La Ruta Maya

 

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Over the last two weeks I saw, climbed, ate, and soaked up the best Southern Mexico has to offer. Thanks to a two week long spring break I traveled around the Ruta Maya (Mayan Trail) visiting Mayan ruins for most of the first week, and then basking on the beach for most of the second week. We missed out on some of our planned route due to unexpected circumstances (always expect the unexpected when traveling) but you always have to leave something out so you have a reason to go back.

Instead of detailing every part of my trip, I’m going to include my favorite photographs from each place we visited and a high point (rainbow) and a low point (rain cloud).

1. San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

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San Cris was our first stop on the Ruta Maya. It is a darling town with an international flavor unlike any other city I have visited in Mexico.

Rainbow: Our boat tour the Cañón del Sumidero (pictured above). The cliffs reach up to 1 km in height from the water’s surface and crocodiles are common.

Rain cloud: Literal rain, we were not prepared for the somewhat chilly weather and precipitation we found in San Cris.

2. Palenque

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Palenque was my favorite archaeological site, probably because you can climb and explore the majority of the ruins. Since we visited on a national holiday week, there were a lot of people visiting the site that day. However, Palenque is very spread out and by venturing into the jungle a little, we were alone with the ruins.

Rainbow: Having the deeper jungle ruins all to ourselves.

Rain cloud: A “the white people are melting” worthy heat!

3. Yaxchilan and Bonampak

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Yaxchilan are some fairly recently opened ruins that are only accessible by boat. The river on which you ride divides Mexico and Guatemala, although to actually get over to Guatemala you have to visit the immigration office at the dock. You can climb all up and down the Yaxchilan ruins, and even explore the inner parts of a building and see bats and absurdly large spiders. Bonampak is a small site mainly famous for well preserved Mayan murals. It comes as a packaged deal with Yaxchilan on tours, and I don’t think it’s remarkable on its own.

Rainbow: Climbing up the many Yaxchilan stairs and seeing Guatemala from the boat.

Rain cloud: Literal rain, again, we were not prepared for rain and got soaked on the way back from our tour, to our cabin, to dinner, and back.

4. Campeche

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I adore the city of Campeche. I hope there is a great influx of tourism after the City’s renovations are completed. All of the buildings downtown are painted different pastel colors and the boardwalk provides a great view of the ocean. The food is good, the people are friendly, and the weather was warm but not suffocating.

Rainbow: After a morning run on the boardwalk we had breakfast at a local restaurant where a generous local paid for our meal. When we asked for the check, the waiter said that our bill was already paid. When we asked for an explanation he said that’s how Campechanos are and that the man who had paid for our breakfast was a regular who often did that as a welcoming gesture for foreigners.

Rain cloud: I was so excited to have a place to run on the boardwalk that I put in too much and hurt my foot. It was an annoying problem to have since we were putting in a lot of walking touring the cities and the ruins. I thought it was a stress fracture, but fortunately whatever it was has resolved itself and my foot is now pain free.

5. Mérida

DSC_0531 DSC_0533We arrived in Mérida on Good Friday, and as an good Catholic country would, the entire city shut down after 2pm with the exception of a few restaurants. We also had planned to visit the Uxmal ruins, but were unable to on Saturday because of a medical situation. Mérida, I’ll have to give you another chance on some other trip.

Rainbow: The delicious Yucatecan food. We tried traditional papadzules which are essentially tacos with shredded hard boiled eggs and bathed in chaya (we saw it translated as “Mayan” or “Tree” spinach) and tomato sauces as well as cochinita pibil and agua de chaya. 

Rain cloud: Not getting to see much of Mérida. I’m convinced there is more to it than what we saw.

6. Chichén-Itzá

DSC_0552DSC_0626The ruins at Chichén are quite impressive. There are a lot of ruins to see and they are quite spread out, but the big pyramid that everyone thinks of when they think of Chichén is right near the entrance of the site. You can no longer climb it, which was a bummer, but most of the sides of the pyramid were pretty well preserved. After visiting the site we stayed at a hotel nearby which was across the street from a water filled sinkhole – cenote – where we swam after a hot morning at the ruins.

Rainbow: Finally seeing the Chichén ruins and swimming in the cenote which we couldn’t do in Yucatan. Also, we saw the ruins for free because on Sundays Mexican residents don’t have to pay.

Rain cloud:  The tunnels of vendors we had to go through in order to access different parts of the park. As two young white women we normally get a lot of attention and I wasn’t expecting harassment at an archaeological site.

7. Playa del Carmen/Tulum

DSC_0653DSC_0667The Caribbean Sea has the most beautiful water you will ever see in your life. Cameras can’t accurately capture the varying shades of blue and turquoise, not even with Instagram filters. We enjoyed 4 days on the beach at Playa del Carmen and during that time we took a day trip to the Mayan ruins of Tulum, which are the only ruins to be right on the ocean. The ruins themselves aren’t all that impressive, but with that view they are worth visiting.

Rainbow: Being on the beach and feeling the gentle sea breeze.

Rain cloud: A disappointing and expensive snorkel tour on the island of Cozumel. I might have to give Cozumel another chance because what we saw was not that impressive.

