Xilitla

 

Leaving Grutas de TolantongoI left Tolantongo after a great couple of nights, leaving at 9 am after a decent breakfast and packing up.
GPS again giving me false readings telling me 4 hours to destination. Keep in mind the drive was just under 300km but through various mountain passes.  Up and down various times and the temperature gradually increasing and increasing to the point where I was suffering.
At one given point about 6 hours in (no stops) I miscalculated a bend as slipped into the oncoming lane, I’d say 6 hours, no break, baking heat didn’t help. I recovered from a head-on crash with a police car. I pulled over shaking with an overwhelming feeling of stupidity, also the heat was having its toll. Soon enough the police car I almost crashed into came speeding after me, arrived at a skid asking me what I had just done in the typical police rhetoric. I greeted the police with a handshake. Clearly, with the heat, the fright and now the implied accusation, I was now feeling pretty much defeated. I explained my situation that I was weary and made a miscalculation and that is why I had pulled over for precisely that reason.

I was feeling a bribe was on… The police driver went on about how to “[…]make both our lives easier and not go to court[…]” and here I was expecting the bribe. Instead, he told me to rest up and take it easy, and reassured me Xilitla would wait and I should take it easy. He shook my hand again and wished me well. I still was left wondering what the bribe amount was going to be…. As he and his colleague returned to the car and left with tyres spinning on the hot tar. And that was that, I sat in the shade of a shed on the side of the road, sipped water got a while and then got back on the bike. I drove very cautiously the remaining distance to my destination.

Xilitla

Casa Caracol

 

Eventually, 7 hours later, I arrived at Casa Caracol (snail house), a hostel almost facing the Edward James gardens.
With low blood sugar and dehydration under way, I went to grab a few fizzy drinks and a meal. Totally unlike the time I was here before, it was hot and (of course) humid!Hanging by the pool

 

That evening I met, Andrew and Anna two USA’ians backpacking around Mexico independently, that made their acquaintance the day before, we spent the following day hanging out in Xilitla together in town and at the pool of the hostel. Like I say, it was hot and humid.Puente de Dios

 

Following day I went to the Puente De Dois another water feature. Which was spectacular!Under the Puente de Dios

 

Followed by another rest day and more sun and more swimming pool time. Given it was Sunday, and the Edward James gardens were packed, I thought I’d wait for Monday for it to be more empty.

The Monday after, I went early to the Edward James gardens. To take some more photos and experience the space once more. Funny how the change in climate can change a space. It was everything as much as fun, if not more than it was at Christmas!

As the day got on, the place filled up with school kids and it was time to leave. I went that afternoon to visit the Cueva Salitre a cave under Xilitla

Cueva de Salitre, Xilitla

That was very impressive!

The following day I went to see the the Sotano de las Golondrinas, a large cave that homes thousands upon thousands of birds that perform a display every dawn and sunset, which unfortunately due to weather and it being mating season we totally missed it.

Following that I went to the waterfall of Tamul which was fantastic.

Grutas de Tolantongo

Hi everyone, I left Mexico City Tuesday, and had a nightmare getting to the Grutas de Tolantongo, the navigation programs I had on my phone were not working correctly the good app (Waze) wasn’t announcing the turns on my Bluetooth headset, the other app which did work with the Bluetooth had no idea where to go taking me into shady neighbourhoods in the wrong direction. Eventually, I got Waze to work, but I had set it to avoid toll roads which by the time I noticed what was happening I was miles off route, eventually when I set it straight I was taken on gravel roads down more shady neighbourhoods to join with the main highway. Not fun at all!

Grutas de Tolantongo

The good news, I arrived before sun down!
After searching for a decent place to camp I found a decent place to hang my hammock where nobody else was. Which from my Mexican camping experiences in Baja California told me was I wanted to be nowhere near other people.
Being that it is tropical here, I went to bed sweating and struggled to not be so hot in the hammock, eventually I had to get up to take down the fly down as it was trapping too much heat, at the risk of the inevitable tropical storms we’ve been having lately. Thankfully, no rain that night.

