Friday, 29 November 2013

Mexico Part 'how long are we here already and should we maybe ask for a visum?'

Welcome all! Great to see you are finding yourself on our blog again! 

We believe several weeks have passed since our last talk so we urgently need to inform you on our trip! You can imagine that we are enjoying Mexico a lot - a bit against our expectations to be honest - and being here already for two months we still need a two weeks more before entering Belize! It is just incredible what there is to see here and it becomes better when you are reaching the south.

So if you remember, the last time we were enjoying the hospitality of David, Monica and their kids in Toluca. After spending a great time there, we had to proceed with our trip! So from Toluca we went to Puebla, which people were recommending to us. 

So we arrived to Puebla and found out that the place was indeed very nice. Lots of churches and beautiful facades were unfortunately combined with asshole drivers - twice we were a millimeter away from an accident due to there reckless driving.

Anyhow, we changed our plans and instead of going to the pacific we decided to pass by the Atlantic side of the country to the port city of Veracruz - a famous port in Mexico, where there was absolutely nothing to see at all ) - and to visit some Olmec heads.

Do you remember our corrupted police story? Well, we have another one, a bit less spectacular, but also true: On our way we suddenly get pulled over again, ohoh! While stopping we start to think what we could have done wrong this time. What appears, we apparently did not signalize our change of lane, which is good for a fine equaling 20 days of minimum salary. You need to know that it is very simple here in Mexico: you do not signal if you want to change of lane, or otherwise the people know that you will change and therefor they will not let you pass. So the conclusion is: if you want to move in traffic you better not signalize. That is what every Mexican thinks and does. So we were a bit surprised with our cop, who claimed that he had already given ten fines that day for the exact same reason (hello: it was 11 in the morning...we don't think so). After a very long discussion, we made him tired and he let us go without a fine and with our license. VanBaelenGuillot - Corrupted Cop(s): 2 - 0.

At the end we did it to Veracruz without further fines - we did all the signalizing we had to -  The region was being hit by heavy rains which were very visible when we were passing to the other side of the country to Oaxaca. During several hours most of the fields were flooded and some roads were in bad condition.

Before reaching to Oaxaca city we were introduced to the Oaxacan friendliness: first in an ecotourism center after in Latuvi. This village is part of the Pueblos Mancomunados: six villages which are united and which have created a very pleasant touristic experience where you can explore both the natural as the cultural beauty of the area. We stayed there for a night and we enjoyed a bike excursion, a 20 km hike and a good trout (trucha) done by a nice cook called Marta.

From there we can finally go to Oaxaca, a very interesting city where people in general are very friendly. As many colonial villages, this one is beautiful as well, but it is even better preserved than others. From here you also have a lot of nice places to visit like natural pools, archaeological sites (ex.the famous monte alban)  and the largest tree in the world - in diameter.

From Oaxaca we go to the Pacific coast - finally! - to enjoy some sun and sea! We drive to Puerto Escondido, a 250 km drive which takes the whole day, as we need to share the road with thousands of cyclists who were on a pilgrimage. Finally we arrived at the beach, where we find a cheap camping and where we can go for a swim. After that we go for a walk and we run into previously met friends Myriam and Maximiliano, who we met on the beach of Mayto. We were very happy to meet them and we spend a lot of time with them during our three days there. We always could learn something new about life from them. Also in Puerto Escondido we met Jean, a very friendly Quebecois who stays here during 6 months every year to skip the cold Canadian winters. A week later we have realized that many Canadians come to this part of Mexico during the winter.

After the great time on the beach we move on to the South into the direction of the province of Chiapas. We pass by Tuxla Guttierez - not much to see - to go to another canyon: the 'cañon del Sumidero'. We are slowly becoming experts in this mountain type! The views from the viewpoints are spectacular and even become better when we jump into a speedboat which takes us through the cañon. Steep cliffs, crocodiles, a lot of garbage and a big giant Christmas tree make it an incredible experience!

Currently we can be found in San Cristobal de las Casas, another colonial town which many people have recommended to us. It is a nice place - nothing more, but this could be due to the cold weather, the coldest in the last 4 months! - in this village we are preparing for our tour through Chiapas and the Yucatan - both will be amazing! The next blog will be filled with pictures from waterfalls, jungle, temples and white beaches with blue water. What more can you want in life?

Who knows, the next time we write you we'll be in another country!!

Thanks a lot for checking the blog, we hope you enjoy the rest of it.

