Adios Latin America

29 09 2010

And so, like all good things, my trip came to an end. I really didn’t do anything much all day: most of the excursions would have finished too late for me to get a taxi to the airport comfortably so I just hung out at the hostel. The sun was shining, perhaps just to remind me what I’d be missing when I got back to Europe, and as I took one last walk through the streets of DF I wished I’d made a bit more of my time in the city. I looked up on the minuscule ruins within the city boundaries but couldn’t be bothered with the large queue at the main museum so once again I spent a lot of time behind my laptop.

Ruins in the centre of Mexico City

Then it was time for an expensive secure taxi to the airport to get my flight back to Amsterdam. Somehow I got a seat at the front of Economy Comfort class and was really able to stretch my legs. I realised how out of touch I’d become with the real world when I didn’t recognise a single film in the “Recent Movies” section of the in-flight entertainment, so I instead watched Robin Hood before settling down to sleep before my arrival in Amsterdam.

Those of you still following this will be pleased to know that this isn’t the end of my blog. Expect more updates from the East after a month or so recess!

 





Lucha Libre

28 09 2010

I’m not really sure that I made the most of my final days in México. I think in my head, I was already in going home mode. I hadn’t bothered to book any tours for the day, so I decided to do the Lonely Planet walking tour. Quite why I bothered when I’d already been disappointed with similar tours in Santiago and Buenos Aires I don’t know. Nor could I find the inclination to go in any of the museums on the tour and, after snapping a few shots of the cathedral and various churches en route, I was quickly finished with it.

 

A shrine on the streets of DF

I decided to head over to the Latino Americano tower, once the tallest skyscraper in the whole of Latin America and, had been built in the middle of an earthquake zone; using technology ahead of its time when it was constructed in the 1950’s. The views from the top were spectacular and you could see the mega-metropolis stretching onwards in all directions.

 

Views from the top of the Latin America tower

After that I was at a bit of a loss for something to do so I headed back to the hostel and updated my blog for a while. Whilst there I saw Sam and he said that he’d booked the lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) through the hostel next door where it was cheaper. I decided to do the same and went over there to book it. In the lobby I bumped into Brooke again who I’d originally met in Mérida. She was also going to the wrestling and I had a drink with her and her friend, Kristen (Swedish), in their hostel lobby whilst we waited for the bus to depart.

Our guide taking us to the wrestling was absolutely crazy and full of beans. He was teaching us Mexican swearwords on the way. He also told us what we had to shout during the wrestling. The wrestling itself was hilarious, they often bitch-slapped each other in poorly-choreographed moves that somehow resulted in the wrestler being so overwhelmed by the weak hit that he tumbled out of the ring. Even though it was all clearly rehearsed and meant nothing it was a lot of fun to watch and we’d chant “Puto” (gay) at appropriate points when a wrestler was being defeated or when his “theme” was that he was homosexual.

Porky (photo courtesy of wiki commons)

A similarly enlightened and politically correct chant was “Vuelta” which we’d shout at the pretty scantily clad girls as they came out with a board proclaiming the end of a round. (As if it wasn’t obvious when a round ended). Sometimes they would actually comply and give us a little twirl. My favourite wrestler of the evening was Porky who, as if the name wasn’t evident, was a rotund contender and would bounce competitors out of the ring with his belly. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, although unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take my camera with me and so couldn’t take any of my own shots.

After the wrestling, me, Brooke, Sam and a few others headed to our hostel for drinks on the roof terrace. The bar area was still quiet and after a few beers I went to bed for my last sleep in Latin America before my journey home.





The Beginning of the End

27 09 2010

After breakfast and a few goodbyes, I headed off to México City Distrito Federal (DF), the final port of call on my Latin America adventure. I spent most of the 4-hour bus journey watching Entourage on my laptop: I was thoroughly addicted to the show by now and it helped while away the time. In DF, I got a secure taxi into the city centre but the taxi driver permanently tried to get me to stay elsewhere in town. “Have you got the name of another hotel? How much are you paying there?” “No! I want to stay at this one. I’m meeting some friends” Okay, the last part was a lie but I was damned if I was going to let him take me to a hotel that he got a kick-back from. “But the Zócalo is closed to traffic,” he kept saying, “I can’t take you there.” Eventually I got him to take me as near as dammit; got out of the taxi and walked the rest of the way on foot.

