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Chichén Itzá


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Although not my favourite maya site I have visited so far, I couldn't not talk about Chichén Itzá and show you some pictures. Compared to other sites I have already talked about before, this one looks a bit like Disneyland... a LOT of tourists, especially waves of people from the U.S coming from nearby Cancún and exclaiming every 30 seconds "wooaa that's so nice" (even in front of the toilet sign). I'm exagerating a little but not too much...
Anyway the site is huge and the buildings have been remarquably well restaured, although you cannot climb anymore on the pyramids and various stairs in order to preserve the buildings intacts. That's why I am comparing this to Disneyland, it's nice, huge but lots of people everywhere and you cannot go anywhere off the beaten track nor climb the structures. Besides what I liked about Palenque was the fact that their ruins were in the middle of the jungle. Here all the trees have been cut to facilitate the access to the public.

I didn't have much time to visit as I made just a short stop on my way from Merida to Tulum, but I was lucky as it suddenly started to rain, making the hordes of tourists to disappear under some shelters and trees, leaving the whole place for me and my camera... :)

For a bit of history, Chichén Itzá was a major economic power in the northern Maya lowlands during its apogee (roughly 600 AD). Participating in the water-borne circum-peninsular trade route through its port site of Isla Cerritos on the north coast, Chichén Itzá was able to obtain locally unavailable resources from distant areas such as obsidian from central Mexico and gold from southern Central America.

Between AD 900 and 1050 Chichen Itza expanded to become a powerful regional capital controlling north and central Yucatán but started to decline around 1250. While Chichén Itzá "collapsed" or fell (meaning elite activities ceased) it may not have been abandoned. When the Spanish arrived, they found a thriving local population, although it is not clear from Spanish sources if Maya were living in Chichen Itza or nearby. The relatively high density of population in the region was one of the factors behind the conquistadors' decision to locate a capital there. According to post-Conquest sources, both Spanish and Maya, the Cenote Sagrado, next to which Chitzén Itzá was built, remained a place of pilgrimage.

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The sacred cenote
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This is where mayas were playing the "ball game" which included sacrificing/beheading the losers. You can see on the right and at the bottom the structures where the kings and other nobles were standing, overlooking the field.
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Posted by manolo84 11:02 Archived in Mexico Tagged ruins pyramids mayas Comments (0)

Mérida and the Yucatán


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I feel more and more than it is now getting harder to find time to post articles and pictures in this blog as I am either busy or really tired in the evenings (or sometimes a bit lazy) but here are a few lines which describe my stay in Merida, located in the Yucatán state, still in Mexico.

As I have mentioned in my previous post, the first hours in Merida didn't go that great as my stuff had just been stolen and to be honest it took me a few days to really get over it. So the first days actually were quite chilled out, spending most of my time in the hostel talking with people or wandering through the streets of Merida, trying to look for a replacement camera and laptop.

Mérida, like much of the state, has heavy Mayan, French, British and to a lesser extent Dutch influences. Mérida has the highest percentage of indigenous persons of any large city in Mexico with approximately 60% of all inhabitants being of the Maya ethnicity, according to wikipedia. The city itself is vibrating with life and there are several markets and buildings which are worth a look. I think I still prefer Oaxaca and San Cristobal though, but you can easily spend a few days in this city without being bored.

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Somehow a baby-bat which got itself surprised by the rain or must have fell down from its nest.

The hostel I was staying at, called Nomadas, was a really nice and charming hostel and I have to give praise to the staff and the owner who were really nice and helpful during the week I spent there. I definitely recommend this place if you are planning a trip in Mérida, to enjoy the swimming pool and the hammocks, the free yoga, salsa and cooking classes and all in a very relaxed atmostphere.

Not far from Mérida are several Maya ruins and one of them which I visited is called Uxmal. Probably not the most impressive but the restauration work is quite impressive and a lot of building have now been restaured in their original states.

