Suitcase and World: July 2011

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Memories of Mexico.

Ayşe, Juan Jose, Julee, Francisco, Mark

Yes, Mexico is more than Cancun, Playa, Cabo, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Chichén-Itzá....and it's not like all violent, ugly place like Tijuana and Juarez. There are Spanish colonial towns and cities like Puebla, Oaxaca, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Campeche and Mérida - colorful, vibrant, full of history, culture and some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Adiós México.

After we took quick showers and changed out of our bathing suits into our street clothes, we headed out of the Akumal Dive shop and walked out to the town entrance where we had agreed to meet up with Artenio. Deep down inside, I was quietly hoping he would remember to show up since he was bringing our luggage with us. One taxi after another came by. No Artenio. My brother went off to check a nearby parking lot to see if maybe he was there waiting for us and no luck. Then, in the distance, I saw another taxi approaching. It pulled off into side parking area. I decided to check it out. It was Artenio!! I've never been so happy to see a taxi driver and he was happy to see me because I had fish in hand for him. I waved to my brother to come over. We piled into the cab and headed down the road towards Cancun airport. Of course, the conversation was mainly about the fishing trip we had just been on.

Akumal is about an hour's drive from the airport and along the way, we pass Playa del Carmen and Cancun. I can't believe how both places have changed since I was last here....starting with the fact that there's now a highway connecting Akumal to Cancun. Back then, we had to rent a Jeep to get around because the roads were not so good.

Bahía de Akumal.

When we got to Akumal Bay, from Yal-ku Lagoon, the first thing I wanted to do was find the CEA office. I wanted to book our spots on tonight's turtle watch because you have to make the reservations in purpose - they won't take requests over the phone.  The office was marked on our Akumal map.  We just had to find it.   Obviously, I had forgotten just how small a place Akumal is because well, there it was, smack dab in the center of the small clump of buildings that sit along the beachfront.

Vamos a pescar. Barracuda!

For as long as I can remember, my brother and I have been fishing. We learned the sport from my father and our uncles. We have fishing in our blood.

Today was our last day in Tulum.  We would both be flying home later on in the day.  How did we spend our last morning in Mexico?  Going deep sea fishing, of course!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Creaciones de Gabi y Posada Luna del Sur.

My brother thinks it's a Hispanic/Latin thing because our chamber maid in Flores, Guatemala was also a whiz with towel creations.  Izabel was her name and she rolled our bath towels into what we thought was an armadillo and our face towels into a duck.

Of course, I'm a sucker for these sorts of things, more so cause I'm just curious how the towel is actually folded into the shape.

Reserva de la Biosfera Sian Ka'an.

We hadn't planned on going to Sian Ka'an. In fact today, we were suppose to have gone snorkeling with whale sharks but that got cancelled due to bad weather. So we started the day with no plan.

Las frutas.

To say that there's a lot of different kinds of fruits in Mexico is truly an understatement. I've never been in place that has this much variety and the Fruit Obsessed One aka my brother was in absolute heaven. Part of the reason for going on this trip during rainy season is because that is the height of fruit season and we hit the bounty!

Las tortugas bebé. Awww......

After the disappointment of not seeing a single nesting turtle last night, the sight of baby loggerhead turtles tonight made me forget about the missed opportunity. They were so, so cute.

Tonight, we had dinner at the Centro Ecologico Sian Ka'an (CESiaK) education center's dining room.  Dinner was pan fried grouper served with rice and veggies. The condiments were two salsas - one cilantro and the other habanero.  The grouper was exceptionally fresh fish and a bite of that topped with a bit of the cilantro was just divine. The best piece of fish I have had in ages!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

La Laguna. Yal-ku.

When I planned out this trip, I made sure we had a fixed itinerary for the days that we were touring but on the days that we weren't I deliberately left the calendar wide open.  Today was one of those days.  With nothing set on the agenda, we needed to figure out how to spend out day.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cenote X'keken.

Our Mexican tour officially ended today after our visit to Chichén-Itzá. The only thing left on the agenda was lunch. After that, my brother and I would get dropped off at our hotel in Tulum and Ayşe to her hotel in Cancun.

As we made our way towards Tulum, Francisco told us we had time to make one more stop. It wasn't on our itinerary but he thought we should go see it and so we went.

Las ruinas. Chichén-Itzá.

Today's highlight was our visit to the world famous Chichén-Itzá!  I was here 25 years ago - before the place was designated a World Heritage site and before gained notoriety by being on the new Seven Wonders of the World list.  Back then, it was sleepy place - barely anyone outside of Mexico knew anything about it.  But from what I from friends who have been to visit it in recent years, it's become one of the tourist hotspots for people coming to Cancun which is just a short drive away.

