Sunday, January 29, 2012

16°44′12″N 92°38′18″W

Oct. 8 to Oct. 10, Puerto Escondido to San Cristobal de las Casas: San Cristobal lies in the Central Highlands area in the Mexican state of Chiapas, considered a state of revolutionary reform with a rich array of indigenous people. Clad in traditional colourful clothing, women carry their children in cloth tied around their backs. It is one of the most culturally abundant states in Mexico, and we were lucky enough to spent a few days travelling through it.

We arrived in San Cristobal after a 12-hour bus ride and immediately hopped in a cab to Planet Hostel (the cab ride was free, and when travelling on a budget, 'free' is well-embraced). It was early and we were hungry, so we made our way to a nearby restaurant and indulged in scrambled eggs and beans before wandering through the highly acclaimed San Cristobal Mercado Municipal.

The streets of San Cristobal are cobble-stoned, and coloured walls line every two-foot wide sidewalk. The mercado (market) was magical. All the fruits you could imagine: mangos, melons, bananas, apples, peaches, forest green avacados and potatoes with dirt still stuck in their wedges stacked as high as possible in a small dish waiting for sale. The women stand behind their makeshift tables and yell out appealing prices for the deliciously fresh food you see, and their children stand behind them stacking fruit, playing with sticks and smiling shyly at me whenever I glance at them.

At this point in the trip my Spanish was terrible. Still, a 'buenos dias' to any of these women warranted a pleasant acknowledgement in return.

Plazuela de la Merced and Templo del Cerrito, and Templo
de Santa Lucia, both in San Cristobal.
The market: beans, flowers, fruit, vegetables.
The women, mainly of the Tzozil and Tzezal ethnicity, wear deep purple garments, black alpaca skirts and will turn away if you hold your camera up to take a photo. They believe a part of their soul is captured when they have their picture taken. And children run through the market without shoes on their tiny, dirty feet. A man and his mother walk through the streets with two turkeys at their front bound by their legs; this is how they make a living before heading back to the rural farmland.

We walked through an arena meat market, where butchers slice and chop the red flesh from the recently butchered cow that hangs on a hook behind them. Row upon row of sausage lays stacked on a shelf, and flies buzz around in a choir-like melody. It stinks, slightly.
Looking down separate directions of a street: beautiful sky one way, and dark
ominous storm clouds moving into the city. Rainy season is a treat.
On our second day in San Cristobal we toured the streets, walking up grand stairways to churches that sit atop the highest hills and look out over the city. Yellow, red and green prayer flags hung above the walkway and blew in the wind. We ate lunch in a nice little patio and watched as people strolled by, some tourists, most trying to sell jewelry and hats and other items that you can easily find in the market. A little boy walked with his father, holding his hand, as they tried to convince passerby that they could shine their shoes. They carry small wooden boxes and a shoe polisher.

At one point we were caught in the middle of a torrential afternoon rain storm--common during the rainy season in Mexico--and wound up huddled in a sunglass store for a couple of hours. We watch with others as the streets began to flood, and laughed when a delivery man on a motorbike attempted to drive up the flooded street and immediately turned around. The water was too much for him. Shopkeepers swept water from their entryways and the indigenous women ran holding their skirts high and jumping puddles, smiling. Just like children playing in the rain. We all share a bit of harmless pleasure playing in the rain.

A woman and child walking through the colonial streets.
That night we went for dinner with two friends, one of whom was working as a midwife in town and could speak fluent Spanish. We sat at a coffee shop at 10 p.m. and drank hot chocolate, and a young girl came up to us. Rambling in Spanish, she asked us if we wanted to by the crafts she was placing on the table--painted animals carved out of rocks. She pulled them out of a wicker basket, the kind you imagine would carry easter eggs. Tavniah asked her several questions: "What's your name? How old are you?" She then asked, "Donde esta tu madre y padre?" Where are your mom and dad? She said nothing.

"She should be at home," said Tavniah.

We had been told on several occasions not to hand money to children. It often ends up in the hands of the mother who is waiting around the corner, and who knows where it ends up after that. But as Florenca, five years old, looked up at me flashing her big brown eyes it took all of my might to not hand her a few pesos and make her feel proud. Instead, I bought her a pineapple muffin from inside the cafe. She walked away down the street and took a big bite of her muffin, and all of the other little girls rushed to see what she had received.