The sleep was great and after making a coffee that morning I took an early dip in the thermal pools before heading for breakfast. Given that the location is secluded between mountains, tens of miles from any town there isn’t any mobile coverage and the Wi-Fi at the reception isn’t good for much when everyone is using it… or even at all.

After a second dip in a few of the pools, I found the water temperature change significantly!
Itching for something to do, I took the zip line trail down the valley to the actual Gruta (cavern) at the bottom. The zip line consists of 4 lines making up to over a kilometre of travel.
At the bottom of the valley it was roasting hot, surprising actually!

I took the trek to the cavern, taking a couple of photos at the big leaning tree.

Then continued to the cavern, frankly, it was disappointing. Crowded and heavily controlled to the extent you had top leave all your valuables outside or in a locker at $50 (£2) a pop. So I didn’t go in. By that point the sun had been getting to me, so I remained clothed for the rest of the afternoon trying to see every last nook of the area I was at.

Admittedly, there was the river at the bottom boasting turquoise waters but as I said, remained clothed the rest of the afternoon. Also factor in the water is thermal and the valley was hot, I just didn’t fancy the idea much.

Mexico City doing Easter with Friends

Easter with Friends

Apologies for my last post, it was rather a downer.   I wish to share with you that this travel malarkey isn’t all high adrenaline fun fun fun as the photos seem to be of pure enjoyment.

Artisan junk at the market of San AngelAfter returning from my jaunt down to Guatemala and back, I started getting my ideas clear on what I wanted to do from Mexico onward.  I calculated the amount of time needed to finish off my video series I’m working on, in a realistic time frame and tie up loose ends in Mexico City.

A few days after returning to Mexico, Kyl and Heidi got in touch to tell me they were in town; Kyl had been travelling for a year and was finishing up his trip in Mexico City, Heidi had basically come to Mexico to make sure he did leave 😀  All the same, I was happy to have some companionship.

San Angel, Coyocan and Xochimilco

Market in San AngelFrom what I understood Heidi was desperate to buy something from the markets in Mexico City and she had researched and was informed that the Saturday market at San Angel would be the hot place to go.  Admittedly, I’m not one to buy frivolous knick-knacks at markets (with say, exception to a cotton hammock in San Cristobal which remains to be hung), and thus, I hadn’t been to the Saturday market in San Angel.

So we set off, soon it became apparent that it wasn’t all that, and we itched to see something a bit more exciting, I figured being only a couple of neighbourhoods away I’d take them to the market of Coyocan.

An Uber taxi later, we were there checking out the slightly more rustic market of Coyocan, being that it was Easter, not a lot of people were trading and it did take away a little from the buzz that the place usually has.  I figured with the day still young we could make the most of it and go to Xochimilco (pronounced: sō-chi-milk-ōh) , technically we weren’t going to be any closer to there at any other point from Coyocan.

Another taxi later, we were there in the absolute insanity that is Xochimilco, little had prepared us for this, it was pure madness.  More so the rates they wanted to charge us to charge a Trajinera (the boats you see on the water), having been on one before with my mum, we were charged 200 pesos for an hour and we gladly took 2 hours.  This time around being of a demographic that looks like you could extort, or maybe the time of year, they demanded 1300 pesos the first hour and 1700 for an hour and half.  After realizing they weren’t going to budge we took a stroll and cooled off from the hostility we had been treated. On the return walk a semi decent chap who I had previously talked to agreed to settle a deal of 700 for 2 hours, we counted our losses and took it.  Frankly, well worth it when you think about how crazy it was out there.  If you think Mexican traffic is bad you should see what it’s like to try and navigate one of these boats.

Zocalo and the Metropolitan Cathedral

Easter with Friends - Standing outside the cathedral The following day I figured I’d take the Australians out to see the city centre, I had thought try and repeat what I had done with mum, but upon arrival we settled for taking a roof top tour of the cathedral.

