Our round the world adventure begins. Mexico.

November 2007

We quit and go travelling around the world. First stop Mexico

Dave (listening to Radio Four in a white van):

Leaving work (EMI Records) should be the hard part but that was a breeze compared to leaving the house – Wednesday was hard, was dreading the leaving do but ended up being fun, especially the presents, even the speech wasn’t that bad.  Thursday was horrendous, 15 hours of solid work – painting, cleaning, packing and worrying about driving the van. Friday was no better, as I had to pick the van up, fill it and then clean and paint the house again – another 300 hours or something – the curry with Lucy and John helped though, thanks both.  The van is the biggest thing I can drive on a normal driving license, was very worried about driving it to Kingsley in Cheshire the next day (loooooong way!).  Wake up Saturday at 7am, aching everywhere, eventually leave the house 5 hours later for an expected horrible drive – it was OK, managed to get all the way there without having to reverse – my big fear!  We are now both unemployed and homeless…Got to Leza’s uncles house and Laurie took control of the van – with fantastic extra help from cousins David and John we managed to get the whole house loaded into the garage loft (up a bloody ladder, just what I need) – Rach supplied tea and fireworks followed (thanks John!) but I have to go to bed as I am shaking (what a wuss!). Rita fed us well the next day before we headed off. We didn’t sleep in a spare room at their house – we slept in Laurie and Rita’s spare house.  They just built a new one on their land – 5 years of hard toil has paid off – it’s amazing!  Sunday, we leave for London. As most people know, I have never been a fan of anywhere outside the M25 but as always, Laurie, Rita and the rest make us feel very welcome. We arrive back in Ealing to stay with Stu, Mary, Finn and Cal next door to the first house we owned – definitely homeless now!


So we have left the house, quite literally in the loft of one of Laurie’s garages – quit our jobs and handed temporary custody of Stella our cat over to the safe keeping of our mates Jules and Rich who are going to spoil her rotten. Had a great week at Stu and Mary’s with the kids Finn and Cal, a bloody fantastic leaving drinks with about 25 of our friends and a couple of the English rugby squad in the same bar. Laurence Dellagio even posed for a few photos with Ness….and here we are now on Monday evening sitting in Mexico City waiting to transfer to Cancun. And yes they do pronounce it Mehico. One night in Cancun and then off tomorrow to chill for 2 weeks in Tulum; sun, sea and sand. And boy do we need to learn some Spanish quick…ordering a banana smoothie ain’t easy when you don’t know the lingo and don’t have a banana handy to point to. I’m already in my flip flops and feeling pretty chilled out….and I’m currently basking in the transit lounge in the reflection of the golden arches of the ubiquitous McDonalds. On the people front; there’s lots of blokes wandering around with big mustaches, big belt buckles, big cowboy boots and big cowboy hats…and I think we have a basketball team in the seats behind us; either that or they’re all in some freakishly weird tall blokes with big hands club. Adios for now and we’ll blog again from Tulum after a loooong night’s sleep.

Cancun More photos in a day or two…testing the Caribbean Ocean in Cancun where we’re staying for one night to catch up on some sleep.

Tulum (Quintana Roo State, Yucatan). Shambala Petit Hotel. A view from our room on stilts.

Not that we want to make all our mates and family totally JEALOUS or anything but we are now dossing on the most perfect white beach you have ever seen – which is practically deserted, stunningly beautiful, and our current accommodation is a wood and glass box on stilts standing right on this stretch of paradise! We are staying at Shambala Petit Hotel which is in Tulum, 20 minutes drive from Tulum town down on the beach.

The owner of the hotel…10 freestanding cabanas on the beach – is Mexican, called Roberto, who has lived all over the world and previously ran a hotel in the Maldives. Anyway this place is fab, basic as in no electric light at night in our room and sporadic wi-fi access – but luxurious in his attention to detail and how gorgeous it all looks….everything’s orange, dark wood and white. The other 9 cabanas stand on floor level on the beach – ours is the only one on stilts. The main ‘box’ is our room with huge bed with mosquito net etc, all glass and wood frame walls and black bamboo floor and white muslin sheets over the glass for privacy. The sun wakes us every morning at around 6am but we fall asleep around 9pm every night anyway as we do nothing all day. We can watch the ocean crashing on to the beach from the bed and our bathroom is a step down to another open area on stilts with loo, shower etc. it’s kind of indoor/outdoor – it doesn’t have a door and it’s walls are bamboo poles but as we are up on stilts it’s private – though I guess if Dave did a big fart everyone would be able to hear him. I think we are the only people staying here at the moment as the rest of the guests seemed to have left yesterday and this morning. Anyway – hardly any of you will bloody read this so I will just stick some photos up! Enzo the resident dog trying to get up to our room; and a few pictures of where we are staying…we are not far from Tulum Ruins.

