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Published: August 17th 2010
Paul takes it easy in the midday sun
It seems popular with travel bloggers coming to the end of their blog to summarise the trip, pick their favourite moments or countries, and highlight anything they feel they have learnt while they been away from the real world.
Perhaps the last of these is simply to prove that the cerebral matter still works. Or that you don't have to be holding down a job in a multi-national in order to gain experience or learn skills suited to their return to work. For us, however, it was more about what we've learned and loved about other people rather than ourselves. We didn't go away to find ourselves (or to get married Lairdy), we simply had the opportunity and we took it.
But before we tell you how it all panned out ... you need an update on Mexico.
Barring throwing away our round the world tickets, Mexico was one of few countries guaranteed to be on our visit list as Mexico City was our chosen airport for the return to Heathrow.
Coming, unexpectedly, from Belize meant we entered at Chetumal (on what is popularly regarded as the Yucatán Peninsula, but is actully in the state of Quintana
Paul ignores the "Do not touch" signs
Roo) on our way to Tulum. Then, at the bus station, we decided on Yucután proper and bought seats on the next bus to Mérida ... mainly because it was ready to leave and there was half an hour until the Tulum bus.
What a great choice! We arrived in time for the weekend fiesta which kicks-off as night falls on a Saturday evening and doesn't give in until the early hours of Monday. Streets stalls selling all sorts of artesania, tat and food. Entertainers dancing and doing various performances. Restaurants flooding on to the pedestrianised roads. Just like the Queen's Jubilee but without the red ,white and blue. It's only failing, possibly not enough bars ... the number of restaurants overcomes this though.
We stayed in a hideous hostal for the first night, but as the dorm only had one other couple and we were tired, sleep wasn't an issue. Hygiene was though. After a year on the road, we still detest the lack of simple things like unplugging the hair from the over-flowing showers or re-painting the walls once they start flaking onto the sleeping guests. And don't start Nicola on the floors ... how hard
can it be to sweep a tiled floor?
Second morning, armed with 51 weeks of negoitiation skills, we headed off for better digs. Hospedaje Alvarez was perfect. Run by a brother/sister combo who couldn't do enough to help, clean and with a swimming pool - for the same price as the scumhole hostel round the corner. If you want hostels to meet people, so be it. If you want value for money, do the footwork that guide books don't, and find a B&B run by a family.
From Mérida we took a day trip to Uxmal (Ooshmal if you are trying to talk with the locals) where they have a compact, but impressive, Mayan site. It makes a changes from the larger sites which have you cursing Mayan architecture in the midday sun. The Temple of the Wizard is wonderfully ornate. There is a ball court (similar to that in Chitzen Itza), Great Pyramid, Governors' Palace and Temple to the Turtle all of which are located within a few yards of each other.
At 5pm they throw you out of the site and set up seats in the Temple of the Nuns. Then after sunset your ticket
Light and Sound
Sunset falls and the show begins
gets you back into the site for a Light and Sound show. We were expecting something like a Jean Michel Jarre concert, but it turns out that the Sound is a story rather than music and we hadn't invested in the headset translator. The general gist seemed to be that Uxmal was a small city that got big, suffered a famine and got small again. Moral of the story seemed to be, "make more sacrifices to the rain god Chaac".
Having spent a couple more days in Mérida than planned, we needed one last 24 hour bus journey. Back to back movies (in Spanish) for 8 hours, a short stop for dinner and the typically ignorant travellers behind us with their knees in our backs while trying to sleep reminded us of one thing we may not miss back in the UK. One change from the norm, it arrived early!
Then owing to our friendly Latin American helpers, we were erroneously directed to our hotel. Twice. It took 2 hours of meandering around the Mexico City metro before we got there - fortunately it's only 15p per journey.
Once again we had chosen our accomodation based on
Like kids in a sweetshop
price. This time the hole we were putting up with was the Sheraton Maria Isabel Towers ... it was free. Our thanks for this one goes to First Officer James Gwyn who had flown his 747 down to Mexico specifically to give us a lift home! Apparently BA book out so many rooms for the crew that upgrades are obligatory when the suites aren't taken by "paying" guests. We had the spare double in James' suite.
However, while James is ace at coming up with free rooms, he can't read his schedule. After some excuse about times being in GMT we found he was taking the plane back on the 13th and we were booked onto the flight on the 14th. As if we'd book a flight for Friday 13th!
