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A Two-Year Retrospective

A bit more than two years ago I sold all my stuff, rented my house, said my goodbyes and lit out for parts unknown. I was inspired to take a look back by a couple of events. The first is that a new friend, as he’s learned about what I’ve been doing he’s encouraged me to start writing again. The second was Dan Hough’s six-month retrospective of living by his own rules. Some good lessons in that piece.

So what is it that I’ve done over the past couple of years? In short I’ve lived on 3 continents, including Seoul, Mexico City, London, (and now NYC). Worked less than 1500 hours for pay, about the same for free, including advancing the I Am The Cavalry movement. Met dozens of great new people. Improved my career by taking only jobs that made me better. Read, researched, analyzed and honed new ideas and old. Collapsed a house of possessions I unquestioningly kept around me into what can fit in a couple of big backpacks…and even most of that is disposable. I’ve lived as my own master and couldn’t be happier about how it’s all come out.

But I recognize that I’m far from the norm. I’m the outlier. I work in a field that allows this kind of motility, pays well enough, and has enough offers for work that I could support myself financially. That isn’t true for everyone.

It is said that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. To take advantage of this kind of luck you must be both available and willing when the opportunity arises. When you are available you quickly find that the opportunities are everywhere.

I have a personality that lends itself to optimizing for opportunities that come up. In other words, I don’t set goals to achieve or things to attain I set ideals and behaviors to guide me.

To prepare myself I set a 5-year plan to learn skills and build my network. After a realization that I was only truly happy when I felt the freedom and self-determination of travel, I set about figuring out how to do that. The skills I had recently begun to develop were conducive to taking short-term work and working from anywhere. To get the kind of work I needed I’d need to build my skills and improve my connections to job opportunities. So I set about achieving that.

I took a new job, became more social and began publishing a blog. I sought, found and won a new job as a traveling consultant. I started going to security conferences, offering to speak at trade shows on behalf of my new company and organized get togethers of like minded folks. I wrote up my thoughts an published them, engaged with others and cultured dialogs on topics I was interested in. This boosted my skills, extended my reach, raised my credibility in the community and as a bonus it let me travel on others’ dime.

When the opportunity arose I took a new role in the same company on the business side. I was given the chance to work alongside my boss, helping to run and develop the consulting practice. This taught me valuable lessons that I wouldn’t have to figure out the hard way when out on my own. It was like a mentorship or apprenticeship program, learning and developing at full speed but with backup support and a safety net.

Finally it was time to go but a threshold of fear seemed to hold me back. One day I simply looked at the worst case scenario. If I failed and ran out of all my saved money I could borrow enough to get home, live with friends and family, get a new job in the same industry…probably making more than when I left and with a lot more wisdom. My worst case scenario was better than the life I was living!

So the decision was made and a date was set. I closed out projects, left my role better than is found it, trained my replacement at work.

And that gets me back to where we started. I sold all my stuff, rented my house, said my goodbyes and lit out for parts unknown. I left the known behind for the exciting. And I haven’t looked back. Except for this post.

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A Recent Trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua (Part 5)

Recently I spent a couple of weeks traveling in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It was my first land border crossing in a while, and I think my second ever on a bus. I got to see tons of great things, learned a lot about Central America and myself, and got to relax and enjoy the world. All in all I’ll give it a 9/10. If you missed any of the previous pieces, catch up starting with part 1,  part 2, part 3 and part 4.

After having spent a week in Nicaragua doing humanitarian work I was on my way home. That meant going back into Costa Rica to fly out. I had a couple of days to kill so I thought I’d stop by a hot springs area and relax a bit. Only the directions for how to get there I found on the Internet were wrong. I was stranded at the Liberia, Costa Rica airport.

Time to check options. It’d be about 5 hours by 3 local busses, assuming time tables were correct, and I was pretty sure they weren’t given the rainy season tends to play hell on them. Taxi would be $150 minimum. Rental car would be $70 plus insurance and gas and is have to bring it back to an airport 100 miles away from where I was flying back home from.

Different strategy: lose a half day for better options, more certainty and lower cost. Going to San Jose would be about 2h or so and it would give 3 direct, fast bus options to La Fortuna the next day. And if I took the 6am bus I’d get there in the morning around 9:30. Also more flexibility. Perhaps a flight change to come home sooner. Yep. Good options.

