Wandering

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Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

How many readers out there knew that this great saying – “Not all those who wander are lost” – comes from a poem by J.J.R. Tolkien, written for The Lord of the Rings? Well, I didn’t know and I was wholly surprised when I Googled it for this article.

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Ruth, the souvenir seller in Antigua, Guatemala

And I love the saying. It is certainly true for me. I often find myself trying to explain what I’m doing and why, because when I tell people I have no home and no car but simply travel all the time, it is not enough. Sometimes, I can see in their eyes the idea that I must be lost without a home.

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The craziness of Ho Chi Minh City

The truth is that the corner I cannot see around is my focus, or the door that blocks my view to the interior of someone else’s space. That ship unloader I can spy just over the treetops at night intrigues me, as does the destination of each city bus. Curiosity leads me to the next thing and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, I’m completely content to simply sit and watch things pass me by.

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Melaka’s Riverwalk

I am a wanderer who became a wife and mother, a worker in the corporate world, a business owner, unable to travel for lack of funds and time. Although life allowed me to see much of the US over my lifetime, I didn’t venture outside it until 2015. Now that I’ve been “let loose” I find I treasure my international adventures jealously, and my most favorite times are those when I stay somewhere long enough to “wander” into a neighborhood and become part of it for an extended time.

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One of Ipoh’s many famous murals in Malaysia.

 

I started my journeys in SE Asia with an Excel spreadsheet and set times I would stay in an area. I hadn’t learned how to wander yet. Now, I rarely know where I’m staying in a city more than a couple of days in advance and never how long I’ll stay somewhere before I get there.

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Time with my daughter on Playa Grande beach in Costa Rica.

It is necessary for me to get the “lay of the land” and if I find joy in the place I’m visiting it is very hard for me to leave. Guadalajara was like that for me. I was so tempted to stay on for a couple of months. Now that I’ve found Manzanillo, I’m so glad I didn’t.

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Atop the wonderful cathedral of Leon

In SE Asia, my long-term stay was Melaka, Malaysia (where I wrote a book over a two-month period). During my Central America trip, I ended up with two such places – Potrero, Costa Rica and Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Here in Mexico, it very nearly became Guadalajara (I was set to return by bus after three days) until I stumbled on Manzanillo.

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The incredible Angkor Wat in Cambodia

When I began my vagabond lifestyle, I didn’t know all that it could be. I didn’t realize that planning was the antithesis of the freestyle living I could embrace. Now I’m an old-hand at it, although, like everything in life – there’s still lots to learn.

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The stunning Doi Suthep temple outside Chiang Mai, Thailand

Ultimately, wandering is not for everyone. I have met several people for whom seeing as much as possible is their goal and others for whom my often-rudimentary housing would absolutely be a deal-killer. Scheduling, as I once did, is a must-have for most people – in part because their time is limited. Mine isn’t, and I’ve come to understand everyone travels in their own way.

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Ubud, Bali – view of a restaurant

But if you can do it someday and it suits you, I highly recommend the leisurely exploration of another country – even your own country with no agenda. I plan to someday travel a bit more of the US at some point, when I can figure out how to afford it.

I’ve included random pictures of some of some of my wanderings. Enjoy.

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Where it all began – in the Philippines with Vanessa!

 

Settling into Manzanillo

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Welcome to my world! The RED door to the upstairs apartments.

I woke from a lovely nap feeling ready to pounce on my creativity. I took a cool shower, slipped on my clothes and grabbed my camera. One of the reasons I love where I’m staying in Manzanillo is that the surroundings are fill with eye candy. Everywhere I look, inside or outside my apartment, there is something to delight.

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Dusk in Manzanillo

I started out in Manzanillo at a budget hotel, fine for a couple of days but not a place I could afford or would want to stay longer than that. I’ve posted the story of how I landed at this lovely place on Facebook, so here it is again (for those of you that read this blog AND are a FB friend):

“A WORD ABOUT FATE! I have had another lovely quirk of fate today. I was trying to figure out where to go next all last night. I woke up this morning (well, really just before noon) ready to book a flight and hotel somewhere else.

As fate would have it (intentional) the little cafe next door – called Crepes and Cafe – isn’t a breakfast place at all and was closed. There were no restaurants open, so I decided to return to my hotel and eat breakfast out of the vending machine. It ate my money instead. So, frustrated, I asked the girl at reception where there was a mini-mart. She told me to go right, cross the street at the corner and it was right there.

