Thursday, June 9, 2011

Our last weekend in Mexico

For our last weekend here, Claire, Kasey, and I decided to travel to the mountains.  To get to Mazamitla, we traveled in a somewhat sketchy, run-down bus through desert and mountains stopping along the way to pick up many other travelers.  What was a 1.5 hour car ride ended up being a 3 hour bus ride.  Seeing as how I was knocked out the entire time due to a large dose of Dramamine, I can’t complain, and can only describe one of many interesting experiences from the weekend.  
Upon arrival, we hiked our way through empty streets and cobblestone roads to our cabin in the forest.  After checking in, we dropped our stuff, put on better shoes, and started on our way to the waterfall.  We walked through a beautiful neighborhood, lined with custom, forest homes.  The air was cool and refreshing, a nice change from the 90+ degree melting weather of Guadalajara.  Once at the waterfall, we climbed the rocks, took at least 100 photos each, and enjoyed being in nature.  

After lunch, we wandered the streets of the city center trying to figure out where we could go ziplining.  Being the tourist center as well, we were approached by many people trying to get us to buy their tour packages.  Since two of our friends from school were heading back the same day, we had to make a decision.  So, for less than $15, we hopped on another sketchy bus and hoped for the best.   40 minutes of scenery, several deer and one ostrich later, we found our way to the zip line.  After crossing a slightly rickety wooden bridge, we ended up at the start of what was to be a very fast zip line.  In broken English, we were told to run a few steps and hold on.  So much fun!  We continued on our sketchy bus tour, stopping at two little waterfalls and a store that sold cajeta.  For only having a vague idea of what was going on, our little excursion turned out to be an afternoon well spent.  

We said good bye to our traveling companions and started walking back up the hill to our cabin, stopping along the way to buy some snacks for the evening and breakfast the next day.  At this point, none of us could move our legs.  But, we were hungry and wanted something to eat.  We ended up at a little kiosk in the complex we were staying in and had a delicious pozole.  It’s the Mexican equivalent of Vietnamese pho: a filling and comforting soup with lots of toppings.  

After a very long day, we went to bed early.  For the first time in a long time, we actually had to sleep with sheets and blankets and didn’t wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat.  I miss cool weather…

Sunday was a leisure day.  We walked the streets, talked with store owners, bought several fun pieces of jewelry, and watched a guy make the coolest churros ever (which of course we ate soon afterwards). 

With our bus leaving in an hour, we decided to grab a quick lunch and head to the station.  The first busy place I saw was where we decided to eat, the place was only made gorditas and had about 10 kinds on the menu.  Being the gluttons we are, we ordered one of almost every kind: mole, pork, cactus, chicken, chorizo, cheese, etc.  Claire says it was one of her favorite meals here, and that’s saying a lot. 

Tlaquepaque Field Trip

Our week of class and clinic ended early so we could attend a school-sponsored field trip to the local artisan village called Tlaquepaque.  It’s a quaint (and touristy) town filled with art, history and culture.  As a class, we visited the local ceramic museum as well as a ceramic studio.


Later, we strolled the vendor-lined streets and wandered through the stores.  We each bought our fare share of ceramics and candies.  

We ended our day with lunch at Casa Luna, a recommendation from our doctor at clinic.  With a menu proudly displaying Mexican gourmet, I knew the food had to be good.  The restaurant itself was beautifully filled with local ceramics, twinkling lights, tile fountain and mango tree.  We filled our hungry bellies with freshly pureed mango margaritas and molcajetes de carne.  What is a molcajete you ask?  Well, it’s the larger, volcanic rock version of a mortar and pestle.  Here it was served piping hot, filled with meat, cheese and cactus, covered in a spicy tomatillo sauce.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

weekend wrap-up

We decided to take it easy this weekend and stay in the greater Guadalajara area.

Saturday we met up with one of our new friends and went to the movies.  This wasn't just any movie, this was VIP.  For less than a regular movie ticket back at home, you get to sit in a very comfortable leather recliner chair and have food and drink brought to you.  Yes, it's pretty awesome.  We watched Pirates of the Caribbean while enjoying cold beer, popcorn with chile, and sushi in an air conditioned theater.  Wonderfully cold air conditioning, it's really the little things I miss.  :)

Best movie theater ever
Anyways, also at this pretty hoity toity mall we discovered a few more additional treats.  We ordered crepes the size of our head.  One was filled with nutella, strawberries and banana.  The other with bananas, almonds, and cajeta (aka caramel of sorts).  Claire and I also decided to feed our coffee addiction so we tried out a new coffee shop at this fancy mall called Black Coffee Gallery.  After drinking many weak attempts at americanos, iced coffees, lattes, and iced lattes, I was stunned when I was able to order two iced soy lattes with ice cubes, not blended, and without sugar.  I had no idea how much I missed a good iced latte and this one was so refreshing and so needed.  I know, I'm addicted.

