Posted by: Bert and Tania | October 9, 2011

Oaxaca

I went to a restaurant in London called Wahaca once. That’s not how you spell it, it’s Oaxaca. Oaxaca is a state of Mexico and Oaxaca City is its capital. We loved it.

Our first week was spent in Oaxaca City, arriving on 9th October. Tania, Bert and George attended Spanish classes at Ollin Tlahtoalli school, run by Omar Nunez Mendez while Rosie finished here second novel. I think our Spanish improved. A bit.

Omar was great and took us to a closed doors Mezcal bar. Mezcal is an extremely strong Mexican spirit, like Tequila, but made from the Maguey plant instead of the Agave. These plants are enormous and grow everywhere in Oaxaca. There is bad Mezcal and good Mezcal, we learned. The good stuff is available in plastic pots, written on with marker pen. The mezcal we tasted was made on tiny farms by Omar’s mates and some were really good. But they haven’t gone through the required certification process to be sold legally. Hence closed doors. One of them was 86% alcohol. Yes. 86%.

More incredible ruins were visited at Monte Alban, a day trip from Oaxaca City. Oaxaca is an amazing, low rise (due to earthquakes) place with increadible markets, foods and lovely people. We celebrated Mexican independence day on 15th in the Zocalo, or main square.

Omar sent us off to a village to learn to make ‘Mole Verde’, a kind of green soup with chicken in it. We spent the day with Alicia and her family, buying ingredients from the market, picking stuff from her garden like ‘Yerba Santa’ which is an aniseed leaf and grinding, boiling and blending. Moles are a famous dish from Oaxaca and there are seven different colours of them.

After Oaxaca City, the four of us spent a few days trekking in the ‘Pueblos Mancomunados’ in the Valley Central in Oaxaca State.
This was amazing and reminded us a bit of Nepal as it was high up in the clouds and life there is basic. We based ourselves in Cuajimoloyas, where Rosie met an old lady who made her a potion, as she’d been ill for a while. We think it worked a bit. It took an hour to boil up all the ingredients.

Our three day trek was through jungle and we saw lots of medicinal plants and our guide, ‘Tokyo’ was lovely – he’s a friend of Omar’s. Our trek was cold and wet, through the villages of Latuvi and Benito Juarez. We stopped in a cabin with a log fire where we could dry our clothes out and play cards.

After that, on 22nd Oct, we headed down to the Oaxaca coast to Zipolite. After a miserable rainy first day, the sun came out and we were all taught to surf by a muscley French man called Davide. We also visited the turtle centre at Mazunte and saw millions of turtles of all sizes, then headed to a night time trip to the beach at Playa Escobilla where we saw turtles laying eggs in the sand. This was amazing. A guide took us and an Australian couple on the beach, which was protected by the military where we saw about 20 to 30 turtles. The week before we would have seen 5000. The little poppets dig a hole about a foot deep, lay 100 springy golf ball sized eggs, pat the sand back over them then head back into the sea. It was incredible.

Oaxaca is an amazing part of Mexico. We loved it.

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Posted by: Bert and Tania | October 9, 2011

Yucutan Peninsula: Akumal, Coba, Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Palenque

OK, bit behind with the blog, sorry about that. On 1st October we headed from Tulum to Akumal (Yukutan peninsula) to try and swim with turtles. We arrived having had a tip-off there might be some and there was a red flag for danger fluttering in the beach breeze. The guys in the dive centre said they wouldn’t let anyone out without lifejacket and guide. Hey ho, we said, this is our only chance to swim with turtles so let’s go try and find some. And there they were, grazing like small flat cows on the seaweed on the seabed and every now and again swimming up to the surface to catch a breath. We love them. Click the pic below to see one of them.

After Akumal, we visited the Mayan ruins at Coba which were pretty impressive. The Mayans had a ballgame that was played in a kind of small stone valley. Each sloped side had a basketball style hoop at the top and the Mayan men had to use their knees, thighs and elbows to score. Stories vary, but it seems that either the captain of the winning or losing team was often beheaded at the end of the game. Funny old Mayans. Also near Coba was a wild alligator in a lake, refusing to eat chicken a man was offering it.

