Playa del Carmen with the family

As many of my friends know, I am spending most of the summer in Mexico City, visiting my wife’s family. I have a few posts to write about some of the things I’ve done, so keep reading my blog later this week for more!

So far, most of the summer has been spent with me working, and small evening or weekend outings (you can see some pictures of those on my other site). For the first time in all the times we’ve come here, this year I decided to take the family on a jaunt elsewhere, away from Mexico City. Back in April of this year, and again in 2014, I went to Playa del Carmen in the Yucatán for a team meetup, so I thought that it would be fun to go back with the family, so my boys could see the beach and the Mayan ruins that I knew well. At the same time, I didn’t want to have to deal with “where are we going to eat” every day, so for the first time ever, we went to a relatively cheap all-inclusive hotel. It ended up working out pretty well!

Our first night there, we got there just in time for supper, and the pool was already closed, so we just hung out on the beach for a while after eating, enjoying the sound of the surf, and the starlit sky. Then, on our first full day there, we spent it on the beach and in the pool, with the occasional break for some food or a drink. It was pretty nice to have a full day of “nothing to worry about but food”. I don’t know if it was because of the particular day (Monday), or because of the risk of rain (we saw lots of rainclouds over the sea, out near Cozumel island, and rain too, but it didn’t end up coming our way), or whatever the reason was, it was pretty quiet that day. I was even able to take pictures of the beach and beach chairs, with hardly anyone around:


The next day was our adventure day! In April, we had done a private tour with Mayans’ Explorers, and it went really well for us, so I contacted them again to ask them for a tour for just us. It was easier this way than signing up with large groups of 20 or 30 people, and much more enjoyable and flexible.

We started at about 7am from the hotel, in one of the typical little tour vans of the area.  First on the agenda: a visit to Tulum. I had wanted to go to Tulum for as long as I could remember. The images of the ruins with the ocean right below the cliff always impressed me. However, it was already STUPID hot and humid by the time we got there around 8am, and and unfortunately, the access to the beach was closed. Oh well. My kids can come back on their own when they’re older. In any case, there was a lot of sargassum seaweed (the whole Mayan Riviera coast is suffering from an excess of it this year, as you may have spotted in some of my photos), so it wouldn’t have been all that great.

After we left the ruins, soaked in sweat, we went to a nearby beach for some snorkelling. We had hoped to see some turtles, but none were around. However, we saw lots of other fish, as well as some rays, and what looked like a barracuda. The boys enjoyed it a lot! I don’t have any photos of the scuba diving though, since we left our phones on dry land!

After scuba diving, we went to the Cobá ruins. It was super-hot again. However, our driver said “It looks like it might rain, do you want umbrellas?”..  No, no need, a bit of rain doesn’t hurt…

So we visited the first pyramid in Cobá, and the first “juego de pelota” (the classic Mayan ballgame court). Then, we rented bikes to go to the second pyramid, which is very steep but that you can climb all the way to the top. I went to the top in 2014. However, this time, my youngest son went up maybe 10 steps and said “Nope, nope, I’m going back down”, so I went down with him. That’s when a few drops started. “Just a few drops, not a big deal.” As you can imagine, those few drops became more and more, until it was really a downpour. My older son, meanwhile, had climbed all the way to the top with our guide; he got a good view, at least! Everyone climbed down; they were the last ones to reach the bottom. We all ran to a nearby small shelter, and waited out the rain. Except the rain didn’t stop. Soon the water started running in rivulets, and then streams, everywhere. Some tourists, with their blue plastic rain ponchos, were still going to the pyramid though; I guess they figured they had paid for it so they might as well go! I don’t any of them dared to climb it, however.

After waiting a while, our guide said “I don’t think this will stop any time soon”, so off we went to our bikes, water up to our ankles. It was a good 10 minute bike ride back to the entrance; what an adventure! Biking along in basically a river, under driving rain. I won’t forget it!


After we made it back to our van, soaked, we headed out to a local cenote, Multum Ha. We had to go deep underground to reach the water. The water was cool, refreshing, and crystal-clear. I loved the experience of swimming in it!

And that was the end of our adventure day in Playa del Carmen!


My first trip to Mexico

Today marks the 12th anniversary of my first trip to Mexico. I already covered some of the details of that experience previously, but I wanted to reiterate what a life-changing experience that trip was, and to write down for posterity some tidbits of what I remember from that trip.


