Zipolite with many, many mosquitoes

Zipolite

Zipolite

After leaving Mazunte in the heat of midday we arrived by colectivo ute within 30 minutes to Zipolite, another small coastal town renown for it’s great beach, which also happens to be one of the most well known nude beaches in Mexico. Never fear, you can keep reading because you won’t find any mention of us going starkers or any photos of naked people on the beach (I hope). Zipolite if possible felt smaller than Mazunte with one main road which loops around in a semicircle to rejoin with the main road.

Zipolite main street

Zipolite main street

We set of to locate the places we had found online which looked promising for our accommodation. Along our walk through town we found heaps of dirt cheap places to stay but they all looked a bit rough so we kept walking. Our goal was a place Tom had looked at online which was off the beach in a jungle setting. After arriving and getting no answer from the bell we hung around for a while investigating a huge stick insect on the gate. It was probably 30cm long! While we were amusing ourselves with this (I promise we only touched it once each so we weren’t being horrible to the wildlife) the owner showed up. Perfect timing. He showed us to an individual cabaña with a small outdoor kitchen and while we were thinking about it he let us leave our bags so we could investigate other places. So nice! It was great being able to explore without our packs but he must have known we would return and accept the place because it was a great price.

HUGE stickinsect

HUGE stickinsect

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Mazunte

When we arrived in Mazunte we were a little disorganised, we didn’t have a great idea of where we wanted to stay and I hadn’t loaded Google maps of the area very well on my phone. We managed to find a cheapish but nice hotel right on the beach. But being the start of the school summer holidays in Mexico we were told that on the following Monday the price would increase. So we booked until Sunday night which gave us three nights to get to know Mazunte.

A grey arrival to Mazunte

A grey arrival to Mazunte

Our hotel, right on the beach

Our hotel, right on the beach

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Back to the beach in Puerto Escondido

Heading out of Oaxaca at 10.30am in a shuttle we were off and away through some crazy, beautiful and rugged mountains on our way to Puerto Escondido on the Oaxacan coast. The trip was about six hours of roads winding their way up hills and down valleys in a bumpy van which my motion sickness just barely managed to tolerate. The trip seemed quite long but we eventually arrived to the hot and sticky temperatures of the coast. We were finally at the beach again. Finding a camioneta (more or less just a ute with bench seats in the tray and a tarp for a roof) we headed 20 minutes out of Puerto Escondido downtown to an area called Brisas de Zicatela where we would be staying for eight nights.  Continue reading

A quick return to Oaxaca

So we were back in Oaxaca. I wasn’t particularly upset about having to return here even though it was such a long journey to make from Xela. I really enjoyed the ten days we had spent here over a month ago and was happy to see some more of the city and especially to eat some more excellent Oaxacan food. I think this state has been my favourite for food (and continues to be in future destinations, stay tuned) with mole, lots of delicious meats, queso, mezcal and I can’t forget the chocolate!

We had arrived by second class bus which left us at a smaller second class terminal on the south west side of the city rather than the north where the first class is. This was actually really convenient for us as the cheap hotels were all on this side of the city. We easily found a hotel which was a few blocks from the mercado and zocalo and settled in.

Our first stop was to pick up our camera. Finally it had been fixed. With that in my hands our next course of action was to find food so we ate across the road at a local comedor. Cheap and tasty food in our stomachs we relaxed and had an early night.

We stayed two nights back in Oaxaca. Really we could have just had one but we had no idea where we would head to next so wanted a day to relax and plan. After doing some internet research we had an airbnb cabaña booked in Puerto Escondido and were ready to go out for the day.

Tom had lost his sunnies a while back and we were determined to find some in another nearby market. We couldn’t actually find any there but we pretty much found everything else you could possibly need as we explored this huge mercado. The produce looked fantastic and the food stalls smelled awesome but we showed restraint and only purchased a couple of avocados to go with our planned lunch as well as some coconut agua frescas. Locating an exit we headed back to a vendor of pollo asado or roast chicken which Tom craves every week or so. With our chook and sides in hand we headed back to our hotel to scoff down a whole roast chicken, salad, tortillas, salsa and avocado. Needless to say we didn’t need dinner.

After digesting we decided to head out into centro. That night our (really my) goal was to FINALLY have a Oaxacan hot chocolate. Priorities right? Writing this it seems like this whole day was revolving around food but we did accomplish research on our next destination as well!

Mmm hot chocolate. I look so happy!

Mmm hot chocolate. I look so happy!

