Category Archives: CouchSurfing

A perfect day in Oaxaca

After a comfortable and productive (thanks to my recent Laptop purchase) bus journey from Puebla to Oaxaca I clambered off the bus and asked for directions to Independencia. Easy as cake, I asked a few people along the way and everyone knew exactly how many blocks and what I’d pass. What a relief after Puebla!

Soon enough, I was standing on Independencia. I checked the number, I was in the thousands. Ah dear, I wanted something less than 10! Never mind, and to the tune of Just Keep Swimming I set off for what I thought was going to be a long trek. I had not yet learnt, you see, that that in Mexico each block is one hundred regardless of how many houses are on there. So a mere 10 blocks later I had arrived!

That night I ate well, slept well and had the pleasure of partaking in a small birthday ceremony for one of the house mates. I was staying in an open house run by some great people who are starting a project to acquire land in order to become self sufficient and then to to open it up to anyone who needs it. An admirable goal and I met some dedicated people, but it’s not quite my capitalist cup of tea.

So I can’t say I was too disappointed to fall back to my CouchSurfer when the group announced they were all going for a trip, and if I had somewhere else that might work best (for everyone, since we’d only just met they didn’t want to hand over the keys just yet, and if they were all going I’d be all alone anyway).

Sami meet Ricardo. Ricardo, Sami

After a few text messages on Monday evening I had arranged to meet Ricardo in the Zocalo (town centre) in the morning. As often happens when you contact many CouchSurfers in one town, I remembered little about him – let alone what he looked like – but I knew I’d not made contact with anyone I didn’t like (which doesn’t really narrow it down). So in front of the cathedral I sat and waited for someone with that “Are you the person I’m looking for?” expression. After an uncustomary (for Mexicans) “Sorry I’m late” text he soon showed up and so began the day which was to begin the week.

I can’t honestly say I remember what we did the first day, I remember getting told off in the market for testing the avocados (“Don’t squeeze them if you’re not going to buy them”, to which I refrained from a “but how do I know if I want to buy them, then?”) and I remember catching a very bumpy bus back to Ricardo’s house. I thought that bus would never end. 20 whole minutes later, I put my spine back in line and we hopped off. It wasn’t intentional, but with a combination of Ricardo being late for work in the mornings and me forgetting how early the buses stop running (9pm) that turned out to be the penultimate bus in my whole week in Oaxaca.

Ricardo was a fantastic host, he owns and runs a restaurant with his parents and also works with other restaurants to help them attain a particular star rating. So his working hours were flexible, and for anything aside from work it seems he was a punctual person – only the second I’ve met in Mexico! We hung out a lot, usually in coffee shops and pubs. Oaxaca has no shortage of coffee shops, virtually all with Wi-Fi (though my favourite didn’t and one added 10 pesos to my 12 peso bill for using it!).

He took me to his favourite places, let me go up the hill on my own and I hung out with his friends my new friends and whoever else was sitting in the pub at the time. If this were one of the days of creation, God would have looked upon it and seen that it was good.

The Perfect Day

Wednesday morning started like any other day – in someone’s house in the suburbs of a small city in southern Mexico. After an avocado based breakfast (remember the lady who’s fruits I squished? The next lady along had a better pear.) Ricardo announced he was late for work, so into a taxi we hopped. Since he was working all day, I had the day to myself and I had big plans. I’d been making good progress with work, and today felt like a good day to fly ahead with an actual solid days work. Possibly the first since I left Currency Solutions.

I started in Cafe Brujula, one I’d heard about from Maureen and various travel guides, I heard the internet was slow but the people nice. I ordered a black coffee (local and organic as is the standard in Oaxaca) and sat down to crack on.

I had managed a good few mugs, several solid hours of work and had just finished up a blog post when Ricardo text me saying he was going for Lunch so how about meeting for a coffee in Coffee Beans? “Excellent, about time for a coffee break” I thought to myself. I paid up and headed the three blocks to meet him.

I explained a dilemma I’d been having, I want to try the local brew but I’m afraid it’s too hot out to be drinking scorching hot coffee at this mid day hour. He explained that I was in the right place for such a dilemma, since Coffee Beans have a menu of iced and flavoured coffees. By the end of my week there, we’d been through all of the flavours and even come up with a few flavour combinations of our own.

