Category Archives: Travels

The Best Bridge in the World

I cant tell you why I like this bridge so much. There’s something about the concrete arm reaching across the [[Rio Dulce]] in its plain, unsupported and surprisingly inconspicuous manner.

Perhaps its a product of my upbringing, where bridges are oh so normal and rivers aren’t complete without one poking out of  the bankside trees. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see this nothing too special bridge through the eyes of a peasant three hundred years ago!

Maybe that’s the magic, its my inner peasant overriding the part of me who has had the pleasure of seeing so much cool stuff, and the feeling bubbles up through the sensible layers that say “It’s just a bridge” leaving me with just the pure sense of wonder without the reason.

It would seem, to me at least, that the more you see the less it takes to awe you.


Passover in Guatemala

Last night I had the pleasure of hosting a [[Passover Seder]] for a dozen [[gentiles]] with a keen sense of interfaith interest.

As I made my way to Guate’s house a couple of weeks ago I got in touch and asked if he would allow me to have a [[Pesach Seder]] at his house, he and his family are most welcome. I also invited Clare and Alex, my Panama to Guatemala travel buddies.

Everyone I invited expressed their delight at the prospect. Some I knew were genuinely interested – either because of my existing knowledge of them or from the twinkle in their eye at the prospect. I must admit I presumed some, though curious, were simply up for anything.

Blown away would be a suitable way to describe my feelings every time someone else expressed interest in coming. Deeply honored at their interest in my culture would be another. From an original 5 people (Guate, his sister and parents and myself) we had 11 people cross the city to sit around the table. What started out as my reluctance to skip Pesach out of lack of external motivations has turned into a table load of intrigued faces.

The day began with a huge shop. Alex and I went first to Organica, then the Israeli store in town and finally the supermarket for anything we couldn’t get from the community friendly stores. A pop into a shop with a printer had several copies of a specially edited version of the Greenbury Haggadah ready for the night. Later, Byron would have to pop out for another 5 to meet the growing demand.

Back home the cooking began at 3pm, following on from how I usually do things at home I was running late and worried the Cherry Soup wouldn’t cool in time. Or worse – the Chocolate Matza Cakes wouldn’t set!

A Vegan Twist to the Seder

As a festival dedicated to freedom it doesn’t seem quite right to use products of slavery at the meal. With Fair trade chocolate, my best Fair Trade T-Shirt and a total absence of animal products I made my modest effort. If everyone did the same, perhaps slavery might one day become something we can be ashamed of our ancestors for.

After some reading of the Internet I decided on a Beetroot to represent the of Pascal Lamb sacrifice – though the best reason I could think of was the blood like drippings! The china lamb of back home would have been even better, but 8000 miles away. I couldn’t find any explanation for why a boiled potato makes a suitable substitution for an egg as a symbol of mourning – so we shall have to work on that for next year. (Eggs are the first thing served to mourners after a funeral).

As much as I value and love my tradition, it’s no excuse for cruelty.

We have no Yamulkas, said Alex

Alex, the travel buddy with no specific interest in religion but a general interest in everything, pointed out we have no Kippot. After making the cherry soup, and then reading the recipe (in that order) he set about making one for everyone out of the cardboard Matza boxes. With some pens to decorate them everyone – men, women, Jews, Christians and Atheists – were soon adorned with Vietnamese style Kippot.

The Punters Arrive

The Seder was due to start at 9, so that Guate’s parents could get back from their church meeting. At 6 I realized Alex and I had hardly eaten all day, so I served up some of excess the Matzagna filling with crackers  which kept people biding nicely over until the main course on page 21. Before we got started, I assigned some parts to some people to save having to break the Seder up. Great enthusiasm ensured and Paola took some photos of me looking very tutor like.

The Cups One Through Four

The Seder started well, and continued for a full 4 hours through to the Nirtzah at nearly 1am. Fielding the questions, seeing the translations (for Guate’s parents) and feeling the involvement from a group we, in England certainly, wouldn’t expect to be so engaged in someone else’s culture was truly one of the best things I’ve ever done.


Passover Abroad (why on earth do I not drink beer?)

While I’m at home, living comfortably at dad’s, Passover abstinence is a relatively simple affair. Matza is in abundance, the kitchen is familiar and the local availability of produce well known.

