• California: The Center of the World
    At the Center of it All Driving I-8 through the California desert between San Diego and Yuma, Arizona, you will see a sign for Felicity, CA, Population: 2. Take the exit and you will discover that Felicity is in fact the official Center of the World. For $3 you can step into the mind of Jacques-Andre Istel, the founder of Felicity and explore the somewhat surreal place he has created here at the Center of the World. For another $2 you can enter the pyramid, and stand on the marker that marks the exact location of the Center of the World, and even get a certificate indicating that you have been there. If kitschy roadside gimmicks don’t appeal to you, don’t discount Felicity just yet – it’s a wild place that has a lot to offer for a town of two. The Museum of History in Granite One of the main attractions in Felicity, aside from being the Center of the World, is the Museum of History in Granite. This open air museum consists of over a dozen huge slabs of granite, each weighing nearly 500 lbs. Each slab recounts a different aspect of human history, carefully carved into the stone and accompanied by meticulous illustrations. The huge granite monuments are intended to last for millennia, an enduring monument designed to tell the story of the people of this planet in a distant future that may not have any humanity left to communicate it first hand. Whether you are a history buff, or simply a part of the story being told on these granite slabs, I can guarantee you will be fascinated by a walk through the museum. The Museum of History in Granite is intended to be an enduring testament to the trials and tribulations of humanity, etched in stone, preserved for a distant future where humanity is no longer around to tell the stories. The Church High atop a man-made hill, designed to resist earthquakes, sits the Church on the Hill at Felicity. Surrounded by a barren desert landscape that extends for miles in all directions, it is by far the most prominent feature of Felicity, visible from the highway, and punctuated by its bright blue doorway. The church itself is small but functional, and the view from the hill allows you to survey Felicity and its surroundings. The Maze of Honor Adjacent to the museum sits the Maze of Honor – a series of winding concrete walls lined with laser etched granite tiles filled with images and stories. If you aren’t satisfied with simply being included in the history of humanity in general, you can have yourself immortalized in the Maze of Honor. Where the Museum of History is constructed of huge concrete blocks providing a big picture view of our history, the Maze of Honor is made up of hundreds of smaller tiles each with photos and memories of individual people. Anyone can purchase a tile for $100, and have your memories included as a part of this enduring record. It is possible to spend hours wandering the maze and reading the stories of the people who have decided to have themselves memorialized here in Felicity. Other Attractions Like many strange desert enclaves, Felicity is home to a number of other unusual attractions. The town of Felicity has it’s own fully-operational US post office, which offers some fun souvenir opportunities if you know anyone who has an interest in stamps and postmarks. Felicity is also home to an original section of the Eiffel Tower’s staircase, purchased by Mr. Istel when the stairs were replaced by an elevator in the mid-1980s. Finally for the art lovers of the world, a giant sun dial keeps time in the center of the town. The arm of the sun dial is modeled after Michelangelo’s creation depicted on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. If you ever find yourself travelling between San Diego and Yuma, and you notice the sign for Felicity – pull off the highway. Whether you only have a few minutes to spare, or you plan to spend a few hours exploring the town Felicity is definitely worth making a stop. In addition to all the fun and fascinating things to explore the town also boasts a gift shop and small hotel, so stop for a postcard, stop for the night – just stop and check it out!
