Category Archives: Mexico

From Austin, Texas to Tucson, Arizona

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I thought about including this post in my Journey Through Latin America, but after spending some time in Texas I realized it really is not very Latino.  They have alot of Latinos there , and some great Tex-Mex food, but it really is a place of its own.  After a week with my parents in Victoria, Texas I scooted up to Reedville to stay over with my cousin Luke and his beautiful wife and darling daughter.  I took full advantage of the huge crop of pecans they had all over their yard before heading out towards Austin.  As I left Reedville I spotted this Longhorn grazing nearby.

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Austin, Texas has grown phenomenally since I lived there in the 80’s and early 90’s.  They seem to have raised a skyscraper for each of the 17 years since I left.  It is a fabulous place, with posh restaurants and a funky neo-retro look to all the latest architecture.   They have a great statue of my old buddy Stevie Ray on the shores of Ladybird Lake.

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Despite the urgings of my friends to stay in Austin and re-make my life there, I felt the Sonoran Desert calling me.  I had a long drive from Austin to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico where I stayed with my cousin Jeff.  I enjoyed meeting his kids and viewing his leatherworking shop, but soon I was back on the road to Arizona.  I stopped at my favorite rest area near Texas Canyon, AZ  where the landscape is otherworldly.

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By mid-afternoon I was in Tucson, and I breathed deep the air of the Sonoran Desert.   Stepping out of my car into the yard of my friend Ann Marie, the smell of creosote bush and other subtle fragrances wafted welcomely through my nostrils.  The next day I couldn’t wait to drive a little further west towards the Coyote Wilderness Area where I hope to purchase some land and begin building a Sustainable Desert Community.  This is my latest dream, and I encourage you to follow this new blog to see how it progresses.

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Journey Through Latin America (part 17)

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After a long day on the bus from Oaxaca, I finally arrived at the Hostal Santo Domingo in Puebla, Mexico.  It was chilly here, not only for the season, but also because of the high elevation.  Traffic was heavy, and I did not enjoy the high level of air pollution, but the hostel was nice, the showers were hot, and they provided two warm blankets as well as clean sheets.

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I walked around downtown Puebla a few hours looking for a white jacket or “ropa tipica” but had no luck.  There were several shops selling interesting rustic furniture and antiques.  I searched for several blocks, asking people along the way, for “un buen pozole” which I finally found.  Pozole is a thick spicy soup with hominy corn, meat and cheese and lettuce.  It was just what I needed.

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The hostal provided free internet access, and I spent a long while investigating the different possible routes to get back to Texas.  I had planned on stopping in one more city in Mexico to break up the trip, but either the buses did not arrive there from Puebla, or the expense was prohibitive.  I finally decided to just take an economical 18 hour trip straight to Reynosa on the Texan border.

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This is a shot of the river in Tuxpan, on the gulf coast of Mexico, which is where our bus was after travelling six hours from Puebla through Pachuca and Poza Rica.  We went on to Tampico, where everyone had to get off the bus for twenty minutes while they cleaned up and refueled.  When we took off I noticed the lady who had been sitting next to me was not there.  Fifteen minutes later she got on at a traffic light–she had missed the bus and had to take a taxi to catch up with us.

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By 6:30 AM we had reached Reynosa, and I had a weak club sandwich before boarding a $4 bus to McAllen, Texas.  It took almost 45 minutes to cross the intrenational bridge and get through US immigration, but everything went smoothly.  In McAllen I got straight on a bus to Victoria, with stops in Falfurrias and Corpus Christi along the way.  The weather was balmy, and apparently the winter was mild enough to keep the papaya tree in my parent’s backyard alive.

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Journey Through Latin America (Part 16)

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It was hot and sweaty in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, where I had to take one of these tricycle taxis from the bus station to the Mexican border.  It was much cheaper to walk across the bridge then to pay $4 to be tricycled across.  Guatemalan and Mexican immigration was smooth enough, although a slow and sweaty process.  From there I took a shuttle to Tapachula, where I had to wait a couple of hours for the bus to Arriaga.  It gave me time to relax and have some good Mexican tacos.  It seems to me that Mexican tortillas are the best.

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I enjoyed a night and a day in Arriaga, Mexico where I had stayed before, at the Hotel Chiapas, although they had raised their rates somewhat since I was here in October.  I had more great Mexican street tacos, then in the morning an incredible breakfast buffet for $4 that set me up through lunch.  I had to wait all day and into the night for my bus to leave for Oaxaca at 9PM.  It was nice to be in a real bus station rather than just a spot on the sidewalk.