Tulum beach is stunning and for some reason, deserted every day. I wonder if we could get a mortgage on this place?! I took Roberto’s dog Enzo and walked the beach, kept him leashed; great until the guard dogs from other beach hotels charge down to jump us, snarling, trying to goad Enzo in to a fight. We eat on the beach some nights at places like Zebra, inexpensive, laid back with sand pushing between our toes.

Playa del Carmen (Yucatan State) a day trip with Roberto to a large supermarket to stock up on supplies for Shambala. Roberto driving 100mph on the motorway with Enzo riding in the back of the truck ears flapping in the wind…unnerved, I ask Roberto to slow down. When we park Enzo barks at every Mexican person who walks near the truck…but not at the tourists. I’m embarrassed by an adopted dog from Italy who appears to be xenophobic. At a bar we have Volcano Margaritas, tequila, crushed ice, topped with chili…spicy but delicious. we have haircuts at a place Roberto uses.

Things I Have Learned Today.

DON’T stop outside the restaurant and try to re-arrange your sarong whilst standing next to the absolutely MASSIVE cactus plant – ouch!!!!!!!!!!!

DO remember to put sun cream on your bum cos when you walk down the beach your bikini bottoms WILL ride up.

DO try to learn the names of fruit otherwise you are gonna end up with some bizarre concoctions for a smoothie.

DON’T pat the cute dog on his own on the beach cos he has 20 cute doggy friends who will all follow you back to your cabana and not want to leave.

DON’T try to be clever and ask for throat pastilles just by looking in the guide book – you will end up bemusing the pharmacist who wonders what you are doing in his shop trying to order a fancy cream cake.

DO realise that on the insect repellent bottle where it says do not use near plastics or enamel that if used on your feet near your £25 pedicure it is going to completely knacker your lovely sunset red nail varnish.

DON’T ever be suckered in to thinking it’s okay to gorge on Cadburys dairy milk bars every night for 3 months before you intend to hit the beach – and then have to lie on the sun lounger next to someone who looks like the Korean Miss World entrant in a designer bikini.

DON’T think that a Margarita in Mexico is going to be the same watered down innocuous harmless little tipple that it is in the overpriced bar back home and wonder why when staggering down the beach in the pitch black to your cabana that you are experiencing some difficulty in being able to coordinate bodily movements fluidly and with grace (this one’s for Dave!)

December 2007: Bouncing chicken off a Coba crocodile’s head. 1 month on. Cenotes, Merida, Celestun, road relays, Valladolid, Chichen Itza, El Panchan, Palenque…and a new niece.

Coba We have got to that point where we can’t remember what day it is never mind the date. We added another week and stayed on the beach – supposed to check out this Friday and have just added another week so we will have been here a month when we do leave Shambala Petit Hotel! Can you really blame us! We did actually manage to break free from paradise a couple of days ago and went to Coba with Mark, Ella and our new Spanish mate Guru. Climbing that bloody pyramid was scary as hell – it has a 52 metre drop. I nearly became a Mayan scarifice. Apparently one tourist has already been killed falling off it this year. But they have closed all the others to climbing in the other major sites so we had to do it. A word about the ball court – you could only play the ball game using your hips, shoulders and knees – nothing else. The winner was the first to score through the stone hoop – incredibly difficult as the hoop is so high. The winner was sacrificed to the gods-apparently a great honour. We also saw a ridiculous thing in Coba – there’s a big lake full of massive crocs and these 10 year old kids we taunting 3 crocs with chicken meat on the end of string tied to a stick – chucking it in and out of the water – literally bouncing it off the crocs heads – they were doing it for money from the tourists – standing just 3 feet away from these massive animals. I went down pretty close to take pictures and then backed off really quick when the biggest croc moved suddenly. Madness – you tell kids not to touch the cooker, don’t do drugs and here we are giving money to 10 year olds to bounce chicken legs off crocodile’s heads. One of the kids then produced a bloody BB gun and started firing bits of potato or something at the crocs. At this point I decided it was a good time to leg it.

We went swimming and snorkelling in cenotes. There are loads of them around the Yucutan…naturally formed sink holes many of which connect to a 100 mile long under ground river in this area. We visited 2 separate cenotes near Coba; mind blowing! All you see from the surface for these 2 is a small entrance hole and a very steep ladder down. This opens out in to an underground cavern filled with fresh water. Some small fish swim around you in the deeper of the cenotes. The first one was full of stalagmites and more rocky and shallow in parts, the second was a much larger pool of clear blue fresh water which was much deeper. The third cenote was on the Tulum road called Grande Cenote. This was much more open when you entered and had trees and plants growing in it and much more fish. However if you swam under some of the rocks in to caves there were huge drops underneath you as the caverns open out to much deeper water. Lots of divers go to the Grande Cenote but you have to have a specialised cave diving certificate. It’s scary snorkelling in the darker parts of it as you don’t know what’s under you and I was convinced there was a bloody huge giant squid living down there.

