Red indicates countries Alexis has visited at least once and can check off her list.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Puerto Rico (City: San Juan)

Puerto Rico was declared a United States Territory in 1902, but for the most part, it still maintains its unique culture.  We stayed right in San Juan off the beach.  Here is a view from the hotel:

Despite the number of fast-food joints near the hotels, the local food was great. We ate at Mi Casita twice because of the delicious shrimp mofongo.  On the beach, there was a mother and daughter who set up a chicken shish kabob grill.  I think it was the best chicken I have ever had.

We took a day trip to Old San Juan and ate piraguas (shaved ice with flavored syrup).  Here are photos of Old San Juan:

This building is part of what used to be a military stronghold and lookout.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Mexico, Part 3 (City: Mexico City)

People rave about Mexico City and I really wanted to visit Teotihuacan, which is just 25 miles northeast of the city.  At O'Hare Airport while we waited for our flight, a man told us that Mexico City is sinking 3 inches a year because the city of 20 million people is consuming all of the water that runs under it.  

Also sinking, the Catedral Metropolitatana de la Asuncion de Maria in the city's zocalo, is visibly crooked.  This is not only from Mexico City's water problems, but also because the Catholic church was actually and symbolically built on top of pre-Hispanic structures.

Inside is a painting of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.  Below the painting are three conveyor belts used to stand on and view the painting from different angles.  This is probably set up to ensure everyone gets a chance to clearly view it.

Also in Mexico City are the remains of a lake that form a series of canals known as Xochimilco. Today, tourists visit to take boat rides on colorful trajineras, which are pushed through the canals with a long pole.  Vendor boats pull up alongside of the tourist trajineras to sell them food that they make right on their boats, including barbecued meat.  Also on the canal are boats holding mariachi who serende the tourists.

Locals live along the canal, making their living through the tourism and agriculture. One man who lives along the canal has a collection of babydolls that are tied to and hanging from the trees.  It is such a strange sight.

Finally we made it to Teotihuacan!  Before we entered the site, we stopped at a roadside stand to get breakfast, Atole (Mexican hot chocolate) and tamales.

Inside, a man offered to give us a quick tour.  He told us a brief history and made sure we knew how to climb the stairs properly, as to not insult the Gods.  We climbed both the sun and the moon stair structures diagonally, changing directions every five stairs.  Maybe he was playing a joke on us, but we didn't want to disobey the Gods--just in case.

I had quite a workout that day, climbing all those stairs!

When you reach the top of the Sun structure, everyone waits in line to put their finger on a certain spot for a few moments. Supposedly, this is the spot where "men become Gods".  

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Mexico, Part 2 (City: Real de Catorce)

From Matehuala, we drove about one hour to Real de Catorce, an old mining gem. To enter the village you have to drive through a one-way tunnel in the mountain called Ogarrio Tunnel, which is 1.5 miles long. 

The village looks like a ghost town, but people still reside in Real de Catorce.  Artists sell silver jewelry and other silver items to tourists.  We ate snacks from the vendors--the most peculiar being a slice of wood soaked in spices called quiote.  It is meant to be chewed and spit out. 

We visited the famous Church of the Immaculate Concepcion in Real de Catorce, known for the pilgrams who visit every October 4 to pray for miracles.  In the back of the church, there is a room with hand-made prayers posted on the wall by families of the ill, the dead and the hopeless. The image that is most worshipped is that of the miraculous St. Francis of Assisi, also known as "Panchito" or "El Charrito." 

Next to the tunnel on the way out was a woman who was hitching a ride to her nearby town. We picked her up and brought her to her town.  On the ride home, we saw families living on the side of the highway in huts.  Most of them were selling animal skins, including snake skins!

Of course, Julio wanted to stop.  I got a snake in my face through the car window!

Real de Catorce was the set of many movies, including "The Mexican" with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Mexico, Part 1 (City: Matehuala)

Matehuala is the fourth largest city in the state of San Luis Potosi with a population of about 70,000.  Matehuala is known for its signature arcs at the entrance of the town off the highway. It is said that when the day of judgement comes, the arcs will serve as handles so that God can easily pull the city up to heaven.

It is also where Julio grew up.  Here is his colorful house:

The best thing is the food.  The meat is always freshly butchered and the produce of best quality.  We went to the town's central market, the Mercado de Artista, and ate tortas and banana milkshakes with cinnamon on top.  In fact, we ate this almost everyday because I couldn't get enough!

Here is a rather drab photo of the streets in Matehuala:

Side Note: If the cars seem outdated, it's because they are.  Aside from buying new vehicles, locals do not have easy access to used cars.  Due to border regulations, cars being brought into Mexico from the United States need to be exactly 10 years old.  For instance, in 2009, only used cars made in 1999 can be brought into Mexico.

We visited Julio's deceased auntie in the cemetery.  Due to a lack of space, the coffins are stacked vertically, instead of laid out adjacent like in the United States.  The cemetery was very peaceful and they sold fresh flowers outside.  Here is a random grave stone:

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

The Dominican Republic (City: Santo Domingo de Guzman)

The Dominican Republic was just one stop on a cruise itinerary partaken for a college spring break vacation in 2003.  We stopped in the extremely hot Santo Domingo for just a few hours.  

It counts as a visit.

Fast Facts from CIA Factbook:

It shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

Migration is a major issue affecting the D.R., as there are large flows of migrants to and from the country.

The DR is known for baseball and merengue.

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