Let me clarify the following, as the timing of this post may seem a tad off: a little over four months after the arrival from a short but sweet adventure, I finally kick procrastination in the ass, and decide to post the following passage, which has been tucked away in a Microsoft Word document since early May.
Following an intense yet informative term at school, Gonzo and her travel sensei embark on an adventure to the two most southern states of Mexico: Chiapas and Oaxaca. This folks, is monumental in two general senses: (1) this trip has been the virginity-breaker of a series of travels that have occurred at least once a year – 2014 being my virgin year; and (2) not having travelled with my dad since 2010, our personal growths over the past five years contributed to what I consider one of the most memorable, genuine, and healthily frustrating/challenging adventures I have encountered. And with that, I bid you a happy read on the splendours of beautiful Mexico. Buen provecho.
- After completing back-to-back exams, and smashing back bevvies in celebration of my completion, a nocturnal/delusional Gonzo and her father board a plane almost promptly (I’m talking like a day, man) to Palenque, Chiapas via San Francisco and Mexico City.
- Upon arrival, dad is struck with not necessarily culture shock, but rather, shock of the drastic changes that have occurred in this region since his last visit nearly 40 years ago (but hey, it’s slightly idyllic/naïve to assume that there wouldn’t be any change, eh?). In fact, en route to our cabañas, Mick was trying to scope out the field where he set up camp after his visit to the Palenque ruins while high on hongos where he bushwhacked through what is now a groomed, lawn-mowed tourist attraction.
- On that note, we visited these very ruins on the informal ‘holiday’ known as 4/20. Though we didn’t formally celebrate, we lived vicariously through dad’s former experience in the Palenque ruins.
- As a town intended more so for rest and recuperation, on our second day in Palenque, we arranged a bus to San Cristóbal de las Casas via Agua Azul and Misol-Ha in order to get a dose of some fine cascades. Our spontaneous arrangement with a lady at the travel agency epitomized one of the aspects that resonated the most with me during the course of this trip: the amount of people that genuinely reached out to us no matter how big or small the need/request was.
- Mick, who is truly fascinated with los mono saraguatos (howler monkeys), wanted my auditory perception system to be stimulated by their howls, which I consider sound like a swarm of bees, but are nonetheless fascinating. After a couple of failures to experience their cries at near distance, dad asked Elizabeth — the lady who owned the travel agency — when and where the best time to catch their battle cries were. In light of the former theme I mentioned of people being altruistic, Elizabeth closed up her office, got us to hop in her car, and took us on a short and sweet ride to some of the corners of Palenque’s central area in a quest to find the famous mono saraguato. Although I didn’t have the up-close and personal experience with the roar of the howler monkey, it was Elizabeth’s selfless act that echoed for the remainder of our time in Mexico.
MISOL-HA AND AGUA AZUL ⇢ SAN CRISTÓBAL, CHIAPAS
- After spectating and swimming in the epic waterfalls of Misol-Ha and Agua Azul respectively, and chowing on mangos dipped in Tajín and sipping on coconut water fresh from the bosom of the coconut trees, Miguel realizes that his camera is missing (which we reckon was mostly likely left behind at Misol-Ha). As per usual in the event of a missing camera, it wasn’t the missing device itself that troubled us, but rather the loss of a memory card that held such solid memories on it. RIP.
- However, reminiscent of Elizabeth’s altruistic act, was the genuine kindness of a mother-son travel duo from Texas, who — because we were parting ways, and not heading back with the group that was on our hired van/mini tour bus/whatever you wanna call it — offered to keep in touch with our bus driver if he received any information from people at Misol-Ha on Mick’s missing camera. If anything turned up, we would meet with them in San Cristóbal, where they were heading down to after their time in Palenque.
- To clarify (because our itinerary is such a cluster fuck): the van that took us to Misol-Ha and Agua Azul was returning to Palenque. However, dad and I were heading to San Cristóbal, so we separated from our initial posse to board another bus to head further south.
- Despite the crappy feeling of losing a camera, it was this mother-son duo’s reaching out that trumped dad’s loss, and which later blossomed into excellent encounters and discussions (as will soon be mentioned).
- After parting with our fellow Misol-Ha and Agua Azul attendees, dad and I boarded our bus in butt fuck nowhere to San Cristóbal. What was supposed to be only a three-to-four-hour bus ride turned out to be a six-on-the-verge-of-seven bus ride, which consisted of roads full of speed bumps that not only slowed down the process of getting there, but made visits to the bathroom’s puke-filled sinks and toilets a rather daunting task (sorry for the details, but I’m trying to paint the picture as eloquently as possible).