Travelling as we are there are going to be a lot of goodbyes as people move on or go home because they’re on holiday. Goodbye to Alain and Karine from Corsica – the most glamorous woman on Tulum beach and with the most wicked laugh. You guys were so much fun – Alain we will start revising our French now for our visit to Corsica. Goodbye also to Mark and Ella and thanks for the many lifts in your car to the cenotes, Coba and Tulum. You guys are great and thanks for telling the bug from your room where we lived, I think he moved in the day you left. We aren’t getting bitten as much by mosquitoes since you went so maybe they all followed you to London. Adios chica loco to Guru who has the most energy of anyone we have ever met…Guru is a small hurricane! We will come to see you in San Sebastien. Also adios to our new friends from Argentina, Luisa and Mauricio who must have had the most amusing honeymoon of anyone I met…including snorkelling where Mauricio was sick in the water and instantly surrounded by a million fish. A tip they don’t usually recommend in the guide book to increase your chances of seeing the best of Mexican marine life. Andrew managed to swim head first into a rock on his first day but remained a good laugh for the rest of his time here with Lila and introduced us to the best shrimp and pasta in Tulum. We will definitely come see you both in LA in January. We have made so many great friends at Shambala.

Dave: We have now been on the road for a month. In that time I have learnt that Leza does occasionally relax, which has come as a huge surprise – I say relax but really it’s a slightly slower version of usual, just as ready to talk to all and sundry.  I expected to be ready to move on from this place after a couple of weeks as I would be bored enough of relaxing but it really does get under your skin here; the place is like nowhere else I have been and we have met a great bunch of people. You would think that it would be the same every day but the dynamic of the place changes with the arrival and departure of people and the shared breakfast means you learn lots of new stories…Leza has been the person who starts the conversation most days and eventually gets everyone talking; she says that knowledge is power. I have finally, after 42 years, managed to ride a wave to the beach, both on a boogie board and on my belly – my biggest achievements since we arrived! I also managed for the first time in my life to lose my wallet containing about £200 and some cards; not really the best time to do that, luckily we had a few credit cards left to keep us going.  We will leave this place in a week (probably!) and head off to see the interior of Mexico. I have no doubt that it will be amazing but I can’t imagine for a minute it will be better than Tulum – if you are reading this, you should get yourself here as soon as you can. Back to Leza.

Tulum town…a tumbleweed one horse main street lined with bars and restaurants. Our favourites are La Nave with a friendly Italian waiter and an old school place Don Cafeto with photos of the owner’s family on the walls cuddling pet lions and tigers. Before ordering they put small bowls on the table packed with pickled carrots and eye watering pickled chilis. Traditional Mexican food and a friendly atmosphere. There’s a wonderful Italian restaurant near to Shambala along Boca Paila called Posada Margherita…a treat night out, more expensive but high quality, homemade pasta.

Planning for when we leave, we discover that we can’t rent a car from a major rental company as they won’t allow us to take it out of the state let alone drive it thousands of miles and leave it way up country in another state…so we have done a deal with one of Roberto’s friends, also called Roberto and are paying him for the use of a VW Jetta. Dave saw this old Dodge – and would you believe it actually still drives – it is a complete wreck with massive holes in the floor. We couldn’t resist taking photos although the local guys on a building site thought we were nuts.  Maybe we should take this one Dave? Hertz car rentals ripped you off I think – ha ha ha!

Celestun (Yucatan State). We road tripped from Tulum to Merida, on to Celestun to see the flamingos and mangroves on a boat trip which was great fun; the water was red, like boating though red wine. Dave swam in the mangroves, I watched from the boat.

Merida (Yucatan State). Where was I – finally got a connection again – been out in the wilds for a few days but more of that in a minute. Merida was pretty – stayed two nights there in a room that looked like we were supposed to hail mary on entering. It was in an old Hacienda – looked really small from the outside and you went in and it opened up in to a huge space and went way back – a lot of these buildings are really deceptive. Big cathedral in Merida and a lot of streets decorated with flags – something to do with the festival for Guadalupe – which goes on until Christmas from what we can gather. Seems to be 12 days of consecutive mayhem; people setting off huge rockets from their hands that are like a firework but don’t actually create any colours – just a bloody massive boom like a big gun firing and smoke in the sky – bonkers – cars honking horns and bells ringing in cathedrals. Leaving Merida we wound our way back to Tulum stopping along the way at Chichen Itza and Valladolid.

Tetiz (Yucatan State)…passing through this small town we see the small but colourful Tetiz Cemetery.