This is my second Pesach while travelling, the first I was in Israel for the first day. I quickly got out of there because their [Major generalization warning] idea of Passover is to simply make awful bread rise with something other than yeast – but my gripes with the Orthodox are not the point of this post.

The easier food is, the less you think about it. So in England my family tends to avoid bread, marmite, pasta, beer and anything obviously leavened (we are not a family who thinks “Levaning Agents” is kosher just because there’s a Rabbi somewhere who wants carrot cake at the seder). There’s some weird ones, however. Neither Marmite nor beer are leavened and pasta doesn’t even contain yeast. Yet we avoid them, but why?

While abroad I’ve had the opportunity to rethink my Passover adherence and to decide what I should do, what really doesn’t matter and why I do it. I have decided to avoid Bread, Churros and Beer. It’s been several years since I considered Marmite not Kosher for Passover, this year and in this circumstance I have decided that Tortillas are Kosher for Pesach. Not that it matters, since your Judaism is yours and mine is mine, but here’s why.

We do it, because our grandma did

This is the real reason for most Jewish traditions. We come up with all kinds of symbolic reasons and even find biblical references for most traditions, but the real reason we do what we do is because that’s what makes us Jewish. However un-Jewish we may think we are are the very fact we identify as a Jew makes us 100% more Jewish than everyone else.

Making an effort is what makes us Jewish

Identifying as being Jewish can be quite an effort, though doing what it takes to feel like a Jew (and so to identify as a Jew) takes even more effort. Judaism isn’t a religion for the lazy or the shy, most of our traditions are in place to show our Judaism to those around us – from the curly whirlies of the orthodox to the Chanukah Parties decorated with cheap Christmas lights of the liberal. Jews are a proud people with fun traditions that many gentiles enjoy partaking in.

I’m a Jew, yeah!

This week I am not drinking beer or eating bread because that’s what makes me feel Jewish. I could avoid wine that hasn’t been commercially blessed as “Kosher for Passover” but that wouldn’t make me feel any more Jewish than saying a blessing before using the toilet. I don’t entirely eat Matza to remember my ancestors in the desert, because my ponderings of the previous years have lead me to question the historical accuracy I used to take for granted. I eat Matza because I am a Jew, and that’s what Jews do at this time of year. Each and every one of the 13 million other Jews out there may do something different for Passover, but that makes no difference to my Judaism.

A by product of my adherence is the remembering of and opportunity to retell the story of the Jewish people, a story I am very proud to be in the cast for the latest chapter of.

This post was inspired by videos such as the following:

Photo Credits:

Not the cheapest way to eat

but a darn fine way to end the day.

I can’t recall if I actually do, or whether I just think I do, so I often avoid starting blogs with "So the plan was…" but this time, at least, I’m going to let it fly because it’s even more appropriate than usual.

The plan this morning was to set off at 7am with Clive to [[Panama City]]. I’d get my laptop screen fixed, he’d do his shopping for boaty things and we’d probably both be back in time  for the pot luck at Captain Jack’s pub/hostel/hub of travellers.

Things rarely "go smoothly" and today wasn’t by any means a disaster. After pulling several blanks on laptop screens and outboard motors I left my dear Bubbles (that’s the laptop, because she floats around me causing trouble) in the friendly and capable hands of MiniComputers. I had just popped into a different store who tried to fit a semi faulty screen – which would have saved me  40 USD at the expense of a slightly dodgy back light – who failed at that, and (as you’ll read later) damaged my VGA card. Unfortunately I didn’t insist they got her back to the state I’d arrived with her in (since I was only going to try and get the screen changed elsewhere), so didn’t realise they’d broken something until it was too late.

Time for the Boat Stuff

Off we set to our first chandler, which turned out to be a guy, a desk and a phone to the warehouse. Not quite for what we had hoped. After much persuasion from Clive, the gave us (another) 5% discount and agreed to ship the items from the warehouse in [[Colón]] to Panama City so that we could collect them by 5pm.

Satisfied we hit up Electronica Japan for some awesome cool LED light strips and other toys for me to fit on to the boat.

After lunch in Loving Hut and while popping into Mamallena’s, the hostel I stayed in recently, we called the supplier to try and get him to deliver to the hostel. Naturally he declined with a dismissive "I’ll try". Clive spoke to Will (our reason for visiting the hostel) and we got on our way to pickup the goods and get home (after collecting my laptop of course).

