Monthly Archives: December 2012

Day 194: San Cristobal de Las Casas – Mexico – Dec 27th

Checking into our hostel at 8:30am, we were greeted with a warm welcome and thankfully, someone who spoke English! So we freshened up, and headed out into town. San Cristobal de Las Casas is another small, colonial town in the province of Chiapas, and like Guanojuanto and Oaxaca, they’ve made it pretty darn comfortable for tourists to come.

Several pedestrian streets are once again, you guessed it, lined with coffee shops, bars and shops selling artisanal handicrafts. Starting to see a trend here, aren’t we? This place is described by our guidebook as a backpacker’s hub, and we didn’t understand until now. The streets were brimming with young people, looking disheveled and unkempt. There were more more people with dreadlocks than people without. Our hostel owner told us that she came here, loved it and started up a hostel and never left. So we had some high hopes for this place to stand out from the crowd, but strangely enough it was just another place that brings in the crowds.

The streets, the sights and the churches were all familiar sights, so to us it may have lost that initial excitement we’ve had, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a very beautiful town. We wandered the streets once again, getting lost many times in the progress. One thing we did notice that excited us though, was that the fruits here are DELICIOUS. Fruit stands and juice carts are everywhere, and we were thinking it would be overpriced tourist traps until we couldn’t resist the urge and bought a large box of pineapples. It costed 10Ps. That’s like, $0.85USD!!!!! For a fresh, juicy, mouth-watering pineapple cut up for you. They also have the fruity paletas popsicles, and we could eat those all day if we saw that store more often!

One thing that does stand out though, is that the food here is nowhere as good as the rest of our trip. Grabbing lunch at the local market and dinner a popular Chiapas dinner, both were nowhere near as good as the foods we’ve had since we’ve arrived in Mexico. We are so disappointed! Or maybe we’ve just been too spoiled and our expectations too high?

The worst part, is that the town has numerous museums, but they’re all ‘fronts’ for shops selling amber, jade or others. And trying to get away from all this, we headed up to a mirador, a lookout point of the town at around dusk to get a nice panoramic view of the city. After a steep climb up to the hill, constantly being pestered by little kids asking for candy (we set a rule not to give anything to kids, as to avoid them walking down the road of relying on tourists’ generosity as their well being. Seems cruel…) and avoiding broken beer bottles, and by the time we reached the top….. ALL THE VIEWS WERE BLOCKED OFF BY TREES? W T F?

With that in mind, we’ll be heading out tomorrow at 6pm, taking another 12hr dizzying drive down the mountains and into the Yucatan peninsula for our final leg of our Mexico journey.

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Day 193: Oaxaca – Mexico – Dec 27th

One last day in Oaxaca, and we made the best of this wonderful town.

Just like any other perfect vacation city, Oaxaca has rich history, colourful artists and crafts, and of course, great food! The town is really big, but the city centre is where it all happens. After visiting the impressive historical ruins of Monte Alban yesterday, we spent the day wandering the streets of Oaxaca.

The nights here are chilly, but during the day, the sun beats down on you with serious fervor and you can easily get sun burned, especially if you’re wearing a tank top and don’t apply sunblock like our dear Jiajia. The town is laid out in a grid manner so its really easy to navigate. Coffee shops and museums line the streets, and small tourist shops selling “artisanal crafts” are abundant. If we weren’t living out of a backpack we would’ve bought a LOT of souvenirs already, as they are all very unique, creative and most of all, not expensive at all! We had a bit of time, and wandered into another modern art museum which had a beautiful designed space, but the actual works were a bit lacking. One of the highlights of Oaxaca though, is definitely the foods! You can attribute it all as being Mexican, but if you’ve tried different styles of Mexican food you can definitely taste the difference! The best part though, is the nieves that is sold on the streets. It’s like shaved ice, but made with real fruits…and it is SOOOO GOOD. Mexico has extremely delicious fruit, and nothing beats a cup of shaved ice, or a paletas (popscicle) made from fresh fruits that just tastes so damn good on a hot sunny day. And it’s almost always sunny here in Oaxaca =)

Wandering the streets for a day is easy to lose track of time, but we had a 1:30pm lunch reservation we weren’t going to miss out on. Los Danzantes, or what very roughly translates to “stone carvings”, is also an extremely popular restaurant in Mexico City, with a second outlet in Oaxaca! The dining room is awesome as you’re surrounded on four sides by this rugged wall that extends 20m high, and covered with a massive tarp of cloth. Art dots the wall, and the service is all decorated with an earthly tone. The food definitely takes top spot in terms of foods we’ve had, and we are definitely spoiled. Unfortunately, I ordered dobladitas for appetizers and tlayudas for mains. Didn’t know what either meant, but they both tasted darn good. Problem was, they were both, what a naïve person like me would call, a taco! So for lunch I had like… 5 massive tacos. Too much of a good thing may be too much, so the last few bites had very minimal utility.

