Published: February 10th 2007February 9th 2007
Dear lord it was 21hrs of travel time to get from La Paz to Mexico City and I really wasn’t going that far, delay after delay, but that is a distant memory after 2 weeks in traveling around Mexico. Sadly I didn’t get to see much of Mexico City; however the reports from the other people on the trip confirm I didn’t miss much. The only thing I am slightly sad about is not seeing Freda Kahlo´s house, but I will just have to watch the DVD again. I really got straight into it, after arriving in at 11pm I was up early the next morning to depart for the short journey to Puebla passing the 2nd and 3rd tallest peaks in Mexico on the way - Popocatpetl and Iztaccihualt - both snow capped. That was my first signal it was not all going to be cactuses and desert. On arrival the group went to an Italian restaurant in the square… yip Italian in Mexico, aye??? I managed to find some Mexican on the menu though, love Mexican food! After lunch I took a stroll around the city with a few people from the tour. I have to say the people on this tour are so much better than the boozy crazies on the last tour, whew! On the stroll we visited; local crafts market (read tat for sale), an art square, sweet/candy street, local produce market and a tile street. The city is famous for its tiles; most of the buildings are covered in titles, similar to the churches in Portugal. There were so many churches in this town, like one on every corner, and apparently in the larger Puebla area there are more than 365 churches, one for every day - if you please. All the colonial buildings in the city were very well preserved and painted bright candy colours ... and speaking of candy ate way too much of that on the candy street, but one must try the local food! Ended up in another Italian restaurant for dinner, I get the feeling the guide is a little sick of Mexican food. But I have stayed true to my word, which I made in Peru… ´I am not eating Italian food in Central or South America´. It’s just not good and I am not in Italy. Another thing Puebla is famous for is the VW or beetle, there is a factory in the city so there are lots of them being driven around, and for that matter they appear to be a popular car through out Mexico.
We were off again early the next morning, heading towards Oaxaca, recently in the news for some nasty teacher protests that turned ugly. But they are over now and we saw no sign of that apart from some graffiti. On the way we went through a really love rolling valley with SO many cactuses it was amazing, they were everywhere, like grass. Oaxaca was another quant colonial city, again with lots of colourful old style buildings. On arrival we had a stroll around then went for lunch, Mexican, horary! It was great, we tried the local sauce called Mole; it is a spicy chocolate sauce, clearly I was well up for trying that, and it was rather nice on some tortillas. Basically wandered around for the rest of the day. Now, interesting thing about Oaxaca is that it is the home of Mezcal, I think this is the lethal alcoholic drink that is mentioned in the opening scene of the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I have always wondered what it was, so there you go… very alcoholic drink somewhat time Tequila. The following morning I had a very local breakfast at the market, hot chocolate in a bowl severed with sweet bread, plus scrambled eggs with re-fried beans and of course tortillas… delicious. We then headed to the Monte Alban ruins, with a name like that it of course was situated on the top of a hill. It had a fabulous view down to Oaxaca and the valley on the other side. The ruins were great, lots of houses, a ball court (if you won sometimes you were sacrificed!) and big pyramids surrounding a leveled courtyard. Apparently it took over 300 year just to level the top of the mountain! The pyramids were used in religious ceremonies, one such ceremony was to mark the start of the new year - a virgin would be skinned alive and then the priest would put the skin on him, yikes … certainly doesn’t pay to be a young girl in those days. When we got back to town I visited a museum, set up in an old convent, which displayed some of the loot found in one of the houses tombs at Monte Alban. The stuff was amazing; a skull with a turquoise mask, crystal, gold, coral, etc. The modern art museum was next on the agenda and there were a few good pieces in there. A group of us went to a really posh, modern restaurant for dinner, really funky place. I had swordfish tacos plus some wine… we were off to the WESTLING that night! If any of you have seen the movie Nacho Libre, it was exactly like that. It was a fun evening; we got right down the front and had to jump out of the way of flying objects and flying wrestlers. Even managed to get a photo, it was real WWF amateur hour. Got home at 2am, a bit worst for wear, thus my final day in Oaxaca ended up being very low key. Then we were on the night bus heading for San Cristobal.
