Canyons, crocodiles and arabesque fountains in Chiapas

Después de haber vivido en una habitación con vistas a uno de los fiordos más espectaculares de Noruega, muchos pensaran que era difícil encontrar un lugar en México que nos encogiera el corazón de forma similar. Están muy equivocados.

After living in a house with views over one of the most spectacular Norwegian fjords, some would think it’d be hard to find a place in Mexico that would get to our hearts like that… And they’d be wrong.

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Llegada al Cañón

Desde Chiapa de Corzo salen los barcos que cruzan el Cañón del Sumidero. Por 250 pesos (12 euros) cada uno, un colectivo vino a buscarnos, nos llevó hasta el muelle, paseo de casi tres horas, de nuevo al colectivo, visita a Chiapa de Corzo y vuelta a casa. Sólo dios sabe cuánto odiamos los tours programados (después de nuestra experiencia en Tikal…), pero lo cierto es que nuestro jefe nos había dicho que no había forma más barata de completar esa visita. Así que en nuestro día libre allá nos dirigimos, dispuestos a ver montones de pájaros y, con suerte, algún cocodrilo.

The boats that go through the Canyon depart from a dock near Chiapa de Corzo. We paid 250 pesos (12 euro) and a colectivo picked us up from our hostel, took us to the dock, we got a 3 hour long boat stroll, the colectivo took us to Chiapa de Corzo so we could visit it and then back. We don’t really like to take tours (especially after our Tikal experience), but it was the cheapest way to visit the Canyon. That’s why we decided to head there on our free day, willing to see many many birds and maybe even a crocodile!

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Cocodrilo relajándose al sol / Sunbathing

Lo que nos encontramos fueron paredes verticales que abrumaban a cualquiera que las cruzase, monos araña pasándolo en grande y una ingente cantidad de pájaros de multitud de especies. Es una pena no disponer de todo el tiempo del mundo para disfrutar del paisaje y de la complicidad con los animales. Otras paradas esenciales del recorrido son el famoso Árbol de Navidad (se trata de una formación tobácea), el Caballito de Mar (estalactica con forma de hipocampo) y, cómo no, la famosísima Virgen de Guadalupe.

What we got were utterly impressive vertical walls, spider monkey having a great time and plenty of birds of diverse species. We regretted not having more time to enjoy the landscape and the animals’ complicity. The Christmas Tree, the Seahorse or the famous Virgin of Guadalupe are other attractions you see during the journey. 

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Garzas blancas / White herons

 

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Árbol de Navidad / Christmas Tree
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Virgen (lo que no se ve es el montón de deshechos acumulados en esta parte del Cañón) / Virgin (and loads of rubbish all over the place)

Por otra parte, nuestra visita a Chiapa de Corzo fue corta pero intensa. El pueblo es precioso y posee, al igual que Sancris, un bonito repertorio de iglesias. Como a mí me chiflan las iglesias, allá que fuimos directos a por la más grandota: Santo Domingo de Guzmán. La magnífica arquitectura de sus exteriores se vio dañada severamente por el tiempo, lo que procuró que se realizara una profunda restauración ya que se trata de una iglesia que conforma una amalgama de estilos variados, entre los que algunos expertos citan el mudéjar.

On the other side, our visit to Chiapa de Corzo was short but intense. It is a beautiful little town that contains, like San Cristóbal, several pretty churches. I have a soft spot for churches, so we went straight to the biggest one: Santo Domingo de Guzmán. The great architecture of its outsides was severely damaged by time, which made a deep restauration necessary, in spite of how hard it was because of its various styles (some experts even say there is mudéjar between them).

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Santo Domingo

Yo no me atrevo a hacer valoraciones sobre este asunto; lo que sí puedo asegurar es que hay algo en la ciudad que me transportó a otro lugar, a uno más cercano para mí, al lugar dónde arrancan mis orígenes: al oeste de Andalucía. La fuente central, más conocida como ‘La Pila’, que data de 1562, podríamos encontrarla en el centro de la mismísima capital sevillana y a nadie le extrañaría ni un poquito. Se trata de una estructura diseñada por un fraile dominico andaluz que habitó la ciudad en aquellos tiempos. Con aspiraciones de ágora griego, la fuente sirvió como lugar de reunión, comercio, vigilancia o abastecimiento de agua. Algunos la consideran el ‘broche de oro del arte hispano árabe’, ahí es nada.

I will not assess the art of the church, but one thing I am sure of is that something in that town brought me somewhere else, a place that is closer to me, the place where my origins lie: west Andalusia. The central fountain, known as ‘La Pila’ and built in 1562, could be placed in any square in Seville and no one would even wonder. Its structure was designed by an Andalusian Dominic friar that lived in the city back then. Like the Greek agora, the fountain functioned as a meeting point, as well as market, surveillance tower, or water supply. Some even consider it to be the “golden brooch of arabic-hispanic art”. 

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La Pila
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Farolillos y carros envejecidos decoran la ciudad / Old cars and pennants bedeck the town

En el barrio de San Pedro encontramos la iglesia del Calvario, un templo de aspecto neogótico cuya fachada encaja perfectamente con la sintonía arquitectónica de sus alrededores.

In the Neighbourhood of San Pedro we could see the church of Calvario, a neogotic temple with a façade that fits perfectly in the architectonic harmony of its surroundings.