Going to a Mexican university was quite different from from my Canadian university. For one thing, it’s huge, both in area and in the number of students. There were also other differences, such as:

  • the number of classes per semester. Back home, I was taking 4 classes at Concordia; 4-5 classes per semester was considered a full course load, so I registered for the same number at UNAM. It turns out that most students take 6 or 7 courses per semester for a full course load! I couldn’t understand how the students were able to take all those 3.5 hour courses and find time for homework assignments, travel time, home life, and often part-time work. Then, I found out why…
  • a 3.5 hour course was usually not a full 3.5 hours. I had one class in particular in which the professor would show up around 30 – 45 minutes late, the students would start showing up around 1 hour late, and then the class itself ended about 1 hour earlier than scheduled. Every single week.
  • For the Licenciatura (nearly equivalent to the Bachelor’s degree in Canada), one big difference was that to get the diploma, students need to write and publish a thesis paper. There were many, many printing shops near the University that catered to students who needed their thesis printed; I believe they needed to get several copies printed, to be deposited in the library, for example. At Concordia, and I suspect across Canadian universities, one only needs to complete the course requirements to get the Bachelor’s diploma.


While a student there, I went to several futból (soccer) matches, and even painted my face blue and gold once. I had never ever done anything like that before; being in a different country where no-one knew me previously allowed me some freedoms that I never felt I had. In any case, one amusing anecdote: I had a hard plastic water bottle that I carried around with me everywhere. When I tried to go to a match once, the security guards who searched my bag didn’t want to let me in to the Estadio with my bottle, lest I throw it on to the field or somehow used it as a weapon against fans of the opposing team (who were kept on the complete opposite side of the stadium with their own entrance, never to mingle with us Pumas). I feigned total ignorance of the prohibition on entering with any bottles or cans, and played my best fake “English-speaker who is barely able to string a few Spanish words together” accent. Being an obvious extranjero was a benefit, for once!


An albur is a pun, often if not usually sexual in nature. Whenever I went to the local market, I KNEW the butcher and the fruit salesmen were making fun of me, but I never could figure out what they were saying, really. Even to this day, I’m not sure what some double-entendres mean when I go to Mexico. Be wary of the laughing bus driver!


Speaking of buses, I really disliked taking them because most Mexico City buses are small, fast, and not the most organized; the bus drivers on a same route can be from different companies (or even individuals with their own bus), and so competition between drivers for passengers was sometimes fierce. Also, buses often took sudden detours, for what were (at least to me) inscrutable reasons. That’s why I liked the Metro so much: definite stops and lines!

I think I’ll stop there for today, but I’ll dig up and scan (yes, scan; no digital cameras or smart phones then!) some pictures from that trip for another post.



Today, we took a quick jaunt to the Cuilcuilco pyramid, which is well within the city limits now, south of the UNAM. To get there, we went to Etiopía metro, then took the Metrobus Line 2 and then switched to Line 1. The Metrobus was absolutely packed, our poor boys were squished between people, but by the time we got to Villa Olímpica, it was a bit better and were able to get off. The Cuicuilco pyramids lies but a short walk away from that station. For anyone else planning on going, I recommend taking the Metrobus from Félix Cuevas station instead, as  the new Line 12 station Insurgentes Sur is right there, so you avoid the traffic of the stations found farther north.

The Cuicuilco pyramid and surrounding complex was built sometime between 2,000 to 2,500 years ago in successive stages, and is circular in shape. There was previously another small pyramid nearby, which was demolished to make way for an office building, an unfortunate loss of Mexico’s archeological heritage. Around 1,700 years ago the nearby Xitle volcano erupted, covering a large area with lava up to 10 meters deep in places. This eruption forced the people living in the area to leave and abandon their city and pyramids, but the lava flow also served to protect and conserve the pyramids until the modern times.

Surrounding the pyramid is a nice green area with lots of cactus and other native vegetation. It made for a nice walk with the kids to discover all the rocks and insects and plants. Enjoy the pictures!