After lunch, Alan was wandering around like a zombie as the blood flow was concentrated in the digestive system, so we ended up sitting in a park for 30minutes before heading to one of the numerous local coffee shops. This place is so awesome, just eat, sleep, and chill!

We had no room for dinner so we had some delicious chicken soup. Chicken in general tastes extremely good so far in Mexico, and their soups are pretty spot on when you’ve tired out of the normal Mexican foods. We were taking an overnight bus, and we’ve been told this trip is going to get verrry dizzy. They didn’t lie!

There are several ‘classes’ of buses for ADO, one of the largest bus networks in Mexico. We took the most expensive PLATINUM class, thinking we should invest a bit for some good nights sleep. The bus has only 25 people compared to others which have around 40! The seats are MASSIVE, and can recline pretty far backwards. But, other than that it turns out their “best” service is almost identical to the service we had with Primera Plus, except Primera Plus only has 1 class and it is about 40% cheaper!!! W T F. ADO = Dislike. The first couple of hours on the bus was spent struggling to keep food from regurgitating, and quickly we went to bed. We woke up in a daze when the bus rolled into a station, and we walked off despite several passengers stayed there. We got off, and I casually asked where we were, and of course, we’re not at the final stop yet. We almost got off a stop too early!!! Hop back onto the bus, catch another hours worth of rest, and we finally arrive…. San Cristobal de la Casas.

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Day 192: Oaxaca – Mexico – Dec 26th

For various reasons, we always manage to sleep in, and usually that doesn’t matter but this morning we totally missed breakfast that’s included in the room charge!!!! Haha, we live on a budget so have to save up anytime we can!

Wandering the streets of Oaxaca, it definitely has its charm. Along the street, this random guy struck a conversation with us. Originally from New York, who went to school at McGill and ‘loves Canada, because it is so civilized’. Hehe, okay sure, but he seemed like a cool guy and he said it was his 4th time in Oaxaca in two years, and this time he’s staying for over a month! Judging from our brief encounter with this guy, it seems like Oaxaca is a pretty cool place. Unlike Guanajuato, this place has a more relaxed vibe and seemingly a lot more foreign tourists. The streets were pretty cool, with neat little cafes and restaurants tucked into little corners, and lots of art galleries no matter where you look. Adding to the streets is the intoxicating aroma of chocolate, and you get a sense of what Oaxaca feels like.

Oaxaca is famous for two things, hot chocolate and Metzal, an agave distilled liquor. Well, we haven’t tried Metzal yet but we tried a cup of hot chocolate for lunch inside a grungy market, and it was pretty darn delicious! Food in Mexican markets are always fun, as every region has different styles of food and we really never know what we’re ordering so it’s always a pleasant surprise. One thing though, Mexican soups are VERY good!

It was a good idea to stop at the market for some food before taking our day trip up to Mount Alban, another set of ruins left behind by the Zapotecs (??) people, which started building this massive site around 2000 years ago! The whole place has a very different vibe than the ruins at Teotihuacan, and somehow it feels more, for the lack of a better word, quaint. The ruins are a group of buildings that dot the whole mountain, it was said that the people actually leveled the top of this mountain before constructing the buildings. And this time, the ruins are more scattered and without one or two particular focal points where your eyes get attracted. And at the top, you get this panoramic view of the city of Oaxaca which isn’t as interesting as the ruins itself. Interestingly, a lot of the artifacts at the Museum of Anthropology back in Mexico City was taken from this site, so it feels a bit like dejavu with the stuff that’s being shown.

The most interesting piece at the ruins was probably a 3 meter tall obelisk, which was used to determine the time of the day. And through this, the understanding of time can be measured and the people probably used this to develop their own version of calendars.

