Category Archives: Mexico

Oaxaca to Utila in a Week

2 weeks ago I agreed to meet Clive in Utila on February 1st, I spent the first of those weeks in Oaxaca having a whale of a time and I spent the second week cramped onto bumpy, noisy buses. Well it’s not quite that bad, it went something like this.

Despite all I’d heard about Chiapas I’d only left myself two days in this southern state of Mexico, awash with the natural beauty of blue waterfalls (something Terri had seen on and put on my To-Do list long before I came) mountainous lush green hills and remote coastlines you Englanders can only dream of mixed up with indigenous tribes, hippy “alternative” moderners and small town life. Fan-frigging-tastic!

However I had only two nights in a brilliant hostel in San Cristobal, the first as a CouchSurfer and the second at a discount rate for CouchSurfers. The hostel, run by Rob and Rebecca (Calling her the many names for Bex I have made me think of sister Becky several times a day :)), was the first hostel I stayed in in Mexico and it made me realise that as great as couch surfing is it’s not necessarily better (or worse) than staying in a hostel.

CouchSurfing vs. Hostels

CouchSurfing is like living in the town for a short while, you follow the routine of your host which usually revolves around a job, family time and hanging out with friends. While they’re happy to advise you on and may visit some tourist destinations with you it’s not the focus of their lives. In a hostel, however, you meet other people in the same boat as you. With the same excitement to discover the town and visit the churches and museums. They’re travelling, so they have recent tales of plans made and plans changes and very up to date advice on travelling in places you may be planning to go.

La Posada del Abuelito

Rob and BeckyBoos were also travellers who have just settled down to run a hostel for a bit, combined with the knowledge of all their guests they have a huge wealth of know-how to share and a passion for sharing it in front of the open fire available to guests at night. They’d already booked me onto a tour to some [[Tzotzil]] and [[Tzeltal]] villages they’d heard good reviews about when Rob came and said he was in the progress of putting new tour together and would I like to come for an experimentary price. This new tour was to some other, less visited villages, a cemetery and a coffee plantation, a little pricier but included a coffee plantation!

The Tour

We left at 10am, picked up outside the hostel in a minibus. There were 6 of us, plus the tour guide (and driver), his brother and his sister in law who were coming along for the lift home, since it was their family plantation we were to visit.

After about an hours drive we hopped out to see the cemetery. At first it looked like any Christian cemetery with a scattering of graves of various sizes and decorations marked by crosses. However with a little explanation we learned that the cross represents the 4 [[cardinal directions]] (and the 4 corners of the Mesoamerican universe) and the colour of the cross tells you how old the person was when they died. I forget the specifics, but it was something like blue under 18 year olds, red for 18-65 and white for over. At the top of the the hill stood a small forest of huge crosses, built bigger each time the Spaniards managed to pull them down.

Back on the bus for another hour and we were in the second village, there were a few people about nattering in their local language walking here and there. I had a short wander while Rob went off in search of food, returning 10 minutes later having been served by a woefully unfriendly shop assistant. We snacked on tortillas with beans and a tinned tomato sauce, actually far tastier than I make it sound.

On the bus again for another while, I’ve actually forgotten all the specific times so when I said an hour previously I just meant some time. The third village we spent just as little time but it was far more interesting. High up in the mountain in the village square was a church the Spaniards had built before the villagers said “No Thanks” and kicked them out. The building is now used both by those who did take up Christianity and by the locals who now use Coca-Cola for their ancient “Burping up the evil spirits” rituals, sitting huddled around a candle just behind the rows of pews.

Our final destination as to the coffee plantation, another short schlep on the bus with a photo opportunity en route had us in the middle of nowhere. On the far mountain you could see a highway climbing up the side, but in every other direction was trees and more mountains. We crossed the fence at a small opening and followed our guide down, and down. After going down and along, passing some cow, crossing a river, closing a gate behind us, entering the next village and ducking under some bushes we came across a few small buildings and lots of coffee bushes.

We started at the start, as is usually a good place to start, and learned about collecting the coffee beans, removing the husks (later used for fertiliser), cleaning them and drying them. We met the bushes and the fruit trees planted between them to add flavour to the beans (citrus usually) and to control the temperature and humidity (often mango).

After a lengthy and enjoyable lesson we were invited into one of the buildings – which turned out to be the kitchen – for some freshly made tortillas and bean soup and, of course, a nice cup of coffee.

After walking back up to the road, where the minibus had been waiting, we had a well earned snooze on the 2 and a half hour drive home, watching the sun set as we arrived back in San Cristobal.

