I want to tell you about a trip we did during our seven-week sojourn in Mexico to a Mayan ruin site, a site that for all its magnificence you’ve probably never even heard of even though you may well have heard of some of the big-name sites, places such as Palenque, or Chichén Itzá.
After the Mayan ruins, the comida, the música, and the artesanía, one of the things we wanted to pay attention to on our Mexican trip was the wildlife. As much as we could, anyway, not being up to hacking our way through the dense selva of the Yucatán. No, we would take our opportunities to see the birds, lizards, insects, and mammals of the region as we made our way from Airbnb to eco-village, from Maya ruin to beachside resort.
We’re on the second leg of our Mexican trip now: the Yucatán leg. We’ve called it that, knowing – now, at least, unlike when we planned it in the middle of last year, when such subtleties were lost on us – that Yucatán is only one state among the five we’d be in when we finally left Mexico City and flew west into a jungle full of howler monkeys and abandoned cities. But the whole peninsula, the one both the dinosaurs and the Mayan civilization came to grief on, the one that juts out into the Gulf of Mexico, in fact that separates the Golfo from the Caribbean, and which comprises the states of Yucatán, Campeche, and the Australian-sounding Quintana Roo, is known just by the name of the first of those states. Continue reading
There are some things that are so beyond the range of your normal tourist sightseeing that it’s hard to do them justice in a blog post. Of course, experiences like swimming under a two-thousand-year-old Roman aqueduct spanning the river Gard near Nîmes in southern France, or emerging from the labyrinthine arches of Córdoba’s Mezquita into the Catholic Cathedral, which it hosts, are extraordinary experiences, but the prehispanic city of Teotihuacán, which we visited this week, was not like anything I’d ever been to. El Pirámide del Sol, the bigger of the city’s two pyramids, is the third-biggest pyramid in the world, so unless you’ve been to Giza, in Egypt, which I haven’t, you’re experiencing human-made things on a different scale in Teotihuacán. Continue reading
Well, we flew in on a redeye from LA, having spent three days in the Californian desert, and were met by our friend Luis’s dad, Luis, at Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México (the city goes by the abbreviation of CDMX nowadays more than the older ‘DF’, which stands for Distrito Federal. And yes, it’s usually in pink). In the dawning light Luis Sr. drove us a short distance to an unoccupied casa he owned near Velódromo metro station, the casa Luis Jr. had always said we could use any time we wanted to, and that Sr. had prepared for our arrival after we’d told Jr. we wanted to use it for the parts of our seven-week trip when we’d be based here in the capital. Luis Sr. settled us in, took us to a nearby market to buy queso oaxaceño and jabón (cheese from Oaxaca and ham), and showed us to the best local panedería, where we got cuernitos* and café de olla to keep our fatigue at bay. Continue reading
Guanajuato twists and turns, soars and plunges. Callejones empedradas – cobblestoned laneways – descend into plazuelas and teatros. Tunnels, once rivers, convey the newly-arrived visitor on an old green boneshaker from the bus station through improbably narrow calles, past a statue of what looks like Don Quixote, and into the crowded pavements of the centro historico. A university, out of place in its architectural modernity, emerges suddenly off a narrow street, crowning a steeply-stepped plaza. This is a university town, which gives it a completely different feel from another of our new favourite towns, San Miguel de Allende, which it otherwise resembles in a lot of ways.
We’ve been in Mexico ten days now. We left our base in Ciudad de México (CDMX) last week to take a tour of some of the main towns in the northern central highlands: Querétaro, San Miguel de Allende, and, for the past two days, Guanajuato. We found a place right behind an iglesia in faded red and yellow called San Roque, which has two Frida pictures on its walls: one, the standard headshot; the other, a black and white photograph (her scarf and headband have been colored red) of her kissing Diego. Her right arm is wrapped up and around his shoulder, no mean feat given his bulk, and her left hand, at the bottom right-hand corner of the picture, elegantly holds a cigarillo. I’m no great fan of her work, but I like the way she holds men and cigarettes.