Lot's of love,
Mire and Alex

Oaxaca, Chiapas, Catemaco: Does it all sound like Chinees/Dutch/Catalan to you? No worries, this map will guide you through this blog!

First stop after Toluca: Puebla, a beautiful city with more than 70 churches! Crazy what Spaniards did, no?

The city is also famous for the facades with tiles

A typical Mexican view which never gets boring for us - mexicans called it bocho, game: every time you see one you hit your partner, at the end... you can imagine our arm!

An example of a tiled church

After our two experiences we decided to put this phone number in our phone (it is to report corruption)

The workshop where the cup for the worldcup of 2014 can be bought

The city of Veracruz was as disappointing as the weather when we were there

It was raining heavily, which we could see in the fields when we left the city. The above situation does not seem ideal to dry clothes...

The biggest Olmec head found so far: More than 3 meters high and weighing over 50 tons!

View at lake Catemaco - not accessible due to the heavy rain

Driving direction Oacaxa we are treated with the most beautiful vistas

And some more of those vistas

We did a great stop at Latuvi, a very attractive region for tourism. Our guide Carlos was excellent!

We can't always take a shower in the morning, but most of the time we find an alternative 

The Sierra de Oaxaca was very beautiful and diverse - on the left you see a kind of 'ghost tree'

After a long walk Marta and her husband make a delicous Truxa/Trout/Forel

Makes you want to have been there, right?

From Latuvi we go to Oaxaca, a beautiful town with a great atmosphere

What we saw in the church from above: A wedding? No no, someone is becoming 15 years old...

The region is very famous for its artisans, like this black pottery which has a beautiful color

Also these wooden figures are typical and come in all sizes (these are the small ones)

From the city of Oaxaca  you can go and visit a lot of things like these . Hierve el agua, natural rocks formations which created this amazing pools and petrified waterfalls

Swimming takes place in style

On the left you have the pools. The flowing water has created a beautiful formation in the rocks

A bit further you can even find a petrified waterfall (made of giant stalactites)

A typical taxi in this area of the country

You remember that we saw the biggest tree in the USA? Wrong, it was the biggest tree in volume. Welcome to the biggest tree in diameter!

And a great archaeological site: Monte Alban. We are already wondering how many more we'll see of these...

On the 20th of November we go from Oaxaca to the Coast. Wrong day. The road of 200 km long is infested with young kids going on a pilgrimage by bike following cars having churches and shrines on the roof. Amazing what people does for the holy mother! We have been stuck behind them for hours, but at least we saw some Mexicans doing sports

At the coast we where so lucky to meet Myriam and Maximiliano, who we previously met in Mayto, and we also meet Jean, a Quebecois enjoying the Mexican life in the winter 

Boating in the giant lagunas

Finally we can play around on some sand with the Van

After visiting Tuxla Guttieres - nothing to see - we pass by the Cañon del Sumidero a relatively short but dramatic canyon...

... which makes us happy

To talk a closer look at it a super fast boat takes you on a 60 km trip

In the canyon we found a natural phenomena shaped like a Christmas tree - the timing can not be better

Night view of San Cristobal de las Casas' cathedral

Although we live in a car, the Christmas mood is approaching and we are buying some accessories which  make us remember that Christmas is almost there!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Taking it slow in Mexico

Hi again! Good that you are checking our blog! You are right on time to see the latest long text and the joining pictures!

As you can guess, we are still in Mexico! In all honesty, we were originally not expecting so (especially as Mireia first wanted to fly over Mexico), but we are still here. We are currently in the area of Mexico City and still have a beautiful part of the country to see before entering into Belize or Guatemala.

The last time we spoke, we were in San Miguel de Allende, or Disney Land Mexico where the Americans ask for 'el chequé, por favor' (this is not the way how to ask for the bill in Spanish). From there we went to a village named Patzquaro, where there is a rather famous lake. Around this lake there are a lot of festivities during 'el dia de los muertos' (similar to All Saints, Allerheiligen or Todo los Santos). We stayed here for a day to see the area, but we were a bit disappointed. At the end there was nothing special to see, so we continued direction the west, were there you can find the youngest volcano on the earth. This volcano is the only volcano which people have seen to grow. It started to grow in 1942 and quickly overtook the area. Two villages have been swallowed within the volcano's lava and the only visible trace of this is the tower of a church. Arriving nearby the volcano, we are attacked by the locals who all want to be our guide to go to the top. Most of them want to go by horse for the simple reason that they can earn more and on top they do not need to do as much physical activity as when they would go by foot. Of course, we are not horse people and so we insisted to go by foot. Our guide is a pretty disgusting man, who has very little useful information to give us and who cannot help it to spit every minute. On top, half of the time we were walking without him, so we had to find out for ourselves which path to walk. Luckily, at the top of the volcano, he had some energy left to do his sit-ups and push-ups. Anyhow, the area is quite impressive, as it is covered by black sand and volcanic rock. The most impressive is the church tower which sticks out of the lava field, it is a bit surreal.