The hostel Joven Mundo Catedral is a huge multi-storey tower with key-card access to all the rooms. It’s quite unlike any hostel I’d stayed in so far and was part of Hostelling International. I’m generally not a huge fan of their hostels: they tend to be overpriced; even if you’ve bought membership; but it looked okay and should be a good place to meet people.

After seating myself at the empty roof-terrace bar, however, that didn’t seem to be the case. The few customers that did come in were all French and any attempt at conversation was stilted by the lack of a common language. Eventually I gave up and went in search of some food. It turned out that I’d left it too late and, at 10pm, even McDonald’s was shut. Was this really a capital city?! I grabbed a hot dog from the 7-Eleven and settled back in the bar. It was now slightly busier, although still with big ensembles of French. I did manage to find an Irish guy, Mike, and two Germans and sat down with them for a few beers.

The view from the roof terrace of Catedral hostel

A bit later on we were joined by Sam (English) who I actually knew from the pub quiz way back in Antigua. I wasn’t really feeling it that night, so I retreated off to bed quite early.





Fighting with the Locals

26 09 2010

It was my last ever big tourist tour in México and with a tequila-induced hangover I was ill-prepared for the loquacious guide wittering away at nineteen to the dozen and making extremely bad jokes. The fact that every blatantly telegraphed witticism was immediately suffixed with “Just kidding” did little to improve my ill-humour. And as well as him repeating the same things over and over again in English; he then also did the same in Spanish: making his monologue even more unendurable. Ohad, a solitary Israeli at the hostel who I’d spoke to quite a bit, also came on the trip.

Our first stop was to El Árbol del Tule: the broadest tree in the world and also one of the oldest (according to Wiki between 1,433 and 1,600 years old). Our guide pointed out various “animals” that could be seen in the shape of the trunk: although I was desperately trying to stay away from him for the sake of my sanity. I took sanctuary from his spiel in the Santa María de la Asunción church upon whose grounds the tree stood in.

El Árbol del Tule: the broadest tree in the world

We got back on the bus and then headed to a local weavers where we were given a demonstration on how the yarn was spun; how the various natural dyes were created and finally how the different yarns were weaved into the finished product. I successfully spent nearly all the cash I had with me on a rug.

Weaving a rug

After the weavers, stop number three was a mezcal factory. Here we were shown the process of how mezcal (a drink mostly native to Oaxaca) was made from the piña of the maguey (a form of agave) plant. After showing us how it was chopped, cooked, mashed and fermented, we then got to sample some of the finished product. Since I’d already imbibed my share of agave-distilled liquor the night before I didn’t greet this experience with my normal enthusiasm. We tried various ages of the mezcal and a few “creams”: mostly sickly concoctions combined with some artificial fruit flavours.

Maguey piña

The hair of the dog had now kicked in but I still found our guide exceptionally annoying as we trundled off towards the main attraction of the day: the Mitla ruins. I’d forgotten that I still needed to pay the entrance fee for the site and nearly had to borrow some money from Ohad but eventually found the 31 pesos amongst my loose change. The building style itself wasn’t that impressive (and in any case, another dose of 20th century cement was holding them together) but the mosaic fretwork adorning the walls was quite cool.

 

Fretwork at Mitla

After wandering around there for a while with our guide explaining various features and theories we then jumped back in the bus and headed to a village for a couple of hours to visit a market. During the week the tour actually finishes at Mitla but on a Sunday you spend two more hours enjoying the market. This would have been fine had I not spent every penny that I owned; I looked on with envy as Ohad, and a German couple we walked around with, sampled various wares at the food market.

 

After what seemed like an eternity of stomach-growling agony we got back on the bus and returned to Oaxaca. Back at the hostel I met a lovely English girl called Debbie; an amiable Irish guy, Stephen; and two Germans, Philip and Raphael, who were there for a physics conference. There was a barbecue on at the hostel and I’d signed myself up for it but, even though it was cheap, I was expecting slightly more than one beer and a burger. Given the paucity of my lunch that clearly wasn’t going to fit the bill, so after drinking a few beers on the roof terrace, Debbie and I headed out to get some food. Stephen wasn’t hungry but he came along for the walk anyway.