  • Waves
    We were recently in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and spent a good deal of time at the beach. Most of our trip consisted of soaking in the sun, sipping wine and watching the waves crash on the beach. I finally managed to finish The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, which spoiler alert ends with what is ostensibly the end of life on Earth. Staring out at the seemingly endless expanse of water in front of me with these apocalyptic thoughts rattling around my alcohol soaked brain really got me thinking… The waves crashing on this beach have been doing so for billions of years. Long before there were any people around to observe them, long before there was any life of any kind in or out of the ocean, the tide rolled in and out and the rhythmic sound of waves against the shore kept time. This cycle went on day after day, year after year for eons until the moment that I lay on the beach, looking out at the water, looking up and down the shore at rows upon rows of umbrellas. People litter the beach, literally and figuratively, boats of all sizes float by, some dragging paragliding tourists behind them. The hypnotic rhythm of the waves cause my mind to drift to a distant future where all the boats, all the paragliding tourists all the umbrellas and all the people relaxing on the beach have disappeared. The only familiar sight on the shoreline are the waves lapping against the shore. In this moment I feel very small, awed by the immensity of the ocean – it has spanned the Earth, both in space and time, completely indifferent to humanity. All of our triumphs, sorrows, past and future, will one day be washed away into the ocean, and the waves will rhythmically pat the shoreline, on and on and on…
  • The Great(est) Pyramid of Cholula
    When you think of Great Pyramids, you probably think Egypt and when you think of Cholula, you probaly think hot sauce. The city lends its name to the sauce, but the city of Cholula is not home t0 its creation or production – it does however, have a much more impressive claim to fame. Cholula is home to a Great Pyramid. Visiting the site in person, it really is hard to imagine what the state of the pyramid might have been 500 years ago, but it is certainly possible even today to mistake it for a giant hill. Cholula is located in the state of Puebla, nestled between a few of Mexico’s tallest peaks, including the oft-erupting Popocatepetl. Sitting high on a hill overlooking the city is a large Catholic church, a familiar site in Mexico – Cholula alone is home to 365 churches, one for each day of the year. This particular church, Nuestra Senora de los Remedios, is much more prominent than the many other churches that dot the city, visible from almost anywhere in town from its perch. What’s remarkable about this scene isn’t the church though – it is the hill. Beneath the Nuestra Senora de los Remedios sits the LARGEST pyramid in the WORLD.  Long overlooked, the pyramid and surrounding ruins were hidden in plain sight beneath the church for nearly 500 years, before archaeologists began to excavate the site in the early 20th century revealing that the hill was in fact a giant pyramid built over a thousand years earlier. There is a lot of debate about whether the Spanish simply intended to build the church on the most prominent hill in town, or whether they knew exactly what they were doing and built the church atop the pyramid to reinforce the strength of their Conquest and the superiority of their deity. It is possible to climb to the top of the pyramid, and the view from the top is highly recommended. On a clear day you can see a lot of both Cholula, and Puebla, as well as the peaks of Popocatepetl, Iztaccihuatl, and La Malinche three of the highest peaks in Mexico. The church is also open to the public, and is worth a look as well. Looking out at Popocatepetl from atop the pyramid as smoke billows from its crater. The climb, the view and the church are all free if you are willing to put in the effort, but the site has more to offer those who are willing to pay the small entrance fee. Within the pyramid, there is an extensive tunnel system estimated to run a total of approximately 8 km altogether, which is partially open to the public. The tunnels are very narrow in places, and it sometimes feels like you are lost in an underground maze that is getting smaller and smaller – we were both on the verge of panic attacks, and the sense of alarm is only amplified when you remember that two of the three giant mountains outside are active volcanoes. If you are someone who is claustrophobic, or easily shaken (possibly literally, by the volcanoes) I would skip the tunnels and head straight to the ruins. The same ticket that gets you into the tunnels also gets you into the adjacent ruins, and museum. The ruins are fairly extensive, and highlight the numerous expansions that were carried out at the site over the centuries. Tragically, because the entire site lay forgotten for so long only a small fraction of the ruins have been excavated, and the rest lays trapped beneath developments built on private property.  It seems unlikely that any further excavation will happen any time soon, but exploring what has been uncovered already, as well as the surrounding city of Cholula is definitely worth the trip! The ruins surrounding the pyramid are impressive, but much of them remain buried beneath the modern city.