After our first volcanic experience (the next ones will be better, in Guatemala it might be possible to actually climb some volcanoes where you can see the lava flow!) we decided to go in the direction of Mexico City. We passed by Morelia, another beautiful colonial town, and went to Toluca. Here we would meet Rodrigo, a close friend of the family Guillot. In addition, we met David at a local gas station. After talking a bit it appeared that David has a shop in which he repairs brakes. And the coincidence was that we had to replace our brakes! So we talk more with him, and charmed by his kindness we accepted his offer to park our car at his place - where it is much safer than parking on the street. We end up to stay several days with David and his family and have a very pleasant time. David and his family- his wife Monica, and two of the three daughters Lauris and Sarita- have really treated us like we were from their family, so we felt like at home!! Once we left we promised we would go back!

After spending several days in Metepec, we proceed our trip towards Mexico City. We were prepared for the most horrible traffic in the world, but we were disillusioned and realized that you need to be in Belgium for the worst traffic in the world. The city is great and has a lot to offer, from pre-hispanic history, to hispanic history, to great squares. There is a lot of atmosphere and it was a relatively good place to spend el dia de los muertos. For this we went to see a theater show which took place in the city's waterways. Great experience, a part from the fact that we spend 6 hours outside in the cold and that we were home at 4 in the morning (a bit unexpected for going to the theater). We also went to 'lucha libre' where you could enter for free if you dress up, which sound interesting to us so we put on some make up!

Five days later we go to the pre-columbian city of Teotihuacan, built around 200 after Christ and later used by the Aztecs as well, as they appeared to be impressed by its size (like always). Here you have some impressive structures, especially for its age and also because only 10 % of the all the structures are excavated. Leaving Teotihuacan we have our first encounter with Mexican police corruption.

You need to know that the metropolitan area of Mexico City is a very polluted area for which they have installed several driving regulations - resulting in the fact that you cannot drive on every given day. So, we are driving through Mexico city, knowing the regulation exists, but not knowing how it applies to us. We get pulled over by two policemen, who say to us we cannot drive on a Monday, because our number plate ends by a 6. Not believing this, the police showed us the law via their phone, which took 15 minutes (yes, the system is very complicated and tourists are often the victim of it's complexity). We would have to pay a fine of around 100 euro (equaling 30 days of the minimum salary) and we would have to leave the car in the police station for the night - as we could not drive. We obviously get upset and the young police gets his superior, who obviously understands our situations and is very helpful to find a fast solution for both us and themselves. When Mireia asks them how we can proceed the fastest the commissioner replies: 'You can give me 1.000 pesos (60 euro) and you can proceed'. Having agreed not to get involved in the corruption, we declined his offer and said we would prefer to pay the fine, so we go to the police station. Here, we are joined by another police, to who we immediately mention that the commissioner is corrupted and that we want to file a complaint against him. At the same time, Alex starts to take dozens of pictures of both police, which they did not seem to like. As a result the two drive away from the police station and the third police starts to apologies, we do not have to pay a fine and he gives us the permission to drive in the state of Mexico. The only thing we would have to do is delete the pictures we took. Obviously this cop was a corrupt as the two others, as he preferred to protect his boss than to put him in a negative situation. Anyhow, a few days later we checked the regulations in more detail, and what did we found out that, as we have a foreign plate, we can drive every day (apart between 5 and 11 in the morning, while our situation took place at 17 hour) and that they just wanted to steal our money. Result: VanBaelenGuillot Vs Corruption in Mexico: 1 - 0!

Having the brakes for our car, we go back towards Toluca and Metepec, where we meet David again in his shop. We spend one day to install the new brakes and to make some corrections - a great experience to be doing this with people who have the experience and we are also very happy to proceed our trip in all safety for another 20.000 km or more. We were very happy to meet the family of David again, and we were convinced to stay a few days with them. This time we were lucky and we also met the oldest daughter called Fernanda. We really got very attached to them, we  helped them in their homework's, played games, prepared presents to the boyfriend, we ate very typical food from mexico, we tried to go on an excursion and we talked and laughed a lot. After spending much time together we consider them to be part of the VanBaelenGuillot family!

