Down Mexico Way… Pt 2 – Puebla to Palenque
Puebla, Oaxaca, San Cristobal and Palenque 1st – 9th July
The days are flashing by, so apologies for the blogs coming thick and fast now, but I’m trying not to fall too far behind as I risk forgetting where I went and when.
Mexico City to Puebla – 1st July
Got to the bus station full of trepidation, but was pleasantly surprised by the first class bus and service – my tickets were waiting, and they even checked in my bag and gave me a ticket for it (I have nightmares about losing my rucksack). Still, after a relatively effortless and comfortable 2 hour journey I arrived in Puebla and waltzed off the bus with all the other passengers into the “Arrivals Hall”. But the luggage carousel was no-where to be seen, and I was left with no idea what had happened to my bag. After several miserable attempts to ask people for help (they thought I wanted to buy a bag – so much for my Spanish!) – a young man who was unloading bags, went off with my ticket and luggage receipt. With visions of my bag returning without me to Mexico City and with no proof that it ever existed, someone came to my rescue and managed to translate my predicament to the powers that be. At that moment the young man appeared with it out of nowhere – so panic over! Now I know, you have to actually get your own bag off the bus –the first class service obviously ends when you get off the bus!
My Hostal was an old 17th century colonial mansion with a pretty inner courtyard. I had a dorm to myself – free reliable internet and a continental breakfast– all for £8 a night – bargain.
Went exploring only to find the only branch of Woolworths still in existence – it`s here in Puebla! Sadly there was no pick and mix. There was also a memorial to John Lennon – imagine! That evening I experience my first tropical rain storm. Lucky for me, I did have an enormous bright blue rain cape that I bought in the 99 cent store in San Francisco. I`m sure I looked very stylish as I slid home (the Aztecs obviously hadn`t accounted for the perils of walking on polished stone pavements with flip flops when they built their towns), looking like Batman`s mum.
I did get chatted up (before I donned the cape) by a drunken young Mexican, but the language barrier got in the way (must learn: “I`m old enough to be your madre” in Spanish).
Oaxaca (which is pronounced like someone clearing their throat) 2nd – 4th July
After a fairly comfortable 4 hour journey, I made it to Oaxaca, managing to collect my luggage this time. Found I was sharing a dorm with two nice girls – one from Delhi and one from San Fran.
Unfortunately they were here first, so I got the top bunk! I`ve not slept in a bunk bed since the boys were small, when I used to fall asleep reading them a bedtime story. Still it`s all part of the fun. Good job I don`t sleep walk.
Oaxaca is another fairly pretty colonial town and during my first outing I discovered that the local elections were taking place this weekend, and they seem to be a great deal more enthusiastic about them than we are! They had firecrackers, a band playing in front of the cathedral and a parade – at that point, I really felt that I had arrived in Mexico.
After being chatted up by a nice young man who somehow guessed that I was looking for a vegetarian restaurant and said that he thought I had lots of positive energy but was slightly unbalanced! (A scarily accurate description all in all). I didn`t hang around for him to try to balance me out, and found the veggie restaurant which was owned by a guy who used to live in Seven Sisters! I tried out the “mol-e” which is a speciality of this area – basically a thick brown spicy gravy, made with chocolate – and yes, it really is as disgusting as it sounds, especially with tortillas and cheese.
Had an interesting day out visiting Monte Alban, another temple complex – this time on the top of a hill so amazing views, and it is almost complete, so the lay out is fairly apparent. I wonder when I`m going to get fed up seeing piles of old stones??? Stopping off at unusual unfinished convent at Cuilapan, the heavens opened again, just in time to make it back to the hostal. Later that I evening I braved the rain (sensing it had eased off a bit, judging by the fact that the fireworks had started up again – either that the local candidates were having a shootout). Headed off back to see my mate Augustin at the Veggie restaurant to reminisce about North London.
San Cristobal 5 – 7th July
My first overnight bus journey wasn`t too bad, but I found myself linguistically challenged as my neighbour was from Toulouse. Between her not very good English, and my not very good French, we managed to hold a fairly decent conversation! It was a bit confusing for me, having been struggling with my Spanish for the past few days, to have to drag my French back to the front of my mind (with a bit of Italian thrown in for good measure).
I thought that if I could manage a 12 hour plane journey, a first class bus with reclining seats and loads more first class legroom should be easy. What I didn`t account for was the fact that it seemed to be going round and round bends on the mountain roads all the time (thank god it was dark) lurching from side to side every few seconds. The bus seemed to come to a complete standstill every half an hour or so (maybe to wait for a goat to get out of the way perhaps?), plus there seemed to be speed bumps every few yards for most of the journey (or maybe they were the goats they didn`t slow down in time for??)*.
