Thursday, 31 July 2003

San Blas



Ah life just can't get any better! I have spent the entire day either swimming in the sea, sleeping in a hammock or deckchair and eating lots of food! Last night I went for a midnight swim (well, 2am swim)for a few hours with five other travellers. I still cannot get over how warm the water is, even in the middle of the night. The sky was clear and full of stars, and just to add to the moment the sea here turned out to be full of phosphorescent (or whatever!) which causes the sea to glow and light up in thousands of bright yellow dots whenever you splash. I splashed a lot.....I've always been pretty easily entertained!

And just to top the day off, it occurred to me that at that moment in time it was 8 am in the UK and stock take day would be once again upon many Texaco managers. How I chuckled! And whilst I did at some stage say I would do a stock count of bikinis in sympathy, none of the chicas were wearing bikinis. And hence I splashed some some...
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Wednesday, 30 July 2003

Guadalajara


Well, I left Guanajuato and have spent 2 full days in Guadalajara. My trusty Lonely Planet guidebook did suggest many travellers leave the city disappointed and I can see why, although I liked my stay. It has a colonial centre, but to be honest, Ive already seen a lifetimes worth of cathedrals. It is though a cool place to live, or take a break from roughing it. I can't say I saw anything that made me want to get my camera out, and theres little to write home about either. I had Burger Kings, watched Terminator 3 at the cinema, had a room with a toilet that actually flushed properly and there weren't any bugs on the floor.

The city itself is supposed to be the most Mexican of all the country's cities, but I couldnt see it myself. Home of the Mariachi (small groups of aged Mexicans going from cafe to cafe with their guitars trying to make a living singing for the gringos), Tequila and more it may be, but little of it is in evidence. The one thing that was plain to see was the traditional machismo associated with the country. Cowboy boots, and big sombreros are everywhere, the women man the laundrettes and kitchens, and even the market stalls are filled with manly products....after all, a belt isn't a belt unless the buckle is the size of a dinner plate! The one pleasant change from Guanajuato was the locals....much much friendlier here!

Anyway, I left Guadalajara, and after yet another 5 hours on the coach arrived in San Blas. I make it 3500kms in 55 hours on coaches so far....its just as well Mexico's bus service is comfortable! There is no train network here though, surprisingly, so it has a rather vital role as the country's transportation infrastructure, and is invested in accordingly. For a profitable return though, of course! We went through rolling hills littered with fields of blue agave (the cactus like plant used to make Tequila....the ride went through the town itself) and stopped at Tepic before jumping on another bus to finally get to San Blas. This is a little seaside town and I might well have to stay here a while as it is great!

Its sat on the Pacific coast a couple of hours north of Puerto Vallerta with kilometers of unspoilt white sand beaches, and according to the Guinness Book of Records the longest surfable waves (1.7kms) occur here quite soon. Its a small town, backed by thick jungle and hills, with great seafood, friendly people, and plenty to do. Tomorrow I think I may well go on a tour in a river boat up through the jungle to a freshwater spring for a swim. I am assured I will see turtles, crocodiles and millions of birds (of the flappy wing variety as opposed to the bikini type creatures sadly) amongst the flora.
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Saturday, 26 July 2003

History Lesson


My last day in Guanajuato has almost passed, and although it is the nicest town I have been to, it is also just about the smallest and pretty much every nook and cranny can be explored at leisure in three days. The people here are a funny old lot, as they tend to be for different reasons across Mexico! This is the first place I have been to where the natives seem genuinely unfriendly, despite it being a fairly touristy/studenty town where many of the population come from elsewhere. They speak the best English I have encountered so far too, but are utterly unwilling to use it! Nevermind.

Having ditched the Gap year Brits I have met up with a few other travellers to wander around with. The town itself is really like an oasis of calm in an otherwise turbulent country, with gangs of Mariachi bands all kitted up in their glittering ceremonial gear strolling the streets all evening, playing for anyone with a few spare pesos. The climate is just about perfect, with long warm sunny days, low humidity (we're up at over 2000 metres here) and refreshingly cool evenings. Mexico has a very diverse ecology and a fascinating history by the way, which I may as well mention. People oft seemed perplexed as to why I wanted to go to Mexico, I guess due in part to their perception of the country.