Since it was Sunday not much seemed to be open but we found a street stand selling some burgers. Although it didn’t look much, the burgers were really good: probably better than what we’d just had back at the hostel. We then found ourselves in Barracuda, one of the bars that Beto had recommended on my first day but marked on the wrong street and had a beer there. Stephen quickly darted back to the hostel and returned with Philip, Ohad and Edgar. There was a live band on at Barracuda that night but they were really quite dire: it actually drove us away from the bar in the end; which I’m sure is not why they put live bands on in pubs!

Cue another visit to what was becoming a regular Oaxacan haunt for me, La Casa Del Mezcal. We had a few beers and mezcals here and had the occasional chat with the table next to us. This consisted of a Mexican guy and his two, burly Colombian visitors. I think the fact that we were sitting with one of the only women in the place (and a gringa to boot) made our table all the more interesting to the locals. Actually, there were two more gringas in there too: an incongruous looking pair of Dutch girls who I’d been chatting to quite a lot at the hostel. One was incredibly short; whilst the other was more normal-sized and quite cute. They were supposed to have left that evening but said they’d run into some friends; their friends – two local guys – seemed to be getting on very well with the girls…

The Mexican next to us was quite drunk and managed to ask Debbie four times in a row where she was from. I was starting to get annoyed with him; also because by this point his head was practically on my shoulder as he leaned over. I actually said to Stephen, “I’m not a violent person but I really want to hit him.” My words proved oddly portentous.

The Mexican suddenly leaned over aggressively (by this point his head was lolling on my shoulder) and said, “I hate Spanish”. “That’s okay, mate,” Stephen said diplomatically, “He’s English and I’m Irish.” “I hate Spanish.” He continued with his tirade, “I hate YOU!”. At this point I think he touched Stephen’s face; which lit the touch-paper and ended all diplomatic talks: Stephen immediately launched himself across the table and clocked him with a resounding punch in the face. The Mexican clattered into his table causing glasses to go flying and chairs to fall over.

The Colombians immediately stood up and Stephen raised his fist ready to hit them too. It looked like a full-scale bar brawl was about to break out and I was slap-bang in the middle of it; trying to hold Stephen back on one side, and a sozzled Mexican and burly Colombian on the other. Somehow, against all possible odds, we found détente, and the Latin contingent left. The Mexican still tried to goad Stephen as he walked past but eventually it was them who were barred from the bar and we stayed on to have another mezcal before wending our way back to the hostel.





Out with the Boys from Tijuana

25 09 2010

It was another day of not much doing. Tara was feeling a lot better after the previous evening but, as we walked through the meat section of the market with its strange smells; being hassled by every single stall-holder, it suddenly didn’t seem like a fantastic idea. It also wasn’t as cheap as we expected at 120 pesos for a big hunk of meat (it would perhaps have been better if there had been more of us) so we decided to head back to the main square and go to the restaurant I visited on the first day.

We would have had a nice relaxing meal (the service and food were awesome) if it had not been for the fact that we were permanently hassled by street vendors offering to sell us their wares. If we had a peso for every time we said “No gracias” we would definitely have got ourselves a free lunch and possibly some drinking money to boot. To some vendors we had to do this repeatedly, a no thank-you for one item of merchandise apparently not sufficient to cover all the other items they were trying to sell. Our waiter was very friendly and kept asking Tara to write down some English phrases that he could use whilst he was serving customers and she wrote the Spanish equivalents next to them.

After lunch we wandered aimlessly around town and then headed back to hostel. On the roof terrace I met a lovely German girl, Sarah: she was travelling with a friend who I thought was her boyfriend but once again I’d made a false assumption. She’d managed to effectively fund her trip by doing a clinical trial for traveller’s diarrhoea and she was pretty sure she’d even got a placebo drug. It certainly sounded like an easy way to fund a trip and they only had to visit a hospital every couple of weeks or so for blood tests etc.

Tara left in the evening on her way to Guadalajara to meet a friend. I was sad to see her go, she’d been great company. Still, she didn’t leave me on my own: in addition to Sarah I got chatting to a few Mexican guys (Luis, Emmanuel, Jorge, Edgar and Axel) from Tijuana who were there on vacation. The only thing I knew about Tijuana was that it’s in the border regions where most of the trouble happens and that there is lots of gang warfare there. With their baseball caps and baggy jeans, for all I knew they could have been gangsters, but they turned out to be a really friendly bunch and spoke great English. Edgar had a big bag of chaupulines colorados which is a local Oaxacan delicacy of salty grasshoppers. I tried one or two but I couldn’t see why he was saying that it was like eating popcorn: popcorn actually tastes good.

