I have been coming here for nearly a decade almost on an annual basis and I have used it as my jumping off point for other destinations both within and without Mexican borders. The natural beauty in Puerto is unparalleled with tropical plants, aromatic scents wafting in the night air and an ocean breeze that lifts the oppression of the heat. Spirit quenching sunsets and cliff top ocean views or beachside restaurants magically conclude every day. These are the things that drew me to Puerto and kept me coming back.
But….and there is a but. Puerto has been “discovered” and the number of people crowding into this area is phenomenal. Unprecedented building and development on top of already overburdened infrastructure and public facilities means crowded beaches, plane loads of tourists from as far away as the Netherlands, (KLM now books to Puerto through Mexico City), giving rise to the usual controversy for the locals. Is development good, bad or indifferent? Opinions vary but one thing is clear some will benefit and others will not.
Puerto has been amazing over the years and some of my highlights have included excursions and day trips up and down the Coast highway that takes you to a variety of beaches, towns, lagoons, wild-life sanctuaries and mangroves, all with a backdrop of the Sierra de Sur mountains. Over the years I have visited the spectacular mangroves and lagoons of Chacahua National Park to the north of Puerto. To the south I have made trips to Mazunte, a hip kind of beach town, Zipolite a town known for it’s nude/gay friendliness, and further south to Hualtulco, a resort town popular with tourists due to daily direct flights from places like Vancouver. Also in that area I have stayed in and visited the town of Tonemeca where I have friends.
Not day trips, I have ventured up into the Sierra del Sur Mountains to visit the capital of the state of Oaxaca, Oaxaca City and also to the alpine town of San Jose del Pacifico home of alpine adventures, such as drop zones, zip lines and cliff top swings!
In Puerto itself there are several beaches, starting at the southern most part of town, there is the surfer beach La Punta with restaurants, bars and night life. Hard to swim if you’re not a strong swimmer but easier and safer than Zicatela beach which is north toward the center of town and a great place to sit in the sand or in a restaurant to enjoy the sunset, but not a swimming beach with wild waves and rip tides. The next beach is the main beach and toward the southern end it is swimmable and well used by locals for both swimming and anchoring fish boats. Around the point there is Manzanillo and Puerto Angelito beaches, favourites with locals as they are safe, swimmable and can be accessed easily, whereas the next beach, Carazillo has a ferocious set of stairs which going down at the beginning of the day are far less daunting than climbing them at the end of the day. And rounding the corner the final beach in Puerto, Bacocha, is truly beautiful but again the rough surf makes swimming difficult but an interesting site on the beach is the sea turtle sanctuary with a release program once the eggs hatch and the turtles are ready to take to the seas.
On this particular winter respite in Mexico I have paid more for my apartment, with granted, a lovely garden and pool which blessedly is rarely used by anyone but myself, than I have ever paid anywhere in Mexico. Is Mexico becoming too expensive for me? Will I need to look elsewhere for new places to discover and wander? Is it that a place too frequently visited does not remain frozen in time and is subject to the same changes that are rolling across the landscapes of this post-modern world. Not sure when I will return, as I have other plans for next year, I dedicate this post in the memory of my friend Rangel Cruz Valencia, and I leave you with my favourite photos from 2023 Puerto!
First time in Mazatlan….and much better than I expected. Normally I don’t frequent the big name resort towns in Mexico but I accepted an invitation from friends to join them in their ocean front condo just outside of Mazatlan. Recent news has been pretty grim from the state of Sinola with violent activity between cartels and government forces but in Mazatlan there wasn’t any visible sign of the trouble.
Mazatlan has beautiful long beaches, resorts, condos and a party area called the Gold Zone if you’re interested in night life. Off the roads that run along the shore is where the locals of Mazatlán live, work, shop and play. There are large malls with expensive stores, lots of cinemas, restaurants of every type and plenty of cabs and DiDi cars to get you around quickly and safely. The airport is way out of town so traveling to your accommodation can be expensive.
My favorite parts of Mazatlan were the Historic Centre and Isla de las Piedras. Since we were staying a ways out of town we had to head to the other side of Mazatlan to get to the Isla de Piedras boat launch. We liked it there so much we went twice and both times were rewarded with the antics and festivities of local families.
One of the best things about Mazatlan, besides the cooler weather than in other parts of Mexico, is that someone has had the foresight to keep the old city intact and as a result Mazatlan has a soul, unlike other resort towns, for example Cancun. Many good restaurants and night life to be found in El Centro Histórico, much more my thing than the Gold Zone (party central) but it’s great that you have a choice.
Nighttime in the old city is magical. Music, lights, clinking of glasses, and the rattle of dishes fill the happy air as diners enjoy food, drink and each other’s company in the Plazuela Machado (main square). Just for the cool night air, the long beautiful beaches and El Centro Histórico I would consider a return to Mazatlan over other resort destinations in Mexico.
When your nephew invites to his home in Westgate on Sea in Kent England for Christmas you would be a fool to say no. Although I had a fun week in Europe at the Christmas Markets my Very English Christmas was the purpose of my travels.
I arrived in at my nephews stone house on the shores of the North Sea in time to watch Christmas preparations unfold. My wonderful nephew and his family took great pains to make this a special Christmas, beginning with touring the local area visiting castles, villages, museums and cathedrals.
