Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Oaxaca - A culinary delight!

We arrived on an overnight bus from San Cristobal at 6.00 am and checked in to the Hotel Casa del Sotano, our very traditionally Mexican styled accommodation which had a lovely roof terrace overlooking Oaxaca. We snatched a couple of hours sleep, before heading out to explore.

Oaxaca is full of art galleries, craft shops and cool coffee joints. The city is famous for its brightly coloured wooden fantasy creatures, and they are everywhere. The market adjacent to the Zocalo is crammed with everything from embroidered belts to the local delicacy of grasshoppers.

The Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca is an impressive ex-monastery next to the Temple de Santo Domingo. It is huge and took us some time to see it all. It covers the history of Oaxaca in great detail. At the rear of the building, there are great views of the botanical gardens, where cacti of every type is grown.

Food wise, we went to a very cute vegetarian restaurant, Manatial Vegetariano. It was traditional in style, and very colourful. While T had a larger than usual choice of dishes, they also served a few meat dishes, so Ku sampled the Pollo con Mole. Another bar/restaurant we tried was called Comala. Ku had a plate of Oaxacan snacks including cheeses, meats and grasshoppers. The grasshoppers are cooked in chilli, onion and garlic. Even the usually vegetarian T had a taster! (She said insects don't count?!) Thanks, Grant Winborn, for the top tip - they were delicious!

Friday, February 22, 2013

San Cristobal - Could this be our favourite place in Mexico?!

We have just spent three days exploring San Cristobal, Chiapas. As soon as we arrived, we knew it was our kind of place - numerous coffee shops for T, trinkets for Ku and vibrant colours, VW beetles, interesting restaurants and great architecture for us both.

It's a great place to wander, sit for a while, watch the world go by and then move on, and then sit again! It's very much a base for the Zapatistas, the leftist group and there are several fair trade places run by them that sell items made by the Zapatista community. Additionally, the city is home to organisations that support the indigenous population of Chiapas, so it's a progressive city, with much going on politically and artistically. We went to a great courtyard restaurant called TierrAdentro, run by Zapatista supporters, where we sampled wine and tapas.

The markets are plentiful. There is a large one specialising in local arts and crafts around Templo de la Caridad, and also an interesting fruit and vegetable market, where the produce is artistically displayed! 

The main Templo de Santo Domingo is a beautiful church, and the area around it is a meeting place for both locals and visitors. Indigenous women sell woven rugs, bags and knick-knacks in the square.


Na Bolom is the ex-home of Swiss anthropologist/ photographer Gertrude Duby-Blom and her Danish archaeologist husband, Francis Blom. It is a lovely building and has a great collection of photographs and artefact's. Gertrude was a great supporter of the Lacandon jungle people and worked to protect them. The museum is a great testament to the couples work, and doubles as a research centre, housing over nine thousand books.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Exploring Palenque!

We took an overnight bus from Mexico City to Palenque. Bus travel in Mexico is a breeze - the stations are clean and have excellent facilities. In Mexico City, the four main terminals are huge and more like airports than bus stations we have seen elsewhere in the world. Security is tight, bags are checked and often passengers are video taped. Bandits and hold-ups are still a real problem on certain routes. On the luxury buses, you are given drinks and snacks as you board and sometimes have a personal screen with a choice of entertainment.

Once again, we were grateful that we had made the decision to travel with day packs - the sense of freedom it gives is worth having to do a little clothes washing every day. We can't imagine travelling with full size backpacks ever again!

Palenque is famous for its Mayan temples, set amidst the jungle. We hit the ruins early in the day. Luckily for us, it was a little cloudy and the sun was not too fierce. We climbed the steep steps of the many temples and sat at the top, taking in various perspectives of the ancient city. Walking on a path through the jungle, we passed a waterfall and saw lots of parrots and butterflies. T even caught a glimpse of a toucan. We heard a troupe of howler monkeys, but unfortunately didn't see any. There were some less impressive ruins in the dense jungle. Although they were smaller, the setting gave them a certain appeal.

Palenque is a bargain at only fifty four peso's ( $3.00 U.S. approximately), and despite a few tour groups, it is still possible to find quiet spots and enjoy the tranquility of the jungle setting.

T only tripped three times during the course of the day (not bad going when you are clambering over ruins!)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sweet Morelia!

We arrived in Morelia, state capital of Michoacan in the late afternoon and were driven into town by a crazy and exuberant, but friendly taxi driver.

