Mexico – Mi Amor

Como se llama?  Don’t try that question, but enjoy the wonderful appealssensory, climate, people, children especially, churches of beauty, a land of history (and much of it connected to the U.S.)—in this land so near.

Confession time.  I’m a self-identified (to use a popular new “word”) basket lover—and the best place to find a plethora of baskets at rock-bottom prices—is Mexico.  One day after jolting around southern Mexico in my VW van (lots of room for baskets—and one’s children—note the order listed!), we stopped in a local hotel for the night.  I couldn’t leave the baskets in the car, so the two children were tasked with helping me make several trips to get the baskets to our room.

The next morning, we reversed the action; children carrying baskets down to the lobby, one staying to “supervise” that no one took our baskets. And I making certain that we didn’t leave any in the room, and that no precious baskets were crushed.

On the final trip, when I came to our pile of baskets, a very nicely dressed woman came up to me, asking how much I was charging for the lovely baskets. (My children, who had objected to all the bags to begin with, gave me Teenage Disgust Looks, and tried to pretend we weren’t related.)

Perhaps you wonder how safe I felt driving around southern Mexico; I felt just fine.  Today, things may be bit dicey, but if I could “get around” a tad more easily, I’d go in a heartbeat.  After all, I need some new baskets!

One of the many nice things about driving in Mexico is that Pemex is the gas conglomerate, so the price of gas (at least when I was there over several years) is the same—at a tourist spot, in a city, or in a small town . . . every place in the country.   (Very different from the U.S. where gas prices fluctuate depending on location.)

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One of Three Sweetheart Countries – Estonia

This pretty, tiny country is one of the three small Baltic countries that Russia wants “back,”Tallinn, Estonia although these little nations are independent today, after being under Russian control for only a few years during WWII.  Our cruise ship (where I was the “destination lecturer”) spent the day at harbor while we passengers flooded the streets of Estonia, eager to buy some of the embroidery, linens, and other items that caught our collective eyes.

I couldn’t resist taking a ride around town, and thanks to a very outspoken guide, our group saw the hated, large, multi-storied cement apartment buildings (Russia built them) and saw other structures which came in for unpleasant comment.  We were assured that Estonia did not want Russian control to return.

Tallinn, EstoniaUnspoken, was the message: hope for the U.S. and other friendly countries to prevent Russia from moving in.  He then changed the subject to point out historic steeples, seaside attractions, and stores in which he thought we’d enjoy spending our travelers’ checks.

He was so perceptive.  Prices were right, selections were plentiful, and the loveliness of embroidered tablecloths and napkins were irresistible.  I treasure mine today, years later.  On one similar trip with me, my daughter “bought out” the town, and wants to do a rerun, despite today’s concerns about Russian intent, perhaps à la the Ukraine.

This time, too soon, we were sailing west, to pick up the towns in Germany and France that we’d missed on the trip to Estonia.  (You’ve probably noticed that ships often make port schedules so that there aren’t duplicate stops, yet everything gets “seen,” either going or coming back.)

Tallinn, Estonia Amphitheater

Tallinn, Estonia Amphitheater

Vegemite

Australia offers many, many wonderful things (Ayers Rock), beings (People), animals (’roos and camels), beauties (war memorials), so it’s hard to find something to really and truly dislike about visiting Australia.  But, I know something, an icon—uniquely Australian—and I will share it with you, as a warning, perhaps.

It’s Vegemite.  One shudders even writing that word.  What could be so powerful?  Is it something to wear? (No.)  Is it something to write home about? (Yes!)  Is it something to eat? (Not if you’re smart.)  The one thing it’s good for: it has lots of Vit. B.  Truth-tellers say it is “an acquired taste,” but I have learned that is code-word for something that tastes awful!   My mother didn’t raise an idiot; it even smells terrible.

Vegemite, a bread or cracker spread, is never touted as a reason to put Australia on your travel dream list.  It can also be used in gravies, soups, and stew—ruining them for me.  Not only does it taste bad, it even smells worse, unless they’ve fixed that odor. Warning: Remember now, the Aussies are known for playing pranks on visitors, so their first temptation is to get a greenhorn to try Vegemite.  Then they sit back and slap their thighs and chuckle at said visitor’s reaction.

One local comment on Vegemite: it tastes like fermented yeast that has died and puked, which while being truthful, is a bit out of order.  If you’ve tried marmite, vegemite is far worse.

Everything else on the dinner table (breakfast table, lunch table) tastes great. (Well, I’m mentally not prepared to eat Bambi, but not everyone is so fussy.)  However, I draw the line—in big and black letters—in tasting the stuff in that oh-so-innocent-looking little jar.  Vegemite may be Australians’ secret weapon; don’t share it with the U.S.

Food and Shots

The entire continent of Africa, as the new book King Leopold’s Ghost describes so clearly, was chopped up by the “civilized” nations of Europe:  England, Belgium, France, and Portugal.  Under the color of kindness, these nations robbed, enslaved, and killed thousands of Africans while stealing the rich produce, i.e. gold, etc., that was found there.

That vast continent today still draws world attention for other unsavory reasons:  mini-wars involving child-kidnappings, villages destroyed, and brutal destruction reflecting the problems of the Middle East.  Under another guise, religious groups in the U.S. and England especially sent preachers and priests to “redeem the souls” of the Africans, who had their own religion, thank you very much.

When my son was sent by the Peace Corps to Mauritania, a small West African country, it piqued my interest, so after he’d been there a couple of years, I decided to visit him.  A French teacher in my school decided that since I was going, he’d also take a trip, stopping in Senegal.  I warned him to be certain to get all the required (big time required) shots.  He laughed it off.

After our plane landed in Dakar, the last time I saw him on this trip was as he was being  dragged down the stairs—probable destination: a medic with a needle.  They mean business about health, so if you ever go, please get your shots.

This was all before Al-Qaida, or Isil or Isis—all the same serious warlords. But one day I received a call at the house where I was a guest.  It was the American Embassy, warning all householders to remain inside. I decided to obey, although I wasn’t certain what was about to happen.  Well, soon trucks loaded with white-clad men, yelling and brandishing weapons, began to stream past the house, demonstrating against something or someone.

Later, while walking with my son around town, I noticed a sign with the famous logo of a radical group.  I started to take a picture; my son had a fit—worried that we’d create a “scene.”  Or worse.  So, as one should when in a foreign country, I listened to the expert and hid the camera and kept walking.

There’s table behavior also that one learns. (Remember which hand to use for eating if it’s finger food … see earlier post for that.)  Being food-phobic, a disease I just made up, I always question the ingredients in the food in the bowls before me.  One day, on another trip to Africa, a large pizza-like platter was placed before us.  Ah, something that looked familiar!  So I took a large slice, and began to eat:  it tasted fine.  I mentioned that after about my third satisfactory bite.  One of the men at the table said, “Yes, it’s pigeon.  Delicious.”

I’ve always tried to ignore the source of food, especially meat, that I enjoy. I try not to picture cute little calves or their mooing mommies or daddies as I eat a hamburger or meat loaf or steak.  But pigeon! Those pretty white and gray birds who strut around my yard. It was like eating family. I quickly became “satisfied” to explain my loss of appetite.