Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tíos in Tuxtla

What do crocodiles, bulls and princesses have in common? Why Tuxtla, of course!

Upon arriving in Tuxtla Gutiérrez Friday afternoon, we were warmly welcomed by our new friends, Mario (Ben's new boss), his wife Kim and daughters Lilian & Megan. They invited us to their home, an oasis in the city, where we soon became known as Tíos (uncle & aunt) Ben & Krista! We had the best weekend, visiting Chiapa de Corzo, taking in a soccer game, eating delicious food, playing princesses, boating down an amazing canyon and even attending our very first bullfight! Thanks guys

Friday night after relaxing in Mario & Kim’s fabulous new home we all headed over to Chiapa de Corzo, a colonial town right on the outskirts of Tuxtla. We watched a bit of traditional Chiapas dancing, walked the plaza and then ate dinner at a very authentic Italian restaurant.

Chiapa de Corzo

Saturday Ben & I took a boat ride down the Río Sumidero to take in the breathtaking canyon, which also happens to be nominated for being one of new 7 wonders of the world! Vote here. Along with the huge canyon walls (that are over ft in some areas) we also saw several crocodiles and a spider monkey.

It was a hazy weekend in Tuxtla, as rainy season is just about to begin.

Basking in the sun

A Cristmas tree! During rainy season it's a waterfall too!

Later that day while the girls visited with their aunt, cousins, and grandparents, we stole away to attend a soccer match between the Tuxtla Juguares and the Moralia Monarchs.

We had great seats at the game!

Mario & Kim sporting their team colors

Having the time of their lives! (Sorry Kim, it was too good to leave out!)

Sunday proved to be a bit of a lazy day for us. While the family headed off to a birthday piñata (party) at Pizza Hut, we spent the morning catching up on emails and cleaning and repairing the Ecamper. Later that afternoon the girls once again went to spend some quality time with family, while we took in a bullfight! It was a first for Ben & I (and Kim too) and proved to be much more enjoyable than I would have ever thought. The interesting thing about this bullfight that may have eased my nerves a bit was that the bullfighters were kids. The star, Michelito, a Tuxtla native, was only 10 years old. He and his brother both fought as well as a teenage girl from Columbia.

the fighters - would you let your 10 year old fight a bull?

they hide behind the red box when they aren't taunting the bull

Kim made a good point when she said that because there were kids involved her sympathy went more toward them than the bull, but if the bullfighters had been adults, it probably would have been the other way around. Strange rationalization, but I agree. For those of you who don’t know the ins and outs of bullfighting, yes the bull does die. However, there’s quite a show, before it happens. After a bit of showmanship (waving the red cloth around) the bull is stuck with 2 shorter probes (I suppose to really make it angry), all the while a band plays traditional music. A bit more “dancing” around by the fighter, and soon a giant sword comes out. Before you know it, like a dagger to the heart, the bull is running around making crazy, wailing sounds, and eventually falls to the ground – dead. All in all we saw 4 bulls meet their maker. (But if it makes you feel any better, none of them looked very healthy to begin with). Olé!

Inhumane maybe, but an old Mexican tradition, for sure.

FYI: This video spares you the tragic ending.

While Ben spend much of Monday meeting with the Aguas de Unidad staff and touring water systems in Tuxtla, I hung out with the girls and did girl stuff like decorating our nails and singing and dancing to Beyonce!

Lilian & Megan showing off their freshly decorated nails

Single ladies dancing

Feliz Cumpleanos Krista

So today marks the 29th year that you've been smiling, crying, and all around making us laugh. Always the absent blogger, I decided to put a birthday post on your blog to let you know how much you mean to me (and all of us). I'm not sure whether it's your spontaneity, your creativity, or your three-level laugh that I like best, but you find always find a way to brighten my day. So as part of my birthday gift to honor you, I'm posting some of the more memorable photos from our trip that didn't make the blog. Enjoy....and happy birthday!

