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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Then and Now

Time flies when you’re having fun. A few weeks I realized I’d been living in Mexico City for six months. I have rarely regretted my decision to move down here – and you’ll be happy to hear that I renewed my lease for another six months – but my time here has been eye-opening in a few ways. Care to take a look?

(Just a few) Things I know now that I didn’t know six months ago:

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Where am I #1

Greetings, Loyal Reader. I thought I’d start a GringoPotpourri photo contest of sorts. From time to time I’ll post pics of your favorite gringo for you to guess where I am on the planet. I could be in Mexico, I could be at Yosemite, I could be in an ocean somewhere. I am looking for a city, state (if relevant), country and monument or wonder name (for example: Eiffel Tower, Paris, France or Yellowstone National Park, USA). Be as specific as you want.

I hope you’ll log in to WordPress with your guesses. The first pic, posted below, is pretty easy (I think)…but they WILL get harder. There aren’t any prizes – at least not yet – besides the satisfaction of guessing correctly. Still…don’t be shy.

Good luck! 🙂

 

whereami1

One of My Favorite Places in the World: Sycamore Canyon

I love hiking, wildlife, and natural beauty. As such, I was saddened, ten days or so ago, to learn that one of my favorite places in the world, the western corridor of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, was essentially going up in smoke, as an early-season wildfire – most likely caused by a carelessly-discarded cigarette, the dry Santa Ana Winds, and above-average temperatures – swept through the mountains.

If you don’t know the area of which I speak, the Santa Monica Mountains extend roughly 60 miles from east to west. They bisect Los Angeles in two – the famous Hollywood Hills are actually the Santa Monica Mountains – but most of the range runs along the Pacific Coast, from Santa Monica to Point Mugu, west of Malibu. A 65-mile hiking, biking, and equestrian trail, appropriately-named the Backbone Trail, traverses the most rugged “spine” of the mountains, passing film sites and archaeological ruins en route. The Chumash Indians called these mountains home as far back as 7,000 years ago, and shared the land with mountain lions, bobcats, and red foxes, all of whom roam free.

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¡Viva Colombia! Final Thoughts…Until Next Time

Hello again, Loyal Reader. The month of April flew by in no time; I have some blog entries to catch up on. If all goes well, I’ll be posting twice-weekly for at least a little while, to add more content to GringoPotpourri and to keep my rabid fans sated. 🙂

I have finally made some sense of my six memory cards worth of Colombia pics. Something like 5,000 images, all told. Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook can see a sampling of roughly 100 pics from Bogotá, Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Ciudad Perdida, but I’ve also posted a few more pics below. First, though: some final thoughts and observations about Colombia, no longer Gran Colombia in name but one of the grandest places I’ve yet visited.

Breaking it down (and in no particular order of importance):

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Colombia – The Caribbean Coast

I have been home for six days now, but I suspect it’ll be another six weeks, months even, before I’m able to stop thinking about Colombia’s Caribbean Coast.

Pamela and I left Bogotá pleasantly surprised by our time there, both wishing we had a couple more days in the capital but also ready to explore a new region of the country. A 90-minute flight (preferable to a 12-hour bus ride, you had better believe it!) on South America’s oldest airline, Avianca, took us to CTG, aka Cartagena de Indias. The door to the plane opened and so much humidity overtook the plane it was as if a wall collapsed upon us. Yep, definitely different from Bogotá!

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Colombia – First Impressions and General Observations about Bogotá

¡Hola! I am writing this from my hostel in Bogotá as I nurse my fourth beer of the evening – Cerveza Poker, and man is it going down smoothly – whilst reflecting on my four great days in Colombia’s massive capital city.

Colombia’s turbulent modern history began with it being perhaps one-fifth, geographically, of a mega-country of the same name following the region’s liberation from Spain in 1870. (If your knowledge of history is sketchy, the rest of “Colombia” included Panama, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia.) Much of Greater Colombia’s destiny was established in Bogotá, one of the oldest cities in the Americas. The city has remained an important player on the Latin American scene, and has weathered a few turbulent decades marked by presidential assassination, a nasty drug war, and paramilitary conflict with FARC and other guerilla groups to once again be a continental hot spot of culture and dining. And the tap water is potable!

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New Year’s Travel Resolution #1

It is mid-March, and Easter is upon us. Technically, spring is just around the corner, although to some it already feels like summer. Others, however, still feel the mercilessness of winter. (San Fernando Valley temps in LA this week are in the low 90’s, yet the Midwest was hit by near-record-setting blizzards just last week.)

What does this mean? It means that many in Latin America and Catholic Europe are preparing for Semana Santa (Holy Week). Antigua, Guatemala and San Salvador, El Salvador are just two (very different) cities in Central America renowned for their Semana Santa festivities, which typically include elaborate processions through the streets (and over alfombras – carpets – of moist sawdust and flowers), from church to church in re-enactment of the crucifixion, burial, and, yes, resurrection of Christ. In my own city, the sprawling barrio of Iztapalapa is the venue for an annual Passion Play, although it is said to be one of Mexico City’s most dangerous neighborhoods and I haven’t yet built up the courage to venture there with my DSLR and take photos. Across the ocean, the faithful of Seville, Spain and other cities in Andalucía perform similar processions; I was there in 2011 but alas, the parades were rained out and that leg of the trip was generally unmemorable. Further abroad still, the Cardinals of Vatican City even elected a new pope to ring in the resurrection!

What does this mean for me? I, like many other Latinos (I guess I’m Latin by proxy, mas-o-menos), will be traveling. You may recall, Loyal Reader, that I mentioned in my Looking Forward and Back – Part Two blog that I wished to take advantage of my time here to explore destinations relatively close to Mexico. Well, I’m not sure if this counts as “close,” seeing as it is a four-hour flight…but then again, flying there from the U.S. is at least six hours by plane, so I’m saving a few hours on airplanes and am counting it anyway. Where’s that, you ask?

I am going to Colombia!

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