Swimming in cenotes

Underground pools of fresh, clear, cold water. Stalactites and stalagmites. Fish.

It’s quite another experience swimming in a cenote. It’s recommended during the hottest and sunniest hours of the day though, because the sunlight that penetrates the holes in the roof is the only element warming up the waters.

Cenotes come in all varieties. The famous Cenote Dos Ojos required us to strap on some life vests and waterproof torchlights and follow a guide deep into a cavern. Cenote Zaci (in the center of Valladolid) was like any other outdoor public pool. (Try not to have a vivid imagination of sea monsters as it’s wide and very deep in the center and you can’t see the bottom.) Cenote Samula and Xkeken are at the ends of steps that lead deep into the underground.

Overall, a very new experience for me, one that is truly unique to Mexico.

Cenote Zaci
Cenote Samula (or was it Xkeken?)

Bug Tacos

The caviar of the Aztec empire.

That’s what they’re calling “escamoles” or ant larvae. Cooked in a buttery sauce and priced the same as actual caviar (not that I would know), escamoles is a delicacy that one has to hunt around a little bit for around Mexico City. Or visit one of the restaurants listed on Lonely Planet.

At Los Girasoles, a fancy joint on Calle Tacuba near the Zocalo, I feasted on a plate of escamoles, chapulines (tiny fried grasshoppers), and gusanos (grubs). While the escamoles was delicious (butter makes everything delicious), the chapulines was crispy and sour, due to all the lime it’s soaked in. The gusanos, devoid of innards, was fried to an oil-soaked moist crisp. It’s funny how bugs are cheap streetfood in SE Asia but here, it was $25/plate. Yes, $25. By Mexican standards, that’s the cost of about 50 chicken taquitos I could buy from the local market.

Nonetheless, it was an interesting dining experience. I would take a fresh hot corn tortilla, spread some black bean paste and guacamole on it, then sprinkle the bugs onto my taco, wrap it up, and enjoy the various textures and flavors; a little crispy, a little chewy, a little creamy, a little salty, a little sour, a little spicy.

Buen provecho!

The original “Queen of Selfies”

Frida Kahlo. She of the unibrow and colorful dresses. Although I recognized her name and have seen multiple pictures of her work, usually self-portraits complete with unibrow and colorful dresses, I never actually paid close attention to who she was and why she was such a big deal. They even made a movie about her, starring Salma Hayek.

A blue-walled museum dedicated to her located in the cozy neighborhood of Coyoacan opened my eyes. This museum was formerly the home of Kahlo’s and her husband, famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. I dislike large museums because I lose interest about an hour in and realize I only covered 25% of it. But the Frida Kahlo museum was just the perfect size. After all, it was a home, albeit a large one with plenty of rooms, halls, and a massive backyard, perfect for any creatives who need space, fresh air, and solitude.

So what’s the big deal about this museum visit and why am I writing about it?

I think it’s because I’ve always been interested in what makes people tick and this museum showed me what made this person tick. I walked past her self-portraits, smirking inside my head at how self-absorbed she was to focus on painting herself most times. (She was the original queen of selfies. No doubt that if she had lived through our age, her Instagram would be filled with plenty of selfies taken by her iPhone.)

But I started reading excerpts of her life story spread across the museum. The more I read, the more my perspective changed about her.

I did not realize she was disabled. She had polio as a child, causing one of her legs to shrivel. She had a bad accident at 18 which broke her body badly resulting in a lifetime of surgeries and also the inability to have a child within her loveless marriage to Rivera.

The various devices Frida wore to help her look “normal” on the outside.

And she had to hide it all; the pain, the embarrassment, the hopelessness. She wore corsets designed to support her spine and hid everything behind her beautiful dresses which covered up her broken body. But one thing that stood out was her steely-eyed determination you saw from her self-portraits. Her spirit was not broken. Her whole life, she was supposed to be just another woman who would become a wife to a husband and bear kids and stay home. She was supposed to fit a stereotype. But she didn’t want to. She wanted to become someone. And life wanted to break her but she didn’t let it.

A shrine dedicated to Frida Kahlo. Love the decorative Mexican skullwork.

Life beneath the waves

Every time I talk to someone about scuba diving, they give me the same reply: “I don’t like being submerged in water”.

Water covers roughly 70% of the Earth. I’d consider scuba diving a form of travel. We are traveling to parts of Earth that can’t be reached by train or plane or walking. To visit the “cities” and meet all its “citizens” in these parts of the world, you have to wear some special gear, your Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Getting Open-Water Certified is like getting a passport to travel to cities beneath the waves.

