Saturday, October 28, 2006

Some visions of Mexico so far

Painted buildings

Beautiful seasides





Street art in Merida

Great coffee and company

Grand Buildings

Many churches

San Cristobal..Grandiose

With all the rain that fell, one would expect copious amounts of water at our enroute stops on the way to San Cristobel. We were not disappointed.

The first falls called Misol- Ha were used in the Predator movie they were one of the highest falls we have seen. They were 38 metres high. So noisy with tons of water the power was enormous. You could walk behind them as some of our group did . We wanted to swim but the under current was so strong.

Moving onto the next ones the Agua Azul (blue water) we were hopeful of a swim, these were completely different they cascaded over a very long distance and a lot of water. Very spectacular indeed. But no swimming allowed.

We arrived in San Cristobal in late afternoon taking a little longer because of washed out roads, not from this rain but quite some time ago. Some places only had barely enough room to slowly edge our way through glad we were on a smaller bus. Great scenery as we were in the mountains again though the road was very windy resulting in most of us feeling queasy, combined with altitude sickness as well .

What a beautiful city, they are in the middle of an arts festival so the town is pumping. Our hotel room is on a courtyard, very pretty. The streets are narrow and the buildings are brightly coloured and very clean. Very busy place surrounded by very high mountains covered in mist in the mornings then clearing to warmsunny days ,wish you could feel the atmosphere here , lots of cafes, great coffees and food.

The market place

Day one was very busy we hired a guide to take us out for the day. First stop was the most incredible village Chamula some 6000 resident Mayans there. All the womenwear traditional clothing consisting of a very heavy woven skirt made from the wool of awoolly sheep similar to our mohair goats. Their upper clothing was intricately patterned blue green and purple wraps very attractive.

We were taken to a catholic church built by the spanish when they conquered the place. Before we entered it was explained to us about their traditions. We entered the church armed with a lot of information but what we saw blew all of us away. As the door opened the floor was alight with a mass of candles amongst pine needles scattered around the floor. Squatting or kneeling in family groups were a hundred or so Mayan men, women and children.The aromas were quite incredible they were burning offerings of pine needles, scented flowers, incense, in little urns and waving them around, it was so overwhelming . The church was dark as well, which added to the atmosphere .There were statues of saints all around the walls covered in flowers and offerings. As we walked around amongst this mayhem we stopped to watch women with live chickens waving them over their family members to heal them, the chicken was to take all the bad spirits away. They then proceeded to gently kill the chicken first by mesmerising it then wringing its neck. They were also doing similar things with eggs then placing them in a bag to bury them late . They then finished it all of with a drink of alcohol brewed in the village, kids and all, they then drank Coca cola of all things so when they burped the spirits would be expelled from the body. How odd was that?. They come there every 6 months or so or when someone was sick. The smells. Even though we were told what we would see, it did not prepare us, the sounds and the sights of that day will stay in our minds forever. Noone is allowed to live in or work in the village from outside. The church is owned by the Roman Catholic religion and they are conducting a court case to try to stop this town of Mayans from using the church as they are, but local feeling is even if the church won the case the people would not stop using the church.

The cemetery was so incredible also , very plain crosses, several on each grave. The black crosses for adults, the white ones for children and the blue ones for the people between.

On to the next village, as we arrived they were running around frantically tidying up for us. They have dirt floors and share their home with all the family, mum, dad, kids , inlaws , grandkids . They cooked us delicious tortillas filled with beans and their local goats cheese. Yum!

Driving on and down into Canyon Sumidero we boated down through the deepest gorges we have seen, deeper than the Yangtse river . Very speccy.

We saw huge crocodiles basking on the banks and saw one slide into the river . At that stage I felt we were not high enough in the water. Even though we had life jackets on I would not have fallen in for anyone. It was a glorious hour and a half seeing caves , wildlife and incredible formations. At the end of the day we decided to doll ourselves up to attend a dance performance for their festival. I loved it. Nick was ambivalent.