Of the few sight-seeing tours I’ve done in the city, this has to be the most affordable, for 20 pesos a person and a tour almost every 20 minutes which lasts about an hour it was fun to walk around the roof of the cathedral, while the guide was all in Spanish and the topic seemed to be much about how many people were killed by bells falling than anything else, it still made for an interesting  activity to do. 🙂

Rock Climbing

Since Chiapas, I’ve rekindled my love for rock climbing, and my endeavours to find local training places have returned fruitful.  Works out Kyl also was big into climbing and Heidi was also keen so off we went to explore.  First off we went to the local Qi Adventure centre nearby which for all the equipment and someone to belay you it was a reasonable deal at 230 pesos a person for the day.

The following day Heidi had a flight to return to Australia, and Kyl and I had a day to try the other climbing centre: Levitas, which is only bouldering and for 65 pesos plus 20 for boots was also a bargain.  I think both Kyl and I found the Levitas place a lot more technical and challenging which damn near killed us both, most of all, our hands.

Guatemala and Back to Mexico

“To Guatemala and Back”

As you may well know, I’ve been in Mexico for a long time now, and to answer the oh-so-very old questions I keep being asked: “No, I haven’t fallen in love with a Mexican lady or the city”  and “No I’m not earning astronomical figures that justify my stay“.  In fact, I’d go almost as far as saying it’s everything in reverse, I quite dislike Mexico City, I incredibly lonely and I haven’t earned a penny in months.

Heading into PueblaSo, this may lead to you question, why aren’t you still travelling?  Or why didn’t you leave already?  The short answer, my mental state. I had convinced myself if I got myself 4 walls and a somewhat routine of seeing similar faces I’d start feeling human again.   Alas, this is not the case in Mexico,  I’ve spent lots of hours contemplating what is the cause of all this misery lack of travel enthusiasm and so on.   Compared with other travellers I’ve met, they have their known: knowns, it ends at X and they go to Y or maybe return to A and go back to work.   For me, I never gave myself an end to this trip, I never concluded where the finish line was or where I’d go from there.  Suffice to say I stayed still in Mexico City where I have friends and it’s the devil I know versus the devil I don’t know.

So enough boring diatribe, my 180 day visa to Mexico was soon expiring and I was itching to get that renewed and out-of-the-way  and out of this crazy city. I wanted this mostly so that I could focus on more pressing issues back here in Mexico City.  Little did I realize that jumping across the border was going to shift my entire perspective of what I want out of this travel malarkey.

Leaving Mexico City

I set myself a 2 day time budget to get to the Guatemalan border, sadly it took 2 days longer than anticipated.  You’d think with everything I own being able to fit into 2 bags packing up wouldn’t be a problem, but second guessing and doubting what I’d need and want for the trip so I could just carry 1 bag prolonged the packing exercise into mid-afternoon.  I glanced at the map and checked my options for where I could get to in the remaining hours of daylight.   I found a town in the state of Puebla, a town called Tehuacán I got there just as it got dark. I woke up the next day in the rain with a route headed to cross Oaxaca.  Little consideration about the altitude I’d be heading into, that or the fact that how far I’d be going between fuel stops.   Leaving Tehuacán I simply assumed I’d find a fuel stop before heading out.  I didn’t but held hopeful to find one down the road…. which never appeared.   2 hours later,  having been riding in ice rain with heavy cross winds at a steady climb for the whole time I was beginning to get terrified.  I was now 2 hours from the last place I could have got fuel at, I was 2 hours from the last place civilized.  I was frozen, scared how the heck I was goign to get any fuel, I knew that I have a 100 miles roll back to square 1, or hold the hope that if I kept climbing eventually something would show up or the gradient would change to being down hill all I did know was that the road was empty, and everything I’d been passed had nothing available to me.

Overlooking OaxacaI stopped just out of Oaxaca for lunch and to warm and dry myself out; thankfully earlier on fumes I arrived at a fuel station in time and then thereafter fuel stations were a stones throw from each other until I arrived in Oaxaca.  Now I understand that the tone of this blog is quite sombre so bear with me.   So, still cold and miserable with a tummy full of food I hit the road again, the roads were beautiful and the scenery was spectacular however, I still wasn’t quite enjoying myself.  I’d make the analogy of going to an art gallery straight after having had an argument with someone, you simply cannot appreciate the beauty.

