After a spectacular photo tour of Cuba, I knew I would be in need of a holiday to get over the trip as I am always exhausted after a day course in London, never mind 10 days of full on exercises and tuition. I had come to Cuba via Mexico as it was just a 55 minute plane journey from Havana to Cancun so I decided to have some R&R time in Mexico before heading back to London. And as Mexico is still my favourite country in the world, it would be rude not to enjoy it a second time on the way home. I had stopped over in Tulum already, so I decided to explore some of the islands off Cancun for the last six days to see new parts of Mexico.
My next big trip is something I have been wanting to do for a while – a photography tour of Cuba! There were two key reasons for this: a) to take my photography hobby to the next level and b) to photograph/tour Cuba at the same time. I can’t think of a more exciting place to practice photography than Cuba, which is unique for so many reasons. The other great thing about this adventure? The perfect excuse for me to head back to my beloved Mexico for the fourth time! A flight from Cancun to Havana is just under an hour so I figured I could combine two holidays into one long-haul air fare.
Unfortunately, this meant flying from Gatwick airport rather than my usual and easier Heathrow option. As I had chosen flights at a civilised lunchtime hour, this was not going to be a big problem and I could even avoid the expense of the Gatwick Express by jumping on a regular train from London Bridge direct to the airport (I felt very smug discovering this much cheaper option!). BIG MISTAKE. I forgot about the fact that me and the UK train service are jinxed and the journey turned into a nightmare. Getting to London Bridge was fine (apart from the suspect lone suitcase on the bus which nobody seemed to be bothered by apart from me) but after a few stops on the train, the delay began somewhere in Norwood. What started out as a small stop turned into a potential two hour delay because of a “fatality on the track”. Me and some other passengers deciphered this as a “jumper” which is obviously awful. But the train was full of people desperate to get to the airport. Luckily, we were at a station so we could all get off (if not, I would definitely have missed the flight) but we were stuck for what to do. Going back to London to try and get the Gatwick Express would waste more time so 5 of us decided to pool together to catch a cab to the airport together. We made it, JUST. In fact, I have no idea if the girl flying to Jersey for a friend’s wedding did make it or not as she was really pushing it by arriving at Gatwick just half an hour before the flight! The whole experience was so stressful it has put me off going to an airport so far away again but the positive outcome of the experience was that a group of Londoners managed to get together to help each other out – which is pretty great for a city so famed for being full of reserved and unfriendly people!
Having returned to both Mexico City and Oaxaca, I decided I wanted to see somewhere new so investigated the options around Mexico City. My first choice was originally San Miguel de Allende, which I have heard is another postcard-perfect, artistic Mexican city. However, as I asked a few Mexicans what they thought about it, they all said it was actually more American than Mexican as it seems to be full of retired North Americans – so it may be lacking that Mexican flair I am after.
I decided on Taxco de Alarcón in the state of Guerrero. It is just 2.5 hours away from Mexico City by bus and famous for its church and many silver shops. I had two choices for how to get there – I could either do a day trip from Mexico City (a long day trip) on a guided tour or I could get a bus there myself and stay overnight. I decided to do the latter as I wanted a change of scene and also as I had managed to travel around Mexico thus far, I may as well continue with the challenge. Continue reading
Next stop after Mexico City was, predictably, my dear Oaxaca. I got a bus from Mexico City and it took 6.5 hours. It is also possible to get a flight for around 40 minutes, which I did last time. However, having done three big 24 hour bus journeys around Latin America, 6.5 hours on a bus is nothing and I thought it would be a better way of me being able to see more of Mexico. This was a stupid idea though as I am back on the Mexican travel sickness pills which means that I literally pass out for the whole journey half an hour after taking one. Those of you who travelled round Latin America with me will remember this, so I did in fact see very little of the bits in between Mexico City and Oaxaca! The ADO buses in Mexico are easy, efficient and clean and it really makes getting around the country by bus very easy – if not just a reminder of the sheer scale of Mexico. Continue reading
As my regular readers know, it is Mexico that I credit with giving me back my passion for travel, my joie de vivre. After a pretty intense travelling year (in a good way – 9 countries in 2014 and counting) I have been itching to return for months and held out for as long as I could (6 months) before I booked a return trip. This time, my plan was to fly solo – no group tours or organised activities in advance. I would just show up, practice mi español, return to the places I love and see if I can catch up with the few people I know – with a bit more spontaneity thrown in for good measure.
