All of Yucatan – the Mayan ruins, the coast: Chichen Itza, Celestun

Chichen Itza is a Mexico “must”, as everybody told me. I visited this ancient Mayan city on a cloudy day, when the grey colour of the ruins was contrasting even more strongly against the green leaves, a contrast that, because of the light, seemed much more vivid in person than through the lens of my camera… In the quiet sound of the morning, lizards were coming out to get a little sunlight, hummingbirds were buzzing around looking for honey, and people were slowly filling the place, trying to understand the secret meaning of these stones and pierce into the mysteries of a great lost civilisation.

In Celestun I got close to the living Mexico, just as in Chichen Itza I had the feeling I was exploring the ancient Mexico. I came here to see the pink flamingos, but I discovered much more – a fishermen village, asleep under the heart of the summer, but somehow alive behind the shaded windows, inside the houses, in a bag of seashells left alone next to an empty boat, or the shadow of a little boy bicycling away on the dirty road. With little hotels right on the beach and children accompanying their parents at fishing, at sunset. With secret lagoons and mangrove forests, with pelicans, and seagulls, and ibis birds, and pink flamingos – majestic, slow, beautiful, gracious, pink flamingos.

Merida, the heart of Yucatan

Merida is a city to be enjoyed. It is a city to be tasted slowly, without rush, with small, long sips, just like a glass of good tequila. A tasting to be done early in the morning or late in the afternoon, out of the way of the unforgiving tropical heat. And to be declined between tours of the city’s main square and long walks along El Paseo de Montejo, admiring the palace-like houses of the 19th century, and longer or shorter visits, as it may please you, to any of the city’s many museums, filled with local contemporary artists, historical tales and Mayan artefacts.

And for the long afternoon hours, or for the early evenings, it is best to take refuge into the comfort of your own home. Especially if you have the good fortune to stay in a place facing the main square, with a view to Merida’s beautiful cathedral, entertained by the passing people, cars and horse carriages, or by the occasional “trova” song played by one of the groups which are lining the square each night, offering their services and their serenades.

Stepping into a Caribbean harbour

Welcome to Campeche! A town built by the Spanish in the 16th century, one of the most important seaports in the Caribbean Sea at the time, attacked and pillaged so many times by pirates that its citizens chose to surrounded it with fortified walls and bastions to protect it. A town which today stands among the UNESCO World Heritage sites as an illustration of a Baroque colonial town.

A place to be tasted at a slow pace, walking around its straight streets and bright coloured houses, passing by grey stone churches – austere, with their simple wooden crucifixes and somehow luxuriant, in the same time, with leaves of palm trees contrasting against their walls. A town with contemporary art exhibitions displayed right in the street. A place where you can take a peek at the houses where the rich and favoured used to live, and then go on the seashore and rejoice in the show that the sun and the thunderstorm clouds put out, for the enjoyment of all.

Palenque: the ruins and the jungle

To Palenque I was drawn by stories of the ruins of an ancient Maya city, built deep into the jungle, images of grey stone buildings contrasting against the green forest…

But what took me by surprise were the strange and wonderful creatures and plants that live and move in the jungle around Palenque. So much, that I could not stop taking their pictures. So take a look and step into this tropical jungle with me!

The highlands of Chiapas

Leaving the Pacific coast with eyes filled with sun, ocean and sand, I headed towards San Cristobal de las Casas, the heart of the Chiapas region. High in the mountains, it welcomed me with fresh morning air, chilly nights and heavy rains: the rainy season was starting to claim its territory. I discovered here a city of Spanish architecture and living pre-Hispanic traditions, graffiti walls and indigenous woman selling their crafts, dressed in black wool skirts.

One foggy morning we headed towards the Cañon de Sumidero, where trees grow on stones, and crocodiles bathe in the afternoon, and ibis birds nest. The little town of Chiapa de Corzo, that we also visited on that day, made me feel I’ve stepped into a slower rhythm of life, with vendors calling out their merchandise, people walking lazily, enjoying their ice cream or their fresh fruits covered in chili sauce.

