Sunday, January 31, 2010

Living in Coyoacan

We are officialy residents of Coyoacan after spending our first night in the apartment. Anna and Jose and I have our bedrooms set up and our clothes put away in our closets (how we missed closets). The entire apartment has floral and stripped cream colored wall paper that we have quickly become attached to. Big windows in each room provide natural light all day long. The kitchen is much smaller than the kitchen in Chimalhuacan, but it has cabinets so there is a lot more storage. I am happy to trade the old kitchen for the new.

The apartment has two baclonies, one off the kitchen and one off of the two main bedrooms. Although its small, we have spent a lot of time on the bedroom balcony already, and Cholula hangs out there checking out the other dogs in the complex.

Our living room and the guest room are still totally empty. This apartment is so much bigger than the last that what felt like a lot of stuff in Chimalhuacan looks like nothing now. We are going to try to find a couch and dining table for the living room soon, and we would like to set up the guest room for anyone who wants to visit.

We have met Edna, the building manager, and Alicia, our downstairs neighbor, who are both shocked by how young we are and treat us like grandmothers. Alicia has a poodle (one of the five poodles I have already seen at the complex) who Cholula met yesterday. We also met the maintence man, Alfredo, who cleans our building and takes our trash for us. Everyone has been friendly and welcoming.

We walked around the center last night, and it was really busy because it was a Saturday night. It was almost all couples and groups of friends strolling with coffee and churros. Anna hadn`t seen Coyoacan on a weekend night before, and she was surprised by how much it changed. I think it will be nice for us to have the center to go to on weekends and have a little more excitment.

I am shocked by how different I feel after just one night in Coyoacan. I feel more like myself than I have since October and I am already enjoying life more. I can walk comfortably down our street and admire how beautiful everything is. I can get the food I want and I have hot water for the shower and a sink in my kitchen. It was a really good choice to move, and I am incedibly excited to learn what this life is really going to turn into. I haven`t been excited about the future for awhile, but I am truly excited now.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Apartment

Note: This post was written at the beginning of my parent's visit and should have been posted last week.

After a month in our Chimalhuacan apartment, we decided to move. It had just gotten too hard to live in Chimalhuacan and in our apartment in particular. It was obvious that life in Chimalhuacan wasn’t going to be what we had expected.

When my parents and Anna arrived in Chimalhuacan, it was obvious that it wasn’t what they had expected either. They all looked shocked, and a little disgusted, by the area. Jose and I weren’t surprised that they weren’t thrilled by it, because we too had been slightly disgusted when we first arrived. We had gotten used to the area, though, and I, although definitely not Jose, had started to enjoy it. My parents described it as a slum, and no one thought we should continue to live there.

I like that I feel safe in Chimalhuacan, and after just a month, I already feel like part of the community. I wave and say “hi” to the woman who sells juice up the street, we are surrounded by Jose’s family members, and I know vendors at the market, pharmacy, computer store, vet’s office, and the corner store. While it is anything but pretty or luxurious, I liked the feeling of being a part of the area.

After talking with my parents, we decided to start looking for an apartment. Instantly I knew I wanted to live in Coyoacan, my favorite place in Mexico City so far, and I’m pretty positive it always will be. The center of Coyoacan, where I want to live, is a 10 minute bus ride from the metro station. Since it is out of the way, there is no traffic and very few people during the day and weekdays. On weekend nights, it’s a popular place to go for coffee and filled churros. Coffee and churros attracts couples and people looking for a relaxing evening chatting with their friends, so I’ll be able to avoid the late-night partiers and noise. Coyoacan (which means “place of the coyote” in the Aztec language Nahuatl) was a town outside of Mexico City until the 1940’s. It was swallowed by the city, but it was able to keep much of its small town charm. The streets are cobblestone, lined with trees, quiet, and surrounded by old buildings. There are multiple gorgeous parks where we can take Cholula to throw a ball and have picnics. In Coyoacan, we will avoid the noise, fast pace, dirtiness, and danger of living in many other parts of Mexico City. It really will be like living in a town, but we will be just a few short minutes away from the heart of busy Mexico City.

We walked through Coyoacan for hours one day, trying to find an apartment. We called apartment after apartment, and they were either too expensive, didn’t allow pets, or were on a street we didn’t like. At the end of the day, we viewed a 2 bedroom apartment with a balcony that allowed dogs. We liked it, and decided that we wanted it. When Jose called the next day, we found out we needed a cosigner who owned property in the Federal District to get it. Jose tried to explain that we have money sent to us each month from the United States, and that we would have enough to pay the rent. The property manager said she would think about it, and call us if she wanted to give us an interview. No surprise, we never heard from her. It was extremely disappointing. It sounded like we were never going to be able to get a nice apartment in the Federal District.