Clive made another cringe-worthy attempt to knock another 10% off our bill before finally relenting. Sometime during this I called up MiniComputers who informed me they couldn’t replace the screen. It was now 6:15pm and too late to try another store, so my options were:

  1. Not fix Bubbles yet, I still have 4" of working screen.
  2. Go home, return tomorrow at a cost of only $4 USD but 6 hours of travel.
  3. Find a hostel with space in an affordable bed, fix Bubbles in the morning and hope to return in time to visit the monkeys with Alex and Claire (my new crew mates).

I chose option 3, called up the Balboa Bay Hostel and booked myself a bed. Some Internet time later and a chat with another guy staying in the hostel I was ready for dinner – and had a very good sounding computer guy as a backup in case my last resort in the morning didn’t work out.

The Expensive Dinner

I had heard about an excellent grocery store on Calle Argentina, so flagged down a taxi to take me there. During some nattering chitter chatter the driver recommended a few vegetarian restaurants, he took me to one which was on the way but it had closed, though he said there happened to be another one next to the store I was heading to so that was pretty much win win.

That turned out to be Greenhouse, a restaurant who try to be environmentally friendly. They do really good food I had a saladey thing of some kind with a real fruit juice, followed by some whole wheat pita with home made humous to pass the time so I could spend more time in the restaurant.


The End of the Sorry Tale

The next morning I headed to the final computer shop on my list, they wanted $20 just to look at her. If someone has that little confidence in their own skills, I’m happy to agree with their opinion. I called up my last resort backup guy I’d spoken to the night before – a friend of someone else in the hostel – who sounded like my kinda guy. I left Bubbles with him and finally got out of Panama at 3pm, back at Portobelo by 6 where I spent an hour having a shower and making some pasta before trundling around the village to find my crew mates and a cold beer.

Next Week

Breaking blog chronology here, a week later after a trip to the San Blas Islands I met up with my guy again. He was unable to fix Bubbles, he could have got the new screen in but the video card on the motherboard had been damaged and would cost several hundred dollars to replace the motherboard.


I didn’t take any pictures in Greenhouse, so those above are taken from:

Indecision in International Waters

The trouble with the world we live in (by which I mean us rich enough to spend money on leisure) is we can do anything we want.

Some people stay home, some have cool hobbies and most find excuses not to leave their comfort zone.

I’m on a 52′ Chinese Junk around 30 miles off the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. The captain and other 4 crew and I left the Bay Islands 5 days ago and will be in Panama in around another 5. After that Nobody’s really sure what to do.

  • Aslak’s meeting his friend.
  • Anita and Nat have only another 9 months of travel left (after 2 years!)
  • Tom wants to go hiking, but in Panama or Bolivia?
  • Clive may spend several months around the San Blas Islands.

As for me, I have a couple of ideas. I need to spend a month working, starting April 1st at the latest. I recently met Guate’s friends and would love to spend a month there, however it’s 4 days bus ride away.

My ideas involve either going South then jumping back North, or jumping North and working my way back South.

I could find a nice town, rent a room for a month and then return to Guate late, but which town?

Or, and this is my current favourite, I could find a farm halfway between Panama and Guatemala and spend a few weeks making the journey up. I’ve had no luck getting on a farm yet, and that’s what I want to be doing.


30 Miles from Nicaragua, 150 miles from Guanaja

I’m slowly deciding that, perhaps, sailing isn’t for me. It’s a thought I had last summer during my Comp Crew course.

The trouble is, while I love being on the water and living on the boat; and it’s exciting to be handling ropes while trying to stay aboard in the pitch black of night as the bow nose dives and sends another wave your way in case the last one didn’t quite soak you head to toe – there’s an awful lot of boring bits in between.

A couple of weeks ago, when I first arrived these were blissfully calm relaxing times. Now, however, they’re just plain dull.

We’ve been at sea for 2 days now and half. it took me a day and a half to get over the stomach wrenching appetite-destroying sea sickness and to find a rhythm of sleep which allows some form of coherence between my watch shift and going back to sleep. Now I just hope some of the others will have a similar balance which coincides so as to allow us to spend some time together,. Playing cards, playing squared, heck even to have an argument would be some kind of interaction!

