I’m sure you’ve all been keeping track, but this is officially the 100th blog entry for Uncovering Mexico (it only took a year to get here).
I’m a sucker for commemorating milestones and also a compulsive list-maker (as a child I faithfully recorded my top 10 favorite songs every week).
So, I present a kind of best/worst list for our first year-and-a-half in Mexico, compiled by me and my wife (and sometimes photographer) Nancy Flores.
As is fitting, we begin with the food.
1)White fish in parsley sauce at the Primer Piso restaurant in Patzcuaro, overlooking the Zocalo. Most heavenly culinary moment in Mexico, and the atmosphere’s not bad either. (Followed closely by the same dish at Villa Casona, our favorite restaurant in Mexico City.)
2)Carnitas in Cotija, Michoacan. This wasn’t the healthiest meal, but the deep fried pork was among the tastiest. Also qualifies as the strangest. It was at a breakfast with the entire police force of Cotija. My wife Nancy and I were the only non-cops or non-elected officials at the long, picnic-style tables. The scene was surreal, but the carnitas, fried up by a local woman, were delectable.
3)Hamburgers in Cerritos, San Luis Potosi. It’s hard to describe how good the hamburgers made by Mexican street vendors are, and the burgers in this small town in northern Mexico were the best. The town was one of a legion in an area nearly emptied by immigration to the U.S. Souped up cars with American license plates zipped around the central plaza, where we found “Hamburguesas Gigantes,” massive burgers topped with ham, three kinds of cheese, and a heaping of mayonnaise. Our friends from home think we’re crazy when we tell them about Mexican street burgers. Believe us. They are awesome.
The Motel Ojo de Agua in Juan Aldama, Zacatecas. This was actually our fourth choice in this rough and tumble town in northern Zacatecas, near a Mennonite community we were profiling. The first three hotels fell through when we asked about parking our rental car. All the hotels only had street parking and when we asked if it was safe to park there, all three places told us no, it wasn’t. At least they were honest. We ended up at this highway motel because of the parking in the back. It turned out to be a hotel/bus station and every hour or so a bus load of hungry passengers would pile in. No toilet seats, a faulty lock and a 13-inch TV that got one channel were strikes against.
The next night we went to the Hotel Emporio in Zacatecas City, which made up for the Ojo de Agua. The amazing location, lush comforters and balcony views of Zacatecas’s spectacular cathedral made this place stand out.
On a cold, January Saturday night, I found myself in a legal whorehouse filled with shivering transvestites just outside of Saltillo, Coahuila. The border state had just legalized gay civil unions and I was on a nocturnal excursion with some members of a local gay rights group to talk to folks about the new law. The transvestite prostitutes told horrible tales of being attacked and raped and while they were happy about the new law, it was hard to see how it would improve their grim realities.
Hands down it’s Guanajuato, the otherwordly colonial city in central Mexico. We had heard the talk, but this place surpassed all the hype. With narrow, European-style streets, underground tunnels that funnel car traffic out of downtown, and a booming university, Guanajuato feels like no other place in Mexico.
Most Unsettling Moment
Along the Mexico/Guatemala border, we trekked across abandoned railroad tracks with members of Grupo Beta, a governmental group that helps migrants. The tracks were a well-worn path for Central American migrants entering Mexico on the way to the U.S. They were also home to bands of thieves who preyed on the migrants, mostly members of the violent Central American Mara Salvatrucha gangs. As we walked the tracks, we would periodically see groups of men in the distance, not knowing if they were gang members or not. Seeing the uniforms of the Grupo Beta guys, they would scurry into the underbrush. Still, we felt quite vulnerable on that isolated stretch of tracks.