Ciudad Colonial Santo Domingo

I went for a stroll around my hood today and took a few snapshots. The Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo is the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in the new world and so is the home of the first cathedral, the first university, the first commercial street and the first viceregal residence in the new world. The heat and the sun were diabolical… And I like travelling in hot places! Even with sunglasses on I was squinting and I only lasted about 90 minutes walking around and then I had to take refuge in the frozen foods section of a supermarket to escape the heat. I didn’t get to see a lot… I’ll give it another crack tomorrow!

Perhaps I’m getting tired and a little jaded at looking at Spanish Colonial architecture but for me, the historical significance of it being the first settlement in the new world is much more exciting than than the visual of it. While some of the buildings are certainly attractive, there’s a weird vibe in the city… I can’t quite put my finger on it, but just feels dodgy, which for me takes away from the overall impact of the city… And it lacks the energy and vibrancy of Havana or even Mexican cities. It’s only my first day here and there are many other parts to the city so I probably shouldn’t be too hasty in my judgements… But I will anyway… Whereas in Mexico, Cuba and Colombia I felt some kind of connection with the people, here I’m getting nothing.  I just feel like everyone wants to rob me.  But I’ve still got eight more days so we’ll see. Maybe it was just the heat of the day giving me “baked brain syndrome”.

Traveling in these parts as a single male traveller, you come across more than your fair share of pimps and prostitutes. Again comparing and contrasting Havana which probably has the highest amount of prostitutes and hustlers as a percentage of the population anywhere in the world… And on top of that, the city is decaying… But the Cubans have a toughness and confidence about them and somehow manage to take the crumbling city and all it’s hustlers and “own it” I’m not suggesting for a minute that any of them enjoy it and wouldn’t trade places for a better life in a heartbeat… Nor would I want to trade places with a Cuban… But from purely a superficial touristic point of view, it doesn’t seem so bad. Walking down Calle El Conde, a pedestrian only street and the main shopping street in the old city, in the middle of the day, it was just full of prostitutes and chintzy souvenir shops… But again just felt dodgy and a little weird.

They say that the world is your mirror and that the measure of mental health is the ability to see good in everything, so I hope I can come around and snap out of my negative first impression of the city.

Anyway here are some of the snaps I took. The first one is my street, Calle Hostos. I’m staying in the green building in the middle apartment.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor, the oldest cathedral in the new world, was begun in 1512 and finished in 1540. Because it was the first, it was built in a Gothic style. That’s not a bad thing but the later cathedrals in other parts of the Americas were built in a Renaissance or Baroque style which for me has more visual impact.

The Alcazar de Colon, the oldest Viceregal residence in the Americas…

Calle El Conde…

 And some other random shots…


Hangin’ in Puebla

I shaved today. It was the first time in about a week. With the combination of travelling, late nights and not shaving, I was starting to look less like a well-worn traveller and more like a vagabond that had just climbed out of a dumpster. I felt it was the right time. That’s another one of the cruelties of getting older. If you’re young and you don’t shave, you’re a hipster. If you’re Latin American and you don’t shave, well… you just look Latin American. But if you’re middle aged and don’t shave, you just look homeless.

I went down for breakfast and had a chat with Andres. He proudly announced that as of Monday, the Sacristy of Solitude will be a full house!! Woohoo… THREE GUESTS!! Rock the house!! Anyway, I just ended up having a coffee and no food. I usually lose weight when I go away overseas… But it ain’t happenin’ in Mexico! I thought I’d better ease up on the enchiladas and chilaquiles and just have some fruit when I go out.
As it happens the word “papaya” (as in the fruit) is also slang for “vagina” here in Mexico. I headed down to the Zocalo and you can imagine my delight when I came across this guy…

Suddenly… The only fruit I wanted to eat was papaya and all I wanted to do was practice every Spanish sentence I knew using the word “papaya”…
“I want papaya… 

Please, give me papaya… 

Lots of papaya…

I want a very big papaya…

I love eating papaya…

Papaya is delicious”

It’s the small things in life.

I spent most of the day just hanging around the hood. There are a lot of school kids in Mexico learning English. It seems the standard English lesson is to get the kids to write a whole bunch of questions and then send them out on the streets to go and find gringos, interview them and video the interviews. It’s an easy lesson for the teacher and judging by the amount of grammatical mistakes, they don’t even check their work. I noticed them in DF when I was there last year, but here in Puebla there are swarms of them. I was happy to help but I ended up answering A LOT of questions. One of my interviews was with these star students…


They had prepared a very extensive list of about 17 000 interview questions including an in-depth sub-section of “What’s your favourite..(insert anything and everything imaginable) ?” They’re destined to become talk show hosts I think. I gave it my best shot but towards the end of it my favourite things just became “what”, “God” and “fuck”.