After that, on 3rd Oct, we went up to Isla Mujeres, via Cancun. Cancun shocked me – I was prepared for an over-developed hotel city but what we saw was nothing short of Las Vegas, without the charm that Vegas has because it is SO unreal. Yuk. Isla Mujeres was nicer and we stayed for a few days with Rosie and George, attempting three times to go out on a boat to swim with whale sharks, but three times being told the weather was too rough. That’ll be hurricane Harvey’s fault. Hey ho.

On 7th Oct, we headed to see some of the most impressive Mayan ruins in Mexico, at Palenque. We stayed in a hippy jungle commune thing called El Pachan, in a cabin. I awoke at about 4am to the loud roar of dinosaurs coming from the forest. Some say that the noise is howler monkeys but I’ve seen Jurassic Park. They were dinosaurs. The ruins are amazing – in the 50’s an archaeologist discovered the tomb of the Mayan leader Pakal by going into the Temple de los Inscripciones and through a network of tunnels inside it. Imagine that – real life Tomb Raider. Must have been exciting.

Posted by: Bert and Tania | September 10, 2011

Our First Ever SCUBA Dive in Casa Cenote, Tulum

There’s such amazing underwater stuff in Mexico that we thought we’d give diving a go. Fortunately, in Mexico, you don’t need any qualifications or experience or anything like that.

We dived in an underground cave near Tulum called ‘Casa Cenote’ which, compared with the incredible Gran Cenote we had snorkelled in, looked like a big black puddle from outside.

It was a bit scary being so far underwater (especially for Bert who is in the process of conquering his fear of deep water) but we both enjoyed it. Our instructor, Jorge, and Tania both got quite a shock when Bert´s goggles started filling up with blood, but Bert was fine – just a nose bleed brought on by pressure or something, we figured.

Well, apparently, our ‘Discovery’ dive was actually the first day of a PADI course. We learned to do the following underwater-

1. Remove respirator from mouth, breath out through mouth for a while, replace respirator (this was the most nervewracking bit)
2. Let go of your two respirators, then recover them from behind you by moving your arm round in a big circle and putting one back in your mouth.
3. (Tania only because of Bert wearing contact lenses) Fill goggles with water, then fill with air again by blowing out your nose.
4. If someone panics and loses their respirator underwater, hold your second respirator out to them to take whilst putting your hand on their shoulder to keep them at a safe distance.
5. Lie flat in the water without going up or down.

This last point sounds easy, but I (Bert) found it completely impossible. You wear an inflatable jacket which you can put more air into, or let air out of. The idea is that you have the right amount of air so that you don´t either float or sink. I didn´t work out under after the dive, however, that I was actually controlling this with my mind. When I got nervous, I somehow changed my breathing and floated. When I was relaxed, I sank. So I spent the whole 90mins trying to compensate for my state of mind by pressing buttons to inflate or deflate my jacket. It never really worked and I spent quite a bit of time lying on the bed of the cenote looking like an idiot.

Tania was, needless to say, brilliant. The instructor, Jorge (George) said she had better breathing than he did. Typical.

We are glad we did it and it was an amazing place to do a first dive, once we got under the water.

Photos were taken by a professional photographer who dived with us.

Posted by: Bert and Tania | September 10, 2011

Museum of the Dead, Day of the Dead and Bread of the Dead

Whilst in the beautiful city of Guanajuato (on 16th August) we visited the museum of the Dead. There were various rooms containing maybe 100 people in various states of decay who had been either dug up from the cemetary above (to make room for new arrivals) or removed from vaults where the dry atmosphere had mummified them. There was a mummified six month old foetus and a postcard in the gift shop with a photo of the foetus with a speech bubble saying ‘Mummy’. I’d heard Mexicans have rather a different view of death to us English and thought I’d find out a bit more about it.

The ‘Day of the Dead’ on 2nd Nov is a National Holiday in Mexico. 
When the Spaniards arrived in the 16th Century (resulting in the deaths of 90% of the people in Latin America), they moved this celebration from July/August to coincide with All Souls’ Day in the Catholic calendar. Indigenous people before the arrival of the Spanish believed that souls did not die, but rather passed to rest in a place called Mictlan. There’s obviously an overlap with Christianity and their celebrations became combined into the Catholic ones after colonization.