Today the weather was great again so we decided to walk up lots of steps to see a church and with that a great view of the city .Tonight we catch a night bus to spend a couple of days in Pueblo. 11 hours drive from 10.30 pm tonight. We cannot go to Oaxaca as there is too much trouble there with strikes and burning of cars etc. , not safe for anyone. Shame about that.


View from our window

We stayed in another jungle cabin at El Panchan, which was just on the edge of the Palenque National Park. We arrived late in the day. We left the bus and crossed the little bridge over the peaceful little stream, what a lovely spot. We walked along the path through the thick jungle and entered our lodging which was a huge upstairs room with fly screens, but no windows and it was great to look straight into the jungle trees. It started to rain and rain and rain. After an hour of rain it stopped and we made our way to the restaurant. The little stream was now a raging torrent and we had to wade through calf deep water to cross the bridge. Up to now every where had been hot, hot, hot and humid, but this rain seemed to clear the air and a great meal was had. The band played and we finally we went to bed. It was almost like sleeping in the open as a cool breeze wafted over us through the night.

the Mayan ruins at Palenque were different to the others we had visited and we were shown around by a very passionate guide called Alonso. Not only were the ruins above groun but there were extensive building unerground as well. Alonso has been working for over 6 years on the site and next week is giving a briefing to NASA on their findings. He has taken millions of photos and as last year was the first time that he was able to photograph the moon at its zenith and nadir, as this only occurs every18 and 2/3 years, he discovered some more remarkable alignments. His website , Amazing guys these Mayans it seems they even knew Pythagorus's theorem.

Some Mayan craft for sale

We spent the afternoon in the town and back at the restaurant were entertained by musicians and performers until almost midnight.
we were in the jungle and bright and early in the morning, after the roosters and the dogs we were entertained by the rowdy howler monkeys, which seemed very close

Monday, October 23, 2006

The friendliest city so far ...Merida

Grand buildings in Merida

Arriving at Merida at night after seeing the ruins and a couple of bus rides it was a welcome sight. As we got out of the taxi at the hotel and brought our bags in I was horrified to find I had lost my small bag that I had just held our passports, my credit cards etc. Gulp!After a moment or two or three of sheer panic, our leader jumped back into her cab with me to race back to the bus station . I couldn´t remember what he looked like and all the cabs were from the same company. One of the drivers radioed in to see if anyone had handed in a bag... of course it relied on honesty. With a sigh of relief a family had handed it in and the driver was honest. What a great impression we had already. That was confirmed all day today as we witnessed a very happy city. What a party town!

Salsa dancing into the wee small hours. Sunday is family day ..streets were closed for bike riding and kids activities. Merida was quite easy to walk around especially on a Sunday.
Loads of stuff on for families, always a good sign of a healthy lifestyle. Keep the family doing things together makes for a happier working week.

They were making Pinatas (paper mache objects, sweet filled and covered with decorations. It is used in festivities to hang and then belt with a stick until it breaks). . The children making the ones we saw were all handicapped in some way, they had a lot of volunteers helping. They were being made for Halloween. On 1st. and 2nd. of November is All Saints day and The day of the dead.

Shop window

It is celebrated in Mexico very seriously, but Halloween is threatening to take over. We are very excited to be here for the celebrations. Day of the dead is a celebration of the lives of those departed souls. What is interesting is they go en masse to the graves with food and music that their family enjoyed when they were alive. We will be in Mexico City then, but are trying to arrange a visit to the village where the children are buried and families take their toys and food as well. Apparently it is very moving to see and a huge spectacle as well.

Chichen Itza

How can you leave this?

We had to continue, so that meant leaving the sea and heading inland to the Mayan site at Chichen Itza. No longer chicken busses the Mexicans are more up to date, luxury coaches with airconditioning and toilet on board, now that is the way to travel.

