Running to Stand Still

Posted by Cila Warncke

Blogging is like exercise: addictive, once you get the hang of it but dangerously easy to leave aside when life gets hectic. There is little to say about my several weeks’ hiatus apart from: stuff happened. Mexico. London. Ibiza. Plans made and then unmade for journeys to Ireland, the States, Mexico again. There were patches where I was seriously considering going to the nearest airport and buying a one-way ticket on the first flight to someplace I’d never been before. I got a little caught up in the idea of someplace new. A succession of adventures, coincidences, gin & tonics and long conversations with friends nudged me into the realisation that the ‘someplace new’ I need to explore is Ibiza – and my own motivations.

Home to Ibiza

Home to Ibiza

Jumping on planes is A) more fun than jumping off them and B) only very occasionally an antidote to chronic discontent. I tried it with Mexico and couldn’t, at the end of 14 weeks, figure out why the hell I hadn’t learned anything there. Why I had come back as bored and irritable as I’d left. A few weeks rattling around in the Mediterranean sun, making fantastic new friends who kickstarted my brain from its tropic slothfulness into frisky, if somewhat tentative life, suggests that my problem wasn’t where I was but how I was thinking. Somewhere between Ibiza, E17 and Merida, I completely lost my bottle. Not that you’d have noticed, necessarily. I was still walking around spouting opinions, still capable of summoning enough bravado to actually get from E17 to Merida, but there was something missing. The best lack all conviction.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, how I wanted to live or who I wanted to be. I was stumped. Then I got the following advice from a smartarse filmmaker:

Whatever you decide, feel good about it. Feel amazing about it. Feel as if you couldn’t have made any other possible decision. As long as you do that, everything will work out exactly as it should.

When I started to think like that suddenly the stubbornly wedged pieces began to fall into place. The decisions I fight the hardest are usually, in retrospect, as easy as falling over. It’s like standing at the top of a high dive. Turning, fretting, pawing at the board to buy time. Praying for a heavenly waterslide to appear. It never does. So I jumped. And my fear-hazed, pinched-in little world bloomed. There is much to be determined, questions to be posed and answered, work to be done, but it’s okay because life is exciting again.

Swine Flu – Notes on a ‘Pandemic’

Posted by Cila Warncke

I find it very difficult to take seriously an alleged nationwide emergency that I find out about by reading the Guardian website. Surely if swine flu or influenza porcina as the locals call it, were a hovering shadow of death across the fair land of Mexico someone would have thought to mention it? It was Saturday I happened across the UK headlines. The first local clue anything was up was the bored-looking attendents wearing surgical masks (tapa bocas) while handing out leaflets at the coach station when I returned to Merida on Monday.

Awful, isn't it?

Awful, isn't it?

Yucatan is for all intents and purposes a separate country, and the only reaction here seems to be mild boredom. The schools are shut, a fair few of the businesses (presumably because someone has to be at home to mind the kids) and the morning tae-bo class at the local stadium has been called off. This means us runners can hang out at the edge of the track and talk without being blasted by pumped up mariachi music, which is kind of nice. Jaime, my 10K buddy, put things in perspective: “They’ve shut the restaurants in Mexico City, but not the Metro.”

When he said that my already limited interest in swine flu bottomed out. The Mexico City Metro is a cross between a batteryfarm and a sauna. It is one of the most horrible, germ-spewing environments I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. If they haven’t shut the damn thing down they clearly aren’t that bothered.

Mexico City is a teeming hellhole. A city of over 22M people set in a natural bowl so every particle of smog, filth and germs sinks into lungs and skin. The fact 150 people have died after having flu symptoms is nothing more than a statistical blip. If this flu were anything to worry about there would be a lot more than eight confirmed deaths. As for the people who’ve travelled in Mexico and taken the flu home? People get sick travelling. I had terrible respiratory illness within 72 hours of landing in Mexico City purely from the poison air.

The hysteria is a massive PR job on the part of the drug companies and the WHO (aka the OMS Organizicion Mundial de Salud). It’s a slow news week, someone felt the need to stir shit up and hey, bird flu was fun.

Not that this total nonsense doesn’t have its good side. My boyfriend is off work so we’ve had two days of painting his office, eating popcorn and watching DVDs (because the cinemas are all shut). Also, it prompted me to go and look up the defintion of “pandemic” — an unjustifiably abused word at the moment.