Just before nightfall, I arrived at Tehuantepec in now what seemed like a tropical storm versus the ice rain I’d been battling all morning.  At least this was warm rain!  Wet to my underpants, in a somewhat flooded town of Tehuantepec I tried to find a hostel or hotel, I was feeling rather sorry for myself as you can imagine, my fingers were like white prunes from being inside the wet gloves all day, there were very few areas on my body that were dry.  I stumbled into the 3rd hotel which finally had vacancies and took whatever price they were charging just to stop having to ride around the flooded town any more.  Ironically, it was so hot and muggy in the hotel room I asked for the air conditioning, just imagine that!

From Oaxaca

Another very wet day in OaxacaThe following morning, having slept well, I took breakfast at the restaurant of the hotel while I planned what I could achieve in the remaining hours of the day, it was now 10:30 and I hadn’t packed my possessions yet but I held hopeful to make it to San Cristobal de las Casas by the evening.   While I sat and ate breakfast it had been sunny and dry, but as I strapped the luggage on my bike the rain and thunder re-emerged.   I set off in 4-6 inches of surface water on the roads, at places it was deeper, I like to think the underside of the bike appreciated a wash.  As I headed out the lightning and thunder became so short apart and so repetitive I actually started worrying for my safety (and more so for my electrical products), I pulled under a bridge and waited for 20 minutes for the persistent lightning strikes to shift off, where I had been riding was near windmill farms and the power lines beside the road seemed to attract the strikes.

Before I knew it, I was riding climbing into Chiapas, I pulled over to take my jacket off and catch a bit of sun, it was roasting hot and despite my jacket having been wet throughout, it was now dry and I was roasting within…. the day took a funny shape as before too long I was then now getting cold as I climbed and climbed and climbed, again I pulled over to wrap up.   Frankly, I cannot recall much of that day with exception of the grim grey cold thundery start the rest of the day was a breeze in the high mountains and before too long I was navigating down the cobbled roads of San Cristobal looking for a hostel for the night.

…onto Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Prior to leaving Mexico City I had put out a few guestimated dates at said locations where I’d be stopping along the way, in the hope that someone on Couch-Surfing would take me up, I had almost given up on this hope, my responses of Couch Surfing in Mexico to date have tended to be gay men with agenda of bed-sharing with me….  but to my surprise the night I arrived in San Cristobal I received an invitation to stay in Huehuetenango, Guatemala with a female host.  This now gave me a place to stay!  I accepted it and gladly hit the road.  Border crossing was fairly straight forward if a little bit of a nuisance getting photocopies of this and that got to that man get a stamp, come here pay me this, go there sign that, pay me another amount, show me your bike, pay another The view from Mirador de Juan Dieguez Olaverriamount.  Crossing the border into Guatemala was akin to riding into Ethiopia from Sudan, suddenly the people and the landscape and vehicles changed, everything was now different, the road just winded its way through the mountains; villages built on the sides of steep slopes, and everyone and their dog was on a dirt bike.  Honda and Yamaha were all the rage and the Mexican favourite “Italika” was not so frequent bike to be seen, I’d say that Guatemala was a motorbike country, cars were few and far between.

I arrived in Huehuetenango, lost with my really bad directions, no telephone credit, going round the one-way system a while until logic kicked in and decided to stop and ask for help.  Before too long, I asked a man and his daughter for directions, he ended up giving me his phone to call my host. Before I knew it, I was parking my bike inside the house, meeting the crazy cat and dog combo and all the family.

The next day my Couch Surfing friend took me up to the Mirador de Juan Dieguez Olaverri a look out spot over the city. It was beautiful but we should have caught the first day light as the haze kind of ruined it for good photography, following that we went to the Archaeological ruins of Zaculeu.

Back to Chiapas

Border Crossing back to MexicoThat evening, I had a Guatemalan feast prepared for me, the following morning I invited the family out for breakfast and then hit the road back to Chiapas, I was now conscious I had to get back and finish my work in Mexico City.   Back to the same border crossing from 2 days before everything I thought should be smooth was now not so much.  Guatemala immigration guy asked me if I was sure I wanted to be stamped out? I told him with all certainty it shouldn’t be a problem and nodded him away.  He then proceeded to tell me that the formalization of the exit implied that I was not allowed to return to Guatemala for 90 days, and the paperwork took 2 days to clear, and thus: I’d not be allowed to return to Guatemala for 92 days from this date forward.  I frankly, didn’t feel this was an issue as last border crossing into Mexico granted me an easy 180 day visa.

