Let the Games Begin!

Trip Start Mar 11, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Hostal Galeria
What I did
Mambo Cafe

Flag of Mexico  , Central Mexico and Gulf Coast,
Friday, October 14, 2011

So out of touch are we with local events that we were oblivious that the Pan American Games were kicking off in town on the day we arrived. Doh! That's why the hostel was booked out. For too long we reaped the shoulder season benefits - just rocking up and negotiating prices down. But the folks at Tequila Hostel kindly directed us to one in the next road, rather than the nearest park bench!

That's how we discovered the little gem that is Hostal Galeria. The place is well-run by genuinely friendly brothers, Moises and Abraham, who proactively tended to all our needs and made us feel right at home! The place has great airflow, comfy double-bed bunks, is super-clean throughout, even inside the fridge(!) and has a spacious terrace! (see TripAdvisor for the full review.)

Continental breakfast is included so we didn't have to venture too far from bed. Just a little further down the road we discovered another gem: The Pig's Pearls. Thankfully that was NOT on the menu! To our waist-line's detriment, we discovered this place on our first night in town. We returned a few more times to savour the beautiful flavours and to try everything on the menu... thrice! The sirloin burger was the unanimous favourite accompanied by perfectly cooked fries and a gorgeous harissa sauce. That was supper taken care of most nights!

We didn't have to venture far for lunch either. Just one door before the burger place is a small restaurant frequented by locals. They prepare fresh juices and the most amazing barbacoa lonches ever! That's not a misspelling... "Lonches" is the name for a puffy, fried bread and "barbacoa" is the filling made of shredded goat (other meats are also used) slow-cooked with tomato, garlic, chillies, cumin and oregano. Don't repeat our same mistake, thinking that "barbacoa" is simply Spanish for barbecue!

My first and second visits were strained. They spoke Spanish (I think!) but it sounded so fast and the words/accents were unfamiliar. It felt like I knew no Spanish at all! They recognised my face but they also struggled to understand me. Somehow I ended up with 2 ham/cheese sandwiches and 1 barbacoa lonches, when what I was really after was 2 lonches. I'm still not sure how I got that so wrong! The ladies were lovely and friendly nonetheless. On my last visit they all gathered around me, urging a young man forward to translate their questions about me. He had learned some English in Romania as an exchange student. So with his little Romanian English and my little all-over-the-place Spanish we could all finally understand each other.
So within 10 paces you have breakfast, lunch, supper and superb accommodation sorted! What more do you need?! Did I mention that they an elliptical trainer at the Hostal Galeria to work off all the calories while watching Sky on a big screen? We enjoyed watching the PanAm opening ceremony with Abraham, guessing which country would march into the stadium next, and grinning to ourselves with the knowledge that we'd visiting them all one day. 

Yes, on occasion we ventured beyond the street corner! Within 5 minutes walk are the bars and restaurants of trendy Av Chapultepec. But part of the road was closed off for a PanAm fan zone, big screen, a stage, market stalls and malabaristas. Sadly none of OUR travelling malabaristas that we met in Guatemala! 

There were festivities happening in the pretty historic centre too with more vendors and activities amongst the churches and throughout the plazas. The Day of the Dead-type statues were popular, in fact, we had to queue to take a pic. Some were more popular than others, each representing a different sport played during the games.

We did the touristy thing and bought a pass for the sightseeing topless bus (to clarify, it's the bus that's topless!). It's always good for a city overview and to understand the lay of the land. Annoyingly 2 of the 4 routes had no English translations so we felt a little misled by the brochure. Its poor translation should've given us a clue!
The fun didn't stop after dark. We partied in both the historic centre and on Av Chapultepec. There was so much to choose from and all within walking distance. We discovered a bar in the next road that serves pints and partly operates out of a red London bus. You know it had to be done! 

Later that night we stepped out of our comfort zones and into Mambo Cafe, a live music venue that required partner dancing - salsa, mambo, merengue, cumbia - you name it! We'd better learn a few moves before venturing into the rest of Latin America! 

At one point Manuela and I stood at the bar while Mario popped to the gents. Two guys stood about 10 metres away and simultaneously gestured something to us. It was hilarious to me because I hadn't seen it before. Manuela explained that's how they call someone over in Latin America - with their palm facing down and with fingers or their whole hand waving. 

"Be still my beating heart, we've been beckoned!" Laughter aside, boys, if you wanna dance with us, you best come over here! 

Aside - Mario toyed with the idea of repiercing his right nipple at the myriad of piercing/tattoo parlours on Av Hidalgo. Back in Vegas, he had lost the ring while launching himself onto a pool air mattress. Watch this space!

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