Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Two Dates and a Churro


The last time I was in Seoul I was supposed to go on a date with a cute Korean guy named Sam. Sam was Korean born but studied Engineering at UC Berkley and spoke perfect English. He was tall and handsome and reminded me of Daniel Henney from Criminal Minds.

Daniel Henney

 I had been at a shrine meditating, making delicate paper cranes as a lesson in patience & participating in a tea ceremony all day. On the way home to change my clothes, I fell asleep on the train and missed my stop. When I woke up I was in an entirely different town, over an hour away. We tried to reschedule, but the timing was never right and I ended up leaving South Korea before we got a chance to hang out. Even though we never went on our date, we stayed friends on Facebook.

I recently found out that Sam got engaged to a woman who looks like she could be my sister. She is the Great Value version of me; Not as tall, and booty not as big. But good for them, discounts are great. Enjoy your Apple Dapples til death do you part.

I may have missed my date with Sam, but everything happens for a reason. If the universe wanted us to go on that date, it would have made it happen. 

I guess I believe in being in the right place at the right time and it seemed as though the universe was aligning things in my favor on my Mexico trip.

On my third morning there, I packed my bags and checked out of my room. Aaron and I took an Uber to pick up James at his hostel and then the three of us went to the airport to rent a car and start our day trip to Puebla.


A photo I took in Puebla

Puebla is a small town, a little over an hour outside of Mexico City and it's also the birth place of molé sauce. We had an amazing lunch and then browsed the local shops. James helped me pick out a handmade Huipil, a simple white cotton dress, embroidered with red, yellow and pink thread around the neck and sleeves and then we walked through the town square together. While Aaron was deciding on which hand painted sugar skulls to purchase, James pulled me to the side. 
Huipil dress
You know that dinner I’m going to tonight?”

I played dumb but I knew exactly what dinner he was talking about. He was referring to his date with the mystery woman that he, Aaron and Huey had met a few nights before.

I vaguely remember you and Aaron talking about it last night”.

James looked over his shoulder to make sure Aaron couldn’t hear us. “I think I can get another reservation, but I can only get one. I’d really like it if you’d come.”



It’s about a $150 per person,” he continued, "but it’s at one of the most prestigious restaurants in the world. It’s gonna be worth it.”

At first I was hesitant because of the price. But then I reasoned that I only had 2 more days left in Mexico and had not spent a lot of money thus far. Up to this point, my hostel had been around $9 a night, and I was spending less than $20 a day on meals and transportation combined.



I’d love to go.”

As we drove back to Mexico City the scenery switched from green farmland to hilly and tropical. Stacked high in the hills, you could see the colorful houses from the highway. The sky was the prettiest shade of light blue and the hot sun beamed into the car as it peaked out behind the clouds. I unwrapped my shawl from my shoulders and let the sun tan my skin through the windows.


Mexico City from the highway
The three of us took turns being Aux cord DJs. Aaron, out of respect for being a Toronto native, played Drake. I sang along to Sia, and James put on some Michael Bublé. Hearing him sing “I just haven’t met you yet” slightly off key, as we sped into the city limits, was almost the best part of my day.

On our way to drop off the rental car, we stopped at a traffic light where a young boy on the corner was selling bottled water. James motioned for the boy, who couldn’t have been over 10 years old, to come over. He reached into his pocket and gave him a handful of pesos. When the boy tried to give him change and the bottled water, James told him, “No, esto es para ti.” This is for you.

I quietly ovulated in the passenger seat

Seeing the gap toothed smile on the young boy’s dark brown face was definitely the best part of my day.

We parted ways with Aaron at the airport and ordered an Uber to head to dinner.

During the ride, James answered text messages on his phone. Without looking up he asked, “Have you seen Chef’s Table on Netflix?”

It’s on my list of things to see,” I replied as we moved through traffic. I watched vendors shutting down their elote carts for the evening, just as I had on my first night in town.

That’s how I heard of Pujol. It’s ranked the 17th best restaurant in the world.  We’re in for a treat!” James said excitedly.


Pujol
By the time we arrived, the sun had gone down, but the temperature outside had not yet relented. We entered a dark building, first through a heavy glass door and then through an even heavier brass door. A man in a very nice suit then led us to our table as the room buzzed with soft chatter and smartly dressed people ate their dinner.