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The other thing which I discovered in Yucatán are the hundreds of cenotes, scattered all along the coast and in the state. For those who like me, don't know what a cenote is, it is, I quote:

" a deep natural pit, or sinkhole, characteristic of Mexico, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Especially associated with the Yucatán Peninsula and some nearby Caribbean islands, cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings. The term derives from a word used by the low-land Yucatec Maya, "Ts'onot" to refer to any location with accessible groundwater. "
source: wikipedia

Some are really small and look like more to a water well than anything, but some are really spacious with a water so transparent you can hardly distinguish the limit between the water and the walls. It was quite dark when we visited them so I don't have very good pictures but I have added some more from the internet just to give you a rough idea. In most of the cenotes you can actually do snorkelling and for some you can even dive through the endless underwater tunnels.

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Posted by manolo84 14:03 Archived in Mexico Tagged ruins hostels mayas cenotes Comments (2)

Palenque or the Maya ruins paradise


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Next stop after San Cristobal, still in Chiapas, was Palenque, a maya city from the 7th century. Nowadays a modern city has been built next to the ruins so very little interesting things to see there, the main "attraction" being the ruins themselves.

Taking the bus from San Cristobal, you need approximatively 6 hours to reach Palenque and so I arrived there at about 10pm, gave my directions to the taxi driver and 50 pesos and 5 minutes later I was in a hotel right near the ruins, in the middle of the Jungle... The hotel was called El Panchán and had a few cabañas where you could stay for about 150 pesos a night (almost 10 euros). It featured also a nice restaurant which had every night live music and fire shows which were quite nice, especially because as I said before, it was right inside the jungle, with all its sounds. Temperature wise, it was about 30 degres and 86% humidity so basically every small effort you do, you end up sweating a LOT... but you get used to it after a while.

As I mentioned before, I don't have anymore the pictures from that period... so here are a few taken from the internet, jsut to give you a rough idea. Basically I had exactly the same pictures taken but in better of course! :-)

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The next day, I decided to pay a visit to some popular waterfalls around Palenque, especially one wich was supposed to have a really nice blue colour, called Agua Azul. Unfortunately it had rained the day before and it was more "Agua marrón"... but still nice to see:

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Misol-Ha, another waterfall I visited that day:

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Finally, the following day, before taking the night bus to my next destination, Merida, I took a tour to visit the most amazing and most impressive Maya ruins I have seen so far: Yaxchilan. In order to go there, you need to take a bus from Palenque for about 2-3 hours (it means to leave at 6am.. ouch!) then a boat for about an hour and you then reach the ruins of Yaxchilan, completely isolated in the Jungle, at the border between Guatemala and Mexico. To be honest I am so guted I have lost all the pictures and videos I took that day because they were so good... but anyway, we were in the middle of the Jungle, surrounded by monkeys everywhere (especially the howl-monkey, which is a tiny one but has a huge scream, surely to impress the other animals), and I even saw some tarentulas and other weird insects (without forgetting the f****** mosquitos which even managed to bite me through my trousers!). You could climb and go inside the buildings without problems and to be honest I could have definitely spent more than a few hours, just trying to get the mayan feeling...

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Finally we stopped on the way back to Bonampak, some more ruins which had some very well preserved murals.

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Posted by manolo84 22:48 Archived in Mexico Tagged waterfalls ruins mayas Comments (1)

Oaxaca and Hostal Casa Angel

What a week!


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Next stage in the trip was Oaxaca de Juarez, a nice city located in the south of mexico, in the state of Oaxaca. Once again, this was a 4.5 hours trip journey by bus from Puebla. Arriving in the hostel Casa Angel, I could already seen some familiar faces seen previously in Puebla. I think pretty much all backpackers follow a "recommended" route and by booking hostels via the famous websites such as www.hostelworld.com, people end up in the same ones most of the time.

So far Casa Angel is the nicest hostel I have stayed in, not only because of the hostel itself which is great, but also for the atmosphere. Everyone spends time in the common area and it's not rare to share dinners all together, which is quite nice.

One could easily stay a few weeks in Oaxaca without being bored as there are so many things to see and explore. Besides for those who like the Mexican food, Oaxaca is a little paradise with all the different markets and restaurants, offering traditional dishes.

Here are a few things that I have experienced:

Hierve el Agua

Don't pay attention to my face, I had the sun right in front of me so it looks like I just woke up... :)

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Mezcal

The Mezcal is one of the most famous and most appreciated alcohol in Mexico. You actually drink it a bit like we would drink Tequila in France, in shots with a bit of salt and lime. With a few people we wanted to know more and went to see how Mexican used to make Mezcal, in a traditional Mezcaleria. With the heat and the different bottles we tried, I think pretty much everyone ended up quite drunk that afternoon!

