Orizaba

If you read my post on Catemaco then you will know that leaving there we had a small problem with our onward travel plans. The station there was quite small and we had very limited options of onward buses. So we had decided to return to Veracruz where we knew they had a large station with heaps of bus options.

After arriving back in Veracruz we surveyed the bus timetable and decided to change our travel plan to the border to go through Oaxaca. At that time of the afternoon we couldn’t get a bus all the way to Oaxaca as it would arrive in the early hours of the morning which we wanted to avoid. Instead we took a shorter bus to a town called Orizaba which sits in a valley overlooked by the tallest mountain/volcano in Mexico. Sounds pretty right?

In the bus station of Veracruz we even had time to use the internet to look at Google maps for Orizaba as well as some quick accommodation research. With a definite plan we were feeling a lot more relaxed and happily hopped on the bus. For some reason this bus didn’t agree with me and I was travel sick for the first time is ages. I’d been doing so well with the buses until here.

Zocalo

Zocalo

Continue reading

Catemaco

Arriving by bus to San Andres Tuxtla we still needed to make our way another half hour down the road to Catemaco. From the ADO bus station our next opportunity would be an hour away so we sought out other options. A nice local helpfully pointed us towards a new form of transport: collective taxis. These are your usual taxi but you pay per seat instead of for the whole trip. Being Mexico it’s not unusual for these taxis to have six adults (including driver) plus children and shopping in the medium sized cars. Yes this means that the front passenger seat accommodates two adults. We could only fit one of our packs in the boot so the other got to ride on our knees for the short drive.

Zocalo

Zocalo

After being dropped in the zocalo we set off to find accommodation. We walked a loop around the block, down past the malecon (lake front) and back up to the zocalo where we found our to-be hotel right next to where the taxi driver dropped us off. Typical right. The hotel was cheap enough to begin with but while we discussed it in English the lady dropped the price for us by $60 peso; making it a bargain $300 per night. Sure the hotel was super dated but our room was clean, came with towels and soap, had a fan, free water, was cleaned daily and was nice and cool. It was also in a central location; easy for the malecon, restaurants and buses.

Colourful boats in Catemaco

Colourful boats in Catemaco

Continue reading

Tlacotalpan, a short visit.

A short bus trip down the coast and we made it to a sleepy river side town called Tlacotalpan. We didn’t have accommodation booked as per usual but the town was so small that we literally walked from one side to the other enquiring about room prices in probably 90% of the hotels.

Stumbling across potentially the only American living in town we were given a recommendation of a local who rented some rooms. We managed to locate the house and were ushered inside, the room was very basic but clean and cheap so that’s where we stayed.

Palm trees making the zocalo look tropical

Palm trees making the zocalo look tropical

I must admit that I’m still not 100% sure why we visited this town? We ended up having a relaxing full day here just wandering the small town in a chilled out manner. It worked out quite well as Tom was feeling a bit yuck with the start of a cold.

Midday beers and watching the world go by in the Zocalo

Midday beers and watching the world go by in the Zocalo

We saw a tiny museum dedicated to a musician/composer Augustin Lara which was very rudimentary but that’s the only touristy thing we did.

Our time here basically revolved around food. The evening we arrived we ate a nice meal of fish filets, mine in a la Mexicana style (with tomatoes and onion) and Tom’s in el Diablo style (basically covered in hot sauce). The fish in this state is really fresh and delicious, how can you tell? Because I’ll happily eat it and I’m super fussy when it comes to fish and seafood. We drank beers in a local bar accompanied by spicy peanuts which taste so much better with beer; a match made in heaven.

Colourful colonial buildings in Tlacotalpan

Colourful colonial buildings in Tlacotalpan

So our day in this small town was pretty relaxing overall. Lacking adventure we weren’t particularly sad to leave and headed to the bus station the following morning.

The small malecon

The small malecon

It was an uneventful visit that I think will will eventually be forgotten in the long run. More reason to write about it so when I look back at these blog posts it will be remembered rather than fade away.

The bus trip to our next destination wasn’t long, only a few hours. We talked to an older American gentlemen who spent the whole journey quizzing us about New Zealand. It was really nice to talk about home.

Windy Veracruz

I'm in Veracruz!

I’m in Veracruz!

Arriving into Veracruz we were relieved to find the weather to be much cooler. This was such a relief after the mid-forties and humid temperatures of Papantla. But although the temperature was more our style Veracruz had other crazy weather conditions prepared for us; it was blowing a gale with grey clouds threatening to rain at any moment.