I nodded, but for some reason, went left instead and walked three blocks until I spied a coffee bar that looked nice – and had yummy looking buns on the counter – and went in for a cup of joe, etc. I spied a nice area in the back and walked through to the spot in the pictures. The owner came to wait on me and mentioned she had rooms to rent. After my breakfast, she took me upstairs and showed me a full apartment – very comfortable, with kitchen, Wifi and a view of the ocean from my bedroom – and told me it was $300 a month.

Guess who is staying in Manzanillo for at least a month, maybe a few.

Now, consider this – if I had gone right instead of left I would never have found this place. If the vending machine had been working – I never would have found this place. If I had woken up earlier and eaten breakfast at the hotel, I never would have found this place.

Wow! – that’s all – just wow!

Pictures of the actual apartment coming when I move in on Friday. In the meantime, this is the “patio” for the apartments and for the cafe. I can’t wait.”

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That’s my bedroom window on the far left!

That post was uploaded on the 8th, I moved in on the 9th and this is the 15th and I haven’t yet come down to earth. I’m busy taking it all in and have decided to stay here for three months total. It is only partly the amazing apartment and little café downstairs that has captured me. I’m also enjoying this little town.

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Part of the cafe downstairs.

Manzanillo isn’t the cultural mecca that Guadalajara is but it has its own richness. And by no means have I adequately explored it. I have ventured a few blocks either way from “mi casa” and enjoyed the beach in the afternoon and dusk. The local “supermarket” – Soriana – is surrounded by small businesses, some as familiar as GNC and Sally Beauty Supply and a three-screen cinema, which I’ll visit as soon as I manage to time it right for an English showing of either Kong or Logan. Basically, I feel at home, with just enough foreigner mixed in to make it exotic.

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See! Eye candy!

There is much more to see and I’ll get around to it, but in the meantime, I feel my muscles relaxing and my mind opening. In Asia, I found my nest in Melaka (and wrote a book), in Central America it was Lake Atitlan in Guatemala and now I’m centered in a smallish port town with a nice, if somewhat rundown, tourist area.

It’s perfect.

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Have a seat! Just one of the places to relax in my new environment.

Tapatio Tours in Guadalajara

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My bus!

Many of my readers here also followed my travels through SE Asia, where twice I experienced – with great joy – the double-decker tour buses. Well, I’ve been at it again.

I enjoyed the Turibus in Mexico City – very much – and made the Tapatio tour the first thing I did in Guadalajara. If you haven’t tried these two-story wonders, please do next time you have a chance.

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A wide variety of wares are available from the vendors in Tlaquepaque.

They are fabulous for getting an overview of a city, so you can pick and choose where you what to spend more time during the rest of your visit. And they are cheap. In Malaysia, I spent about $9.00 for a full day of touring (Kuala Lumpur and Penang separately), while in Guadalajara it cost me just 70 pesos or $3.50 (because I’ve hit the magic age for ½ price!) – the full fare per person for all three area tours which take 5 hours total is $7.00.

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Tlaquepaque is a pretty little town.  Spot the owl?

 

I found the Tapatio Tours to be not as exciting as the others I’ve taken, but it took me to Tlaquepaque (a little touristy town known for its artisans)and that alone was worth the ride. I had intended to ride the Tap back for a full day there, but never quite made it back.

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A happy place! Jewelry!

There’s no real route that takes you around the historical district, but that’s fine because that’s so doable on foot, yet if it wasn’t for the tour bus I wouldn’t know that there is a fine downtown and business district in Guadalajara, as there was in Mexico City.

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My chosen spot for an Americano!

Again, you easily find where you want to spend your time. I ended up devoting the rest of my stay to exploring the Centro Historico – a lovely way to while away three weeks! Discovery is the very best sensation for me, and I found that every corner I turned offered something new in my beautiful Guadalajara.

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This display of collars made me stop in my tracks.

Tip of the Day – bring a hat to shade you upstairs and a bottle of water, because it can be brutally hot, especially while waiting in traffic.

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Enormous carving in a shop window.

Mexico’s Prolific Graffiti Scene

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A work-in-progress shot by Edgar Lopez.

