Thursday, December 20, 2007

Honduras to Nicaragua, 10 to 19 December

Oh man oh man. I wrote this great little thing about Honduras and then I went to the internet cafe, attached my USB, stolen. I´m not doing so hot with memory keeping devices this trip. First Cuba, now in Nicaragua, and I´m guessing I should just type things when I´m able to send them. Poopy.

So I´ll do my best to re-construct. I left Guatemala City in the middle of the night on the 10th and took a bus to Esquipulas, taxi-ed to the border, taxi-ed to the Honduran side, then got a bus to the border town of Nuevo Ocotepeque...where I thought I was being clever by saving a few dollars, only to discover that I was oh-so-wrong, lost over an hour, and about a dollar too. Oh well.

The ride through the Honduran countryside was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. It was like a combination of Jamaica, Cuba, and perhaps Chiapas. Jungly, hilly, and verdant green. Rich earth in shades of red and brown scattered throughout the carpet of greens.

Since I had managed to land on a local bus which stopped at least every half hour for no apparent reason, I ended up arriving in San Pedro Sula much later than I had thought. It was already getting dark, and I knew that this was not a city I wanted to be in at night, alone, with all my stuff. So I asked a woman on the bus if she could help me find a clean, safe, place for the night and I would take her out to dinner. She said it was totally fine, and once we were on our way she invited me to stay at her house, that way I wouldn´t spend money and it was easier for her anyway. Wow. Welcome to Honduras. So off we went, we went out for dinner, and I was loving Honduras.

The next morning she helped me get to the junction where the buses pass and we got there around 5am, and a bus passed shortly thereafter to get me to La Ceiba. Made it with plenty of time to catch the 9.30am ferry over to Roatan. On the boat over, I was trying to round up some people to share a cab, and instead met Nick and Caroline who live on the island and told me they would give me a lift to Mel´s house. Yay. So we ran some errands in Coxen Hole where I got wayyy too excited about imported American crap food, and then I was home in Sandy Bay.

The next 6 days were lovely, pure had been a long time since I had just stayed in one place and not done all that much...maybe Mexico City?? So a few dives - unfortunately or fortunately, I´ve dived some of the world´s best spots and so Roatan didn´t wow me too much but it was still nice to get under the surface and just dive...I really do love that feeling... - time at the beach, kayaking, swimming, cooking, sleeping, reading...ahhh. It was great.

Honduras, and in particular the Bay Islands, strikes me for the racial diversity and the laid-back island feel that it has. The islands are historically comprised of English-speaking blacks, and the diversity reminded me of a strange combination of Cuba and Jamaica or something. I don´t really know, but I liked it.

I got to spend some great quality time with Mel and the kids, as well as Jonas who I met in Guatemala, and 2 German girls Lena and Christina that were great company.

I finally tore myself away from the idyllic isle on the 17th and had a big day to get to Tegucigalpa where I met Arturo, a gift of a man, who welcomed me into his gorgeous home, fed me, let me wash clothes (ick, humid island for a week was not doing me any favors) and then the electricity went out.

18th was an early start, and I crossed the borders no worries. As many others had already told me, Nicaragua is a special one. I am finding it remarkably refreshing to realize that I like Central America the further south I get...the people here are so friendly, starting with the engineer that was next to me on the bus from Tegus to Managua. He changed money with me, giving me a better rate than the bank, helped me maneuver the customs people, lent me his phone, and took me to change buses in Managua so I wouldn´t have to take a cab. And gave me his business card saying he hoped I wouldn´t have to call him, being in trouble, but at least I would have it. He had spent 2 months in Japan in 1981 working as an engineer in Fukuoka, Kyushu, and we spent a good portion of the ride talking about his memories in Japan and me speculating on how much it´s changed in the past few decades.

