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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sometimes Not Even The Sunshine Helps

This experience of travelling S.America is so different to my time in Thailand for several reasons. I guess the most significant is that in Thailand, because I was working, I was settled somewhere. I was also there with one of my best friends and there were several other teachers who became good friends. I had a chance to get to know and become close with some of the local Thai people because I wasn't moving on every few days. I had a support network. I was never too far from people who cared about me and who I could have a drink and share a laugh with.

Now that I'm travelling, and especially because I'm doing it alone, I feel disjointed. In one way it's liberating and in another it's isolating. I've had company but not with real friends, people who really know me. Normally I don't mind sitting in a bar on my own but now, sometimes, I feel like a poor, sad loser with no friends.

Another reason why this time is different is because when I went to Thailand I had just come out of a long, arduous relationship that was bad for my health both physically and emotionally. Thailand was my retreat from that. But this time I have left the person that I love for, what's starting to feel like, an eternity. While I admire us both, me for not letting anything get in the way of living my dream, and my man for giving me the freedom and trust to do what I want to do, it's hard being away from him for so long. It's only been a month and a half but the days are so long now that I'm not working. And even though we live in an age of modern technology I can't help but feel very far away. Mobile phones have not been working in my favour and Skype, though brilliant in theory, has proved to be very frustrating. Technology and I have never really had a harmonious relationship.

Another difference is the fact that I'm nothing more than a tourist, doing pretty much the same thing as every other tourist. Yes, it's an experience that's unique to me but in Thailand I was really immersed in the culture. I was part of their community and treated with respect and admiration. Over here I'm just another white face. Yes, I am welcomed but no, I'm not repsected or that well thought of. I know that in regards to this I should just get over myself but it is purely a symptom of having spent a bit too much time on my own recently, with too much time to think. I always said that the thing I was most worried about was being lonely and I was reassured by many that that wouldn't be the case. Now that it is I can't help but wonder what I'm doing wrong. It's not that I'm turning down opportunites of company or that potential company is shunning me, I just seem to have been moving in the wrong circles over the past week. I haven't seen anyone I could hang out with or, if I have, it's clear that they are part of their own wee niche that doesn't seem very welcoming.

I also know that this is probably a temporary thing and I'm sure that I will fall in with some people eventually but, until then, the days will seem long and dull living in my own head. Surely a dog for companionship would make all the doubt and lonliness disappear?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Taditional Ecuadorian Woman

This is a picture of an Ecuadorian woman in traditional clothing. The reason I'm posting it is because the woman remind me of Pearlie in her heyday. To be fair, This lady's costume is relatively tame. A lot of women wear even more shawls as layers and often wear checked aprons as well. I love the Ecuadorian hats though. i'd like to get one for Bert but as I've still a few months to go the chances of it getting squashed out of shape, or lost, are very high. Maybe I'll order him one from the internet when I get back.

I arrived in Cuenca yesterday evening and all I can say is that the scenery was delicious. Rolling, tumbling hills with little brooks and streams trickling down them. It really was gorgeous. If you have to be on a bus for 7 hours you might as well have something nice to look at. Cuenca is stunning as well. For a city. So I guess rather than sit here on the net i should probably go out and take some photos.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Time For Reflection

It's taken me a while to think about some of the differences between home and Mexico but I've had a few chilled days to myself. So here are some of the things I noticed:

If you're offering someone a cigarette it's considered rude to take the cigarette out of the pack and hand it to them. It's better to let them take the cigarette out of the pack themselves. I'd offered many Mexican people cigarettes by hand before 2 Oaxcan guys told me this so I don't think it's really that big a deal. Interesting though.

Shoe shining is still very much practiced in Mexico. I guess it's because the streets can be very dry and dusty and I think it's also a status thing. The rich buisnessmen couldn't possibly clean their own shoes!

Most Mexican dishes use all the same ingredients (tortillas, meat, cheese and beans) they just present them in a different way and give them different names.

Mexican people are very tactile, even when meeting someone for the first time they will hug you and give you a kiss on the cheek.

It is not uncommon to see older men lying on the street in broad daylight passed out drunk (or possibly dead).

Mexican policemen and government security guard are heavily armed with guns. Big massive guns.

