Grant McWilliams

Puebla es bonita..

The end is near.. :-(

Natalya's not feeling well so she's staying in today. I'm thinking she's getting dehydrated and her back is out plus she has a cold and her stomach is just about done with strange food. She's craving fruit so Piper and I head out to take more pictures, pick up some fruit and Gatorade. I also wrote down Pepto Bismol because I'm not sure what's going to happen to Jade. You see last night when I went out to get food Jade said he just wanted something known which is where most everyone but myself is standing. I'm still going full force wanting to experience all the culinary variation that the country has to offer but I'd be lying if I were to say that my body was handling it without complaint. One of two things is going to happen, either this food becomes normal or we go home and start eating something normal. Either way I'm OK with it. For now though, it's Mole Pablano and Chiles en Nagoda for me. So to satisfy the need for normal food Jade begged for a chicken sandwich at McDonald's (of all places). We enter McDonald's and look at the menu. Of course nobody can speak English but we know the drill - we look at a combo, say the number then say “no” to everything they ask until they ask the same thing more than once (meaning it wasn't a yes/no) question to which we say Sprite. This has done us fairly well in 30 countries. My kids always ask if they can have their sandwich without and I say no because in order to ask for them to hold something you actually have to be able to speak some of the language. I know how to say Lettuce, I don't know how to say Pickles so all sandwiches will have Pickles in Mexico. What we ended up with was a 10 piece chicken nuggets and a chicken sandwich. Both made into “Trio” meals which came with fries and a drink. McDonald's is just as bad in Mexico as it is at home unfortunately so don't get any ideas about the quality of the food being edible. Piper sat down to dinner and took a drink of her soda then asked the all important question “does this have ice?”. Crap, we'd been walking around getting my dinner and didn't notice if there were ice in the drinks. Jade was done with his soda and we popped the lid to peer in and sure enough there were shards of ice in there. I drank a few drinks but before the ice melted, Piper drank a few drinks after it was melted and Jade drank the whole thing thus the search for Gatorade and Pepto Bismol.

Note that ice cubes won't get you 100% of the time but he had a cup full of the local water in the form of ice and he ate it which pretty much seals your fate. The front desk read my note listing Pepto Bismol and whipped out a first aid kit with the familiar pink bottle in it and made a motion for me to pour some in a cup and take it. I ran back to the hotel room and gave it to Natalya to calm down her stomach. She gagged on the Pepto because she'd never drank liquid chalk before. I remembered liking Pepto when I was a kid but haven't had any since. Finding out that Pepto Bismol was called Pepto Bismol here was encouraging. If Jade gets Montezuma's revenge he will need to be plugged up for the plane flight home so off to the Pharmacy we went. I mentioned Petpo Bismol to which she asked me a question and I just sat there and stared at her like an idiot which I've gotten very good at by the way then she disappeared into the back. She came out with Pepto tablets which was even better – we could take them on the plane. After handing over my $3 I took them back to the hotel for the little birds. Jade was feeling fine but decided to hang out with Natalya as Piper and I explored the city and explore is what we did.

We needed breakfast and I wanted an apple filled pastry so we headed to the Zocolo and out the other side. We ran into a Churreria which seem to be very popular here. We bought a couple of Churros and headed down another street where we found a Tourist Information office. The man there spoke English unlike the TI on the Zocolo and gave me directions for the bakery. I took more photos then got shown up by a girl packing a DSLR with a giant lens. In a weird way I felt less manly for a second.

As we were walking down the street toward our bakery a group of people ran across the street and up on to the sidewalk – it was our new friends Betty and Sylvestre! They were eating in a restaurant across the street and saw us walking but there were more of them this time. The hands came out and I went down the line asking each what there name was and shaking their hand. They were all as bubbly and friendly as Betty and Sylvestre are. I've tired my hardest to remember there names and I wish now that I'd taken another photo of all of them together. So from memory their names were Sylvestre and Betty (of course), Medium (spelling?), Ramone, Ramona (the grandma), Norma who was with them yesterday and Carmen. I think I'm missing someone but I can't think of who so I apologize if I have. I tried my best to roll my R's when saying their names and think I did OK for names starting with R but ones with it in the middle are very challenging. I think all of the kids range from maybe 12 years old to 18 or so. Carmen is a very pretty girl who's parents need to think about locking her in a closet until she's 18. If you're reading this get out the padlock now before the boys are knocking on the door! :-)

I told them we were headed to the bakery and they asked if we wanted to just follow them which we did. Along the way we decided to exchange email addresses and Sylvestre offered to let me stay with him in Pasadena when I go down to work. I can't stress how friendly these folks are. Betty seemed disappointed when I told her that we'd be leaving tomorrow. Having seen Puebla and spent two days in it I am 100% sure that we will return and now that we have Betty's email address we can get together with her and her wonderful family when we go down next.

They dropped us off at the bakery and once again the hands came out and I went down the line to shake them and to say goodbye. What a wonderful family and I'm glad we ran into them again. I've sent them emails so we can stay in contact.

