Travel Review of 2018

Puerto Tazacorte on La Palma in the Canary Islands
Puerto Tazacorte

The year wasn’t without its complications and we had some disruption to travel plans, but managed to rescue the year pretty well in the circumstances. We suffered two bereavements during the year; in June Phil’s Dad died, then at the end of November, Michaela’s Nan passed away. Both of them had helped shape our love of travel: see Michaela’s story and Phil’s story.

Despite these sad losses causing one cancellation, and one delay, of holidays, it was still a pretty spectacular year, and one which has further fuelled our appetite for retiring, giving up the day job, loading the backpacks and going off to see the world. It’s going to happen, soon.

England wise, we had stays in Thame, Oxfordshire: a terrific little town with a great selection of pubs, but a weekend spoilt by the incessant rain; two walking weekends in Phil’s Derbyshire homeland; two weekends in Padstow, and visits to London and Birmingham. Padstow is a place very close to our heart, and one we are very familiar with.

March saw a terrific break in La Palma in the Canary Islands, in a terrific little place called Puerto Tazacorte. This was a backpacking trip, something we always love, nothing booked but the flights. Puglia was booked for June but was the trip which suffered cancellation, though we have now resurrected the plan for 2019.

Next up then was a fabulous trip to Asia, taking in Kuala Lumpur, Jungle trekking in Malaysia, the paradise island of Tioman, and the thrilling experience of seeing Singapore for the first time. All of it was brilliant, but Singapore in particular is unfinished business.

Our only foreign city break this year was Geneva, in November.

We finished the year in Mexico, partly in Oaxaca and partly in Puerto Escondido, both truly wonderful destinations in their own right, but with a foodie experience well worthy of the title of our blog! Mexico overlapped into 2019, so we’re up and running.

So what’s in store in 2019 now? Well, there’s a Budapest weekend; a 10-day trip to Jordan, and the resurrected Puglia trip already on the calendar, but there’ll be plenty more, plus, all things being equal, this might just be our last year at work before that travelling dream becomes reality.

Birmingham City Gas Street Basin barges and pubs

Birmingham City
Padstow Harbour Cornwall seagulls and fishing boats
Padstow Harbour
Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur
Tioman Island beach shack Malaysia South China Sea
Tioman Island
Oaxaca Mexico, churches & buildings
Oaxaca Mexico

Home from Mexico

Well, it’s over. Our journey home, unlike the outward voyage, was uneventful and so we’re home from what has been one of our very best travel experiences so far, and that’s saying something. There were a lot of firsts: our first 3-week trip; our first Christmas out of the UK; our first time in Latin America; and so many new food experiences that we lost count. And there was so, so much more. What a wonderfully colourful, vibrant country Mexico is, judging by our experience over the last 3 weeks.

We won’t feel the warmth of the sun for 3 months now, but we have inspiring travel plans for 2019. After that, the real journey begins. “Mature backpackers” like us can’t keep putting it off for ever, so we will soon be swapping our day jobs for the trip of our lifetime. Putting our plans together is almost enough to compensate for the lack of sunshine.

In the meantime, we have the fabulous memories of Puerto Escondido and Oaxaca, both of which we loved, two of our best places visited so far.

The Mexican flag

Vegetarians look away now. Posted 6/1/19

Passila de Carnes asada Oaxaca Mexico
Passila de Carnes asada

Behind the main market in Oaxaca (Mercardo Benito Juarez) lies Mercado de 20 Noviembre, a frantically busy food market which is full of life. One narrow entrance here leads into a corridor within the market nicknamed locally “Passila de carnes asada”, which translates as “grilled meats passage”, and is a brilliant experience, though perhaps not if you’re vegetarian. It works like this.

Narrow passage, rammed with people walking each way. Butchers line both sides, strange cuts of raw meat hang from rails and sit on counters. Between each butcher there’s hot coals, roasting meat to order. A handful of tables are wedged between some grills, at right angles to the alley, so diners have to move to let you in. You order your meat from a butcher’s runner, who shouts instruction to the women fanning the coals and to the butcher himself. Separate vendors patrol the corridor, trays balanced on their heads; one selling veg and moles, the other tortillas. They are independent vendors needing to be paid separately, but their wares are essential for your meal.

Noise and smoke fill the air. Manic activity surrounds you. Your platter arrives. You indulge.

Fantastic.

Passila de Carnes asada Oaxaca Mexico

Passila de Carnes asada

Oaxaca city guide – Part 2

Oaxaca Mexico street
Oaxaca

Please re-read our last post, the 2-minute guide to Oaxaca; we accidentally posted the unfinished version, it now reads as it was meant to! How much do you love unravelling the challenge of using public transport in an unfamiliar place!? It’s not only a stimulating part of settling in, but it’s also one of those things which brings you closer to the local culture. We had a good fix of it today – it’s on Day 21 of Mexico, which you’ll find in The Americas section.