Quietly following the host to our table, I became acutely aware of my appearance.

I don’t know what it is about traveling in a car all day, but it makes me sweaty. Even if I’m just sitting in one spot, rapping to Drake songs, I end up sticky. Luckily I didn’t smell like I had worked in a field all day, but I definitely felt like it. My face was glistening, my hair was not as smooth as it had been when we left for Puebla that morning and my dress was wrinkled from sitting in the car.

Thank God the lights were low and candles were placed strategically throughout the restaurant. Maybe nobody would notice how disheveled I was.

But as luck would have it, waiting patiently at our table was one of the most attractive women in the restaurant. She was dressed in a dark sapphire blue dress with a plunging neckline that served as a beautiful contrast to her sun kissed complexion. Silver drop earrings daintily hung from her ears, peaking out from behind her thick shiny hair, occasionally sparkling in the candlelight. She looked like she used expensive conditioner, routinely got her ends trimmed and didn’t need to own a vibrator.

James hugged the beautiful woman and then sat down to my left, leaving me to sit directly across from her. 

Mary this is my friend TK.”

Thanks for letting me join you tonight.” I smiled.

Mary looked unimpressed.


I distinctly got the feeling she didn’t want me there but she quickly snapped out of it and put on a pleasant smile.


Thanks for coming. Should we order?”

With my hand, I tried to smooth down my edges and pull my shawl over my car-tanned shoulders. I must have looked like I grew up in a trailer park eating twinkies and drinking whole milk with strawberry syrup for breakfast.

Imagine going to dinner with Keegan Michael Key and Lucy Liu and feeling like Celie from The Color Purple. I use Lucy Liu as a reference, because unfortunately we don’t have enough Asian representation in the media, but Mary is actually Filipino and Lucy Liu is Han Chinese. 
They don’t even favor one another, but my point is that both women are stunning and I felt anything but glamorous in that moment.

Truth be told, I don’t think Mary felt so great in that moment either, but I had a feeling it wasn’t for the same reason.

Both Mary and James ordered a drink and we placed our orders from the menu. The waiter brings a beautiful yellow cocktail to the table and sits it down in front of James.

Wow, this is really great. Would you like to taste it?” James hands me the glass.

I sip the drink slowly before handing it back to him. It was lemony but not too sweet.

Mary looks from me to James. 



Umm, can I try it too?”

Of course.” James quickly hands her the drink.

Lord, this was getting awkward. I'm just sitting there like, 



Next up was our 6 course meal. You were allowed to choose one item from each Roman numeral. We decided to each pick something different so that we could all try as many things as possible.


Our Menu
For the first course I ordered chicharron because I had tried it in Peru and it was lovely. Mary ordered the chicken skin with escamole and James ordered the chicatana. When the plates arrived, we split the dishes between us.

I looked at the food presented before us and everything seemed small and foreign. Well everything except for the hollowed out gourd in the center of the table, that had white smoke rising from it.



The waiter explained what the dishes were. The gourd contained ants that were smoked right out of the ground and straight into the gourd where they were seasoned and further steamed to tenderness. 
Chicatana smoked ants in a gourd

The escamoles were edible ant larvae, harvested from the roots of the Agave plant. 


Esacamole

Ya'll that is not a typo. James AND Mary had both ordered ANTS. Talk about farm to table. First it was brain tacos and now this! In my mind I was like, “You can have him sis. You guys can cruise the world, and eat at Netflix restaurants in fancy dresses. I’m going to get $2 mystery meat street empanadas after this.”


 I was THISCLOSE to calling it quits after the waiter's explanation, but I had already paid my money for the evening. 

I can’t say that it got much better from there guys. At least not for me. Our waiter brought some forest green tortillas with the next course.


I tore off a little piece and started to chew. 

Then I just sat there for a moment trying to figure out what I was tasting.

This tastes like Neosporin.”




Mary tried so hard not to laugh out loud that she nearly snorted.  What did you say?”

I cleared my throat. “These tortillas have a… medicinal quality to them.”

She giggled, but after that comment, she seemed to open up to me a little more.

I felt bad because I was thousands of miles away from home, at the 17th best restaurant in the world, with two amazingly sexy dinner dates and all I wanted was a slice of pizza.