Entering the Majordomo store we stopped to take in the aroma, mmmm. There was eating chocolate, a few types of drinking chocolate for making at home or to drink now as well as mole. I was in heaven. We sampled a piece of chocolate, some chocolate frio (choc milkshake) and some fresh chocolate paste which had a variety of uses in Oaxacan cuisine. Purchasing my hot choc I happily took my time with drinking it as we walked towards the zocalo.

As we were walking around the zocalo the weather decided to turn on us and we were stuck out in the rain yet again in Oaxaca. This had happened a few times on our previous visit. So we wandered some covered market stalls before running back to our hotel for our final night here. The next morning we packed up and ate a quick and tasty breakfast next door at a comedor. We had booked shuttle tickets at a nearby company which would get us to Puerto Escondido quicker and cheaper than taking a bus.

We were headed to the Oaxacan coast for some eagerly awaited beach time!

Travelling back to Oaxaca from Guatemala

Just before midday we set off from our guesthouse in Xela with a leisurely morning behind us and heaps of time to get to the border (or so we thought). We knew the route and what methods of transport we would need so it was going to be an easy journey to make.

First off was another colectivo back to Minerva bus station where we asked around until we found the right bus. We had thought we might have been able to get just one bus all the way to Malacatan but were told we would need to change at San Marcos like we did on our initial journey to Xela five weeks previous.

Crazy and bright looking chicken buses

Crazy and bright looking chicken buses

So off we set quite relaxed with taking the chicken buses by now and feeling comfortable with only the two of us on the seat. First bus done with no worries.

In San Marcos we boarded the next bus which took about 10 minutes before departure. It was soon after we set off that our sense of haste kicked in. Of course we had no control over the speed of our travel, unless we wanted to take a taxi which would have been expensive. Making matters worse our bus was in go-slow-mode due to overheating brakes. It was around this point in the trip that it suddenly dawned on us that we would be losing an hour upon arrival into Mexico because of daylight savings which Guatemala doesn’t have. I should mention that our reason for all this talk about time was because we knew there was an overnight bus to Oaxaca which would depart at 7.15pm, and due to the aforementioned brake problem we had begun to notice the time slipping by rather rapidly.

Just to add to the stress as we climbed our way through the mountains out of San Marcos a thick fog set in and stayed with us pretty much all the way to the border. Then the fog turned into torrential rain and our bags were on the roof in the usual chicken bus fashion. Extra stress! Neither of us liked the idea of our current worldly belongings being saturated and we hadn’t noticed if a tarpaulin had been used to cover them. There was a silver lining to the rain which was that it had obviously cooled the brakes as the bus was back into go-fast-mode.

Finally we arrived in Malacatan and if we were nail biters I think we would have chewed our poor nails to the skin by now. Luckily the bags had been covered and were only a little damp. Also our bags are made of a sturdy canvas and have a little waterproofing due to this so nothing inside them was actually wet. Squishing into a colectivo with our packs on the roof again, this time without a cover but luckily the rain had eased, we were on our way to the border.

As I mentioned in my post about our journey to Guatemala (check that out here) the border crossing is really easy on foot. We had our passports stamped on the Guatemalan side after ignoring the taxi drivers and headed across the bridge and back into Mexico. The Mexican side took a little longer as we had to pay for our visas and then have our bags checked. Overall it took less than an hour and I was (finally) able to use the bathroom.

Jumping into another colectivo which would hopefully get us to the bus station in Tapachula on time we set off. Unfortunately this colectivo didn’t take the route we expected and we made it by running to the counter at the ADO bus terminal at exactly 7.15pm, just as the first boarding call was being announced, only to be told that tickets to the bus we wanted were sold out. OH NO! Time to reassess our plans.

The lady behind the counter told us that there was another bus which could take us to Juchitan near the Oaxacan coast and from there we could get another bus to Oaxaca City. Well that sounded like it would work even though it was a little annoying and a few hours extra we would now have time for dinner and get into Oaxaca around mid-afternoon instead of early morning. We decided to grab dinner across the road at the restaurant we had eaten at on our previous stay in Tapachula before boarding the bus.

The bus was annoying to say the least as we were stopped at least two, maybe three, times and woken from our sleep as armed personal checked our bus. At the second of these stops we were required to get our bags and walk though a customs building. As we had to in the airport we pushed a button which would give us green or red lights signalling if our bags would be checked. Luckily it was all green lights and we were back in the bus trying to get back to sleep.

Juchitan at 6am in the morning wasn’t my favourite destination in the world but we managed by watching a few episodes of True Detective. Soon the time had passed and we were on another bus, this time second class, to Oaxaca. We drove through some very pretty mountain scenery on the six hours it took to get to Oaxaca though the windiness of the road wasn’t making me feel the best so I mostly dozed. When we made a food stop I was really happy as we hadn’t eaten since the previous evening. A torta with egg and chorizo really hit the spot and even made me feel a little better about the roads which is usually the opposite of how my motion sickness works.

