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

Faces of Mexico

Mexican lady in market of Ocotlan Oaxaca Mexico

Photographs of people’s faces can be so evocative of travel; somehow you can capture the spirit and image of a place with a single shot of someone. But of course it’s not always the right thing to do, and as an independent traveller, learning how to respect the local people, and their beliefs, is an essential part of getting closer to their culture. Taking direct photographs can offend, in some parts of the world there is a genuine dislike, and in some parts of Asia in particular, there is a belief that each photograph steals a part of the soul.

Then of course there are those who want money for a photograph, and then there are those who are very happy to be captured on film.

The Oaxaca region of Mexico is so full of evocative faces. The valleys surrounding the city are home to the descendants of 16 different indigenous tribes, each with their own appearance, dialect and culture. Apparently the locals can tell at a glance which tribe someone heralds from, we didn’t quite get that far but it’s impossible to miss some of the more distinctive features. Some look very much like we imagine so called “Red Indians” to look (there’s cowboys too!); some are short and squat with wider faces; some of the older ladies, presumably from a particular tribe, keep their hair very long and plaited, and then tie the ends of the plaits together with an oversized and brightly coloured ribbon.

There is no racist element to this identification process; on the contrary, it is the immense pride in heritage that keeps the distinctive looks alive.

We managed to capture some shots of faces which we think evoke the spirit and the memories of the vibrant city of Oaxaca. Some are reproduced here.

Street hawker in Oaxaca Mexico

Local man in Ocotlan Oaxaca Mexico

In the market 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

Street art of Oaxaca

Oaxacan street art Mexico
Oaxacan street art Mexico

Mexico has a long history of political instability and a consequent mistrust of leaders by the populace. A recent change of President has done nothing to assuage this and in fact there is widespread fear surrounding the immediate future. One wall in Oaxaca proudly sports graffiti stating, in English, “Welcome to the city of defiance”, and here, in this capital city of one of the country’s poorest states, there is tangible distaste for the rulers hundreds of miles away in Mexico City, real fears that poverty will intensify, and a determination to preserve the rights of the individual indigenous tribes.

Whilst here we have seen no aggression, no public activist behaviour. Instead, the defiance, and the socio-political commentary, is displayed in the form of incredibly good street art, adorning the walls of many old buildings, depicting scenes of oppression and pride in origin in the most imaginative and artful ways. The works are truly brilliant, there must be some serious talent here. What an amazing way to express your views. Just look at these examples…

Oaxacan street art Mexico

Oaxacan street art Mexico

Oaxacan street art

Oaxacan street art Mexico

Oaxacan street art Mexico

Oaxacan street art Mexico

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.