8. Isla Mujeres

DSC_0677 DSC_0703 DSC_0721Isla Mujeres is a small, skinny island off the coast of Cancún. The water is gorgeous and the beaches have long extensions of shallow water.

Rainbow: Staying at a beautiful hotel with view of the water and a small pool.

Rain cloud: The heat! We couldn’t stay in the direct sun for too long because we would melt. I couldn’t believe how hot it was on the island, even with the sea breeze.

That was my Ruta Maya trip in a nutshell! If any reader wants more information specific to accommodations, restaurants, and sites for their own travels, I would love to talk to you.

I’m closing in on the end of my grant period and I promise to be a more active blogger for my last month!

 

 

 

 

Campeche

I am still trying to figure out how Viva Aerobus functions as a business. Much like Ryan Air in Europe, it is a bare bones airline that charges you a very cheap base fare and then adds on extras which you have to be very careful to unclick while purchasing your ticket to make sure you don’t accidentally sign up for a $15 MXN text message with your confirmation number (which no one I know has ever received), or a $100 MXN calendar of bikini clad women (seriously, you have to opt out of that). Because of the cheap prices (recently there was a 2 for 1 deal, I don’t even understand how they can make money), the page is almost always overloaded with traffic and buying a single ticket can take over an hour because the page times out and you have to start all over again. Foreign credit cards are almost always rejected, and once you pick your method of payment (such as paying in cash at OXXO, which is essentially a 7-11…you can buy plane tickets at a convenience store, along with a family size Corona, paper plates, and credit for your phone), you must pay with that method within 24 hours or your ticket will be cancelled and and you have to start the whole thing over again the next day. So if you click on the Banamex portal thinking you can pay there, good luck.

To minimize cost, the airline check-in counter at the airport is only open for an hour and a half at a time. When you purchase a ticket, they tell you the window of time the counter is open, and you MUST check in during this window or you lose your ticket. That’s it. You can’t print your ticket at home and breeze through security an hour before your flight. Even if you aren’t checking bags, you have to get your ticket during this time because the computers shut down after the designated time period. This happened to a friend of mine who was three minutes late for an early morning flight. The computers turned off and that was it, even though she was at the airport an hour and a half early.

In November, Viva Aerobus celebrated it’s 7th anniversary with base fares to select destinations costing only 7 pesos. That’s less than 70 american cents. Of course the taxes and fees were higher, and I purchased a round trip ticket from Mexico City to Campeche on the Yucatan Peninsula in February for around $80 USD. This past weekend I made the trip with a fellow Fulbrighter and I loved it! Downtown Campeche is a UNESCO World Heritage site with colorfully painted buildings and colonial style architecture. The wall that used to protect the city from pirates is being reconstructed and the board walk has recently been renovated. The downtown area is very small, but there are a lot of cute restaurants and shops to spend your timeImage

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Mexico City and Cuernavaca

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After a week traveling in Mexico City and Cuernavaca, I am back to the grind in Guadalajara. I was in Cuernavaca for my Fulbright Mid-term reunion and I took advantage of the fact that we were meeting up in Mexico City to go to Cuernavaca together and spent a few days before the reunion doing some research for my project and exploring Mexico City. Since it would be hard (and probably boring for the reader) for me to detail all of my adventures during the last few days, I’m going to list my highs and lows:

Highs:

– Conducting three interviews with government professionals who gave me a lot of important information and useful suggestions for my project

– Learning how to navigate the metrobus

– Eating delicious tacos al pastor

– Eating one really good tamal at the Festival de Tamales in Coyocán

– All meals at the Hostería Las Quintas in Cuernavaca

– Sharing a meals with old and new friends

– Rubbing elbows with people I intellectually admire

– Going to the Frida Kahlo Museum

– Hearing my peers give excellent presentations on their research thus far

– Seeing another Diego Rivera mural in Cuernavaca

Lows:

– Street harassment (It was only on one occasion, but it was a lot and I’ll never get used to it)

– One disappointing tamal at the Festival de Tamales in Coyocán.

As you can see, the highs greatly outnumbered the lows. Every time I travel in Mexico it just makes me want to see and eat and explore more. I have another trip planned for the end of February and I can’t wait!

Here are some photos to illustrate my experience:

La Casa Azul, the home that Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera shared, which is now a museum

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Museo Regional Cuauhnáhuac – Hernán Cortés’ former palace in Cuernavaca, which is now a museum

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Hostería Las Quintas

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Cooking workshop at the hotel with my fellow Fulbrighters. I was in the dessert group and we made a mousse de mamey, which was essentially whipped cream, mamey pulp, and sweetened condensed milk which was mixed and then piped into dessert glasses and topped with berries and raspberry and mango syrups.

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The other groups assembled a salad with panela cheese, figs, and a balsamic dressing, and a piece of steak with huitlacoche, a ball of fried mashed potatoes with cream cheese inside and a sauce.

