Friday, December 17, 2010

Our trip into Guatemala was akin to an episode of The Amazing Race - according to Maya and I anyway!!

Despite a slow start due to our delayed bus departure, we made up some time with a relatively quick and easy border crossing. That said, the border was a bit of a joke - we got a cab from the bus stop to the border, which seemed like a big street market?! Not what we were expecting. We then literally just walked across the Mexico-Guatemala border, with no restriction or monitoring whatsover?!  We could have just continued right through yo Guatemala w no hassles - but being honest folk, we went into the small immigration office to get our new stamp! By this stage it was 4pm, and we had a 'little walk' up to the bus stop...the little walk, turned into 'another 200m' and 'another 300m' and so it went on...we had been hiking for about 20 minutes and were getting nervous we would miss the last bus out of this seedy little border town, but thankfully we yelled and screamed at a  yellow American school bus pulling out of an old parking lot and a man jumped off the roof to put our bags up...we had no idea where it was heading but our German friend Hannah (who had been to Guatemala before and spoke fluent Spanish) assured us it was in the right direction...and since it was the last bus - we had no choice anyway...

And so begins our first 'chicken bus' ride...that is what the public busses are called in Guatemala - and they really are an experience!! They are mostly old american school busses - some are still yellow, and have American county names written on the side - but most have been completely jazzed up and repainted in the most outrageous designs complete with all kinds of bells and whistles!! They also cram an insane number of people into every bus (three to every seat which should only seat two!) as well as all sorts of luggage on top - from bags, to sacks of vegetables,  crates of drinks for stores and furniture too!

After three hours on our initial bus, the sun had gone down and we still really had no idea where we were.  But our new buddy Hannah told us that if we were lucky we might get the last bus out of a small town nearby and onto a better, bigger town called xela (pronounced 'chella'), otherwise we would have to overnight in the small town which didn't have the best safety record according to a concerned amiga on our bus!

In true 'Amazing Race' style, the bus suddenly pulled up at a bend in the road (apparently a bus stop) and our bus driver and his assistant begun shouting across the road to another bus pulling away in the opposite direction (apparently this was the last bus to xela!!) - the xela bus thankfully stopped, as our bus assistant jumped onto the roof and threw our bags onto the road - we were directed to run across the dark road where the other bus assistant grabbed our bags and hauled them onto the xela bus! Maya and I jumped on board, thanking our life saver Hannah who was explaining to us what the hell was going on!!

Another two hours in the xela chicken bus, and we finally made it! I must admit tho - I had a few more grey hairs after that xela bus ride! The only way to describe it, is to say that it was like being on a roller coaster in the dark, without ANY of the safety provisions (like seatbelts!) and with NO assurance of actually getting off the ride safely in one piece! It was insane - flying down mountainous roads in the dark and overtaking trucks on blind corners!!!

Totally Amazing Race as you can imagine!!

Continuing on - the bus drivers kindly hailed us a cab (literally shouting at a passing cab, which then followed us to the terminal where we swapped vehicles, again!)...Hannah had lived/volunteered in xela for 6 months previously, so we tagged along with her to one of the very few hostels in xela (it turned out to be a pretty small town!)...requested a dormitory only to find ourselves in a huge old loft that had 18 single beds in it!! Slumber party!

Were taken in by some gringos studying Spanish in xela (one particularly colourful character was this American guy who liked to tell us how profitable and easy it was to smuggle marijuana from the westcoast of the US to the eastcoasr via greyhound bus!!) - they kindly took us out to a restaurant/bar that seemed way too cool for tiny xela, then out to a local party which was fun - but we didn't last long as again we found ourselves unexpectedly very high up in the mountains and consequently freezing cold!!!

Either way, it must be concluded that indeed Maya and Lizzie were the mighty victors of that stage in the Amazing Race!! Yay go us! 