A Warn Welcome in a lovely home
Wild skies and lonely winter beaches along the Kent coast
Kent is know as the Garden of England and is famous for the White Cliffs of Dover, Canterbury Cathedral, Churchills home Chartwell & numerous castles, forts and manor houses.
Close to Westgate is Walmer Castle built during the reign of Henry the VIII as a coastal defense, the ownership of the castle has passed down through the centuries and is now a property managed by the English Heritage. It has eight acres of gardens which due to the stormy weather we only enjoyed from above in the dryness of the castle. One famous resident of the castle was the Duke of Wellington and his bed and boots are still there along with his story. Also close to Walmer Castle are Roman ruins where the forces of Rome launched their invasion of Celtic Britan.
We also drove along the coast to see Dover Castle which from the exterior is quite stunning in size, location and design but it was an extremely windy day and the castle itself was closed to safeguard would be tourists. We were however able to visit the underground tunnels original to the castle but used extensively during the Second World War. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the tunnels but inside their own relics of WWII communications technology. Weather made photos impossible from outside so here is a photo from wikipedia of the Castle .
Along the coast we visited a variety of places and walked through the towns and along the beaches and even in the winter there is a charm and beauty to Kent that comes from the magnificent skies, seaside towns and living history.
One evening a group of us headed for Canterbury where we visited the Christmas Market and did some shopping in the historic centre before heading into the Cathedral for a Christmas service, the main attraction being the choral music, richly satisfying in this age old Cathedral with naturally fantastic acoustics.
My nephew, Christian and I spent three great days in London, renting an air bnb in Kensington we managed to buy same day tickets at discounted prices for the musical Tina and the play The Best of Enemies. Both were interesting to see but I think Covid has impacted the world of theatre greatly and these were two of the few things that I haven’t seen in various trips to London. Hopefully things will revive and there will be new playbills on the horizon.
My London traditions include “light seeing” along Regent and Oxford Streets, purchasing Christmas tea at Harrods, visiting Covent Gardens and spending some time in wine bars and pubs. I like to visit Trafalgar Square because both the National Gallery and Canada House are there and of course St. Martin’s in the Field, where if you’re lucky you can catch a Christmas Concert and have a bite to eat in the Catacombs below the church.
Christian and I said goodbye for a time while I headed off to meet friends in Oxford where we spent a weekend catching up, visiting (guess what) Christmas markets, pubs and seeing the various College buildings scattered around the University of Oxford.
After a fun time in Oxford I went back to Brighton with my friends and stayed for several nights. Long enough to walk the sea wall and watch the “sky show”above the English Channel. On the solstice Brighton celebrates the shortest day of the year with a pagan celebration known as Burning the Clocks. A parade of people with a variety of interesting lanterns made from rice paper and bamboo wend their way through the old narrow streets, ending at the beach where there is a giant bonfire to burn the lanterns and to add more light to the picture a boat is burned to acknowledge the coming of light as the days get longer.
Since the trains were on rotating strikes it was difficult to get from one place to another but a window op opportunity presented and I was able to take a train from Brighton back to Westgate on Sea just in time for Christmas. Eleven people were at the table and my hosts made the most wonderful dinner with of course Christmas pudding at the end.
To top it all off, for New Years, we drove clear across England from Kent to Polperro in Cornwall. This is a quaint stone house type fishing village with again a lengthy and rich history. Folks come to Polperro to celebrate New Years by wearing “fancy dress” or what we Canadians would call costumes. It was so much fun and in the post-covid world people were hungry to gather and celebrate with music, dance, food and drink and fireworks at midnight in the main square. I loved how people mingled with complete strangers, admiring each other’s costumes and sharing the joy of celebrating what hopefully will be a much better year in these interesting times.
I loved my English Christmas, I loved getting together with family, the variety of things I was able to see and do, the fun, witty, friendly people I always meet in the UK. Needless to say I will be back. Thanks to everyone who made my visit so stellar!
In the days running up to Christmas the world takes on a glow, people scurry about making their holiday preparations but perhaps one of the best traditions I’ve encountered are the German and Austrian Christmas markets. Outside in the cold sipping mulled wine (Gluwein) is surprisingly pleasant and warming. Town squares are festooned with rows of booths and throngs of locals gearing up for the Season. The booths invitingly lit and stuffed with various foods, sweets, games, toys, decorations etc.. You can never go hungry or thirsty at one of these markets as you squeeze between the crowds, navigating your way to the next booth for a Gluwein or a delicious German sausage!
I have travelled in Germany in the past but often to large cities and there one brushes up against the European International experience. On this trip to Germany I visited a friend and her family who live just outside of Munich. Utting is one of many small hamlets in this area known as the “Five Lakes” region. Utting is on the lake and if you look east and north to the end of the lake you can see the Alps. My friends family was warm and hospitable and shared food and traditions, including the lightening of the four candles on each Sunday leading up to Christmas Day. Great food and lots of laughs were shared.
A beautiful lake in Utting and in the summer there is a ferry to the other side and if you look down the lake you can see the Alps.
Nearby there are larger centers and during the days my friend and I drove to cities of Landsberg and Augsburg to see the sights and visit the Christmas Markets.
Landsberg is a smallish town on the beautiful Lech river and the settlement can be traced back more than 2000 years. There is a beautiful very old and ornate city hall with an information centre which has brochures in English if, like me, that’s what you are limited to.
