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Singapore – The Prize Jewel of Order in Asia

It had been a long time coming but we were finally out of the country.  We sold all of our stuff in sunny San Diego, California and packed what was left in our tiny Prius and left it with my family in Arizona.  From there we downsized to backpacks and left with one-way tickets to Asia and no plans of when to return.  The feeling of liberation was unbelievable.  I had forgotten how much joy I could get from so little; a bag of clothes, a few books, some cameras…  Forget the constant struggle to work with no end in sight and the urge to consume, consume that pulls us all deeper into the system (“American dream”).  We were over it.

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So we had a quick night’s layover in Taipei, Taiwan, where we got to eat once and stay in a hostel and that’s about it.  Taipei Youth Hostel and Capsule Hotel was space age with sliding Star Trek doors and computerized toilets.  There was hope that a typhoon would hit us and force us to stay a few more days, but the weather went north and left us with just a rainy night.

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Rambling in search of street food

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Pork rice and fried tofu

Sleep was hard, our internal clocks always urging to us to wake up.  Before we knew it it was morning and we were back in the airport.

Five more hours on the plane and we touched down in Singapore, Asia’s model city of cleanliness and order.  We purchased three-day unlimited metro passes that were good on a variety of public transport options.  It was so easy to navigate and the metro and buses were some of the easiest and cleanest we have ever seen.  We soon met some friendly cartoon characters posted on all of the train cars reminding you how to not be a jerk as part of the Singapore Thoughtfulness Campaign–Stand Up Stacy, Bags Down Benny, Move Back Martin, and others showing off their perfect traveling etiquette.  We soon arrived at our CouchSurfing host’s apartment.  She wasn’t there but we met her children and her helper lady who showed us to our room with a view of the city.  With Singapore being so expensive having a Couchsurfing host was a life saver.  Our stomachs were grumbling so we headed out on the bus then the metro to the downtown area looking for a food hawker center, which is like a food court which serves all the delicious things at affordable prices.  Unluckily for us the entire downtown was sectioned off for the Formula 1 race, one of the biggest events of the year.  Huge track walls blocked all the major streets and it was a pain to find a way to cross it.  Eventually we found an awesome food center under a shopping mall where we had our first of many, many delicious meals of the trip.  My chef brain was going crazy with the new smells and layers of flavors.  I couldn’t wait for more.

After eating we went to look at the skyline.  The Marina Bay Sands hotel with its three towers and rooftop garden connecting the buildings was definitely dominating the view.  There was also the brightly and colorfully lit Merlion that looked over the bay, watching over the city.

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For our first night we were tired though so returned home pretty early.  Sleep was again rough; jetlag is real folks.

Day two was a busy one.  We had purchased unlimited metro passes for three days at a cost of $30 Singapore.  When you leave you can sell back the card to get $10 back.  Our first stop of the day was for traditional Singaporean breakfast, kaya toast.  This is sweet coffee along with soft-boiled eggs and toast.  The toast has butter and coconut (kaya) jam on it and you dip it in the eggs after you put soy sauce and white pepper on them.  It was delicious of course.

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Our next stops were our first of many temples on our journey.  We went in Hindu and Buddhist temples that were near each other and the toast shop.  You take off your shoes at the front and make sure you dress appropriately, females especially.  The Hindu temple was my favorite with its intricate designs and wall paintings of the various deities.

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We walked and walked and metro-ed too.  Our next stop was Little India where we found The Teka Center, a food hawker center near the metro station.  Hawker centers, like food courts, are THE place to get food in S.E. Asia.  There are usually at least 20 stands selling various things and your senses go crazy.  We got some biryani that was spicy spicy and roti canai (stuffed pancake) with bananas and we were in heaven.  It started raining hard as we ate so we slowed our chewing to make it last through the storm.

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Little India’s main street

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A stand selling temple offerings

Our next destination was the Islamic area, Kampong Glam.  The shops were selling amazing textiles and we listened to the call to prayer from a massive mosque.