Medicine. Epidemic over a wide geographic area and affecting a large proportion of the population: pandemic influenza.

Wide geographic area? Possibly. But a large portion of the population? Hardly. According to The Economist there are 99 confirmed cases in Mexico, 91 in the US and 19 in Canada. The only other nation in double figures is Spain, with 10. I would love to hear the mathematical justification for construing those numbers as a pandemic.

One down, the Great American Short Story collection to go

Finally! A day off

Finally! A day off

I suspect my four blog followers are down to one or two now, thanks to my egregious neglect. For once, it’s not wilful laziness on my part. At least not entirely wilful laziness. Right after my last post Britney-blizzard struck and my lovely interlocutor Helen Skyped me a bunch of revision notes. A rush of freelance work (most of it odious) came rushing in at the same time. So I did the usual: panic. Cue 10 days of hyperventilating, staring at my laptop screen until my eyes wouldn’t focus then working more anyway (hurrah for being able to touchtype! It’ll come in double handy when I go blind) and going to bed every night with an unwritten-word tornado churning in my head.

It got done, somehow, in a flurry of strong coffee, biscuits, midnight MSN chats and the odd sneaky drag of a menthol. My last deadline proper was this morning. It was a strangely silent afternoon. Having no pressing work is far worse than having too much. After exhausting the entertainment potential of Facebook (about seven minutes) and a largely unsuccessful bash at making cheesy potato mash patties I decided to start studying for my UK driving theory test. Abandoned it to go running, then spent half an hour reading hostel reviews online.

I have a half-baked lot of short story ideas I want to tackle next but can’t bring myself to put my feet properly under the desk just yet. Hence blog-waffle. Ten days of hard writing-to-order has squished all the creative cells in my brain. They need a little time to ping back into functioning order, I figure. That, or I’m being lazy.

Experimental Cooking, Pts I and II

Posted by Cila Warncke

I love peanut butter with a greedy, by-the-spoonful-out-of-the-jar passion, so when I spotted Lazy Day Peanut Noodle Salad on my favourite recipe site, I got kind of over-excited.

Being in Merida rather than San Francisco meant a few substitutions. Out went soba noodles, asparagus, tofu, sesame oil, rice vinegar and garlic and in came wholemeal spaghetti, red pepper, chile poblano, fresh spinach, fresh coriander, mushrooms, carrots, sunflower seeds, lime and olive oil. (Only the peanut butter, peanuts, spring onion and chili flakes made the recipe leap unscathed.)

Chile poblano

Chile poblano

I made the dressing using lime juice in place of rice wine vinegar, with plenty of red chili flakes, of course. Everything else was pretty much as you’d expect. Chopped all the veg, chucked the spaghetti on to boil, then added first the carrots, then a couple minutes later the pepper and chile poblano (roughly the size of an ordinary green pepper but with a mild chili kick), then a minute after that the spring onion and spinach. Couple more minutes on the boil, drained and tipped into a big bowl where I tossed it with the peanut dressing then chucked handfuls of sunflower seeds, salted peanuts and coriander in.

It didn’t come out looking anywhere near as elegant as the original version, and to my taste it should have been a bit more peanutty (the lime really cut the peanut-butteriness, so I might experiment with something else next time) but we scoffed the lot so thumbs up.



I’m on a bit of a local ingredient kick and bought jicama the other day. It’s a big, ugly lump of a root and I had to Google it to find out what the hell you’re supposed to do with it. Eat it raw, apparently. I have my doubts about eating raw anything you could use as a defensive weapon in the case of burglary but when in Rome… so I had a crack. The flavour is decent enough: slightly sweet in a rooty, parsnip-y kind of way. Unfortunately it bears plenty of textural resemblance to raw parsnip as well, which I can’t cope with. I stuck it in the fridge and waited for inspiration.

Roasting, frying and steaming all crossed my mind, but the oven here is a weird little creature I don’t understand and I instinctively felt jicama would be fry-resistant. Finally I decided to steam and mash it. Whacked it into the steamer and pootled off to check my email. Ten minutes later the rigid fruit was unscathed. Twenty more minutes and it was still raw carrot consistency. I refilled the steamer. Ten more, no joy. Boil it, perhaps? Just past 10PM, after half an hour at a brisk boil it dawned on me why Mexicans eat the damn stuff raw. It WON’T cook. Christ only knows what kind of super-cellulose it’s made of, but they should use it in fortifications. Bored of boiling, and hungry, I decided to stir-fry it with red onion, red pepper, spring onion, tomatillos (which, apart from making me think ‘fried green tomatoes’ every time I chuck them in the pan, are sublime) garlic and a tin of tuna. Plus the usual lashings of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chili flakes, salt and freshly ground pepper. I drizzled the lot with fresh lime juice and ate it with corn tortillas. It was good, but more involved than I’d bargained for. If I’m going to fuck around in the kitchen for over an hour I want more to show for it than stir fry.



