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Mexico, Travel

¡Adios Mexico City!

Despite the poor introduction we’ve had with Mexico City, I still love it and would seriously consider moving here someday (semester abroad?).

So, what were the highlights of the city? And, more importantly, how much did I spend?

#1 The Food (La Comida)

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Travel. Is. Affordable (if you just suck at saving, I feel you. Check out my mind-tricks here). As Americans, it can seem expensive because it is so hard for our brains to comprehend a $1 meal that didn’t come from a dollar menu. Coupled with the expensive flights to make it over the pond to the rest of the world, I know it seems like you’re off to an expensive start. But seriously, once you get there, SO affordable!

Thanks to said affordability, we got a little crazy and ate our faces off in CDMX. Most meals were about $1-$2. Even the sushi dinner wasn’t that bad, coming in at about $20. We ordered things we recognized to see the authentic take on them (tacos, quesadillas etc.) and they are nothing like back home. In short, Taco Bell is ruined for me and I can’t wait to come back here someday and have even more time to try all the food – we barely scratched the surface.

#2 The Locals (Los Locales)

Its obvious by our dress, attitude and accent that we are American. Haunted by the terrible policies of the Trump administration and the issues going on at the border right now, I wasn’t sure we would be overly welcomed in Mexico city. Aside from being teased once about being here to “visit or invade”, everyone has been very nice. While we interacted with a lot of locals, there are three interactions that I won’t be able to forget.

Interaction #1

In the US, Mexico City seems to be surrounded by a negative stigma that its this super dangerous place. Just like any major city (P.S Mexico City is the biggest city in the world), there is crime – theft, murder, rape – but Mexico City is doing a great job at taking steps to combat that. Upon one of our first train rides, a Metro employee approached us and offered his assistance. He led us to the train platform that we needed to be on, explaining that at the end of every train platform is a designated safe area for women and girls where they can board train cars specifically for ladies.

While I was in Japan I noticed a similar system. While it’s sad to acknowledge a need for this, Japan and Mexico are setting wonderful examples that America could follow.

Interaction #2

Standing in line at the McDonald’s ice cream window, a kid comes up and begins speaking to us in Spanish. Between the three of us, we decipher that he is asking for money. We chatted with him for a bit, learning that he was 7 years old and that his mom was at home. He was a nice and funny kid who looked well fed and was just hoping to get some spending money. We didn’t want to support the begging habit, but ended up buying him a twisted ice cream cone which totally made his night! What a random thing.

Interaction #3

While visiting the ancient Aztec city of Teotihuacan, the sound of jaguar noises echoed across the plain. It turns out they are made from a tiny toy being sold by the local merchants. I wasn’t confident I’d be able to make the same sound, but after a little lesson and a purchased toy, I’m a pro! Check out the video below.

Jaguar Noises

 

#3 The sights (Las Vistas)

Mexico is famous for its ancient Aztec history. So naturally, Mexico is chock full of interesting sites. It was hard to choose which attractions to see, so we opted to do a blend of touristy and non-touristy.

Pyramid of the Sun

Guys, I’ve always wanted to see a pyramid.

Pyramid of the Sun
My first pyramid, Pyramid of the Sun, outside Mexico City.

Before planning this trip, I didn’t even realize that there was any outside of the infamous Egyptian pyramids. Doh! Counting “ceremonial structures”, Mexico is home to hundreds. My tribe visited one of the most popular, The Pyramid of the Sun, located in the old Aztec city of Teotihuacan (pronounced “teo ti hu can”).

Group selfie in front of Pyramid of the Sun Mexico
Ashley, Hayden and me in front of the Pyramid of the Sun

The Pyramid of the Sun is one of the largest pyramids in Mesoamerica and the third largest in the world. During its life (200 BC – 750 BC), it was used for ‘religious, administrative and community tasks’. At a height of 65m (195 ft), it takes about 250 freaking-steep stairs to reach the top. If your kneecaps and lungs can take it, its an incredible view from the top.

Museo del Juguete Antiguo

This is one of those “non-touristy” things. I often reference Atlas Obscura to find unusual things to do.  Here in Mexico City, they did not disappoint. Hayden and I visited Museo del Juguete Antiguo – a “freak toy” museum….and freaky it was! First, it looks like its just in some random guys’ house that is nowhere near the touristy part of town (sorry mom). Second, its filled to the brim with thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of obscure, weirdly positioned, and [sometimes] freakishly common, toys.

In the tech industry, we have a motto. DRY: “Don’t repeat yourself”. Basically, don’t do work twice. In the spirit of DRY, if you’d like to read more about Museo del Juguete Antiguo and support Atlas Obscura for helping me find it, you can read their wonderful article with all the history here.