Back in town, we had a great Mexican meal to cap off the day. 

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Christmas: Bus All Day – Mexico

It’s Christmas! All the good things that we’ve been accustomed about Christmas such as: sipping toffee/chocolatey hot drinks while it’s gently snowing out, eating massive amounts of food at family dinners, and the gifts! Well, when you’re traveling, you really don’t have any of that! And the biggest problem is, everything is closed for the holidays….

So making the best of our day, we made it a transportation day. Meaning, we woke up at 5:45am and started our 800km bus tour from Guanjuato → Mexico City → Oaxaca, and finally arrived at our hostel at about 9pm.

Remember a few days back we were so psyched about taking buses in Mexico? Well, apparently it is only for that one specific company, Primera Plus. They only operate in certain regions, and now mostly we’ll have to use another company, ADO. The ride from Mexico City → Oaxaca was similar in distance and time, but the costs were not only higher, the service was substantially worst! The seats weren’t as comfy, they didn’t provide snacks/beverages, and worst of all, the toilets gave off this wretched stench every time someone opened the door!! To top it all off, the bus was constantly wobbling for some reason, making it feel like you’re sitting in a boat, and motion sickness set in for both of us. And they won’t sell us student tickets, so it’s like…. worst off from every which way you look at it! Horrible!

Arriving in Oaxaca and getting to our hostel which is located next to a large park, a free concert was playing funky tunes outside while the hostel itself is great and extremely well run. Off to bed early tonight!

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Christmas Eve: Guanajuato – Mexico

At 8:14am, an alarm clock goes off and with these old style homes, you can pretty much hear everything that goes on out on the streets and anywhere inside. We went to sleep listening to the faint chants of Christmas carols from afar. Wandering around the house trying to find the stupid alarm with no luck, I gave up and went back to bed for another hour with the world’s most annoying “Beep beep beep beep” on repeat before it stopped itself at around 9ish. The hostel owner also promised to make us breakfast, which was included in our room charge, but he never showed up.

Fine, whatever, so we wake up and freshen up, only to find that…. there’s no cold water!?!? And hence, there’s no water to flush….but somehow the hot water still comes out (albeit lukewarm), so we had to fill the tank ourselves everytime we needed to use the bathroom. Stupid. Anyways, we tried contacting the hostel owner to fix this problem, but more importantly we needed his help booking us a cab for tomorrow morning’s early trip to the bus station. We called but his phone is off!! Okay, what the fuck. Eventually in the afternoon we finally got a hold of him, and he said he’d book our cab….. we really hope he and the cab company makes good on their promise, otherwise we’ll have to wander around the town at 6am in the morning trying to find someone willing to take us to the bus station…..

Anyways, so we had a surprisingly awesome breakfast nearby, and went on a search for buying bus tickets since we already booked our hostel for tomorrow. The language barrier made things difficult, and since it’s the holiday season most places are closed! In the end, we couldn’t get the tickets and we’ll just see if we can get to our destination.

The day was spent wandering the city, but by now we’ve pretty much seen all that needs to be seen. Taking pictures around town, this city is still very photogenic everywhere you look!! And today, we’re experimenting with black&white!! Fun!

By afternoon, we were really tired of wandering around the city so we hunkered down at a Starbucks and watched a movie. I thought I had a Chinese-dubbed copy of “My Name is Zohan”, thinking we’ll past the time with a good laugh before Christmas…but turns out instead I got “My Name is Khan”!!!!! Turns out, the movie was extremely good, and we highly recommend it. It’s much more serious, but it was really good.

Our stay in Guanajuanto ended with a relaxed dinner sitting on the patio of the central square. You can easily spot the Canadians in the square wearing tshirts (us) and the locals who were out in their down parkas. Haha.

Happy Holidays everyone!!!!

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Day 189: Guanajuato – Mexico – Dec 23rd

Luckily it’s a Sunday, as we had to take the subway with our backpacks to the bus station, which is no easy task even without our packs because of the massive amounts of people that take the metro. The bus station is super organized, but it was definitely holiday season now as the place was PACKED. We moshed our way through and picked up our student tickets we purchased online. Hooray for still looking like students!