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It was refreshing to see all of the religions existing peacefully alongside each other.

On the way back to take a nap we saw signs for a jungle trail in MacRitchie Reservoir Park and couldn’t resist.  It was weird being in the city one second and feeling so far away the next.  Signs warned of wild boars so we were slightly on edge.

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A lot of rules for the trail, like everything in Singpore

Our Couchsurfing host was home when we got back so we got to chat about her experience as a French expat in Singapore.  She was a personal trainer which was very popular in Singapore because apparently everyone wanted to be good at sports but no one was.  She had been there for seven years and her two children had no real memories of France.  It was their home now and they didn’t plan on leaving.

After napping we headed back into the city.  We had to see the Supertree Garden and the nightly light show.  We passed through the base of the Sands and what was probably the most extravagant shopping mall we had ever scene, exceeding even things in New York and Las Vegas.  The joke was that shopping was the national sport of Singapore.  It was more fact than fiction.  We found the exit to the mall and walked through some cool lighted bridges in the impressive Botanical Gardens before posting up under one of the larger Supertrees.  The Supertree Rhapsody was a 15 min long light and music show that played at 7:45pm and 8:45pm nightly.  They played show tunes and the lights were very impressive, definitely the coolest thing that we saw in Singapore.

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With the expense of daily life in Singapore, we had only planned two nights there.  We spent most of the time jetlagged but still found time to enjoy ourselves.  There are many, many more things to see, and we hope to someday go back there, maybe next time with a little more funds in our pockets.

Stay tuned for our ventures into Malaysia!!!

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Into Erg Chebbi

We took the early bus from Marrakech, the only one going all the way to the end of the road.  It started off easy, and soon we were making our way up the western side of the Atlas Mountains.  The mountains are impressive, with small villages terraced into the hillsides and many people selling fossils and cool rocks along the road.  The road was in great shape but it was kind of a scary ride with the clouds beneath us.  The bus driver had a few pretty sketchy passes on the switch backs; he wasn’t stopping for anyone.  Some of the highest peaks even had some early snow cover.

On the back side of the mountains we passed through a lot of small villages with square houses made of mud and straw.  They blended right into the natural landscape, which by now was straight desert.  We had made it to the Sahara!!!  Soon we were passing through Ourzazate, famous for the filming of many desert movies including Lawrence of Arabia.  By now there were a lot of the Berber people around, dressed in their standard long robes.  They all had pointed hoods to block the sun that made them look a little like wizards.  Historically nomadic, the Berbers used to roam back and forth through the Sahara from Morocco to Yemen, but now modern borders restrict their movements.

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The landscape became more and more barren with oases popping up along the way, always with an accompanying village.  We saw signs warning about camels crossing the road, but besides that there were very few signs of life.  We reached Merzouga after dark; the desert was flat around us but we could make out shadows of the huge dunes in the distance because of the amazingly-bright full moon.

Upon exiting the bus, a bunch of people came at us.  “Do you have reservation for tours?” they kept asking.  We said “Yes, we already have one!” but they would not leave us alone.  They gave us a lot of bad info, saying there would be no taxis and such, trying to lead us astray and into their hotel or whatever.  Typical hassler shenanigans.  After only 10 minutes a taxi showed up and he took us the five kilometers to Hassi Labied, the village near the Erg Chebbi dunes where we would be spending the night before our journey into the nothing.

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Mohammed was a Berber and owned a shop and house right up against the dunes.  He was also in the process of building a hostel which he currently lets Couchsurfers stay in for free.  He also had a cousin that did tours into the dunes, so he hooked us up with a good price for a two night adventure.  The hostel was dusty but comfortable, so we got a great night sleep – it was almost too quiet.

