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From Valley to Mountain to Jungle

My final Mexican experiences

After a round of exams I travelled this route, very typical for Mexico-travellers:
(Pachuca de Soto) - Mexico City - Oaxaca - San Cristóbal de las Casas - Palenque - Tuxtla Gutiérrez - Mexico City
From Mexico City I had planed to go to Teotihuacán as my last, and surely impressive, site to visit, but unfortunately ran out of money and energy on my last 3 days.

I had planned to travel 4 weeks throughout the country with more stops, mainly along the Western, Southwestern and Eastern regions, with Tulum being the furthest point, and perhaps with a stopover in Guatemala. However, I got a mysterious and severe infection of some sort no one could figure out, so I spent about half that time in bed, trying to resist taking antibiotics my German doctor had previously prescribed in case of emergency.

1) The City
Despite still being ill, I decided to start my trip to the famous capital of Mexico, with 9 Million city dwellers and 21 Million people within the metropolitan area. Originally called Tenochtitlan by the Aztecs who had built it on an island it is the oldest capital city on the American continent and one of only 2 founded by its native people (besides the Ecuadorian Quito). It was called Ciudad de México during Spanish invasion and occupation, and after gaining independence D.F. for Distrito Federal (head of the federation of the Mexican states). This name is used still today, though it is not called D.F. anymore as of February 2016 due to restructuring of the political landscape of the country.
Due to its many citizens ignoring the traffic lights during the night, police men handle the traffic at strategic points in the city when it gets dark.
Impressions of Mexico City. Not how I expected it to be. So bright and friendly :D

My friend Alinne's lovely cousin Shantal (ENT specialist - huge plus for me!) took me in for a few days during my first visit with Alinne, before I wanted to start my adventure, and then again shortly before my departure to Europe. She gave me shelter, food, medication, company and friendliness, and didn't ask for anything in return. I couldn't have been luckier than to meet these two fabulous women. Mexico City seemed very chaotic and didn't have this pleasant atmosphere I know from big cities in Asia, mainly China (yes, it is subjective. Very). Feeling safe and unsafe while exploring the city, paying tons and paying very little for food and drinks alternated every few minutes. I discovered Gorditas de Nata, lightly sweet English-muffin type bread; I tried to eat as many as possible, and also bought many other goodies before going home. Studying in Mexico City may have been more fun, but I don't particularly like this city or at least during those 7 days in sickness and poverty I didn't enjoy my time that much. However, I can say its worth a visit and the fresh, cheap juices you can mix to your gusto are to die for. . .

Famous Palacio de Bellas Artes

Ayozinapa was present in almost all places I went to. The outrage became a beacon of hope people tried to hold on to. For a little while the believe was kept that finally real change was about to come and perhaps Nieto would leave (or would be killed by the cartels if he could not calm his citizens down). But months later oppositional leaders all over the country keep being assassinated.
Some protesters remained day and night.

2) The Valley
I took a night bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca de Juarez or Cuidad de Oaxaca, the capital of the state of Oaxaca, and stayed in a nice little hostel somewhere close to the center, in walking distance from the bus station. In the hostel I experienced for the first time how severe the water shortage in Mexico actually is as it was rationed for bathroom and kitchen use. That day it was el Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe and I could experience the procession and the accompanying fair. Also there were numerous (night) markets I enjoyed. What disappointed me was the lack of fresh fruit offered on the streets and in the supermarkets. Overall Oaxaca was a beautiful, comfortable place worth staying several days to discover the surroundings, while the city itself needs only a day or two. I participated in a day trip which was a wonderful experience and I recommend to do at least one of such trips into the nature outside the city! The prices are cheap and you get very good cultural value! I went to Hierve el Agua, Mitla, Tule, Teotilán y una Fábrica de Mezcal. A little overview about the places you can get here. Although this was my tour operator I do not recommend a specific one; so far I only heard good things from travellers about all of their operators.



3) The Mountain
I took a ADO Platino to San Cristóbal de las Casas during the night which was the wrong choice. I was not given a snack like in the cheap busses before, the nice comfortable armchair of the first two hours became a nightmare longterm, and the monitors in front of each passenger could not be entirely turned of, so that light became very bothering during my failed attempts to sleep. I remember there were more uncomfortable or negative events but my mind seems to have suppressed this information. Definitely money badly spent. However, San Cristóbal became my favorite Mexican city. I love that place. It is full of lovely little streets, friendly people, cheap and fresh fruit, is relaxing and beautiful with impressive nature. As time was a pressing issue I could only stay 2 whole days and 1 night but I remember the feeling of comfort over there. The hostel was very pretty and flowery, but hard to find and for the first and only time the company of the other travellers not enjoyable (Everyone experienced knows the different kinds of hostels according to their suitability for solo travellers). One moment has stayed very vividly in my mind: putting my backpack into the luggage storage (some sort of wooden living room). Two rows of other backpacks were stored along the wall, so I put down mine in a third one and turned around to look at all of them again. My backpack seemed tiny in comparison to all others. I had chosen a smaller backpack made for women on purpose and knew I was travelling lighter than most others no matter the travel period, but for the first time that was so strongly visualized in front of me that I did ask myself for a minute if I was travelling the wrong way and what I could have possibly forgotten to take with me.
As I have been a bit sick and just enjoyed simply being, I did not take many pictures.

