Mexico, Photographs, Travel

Photo Friday: The Man in the Mirror

This is the view of the Templo de Carmen from the seventh floor of the Hotel Maria Cristina in San Luis, Potosí:

Photo by André

Photo by André

Since snapping this, I’ve taken a one week break to enroll in a Spanish immersion school including a homestay with a local host family. It’s challenging but very well structured and that makes learning the language a lot less difficult than you might think. It also takes virtually all of my time, which means I’m falling behind on road logs—but I do hope to have more up soon.

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Adventure, Mexico, Photographs, Travel

Photo Friday: Wirikuta and Festival Street

Since I managed to miss Photo Friday last week, this week there’s a double shot. First up:

Photo by André

Photo by André

That’s the view from the chapel of Guadalupe outside Real de Catorce. That white stuff beyond the mountains? That’s the top of endless miles of cloud covering the desert below.

Real de Catorce was formerly a silver mining town, and became a ghost town for many years. It’s also the gateway to the Wirikuta (Huiricuta), the sacred land of the Huichol. Each year they make a pilgrimage to this land, and to the sacred mountain far out in the desert, to collect the magic peyote cactus.

Here’s a different shot of the edge of the cloud bank as we ascended toward Real:

Photo by André

Photo by André

That shot, however, is on the outside of the cluster of mountains that surround the sacred land. You can see that the mist is thinner here and drifts freely. In the first shot, over the sacred desert, the thick cloud bank is essentially trapped by the mountains—it covered the whole desert the entire time we were there.

The other shot is from the town of Moctezuma (!), part of the “Corridor of Oases” that leads from the desert to the lush heartland of San Luis Potosí:

Photo by André

Photo by André

This is the main road into town, leading from a small parish church in an outlying village across the river to the centro and main parish church in town (I rode in via this street). The decorations are from a Catholic festival, in which people processed from the outlying church to the central one. When I asked a local which saint the festival and decorations were for, he scrunched his face.

“There are so many,” he said. “How can I remember?”

He also pointed out that although Guadalupe’s feast day isn’t until December 12, people start celebrating it weeks earlier; one of the recent processions could be for her.

“If the saint days are only a few weeks apart, people just leave up the same decorations the whole time,” he added.

Here is the same street by full daylight. I love the shadows that the decorations make:

Photo by André

Photo by André

More soon!

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Adventure, Bicycling, Mexico, Photographs, Spotlight, The Great Adventure, Travel

Photo Friday: Narcolandia

Since I’m now back on the road, I thought it would be a good idea to resume my semi-regular Photo of the Week practice every Friday. This week’s photo, which you can find below, is actually taken by my friend the Fly Brother, and shows Pixi and me—the first two cyclists of the Fellowship of the Wheel–as we set off on a ride across northern Mexico under our own power.

Photo by Ernest White II

The Fly Brother also wrote a riveting account of that first day, from his perspective as the driver of our support vehicle across what he refers to as Narcolandia. It was thanks to Fly’s cheerful bravery, and the help of numerous contributors, that we didn’t have to go it alone. Read his full account (with more photos) here.

And since I’m long overdue for an update of my own, here are some essentials:

  • We made it safely to our first rest stop in Saltillo, Coahuilas. That’s where I am as I write this. The roads seemed all in all safe, and we put as much distance between us and the border as we could in our first three days.
  • For those who contributed to the Fellowship of the Wheel crowdfunding campaign, I’m just editing the first video logs. They should be in your email before Monday. For everyone else, I’m hoping to create a way to become a supporter even though the campaign is over, allowing you to get access if you missed out.
  • I’m staying 100% on top of my road logs this time, so unlike the ride down the Mississippi there won’t be any year-or-more lags before my journals are up. However, I’m also determined to get the last few overdue road logs up from Texas, so expect those in the next couple days. Mexico logs will start after that.

Again, thank you to everyone who provided support in any form. Gracias and viva la Fellowship!

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Mexico, Photographs, Travel

One last stop in Guanajuato [Photo]

Today is Independence Day, the Fourth of July, George Washington’s birthday and the feast day of St. Benjamin Franklin! Happy 4th to all my US readers. I arrived safe and sound in the US despite some customs hiccups. Perhaps appropriately, today will be the last of my Mexico photos, at least for now.

I had to seek this one out. One day I was wandering through some new callejones (apparently other expats are scared to do this? Guys it’s just houses!) and I came upon what I call the Alley of the Flores, because every single balcony was hung with flower pots and the whole thing was painted bright colors. I wanted a picture right away but (of course) had no camera on me. I made a mental note to get return another day and take photos.

When that day came, I rounded the corner into Flores and stopped in my tracks. It was every bit as pretty as I remembered, but someone had thoughtfully parked a brand new VW that perfectly matched the trim paint of the alley. It’s like they knew I was coming.

