Thursday, May 31, 2007

once in a blue moon

1. If there's something you only do once in a blue moon, this is the day to do it. Tonight is the second full moon this month, the most commonly accepted definition of a "blue moon". So... go crazy, eat a whole litre of ice cream, go to the movies, order something ridiculous at a restaurant, buy a bottle of tequila, update your blog. Or be really boring like me, and pick "thinning out your closet" as that rare event to be chosen to celebrate a trick of astronomy and calendars. It certainly qualifies in my case.

2. Today I went to work, even though I don't really start until tomorrow, to see how the move is going and to see the new space. We moved our offices from the Phoenix building, next to city hall, all the way to the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. The new space is about four times the size, with big windows and hardwood floors, which is pretty great. It's about three blocks from this apartment and five blocks from the new apartment (which is across the street from the old office). I kind of wish we didn't have to unpack the whole thing before we can seriously get on planning the Rothesay festival, because it's just over a month away, but somehow things always work out that way.

3. This evening: doing something about my closet, and also something about my blooooog.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

journey's end

Well, I'm only ten days behind on my blog for Mexico... not as bad as I feared! Yes, I'm going to continue to type it up with photos and so on. My written journal is only two days short, so I'm going to finish it up today and start transcribing.
Coming back from a trip is one of the most interesting things about traveling. The reverse culture shock (showers with water pressure? food that isn't trying to burn me from the inside out?) and the inevitable slowing down that comes after being "on" and busy for weeks... it can be hard to adjust to. The first couple times I traveled I had a lot of trouble coming back, with temperature and jet lag and so on. It was a bit better last year, but this year hasn't been bad at all. The only problem has been a cough from the unbelievably dry climate here and that I just don't know what to do with myself. When I left, I still had a busy schedule and lots to do; now, I have a full time job that I start on Friday, but that's it - no homework, no other jobs, no wacky class schedule. I tried to apply for a Millennium scholarship, but apparently the "in course" scholarships are only for those who have just finished their second year (I don't know anyone like that), and then I tried to apply for my student loan for next year but those forms aren't out until Friday, so I guess I can try and blog and upload photos to Facebook and maybe sort some clothes.
The cats are happy to see me, and have petitioned for a new kind of food, having buried their food dish in paper, and eaten holes through the bottom of the bag to scatter the food everywhere. Cats.
Fredericton is much the same as always. The Fox is getting a rooftop patio, which is exciting.
Sean is working away at his job, which involves dressing snappily and selling pretty jewelry to people. He's been working lots of short shifts - it seems like six days a week of three to eight hour shifts. This coming week he has forty hours, and they're not even into the seriously busy tourist season yet.
Well, I suppose I ought to figure out what I'm doing today and get on it...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

day fourteen: santo domingo market, cucumber limonada

San Cristobal is even more beautiful in the day than at night. I had a shower before breakfast, and the water was actually hot, and the water pressure actually washed the shampoo out of my hair, which was so nice. Breakfast was equally good - strong coffee, eggs however you wanted (and could pronounce in Spanish), and a choice of fruit plate or juice. I should point out, too, that the fruit here is so much better than the fruit at home - here it´s grown for flavour, not for ability to keep while being shipped across continents, and it´s picked ripe from the tree, so mangos actually taste like mangos, and I´m told that the bananas taste like real bananas (I wouldn´t know).
The big event of the day was the market at Santo Domingo. We went on a brief walking tour so we knew where the main street was, and the market, and then had the day to explore; we were there from 9 am til 6 pm, and there were hundreds of vendors with scarves, shawls, stuffed toys, Zapatista swag, shirts, embroidered goods, jewelry... I started my shopping in earnest (we had been told to wait til Chiapas for most of our shopping, because the prices are much better) and got quite a sunburn, accidentally, even though it was much cooler than in Merida.
The two restaurants Anne and I ate at were both on Kerry´s recommendation, and as she is a vegetarian, they´re both fairly hippy sort of places, but very good regardless. There are a lot of European hippies in Chiapas for some reason - probably because of the Zapatista movement - and so there are a lot of organic or vegetarian places.
For lunch we went to a vegetarian juice bar where I had enfrijolatas (tortillas with queso and beans) and a strawberry-pineapple-papaya smoothie, which was amazing; Anne had enchiladas with textured vegetable protein (a common meat substitute at home, too) and queso stuffing, and guava juice (Anne has a thing about guavas).
We had supper with a couple others at the Madre Tierre (Mother Earth) restaurant; everyone else had chili con carne, and I had curried chicken, which was nice, but the real star of the meal was the cucumber limonada, which was really good. For the millionth time I wished I could take a picture of a taste.
We also spent some time at the internet cafe - I had a video chat with Mom and wrote two blog entries, but couldn´t reach Sean or burn CDs of pictures, which was too bad.