Chichen Itza (Yucatan State). Exceeded our expectations and wasn’t as overrun with tourists as we expected. You can’t climb the pyramid anymore Jules and Rich…so you did well getting there a few years ago. A tourist fell off and died so they have since roped it off. I don’t know how many more of these things I can climb anyway, they’re knackering…hey are so steep. The pictures tell the story.

Valladolid (Yucatan State) was lovely; lots of local stalls and local Mexican women selling their hand made crafts.

Tulum back on the beach for one night only before heading off tomorrow morning at 7am in a change of hire car to Palenque – about a 10 hour drive. Slowly heading across country from there so I will update the blog again when we have time and a connection. Congratulations to my sister Emma who had a healthy baby girl today! (Dec 10). Hola Chica! Sarah May is here and I know she’s going to be an amazing character.

And so at last it’s goodbye Roberto and Shambala – we hit the road again on Monday to start our mammoth drive across country. I need to try to find a map to upload and show you our routes. We are sad to leave the beach and tans are fading already -but even more sad to leave Roberto – if we could have kidnapped him and brought him road tripping we would have done – but Shambala is so amazing that business is too brisk for him to leave. Goodbye also to Tia, Wendy, Rossi, Pancho, Maria and Pedro – you guys are great. We have made a great friend in Roberto and we are definitely going back; I have promised Roberto I will learn Spanish so I can go back and help.

A blog entry from Dave: 

(This goes on a bit so if you can’t be bothered, scroll down to Leza’s fancy pictures below – I wont be offended!)

We finally left the beach on Saturday after almost 4 weeks, its Wednesday as I write this and we have seen more in the last 4 days than the whole of the previous 4 weeks! Mind you I have never been so relaxed as on the beach in Tulum.  Saturday after the usual car hire rigmarole involving an increase in price (‘sorry but I didn’t take into account this, and this and this…’) and a change to our itinerary to pick up a further car on Monday, we set off for Merida. Merida is the biggest city in the Yucatan and apart from a change of scenery for us, is a great place to base ourselves to visit Celestun (for the pink flamingos), Valladolid (definitely not pronounced like its spelt) and Chichen Itza…one of the new 7 wonders of the world apparently. The journey took us through lots of small villages which have built up alongside the only road linking East and West Yucatan. At each village (Pobalo or Pueblo) you have to slow down considerably, not just for the dogs that seem to enjoy lying in the middle of the road but also the people who will just wander out in front of you as they have right of way, often using this as an excuse to try to sell you something (Turnips and hammocks) To achieve this, the Mexican way is to use ‘Topes’ or in English, a small speed bump – there is some warning usually but often you only find them as you hit them at 100kph!

The most surprising thing about the ‘Topes’ is the fact that they are even there. Mexico is not known for its public safety and to be honest it is one of the things I really like about the place. We have been allowed to climb up a 52 metre rickety pyramid in Coba, dive into Cenotes and wander round a cave system, walk the streets in most places and avoid pot holes, open grates, cars etc and no one ‘nannys’ you – if you want to do these things then its up to you, the government is not telling you every 5 minutes what to do and how bad things ‘could’ be if you didn’t take care…in the UK, most of these things would be have been closed down by now. There is no blame on the owner for any problems that occur so no one can be sued for stupid things. Obviously this is not ideal but does lead you to feel like you are deciding the way your life should be led. An example is on the website for the hotel we stayed at in Merida http://www.luzenyucatan.com The previous owner of the hotel was an old Jewish New Yorker hippy. One night a fan fell off the ceiling and hit a US doctor who was staying, on the head. He has since complained of having bad dreams every night about fans falling on him. The reply from the woman was to put up a notice on the website telling everyone the story and saying ‘Luz en Yucatan, the place where dreams come true!’  I really feel like I could live in Mexico, so far Tulum wins hands down.

The roads are currently being taken over by teenagers, it’s the 12th December today which is a religious festival for Guadalupe and people ask for favours from the virgin saint. To do this they must promise to do something difficult – like running from where they live in Mexico City to Cancun, which in plane takes 2 hours. The trip takes a week or so and we have seen hundreds of people doing this – usually it’s a relay team of kids taking it in turns to carry a torch while running or cycling while being followed by a truck carrying the kids who have had their go and are waiting for the next leg. The trucks are very colourful and the kids are all wearing the same T Shirts designed for the event. It all looks great from the outside and most of them seem to be enjoying it but personally I think they are all a bit mad.

Yesterday (Tuesday) we drove from Tulum to Palenque ruins 8 hours away and took in 3 different states, you can see the changes in each state, not just in the different types of trees and vegetation but also in the state of the roads, the simple wooden shacks…its easy to tell where the money is made in Mexico. Back to Leza …

El Panchan (Chiapas State). We stayed at Margarita and Eds which is a fabulous place; dense jungle plants and bamboo….lizards running in front of the door….to my horror Margarita stomped on one. A basic room with a single light bulb which we turned off at night to stop the avalanche of bugs descending. We stopped here to be closer to Palenque ruins which are stunning; an 8 hour drive from Tulum.