The town square Christmas Market in Landsberg
A very tall tree.
Street Scenes as the afternoon wanes
Foot bridges and over the river and it’s branches that run right through the town.
City gates protected Landsberg in days gone by.
The River runs between the buildings and cascades at the widest point.
Delicious eats and warming drinks while you shop the stalls.
Next stop was the town of Augsburg, a city bigger than Landsberg and it too was in full Christmas Market swing. Founded under Roman rule Augsburg has roots that go back 2000 years making it one of Germany’s oldest cities. With a city centre boasting a grand shopping street, Maximillianstraus, and beautiful Baroque and Renaissance buildings fronting the main square where you will find the Christmas Market.
The rooftops of Augsburg
These giant homes, now apartments, offer a pastel palette to passers by.
The amazingly gilded government palace on the main square.
The market from above and down in the thick of things
My lovely guide and friend Andrea
Munich, Bavaria’s capital, is home to centuries-old buildings and numerous museums. The city is known for its annual Oktoberfest celebration and its beer halls, including the famed Hofbräuhaus, founded in 1589. In the Altstadt (Old Town), central Marienplatz square contains landmarks such as Neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (town hall), with a popular glockenspiel show that chimes and reenacts stories from the 16th Century.
In addition to which, Munich boasts the an impressive number of Christmas markets scattered around the city centre. The same array of food, drink and shopping as other markets but on a bigger scale. Impressive in all seasons I especially loved Munich at Christmas.
Munich Main Square
Next stop on my Advent tour was Vienna. A four hour train trip from Munich Vienna is no slouch either in the Christmas Market tradition. Having made a friend on a boat trip down the Mekong River I decided to visit, see Vienna and rekindle the friendship. So glad I did as Vienna was resplendent in all it’s Christmas glory.
Busy shopping street in Vienna
The not so blue Danube and one of the River Boats
In between visits with my friends I took the Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour of Vienna which has grown outwardly since I visited in the 80’s. There is so much to see and do in Vienna and it is truly a city for all seasons, but a winter visit does mean fewer tourists and more breathing room than what I remember.
Dinners out and visits to Christmas Markets kept me and my friends fed and entertained as Gluwein in hand, we sipped our way through the stalls.
Environmentally friendly, you pay a deposit for the non-disposable mugs and if you return them you get your euros back but if you wish to keep the mug as a souvenir that is fine.
My last day in Vienna, it snowed and that was an added bonus. Great white fluffy flakes falling on the city completed the Christmas spirit and I left glad that I had gone and hopeful to return to both Austria and Germany.
Santa Fe is well worth the visit. It has literally miles of museums and galleries.
Surprisingly quick trip from Nanaimo BC to New Mexico. Spent most of my travel time in airports and the least amount of time in the air. It’s only about 3 hours to Denver Colorado from Vancouver and an hour more to Albuquerque.
My first stop on the way to Santa Fe was Placitas, a rural town about 40 minutes north of Albuquerque. I stayed on an acreage surrounded by hills and mountains, dotted with juniper and aspen trees. The background is mainly brown rocky terrain and the dust is kicked up by the winds, but there is a certain charm to this desert landscape. Certainly artists and artisans have capitalized on the unsung beauty of the place and the history and culture of the peoples who live here.
Placitas is just outside of the city of Bernalillo and is part way between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. After a tour around Placitas with a friend, we headed into the Sandia mountains for some hiking to a cave that is accessible from a spiral staircase. Way above the valley, it was a good viewpoint to see New Mexico’s terrain. It is spring time so the temperature is reasonable and the trees are in bloom
I took the train from Placitas to Santa Fe. The Road Runner as the train is known, is great and runs from Albuquerque to Santa Fe and it cost me a grand total of one US dollar. The train runs through ranch country, passing through Indigenous Pueblos and small settlements. The rural areas of New Mexico look a little poor in places with run down looking homes and collections of old broken down vehicles. This is in stark contrast to the city of Santa Fe,
An hour on the train and an easy walk to the hotel San Ensendor Motel, I stashed my bags and had an afternoon to wander. Santa Fe is definitely a tourist destination. It was very busy and as I discovered, home to many events, including this car show in the main square.
Santa Fe itself is well worth the visit. It has literally miles of museums and galleries, a world class opera (which sadly was not in season) and ancient traditions that continue to flourish. Everywhere you turn there is an impressive array of paintings, sculpture, pottery and photography and artisanal crafts. Easily walkable the streets of Sante Fe are full of life, bright with colour, music and good food ranging from Asian to local cuisine.
A fun place to visit for a few days, wandering the streets is exactly what the old city seems to be laid out for.
In addition to it’s artsy nature, Santa Fe has a rich history and is supposed to be the oldest capital city in the United States. The central Plaza and Catholic Churches, including the Loretta Chapel and its famous spiral staircase, are reminders of it’s days as a Spanish Colony established in 1610. Also well visited is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
The number of museums and public galleries is staggering. Three days in Santa Fe are not sufficient. In order to see them all you would need several more days. Visiting the museums reveals the pre-colonial peoples and their history and the blend of cultures that resulted post contact with the Spanish. In Santa Fe you will find the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, New Mexico Museum of Art, Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Museum of International Folk Art, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and Museum of New Mexico of Contemporary Native Arts and many others.