¡Adios (but not to my budget)!

Just like our time in Mexico City, its time to wrap. But before I go, I’d like to share with you just how affordable this trip could be for you:

Expenses (in $USD)

Now, these numbers are representative of my share of things. If dinner for 2 was $20, I’m logging it as $10 because that is what I paid. These numbers are totals for the entirety of my time in Mexico City.

Food$78 You can tell where my priorities are. This is for all my meals, snacks, drinks, treats and “oh I just have to try one bite”‘s. It also includes a sushi dinner which was $20 and boozy Olive Garden (hey, I was homesick). 

Lodging: $53.25 My share of 6 nights at our hostel in a private room, including a free breakfast that I ate every day.

Entertainment & Souvenirs$16.20  This includes the Pyramid of the Sun (includes round-trip bus fare), a festival, several museums and a few hands of blackjack at the casino.

Transportation$10 With an amazing infrastructure, trains were the transport of choice coming in at $1 per ride. Uber is also insanely cheap and a great alternative after I got pickpocketed on the train.

Misc (tips, donations etc): $5. Unlike Asia, tips are welcome in Mexico. Honestly, I like it better this way – its more like home. Tips are appropriate for cab drivers, waiters, or warrioresses who choose to pose with you or bless you. Total I spent $10 in tips (I know, I know, it sounds so cheap but I promise it was the appropriate amount).

Total Spent: $162.45 for one week.

Not too shabby, right?

I hope you’re enjoying the information so far – what do you think? Would you ever visit here, why or why not? Please leave any opinions, questions or comments in the comment section below. 🙂

Mexico, Travel

A rough start in Mexico City

Mexico City Wins

Guys, this is not how I envisioned my getaway starting!

Originally, my travel tribe planned to stay in Mexico City about 3 nights. It’s now been 6 nights, and we are missing several travel tools we originally came with:

  • Our group member, Ashley
  • My iPhone X
  • Hayden’s Debit Card

I’m grateful our month-ish timetable gives us the luxurious flexibility to move as we please – or in this case, as needed. But WTF happened?!

Let’s go down the list.

Missing Member

First, this type of travel is not for everyone. There is a reason it’s called “roughing it” – its rough! Ashley gave it a great go coming with us – I’m so proud of her for prepping, planning and trying. The unknown is scary and its a lot of work. Ultimately, it wasn’t for her. As proud of her as I am for trying, I’m equally as proud of her for doing what she needed to do for herself (we should all follow her example) – even if it meant she wouldn’t be continuing on with us. She’s now at home hugging kitties and, after the week we’ve had here, I could seriously go for some kitty hugs too.

Because……

Pickpocketed

Mexico City has a connotation of being dangerous. While it isn’t very outwardly violent, there is a lot of crime. Not sure how since never before in my life have I seen so many police in one city. Even though there are always at least 3 officers in eyesight, to fight crime here you must catch it in the act.

My iPhone X was taken from my pocket on a crowded train. I’m talking crowwwwwwwded. I didn’t feel it happen but I realized it as soon as I got out of the train car. Thanks to the quick catch, Hayden and I were able to track my phone location to a nearby market filled with people selling [what look to be stolen] phones. We have returned the past 3 days waiting for it to crop up in hopes of buying it back. Being our last day in Mexico City, today I broke down and bought a cheap throw away smartphone.

I’m angry. Not about the phone or the money it will cost to replace it, but rather, because I feel all the planning I put into this trip has been snatched away – along with my perception of personal space. To compound it, I’m now dependant on Hayden (who has been LOVELY about this whole disaster). Though Hayden could not be more gracious, my inner control freak and radical-self-reliant burner soul is very uncomfortable in this position.

Being pickpocketed isn’t as jarring as nearly being kidnapped, but I still felt shaken. I even considered coming home. But, after a pep talk from my mom (I can’t believe I’m typing that almost as much as my mom couldn’t believe she was saying it), Hayden and I are going to continue on….even though Hayden is down a debit card.

ATM Fiasco

ATMs work here just like they do back home. Insert card, enter pin, take cash, blow money. Notice a missing step? Take card from machine – very important and time sensitive! If you don’t do it, it eats it. Unfortunately for Hayden, his debit card became an ATM midnight snack. Luckily, he was smart and divided his dollars across several accounts with different debit cards. Hmmm…wonder who gave him that idea? 😉

The Adventure Continues

Tomorrow, we’re off to Guatemala City! From there, we’ll be heading to Lake Antitlan for some scuba diving and volcano climbing. We specifically chose a remote area where we won’t have much connection. Even though I’m just regaining my connectivity, I’m looking forward to voluntarily losing it again.