So I got to Granada, got situated in my lodging, and went down to the lake, a brown but pretty spot with lots of volcanoes in the vista. Granada is a nice spot, quiet, cute colonial architecture and not a whole lot to do so it´s been a good spot to catch up on online time and figure out what my upcoming plans are. Looks like I´m flying to Buenos Aires from Costa Rica in January, I am glad that I have finally reached a point where I am ok with admitting to myself that I am done with this trip, not in a bad way but it´s time to just settle and relax and chill in one place for a bit, possibly even work and make some money...wait, work? What's that?...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Guatemala, Nov 30th to Dec 9th

Friday night, Chrissy and I headed to Antigua. It is a beautiful colonial town, perfectly restored, impossibly cute, with towering volcanoes surrounding it on all sides. The feel is really international, just like in San Cristobal de las Casas, and I can see why people fall in love with it. It’s a perfect place to relax and eat and drink to your heart’s content. We met a bunch of people Friday and stayed at Cynthia’s. Saturday was a beautiful day, and in the evening I went to climb Volcan Pacaya, an active volcano whose last major eruption was in 2000. We climbed in the dark and as we neared thesummit the sky turned red; as we came out of the forest towards the viewpoint, we could see 7 flows of lava streaming down the mountain, bright red. I was really impressed, more than I thought I would be, and we traversed the recently hardened lava to get as close as we safely could.

Sunday morning I headed early to Panajachel to get to San Marcos La Laguna on Lago Atitlan. Lago Atitlan is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world according to various guidebooks, and it is true that it is breathtakingly beautiful. Surrounded on all sides by volcanoes, with small villages scattered around its shores, it is peaceful and idyllic. I chose to stay in San Marcos, which is considered to be the hotbed of hippies on a spiritual path; lots of yoga, massage, reiki, spas etc. I was at Hotel La Paz, with a nice common area and vegetarian restaurant, and daily yoga. On Sunday I visited San Pedro La Laguna, which is just one town away yet the feel is completely different. It is known for its abundant drug availability and usage, and as soon as you come off the boat people come to offer you marijuana and cocaine. I stramgely felt that there was no mixing of the Guatemalans and foreigners in San Pedro, and overall, I found it to be a really sad place. However, I know quite a few people that really love it so who knows.

I met a Japanese woman from Nagano who has a Japanese restaurant in San Marcos. I went for some veggie tempura which made me super happy.

On Monday, I did some yoga before going to Santiago Atitlan, the second largest town on the lake after Panajachel. There is a strong indigenous tradition in Santiago, and it was nice to walk around the streets and see all the clothes and colors. In the afternoon I went back to San Marcos and went back to the Japanese restaurant. I was a bit tight on my budget because I had opted to stay in San Marcos rather than San Pedro, which meant that overall my accommodation and food was more expensive. Thus I went to just have Miso Soup so that my budget wouldn’t be broken. I had my soup, and stayed chatting with the woman, Seiko, for awhile. She originally came to Guatemala in 2000 for a 2 year volunteer project and after returning to Japan for awhile, returned to Guatemala and had lived in Flores for 2 years running a Japanese restaurant. She came to San Marcos 4 months ago to try out something new. I think that both of us were so excited and almost relieved to speak Japanese that we spent hours chatting without realizing it. It was the first time since Octavio in Mexico City that I had spoken Japanese and I finally realized that I really missed it. As I was getting ready to leave to eat my real meal somewhere cheaper, all of a sudden, a group of 6 tourists and another couple came in. Seiko panicked, as she is the only person there and has to cook and serve; I offered to stay and help her out, saying I could chop vegetables and stir things and bring drinks out etc. She hesitated but when I assured her that there was really nowhere else I needed to be, she obliged and it was wonderful. For the next hour and a half we worked together and it was so nice. Preparing curry and sushi and onigiri and miso soup and tofu salad and hot sake just made me so nostalgic and definitely gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. After all that cooking was taken care of, she treated me to an enormous meal of miso soup, curry, chicken cooked in ginger and soy, and a watermelon shake. Yum. She even packed up some onigiri, rice balls, to take with me for breakfast the next day since I would be heading out early. What a gift to have met her, discussing Latin America from a Japanese perspective.

