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Home again! June 15, 2009

Filed under: Guatemala,Mexico — goodbyekitty2007 @ 1:38 am

Slightly more civilised departure time today: 7.45 a.m. Nothing of note happened – I knitted my sock (the wrist is back in action), watched whatever videos I was being shown, looked out of the window and decided that Guatemala has by far the more spectacular landscape. I passed Mexican immigration without any problems, but I was slightly apprehensive about the Guatemalan side, after all the noises about my passport last time. The boss man wasn’t there, though, so the other two officials were all smiles. They couldn’t believe that I wasn’t married and one of them was even willing to get orthopaedic shoes to be taller (I played my usual “I would marry a Guatemalan but they’re all shorter than me” card). I may have jokingly promised to weave them some shirts, too, but according to my current plans I won’t be crossing the border there again, so it shouldn’t matter too much 😉 Anyhow, they let me back “home” with another 90 days to stay. Hooray!

Getting a bus back to Todos Santos proved more difficult. Rumour had it that the direct bus would be going back at 2.30, but to cut a long story short, that wasn’t the case. I wandered around La Mesilla cursing my shopping bags for a while and eventually took a minibus to the next town (the name of which permanently escapes me), where I essentially waited for some definite information. Of course, this being small-town Guatemala again (ah, how I missed it!) you can’t just sit by the side of the road and wait. I met Rolando, who comes from San Juan Atitán (which you might remember from previous blog posts) and runs a hardware shop (“ferreteria” in Spanish – I am *still* disappointed that has nothing to do with ferrets), so I was installed on a little plastic chair in said shop to watch Italy beat the USA while he tried to find out from various people what was happening to my bus. We also talked about Todos Santos and English football. I could have stayed there for hours . . . But there was no bus, so finally I bit the bullet and went to Huehue, where I changed to another minibus and went back to Todos Santos. (For the really interested: it looks like a huge detour on the map, but it doesn’t actually take much longer and only costs 10Q more.) It rained when I got in, but apparently nothing noteworthy had happened since I left. I love my pueblito.


Bright Lights, Big City June 14, 2009

Filed under: Mexico — goodbyekitty2007 @ 1:37 am

I have really got used to Todos Santos – San Cristóbal seemed massive to me, all 86,000 inhabitants of it. There are traffic lights and pavements (side walks, my American friends)! Some places take half an hour to walk to! I don’t think much of what I did this weekend will be of interest to most of you . . . because my excitement threshold is really rather low these days. Obligatory list of thrilling things I bought: cheese (of different varieties!), fresh bread, coconut, flan, Ritz crackers, pinguinos (little jelly sweets), Worcestershire sauce-flavour Doritos, granola, shampoo, shower gel, hair dye (I’m going dark again), silver wire, beads, wadding, lining fabric, crochet thread, and, most excitingly: new shoes! (Maroon Converse, to replace my hiking sandals.) I also had a lie-in until about 11 a.m. on Saturday, just because I could. It was awesome.

I brought nothing but my traje to wear, partly because I really like it and partly because I wanted to see how people would react. They didn’t, much, for the most part. It’s not Todos Santos – nobody just says hello to you on the street and even if you look decidedly odd people won’t ask why. There are a lot of indigenous women in San Cristóbal who also wear traditional clothes (those big furry woolly skirts I got so excited about last time) but even they mostly just stood and stared at me. It bothered me more than I thought – I am so used to having friendly chats all over the place that it seems very distant not to.

Saturday night I went out with two people from my hostel, a Finnish woman and an ancient English hippie from Hammersmith. We went to one of my other favourite places – the wine and tapas bar on Real Guadelupe. How civilised to sit at a little table in the street and watch people go by while drinking red wine and eating tasty little bits! There are some things that Todos Santos definitely lacks. We went on to another bar later where I had my first mojito in I don’t know how many months and ended up chatting (oh the irony!) to a Guatemalan who recognised my traje. My Spanish gets better and better the more I drink . . . I vaguely remember that we were discussing development issues, but I seem to be doing that a lot anyway.

Sunday was another full day of running around shopping and spending yet more time in the superfast internet café. I also visited Jason at his stall in the bazaar (he makes jewellery and there is a new indoor market in the restaurant next to Revolution every weekend, if you want to check it out!) and I had falafel again 🙂 So ended my visa run weekend. (I did see virtually all the sights in and around San Cristóbal last time I was there, so don’t fear that I’ve turned into a supermarket / internet / wine bar obsessive.)