I’ve been great about keeping track of expenses this trip, so look forward to a post with a cost breakdown for the Mexico City leg of the trip (hopefully your budget won’t have to include a new phone).

Travel

Perplexing pre-trip perceptions

All vacations & trips are accompanied by a sense of excitement and anxiety, right? I find that the magnitude of the adventure always scales perfectly with the level of excitement.

When I was planning my trip to Asia, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d never been abroad and all I knew of the Orient was based on half-remembered history lessons, American interpretations of cuisine, and a sampling of anime friends forced me to watch (and I’m so glad they did!).

Now that we have left Dayton and are in Chicago, it’s starting to sink in – I’M GOING TO CENTRAL AMERICA (henceforth known as ‘CA’)! What will it be like there? In Asia, I was surprised at the [lack of] traffic laws. So many scooters going all the time with no lanes or order what. so. ever. Are scooters a primary form of transport in CA? Will there be plentiful street food? How about stray animals abound? Or will it be very similar to America with blue jeans and cellular service?

Of course, the obvious answer is: It will be just like it is – Central America, its own unique culture. I enjoyed traveling through Asia successively, it allowed me to notice the differences across the various Asian cultures. With each nation having its own language, and CA being primarily Spanish speaking, will the countries be as notably different as they are in Asia?

Tonight, I’ll start finding out. We arrive in Mexico City this afternoon. I’m crossing my fingers for some overlap in the “street food” category – I’d love to get my hands on some street corn (elote) for dinner!

Wish me luck!

Travel

BIG SUMMER NEWS

HellloooooOOOOoOOooOOooo!!! Guys, I haven’t updated you in forever. That means something big must be cooking, right? Right!

Just like everyone else in the world, I’ve just been ‘so super busy’ that I haven’t been able to sit down and post. There’s some truth to that – this last year was crushing. I’ve been super busy with school & work, but deeper than that, I didn’t feel I was doing anything that was so awesome it was blog post worthy. I try to have little adventures and change it up, but do you need to know about that strange new road I took to work? I wouldn’t want that info clogging up my inbox! This post though, yeah, totally inbox worthy.

While it wasn’t announced on ZoomGoes, this time a year ago I fearfully took the first step into an adventure I wasn’t sure I was ready for – folding back into the ranks of ‘college student’. Up until this point in my life, I was a terrible student. Like, barely-graduated-high-school terrible.

Its been a wild 12 months. I’ve sprouted more gray hairs than a rotten potato, completed 1/4 of a bachelor’s degree program for computer science, worked 5 months at an internship I didn’t have to apply for, received my first EVER academic award, was on the Deans list the entire year, and suffered through a litany of digestive issues. My friends, this has been a different type of adventure. Asia was immersive while I traveled, but this adventure was a lifestyle.

Now that its summertime (omgyayayayayayayay!!!), I’ve been reflecting. The transformation is incredible – and I’m not just talking about the freshman -15 (yes, I lost weight)! Mental math is easier, I can code a solid web framework without any Googling, and I’m much better at problem-solving/creative thinking. In short, school is working!!! 

I’m so proud of my accomplishments this semester – it feels incredible to know I can actually do it. While we are still at the base of the mountain, I’m excited about the climb.

SPEAKING OF CLIMBS AND MOUNTAINS…… I’m going backpacking in Central America this summer!

A pillar of support for me this semester has been my job at our local pizza shop. The owner is wholeheartedly supportive of our personal goals, and I have some amazing coworkers who inspire me in my studies and support (indulge) me in crazy ideas like backpacking near the equator in the middle of summer. As such, myself and two of my coworkers (I’ve already introduced one of them to you) will be spending about a month-ish backpacking through Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama! Will you be with us every step of the way? We’ll be bringing you funny stories, wild ordeals, itemized spending for budget building and trend recognition purposes….oh, and PLENTY (maybe mostly) food pictures.

With the clock ticking (we fly to Chicago the 11th) my excitement is building for this new type of adventure. Not just a break from the grueling year-that-was, but for the experience of traveling with friends vs. solo. Of course, each will have its pros and cons, but I think with this group, I’m going to have the best pros I could have and the least con-y cons I could have.

In closing guys, this is the tip of the perverbial exitement-iceberg…so stay tuned for future annoucements!

Travel

An American Christmas & a happy new year!

It’s all over?!?!

I’m not sure if I’m happy, sad, relieved or distraught. I’ll be honest here, Christmas is one of my favorite holidays. Like, ever. EVVVERRR. I start listening to Christmas music as soon as the wind gets a bite to it (and sometimes even in Summer!). This year though, Christmas felt a little funky.

