June 13, 2015 § 1 Comment
Our luck on the Isle of Skye ran out the last day; leaving, we were greeted with nothing but harsh wind and cold rain. After standing on the side of the road for a couple of hours, not even one car slowed down. We were entirely frozen and devoid of hope, so we hopped on a bus and cursed the public transportation rates in Scotland. But, leaving the island, we found sunshine again in Kyle of Lochalsh, and our spirits lifted.
We received a ride straight to our next WorkAway household; a modern house with a loft room for us and a fully-functioning shower. Honestly, after a couple of weeks of cold toes and even colder water, we were in heaven. And, on top of all the comfort, we had the most laid-back and awesome host. She left a list of things to get done around the house/garden for the week, but was gone all day and we could manage our time how our mood dictated (and stuff ourselves with whatever food we were craving, whenever we were craving it). So, it was more like a week of warm, fuzzy feelings than a week of work.
After three days of voluntary house containment (be blamed it on the weather, but, honestly, we were just exhausted and missed being able to lounge under a roof), we finally set off to explore. A few steps away from the house was a little bridge over the railroad tracks:
, after which there was a gentle hill which ended in the one-lane harbour town of Plockton.
I wasn’t expecting Plockton to be like Plockton. Yes, you have all of the regular Scottish Sea Town characteristics, like the exposed sandy shore during low tide:
, pink flowers growing from rocks:
, lobster cages:
, and the standard rusty chain:
But, it also had a loch that seemed more like a lake (I know, I know, but, for whatever reason, lochs usually feel like lochs to me, and lakes feel like lakes) and high mountains covered in dense, thick trees. Most of the time, it felt more like I was in the middle of the Swiss peaks than some Scottish coast.
In addition to the lovely, secluded location and the WorkAway experience, the week brought me an old friend, who came up for a couple of days to giggle and explore with us.
We shared a lot of food and hit up the local pub for their traditional ceilidh-esque gathering. The last day, we went for a walk. After our sun dance worked its magic, we left the shelter of our house and started the hike across the peninsula, to the other coast. We passed a couple of random, tiny villages:
, old, unmarked architecture:
, and a lot of fields and mountains:
Upon hitting the A87 at Balmacara, we walked along Loch Alsh for a while before hitting up a mini grocery store and getting a lift to Eilean Donan Castle.
The timing was perfect; the sun was beginning its six-hour descent, and a layer of dark, storm clouds provided the backdrop of the golden glow. We found shelter just as the downpour hit, and entertained ourselves learning grammatically-incorrect slang in different languages. Then we crossed back over the bridge and made it to the Dornie Town Hall just in time for the Birds of Paradise’s production of Crazy Jane, a theatrical dance show about Jane Avril and Toulouse Lautrec. Even if the space was designed horribly for comfortable viewing, the idea was interesting to explore (and perfect to my interests).
After extended good-night’s and good-bye’s, it was time to bid our little bundle of sunny joy farewell and take separate paths. While my friend headed back down south to Glasgow, A. and I hopped on another train and participated in our favourite pastime: sipping on coffee, snacking, and reading travel magazines while curled up on a train seat and watching beautiful landscapes whirl by. This time, eastward to Inverness!
June 11, 2015 § 1 Comment
After our second workaway, life took us north to the Isle of Skye. Five days of utter freedom, in the best place in the world to be utterly free in, before checking into our third WorkAway assignment in Plockton (about ten kilometers from the Isle of Skye).
Last year that I was here, I deemed the Isle of Skye as the most magical place on the planet, with the best shoreline to boast. And while I try to avoid travelling to previously-visited places and dread returning and reliving places, I was utterly stoked to share this gem with my new travel buddy.
The trip started early, with knocking on car doors waiting in line to cross back to the mainland from the Isle of Luing. After a couple of rounds, we found a ride with Mister Watson, a chipper old man that was taking bags of his deceased wife’s clothing to the charity shop in Oban. So, we hopped in, learned some Viking history, helped unload a bunch of dresses and hats, and found ourselves back on the streets of Oban. We found an art project attached to the railing of the harbor: hundreds of colorful school fish flying in the wind.
After the cheerful farewell with the rainbow fish, it was a bitterly cold hour at the side of the road, with occasional showers and a cruel wind that soon froze our thumbs into a permanently hitched position. Eventually, we got a lift to Connel, from where we found another ride all the way to the Fort William train station.