One of your favorite side trips...
this was after hiking down to the bottom of Aguacero waterfall in the middle of the day

In better spirits, crossing the tropic of cancer in Baja Sur

After five hours of curves on the highway to Oaxaca (yes, you are Sure)

My all time favorite....
the night we discovered mozerella works for grilled cheese + laughs

Relaxing in San Ignacio after a long drive -
you were so happy to be near water and not need a fleece jacket

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Aguas con sabor?

Here in Mexico (& Guatemala too) they tend to call all beverages except for beer, aguas (waters). It's gets a bit confusing when you really do want water and request agua in a restuarant. Generally you have to specify agua pura or agua natural (pure or natural water). For some reason or another only limonada (lemonade) and naranjada (orange juice-like lemonade) have their own names. And with these you also have to understand that they could be made with pure water or soda (Sprite), both being equally tasty. Anyway, all of this rambling is getting me to my bigger point. Along the lines of lemonade, "aguas" can be made from pretty much any fruit. One morning in Tuxtla, Kim whipped up a blender full of watermelon water and I've been craving it ever since! We stumbled into it again here in San Cristobal, this time with a twist of pineapple. Delicious!

Since I'm hoping she won't mind, I thought I'd share the recipe with you. I personally can't wait to try mixing it up a bit with lots of different fruits. Don't you think it sounds like a great way to ring in the summer months?

Watermelon Water
half a blender full of water
a bunch of watermelon chunks (sans seeds)
a handful of pineapple pieces (for the combo juice)
sugar to taste
a dash of fresh ginger (Kim's secret ingredient, if you so please)

Blend and strain (if you'd rather no pulp). Chill & serve!

Could bigger be better?

Although the frequency of our camping has diminished the further south we drive (we just can't find secure places to park), we still sometimes ask ourselves the age-old question, "Could bigger really be better?"

Sure they have lots of luxuries, like clean bathrooms, satellite television and the ease of being able to pull into a camping spot, pop up their awning and sit down to relax, there are a bunch of downsides to driving a big rig too. We don't imagine that they are even able to go to some of the little towns that we've been to - there's no possible way that those rigs can maneuver around the tight corners of the central squares. And forget about driving the windy back roads where all the scenery is - those guys have to stick to the highways. And we don't even really need to bring up the topic of "is that really considered camping?".

Putting all of our occasional envy aside, we often ask ourselves,
"Are they having as much fun as us?"

No way!

one more day

As I spend my last day in my 28th year strolling the streets of San Cristobal de Las Casas, I can't help but think about what the next year will bring. With our arrival in Guatemala just days away, I'm both nervous and excited to start something new. Hopefully it will be everything we have wished for and maybe even more. And with any luck, next year on my birthday instead of feeling the 30 year gloom overhead, I'll be enjoying the day in a life that I could have never imagined would be mine.

For the time being right now though, my mind is on an important matter.....what to wear. Even though we don't have any big plans, a girl still has the right to feel extra pretty on her birthday!

If I were back at home, I'd probably make one of these colorful pieces part of my birthday celebration!

Both from Anthropologie, of course!

1,000 steps – 2 ways

On our way to Tuxtla we made a mid-morning stop at El Aguacero, an ecological reserve where you descend 1,000 steps (actually more I think) into a canyon. At the bottom there are a few waterfalls in which you can cool off in, but because the rainy season has not yet quite started, there isn’t much of a river to swim in.

more dangerous curves

Having not really slept so great at the Pemex the night before, I wasn’t so sure I was in the mood to do the hike, but of course Ben insisted. Going down wasn’t too bad, but what goes down must come up, and boy was it hot climbing back up. We both sweated right through our clothes – leaving far behind the coolness of the waterfall.

showering in the waterfall

look closely - do you see the iguana?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

When in Rome Oaxaca....

When we finally conquered our last speedbump on our endless curvy drive, we had arrived in Oaxaca City. In another failed attempt to find a RV park using our outdated guidebook (this time the only thing left was “ARK” painted on a wall) we quite happily parked ourselves at Casa de La Tia Tere B&B just a few blocks from the Zocalo. While the beaches we spent the past month enjoying were fabulous, we were both ready for a change and Oxaca was a great place to get re-immersed into the real Mexican culture. Aside from Mexico City, we’ve never seen a main plaza so grand – we almost felt like we were back in Rome!

