Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hard Yakka

We stayed at a nice place near Chichen Itza but had to share the pool with the ducks. The place was run entirely by young men in matching yellow T shirts. As there were about four of them and most of the guests headed off early in the morning to visit the site and didn't return until late in the day, they were able to spend most of the day hanging about in hammocks or watching their favourite Tele Novelas (Mexican Soap Operas). We had to wake one up one day to get a margarita.
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Tulum II

Tulum has a great beach and that's the main attraction. Most people come for the beach and the scuba diving on the barrier reef off shore or in the cenotes (sink holes and underground caves). Chris did swim in a cenote and Pat had his first swim in the Caribbean but since we don't have our diving certificate and we discovered that beaches are beautiful to look at but hanging around them puts sand in your pants, we used the stay here to relax, read, and have a holiday from the hard work of being on a holiday.
The Barmacia helped relieve some of our stress too!
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Set on the Caribbean side of the Yucatan peninsula these Mayans had a pretty idyllic spot. Plenty of beaches and sunshine. The site was small, clearly an outpost but interesting. It was so packed with tourists though that we quickly gave up and headed back to the bar.
We returned later, just before closing, and managed to enjoy it much more.
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Wednesday, April 1, 2009


We stayed the weekend of 28 March in Campeche. We went there because we read that it was a 'colonial gem, by the sea, not yet overrun with tourism'. It had an interesting history- attacked over 15 times by various pirates and sacked a few times until they built the fortress walls. It was also colourful and beautiful in the colonial centre. But...

Nothing much open, mostly ordinary restaurants, almost non- existent services. And on Sunday it was like being in the city in Hobart on a Sunday- nothing happening.

We did enjoy the pan de cazon though- A sort of lasagne dish made with layers of tortilla, shredded shark meat and tomato sauce. We will have to try that with our lasagne day group.
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A ball game was popular throughout mesoamerica. The ball court was in the shape of a capital letter I. The rules and objectives seemed to vary over time and in different cultures/regions but they almost all seem to have had it. The pictures show one at Monte Alban, one at Palenque and one (the largest discovered) at Chichen Itza. In Chitzen Itza there were seven players to a side. They could hit the ball (hard rubber) with just about anything accept hands and the objective was to knock the ball through the ring on the wall. Looks impossible to me.

The game was important ceremonially and at various times was used to settle disputes rather than fight. That sounds good, but in some cultures they sacrificed the loosers and sometimes the winners (offering the strongest and best to the gods)
Maybe this is why Mexico will never win the world cup?

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009


A very long bus trip trip took us from San Cristobal to Palenque. The usual road was closed for some reason, and the alternate route (as well as a flat tyre) meant that a five hour trip turned into a 9 hour trip. We also were stopped to have guards (with assault rifles) check the bus & search inside all the luggage in the hold of the bus. We were tired when we arrived & (as happens when you are tired) I didn' t realise that I had left my (prescription) sunglasses on the bus. They are now gone forever. But Carolann will appreciate the joy of me chosing new ones at some stage when we hit a larger city.
One of the only reasons for going to Palenque was to visit the massive Mayan ruins there. They did not disappoint.
We went from the cool hills of San Cristobal, towards the Yucatan penninsula, & into the jungles surrounding Palenque. It was hot. We caught the local bus (a colectivo) up to the ruins early in the morning & spent until about 3.00 exploring the ruins. Inspite of drinking a lot of water we both felt rather dehydrated after we got back, so we did what any sensible person would do: we drank two margaritas each.
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San Cristobal Chiapas

Our next stop was San Cristobal. We stayed there three nights. It is a small place up in the hills, and is a favourite destination for European travellers, although we never quite worked out why. Our accommodation felt like an old Europeran hunting lodge. Lots of wooden floors, & old wooden furniture & panelled ceilings. The whole place creaked when anyone moved about. The most remarkable aspect of our stay in San Cristobal was our trip up to the villages of Chamula & Zinacantan. They are both indigenous towns, proudly hoplding on to their heritage, teaching their own language in their schools. We went with a guide who had been visiting the villages for 18 years. He spoke some of the language & clearly knew a lot of the locals who were friendly to him & on a couple of ocasions offerred him & us some home made posh (cane spirit) to share. We would not have intruded without him. The villages can be visited using a tour group, which is totally inappropriate.
The villages are still somewhat isolated & visits to the church are somewhat controlled which is the only thing saving them I think.
They hold to their own form of religion, which is a strong mix of their own, melded with the Catholic religion. In each village elders are chosen to perform religious ceremonies from shrines put together at their own houses. We went into one & tasted the home made posh from a Corona bottle. There was no one there, but the insence was still warm & aromatic. The shrine had pine needles spread over the floor & a curtain of vines in front of the alter where the baby Jesus doll lay under a green velvert blanket with a gold fringe. There were gourds made into shakers to conduct the singing & control a small gathering.The crosses were all decorated with pine branches.
We then went down into the village church. It is a big church, called the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista. It was built & still operates as a Catholic church, but one where the local customs of the people have to be tolerated.This includes the priest having to tolerate chickens being sacrified during the service. Apparently there is a fairly high attrition rate of local priests. We happened to go to the church on a Tuesday, which is the day that the healers usually come to the church. They chant & use eggs & sacrifice chickens to help heal the sick. When we walked into the church we saw a carpet of pine needles (changed weekly on a Wednesday), and rows, & groups of candles stuck directly onto the floor, all over the floor, lighting the church. (Apparently the church had already burned down once). There were small groups of people seated all over the floor of the church. There were no pews, or chairs. Some were family groups there to worship & drink posh together in the church afterwards, but most were groups with a healer. We saw the healers chanting & waving eggs over people. Each group had brought along a chicken to be sacrified in the church. The evil of the sickness is passed on to the chicken in the ceremony & then the chicken is killed. We heard one being sacrificed, but did not see it happening. There was a lot of insence, dust, dim lighting & smoke from the candles, chanting, lots of people (drinking posh, & offering us some) & chickens. The walls were bare, except for statues of the Catholic saints behind glass along one of the side walls, and a statue of San Juan Bautista at the alter. It was mesmerising. Then a tour group arrived.We left.

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