The Best Cafe in Guadalajara

Guadalajara has plenty of becoming places to eat and sip, or so it would seem after my short sojourn here. Much of the time I’ve been here has been spent traipsing around the Bosque de la primavera, an hour and twenty four minutes west of GDL, so my knowledge of the city still leaves a tremendous amount to be desired.

My favorite cafe so far is called El Terrible Juan, located in Colonia America, near the school where I teach, near the American Consulate where I also teach, and near Chapultepec, the most famous area in GDL for nightlife, gastronomy, and restaurants and cafes.

The reason I like El Terrible Juan is one I can’t tell you. It’s embarrassing. But the reason I WILL  tell you is because I like the sandwiches, and because the outside seating area is like sitting in a garden. You’re surrounded by vines and howler monkeys and other creatures of the jungle (minus everything but the vines), and you think at any point an ivy tendril might caress your hand and say, “Come, climb to the canopy with me! Climb! Before it’s too late!”

But the best part of El Terrible Juan, if you’re me at least, is the latte art. Or the lattes. Or the art. One thing I don’t like about this place is how many foreigners there are there. I hear way too much English being spoken, though to be fair, mostly it’s by me. I have yet to enact my “Spanish or Nahuatl Only” rule, but when I do I imagine life will get much more interesting. I imagine this blog will also be harder to read, since I don’t speak Nahuatl, and you probably don’t either. Nahuatl was the language spoken by the Aztecs, and is still (if my numbers are correct, and they always are) spoken by over a million people in Mexico. As far as I know, Nahuatl is not a tonal language like Mixe or Cantonese. In retrospect, I wish I had studied Mixe in Oaxaca instead of Zapoteco, because Mixe sounds prettier than Zapoteco. One must never underestimate the importance of tones. Tonal languages are, as anyone who’s ever hear Thai country music knows, the most beautiful. The most beautiful language that’s not tonal would probably be Finnish, followed in a close second by German. German, as anyone who’s ever heard an angry man spitting while he speaks it, is also a gorgeous, lilting tongue.

But I got off track. The  coffee! The latte art! The vines!

The Pleasures of Business Class

business class

I flew business class this trip to get down to Guadalajara. I love flying business class, which may seem obvious, but I think I think I love it an inordinate amount. Sometimes I fall asleep dreaming of armrests the size of football fields. You put your elbow there expecting to run into someone else’s, but all there is are acres of space and comfort. A veritable Ohio cornfield for your arm. In coach I always find myself fighting for armrest space. If I’m in the aisle I generally cede the middle armrest, since I pity he who has a middle seat. But if I’m in the middle seat I’m like a full-grown hippo prowling the edges of a watering hole, protecting what’s mine.

The thing I love most about business class, though, and I’m not exactly proud of this, is the way people look at you when they get on. They’re generally tired, harried, stressed out, and as they walk by business class they look at you like, “What the hell did you do to be able to sit there?” Meanwhile you’re reclined in a seat that’s more La-Z-boy than airplane seat, sipping an orange juice with oranges freshly imported from somewhere outside Jacksonville, wondering what movie you’re going to watch.

(Actually, orange juice on planes, regardless of class, is crap.)

Before this trip I’d flown business class several times. The first was a United/Copa flight to Medellin, Colombia. Then I flew business class back from Santiago, Chile, to the US, significant because it was my first experience with a nearly lie-flat bed. Sleeping on a transcontinental flight? I’d never dreamed of such opulence.

But one thing you don’t want to do is fly business class too much. You don’t want to get used to it. Because then all the sudden it’s not special anymore. This happened to me on probably business class flight #3 or #4. I boarded a domestic flight to somewhere like Sacramento or Houston, and as I usually do stuck out my ring for the flight attendant to kiss and expected her to pick up the bottoms of my robe so they wouldn’t be sullied by the airplane floor. But she didn’t kiss my ring. She said, “Welcome aboard, sir, please take a seat,” as if that would somehow suffice. There and then I learned complacency is the number one enemy of the business class traveler.

My favorite thing about business class is something people wouldn’t expect: the hot nuts. This is because I always forget about them, and suddenly a flight attendant is in front of me, thrusting a tiny tray of heated almonds and cashews into my hands. It’s the simple pleasures, after all. Hot nuts in hand I recline my seat back as far as it will go and usually put on some kind of bad movie, like Pitch Perfect 2. And just as my eyelids start to flutter closed, or comfort turns to boredom, they come by with dinner. Dinner is always served on business class flights, and it’s usually decent. The biggest worry becomes whether or not to sit upright to inhale my cheese enchiladas, or continue reclined at a 45 degree angle, spilling salsa all over my shirt as I groan in ecstasy.

One thing I still haven’t done is fly first class to Europe or Asia. This is the big leagues. In fact, this is in a different league altogether. Etihad first class is actually little compartments with bench seats where you can sit across from a friend and chat, and Emirates first class has showers a and loung/bar on the plane.  Can you imagine showering on a plane? I can.  It would probably be like showering on ground, except this time you’re 35,000 feet high.