I make this sound like a desolate place, but despite the lack of anything but water and sea birds as far as I can see (even with my glasses on), I’m with good people and there’s plenty to do. By “do” I mean bits of wood with screws missing, laundry, washing up, clothes (and Kindles) to repair, knots to learn and of course, dinners to make!

Clive, the Captain, isn’t much of a teacher and there’s few learning materials on board. So this isn’t a place for an inexperienced sailor. As you can imagine, this can be fairly frustrating for the 3 complete beginners we have on board. I have some, mostly theory, and the other crew member Aslak has some and is a pretty decent sailor so hopefully we’ll all learn something still! I’ve made it my mission to make the boat more learner friendly. So far this consists of signs & labels and moderately successful attempts for non-native English speakers. Suggestions for less cockney rhyming slang for them has fallen on deaf Kings Lears.

After 3 days of motor sailing into the head winds Clive began to concern that the 6 cylinder Perkins engine was drinking too much of the 1000L of diesel we had on board. Spying a cay on the slightly-too-large scale chart he figured there there may be a fishing vessel anchored willing to sell us some oil (another of his terminology which confuses the others!).

We made our approach carefully – since the chart had no real detail of the reef. With some with some good old fashioned binoculars and Aslack’s hawk-eyes from halfway up the foremast we successfully navigated through 2 miles of open water – we were way clear of the reef!

From a distance we saw a trawler, Telstar from Roatan. No response on the radio – a problem we suspect to be on our side – so we anchored up and Aslak and I rowed over through strong winds and big waves.

Not only would they sell us as much diesel as we wanted (they had 2000 gallons!), but they had fresh water, oranges from the captains own farm, shrimps (which the others got very excited about), ice and a single can of warm beer.

Manoeuvring around we tied our bow to their stern and began 19 trips with diesel bottles back and forth until the Perkins was loaded, the fruit bags hanging and the galley smelling like a fishmonger.

It’s pretty nasty sleeping on the while the engine is running, and the noise is only the start of it. All the hatches and doors need to be open to allow air in, so the noise flies around easier than a greased up snake on a slide and the rest of the air becomes host and stuffy. Great conditions for drying laundry.

The engine is used when we want to go against the wind, so the boat is very up and down diving the noise into the next wave with a splash of water on the deck and every now and then pours down the front hatch like a bucket of water onto the berths below.

So we’re hot and noisy, unstable and 2 berths down (of 6). As the seasoned CouchSurfer (and shortest person…) I’m in the salon while Tom and Aslak alternately use my dry bunk (Aslak’s bunk is under the hatch and Tom’s is next to the engine room).

After 3 days of that, it was very welcome news when Clive announced we’d anchor here for the night. No Engine, no bars playing music, just the gentle sway of the waves and a cool breeze through the hatch thanks to the wind funnel.

The BBQ came out, I made salted + vinegared chips, Tom showed me some stars and the out door bug-free sleeping began. After swapping my recently cracked Kindle screen with one from my recently dead Kindle I swapped the musty (and now diesel tainted) bed sheet for a clean one and settled down in my very own bunk!

Tonight, I love sailing!

The Engine Goes Off

The strangest thing about being on a boat isn’t, as you might thing, the wobbling about 24/7.

It’s the constantly changing direction of gravity. Pouring water from pan to tea cup becomes a physics experiment:

Prediction: Steaming hot tea.
Method: Lift pan, pour water.
Outcome: Half a cup of tea and wet feet.

Imagine, for a moment (or go try it if you fancy) standing in front of the bathroom sink brushing your teeth. The time comes to spit. Now lean back so your gloop would land neatly in your belly button and release. Watch as the white foamy gloop flies away from you, landing directly in the plug hole. It’s the closest thing you can get to zero gravity at sea level.

Of course this takes some practice, and many misses and wipe-ups before you can claim the title of 45° Spitting Master.

This sideways lean has been made possible by the final switch off of our engine after 300 miles and 5 days of motoring into the wind, which gives you violent forward-backward rocking. Now we’re sailing we have the far more consistent sideways roll and, usually, a gentle forward-backward motion.

270 Miles to go to Portobelo we’ve decided against stopping in La Provincia even though the gas is low and the cabbage mouldy.

The other night we ran the engine as well as the sails to out run some pirates who had started following us. But that’s a fairly uneventful (thankfully) story for a pub and a pint.

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!