Key Points from Think Twice by Michael Mauboussin

According to research by Stanovich and others, if you explain to intelligent people how they might go wrong with a problem before they decide, they do much better than if they solve the problem with no guidance.

The second experiment showed the failure of pure rationality. Here, Richard Thaler, one of the world’s foremost behavioral economists, asked us to write down a whole number from zero to one hundred, with the prize going to the person whose guess was closest to two-thirds of the group’s average guess. In a purely rational world, all participants would coolly carry out as many levels of deduction as necessary to get to the experiment’s logical solution—zero. But the game’s real challenge involves considering the behavior of the other participants. You may score intellectual points by going with naught, but if anyone selects a number greater than zero, you win no prize.

Beauty contest in the stock market amplify bubble as participant guesses the most desirable stocks. This is why there is always an overshoot. Bidders will overbid and create bubble.

Most spend their time gathering information, which feels like progress and appears diligent to superiors. But information without context is falsely empowering. If you do not properly understand the challenges involved in your decision, this data will offer nothing to improve the accuracy of the decision and actually may create misplaced confidence.

In a probabilistic environment, you are better served by focusing on the process by which you make a decision than on the outcome.

These contrasting points of view reveal our first mistake, a tendency to favor the inside view over the outside view.6 An inside view considers a problem by focusing on the specific task and by using information that is close at hand, and makes predictions based on that narrow and unique set of inputs.

The outside view asks if there are similar situations that can provide a statistical basis for making a decision. Rather than seeing a problem as unique, the outside view wants to know if others have faced comparable problems and, if so, what happened.

Remarkably, the least capable people often have the largest gaps between what they think they can do and what they actually achieve.

The second is the illusion of optimism. Most people see their future as brighter than that of others.

Finally, there is the illusion of control. People behave as if chance events are subject to their control.

Study the distribution and note the average outcome, the most common outcome, and extreme successes or failures.

If the properties of the system change, drawing inference from past data can be misleading.

Failure to entertain options or possibilities can lead to dire consequences, from a missed medical diagnosis to unwarranted confidence in a financial model.

Last, a mental model is an internal representation of an external reality, an incomplete representation that trades detail for speed.5 Once formed, mental models replace more cumbersome reasoning processes, but are only as good as their ability to match reality. An ill-suited mental model will lead to a decision-making fiasco.6

we start with an anchor and then move toward the right answer. But most of us stop adjusting once we reach a value we deem plausible or acceptable.

The availability heuristic, judging the frequency or probability of an event based on what is readily available in memory, poses a related challenge. We tend to give too much weight to the probability of something if we have seen it recently or if it is vivid in our mind.

Failure to reflect reversion to the mean is the result of extrapolating earlier performance into the future without giving proper weight to the role of chance. Models based on past results forecast in the belief that the future will be characteristically similar to history. In each case, our minds—or the models our minds construct—anticipate without giving suitable consideration to other possibilities.

The confirmation bias occurs when an individual seeks information that confirms a prior belief or view and disregards, or disconfirms, evidence that counters it.19 Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist at Arizona State University, notes that consistency offers two benefits. First, it permits us to stop thinking about an issue, giving us a mental break. Second, consistency frees us from the consequence of reason—namely, changing our behavior. The first allows us to avoid thinking; the second to avoid acting.

Let’s face it: we all have finite attention bandwidths. If you dedicate all that bandwidth to one task, none is left over for anything else. So people should be alert to striking a balance between nitty-gritty problem solving and a broader context.

Stressed people struggle to think about the long term. The manager about to lose her job tomorrow has little interest in making a decision that will make her better off in three years. Psychological stress creates a sense of immediacy that inhibits consideration of options with distant payoffs.

The subprime mess revealed that what may appear to be optimal for the individual agents in a complex system may be suboptimal for the system as a whole.

A decision-making journal is a cheap and easy routine to offset hindsight bias and encourage a fuller view of possibilities.

Stress, anger, fear, anxiety, greed, and euphoria are all mental states antithetical to quality decisions.

“It is impossible to find any domain in which humans clearly outperformed crude extrapolation algorithms, less still sophisticated statistical ones.”

Yet in reality, half of all people must be below average, and so you should sort out when you are likely to be one of them.

With the diversity prediction theorem in hand, we can flesh out when crowds predict well. Three conditions must be in place: diversity, aggregation, and incentives. Each condition clicks into the equation. Diversity reduces the collective error. Aggregation assures that the market considers everyone’s information. Incentives help reduce individual errors by encouraging people to participate only when they think they have an insight.

In other words, what comes in through our senses influences how we make decisions, even when it seems completely irrelevant in a logical sense. Priming is by no means limited to music. Researchers have manipulated behavior through exposure to words, smells, and visual backgrounds.

