The musings and misadventures of a girl unprepared

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Camping in The Clouds

I survived my first journey as a lone traveller safe and sound, and arrived in San Cristobal after a very uneventful night bus from Oaxaca. Saying farewell to Greg proved harder than I thought it would, not only because we'd got on so well and had such a great trip, but also because he was my last piece of England out here; the last piece of England that I am going to see for at least six months. So I got a little teary and he got a little awkward, but all in all I think I kept it together pretty well until I got onto the bus and could bury my face in my double chocolate chip cookie. Never down play the benefits of comfort eating.

In San Cristobal, however, I was quickly comforted as I was met by the beautiful chica, Adriana, one of my closest friends from my first term of university who I haven't seen since she returned home from her exchange last January. In true Em style, I was rather animated about the ordeal and was so, so excited to catch up on all the gossip of the past year and a half. I've said it before, but finding little pieces of home away from home all over the world really is one of the joys of traveling. For me, home isn't necessarily a fixed place, but instead it's a feeling you find inside any person you love and feel comfortable with. It's those little perks that make these adventures so addictive.

Adriana took this just after I arrived.

I stayed just one night at Adriana's house before we set off for the jungle the next day. Adriana and Manu (her boyfriend) had picked a place for us to camp in the heart of the jungle called Las Nubes, which required around four and a half hours in various modes of transport to get there. In the morning Adriana and I had been teaching an English class in a rural community about a hour and a half drive form the city, which meant we were in a bit of a rush, and by the time we'd finished a quick lunch of roast chicken (priorities!) we were already setting off pretty late. It turns out this would then cause the start of our adventure to begin long before we arrived at our destination campsite.

We were about 10km when we arrived in a rural community near Las Nubes in the dark, with little money and no means to get to our destination due to the only connecting bridge being under construction. We had been kicked off the bus by the driver who told us that 'el puente' (the bridge), wasn't far away. LIES. We ended up having to negotiate with a family of locals, who tried to extort us for all we were worth for a lift either to Las Nubes or the bridge. We even debated staying in a room that they offered to rent us for the night, but in the end, due to a combination of mistrust and Manu's expertise on all things nature related, we decided to risk getting a lift to the bridge, camp out there for the night and carry on the next day. So we jumped in the back of the 'helpful' family's pick up truck (for the fee of 100 pesos) and were off.

Although by this point I was exhausted, rather scared and pissed at the situation, there is still very little that compares to the feeling of riding in the back of a pick-up truck after a long day, the warm rainforest air suddenly de-sticking your sweaty clothes from your back and making you feel alive again. Just don't open your mouth... I learned that the hard way.

We spent the night by the river, the extremes of the intense humidity and pounding rain each preventing the other from driving me completely insane. I've come to find that Mexico is a very extreme kind of place in many aspects, be it the weather or the people. It's taking a little getting used to.

Everything seems so much less sinister in the light. Turns out our camping spot was pretty beautiful once the sun rose.

The next morning we got ready pretty sharpish as the night watchman of the bridge has offered to give us a ride to Las Nubes when his shift finished in the early hours. So another pick-up truck ride and a short walk later, we arrived, tired and drenched in sweat, but (for me, at least) utterly relieved. It's not that I didn't enjoy our first night camping, it was just nice to finally feel safe again and I think the feelings of uncertainty are always perpetuated in an unfamiliar setting (such as being in another continent, on the other side of the world, in the jungle...)

Staying in Las Nubes was a really relaxing time. We swam and slept and explored and I had a lot of time for writing which is always lovely. We ate fresh mangos from the trees (Adriana told me that mangos here are like a religion; I'm totally converted) and bought beans from a little old lady down the road who thought we were nuts for coming out here with so little money and food, and at night time I lay in a sea of fireflies staring at the clearst sky I've seen in a very long time. I think it's all too easy to forget how breath-taking the stars can be.

There wasn't much space for swimming because the current was so strong and the rapids were crazy, so we made the most of a little area by the campsite which was sheltered by trees. It was pretty incredible to have the place to ourselves.

I can't tell you how happy I am that we had Manu as a guide through the woods, because there is no way we would have been able to find our way in and out alone!

Yes mum, I actually cooked! The guys at the campsite were really confused when we turned down food because we has our own and asked if we were vegetarians... We obviously looked like the crazy hippy traveler types.

Las Nubes is famous for it's waterfalls, and there is no debate as to why. Walking through the forest alongside the river, you can see exactly just how dramatic these falls are, with huge rapids and twenty foot drops appearing almost from no where, weaving in and out of a valley carved through the dense greenary. There's a walk of just less than a kilometer that you can take up to a mirador (look-out point), from which you can see just how vast these rapid and waterfalls become once they escape the forest.

View from our campsite.

 From on top of the mirador. As always things never look quite as good in pictures, but man it was stunning.

Our third adventure of our three day trip began when the time finally came to go home. Unfortunately we'd severely underestimated the amount of money we'd need to get back and I'd some how managed to lose 100 pesos, meaning that we had to walk much of the 6km walk back to the bridge. On an average day 6km would be nothing to me, but with all the camping gear, lack of food/water and the serious heat, it was proving a bit more of a challenge. Luckily, a family on their way to the next town picked us up and took us most of the way, and in that moment I've never wanted to hug someone so much. So after trundling along in a car with seven people, but built for five, that had almost no windows or seatbelts (pretty much no-one uses seat belts here) and a short walk and another combi ride, we reached the bridge, to catch another combi to Comitan (about three hours away), where we caught our final hour long combi ride back to San Cris. Journey's like this are really common out here and I actually quite enjoy the fact that no-one really seems to be in a rush to get anywhere. It's qutie refreshing to take the pace down a few pegs from London.