As a general rule, Mexicans are very friendly and helpful. The downside to this, however, is if they don't the answer to something they will tell you anything. Hence me walking around the airport for 2 hours before I located my lost luggage!

Mexican people are always late, not by minutes but by hours. They will often use the traffic as an excuse, which, to be fair, is a valid excuse as the traffic is crazy in the city.

Mexican people are extremely noisy! There's no such thing as going for a 'quiet' drink as the bars are always playing extremely loud music. They also like to hoot and holler a lot, especially on public transport where they're often trying to sell CD's or snacks.

So that's about all I can think of just at the moment but I'm sure there are many more differences, and probably much more interesting ones but this is all my brain's allowing me to remember just at the minute.

I'm In Riobamba now and have treated myself to a private room in a hotel for a couple of nights. After sharing dorm rooms it's such a pleasure to have my own space and a TV. I watched all manner of nonsense last night just because I could. I don't normally watch a lot of TV at home but it is nice having access to it. Tomorrow I'm making my way down to Cuenca. There's supposed to be some good museums down there so I'll while away my time soaking up a little bit of culture!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sugar Overload

Yesterday was lovely. After I'd had a few cups of coffee and checked my emails I set off on a hike up one of the hills that overlooks Baños. It was more or less a Pixie Trail (I LOVE Pixie Trails!) but it was pretty steep. As I was stopping every 10 minutes to take a rest school kids were running up past me, one in his bare feet, but they all said 'Hola'. To be fair, they have youth on their side and I had the heat nd altitude against me. 3 workmen also stopped on their way down for a brief chat and to shake my hand. It's at those times I'm glad I've got even a little bit of Spanish so I can be polite and friendly back to the locals.

I was completely exhausted by the time I made it to the cafe at the top but the spectacular view and cold fruit juice was my reward. The juice was made from local fruit. It didn't specify what kind but it was lovely and refreshing.

I met a guy from San Francisco at the cafe so I had some company for the trek back down again. I was glad to be on my own on the way up though 'cos I like to take things at my own pace, which is generally slower than most people's. It was nice to have company on the way down though.

BaÑos is a great place for people with a sweet tooth. I bought a little box of confectionary that had cubes of a thick fruit jam-like substance and cubes of fudge. Well, I say fudge, it was like fudge but without the condensed milk.The lady also gave me a little free sample of the sugarcane, which is so sickeningly sweet not even I could finish it.

After my hike I indulged in the famous thermal baths that are rich in minerals and heated by the nearby Volcan Tungurahua (which has been spouting mushroom clouds of smoke at an alarming rate this past couple of days). I started off in the medium bath which was lovely and relaxing. Then I had a go in the super hot bath but could only stick it for 10 minutes. Even though the heat was uncomfortable it still felt like it was doing me a lot of good.

Afterwards I had a really healthy dinner of roasted onions, tomatoes and peppers with tortillas and salsa. That's the healthiest meal I've had after so long in Mexico eating cheese and drinking Oaxacan hot chocolate. After my dinner I had a cup of hot passion fruit juice mixed with alcoholic sugar cane. It was pleasant but not the kind of drink most people would enjoy, probably because of the sugar content.

I then went back my hostel feeling well-fed, well-exercised and well-relaxed, content to do a bit of reading before bed but ended up going out for drinks with some people and undoing all the good that I'd done to my body. I woke up this morning feeling horrific. I don't blame the beer or the rum, I blame the alcoholic sugarcane!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Quiet in Quito

So, El Tule. Though it's only about 13 km outside of Oaxaca Danny and I found it hard enough to get to as buses didn´t run and taxis only go to certain areas. We spent a good 45 minutes trying to figure it out and just as we were both about to give up I noticed a taxi that said 'El Tule' on the side. Yaaaay!! So in we jumped with 4 other people (that's how they taxi people around in Mexico, 3 in the back and 2 in the front, not including the driver!).

El Tule is only a small....hamlet I guess, or village, I'm not sure but as I said, the attraction was Old Granpa, an enormous 52 meter wide tree (El Arbol de Santa Maria) said to be the oldest living object in the world. ¨Tis also the largest tree in the world. I was suitably impressed with it's grandeur. To think what this tree has lived through is amazing! I was obviously amazed by all the archelogical ruins that I saw in Mexico but none of them paled in comparison to this mighty tree.