day thirteen: la venta, boat ride, molé

Another early morning for a long day of traveling. The hotel laid out a really good breakfast buffet, and I had some eggs (most eggs here are served scrambled with ham, "huevos con jamon", or with tomatos and green peppers, "huevos mexicanos") and some melon, with some green tea I brought from home.
Unlike the day before, though, we had a few stops to break up the hours of driving. The first stop was just outside of Villahermosa, at the La Venta park, which showcases 4000 year old Olmec artifacts from the La Venta site located in an inconvenient swamp some 60 km away. I would really like to return someday with more time and fewer people; I´m not sure whether it was my stomach or my mood or what, but I was really annoyed at the group there. We hurried through the park, stopping for goofy pictures but no explanation or time to appreciate the artifacts. Some people actually put hats on the statues we weren´t supposed to touch or take flash photographs of. Maybe I´m just a square, but I really wish people appreciated the culture a bit more.(the giant head disapproves of gringos)

The other thing that upset me a bit about La Venta is that there is a zoo element to the park, and it isn´t very well maintained. They have an aging, fat jaguar on display who is forced to be out in the sunlight during the day - they are nocturnal - so gringas like me can take pictures of him. Granted, he didn´t look especially unhappy; his cage was largish and he´s probably lived there all his life, but there´s something deeply wrong about it anyway. Last year I lived in the jungle for a month without seeing a single jaguar, but they were there, and you got the sense of the mystique about them that led the Maya to use them as icons of power and strength. This poor fellow in the zoo didn´t serve much purpose that way. They had displays of crocodiles and turtles, as well, which weren´t too bad, and it seems as though most of their monkey get out of the enclosures whenever they want and roam about the park, but the big cats were upsetting.
All that having been said, I would like to go back to see the statues in more detail, especially the giant heads.
Our second stop was much less upsetting. We stopped about two hours before San Cristobal at a little tourism complex next to a river, to go on a boat ride on a stretch of the river that used to be white water until a hydro dam was built upstream in the 60´s. The landscape is incredible - the cliffs on either side of the river reach up as high as a full kilometer in some areas, with ten foot cactus growing on the sheer walls, and beautiful little caves. One cave, accessible from the water, has a shrine to the Virgin of Guadelupe, the patron saint of Mexico. Also, the wildlife was impressive - there were wild monkeys in the trees by the water, lots of waterbirds and storks, and even crocodiles (I promise, little ones, Mom). We all managed to fit in one large fibreglass speedboat for the ride, though it was fairly tight.
After another few hours on the bus we arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas, which is a large town in the hills of Chiapas. We stayed in a comfortable hotel, the Hotel Moctezuma, with a number of little garden atria,and lots of public places to sit and talk, with nicer beds than the other places we´d stayed. The area is much colder than Merida and we all needed sweaters before heading our seperate ways for the evening.
Anne and I went to a little internet cafe around the corner, cheaper and faster than the Internet Pirate´s place in Merida, and made some phone calls on Anne´s Skype account; I called Mom, and also Sean, who miraculously answered his phone, and managed to get them both onto MSN for a while.
We left when the cafe closed and wandered around looking for somewhere to eat. We ended up at a little place on a square with a large church; Anne had fried chicken, and I had enchiladas de pollo, which came drowned in molé sauce. Molé is a cocoa based sauce which isn´t sweet like chocolate but has the same sort of comforting feeling to it; it was oddly good. Also, everything came with queso fresco crumbled over it and melting - a soft cheese like a very mild feta, unpasteurized and fresh. Very, very tasty.
After supper we went back to the hotel and chatted with Amanda and Carlos for a while in the front garden; they were having a Baja white wine called Blanc du Blanc, which is rather nice (Amanda gave me some).