Ricardo headed off to work, and I decided I’d probably had enough coffees for one day if I wanted to have a hope of sleeping that night. I headed to Mina Street, a few blocks south of the Zocalo, where Maureen and I had found a Wi-Fi enabled chocolate cafe selling an assortment of flavoured hot chocolates. Local and organic, naturally.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working my way through a host of flavoured hot chocolate drinks while churning through another bucket load of work. That evening, Ricardo and I returned to Coffee Beans for some beers. Unfortunately there’s only one local beer and we didn’t discover it until late in the week (though we managed to squeeze one in just in time for me to still catch my bus as I left!).

An excellent day ๐Ÿ™‚

All good things must come to an end

Nothing last forever, even a blissful week in Oaxaca. Early in the week I had ordered an extra battery for my laptop, so I could have twice as much time on the busses, but when the Genuine HP 9 Cell battery I had ordered arrived it turned out to be a compatible 6 Cell for the same price. The lying scumbag in the shop stood his ground nonetheless and persisted that it was as ordered. I took my deposit back and met Maureen in Coffee Beans for quick drink, a short rant and a ponder. Eventually it became apparent that I wouldn’t get another chance to get an extra battery, this one wasn’t too expensive (1050 pesos, around 50 GBP). So first thing Sunday I returned to Del Boy.

I booked my bus ticket for Sunday night, paying the extra 90 pesos to have the super luxury deluxe bus which had a power connection for up to 12 hours of work all the way to San Cristobal! Though I did stop to sleep, admire the view, and chat to the slightly nuts gringo in front of me.

My last two hours in Oaxaca were spent with Ricardo, we were happily finishing off the flavour list in Coffee Beans when we remembered the local beer we’d heard about but not yet tried! Oops, I was so carried away with the coffee I forgot the beer! (Saz would not be impressed!). We rushed off to the bus station, left my back pack in the left luggage and shot off up the dark northern streets of Oaxaca vaguely following my now battered tourist map courtesy of the tourist office on day 1.

We arrived, and arrived we did. This was no off license serving up the local brew, this was a beer emporium with at least 5 dozen beers from around the world and Mexico. Tempting though it all was, we had a mission. Buying a light and a dark version of the local we drank like louts on the street as we headed back to the bus stop. I have no special words for the local beer, but I’m glad I enjoyed it ๐Ÿ™‚ We stopped on the way to the bus station only because I saw a bubble tea place and felt a desire to pay homage to Ol’ Sarah-Jane ๐Ÿ™‚

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WorkAway Coatepec

I joined WorkAway.info because it was much cheaper than WWOOF (30GBP for 2 years worldwide membership, compared to 20GBP for one year just in Mexico). It has far fewer opportunities in Mexico (18 vs. 80) and they’re not what I thought my ideal placement would be (Bar work, Administration vs. Organic Farming and Permaculture). However I am very glad that I did!

I’ve just spent 10 days living with Shayla, a most fantastic person who has WorkAwayers to help her with day to day things such as walking the dog and helping her to drink fantastic smoothies and enormous salads. Shayla had some medical problems (Doctors included) 4 years ago which left her with some damaged brain tissue meaning she now has no balance, unable to continue her awesome career at Apple she moved to Mexico to heal. She’s hosted volunteering travellers for just over a year since her partner died.

You’d imagine someone with bad luck such as that could easily fall into a depressing cycle of bad Hollywood movies and microwaved ready meals. Shayla, on the other hand is living in the today, enjoying a healthy life of endlessly wonderful and (usually) incredibly healthy food (During my one short week we enjoyed Portabella Burgers, Mushroom Masala, Chocolate Chip Cookies, fresh brown Rice milk).

We may have gone a little nuts for Portobello mushrooms on occasion.

In between meals life was simple and good and involved walking to market with Choco – the lovable pup who’s not sure if he’s a cat or a rabbit – and relaxing in the sun. Shayla and I shared a fantastic bond and a sometimes spooky ability to have the same thoughts. We both love our kitchen knives and spinach smoothies (though Shayla definitely wins in the Smoothie Lover contest) and as a tech savvy person we can appreciate hanging out together whilst also using computers. Some people find that unsociable, uncomfortable or rude but we just got on with it ๐Ÿ™‚

(Not) Off to the Falls

On my penultimate day in Coatepec Shayla’s next WorkAwayer arrived, Mai. This meant I could use the Monday to visit the Waterfall! There are few falls around Coatepec, one of which is a short walk from Shayla’s part of town. While experimenting with coffee in Mexico’s “Capital of Coffee” I had got chatting to the waiter who had then invited me on a cycling trip to the falls with him and some of his friends – he could even lend me a bike. Awesome! So I arranged the morning off with Shayla and awaited his email that night. Nothing came. A few days later I popped into the same coffee shop and saw the guy again, he said they had cancelled due to the weather but Monday was going to be nice and they’ll certainly be making a trip! No worries, I’ve met enough Mexicans to know they’re not the worlds most reliable people.

