Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The tropical Mexican final

Family, friends, fellow travelers, curious readers and people redirected to this blog without any specific reason: Welcome! We are very happy to see you have found your way to our blog again! To start: We have left Mexico! 

Who could have imagined that we would have almost exceeded our allowed stay of three months in Mexico without even realizing it? We sure couldn't have imagined this. To start we were imagining to go through pretty fast, having spend 7 weeks in the USA, 6 weeks should have been sufficient for Mexico. Well we were wrong, the truth is that Mexico is a great country to visit, there is such a variety of things to see, the country seriously has everything from good food, to friendly people, nice mountains and beaches. And can you imagine that there are still many popular destinations which we have skipped (like Baja California, James Ensor's house and not to forget Queretaro. Oh how many people have asked us if we have been in Queretaro, and every time we had to tell them we haven't, but that we have been in hundreds of other places). So to be clear: if you think that Mexico is dangerous, it is not and if you think there is nothing to see: you are wrong. We don't want to start a travel agency here, but can only encourage people to visit this country.

So after this long introduction let's get to business. Last time we left you in San Cristobal de las Casas ( for your convenience we have again added a small map of our latest adventure). Before leaving there we suddenly met many other long term travelers on the local camping, two french couples travelling in a regular camper and in a large school bus, and one English family travelling in fully equipped MAN truck, very cool thing to see. After having spend a great time in Oaxaca, we explore the province of Chiapas in detail. Located next to the boarder of Guatemala (in the past it actually even belonged to it) the place is a nature paradise with many jungles, waterfalls and animals. After visiting the breathtaking waterfalls of Chiflon we go to the Lagos of Montebello - a series of 50 lakes located nearby each other known for the different colors of the water (of which we could not appreciate any of them- maybe because of the bad weather...). Here we met three super nice Basque with who we went to explore Chiapas together. From the lakes we go to the next village, Las Nubes, where we enjoyed a nice waterfalls. We can imagine that you are already very bored with all the waterfalls. be patient, as there are many pictures of waterfalls following. Las Nubes was amazing: the relatively calm river is squeezed through narrow parts resulting in non stop violent rapids at which we could look hours. Having no food here the locals were prepared to kill (our request was unusual and difficult: chicken with no head, no lungs, no heart, no legs...they just laugh) a chicken for us, which we could put on the barbecue after our order, yammie yammie! From here we continue our trip passing the jungle of las Guacamayas where the howler monkeys make you believe that they are gorillas and you can see guacamayas (season is around June) . After a guided tour through the jungle we go to Yaxchilan, a Maya site located in the dense jungle and only accessible via boat - this was truly a spectacular location.

From this site we drive to Palenque, were we can visit another, but more popular, site. Having found a camping here we decide to stay a few days to relax a bit and visit the waterfall of agua azul. Here we will also say goodbye to our new friends, who were continuing their voyage in Mexico City. We would tackle Mexico's most touristic region: the Yucatan. To be brief, we had some great visits here and some mediocre ones. The city of Campeche was our first stop in the area, and it would be the last colonial village we pass. Nearby here we could visit the ruins of Uxmal and the ruind of Chichen Itza, one of the new wonders of the world. The area is very known for it's cenotes (underwater caves). It is claimed that these holes have been created over 65 million years ago by meteorites, the same ones which would have lead to the extermination of the dinosaurs. The water in these cenotes is very clear as it comes from underground rivers, filtering the water continuously

The famous Maya riviera went from bad to good for us. We start in horrible Cancun, to go down towards Puerto Morelos where we could snorkel through the second largest barrier reef in the world. After we pass in Akumal where there is a beach with over 30 resident turtles with who you can swim (apparently they are staying there naturally). After swimming in the water for 20 minutes we were almost going to give up and go back to the beach, until we suddenly saw two enormous turtles swimming. The water is not deep at all so we could hoover above them while they were eating there the seagrass. From there we could go to the famous beach ruins of Tulum, build high on the cliffs looking at the beautiful Caribbean sea and where we stayed for 2 days.

