¿Say “Qué”? Adventures in Learning Spanish in Mexico

Our dogs now bark en español

I am pretty sure that taking Spanish lessons is a rite of passage (akin to a freshman hazing) that every long-term traveler in Latin America goes through. It seems like every blogger I know who has spent any chunk of time in this part of the world has wound up heading back to school in a bid to get a handle on the language, and in that respect Tony and I are no different.

Although we muddled through Asia and a good swath of Europe with just a handful of key phrases in the local language and then thanked our lucky stars that English is pretty much the de facto international language of travel, we knew we wanted to do things differently in Mexico. For one, we actually felt that Spanish was a language we had a halfway decent chance of becoming conversational (if not fluent) in. It doesn’t have tones or feature any sounds we can’t make or hear, uses an alphabet we can already read, and a lot of the words are pretty similar to English. Moreover, unlike Asia and Europe, we’re finally in a part of the world where, by and large, the language doesn’t change as we move from country to country. Since we intend to be here for a while, learning Spanish just makes sense; we figure the better we can communicate with locals in their mother tongue, the richer and deeper our experiences here will hopefully be.

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Where to Eat in La Peñita

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If you’re looking for authentic Mexican food at authentic Mexican prices, La Peñita is the place for you. For a coastal town, it’s very affordable and, near as we could tell, the food really hasn’t been gussied up or altered for gringo palates… largely because most tourists tend to base themselves elsewhere. During our month living there, we made it our mission to discover the best places to eat in town.

Of course, the downside to La Peñita not really being a tourism hot spot compared to many of its neighboring beach towns in the Riviera Nayarit is that there weren’t many resources to guide our culinary adventures through town; really the only way for us to figure out where and what to eat was through a lot of trial and error. There’s an old saying that you’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince, and I suppose the corollary for La Peñita, is that we ate A LOT of tacos (and a few other things too…) in our quest to find the best food there.

We ate at many of La Peñita’s restaurants (for a small town, food is clearly a priority, and it’s got a lot of places to eat), but I won’t pretend we ate at every one of them or that this is a definitive guide to the food scene in La Peñita. Rather, it’s a collection of the places that we homed in on during our time there and the ones we would recommend visitors or passers-through make a little stomach space for. If we were leading a food tour through La Peñita, these are the places we would take you to.

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Getting the Last Laugh at Bryce Canyon

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Iyanla Vanzant famously said that if you want to hear God laugh, then you only need to tell Him your plans.

Within hours of announcing that we would be leaving Minnesota for Mexico at the end of the week, foreboding weather forecasts inundated the local tv stations, heralding a winter apocalypse that would be sweeping across the U.S. and directly into our projected path.

Just as we had decided it was time to leave, it seemed the universe was telling us otherwise.

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This Mexican Life: Reflections on our First Month in Mexico

La Peñita, Nayarit, Mexico

This week marked two big milestones for us: We celebrated the eight year anniversary of the day we met, and we also happened to do it while marking one full month of location independence in Mexico.

As we quaffed icy cold beers and watched the sky bleed from cotton candy pink into a glowing fuschia, we remarked to one another that it’s crazy to think it was EIGHT YEARS ago that our lives intersected and consequently changed profoundly and irrevocably. All at once, it feels like the years have flown by and barely any time has passed. But it also feels like we are each other’s constant, like we’ve been together for way longer than “just” eight years, and it’s impossible to envision a world or a life in which the other person isn’t there.

In its own way, life in Mexico has been much the same. Logically, I know that we’ve been here for a month, but it feels like we’re only getting started. After a month here, I feel like we should have something insightful or, at the very least, decisive to say about Mexico.

Instead, all I really feel qualified to say unequivocally is that Mexico sure gets some pretty sunsets. Oh, and that there is, in fact, such a thing as too many tacos.

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Minds Blown in Moab

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

One of my favorite things about traveling is when we find ourselves somewhere that defies all attempts to describe it. Often these places are impossibly beautiful, but they also tend to be incredibly foreign and unabashedly unique as well. I always hold a special place in my heart for these places, the ones that are so singular that you could never mistake them for anywhere else on the planet. Their “otherness” befuddles and bewilders me, and as I attempt to reconceptualize a world in which they and everywhere else I have ever experienced exist in parallel to one another, I feel as though I am acutely aware of my mind expanding.

I can never predict in advance which places will cause my synapses to explode in sensory fireworks, but I have felt this way while wandering through the chaotic, colorful streets of Kathmandu, Nepal and the close, cluttered streets of Hanoi as cauldrons of soup bubble alongside women who support themselves by selling zippers and buttons amongst a steady stream of motorcycles. I have felt it while gazing out on the rolling rice terraces of southern China while diving alongside prehistoric behemoth bumphead parrotfish in Borneo and while wandering the remains of a mighty empire in Rome. These are places where a surprise exists around every corner, where the stories run deep and history is palpable. They make the world not only feel large, but limitless too, and they reignite my excitement to spend my life exploring and witnessing what our planet has to offer. Stumbling upon these kind of places is one of the things that makes a life of travel so rewarding for me.

Often it has felt that in order to have a brush with “the other”, we have to be physically as far from home as possible; our recent road trip through Utah, which we kicked off in Moab, was a great reminder that this need not be the case.

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