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Coloridas fachadas del barrio de San Pedro con el Calvario al fondo / Colourful facades with the church on the background

Después de explorar la ciudad y comer algo junto a la fuente, volvimos al colectivo que nos devolvió a San Cristóbal. Esta visita nos ayudó a darnos cuenta de que, efectivamente, no nos gustan nada los tours organizados a contrarreloj, si bien es cierto que también nos dejó con la boca abierta y con muchas ganas de volver para descubrir un poquito más de esta zona de Chiapas.

We pretty much ran through the city, ate something by the fountain and jumped back into the colectivo that would take us back to Sancris. This visit confirmed just how much we dislike organised tours (especially ones that do not give you much time), but we have to admit that we were still impressed by the landscape and feeling like coming back to explore further. 

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Hasta siempre

 

 

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Seis cosas maravillosas que hacer en San Cristóbal de las Casas

Cuando viajas ofreciendo tu trabajo a cambio de alojamiento, siempre llegas a conocer de forma muy diferente aquellos lugares turísticos que, durante un viaje normal, te acabarían hastiando. Así nos ocurrió con la maravillosa San Cristóbal de las Casas, una ciudad mágica que, por desgracia, ha sido tomada por los pi-hippies californianos y el turismo regional masivo.

When your way of travelling is working in exchange of accommodation, you get to know those touristy places you’d usually get sick of in a completely different way. That’s what happened to us in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, a magical town that has been taken over by “alternative” North-Americans and massive regional tourism.

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La magia de las calles de Sancris

Pero San Cristóbal es mucho más. Fundada por Diego de Mazariegos en 1528 bajo el nombre de Villa Real de Chiapa, la ciudad tuvo varios pseudónimos antes de acabar designándose San Cristóbal de las Casas. Fue en 1848 cuando se le añadió este sobrenombre, en honor al primer obispo de la villa: el famoso defensor de los indígenas Fray Bartolomé de las Casas.

But San Cristóbal is so much more than that. It was founded by Diego de Mazariegos in 1528 and named Villa Real de Chiapa, but it had many more names until it got to San Cristóbal de las Casas in 1848, honouring the town’s first bishop, Bartolomé de las Casas, the defender of indigenous people.

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Los Mexicanos, nuestra iglesia favorita por sus colores y el ambiente de la plaza en la que se encuentra. Fue allí donde aprendimos nuestras primeras palabras en tzotzil. / Los Mexicanos (the Mexicans), a church we loved because of its colours and the atmosphere of its square, where we learnt our first words in tzotzil.

¿Qué nos atrajo de esta ciudad? / What draw us to San Cristóbal

Llevábamos tres meses diluyéndonos entre aldeas de 50-100 habitantes y un pueblo donde lo más excitante que te puede ocurrir es que la tortilla de harina que has pedido lleve aguacate. Llegar a Sancris fue como un golpe de actividad y un horizonte de posibilidades. La ciudad está llena de bares, museos, música callejera… Nos atrajeron muchísimo los lugares no frecuentados por turistas y fue así cómo llegamos a conocer la ciudad con un poquito de profundidad.

We had been hanging around 100 inhabitant villages and a small town where the most exciting thing that can happen to you is finding avocado inside the wheat tortilla you ordered. Getting to Sancris was like plunging into a world of activity and possibilities: museums, bars, street music… We started visiting the less touristy places and discovered the town a bit more deeply.

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Alrededores de una de nuestras librerías favoritas / One of our favourite bookshops’ street

Pero… ¿qué fuimos realmente a hacer en San Cristóbal? Trabajar en un hostal llamado Akumal. El lugar está regentado por un oaxaqueño enamorado de sus orígenes y el baile. Pero Ángel es mucho más que eso. Es un chico comprometido con su trabajo, siempre intentando ofrecer la mejor hospitalidad, unos servicios de calidad y unos desayunos que hasta la Lonely Planet se derrite cuando habla de ellos. Desde un principio tuvimos claras nuestras funciones: yo me dedicaría a trabajos más físicos y Alba prepararía los desayunos y mantendría en orden el hostal. Se trata de un hostal pequeño, para doce personas, así que el trabajo no era duro. Además de estas funciones, ambos trataríamos de mantener una buena vibra, cantando y tocando la guitarra, conversando y cocinando con los huéspedes.

But… Why did we go to San Cristóbal in the first place? Because we would work at a hostel called Akumal. It is owned by Angel, a Oaxacan man who likes to spread the love for his Mexican state and dancing. But Angel is way more than that: he’s very engaged when it comes to work; his hospitality, the services he offers and especially his breakfasts made Akumal one of the few hostels included in the Lonely Planet guide. We knew from the start that I would be taking care of physical work while Alba would make breakfasts and keep everything in order. The hostel was quite small, for a maximum of 12 people, so it wasn’t hard. We were also supposed to keep a nice vibe, chatting and cooking with guests, playing guitar and singing…

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Trabajando la madera / Working with wood
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Resultados… / The results

Alba trabajaba desde las 7 de la mañana y acababa a las 12, yo entraba a las 18 y finalizaba a las 23. Estos nos permitía tener 6 horas para explorar la ciudad juntos cada día, o incluso viajar a otros lugares cercanos. Aquí os presento seis cosas que recomiendo hacer para pasar unos días maravillosos en Sancris:

Alba worked from 7 am till 12 pm, while I worked from 6 to 11 pm. This allowed us six hours together to explore the town or even travel to places close by. There are six activities I recommend to make the stay in Sancris marvellous:

1. Ver la puesta de Sol desde la Iglesia de Guadalupe

La iglesia, que data del año 1835, es una de las más interesantes de San Cristóbal. Adentrarse en su interior es toda una experiencia para aquellos que no están familiarizados con las expresiones escultóricas mexicanas. Detallismo del nivel pestañas postizas y pelucas de pelo natural, que vamos a obviar por razones estéticas para con nuestro blog. Lo mejor es ir por la tarde para poder disfrutar de una maravillosa vista del pueblo y observar cómo el sol se pierde lentamente detrás de las montañas.