day twelve: traveling is lame, spiderman 3, street band

I got up early to pack, still not feeling very well - nothing that couldn´t be fixed by Gravol, though.
The day was a blur of bus. There were very few points of interest; we watched Spiderman 3 (yes, it only came out last weekend, but the street vendors are already selling pirated cams of it, so there you have it) and at one point stopped at a rest stop on the highway that had a Domino´s, of all things. Everyone bought pizzas, and Will gave me a piece, which surprisingly gave my stomach no trouble at all. Yay for Gravol.
We arrived in Villahermosa just as it started to get dark, and were advised to be careful wandering around. Anne, Heather, Steve, Fraser and I went looking for somewhere local to eat and tripped over a Macdonalds, a KFC, a Burger King, and another Domino´s, as well as a xylophone-and-drum-kit street band, before finding a nice little greasy spoon that was still open. The waitress had a good laugh at our horrible Spanglish and we all had different kinds of sandwiches, except Anne, who had been told to try the huevos motulenos in the area by the politicos we dined with the first night in Merida. She did, and they were really good - fried eggs between tortillas with a tomato based sauce.
We stopped at the OXXO nearby for bus snacks for the next day before heading back to the hotel for a night of quiet sleep, which I hadn´t had in about a week and a half (we had the loudest room at the Flamingo).

Friday, May 18, 2007

merida, again

Hi folks.
After approximately a million hours on the bus, I´ve visited three other states and gone up and down over 2500 m above sea level. My stomach doesn´t really appreciate it much, so I´m going to try to sleep it off as much as possible tonight, and transcribe lots of blog tomorrow if possible (a week behind! yuck).
The next week and a bit looks thusly:
  • Today: sleeeeeep.
  • Saturday: adventures, blogging.
  • Sunday: studying, putting together a presentation, very little in the way of adventures because it´s both municipal and state elections and no one will be open.
  • Monday: tests for culture class and Spanish class, plus a presentation. Woo hoo. Also a possible goodbye-Merida visit to the Mambo Café.
  • Tuesday: travel to Playa del Carmen, though there´s a possibility that some of us will travel to Cobá overnight to see the site there instead, and travel to Playa the next day.
  • Wednesday: definitely in the region of Playa del Carmen, probably going to Tulum, a smallish Maya site on a cliff (featured in an Imax movie some time ago).
  • Thursday: last day at Playa, probably to be spent on the beach evening out my stupid tan, which is pretty weird at the moment.
  • Friday: fly to Halifax to see my family.
  • Saturday: hanging out with my supercool family.
  • Sunday: head to St John to meet Sean at his parents´house.
  • Monday: back to good old Freddy to get my affairs in order before starting work on the first of June.

As you can see, busy busy busy. I´m cooking (the cooler rainy season hasn´t arrived yet), so I think I´ll go snooze in my new room at the Flamingo. Meanwhile, let´s all have a good laugh at Fredericton, where there is apparently snow.

Monday, May 14, 2007

day eleven: laundry, modern art, madame butterfly

A good start to the day: instead of continental toast, we could have eggs and ham for breakfast! And I did. Also, Will and I hurried off before school to get laundry done nearby - just $2 for all my laundry. Not bad.
In class we learned all about the Spanish occupation of Mexico, and the social system that resulted, which is good information to have traveling around here. Spanish class was unexpectedly brutal - a lot of translating things on the fly, which wasn´t hard so much as it was stressful being put on the spot. Luckily I´m getting better with that, thanks to Latin and Geyssen.
After class I had a quick nap and then Anne and I set out for afternoon adventures. We had intended to go back to see the second floor of the Anthropology museum but there wasn´t really time, and there were lots of things to see downtown, so we stuck to the area. We thought we might visit the higher end clothing stores to do research for our project, but tripped over the museum of modern art in the main square, and as admission was free, we decided to give it a try. We couldn´t take pictures, which is too bad, but it was a really nice afternoon. Some of the paintings were hard to connect with, but there was a traveling exhibit of bronze arches that I enjoyed. They were very organic and most of them were sliced in curving cuts like three dimensional puzzle pieces.
Unfortunately we had to hurry back early in order to get ready for the evening; as it ended up, though, even after showering and dressing, there was time for Anne and I to go to El Trapiche for a quick bowl of soup before we had to leave.
The big event of the night? The opera! Most of us bought tickets to go to the opera house two blocks from the hotel to see Madame Butterfly. I was in the second story balcony, in the front row - not the best seats in the house, but pretty good. I could see and hear everything.
It was so weird watching an opera in Italian, set in Japan, with Spanish subtitles running along on a screen over the stage. The opera was beautiful, especially the imaginative set design and the costuming. My only regret is that the action and singing made it difficult to appreciate the hard work by the orchestra in the pit beneath the stage, but during the curtain call the cellists represented, waving the cellos by their necks from below in the pit. Good times.
Unfortunately I wasn´t feeling well after the opera, so I went straight to bed to try to sleep it off before the morning and traveling.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Hola from San Cristobal de las Casas, where I am going to be for the next few days. Hopefully I´ll be able to spend some time updating tomorrow and catch up - there´s a really nice internet cafe around the corner from our hotel - so I´ll be around more than I had feared. It´s a lot chillier here than in Merida, only about 32 degrees and a lot less humid. Our hotel is beautiful and the streets are a lot quieter here than in Villahermosa (where I was last night) and Merida.
Anyway, just a quick note before finding somewhere to eat!

