WorkAway #2: Isle of Luing

May 27, 2015 § Leave a 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.

LuingOldBoats

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:

TobermoryWithAnchors
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.

LandscapeToLuing

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.

LuingBoatFrontYard
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.

LuingBlueBay
Other than the free afternoons, the best part of WA#2 was the use of bicycles– and the fact that the Isle of Luing was perfect for exploration on them:

LuingAminBike

So, we zoomed around the green pastures:

LuingBikeRoad
, and between the sheep:

LuingAminSheepBike

, and past abandoned houses:

LuingMillHouse

, and between big, blue puddles:

LuingSkyInTheGround
, and amidst the main population of the island:

LuingCow
At the end of the one road of the island, we found some hilly green blobs of ground popping out from the water, which are great fun to hop around on to get from one side of the cove to the other:

LuingHillyBumps

When not biking, our adventures consisted of scaling along the seaside cliffs to the town, which started out by the lobster cages:

SouthCuanLobsterCages

, and then took us over rocks:

LuingCliffSymmetry
, rocks:

LuingRocksRocksRocks

 

, rocks:

LuingFlowerPuddle

, and more rocks:

LuingFlowerCoast
, before finally arriving at the scattered ten houses that form the biggest (bigger) town of the 108-peopled island.  There, we encountered a teddy bear drying out in the middle of a steady drizzle:

LuingDryingTeddyBear

, and another boat:

LuingYellowBoat

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:

LuingFunkyMountains

, and see where the rain clouds will take us!  Onward, to the north!

 

 

Workaway #1: Drumbuie

May 20, 2015 § 4 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:

GlasgowMuseum

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:

CorranLighthouse

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:

RoadToHouse

And we lived in a cozy, brick house:

DrumbuieYellowDoor

And we had our own cottage (however cold it was):

DrumbuieKitchen

And we had the best view outside of our bedroom window:

DrumbuieFrontYard

And we had some fuzzy company:

DrimninCowOrYak

And we always had a dramatic horizon to amuse us:

DrimninDramaticSheep

And our backyard was a field of slippery seaweed to slide around on:

DrumbuieSeaweedAmin

And the waters surrounding us were clear:

DrimninWater

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:

AminTheSkyPainter

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.

DrimninSheep

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.

San Cristóbal de las Casas

March 23, 2015 § 1 Comment

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?):

AguaceroWaterfall

 

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.

SanCristobalMirador2
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.

SanCristobalFronteraBrunch

That, and coffee.

SanCristobalFronteraBlackboard
And craft beer nooks.

SanCristobalFronteraBeerSelection
Other than stuffing our faces, we attended art openings (which offered free mojitos and munchies, so it’s still kinda in the same field):

ArtOpeningArt

And analyzed graffiti:

GraffitiCat

And climbed long series of steps to get the best view points of the town:

SanCristobalMirador1
And stumbled upon book fairs, which opened with full school bands (see: eight year old completely killing it on the drum set) and included looms:

SanCristobalCarmenWeaving
And spent most of our evenings strolling up and down Real de Guadalupe and people-watching (and being watched by people):

SanCristobalGuadalupeAtNight

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.

SanCristobalMainStreetTraffic
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.

SanCristobalMirador1GreenHouse
When we get to the place that feels right, I reckon that there will be no hesitation as to if we should unpack our bags or not.  Until then, all we can do is keep looking and keep on moving!

 

 

Battle of the Beaches: Oaxaca v. Chiapas

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:

PortAngelTacos

, 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.

Zipolite
Nope, not bad at all:

ZipoliteSunrise

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?

SanAgustinilloHotelView

Sold!  And I really loved this beach.

SanAgustinilloSunrise2

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:

ZipoliteRedFlag

And walk the cove and admire all of the palapas:

SanAgustinilloBeachHouse

And go for morning jogs:

SanAgustinilloSunrise

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):

MazunteSunsetRock

It almoooooost felt like I was back in Scotland, with waves pounding onto cliffs:

MazunteRockyCliffs
Except that the temperature was about 30 degrees C warmer and that there were cacti:

MazuntePuntaCometaCactus

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:

MazunteSunsetHorizontal

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.

LaVentosaPanorama

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.

LaVentosaNothingness

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):

ToMadreSol

And crossed a lagoon surrounded by mangrove trees on a lancha:

MadreSolBoatCrossing

And then,  voilà, paradise:

MadreSolCabins

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:

MadreSolLand
Except for our friend, the Red Flag:

MadreSolRedFlag
And many flocks of seagulls flying parallel to the waves in the morning sun:

MadreSolSeaGulls2
We set up camp in the sand, under a palapa (and a clear night sky that graced us with the Milky Way):

MadreSolWindMill
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.

MadreSolCampgrounds
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:

MadreSolCabanasHorizon
The next chapter is colder, but just a beautiful!

 

 

 

 

San José del Pacifico + San Mateo Río Hondo

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.

SanJoseMountains

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.

SanJoseCoffeeShop

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.

SanJoseSunsetClouds

Mainly, we went on a couple of meandering hikes, up to hilltops and inbetween a lot of pine trees.

SanJoseLandscape

And stumbled upon several interesting flowers.

SanJoseFlower

And admired the freshness of the land.

SanJoseMountains2

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.

SanJoseSunset

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.

SanJoseTemezcal

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.

SanMatteoTown

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!

SanMatteoFarm

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.

SanMatteoChurch

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.

SanMatteoTrail

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!

