February 22, 2017

Part 2: Five Skills Every Foreigner Should Master While Living in Mexico City

This is Part 2 of a 5 Part series...

#1 Interpersonal Communication Skills (see post below)

#2 Risk Management
Here we refer to honing your driving skills.  Well, actually, in Mexico City, my best advice related to driving is...don’t.  Just don’t.  It’s actually quite difficult to accurately communicate just how crazy the driving is here.  If you can imagine sands through an hour glass...and each grain of sand represents a car...and every car is hell bent on getting through that intersection before everyone else  - well then, I have transported you here. This is where driving rules are apparently overrated and the horn reigns almighty.  

What adds to this joy is the fact that, by some accounts, Mexico City is ranked #1 for the world's worst traffic.  Link

A favorite observation while driving in heavy traffic on a road with three lanes moving in the same direction, is when the vehicle in the furthest most right lane decides to floor it and make a left hand turn cutting off, and in front of, all other lanes.  This of course induces sheer panic and terror for all in the vicinity. What is most amazing...the locals hardly flinch at this type of offense. I, on the other hand, close my eyes and pray, scream, and/or contract whiplash from diving onto the floor of the vehicle.

I also enjoyed the time when my Uber driver missed a turn and rather than going around the block, threw the car in reverse and floored it past heavy oncoming traffic for about 3/4 of a mile.  As I exited the car I gave the driver a bit of side eye - he laughed, threw his hands up and said “Mexican drivers!!”  It’s fun to exit a car in a wave of nausea.  

My neighbor told me her Uber driver fell asleep today with the car moving while driving in heavy traffic.  I won’t share her exact sentiments but let’s just say she kindly woke him up and asked him to pull over to let her out at the next corner.

So managing risk is essential in Mexico City.  While in a moving vehicle, consider blindfolds and earplugs and be prepared to hold your breath the entire trip.

Complete hats off to the locals and to my foreign friends who drive here - you all deserve superhero status!

Stay tuned for Part 3...Minimizing Distractions!

February 15, 2017

Part 1: Five Skills Every Foreigner Should Master While Living in Mexico City

This is Part 1 of a 5 Part series...

If you have ever lived in a foreign country you know there are certain survival skills that will contribute to your overall health, well-being and sanity.  Here I present those that apply to Mexico City.

#1 Interpersonal Communication Skills  aka  Expressing Ideas
This is most commonly known as learning the local language.  Now I’ve already talked in recent posts about my limited linguistic depth related to speaking Español. I’m not sure I have the “language chip”, (taking a line from our good friend, David Telepak), although I strive to improve and continue to wrangle with it daily.

What is most important here is to cultivate your sense of humor and to rely on it often.  I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve tried to express myself in what I thought was Spanish - only to have a group of store employees burst out laughing then turn and walk away with shaking heads.  Thick skin is a requisite. 

It’s also important to know that some Spanish words have an undercover meaning.  Take for example, the word ahorita.  Ahora means "now", and ahorita means "right now".  But here in Mexico, what ahorita reeeeally means is:  maybe one day...but definitely not right now. 

For example, if a repairman says “I will fix the pipe explosion that is flooding your apartment ahorita”...expect to see him in a week to 10 days.

If you are without a smartphone or any sort of Internet translation device - the only fall back position is to charade it out.  One thing I know for sure, the game of charades is not a common entertainment pastime in Mexico.  

One day I was lost searching for a bowling alley to meet friends, without my phone.  Luckily I found a group of people nearby and stopped to ask for help.  I realized I didn’t know the words for “bowling alley” and therefore had no option but to charade it out.  And really, to properly represent the action of bowling a bowling ball, there is no choice but to act the whole thing out - the proper stance, the wind up, the back swing, taking the required 4 steps, the ball release in a crouching stance and then of course at the end, the massive hand and arm gestures with a "POOOOOOOOSH" sound effect that represents the ball striking and bowling pins flying. As I concluded with this theatric ten-pin portrayal, I looked with eager anticipation at my audience.  Aaaaaaand...nothing.  I got nothing.  The non-reaction.  Blank stares.  Nada. 

I mean, come on...I’d vote for the falling down laughing then turning and walking away reaction vs. the null set.  

Imagine trying to smoothly walk away with dignity from this scenario.  You can’t.  


The elusive bowling alley, finally found, bruised ego in tact... And note:  Bowling was actually spelled in English!!

Stay tuned for Part 2...Managing Risk!

February 8, 2017

The Mexico Butterfly Migration - A truly magical experience

It took us roughly 11,900 steps uphill to find them.  The last 1,700 of these steps were made in silence as we honored the large sign that politely asked for "Silencio, por favor".  We didn't quite know what to expect but we were rife with anticipation and determined to find them.  At the top of the mountain, there they were...the Butterflies.