Pura Todosantera! June 12, 2009

Filed under: Guatemala,Mexico — goodbyekitty2007 @ 1:34 am

So, granny squares notwithstanding, I was waiting for the bus in the freezing cold at 4 a.m. It came about 45 minutes later, but hey. Such is Guatemalan time. Of course I was wearing full traje, hat and everything, so I am sitting on the bus, which isn’t going anywhere yet because the driver is getting coffee . . . a man gets on and asks me if it’s going to Concepcion. In Mam! Talk about going native. I was very pleased, although I have to admit that a) it was very dark, b) he was very old, c) I understood nothing except “Concepcion” and d) I couldn’t reply in Mam. We had a little chat in Spanish and finally we were on our way. Clara had promised me that I would be able to sleep because the roads were good, but she must have been taking some different roads. That was a joke. I live in a remote mountainous region – there *are* no other roads. To give you an idea, Todos Santos is about 50 km from La Mesilla, which is where the border crossing is, and it takes about five hours to get there. The road did get better eventually, but I’m too tall to sleep on chicken buses anyway. (More about chicken buses another time.)

The bus actually dropped us off at a petrol station a way before La Mesilla, who knows why, so we got another little bus to town from where I had to walk to the border post. It was considerably warmer there than in Todos Santos; we must have lost all altitude on the way. (In fact, at least two of the towns we passed – San Martín and Jacaltenango – are warm enough to be centres for coffee growing areas.) La Mesilla is unremarkable, it’s basically one very long main street lined with shops selling cheap merchandise, often in bulk. I looked at cowboy boots (mmmh, I still want some . . .) but didn’t but anything.

Crossing the border was a little irritating on the Guatemalan side – they weren’t too happy with my temporary passport, and once they’d come round to it their computer didn’t work – but eventually they let me go with the promise that I’d get my new passport soon. (The consulate in Cancún is sending it, hopefully.) The Mexican side of the border looked identical, except that the shops slowly became market stalls, and there were more people calling out to me in English. I had to catch another little bus to Ciudad Cuahtemoc, which is where Mexican immigration is – I’m not surprised that all those Guatemalans make it across illegally when there is a good five miles of countryside to disappear into before anyone checks your papers! The Mexican official was very nice and let me enter on a transit visa, which meant I didn’t have to pay the twenty-odd dollars or so.

Mexico is soooo different to Guatemala. In Guatemala you get on a bus which happens to be passing, someone comes round to collect money eventually and you get off wherever you need to. In Mexico you have to go to the terminal, someone sells you an actual ticket for an actual specific departure time (you get to choose your seat on a screen and everything!) and the bus then takes you to another terminal. It’s also air-conditioned, comfortable (leg room!) and shows movies (The Golden Compass today; I’d already seen it on another Mexican bus . . .). If you’re lucky, you even get to sit next to a guy from Colorado who’s been living in San Cristóbal for three years (and has just done a visa run in the other direction) so you can chat. (Thanks, Jason!)

We arrived in San Cristóbal (the stress is on the O, I’ve been trying to teach people that for months) about four o’clock in the afternoon and after checking back into El Corte Maltese (which is where I stayed last time, though sadly Marco and Vivian were in Italy to show off their brand-new daughter to the family, and my towel was no longer there either) I went straight to my favourite place in town – the falafel place on Maria Adelina Flores. Friday is 2 for 1 day! I’d been dreaming about it for days and it didn’t disappoint. The owner used to live in Israel and totally knows what he’s doing. I might be slightly in love with him, based entirely on his cooking skills. Mmmh. That was enough to keep me happy for the rest of the day! 🙂


With friends like these . . . January 16, 2009

Filed under: Mexico — goodbyekitty2007 @ 10:36 pm

So, I was going to leave Puerto Escondido on Sunday night. It was a good plan, which would have included cricket and probably guacamole, but it was not to be. On Saturday night (innocently drinking yet more mojitos – which surely taste even better with sand between your toes) I met some Canadians (of course) who just so happened to be staying in a massive villa and were happy to have me stay there too.