I don’t think I’m unusual, as an American, in my knee-jerk reaction to graffiti. It has inspired caution and even fear in me. However, I’ve come to understand that random graffiti in Mexico doesn’t mean the same thing it does in the US. After speaking to others here in Guadalajara, including a native-born young man, I understand that, as he pointed out, it’s mostly art or boredom – not gang tagging.

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You see graffiti in the oddest places.
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Again – up high.

It is easy to see, here in Guadalajara and Oaxaca so far, that the presence of graffiti is not ominous. It is pretty much everywhere, however less prominent in the heart of the historical areas. Anyway, here are few examples – most I’ve shot, but two of the art examples were provided by one of hostel mates. Enjoy.

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Another one taken by Edgar Lopez.
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On my street
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Getting political in Oaxaca
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Translation – “Death to the State”

Overwhelmed by Guadalajara

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One end of the Plaza de Liberacion

I’ve been in this fantastic city for two weeks without writing about it. That’s just wrong!

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This doesn’t count as a plaza – but it’s a lovely spot to park yourself for a while. The rotunda of heroes.

I haven’t exactly been neglectful – because I’ve been thinking about what I would write and making notes the entire time – I’ve honestly been overwhelmed. There is so much to talk about that I’ve had a hard time focusing. So, the only solution is to break it down into manageable pieces.

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One shot of the fountain in the Plaza Guadalajara

Today’s installment is about all the wonderful plazas that dot the historic district. The official area is about 10 blocks long and four blocks wide, and nearly every square block has at least one plaza, varying in size and focus.

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The fantastic gazebo!

I definitely have a favorite – and oddly enough there are no cafes or shops around it. It is as pure a plaza – my definition is “an open space to restore yourself and appreciate the surroundings” – as I’ve run into – Plaza de Armas. It has a lovely wrought iron gazebo, where families pose on the steps for photos. For some reason, it is also the place the pigeons gather and I watched the little ones chase them, giggling, for a half-hour at least.

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This is my favorite spot in Guadalajara – across from the Palacio de Gobierno!

It is also across the street from the Palacio de Gobierno – a still functioning government building with historic murals by José Clemente Orozco – as famous in Mexico as Diego Rivera. However, for me, the exterior is the truly fabulous part of the building and I found I could just stare at it for very long periods. The plaza also abutts the backside of the gorgeous Cathedral (the subject for another day).

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Plaza Guadalajara at dusk

Of course, the Plaza de Guadalajara is fabulously fun, with its large fountain, and being surrounded by shops and restaurants. In fact, I’ve eaten there four times so far, my best dining experience being the Antigua Restaurant, overlooking the plaza. Two for one margaritas didn’t hurt at all!

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Fabulous photo op – except poor old Miguel gets lost in the background.

Plaza de Liberacion has an odd feel, with its famous and sombre statue of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla breaking the chains of slavery residing mere yards from a giant hot pink and white monument sign with “Guadalajara” written across it. Hidalgo sported an excess of pigeon dropping atop is balding and was virtually ignored as tourists, like myself, were drawn to the big pink sign.

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Nearly every plaza has a fountain!

This is just a taste of the plazas in the heart of this vastly interesting city. There are another three major ones listed on my “turista” map, and many others unlisted. I’m absolutely sure I haven’t discovered some of the plazas, but I have another week here, so I’ll ardently attempt to find others.

Honestly, when I took my first walk around Guadalajara’s Centro Historica, I was definitely a rubbernecker – swiveling at every turn trying to take it all in. I’ve been back several times, each visit a further exploration and appreciation of the district. I’ll bring a couple more posts from Guadalajara to you over the next couple of days, hoping to drill down enough to give you a good idea of what you’d experience if you come this way!

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Just one of the many toddlers I spotted who was fascinated with the birds.

Much More to Oaxaca

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From the alter towards the door of Santo Domingo Cathedral

In my first post on Oaxaca, I was enamored of my little (teeny, tiny) piece of Oaxaca, the two or three blocks around my digs at the Hotel Nacional. I had visited the Zocalo, the central plaza, and hadn’t been very impressed so I didn’t intend to do much more exploring.

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The ceiling of the entry to the cathedral

Thank goodness, a sense of obligation took over and on this past Saturday I walked the nine blocks to the Santo Domingo Cathedral. It would have been such a shame if I’d missed it.

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The exterior of the cathedral

Not only was this church the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, but there was a wedding going on and I got to slip in and watch part of it. So, with a teary eye, I took in the full glory of this ornate treasure. There was so much to look at that I quickly felt overwhelmed.