Back on Track

Moving swiftly on from San Cristobal I threw 450 pesos at Rob and hopped in the Minibus which arrived for me the next morning which would get me to Antigua, Guatemala one way or another. A little risky, perhaps, but I had faith in Rob and it turned out to be a fantastic trip. I was in the small van with a couple of Dutchies, two Israeli electrical engineers (who were living in Canada), a Swede and a few more I’ve unfortunately forgotten. That’ll teach me to leave blog-writing so late eh?

We snoozed and chatted for about 6 hours until we reached the border where we were churned out and each fumbled our way through the stamp giving office before being picked up effortlessly on the other side by another guy and minibus our driver was pointing at. I’m in Guatemala!

The second bus was equally comfortable and had the atmosphere of back ally cafe trying to be a pub. The hours passed with the odd toilet break before we were suddenly split! At one of our toilet breaks a 4×4 truck pulled up next to us and some body swapping went on. We swapped our Israelis – bound for Xela – for a  couple of Frenchies and continued on to Antigua.

We arrived shortly after sundown, when asked everyone called out where they wanted to be dropped off and the driver did the rounds. I wasn’t sure since my communication with Guate had been a bit vague, so I stuck with the Swede and told sent one last text with where I’d be. I was just finishing up the last of the 5 type of Guatemalan beer I was working my way through when he and his sister entered. 2 years of waiting, I could finally deliver the hug I’d offered Guate last time he was in London!

They stayed for another beer, I mentioned I’d read about a place selling “Israeli Falafel” and suggested it would be a good place to catch up with an old friend made in Israel. Sweden joined us (Not quite in place of Mr Hermansson!) for what turned out to be a tasty plate of humous and falafel balls.

The next day Guate took me to two very good museums on the Maya (one nearly resulting in an expensive copy of the [[Popel Vuh]] and the other massively fuelling my desire to do some weaving), the night was spent in a busy but nice bar meeting Guate’s friends. My plan is to return and spend most of April here while I get some work done, and I can’t wait to be hanging out with these guys every week 🙂

The last leg

At 4 in the morning, after a measly 2 hours sleep, I woke Guate and hoped he still felt up for driving me to the bus station. Lucky for me, he did! I bought a ticket and waited the extra hour for the bus – the lady on the phone had said 5, the lady at the station said 6. I sent Guate home to finish his sleeping, made a failed attempt at buying some bread and boarded the bus.

That was a long, long bus. The book said 8 hours, the guy next to me said 6. 11 bumpy, noisy, smelly hours later with a few toilet stops at paperless (and in one instance waterless) shacks and a short visit to immigration as we entered Honduras we alighted in San Pedro Sula. I was blessed to have made friends with a French Canadian lady who had some idea what was going on, and so directed me to the next bus (which she was also getting, though alighting earlier).

This bus was far nicer, quiet and comfortable enough to get some sleep. Upon arriving in La Ceiba – from where I can catch a ferry to Utila – I shared a taxi to a hostel with a French couple, the Banana Republic (listed as the “only decent hostel in La Ceiba”) was full according to the guy at the door, but surprise surprise the driver knew a guy who had a brother who’s friend ran a hostel “right on the beach”. He didn’t mention it’s also in the western side of town, which is run by gangs and you are advised against visiting. The hostel was comfortable, and at that time of night I didn’t notice the lack of a kitchen and the Internet.

La Ceiba

I spent the next day in La Ceiba looking for some bits Clive had asked me to pick up (Black Duct Tape and a 12v Battery Charger), being Sunday everything was closed so wandered around the town before I moved to the now completely empty Banana Republic Hostel. I have nothing to say about La Ceiba, the Parque Central was boarded up, I spent a couple of hours online in a petrol station and the rest reading about the handful of nice places which are all closed on a Sunday.

Finally in Utila!

Getting to Utila was far easier than I had feared from that office chair in Coatepec. With a lot of help from Lonely Planet and a good bus network it was easy, if uncomfortable at times. After popping to the electrical store for Clive I caught a bus which delivered me to the 9am ferry. At 10:30 I met Shell, from [[Reading]], in Captain Morgan’ss Dive Centre – the most unnecessarily friendly place – where I could hang out, leave my bag, enjoy a nice glass of cold water and borrow a phone to call Clive. I had an hour until he arrived, to I set about finding the 650USD for my boat contribution. With a few [[Limperas]] from each ATM and a few from the bank teller and some advice from Shell I found the guy who changes money and was all ready.