Monday, December 13, 2010

Chiapas, Mehico

19 hrs, 7 different busses and 4 states later, we finally made it to palenque in the Chiapas state of Mexico. It was a long journey but we were actually incredibly lucky, making smooth connections almost the entire way.  We arrived in palenque - the site of some famous Mayan ruins a little worse for wear, but pushed on, taking the opportunity to strech our legs as we 'did' the palenque ruins.  Although i am the first to admit I am no ruin junkie, I was pretty impressed with the spectacular scenery of palenque - set amidst thick jungle and the mountains of Chiapas.  We chose to stay in some basic Eco-lodging which was only a 20 min walk from the ruins, and literally in the jungle - such a great experience!! We also met up with one of Mayas friends from uni, Em, recruiting her for our onward travels to San christobal, and again crossed paths with Sydney roomie number three - Julia, on her Intrepid tour...made for a fun night at the jungle restaurant/bar!!

The following day we made for San Christobal de las casas - a small mountain town that had come highly recommended from many other travellers...we booked onto a tour that included some waterfalls on the way - they were ok but the highlight was definitely the people on our tour...we became friends w a really nice Italian guy, and an older guy from Alaska of all places - both of whom we bumped into again in San Christobal!!!

After a long and windy afternoon bus ride thru the Chiapas mountains (very pretty and interesting scenery), we got to San Christobal...where it was freezing!!!! It is quite high up in the mountains and hence is seriously chilly at night - and my summer cottons were all completely useless, despite my attempt to layer everything I owned!!

Sadly we were sucked in by a local trying to flog his hostel to us as soon as we stepped off the bus - promises of a free cab ride and hot showers were too good to resist!! Much to our dismay, the most important selling pt (hot water!!) didn't follow thru...and my request for more blankets on our beds (seriously it was so cold) were also met with a flat - 'we have none' in deadpan Spanish!! 

Despite the lackluster welcome to San Christobal, we ended up really enjoying it...the town is old with cobblestone streets, and filled with cafes, bars, retaurants and local artisan shops...the day was actually quite warm once the sun got up, and we had a great time buying up on cheap leather goods in the local market! It is quite touristy, but there is still a large amount of the local indigenous people which was an interesting contrast to the rest of Mexico.

San christobal is also filled with good memories for all of us - since we found out that we all passed our final uni exams - and so officially graduated from our uni studies!! We had a lovely little celebration over a good bottle of Mexican red at a fun and cosy tapas bar - where we were also joined by our Alaskan and Italian friends! Perfecto!!

The cold hit again at night and we decided we would have to get out before we froze, so prepared to make our way to the nearest border crossing and into Guatemala!!

Stay tuned as we venture into Guatemala!!


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Oaxaca, puerto Escondido and zipolite travels

After Puebla we went to Oaxaca (pronounced wah-har-ca) - capital of Oaxaca state, a city known for it's artisan goods and cafes. We stayed an extra night because I got sick, but this meant we were able to cross paths w our third Sydney roomy Julia - she is also en tour in mehico and and centro americano!! Lots of fun and we did way to much shopping for local
goods - Maya and Lizzie doing our best to support the oaxacan economy!!

Eventually we made our way to the coast - via a torturous 8 hr bus journey which wound it's way from inland Oaxaca to puerto Escondido on the pacific coast. Our bus broke down once and we literally drove along a windy road (a la road up to MT buller) for 4 hrs straight - complete with one vomitting passenger and pot holes galore! Joy! Finally made it and much to out relief - it was well worth it.

Puerto Escondido is a chilled out seaside village, full of surfers, backpackers and a fun nightlife! We came cross some friends of mine from melbourne staying in the same hostel - which made for a tequilla-fuelled dinner and a night out at the local salsa club! The beaches were also beautiful - they are known for big surf in June/July but the swell is pretty small at the moment apparently...we stuck to the swimming beaches which were amazing- so relaxing! Very warm too - I am trying to get rid of my ghostly moon tan, but proving difficult!

After two nights we made our way further along the coast to Zipolite - a hippie beach was the most chilled out place Maya and I had ever been to...nothing in the town opens before 2/3pm, everyone is a hippy (or trying to be), everyone smokes pot (our welcome gift in the hostel was a joint from owner Daniel?!) and no one ever knows the time of day.  

It was amazingly relaxing though, we lounged about on the beach, met lots of cool people, enjoyed our 'welcome gift', read, lay in hammocks, I sipped coconuts (hippies told me the electrolytes in coconuts would purify and rebalance my sick body?!!), listened to some awesome live music and ate delicious whole fish (my one venture away from my gastro recovery staples of crackers, bananas and Gatorade...yummy!!)  We even met a lovely yoga instructor who taught us yoga on the beach.

