Living, Mexico

Traveling alone, but not lonely

Is there anything more exciting than visiting a new country, navigating a new city or struggling through a new language to get directions to find the closest place to buy wine? It can be challenging to find the ideal travel partner. Someone who is a close friend at home doesn’t a perfect travel partner make.

Six years ago, after spending close to sixteen years focused on family, I decided that I wanted to go traveling. I craved the kind of freedom of not being the organizer, of having my days stretch out before me in a new place without the pressure of taking into account the needs of others.

I chose Thailand and it was fabulous! I stayed in luxurious boutique hotels that cost a fraction of the price they would have at home. I ate on my own schedule, I explored the bustle of Bangkok and the picturesque streets of Chiang Mai. I didn’t meet too many people until I took a tour that overlapped with some ‘real’ travelers. True backpackers who carry their world with them like a turtle carries its shell. They were younger than me but it didn’t stop them from inviting me to join them for dinner or riding scooters out to a waterfall. I had a blast and I was bitten by the travel bug and a wanderlust that would always have me wondering ‘where to next?’

I continued to travel, staying in medium priced hotels and Airbnb’s until I met a group of young women in the Sahara desert of Morocco. We were heading to Fez and at the last minute, my Airbnb fell through.

‘Come with us to our hostel. I’m sure they have room.’ I hesitated. Would they even let me in or am I too old? Me with my small compact wheeled suitcase and Kate Spade purse. I decided to go with them and then find a place from there. There had to be a decent hotel nearby.

Fez was not my favorite place. A chaotic maze of streets full of men (more about that for another blog post.) We stepped into an oasis of busy calm. The common area was full of people lounging and drinking tea, posting on Instagram and talking about where they had and been and where they were going. The hostel had a private room but it wasn’t available until the following day. We had passed a hotel on our way in and I decided to check it out before deciding. I was able to leave my bags by the activity board- lists of everything hostel had to offer- walking tours, food tours, dinner was served at 7 and breakfast from 7-10. The hotel a few doors down was quiet. The front desk man showed me a room that was fine but his manner seemed critical when I said I was alone. I decided to stay at the hostel and it was the best thing I could have done.

I have traveled a lot since then and stayed in many hostels. In Porto, I met a 60-year-old woman who had walked the Camino and in Paris an older woman who was studying French as well as many young people seeing the world before deciding how they want to live in it. I find I actually enjoy sharing a room and I am inspired by how many female solo travelers I meet. Women like me.

My favorite site for the best listings: http://www.hostelworld.com

Travel light, travel happy!

 

Living

You’re pretty… now be interesting.

“We won the minute they started doing pole dancing for exercise.” Ryan Gosling as Jacob in Crazy, Stupid, Love on the battle of the sexes.

When I was in college, Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth was the mainstream feminist text of the day. It posited that as women gained more power in the world, so did the pressure to adhere to unrealistic social standards of physical beauty and because of commercial influences on the mass media women were more objectified than ever. Personally, these ideas gave me pause to evaluate my own self-image and consider the role the media had played in shaping my standards of beauty.

Flash forward 25 years and not only are women’s bodies still being used to sell everything from deodorant to cars, we now have access to more images than ever before through social media. Each of us is curating a story about what we want the world to know about us; pics of our dogs, our lattes, selfies. There used to be great debate about the dangers of television but we have so evolved beyond that, that television seems benign compared to the image-based world we are living in today. It is impossible to avoid being constantly bombarded by images, day in and day out. No matter where you are, there is a television, an advertisement, a magazine, a logo, computer screen or phone in your hand to deliver ideas and standards of beauty.

Of course we all want to be pretty and admired. However, one scroll through my Instagram feed is enough to make me cringe. Smart women with feeds showcasing their bodies in hyper-sexualized ways that would be worthy of old-school Playboy. Then there is the argument that it is our choice. The idea that we have achieved such freedom and equality that women have the choice to do what they want with their bodies. I get it but I am baffled.

It seems to me that we have turned self-objectification into empowerment and it does not seem to be in an ironic way.  I recently had a frustrating conversation with a man who told me that he thought women wanted men to look at them with lust- he even went so far as to suggest that women who worked in the sex industry were seeking male attention. I tried to make an argument that our society has turned women’s sexuality into a commodity and that for many women it becomes the only currency they have, especially when they have not had access to education and opportunity.