Chapulines

We had quite a few beers on the roof terrace and then decided to head out. Despite our best efforts we couldn’t persuade Sarah to come out with us: she had an early start in the morning; but we were joined by Thalia, Jorge’s girlfriend.

For the first time ever I managed to get into La Cantinita; although we only achieved this by saying that we were all visiting and agreeing to buy a whole bottle of tequila between us. This we actually drank long, mixed with Fresca: a grapefruit soda much like Lilt. There were a couple of Mexican girls on the table next to us and I went over to chat to them for a bit but my Spanish was still not up to the grade. The guys seemed to quite like watching me drown and weren’t keen to offer any translation assistance either. At least I made them laugh quite a lot: although I think that may have been at me rather than with me.

In La Catinita

After we’d finished the bottle we decided to head back to the hostel where Edgar and I shared a few mezcal shots at the front desk with Dan and Amy. Once again there was a palpable air of sexual tension between the two of them and I escaped upstairs to use the computer before heading to bed. A few minutes later Edgar turned up too “I don’t feel comfortable down there with those two!”





Rooms by the Hour with a Crèche?

24 09 2010

In the morning I was delighted to see the arrival of Tara who I knew from San Cristóbal. We decided to visit the ruins of Monte Albán 9km outside of town and got a collectivo from near the market to visit them. I’d previously got bored with ruins but it had been a while since my last one and I was ready to see some again.

 

Monte Albán ruins

 

I’m pretty sure most of the ruins were restored: there seemed to be a lot of non pre-Columbian concrete between the stones but they looked quite impressive and the hilltop setting was spectacular. The experience was slightly marred by two large groups of school kids wandering around. They always seemed to be just in the frame of the shot that I wanted to take. After a couple of hours wandering around we stopped off for a beer in the cafe to pass the time before the next bus back into town.  Tara went to the toilets before we left and I arranged to meet her outside them once I’d finished my beer. The only problem was that, although I could see the men’s, I couldn’t see the women’s toilets. I was wandering around outside, looking clearly lost, when a woman asked me if I need some help. “Erm,” I paused, whatever way I said this it was going to sound wrong, “¿Donde esta el baño de mujeres?

 

A bug that we saw as we wandered around the ruins

 

She pointed me in the right direction and I loitered around outside to wait. I was just pleased that she saw Tara and I walk past together as we left, otherwise she would probably have been telling her friends that evening about the strange, possibly transsexual or perverted, gringo who had asked her where the women’s toilets were.

Back in town we wandered around for a bit so that I could buy some souvenirs for my family and got some lunch in the food market. We chilled out at the hostel in the early evening with a bottle of wine and chatted to Cat (an American girl who worked there and was creating some very impressive paintings of the local buildings), Dan (another young American working there) and Amy (an American girl visiting for a wedding). Amy had injured her leg playing basketball back home and was limping around with a leg-brace on.

Dan was talking about going to the local outdoor cinema to watch Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical. It certainly would have been a unique experience on my trip but in the end we decided against it. In any case, Dan wouldn’t have been able to see all of it: he was on the late shift that evening and I’m sure his life would not have been complete if he hadn’t seen the conclusion of the plot. It got quite breezy on the roof terrace so we moved downstairs to the dining area and finished off our drinks there.

At one point, Tara revealed to me that her mother was a Lady and that, working as a bar manager, she was often considered the black sheep of the family. I, of course, got lots of mileage out of this with the odd joke at her expense: my favourite being when we were discussing her latest Facebook status which was in Latin. “Is that the motto from your coat of arms?”

The most amusing incident of the evening though was when a couple turned up at the door of the hostel with a baby in their arms. “Do you have rooms by the hour?” they asked Cat. They seemed very disappointed when she told them that it wasn’t that sort of establishment. Whether the baby would have been present during their tryst or whether they’d have handed it over to us to look after while they were busy remains unknown.