San Cristobal street at night. 
A small, colonial town tucked in a remote area of Mexico. San Cristobal is beautiful.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Nicaraguan Cinnamon Bun

One thing about travelling is you happen across some of the most amazing recipes, of which seem to taste extra delicious all because you are travelling in the first place. One such recipe is this amazing Roles de Canela (cinnamon rolls) that my lovely friend Laura Bloomquist gave me. Lauara lives on Ompete Island, Nicaragua, and runs her own B&B with her boyfriend Gary. They are both incredible cooks and incredible hosts, and if you are ever on Ometepe in the town of Moyogalpa, stop by the Cornerhouse for a bite.

Maybe Laura will have just whipped up a batch of Roles de Canela.

Ingredients for dough:

2 tbsp. active yeast
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup warm milk
2/3 cup melted butter
2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
4 cups flour

Ingredients for deliciousness:

1/2 cup melted butter
1 and 1/2 cup white or brown sugar (I use half and half)
3 tbsp. cinnamon

Directions: Mix sugar, flour, melted butter, salt, eggs and flour in large bowl. At the same time, combine active yeast (2 packages equivalent to 2 tbsp) with one cup of warm water and 1 tsp. of sugar, let stand for 10 minutes. Add active yeast mixture to all other ingredients. Mix dough in bowl, adding approximately 2 extra cups of flour to reach desired consistency, knead for 8 minutes. Place in greased bowl and let rise to double original size (about one hour).

Punch dough down, rest for five minutes. Roll out dough to about a cm thick and spread 1/2 cup melted butter over the dough. Sprinkle cinnamon/sugar mixture over the dough. Roll, cut to size, let rise for 45 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees until golden on top, about 25 minutes.

These. Are. Delicious.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

15°51′43″N 97°04′18″W

Puerto Escondido, on Barrade Colotopec.
Sept. 27 to Oct. 5, Mexico City to Puerto Escondido: A warm ocean, seashell beaches, crashing tidal waves, and ice cold coca-cola in a glass bottle: this was Puerto Escondido. After spending nearly 10 days in the smog of Mexico City, we arrived in tiny Puerto and took a deep breath of fresh air. Hot, humid, and sticky fresh air. Stepping off the air-conditioned ADO bus we had sat on for the past 18 hours was like being forced to suddenly stand in a sauna, except there was no exit door to escape the heat. Puerto was hot. I've never been so hot in my entire life.

Our catch: a dorado (green) and two tuna.
We jumped into a taxi cab and paid $2 for a ride to our first hostel of the trip, Tower Bridge Hostel, at the end of a dirt road and across from a Mexican woman's laundry business. The hostel had a pool, and that's all that mattered. Because we were there during the low season (high season doesn't start usually until mid-November) Ben and I were given an awesome private room with a king size bed and own living area for just $20 a night. Immediately we rushed off to one of the many beaches in Puerto, Playa Carazalillo, for a swim.
Girls can fish, too!
The beach sits in a tiny bay and is scattered with local food vendors and women trying to sell you hemp and seashell necklaces. The water wasn't refreshing; it was hot, and the waves continually knocked the feet out from under numerous people, sending them slamming down into the sand. We quickly developed a routine: wake up, eat, go to the beach, come to the hostel and swim, go back to the beach, eat, sleep. It was delightful. On our second day there, we awoke at 7 a.m. and hopped into a tiny pickup truck with Omar, a local fishermen who runs a sports fishing business. We got into his boat at Playa Principal, scattered with anchored fishing boats in the bay, and headed out onto the ocean. It was incredible. Within 15 minutes of letting out the fishing line, we caught two average-sized tuna (bonita fish) and a green, scarred dorado (also called Mahi Mahi, or dolphin fish). I decided that lake fishing in B.C. was not for me; it is much easier to catch a fish in the big, bad ocean. Meanwhile, we had been in search of dolphins, sea turtles, and whatever else we happened upon.

Swimming with sea turtles.
Omar's assistant fisherman, Juan, leapt into the ocean at one point to chase after a sea turtle - we had seen plenty at this point, many of which were mating - and grabbed onto this turtle before it had the chance to dive under the water. We got to swim out in the middle of the ocean and touch it. It was the one thing I had wanted to do during out trip, and we had managed to achieve it only two weeks in. 

