Friday, December 30, 2011

Laguna Bacalar – the lagoon of 7 colors – and Mexico roundup

After cooling down in the mountain air – and spending a fun-filled Chrismas eve – I hopped on a long-haul, direct, hour overnight back to the steaming hot Caribbean coast. I had a hard time to decide where to go next… I knew I was going to Belize for New Year so decided to skip trying get through Guatemala (and Tikal) in only a couple days and took the more chilled out route to the Mexican coast. Closest place to Belize – or the nicest one close to Belize – was Laguna Bacalar. So first a 13 hour bus to Chetumal! Nice scenery greeted us when leaving San Cristobal:

Mexican X-mas - feliz!

Christmas came to San Cristobal on Dec 24th no matter even if for me it still didn’t feel at all like Christmas. The decorations, the carols (mostly those I heard sounded like the ones you hear if you open a tacky Christmas card), Christmas trees – and there were even real pine trees in San Cristobal – didn’t make me feel anything like Christmas, in a way I feel at home. And that was a good thing, I didn’t want to start pining back to Finland!

I don’t know how much the holidays affected the Mexican lives but there sure were tons of people out on the streets every day. And all the shops, stalls, food vendors, cafes and restaurants were open all through the Christmas Eve (and through the entire holiday season!).

San Cristobal de las Casas – cooling down up in the mountains

San Cristobal de las Casas is a town in the mountains in the Chiapas region, 2000m above sea level. I took a whirlwind minicab ride from the Palenque jungle and was greeted by a cold cold night air when I arrived to San Cristobal. I wouldn’t say I was delighted to be there, tired from the jerky ride, arriving to a dark, wet and cold little town. After a long walk through town (thinking ‘ok, the walking street and the restaurants look nice’) I got to my hostel, took a hot shower and collapsed to my bed.

The morning was even colder than the night and I was in shock – I want back to the beach, NOW! I decided to give the city a try and went out for a walk wearing basically all of the clothes I could think of, luckily all my warmest clothes were clean! And I could finally give the all the sand, sea and sweat covered clothes to the hostel laundry. Before 9am it was still nicely cool out and I was enjoying my ski pants. But suddenly, some point between 10 -11 it was so hot I couldn’t take my clothes off fast enough. The sun was really piercing! First looking for the sun and now looking for the shades, I continued through the town. There were lots of lovely pedestrian streets with shops of beautiful local handcrafted clothes, bags, woodcarvings, clay animals, Zapatista dolls. The area seemed to be full of artisans and artists (my mom would have loved it!).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Machetes and mushrooms in the Palenque jungle

Ok - didn't see either machetes or mushrooms in Palenque. But that was the what I had basically pictured from all the Palenque stories :D I'm sure both were available, no one just thought about offering either to me :)

We arrived 6 am to Palenque pueblo after a lovely (the buses are better than in Finland) but still tiresome night bus ride. An hour late but just in time to see the sun rise behind the jungle hills, all wrapped in strips of mist. We hadn’t manage to secure a hostel (I was travelling with a Chinese girl Yuxing) so took a taxi to an area close to the ruins in the jungle, El Panchan, which was supposedly a lovely place. And again, we were not disappointed. There were couple of hostels with many cabanas spread in the jungle and amongst them some restaurants and tour agencies. Took a walk on the paths around the different cabanas and saw a nice creek teeming with fish!

The colorful Campeche - a short stop

Somehow I decided I would spend Christmas on the mountains in San Cristobal de Las Casas, instead of the beach. On the way to San Cristobal and Palenque (where my next stop was) from Merida is a lovely town of Campeche. I had heard it was pretty and that it was… are all the Mexican little town this cute?? (so far, yes!). Colorful one or two story-houses line the old town streets and only a rare turist in sight. When I was having lunch - exchausted and half asleep - a local 40-something guy came to ask me with an American accent "are you ok man?" :D The people are lovely :)

The compact old town surrounded by walls and forts that were built in the 1600-1800. I went around to sightsee and ended up doing some shopping since I was desperately out of clean clothes and nothing seemed to dry if I washed them. Figured I was allowed to spend a few pesos since I didn’t get a flight to Cuba (long story).

People here love to listen to music, it’s blaring everywhere. Salsa, reggaeton, chart hits… I heard bachata everywhere when I was walking around during the day. Like I do everywhere in Mexico actually! Was hanging out and sleeping on the sofa of the Monkey Hostel in the evening and listening to a fiesta & shows they had on the square in front of us – pre-Christmas concerts and celebrations are happening everywhere. And that was all for Campeche. At midnight (or actually 00.30 – the bus was half an hour late), me and Yuxing, my Chinese friend, hopped on the bus to Palenque.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

City life in Merida

Leaving from the adorable Valladolid it was not easy to feel at home in Merida. It’s a city of about a million people and what feels like a million cars too. Streets are packed with people with either meandering or (more often) rushing and pushing. The weather was hotter and the hostel, even though very nice, was not as good comparing to the warm-heartedness of Valladolid. But as before, I’ve been meeting really nice people from around the world and enjoying my time with them - Emilia from Sydney, Patricia from Monterrey, Allison & Pat from the UK, Yuxing from China.