Tuesday was an early start and I got the boat to Panajachel at around 6.30am. In Pana I immediately got a connection in a pickup with about 20 people jammed in the back, standing up around the round baskets that people bring to and from the markets. I was headed to Solola, just 20 minutes up the road. Solola has a nice big local market on Tuesday and Friday, and the action was great. Different clothes, sights, smells, sounds, and people were all over the central plaza. After wandering around and having a quick meal, I got on a bus to Los Encuentros, another 20 or 30 minutes up the road. Los Encuentros means the meetings, and this is a major intersection for changing buses. I didn’t have to wait long to catch a bus to Huehuetenango, about 3 hours northwest of the lake. Unfortunately, the bus was very crowded and I couldn’t get a seat, so it was 3 hours standing in an uncomfortable bus on very windy, poor-condition roads. Ahh well. In Huehue as it is called, I waited an hour to catch the bus to Todos Santos Cuchumatan.

The road to Todos Santos is beautiful, perhaps the prettiest mountain scenery I saw in Guatemala. Todos Santos itself is a small, dusty town but it is a good representation of Mayan highland living. The vast majority of the population wears traditional dress, and the clothes of the men are striking. Their pants are red with thin white stripes, they wear white, blue, and purple button-down shirts, and broad-rimmed hats that have blue ribbon wrapped around them. I’ve travelled a lot but I don’t know if I’ve ever been anywhere where I was struck by how the people dressed the same like in Todos Santos. Unfortunately, I felt really uncomfortable in the town because as far as I understand, they’re not so keen on foreigners. Actually, in 2000, a Japanese tourist was killed because he was photographing children without asking permission; at the time, there were rumors of child-sacrificing Satanists. My camera didn’t leave the hotel room.

I left Todos Santos the next morning as I didn’t feel there was any real reason to stick around, and 4 hours later after a connection in Huehue, I arrived in Xela, Guatemala’s second largest city. The official name of Xela is Quetzaltenango bus most people simply call it Xelaju or Xela, its Mayan name. Half the city is indigenous which is really interesting, and overall it feels like a calm, functioning, orderly city. I liked it. I arrived at Hostal Don Diego where there was an established group of long-term residents, from Spain, Holland, U.S., Sweden, and Canada. I took it easy on Wednesday because Tuesday had been a really tough travel day.

Thursday I went to Zunil, a highland town about 30 minutes from Xela, and got a pickup to Fuentes Georginas. These hot springs are the most popular in Guatemala, and I truly loved it. It was my first real onsen/rotenburo experience since leaving Japan, and the surroundings of the cloudforest and views over the vally were gorgeous. I was also the only foreign tourist there, and it was really nice to see local families coming to enjoy the springs and the nature surrounding it. I walked back down to Zunil, which was a great idea, as this walk was my favorite that I did in Guatemala. The land is largely agricultural, and the neatly organized plots of land with different vegetables growing was so picturesque, especially with the mountain fog blowing in and out, revealing different vistas every minute.

Friday morning I awoke early, at 6, to go with Luciana, a very sweet Swiss girl, to the Friday market in San Francisco El Alto. It took about an hour on the bus to get to the largest market in Guatemala. We were early enough to not see a single other tourist, and we wandered through the crowded alleyways of fabric, clothes, shoes, electronics, food, and animals. What a great experience. As usual, markets tire me out so we didn’t stay long but we certainly got a taste of the real market life in Guatemala rather than the tourist ones set up in the most visited places. We got back to Xela, I took a nap, and headed to Antigua.

I was back in Antigua around 6pm, and hung out at Cynthia’s for awhile. Rudy and I went to Kabuki, a Japanese restaurant where I had Agedashi tofu and Tonkatsu. Yummmm. We then headed over to Estudio 35 where there was a goodbye party for a British girl who had been living in Guatemala. It was a good vibe, lots of friendly people, liberal alcohol consumption, and was exactly what I needed. The evening turned longer as Hugo, Pampa, Aurora, Jonas, and I went back to Cynthia’s where there was more fiesta, and when we finally made it back to Guatemala City it was nearly 6am.

Saturday was our exploring Guatemala City day, to Zona 10 and Zona 1, we checked out the National Palace, Central Park, Central Mercado, and generally just wandered around. In the evening, we went to Cuatro Grados in Zona 4, a great insight into the real Guatemala. It’s a new nightlife district, only begun just 6 years ago, but it’s a great vibe, lots of young people, restaurants, bars, street performers and vendors, and rarely a tourist to be seen. Really different from Antigua, really worth checking out.