1. Seeing the sunset from Guadalupe Church

The church, built in 1835, is one of the most interesting in Sancris. To get inside is quite an experience for those unfamiliar with Mexican sculptural expressions. Details like fake eyelashes or natural hair wigs… We won’t post pictures because aesthetics (we have to protect our blog!). It is very nice to go there in the evening to enjoy a fantastic view over the town and to see the sun slowly setting behind the mountains.

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2. Cine y Libros

Después de tanto tiempo leyendo la palabra ‘Librería’ en cada esquina y acabar entrando en el negocio para llevarnos la desilusión de que en realidad fuera una papelería (Welcome to Guatemala), llegar a San Cristóbal de las Casas fue un éxtasis literario. No solamente por la inmensa cantidad de libros que había en el hostal, sino también por las librerías (de verdad) que se repartían por la ciudad. Entre nuestras favoritas se encontraban:

Librería Soluna. Acá podemos encontrar una gran variedad de narrativa alternativa, historia de Chiapas, México y el movimiento zapatista, pósters a buen precio,  etc. Además, se venden objetos de papelería muy lindos, hechos a mano por gente de la ciudad.

Bazar del Viejo Tío Pony. El dueño te recibe en su propia casa para ofrecerte libros de segunda mano a precios muy interesantes. Fue en este lugar donde pudimos comprar algún librillo para llevar a la escuela, a 10 pesos mexicanos cada uno.

Tienda de artesanía en el barrio de la Merced. Completa nuestro top 3 esta tienda de telares artesanales en la que encontramos montañas de libros que se ofertan para un intercambio, la cual no recordamos exactamente dónde se encuentra.

Otro de nuestros descubrimientos fue Kinoki, un bar y cine independiente dónde se proyectan cada día películas alternativas y documentales, además de hospedar cinedebates y charlas.

2. Books and cinema

Living in Guatemala, we had grown used to the Librerías (‘bookstore’ in Spain) selling nothing but paper and pens. After months being apart from books, getting to Sancris was literary bliss. This not only because of the great number of books we could find at our hostel but also because of the (actual) bookstores we found around the city. Our favourites were:

Librería Soluna, where we found a great deal of alternative novels, history of Chiapas, Mexico and the zapatista movement, nice posters, etc. We saw also beautiful stationery objects handmade by local people.

Bazar del Viejo Tío Pony, where you get into a private house to see loads of second hand books at very interesting prices. There we finally got some books to take back to the school for 10 pesos each.

Handmade fabric shop. Unexpectedly enough, inside of a traditional fabric store we found mountains of books for exchange (not sale) only.

Another of our big discoveries was Kinoki, an independent café and cinema where one can go watch alternative films and documentaries and attend debates about them.

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Santa Lucía

3. Salir a bailar al Revolución

Como os comenté con anterioridad, nuestro jefe era un bailarín excepcional y, por ende, tenía un buen grupo de amigos con los que gustaba salir a bailar y tomar algo. Uno de los mejores lugares para salir a bailar, con música en directo que cambia cada día de estilo, es el Revolución, en el andador principal. Nosotros fuimos la noche de puro baile latino. Yo todavía no sabía nada sobre la salsa, el merengue o la cumbia (estamos aprendiendo, con muy buenos resultados). Alba, sin embargo, salió a bailar con Ángel y nos dejó a todos boquiabiertos, ya que nadie esperaba que pudiera moverse y captar los pasos tan rápido. ¡Parecía una profesional!

Fue en estos momentos cuando nos dimos cuenta de lo sencillo que era crearse una vida en Sancris, de como fluye todo en la ciudad. Nos costó menos de una semana sentirnos como en casa, tener un grupo de amigos y sabernos el mapa de la ciudad como la palma de nuestra mano.

3. Go out to dance at Revolución

As I said before, our boss was a great dancer and had a group of friends with whom he enjoyed his nights out. One of the best places to go out dancing was Revolución, at the main street, which had live music of a different style everyday. We went there on the Latin dance night and, while I still didn’t know much about salsa, merengue or cumbia (we’re still learning!), Alba danced with Angel and it was a great surprise, as we didn’t expect her to get the rhythm and the moves that fast. She looked like a professional!

It was then when we realised how easy it was to form a life in Sancris, how everything flows in the city. It took us less than a week to feel home, to have a group of friends and to know the streets by heart. 

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Vista desde El Cerrillo. Muy cerquita del mercado

4. Comprar tu almuerzo en el mercado

Dicen que el mercado de Sancris es de los más variados y económicos de todo México. Nosotros nos aficionamos pronto a perdernos por él. Una de las especialidades culinarias de Alba, pasta con aguacate, en Chiapas sale más rica y barata. Una bolsa de 4-5 aguacates no pasaba de los 10 pesos (50 céntimos), y así con todo. Yo hice gazpacho más de una y dos veces, además de un delicioso pisto manchego. Alba sorprendió a mi paladar con una rica sopa de verduras justo cuando más la necesitaba.

4. Getting our lunch in the market

They say San Cristóbal’s is one of Mexico’s most diverse and inexpensive markets. It didn’t take long for us to love getting lost among its stalls. One of Alba’s specialties, avocado pasta, is cheaper and nicer in Chiapas, where women would hand out plastic bags filled with 4-5 avocados for 10 Mexican pesos ($0.5), and everything had such low prices we cooked all week long. I made gazpacho and pisto manchego and Alba surprised me with a tasty veggie soup right when I needed it the most.

