Instant Coffee: A Review I can't feel my pancreas

Ahhhh, the first sip is like battery acid, but the good kind of battery acid. The kind of battery acid where you walk into the garage, take the little caps off the knob things on the top of the battery to expose the liquid inside, grab the battery in both hands, tilt your head back, and…

The good kind of battery acid.

I’m talking about instant coffee, of course. I’ve just made myself a cup, though this is one of my last since I’ve resolved the following: After this jar of instant coffee and one more americano from each of my favorite cafes in Lima, I will no longer buy coffee. I’ll still drink it if someone offers, but I’ll no longer buy it. Because my adrenal glands are shot. I woke up this morning and stared at the wall for 15 minutes. I’d still be staring at the wall, trying to think of ideas for a blog post, if I hadn’t started drinking instant coffee. So praise instant coffee. Am I really going to give it up?

Shit, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’m all talk.

I just took another sip and before taking the sip I looked down into the instant coffee. It was black. It was like looking into a barrel of crude oil. Instant coffee is all the rage in Chile, where I don’t think people realize anything else exists. And it’s not that instant coffee is bad. OK, compared to regular coffee it’s terrible, but you can’t compare it to regular coffee. It would be like comparing wine to tequila. Neither of them are bad, they’re just different.

My particular brand of instant coffee is called Altomayo and I bought the “gourmet” kind, which Cristina, the Venezuelan woman also staying at my Airbnb, commented on.

“That stuff’s supposed to be better,” she said. “Is it?”

“No,” I said, “At least I can’t tell a difference.”

Now I’m nearing the end of the instant coffee, which means the usual question arises: Should I have another cup? I’m inclined to say no. I’m inclined to publish this post, get ready to go out, and then walk to Puku Puku where I’ll spend several hours sipping an americano and reading The New Yorker. But at the same time, when you add a couple teaspoons of sugar, it’s pretty damn good. Maybe I should have another cup. Maybe I….

 

 

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Is Interjet a Budget Airline? Guadalajara to Lima: A Review

interjet mexico city lima

Yesterday I flew the Mexican airline Interjet from Guadalajara, Mexico to the illustrious city of Lima, Peru. Which means I’m now in Peru. I’ll give you 16 opportunities to guess what I’m doing at this exact moment. Coffee shop? Damn.

Yes, I’m in a coffee shop called Cosmo Beans located in the homey Magdalena del Mar neighborhood where I’m staying for a week, drinking an americano I expected to be much (much) better. It tastes burnt. And to top it off they served what I thought was going to be sparkling water in a small glass next to the americano, which is something they usually do south of the equator and is awesome, but instead it’s just still water.

But back to Interjet. Interjet, with their marketing and logo and whole vibe they give off, seem like a budget airline. And they sort of are. But they have many characteristics budget airlines don’t have. For example, I could’ve checked a bag yesterday weighing up to 55 kilos. Fifty-five kilos! I barely weigh 55 kilos. I could’ve checked a mastiff, or a crate of iron ore, but instead I just checked my duffel bag, which is getting really annoying to travel with, but contains my tent and sleeping bag and so I can’t ditch it.

I had aisle seats for both flights, which was fortunate, because they didn’t let me choose my seat when buying the flight. The first thing I noticed upon sitting down was how much legroom I had. At least it seemed like a lot of leg room. I’d gotten up at 3:30am that morning, and was pretty out of it. But it seemed like quite a bit of legroom, and also the aisles seemed wider than normal. Everything seemed more spacious than normal. I put on the song “La Follia” by Vivaldi and we taxied to the end of the runway, and took off just as the song got intense. I don’t usually listen to music when traveling, but this was a good decision.

On the flight to Lima the flight attendants served mango granola bars and sandwiches on orange bread with lettuce that look like it might’ve been from sometime in the late 90’s. But it was better than nothing. The couple next to me proceeded to order every sugary drink they could imagine, and I realized why Mexico’s obesity problem is starting to reach epic proportions. The flight attendants were very nice but one of them was speaking in her “flight attendant voice,” i.e. a voice you could tell she used for a job she didn’t really like dealing with less-than-grateful customers. There was an Argentinian guy across the aisle who somehow got drunk during the flight, despite the fact that I only saw him drink one beer. He wore sunglasses for 98% of the flight. When we landed in Lima it looked like an inch of stubble had grown on his face, and he seemed thoroughly hammered. I don’t know what happened.