In the upcoming weeks we will approach the Yucatan and the Guatemalan boarder and we'll see the most beautiful part of the country - Coast, jungle, temples and a lot of culture!

As always, you comments are very much appreciated!
Alex and Mire

Like the previous time: a quick overview of where we have been

The city of Patzcuaro is characterized by its white and red facades

The volcanic rock field of Paricutin covers two villages and is about 100 km² large

Climbing the volcano is a bit tricky as it is covered with small and unstable volcanic rock

This rock is, as you can see, very light compared to other types of rock - or maybe Mireia became very strong of all the tortillas

The only survivor of the lava is this church tower and the alter of the church (you can see the two guilty volcanos on its right)

Snapshot from the city of Morelia

Our wonderful hosts in Toluca/Metepec - David, Monica, Sarita and Laura

And two of their three dogs, making sure nobody steals our car

A Mexican barbecue - YammieYammie

We have joined the family to visit the caves of Cacahuamilpa - they were extremely impressive

And everybody went on a boat ride afterwards - except for Alex, who was afraid

On our way to Mexico City we saw how creative Mexicans can be - A man selling churros on the highway

On the Zocalo, the city's main historical square, there is a giant flag which is taken down every day with a big show

Via the same square you can visit the Templo Mayor, an Aztec temple which was broken down by the Spanish. You can see on the picture that the temple consists of temples within a temple - a bit like the Russian matryoska dolls.

'Oh I am so tired, I cannot even walk to the park with grass which is 2 minutes away.'

The current Mexican government is trying to change a lot of things. Due to reforms in the educational system, many teachers are demonstrating in the city, therefor there were a lot of police man and women on the street

In front of the police we could find this old post-office, which clearly is still in use. You would almost go there to send some letters just to see the inside.

It has a beautiful staircase which is perfect for some posing by an equally beautiful lady

We wanted to show this before, but didn't have the opportunity to take a picture. These are the plants from which they make the infamous Tequila.

Mexico City (or DF, Districto Federal, as they say here) has a very impressive museum of Anthropology, which has the largest floating roof in the world (at least that's what they think, there is no confirmation of this assumption)

In here you can see the Aztec calendar

Back to the revolution: All demonstrating teachers have gathered at the monument of revolution

Relaxing in a sofa in the street

What you see here is something what we call a round point. In Europe we generally tend to drive on it in the opposite direction of the clock. In Mexico you first need to pass a traffic light after which those going to the right lane or straight follow the round point via the right side and those that want to go to the left lane follow the point via the left side. You cold wonder why they have made a round point of it?

We soon realized that it is not easy to buy an English travel guide in Mexico, so we made an emergency shipping for the rest of our trip - Thanks Oscar!

'El día de los muertos' was approaching and the city had some topic related activities going on like these ladies who were demonstrating local dances from Oaxaca (a region in Mexico)

The dance which had some similarities with the Sevillanas
We wanted to go to a 'Lucha Libre', the Mexican wrestling, and were able to enter for free simply by putting on this make up (don't worry, it is a very common look in Mexico)

Mexico City is actually constructed on a lake and still has some waterways. These boats are used to bring the people around

At night we took this boat to see a theater show in honor of el dia de los muertos- 'la llorona'

Where there are tourists, there are people selling stuff (also in a boat). There were even toilet boats.

A view of our spectacle

The Chapultepec castle in the Mexico City Chapultepec park/forest

Every castle needs a dancing princess

Taking a ride in the city - although some streets are very well to cycle, most or very dangerous, but by now you all know or middle name is 'danger'

Next to the original Cathedral of Guadalupe they have build a new one recently. If you look good you can see the Guadalupe painting through the door - more info on this painting can be found on wikipedia

It's incredible that these structures are accessible for the tourists - on top of the pyramid of the sun looking at the pyramid of the moon

Views from the temple of the Moon to the temple of the Sun with the Avenue of the Death straight ahead

Commissioner Corrupt cop searching to earn a bit more to feed the family

Young corrupt cop putting on his innocent look

No shoes: it's working time, replacement of front and rear brakes

Working on brakes is a hard job which requires three people (Toño ond the left, David on the right and Alex)

Putting everything together again
Together with the family Aceves Mojica (or 'Torres Leon') in search for the monarchic butterfly