Joined June 2017Living in: Queensland, Australia
  • Day341

    Oh Oaxaca!

    July 5 in Mexico

    Our time in Mexico was soon coming to an end but we had enough time to squeeze in a trip to another part of the country. Travelling budget-class Volaris airlines, we boarded our flight to Oaxaca City, after a slow Über ride through Mexico City. The Über ride included the obligatory conversation to practise our Spanish, which was almost the same conversation, or a variation on a theme, that we have had with every Über driver in Mexico. The hour flight got us to Oaxaca City a little after lunchtime, which meant we had the afternoon to roam around the historical centre.

    Oaxaca City is situated at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountain range, in the Central Valleys region of the state of Oaxaca. While Oaxaca City is not the big smoke and not exactly renown for its party scene, we must have found the only “nightclub” in the city – and it was located at the foot of our apartment building. After the thumping bass of the restaurant-cum-nightclub stopped, we only had a few hours before the thumping sounds of drills and hammers and construction work took place in an adjoining building. We are almost certain that the DJ at the nightclub was playing to an empty room – maybe he turned it up so the neighbours could enjoy the soothing sounds of hardcore techno at 3am. Not!

    After a couple of days of exploring the historical areas of the city, Ricky took a tour of Monte Albán, an ancient site inhabited by the Zapotec and Mixtec cultures, and located a few kilometres away from downtown. The site was an important civic-ceremonial centre for the Zapotec people, with artificial terraces and architectural mounds across the partially excavated city. More interestingly are the carved stele that demonstrate the culture’s deep understanding of anatomy, particularly with respect to obstetrics. Apparently early in the civilisation, the culture did not understand the correlation between birth defects and consanguineous sexual relationships. The stele included depictions of a number of women with physical abnormalities, some illustrating the complexities of child birth. After a quick wander of the site, the tour ended with a sprint through the on-site museum, before being huddled back in a mini-van. The amount of time allocated really wasn't enough to explore the entire site in a leisurely manner. At least Ricky got to meet a couple from Texas, Kyle and Terrie, who had visited the ruins twice, and we got to exchange travel stories and contact details.

    The next day, we wandered to the Centro Cultural Santo Domingo, a former church and monastery built between 1555 to 1666. Initially, we thought that we would spend an hour touring around the religious site (well, half an hour for Jason and an hour for Ricky). We strolled around the bottom floor before catching sight of the enormity of the building and the collection of artefacts that ranged from the earliest civilisations of the Zapotec to the late Nineteenth Century. Surrounding the church and monastery is the largest garden of cacti and succulents that we have ever seen. Unfortunately, we missed a tour of the gardens but it wasn't too late to do a tour of the local markets, one more stroll through the Zócalo, a wander past the Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude and the Oaxaca Cathedral before heading onto our next destination.

    Next stop: Mexico City Part 4

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  • Day327

    Trip to Teotihuacán

    June 21 in Mexico

    One of the most popular tourist attractions forty kilometres from Mexico City is the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacán. The original city is believed to have been founded around 100 BCE, with continuous building construction occurring up until 250 CE. By the mid-sixth century, the city had been sacked and buildings burned. A little later in the seventh or eight century, the site was completely abandoned. The Aztecs, centuries later, discovered the abandoned city and repurposed it, or reimagined it if you will, for themselves, claiming ancestry with the Teotihuacán culture.

    The three amigos, Julie, Jason and Ricky, set out on their Aztec adventure from the main bus terminal in the north of Mexico City. After a little over an hour on a bus, we arrived and headed to the onsite museum before scaling the steps of the Pyramid of the Sun, which left us panting like a sex-worker on a busy night. Needless to say some of us were a little bit relieved to find out that the Pyramid of the Moon could only be climbed to the first level. Apart from the main structures along the Avenue of the Dead, there are residential areas with elaborate murals to explore. Unlike Chichén Itzá, the vendors are restricted to a small stretch near one of the exits to the site, with only a handful roaming around. Bypassing the vendors, we ended our tour with another museum visit, before catching the next bus back to Mexico City.

    Next stop: Back to Mexico City.

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  • Day322

    Mexico City Part 3

    June 16 in Mexico

    After a week in Cancun, the three amigos, Julie, Jason and Ricky, flew back to Mexico City, just in time for Pride Week. This time, the three amigos were located in Colonia Centro, within walking distance of the downtown and historical areas. We were situated amongst the hustle and bustle of the city, with constant sounds of car horns from 7am until late at night. We didn't need to set an alarm. The traffic was our alarm clock and like clockwork the high-pitched sound bellowed at the same time each day. We wouldn't be surprised if most of the long-term residents suffered from tinnitus. There was still a ringing sound long after we left the city.