Forgot to mention though that the zipolite beach is actually a nudist beach. So one morning Maya and I were reading peacefully on our balcony - only to hear some guy screaming and shouting from the beach below. Turns out he is completely starkers, frollicking in the shallows and dancing to the sun gods - having the absolute time of his life as he splashes about in the waves - clearly with some sort of herbal help!! Lots of other nudies about but unfortunately they were mostly old men which we found a tad disturbing...

Will try not to leave you with that image in your minds - instead knowing that we made it out of the hippie zone, and into the infamous Chiapas region to see the palenque ruins and San christobal town!

More on that next,


Friday, December 3, 2010

Puebla - Snaps!

Live music in the artistic zone, very picturesque but pity about the chilly temperatures!

The marathon/fun run that I joined!!! This was taken later in the morning but it was full of runners when I ran through earlier.

Very pretty centro historico

Antique street

Puebla is also known for its pottery and tiling

Talaverea tiles

Another local delicacy = fried bugs!!!!  We did not try these...



Puebla is Mexico´s fourth biggest city, but we were only staying for one night so we decided to stick to the UNESCO heritage-listed centro historico (as most people do)...

We arrived quite late, and since our hostel was somewhat below average we decided to hit the town straight away in search of some of the live music that Puebla is known for...after accidentally walking into a gay bar (made or awkward moments for our American amigo that we had met in our hostel!!), we finally found the artistic area with live music outdoors...was a great atmosphere and almost the complete package except for the fact that it was a mere 5 degrees!!!

Not used to the sudden freezing temperatures - we hit the sack pretty early and I managed to get myself up for a light jog around the centro historico the next is another beautiful city that has cobble stone streets lined with brightly coloured colonial buildings (photos to follow!!).  And where did I find myself, but in the middle of a Mexican Marathon/Fun-Run!!!  I literally ran to the end of our street and into the middle of the last leg of the race, and figured it would make for a memorable experience so joined in running the final 500 m of the race with all my Mehicano amigos!!  I even passed through the finish line!  They have DJs on every street corner to pump you along which was pretty funny, and even though I got a few stares - thankfully I was wearing a white t-shirt, similar to the official race t-shirt, and none of the police stopped me!  To be honest the most amazing thing for me was that I had never seen so many Mexican´s exercising!?  Tho alot of them were pretty red-faced and worse for wear after their 5km feat...the actual marathon runners looked a little better!

After my fun run race, Maya and I hit the streets and spent the day wandering the centro historico, and shopping in the various markets - on Sundays, Puebla´s streets are filled with antique markets, art markets, handicraft markets, jewellery markets etc...we did a bit of damage but could have bought a lot more - there were heaps of really cool antiques from old typewriters and luggage cases, to everything kitschy you could imagine!!  I bought a vintage little sun dress from a sweet old Mexican lady which will be a nice memory!

Our final escapade in Puebla was to try the national dish of Mexico, funnily enough named ´mole´ (!!!!!!!!!!!!) which originated in Puebla.  Initially, Maya and I thought it was a spelling mistake on the menu and laughed hysterically - how uncultured?!!  Now we know that it is actually pronounced ¨mol-ay¨ and is a rich sauce made from a huge list of ingredients incl. spices, chiles, nuts etc and they use it to serve with enchiladas or chicken/meat dishes...It even has a bit of dark chocolate in it which makes it slightly sweet.  We went to the local hot spot (recommended to us by the lady at the camera shop) called La Fonda de la Santa Clara and ordered chicken enchiladas with ´Three Different Moles´ (that is green, red and brown)...and we rated it an average.  It was a bit sweet and rich for us, and was similar to a curry that didnt quite have the flavour hit - but good to try least we now know not to laugh when we see ´mole´ on the menu!!


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ciudad de Mehico - snaps!

Apologies for lack of posting in recent days - but unfortunately I have been struck down by one of the perils of backpacking...gastro!! No bueno!!  That has put me out of action for a day or two, and now trying to catch up on all the news - will start with some snaps (only a fraction of the hundreds taken!) from Mehico City!