When you fear what you don’t understand, seek to understand and your fear will disappear.

Stunning video filmed by Eunjae Im (www.ejlabs.net)

Hong Kong

I visited Hong Kong (HK) at the end of 2013 en route to Malaysia for my buddy’s wedding.

The one thing that is important to me about travel is food and HK is one of the best places in the world to get some delicious Cantonese cuisine. Lin Heung Tea House is the oldest dim sum joint in HK and I would highly recommend anyone visiting HK to make a trip there just for the experience of sitting at community tables with strangers and soaking in the chaotic moments when the dim sum carts get wheeled out from the kitchen with a variety of fresh, succulent dim sum dishes before the swarms of hungry people engulf the staff, creating a quick vanishing act for all the dishes. I witnessed a cart not even make it 5 meters out the door before it went back in, empty, within minutes. It’s not for the passive. One has to assert one’s self in these hungry crowds and wrestle one’s way into the front and get the staff’s attention to acquire a dish of your choosing. There is no line. And people expecting someone to attend to their needs at the tables will most certainly go hungry. Be proactive. And don’t forget to enjoy a cup of delicious hot tea served in big, traditional bowl-sized tea cups and nod at your neighbors (or engage them if you can speak Cantonese), most of who won’t pay attention to you as they chat with their family/friends and/or read the morning papers. For more upscale dim sum, visit Maxim’s Palace which is somewhat hidden away (take a taxi if you must). There, one can experience a completely different dim sum experience. There is order, there is peace. People are seated and the carts do reach the masses, wheeled slowly by the staff as they go table to table, asking if you’d like to check out their wares. Be warned: Maxim’s Palace is much pricier. Personally, food that must be fought for tastes better. I would return to Lin Heung the next time I’m in HK.

Lin Heung Tea House

Click for more pictures of Hong Kong…

Ken has finally skydived!

Took a while to get this crossed off the bucket list but it finally happened.

Went to San Marcos with a coworker and his buddy. Arrived 2 pm, geared up around 5, jumped out around 5:15 with my tandem instructor Chris and my videographer Yoshi.

Felt tiny bit of nerves prior to arrival but then again, doing any new activity is always like that. To be honest, I didn’t feel anything but excitement when I was on the plane and ready to get thrown off.

It all went by real quick and was a blur. Here’s the video of my jump:

 

Montreal et Quebec City

May 23 – May 29, 2015

Me: “Bonjour”

Them: “Yes, can I help you?”

Me: “Uh yes…can I get combo #1 please… Merci.”

I wanted to impress the locals with my rudimentary command of French but in the end, nobody had time to entertain a tourist. They just want to do their jobs and get on with life. Fair enough.

Unless I was planning on going out of the city, I don’t think knowing French is really needed. The Québécois are still Canadian and they need to know how to converse with their fellow Canadians from non-Quebec regions.

What’s there to do in Montreal and Quebec City (QC)? Walk around. Take the subways. Ride a bike everywhere. Eat.

I kid you not. This is the beach in Montreal.
I’ve never seen trees grown this way.
Go to Schwartz’s Deli for smoked meat sandwiches. It’s a Montreal institution.
Beaver tails. Invented in Ottawa but popularized here in Montreal.
La Banquise for the best poutine (according to locals) in Montreal.

I didn’t take many pics of Montreal itself. A subway looks like a subway. A row of shops looks like a row of shops. Nothing truly stood out as different. I’m not saying it wasn’t a great city; it had a great vibe and its own identity which leaned more toward young and hip. It’s worth a visit and in another life, I could even find myself living there.

Quebec City was a short 2.5 hour drive from Montreal and worth a night’s stay. More than that and it could feel long. Much of the interesting sights are concentrated in one tiny area in QC, the tourist district which includes everything below.

TIP: I would absolutely recommend that a visitor make reservations at ‘Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens‘ for lunch and asking for the ‘table d’hote‘, which is the set lunch menu, to get a good feel of Quebecois cuisine, such as the meat pie below. You can see a screenshot of the restaurant’s menu HERE.

Also, according to locals, for the best poutine in QC, visit ‘Chez Ashton’, which is a fast food chain. Order the poutine only.

Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in QC. Massive.
Boardwalk in QC.
Asian tourists eat this shit up.
Tourtiere Du Lac Saint Jean. Pie with all kinds of game meats. Popular in QC.