Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Colombia: a blissful month (Part 1 or it will be too long!)

Every now and then I forgot where we were, and I thought, this is Colombia. We're so used to hearing about it in terms of cocaine, Farc, guerilla, kidnapping, danger, that when we were wondering around this paradisiacal place, where the people are as warm as the sun, I thought what a shame it is how we pick up the crumbs from the media and take it as wheat. There is so much more to Colombia than cocaine.
        In Bogota, the capital of over 10 million, the people are so nice and friendly. People hold things for you on the Transmilenio if you're standing, they offer you their map if you ask them which bus to take. They take you there. Then you step out of Bogota and the people are even more delightful, as is the weather. (Bogota is known in Colombia as the fridge. It seems a little like London - clouds - sun - clouds - rain - clouds - ). From there we went to Ana Poima with a buddy Angelina from Barcelona and her lovely family, all of which were as excited as we were for us to be there (the Colombians in general are delighted to have visitors in their country - a sign of the times changing at last I imagine). The grounds around the house were filled with lime trees, mango trees,  flowers of all kinds. We drank margheritas with the limes still hot from the trees - delicious! I have to say here that Colombian limes are as big as oranges. Avocados are like mini rugby balls, mangos like melons... There is also every type of fruit imaginable. Just a few we've tried are papaya, maracuya, lulo, zapote, guanabana, mora, tomate del arbol, granadilla, and more that I can't remember the name of... there are so so many! And you have them in juice, every day. I bet that has something to do with my new, untroubled, tummy.
        After delicious days in Ana Poima, being looked after with yummy typical food from the region, roasting sun and a swimming pool surrounded by palm trees, the two birds left the nest...

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Summary of the rest of Mexico

I got carried away with travelling... it's unreal how busy you get hehehe. So here is a summary of the rest of Mexico...

San Juan de Chamula, Chiapas. The highlight of Chiapas. A small village near San Cristobal, it gives a glimpse into the native life here. The plaza is beautiful for the church that stands colourfully to one side. Once inside...candles. Everywhere. Rows and rows of them in every corner, at every metre, with families sitting or kneeling before them, chanting, or praying aloud. Like mini alters, the squares of candles of different colours and sizes, are lit in order, from furthest away to finally, the row before the family. The elder woman of the group then rubs a hen along the tops of the candles and pulls its neck until it breaks. This ritual is a mixture of mayan belief with catholicism and can be done any day of the year. The hen is sacrificed and eaten after in stew. It’s a hen for the women and a cock for the men; the same is carried out for new babies (and the placenta is buried under the house).

Palenque - ruins. We walked there from the town which took 2 hours and was lovely. We got a guide called Miguel Angel, a local whose first language was indigenous, and whose parents were potters. There are about 26 ruins here, and another 1000 yet to be uncovered. After a tour of the temples present, the ball courts etc it’s hard to fathom another 1000. Miguel Angel told us about King Pakal, who reigned for over 60 years since he was 12, how his servants were killed upon his death so that they accompany him, and that this is an honour. They surround him in their burial, along with his jewels and valuable possessions.

Merida. The people here were very different to other parts of Mexico. Everyone wanted to talk to us, and stopped us to do so on the street. It highlighted how different people are from state to state, with their own traditions, food, music, histories. We saw traditional Yucatecan dance and music in typical dress which was beautiful (in a square surrounded by police as there was a government event going on around the corner). Police are everywhere in Mexico. You get used to it after a while.