    We had only returned and, after a couple of hours, we had reunited with our friend, Gerardo, who also introduced us to his cousin, Pedro, a.k.a los venezolanos. They invited us for dinner at their work, where were we fortunate enough to try some of the local delicacies, in between jugs of the local beer. Julie even got to sample a vegetarian dish made from cactus – of course without the spines! Although, the spines could have doubled as toothpicks. After three jugs of beer between the five of us (although Pedro was working so wasn't able to indulge), the three amigos and Gerardo stumbled into an Über to go home to get some shut-eye, oblivious to events that would occur as Pedro finished work at the restaurant. We found out the next day that Pedro had suffered a blow to his head and only regained consciousness hours later in the streets. He had been robbed and all of his valuables, including passport, had been stolen. Pedro remembers nada. Fortunately, Pedro didn't sustain any long-term injuries.

    Meanwhile the three amigos, unaware of Pedro's situation, gallivanted around the historical centre. Later that evening, we were able to catch up with los venezolanos and hear firsthand about the ordeal. Gerardo was always on hand to be our intermediary and translate anything that we didn't understand, which for Julie was anything in Spanish and for Pedro anything in English. We were treated to a lesson on latino music as Gerardo played (and sang) all of his favourite hits.

    The next few days were spent trekking and around taking in the typical tourist spots, such as the Angel of Independence, the National Museum of Anthropology, Castillo de Chapultepec and a day trip to Teotihuacan. The National Museum of Anthropology took a good two hours to cover and includes one of the largest pre-Colombian collections that we have visited. The collection includes all of the different ancient cultures from Mexico, culminating with several rooms of Aztec artefacts such as the Stone of the Sun and the Aztec Xochopilli. We followed up the museum with a tour of the Castillo de Chapultepec, a nineteenth century castle that served as the residence of the viceroy during Spanish times and the home of the Emperor of Mexico Maximilian I and his consort Empress Carlota.

    Most tourists don't leave Mexico without taking in a bit of lucha libre, a Mexican-style wrestling. Earlier in the day, Julie and Ricky were tasked with buying tickets to the Tuesday night show, while Jason stayed at home, lying in bed sick. After circling the Roma Arena in search of tickets, we finally stumbled upon the ticket office and managed to buy tickets in the second circle. That evening we rocked up at the arena, took our seats and were waited on by roving vendors. With our beers and popcorn purchased, we were set. Now let the show begin! Immediately, we were treated to scantily-clad women gyrating in unison to loud pumping music (well, kind of, except for the uncoordinated dancer in the back row). It was a two-hour show of masked wrestlers bouncing, jumping and slamming into each other like a mosh-pit of gymnasts, punctuated with scantily-clad women dancing and prancing around the ring with signs in between rounds. We're undecided whether the wrestlers were more entertaining than the three latina women sitting next to us who screamed obscenities throughout the show. Our Spanish is no better than a six-year child but we do have a more than satisfactory grasp of las palabrotas / swearwords and can swear like a fishmonger's wife, especially Little Miss Pottymouth. We're also undecided if we should be offended or not. Most of the words being screamed by the women, and many other audience members, included the word puto, which would be similar to an English-speaking person screaming poof or faggot.

    But the main event was Mexico City's LGBTIQ Pride Day, which due to Mexico playing in the World Cup was delayed to avoid a clash with the soccer fans. The parade included a number of corporate-sponsored floats, some throwing out free giveaways as they filed down the street. Jason made out like a bandit with all kinds of goodies. Beside some of the commercial floats, there were some politically-inspired messages that were scattered throughout the parade. After four hours the parade came to an end and we headed back to our apartment to catch-up with Gerardo and Pedro for pre-drinks. After a few drinks, we all stumbled out onto the street and walked to the after-parade party, Pervert, hosted in an old movie theatre. But watch out for the terraced dancefloor in the dark! At the party, we meet people from all over the Americas (including Antonn and his partner) and we got to practise our (poor) Spanish. At the end of the night, well past abuelita’s (granny’s [a.k.a Jason]) bedtime, the three amigos and los venezolanos slowly stumbled home.

    After a day of recovery, the Mexican adventure of one of the three amigos, Julie, came to an end and she began her journey back to the land down under. For the other two amigos, it was time to move to another apartment, closer to the historical centre and next to the office of the secretariat. The entire area was swarming with police, dressed in full riot gear, standing around, mostly with their heads stuck in their phone checking their social media feeds.

