Quantifying the trip: a collection of travel stats

I haven’t yet concocted a suitable epitaph for Spencer and my summer exploring the globe or written a grand essay about what it all means to me. There’s still a long list of potential blog posts in my journal, and someday soon, I hope to write a few more stories and put them up (along with mini travel guides for the places we went).

Until then, though, consider this my sign-off for the summer travel extravaganza. Here’s a bullet version of what we did this summer.

    • Spent three months on the road, traveled in four foreign countries (Mexico, Italy, Vatican City, India), touched down in two others (Canada, Germany) and visited a total of 13 states or regions in the countries we went to (Oaxaca, Puebla, Mexico, DF, Veneto, Toscana, Lazia, Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu)
    • Took 12 flights, eight trains, 25 buses, 17 subways and metros, 12 ferries, innumerable taxis, autorickshaws and a few hikes to cover a total of 31,736 miles (51,071 km)
indian autorickshaw
Auorickshaws, our lifeline in southern India.
    • Visited two of the world’s megacities, each with a combined urban population of over 20 million people (Mexico City and Mumbai)
    • Lived out of a backpack with four t-shirts, one pair of pants, one skirt and four pairs of underwear
    • Read a total of 21 books, mostly about the countries we visited (see them all here), left 11 of them on planes, in hotels or at libraries and bought another 11 while traveling
The books we brought on the Italy/India leg. We came home with just as many, but a lot of the titles had changed.
  • Fell in love with tejate in Oaxaca, bhel puri in Mumbai and deepened my love for gnocchi in Italy
  • Found myself in awe of how old human history is after seeing the Colosseum, the Taj Mahal, pre-Hispanic ruins at Teotihuacan and Zapotec ruins at Monte Alban
  • Visited places where the native languages spoken include Spanish, Zapotec, Mixtec, Italian, German, Marathi, Hindi, Malayalam, Kannada and Tamil
  • Developed a renewed appreciation for the orderly roads in the U.S., but found myself wishing bidets and hoses in bathrooms were more common in the States
  • Watched Maari, a Tamil movie, and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, a Hindi-language Bollywood movie, in theaters without subtitles and became obsessed with both of these songs:

  • Traveled through 13 time zones, changed time zones seven times and had one day that lasted 31 hours (July 28).
  • Met up with college friends on two continents, stayed with a friend’s relatives on a third and made new friends we hope to keep in touch with all over the world

Craft beer on three continents

It’s no secret that craft beer is one of my favorite indulgences. But when I planned to spend the summer exploring Mexico, Italy and India, I didn’t think I’d be trying many new brews.

When it comes to alcohol, Mexico is best-known for tequila, Italy for wine, and India for being less than amenable to most forms of intoxication. But it turns out each of these countries has a nascent craft beer scene and at least a few places to sample brews from around the world.

We’re actually drinking pulque here, but shhh. (Mexico City, June 5, 2015)

You can check out most of my summer beer drinking activity on my Untappd profile, but here are a few suggestions for places to check out if you find yourself in the places we went this summer.

Mexico

Our travels took us to Oaxaca, Puebla and Mexico City and involved liberal sampling of mezcal, the agave-based spirit Oaxaca is famous for.

In Oaxaca, we discovered a craft brewery, Cervezería Teufel, after trying their beer at a hotel. I didn’t take detailed beer notes or check our brews in on Untappd, but tasty and a nice break from Corona. I remember wishing we’d been able to try their Portfirio, a mezcal-flavored porter. So if you know how to get your hands on a bottle of that in the States, hit me up.

We weren’t able to set up a brewery tour, but it seems like they’re open to that if you contact them far enough in advance. (I just messaged them on Facebook the day before, which was understandably not enough time to work something out.)

Puebla was home to the delightful Utopia, a hole-in-the-wall beer bistro with an ample selection of Belgian and Mexican beers. We spent an evening here sampling a few brews and would have gladly returned if we’d had another night in town.

The address on Google is correct, but it’s a little hard to spot unless you’re looking carefully – there’s not a big sign outside.

Wall of beer at Utopia.

In Mexico City, we were pleasantly surprised to find a number of bars serving Mexican craft beer in the area around the Zocalo. The crowning jewel, though, was El Deposito, a lovely beer bar chain with a wide assortment from Mexico and Europe (with a few American brews too).

I believe there are multiple locations in Mexico City – we went to the one at Av. Baja California 375, which was easy walking distance from the Patriotismo metro station.