The first stop was Mexico City (Ciudad de Mexico/DF). I always forget how long it takes to get out of the airport until I am trying to get out of the airport. The advice on getting around Mexico is to avoid street taxis but opt for an organised car service or get your hotel to book you a taxi. At the airport, it is pretty easy as there are numerous authorised taxi stands so you just pick one, get a quote, pay the fare and then go and queue at one of the gates (puertos). This sounds straight forward but there are different queues, numerous companies and it all seems to take forever. By the time I got to my hotel, it was 10pm and as I was also blessed with a lovely cold and chest infection to accompany me on my trip (I ALWAYS get ill on my days off – I clearly work too hard), I was ready for bed. Continue reading
The last bit of my trip in Mexico was spent mainly on the beach having some down time before heading to Chile. We ended up first of all in Playa del Carmen which is my idea of hell! I had heard it was a loud and brash resort-like place near Cancun but I did not realise how loud and brash they meant! It was full of bars, café, restaurants, big screen TVs, cheesy clubs with a whole load of alcohol and tequila served by the litre. I tried to embrace it for a night at least – when in Rome and all that. Sadly, no good Mexican food to be found here either. Continue reading
Aside from all the natural beauty Mexico has, it is a country oozing with history, culture and historic ruins. In the last year, I have been lucky enough to visit Teotihuacan, which are the pyramids outside of Mexico City, the Templo Mayor archaeological site in the centre of D.F, Mitla in Oaxaca, Monte Alban, also in Oaxaca, and it was now time for three more major sites in the Yucatán Peninsula, home to the Mayan civilisation. Continue reading
After surviving vomit-gate but having a fairly quiet time in Palenque, we were back on the road to Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatán and home to Mayan culture. One of the best bits of my Mexico trip was checking out the cenotes near Merida. A cenote is basically a large hole in the ground where the sinkhole opens up to water at the bottom. The Yucatán area is famous for its many cenotes. Visiting one was on my list of must do’s for Mexico but I was warned that the ones near Playa del Carmen are really touristy whereas these ones were more unspoilt and private, so we went on a half day trip to explore two in the area. Continue reading
Warning: This post makes reference to projectile vomiting.
After San Cristobal de las Casas, we upgraded to a private van for our group tour so that we could drive to Palenque but have the day to stop off at some waterfalls en route. After my first trip to Hierve el Agua in Oaxaca where I was fighting off travel sickness, I made sure I had my anti-nausea pills at the ready as we were warned that it would be very windy roads for the first 4-5 hours of driving. I have no idea if I did not take the pills early enough or what happened but the other trip was like one straight road compared to this! The road quite literally wrapped around these mountains and on top of that, there were speed bumps all along the way which the driver was just zooming over. So it was a continuous, windy, mountainous and bumpy ride for the first two hours before we stopped off for breakfast at about 9am. Continue reading
Last Saturday, I was walking towards the Santa Domingo Plaza in the historic centre of Oaxaca on another glorious day when I was drawn to this really loud, live Mexican music played by a brass band and what appeared to be a huge celebration. As I got closer, I saw it was a wedding (boda) and it was simply the most joyous, colourful and lively celebration I have ever seen. Not only was it spectacular against the backdrop of Iglesia de Santa Domingo de Guzman but it was a very open and public fiesta which I have not seen anywhere before. Continue reading