In the end, though, I don’t need my own first class compartment to be happy. As they say, “He is richest who wants least,” which is why I like to think that even when I’m able to fly business class all the time, I’ll continue to fly coach just to keep things in perspective. Because let’s face it: when they give you that tray of hot nuts, perspective flies right out the window.

 

Have you ever flown first class to Europe or Asia? What was it like?

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What Airbnb Ratings REALLY Mean

apartment

If you travel enough you’ll inevitably stay in an Airbnb. I like Airbnb for the most part, it can be a great way to meet people and a cheaper alternative to hotels. But one thing I don’t like about it is how inflated the ratings are. My rule of thumb is: Don’t stay anywhere with less than 4.5 stars. Which is ridiculous. Four point five stars should mean amazing! Four point five stars should mean your expectations were exceeded, the bed was perfect, you were greeted with fresh mint tea, you made friends for life, and had the kind of experience you’ll remember forever. But these days 4.5 stars means nothing. Five stars almost means nothing. Airbnb ratings are pretty much like Uber ratings: If the driver gets you there without killing someone or killing you or verbally harassing you, you give them five stars.

Thus, for the sake of clearing things up a bit, I’ve created this guide: What Airbnb ratings really mean.

5 stars:

The place is probably pretty good, and could even be great. But, due to rating inflation, there’s no way to tell. Until the place I’m staying in right now in Guadalajara which reminds me of a prison cell but still somehow has 5 stars, I’d never been disappointed by a place with 5 stars. Usually 5 stars is pretty solid (especially considering it couldn’t get more solid).

4 stars:

If a place has four stars it means at some point something significantly bad happened to one of the guests. Maybe the host wasn’t in town to receive the guest. Maybe the pictures in the ad showed a completely different place. Maybe there were cockroaches. In the letter grade scale 4 stars should be at least a B, but on Airbnb it’s a D. Again, my rule: never stay anyplace with less than 4.5 stars.

3 stars:

If you see a 3-star you’re in for a treat, but not one that comes from staying there. Instead, read the comments. You’re almost guaranteed to come across, at some point, the following elements: insane accusations, personal attacks, acid-like sarcasm. Something like, “The host seemed pretty nice at first but then he stayed outside my room all night making slurping noises and yelling the words, ‘Mi piace!’ in Italian.” You’re also usually guaranteed a similarly hostile rebuttal from the host/hostess. A 3-star rating is enough to ruin a property.

2 stars:

Someone died in this apartment.

1 star:

I’ve never seen a 1-star rating. I don’t think it exists. If a place did have a 1-star rating it would probably be removed from the Airbnb website. However, just for the sake of this post, let’s pretend you did somehow manage to book and stay at a 1-star property. I imagine your stay would go something like this:  You open the door to the apartment/chalet/house/cabin. Someone promptly bludgeons you over the head. Two hours/days later, you wake up in a basement chained to a ventilation pipe, where you’re forced to watch episodes of the Big Bang Theory/have bamboo shoots shoved under your fingernails until you divulge some kind of information and/or die.

If you’re like me you now want to explore the Airbnb site just so you can see how low a rating you can find and what kind of comments there are. I wouldn’t recommend it. The internet comment world is dark and dingy and smells like aftershave. When in doubt, stick to my rule: 4.5 stars and above: OK. Anything less: Keep looking.

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Sex and Coffee in Bogota

It looks like a sex shop.  It has a bright red facade with the words “Amor perfecto” (“Perfect Love”) in white lettering and a little sign on top that depicts only a heart.  Indeed, if I hadn’t been told explicitly on several occasions that it wasn’t a sex shop, I’d probably still think it was.

I go there for the first time with my Swiss computer programmer roommate Victor.  Victor gets a latte and I an aeropress. We sit in one of the booths, which is the color of a bouquet of roses.  The seats are a little too close together.  It’s a little too intimate.  I don’t remember exactly what we talked about.  I think we might’ve talked about Africa.

The coffee looks exquisite.  It’s served in a glass carafe and has an opaque quality, as if Monet accidentally spilled the contents of his palette into a jar and mixed them until they were brown.  It tastes exquisite, too — it has that plant-like, almost tea-like flavor that I associate with good coffee.  It’s not even in the same league as the tinto (drip) that’s usually served in Colombia.  I would argue that tinto shouldn’t even be called coffee.  It’s like piling a mound of snow in your backyard and calling it a ski resort.  No, this cup of coffee is the real deal. Finally, Colombia.  Finally.

Victor and I continue to talk about Lord-knows-what.  I remember saying at least three times, “Dude, this place looks like a sex shop.  They need to change the entry.”  I like Victor — he’s a real snake in the grass.  He’s smart and modest and insightful.  Plus he has a ponytail.  And not a ponytail to be cool — he just likes having a ponytail.