But I hung in there and tried those small portioned, weird ass fancy foods. I was proud of myself for trying something new.

The final course, our dessert, came to the table and it wasn’t awful. It was a long circular churro, some Mexican hot chocolate and mint ice cream that looked like sea foam.


A warm cinnamony churro

I watched Mary slide her spoon into the foamy concotion. When the waiter brought over a bottle of champagne with a card.


Foamy mint ice cream with chocolate flakes
Mary was surprised and quickly read the card to herself before paraphrasing  and disclosing it's contents to us. Apparently some guy she knew in town was smitten with her, but I got the idea that she wasn't into him. Must be nice, getting bottles in international area codes while you're on a date with a hot guy you just met and his dusty travel buddy.

I could tell that Mary and James dined like this a lot and even though I felt very out of place I was okay with how the evening was going. I realize this was an experience I'd never forget, and I was thankful for it.

The three of us ended up going to very nice hotel bar where James knew the bartender. We met up with Aaron, Jimmy and Huey who had just come from a luchadores (Mexican wrestling) match. 

I asked James to pick a drink for me, since he's the bartending expert, but it ended up tasting like mouthwash. I suppose that was a good way to get the last bit of Neosporin taste out of my mouth though.

Whisky & a side of crickets 
The 5 of us spent the night laughing & drinking until 3 in the morning. Mary had loosened up considerably and was actually a very sweet and funny person. I guess I can't really blame her for how she acted when we first arrived to Pujol. I'd be pissed if a guy brought someone on our date too. 

It was Mary and Jimmy's last night in town so we did a round of shots for them before everyone dispersed for the night.

From left to right, in order of importance (lol just kidding): Huy, James, Jimmy, Aaron, Mary, and I


I only had one more night left in Mexico and I was excited to see what it would bring.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Comiendo My Way Through Mexico


Once upon a time, my boyfriend and I returned home from Honolulu and watched an episode of The Best Thing I’ve Ever Ate where they showed these amazing little choux pastries from a bakery called Beard Papa. The only one in the US at the time was in Waikiki, and it was right down the street from the hotel we stayed in. I was big mad that I had missed out on those little sweet balls of perfection. Later that summer they opened a location in Manhattan and while we were on his annual family trip to New York, I was determined to get some. I begged my boyfriend to rent bikes with me in Central Park for the day and he thought we were going to take a leisurely bike ride.

WRONG

You ever see Robin Thicke's first music video, before he cut his hair, started doing white lines and cheating on his wife? Before fame changed him? That was us. Riding 45 blocks, Robin Thicke style though rush hour traffic in the sweltering August heat to get puff pastries. Cocaine Sugar is a hell of a drug.

Almost missing out on the perfect pastry is what made me start planning more detailed itineraries before venturing on international trips. But true to form, I didn’t even book a place to stay until I touched down in Mexico City. Luckily I picked a hostel with people that were:

1. Not killers
2. Well traveled 
3. Had already planned itineraries and didn’t mind if I tagged along with them

Also, it was the only hostel that had rooms available.

Day 1 – Mexico City


That morning I came out the bathroom after brushing my teeth to find Huey sitting on one of the plush velvet couches in the common area.

I’m so hungry.” He looked at me with a Save-the-children-for-a-dollar-a-day-face. “Want to get breakfast?”

I checked my phone and James hadn’t texted me to go to the ATM yet, so I agreed.

I’ve studied Spanish since middle school, and even minored in Spanish Language and Literature in college, so I wasn’t too worried about communicating in Mexico. I’m not fluent by any means, but I can understand most of what is said to me if people speak slowly and I can reply in Spanglish in most cases. It was at breakfast where I found out that Huey, despite living in Texas, aka Northern Mexico, was not as gifted with the Spanish language.

We saw a bunch of people dressed in business clothes, probably on their way to work, going into a small eatery, so we decided to follow them. Locals will almost always lead you to good food. Huey looked at the menu on the wall and mulled over what he was going to order. The line was growing exponentially behind us and people were becoming impatient. As I was scrolling through Instagram Huey tapped me on the shoulder and asked,

How do you say, ‘I want the same?”

Just say, lo mismo.”