Italy

In Venice, we found a few places with good beer on the menu but didn’t make a concerted effort to seek it out. The Inishark Pub, an Irish pub off of the Plaza Santa Maria, has a few international beers – nothing special, but fine if you just want a quick and reasonably priced drink. We also found, surprisingly, a few tasty beers told at the Banco Rosso in the Jewish Ghetto, under the Ghetto Veneziano label.

Florence was the beer highlight of the trip, with stops at Mostodolce, a brewpub with a good selection and lots of food (we didn’t eat there, but it looked like good pub food) and Archea Brewery.

Archea’s on the south side of the river, but it’s not a long walk from the Duomo area and it was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to Italy. They had 12 taps, half guest and half their own beers, and an extensive bottle list. We tried everything on tap and liked or loved all of it. And then we noticed they had Westvleteren 12 on the bottle list.

If you’re not a beer nerd, Westvleteren 12 is a Begian trappist beer considered by some people to be the best beer in the world. I first heard about it on this 99 Percent Invisible episode and have wanted to try it ever since. So we shelled out 25 euros for a 12 oz. bottle.

Drinking Westvleteren 12 at Archea Brewing.

It wasn’t the Best Beer Ever, but it was delicious and totally worth it. The bartender told us they don’t always have it in stock, but there’s plenty of other delicious beer to try.

In Rome, we spent an evening at Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa on recommendation from the Archea bartender, and an afternoon at Baguetteria del Fico. Both places could have used more time, and both had excellent selections. The bartender at the Baguetteria had wonderful suggestions for us, and the sandwiches were delicious as well. Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa was just a bar – no food, cash only and mostly full of Italians, though the bartenders spoke English.

India

Most beer in India is the ubiquitous Kingfisher, a mild lager that’s basically flavorless and perfectly inoffensive when cold. Given the variety of mild illnesses we had, Spencer and I were just as happy not drinking for most of our trip. But we figured a big cosmopolitan city like Mumbai might have some craft beer, and by the end of the trip we started Googling around to see what we could find.

Our craft beer adventures in India were less successful, thanks to the government of Maharahstra. Spencer and I had a day to kill in Mumbai between flights and figured we’d finish up a month in India exploring the breweries we’d found. The state government, however, had other plans.

Statewide dry days are the worst.

Yes, on the one day we’d picked to enjoy beer in Mumbai, the state government had banned all alcohol sales statewide. So we didn’t get to check out the two breweries we’d picked out.

If we could go back, we’d try to sample beer from Gateway Brewing at the Woodside Inn, a beer-and-burger place in Colaba recommended by the guy at the company we messaged on Facebook. We had also hoped to check out the Barking Deer Brewpub (they helpfully alerted us to the dry day when we messaged them on Facebook). In the meantime, fellow beer enthusiasts, let us know if you make it to Mumbai and successfully try an Indian microbrew.

Signs from around Oaxaca

Street signs, graffiti and other written snapshots of life are one of the best parts of traveling to new places.

We head off to Italy and India tomorrow morning, so for my last post about Mexico, I wanted to share a few of my favorites.

First, we have the lost parrot. I would add that the reward money is in pesos, so it’s about $225.

missing parrot
Last seen at a church.
Ecotourism sign in Latuvi. Instructions include "Kill nothing but time."
Ecotourism sign in Latuvi. Instructions include “Kill nothing but time.”
graffiti
“Everything for the people, nothing for the federation.”
condoms save lives
Using a condom saves lives. (Spotted outside a Catholic church.)
street art
Street art outside a Spanish school.
Communist party sign protesting structural reforms
Communist party sign protesting structural reforms
Detailed informational sign about an insect-borne fever.
Informational sign about an insect-borne fever in Benito Juarez.
"Show your education - this is not a bathroom."
“Show your education – this is not a bathroom.”
DSC_0462
Detailed instructions for breast self-exam in Latuvi.

 

Mexican elections

benito juarez polling station
A sign in Benito Juarez, Oaxaca, marks a polling station for the upcoming election.

I’m safely back in the States now (and over my acquired Mexican fever/stomach bug), but I’d be remiss if I closed that chapter of our trip without saying something about Mexican elections.

Mexicans went to the polls on June 7 for a highly contested midterm election to pick representatives for the lower house of the national two-chamber legislature, state governors (Mexico has 31 states and the Federal District, rather like our D.C.) and a variety of other local offices.

