mexico

Screenshot_1

Religious Marsupials

It comes up now and again in conversation when talking about my former life south of the Rio Bravo. Mexicans are Catholics, right? Yeah. They are. Sort of. Well. Yes, they are I guess, but…you see, they’re kinda like Catholics. Actually no, they aren’t. Some of them. Shucks, who knows.

Mexicans are Catholics like marsupials are mammals. Almost the same. But not quite the same. They do have very distinct differences. Many Mexicans identify themselves as Guadalupeans, after the rather famous virginal patron* saint of the country. The story of the good lady is here. Then there’s Santa Muerte, the Saint of Death. He’s a favourite of the criminal fraternity of Mexico, who will go to offer prayers in the hope of a successful heist. The Vatican doesn’t approve. What do they think about the increasing number of exorcisms? There is Day of the Dead, another quasi-Catholic festival.

Then there’s San Judas Tadeo. If you’re in Mexico City on the 28th of the month, you’ll see a constant stream of young guys and gals carrying their statues on the way to a church not far from Belles Artes, on Avenida Reforma. When the Catholic faith travelled to foreign waters from its European heartland, there was bound to be a bit of assimilation of local beliefs and customs. I couldn’t honestly say whether the rest of Latin America has as distinct a variant of Catholicism as Mexico. Perhaps other expats can clue me in. But for sure, Mexican Catholicism is a unique, separate, even cultish offspring of the original.

The point of this story? Today is Guadalupe’s big day.  Millions upon millions of people will go to the Basilica de Guadalupe on an annual pilgrimage. It’s quite the spectacle. Parades of banner waving groups walk miles upon miles to get there. Many will crawl on their knees. Some will do so just for the last stretch. Others for far longer distances. You can visit the Basilica any day of the year and you’ll see some scraping skin off their legs.

You should visit the Basilica by the way, if you happen to be in the vicinity. The churches and the gardens are both worth the trip to this northern part of the city. I went several times. Here’s a short video I shot the last time I went, which was too long ago. It’s one part of Mexico’s Catholic-ish faith. There are lots of other facets. Some surprising, others bizarre. Some are charming or even enchanting. Other parts are plain nuts. But none of it is ever boring.

*I’m not Catholic, not much of a believer in religious virgins, and I do know the cure for those who are afflicted with that particular condition. Normally I can’t resist cracking a gag, and be damned with any offence I cause. But hey. It is her big day. So I’ll pass this opportunity up, just this once…

Screenshot_7

Viva Mexico!

Happy Independence Day to all you Mexicans and Mexican affiliated persons. I wish I could be there to join in all the merriment. Alas, I cannot. Not in person. But if you are browsing the pages of CNN this weekend, you might see me drift by, in a manner of speaking, CNN wrote recently and asked to use one of my photos. To be quite honest, I wouldn’t regard the one they chose as being my finest Independence Day photo by a long shot. But I was happy to oblige. Here’s the page. The screenshot is below.

You might know this if your read my Mexile Photoblog. This post is the one in question. It was nice of CNN to ask. Many publishers don’t bother. There’s another post regards that on my photoblog. That’s this one here. I have been writing on that blog perhaps more than I have here. I’m still working on the pros/cons, benefits/losses of operating two blogs. And the concepts that define the two. It’s work in progress. Is it necessary? If I want to monetize my digital scribbling, then yes it is. And I do want to monetize it!

Screenshot_7

IMAG0847

Through The Keyhole

Back in the early 1990′s I used to watch, amongst other numerous examples of televisual tripe, a programme called, Through the Keyhole. The recently departed Sir David Frost presented, with the annoyingly nasal drone of Lloyd Grossman guiding viewers through the homes of the rich and famous. One can but assume that the kudos Frost earned from interviewing Nixon had by now been lost. And that the owners of their homes were fading stars or otherwise desperate for a little more attention before dropping from the public spotlight entirely.

I’m neither famous nor wealthy, and there’s no star presenter I can call on to guest write this post. You’ll have to make do with just me, multitasking as presenter, guide and personality all in one.  It’s a brief tour. Unlike the show, there are no prizes for guessing which personality is hiding behind that keyhole. It’s not a secret.