My own knowledge of Mexico was pretty limited this time last year, and consisted mainly of the impression of a few mega beach resorts (Cancun, Acapulco et al), filthy cities, and vast barren empty spaces inland. I knew it had been a Spanish colony of course, and that there were a few old ruins around from Aztecs or whatever, but always assumed these to be lesser sites than those in Peru and Central America. In fact, Mexico contains 10% of the worlds bird, plant and animal species in just over 1%of the the worlds total land mass. Its coral reefs have some of the best diving sites on the planet, and beaches to match (if only all the Americans would go away so you could see them!).

Two thirds of all plant and animal species reside in less than a dozen countries, and Mexico is one of them. There are huge barren spaces further north, but I have otherwise been amazed at how green the country is, even in the baking hot Yucatan. History wise, there has benn much going on, from Spanish conquests and colonialism, the War of Independance, the war against the USA (where Texas was won and annexed), numerous revolutions and a horde of limited invasions by the USA, Spain, France and occasionaly Britain. And every event has at least a dozen monuments to commemorate it. I had read that Mexico City contained more art than anywhere in the world, and after a 4 hour tour on the Autobus Turistica (an open topped double decker from Blighty wouldnt you just know!) I can believe it.

Statues galore, big and small and often colossal. As many museums as there are cafes and Mexican flags in every town centre so large that you could quite comfortably build a marquee from the material and house 1,000 people. As for the ancient civilisations, well Im not sure they are all quite as ancient as some of the more famous south American Inca chaps, but their ruins are on a scale to match anything, including the worlds third largest pyramid at Teotihuacan. I also doubt any one has surpassed their mind numbing scale of mass heart ripping sacrificial ceremonies. On occasions, 20,000 people have parted company with their tickers earlier than planned in a single session in an effort to appease the chosen gods of the day. Anyway, glad to have provided this little dose of education, but Im hungry now, so here endeth the lesson...


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Wednesday, 23 July 2003

Guanajuato


Buenos dias from Guanajuato, a fantastic little town nestling in a ravine 2000 metres plus above sea level. It is a fairly wealthy town, thanks to the old silver mines from whence 20 per cent of the worlds supply of the metal once came from. The whole town is actually registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it takes only a 10 minute stroll to see why. The streets are all impossibly narrow, trailing up and down hills, and often weaving through long tunnels (which were once mines), and all are cobbled....Mr Tarmacadam obviously, and happily, never made it this far west!

The houses are colonial with a huge number of cathedrals, mansions, and museums. The only downside so far was my misfortune in bumping into three Brits on the coach and ending up at the same hostel as them. They happily confessed that they had been in Mexico for two months and hadnt seen a thing as they were out getting pissed every night. I did suggest that boozing can be done in the UK, at less cost, and that I myself would feel a total w@&ker going to another country and never seeing the outside of a bar. I dont think my subtle dig really sank in, as 10 minutes later they merrily invited me out on the piss and seemed genuinely surprised when I declined. Dickheads!

I dont mind going out for a drink but I could see how their evening was going to go.....binge consumption, followed by much vomiting, followed by waking everyone in a mile radius up at 4 in the morning. I have now found another hotel, but had to suffer one night of being awoken (as I had earlier predicted) at 2, 3 and then 4 oclock by the idiots, who were all blowing chunks and arguing about who ate who´s hot dog. Nevermind.....I got my own back at 8 am when I left.
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Monday, 21 July 2003

Return to DF



Another busy day in Mexico City, with much ground covered and many new blisters to show for it. The city is at an altitude of 2300 metres and you can really feel it; the pollution doesn't help much either! At least the evenings are quite cool, which is a refreshing change having come from the Yucatan peninsula. Today I have visited the Trotsky museum, which is attached to his house, also viewable. It has been left much as it was on the day of his murder in 1940, although I did notice a book dated 1956 amongst his library, so I do have some reservations as to the truth of that. It was a pretty interesting visit though, with bullet holes from a previous assassination attempt to see.