Hanging out back in Captain Morgan’s Dive Centre I used their Wi-Fi to update my Google Latitude to keep the mother happy and very soon met Tom. Soon to be my favourite Israeli aboard the boat, she had joined Clive a few days earlier and soon thanked him for finding a Hebrew speaker for her.

So here begins my adventure with Nuthin Wong, the 50″ [[Chinese Junk]] from Canada.


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 🙂

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 🙂 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 🙂


Oaxaca’s Hill of Doom

Well it’s really not so bad, but the few people who I’d spoken to about climbing this hill, slightly to the west of Oaxaca central, didn’t seem so keen to come with. I didn’t think it was so bad. There’s a wide path consisting of about 10 sets of stairs taking you right to the auditorium at the top. Entering the auditorium made me feel like a [[Gladiator]]. After the climb I was slightly out of breath as I walked through the cool shade of the tunnel, curving at the end so the lions can’t see you coming. I soon forgot about [[Ancient Rome]] as I climbed the final (so I thought) set of steps and looked down over a lake of buildings which was Oaxaca, filling the valley between the mountains and spilling through the gap between them to the North East.

A collection of slacking police sat chatting with their guns on their shoulders busy guarding a totally empty plot of concrete, throwing them a very Mexican “Buenos Tardes” I continued my journey up. Another half a dozen set of steps and I could see into the auditorium from the back down to the stage. The city, mountains and sky form the backdrop to the stage and you can really see why this has been a popular spot for events for many years.

The Planetarium and Observatory

Another 5 minutes up hill, along a path surrounded by trees which look like they’re bowing down to the east, lie the Planetarium and Observatory. The former is a modest size but the small exhibition outside looks well done and presumably the inside is of a similar quality. Unfortunately there’s nothing in English so my explorations stopped short. With diminishing hopes for a star studded evening I continued to the Observatory. It didn’t look promising, and a local who had come up here (with a couple of buddies) for some exercise panted between breaths that it wasn’t functioning at all anyway.

Despite the closed auditorium, all Spanish planetarium and shut down observatory I’m a big fan of the hill. It’s got a wild feel to it (though it’s being conserved by  a local group of volunteers who plant trees) and is more tranquil than an empty park on a Tuesday morning.

HUB, Oaxaca

Last summer I went for an interview at TechHub in [[Old Street]]. I’d never seen a place like it before and thought it was a fantastic idea, had the company had the money and I not been running off to Mexico it’d have been a great place to work. Maureen has found a similar place in Oaxaca (remember when I said I might not come home?). I’m meeting her in a short while to have a visit, but based on her description and my experience at TechHub it’s essentially an open plan office where freelancers, start-ups and teeny businesses can base themselves to enjoy the office culture which you can’t get working alone and to be able to network with people from different industries and sectors. So if you need a designer, you can walk around and ask for a designer. If you need a [[videographer in Oaxaca]], just pop over and say hi!

So about coming home…

Now of course I’m going to come home eventually, because London and my life there is far to fantastic to refuse, but it’s getting very tempting to stay here longer. Here being Oaxaca. With local, organic coffee on every corner and chocolate (also local, organic and almost always without milk) like you’ve never tasted before it’s going to be hard, even with gems such as Chococo back home!


Puebla – Probably a magic town

I’ve heard Puebla described as an array of wonderful things. Though I can’t say I’ve had much luck here. This is my second attempt at a day trip, the first went something like this.

Today hasn’t been much better, my plan included walking to FedEx (1.7km) then to Loving Hut (another 1km) and then getting to the Cathedral one way or another before leaving by sundown.

But I felt a bit lazy, asked a bus driver if he went to Reforma (most of the way down the one road to FexEx). After some suspicious looking though he said yes. I paid my 6 pesos and sat down nervously.

The only good thing about this bus journey to the wrong part of the city was the nice chat with a guy from a nearby town. I alighted and by chance I found a MailPack, my hopes rose! It might not be FedEx but at least I can rid myself of carrying this package.

No such luck

For some reason even though they send the package with FedEx, they have more strict rules than me going to the FedEx office directly. After much picking things up and saying no they said the Spanish equivalent of “I think you should go here…” and even gave me bus directions.

For a box full of things too sentimental to just give away I was growing very tired of having it.

Nearly There

Now came the second good thing about Puebla, the bus driver (not the lying “Just give me some Pesos” one) had fantastic taste in music. So I was rocking out to some classics for which I don’t know the name including, heartbreakingly just as I was alighting, my current favourite The Cranberries – Zombie.