Monday, July 25, 2011


We arrived in to Mérida in the late afternoon, after our visit to Uxmal.

It was pouring cats and dogs when we drove into town.  Some of the streets were flooded, turning them into small creeks.   Juan Jose took his time and care driving; we were in capable hands.

Las ruinas. Uxmal.

I had been looking forward to this day for months now, ever since I first started reading about Uxmal.  The ruins at Uxmal date back to before the 10th century AD.  In its heyday, Uxmal was one of the largest cities of the Yucatán peninsula with a population of about 25,000 Mayans.

Colores de México.

Clockwise from upper left:  Puebla, Oaxaca, Campeche, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Campeche, Campeche

One of the things that I will remember the most about this trip is just how colorful Mexico is and by color, I mean just that.  If a surface can be painted or somehow adorned with color, it is.  Start with the buildings, especially those in the Spanish Colonial towns like Puebla and Oaxaca. Pretty much every building is painted and sometimes in the most unusual of color combinations.  There is nothing drab or blah here.  No gray cinder block or brick or cement buildings.  No glass buildings.  A minimalist would not like it here.

Encanto colonial. Campeche.

By the time our trip calendar said we were going to be in Campeche, we had already visited three very beautiful Spanish colonial cities - Puebla, Oaxaca, and San Cristóbal de las Casas. I didn't have high expectations for Campeche. No doubt a UNESCO World Heritage but it's a fort city and so I expected a so-so place contained inside stone walls.  The old city is actually quite small; you can walk from one end to the other in about a half hour or so.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Las ruinas. Palenque.

After a relaxing swim in the hotel pool yesterday, followed by a wonderful dinner, a great night's rest and a hearty breakfast, I'm ready to hit the road this morning. The highlight of today's sightseeing was Palenque!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tiempo en el Palenque.

We arrived into the town of Palenque about mid afternoon. Juan Jose pulled off the main road onto a driveway that led to the hotel. A very nice, new hotel. We checked into our rooms which were very comfortable. Our patio doors in our room opened up to the garden and I could see a swimming pool in the distance.

Las paradas del resto.

We traveled by car on this trip and we had a lot of long drives. That means a lot of road stops to stretch our legs and to go the toilet. Ordinarily, road side stops are nothing memorable but on this trip, we had several.

My favorite stop was on our way from San Cristóbal de las Casas to Agua Azul. It was about mid morning when we made our pit stop. I think poor Juan Jose needed a break from driving over a million and one speed bumps!

Topes y Oxchuc.

As described in the opening sentence of Moon Travel Guides, "Only a handful of the thousands of travelers who pass this vibrant Tzeltal Maya village ever stop."  We were one of those thousands and so Oxchuc was not a memorable visit for me especially since I saw it from the vantage point of a passenger in a car that was whizzing its way through town.

But, it does hold some memories and for this reason, deserves a small posting on my blog.....that and I really want to post up the videos I shot :-)

Las aguas. Agua Azul y Misol-ha.

We left San Cristóbal de las Casas this morning and by late morning had arrived at Agua Azul  (Blue Water) waterfalls, a small river that runs in an area that Mayan Tzeltal call "Water Mountains".  The river runs through an area that was declared a Mexican Federal Protected Forest and Wildlife Refuge in 1980 and a Biosphere Special Reserve several years later.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Artistas callejeros.

One of the most enjoyable things that we got to do on this trip was watch the street performers. A lot of entertainment for just a small tip!

Our first encounter was in Puebla. It was close to the end of the day. We were just returning from the street fair and as we neared the Cathedral, we could a small crowd gathered in the plaza adjoining the cathedral. There were a pair of clowns performing for the crowd. They were speaking in Spanish so I didn't catch anything of what they were saying but the crowd would break out in laughter every now and again so they must have been an entertaining pair. I was amused by their acrobatic moves.

Los insectos. Chapulines y hormigos.

Y es! I ate insects and if I might say so myself, they were quite tasty!!

It all started with the chapulines or fried grasshoppers in Cholula.  A common snack food in Oaxaca, I came across my first batch in Cholula.  We had just exited the grounds of the Great Pyramid when someone spotted a young boy with a bucket full of them.  10 pesos for a small tin's worth and they were mine for the munching!!

Mi tipo de ciudad. San Cristóbal de las Casas.

We arrived into San Cristóbal late yesterday morning, went to San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán this morning and are leaving tomorrow so all we have is this afternoon to explore this quaint little town.  Not much time at all so must make the most of it. 

The beauty of tree resin.  On our way back into town from Zinacantán, Juan Jose dropped us off just around the corner from the Museo del Ámbar de Chiapas (Chiapas Amber Museum).  The museum is housed in what used to be the Convento de la Merced.

Just inside the front entrance was the ticket counter, a place where we could drop off our bags, a small gift shop, and a display that shows you how to tell real amber from the fake stuff.

El vilages indígenas. San Juan Chamula y San Lorenzo Zinacantán.

When we arrived into San Cristóbal yesterday afternoon, it was overcast and drizzly. This morning we woke up to a bright sunshiny day! A picture perfect day in this town nestled in the highlands of Chiapas.

After breakfast, we hit the road to begin our day. The first two destinations on our touring agenda were two neighboring Tzotzil Mayan villages - San Juan Chamula and San Lorenzo Zinacantán.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cañón del Sumidero.

Sometimes, you have fun when you least expect it.  Today, we had moments that qualify to be in that category.

On today's travel itinerary was a visit to the Sumidero Canyon on our way to San Cristóbal de las Casas. The Sumidero Canyon is a narrow and deep canyon surrounded by the Sumidero Canyon National Park located just north of the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez in the state of Chiapas. The canyon was created centuries ago by a crack in the area’s crust and erosion by the Grijalva River, which still runs through it. The canyon has vertical walls which reach as high as 1000 meters, with the river turning up to ninety degrees during the thirteen kilometers that the narrow passage runs. At the north end of the canyon is the Chicoasén Dam, one of several on the Grijalva River and important for water storage and the generation of hydroelectricity.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Playa de Veracruz.

The first thing we did after settling into our hotel rooms was to hit the beach.

Although it is summer holidays and I would have expected the beach to be crowded, it was actually relatively people free.  I think that's because Veracruz is not known for its beaches; it's not got the powder white sand of the Mayan Riviera and the surroundings lack beachy charm.
But, there's something about seeing the waves that just begs us to take our shoes off and dip our toes in.  It was nice to also breath in the salty air.  I miss being by the sea!  

La forteleza. San Juan de Ulúa.

Our last stop today, before arriving into Veracruz, was San Juan de Ulúa. When we left Oaxaca this morning, we were in the Sierra Madre mountains and it was sunny and cool. By afternoon, we had arrived into Veracruz and the heat and humidity of the tropics. When Franciso opened the door and I felt the blast of heat, my first reaction was, "Is it too late to turn back?"

Unfortunately, it was.  Fortunately, we were prepared. We had switched into our shorts and tee shirts. We had our hats on and we had fully stocked up on water.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Vistas de Oaxaca.

We arrived into Oaxaca late yesterday afternoon after a long day's drive from Puebla. On the outskirts of town, Juan Jose pulled our van over at a vista point, high above the city, so we could have a bird's eye view of Oaxaca and the surrounding valleys.

Templo de Santo Domigo de Guzmán.

As a food lover, I had long heard of Oaxaca but only for its culinary traditions. I never knew that the city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and that the city acknowledged the compliment, rebuilding and refurbishing its graceful colonial-era buildings, churches, and monuments, including the venerable Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán.  Now that I know I can better appreciate what I saw because it was all beautiful.  UNESCO did Oaxaca good!

Arbol del Tule.

O n our way way back from Mitla to Oaxaca, we stopped in the little town of Santa Maria del Tule. Why, you ask? To see a tree of course!. Not just any tree. The Tule tree. What's the Tule tree you ask? It's a very, very large cyprus tree and it's very impressive.

The Montezuma Cypress (Taxodium mucronatum) is Mexico's national tree. According to legend, Hernán Cortés cried beneath the boughs of a cypress after the Aztecs defeated the Spanish on La Noche Triste (The Sad Night).

Las ruinas. Mitla.

Located about an hour's drive from Oaxaca City are the ruins of the ancient Zapotec city of Mitla.  While Monte Albán was most important as the political center, Mitla was the main religious center.  The name Mitla is derived from the Nahuatl name Mictlán, which was the place of the dead or underworld. Its Zapotec name is Lyobaa, which means “place of rest.” The name Mictlán was *Hispanicized* to Mitla by the Spanish.

Las ruinas. Monte Albán.

Perched on a mountaintop high above the valleys that surround Oaxaca City, lies the ruins of the ancient Zapotec capital, Monte Albán .

After breakfast this morning, we piled into our van for the short 20 minute ride from our hotel to Monte Albán .  Along the way, we made a quick pit stop to buy bottled water.

Monday, July 18, 2011


This morning we began our road trip through Mexico!

After breakfast, we checked out and waited in the lobby for our tour guide.  Francisco showed up on time.  He wasn't what I expected which was someone in their 20's or 30's.  That's the age span most of my guides have been in.  Francisco was much older.  I'm guessing he's in his 40's.  I hope that with age comes experience and that he'll be a good tour leader.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vive Puebla! Dia dos.