However, what about the educated women? Women who are talking about their boob photos and perfect moist pouty lip selfie as empowerment? Maybe it is empowerment- if they believe it. Or maybe the brainwashing has gone so far that we are our own worst enemies.

Living, Mexico

What’s your Spiritual Journey?

My editor’s letter from the February 2019 edition of The Eye magazine.

http://www.theeyehuatulco.com

‘Silence is a source of great strength. ‘

Lao Tzu

I am a big fan of quiet. It is why I don’t mind long bus journeys or often prefer to stay home rather than go out and socialize. While I enjoy talking with people, I take great comfort at the end of the day in the quiet of the world. 

Last September I attended a 10-day silent meditation retreat held in Oaxaca City through Vipassana Mexico. I felt slightly daunted about the no talking, no eye contact days that would stretch ahead of me, but I was more worried about forgoing my evening wine and reading (yes, no reading or writing!) than embracing the quiet. The retreat was held in a convent in the center of the city and the sounds of the outside world gave some solace to our otherwise silent days that began at 4:30am with a couple of hours of meditation before our vegan breakfast. 

There were about 50 women attending and 20 men; however, the only non-gender-segregated space was the meditation hall, where women were on one side and men on the other. It was a beautiful experience to be in a woman-only space and not be distracted with small talk or worrying if people like you – I could just be.

There were a few difficult moments but as I felt my heart slow down, my mind followed, allowing me to truly embrace the present moment. During difficult times I would stroll through the gardens of the convent looking at flowers or slip my shoes off and luxuriate in the feeling of the ground underfoot. 

When the 10 days were up I felt completely rejuvenated. 

This month our readers explore spiritual journeys and you can see from the articles that what each of us defines as a spiritual journey is very individual. The word spirituality is connected with the Latin word “spiritus”, meaning breath. In French there is the word “esprit” referring to a person’s joy or vivaciousness. 

What moves you? Beyond the drudgery of the tasks of everyday living, what does your spirit yearn for? Maybe when you read this question the answer leapt into your mind without hesitation. Maybe your mind flitted and you are not sure what could possibly be the spiritual journey for you.

Sit in silence. Listen to your breath. The answer will reveal itself.

Living, Mexico

Visiting Veracruz!

There are so many places to explore in Mexico that for this year’s holiday I am doing several small trips within the country. First stop was Veracruz! From Huatulco it was a hassle-free seven-hour drive to Veracruz City one of Mexico’s oldest ports and also the first stop for Spanish conquistadors back in 1519. While Oaxaca is culturally rich in pre-colonial traditions, Veracruz is culturally-rich in Spanish influenced delicacies. Located on the Gulf of Mexico with a picturesque seawall for walking the city and a population of a million, Veracruz is a thriving metropolis.

My Top 3 Veracruzana experiences were:

33608622_10160402135615243_3688387583022202880_nThese French pastries (vol-au-vent) are everywhere! Their name means ‘windblown’ because they are so light. Growing up in Montreal my mother would use them to make her special ‘Chicken a la King’- covering the pastries with creamy chicken and veggies. In Veracruz there are street vendors selling volovanes from carts and every Veracruzano seems familiar with the call of the volovan vendor. I had an incredible crab volovan in the town of Tlacotalpan- the perfect marriage of pastry and seafood! I also had a chicken mole volovan at the Jarrito de Oro- my favorite café for breakfast! Side note: in 1838 there was a conflict between Mexico and France that has been dubbed ‘The Pastry War’. The urban legend is that some Mexican officers damaged the pastry shop of a Frenchman near Mexico City and the French government demanded restitution for these damages. In reality the war was fought because French citizens living in Mexico during a prolonged period of strife had their investments ruined and the Mexican government refused any sort of reparations, but it also had to do with long-standing Mexican debt. After a few months of blockades and naval bombardments of the port of Veracruz, the war ended when Mexico agreed to compensate France.