Iglesia de Santo Domingo

inside the church everything was gold

the sun was a little too bright for me!

We spent most of our days in Oaxaca taking in the sights (there a bunch of churches), strolling the markets while sipping on various fruit juices (watermelon being my personal favorite), tasting Mezcal (a cousin to tequila made from maguey) and even eating some grasshoppers in the market (only Ben was so brave)!

molé, molé, molé & dozens of flowers

feeling a little crazy after eating the grasshoppers!

One morning after getting Dewey his first oil change and tire rotation, we made a side trip to Monte Albán (meaning White Mountain), the ancient Zapotec capital situated on a hillside above the city. Dating back to 500 BC, Monte Albán was occupied in 5 phases, ending in 950 AD. The center of a highly organized, priest-dominated society, it was the head of the central valleys which was comprised of at least 200 other settlements and ceremonial centers.

During another side trip we visited a nearby pueblo, San Bartolo Coyotepec, know for unique black ceramics and another (Teotitlán del Valle) where traditional tapetes (rugs) are woven where we learned about the process of tinting the wool naturally and watched weavers at work. Only 5 families in the valley are known for their quality work and market the majority of their goods in the US, especially in the west. One weaver was working on a 10x15 ft. special order rug that when finished would take 6 months and cost over $3000! Having admired the work all week in the markets, we made away with a smaller more affordable tapete that is sure to help make our new Guatemalan apartment feel more like a home.

weaving in the works

Monday, April 27, 2009

Excuses, excuses!

Our sincerest apologies to all of our readers who wait on baited breath for another blog entry (at least we hope you're waiting!). We've been busy playing with these sweet girls the past few days and haven't gotten around to posting. We'll try to get you updated as soon as we can!

chicas bonitas, Lilian & Megan

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Driving Mr. Dewey

Veering inland for the first time since arriving in mainland Mexico, we left Puerto Escondido around 9am Monday morning for Oxaca City. Somewhere around 8 hours and 1 million twists and turns later, we have arrived. Let me explain a bit more. Imagine the windiest (wind – not the breeze) mountain pass you’ve ever driven. Now, triple the amount of S curves, take away the shoulder and guide rails, thrown in a speedbump or 10 every quarter mile, add a bunch of goats to the road, and there you have it – the highway to Oxaca. Since I’m prone to getting car sick as a passenger, I was designated chief driver for this trip. Lucky me. It turns out that Dewey (our car - named because we're always asking someone "Do we...?") and I did just fine for the first few hours, while Ben played DJ for us. But after switching driver’s halfway through the day, the fun began.

we honestly saw this sign at least 200 times

somewhere along our drive "tope" turned into "reductor"
(both mean speedbump)

a mountain man enjoying the Sierra Madres

we had to hurry past a few monsters on the road....

and slow down for livestock several times

Let’s just say first off that we have been really fortunate on our drive. We haven’t had to undergo any major searches, been lost too badly or even been pulled over yet (knock on wood). So when we hit a road block (not sure why?) about 50 km outside of Oxaca we didn’t get too upset. Instead we turned ourselves around, got out the map and stopped to ask the police (who were sitting on the side of the highway) for directions. A super nice officer actually drew us a map of where we needed to go and we were on our way….or at least we thought. A few minutes later when we saw flashing lights behind us we thought our luck had changed, but no – it was just the police wanting to show us the way. Image that? Our own personal police escort driving us the wrong way down 1-way streets in some little unknown Mexican town. Sure it took us an extra hour or 2, but at least we didn’t get lost!

our hand drawn map

and personal escort service

Finding the RV park in Oxaca was another story. Turns out the one and only has been converted into a new hi-rise building. Guess we’ll be sleeping in a hotel again!