And so that’s been my trip to Guatemala!

Mexico to Guatemala, Nov 20th to Nov 30th, 2007

I took a night bus to Tuxtla Gutierrez on the 20th, and arrived on the 21st to meet Rodolfo. I was now in Chiapas state, which used to be part of Guatemala, and for many, the most beautiful state of Mexico. We went to all the different lookouts of the Canon del Sumidero, Tuxtla Gutierrez’s claim to fame. We had some regional cuisine of Cochito Horneado and Pepita con Tasajo (Baked pork, in a very flavorful dark brown juice, and beef cooked in a sauce made from ground pumpkin seeds). We wandered around Chiapa de Corzo and then I took a 2 hour boat ride through the canyon. That night, we went to the Parque de la Marimba. The Marimba is an instrument similar to a xylophone that is native to Chiapas, and this park is a remarkable achievement. Everyday, from 6pm to 9pm, different music groups come to play marimba and crowds of people gather to dance, or just sit and enjoy the music. Food is sold, but no alcohol. It’s a safe, entertaining public space and it was great to see that this existed in Mexico. Rudy and Carlos brought me to the minibus to San Cristobal de las Casas. I arrived late that night to Tania’s house.

San Cristobal de las Casas is the favorite town for many people who have visited it, both Mexicans and foreigners. It’s easy to understand why. Beautiful colonial architecture in a perfect mountain climate, with steep green mountains on all sides, a small town center, and seemingly endless cultural activities and a great gastronomic scene. It’s one of those places where you have to be careful about your money, because everything isn’t expensive, but you might find yourself going to 3 cafes, 2 restaurants, and 3 bars in a day. My first day there I visited San Juan Chamula, a Mayan village just 15 minutes away. San Juan Chamula draws scores of tourists for its church, in which a very peculiar rite takes place. The Mayans in the village come to make offerings in a ritual meant to cleanse their souls. Both men and women in traditional dress come into the church which has thousands of burning candles all around the perimeter as well as on the floor itself. The floor is covered with pine needles, which are cleared by each person to make space for their candles. Chanting, singing, praying, often tearful. Animals, usually chickens, are rubbed all over the people’s bodies, meant to remove the bad spirits from the human and passed onto the chicken, which is then killed. I have never seen a ritual like this.

San Cristobal de las Casas is interesting because it has such a mix of people; indigenous Maya populations wander the streets, wearing the same things they would have 500 years ago, ladinos, the mixed-descent Mexicans walk alongside them in their latest fashions, and a more than generous portion of Europeans and tourists from all over the world intertwine the mosaic. It’s a really unique place.

On the 22nd, Agusto took me on a hike outside of Zinacantan. It was the first time I’ve really been on a mountain trail since I’ve been in Mexico, and although it was a bit difficult, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was great to climb high into the mountains where we couldn’t hear any cars or electronic sounds at all.

That night, I took a bus to Palenque. What I didn’t realize was that the roads were unbelievably windy, and I was barely able to sleep. I made my way to El Panchan, the backpacker’s paradise in a reforested jungle outside of Palenque town, and slept. In the afternoon I visited Agua Azul and Misol-ha, the famed waterfalls near Palenque. The 24th was a day at the ruins; Palenque’s ruins are situated in the jungle, so you hear the sounds of the jungle as you wander around the ancient stones.

On the 25th we had a 6am start to get our transport to Flores, in Guatemala. It was really smooth, a van to the border town of Frontera Corozal, a boat to cross the river Usumacinta, which separates Mexico and Guatemala, then a bus to Flores. On the bus I started chatting with a British guy who was really short on time and he wanted to get to Tikal that day rather than spend the night in Flores. It somehow worked out that I was going to go with him because he didn’t want any contribution to the taxi etc. I was, for the first time in Central America, placed in a situation of the high-class tourist which I am certainly not accustomed to. Tikal itself only has 3 places to stay and a few places to eat, all gougingly overpriced.