 

  1. Casas de Tablas.

Veracruz is a mish-mash of architectural styles and times. Old concrete houses are being abandoned for newer high rises and gated communities leaving some areas of the city less than aesthetically pleasing. However, one of my favorite areas was ‘La Huaca’ with its echoes of Havana. Specifically, I loved the colorful wooden ‘casas de tablas’. These flat board houses that were located outside the protection of the city walls in the 17th century, were said to be built by slaves who had been brought from Africa with the wood of old ships that washed ashore. To get inside one of these houses go have dinner at Fussion restaurant. An evening at Fussion is a complete delight! From the conscientious decor to the innovative dishes and excellent wine selection.  I started with the shrimp and mole picaditas and the fig salad- both full of flavor. I loved the presentation of the black bean and lobster soup with cilantro oil. The venison salpicon paired well with bits of mango and avocado. For dessert there was a cake made with the traditional bread ‘marquesita’- similar to a biscotti. It was a perfect last bite of the evening. I highly recommend a dinner here!

https://www.facebook.com/fussion.restaurante.taller/

 

  1. Aquarium

A1_444.jpgVeracruz has the largest and most important aquarium in Latin-American. While there are the cringe-worthy attractions such as shark-feeding and dolphin shows, there is also a selection 30 species of fish that many of the visitors to the aquarium would not have the chance to see anywhere else such the tambaquias, arowanas, pacus, red-tailed catfish, jackknife fish, African cichlids and many others in a tank holding an impressive 562,117 cubic liters of water.

While animal rights activists may protest, the facility promotes the preservation of the marine ecosystems and the care of the environment. In addition, the aquarium is government-owned and provides an important economy to the city of Veracruz.

To get to Veracruz from Huatulco you can fly with a stopover in CDMX although the easiest is to go via bus or car.  Happy travels and thanks for reading!

Food, Living

My Chicago Top 3!

Just spent a chilly four days in the Windy City enjoying it’s diverse food options, walking along the river and strolling through world-class museums housing everything from miniature rooms that have inspired director Wes Anderson to George Seurat’s well-known A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Sadly, both the Garage Vintage Sale and the Cubs/Cardinals game I had gotten tickets for were postponed due to bad weather. I love heights and there is no shortage of ‘Bird’s Eye Views’ in Chicago- from riding the ferris wheel at Navy Pier to having a cocktail on the 96th floor of the John Hancock building. My Chicago Top 3 however are the experiences that most surprised me- things I didn’t know I would enjoy so much from reading a guide book and the experiences I would travel back to do again!

1. The Lincoln Hotel30962508_10160268303765243_1999029709_o

When I am planning a trip I often put off booking the hotel until the last minute as I seem to have a hard time committing to accommodations- even if it is just for one night. What if I am missing out on somewhere better?

I waffled a bit before settling on The Lincoln as the pictures showed a retro-style hotel that I was worried it would be just old. Plus, did I want to be in Lincoln Park? Despite my initial ambivalence I was thrilled with this hotel! The furnishings were retro-style but not old- just super fashionable. My room was more like a small apartment with a sitting room, two full bathrooms and three windows. One with a fabulous view of Lake Michigan and the others facing attractive city scenes. I luxuriated in the Citrus and Sandalwood Jonathon Adler toiletries in my spacious bubble bath.

The hotel also boosts many options for snacking. Elaine’s Coffee Call for your morning fix and The Kennison, an elegant restaurant where I had flavorful risotto made with carolina gold rice, preserved citrus artichoke and pecorino. If that wasn’t enough to make me love this place I decided to check out the rooftop bar, J.Parker (named after Lincoln’s bodyguard) where I was greeted by a crowd of fashionably dressed people enjoying elegant late-night cocktails. The Lincoln Hotel was much cooler than me- but it welcomed me with open arms and wouldn’t stay anywhere else in Chicago!

2. Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College30772012_10160268303870243_1652799066_o

This free museum was one of the highlights of my trip. Amazing photography beautiful curated to provoke thought and get your creative juices flowing. The exhibition I saw was In Their Own Form which illuminated the myriad ways blackness might hope to exist without the imposition of oppression, racism and stereotypes ever-present in Western cultures, mediated through Afro-futurist themes including time-travel and escapism.  Stunning!

