Monday, July 19, 2010

San Cristobal

Alright, finally trying to catch up on the blog. We’ve taken the last month or so /very slowly/, both to let my shoulder heal and also because of a certain amount of sheer laziness (at least on my part).

From Mazunte, we headed to the lovely little town of San Cristobal in the Chiapas highlands. We arrived about a week or so after my little accident in the ocean. My shoulder was still screwy, so one of the first things we did was head over to a doctor to have it looked at. After several doctor visits over the next week or so, I got an X-ray and discovered that I had dislocated my clavicle at the shoulder. I was given a sling (fun to wear with 90 degree heat and infinite humidity!), some muscle relaxants, and told not to move it for three or four weeks. So now after all is said and done –- it doesn’t hurt anymore but is still tender on occasion; I seem to have full range of movement but have been careful not to stress it with too much weight, and so am not sure (and am a bit nervous to try) whether I could do push-ups or yoga; and my clavicle moves up and down a bit underneath the skin depending on how I use it, which is unfortunate but not unexpected. There seems to be a relatively simple surgery where they can sew the clavicle back into place with a bit of cat gut, and I might think about that at some point especially since I should be able to get a pretty decent deal on such a surgery here in Guatemala or elsewhere in Central America. But at the moment I can sling my backpack around, I’m favour the injured shoulder a bit to limit any discomfort, and it gives me an excuse not to do any push-ups or yoga (did I mention a certain amount of prevalent laziness?). So maybe I’ll look into the surgery at some point, but I’m just seeing how things go and whether this might just be “one of those things” that I’ll deal with indefinitely.

For anyone else who winds up with a non-fracture shoulder injury (dislocated collarbones seem to be a somewhat common problem for skiers, especially) –- I’ve been told that the shoulder should be immediately immobilized using a sling and strap around the chest, for several weeks or as your doctor directs. For a dislocated shoulder, a doctor should be able to pop it back into place; for a dislocated clavicle, the surrounding muscles should be strong enough to pull it back into place as long as you don’t keep jostling it around and continuously stress the injured site. The first week I was injured I did not do this, and actually thought it might be a good idea to try and exercise my shoulder a bit each day –- I can’t remember my exact rationale at the time, but for some reason that seemed like a good idea to me. Upon additional information it turned out to be the exact wrong thing to do, and so please don’t make the same mistake if you somehow manage to catapult yourself into a solid, immovable object.

Anyhow, when we first got to San Cristobal, we stayed with an acquaintance of Petra’s from back when she lived in an artist squat in Paris. (Have I mentioned recently how totally cool Petra is?) Cisco is a photographer and artist, and who runs the Sol y Luna Bed and Breakfast out of his home (US $50-70, tv, wifi, external bathroom, and breakfast included if you actually pay to stay there). As you can see, there would have been no way we could have afforded to stay there on our own, so thanks Cisco for providing us with such a treat! The rooms and rest of the house were gorgeous, and although a bit damp there was a tiny workable fireplace that dried everything out and warmed it nicely. We met the other guest staying there, Lara, a mid-wife from northern California who was just fabulously interesting and fun, and whom we ran around with for the next week or so. It was really interesting to chat with her about being a mid-wife, and she had some interesting figures: if most low-risk pregnancies were handled by mid-wives instead of at hospitals, it would save roughly $85 billion in health care costs and dramatically increase your chances of having a natural child-birth instead of delivering via Caesarian. I don’t have a cite for those figures (although if anyone out there is interested, let me know in comments and I should be able to get them for you), but I found it all provocative and interesting.

We only stayed at Cisco’s a few days though, before he had bookings and needed the room. We moved down the street to a small hotel down the road, El Meson just down from Cisco’s on Calle Tonala. It had bare basic concrete rooms with shared bathrooms, but was /only 40 pesos/! That’s Wadley prices, tying for the cheapest accommodations we found in Mexico! And San Cristobal was /way/ prettier and more interesting than Wadley! Anyhow, I think one of the reasons it was so cheap is that it was a reported bordello, not that we ever noticed anything seedy or were disturbed at all by strange sounds or the like. And it wouldn’t have been the first time we’ve stayed in a bordello, although it totally wasn’t as nice as the gorgeous bordello we stayed at in Laos.