The next morning, everyone promised me an apartment, pulled me out of my gloom, and we got to Coyoacan early. We started walking again, looking for “For Rent” signs. A sign in a café said we could get information about an apartment for rent there, and Jose went in to ask. That one didn’t allow dogs, but Jose talked to the café owner who owned the apartment. He told Jose about the cosigner policies in Mexico City, and recommended that we offer to pay the entire year of rent upfront. The next apartment we found, we called about and got to view it five minutes later. We offered to pay all the rent upfront, and were promised that the apartment was ours if we paid.

A few hours after seeing the apartment, we decided it was the one. Jose called the manager, and we have an appointment to sign the contract and pay the rent on January 28th. We will soon be the renters of a 2 bedroom, 2 bath, 2 balcony apartment in Coyoacan. There is also an extra room we are going to use as a guest room/office, so we will have room for whoever wants to visit!

We are really excited about the apartment, living in Coyoacan, and being closer to all the great things Mexico City offers. With Anna living with us, a new apartment in a great place, and lots of things to do, I’m sure we’ll be feeling lucky to live here before we know it.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Visit: Day 5

After the first apartment in Coyoacan fell through, we decided to spend the fifth day of the trip in Coyoacan again. We arrived early with low hopes, expecting to have to look all day and worried we wouldn’t find a way to get around the Federal District cosigner requirement. But less than two hours after arriving, we were standing in a huge apartment that cost less than the first apartment with the property manager assuring us that if we paid upfront, the cosigner wouldn’t be an issue.

By the time we had gotten back to the sidewalk from the apartment, we had decided that was the apartment for us. A few hours later, Jose was on the phone with the property manager with an appointment to sign the lease the following week.

We were finally able to relax, and we spent the rest of the day in Coyoacan in and out of our hotel. My mom spent the afternoon reading, while Anna, Jose, my dad, and I went to a health food store that sells gluten free baked goods. We bought conchas, the sweet Mexican bread with sugar on top, cookies, crackers, and bisquits. We found a gourmet store that sells goat cheese, which I have been looking for for a long time. There is an Asian market filled with gluten free noodles, soy sauce, and tapoica flour, as well as markets with goat cheese, gluten free bread, and fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish in Coyoacan. Just from the food selection, I know without a doubt that it is where I am supposed to live.

My parents feel much better knowing that Anna, Jose, and I will be living in a safe and beautiful place. My mom says that Coyoacan is probably as close to Healdsburg as we could find in Mexico, and I think she is right. It is still Mexico City, but its quiet, peaceful, and easy to forget about the city. We will have everything that Mexico City offers close to us, but we be secluded enough that we don’t have to live in the craziness of the city.


Visit: Day 4

On the fourth day of the trip, thinking that we had already found an apartment, we went to Xochimilco. Xochimilco is a series of canals with floating islands, called chinampas. Xochimilco is really famous, and appears in a lot of movies and soap operas from Mexico when characters get on the colorful boats to float down the canals. mom wanted to visit it more than anything else in Mexico, and it turned out to be a great experience.

When we arrived in the area of Xochimilco, we walked for about 10 minutes until we got to the water. There we got on a boat and took the traditional tour that took about two hours. There were very few tourists because it was a weekday morning. It was quiet and peaceful, but apparently our 2 hour tour would have taken 4 hours on a weekend and we would have been crashing into other boats because it gets so crowded.

Our captain told us it would take three days to go through all the canals in Xochimilco. Just the main area we saw was huge. The islands had houses, nurseries, stores, and restaurants. We saw people who live in the islands arriving home with bicycles on their boats, and people paddling their boat across the canal to visit a neighbor. It looked like a nice lifestyle for someone who doesn’t leave home often, but a pain for someone who has to leave daily. The nicest setup, I think, is for the people on the edge who have one side of canal and one side of road, so they can use their boat or their car.

Boats with different kinds of music floated by us offering to play for us. We did not paid for music, but other boats near us did so we got to hear music. Near the end, we ordered food from a boat and ended up with a table full of food that ended up being the best we have had in Mexico. Quesadillas, chicken mole, chicken tacos, corn fungus (a delicacy) quesadillas, rice, and chicken baked in the ground was served to us. Everything was good, nothing made us sick, and it was quite the experience to eat while floating down the canal.