We hadn’t booked any accommodation but had done our usual research online for some reasonably priced hotels and their locations. The ADO bus stations we have been using since Puebla have WiFi so we hung out for a while to see what looked suitable online. Tom was the brains behind our eventual accommodation in Veracruz. For once we didn’t search centrally but instead decided on the hotel right behind the bus station without even looking at other hotels for comparison. It was a bit of a splurge for us but the nice sheets, mattress, pillows and bathroom made it so worth while. The hotel even had room service, which we didn’t use but it’s nice to have the option right? I wish I could carry this room into all the places we visit now and in the future it was such a nice change. Continue reading

Papantla and El Tajin

Just a quick post for a quick two night visit to the small town of Papantla. Our reason for staying here was solely to go see the ruins of El Tajin, another archaeological site. We are beginning to stack up the list of old ruins we have seen in Mexico. Check out my older posts where we have visited Xochicalco, Teotihuacan, Cholula and Cantona which were all interesting but still different in their own ways.

Looking over Papantla

Looking over Papantla

Upon arriving in Papantla and stepping out of the bus we were greeted by heat and high humidity. Walking the four small blocks to our accommodation got us sweating easily and I was very happy to take off my pack. A change of clothes was my number one plan as I was (for some stupid reason) wearing jeans. Water was a necessity and not supplied with the place we stayed so we brought a big five litre bottle which didn’t even last 24 hours.

Sweating profusely we walked to the zocalo to find food. Neither of us were used to this heat anymore, it was like a Perth summer with the humidity cranked up. The fan in our room was noisy but we tolerated it to get to sleep that night. Being the cheap backpackers we are we opted for only a ceiling fan over an (old) air-con unit and stand fan to save peso. Our logic was that we wouldn’t be able to sleep with a noisy air-con running either. I internally questioned this logic a few times during our two night stay. The next morning showed signs of being hot again so we packed our water, ate some fruit for breakfast and headed for the bus.

After waiting for about an hour (we must have just missed a bus) we were on our way to El Tajin. The bus only took about about half an hour so we were soon back out in the heat. Our short walk to the entrance was full of people trying to sell us food, clothes and other assorted touristy junk we definitely didn’t need. But being a Monday I imagine there was a lot less vendors than if it had been a weekend.

Model of El Tajin

Model of El Tajin

The site isn’t huge but the quality of the pyramids is well done and very different stylistically from others we have seen. This is obvious to see in the Pyramid of the Niches, which to me almost has the vibe of an Asian temple. The different structures seem to have a lot of decorative elements as well as plazas from where you can see the grandiosity of the most important pyramids. Towards the back of the site there was an area under restoration where we could see staff working on uncovering or perhaps preserving some frescos on the side of a temple/pyramid/building. I would have loved a little more information on what the process was but distance to where it was happening and lack of Spanish made that impossible.

El Tajin archaeological site

El Tajin archaeological site

Pyramid of the niches

Pyramid of the niches

After exploring the site sufficiently we walked back to the entrance all sweaty and gross looking from the heat. At least everyone else looked the same as us. Even locals from the area were affected and complaining about the weather so we knew it was irregularly hot. I can only hope that continuing on our travels we don’t encounter more humidity and heat like this, or at least I can hope to become magically acclimatised to it.

Just before being dropped off by the bus that morning we had seen a stand selling crema de coco agua frescas nearby so we headed there for a refreshment. Cold coconut beverages in hot climates really hit the spot and Tom drank a whole litre so I had to get a cup for myself, only 500 ml mind you.

Pyramid at El Tajin

Pyramid at El Tajin

Catching a bus back to Papantla we still had a few hours of afternoon left which we dedicated to food, exploring, relaxing and then more food in that order. We couldn’t really justify heading straight back to our room to sit under the fan as we only had the single day in Papantla. Food came first so we chose a cheap fonda for it’s air-con and had the easy choice of tortas with another large jug of agua fresca to keep hydrated.

Wandering around the town in what ended up being a 43 degree day was a little crazy but made us feel like we saw a bit more than just the ruins. There is a cute zocalo and up the hill is a tall statue of a Volador. Voledores are the people that perform the crazy aerial feat of hanging from their ankles while spinning around a tall pole and slowly lowering to the ground. This is accompanied by a recognisable tune of flute music. I can’t really describe it better than that. We have seen them in Mexico City and Cholula but the Voledores de Papantla seem to be the most famous.

The Voladore

The Voladore

After a cold shower and some time relaxing under the fan in our accommodation we felt more human. After the sun had set the temperature also dropped a little (it was still mind numbingly hot though) and we felt like a bite to eat. Earlier in the day we had found the market but the food area was just too warm to contemplate. It was still open when we passed by so we each had a few tasty tacos. Yes it was a lazy/unhealthy food option day for us. The next morning we happily headed back to the bus station with our fingers crossed that our bus would have air conditioning and our next destination would be a little cooler.