The ‘Día de los Muertos’ festival is an opportunity to firstly remember and celebrate the dead people that are important to you and secondly reflect on the meaning of life and your personal goals. People honour their dead friends and family through building altars and offering flowers, sugar skulls, funny poems, and the deceased’s favourite foods. People even make ‘bread of the dead’, a rather nice rhyme which doesn’t exist until you translate into English. The intention is encourage visits from the souls of the dead so that they will hear your prayers and (often light-hearted) messages.

Mexican intimacy with death has, according to one university professor, been elevated “to the centre of national identity” and you can certainly see symbols of death pretty much everywhere. 

I think it’s rather nice to have an annual opportunity to happily remember friends and family who have passed away. Perhaps this “intimacy” with death also helps Mexican people not fear their own death.

The Bread of the Dead photo was stolen from Google Images.

Posted by: Bert and Tania | September 1, 2011

Mexico so far…

Mexico is keeping us from keeping this blog updated. Its fun and lively, there’s lots to do and places to go… so it’s now more than time for a catch up of where we’re at and where we’ve been. Plus its raining, so an internet cafe is as good a place to be as any.

So we landed in Guadalajara back on 1st August, where we met up with Rosie and George in a nice hostel that was prepared to put us up for a week… Whilst in Guadalajara we;
– visited the theatre and watched a folk dancing show (sounds naff but it was brill, lots of swooshy, colourful skirts and moustached guitarists)
– watched a footy game at the stadium. Chivas vs Pumas (it was a draw)
– met Gwyn’s lovely friends Mario and Ange who took us to see lucha libre in a bar (comedy wrestling, the star of which was a 70+ year old Gary Glitter look alike wrestler wearing neon yellow lycra).
We liked Guadalajara and generally wandered around it alot. Oh and we also ate alot… like; tortas ahogadas (pork sandwiches made with salty sour-dough-like bread local to Guadalajara all ‘drowned’ in a spicy tomato sauce), birria (goat stew), mole (which is not short for guacamole and to be honest we’re not sure what we make of it), chiles en nogada (stuffed peppers with a white sauce and pomegranite seeds). Mmm.

From Guadalajara we headed West to Sayulita on the Pacific coast where we also stayed for a week. Sayulita is a chilled beach town where we chilled by the beach (unsurprisingly). We also surfed… admittedly the waves weren’t huge (well not on the bit of beach where we had our lesson anyways) and we did have a nice mexican man shoving our surfboard so it could get enough momentum to let us actually stand up… but that’s what we did. We stood up. Alot. Which makes us surfers. We were surf kings for that hour. Alas when the nice Mexican board-shoving man went to play in the big waves, leaving us to practice, we were demoted to more like surf serfs (see what I did there!?). We also took a boat trip, which was “muuuuuuy bueno” (as the microphone wielding dude onboard said, alot). Dolphins and sea turtles swam right past us, we snorkelled through a cave… all great fun. The only downside to our stay in Sayulita is that we never managed to track down the ‘camaron’ man… who drove round the town offering 2kg of prawns for 100pesos (a fiver).

Then we sort of went back towards Guadalajara but kept going ’til we arrived at Guanajuato, a pretty town with colourful houses, narrow streets and lots to see. We went to a few museums there, we were well cultural. Perhaps the pictures tell the story better (see below).

Then we jumped on (another) bus to Zacatecas which is another beautiful little town with slightly-less-colourful-but-no-less-pretty houses and narrow streets. Here we visited the mine which made this one of the world’s leading silver (amongst other things) mines in the world in its day… there’s a bar in the mine too so you can have a nice cocktail after wandering around all the tunnels. We also stumbled upon a ‘callejoneada’ party which started as family birthday and graduation party in a plaza but ended up with upwards of 100 people all following a donkey with a barrel of tequila strapped to its back as it wanders around the town accompanied by a band playing music for everyone to dance to. It was ACE.