Immediately after being exposed to words associated with the elderly, primed subjects walked 13 percent slower than subjects seeing neutral words.13 Exposure to the scent of an all-purpose cleaner prompted study participants to keep their environment tidier while eating a crumbly biscuit.14 Subjects reviewing Web pages describing two sofa models preferred the more comfortable model when they saw a background with puffy clouds, and favored the cheaper sofa when they saw a background with coins.15

For priming to work, the association must be sufficiently strong and the individual must be in a situation where the association sparks behavior.

In reality, many people simply go with default options.

Affective responses occur quickly and automatically, are difficult to manage, and remain beyond our awareness. As Robert Zajonc, a social psychologist, said, “In many decisions affect plays a more important role than we are willing to admit. We sometimes delude ourselves that we proceed in a rational manner and weigh all the pros and cons of the various alternatives. But this is probably seldom the case. Quite often ‘I decided in favor of X’ is no more than ‘I liked X.’ ”19 Affect is situational because it often follows vivid outcomes or a specific individual experience.

Zimbardo explains the factors that make the situation so forceful. First, situational power is most likely in novel settings, where there are no previous behavioral guidelines. Second, rules—which may emerge through interaction or be predetermined—can create a means to dominate and suppress others because people justify their behavior as only conforming to the rules. Third, when people are asked to play a certain role for a prolonged period, they risk becoming actors who can’t break from character. Roles shut people off from their normal lives and accommodate behaviors they would generally avoid. Finally, in situations that lead to negative behavior, there is often an enemy—an outside group. This is especially pronounced when both the in-group and out-group stop focusing on individuals.

To overcome inertia, Peter Drucker, the legendary consultant, suggested asking the seemingly naïve question, “If we did not do this already, would we, knowing what we now know, go into it?”

Yet the tendency to interpret the behavior of a complex system from its components is as common as it is wrong.

“The behavior of large and complex aggregates of elementary particles, it turns out, is not to be understood in terms of the simple extrapolation of the properties of a few particles. Instead, at each level of complexity entirely new properties appear.”6 If you want to understand an ant colony, don’t ask an ant. It doesn’t know what’s going on. Study the colony.

A star’s performance relies to some degree on the people, structure, and norms around him—the system. Analyzing results requires sorting the relative contributions of the individual versus the system, something we are not particularly good at. When we err, we tend to overstate the role of the individual.

“Understanding how well intentioned, intelligent people can create an outcome that no one expected and no one wants is one of the profound lessons of the game.”

Children—indeed people of all ages—do not behave the same under all conditions. They adjust their behavior to reflect their social circumstances.

Theories improve when researchers test predictions against real-world data, identify anomalies, and subsequently reshape the theory. Two crucial improvements occur during this refining process. In the classification stage, researchers evolve the categories to reflect circumstances, not just attributes. In other words, the categories go beyond what works to when it works. In the definition stage, the theory advances beyond simple correlations and sharpens to define causes—why it works.

Outsourcing is not universally good. For example, outsourcing does not make sense for products that require the complex integration of disparate subcomponents.

You must be very alert to the correlation-causality mistake. The fact that we like to make explicit cause-and-effect connections only adds to the challenge. When you hear of a causal connection, step carefully through the three conditions to see if the claim holds up. You will most likely be surprised at how rarely you can firmly establish causation.

Changing the decision-making process as circumstances dictate is a fundamental challenge and can be psychologically taxing.

People have an innate desire to link cause and effect and are not beyond making up a cause for the effects they see. This creates the risk of observing a correlation—often the result of chance—and assuming causation. When you hear of a correlation, be sure to consider the three conditions: time precedence, relationship, and that no additional factor is causing the other two to correlate.

The focus of this chapter is phase transitions, where small incremental changes in causes lead to large-scale effects. Philip Ball, a physicist and writer, calls it the grand ah-whoom.4 Put a tray of water into your freezer and the temperature drops to the threshold of freezing. The water remains a liquid until—ah-whoom—it becomes ice. Just a small incremental change in temperature leads to a change from liquid to solid.

This shows why critical points are so important for proper counterfactual thinking: considering what might have been.7 For every phase transition you do see, how many close calls were there?

Repeated, good outcomes provide us with confirming evidence that our strategy is good and everything is fine. This illusion lulls us into an unwarranted sense of confidence and sets us up for a (usually negative) surprise. The fact that phase transitions come with sudden change only adds to the confusion.

When asked to decide about a system that’s complex and nonlinear, a person will often revert to thinking about a system that is simple and linear. Our minds naturally offer an answer to a related but easier question, often with costly consequences.

