Geographically Humble Spanish Lessons

Whether or not you have a lot of free time, do yourself a favor and learn even just a few words of another language.  You don’t need wholesome reasons to do it either– it could be to get more bread at a restaurant, finally ask that person on a date, or to make sure mechanic doesn’t muss anything else up in your car.  To boot, I don’t really speak Cantonese beyond a few travel phrases, but given its staccato nature, it’s probably my favorite language in which to curse (唔該, early ’90s Stephen Chow and Ng Man Tat movies).

Thus, counting foreign language study as one of my hobbies, I will give everyone a brief vocabulary lesson in Spanish, using as a guide humble points of interest – no, they’re more like points of no interest to anyone but me – in Mexico, El Salvador, and Cuba.

Very humble.

As an example, take this sign by a bridge, or puente, in El Salvador.  I was en route between the city of Santa Ana and Joya de Cerén, the American version of Pompeii when I saw the inferiority complex in full swing.  Or, was it just laziness?

In Spanish, río means river and sucio means dirty.  Folks, if it’s that nasty, why not make it a río limpio (clean)?  If you’re curious about how dirty it might be, plan your visit today!

Puente Cara Sucia I

Really, the dirty face bridge?!  And it has a twin?

Yes, given that we now know that puente is bridge and sucia is dirty, the new word, cara, means face.  You will find these two blips on highway 150D near the Mexican city of Córdoba in Veracruz (state), and apparently back in El Salvador, too.

Somewhere along highway 145D a bit north of the Puente Chiapas in Mexico’s Chiapas state lies this fella.  Sorry, I mean this sign laden with irony.

Puente Sin Nombre literally means “Bridge Without a Name,” so you can either wax poetic about it, or let the Chiapas government know that calling it a Bridge Without a Name gives it a name.  Or, was everyone in on it?

This one is more on point.  Bienvenidos a Campeche = Welcome to Campeche (state).  Easy.  To the left of the sign, we have “termina Yucatan,” or “the end of Yucatan (state),” and “principia Campeche,” or “the start of Campeche (state).”

Now we’re getting into the weird.  Near Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco state, we’ve got this sign; to the north, Veracruz, to the east, Uzbekistan???  No, seriously…Samarkand(a)- besides being a suburb of Villahermosa – is a Silk Road treasure found in the Central Asian republic.  Perhaps I will write about my time there one day.   Oh, right-on the above sign, “reduzca la velocidad” means “reduce the speed.”

Meanwhile, how do they expect us to get to Uzbekistan from here?

Oh, I know.  A Cuban bus.

Cuban bus, near Viñales, “Transporting to the Future”

Hot Chocolate, Two Ways (Mérida, México)

Two years ago, I took a road trip with some friends around southeastern Mexico, starting and ending in Orizaba, Veracruz, ultimately getting as far as Cancun.  As I may have mentioned before, Mexico – thus far – is one of my top three countries for eating…thus, I was not only looking forward to exploring more of the country with locals, but also to trying new and familiar foods along the way.

For instance, there’s chocolate.  I’ve wondered why Mexican chocolate doesn’t get much attention around the world, in spite of being the ancestral home of Theobroma cacao, the Latin name for the original cacao tree.  Of course, colonial empires and globalization have played a role in spreading the harvesting of cacao throughout many tropical countries, namely the Ivory Coast, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

Fast forward to my road trip, and the city of Mérida, located in the state of Yucatan.  Although counting nearly one million inhabitants in its metro area, its downtown area has a cozy feel to it.  Mérida is hot year-round, has boulevards lined with mansions built almost entirely thanks to rope, and owing to Mayan tradition, unique foods found nowhere else in México.

Plus, due to its recognition as being one of the safest cities in the country and with that, a sizable expat population, they’ve got some fine places eat and drink.  Places like Ki’XOCOLATL, a small chocolate shop adjacent to Santa Lucia Park.

Hot Chocolate, Two Ways, Ki’XOCOLATL (from left to right, “brown sugar, cinnamon, achiote, allspice, and habanero;” honey is in the container on the central plate)

Though there are some debates as to the origins of the word chocolate, it no doubt stems from Nahuatl, a language spoken for centuries in rural parts of central Mexico; xocolia means “to make bitter,” and atl refers to “water.”

When it was first discovered nearly 4000 years ago by pre-Olmec cultures, it was consumed in its naturally bitter state, ground into a paste with water.  Subsequent civilizations started to add in what was organically found at the time in Mexican jungles and rain forests, namely honey, chilies, and vanilla.

After a long stroll through downtown Merida, I wanted to sit down and relax with some sweets.  Ki’XOCOLATL offered hot chocolate, two ways, I as I deem it.  The first method was the contemporary style, sweetened with sugar.  The latter, evoking how Olmecs and Mayans may have enjoyed it, started off by merely being the bitter cacao seed heated up with water.  The waiter served it alongside honey, brown sugar, achiote – a yellow-orange seed typically used to add color to foods, allspice, habanero, and cinnamon, although cinnamon hails from Sri Lanka.

Although the ancient hot chocolate took a bit of getting used to, I admit that the modern one was the best cup of it I have ever tried.


Where have you tried your favorite cup of hot chocolate?  Whether it was in Mexico or somewhere else, let me know!