All over Mexico, 11 Sep - 26 Oct 2005

Trip Start Mar 28, 2005
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Trip End Feb 02, 2006


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Flag of Mexico  ,
Sunday, September 11, 2005

Oaxaca:

From Mexico City airport I take the subway to the southern bus terminal where I catch a night bus to Oaxaca (6 hours) where I have registered for a two weeks Spanish course. I arrive at 3 am in the morning, take a taxi to my guest family where I stay during the first week. The second week I decide to move to a small and nice traditional hotel/finca as I realize that foreign family life including fixed times for breakfast and dinner is not my cup of tea although the family is very nice. Solexico, the Spanish Institute, is recommendable, the teachers are very motivated. I attend grammar lessons in the morning, conversation at lunch time and in the afternoons I enjoy a set menu at one of the many nice restaurants in the city. Oaxaca is beautifully located amidst mountains, the houses are colorful and the many tourists visit all the famous tourist attractions such as the very interesting Museo de las Culturas in a former abbey, beautiful Iglesia Santo Domingo with its impressive frescos, various other churches, the cathedral at the zocalo (main square), markets and the surrounding Zapotec ruins. After two weeks rest at one single place I should be traveling like mad during Mexico the next 4 weeks, mainly driven by bad weather and the approaching hurricanes which should hit the gulf of Mexico just shortly after I was there.

Zipolite (Pacific coast):

After a 9 hours bus ride I arrive at this little beach village at the Atlantic coast, take a taxi to my hotel which seems to be closed at first sight like everything as it is raining cats and dogs but finally Diego, the owner's nephew opens the gate. I am a bit disappointed about the weather, the spot could be really nice with hammocks all over offering a beautiful view on the ocean but the rain doesn't make a longer stay very inviting.

San Cristobal de las Casas (Chiapas):

After a nightly 13 hours bus ride, I arrive in this mountainous city (2200m) in the Chiapas region, a region that became famous a couple of years ago when the local indigenas from the Zapatista tribe revolted against the (white) government: the indigenas in Mexico have hardly any rights, their education is consciously suppressed by the government and some things remind of the apartheid policy in South Africa. I was shocked.


San Cristobal is a lovely little cities with many small streets, many churches, the usual Zocalo which is the center of all activities such as the mariachi groups, the souvenir sellers or tourist shops. From here I make some nice excursions, i.e. to the Sumidero Canyon (nice speed boat ride) and to the village of Chumla famous for its catholic church full with statutes of saints, each of them good for a different wish or prayer. The tiled floor of the church is covered with tree branches to keep those warm who knee, pray and sacrifice in front of their statute for hours. These non-catholic sacrifices consist of chicken (which is killed in the church in front of the statute), eggs, other food and Coca Cola. Why Coca Cola? Once upon a time, a local was returning to Chumla from his daily work in San Cristobal. On his way home he got stomach pain and stopped at a grocery on the way, where the owner gave him Coca Cola to drink. By the time he got home, his pain was gone and he praised Coca Cola as a holy medicine.

Palenque:

Around 4 hours north of San Cristobal ist he famous jungle ruins of Palenque. I stay overnight close to the ruins in a hippie jungle village with only a few wooden bungalows surrounding a central restaurant with life music in the evenings. Wonderful atmosphere, I meet one of the few Austrians who are crossing my path, we enjoy a lovely evening with pouring rain and hope for better weather the next day. We are lucky, the sun comes out in the morning but it is very humid. The ruins are impressive, it takes me half a day to see them all and finish just before it starts raining again. I decide to move on to the gulf of Mexico.

Tulum (Gulf of Mexico):

After another 24 hours bus ride, I arrive in the small village of Tulum, the southernmost beach at the Gulf of Mexico. The beach is beautiful, unspoilt, only a few wooden bungalows lay between the dunes a little back from the beach, hopefully the crowds north from here in Cancun will not discover it. Out of 4 days, I am lucky with half a day without rain, which I use to visit the ruins of Tulum right at the coast and to swim in the gulf.