5. Perderse por la ciudad en busca del Arte Urbano

Como toda ciudad alternativa llena de gente con la mente y los ojos abiertos, Sancris también posee un maravilloso museo al aire libre repartido entre sus coloniales calles. Es muy interesante observar la variedad de artistas y estilos, con temáticas muy diferentes.

5. Exploring the street art

As any alternative town full of people with open eyes and mind, Sancris is an amazing open-air museum spreading around the colonial streets. It’s quite interesting to see the diverse artists, styles and paintings about many different topics.

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Una cosa muy interesante son sus mensajes reivindicativos, que nos muestran una ciudad muy comprometida con la lucha por los derechos sociales y la mejora de las necesidades de su gente.

Its protest messages show that the city is very engaged in the fight for social justice and for a better society with fulfilled needs.

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6. Artesanía en Santo Domingo

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Por último, el mercado de artesanías de Santo Domingo es enorme y se encuentra al lado de la que es, sin lugar a dudas, la iglesia más bella de la ciudad. Su fachada es una de las joyas de la arquitectura colonial de Chiapas y todo México. Antiguo monasterio, las habitaciones conventuales forman parte del actual Museo de los Altos de Chiapas, famoso por contener una magnífica colección de ejemplos textiles indígenas, además de contar la historia de los Altos, un antiguo estado que estuvo formado por gran parte de Guatemala y Chiapas. Después de ver la iglesia y el museo, y si eres amante de las compras, piérdete un poco entre los puestos y podrás encontrar cosas tan curiosas como las muñequitas zapatistas, descendientes directas de las tradicionales muñecas chamulitas.

6. Handcrafts market in Santo Domingo

Finally, we can find this huge handcrafts market right by the most beautiful church in the whole city. Its façade is one of the highlights of the colonial architecture in Chiapas and Mexico. An old monastery, the old convent cells are now part of the Museo de los Altos de Chiapas, which contains a great collection of indigenous fabric, and it tells the history of Los Altos, an old state formed by parts of Chiapas and Guatemala. After seeing the church and the museum, if you like shopping you can get into the market to find many curiosities, such as the zapatista dolls, direct descendants of the traditional chamulita dolls.

PD: Antes de irnos recomendamos encarecidamente la visita a la cenaduría de nombre El Colibrí, en la que sirven tlayudas… y lo que a nosotros más nos apasionó: unas ricas quesadillas completas con flor de calabaza, epazote o champiñones, además del rico café, el chocolate caliente o el agua de horchata que sirven para tomar.

PS. We recommend a visit to the restaurant El Colibrí, in which you’ll be able to eat tlayudas… and what we loved the most, delicious quesadillas with pumpkin flower, mushrooms or epazote. Don’t forget to taste the lovely coffee, chocolate and horchata!

Wonderful Waterfalls in Chiapas I: Roberto Barrios

Our initial plan was staying in Palenque for a relatively short time, just enough to see the town and the ruins. However, we found out there were at least two waterfalls near Palenque that we could visit. Apparently, the most impressive ones were Agua Azul (“blue water”), but they were quite touristy and very far away, so we decided to take a colectivo to a zapatista village called “Roberto Barrios” as the waterfalls there were supposed to be less crowded and expensive.

Nuestro plan inicial era quedarnos poquito tiempo en Palenque; el suficiente para ver el pueblo, las ruinas y nada más, pero descubrimos que había por lo menos dos cascadas en los alrededores y no queríamos perdérnoslas. Oímos por ahí que las de Agua Azul eran las más bonitas, aunque también un poco turísticas y bastante alejadas, así que decidimos acercarnos a un pueblo zapatista, Roberto Barrios, ya que nos dijeron que allí estaríamos más tranquilos.

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We were, as usual, going around with (almost) no money in our pockets, so we had to look around the whole market to find a cheap colectivo to take us there. We weren’t very lucky until we met two Mexican guys who were travelling with even bigger backpacks than we were and we decided we should try together. And it worked! We squeezed into the back part of a covered pick-up along with our new friends Noé and Misrrain, a kid in a school uniform, two men who carried many liters of soda and loads of bags full of groceries and, when we thought there was no way of letting more people in, a 150 kg man came in and sat down. And he fit.

Como tenemos el mal vicio de viajar con los bolsillos vacíos, recorrimos el mercado de cabo a rabo regateando a cualquier conductor de colectivo sin demasiado éxito, hasta que, por suerte, conocimos a dos veracruceños que viajaban con unas mochilas incluso más grandes que las nuestras y decidimos que la unión hacía la fuerza. Y sí. Nos metimos con calzador en la parte de atrás de una pick-up cubierta con tela junto con nuestros nuevos amigos Noé y Misrrain, un niño con su uniforme de la escuela, unos hombres que cargaban litros y litros de soda y cantidad de bolsas de plástico negras repletas de productos del mercado y, cuando ya parecía que no cabía nadie más, llegó otro hombre de unos 150 kilos que aún nos hizo a un lado para sentarse.