Since I got back from Asia, a few things have felt a little funky. For better or worse, I find myself looking at my life and the world around me through a different set of glasses than before. Everything from laundry to scrambling eggs to city infrastructure to dating, and yes, even Christmas.

This year, my Christmas was just out of a fairy tale. A beautiful tree, surrounded by family, presents galore and cherry waffles. I got an array of amazing gifts that I’m more grateful for than I have been for any gift I’ve received in the last 27 years.

I kept thinking about what it would be like in Asia – not just weather wise either. Do they have a tree to decorate? What about presents? As Americans, chocolate is a pretty common gift for us to give. What about in Asia – do they give mangoes or sticky rice? What is an Asian Christmas like?

One of the most glaring differences between Americans and Asian cultures is our consumerism. Needing to buy more, bigger and better all the time – I didn’t get a glimpse of this anywhere except Japan. Even then, most products either had “this” or “that” (vs. just “this”) as a choice. Not this, this, this, this, this OR that. Some of  you might remember  the wall of ranch I found in Krogers (overkill guys, waaaay overkill).

Some of you might wonder: “Isn’t Asia a heavily Buddhist country? Do they even celebrate Christmas?” Naturally as a huge Christmas nerd, I had the same question! While I was in Japan, I asked my Japanese host about this. She said “the country is mainly Buddhist, but we’re flexible, so we’re Christian in December! Japanese like presents.” (haha, her words!) The family I stayed with in Vietnam also has a beautiful Christmas tradition. So, just like America, not everyone celebrates Christmas, but most people do in one way or another.

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Children with Santa from the school I worked with in Vietnam

 

If  you’ve ever seen Family Guy (an adult cartoon) there is an episode where a child from Mexico receives a “ball in a cup” as a gift – and he is just so excited about it! The joke being that his family can’t afford anything better than that, and that the ball in a cup is one of the best things he’s gotten in his life so far. For me, that joke used to be stereotyping-racist, but funny. Now, it’s ‘oh-shit-just-got-real’ not so funny anymore.

When I looked at all my presents I got this year, I thought of families in Asia. By American standards, the southeast Asian countries are poor. The children that I taught at the school in Thailand would have probably killed to have a Christmas like I did- this made me feel guilty. Like I was unworthy.

Why should I get all this stuff while there are people out there who aren’t getting anything? People who would ask Santa for medicine, clean water, or bread instead of Furbys, Pokemon games, and designer jeans.

Even in America, there are plenty of people asking for the same things. The homeless, the mentally ill, elderly people, orphans and so many more. While I always knew this, it was just a concept or a fact. Having now seen extreme poverty first hand, it’s become much more real to me.

So, instead of sitting around feeling guilty about my status, I’m putting that feeling to work! For my new years resolution, I’m going to take an active role this year to help those less fortunate in any way I can. Monetary donations, volunteering, donating food, supplies – or something – every month for the next year. I challenge you to do the same!

If you’re not able to (or ready to) contribute in a physical capacity, at least challenge yourself to have a conscious appreciation for what you have in your life. The fact that you have a device to read this post on and an internet connection is a good place to start 🙂

Happy New Years everyone – welcome to 2017, the year of appreciation.

 

 

 

Travel

6 things you’ll want to know about working in a food truck.

Food trucks, those grubby ol’ things?

Yes, food trucks. It’s been a hot topic for me lately, one I wanted to share with you!

BUT FIRST!

We’ve got a lot to catch up on guys! I can’t believe it’s already been over two months since I got home. It seems like just yesterday I was eating breakfast at cat cafes.

After arriving home, I fell into the deep hole of post-trip depression. Not to say I’m entirely out of the rut, but I’m making the climb. I found myself back living at my parent’s house, unemployed, and poor.

After having so many amazing ‘checks’ on my record – a great job in the heart of Chicago, traveling through Asia, breaking through barriers I never thought I’d be able to break through – it felt like suuuuuch a step back to be where I was. In a basement. At my parents house. In Ohio. Surrounded by Trump-Pence signs, lots of white people, and McDonalds.

I had to start getting back on my own two feet. The best way to start would be to find a job.

We all know working sucks. I bet only 1 out of 100 of you reading this (ha, I wish there were 100 of you reading this lol) truly love their job. Isn’t that unfortunate? So many people across the world spend their lives working somewhere they hate, or worse, somewhere they are just going through the motions with no feelings at all.

I didn’t want that to me be.