Anyway, the same day that I went to visit El Tule I had another encounter with The Oaxacan Poet. He asked me if I wanted to buy another poem for 4 peso. At first I said no and told him one poem was more special but he told me if he had 4 peso he could buy some lollipops to sell and he offered me his guitar to play while he wrote it. After he'd finished he asked me if I wanted to help him sell the lollies. I had an hour to kill before Danny was out of his lesson so I thought why not? Wewent to huge market and I was pleased to see that even the locals have trouble getting their bearings. Then we went back up to the Zocalo and pounced on as many people we could. My part to play was smiling and waving the lollipops and telling people they were delicious in Spanish. I just knew I wouldn't escape the whole trip without working a little bit!

I arrived in Quito, Ecuador last night. I had a good sleep and all I've managed to do so far is have a cup of coffee and find this internet place. I feel groggy from the sleep disruption (and possibly the altitude isn't helping) so I think I might just take it easy today. Not sure I'll stay too long in Quito as I want to head to Baños soon for some nice relaxing thermal baths. Awww, poor me and the life I live!!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lost Cameras and Old Trees

A few nights ago, after Danny and I had been to Monte Alban, we went for a few drinks. We'd been to the cheap mezcal bar first and then headed to the Zocalo for a quiet beer. A few nights ago we were at the same bar at Zocalo. I'd been to the toilet and when I came back one of the bar guys was chatting to Danny. Danny asked me if I'd left my camera there and I said no. The guy was nearly sure it was one of us and looked rather puzzled. It was nice of him to ask and he said it was nice of us to be so honest.

The next day I'd planned to go to El Tule. Looked about the hostel room for my camera. Ah Feck!!! It was my camera!!! It had been missing for 3 days and I hadn't even noticed. What a fecking knob end I am. I went back to the bar and it was the guy's day off. I went back today and he was there and so was my camera and he couldn't believe it had been nearly a week and I'd only just noticed. As he pointed out, what would I have done if he hadn't said about it? I'd have had no idea where I'd lost it or that I'd even lost it. I'm blaming the heat of the sun rather than the strength of the mezcal.

We made it to El Tule today but I'll blog about it tomorrow 'cos the excitement of it all was just too much. The attraction at El Tule is a massive tree (52 metres wide) that is the oldest living and flourishing object in the world. It. Was. Awesome. But I've a soft spot for trees 'cos I'm a bit of an oul' hippie. Anyway, more of that tomorrow and the Oaxacan poet.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Different Kind Of Souvenir

One of the disadvantages of coming to a place like this (by a place like 'this' I mean somewhere that's high up on the tourist radar) is the fact that if you sit around trying to enjoy a relaxing coffee you are hounded by local people trying to sell you little trinkets and souvenirs. Though it's annoying I understand that these people are just trying to make a living. It's one thing saying no to the adults but it breaks my heart saying no to the endless streams of children, some as young as four, who should be playing, or sleeping or doing the things that children should be doing.

As well as this you have the beggars, some of them able-bodied but obviously very, very poor, many of them with severe physical disabilities who live in a culture where there is no infrastructure to provide then with the help and support they need. I can't help but feel like a mean person for constantly saying no but, for one, I have not come out here as a rich tourist, yes I am privelaged to have been able to afford a plane ticket and enough money that I don't have to work, but I also had to earn that privelage by working as many hours as I possibly could. Not only that but I can't buy too much because I'm carrying it all in my rucksack for the next few months. I have been discarding things rather than accumulating them.

I did, however, get an interesting offer from a couple of young musicians. I saw them walk by me at first. They ummed and aahed about whether or not to approach me and then one egged the other on. He said that he sold lollipops and poems but that he had no lollipops to sell. He offered to write me a poem in Sapnish, about whatever topic I chose, and he would translate it in Engliah for me. The part that swung it for me was I could pay however much or little as I wanted. He said he'd do it for 1 peso (about 5p) so I offered him 20 peso (about 1 pound). It was a much more interesting and personal offer than I'd had before. So I asked him to write a poem about a girl travelling alone. It also had to include something about a tree.