We decided we wanted to be inside the ruins by the time sunrise came. This meant we left the hotel at 4:30am, bribed the guard to let us in early since the entrance officially opens at 6am, and we walked in the dark. We emerged on the Gran Plaza and the mist, the moonlight, and the clouds all converged to reveal the spectacular Templo I and II. It’s a sight I’ll never forget. We made it to Templo IV, the famed sunrise spot, and climbed to find dozens of other tourists who had all come in tour groups from Flores. Unfortunately, it was very cloudy and there was no sunrise to be seen.

We split ways, and I went to Mundo Perdido alone. Toucans and parrots flitted about the arrangement of pyramids and other ruins. I spent the next several hours wandering about the gigantic temple grounds, and saw spider monkeys, howler monkeys, coatis (small relatives of raccoons), and many many birds. At about 9am it started raining heavily, and I took shelter under a small hut. I left the ruins at about 11am, and after a short nap, went back in to see the northern area of the grounds. In the afternoon Oliver, the British guy, and I went to Aguada Tikal and saw a crocodile, and then I felt ready to go. I took a 4pm bus back to Flores and got a place in a hostel.

On the 28th I took a 6:30am bus to Coban, and arrived in rainy Coban at about 1pm. Dropped off my stuff and went on the half hour to Vivero Verapaz, famous for its orchids. Unfortunately, not many flowers were in bloom when I went. It stopped raining later in the afternoon but there really wasn’t much to see or do in Coban so I spent some time chatting with a really sweet girl in a café on the main plaza. I went to bed early because I knew the 29th would be a busy day.

And it was. I took an early bus to Semuc Champey, which many people consider is the most beautiful place in Guatemala. There is a naturally formed 300m limestone bridge with various pools eroded away, with water of different shades of blue and green. It was worth the bumpy 2.5 hours each away. I rushed back to Coban, checked out the International Orchid Exposition, and jumped on a bus to Guatemala City. I arrived at about 9pm, talked with the friendly bus staff as I waited for Chrissy to come get me, and that was that.

Today has been a lovely, lazy day. I am enjoying Guatemala, although it is glaringly apparent the double price system, for locals and tourists. However, I recognize that the poverty is much more prevalent, as the 36 year civil war left this country in tatters. All over the place there are children working, trying to sell things; much more than in Mexico. It breaks my heart that they are doing this rather than going to school, yet it is reassuring to see that they are still children, smiling, laughing, and playing.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Mexico Nov 4 to 20th, written Dec 1 in Guatemala

It’s taken quite awhile for me to get to somewhere where I am able to take a full day to rest, relax, and write. I’m actually already in Guatemala, and now I am in Guatemala City, and rather than tackle the polluted, traffic-ridden city, I’ve chosen to take a rest day.

Mexico…I got back to Mexico City on 3 November, and was not happy at all to leave Patzcuaro. There is definitely a magical quality about that place, and it is probably most visibly apparent during the Day of the Dead festivities.

Mexico City is, well, chaotic. The night of the 3rd, I went salsa dancing with Magally and her sister, and it was good fun. It was only then that I realized that salsa dancing in Mexico is entirely different from Cuba…and yes, I am biased…nobody dances like the Cubans. We were out til about 4am, so the 4th was a resting day as well. I had breakfast at Magally’s house in Xochimilco, a district in the south of Mexico City, and it was good fun. Her family is lovely, and we talked about Latin American politics and avocados and other such things. In the evening, I went with Octavio and his Japanese wife to dinner, and then Octavio and I went over to CU, Ciudad Universitaria, to see the last of the ofrendas. All the artists, sculptors, musicians, and other volunteers come together to make large ofrendas every year. After the displays are taken down, they are bought to prisons around Mexico City.

On the 5th, Octavio and I went to the Bosque del Chapultepec, a large forested area within Mexico City. Again, how refreshing to be in green space in the midst of a concrete jungle! Afterwards, we went to Zona Rosa, the gay part of town, with lots of international restaurants. I couldn’t resist, and we had a Japanese meal that was surprisingly good and cheap. We shopped for a suit for him, and then Alisa came to meet us. The 3 of us walked down Reforma, one of the main avenues going through Mexico City, and saw the ofrendas as well as an exhibition of calaveras – skulls. Various artists are given the mold of a skull and they can do what they choose with it. The result is a surprisingly large variation of color, themes, and stories portrayed through one shape and size.