Welcome tequila shot complimentary at our local supermercardo!!

Local construction workers at the main square...the noise from their constant whistling, hooting and hollering was indescribable!! We couldn´t even hear each other talk!!!

Main Cathedral in Mexico City

Mobbed by students on an excursion - totally celeb status!!


The beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes (where the famous Mexican ballet performs)

Local Policeman...just kidding - we actually only saw one of these in Mexico City, but random nonetheless!

Mehicano locals taking it easy...just a typical weekday in the park.

Trying the local attire - thankfully we resisted the temptation to buy these hot little numbers!

Out on the town in La Condesa with our local amigo Hector (who has trouble opening his eyes for photos!!), we tried Mezcal (like strong tequila that you sip...disgusting!) and Oaxaca cheese (like mozarella)...a big night of salsa soon followed!

Famous Diego Rivera mural - it is his own depiction of Mexico´s history, it is huge - this is only half of it!  It took 20 years to complete (or maybe 30, working from memory here!)

At Frida Kahlo´s blue house museum - Mexican fascination with death!

At Frida Kahlo´s blue house art museum...a definite highlight!

Typical market setup where the local Mexican´s eat their ´set menu´lunches...

Maya and our new amiga Freya (also from Melbourne Uni!!) in of our favourite areas of Mexico City - very relaxed, and cool to walk around, delicious helados (ice cream)...

Church in Coyoacan

Clubbing in Roma Norte after our SpeakEasy party!!

Outside the Anthropology Museum

In the Anthropology Museum - aside from the amazing, world renowned collection of artefacts, the other claim to fame of this museum is that it has the largest concrete structure supported by a single pillar (talk about random fact??)

Cultural Note:  Mexican girls´15th Birthday is a huge celebration.  Comparable to the 21st Birthday party that so many of us know, or ones barmitzvah, this celebration is absolutely massive - the girl is dressed up like above, and then paraded around in a limousine with her brothers and male family friends, then attends a huge party with 200+ people where food and drinks are all provided by the family.  Traditionally, it represents the age that the girl is officially ´on the market´ (so to speak).  Although locals assured us this meaning is not as strong today, the celebration is certainly as big and over the top as ever!!

Here is another 15 year old birthday girl, they were all having their official photographs around a pretty fountain, much like a wedding!! And we were asked to join this girl, and the previous girl in their photos - very memorable!!

On our final day in Mexico City, we went to the weekend markets in San Angel, which is about a 30 min metro ride out of the city centre.  Interestingly, the area actually used to be separate from Mexico City (and used for the aristocrats summer residences) but due to urbanization, it has now become a part of Mexico City.  The artisan markets are known for their handicrafts and artwork.

We met up with some more local amigos of Maya´s friends, who showed us around the markets for a bit which was nice.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mexico City - wrapped up!

It's been a crazy four days and nights in mehico city - and it definitely exceeded my expectations! Our mehicano adventure continues though, as we head to Puebla, 2 hrs south east of Mexico city...

Am on the bus which happens to have wifi and have just realized that my last two posts speak only of Mexico city's awesome nightlife...and that definitely does not do Maya and I justice as queen sight-seers...

I won't bore you with museum details, but a few of the highlights we agreed really made our stay in Mexico city aside from the nights out on the town w our local amigos:
Palacio National - this enormous and very old building in the centro historico had a fantastic museum about mexicos fascinating history and even included a tour through the presidents offices. It also has a huge mural by famous Mexican Revolutionry artist Diego rivero.
Trotsky museum - the Russian revolutionary figure sought exile in mehico and this museum was in his house, where he was eventually assassinated. Great history lesson here!
Frida kahlo's house - interesting but sad life, amazing art.
Coyoacan - beautiful and leafy area of the city filled with cute cafes and quite bohemian, yummy halaros (ice cream).
San Angel - another chilled out area of the city, lots of cafes and restaurants, great art and handicraft markets on the weekends.
Anthropology museum - locals are very proud of this and it is one of the world's biggest collections, learnt alot about mexicos ancient civilizations, history and culture - the Aztec and Mayan groups were definitely the most interesting (think human sacrifices - Indiana Jones style!!)

Pictures of mehico city adventures to follow soon!!