The next morning we were shown around town, purchased some turbans and got some last minute emails written.  We would leave at 5pm and spend two nights at Berber camps in the dunes, then return before sunrise the following day.  With us would be an older French couple, and a couple our age from Moscow.  We learned that we were not going to ride camels (two humps), but dromedaries (one hump).  A technicality we never knew about until now!

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Riding the dromedaries took a while to get used to, stretching weird muscles us in all the wrong directions.   Sand, as far as the eye can see.

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When we reached the tops of the dunes, we could see a large mesa in the distance, the border of Algeria.  Along we went, on top of our beasts, adoring the simple beauty of the erg, like giant waves, no two the same.  We made it to our Berber camp just after dark.  It was a collection of square tents made of carpet with a center table for diner.  It was peaceful and the moon bright, and we wandered off into the sand while dinner was being made.

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Happy with life and loving the adventure.  Food came late, tajine of course.  We went to bed tired as usual but slept extremely well again.

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In the morning we hiked up the large dune overlooking our camp.  The sunrise was grand, casting amazing shadows over the sandy hills.  We screwed around with the GoPro and rolled around in the sand.  After breakfast we got the dromedaries lined up and started off deeper into the nothing.  We really got to know the term “lurching” as we slowly made our way through the desert.  Three hours quickly passed and, just as we were becoming super sore, we made our way into a small camp.  By this time we were dehydrated, tired, and hurting in all new places from the ride, ready for lunch and a small break from the midday heat.  Other travelers greeted us at a camp, including a rather talkative Turk, very reminiscent of the character Dennis Hopper plays in “Apocalypse Now”.  Where are we?!!?

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Lunchtime Berber drumming

After lunch the wind was really starting to pick up.  It started as kinda cool, and turned into “I can’t see, breath, or talk,” without sand getting into everything.  The sun was becoming eerily fogged over with the ever-growing sand being thrown hundreds or thousands of feet into the atmosphere.  Every bit of exposed skin stung like small needle pricks during the big gusts.  We hid our cameras, except for the GoPro, and covered our eyes as well as we could.  If we didn’t have a guide it would have been scary.  Getting lost out there is no joke.

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Luckily we were close to our final camp and the wind started to die down as soon as we got there.  Our eyes were a mess from the sand and it took a few days for them to feel normal again.  But we had felt the thrill of adventure, getting “out there” where humans are not supposed to be, the real desert, hot, windy, and unforgiving.  We longed for a shower but settled for a dusty bed beneath the stars.  Our Berber guides played some traditional songs on their drums and we relaxed under the bright moon, feeling privileged and carefree.  What a life, what a life.

Tangier – the gateway to Africa

Looking over the Mediterranean from Tangiers

Looking over the Mediterranean from Tangiers

Going Back to Africa held so many emotions and expectations for me.  It’s a continent on which a year of my life has passed; not a great amount of time but it bears a great amount of significance.  I was excited, hoping the continent would instantly bring back old memories, familiar sensations, that I would feel at home, that Zach would love it.  Yet I knew, at the same time, that Morocco is a world away from East Africa, with a completely different culture, race, and self-perception.

One of King Mohammad VI's palaces

One of King Mohammad VI’s palaces

Stepping off the ferry from Spain onto African soil again for the first time in three years was a relief.  The FRS Ferry from Tarifa to Tangier was not at all a comfortable ride.  The first 10 minutes of the journey the huge boat rocked from side to side so violently that I thought I was going to lose my lunch.  And I have never been seasick in my life!  Apparently it was a problem of “getting up to speed” and once we got going faster the rocking lessened.  We got a taxi through the bustling medina to Hakim’s (our CS hosts’s) apartment.  He immediately informed us that we got ripped off by taking the “wrong color taxi” and that we should only take blue ones because they have meters and the brown ones just name a price.  Well how were we supposed to know that before he told us?  Oh well.  Welcome to Africa.

Walking through the "medina", the old city/marketplace in Tangiers.