Also ascended the Torre Latinamerico, the city's tallest building. Some great views through the smog, and whilst not exactly on the scale of the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpar, you get high enough to experience a degree of vertigo. Although maybe the knowledge that Im 44 floors up on top of the planets most active earthquake zone had something to do with that! There is also an active volcano a few miles outside of Mexico City that I had read about in my Lonely Planet guide which has been burbling away to the worry of the authorities since 1994. I did notice today pictures on the front pages of all the newspapers of a huge plume of smoke coming from a volcano....as there was a lot of ash raining on the city yesterday one can only assume the pictures must have been of Mexico's volcano! Probably just as well I'm leaving Tuesday!
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Sunday, 20 July 2003

Veracruz


I have arrived back in Mexico City, and returned to the same Youth Hostel after leg one of my Mexican journey. I spent only two nights in Veracruz in the end, due mainly to the fact that the hotel prices were all double those stated in my Lonely Planet guide. Mid July signals the start of the holidays for the natives, and Veracruz is their number one destination, damn them! My room really smelled bad as well which didn't encourage me to stay!

The town itself was pretty cool. It is a port city and has been since the Spanish arrived here in 15whateveritwas, so there is plenty to see as far as colonial architecture goes. Even if the skyline is rather dominated by the huge cranes and container ships at the dock! And it has to be said, I did get to see most of the good stuff. The zocalo there is one of the most famous, and is an event unto itself, with hours of entertainment every evening in the form of singers, dancers, jugglers and even a group of stilt dancers!

I have today found out why Mexican town squares are called "zocalos"....and it really sums up the whole country sometimes. To commemorate independance from Spain, a huge towering monument was to be constructed outside the presidential palace. They laid the base (the spanish word for which is, funnily enough, zocalo!), and well....we are still waiting for someone to get round to the actual monument! Hence zocalo! I also have a theory that if the zocalo wasnt so full of the locals all day long, and they actually got up off their arses and did something, perhaps the poverty level wouldnt be what it is! Have a similar theory for the Olmec, Aztec, Toltec etc etc civilisations. Fantastic stone sculptures, and true experts at ripping peoples hearts out to appease the Gods, but maybe if a little more time had been spent on health, education and agriculture.... Saw the aquarium too which was mightily impressive, if not quite Sea World, and a quick one day tour of the main museums finished things off quite nicely. Visiting museums is very much a hit and miss affair in Mexico - rarely are any exhibits labelled in English and as my Spanish still sucks Im very reliant on there being lots of pictures, models and button pressing displays to keep me amused. Still, I get by!

Anyways, Im now at the half way point of my trip (oh yeah, Ive had a big change of plans.....booked a flight home from New York for the 18th August, and hopefully will have plenty of money left to fly to Prague, buy a Railpass and spend a month touring Eastern Europe!)in both terms of time and distance covered, and am looking forward to my northward trek. First stop will be Guanajuato, followed by Guadalajara for some Mexican culture, San Blas for some sea, sun and sand, then Mazatlan for some more sea, sun and sand, and then to Los Mochis to catch the train for a 14 hour ride through the Copper Canyon.

Which will leave me in Chihuahua where I can take part in the famous Kick Me Dog kicking competition! Ha ha ha! Then to the border to cross into El Paso, and a joyful 2 day Greyhound trek to New York. Think Ill buy a tub or two of Nytol before that trip and swallow the lot! So goes my plan anyway, but then it has to be said Ive changed plans about 6 times already! Oh well, what can you do?


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Thursday, 17 July 2003

Villahermosa


San Cristobal de la Casas was definitely worth the detour, despite the nasty bus ride. But I had to bid farewell to the town and the two Frenchies on the 14th and am now in Villahermosa. This is an oil town a couple of hours from the Gulf coast and is really pretty uninspiring. Well, its crap actually.And hot and sweaty. But then Im only stopping here to break up my journey to Veracruz, which I have been assured by other travellers, is another great place to spend a few days. I did go to the Villahermosa zoo, but like the rest of the town, it was a disappointment. The only people who would be interested in that place are animal welfare campaigners. Not exactly a haven for the unfortunate animals trapped inside. Oh well. Veracruz (the Heroic city apparently), here I come....
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Monday, 14 July 2003

The Magic of Money


I'm suffering today, truly suffering. Next time I see a horse, it better be the salami topping on my pizza! Todays adventure with the Frenchies involved a butt numbing 2 hour horse ride to a local Indiginous village in the hills, where they still practice olden day living in authentic surroundings. Mustn´t take photos there, we were told, as they believe the lens of a camera steals their soul. Indiginous my arse! Anyone expecting little mud walled homes with straw roofs were in for a surprise! 