Un poco de Espanol – Mexicano vs Castellano

Posted by Cila Warncke

Estoy intentando a aprender Español, pero sigo a paso de tortuga. En este momento estoy abusando el verbo “ir” para describir mis planes. Siempre empiezo mi frases con “Voy a…..”

A paso de tortuga

A paso de tortuga

Normalmente, en un dia, “voy a correr,” “voy a desayunar,” “voy a trabajar,” “voy a la tienda,” “voy a cocinar” y “voy a dormer.” Y algunas veces “voy al centro,” “voy al biblioteca” o “voy al parque.”

No es elegante pero es bastante útil. Espero que un dia voy a mejorar… jeje.

Pues, poco a poco entiendo mas y tambien aprendo varios palabras de Español Mexicano que distintas desde Castellano. Por ejemplo, en España todo la gente siempre dice: “venga!” Literalamente significa “come on” en Ingles, pero es utilizado como un interjección – “venga, hasta luego!” “Venga, gracias” (siempre juntos). Pero in Mexico nunca oí.

Acá tenemos “mande!” (de “mandar” – to tell). Si no entiende alguien, dice “mande?” Es igual a “perdón” en Castellano.

Otra frase muy útil es “con permiso” y la respuesta, “pase!” Un ejemplo, cuando paso por la cocina y el dueño esta cocinando hablamos un poco entonces, cuando él va a salir, dice “con permiso”, por cortesía. Y digo: “pase!”

Bueno, algunas otras:

Ingles / Castellano / Mexicano

Cool! / Güay! / Que chido!

Annoying / Pesado / Fastidioso

To chat / Charlar / Platicar

To rent / Alquilar / Rentar

Internet (service) / Wi-fi / Albarca o Inalambrico

Real Estate (agent) / Inmobilaria / Bienes raíces

Computer / Ordenandor / Computadora

To park (car) / Aparcar / Estacionar

Ticket (train, etc) / Billete / Boleto

Mushroom / Champiñón / Honga

Apricot / Albaricoque / Chabacano

Pea / Guisante / Chícharo

Sweet corn / Maíz dulce / Elote

Juice / Zumo / Jugo

Prawns / Gambas / Camarones

(Sun) Glasses / Gafas (del sol) / Lentes

Grapefruit / Pomelo / Toronjo
Cuando encuentro otras, voy a añadirlas!

Merida – The Good Stuff

Posted by Cila Warncke

There are an awful lot of things I could write here. I am more entranced by Merida every day. Moving somewhere I’d never even heard of a month ago could have gone wrong in so many ways, but I fell right on my flip flopped feet, it seems.

A little slice of Merida

A little slice of Merida

I want to say this as a counterpoint to my entirely justified rant over at Irresponsibility about the male gaze. That’s as it is. And it sucks. The good people of Merida shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush though, and they are the majority. It is the duenos and duenas of the little tiendas who are the city’s best ambassadors. I’ve popped into several shops today and in each was greeted with genuine warmth and – when I spoke Spanish – friendly curiousity. The shopkeepers, without fail, smiled, chatted and sent me on my way with warmest wishes. I feel sure if I returned I would be hailed as a friend, which is a nice feeling in a new town.

A Place Called Home

Posted by Cila Warncke



It is finally, slowly, occurring to me that perhaps I’m not quite the wandering wonder I long to be. Though I am surprisingly okay with my wardrobe consisting of two dresses, three pair of yoga trousers, two bikinis, three vests and a Gap hoodie my spirit doesn’t exactly thrill at being in someone else’s space. Possibly I learned a little too well at Sunday school that it is better to give than to receive; in any case, I am a guilt-riddled guest. So far on my aventura Mexicana I’ve stayed at two hotels of middling quality and with two very lovely host families who have put me up in much finer style.