Finally we neared Oaxaca and I was very ready to get out of a moving vehicle. We had been travelling for 26 hours and were exhausted. Of course we still had to find accommodation. We had decided to not return to our previous hotel because it was a little pricey for what it was and the mosquitoes annoyed us a lot. You can read about the first time we spent in Oaxaca here; go on have a look.

I’ll be back shortly with a post on our two nights in Oaxaca. It’s just a quick visit but we enjoyed it as Oaxaca city has been one of our favourite places.

Travel from Oaxaca to Quetzaltenango

So we boarded our first class bus in Oaxaca and settled in for a long overnight trip hopefully with some sleep involved. After watching an episode of a TV programme we had with us we then decided to sleep as it was about 10:30pm. Surprisingly both of us fell asleep quite quickly and I’m not sure about Tom but I had a great sleep for being on a bus (Editor: Tom can confirm he had a horrible sleep).

Waking at around 7:30am (Editor: for those of us that weren’t already awake from 3am)  we soon encountered our first bus problem in Mexico. After six months here that’s not a bad run. All the cars on the Panamericana highway (the road which travels all the way from Canada south, through Central America stopping in Panama and continuing from Columbia to Argentina) were slowing to a stop.

Trucks lined up from the roadblock on the Panamericana highway

Trucks lined up from the roadblock on the Panamericana highway

More lined up trucks

More lined up trucks

It got warm inside the bus without aircon so we sat outside in the shade

It got warm inside the bus without aircon so we sat outside in the shade

A town had decided to block the road and therefore our route to Tapachula. We chilled out in the bus for an hour or so before vacating out into the fresh air where we sat in the shade of the bus as the day began to heat up. After a snack/breakfast of a yoghurt drink and a cookie from a nearby OXXO convenience store we were feeling quite good; relaxed and not at all concerned by the halt to our journey.

By 9:30am we still hadn’t moved but not being on too tight a time frame this didn’t bother us too much. Some other passengers opted to jump in taxis, which could obviously find a way around the road block, in order to get to their destinations.

Finally our driver and the driver of the bus in front of us made an executive decision to also find a way around. It was about 10:30am and we were back on our way with only ourselves and three other passengers remaining on the bus.

After driving through the small town and making some crazy multiple point turns to navigate tight corners we were off and travelling through remote rural countryside. Not being the usual roads to see a first class bus on we were getting some strange looks from locals but we were moving ever closer to our destination.

After the detour, which ended up being at least an hour, we returned to the main highway and stopped briefly at the last planned stop before getting to Tapachula. Finally after a 17 hour bus journey we disembarked and while collecting our bags we saw the driver discussing the bus with another staff member. The bus had a giant scrape/gouge on the top edge which must have happened from a tree or something similar on our detour as the roads definitely weren’t made for large buses. Whoops.

Tapachula is a border town and doesn’t have a whole lot going for it other than that so we decided on a hotel on the main road across from the bus station. This was solely for our ease as we were tired after sitting on the bus for so long and didn’t have time to be tourists here.

Dinner consisted of a torta for Tom and a burrito for me at a nearby restaurant; cheap and easy. We polished those off with a couple of beers (Tom) and some fresh fruit agua frescas for me. Indulging my sweet tooth I convinced Tom that I needed an ice cream and we visited a convenience store to pick up this as well as another beer. So the evening was quite relaxing and lazy overall in preparation for what we expected would be a hectic next day.

Awake bright and early we zipped and locked our packs and headed to an ATM to grab some Peso to exchange for Quetzales at the border. We knew we wouldn’t have access to a bank without fees in Guatemala so this was the reason we decided to convert the cash. After breakfasting at the same restaurant we ate at the night before we were ready to start our day and travel across the border. Cue music: dum Dum DUM!

The first mode of transport was a colectivo from the main road in Tapachula to the frontier, or so they call the border town. The actual name of the border where we crossed was Talismán and after being dropped off it was surprisingly straight forward. We had done our research about what we needed to do and what was required of us while being at the border and it all went pretty smoothly.

We were mobbed by money exchangers and ‘guides’ as we left the colectivo and proceeded to barter with the men for quetzales in exchange for our pesos. After half an hour we had the rate we wanted and handed over our money receiving a heap of Q100 notes in return. One task done.

Next stop was handing over our Mexican visas and getting our passports stamped which was easy enough. With only two days remaining on the visas we joked with the customs lady about how we liked Mexico so didn’t want to leave.