There and then he took out his notebook and pen and started to write. It took him about 10 minutes and when he'd finished he read it first in Spanish then translated it (loosely) into English. He'd obviously an idea about what I was looking for as the poem was a bout a girl who rejected the norms of society to to go on adventure to find out who she was. I know it's a bit cheesy but most poetry and it's topics are. I gave him the 20 peso and he gave me my poem. A piece of paper isn't going to weigh me down atall. More importantly, it's individual and unique to me. I have come away with a souvenir that's lightweight and hasn't been mass-produced like the endless streams of jewellery, hammocks and rugs.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

La Isla De Las Muñecas

I've been trying to upload a photo of some of these creepy dolls on the Island Of Dolls but it's not happening for me. I've tried including a link as well but technology out here is very much like everything else, it may do it but it may be tomorrow. So all I can do is advise you to take a look yourself on google images. It will only give you an idea though of how creepy this Island actually is.

So the story is about a man who lost his daughter to the canals. He put up these dolls as a tribute to her. Over the years the dolls have become rotten and decayed and the island has an even more eerie feel to it. It's honestly like something you'd read in a Stephen King novel. Danny had joked when we were that possibly one of the dolls was an actual real baby. There were also a group of men sat round a table drinking whiskey and smokng. We were all offered a drink and we all turned it down. I have a feeling if we'd accepted a drink that would have been the start of our own personal horror movie.

I should have done this story much more justice by reading a few things about it but the computer I'm on has just had a virus alert so I'll try and post this and write more at a later date.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Amazing Oaxaca

Danny and I missed the 4;00 bus to Oaxaca so ended up getting an overnight bus. We arrived at 7 in the morning exhausted with no hostels open to book into and no cafes open to get coffee. It didn't matter though because Oaxaca is so lovely I was just pleased to be here.

We wandered round for a bit then found a cafe and hostel. I only let myself sleep for a few hours as I didn't want to be awake all night so when we got up we did a bit of exploring. We wanted to find a market but instead of picking one of the closer, more touristy markets we found ourselvs at the massive one. I was still tired and wantd some nice fresh mango to much on. Unfortunately the lady doused it with chilli powder and salsa. It wasn't exactly unpleasant but I just wanted the sweet goodness and not some strange sugar chilli mixture.

Anyway, this particular market is so huge that once we entered I had a horrible feeling we were never gonna find our way out again. After we did finally emerge, I'm ashamed to say that I just wanted to go back up to the peaceful, but touristy, Zocalo. I knew I was just too tired to deal with the crazy hustle bustle.

Yesterday we went to Monte Alban, which hosts some ancient ruins of the Zapotecs. This place was stunning although the bus journey up was a little hairy. Actually, the bus journey down was worse. But we survived. Today we're taking it relatively easy but we do plan to hit the markets properly today. Even the massive crazy one. Oh, and we're on a mission to find amazing ice cream and sorbets. My life is just one big chore!!!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Esta No Para Mi

The area I´ve been staying in MC is called the Zona Rosa, meaning the Pink Zone. It is well known in Mexico as being the Gay area and there are many sex shops scattered all over the place.

Me and a friend had been having a few drinks and I suggested we went in to have a look at one of the sex shops. While we were there we both thought it'd be a good idea for my friend to buy his girlfriend a 'special' little present.

There was a woman giving us a bit of a hand (taking various vibrators out of the packaging and making us hold them). She kept asking me questions in Spanish, obviously assuming that me and my friend were a couple and we were shopping for me. I told her "Esta no para mi" (It´s not for me)and let my friend do all the dealing with her.

Once he'd picked out the present he took it to the cash desk to pay for. An older guy came over and his English was obviously pretty good. Just to reinforce that me and my friend were not a couple I said again "Esta no para's for his girlfriend". The guy was smiling and looking at me like he thought I was blatantly lying and it was for me and I was too embarassed to admit it so I ended up saying to him "I don't need one.....I have already" to which he laughed and looked like he finally believed that we weren´t a couple! It really didn't matter to him whether we were a couple or not but it's just funny the situation's I get myself into trying to prove a point!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Last Few Days In MC

So, only a few days left in the city but I'm so excited about hitting Oaxaca that I'm not sad about leaving. I've had a great time here. I've met so many people here that I haven't had a minute to myself. But it's been a lt of fun. I also booked my flight to Ecuador so I leave for S. America in less than 2 weeks. I had planned to travel through Central America but I don't think it was going to be cost or time effective. My dream was to come to S. America so I feel I've done the right thing in getting there sooner rather than later.

