Hello friends. Hope everyone is well.
Shelly and I are currently in Guatemala. We’ve just done about a week or so of travelling in Mexico. Mexico is quite different from the rest of Latin America. Here is a brief rundown of our adventures.
Mexico City - the city that feared sundown.
We arrived in Mexico City at about 6pm after a lunchtime flight from Lima, Peru, but by the time we had gotten through immigration and tried to find accommodation (let alone tourist information) at the airport, it was almost 9pm when we got to our hotel. We decided to stay downtown at a fairly cheap hotel two blocks from the Zocalo - the main square of Mexico City. When we arrived at Mexico City we were a little anxious - as most travellers are - Mexico City has a really bad reputation for crime and violence. One particular danger is the taxi’s. Like many other big cities there are plenty of cabs on the street cruising for customers, but it is recommended that you only take an official, registered cab from certain locations, such as the airport. Taxi crime is rampant and picking up a cab on the street is almost guaranteed to your getting robbed by the driver and his mates. If you’re lucky you might just lose all your luggage and money. If you’re unlucky... well the statistics tell a story.
The ride to the hotel in our authorised taxi was not encouraging. We were driven through some very dodgy streets. There were prostitutes standing every ten metres for several blocks. Both Shelly and I thought, oh my God, I’ll bet this is the street our hotel is on. Fortunately it wasn’t, we were one block north of the prostitute street. Our hotel had a restaurant so as soon as we got in we asked if we could have dinner - we certainly didn’t feel brave enough to venture out on the street that night - but the concierge said no. They close at 9pm. In fact, almost everything closed at 9pm in Mexico City. We asked if there were any other restaurants, but he said they were several blocks away. What about a shop where we could buy food? Yes, there was one a block away. Can we walk there? Is it safe? Yes, he said, but then he indicated on the street map where we could safely walk. Nowhere south or east of the hotel. Hmmm. We decided to make a quick dash to the supermarket, one block north east. The streets were virtually deserted and covered in rubbish from the street markets that occupy all the surrounding streets during the day. We found the supermarket, bought ourselves something to eat and drink and then hurried back to the hotel. We noted that there were 6 security guards at the supermarket, all armed with M16s or pump action shotguns and alertly watching the street. It wasn’t a comforting start.
Next day we headed into the square and began our sight seeing. The zocalo square is huge. A massive cathedral dominates one side and the parliament building dominates the other. Unfortunately as there is an election on in Mexico at the moment there was a massive protest-political demonstration going on in the square. This was going to become a familiar trend as we travelled around Mexico. We took a hop on hop off bus around the city. It was a very long trip and it was debatable whether it was very helpful. In fact Mexico City did not seem to be set up for tourists at all. There were no travel agents or places where we could go to discuss travel arrangements. It was quite frustrating.
The day ended well though as we found a nice old bar to drink at and then had dinner at a place overlooking the cathedral (quite lovely) and as we walked back to the hotel that night we encountered a native dancing troupe doing their thing near the main square. They were pretty much doing it for themselves, not for tourists, so it was interesting to watch.
Next day we took a bus to Teotihuacan, an ancient city complex about an hour north of MC. There are two immense pyramids there and we walked up both (although only half way up the smaller one). They were impressive but it was a damned hot day and there was no shade whatsoever. We got back to the city about 2.30 and then took a bus to the town of Puebla. Puebla was really nice and relaxed after the stress of Mexico City. They make pottery in the town but although we visited about 100 shops we didn´t end up buying anything as it was quite expensive.
From Puebla we took an afternoon bus to Oaxaca. We arrived about 9pm at the chaotic bus terminal. We had no accommodation booked and as there was no accommodation help at the terminal we took a punt and grabbed a taxi to a place mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide. Luckily they had a vacancy, although they weren’t particular helpful people. We hurried into the main square to grab some food before everything shut and found the main square was occupied by striking teachers. The square and all the pedestrian streets around the centre had become a tent city. It quite ruined the atmosphere of the place.
The next day we walked around the city, did some sightseeing and took a bus up the mountain to see the ancient Zapotec capital city ruin, Mount Alban. On the way up the mountain the bus forced a car off the road (the road could really only handle one vehicle at a time). The poor lady who was driving was trying to back out of the way to let the bus through when her back wheel went over a drainage ditch and the car pitched over. It was like something from a Hollywood movie. The car was teetering on its left front wheel and right rear wheel and rocking back and forth in the air. We all jumped out of the bus and the guys grabbed the back of the car and pushed it down, this made the car level with the road and the lady could jump out. A young tourist jumped in and after a bit of pushing and shoving we got the car mostly onto the road so that he could back out safely. As soon as the car had all four wheels on the ground the bus driver yelled VAMOS! and we all jumped back in the bus and were away. It was all very bizarre.
Mount Alban was very scenic in its mountain top location.
Then it was off to San Cristobal De La Casas, far into the southern mountain regions. This is the old heartland of the Maya empire and most of the people are Mayan. It had a real regional feel to the place. Very pleasant. It is also a rebellious region. An indigenous revolutionary movement called the Zapatistas rule here - unofficially - or is it the Mexican government that rules here unofficially. There was abundant Zapatista literature and souvenirs in all the shops. It was quite weird. We could have bought little balaclava wearing Zapatista dolls, handmade by they local Indian ladies.
On our second day we took a day trip to Palenque - the ‘money shot’ of Mayan ruins in Mexico. It was a damned long trip - four hours each way - and it was damned hot in the jungle, but the ruins were spectacular and we met a nice Irish couple on the journey. We arrived back in town at 9.30pm, just in time to grab a quick bite to eat before the city closed down about 10pm (which seems normal in Mexico).
The following day we took another LONG, very early bus ride from SC to Antigua in Guatemala. Guatemala seemed quite different from Mexico, very much more rural. But strangely, although the country is quite backward in many respects the people’s houses looked more prosperous and the people looked healthier and happier than in Mexico. One thing that was noticeable between Mexicans and Guatemalans was size. There were much more ‘larger’ – i.e., fat - people in Mexico than Guatemala and the Mexicans seemed to dress.... hmmmm, how shall we say this, err, like it’s still 1985, which really doesn’t make for such a good look. The Guatemalans seemed to have better fashion sense.
Antigua was described as the Prague of Central America, but such comparisons are ridiculous. I wasn’t so impressed with Antigua when we arrived as it was dusk and the place just looked old and run down. But the next day when the sun was shining we could see the place had real character. Antigua used to be the capital of Spanish Guatemala. It is a particularly fertile place because it is built in a valley between three active volcanos (there are seven volcanos overlooking the city). Hmmm, might not have been such a good idea to build a city between three active volcanos. The city was founded in the mid 16th century and after being flattened by earthquakes three times and volcanic eruptions twice someone came up with the quite obvious idea that it wasn’t such a good idea to have the capital in such a dangerous location, so they moved to Guatemala City and Antigua became a stagnant backwater until tourists discovered the city in the 1980´s. Now it lives off tourism.
Well, that’s about it for now. Tomorrow is Shelly’s birthday and as a special treat I’m taking Shelly to see the Mayan ruins of Copan in neighbouring Honduras. It only cost 13 quetzalas per person on second class (chicken) bus. It’s a 3am start though as the place is deep in the jungle and it take about six hours to get there. We’ll probably stay overnight somewhere in Honduras, I think there are some one or two star hotels (yeah, and who really gives out stars to these places???) in the town that is near the ruins. Shelly is really looking forward to this trip as I know how much she loves adventure travelling.
Hope everyone is well at home.
Paul and Shelly