Walking through the “medina”, the old city/marketplace in Tangiers.

Tangier was, of course, wildly different from East Africa.  Almost every woman wore a hijab, many completely veiled in birkahs.  The call to prayer could be heard five times a day from a variety of different directions, mosques dominating the city.  There were remnants of a strong foreign prescence however, as Tangiers used to be an “international zone” in the years surrounding World War II, with different sections controlled by several different European nations.  It was also a popular hangout/escape for the artists/writers/druggies of the Beat generation, home to William Burroughs, Paul Bowles, and a popular touring ground for the Rolling Stones and The Clash.  Nowadays, a lot of the expats have gone home, and the city remains largely conservative.  Alcohol is nearly impossible to find and insanely expensive.  The Lonely Planet lists which bars, specifically, are okay for women to drink at, and its not very many!  We took a break from the drinking scene, as our CS hosts were pretty devout Muslim non-drinkers.  We did enjoy a lot of “Berber whiskey”, a.k.a. the famous Moroccan mint tea, super sweet and chock full of fresh mint leaves.  Hakim and his roommates also cooked us an amazing “tajine”, basically a vegetable/meat stew slow-cooked in a special clay dish with exotic Moroccan spices.  The rest of the visit was spent exploring and taking in the beautiful Islamic architecture!

Delicious tajine...sorry for the bad picture!

Delicious tajine…sorry for the bad picture!

Classic Islamic architecture in the Tangiers "Kasbah"- castle

Classic Islamic architecture in the Kasbah – ancient walled castle section of town

Classic Islamic architecture in the kasbah

“Hands of fatima” symbolizing the Five Pillars of Islam

Intricate mosque ceiling on display in the Kasbah Museum

Intricate mosque ceiling on display in the Kasbah Museum

Cafe Tingis, the old school coffeeshop in the Petit Soco that Anthony Bourdain visited on "Parts Unknown"  We even saw one of the people he met on the show here!

Café Tingis, the coffee shop in the Petit Soco that Anthony Bourdain visited on “Parts Unknown” Bonus points to anyone who can name the person Bourdain talked to on that show.  He is in this picture!!!!

London for Hipsters

Day two in London was much more comfortable and fun after a good night’s rest.  We kept commenting on how cool it was to feel so foreign in a country that still speaks our language!  Crossing streets, as expected, was dangerous.  We kept looking the wrong direction and almost getting run over.  Thankfully, we figured out the train system a little better and spent the day jetting all around, seeing some of the most famous sights first.  We also got super lucky with beautiful weather in this usually rainy metropolis.

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London Eye

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Big Ben

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Westminster Abbey

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Buckingham Palace

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He’s not allowed to move!

Our hosts suggested we check out Camden, a more trendy, hipster-ish neighborhood in north London.  It was great!  We got to see an old lock on the little river pushing boats through, check out an awesome crafts and food market, and found craft beer!

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Lock 17

It's a tea party!

It’s a tea party!

Street DJing in a mask

Street DJing in a mask

Brew Dog has awesome beers!

Brew Dog has awesome beers and does tasting flights!

After only stuffing our faces a little bit on the best falafel I’ve ever had, we were off to Brixton, all the way in south London.  It’s a more ethnic neighborhood with a little bit of seediness and a cool up-and-coming food scene.  We checked out some pubs and then headed to Brixton Village Market.  This awesome little warehouse holds over 100 different tiny restaurants, each with around 12 seats each, serving different cuisines from around the world.  Apparently you only have to sign up for a six-month lease to open up here, which makes it a great avenue for those without a ton of cash to get started.  What a cool idea!  I wanted to eat everything!  But we settled on sharing a Pakistani “thali”, or sampling plate, from Elephant, which was wonderful!  You can also BYOB to these restaurants, so we grabbed a couple cervezas from the Colombian shop next door.

