Much More to Oaxaca

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From the alter towards the door of Santo Domingo Cathedral

In my first post on Oaxaca, I was enamored of my little (teeny, tiny) piece of Oaxaca, the two or three blocks around my digs at the Hotel Nacional. I had visited the Zocalo, the central plaza, and hadn’t been very impressed so I didn’t intend to do much more exploring.

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The ceiling of the entry to the cathedral

Thank goodness, a sense of obligation took over and on this past Saturday I walked the nine blocks to the Santo Domingo Cathedral. It would have been such a shame if I’d missed it.

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The exterior of the cathedral

Not only was this church the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, but there was a wedding going on and I got to slip in and watch part of it. So, with a teary eye, I took in the full glory of this ornate treasure. There was so much to look at that I quickly felt overwhelmed.

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The streets around the cathedral are beautifully decorated.

En route, I also discovered the real center of Oaxaca, the three or four block radius of streets surrounding the incredible cathedral. They are clean, wonderfully decorated with color-splashed walls and artwork, blocked off cobblestone streets with huge planters of bright flowers. This is definitely the upscale part of town.

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Colonial architecture still dominates the center of town.

I can honestly say that although this is an area I’d visit once a week or so if I was staying here permanently, but I’d rather live in the area around the Mercados. I’m so in love with the energy of them and the people who do business within. You can quickly make true friends, if you so desire. One woman who runs a stall with stuff you’d find at 7-11 in the States (I bought my bottled water there), smiled and giggled when I complemented her new haircut. The next day, she was happy to see me, and I her.

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Eva and Pedro from the Hotel Nacional

I’m on my way to Guadalajara today. In fact, I’m writing this in the Oaxaca airport as I wait for my check-in time. But I plan on returning someday. It’s not much of a secret, but I really, really love Mexico so far.

Adios, Oaxaca, for now.

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Street market next to the cathedral

The Surprises of Oaxaca

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The humble but my happy spot – Hotel Nacional

I took a luxurious bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca last week for $35 and fell asleep for at least four hours of the six-hour ride. As some of you will recall, last year I took two Greyhound Bus rides in the US and these buses are hands down FAR SUPERIOR to those experiences. Greyhound was cramped, smelly and didn’t have good bathrooms, if you even had a bathroom. These “autobuses” have seats that lay back a good 12 inches and loads of legroom. I highly recommended the ADO bus company.

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My writing space at Hotel Nacional

Today is my sixth day in Oaxaca and I really got lucky with my hotel. It’s around $20 a night after taxes; a private room with great Wifi, Cable TV (English-speaking channels, too) and a private bath. Perhaps the best thing about the Hotel Nacional is that is located directly across the street from the Mercado 20 de Noviembre and half a block from the Mercado Benito Juarez.

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Mercado 20 de Noviembre

Mercado 20 de Noviembre is fabulous place to get “fast food”, meaning that you don’t have to wait long for anything you order. There is an amazing array of choices in this food court that spans most of a city block, with shops all around it’s edges. It’s very, very clean and inviting, with long counters for each restaurant and wonderful smells. Even as a vegan, I have managed to find a few favorites here. I absolutely love the huge fresh cups of hot chocolate (your choice if it’s made with milk or water) and sweet roll you can get for $1 any time of the day, but it’s a breakfast choice here.

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No handles on these hot chocolate cups – you pick up and sip like from a miso bowl.

Mercado Benito Juarez is a huge market similar to that I visited in Chiang Mai, except for cleaner, and I find I love to stroll through it. There are surprises around every corner, like two days ago, when I discover the meat market with the offerings of tripe and whole chicken (looking just like those plastic joke toys) with their naked legs sticking stiffly up or out. Some of the leather work here is enough to tempt me, except that I really don’t need anything. However, I’ll probably breakdown and buy some earrings, my souvenir of choice.

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One of the quirky little stalls at Mercado Benito Juarez

I did take a stroll over to the Zocalo (city plaza) and, after the fabulous ones in Mexico City, Granada and Antigua, found myself a bit disappointed. It wasn’t horrible or anything, just “meh.” Here the grandstand had a big graffiti scar scribbled across it. In fact, on the bus ride into Oaxaca, I saw so much graffiti for several miles, that I found myself feeling anxious. I’m fairly fearless, but graffiti (non-artistic) always puts the hairs up on the back of my neck.

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The zocalo’s church.

 

So, I found myself surprised by the graffiti, the blandness of the zocalo and the wonderful chance of landing in just the right hotel. The people of Oaxaca are engaging and mostly willing to put up with a clueless gringa – which has been another unexpected blessing.

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The grasshopper challenge!

Also, I guess I should mention that I astonished myself with a desire to cross “eating a bug” off my bucket list while here. Dried grasshoppers (chapulines) are sold in big baskets here, but I bought the smallest batch I could find for $.50 and ate one with lime on it. Tasted like a nut. Scratch on off the list!

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One of the many balloon vendors at the Zocalo

I have much more to see of this town, and plan on an excursion to the big cathedral and a couple of museums tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

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A basket stall outside the Mercado Benito Juarez

Mexico – A Great Start

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The Pyramid of The Moon in the background.