The niggling fact remains I’d rather live in my own cold-water shack than in someone else’s mansion. Hence my cross country flight (literally) from the seaside splendour of Troncones to my new home in Merida, Yucatan.

It sticky-hot, the plaster is cracked, the sidewalks are crumbling and I had to kill a giant cockroach in the sink before I could make breakfast yesterday, but it is, for now, home. So far I’ve learned that the cranky cat, Domino, who lives out back never shuts up – not even if you feed him – and that the internet is not to be relied upon (it bounces like one of those awful fairground balls they strap idiots into before flinging them skywards on giant rubber bands).

All of this is relatively insignificant next to the fact I have a big box of a room with a not-uncomfortable bed and two large, unprepossessing wooden tables I can strew with the usual litter of pens, notebooks, sunglasses, slips of paper, water bottles, dictionaries and USB cables. I have rearranged all the furniture so my bed is in the corner, surrounded by desks, leaving a big empty swathe of tile floor. My domain to survey from my queen-sized look-out post.

There’s no getting around the general bugginess of the place, or the smell of drains from the alley behind my en suite, or the mild panic of having to do something about paying the rent, but I like it. I like it because it’s mine. Perhaps I should reconsider that ‘property is theft’ tattoo. Or perhaps not.

Facing up to the narcotic appeal of having a place where I can just be, where I can spend a night being quietly ill from eating off frijoles refritos without interference, where – if so inclined – I can spend the whole day sprawled on my bed in my pants seeing and speaking to no-one, tends to make me more socialist. This psychological kick isn’t a privilege; it’s a right. A right which is, unfortunately, denied to vast swathes of the world’s population by the capitalism junkies who insist people earn a room of their own.

The way I see it, property is still theft. The sense of wellbeing I gain from this room has nothing to do with ownership. It doesn’t belong to me and would make no difference if it did. It could be owned by the government, aliens or an cohort of super-intelligent arthropods for all I care; all that matters is I have the right to stay here and, also, to go.

That is all that’s required. Ownership, deeds, papers are all simply used to buttress excess. People with overblown houses want locks on the doors and legal documents to protect them from the righteous impulses of those who have no house at all. In a state of equality, where everyone was comfortable and had the same basic rights of access and egress, there would be no privilege in ownership.

I didn’t mean to veer off into property rights, but that’s what happens when you have a space where you can sit and think: you do. Maybe that’s why the powers that be would rather keep the masses hustling for rent. It means they never have a chance to sit back and question the fucked-up system that has one hand around their windpipe and the other in their wallet.

What I was going to say is that I have discovered possibly my favourite food-spot in the world. Two minutes away is a tortilleria where you can get a dozen fresh-from the-griddle tortillas for 2 pesos. Tomorrow morning I’ll get up and shuffle around the corner. Dona Mary will fill a plastic bag with a palm-high stack of rich, earthy-smelling corn tortillas. I’ll walk home, warming my hands on the bag, then make a big pan of spicy scrambled eggs, a black coffee and sit cross-legged on my bed, smiling, and eat the lot.

Troncones – Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Posted by Cila Warncke

It is, admittedly, an enviable dilemma. I’m on day three or four (can’t remember which) in Troncones, a tiny village on the beach south of Zijuatanejo, in Guerrero, on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. My jaw has barely left the floor the entire time I’ve been here. This morning, is typical: I wake up, slid into my flip flops and walk along the beach to a wonderful café where I drink fresh coffee from a tall, slender silver pot while reading a back issue of the New Yorker. I return to my room at the other end of “town” – a not-quite-ten-minute stroll past a handful of restaurants and villas – and change clothes. At half-past-10 I meet on of the local vaqueros, Jesus, on the beach and set off on a two hour horseback ramble down the beach.

Along the way we spot whales breaching in the surf, egret courtship rituals and the graceful, endlessly fascinating soar and swoop routine of the pelicans that guard the shore. We tramp gently along white sand, splashing from time to time in the surf. Ticiana, my horse, ambling carefully through the odd patch of rocks and deigning to show enthusiasm when we finally swing ‘round to make the return journey.

Washing machines are the privilege of expensive villas, here, so later I walk three minutes up the road to the lavanderia where, for 38 pesos, they clean and dry my bagful of clothes – and turn half of them yellow. This is a mystery to me as I don’t now (nor ever have) owned anything violently yellow. Oddly tinted knickers are, somehow, unimportant here.