All in all the most important thing about Interjet is something I still haven’t mentioned: the price. My flight to Lima from Guadalajara cost $175, which you can’t beat. Which means all the previously mentioned things are just luxuries. Legroom on a budget airline? Free food and alcohol? A checked bag weighing as much as a small manatee?

Which begs the question: Is Interjet really a budget airline?

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Can I Get a For-Here Cup? Flying too close to the sun at Cafe Lapso in Ciudad Guzman, Mexico.

Ciudad Guzman, located an hour and a half south of Guadalajara in the Mexican state of Jalisco, is supposedly fresa. Fresa is the Mexican word for posh or snobby. It’s usually possible to tell if someone is fresa by the way they talk. This is especially true in Mexico City, where the fresa accent is generally very nasal and makes you want to stick an ice pick in your ears.

One place that’s undoubtedly fresa in Ciudad Guzman is a cafe/bookstore called Lapso. It’s fresaness is reflected in the prices and the fact that 70% of the clientele order frappuccinos. It’s fresaness is reflected in the hipster music coming from the speakers, and the beautiful courtyard in the back, complete with plants, fountain, and a winged statue of Icarus.

There’s something extra special about courtyards in Mexico, because usually they’re somewhat unexpected, and a welcome respite from the chaos of the street. Lapso’s courtyard is one of the most peaceful I’ve ever visited. One could be forgiven for coming here, ordering a cappuccino, and spending six or seven hours listening to the birds and basking in the greenness of the plants.

Getting this for-here cup was a battle.

My only gripe with Cafe Lapso is that it lacks identity. The cafe area inside makes you feel one way, the bookstore another, and the courtyard in the back yet another. For example: When sitting in the courtyard I feel as if all is right in the world, and a little bit like I’ve just entered the Garden of Eden and will soon be ashamed of my nakedness after biting into a pomegranate and talking to a snake. But in the cafe area inside I feel like I’m in a cafe that’s trying to be cool and mostly failing. And in the bookstore area I feel angry, because there aren’t any Roberto Bolaño books.

Upon ordering I asked if I could have my cappuccino in a for-here cup, so as not to waste paper. I was dismayed to learn they didn’t have any, but then the employee informed me I could use one of the employee cups.

“OK,” I said.

“But just so you know,” she said, “If you come in the afternoon my co-workers probably won’t do it. Because if someone overhears you they might want a for-here cup, too.”

“OK,” I said.

While she was making the coffee I looked for the Bolaño books and, upon not seeing any, began muttering mild profanities under my breath. But then the cappuccino was ready and I made my way to the courtyard and all was peaceful. The sun had just retreated behind the building. From my corner I could see the statue of Icarus, standing in the middle of the courtyard and thus fully-exposed to the sun’s rays. The cappuccino started to kick in and my brain started to accelerate. I started having grandiose thoughts, thinking about traveling to exotic locations around the world. Even though my body remained below, mentally I started to leave the courtyard and soar overhead. Suddenly, I was a bird. Anything was possible .The world below was just a distant memory. I flew higher and higher, screaming with delight. But then I noticed something was keeping me from flying higher, and that’s also when I noticed the blazing sun, and felt the wax dripping down my back.

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A Cafe Dedicated to Cats

el gato cafe guadalajara

Imagine a restaurant dedicated to cats. It might be difficult, since you might wonder why anyone in their right mind (or any frame of mind) would dedicate a restaurant to cats. But that’s indeed what’s happened at El Gato Cafe, a half block from the famed neo-gothic cathedral El Expiatorio, in Gaudalajara, Mexico.

Now imagine spending time at this cafe, eating there, perusing the menu. This was the situation I found myself in the other day. I’d seen El Gato Cafe on Google Maps, where  it has an extremely high 4.8/5 rating, and since I spend 98% of my waking hours in cafes I figured I should check it out.

I went at 3:30pm, certainly not the most happening time of day, and besides the waiter standing there looking expectant, and Elton John music drifting from the speakers, there wasn’t much going on. I sat down and began paging through the menu, which brought to mind an unabridged volume of War and Peace or other such Slavic tome. I’d never seen so many coffee drinks, and all of them seemingly similar. There was the Iced Cafe Mocha on one page, and then halfway down the same page the Iced Coffee Mocha. On the same page there was also a Cappuccino with Chocolate, a Coffee with Mexican Chocolate, and something like an Iced Mocha with Mexican Chocolate (I don’t remember exactly, since I have the memory of a turtle). I opted for the Hot Chocolate with Shot of Coffee, and as the waiter was walking away I said, “Actually, can I have it cold?” He didn’t bat an eye.