So back into Liberia to the local bus station. Busses every hour from the country’s second city to its first. And the bus passes through Cañas on the way so I can check it out and see what’s up. If it looks like I won’t get stranded then I can bail on that plan. Sweet. I set off.

An hour later, Cañas looked very promising with several hotels and some shops. Not a city by any means, but not the jungle either. I’m up for an adventure so I’ll try the 5 hour, 3 bus option. If the next city is like this one then getting stuck won’t be an issue. Quick bus change and I’m on my way to Tilaran. Problem. No buses  to La Fortuna until the next morning. Oops. The info desk at the airport must have had bad info. Stymied again by the travel gods.

A quick stop at a cafe lets me talk to the folks at the hostel I’m supposed to stay at in La Fortuna. It ought to be $50 for a taxi. Alright that’s better than $25 for a hotel and a delayed start in the morning. Also cuts travel time in half. Found a driver with good English but he wouldn’t go below $70 even upon threat of losing the fare to somebody else. Boo. But I’m low on time, it’s raining and I want to knock out my travel. $20 extra to the travel logistics gods and I’m on my way along the gorgeous circum-volcanic lake road.

Dark fell an the rain fell harder. A torrent at one point. We pressed on and the rain feigned resignation. About halfway in, we were greeted with a set of parked cars. We stopped. The road was flooded near the lake and trees had been washed onto it. Bad news. We were advised to turn back. The rain had struck again. But a cabbie with a fare on the line is undauntable.

When we reached the spot we found the gossip to be true. But men clad in galoshes were fording the stream. I thought maybe I could do the same and hitch a ride with someone on the other side. Unnecessary. The heroes were rolling and floating the tree pieces out of the way.

So we watched the trucks cross the rushing river. They were all large diesel trucks or SUVs. We were in a small Kia.

“Que piensas?” I asked. What did the driver think? “Pasamos.” We pass. But not before both of us made the sign of a cross. And pass we did with an expression of joy and relief.

Arenal Hostel Resort is exactly as it sounds. Quite nice. Went to my room and dropped of my bags. Grabbed a bite to eat at the bar and my free “welcome drink” and went back to the room. Pulled the curtains closed to change and heard one of the voices on the balcony say to the rest of the group “don’t shut us out come and join us.” I don’t think they knew I heard but I did. So I did go and join them. It was a group of Germans and one guy from Mexico City.

The next day I signed up for the hot springs river – a free trip. Piled into the bus and headed over. I was expecting a kind of a resort but it wasn’t. It was a drainage channel under the road where the river was warm from the hot springs upstream. Since it was raining, though, there was a large stream of cold water that made staying warm a bit tricky. When we arrived there were a couple of small groups there. The driver was coming back in a couple of hours and we figured it’d be a boring wait.

But more and more groups started showing up. Some of them had coolers of booze. And the rain stopped so the water got much warmer. The booze flowed cold and the river flowed hot, as lightning flashed in the sky. Someone had brought mud from the volcano and was giving out mud masks. Someone else found a condom in its wrapper (likely from someone else’s pocket) and made a balloon out of it. We batted it around like a beach ball among the 50 or so people there. When the appointed time came to leave we were disappointed to be going.

I spent a night in San Jose with a couple of the friends I’d met at the hostel. They made authentic Bavarian schnitzel for dinner – a real treat! And I got to meet their host family from a couple of years earlier when they’d been exchange students. It was great fun. We all stayed up past our bedtime drinking and laughing together.

The next day I was off to the airport back home. It’d been a great couple of weeks but I was ready for clean clothes and to get out of the heat and humidity. The trip was fantastic – I couldn’t have asked for better. Even the misadventures turned into great stories. It’s the kind of travel you always hope to have but seldom do.

A Recent Trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua (Part 4)

Recently I spent a couple of weeks traveling in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It was my first land border crossing in a while, and I think my second ever on a bus. I got to see tons of great things, learned a lot about Central America and myself, and got to relax and enjoy the world. All in all I’ll give it a 9/10. If you missed any of the previous pieces, catch up starting with part 1,  part 2 and part 3, then conclude with part 5.

My time in paradise had come to a close. After arriving at Lago de Apoyo, Nicaragua from Costa Rica on a 12+ hour odyssey any place would have been good to sleep. What I found was a great hostel by a tranquil lake with great people and a hot sun.  My friend and I hopped in the taxi and headed to the airport to meet a larger group of friends.