There’s obviously a Mexican connection here, and perhaps an interest in photography? And a contrast in movement too, thrown in for good measure. Are those medals we see, possibly with a Mexico City Marathon medallion amongst them? It’s fair to say that these probably weren’t won by a turtle. Although turtles are clearer considered winners in this household. There’a also a book, which one could only assume is for learning Spanish to be used in taxis and at Lucha Libre events. Finally, a mass of cables under a table. Perhaps we are getting the point of the post.

That table is an heirloom. Once upon a time it was the dinner table in a household of five in North West London. It’s a fold-away sort of a table that grew wings even below Red Bull was invented. It was my grandfathers. Then my mothers. It is decades old, older than myself. It’s currently in my possession, but is no longer used for meal times. Today it is my workstation. Can you imagine what the chaps and chapesses who made/packed/sold this table would have made of this photo if they’d seen it back in the 50s/60s? There is no photo of Mrs P on the desk, I’m sorry to say. Just a little clock that I’ve had since forever. Which has its time set by an atomic clock to tell Mrs P how late she is for work to the absolute nano second.

IMAG0844

Once upon a time I spent a good deal more on my tech. I had a huge purpose built workstation with the latest 19″ CRT flat screen monitor, the latest PC money could buy (which I built myself)  a 5 speaker sound system, a secondary PC and a very comfy executive chair. That was ten years ago. I was single back then, and earned substantially more than I do today. Alas. Times change.

Today, I prefer to keep things simple. I like wireless, although the mess of cables underneath my chair suggest otherwise. Had I the money, I’d own an iMac, with a wireless printer, mouse, keyboard and single Bose (or similar) speaker. I’m a bit of a way off from the promised land though. But the important thing is that the laptop is a half decent unit. It serves me well. Those of you who follow along have seen all the photos of where I’ve been. Now you’ve seen where the adventures are put together, ready for the digital world.

Kudos to señor Calypso, and his idea to open the keyholes of the Mexican blogging community. Of which I like to consider myself an honorary member, rather than former member. You can regard me as a future member, if you wish. Although, looking at Mr Calypso’s set up, maybe he just wanted to show off. I’m not sure how a man can have so much tech in his life, and be married! He’s a very lucky guy!

Independence Lights

I recently received an email, via Flickr (where else?) from CNN. September is Independence Month throughout a fair number of Latin American countries, and CNN wanted to feature one of my old photos for their CNN Celebrates series, via iReport. I have to be honest, it’s far from the best photo I ever took of a Mexican Independence Day. But if they like it, then who am I to argue. I added a few world to the photo. Whether they are ever printed I do not know. So I put the appropriate effort into the draft. That’s to say, not much. Anyway, I now have a CNN profile and iReport page….

Mexico City is full of colour at any time of year. But September brings a burst of reds whites and greens that cover the city in cloth flags, plastic bunting and sparkling lights. There’s a buzz in the air as Independence Day approaches. Come the middle of the month, the country unconditionally unites to cheer to El Grito – the shout of independence. Nowhere in the city do the lights shine brighter, the crowds grow larger or are the cheers shouted louder than in the Zocalo, the huge central square in the heart of the metropolis.

Mexico 2013

This video has been around for a little while. It makes Mexico City seem a very tempting destination. Heck, you all know full well it is a very tempting city. The Shakira of cities. Although I do wonder – how many of the 20 million odd souls calling Mexico City home would recognize this Mexico City? Not too high a percentage I suspect. I can’t quite get over an English person declaring that they never imagined they’d find a castle in the middle of a city. Ummm. Tower of London? I much preferred this video. It’s an oldie, but it’s still very cool.

The VisitMexico campaign have uploaded quite a few new videos since I last looked, including the one I linked too in the first sentence of this post. I particularly like the Estado de Mexico One. But the video I’ve decided to post here is the best of the bunch. All of these videos do very closely follow the format, style and atmosphere laid down by the Bicentenario videos from 2010. And that is no bad thing at all. Incidentally, this is where my new theme pays off. Videos are much more watchable within the post at this size.