I’ve just left Mexico City; where I made new friends, was stunned by the sophistication and beauty of its historical center, spent a day touring by bus and another in the ruins of the Teotihuacan pyramids an hour outside the city.

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My kindred spirit – Beth – who made my day truly special

I covered a lot of ground during the five days of my stay, so hang on for a long one! I’m not even counting day one, since all I did was land and eat dinner (for 80 cents – remarkable itself).

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Beth is led to our table at La Gruta

Day Two – I headed for the pyramids, by way of a tourist bus that goes right out that way. The bus ride was a boon for me because I met Beth, from Cincinnati – also a solitary woman traveler although married – and we really hit it off. So, I had company in my exploration of the pyramids. The grounds were huge, and I must confess I didn’t get as far as I would have liked. Luckily, I had my new friend with me because I truly struggled. I even went down one set of stairs on my butt – intentionally – as they were steep with nothing to hang onto. But it was all worth it and we rewarded ourselves with a fabulous lunch at La Gruta (The Grotto) – an amazing restaurant inside a huge cavern. Just breathtaking.

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The cathedral from the ruins.

Day Three – Moved to a hostel two blocks from the historical center’s Zocalo Plaza – and easy walking to the Palacio Nacional, Templo Mayor and the Metropolitan Cathedral. I just strolled around the area – still exhausted from my pyramid excursion.

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Diego Rivera murals in the National Palace.

Day Four – I revisited the Centro Historico beginning with the Palace, which contains wonderful murals by Diego Rivera amid a mix of ornate and simple architectural touches comprising an enormous area – three city blocks. The grounds include several areas to sit and contemplate among flora and modern art.

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The Aztec ruins in the historical district.

Templo Mayor, an Aztec temple to mark the center of the universe, has been built over seven times and finally excavated and preserved right in the heart of the city. It can be partially viewed from the street level, but to fully experience the wonder of an archaeological site of this importance buried beneath a colonial city, I paid the $2.50 to get in and walk the “streets” and visit the 8-story museum with its many artifacts.

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One side of the cathedral – not the main entrance.

The cathedral is overwhelming in its sheer size. Each side is so lavish that it seems to be the front until you arrive at the entrance, which left me speechless for several moments. Inside a service was taking place so I cut my time short inside.

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Zocalo Plaza

I had lunch atop one of the buildings overlooking Zocalo, then trundled back to the hostel.

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University grounds

Day 5 – I topped off my visit to Cuidad de Mexico with a Turibus ride through two of their routes, which took 8 hours. I really enjoyed the double-decker treat, but missed out on Frida Kahlo’s house due to protests blocking streets. Apparently street protests are a very frequent occurrence in the capital.

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One of the Art Deco buildings from the Condessa neighborhood.

I saw so much of the city I became enamored of it. This is an extremely livable city with great transportation, hip neighborhoods like the Condessa district, and tremendous parks, arts and entertainment opportunities. I would love to return someday, maybe several times.

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Clara & Pedro – from Argentina!

One big plus to my Turibus adventure was meeting Clara and Pedro from Argentina, two lovely young sweethearts who were so generous with their conversation! I may make it to their place for barbeque someday!

Now, I’m in Oaxaca – just settling in but plan to stay awhile. More from the road soon!

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From the business district

Last Post from Guatemala

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Lake Atitlan from Nick’s Cafe

I’m currently in Guatemala City, but I leave tomorrow for Costa Rica, where I will fly out on Wednesday for the United States.

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Nick’s has primo lakeside views!

Just before I left Panajachel, I rode the ferry across Lake Atitlan to San Pedro, another little village beside the lake. I got some great street pictures, enjoyed myself sitting in a restaurant overlooking the lake and talking to a couple of young men from Mexico. I amazed myself in that I could actually have a conversation with them – almost entirely in Spanish. Yay!

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Love this one with mt beloved tuk tuks AND a chicken bus!

The boat ride back to Pana was one hell of an experience. The lake was choppy due to mild winds and apparently, you go the same speed regardless of conditions. We were thawping along (thawping is that terrible sound the boat makes as it slams down on the water from the air) and I was holding on for dear life and targeting the life jacket I would grab when we flipped over.

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Not sure of the name of this pretty little church.

 

Mind you I am not a scaredy-cat in a boat, but I have taken boat safety classes and this was ridiculous. Finally, the pilot hit one big ass wave and I screamed “Slow down.” He didn’t and all the other passengers scooted away from me. In that moment, I counted the possible casualties in the event our boat did flip – 16. There was nothing more I could do, so I pulled the life vest from its overhead position, and settled in for the remainder of the ride. We made it.

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When a clothesline is scenery!

Two days later, I headed to Guatemala City by shuttle. Nothing to report other than my newfound respect for dead sardines. Are we sure they are dead when they’re packed? Just saying.

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Lounge area at Euro Hostel in GC

Last night I arrived at the cool little hotel in the pictures. Nice room, great patio and lounge areas and all for less than $20 a night. I spent most of the day trying to recapture sleep from the night before when I managed all of an hour. I get a bit hyper when I’m traveling the next day.

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This hotel is full of cute little decor.