Ciudad Universitaria

In April of the year 2002, I embarked on an adventure that would change my life. I participated in a student exchange between my Montreal’s Concordia University and the UNAM in Mexico City. I was completing a Linguistics degree, but had several optional credits left to take. I had already made a couple of trips to Latin America and my Spanish was getting decent, and I was very interested in Latin American history, politics and economics (still am!). So after filling out the paperwork, applying for bursaries, getting a new passport, and getting a Mexican Student Visa, off I went! I spent almost 6 months in Mexico City, in the Estudios Latinoamericanos program at the UNAM, improving my Spanish as I went. Memorably, the ill-fated coup in Venezuela against Chávez happened just a few days after I arrived. The faculty of Filosofía y Letras (which is where I had my classes) became very active in preparing posters and protests and information about the coup, and local Mexican media also kept close tabs on the situation. I clearly remember that CNN, however, barely mentioned it, other than to mention how the U.S. recognized the new “interim” president.

Also memorable about my semester in Mexico is that I met my wonderful wife Reina there (well, here, as I’m actually in Mexico City right now). And now, 11 years and 2 wonderful boys later, we went for a visit back to C.U. (Ciudad Universitaria or the University City), the massive campus in the south of the city. The campus is a World Heritage Site, and for good reason. We did the same walk I used to do when I went to school there: we started at Copilco metro, and then walked to the Faculty of Medicine. There were hundreds of students flowing towards the metro; classes must have just let out for the day for them. The University is one of the biggest in the world in terms of enrolment, with over 330,000 students last year. We then walked to Las Islas (the Islands), the name given to a large green space near many of the main faculties. I took some pictures of the various murals found on many of the buildings, including the impressive murals on the Faculty of Medicine and the even more impressive murals on the four sides of the main Library building. Then, we did a quick tour visit to the gates of the Estadio Olímpico, the stadium which hosted the 1968 Olympic Games. A beautiful mural by Diego Rivera covers the one side of the stadium. I saw a few fútbol matches there when I was a student, and I will forever be a Puma at heart. I even painted my face for a match, and heartily sang the team song along with thousands of other Mexicans:


I had a lot of fun at the UNAM, and it was great to be able to visit again. I had planned on walking all the way back to metro Universidad to take some pictures of the large mural there as well, but the the clouds looked heavy with rain, as they are almost every evening at this time of year, so we hailed a taxi. Luckily we got one quickly, because it started pouring not more than one minute after we got in the taxi! Here are some pictures of our little tour of C.U.


Since I’m spending the summer in Mexico City visiting my wife’s family, I’ve had the occasion to eat at some good local restaurants, taquerías mostly. Today I wanted something a little bit more special, so I took the family out to a bit of a fancy place in Coyoacán, called el Corazón del Maguey.

El Corazón de Maguey

El Corazón de Maguey

We ate really well there, and the service was excellent. Ever since I went to Lisbon in February I love octopus, and when the waiter told me that they had octopus cooked with Mexican coffee and cocoa, I was sold, nevermind what else was on the menu. It was absolutely delicious!

Pulpo con Café y Cacao

Pulpo con Café y Cacao

I had read that this restaurant had hand-crafted Mezcal, so I asked for the drinks menu. After looking at it for a bit, the waiter came over and said “Here, try these two, they go well with the octopus”. And he was right. What a great salesman, because it didn’t take much to convince me to have a nice copa de mezcal, and, well, 1 turned into 3. The waiter really knew his Mezcal. He explained all about the different varieties and how they make them. I was very surprised by this: it turns out that one kind of mezcal is made by distilling it with fruits, and even more surprisingly, with raw chicken, turkey or pheasant breast! And thus, it is called Mezcal de Pechuga!

And now, back home after a nice walk around Coyoacán, getting soaked by rain again and escaping the rain by ducking into a nice ice cream and popsicle shop (I had Tequila ice cream, naturally), we finally made it back home. Dry, fed and tired,  I am now having some Mezcal de Pechuga that my mother-in-law had kept unopened for who knows how many years. And all is right in the world.

Mezcal de Pechuga

Mezcal de Pechuga

My only regret after this very pleasant day: that I didn’t bring my Jetpack team to this restaurant when they came to town last week. One of the perks of working for Automattic is that the different teams meet up, somewhere around the world, several times a year to work on projects and to get to know one another better*. I invited them to Mexico City since I was here already, and we had a great time (a post about the meetup is in the works), but I didn’t know about this restaurant then, and unfortunately, took them to the Sanborns right next door. I know, I know, Sanborns?! Right? What was I thinking?! 

In any case, today was a very good day, and I am going to bed content.

*As a distributed company, Automattic employees work everywhere around the world (my team-members live in Budapest, Uruguay, Maine, Seattle, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, North Carolina and New Mexico!). Because of this, face-to-face time is important.