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Posts tagged “travel

Mexico City

The roadtrip is finished. I am back in Mexico City to finish up the project “Pablo de Kever”. And Mexican friends ask me which place I like the most… Well, for me it’s Mexico City!

There’s just no other place like this city. You can find anything here: food an every corner, all kinds of typical dishes, cheap labour, fancy bars, big markets,… Once you step out DF, you leave a magic place behind. Of course, there are many problems this city faces, from heavy smog to extreme poverty. But the mixture of having everything together makes you fall in love with this place for the rest of your life…

During the trip I missed to cups of cheap fresh fruit you can buy all day long. The music that fills up the streets early in the morning. Or the street scenery that changes 3 times a day. In the morning you find street venders selling “tamales” under their bright coloured umbrella. In the afternoon a lady sells fresh quesadilla’s using white or bleu tortilla’s. And in the evening a guy sells pirata CD’s on the exact same spot.

After visiting Mexico City 11 times, I got so used to the overload of colours and food. It was a disappointment to discover that many places have much less to offer. If you spend time to get to know this city, you can bump on anything else you can find across the country! And it makes sense. Mexico City hosts everybody and everything this country has, and even more.

One of the things I adore the most is the kindness of people! It’s common strangers say “Buen provecho” when you’re having lunch at a restaurant. Can you imagine that in the biggest city of the world that hosts more than 20 million people kept that country-stile mentality? Forget about finding that in touristical places such as San Cristobal or Cancun!

It would have been easier to find loads of answers for the project “Pablo de Kever” in this buzzy capital. I often had to wait days or weeks to bump into something usefull for the childrens’ blog on the road. Of course I don’t regret the trip I made. ‘Cause I did see amazing nature and beautiful traditions. But the next two weeks I’ll enjoy absorbing the hundreds of impressions you get when wandering around in Mexico City!


Happy New Ears!

I just got back in Mexico City. To be honest, getting back save with all my photo equipment and an (almost) unharmed Pablo de Kever is a big achievement! All the adventures and images are like the cherry on top of a cake.

For sure, I got some more stories and tips to share with you (later) about Mexico. But first I need to spend time to find out how I can transport Pablo to Belgium. Doesn’t he look cute with his moose-ears? I just can’t leave him behind! Any tips about export Mexico-Belgium are welcome. Happy holidays to everybody!


Posada

I love today! A great season started in Mexico: los posadas! This means every night children dressed up as Maria and Jozef go on the streets. One of the houses provides a party, including drinks, food and piñata’s! The church was providing bags full of candy in this one!

I am curious to see the big party that Christmas will bring!

 


Havana, a city of contrasts

The moment I noticed how close Cancun is from Cuba, I wanted to make a citytrip to La Habana. Do forget to find a boat bringing you to the other site. At night, I went down the airport to check the possibilities. The only option is the airline Cubana, which is fully booked most of the time… Luckely one of the guards new someone of Cubana who arranged some tickets for the next day! While dropping off Pablo the Beetle for some repair at the VW agency, she came down to hand over the tickets and get the payment (310 US dollar, damn monopoly!) Waiting for an houre at the check-in together with dozens of luggage of the ‘mulas’. Passengers taking goods to import: flatscreens, clothes, toilet paper, antennes,… A trip to Cuba seemed already a bigger adventure than Mexico!
I booked online 2 hotels to gain more experience in these 4 days. This tip I can advise everybody! The Kohly hotel is clean and includes a decent breakfast, only the restaurant and little shop are expensive. I liked the most that it’s far from the city centre. Well you end up paying too much money for a cab to the hotel (7 CUC – 6 EUR). But you see a totally different part of the city! It’s great to get overwhelmed by the dozens of old cars being used as taxi. Or see the local stores, hardly offering a few packages of sugar… The other hotel, Saint Johns, is a big dissapointment. It’s a bit closer to the centre, so I could get there by walking 1 hour and enjoying more parts of the city. But I can’t bear the crappy eggs, poor bread and lack of other food for breakfast! The room is too crappy to mention!
I got the advice to just walk around and enjoy the atmosphere. Being with a lack of money, I grabbed the idea. And after 3 days walking I keep on stonned by the contrast… One building is turned into a fancy restaurant, and right next to it other building is about to collapse. But still there live people, having their laundry drying in the window. Locals queue in the big line to get a slimy pizza as snack, while tourists pay one street further 8 CUC (7 EUR) for a fancy dish. These great old cars, that makes the city so famous, are cramped with passengers that share the cost. And next to it a brand new Mercedes stops at the traffic light. You can see these old fashioned clothes in the shops. And you do start to wonder where people bought these sexy dresses!!! I expected the old cars and buildings. But I never imagened they do have expensive hotels, art galleries, cars, Nestle icecream, Heineken and even the real (imported) Coca-Cola!
As a tourist you can get anything! If you pay enough… They do charge up to 2,5 CUC (1,75 EUR) for 25cl Coca-Cola, 5 times more than the national ‘TuKola’. And you can take a tour to experience the Cuban Cigars, if you hand over 41 CUC (36 EUR)! And be ready to pay about 10 CUC (8 EUR) to take a Cuban cigar as souvenir! Or get poor by paying 50 CUC per person to watch a concert in the style of Buena Vista Social Club! You can save a lot of money if you leave these touristic side behind. Here are some do’s and dont’s:
Do’s
- Walk around in the centre. Walk slowly and open your ears when you see a live group playing at a bar!
- Put away your expensive belongings and head in the small streets behind.
- Take a quick look at the shops of the musea (Cigar factory nearby Palacio Nacional – Club Havana in the Old Havana)
- Buy a fancy Cuban cocktail at the bar of Hotel Nacional (4 CUC – 23-La Rampa, neighbourhood Vedado)
- Take a swim at Hotel Nacional and order the best hamburger in town (15 CUC entrance)
- Watch a movie at a local cinema and have some ‘rositas’, a funny name for popcorn! (2 CUC – I had bad luck of having all the cinema’s closed at Street 23)
- Exchange your money in the airport or one of the expensive hotels (you don’t want to be queueing at the local banks!)
- Enjoy a refined meal for a good deal at restaurant Europa (5 CUC main dish – Street)
- Take a look at local art at Taller Experimental D Grafica and see their view on the city and Cuba (free entrance – in the corner of the square Plaza de la Catedral)

