Monthly Archives: July 2012

July 27th 2012 – Goin’ Loco Down in Acapulco

It was a long journey here, not so much because of the distance, but like all of Mexico the roads are really slow going. The road into Acapulco from the south brings you in high above the bay, and it looks spectacular – a huge horseshoe curve with all the buildings and hotels nestled in the green hills right down to the sandy beach.

Acapulco bay

Acapulco bay – click to enlarge

Balloon horse

Acapulco = Balloons and Beetles

Our hotel isn’t great. We had a bad start with them as they overcharged us – We got it sorted but its still too much money for a post-war crappy “POW-camp-style” bungalow – but, to be fair, it’s a really quiet spot considering we are close to the main parade and beach, and to be able to sleep without any noise is bloody fantastic. On our first night we found a second floor restaurant that served good food and 50 pence beers (Coronas) where we watched the Acapulco world go by – balloon horses and beetle taxis are the norm here. Our best find though, (and now the only place we eat) is a natural food restaurant with fresh juice blends and, I can’t believe I’m saying this, salads. I know, if someone had told me a year ago that I would be ordering a burger with alfalfa sprouts willingly, from a restaurant with a ‘food combining’ chart to help you with good nutritional choices, I would have said “f*** off”. Jane, as always, took it a step too far and had a cactus salad πŸ™‚

Me eating proper

Mmmmmm luuuursh…

One day we were approached by “Carlos” – a tour guide – on the street who asked us if we had done any sightseeing, namely the Cliff Divers of La Quebrada, Acapulco. This was one of the reasons I was here…but admittedly I totally forgot until he mentioned it. My family will be familiar with this, as it was the place Elvis Presley made his debut as a cliff diver in the the film “Fun in Acapulco”. He really did the dives!!! (yeah right!).

Cliff divers

View on the way to the cliff divers

On the way to the cliff dive Carlos took us to a hotel called “The Flamingo”. This was a home from home for the hollywood jet-set in the 50’s and 60’s. The most famous was Johnny Weismuller (or Tarzan) who lived here most of the time when he wasn’t tarzan-ing. Other famous actors who stayed here include John Wayne and Cary Grant.

Flamingo hotel Acapulco

Flamingo Hotel, Acapulco – you can just see Tarzan on the wall

The dive show started at 1pm so we arrived in good time to get a decent view of the cliffs. There were about 5 divers who swam to the base of the 50 foot + cliff then scaled the cliff face to the top, where there were a couple of small altars where they did their prayers before leaping off the top. The locals call them “the crazy divers” (but in Spanish πŸ™‚ There was no music or drum rolls before each dive. The guys just lift up their arms, whistle to get the crowd going then hoy themselves off the top…mental…into a small channel of wild water. It’s a miracle that they don’t get smashed off the rocks! The last diver, the Head Honcho, has real balls – he not only dives off the highest point (after a lot of prayers) he also does a somersault before hitting the water. Its really immpressive stuff…and here’s some footage of the man himself….

Tomorrow we leave for Mexico City, our last destination here before boarding the plane to Miami in a few days. We are hoping that it’s going to be cooler there, as the temperature in Acapulco has hit 38 degrees centigrade, and we are melting πŸ™‚ It feels very strange to be winding down our stay here in Central America and Mexico… but it had to happen!


July 24th 2012 – Puerto Escondido, the Pacific Coast, Mexico

The only way to get to the Oaxaca Coast was by yet another night bus. We did try to find a day bus that would take us direct through the mountains in about 5 to 6 hours, but after a browse around the ‘second class’ bus station, I dug my heels in, as no way was I getting on any of those ‘accidents waiting to happen’. So, the expensive, 10 hour, long way around, night bus it was.

Puerto Escondido is not really on the main international tourist route, but its definately a favourite with Mexican families – the place has a real buzz ‘Mexican style’. There is one long white sand beach, with massive breakers pushing in off the Pacific – a surfers dream – and three smaller sandy coves.

Rocks in Escondido

Playa Zicatela at Twilight

The main beach is called Playa Zicatela which you access through a rocky outcrop, and its pretty cool. Easily a mile long, it has become our favourite place to walk bearfoot at night. You can grab a beer and a meal and watch the sunset as huge waves come crashing in. You just can’t get bored with it.

Sunset in Escondido

Sunset in Escondido

You can spot turtles in the water in the cove right outside our hotel, in fact this whole coastline has a really good turtle population. You can hire a boat to go out and see them, but the local boatmen have the habit of hauling them out of the water onto the boat so that tourists can get a good photo – and though the turtles aren’t harmed, we chose not to be part of this and leave them in peace, just watching them from the shoreline is good enough for us.