Every year some colleagues, friends and I head to Nicaragua to do humanitarian work for a week. We join up with a group called Amigos for Christ who work alongside some of the world’s bottom billion, helping to remove them from that statistical designation. Teaming up with communities to get fresh water, improve sanitation and reduce the burden to the locals pulling themselves out of poverty. It’s good work done well.

But that part is boring to write about and to read about so we’ll skip it. Got to the airport to drop everybody else off and caught a taxi to the bus station. I was heading back through Costa Rica to go home. At the bus station they took care of me and spoke slowly. Made me first in line and printed out my flight itinerary for the Costa Rican border folks. This bus was full this time so not much sleep.

At the border there was a British lady complaining about getting a 60 day rather than a 90 day visa stamp. They gave me a 90 day visa – maybe just to piss her off. I have the feeling she was trying to circumvent the intent of the law. She also had fruit in her bag and complained that they took it. This isn’t the EU, lady. They ask you on the customs form if you have any fruits and veggies and I’m guessing you said you didn’t. Still, the process for her went much easier and the people were more friendly than the treatment the UK Border Authority gives.

I was planning on going to the area around another volcanic lake with hot springs for a couple of days. I’d read online that there was a daily shuttle at 2pm from the Liberia airport there. So I arrived after about 6 hours on the bus, grabbed some cash from the ATM in what I now knew to be the real local currency, US Dollars. Grabbed a taxi to the airport and got ready for the shuttle. 

But the Internet lied to me. There was no 2pm shuttle. I was stranded.

A Recent Trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua (Part 3)

Recently I spent a couple of weeks traveling in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It was my first land border crossing in a while, and I think my second ever on a bus. I got to see tons of great things, learned a lot about Central America and myself, and got to relax and enjoy the world. All in all I’ll give it a 9/10. If you missed any of the previous pieces, catch up starting with part 1 and part 2, then continue to part 4 and conclude with part 5.

After taking a bus from San Jose, Costa Rica to Managua, Nicaragua, then having myself an authentic Nicaraguan taxi experience I was happy to meet up with my friend. We caught up briefly then packed into the car taking us to our hostel for the next couple of days, Hostel Paraiso on Laguna de Apoyo. We arrived in the dark so didn’t get much of a chance to see the place. The kitchen was closed but they opened it up again to make us some crepes. They let us know the bar was going to close in about 2 hours but that the beer fridge was 24/7 – just write down what we’d drank and we’d settle up at the end.  Paradise Hostel? If not it’s damn close.

We hit the sack early so we could get a fresh start. Rumor had it swimming at dawn was not to be missed. In spite of my hatred of mornings I determined to do that. It was worth it in the chilly water and watching the sun come up over the rim of the extinct volcano in which we were swimming. Grabbed some breakfast to start the day. After an appropriate period of rest and caffeinating we grabbed some sunscreen and a couple of kayaks to paddle around.

After half hour the sun and exercise had us feeling warm but the water was cooling us down and helping us stay strong. So I challenged us to paddle around the whole lake. I figured it’d take another 1-2 hours and we’d be back in time for some rest and a shower before lunch. It wasn’t until halfway across the lagoon, a couple of hours in that I began to realize my sunscreen apparently hadn’t worked, and in the tropical sun on the water I was very exposed. We got back 3 hours after we’d left and my skin was already starting to look like a sunset in patches. Ah well, it’s the price of a good day’s exercise.

The rest of that day and the next I took it easy, just relaxing by the water’s edge in the shade. The bar/cafe area was perfect for that, attracting a stream of hostel guests, lake visitors and expats living on the shore. It was a great place to be and I enjoyed it thoroughly. My skin responded to the harsh treatment predictably, but the cool of the shade and the good times helped to soothe the pain. The aloe helped as well.

All things end, and so too my time at this lake paradise. The next week would see me reuniting with, working alongside and saying goodbye to old friends and colleagues. Doing humanitarian work in Nicaragua, helping to bring fresh water and sanitation to those who don’t have it. Humbling and inspiring work.