So we made it home, safe and sound. I showered, we ate some delicious quesadillas at a really cool place down the road and then slept for about a bazillion hours. And aside from the GIANORMOUS bug bites I'd received, we'd done it all pretty much unscathed too.

I'm not sure how well you can make that out, but that bite was basically the size of my entire thigh (bigger than my hand). We spectulated a lot, possibly a spider or a really nasty ant, but basically, I'm just very allergic to tropical bugs.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Oaxaca, Oaxaca

This blog post is named in honour of the man who roamed around the city playing his guitar singing his own song called, 'Oaxaca, Oaxaca', whilst trying to sell his CD. I wish to commemorate his efforts and determination, due to the fact that the song contained only one repeated chord and only one phrase, which was indeed, 'Oaxaca, Oaxaca'. Bless him.

I'm aware that it has been a little while since I last wrote. Since my last detailed post, Greg and I have parted ways (sad face) and I have been living in and exploring San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. It's been a rather crazy week and a bit and there's still a bit left to tell from Oaxaca, so there's going to be a fair amount of writing coming your way in the next few days.

After a few days in Oaxaca, it became clear to Greg and I that due to Greg's flight in Cancún, it wouldn't be possible for us to stick to our original plan, so as I posted at the time, we decided to stay an extra few days in Oaxaca before parting ways. We decided, therefore, to visit some of the touristy sights ourselves without taking a tour (as we originally intended), simply because we share the opinion that you get a much better experience that way, plus you can take as long as you want and it generally ends up costing less.

After Monte Albán we decided to visit a big tree in a place called Tule that we'd heard a lot of people talking about. Now I'm aware that doesn't sound terribly exciting and in all honesty, it wasn't, but considering it cost us very little for transport and entry (entrance was 50p, so really we couldn't complain) and it could potentially be the oldest known tree in the world, I didn't feel too disappointed. I mean, although it was just a tree, it was a really flipping impressive tree. We also had fun reading the translations of ' Está prohibido cortar las ramas del árbol' (it's forbidden to cut the branches of the tree) written around the tree in French 'Il est interdit de couper les', English 'Forbidden, branches of thee tree', and what we could only guess was meant to be Japanese.

Árbol del Tule

Our next trip was supposed to be to 'Hierve el Agua' which literally means, 'the water boils', ironic considering their also known as 'the frozen waterfalls'. However, the night before Greg and a friend Dave who we met in our hostel dorm, decided to try and determine who was the most hardened drinker over a few games of cards, and Greg ended up consuming so much tequila that the sheer idea of movement made him want to be sick, so he gave me his blessing to head off with Dave, whilst he stayed in bed. We had quite the adventure to get there, as we had to take a shared taxi for the first half of the journey, which involved me sitting on Dave's knee in the front seat of a taxi without a back or passenger seat window, and then changing in the the town Mitlan (about an hour later) to the back of the pick up truck for the next hour or so. All of which are completely legal in Mexico?!

All the safety...

It turns out that the falls are actually formed by natural gisers of water flowing over the mountain sides for centuries, which have hardened into some kind of rock formation (I'm not much of a geography student!) and due to all the different shades and colours of the mierals, it looks like frozen waterfalls. On the top of the waterfalls, the gisers have formed natural infinity pools, which are pretty darn cold, but provide an amazing view of the surrounding mountain ranges and greenery. In short, it's an absolutely stunning place.

In this picture, I'm swimming in the infinity pool on top of the 'waterfall' in the next picture.

View from the facing waterfall.

The whole area is situated in a huge mountain range. You could literally see for miles and it was a bloody long way down.

When we eventually managed to tear ourselves away, we discovered that we had to head back via a different route. Basically, the two villages next to Hierve el Agua have had some kind of fall out, which meant that the residents from each can't pass through the other one, even when driving tourists through. So instead of taking a much more direct route back, we had to take a windy road over a huge mountain, still in the back of a pick up truck. Scenic, yes, but potentially life threatening as well.

Quite possibly the most Mexican picture I've ever taken. All that's missing is their owner in a sombero, who I just missed out of the shot. Hanging on for dear life and photography are two difficult skills to combine.

We intended to spend our last day simply chilling out, watching some football and eating lots of Mole, however as things tend to go with me, we weren't quite able to stick to the plan. It turns out that when we crossed the border at Tijuana, we were supposed to receive tourist papers, that in order to legally be in the country, we were supposed to carry with us at all times, which we weren't given. Not only that, but the woman didn't even check our passports, so we had no stamps, thus no evidence to prove when exactly we had entered the country. Greg had been briefly checking out some stuff for his flight when all this information came to light, and we figured that we better take a trip to the immagration office, because we were basically illegal immigrants. Seriously, how does one accidentally enter into a country illegally, that is free to enter and not realise for nearly a month? 

Anyway it turned out we didn't really have much to worry about, because Mexicans being Mexicans, although a little confused at how we'd managed to get ourselves into such a ridiculous situation, were really chill about the whole thing and gave us information on what to do. And although I am yet to cross the border at Guatemala and return to Mexico to get some proper documentation, Greg has already made it home fine and dandy, so thank goodness for that! I'll hopefully be getting around to sorting out my stuff at some point this week, I'll just have to try my best not to get arrested between now and then, because deportation a month before I begin my studies would be rather inconvenient.