What’s your favourite shoe? … What?

What’s your favourite decoration? … Oh, God!

Whats your favourite bean? … Oh fuck!

But don’t worry… I don’t think they actually understood any of my answers.

These guys had written a conversation about organising a party and wanted me to help them with pronunciation. Another easy lesson for the teacher… “Teacher please help me with pronunciation.” “What?  Go get a gringo to do it.”


After that I went to Puebla Cathedral and had a look around. It’s certainly a stunning piece of architecture. The exterior is not that amazing but the interior is. Apparently it was the first Baroque Cathedral built in the Americas. It’s the second largest in Mexico but the bell towers are the tallest.
Still not feeling Catholic enough after my stint in the Cathedral, I thought I’d better have a look at the exhibition of the 500th anniversary of the birth of the Saint,Teresa of Avila.  

They had volunteer guides in there and a very knowledgeable gentleman took me around. I lot of the talk involved the names and numbers of bishops, popes, cardinals and saints and so largely went in through one ear and out the other. I thought it was odd though when we were looking at paintings and sculptures of Teresa, that about three times he said, “Look she has no pimples.” Like… Is that a criteria for being canonised? 

There was one sculpture … well, actually, just a photo of the sculpture, the original is in Florence… which depicts the moment that Teresa was stabbed with a flaming arrow. The guide’s English was very good but I thought it was funny when he described this moment. He said that “Teresa had felt so much pain and so gay.” … Huh? What? Of course he meant pain and happiness but I got a giggle out of it for about a second.

Next it was off to another first, The Biblioteca Palafoxiana, the first library in Latin America. It’s right behind the Cathedral. You couldn’t look at any books, obviously, but the interior was stunning.

A bit of street food next… I couldn’t quite catch the name of this one but it was corn kernels and chicharron cooked in a bit of a light broth with chilli and lime. It was sensational!!

The rest of the time was just spent wandering around taking some happy snaps and soaking up the atmosphere of this beautiful city… and then back to the Sacristy of Solitude getting ready, preparing myself to take on Puebla’s nightlife!

Day 2 Guadalajara

The day after the day after…


You always feel worse the second day after something than the first day. You’re usually still buzzing from the event the night before so you feel ok… But it’s the second day when everything is out of your system that you come crashing down. I can only guess it was the thrill of Delta flight 573 that kept me going all day yesterday. Today was a vastly different story. Absolutely no energy what-so-ever. I spent most of the day vegetating in my bed listening to music in my little secret rooftop loft hideaway. I made about 27 attempts at getting up and was eventually successful at around 2.30 pm. That’s the latest I think I’ve gotten up since the nineties. But I keep telling myself: IT’S OK… IT”S A HOLIDAY!

By the way, this is what my cozy rooftop loft looks like..

I got up and went downstairs and had a chat to Miguel, the architect who designed and built this place…

He’s a really nice guy and like all Mexicans, very friendly. Even though he says he’s unemployed, he seems to be continually running around doing one thing or another. Amongst other things, he said that for the past three years he and bunch of mates have been working on a proposal which they hope to sell to the government on how to centralise and improve Guadalajara’s public transport system. I may have misunderstood but from what I did understand, it’s just an idea that they’re hoping to sell. They’re not actually designing or proposing to build new subway lines or bus routes. They’re just coming up with an idea. Hmmm… Three years just to come up with an idea. I don’t know. Make your own judgements on that one.

After that I decided to give the dice another roll and go and find a hair dresser to get my hair cut. I know what you’re all saying… “Martin, you’ve been disappointed more times by foreign hairdressers than fat women have been disappointed by Jenny Craig. And yet you keep trying. Why do you continue to do it to yourself?” I know but I was desperate. I suddenly hated my hair and couldn’t live with it any longer. Hair, be gone! But actually, one thing that really stands out here is what gorgeous hair all Mexicans have and that all Mexican guys (well, most anyway) have REALLY COOL haircuts. So I figure the odds are in my favour. Anyway, I went for a wander ’round my ‘hood, ’round the downtown area and the Centro Historico but couldn’t find any hairdressers. Eventually I gave up (took it as a sign) and just plonked myself down in front of the Guadalajara Cathedral and watched the world go by for a while.

A lot of places in the downtown area pipe out music. It’s all really cheesy, old style romantic, Latin music but strangely I loved it!

Next, it was time for lunch. A deliciously comforting pozole verde…

And that was my day!!  Back to my rooftop hideaway for more hibernation and contemplation.

I’m toying with the idea of making the pilgrimage to Tequila tomorrow for the day (the town , that is, not the bottle. Although I’m sure the bottle will make a starring appearance) … But it involves early morning wake-ups and busses so we’ll see.

Stay tuned!