Saturday, March 31, 2007

Utila Island, Honduras

A few years ago I met a traveller and had the usual conversation, where are you from, what do you do, how long have you been travelling? etc. He had said he was a diver. A little puzzled as to how that could be a profession, I asked him if it was for the Olympics? Does he do all those crazy flips and everything? The jackknife? How many meters? Isn't it dangerous? I don't think English was his first language, and his answers continued to puzzle me and I gave up on the conversation. Years later now I realize he was a SCUBA diver, not a high-board swimming-pool diver like I had imagined! Doh!

So guess what? I have been studying and working hard this last week, and am now a certified Open Water Diver! YIPPEEEE!!!-- I am loving it so much that this week I will take courses in deep water diving (to 40 meters/120 ft), wreck diving, navigational diving, underwater naturalism (learning all the fishies' names), and night diving, and will have Advanced Diver certification by the end of next week! I think I've finally found my adventure sport!---and no, I still can't do the jackknife.

I planned on staying here in Utila for a week, but I'll be here until Easter, a little more than two weeks. It's a relaxed, friendly and beautiful place, I have my own room for $5 a night (but one week free with the diving courses), and am soooo happy to give a break to the trusty ol' backpack.
(L) Setting up (R) Scuba group

Two girls in my diving group were from Slovenia. They asked if I knew any Slovenian, and when I told them my "bad words" they laughed and laughed, they said that only old people use those words, totally outdated! So they taught me some modern bad words to make up for it. Both girls are heavy smokers and insisted on their morning coffees before doing anything else---sound like anyone we know?

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Hi from Belize! I'm on the island of Caye Caulker, a famous snorkeling and diving destination. People speak English here, mon, as well as Spanish, and it's a cool crazy mix of all races of people. They use their own English here, a road sign I saw, for example, read, "STOP SPITE WI RUN, DI HEAD TAX MONEY." Any guesses as to what that means? Everything costs a whopping lot of money here, man alive. (Mon alive?) Parental note: it is safe and full of tourists.

Getting back to things, on Monday I crossed the border into Guatemala from Mexico on a 4 person-capacity wooden boat across a silty and eddying river, then boarded a rickety school bus and got jolted around on a dirt road for 4 hours to Flores (this all from a travel agency!). It was hilarious. I stayed 2 nights, just enough time to check out the jungle-enshrouded ruins at Tikal and leave. I will be back to Guatemala during Easter weekend, yippee!

The second biggest coral reef in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia) is here near Belize and Honduras. Today I casually booked a snorkeling excursion without really knowing what I'd see, and ended up swimming with sharks!!! Parental note: of course, harmless ones. The boat people then threw a bit of fish meat into the water and within seconds I was surrounded by about 15 meter-long stingrays!! (15 of them---they weren't fifteen meters long). I took lots of pics with my nifty underwater camera (Thanks Dad!).

Saturday I'm off to the island of Utila in Honduras for about a week. More beaches, tourists and coral reef, but cheaper. Hopefully they'll have internet.

By the way, the people of Belize have asked me to tell you, the people of America and other countries, to come to Belize. Tourism has dropped lately, probably due to global warming and people staying home, who knows. It's a beautiful country, so I will spread the word, mon.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

2 months in Mexico!

Today is my 2 month anniversary since arriving in Mexico. I celebrated with Burger King for lunch (I was quite embarassed, but noone will ever see me again here anyway) and will have pizza tonight, can't wait!! And tomorrow at around 10am I will be crossing the border into Guatemala to the lake-island town of Flores.

But catching up to things...from the Oaxaca coast I took a night bus to the indigineous mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas. This is where the whole Zapatistas movement started in the 1990's when they took over the city. After visiting some nearby indigineous villages and watching a movie about the Zapatistas, they are now my official heroes, and this without doubt was my favorite place on my trip to Mexico. (brainwashed? perhaps) Each village has its own culture and even its own outfit. Imagine having to wear the "Mandan" outfit since you are from Mandan, North Dakota (I would imagine something with cowboy boots), and if you are a woman and married a man from Bismarck (like my sister), you would have to change to the Bismarck outfit (maybe something with feathered hair and your sweater tucked into your jeans). Most villages believe in an adapted form of christianity, but one village ousted the official priest and practices their own religion using colored candles, pine needles and the sacrifice of chickens (and roosters, hurrah!) in the church in front of altars for each saint.

Today I visited the ancient ruins of Palenque. Imagine 1,500 year-old pyramids in the jungle, it was soo cool. I rented a cabaña in a hippie jungle enclave near the ruins. My cabaña looks more like a permanent picnic tent with only screens and with a bed in it, and a "porch" that overlooks a nearby stream. I can see lizards while lying in bed, I love it.

This was going to be a short entry to let you all know that today is my last day in Mexico. Hope you aren't going to miss it too much (you could always go for yourselves...hee hee). I'll put pics up as soon as I can!

