Friday, October 30, 2009

Staying on a paradise beach for €3 a night

Mazunte & Hautulco, MEXICO: 24-27 Oct. 2009

I headed for the coast in a minibus on a very scenic six hour drive. However, the view was slightly hampered by (1) the multiple cracks in the windscreen, with which I decided not to concern myself and (2) the little old Mexican lady who feel asleep on my shoulder - I did not want to wake her (she looked like she has had a hardworking life) so I avoided turning my head to look right.
I met up with two people I had hung around with at the start of my time in Mexico, Lucy from Australia and Marco from Germany. We spent two days relaxing at the hippy beach of Mazunte (where I stayed in a beach hut for just €3 a night - accommodation on similar beaches in other parts of Mexico cost an awful lot more than that), before moving onto slightly more upmarket Huatulco. It was four fun days of swimming in very warm water, snorkelling, going on a turtle watching boat trip and a visit to a crocodile sanctury.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Zapotec medicine mountain trekking

Sierra Norte, MEXICO: 22-23 Oct. 2009

I teamed up with a French couple and headed into the Sierra Norte "Cloud Forest" mountains outside Oaxaca for a two day trek. As the rainy season had just ended, the mountains were a lush green and the Spanish moss hanging from the trees gave the place a mystical feeling. This was enhanced by our local Zapotec guide. He pointed out and explained the uses of loads of plants, including a plant that he said cures hangovers and takes the desire to drink alcohol away - I can certainly see a use for the first part, not sure about the second.

After spending the night in a cabin in a remote mountain village, our second day of trekking brought us down into a valley where men were panning for gold and silver in a river, just like the old days (a lot of this area feels well behind the times).

I really enjoyed the remotness of the hiking - in two days the only other person who passed us was a blind old man who lives in one of the lower villages and was walking up to one of the higher ones to sell his random collection of stuff.

It was a great two days, and a nice change from towns and cities.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Its pronounced O-ha-ka

Oaxaca, MEXICO: 19 - 22 Oct. 2009

Myself, Jessica and Ben hit the road south again to the vibrant city of Oaxaca. Its the home of many fun and interesting things, including mezcal (the smoky brother of tequila), El Tule (the widest tree in the world), and Hierve El Agua (mineral formations on cliffs that look like frozen waterfalls).

The best of all though was definitely Monte Alban - the ancient Zapotec capital set on a falltened hilltop with great views of the surrounding valley. Very serene feel to the place.

When protests, road blocks, a motor rally and a night-time religious procession were thrown into the mix, it all made for a great few days.

A city of clowns and balloons

Puebla, MEXICO: 16 - 18 Oct. 2009

I travelled south from Guanajuato to Puebla with two people I met in my Spanish class, Jessica from Canada and Ben from England. This city, two hours south-east of Mexico City, was full of people selling balloons and clowns doing street performances. After a fun Saturday night out, we spent the following morning in Cholula where we visited a pyramid with a church built on top and we sampled some local food, including some crunchy and weirdly tangy grasshoppers. A nice city.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A room with a multi-coloured view

Guanajuato, MEXICO: 12 - 17 October 2009

My first experience of buses in Mexico was on the 5 hour trip north of Mexico City to Guanajuato. I was very impressed - Bus Eireann could learn a few things from here. I enjoyed reclining in my almost horizontal seat and looking out the sights, which included a large Kerry Group plant.

Guanajuato is a fascinating, mutli-coloured city. It is built on hills and has miles of tunnels running below it in an incredible maze. Very easy to get lost.

I spent 4 hours each day for a week doing Spanish lessons - I´ve a lot to learn but it was very good to get the lessons. To get practice talking, I stayed in the home of one of the teachers and her family, where I got a lovely breakfast and dinner (at 4pm!) everyday. After 5 nights in a Mexico City hostel dorm room without a window, my own room with double-bed and a fantastic view was pretty sweet.

I timed my week in Guanajuato perfectly as it coincided with the start of its biggest annual arts, music and theatre festival - the Festival Internacional Cervantino. This meant that there was a great vibe on the streets as thousands of people just strolled around and watched street performers. I went to a few proper shows too, including an impressive Brazilian dance performance.