Friday, May 11, 2007

day ten: market, beetles, mambo cafe

I am so glad I went right to bed after supper. A bunch of people stayed out late and came in very loudly; Christiane yelled at them in class, and a lot of people are annoyed. What a mess.
After classes, Anne, Will, and I went to the market hoping to see more textiles for our research. We had tacos at the same stand again, the Loncheria de Rubi, and then went upstairs where there were supposed to be clothing stores, but most of them were closed.The one store open was large, but mostly filled with the usual touristy things, but while Will was buying a duffle bag I found a scarf of the traditional sort the elderly women here wear. When I asked the price, I opened a real can of worms - the guy was determined to sell it to me. The first price was 2500 pesos - around $250 American - but the student price was 1900, and the Canadian student price was 1600. I really wasn´t going to buy it under any circumstances, but the price went down to 1300, then 1000, and as we were escaping he was offering 850. I need to cultivate that "I have no money on me and wouldn´t buy it anyway" expression, it seems to do wonders for prices.
We continued on and saw a few more small stores before we met someone Will recognized - one of the twenty-odd hammock merchants who had decided that Will was in desperate need of a hammock. This particular guy had been helpful, giving him directions and so on, so we went with him to see his store, and I´ve very glad we did - it was really fun. He had a tank full of makech beetles, which are large junebug sort of beetles that people glue rhinestones to and sell as moving jewelry. He let me take pictures and even put some on Will for pictures, which was pretty great. He likes Will a lot - he gave him a sample shot of five different liquors (Will bought two bottles and a chess set, and kind of weaved his way around for the rest of the afternoon).
On the way back to the hotel we stopped for palettas, the fruit juice popsicles around here, which is the perfect way to end an afternoon in Mexico.
When we got back, Anne left to do errands and I went with Mitch, Steve and Heather to El Trapiche, where the menu is awesome, the portions are large, the prices are cheap and the waiters are always laughing at us. Steve and Heather had chicken fajitas, Mitch had cochitas de puerco (another variation on the pork taco thing, but this one comes from pork chops rather than wherever the rest come from), and I had a torta brava. A torta is a sandwich, and brava apparently means with bacon and avacado and cheese and beans and mushrooms and other yummy things. It was lovely but I could barely finish it. I also tried some guacamole Mitch ordered, and once again El Trapiche takes first prize. I heart that restaurant.
(the standard condiments: lime, salsa verde, some sort of creepy red salsa that tastes like smoke, and pico de gallo.)