My time here hasn't so much been spent doing a lot of things but meeting a lot of people. There was JF and Jose, a Bulgarian girl, many Canadians, the Texan lawyer, a Norweigian lass and of course, Danny boy, who's coming to Oaxaca with me. I've been to the Zoo twice, climbed a pyramid and had a relaxing boat ride through Mexican canals that led to a La Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the dolls). I won{t write too much about the Island as it is most definitely worth a blog post all of it's own. It really is like something straight from a horror movie though.

I still haven't done this place justice in my writing but I'm hoping I'll have a bit more time when we head down South. My head's also a bit fuzzy at the minute from drinking mezcale last night, which is like my Mexican version of whiskey. Talking of whiskey though, we're going to try and find the Irish bar tonight. Danny met some Mexican guys on the plane journey that he'd like to meet up with as well because they were both very friendly and helpful. Danny's plane was 2 hours late and because I don't have my phone he had no way to let me know. I had to go back to the hostel because it was midnight but obviously I was worried about Danny. He'd explained to one of the guys and he was obviously worried about him too as he went back to the airport to see if Danny was still there. Fortunately another guy who worked at the information desk at the airport had phoned the hostel I was staying at and asked at reception if I was definitely there so Danny knew to get a taxi.

Anyway, I'm going to take Danny to the Centro Historico today because it'd be a shame for him not to see the Zocalo and The Grand Palace. And then we'll probably eat some tacos! I tend to do that most days!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

I need Some Sleep

I was very grumpy last night. I've been sharing a dorm room with people that snore. When one person stops another person begins. I knew it wasn´t gonna be a bowl of peaches (I´m not sure where this saying has come from - my ass, probably) sharing dorm rooms but snoring has to be the most annoying, grating noise ever when you´re trying to get to sleep.

So because I couldn´t sleep I was thinking about my life when I get back home. I want a dog so bad but I'm beginning to think I´ll never be in a position to own my own mutt. This depressed me a lot. More than the thought of never having kids. I don´t want to be part of mainstream society anymore. I just want a hut in the forest. I want to pick my fruit for food and eat scrambled eggs all the time. I don´t want to work shitty jobs that supposedly "make the world go round". Whose world? It doesn´t feel like mine.

And I´m also sick of blogging. I´ve written better when I´ve had nothing to write about. I´m here in a totally different part of the world and I should be writing fascinating blog posts but I just can´t get my head together. I´m very tempted just to give up on it altogether. I don´t need to record my experiences. They´ll be safe in my head.

Monday, February 01, 2010

And I Will Always Love You

So Paris is meant to be the City of Romance. Hmmm....more like the city of bad smells. Piss and shit to be precise! I think there´s more romance in Mexico City. Well, romance on one hand, borderline porn on the other.

It´s not uncommon to see couples (both straight and gay) cuddling and kissing each other on the street, on park benches, at the bars. The reason being is that people live with their parents until quite late and, as they are predominantly Catholic, bring the partner home is not acceptable.

But people here are generally more affectionate anyway, with their lovers and their friends. It´s strange for me to hug complete strangers on the first time meeting them but that´s the Irish in me. And when in Rome...

It´s strange but it´s also very heart-warming. When you´re a million miles away from your friends and family it´s nice to have a bit of affection. But it´s the puppy love that I crave. I mean I miss the dogs. There are so many lovely dogs here and I want one!! Or maybe a whole pack.

My main fear before coming here was that I´d be lonely but I really haven´t had a chance to be. Í´d talk to a lampost if it would listen though. And sometimes I find they make the best listeners. But on that note, I have a day planned with A girl from Bulgaria so I shall leave it there for now. Though expect a clicjed post about the Swine Flu very soon.

Oh, if you´re wondering about the title of this post, it´s playing in this internet shop. How apt.And cheesy.