Afterwards, we saw what I first thought was a shark. A gray, sleek fin sticking out from the water right near our boat. Omar inched towards it and he suddenly yelled with excitement, "A moonfish!" Apparently this fish, actually called the Ocean Sunfish or Mola Mola, is incredibly rare to see.  Having fished for more than 20 years in Puerto, Omar has only seen one "moonfish" before in his life. He and Juan ran all over the boat snapping pictures of this fish, which grows as big as a dinner table and as flat as a pancake. Seeing this giant blue fish swim next to our boat was a rude awakening to the complexities of the ocean, which houses more creatures than we are even capable of grasping.
Ocean Sunfish, the size of a dinner table.
Thankfully, Ben had his new GoPro camera, and we were able to get some underwater photos and video (above) of the fish. We made our way back to Puerto a couple hours later and paid $50 pesos to have our fish cooked up. We sat on the beach and ate it for breakfast.

Playa Carazalillo, my favourite Mexico puppy,
and a swordfish pulled up onto the beach.
The next few days in Puerto involved surfing, drinking coca-colas on the beach and eating my favourite, al pastor with fresh pineapple and cilantro. We went to the beach every day, and Ben bought himself a surfboard while we were down on the main street at Playa Zicatela one night. I was hesitant to surf; I'm a confident swimmer and I love the water, but put a surf board beneath my feet and I become unsteady and nervous. Still, I tried one day while at La Punta, after hiding under my Swedish friend Milje's sarong in search of shade. It was a thrill to actually catch a wave and ride it into shore. A local offered me his extra surfboard and gave me a push into the wave. He didn't want money, but I assume he noticed I was the only one sitting on the beach watching in envy at my friends and Ben floating in the waves, and threw me a pity party. It was a lovely party, though.

Walking a path between beaches along the rock. We had
to be careful of incoming waves. The heat was unbearable.
Two days later, after a night of throwing up due to an untimely bout of heat stroke, Ben awoke me from my slumber. He had gone to the beach to surf a few hours earlier while I stayed in bed. "I stepped on a sea urchin and I need to go to the hospital," he said. Reluctantly, but for the love of my boyfriend, I pulled myself awake and escorted my boyfriend, whose foot was bleeding and punctured with sea urchin needles, to the local medical clinic.

Find a palm tree, grab a coconut!
For the next three hours I watched as a doctor and his assistant used needles to extract fragmented urchin spines from Ben's foot. It was easily 40 degrees Celsius in town, and I ran between the clinic and a nearby internet cafe in an attempt to organize how we would claim the doctor's bill on our travel insurance. I have never been so sweaty, so hot in my entire life. But I do believe Ben had never been in such incredible pain in his entire life either. There was no freezing, but Dr. Mario Cruz did the best he could digging in his foot. Some urchin spines were left in as they were difficult to extract - Dr. Cruz said Ben's body would eventually push them out.

Ben's injured urchin foot, sitting in the medical clinic with
Dr. Cruz. Incredibly painful.
We spent a few more days in Puerto, reading books on the beach and eating an incredible amount of fresh guacamole, and getting to understand the local lingo, the local troubles, and the Mexican struggle. I spoke with a man on Playa Carazalillo at one point about the difficulties of trying to get a Mexican passport, nevermind a visa to travel. The limits that are cast down upon the people in their own country is incredibly difficult to understand coming from a country who's people are so free. 
Our favourite Swedes, Milje and Casper. 
There was also another guy who, having grown up in Puerto, said he had never been to Mexico City, or nearby San Cristobal. He lives with his grandmother, works as a surf instructor, and has a shark tattoo on his arm. This is his life. But he's happy. I fell deeper and deeper in love with Mexico while in Puerto Escondido. The people were warming up, I was growing more comfortable, and we were beginning to understand that there is a community of travellers all around the world, including in Puerto.

You should probably just go and feel it for yourself. Go catch a fish, swim with a turtle. Just go.

Things I learned in Puerto:
1. People are incredibly helpful, especially Swedes. Casper and Milje sat with Ben and pulled urchin spines from his foot on the beach.
2. Having travel insurance is easily the most important thing to have while traveling. 
3. As much as I love the heat, when I began wishing for snow in Mexico just to cool down a bit, I realized I was not climatized for that crap.
4. Three weeks into our trip, I realized we were about to have a lot of fun.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Teotihuacan: the first ruins

The Pyramid of the Moon, and my best friends. Also, looking from the Pyramid of
the Moon towards the avenue of the Dead, and the Sun pyramid.
When you've reached Mexico byway of the unbeaten path, you quickly discover it is a rock garden of stone cities and prolific culture, where the study of Anthropology never quiets and dies. When you stand atop an ancient pyramid, the second-largest in the Americas, and look out over a city of stone and squares, it is hard not to feel infinitesimal. You are hit with a wave of irrelevancy about your own existence as you walk on the cobbled roadway built by age-old civilizations. And as you climb the steps of your first pyramid - steps twice the height to which you would normally climb - you can no longer claim ignorance to the magnificent formations that man has created.