From there we have left Mexico and entered Belize, on which we will say more in a next post. We have been truly blessed in life to have already lived what we have lived so far and are looking forward to the rest.

With the end of the year approaching, we would also like to take the opportunity to wish all of you a great holiday season! We'll be thinking about all of you!

Happy picture watching,
Mire and Alex

voila: Our route!

Waking up in San Cristobal de las Casas: from left to right, small to big (on the far right a French couple travelling in a 13 meter long school bus!)

Waterfall time at Chiflon - the lowest of three consecutive waterfalls

The highest of the three - very impressive

With the right positioning the waterfall seems very familiar

The lagos de Montebello are a series of 50 lakes located nearby each other

We had the pleasure to explore these and the rest of Chiapas with three Basque (Left to right: Eneko, Mikel and Iker)

Next stop: another waterfall at Las Nubes

The river originally is calm but when all the water has to pass via the most narrow point it becomes clear why you cannot swim here

Finally the water spreads out and continues to descends via dozens of smaller falls 

Not much going on in the Las Nubes

After, we go to Las Guacamayas, located in the jungle of Chiapas nearby Guatemala, which is named for it's presence of the Guacamaya ( named Ara in Dutch). These birds are much larger than expected. 

A tour through the jungle gives us an insight in the fauna and flora, including Mata Pallo, Howler monkeys pooping and peeing on you to defend their territory and many birds

Going to the remote ruins of Yaxchilan which are only accessible by boat
More ruins wait for us the next day in Palenque, also located into a dense forest/jungle but very well maintained: good views and good company!

Palenque with a local beauty

The great thing about yoga is that it can be done everywere

After some pyramids we have some more waterfalls on the agenda: Agua Azul. The water is indeed pretty blue/greenish and is perfect for swimming as there are many calm spots

Nearby one of the calm swimming spots

We also get ready for christmas (Campeche)

After Campeche we are up for the ruins of Uxmal, which has some super cool structures and some beautiful mosaic type of facades

A snapshot of our daily breakfast while camping at Uxmal: Coffee, juice and syncronizadas (like a croque monsieur but than with tortillas)

In Progresso we were enjoying a funny American-French theater show

A coco a day keeps the malaria away

At a pretty boring and expensive ruin we could take a swim in a cenote, which apparently only exists in the Yucatan area. The believe that the holes might have been created by meteorites. The water comes from underground rivers, making the water super clean.

Going on a cenote tour! Our guide brings us to three cenotes on a 200 year old rail track which was originally build by the spanish and which was used to transport agricultural products from the haciendas to the neighborhood villages 

Cenote #1: was boring- no pics to be shown
 Cenote #2: pretty cool, isn't it? What you see hanging in the middle are the roots of a tree, which enter all the way into the water

Cenote #3 is equally impressive and the water is approximately 45 meters deep

The clear water is ideal for a swim although the underwater caves are pretty scary

The main temple, El Castillo, at Chichen Itza is very impressive and is the largest Maya calendar (formed by the number of stairs, steps, balconies and the top temple). Twice per year a natural phenomenon attracts thousands of people to this place (have a look on the internet for the equinox, it's to difficult to explain)

Chizhen Itza is one of the new world's seven wonders, partially due this building named the caracol. It served as a observatory of the sky and 20 sight lines indicting astronomical events have been found here.

Also here we could enjoy some scary faces

The Yucatan is mostly famous for the Maya riviera, attracting millions of tourists each year. Here we are at Puerto Morelos and have to accept that it can also rain here

Still this doesn't stop us to explore everything - Jacques Cousteau style

So in Akumal we swim with super big turtles - in total we so more than ten different ones here

Big turtle going to the surface for some air, not noticing our presence and the smiles on our faces

Further south we make our last visit in Mexico: Tulum. This beach is great for relaxing and it also has the only Maya site built next to the sea (at least that is what they claim)

Temples + Sun + Perfect Caribbean blue water and white sand = Smile on face

Similar shot as before

Last time: blue water

Our set up in Tulum was pretty comfortable (hammocks, table, chairs...)although we had to install something against the rain

Friday, 29 November 2013

Mexico Part 'how long are we here already and should we maybe ask for a visum?'