When I got back I had a couple minutes to join Anne at the Internet Pirate´s cafe to place a surprise Skype call to Mom for Mother´s Day; it was Mother´s Day in Mexico, anyway, and I wasn´t sure I´d be able to call on the actual day, as we travel that day.
I got back just in time to go with a large group of people to Carlos´apartment for a sort of pre-clubbing party, party here taking the meaning of sitting around with convenience store booze and listening to Carlos´iPod on random (there is a surprising amount of Dream Theater and metal covers of Abba on there). The alcohol here is really cheap; Mitch, the sole smoker on our trip, bought a pack of cigarettes, two bottles of water, and an eight pack of Sol beer for under $10.
Finally we went up to the Mambo Cafe. I hadn´t really been sure I wanted to go - we had class the next morning, it sucks being hung over in this climate, etcetera - but once I was there I was glad I went. It was a fairly large club, and the cover (70 pesos for women, 140 for men) included all you could drink (some people were getting into trouble trying to drink their money´s worth of their cover charge), but the best was the music. About half the time, the music was a live band with a few guitars, two singers, a congo drum player, and a three man brass section, and they were just amazing. When they were on break they played recorded mambo music.
I sat around taking in it for a bit, but soon I was dancing - what a good time. I wish Sean had been there, he would have loved it...
Anne and I headed out at about 2 am, an hour before the club closed, but early enough that we could get some sleep for class and also get a cab easily. It took about a half hour to wake up the doorman to let us into the Flamingo, though.

day nine: gardens, museum

I wasn´t too tired in the morning despite a late night, but I was annoyed to find that I was two days behind in my blog and one day behind in my journal. I did get to chat with Michelle before school, though.
In class we mainly covered aspects of the Maya religion and a little about important numbers and themes in the culture - pretty bare bones, but a good start. At lunch, I burnt a CD of pictures for 11 pesos at the internet cafe; it´s run by a fellow with long hair and big gold hoop earrings. I like to think of him as the Internet Pirate.
In Spanish, we learned some important things like how to say "I´m hungry" and "I´m too hot". The latter is important, because you might think that the word for hot is caliente, but in fact the proper one is calor; caliente in that context has a sexual connotation. Similarly, it´s important to conjugate correctly - an extra s on the end of "cuanto cuesta" changes it from "how much does it cost" to "how much do you cost" - very important.
I had planned to go to Progeso, the beach, in the afternoon but wasn´t really in a beach frame of mind, so I went with the herbal lore project group to the botanical gardens on the outskirts of town. We had to argue our way in because they close to the public at noon, and all of the signs were entirely in Maya and Spanish; luckily we had Mary and Anne to translate, and my reading comprehension is quite good from Latin (finally, it´s useful!). Most of the labelled plants were pretty tame, though I was attacked by a rogue cactus. I took a lot of pictures - a mesquite tree, the water gardens, and a tree called Bo´ob in Maya (yes, we´re easily amused).
Sadly we had to rush out because Dave had places to be, but I snapped a picture of a bitter orange tree on the way out.

The project group caught the first cab out, and Anne and I took the next to the Anthropology Museum. The cab driver tried to charge us gringo prices - 150 pesos for a five minute cab ride - but when we called him on it, he admitted that it was only 40.
Our first mission on the main street, Paseo Montejo, was food. Most places were unfortunately still closed for siesta, so we ended up getting snacks at the OXXO (corner store) to tide us over. On the way, though, we ran across a large home furnishing store that broke my heart. It was full of the sort 0f furniture I see on design blogs all the time - $3000 couches and so on - with an eclectic mix of chic and kitsch. I was very, very fangirl about it. I wish it were kosher to take pictures in stores.
The anthropology museum was boggling. The pieces of statuary from various sites are impressive enough, but the cenote finds are just amazing - textiles, jade, earflares, anthropomorphic bells, gold - there was a solid gold frog about an inch long with jade eyes. I took a lot of pictures, but by the time we finished the first floor they had closed the second floor for the night, so we vowed to come another day.(Anne posing with a ball court hoop from a remote site here in the Yucatan)

(deformed skulls - the Maya used to bind their skulls as they were growing in order to have oddly shaped heads as a status symbol)
(assorted jadeite jewelry - those things with the large holes in them are ear flares, to be worn in stretched earlobes)

We decided to walk back to the hotel; it was only about seven blocks, and the evening was cooler. There are a lot of outdoor sculptures on the Paseo Montejo, and oddly enough almost all of them are by Japanese artists. Very strange.(some strange art on the way back to the hotel)