The bakery was a small version of the traditional Mexican bakery and had the same things. Mostly muffins and many types of croissants and breads. The one thing I enjoy about Mexican bakeries is the lack of sugar. For whatever reason Mexican baked goods are not very sweet which is great for me. After the bakery we continued up the street and decided to take a different route back to the hotel which took us past a VIPS http://www.vips.com.mx/ which is sort of a commercial Denny's/Olive Garden restaurant that for whatever reason seems to have gotten the coolest looking buildings in Puebla. This building was made of large stones almost in a castle style and in the middle was a long hallway in the Paris Gallery style with an open roof and slanted glass panes providing protection from the elements. Curious we entered and found the entire center of the building was uncovered and filled with more tent like glass coverings and small shops. Again you don't realize that there could be an permanent store without a building protecting it from the environment until you go to a place where the temperature rarely goes below 70. The entire central “courtyard” was filled with a sort of outdoor mall with real stores, food stands and a carousel in the middle complete with a train ride for small children and adults who feel like small children. If you're having a hard time imagining this just think of what would happen if you took your average American Mall and removed the roof over the hallways between the stores and replaced it with an open v-shaped piece of glass. The sun and fresh air would get in and technically the hallway would be “outside”. This is only possible in a place like Mexico and I don't think it would translate well to Seattle with 366 days of rain a year.

Earlier in the trip we saw people walking along the street with a spiral shaped piece of food on a stick and in this “mall” we found a stand selling such a thing which turned out to be a potato that's cut in a spiral then deep fried. We also picked up another meal on a stick which we didn't really know the ingredients to until we bit into it. You have to laugh when you think of the dietary recommendations at home and what this thing is. It's a hot dog, dipped in batter, then wrapped in bacon and deep fried! Seriously, I'm not making this up. Of course we had to have a couple of those too so walking back to the hotel we looked like a couple of porcupines with eight spiny quills stick up in each direction – 4 with spirals and 4 with bacon wrapped hot dogs. Everyone like the fried potato but the deep fried hot dog wrapped in bacon got mixed reviews. Your system can only handle so much grease and it seems that threshold is met by this strange concoction.

After lunch Piper and I hit the streets again to take more photos and find souvenirs then later Chiles en Nagoda the latter being the local specialty. Yesterday Jade and I left the zocolo the wrong way end ended up taking the long way home but I remembered seeing a souvenir shop so Piper and I retraced our steps and found a shop with a shot glass and key chains which is what Natalya asked for. They also had the famous Pablano Desserts which I of course purchased. These sweets look like gummy squares but when you bite into them they're so soft they almost all apart. It's quite a surprise but my kids did not find the strong flavor bite appealing. Once I translated the ingredients list I found alcohol in them. I've not had a problem walking the line after eating any so I'm thinking the amount of booze is quite small.

After nearly two weeks of eating Mexican food (and drinking melted ice the night before) only my stomach is wanting normal but there was one dish left to try – Chiles en Nogada. I was told that they only eat it in August but I found on place on the zocolo that sold it year round. It has pomegranate seeds which I'm sure you can't get all the time but still, I've never seen it on a menu at home so I just have to try it here. Chiles en Nogada is a pablano chile stuffed with a casserole of ingredients including meat, nuts and fruit. It's then covered with either an almond or walnut cream sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and parsley. It's a gorgeous looking dish and wonderful tasting too. As you can imagine the pom seeds were not bright red and juicy since their not in season and they stuck them inside the pepper (for probably the same reason) but overall I was very impressed. This dish has potential. I'll have to come back in August to try it when it's in season.

While we were standing in line for a table I got a phone call from Mother nature so we rushed back to the hotel. Undeterred we returned and sat in a couple of chairs with no table. A waiter came by and asked if we wanted a table (I guess that's what he said) and we said yes so off he went to get us a table. We just figured we'd sit while waiting instead of standing but in a minute he plopped down a table between our chairs and we were in business. I ordered the Chiles en Nogada of course and he said two numbers and a few other things which I figured out was a drink and soup which I took. He wanted to serve me a fruit drink but it has water in it so I skipped it and ordered agua purificado (purified water). Piper ordered a hamburger which turned out to be a HAM burger and she too got the meal with the soup and the drink. She wanted the fruit drink which I vetoed but then the waiter said agua purificado and I pointed to the fruit drink and he repeated agua purificado. I figured we're all probably getting sick form McDonald's anyway so what the heck. If we're not communicating right it's probably not going to make a difference anyway she got her strawberry drink.

Here hamburger was just that – made from smashed together ham which was hilarious. My dinner was excellent as well. We got Jade more junk food for dinner and returned to the hotel to pack up. The taxi will take us to the airport at 4:30 am...

On the architecture. I mentioned that there's a lot of red brick and tiles here in Puebla and the Spanish from Talevera have been credited for this. I can't say how different Puebla feels from other Mexican cities. To be fair, all Mexican Cities feel different from each other. Puebla however, feels like somewhere else. There was one time I was walking down one street and stopped and looked around because I felt like I was in Paris. Another time I felt like I was in Toulouse. There's such a mix here that I can't explain it. There are red brick and tile buildings everywhere and they really take you by surprise. It's as if there's a little of Morocco in Puebla.

 

My impressions overall... I like visiting Mexico City but I'd not want to live there. I would buy a summer (or winter) home in Oaxaca but I could see myself actually living in Puebla. Puebla is a real city with industry, tourism and culture. Puebla doesn't smell at all and is gorgeous. I'm very impressed with Puebla and we will without a doubt be returning in the future. There is so many things to do in Puebla which we didn't have time for I didn't even crack open the guidebook after we arrived. There's an African Safari place close! Don't even ask why because this is Mexico and anything goes. Also the largest pyramid in the world (yes larger than Egypt) is not that far in Chalula. Mexico City is only two hours away so even if someone wanted to avoid the rat race they could use Puebla as a base and take tours to Teotihaucan, Xochimilco etc.. in Mexico City I'd bet. This may be the safest and most pleasant way of seeing Mexico City too.

Puelba is so pretty that there's just no way I could have included enough photos in this blog post so I've added a bunch of photos to the end of it. The formatting will probably be all wrong but that's OK. Later I'll have all of the high res photos up in the Puebla trip gallery.