The week flew by and after the wedding of my friends, I returned to Albuquerque and flew home to Canada. Luckily the covid travel restrictions of the past few years have started to relax and made the trip much easier and more relaxed.
…and that’s the kind of place Flores turned out to be.
Thoughts On Planning and Executing Travel During the Time of Covid
After sitting it out for most of 2020 and into the fall of 2021 due to Covid travel restrictions, I am finally back wandering the world. After careful consideration, based on various countries’ travel restrictions, I chose Mexico to relaunch my wanders. I have spent a great deal of time in Mexico dating back to 1974 and I love the people and the culture so it is a bit like going home. At this time in Mexico visitors are only required to fill out an on-line form answering the usual covid questions regarding health and contacts. Easier than a lot of other countries that require the covid tests 72 hours in advance of travel. Mexico has had it’s fair share of Covid but as in Canada people wear masks, social distance, limit gatherings and capacities and temperature checks before entering premises are standard. Having had both vaccines I am happy to say that with the precautions in place here I feel as safe, although still cautious, just like at home.
South America “No Go” – Best Laid Plans and Political Strife
I wrote the above in late October just after I arrived in Mexico and at that time I had planned to stay 2 months and then head to South America to visit, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. I had spent several weeks pouring over travel guides, which I buy at second hand stores, planning my trip to include the sights most important to me. However, shortly after arriving in Mexico, Ecuador had some internal strife, closed its borders and I decided to postpone my wanderings in that part of the world until things are more settled. As it turns out, along came Omicron another letter in the Greek Alphabet, and I felt doubly sure that staying in Mexico for four months was the wisest course of action.
Heads Up When Entering Mexico Things Have Changed….Maybe
However, NOW when you arrive in Mexico they might ask you how long you are staying and when you think you are only staying a couple of months, (which is what I thought since I was eventually headed to South America) they write down 60 days, meaning that, you have sixty days on your tourist card. I guess I missed that memo, but I am not alone, I have read several on-line forums from other folks who had assumed that as in years past the tourist card allowed them to stay 180 days and no other limitations. Not anymore, it is now up to the discretion of the Immigration Officer. NOTE: When I returned to Mexico from Guatemala through Cancun airport it was business as usual. Two questions only, where did you just come from and what is the purpose of your trip, nothing more, hard stamp on tourist card allowing for 180 days and “have a nice day”. None of this “how long are you staying?”
Turns out, short of becoming a resident, which is complex and expensive you can’t renew your tourist visa from inside Mexico which means of course you have to to go outside and reenter if you wish to extend your stay. I know, I know, poor me, more hardships and of course the solution is…..I’m in Guatemala!!!!
A “Had to Trip” To Tikal in Guatemala Becomes a “Glad I Went” Trip
Getting from Puerto Escondido to Flores Guatemala turned out to be fairly involved, requiring a flight from Puerto Escondido to Mexico City, a two hour wait for a flight to Cancun, a four hour wait, and a flight from there to Flores in the NE corner of Guatemala. By the time I arrived in Guatemala 14 hours after leaving my apartment in Puerto Escondido I had spent too much money on airport food, lost my luggage, spent hours reporting my lost luggage in Cancun and arrived tired and without a change of clothes. Forced to go shopping on my first day as I had only my plane travel clothes I found a colourful little outfit with matching flip flops to do until my bag arrived four days later.
Boarding the plane from Cancun to Flores, with about five other people, was really nice though, and the prop plane was comfortable and very empty. The pilot told me this was an inaugural flight for AeroMar which was adding Flores as a stop on their regular flight to Guatemala City. Arrival in Flores was equally pleasant and after explaining about my lost luggage and since there were no taxis in sight the Immigration Officer, who processed my arrival, drove me to my Hotel. That’s the kind of place Flores turned out to be.
My first four days I spent at the Casa de Turquesa a lakefront hotel on the Isla de Flores. Beautiful views and so clean with great sheets and a soft bed. From here I was able to make arrangements for a tour of Tikal but spent the first day wandering the streets (and shopping) of the Isla de Flores. A quaint little town with cobblestone streets, Isla sits in the lake, attached to the mainland by a narrow spit of land, just wide enough for 2 lanes of traffic and a pedestrian walkway. Very picturesque the place really glows in the night time and it being the holiday season it was especially lit up.
It’s easy and inexpensive to get around Flores by tuk-tuk and by boat. There are many launches that will take you anywhere on the lake you wish to go and as you can see by the map above their are several small towns around the lake that make a nice day-out.
Tikal – A Maya Ruin Located in Tikal National Park
Tikal, a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time, did not disappoint, even though my “private tour” turned out to be on a mid-sized bus with about a dozen other people. The hour and a half drive to Tikal was beautiful, gliding through the emerald green country side that I remember from past trips to Guatemala. Coffee fincas, rancheros and fruit plantations dotted the hilly horizons and small towns slapped together and strung out along the road to support local commerce were a quick window into the world of the local people. It was on the bus that I was reminded of why I love to wander. That sense of freedom on the road with the beauty that the countryside has to offer and the weather temperate enough to allow for open windows and fresh breezes. A slight rustle in your hair and your soul.