Trip I could not do

3) The Jungle
Though the Mayan city of Palenque was astonishing, the biggest impression on me was left by the bus ride. I bought another (normal) ADO ticket for a ride that was supposed to take 5 hours. After about 7 hours we finally stopped and I got off the bus, went out of the station and searched for the respective street along the bus station that would lead me to my hostel. I could not find it, so I asked a group of men who tried to figure out where this street was as they only knew a park by that name, Juarez. As this place looked nothing like I had imagined, with growing suspicion I, embarrassed, ask for the name of the city I was in. I was in Villahermosa! I ran back passed security and got on the same bus, ask the driver if this bus was going to Palenque after all and after he had finished laughing he told me yes, but it would take a while. I was just on time, 1 minute later the bus left and looking at the pathetic, crouched person I was, they decided to ignore the fact that I could not find my ticket to prove my identity during the second ticket check. Instead the driver and the other passengers had a good laugh again when he told the inspector. After a total transportation time of 11 hours the driver turned to me and very slowly and articulated said: Pa-len-que. I got off the bus and considered a taxi to the hostel as I felt completely destroyed and ready to pass out. I had started my bus ride at 5pm after a long and busy day San Cristóbal and had no food or drink on me as I had planed on having dinner on arrival as 5 hours didn't seem that long considering the distances I was already used to travel. On arrival I was hungry but had lost my appetite. I decided to save the money and walk to the hostel which turned out to be very close, closer than it had seemed on the map. All I could do was to reserve a place on the archaeological site Palenque for the next day and fall into bed in the worst hostel I have been to outside of China. It had no furniture, no shower, no walls, no windows, no security, no kitchen, no nothing. It was sleeping on a mattress in a construction side.

Serene nature

To my surprise the booked trip was more than the archaeological site. The Palenque ruins are wonderful to see and the guide an endless source of information. It is incredible to imagine how life must have been there, how colorful the buildings, and the rituals, how different the view of the world, and that 95% is still uncovered. When you see T-shaped holes, windows, statues or signs that place stands for the living, a T on its head refers to places of the dead with whom communication was possible.
We walked through the site feeling so good among the old ruins and the lush green semi-jungle. Splashes of their original colors could be discovered among the ruins, mostly blue and red, the plants sported thousand shades of green as flowers rarely grow in that area. It was serene. I walked out of the archaeological area with an elderly couple among my tour group, who incidentally came from Pachuca. The archeological site of Palenque is by far not the biggest one in Mexico (not in terms of what is excavated, but it shows some of the finest art or works of the Mayans still visible today.
From the side
From below
From above
toilet hut
That is what I look like trying to jump
Painting of the carvings on the lid of the tomb of K'inich Janaab Pakal I in the Temple of the Inscriptions which was build as his last resting place. For a long time his tomb couldn't be opened because no one could figure out how, after it had already taken years to even discover it inside the temple. His pose on the carving was compared to that of an astronaut, leading some to believe that the Mayans were in contact or influenced by extraterrestrial beings. Others interpreted him as being reborn and/or in contact with celestial beings or items. What many found surprising and interesting is that the middle is widely interpreted as being a World Tree, a symbol found in many believe systems and mythologies around the world, most notably in North and Turkic Asia, Northern Europe and ancient peoples in the Americas. Therefore some scientists and scholars believe the concept of an underworld-earth-heaven connecting tree is in our subconscious collective human memory due to human evolution having started in nature/in trees. Pakal was said to have become a god after is death. He was born in March 603, during a very violent period, and is called Pacal the great or "Sun shield" from the Mayan work Pacal for shield. He reigned 68 years, the longest reign in the Western hemisphere. His features and depictions of his life are all over the Palenque ruins (of what little we can see today) because he constructed and extended inscriptions and buildings, and some of the finest Mayan art has been created under him, including his unique stone sarcophagus.
Interesting history about that which I have forgotten
Decoration showing Pacal
More and more parts cant be visited due to destruction by tourists. 95% of the site is estimated to is still be buried underneath
You can see some hints of the ancient colors
Museum about the Mayans. Much about Pacal
Cactus and tree symbiosis
Bʼolon Yej Teʼ Naah (House of the Nine Sharpened Spears) or Templo de las Inscripciones. It is not allowed to be climbed anymore.