I immediately noticed a curious thing about the tables at El Gato Cafe. They’re all equipped with buttons so you can page the waiter. He said, “Press it for three seconds and I’ll come right over,” which seemed a bit excessive since there was no one there and I’m pretty sure even from across the room he could hear the sound of me breathing. I noticed there was also a button labeled “Surprise,” which seemed mysterious to say the least. Letting my curiosity get the better of me, I started reaching for the surprise button, and as I reached for it I noticed the waiter eyeing me while he reached for what looked liked a clown mask and a meat clever. I put my my hand down, and he went back to making my drink.

My beverage came, which was, strangely, exactly what I’d asked for. It was a hot chocolate, with a shot of espresso, and at the last second it’d been made cold, as if an afterthought, much how I’d ordered it. I sat back and listened to the music, which had changed from Elton John to something worse. I kept on looking at the menu, since there’s not much else to do when you’re at a cat-themed cafe by yourself. I noticed many of the drinks and food items had cat-themed names, none of which I can remember now. One of them had the word “Miauuu” in it.

I finished the drink in about four seconds, since I have the self control of a Labrador retriever. Then I paid for the drink, which was prohibitively expensive, and exited out to the street and back to El Expiatorio, where they sell tamales for 17 pesos, or, less than a dollar. It was nice to be out of a cat-themed place and into a place that was cathedral-themed, or street-themed, or tamale-themed, or normal-themed, or anything else-themed, a considerable improvement from El Gato Cafe.

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A Cafe Called “Starbucks,” Krakow, Poland

starbucks krakow poland

Originally published on Cappuccino in Lviv! on March 26, 2015

Now listen, before I even start this review I need you think about why you hate Starbucks. Because the coffee is bad? Because everyone else hates it? Because your little kitschy shop down the street is so much more quaint and you know the barista there? Starbucks, for whatever reason, seems to be a fairly polarizing place. Some people wouldn’t be caught dead there. Some people wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere else. Me? I like to think I’m indifferent. But when I was walking through the mall today in Krakow and I saw Starbucks I thought to myself, “I’ve reviewed all these places but I haven’t even reviewed the giant itself!” I decided it was time to spend some quality time in the most famous cafe around.

First of all, let’s get one thing straight: Starbucks does not have bad coffee. Listen, its coffee might not be the best in the world, but it’s definitely not bad. You don’t get to where Starbucks is by having shitty products. Listen, I realize that marketing plays a massive role, but you have to have a decent product, too. Half the people at Starbucks are there for image purposes but there are at least a fair portion who legitimately like the coffee.

Now to the actual review.

The woman working the cash register was extremely kind and taught me how to properly say “for here” and “to go” in Polish. I think people underestimate the value of these two phrases, considering they’re involved in literally pretty much any food purchase. Listen, I realize there are more important words like thank you and hello, but these definitely rank right up there. And listen, I realize some of you may be thinking “What’s the point of learning a couple words when you’re just going to leave the country in a few days?” but listen, I love languages, and when I travel I find it fulfilling to learn as much of the language as I possibly can, regardless the circumstances.

The actual cappuccino made me realize something: Do I even have any idea what cappuccinos are supposed to be like? I’ve basically formed my opinion of what they’re supposed to be like on what I’ve been given, but I’m not sure that’s a 100% effective way to become an expert on something. Listen, trying tons of cappuccinos in different places doesn’t hurt, but I should probably do a little background research at some point as well. As for this cappuccino, it was extremely foamy. It had bubbles. Listen, I like foam as much as the next guy, but this seemed to be a bit much. This reminded me of Kredens. Listen, I’m sure the barista knows what she’s doing, but isn’t it possible that she messed my cappuccino up? Listen, I realize it’s not likely, but it could definitely happen.

Listen, I’m not here today to tell you Starbucks has the best coffee in the world, but the cappuccino I had today was definitely decent. Not great, but decent. Listen, better cafes are definitely out there, but listen, if you need a decent cup a joe in a pinch, listen, Starbucks will definitely do the job.

Cappuccino rating: 5/10

Overall experience rating: 5.1/10

Next on Cappuccino Lviv: Is Krakow the Starbucks of European cities?