The Posada Ganesh is quite sweet if not a bit rustic. I`m in a “cabana” in the middle of the garden, which is a glorified shed really, but at least I`ve got the shed to myself. While waiting for my cabana to be prepared (they probably had to move the lawn mower and the rake out) I had breakfast with some lovely Polish youngsters, who spoke better English than wot I can. Then had a long chat with Yoko, a lovely Japanese lady around my age who was, like most of the other Americans I came to meet in Mexico, from San Francisco.
Had a wander around the town and got chatting to a weird and wonderful bunch of hippies from Minnesota, playing a cross between Country and Zydeco music which was really good. They`re travelling all around South America in an old school bus, so maybe I`ll catch up with them again somewhere – maybe even Glastonbury next year?
What`s there not to like about this place, it`s kind of cool and chilled out with musicians on each street corner – every other restaurant is vegetarian, the wine is less than orange juice at 90p a glass and there`s an Indian that also does Lebanese food! No wonder the Zapatista rebels wanted it to themselves.
My tour to the Sumidero Canyon proved a nice change from cities and churches and ruins. The views were stunning, and we got to see several crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks, as well as monkeys, storks, pelicans (and sadly the last of my hat, as the speed of the boat and the wind blew it right off my head). Met a really nice Danish couple that had been on the overnight bus (I think I eventually got to know almost all my fellow travelers on that bus whilst in San Cristobal).
Back in town in time for the second half of the footie, I remembered to pick up my washing which set me back the princely sum of MEX$15 (about 75p) – I wondered how much it would cost to post all my washing here from Brentwood? Back at the hostal, I found that that Katie and Gautam, the nice American couple I had also met on the bus, had taken my recommendation and come to stay there too. I don`t know what their room was like, but they were jealous of my shed!
Had a very enjoyable evening with them, and tried out another local speciality – Caldero – a watery soup with tortilla chips (tastes better than it sounds!). We then walked right up to the churc
h overlooking the town for some great views of the lightning storm in the distance.
Palenque – 8th – 9th July
An early start on Thursday for my transfer to Palenque by minibus. The bus driver was the grumpiest git I`d encountered so far. All the other tour buses managed to stop right outside the hostal, but he had parked half a mile away so I had to lug my bags all along the street and round the corner (of course he didn`t help me). I was the last one on the bus, so I had the privilege of sitting on the rock hard seat in the middle next to him. After telling me off for trying to eat the cake I`d brought for breakfast, he eventually (and reluctantly) stopped after 3 hours at a roadside café right in the heart of Zapatista territory. This was obviously not on his itinerary, as he cut our time short at the next two stops on the 10 hour journey – a couple of lovely waterfalls – Agua Azul and Misol Ha. We arrived at the Palenque Ruins just in time for another torrential downpour, and after being harassed by the guides who proposed a tour in English (this must have been quite limited as they didn`t even understand when we asked them the way to the toilets), I decided to make my own way round. It was impressive, being set in the middle of the jungle, but had nothing on Angkor Wat in Cambodia (maybe I am getting a bit templed-out now!).
It`s was so humid and hot, I was so grateful that I splashed out on a “hotel” for the night – I couldn`t wait to get the air con on and jump in the shower. The driver was not very happy about dropping us at our accommodation (even though this was the service advertised) as he claimed he didn`t know the way! Facing an uprising not seen since the Zapatistas heyday, he reluctantly agreed to take us, with me navigating. Despite this we managed to find The Hotel Chablis (I think this town has a bit of a drink problem – there`s also a Hotel San Miguel – I`m was looking out for the Hotel Pinot Grigio), and although not the Ritz (or the Dom Perignon), was just about worth the princely sum of £23 a night (about 3 times what I had been paying) and I had a good sleep.
Palenque offers very little other than the ruins, but as I didn`t fancy another overnight bus journey, I faced the prospect of another whole day here. I spent a day avoiding the rain (the trusty blue rain cape made another appearance), buying a new hat (the Spanish for hat is actually “sombrero”, so I was a bit worried about what I would end up with) and sitting in the really cool bar across the road where they played great Cuban music and served fantastic food, writing my blog and catching up on e-mails. An early start the next morning to catch the 8am bus to Campeche, where I hit the coast for the first time in Mexico – the beaches are beckoning!