Photo by André

Photo by André

I’m pretty happy with how this one turned out. I took a bunch of photos from different angles, and this isn’t quite my favorite but it has the best colors. What do you think? How could I have made it better?

Anyway, so long Guanajuato, hello beach town. I’m having a cookout this evening with my Texas friends. What are y’all doing?

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Mexico, Photographs, Travel

The Steps of Guanajuato (Photo of the Week)

This week’s Photo of the Week was snapped from the stairs of the University of Guanajuato, which look like this:

Photo by André

Photo by André

That’s 113 stairs on one of the most stunning and asymmetrical old timey buildings I’ve seen. I don’t know what kinds of classes are held at the top, but I hope the professor gives extra credit.

The stairs also double as amphitheater space during the Cervantino, Guanajuato’s annual festival of arts, culture and theater. The Cervantino is named (and held in honor of) Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. Like many longstanding traditions it makes little sense: Cervantes wasn’t born here, never visited here, and set none of his fiction here. The best explanation I’ve gotten is that when one of Mexico’s presidents visited Guanajuato, he watched a live street play that just happened to be about Cervantes, and thought it was so brilliant he declared they should do a big drama festival. That kind of sounds like a folk story, but it also sounds very Mexico. The result is bronze statues of Cervantes, Quixote, and Sancho all over downtown, and costumed actors who lead tours and reenact scenes.

The Cervantino is in November so I won’t see it, but it’s a major international festival with the arts of one Mexican state and one foreign nation singled out each year. During that time, there are many performances outdoors (as well as in the city’s two historic theaters and many smaller stages) and the 113 steps offer plenty of stadium seating for one of the most popular venues.

But when I ventured up it was pretty empty, because rain clouds rumbled down the mountains just as the church bells rang 6 o’clock. I managed to catch church, clouds, mountains and a fellow intrepid photographer all in one shot::

Photo by André

Photo by André

I’m a little timid about calling that Photo of the Week. My photography skills just aren’t where I’d like them to be, and someone else could have gotten a much more dramatic shot. (I already know where I wished I would have stood instead, which is more behind her to put the focus on her view of the horizon).

But I like this shot for several reasons:

  • I finally got a candid shot of a local in the foreground, which is incredibly hard to do without them staring at you.
  • I got a foreground figure at all, whereas normally I just photograph what interests me: landscapes, buildings and moods. Boring stuff to most people.
  • I’m finally getting a sense of how to use the Dutch tilt to good effect. It used to be I’d tilt the camera A TON to kind of scream GUYS IT’S DRAMATIC (like in the first photo), or I’d realize how contrived that is and just shoot flat angles. But this picture has a slight tilt that adds movement without waving its arms for attention, and compliments the natural angle of the mountains versus the buildings.

Still, it’s not an amazing shot, and I welcome critique. By the way, that statue in the background? That’s Pípila, a guy you should totally read about. And yes, I did hike up the mountain to see him (instead of taking the cable car), but you should have already guessed that.

Any feedback on the photo, photographer friends?

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Andre Sólo, Mexico, Photographs, Spotlight, Travel

Lunch, Hair, Advice Column [Photo of the Week]

I was going to post this last week, but then the rainstorm happened.

First off, I think you guys deserve a proper picture of the haircut you helped choose:

Photo by André

Photo by André

To be clear, this isn’t exactly the Lannister cut I was looking for. I did everything I could: brought pictures and learned all the haircut-related Spanish words (sideburns are patillas, by the way). But Mexico is still very much a craftsman economy. Instead of buying something mass produced you’re often paying an artisan to build you something one of a kind, whether that is an iron gate or a new laptop. Even a house doesn’t go exactly by the blueprint: the contractors have their own idea of what will work best. Apparently this attitude extends to haircuts.

Still, it’s close and overall I like it. It seems like other people do too. You can generally tell a haircut is a success not so much by whether people compliment it (they’re sort of obligated) but by the attention you get from the gender of your preference.

In my case I could immediately tell the difference in the second looks from Mexican women as I walked down the same streets I’ve walked for a month. I went to my favorite lunch counter at the public market, and the lady who usually serves me didn’t even recognize me at first. When she did, she made a big deal and started conversating [sic]. In the past our only real interaction was her taunting me when I asked for hot sauce, a routine that never gets old. Now she wanted to know if I had a wife or girlfriend. Subtle.

She then told the younger woman working there to try land me as a boyfriend. The younger girl nearly died when she realized I understood them. She spent the rest of my visit blushing and doing her best to make only fleeting eye contact.

Not too bad, Lannister.

Here’s the whole crew from the lunch counter:

The one in the yellow apron is the trouble maker, and the one on the left is the shy one. Photo by André.

The one in the yellow apron is the trouble maker, and the one on the left is the shy one. Photo by André.

So that’s the photo of the week. My time in Guanajuato is now half over. I’m still making friends here and discovering new places, while also scrambling to plan what happens next.