 

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The Best (and possibly only) Vegetarian Cafe in Lviv, Ukraine

green vegetarian cafe lviv ukraine

I’m way too hungover to write right now. So instead of of writing I’ve been looking through old blogs. I have something like 10 of them. If you go to my Patreon page, you can see a list of (pretty much) every blog I’ve ever written. The reason it’s only for Patreon subscribers is some of them are embarrassing.

Anyway, I wrote the following post when I was in Ukraine in 2014 writing my book Snowflakes in Lviv

There is only one vegetarian/vegan natural foods hippy dippy cafe in Lviv that I know of, and it’s called Green Cafe. I think it might also have the word “art” in the title, since establishments in Lviv seem to arbitrarily add the word “art” into their names to make them sound more couth (“Bob’s Freshly Butchered Meats and Art Cafe”). If you have a painting on the wall, you can add the word “art” into the title. If you have at least one item on the menu that’s vaguely natural, you can add “natural foods” into the title.

The décor in Green Cafe is tasteful. Most of the stuff is green. The lampshades are green as well as the upholstery of the booths and even the heating duct that runs along the top of the ceiling. The products are very high quality and freshly made, and of course since it’s Ukraine they’re dirt cheap. It would be hard, when having lunch, to spend more than about four dollars.

My favorite item on the menu is the “Veggie Burger”, which is actually not a burger at all but a wrap. I like it because it’s tasty and because at almost a pound it’s one of the bigger items on the menu. Menus in Ukraine always say how many grams each items weighs, which is extremely convenient for a glutton like me whose idea of a good meal is shoveling as much food into his face as quickly as possible. One day, for example, I accidentally ordered the sushi, which wasn’t even made with rice but some other nefarious grain, and I wanted to cry when I saw the size. In addition to the veggie burger another item I like is a drink that contains “sukofruktiv”, which (I think) is dried fruit that might even be slightly fermented that more or less smells like a barn but seems to get better and better every time you drink it.

The staff in Green Cafe seem very kind. There’s one waitress who looks a bit like Mila Kunis and is impossibly tiny and even though she speaks some English she always speaks to me in Ukrainian. There’s another girl who seems to spend most of her downtime behind the counter not-so-covertly filing her nails. And there’s a guy with dark, curly hair who never seems to come out from behind the counter and whose function I’m still not exactly sure of. He might make the drinks. He might just stand there looking foreboding.

The best part about Green Cafe might not even be the cafe itself but the food items they sell in the entryway, which is kind of like a different store altogether. There they have un-pasteurized honey that costs a little more than a dollar, and for the relatively steep price of two dollars they have peanut butter with no sugar, salt, or even any hydrogenated oils. And they also have chia seeds, the only place I’ve seen in Lviv so far to have them.

If you’re looking for vegetarian food in Lviv you don’t have a ton of options and Green Cafe seems to be the best. It’s comfortable, simple and tastefully decorated, and the food, despite being vegan/vegetarian, is for the most part very good. Order the sukofruktiv and the veggie burger and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Just don’t recoil when you first smell/taste the sukofruktiv. Remember: Smells like a barn, tastes like a dream.

A Day at Andares, Guadalajara’s Swankiest Shopping Mall

plaza andares guadalajara

How much does living the dream cost? It turns out 82 pesos, or exactly $4.40. The dream involves sitting in a cafe in Andares, Guadalajara’s swankiest shopping mall sipping a “Green Black Tea.” The dream involves watching a Liverpool Champions League game while you sip said beverage. The dream involves shade. The dream involves disposable income. The dream might involve type 2 diabetes.

Eighty pesos is a lot to pay for a coffee in Mexico. I concede this fact. A fact I refuse to concede, however, is that this Black Green Tea, one of the sweetest substances I’ve ever put in my body and probably causing all kinds of physiological mayhem, is not 100% necessary.

I came to Andares today with the idea of buying another dress shirt, since my current dress shirt count is holding steady at one. I went to H&M, where I had a small crisis due to the fabric makeup of some of their shirts. Sixty five percent polyester? Isn’t polyester for used car salesmen? This crisis caused small amounts of sweating on my part, and also some taking of selfies in the dressing room. If you’ve never taken a picture of yourself in front of a mirror (i.e. are over the edge of 50), I don’t recommend it. It’s never flattering. You always look about 16 times worse than you thought you looked. And sending these selfies to friends so they can tell you which shirt they liked is not a good way to continue the process.  In fact, the more prudent option would be to throw your phone in the garbage can.

