow of Picacho Ajusco, the city’s 3,986-meter (13,077-foot) mountain. Although I have grown to not just like but love Pedregal, its sprawling, plus-sized colonia, filled with diesel-belching buses that drive past gated private residences is not for everyone.

la-esperanza-de-maria-y-periferico-sur-1

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Urban Graffiti around the World

I spent part of last Saturday afternoon walking around downtown Knoxville. It was a perfect summer day, with non-threatening clouds and a gentle breeze. As I headed from Gay Street towards Market Square, one block away, I passed an alley that travels between the two…and did a double take.

Graffiti, alive with color, adorned both sides of this urban alley, and a dozen or so tourists were snapping pictures. When in Rome, the saying goes…and so I did.

Graffiti Alley Knoxville 1

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