After our travels through rural China and Nepal, we have low expectations of the bus service here….but oh my were we totally off. After going through about two luggage searches and security pat downs before reaching the bus, we were given luggage tags for our bags and a snack bag with a choice of drinks! The seats were SO comfy, with enough space to outstretch your arms and legs, with a seat recliner that goes almost flat!!! They even have not one, but TWO bathrooms (male + female), with fancy looking doors to keep the unpleasantness out. Anyone that’s taken a Greyhound with a useable toilet knows those stalls are disssssgusting. The only downside was that, we didn’t know they’d provide food so we brought our own lunch =P

Arriving in the tiny streets of Guanajuato in a taxi, we were flagged down by a guy in a dress shirt yelling our names. Turns out, our hostel was actually the old home of a young local who went abroad to do ‘stuff’. Instead of taking us to the hostel right away, he actually took us to this local bar to chat over a beer, on the house! Awesome! The hostel was cheaper than others as the place is still under renovations but our room is pretty sweet. And we were the only guests, so we got the whole place to ourselves! It sounds nice, but at night it gets a bit creepy as the place reminds me of those abandoned homes in zombie movies, complete with dusty bookshelves and old bottles of liquor on the wall….

Randomly walking along the street we managed to find this amazing restaurant close to our hostel for lunch. It was extremely good, almost on par with some of the best food we’ve had in Toronto! Thinking the whole town had awesome food, we visited a place recommended by the New York Times. Worst meal so far in Mexico, and we’ve had some pretty sketchy foods coming out of metal pots at the street corner. Totally ruined our high praise of the Times.

The town though, is just amazing. Wandering around the cobble stone streets, it almost feels like we’re treading through a quaint town in Europe. With ZERO straight roads, this place was built around a silver mine, and some of the roads are actually underground tunnels!! It’s really interesting, except when you get lost… which is very easy. With colourful architecture, several main squares and lots of happy people around it gives the place an awesome aura. It’s one of those magical places where you’re wandering, and you have this urge for ice cream, and voila, an old man with his antique ice cream truck is around the corner. We sat down several times, just watching people go by and soaking in the atmosphere, and listening to the church bells ringing from afar.

After dinner, we walked out the restaurant and somehow we were greeted with a group of musicians singing and playing instruments, all dressed in medieval attire! Behind them, was a mob of tourists following the music, and we joined in the fun and listened to them sing, until they led the group to the stairs leading up to the local university, at which point the performance turned into a speech/play in Spanish, and we were totally lost so we left. At night, the town looks just as amazing being lit brightly all over.

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Day 188: Mexico City – Mexico – Dec 22nd

Saving the best for last, our last day in Mexico City will be heading out into the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan. Once again, the convenience of the public transport system is very impressive, as all we had to do was hop off at the metro station named “L’Autobuse Norte”, or literally, North Bus Stop. There, just follow the big signs for the bus company that’d take you there. Simple, efficient, awesome! The cool part about this is that taking buses in Mexico is extremely great!!! The buses are clean, the roads are nice and the seats are soo comfy!! None of that gross throwing up and smoking without opening the window nonsense.

At first we were afraid we wouldn’t know where to get off, but once we got there you won’t be able to miss it….The pyramids are SO massive in scale, you can see it from afar.

History Lesson: Teotihuacan is the centre of people that settled in the area between 100BC – 600AD. The whole complex consists of a road named Avenue of the Dead (cool huh?), which almost points perfectly to the North/South poles. The avenue leads north to a massive plaza and the Moon Pyramid which is where the locals gather. Further south, there is a larger Sun Pyramid where priests and royalty reside to perform worships and sacrifices. When other groups of people arrived into the area a couple hundred years later, a lot of their worship and architecture was borrowed from this site.

Like any ruins of great civilizations of old, it is hard to describe the whole complex. In sheer size, it is tremendous as the Sun Pyramid is third largest pyramid in the world. In terms of design, the whole place is rock solid even after so many years, and aesthetically it radiates a sense of mystery like nothing we’ve seen. Just sitting atop the pyramids, looking down the Avenue of the Dead, you can’t help but imagine all the history that this place holds.

And walking down the Avenue to the southern most part, is another large square with a third, pyramid which housed the government of the era, and the large open space was also used as a market for trade. As this was the capital of a vast empire, it needed to sustain trade with other groups of people and this is where they would meet. Walking back towards the north, one can see the Moon Pyramid squarely in your sights the whole time. That walk, was definitely an intimidating one.