For the most part, people are scorched not by black swans, the unknown unknowns, but rather by their failure to prepare for gray swans.

In dealing with systems of collectives, the ideal is to get cost-effective exposure to positive events and to insure against negative events. While we are getting more sophisticated, the financial instruments that we see in the market that are tied to extreme events are often mispriced.28 In the end, the admonishment of investment legend Peter Bernstein should carry the day: “Consequences are more important than probabilities.” This does not mean you should focus on outcomes instead of process; it means you should consider all possible outcomes in your process.29

The idea is that for many types of systems, an outcome that is not average will be followed by an outcome that has an expected value closer to the average.

For example, consider how a golfer may score on two rounds on different days. If the golfer scores well below his handicap for the first round, how would you expect him to do for the second one? The answer is not as well. The exceptional score on the first round resulted from his being skillful but also very lucky. Even if he is just as skillful while playing the second round, you would not expect the same good luck.6 Any system that combines skill and luck will revert to the mean over time. Daniel Kahneman neatly captured this idea when he was asked to offer a formula for the twenty-first century. He actually provided two. Here’s what he submitted:7 Success = Some talent + luck Great success = Some talent + a lot of luck

In my research, I found that analysts on Wall Street ignore the effects of reversion to the mean when they build their models of a company’s future financial results. Analysts regularly neglect the evidence for reversion to the mean in considering essential drivers like company sales growth rates and levels of economic profitability.

spread between return on invested capital (ROIC) and cost of capital reverts to the mean for a sample of more than a thousand companies, broken into quintiles, over a decade (the figure tracks the median ROIC for each quintile).

over time, luck reshuffles the same companies and places them in different spots on the distribution. Naturally, companies that had enjoyed extreme good or bad luck will likely revert to the mean, but the overall system looks very similar through time.

What if you ran the analysis of reversion to the mean from the present to the past instead of from the past to the present? Are the parents of tall children more or less likely to be taller than their children? A counterintuitive implication of mean reversion is that you get the same result whether you run the data forward or backward. So the parents of tall children tend to be tall, but not as tall as their children. Companies with high returns today had high returns in the past, but not as high as the present.

In reality, their performance was simply reverting to the mean. If a pilot had an unusually great flight, the instructor would be more likely to pay him a compliment. Then, as the pilot’s next flight reverted to the mean, the instructor would see a more normal performance and conclude praise is bad for pilots.

While Tomlinson and Hjelt got it right, the media often perpetuates the halo effect. Successful individuals and companies adorn magazine covers, along with glowing stories explaining the secrets of their success. The halo effect also works in reverse, as the press points out the shortcomings in poor-performing companies. The press’s tendency to focus on extreme performance is so predictable that it has become a reliable counter-indicator.

In Moneyball, Michael Lewis, an author who frequently provides fresh views on issues, points out, “In a five-game series, the worst team in baseball will beat the best about 15 percent of the time.”25 You do not see this in chess or tennis matches, games in which the best player almost always beats the worst, regardless of time frame.

Streaks, continuous success in a particular activity, require large doses of skill and luck. In fact, a streak is one of the best indicators of skill in a field. Luck alone can’t carry a streak. My analysis of various sports streaks in basketball and baseball clearly suggests streak holders are among the most skilled in their fields.

Imagine trying a new restaurant with two possible outcomes. In the first case, the restaurant is at its best. You have a wonderful meal with attentive service at a reasonable price. Would you go back? In the second case, the restaurant has an off day. You have a so-so dinner with indifferent service at the high end of what you had hoped to pay. Would you go back? Most people would go back in the first case but not in the second. Given reversion to the mean, what’s likely to happen the second time you go to the restaurant? Chances are the meal won’t be quite as good, or the service will slip a bit. But in this case you have gathered a more accurate view of the restaurant, even if it’s less flattering. On the other hand, if you never return to the restaurant because of a bad experience, you are assured you will gather no additional information, even if that information—as reversion to the mean suggests—would be more favorable.

But Gary Klein, a psychologist, suggests what he calls a premortem, a process that occurs before a decision is made. You assume you are in the future and the decision you made has failed. You then provide plausible reasons for that failure. In effect, you try to identify why your decision might lead to a poor outcome before you make the decision. Klein’s research shows that premortems help people identify a greater number of potential problems than other techniques and encourage more open exchange, because no one individual or group has invested in a decision yet.