We didn’t do a lot in San Cristobal. I enjoyed hitting some of the cafes in town to watch a few of the World Cup games, and we poked around a lot of the boutique and trinket shops to pass the time. We spent a day with Lara at the orchid and nature preserve that Cisco runs, Orquideas Moxviquil, which was beautiful and interesting, and totally worth the trip. And we hung out at the newly opened Hostal de la Iguana, founded by two couch surfing couples and looks like a great place to stay (I think the dorms were 70 pesos and private rooms around 100-120, but while Iguana would have been a prettier and more chatty place to stay we were totally enthused with our ultra-cheap pseudo-bordello). They had a nice barbeque every Saturday you could drop in on, and the guests there were particularly nice in setting up one-handed fussball (table soccer) games so I could play.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Near-term plans

Quick shoulder update: it was much better after about 3 days, but then started healing more slowly, although it continues to improve. About a week after the accident, I’ve got about full range of motion back (if sometimes slowly and tenderly) and the sense of weakness I had in my arm is fading. Nice big yellow-brown bruise over the entire front of my right shoulder, though! I think it is definitely on the mend, but I’m going to have it checked by a doctor when we get to our next larger city in a day or so. Any reiki people out there, feel free to send some universal light this way!

The rains have finally come, and so the hole in the roof that acts as my alarm clock has proved an impediment, along with the other two or three sizeable holes in the roof of our room in Mazunte. They offered to swap us to another room the first night it rained, but I wasn’t eager to be schlepping our packs down all the stairs in the rain with my shoulder. So Petra and I noted where the wet areas were and moved the bed and our things into the opposite corner, covering our packs with our raincoats just in case. So far this has worked for keeping us dry, and can really provide a lovely atmosphere with the waves crashing, thunder and lightning in the distance and a gentle mist pouring through our roof.

In other news, Petra and I have been talking and are planning on wrapping up the Mexican adventure over the next couple of weeks. There are still definitely two more places we want to see, both here in the Chiapas region: San Cristobal, where a friend of Petra’s back from the days when she was squatting with artists in Paris, and Palenque which has ruins and comes highly recommended by everyone we’ve ever talked to who’s been there. After that, though, we think it is about time to dust off the passports and head on. That does mean we’re going to miss the Yucatan, which is unfortunate. But funds are starting to get a bit tight and we need to head somewhere to make them last longer.

From Mexico, you have two overland travel-on options. One is Belize, which is English speaking and I’ve heard is more expensive but otherwise know very little about. The other one is Guatemala, which has been our planned destination all along. It is supposed to be cheaper than Mexico and again comes highly recommended, but which just got hit by a tropical storm, has a volcano erupting near the capital, and apparently even has giant sinkholes. So we’re not sure what the full situation is there and will have to do some research over the next week. If anyone happens to see any news on what things are like in Guatemala while you’re online, do us a favor and post a comment with the link or send us an e-mail.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Life and love in Mazunte

We traveled out of Puerto Escondido with another guest from our guest house there, Sheila, down the coast a couple of hours to Mazunte. Sheila had found this great little hostel right on the beach and insisted we had to stay there with her. It doesn’t have a name yet (UPDATE: it's called Hostal Colibri) and was just reopened a few weeks ago, but the place where we’re staying (50 pesos per person per night, plus 5 pesos kitchen usage/p/n) is pretty nice. Some of the rooms are ultra-ultra-basic and musty, but the new owner Steve is working on it and it had a to offset that there is a deck that looks out over the water and steps that lead down to the sand. Oh, and a fairly nice book swap that I am enjoying. Absolutely nothing else to do in town, but really… what else more do you need? Sheila unfortunately had to head out of town the next day (hope all is well!), which was unfortunate but meant we could move up to her old room (sorry). It’s up a ladder through a trap door at the top of the hostel where you can see the waves out the window and listen to them all night. It even has a convenient hole in the roof where the morning sun shines /right/ in my face at an unknown (we lost our alarm clock in Poza Rica and still haven’t found a decent replacement) but relatively acceptable time to get up in the morning. They’re planning to fix that soon since if it rains, then a hole in the roof sucks...but as long as it doesn’t rain, I kind of like it.