Chitchen Itza:

From the coast I move again in-land to visit the famous ruins of Chitchen Itza. As with all the famous sights in the world, they are full of tourists like me, many of them climbing the steep steps up one temple and screaming and waving to their friends making it seem rather like Disneyland. After one hour I am done with all the sights and continue on to Merida in the north of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Merida (DO NOT BUY A HAMMOCK IN MERIDA):

I check into a nice hostel in an old palace along the Zocalo and decide to go for a quick dinner somewhere close by. Once again, a Mexican guy chats me up and my first reaction is to get rid of him as quick as possible as I am not in the mood for this again. But he is insisting and keeps a couple of event maps of Merida in his hand making him seem to be somehow official. As I do not want to be an unfriendly tourist, I stop and listen to him, he tells me about some cultural events and recommends me a place to eat. He joins me for a drink and asks about my further plans in Merida, I tell him about my intention to buy a hammock as Merida is famous for hammocks. He tells me about a Maya-shop that he can recommend and guides me there after dinner. There, he leaves me to the shop owner, a Maya, who tells me all about hammocks, how Mexicans are born, grow up, live, love, give birth to and die in hammocks, how they can accommodate whole families and about the long process of making and the good quality of it. In the end, all employees and I sit down in one hammock to show its quality. When it comes to the price, the owner first shows me all colors, when I decide for one he packs it and then tells me the price was the equivalent of Euro 250.-. I am shocked but after all these poor Maya stories he told me, I have a bad conscious as I have no idea how much a hammock is worth that I feel stupid to say it is too expensive for me. As I do not have so much money on me, I say that I have to get money, he tells me about an ATM just around the corner and accompanies me there in order to make sure that I do not escape.

Coming back home to my hostel, I chat with a German, tell him about my purchase, somehow I do not feel very comfortable about it, I have the feeling that I paid too much. When I tell them the price, he is shocked, he tells me, that he bought a similar hammock for Euro 25.- and I realize that I made a big mistake. During this conversation, another German girl joins in and tells me that the same thing with the same guy on the street and the same shop happened to her a couple of days ago. We decide to go to the tourism police the next day.

The police confirms that the price we paid is too high and that some shops are known for bribing. We drive in the police car to the shop, the owner is not there yet, we arrange with the police officer to meet there again two hours later. When we get there, the policeman is there already, I tell the Mayan owner about our problem, that we think that the hammocks are not worth the price and that we would like our money back. The guy is so fantastic that he manages once more to convince me of the singularity of his hammocks (special material, old Maya ladies working on them for months, etc) that I tell him, I would like to verify this with some other shops in the city. He agrees and accompanies us to some other shops in the surroundings, everywhere we get the same answer: wow, this is a good hammock, the best quality, it is at least worth Euro 300. After 4 shops, I am satisfied and we decide to accept the fact that we bought the most expensive hammocks on the market.

On the same evening, we sit again in our hostel and chat to the owner of the hostel, somehow we mention again our hammocks, tell him the whole story and he confirms that we are victims of a Mafia. He confirms once again that the price we paid is far too much and that probably the police officer who went there with us today was corrupt. Later on we should also find out that all the shops we went to to verify our good hammock belong together. I do not sleep well this night, I am furious about the Mayas and more so about myself and the only thing I want is to return the hammock as the one I bought is so big that I do not even want to think about the hassle to have to carry it for the rest of my journey.

The next day I get up early and decide to go to the Tourism office as the owner of our hostel told us about the right in Mexico, to return goods and receive back your cash. The three persons at the Tourism office cannot believe the price I paid for a hammock (it really is a fortune for Mexico) and a very helpful young gentleman offers me to accompany me once again to the shop and promises to take some other policemen. He tells me that this shop is already on their black list. I agree but only after I make sure that I would not make a fool out of myself once again. So there we go again, in the police car, the owner of the shop is not there, we wait one hour, then the policemen get impatient and tell the employees that if the owner does not show up within 10 minutes they would close the shop. Uups, suddenly he is there, fortunately this time I do not have to talk to him, he does not even look at me this time, discusses with the policemen, it takes one hour, I am scared he might turn them over as well but at the end there is a happy end and we receive our money back! What a nightmare! Before we leave, they manage to tell us that we better leave the city as soon as possible and I have no problem doing this.