It was nothing more than your average native slum with all the normal corrugated metal roofed homes to be found in every other village in Mexico. Sure, there were troops of kids and their mothers manning stalls selling local woven cloths.....in between the men´s stalls selling pirate CDs and DVDs! And as for photographs....its amazing how many souls you can buy for 10 pesos! Methinks the olden ways have long gone...no one smiles and says cheese while their spirit is sucked into a tourists camera if they are a true believer!

Its amazing how a troupe of foreigners waving dollars can so quickly persuade so called indiginous folk to change their ways. And sad too, but thats "progress" i guess. No doubts about it though, the memory that will live with me the longest has to be the horse riding. Im sure the scenery was fantastic, but wooden saddles and rocky mountain paths (with your head being forever bashed in by low hanging branches) tends to leave tears in your eyes to the point everything is a blur. I may never walk the same again.....even now other PC users in here are pointing and staring curiously at my peculiar choice of sitting position. Dear God, where is my hammock.....
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Sunday, 13 July 2003

San Cristobal de las Casas


Greetings once again. After another nightmare coach journey (only 5 hours long, but as it was up into the mountains there were more corners than most peoples stomachs are comfortable with) I am in San Cristobal de las Casas. It was one of the towns raided by the Zapistas in 1994, and is a very quaint old colonial town. Buildings tend to be one or two stories but many are painted bright yellows, reds, blues, oranges and any other colour that they can find in a tin! A few grand churches here and there (always built tall enough to tower over every other man made object in sight!) also painted in bright colours as only Hispanics would dare!

The main church is quite an imposing sight, and I did go so far as to stick my head in the doorway earlier having heard a stirring choir bellowing out a Mexican hymn. Very almost reached for my camera to take a photograph of the very ornate interior when I noticed the coffin at the centre of attention, and had a change of heart! Not convinced that a snap happy gringo poking his lens in on such a service would be made particularly welcome. It was quite a moving service anyway....the "choir" was actually the assembled congregation, and they continued their operatic hymn outside and off down the road as they followed the procession.

Everything here is brightly coloured by the way, even the coffin. None of that dark wood finish here! Anyway, having mentioned a couple of days ago, the things that are great about Mexico, I have possibly omitted the number one placed thing. Every town of any decent size has a Zocalo, which is simply a square in the centre of town with a lot od benches, street stalls, ornate lighting, plenty of flower beds, shrubs and trees and quite often a little bandstand type structure in the middle. Almost every evening, half the town will congregate there, as will the local jugglers, clowns, musicians etc. And its all aimed at the locals rather than the tourists which makes the whole event that little bit more authentic.

And lastly for today, someone buy me a new camera please! My Nikon is a good 3 years old now, and its showing signs of ageing! There are green fixed pixels and I want a Coolpix 5000!! The new model has just come out, and the CP5000 is now much cheaper, but still far too expensive for an unemployed bum like me! Dig into your pockets and get me one! I may do a whole new page entitle "Send me a pound!" Ciao for now!


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Friday, 11 July 2003

Palenque

I have finally gotten some photos up on my website. And it has to be said, the site is beginning to fray at the edges a little, with my html skills being limited as they are. I much prefer to work with pictures than words! Nevermind, it all kind of works enough to be useable. Just. Went to Palenque ruins today, but not much else to say really, other than Im moving on to another old colonial town called San Cristobal de las Casas tomorrow morning with the French girls.

The others obtained some magic mushrooms and have gone AWOL. I think they are intending to go to Guatamala at some stage. I will no doubt be told of there plans at about 3am when they return to the hostel :-( Three things that are cool about Mexico......1) Walking down a street in Mexico City and every other car is a VW Beetle, some of them fresh off the production line. 2)Don´t have to worry about being late for anything. Nothing runs on time here. I am in my element. 3) Chillies with everything. You order Tacos, you get a pot of chillies. Eggs on toast, you get a pot of chillies. Cornflakes, you get a pot of chillies. A cup of coffee.....Im sure you get the point by now. But best of all, although I can´t remember the name for it, there is a chocolate and chillies sauce for bread. I know it doesn´t sound quite right, and I know all the other travellers have heaved from a taste, but I love the stuff. Brown gold so it is!