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Mexico Trip Day 8 and 9: Chichen Itza, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum Ruins

PSX_20200125_142528Chichen Itza, One of The Seven Wonders of The World, in Yucatan

Today we left Merida for Playa Del Carmen, with a stop in Chichen Itza in between. We departed early at 8am, after having breakfast in the hotel, and drive for 1.5 hour to one of the seven wonders of the world. I mostly sleep on the way, as I felt terribly tired after seven days of heavy physical activity and lack of sleep. One thing I instantly noticed arriving at Chichen Itza is the number of tourists, which was surprising for an off-holiday season. Unlike other sites I have visited, including the Teotihuacan Pyramids, there was burgeoning numbers of people waiting to buy their tickets at the entrance of the site.

PSX_20200125_142646Chichen Itza, One of The Seven Wonders of The World, in Yucatan

Our site guide is a guy in his 40 that is very funny and captivating in explaining the functions and history of temples surrounding the main pyramid. The weather was hot, but not excruciatingly hot as in Asia. There were souvenirs vendors alongside the road to the temple and more on the way to the astronomical building ruins. Two things I learned from the guide explanation is that the Mayan priest use the sound effect of the buildings and various rule he made up to control the people, and lots of sacrifices were made at that time.

PSX_20200125_142731Chichen Itza Astronomical Temple in Yucatan

After the visit, we had our lunch at a Hacienda located 5 minutes away from Chichen Itza. It is like a hotel with a buffet restaurant that cost MXN 140 (US$ 7) without drinks. It’s not fancy, but they served salad and a mix of both Mexican and international foods that was well worth it for the price given. We departed at 2pm, leaving Yucatan province, and drove east of Merida to Playa Del Carmen, a town with famous for its beach and resorts on the province of Quintana Roo.

We arrived at 4.30pm, checked in Hotel Playa Del Carmen located three blocks from the beach, and head out for a walk at the fifth avenue. Few of us strolled on the beach, before returning to the fifth avenue to buy ice cream and look around at the stores alongside the road. At 7pm, we were already in the hotel and Maria guided us to ADO bus station (where I have to buy ticket to Cancun airport the next day) and walked around the square on the Southern side of the city.

PSX_20200125_230532Sunset at The Beach in Playa Del Carmen

For the final dinner together with the group, we had it on a Mexican restaurant on the fifth avenue. I ordered a mix of grilled seafood, which tasted great and similar to those I used to have in Indonesia. It was quite expensive, but the fact that I can’t find decent grilled seafood restaurant in Montreal means that I have to stomach the cost. I joined the others going back to the hotel soon after the dinner, as I had plan to watch the sunrise tomorrow morning in Tulum, an archeological site an hour away from Playa Del Carmen.

PSX_20200125_200809Last Dinner with The Group

I slept roughly for six hours the night, before waking up at 5.30 am and walked to the service collectivo minibus station next to my hotel. There is no fixed schedule when the minibus will depart, but they will depart as soon as it is full. There were several major stops on the way from PDC to Tulum, but essentially you could stop anywhere you wanted, and the driver will even do some short de routing to drop you off exactly where you want to. Although it was Sunday, my minibus was cramped with locals who were traveling from PDC to work at hotels or restaurants scattered alongside the road to Tulum.

I tracked how close I am to the destination using google maps, and when it was close enough, I said, “Zona Arquelogica de Tulum, por favor”. The driver dropped me off on the side of the highway, where then I have to cross and walk further east for 15 minutes to reach the ticket office. But it was a pleasant walk in the morning, when the weather was nice, and the sun is not high yet. Moreover, I had no problem with mosquito during my stay in Yucatan peninsula.

PSX_20200126_142307Ruins on the Cliff at Tulum Archeological Zone

PSX_20200126_142350Seascape at Tulum Archeological Zone

PSX_20200126_142420Tulum Archeological Zone

PSX_20200126_142444Tulum Archeological Zone

The entrance to Tulum Archeological Zone cost MXN 80 (US$4), with an option of 5am-7pm (sunrise a sunset) entry for MXN 260. Since it was almost eight when I arrived at the ticket office, I waited for ten minutes to get the cheaper ticket before going in the archeological zone. At the time, there was only one German tourist ahead of me and several others behind me.

PSX_20200126_142208Sunrise at Tulum Archeological Zone

PSX_20200126_142236View from the Cliff at Tulum Archeological Zone

Tulum Archeological Zone is one of the most beautiful sites I have visited in Mexico. Maybe it was due to the clear morning weather, or the ocean (which I have not been to in four years), or even the sound of the waves. The site was filled very organized, with a clear pathway for pedestrian and a rope outlining the walkaway. I looked for the way to the cliff overseeing the beach and the ocean, where I stayed for fifteen minutes taking few photographs and admiring the landscape.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR5727.JPGSeascape at Tulum Archeological Zone

PSX_20200126_142124Seascape at Tulum Archeological Zone

There is a small beach connected to the site, which seasonally hosts the nest for turtle’s eggs and is protected from human activity. If you are visiting the site in the morning, I suggest that first to go east to the cliff and then walk south to tour around and exit at the same entrance gate. This way, you could see the most beautiful section when there is less people around and still see all the site without walking through the same walkaway again and again.

