Leon hot air balloon festival an all-day affair

The Festival Internacional del Globo in Leon, Mexico.

Before heading to the Festival Internacional Festival del Globo in Leon to watch 200 hot air balloons from 23 countries take off at the crack of dawn, I began the day by shouting, knocking on walls and repeatedly banging trash bins in the lobby of my bed and breakfast at 5 a.m. No, I wasn’t sleepwalking again. The front door to this hell hole was locked with a key and I needed someone to come open it. This drum solo took place on and off for 20-30 minutes until the elderly staff member woke up, telling me “So noisy.”

I’d already taken most of my rage out on the trash bins so I let his comment slide. Besides, I had a hot air balloon festival to get to. The only reason I stopped in Leon during my month backpacking around Mexico was to see this festival, which looked pretty cool in photos. And you know what? It turned out to be pretty cool in person too. It’s not often you see hundreds of hot air balloons — with shapes including Jesus, Darth Vader, Van Gogh and Sponge Bob Square Pants — floating above you.

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Great Pyramid of Cholula: Maybe I should stay away from tunnels

I’ve always assumed I’m claustrophobic, and now I know for sure. During my nightmarish visit to the Great Pyramid of Cholula’s underground tunnels, I spent the majority of the time trying to think of anything but my surroundings. I’ll spare you the anxiety-filled details and just say I had a panic attack but did my best not to show it. Like when you badly need to go to pee, the last thing you want to do is talk about it and think about it even more.

I took a bunch of pictures to take my mind off of things and because the tunnels — as suffocating as they felt — make for a good photo. But I couldn’t help but die a little bit on the inside every time I turned a corner and was greeted by another long tunnel with no end in sight. Ugh. You think I would’ve learned from my visit to the Natural Bridge Caverns in San Antonio, but as they say, some people never learn. I think they were talking about me.

Dia de Muertos in Oaxaca is more fiesta than funeral

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I saw more booze flowing than tears while visiting cemeteries in Oaxaca for Dia de Muertos, which tells you something about the Mexican celebration. The families of the deceased sit alongside their graves that they’ve proudly decorated, some with photos and skull decor. Bands play alongside graves, furthering the idea that Dia de Muertos celebrates the dead rather than mourns them.

Some foreigners might feel like they’re intruding on families and their holiday. I heard this sentiment more than a few times due to the fact that some cemeteries were crowded with tourists snapping pics. But when I asked one local woman sitting alongside a grave with her family if they were annoyed with the heavy tourist presence, she responded “On the contrary, we love sharing this with everyone.”

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Dia de Muertos makeup gone wrong

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My Dia de Muertos makeup in Oaxaca, Mexico.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I had my face painted to get into the spirit of Dia de Muertos in Oaxaca and figured I’d take a few pics and wipe it off with ease at the end of the night, just like I did when I got my face air brushed for the Dia de Muertos parade in Mexico City days earlier. But, as the title of this post clearly states, things didn’t go as planned.

The problems started when I gave the face painter on the street the creative freedom to do whatever design he wanted. He took his sweet time, despite the long lines, and painted to almost the edge of my eye lids and on top of my lips. An invasive 45 minutes later, I was left with something satanic that was more appropriate for a Rob Zombie horror movie than a friendly Dia de Muertos celebration. Ugh. There went my chances of talking to any Catrinas that night.

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Worm tacos: Breakfast of campeones

Worm tacos at El Hidalguense in Mexico City.

When it comes to breakfast in Mexico, the only rule is there are no rules. It’s a free for all with no restrictions. And that’s just how I like it. I’m the same skinny fat kid who has been known to eat leftover pizza and birthday cake for breakfast on occasion. You think I minded starting my day with tamales, quesadillas or chilaquiles?

On Sunday, my brother and I opted for tacos for breakfast. But these weren’t your average artery-clogging tacos with greased up tortillas. No, these were worm tacos. And believe it or not, they were good. Seriously. The restaurant, El Hidalguense, is famous for its barbacoa tacos, but my brother and I both agreed their worm tacos were better. The combination of the tortilla, sauce and seasoning help mask the weirdness of the worms. Just be warned that the worms aren’t as good on their own.

I bit into a single worm that had fallen on my plate and whatever is on the inside of those things squished unexpectedly into my mouth. Man, I wasn’t ready for that. The worm managed to do what tarantula, bull penis and guinea pig couldn’t and that’s make me cringe.

Mexico City’s Dia de Muertos parade worth the stress

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The third annual Dia de Muertos parade in Mexico City, Mexico .

You could say I was a bit on edge about the Dia de Muertos parade in Mexico City. I know how hard it is to see a parade if you don’t have a good spot and wanted to avoid that at all costs. Rather than spend the afternoon stressing about it, as I’m known to do, my brother and I spent the afternoon on a curb securing our spot. We arrived at the 4 p.m. parade at 12:30 p.m., meaning we were there three and a half hours early. No food runs. No bathroom breaks.

Think I calmed down once we got our spot? You must not know me too well. I became overprotective whenever it appeared someone was intruding our space — that included kids, parents and grandparents. I’m not proud of it. But karma ended up biting me in the ass when a police officer and parade organizer decided to spend the parade standing in front of me, ruining countless photos.

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Does New York pizza live up to the hype?

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The Montanera pizza at Don Antonio in New York.

I had always assumed Chicago has better pizza than New York pizza because c’mon. But I hadn’t tried the top pizza spots in New York, despite having interned there back in the day, so I couldn’t say for sure. That’s why I made it a point to visit the best of the best during my most recent visit to New York. If I’m going to spend the rest of my life bragging about Chicago pizza, I better know my sh**.

I did my homework on New York’s best pizza joints and ended up visiting six of them. My favorite? The Montanara at Don Antonio, which has a lightly fried dough. It was different. And different was one of the main things I was looking for. The other two pizzas I liked were at John’s of Bleecker St and NY Pizza Suprema, both of which serve pizzas with excellent sauce and perfectly baked crust. For the most part though, the pizzas I tried tasted like pies you can find around the country. Sorry, Roberta’s.

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