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Bien apretaditos…

We were ready to go. The wind was going through my hair and I was only barely listening to the conversation Samu was having with Misrrain and Noé. We left Palenque and still picked a couple from Uruguay up. I haven’t yet understood how the driver managed to make the guy fit in the car; the girl was forced to stay with us, standing up the whole way there (I did offer her to sit down on my knees but she surprisingly refused, I don’t know why wouldn’t she want to spend an hour on a complete stranger)

Con el viento en la cara y la conversación que estaban teniendo Samu, Misrrain y Noé en las orejas, me dispuse a disfrutar del viaje. Al salir de Palenque aún recogimos a una pareja de uruguayos. Aún no entiendo cómo el conductor consiguió meter al chico en la cabina; la chica se subió con nosotros y pasó el viaje entero de pie (le ofrecí amablemente que se sentara en mis rodillas pero, por alguna razón, no le hizo gracia sentarse encima de una completa desconocida).

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We could feel that Roberto Barrios was special the moment we were there. I don’t think I have ever been in such a place. As our pick-up was driving down the main road, the villagers kept staring right at us. When it parked, the men took their liters of soda and went away and we got down to meet the waterfalls’ ticket sellers, who informed us we had to pay 20 pesos (one euro) and offered a guide if we paid a bit more.

Se huele que Roberto Barrios es especial en el ambiente. No recuerdo haber estado en ningún sitio similar. Mientras la pick-up recorría la calle principal, los habitantes del pueblo no nos quitaban la vista de encima. En cuanto aparcó, los hombres se despidieron de nosotros y se fueron con sus litros de gaseosa y nos quedamos en manos de los encargados de las cascadas, que nos informaron que teníamos que pagar 20 pesos (un euro) y nos ofrecieron un guía si pagábamos un poquitín más.

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We paid the twenty pesos, said no to the guide and went straight to the waterfalls. Three minutes later we got to the river and were convinced it had been a good idea to go there. The canopy of trees was shadowy but nothing could make the water less clear.

Pagamos los 20 pesos, rechazamos el guía y nos fuimos directos a ver las cascadas. No tuvimos que andar más de 200 metros para ver el agua por primera vez y fue allí donde supimos que había merecido la pena. El frondoso bosque daba sombra pero no disimulaba el color del agua.

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We followed the path along with the Uruguayans and a man I thought they had paid to be their guide. From time to time, we would find stairs or viewpoints where we could take in the whole beauty of the pools and waterfalls. As we were going down, the man was making sure we wouldn’t stay behind or get another route and I knew: he was not a guide but a guard who would show us where we were allowed to swim.

Seguimos el sendero junto a los uruguayos y un señor al cual yo pensé que ellos habían pagado para que fuera su guía. De vez en cuanto, nos encontrábamos escaleras o miradores desde donde admirar las pozas y cascadas. A medida que íbamos bajando, el señor iba vigilando que no nos quedáramos atrás o nos desviáramos y allí lo vimos claro: no era un guía sino un vigilante que nos enseñaría dónde estaba permitido bañarse.

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Getting to the main pool, we found loads of students from a posh Mexican high school on a day trip who spread around the whole space taking selfies nonstop. Nonetheless, we could enjoy the water loads, exploring the tiny caves formed by time, laughing under the power of the waterfalls and doubting whether to slide down the last waterfall to the lake. The environment was so idyllic not even the loud students managed to break its charm.

Al llegar a la poza principal nos encontramos con un instituto entero de mexicanos pijos que no paraban de tomarse fotos. Aun así fuimos capaces de disfrutar muchísimo del agua, explorando las cuevecitas que el tiempo había formado, riéndonos debajo de la potencia de las cascadas y dudando sobre si tirarnos por el tobogán natural que daba al lago. El entorno era tan idílico que ni los ruidosos adolescentes consiguieron romper su encanto.

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We barely realised time was going by before one of the guards came to warn us that the last colectivo would be leaving in a few minutes. We looked around and saw that most people were gone and we were almost alone. We started making our way up and meeting with our travel mates. Noé, Misrrain, the Uruguayans and us sat down on the same pick-up which brought us there and had such an interesting conversation it went on for more than three hours even after we got to Palenque. We just stood there, in the middle of the central square, to analise Latin America’s political situation and together we dreamt about changing the world.

No nos dimos ni cuenta de que pasaba el tiempo antes de que uno de los vigilantes nos avisara de que el último colectivo saldría en pocos minutos. Estábamos casi solos y fuimos subiendo y encontrándonos con nuestros compañeros de viaje. Noé, Misrrain, los uruguayos y nosotros nos sentamos en la misma pick-up que nos había llevado allí y tuvimos una conversación tan interesante que se extendió más de tres horas incluso después de llegar a Palenque. De pie, en medio de la plaza central, analizamos la situación política de Latinoamérica y soñamos con cambiar el mundo.

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What to eat in Yucatan

We have to confess. Our time in Mexico was way more than broken bikes, Mayan ruins and days of good luck. Mexicans love their antojitos (I love that name, it means “little cravings”), their comida corrida (which sounds way better than “fast food”) and their aguas frescas (which are only partly water). The truth is that, once we set foot in Yucatan, we forgot the word of doctors and parents and ate on the streets and in restaurants that needed a bit of a clean. And not only did our stomachs survive: they loved every single meal. And so did our wallets, by the way… Most of the dishes we will describe below cost us less than 1 or 2 €, which made eating out almost cheaper (and definitely more delicious) than cooking in.

Almost everything we ate in Mexico was a bit of a discovery for us. We had had enchiladas or quesadillas before, but some other things were nothing like we imagined… and we had never even heard some names before. So we decided to make a little summary of EVERY little thing we ate and drank during our days in Yucatan:

Agua de frutas: Best thing ever. They are just fruit blended with cold water. We had no way of telling whether the water was bottled or the fruit was freshly cut, but we were drinking them nonstop and didn’t get sick at all. You can get them for a prize that’s usually cheaper than most sodas and they’re way nicer.

