Day 10 – 29th April 2018 – San Cristobal

We skipped breakfast and had a coffee in the courtyard of the hotel just before we meet the rest of the group at 9am for today’s top to a canyon – Canyon de Sumidero.

We had a private minibus booked and the trip took about an hour, much of it downhill! On arrival we were given lifejackets and we boarded a speed boat.

The boat took us through a canyon for, apparently, 32km and every so often the driver stopped to point out some wildlife or interesting facts about the canyon.

The river want originally navigable until they built a hydro electric dam at one end which made the river much deeper… From 30m deep where we started to 250m deep where we turned around.

The river rises in Guatemala and ends in the gulf of Mexico. On the to we saw Crocs, spider monkeys, various birds and amazing scenery.

Apologies for the wrong way around cap!

Vultures
Spider monkey 🐒
Shrine
Crocodile!
Rick formation, caused by waterfalls in the rainy season

Another crocodile
Heron

The canyon is apparently 1km deep at this point!

The tour lasted about 2 hours and then we made the return trip to San Cristobal. When we got back it was time for some food and we ate in a lovely courtyard. The food was average but the setting was lovely.

Ed and I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets, soaking up the atmosphere and watching the world go by! We walked to one end of the town to a church which have great views of the whole town. San Cristobal seems to be one of those places that hippies congregate in and never leave. Hence, the atmosphere is relaxed and had a mixture of local people and hippies plying there wares and entertaining crowds which makes for a colourful scene.

We then walked back into town and spent some time watching things in the town, interspersed with some refreshments.

This included a really large rally in support of the upcoming elections in July! It was all pretty peaceful, but very noisy, of that’s not a contradiction in terms!

After going back to the hotel for a shower we meet some of the group and ended up in a pizza place for some food.. which was delicious. Ed and I had a final nightcap at the wine bar from last night before heading to bed for an early night, ahead of our 4am departure tomorrow.

Day 9 – 28th April 2018 – San Cristobal

We caught taxis to our hotel which didn’t take too long as the streets were quiet. There is a chill in the air here as we’re back up to 2200m altitude.

Unsurprisingly, our rooms were not ready and so we walked across the road for breakfast.

Our hotel – Casa Margherita
Breakfast!
Making tortillas

After breakfast we were taken for our orientation walk. San Cristobal is in Chiapas state, the most southerly of Mexico’s states. Our hotel, Casa Margherita is very close to the main square and our walk took us to the Zocalo and we were shown the highlights of the town. It seems that there are many different settlers here and it is apparently quite a political town. There are plenty of coffee shops and the market specialises in silver and amber. The are also lots of street sellers with various embroidered items for sale.

Sadly many of the churches and other buildings are not accessible as they were damaged during an earthquake last September.

Street scene
Santa Domingo (another one!)

We walked back to the hotel and even though it was only 10.30, the were some rooms ready. Sadly it took until 12.15 for ours to be ready by which time we were grateful for a hot shower!

We walked back to the main square to find some food and had a beer and club sandwich in a roof top bar overlooking the square.

We met most of the group for a trip to a local village called Chamula. Valleria led us through some of the back streets of San Cristobal. The were local markets and it was dusty and hot!

After about 15 minutes we arrived at a local taxi rank where Valleria arranged for a minibus to take us up to Chamula. The traffic in town was very busy and it took us about half an hour to get there. This village was higher still than San Cristobal and the main attraction was the church. We arrived in the main square having been warned by our leader that the local people don’t really like having photos taken.

There was a bustling market going on when we arrived.

Valleria showed us the town hall, as the village has a local governor.

Next we went into the church in front of the square.

We weren’t allowed to take photos on the church which was a real shame as I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. We arranged a local guide, dressed in the traditional sheep’s clothing. (The villagers consider sheep to be sacred and don’t eat them)

The church was originally Catholic, but in 1871 there was a fight between the local people and the church because the Catholic church did not want animal sacrifices in the church. The people there worship as Christians, but with a Mayan influence. So, for example, Jesus is represented by the sun.