So we moved up into the attic, and I went out to play in the waves. The beach here is very different: after you go out very far, it gets very rocky – a little smaller than fist-sized, it seemed. And they swirl every time a wave comes along, which generally gave the effect of being in a washing machine with a bunch of boxing midgets. But I looked around a bit, and found a part of the beach that stays sandy farther out.

The other thing about the rocks is that they mean it’s relatively deep here, and so the waves break closer to shore. I had noticed this before, but learned it first hand when I got caught up in a nice big wave I thought I could use to propel me back into shore until I realized it was going to break almost on the sand. My shoulder got jammed into the ground -- really hard -- and my back snapped over top in an uncomfortable way. Then I had to awkwardly lurch, on all-4s-minus-1 and with a stiff back, out of the froth before the next wave knocked me around some more.

It was the most acute pain I’ve ever experienced in my life -- I honestly thought I had broken a bone in my shoulder somewhere, and my arm was all-but immobile. And I assumed I had thrown my back out along with it. But I wasn’t concussed and seemed to still be relatively mobile, so held my shoulder and made my way back up to the room. I called up to Petraand she started coming down the steps, and I told her I had hurt myself really bad. And Petra sat down on the steps and said, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

And that’s how I knew that Petra /really/ loved me.

I know how much she loves me from other times, too; over the years we’ve both shared experiences where we’ve shown how much we care for one another. But it just showed me the real depth of her feelings again that being able to move Petra, who is normally the most here’s-the-plan-now-move person you could ever hope for in a clutch, to the point of illness just because I had hurt myself.

Then she got back up and we hobbled down to talk to Steve, who looked at my shoulder and said he didn’t think it was broken and things should be okay. But Petra still felt really ill all the next day, which I’m /really/ sorry about. I love her, too, and definitely don’t want her to go through that again and so will try to think things out more fully from now on.

So we kept an eye on it the first night and applied an ice-aspirin-tiger balm strategy. Of course, our room is at the top of a ladder but the bathroom is at the bottom, and swinging on and off the ladder was a bit tricky. My back was also stiff and sore, so movement in general was out for a day, and Petra was wonderful in looking after me. But we stayed pretty much completely inside our room for a couple of days.

So now I feel like we’ve become the old crazy couple in the attic, the ones that make the creepy moaning sounds but whom no one ever sees --  except for sometimes, late at night, in front of the book swap.  But the shoulder has healed way faster than I thought it would; it still hurts, but a couple days later and I’ve pretty much got full mobility back and at this rate in a few more all will be back to normal.

I don’t mind staying.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Odds and ends

 -- A camouflage painted VW van with half a dozen surf boards strapped to the top just pulled into our cabanas. I think the expression “Surf the Revolution” is incredibly cool.

-- The automated announcement service at the Matehuala bus station sounded shockingly like a Spanish-speaking version of the insane computer in Portal. I kept imagining what it must have been saying: “The 11:45 bus to San Luis Potosi is now departing from gate 8. There will be cake aboard the bus. And we will not try to murder you at all. Instead we’ll simply try to drive you insane by making you watch a horrible D&D movie, dubbed into Spanish. For three hours.”

-- Horchata Tang -> surprisingly satisfying substitute for the real thing. Allen, take note in case you see it in some specialty section. Just don’t make it full strength.

-- Btw, I’ll mention again: getting a 20 liter water jug saves you a bunch of money over buying a bunch of pre-cooled 1.5 liter bottles. Petra says I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating. We can get a 20 liter jug for between 13 and 25 pesos plus bottle deposit, whereas a 1.5 liter water bottle costs usually 11 pesos each. If you buy a packet of Tang in one of about 20 flavors (about 4 pesos average per pack) you can easily flavor 6-8 liters. Now for the effort of carrying around a 45lb (20 kilo) jug a bit you can save lots of money over buying small bottles of water or soda. If you’re traveling mid- to long-term, take heed.