    The next few days were spent wandering and exploring the streets of Mexico City and hanging out with Gerardo and Pedro. The traffic in the city is so crazy that often it was easier to walk than catch an Über. We doubt that there is a street within a 10 kilometre radius that we didn't traverse. One day involved a trip to Walmart, the only shop to stock Jason's latest addiction, Juan Valdez coffee, affectionately referred to as Jason's new boyfriend Juan. Another day was needed to explore the gay area of Juárez, and yet another day to explore la Condesa. There are so many areas within Mexico City that we easily filled a couple of weeks, sixteen days to be precise.

    Our final day in Mexico City happened to be election day and therefore a public holiday (and also a dry day where alcohol isn't sold). The streets seemed deserted, unlike when Mexico won a game in the World Cup and the one million people jumping up and down caused a 2.0 on the Richter scale earthquake. After more than two and a half weeks in Mexico City, it was time to move on to our next destination.

    Next stop: Oaxaca City

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  • Day318

    Chichén Itzá is a Mayan ruin located about three hours by bus from Cancun in the Yucatán region. We arrived at the main bus terminal in Cancun and waited for our bus to Chichén Itzá. The scheduled time passed and still there was no sign of a departure. After about half an hour of waiting around, the bus finally arrived, loaded up with passengers and we were off.

    Chichén Itzá became one of the largest cities in the region during the late classic period, 600-900 CE. The site is dominated by a large pyramid in the centre of the main plaza and a large ball court and a number of platforms surrounding the plaza. There are also two main sinkholes or cenotes, where there has been evidence found of human sacrifice. The most famous sinkhole, Cenote Sagrado, was dredged in the early twentieth century and numerous Mayan artefacts and human remains were found. The complex is filled with hundreds of local vendors trying to sell their wares. The sales pitch was almost the same throughout the site – they say that their goods cost US$1, or 20 pesos if they can see that the tourist is non-gringo. When the vendor goes to seal the deal, they say $1 off the price, not $1. Some people find the vendors off-putting, and while they were annoying, we seemed to manage to ignore them and not let it affect our time. Jason did fall prey to their traps and bought a blanket with a picture of a Mayan warrior woven into it.

    At one point, the sky rained on our parade and we had to seek shelter under our umbrellas. Soon, we were bombarded by a group of Spanish tourists from Barcelona and Valencia, wanting to share our shelter. Despite their thick Spanish accent, we had a brief conversation before the sky cleared and everyone continued with their tour of the site.

    By the end of the day, the number of (narcissistic) selfies being taken was almost unbearable. The monument, which should be the main focus, seemed to be relegated to just a background and the face of some wannabe instagramer or blogger took centre stage. We sat and watched as one couple tried to set up a photo as they jumped and bounced across the site. At one point, the woman fell flat on her arse in the dirt. But that didn't deter her.

    After about three and a half hours of wandering the ancient ruins, we had covered the entire area that has been excavated and we were ready to embark upon the long journey home. For some reason, the return trip took almost an extra hour to reach home. It made for a very long day but well worth the expedition.

    Next stop: Back to Cancun

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  • Day317

    On day three in Cancun, we decided to take a one-hour-forty-minute bus trip to the nearby beach town of Playa del Carmen. We first needed to get to the main bus terminal in Downtown to then catch another bus to Playa del Carmen. When we arrived at the small beach town, we were met with tonnes of seaweed that had washed up on shore over night. There was no way that there was going to be any swimming so instead we hit the street markets for a bit of shopping, although the three amigos (Julie, Jason and Ricky) walked away with only a small bounty.

    The bigger bounty was captured in their gullets as they grazed their way through the streets, dodging other tourists. After lunching on tacos and fajitas and after a wild goose chase in Walmart for a new umbrella to shade Jason from the harsh rays of the Sun, the three amigos hit the road and returned to Cancun.

    Next stop: Back to Cancun

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  • Day315

    Kickin' Back in Cancun

    June 9 in Mexico

    The three amigos, Julie, Jason and Ricky, were set to travel to Cancun to spend a week on the Riviera Maya. We arrived at the airport early and, at this point, our flight did not have an assigned gate. Go budget airline! We kept a vigilant eye on the information screens waiting for a gate number to be assigned but it didn't seem forthcoming. Then, all of a sudden it changed to T. We all looked puzzled at each other, trying to work out what this meant. Was it to be announced or was there some other (hidden) code to all of it? Then, 20 minutes prior to the flight, we saw a sign in the distance with a T on it and we figured this was the correct direction to board our plane. Two hours later, we landed in Cancun and were taken to our Airbnb by a pick-up service, which was actually cheaper than a taxi. Über had been operating in the area, but due to some violent incidences with taxi drivers, this was no longer an option.

