Oaxaca, San Cristobal and Merida
Trip Start Dec 19, 2008
125Trip End Dec 19, 2009
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We left Mexico City on Friday 13th February 2009 after getting our visa from The Brazilian Embassy the previous afternoon. We took a minivan shuttle to Oaxaca which took about 8 hours . It traversed some very barren land after leaving the huge city and we crossed some very winding and very high mountain passes that left some passengers a little concerned as the cornering took some getting used to. A multicultural group on the minivan shuttle included 2 Brits, 3 Danish and us.
Oaxaca is located in the valley in the state of Oaxaca and is surrounded by mountains. We stayed at a good hostel called Roscoe's and it was a short 5 block walk to the centre of town called the Zocalo. We wandered into town to find a big plaza of beautiful old colonial buildings, a massive cathedral and lovely big shady trees and lots of people enjoying the warm evening. There were loads of hawkers selling crafts and masses of helium balloon sellers being the day before St Valentines day
We are getting better at ordering things in Spanish but we still get mystery meals since we don't exactly know what we are getting to eat .
We spent 3 nights in Oaxaca and 4 days. On the Saturday we went to a wonderful Dominican Church and beside it a massive museum inside the former Dominican monastry. A truly excellent museum and one where we hired the English audio guide so I was enthralled for 3 hours learning about the history of Oaxaca pre and post Spanish conquest and also it showed the Dominican monastic life . Of course the church ruled with the government for centuries form 16th century till they were separated in the 19th century. In the museum were many artifacts collected from Mont Alban which was a Zapotec ( indigenous group) temple site dating from 200BC till 950 AD and then taken over by the Mixtecs from 950 till 1520 when the Spanish arrived.A lot of the richest items gold, silver, turquoise, jade jewels were found in 1932 in one of the tombs and are stored at the San Domingo museum
On Sunday 15th we took a trip up to Monte Alban outside Oaxaca about half an hour away and from it you see a 360degree view of the city and surrounding valleys. The hill was flattenned completely by the Zapotecs from 200BC and many elaborate temples were built on top of the mount. Similar to Teotahuacan in Mexico but on the hill. It also has an observatory which is said to track the stars and calendar for which the Zapotecs were famous for. This building was on a 45 degree angle whereas the others al faced north south strictly.While nowhere near as smoggy as Mexico City , Oaxaca had smog and this was seen from Monte Alban.
We booked a day trip to nearby villages for the next day Monday 16th February as we were to catch an overnight bus to San Cristobal that night.
The day trip was a relaxed day which I was grateful as I had my first dose of Monteczumas revenge (the diarrhoea) and needed a slow pace.We visited Tule,an old tree at 2,000yrs old but famous for being also the largest as it had a massive width and it is known as a Monteczuma cypress ( Monteczuma being the last Aztec ruler in Mexico)
Next the obligatory lunch stop were these tours take you to an out of town tourist lurestaurant and almost force you to pay as there are no other shops. For me I declined the buffet for reasons stated .Wayne got soup and it was OK.Next on to some ruins at the town of Mitla- Zapotec ruins where the Spanish literally built ontop of them and the church base is a Zapotec temple. these ruins are different as they have a zig zag relief design on them and we were able to climb down into 2 of the underground tombs- very damp and enclosed.The final stop was a mezcal factory where we were shown a backyard family type operation where the cactus plants (agave) were processed to make the mezcal which is only produced around Oaxaca.I had a few tastes and it like most spirits was better the older it was. I tried a 5 yr old mezcal and it was smooth.We got back to the hostel at 7 pm in time to head to the bus statin to take our first class bus to San Cristobal and 11 hour trip leaving 9 pm. The trip again was a many mountain passes winding roads trip
We arrived in San Cristobal, in the state of Chiapis on Tuesday 17th Feb and found a lovely hostel called Mezcalito and our room was very clean, bright and on the 2nd floor overlooking the garden and with a beautiful mountain backdrop . We were at 2160 metres altitude and the air clear and clean, we were up in the highlands and the weather cooler and even chilly at night. We wandered town and found delightful cobbled stone streets and loads of colourful buildings very pretty. As usual lots of churches popping up around almost every 3rd corner.We took a steep hike up a hil to a church which overlooked the town and got a grat view of this quaint town of 142,00 people.We found the post office and i sent off a collection of magnets and brochure weighng 1 kg. The cost came to 50 dollars and I was so dumstruck I paid it . We were totally shocked at this cost and it was correct as a couple we met in the post office sent 2 kgs and it cost them 65 dollars also to Australia. There in led us to make some decisions - no more collecting crap and any thoughts of sending our excess clothes home were dashed. We went back to the hostel and did a serious cull of our packs as we were carrying way too heavy packs. We ended up ditching about a third of our clothes each and thereby gave us some extra room in the packs
Weddnesday 18th Feb we took a day trip to the Canyon del Sumidero , a deep canyon with a river flowing through it where we took a 2 hour boat trip. Being on the water was lovely and the day was clear and hot.We saw crocodiles, an iguana, loads of birds and some stunning scenery (the canyon being 800m in depth in some parts). The guide- supposedly English speaking wasn't, so we were left to work out where we were and what we were seeing by trying to decipher the little Spanish words we know. However it was a lovely day despite the unhelpfulnessof the "guide'.