The main street is a Mexican ‘Scarbrough’ πŸ™‚ all noisy families and tourist crap for sale, cheap restaurants and bars with thumping music, but apart from the late night boom of the night clubs (it can go on until 3 or 4 in the morning – just not funny), we are really enjoying the activity and general mayhem. We had a close shave on the beach the other day – they bring the small boats in from the bay at full engine throttle and they come up onto the sand at some speed, pretty unexpectedly. Jane screamed, well, like a girl:) as a boat shot past her with inches to spare – it was hilarious. Even in the pitch black the Mexicans are in the sea and the dogs come down to play on the sand in the cooler air, and then there’s the bands….trumpets are the background noise to everything here.

We walked out to the small bay of Puerto Angelito, where we found that among the crowds we were the only non Mexicans on the whole beach. This was Mexican family holiday on full throttle – happy kids and content adults swimming, eating, drinking and doing what the Mexicans do best, making lots of noise! It was the same vibe on the Playa Carrizafillo, an even smaller bay, but with some incredible waves that you can sit and watch all day. We are really enjoying the contagious buzz of the family holiday here, but we are back to the intense heat during the day and so make regular trips back to our cooler hotel room. At night though the temperature is perfect as long as you stay by the sea and catch the breeze.

Playa Carrizafillo

Playa Carrizafillo – great waves here.

We move on tommorrow, to the seaside resort everyone has heard of – Acapulco. Don’t quite know what to expect!


July 18th 2012 – Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, Mexico

There was only one option to get to Oaxaca City and that was by night bus, so we settled ourselves in for the 12 hour journey, that actually took 14. The extra 2 hours had as much to do with our driver stopping for coffee and midnight dinner as much as the mountain roads, but I suppose we should be grateful that he was interested in staying refreshed and awake for the trip πŸ™‚

Our hotel was a 10 to 15 minute walk away from the centre of the city, but it’s really nice, with great staff, and lets face it, a walk always keeps Jane happy for some strange reason. I’ve nearly knocked myself out about three times on a stone roof beam, but as Jane thought the room was ‘just gorgeous’ I was willing to live with the concussion πŸ™‚

The city sits in a fantastic setting, totally surrounded by tree covered mountains, and because its so high up the weather is perfect – mid to high 20’s by day and about 18 Celsius at night. This is a really beautiful place, with massive Churches and Basillicas at every turn.Β  We walked up to the Planetarium hill, where there is a huge roofed auditorium that looks out over the city – the view is pretty good.

View over the city of Oaxaca

View over the city of Oaxaca, Mexico

Basilica de la Soledad

Basilica de la Soledad

The best thing about this place though is the people, they really know how to enjoy themselves. Nearly every day there’s a parade, with groups in traditional dress, carrying lanterns and playing and singing to live music, and when they are not parading they are practising in one of the many squares. Its cool to sit and watch groups of young people go through thier routines, or make posters and banners for some event. In the main square there are lots of balloon sellers and every young child seems to have some type of balloon to throw around. Every day and night is a buzz of activity with family and friends meeting to eat and socialise.

Oaxaca balloon sellers

Oaxaca balloon sellers

Zocalo Catedral at night

Zocalo Catedral at night

We are really enjoying Oaxaca City – even I don’t mind all the walking as the streets are really cool, and there is always a really good cafe, like the Lobo Azul (a revolutionary hang out) to have great food and coffee, or you are never far away from fresh squeezed orange juice from one of the street vendors, or someone selling homemade fresh fruit tartlets (Mmmmmm).

Oaxaca Street

A Oaxaca street

Our next stop is the Oaxaca coast to the west, where we will look out onto the Pacific Ocean, before heading to Mexico City, so we say goodbye to Oaxaca CityΒ  – Mexico really has been amazing so far!


July 15th 2012 – Chillin’ in San Christobal

Well we went riding, and it wasn’t too bad (those John Wayne western saddles are hard on the legs, no wonder he walked funny!). We were picked up at our hotel by a farmer in a flatbed pickup truck (i.e no seats!) and we jumped in the back, and hung on for dear life as he took us to the horses, saddled and under shady trees waiting for us. Our guide did not speak one word of English, so it turned out quite well that one of the Polish couple who rode out with us spoke pretty good Spanish.

horse again

Jane’s horse “Chimero”

Horse

Me on horse… yeah what of it?