Xalapa, Cantona and Xico

After travelling in the bus for two hours through some strange misty landscapes we arrived in Xalapa. One of our reasons for staying here for a few nights was to hopefully have a easier trip to visit Cantona. We had booked ourselves into our first hostel in a long time and once we arrived settled into our room. The only thing we needed that night was some food. Happily we found some tamales nearby and tucked into two each. In our time in Mexico we have discovered a love of atole, a warm sweet drink made from corn meal. This shop sold it in chica and grande sizes. Underestimating the richness of the beverage Tom ordered a grande to share. The flavour of the day was vanilla and it was like drinking a litre of custard. Not that that’s a bad thing as we both really like custard but needless to say we were quite full afterwards.

Museum of Anthropology

Museum of Anthropology

Continue reading

Backpacking – the good,the bad and the ugly of living out of a pack.

Although being out and seeing the world is an amazing, intriguing and eye-opening experience some days just aren’t glamorous. Today as I was repacking my pack I was thinking about how living out of a large backpack is a bit of a double edged sword. In some ways it’s great and in other ways it can be annoying or even gross. So here goes my good, bad and ugly about long term living from one packs worth of items.

The Good

  • Never having the problem of too many clothes to choose from or what goes with what. No more spending hours trying on outfits in front of a mirror, if it’s clean (and bonus if it’s unworn) it’s good.

The bad

  • Handwashing. What a pain; soaping and rinsing clothes in a tiny budget hotel sink while your fingers get all wrinkled and your arms get sore from wringing them out. Then depending on the climate you hope they dry in time to repack without making the rest of your bag damp.

The ugly

  • Wearing clothes for multiple days in a row. The sniff test is all you need to check if you are presentable. Unfortunately the warmer the climate the less days you can rewear an item as it gets smelly pretty quick. Rewearing also means less washing so win-win right?! One thing I have never reworn is underwear, I haven’t stooped that low yet.

This post may be a bit of an over share but from what I’ve seen and heard while talking with other backpackers it’s the norm. So if you are planning on backpacking make sure a majority of the clothes you pack ‘match’. This way you won’t create too many odd outfits when your favourites are in the to-be-washed pile. So far I haven’t tried out the ever so attractive dress/skirt with walking shoes combo, shudder.

Some days I do some self indulgent wistful thinking about all my lovely clothes which are packed away in various locations around New Zealand. But for now it’s the same leggings and top I wore yesterday (and the day before that).

Our packs taking over the extra bed in the hotel.

Our packs taking over the extra bed in the hotel.

Useful packing items – Resealable bags

Just finished packing my bag and I’ve found myself with a spare few moments as I wait for Tom to finish doing the same. He gets distracted by the internet/games so usually takes a little longer than me.

So I thought I’d tell you all about one of the most helpful and easy to carry items in my pack: Snap lock bags. Also known as zip lock or resealable bags etc etc. Not sure how these were missed off my post about useful travel items but here they are now. If you want to read that post you can check it out here

When we left New Zealand I had probably 50 of these with me in various sizes. A little over the top perhaps but they are so helpful. Now that we are five months into our trip I still have some left but not a huge amount.

Here are some of the things I’ve used them for:

  • Food (obviously) – I’ve put leftovers in them, as well as mixing oats, fruits and nuts to make muesli in one as well. Currently we have one in use for all the small condiments which we have collected like tomato sauce. Our oil is carefully sealed in one as well, definitely don’t want that leaking.
  • Liquid items – to protect my pack I use large snap locks for my conditioner, moisturiser and sunscreen. These I definitely don’t want to see ooze through the rest of my belongings.
  • Underwear – Even though I use packing cells it’s handy to have them separate. This way I can also see when I’m getting low and need to do some handwashing.
  • Laundry powder – On the subject of handwashing I have carried small bags of laundry detergent with me for our washing.
  • Electronics – Tom has all his plugs, cables and chargers inside a bag for easy access.
  • Shoes – Just in case there is dirt on the soles of my shoes I pop them inside a large bag. This also makes them quite easy to squish together.
  • Travel sick bags – Probably an over share but when you need it you need it.
  • Pills – Keeping various medications out of the way and in one place. Including the side of the box with the prescription sticker is a good idea for travelling as well.
  • Wet clothes – Such as swimwear if it hasn’t dried in time. No point getting the rest of your clothes salty and damp.
  • Beach bag – For anything you want to keep dry: change of clothes, phone, camera, money or food.

So I have a bit of a love for resealable bags. Even before traveling they were a well used item in my kitchen. Just remember that these are plastic so for the good of the environment try reuse them as well!

Does anyone else swear by these on their travels? What’s the weirdest way you have used one?