Crepe con cajeta

In Spanish, my name becomes one of three things: Liz, Lizbet, and Isabel (Isabel is often the easiest)
I promise I did more than eat all day long.  (However, you do have to remember I am walking at least 4 miles a day and running 3 miles every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.)  After the movie, we headed to Av. Chapultepec.  It's one of the larger streets in the city that gets shut down for a few hours every Saturday night.  The street is filled with artisans, vendors, and music.  We had a lot of fun walking around and feeling like locals. 

The next day we headed to Tonala.  Every Thursday and Sunday, the place turns into a giant flee market.  There was so much stuff.  Vendor after vendor with tables full of ceramics, jewelry, fabrics, toys, kitchenware, furniture, and much much more.  I bought a set of glasses and a condiment plate.  For lunch, we again followed the cardinal rule of street food, and looked for a busy place with steaming hot food.  We stumbled upon a stand and ordered sopes, tortas, and flautas filled with spicy, stewy, tomato based beef.  The sopes were made right in front of us.  The lady flattened out the dough, threw it in the fryer, took it out to shape it again using what I'm sure are very callused fingers, and finished cooking the dough.  Again, I couldn't have asked for a better meal.  However, you can see what I'm talking about when I say I play Russian Roulette with my food.  But, how can you not trust someone like this frying your food in front of you? 

Claire's torta
 We finished lunch with churros fresh from the fryer.  How fresh you ask?

One of the highlights of the trip was talking to the taxi drivers that took us to and from Tonala.  I learned a lot about where to travel in the area, the differences between local towns, the economic frustrations of the people of Guadalajara, and the difficulty of learning new languages.  It's safe to assume my Spanish has improved. 

For dinner we hit up an Argentinian restaurant called Savora.  We had pepitos (aka sandwiches) filled with a large cut of rib eye.  Yum.  Dessert was the Ferrero Roucher ice cream completing another wonderful day in Mexico.  
This picture does not do the ice cream justice

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Amoebas Amigas

Since I've been in Mexico, I've felt a little off.  It was never bad enough to stop me from doing anything, but it's been a nuisance.  Finally after an abdominal cramp that prevented me from finishing our morning 30 minute run, I decided it was time to talk to the doctor that Claire and I work with at clinic.  Following a brief history and targeted abdominal exam, she told me I had amoebas.  Immediately, we all started joking about the amoebas amigas en mi estomago.  The doctor did a little dance and we laughed about the antro (aka dance club) in my stomach.  She told me not to worry and how could I when I left the doctor thinking about dancing amoebas amigas in my stomach.  Not gonna lie, those amoebas picked a pretty tasty GI tract to hang out in.

Honestly, I find it pretty hilarious.  If you know me at all, you know that I love parasites and almost all things microbiology.  Combined with a continual game of chance that I play with my meals, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

Being a medical student, of course I'm going to think about everything it could be.  On my differential are Entamoeba Histolytica and Giardia Intestinalis.  However, it doesn't really matter what it is.  I have parasites.

So, today begins my 3 day bid regimen of a lovely anti-protozoal agent, Nitazoxanide.  Here's to hoping the drug doesn't kill me before the amoebas. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Week 2 in Guadalajara

This week went by so quickly, but it was a pretty great week.  Here's why:

In clinic, we all got to be practice patients for the national student's clinical exams.  Their exams are incredibly thorough.  I was examined for lice, checked for sinus pain and congestion, and had my lungs listened to at least 30 times.  I'd like to add that it is not an easy thing for a non-native Spanish speaker to repeat "perro" (the equivalent of our ninety-nine) 20 times while rolling their r's.  The exam also pointed out some significant differences between a country like America, and a country like Mexico.  In addition to being checked for lice, I was also asked a lot more questions about the services (gas, light, water, etc) at my house, how many people are living there, as well as childhood infectious diseases that we are all vaccinated for.  Overall, it was a great experience because it gave me the opportunity to listen to and learn from a well-executed and thorough history and physical exam.

