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City Guide: The best of Mexico City

May 23, 2016

I’ve written about my love for Mexico City here and here, but I wanted to write a more detailed guide about some of the best things the city has to offer so everyone can enjoy it. Whether you’ve got just a few days or a couple of weeks in Mexico City here’s my pick of the best things to see, do and, most importantly eat.

See

There are so many places to see in Mexico City! Apparently it has more museums than anywhere else in the world and I believe it! And that’s not to mention the parks and monuments – if there’s one thing Mexico does well apart from food its public spaces. I didn’t get around to all of them – although I gave it my best shot! Here are my favourite places to see when in the city.

Museo Nacional de Arte (National Museum of Art)

I’m not an art aficionado by any means – in fact to be honest I find a lot of art kinda boring, but this place captured me from the moment I walked through its giant doors and caught a sight of the winding wooden staircase. The architecture and detail in every corner took my breath away.  There’s everything here from ancient Greek sculptures to 18th century Mexican works to modern pieces from throughout Latin America.

museo nacional de arte mexico city

Plaza de las tres culturas (Square of the three cultures)

I didn’t go here until my last week in Mexico City but I’m so glad I did.  If you can, go on a weekday because the queue here on the weekends is crazy long. Here you can walk through the ruins of Aztec temples – some of which have an incredible amount of detail remaining! The pass includes entry to an excellent museum which you enter right after the ruins, and also a couple of other museums that are a bit confusing to find (especially when you’re hungry) but well worth the effort.

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Palacio Nacional (National Palace)

I’d heard so many good things about the National Palace that I didn’t really want to go (does anyone else do that?) but I’m really happy I did because it was awesome.  Diego Rivera’s gigantic murals were the highlight – you can seriously just stare at them for ages and keep finding new things that make you smile.  But I also loved the exhibition of masks from all around Mexico and the original courthouse was pretty cool too! To enter someone in your group needs to hand over their passport – it’s kept securely and you get it back upon exiting. The line is super long on weekends so go early in the morning or during the week if you can.

museo nacional de arte mexico city

Do

Visit Teotihuacan pyramids.  These are very cool and very accessible. You can take a tour there which also includes a trip to a village where you can see an ancient church and taste some mezcal – or you can pay a tenth of the price and catch a metro and then a bus there. However you do it, just get there because they’re fantastic.

Teotihuacan pyramids mexico city

Explore Chapultepec Park – and give yourself a whole day to do so! This place is huge, I mean really huge! There’s so much to see and do here – pick up some souvenirs at the markets, feed the squirrels, admire the architecture of the Chapultepec castle, visit the zoo, peruse the anthropology museum (see above), try your hand at paddle boating on the lake, ride the roller coasters at Feria de Chapultepec or just sit under the shade of a large tree and observe the native wildlife and people going about their daily business.

feedign squirells at coyoacan park mexico city

Go up the Torre Latinoamericana (Latin-American Tower) building. Catching the elevator to the top of this building will give you the best views in the city – that may not sound that exciting to you (it didn’t to me!) but trust me, you’ll be glad you did it. You’ll appreciate just how big the city is and how beautiful it is too.

Torre Latinoamericana

Walk or Run at Coyoacan Neighbourhood. Coyoacan is easily my favorite part of Mexico City. You actually forget you’re in the city because it’s so chilled out and peaceful here. Coyoacan Park is absolutely gorgeous. Not only is it a beautiful place to exercise – there is a 4 kilometre walking/jogging track, but there are extremely tame squirrels to feed. And there’s a pretty cool artisan market in the town centre too.

coyoacan park, mexico city

Eat

There are so many delicious things to eat in Mexico City – and there really is something for every budget.  I occasionally splashed out on a nice meal but tended to stick to the cheap street food options which honestly really were some of the best meals I ate.