Chilaquiles: It was the logical thing to do. Why use pasta, like the Italians, when you can do the same with tortillas? I only had them because I saw the name on the menu and didn’t know what it was, and I got a plate of chopped tortilla with tomato sauce and cheese (and loads of chicken which Samu was happy to take off my plate). Very tasty!

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Enchiladas en primer plano y chilaquiles a la derecha. Al fondo un vasito de agua de frutas, en este caso de sandía.

Enchiladas: They are quite famous in Europe and we totally understand why. They are rolled tortillas with meat or cheese inside, covered with tomato and onion sauce and more cheese. The result is amazingly tasty. It’s like caneloni but using tortilla instead of pasta.

Gringas: They are basically wheat tortilla with pastor (amazing way to treat meat in Mexico), cheese and whatever you want to put on them. I read that you are supposed to cover them with another tortilla and add pineapple. There are a lot of versions about the origin of the name. There’s one that says that in the 70’s, in Ciudad de Mexico, a couple girls from the States used to go to El Tizoncito (one of the first taquerías that started making tacos al pastor) and they used to ask for quesadillas with the filling of a taco al pastor. So the locals that saw them asked for the same saying: We want the same thing as the ‘gringas‘. Thank you guys.

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Quesadillas y soda para Alba. Gringas y horchata para Samu.

Quesadillas: Those are famous all over the world and we didn’t find them that different from the ones we had had in Europe except for the price (less than 0.5€ each), but definitely a tasty and safe choice for vegetarians!

Jamaica/Horchata: of course we had to speak about the drinks we had in Mexico, because they really caught our attention. Jamaica and horchata are sold in most fast food restaurants and are bottled in sealed but untagged plastic bottles, which made us slightly suspicious. Jamaica is a red, sugary but also a bit sour beverage that we didn’t love that much. Horchata has nothing to do with the drink from Valencia: it’s made with rice, milk, and lots of sugar. We differed on this one, Samu prefers the Mexican one but Alba doesn’t like it at all.

Huaraches: These were the first thing we had in Mexico in our very first night. It was in a place close to the main street but incredibly cheap (just look for the places where there aren’t any gringos around). Huarache is the name of the kind of sandals some indigenous Mexican people wear, and we laughed about it before seeing how it related: the masa (wheat dough) of the huaraches used to take the shape of the sandals!

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Huaraches en primera plana. Un poco más grandes que los originales. Aunque todavía se adivina la forma de sandalia. También se pueden ver los tacos que regalan en muchos restaurantes al comer allí, junto con sus recipientes para salsas picantes.

Machacados: Alba’s current favourite food. It’s something you can mostly find in Chetumal and it’s very sugary but soooo good: you choose a fruit and they smash it in a plastic cup, they put some crushed ice on top, looooads of condensed milk and they top it off with some more ice, more condensed milk and wafers. Delicious.

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Mujer machacando mango para el machacado de Samu.
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Los machacados no son de este mundo.

Marquesitas: When we met a gastronomy student from Chetumal, she let us know that the amazing marquesitas were invented there and that we should get one. She was right. Marquesitas are a very very big wafer they make in front of you, then they fill it up with grated cheese and some kind of sweet sauce such as dulce de leche, marmalade or hazelnut chocolate cream (I couldn’t believe it at first but I swear the mix is good) and then roll it up for you to eat.

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Marquesita y un hotdog deconstruido con patatas.

Hotdogs: This is something we did not expect to find here. Let me tell you, in Central America hotdogs are a must. They are simple but delicious, depends on the place they have more or less stuff inside. The sausages are cooked differently than we do in Europe and they add different stuff to it, like avocado, bacon, ham, cheese, onion… They were awesome! In addition, they cut them up for you and you still get fries (which Alba loved).

Cocos fríos: The name says it all. Just coconuts people take down from the palm trees and then sell. They cut their tops with a machete and let you drink the water, and once you’re done drinking they open it up for you to eat the “flesh”. Very fresh and very refreshing!

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Estábamos al borde de la deshidratación cuando apareció un vendedor de cocos, justo a tiempo de salvarnos la vida.

Paletas: They are like delicious homemade ice creams they make with fruit. They’re so natural you can even feel the fruit texture and sometimes you may find bones. As we always like to try the ‘weirdest’ things we asked for tamarindo and guanabana. We have to say that the guanabana one was incredibly tasty but using tamarindo to make ice creams should be forbidden.

-Tamales (Brazo de reina): Alba had heard about the Mexican tamales being different than the ones in Guatemala, so we definitely wanted to taste them before crossing the border, but we couldn’t find them anywhere. But then, as we were heading to the bus station in Chetumal, we found a house with a little poster that said “Tamales“. We asked for two, and the woman said “¿Brazo de reina (queen’s arm)?”. We said yes, having no idea that we had just asked for the most traditional tamal in Yucatan, with a tortilla made with corn and chaya leaves and filling made of hard boiled eggs, pumkin seeds and tomato sauce, all wrapped up and steam cooked in banana leaves. They cost us around 0,20€.

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Compramos el tamal en una casa particular y lo comimos sentados en un bordillo de Chetumal. En la foto se aprecian las hojas de chaya mezcladas con la masa de tortilla, el huevo duro y la hoja de banano con que se envuelve.

Tacos: Forget about Taco Bell and the taco emoji. The tacos you can find around Yucatán are not deep fried and definitely not hard. If you ask for tacos, you will probably get around three small wheat tortillas with some beef or pork minced meat, onion and sauce on top.