A few miles down the road, into Mexico border control I went and before I knew it I was being stamped in for a maximum of 90 days into Mexico,  I pleaded for an extension but they told me the law is the law and that was final. I finished up the rest of the process of in and out and paying him and her and this and that and was on my way into Chiapas.

As I started thinking about this fiasco, I started to wonder whether or not I wanted to be forced to solve this same cycle in 90 days before finishing this trip.  Frankly, I just felt like I was doing the motions of travelling without any enthusiasm.  My mind kept wondering what my options were now,  keep in mind the travel would require the bike to leave with me as I paid a hefty deposit on it, plus importation fees, which left me with the option of:  I could head to Belize and spend a few days there and return to Mexico or I could head north and enter the USA again… Of the two prospects one certainly gained my interest a whole lot more than the other… and to be blunt, Belize was not it.

I plodded on to San Cristobal de las Casas to find the same hostel I had been at a few days before. I was able to get in the dorm room this time, meaning cheaper bed, more sociable. I met the three Australians (Heidi, Kyl and Tom ) from when I was there before, was an instant friendship.  As I contemplated my route for the next day, I was also being convinced to stay another day.  One day became almost week and before I knew it I was almost a piece of the furniture in San Cristobal. Doing tours and excursions of the area, trying to clear my head of my predicament.

Almost a week later, I hit the road again, this time a different route, I was going to be heading in the Carabean side of the country through Tabasco and Veracruz, in a town called Cosamaloapan when I had no more miles left in me to do for that day I pulled over.

Dodgy Hotels

Crossing into TabascoI found a hotel, I asked how much for a room for the night, they responded: “how many hours?” I proceeded to look at the room, enquire about wi-fi and left.   I went onto the next hotel, again the same question about how many hours I’d want the room for. Again, no wi-fi.  I moved on to a third hotel which had a night rate for the rooms, it wasn’t unreasonable so I went to have a look at one of the rooms, I came back and asked for another key for another room, the dank humid smell turned my stomach, I third room smelt like a biohazard disaster,  third room had a flat screen looked fairly clean and sure enough I took it.   Little did I know that the air conditioning had two settings: Antarctic / Off  I spent the night flicking the unit on and off as I couldn’t find a happy medium between dying of sweat, eaten by mosquitos or shivering to death in a ball on a bed.  It was a wild night for Neil! 😉

The following morning when I couldn’t sleep any more from the bangs and crashes outside my room, I went to find breakfast, I walked the whole town looking for something open at 7am, alas nothing… I kept on walking until 8am when things started to serve.  I got what I can only describe as an “adequate” breakfast honestly surprised I didn’t get ill… from there, hot and sweaty I hit the road.Morning in Veracruz looking for somewhere to get breakfast

Three hours in and I was riding up a steep and winding mountain road divided traffic the uphill direction had a separate route to the downhill, and thankfully so as the 3 lanes downhill was at a stalemate and for the following 30 miles I proceeded to see more stationary traffic, thankfully for the uphill it was steady climbing and by the time I got to the top I was frozen snow was on all the mountains around me and I just couldn’t do enough zippers up to keep me warm.  I pulled over for a coffee in a petrol station near Esperanza (Hope) and warmed up a little… from there it seemed only a couple of hours from home and before I knew it I was sat on the sofa staring at nothing processing my thoughts about “what am I doing now?!