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The streets around the cathedral are beautifully decorated.

En route, I also discovered the real center of Oaxaca, the three or four block radius of streets surrounding the incredible cathedral. They are clean, wonderfully decorated with color-splashed walls and artwork, blocked off cobblestone streets with huge planters of bright flowers. This is definitely the upscale part of town.

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Colonial architecture still dominates the center of town.

I can honestly say that although this is an area I’d visit once a week or so if I was staying here permanently, but I’d rather live in the area around the Mercados. I’m so in love with the energy of them and the people who do business within. You can quickly make true friends, if you so desire. One woman who runs a stall with stuff you’d find at 7-11 in the States (I bought my bottled water there), smiled and giggled when I complemented her new haircut. The next day, she was happy to see me, and I her.

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Eva and Pedro from the Hotel Nacional

I’m on my way to Guadalajara today. In fact, I’m writing this in the Oaxaca airport as I wait for my check-in time. But I plan on returning someday. It’s not much of a secret, but I really, really love Mexico so far.

Adios, Oaxaca, for now.

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Street market next to the cathedral

The Surprises of Oaxaca

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The humble but my happy spot – Hotel Nacional

I took a luxurious bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca last week for $35 and fell asleep for at least four hours of the six-hour ride. As some of you will recall, last year I took two Greyhound Bus rides in the US and these buses are hands down FAR SUPERIOR to those experiences. Greyhound was cramped, smelly and didn’t have good bathrooms, if you even had a bathroom. These “autobuses” have seats that lay back a good 12 inches and loads of legroom. I highly recommended the ADO bus company.

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My writing space at Hotel Nacional

Today is my sixth day in Oaxaca and I really got lucky with my hotel. It’s around $20 a night after taxes; a private room with great Wifi, Cable TV (English-speaking channels, too) and a private bath. Perhaps the best thing about the Hotel Nacional is that is located directly across the street from the Mercado 20 de Noviembre and half a block from the Mercado Benito Juarez.

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Mercado 20 de Noviembre

Mercado 20 de Noviembre is fabulous place to get “fast food”, meaning that you don’t have to wait long for anything you order. There is an amazing array of choices in this food court that spans most of a city block, with shops all around it’s edges. It’s very, very clean and inviting, with long counters for each restaurant and wonderful smells. Even as a vegan, I have managed to find a few favorites here. I absolutely love the huge fresh cups of hot chocolate (your choice if it’s made with milk or water) and sweet roll you can get for $1 any time of the day, but it’s a breakfast choice here.

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No handles on these hot chocolate cups – you pick up and sip like from a miso bowl.

Mercado Benito Juarez is a huge market similar to that I visited in Chiang Mai, except for cleaner, and I find I love to stroll through it. There are surprises around every corner, like two days ago, when I discover the meat market with the offerings of tripe and whole chicken (looking just like those plastic joke toys) with their naked legs sticking stiffly up or out. Some of the leather work here is enough to tempt me, except that I really don’t need anything. However, I’ll probably breakdown and buy some earrings, my souvenir of choice.

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One of the quirky little stalls at Mercado Benito Juarez

I did take a stroll over to the Zocalo (city plaza) and, after the fabulous ones in Mexico City, Granada and Antigua, found myself a bit disappointed. It wasn’t horrible or anything, just “meh.” Here the grandstand had a big graffiti scar scribbled across it. In fact, on the bus ride into Oaxaca, I saw so much graffiti for several miles, that I found myself feeling anxious. I’m fairly fearless, but graffiti (non-artistic) always puts the hairs up on the back of my neck.

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The zocalo’s church.

 

So, I found myself surprised by the graffiti, the blandness of the zocalo and the wonderful chance of landing in just the right hotel. The people of Oaxaca are engaging and mostly willing to put up with a clueless gringa – which has been another unexpected blessing.

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The grasshopper challenge!

Also, I guess I should mention that I astonished myself with a desire to cross “eating a bug” off my bucket list while here. Dried grasshoppers (chapulines) are sold in big baskets here, but I bought the smallest batch I could find for $.50 and ate one with lime on it. Tasted like a nut. Scratch on off the list!

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One of the many balloon vendors at the Zocalo

I have much more to see of this town, and plan on an excursion to the big cathedral and a couple of museums tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

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A basket stall outside the Mercado Benito Juarez