In the church all the furniture was removed in 1871 and the church is not recognised as part of the Catholic church. Down each side of the church were saints, 46 in total, with John the Baptist as the main saint – it is the church of John the Baptist! The saints are looked after by a ‘butler’ for a period of one year and it’s considered to be a great honour. In front of the saints and around the church were tens of flower arrangements, such as you’d see in a flower festival. These are maintained all of the time by the butlers!

Lighting the church were thousands of candles in glass jars which have been lit in thanks for something.

The floor was conferred in pine needles, which comes from the Mayan culture. Each family has a healer who advises the family if someone is sick. For less serious conditions, the sick light candles of different colours on the floor, as advised by the healer. For more serious illnesses a chicken (or rooster for men) may be sacrificed as they believe that the illness is transferred to the animal.

After leaving the church we headed back to San Cristobal.

The plan for the evening was to have a coffee of drinks at a local wine bar. We all meet at 6 and walked the short distance down the street. We sampled some Mexican wine which was really rather good.

By the time we left the bar the street was buzzing with entertainers and lots of tourist and locals. However, for us it was time for bed.

Day 8 – 27th April 2018 – Oaxaca to San Cristobal

We had a later start this morning and there were no plans to meet anyone until we needed to leave for the bus station this evening.

Parrots at our hotel

After getting up we walked a block to a coffee shop and had a very acceptable cup of coffee and a pain au chocolate. The coffee was so good we even bought some to take home!

Back at our room we sorted out packing out and then checked out. With nothing specific planned for the day we walked towards the main square and stopped off at a number of attractions in the way.

First was the church of Santo Domingo, another fairly gaudily decorated church!

Santo Domingo

Next we stopped at a cooperative shop with loads of local craftsmen seeking their wares… There was nothing that took our fancy!

A further walk into the centre and we ended up in the main square with the cathedral. We wandered around there but it was less impressive than anything that we’ve seen so far.

Street scene

Cathedral

Main square – Zocalo

By now it was time to stop and have some refreshments and to decide what to do for the rest of the day. We agreed on a trip to Monte Alban, a Zatopec settlement about 5 miles from Oaxaca, high on a hill top. We headed to a local hotel and bought a round trip.

The journey took about 20 minutes up a windy road from Oaxaca. The setting was quite impressive and gave fantastic views of Oaxaca and the valley beyond. The settlement was first founded around 300 BC and inhabited and adapted over the coming centuries.

The scale of the settlement was far bigger than the ruins that saw yesterday with many ruins labelled as temples.

We wandered around the site for the next hour and a half getting increasingly warm.

We finished far earlier than our return trip was due and so we took a taxi back to the centre of Oaxaca and to a roof top bar near the Santa Domingo where we had some rather tasty food… Ed’s meal in particular was quite impressive!

We moved next door to another rooftop bar that we had been in yesterday and met up with Steve. After one beer we could see the rain coming in so started waking back to the hotel. About halfway back the heavens opened and so we dived into a nearby restaurant for a drink. Once the rain stopped we walked back to the hotel for a final drink on the veranda, bought from the local supermarket.

Just before 7pm we retrieved our bags and changed in preparation for our overnight bus journey to San Cristobal. The group has had a bet on our arrival time in San Cristobal with the winner having a free breakfast! Our taxis took us the short journey to the bus station and here we night provisions for the trip! We boarded the bus just before 8. The bus itself has plenty of legroom and comfy seats but, unfortunately, smells like a rugby team might just have had a long journey on it!

The journey itself was uneventful. The first part was a very windy road through the mountains which affected some of our group. For my part I managed more sleep on the bus than on any night so far on our trip. We arrived in San Cristobal at exactly 7.32am, which was the time that Ed had predicted!

Day 7 – 26th April 2018 – Oaxaca

Before today’s offering, I’m asking the picture below which Google ‘kindly’ sent me comparing then and now. I think that the then picture is from India, about 9 years ago!

We walked down the road to a breakfast cafe and ordered omelette with cheese and ham. The omelette itself was lovely but they served it covered with a tomato sauce and with refried beans and guacamole on the side which didn’t add anything to the dish! However, for only 70pesos (£3) including coffee and juice, the price was reasonable.

Back at the hotel we met up with our group for our tour. We left at 9am and met our guide, Juan and driver, Marcus.