I looked up from my phone and placed my order, three carne en adobo tacos and an orange fizzy drink, when I noticed the lady behind the counter loading a bunch of tortillas onto a cafeteria tray covered with wax paper.

Did you mean to get that much food?”

I told the lady to give me what the man in front of us got. How much food did I order?"

I looked over Huey’s shoulder. “I’m pretty sure that man ordered tacos for his entire family. I think he ordered like 19 tacos,” I laughed.

Muchos Tacos
After we ate the 22 glorious tacos, with a side of bright green salsa and guacomole that was made right in front of our eyes, we headed back to the hostel.

When we got there, James was waiting out front and introduced us to Jimmy and Benji from Australia. The five of us headed to La Lagunilla, a famous flea market in the area. The market is massive and has sections that sell clothing, furniture and food.

Jimmy & I drinking Jugo
James picked up some multi-colored papel picado. He explained how the generations of men in his family come together to make tamales once a year, and he was going to take these home to Denver to decorate for the occasion. He haggled with some Mexican ladies over spices and Jimmy and I ordered some freshly squeezed orange juice from a stand before we sat down to a lunch of grilled chicken huaraches.

The vendors make everything in front of you, kind of like they do at hibachi style Japanese restaurants in the United States.  Everyone is busy buying their daily groceries and house wares, and in the middle of the chaos you sit down and get to know each other over sizzling hot food, with the aroma of adobo circling around you. Despite the fast pace of the flea market, it felt like we were eating a family dinner at our own little oasis. 

After lunch we took a subway train to the trajineras. Trajineras are like the Mexican equivalent of gondolas in Venice, Italy but with some exciting differences. First you pick your boat and tell them how long you want to be on the river. We decided on a 2 hour trip.  Next you cruise the canals and people watch while a Mariachi band serenades your family and friends. There are even concession trajineras, were you can order authentic Mexican dishes and drinks right from their boat to yours. 



It’s a great way to get to know each other too. Our crew of 5 international strangers became better acquainted. We shared tales of the greatest places we had traveled.

I heard of this town close to Mexico City that has a big Day of the Dead festival and the entire town participates,” James said excitedly. “They have a parade and everyone dresses up and goes to mass at the church. They decorate the graves of their ancestors in the church graveyard and they make special food for everyone to try.”

Seeing the light in James eyes as he described the town’s traditions made me want to take the journey with him.

I’ll go wherever you go. I mean, *cough cough* Sounds cool. I’m down.

Huey looked at me like…


Maybe I’ll get my face painted too,” I added nonchalantly.


After the trajineras, James took us to a bar that served alcoholic drinks made with marigolds, the traditional flower used to decorate alters and graves during Dia de los Muertos. We were sitting on the side of the road after getting our flower drinks, and we heard a large pop, like a car backfiring, followed by a bunch of yelling.

Apparently a car had stopped working and was stuck in the middle of the road. James jogged over to the light blue punch buggy, spoke to the driver in Spanish and then started pushing the car from behind to help the driver get out of the street. As I watched James be so altruistic my ovaries swelled. The Australians went over to help too. Huey, who had just ordered a snack from a street vendor, stood up and watched them push the car for a bit before sitting back down. I’m pretty sure I saw the exact moment he changed his mind about helping. He looked over at me, rolled his eyes and took a bite of his food.

When we got back to our hostel. James, Huey and the Australians went out to a local club. I decided to spend the night in because I was physically exhausted from catching trains and being out in the sun all day. Plus I was mentally exhausted from remembering how to conjugate verbs in Spanish.

I sat on the velvet couches while listening to the same 50 songs I’ve had on my phone for the last 3 years and ended up making friends with a wonderful black woman from Michigan. Two black people in 2 days! Lori invited me to go to the pyramids with her the next day.



Day 2 - Teotihuacan



The next morning, I invited James to accompany Lori and I to the pyramids but he had already made other plans. He promised to message me when he was finished exploring so we could do something that evening.

Have you seen Huey? Maybe he wants to come with us?”

Huey woke up early and went to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum. I think he’s meeting up with a girl we met last night too."

Ok Huey. I see you!