Walking across the border/bridge we were finally in Guatemala. The immigration building in Guatemala was small and not obviously easy to spot but some locals helpfully called out and pointed us at the right building. Handing over our passports we quickly had them stamped and were asked for Q10 each. We are still not entirely sure if this money was an actual fee or a scam but it wasn’t much so we handed it over.

Dodging and ignoring the taxi drivers we continued to walk into Guatemala and easily found another colectivo which would take us a third of the way to Quetzaltenango (from now on I will refer to this city as Xela, the local Mayan name as it’s easier to type). The colectivo was packed full and we had to sit with our packs on our knee, but they weren’t too heavy or annoying. Whenever we have to do this I choose to think of them like ‘airbags’ holding me in my seat in case of an abrupt stop, luckily this has never happened.

After making it to Malacatán we hopped out of the van and it was approximately 30 seconds until Tom realised that he didn’t have my phone. In the juggling act of getting two packs, two backpacks and ourselves out of the colectivo the phone had stayed on the seat. Leaving me with the packs Tom sprinted through the traffic dodging tuk-tuks and colectivos after the van and luckily returned with my phone. I would be devastated if I lost it, it has my life on it.

A local pointed the way to our first chicken bus; these old American school buses are painted up in crazy bright colours and travel all over Central America. This time last year Tom would entertain himself with telling me about these buses. He had me convinced that they would be horrible and I would have to sit next to chickens/turkeys or even goats to the point that I had REFUSED to even entertain the idea of travelling by one. Oh how easily I get convinced otherwise, but being used to local buses in Mexico I was ready for this next adventure.

Crazy and bright looking chicken buses

Crazy and bright looking chicken buses

This first trip was relatively easy, we had the seat to ourselves and could again sit with our packs on our knees. At this point I was afraid of the luggage rack on top of the bus and was very reluctant to part with my bags. The road was a steady but steep climb for the bus and we passed through some gorgeous mountain scenery. With the driver overtaking other cars, buses and trucks on the narrow, windy road we both had that slightly nervous giggle happening whenever a dodgy driving move was executed (often). But we made it to the bus station in San Marcos in one piece and were hurried towards another chicken bus which would take us to our destination of Xela (also known as Quetzaltenango if you remember my earlier note).

This bus was CRAZY! Yes so crazy that it needs capitals, bold text and underlined. We had our packs taken from us and thrown up onto the roof of the bus while we got ushered on via the back door of the bus. The bus was what I considered very close to full but I would soon learn that this was definitely not the case. With two people already on each of the seats we squeezed onto the back set of two seats bracing our legs against each other as our bums were only half supported. The bus took off and stopping frequently kept loading more and more people on. Three to each seat plus a person standing in what remained of the isle became the norm and we seemed full to capacity, any more and people would probably have literally been on the roof or hanging off the exterior.

It was an intense hour or so trip and I spent the whole time worried that our packs would be bounced off the roof each time the bus drove over a bump. Speaking of the bumps, each time we went over one I was airborne, the bus had non-existent suspension.

Finally we arrived in Xela at a bus station which was more like a side road chock full of other chicken buses. We received our packs which hadn’t fallen off and were still in one piece and asked for directions to centro. Walking through a bustling mercado we made it to the main road and hopped in a colectivo into centro. This would be our fifth vehicle of the day we and were getting tired.

In centro we needed to do the standard wander until we found accomodation routine, and having a new form of currency we were constantly converting Quetzal into Peso in our head to compare prices to what we were used to in Mexico. It took a little longer than usual to find a place to stay but we ended up in a lovely hostel/guesthouse owned by a Dutch girl.

It had been an interesting and eventful 48 hours but we had finally made it to Guatemala after six months of travelling. After food and a good nights sleep we would be ready to see what this country had in store for us.

Oaxaca

View from Monte Alban

View from Monte Alban

Arriving in Oaxaca meant we were finally back on track to reach the border before our visas were due to expire. As per usual we didn’t have any accommodation organised except for Google maps loaded on my phone ready to go for knocking on hotel doors. Our first stop was a hostel in the area which we quickly boycotted due to the price. Another few hotels later and we located one which was adequate right around when I was about to start complaining about the weight of my pack. We booked a week because we knew we needed time to get one of our cameras looked at. For some reason the image on the right side of our photos was becoming increasingly out of focus as time went on. Not a small nuisance when you are taking a lot of photos. But there was enough to occupy ourselves with in Oaxaca for this to be an acceptable amount of time.

Pretty colonial streets

Pretty colonial streets

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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

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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

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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.