PSX_20200126_142039The “Protected” Beach in Tulum Arcehological Zone

I wished I had more time to just sit on the cliff and watch the ocean, but I had to rush back to PDC and catch my bus to Cancun airport at 11.35am. At nine, I walked back to the highway and luckily caught a service collectivo heading to PDC. It stopped at fewer places and dropped me off at the same station in PDC at ten to ten. I headed straight to the beach, to beachfront restaurant managed by INTI beach that I had spotted the day before for a brunch.

The staff greeted and welcomed me very warmly, letting me to seat on a plush sofa with umbrella on top facing the beach. I ordered an orange juice and looked at the menu afterwards to see their seafood selection. I relaxed a bit, watching beachgoers walking by, before ending up having a jumbo shrimp with a basilic rice and vegetables, which were delicious, and another glass of pina collada. After the meal, I still sat still and listened to the waves before leaving at 10.45am and grabbed my luggage from hotel, heading to the ADO bus station.

PSX_20200126_142533Brunch at INTI Beach Club, Playa Del Carmen

Cancun airport is very decent and clean, much better than those in Mexico City, Oaxaca or Merida, and also have many shops and restaurants inside the terminal. I bought a bottle of tequila for my girlfriend, and then had my caramel frappucino at Starbucks before sitting at my departure gate. As the flight takes off, I was thinking to myself how nice the last 9-days had been, and humming silently a song I have been listening to for the past two days:

“If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
If you’re not into yoga, if you have half a brain
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
I’m the love that you’ve looked for, write to me, and escape”

DCIM100GOPROGOPR5752.JPGBrunch at INTI Beach Club, Playa Del Carmen

 

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Mexico Trip Day 6 and 7: Relaxing in Oaxaca, Merida and Uxmal Ruins

PSX_20200123_144052Sunrise from a Hill in Oaxaca

We stayed for two nights in Oaxaca, and on the third day, few of us were planning to watch the sunrise together from the hill close to Santo Domingo Cathedral. We met in the hotel lobby at 5.30am and started walking for 40 minutes west from our hotel. It was a unique experience for me to see the town early in the morning. There is a highway on the foot of the hill with a pedestrian walkaway on the side, where we scout for a clear view to the city downhill. I set up my tripod and started composing few photographs for the next half an hour while observing the sky’s color changing from thick orange to white-yellow color.

PSX_20200123_144442Santo Domingo Cathedral During the Sunrise

PSX_20200123_144548Oaxaca in the Morning

PSX_20200123_144632Santo Domingo Square in Oaxaca

The walk back to our hotel is even more interesting, as we passed several murals on the wall that we didn’t notice in the dark. We stopped to take more pictures and even some selfies in between. I love the way the sunray slowly lit the colorful building walls as we walked, as if a curtain was being gradually lifted on the whole city. It felt great to walk early in the morning. The air feels fresh and a bit cold, there were barely any cars and we could wander on the street as a result. We even saw a woodpecker on a tree branch, spotted by Max when he heard a weird sound coming from the sky.

PSX_20200123_144740Main Street in Oaxaca

PSX_20200123_144748Towers of Santo Domingo Cathedral During the Sunrise

PSX_20200123_144827Santo Domingo Cathedral During the Sunrise

PSX_20200123_144856Street Scene in Oaxaca

PSX_20200123_144755Entrance to Santo Domingo Cathedral in the Morning

Today, we had a flight to Merida at 4pm, meaning that we have to go to the airport at 1.15pm. This gave us ample time to explore Oaxaca further or just enjoy the day relaxing somewhere nice. After going back for breakfast in the hotel and taking a shower, I went to the Zocalo and found a coffee shop with seats on the terrace facing the Zocalo. There were many women selling textiles decorated with patterns, each of them standing ten meters apart while showcasing their good. I sat down for a good one and a half hour, reading my kindle and pondering whether I should pursue a PhD degree when I come back to Canada, to one day become a policy maker and contribute something to the world.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR5686.JPGA Street in Oaxaca in the Morning

DCIM100GOPROGOPR5676.JPGMe Reading and People Watching in Zocalo, Oaxaca

PSX_20200123_144948Nice Cup of Espresso in Zocalo, Oaxaca

Around 11.30, Juliette spotted me sitting there and said hello. She helped me locate the chocolate store we went to two days before, where I had planned to revisit to buy some chocolate bar and powder. I walked there fifteen minutes later and walked back to the direction of my hotel. That is when I met Steve and both of us ended up having lunch together at La Olla, the restaurant we went to last night. Funny thing is that when we already sat on the second floor of the restaurant and ordered our food, we saw Max and June entering the same restaurant, all this without any planning before.