Lori had just finished serving in the Peace Corps and had a few days of vacation before she returned back to Michigan to finish her doctoral degree. Lucky for me, she was fluent in Spanish and I didn’t have to mentally exhaust myself over verb tenses for the day. I ordered an uber and in perfect Spanish, she gave exact directions to the driver. The uber was only about $14 for a 45 minute ride to the pyramids. We walked around the historical site in the hot sun and climbed what felt like 11 million stairs to the top of the biggest pyramid.


Okay we tried to climb it and failed. We made it half way and then climbed a smaller pyramid and took pics for Instagram. We haggled with vendors on the grounds and I bought a woven blanket and some silver bracelets for my little cousin back home. Then we bought some paletas from an ice cream cart and took a coach bus back to Mexico City.

I’m going to meet some Peace Corps friends for dinner. What are you doing later?”

First thing first, I’m going to take a nap. But after that I’ll probably meet up with James. Maybe we’ll grab dinner?”

He’s really cute. You like him don’t you?” Lori smiled at me like you smile at your friend when you know they have a crush on someone.


I thought about it for a second. “It honestly didn’t cross my mind until you said something just now. Thanks a lot Lori,” I frowned. “Now I’ll probably have a crush on him and daydream about what our children are going to look like.”

Sorry not sorry. At least they’ll be cute bilingual bebes.”

Xiochimilco.”

"What?"

Xiochimilco…it’s the name of the train stop we got off at, to get on the trajineras. We’ll name our first daughter that. And our son will be James the 3rd."

Lori laughed and shook her head. “Be safe tonight, but have fun.”

We hugged goodbye.

I plugged in my phone next to my bed and texted James. He quickly replied with the address to a café near Zocalo Square.

I have a portable charger. Just bring your phone cord and you can charge your phone here with me.”

Ladies and Gentlemen: Welcome to millennial romance.

I’m not a coffee drinker so I didn’t know what to get. James ordered an affogato (a shot of espresso with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it) for me and we shared his scone. We talked about our families and what we did for a living. James managed of one of the busiest bars in Denver, Terminal Bar at Union Station.

The next time I come to Denver, I’ll stop by your bar.”

You’ll have a place to stay too. You’re always welcome. Speaking of places to stay, I’m checking out of the hostel tonight because they don’t have any beds left. Are you staying there your entire time in Mexico?”

I actually need to book my last 2 nights,” I remembered.

Well come and stay with me at my new hostel. It's not far from here, has free breakfast, and it got really great reviews on Trip Advisor."

Chris Brown’s Kiss Kiss started playing in my head...

He want that lovie-dovey. 
That kiss kiss, kiss kiss. 
In his mind, he fantisize 
‘bout getting with meeeeeee.” 

He asked me to change hostels for him. Maybe Lori was on to something.

"I’ll walk you back to the hostel," James offered.

In the courtyard next to the café there was a band playing hip hop with live instruments and a teenager breakdancing to the music. A huge group of people crowded around him, cheering and clapping as he danced. James, who is maybe 6’2 stood behind me, in a protective manner as we watched with the rest of the crowd. Standing there, so close together, I felt, happy and slightly light headed. Maybe I had a crush on James after all. Of course it could have been the caffeine and sugar from the affogato too. I’m not a coffee drinker.

After the crowd started to thin out, we continued to the hostel. A guy that apparently knew James noticed us and sprinted over. Because of his height and glasses, he sort of reminded me of Harry Potter.

Hey are you guys hungry? I was just about to go find something to eat.”

The way to my heart is food and one of the sweetest things a guy has ever said to me is, ‘Are you hungry?'

"Nice to meet you,” I introduced myself.  

Nice to meet you, TK. I’m Aaron."

James had seen a taco bar on Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations that was close to our hostel so we looked up the address on Google and headed in that direction. As we were walking, Aaron asked what we had planned for tomorrow.

Aren’t you going out with that girl we met last night?” He asked James.

Yea we have plans to attend a special dinner. Its at a top rated restaurant that I’ve read about.”

She was hot. Is she single?”

I don’t know. I didn’t ask her.”

I felt a little less light headed after Aaron mentioned James’ date with the mystery woman. Or maybe the caffeine and sugar were starting to wear off.

