One Night in Taxco: Hotel de La Llorona

This is the first post in a biased two-part discussion of the paranormal, religion, skepticism, and spirituality. Discretion is advised.

View of Taxco and surrounding landscape
For those who haven’t been, Taxco is a beautiful example of a colonial pueblo in modern Mexico.

Last weekend, Venezia took me (Evaric) to Taxco de Alarcón for her cousin’s quinceañera. The beautifully bizarre celebration that is the quinceañera is a whole other discussion, but this post is about the hotel I stayed in overnight: Hotel Victoria, a charming little bungalow on the edge of town which nobody told me was haunted until we arrived. That was fine, since I don’t believe in ghosts.

Alone in the Dark

Arched hallway in Hotel Victoria in Taxco
Seems ghosts appreciate a tasteful interior as much as the rest of us.

“I don’t believe in ghosts” is something I like to say when I’m at home in the daytime, surrounded by familiar comforts and faces. It’s easy for us skeptics to laugh at supposed accounts of the paranormal: unlike those who experience strange events, we have the luxury of responding only with reason, rather than emotion.

A funny thing happens to reason when you find yourself alone in the dark. Let’s back up, though. Leading up to that night, everything was aligning just right to make me feel I was living in a poorly-written horror movie. Entering the Hotel Victoria, Venezia recounted the stories of family members who had seen and heard strange things while staying there. We noticed crude crosses nailed to the front gate; the hotel’s proprietor unironically explained that La Llorona, a popular Mexican folk, had been coming by the past few nights and he was trying to ward her off. As I settled into my room, I noticed I had lost cell service.

Pool surrounded by plants in Hotel Victoria in Taxco
Beautiful, in a haunted sort of way.

A storm rolled in during the party, and when I returned to my room the lightning was so close that the walls literally shook with the thunder. The hotel is up on a hill a little outside of town, and being an old-school rural pueblo, Taxco gets dark at night in a way even small-town Americans aren’t used to. The second-to-last thing I noticed before turning out the light (and plunging myself into pitch darkness) was a cockroach half the size of my hand crawl out of the wall. I wish I’d gotten a picture – didn’t seem a priority at the time.

What I did get a picture of was the last thing I noticed: the little square hole cut in the blanket of the bed beside mine. I’d already made myself antsy by imagining waking up in the middle of the night to see someone else in the other bed looking back at me, but usually I’m a little too old for under-the-bed nonsense. I didn’t have any explanation why someone would cut a window in the blanket, though, or why when the bed was made it just happened to fall to the level where something could peer out at me from a hidden spot beneath the bed.

A square hole cut in the blanket of a bed
It opens its eyes when you close yours.

The Cold Light of Reality

Sun setting behind a mountain over Taxco
I didn’t take any pictures of the sunrise so this is actually a sunset. But shhh, don’t tell anyone.

I had a brief scare when I woke up. Before going to bed, I’d closed all the curtains and the door leading to the other room. I was awoken by light streaming in through the cracks in that door. For a horrible minute I was convinced something else was in there with me – something had to have turned on the light in the other room. It turned out that the sunrise was in fact so brilliant that it shone bright enough through a curtain and a door to wake me up. I laughed at myself and went back to sleep.

My experience didn’t make me a believer. Nothing happened that I couldn’t explain, and if nobody had told me the place was haunted, it would never have crossed my mind. Only with that in mind did I begin to form a narrative out of ambiance and coincidences.

I did rethink the way I look at believers. If anything even slightly spooky had happened that night (and I had survived the ensuing heart attack), I doubt logic would hold much sway over how I interpreted things.

I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Venezia, who has earned most of a degree in Molecular Biology, is one of the smartest and most rational people I know, and didn’t even experience staying the night in the hotel, admitted she was nervous about leaving me alone there. There we were, two highly-educated people raised in an age of science and reason, still ruled by the same primal fears as our caveman ancestors, ten-thousand years ago.

Science and Scienceability

Family attending Catholic Mass during a quinceañera
The quinceañera that afternoon involved attending Catholic Mass at a local church. Maybe that saved my life?

Inspired by this experience, Venezia and I sat down to discuss our perspectives on science and religion, skepticism and the paranormal. The conversation was full of surprises: not only did we not know everything each other believed in, we each believe in concepts that the other had never even considered. We both came away with at least small changes to our worldview.