Pozole The best way to describe this is a hearty soup. It’s a thick soup with a base of hominy – giant corn kernels – to which you can add basically whatever you like. Popular additions include shredded pork, tortilla chips, avocado, radish slices, sour cream and various salsas. It is DELICIOUS and very substantial. The best pozole we ate was at La Casa Toña. We actually caught three subways and walked for 20 minutes to get there (cause that’s the kind of thing I’ll do for good food) and we were not disappointed!

pozole at la tona pozole at la tona

Tacos.  There are a few different kinds of tacos you can get in the city – all of which are delicious. The two most common are pastor (pork) and súaderno (beef). You can also get chorizo, goat head, kidney & liver – but these are much less common. Look for a busy taco place as these are usually the best and safest. The best place we found was on the corner of Juarez and Indepencia outside a pizza shop. AMAZING. And I loved that the guy who served us each night was completely unfazed that we were there – other vendors seemed to get a little spooked at having ‘guapo’ customers.

mexico city tacos

Grilled chicken.  Admittedly grilled chicken doesn’t immediately sound exciting but trust me – crispy yet succulent chicken served alongside a crunchy coleslaw and pickled chilies on fresh tortillas – is amazing! Truly.

Quesadillas.  Quesadillas are the perfect snack. They’re tasty, cheesy, small and they cost less than a dollar. And they’re yum!! You can get lots of different kinds although the most common is just a plain cheese one (with the addition of salsa or pickled chillies).  Other variations include cheese with zucchini flower, chorizo and shredded chicken.

quesadilla in mexico city

Tortas.  Mexico’s version of a sandwich, and as delicious as that likely sounds.  You can get pretty much any flavour combination you want – ham & cheese, chicken, chorizo & cheese, beef, tomato & cheese. They’re endlessly customisable, they come toasted and they cost about a dollar.

Pastries and sweets. I’m not entirely sure why Mexico City has such amazing bakeries – because other places we visited (Oaxaca, San Cristobal del las Casas, Tulum, Puebla…) didn’t have anything like what’s on offer in the city. First off the bakeries are huge! You grab a tray and walk around trying not to salivate over all the different options while you load yourself up with whatever you want, take it to the counter where it’s bagged and you’re given a receipt and then you go and pay at the cashier. It’s a slightly complicated process but that’s just Mexico. What’s important is that everything you buy will be DELICIOUS.

mexico city bakerys

patisserie in mexico city

Drink

Calle Regina is the best place to go in the city if you’re looking for some bars. It’s where all the cool kids hang out sipping cocktails, glasses of wine or shots of mezcal.  There are interesting murals and some cool art installations to look at too.

calle regina mexico city

If you’re prepared to go a little out of the city then the Condesa neighbourhood is great; it’s a street lined with craft beer bars and American style restaurants. You can do tastings here too.

craft beer condesa mexico city

If you’re just looking for some beers to take back to your hostel then the Oxxo have good prices. They have a deal for 4 regular beers (Tecate, Dos Equis, Indio…) for 55 pesos.

Shop

There are too many markets in Mexico City to count. Some of them are specialized like the one in Plaza San Jacinto which sells only artwork.  There are two big ones La Lagunilla Market & Mercado de la Merced Nave Mayor, where you can buy pretty much anything (literally – I saw a guy walking around selling rolls of sellotape – all kinds of sellotape) but they’re very easy to get lost in, and a little on the shady side. In other words don’t go alone, take someone with you preferably someone who has a good sense of direction and a big beard to scare off any would be pickpockets.

For anything you can’t find in a market you’ll find it down the main tourist street Avenue Francisco I Madero.

shopping in mexico city

Stay

Massiosare El Hostel

We stayed in only one hostel for the six weeks we were in the city but we loved it – and we talked to numerous people who had stayed elsewhere but told us that for the price it was the best accommodation option in Mexico City.  There’s a rooftop terrace where you can read, sunbathe, practice yoga or drink at the pop up bar on Saturday nights.  There’s free breakfast every morning; fruit, pastries, coffee and juice. There are two adorable cats Luke and Leia who will alternate between attacking you as you and snuggling into you – they’ll also try to sneak into your dorm and sleep in your bed. There’s a tiny but well stocked kitchen to use, clean bathrooms and showers in each of the dorms, comfortable beds and extra blankets if you need them.  There are two common areas – one with beanbags, a table, a large bookshelf, a TV and DVD Player and Nintendo to use. It’s in the middle of an industrial area so it’s quiet at night – two blocks from a busy street food area and two blocks from Juarez metro station. The staff here are lovely – really lovely, don’t hesitate to ask them for anything. Having said that – they’re hardly ever actually at the desk. If you arrive and there’s no one around trudge down the four flights of steps and turn right into the vegan cafe next door – there you’ll find the lovely Gus who is the owner of the hostel. He’ll come right up and show you around.

