Category Archives: Cancún

One More Time With Feeling

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In the planning period of this trip (which, characteristically, took place two days before Sara left and lasted about half an hour), we tried to think of the best use of our post-Tuxtla travel time.  Of course, the ideal would have been to spend some time volunteering with the Zapatistas, but that requires a minimum of a year membership with an explicitly Zapatista-supporting organization, as previously mentioned, so no dice.  How, then, could we capitalize on this brief time in order to make ourselves as at home here as possible?

Almost immediately we were hit by an answer so obvious it made us laugh out loud: WWOOF…that network of hippies and survivalists that, back in 2011, tossed us to the winds of zealot communes and anarchist hideaways, thus making us feel so incredibly at home in Argentina.  So, four years since first stumbling upon this ‘organization’ (in the loosest sense of the term), we returned for another round.

Mexico is not the same WWOOFer’s paradise as Argentina (I don’t know if any country on earth boasts as many anti-establishment granola-headed rastas as our original home-away-from-home).  Nevertheless, we managed to contact a fellow in a tiny village near the tip of the Yucatan peninsula who needed help running his dream business: a backpackers’ hostel with a small restaurant supplied entirely by his own garden.
As experienced WWOOFers, we knew to expect two things:

  1. Immediately upon arrival, we would be given a full apothecary’s complement of sweet herbs and foul fruits to cure all the maladies we’d been secretly carrying around with us for our entire lives.
  2. Absolutely nothing.  The only constant in WWOOF is that there are no constants.

The first expectation was immediately fulfilled.  After the fourth consecutive noni smoothie specifically designed to keep us regular (seriously, we’re in Mexico, staying regular is the least of our worries!), Sara wondered aloud whether we were ever going to chew again.  Fortunately, in this case, the shaman party was only a welcome.

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The second expectation was fulfilled almost as quickly.   It turns out that our host’s ‘dream business’ was exactly that: a dream.  And, like a dream, parts of it were richly detailed (like the seashell-studded kitchen, or the rustic swinging picnic table), while other parts remained completely vacant (like the garden that was literally a jungle of shoulder-height weeds, or the outhouse with only half a roof and several inches of rainwater on the floor).  We could never quite pin down whether it was a lack of money, time, or motivation, but what had started as a very exciting vision had clearly stalled.

Hostel!

And so we received our vaguest WWOOF assignment yet: in exchange for a lovely bedroom, we were to put in a half-day of work doing lo que quieren (ie: whatever you want).  Each day we set to work to solve one of the vast array of homesteading problems that confronted us.  The Abe Hildebrands and Terence Bergmanns in our lives would be very proud!

We cleared the jungle out of the garden. We made space for the sugar cane to grow. We finished the roof on the outhouse. We replaced the rotten wood on the wall of the outdoor kitchen. All this would have been far, far easier if we had had the necessary tools and materials, but it would have been literally impossible were it not for our co-WWOOFers, a French couple that epitomized creativity and industriousness. Merci beaucoup, Beatrice et Jean-Claude, for keeping us safe and sane!

The rest of each day was spent enjoying the mellow pace of life that is intrinsic to both Latin America and tiny towns (and therefore exponentially compounded in tiny Latin American towns).  Drinking out of chilled coconuts, wandering through the nearby ceiba forest, following Team Mexico’s path to a Copa de Oro victory, and frequenting the local pizzeria pretty much sums it up.  Our village, Solferino, was also a perfect launching point from which to explore magnificent Isla Holbox, but that, amigos, is another post to come.

What we assume was a garden many moons ago, now overrun by jungle.
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Sara carries an armful of jungle back to the actual jungle, and the garden becomes a garden again!
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Jean-Claude and Sara have slightly different reactions to the land crabs that occasionally wander into our yard
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Sara enjoys a coco frio…
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…while I pour one into our farewell-supper stirfry.
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This guy also found his way into the stirfry.  When I told the shop-owner that there would be 4 or 5 people eating, he insisted on selling me the whole thing, giving me a detailed explanation of which body part could be eaten by each person.  When I said ‘gracias’ and walked away, he shouted, with a mix of panic and offense, “¡Olvidaste el higado!” (You forgot the liver!) That’s it there in my left hand.
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Sara versus the rotting wood wall in a grueling battle of attrition (eventually the non-bendy nails ran out and they called it a draw)
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My battle with the bathroom roof was similarly exasperating, but the toilet paper seemed slightly drier after the next rainstorm, so we’ll call it a success.
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Summer kitchen before…
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Summer kitchen after!
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¡¡¡Somos campeones!!! (Well, WE aren’t, but being in Mexico as they take home the Copa de Oro must count as winning something)
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One last breakfast at the swinging picnic table
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WWOOF, you’re like that weird friend from junior high that most other people don’t understand and who, quite frankly, drives us crazy most of the time. But you’ve seen us through a lot, you always show us a good time, and you bring out a side of us that no one else quite does. We’ll keep you around.

(Also, in the event of nuclear apocalypse, you’re probably our best hope for survival. So thanks.)

