Tag Archive | waterfall

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)

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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!

Jeju Island-deserves a separate post

Having read through the previous post I decided to do a separate entry about this wonderful island,especially for our friend Anne Hilty who has devoted several years to this place.IT is not very well known outside of Korea and I am not sure why. We spent a few days on the island travelling around and were lucky to have blue skies and pleasant temperatures,and we found it to be a very special and beautiful place.

So here goes. We arrived by plane from Seoul,having ascertained that the ferry was not cheaper and definitely not more comfortable.So we flew into Jeju city,the main city in the north of the island. We were intending to drive a hire car around but the companies had no cars,and anyway didn’t recognize our Israeli licence and we had no International licence.So we hired a driver for one day to see some of the sights and then discovered the wonderful airport limousine bus which tours the ringroad around the island and visits many of the main sights.So the first day our driver took us to several major sights,waited for us in the car or accompanied us and took photos,and even lent us raincoats for the Manjanggul Lava tube caves which we had not realized would be freezing cold and dripping wet!

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Manjaggul Lava tube

From the lava tube we drove to Sunrise Peak,Seongsan a beautiful cliff dropping down in the sea,which gives wonderful views of the island once you have staggered your way to the top.We didn’t do it at sunrise but I believe that’s what you are supposed to do.Anyway the view was certainly impressive and we ran into tons of Chinese tourists on the way up (as we did pretty much everywhere in Korea) and greeted them with Ni Hao! Zai na li, much to their surprise.

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Me and Mr Kim at Seongson Sunrise Peak

We then went to a beautiful bit of the coastline where apparently some very popular Korean TV show is filmed but of course we had never heard of it.The view was great so we didn’t care.Lots of Koreans and Chinese taking their photos in front of the lovely scenery.

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Next we visited a boring folk village which was an excuse to try and sell us some stupid juice made out of some berries or something which we refused to do at which point they told us they had to close for the day (!) and even though it was raining a little Mr Kim took us to one more place which I think was called Sangumburi a sort of misty crater rather wet but very beautiful and atmospheric.

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Next day we had lunch with Dr Anne Hilty a friend of a friend,who has helped write a book about Jeju island. She very kindly picked us up from our hotel and drove us to a restaurant where she introduced us to some delicious local specialities,and gave us a signed copy of her book on Jeju.Then she deposited us at the bus stop so we could go down to Seogwipo the city on the south side of the island where we THOUGHT we were staying.It turned out that the hotel I had booked was in fact another 180 minutes by bus from Seogwipo city.Nevertheless we arrived there eventually and found the guesthouse to be awesome and beautiful but in the middle of nowhere,right near Sunrise Peak the place we had visited the day before. The lady at the guesthouse kindly allowed us to cancel the second night when we explained we actually wanted to stay in Seogwipo city (the two hotels had the same name you see) and then took us by car to a nearby restaurant for supper and told the owner of the restaurant to drive us home when we were done! So charming.

From the hotel in Seogwipo city we discovered the airport limousine bus which travels around the island stopping at strategic points along the way. We took it to the beach near the Lotte Hotel complex where we enjoyed the views of the coast and relaxed a bit.Next day we took a cruise along the beautiful south coastline and reflected on how lucky we were to be in such a gorgeous place.

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Seogwipo coastline

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We also walked to Cheongjiyeon Waterfall only 15 minutes from our hotel in Seogwipo city (yet more Chinese tourists ni hao ni hao) and went back to the beach again one last time before flying next day to Busan…. but that’s another story.

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