 Massiosare El Hostal  Massiosare El Hostal

They like to play and fight – and also sleep on you.

Massiosare El hostal Massiosare El hostal

So there you have it – my take on the best things to see, do, eat and where to stay in Mexico City. I love that city so much, it has a vibrancy that I haven’t found elsewhere yet. If you have the chance to go I’m positive you’ll fall in love with it as much as I did!

If you like this post save it to Pinterest to refer to later 🙂

city guide mexico city

Mexico Travel

Mexico City I love you! [part one]

February 27, 2016

I distinctly remember being terrified of Mexico City the first time I visited. It was so big, and noisy and busy and the streets were an utterly confusing jumble that I didn’t dare venture out into without Guy by my side.  When I returned a couple of months later after backpacking through Southern Mexico, Guatemala & Belize I was surprised by how much I liked it.  I learned to appreciate the energy and vibrancy of the city, the hundreds of street food options, the markets that had products you didn’t even know you needed and the ease of getting around on the Metro.

mexico city travel blog

mexico city travel blog

mexico city travel blog

mexico city travel blog

mexico city travel blog

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Returning this time wasn’t exactly part of the plan, but when we decided to return to Oaxaca we had to come through Mexico City and I’m so glad we did! We’ve had so much fun and we’re more than a little sad to be leaving!

The first couple of days we walked all around the central city admiring the various parks and monuments (there are a lot). Our favorite place was Coyoacán – a sweet little neighborhood just out of downtown.  We walked through a big park to get to the town and it seemed like half of Mexico City were jogging through there – seriously so many people were working out as we were discussing what to eat for breakfast ha. We had tacos of course and then we picked up some treats at a bakery (they even had gluten free options!) and sat in a park watching squirrels scamper around about us and debating the difference between instinct and consciousness.

 

mexico city travel blog

mexico city travel blog

mexico city travel blog

coyoacan mexico

coyoacan mexico

The first few days were a blur of activity.  We walked so much I’ve actually got some muscle going on in my legs ha! I have so many photos (and videos) of everything we saw and did so I’ve split this into two posts to keep you from getting too bored :).  Part two coming soon.

P.S DON”T FORGET TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY WITH GPSMYCITY – IT CLOSES SOON!

Blog Films Nicaragua Travel

Granada, Nicaragua – a place where time stands still

February 11, 2016

parque central in granada nicaragua

We’d heard a lot of negative things about Granada (super touristy, expensive, nothing to do) but we absolutely loved it.  It had the most gorgeous colonial style architecture, colorful buildings, a huge parque central and delicious street food.  The icing on the cake was the 6 for $5 beer specials every afternoon.  We spent most of our time wandering the streets and eating all the fresh fruit and sampling new kinds of cuisine (they have cheese stuffed tortillas here!).

granada nicaragua travel blog

Vigorón – an iconic dish of Nicaragua and one that we loved. It felt like a perfect fusion of Samoan and Laotian cusine to me – the yuca reminded me of taro, the sweet and sour dressing was very similar to the one used in papaya salad – and pork crackling is used in both countries cuisines. Yum!!!!

pupusas in granada nicaragua

Pupusas – technically an El Salvadorean dish but we never had a chance to eat any there. Stuffed with ham and cheese, or chicken and cheese they were delicious!

the traveling anthropologist

the traveling anthropologist

the traveling anthropologist

granada travel blog

nicaragua granada travel blog

granada nicaragua travel blog

After the six beers for $5 special we ordered a flor de caña because I wanted to taste the local rum
(it just tastes like rum).

One day we went for an adventure to Mombacho volcano a little out of the city.  As we started walking up the 5km track countless trucks full of tourists passed us and we laughed with each other about how lazy they were.  A few minutes later when we were leaning forward to trudge up the nearly vertical hills we were no longer laughing.  By halfway the only thing stopping us from jumping on one of the trucks ourselves was that it would require energy and we didn’t have any – we were concentrating too hard on lunging one foot in front of the other to ensure we didn’t topple backwards down the mountain.  I think the only thing that actually got us to the top was the sound of howler monkeys in the distance (which we mistook for jaguars and found new energy in the face of certain death).  I should clarify when I say ‘we’ I mean myself and a girl from our hostel who came with us.  Guy breezed on up cracking jokes and quietly enjoying our pain.