Our flight with Interjet to Merida has one layover in Mexico City. In the airport I bought two chocolate bars and a bottled water for the flight, all of which cost less than MXN 100. While waiting, I also wrote a postcard to my girlfriend, who has a hobby of collecting postcard from her relatives traveling overseas. The flight from Oaxaca to Mexico City was delayed by about twenty minutes, which made the layover in Mexico City airport very brief that there is only enough time for me to go to the washroom and bought another bottled water.

At 9pm we arrived in Merida, which is warmer and more humid than Oaxaca. Getting out from the airport, we were tired and hungry. So, we drove straight to the hotel, Hotel Colonial de Merida, and put our luggage in our room before heading to the restaurant across it called Chaya Maya. It turned out to be a popular restaurant among the tourist and was still heavily packed at over 10pm. I had a pork cochinita, one of the local foods, that taste like a pulled pork sandwich with a tortilla as the bread.

Maria and a few of us went to the Plaza Grande two blocks away after the dinner to straighten our stomach and buy some water. Then, all of us went back to our room and slept, knowing that tomorrow we will have a long day.

The next morning, I woke up at 6am and walked to Plaza Grande to watch the sunrise. The sky was cloudy, with a tint of bright purple color. I had three hours to explore the city, before meeting for an arranged tour to Uxmal Ruins and Kabah at nine, so I paced my walk around the square. Surrounding Plaza Grande, there are two buildings that are worth a visit: Palacio Municipal de Merida and Catedral de Merida San Lidefonso. I went inside the cathedral and walked around the square again, before taking an uber to Santa Lucia Park and Paseo de Montejo, where many people were jogging in the morning.

PSX_20200125_061050Plaza Grande in Merida During the Sunrise

PSX_20200125_061133Plaza Grande in Merida During the Sunrise

Back in the hotel, I showered and had a big breakfast with the rest of the group. There are two options for tourist visiting Merida: first, to swim in the cenotes, which is a lake inside a cave with clear water, and second to visit the ruins. Another our member and I chose the later, as we don’t like to get wet during the trip and having to take shower again in the hotel after.

At ten past nine, a white minibus picked us and two other passengers before going to the direction of Uxmal Ruins, which is 1.5 hour away from the city. There, we met our site guide and tour around for an hour before we have our free time to climb the ruin on the back of the main pyramid. Uxmal Ruins are not as big as Teotihuacan or Monte Alban, and the landscape surrounding it was less stellar, but it’s still worth the visit.

PSX_20200125_060838Uxmal Ruins, Merida

PSX_20200125_060925Uxmal Ruins, Merida

Around noon, all four of us had lunch together and chatted. It turned out that the elderly couple is a marine corps veteran and a nurse from California, and this is their fifth time visiting Merida. They told captivating stories about places they have traveled to, such as Russia in the 90’s, safaris in Zambia and Kenya, and their horrible experience staying in a hut in Mongolia. I had a lime soup and chicken cochinita for the lunch, both of which were delicious, and the chicken is much more tender than last night’s pork cochinita.

PSX_20200125_061229Uxmal Ruins, Merida

PSX_20200125_061742Me in Uxmal Ruins, Merida

We continued the trip driving for another half an hour to a site called Kabah. There, we hiked more ruins and took some pictures. If you are visiting this place, don’t forget to go across the road of the parking lot and see the arch that historically served as the entrance of the site. Since it is not very big, we took only 30 minutes or so to walk around the complex.

PSX_20200125_061613Me in Kabah, Merida

The day tour finished at 4.30pm and I asked to be dropped at a square just next to my hotel for a reason. There’s a nice ice cream shop called Santa Lucia on the square, next to a hotel, and they have seats facing the crowds. I ordered two large scoop of mango sorbet for about MXN 100 and finished it while watching people walking by.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR5695.JPGIce Cream at Santa Lucia, Merida

I walked for one and half hour after that going to few markets and parks across the city before finally going back to hotel and took a shower. We had a fancy dinner at the Gastronomies Museum at 7.30pm, with Maria explaining various spices sourced from parts of Mexico that is gathered to make cuisines. The museum also has a miniature of Mexican village, where there are explanations about the food making processes. There was a live music in the center of the open-air restaurant and the ambience is just right. We had couple rounds of wine and Juliette and I stayed until midnight talking and drinking until the music stopped. It was probably one of the best nights I had for a long time, feeling both relaxed and happy traveling in a foreign country.