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I slept on the bus all night and arrived in Oaxaca around 5AM, so the Hostel Paulina, where I had stayed in October, only charged me for the following night.  Breakfast was included, and the staff recognized me and requested a musical performance.  I gave them a Promo CD of Luis Sabor and the next morning they were playing it for the breakfast service.

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I really like Oaxaca, Mexico.  It is one of the few large state capital cities that still retain a relaxed atmosphere, despite being very busy and offering a great deal of opportunities for shopping and entertainment.  It is similar to Leon, Nicaragua in this regard.  I enjoyed visiting a large mercado, where I tried on a sombrero, since I had accidentally left my leather hat on a bus in Escuintla.

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I also tried a few of these “chapulines”: chili-fried crickets, at the insistence of my friend Porfirio, whom I had met back in October when I was busking in the Plaza.  Porfirio and I talked a great deal and he had an interesting story to tell.  Having grown up on the streets, he had just spent his first entire year dependence-free, after being addicted to heroin for six years.  It was inspiring to hear how he had pulled himself out of the gutter, literally, with the help of God, to escape the living hell he had endured.  He was incredibly optimistic, and I have felt compelled to pray for him, as his trials certainly cannot be over.

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After just two days in Oaxaca, I was ready to board another bus for a long trip to Puebla.  The bus stations were starting to resemble airports now, and the buses were more comfortable, including bathrooms and movies, although much more expensive than in other countries.

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Journey Through Latin America (Part 3)

Arriaga Mexico was a nice spot, even though it was steamy, I didn´t mind the heat, but then I´m from Arizona.  The afternoon shower was refreshing, and the room I had was cool with the ceiling fan just on low.  I like when you can take a shower and lay down with just a sheet and sleep comfortably.  I woke up before dawn and performed my Qi Gong exercises on the balcony as the sun came up, then I took a taxi to the bus station and arrived just 5 minutes before the bus to Tapachula left.   It was a ¨first class¨ bus and we arrived a couple of hours later and I lugged my heavy backpack a few blocks to take a shuttle to the border.  Crossing the border into Guatemala was extremely easy, though the Mexican Tricycle Taxistas wanted to overcharge me the Guatemalans were very reasonable.  I ate an awesome meal at  a cafe near the bus terminal for around $3 and talked with three backpackers who had been in Quetzaltenango (Xela) for up to two months! and now were heading to the beach for some warm days.

From Ayutla I took my first ¨chicken bus¨ ride, in the front seat, and boy was that exciting!  The driver had a great sixth sense as to when to pass on a blind curve, and only once did he have to back off quickly to avoid a horrible accident, and the cobrador meanwhile was hanging out the door calling out to potential passengers the whole time, with one hand holding his cellphone to his ear.   The route to Xela was continuosly populated, going from extremely sweaty Retalhuleu quickly up to the cool mountains of Quetzaltenango. 

The taxi driver took advantage of my ignorance as to the location of my hostel and charged me $7 when it should have been $6, then we couldn´t find Las Amigas and instead Hostel M&M looked good for just $6 per night, with a private room.  Martina,  a German lady, and Maynor, a Guatemalan, are the owners who also offer classes in German, Spanish, and English.  I talked alot with Alex from San Diego who has been living there since January and has decided to retire in Xela.  He was leaving the next day for the Gulf Coast and he gave me his eggs, sausage, and bread to eat while I was there, which saved me alot of money.  It was a very comfortable place to stay , and I often met my fellow housemates on the rooftop terrace: Marina, a retired Guatemalan teacher traveling with her neice Delmit, though they had been living at M&M for four months!  I loved to play guitar on the rooftop, and also ran into Martina and Maynor often, who are very gracious hosts. 

I didn´t have much luck finding a place to perform in Xela, but I had a great day at Zunil , where they have hot, HOT baths in private tiled rooms for $3 an hour.  I only needed half an hour to be extremely relaxed.  The next day I walked half way there to the pass where I could take some nice pictures of the valley.


Journey through Latin America (Part 2)

I stayed in Morelia for five days and got very rested up from my long trip there and what was sure to be a long trip to Oaxaca.  The trip to Oaxaca was indeed difficult.  I had to wait in the terminal at Morelia until 2PM for the bus to Puebla, as there wasn’t a direct route to Oaxaca.  Eight hours later I struggled with my heavy backpack and guitar through the huge terminal at Puebla where I discovered I had just missed the latest bus by 15 minutes and had to wait until Midnight for the next one.  I had a nice sandwich (Torta) and waited.  The trip to Oaxaca was only  four hours, and I slept the whole way.  I had made reservations the previous day for the Hostel Paulina, so I felt confident arriving there at 4:30AM, and they didn’t even charge me for that night.  It turned out to be a great deal, including a satisfying breakfast included, for around $15 and night.

garden at Hostel Paulina, Oaxaca, Mexico

 

The hostel was populated by a large group of students studying Acts (from the Bible) of the Covenant Church.  They were great folks, mostly Swedish with some Central American kids as well, and we got along quite well especially after I started playing guitar and singing.  I stayed in a dorm room, but shared it only with one Japanese guy who was very agreeable.