Monarch butterflies

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Every year between October and March, the Mexican states of Michoacán and Estado de México are the destination for the Monarch butterfly migration.  The butterflies escape the cold of the northern United States and Canada and settle high up in Mexican forests. Last Saturday, I ventured to the Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary outside of Valle de Bravo, Estado de México with some fellow Fulbrighters. Because of a time crunch to catch a bus back to Mexico City in the afternoon, we rented horses instead of hiking up the mountain. After about 40 minutes on horseback, we reached the point that began the butterfly habitat and walked the rest of the way up. I’ll let my photos describe what we saw at the top:

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Thanksgiving weekend in Mazamitla

Had I been at home in Tucson this weekend I likely would have participated in some black Friday shopping (four store maximum, only one trip to the dressing room per store, and no department or electronics stores, those are my rules), hiking, lounging in yoga pants, and quality time on the couch. This weekend I went to Mazamitla, another “Pueblo Mágico” in Jalisco, and I was able to enjoy three out of those four things. The lodging in Mazamitla is mainly cabins, each with their own fireplace which adds to the cozy feel. We found our cabin (Villas Montedeen) on Groupon for a steal, and we were able to enjoy a relaxing weekend away from the city.

The bus ride up was much longer than expected since we stopped in every town to drop off and pick up people. At various tops, vendors boarded the bus and went up and down the aisles selling traditional candies, potato chips, drinks, and bread by the meter. After a 3 hour ride, we arrived in Mazamitla after dark, got some enchiladas to take back to the cabin and stayed in for the night.

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Villas Montedeen

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This is the two story market near the center of Mazamitla. On the bottom floor you can buy traditional candies, produce, dairy products, and cuts of beef straight of a cow’s leg which is hung on the outside of the stall.

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On the second floor you can buy tamales, tacos, bread, birria, enchiladas, pollo con mole, atole, café de olla, fresh juices, and chilaquiles. These are some chilquiles verdes with scrambled eggs and beans, accompanied by an orange and beet juice. 

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One of the main attractions of Mazamitla is a waterfall, which is accessible by horse or walking. The walk is 2 km, which is about a mile and a third, which has some steep inclines, but overall is not bad at all. As we (a group of 5 white women) made our way to the head of the trail, the men renting horses for the excursion tried to convince us to rent horses from them because “young ladies should not undertake such a strenuous walk.” We all completed it, and I think we can all still bear children.

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The sign says, “This place receives you with joy, take care of it.” It is one of the first things you see as you enter the trail and I found it to be phrased in such a loving way. The natural world gives us so much happiness and energy, we must take care of it in return.

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Poinsettias, or nochebuenas in Spanish, were growing naturally on the trail and all over Mazamitla.

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“Hug the universe through this place”

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We ended the night with some champurrado and then headed back Sunday morning. The bus took less time, and we learned from the other passengers and got off at a more convenient stop. This left me with a long Sunday afternoon to do more lounging and relaxing before the long week ahead (I run my first 10k next Sunday!).

 

Tequila tour

This past Saturday I went on the Tequila Tour with the other Fulbright ladies. Tequila is a town not far from Guadalajara, where the vast majority of the world’s tequila is made (as it’s name would indicate). Tequila is produced under rigorous standards and controls in order to protect the industry and the quality of the drink. Although I had been on the tour before, I learned new things about the process of making tequila, as well as sampled some of the goods myself. Here are some photos to illustrate the experience:

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Fields of agave, the plant tequila is made from.

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After cutting the long leaves with sharp points using a machete, the fruit of the pant is pulled up from under the soil and cleaned with a tool called a jima

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This is the fruit cut in half so we could have a taste. It tasted like a dry jicama

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More of the fields. 

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We also got to tour the Jose Cuervo distillery and see tequila being made firsthand. 

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Although “Joe Crow” has a nice ring to it, the correct translation of cuervo is raven

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The actual raven Jose Cuervo has on display

Day of the Dead

I have been majorly slacking in the blogging department, and I apologize. It’s been a busy few weeks with conferences, races, and my French midterms. To make it up to you, here is a post of my lovely trip to Pátzcuaro, Michoácan for the Día de los muertos celebrations.

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Cempasúchil is the name of the game for Día de los muertos. We saw tens of thousands of these yellow marigolds, with the red version still visible, but nowhere near as popular

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The flower market on the way to the cemetery where you could purchase cempasúchil for your altar.

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Altars at the cemetery

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A corunda for breakfast at the Basilica. It’s a tamale steamed wrapped in banana leaves containing rajas (strips of green chiles) and cheese, then doused in salsa

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We washed down the corunda with a mug of champurrado, I am unclear as to what exactly goes into it, but the base is a corn and milk based drink called atole and then there are bits of chocolate mixed in

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The handicrafts market was alive with many local goods, including these beautiful black candlestick holders

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Left – nieve de pasta (according to Lonely Planet, supposed to be almond and cinnamon flavored, but tasted like straight up condensed milk), right – nieve de chongos (sweet curdled milk? but tasty)

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We also went to the island of Janítizio, and on our boat ride we saw the fisherman, mariposeros, on the lake using their butterfly shaped nets

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Morelos statue on the island, view from the top of the statue

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Sugar skills back in the market in Pátzcuaro

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Pan de muertos, bread of the dead, bread made with orange blossom water and dusted in sugar