Atop the pyramid looking towards
the Moon pyramid, and Ben and I in a square.
This is how it felt to climb the Pyramid of the Moon, the Pyramid of the Sun, and walk the Avenue of the Dead in the ancient Aztec city of Teotihuacan. This was our first encounter with ruins during our Central America trip. Canada is so young and so void of archeological riches that to walk onto land that trembles with stories was like being a child again and walking into your neighbourhood candy shop for the first time. You sit on top of the first pyramid, just like you would stand in the doorway and gaze at the colorful candies, and look out at something that you think you understand - that once there was a king who ruled a land and men built this city for him - and then you realize you know nothing at all.

Renee and I with Pyramid of the Sun.
On the second day of our three month backpacking trip, we hopped on a bus with our friends Renee, Chrissy and Said, and went to Teotihuacan. The vastness of the Pyramid of the Sun could be seen even as we drove in via taxi to the park entrance. It towers above the rest and dominates the skyline like a protruding mountain, except this mountain is constructed of thousands of volcanic rocks and there is a set of stairs leading to the so-called "summit." The pyramid stands 71.2 metres tall, with a base perimetre of 894 metres. Archeologists have concluded that the pyramid was constructed beginning in 100 A.D. This is further back than even myself can comprehend.

With the possibility to hold more than 200,000 inhabitants, it could have been one of the largest cities in the pre-Columbian Americas. Still, there is no evidence that solidifies which ethnicity actually lived here - the Aztecs gave the present-day names to the site, but there are a number of ethnic groups that the city could have belonged to.
Common themes in Teotihuacan of rich kings surrounded by slaves. 
All of this aside, as we ventured through the city on a hot Sunday afternoon, I carried with me a smile that I could not escape. Even as ambulantes (people trying to sell you artifacts, jewelry and other items) bombarded you with their colourful obsidian knives and sparkling silver earrings, I felt immersed in a culture I had no idea existed. To even bear witness to a small part of Mexican history, to see for myself the stacked stones and to hear the tales of sacrificial lives for the good of a king, it was unlike anything I have ever experienced.

The best part is, this was just the beginning.

You know you're in Mexico when: On our bus ride back from Teotihuacan, we were stopped by police who asked all of the men to step off the bus. Not wanting Ben to get off, I told him to stay. A woman behind us said, "He has to go. They are looking for guns." I watched out the window as Ben was told to lean against the bus with his legs and arms apart, and then as a cop patted him down. Alas, no guns.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Viva la vida viajando

The itinerary: The boyfriend and I had three months to make it from Mexico City, in central Mexico, to Panama City, Panama. There was no plan to stick to. We had particular destinations in mind, but no reservations, no pre-purchased tickets and no notion of what it was going to be like, who we would encounter, what challenges we would have to face. We just went. 
Living the Travelling Life

Flying into Mexico City.
Mexico City - When you've never travelled extensively, arriving in one of the largest cities in the world at the start of a backpacking trip is not a gentle, genial way to begin. Mexico City, with a population so high that officials can't even say how many people live there, is more congested than my sinuses in the middle of February. When you finally escape the crowded MEX airport, and you wind up on a dark street lit with one street lamp, where everything seems darker than it normally would at 9:30 at night, a search for a taxi is not the thrill you'd think.

The Zocalo, with Parliament on top and
Catedral Metropolitana, oldest church
in Latin America.
Fortunately, the excitement of commencing a three month trip I had been waiting months for overshadowed some of that fear on the first night we arrived in Mexico. That, and the three friends that came to pick us up because they know Mexico City better than I ever will. That helps, too.