  • 3 Pros & Cons of Living In Mexico (as Expats)
    These are just a handful of things we have discovered about life in Mexico that we weren’t really aware of before we made the move. Whether you are planning to move to Mexico, or just hope to visit these are some things about Mexico that might take you by surprise! Pros Cons Pro Lots of Fiestas! Mexico loves to party, and some times it feels like people here will make any excuse to celebrate. A lot of the fiestas are tied to Catholic holidays, which can vary from region to region, and are  celebrated on specific dates. The length and extravagance of the festivities depend on who or what is being celebrated, and how significant it is to the region. Obviously major holidays like Independence Day (September 16) Dia de los Muertos (November 2),  and Christmas (usually celebrated December 24 in Mexico) result in huge parties all across the country, and the celebrations can start days (or weeks!) in advance of the actual holiday. In addition to all the major national holidays, there are innumerable smaller feast days and holy observances that vary regionally across Mexico. Every city in Mexico will have at least one church, and that church will have a patron saint, and that patron saint will have a special day – and on that special day, things will happen. If it is a major church in the city, then expect a MAJOR party – food, fireworks, music, dancing, parades, rides, road closures, street markets. All this will probably be happening for at least a few days leading up to the actual holiday. For smaller churches, or lesser saints the party might only last a few hours, and simply involve a procession of people marching through the streets carrying some kind of likeness of the saint in question.  No matter the size of or cause for the celebration, it seems like there is ALWAYS something being celebrated in Mexico! Con Lots of Fiestas!  Mexico loves to party, and some times it feels like people here will make any excuse to celebrate…If you live near a church (which is likely, because Mexico is littered with churches) and the feast day for the patron saint of that particular church just happens to fall on a random Tuesday – buckle up! The fireworks, music, dancing and road closures do not care if you have to work the next day. If it is a big enough church, you may be looking at many days and nights of fireworks, music, dancing and road closures.  These parties can be HUGE, and obviously it is great to experience the local culture, enjoy delicious street food and take in a nice fireworks display, but sometimes you just aren’t feeling all that festive. Sometimes you would rather be sleeping than watching (or listening to) fireworks. Sometimes it is 3 am, and the music is still playing outside, and you have to get up extra early to go to work because the road you would normally take is closed all week because vendors have set up stalls for blocks, so you will have to take a detour, and you wonder why it seems like everyone else in the city is STILL partying. Despite the size of these celebrations, they are not official holidays – people still go out and resume their normal lives the next day (and the next day, and the next day) after partying ’til the break of dawn.  If you are someone who can handle staying out all night, and heading in to work the next day – more power to you! Unfortunately, some of us need a little shuteye to perform well at work, and all night parties can some times feel – a little tiring.  It seems like there is ALWAYS something being celebrated in Mexico… Pro Cost of Living The cost of living in Mexico is, obviously, much lower than it is in the United States. We knew that would be the case before we moved, but when we first took teaching jobs in Mexico we were a little nervous because we would be taking a massive pay cut. It was a little scary, but we knew that it wouldn’t be forever and we figured we could just cut out a few of our luxury expenses and it wouldn’t be too bad. As it turns out, despite the massive pay cut, we haven’t had to change our lifestyle very dramatically at all because a lot of things in Mexico are just SO CHEAP (relatively speaking). How cheap, you ask? Here is a list of some of our typical expenses in pesos and the approximate cost in dollars using our rough conversion (1 dollar = 20 pesos).   Cell Phone – 200 pesos / month ($10 / month) This is for unlimited calling/texting throughout North America, and 3 GB of data, with unlimited data for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp. We have WiFi at home and work, so the data cap is almost never an issue. Groceries – 1000 – 2000 pesos / month ($50 – 100 / month) This is for two of us, and obviously varies dramatically depending on what we are eating, and how often we are eating out, but it is way less than what we would spend on food in California.   