    The first afternoon, we took a bus for 12 pesos (less than AU$1) to go to La Isla Shopping Centre in the Hotel Zone. We were staying in between the Hotel Zone and Downtown so it took only about ten minutes to get there. Amazingly, or maybe not, the price of food (and everything) was about three to four times more in the Hotel Zone compared to Downtown, where tourists rarely go. On the way home from the Hotel Zone, the bus seemed to be converted into a nightclub as the music blared from the speakers and the coloured lights flashed throughout the bus. It seemed that the bus driver was on commission as he stopped for anyone who might look like they needed a ride home. This meant that the ten minute journey took about half an hour to forty minutes. It felt like a lifetime as some of the passengers yelled at the bus driver, rather aggressively, to hurry up while others started to busk on the bus.

    The next day, we headed to el Rey, a Mayan ruin in the Hotel Zone, but little known by most tourists who visit Cancun. El Rey is a site that includes 47 structures from various phases of the occupation from 200 CE until the Spanish invasion, when it was abandoned. After a brief tour of the ruins, we crossed the road to one of the beaches along the Hotel Zone, Playa Defín to check out the crystal blue water and fine, white sand. Playa Defín was one of the very few beaches that we have visited that could actually rival an Australian beach.

    For the remainder of our stay, the heavens opened up and flooded most of the area, which meant we were largely house-bound, except for a quick outing to get food or a short tour of the downtown area. On one occasion, we headed to the Downtown area to indulge in some cocktails and Mexican food. The prices were a quarter of the tourist area so why not have four times the amount and become gluttons. Bart, not Bart Simpson, was the owner of the restaurant and dressed us up in traditional Mexican costume, as we sat back and sipped (sculled) on our cocktails before stumbling home.

    The rain, however, wasn't confined to Cancun. Many areas of the country were affected by flooding caused by two hurricanes off both coasts of the country. But fortunately, the sky held out for our day trip to Chichen Itzá and the flooding had receded at our next destination.

    Next stop: Mexico City.

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  • Day313

    Mexico City Part 2

    June 7 in Mexico

    After a week at the beach, we flew from Puerto Vallarta to Mexico City so that we could meet up with our friend, Julie, who had travelled from Australia to Mexico to visit us. The hour-and-a-half flight got us into Mexico City airport with enough time to collect our bags and catch the train to the other terminal to meet Julie. We had made signs to hold as she exited immigration but her flight was early and she appeared before we could pull out the signs. Welcome to Mexico Aunty Julie!

    We spent the next two days in Mexico City exploring the nearby area and the Frida Kahlo house-cum-museum. The museum, also known as the Blue House, is dedicated to the Mexican artist and avant garde fashion icon, who was famous for her self-portraits (and her unique fashion) that combined popular culture with indigenous and folk styles. The museum included not only her artwork and photos but personal items that provided an insight into her lifestyle. Frida had contracted polio as a child which left her disabled and then was injured when she was involved in a bus accident when she was eighteen, which affected her for the rest of her life. Due to her injuries, she needed to wear corset-like garments to support her frail body, which she incorporated into her fashion. Apparently children would call out to her in the streets and ask her “where is the circus?”. To call it Fridamania would be an understatement. Frida's everywhere, including on the 500 peso note.

    We also meet a Venezuelan PhD student, Gerardo, studying in Mexico, who helped us practise our Spanish, although the conversations tended to be more Spanglish, a mix of Spanish and English whenever we were unable to find the vocabulary to express ourselves. However, we did prove to ourselves that we are able to make small talk (really small talk). Maybe we can continue our conversation when we return. Our time in Mexico City was only brief but we will be back to spend more time in the megacity upon our return from our next destination.

    Next stop: Cancun.
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  • Day306

    Putos en Puerto Vallarta

    May 31 in Mexico

    Puerto Vallarta was our next destination, well-known as the gay beach capital of Mexico, with LGBTIQ seaside resorts, bars and clubs. We arrived early at the Guadalajara bus terminal only to find out that the next bus to Puerto Vallarta was sold out and that the 8:20am bus was running at least an hour behind schedule. We checked the other companies and the earliest bus that we could find was leaving at 9am. In the meantime, the bus that was supposedly running late arrived and left before our 9am departure. We eventually exited Guadalajara and arrived in Puerto Vallarta around 2pm. For seven days la Playa del Muertos was our playground, as we soaked up the sunshine and slurped on our cold, alcoholic beverage on the beach.