A few hours later and we were at the site. This was one of the largest Mayan settlements and covered about 40 sq Kms. The site is still being discovered and reconstructed, but as usual tourists have abused it and now noone is allowed to climb on or enter inside. The insides filled with ancient drawings and as they built pyramids over pyramids as the next king died and erected his addition. This is probably the most commercial site we have visited, there were souvenir sellers everywhere. This is probably as it is only a 3 hour trip from the Carribean playgrounds and all the rich tourists would go on a day trip. We walked around this site for a few hours and then boarded the bus to head off to Merida.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Beaches and more beaches

We are now in Playa del Carmen. We have spent 5 nights here to catch up and to have some relaxation. We are 2 streets from the beach. This place is supposed to be the fastest growing place in the world, growing at 25% per year for the last 4 years. There are so many resorts lining the roads and the beach sides, and with that comes many rich, fat tourists. There is money everywhere, which is a contrast from most other places we have been. Across the road from our hotel which is $30US per night is a square, and every morning hundreds of men gather until the hotel managers and building supervisors select the workers that they need for their development sites and then they all move to their work location.

Nick went diving and really enjoyed the sharks and turtles that were in abundance. There were many tropical fish. Should have taken up diving a long time ago.
The transport system here is great, with minibuses, called collectivos, leaving every 10 minutes and picking up and dropping off passengers anywhere they want, providing it is on route. All people are very helpful and considerate. In fact every where in Central America the driver or ticket person will hop off the bus to help people with parcels, will pick kids up to help them on the bus, will take your luggage to make it easier to board the bus, and always happy to help with directions.

We boarded one to head to a turtle conservation farm on an island called Murtjetes. At Can Cun we were directed to another bus, which took us to a ferry terminal and a half hour ferry ride later we were on the island. Very efficient. 2 hours travelling for a few dollars.
The sea is unbelievably turquoise blue. And the sand is pure white. Beautiful. They take the turtle eggs from the beach and rear the turtles until they are released at 2 and 1/2 years old, as they are endangered as people keep eating the eggs.
We then went swimming, probably one of the best beaches ever.

Most of the time we have been walking on the beach, or having cocktails on the beach, or eating on the beach or having coffee on the beach.

We went to Tulum to see some Mayan ruins and then walked on a different beach and had lunch on the beach and a drink on the beach again. Lucky Mayans. This was a beautiful site.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Caye Caulker

Photo: sunrise in paradise

We travelled by bus to Belize City. If ever a city needed work, this one does. The buildings are mostly old, timber structures in stilts, which is fairly standard in tropical areas, but we are sure that not much money is spent on maintenance or paint. The city itself and the people look fairly poor. We arrived at the bus depot and organised a taxi trip straight to the dock as we had to catch the ferry. Some how about 60 people were crammed into the boat and of it sped into the ocean. A rough and bumpy trip was had. Caye Caulker is an island that you dream of going to in the carribean. It did not let us down. It is low season now and is supposed to be the rainy season. S omeone did not tell the weather gods that. The sand is so white, the sea sooo blue, incredible to go from jungle one day to the beach the next. We went out sailing on a 37 foot yacht. It was quite choppy, but only one of our mob lost their breakfast. It really was one of those incredible days,where we have to pinch our selves as to where we are. I am still so scared to snorkel but they are so caring the staff i was able to stay on board and help get lunch ready.At the 3rd. dive iwent in the water by myself to gain some confidence and as I climbed down the ladder areef shark swam out to meet me .Well I couldn´t get back up that ladder quick enough. I went down again ,this with my mask on the fish were bloody huge. Nick swam with the sharks and rays . I wish i was that brave. We also saw huge turtles from the boat. After the last stop one of the crew started to make a brew in one of those large bottled water, the blue ones they deliver your water to the businesses . Three bottles of rum later we had a punch with a punch was party time . Earlier on they had caught a couple of lobsters . He prepared the most delicious lobster salad that we all inhaled as the sun was going down. Get the picture! That night we had lobster tails bbqed on the beach creole style . That place was so beautiful very sad to leave.

photo: Proof of the rum punch

This is the first sign seen as we strolled down the jetty

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

San Ignacio, Belize

The border crossing from Guatemala to Belize was probably the easiest crossing so far. It was great to be greeted at the Belize border point by an English speaking person.