Meal for 2 at a Restaurant – 300-800 pesos ($15-40) This is a huge range, because it depends on how fancy you want to eat, and if you are planning to drink. If your idea of a night out is tacos, at the local taco stand, you’re looking at 50 or 60 pesos per person. If you want to go somewhere nice, and you split a bottle of wine then the cost is going to be closer to 300 pesos per person, depending on what you are drinking. The bottle of wine can easily end up being 2/3 of your bill. You can still easily find a place to have a really nice bottle of wine, and a great meal, with good service and a classy atmosphere for under 1000 pesos ($50) almost anywhere in Mexico. Rent – 6000 pesos / month ($300 / month) This is for a 3 BR/2 BA place with a terrace, however we live in a relatively small city where rent is significantly lower than it would be in a big city like Guadalajara or CDMX. In California we lived a few blocks from the beach and paid nearly $2000 / month for a tiny 1 BR apartment. The place we live now feels like a mansion compared to what we are accustomed to in California, and the best part is that our employer pays the rent for us! This is obviously a major savings for us… Travel Mexico has an extensive and affordable system of buses that can take you all over the country, for very reasonable prices. A ticket to Mexico City from our home town, which is a journey of almost 200 km, will cost about 250 pesos ($12.50) each way, and takes about 3 hours. From Mexico City you can get a bus almost anywhere, and even far flung destinations will only cost 800-1200 pesos ($40-60), although the travel times can get extremely lengthy. If you have a little less travel time, or a little more money to spend you can get cheap flights from Mexico City all over the country, typically for less than 2500 pesos ($125). Volaris is our discount airline of choice, and if you keep an eye out for fare sales you can get REALLY cheap tickets for travel within Mexico. If you live somewhere close to the border (Hello San Diego!), you can cross over and fly all over Mexico for a fraction of what you would pay to fly out of the US! One thing that is NOT very affordable here in Mexico, and probably makes up one of our most significant expenses is GASOLINE. The price of gas doesn’t fluctuate much, and has hovered near 20 pesos per litre for most of the time we have lived here. Translating that into American terms is a little trickier, but it works out to about $3.75 per gallon, which is HIGH even by American standards. Having a fuel efficient car here in Mexico is SUPER important! Wine This is an expense that may not apply to everyone, but we would be remiss to leave it out. Depending on what your tastes are, you can get some dirt cheap wine in California. The variety of wine available here in Mexico is considerably smaller than what is available in a place like California, but there is still a wide variety in the cost of wine. We live in a “wine region” in Mexico, and short of physically going to the local wineries, it is almost impossible to find good local wine at the store. If you are in Mexico City, you will find a much better selection, but it is still generally going to be much smaller than what you would find at a Total Wine or BevMo in the US. You can get a decent, cheap bottle of wine for 120-200 pesos ($6-10), and a decent bottle of wine at a nice restaurant might run you 400-500 pesos ($20-25) Con Bureaucracy Mexican bureaucracy is peerless. If you love forms, stamps and stickers, you will love the joys of trying to overcome obstacles in Mexico. The hoops you need to jump through to accomplish things can be simultaneously infuriating, and amusing, completely necessary, and complete nonsense.  There are rules. You can’t do X without Y stamp on Z form, and only person A can stamp the form, but they won’t be here until next Monday. What’s that, your friend has an old form with the required stamp on it? That will work – as long as I can tell my boss I saw a stamp, that’s what counts! The stamps are really important, and very pervasive. This extends way beyond occasional interactions with Mexican government offices and permeates regular every day life. At Walmart in Mexico, they will stop you on your way out and check your receipt – if everything checks out, they will pull out their big rubber stamp of approval and send you on your way. Some businesses go even further! We have been to multiple different places where shopping experience goes something like this: Wander the aisles choosing the items that you want, and bring them all to a specific counter. The person working at the counter takes your items, scans them, and gives you a receipt. You take your receipt and head to a second counter somewhere else in the store, and the person working at that counter will take your receipt, scan it, and then ask you for payment. Once you have paid the person, they will pull out their special stamp and give your receipt a good stamping. With stamped receipt in hand, you now proceed to a third, different counter where a third, different person will check your stamped receipt, and hand over the items you selected, which have been delivered to the third counter by the person at the first counter while you were busy at the second counter. Why are there three different counters? Why has your simple shopping outing turned into a storewide scavenger hunt? We will never know. Outside of the private sector, things are just as confusing. The second most important piece of documentation after stamps, are stickers. If you have traveled in Mexico, you may have noticed car windows covered in stickers. These stickers have a number on them that matches the license plate of the car, and a new sticker is needed every year or so I guess, which is why older cars in particular tend to be covered in stickers. The purpose of the stickers is to try and keep people from stealing your license plate, as it won’t do them any good without a matching sticker on their car….