As a side note, I recently shot a pilot for an advice podcast:

It ran longer than we hoped, and we need to get sharper audio next time. But I’m happy with how it turned out. It wasn’t long ago that shooting videos terrified me, whereas now it seems easy. Of course, Cole (my co-host) is the real secret to success. She’s just naturally warm and funny, and we get pretty ridiculous when we’re together.

We’re going to shoot at least a few more of these to see how it goes. If you have a problem you need advice on, leave a comment and let us know! Meanwhile, I will get back to posting Road Logs here soon.

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Adventure, Andre Sólo, Mexico, Photographs, Travel

When It Rains in Guanajuato (Photo Tale)

So far almost everything I’ve written about Guanajuato, Mexico has been positive. But that was on days when it wasn’t raining. If I had known what it’s like when it rains, what I wrote would have been five hundred times more positive.

Guanajuato in a heavy rain is like an adventure board game. It’s like you’re trying to get across this square and if you don’t roll at least a three you fall in the water trap and lose a turn. Meanwhile someone is spinning a little wheel that changes which alleys you can use this turn and which ones you can’t. If you get trapped in an alley you will be warped to a random fountain somewhere else in the city, which may get you closer to home or farther. Feeling lucky?

And this place is a desert. But it’s the rainy season right now. Usually that just means beautiful days with brief, late afternoon thunder showers. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday while I was working all day, it was gorgeous outside. Thursday when I had errands to do: gorgeous. Today was my free day and crackoom! The storm of the century rolls out of nowhere just as I step out of the public market. Let’s do this, Quetzlcoatl!

You may remember that Guanajuato is a giant spaghetti-shaped mess of narrow, steeply slanted alleys, with staircases going up to mountaintop neighborhoods and steeper stairs descending into the city’s subterranean abyss. It’s serious Shoots & Ladders even on a good day. (Remember, the whole reason the city has a subterranean abyss was to try to stop waves of water rushing down the mountainsides from just blowing it all away once a year.) Now if you take a metric eff-load of water and toss it down the top of one of those streets, the result is that people downstairs better start making saving throws.

It’s awesome.

To put it in perspective, here’s my alley on a normal day:

Photo by André

Photo by André

Here is it about an hour ago:

Photo by André

Photo by André

No problem, I thought. Because my neighborhood has a second entrance, which is much wider. The water shouldn’t be as deep or fast there because it’s spread out more. I’ll just go up the back way!

Denied:

Photo by André

Photo by André

And my neighborhood isn’t even the worst. Check out the alleys I had to wade past just to get to my own Adventure Island challenge:

Photo by André

Photo by André

Photo by André

Photo by André

The difference between the people in the two pictures is that the lady in the second picture is either really, really desperate to get home or—like me—she doesn’t have a lick of sense in her head. The guy in the first picture knows the score: you use an umbrella and stay inside, because umbrellas won’t actually help you outside. (But yes, based on my experience in the fully roofed public market, you should still keep your umbrella ready when you’re inside.)

Umbrellas don’t help outside because the water comes from all available directions. The streets are no better than the callejones, because all the callejones dump into the streets. You know that thing in the movies where a car speeds through a puddle and shoots water all over the unlucky pedestrian (usually Meg Ryan)? I’ve gone thirty years and never had that happen. I lost my v-card like four times in 20 minutes. No one is slowing down in this city, even when they’re driving up a 45-degree trough with six inch water rushing through it at Niagara speeds.

Photo by André

Te amo Nayeli! If I was Nayeli I’d want my name in a more prominent location. Like try a little.

If you can stay on the sidewalks you’re at least not walking in the white water rapids (which are brown, not white), but narrow passages often require you to close your umbrella, and wide sidewalks are target ranges for roof drains. These drains don’t go down a vertical gutter like in the US, they are just spouts that stick about a meter out from a building and then let ‘er rip like Gulliver after too much coffee.

Spouts shooting criss-crossed pee streams at my alley.

Spouts shooting criss-crossed pee streams at my alley.

All of this was great fun, and I managed to keep a respectable portion of my middle-torso dry. More impressively, at no point was I swept off my feet. Although I was disappointed to discover that my cowboy boots are not waterproof at all. Who makes boots that aren’t waterproof?

Anyway, I think we can all agree that what really matters is I got a plaid umbrella:

Photo by André

Photo by André

…and that’s that new haircut you guys chose! What do you think?

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Mexico, Photographs

Photo of the Week: Two Way Tie

For this week’s Photo of the Week, I can’t decide whether I like Photo 1 or Photo 2 better:

Photo 1 by André

Photo 1 by André

…or:

Photo 2 by André

Photo 2 by André

Photo 1 is more dynamic and shows more of what’s going on. It’s an action picture. But it also kind of makes me motion sick. Photo 2 is easier to look at and I enjoy looking it over to see what I can spot in the picture. But it’s just a boring, squarish composition.

Which one should be photo of the week?

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