Profiteering Masterclass

Recently I came across an advert on the Guardian – Blogging Masterclass courses. They’ll take you by the hand and guide you through the jargon, how to sign up a WordPress account, how to customise it, how to add a domain name, how to use social media and how to use text and images. At a staggering £400 per person. I kid you not, £400 per person. Pound Sterling. Real money.To be fair, the price does include lunch. Which really, really needs to be caviar and champagne. And plenty of it.

What the heck?! I’m in the wrong bleeding job! Seriously. I need to start my own business providing basic tuition to gullible old folk with more money than sense ‘beginners’. The first course will be entitled ‘How To Get Online And Survive The First Hour On The Web Without A Nigerian Scammer Emptying Your Bank Account‘. Anyone who is willing to pay £400 for a WordPress beginners course is surely going to be interested in what I have to offer. And by emptying their bank accounts myself before any shady character in Lagos has the chance, I will be delivering the service as promised.

I’m sure there is a career out there somewhere for me in web design/tuition/writing/something or other. I just need to find my niche and then find the time to fill it. Till then, I will continue to regale anyone who passes by with whatever I am droning on about in this here blog. Writing a bloggers guide did occur to me, but I dropped it. It’s been done before. A million times.

I will say this. Blogging is free. Don’t be paying anyone £400 to essentially teach you what you’ll pick up yourself within ten minutes of loading up your web browser. Just plough ahead, and learn with experience. If you’re really unsure, then watch someone else have a go. This is where I introduce the most famous non-blogger on the Mexican blog scene. Now an ex-non-blogger. Gringo Suelto is up and running, after many years of vague but unfulfilled threats to start scribing his own blog rather than scribbling all over other peoples, in their comments sections.  Kim G has generously scattered his wit and wisdom far and wide across the blogosphere for years, but now has a blog of his own to call home. Yay!

Gringo Suelto is going to be an interesting blog to read. First of all, because the writer has so much to share, so many stories to tell and a way with words that is always thought provoking and engaging. But it will also be interesting to see how he develops the blog. What style or theme he settles on. Is there a ‘technical art’ to blogging? I have my theme. One of them is to base a post around my photographs. So here are four photos. Completely irrelevant to this post, but there’s just not enough to say about them to merit a post of their own.

Four photos on A4 that I found recently. I took them ten years ago. My old Honda Pantheon scooter, a couple of snow scenes from our garden/field and my sisters pet owl. I sold the scooter when I fled to Mexico, the snow eventually melted and the owl escaped one day, never to be seen again. Yes, I’m pretty short on inspiration. Scraping the dregs from the bottom of the blogging barrel. I just have nothin’ far ya. Perhaps now is a good time to click on the link to Gringo Suelto and escape the tedium of the Mexile…

 

A Shorts Story

There are very few photos of me from my Mexico 2003 trip. I count just five. Four of them are terrible/blurry/too dark. The one below is the sole photo I’m ok about. It’s interesting to see how I’ve aged. Actually, it’s hugely disappointing that I’ve aged. I was always hoping I’d be ‘the one’. The exception. Live forever, and all that. I’m not sure that’s working out for me. Such is life. I sure have fewer lines on my face back then. And a trimmer waist. I was but 30 when this photo was taken.

I heard recently that you are no longer allowed to climb up pyramids in Mexico, including Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan. Have I heard right?! I’m wearing my favorite Red Sea tee shirt in the photo. And the most comfortable pair of shorts I ever owned. Light weight, with long knee length legs, but sturdy enough that I could keep change in my pockets without the coins pulling them down to my ankles.

I still have that tee shirt. It’s a bit worse for wear these days. To put it mildly. The shorts bit the dust a year later in Costa Rica. I’d spent an hour chatting to a girl in the lounge of a hostel without realizing the shorts had become very torn in an awkward location. The little general was very much ‘on view’. Parading, if you like. Fortunately, though, not standing to attention. She didn’t mention it. Very decent of her. But she absolutely can’t have missed it.