We’ll share our discussion next week – stay tuned. In the meantime, we would love to hear from you in the comments. Are you a believer, and have you had any experiences, paranormal or otherwise, that shook your deeply-held beliefs?

Exploring Mexico Episode 1!

Trail in a monarch butterfly reserve
Getting to the butterflies is a bit of a trek.

We are very excited to announce the first full episode of our first series, Exploring Mexico!

Chasing Butterflies in Michoacan

You may have seen our earlier post covering our trip to the monarch butterfly reserve in the state of Michoacan. This is the video that came out of that trip. It’s a little late, but we think you’ll enjoy it.

If you have ideas or suggestions about what else we should explore, hit us up in the comments here or on YouTube!

5 Mexican Foods You Need in Your Life

Sabritas Adobadas and Sabritas Limones arranged into a flower
Made this to celebrate the Spring Equinox. It was supposed to be a flower….

If you have not lived or traveled in Mexico, you have not tasted Mexican food. Even if you go to Mexican restaurants (or God forbid, Taco Bell), chances are you have no idea what pastor is and think that burritos are something that actually exist south of the border. You just can’t get the best Mexican foods outside of Mexico, and believe me, you are missing out.

5 Mexican Foods You Need in Your Life

5. Oaxaca Cheese

Fresh ball of Oaxaca cheese
The first thing you need to know about Mexico is that all good things come from Oaxaca.

With the consistency of string cheese and the shape of a soft pretzel, Oaxaca cheese can be a bit confusing at first. Try it, though, and you will find it puts all other quesos to shames. It’s mostly used in cooking, but I find myself eating strings of it raw as a bedtime snack more often than I care to admit.

4. Mexican Junk Food

Sabritas Adobadas and Sabritas Limones
Adobadas are the undisputed champion, but Sabritas Limones are pretty great too

Mexico’s colorful and ancient culinary tradition mixes classic Aztec and Mayan dishes with flavors drawn from all over the world, creating something truly unique and beautiful. Sometimes, though, you’re just not in the mood for unique and beautiful. Mexico has you covered: just head down to the Oxxo on the corner and grab a bag of Sabritas Adobadas (read: Lays but better) and a couple Carlos V’s (read: Hershey’s but better [but actually read: Carlos Quintos]).

Carlos V candy bars
For real though, there is legit an Oxxo on every corner.

3. Flan

Two slices of flan
Mini Spanish lesson: when someone asks “¿Quieres flan?” the correct answer is always “Sí, por favor, lo dame ahora si deseas vivir.”

There was more than one episode of Friends mocking this traditional Mexican dessert, which pretty much confirms none of the cast or crew every tried it. With a consistency somewhere between jello and pudding and a taste somewhere between “I’m happy because I’m eating flan” and “I’m depressed because my flan was so delicious I ate it all already”, this is a unique treat that can’t really be compared to anything.

2. Pastor

Authentic pastor being prepared at a restaurant in Mexico City
Shoutout to Taqueria Los Hornillos for putting up with the weird gringo photographer snapping photos of their kitchen.

What is pastor? Hell if I know. I’m not even sure what type of meat it is – pork, I think? It’s probably the one food on this last you would be hardest pressed to find outside Mexico – some gringo restaurants offer “pastor” on their menu, but if you don’t see a spinning fiery pineapple-topped meat wheel in their kitchen, it is not even close to authentic. There are a million ways to eat pastor, but the best way is no contest….

1. Tacos

Tacos al pastor with limes and salsas
Shoutout to Taqueria Los Hornillos for being absolutely fricken delicious.

Not a lot needs to be said about tacos. If you haven’t been to Mexico, you haven’t had tacos. If you haven’t had tacos al pastor, you haven’t lived.

Bonus: Mezcal

Bottle of Oaxaca mezcal
Not only is it good luck to eat the worm, but it’s so saturated with alcohol it will get you wasted all by itself.

Not technically a food, but this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning authentic Oaxaca mezcal. I’ve known a lot of gringos who like to think of themselves as serious drinkers, but I’d love to see any of them pound back a shot of real mezcal. It’s hard to describe the experience and do it any justice. You know when you take a swig of tequila and get that sudden burn in the back of your throat? Imagine if just as that burn started to go away, it came back again, stronger than before. And then again and again and again. Literally forever. That’s mezcal.