When we got back to the hotel we picked up Heather and went out for supper. We rejected the first couple of places because of the price and the menu, and were getting stupidly hungry, so we went to El Trapiche, where the food is not only cheap but the best we´ve had. I had fajitas con pollo (chicken fajitas), with refried beans and guacamole, and also salsa verde, which is pretty mild. Anne had a tasty looking pork dish and a bowl of sopa de lima spiced with habaneros - burninatingly delicious.
When we got back to the hotel, I went straight to bed after journaling the day, completely exhausted.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

day eight: muna, motorcycle rickshaws, iced coffee

I was feeling the late night when I got up - we had an early morning, because we had to leave at 8 to catch the 9 bus to Muna. We took the equivalent of Acadian lines - semi-expensive long distance public buses - and the terminal was about ten blocks away, which is a hike when it´s that early in the morning. I slept sitting up most of the way to the town.
We arrived at the central market of Muna, which was mainly taken up with local vegetable merchants, but also some food kiosks and some craft kiosks, including a table of incredibly beautiful, utterly authentic embroidered huipils; the catches were that they weren´t entirely finished into garments, presumably so you could fit it properly, and also they were on the expensive side - but for a really handmade huipil, that´s to be expected. I had a couple of salbutes from a vendor, which were possibly the best yet; they were made with ground pork instead of shredded, and I had some piquante (fresh hot sauce made of chopped hot peppers and tomatos) with them. Very, very nice. On Heather´s advice I also got a little block of gummy tamarind candy, made from the pulp of a sweet bean type fruit that grows here, which was sticky but pretty good.
Our first stop was the house of a wood carver who carves symbols from Maya glyphs and pottery in oak. He had a beautiful carving of a vision serpent that I wish cost less than $80 - I´m pretty fond of the image of the vision serpent coming up from the bowl of paper strips. He also lived in a traditional thatch house, and talked to us (through our local guide, a Quebecois named Eduardo) about the technique of thatching, and the materials. He had a nice niche of images of Christ and Mary, as well as at least three creches - home shrines are pretty common, I gather.
As we were gathering outside to carry on, I sat in the shade on a curb, next to an elderly Maya woman, who proceeded to talk at me for five minutes straight in Spanish without really caring that I wasn´t understanding - all about la casa loca and expensive hospitals. I have no idea.

(the hut, our guide Eduardo, and the old woman)

We made a brief stop outside a small Fransican church that was unforunately closed, but Eduardo told us that the icon of the saint is generally prayed to by the neighbourhood. When the rains fail, however, they punish the icon and go out to the cornfields to do traditional sacrifices to Chaac - the attitude seems to be to do whatever works!
Our next stop was the house of Theresa, the hammock weaver. She was a bit overwhelmed by our numbers, which is unfortunate because we wanted to talk to her about her craft for our project, but we did take pictures of her loom and the work in progress.

We did have a piece of luck on the way back to the square, though - we passed a house where Eduardo had friends, and there was an old woman embroidering a huipil who was only too happy to let us photograph the work in progress (a lot of traditional people here are shy about pictures, so we are pretty limited that way).

She also called out her daughter, who handpaints huipils, and she showed us her work too.

To get to our final stop, we took tricycle and motorcycle rickshaws from the main square. On the way there, Anne and I took a tricycle one, which has two wheels in front supporting the seating area, and then the driver behind. A very fun way to travel.

Our last stop was a pottery workshop where they make very accurate reproductions of ancient Maya pottery for museums using the same ingrediants - for example, black seeds that are ground for the black colour in the slip. I took quite a few pictures.

We went to the back, where they have a surprisingly large restaurant on the same property, and had some limonada before heading back to the square.
I hopped in a motorcycle rickshaw on the way back, which was not as quiet but certainly faster than the tricycle, and as soon as we go to the square, a group of us ran to catch an express minibus back to Merida. Not everyone was back from the workshop yet, but we almost filled the bus; there was just enough room for two Mexican guys to squish in, which must have been unpleasant for them, because most of the group played a game called Mafia the whole way back, which has a tendancy to get loud.
I was starting to get tired of the limitations of having to go around in large groups, and kind of grumpy in general, so when we got back, Heather and I went to a not-very-Mexican restaurant for supper - the Italian Coffee Co, which is more or less a Starbucks. A caramel frappe and an enormous Mexican panini (spicy pork with avacado) put me back in a very good mood. It was interesting ordering - I hadn´t realized that almost every meal I´ve had here was with Spanish speakers like Anne and Mary, so it was far more awkward this time. We learned how to say "to go" from the waitress, who was pretty amused at our horrible Spanglish.
When we arrived back at the hotel, we met Will, Amanda, and a few others who were on their way out to supper; we went with them for something to do, and ended up on the same balcony Anne and I ate at the night before. I introduced everyone else to the sangria, and Will bought an order of guacamole to split between those of us not eating full meals (only two people were really hungry). It was a good time.
After we got back to the hotel, we did our Spanish homework, which took maybe five minutes, and then Will and I went back out with Mitch, Fraser and Kim to the Mayan Pub. Going to the Mayan with Kim is always an adventure, because she has managed to befriend all the regulars already, so we end up sitting with Mexican musicians every time. I chatted for a long time with a biology student who had excellent English and a really good knowledge of the interaction between ecology and archaeology, but the conversation sort of fell apart after I told him I have a boyfriend (isn´t that always the way) so Will and I headed back to the hotel to gossip for a bit before turning in.

