Tag Archive | customs

Into Chiapas- Mexico Part 2

Having experienced the wonders of the Yucatán peninsula, we were hungry to continue our journey to another part of the country. People had told me that “Chiapas is the REAL Mexico” and that the Yucatán is very touristy and not the real thing. I am not sure what this means, and have questioned this in regard to other countries (China for example). But truth be told, the scenery in between the cities in the Yucatán was deadly boring and flat, so we were quite happy to board a bus and travel 10 hours to reach the UNESCO  world heritage site of Palenque.

The ride was comfortable, with spacious seats, air conditioning and a toilet. The screens showed movies in Spanish but with the volume turned down. The view was in fact wonderful. For the first hour or so we were riding along the coastline, so we saw the sea, fisherman, seabirds and little port towns. Then gradually we swung inland, and the scenery began to get green and hilly. The hills were dotted with farmlands, horses and cows in fields and a much richer variety of flora and fauna than we had seen in the scrubby scenery of the Yucatán. We eventually arrived in Palenque at around 5.30, in time to check into our hotel, book a tour to the famous  ruins for the next morning, and get some dinner. The street we stayed in, a neighbourhood known as “Canada” was all hotels, tour companies and restaurants.

Next morning, bright and early we were picked up by minibus to tour Palenque jungle ruins, and then a visit to Misol Ha waterfall and Agua Azul natural pools. What can I say about Palenque? I think it was really one of the highlights of the trip. There is something about jungle+ temple which = Indiana Jones. Even though you are not really being an explorer, you feel like one. We had a guide for the ruins and a separate one for the jungle, which I was glad of, because I felt like we could have easily got lost. The site is extremely impressive, especially when you learn that only 10% has been excavated, and most of the temples are still under the jungle, and likely to stay that way. When we asked why, it seems that 1. there are no funds to continue and 2. the ecologists and the archaeologists are pitted against each other. Anyway, what you see is certainly impressive, to say the least.

After the tour of the ruins, and the walk through the jungle (not easy for us, since everyone else was young and agile- but we kept up) we went back to the minibus for a quick trip to the Misol Ha waterfalls and then to lunch and a swim at Agua Azul.

This place REALLY was as great as it looks in the photo. The water was pretty cold at first but after we got in, we really enjoyed the swim and the lunch at one of the many restaurants nearby. We returned to the hotel in Palenque exhausted after a full and exciting day. There were people on our bus who opted to take a collectivo (shared minibus/taxi) directly to San Cristobal de las Casas that same evening (people that we actually ran into when we got there the next day) but we were glad that we went back to the hotel to rest, and travel on by day bus the next day. (But more of this in the next entry)



Agua Azul

And so, next day we again boarded an ADO long haul bus to travel 7 hours to San Cristóbal de las Casas, a town we had heard very good things about. At an elevation of 2,200m this is a little town surrounded by mountains, and inhabited by a mixture of tattooed and pierced young musician types, who look like they are refugees from Woodstock, and the hard-working local people, many of whom belong to minority ethnic groups, such as the Tzotzil and Tzetzal. Their religious practices are a strange mixture of Catholic and Native Indian religions. As mentioned above, the road to San Cristobal was very long, but this turned out to be because of the route that the public bus takes. Instead of going directly to cover the 218km in 4 hours, it switched back to pass through Villahermosa and then back east again. It transpired later that the direct route was dubious- we met a Canadian couple who had hired a car and tried to drive directly to San Cristobal but had run into a roadblock which made them turn back and return (at night) – rather scary. The origin of the roadblock appears to be some kind of demonstration or “political unrest” … as I said, we were glad we had taken the public bus. The folks who went by minibus also said the road they had taken had been extremely windy and unpleasant, and some of them had felt unwell on the way up to the town.

San Cristóbal is hard to describe objectively. It is, as mentioned, high up in the mountains. Every street you walk down, the mountains rise up in the distance and surround the town. The houses are colourful as in Mérida and Valladolid, but with a greater simplicity and have something endearing about them. The town has a slow pace to it. Our host, James, at The Hub hostel put it this way “Many people come for a couple of days and end up staying for 4 years. ” The main drag has tons of hip restaurants, coffee bars and shops, and leads to the main Zócalo, which in turn is surrounded by hip restaurants and coffee bars. One thing we noticed immediately is that there is live music of all kinds going on all the time. There is not a whole lot to do in San Cris except eat, drink, listen to music and people watch. But sometimes that’s all you want to do, right?

We did do two day trips from San Cristóbal. The first was to Sumidero Canyon, a deep rift where you sail down the Rio Grijalva  in a cruise boat for about 90 minutes. The guide spoke only Spanish, as we were the only foreign tourists on the boat, but really no explanation was needed, as we spotted crocodiles, seabirds of various kinds and a small grotto with a Virgin Mary in it, and some strange outcrops of rock in odd shapes. At one point the canyon walls are one kilometre high, and all in all it was a fun day out.