A Recent Trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua (Part 2)

Recently I spent a couple of weeks traveling in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It was my first land border crossing in a while, and I think my second ever on a bus. I got to see tons of great things, learned a lot about Central America and myself, and got to relax and enjoy the world. All in all I’ll give it a 9/10. If you missed any of the previous pieces, catch up with part 1, and follow up with part 3, part 4 and part 5.

Awoke at 6:30 to catch my bus from San Jose, Costa Rica to Managua, Nicaragua. Too early. No time to grab food at the station, luckily I still had some Lebanese burritos left. Although I thought I understood that you can’t buy bus tickets the morning of the bus, that wasn’t strictly true.

Hopped on the bus. Asked for a window seat and went to the back. An Australian guy came with me and we chatted. He’s been traveling for ten months through South America. Lived in Buenos Aires for a bit and Medellin, Columbia too. One more person who swears that’s one of the best cities in Latin America.

Bus ride was uneventful. Slept some. Looked at the gorgeous Central American scenery. Border was easy. Lots of people changing money (cambio men), selling stuff and begging. Routine-feeling 30 minutes later we were on our way. Around 5:15 or so, only 45 minutes late, we arrived at the Managua bus station. I fought off a few of the taxi drivers, letting them know I was going to take the bus to the airport, that I didn’t need their services.

I was going to walk around and see some more of the city but a guy started talking to me in very clear and only lightly accented English. “you said you’re going to take the bus? It’s in the other direction.” “Yes, but later.” “OK. If you’re planning on taking it after 7pm it doesn’t run because of the rush hour. And then after that it’s dark and a bit dangerous. Too far down that way is dangerous and the other way too. If you just want to like check Internet, have a soda or something then have a seat at this cafe. She makes great food too.” “Sounds good. Want to have a Coke with me?” So we talked a while. His family fled to the US in the early 80s during the civil war. He lived there until he was deported due to being arrested 3 times (3 strikes law). Lived in California, Miami, North Carolina. Name is Harold Bernard. His dad was half French and gave everybody French names. Interesting character.

We talked about an hour and it was starting to get dark so I asked him to grab me a taxi. He rode with me to do some translating and because in Central America you almost always want to have 2-3 people in the car with you just in case. The car was falling apart. We had to push it to get it started, the doors had no interior and it smelled slightly of burning oil. “This is the real Nicaraguan taxi experience,” Harold told me. At the airport I met a friend and we met the car that was going to take us to our hostel for the night.

Got to the airport and caught a taxi. 150 cords because I had a local who could get the good price. At bus station they took care of me and spoke slowly. Made me first in line and printed out my flight itinerary for the Costa Rican border folks. This bus is full.

There was a British lady complaining about getting a 60 day rather than a 90 day visa stamp. They gave me a 90 day visa. Much easier and more friendly than the UK Border Authority.

Maybe she wasn’t out of the country 3 days, that’s a question on the immigration form. I guess it’s to prevent living here on a tourist visa, as I suspect she is doing.

She also had fruit in her bag and complained that they took it. This isn’t the EU, lady. They ask you on the customs form if you have any fruits and veggies and I’m guessing you said you didn’t.

Napped sometimes. Watched scenery others. Got to enjoy about 6 hours of this and arrived at the Liberia dropoff point around noon. Grabbed some cash from the ATM in the local currency, US Dollars. Taxi to the airport and ready for the 2pm shuttle.

But the Internet lied to me. There was no 2pm shuttle. I was stranded.

Time to check options. It’d be about 5 hours by 3 local busses, assuming time tables were correct, and I was pretty sure they weren’t given the rainy season tends to play hell on them. Taxi would be $150 minimum. Rental car would be $70 plus insurance and gas and is have to bring it back to an airport 100 miles away from where I was flying back home from.

Different strategy: lose a half day for better options, more certainty and lower cost. Going to San Jose would be about 2h or so and it would give 3 direct, fast bus options to La Fortuna the next day. And if I took the 6am bus I’d get there in the morning around 9:30. Also more flexibility. Perhaps a flight change to come home sooner. Yep. Good options.

So back into Liberia to the local bus station. Busses every hour from the country’s second city to its first. And the bus passes through Cañas on the way so I can check it out an see what’s up. If it looks like I won’t get stranded then I can bail on that plan. Sweet. I set off.