Heading back to town, we wanted to visit one last museum before we left Mexico City (there are SO many museums here), but unfortunately it closes at 5:30pm and we were a bit too late. The plaza outside the museum was lively, and families and friends were gathering around as it seems like everyone is beginning their Christmas celebrations!! We grabbed dinner at a local restaurant close to the museum, ordering random things on the menu which were all quite good! Mexican food is really delicious, we just need to figure out what we’re ordering =)

At night, the festivities have begun at the central market square! The Christmas lights were up, and a temporary skating rink was put up to the joys of local kids wanting to skate (there was a line-up to get in!). A set of bleachers were put up for some show that was going on with people doing trick jumps in their snowmobiles! So cool!!! Despite no snow, the holiday spirit is definitely in the air!!

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Day 187: Mexico City – Mexico – Dec 21st

Fortunately, the end of the world as predicted by the Mayans did not come. Actually, in the streets of Mexico City there is absolutely NO sign of anyone in any way concerned with this date in time.

We spent the morning taking a trip out into the suburbs of the city and into the small area of Coyoacan which is a artsy, peaceful area and the home of Mexico’s most famous artists, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. The problem though is how to get there, as the subway exits aren’t particularly close and we don’t have a map or a data plan! Somehow, something awesome happened to our iPhone and with one of our travel apps, we can actually use the GPS and get a map of the area! SWEET! Technology for the win.

The neighbourhood has this upscale residence feel to it, and we passed by several coffee shops with the intoxicating aromas of fresh coffee and baked goods. We were tempted by these cafes, but we did our research and we were going to grab lunch at the Coyoacan market! Somewhat like St Lawrence market of Toronto, it had these fresh food stalls selling all kinds of meats and fish, and we dined at a restaurant with chairs and tables lined out onto the streets. When given the menu, no matter how simple, we always have the hardest time trying to figure out what is what!!! Thankfully, sitting next to us the banker-looking guy with his hot girlfriend must have heard or felt our confusion and offered a few suggestions…in English! He definitely knew what he was saying, as the food was soooo good and fresh!

Next was the Frida Kahlo’s Museum, which was literally her home for most of her life. For those of you who aren’t into art, Frida is one of Mexico’s most popular female artist, who just happened to married one of the most famous modern artist of Mexico, Diego Rivera. Without going into history and what not, she paints surrealistic paintings and mostly famous because somehow, all her paintings have her own face on it with her trademark uni-brow. I was never a big fan, but after a bit more understanding of her life, I can understand things a bit more. The house was massive, and the whole thing was painted in an azure blue, which was pretty nice to look at. The humanized depiction of her surroundings and wide variety of collections which included a Mont Blanc designed pen dedicated to her, and her classic Mexican artisanal kitchen pots was also interesting. The most interesting though, was her wardrobe of classical Mexican clothing which she turned into her own ‘style’.

Leaving the museum we were on our way to UNAM, University National Autonomous Mexico, whose campus has been dedicated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also one massive thing, and unfortunately because it’s holiday season here the campus is closed, and so is the public transport system that takes you into the university. At the bus stop, a nice lady lead us to a bus and told us to get off in 5minutes, but I misheard her saying 15minutes instead. So we went for a joyride to a Wal Mart….. and ended up further from where we wanted to go than before!!!! The GPS saved us once again.

UNAM campus is split into two, with a large conservation area in between, and for some reason the conservation area is closed to visitors so we were lost, and nobody spoke any English nor did they understand our simple Spanish. Luckily, we bumped this guy walking his dog who lead the way for us. With broken English, he tried to strike up a conversation. He studied political science, and asked if I like to play football. The conversation was going like any other, until he came out of the blue with a, “Do you like wheat?”. I was a bit confused, and he tried again, “Do you like mawiwana?”, and I got his point pretty quickly… ha ha ha, it got a bit strange after but he was very nice and helped us get to where we needed. What an awesome guy!

At the UNAM campus, it was quiet but the museums were still open. The university has a modern art museum housed within a very well designed building, but we just didn’t have the time to visit. The rest of the campus was just like any other campus, with the exception of big wide open spaces, and massive murals painted on several central buildings. The university was established back in the 1500s but all the buildings reminded us of our own alma mater that was mainly built in the middle of the 1900s.

And to cap off the evening of the end of the world, we celebrated with Korean food!

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