We woke up to a rainy, overcast day.  Typical morning that we've had since we've been here.  With luck, the sun will be out by mid-morning.

Despite the fact that none of us got to sleep til very late because the *party* that is the night life around the zócalo didn't die down til the wee hours of early morning, we were raring to go!

We each took our turn getting ready for the day and then it was down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.  Another buffet place but this one didn't have as nice a selection as our hotel in Mexico City did.

Calle de los Dulces.

And the urban planning award goes to.....{drum roll} the city of Puebla for having a street commonly known as "Sweets Street".  Officially known as Calle de Santa Clara, Calle de los Dulces is lined on both sides with stores that sell a wide variety of sugary treats in the shape of sacred hearts, guitars, and sombreros. And if candies aren't for you, there are plenty of cookies to had as well.

And if you want to only have a partly guilty conscience because you're overindulging in pure sugar, you can opt for sugared fruits.....yes, that would be fruits that have been cooked in a sugar syrup.  This way, you can say you ate your fruits too :-)

Of course, we were like kids in a candy store, ogling at all the window displays.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Vive Puebla! Dia uno.

It was another early morning rise and an overcast day greeted us.  Today was our travel day to Puebla.  It would be back to the airport to catch the bus. Although our bus was not scheduled to leave for Puebla until 10:30am, Daniel had arranged for our hotel transfer at 8:30am. Too early I thought but then again, I didn't want to miss the bus to Puebla. Our driver arrived at 8:30 on the dot. It was early on a Saturday morning and the traffic was extremely light. The driver took us to Terminal 1 and then realized he had made a mistake and so he turned around and headed to Terminal 2. He deposited us there and gave us instructions to make our way to the bus stop. Once I was inside the terminal I recognized the restaurants and shops and recalled the way back to the Estrella Roja ticket counter. Even with having to spend extra time getting to the right airport terminal, we arrived barely minutes 9am.

Museo Nacional de Antropología.

There is no doubt, especially after having gone, that the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City is must see destination for anyone traveling to Mexico.  It gives you historic background on the diverse cultures of Mexico that in turn sets the stage for much what you will see and experience in this wonderful.

Our first trip to the museum happened late yesterday afternoon, after our visit to Teotihuacán.  We arrived back into Mexico City in the pouring rain.  It was rush hour and it was a slow crawl through the city.  We had to make our way to Chapultepec Park which is where the museum is located.

It was pelting down cats and dogs when our driver stopped the van and we got out.  Rain hoods up, we scurried along, following behind in Daniel's footsteps.  No time to even take pictures of the front of the building. We ran up to the front entrance, got scanned in and headed to the bag check area where we would leave everything behind except for our cameras.

Friday, July 15, 2011

México, D.F. Dia tres.

Today we did not have a fixed itinerary though we had agreed on a rough plan. We walk back to the zócalo to visit Templo Mayor. From there, go to the National Palace and then to Chapultepec Park where would spend more time at the National Museum of Anthropology.

We left our hotel after breakfast and headed out to Paseo de la Reforma.  I remember the route that we drove on yesterday with Rodolfo so it was just a matter of convincing my brother that I knew the way.  He has a horrible sense of direction so there was no way that I was going to follow him.  

It was morning rush hour, Reforma as the street is referred to here, was packed with cars.  Policemen were all about, directing traffic.  The traffic in Mexico City is very orderly but there are a lot of cars.  Reforma is definitely not a street where you can just dart across so we only crossed at the crosswalks, patiently waiting for signals to turn green.

Las ruinas y museo. Templo Mayor.

It was a given that we would see Templo Mayor on our visit to Mexico City. I had done so much pre-trip reading about it that I pretty much knew where it was located but just to be certain, I had double checked with Rudolfo yesterday. He confirmed that the site was just around the corner from the Cathedral so that's the direction that we headed in. Of course, the brother was skeptical but I've learned that he has a really bad sense of direction so I insisted he follow in my footsteps.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Las ruinas. Teotihuacán.

Standing on the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon in the background.

I remember when I first saw the Great Pyramids in Giza, Egypt. We were driving through a suburban neighborhood of Giza and while passing through an area occupied by commercial establishments, we could see the peaks of the pyramids above the stores.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe ("Virgen de Guadalupe") is a dominant religious figure for Catholics in Mexico.  She is the Virgin Mary.  Images of Guadelupe can be seen everywhere - in homes and commercial establishments, in cities and towns large and small.

So, it was not surprising that our city tour of Mexico City would include a visit to the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Basilica of Our Lady of Guadelupe) which is actually a complex that is comprised of a Roman Catholic church, a minor basilica and the National Shrine of Mexico.