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Thursday, 10 July 2003

Agua Azul



Hola from Palenque! I´ve no idea how you pronounce it, several gringos have offered their own versions, but the locals still look bemused when I mention the place. Anyway, it was a hell of a coach journey here, 10 hours in all, arriving at 4am. Great....only had to wait 2 hours for a hostel to open!A seriously tiring overnight journey not to be repeated. Mexicos bus service is a lot better and more comfortable than one would expect, but not quite so that you can sleep on it!

I met a couple of French chicas on the coach, and a pair of Swiss girls on arrival, followed shortly by an Anglo-Italian guy and his Mexican/American friend, and formed a backpack convoy through town to the nearest Posada to demand a group discount. And actually got it! Just 45 pesos for last night, although we are all sharing the one room. I discreetly occupied the single bed lying between the girls two doubles...heh heh! Not much use though, had barely had a hour of sleep when one of the guys returned to announce he had booked us all on a tour leaving in an hour.

Wasn´t massively enthused, but felt kind of obliged to drag my weary corpse from its slumber. But having said that, it was the best day here, or any other country, so far. First stop was a 30 minute tour to a waterfall. Was ok....pretended to be impressed, and omitted telling them I have seen about half a dozen in the last twelve months, and this was hardly the biggest. Besides....seen one, well, you kinda seen them all! Its water pouring over a ledge. Could make one at home if I wanted!

The best bits of the day though were a drive through some incredibly scenic hills, all very lush, to the river below. I have loads of photos which is just as well as words cant begin to describe it. The water was perfect light blue, the limestone banks and rapids walkable on, and masses of pools of various sizes to either swim in or use as a natural jacuzzi. And all surrounded by the same green hills and trees. It was fantastic. Spent hours there, and would quite happily have stayed days. Tomorrow though its off to the ruins mentioned last time. Would write more, but really need the loo....cya!


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Tuesday, 8 July 2003

Tulum



Well the elections seem to have passed off peacefully, although they werent electing a president as I had thought, just congress or something like that. Just as well as my next destination will be Palenque, in the state of Chiapas. An area which is I guess Mexicos equivalent of Northern Ireland! The main feature there to see are yet more ancient ruins, but these are deep in a mist shrouded jungle, which adds to the atmosphere! Anyway, thats to come later.

I am currently in Tulum, which is famous only for its huge white sand beaches, crystal blue waters and the many cabanas scattered along the sands. It has actually rained (a bit of an understatement....at times its been more of a tropical downpour!) a few times here, but the clouds usually quickly clear to reveal the clear blue sky. The rain has actually been a pleasant relief from the incessant heat, which has left me with the best suntan ever!

The only downside here are the many gap year students who have abandoned Cancun (don't blame them!) for the tranquility this place offers. Nevermind, its still great. haven't actually managed to peel myself off the beach yet to visit the Tulum ruins or cenotes, but am determined to do that tomorrow. Or the day after. Maybe. Soon anyway!Gotta make it at some stage, Im told they all make great photos!


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Sunday, 6 July 2003

Moving Ever Onwards


Not an awful lot to report today, other than a slightly burnt back having forgotten to reapply the sun lotion after a swim. Didn´t get to go to Cozumel in the end, because the dodgy Mexican tout who had promised me the 270 peso fee included the ferry there had lied! Nevermind, I´ve booked my coach ticket to Tulum for tomorrow and I´m assured the snorkelling there is just as good but a bit cheaper. There are a mass of Cenotes there as well, which are limestone lakes in caves with huges stalagmites dangling from the ceiling. I should say what a blessed relief these internet cafes are from the heat, being one of the few places with air con accessible to backpacking bums like me. And pretty cheap too!
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Saturday, 5 July 2003

Playa Del Carmen


A weary hola from Playa del Carmen. Nearing the end of my first full day at what is really just a Yankee tourist resort. I dread to think what Cancun must be like, but having spoken to quite a few 
people who have just fled that scene I can´t say I want to find out! The sea is lovely and the sand is white, but the rest is all just Plastic Fantastic USA style....not my cup of tea!