From Zacatecas we went to Xilitla… a tiny mountain village/town in the mountains on the central Gulf Coast. It’s near here that an eccentric English Aristocrat (Edward James) spent 5 million quid building ‘Las Pozas'(The Pools) which consists of lots of surreal structures built in the middle of the jungle. Unfortunately it was a bit overcast during our stay here thanks to tropical storm Harvey passing through the general area overnight but hey ho.

After exploring weird jungle structures we got on a collection (sigh) of buses to get to Catemaco which is South and on the edge of a Nature Reserve and a lake. We took a guided walk in the aforementioned reserve, which was hot and humid so we liked the fact it finished with a swim in a waterfall pool. Here we also sampled ‘Tegogolos’… Tania’s new favorite word and also a tasty snack. A Tegogolo is a snail. And they taste delicious when covered in lime, tomato, onion and coriander. We also got ourselves covered in local mud before partaking in a Mesoamerican ‘Temezcal’ (sort of sauna) as part of a rustic spa experience. A strange but pleasurable experience, even if it did exfoliate our tans off.

After a few days we headed ever futher southwards on ever more buses to get to Bacalar and its lagoon… beside which we spent our second wedding anniversary. Which was lovely (both the lagoon and the anniversary). And now…

Now we are in Tulum on the Yucatan Peninsular. Reunited with Rosie and George (who we’d left in Sayulita). Visiting Mayan ruins and snorkelling in ‘Cenotes’ which are underground caves formed due to the limestone being eroded by water. They are stunning.

Posted by: Bert and Tania | August 11, 2011

How to Make Tequila & How to Drink Tequila

We are now in Mexico where we recently had a 2-day lesson on how to make and how to drink Tequila.

Thanks to Gwyn for recommending La Fuente, a bar in Guadalajara where we met Antonio. Antonio taught us to drink Tequila. As soon as we sat down he downed the two double shots in front of him and we got the impression it wasn’t the first time he’d done it.

The tequila we get in the UK is 50% blue agave plant. The other 50% is what makes my head twist to the side and gives that slight feeling of nausea. It is intended for making margharitas, not for sipping (or downing). We were drinking 100% blue agave tequila which I could drink without any head twisting or nausea. In fact after a couple of double shots I realised I didn’t even need the lime dipped in salt which is normally need to neutralize the taste. In fact, I liked it.

Antonio had 400 cocks which he bound sharp knives to (their legs) and fought. He showed us a video on his phone of one of his birds killing another in about two seconds. He once won a Hummer. He once won 100,000 US Dollars thinking he’d bet 100,000 Mexican pesos. He had his bodyguard with him and said his mate had killed five people and could look after us if we went to Mazatlan… an area on the coast further North that we’re steering clear of because it’s a bit dangerous to get there at present. Apparently.

Then he ordered a litre bottle of Tequila. Half way through the bottle… having ‘slammed’ a bubbling double shot of tequila with SevenUp, Tania went home with Rosie. Sensible! George and I stayed on… and once the bottle was finished Antonio offered us (George and Bert) a lift home. We politely declined.

The following day we went to the Jose Cuervo factory in the town called Tequila. To make Tequila you chop the leaves off an agave plant, bake the bulb bit, distil it to make fire water, distil it again to stop it being cloudy and age in it oak barrels to give it flavour. I’m afraid I had to decline the tastings that were included in our tour but we were safe in the knowledge that we had drunken Tequila in the true Mexican way.

Posted by: Bert and Tania | August 10, 2011

Australia Again

Well, we’re back Megamooning once again – three months backpacking before we return to Buenos Aires at the end of October.

On 20th July we flew to Perth in Oz for Tim and Chloe’s wedding in Fremantle. It was stylish, fun and drunken and generally AWESOME. It was also a rare occasion to have what is now an international bunch of lovely people together in one place… the last time such a feat occurred it was also for a wedding… almost 2 years ago in a field at Wedfest.

CONGRATS once again Tim and Chloe… thanks for bringing us all together and making the trip WELL worth it. Good times.