3. Dinner at Everest30771494_10160268304115243_1736026688_o

OMG this meal made my top five meals of all time! It combined my love of heights and art- 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange-  and an original bronze statue by Ivo Soldini adorns each table instead of flowers. The service was anything but stuffy! From the hostess to the waiters, I felt like I was saying goodbye to friends when the meal was over. Some of the staff I had the pleasure of talking to have worked there for 15-20 years and, as a restaurant-owner myself, I know that this speaks volumes for the quality of the work ambiance.

Then the food… Pommery Brut champagne- crisp with hints of green apple, Maine lobster in butter and ginger, pasture milk-fed veal tenderloin, dessert was a plate with four different chocolate concoctions. The details were just as delicious- asparagus amuse-bouche, the bread was fabulous and some after dinner truffles to round out the meal were so good I thought I would cry.

Now to decide on where to go next!

Happy Travels and Adventurous Eating!

XO Jane

 

Living, Mexico

Why I chose paradise!

I’m really quite simple. I plant flowers and watch them grow… I stay at home and watch the river flow.

George Harrison

JaneMost days I need to pinch myself. When I moved to Mexico over 20 years ago I didn’t have a well-defined plan, I just knew that the options facing me in Canada were not what I was looking for. I wanted things simpler and purer than working for a large company and counting down the days until I could retire.

When I arrived on the coast of Oaxaca it was like stepping back in time. At first, I lived in a small rural village with no telephone, intermittent electricity, and a million-dollar view of the Pacific Ocean. I spent my days learning Spanish by talking with village children and helping out in the kitchen of every woman I met—asking questions about the way they cooked and learning about the ingredients.

Eventually, I moved an hour down the coast to the tranquil resort area of Huatulco. Huatulco is an eco-minded and vibrant community with pristine ocean water, 36 beaches, lush public gardens, private schools (I have a 17-year-old daughter), medical services, and a wonderful mix of locals and foreigners that all get involved in community outreach—from organizing spay and neuter clinics for stray animals to building elementary schools in rural villages.

In 2008, I opened my restaurant, Café Juanita. I used my experience and knowledge of local ingredients and cuisine to put together a menu that I hoped would appeal to both locals and tourists. I hired a wonderful staff and trained them in the type of service I wanted to offer: casual, friendly, and welcoming. Almost 10 years later, I still have the same staff, and I believe our focus on teamwork is the secret to our success. Having my own business has been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. I love exploring different marketing ideas, meeting my customers, working with vendors, and continually learning about Oaxacan foods and traditions.

Doing business in Mexico is not without its difficulties, but I have found that the infrastructure in terms of permits and regulations very much supports and encourages small business owners.

Every morning I am excited to go to work. The village lifestyle from my early days in Mexico taught me so much about quality of life: time spent with family, slowing down, and acting as part of a community. Mexican culture is very welcoming and the people of Oaxaca are generous with their time and knowledge. When you walk down the street in Huatulco, strangers will smile and say, “Good morning,” and someone is always ready to lend a helping hand. Through the success of my businesses, I have had the opportunity to start a scholarship program which encourages teenage girls to continue their education. It is this ability to give back that makes coming to work even more meaningful.

I stand in my restaurant, glass of wine in hand, looking out at the Pacific Ocean and marvel at the vibrant pinks and oranges of the sky as the sun begins to set. I pinch myself to see if all this is real. It is.

Food, Living, Mexico

New Food Magazine “Bite”!

Bite Cover 2Hi  ‘The Eye’ Readers!

I am so psyched to tell you about our new food magazine ‘Bite’!

‘The Eye’ just put out its 70th issue and over the years we have had such a great response to the articles which focus on real information by real people and not the puff-advertorial pieces we see in a lot of tourist-area magazines. We aim to explore the positive and often-overlooked aspects of Mexico and to enhance people’s appreciation of what a culturally-fascinating and beautiful place this country is.

While I love that every August is our Food Issue – one issue a year is hardly enough to even scratch the surface of all the interesting food happenings, customs, and traditions of Oaxaca.

‘Bite’ will be bigger, glossier, have restaurant listings with practical information such as hours of operation and whether they accept credit cards and delicious information about mouth-watering experiences you won’t want to miss!

Like ‘The Eye’, ‘Bite’ will be distributed for FREE in the best restaurants and hotels and of course, we will have an online version so you can keep up even when you aren’t on holiday.

Look for the Fall Edition of ‘Bite’ October 1st!

Cheers,

Jane Bauer