On the way out I ask the guy working if the differences between the different methods of coffee preparation — V60, chemex, syphon, aeropress, French press — are really that noticeable.

“If you were blindfolded,” I say, “could you tell the difference?”

“What do you know about blindfolds?” he says, winking, while the female employee produces a short leather whip and what appear to be wrist cuffs.

Actually, this doesn’t happen.  The guy says, “Oh, absolutely.  For instance, the difference between an aeropress and a French press? Massive.”

Sure, buddy, I want to say, but instead just nod my head and say, “Oh.”

Outside, Victor starts down the street toting his ponytail.  I stop again to admire the heinous facade and think again, They really need to change that.  At least include the word coffee somewhere. As we’re walking away I think I hear the crack of a whip and the shrill call of female laughter, but it might just be the screech of brakes on Carrera 4.  I trot to catch up with Victor, leaving Bogota’s best sex — coffee shop behind.

50 Shades of Earl Grey

“Hardwood floors! Tasteful lighting! A garden! Cool trinkets! A beautiful ivy plant I thought was fake but is actually totally real!”

I’m imagining a torture situation in which I have to yell out true statements about Taller de Te, Bogota’s number one specialty tea shop. Every time I yell out something false Adriana, one of the owners, clad in hip-high leather boots, cracks me across the stomach with a sock full of quarters.

“Name our four most exquisite specialty teas,” she says in her lilting Colombian accent.

I think about it. “Coca leaf tea.”

“I can’t hear you.”

“Coca leaf tea!”

The quarters stay steady.

“Sencha rose?”

She whips me across the abdomen. “Sencha Rose is not specialty!”

I frantically search my memory banks.  There is one tea.  It’s from China and of the particular variety they stock only 300 bricks were ever produced.  But what is it called?  Pearl?  Po-Er?  It’s some kind of Chinese name.  

“Pearl?” I venture.

“What did you say?” 

“Pearl,” I say again.

She throws back her head and laughs.  “There is no ‘Pearl’ tea here, my dear.  There is only Pu-erh.  It is the most exquisite tea we have.”

I was so close. “Pu-erh! Pu-erh!  Pu-errrrrrrr!” I scream, but it’s too late. There’s a grunt and the sock whizzes through the air. I gasp for breath and look up at Adriana. She’s smiling and stroking the sock of quarters as if it were a Shar Pei. I groan with delicious pain and slip into unconsciousness…

Located in the leafy Chapinero Alto district, Taller de Te is the best tea shop in Bogota.  In a country known for its coffee, Taller de Te has distinguished itself in the world of tea.  The shop boasts exotic teas from around the world: coca leaf tea, high-grade matcha tea, and an exotic Pu-erh of which only 300 bricks were produced. Sometimes when I go into the shop I just sit and there and mutter the words Pu-erh to myself. I’m not quite sure how to pronounce it, but I love how it rolls off the tongue. Pu-erh. Pu-erh. Pu-errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrh.

Today Taller de Te is crowded. This is usually not the case. Usually I’m the only customer. But today is Saturday and the Bogotanos are out in force. They need their tea, they need it loose-leaf, and they need it now. The shop is buzzing. It smells like cheap glue because Carla, one of other owners, is making crafts. I feel 70% happy and 30% like I might pass out. I’ve just ordered a “Bollywood Chai Tea” for the horrendous price of 10,000 COP (3.40 USD). The music that’s playing is tasteful. For some reason the fact that it’s so tasteful is irritating. What standard of perfection! I shall never live up to it. I am flesh and bone. I experience primitive emotions like lust and envy. I do not deserve to drink this tea. I deserve to be flogged by Adriana. Pu-erh! Pu-erh!

My chai latte comes. It smells like a gingerbread house. It smells like Christmas. I feel like I’m Hansel of Hansel and Gretel, being led toward the house of a witch. Except instead of breadcrumbs dotting the path there are tiny cups of steaming-hot chai. And instead of being in the forest I’m in a South American metropolis. And instead of being led toward the house of a witch I’m being led towards Adriana, who in real life is polite and helpful, with cute bangs and skin like the soft glow of a sunrise. She might be the most beautiful tea shop worker in northeastern Bogota. She places the chai latte in front me. I say “Thank you.” She says, “OK.”

The chai is delicious. It’s perfectly sweetened with panela (sugarcane). Not too sweet, though — Adriana would never allow that. I sip it and gaze into the garden. Night falls around us in this garden of chai and evil. The spices are exquisite. I detect cardamom. I slip into a kind of reverie and soon the tea is gone. I’m not satisfied; I want more. But more what? More milk? More spices? More tasteful decoration?

I look over at Adriana.  In my mind she hikes up her skirt to show off her hip-length boots and reaches for a sock of quarters. She knows what I want more of. Pu-erh. Pu-erh! Pu-errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrh.