Saturday, September 26, 2009

cheese and things

Tapijulapa Cascades
Random things I've seen in the last few days:
  • a 20-something hotel desk clerk carving a pietà out of pink soap
  • bats buzzing near my head in a dank cave of stalactites
  • a shower head covered with mosquitoes
  • chickens scratching in the dirt, surrounded by a dozen frenzied chicks
  • a dreamy waterfall with no one swimming in it but me
  • dozens of men brazenly riding a rusted-out freight train
  • a very loud evangelist ministering to the passengers of an intercity bus
  • the intersection of two waterways, one muddy brown and the other a deep blue-green
  • a billboard for a political candidate whose first name is Darling
  • female high school students wearing Pepto Bismal pink uniforms
  • a young boy following me on his bike so he could talk to me as I walked to the bus
  • pickup trucks full of cops driving around and looking bored but sociable
  • a kitschy altar to Frida Kahlo in a pizzeria
  • an entire museum dedicated to marimbas
  • a store called "Quesos & Cosas"

Monday, September 21, 2009

life with public transit

Finally at Yaxchilan
Some days I space out over dinner and can't remember where I am or what the hell I did all day. Here's an example from a few days ago:

Reforma Agraria to highway junction (5 minutes)
From the village of Reforma Agraria, a rickety lodge truck drops us back on the border highway. I stand up in the back next to the luggage, watching the ground through holes  in the wooden floorboards. The van we're trying to catch passes 15 minutes earlier than usual, but our driver can't get the horn to work and signal for it to stop. We sit down in a cement shelter with a piece of lumber propped up as a makeshift bench, and notice a small cemetery behind us. Waiting across the street is a weathered man wearing tall rubber boots and holding a machete, and we exchange pleasantries. Your van just went past, he says, why didn't you stop it?

Highway junction to Pico de Oro (40 minutes)
We leave a piece of luggage by the side of the highway to make sure we get the attention of the next colectivo, which also comes by early. We're the only passengers, and after a while the driver tries to persuade us to head back the other direction. I worry that we're going south instead of north, but then realize that he just doesn't want to go to the end of his route. This section of road is paved now, but sports huge rain-filled potholes and the occasional landslide chipping away at the asphalt.

Pico de Oro to Benemerito Las Americas (30 minutes)
A few taxi drivers are playing cards under a tree, and look surprised to see foreign travelers. We arrange a private taxi to Benemerito Las Americas. An older man in a cowboy hat is sitting by the road the outskirts of town, and hails the taxi to share the ride. He falls asleep next to me in the back seat almost immediately. The driver tells the Teen that drug violence along the border has decreased in the past year or so, though he alludes to a recent local "massacre."

Benemerito Las Americas to Crucero Corozal (1 hour)
We switch to another waiting van, and the driver putters around town picking up his lunch before he finally leaves this dusty desperado-style town. A mile out, the driver stops again and idles in the middle of highway, making a phone call. Another van finally comes up behind and unloads more passengers for us. At the turnoff for Yaxchilan, a military checkpoint makes our whole carload get out for a bag check. We start negotiating with a taxi driver and didn't bother showing the soldiers anything.

Crucero Corozal to Frontera Corozal (15 minutes)
Whizzing down a road surrounded by high grass, our taxi stops to pick up a man standing by the side of the road. No houses or buildings are in sight. The driver continues along, dodging dogs trotting along the pavement.

Embarcadero into town (30 minutes)
On a shadeless street, I walk a mile round-trip to buy a tacky new hat, replacing the practically new one I lost somewhere earlier that day. Sweat pools on my knees, making puddles erupt though my pants. As I try on baseball caps, the vendor woman tries to convince me to buy a pink straw boater that looks like a giant Easter egg. It's layered with cobwebs - she must have been trying to get rid of this one for a while.

Lancha (long motorboat) to Yaxchilan ruins (40 minutes)
These boats now have thatched roofs, so you don't even need to wear a hat. The Teen takes a nap on the seats, jolting up when I spot a ceiba canopy with a half dozen howler monkeys.

Walk through Yaxchilan (1 hour)
We hear the intermittent rumble of howler monkeys, but a high tree comes alive with a crew of noisy spider monkeys. A cloud of mosquitoes start snacking on the Teen. She retreats back to the boat.

Lancha back to Frontera Corozal (40 minutes)
The breeze is the closest we've come to air conditioning all day. We retreat to our room and lie down for a bit under the ceiling fan.

Time for dinner again.

Friday, September 11, 2009

death by soy

My Way or the Highway
After witnessing a mere two specimens walking the streets of DF in face masks, the whole flu thing seems like a relic. At least until you notice the free hand sanitizer sitting on every front desk and building entrance, and oversize street posters with step-by-step instructions on how to wash your hands.

And yes, I did spot a few bike lanes here and there, as well as a decent-looking but unused bike parking area in the Auditorio metro station. If I have time when I pass through again in a month, I'm thinking about tracking down a bike at one of the free bike stations and seeing how many blocks I can go before I'm Frogger roadkill.

In San Cristobal de Las Casas, a lunch special at a popular traveler's joint turned out to include a bonus case of food poisoning, cramping me into a fetal position for two feverish days of matted hair and lethal gases. If I only I could do something more drastic than yanking them from the book. Like keeping them in, and shaming them with their own special warning box: "Colon Blow for Beginners." 

After becoming ambulatory again, the next day I had the odd experiences of defending myself from vicious attack geese, dodging starstruck young women as they tried to mob a hunky telenovela actor shooting a scene downtown, and having a 12-year-old show me hotel rooms (his afterschool job).
Tomorrow we're continuing south for a few days along the border highway next to Guatemala. The Teen has her I-device all charged up, and we're ready to explore the Lacandon Jungle.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

from the zócalo to zinacantán

Clean Hands
Ladies and gentlemen! Dust off that Spanish dictionary and charge up your currency converters! I'm on the road again in Latin America, this time to update the Chiapas and Tabasco chapter of Lonely Planet's Mexico guidebook.

Against the backdrop of a well-publicized flu pandemic, intermittent feudal drug war shootouts and the pressure of entertaining my teenage traveling companion, your intrepid scribe will be oohing and ahhing over some of the Mexico's best green places and giving a shout out to all the compas down south.
First stop: a few days of leisure in bustling Mexico City. Stay tuned for the answers to these questions and more:
  • Are face masks still a vogue accessory?
  • Does Caracas make DF feel like the sweet small town where everyone calls you honey?
  • Is the local government really building miles of new bike lanes?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

high sierra happiness

Alpine Meadow
I recently finished my first sola backpacking trip, a six day test-drive of the John Muir Trail. But until midway, when I jettisoned an excess five pounds of trail mix and dehydrated vegetarian protein, it was truly a hip-busting trial.

In times of high altitude semi-delirium, I kept my feet in motion by humming Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear the Reaper and the theme song from the Flintstones. Over and over and over again. I plastered the welts under my waist belt with chunks of moleskin and did my best to look jaunty when I crossed paths with fellow hikers. And I swore not to remember just the phenomenal alpine scenery, but also the times when I wanted to shirk my pack and slink away.

As a concept, pushing your boundaries sounds so inspirational and admirable, though so completely vague. Carting a food-overloaded backpack over 10,000-foot mountains? That's much more concrete. But it was so damn beautiful, with tubby marmots whistling at you on the trail, baby deer grazing in meadows and pure blue lakes reflecting snowy granite peaks. Yeah, I'll be back next summer.