Traffic, people, traffic, people... that's what you'll see in Merida
And some "interesting" buildings" (ok, there's some pretty cathedrals too but they have them *everywhere*).

Friday, December 16, 2011

Nature explorations in the Yucatán: flamingo & croc shooting (with camera) and a dip to another cenote

After a night with beers, Mexican shots and stories, I got up at 5am yesterday to jump on a second class bus to Tizimin with Pedro where we would – if lucky – change straight away to another bus for Río Lagartos. It was pitch dark when we escaped from the hostel to the bus station. The connection to Río had gone when we got to Tizimin so we went to see if we could find a collectivo (a shared taxi van) but no luck either. So we walked around the poor little town and had a fantastic 10 peso breakfast. I can tell you there are zero tourists in Tizimin - and frankly the only interesting thing to see is the local people!

Mexican charm in Valladolid and Indianajonesing in Chichén Itzá

After some beach life it was time to dip into the Mexican culture. First on my agenda was to discover the Mayan history and where else to do it than at one of the new seven wonders of the world, Chichén Itzá. I unfolded a map of the Yucatan and the town of Valladolid was the closest place so decided it would be my base for the next couple days. I had read nice things about the town itself, there are lots of cenotes and the Río Lagartos nature reserve is easy to access from Valladolid as well.

I took a morning first class bus from Playa to Valladolid and immediately when we started to pull into Valladolid I was in love with the town. The charmingly shabby small streets with colorful buildings and no tourist-looking wanderers was a sight for sore eyes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Beach life in Playa

It took a while but as the 11 hour flight from London to Cancún was drawing to an end it finally started to dawn on me that I'm on a holiday - on an actual holiday - going somewhere a bit further away. The flight itself went relatively fast, BA had a nice selection of movies and ok food and the 3 hours of sleep I had the night before (thanks to another night of zouk and late night packing yet again) helped me to pass out instantenously as the flight took off.
The plane wasn't full and somehow got seated to an empty row of three - plenty of space.

 It was +27 C when I arrived to Cancún in the afternoon. I got randomly picked for security screening in customs (yes, it was random! :D) and got to practice my Spanish right away with the cute & smiley customs officer. Found the bus to my first destination, Playa del Carmen without effort and was on my way. Was happy I had an easy start (good choice for my first Latin American stop?) and the bus was good even in European standards - was I really in the "shabby & dangerous" México??

45 minutes later I was in Playa del Carmen and quickly was on the map and walking to my hotel: a cute place, nice & very clean room a block from the beautiful white fine sand beach and block from the main tourist avenue. Easy breezy. All I got done that night was a little walking and some lovely and quesadillas for dinner (for under 2€ - a street up from the main tourist traps), a beer and I was happily watching Kung Fu Panda in Spanish on the telly in my room -- and fell asleep before 9 pm local time. That was 3 am UK and 5 am Finnish time so I think I'm forgiven for that.

First sight of the playa in Playa

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Zouking the UK and some London sightseeing

My big trip started with a 2-day stop in London since that’s where my RTW flight ticket begins and ends. I arrived to London rather early on a Monday morning. I had a generous two hours of sleep before the early morning flight (last minute packing took surprisingly long - ok, really not surprising). Jumped on a train from Heathrow and headed to my local zouk friend Anthony's place. He was very welcoming and my big trip was off to a smooth start! Did some sightseeing and tried to do some shopping but after a while it was impossible with the sleep deprivation.

Sleep or no sleep I was ready for some zouk that night! Anthony took me to the Lambazouk night - the "main" event of the weekly zouk nights in the city. And the actual purpose of why I took some days to stop in London! :D I took the two hours of classes (the ones with Joe Koniak and Solange Dias - there are other classes too) followed by three hours of lambazouking my ass off. Anthony and the lovely zouk & lambada guys did a good job of keeping me burning the dance floor: and I had a fantastic time!!

Fuzzy zoukers

Saturday, December 3, 2011


The big take off is closing in and my bag lays almost packed in the bedroom floor. Closets are empty and the place looks somewhat deserted. I might even get an hour or two of sleep before my early morning flight to London.

I've been saying a lot of goodbyes and getting a lot of farewells in the past weeks and finally I'm starting feel like I might be leaving. I keep telling everybody I won't be away for that long - and in a way I feel I can't wait to be back!