Monday night, still no word. So I took matters into my own hands, shot off half a dozen emails on the ever trusty [[CouchSurfing]]. Last minute, I know, but perhaps….

Off to the Falls

Waking up Monday morning I checked my emails and sure enough, I had a message from Juan. Of course all Mexicans are called Juan but use other names and this one went by Carlos. He was up for a trip to the falls and would meet me at 11am at a corner I suggested. I was a little late arriving at the corner, but again Mexicans are notoriously late for everything so I wasn’t too concerned. At 11:20 I headed off on my own.

At 11:40 I had a call from Carlos. I had managed to find the only punctual Mexican in the whole of Mexico, he had arrived promptly at 11, but having left my phone number at home he had left at 11:10 to get it – I arrived at 11:15. We spoke a little and kind of decided that since I was already at the falls and wanted to get back home by 12:30 it wasn’t really practical to meet. Then the signal disappeared and we were cut off.

That aint a waterfall!

The walk to the falls was uncertain and filled with doubt. After 10 minutes I heard the tell tale sound of falling water, that was quicker than I expected. Walking closer I saw a pitiful excuse forย  waterfall, actually onlyย  dam built to power (I presume) a water wheel. I kept my faith, I’d heard a lot about these falls. I asked for directions, and was sure enough directed further up the road. I came to a bridge, with a much more open landscape including another man made “waterfall” and had another “Hmmm I’m not convinced” moment.

On I persevered, walking through a plantation of some kind of bean along a narrow concrete path (which turned out to be a covered irrigation channel) until lo and behold I encountered the mighty falls! Well “Mighty” might be a bit much, but given my expectations by this point I was excited. An open plain next to the river with yet another man made falls no doubt plays host to picnics and kids with grazed knees in the summer, and peeking up river I could see an actual real waterfall with spray and everything. Pondering how to get closer Iย  noticed a vague but definite path up some rocks to my right. I was a little worried that Choco wouldn’t be able to get up, but the leaper and bounder in him relished the challenge and he was soon ahead of me running around the plantation above.

I have a fairly strict rule to follow paths so as to not be too much of a disturbance and this path was testing the limits of this! After not too long we were walking through another plantation and found a more solid path leading back down towards the river. Finally, a real waterfall! Not the biggest, not the best, but an almighty splashing off a huge rock!

I sat for a few minutes, writing this very blog, as Choco explored, sniffed and jumped off rocks. All too soon he was ready to go and pee on something else so we headed back. This time he went absolutely bonkers running around the still unidentified trees. Halfway back to where we stated I saw another path, this one clearly defined and well trodden heading to the taller natural falls I saw earlier.

The Fall

This path down didn’t looks quite so secure with slimy rocks to the sides and large steps. I thought for a minute, checked with Choco who gave me a nod and set off down. It wasn’t a long path by any means, but the going was slow. Half way down I hear a yelp and spin around just in time to see Choco disappearing down the side of the rock. “Oh dear” doesn’t quite cover my thoughts but a split second later there was a splash. I hopped off the rock after him just in time to see him clamber out the water onto a ledge on the side. Neither here not there, the loyal little scallywag tried to come back to me, no use that I think the second falls will have to remain elusive. I jumped in after him (that may sound daring, but it was only 10 inches of motionless crystal clear water) and scooped him up onto the picnic-perfect plain from where we started. Choco had a shake, and I dried him off with a towel. He had another shake, then a third. The poor guy was a bit wet, but luckily the sun had come out and he dried off soon enough.

Arriving just in time to think Choco and I are still cool mountain climbers, I look up to see Carlos walking towards me! He’d managed to get here in time after all! We sat chatting by the river for a few moments before heading back to Shayla’s where he was promptly invited to stay for dinner (his first Indian food!) and general chilling out.

It was a day of frustration, excitement, anxiety, sun, uncertainty and good company. A good, good day ๐Ÿ™‚

What did you say those trees were?

Those trees, turned out to be coffee trees. Yes, my beautiful baby beans hanging out on their tree waiting to be stripped, baked, beaten and drowned to provide me with the liquid black magic that make the world spin so beautifully. Thanks to Carlos for the identification!