P.S. Most people voted for money for Christmas instead of lovely Chihuahua boots, so money it is (and not much of it, I'll assure you now). Though I was very impressed that the purple ostrich with silver buckled boots were quite popular, as well as the two kinds of snake boots. The latest poll is about eating worm, get your vote in now!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Oaxaca...shhh don't tell anyone...

Don't tell anyone, but I've found a secret piece of paradise. Americans don't come here because they think it's "dangerous" (it's not now, but don't tell them). I'm in Puerto Escondido (meaning Hidden Port in Spanish) on the Oaxacan coastline, and it is gorgeous. The waves are so high and the undertow so deadly you can't really swim here, but you could spend hours just watching the waves, watching how they glow blue at that certain moment when the sun hits before they crash, and wondering what tsunamis must feel like (ok, maybe that's just me and my paranoid daydreams).

I spent the previous couple days at a smaller beach called Mazunte. It's got what the Lonely Planet calls an "old time hippie vibe". I agree, most the men on the beach looked like Jesus reincarnate with their tanned skin, long beards and hair, and ragged swimsuits (a.k.a. loincloths, you could say). I'd met a girl in the Oaxaca bus station and we shared a $25/night room high up on the sea cliff with an awesome view of the ocean. We were lucky to be there the weekend of the Spring Equinox Festival to see live bands and dancers in the plaza. And we became friends with Manuel, a sweet lisping grocery store owner who once lived in Miami.

Mazunte is home to a lot of giant sea turtles, and today I took a boat tour (5 people in a speedboat) to watch them swim around. These things are HUGE, just the foot of one is the size of 2 Bucko and Pigs combined. For those of you who are not "with it" on the family pet history, Bucko and Pig were our pet turtles when I was in high school.
I took the above picture at 6:30 am in Mazunte. I must admit there was one slight hinderance to the whole paradise concept---the roosters. I usually enjoy sleeping to the "sounds of nature", but you would think the roosters were in bed with you if you didn't remember closing the door real tight the night before. They started at 4.30 every morning, and it never failed, there was always one next to your room.

In Oaxaca city I drank my first shot of Mezcal. Mezcal is like tequila, but better (?) or using a different plant (?)---Ok, I know, I should really do my research before composing these blog entries. The waiter asked what flavor I wanted. The choices were (I kid you not) scorpion, worm, some other disgusting creepy-crawly that I can't remember, peach, apricot, and some other fruit I can't remember. Hmmmmmm.....I chose apricot. The waiter brought my shot and told me to do it with lime and a pinch of some powder in a little dish. I asked what the powder was, and he replied, "Chili con gusano."

I confirmed, "Chili con qué??" (chili with huh?)
He confirmed, chili with worm.

Attempting to be a good sport, I also ate my first worm powder that night. I know, what a wuss, I ask for your pity just for a little worm powder. But hey, I'm a vegetarian.

New Oaxaca pictures are up!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Aguascalientes, Taxco

The friends I met in Guanajuato at the callejoneada (remember? men in old Spanish leotards) invited me to their home this weekend, 6 hours north of Mexico City by bus to a town called Aguascalientes. Aguascalientes in Spanish means "hot water", and the town is famous for its thermal springs. My friends tell me that many homes still use natural hot water for their shower---cool! My friends Tanya and Erika are cousins whose families have lived in both the States and Mexico, and they are both English teachers at a university in town. They took me around to the sites, taught me about all the yummy junk food native to Mexico (corn with cream in a cup, egg nog flavored ice cream water, cafe de olla--cinnamon flavored sugared-up coffee, but I couldn't appreciate the chili flavored sweet tamarind jelly beans though, ew) and took me to see their friends' rock band play on Sat. night. It was a blast! The best thing was learning about Mexican culture and seeing how close the family is, and hearing first hand reports about the cool things to do and see in the area. Thanks so much, Tanya and Erika!!!!

For some reason, I was very popular with the insect population of Aguascalientes city. One night I had to pull a grasshopper out of my shirt, and another night I got stung by a bee inside a restaurant! The little demon stung my left hand ring finger, and it swelled so much I've had sumo-wrestler-hand for the last few days. I think they like the Bath and Body lavender soap and body lotion I've been using, hmmm, might have to change soaps.

Taxco is a World Heritage designated colonial maze of steep streets that all go uphill. (How do they do that?) The streets are so narrow that they only use Volkswagen Beetles for taxis with the front passenger seat pulled out, customer sits in back. Buses are old Volkswagen Vans with the side door pulled off. I saw a 4WD truck try to navigate the streets with his side view mirror scraping against all the buildings. There are no sidewalks, you have to duck into shops sometimes to avoid getting hit. Not getting run over in this town is an artform.

I put up new pictures! From Guanajuato-Uruapan-Mexico City and from Aguascalientes-Taxco, check 'em out!

Volkswagon bus

Taxco taxis