Hierve el Agua

March 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

After a month of anticipation, I finally made it out to Hierve el Agua- the last item on the Oaxaca agenda before leaving this region.  Though it wasn’t exactly how I had envisioned it, it certainly did not disappoint!

HierveElAguaFromAfar

After waiting for an hour for a nonexistent bus that would take us to Mitla, we jumped into a collectivo instead that took us to the first town.  From there, we were herded into what seemed like a converted cattle wagon that took us the remaining twenty kilometers to Hierve el Agua.

HierveElAguaCountryside1

After veering off the highway and passing through San Lorenzo, we decided to play it cool and walk the rest of the way, so we hung ourselves off the back of the wagon and jumped off mid-acction… only to find it stop a few feet later at its final destination.  But, that’s alright; we still made a daring escape off a moving vehicle.  And then, the remaining trail on foot, befriending a couple of donkeys on the way:

HierveElAguaDonkey
The first pool of water was a series of levels; all of them shallow and deceptively clear-looking:

HierveElAguaLevels

These natural rock formations resemble petrified waterfalls, but the actual amount of water currently there is more of a trickle.

HierveElAguaPool

But it did provide us with one pool to jump in (cold sulfur water!) and admire the view from:

HierveElAgua

From the first pool (the cascada chica), we trekked a little ways to the next, most iconic rock formation.  The first one was more wide than tall:

HierveElAguaLeft

, while the second one was taller (but decisively drier):

HierveElAguaFromBottom

The different colors of water flowing out of the ground and mixing together was really interesting to observe though:

HierveElAguaAtTheEdge

Little hidden springs coming out of the middle of the rock and flowing together to make slightly-larger ribbons of water:

HierveElAguaTheSource

We hiked back to our cabins through the valley below the ‘waterfalls’, with much sunshine and really tall spiky palm tree/cactus plants:

HierveElAguaPalmStick

After a dinner of tamales and tlayudas, it was time for a sunset stroll to the town (er, church and two shacks):

HierveElAguaSalida
My favourite part of the whole experience was after the sun set.  We were one of only two couples staying at the premise, and the gates to the grounds were locked, and it was kinda of surreal to hike back down to the rock formations under the moon and sit there, amid stars and UFO’s, just gazing off a steep cliff, onto the mountains and desert in front of you.  Cool, and windy, and quiet.

HierveElAguaCountryside

The next day: walking seven kilometers under the sun, back to the highway.  From there, we caught a ride back to Mitla, whose weekly market was a disappointment.  So, back into another collectivo that took us to Oaxaca for lunch and one last night amid museums and coffee shops… (who thought that that night would ever get here?!)

 

 

 

Teotitlán del Valle

March 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

To escape Oaxacan city life (and hopefully the heat of the city), I organized myself a Couchsurfing stay in Teotitlán del Valle for the weekend.  I’m not sure that I got away from the heat, and the CS experience was debatable, but it did let me tread around new dirt paths, so I’m content.

TeotitlanDirtPath

I caught a bus from Oaxaca to Teotitlán del Valle, being dropped off in front of the main church just as a miraculous cloud passed overhead and shed half a dozen (sadly, literally) thick drops of warm water that evaporated before they even reached the ground.

TeotitlanChurch2

Still, I pretended that it was a downpour and sought shelter inside the church, whose creepy stillness was mildly helped out with piles of Easter flowers everywhere and a hand-painted dome:

TeotitlanChurchTop

From there, I went off in search of my Couchsurfer, whose address was rather difficult to find in a town with no street names or house numbers.  The destination was only stumbled upon because I saw a couple of kids my age (the only ones that weren’t little kids or old people) yelling through a gate to a mysterious señora.  It was the only sign of life in the entire village.  So, I decided that I had nothing better to go off and, as soon as they left, walked up to the same metal gate and yelled to the señora.  I mentioned the name of the CS, she said yes, and I was admitted entrance to the farm that would be my home for the next two nights.

Basically, it was a big courtyard with a lot of corn and sheep:

TeotitlanFarm
And then some more sheep and corn:

TeotitlanFarm2
And a couple of tractors and pumpkin peels scattered about.  The family that lived there was, like every inhabitant of Teotitlán del Valle, in the rug weaving business.  So, I learned about cochineal, a bug that lives on certain cacti that, when ground up, produces a powder that you can mix with various ingredients to get different colors that is then used to dye the wool, which will eventually be used to weave the rugs.

(I ended up dying my hair with it instead, and rocked a pink-and-purple hairstyle for a few days before it washed out.)

Other than learning about wool and attempting to fix tractor shafts with rubber tires so that the corn kettles wouldn’t backfire and amputate our heads as we ground it up to make corn flour, my days were spent soaking my feet in a little stream (hallelujah, cold water) and walking up and down the road that leads above town:

TeotitlanHike

There wasn’t much there, other than cactus:

TeotitlanCactus

And, amazingly, like an oasis in the middle of the desert, a pond:

TeotitlanLago

Which looks cool and inviting, and I got so excited to jump into it, but it was more warm and muddy than anything else.  So, disappointment, and back to dangling my legs in the stream by a couple of larger pebbles.

The last day, before heading back to Oaxaca, I did climb up to the top of the mountain, which was a zig-zag path up, up, up.  Minimal shade, but worth the view at the top, in the company of a steady breeze and a family of large birds that swooped down mere feet away from you.

TeotitlanTopCross

And so, dustier than when left, I hopped on another bus that would take me back to the coffee shops and art museums of Oaxaca- whose presence was even more appreciated after the weekend outing.  Home, sweet, home.

 

 

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