An hour later, Cañas looked very promising with several hotels and some shops. Not a city by any means, but not the jungle either. Quick bus change and I’m on my way to Tilaran. Problem. No buses through to La Fortuna until the next morning. Oops. The info desk at the airport must have had bad info.

A quick stop at a cafe lets me talk to the folks at the hostel. It ought to be $50 for a taxi. Alright that’s better than $25 for a hotel and a delayed start in the morning. Also cuts travel time in half. Found a drive with good English but he wouldn’t go below $70 even upon threat of losing the fare to somebody else. Boo. But I’m low on time, it’s raining and I want to knock out my travel. $20 extra to the travel logistics teacher and I’m on my way along the gorgeous circum volcanic lake road.

Dark fell an the rain fell harder. A torrent at one point. We pressed on and the rain feigned resignation. About halfway in, we were greeted with a set of parked cars. We stopped. The road was flooded near the lake and trees had been washed onto it. Bad news. We were advised to turn back. The rain had struck again. But a cabbie with a fare on the line is undauntable.

When we reached the spot we found it to be true. But men clad in galoshes were fording the stream. I thought maybe I could do the same and hitch a ride with someone on the other side. Unnecessary. The heroes were rolling and floating the tree pieces out of the way.

So we watched the cars cross the rushing river. They were all large trucks or SUVs. We were in a small Kia.

“Que piensas?” I asked. What did he think? “Pasamos.” We pass. But not before both of us made the sign of a cross. And pass we did with an expression of joy and relief.

Arenal Hostel Resort is exactly as it sounds. Quite nice. Went to my room and dropped of my bags. Grabbed a bite to eat at the bar and my free “welcome drink” and went back to the room. Pulled the curtains closed to change and heard one of the voices on the balcony say to the rest of the group “don’t shut us out come and join us.” I don’t think they knew I heard but I did. So I did go and join them. It was a group of Germans and one guy from Mexico City.

Signed up for the hot springs river – a free trip. Piled into the bus and headed over. I was expecting a kind of a resort but it wasn’t. It was a drainage channel under the road where the river was warm from the hot springs upstream. Since it was raining, though, there was a large stream of cold water that made staying warm a bit tricky. When we arrived there were a couple of small groups there. The driver was coming back in a couple of hours and we figured it’d be a boring wait.

But more and more groups started showing up. Some of them had coolers of booze. And the rain stopped so the water got much warmer. The booze flowed cold and the river flowed hot, as lightning flashed in the sky. Someone had brought mud from the volcano and was giving out mud masks. Someone else found a condom in its wrapper (likely from someone else’s pocket) and made a balloon out of it. We batted it around like a beach ball among the 50 or so people there. When the appointed time came to leave we were disappointed to be going.

A Recent Trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua (Part 1)

Recently I spent a couple of weeks traveling in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It was my first land border crossing in a while, and I think my second ever on a bus. I got to see tons of great things, learned a lot about Central America and myself, and got to relax and enjoy the world. All in all I’ll give it a 9/10. This is a series so continue reading with part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.

When I first got to the San Jose airport I found myself dumped out into a sea of taxi drivers, without so much as a welcoming terminal to walk through. There were no ATMs I could find so I pushed through the waves and went to the calm harbor of the departure terminal where there were a few ATMs.

Unfortunately my ATM cards didn’t work. On the cafe wifi I called my bank and they couldn’t figure out why but asked me to try tomorrow. Not a good answer, I’ll be changing banks soon. I managed to take out some expensive money on my credit card and off I went to find the bus.

To take the local bus into town you have to walk around the parking structure out front. The cost was at the time 530 colones – about a dollar. And they take dollars, so if you can’t use your ATM card you’re not totally out of luck. A taxi dispatcher was helping folks find the bus to San Jose and helped me. Kind of him.

2-3 stops in a guy got on the bus. A man got up and offered the window seat but the new arrival begged off, saying his leg was bad and he needed to stretch it. Then he pulled out the cup and balls game. He took some money and gave some money in the first few games. But swiveling your head to engage people in the back leaves you open to someone lifting the cups and exposing where the ball is. One of the guys who’d lost a few dollars did just that. Lesson here is keep your friends close and your enemies in eyesight. Or don’t make enemies of the guy behind you.

I got dropped off in the center of town. Walked around the main pedestrian street. Not a lot to see and to do in San Jose. Great views of the mountains around though. Very few places have wifi.