DSCN0832(2)

Faces of Mexico Past

Once upon a time, I enjoyed backpacking. It’s a culture, not just an activity. Overnight buses, cramped dorms, sleepless nights, do-it-yourself tours. I’m not a backpacker anymore. Those days are gone. I don’t need luxury. But I do like to have my own room. I can handle a thin mattress. But I don’t much want to clamber up a ladder to the top bunk.  There’s an awful lot about backpacking that an intelligent person doesn’t miss. And look, I’m forty years old. My joints creak a little these days. There is one thing that I do miss though. The people you meet.

You bump into all sorts of people on the backpacking trail. They make or break a destination. I had mixed fortunes in Mexico, but only really bummed out twice. Tulum was full of couples, and I was rather the odd one out. And in Guanajuato, I bumped into some Brits bent on a beer binge. We quickly went our separate ways. But mostly the people I met were good bunch.

DSCN0886(1)

I met the gang of guys and girls above on a night bus from Tulum to Palenque. It was a horrible 14 hour journey, and I slept not one wink. As a group we managed to find a single room in Palenque at about 6am and went to bed. They two guys woke us an hour later – they’d booked a trip to the Agua Azul. A place I must return too. It’s tough to fully appreciate somewhere on just an hours sleep.

The two girls on the left, from France, were the only ones I kept in touch with by email, albeit for a brief spell, after the Mexican adventure ended. I also traveled on with them to San Cristobal. The large chap in the green shirt, I remember him for a day’s worth of whining. He broke a sandal. Jeez, it was just a sandal. If he should stumble across this post, I’d like to say sorry for my unspoken contempt for his whining. As I found out later, he was right – it is next to freaking impossible to find a size 11 shoe of any sort in Mexico.

DSCN0971

The crew above I met at San Blas. Two American guys and two British girls. We spent nearly a week on the beach, boating up rivers and drinking in town. I got on better with the guys. But I met the girls again a week or two later in Creel, in the Copper Canyon. We were in the same dorm. They came back very late one night. The lights were out, everyone was asleep, and a full moon bathed the room in a ghostly light.

They decided to chance it. But I wasn’t asleep. I had one eye craftily open. I saw both full moons that night. If the not unattractive blonde girl should by chance find her way to these parts, then I’d just like to say…nice bum.

DSCN1030

The final photo. I remember the guy sitting down was a decent guitarist. He struck up a few riffs, or whatever you call guitar songs, in the town centre one evening. The guy standing up was French. And stone deaf. Travelling by himself. That’s courage for you. Some swine stole his Lonely Planet travel guide, and he had only just started his trip. In the interests of mending a thousand years of broken Anglo French relations, I gave him mine.

I was, after all, virtually at the end of my trip. A bus to Chihuahua beckoned, and then a final bus across the border at Ciudad Juarez/El Paso. I just photocopied the few pages I needed. But my Lonely Planet guide was precious to me. It had taken me across the country. A very loyal companion, so it was. And I had a ton of notes in it. I gave him my address, and he promised to post it back to me.

If my deaf French buddy should happen to read this entry, then I’d just like to say you are a thieving little frog bastard. Give me my bloody book back. Quite frankly, I don’t care if ten years have passed, I still want it. Our ancestors managed to keep grudges going over centuries. A decade is nothing, ya hear me?! No, you probably don’t.. :)

3

Memory v Masterpiece

I recently rediscovered a cache of forgotten photos on a CD from a trip to Mexico in 2003. What to do with them? Well, get them all uploaded to Flickr, obviously. But how much did I want to ‘play about’ with them? For the last six months or so I have been going crazy with filters (or more correctly, presets) in Lightroom. Filters are the lazy mans way to create cool photographs without having to worry about owning decent equipment, having any talent or even using ones imagination.

3

I am sure my photographs are cooler for all those filters I’ve applied. But those rediscovered photos had me thinking. They contained so many memories. Did I want to play about with them? After all, the application of creative filters distorts the image. It recreates a scene, turning it into something that never was. It’s for artistic purposes only. You gain your masterpiece, but lose a memory.