day seven: magic, typical dances, balcony

This was the day I figured out how to post pictures, and thus started getting behind on my blogging as my internet time was eaten up catching up on pictures for previous entries. The days are far too short here!
During project class I tried to write again to get caught up, but a power bump killed my entry and so I went out to El Trapiche, the place with the excellent sopa de lima. I ordered panuchos, but couldn´t quite finish them - the portions there are so large!
I was pretty tired for some reason and barely got through Spanish class awake; it keeps happening, so I think it has to do more with the time of day than the class or a lack of sleep. We covered concepts like how to say ¨What does your uncle do for a job? He is a lawyer", etc.
After class, Anne and I waited for Laura the huipil designer for almost an hour, and she didn´t show up. Disappointed, we took Will, Steve, Fraser and Mitch to the laundry. We wandered around in Centro for the afternoon and evening, and saw lots of great things:

  • We stopped in at a Mayan chocolate boutique. Before, the girl at the counter had given us free samples of chocolate, and they were delicious; this time, she gave us toasted cocoa beans with honey, and also little glasses of cool, frothy chocolate drink.
  • While walking with the boys, we stopped in at a gaming store, which had cosplay event posters, anime playing on a little TV, a rack of manga and hentai, and about ten Maya geeks playing Magic. Will sells Magic cards at home, so it was a neat sort of experience. To fully appreciate it, he bought a pack and passed it around so we could experience new card smell.
  • Anne and I met up with Christiane and Mary, and went looking for a co-op Christiane used to visit. We had a lot of trouble finding it, and when we got there Christiane was disappointed that the prices had gone up and quality gone down, but on the way we bought coconut popsicles, and they were perfect - cold, just a little sweet, with shredded coconut in them.
  • Also with Christiane and Mary, we stopped in at the city hall, which used to be a colonial administration building, in order to see the huge murals on display there. Most of the history of the area is represented in them; there are probably about twenty, and they´re all at least 10´by 8´, and many of them are much, much larger. They´re all the work of a single painter, whose name escapes me at the moment, but I will add later when I look it up.

    (a mural depicting a Maya worker bowed under the weight of a bale of sisal, a major industry of the Spanish colony)

  • We went out to a bank so Anne could change money and I found a crazy clothing store, probably seconds, that was shoulder-to-shoulder packed with women buying shirts for 15 or 20 pesos a piece. I bought six. :)

In the evening we went back to the main square near us to see "typical dances" (that seems to be the preferred tranlation of "traditional dances") performed by a troupe of little boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 12 in traditional (colonial, not ancient) garb. The dancing was almost as incredible as the costumes; the girls wore the formal version of huipils,with many gold rosaries, blue mantillas, white heels and big flowers in their hair, while the boys wore all white with panama hats and red bandanas in their pockets. The dances ranged from relatively simple to a complex maypole dance, dancing with beer bottles balanced on their heads, and then dancing with trays of bottles and glasses of water balanced on their heads. Just incredible. I´ve never seen little boys behave so well.(unforunately all my pictures are blurry like this, but my videos turned out well and I´ll post them when I get back to the land of better bandwidth)
After the show, Anne and I went to a little restaurant on the corner of the square and sat out on a tiny balcony to eat a light supper. A very nice guy at the next table over took our picture for me, so I took a picture of him and his friend too. Anne had a beef dish and I had the best guacamole I´ve ever had. I also had a sangria, which came layered. Very pretty, and much, much better than the sangria at home. After a couple of pictures, we left to the sound of Crocodile Rock on the kitchen radio and returned to the Flamingo for well earned rest.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