Campeche (Atlantic ocean):

Around 2.5 hours further south from Merida, on the Atlantic coast, I find this beautiful village of Campeche with its nice colorful houses, its peaceful and relaxing Zocalo and a huge boulevard along the coast which seems a bit too much fort his little town.

Veracruz (Atlantic ocean):

Another long bus ride of 14 hours brings me to Veracruz, also situated on the Atlantic coast but much bigger and louder and less attractive than Campeche with a huge port. I walk the streets as usual, spend some time in the Internet cafe and relax in my hotel as it is boiling hot here.

Puebla:

The next morning I take a 4 hours bus ride to Puebla, my last stop before getting to Mexico City. Puebla is a young, lively and international city due to ist VW factory and university. I feel very comfortable, walk the streets and make excursions to the surroundings, i.e. to Cholula, a small village where you climb a hardly recognizable pyramid on top of which there is a church and from where you have a wonderful view on two snow-covered volcanos, one of which is the Popocatepetl. I visit two other little villages famous for ist churches, Tonantzintla and Acatepec.

Mexico City:

My stylish hostel is right in the center of town, next to the cathedral of Santo Domingo and the National Palace. After 1 month in Mexico, I do not find Mexico City as dangerous or overwhelming as it might have appeared in the beginning of my trip. It certainly is a huge city but the pollution is not as bad as in Asia, the metro system is very well organized and there is a lot to see in two days. I take the metro to the VARIG office to book my flight to Brazil in two weeks and then walk to the famous Antropological Museum where I spend a couple of hours (it would actually need 2 days to look at everything), then drive back downtown, walk the streets, visit the cathedral, watch the famous Diego Rivera murals at the National Palace and the Secretaria de Educacion. The next day I make a tour to the moon- and sun pyramids at Teotihuacan.

San Miguel de Allende:

Around 4 hours north of M.C. lies beautiful San Miguel de Allende, a lovely artisan city, home to many US Americans who buy local houses here, retire here and attend any of the many artisan workshops. Due to this fact, there are many exclusive restaurants and shops here.

Guanajuato:

I get there right during the Cervantes festival, it is very busy, I manage to find a room with a women that I chat up on the street. I walk the busy streets and visit the ?Museo de las Mumias? which is very interesting.

Zacatecas:

A lovely and lively city, very good atmosphere, I walk the streets and visit a shut-down silver mine.

Chihuahua:

Just a stop-over for a couple of hours on my way to Creel, where I start my Copper Canyon train ride. In Chihuahua I visit the Pancho Villa Museum.

Copper Canyon Train ride from Creel via Posada Baranca via Urique to El Fuerte:

Creel is already high up in the mountains, it is pretty cold in the mornings but gets warm during the day. I make a one-day mountain-bike tour and the next day catch the train to the next stop along the Copper Canyon which is called Posada Baranca. I am the only one to exit the train here, most people go without stop from Creel to El Fuerte on the other side of the Canyon (or the other way around). At the train station, a local who is renting out rooms waits for tourists and takes me to his posada. In the afternoon I talk a walk and next morning do a horse-back ride along the canyon. The next stop is Urique where I take an endless long bus ride down to the bottom of the canyon only to decide upon my arrival there that I will leave again the next day. So, all the strenuous bus ride back the next day up the steep sandy streets to the train. The next day I exit the train at El Fuerte, where I spend a nice evening with 2 Austrian men.

El Fuerte to Los Mochis to Mexico City:

The bus ride from El Fuerte to M.C. takes 26 hours and is only the beginning of a 3 days travel until I reach my next stop, i.e. Cumbuco in the north of Brazil.
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