Space Invader tag in London

Space Invader tag in Brixton

Sufficiently stuffed, we headed back home to rest before our onward journey.  We both agreed that London was much cooler than we expected.  We were not at all excited about British food, but you can get any kind of food from anywhere in the world in London!  It’s such a multi-cultural city, which we really loved.  We’ll be back someday!

London Town!

The journey from New York to London wasn’t super long, but wasn’t super comfortable either.  Neither of us slept and Zach celebrated our arrival by beginning to throw up repeatedly about an hour before landing.  After we landed, we conveniently found out that our second (because our original had already canceled) Couchsurfing host had to cancel on us!  Great.  So off to a hostel we went, navigating several confusing forms of public transit, Zach dragging all the way.  Thankfully he perked up once we arrived at Restup Hostel UK but we couldn’t check in until 3pm so we stowed our stuff and started walking.  Fortuitous, because as soon as we found some WiFi we had another host offer from someone we met through this very blog!  Hooray!  Now we just had to kill the next 10 hours before we could show up at Tom’s house.

Luckily Zach made a miraculous recovery and we were able to enjoy a great walking day along the Thames River, taking in the skyline, a glimpse of the London Eye, the Old Globe

Sorry for the iPhone pics, we forgot the camera

Sorry for the iPhone pics, we forgot the camera

(very exciting for me, as a former theater nerd)

the London Bridge,

(very unimpressive considering we’ve seen the original London Bridge where it now stands in Lake Havasu City, AZ.  It’s true.)

a classic British pub with warm and flat cask ale,

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Taylor Walker Pub On Thames

the amazing Borough Market which we just stumbled upon,

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and the Tower Bridge with a view of the Tower of London.

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After all this rambling, we got to meet up with our wonderful hosts in Earlsfield, southwest London, for some awesome hard ciders and conversation at their local pub.  They are moving to Colombia soon and that’s why they had been reading our old blog entries.  Although not official Couchsurfers, they definitely had the spirit, and hopefully we were good enough guests to convert them!

Phew, what an exhausting but awesome first day!

¡Otra vez!

Northern AZ sunset

Northern AZ sunset

Funny how things come full circle.  Three years ago today, I sat in this same house, in this same town, Williams, AZ, planning the very first La Aventura Project.  Tomorrow we leave with the same initial destination in mind–Burning Man!  We’ve wanted to go back every single year since that first epic week.  It’s never worked out, until now.  As 2nd time burners this year I hope the experience will be more mythical, more colorful, more educational, more productive, shadier (as in…Zach’s very Boy Scout-ish hand-built shade structure) and just as exhilarating.  I also plan to write more about it and take more pictures!  (Yeah GoPro!)  , planning the very first La Aventura Project.  Tomorrow we leave with the same initial destination in mind–Burning Man!  We’ve wanted to go back every single year since that first epic week.  It’s never worked out, until now.  As 2nd time burners this year I hope the experience will be more mythical, more colorful, more educational, more productive, shadier (as in…Zach’s very Boy Scout-ish hand-built shade structure) and just as exhilarating.  I also plan to write more about it and take more pictures!  (Yeah GoPro!)  !  We’ve wanted to go back every single year since that first epic week.  It’s never worked out, until now.  As 2nd time burners this year I hope the experience will be more mythical, more colorful, more educational, more productive, shadier (as in…Zach’s very Boy Scout-ish hand-built shade structure) and just as exhilarating.  I also plan to write more about it and take more pictures!  (Yeah GoPro!)

Thoughts from on the road to Burning Man:

I REALLY hope Java Johnny is there again.

Man, that last bath felt so good.  I’m going to hold it in my memory dearly for awhile.

I’m so excited that we have a solar shower!

What did we forget?  Oh well, other citizens will let us borrow theirs.

I hope my outfits are rockin’ enough!

I wanna go to yoga every day! (Hope this happens.)

Will we be able to find all our friends there?