Palenque Ruins (Chiapas). It was a Mayan city dating from 226 BC to around 799 AD. After the city perished it became overgrown by jungle which was excavated to reveal The Temple of Inscriptions (main photo) built as a funerary monument of Hanab-Pakal. Further structures include the Palace, aqueduct, Temple of the Jaguar, Temple of the Count, Temple XIII, Temple of the Skull etc.

Agua Azul and Misol-Ha (Chiapas State). The amazing waterfalls 60 kilometres from Palenque….where you could walk behind the highest waterfall.

Misty mountain tops – driving to San Cristobal de las Casas (Chiapas State). From the winding mountain region of Palenque we drove through the remote Chiapas highlands, known to be Zapatista rebel country. The scenery is stunning, green mountains, lush tropical vegetation, empty roads. Heading for the city of San Cristobal de las Casas in the central highland state of Chiapas; one of the most indigenous areas of Mexico where it’s hard to take photos of people because they are opposed to it. We had new friends whom we met as we passed them walking roadside, unsure where they were heading next so we offered them a ride with us. Peter and Zuzy a young couple from Slovakia…they gladly joined us in our VW Jetta which is seeing some serious mileage now and covered in dust. No wonder so many people drive high clearance vehicles like 4 x 4 pick ups; the speed bumps are so high we have barely made it over some of them.

San Cristobal de las Casas We arrived in the city at 6pm, we’d been wary of driving after sunset on unknown roads and had been warned it wasn’t a good idea as there’s no road lighting so we were a little nervous; we were relieved pulling in to town… dark and very cold. We quickly found a hotel to stay at for 2 nights; £17 a night a double room…bargain apart from the very lumpy pillows. The 4 of us headed out to explore the city to find that it was in full swing for the Guadalupe festival which San Cristobal appears to be one of the main gathering points for; one of the main churches of the Guadalupe is based here. It was a great introduction as the city was in full on festival mood, loud rockets being fired in to the sky, streets hung with flags and crowded with food stalls and street vendors, a big wheel which none of us fancied our chances on…too wobbly. The atmosphere was amazing. The streets were crowded with people; city dwellers and people who’d travelled from their homes in the mountains. The church of Guadalupe is based at the top of a hill reached by a long street which culminates in a set of steep steps. It was lit up and the steps were packed with people carrying flowers to decorate the inside of the church. Our timing of arrival was perfect; we never expected to witness a major Mexican festival and it has left us with amazing memories.

The following day we explored this pretty small city. Market traders set up for the festival, local people in traditional clothing…bright colours, beautiful blues. Adobe architecture in terracotta and yellow. Everywhere the eye is drawn there’s colour.

Puerto Angel on the Southern Coast of Mexico (Oaxaca State). After 2 nights in San Cristobal we said goodbye to Zuzy and Peter; the shock of the cold nights in San Cristobal detoured us down to the southern coast to the fishing town of Puerto Angel. We checked in to a great place called La Buena Vista where we met Evelyn and Paul (come on guys – post comments – who does Paul look like!) and their little boy Leon from Melbourne; we were the only people to be staying in this beautiful 24 room lodging built in to a hillside with a gorgeous pool and views of the sea. Shame that the local staff seemed to find us an inconvenience as it’s not yet high season; but other than that the beauty of the surroundings and the shrimp dinners made up for their lack of enthusiasm. I was also quite taken by the 2 resident parrots and a rather large iguana who hung outside our room.

I am in an internet cafe plugged in to their modem with our laptop – on the edge of a dusty road here on the southern coast of Mexico in Puerto Angel. The sea and a stretch of beach is a 2 minute walk across this road but you can’t hear the waves because they are drowned out by hundreds of birds who congregate in the trees every evening; it’s deafening but amazing. I think they are some sort of starling but with a much longer tail. Lots of iguanas around Mexico too, pretty big but they run away quickly to hide in holes.

Dave has spent most of today in the pool or the hammock here at La Buena Vista…built in to a hillside overlooking the sea. We need to relax after spending several days driving hundreds of kilometres from Tulum in the Yucatan, through Chipas State, Palenque and San Cristobal, potholes, winding roads up and down and through mountains, army road blocks…we had the whole car and bags opened and searched on one stop…thousands of topes (speed bumps) even on motorways. Dave’s handling it all very well. Thank God I am not driving.

I haven’t got time to write much now but promise to do a more concise update as soon as we get to a place with a room with wi-fi access. Happy Birthday to my Dad today. Also, my sister Emma has named her baby Sarah. Roberto – our good friend at Shambala in Tulum, may be coming to Puebla to meet us for my birthday. Estupendo!

