What the Fourth of July Means to Me, the Expat and Traveler

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Happy Fourth of July everyone! I am writing this from Mexico City, which most definitely does not celebrate the USA’s independence from Great Britain. Even if it did, it is pouring miserably at the moment. When it rains like this in Mexico City it just gets cold, and the damp chill might deter me from heading to the nearest bar serving red, white, and blue-dyed cerveza.

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At a Crossroads

It has been an interesting couple of weeks. As I “celebrate” eight months as a Mexican resident and six months as an English teacher, I also ponder a darker reality – I don’t know if I’m gonna make it down here.

I was mugged on Friday. At gunpoint, and literally just steps from my front door. It was a long day – three classes spread throughout the morning and afternoon, a trip to the mall to buy myself a new suit – much-needed, as six months of commuting by Mexico City public transport can really put your wardrobe through the ringer – and an early evening showing of “The Hangover Part 3.” I was in the mood for a laugh and the movie mostly fit the bill – especially the mid-credits “coda.”

It was 9:30 pm when it happened. There were still a good number of people out-and-about in my middle-class neighborhood of Letran Valle. The neighborhood Oxxo (mini-mart) had its usual long line of TGIF celebrants buying beer; the nearby taquería was bustling. My street, lined with trees and a mix of single-family and apartment-style dwellings, is just four blocks down from the Oxxo, and it was perfectly quiet that night. Too quiet, as it turned out.

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Rebounding Nicely

Almost two months ago I posted about the devastating Springs Fire, which seemingly destroyed much of the western flank of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. You can find my original post here.

I will keep this short. I simply wanted to update any concerned Loyal Readers that – for the most part – the area seems to be rebounding nicely. According to local park rangers, all trails have been reopened, and a volunteer “work weekend” helped put the finishing touches on any trail work projects. This is terrific news, of course, which goes without saying. Even more terrific, however, is the speed with which the debris was cleared, the damage assessed, and the trails rebuilt. Quite a contrast when compared to the Station Fire (July 2009) devastation of the nearby San Gabriel Mountains. The burn area was of similar size, but several trail closures are still in affect four years later. (In all fairness, the San Gabriel Wilderness features more rugged terrain.)

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A Weekend in Pachuca

“We should go to Pachuca for the weekend,” Pamela suggested, perhaps in an effort to distract me from the fact that I had been staring at her chest for five minutes straight. “Huh?” I asked, perplexed. “Where is that?” Pamela explained that Pachuca was the capital of Hidalgo State, just 90 minutes by bus from Mexico City, and that it was in Pachuca that an exhibit of controversial Fernando Botero paintings was on display through mid-June. Having been floored by the Botero Museum in Bogotá, my interest was immediately piqued.

The above conversation occurred a few weeks ago, Loyal Reader. I normally pride myself on my geek-level knowledge of geography and places of interest, so color me perplexed that I knew little-to-nothing about Pachuca. Pamela suggested leaving there on a Saturday morning, arriving midday, and spending the remainder of the day (and an overnight) in the city and visiting the Prismas Basalticos that Sunday. The name suggested that los prismas would be similar to the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, or at least to the Devil’s Postpile near Mammoth Lakes, California. Still, how is it that I had never heard of these basalt “prisms,” either? Quick research revealed that there weren’t any hostels in Pachuca, but when I discovered that I had enough hotel points for a free night’s lodging in the city center, the deal was sealed.

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By Special Request: Comparing Mexico City with Los Angeles

I was asked by my friend Chris to compare differences between Los Angeles – my old home – and Mexico City – my new home. A worthy challenge, and an honor – my first blog request!  (Alas, it took me so long to write this up that Chris – a longtime LA resident – finally just came down here to see for himself. Better late than never?)

Before I comment on the differences – of which there are several – I want to point out a few similarities as well. You probably already know that of LA’s roughly 40% Hispanic population, the majority is of Mexican descent. Most of those Mexican-Americans will, if asked, claim to have at least one living relative in Mexico City. As such, “Mexican” food in LA is often similar to what you’ll find on offer in your typical Mexico City restaurant. Sure, no one eats chapulines in LA – and nor do people eat burritos in Mexico City – but tacos al pastor at a low-budget Van Nuys taquería, for instance, are identical to the same-named dish at half-a-dozen quick-service restaurants in my own Mexico City neighborhood. Mole, a delectable spicy chocolate sauce that can adorn baked chicken or turkey, is a regional specialty that comes from Puebla, just two hours from Mexico City by road. I have enjoyed it in both LA and Mexico City (not to mention Puebla), and I couldn’t tell the difference.

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