February 12, 2009

MMM....Mexico


:: Sunset on Zipolite ::

A river boat crossing took us out of Guatemala and into southern Mexico. With border formalities complete we headed for the city of San Cristobal de la Casa; high altitude made this stop a chilly place at night. We were there in the run up to Christmas and the square and buildings were beautifully decorated with festive lights. San Cristobal is a very popular tourist destination and it's easy to see why, it has lots to offer including a colourful market full of amazing looking produce. We were lucky enough to be there for a big Christmas parade which were a mixture of people acting out of the stations of the cross very reverently followed by a huge crowd in drag and a Santa Claus throwing sweets from a float.



Our journey through Mexico was a race against the clock from start to finish. With a flight booked back to Ireland from San Diego in early January and we had a little under three weeks to land travel the whole way through Mexico. This isn’t too big a deal until you take out an atlas and look at just how big Mexico actually is. With this in mind we decided that there was no way we could see very much of the country and that we’d be better off to stop and take a holiday rather than kill ourselves travelling over the Christmas season – when lots of Mexican businesses were on the go-slow. And so we headed for a small place called Zipolite on the Pacific Coast and sat our weary bones on a sandy beach for ten days over Christmas and New Year soaking up the sunshine, dodging the rip currents and generally recharging the batteries.

One excursion was taken during that time and that was to the nearest town to visit the ATM machine. Despite it being the height of the busy season in Zipolite and all the accommodation being booked solid we still don’t know where everyone disappeared to at night. By midnight the streets and beach were deserted and either everyone was tucked up for the night or out at some big party we didn’t know about. Our routine in Zipolite became very predictable, a barbecue cooking whole butterflied chickens became our lunch stop and dinner was eaten nightly at Siren’s restaurant. Aside from great food the attraction of Sirens was watching the mother son duo muddle their way through the service every night. The son was a real Basil Fawlty tutting and generally moody, when he felt like closing the restaurant he closed. Stuck out the in back kitchen the mama slaved away nightly always dressed in a “carry-on” movie outfit, her chest spilling out over the top of her tight top. Tables were served in the strict order they were seated regardless of what was ordered. Basil would seat a table and tell them there were three tables before them waiting to be served, if they didn’t like it they could simply leave.


:: Tacos, and more Tacos ::
Probably one of the highlights of this new country was getting stuck into the Mexican street food. It was all that it was hyped up to be.... meat and fish tacos, moles, enchiladas, barbecued chicken, ceviche... the list goes on and on. Mexican really know how to eat, all their food is zesty and flavoursome and very different to the Tex Mex take. Tacos are available around the clock in most places, and they can be very hard to pass in the street. In the restaurants the more serious dishes like rich moles, fish and huge hunks of meat come in to play. One of the most exciting foodie cities was Oaxaca where one whole section of the market was dedicated to butcher stalls with their own barbecues. You went to the veg section got yourself a basket full of spring onions and peppers and picked out a kilo or more of meat and a short time later a disgustingly large basket of food landed on the table.



:: Oaxaca - grilling it up ::

Our last few days in Mexico were spent busting a gut to make it up to Tijuana and over the border into San Diego. We took a bus from Oaxaca and broke the journey in the city of Mazatalan. We checked into a quirky hotel where a cute old couple running the place spent their days re-rolling toilet paper into smaller rolls to reduce potential waste and feeding pillowcases through an iron roller in the reception. We thought we had the place to ourselves until early evening when all of a sudden lots of long stay American and Canadian retirees emerged from the other rooms for their usual nightly banter on politics, conspiracy theories and meaning of life. Everyone had been there long enough to discuss Mazatalans differing seasons.

The last leg of our journey was an arduous thirty hour bus journey up to Tijuana. We arrived to the border and struggled to find out where we should go to get stamped out of Mexico and hand over a receipt that proved we had paid our tourist tax. As it happens no such border post exists in Tijuana. Anyone is free to waltz into Mexico through the U.S. Border no checks, no stamps, no red tape. The trick is getting back out and past the U.S immigration post whose immense presence makes up for Mexico’s lack of one.

Crossing over the border and swiping a credit card for tickets on the trolley to San Diego was the first sign that even though we were metres from Mexico we were worlds apart. After a few day in San Diego we had adapted to life in the fast lane although we were missing the wonderful tacos.

From there we spent a busy week in Dublin catching up with family and friends and frantically running around organising our big day in May

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