So after a chilled out week and armed with a bit more Spanish, I´m ready to start heading south.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pyramids and football - welcome to Mexico!

Mexico City, MEXICO: 6 - 11 Oct. 2009

After hearing so many varied but mostly bad things about Mexico City, I was a bit worried when the radio in the taxi from the airport started to play the theme from "The Omen". But when the driver switched stations and "Living on a Prayer" came on instead, I knew things were going to work out just fine.

I really enjoyed my 4 full days in Mexico City and I met a lot of nice people at the hostel. As well as walking around the main centre, I did 2 day trips. The first was to the pyraminds at Teotihuacan, which include the third largest pyramind in the world.

The second was to Tepoztlan, the alleged birth place of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec serpent god.

While people back home were watching Ireland play Italy, a group of us went to the 100,000 seater Aztec Stadium to cheer on Mexico against El Salvador. The atmosphere in the sold-out stadium was amazing. Mexico won 4 - 1 and therefore qualified for the World Cup, so there was a great party atmosphere after the match. A great last night in Mexico City.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Road Trip USA

California, Nevada, Arizona & Utah, USA: 13 Sept. - 6 Oct. 2009

The trip started in San Francisco where I met up with Ciaran and Jason. We saw some of the sights, including Alcatraz, and had a fun night out in Haight (thanks to the advice of an Irish barmaid). Then armed with yoga mats (for camping, not meditation) we hit the road in our Toyota Camry (once we figured out how to drive an automatic car - don´t use left leg to break and drive on the right).

Our first stop was Yosemite National Park, where we camped for 5 nights and did some amazing hikes, including Half Dome and Glacier Point (Jason ran up both on the first day!).

We left Yosemite to drive through the roasting Death Valley (thank God for air conditioning) on our way to Las Vegas. While it was good to see Las Vegas since you hear so much about it, and Treasure Island was a nice change from the tents, we soon realised the obvious that Vegas isn´t designed for non-gamblers. So while I enjoyed sitting by the pool, the Cirque de Soleil "Beatles" show and the first few of the "all-you-can-eat" buffets, I was ready to leave after our 2 days.

It was back to the camping and hiking for 2 days in each of the Grand Canyon in Arizonia and Zion National Park in Utah. Prior to planning the trip I had never heard of Zion, but it was a highlight of the trip. We hiked to the top of Angels´Landing where the views were amazing (the photos don´t do it justice), we walked up the river flowing through "The Narrows", we had a great campsite next to a river (which was handy as there were no showers), and we celebrated Ciaran´s birthday.

A long days drive back to the Californian coast ended with a rocking student night out in San Luis Opisbo. After 2 nights in that cool town, we worked our way up the coast. We spent a night in Monterey (which is aimed at tourists a lot older than us) and 2 nights in weird but wonderful Santa Cruz where UCSC students co-exist with the town´s crustier side. We went to a stand-up comedy competition which, depsite the lack of beer, was very funny.

Back in San Francisco, we were delighted to find that chilling out in Golden Gate Park lived up to its hippy reputation.

The last night out before the lads headed home included a Jameson promotion (we each won fetching, matching hats) and live music in North Beach - the perfect end to the road trip.

The 3 days on my own in San Fran were on a jam packed weekend. This included the Love parade and festival, complete with totally naked people (all old men) walking around the main downtown streets, and the free Bluegrass festival.

After cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge I came across a charity tennis event. When I was told that Steffi Graf (a hero of mine) and Andre Agassi were playing but that tickets were sold out, I locked my bike, hopped over the security fence and then snuck past the ticket checkers at the court - so it turns out that the unshaven, unemployed version of me will do things differently to the business-casual, public sector worker version! It was totally worth it - as well as Agassi and Graf, I saw Michael Chang, Conchita Martinez and Tracey Austin.

My last day included a snooze on the grass of Berkely´s campus. Outside its library a selection of internationally important newspapers were displayed: there was one from the UK (The Guardian) and one from Ireland, which was the Irish Examiner - if only people in Dublin were as enlightened as people in Berkely!

Very happy with my time in the US.