Rocking out on a second class bus in Puebla

It’s been a good couple of weeks for me and that song since Gaby took me to Celtics Bar in Mexico City and the live band played it. Still, I managed to get off, the weight of the package probably helped.

Soon enough I fond myself filling out in triplicate (which is even more frustrating when it’s on [[carbon copy paper]]) the To and From addresses, Package Contents, Value, Purpose, Country of Manufacture, etc., etc.  etc. Bear in mind I’d already done this for MailPack on forms with different logos at the top..

Finally, a bill

Upon being presented with a MX$960 (£50) bill I forgot to hesitate and ask if there was a cheaper, slower option and handed over a debit card – relieved to finally have been able to post it home. The only item which didn’t make it in was my dead kindle. I’d done enough lying for a lifetime to want to do any more and have to fill in another “potentially harmful radiation device” form.

Filled with joy and madness at having free hands I gleefully left, in my mind replaying a generic air-punching scene from some film or other (in the case of my illustration, from a website). With an hour and a half ’till my bus to Oaxaca I had time for the vegan restaurant – and directions to boot!

The Final Straw

If the package fiasco hadn’t been enough to taint my view of Puebla, walking blind around unmarked and delicately named roads with locals who don’t know their area, finally resolving to catching a taxi for 2 blocks just to not have to search out another building number to find the restaurant which turned out to be either closed down or not yet ready (it looked like a closed bank) was the final straw. Even had I not been out of time, it was time to get out of this wonderful sounding but not in my stars this time city.

I caught a 3rd class bus to CAPU (the central bus station) and within the hour was breathing a sigh of relief as my ADO bus pulled out to get me to Oaxaca 4 hours later.


WorkAway Coatepec

I joined 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 🙂

(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 for  waterfall, actually only  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 I  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 🙂

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!

The Coatepec Crosses

Today I climbed the hill. I’d actually seen this patch of green in the middle of the town on a map before I came and planned to walk through it from the bus to get to Shayla’s.

After my Balagan in Puebla I ended up getting a taxi. Thankfully! Because this hill is 80m high! Note for next time, use a map with contour lines.

When I left the house I had about an hour and a half. I hadn’t yet decided whether to go to the river or the hill so I just walked. It soon became apparent that the river would be harder to get to, houses and houses in progress lined the hillside between me and her.

So I looked up at the giant leafy mound to my left and pictured the map I had carefully studied last week. None of it applied – I was on the other side and heading to the top rather than Shayla’s house.

A few minutes wandering lead me up a dusty lane of run down houses to a small staircase made of large stones. At the top I followed the path. Of course I didn’t know it was the path at the time, but left went down hill and right headed upwards so it was a good enough presumption.


I say path, it was actually a road with two lines of cobbles for tyres and a strip of dirt between to catch peoples litter. The first interesting thing I noticed about this path was the abundance of crosses. Now Mexico is a religious place by any standards, but this was getting extreme. Three crosses later I took a closer look and noticed they were depicting Stations of the Cross, excellent! Now I have some idea of how close to the top I am (presuming number 14 was at the top). I was at number 8.

Some wanderings later, and after feeling very suspicious for trying to catch a glimpse of the school I could hear through the trees, I was presented with a decision. The arrow to the left said something in Spanish, the one to the right something else in Spanish. I thought I’d have my cake and eat it and headed right first. A good choice, a few meters up the road was a viewing point with an almost areal view of the city dissolving into the countryside and eventually fading into misty mountains.

After a few awe filled gazes, and a few more after I put my glasses on, I headed off. The path which continued round was a decline, so I went back to the sign and took the left path, which turned out to be a grass covered shortcut to the top. Score! At the top there’s a viewing point to get a bit higher, but it was closed and a ring of trees surrounding the plain actually makes the view less exciting. That said, while gazing out seeing a monstrously big and snow capped mountain slowly fade out of the mist on the horizon isn’t something you experience every day!


A Balagan in Puebla

I thought a stopover in [[Puebla]] sounded like a good way to break up a 4 hour trip and see a city I’d heard so much about, plus there’s a a FedEx office from where I could send some excess weight, souvenirs and presents home. To top it off lists a vegan restaurant.

So I studied a map, plotted a route to include FedEx, Loving Hut and the Cathedral and set off with my trusty directions-containing notebook.

Upon finally arriving in the bus station in Mexico City I had a 30 minute wait for a bus to Puebla. So far, mostly good.