One of Guanajuato’s claims to fame, we found out, is its Festival Cervantino (that explained the Don Quixote statue), so, as the resident bibliophile, one of the first things I did was to check out the Museo Iconográfico del Quijote while Tina took the kids for a helado. The story of how the young Eulalio Ferrer came to swap a packet of cigarettes in a detainment camp during the Spanish Civil War for a tiny copy of Cervantes’s great novel, his subsequent absorption with the book, his flight to Mexico, to Guanajuato, his obsessive accumulation of every artistic representation – painting, sculpture, literary – of the doomed hidalgo of Cervantes’s novel, all that moved me, and I rashly bought a version of the four-hundred-year-old book, which they call the first novel ever, a special version only available here in Guanajuato, one which I had difficulty justifying to Tina and the boys, and which, given my progress with Ulysses and Moby Dick, which at least are in English, I will probably never finish. I don’t care though. To have visited this museum and not have bought a copy of Don Quixote de la Manche, Edicion Guanajuato would have been inadecuado.
Back in our apartamento behind Iglesia San Roque that evening, I continued with my reading of Under the Volcano, one of the great English-language novels set in Mexico. It’s no easy read either, especially when one is distracted by the passing callejoneadas, the walking serenades this town is famous for. It felt like there was a mobile party passing right under our window. I got out of bed, got dressed, and followed the revellers, singing and telling jokes, for a short while, before returning to Tina and the kids. There was vivacious, laughing music in the streets, and I fell asleep to the sound of it receding towards the Alhóndiga de Granaditas, the old granary building, scene of the first military victory of La Guerra de Independéncia two hundred years ago.
Things have been pretty quiet since we’ve been back – we’ve slotted back into everyday life almost like we never left. Now, that’s not necessarily a good thing and we still have the travel urge so we’ve been planning for the future.
One thing that enabled our long trip as a family was work exchange programs where in exchange for a certain amount of work per day your host provides food and accommodation. Unfortunately most work exchange programs aren’t set up for families. It took hours and hours and hours of work to find hosts willing to take a family.
There had to be an easier way – so we decided to create “Show Your Kids the World“. To show families that you don’t need a lot of money to travel. In fact money can get in the way of you having the wonderful experiences you have when you stay with locals. No 5* hotel can offer you that.
The Ivory Curl trees were in full bloom the day we drove to the mountains. Other than Milano’s on the Mall after work on a Friday, the loose scattering of odd-shaped volcanic plugs called the Glasshouse Mountains are one of my favourite places in Queensland. Driving up to the Sunshine Coast these past few weekends, Mt. Tibrogargan always catches me out. Its shape-shifting profile means that as you drive around it it’s apt to take on different appearances.
Walking over the rocks that separate Alexandra Headland from Mooloolaba I nearly stood on a sea snake. I made sure it was dead before inspecting it closely. It was silver, with dark bands, and up close you could see it had non-overlapping hexagonal scales. They weren’t perfect, however; it was as if they came from the same mold that produced the basalt stacks at Giant’s Causeway, the odd coastal formation in Co. Antrim in Northern Ireland that we’d visited last Easter. I looked it up later using the photos I’d taken and found it was a Hydrophis elegans; an elegant sea snake.
The Mooloolah river flows into the Coral Sea just south of the seaside town of Mooloolaba. In its final half kilometre it wraps around a spit, enveloping the boats anchored in Mooloolaba Marina that stick out into it on hundred-metre-long arms. On arm C of the Marina is a thirty-five-or-so foot yacht called the Gráinne Mhaol (pronounced Grawnya Wail) owned by our Irish friends Karl and Kara. Knowing they were heading off on an Antarctic cruise in the new year, we asked them around Christmastime if they needed someone – knowing full well they didn’t – to housesit the Gráinne while they were away. Magnanimously, they played along and said that’d be great, actually. We could keep an eye out in case anything happened while they were away, like a plague of bluebottles or a shower of cane toads.
Pandanus, Alexandra Headland Continue reading