day six: domingo market, uxmal, hacienda

I managed to sleep until 9 in the morning, probably because the traffic is a lot less on Sundays. We had coffee, orange juice and toast at the hotel, and I put more aloe on my Dzibilchultun sunburns (my poor shoulders!).
Anne, Heather and myself headed out to the Sunday morning fairs. There were a lot of vendors selling Merida huipils (blouses) and I got my first taste of haggling - I argued an old Maya woman down to 200 pesos from 380 for a flowy indigo blouse (very touristy, not really traditional, but I like the style and it´s the first one I saw in non-popsicle colours).
We found Laura eventually and arranged to go to her house to see her studio where she designs huipil embroidery. She has two sweet daughters; the younger one hid under the table from me.
Lunch was a piece of Hawaiian pizza from a vendor for me and Heather, and a tamale for Anne, and we ate on the run trying to get back to the hotel to meet everyone and hop the bus to Uxmal.
We had a new tour guide for this trip, Serjio, who turned out to be equal parts tour guide and comedian:

"Do you speak Spanish? Ah, si, no problem, I speak only the best broken English, the best Spanglish in Mexico... You are very lucky. Eddie, your driver, he is the best driver in the country. He even has a driver´s license! A real one!"

Uxmal was about an hour´s drive away. It´s famous as a city that was abandoned many times because of the water supply issues in the area. The name means ¨built three times", but it probably had more occupation periods than that.
The architecture is beautiful, probably the most intricate I´ve seen, with amazingly well preserved facades. My favourite buildings were the Magician´s Pyramid and the Nunnery Quadrangle; the former even has a kitschy little tour guide story to go with it:

A white magic witch lived in the city of Uxmal, and as witches are wont to do, laid an egg instead of having a normal baby. The egg hatched into a deformed dwarf, who was very clever and became popular amongst the people of the city. The king, growing jealous of the dwarf´s popularity, challenged him to a series of contests; in the end, the dwarf won through cleverness, and the people killed the king and set the dwarf up as king instead.

(Will and the Magician´s Pyramid; also shown, left to right, Christiane, Mary and Mitch)

I also climbed halfway up the Great Pyramid before getting vertigo, and walked around the Governor´s Palace, and a fertility temple with stone turtles on it (water creatures were often symbols of fertility).

(Hiding in the shade of the turtle temple - they´re the round things around the top)

(the Nunnery Quandrangle, with the Magician´s Pyramid behind it)

(a facade in the Nunnery Quandrangle, with Mitch trying to take a closeup)

I got lots of pictures of the Chaac masks in the facades; he´s the major decorative element, being the deity of rain in an area where rain is almost the only water they get (they had no cenote).

(a Chaac mask; you can see his eyes and mouth, but his characteristic elephant trunk nose has been broken off)

(a sacrifice to Chaac; you can see his tied hands)

After Uxmal, we bussed to a nearby hacienda (a sort of luxury hotel) for swimming and sunning poolside, and then a buffet supper, at which I stuffed myself with sopa de lima and frijoles and vegetables prepared the same way we had them all the time in the jungle.

(Heather and Anne sunning at the hacienda)

(the hacienda and the pool)

After supper, we went back to Uxmal for the sound and light show they put on at night. We sat on the high point of the Nunnery Quadrangle and watched the coloured lights; the lighting from underneath reveals a lot about the facades that is hard to make out during the day, and the site is creepily impressive at night. The sound portion of the presentation was a sort of radio play in Spanish about a princess of Uxmal - it was the usual sort of tour guide tripe, bu it didn´t really detract for us because we couldn´t understand more than five words. Mary was pretty annoyed with it, though.
When we got back, I almost crashed immediately, but felt better after a shower and went out with Dave, Oranges, Katelyn and Kim to the Mayan Pub for nachos (the best ever, possibly even better than the Fox) and drinks. I ordered a drink off the mixed drinks menu called a Sacraficio Maya, which I assumed would be something like a daiquiri; what arrived, however, was a flaming shot of anise liquor. You live, you learn, I guess.