2

In the end, I applied some sensible post processing – cropping, added contrast and the such. And left it at that. I uploaded the results to Flickr. Then I went back and did my filter thang on a select bunch of them. The best of both worlds. I have unlimited space to upload onto Flickr, so what the heck – duplication is fine!

1

This exercise has given me a bit of food for thought as to how I approach my photography though. The snaps I take today have little to no nostalgia attached to them. But a decade or more down the road, they will be priceless snapshots of life long ago. Do I want sets on Flickr full of masterpieces or sets full of memories? I must give this some thought and find a balance.

Mexico Revisited

Tomorrow is a big day for ‘the Mexile’. But more about that, well…tomorrow. Today, I want to take you back nearly ten years ago. My backpacking tour of Mexico. My photos have been on Flickr for years. Or so I thought. I do look back through my shots from time to time. But there’s more than 11,000 of them, so I’m not likely to notice anything amiss.

Except, when looking back at the photos from 2003, I did notice that there was something not quite right. I was sure I’d taken more photos. Yet there were only a couple of dozen in a few assorted albums. And not one from Mexico City. The images were all really small, only 500 pixels wide.I had a brainwave. In the old days, didn’t I burn my photos to disk? I hunted around for my CD wallets and leafed through them. Sure enough, there was a CD with Mexico/New York scribbled on it in felt pen.

DSCN0908(1)

Just over a hundred and thirty photos, all full sized and with the Exif info on them, proudly declaring that these snaps were the produce of a Nikon Coolpix 880. Finally, after ten years, I have the photos of that trip, all the photos, uploaded on to Flickr. In two sets. The first is here, and has just basic post processing applied. Cropping, straightening, a little extra contrast etc.

The second set is here. I let rip with my Lightroom presets. There’s no getting away from it. Camera technology has moved on a lot in the last ten years. But for a decade old compact, I think the image quality that Nikon produced has stood the test of time ok. When viewed on a monitor anyway. I was very, very proud of that Nikon. It was, at the time, cutting edge tech.

If you take the time to have a look through either set, I hope you enjoy the short photographic tour of Mexico. Mexico City, Veracruz, Tulum, San Cristobal, Palenque, San Blas, Guanajuato and the Copper Canyon – all fantastic destinations. How lucky was I to have the time and funding to go see them all over a couple of fantastic months?

DSCN0871(1)

Mexico 2003

In June 2003, I boarded a flight in London on my way to Mexico. I knew nothing about Mexico. Nothing. But I had a plan. Bored of life in the UK I set off to seek my fortune in Guadalajara as an English teacher. I’d booked a four week TEFL course of some sort in Mexico’s second city, due to start mid-July. That left a couple of weeks for some sightseeing. The flight was pretty horrific. First stop was Miami, which we circled for an hour due to an electrical storm. Second stop was Merida. The plane  on to our destination,  Mexico City, was virtually empty. Yet a swarthy chap who was the spitting image of Pablo Escobar decided to sit next to me. Across the aisle a fragile old man looked close to tears and kept crossing himself. We arrived safely at midnight.

Mexico City had (has?) a terrible reputation for crime. I poked my nose outside the airport doors. I had a cigarette. I looked at the taxis. And then I paid the most I have ever paid for a hotel room – the Marriot at the airport. I hadn’t booked a hostel – I didn’t do planning in those days –  and I didn’t fancy looking for one at gone midnight. I checked out next morning, dared to grab a taxi and set off for the Zocalo, where according to my Lonely Planet Guide, a decent place called Hostel Cathedral could be found.

Before checking out, I booked my onward flight to Merida. I gave myself four days in Distrito Federal, and considered myself brave/foolhardly for doing so. Four fantastic days later I had already made my mind up – I would return. A week wouldn’t have been enough. Heck, with the hindsight that I’m blessed with, six years wasn’t enough! But on to Merida I went. Then Playa del Carmen, and on to Tulum – it was here that I did the TEFL place the courtesy of letting them know I wouldn’t be attending their course. I was having way too much fun in this fantastic country. Next stop was Palenque. San Cristobal de las Casas. Villahermosa – worth missing in my opinion. Veracruz.