Our first stop off the day was a village called El Tole. The village was very pretty with a blue and white building that used to be a church. The main attraction however is what is supposedly the oldest tree in the world.

The tree in the background!

Our guide told us that it is at least 2,000 years old, 50m high and about 56m around the trunk. On entering the garden with the tree in, we were introduced to a small child who took us around the tree and pointed out various shapes on the trunk of the tree with a laser pen, for example, a sleeping elephant, a stag’s head and Jennifer Lopez’s bum!

Small child with laser pen!

We drove for another hour or so along a new highway before turning off onto some rougher roads to visit Hierve el Agua. Here there was a small village and the plan was to go on a 45 minute walk to see some petrified waterfalls, made as the water flows over the rock and leaves a limestone deposit. After that the are a couple of natural pools where we were to go for a swim. However, 10 minutes into the walk the heavens opened and so we retreated to a covered patio area near the pools, but not before we’d all got pretty wet!

The rain didn’t last long and once it stopped we changed and headed for the pools. The setting is pretty spectacular and the pools have the effect of an infinity swimming pool. Needless to say Ed didn’t swim so he spent time taking photos.

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The sun came out and it got pretty warm. Once we’d changed again, we started back on the hike to see the waterfalls. The trail took us a long way down some steep (and tall) steps and we were able to see the petrified waterfalls from just about every angle. Meanwhile thunder was reverberating around the valley. Despite this, we managed to get back up to the top before the rain came!

Next stop was for lunch. We were taken to a touristy place where there was a buffet. Just before we left there was another huge thunderstorm. This delayed us going to our next stop which was ancient ruins at a place called Mitla (the place of the dead). The ruins date from the 7th century and include some intricate carvings. The main structure is made without any cement and had survived many earthquakes due to the way that is constructed.

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Next we went to a looming workshop, run by a Zatopec family, where we learnt how they make the wool and how it is dyed from natural materials. Then there was the obligatory showroom and one of our group bought two rugs! Like most of these workshops, the rugs were intricate and clearly well made, but not our taste!

Our final stop was at a place where they make Mezcal. Mezcal is made from the root of various cactus plants. There was another massive thunderstorm as we arrived so we skipped the tour and went straight to the sampling. We started with four on the table but by the time we finished, there were twelve bottles in the table! The taste of them all is pretty strong and not that pleasant! The bus journey home seemed a lot quicker though!

Day 6 – 25th April 2018 – Puebla to Oaxaca.

An early start this morning and an alarm call at 6am. We packed and met our group at 7am for a taxi ride to the bus station. Once at the waiting room we went to find some breakfast before boarding our bus for the 5 ish hour journey to Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaka).

Like the last bus this one was had comfy seats and plenty of legroom.

The roads in Mexico, once outside of the cities are pretty good.. smooth and well maintained. Our route took us south, through wide plains with scrub type bushes and what appeared to be the odd farm.

After a couple of hours the road climbed through some mountain ranges with amazing views!

After almost 5 his we arrived in Oaxaca and caught a taxi to our hotel. The hotel is a lot smaller than the last couple that we have been in and about a 20 minute walk from the centre of the historic party of the city. It’s set around a lovely courtyard with lots of greenery.

View up to the balcony with our room on

We dropped our bags off in our room and walked with our guide to the Zocalo. The buildings here are a very different colour to those we have seen so far and are built from a greeny coloured rock. The town also seems far more touristy than the Puebla.

Our hotel in Oaxaca
Murals on the wall outside our hotel

We walked towards the centre and passed the Santa Domingo cathedral. Another impressive Catholic ediface!

Santo Domingo

There are lots of artisan shops in Oaxaca and this lovely lady advertised the entrance to a cooperative of local families!

It felt really hot by now and we were all hungry so after arriving at the main square we went through the ‘normal’ market and into the food market where we stopped for some lunch!

After eating Valeria took us to a chocolate store where they make their own dairy free chocolate.

We then had some free time so wandered back, taking in the sights and sounds on Oaxaca. Just opposite the cathedral we came across a roof top bar so felt it necessary to see what it was like. The view was good and the beer cold!