After we finished our wine we decided to get out of the hostel and went to Nude again with Dan and Amy, where we got a litre cocktail between us. Tara and I were wondering how we should extricate ourselves from the pair: there was clearly some sexual tension between the two of them (if I’d had metal fillings I’m sure there would have been sparks arcing off them) so we inventing the ruse of going to a taco place around the corner. We were quite surprised when the other two came to join us: we’d just given them an out! After a short while, they did leave so that Dan could go and start his shift. The plan was for Tara and I to carry on drinking but Tara suddenly came over really ill (it seemed that something in the food hadn’t agreed with her) so we went back early to the hostel.





Mission Impossible: Nightlife in Oaxaca

23 09 2010

I arrived in Oaxaca mid-morning and checked into Casa Angel after the taxi driver ripped me off to get there. I think it was probably my favourite hostel in Mexico. It is a new hostel and everything is clean and well-maintained: the dorm rooms have plenty of room and full-sized lockers; it has a great roof terrace (although even on a still day it seems to attract the wind and I felt that they should have built a bar up there to make it more popular) and the breakfasts there with two Mexican ladies cooking your eggs and salchicha (sausage) as you like them are fantastic. The biggest downside was I couldn’t actually check-in until after 1pm because they were cleaning the dorm.

After a requisite stint on the WiFi to see what was happening in the world, I wandered into town where I immediately ran into Padraigh (Irish obviously) by the Santo Domingo church. I’d met Padraigh briefly the day before in San Cristóbal at Tom and Sara’s hostel before he left to catch his night-bus. His ex-girlfriend was really hot if I remember correctly! We stopped off to have a coffee and a juice in a cafe and then we ambled off in our separate ways. I spent the afternoon wandering aimlessly around town snapping photos of the churches and such like.

Oaxaca

Initially I didn’t like Oaxaca as much as San Cristóbal (it was less immediately accessible) but after sitting in the Zócalo (main square) eating a fantastic 3-course lunch for 60 pesos and people-watching I really warmed to the town. Back at the hostel in the evening there didn’t seem to be much going on. I chatted briefly to a couple of Aussie girls in my dorm who, at one point, had been having such a deep, emotional heart-to-heart about some guy that one of them had liked that I felt compelled to leave the dorm; but they were getting an early night and didn’t fancy grabbing a drink. Eventually I found a drinking buddy in Balek, a stocky Georgian (the country not the state).

Before setting off we asked Beto behind reception for some possible drinking venues which he marked on a map for us. We couldn’t find any of them (I think some he’d actually marked on the wrong street) except for La Casa Del Mezcal: a real spit and sawdust Mexican cantina with fantastic Mayan murals adorning the walls. We had a few drinks (beer and mezcal) there and Balek was telling me about he’d worked in a bar in London but been dismissed when he’d been sampling a bit too much of the merchandise himself: given the speed with which he (and thus me too) was drinking I imagine that would have been quite a hit on the takings. Eventually we tired of the customers – it was filled almost entirely with drunken Mexican men – and went in search of a new venue. Balek insisted on paying the whole bill for the drinks and wouldn’t even let me see how much it was.

The search for a new watering hole proved to be a tricky task: finding the pulsing heart of the Oaxacan social scene on a Thursday night was like looking for a condom machine in the Vatican toilets. After wandering down empty, deserted streets for a while we decided to ask a taxi driver. When he told us it was a 15-minute ride and 50 pesos to go to the nearest nightclub, however, we changed our minds and got out. I wanted something central and there was no way it should have taken 15-minutes to get anywhere in the centre.

This time I decided to ask a concierge at one of the hotels and he pointed us in the right direction. I’m not sure if we found the bar that he was referring to; but we ended up in a rather deserted looking joint where a live band was playing. The music was really good, I loved the jazzy edge they’d added to most of the cover songs, but the singer was pretty poor. After a drink there we ambled back and then struck gold by finding two lively looking bars right next to each other.

The first, La Cantinita, claimed to have a private party and wouldn’t let us in but Nude next door was happy enough to let two mildy borracho foreigners in. Whilst we were sitting at the bar a big group of gringos came in. I went over to chat to them for a while: they were on an Intrepid vacation in Mexico and Guatemala. I seemed to be doing okay chatting to one of the girls there but then she suddenly seemed to become more interested in what one of her fellow travellers was saying so I gave up: in any case the hectic pace with which Balek had been feeding me tequila and beer probably wasn’t helping my conversation skills.