I loved seeing the islands and canals and imagining what it was like for the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan. Xochimilco is more similar to Tenochtitlan than I had expected, and visiting it made Tenochtitlan seem more real to me.

It was a lot of fun, and such a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. My parents’ guidebook of Mexico City and Mexico City set novel called The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver they read before they came has definitely paid off. They have known of better places to visit than Jose and I, who have been in Mexico City for months now.

It feels so good to be with my family again. I have never gone so long without seeing my parents, and it was especially hard to be apart when we were going through such a difficult time. Luckily, it has been long enough since the initial shock of not being able to go home that we are now able to just enjoy being together and be happy, instead of needing to comfort each other and deal with our sadness. This visit has been happy and cheerful, and I’m not sure it would have been that way if they visited a month ago, which means we are making improvements. We have finally gotten to the point where life is getting better quickly.


Visit: Day 2 and 3

Day two was short. We tried to go to Xochimilco, the floating gardens, but didn’t manage the 1 ½ hour subway ride. Anna was still feeling sick from the night before, and almost fainted on the train, so we went back to the hotel. The rest of the day we stayed in the hotel resting or taking short walks around the Zocalo area.

The next day we went to Coyoacan for our first day of apartment searching. We got there early in the morning, ate breakfast, and started walking. Jose and I had noticed before that there weren’t any real estate offices in Coyoacan, so we didn’t know how to find an apartment without walking down all the streets in search of “For Rent” signs. We ended the day feeling good about the one apartment we had viewed, although that one didn’t end up working out.

I had told my family before they came that Mexican food in Mexico was disappointing. They didn’t believe me then, but by the third day they were starting to admit that I was right. We tried food from vendors on the street, diners, and fancy restaurants, but no meal was outstanding. Jose and I have preferred to make our own food in Mexico because we don’t enjoy the food in restaurants. I don’t know if it isn’t as good because of lower quality ingredients or different flavors, but the food has not been very satisfying in any place we have visited. I much prefer the Mexican food in California to the Mexican food in Mexico, and because I was expecting even better food here its been a big disappointment.

The trip had a slow start because we were all tired and slightly sick in the beginning, but we still had a lot of fun and appreciated finally being together again.


Visit: Day 1

The day my family arrived in Mexico City, we went directly to Chimalhuacan for a few hours. As soon as we had rested, played with Cholula, and repacked for the next few days, we headed off the Zocalo in downtown Mexico City. Jose and I had gone down there a week before and scouted out hotels, so we had an inexpensive, pretty, and centrally located hotel. We got two rooms, each with balconies that provided us hours of entertaining people watching.

When we arrived at the hotel, we all slept for a few hours. My family had flown throughout the night and had barely slept, and Jose and I had gotten up early to meet them at the airport. We were all very tired, and it was obvious we weren’t going to do much that day.

We did manage to take a few short strolls through the area and enjoy the city. Anna said it looked just like Barcelona, and that we can basically say we have seen Spain because it was so similar. That makes sense, as almost all the buildings were built by Spain in the 18th and 19th centuries.

My dad, Anna, Jose, and I went out to dinner that night while my mother rested. The food was good, but Anna woke up sick in the middle of the night. Jose and I had been lucky by not getting sick from food until Jose did very recently, so we probably weren’t as careful as we should have been on their first night.

The whole day was nice, but by far my favorite part was walking through the airport early in the morning and seeing Anna walking down the hall. Before I knew it, I had screamed her name and we were running towards each other. My memory is a little blurry from all the excitement, but I think we might have even let out a few embarrassing girl screams.

All is well now that my family is here.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

To Tulum

We are flying to Cancun today, and then taking a bus to Tulum for a few days of beach relaxation. We got up early this morning, got back to the apartment by 9 am to pack and catch a flight out of Mexico City.

For the first time ever, we will be staying on the beach in cabanas. Our resort is the cheaper version of a big resort a few minutes down the beach. We will still have access to the fancier resort that has a sports center with snokeling, boogie boarding, and a gym. It should be a lot of fun, and really relaxing.

Jose and I love the water in Tulum, and no one else has ever seen it before. My mom, the water lover, is of course excited about seeing such crystal clear blue water. I'm sure it will be hard for us to get out of the water at the end of the day.

We didn't get to see the pyramids in Mexico City, although we tried twice, so we are going to try hard to see the ruins in Tulum. They are right on the coast, and the old white buildings, white sand, green trees, and blue water are all visible.

After four full days on the beach, we are going to fly back to Mexico City for two more days before my parents leave. It has been a great trip so far, and I'm sure it will only get better on the beach.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Family Visit!