The taco bar was literally a hole in the wall with lights hanging from the ceiling and big silver pots of marinated meat bubbling in front of us. It smelled heavenly. We couldn’t translate all the menu items so we tried using the Google translate app where you hold up the camera on your phone to foreign words, and it translates them into English.


I highlighted a word. "Nah fam, this can't be right. I think my app is broken."

Aaron used his phone to scan the word. "It says brains."

Fresh BRAIN TACO?! Yea I’m good on that.”

James cracked a sideways smile. “How about we make a deal? I try it first, and then you try it too.”

It was hard to say no to this man. He was so adorable.

Aaron interjected, “Maybe if they fry the brain, it won’t be so bad.”

And so that night, I was like Nicki Minaj on the track MonsterEating brains, except without the gold teeth and fangs. I guess that would make James, Jay Z and Aaron would be Kanye West. 

Truthfully, it wasn’t bad. In addition to the brains, we tried cheek tacos and tongue tacos too. Everything was chopped up and seasoned so well that you couldn’t even tell that it was body parts you weren’t used to eating. I decided that I could survive the zombie apocalypse as long as I had a good stash of seasonings.

It was almost 1AM so we finished our inexpensive but satisfying meal and headed back to the hostel for the night. James caught a taxi to his new hostel and we made plans to meet up early the next morning and take a day trip to the town of Puebla together. It was only day 2 of my trip and I was becoming an experienced itinerary crasher.


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Made In Mexico

Apparently my friend’s fiancé thinks I’m a ho.

I once found a really great flight deal to Rio de Janeiro and asked a friend if she wanted to join me. She took a few days to respond and then told me she couldn’t make it. A few months later she confessed that her fiancé didn’t want her to go. He was worried that if we traveled together, I would convince her to sleep with random men.

Now there’s no denying that Rio is full of good-looking guys with cute accents and tight soccer bodies. And yes, some of them are just waiting to catch you when you trip on your beach sarong and impregnate you on the sands of Copacabana as a live samba band plays in the background. But this is why stereotypes can be dangerous: Plenty of them don’t even play soccer.

Honestly, I was truly shocked that her fiancé would think I’d get her into trouble and racked my brain to figure out why. I urge my friends to take solo trips and at the very least to eat their steaks medium, but I have never encouraged them to cheat. If I could get people to have affairs, that weren't already planning on doing so, I'd have a lot more money in the bank than I currently do. Coercing someone into having an affair against their will has got to be a marketable service to opponents of people running for public office or those who have signed air tight prenupts.

The most deviant thing I’ve done lately is eat in bed, and it wasn’t even off of someone’s naked body

I’ve been on vacations, I’ve been on work-cations, but I have never gone on a trip with the sole purpose of hocationing. Of course between you and I, I would definitely do some deviant things to Jason Momoa if he politely requested me to. If he dressed as Khal Drogo in a loin cloth, with body paint smeared across his chest, he wouldn’t even have to ask. However, to the dismay of dudes who occasionally slide into my Instagram DMs, I am in fact, not a ho. Or at least not as much of a ho as they’d like me to be, since being a ho is subjective. As Kendrick Lamar so eloquently stated, “There’s levels to this”. 

How Kahl Drogo convinces me to do just about anything 
Looking back, I do remember telling my engaged friends about one crazy drunk night I had after the Chicago Auto Show. I suppose after telling that story, I became somewhat of a travel liability. But wild boozy nights are not really my thing. Besides, after JC stopped talking to me, I told myself I wouldn’t date anyone for a while. Mexico City had other plans for me though.

When I arrived at the airport, I was so excited to be in Mexico that I almost didn’t feel tired after traveling for 12 hours. I was still floating on a cloud from my sweet goodbye with Hot Passenger and slightly buzzed from our shots of tequila. When I got into my Uber and headed towards the hostel, I gulped in my surroundings like a large glass of water. From a stoplight I watched an older man closing down his elote cart for the evening and I started to anticipate all the amazing food I was going to try over the next 4 days.

We drove past Zocalo Square and it was nearly dead except for dozens of candlelit trajineras and a few party goers on their way home from clubs. Windows of weathered stone buildings were darkened, the cobble stone streets were littered with confetti and papel picado zigzagged from light post to light post.

It was the first night of Dia de los Muertos. 