I also had the opportunity to talk to the doctors about the health care system in Mexico and the training of young physicians.  One of the interesting things they discussed was the inability of new medical students to listen to the patient and diagnose by touch and physical exam.  There are copious amounts of information out there and we are so focused on questions and answers that we forget about the patient in front of us.  Watching our doctor with patients has been great because we see how a doctor should interact with their patients.  She never interrupts them, and she watches and studies her patients very closely.  A recent patient came in with abdominal pain and our doctor diagnosed her mostly on the way the patient sat up and laid down on the exam table.  If I've learned anything it's that I still have a long road ahead of me and a lot left to learn.

Despite our 9-9 days, Claire, Kasey and I still managed to have fit in a lot of fun and cultural activities.  Wednesday night we went out with some of our favorite UAG medical students.  We went to a Cuban restaurant called La Bodeguita del Medio.  We met up at 11pm to enjoy good conversation, tasty mojitos, and delicious food.

Thursday afternoon, we went on a little adventure with some of our classmates.  Instead of taking the bus, we thought we would walk the mile and a half to the other UAG campus, meet up with some of our same friends, and then walk together to Tortas Tono.  Our mile and a half walk failed and it took us over an hour to get to our destination.  We walked and walked and walked, then asked a 12 year old for directions, walked some more, asked a few police officers where to go, flagged down a taxi, piled 5 girls in to the back seat of a teeny tiny car, and finally arrived.  Now, had these been bad tortas ahogadas, we would have all gone to clinic in a very bad mood.  Fortunately, these were ridiculously delicious.  The bread had a crunchy exterior and soft interior, perfect to soak up all the spicy tomato sauce.  It was filled with well seasoned and tenderly cooked meat (pierna) and covered in sliced onions, cabbage, and lime juice.  The perfect combination of textures and flavors was all we needed to lift our spirits.  The afternoon was completed by a trip to the local pastry store, Marisa, where we bought some gelatin treats and chocolate cake for later that night.

To end our busy week, Friday night we went out with one of our roommates and her friends to a local bar.  The drink of the night, tequila.  We attempted conversations with an interesting mix of English and Spanish and danced the night away.  Drinking, dancing, and having fun are three things no language barrier can get in the way of.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sunday's mission: acquire tortas ahogadas

We decided to visit Guadalajara's historic city center on Sunday.  Yes, we were there to look at the Catedral, Palacio de Gobierno, Teatro Degollado, and numerous tree lined plazas.  But let's be honest, I was there to rome the bustling markets.

Every time I travel, I am always mesmerized by the central markets.  They are filled with fresh, colorful produce, butchers, fish vendors, small family-owned eateries, and tons of locals.  A market like that is the heart of a city.  During our day trip, we visited two markets: Mercado Corona and Mercado San Juan de Dios.

At Mercado Corona, we explored the rows of herbs and natural remedies.  They had something for every ailment.  I'm a big believer in natural and home remedies for common, everyday illnesses.  It may just be a placebo effect, but if it works it works.  As a physician, it's even more important to know about these alternative treatments because most patients are using them and I'll need to know if they interfere with their Western medical treatment.  For example, St. John's wort can interfere with many different prescription drugs, including oral contraceptives.  Not a good idea. 

I hate that we don't have central markets back at home.  Our food would be tastier and healthier.  More importantly, people would be healthier.  There is an overabundance of research detailing the benefits of farmer's markets for hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and hyperlipidemia (aka hyperdiabesidemia).  And, how much fun would it be to shop in a place like this every day?

Finally, after hours of taking pictures, wandering the streets of Guadalajara, and exploring the markets, we wandered to the second floor of Mercado San Juan de Dios.  The goal was to find the cleanest and busiest eatery in order to prevent any unwanted intestinal colonization of parasites or bacteria.  After scoping out all the little eateries, we settled on Tortas Mario.  As usual, we each ordered the same delicious meal.  This time it was tortas ahogadas, one of Guadalajara's specialties.  It's a meat filled sandwich soaked/drowned in a spicy vinegary broth.  As Claire said, it's the Mexican version of a French dip.  Topped with onions and a sprinkle of lime, it was g-o-o-d.  Mission accomplished.