One thing I realized immediately upon arriving here is that I really like nice places. I consider myself an adaptable person. I’m currently living a room that costs less than $200 a month in a part of Guadalajara that would never be termed “nice.” My room is next to the entryway to the neighbor’s house, separated by a thin, single pane window. Yesterday, when they left the house, they left their rabid dog in the entryway, who proceeded to bark at any sound he perceived as a threat, which is to say, any sound. At one point I leaned close to the window to shush him, which only resulted in increased growling, albeit in my direction, the kinds of growls that said, “It would give me great pleasure to sink my teeth into your thigh.”

No one would ever call my home luxurious, but I find it completely acceptable, if not ideal. That said, I also love luxury. When I stepped onto the grounds of Andares I said to myself, “Ahhhhhhh, I’m home. This is what life is supposed to be like. Is that a fountain over there? Interesting, that grass looks perfectly manicured. Is that the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen? Is that a Gucci store?”

When I travel, I’m the same way. I’ve stayed in places people would call slum-like. I’ve hitch-hiked many hours on end. Slept in airports. Slept at bus stops. And the thing I like about roughing it sometimes is not only that it builds character and usually you meet way more people the less money you spend and have much richer experiences, but it also makes you appreciate luxury. Even when this blog becomes wildly successfully, I still won’t fly business class (all the time.) I won’t stay in nice hotels (exclusively). Because when it comes to traveling, I can’t think of a single time staying in a luxurious place directly produced a memorable travel experience, but I can think of many examples where roughing it did. The less money you spend, the more you rely on your fellow humans. The more money you spend, the more you shut yourself off from the world.

The problem with living the dream when your dream is a beverage with whip cream on top is that it’s short-lived. I’ve finished my Black Green Tea, whose name I still find mysterious, and will now head back to H&M and purchase the darker of the two shirts, since that’s what my fashion consultants (friends) have advised. And then I’ll get out of here, because if there’s one thing to be taken from this post it’s that luxury should be enjoyed in sparing doses; it only remains luxurious when the rest of your life is not. It will be hard to rip myself away from this place, though. It’s so comfortable. So swanky. If Guadalajara is my frappe, Plaza Andares is the whipped cream.

The 5 Best Cafes in Guadalajara (so far)

el rincon del mate guadalajara miguel blanco

These are my five favorite cafes in Guadalajara so far. I say “so far” because I’ve only lived here for two months. Still, when you go to cafes everyday, two months is a decent amount of time. The criteria I’ve used are atmosphere, price, quality, and staff, though not necessarily in that order (though definitely in that order). 

5. El Monosílabo

mono silabo guadalajara

Atmosphere: 4
Price: 4
Quality: 3
Staff: 4

Located in the exact neighborhood where I want to live, near El Rincon del Mate (see lower on list) and the famed Expiatorio, Guadalajara’s most magnificent neo-gothic cathedral. Like many old houses in GDL, this one contains a wonderful inner courtyard patio where the sounds of the street drift in and are filtered by the murmur of happy clients and cheap, fairly delicious frappes.

What to order: chilaquiles with a coffee frappe. 

4. Palreal: La Pura Crema

palreal cafe guadalajara mercado mexico

Atmosphere: 3
Price: 2
Quality: 5
Staff: N/A

Full disclosure: I’ve only been here once, and that one time was yesterday, but even getting an iced americano was enough to know their product is second to none (and third to none, for that matter). The good thing about Palreal is it’s got beautiful wooden, richly-finished picnic tables which are perfectly positioned for the breeze. The bad thing is it’s in Mercado Mexico, which is essentially a mall.

What to order: An iced americano. 

3. La Teteria

la teteria guadalajara

Atmosphere: 4
Price: 3
Quality: 4
Staff: 5

I dedicated a previous post to this place’s matcha frappes. They’re sweet, they’re cold, and drinking one is a little bit what I imagine injecting heroin might be like. Which makes me wonder if I might somehow be able to inject a matcha frappe. Does anyone know how to do an IV?

The staff here are wonderful, especially Gustavo, an Argentinian expat I often have extended conversations with, about Argentina, about Guadalajara, about mate, and about working online. Come for a matcha frappe, stay for an afternoon.

What to order: Duh.