I was a bad backpacker. They had air-con, a swimming pool, an ocean view, Bombay Sapphire and they cooked me breakfast every morning. Dev’s room had a closet that was bigger than my room in Acton. The shower had not only hot water, but two showerheads. They took me out for dinner. We got taxis everywhere.

Then they had to go back to Calgary . . . and I was back on the night bus. What a drop in standards. To add to my misery, San Cristóbal de las Casas (to give it its full name) is cold. I am very jealous of the indigenous women here – they wear a sheepskin wrapped round like a skirt, held in place with a shiny wide belt. If it wasn’t so bulky to carry I would own one of these by now. Instead I’m heading to the jungle soon . . . S.C. does have one hugely redeeming feature though: falafel and hummus! 😀


¡Vamos a la playa! January 10, 2009

Filed under: Mexico — goodbyekitty2007 @ 5:25 pm

I finally got my passport on Tuesday (from the very lovely lady at the German embassy, whom I will hopefully never see again – in the nicest possible way) and left Mexico City the next day – I was seriously running out of things to do (but still never saw the murals). After nineteen hours on a bus I arrived in Puerto Escondido – it was the most circuitous route possible (at one point we were way *east* of it on the coast) but also very picturesque.

Since I got here I have achieved the following: tanned, got sand everywhere, read plenty about the rise of the Spanish Empire in the Americas, drank rum, learned new card games and met a Norwegian guy whose sister used to date Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. I intend to do exactly that again for the next two days (I may run out of Norwegians) before heading to the mountains again.

Feel free to tell me how cold it is wherever you are 😉


Oh Happy Day January 6, 2009

Filed under: Mexico — goodbyekitty2007 @ 7:17 pm

Set of 2.5 mm dpns: 25 pesos

Jar of Marmite: 104 pesos

Temporary passport: 1115 pesos


Being able to leave Mexico with the essentials: Priceless.


Food and Fibre January 5, 2009

Filed under: Mexico — goodbyekitty2007 @ 4:10 am

Oaxaca has been pretty awesome on both food and fibre (of the textile variety) fronts – in fact, Mexico in general does well on them. I’ll deal with food first, so the non-fibre folk amongst you can skip the second part . . .

To disappoint some you immediately: Mexican food in Mexico is not really anything like Mexican food in, say, California. It is totally made for me, though – lends itself to grazing and heavy on the carbohydrates 🙂

Their take on stuffed chillies is amazing – they don’t just fill chillies with cheese, they also deep-fry them and then wrap them in a tortilla, just in case you thought you were getting something resembling vegetable goodness. My other staple favourite is quesadillas – tortillas folded in half and stuffed with cheese and not necessarily anything else.

Tortillas actually work well as a base for anything, as Ryan and I proved on our little van adventure. First prize probably goes to our genius invention of a tortilla (this should be a flour tortilla, they also come in corn varieties) covered with condensed milk and nutella, then filled with sliced fresh strawberries. Yum.  Also from said van trip comes my Fourth Superpower – assembly of veggie burritos at 110 kmh (that’s 70 mph). A photo will follow where the following ingredients are balanced on my lap: tortillas, sour cream (not good if it spills into the gear box, incidentally), salsa, hot sauce, avocado, sliced peppers and a can of refried beans.

As for genuinely Mexican food, I ate mole last night, which is a sauce and not a small furry animal. It is a Oaxaca speciality, made with chocolate, chili (of course) and some mysterious herbs. It looks almost completely black and is delicious with chicken and rice. (If only the Iranians knew about this.) Then there are tortas – the perfect cross between a burger and a kebab (essentially it’s meat in a bun, but in a good way – and they come with awesome pickles).

Then there is stuff that shouldn’t be delicious, but is – esquites, for instance, my other favourite snack food. Sweet corn kernels mixed with mayonnaise, cheese, lime juice and chili . . . mmmh. Actually, you can barely escape the chili and lime juice. They sell a whole bunch of fresh fruits and vegetables on street stalls her, all ready cut up . . . and with chili and lime juice. Works surprisingly well on pineapple, I’m still undecided on coconut. They also have watermelon-flavour lollipops covered in crushed chillies.

On this weird and wonderful note I am going to leave you and tell you all about textiles next time because I’m tired and need to phone my embassy very early tomorrow . . . keep fingers crossed please.