-- In Poza Rica, the oil-field city we couchsurfed in for a week, there was a café that served café petrolero – oilman’s coffee. And it was seriously dark, although Petra (the resident coffee expert) declared it not very strong. But the place had free refills and was open 24 hours. Still would blow the socks off, say, your average cup of coffee in Ohio.

-- In Puerto Escondido, we have iguanas. About six to ten of them would sun themselves in the morning on the edge of a wall under the kitchen, and one or two could usually be found roaming around during the afternoon. Also, multiple smaller lizards to be found in the toilet bowls. Friends from law school might remember why I find that a highly stressful situation.

-- A few weeks after we arrived in Mexico, I was interested to see that Mexico City (which is also what we in the US would call a state) legalized gay marriage. I don’t understand all the ins-and-outs of Mexican politics, but my first blush reaction is that when a country as traditionally Catholic starts to legalize gay marriage, even if only in parts of the country, that is a real sign of the times.

-- One of the other long-term residents of our cabanas asked to use our computer to check her internet, then offered us some bracelets in thanks (she and her boyfriend make jewelry to sell on the beaches). I asked Petra to pick out mine, and she chose one of knotted waxed thread in purple, black and ochre. Not my first choice, but I kind of liked it. Then I noticed it matched the floppy hat I got in Bangkok, a hat that Petra also picked out for me. I take it my fashion consultant has a preferred color-scheme in mind for me.

Monday, May 31, 2010

A week at the beach (Puerto Escondido)

We got to Puerto Escondido by Minivan (150 pesos each) with Rich and Ian, a couple of English guys we met at the hostel in Oaxaca. It took us seven hours on that curvy road up and down the hills to get the 250km (150 miles). First we stayed in the Tower Bridge Hostel, which the boys had reserved beforehand for themselves. Really nice and lovely rooms but a bit too pricey for us (200 pesos). [Simeon says: Yeah, but for 200 pesos you got a full suite! Bedroom, bath and comfy front sitting room with a fridge filled with pay-as-you-go Coronas. And it had a television that didn’t work. Genius! You felt like you were getting a tv with the room, but you never felt the urge to watch it (since it didn’t work) and so you got to feel all superior about how you wouldn’t waste your time watching tv at the beach. The hostel also had one of the loveliest pools I’ve ever seen. Just for wading and with a little walking bridge over part of it, the pool somehow seemed to always be the perfect temperature. The owner is a gregarious Englishman who was a lot of fun in small doses and you got good free wifi and a shared kitchen area, but it’s like a half hour hot sunny walk to the beach. Still, I admit that I insisted splurging on an extra night or two here wallowing in the relative luxury.]

So we changed after a couple of days to the Cabanas Edda near a different beach, for 100 pesos a night plus a 15 pesos charge for wifi (shared bath, shared kitchen area and about five minutes to the beach). We got to know everybody that lived there fairly quickly and had a lot of fun chatting and sharing; there are enough visitors who have all stayed long enough that they’ve all gotten to know each other and a little temporary community has formed. Karen and Emilie (we couchsurfed with them on Carolina’s and Juan’s couch in Poza Rica) joined us there (hi the two of you, just thinking about you!) enjoying the beach at the end of their holidays. Actually Emilie was supposed to be already back in France, but the airline company she was supposed to fly with went on strike. And it is not even a French strike (which I just presumed with that history and Emilie going back to Paris) – it was British Airways! So she needed to postpone her flights back, if I remember correctly.

We have a little hut to ourselves and a hammock right in front of it. It reminds me a little of Laos. We are shaded by palm trees which have big bug shells on them. Just the remaining shell after growing and shedding the too small case. Still, it looks like the bugs are always on the march across everything. The owners also take a lot of care of their little patch of grass. All this watering, every day – it seems like a lot of effort for the few little shoots of grass it produces but it cools down this place a lot.

Simeon went and rented a beginners surfboard to start the learning process in the waves. He got quite a bit tumbled around and unfortunately the wrist strap got loose all the time; every time a wave came in the board shot away from him and he had to start searching and chasing it back to the beach. After a little while, he got rid of the board and started enjoying the water the old fashioned no-tools-way. The waves here can be really big; according to Sim: “The biggest waves I’ve ever seen, and the first ones I’ve actually see that are taller than I am.” And playing in them can be quite a bit of a job.