After spending a few days in Perth (and when we say spend… we mean both time and money… Australia is expensive!), we headed North to Broome on the coast and went for a day’s deep sea fishing. We saw whales, dolphins, sea snakes and Tiger sharks and caught (between us) Carp, Spanish mackerel, Cobia, Red Emperor and Blue Line Emperor (Bert). The fish were incredible. Bert and Ed both caught the largest fish in the morning but was overtaken by a mile when people started catching 12kg fish. We ate the lot over two days – we BBQ-ed it, breadcrumbed it, made Thai curry with it… mmmm. The first day in Broome we weren’t allowed in the sea because of a 4 to 5m long sea water crocodile which was hanging around in the swimming beach. Luckily it was chased off.

Then we hired 4x4s and drove up a red dirt track 2hrs to the Cape Leveque peninsula (we only got one puncture) to chill in an even more deserted spot where they generated their own electricity and got all their water from a bore hole. The beaches and crystal clear seas and red rocks were astoundingly beautiful and it was all very relaxing. Bert conquered his childhood fear of deep water and swam out with everyone else to sea to snorkle around coral reefs. There were a few fish but none large enough for James and Ed to spear with their ‘Gidgy’ spears they had bought.

Posted by: Bert and Tania | June 23, 2011

Cargo Ship (Repubblica Del Brasile) Video Diary and Pictures

It’s actually 6 weeks since we arrived in the UK after travelling from Buenos Aires on the 52,000 ton vehicle-carrying Italian cargo ship, the ‘Repubblica del Brasile’.

We made a 23 minute video diary so you lot could see what it was like. It was slow. So slow that most of the video diary needed to be speeded up.

Our time was spent:
– Playing table football, chess and table tennis with the Italian crew
– Practising our Spanish
– Reading thick books
– Eating four-course Italian meals (twice a day)
– Making stuff with our sewing machine
– Videoing things and taking pictures, lots of pictures
– Battling with the wind on deck
– Visiting ports in Brazil, Senegal, Germany and Belgium (but not England!)

It was actually a fascinating view of how stuff is carted around all over the world. It was also a rare opportunity to be disconnected from phones, internet and email for a month.

Click here to watch our (potentially) award-winning video diary. If you don’t have 23 minutes, here are some photos:

Click for huge Rio De Janeiro panorama:
rio panorama

You can visit Tania’s flickr page for more pictures.

Posted by: Bert and Tania | April 7, 2011

Container Ship

So, right, our ‘confirmed’ departure date is Saturday 9th April… or maybe the 10th. It would seem that cargo ships aren’t as predictable as you’d think. For those of you who don’t know, this departure date marks the start of our voyage from Buenos Aires to Tilbury on a 52,000 tonne container ship. With only 5 other passengers (non of whom are British), a Liberian crew working the Italian flagged vessel and no internet or phone it’ll certainly be ‘an experience’. A 29 (or maybe 30) day experience. We’ll let you know whether it’s a good one or not.

Bit apprehensive. I hope our bunk beds are nice (we kid you not).

These images of this delightful vessel have been stolen from the internet – we wanted to know what it was like before getting on it. You can’t see it from these images but we’re fairly sure that the swimming pool and restaurant deck is there somewhere, hmm…

Posted by: Bert and Tania | March 24, 2011

Happy Birthday Rosie!

Something thats made our 7000 mile move to Buenos Aires one of the better choices we’ve made in life is the people we’ve met and the friends we’ve made. One such friend worth moving hemispheres to find is Rosie and she stayed with us recently. Conveniently her birthday just happened to fall within the time she was here so we had a little birthday party… Argentinian style.

This involves meat, wine, fernet, lots of other lovely friends, dancing (at times like a shrimp), chatting and general merriment upon a roof terrace until its 2am and time to go boogying at a local club.

There was one person missing from this party, who was definitely there in spirit and to whom we drank scummy fernet from a saucepan. Mr P we salute you.

Ace. We must also extend a special thank you to Miss Walsh for preparing never-ending Middle Class Salads (MCS) amongst other things… we shall never eat a salad lacking in fennel or with at least 3 different vegetables again.

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