We rode up into the hillside for about an hour to a small town called San Juan, where we tied the horses under some trees (apples all round courtesy of Jane) and let them rest for an hour while we checked out the place. We went to have a look in the church, where lots of Mayan families were gathered. First impression was OK, the usual, lots of candles and stuff – and then we realised that the Mayans were sacrificing chickens, right there on the church floor – it was all dead birds and chanting. What the hell would the Pope say. πŸ™‚ So we saddled up the gg’s and high tailed it outa there partners!

Church

“Chicken slaughter church” in San Juan

When the guy drove us back to San Christobal he pulled up on the edge of town, and told us he had run out of petrol, could we walk the rest of the way?. Yeah, right. We are guessing it was lunch time and he was right outside his house πŸ™‚

Our last couple of days in San christobal was spent eating, drinking. and chillin’ out. We found a cafe that does the best salads on planet earth, and yes thats me saying that not Jane – I could eat every day in this place.

On our last day strolling around town, we came across a guy with a tarantula. he was promoting an insect museum, which we didn’t know existed. So we did visit the museum, but the best bit was that I got a chance to hold a tarantula, so thats another thing off the bucket list. Heres a pic to prove that I’m not scared of fire-knee tarantulas…

Spider

Me and a Fireknee Tarantula

The whole town is a cool place to be, and we will be sad to leave tommorrow, but its time to move on to the City of Oaxaca (wah HAH cah) further over to the West, which gets us close to the Pacific coast.

Mooch

Mooching about on the last day


July 12th 2012 – Canon De Sumidero, Chiapas, Mexico

About an hour outside of town a big river, Rio Grijalva, runs through a huge limestone canyon, and it also happens to be crocodile infested waters, so we thought it was worth checking out! There had been a lot of rainfall so the river was high and flowing fast, and our boatman had to dodge the odd massive log as we made our way down stream to the Chicoasien dam.

Canyon De Sumidero

Canyon De Sumidero

It was a neck cramping journey as the sheer stone walls rose up higher and higher as we travelled. This place is unbelieveable, at one point the canyon rises to over a kilometre high – and believe it or not, before they put the dam in place in the 1980’s, raising the depth of the river by tens of metres the canyon walls were even higher from the surface of the river. It reminds me of Milford Sound in New Zealand.

Journey down river

Journey down river

There is one part of the canyon wall that has a very strange, and apparently pretty rare, formation where folds and arches of limestone have been laid down on the external wall – its more usual for it to occur in cave systems, but to be honest the whole thing is awesome!

Limestone formations

Limestone formations on the canyon wall

We got all the way to the dam, and not one croc! The water was so high that none of them were swimming in it and we were a bit dissapointed. Then at about the halfway point on the way back our boatman spotted one on a rock in the river. Now we were expecting to see the small variety of freshwater croc, about 3 to 4 feet long – what else would you expect to see in a Mexican river?Β  This croc was BIG – a saltwater croc and a real surprise – as big as anything on the African Congo!Β  About 10 minutes later we spotted another one on the bankside, and it was even bigger. We had an idiot on board the boat who got out of his seat to lean over and splash his hand in the water, tipping the boat.Β  These crocs are maneaters, if only he had fallen in, as we were only about 10 feet from this monster, it would have put a whole new angle on the day – and some great photos:) Anyway here are some pics of the two crocs, neither of them eating a tourist… unfortunately!

Croc One - with his posse of vultures

Croc One – with his posse of vultures

Croc Two - much bigger than Croc One

Croc Two – much bigger than Croc One


Me and Jane love travelling on river boats, so this was a really enjoyable morning that went way beyond our expectations. We are finding that Mexico has a lot to offer, especially here in the Chiapas region.


July 10th 2012 – San Christobal de las Casas, Mexico

Its uphill all the way to San Christobal, so it wasn’t a surprise to get off the bus at 6pm to a chill in the early evening air. The town sits high up in the mountains and reminds me a bit of Antigua in Guatemala – lots of cobble and stonepaved streets lined with multicoloured houses. Our hotel is in a really quiet area, but only a five minute walk from the buzz of Real de Guadaloupe, one of the coolest streets in Mexico.