I’ve been reading about Mexico-U.S. relations for years, wrote a thesis about migration through the Arizona desert, spent three weeks talking to migrants for my work on the border and have been translating Mexican news for two years, so I’d like to think I’m more than a casual observer of Mexico. And with all that, I am just barely starting to understand enough about Mexican politics to ask a few intelligent questions of Mexicans that may someday help me formulate actual opinions on this stuff.

That is to say, Mexico is infinitely complicated and multilayered, so anything I say is only one perspective and likely incomplete. As always, I highly recommend the Mexico Voices blog for English readers who want to read news and commentary from a number of Mexican journalists explaining the election results.

Calls for boycott, general unrest

The weeks leading up to the election seemed tense to me, with many groups calling for an electoral boycott. Graffiti to that effect was quite common on the streets of Oaxaca.

electoral boycott
“Everyone makes promises, no one fulfills them. Vote for no one!” A common piece of electoral graffiti on the street of Oaxaca.

Mexicans are very, very good at protesting, but my sense was that this election had drawn more controversy than previous ones. (I could be wrong about this.) Some of that is due to continued protests over the 43 Azotzinapa student teachers who were taken into custody last September in Iguala, Guerrero, then turned over to the criminal gang Guerreros Unidos to be murdered.

The mayor of Iguala was implicated in their disappearance, and the whole thing has led to ongoing protests and a scandal for the PRD (Democratic Revolution Party), Mexico’s third largest political party. The mayor was a PRD member and the PRD is the leftmost of Mexico’s major political parties.

Oaxaca is one of several states where teachers have also been aggressively protesting president Enrique Peña Nieto’s education reform bill. Among other things, it requires a teacher evaluation, which seems to be the focus of much of the protesting I saw.

It’s worth noting that it’s very, very common for teachers and students to protest throughout Mexico and especially in Oaxaca, and these protests have been going on for months. Two days after Spencer and I left the state, the Oaxacan teachers union took over the airport and a gasoline refinery, causing a statewide fuel shortage and briefly halting all air traffic.

The Mexican army was sent in to break up the protests, and was also deployed in Oaxaca and several other states to stop protestors from destroying ballot boxes. There’s some (English language) video of this happening in Oaxaca here.

Mexican political parties and the current landscape

It’s probably worth a brief summary of major Mexican political parties for some context. Mexico became independent from Spain in 1810 and fought a revolution from 1910-1920ish against the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. Modern Mexico’s political parties were started after that revolution.

The Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) has dominated Mexican politics practically since the revolution. It was founded in 1929 and held the presidency uninterrupted from 1946-2000, when Vicente Fox was elected. Mexican presidents and most other political offices are limited to a single six-year term. It’s also illegal for someone to run for political office while holding another office, so it’s not uncommon for politicians to resign midterm so they can run for their next position.

The PRI is politically centrist compared to Mexico’s two other major parties, the PAN (National Action Party) and the PRD. The PAN is the most conservative, and held the presidency from 2000-2012, first through Vicente Fox, then Felipe Calderón. Those presidencies were characterized by a much more aggressive crackdown on drug trafficking (bolstered by U.S. support), which many Mexicans I’ve talked to blame for the rise in violence within Mexico.

The PRI took the presidency back in 2012 with the election of Enrique Peña Nieto. He was regarded with high hopes by the neoliberal international community (The Economist was a big fan, for instance) and was able to pass some trade liberalization measures and his education reform bill. But his approval rating now is very low within Mexico, and the disappeared student teachers are a common refrain among opinion columnists criticizing the administration, as well as impunity for criminals, general failures of the justice and larger political system, and another scandal where a government contractor helped his wife buy a house on favorable terms.

Reports of drug cartel violence seem to have decreased during his time in office, but I’ve heard some people say that’s indicative of a savvy PR campaign more than it is actual levels of violence. I’m not familiar with the nuances of his signature legislation, but I think it’s fair to say that he’s not well liked among average Mexicans now, and there’s a general feeling of both unrest and weariness with his administration and the political system as a whole (not unlike in the U.S. in many ways).

The 2015 elections

With so much frustration and seeming disenchantment, voter turnout was still 47 percent last Sunday – higher than in the 2009 Mexican midterms, if memory serves, though I can’t find the source for that now. About 1.8 million ballots of the 36.3 million cast were left blank or were invalid.