My parents and sister have arrived for a visit. Anna is going to stay for six months, and my parents are staying until the end of January. My mom has wanted to visit since November, but it hasn’t worked out time after time. She even postponed the January trip, because she had a work meeting that she thought she couldn’t miss. She ended up managing to postpone the meeting and visit us with my dad and Anna for two weeks.

They arrived on Saturday the 16th at 5:00 am. Jose and I got up at 5 and took the bus and metro to the airport, where we met them at 6:30 am. We took a taxi from the airport to our apartment. We stayed there for a few hours to unpack, play with Cholula, see the apartment, and nap. Anna took a nap with Cholula cuddling her for about an hour, and it was definitely a great way for her to be welcomed to Mexico. I think Cholula will always have a special place in her heart after that.

After everyone napped, we walked to the post office to pick up the flour my mom had ordered a few weeks before. My family was shocked by the poverty in Chimalhuacan. I had told them about the dirt roads and stray dogs, but it was still a shock to really see. Anna said she pictured country dirt roads and stray dogs in the country , where both are normal, but she got here and saw dirt roads in a city, and packs of stray dogs running through the city dirt roads. While we were walking, I kept thinking "please don't let us walk by any dead dogs on the street." Luckily we didn't, and it was only the poverty that shocked them.

They brought down two big suitcases filled with things for Jose and I. We only thought we were going to be here for about three months, and that we were going to be in hot beach weather. Instead, we have been here for almost six months and the last three months have been cold. Our clothing selection was extremely limited, and it was like Christmas finally came when we opened the suitcases and saw all our clothes.

My grandmother bought us a camera to replace the one we lost, and my parents brought it down so we can now take pictures during the trip. My mom brought our favorite BBQ sauce, milk chocolate, CDs, and lots of other treats and things we had been missing.

Our plan is to stay in Mexico City for a few days, fly to Cancun to visit the Mayan Riviera, fly to Puebla and visit the town of Cholula, and then go back to Mexico City for a day or two before my parents leave.


December-Early January

I haven’t felt like writing in a long time, although almost every day I have said that I wanted to. We definitely had the Holiday Blues, but they lasted longer than expected because we thought the holidays were longer in Mexico. On Christmas, there was no tree, lights, or angels. There were also no presents. I didn’t really miss getting presents, but it was a huge blow to not give any. The spirit of giving has always really gotten into me. Thanksgiving was the best I’ve ever had, but Christmas never even came.

Jose’s family told us that Mexicans wait to open presents until January 6th for Three Kings Day, but they didn’t tell us that they didn’t celebrate it. Jose and I waited through Christmas until early January, thinking we would be able to have some of Christmas in January. We never heard mention of Three Kings Day, and it came and went without any merriment. It seems to mostly be a holiday for children around here, because there were stands lining the streets selling presents, but only plastic toys for kids.

Our apartment also quickly turned into a disappointment. It is pretty, but filled with problems. We have lived there for over a month now, yet haven’t taken a single hot shower, because the water heater doesn’t work and Jose’s family doesn’t appear to find it important to fix. There is no sink in our kitchen, so we have to wash our dishes outside in a small, cement sink that doesn’t fit our pots and plates and is always threatening to scratch or break them. Our front door is too short and has a five inch gap that allows all the dust and cold air to blow into our apartment. We have to dust every few days, and each time we sweep we have piles a few centimeters high. The power goes out at least a three times a week, but it flickers off and on at least once a day. Everything we want to do is in the Districto Federal, which takes almost two hours to get to by bus and metro. We have visited the stall market in Coyoacan, and realized what poor quality food is sold at our market.

We haven’t spent much time with Jose’s family since we moved out. It is partly because we wanted to finally have some privacy and space when we moved in, but also because we weren’t kept up-to-date with what the family was doing. I think Sergio and Maribel knew we weren’t so into hours of department store shopping, and haven’t invited us on any of their shopping excursions since. The night before my family arrived, we spent a few hours in Aunt Irene’s living room with the family, and it felt really nice to do again.

I couldn’t get myself to write a new post, because there was nothing going on that felt worthy of writing about. Life was pretty boring and difficult. Chimalhuacan is more a place to survive than really a place to live and enjoy life. Since Jose and I don’t have school and work to escape to during the day, we had to live in and enjoy Chimalhuacan.

We have been looking for things to do to start a life and be busy. We want to have responsibilities, and schedules, things to look forward to, and maybe even some things that we dread a little bit but need to do. Jose is thinking about going to school, we are going to take language classes, travel with Anna, and find a place to volunteer.