Thursday, July 30, 2009

Coahuila

Coahuila (read ko-wi-la), located in northern Mexico, is the third largest state, with Saltillo (read Saltiyo) as it's capital. It's located to the west of Nuevo Leon where I lived and to it's north is the Rio Grande and the US frontier. We had passed through this state ample times while driving down to Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Guanajuato, Zaragoza and Michoacan but we had never explored the state itself (except for my all-time-favorite camping place Cuatro Cienegas). Uday Khamadkone, one of my photographer friends (a Canonian) had come down from Dallas and he loves shooting people. He was sick of seeing americanized chicanos and eating customized Mexcian food up there and wanted to see and eat something authentically Mexican. So I thought of showing him Mexican countryside and I decided to take him to Parras de la Fuente (Parras, is short) with a stop over at General Cepeda


Our journey from Monterrey started on a cold, rainy Saturday morning. The drive on Monterrey-Saltillo highway was snail paced due to wet curvy roads and almost zero visibility, but from Saltillo onwards the day turned sunny. We stopped at General Cepeda, a cute little town with a cute little castle, La Gloria. We were welcomed by the owner of the castle, she ushered us to terrace which had vistahermosa of the town. She also offered camping space in her farm, but we had other plans for the second half of the day. Uday and myself did some street photography in the town, after which it was lunch time and we had pollo asada (chicken barbecue) at one of the nameless corner food joints, very close to zocalo.


After lunch, we steered our car towards, Oasis de Coahuila, Parras (which translates to vines), the nomenclature of which is explained by vast vineyards in the outskirts. It's the birth place of Francisco Madero, who once served as a Mexican president. Parras is a laidback town with a colonial zocalo, hill top chapel, swimming pools spread by natural springs, golf resorts and a winery. We checked into one of the inexpensive hotels not so far away from zocalo and head out to the hill top chapel, Santo Madero. It's a small chapel on rocky mountain top which could be accessed by a winding pavement leading uphill. From the chapel the panoramic view of the town and the surrounding mountain range is awesome.


From the chapel we went to zocalo area and kept wandering around. The zocalo like zocalos of other Mexican cities, is of magnificent colonial architecture with the central cathedral - San Ignacio de Loyola. Parras is known for mezclilla or denim, jeans are available for dirt cheap prices. There are many shops that sell jeans in zocalo. Walking around narrow streets and alleyways of centro is a pleasure in itself. We tried some wines in few stores, but it tasted more like grape juice than wine. It was dark and we were tired of day long driving, we bought tequila, had burger at a local Mexican restaurant and came back to hostel. Rest of the night was spent over tequila and uno cards.


Next morning we had typical Mexican breakfast of huevos rancheros (sunny side up egg with salsa and tortilla), huevos a la mexicana (scrambled eggs) and coffee. On the road leading to Saltillo, we found the winery which we were looking for - Casa Madero. It's the first time that I ever saw a winery, the tour through the winery is free of cost, though it's a good idea to tip the guide by the end of tour. We were taken through the sections of winery where they crush the grapes, separate out the peel, collect the juice and ferment the same. There were dark, temperature regulated chambers full of fermenting wooden barrels of heights ranging from waist level to ceiling. The entire tour took about an hour or so, but it was one of it's kinds. The price paid for the expensive wine, you feel, is justified after taking such a tour. We tasted a couple of kinds of wine at the store, continued our journey to Saltillo.


Saltillo, as stated earlier is the biggest city of Coahuila and the capital. It's known for it's extreme weather, sweet bread and the restaurant Las Brazas. It was lunch time and we were all hungry like dogs, right in front of university we parked the car and entered Las Brazas and had lunch. Every damn thing in this restaurant is delicious, though I recommend Alambre de pollo. The punch line of the restaurant says, "If you don't know Las Brazas, you don't know Saltillo".


El Museo de desierto a.k.a Parque las Maravillas was our destination for the afternoon. The desert museum entry costs 120 pesos, the museum is worth every penny you pay. You get to see life-size dinosaur skeletons recovered at Rincon de Colorado in Coahuila, petroglyphs, fish fossils, rare flora and fauna found in Coahuila desert. There were also pre-historic exhibits like mammoth skeleton and gigantic tortoise shells. Also there is an artificial lake which forms an abode to numerous turtles and crocodiles, which live in perfect harmony. A nursery outside the museum sells cute cactus in tiny pots. It requires atleast 3-4 hours to cover the museum in detail, we did it in about 2 hours. The information inside the museum is all in Spanish, but you wont be disappointed if you don't read them, coz there are too many interesting things to see and enjoy than getting into the details. I highly recommend this museum to the visitors of Saltillo.


The sun was heading his home and so were we. We were 100km away from home and had a desi party in the night to attend. After having our dose of caffeine in 7/11, we hit the Saltillo-Monterrey highway...

