On the 6th, I headed down to Yautepec, in Morelos State. I had been in touch with Reynold since before I left Japan, and was eager to get out of the city for a few days. What a pleasant little vacation! I loved it. Over the 3 days I was there, we went to various villages in the state; Tlayacapan, with beautiful adobe architecture and traditional pottery; Cuautla with its Agua Hervionda, stinky water pool, coming naturally from the ground; Amecameca, with great view of Popocatepl volcano and a tranquil yet lively town center; Cuautla where Emiliano Zapata is buried; and Tepoztlan, nestled in the mountains of Morelos State, with great ice cream. What I really loved about Morelos is that it felt like a true part of Mexico. Obviously, all parts of Mexico are true parts of Mexico, but for me, Morelos was one of the places that seemed to be exactly what I would imagine Mexico to be. Nice architecture, lively markets with delicious treats, artisan wares that are functional and used by everyday people, not just tourist attractions, mountains, rivers, and clear air with a perfect climate.

On the 8th, I went back to Mexico City. It’s funny the effect that that city had on me. It was as if I was stuck, paralyzed. Everyday I would think, ok, it’s time to go, and then I would think, oh, I need another day here. But then I would look at a map and be so overwhelmed I wouldn’t know where to begin. After having lived in some of the world’s great metropolises, I would not have expected this reaction from me, but in fact that is what happened. On my return from Morelos, I did decide that I was going to start doing tourist things in the City so that I could get moving soon.

On the evening of the 8th, Alisa and I went to see Los Monologos de la Vagina; the Vagina Monologues. It was a long time overdue that I hadn’t seen them, and I thought it would be a good test to see it in Spanish, to see how much my Spanish has improved. It was a great performance, with obviously more women in the audience, but I was surprised by the number of men there, who laughed along and didn’t seem too upset about some of the jokes that other more machista men simply would not stand for. After the show, we went to Magally’s house, then Alisa and I continued to go to a birthday party of one of her cycling friends. Lots of refrescos and cake!

On the 9th, I started my machine-like sightseeing. I went to the Museo de Antropologia, an enormous structure dedicated to all the different cultures found in Mexico – and man are there a lot. Starting in the north, with the cultures in the desert, all the way down through mountains and the ocean and the jungle, Mexico is truly blessed with ethnic diversity. I only hope that it stays that way with the exploding globalization within the country. After this museum, I went to Museo Rufino Tamayo. Tamayo was an Oaxacan artist whose modern style caught the eye of the world in the mid 1900s. I really love his work. Alisa came to meet me, and we did a pretty quick tour of the Museo de Arte Moderno; also quite impressive. What I love about Mexican art is the bursts of color, and the non-conformity to what would normally be allowed in art in terms of shades, tones, and juxtaposition. It’s creative and fresh and certainly eye-catching. After this we went over to Tlatelolco for the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, a Plaza with Prehispanic ruins, a Spanish church, and the modern skyscrapers. I feel that this is in essence the epitome of Mexico, hanging onto, or trying to, the indigenous cultures that have existed here for milennia, while mixing with the Spanish culture brought in the 1500s, and now, the new, modern Mexico; skyscrapers and business suits and fancy cars.

In the afternoon we went to relax at CU, the largest university in Latin America. As with most universities, a nice, youthful, intellectual vibe pervades the university, with free art exhibitions, and the large courtyards full of students playing sports, practicing theatrical pursuits, exercising, reading, relaxing. That evening, I met Elsa and Alex at Pata Negra, one of the hot nightlife spots at the moment located in the trendy Condesa district. This led to salsa dancing at Mambo Café, and I truly had a great time dancing with Alex.

The 10th was another full-on day. Alisa and I went all the way to Xochimilco and went to the Dolores Olmedo Museum. As far as I understand, this was an extremely wealthy woman living in a mansion, and one of her good friends was Diego Rivera. Now, her house is a museum and many of her interesting collection of artwork, household goods, and other articles are displayed in addition to a large collection of Rivera’s works. The property itself is gorgeous, with large maguey and cactus gardens, and Prehispanic hairless dogs running around their enclosure. Certainly not the most attractive animal I’ve ever seen.

