Some of you guys may have heard of the town of Oaxaca because of the political unrest that has occurred in recent years. Actually, if you type “Oaxaca” into google images you get a few pictures of decapitated bodies. But in reality Oaxaca is a gorgeous little town with a friendly feel, despite being in one of the poorest states in Mexico.
After a fairly uneventful bus journey we killed the afternoon by finding somewhere to eat, looking in random craft shops and drinking cocktail(s) in a grimy but really cool little bar we accidentally stumbled across. We then headed back to our very nice hostel, with a slightly dodgy smell, and caught up on some much needed sleep.
The hostel was very busy, so we met some really cool people, but it wasn’t too noisy.
The following day we set off to find the market recommended by Lonely Planet. Expecting a local craft market we were shocked to find a huge market where locals go to buy their cheap knock off clothes and disgusting meat. My stomach couldn’t handle the smell so we quickly left and found the local craft markets instead. Not as good as some of the markets we had seen, but some beautiful leather craft and it was very colourful. We interspersed market shopping with Mezcal shopping (and sampling) for Tim. Mezcal is the father of Tequila, the drink that actually has the worm in it (Tequila doesn’t, it’s just a gimmick at home).
It can also be found with bits of chicken breast in it, or sometimes herbs. It’s made in “factories”, similar to a garden shed, all over the state of Oaxaca and in my opinion tastes like paint thinner. Tim for some reason loves it though, so he was sampling it in every shop we visited at about midday. It was a fairly amusing experience and I still maintain he was slightly intoxicated for much of the afternoon. He ended up with a bottle that was 43% and aged 12 years.
The next day we visited Hierve el Agua, which are petrified waterfalls. They’re made from bubbling springs that have very high mineral content. When the water falls it solidifies, creating rock formations that look like waterfalls. They were pretty spectacular, and we could climb to the top and check out the amazing views (thankfully Tim hadn’t had any Mezcal that morning).
Getting there we hired a taxi, as waiting for a bus got tiresome. I thought we were going to die as the taxi driver flew up this tiny, winding road on the wrong side for the entire journey. On the way back however we got a jeep-collectivo. We were sat in the back as it looked like it would be more fun, but he took as a very long route on an unmade road. I could barely see out the front and felt sick instantly. I don’t know which journey I preferred.
We then booked onto a two day hike between villages in Sierra del Norte, starting at 3,100m and ending at 2,100m. The first day was ‘interesting’. We were guided by a German woman who was into herbal medicine and local voodoo healing type stuff. She delighted in showing us the medicinal value of every single plant we passed, when all we really wanted to do was get off the road we were walking down and do some real hiking.
Eventually we did get off the road and did some real hiking, which was really good. We stopped for “lunch” at 16.00 (thankfully we’d packed our own snacks, or we may have passed out en route). It was at a trout farm where we were told we were going to eat the best trout ever as it had just been caught. Tim had never eaten trout and didn’t enjoy the boney experience, but he can’t deny it was the best trout he’d ever eaten (and also the worst and most mediocre). I normally like trout, but the way they cooked it wasn’t very good. The trout was flavoured with all kinds of weird herbs and veggies. We then hiked for another hour to reach the village of Latuvi, where we were staying in a lovely mountain top room/apartment thing. The views were incredible. After a very basic dinner in a local woman’s house come restaurant we were left to our own devices.
It was flipping freezing so Tim decided to light a fire (there was a fireplace, not just in the middle of the room). He managed to get a very good fire going, but there was a crack in the chimney so the room unfortunately filled with smoke very quickly. After airing the room we opted for lots of blankets to keep warm rather than the fire. The following days hike was a lot more interesting, as we followed a pre-Hispanic trading path along a river. With the occasional plant being pointed out by the German ladies Swiss husband, we were allowed to enjoy the hike without stopping every ten seconds. From this hike we had a quick, freezing shower and then got on an overnight bus to San Cristobal de las Casas along what has to be one of the most winding roads in the world with a bus driver that smoked almost constantly. Needless to say it wasn’t the best bus journey we’d had so far.
On arrival at San Cristobal we were jumped on by hostel promoters at the bus station. Dazed and still half asleep we agreed to go to one hostel, which turned out to be a hippy commune with building work that started at 7am. We stayed the two nights we had booked in nonetheless and set about exploring the gorgeous town.
On the first day we found the massive shit market where locals buy food and cheap clothes, then the amazing craft market (see a pattern emerging here?). The craft markets are really good here, with amazing leather work and gorgeous blankets. Tim and I bought a couple of bags as well as hippy style jumper-poncho hybrids which look silly but are incredibly warm.
On the second day we visited the Mayan medicine museum, which Lonely Planet described as one of the best Mayan museums in Mexico.
I don’t know whether Lonely Planet visits any of these places, but there was nothing there but statues praying to pictures, and a few pots that weren’t authentic. We did get to watch a very informative video on how Mayans give birth ��" Tim particularly enjoyed the close up on the placenta just before it was buried in the house, and quickly left the room afterwards. After that we headed back into the centre of town and climbed to the main Church, which was closed. The view was alright though, and there was this random park at the top with gym equipment in and lots of fat people exercising.
The following morning we moved hostels as we had to stay in San Cristobal much longer than expected. We found a nice little youth hostel that was a lot cheaper and a lot quieter. We’re sleeping in bunk beds -Tim’s has springs in his back and mine smells like horse ��" but it’s one of the best hostels we’ve stayed in so far.
Apart from one night with a noisy group, and an old American man who has been living here for 5 years (very odd), we were the only people staying there. The shared bathroom was only shared with the owners and we had a very clean kitchen to make our dinner.
With this new hostel as our base we visited the Cañon del Sumidero on a day trip. A 3 hour boat trip through the Cañon, which was pretty spectacular. I can’t really say a great deal about it other than it was gorgeous and the pictures don’t really do it justice. On our return to San Cristobal we took a 2 hour Spanish lesson, so we’ve learnt some key phrases like “this food is disgusting so I’m not willing to pay for it”.
The following day we waited by the big black cross in town at 9.
30am, as instructed by Lonely Planet, in search of Alex and Raul. At 9.30 on the dot, Raul turned up and we piled into the most amazing VW camper van ever, with two Dutch lesbians and 3 Australians, and headed to the village on San Juan Chamula. The tour guide talked too much and told us way too much detail, but it was an interesting place. In the Church they cover the floor with pine needles and candles (a great combination, not at all dangerous) and then they chant funny chants, sacrifice chickens and offer fizzy drinks, such as coca cola, to God. They used to take hallucinogenics to reduce their minds to a state where they could communicate with God, now they just drink enough alcohol until they are slightly intoxicated and fuzzy brained. After this church tour and a quick look around the market we headed to another village called San Lorenzo ‘somethingcomplicatedthatIcan’tspell’.
It wasn’t a very remarkable village and the church, although pretty and literally filled with fresh flowers, was nothing compared to the previous fire hazard.
On two evenings whilst in San Cristobal we visited a “cinema” which shows artsy films. The first was on Che Guevara and was really interesting and informative. The second was on the Zapatista war around the state of Chiapas (where San Cristobal is), but the cinematography was terrible and made us feel sick and the music was so loud we couldn’t hear the talking so we left half way through.
Since then we’ve mainly been killing time in San Cristobal until we can head to Palenque tomorrow.
We’ve managed to work out rough dates we’re heading where, so we can book flights to Cuba and home (possibly via Disney World??). We’ve been here longer than we wanted to be, but I can think of worse places to be stuck!
Photos will be posted when we have a better internet connection.