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Published: August 30th 2011
When we were studying Spanish back in Melbourne one of the words that we were given was payaso
meaning clown. At the time I reasoned that of all the words I would need to use in Mexico ‘clown’ probably wouldn’t be one of them, so I didn’t bother to commit it to memory. Well, it turns out that we have had on more than one occasion cause to use the word. Like the time in the bus queue when we spun around only to be confronted with a fully painted clown - big blue eyes and a red oversized grin that stretched from ear to ear, decked out in suspenders, green afro wig and giant shoes standing ready to board the bus to Cuetzalan. Or the many clowns (what is the collective noun for a bunch of clowns? Is it a circus??) that pimp themselves alongside local balloon sellers in the town squares. And yes, no matter where you are in the world, clowns are still scary!
From Mexico city we headed high up into the mountains, to the tiny cobbled village of Cuetzalan
. The bus ride was hairy, the driver maintained his rapid pace while the thin ribbon of
a road wound precariously around hairpin bends, and the valley below fell steeply away from the edge of the asphalt. Cuetzalan is famous for it’s Sunday market that attracts the indigenous population from the surrounding villages to come and trade their wares. The town came alive as the main street was converted into an open air market with handicrafts, food, pottery, clothes and fresh fruit and vegetables all on offer. It was largely untouristed also – in the 3 days that we were there we counted perhaps 5 other gringos
(foreigners) in the town.
Talking to a tout in the village square with our broken Spanish we discovered that there was a special event on that night (Saturday’s only), and he could take us there (for a fee of course!). Intrigued we went with him to a restaurant on the edge of town that had it’s own rodeo ring, and voladero pole. For the cost of the meal we were treated to a Mexican show that involved singing, traditional dancing, and most impressively the Voladeros (or Pole Flyers). To the sounds of a flute and drumming, five guys climb a pole some 30 metres in the air, and then
four of the dancers attach themselves by the feet to rope and slowly descend to the ground while spinning upside down. The fifth stays at the top and pipes music to aid their safe passage to the ground. It’s quite surreal.
Heading south we went to the town of Puebla
which is famous for it’s chicken mole poblano – chicken served in a rich sauce that contains both chocolate and chilli, that is both delicious and morish. In Oaxaca
(which looks a lot Puebla, but is just smaller) we were entertained as hundreds of students jammed the streets to celebrate the end of school in a raucous mezcal and rum fuelled party with music and singing.
From here we took a day trip out to some local sights including El Agua
a petrified waterfall, Mitla
which is an important ceremonial Zapotec centre, and known for it’s unique architecture and wall carvings, and Teotitlan del Valle
an indigenous village where they weave rugs and clothing on looms using natural fibres and organic coloring methods, and finally a tour of a Mezcal factory. Mezcal is the liquor that is known locally as the brother to the more famous tequila. Tequila
is made only from the blue agave plant, but mezcal can be made from any agave, and Oaxaca is known as the ‘mezcal capital of the world’.
On the day trip we were caught in the uncomfortable pay-for-all-you-can-eat-buffet-situation, where you’re taken to a restaurant that caters specifically for tour groups and serves a massive, poorly cooked, and extortionately priced buffet. On our bus, we met some Mexican friends who were also unhappy to dine buffet style, so together we decided to make a getaway and head to somewhere cheaper. Walking out of the restaurant we realised we were pretty much trapped there, and there was nothing else around for as far as the eye could see. Fortuitously at this moment a tuk-tuk taxi appeared on the scene and agreed to take the four of us to a cheaper restaurant a few minutes down the road. We piled in and made our escape, and had lunch for a fraction of the price. Haha! A small win for independent travellers the world over!
In the pretty town of San Cristobal de la Casas
we caught up with our Mexican friend Sara whom we met while living in Ireland. Sara proved
to be a wonderful tour guide and source of entertainment while we were there, so much so, that we decided to stay on for an extra week, and brushed up on our Spanish! We studied at El Puente, which offered excellent value for money when we combined it with the family homestay. Sara works at a great bar called La Viña de Bacco, and here over several glasses of wine we met Danish couple Sabine and Morten also.
We went out to Chamula
to see a church that is being used for pagan and indigenous practices. The floor is strewn with pine needles, and the worshippers sit on the floor, clearing a spot in the pine needles where they place hundreds of candles, systematically lighting them and making accompanying offerings of coca cola and slaughtered chickens or birds. Here we also tried the native ‘Mayan medicine’ known as pox
(posh), which in it’s raw form tastes a lot like petrol, and is only palatable when the taste is masked by fruit. Sara knew some fabulous local spots so we had a some fun evenings at a mezcaleria, Vina de Bacco and a nightclub. You should ask to see Sara’s
Mexican line-dancing routine – she’s definitely got the moves! (We have video evidence too!) :D
The end of June marked Dave’s big birthday, so as per his birthday request we headed south to the Pacific Coast to the surfing town of Puerto Escondido
. Puerto is the home of the infamous Mexican pipeline, with the waves reaching 10-12 metres on average day. Here we upgraded to a hotel with pool and met a fun Australian couple, Kirsten and Connor. Dave’s birthday was celebrated in fine Central American style with mojitos and dancing at a salsa club.
An overnight bus saw us arrive at the Mayan ruins ofPalenque
where we met Linsey and Paul to split the cost of the guide for the tour of the ruins (catching up with them again later in Tulum). We were impressed with the ruins which are set in the jungle, and many ruins still remain covered with jungle and unrestored so you can wander the site in Indiana Jones style.
In the Yucatan we also visited the highly touristed site of Chitzen Itza
one of the world wonders. It is remarkable because of the high degree of wisdom that the ancient Maya
had in relation to astronomy. On the Spring and Autumn equinox a shadow is cast along the edge of the pyramid that gives the appearance of a serpent wriggling down the staircase.
The last of our Mayan sites on the Yucatan peninsula was Tulum
, a small site, but is all about location, location, location perched on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean. We stayed here for a few days basking in the sun and sea (too much for me, resulting in a horrible sunburn), and enjoying many flavours of Mexican beers.
Next stop ... Cuba!!
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