Another UNESCO world heritage site, Morelia is a colonial city buzzing with activity. On Sunday morning, we sat at sidewalk Cafe Catedral, where we had fantastic Huevos Ranchero for breakfast and watched the city come to life. The road around the impressive cathedral had been closed off to traffic, and a parade of cyclists (many with dogs in tow), skaters and children on small bikes or driving tiny toy cars passed by. Meanwhile, worshippers headed into the cathedral for Sunday Mass.

We explored the adjacent streets, watched some capoeira in one of the plazas, and popped into a couple of museums. The Palacio Clavijero had some vibrant artwork, some of the paintings being interesting portraits of Frida Kahlo.

Morelia is famous for its sweets and we checked out the Mercado De Dulces - stall after stall of stacked sweets, nuts, chocolate and fruit leather (a speciality). We took the opportunity to stock up on rounds of nut brittle for approaching bus journeys.

There are hardly any tourists in Morelia, which made for an authentic Mexican experience, and once again, we found everyone we came across incredibly friendly.

We ate lunch at Pulcinellas, fabulous and huge pizzas with a Mexican twist of hot chilli sauces on the side. Highly recommended!

The next day, we headed out to Bosque Cuauhtemoc, Moreilia's park and went to the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Alfred Zalce, but although it was a nice building, there wasn't much being shown, so we headed back to town. We bought some cheese and freshly baked bread and had a picnic.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mummies And Margaritas!

We spent the last few days in what must be the prettiest city in the world - Guanajuato. Set in a valley, the UNESCO world heritage sight is crammed with brightly painted houses, colonial buildings, plazas, basilicas and steep winding lanes. Our hotel Balcon De Ci is in a fantastic position on the hillside, next to the funicular, overlooking the city. The views are amazing.

Unfortunately, Ku has been unwell since our last day in Mexico City, but this has been a perfect place to recuperate, sitting in plazas people-watching, taking it easy and sipping on water. Meanwhile, T has been sampling the mango margaritas!

We visited Museo y Casa de Diego Rivera, which was Diego's childhood home. It has now been developed into a gallery as well, and various exhibitions are held there. It's an interesting building to browse around and offers yet another perspective of the artist.


The most bizarre aspect of the city is the Museo De Las Mumias - the Museum of Mummies! Apparently, visitors come from all over the country to see the remains of the hundred plus mummies, including the smallest one in the world. It is a weird place, and somewhat disconcerting. Many of the mummies have still have clothes or boots on. An alarming number have contorted expressions on their faces, and cause of death is evident in their posture - one was buried alive, another drowned and one obviously stabbed. We never knew what gruesome sight we would be faced with around the next corner! Not for the feint-hearted!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Culture Vultures In Mexico City

We left Toronto in a snowstorm, taking the ten hour bus trip across the U.S. border and down to New York City. Our stay in Manhattan was a short one, as the following day we had a flight booked for Mexico City.

We enjoyed our few days in the Mexican capital, the highlight being a visit to Frida Kahlo's Blue House in Coyoacon. For us, it was somewhere we had always dreamt of visiting, and it certainly lived up to expectations.To see the house, the artwork, sculptures and personal effects of Frida and Diego Rivera was a fascinating experience. The garden is beautiful and tranquil and was much larger than we anticipated. The colours stunning - the azure blue of the house itself, the huge vibrant paper mache figures looming over the the entrance hall and the lush tropical plants under a clear blue sky.


While we were in Coyoacon, which incidentally is a very attractive residential area, we also stopped by to see Trotsky's house, which was an interesting insight into the life of the great revolutionary leader.

Being a Sunday, the plaza was busy - packed with stalls selling tamales and full of strolling families enjoying the weekend.

In central Mexico City, the Museo Nacional de Antropologia is definitely worth a mention - an amazing collection of artefacts from pre-hispanic Mexico. It's really well laid out and use is also made of outside space, where various sculptures and replicas of ancient buildings are displayed. The museum is in the Bosque de Chapultepec, a huge park which also encompasses the Museo de Arte Moderno, a zoo, a lake and botannical gardens. We never realised the city would be so green and have so many tree lined streets.

The Zocalo, is of course, the heart of Mexico City and many of the vast number of museums are located around it. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of being there on a Monday when everything is closed! We will just have to go back to revisit when we return to the city at the end of the trip.

We hit the mezcal/tequila museum at Garabaldi Square, the highlight being the free samples served in a bar overlooking the square.

Generally, Mexico City made a great impression on us.......friendly, helpful people, a clean and easy to use metro system, fantastic architecture and surely more museums than any other city on earth!