Saving one of the best countries until last
21.09.2010 - 29.11.2010 34 °C
After Guatemala it was back into Mexico – those pesky whale sharks had messed up our route a bit, so it was a welcome re-entry into one of our favourite countries of the trip. First stop was San Cristobal de las Casas – what felt like our millionth colonial town, but being lovely Mexico it turned out to be one of the best, with stunning cathedral squares, classy shops and delicious Mexican food everywhere to be seen.
OK, just one more colonial town
Checking out the view over San Cristobal
Unfortunately the weather was pretty rubbish, but San Cristobal´s other attraction was its copious amounts of great bars, with live bands and cheap beers. Add to this the presence of our new Dutch friends Nat and Mark, who we'd met in Guatemala, and we managed to find an activity to while away the rainy days. They were great company, and drinking with our Dutchy friends in the privacy of a bar kept us from being seen with them in their embarrassing rain attire for any longer then absolutely necessary.
Dutch dress sense. Meet Red Riding Hood and Dr Robitnik
The best way to while away the rainy days
This second leg of Mexico was also home to another ´oh go on, one last…..´ activity, this one being another Mayan ruins. Palenque is many traveller´s favourite Mayan site, and it is unique in that you can actually go inside the ruins and imagine all the crazy rituals and human sacrifices that went on inside. Although a bit ´ruined out´, it was an impressive way to work off our Dutch drinking hangovers. But still no Ewoks.
OK, just one more Mayan ruins
All that rain made for a good waterfall
After that it was time to head off to our final destination of Mexico City… even though we had over 36 hours more travelling to go once we got there (to be explained in the next blog...). Having booked our flight home from Mexico City about 18 months ago, when still buried in my MBA studies, it felt strange to find ourselves there after all the incredible things we have experienced over the last eight months. And having seen lots of big, overpopulated, polluted Latin American cities in that time, I wasn´t that excited about seeing one more, particularly when it´s the biggest city in the world. But – bless Mexico again – like everything else, their capital city left many others in the shade. As mentioned in the previous Mexico blog, this country seems to have achieved a great blend of strong national character and rich indigenous culture, with some of the best bits of Western living. So Mexico City has some incredible museums and galleries, great street food and markets, and brilliantly practical things like an efficient Metro system. Considering that Mexico City has a population of over 20 million people, the atmosphere and efficiency of this place is pretty damn impressive.
I think part of our enjoyment of Mexico has been due to the bicentenary of the country´s independence, as the government has made a big effort to ensure this is celebrated all over the country. This is particularly true of the capital, with lots of festivals in the colossal main square, markets with yummy street food all over the place, and we were lucky enough to be able to visit the National Palace, which has been opened free to the public during the celebrations – even to us dirty foreigners, a real rarity to be treated as an equal in a Latin American country! This meant that we got to see some of the amazing Diego Rivera murals that adorn the inside of the palace, and the President´s office, which even has it´s very own batphone for dealing with national emergencies, and I suspect ordering late night tacos as well.
Stu blocking my view of some amazing historical artwork
We also visited some floating markets in the very south of the city, which we were told were very tricky to reach by metro, but being hardy Londoners this was a piece of cake. The only difference between Mexico City´s underground and London´s is the price – at 15p to ride anywhere on the entire system, this is going to make my Oyster card seem like a right stitch up in a couple of weeks. So Xochimilco (one of the few things I don´t like about Mexico – too many names that I will never be able to pronounce) is an old canal area that has become a big attraction for local people – a great way to experience how Mexican families have fun on the weekends. Brilliantly, this mostly involves the stereotypical Mexican activities of eating tacos, drinking tequila, and watching mariachi bands in massive sombreros. But not just any mariachi bands – floating mariachi bands on canal boats. Good work.
Some floating mariachi fun in action
Mariachi in suitably impressive sombrero
There was one more stereotype left to fulfil in our Mexican adventure, and that was a visit to Lucha Libre – free fighting, or Mexican wrestling. I think this is pretty famous, but for those not aware this is pretty similar to the British wrestling of Saturday mornings in the 80s, with Big Daddy and the like, but with much more spangly outfits, and for some reason with weird gimpy masks. Thanks to the advice of a very friendly Mexican chap we met at the ticket booth (gracias to Alex, and to Oscar!) we managed to get the cheap tickets and enjoy a night of burly men fighting in sparkly lycra with local families, rather than with all the other tourists in the front row who´d paid six times the price to go with their hostel. This was much more authentic, and I´m not sure I´d have wanted to get quite so close to all that sweaty lycra anyway… I´m sure this is some kind of health hazard. There are no pictures of the wrestling I´m afraid, as no cameras are allowed in the arena (perhaps due to some sort of lycra copyright paranoia), but we did buy some souvenir masks for Stu´s nephews, so we can recreate some of the wrestling craziness when we´re back in Australia.
What I do have a picture of, though, is the new look that Stu considered debuting at the wrestling. Having spent our entire trip cultuvating a grisly beard, he decided his re-entry into civilised society would be helped by a shave. But naturally he couldn't resist the temptation of the brilliant comedy opportunity this process presents...
This proved a little much for either of us to cope with unfortunately, so he decided not to wear this look to a night involving burly men grappling with each other in lycra and masks. Probably a very wise move.
So that was Mexico and the end of our trip… but not quite. After a few false starts we managed to squeeze one last country into our mammoth adventure. All for the final blog!
Sarah (and Stu, currently waiting to fly back to London from Mexico City airport…and therefore tequila shopping duty free style!)