I spent my days taking my promo packets to hotels and restaurants, and I had interviews with a couple of interested parties, but mostly I played my music in the Central Plaza with my guitar case open for tips.  I gained a few dollars a day, enough for lunch, and I met a number of friendly locals that were big music fans.  One interesting fellow named Porfirio Diaz (!) had a helluva story to tell:  he had been a heroin addict for the last 20 years and finally pulled himself out of the gutter and was working in a sports shop in Morelia, just visiting family in Oaxaca, and passing the days shining shoes for extra cash.  He’s a really good guy and I sure hope he can keep on keeping on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oaxaca was actually quite comfortable, but even with the cheap hotel and free breakfast, lunch and dinner were pushing me over my $20 a day budget, so I was ready to head south.  My goal was Tehuantepec, a little town half way to the border of Guatemala that I had visited fifteen years before.  The trip was a long four hours and when I arrived I made the mistake of hoisting on my backpack and walking from the bus terminal to the hotel I had stayed at long ago.  The town had grown enormously and I was in great pain from walking more than ten blocks when I arrived at the Hotel Donaji, which had since become a grand hotel charging $30 a night for a single with only a fan.  I felt I had no choice, so I forked it over and planned to get up early to catch the early morning bus to Arriaga. 

 

 

The ride to Arriaga was quite pleasant, even though the bus was second class and spent alot of time picking up students and locals along the way.  Arriaga was much more my kind of town, and I could have spent more time there if I wasn’t so eager to reach Guatemala.  The taxi driver took me to a brand new hotel that charged $15 a night for single with fan.  The market was just a couple of blocks away.

I bought a few tacos at around .5o cents each, then bought some avocado, cheese and tortillas for my dinner.  When I got back to my room I realized I had forgotten my avocado, so I hustled back to the same vendor and told them what happened, and they went ahead and gave me my avocado without argument.

 


Journey through Latin America (Part 1)

 

I suppose the beginning of the trip was when I left Tucson, Arizona around Sept 16, 2012 at 3AM and drove to Las Cruces, New Mexico where I called my new Couchsurfing friend Paty who had generously offered her abode for my much needed rest.  It had been a stressful day before as I had packed all the belongings I could into my Toyota Camry, leaving behind everything else to my friends and the house I had lived in for the previous 9 years, to be auctioned off in October.

I slept for a few hours at Paty’s place, then had dinner in El Paso before driving all night until I was dangerously sleepy and decided stop at a rest stop outside of Junction Texas.  By dawn I was much better, then got out of the car to do my morning ritual of Qi Gong exercises before driving in to Austin, Texas.  Austin has changed a whole heck of a lot in the last 15 yrs since I lived there.  I stayed with a couple of friends of mine, Tim & Taz, and later Gary, and had a couple of shows playing guitar and singing my songs.  My stage name is Luis Sabor and I have been planning to sing my way through Central America and finally to Lima, Peru, where I will spend the New Year with my 9 yr-old son, who lives there.

I visited alot of friends and family on my way to Victoria, Texas, where I stayed with my parents for a few days and left my car parked in their driveway.  My folks drove me to McAllen, TX where we visited with my Uncle Leon before getting on a bus for Reynosa Sept 29.  Right in the bus station I met a lovely Mexican lady named Alejandra, who was travelling the same route to Queretaro Mexico.  We were instant friends and we talked a great deal along the way.  We said goodbye in Queretaro as I took a bus to Morelia, where I had another Couchsurfing friend , Marjolaine, generously offering me a place to stay.

 

 

My stay with Marjolaine was wonderful–I really got the rest I needed.  The second night in Morelia I played at a restaurant for food and tips, then my last night I got to play all night with a Salsa Band, playing my Guiro, a percussion instrument which is great fun.

Now I’ve used up my time in this internet cafe, so I’ll be posting chapter 2 soon. Hasta Luego! Luis


Half a Dream Come True


 

For many years I had a dream of starting a chain of mini-bookstores throughout Latin America. I have spent a lot of long vacations traveling in Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Peru, and I always noticed that tourists like to leave behind their used books. I also noticed that buying books in these countries was very expensive, even by USA standards. One day I found a great little cafe from which I could escape the heat, perhaps in Valladolid, Mexico, where I noticed that the local youths seemed to gather. That is when I began to think how great it would be for a cafe like that to provide books for the people to buy cheaply, and sell back to them in order to purchase more. This, I thought, would provide an economic incentive for the restaurant owner, and also ensure the re-circulation of books throughout the community.