Tikal National Park
Tikal is an ancient Maya citadel in the rainforests of northern Guatemala
Possibly dating back to the 1st century it flourished between 200 and 850 AD with a 65 km radius and was later abandoned
Its iconic ruins and temples and palaces include the giant, ceremonial Lost World Pyramid and the Temple of the Grand Jaguar and rightly became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979
Ti ak’al in Maya means “in the lagoon” and is known as the “place of the spirit voices”
Temple IV is 70 m in height and I climbed every last one of them
Divided into plazas, groups and complexes to identify the various areas of the park…it is so big!
Tombs have been excavated in various locations throughout the park
Some of the temples took 1000 years or more to build
Steles (stone tablets) seen throughout Tikal describe the history
New Years Eve 2021/22 – Serendipity of Travel
I find there’s always a moment of serendipity when you travel alone that reminds you that you are never really alone and it’s easy to make connections with people if you are open to them. And so it was, on the bus back from Tikal, I met a lovely woman, Maritza, from Guatemala City who was traveling with her sister, Maria and her daughter, Keily. This was their first trip to Tikal and Isla de Flores and fortunately for me, Maritza spoke very good English, having lived in the USA for two years as a teenager. They invited me out for New Years Eve the next night. My new friends came to my to my hotel to fetch me at the appointed hour and to my delight we made our way to the waterfront and took a private boat across the lake to a beautiful restaurant. We had dinner and waited until midnight when across the lake the fireworks exploded seemingly from every house in and around Isla de Flores. So pretty and obviously so enjoyed by my Guatemalan friends. They insisted on paying the bill and dropped me back at my hotel before returning to their hotel. Their kindness, friendship and hospitality will stay with me long after the New Year begins.
More Fun in the Lake
New Years Day, my 3 friends and I bought a picnic lunch and took another boat further up the lake to a swimming beach. We were dropped off at a park by our boatman with promises to return at 5:00 pm. The park was full of family picnickers snoozing in public hammocks, and although the lake-bed was rocky and a bit swampy the water was good for swimming. Keily spent over two hours in the water splashing and swimming…a true water baby. She was quite impressed that her mother spoke English, she asked “momma can you talk like that?” Eventually she decided that I wasn’t fundamentally weird for speaking Spanish so poorly and even started calling me Tia.
So the first six days passed quickly in Flores Guatemala but the last two days poured rain and made me huddle up in my hotel room watching the downpour with Guatemalan TV in the background. Tikal isn’t the only ruin worth visiting around Flores, there are several others, and a volcano lake to visit and visits to the small villages around the lake are things that just didn’t get done. But two days of catching up with correspondence and blogging and doing laundry in the room wasn’t so bad and I returned to Cancun Mexico refreshed and glad I went and hopeful to return to this sweet gentle little place with the kindest people you’d ever hope to meet.
Returning to Puerto has become one of my routines in Mexico. As in Progreso, I have made good friends there and am always excited to return and catch up with their lives. In years past I have stayed at Casa Rosada, but this year I booked a place on the fourth floor of an apartment building in Rinconada, a trendy restaurant filled area close to several great beaches. I was really pleased with my apartment and the view was stunning. A bonus was that Inti, my landlord was super.. helpful, responsive and friendly too! Cielito Lindo is the name and they have studio and one bedroom suits.
With Covid in the picture I wasn’t too keen on sight seeing and exploring, but fortunately I have done a lot of that on earlier visits so going to various beaches, open air restaurants and sitting by pools had to do. I know…poor me. If you’re interested in knowing more about what you can do in and around Puerto here is a link to my previous posts on the area.https://wanderwithstella.com/2016/03/31/oaxaca-coast/ or scroll through the posts to see others including Oaxaca City.
For many people, Puerto is all about the beaches of which there are many and one can easily spend a whole day at the beach under a palapa umbrella with the odd chelada (cold beer and lime juice on ice) to quench one’s thirst. People watching is a great pastime at the beach and even in covid locals and visitors enjoyed swimming and playing in the waves. Mexican families are generally large and they tend to travel in multi-generational groups, making for lots of antics and noisy fun.
Food in Oaxaca is among the best in Mexico and some of the worlds top chefs have made the State home, opening great restaurants in the capital, Oaxaca City, and other smaller locales. I have some personal favourite dishes: tacos pastor, pozole (soup) and tlayudas.
Mid-way through December, Christmas vacation brought large numbers of people to Puerto, which in a normal year would add to the fun. But given the crowds that began to cluster on the beaches I refrained from going every day unless it was to Bacocha Beach where there is plenty of room to social distance they have the most incredible sunsets…so again no real hardship. There are two beach clubs at Bacocha and for a fee you can eat, drink, use the pool and beach chairs for the entire day and the costs come out of you fee.
San Jose del Pacifico – A road trip from Puerto
Lucky for me, my friends Javier and Gabriela were game to rent a car and make the drive up the long and winding road to San Jose del Pacifico in the Sierra del Sur. A small town in the mountains, it is a place for adventure seekers, hikers and climbers to visit. It is truly beautiful and charming and due to its location in the middle of pine forests, the building practices incorporate more wood than is common in Mexico, giving the place a definite flavour of mountain retreats. The clima also reflects the altitude and out came the jackets, pants and socks from the bottom of the suitcase when the temperature dropped to 6 Celsius when the sun set over the mountains.