But it was in the village of San Juan Chamula, some 10 km out of San Cristobal, where I came face to face with the life of the indigenous Tzotzil people, the true inhabitants of the highlands of Chiapas and one of the Maya tribes still living in Mexico. It was a Sunday, a market day, and fruits and clothes and little nothings were on display in the central square. People were drinking, eating and listening to the music played by one of the small bands around. But the sight that would turn to be one of the most impressive experiences of my year of travels was waiting for me inside the village church. Unfortunately, I could not take any pictures there, so I can only try to describe it to you… Imagine you step through the doors of what seems to be a fairly common catholic church, not entirely sure what to expect. Imagine that, the moment you enter, you are struck by the scent of pine and, lowering your eyes, you notice that the floor is completely covered with green pine boughs. Imagine that, in front of you, the big space of the church is lighted by candlelight, groups of tens of burning candles, neatly aligned in even rows, directly on the floor. Imagine that everywhere, in every corner and around every statue of a saint, there are fresh cut flowers. Imagine that long patches of fabric come down from the ceiling of the church and are fixed on the side walls, as if peaks of the mountains. Imagine that through all this, a murmur of voices, some louder, others more silent, reaches your ears. And that, after taking a moment trying to take all of this in, you start walking. And you start noticing details of rituals which belong to an era I had thought no longer existed in Mexico: people kneeled together in front of a ceremonial offering of drinks, food (or even live chicken), incantations uttered in the unfamiliar Tzotzil language, candles and incense sticks burnt on the floor. It is so that I was dragging myself around this strange church, impressed with the intensity and serenity of every scene, with the power of the belief which seemed to emanate from the prayers I was hearing, with the feeling that I was stepping into a place that which was both sacred and surprisingly alive. So much alive that I could almost feel it in my feet…

Forgotten places of the Pacific coast

Mexico-3316

A fishermen village hidden away in the natural park of Lagunas de Chacahua, mangrove tunnels, palm trees and “golden rain” trees, white sand and wooden huts, built right on the beach – this and much more was to welcome me in Chacahua, just south of Puerto Escondido. It took 2 minivans, a taxi “collectivo”, a boat and a truck to cover the two hour distance to the village. But once I got there, I fell in love with this forgotten corner of the world, full of peace, and sun, and easiness, and beauty. A place that now, in the low season, seemed to be forgotten even by tourists. People walking lazily on the sandy village roads, children playing around boats or sleeping, gently swung in a hammock, women preparing lunch in smoky wooden huts, vendors selling homemade snacks out of baskets carried on their heads, and the occasional one or two surfers that took the trouble of getting until here… and me, enjoying, looking all around, walking under the palm trees, smiling.

One of the days I took, together with other people I had met in Chacahua, a boat trip around the lagoons, enjoying all that there was there, the ride through the mangroves, the little animals and birds the guides where pointing us out, the crocodiles’ sanctuary, the stop for beer, snacks and stories, the sunset, seen for above. And one experience which I can only tell you about: seeing the plankton, little fluorescent organisms that live in the water, which you can only notice by putting your hand in the water and shaking it slowly. And it feels like little, little stars appear following the movement of your hand – it is as if, for just a moment, your hands are able to let out into the water, into the world, a little bit of fairy dust.

 
And finally I left, moving along the cost line, along papaya plantations and palm trees forests, along beaches and ranches, to arrive to Mazunte, yet another, although somehow differently flavored, beach paradise.

Oaxaca, the city of colors

In Oaxaca I found a celebrating mood, with concerts and traditional dances appearing out of nowhere in one or the other of the city’s squares, with film festivals and open air exhibitions along its streets. And with all that is always there, the city’s street food, churches, museums, little cafes, and many, many art galleries.

Ever since I had found out about Monte Alban in Mexico City’s Anthropology Museum, I wanted to visit this ancient city which the Zapotec people founded in the 5th century BC. The trip there also brought me to an almost deserted Franciscan monastery and little villages where local craftsmen have their workshops: wooden figurines painted in rainbow colors and pottery made out of black clay.

I could not be in Mexico without going to a cooking class (maybe you got used, by now). And it was an excellent choice: a trip to the market, a few hours cooking and a big lunch, including avocado ice cream! After which I just walked around the city, enjoying its streets, and little restaurants, and street life.

Next direction is west: to the sea, and sun, and sand of the Pacific coast! But this is food for my next post…

Here I am, Mexico City!

I did not have in mind, when leaving Romania, to arrive in Mexico – but still, here I am, landing in this unknown land, the land of the Aztecs and the Maya, of massacres and Spanish conquest, and revolutions, and mysticism, and modernity, and creativity, and beauty, and aliveness.

And here you have Mexico City, my first dive into Mexico.

…With street art, and murals, old and new buildings, with museums – history, anthropology, contemporary art, mingling together. And a Frida Kahlo museum, the house where she lived, hidden away in the back of on a small street. And a collection of Rodin’s sculptures which seemed to have been frozen for a moment, there, in front of us, for us to enjoy – but which, as soon as the last visitor would leave the museum, would continue their dance of love – and lust.

…With the Jamaica market, and all the smells and the colors and the flavors of a Mexican market (and the best avocados I ever tasted!), and Coyoacan, and San Angel, and trying street food, and meeting friends, dear friends, and having drinks, and trying Mexican food again.

And, finally, with the red hair of my friend, fired up in the light of the sun, on my last morning in the city.