Wildlife in Mexico

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.

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A taxi into the Mayan jungle

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

The Pyramids of Teotihuacán

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

Ciudad de México, the town they call CDMX

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, city of Don Quixote

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.

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Basicila de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato, or ‘the Basilica’

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.

From Zakynthos to Athens

A krasáki at Kolonáki
A krasáki at Kolonáki

We left Zakynthos the old-fashioned way: by ferry and bus to Athens.  There’s nothing like being on the water to make you feel like you’re leaving or arriving on an island – coming by plane just can’t compare. On a calm sea we slowly watched Zakynthos turn into a hazy blur on the horizon, a slightly darker blue meeting the ultramarine of the sea.

For the end of September, it was unusually hot in Athens.  The Friday afternoon traffic held us up but we finally arrived in our modest little apartment. Once again we chose to use AirBnb for the luxury of having a bit more room in which to spread out and for the option of eating in if we wanted. We were in the Pangrati district, just a quick walk across a park from the Evaggelismos metro stop and, most importantly, the Airport Bus. Walking into Syntagma Square, the epicentre of Athens, took about 15 minutes, except for the time we ended up going in circles in the National Gardens trying to find an exit. Continue reading

A little tour of the Alpilles

Our couchsurf near Salon-de-Provence was perfectly situated for day tours into the hill towns of Provence. Our first tour was to be of the Alpilles, a long limestone range full of olive trees, vineyards and medieval towns.

We got off to a bit of a bumpy start, circumnavigating Salon a couple of times before finding the correct road.  We’d planned a little route round the Alpilles, starting at Eyguières, transiting Mouriès, then hitting Les Baux-de-Provence, where we had our first stop.

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Les Baux – one of the most beautiful villages in France

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From Dublin to Nîmes

This guy got up from his seat two rows behind us on the Toulouse-Nîmes TGV to have a go at the family in the four-seater space opposite us, whose kids were – fair enough – being a bit noisy, albeit harmlessly so, I felt, since they looked like nice people, and you could tell the kids were smart, and while naturally I couldn’t catch everything the guy was saying it was definitely some sort of appeal to the mother to keep the kids’ jabber down, but she, long-legged and splendid of hair, kind of like Michelle Obama, tranquilly rebuffed his every plaintive “Mais Madame…”, explaining that kids will be kids, and saying “That’s just how they are: I don’t have a choice.” to which he answered “Moi non plus, Madame”, turning away, having failed to receive satisfaction, whereupon the father, hitherto uninvolved, offered the guy a desultory “Desolé”.

Les Arènes
Les Arènes

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The road to the sunny south-east

We’re on a mission to see more of Ireland, to go to the sorts of places, which, if we ever thought about at all when last we lived here over ten years ago, we would have dismissed as the sorts of places tourists went to. Places with castles and visitor centres, or interpretive centres, whatever they’re called. Back then the new Ireland we were interested in had sushi trains in the Purple Flag Area behind Grafton St., and the Pavilion redevelopment in Dun Laoghaire. It had roads bypassing old midlands towns like Loughrea and Moate so that all of us Celtic Tiger cubs could get from the M50 to Galway quicker (although the public jacks in Loughrea would surely be missed by those who used to ply that route). Even the ferry to Aran was a new catamaran made in Perth, Australia, with TVs and wifi, a step up from the odoriferous fishing boat Dad and I went out there on in 1982. This year I’m travelling with my own kids (and Tina, of course) as tourists, and we’re on a mission. So we end up going to places like the Ferns, in Co. Wexford.

Ferns Castle
Ferns Castle

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