After a couple of pastries and coffees, we were ready for the “Most Beautiful Train Ride in the World”, also known as the “Harry Potter” train ride. We did not take the steam engine train (and saved a hundred bucks), but our regular-engine train took the same route, over the symbolic bridge, through the floating mountaintops, and into Mallaig.
From Mallaig, a windy ferry ride to the other side of the loch, arrival in Armadale. Bus ride up to Portree, and we arrived– after about twelve hours of transport. We had a lovely double rainbow (twice that evening) to greet us, which made the bread and huge chunk of cheese and colorful ales taste even better.
The next morning, an early stroll around the harbor to greet all of the fishing boats:
And then a walk north, out of town, as the beginning of our Trotternish Peninsula tour itinerary for the day. Our first ride was an empty tour bus that dropped us off at Kilt Rock:
From there, we hiked back down south along the cliffs- my favourite part of my favourite island of my favourite country.
I mean, seriously, those cliffs, and that sea!
Then, a couple of rides up and down the peninsula for a scenic drive, before getting the walking sticks out at the Old Man of Storr.
The view from the top of the hike was spectacular, in all directions.
After a day of coastal exploring, we moved ourselves to Portnalong for the next couple of nights.
Now, this was interesting. I picked the place because I stayed there last year and absolutely loved the bunkhouse. And I booked it for two nights because I really wanted a day off to relax and do art and drink hot coco. It’s cozy and in the middle of nowhere, so I thought that it would be perfect, and I was so excited about the day of rest. Except… that the owner had a no-exceptions Everyone Has To Leave The Property Between 10AM and 4PM rule. That kind of ruined my plan. So, thoroughly ticked off and sore, I was kicked out into the grey rain and darker winds.
After hiding in a phone booth for a while, a French couple came to our rescue and gave us a lift to the Fairy Pools. Definitely a different atmosphere than last year, with the grey clouds. Very inspirational of Mordor.
And, just as the skies were darkening again, we made it back to stone bridges (and, thus, civilization):
In the evening, another colorful walk, this time among fields of blue bells:
In the end, being kicked out was a treat, for I do not think that I would have had the timing that I did, had I left later for the hiking. If I had left at all. (Althogh I am still waiting for a full day off!) After a couple of shots of local whiskey, a generous dinner, and an even more generous breakfast, we began our long journey off the island. More on that in the next post!
May 27, 2015 § 1 Comment
Getting from WorkAway #1 to WorkAway #2 was one of those days when it takes one jeep ride, three ferry crossings, one hitchhike ride, a bus, a hike, and eleven hours to make the 30 miles between Point A and Point B.
We started the day early, with an estimated 8 AM departure time from Drumbuie in order to make the 6 miles of dirt road to the Drimnin jetty. However, the notorious Mr. C’s car wouldn’t start because he left the battery running all night… so we half-heartedly tried to fix it for half an hour, but it didn’t want to wake up, so we left him there and escaped on the farm jeep- to freedom! We left the car in the next village over, put on all of our rain gear, and hopped onto the first ferry of the day.
On the other side of Sound of Mull was Tobermory, a colorful little port town that was our introduction to the island:
From there, we hitched a ride with a couple of chattering ladies to Craignure, from where we took the second ferry to Oban. Oban wasn’t impressive- cold, wet, windy, no cozy coffee shops or warm restaurants. So, in order to warm up our toes, we whiled a couple of hours away at the nation’s equivalent of Starbucks- Costa Coffee. Then, a bus that took us to the end of its line in North Cuan, about an hour south of Oban.
From there, one more ferry to South Cuan, where our next WorkAway host (and the current WorkAway girl already staying there) greeted us and helped us wheelbarrow our bags the remainder of the walk home.
After Mr. C, Mr. R seemed heavenly- set hours for the morning, a warm(er) house, intelligent conversations, and a shower. We soon learned the downside of staying with an elderly man who has had mouth cancer- mostly squishy vegetarian meals with no flavour. And, being on an island, we had a very rationed diet of these rather bland creations. However, we did find the one kiosk on the island, where we sneaked off to in the afternoons to gorge on chocolate cookies and beer by the seaside.
So, we zoomed around the green pastures:
, and past abandoned houses:
, and between big, blue puddles:
When not biking, our adventures consisted of scaling along the seaside cliffs to the town, which started out by the lobster cages:
, and then took us over rocks:
, and more rocks:
, and another boat:
So there’s this Scottish chapter. The afternoons dedicated to planning (when raining) and the beautiful scenery (when not raining) were much appreciated, but now we are ready to move on. After a week of cutting wood and raking grass, we are ready to do new things on new islands… and we are definitely ready for something with a drop of protein or anything crunchy in it. So… time to bid adieu to this backyard:
, and see where the rain clouds will take us! Onward, to the north!
May 20, 2015 § 5 Comments
It has been a while since the last post: in the last couple of months, we travelled eastward from San Cristóbal de las Casas to Cancún, spent a very adventurous month in Cuba, flew back through Mexico to go to Austin, TX for a couple of weeks, flew back to Mexico City for a week, and then boarded a plane in Cancún that would take us to… Glasgow!
And now, we are starting a new adventure on the other side of the pond. We’re hopping around Scotland and discovering the wonderfulness that is WorkAway (helping out with projects around the house in exchange for food and accommodation). First, we had a couple of days in Glasgow to sleep, stock up on waterproof clothing, and stroll around, admiring the quaint contentedness that is this city:
And then we boarded a train that took us to Fort William, the famous transportation hub. From there, a bus down to Corran, where we took a ferry from one side of the town to another- scenic lighthouses and the standard yellow bushes included:
From the yard umbrellas of The Inn, we were picked up by our first WorkAway Host- Mr. C. It was the beginning of a long, long week. I still have mixed feelings about it, becuase the house was beautiful and utterly isolated, we had our own fank to live in (which was attached to their cellars, with dozens and dozens of bottles of all types of good wines), there was good food to prepare, and the work was a great diversity of things that A. and I enjoy, but… after the first two days, the Reasonable Daughter left to go back to Glasgow, and it was just the two of us stuck with the notorious Mr. C. And he is the gumpiest and least-mannered person that I have ever met- I didn’t realize that people could be so rude.
So, yes… the six-mile dirt road that led from the last building to our property was lovely:
And we lived in a cozy, brick house:
And we had our own cottage (however cold it was):
And we had the best view outside of our bedroom window:
And we had some fuzzy company:
And we always had a dramatic horizon to amuse us:
And our backyard was a field of slippery seaweed to slide around on:
And the waters surrounding us were clear:
And between the cementing and painting and gardening and getting nails out of wood and chopping up firewood and laying down stone flooring, there was no shortage of amusing tasks to keep us entertained and fit:
And I’m not complaining about working from morning until sunset (which happens a bit before midnight around these parts), and preparing two meals inbetween, and cleaning everything up in the house, because we both enjoy a good load of work, but… having someone constantly yelling at you and insulting you because he is bitter with life is not exactly what we were expecting. And, it would have been nice to have a couple of hours of lazy reading time, or one not-rushed morning, and time to plan the next portion of our trip.
So… while the location and work was pretty perfect, our first WorkAway experience was, overall, far from. But, we learnt to bite our tongue, drank more wine, and roamed further and further away upon the hills to get some quiet time from miserable old people. Between my charm and A.’s respectable nature, I thought that we could warm up to anyone, but… I guess that this was a lost case.
Oh well… it was a good learning experience, offered us shelter and rich feasts (I learned how to make bread!) in a beautiful nook of this country, and made the next WorkAway stop so-much-more pleasant to arrive to. Next: idyllic life on the little island of Luing.
March 23, 2015 § 2 Comments
It’s been a while- momentum has been strong, and rests few inbetween. And, looking back at the past couple of weeks, I find it surprising that there have been more moments than usual that I have felt frustrated or ‘stuck’ in some place that I shouldn’t be, when, in fact, we have been on a quick and steady move eastward through Mexico. I suppose that there are other factors than physical movement to take into consideration when calculating restlessness, but it is still a slightly strange juxtaposition when I think about it logically.
After our hop through the beaches, we took a day to camp out at the Cascada el Aguacero in the Cañón Río La Venta (how many geographic features can you have in one name?):
It was a nice river to wade through, but we were expecting jungle (which, we later learned does not start until east of San Cristóbal), so we hopped in the back of a few more trucks and eventually made it to our next destination: San Cristóbal de las Casas.
This was our home for the next five days, with nightly accomodation ranging from fancy posadas with fireplaces and courtyards, to hostels dedicated to Corto Maltese, to colorful hostels where we (for the first time all trip) made use of the kitchen to create all sorts of fancy, international dishes. Food was never a shortage though; between all of the pastry shops and organic food markets and cafés, food was pretty much our main past-time.
That, and coffee.
And analyzed graffiti:
And climbed long series of steps to get the best view points of the town:
There were also some jazz sets and yoga classes, but nothing to rave about. The churches, however, were pretty cool, and seemed somehow warmer than in the other cities (but maybe it was just the clarity of the air at this elevation):
On one hand, I had higher hopes for our time in San Cristóbal de las Casas because I had envisioned something more similar to Oaxaca: classes and dancing and a stable base for a couple of days. But, in the end, a few days of checking out different types of lodgings and eating and making it a mission to try every espresso in town was a satisfying pastime.
However, the lack of dancing nooks and the presence of itchy feet spurred us onward. I think that we are both in a position in which we see the potential of and appreciate the places that we visit, but there is somewhere else that we feel like we should be. On one hand, I would have had a great time setting up base here for a couple of weeks and living of fresh croissants and getting in touch with my spiritual hippie side, but I felt torn between moving on and settling down for a longer period of time, in a different place, that wouldn’t be just a ‘stop’ before the continuing adventure.
So, it was time to bid farewell to San Cristóbal de las Casas, with all of its cozy charm and delicious nooks, and get back on the highway and find the next string of rides to flag down.
March 12, 2015 § 2 Comments
Continuing our travels south, we waited on the side of the ‘highway’ (where the mountain road from San Mateo joins back up to the main carretera) with a cardboard sign that said A LA PLAYA! It didn’t take long before a truck with a metal frame on the back (our favourite and most common pick-up) stopped and loaded us into the back. Our ride was a group of Christian guys who were going to Huatulco to play at some Christin beach festival. The air was fresh, the views were amazing, and we were giddy to get to lower elevations and seashores- perfection, almost. Except for the boy that kept throwing up over the side of the truck, and no matter how loud I turned up my Marc Anthony playlist, I couldn’t cover up the retching sounds.
So, when they dropped us up in the middle of nowhere in the mountains, we didn’t complain. The second truck that passed picked us up and took us all the way to Pochutla, from where we took a colectivo to Puerto Angel. We filled up on tacos on the street:
, and then hopped in the back of a French couple’s van that took us the remainder of the way to Zipolite. After so many months, finalmente! The ocean! Waves and sand and salty breezes and a full moon to usher us in. We set up our tent in the dark, next to a psychedelic reggae party. My first view of the beach when I woke up the next morning and peaked outside was that of a naked hippie taking down his tent- we picked a good spot, it seems.
But, not perfect, we felt. So, we rolled everything up again, put the backpacks on, and walked a few kilometers to the next seaside town- San Agustinillo. And, as we collapsed, sweaty and exhausted, into a café for breakfast and found an available room upstairs (the only one in San Agustinillo, it seemed), we didn’t hesitate. A delicious and cozy café downstairs and not-too-shabby of a view from the balcony?
Sold! And I really loved this beach.
Unfortunately, the red flag was up, so there wasn’t too much swimming that happened, but it was still fun to wade in the waves and jump around:
And walk the cove and admire all of the palapas:
And go for morning jogs:
My favourite part of the stay was hiking out to punta cometa for sunset; a small rocky peninsula that juts out from the shoreline in Mazunte (the adjacent town, about a kilometer west of San Agustinillo):
It almoooooost felt like I was back in Scotland, with waves pounding onto cliffs:
And there were a lot more people to keep us company in the sun-going-down ceremony than on secluded rock-tips on the Isle of Skye:
But, a little bit of similarity, no?
And it was all very beautiful, but also very hot. It had already been rather steamy in Oaxaca the past couple of weeks, but add the seaside humidity, and it was less-than-enjoyable. So, after less than 48 hours, we rolled everything up again and returned to the side of the road. The first van that passed us by was headed to Matías Romero, a city about five hours east of Mazunte. So, we told the kind sir to take us as far away as possible from the heat.
He dropped us off on the side of the highway, right outside of La Ventosa.
The name does not lie. It was the windiest place that I have ever been in; I couldn’t stand up by myself and our heavy backpacking bags were rolling around and into the ditches on the side of the road. We somehow inched along the highway until a run-down truck took pity on us and gave us a lift (windiest ride of my life, help!) to the next small town. There was nothing there, other than more wind, an empty bar with bachata music, and a bus stop.