Welcome all! Great to see you are finding yourself on our blog again! 

We believe several weeks have passed since our last talk so we urgently need to inform you on our trip! You can imagine that we are enjoying Mexico a lot - a bit against our expectations to be honest - and being here already for two months we still need a two weeks more before entering Belize! It is just incredible what there is to see here and it becomes better when you are reaching the south.

So if you remember, the last time we were enjoying the hospitality of David, Monica and their kids in Toluca. After spending a great time there, we had to proceed with our trip! So from Toluca we went to Puebla, which people were recommending to us. 

So we arrived to Puebla and found out that the place was indeed very nice. Lots of churches and beautiful facades were unfortunately combined with asshole drivers - twice we were a millimeter away from an accident due to there reckless driving.

Anyhow, we changed our plans and instead of going to the pacific we decided to pass by the Atlantic side of the country to the port city of Veracruz - a famous port in Mexico, where there was absolutely nothing to see at all ) - and to visit some Olmec heads.

Do you remember our corrupted police story? Well, we have another one, a bit less spectacular, but also true: On our way we suddenly get pulled over again, ohoh! While stopping we start to think what we could have done wrong this time. What appears, we apparently did not signalize our change of lane, which is good for a fine equaling 20 days of minimum salary. You need to know that it is very simple here in Mexico: you do not signal if you want to change of lane, or otherwise the people know that you will change and therefor they will not let you pass. So the conclusion is: if you want to move in traffic you better not signalize. That is what every Mexican thinks and does. So we were a bit surprised with our cop, who claimed that he had already given ten fines that day for the exact same reason (hello: it was 11 in the morning...we don't think so). After a very long discussion, we made him tired and he let us go without a fine and with our license. VanBaelenGuillot - Corrupted Cop(s): 2 - 0.

At the end we did it to Veracruz without further fines - we did all the signalizing we had to -  The region was being hit by heavy rains which were very visible when we were passing to the other side of the country to Oaxaca. During several hours most of the fields were flooded and some roads were in bad condition.

Before reaching to Oaxaca city we were introduced to the Oaxacan friendliness: first in an ecotourism center after in Latuvi. This village is part of the Pueblos Mancomunados: six villages which are united and which have created a very pleasant touristic experience where you can explore both the natural as the cultural beauty of the area. We stayed there for a night and we enjoyed a bike excursion, a 20 km hike and a good trout (trucha) done by a nice cook called Marta.

From there we can finally go to Oaxaca, a very interesting city where people in general are very friendly. As many colonial villages, this one is beautiful as well, but it is even better preserved than others. From here you also have a lot of nice places to visit like natural pools, archaeological sites (ex.the famous monte alban)  and the largest tree in the world - in diameter.

From Oaxaca we go to the Pacific coast - finally! - to enjoy some sun and sea! We drive to Puerto Escondido, a 250 km drive which takes the whole day, as we need to share the road with thousands of cyclists who were on a pilgrimage. Finally we arrived at the beach, where we find a cheap camping and where we can go for a swim. After that we go for a walk and we run into previously met friends Myriam and Maximiliano, who we met on the beach of Mayto. We were very happy to meet them and we spend a lot of time with them during our three days there. We always could learn something new about life from them. Also in Puerto Escondido we met Jean, a very friendly Quebecois who stays here during 6 months every year to skip the cold Canadian winters. A week later we have realized that many Canadians come to this part of Mexico during the winter.

After the great time on the beach we move on to the South into the direction of the province of Chiapas. We pass by Tuxla Guttierez - not much to see - to go to another canyon: the 'cañon del Sumidero'. We are slowly becoming experts in this mountain type! The views from the viewpoints are spectacular and even become better when we jump into a speedboat which takes us through the cañon. Steep cliffs, crocodiles, a lot of garbage and a big giant Christmas tree make it an incredible experience!