A Day in Mexico

I just passed my 22nd birthday and am coming up on the three-month anniversary of my arrival in Mexico. It’s still a lot to adjust to and a lot of things are still up in the air, but for the most part I’ve gotten settled and adopted something of a routine. So what is a typical day like for a gringo in Mexico City?

Daily Living in Mexico

IMG_20170315_182419_060
Not a stock photo – this is a picture I took of the house I live in

Casa Hemingway

Rented room in a house in Mexico City
The floor is concrete, but the bed is warm

I rent a room in a large old house with a handful of fellow tenants. The landlady also lives here. Between her family coming and going, the maid, and all my housemates, the place is always lively and bustling. I love the feeling of activity and community. There is always someone to talk to while I cook or eat, even if the conversations are mostly in Spanglish. At least I’m learning.

I had a couple room options when I moved in, and the other ones were more “normal”, but as soon as I saw this one I had to have it. It’s cozy and a little removed from the rest of the house, and there’s something almost…frontier about it. Venezia and I dubbed it Casa Hemingway because we agreed it was the room Hemingway would have picked. Moving here was the adventure of a lifetime, and now I live in what feel’s like an adventurer’s home.

A Run in the Parque

Plaza in Parque de los Venados
This horse is stone, but people ride real horses and donkeys around the park every day

In the mornings before work I’ll sometimes go for a 5K jog in Parque de los Venados, a beautiful park a couple minutes’ walk from my house. There’s a surprising amount of wildlife there for a park in the middle of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, including many kinds of birds and squirrels. There’s also vendors hawking their churros and cheeses, young couples canoodling in the grass, and men and women shooting hoops in the nearby courts. As often as not, I share the paths with donkeys and horses.

Beneath the Jacaranda Trees

Patio of a house in Mexico City
I was on facebook when I took this, but I do actual work too, I promise

I work as a content writer. Basically, clients tell me what they want me to write about and how many words they want me to write, and I write it. My dream job is writing novels and I might not be quite there yet, but at the very least I can call myself a professional writer now. Besides, look at my office. I spend my 9-5 in the brilliant Mexican sun beneath the flowering boughs of the jacaranda trees that grow beside the house. Tiny birds sing all around me, and across the street there’s usually a group of construction workers joking and listening to Mariachi or Reggaeton. I’d take my office over a cubicle any day.

Tacos al Whatever

Tacos with chorizo and lime
Not really sure what I was going for, but chorizo is delicious no matter what you do to it

During my lunch break, or just whenever I get hungry, I step into the kitchen and whip up some tacos. I’m still learning when it comes to Mexican cuisine, and I wouldn’t call my tacos authentic, but with a fridge full of traditional ingredients anything I make ends up being delicious. I have the privilege of working with tropical fruits, veggies, and herbs fresher than any you could get north of the border, and meats that are delicious even if I add nothing to them – arrachera, cecina, chorizo, the list goes on. Not to mention tortillas that don’t taste like cardboard.

The Coolest Library in the World

Biblioteca Vasconcelos in Mexico City
Yes, there’s a whale skeleton hanging in the middle of the library

When I need a change of scenery, sometimes I’ll bring my work to a local cafe (if there’s one thing Mexicans know, it’s coffee) or else Biblioteca Vasconcelos. There’s an outside chance you’ve heard of this place before – it shows up all over the internet in lists of “Coolest Libraries” or even “Coolest Buildings”. I swear half the pictures on Pinterest under the category Books are just pictures of this library. That said, photos don’t do it justice. When you’re inside, it feels like being in some sort of futuristic space station.

A World of Exploration

Chapultepec castle in Mexico City
What do you get when you cross Spanish, French, and Aztec?

When Venezia and I get off work, the real fun begins. I may have been here for nearly three months, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the amazing things to do in Mexico City, let alone the rest of the country. From Bosque de Chapultepec, where you can find the only genuine castle in North America, to Teotihuacan, where you can climb massive pyramids built by an unknowable civilization that was ancient when the Aztecs were young, to Centro Historico, where you can walk the very same streets where Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortez once walked alongside Aztec Empire Moctezuma, as these unlikely allies struggled to hold on to a crumbling empire, there is enough to see and do in this city alone to keep me busy for a hundred lifetimes.

So here’s to another three months in this beautiful country, and then another three years after that. The odds may be against me, but I hope to explore and learn as much as humanly possible in the time I spend here, and I look forward to sharing this journey with you.