I kept my promise, and then returned to the capital city, and this time spent a full week there. Even then, even with a coach ticket out of there booked and paid for, I kinda knew I’d found home, and I’d be back. Next stop was Guanajuato, followed by an extended stay at San Blas. I met up with chilled out backpackers at the Stoners Cafe and Hostel, and somehow everything just…you know. None of us left on time. I nearly got eaten by a croc. But made it to Mazatlan for an afternoon.

Los Mochis – my most miserable stop on the trip. But it was the starting point of the Copper Canyon rail trip, which was one of the most memorable. And exhausting. Chihuahua was next, followed by Ciudad Juarez, where I crossed into El Paso, USA. My Mexican trip was over. My Mexican love affair had barely begun. One day soon, I hope it will be resumed. In those days I packed a Nikon Coolpix 880. A cutting edge digital compact with 3.3 megapixels.

Memory cards were prohibitively expensive. So I didn’t have an awful lot of room for photos, especially the sort of quantity you expect from a three month trip. As a result I came back with a scandalous shortage of snaps. Some of them are below in the gallery. I do feel, however, that I have somewhat made up for the shortage of photos from that trip since then…:)

Two Thousand

This is my two thousandth post. Across very almost ten years – that milestone is just a few months away. That’s about two hundred posts a year. Where do I find the time? I find I have less time here in the UK for such frivolous activities than I did in Mexico. Writing posts has become as much a habit as a hobby. I should cut back. I don’t though. Partly because it is profitable. But mostly because I like the people who hang around in this corner of the virtual world. Cheers to those of you who’ve ever commented. And to those of you who haven’t too. Especially to those of you whom I have met in person. And those of you whom I will meet. Beers all round.

I did once before reach the two thousand post landmark. That’s because I merged my 365 photo project into this blog. But I had a change of heart and un-merged them. I’ve also ‘lost’ a fair few posts over the last decade too. Some disappeared into the ether back in 2005 when I self hosted everything, and forgot to do a complete back up before cancelling my hosting plan. Duh.

Other posts of a commercial nature, hundreds of them, were left behind on an old blogging platform when I switched to Blogger from Opera. Blogging has been profitable over the years. How much is it worth. Tens of thousands of dollars. Not enough to live on, but certainly enough to have some fun on. But they don;t make good reading. Those who didn’t much like my guest posts will be pleased to hear there will be no more of those. Although I will still explore other lucrative avenues.

How to celebrate this landmark? Every post needs a photo. It’d be too much of a drag to go find my 2000th upload to Flickr, although that would have made a nice matching pair. How about my first ever upload to Flickr? It certainly wasn’t the first photo I ever took with a digital camera, nor my first photo in Mexico. When I joined Flickr, I sent an experimental batch to the service to see what it looked like.  I wrote yesterday of my need for some sunshine, so it’s a fitting photo…

Sunshine Tiles

Two Year Itch

Doesn’t time fly? Or perhaps not. It seems a lifetime ago since I wrote this old post. But it truly was just two years ago. To the day. My final day in Mexico, before returning ‘home’ to England. I find ‘home’ harder to define these days. My passport says it’s to the east of the Atlantic. There’s a part of me that disagrees with that conclusion. Either way, I have a visa to live in Mexico sorted out, and perhaps one day I will have a new passport that I find more agreeable.

There’s just one last hitch. An undisclosed hitch. It’s a maybe type thing. Something over which I don’t have the final decision. Stay tuned, as they say. Till then, here is one of the last photos of me that was taken in Mexico. Where am I? I’d run a guessing contest, but it could be anywhere. As it happens, it’s a nice little restaurant in Tlalpan.

Dragon Paper

Maverick Mexicans

This video is worth posting on its own merits. They are brave/foolhardy young chaps, that’s for sure. Watch it to the end – just when you think you’ve seen the most dangerous jump, there’s another around the corner. I actually came across it on Facebook. There’s a uniformed chap at the end that tells us this is in Mexico. But one very sharp eyed Facebook Friend named the very place it’s shot. Care to take a guess where?

Edit: Darnit, the video shows where it was filmed. No need to guess. I now have a new adventure sport to do when I return… :)