I looked around the bar but couldn’t see Balek anywhere (it turned out that he was chatting to a group of bikers and having a go on their motorbikes) so I decided to head back to the hostel for the night.





Barry and Tara: the Latest Zoological Exhibit

22 09 2010

I had a long wait till my bus in the evening so I checked out and paid for a luggage storage locker (quite why some hostels insist on charging for such a basic service defeats my idea of fair pricing) and then went to one of the many “temples” (it’s just a church) of San Cristóbal with Maddy, Sandra and Tara. Whilst we were waiting for everyone to get ready, Maddy and I decided to play fusball at the hostel. Unfortunately there were no balls so we resorted to picking up limes off the floor and playing with them. Unfortunately none of them came out when they went in the goal. I wouldn’t like to be the person that finally opens up the table only to discover that its riddled with a festering pile of limes.

The church was up a hill overlooking the town; although the views were often obstructed by trees so it wasn’t the most amazing viewpoint. Nor was the church itself that interesting; although it did have an outside gym that looked more like a children’s playground. Something that I’ve never seen within the grounds of a church before; nor ever expect to see again.

 

Maddy working out at the "gym"

 

We walked back into town and Tara suggested grabbing a beer and a taco at one of the cafes. Since she’d managed to name all my favourite food groups in one go, I could hardly refuse such a proposition. Maddy wanted to meet up with a local guy who promised to introduce her to some local weavers which is a big passion of hers; so she left us at this point. We were sitting on the side of Guadalupe supping our beers when a big procession suddenly came past. The locals were dressed in crazy costumes (huge florid dresses with big bustles and hideous masks) and various bands and floats added to the entertainment. It seems to me that Mexico always has some occasion deserving of a celebration. We did ask someone what it was in aid of but I’ve forgotten already.

 

The parade that we encountered

 

The locals seemed to love my hat and kept diving out of the procession; taking it off my head and wearing it. And they loved Tara, of course, with her blonde hair and continually tried to get her to dance. She refused all such attempts although I did get up and dance with a few of the “ladies” myself.

 

 

Me with one of the revellers

 

After the parade petered out we decided to head to the market. Tara said that there were some good cheap places to eat there but we couldn’t find any that offered both beer and tacos. The weather by this point had taken a turn for the worse and was coming down in torrents. Fortunately most of the market is undercover – or at least had plastic sheets covering the open spaces – so we were able to escape the worst of it. There was a slight pause in the deluge which Sandra used to head back to the hostel; I very much doubt that she made it back before the next downpour came. Tara and I, though, were now on a mission and walked down the back streets looking for anywhere they might give us the magic combination of beer and tacos.

 

Beans at the market

 

The quaint colonial side of the town soon gave way to her hidden underbelly. We were in local territory: far from the tourist hubbub. Finally we saw a beer sign and entered the crude building. Inside were only men; drinking the afternoon away. Had it not been for the constant rat-a-tat-tat of rain on the roof and the awful music playing in the bar we would probably have heard the scrape of chairs as they craned their necks to look at the gringo in the cowboy hat and his beautiful guera (a Mexican term for blonde) friend. The waiter came over to take our order but was interrupted by a local guy who instantly launched himself at our table with the cunning chat-up line of “Do you like beer?” “I like beer too,” he continued when we answered in the affirmative. “Do you like music?” “I like music too”. It was clear that with so many interests in common that I should leave him and Tara to it but he staggered off, leaving their burgeoning love forever unrequited.

To complete the charade, amidst the goggle-eyed clientèle, our waiter returned; this time accompanied by another colleague. I’m sure that it really needed two of them to take our order and that they weren’t just coming over to see the guera. Fortuitously, the absence of any tacos on the menu meant that we had a ready excuse to leave the bar; ne’er to return. I felt like an animal that had just escaped the zoo: although the most exotic creatures seemed to be the ones doing the viewing.

We walked a bit further down the street, and were about to give up (we were, after all, getting soaked to the skin) when we found a cheap taco cafe. The bad news was that they didn’t sell beer. There was, however, a shop just around the corner so we checked whether you could buy some beers and drink them there. We could! Our mission was complete.