After a quick shower back at the hotel we meet everyone for some more food! This time we went to a place called Taqueria El Primo, just down the road from the hotel. It was pretty basic inside and the menu was short. However I had the speciality tacos which was marinated pork meat, cut from a kebab, pineapple and coriander, along with some fresh salad and chili sauce. They were very tasty and we both ate for less than £10!

A quick beer in the balcony of the hotel for a night cap and then it was bedtime!

Day 5 – 24th April 2018 – Puebla

We had all agreed a later start for this morning and weren’t meeting until 9.30am for the remainder of the orientation walk. So after the usual morning routine, we headed down the street to find a coffee.

We stopped at a little coffee shop where they seemed to rust their own coffee beans and had a very tasty coffee and cake. It was a lovely sunny morning and the temperature was nicely warm.

Row of cafes and restaurants…our hotel above

The cathedral

We met Vallaria and the rest of the group back at the hotel at 9.30 and walked out around the historical centre of Puebla.

Vallaria told us that there are over 400 churches in Puebla and we saw quite a few on our wanders. We started by waking through the main square to the cathedral. Outside of the cathedral Vallaria explained that one theory is that the plans for this cathedral had been swapped with the plans for the cathedral in Mexico City. The gates outside are opened once every 100 years and the faithful come from all around to walk through them which apparently rids them of all previous sins. Sadly for us the last time they were opened was in 2000 so think we’ve missed our chance!

The historical centre of Puebla had a colonial feel and many of the buildings are decorated with tiles making that they wouldn’t look out of place in a European city.

The post office!

The are also lots of buildings which are painted in bright colours which seemed to be accentuated in the bright morning sun.

No idea what this means, but it must be a good place!

Like Mexico City, Puebla is in an earthquake zone and some of the buildings appear to have been damaged by previous quakes.

Next stop was the artist quarter where there were lines of shall studios that artists use.

Me after a red bull!

We continued up a narrow street lined with sweet shops selling locally made sweets and biscuits, many of them made by nuns in the local convents.

Our final stop on the tour was the church of Santa Rosa. Outside the church is pretty impressive, but once you get inside it’s a real assault on the eyes. There are intricate carvings and sculptures everywhere and most of them covered in good leaf. Being inside this church is a real reminder of the wealth of the Catholic church and how important it is that this is displayed for all to see. Not really my cup of tea, but good to see none the less.

We left our guide here and Ed and I had a late brunch at a streetside cafe on the square. We popped back to the hotel and then back out to see the cathedral. Inside was not overly impressive, other than the size and some very unusual Catholic artefacts! It wasn’t as impressive as the cathedral in Mexico City nor as gaudy as the Santa Rosa.

After the cathedral, with the temperature warming up we headed for a roof top bar overlooking the cathedral entrance. Here, with a beer in hand, see watched the world go by. We spotted Hannah and Steve leaving the cathedral and they soon joined us on the rooftop.

After a couple of drinks we wandered to the library, supposedly the oldest on the whole continent. There were some very old first editions on display in an impressive room.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering and people watching from a couple of the roof top bars. The promised rain never arrived.

After a short siesta we meet back up with Hannah and Steve and were also joined by Marion, Kaye and Veronica for dinner. We went to a local restaurant which served Street style food. The service was excellent despite our lack of Spanish and the limited English of the waitress. The food was pretty good too.

After food we stopped at a local gelataria for a delicious ice cream before going back to the hotel for bed; an early start in the morning for our bus ride to Oaxaca.

Day 4- 23rd April 2018 – Mexico City to Puebla

An early start this morning with the alarm set for 6am. In the event I was awake anyway so it didn’t really matter. We packed and checked out before having breakfast and then meeting everyone for our trip to Teotihucan.

The journey took about an hour to the archeological site about 40km North of Mexico City. The site was the centre of the Teotihucan dynasty who were in Mexico for over a thousand years between about 300BC and 700 AD – amazing really that we’d never heard of them. (The Aztecs, in contrast, were only really around for 200 years from the 12th Century).