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The little grasshopers you are supposed to eat after a shot of Mezcal... Hum, you'd be better to close your eyes and not to look too close...
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Another one? Of course!

The Tule tree

Supposedly the largest tree in Latin America, quite impressive. That tree is in the village of Tule, about 10 minutes drive from Oaxaca.

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Monte Albán

This was one of the best site I have visited so far. Monte Alban was a city built by the Zapotecs a few thousands of years ago. Work is still in progress to excavate and restore some of the monuments but you can almost go everywhere on this site. The pyramids are not as impressive as the ones of Teotihuacan (see previous post) because they are not tall but the overall feeling is more majestic if I can say. All the different temples are closer from each other and the whole site is covered with grass, surrounded by trees and on the top of a small mountain. It is actually easy to take a moment and try to imagine the city like it was two thousands of years ago, with all the activity and its 26000 inhabitants. As usual, pictures talk more than words so here are a few pictures I have taken that day, and more are in the gallery section.

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Ixtlán

Here we are, my first hike of this round the world trip! Well we actually spent more time in the transports than hiking but it was quite nice nevertheless, to spend about 2 hours climbing up and down the mountain overlooking the village of Ixtlán in the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca.
There were a couple of 2-3 days hikes available in the area as well but all were requiring a local guide and were a bit pricey. Besides I think there will be more opportunities to hike as I am going down to the Chiapas (southern state of Mexico) or in Guatemala later on.

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Finally, I would like to do a big hug to all the Casa Angel team: Clinton, Paula, Kenneth, Marc, Hini, Ellen, Elo, Ray, Zach with whom we have shared some very nice moments during these 5-6 days. Take care guys and maybe see you soon!

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Posted by manolo84 12:50 Archived in Mexico Tagged trees cities ruins hostels alcohol Comments (3)

On my way to Puebla

sunny 28 °C
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As I said before, after spending a bit of time in Mexico City, time had come to start going south and my first stop was Puebla, a old spanish colonial city located about 2 hours drive south of Mexico City.

The best way to travel through Mexico is by bus (there are no trains or very few I have been told) and the bus network is apparently very good. A one-way ticket to Puebla costs about 140 pesos for a 2 hours journey (about 7£) in a fist class bus, which involves a large bus with air conditioned, movies on board, ticket for your backpack wich goes in the bus (for more security), security checks to make sure no one is carrying any weapons, and someone takes a photo of all the passengers before the journey (not sure why to be honest..). For longer journeys, toilets are also available in the bus. Ok, you will tell me "hey that's not really travelling like Indiana Jones!", but for that price, well Indiana Jones will wait. I'm sure there will be plenty of occasions later on when I will regret not having toilets onboard so for this time it's ok... :)

Puebla is quite small compared to Mexico City (well every city is small compared to Mexico City...). From Wikipedia, the city was founded in 1531 in an area called Cuetlaxcoapan, which means "where serpents change their skin", in between of two of the main indigenous settlements at the time, Tlaxcala and Cholula. This valley was not populated in the 16th century as in the pre-Hispanic period. Due to its history and architectural styles ranging from Renaissance to Mexican Baroque, the city was named a World Heritage Site in 1987. The city is also famous for mole poblano, chiles en nogada and Talavera pottery. The cathedral is worth having a look, as well as all the little streets with houses from every colours.

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30 min away from Puebla is Cholula, another city which hosts the largest uncovered pyramid in the world, also known as Tlachihualtepetl (Nahuatl for "artificial mountain"), which is a huge complex. It is the largest archaeological site of a pyramid (temple) in the New World. The pyramid stands 55 metres above the surrounding plain and in its final form it measured 400 by 400 metres. The pyramid is a temple that has traditionally been viewed as having been dedicated to the god Quetzalcoatl and apparently the architectural style of the building was closely linked to Teotihuacan.

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Posted by manolo84 17:10 Archived in Mexico Tagged ruins pyramids mayas Comments (3)

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