We jumped into the taxi, and I ignored vigorously all those things people had said before we left: "Mexico is SO dangerous right now. Why are you going there?" And suddenly the taxi driver is holding his horn down and driving in the middle of two lanes on a bustling highway, and I'm reaching for the seatbelt to contain my insides and calm my nerves, but there isn't one. But it doesn't matter. The point of travel is to immerse oneself into another, foreign culture. If this culture meant no seat belts, then so be it.
Art and the Aztec Calendar in the Museum
of Anthropology, Mexico City.

Mexico City's official city proper population is around 9 million people. But the surrounding metropolis area contains more than 21 million people. The city has an incredible history: many years before its existence the Aztecs (Mexican people) were migrating through the region in search of a place to settle. Led by a god, Huitzilopochtli, they were told that when they saw an eagle atop a cactus, holding a snake in its beak, they were to settle in that particular area.  The Aztecs, after years of travelling, saw a serpent in the mouth of an eagle at the current site of Mexico City, then called Tenochtitlan, and began to build the city on an island, surrounded by Lake Texcoco.

Mexican soldiers taking down the Mexican flag in the Zocalo, Mexico City.
After having spent a week in Mexico City, I could tell the story of the eagle and the serpent held great meaning. The Mexican flag bears an eagle with a serpent in its beak, and can be seen in almost every corner of the city, paper flags taped to the dash of every taxi cab, in every restaurant and blowing in the wind at every park. In the city centre, the zocalo, the largest flag I have ever seen blew in the wind at the top of a flagpole, the reds and greens of the Mexican flag towering over the people that stand below it. While there myself, it was hard to ignore the deep affection that Mexicans themselves have for that flag, and their country. 

Chrissy, Renee and I in Coyoacan, and in the
Zocalo, in front of the cathedral.
The city is so rich in history, and so rich in tragedy. I heard many stories while I was here - the beauty of travelling to a place you've never been. You become so engulfed in what has occurred, what is happening, what tragedies and triumphs a city has encountered, that you begin learning far more than you ever would by just reading up on a book about the particular area.
One night while we sat in the zocalo, as I watched while hundreds of people marched around the square, protesting the

firing of more than 40,000 electrical workers (the president is working on privatizing electricity in Mexico - another disconcerting issue) a friend told me about the Tlatelolco massacre. Ten days before the summer Olympics in 1968 were held in Mexico City, a group of 10,000 university and high school students gathered to peacefully protest the Olympic Games, demanding a fairer government and looking to that government to provide basic necessities for its people. Instead, snipers stationed throughout this particular square opened fire on the students, killing between 200 and 300, and injuring hundreds more. The electrical protesters continued on through the square, many shouting "Viva Mexico!" as I listened.

El Angel, commemorating Mexico's independence,
and a view of the city centre from atop the Latin
American tower, downtown Mexico City.
Mexico has many demons that few people are aware of, the stories I heard are evidence of that. And when the dark secrets are exposed, they cloud the outsiders eyes of what real beauty the city, and the country, holds. I write about the darkness because that was what had me questioning visiting Mexico in the first place. In truth, I was wrong about it. Those people who doubted us going were also wrong.

So what did we do in Mexico City? Everything we could fit into nine days. We visited the monument El Angel, the Angel of Independence that towers above the city, constructed in 1902. We spent a day at the Six Flags Mexico City theme park - for an unauthentic experience. We walked the streets of La Condesa, where my friend Renee lived. We ate frozen ice cream from a plastic tube and walked through Coyoacan, a former village of the city, and I watched in amazement at the indigenous dancers bearing rainbow colors of feathers on their headdresses, with nuts tied around their ankles and dancing in unison to the giant beat of the drums. We scrambled through crowded markets with candles and incense burning my nose.

Indigenous dancers in Coyoacan: the woman on the right is providing a
traditional blessing for people in the audience.
We spent hours wandering through the rooms of the Museum of Anthropology, which houses some of the oldest artifacts discovered in Mexico, and some of the oldest mummified remains of sacrificial slaves in surrounding ancient cities. I saw the enormous Aztec Calendar that archeologists pulled from the centre of the city. And I got to see all of it with people that I really care about, which made it that much more worthwhile.
Tradition, culture.
Mexico City was a great way to start a three month backpacking trip. From the moment we landed it was as though we had walked through a solid door and into a room painted with all sorts of colours and cultural riches, filled with people who love the way they live, who carry an undying compassion on their shoulders for their country. It wasn't scary at all. It was exhilarating. If anything, before leaving the city I became envious of the culture they carry with them.

Photo credit: Ben Ross and Jessica Bell
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...