We arrived to San Cristobal on the 2nd Feb, not an overly important day you think, well it is here in Mexico. During the past few days we had seen grown men and women carrying around little dolls, and carrying like they were actual children, really tenderly. There is some kind of religious celebration on the 2nd, whereby pre the 2nd you need to find a stranger to dress up the doll, which symbolizes baby Jesus. Interesting stuff, however not a lot was happening in the churches that day, although everyone was out on the streets that evening and lots of fire works where going off. On arrival we got straight into it, and by 9.30am we were on our way to visit some Mayan villages, famous for their particular religion called Catholic Traditional, a mix of Catholicism and local Maya traditions. Did I mention it was cold, like really cold, I had my wooly beanie on and a thermal… where was the sun? The villages were fabulous, we jumped out at a view point over the village and walked through the town stopping at a local spiritual mans house. To become a spiritual man you have to choose a saint that you will worship and then go on a wait list until he becomes available, then you have to pay for setting up the shrine and holding ceremonies, expensive business. We then made our way to the Church, it had pine needles all over the floor, candles dripping on to the pine needled floor, no pews and models of all the saints around the edge which the people where praying to. Mayan healers also worked in the church, they carried chickens, which they spun around the candles, the sick person and then sacrificed. We actually saw that happen, so we were very lucky to have that experience. Another strange practice was taking in fizzy drinks, in particular coke, to the church to consume. The theory behind that was burping lead to evil spirits being extracted from your body, thus drinking coke helps you burp. After looking around the markets we drove to the next town, the church there was a lot more conservative, but still very interesting as we visited a home of a local family and watched the mother make tortillas. Our guide then told us some disturbing stuff, apparently there are still heaps of catholic priests in the region trying to convert the Mayan people to full Catholics and further desecrate their culture, this is a very sad situation in this day and age. In the afternoon we visited Na Bolom, it is a gorgeous 19th century colonial museum, the former occupants did a lot helping the local Mayan people, and the organization continues to do that. Plus it helps with re-planting the jungle that is continually being cut down. Interestingly Freda Kahlo and Diego Rivera use to stay at the guesthouse and it is possible to stay in the room they use to stay in. There is also a statue in the gardens depicting Diego Rivera as his mother wanted him to be, a religious man, and how he was, a womanizer. Dinner was at a cheap and cheerful Mexican place, I had queso tacos, yummy.
The next day we took a day trip out to Cañon del Suridero, and it was better than I expected. On the boat ride up the Cañon we saw; vultures, crocodiles, herons (black and white), plus the Cañon itself was pretty impressive reaching a height of 1000m. This high point was actually where many Mayan people died, by jumping into the Cañon, rather than becoming enslaved to the Spanish. On the way back to San Cristobal we stopped at a weird little town for an hour or so, there was really nothing there, not sure what that was about.
Our bus journey to Palenque was longer than expected, we had a late start as the bus driver was late and then on the way there we had to practically come to a stop to go over judder bars. It seems in this country they love the judder bar, they are everywhere, but they do stop traffic going through small towns and approaching bends, just gets a bit much with all the driving we are doing. That aside, the drive was beautiful as we headed into the Chiapas, the jungle stretches between Mexico and Guatemala. We stayed at El Panchan, it was set in dense jungle with a creek running through it, it had basic rooms (and surprisingly hot showers!). It is kind of a hippy and manky dog hangout, however it is not really an eco-friendly place, I think it had a strange kind of vibe. Anyways we didn’t jazz around; we were out the door pretty swiftly heading towards to Palenque ruins. These were my first Maya ruins; they were set in the jungle with a number of pyramids, temples and a palace. Interestingly there are 1000´s of Maya structures still hidden in the surrounding area, there is no money to excavate the rest of the site, we saw one such pyramid, mound covered in jungle - trees and vines. The palace was a big complex with lots of galleries and sculptures … they even have toilets! One interesting fact about the Mayan’s - that probably won’t be portrayed in the Mel Gibson movie - is that they developed the concept of the zero. And thus they were able to count and also created a calendar that is still accurate today; however they had 18 months rather than 12. On departure the howler monkeys were screaming up a storm, it is rather a painful noise.
The next day in the Chiapas was pretty full on, but an excellent day of ruins. We set out at 6am in the rain, but by the time we stopped for breakfast, at a buffet place in the middle of no where severing fresh fruit, juices, tortillas, Mexican eggs, beans, etc, it had stopped and we could see blue sky ahead of us. The drive was a little disturbing as we drove past areas of de-forestation, the primary jungle had been cleared for farming (beef and corn), our guide mentioned 8yrs ago the drive was completely in the jungle. Thus it was very sad to learn this is still continuing even though everyone is a where of global warming. The other sad aspect is that the land once cleared is only fertile for a very short period of time, 5yrs, then more forest must be cut down… nasty cycle. We arrived at the shores of the Rio Usumacinta, the natural boarder with Guatemala, and jumped on a fizz boat for Yaxcilan. These ruins are very much hidden in the jungle, with trees, vines and moss dripping off them. When we walked through to the Grand Plaza there were tones of little bats sleeping up in the arches, I may have screamed when one flew close. The site was home to a number of beautiful carvings and edifices. We walked up many stairs to a temple passing colorful birds on the way and started to hear the howler monkeys … then there was a family of them sitting in a tree about 30m away! God the noise they make is massive compared to their size. Apparently their howls were recorded and used as King Kong’s roar on the recent Kong movie, I wouldn’t dispute that the sound is rather menacing. We stopped at Guatemala on the way back, jumped off the boat took a few photos then jumped back on. After a Mexican lunch we were back on the road to Bonampak. The road into the site is only 9 years old, prior to this people had to walk in for 3hrs. The locals decided to privatize the road, so we had to jump out and get in another van for the final 9km stretch to the site, ingenious way to make money. The highlight of Bonompak was the brightly coloured narrative murals painted in 3 rooms half way up the acropolis. The murals were very detailed showing ceremonies, blood letting, torture, fighting … great stuff, and in such good condition. Then we saw a Tucan!!! Well I am not 100% on that as it was a long way away and I think our guide knew we wanted to see one. It was then a long drive back to El Panchan.