Got a bus ticket for the 7:30 SJO-MGA. Will arrive at 4:30pm if it’s on time. Tickets aren’t sold on the bus apparently so if you want to get on one of the early AM busses you have to buy the day before. Otherwise no ticket, no ride. (This isn’t strictly true as I found out later in part 2.)

Ended up at a cool hostel in an old looking building. Not sure if its actually old or made to look like it. Decent bar and cafe with lots of places to juice up your tech gear.

Dinner at a Lebanese place. Got the schwarama and Lebanese cheese. The schwarama was described as two tacos but it was actually a more traditional wrap. Interesting that the dish wasn’t described as burritos. Maybe they don’t have those down here. Incredibly flavorful. Way too much food, but it fit nicely into a to go box. Hope the folks on my bus tomorrow don’t get too jealous. 😉

A Recipe For Kudzu Soju

Kudzu is native to Korea. The scourge of the South, as we call it in America (not to be confused with General Sherman). Here they infuse an alcoholic drink with the roots. And it’s not bad.

It was introduced to the US from Japan and used in the South, supposedly, to fight soil erosion. The theory was that the fast growing vine would spread lots of roots into the soil, thus keeping it from washing away in the frequent heavy storms. Of course the problem is that it lays down only one root, meaning soil erosion still happens. But the vine grows over everything in sight, including cars, homes, telephone poles and trees. So that’s kind of a problem.

But I digress. Here is the recipe.

  • Harvest in late spring. April or may.
  • Chop the root.
  • Fill the container about 1/3 of the way with the chopped root and soju for the rest.
  • Age for 100 days before filtering.

Supposedly if you take the kudzu that comes from that process and repeat, but age it for 5 years it is more delicious.

Casual Nightlife In Mexico City

I’ve been in Mexico City for a month now and I’ve had the chance to check out lots of great places. At night the city comes alive and Chilangos (residents of Mexico City) and travelers alike casually stroll around for a bite, a drink and a genial evening out with friends. The weather here is perfect for that – once the sun goes down the temperatures are just perfect for long pants and a light jacket. It’s really a nice lifestyle.

Of course being alone here most weekends I’m left to my own devices. Which suits me fine! I like nothing better than discovering a city by night. Strolling around, getting recommendations from people and the Internet and just going based on instinct. While I’ve marked most of the places below as bars, they all sell food as well so can make for a great stop after work or a dinner spot.

Crime in Mexico City

Mexico City has an undeserved reputation of being violent and unsafe at night. But I’ve never felt in danger here, day or night. While it’s not the safest place in the world, it’s a far cry from its reputation. As long as you take some basic travel safety precautions you’ll be just fine. The level of security and surveillance here (1 police officer per 100 people; 11,000 cameras) means the chances of committing a crime without anyone seeing it is low.  The murder rate is lower than in Atlanta. (Crime statistics provided by Wikipedia.)

Mezcal Bars

They say that with the first kiss of Mezcal you are introduced to it; with the third sip you fall in love. That’s true for me. Having never tried any type other than Tequila before arriving I both got to know and fell in love with the specialty drink.  If you haven’t already, check out my short primer on Mezcal to find out why I like it so much.

Okupa 205 – This bar is located along a quiet street in the Colonia Roma area. It’s not well marked and inside it looks like somebody opened a bar in their studio apartment for their friends and forgot to close the door. Small and intimate, with a jukebox to hold in high regard, packed with surf, old hip hop, early punk, etc.

They have a variety of Mezcals and beers, as well as cocktails. This includes standards like mojitos and others, plus some Mezcal cocktails. It’s the only place I’ve seen a lassi cocktail, and it’s fantastic!

Phil is the guy to talk to here. He’s got a passion for Mezcal, music and movies. He learned to speak English by watching old VHS tapes and listening to the Beatles.

Thursday they have 3 for 2 Mezcal. Wednesday is 50 pesos for any drink. Tuesday 2 beers for 50 pesos.

La Clandestina – This may be one of the best bars in the world! It’s incredibly popular with hipsters and the well-dressed Chilango set both. The wall behind the bar is filled with glass jars of Mezcal, from which portions of various sizes are sold. You can also buy the ones that are bottled for retail sale. Unfortunately my favorite, the Mezcagnac, isn’t among those for sale. In fact, about half of the varieties here aren’t for sale – they’re simply not made in quantities large enough to bottle and sell.