Currently we can be found in San Cristobal de las Casas, another colonial town which many people have recommended to us. It is a nice place - nothing more, but this could be due to the cold weather, the coldest in the last 4 months! - in this village we are preparing for our tour through Chiapas and the Yucatan - both will be amazing! The next blog will be filled with pictures from waterfalls, jungle, temples and white beaches with blue water. What more can you want in life?

Who knows, the next time we write you we'll be in another country!!

Thanks a lot for checking the blog, we hope you enjoy the rest of it.

Lot's of love,
Mire and Alex

Oaxaca, Chiapas, Catemaco: Does it all sound like Chinees/Dutch/Catalan to you? No worries, this map will guide you through this blog!

First stop after Toluca: Puebla, a beautiful city with more than 70 churches! Crazy what Spaniards did, no?

The city is also famous for the facades with tiles

A typical Mexican view which never gets boring for us - mexicans called it bocho, game: every time you see one you hit your partner, at the end... you can imagine our arm!

An example of a tiled church

After our two experiences we decided to put this phone number in our phone (it is to report corruption)

The workshop where the cup for the worldcup of 2014 can be bought

The city of Veracruz was as disappointing as the weather when we were there

It was raining heavily, which we could see in the fields when we left the city. The above situation does not seem ideal to dry clothes...

The biggest Olmec head found so far: More than 3 meters high and weighing over 50 tons!

View at lake Catemaco - not accessible due to the heavy rain

Driving direction Oacaxa we are treated with the most beautiful vistas

And some more of those vistas

We did a great stop at Latuvi, a very attractive region for tourism. Our guide Carlos was excellent!

We can't always take a shower in the morning, but most of the time we find an alternative 

The Sierra de Oaxaca was very beautiful and diverse - on the left you see a kind of 'ghost tree'

After a long walk Marta and her husband make a delicous Truxa/Trout/Forel

Makes you want to have been there, right?

From Latuvi we go to Oaxaca, a beautiful town with a great atmosphere

What we saw in the church from above: A wedding? No no, someone is becoming 15 years old...

The region is very famous for its artisans, like this black pottery which has a beautiful color

Also these wooden figures are typical and come in all sizes (these are the small ones)

From the city of Oaxaca  you can go and visit a lot of things like these . Hierve el agua, natural rocks formations which created this amazing pools and petrified waterfalls

Swimming takes place in style

On the left you have the pools. The flowing water has created a beautiful formation in the rocks

A bit further you can even find a petrified waterfall (made of giant stalactites)

A typical taxi in this area of the country

You remember that we saw the biggest tree in the USA? Wrong, it was the biggest tree in volume. Welcome to the biggest tree in diameter!

And a great archaeological site: Monte Alban. We are already wondering how many more we'll see of these...

On the 20th of November we go from Oaxaca to the Coast. Wrong day. The road of 200 km long is infested with young kids going on a pilgrimage by bike following cars having churches and shrines on the roof. Amazing what people does for the holy mother! We have been stuck behind them for hours, but at least we saw some Mexicans doing sports

At the coast we where so lucky to meet Myriam and Maximiliano, who we previously met in Mayto, and we also meet Jean, a Quebecois enjoying the Mexican life in the winter 

Boating in the giant lagunas

Finally we can play around on some sand with the Van

After visiting Tuxla Guttieres - nothing to see - we pass by the Cañon del Sumidero a relatively short but dramatic canyon...

... which makes us happy

To talk a closer look at it a super fast boat takes you on a 60 km trip

In the canyon we found a natural phenomena shaped like a Christmas tree - the timing can not be better

Night view of San Cristobal de las Casas' cathedral

Although we live in a car, the Christmas mood is approaching and we are buying some accessories which  make us remember that Christmas is almost there!