On the way back I detour onto the beach, splash in the surf for a while then bask dry on a rock, watching ants scurrying through tangles of dried, matted coconut husks at my feet. Walking across the damp sand of the high-water mark crabs scuttle and dance away. The littlest ones are ghostly grey spiders, no bigger than a 50p coin. Grown-ups are substantial, their bodies perhaps half the size of my fist, shadow-coloured. There are overripe papayas hanging from the tree outside my door and Jota, the house dog, sprawled on the cooling pebbles.

My just rinsed bikini and running shorts are dribbling like an inconsistent rainshower from the top of the towel rail, relics of my just-completed sunset run. Here, the sun slides like a gleaming orange ball-bearing on a caster, coasting past strips of cloud on its way into the surf. Long after it has set pale pink and darker purple linger on the mother-of-pearl surface of the sea, offsetting the reflection of a three-quarters moon rising. A class of well-tanned, well-manicured upper-middle-class North American women are huddled around a cluster of rocks; a coven from yoga retreat up the road. On the other side of the rocks Mexican kids cast for crabs using 500ml water bottles as reels for their invisible lines. Up ahead, Jesus and his horses are returning from another lap along the beach. A pelican is dying. In the morning, when we passed, it flapped its wings heavily, trying to rise. Now it only raises the hooked tip of its long bill slightly, as if in acknowledgment, its vast, dark, mottled wings slightly akimbo. I finish my run and wade into the breakers, letting the tepid saltwater splash my legs cool. This is why I should stay.

The problem with staying is: where? Next door is a compact bungalow. “Se renta” says the sign outside. Mitch, my host, shakes his head when I ask about it. “He wants a lot of money for it.” This morning, over coffee, I said hello to Café Sol’s only other occupant, a California wine country tourguide called James. He is working at the hotel up the road and paying 2500 pesos for a room with no hot water or cooking facilities. This is not hopeful. During our ride, I ask Jesus if he knows anyone with a room to let. He introduces me to Bruce and his wife, who are scraping meat into tortillas when we arrive. They have a room to let for 5000 pesos a month. I shrug. No puedo. Dos mil quinientos. Bruce shoots me a look that is very close to hostile: “you want to pay two-hundred-fifty-dollars a month. There are places here you pay two-hundred a night,” he says scornfully.

I shrug again. Soy escritora, no tengo mucho dinero. They offer to show me a place up the beach, come back at five. I do and his wife peers at me from between heavy lines of kohl. “El no quiere por dos mil quinientos.” Vale, yo voy. It is the attitude, more than the money, that gives me pause. The light that shines through the cracks in the peaceful village façade. Everyone here looks at gringos as if we have dollar signs on our foreheads. To come here, judging from Bruce’s expression of extreme distaste, without deep pockets is practically insulting. Tourism here has only really arrived in the last half-decade. Long enough for locals to begin to see whites as walking cash dispensers; not long enough for them to see the benefits of foreigners who come with love, not money.

Walking along the road I get ‘hey lady, how you doing?’ and ‘do you want to rent a horse?’ Two days ago it was, ‘you need a taxi? You come to my restaurant?’ I would get tired of the endless solicitation. It’s gentler here than in Mexico City but it’s still a hustle.

I could always throw in my lot with the well-fed, Jeep driving, sunburnt North Americans but expat communities give me the willies. That’s what I left Ibiza to avoid. The yoga teachers are toothy, excitable Americans who are immediately friendly. That is what I left America to avoid. Plus there’s the inevitable smalltown mentality. Mitch gave me a lift into town the other day when he was driving his friends to the airport, so I could pick up some groceries. On the way back in to Troncones he called a hello to two Mexican men standing by their car. The once-over they gave the scene needed no translation. “By the time my girlfriend’s been back for an afternoon at least five people will have told her I’ve had some new girl here,” Mitch sighed. He has lived here (with her, presumably) for two years. If he still gets that shit, how much more will I?

The patchy internet doesn’t appeal; nor the absolute lack of resources. Guerrero is a beautiful, rugged, wild state; a place to enjoy nature and the easy charm of rural Mexico. It is not, perhaps, the best place to work. No internet cafés, bookstores, office supplies, photo shops, newspapers or even decent bodegas. Those pelicans and the boom/shhhhhhhhhhhh/boom/shhhhhhhhhhh rhythm of the sea are siren-calls but instinct tells me it is too early to stop. There’s more to see.