Sunday, October 25, 2009

Summer Travel (playing catch-up)

The summer started out sort of depressing. I had spent almost a year going back & forth to San Francisco. What a wonderful town to have to work in! Wonderful restaurants, wine bars, things to do if I was fortunate enough to have a two week stint and get to spend a weekend there. I was able to visit Sonoma several times, discovered Carneros (first wine area above SF, top of the Bay), hiked in Yosemite, went down to Monterey, visited Muir Woods. The people I worked with were not only hard workers, but fun to work with and often would go out for dinner or drinks. Alas, that assignment ended in early May. Then...nothing (travel-wise). And, I DO like to travel.

What is it about the travel? I used to hate to fly, now I'm OK with it. Something about several hours of being quiet, reading a book, maybe watching a movie; it's pretty relaxing, you don't have to deal with any issues/problems, the whole trip is in front of you. For now, staying in a hotel, where someone makes your bed and cleans the bathroom every day, is heaven. No dog hair all over the carpet that you just can't get to for vacuuming until the weekend. In the meantime, you gotta look at it every time you come in the house, too tired to lug that vacuum down the stairs, then back up. No worry about emptying the dishwasher (filling the dishwasher, you know, is easy--one dish at a time; it's the emptying that takes a while!). You don't have to grocery shop or cook and clean up--you just go out to dinner. Travel does sometimes make it hard to eat well/healthy. (solved that little problem recently, tho, with the purchase of a small, collapsible 6-pack cooler).

At the end of July, my boss calls and says: "Do you speak Spanish?" Uh, un poquito. They were looking for someone who actually spoke Spanish to send to Mexico for 3 weeks, to coordinate some training with American, Colombian, and Mexican professionals. They wanted to send them in 3 weeks. They wanted someone who was fluent in Spanish. Well, they got me. What a great trip! I went from un poquito Spanish to un poco. At one point, I thought "Wow, I'm speaking Spanish now like a 2d grader" About then, I met a 4 y.o. who spoke Spanish. Now, I think I speak Spanish like a toddler.

So, 3 weeks in Mexico, immersed in Spanish 24/7! And, an opportunity to experience real Mexican culture. Because we were smack dab in the middle of the country, up in the mountains, in a fairly good sized town, but everyone speaks Spanish. Boy, did I learn quickly! By the end of the 3 weeks, when I would (more frequently) speak a complete, correct Spanish sentence, our Mexican colleagues would smile and applaud me! It helped that, for weeks 2 and 3, they gave me a personal assistant, Estefano, who looked like he fell off the cover of a teen heartthrob magazine:
Estefano was there to do whatever I needed: need water & snacks for the meetings--Estefano goes to WalMart; need to figure out where to take everyone for lunch: Estefano makes the arrangements; need copying, stapling, collating: Estefano. Need Spanish help--you got it, because Estefano is bilingual.

One night in Mexico, we went to the fair:

La Feria is nothing like a fair in the US. Yes, they have rides and food, but it is really all about the food, the mariachi bands, the crafts, and people watching. It was THE thing to do for about 3 weeks in the city. It costs about $1 to get in (I think it was 10 pesos; pesos were trading at about 12 for an American dollar, at that time). Then we had to pay extra to go to the cockfight. Yes, you read that right--cockfighting! For you PETA people, skip this part.

The cockfighting is at the Palenque (see above) and cost 100 pesos to get into. It's a large arena, with the cockfighting ring in the middle. Before the fights begin, it is insanity in the middle ring with all sorts of people taking bets. If you are in one of the seats and don;t want to walk down to the ring, the beautiful (OK, maybe not so beautiful) assistant throws a tennis ball up to you. In the tennis ball is what I believe to be a ticket of some sort (there is a slit in the tennis ball). You reach in for the ticket, then put your 10 or 20 or however many pesos back into the ball, and throw it back to her. Since I really had no idea how that worked (how do you know who you are betting on), I did not bet. It is my biggest disappointment, not knowing how to do that. Then the actual fight starts. A couple of beautiful, healthy roosters, with razor blades tied to their legs, face off in their handler's hands. They let them go and these roosters really go at it--feathers flying everywhere! At first, it seems a blur, then the first blood gets drawn. Somehow, they know when to stop (I couldn;t figure that out either), the handlers pick them back up, clean them off, sometimes blow in their beaks (extra oxygen like for boxers??), then they are at it again. After a while, it does really get bad. At least one of the roosters gets injured badly enough that the handler has to actually hold him up to get him started for the next round, he can no longer defend himself, but it is a fight to the finish, so it continues until one is dead. But the crowd is very enlivened by all this, is cheering on the fight. We all wondered after, though, about the cooked chicken they serve in the food area??
Another night, we went to bullfighting. Now, that is really a show! Many people don't like it but I think you have to look at the culture of it, not what is done to the bull. The Mexicans honor the bull if he puts up a good fight, if he is strong. They especially honor the matador if he is brave and puts on a good show, and gets a clean kill. They clearly do not want the bull to suffer and will boo the matador if it is a bad kill. We watched several fights, the first two were bad kills and it was rather gruesome to watch. But the 3d fighter was spectacular and got a clean kill; the crowd went crazy! The matador then walks around the ring, accepting the roses and other things thrown to him. People throw clothes, hats, which the matador touches, then throws back. I think it is thrown so that the bravery of the bullfighter rubs off on the clothes which the person then wears. Maybe some of it will rub off on the wearer. The 4th fighter was the best: what a show. At one point, he was down on his knees with his back to the bull who was maybe 5 feet away! The crowd (us, too!) went insane!! When he got a clean kill, we were on our feet as fast as the Mexicans cheering as loudly as we could. For him, they cut off the bull's ears AND his tail, to give to the matador. Apparently, if you get the tail, too, it is the highest honor. Unfortunatley, my pictures didn't turn out so well. Here is the best one:

After being in Mexico for 3 weeks, I was home for almost a week, then went to El Salvador, which will be the subject of my next (catch-up) post.

Getting Started


So, my daughter Leslie thought I should blog about all my travel, to save having to send e-mails to everyone. The added bonus is it memorializes my travel observations for me, too!

I am fortunate to have a job in which I get to travel, sometimes to great places, other times maybe not so great (well, in some people's opinion). But I always manage to find something to enjoy about everywhere I have been whether for work or vacation. My problem is always the new place I go to is "my favorite place"! I can't think of anywhere I have been that I would not want to go back to (well, actually I went to this depressing town in WVa one time for work; I wouldn't want to go back there. But, it was still a fun trip--great company on the drive!).

The name of my blog is pretty obvious I suppose. Still, it took me a while to figure out something other than "Laura's travel blog". But if you remember The Odyssey it was about him trying to find his way home. Maybe that's what I'm doing--trying to find home, whether it is a physical place or a mental place; but, isn't that what we all do through life?