 

 

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Mexico Trip Day 4 and 5: Oaxaca and Monte Alban Archeological Site

PSX_20200122_002536Sasnto Domingo Cathedral During the Sunset, Oaxaca

Last night sleep was good, at least compared to the previous three day when I didn’t have 8 hours of consecutive sleep at night. Today, we are heading to another city located South East of Puebla that is called Oaxaca (wa-ha-ka). We had breakfast on the hotel together at 8am, then I took a quick walk to the Zocalo and bought two bottled waters for the five-hours road trip. I mostly read my kindle book and listened to music throughout the way. When we finally arrived in Oaxaca at 2pm, we were glad that the weather was much warmer, and the sky was cloudless.

PSX_20200122_223037One of the Main Street in Oaxaca

There were a demonstration in the inner city when we arrived, so almost all the road was blocked by a bus or group of people holding a banner, forcing us to stop in the middle of a road and stroll our luggage to the hotel less than 5 minutes away. As usual, we checked-in at our hotel, Parador del Dominico, before heading out for lunch together. Our hotel is located 5 minutes east from Santo Domingo Cathedral, which is located 5 minutes north from the Zocalo (central square). Further south from the Zocalo, there is a market 5 minutes away, which in total took us 15 minutes to walk. Somewhere in between, we stopped at a chocolate store and tried Oaxacan chocolate under the brand name Mayodormo. Inside the market, we toured around to see various goods and meats being sold, and ate tlayuda, which is a sense is a Mexican pizza (tortillas with toppings on top of it).

PSX_20200122_074918Square in front of Santo Domingo Cathedral, Oaxaca

It was around 15.30 when we have free time to explore the city and I went back to the Zocalo and Santo Domingo Cathedral to take few photographs. Directly next to Santo Domingo Cathedral is Museum of Cultures, which cost MXN 80 to get in and take around 2 hours for me to walk around each chamber and see each exhibit. Also, from the second floor of the museum, there is a window offering a view to the Ethnobotanical Garden and the square, which is well worth exploring.

PSX_20200122_075342View from a Rooftop Terrace Near Santo Domingo Cathedral

Less than an hour before the sunset, I walked to the direction of the hill in front of Santo Domingo cathedral to scout for the perfect spot for watching the sunrise tomorrow. Satisfied with my finding, I headed back to the square in front of the cathedral and went inside a café that has a rooftop patio on the second floor, waiting for sunset.

PSX_20200122_075440Me on the Terrace

The sunset was very colorful, with the ray reflected beautifully on the walls, enhancing the colors. I sat on the café for a good 45 minutes before it turned dark and realized that it’s time for me to walk back to the hotel and meet the rest of the group for a dinner together. Maria, our tour guide, suggested that we go to Le Campane for dinner, which served Italian pasta and selection of wines. We spend the rest of the night talking and drinking before stopping for 10 minutes watching local youngsters learning to dance bachata on the square on our way back.

Breakfast was served in our hotel the next day, about an hour before we depart to Monte Alban at 8.15 am, which is located only 40 minutes uphill from the city. The air was fresh in the mountain, and with the sun coming out already I put on my sunglasses. We met our site guide, a man in his sixties that talked slowly but is quite informative. First, we went to the highest point of the archeological zone to see the whole site and learn about the purpose and history of each building. From there, we descent slowly to visit each of the architectural marvel, which took about one and a half hour to complete. During the walkaround, we also had the chance to climb the temple at the other end of the site, giving us the perspective from both end of the zone.

PSX_20200122_223421Monte Alban Archeological Zone

PSX_20200122_223521Monte Alban Archeological Zone

PSX_20200122_223814Me at Monte Alban Archeological Zone

At the entrance of the archeological zone, there is a small museum, gift and coffee shop where few of us sat and drink after the tour, admiring the nature surrounding the site. We talked about other beautiful places in Mexico with Maria, our tour guide, and converse about various subject matter related to Mexico.

We went back to the city at noon. Juliette, Maria and I were already planning to have a fancy lunch at a restaurant called Tierra Del Sol, located nearby the Santo Domingo Cathedral. Due to the nice weather, we were planning to sit on the rooftop, but unfortunately, they weren’t opening that section yet due to lack of staff. We eventually sat nearby the window, which is still very nice, and were warmly welcomed by the staff. It was an interesting culinary experience for us, as one of the waiters brought pots of spices and chillies next to our table, showing us how to make a sauce for our meals. There, for the first time in my life, I tried eating insects.