Solferino brekkie :)

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Solo, like Han without Chewbacca

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I arrived at my hostel in Cancun mid-afternoon.  The trip from the airport to el centro was wildly complicated, yet I felt more confident than ever as my Spanish appeared shiny and well-lubricated (being the opposite of rusty), i was not the only one leaving a veritable monsoon of sweat everywhere I went, and I didn’t get lost even once!

Yet when I finally collapsed in my dorm-bunk at El Mundo Joven, I felt something I have never really felt before: homesickness. 

Chalking it up to an immense lack of sleep, I took a three hour nap, but did not succeed in shaking the feeling.  The truth is, I have never travelled completely alone.  Even when I’ve gone places on my own, it’s always been with an organization that has essentially provided friends (er, classmates/coworkers) for me.  I’ve always admired my dear wife’s independence, but haven’t really bothered developing much of that myself.  This was going to take a little more effort on my part.

I get an F for EFFort for that first evening, as I basically wandered the sketchy neighbourhood humming Boulevard of Broken Dreams forlornly to myself (okay, that’s a melodramatization, but you get the point).  Over the next few days, however, I’ve employed four different strategies for travelling solo.  For anyone who’s interested: here they are.

Strategy 1: Screw friends, just go it alone!

Despite reading that Chichen Itza was a total tourist trap, I resolved to sign up for the next day’s tour, which left at 7am.  Thus I was guaranteed to get out of bed and at least see some history.  Which I did.  And it was awesome.

You know that game where teams try to get a rubber ball into stone hoops without using their hands or feet (á la Road to El Dorado)? Well there’s the hoop.  The only detail that pop-culture has mistaken is the fact that it was not the losers who were sacrificed, but rather the MVP, as determined by a panel of judges.  This was, we were told, a great honour.  

Look closely:  The ceremonially-dressed priest is posing with the game’s MVP (or part of him, at least!)  

The legendary Chichen Itzá: NOT a tourist trap by any means, its architecture is filled with insanely meticulous details that tell the date, time, and phases of the moon with incredible accuracy. (Also, saying yes to every “can you take a picture of us” request is a great way to make friends!) 

Nerd-alert: our informative and hilarious tour guide showed us this nifty Mayan multiplication trick inspired by the diamond-back patterns of rattlesnakes.  Math Week 2016, Margaret Parkers?
 

Final stop: a giant cenote (ie: sinkhole), terrifying to look at, lovely to swim in.  

Strategy 2: Shamelessly ask people to be your friend

Following a coworker’s recommendation, I researched nearby Isla Mujeres, Cancun’s quieter neighbour, named for the mysterious clay statues of women found by Spanish settlers.  The friendly flight attendants/pilots I’d watched crazy magic tricks with the previous night were all gone or staying in, so I was opting for a repeat of Strategy #1, when a friendly-looking British gal walked into the hostel kitchen.  “Wanna go to Isla Mujeres with me and rent some bikes?” I said.  “Yep,” she replied, and that was that.  It was wonderful to have a travel-friend to chat with who was equally okay with driving a goofy golf cart (bike rentals were nowhere to be found) down barely-wide-enough paths that were probably not intended for golf carts.

The Carribean Sea, sans tourists!  
Louise, my very British travel buddy, successfully driving down the right side of the road.  

The spirit of Isla Mujeres: a childhood spent harpoon fishing!
 

Strategy 3: Put yourself in a desperate situation and let providence find friends for you

This one is probably the least recommended, but highly effective nonetheless.  This morning I set out in search of  Las Zapatistas (more to come on that soon).  Upon arrival, it was clear that the combi-driver’s promise that “hay muchos taxis para regresar” was not entirely well-founded.  This wasn’t all that concerning until the guard, indicative of the welcoming-yet-intensely-protective nature of the Zapatistas, made it clear that visitors were not permitted to wander around for hours while waiting for a ride, and there was nothing but mountainous jungle in every direction.

Very fortunately, a kind Valencian couple who arrived shortly after me on a private tour of rural Chiapas saw my rather disconcerted expression and offered me a ride.  That ride turned into a very informative trek through more of the nearby indigenous communities.  Muchisimas gracias Daniel, Sara, y Victor for letting me tag along!

Great folks to spend a day with (Sara, it felt VERY similar to our parapente afternoon 🙂 )  

A friend of Victor’s, who cooked us a delicious lunch!
 

The four local varieties of corn.  Colour-arrangement look familiar to anyone?  

Strategy 4: Appreciate solitude

This has always been one of my greatest strengths, aside from long-distance running and knowing anything about football.  Obviously this statement is a blatant lie.  But as I sit at this table-for-one in San Cristobal, (with a lightning-footed Mexican couple dancing to ridiculously catchy Latino jazz in a tiny patio clearly not intended for dancing or movement in general), I am learning to appreciate just soaking in the atmosphere of a place on my own (besides the 5 million internet users that have access to this blog, but hey, baby steps, amiright?)

 I’m pretty sure they’ve inserted a subtle request for more whisky in ever song so far. 

In sum, solo travelling has been a very fun, very valuable experience.  I’ve learned to truly value new friends, as well as my wonderful Facebook/Snapchat/Skype buddies (geez, whatever happened to email, eh?).  Looking back on this blog, however, I’m so excited for saratreetravels to be reunited again in a few short days.  There’s nothing like sharing amazing experiences with the person you’ll be reminiscing about them with forever!