Each year millions of monarch butterflies (mariposas monarca) make a hefty trek, to the tune of about 2,500 miles, from Canada to the midlands of Mexico. How they find the same spot to huddle up each year from early November to mid March remains a mystery. 

So when we set out to see these winged beauties, I imagined a large open field or maybe an enormous cage-like sanctuary with butterflies filling the air.  What we found was much more interesting and extraordinary.   

For starters...this experience requires an uphill mountain ascent.  It took us a little more than an hour by foot, horseback is an option as well. Hundreds of people of all ages joined the expedition...some of the more courageous in high heels, I might add.

When we arrived at the nesting spot - nothing to see here!  We were surrounded by huge evergreen trees covered with drooping branches and dead leaves. Not a single winged creature in flight.  I finally turned to my friends and offered 10 pesos to the first person to spot a butterfly as we started to think this adventure was a bust.  A trail guide nearby witnessed this exchange and gave us the silent, "just be patient", gesture with her hands...and so we waited.  

But as we waited, we looked closer and realized these huge trees with weighted, bending branches were actually covered with colossal clusters of butterflies. In the cold, they nestled together, in their grey withered leaf disguise.

After 20 minutes, the sun came out, the butterflies warmed up...and the trees turned to beautiful monarch brown...

And then they took to flight...

We were fortunate to see these beautiful creatures take to the skies.  Many a butterfly-seeker have made the trek on a coldish day, only to see drooping branches of dead leaves.  

The Monarch Butterfly Dress by Luly Yang Couture  Source Link
(Stunning fashion, particularly The Monarch Look collection)

If you are considering exploring the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, or enjoying the blog, please share a question or comment below!

February 1, 2017

Running a 10K Through the Heart of Mexico City

Last summer Steve got the bug to run the Boston Marathon and asked if I had interest in joining him in August at a qualifying race in Santa Rosa, CA.  Of course I was interested and if he was going to run the Marathon - I would run the 1/2 Marathon in Santa Rosa the same day.  After all the great "at altitude" training we were doing - surely it would be a walk, or run, in the park on race day.  And so the training began...

I entered a 10k (6.1 mile) race half way through my training to find my "race legs" again - it had been 6 years since either of us had entered a race.  This race was held in the heart of Mexico City and started at the Angel of Independence - the iconic image of Mexico City and also ran past many of the city's historic treasures.  It was quite fantastic - I highly recommend!  With an early 6 a.m. start, I figured finishing a race by 7 a.m. would not be a bad start to a Saturday.  

The beautiful Angel at the start line...

Now I must come clean, the reeaaaal reason I entered the race was to get the t-shirt. Everyone who has run in any sort of race knows you typically get a commemorative race t-shirt the day before the race at packet pick-up along with your bib number and racing chip.  Let's be honest, these shirts can be very hit or miss from a design standpoint.  Some look as if they were designed in the dark and are down right ugly - my beige shirt with a hand drawn stick figure from the Sweetwater 5K comes to mind.  
But in Mexico City, race t-shirts are a piece of running gear to behold.  All are made with microfiber wicking technology in cool colors and great design - something you'd be proud to take home to your mother, and wear again and again.

Here's the rub...and it's a fairly sweet rub, at that. In the US, most racers subscribe to the notion that it's bad luck to wear the race t-shirt during the race.  If you're wearing the shirt and you fall and break an ankle and cannot finish - you technically  can't wear the shirt ever again, because you didn't officially finish the race.  And, well, it's just generally bad luck and often not a good idea to wear something brand new on race day. Side note:  if you have fallen victim to this fashion felony - carry on - I'm sure many reading this have proven this theory wrong. I happen to fall into the "don't jinx yourself" category as I need all the help I can get on race day.  

So here I am at the start line of the race and one of these things is not like the others. It's me...not wearing the darn shirt!  Mexicans clearly feel differently about the race day t-shirt wearing debate.

It's often comforting to make small talk with at least one person standing near you at the start line - it eases the tension and is a good way to pass the time while waiting for the start gun to go off.  So I struck up a conversation with a very nice Mexican young man standing next to me who quickly realized I was a native English speaker. He was overjoyed with this perfect opportunity to practice his English - and practice he did!  I was generally happy to oblige and so we chatted for a few minutes in very broken English and Spanish. All was good - I was learning a few new phrases in Español at 5:59 a.m.  The gun went off and I turned my focus to the personal record I was hoping to run.  But then I realized as we started to run - this guy was still interested in carrying on a full conversation...  "Where are you from?", "What brought you to Mexico City?", "Would you like a PowerBar?"...on and on.  I'm all up practicing my Spanish, and heaven knows I need it, but Dude!  We're racing!!!  I decided to quickly make my move, smiled and shouted a hearty "buena suerte!! then dove head first into the sea of orange...

Received a bonus t-shirt at the finish line!!

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