Happy Burpday to me.

Happy Birthday to me – Happy Birthday to me! Thanks to all my mates and family who have been sending texts and emails and phoning – it’s fab. Here’s one of my birthday email photos from Stu, Mary, Cal and Finn – the Woodgrange posse in Ealing. I miss you so much…and a photo of my sister Emma’s new baby Sarah May.

Driving from Puerto Angel to Oaxaca Still no wi-fi access from here in our hotel in Oaxaca….so again I am lagging behind. Remember that you can post comments on the blog – let me know how we are doing so far with the words and pictures! Message for Kate – honest – Dave has changed T-shirts – though from the photos he is starting to look a little feral round the edges – if he starts to smell – we are travelling separately.

Okay – we’re actually in Puebla now but I need to tell you about the drive to Oaxaca first and show you some of the amazing sights en route. If you can see the photo of the map it shows you where we are are – we have driven 2,900 kilometres across Mexico from the Yucatan (which is to the far right of the map and borders with Belize and Guatemala), to Puebla a big city a 90 minute drive from Mexico City and 2,150 metres above sea level. We experienced some altitude sickness whilst in Oaxaca which is already very high up; spinning heads, disorientation…but made the adjustment quickly so by the time we reached Puebla we were acclimatised.

Long drive but it’s been amazing; absolutely breath taking mountain scenery; winding high up…winding all the way back down with some pretty huge drops to the side. I’ve been distracting myself with map reading using my thumb to measure distances for scale…yes it’s worked….hah! Dave drove carefully and didn’t act like he was Steve McQueen in Le Mans. There are LOTS of dogs in Mexico…loads of them running around and unfortunately a lot of squashed dogs on the roads. They often sit in the middle of the road, wander idly alongside it or sleep right on the edge of it. This gang in the photo ran straight out in front of us from nowhere.

The closer to Oaxaca we got the more wacky roadside things we spotted. Oaxaca is a city known for its artisans. Lots of great pieces carved from old pieces of wood, fallen trees…I will include some of the more decorative examples in the next post. The VW Jetta did us proud, must have traversed thousands of topes; it was absolutely filthy when we handed it back.

In Oaxaca (pronounced Wa-hacka/Oaxaca State).

I’m falling behind with the blogposts as we’ve been in Puebla for 4 days and we fly to Guadalajara tomorrow…brief commentary today; the pictures tell the story of Oaxaca. The silver bracelet Dave bought me in Oaxaca for my birthday, a local girl in traditional dress; indigenous to the regions of Oaxaca and Chiapas states. They have mixed feelings about being photographed so my images will often be of the back of their heads as I try to respect their wishes. One of the plazas was vibrant with festive red poinsettias. Our hotel was painted in traditional Mexican colours surrounded with greenery and near the top of a road which we walked down to reach the centre of the city passing the cathedral.

The Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmánin (Church and Convent) in Oaxaca was beautiful, intricate stone carving with a beautiful ornately carved wooden ceiling and interior. Building started in 1551 but it wasn’t inaugurated (still unfinished) until 1608. Two bell towers and now houses the headquarters of the Regional Museum of Oaxaca in the convent.

The crafts are famous in Oaxaca, it’s one of the artisan capitals of Mexico. Stencilled street art, lots of skeletons and skulls, huge papier mache effigies which are used in street carnivals and fiestas. Day of the Dead is celebrated on 1, 2 and 3 November each year and they believe that their dead ancestors come back to visit them on these dates; they hold fiestas and decorate the cemeteries, the headstones of their loved ones, parade through the streets with papier mache effigies.

Puebla (Puebla State). In the highlands of South Central Mexico known as the birthplace of the Mexican staple sauce Mole Poblano, a regional speciality which can consist of 46 different spices so we were told. (Behind again as we are now in Guadalajara). We didn’t find Puebla as atmospheric as Oaxaca…it has some beautiful architecture, a very clean city but felt more like a business hub…can’t put my finger on it. We treated ourselves and stayed 4 nights at the hotel La Purificadora, only £60 a night…it would have cost £260 a night in London. Built in an old water bottling factory, it’s huge but with only 26 rooms. Fantastic place with an indoor/outdoor design. Firepits in the lobby and movie images projected onto walls. The glass infinity lap pool looked great…Dave tried it out and said it was like swimming in ice it was so cold.

So we hung out, rested after the long hours spent in the car, ate good food at a local Italian restaurant packed with Mexican families (we needed a change from eating pretty much only Mexican food for 6 weeks), ate huge slices of chocolate cake, relaxed for a few days.

The Basilica Cathedral of Puebla is magnificent…a UNESCO World Heritage site consecrated in 1649 and founded by Philip II of Spain. Herrerian-style (Spanish/late 16th century), a dome soared 43 metres above us surrounded by the major prophets and archangels. The processional nave flanked by stations of the cross led us through columns, gold, paintings, statutory. It’s a fantasy of a building…a show off of wealth and power.