Initially, we were the only ones in the restaurant but after a while a drunk, local man came over and started talking to us. I could understand very little of what he said. I looked to Tara for help; although she’d spent less time in Latin America than me her Spanish is exceptionally good; but she was also struggling with his slurred speech and the way that his conversation would jump tangentially between topics. I tried to humour him where possible but I was pleased when his food turned up and we could ignore him properly.

We tried to wait the rain out but it showed no sign of ever stopping. The road outside looked like an angry river and was rushing down the hill in a foaming flurry; I wondered whether San Cristóbal’s drains would even accommodate this much water. Even though it wasn’t that far we decided to hail a taxi and get back to the hostel that way. This too proved to be a bit of a mission: we were hardly on a main thoroughfare; but eventually we found one and got back to the hostel.

After a bit of a pause to dry off I suggested to Tara that we head back into town to get a coffee. The rain by this point had finally decided to stop. San Cristóbal has lots of freshly-ground coffee places but it actually proved to be harder than I expected finding an affordable one with a terrace. On the street I once again ran into Richard and Sandie and we chatted to them for a while. Then it was back to the hostel. Maddy went off to yoga once again and Tara went to bed exceptionally early so I just passed time on the Internet and chatting to Chris and Mila before it was time for me to head off to the bus station for my bus to Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaca)





Of Mice and Mexican Men

21 09 2010

Today’s excursion involved a river trip through the Cañón del Sumidero: the canyon towers above the boat on both sides; although I’m not sure I was always able to follow the guide’s Spanish commentary. At one point I’m positive he said it was 1km high and it looked far less; also later research showed that the whole canyon is maximum 900-metres above sea level! Harm, a Dutch guy that I’d been chatting to back at the hostel, also came along and I met Tom and Sara (English) on the bus there. It was well into the evening before I realised that this was the same Tom and Sara that Nikki and the Irish guys had been chatting about in Lanquin. Brooke was also on the trip, I’d met her in Mérida on Mexican Independence day.

 

Cañón del Sumidero

 

Our guide was a bit of a chancer and hadn’t bought enough entrance armbands to cover everyone in the bus; those of us without bands were then made complicit in his crime by being told not to raise our arms when we went past the checkpoint in our boat so that they didn’t realise our wrists were unadorned. I certainly wasn’t going to pay the fine if we got caught but we seemed to pass by without any mishap.

Most of the river trip was enjoyable but there were places where the river was absolutely filthy and filled with rubbish. That detracted from the experience somewhat. Still, there were some great sights: a tiny, inaccessible shrine in Christ’s Cave (La Cueva de Cristo) and the amazing Christmas tree waterfalls (El Arból de Navidad).

Christmas tree waterfalls

Even though I’ve seen lots of crocodiles on my travels; it was also fun was seeing them basking on the banks of the river.

 

Croc on the banks of the Grijalva River

 

After the boat trip they dropped us in a local town for some lunch. I didn’t actually see the point, it was only a short way back to San Cristóbal, and it was quite a soulless town whose only function seemed to be to flog cheap crap to tourists who had just been on the canyon tour. We had some cheap tacos there but then had a shock when we saw how much they’d charged us for the soft-drinks. Worse still I managed to stub my toe on the uneven pavement and bled copiously for the next few hours. My big toes have often fallen victim to my apparent inability to navigate Latin American pavements in flip-flops but they’d finally healed up and I’d really hoped that I’d make it to the end of my trip without further injury. That was obviously not to be.

As we got off the bus in the centre we ran into an Australian couple, Richard and Sandie, who were looking for some accommodation and we told them of a few hostels in the area. Our advice might have been more convincing had we been walking in the right direction but we were apparently disorientated after being dropped off and walked them south instead of north. After the trip I stayed around the hostel writing my blog (I sometimes wonder how much more of the world I might see if I hadn’t created the chore of documenting it!). There was a big kerfuffle behind me: one of the hostel dogs maimed a mouse to such a degree that it was no longer able to move. The dog kept going up to it and playing with it. Since no one else seemed to be moving to do so, I picked up a slab of wood from the unused bonfire and smashed it over the head to put it out of its misery. My mercy-blow was made all the more painful by the fact that my first shot only splintered the plank and probably just gave the mouse a headache to match the agony in its limbs before I actually delivered the killer blow. I also had to keep pleading with the mouse not to look at me.