Don’ts
- Eat at the restaurant A Prado y Neptuno, on the corner one block North of Palacio Nacional. They charge twice the money for an imported Coca-Cola, while they didn’t ask you if you wanted to local version. They let you pay for unwanted bread and their bathroom is not free and unclean! At the end your bill doubles. There are better places downtown to enjoy La Habana!
- Pay for a taxi at the airport to get to the centre (25 CUC – 22 EUR). But well, you have to because there is no other way to get away!
To finalize the trip, they make you pay 25 CUC (22 EUR) airport tax on top of the regular taxes you already paid. For some countries it’s common. But being from Europe, it just seems like another attempt to rip of the tourists and make some Cubans rich… The infrastructure and life of the Cubans would look much better if they used these tax for the community!

San Cristobal de las Casas

I was very eager to get to Chiapas. In my 10 previous visits to Mexico, I never made it up to there. After hearing so many good stories, I had high expections!

My first stop was Tuxtla. The main city of the state. Feels like Mexico City on a smaller scale. So I headed soon to San Cristobal de las Casas. There I got totally shooked up…

During my 3,5 months I was free to take pictures. Suddenly the people started to ask money to shoot their bananas on the market?! I got stunned by the high amount of tourists. I saw about 50 Flemish people in 2 days! Which I normally never meet on my trips to Mexico. Having all their camera’s pointed to the Indigenas, I felt embarrased to use my camera.

Everyting made me wonder… The bunch of tourists, plenty of Indigenas in traditional clothes, busses of tourists overwhelming nearby villages, paying to visit a church, not being allowed to take pictures of their traditions,… For me, it’s the perfect example of how tourism has a (negative) impact on a society. It’s a good thing that the Indigenas keep their knowledge of making craft. But if they start inventing objects, it’s too weird. Like a cover to keep your tortilla’s warm, or a traditional cuddle in the shape of a giraffe or lion – which can’t be found in Mexico!

At the end I felt very sad for the Indigenas. I’m sure there’s a more constructive way for them to keep their traditions and make a living. This kind of tourism is exhibiting them. San Cristobal feels like a zoo where tourists gaze to the locals and fling by very quickly.

Of course, San Cristobal de las Casas has some nice things to offer. Loads of places offering good coffee, freshly roasted and grown somewhere nearby in Chiapas. And for me thé place to spot VW Beetles! I will miss these colourfull cars and their smiling face a lot! And if you love nice shops and coloured houses, it’s definitely worth a visit.


Mosquitos

As a well-prepared European travel, I also brought mosquito repellent from my pharmacy at home. To have some extra protection, I already bought one of these spirals that keep away mosquitos for about 8 hours. (You can buy them in any big supermarket in Mexico.) These do a pretty fine job, especially inside a closed place.

Since yesterday I am enjoying the beach and open cabaña in San Agustillino (nearby Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca). In the other village they sell natural products ‘Cosmeticos Naturales – Mazunte’ (a reference of Lonely Planet, including mosquito repellent). I love natural products. In Europe I rely on Lush. So I was open to give these Mexican natural cosmetics a try, especially with their repellent to keep the Mexican mosquitos away!

But it’s a big failure… I am covered by around 100 mosquito bites… I can tell you, it’s itchy! The Mexican product will go straight to the trash. Well, at least I made a Mexican family eat for a few days!

Now I am covered with (European) cream to heal mosquito bites. Yes, I am happy I bought that at home!

So take your own mosquito repellent and all other kind of medecines! Don’t trust on the local stuff! I have a big bag stuffed with medicines and bandages. I’ll share the list of content later on this blog!


Mexican hotels

After sleeping almost 2 months in hotels, I start to grave to have my own room again. Luckely you can find cheap hotels almost everywhere, starting from 180 pesos (10 EUR) up to 350 pesos (20 EUR). Prices are always higher in touristical cities.

The best thing is to go and have lunch or dinner in the city/village you will stay. Get some energy before you start your search! ‘Cause it really helps to check 4-5 hotels to get a better price. Some Mexicans dare to ask too much money for a crappy room! And if you want to be sure, ask to see the room. It’s the same as asking the menu before you enter a restaurant. It’s pretty common here!

If you the hotel has stars, please keep in mind that stars are given easily. As for my experience, one star stands for:

- a curtain in the shower (yes, loads of rooms have the water spread all over your toilet and basin!)

- an elevator (didn’t got any hotel with an elevator up to now!)

- two towels if you ask a room for two people (and if you’re lucky, two of these “rosa” soaps!)

- and half a star for a small pool

- and half a star for a restaurant that closes at 6pm! (made us drive up to the next town for a decent meal!)

A (safe) parking space is really important for me too. I don’t want Pabo the Beetle standing outside on the street, and wake up the next morning without mirrors or wheels! It’s very common that Mexicans steel parts from your car. So if you travel with a car, make sure you get free parking space in the hotel. Otherwhise you can pay 100 pesos (6 EUR) or more for a pension at an ‘estacionamiento’.


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