The second trip we made was to San Juan Chamula, a village in the mountains just outside San Cristobal, where the locals famously have a church where they practice their weird version of Catholicism mixed with local Indian belief. It’s all very secret there and you are not allowed to photograph the inside of the church. All I can say is that we saw a woman waving eggs over her head, and that the floor had some kind of palm fronds strewn over it. The statues around the church were also a bit creepy.

In any case, the whole day trip was fascinating, despite the compulsory stop in the textile shop to buy handicrafts made by the locals. Actually, this was more than a shop, as it seemed to be a house where the extended family live together, doing weaving, embroidery and cooking, which you can watch as you browse the handicrafts.

After a wonderful week of music and chilling we decided it was time to move on to our next stop, the amazing Oaxaca in a new state, Oaxaca State.. stay tuned!


Cultural Questions

Today’s post will be a collection of questions that friends from home have asked me about China,and conversely the most common questions that Chinese people tend to ask us.

So here goes:

Questions asked by foreigners about China.

1.Don’t all Chinese people look the same?- maybe at first but not after you know a lot of them.

2.Don’t they eat rats/dogs/cats/snakes -No.Maybe in some far-flung remote villages or in the 1950s when people were starving.But not in our experience.

3.Don’t you miss home? -sometimes,but not nearly as much as we were expecting.We sometimes hanker for bluer skies,hummus,falafel.But we have found all of these foods here and since we speak to our family a lot on Skype we are fine staying here a bit longer.

4.Can you speak/read Chinese? No. We are trying but it is really really hard. We can now order food,we know how to say where we are from and what we do,and ask the price of things,ask for larger,smaller,less expensive etc. We can’t really have much of a conversation.

5..When are you going home? We don’t know… the plan is we have no plan.

6.Is Chinese difficult? Yes,Very. As a linguist I was shocked at how difficult it is,and before we came I thought in a couple of months I would be able to chat,as I have done in almost every country we have visited. However I have come to realize this is not to be.

7.Do you know how to use chopsticks? Yes

8.Do you like Chinese food? Mostly,although i don’t like Chinese breakfast (porridge,fried dough sticks,milk tea) and I will NOT eat chicken feet or stinky tofu. However there are many dishes that I really love. And of course Chinese food is like saying “European Food” as there are different foods in every region,and China as we know is VERY BIG.

9.Don’t the police follow you around/control your movements? NO.WE can go anywhere we like.

10.Aren’t you frightened? No.The Chinese are extremely helpful and friendly and frequently go with you to show you where to go.China is a very safe country,hey nobody here walks into a cinema and just shoots people.

poisonbarPoison Bar,near Xiamen University

Questions Chinese people ask us:

1.Why did you come to China?

We love travel and we came here in 2008 and realized that 3 weeks wasn’t enough and we wanted to see and learn more. Chinese people were so friendly to us then that we wanted to return.

2.Do you like China?

Yes of course,China is fascinating and every day we learn or see something new. The country is so vast and varied and we can visit many interesting places here.

Plus the school is very kind to us,gives us a salary,an apartment and our flight money so living here is a very good deal compared to most other countries.

3.What do you think about Chinese people? See above.

4.Can you use chopsticks? Yes.

5.Do you miss your family/hometown.Sometimes.See above.

6.How do you manage with the language?

We have learnt some important coping mechanisms eg. Dictionary on mobile phone,sending text messages with address in Chinese to show to people on the street,a printed page with our home address on it to show taxi drivers, etc. You have to master google maps,find out names of bus stops in Chinese and then you can manage pretty well.

(God bless the Internet)

7.What is your country like?  This is a hard one to answer.Sometimes we just show pictures,sometimes we say it is very small.The people are different,the food is different.But frankly some things cannot be given a short answer.

8,Do you know X (insert name of Chinese basketball star/singer/movie star)? No ,sorry.

9.How can I improve my Oral English? Go and talk to some foreigners,there are lots in XIamen,join couchsurfing and meet people there,find a friend and do language exchange,go to English corner at University,watch more movies without subtitles.

That’s it for now.You are invited to add your own questions.

Weather here is really hot and sultry now with the occasional downpour and thunderstorm. i love it ,D is suffering. We have started a Yoga Class twice a week (in Chinese!) run by a lady who has a ballet school for kids downstairs in the building next to ours.She has studied in Paris and so I talk to her in French which is a little bizarre.

Pictures from the Shavuot thing:

kippaguyChinese dude with kippa







On another note we are now testing our students for the end of the semester.Then we will hand in our paperwork and hop off to South Korea for 3 weeks,and then back to Israel via Hong Kong.Roll on end of the semester.We were invited to a Shavuot Dinner at the house of an israeli businessman who lives in XIamen Island.Suffice it to say that the dinner was very weird,with a very strange assortment of people,but we did enjoy meeting Tanya and Adi,a young couple who are coming to stay with us next weekend to experience the Jimei Dragon Boat race at the Jimei Dragon Pool.They are also on couchsurfing and seem very lovely.The rest of the people there were not “our kind of people”.The food however was awesome.

That’s it for now.