The first area that we saw was the citadel. Our guide told us all about the construction, most of which I’ve forgotten already. However I do recall him saying that the rocks were transported from arrive 50 miles away! He also told us about the temples around the citadel and the fact that it was constructed so that the sun rises in one corner and sets in another on the Spring equinox, in the middle on midsummers day and in the opposite corners on the autumn equinox! The various temples around the citadel represent the sun and moon cycles and the city itself was home to up to 200,000 people!

Next we walked to the pyramid of the sun which is the larger of the two. It used to have 260 steps to the top which also had some significance!

We climbed to the top and were treated to amazing views. The steps were very steep in places and this made going down even more of a challenge!

Pyramid of the moon in the distance

Having safely navigated the route down, we then walked along to the pyramid of the moon. You couldn’t climb right to the top of this one and Ed decided not to bother at all! However, I walked up and negotiated the very high steps!

Just before we left, the father of our guide for the day came along. He is a local medicine man and he played a blessing on his pipe.

It was getting pretty warm by now and we were glad to head back to the bus for a short drive to where we were to have lunch. It was a lovely setting and the food, and beer, were definitely welcome! This is probably the best meal we’ve had so far in Mexico as the tortillas were delicious! There were a couple of guitarists playing the usual Mexican songs and it did add something to the atmosphere!

The drive back to Mexico City to about an hour and as soon as we arrived and collected our luggage it was off again to the bus station. This took another 45 minutes.

We checked our bags in and then eventually boarded the 15.35 coach to Puebla. The coach itself was comfortable, modern and had plenty of leg room!

The journey to Puebla took about 2 hours and in arrival at the bus station we took taxis to the hotel.

Puebla is Mexico’s 5th largest city with approximately 4 million residents. However the main square where we are doesn’t make it feel like that at all.

The hotel, Hotel Du Portal, is in an excellent location and our room overlooks the main square. It’s a traditional style hotel but with a lovely entrance hall. The room itself is a decent size too.

View from our balcony
Hotel du Portal

We had a quick shower then meet everyone again for an orientation walk. This was somewhat curtailed as a thunderstorm started! We tried some churros at the end of the tour too!

It was time for tea and so we all agreed that the Mexican inspired Italian was the best choice. We’d ordered a pizza with the local sauce (mole poblano) as one of the toppings. The sauce includes chocolate and I think was an acquired taste – one which neither of us really acquired!

After food, Ed headed back to the hotel and I joined some of the others to go and watch the local wrestling! It was held in what seems to be a purpose built arena with various people moving around selling snacks and other tatt! It was quite an experience and despite knowing that it is staged, there were some painful looking encounters.

We walked home via the main square which was really nicely illuminated!

Cathedral

Time for bed!

Day 3 – 22nd April 2018 – Mexico City

We had a lazy start to the day as we were not meeting the group until 9am for our orientation walk. So a leisurely breakfast in the hotel and then we met the group.

We took the metro to zocolo square again. We walked from the metro station into the square which brought us right outside the Palacio Nationale.

Our guide took us inside and far from being pretty but austere outside, inside it was light and airy. There were some cactus plants in a courtyard area:

Inside there was an amazing courtyard with murals on the upper level depicting old Aztec and Mayan life. The last mural was a reminder of what happened when the Europeans arrived!

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here were also reminders of the fact that Mexico City is sinking by about 10cm per year!

Next we walked along to the ruins of the old temple in Mexico City, passing some ‘native’ dancers in the way:

The ruins were not that impressive, but the models alongside have a taste of what we are going to see at Teotihuacan tomorrow.

Next we headed inside the cathedral. Add there was a service going on we couldn’t see the whole building, but we got a pretty good idea of how impressive it is inside as well as outside!

Our orientation walk ended here are 6 of is decided to head off to Xochimilco to see the canals which are dubbed the little Venice of Mexico! Xochimilco is about 30km south of the main city and so after a taxi ride with us all squashed into a small car we arrived. There was a bit of bartering with the boatman before we agreed a price for two hours. At £45 for all six of us we thought it pretty reasonable (and definitely better than the first quote of over £130!). We also purchased some beers to help us on our way!

The boats, of which there are about 1200 in total are all brightly coloured. As it was a Sunday afternoon the were lots of locals and tourists alike and the waterway was very crowded in places.