Photo. The cabins in the forest we spent 2 nights in

We made it to San Ignacio mid day and some decided to go tubing the local river while we decided an unrushed day would be nice and decided to catch a bus into town, we waited by the roadside and the bus arrived and we entered to the reggae music blaring and and full af very dark carribeans. An interesting town, with a mixture of people. The accommodation was cabins in the jungle in an eco centre, with the usual iguanas, geckos, squirrels, birds, hand sized spiders in the long drop toilets and butterflies galore.

In the morning we walked to the ferry, which was hand operated, across the river which due to heavy rain in the days before was 5 metres up, to look at the ruins at Xunantunich. After the ferry there was a 1 mile walk to the ruins, which were rather impressive as they are the second tallest Mayan ruins in Belize. Another unusual thing about these ruins is that they are built in a castle shape and has a huge frieze around the outside.

Photo: detail of the frieze work

photo: The castillo

On the last evening we decided to have a BBQ so we walked down to the local village to the ¨butcher¨. The butcher was also the greengrocer and a few other things, but the power was off, so she could not operate the meat saw. We had to go back later to pick up the meat. The BBQs here look like the have been all designed by the same person. They are old household gas bottles cut in half. They did the job.

Photo. The butcher shop, note no refrigeration, a very young butcher, but the BBQ was great

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Tikal ,tickled our fancy

Tikal, the serene, the powerful , the spiritual, the scene of thousands of years of hidden treasures. boy what a day we have just had.Tikal is a mayan lost city not lost anymore though , we found it .&00 am start in very hot and humid weather but not raining again ... it has been raining since May stopped yesterday.We walked up and down, through jungle for 5 hours.The sight of these Mayan pyramids was mind blowing to say the least,every time we came out of the jungle .only 20% has been excavated let alone restored.We spotted loads of spider monkeys , birds, leaf cutter ants, argentine ants snakes all sorts of wild life. We climbed up several temples ,scary stuff at times . It is so hard to explain how steep the sides are and when you look down it is at times frightening. We are very lucky to be travelling off season hardly any tourists around. I will let the photos do the talking. Tomorrow we leave to go to Belize after an extremely interesting time in Guatemala.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Rustle, rustle

We travelled by bus to Rio Dulce. Another beautiful spot. The accommodation was in cabins on posts over the water of Lago de Izabal joined by boardwalks. There were fish, turtles, crabs and frogs everywhere. We went for a swim in the pool. Later in the day we went by boat to Livingston. It was an hour boat trip through some beautiful places.
Livingston is on the Carribean, with a population of about 6000 and is full of interesting people. The Carribean side is traditional Garifuna, who are decendants of black African slaves. Others speak a musicalform of English. The beaches were poor, due to a few days of torrential run causing flooding of the river.
After dinner at Rio Dulce, where bats were flying through the restaurants, well the restuarant was really a roof supported by poles. It is a tropical place. Nice meal though.

We went to bed. She who sleeps lighter then he wakes with a start, "What is that?". He says "The wind"
Later in the night, she says "What was that?" He decides to shine the torch. Nothing to see. He looks and finds the biscuits have been chewed so he throws them outside and hangs the other food where no critter should reach them. This pattern is followed several times. at least the bed is very roomy and covered by a huge mosquito net so we feel safe. Thank goodness for the heavy rain and we finally had some sleep.
In the morning there was a hole in the side of the day pack and our new pack of granola was eaten and the biscuits. we suspect a water rat but were glad to move on to Flores