The highway between Puerto Escondido and the turn-off to San Jose is greatly improved since my last visit and and a by-pass road before Pachutla meant that we missed the traffic of this busy commercial centre. As you leave the coast and head up into the Sierra the road becomes narrow, with hair pin curves and even some “logging” trucks. The road as you would expect was lots of fun to drive and Javier and I took turns, and much to his dismay Gabriela favoured my driving to his!
We stayed in a very nice hotel overlooking a valley, built with lots of pine wood the cabins were post and beam with timbered rafters. There weren’t many people at this newish hotel and we generally had the dining room to ourselves. I can see where the visitors will come once covid is over and the word is out. From this same road that takes you to the top of the Sierras you can take a turn a little further down the mountain and take the original road from the coast to the city of Oaxaca. Javier recalled driving his entire family, most of it in the back of a pick-up from Mexico City to Puerto Escondido when he was just a teenager. Some of the folks in the back lacked an appreciation for his enthusiasm for the road as car sickness overtook them.
We hired a local guide who showed us the sights, taking us to all of the spots of interest for visitors. Our first stop was a combination resort, restaurant, fish hatchery and zip line, with of course Javier and I had to try out.
Following our hike and zip-line adventure our guide took us to a local home where the owners have suspended a wooden swing close to the edge of a cliff and so you swing out over thin air, belted in you are relatively safe and again the views were spectacular.
This was the first of our human launch experiences and I must admit the next one did take my breath away.
San Jose del Pacifico is all about tourism and forestry including furniture making. There are many attractions for visitors whether you want to jump off the edge of things or stay firmly on the ground like Gabriela, there is something for everyone.
Christmas in Puerto Escondido
Back in Puerto, after our weekend in San Jose del Pacifico, it was clear that Christmas Vacay was really ramping up and the night market on the Adoquin in Centro was packed with people and possible regalos. Decorations sprung up all over town and Javier and Gabriela invited me to join them for their Christmas Eve dinner.
Lots of Christmas spirit in Puerto with lights, decorations and fireworks to celebrate the many special days in the Christmas season.
Javier and Gabriela invited me to their family Christmas Eve dinner which is the main event in Mexico. Javier picked me up at 8 PM and we drove to their home. They had set up a table in a neighbour’s yard under an almond tree strung with Christmas lights and along with four of their neighbours, Javier, Gabriela, their two sons and I enjoyed the typical Christmas feast of fish and pork. Both dishes took two days to prepare and the neighbours contributed a few dishes of their own including a sweet crepe desert with honey drizzled on top.
And now with Christmas done, I will say goodbye for now and set my mind to my next adventure….Guatemala.
I had so much fun at this birthday party, watching the proceedings and savoring the joy that only children exude when they are excited. Jade is the daughter of Nora & Beto, a couple I have known for many years in Progreso. Beto and I share a birthday and a few years I have been lucky enough to share a celebration with Beto starting Nora’s home made flan!!!
This is Jades’s birthday though and as a nod to Covid and during the time when folks thought we had it on the run (pre-omicron) with vaccines etc. a face to face almost normal party was held in her honour.
Nora hired a couple of young men you ”do” kids birthdays, bringing music (loud), lights, games, prizes, and decorations. Momma has only to shop up. What a great idea. The kids are entertained and kept busy though out, right up until the piñata is smashed and the cake is eaten.
If you have a rental car and if you’re lucky enough to have friends to share the driving and the cost, there are great places to visit within a few hours of Progreso.
Sisal, a beachside Puebla where we understood many changes were taking place, was one of our destinations. Easily combined with a trip to Celestun to see the flamingos, Sisal has been “discovered” and real estate is reputed to be flying off the shelf. Worth the drive as the beach is pretty, there’s good swimming and several beachside restaurants serving local seafood. The history of Sisal is interesting too and was the port from which the heinequin rope was shipped to all corners of the world.
Celestún, another town easily reached from Progreso has been a favorite of mine over the years. I’ve probably been about three times to take the launcha through the mangroves to see the flamingos and other birds. Boat tours leave from the beach in the center of town, or a shorter option is to take a boat from the lagoon as you enter the town. No need to book ahead or even try to find a boat, they will find you. If you are a bird watcher I’d say this day out is a must, I have never been disappointed and have seen a variety of bird life including pink herons and lots of pink flamingos.
Cenote San Ignacio is a cenote with an above ground pool, gardens, a restaurant and an underground cenote that is beautiful, clear and refreshing. One of my favourite cenotes, it offers change rooms, an above ground pool, a restaurant and of course the underground cenote. A quaint little Puebla, San Ignacio is a good place to see the old style maya homes with adobe covered rock walls and palapa roofs.
Xzamal My first visit to Xzamal and I have added this to my must do list for future visits to the Yucatan. Xzamal is notable for its profusion of yellow buildings. The Pope visited (1973) a particularly famous and sacred Franciscan Monastary here and in honour of his visit and as a sign of welcome the people painted everything yellow. The Padua Monastary is large and an interesting example of early colonial architecture built on top of the ancient Maya town that preceded the Spanish. Apparently it has the largest open atrium outside of the one at the Vatican and around the atrium are statues of Saints who are said to have performed miracles.
From the walls of the Monastary you can look across the main square with it’s yellow arches to Kinish Kak Mo, a smaller and easily accessible Maya pyramid. The meaning of its name translates to “macaw of the solar fire face”. We were able to climb right to the top for a great view of the surrounding area. The Yucatán is as flat as the Canadian prairies so you can see quite a distance.