Papel Picado, paper banners hanging
from building to building


Trajineras are like party/eating boats that hold a lot of people.
Most of the restaurants in the Zocalo district were closed for the night but there was a pizza place near the hostel with a convenient store attached. In my rusty Spanish, I ordered a cheese pizza and then walked around the convenience store while I waited for it to be ready. In the snack aisle next to the Takis and pulparindo, I met some guys with their faces painted like sugar skulls.

Wow your makeup is so amazing. Where did you get it done?

The guy with red and white paint around his eyes told me, “You can get your face painted almost everywhere since it’s the start of the holiday.” He sounded like he was from France.

”, his tall friend added, “A woman in the hostel lobby was charging only 200 pesos. I think that’s about 10 American dollars. You’re American right? You sound American.”

Whenever I travel to a new country, most people don’t guess that I’m from the US right away. Many assume that I’m a dark skinned Afro-Latina from anywhere in between Panama and Brazil. Once, some nuns in Rome even asked me if I was from Sri Lanka. To their defense, I had a fresh Dominican blow out that made my silky hair blow in the wind like Beyonce with a fan pointed in her direction. When people from other countries think of (North) Americans, they think of white people. They don’t think of Black women with natural hair and American accents. They don’t think of me.

I am from the United States,” I smiled. “Is it okay if I take your photo?”

As long as you take one with us!”

The nice gentleman I met at the c-store that night 
You are staying at our hostel, no? We saw your afro in the lobby when you came in.” He patted the air around his hair with his hands.

Black people subconsciously do this thing where we count the number of other black people we see when we’re out in public. We’re even more likely to do this if we’re in a foreign place, or a place where we’re sure there aren’t going to be a lot of us to begin with. I hadn’t seen any other black people that night and I guess they hadn’t either.

We took our food back to the hostel and the face painted gentlemen shared their Tecate with me. They introduced me to some beautiful French women who were language teachers, a fashionable Japanese girl named Sariko and a quiet Vietnamese American guy named Huey. After the Tecate had run through me, I went to the bathroom and when I came back, there was a Black guy sitting on the couch next to Sariko.

So there are two of us in this town now I thought to myself.

He looked stressed out.

Are you ok? Do you want a slice of pizza?

When did I turn into my mother?

He closed his eyes and let out a long sigh.

Thanks but I can’t think about food right now. I have $20 on me, my debit card doesn’t work here and I lost my credit card.” He put his cell phone on the coffee table separating us. “I’m James.”

I felt James’ pain. I have lost debit cards in approximately 65% of the countries I’ve visited. A slightly higher percentage of my shoes have been lost in foreign countries as well.

Dang that sucks. The same thing happened to me when I went to Brazil last year. If you have Venmo or Paypal, you can just wire me cash and I’ll take it out of the ATM for you.”

"Seriously? It wouldn't be a hassle?"

"Not at all. I don’t have foreign ATM fees. I'd be happy to do it."

"Thank you."

James looked so relieved that it made my heart melt a little. 

I have to admit, it felt really good to help out a fellow traveler. I have lost my debit card in Budapest, misplaced my shoes at a temple in Bangkok and had my journal stolen in Singapore. I know what it's like to be across the world and lose something valuable. But thanks to some kind people, I also know what its like to have perfect strangers help me out of a sticky situation. 

James and I traded phone numbers and made plans to go to the ATM first thing in the morning. Our little group of world travelers spent the rest of the night, lounging on comfy suede couches, looking at each other's passport stamps, and sharing things we wanted to see in the city.

Mexican Beer, Snacks & Passport Stamps

"Do you speak Spanish?" I asked James

"Yea, even though my parents are Mexican, I taught myself Spanish by moving to Chilé for a while."

"Oh, I thought you were Black."

And then there was one

"I get that alot."

The common area of the hostel
One by one people said their buenas noches and started to go to bed. It was nearly 2 in the morning when just James, Huey and I were left sitting in the common room.

I’m exhausted from traveling guys. I’m going to bed.”

You sure you don’t want to go get a drink?” James suggested. “Now that I’ve got my money situation figured out I could definitely eat too.”

Huey put his hand on his stomach. “I’m always down to eat.”

I’m still full from pizza, but you guys go on with out me. I’ll see you in the morning.”

For the next 4 days we were nearly inseparable