Your 2-minute guide to Oaxaca city, Mexico

A quiet cobbled street in Oaxaca Mexico
A quiet street

First off, it’s a wonderful place, full of life and colour and food and traditional Mexico. Here’s our introductory guide to this lovely city.

The city is for the most part built on a grid of roadways, making navigation on foot very easy; you will be given directions such as “walk two blocks past the market, turn left and walk three blocks, it’s on your left”. The city radiates around and way from the main square, the Zocalo, and nearly all of the main sights are within easy walking distance of the square. The Zocalo itself is incredible, loud and colourful, restaurants on three of its four sides, teeming with life and oozing Mexican spirit; the cathedral, the wonderfully intense markets, Santo Domingo and many other sumptuous buildings are within just a few minutes walk of the Zocalo, as are craft shops and mezcal bars, both in abundance.

Aromas of food permeate the senses; sometimes taco stalls, sometimes grilled meats, but the most intense are those occasional streets housing the chocolate makers, the whole street full of deep scent of chocolate.

The madness of the Zocalo is one thing; but perhaps the true Oaxaca is to be found in the calmness of its quieter neighbourhoods, cobbled streets separating the rows of low aspect houses, houses in ochre and primary colours, leafy lanes, trailing flowers, cafes, shops and bars anonymous by day then open at night (and vice versa), smiling faces, friendly chatter. Our own neighbourhood, Jalatlaco, is a former Zapotec tribal village now absorbed by the city, retaining a peaceful character yet just 15 minutes walk from Santo Domingo. Characterised by the distinctive wall art which decorate several of the quaint buildings – a modern twist brought about by socio-political unrest – Jalatlaco has a charm all of its own.

But don’t ignore the Zocalo, or the two major markets next door to each other, just being part of the verve and the madness is stimulating and exciting. The city’s leafy squares and tree lined streets and the archetypal low slung characterful Mexican buildings are so endearing, yet the dual existence of the craziness of the centre and the serenity of the outer neighbourhoods, so close together, provides the travelling visitor with a sumptuous mix. Add on the incredible food, the obsession with mezcal, the huge numbers of places to eat, the mountains towering above, and shielding, the city, and you have a destination which once visited will never be forgotten.

The joy of insects. Posted 2/1/19

Chapulines- grasshoppers for lunch in Oaxaca Mexico
Chapulines- grasshoppers

Eating insects is not something that comes naturally to the British, indeed we can’t think of a single insect which forms part of British cuisine. By contrast, the Mexican diet is full of them, being home to more edible insects than any other country in the world, with 88 species of edible beetle alone, together with ants, worms, caterpillars, ants’ eggs and, of course, grasshoppers. And we are on a journey of discovery here on our trip to Oaxaca. So far we’ve eaten ants with our beer, a sauce made from edible ants, a powder made from ground moth caterpillar, and now, at last, grasshoppers. These chapulines, as they are called here, are so much more tasty than we could ever have imagined, they are genuinely delicious. No wonder the locals love them here, carrying a salty, meaty taste which is very pleasing on the palate. We’re not over playing this: don’t miss chapulines if you come here, you’ll be missing out if you do!

New Years Eve in the Zócalo, Oaxaca

New year celebrations in Zócalo Oaxaca Mexico Feliz Ano Nuevo
New Year celebrations

There’s very little in life that beats the feeling of being absorbed into a different way of life, and feeling a long way detached from your ordinary everyday life, it’s one of the essential joys of travel. New Years Eve in the Zócalo in Oaxaca was very different from back home. Here’s some things you can expect to see which you wouldn’t see in the UK:-

⁃ Fireworks on open sale by street vendors with no restriction on who can buy, so small children are buying. In fact, some of the sellers are children too.

⁃ Children using lighters to light fireworks, holding the fireworks in their hand until properly alight, then throwing the burning firework across the crowded square.

⁃ Adults joining in, throwing lighted fireworks and firecrackers into the square, some firing rockets horizontally into the crowd.

⁃ Nobody batting an eyelid at any of this!

⁃ The main stage where the bands play, and the focal point of the square, becoming empty after a band finishes around 9pm, and then left deserted for the remainder of the evening.

⁃ Half the huge crowd in the square cramming into one corner to dance in the streets to a band performing supposedly privately in one of the restaurants, and the midnight countdown taking place only there.

⁃ Masses of people buying spray cans of white foam and squirting it into each others’ faces.

⁃ Vendors pushing through the crowd just after midnight, still trying to sell rugs and paintings even on the makeshift dance floor.