Saturday, January 31, 2009

Puerto Vallarta

There was an unsettling Wall-E feeling at the Westin time-share in Puerto Vallarta. I was the only person running on the treadmills - everyone else was walking. And most of the cheerful Americans lay by the pools ordering super-sized bland meals from English-speaking waiters, listening to new-age pan pipe music. Much as there was twisted satisfaction in being slim and fit by comparison - it isn't real... I'm still an over-the-hill chubby back-of-the-packer. And the "Rhythm of the Night" show we saw was such a smaltzy tourist fabrication - we hated it. Outside of the security gate, the people hawking timeshares and tourist tat were obnoxious. This isn't Mexico! So we ran away.

We found an idyllic small town, Yelapa, at the head of a small river, on a grainy beach, about an hour's water taxi ride away from Puerto Vallarta. The Lagunita Hotel was perfect, with individual palapas on the beach, and a nice little restaurant. It just had a genuine Mexican beach resort feel - friendly and relaxed. I wish we could have spent the whole week here instead of in the timeshare!

Billy walked up the river while I had a massage. OK, the sound of the surf was a bit loud for sleeping but the feel of the place was just right, and we loved it.Rising early, we explored the village—a maze of adobe walls and red-tile roofs criss-crossed by cobblestone lanes climbing impossibly steeply. There are no cars or motorcycles in Yelapa - just mules, water taxis and lots of dogs. Everyone greeted us with Buenos Dias, and left us alone on the beach. It was hard to leave to go back to PV!

But it is time to go back to work. OK, one last stop at the Cheeky Monkey for cheap Margaritas!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cuajimoloyas to Lachatao, Mexico

We need to take 3rd-world travel lessons from our kids! How we've been spoiled by the English-speaking taxi drivers and guides. With a only a little slip of directions from the booking office in Oaxaca we struggled to find the 2nd class bus terminal and after finally buying tickets and boarding our bus, we ignorantly sat in the wrong seats, wedged in between bags of garlic and crockery for 2 hours then got off at the wrong stop....ARG! Billy heroically flagged down a lorry loaded with chickens in crates and we clambered on top to ride the last few kilometres to Cuajimoloyas where our mountain guide was to meet us. As we were late, the tourist office for "Pueblos Mancomunados" set us off with a lovely young girl, Daniella (hugging a tree in the photo), to try to catch up with our official guide, Javier. So we raced along the trail at altitude of 3200 metres, far away from the noise and stress of the city.
It was fantastic!

We caught Javier and a French woman tourist, Sandra, at their lunch stop. Javier's enthusiasm was infectious as he described medicinal plants and history, but he spoke no English and our Spanish is very basic, so sometimes we just nodded agreement - without understanding what he had said. Sandra's was not much better but her English was much better than our French! The landscape was spectacular with huge agave plants between familiar pine trees, festooned with beautiful bromeliads.

The cabanas were almost-new dormitory-style cabins, with an ensuite toilet. The open fireplace was very welcome as the temperature drops below freezing at night, (yet raises to almost 90 degrees at midday!).
We met up with an English couple, Kate and Adam who had been mountain-biking, and watched the sunset before a simple but delicious dinner in a local woman's small comida (dining room off her kitchen). There seems to be a critical lack of change in the mountain villages, but incredible trust. The shopkeeper would not accept payment for beer but was willing to give it to us, along with lending us a bottle opener, with the understanding that we would bring the empty bottles back the next day when they would be able give us change for the 100 pesos. 7 beers, 2 bananas, a bottle of water and nuts cost less than 5 GBP! Billy and I decided to try a single bed for warmth, but regretted it by the middle of the night... but coffee and hot milk from a bowl as the sun rose was glorious.
The walk along the canyon between Latuvi and Lachatao was beautiful and eerie where the moss hanging from the pine trees swayed in the wind, the aptly-named ghost forest. We were glad that we carried 2 ltrs of water as the temperature rose along with the steepness of the trail.
Got to run now.. but want to tell anyone traveling to the Oaxaca area to book a trip with this eco-tourism project. It is a great chance to see the un-spoilt mountain villages and gives them a fighting chance for survival!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oaxaca Mexico

Jet-lagged early rising walks, sampling mole and chocolate. We signed up for a couple of tours to outlying villages in the central valley with a rich crafting heritage. Our guide, Jose Maria Brena Morales was fantastic, managing to avoid the tour buses and providing his Zapotec heritage insight at archaeological sites and Mezcal tastings. The yarn in the photo was all hand spun and the amazing palate the result of all natural dyes in Teotilan. We succumbed to the sales pitch and bought a beautiful rug - now we've got to carry another bag! At the Dona Rosa pottery, we watched a demonstration of an interesting hand-building technique on two saucers that was way over-hyped... perhaps I'm just a cynic, but burnishing pots was not "invented" in 1952, nor is smoke fired raku so revolutionary... But the old guy did put on a well-rehearsed show.

Oaxaca's markets and central square, the Zocalo, are incredibly vibrant and facinating, but we're ready to get away from all the people and traffic, so are heading north tomorrow to the Pueblos Mancommunados, where eight remote villages in the Sierra Norte mountians have an eco-tourism project, Expediciones Sierra Norte, where we'll be walking "between villages and sleeping in dormitory cabanas, along the pre-Hispanic track that follows the Latuvi-Lachatao canyon trail through cloud forests festooned with bromeliads and hanging mosses". Sounds pretty cool!