On the recommendation from a friend we dined at a fantastic restaurant called Kinish, where they serve traditional Maya cuisine including cochinita, a pork dish marinated with sour orange juice, wrapped in plantain leaves and cooked underground.
Progresoand Merida After my friends left for home I immersed myself in life in Progreso. A friend living in Chelem got me aquainted with the beaches there and in Chuburna, communities adjacent to Progreso. It was often windy but the water was warm and we all swam and enjoyed the beach in relative solitude, which of course in the time of COVID is advisable. Of course Merida is close and movies, bowling, restaurants and a jazz club rounded out my last days in Progreso. Next stop Puerto Escondido.
Day of the Dead, a colourful, festive and joyful way to show love and respect for deceased family members.
As in years past, I started my Mexican Adventure by returning to the sea side town of Progreso in the Yucatan. This year for the first time I made it to Mexico in time for Dias del Muertes, a celebration in which death and deceased loved ones are honoured. Things were scaled back somewhat due to Covid but there were still some interesting things to see and do.
If you haven’t seen the movie Coco I highly recommend it as a fun and touching way to acquaint yourself with Mexican culture and especially the believes and practices around the Dias del Murertes.
Dias del Muertes is actually several days in duration with a day dedicated to children, and then one for adult relatives and ancestors. Similar to our Canadian Halloween, people dress in costume and walk the streets admiring each others costumes. Adults and children alike participate. There are generally musical & cultural events and each community celebrates in a different way but all have in common a visit to the cemetary to spruce up the graves of lost relatives and to invite them to return to this realm by offering food, drink and special treats. Elaborately decorated altars can be seen in private homes, (called offrendas) to welcome the spirits.
We spent a few days visiting various locations that we heard would be interesting examples of the festivities. One evening we went to Merida and sat in a restaurant to watch a pasado of costumed families followed by a cultural performance in a square at the end of Paseo de Montejo.
Perhaps the most interesting event for us was a visit to a pueblo called Pomuch, where we walked through the local graveyard. The tradition here is to open the boxes of the deceased and clean the bones, leaving them on display, free to roam, for a few days before they are returned to rest in peace. Unlike Halloween which is a dark night of terror and mischief, Day of the Dead festivities take place over two days and are colourful, festive and joyful, with the point being to show love and respect for deceased family members.
A mish-mash of indigenous and christian beliefs the symbols of the Day of the Dead are important and include calveras or skulls. One of the most ubiquitous symbols of the Day of the Dead came about when Diego Rivera, Mexicos beloved muralist, painted a stylized skeleton in one of his murals. Dressed in a large feminine hat, Rivera named her Catrina, a poke at the rich. Sugar skulls abound and food items like pan de muerto, or bread of the dead is often shaped into bones and skulls. Other sweets include tiny dough teardrops to symbolize sorrow. Of course there are drinks too including pulque, a sweet fermented drink made from the agave. Of course costumes are important as festivities normally spill into the streets and public squares at all hours of the day and night. Faces are painted to resemble skulls and the Calvera Catrina. It wouldn’t be Mexico without some noise and costumes often include shells or other noisemakers to rouse the dead and keep them close during the fun.
To represent the wind and the fragility of life Mexican’s use layers of paper, piercing it with a hammer and chisel points to form elaborate patterns. The Papel Picado is draped around homes, streets and restaurants and adds to the festive atmosphere that permeates the day of the dead.
Certainly this celebration of death wasn’t the same as in other years without the pandemic but Mexico being Mexico there was still lots to see and do even without the large scale celebrations and gatherings that are the norm.
It’s been a long 2 years since covid hit and the pandemic stalled my travel plans, but here I am on the road again. As with most of my wandering this one started with a float plane to Vancouver, A beautiful blue skied fall day. Not a bad way to say goodbye to Vancouver Island and flying over my house for one last goodbye was as delightful as being driven to the float plane by my lovely friends Ralph & Lucy. A proper send-off indeed.
All Set to Fly
Now at gate 53 YVR and I know it’s the right one because not only does it say that on my boarding pass but most of my fellow passengers are speaking Spanish. These mostly men have been working in Canada on a special program that brings them here to fill in positions unfilled by Canadians, usually in agriculture.
I am so excited to see my friends in Mexico, to return to Progreso, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca City and to explore some new destinations as well. If all is safe by next January, I plan to fly to Ecuador and Peru, but that remains to be seen. If not, Mexico will more than suffice.
Phu Quoc is a tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand. It belongs to Vietnam but lies closer to Cambodia. It is easily reached on a short 50 minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City, over the mighty Mekong Delta and is well worth a visit.
After two plus months of traveling throughout SE Asia, Phu Quoc was a welcome beach vacation destination. Admittedly there are many touristy things to do on Phu Quoc but if you’re me and your somewhat tired of shifting about, sitting still on a white sandy beach under some palm trees for a week or more is a welcome respite.
There are several different areas to stay on Phu Quoc and we booked way back in October in an area quite far from the main town of Duong Dong. First impressions along the highway and the side roads may not be favorable, there is a lot of garbage and the ubiquitous unruly collection of traffic, businesses and residences that I have come to associate with SE Asia.