PSX_20200122_222920Lunch at Tierra Del Sol

There isn’t much left to do in Oaxaca for me after the lunch, as I had visited most of the interesting buildings yesterday. Initially, I planned to go to Hierve el Agua, but there is no local tour going there on the afternoon and private tour was prohibitively expensive, so I scrapped it from my list. For the rest of the day, I wandered around the city, walking about two kilometers to the east of the square and ended up having a 90 minutes massage for MXN 900 (MXN 1000/US$ 55 with tips).

I met my group again for dinner at 7.30pm, and we headed to another rooftop restaurant called La Olla, conveniently located two blocks from our hotel. I tried their mezcal mixed with fruits and also eat octopus tortillas, which were amazing. It was so good that the next day I came back to this restaurant for lunch.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR5688.JPGMy Favorite Octopus Tortilla at La Olla, Oaxaca

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Mexico Trip Day 3: Teotihuacan Pyramid, Puebla and Cholula

PSX_20200121_070531Teotihuacan Archeological Zone

Today I woke up at 6am, giving me an ample time to pack my stuff, read emails and have a breakfast before departing to the Teotihuacan Pyramid at eight. I reconvened with the rest of my tour group in the breakfast room at seven and started filling my plates with scrambled eggs and pancakes. I chatted with Juliette, a lady in her sixties from the U.K. and Max and June, a Singaporean couple who have traveled extensively in the past. At eight, we met our driver and loaded our luggage to the minibus before driving for 90 minutes to the Teotihuacan Pyramid.

PSX_20200121_070355“Favela” on The Way to Teotihuacan From Mexico City

It was a cloudy and windy day, similar to the weather in Montreal at the end of the autumn. We were welcomed by the official guide for the site, which was a very knowledgeable and friendly guy. Teotihuacan pyramid turned out to be a very interesting site from a scientific point of view, starting from the 13-degree water system and pi-related number for its pyramid size (220m x 70m), among other things. Touring around the whole site took us around 2.5 hours, including a 30 minutes hike to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun.

PSX_20200121_070635The Moon Pyramid

PSX_20200120_113215Me on the Top of The Sun Pyramid

After staying for two days in Mexico City, today we are heading to another city located 2 hours away called Puebla. Maria, our tour guide, has told us the day before that we will be having a late lunch today at 2pm once we arrived in Puebla. First, we checked-in Hotel La Alhondiga that is located in the Zocalo (central square) of the city. It was conveniently located but feels a little bit dingy due to the mix of cold weather and ceramic floorings. Ten minutes walk away, we arrived at the restaurant and ate Mole Poblano, which is a traditional Mexican food made from chicken covered with chocolate-based sauce.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR5584.JPGLunch in Puebla

It was late when we finished the lunch, so I headed back to the Zocalo area and looked around Cathedral de Puebla, Amparo Museum and Templo de Santo Domingo, all of which located close to each other. Amparo Museum is particularly worth a visit if you want to learn more on the timeline of Mayan/Aztec/Itza civilization and the artifacts left by them. In Puebla, all of the historical and touristic sites are closely located, except for the teleferico (ferris wheel). Good news is that it cost only MXN 60 to take a taxi from Zocalo to the cable car entrance, with the cable car itself costs less than MXN100. For me, the view from the cable car is well worth the time and money.

PSX_20200121_070954Amparo Museum

PSX_20200121_070749Cathedral de Puebla

PSX_20200121_070908A Street in Puebla

PSX_20200121_071232San Fransisco Cathedral in Puebla

PSX_20200121_071211Santo Domingo Cathedral in Puebla

PSX_20200121_071146Zocalo in Puebla

The cable car takes me from one part of the garden to the other (round-trip is available), where I then ordered an uber to another city 20 minutes away called Cholula. Cholula is known for its archeological zone, a yellow building on the hill with mountain on the back of it. There’s a three-story building several blocks away from the site, where I stopped and took some pictures. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, and the sunset wasn’t very beautiful, so I went back to Puebla shortly after.

PSX_20200121_071426Cable Car in Puebla

PSX_20200121_071522Puebla Cityscape with Popocatépetl Mountain

PSX_20200121_071653Cholula Archeological Zone

I walked around further in Puebla to watch the street scene and hunt for more photos while waiting for dinner time. When it was around 9pm, I finally sat down on a second-floor terrace of a restaurant facing the Zocalo, eating rib-eye tortillas and drinking corona. We stayed for only one night in Puebla, so I was trying to make the best of it. But it’s safe to say that the mix of cold weather, few attractions and not very lively street scene, has made Puebla my least favorite city in Mexico.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR5617.JPGDinner on a Terrace in Puebla Zocalo

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