Later on we visited the corresponding museum close to the exit. After that we continued to the Cascadas de Agua Azul and the Cascadas de Misol-Ha where we went swimming, had a late lunch and bought some souvenirs. By the end of the trip I made friends with two Mexican sisters and decided to switch to their hostel as mine was so bad. These two lovely ladies let me stay with them for free for two nights and celebrated my birthday with me. Together we discovered the city of Palenque and Mexican lemon tart. We also had a bad experience at a restaurant that brought us closer together. They were happy to spend time with me because in my company all but my poor self were safe from mosquitoes.

Nature = love

From behind (cascadas, not on the archeological side)
Birthday cake

I really wanted to visit Guatemale, I even had arranged accommodation with a friend's friend en la Cuidad Guatemala but I did not have any money left to spend in Mexico, so I planned on taking a chicken bus. Crossing the border is nothing like crossing within Europe; it is wild, dangerous, adventurous, needs several modes of transportation, and long story short, I became the chicken and then bussed my ass back to the capital.

4) Last days

The bus ride of almost 1000km was horrid! I wanted to stay in Tuxtla Gutiérrez for a day but when I arrived due to financial and organizational issues could not stay there for long. So I stayed for 5 hours and went on to Mexico City. I assumed to be able to go around town, but the bus station is surrounded by nothing but giant streets and few, tiny food shops. I would have had to walk too far and without a map to reach a residential or otherwise interesting area. With my (for me) heavy backpack. Also the big shopping center beside the bus station was closed as it was too early in the morning. Therefore these 5 hours passed slowly and agonisingly without a comfortable place to rest after the previous bus ride. Until I reached Shantal's place again, who I woke up in the middle of the night, I had been travelling all in all from Palenque for about 50 hours due to various challenges and unforeseen events. Once I arrived in Mexico City taxi drivers refused to take me home as the distance was too short, despite it feeling like a mountain climb to me. I started to feel sick again which continued into the first 2 weeks into Germany. In Mexico City I spent some nice hours with Shantal and her friends but I mostly slept. I was dead tired. I barely made it out of bed for my host. I have been regretting not going to Teotihuacan ever since.
On my departure day Alinne and her friend, who carried my luggage through several vehicles to the airport as I didn't want to pay for a taxi, came from Pachuca to support me and say goodbye which I was so happy about. They waited with me to check-in at the long queue and made these last hours a bliss despite me still feeling a bit nauseous.


5) The Aviation Adventure A Alemania
Due to European Union regulations I had to start and finish my Erasmus Mundus Exchange at my home and host universities' countries - a rule I find to be completely outdated in today's world. Therefore my itinerary looked as follows:
D.F. Mexico - Amsterdam - Tallinn - Amsterdam - Frankfurt
I am too thrifty to buy food at airport, I rather starve, which is exactly what I did. Flying Air France was bad as always and since I had already been awake 24 hours after my first flight I wanted to rest at my next departure gate. Lest I forgot that I transferred from an international to an inner EU flight, meaning I had to go through security again. Knowing my lack of adequate nutrition was coming up in the Netherlands I had packed a big amount of food and different drinks to gain some energy for the next 3 flights. Of course, these couldn't go through security. After passport control the security guy asked me about liquids and suddenly I remembered my stock. I almost started crying and begged the guy to let me return through passport control, so that I could eat and drink something to avoid death. Looking at the mirror later I know I looked like a battered ghost. The police guy told me to think first the next time as security protocol forbids such action but they let me through and I could eat and drink and rest at the nice Schiphol airport. When it was time to go through again I was afraid to meet the same police man again but a new shift had started. Contrary to that I was hoping to meet the nice security guy to thank him for saving my existence as I had just left like in trance last time without a thank you; unfortunately he was gone as well. But wonderful, nice, Dutch security man please know I remember your kindness, you showed compassion where there was only supposed to be regulation. Thank you.
Overall, going home took about 2 days and when I arrived on 24th December around 5pm at home I had 2 hours to shower and rest before the start of Christmas dinner. Thankfully my family let me sleep until the last second to help me recover as much as possible. Still, I wonder how I managed to keep my head out of my plate. Well, barely.

Posted by nerikimmera 11:46 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico backpacking san_cristobal_de_las_casas mexico_city palenque oaxaca study_abroad

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