After the museum we went to the boat area. Mexico City was built on a lake originally, although now that lake no longer exists. An exception is Xochimilco, which still has canals and waterways running through it. Trajineras, similar to gondolas in Venice, can take you around. The difference is that instead of black, trajineras in Mexico are explosions of pink, yellow, orange, red, white, and any other color you could imagine.

Next to Coyoacan, which means place of Coyotes. Coyoacan used to be its own pueblo, town, but as Mexico City grew and expanded, it literally swallowed Coyoacan. What’s interesting, though, is the notable difference between Coyoacan and its neighboring districts. Coyoacan still has cobblestone streets and the architecture is much more colonial.

That evening, Magally and I went out dancing, just the two of us, but it was a lot of fun. I slept in her apartment in Sevilla so that I could get an early start on Sunday.

Sunday the 11th – got up early, went to Octavio’s to get my stuff, and went to meet Hideki. We just sat in the park and chatted but it was really nice; I almost feel like he’s my brother, it’s so weird. Alisa came to meet me to help me with my stuff and off I went to Patzcuaro!

Yes, something drew me back to Patzcuaro. I think part of it was that I wanted to see the place without tourists to experience it with its own people, and part of it was the people I had met there. The 12th and 13th were spent going around the lake, visiting small pueblos, and cooking. On the 13th, Jeremy and I found a large festival for San Diego, with crowds of Purhepechas in colorful attire with traditional dance.

On the 14th I went into Morelia and spent the day with Josue, wandering around. I really like Morelia as well. In the evening, Jeremy and I went to a Hungarian Jazz Concert as it was the International Music Festival in Morelia, and we ran into Oscar there. Afterwards, all of us met for a drink until it was time for my bus to Puebla.

November 15th, 5.30am, I arrived in Puebla, exhausted. Took a cab to Ivan’s house and after a nap, went into Puebla. Puebla, which is about 2 hours southeast of Mexico City, is famed for its talavera tiles, mosaics with blue, white, and yellow. The center of Puebla has beautiful preserved colonial architecture, but the real reason many go to Puebla is for the food. Mole poblano is considered one of the best dishes in the country, and I agree.

I spent the afternoon in Cholula, checking out the Grand Pyramid which would have been the largest pyramid ever built if it had been completed, and wandering around the small, cute, town center. That night, I took a late night bus to Oaxaca and arrived at 4am.

The 16th I wandered around Oaxaca and in the afternoon went to Monte Alban, the famous ruins just 20 minutes from Oaxaca City. Great views of the surrounding mountains. On the 17th, I went to the very interesting Jardin Etnobotanico and learned a lot about the plants that are endemic to Oaxaca and how they are used by the different peoples living there. The garden is not so big but you can tell how much effort and love has been put into it, and was a highlight of my trip to Mexico. I met Alejandrina, my hostess, and we went to Central de Abastos, the large market downtown. We had a shrimp and nopales soup (nopales is prickly pear, cactus that is commonly eaten in Mexico), memelas, tortillas with cheese and beans on top, and hot chocolate with cinnamon and other spices thrown in. Delicious. In the afternoon I went to Mercado Benito Juarez, and after resting at home for a bit, came back into downtown for Noche de Luces. This festival features various free concerts around town, and there was a display of charreria, basically doing tricks on horses and the associated dances and cockfighting. It was the first time I’ve ever seen it live so it was interesting.

On the 18th, I had a really big day. Went to Mitla, a small town about an hour east of Oaxaca, and saw the ruins there. From there, I went to Hierve el Agua, natural volcanic pools with a petrified waterfall. The views from here were stunning. I came back via Tlacolula, which has its weekly market on Sundays. The traditional dress of the many different groups of people in Oaxaca (most prominent being the Zapotecs) and the different languages being spoken in the market were really beautiful. I took a late night bus to Puerto Escondido that night.

I arrived in Puerto Escondido on the 19th, and the 19th and 20th were pure relaxation. Beaches, sleep, food.