After the burn we head once again to SF (just like last time) to catch up with old friends and stuff ourselves on gourmet vegan food.  We will probably find ourselves sitting in a lot of bars on my laptop while I finish up last minute video work, but that will be totally worth it, because, then…

The next overseas venture begins!  On September 8 we fly to London by way of NYC (gotta have some fun there too!) for 6 weeks of western Europe and Morocco.  Couchsurfing, hitchhiking, train-riding, museum-going, backpacking, wine-tasting, face-stuffing, camel-riding, surfing, people-watching extravaganza!  Hopefully we’ll survive one trip involving four different foreign languages (more if you count Basque and Catelonian).

So stay tuned, although it’s only 8 weeks as opposed to a 7-month “aventura”, we’re still sooo excited for our first stint in Europa!  And I can’t believe I am finally going back to Africa!!!!!!

Now to wrap it all up, here’s a video of a very angry frog found in Arizona.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/104949980″>frog</a&gt; from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/journeylostproductions”>Journey Lost Productions</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Mexico City: Day One – Centro Historico

We’re back, people!  Sorry it’s been so long since you’ve heard from us!  We’ve mostly been living it up in sunny San Diego, saving money for our next big trip.  One perk of SoCal life though, is the chance to jet into México cheaply and easily!  Coming up are some tales of our recent trip to México City!

We literally ran out of work around 11pm the night of our flight, rushing to cross the border.  Delta Airport Parking is a convenient place to park on the US side if you’re going to the Tijuana International Airport.  It’s only seven dollars a day and they will drive you to/from the border 24 hours a day.  A $12 taxi ride took us to the aeropuerto.  Then we had to get $25 tourist visas to go past the border zone.  They don’t check if you have them on the way there, but do on the way back.  The visas last for six months so hopefully we can use them again.  Airport security was different.  “WE DONT HAVE TO TAKE OFF OUR SHOES!?!?!”  ¡Viva México!!!

Since our flight left at 12am and lasted about three hours, it was still dark when we made our way towards the Metro.  Conveniently located right by the airport and taking you all over the city, the Metro is a cheap and efficient way to get around.  We grabbed some churros and easily navigated the subway to the Roma, a hip neighborhood where Jaime, our CouchSurfing host lived.  The architecture was cool, eclectic and Spanish with crooked walls from many, many earthquakes.   Our host was a great tour guide as we searched for early morning food.  We ate lamb tacos and tamales with mole.  We talked about food.  Life was good.

Getting some energy after eating, we let our guide go off to work and walked several miles to the Centro Historico, home to beautiful government buildings, museums, and many cool bars and restaurants.  Walking was really nice; its our favorite way to enjoy a new city.

Art at the central palace.

Murals inside the Palacio Nacional

Downtown DF

Templo Mayor

As I said, there are a lot of awesome places to eat and drink in the Centro Historico.  One awesome place we found was an old cantina, La Faena, which served dual functions as both a bar and a bullfighting museum.  Notice the very complicated matador-themed crown molding.  The best thing about cantinas is that with every drink you order you get some free food.  The more you drink, the better the food!  We started off with some bar nuts here, and after a few rounds were given amazing bean tacos!

Cantina/Bullfighting Museum

Cantina/Bullfighting Museum

I ate grasshoppers.

Obviously there are some mixed feelings on the eating of bugs issue.

Obviously there are some mixed feelings on the eating of bugs issue.

Pulque.  It’s a lightly alcoholic drink made from the sap of the agave plant and flavored with various fruits.  Super thick and milky and not for us.  The bar was awesome though.

One of many places to grab a glass of pulque around downtown Mexico City.

Las Risas, one of many places to grab a glass of pulque around downtown Mexico City.

Eventually, all the food and walking, plus the effects of being up all night caught up to us and we took the long walk home to crash for a nap at Jaime’s house.  The rest of the night involved some more relaxed wanderings around the neighborhood.

Coming up next: our trip to the pyramids!