Dolls and toys attached to trees on the canal side!

There were also smaller boats selling food, drinks and various tatt, along with others with mariachi bands offering their services!

We eventually arrived back at the starting point and disembarked. The whole trip was a fun but surreal experience!

A car at the landing area…

We managed to get another taxi back to our hotel (thanks Uber!) and as it was now mid afternoon we found a place on the street close by she we had our first tacos of the trip (I just know what mum is thinking now – they were definitely better than the ones we had in California)… And very tasty they were too.

We headed back to our room for a shower and freshen up and then were leaving the hotel to grab a drink when we bumped into others from our group. The result was that we all ended up going to a place called the garden bar. While we were there it got dark and then the heavens opened and the was a fairly long thunderstorm with some flashes of lightening. Fortunately by the time the bar was shutting at 8pm it had more or less stopped so we didn’t get too wet on the way back. We passed what appeared to be an old aqueduct in the middle of the road.

Back at our hotel and four of us went for a final drink at a local bar before calling it an early night in anticipation of the early start on the morning!

Day 2 – 21st April 2018 – Mexico City

We woke early and had a quick breakfast if fruit, scrambled eggs and pancakes at our hotel. The view from our balcony is nothing special, but on the 18th floor everything looks quite different.

The balcony rail didn’t feel that high and definitely gave my knees the wobbles!

After breakfast we walked along the road to Monumento de Independencia, more commonly called Angel after the statue high on a column.

Here we joined a hop on hop off bus tour of the city to try and get our bearings. Just before this, when I tried to buy tickets online, I realised that I must have left my back card in the cash machine. So, after reaching my steps and concluding that it wasn’t there I had to call the bank to stop it.

Hemiciclo a Juarez

The day was bright but you could already see the haze caused by the fumes collecting in the valley bowl that Mexico City sits in!

The bus meandered around the Centro Historic for almost 3 hours and despite it being hop on and off, we decided to stay on!

We passed a number of places that we decided we needed to go back to later, including:

Columbus statue (with his arm pointing in the direction of Spain!)
Hemiciclo a Juarez
Bronze statue of a horse, supposedly the second largest bronze statue in the world!
Torre cobballio (replaced the bronze horse statue above when it was moved!)
Statue in plaza Madrid which is an exact copy of one in Madrid and was given to the City as a mark of friendship
The national lottery building built in an art Deco style
The first ‘skyscraper’ in Mexico
Palacio de Bella Artes

By the time we completed a circuit it was time for some food so we stayed on until the Zocalo where we found out way up to a restaurant on the 5th floor overlooking the square.

The food was unmemorable, but the beer was cold and the views from our table impressive!

Cathedral

We headed back to the bus and took the Basilica route to end up at the Basilica dear Guadeloupe.

The bus stopped and we were warned that there would be a 20 delay. So, as it was baking hot on the top deck we decided to try out the metro. For 20p (not each) returned to out hotel for a shower and change.

At 6pm we meet up with our tour leader ‘Valleria’ for an induction of our trip. There appear to be 13 on our trip (mostly Aussies). After our orientation meeting we all went for some food at a local ‘locals’ bar. After food we were all pretty tired and so headed upstairs for an early night!

Day 1 – 20th April 2018 – London to Mexico City

Fairly uneventful day. Easy journey to Heathrow and the obligatory first holiday beer in the lounge!

Flight was smooth, with a couple of nice meals to break up the films! Flying backwards was a novel experience but not much else to report.

We arrived on time and after clearing customs, quickly found out transfer driver. A short delay in the car park as he’s forgotten where he parked the car but eventually we were on our way.

At 9.30 on a Friday evening the roads were busy, but we didn’t really get held up. It was still pretty warm, but not unbearably so.

It seems that our hotel had been changed to the hotel Century…a 21 story block in the Zona Rosa. Or room is clean and bright and as we’re on the 18th floor I’m hoping we’ll have a good view tomorrow!

We walked to the corner of the street to get some cash from an ATM before a quick first Mexican beer at the bar in our hotel.

By 10.30 we were both ready for bed. Looking forward to a day of sightseeing tomorrow!