So – I just wanted to check in before I’m back in the States for Christmas. Hope this finds you all well and ready for the holidays.

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A typical San Pedro street.

Chichicastenango from Above

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I walked through this to get to the cafe.

This first picture will tell you why all the pictures are all from above this busy and famous marketplace. Chichicastenango is the name of the town, but it is synonymous with the weekly market – which takes place every Sunday. There is an amazing array of textiles offered and in another area the usual offerings of a farmer’s market.

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Traffic wasn’t so bad on the side streets.

I wasn’t feeling very well that day, but it’s also true that I get anxious in crowds and this trip finally decided me that I really don’t enjoy marketplaces – I’m not a shopper either. crowds. So, I’ll probably avoid them in the future.

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I loved this apartment.

HOWEVER many people just love this kind of thing and Chichicastenango would make them very happy, especially since prices are highly negotiable. All it takes is a wry look to get a 30-50% reduction.

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Look at that face! Trying not to be sick.

So, I settled myself into a café above the fray and watched. Got a couple of cool picture, though.

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New Ideas Come Along!

bike-camperFor a couple of weeks now, as I have recuperated from a really bad chest cold, I’ve been stagnating mentally and physically. Over time I’ve come to realize when this happens to me it’s because I’m in a cocoon of sorts and will eventually emerge with some new and exciting direction.

That’s exactly what has happened. Things tend to float around in my brain for a while and then suddenly attach to each other in the most extraordinary ways: things that bother me (not being able to afford living and traveling around the US even for a visit), wanting to get in shape (but hating all the regular ways people do that) and in this case, meeting a couple of people in Nicaragua and Guatemala who have taken extended road trips via their bicycles.

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Caterine from Quebec, Canada, biking from Canada to Granada, Nicaragua, southward through the States, Mexico and Guatemala. I don’t know her exact age but she’s definitely under 30 and she did this solo. Then in Guatemala City I met Kirk, a gentleman of about my age, who has also biked through Mexico, after beginning in Florida, and then down to where I met him. He’s a biking enthusiast, and a solo traveler.

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Before this, and I believe while in the States, I saw a spot on TV about a guy who had made himself a bicycle camper out of discarded campaign signs. Putting these three things together with the problems of expenses in the US and fitness – Viola! I woke up this morning with a new wing of my adventures that I intend to try out in 2017!

I’m going to build my own “trailer”, as much for cost reduction as a desire to customize it for my own needs, and the bike will be a major expense, so I’m going to take off for one more trip overseas first – I think to Mexico. Then I’ll return, put all the pieces together, and ride my bike from Phoenix to Sacramento, California (to visit my mom) for my inaugural trip!

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To some this will seem like a distraction, but it’s not. It solves two recurring problems in my life – being able to be in the US without going broke, and getting into seriously good shape. Now, with that plan intact, I can move on to my travels and truly enjoy.

bike-boatI’ll keep you posted on the progress of this plan and in the meantime, I’ve included a few pictures to inspire you, plus here’s a link to a cute little video

 

The Mystical Pueblo of San Marcos La Laguna

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The dock at Pana and the “ferries.”

When you ask Guatemalan locals to describe the little lakeside village of San Marcos, they all stumble over their words – hippies, yoga, weirdos, etc. The tiny town – with a population of about 2,200 – strives for a feel that can only be called mystical. It is decorated with colorful murals along its short promenade up from the ferry dock, many with spiritual themes and you do pass wellness centers, health food stores, massage centers and vegetarian restaurants. She certainly exudes tranquility.

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A shot of the crowded “ferry”.

Lake Atitlan has several small villages and towns, and San Marcos is one of the “must see” destinations everyone points tourists to. I’m glad I took the ferry, $3.35 each way, across the magnificent Lake Atitlan, with its three volcanos looming over the crater lake, still puffing at times.

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Just one of the many beautiful homes that line the lake.

I enjoy being on the water and would just go down and ride around happily, but stopping for lunch and a quick tour of San Marcos added to the boat ride. We passengers were tightly packed on the way over but could stretch out a bit on the return trip, and about ½ were indigenous women dressed in their beautiful native clothing. The woven skirts sport every color imaginable and the blouses are decorated with intricate embroidery.

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The lakeside restaurant where I had my choice of seats!

We made several stops to load and unload passengers at other small villages and private docks before we stopped at San Marcos, so when we finally arrived it was to an inviting dockside restaurant, so, of course, I had lunch looking out over the water.

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One of so many lovely murals in the village.

Next, it was time for a stroll through the passage to town, with a few vendors along the way, so I browsed among the jewelry but got away without dropping any more money on souvenirs – quite a feat.

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There were several mandala type designs along the walkway.

At the top of the gently sloping hill, you get to the actual town, which isn’t much to look at, so I hailed a tuk tuk and toured the local offerings – it took 5 minutes to get to the very top of the town and look down at the lake.

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My tuk tuk driver – Jose.

There honestly isn’t much to the village of San Marcos, but it is a pleasant couple of hours to trip over, eat and wander through town for a bit. Highly recommended for travelers with time to spend this way.

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I love this picture! One of the volcanoes huffing in the background.