90 minutes later they still had no idea where the bus was, not all bad since I had a chance to try and send my package from the mail place in the station. Attempt #1 was thwarted by my saying that the T-Shirts weren’t new. Apparently you can’t send used (used ever, not just currently dirty) clothes with FedEx. No worries, I’ll do it in Puebla and say they’re new.

I was aiming to leave Mexico City by 11am and be in [[Coatepec]] by 7pm. It’s a 4 hour drive.

I eventually got out of Mexico City by 3pm. I asked in another Pakmail but they said they couldn’t ship to England – attempt #2 down the drain. So for a ticket to Coatepec I searched. I spent the best part of an hour going between bus companies stands (each with their own queue) before a helpful lady behind me told me what none of the staff knew: I had to change in [[Jalapa]]. With a bus in 5 minutes I wasted no more time, bought a ticket and hurried off – before even having a chance to leave Puebla bus station, let alone see the famous cathedral!

Arriving in Jalapa (Home of [[Jalapeños]]) tired late and fed up I decided against finding the other bus station, catching another bus and then a 20 minute walk uphill, and paid a small fortune for a taxi to Shayla’s house.

20 minutes later I was meeting Shayla and Maureen for the first time, but this past 10 days has been too much for one blog post, so that’s another story.


Morelia – Shiny Churches and Wifi Plazas

Cold beer just tastes better in the sun…

… but the best cold beer is in the late afternoon shade following a lazy day strolling around [[Morelia]].

Today began 2 nights ago at a [[CouchSurfing]] Camp when – sat around the camp fire – Chano agreed to host me. The plan was [[Guadalajara]] but when a Mandarin speaking Mexican invited you round you can reckon good things are in store.

This morning began with someone wandering around the streets with a bell. I have no idea why*, he appears to have been going all night. After a quick email check (and a host confirmed in Guada!) and a short browse on WikiTravel Morelia I headed to the market Chano mentioned for my stable breakfast – Avocado and fresh bread.

* it turns out it’s the rubbish guy, Morelia is a city in which the council don’t collect any rubbish, so this helpful guy (and many others) are there to collect it for you (for a small fee) any time of day… or night.


It didn’t take long to fall for this relaxed, happy and comfortable city. It”s huge (750,000 people) but ths historic centre is walkable and beautiful; and tourist orientated signs and maps abound!

A Wifi-Enabled Plaza and a Very Shiney Church

The first sight I came across was the aquaduct, originally built in the 17th centrury and made of hollowed tree trunks. After some map studying (I managed to forget my compass again!) in the Wifi Enabled Plazas I gleefully followed the aquaduct past the park to Plaza Morleos, who’s main feature is a statue which wouldn’t be out of place along [[The Mall]]. I watched some skaters having a photo shoot and fended off a sales person before heading into the church – >Santuario de Guadalupe.

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I’ve been to many astounding churches, but this must be the shinest of them all! The walls and arches are decorated the the usual intricate patterns, however everything here is guilded and sparkles as you walk down the nave. In an interesting contrast, the walls are adorned with huge, entirely not shiney murals. These depict the conversion of the indiginous peoples to Christianity:

  • Brave looking explorers carrying a cross scout the hills, as the good Mary watches over them.
  • Dark skinned children wearing feather skirts are taught by a veryt pale frair while a church is constructed in the background.
  • An honourable guy intervienes at a human sacrifice while his buddy erects a cross next to a falling statue of [[Tlaloc]].
  • In front of a pyramid an [[Aztec]] fountain is used as a baptism font for the locals, now stripped of their head coverings hich lay discarded by the side.

As is only natural given the location, it all looks very honourable.

I’m here at a lucky time, the alter is being dressed for a wedding so the mexican red white and green hang from the arches and flowers surround the glistening, limp body of [[Jesus]].

More WiFi and a Dull Cathedral

Leaving, I headed back down Clz. Fray Antonio de Sab Miguel, usually I avoid walking the same path twice, but this was an exceptionally nice path. Wide enough for two lanes of cars but instead clear, clean and lined with trees and benches playing host to couples who are too busy adoring eachother to notice you path. This walkway leads to the mentioned WiFi Enabled Plaza, which in turn leads to Toluca-Morellia. Toluca-Morelliais a very busy street, but the wide pavements and jolly shoppers make you easily forget the road and njoy the central street through town.

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I can’t say I’m too impressed by the cathedral, though it would be hard to match Santuario de Guadalupe! It was dark (not that I mind them saving electricity) and much like other cathedrals. So I’ll mention a Mexican difference from England. Statues and shrines here tend to be behind glass or bars, rather than the openness of english churches and cathedrals. It makes them shiney, but more distant.