By this point, it was getting dark, so we took the last bus to Tapanatepec, which was not any more inviting. So, another bus on to Arriaga. Not much better. One more bus, to Tonalá. Not any better, but is was midnight and we were kind of discouraged by our entry into Chiapas, so we checked into an overpriced and less-than-quaint hotel and turned up the AC so that it could lull us to sleep.
The next day, we moved (very slowly, as people in Chiapas do not pick up anywhere near as enthusiastically as in Oaxaca) to the coastline, for one more night on the sand before heading inland again. Our destination was Madre Sal, an isolated strand of beach about an hour (or, in our case, six hours) southeast of Tonalá.
It took a lot of walking on little dirt roads (Our last ride was holding on for dear life, hanging out of a watermelon truck. As a reward for surviving, we go at a watermelon. So, we got to carry one of those with us the last couple of kilometers):
And crossed a lagoon surrounded by mangrove trees on a lancha:
And then, voilà, paradise:
Madre Sal is an ecotourism project, working to conserve the land and provide a safe, isolated refuge to the turtles that come ashore in the fall to lay eggs. As now is not turtle season, we found the place utterly empty:
We wandered around the property and had fake mojitos with the sunset and felt like we were a hundred miles away (well, I guess that we were… so, maybe more like a lifetime and a thousand miles) from the beaches of Oaxaca we were lounging at slightly more then 24 hours ago.
I suppose that both the Oaxaca and Chiapas coastlines had their pro’s and con’s. But, the heat was similar in both. So, reluctantly (for I love the sound of the ocean waves so much) we put our backpacks on again and continued the journey inland, toward the highlands of Chiapas and away from the sandy horizon line:
March 7, 2015 § Leave a comment
And, finally- after a month of lounging around Oaxaca City, life moves on! And it feels so good, to be moving in a linear direction again, instead of walking around in circles (though I am already missing the dance classes and art libraries of Oaxaca).
The direction was south, to the mountains, before hitting the coast.
We took a colectivo van to San José del Pacifico, hopping out on the side of the mountain (ie: the one road that makes up the town) three hours later.
San Jose is more than 2000 meters above sea level, and I cannot even begin to describe how good it felt to be out of the city, in the open, with the sun shining, but it not being depressingly hot and dry. And every evening, an hour or so before sunset, you could see the clouds rolling in below you, like a blanket of seafoam suspended a couple of thousand feet above the ocean.
Mainly, we went on a couple of meandering hikes, up to hilltops and inbetween a lot of pine trees.
And stumbled upon several interesting flowers.
And admired the freshness of the land.
The main attraction- other than the isolation, I suppose- of the town though, is its magic. Really. Its sense of mysticism. I’m not sure how it all originated, but there is a very strong culture of spiritualism and herbal healing. The main souvenir of this town is the local mushroom- which attracts a steady stream of travelers hungry for more than just tortillas and tortas.
We skipped out on the shrooms, but did go to a temazcal in lieu of breakfast one day. It was an interesting experience- to be stuffed inside an adobe igloo, to sprinkle herbal water on a bed of coals that would turn the structure into a scented sauna after an hour, to cover ourselves with honey, to have a mud bath, and finally be rinsed with freezing water. As a reward for surviving: hammocks to lounge in without a time limit.
After a couple of days in San Jose, we put on our packs and hiked over the mountain to San Mateo, a slightly bigger (perhaps 1.5 roads) town deeper in the mountain range.
It was a recommendation from a friend to come stay there, in a place called La casa de la Abuela. And what a good recommendation it was!
We stayed there for a couple of nights, not doing much other than eating the most delicious organic food, lounging in abuela’s kitchen, listening to people play guitar and sing in front of fire places, and almost freezing to death in our own, fireplace-less cabin. When we wanted something new, we strolled into town and checked out the local library and looked at travel magazines of Mexico and watched everyone prepare for the town’s annual fiesta that upcoming weekend: fresh coats of paint on almost every surface, dance rehearsals, and lots of decorations.
One day, we did hike out to look for waterfalls rumoured to be in the area… but, no such luck. Great views and a refreshingly cold river to hop into, but no waterfalls.
It was surprisingly difficult to motivate ourselves to get out of the little mountain town, even with the call of the coast roaring so close by. But, after one last large brunch in abuela’s kitchen, we did. We put on our backpacks, hiked ten kilometers out of the valley, and then stood on the side of the road with a cardboard sign that would take us back down to sea level. Good hitchhiking travels to come; stay tuned for more tropical tales!