In contrast the contemporary towering architecture of the university is a taste of the future; brilliant yellow studded with windows; luminous against blue sky.

Wandering the city to see its tiled buildings.

It was at this point that we handed the hire car back; they’d come up to Puebla to collect it from us and drive it back….good luck to the guys cleaning it back in Cancun. I had a pedicure, a treat. Dave drank Sol – there’s plenty here. We prepared for an early morning taxi to Mexico City airport for the next leg of the trip. Goodbye to the organ grinder, the balloon seller…the ladies selling handmade traditional dolls on the steps. Puebla might be a place I need to visit again, to give more focus to rather than making the error of comparing it to all the places we’ve travelled through so far.

Merry Christmas from Guadalajara from the hotel lobby without our suitcases which weren’t loaded on to the same flight but we are assured will show up later. The online Mexican wrestling name generator gave us our Luche Libre wrestling names. Love from Bam Bam Fantastico (Leza) and Vaquero Toxico (Dave). Couldn’t be any more appropriate. Love the comments!

Leslie Montana This is Tornado Insano (aka Leslie of JOA) checking in from the snow-covered slopes of Montana. It’s cold. The wrestling, it keeps me warm and toasty. Kind of smelly, though. Ahhh.

Alex and Tony Vancouver Island It appears that I am: El Comando Gordo, Tony is called:Raton Feo. My name sounds much tougher. I reckon that means I would win the match between us – I’ll get started on designing my mask…

Leza takes on Luche Libre Stars! Guadalajara and Lucha Libre Mexican Wrestling

Guadalajara (Jalisco State). Falling behind again as we are now in Guanajuato…but a quick recap of our 4 days in Guadalajara which is the second biggest city in Mexico. We managed to miss our flight from Mexico City as they forgot to put the departure gate on the screens at the airport and as we don’t understand Spanish we must have missed the call for the flight! With some hassle, lots of smiling (us) laughing (us) incomprehension (airline staff…and who can blame them) we finally managed to get on to another flight 2 hours later…only for our luggage not to show up. I went out shopping for some underwear but our excellent Dakine travel bag (which splits in to two halves so you can check it in as separates should it ever get too heavy as one; brilliant invention) arrived at the hotel on a later flight same day. Danny was flying from LA to come and join us…and managed to miss his flight because he got his times wrong…so all in all, a mad start to our arrival in Guadalajara!

4 nights were too many really as you only need about 2/3 nights here – but make sure that one of those is a Sunday or a Tuesday night so you can go to the Luche Libre Mexican wrestling; a fantastic night out and not even mentioned in our guide book. It takes place starting at 5.30pm on Sundays (seems to be a bigger family night with lots of kids) and at around 7.30pm on Tuesday nights. The Coliseo is on a street called Calle Medrano which is just off La Calzada de Independencia. We stayed at Hotel Morales and it was only a 10 minute walk from there. The full address of the wrestling arena is Calle Medrano No.77 Barrio de Analco Guadalajara. Dave, Danny and I got there at 4pm on the Sunday to buy tickets in advance and caught 4 of the wrestlers wearing their masks going in with their suitcases on roller wheels with their costumes in. They were happy to pose for photos and sign autographs.

Leza and Leon Blanco (White Lion). Danny and Leza with Magnum Pistolera. Not sure of the names of the other two. Lovely people, loving the attention and great fun.

The photos aren’t great because they won’t let you take photos inside; Danny had his camera confiscated at the door given back to him at the end…but I managed to sneak in a small digital as they didn’t frisk women at the entrance. I tried to pay for a photography permit but they wouldn’t go for it unless you worked for the press. Cheeky I know but too much fun not to have the photographic memories.

The pavement outside the coliseo has brass plaques commemorating past and current wrestlers, one of the most famous being Blue Demon. You can buy masks inside and on the street and at two specialist shops opposite…they range in price from 100 pesos ($10) to 600 pesos which are the professional masks. Dave bought one for Rayman who fought the night we were there and Dave wore it proudly for all of Rayman’s fight. I ate hot doughnuts and pretended not to be with him. You can get loads of different food inside and the doughnuts were great. Entrance fee only 120 pesos each (approx $12/£6) and for that we saw 5 fights – top night out.

The market in Guadalajara is huge, 3 floors. The Mercado San Juan de Dios was built in 1958, it’s an ugly brick building from the outside accessed by a bridge from the main street, but an amazing experience inside and sells everything from cheap plastic toys, watches, sunglasses, tortillas and kebab… to birds and rabbits in cages. It has a massive eating section where you can move from stall to stall snacking on sopes, tacos, deep fried peppers stuffed with cheese and hundreds of other Mexican fast snacks. This market is not for the claustrophobic; it really is packed and there is very little space between the stalls which run like narrow alleyways the length of the entire 4,000 square metres that the market occupies. We have been eating some street food and so far have avoided the dreaded Deli belly…unlike Danny who just eats everything.