Still, we had a restful couple of days with the fellow. Our Mexico City sightseeing involved breakfast, lounging in the Sheraton suite, lunch, lounging in the Sheraton suite, drinks in the BA crew room at the Sheraton, dinner, breakfast, lounging by the pool at the Sheraton - then James went off and we had to find another room for the night. His generosity stopped at offering out the
Punk hits Mexico City
The locals dancing to "Chaac save the Queen", by the Mayan Pistols
rooms of the other crew!
Then we crammed 3 days of Mexico City sightseeing into one. The Cuidadela market got three visits - after 12 months on the road, we did our souvenir shopping in 12 hours on the 365th day of our trip. We spent some time at the Zocalo, which usually looks more impressive but the Mexicans are lining up the 200th anniversay celebtations for booting out the Spanish (as are many Latin Americans this year) and it was full of scaffolding. Nonetheless, a Cathedral, a Palace, several grandiose buildings and a space for some Aztec ruins makes it a spectacular sight even with the work going on. Chapultepec Park is lovely. Some great buildings, lakes, 40k+ trees, a zoo and Mexico's most important museum make it a popular venue. Plenty of people making it quite lively means a great day out, but we only had a couple of hours, spent mostly watching an artist doing his thing. We bought 6 of his paintings, 4 that he painted in front of us, including one by request.
Then it was off to the airport with high hopes of an upgrade, at least to Club class, now that
Where it all began
A couple of chubbas in front of the Hermitage
we knew all the crew. Disappointingly (we actually failed to talk to each other for half an hour after take-off as we were gutted!) it was a full flight, but they did manage to bring a bottle of Champagne down to the cheap seats because they couldn't get us into the expensive ones.
And then, after our last overnight journey of many, we were back in Heathrow where we were met by our 6 parents. Not sure if the floods of tears were because we had missed them, or because we were back to reality and didn't want to be!
So what did we learn? Proabably nothing new, you've heard it all before, but here it is anyway.
Foreign languages. Well, the ability to ask for 2 beers in 29 countries! Plus the necessary pleasantries, of course. This was a challenge in Russia and Mongolia as they don't use the same alphabet and in China, where they don't even have an alphabet. But we didn't starve, so we obviously worked out enough! More latterly we learned to swear like squaddies in Dutch ... perhaps not something we'll be practising in the near future though.
Will sleep anywhere
Trains, buses, tents, cars, even airports but nothing beat the monastery
time a train is late by five minutes, we won't moan. The longest journey in the UK is about 10 hours ... you can be late by those sort of numbers in Asia!!
Service. If it's being paid for you should expect service. It's easy to take your business elsewhere and we did, frequently.
Politeness. Leave it in the UK. The chances of anyone holding a door open for you or moving to single file so you don't have walk in the road to let them past are slim and you are far more likely to say "thank you" for paying than they are for receiving your money!
Food & drink. Chinese doesn't taste like Chinese at home. Nor does Mexican, or Thai.... One can have too much goat, around about the second time it is served is most people's cut off. Argentinians know a bit about steak and red wine. Laotians know a bit about beer (if you've never drunk Beer Lao, go find some).
Human nature is basically friendly. Yes some people will try to rip you off. Some may try to do you harm. But the numbers are miniscule in comparison to the
New Years Eve
2010 started with a hangover
population of the planet. Go into any interaction with a smile and even a sceptical Russian will be your best friend within hours.
And, to pre-empt a few questions when we see you all next ...
1, Yes, we are still talking.
2, Yes, we are really still talking, we're not just writing it for appearances sake!
3, Yes, it went quickly. 12 months is nothing like long enough to travel the world (damn the bank balance!)
4, Yes, we would do it again, but never for 12 months. It's incredibly tiring and even stressful at times. Perhaps 3 months next time and focus on one or two countries.
5, China. Owing to the diversity, the friendliness of the people and the simple "wow" factor it was our favourite country.
6, Aro'a, Rarotonga, Cook Islands. White sand, great snorkeling, who wouldn't love this beach.
7, Rongphu Monastery. We stayed at lots of lovely hotels and were looked after in many generous friends houses but for a single night accommodation, on a Buddisht monk's bench with 2 yak blankets, 5 miles from Everest basecamp was the most memorable place we slept.
8, Melbourne, possibly. We still didn't find anywhere we'd rather live than London, but Melbourne runs it close.
9, Swimming with Whalesharks. By far the most memorable single moment of the trip.
10, Mosquitos. Not just because they gave Nic Dengue fever, the constant discomfort from bites makes them the worst thing we had to put up with ... almost constantly for 12 months ... and we didn't even visit Africa.
So we are back. And jobless. Available for after dinner speeches, school geography lessons and bar mitzvahs.
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