When I first joined Facebook, I thought this would be a perfect forum for discussing my ideas, and perhaps develop an organization for promoting literacy in the manner I had in mind. I started a Facebook Group called “Promoting Literacy in Latin America” and most of my friends joined up, and I also made new friends with similar interests. Strangely, however, I couldn’t get more than three people to post anything. I couldn’t get a discussion started. This was disappointing, but I still thought I would implement my plan at the first opportunity.

     

My next setback came when I actually started planning my next trip to  Mexico.  Thats when it dawned on me that tourists, and especially backpackers, don’t want any extra weight to carry—and books are very weighty.  While they may carry one or two paperbacks that they are reading, the amount of books necessary to fuel my plan would be too much.  I felt my dream dissapating, but I still had respect for it, as my personal belief is that dreams come from God, and are a clue to the future if nothing else.  So I kept several boxes of books available for my trip to Mexico.

Living in Tucson, I felt that the most logical town to implement my plan was Magdalena, Mexico, just an hour south of the border. So I drove to the center of Magdalena, parked on the plaza by the church, and walked around looking for candidates. Most of the cafes were small, smoky and serving beer—not the type of place to promote reading in youths. Then I found an ice-cream shop with plenty of room and I approached the lady at the counter with my idea, assisted by a typed and illustrated description I had prepared for that purpose. She liked the idea, but the owner of the shop was not due back for a while, and in the meantime she introduced me to the holistic medicine lady next door. From the herb shop I was directed to another cafe that apparently already was set up to sell books as I had described. Walking a few blocks away, I found Cafe Sed, where I was surprised to find a perfect example of what I had been dreaming of.

I spoke to the manager in charge, who was animated to discover my interest, and spent the next half hour describing the business structure of their operation. Cafe Sed is just one of several operations created to educate and support the youths of three orphanages in the area. You can read about them at these websites: http://www.cvemx.org,

http://tihmin.org

http://www.cafesed.blogspot.com

http://www.carnisimo.blogspot.com

 

Cafe Sed is a small operation compared to the meat processing business, part of which is located next door. I got a quick tour of how they process organic jerky, and it was quite impressive, the youths were at the meat-stick stuffing stage when I was there. These are all older teenagers getting excellent career knowledge and experience. The operation was spotless, and strictly following high food safety standards. Apparently the whole meat business was designed and developed by an American doctor of meat science, a volunteer and significant donor.

Well, I found a place to donate my books after all. I don’t know what part this experience will play in my future, but I felt that I was led to this organization for a reason. Guess we’ll just wait and see.


Canciones

Canciones.


Musica Latina–El Sol No Regresa


Impenetrable Obstacle

            I have discovered a shocking piece of information that has caused me to re-think my dream of traveling the length of Central America on my way to Peru. Of course I’m not the first person to conceive of the idea to take the Pan-American Highway from one end to the other. Perhaps someone has even started in Alaska and ended up in Patagonia, Chile. Anyone that has, will have encountered one great, impenetrable obstacle to their plan: what is known as the Darien Gap. Apparently the roads south of the Panama Canal Zone dwindle down to nothing, followed by hundreds of miles of solid, primordial jungle. Even if it is not true that you have to have a machete or chainsaw to cross into Columbia and beyond, there are plenty of other reasons not to attempt it. The sparse population reportedly consists of criminals, guerillas, DEA, indigenous tribes zealous to protect their hunting grounds, and various other types that are far from hospitable to strangers.
               I knew about Darien long ago, and had no delusions of facing that much adventure. I figured a flight from Panama to Bogota, Columbia wouldn’t be more than a few hundred dollars. Wrong. THIS is what I find shocking: from all my preliminary searches, flights from Panama to Columbia, or Costa Rica to Ecuador, or any other likely way to jump the Gap, are roughly the same price as flights directly from Tucson, AZ to Lima, Peru!! Supposedly there was once a couple of discount airlines that offered reasonable flights, but they’ve been bought out by the big boys. It appears that any flight, regardless of distance, that connects North America to South America costs at least $750 plus taxes and fees. I really find this hard to digest.
                So this is what causes me to re-think my dream. I had a vision of becoming a human bridge, connecting friends and acquaintances from North America to South America. Well, I suppose that is still possible, but I don’t think I can do it in one trip. Perhaps building a bridge between cultures will require forming a solid foundation in Northern Mexico and Peru, then slowly branching further afield year after year. And maybe, just maybe, by the time I reach Panama there will be another discount airline in operation.


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