Thursday 19th was a highlight of the trip as we went on a fabulous trip to 2 villages around San Cristobal. We took a tour by Alex and Raul who basically stand at the plaza cross and wait if poeple show up then they take them in an old combi on the tour. Manuel our guide has been doing the visits to the villages for 19years so has a wonderful network with the people of the villages. The first village Chamula has population in the town of 3,000 but with the surrounding hills totalling 80,000
The general community of Chamulans have social issues and there are many women ( polygamy occurs here) and many children who do not go to school despite it being free education.The town is not poor all round and many Chamulan women are seen in San Cristobal hawking crafts( made in Guatamala not by them). Sadly there are many children hawking too and not in school
The next village, Zinacantan was only 20 minutes away but almost the opposite of Chamula.This town was quiet, orderly , clean and no kids around as they all go to school. The people work hard in agriculture and flower growing and weaving. We visited a home where the women were weaving beautifully coloured cloth on backstrap looms.The zinacantan women wear beautifully embroidered black skirts and tops with blue and purple embroidery. The family is extended and live together and work together. We wached a lady making tortillas from the maize flour( made from purple corn).We got to taste a taco with ground pumpkin seeds and cheese-yum.We really ejoyed the tour here too and saw their church which again was orderly, clean and full of flowers. The Zinacantan poeple follow Catholicism more closely to the original faith but still some differences but no offerings of chickens. The Zinacantan people look down on their Chamulan neighbours.
We so enjoyed this tour as it was a very small group and the guides believe in responsible tours with low impact and emphasise repect and educating visitors.
After we got back to San Cristobal we went to a museum focussed on the indigenous peoples healing and practices using plnts and herbs to heal.It had dioramas depicting birth rituals, healing rituals, candle making and also a garden of the plants to display their uses
We booked our trip out to Palenque for the next day - a whole day trip with a few stops and we planned a3 night stay in the jungle community nearby at El Panchen.We had dinner that night at the El Gato Gordo ( the fat cat) and it was mexican dinner with the usual tortillas and beans but mine was all vegetarian Wayne added meat to his meal.
The trip to Palenque left at 6.30 am so we had an early start. Both us had gurgly tummies but while mine was ok for the day Wayne gor progressively worse and the toilet visits increased. We stopped by wat cascades at Agua Azul and Misol HA in the lowlands which got hotter as the day wore on. By the time we got Palenque it was very hot and steamy. I saw the most impressive ruins but Wayne curled up under a tree to rest- he was ill in a big way. I wanderd the ruins for 2 hours and they were fnatastic- tall temples and massive ones with in a jungle setting.
We got to El Panchen at 5 pm and it was unpleasant for Wayne being ill and carrying his pack the km to the place to stay. We got a great room with a bathroom( essential under the circumstances) in the jungle at Ed and Margaritas and there we stayed Friday evening till Monday morning 23rd February. Over the weekend I chilled and read a book (no internet anywhere there) and Wayne got more unwell till he started the antibiotics (we had on hand) late Saturday night .He basically stayed in bed till Sunday night when he ate a proper meal .Thank fully he got better as we had an 8 hour bus trip Monday
Monday took us to Merida on the far eastern side of Mexico in the state of Yucatan. We took the bus at 8am and found the lowlands warm and when we saw the coast it was a nice change as the Gulf of Mexico was flat and blue very inviting however we were not staying on the beach as Merida is a half hour inland.We arrived in Merida with no bed booked and were lucky to find a hostel and a private room . Very hot in Merida and our fans worked constantly to keep the air moving. The hostel was pleasant and is building a pool so there was some building noise early in the mornings so no sleep ins. The town of Merida was celebrating a week long Fiesta so that night we watched the 3 hour paprade and the city streets were blocked off and seating set up. We were lucky to meet a lady who had tickets in the stands and we bought them as 2 of her family were unable to make it. Wow what a parade , lots of cultural and church groups parading in traditional costumes ,young ,old , men and women and lots of kids- a fabulous show. As the celebrations of the parade finished there were parties through the night and one near our hostel and the music went till 2am!!Next day was a public holiday and the streets were absolutely overrun with people, stalls, sellers and that was before the final parade
Wednesday was a new day and we raced off to the bus station to just make the 9.15 bus to Chichen Itza one of the 7 wonders of the world. These are Mayan archeological ruins discovered around 1920's in the jungle and excavated to reveal massively well preserved temples and sites including the famous pyramid . Another very hot day and when we arrived the cost of entry double anywhere esle in Mexcio and no museum sadly. However the site was very very mpressive and despite the hordes of swimwear clothed tourists from Cancun we enjoyed the ruins. There was a cenote ( wate filled caverns where the roof fell in to reveal a large well type natural area and deep) there that the Mayans threw offerings into including human sacrifices. Chichen Itza has a very well preserved platform of the Cranios with skull sculptures around its edges.It was where humans were sacrificed to the gods. Human sacrrifice was a common practice across all the Mexican sites we have visited. We manged to return to Merida on a cheaper 2nd class bus and with extra coins saved bought extra water as the heatreally zapped us there.
On Thursday26th February we arranged a day tour from the hostel to visit 2 cenotes
A top day and we had a geat Yucatan specialy lunch at a local restaurant ,starting with lime and chicken soup and then we ate smoked chicken and tortillas.All very nice.We had agreat day and would recommend that tour from Nomads Hostel to everyone who visits Merida
Friday was our last day in Merida and indeed Mexico. We started the day with a walking tour of the city which was excellent and after lunch went to the airport and caught our plane to Mexico City where we had a few hours before we got our flight to Lima Peru overnight. I was sad to leave Mexico as we had had a great time there. Sadly we had originally planned to go to Cuba from the Yucatan but we realised we had not enough time and in fact the cost of getting to and from Cuba for so few days was not economical. This was a shame but we are thinking we really need to spend much more time in Central America next visit and then we can see Cuba as well as Guatamala, Honduras and Belize.
We left Mexico city before midnight and arrived in Lima Peru Saturday 28th February. I will fill you in on Peru next blog.Till then friends, keep well. Karen.