The Palacio houses the state government offices and huge mural of Miguel Hidalgo painted by famous Mexican muralist Jose Orozco. It covers the walls and ceiling of an interior staircase. We met a great guide in the palacio called Mr. Chaolin. He walked us around the building and described everything including the history of the murals. An interesting man who was born in Mexico and speaks 7 languages. Depicting communism, facism and religion…the mural is jaw-dropping. If you walk past it slowly from left to right from the landing at the top of the stairs, an optical illusion appears to make Hidalgo’s arm move outwards and across the front of his body.

More brightly painted buildings, thorny trees, towering statues on the Avenue of Heroes…more Danny eating. Gun tattoos are big here amongst younger Mexican’s – not sure if it’s gang related or just an unattractive macho statement.

Guadalajara Cathedral 1558-1618 and a massive landmark. It’s huge and sits at the centre of a main square where you can drink coffee and have lunch.

Christmas Day in Guadalajara

Before I forget – we didn’t gorge on roast turkey or beef and we were totally CRAVING roast potatoes and gravy; and there was no exchanging of gifts…but we did have a fun day out with Danny wandering all over the city where almost everything was closed. What did we eat? Baby goat roast on a spit including it’s innards…though luckily they didn’t dish the innards on to my plate. And yes – the goat was accompanied by bloody re-fried beans and guacamole. It was very tasty.

Guanajuato (Guanajuato State). Danny’s friend Betsy flew in to join us from New York 29th December and we hired a car to drive to Guanajuato from Guadalajara. We spent 3 days in Guanajuato; a stunning looking town…it looks so different from any other place we have seen in Mexico. It had a very Italian cosmopolitan feel. It’s an old mining town (mainly silver) and the city has grown up and around in to the hillsides above the original mines. There is a subterranean system, part of which is used as underpasses for the flow of traffic; the existing mine shafts added to, to carry the traffic across town by going underneath it. It’s an amazing place. An UNESCO world heritage site with strict building laws…no plastic signage or neon allowed; it’s refreshing not to be bombarded by advertising and logos. Many of the houses are painted in bright colours; jumbled boxes of sweets hanging on to the hillsides backed by a mountain range. An amazing view when we took the funicular up the hill to the massive statue of El Pipila the former miner and local hero (1782-1863). Real name Juan José de los Reyes Martínez Amaro, he became famous for his acts of heroism during the Mexican War of Independence (1810) led by Hidalgo…fighting for freedom from the Spanish.

Architecturally gorgeous, a main square with great restaurants and shops, tiled and painted buildings, wrought iron balconies, bell towers, cobbled streets, fountains… and pedestrian access to some of the tunnels beneath the city. The Museum of Mummies; where 59 naturally mummified bodies once interred during a cholera outbreak in 1833 were disinterred if a family couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the ‘burial tax’ introduced in 1870. Unpaid taxes resulted in the body being removed to an above ground building which due to people willing to pay to see the mummies, eventually became ‘El Museo de las Momias’. The burial tax law was abolished in 1958.

Long wide steps up to Guanajuato University located in the historic centre of the city; home to over 33,000 students resplendent in white and stone.

More street food from market stalls in Mercado Hidalgo…hot spices, Chicharron (deep fried pork), tacos, mole, served on simple plastic plates…all delicious.  

Baroque and Neo-classical architecture of The Church of Our Lady of Guanajuato and gorgeous ornately carved pink stone of the Jesuit Templo de la Compania.

San Miguel de Allende (Guanajuato State). After 3 nights in Guanajuato we drove on to San Miguel de Allende; another pretty Mexican city with quite a large ex-pat population. Upscale shops and restaurants, traditional crafts of hammered tin and carved wooden milagros and like other Mexican cities in mountainous areas, streets built on a grid system which snake steeply up and down and a main square built around a cathedral which looked particularly stunning lit up at night. We stayed one night before heading back the next day towards Guadalajara via Tlaquepaque.

Tlaquepaque (Jalisco State). And unexpectedly…Marmoset monkeys. After 8 long hours on the road from San Miguel de Allende, we arrived in Tlaquepaque and stayed in a great little hotel called Casa Campos. A brightly coloured inner courtyard is home to several marmoset monkeys (as well as several parrots and parakeets) which run freely around the courtyard and walkways between the rooms. A marmoset family with 2 babies hung out on top of the door frame above room 12. Small art galleries, pottery, ceramics and Mariachi musicians made this a pleasant stay for our final night in Mexico before flying to Los Angeles from Guadalajara with Danny and Betsy. The adventure continues.

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