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Seasquirt

The adventures of Fe & Chris

Archive for October 7, 2007

Sad news

Before we get back to the frivolous stories of our travels, I would just like to acknowledge the sad news that my friend Patsy from Oxford died last week. She was a wonderful person and I will miss her a lot - Oxford won´t be the same without her.

Horses, home-made fireworks and the Catholic church

We had a lovely day today. We went to the village of San Juan Chamula on horses. Initially we thought our steeds to be lovers as they were utterly inseparable (we found out later they were mother and son - oops!).

We plodded along roads, tracks and paths, through forest and farmland, happy in the knowledge that we were in absolutely no control of our beasts - they just did what they wanted and knew mostly where to go. Mine had a slightly erratic start by electing to go 90° to all the other horses; of course Fiona´s followed.

The village was the most amazing place; it was like we had been transported into another world. All the men and women were dressed up in fluffy soft-toy fabric. The prominent feature of the massive central square was the Catholic church.

Being Sunday there was a buzz of activity in and around it. We had arrived just before the main event - lots of people were crammed inside the pewless church variously sitting on the pine-needle carpeted floor, or standing quietly. Others stood chatting or randomly strummed or thumped instruments. Incense and burning pine wood filled the air and the tables at the sides of the church were covered in hundreds of candles. A semblance of proceedings started to assemble itself so we retreated back to the square before we were kicked out.

Back in the square I went to the loo. It was the strangest of urinating experiences. I peed into a ankle high square trough shoulder to shoulder with other fluffy bodied, sombrero wearing men, all crammed in doing the same thing.

People crammed into the church until they exploded out like a bottle of fizzy pop. They proceeded to parade around the square on a carpet of pine needles (poor trees - the catholic church has a lot to answer for). There was lots more incense waving and small pyre being walked around. Completely random musicians played jazz like music that seemed utterly unsuited to the occasion. Women carried odd looking effigies of women on chairs that I couldn´t identify.

Meanwhile, the in the middle of the square thousands of home made fireworks and bangers were being set off. With all the smoke from the pyres and incense, coupled with the banging it was rather more like a war zone than a religious ceremony and was without doubt one of the highlights of our travels.

On our return journey I formed a strong bond with my horse. I had command over its direction and speed, within certain tolerances, and we led the pack for quite a way. Fiona´s bottom was suffering slightly so I got shouted at when I encouraged my steed to accelerate - hers always followed suit. Ouch.

Fiona is sitting next to me in moderate agony. My finely toned buttocks are fine.

Where´s me jumper?

In keeping with our alternate day visits to Mayan ruins we visited the site of Palenque - this is probably one of the best ruins we have been too - it is surrounded by jungle and unlike all the huge towering temple of Tikal and others, there was more evidence of places where people actually lived - it seemed easier to imagine it as a city. There was also a lot of it that as yet has not been reconstructed and so more easily meets the vision of what you might imagine as ruins as the moss covered stones blend in with the trees that have grown through the buildings. All very pretty.

After a disappointing night in the town of Palenque, we decided to catch the next bus out of town and head for San Cristobal de Las Casas, 5 hours away. Luckily chicken buses have been replaced by posh coaches in Mexico and we were treated to the most comfortable seats we have had for the past four months, they were reclining and everything. The air conditioning was a pleasant relief from the heat of Palenque, although after a couple of hours, we began to get a bit chilly and were looking forward to the warmth that would hit as we stepped off the bus at our destination. We somewhat surprised when we arrived to find little difference in temperature between the bus and the evening air (which was possibly slightly colder) - at an altitude of 2140m San Cristobal is actually rather cold at night and in the mornings (although still hot when the sun appears). Luckily the walk with our big bags in search of a hotel warmed us up.

San Cristobal has turned out to be a lovely place - its centre consists of colonial spanish buildings which are very pretty and it has a very European, coffee culture feel - very relaxing, until you get hassled by small children selling pottery animals that is. We are also treating ourselves to a rather posh hotel (although it´s still only 11 pounds a night). Lovely.

Places we don´t like in Central America

At our last stop in Belize we met an American chap who was amused to listen to Fiona´s positive reviews of all the places we have visited. He exclaimed “Oh come on! There must be somewhere you didn´t like!”, so in response here is a list of the worst places we have visted:

  • The Mexican/Guatemalan border near Tapachula - rather like a James Bond arms bazaar.
  • Lake Yojoa, Honduras - not all it´s cracked up to be. Impossible to explore without a vehicle. D&D´s gave us D&V.
  • San Pedro Sula, Honduras - a big horrible city.
  • Palenque (the town, not ruins), Mexico - a small town with no redeeming features.
  • Santa Elaena, Guatemala - A terrible place. Kids threw soil at us. Little sh*ts.
  • Puerto Cortes, Honduras - nothing to detain the tourist and unreliable/unsafe boat services to Belize (Puerto Barrios/Livingston is a much better route). It´s only redeeming feature is a cinema.

Curiously there was nowhere in Belize we didn´t like. It´s a lovely country. We didn´t spend any time in Belize City, but from the bus it didn´t look too bad at all.

The final frontier…

Our journey between Flores in Guatemala and Palenque in Mexico was well researched. Several of our Guatemalan border crossings had been a little bit fraught so we were keen to find the easiest option. A travel agent in Flores was offering cross border bus-boat-bus tickets but is notoriously unreliable so we reluctantly opted for the chicken bus.

The journey took just over four hours to the tiny Guatemalan village of La Tecnica. Whilst en route it seemed the entire population of one village boarded the bus. The Guatemalan border post was in the middle of nowhere and amazingly there was none of the usual people trying to rip us off. Except for the border guard himself, who successfully ripped us off to the tune of 20 Quetzals each (They do have you rather over a barrel. Sods.).

The bus dropped us right at the river bank where a long wooden boat happily took us across the river to Mexico. We wanted to get a bus to Palenque so we intimated this to the small number of taxi drivers lurking around. One of them took us to a minibus and agreed to convey us to our destination for a reasonable price. We´d heard strange stories about the immigration office here, but our bus man pointed us in the right direction and it turned out to be easy to find, quick, efficient and didn´t even try to exort money from us.

All in all this was probably our easiest land border crossing yet despite all our apprehension and with some relief, I have to say, our last.

We now seem to have left the land of chicken buses and are disappointed to report that on all our chicken bus journeys, we have not seen a single chicken on the bus (though other travellers we´ve met have, so the name remains justified).