Licuados: Milkshakes, but with more fruit choices and around 4 or 5 times cheaper than the ones you can find in Europe.

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Un licuado de melón y una agua de papaya en frente al lago de Cobá. Tenían un precio de menos de 0.50€ cada uno.

Tortas: they are just like sandwiches but way tastier. They get a piece of bread, they fill it up with whatever you ask (cheese is an option in most places!!!) along with tomato, lettuce and sauces and then put it on a pan for a bit to get the bread deliciously crunchy. It’s great to eat it warm, but saving it for later it’s also an option.

So this is it! And we have to say that, despite all we ate and drank, we didn’t get sick or broke in Mexico (this is not something we can say about Guatemala!). We can’t wait to go back to Mexico for more huaraches and chilaquiles!

Three Days in Tulum (or Our View On The Riviera Maya)

We spent our first days in Mexico in a little town known as Tulum. We had heard about Cancun being nothing but hotels and beach, so we decided to move on straight from the airport getting a bus to Tulum. On the bus we met an American girl named Kathleen who gave us some tips and told us to meet that same night at our hostel (she never showed up). The journey was the confirmation that the Riviera Maya is completely spoiled, full of hotels and all sorts of terrible resorts for rich people, most of them owned by Americans and Europeans.

Nuestros primeros días en México los pasamos en el pueblo de Tulum, ya que habíamos oído que Cancún estaba repleto de hoteles. Tomamos un autobús directo desde el aeropuerto y en el viaje nos dimos cuenta de que toda la Riviera Maya está llena de hoteles y resorts para ricos, regentados en mayor parte por norteamericanos y europeos.

I don’t know if it was because our first Mexican experience happened in Tulum that we grew very fond of this place. Although its current name is Tulum, Mayan for ‘wall’, it used to be called Zama, Mayan for ‘dawn’. Even if the town is quite touristy, it still retains the charm of Caribbean Mexico, which is obviously very different from the rest of Mexico. The main street may have been full with restaurants and shops aimed at tourists, but it was enough to walk a couple of blocks to get away from all the white faces.

Quizás es porque fue nuestro primer contacto con México, pero la verdad es que Tulum nos gustó mucho. Tulum significa ‘muro’ en maya, pero su nombre original era Zamá (amanecer). Es un pueblo turístico pero con todo el encanto del Caribe mexicano. Basta con alejarse un poco de la calle principal para deshacerse de los demás turistas.

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The main street of Tulum.

Our hostel was called Casa del Sol and Eric, the owner, works there literally 24/7. He must be around 30 and we never saw him leaving the hostel, he was always there when we went to sleep and making breakfast when we woke up. The showers had warm water (which is not that usual, really), the rooms were clean and the breakfast was yummy and included in the price. There is a free bike hire service, but you needed to wake up really early to reserve the bikes because there are not so many of them. On the first day we were only able to get one bike (that was funny!) and the second we got to use two (which was a bit safer than the first day).

Nos alojamos en el albergue Casa del  Sol, cuyo propietario, Eric, trabaja todo el día (cada vez que estábamos allí, él también estaba). Hay agua caliente, las habitaciones estaban limpias y el desayuno estaba rico. Si uno se levanta prontito puede usar las bicis del albergue gratis, pero el primer día tuvimos que compartir una porque no quedaban más… Fue divertido, pero al tener dos el segundo día nos sentimos más seguros.

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On the way to the beach and the ruins, with the one bike we shared that day.

What most people do in Tulum is visiting one of the cenotes, but somehow we run out of time to do that. We have heard different opinions about them, the most extended one being that the closest ones to town were mostly too expensive and crowded. I am sure, however, that it is possible to find some worth visiting; we just didn’t find the time to do it. What we did instead was to walk around town, going to the beach (we had to take advantage of the Caribbean sea, didn’t we?) and visiting archaeological sites.

Aunque mucha gente visita los cenotes, a nosotros no nos dio tiempo de hacerlo. De todas formas, escuchamos que los que están cerca del pueblo son demasiado caros y concurridos, así que nos dedicamos a visitar el pueblo, la playa y las ruinas.

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The beach is 5 km away so you need a ride or, preferably, bikes to get there. The road is mostly straight and perfect to cycle in and there’s a tiny bike park just in a part of the beach that is really not crowded. If you avoid the parts with hammocks, beach bars and that sort of thing the beach is quite nice. The sand is white and soft and the water really clear. When we got there it was not that warm, but we could not help it: we had to get in! It was cold but absolutely enjoyable.

La playa está a 5 km, así que lo mejor es ir en bici. El camino es bonito y hay sitio para dejar las bicis justo en un sitio donde no había mucha gente. Si uno no se queda en los chiringuitos, la playa es bonita: agua clara y arena blanca. A pesar de que no hacía mucho calor, nos metimos y la disfrutamos mucho.

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Taking a look at the map, we thought that we could reach the ruins by following the beach. If you’re ever there, DO NOT TRY IT. It was a 30 minutes walk after which we got to an abandoned house with a European girl who was scared of iguanas (and rightly so, they were pretty but huge) and had to walk back to go get our bike and cycle to the ruins.

By the time we got to the ruins we were exhausted and sunburnt, but it was really worth it. The entry ticket costs 70 pesos (around $3,5) and the ruins are like a park or an open air museum, as opposed to other ruins we’ve visited which seem to be extending through the jungle, and there were many informative posters explaining every building. It was a bit full of tourists but it was alright, we enjoyed the ruins and the view of the sea very much.