We took our chance to download the long awaited last season of “Lost” – and watched it in a marathon. We also went to the movies at the Cinema theater -- if you would call a small backroom with a big screen showing .avi files off a computer a theater -- but at least we had the chance to finally see “Alice in Wonderland” in English. For me it would have been much better to see it with subtitles because of the slurpy language. I do that on occasion, I believe that particularly this movie I would have enjoyed more if only I could understand what was said but unfortunately the characters had thick accents. The tickets were 50 pesos, but 2-for-1 before three in the afternoon. Emilie and Karen had told us that popcorn and a beer would have been included – would have been a good deal for 25 pesos each. But it turned out to be a misunderstanding; what a shame.

Mezcal Factory

The harvested maguey plants (an agave plant native to Mexico). Oaxaca is the main place in Mexico that produces Mezcal.

The place where the plants are getting crushed (a donkey would be pulling the wheel).

The mashed plants are left to sit in water to ferment.

Distilling the Mezcal.

The product gets collected, tasting like true Mexican moonshine.

The Mezcal ages in wooden barrels.

The worm gets added or not? There are many different flavors (anise, passion fruit, marijuana). And we had a lot of fun afterwards with the goodies we bought there.

A day driving in the mountains

Our neighbors in the hostel, Alex and Maureen, had rented a car in Cancun and driven west to Oaxaca and were about to head back to catch their flight back to the US. I had told them about this mineral spring and waterfall I had heard of that was supposed to be interesting nearby. We even had a pamphlet with a little picture of it, which looked like a kind of frozen waterfall. The guide book said that it was a non-thermal spring that made wading pools and weird mineral formations that look like “a frozen waterfall,” so everyone seems to agree. Alex and Maureen graciously offered to drive us out with them to see it and we jumped at the chance after a quick lunch of giant squash blossom quesodillas. Yum!

It’s about half an hour or so to the town of Mitla where you turn off for Hierve el Agua (“The Boiling Water”), 13 km away. Of course, those 13 km are along a dirt road winding it’s way through the mountains with no guard rails, where passing a car going the opposite direction can be a Very Exciting Event and take over an hour to traverse. (Hi, Uncle Joe! Thinking of you and panic bars and remembering the reason we call it the panic bar!) Alex was an absolute pro at the driving though, and I was seriously impressed a couple of times. Of course we were in the back seat and just got to look at the great views back towards Oaxaca, as the arid desert vegetation gave way to different climate and landscape at the top of the mountains.

Eventually we came to a village whose economy seemed completely dcependent upon this tourist attraction and mezcal production, and bumbled along the dirt roads there for a bit longer before reaching the entrance gate (20 pesos/person). From the parking lot, you had to walk a couple hundred meters down a trail to the actual springs.

Not really what I was expecting. There were a couple of points where the springs bubbled up and the water did seem fizzy, bit for the most part it was just a trickle of water. This then ran down the slope depositing minerals over the years, making a sort of series of gutters and at some points forming into pools. 

The “wading pools” were filled with greenish water often covered with brown scum though, so not much wading was done.

Eventually the water overtops the pools, and I guess the “waterfall” is the little dribble as it pours over the cliff. The “frozen waterfalls” is visible a short distance away, and seems to be another spring on the next cliff over whose mineral deposits collected differently.

Interesting and all kind of cool, but it was a all a bit too starkly zen for me after visions of Xilitla.

The road back was full of little home distilleries that produce mezcal. As someone from the US, I would have thought all Mexicans would drink tequila. Jose Cuervo is the national drink, right? So far every Mexican we’ve met has been a mescal drinker, bringing out the tequila only once the party is really going and it doesn’t matter anymore. Anyhow, since we had drank up Alex and Maureen’s stash the night before we decided to stop at one and try some of the free samples. It was really interesting: the entire process was laid out in one little room. You could buy a regular size bottle for I think 200 pesos, but we decided on four small flavored ones (50/bottle, 4 for 150, about 10-12 shots per bottle).