    Our apartment was only a short distance from the beach but it seemed perched high in the hills. To get to the beach, we had to descend down a flight of stairs, then a short walk before tackling a set of stairs that were built into the side of a mountain cliff. The journey down wasn't the problem - it was getting back up that was the problem, particularly after a few drinks. The same pattern occurred each day: get up, eat, go to the beach, drink, return home, rinse and repeat the next day. To mix things up, we changed the order of these activities or added an excursion to the historical centre to stock up on supplies or a bite to eat.

    On our first day in Puerto Vallarta, we strolled along the beach, puzzled at the colour of the water. It was a colour that we had never seen before. We started to think that the name of the beach, Playa de los Muertos (Beach of the Dead) may have been named after the dark red oceans. Maybe it was just an isolated incident but the next day the colour had returned to a bluish, green colour. Beach life was relatively uneventful, except one day a shark was spotted. Ricky was the last to know about it. He tried as fast as he could to get out of the ocean, but it seemed like everything was in slow motion and the sand had turned to quicksand. All Ricky could hear in the background was the eerie music from the Jaws movies. That was the end of our day at beach and our time in Puerto Vallarta.

    Next stop: Mexico City.

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  • Day305

    Te Quiero Tequila

    May 30 in Mexico

    When most people think of Mexico, they think of big Mexican hats and tequila shots, so a visit to the small town of Tequila and a tour of one of the factories was in order. Most people haven't even heard of the town, even if they are chronic tequila drinkers. It is only an hour by bus from the main terminal in Guadalajara. As we walked the main street of Tequila, tour sellers lined the street all with the same tour but with different branding. Miraculously the prices of the tour were slashed with little need to bargain. But we didn't want to take the first offer so we continued to the end of the street. We excepted the next deal without reservation and then walked away realising that we didn't ask if the tour was in English. We were prepared for the worse, because, let's face it, most organised tours are crap anyway and really don't live up to the promises and the promotional photos.

    We had a hour to kill before the tour started so we walked around the historical centre then boarded our tour bus that was the shape of a tequila barrel. And no, the tour wasn't in English and Peppa the Pig hadn't taught us anything about the tequila making process. So we were up shit creek without a paddle. We understood very little of the tour and with each shot of tequila things didn't get any better. We were the only anglophones on the tour but fortunately the hispanohabantes spoke slowly and threw in a bit of Spanglish for us. We did learn that the word fábrica had nothing to do with fabric, that tequila can only be made in this region (with a couple of exceptions) and that tequila must be made from blue agave. We were shown some ovens where the agave is slowly baked before going into a series of vats. The tour lasted about 15 minutes before we landed in the tequila shop with all kinds of merchandise to buy, before we were loaded back onto our barrel-shaped bus and dropped off at the tour company tequila shop for more shots of tequila. By this stage a number of the men on the tour were only just able to stand-up. In the end, the tour turned out a bit better than we had expected but that's probably due to the tequila.

    Next stop: Puerto Vallarta.

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  • Day303

    Gringos in Guadalajara

    May 28 in Mexico

    From Morelia, we travelled by bus for four-and-a-half hours to Guadalajara, the Pearl of the West. We checked into our hotel in the early afternoon and then quickly raced out to snap a few photos before sunset. We didn't realise that the sunset was so late in this part of the country. Before arriving in Guadalajara, we didn't know much about the city other than it is the second largest municipality in Mexico and is the location for one of our favourite Mexican telenovelas, Señora Acero. Almost all of the expletives/palabrotas in our vocabulary is as a result of watching this show – chingado pendejo, cabrón!

    Not only did the sun stay in the sky longer but it's rays also seemed much stronger. A short walk to the historical centre, where many of the city scenes from Señora Acero were filmed, required lathering ourselves in sunscreen and stocking up on water as if we were going to end-up in the desert, dying of thirst like Burke and Wills. It definitely beats the cold weather any day. But the mild case of food poisoning was unwelcomed by Ricky, who struggled to find an appetite while Jason gorged on all sorts of tacos and ahogadas (which is basically a bread roll filled with either fried pork, chicken and/or beans with chili sauce poured over the top). Maybe a Tequila tour might help Ricky get over his sickness.

    Next stop: Tequila.

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