2. El Terrible Juan

el terrible juan guadalajara

Atmosphere: 5
Price: 4
Quality: 5
Staff: 3

It’s a sad realization when a place is cooler than you. You walk in, you sit down, and you think, Damn, everyone here is so cool. Then you look down at your undershirt which is stained from the hydrogen peroxide you used to treat your ear last week at the beach. You look at your laptop bag, which is actually an old grocery bag. And you think, Wait a minute, can I actually be here? Am I going to be out-cooled to the point where I have to just leave? But you stay anyway, and talk to the cute waitress, and order a Chemex and write a blog post.

And that’s basically my experience every time I go to El Terrible Juan cafe.

What to order: Any of the specialty preparations with any of the beans. Also, try the lonche de cochinita

1. El Rincón del Mate

el rincon del mate guadalajara

Atmosphere: 5
Price: 4
Quality: 4
Staff: 5

Prepare to check your worries and preoccupations at the door, and spend a magical hour (or two, or three), sipping on South American tea and listening to the gurgle of a fountain. El Rincon del Mate is located just up the street from El Monosilabo, also in the Expiatorio neighborhood. I come here almost everyday. If they rented rooms, I’d live here. If they rented showers, I’d bathe here. Maybe one day they’ll hire me, and all will be right in the world.

What to order: A mate clasico with a tarta (quiche) de portobello. If you’re in the mood for something sweet or unique try the terere or the mate mocha.

If you know of any other cafes in Guadalajara that are amazing please leave a 500-3000 word comment in the comments section. Any comment of lesser word count will be categorically rejected.

A special thanks to all of these cafes for providing inspiration and thus supporting this “blugh.”

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La Teteria

la teteria guadalajara

When I come to La Tetería, Guadalajara’s premiere tea house and where the song “Here With Me” by Didot is currently playing over the speakers, I usually order a matcha frappe. But sometimes, as the waiter Gustavo just informed me, who is quickly going from being just a waiter at a tea shop to a kindred spirt (he’s Argentinian and there’s been talk of us drinking mate together), they have “stock problems.” Today is one of those days. There are no matcha frappes. There are no green chai frappes. And the girl sitting in front of me, who might be part goddess and who I’ve spent the last five minutes staring at, just ordered the last piece of cheesecake.

The first time I ever had a matcha frappe at La Tetería I was on a Tinder date with a girl named Daniela. Daniela was beautiful and funny and smart, but I barely noticed, so engrossed was I in my matcha frappe. I try to limit my matcha frappe intake, because they’re kind of expensive and very sweet. Even so, if I’m bored, or feeling a bit down, or just feeling any emotion that is vaguely human, I try to make a visit to La Tetería for one of these drinks. It would be hard to have a bad time while drinking a matcha frappe. Maybe if you were bleeding from a head wound, but even then I think you’d forget about it until the frappe was gone.

I never thought I’d be a frappe guy.

Life is full of surprises.

La Tetería is located in Guadalajara’s Americana neighborhood, a five minute walk from the American Consulate and about a seven minute walk from Chapultepec, an area (basically a street) famous for its nightlife, bars, restaurants, high prices, pedestrian walkway, outdoor market, and apparently (according to Marta, the lonche lady) weekend violence. This is the area where I work, and so I walk by La Teteria at least once a day. It’s perched on Calle Libertad, a street with low traffic flanked by all kinds of towering tropical trees that provide bountiful amounts of shade. The front part of La Teteria is a cool terrace where there always seems to be a breeze even on the hottest days. There’s also an inner courtyard where I sometimes like to go at night and sip my matcha frappe and look up at the sky and think about what might’ve been, what is, and what still could be.

Today La Teteria is slow and I’ve ordered a regular chai frappe, which I’ve already finished. When I got here Gustavo and I had a long conversation about my MacBook charger, which broke last night and which I spent all morning trying to replace. We also talked, as we usually do, about his upcoming trip to Argentina.

“I’m so jealous,” I said, “I should be in Argentina or Chile.”

“But you get to be here,” he said.

“Yeah, but…”

I trailed off, because Gustavo had a damn good point. I could be jealous of the people in Buenos Aires, but I get to be here. I could be jealous of the people in Paris, but I get to be here. I could be jealous of the people in Hyderabad, or Seoul, or Tokyo, or Regina, or Montreal, or Port Orchard, or Saskatoon, but I get to be here. Here in the shade, in a comfortable chair, feeling the breeze, sipping a chai frappe. Which isn’t matcha, but almost just as good.