Some notable results:

  • The governorship of Nuevo Leon went to an independent candidate, Jaime Heliodoro Rodríguez Calderón, though he’s a 30 year veteran of the PRI
  • Other governorship results are here; if I’m reading correctly, the PRI didn’t gain any seats, though a few states changed hands
  • Morena, a new progressive party, picked up 40 seats in the national legislature

As for what this will all mean for Mexico – that’s beyond my pay grade and expertise (and my cynical friends would say it means nothing, anyway). But I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out.

Pre-adventure planning

I’m pretty sure this isn’t news to anyone who knows us well, but Spencer and I are one week away from a three-month around the world travel extravaganza!

Rachel and Spencer
The intrepid adventurers on a previous trip to Smith Rocks State Park near Bend.

I was fortunate enough to get a sabbatical from my new(ish) job at the Spokesman-Review, and Spencer is starting grad school in the fall in Gonzaga’s mental health counseling program, so we’re taking this chance to see the world a bit before we settle down.

We’re both hoping to update our respective blogs regularly from the road, though time and internet availability may vary from place to place. But for those of you who want to follow along, here’s a quick overview of what we’re doing.

Stop 1: Mexico

May 19-June 6

This was my pick – I’ve spoken Spanish for a while and spent a lot of time on the Arizona-Sonora border, but have seen little else of Mexico. We’re flying in and out of Mexico City and spending about three days there visiting the National Museum of Anthropology, checking out architecture and visiting a few friends.

I’ll finally get to meet Reed Brundage, the man behind Mexico Voices, where I’ve worked as a translator for about two years now. It’s an awesome blog that takes news and commentary written by Mexican journalists, mostly about politics and the drug war, and translates it into English.

The bulk of our trip will be spent in Oaxaca, a state in southeastern Mexico with a large indigenous population (and not the site of any recent violence or unrest related to the murdered Ayotzinapa student teachers, drug cartels or anything else, for those of you who like to worry). We’re taking a bus shortly after arriving and returning to Mexico City for the last few days of the trip.

map of Oaxaca
Oaxaca relative to Mexico City.

Oaxaca is known for its crafts, mezcal (a spirit distilled from the agave plant that’s similar to tequila, but often has a smokier taste) and delicious cuisine. We’re planning to sample mezcal, tour women-owned businesses through Fundacion En Via, a microfinance group, and go on a four-day hiking tour of rural communities in the mountains.

Stop 2: Return to the States

June 6-June 15

Following Mexico, we’ll fly back to Seattle and spend a few days visiting our respective families in Seattle and Portland. My cousin Zoe is graduating from Issaquah High School on June 12, and my cousin Hannah is graduating from Western Washington University on the 13th, so naturally we had to come home for the festivities!

Stop 3: Italy

June 15-June 27

This trip was my mom’s graduation present to Hannah, so Spencer and I are tagging along to spend some time with them. We’ll be visiting Venice, Florence and Rome and seeing a lot of artwork. I’ve been using Duolingo to learn some Italian, so I’m hoping I might have a vague idea of what’s going on once we arrive.

Stop 4: India

June 27-July 28
trip backpack
I’ve already planned the entire backpack out. (Not all the books are coming.)

This is perhaps the most exciting, daunting and as-yet unplanned portion of our trip. We’ve got a full month to explore the vast Indian subcontinent – no small task, given its massive size.

I think a lot of maps are bad at conveying relative size and distance. While planning a route around the country, I often found myself looking at two Indian cities and thinking, “Those look like they’re pretty close together…” before asking Google Maps to give me a route between them. Whoops – turns out they’re 15 hours apart.

We’re flying in and out of Mumbai and have had a somewhat shifting itinerary. Originally, we planned to spend most of our time in the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, figuring it’s impossible to see all of India in one trip, so we’d leave Delhi, the Taj Mahal and the sites up north for another time. But in the past week or so, we’ve realized that our original plans to visit some forested areas may not work since we’re going in the height of monsoon season, so we’re now reconsidering a leg up north. Stay tuned for more on that.

I’ll expand more on this later, but for folks with a knowledge of India, our rough planning currently includes a few days in Mumbai, then traveling by train to the caves at Ellora and on to a tiger reserve near Nagpur. From there, we may fly to Delhi and see the Taj Mahal and possibly Varanasi, a Hindu holy city on the Ganges River. From there (or from Nagpur), we’ll fly to Bangalore, then take trains to Mysore, Kochi, Alleppey and Madurai before flying back to Mumbai.

Whatever we end up doing, I’m sure it will be exciting and beautiful, with a touch of traveler’s diarrhea and abject fear about train schedules thrown in. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

r & s
We’re both excited, even if we’re still not 100% positive this will all work out.