An education in Akumal. We went turtle spotting as were told this is where you see turtles over 1 metre long. But after an afternoon on the beach around the nests and waiting for the big moment, we saw none! On return to the hostel everyone laughed their titties off at us because… you can only see turtles in the sea! We didn’t know! In fact, male turtles never touch land after they are born and go to sea for the first time. Haha. So the next day we went back and snorkelled and yes, we swam with turtles and sting rays and it was fantastic, seeing them dance and swim effortlessly around you. On our second day at the same beach we ran into a protest by the local Mexicans. CEA (Centro Ecologico de Akumal) that works for the protection of the turtles, wants to privatise the beach. The thing is, this has been done before by supposed Ecogocial centres, and really, they are in cahoots with the Americans that have bought houses all along the coast, as well as other business owners. It’s dressed up as protection but it’s about tourism and money, and while we were there, chatting to the people, they told us how their town was moved to the other side of the bridge, far from the beach, to make way for the businesses that now occupy it. Back at the hostel, Cynthia the owner, told us this has happened all over the coast; the same thing happened in Tulum - an organisation for turtles ended up building a 5 star hotel. It seems that the locals fear that other parts will become like Cancun and Playa del Carmen (or Playa del Crimen, as they call it): taken over by Gringos. Mexicans have to pay the same as tourists to visit the water caves, when, some years ago, that’s where they showered when there was no running water in houses. Also, where there are hotels and bars, you cannot access the beach at all as it is private property, so in Tulum you can go a few kilometres and not access the beach at all.

Coba - more ruins, but different. The main temple is so high! You can literally see they were trying to get as close as they could to the sky/sun. Poor Oscar had a hard time up there. But the view was beautiful. Pure jungle for miles and miles, and the tips of other ruins poking through. (A little like Tikal in Guatamala).

Santa Fe - a beautiful, little visited, wide beach with hardly anyone, near the Tulum ruins, which we saw from the sea. Oscar saw more than I did because he swam further out ;-)

Pancakes and syrup - was our last breaky in Tulum, and I piled on the syrup like there was no tomorrow because it was so yummy. Within an hour I was puking. And an hour later I was on the bus for Playa del Carmen, puking! We planned to go to Isla Mujeres but a hurricane was coming and they were evacuating the island so no chance there. For the next two days I was in bed, let’s say, sick. And it was great timing because the weather was horrid and all we had to do was eat chocolate and watch films and wait for the rain to stop and for a plane to fly. (Nb. Do not eat chocolate with a bad tummy = not good).

Mexico City - the Mexican monster.  It’s not necessarily the size that is scarey. I’d say it’s the population. At over 21 million, and the 3rd biggest city in the world, there are people EVERYWHERE. There are also taco stalls on every corner, in the dozen or hundred, so you can barely walk on the pavement. There are cars and traffic jams at all times. You go to sleep hearing honking horns and the honking horns wake you up before your alarm clock does. (As do swerving cars, men kicking cars as they nearly ran over their child…). Am I making myself clear? We’re talking high impact. The metro is always busy and people literally run for the seats and push their way on and off (I have to admit that I was good at this - it must be in the blood!). Oh, and there are pregnant women everywhere, and children too, and toddlers, and babies. For the first time I was struck by such young mothers and fathers…women much younger than me and pregnant, with a couple of little ones running around already.
        Of course, along with this is that there was loads to see there. It is full to the brim with everything you could think of seeing. Top visits were: Museo de Dolores Olmedo, Museo de Frida Kahlo, Museo Antropologico, Teotihaucan, Museo de Bellas Artes, the area of Coyoacan and of course El dia de los muertos, when everyone dresses up and walks in the centre and there are alters everywhere remembering loved ones and their favourite things.
The posh parts are posh. Posh parts are always pretty, rosy, smell nice, have parks, big shiny cars, nice restaurants. And the poor parts are pretty damn shocking. The thing is, we ended up in a Women’s Christian Centre (don’t ask), and it was all a bit random. We were near the zocalo, and right around the corner a group of young people had set up home in the shape of plastic sheets and matresses and sofas on the footpath. They were all teenagers and getting high on glue all day and all night. Outside our hostel on the footpath every morning were several new turds that you had to avoid. One night I got to see one being done in action. The smell of the street was intoxicating: a mixture of faeces, glue, and many other bodily functions long ago had. Apparently the state won't do anything to help or move the youngsters, but receives grants for having them there. Another day we saw an elderly lady go to the loo into her hand and throw it in the bin. It was disturbing to see how expert and dignified she was, at the same time as watching the traffic pass by.