A special thanks to the chai frappe currently in my stomach for supporting this blog.

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El Mono Silabo

mono silabo guadalajara

I’m at el Mono Silabo, a cafe in the Americana neighborhood in Guadalajara. I’d never come to this cafe before because it’s two doors down from El Rincon del Mate, the one mate cafe in Guadalajara and possibly in all of Mexico, and where I go at least several times a week. But today El Rincon del Mate doesn’t open till 2:30pm, so I thought I’d give this place a shot.

I’m glad I did. When I walked in there was Cuban music playing, and the courtyard was awash with light and people talking. Guadalajara is full of buildings like this; they don’t look like much from the outside, but inside there’s always an open air courtyard filled with plants, and the sounds of the street become a memory. Sometimes there’s a fountain, and always the din of soft music and conversation. El Mono Silabo has a big room off to the side that’s filled with floor to ceiling windows that let in the breeze, and also shelves of books. I love being surrounded by books. It feeds my soul, much like the jugo verde, or green juice I just ordered, that feeds my body.

I just finished giving my last English conversation class on Saturdays. This was the first job I ever had here when I arrived a month and a half ago. I’ll tell you what it paid now, because it’s over and I’m less embarrassed. Fifty pesos an hour. I’ll let you do the math. When you do you’ll see why I referred to it as my “volunteer job,” but when I accepted this job it was because I knew it was the right thing to do. The pay was secondary. It was a way to hit the ground running (see: jogging [see: slowly]), to meet people, to have meaningful interactions. And it’s also opened doors. I’m now one of two Spanish teachers at the American Consulate here, which is another job I accepted at the same company because I figured it might open doors. I’m still not quite sure what doors these might be. So far it’s just another underpaid job. But it’s also cool to meet people from the consulate, to see that world, and if I hadn’t accepted that job that never would’ve happened.

The reason I quit the English conversation job is because I now have a lot more online work, and this work pays over three times as much as what the Saturday conversation class was paying. This is not to say it pays a lot, because it doesn’t, but it pays a respectable wage for Mexico. I’m still not in the financial position to get my own place. I spent all of my savings in Sayulita, so I’ll have to wait till mid March, unless I somehow sell an article to the New York Times or other such massive publication, which might be hard since I’m not submitting articles to such publications. But I have this strange feeling that I’m going to come into a decent amount of money soon. Have you ever had that feeling? It’s a good feeling. It reminds me of the J.D. Salinger quote:  “I’m a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.”

That’s kind of how I feel right now.

I’m debating whether or not to order a coffee, or a frappe, but really just enjoying the music that’s drifting in from the adjacent courtyard. My nostrils are being intermittently assaulted by some kind of sewage smell from the street, and I’m not sure where it’s coming from. I’m supposed to work on my novel today, at least 1,000 words, and I can’t be bothered. All I want to do is take a nap. Which is fine. Because it’s Saturday, and Saturday’s in Mexico are for cafes and naps.

Crucial information: 
El Mono Silabo
Calle Miguel Blanco 1405, Guadalajara
See photos

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My Other Favorite Cafe in Guadalajara

You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together. – Anthony Bourdain

I already wrote about my favorite cafe in Guadalajara, a place called El Terrible Juan that has cute waitresses and serves coffee that isn’t horrible. In fact, yesterday I tried their aeropress for the first time and would describe how I felt afterward as, “Not massively disappointed.” It still wasn’t great, and the fact of the matter is coffee in Latin America generally sucks, but it was palatable, well-prepared, and tasted at least semi-recently roasted. It also made me feel like a mad genius for the next couple of hours, which is the mark of good coffee. Bad coffee makes me feel anxious and like the world is crumbling around me; good coffee makes me feel like the world is crumbling but that I’ll emerge from the rubble unscathed.

But on to Rendezvous, my other favorite cafe. Rendezvous lies on the corner of Calle Colonias and Calle Libertad, and was the first cafe/restaurant I ever went to in Guadalajara. It’s one of those places you walk by, especially at night, and the lighting is chic and romantic and cozy, like the only people who go there are bohemian artist types who somehow don’t smell bad, and you think, “Damn, I want to be there.” And so you go there, and you realize the product isn’t expensive and that it’s good, the pizza for example only costs 50 pesos ($2.68), a glass of wine 40 pesos ($2.14), and the music good and often live and people are having a good time and are generally bohemian artist types (aka the modern version aka graphic designers), though whether they smell good or not I haven’t confirmed.