Conclusion

Brrr! Cold in Puebla just an hour from home in Mexico CitySo after seeking counsel from some of my friends, weighing up my options and speaking to lawyers, more friends, ex work colleagues and so on.  I have decided to call things quits and end this trip.  Now the ongoing fiasco I was facing and dreading was “what do I do after Panama” and that problem hasn’t gone away.   Originally Australia was a hot favourite, but as with all things the paperwork is more based on invitation versus application.  Or in Australia’s case: you apply for an invitation to apply for the visa in which they can reject.   I spoke to immigration lawyers in the USA for assisted application into the USA, however, as awkward as the Australian situation was, the USA must you to find an employer who will apply for you … and in that they have only one date in the year to submit the application in by, and in that you have to wait sitting on your hands for 6 months for the decision to come through, and of that only a quarter get accepted.  So summarizing the summary, I wont be moving to Australia or the USA to work any time soon.  However, I will be going to Barcelona, Spain to seek my future there for the time being.

The great news of this outcome is that I’ll be going to tear up some of the places I missed before in Arizona and Utah and spend some time doing some of those things I loved to do.  I hope to spend another 2-3 months on the road before heading to Spain.

Mexican Christmas with Mum

I’m writing about my Mexican Christmas in April but dated January. Keep this in mind. 😛  Also, note this is a multiple (11) page blog post, the numbers at the bottom allow you to navigate to the following page.

My Mexican Christmas

For the past 5 weeks, I’ve had my mum visit me.  It’s been since April last year that I haven’t seen her, and with the time difference it has been somewhat tricky being in touch, part of the time while I was travelling it was near on impossible to coincide.  Therefore, it was nice having her here with me for the Mexican Christmas experience.  From the outset she was very clear that she wanted to do some fun stuff while here and wanted to get her teeth into some travelling.

I’m not sure about you, but me, I have a terrible time trying to be decent to someone when you spend 24/7 with them.  Which probably explains I have never had a long-term relationship.  I say this, as after 8 months of not seeing my mum, it wasn’t long before I got a little snappy.  I didn’t want to be that way, but just so you know mum, it wasn’t personal.  I did my best to recognise and adjust but frankly it was really difficult.

However, I will say we had a great time, we saw heaps of things and frankly, despite me having my head up you-know-what we still managed to have the best time together!

So let’s back up a little, mum’s flight arrived at 5am or there abouts, I can’t recall now, but I know it was super early and I had to drag myself out of bed hardly having slept from a late night before.

Naturally, her having been on a plane for more than ten hours and also having hardly slept plus time-zone adjustment wasn’t feeling wonderful.  Then factor in that Mexico City is at >2,100m above sea level, for her it was quite an adjustment.  After arriving at the house, settling in and unpacking and presenting me all the wonderful amazon orders I’d had sent to her. We decided to go for a walk, initially, I had the idea of walking round the corner, find a coffee shop, catch up on almost a year of not seeing each other and let’s be done with it.  Mum had different ideas, we started walking and then got to Parque Mexico (which is only 3 blocks away), then carried on she didn’t want to stop, so on to Parque España which too isn’t much further from the previous park.  Still striving for more we pushed on another 10 blocks further to try and get to Parque Cuatemoc, in which you have to take a pedestrian bridge over a 12 lane road through Mexico City, now I wont point fingers here and say, having not slept in 36 hours, or that we’d just walked 4 miles in an urban environment, or that the pollution of this filthy city was the cause, I’ll just say it’s altitude and those stairs leading up the foot-bridge certainly took it out of mum.   It was there, I’d say was also where I hit my wall, we carried on into the park and tried to build up energies to go and walk through the zoo in the park.  But frankly I was done, my lack of sleep wasn’t helping either, we still had another 4 miles to walk back.

What I was trying to explain in that previous paragraph is that my mother is very ambitious and isn’t always aware of her limits.  I love her all the same but sometimes even as her child I have to set authority and say when things are enough or over ambitious.

We spent the following week between many things seeing sights in the city, visiting friends and trying to book a rental car to do our road trip. On one of these said outings a girl I had dated (Rosa) prior to mum’s arrival was in touch and wanted to take us in her car to see a few sights  (like the Frida Kharlo Museum and Xochimilco). It was very kind of her and we felt obliged.   Was very kind of her and mum and her got along nicely.  Personally, I’m not in the business of introducing dates to my mum until I know things are serious, however, mum’s fairly relaxed and not huge judgements were cast, despite it being a tad awkward.