I’d say more about this place, but you need to experience it for yourself. Look for the place with no sign that’s too busy to get into with patrons spilling out onto the sidewalk enjoying craft brews and sipping Mezcal and you’ve found it.

Beer Bars

Mexico loves beer. That’s the conclusion I’ve drawn from the explosion over the last few years of craft breweries – up to 20+ now. And they turn out good beer with influence from around the world. This is increasingly replacing the giants like Corona and Modelo in bars and fridges around the country.

The Beer Box – “We wanted a place that doesn’t serve Corona,” the owner of the latest of the franchise store/bar told me. It has been very successful. Serving dozens of Mexican craft beers as well as about a hundred other beers from around the world, this place is a clean, modern spot to pick up some fine beers.

El Trappist – A beer bar for connoisseurs of Belgian style beers, as well as other fantastic brews from around the world. They also serve great meat and cheese platters.

Cafes

More than just coffee shops, cafes in Mexico City are as likely to be open at 1AM as 8AM. Many sell beer and wine alongside pastries and java. They’re a nice, quiet place to be at the end of the night with friends talking and enjoying the cool night air. This lends the city an European feel. Mexico City has quite a few local chains, as well as many independent coffee shops.

Cielito Querido – A Mexican chain that’s quickly become my favorite place to go for a caffeine fix, these are springing up in quite a few places. They make excellent coffees, as well as horchata – a cold Mexican drink made from sweetened rice, milk and nuts that has a slight melon flavor.

Cafebria El Pendulo – A combination coffee shop and bookstore with a few locations. On weekends local musicians play soothing tunes for brunch. Very classy places that make Barnes and Noble feel like Walmart.

Restaurants

La Cervecería de Barrio – More restaurant than bar, this chain has decent Mexican food and is always popular at night.

La Casa de Toño – Cheap, tasty eats.

Others

Cueva de Lobos – Cave of Wolves. It’s a loud rock and roll bar with live music upstairs and cheap beer buckets for sharing with friends.

Expendio de Pulques Finos – The jugs at the bar are some kind of fermented fruit drink. Don’t want to drink a lot of them but interesting nonetheless. 3 floors. Kinda reminds me of the places in Budapest that just take over an abandoned apartment and turn it into a bar.

Take a walk through the parks – Mexico city has many public parks. Why not have a nice stroll? Have a seat and watch others walking by, enjoy the cool breezes and chat with friends.

Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

Dylan Hard Rain

I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’

Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

-Bob Dylan “Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

Monsoon season in Korea is coming. Today is the official start. And it’s a hell of a thing, apparently.

Seoul Jazz At Club Evans

Club Evans SeoulJazz is an art form that, by all rights, should be forbidden to Korean artists. It’s expression of a spontaneous idea that cannot be either right or wrong. That’s the point. there is nothing off limits or teachable or expected. It’s pure creativity and expression. It’s the kind of thing most Koreans publicly disdain. But within the confines of jazz music…well as long as there are some confines I suppose it’s alright with society.

High school girls in Korea have a uniform. Not just a dress code they have a uniform way of standing, acting, cutting their hair. For a decade and a half they’ve been molded into a one-size-fits-all model of the female gender. So what did this one bring to the quintet of free expression, release from expectation and formality?

Sticklike other than the staccato nodding and hand movements, when came her turn to let loose she did so with abandon. (Relative abandon. This is Korea, after all.) Her foot stamped out the beat and stomped on the pedals; her knees bent and rocked back and forth, she took up a stance to play; her head banged as her hands belted out soulful and technical notes, working the bridge like weaving a loom.

The keyboardist, too, had a story. After the first duel against the drummer, he himself took up the sticks and drummed. While the main drummer was like a cat with a mouse – expertly toying with the thing, sure of his limits and its – the keyboardist was a kitten – unsure of his power and skill or the moves of the mouse, but pouncing around the way exuberant youth can.

This is Club Evans (map to location, because it’s hard to locate in English), probably the best known jazz bar in Seoul. You’d never know its nestled above a 7-11 in an unassuming little space. If it weren’t for the windows you’d mistake it for a basement in Brooklyn or someplace. Well maybe the clientele and artists would give it away too. This is Seoul, after all.