Starting the job hunt, I was picking from the top of the tree. I only applied to jobs that I thought I’d enjoy doing. Hopefully I’d get one of these before I found myself in the position of applying to everything and been desperately forced to accept a job I would hate.

Scrolling through hundreds of job listings across various fields, I was focused on certain aspects of a role before I applied to it. No uniform. Not a corporation. A small team of less than 50 employees. Accepting of dreadlocks and tattoos. Offered the chance to have new experiences – maybe travel a bit. Somewhere I could learn new skills. And, last but not least, somewhere that aligned with my personal hobbies and goals.

I finally found it – Mohawk Freestyle Grill!

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Working on a food truck

Food trucks sometimes get a bad rap. There’s a lot of mystery around them. People might think they’re dirty, or worse, that the food isn’t as good as if it was from a restaurant. While each of these might be true for some food trucks, it isn’t true for all of them and it certainly isn’t true for us at Mohawk Freestyle Grill.

Most misconceptions (not just about food trucks) are conceived and birthed from a lack of knowledge and experience. I’m here to help shed some light on the mystery of food trucks!. 🙂

1. The food is better than restaurant quality – love really is an ingredient.

Okay guys let’s think about this.

Restaurants: Often times a chain corporation, usually employ about 50 employees. In restaurant kitchens, there’s usually a manager but often times it’s not the owner of the business. I can tell you that the kids in the kitchen are as invested in your meals up to as much as they are getting paid.

VS

Food trucks: Only employ a handful of people. This means that these few select employees are always on the job, becoming experts at what they do. Additionally, the owner is almost always on the truck – either cooking the food or taking your order.

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Aaron Hanover, a classically trained chef, is the proud owner of Mohawk Freestyle Grill – but he’s not the only food truck owner who takes pride in his truck and aims to REPRESENT! at every event. Having the head honcho on board all the time raises the standards of the truck, making sure that delicious food is coming out just the way it was meant to.

2. The food truck-ers are a strong community.

Most food trucks have teams of 2-8 people. In terms of company size, this industry is one of the smallest I’ve encountered across my 20+ jobs in my lifetime. While in a big corporation it’s easy to just become a numbered machine, food truck employees don’t have that luxury. Most of them are honest people just like you and me, trying to make a living doing what they’re passionate about.

Working in a food truck, you’re in the front lines. Being there in the grit of it allows you to see how your success is the truck’s success. You really can’t help but to feel a sense of pride and ownership. They look out for each other and help where they can.

3. You’re going to touch butts.

Yeeppppp, there’s definitely going to be some of that. A food truck is not a big space and sometimes it can get real personal when you’re doing the dance of “it’s 8 pm at a high school football game, why are we getting slaughtered right now?”

There are brushes, grazes and excuse me’s sometimes, and that’s just part of it.

4. It’s not always like that Bob’s Burgers episode (but sometimes)

I looooove Bob’s Burgers. As in, it’s pretty much always playing in the background at my house.

One episode, Bob buys a food truck and they take the show on the road. While getting the truck ship shape, they accidentally blow it up because they turned the grill on while the engine was running – a big no no because of how they had to wire it!

ouA6U

When I met Aaron for the first time he told me that he did a lot of the work in the truck himself. I immediately pictured this scene in my head. While we haven’t had any explosions, we’ve had to get creative with our problem solving. Yes, that door latch is made of Velcro. You gotta do what you gotta do!

5. We’re all in this together – buy local!

The biggest thing I’ve taken away from my experience so far is that we’re all in this together.

When we come to an event to serve good food, we’re serving it to our neighbors, our friends, our family. When you get a meal from a food truck, your supporting the people you see there – not some guy in a big chair, or on a golf course.

While the world is a small place, we can make it a little smaller by helping each other out. Here comes the hippie: buy local and help support your community!

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6. It can be incredibly inspiring

I talked earlier about how I felt that I had fallen, or taken a step back when I got home and set up shop in Ohio.

While working on a food truck may not have the same glamour that a “big-girl-downtown-Chicago” job does, the last few months working under Aaron has been incredibly inspiring. He and his wife put in long hours, extraordinary effort, and are fierce in their passion to make this dream come true.

I’m learning new skills that I’m able to practice at work or at home, like how to properly cut onions or clean a pineapple, making my personal hobby of cooking more satisfying. In a way, I feel like I’m doing an apprenticeship to learn a great, long-forgotten, craft. Maybe I’ll even open my own food truck someday!

Closing meditation exercise –

Now, before we part ways we’re going to do a little meditation exercise together. Read carefully!

You want to go online and look for food trucks in your area.

You want to eat out of the food trucks and support your community.

You are getting very hungry…….

Happy munching!

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