- Upon our near-midnight arrival in the bus depot located in the outskirts of San Cristóbal, we were offered flyers for a hostel from what we perceived was a she-hustler. Expecting to be able to easily locate the Airbnb we reserved ahead of time, we took her paper with a grain of salt. However, the midnight vacancy of the town and overall unawareness of our initially-reserved accommodations led us to an evening stroll to the hostel advertised at the bus depot. Nothing super memorable about this joint, other than the fact that I stupidly under-boiled tap water, which left me with an upset stomach, which thankfully only lasted one night.
SAN CRISTÓBAL ⇢ OVENTIC ⇢ CHAMULA
- We ended up migrating to the most epic hostel I reckon I ever stayed at. Not only did it have nice feng shui, but the families that owned Posada Mi Casa were at the same time cool and warm, making our stay comfortable and enjoyable.
- Here, we also met Paul, a dude from Germany who has been involved in human rights observation work on Zapatista communities. In light of his familiarity with the area, he offered to give us a little tour of Oventic, an autonomous Zapatista municipality, and Chamula, another autonomous municipality, largely inhabited by indigenous Tzotzil Maya people.
- At the gates of Oventic, we were greeting by two Zapatistas in their iconic balaclavas, who took down our information with respect to our national identities, our purpose for visiting, and any organizations that we were affiliated with. After consulting these bits of information with the community’s council, we were granted permission to enter. As a caveat, I say the following with no means of being condescending/portraying the Zapatistas as subordinate/etc., but the members of Oventic were extremely friendly and carried on with what I assume to be their daily routine (e.g., attending classes, tending the land, etc.), while our posse (that is, the three from Posada Mi Casa ft. a lad from Montreal and a chick from France) walked around the community.
- What was very notable was that one of the many buildings that were covered in murals, had indigenous art distinct to the West Coast. It was pretty astonishing, to say the least, how something so specific to one region has ended up in the autonomous community of Oventic. Even when dad asked one of the Zapatistas if he knew anything about how the West Coast indigenous art was incorporated in their murals (which were largely tributed to anarchism and civil resistance against neoliberalism, and iconic figures such as Emiliano Zapata, Subcomandante Marcos, Comandante Romana and Che Guevara), it still remained a mystery.
- After chilling in Oventic, we hitched a ride in the back of a truck down the hill to Chamula, where we visited the church of San Juan. In brief, what struck me about Chamula was how it epitomized the frustrating and uncomfortable ramifications of imperialism. Indeed, you’ll read a lot about rituals of individuals drinking Coke-a-Cola in order to burp to rid themselves of bad spirits, the plethora of candles lit inside the church, and — in some instances — graphic sacrifices of chickens; but the conniving practice of syncretism — which our compañero Paul told me about the night before — really got to me. Don’t mean to go on a rant here, but you still see such sly mechanisms being exercised in contemporary missionary movements, but I won’t get into that here. You got my URL/contact information. Message me, muchachos.
CHAMULA ⇢ SAN CRISTÓBAL
- Later that night, dad and I went for some grub at a generic comedor; generic, in that waitresses hustle potential customers in by waving their menus in your face on the sidewalk, even though their meals are essentially identical to their neighbouring vendors. Anyways, we ended up buying pastries from a university student who was fundraising for a cognitive behaviour therapy program at his academic institution. While dad engaged in lengthy conversation with him, one of the waitresses from another comedor chimed into their discussion, making cheeky/cute side remarks, but also, showing some mild interest in their chitchat.
- Eventually, when the student left, we ended up talking to the girl. Her story is truly an experience that makes me not take my relationship with my dad for granted. 17-year-old Rosa doesn’t go to school because her parents forbid her from doing so. She ended up moving out when she was twelve, and rents a bedroom for herself with a house full of other individuals. She works 17-hour shifts at the comedor, and while her parents love her other siblings, according to Rosa, they don’t love her. Despite these immense complexities (to say the least), Rosa’s held a kind persona that outdid her life calamities, making our discussion and her willingness to share her personal experiences a memory that I — dunno ‘bout you dad, if you’re reading this — will carry with me.
- The next day, we checked out the Na Bolom Museum which shares the history of/information on the Lacandon Maya and the Chiapas rain forest, all in an effort to preserve both bodies. I won’t go too in depth here, but its founders, archeologist Frans Blom and his wife, documentary photographer Gertrude Duby Blom are individuals that make me have faith in humanity. (Dad even shed a tear during a clip in a documentary showing Gertrude being awarded with the Global 500 Award.)
