Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Going Home

It's hard to believe it but our nine months come to an end tomorrow. Today is our very last day in Central America after an unforgettable adventure. We survived a very long journey down from Tapachula, Mexico, back to where it all began- San Jose, Costa Rica. Very kindly, my mum and dad have paid for us to have our final night back in the lovely Pura Vida Hotel (in whose gardens this photo was taken), so we're having a very relaxing last day and looking forward to a delicious meal tonight!

Obviously we've been doing a lot of reflecting on the trip recently; talking about all the amazing highlights like the El Mirador trek, Isla de Ometepe, diving in Honduras and Belize, learning Spanish in Panama and so many more! For me, the best thing has been how endlessly stimulating travel can be. Every day we've seen and experienced surprising and beautiful things and even today we have more questions about Central America than when we first began! We've also met some brilliant people and made some long-lasting friendships, I'm sure. I hope we'll bump into some of you again in some far flung corner of the world one day!!

Having said that, there are so many things we're looking forward to at home, especially our wonderful friends and families. We've missed you all so much and have both vowed to make a lot more time for for visits in the future (please feel free to hold us to this!). Of course, I will really miss my parents being at home to welcome me back (they're living in New Zealand for two years for those who don't know!), but we're looking forward to seeing them soonish. We're planning a trip to down under in September so keep an eye out for the next installment of our world travels!

We'll be back at home early on Thursday 11th and will be staying with Rob's parents in Ashby for a while. Thanks Liz and Greg for putting us up! Can't wait to see you all really soon.

Lots of love from Rachel xx

What's there to add? Some of my highlights have been the lava on Volcán Pacaya, watching nesting turtles in Tortuguero, the beautiful colonial cities of Granada and San Cristóbal de las Casas and the natural beauty of Semuc Champey. One of the (hopefully lasting) things we'll take away is our Spanish; we'll have to find some way to keep practising!

So that our family and friends don't have to be bored by the thousands of photos we've taken on our trip, we've put together a couple of albums: one tells the story of our trip and the other is a collection of the very best photos from the entire 9 months. Enjoy!


Friday, June 5, 2009

Tzotzil Villages

Tzotzil Maya people still retain a lot of their old traditions so a day spent visiting two villages in the highlands of Chiapas was completely fascinating. First stop was San Juan Chamula. This cemetery was a very sobering sight; the black crosses mark the graves of elderly people, green adults and, sadly, white shows children and babies.

The church is beautifully decorated inside and out. Cameras are forbidden inside, which was a shame as we witnessed a healer performing a ritual and villagers worshipping on a pine-needle covered floor. Bizarrely, Coca-Cola is often used in everyday rituals because it induces burping, which is said to expel evil spirits.

We came with a guide as many local people are very wary of outsiders and it is essential to be sensitive when visiting the area. Manuel took us to a home where they have the honour of caring for a figure of a saint for the year. This arch marks the location. Inside we were encouraged to try some pox (pronounced posh), a very strong spirit that is used in a lot of ceremonies. For example, a herbal doctor will spit a mouthful of it over someone who is ill to cleanse them. Oh and it's also an essential part of all fiestas, of course!

In Zinacantán, Manuel showed us the traditional clothes worn by men. Although almost all women still wear the traditional dress, it is much less common to see men using it. Interestingly, the women's heavily embroidered shawls have changed over time; when the village started growing flowers such as lilies and roses to sell across Mexico, the women included these images in their designs.

Here a Tzotzil woman is weaving cotton using the back strap technique.

We visited a house where we saw the importance of maize, or corn, in Mayan life in the past and today. For many centuries the different colours of maize (who knew there were more than one!) have held different significances. White is linked with east and the god of rain, black with the west and god of death, yellow with the north and the god of corn and red represents the god of wind, who is believed to live in the south.

Maize is still the major staple in all Mexican, and especially Mayan diets. This woman made us some delicious tortillas straight from the fire. They had a much stronger taste than the ones used in places like taco stalls.

The children are incredibly beautiful and this shot has to be one of my favourite pictures from the whole trip.

Rachel x

UPDATE: There are many more really nice pictures from the Tzotzil villages; click here to view the whole album.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Adventures of the spade #12

The spade also felt the heat of the jungle, and was happy to cool off at the Agua Azul waterfalls. Here he's enjoying a (slightly reckless) ride down one of the smaller falls. Don't worry though, we were on hand to make sure he didn't get washed away!


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Campeche and Palenque

It's getting close to the end of the trip now! We still have time to fit a bit more in though. Moving on from Mérida, we spent a couple of nights in Campeche, a beautiful colonial city on the Yucatán coast. The architecture is reminiscent of southern Spain, especially in the leafy, open central plaza where our hostel was located. We had spectacular views of the city at night.

Campeche was fortified against pirates by the Spanish and parts of the fortifications remain, such as the city wall and several of the 'bulwarks' or 'bastions'. These are miniature forts spread along the original line of the seafront (the seafront has since been moved by filling in new land), housing cannon and lookout posts for defending the city.

It was incredibly hot though: an almost unbearable 45°C (113°F) during the mid-afternoon. After a couple of days we couldn't take any more and headed for Palenque.

Palenque was inhabited from around 100 BC and flourished around AD 600-700. It has a fantastic setting surrounded by hilly jungle, making it a very atmospheric place to visit (despite the crowds of tourists). Above is the Temple of the Inscriptions.

Palenque boasts many well-preserved bas-reliefs, depicting major events and glorifying rulers of the city. The one above, which I am imitating, may be of a decapitation, while the scene below shows a soldier (looking left) with captive prisoners from another Mayan city-state. Other carvings around the site still show some colour on them (thanks to the long-lasting pigment made from squashed beetles).

One of the best things to see is in the site museum. A reproduction of the giant sarcophagus of king K'inich Hanab Pakal (who died aged 80 in AD 683), found inside the Temple of the Inscriptions, is displayed inside a special exhibition space that shows the size, shape and interior decoration of the original tomb. As the tomb itself is now sealed inside the temple following its discovery, it's a great way to imagine what's inside.

After the heat and humidity of the steamy jungle, a visit to the nearby Agua Azul (blue water) waterfalls is highly recommended. It's a series of cool freshwater pools which make for great swimming.

Rach always loves a swim (I think she aims for at least one a day if possible), and particularly enjoyed the refreshing dip here. Perfect for relaxing after a day's sightseeing!