Por experiencia sabemos que no se llega a las ruinas por la playa… Tuvimos que caminar media hora para terminar dando media vuelta y recogiendo la bici para ir por la carretera. Aunque llegamos destrozados y quemados por el sol, nos encantaron las ruinas. La entrada nos costó 70 pesos y vale totalmente la pena.

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That building is known as “El Castillo” (the Castle) and it’s the biggest and most impressive one in the whole site.
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El Templo del Dios del Viento (Temple of the Wind God).

We spent the evenings exploring the town. There is a road going through the town, which is where all the restaurants and touristy shops are located, and the only Mexican people seem to be the shop owners trying to convince you to get in to buy an overpriced poncho. I had the feeling that Tulum was a bit more than that, and I was right. We started exploring the surrounding streets and could see the churches, shops and fast food restaurants aimed solely to Mexican people, we could taste the real, amazingly cheap and tasty Mexican food and got to experience the actual quiet vibe of the streets.

Pasamos los atardeceres y noches explorando el pueblo. Salimos de la calle turística y encontramos tiendas y restaurantes para gente local, iglesias y parques donde pudimos sentir el ambiente tranquilo y catar la deliciosa (y muy barata) comida mexicana, de la que os vamos a hablar con más profundidad en un futuro.

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To get away from main roads is our usual strategy, and we strongly recommend it, no matter where you are. The most surprising and delightful things are almost always out of reach of the tourists, and so is the taste of real life in a foreign country. This is Samu’s view on Tulum:

Tulum

El niño que emula en su juego
a los orígenes que le trajeron a la tierra.

El imperialismo que cura
sus heridas naturales
en la sonrisa de la juventud.

Yo os digo
que los americanos
van a venir y han venido,
que los letreros te envolverán
y los pedales te guiarán
hasta los límites del mar.

Entre huaraches, panuchos y gringas
se derretirá el cielo de tu boca,
y llorarán tus labios horchata de palmera
mientras iguanas surgirán
de los montes de tu cintura ardiente.

Olas transparentes
llenarán de sal tu pecho
entre reflejos de minería.

Quemaduras de pirámides
que flotan entre las ceibas.

Rozaduras en la noche
de pitidos y farolas.

Samu S.

Central America: How and Why We Did It

Because this blog is not world famous (yet), not even famous (yet), I think that everyone will know where we are right now. If you don’t, however, we’re really glad to let you know that we are in a beautiful, amazing country called Guatemala. And I must say that, funnily enough, more people seem to be interested in how we got there than in why we are there. I am going to tell you both.

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Sunset in Flores

WHY WE DID IT

This one is easy: we just needed to do it. Actually, there are two different reasons why but they are intertwined and were so compatible that made it impossible for us to keep travelling in Europe as we had been doing for the past… months/years (it all depends on the perspective, I guess).

The Old Continent was getting old. I mean it. We both had been living in different European countries. Since we started our adventures together, we had been travelling around the south (Portugal/Spain in July), the west (England in December), the north (Norway in October) and the east (Poland/Ukraine in November). We still have lots to see there but we were starting to get the feeling that we were getting quite acquainted with Europe. Of course, some countries stay in our bucket list, but for the moment we were both just longing to get away from our home continent for a while and to see something actually different.

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Mural in the Jewish Quarter, Krakow, Poland.

We wanted to help. We were growing worried about the world’s situation in general and didn’t know how to help. When you’re a travel addict, to volunteer abroad seems to be the obvious answer, but where to go, what to do? We did not want to go to a place in which they needed doctors or construction workers or clowns, as we knew we wouldn’t be of much help there, but there is one thing we have in common: we love teaching and we love kids. We are both teachers, so it just made sense to look for a place where we could actually help using our skills.

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Alba walking a little patojito home

HOW WE DID IT

So how to travel across continents with a low budget? It took us a bit to figure it out but it’s not that hard, so we will very gladly share it with you!

Finding the lowest flight fares. As most travelers we know, we use Skyscanner. For us, it was worth it to look for flights from all over Europe and to all over Central America (South America was sadly way out of budget). We found out the cheapest airport to fly to was, by far, Cancun, so we started looking by country. In the end, in a Germany>Cancun search, bingo: there was a flight departing from Cologne in the exact desired dates costing 200€. It was just perfect. We found another flight from Valencia to Cologne for 17€ so this was the perfect chance to kill three birds with a stone: we got the chance to visit Valencia and Cologne and fly to Cancun. Just like that.

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Using valenbici thanks to our friend Maria and her boyfriend Andy, València, País Valencià.

Flying on a one-way ticket. Let’s be honest. You need a proof of onward/return travel when you travel across continents. It is actually mandatory if you are travelling to Mexico. Did they ask us at the airport? They didn’t, but they could have. They did ask some of our friends flying from Madrid. They can even ask you before your flight takes off and force you to buy a flight right away before letting you board. We didn’t (still don’t) know when we wanted to come back home, and it was definitely not within the three month limit.

There are many ways of getting through the airport without proof of onward ticket. The first solution we found was to get a fake one: you just look for a real flight, fill up the questionnaire in this website and done. Many people have done that, and we think it’s safe enough unless you act really suspicious and they call the airline to check if it’s real. But we found an even better option! This airline allows you to reserve a flight for 48 hours before putting in your credit card number. You get an e-mail with the flight details but it will automatically be canceled if you don’t pay within 48 hours.

And that’s it. To travel to another continent might seem like a huge and expensive step, but as you can see it’s really not that hard.

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Tikaleando