Monday, June 9, 2008

It's Pronounced "Wa-Ha-Ka"

Well, we've finally arrived at the destination I've been dreaming about for the past six months: Oaxaca.

Why have I been so anxious to get here? Well, the city has a lot going on, and it's known for great food, but neither of those reasons fully covers it.

I was looking forward to Oaxaca because getting here meant that we'd almost be done riding buses, boats, trains and planes. We'll be planted in the same spot for the next six weeks, and then we just have a few more destinations to hit before flying back home.

And it turns out, we're in a great spot for hanging out. Our apartment is the nuts. We'd seen a few pictures, but they don't really do justice to the lush, jungle-like shared courtyard or 20-foot ceilings in our place.

We also didn't realize we'd be getting our own kitchen/dining area.

Back to the blog stuff: We left off in Tulum, where Liz booked a cave snorkeling tour one afternoon.

A bit of bad news first: Our camera is failing. It's too late in the trip to buy another one, since we have a brand-new digital SLR sitting at home waiting for us. We'll just have to make do for the next two months; we can still take pictures, but the exposure control is really goofy now.

So, apologies in advance, but this was the best shot we could get of the caves.

From Tulum, the next point of interest was Chichen Itza, a major Mayan ruin. But instead of forking over $$$$$$ to stay near the ruins, we stayed about half an hour away in a cute colonial town called Valladolid, home of the biggest Mexican flag I've ever seen in my life.

Just had to capture one of these for the blog. Thank god this kind of advertising is illegal in the states.

More Valladolid.

One of my new favorite Mexican foods: . It's a type of slow-roasted pork -- a lot like Carnitas (except Carnitas are fried). Usually served with bright pink onions, tortillas and lime.

We had one night in Valladolid before heading off to see the ruins. We met up with a friendly German girl on the bus who told us about some kind of local dancing exhibition, so we checked it out.

They did the "Mexican hat dance" and also plenty of dancing with bottles and trays on their heads. I was hoping for some kind of Pee Wee Herman "Tequila" dance, but left disappointed.

The next morning we caught a ride with another American that was staying at our hotel. We wanted to beat the crowds to avoid another Angkor Wat catastrophe where we found ourselves fighting through tour groups all day.

And, we succeeded. We blitzed through the ruins in record time and were back on the bus to Valladolid before lunchtime. Here's the main attraction, which is somewhat anticlimatically located right near the entrance.

The German girl doing something silly.

The old ball court. This is where the Mayans played a primitive sport that involved knocking a ball through a hoop using their hips, knees and elbows. Human sacrifice usually followed the games, although nobody is certain if the losers or winners (or both) were offered up.

If you look closely at this wall, you can see the ring that served as the goal.

This is actually where they kept some of the remains (heads? skulls?) of the victims.

They also tossed a lot of human sacrifices into this deep pit of water. Just like in Army of Darkness.

And they played a really slow version of tic-tac-toe. Man, the guy who had X in this game got eternally owned.

Random ruin shot.

Does this remind you of anyone? Specifically, does this remind you of anyone in the Speranza family?

Next stop: The surface of the sun. I mean, Merida. Possibly the hottest place we've been on this trip. It was a nice town, but MAN. I don't know how people live there, let alone how they hang out with their friends on park benches.

Some guy told us that this was the oldest church in Mexico.

We only stayed in Merida on our way to Palenque. Palenque is another famous ruin site. Again, we stayed in a place (El Panchan) just outside the ruins rather than in Palenque town (supposed to be horrible) or at one of the uber-fancy resorts right next to the ruins.

El Panchan turned out to be a microscopic hippie enclave in the middle of the jungle. But we found very un-hippie-like lodging at Ed and Margarita's Cabanas. This place was meticulously clean and super luxurious as far as jungle lodging goes.

Some of the flora and fauna around our place.

This is the real-deal jungle, too. It buzzes constantly with insect activity, and you can even hear howler monkeys on occasion. They sound like [censored] scary monsters, and if you didn't know better, you might be terrified.

Many of the ruins at Palenque are still buried under the jungle. Here's what's been excavated.

They discovered a body in this tomb that had been treated with cinnabar (hence the red).

The next day we took a half-day trip to check out Agua Azul and another minor waterfall.

First, the minor waterfall.

Agua Azul. This is just a small part of the falls. It's not Iguazu or anything, but it is a fairly large series of falls.

It's actually dangerous not to swim here.

More views.

This guy is crazy. The water is like 3 feet deep where he's jumping in. It must be deeper during the rainy season.

We swam to the same spot earlier. Nice place, but not necessarily worth the ridiculously dangerous collective ride to get there.

After Palenque, we went to San Cristobal de las Casas, where I became violently sick from something other than drinking for the first time in 20 years. We have only a handful of pictures from the town, as I spent most of our time there in bed, and heavy rain kept Liz confined mostly to the hostel as well. Still, I'll get them up soon.

Update on the book: I've got between 17,000 and 18,000 words done (about 50-55 pages), and I'm trying to write 1,000 a day until we leave Oaxaca.

Also, for what it's worth, it's completely different than the blog. Here I'm just trying to loosely narrate a series of pictures so people can follow along with our trip. The book will tell a lot of the stories that can't be captured on film, in more detail, more polished, and hopefully, funnier.

That's all for now; catch up with you again soon.


Nomadic Matt said...

I stumbled across your blog. It's very good. I've enjoyed reading up, especially those pictures of the mayan rivera!!

How much longer are you on the road for?

Dan said...

We return home on August 7.

Thanks for reading!

Geoff said...

I'm loving the blog too, especially the pictures - all the ones from South America have got me really excited about my trip there next year, and the Mexican photos take me back to my time there last year. I stayed in Margarita & Ed's in El Panchan too, and have very fond memories of that place.