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Kat & Andrew's Worldwide Adventures

Through the villages of Oaxaca & San Cristobel, and the jungles of Palenque, Mexico

MEXICO | Sunday, 23 October 2011 | Views [813]

There really is a difference between having a holiday and “travelling”…..

When travelling, you have to make the decision about whether you are going to stick to a few places and do everything there is to do there with still plenty of time to relax, or see as many places in the area as possible and always be on the move.  We’ve tried to see as much as possible which is fantastic, but it also limits how deep we get to know a place. There are many extra things we could do in each place but its all time and money and we’ve still got 5 months to go… so really, we’ve only scratched the surface.

We arrived in Oaxaca in the late afternoon which gave us plenty of time to explore the streets, the markets and to find somewhere to eat for dinner. Oaxaca is surrounded by lush green tree covered mountains, low cloud and has a grid of one way streets lined with 1 or 2 storied colourful buildings.  The whole town is flat and the markets take up most of the main centre. We discovered that a particular snack here is grasshoppers cooked in chilli and lime… baskets and bags of these ‘delicacy’s’ are everywhere! Yuck!

Oaxaca is home to a lot of indigenous people and a lot of them seemed to be begging which was a sad sight, most of them elderly. However, I really liked the feel of the place, it was very upbeat with the main Zocolo (centre) being covered in people selling balloons and bubble makers for the kids. The day after our arrival we covered many of the streets, went to a few free art & photo gallery’s and churches. If we had more time here I would’ve liked to do one of the many Spanish or Salsa dancing courses on offer, or stay at a ranch and go hiking, or volunteer at the orphanage for a few hours or days.

Our hostel here left much to be desired. There was one shared shower for the entire place and it was in a state that wearing your jandel’s (thongs, flip flops) was definitely required. The bed was rather springy and the room poorly lit and dusty. Andrew had passed on his sniffy nose to me which was kind of him. Luckily it only lasted a few days for the both of us but mine gave me an uncomfortable throat for a bit too. My knee seized up for a few days and walking was rather sore but it seems to have come right. Unfortunately for Andrew, his arm has been giving him grief since the beginning of our trip. He is constantly in pain and rubbing deep heat on it a few times every day.

That night we got another overnight bus to San Cristobel De Las Casas. Due to my nose and the fact that the road was rather curvy and my ears were popping, I didn’t sleep a wink, even with a sleeping pill…. We arrived at our destination early morning to dismal rain and I was exhausted. I pretty much wasted the entire day in bed. I tried walking around the town for a bit but my energy levels and my knee was having none of it.

The following day the sun came out and it was deliciously warm. My knee seemed better so we tackled the two hills in town, each at the opposite end from each other. The view of the tree covered mountains and the little hilly town lined with colorful buildings was lovely. We also explored the cobbled streets, single file sized sidewalks and a few churches.  Dogs seemed to own the place running around without discipline or dog collars everywhere. San Cristobel is quite an alternative hippy type of town and the visitors there of that kind were plentiful so people watching was enjoyable, especially with the large amount of indigenous people in traditional dress in the mix as well. 

Our hostel here was basic but nice. It was the first bed I found comfortable in weeks but the other side of it wasn’t so great… Andrew suffered. We sat on the roof in the sun reading for a few hours and got sunburnt! At night it was considerably cooler though due to the elevation there being quite high. If we had had more time here I would’ve liked to bike ride around the surrounding villages, do a trip out to Agua Azul waterfalls, a nearby canyon and even a short trip into Guatemala. (But we’re going to be seeing much more impressive natural sights in South America!!)

The next morning we endured a 6 hour bus ride to Palenque. The distance between the two isn’t actually that far but the road conditions were very poor, parts of it fallen away completely, others peppered with pot holes and speed bumps. It was all up and down hill around rather intense curves. I felt sick half of the time because the bus was like a motion master, I was afraid it would tip over! Because of this, I couldn’t read, so the trip seemed to last a very long time. But, we passed through some fantastic indigenous towns with women walking along with stacks of fire wood on their backs and babies in a sling on the front, men (including boys) walked around with machetes, their number one tool. If the road was closed off, men would wave a piece of red plastic or a red handkerchief which meant you had to stop (all the while with a machete attached to their hips). Children wondered the roads by themselves as well as dogs, pigs, cows and chickens.

We finally arrived in Palenque and went out into the Lacandon Jungle. Our accommodation there was a rustic cabana. A small free standing room with wood & plaster up to our hips, then to the roof is nothing but mosquito netting. The roof itself is thatched with a fan and a light installed. We had a few curtains to give us a measure of privacy. Outside our front door was a stream and the steamy forest. No internet there and we have no phones; it was quite nice to drop off the grid for a few days. I quite enjoyed listening to the night full with animal calls and crickets singing. The night there was rather active!! But, neither of us are fans of bugs..…. There were many little bugs crawling over our bed and there’s nothing we could do about it! We practically bathed in bug spray and just had to suck it up. As long as the BIG bugs (mainly spiders OMG) don’t touch me, then I’m ok. The ants there are seriously fast and some of them insanely big. They never leave you alone, even at the dinner table, or anywhere you want to sit, they are there. The heat was very humid and we ended up minimizing time with the lights on so as to not attract more bugs which meant rather early nights.

After an entertaining (but not much actual sleep) night, we spent the day at the Palenque Ruins. The place was spectacular - An ancient Mayan crumbling village and temples surrounded by lush tropical jungle. The city dates back to 100 BC and covers 15 square km’s; I wish it were possible to see it as it once was. It was discovered in 1746 and began to be investigated in 1837. What an incredible find that would’ve been! Even now they are still finding more buried ruins and treasures. We were allowed to climb all over the ruins which was fantastic, but surely this won’t help preserving the place? I wonder when Mexicans will cotton on to this and ban the extra activity. In the jungle we also enjoyed the view of a few small water falls. This place was absolutely magic, which unfortunately some very rude non English speaking tourists dampened this just a bit.

The second night sleeping wasn’t so bad for me. (Andrews arm has been ruining most nights for him…) Some of the animal sounds were quite extreme; I wish I knew what kinds of creatures were making them! I was very disappointed not to see any toucans and howler monkeys that live in the area but there were loads of birds, large moths, butterflies and lizards. Big fan!!

Yesterday was a very long day for us. We couldn’t really do anything as we had our bags to cart around once we checked out of our cabana at lunch time. Then we had to wait 9 hours for another horrible overnight bus to Cancun. We spent a few hours reading at the restaurant near our hostel then jumped in a passing van to get back into town and spent the remainder of the time at the bus station. I’ve been working on putting together a Spanish manual of sorts for me to keep studying even once I’m back home (and hopefully teaching what I’ve learnt to mum) as I don’t want to lose the basics that I’ve acquired, so that kept me entertained. Andrew also taught me how to do Sudoku properly. I swear I always do things the hard way!!

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