Rendezvous is supposed to be a French cafe/restaurant. There is nothing French about this place except the name. Sure, some of the drinks have names of famous French people. Yesterday I ordered a “Monet,” which was some kind of fruity tea with lemon and honey. I don’t exactly see what’s French about that. And the menu includes things like pizza and nachos, which again don’t strike me as particularly French. The service is the only thing that might be vaguely French, in that many of the servers seem slightly arrogant and are wont to forget about you for hours (see: minutes) on end. It’s the kind of place where you order one thing, they bring you another, and the general feeling is, “Look, I know what you ordered. But I also know what you need.”

Rendezvous is only open in the evenings and lies in the prestigious Chapultepec neighborhood of Guadalajara, a block from the American Consulate and across from the fresa Mercado Mexico, a place where people go to spend too much on yoga and Asian food prepared by Mexicans who have no idea how to prepare Asian food (Note: Latin Americans generally have no idea how to prepare Asian food. I went to an upscale “Thai” restaurant in Bogota one time and they served Phad Thai with linguine noodles).

If you go to Rendezvous, be prepared for wonderful ambience, live music (on the weekends), decent food, great prices, and waiters who might not be incredibly attentive but will make you love them anyway. I’m falling more in love with Guadalajara everyday, and this cafe/restaurant is one of many reasons why.

Details:

Rendezvous-Cafe

Libertad 1903, Americana, 44170 Guadalajara, Jal.

rendezvousgdl.wixsite.com

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Review: Starbucks, Chapultepec, Guadalajara (A Lesson in Din)

The first thing I noticed when I entered the Starbucks on Chapultepec, on the corner of Lopez Cotilla and Chapultepec in Guadalajara, was that it smelled musty. Luckily, I’ve since gotten used to this smell. I noticed it the first four or five times. But now, I come here everyday, so I live in the must. Love the must. The origin of this musty smell is unclear. The cleaning regimen here seems to be second to none. I often see a young man with a mop. The bathroom has a code so not just anyone off the street can walk in, though to be fair they haven’t changed the code since I’ve been here, so if I was ever in the area and needed a loo I could just walk right in. I can only assume, then, that the musty smell has something to do with the ventilation, or lack thereof. It smells a bit like a dirty bus station. But in the best possible way.

Someone criticized me yesterday for coming to Starbucks everyday, saying that in Mexico Starbucks was only for trendy people who wanted to take selfies and also that I should support something local and Mexican, and I defended myself vehemently. Granted, I had no defense against the fact that maybe I should be supporting something local. And when I say “defended myself vehemently” I don’t mean rationally or articulately. Mostly I mean that I raised my voice and became slightly aggressive. “I need a controlled environment when I write!” I said, “And Starbucks gives me that controlled environment. It’s the same everyday. I know what to expect. It’s anonymous.” I kept ranting for a few seconds more and then the argument ended in a stalemate as it was time for breakfast.

Despite the musty smell, this is a good Starbucks. It’s big and comfortable, with plenty of seating, both inside and out, and has the perfect amount of din. Din is the mix of sounds coming from the baristas and people ordering, the sound of people talking, and the music coming from the speakers. This particular Starbucks boasts a perfect din. It’s not a quiet din! In fact, as far as dins go, this is one of the louder dins. But this is classic cafe din. If you were to make a YouTube video of “cafe sounds” (and people have done this), this would be a prime candidate. The only thing I don’t like about the din this morning — and this is rare — is I hear English voices in the din. Two American girls. They’re intruding on my territory, and they must be removed.

As was bound to happen, some of the employees now know exactly what I order: A small Youthberry tea in a ceramic cup and an apple. It costs, after my for-here cup discount, 36 pesos, or $1.92. Some would consider this expenditure extravagant, but I consider it necessary. Again, this cannot be stressed enough: I need a controlled environment for writing, and one that’s not my house. I can’t write at my house. That’s like hanging out in your bed all day. Beds are for sleeping! Nothing else. Houses are for things like relaxing and watching TV and chilling on the couch, but they’re not for writing.

I will not be back here tomorrow, as I’m going to the beach. As far as I know, there’s no Starbucks in Sayulita. I’ll have to find the closest equivalent. And come Monday, I’ll be right back here. Back with my manzana and my Youthberry tea. Back with my din.