Myself and the girl I have been traveling with / rooming with, Madeline elected to take the night bus to Merida, rather than spending the next day on a bus for 8hrs. Our plan was to get in and go and see the flamingos at Celestun, however our bus left late due to aqua problemos on the way. Thus we arrived in to Merida around 8.30am so we decided to visit Uxmal, pronounced ´oosh-mal´. We caught a local taxi/bus thing out to the site and the highlight for me was all the Iguanas running around, there were oodles of them! The ruins were pretty good, pyramid and a large presidential complex, we didn’t get a guide or anything, so we just cruised around and headed back. That evening we went to a yummy vegetarian place, I had a stuff zucchini however the shape was different from what we know, it looked like a small pumpkin. I also tried a local drink called Horchata, so good, the base was almond and rice milk, tasted like cinnamon rice pudding. The hotel in Merida was fabulous, an old Hacienda, beautiful courtyard with a fountain and the rooms were huge with very high ceilings.
Flamingo day! Our tour guide as a hoot, he pointed out all kinds of fruits and other things as we headed to the coast and Celestun, talking about the local people and how they live, farming, windmills, and also pointing out the very traditional Mayan house structures, still in use today with thatched roofs and all. We went through a town called Uman, it had a vibrate market with ladies selling fruits, flowers, veggies. He also told us about the properties of the green mango, apparently they assist with your digestive system so to speak. We arrived at the Celestun Estuary, jumped on a boat and raced towards the florescent pinky/orange mass in the distance. The flamingos did not disappoint, strutting around, necks extending up and down, peaking at each other, flapping their wings … quite a show! We went to look at some white and grey pelicans, zoomed through the mangroves and looked at all the other birds in the Estuary. Lunch was at Celestun beach ... ceviche and grilled fish, yay finally some seafood. We stayed at the beach for 3hrs, which was a rather long time, after a very interesting political / economical conversation with some of the retired members of the group we headed out for a walk, but it wasn’t the nicest beach. So we went into the town square and got ourselves a green mango, we ate it later on that evening, but there was no effect … not ideal since it didn’t taste all that nice. We managed to find a place on the beach making cocktails so one pina colada later and it was time to head back.
We were off again, heading towards Playa de Carmen, I had a rather funny experience at breakfast. We had been getting fruit with yogurt and granola at the same place for the past few days. Today I thought I would try and ask for it without watermelon as it is a bit strange with yogurt. I ended up with a melon and water juice then my fruit salad arrive and half the plate was watermelon, I some how got that all wrong! We stopped at Chichen Itza on the way to Playa de Carmen, oh my god, I thought I was at Disneyland! It was crawling with people, very expensive and tones of Americans. There were some very disrespectful visitors walking around with their tops off or bikinis, not very appropriate. All that aside it was a fairly impressive site. The thing that was most amazing about the place was the pyramid, but more so was that on March 21st and Sept 21st each year the pyramid is lit up by the setting sun (around 4ish) along its ridge and highlights a serpent … amazing, the Mayans were very good astronomers. There was also a huge ball court at the site, I have no idea how they manage to get the ball through the tiny hole, but this ball game is more religious, the winning teams captain is sacrificed… ekk! We arrived into Playa de Carmen rather late and headed out for a nice seafood meal; bring on the seafood for the next few weeks.
The beach at Playa de Carmen is very nice, clear blue waters, the main road is all built up with restaurants, bars, shops (Starbucks and MacDonald’s), but it is nice to be somewhere western for a few days. Since it is western I was able to treat myself to an afternoon at a Day Spa, all rather nice to get some pampering after the pace I have been travelling through Mexico at! Scott arrives tomorrow and we destand for Belize and Guatemala, I trust we will actually make it this time, touch wood...