Still, I´m staying one more day as I have booked a ferry trip to Cozumel (a wee island 45 mins away, made famous by Jaques Cousteau) to do some snorkelling. At least that will have made bringing my snorkel and mask along worth while. After that I´m doubling back on myself to stay at Tulum, hopefully for quite a while as its cheap and I´ve been spending too much money by far! Tulum has the fabulous sea and sand but thankfully lacks the pollution, and tourist crap found between Cancun and Playa. It also has some ancient ruins which, whilst not particularly grandiose on their own, create some stunning views and scenery. I guess the one plus Playa has going for it are the beach views....nudity is tolerated here. I manage to put up with it getting in my way anyway.... :-)
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Wednesday, 2 July 2003

Merida


Well, another city, another internet cafe, another post. Lucky you. Have had a damned busy couple of days, and am feeling much in need of a holiday! Climbing four Mayan/Aztec/Toltec pyramids in as many days is damned hard work, and there are blisters on the end of my toes to prove it. Still it has all been worth it, with some amazing views to be had, although I haven´t managed to convince an internet cafe owner to let me plug my camera into one of his PC´s yet. I dare say the fact I can´t speak Spanish and they can´t speak English isn´t particularly helpful. The huge mass of cables and boxes I produce from my bag probably scares them a little too.


The only fear I have at the moment is ordering food. After the ´half a pig´incident I have mainly been eating pizza! Anyways, I am currently staying in Merida which is a really nice old colonial town in the Yucatan. It feels a hell of a lot safer here than DF (Mexico City), and its a damned site hotter! Its about 9pm at the moment....in DF I would be safely hidden away in the hostel by now, behind the man with the machine gun guarding the door! This is Mayan territory though and a different kettle of fish altogether. There are no chicas here...only 3´6” dwarves! Very friendly and nice, but perhaps should inter marry with the hispanics a bit more to see if they can get an average height of more than 4 foot!


The one thing I miss about DF is the company. The city was full of Aussies, South Africans and Kiwis who are naturally sociable and easy to talk to, but now I am firmly in a German Tourist Zone. I will maybe regale them with tales of Basil Fawlty and his Germanic adventures. And then tonight I may break into the hotels laundry room and put all their towels over every seat, bench and stool in sight. Do Mexicans associate that with Germans too? I wonder....Nevermind, I am in need of some peace and quiet before I go on to Cancun and along the coast which will no doubt be plagued by ´overly sociable´ Yankees. One extreme to another...
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Tuesday, 1 July 2003

Of Pigs and Bulls


Buenos dias everyone! I have had my last day in Mexico City, for now anyway, and its been great! Wish I hadn´t booked my flight to Merida then I could have stayed a day or two longer, but ce la vie. Spent most of yesterday wandering about checking out the sites and making use of their subway system. Which is incredible by the way. Puts the London Underground to shame. You pay two pesos to get in the system and then go where you want. its clean, quick and comfy. I think its quite a recently built thing though.


I went on trip to see a bull fight across the other side of the city with a few Aussies and discovered a few basics about Mexico. Firstly, the bull fighting season ended last month, and there was no bullfighting. Secondly, the Mexicans don´t like to disappoint you with a negative answer, and will give you all the directions you need, tell you how good it is, but omit to mention that it isnt on! Still it was a worthwhile trip just for the exploration value, and I learnt another lesson. Ordering a random dish from a cafe menu can lead to a surprises....the Aussies are still laughing at the look on my face when the waitress brought me the half a pig I ordered! I kid you not, the thing was a good 18" long with a similar circumference. Tasty though!


I also possibly haven´t timed my visit to Mexico that well either! The Presidential elections are next week, and despite the lack of real politics in the country, that doesn´t stop the people getting REAL passionate about it! I have already strolled through a few rallies and demos, and they all get quite intense! I will ensure I´m on a beach in the middle of nowhere this time next week, as there are at least 5,000 political parties, which means there are going to be 4,999 very upset groups out there! Only problem is I´m flying into the Yucatan just in time for the hurricane season. Oh well, such is life!
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