Next on my list was Museo del Estado. After much wandering and some shamefully bad map reaqding I found it (behind the map). It was pretty good, if small and entirely in Sspanish, but closed at three (20 minutes after I entered).

And so here I find myself, sitting in [[Plaza de la Rosa]] with two beers and a cool breeze carrying voices through the trees and a warm shady afternoon ahead of me.


Valle de Bravo – Today I Climbed a Huge Rock

Now this place is pretty enchanting. I’ve spent about 30 minutes going up and save for a brief glimpse of the curly brown back of someone’s head I’ve been entirely on my own. The sun is out in all it’s gloriousness but thankfully the path is shaded by towering rocks on all sides. That’s not to say this mini mountain isn’t green, indeed it’s as lush as the rest of the Mexican basin. There are several different views from the top.

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Take a Look Around…

To the west overlooks the huge man made Lake Avándaro, created with the building of a series of dams for the hydro electric plant called Ixtapantongo. The multi layers of mountain look amazing across the distant water’s surface, this is one high place which might suit Roni as looking down all you see (aside from the vertical cliff face teeming with life which even Attenborough would whip out a camera for) is a miss-match of green and blue perfect gardens of the rich.

To the North and South are forested mountains as far as the eye can see, with splotches of field or hamlets gleaming white in the afternoon sun.

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…and Settle in the East

The East, however, is my favourite. Right below me is a wild looking river mouth with half a dozen dingies loosely moored. As the river snakes inland it quickly becomes lost in the urban sprawl which is Valle de Bravo (Valley of the Brave). I can see a church squatting in the middle of a small cemetery, new buildings, old buildings, isolated clusters of houses, bright walls and football pitches all strung together by telephone cables.


And the sounds are even more of a sensory explosion, nothing dominates for more than a second above the tinkering of people selling, children playing, someone is singing, roosters… there are roosters everywhere! Dogs are barking, people calling, busses struggling up the hills with their 20 year old engines and motorbikes cruising around. Birds chirping, musicians playing, roadworks and builders hammers, a lorry stopping quickly, a car honking, a pig squealing.

So Enchanted Was I, I Forgot to Tell You Where I Am…

I’m leaned against a tall black cross with a virgin Mary on my left, a 20 foot drop on my right and some kind of tree which appears both fluffy and dead at the same time. It’s nice, certainly a place to make me happy.


Today was a bit of a last minute plan, one of those which presents itself as the obvious when the original one falls through. Derro was unable to take me to the volcano because he had to study, so to Valle de Bravo I came. After half a dozen hopeful CouchSurfing emails I had a call from a guy called Sebastian, who could host me – but then he couldn’t but his friend Pat could. But then Pat couldn’t so Sebastian put me in touch with Rodrico – who I’ll be meeting in a little over an hour.

A night of coffee, colonialism and [[cerveza]] awaits!


Being Vegan in Mexico

Vegan Things:

  • Vegan Beer: anything by the Cerveceria Modelo brewery (written on the side of the label) is vegan, for example: Indio, Corona, Pacifico, and Modelo.
  • Nopales are a popular topping or filling, it’s a kind of catcus.
  • Tortilla’s themselves are always vegan.
  • Superama sell a margarine which is vegan, the one in Santa Fe also had Tahini!
  • Tofu and Tofu Burgers are also available in Superama.
  • Soya milk is easy to get in supermarkets, I preferred the Silk one (despite the irony) and found the Ades one too sweet.

Nearly Vegan Things:

  • Escites: Without the Mayonaise or Cheese
  • Quescocalades: With a Mushroom, Nopal or Bean filling


  • Cinema Popcorn is often made with butter
  • Some Bread is made with milk or eggs
  • Beans (even tinned beans) may be cooked in animal fat
  • Anything may be cooked in animal fat


  • Non Vegan Items:
    • Huevos: Eggs
    • Leche: Milk
  • Vegan Items:
    • Vegan: vegano or vegana
    • Beans: Friholis
    • Mushrooms: Champions
    • Nopales (Catcus)



Notes which are not specifically vegan but are probably of interest to vegans:

  • Walmart have a large presence in Mexico, including Superama, Sam’s club, Suburbia and VIPs.
  • There’s a decent organic selection in supermarkets.
  • There are tonnes of local stores everywhere (helping your money end up with the people who need it, rather than in the rich few who have).

If you’ve got any updates or additional information, feel free to leave it in the comments!