But once you are off the beaten track and you have arrived at your accommodation, then hopefully you will find what we did at the Camellia Hotel & Spa, (spa because you can arrange to have a massage there). We had booked this hotel well in advance and by Vietnamese standards we paid a high price, 63.00 CAD per night, if we’d waited we would have paid much less, maybe even half.
The rooms were big, well appointed and the pool and free breakfast offset the distance to the beach, (about a 25 minute walk, although the hotel ad says 10). Sadly, the closest public beach was squeezed to a bare minimum by beach front hotels with private amenities so we opted to spend most of our day around the Camellia pool.
The area around the Camellia is very rural, as in….there were roosters, lots of roosters and we saw a new born calf, still wet and wobbly legged in the road right in front of our hotel. Nearby there were lots of restaurants and bars so we didn’t have far to go to eat and we found a variety of cuisines from French to western and of course local.
One evening we ventured into town by cab (pricey enough you wouldn’t want to do it everyday) had dinner and wandered through the night market. Lots of seafood of course, Phu Quoc being an Island.
Four nights passed quickly and it was time for my Canadian friends to head back to the chill of the Yukon, the poor things. I was to stay on for another nine nights and opted to shift to a “Retreat” Hotel closer to town. So glad I did, the An Nhien retreat lived up to it’s promised amenities with friendly helpful staff, healthy breakfast, massage, pool and beautiful tropical garden complete with a small stream full of fish and ornamental fountains. My room was a good size and done up like a cabana, very nice.
The hotel was a three minute walk to the beach and An Nhien shared a private beach with another hotel. Great place to the spend the days and the truth is I did little else. Swimming, reading, snoozing, contemplating and ruminating with very little movement from A to B. I didn’t even head back to town.
I met very few English speaking people on Phu Quoc, most other beach goers were from Russia. It is a close sun spot for them and plane loads arrive daily if not hourly.
I made a decision to return to England a week early when I heard that there was a Corona Virus quarantine in a small village in northern Vietnam. A week more in England seemed a good bargain given that the most fun you could expect to have in a quarantine situation would be to stay healthy. If I had only just started or was part way through my explorations I would have stayed on. But I am glad to have had the luxury of playing it safe and don’t feel that I have made too much of a concession. After all, I’m all tucked up at Heather’s in Brighton, drinking tea and watching Tellie and hoping that Vietnam is spared the spread of the virus.
Ho Chi Minh City is the Wild West of the traffic world. There are more scooter/motorbikes here than anywhere on the planet I am sure. It’s as if my travels through Vietnam led to this crescendo of ever pulsing veins of traffic coursing through the heart of the city, pumping its way out to the eighteen districts that make up HCMC. Imagine crossing this road…..we did and we survived, without a cross walk or a light I might add. There is an art to this!
Saigon it was, that was until the communists rolled into town in 1975, taking control of the city and renaming it HCMC a year later. In spite of the official change, the name Saigon still lives on, particularly in the French Quarter and many people use it to this day.
Districts 1,2 & 3 are where most foreigners hang out and within this area is where most of the sights are located including, museums, palaces, pagodas, temples, towering skyscrapers, glitzy malls, trendy restaurants and more down market tourist bars and clubs around the “Backpacker Area”, which is where we stayed in the Beautiful Saigon 3 Hotel. A great small boutique style hotel, it was clean, friendly staff, good breakfast, up a quiet alley-way but close to everything, I would recommend it if you are on a budget.
A walkable area, both night and day, we took in the sights mainly on foot. We had time to visit the Night Market, one of the high end shopping malls (WOW), the beautiful old French Opera House, and we wandered along streets lined with other examples from the French colonial period.
The War Remnants Museum as it is called was an interesting stop. Meant to depict the horrors of war in general and the war with the Americans specifically. With three million dead, and two thirds of those being non-combatants it’s hard not to feel anger at the fate of those poor souls. However, in spite of some hard hitting exhibits the message of the museum is clearly one of peace since the brutality of war ultimately effects more citizens than combatants. There are photo displays of mutilations, napalm burns, torture and massacres including the famous My Lai where American troops murdered nearly a whole village of innocent elders, women and children.
But in a spirit of apparent forgiveness there is a large display of photos on the “peace movement in the States” and subsequent visits and charitable acts of American Vietnam veterans. All in all a moving place and for those more mechanically minded there are some tanks, planes, bombs etc outside that you can wander around and see up close.
The Reunification Palace, previously the Independence Palace (to celebrate independence from France), was renamed to signify the reunion of North & South Vietnam. Located on park like grounds, it’s working days were in the 60’s and 70’s and everything is preserved from this time, a gentle mix of modern style furnishing with Asian materials and symbolism. There are a number of floors with meeting rooms, hosting areas, the presidential library and private suites. All eerily preserved and roped off with red velvet and brass.
With limited time, we really wanted to experience at least some of the Mekong Delta, so we signed on for a day trip to cruise around Dragon, Unicorn, Phoenix and Tortoise Islands. The first stop in the tourist van was a beautiful pagoda and temple, and if you look closely below you will see my selfie.
After the Pagoda we boarded one of dozens of sampans and cruised through the brown water channels, narrowly missing other sampans as they paddled by. We were taken to a fruit orchard where we saw where they grow mangoes, jackfruit, something like a lychee but smaller, dragon fruit and pomelos. The best part was getting to taste everything the farmer grew.