In the evening I joined Harm and a German friend of his for dinner. They were going to go to Domino’s pizza because they had a special 2-for-1 offer on Tuesdays but, much to my relief, that still proved to be expensive so we had some cheap tacos at a local restaurant. After dinner the guys joined me for a beer at Revolución (where I once again saw Richard and Sandie) but they weren’t up for a big night so I headed over to Tom and Sara’s hostel, Casa de Iguana. This is a really new hostel and the price for a dorm was great value (70 pesos). The small social area was also very popular and a far cry from the quiet back at our hostel. We had a few drinks there and then some of the guys started showing pictures of their exes on Facebook: this soon became a game where the netbook was passed around the table and everyone showed a picture of an ex. When it got to me, I was able to drop the bombshell that she wasn’t quite my ex; we were still technically married which provoked gasps around the table and then meant that I had to reveal my age: another shock to the youthful crowd gathered there.

Eventually, we headed back out into town and went to Revolución again. Outside the bar I got talking to some Dutch people who were shocked that they’d run into a Mexican who could speak Dutch. I know that I was wearing a cowboy hat and had picked up a bit of a tan on my travels but I think they must have been quite drunk to have taken me for a Mexican! Inside the bar I met Sandra (French) and Tara (English) from my hostel. I’d observed Tara earlier in the day having an emotional telephone call about an ex. Although I felt a bit guilty for my unintentional eavesdropping it did make for a good conversation.

Tara felt tired so I walked her back to the hostel, since it was her first day she wasn’t quite sure where it was, and then rejoined the others for a few more drinks. In the course of my 5 minute absence my fresh beer went missing; much to my vexation. I’m convinced it was the bar staff who took it too. We stayed in the bar until closing, although our departure was made a bit more awkward by the fact that we initially forgot to pay our bar tab upstairs. After a slow amble down the road that so often characterises walking in large groups, Sandra and I said goodbye to the others and walked back to our hostel.





Incense, Pine-Needles and Fireworks

20 09 2010

Maddy and I decided to go to the nearby town of San Juan Chamula that day for a taste of the real Mexico. We could have got a tour there but, in order to save some money and not become part of a tedious tourist cavalcade, we took a collectivo bus from near the market. Chamula didn’t disappoint. The local men wandered around in cowboy hats; boots; and white or black furry, woollen shawls: the women maintained the furry motif with black, woollen dresses. All around us you’d hear snatches of Tzotzil which was much more prevalent than Spanish in these parts.

There seemed to be some kind of festival going on in the main square. I have no idea what they were celebrating but every so often the air would resound with the detonations of fireworks and some of the locals ran around in bull costumes festooned with fireworks throughout the frame. Little kids would run around in front of the bulls with hideous, aged masks on and floral jumpsuits that looked like they’d been made from hideously chintzy old curtains.

 

Celebrations in Chamula

 

One of the main draws of Chamula is the central church of San Juan which blazes with innumerable thin candles and the heavy miasma of incense. There are no official priests and it is open 24-hours a day for worship. Nor were there any pews; people knelt on the pine-needle covered floor. The most striking images I remember from my time there was a big queue to the fount as people lined up to have their babies christened and a man nonchalantly spitting into the pine needles. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to witness any live chicken sacrifices which sometimes happen.  Unfortunately I couldn’t take any pictures inside the church: it is strictly forbidden and likely to see you evicted from the town. Eventually, we left the church: I was getting very hot in there from all the heat of the candles.

 

The church of San Juan

 

We wandered around the town for a while; savouring the sights of the markets and making a few purchases: I decided to get a cowboy hat and Maddy bought herself a new bag. After stopping for a drink on the main square we decided to take the “easy 7km walk to the nearby town of Zincantán” that was mentioned in her Rough Guide. No one seemed to be able to give us a good idea of where we should start on this walk (including the tourist office) and, after wandering aimlessly around the hills for a while with no idea which direction the town was in, we gave up and got a collectivo back to San Cristóbal.

 

Chillies on the market

 

For lunch I had huarache; a cornmeal dough base covered in meat and vegetables, and then in the evening I rejoined Maddy for some dinner on Guadalupe. We ran into an Aussie there, Karen, who I recognised from our hostel. She joined us for a bit and then Maddy went off to yoga. I decided to head back to the hostel with a few beers but it was once again exceptionally quiet. I spent most of my time chatting to Meredith and José but no one else was really around.