Monday, July 27, 2009

Luck Review

Mind you, I'm neither a movie buff nor a regular movie reviewer. Out of the blue, two of my friends decided that we should watch a movie on Sunday evening and I accorded with their decision. The guy who was supposed to buy the tickets told us that the only option we had was LUCK, of which I had seen slick posters, we decided to go for that.

The story line is something like this - Sanjay Dutt helps Danny during his bad times and Danny is obligated to help Sanjay Dutt invest on LUCKY people. Danny starts collecting people with LUCK for Sanjay Dutt, who has a betting business. People with LUCK are all taken to South Africa and are made to play deadly, dangerous games, survivors make fortunes, losers die. This is where Imran Khan meets Shruti Hassan, he saves her during a sky dive, when her parachute fails to open, in one of the games after which they fall in love and Ravi Kishan, the villain tries to rape (or probably murder) Shruti and the classic hero saving heroine takes place. Mithun uncle has played a role of an immortal major, who despite fatal blows stays alive.

The movie has too many stupid screwups which make it a very inferior one. The starting scene where a group of blind-folded people crossing railway tracks itself was so unreal. Then people swimming in shark infested waters was another unwanted cheap thrill, worse still the shark snipping off short-cut's (one of the characters) leg off. The last damn scene is almost like one of Rajnikanth's stunts...Imran Khan is running on a train when Ravi Kishan is firing a machine gun (though it appeared as though he was wanking off while firing the gun) non-stop and not a single bullet touches Imran. Both hero and heroine survive an explosion in the end, which resembles a typical Hollywood crap. Sanjay Dutt hasn't done much in this movie except for walking like a hunk, with some striking background music...he could have done a lot better.

All the 80s bollywood formulae have been very successfully repeated with some of the latest, more handsome actors - hero salvaging the heroine from a rape (or probably a murder), obvious victory of hero in the end, a triangle love story and some pathetically uninspired dialogues. I appreciate Mithun for consistently acting in bad movies. The only saving grace of the movie is the new face - Shruti Hassan with her super model bod. I would rate the movie 1 star out of 5, and that star is just for Shruti sweetheart.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mc Chicken Bugger!

Saravanan Appan (name slightly changed), was a colleague of mine few years ago. As you can see, not only him, even his name spoke Tamil. He was from Pondicherry (not sure if he takes an offense for not calling his place Puducherry) and a die hard chicken eater...I was amazed by his poultry-lust. Vegetarian food was a rare delicacy for him, chicken was his staple food with a little rice of chapthi as side dish. He was one of those very typical Ranjni fans with no knowledge of outside world whatsoever. His cognizant well contained only Rajni movies, chicken curry and protocol stack...you talk something other than this, he used to feel left out.

Our conversations used to be something like this:
Sac: Hey bugger! Did you watch MI-II?
Sar: What is thatta? MI-II va? I don't know ra.
Sac: It's a new hollywood action movie dude...
Sar: Yay you've seen this Vijaykanth's new movieva? That also hyas laaat of yaction.
Sac: What plans for the weekend bugger?
Sar: I'll make chicken chettinaad, watch Basha and go to do some shoppinga.

So one of the other team members bought a car and he had to throw a small lunch party for us, his team-members. After chucking off Lemon grass, Greens, Annachi (you know where did this suggestion came from), Malgudi options, we settled down to McDonalds in Forum, Koramangala. I was the only one who resented the idea, but majority won. Even Saravan was against it, but the moment he realized he could binge on chicken, he switched sides. I don't know why Bangaloreans feel hip to hang out at McDonalds!!! I despise that place wholeheartedly!!!

So we finally hit McDs at Forum and we enqueued ourselves at the counter, Sarvanan and myself assumed ultimate and penultimate positions respectively, rest of team in front of us. So my turn came and I ordered a chicken burger with fries for myself and was about to leave the counter...Sarvanan called me back and he confessed, "Yay Sachin, this is the first time I'm in McD myaan. I don't know myan...can you order some chicken for me alsova?" So I ordered the same for him...a chicken burger with fries.

We finished our lunch after which we started back to office. Saravanan knocked me on my shoulder while I was driving the bike, "Yay Sachin, you keep calling me bugger all the time no? Now you ordered one "chicken bugger" only no? That means you were calling me by that dish namea? I don't understand why you call me like thatta." I wanted to stop the bike and roll on the floor laughing, but I was driving on a highway, could't do that.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Stopovers at D.F.

I had two very short sojourns in one of the biggest and one of the most populated cities of the world - Distrito Federal a.k.a Mexico City. Except for an undue incident that happened in Ciudad de Palacios, when we arrived for the second time, our short stay in the city was a peaceful one. I was told terrible stories about the city by my Mexican friends...muggings, murders and shoot outs...but after seeing the city, I immediately fell in love with it. Put together the liveliness of Mexicans, neoclassicial architecture of medevial Europe, lush green gardens and spacious sidewalks brimming with people, roads overflowing with vehicles, street artists and peddlers, the richest and poorest citizens, the mystical Shamanists, the streetside murals and artworks...you have Mexico city.
