San Cristobal

San Cristobal – Real de Guadaloupe

Now our hotel was a surprise, La Posada Sanchris – it turned out to be more of a ‘homestay’ – it was like moving in with a Mexican family for a few days – and they could not have been nicer! What used to be a large family home has been turned into a tiny hotel, you have your own room and bathroom, but meals are a shared experience, in fact one day, when the dining room table was full, the family set me and Jane our own table in the kitchen with them as extended family members. Even with thier poor English and my poor Spanish, we still managed to chat and get to know each other really well. We have only one issue – at night our room is cold! They don’t have any heating and we have not adapted to the chilly nights yet.

Real de Guadaloupe

San Cristobal street

This is my kind of town. Day time temperatures are in the mid twenties, so its not too hot, and every single street has something to look at – its a nice mix of old Spanish colonial, traditional Mayan, modern shabby chic, a hippy heaven. You can browse all day in shops that sell everything – from artisan posters of the revolutionary movement, organic local produce, Mayan textiles…and my favourite, replica masks from the Mexican wrestling federation πŸ™‚Β  All the streets lead to massive tree lined squares where everyone meets to socialise, play music and sell handmade stuff.

San Cristobal - Market Square

San Cristobal – Market Square

The kids here are great, a bit like Asia, you get the inclination to adopt one or two. I don’t know how I feel about a kid of about 7 or 8 who earns his keep by polishing shoes, or selling monkey nuts, or another who has a set of weight scales that you pay him to use (I’m 85kg), or the young girls selling bracelets. Its a hard one – they are all well fed and well clothed, and often the parents, usually traditional Mayans, are not far away, but do you support this? They have us hook, line and sinker, we have a daily fund just for them, but we never know if we are doing the right thing. The Mayans travel into town every day from the outlying villages and they bring all of the children with them, and they really do seem to be loving parents with happy kids – I suppose it just feels very different to the life of most western kids.

Kid selling nuts on the street

Kid selling nuts on the street (I had to buy some)

We are loving this place so much that we have extended our stay for another 3 nights, and have booked a couple of trips, one for a river cruise and the other horse riding (Janes bright idea) so watch this space.


July 7th 2012 – A Grand Day Out

The main reason to be here in Palenque is the archeological ruins (for Jane of course), about 10km outside of the town. The locals organise a day trip that takes in the ruins and two waterfalls, so we booked this trip and it turned out to be a really good day. The ruins are set in a tree covered mountain landscape and are actually spread over 20 square miles, but we explored only the main palace area (about five per cent of all the buildings) that were once ruled by the ‘Lord Pacal’ – the enigmatic rockstar of his age.

Palenque Ruins

Palenque Ruins

This place is amazing. It has a really good feel, the kind of place that you are happy to just sit and look at and enjoy being in. It is impossible not to compare it to Tikal in Guatemala – and it wins hands down. All the buildings seem to be the same style and shape, and though they are not as big as the stepped pyramids of Tikal, the setting is much more beautiful, and it just has a nicer vibe.

Palace Complex at Palenque Ruins

Palace Complex at Palenque Ruins

Palenque Ruins

More Palenque Ruins

A crystal clear river runs through the centre of the complex, with waterfalls and still pools, and its surrounded by thick green forest, but the complex sits in a lawned garden with massive trees for shade, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see it as it used to be when it was in its heyday over fifteen hundred years ago.

River

River through the Palenque ruins

Our next stop was a waterfall, called Misol-Ha, which crashes into a deep pool from a height of about (I’m guessing here) 160 feet. You are able to walk out onto a ledge behind the waterfall, via some limestone steps, and look out through the water – but its impossible not to get wet! In fact in some places you have to dodge having a natural shower as water is forced out of the rock face. On the far side another smaller fall erupts from a cave system, not unlike those we experienced in the limestone mountains of Laos, back in Asia.

Misol-Ha Waterfall

Misol-Ha Waterfall

Our next stop was a place called Aqua Azul (Blue Water) where a river has laid down massive limestone deposits over a huge area – we walked for about a mile up river and the waterfalls and cascades continued all the way and beyond! This is one of those places that nature has created that pretty much takes your breath away. Multiple falls crash into stepped pools, some are even safe enough to swim in, and we even found a bridge across a stretch that led to an island, which we had totally to ourselves.

Agua Azul

Agua Azul “Blue Water”

As I got to the far side of the island a snake dropped from a tree right in front of me – I nearly sh*t myself, but then again so did the snake! He headed straight for another tree, but I managed to get the camera out quick enough to get this picture…

A Snake

A snake at Agua Azul

This was a satisfying day – there’s some pretty cool stuff to see in the Chiapas region, and we are really enjoying being in Mexico.