- Speaking of documentary photography (the parallels will soon become apparent), dad and I ended up meeting with the mother-son travel duo I had mentioned earlier twice in San Cristóbal. Aside from learning that dad and I weren’t the only travel partners out there that got some pretty weird-ass assumptions about our relation (i.e., is this your under-aged, gold-digging, perhaps Polynesian or Asian-looking Mexican girlfriend? Or, put euphemistically: “friend”), I ended up (a) becoming more aware of even finer details of dad’s travels back in the day, (b) having the opportunity to hear about the travel experience of the mother and son — some of their adventures which require major cojones, (c) learning that skulling a wee bit of tequila with 100% agave after a night of drinking kills a hangover, and (d) although brief, got a unique scope on some aspects of Mexican social culture (such as male-female dynamics, work habits, etc., — i.e., the small things that seem mundane, but for some reason fascinate/stick with me) as the duo’s experience in Mexico/Mexican ancestry shared some information you just can’t get anywhere else.
- Right, so I mentioned Gertrude’s — look at me, calling me by her first name like we were good chaps back in the day — documentary photography, and how that’s somehow linked to our meet-ups with the mother and son. Well, Diego, the son, is involved in documentary photography, and you can check out his work here.
- All in all, Susie and Diego, if either of you read this, on behalf of my dad and I: thank you for the good conversation, the medical Mayan tea, your overall extended generosity, and letting us know that there are other weird travelers out there.
SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LAS CASAS, CHIAPAS ⇢ OAXACA CITY, OAXACA
- The next day we had to bid farewell to Posada Mi Casa, which I found quite saddening considering the effortlessly cool ambience of the hostel, and the families the lived there. I even had myself a child here:
- Again, the somewhat hard to follow itinerary continued in this leg of the trip: a one-hour bus ride from San Cristóbal to Tuxtla (or Tuxtla Gutiérrez — whatever nomenclature floats your boat); about eight hours in the town of Tuxtla, which gave us ample time to go to Sumidero Canyon and buy some granola; and then a ten-hour, state-crossing bus ride from Tuxtla, Chiapas to Oaxaca City, Oaxaca.
- After cruising on our overnight first-class bus — the choice to purchase this mode of transportation being (a) the long distance that we would be traveling, and (b) the puke-ridden washrooms of our former bus experience – filled with other gringos, we arrived in Oaxaca City at 8:00 AM the following day.
- As per the recommendation of one of the families at Posada Mi Casa, we hailed a cab from the bus depot to Hostal Mágico, only to find that the dormitories were full, and that we could either pitch a tent on the rooftop, or sleep in their hammocks for 70 pesos/night. We went for the latter. Jackpot.
- On the same day of our arrival, the football team of dad’s native Bournmoth won Championship title, and earned promotion to the Premier League, which is a HUGE deal. For me, not so much (not much of organized sports broad myself), but we’re talking tears-in-Miguel’s-eyes type of deal. So, I proposed a beve or two in order to commemorate this landmark moment in sports history. Thus, we ended up crushing some cans in the park, and spiking our drinks in the restaurants with mezcal (with 100% agave of course).
- The night after this was only followed by more celebratory drinks; this time, honouring Pachamama (otherwise known as Mother Nature) and her ferocious powers. Apparently, while we were out and about in town, there was an earthquake and we didn’t even feel it. Furthermore, hurricane/monsoon-like conditions struck us later that afternoon back at Hostal Mágico, with winds wrestling the foliage and rusty hammock shelter on the rooftop, and dampening our beds (i.e., hammocks). As such, Esteban, the owner of the hostel gave dad a mattress, and me the couch of the common area for sleep on for the night. The powers of Pachamama are rather fascinating; and hell, I’ll drink to that.
- It was quite neat: in the event of the storm, it seems like everyone in the hostel came together (aw, how fucken sappy). But we ended up getting to know some groovy-ass people. In fact, our plans to rent a car and head to Oaxaca’s Pacific coast ended up nicely meshing with one of the lads (a Brit who goes by Tinz) we hung out with that night, resulting in him hitching a lift with us the following day.
- But before I get to that, I MUST mention that I had the most glorious, long-anticipated tlayuda that night, as recommended by an excellent Canadian amiga who studied in Oaxaca for a semester last year. Thank you, my dearest Moshi Moshi.
HEADING TO THE COAST
- After parting with pals from Hostal Mágico, dad, Tinz and I made our way to San José del Pacífico: a very small town, which is pretty much a street and a hill up in the mountains, and decorated in hongos paraphernalia. Though the mountains that were being constantly consumed by the clouds were beautiful, time was of the essence, and as a stop that we didn’t plan on making, we stayed here for only one night.
- The joint — no pun intended — that we stayed at was literally ran by a dude who was high as a kite ‘round the clock. No complaints though; just a heads up to other travelers who come here: churros aren’t donuts here.