Probably I don't have authority to describe this city to it's fullest for my stint in the city was an extremely short one - a day and a half I think. On the first sojourn, we were on our way to Chiapas and we arrived the morning and had time till evening. I wanted to see Museo de Antropoligia in Chapultepec area, but, unfortunately, we arrived on Monday and Monday is the wrong time to goto Mexico city, for all the museums in the city will be shuttered down. Chapultepec is one of the most beautiful and probably the tidiest areas of Mexico city with gardens and parks and clean sidewalks and Castle of Chapultepec. Since the museum was closed we decided to explore the zocalo of the city, we took a bus to centro but enroute we alighted at the Independence Tower on Paseo de Reforma. It's a magnificent tower with a golden statue of "Angel de Independencia" on the top. It forms a big roundabout with steps leading to the bottom of the tower where there is a small square monument with tribute to freedom fighters, which forms the base of the tower.

























We ambled in and around the marble building El Palacio de Bellas Artes (The fine arts palace), the grand old post office and zocalo. The buildings are majestic and colonial. There are statues of Aztec kings with unpronounceable, tongue twisting names like Izcoatl and Nezahualcoyotl. We had tacos lunch at one of the restaurants whose name I can't recall, after which we head to the actualy central square. It's the biggest square I've ever seen in any Mexican city with Catedral on one side and the Governer's Palace on it's adjacent side. Our time was almost over and we had to head to Tapo station to catch our bus to Palenque.























I was impressed by the Metro system (Sistem de Transporte Colectivo) in Mexico city, it gives a close competition to the one in Shanghai. The tickets are of fixed price, 2 pesos! The trains are pretty old, but they're in good condition and the system forms the backbone of Mexico city transport infrastructure. For the population of the city, had there been no metro system, it would be hard to imagine the traffic. The security at the station is also intimidating, there are cops everywhere and there are special ladies only train at times. We took metro from zocalo station to Tapo and continued our journey by bus to Chiapas.
































During our return journey from Chiapas, we had another day at our disposal in Mexico city. We reached Coyote Flaco Backpackers hostel in Coyoacán area and got refreshed. We had to make a choice between Teotihuacan pyramids and Museo de Antropoligia...I chose the latter one, for I had seen too many pyramids just before arriving in Mexico city. Please click on Museo de Antropoligia to know about museum. It took good amount of time in museum and I guess we were done by around 4 in the evening. We filled our hungry stomachs with tortas, watched a show of "Voladores de Papantla", a ritual from Veracruz state where in people suspend themselves from a slowly turning frame atop a tall tower, after which we took a metro to zocalo. This time we had time to enter cathedral, which was kinda dark inside and overcrowded. Around cathedral, we saw many Red Indians, busy with Shaman rituals and dances.

































It was dark and the museum had drained all our energies. We came back to hostel, relaxed for a while and head to the zocalo of Coyoacan area (where Frida Kahlo once lived) for a dinner which was stones throw away from our hostel. There was a bustling fair in the square and we were not in a mood to have something big...we had street side pan cakes and hurried back to hostel and crashed. The next morning, the taxi was ready by 5 in the morning, which dropped us to the nearest metro station.

































With all the ugly stories I've heard about Mexico city, I couldn't help falling in love with this city. It's a very romantic city where food is great, weather is pleasant, places are amazing (though I was able to explore very less) and people (chilangos) are kickass! It's a perfect mix of modernism and neoclassicism which makes it one of the most crowded cities in the world.









Museo Nacional de Antropología, Ciudad de Mexico

Museo Nacional de Antropología, the National Anthropology Museum is located in Chapultepec area of one of the largest cities on this planet, Mexico city. It's the biggest and the best museum of Mexico, showcasing the best of Mexican anthropology. There are findings from almost every part of Mexico displaying the rich heritage of Mayas, Aztecs, Mixtecs, Zapotecs and other tribes/civilizations that once existed in Mexico. Especially for me after having seen places like Tulum, Coba, Chichen-Itza, Yaxchilan, Bonampak, Tikal, Monte Alban, Mitla, Zaachila, Palenque and other ruins, this place was very enlightening and here I got a chance explore the same in greater details. The interiors of the pyramids have been well displayed, the artistic findings have been well preserved, the murals have been well reproduced and the history is well explained. It costs about 51 pesos to enter this museum and costs one whole day to see the entire museum. At this point I'm gonna stop being wordy and below are the photographs that give a glimpse of what you can find in museum. But take my words, if you ever get a chance to land on North American continent, don't miss this museum.