Published: December 4th 2009December 2nd 2009
One of the best things about hopping around countries like some drunk fugitive is occasionally you arrive somewhere you only heard of the day before, and it turns out to be fantastic. Cuidad Valles is like that. I only stepped off the bus there as it seemed relatively near to Xilitla (pronounced Hi Hitler), which I'd read about in the guide, but what I found was an epicentre of extreme sports. Valles itself isn't particularly impressive. It hasn't got much of a nightlife, and can't really claim a ruin to put itself on the map. But it is situated 10 minutes driving distance from some of the best kayaking and white water rafting rivers in Mexico. That, coupled with zip lines, rockclimbing, canyoning (the art of jumping off cliffs into big pools of water) and pretty much every other dangerous activity people pay money to do, give the place something different from the rest of Mexico. Courtesy of a completely useless laundry service I had a few more days here than expected, and so thought that tying myself to a kayak and flying off a few waterfalls would pass the time pretty well. And Christ it did. I've just about calmed
Alice in Wonderland in the tropics.
The next day, after I'd dryed off, I visited Xilitla. In the early 1960s, a completly balmy British billionaire called Edward James moved to this sleepy hillside village and started to create various forms of surrealist art in the surrounding jungle. By his death in 1984, James had created an 80 acre concrete dreamworld, containing everything from 4ft concrete hands rising from the ground to stairs 100m high that simply loop and retun to the jungle below. Concrete flowers sprout from the banks of a waterfall channelled through tigers mouths, flowing through tranquil pools where anyone crazy enough to handle such a landscape can take a dip. As a result, 'Las Pozas' is now something of a Mecca for artists and mushroom lovers alike. Insanity and $5million worth of concrete can produce some pretty interesting results.
One way of finding the next point of destination is to read the reviews of guide books, or listen to the stories of other people milling around hostals. Another is to play Mexican Monopoly, and visit the places you bankrupt yourself trying to buy. This was how I found out about El Tajín, a thousand year old city north of
Human sacrifice carvings.
Veracruz. I won't go on about it as in all honesty I know pretty much nothing about the civilization that made it, apart from the fact that they spent a lot of time playing 'The Ball Game,' the oldest team sport on Earth where players have to keep a rubber ball in the air using their hips and elbows. The fact that the winning team were sacrificed only seems to have spurred players on.
Next stop Xalapa, for yet more culture. (I hadn't drank in a few days). Well, if you can call 2,000 year old statues of people wearing other people's skin culture then that's what I found. That said, the most impressive exhibits in Xalapa museum are definitely the Olmec Heads. Some carved as long as 3,000 years ago, these huge heads are incredible. Most stand 12ft-15ft tall, 6ft-8ft wide and the biggest discovered weighs over 40 tonnes. Considering the people that made them didn't even have the wheel, a massive amount of skill and craftsmanship must have been needed to create such amazing, and quite intimidating structures. Not everyone thought this though, as a few heads show signs of mutilation not too long after their construction,
MORE ruins near Oaxaca. There everywhere..
so the people portrayed on each head must have really pissed everyone off at some point.
After acting mature for such a horrible length of time, a drink was definitly needed. Veracruz has a reputation around here for been a party place, so I headed there. It was rubbish. I won't go on about the crap places because there isn't much point, but I'll just say it smells of shit and the paint is peeling off everything
I escaped to Oaxaca, which is definitly worth writing about. Isolated from the rest of Mexico on three sides by mountain ranges and on the fourth by the Pacific Ocean, Oaxaca's indigenous Zapotec population have been able to keep themselves pretty much to themselves. Textiles are still made in the same way they have been for a millienia (coloured with animal piss in some cases) and the people themselves seem to be around a foot smaller than the rest of Mexico. A diet of boiled, spiced grasshoppers can't help, but they are actually pretty tasty. The hostal I stayed at was pretty quality aswell. You don't meet to many people in hotels, but in a hostal there's always someone milling about. Add a festival to the mix and it you can have a decent few days here.
Unfortunately time has crept up on me, so after only a couple of days bathing in cold springs and buying bottles of Mezcal (they only survived a few days before being used as a nightcap) I took a dodgy combi through an even dodgier mountain road to Puerto Escondido, an awesome little village on the Pacific full of vagrants from pretty much everywhere trying to surf by day and filling the bars by night. Whatever your idea of tropical paradise is, it probably looks like this. Anyways, this is the last one of these things I'm writing as I only have 10 days left, so I'm gonna try and cram in as much as possible. And I'm nervously preparing myself for the 4°C thats hanging around Runcorn at the moment...