- Our next stop was San Agustinillo via a detour through Zipolite to see dad’s old stomping grounds, which have now become some sort of hippie haven.
- I’m pretty lax when it comes to long, windy roads, but the route from San José del Pacífico to the coast is nothing to be underestimated. We’re talking roads that curve as tight as our intestines are arranged in our belly; and not just in sporadic instances, but instead, pretty much the whole stretch.
- Upon arrival in San Agustinillo, we said our farewell to Tinz, who got his first look at the Pacific Ocean, hopped on a four-minute collectivo truck to neighbouring Mazunte, and embarked on his spiritual journey in Mexico.
- Our one-night stay in this fishing village functioned as a pit stop of some sort before heading off to Chacahua: a chunk of land only accessible by a boat ride through the epic mangroves that infest Lagunas de Chacahua.
- On our way to Chacahua the following day, in the quest to find a nice spot to eat by the water, we accidentally ended up at some suave, five-star resort, where I don’t know if they took too kindly to my perma-barefoot status that I carried from San Agustinillo (and held for a good remainder of the trip).
- Anyways, upon arrival in Rio Grande, we hired a boat to take us to Chacahua. This is probably the only scandal we faced throughout the course of the trip, and thankfully, it not being too much of a big deal. (The dude made us over-pay, and lied to us about their being cheaper modes of transportation to Chacuhua via Zapotalito. The end.)
- This chilled-out, surfing and fishing village was a nice cherry on top of the final leg of our journey. Perched on some jagged rocks by the ocean, dad and I watched the waves violently collide against the rocks; fishermen fish; and fishing boats strategically timing their launches in order to not be consumed by the water. According to Daniel, the owner of the accommodation we were staying at: “in Chacuhua, it’s always 8:10 AM” (i.e., time doesn’t exist).
- Not only were the people and environment here the ultimate treat to somewhat wrap up our trip (after all, we still had two nights left in Oaxaca City after this), but that evening, I had one of the most genuine and meaningful conversations with my pa. Despite the fact that I barely see him back home, and that most of our means of communication are via e-mail, our life stories/struggles poured out, and as demented and/or intense they may have seemed to one another, we welcomed each other’s peculiarities with acceptance.
BACK TO OAXACA CITY
- So the winding roads continued for at least 87% (more or less) of our route from Rio Grande to Oaxaca City. Bless Daniel’s soul for giving us a 30-minute boat ride to Rio Grande where our car was parked, as opposed to taking the cheaper, but longer option via Zapotalito. Even though we left at 10:00 AM that day (or, in the official time zone of Chacuhua, 8:10 AM), we ended up arriving in Oaxaca City by 9:00 PM.
- On top of the vicious curves of the road ahead, we drove through some torrential downpour, and the debris of boulders chipped off the mountain, which left us with an “oh shit” feeling in the pit of our stomachs.
- We ended up staying back at Hostal Mágico; this time, being able to snag two beds in a dormitory.
- We technically only had one full day left in Mexico, and from the beginning of our trip, we designated this day to market time (i.e., buying gifts for your mutha, your brutha, and your bruthas from another mutha). However, the fuck-up of the was that I accidentally bought WAY more ‘goods’ than the duty free limit allows for you to bring into Canada, and just felt like a schmuck for the rest of the evening.
- Indeed, it’s super melodramatic of me to get down and out on this mistake, but I think my grouchiness that unfortunately fell on the last night was due to a mix of things: the thought of leaving this wonderful place; physical tiredness (though I don’t know to what. Heat?); and quite likely, drinking while in the sun, and while packing my pack in the heat (hey, they don’t sell alcohol in convenient stores in Vancouver; thought I would take full advantage of this here. I know, “fucken tourists”).
- In a nutshell, my last night in Mexico was pretty somber.
OAXACA ⇢ TIJUANA ⇢ SAN DIEGO ⇢ BELLINGHAM ⇢ VANCOUVER
- So, as per the subheading, we caught and early morning flight from Oaxaca to Tijuana; a bus from the airport in Tijuana to the United States-Mexican border; another bus – who we shared with a group of missionaries (hallelujah) – to the airport in San Diego; a flight from San Diego to Bellingham; and a lift from Kaleem (the little bruva), who picked us up and drove us to our humble abode across the border (eh).
- The only noteworthy happening that occurred during this final leg of the trip was that I had the most random emotional moment as soon as our plan descending in Bellingham. Although my red eyes coupled with my natty hair and stinky clothes probably generated the passengers’ assumption that I was incredibly stoned, my tears were ostensibly because of this amazing journey I shared with my dad. Hence, an experience — despite my attempt here in this post — that I cannot mentally fathom, nor put down in words.
- Love you, ayah.