(On a side note, I discovered these wristbands that are supposed to help with motion sickness at REI before we left. Honestly, they have really helped me – much more than the elastic bands that you can find in drug stores.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Surfers + Hippies = Puerto Escondido

Becoming more and more popular with vacationers who don’t want anything to do with the crowded, commercialized resort towns, Puerto Escondido (Hidden Port) is best know for it’s astounding waves and relaxed atmosphere. Wanna-be’s for the most part, PE is full of foreign surf dudes and bohemian-esque babes. Of course there are tons of legitimate surfers there too, but they aren’t the ones flaunting their stuff all over town. Instead, they’re out in the water, making us all jealous of their skills.

Playa Zicatela

Upon rolling into town we hunted down the one and only RV park to find it filled with Semana Santa leftovers and not another single RV. But when in a pinch, our good friend Lonely Planet is always happy to help us out. We found our way to Beach Hotel Ines on Playa Zicatela, where we checked into a room with outdoor kitchen and hammock perfect for relaxing – just want we needed after busy Acapulco.

Finding ourselves overwhelmed by the heat, we didn’t really do much in PE. Because of the Semana Santa crowds we have been previously unsuccessful trying to surf and ended up out of luck here too. Oh well – we’ll just save the surfing for our return trip through Mexico. Ben did do some serious boogie boarding though, and he was happy enough with that.

showing off his rash burn!

Unfortunately because of some funky odors (trash & sewage) we really wouldn’t recommend Hotel Ines, but if they can get these things under control, it is otherwise a decent budget place to stay. Puerto Escondido on the other hand is definitely on our A list when it comes to Mexican beach destinations!

Once, Twice, but probably not Thrice

Back in 2006 I visited Acapulco with my girlfriends Nettie & Kelsey after studying Spanish in Cuernavaca, Mexico and since Ben and I are working our way down the coast, naturally we made a stop there too. A glitzy Hollywood getaway back in the 50’s, Acapulco just may have the most natural beauty of any of Mexico’s resort destinations. The perfectly curved, white sand, blue water bay is lined with hi-rise hotels that when lit up at night look like the Las Vegas strip. Having seen it’s better days, Acapulco really isn’t very popular with Americans anymore, but is definitely worth a visit if you happen to be nearby.

Acapulco Bay

During my last trip here we went on a snorkel trip with this random guy hocking things on the beach. It turns out he wasn’t so random and he in-fact is infamous on Hornitos Beach in Acapulco. King Coco is what they call him and you can pick him out by his huge hat (that has King Coco written on the front) and his mouthful of silver teeth. The snorkel trip turned out to be really fun and only $20. Ben and I just happen to be staying at the Crown Plaza, just a few hotels down from the place I stayed in a few years back, and while we were walking down the beach you’ll never guess who we came across – King Coco himself. It seems that his prices have gone up with inflation, but he’s still out there pimping massages, hair braids, dive/snorkel trips and anything else one might need to make their trip memorable (if you catch my drift). Well since I am a return customer and all, the King was willing to cut me a deal (2006 prices in this 2009 market) so we decided to spend our 1 and only full day in Acapulco with an old “friend”.

Ben looking a bit bored on the snorkel trip

Turns out though old Coco has become a thief over the years. Our “snorkel” trip ended up being full of beginning scuba divers – and when I say beginning, I mean people who paid to “scuba” but still needed to learn how to swim. So we bobbed around in the water a bit, seeing only a handful of fish and then caught a water taxi back to the marina where I promptly hunted down Coco and gave him a tongue lashing – in Spanish (that is the part I’m most proud of)!

Beware of this jerk on the beach - he's in disguise here without his usual hat!

The other most noteworthy part of Acapulco is watching the clavadistas
(cliff divers) at La Quebrada. About 10 speedo-clad young guys (the eldest is maybe 20 years old) free climb a cliff that is about 75 feet high and dive into the crashing waves below. It’s been a regular occurrence since 1934 and is breathtaking each time you see it. They must think that all the gear we wear to climb in the US is idiotic!

Sunset at La Quebrada

this is where they dive from!

La Quebrada Acapulco from Krista on Vimeo.