After about three hours we reached the crater lookout expecting to find a breathtaking view that would make the trembling in our legs all worth it.  Instead we found this.

mombacho granada nicaragua

It was at least cool and refreshing. It was so misty it was really quite beautiful, I imagined that we were in the highlands of Scotland frolicking with pixies. We walked the path around the crater which gave us much the same view from every mirador (look out point) but eventually we stumbled across a nice spot and the clouds parted briefly giving us lovely views over lake Nicaragua.

mombacho volcano granada

Getting back into town was also an adventure.  After refusing the overpriced offers of a hundred tuk tuks we found ourselves sitting on the side of the road under the shade of a large tree.  After a few minutes a chicken bus pulled up and we leapt up ready to jump on board, only to see that it was full. The notion of full is apparently a relative term.  In this part of the world it’s considered perfectly acceptable to have three people to a seat, in addition to their bags, lunch and babies.  It’s also perfectly acceptable for people to squeeze into the aisles back to back.  When the bus stopped for us three local woman jumped onto the steps leading up to the drivers seat – there wasn’t any room for them inside but they clung on outside as best they could.  We went to sit down again and wait for the next bus when suddenly the back door was flung open and a man jumped out and started yelling at us to get on.  By this stage the bus had already started to slowly pull away from the kerb so we all scrambled on as quickly as we could only to find there was no room. We grabbed onto the outside railing and tried to find secure footing but before we knew it the same man was pushing us rather insistently into the mass of bodies already squeezed inside.  Somehow we managed to maneuver our way in and found ourselves in very uncomfortable positions.  Picture if you will, me bent nearly in half over the back of a seat trying not to push my face into the three people sitting there with Guy pressed tightly up to my right side and an obese lady pushed tightly into my left side, her arm wobble slapping me gently whenever the bus lurched. Behind Guy are two people pressed right up into him and so on.  Somehow in the midst of all this (I watch extremely closely each time it happens but I’m quite sure it’s a magic trick) a man moves amongst us collecting our fare.  We’re fairly sure the man we paid wasn’t actually the man we were supposed to pay – we just saw a hand outstretched and so we deposited some money into it. Despite the uncomfortable amount of strangers hot flesh rubbing up against us we were kept entertained throughout the bus ride by a Michael Jackson impersonator barking like a dog every few minutes, and a very large angry woman getting into a fight with another lady on the bus.  It almost turned violent but I guess even magicians are bound by the laws of space (she was so wide she had to squeeze sideways through the aisles).  I really wanted to get some photos but there was a slightly hostile vibe on the bus after we got on so I wasn’t brave enough. Here’s a sweaty photo of us at a mirador instead ;).

mombacho volcano granada

We had so much fun in Granada we were a little sad to leave but luckily the Isla de Ometepe had just as much to offer us.  Nicaragua you are such a cool little country we love you!

Here’s a little video I made too

 

granada nicaragua travel blog

Blog Travel

Discover 5 of Africa’s Most Alluring Indian Ocean Islands [Guest Post]

February 9, 2016

This is a guest post from the lovely Amy Mia Goldsmith; a budding writer, business assistant and avid traveler from Melbourne, Australia.  Last year she took a trip to Southern Africa and had such a wonderful time she wants to share her experiences and encourage other people to visit this beautiful continent. Thank you so much for sharing Amy!

africa india ocean islands

I am a traveler which means I am always on the road exploring new places and the world’s hidden treasures. For years now I have dedicated my life to unraveling the most extraordinary attractions around the globe. And finally, after such a long time, I have arrived to Africa. Have you ever visited a place and thought that you were in another dimension? Like it is something out of the ordinary, something magical, like from a fairytale? If I could describe my African experience I would probably say that it is a small glimpse of paradise…And here is why:

Zanzibar

zanzibar travel blog

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 Just off the coast of East Africa lies a Tanzanian archipelago in all its glory and marvel. The correlation of azure beaches, coral reefs and turquoise water make the beaches of Zanzibar a true haven. If you are a fan of water sports, these beaches offer countless opportunities for exploring the depth of the Indian Ocean. On the main island called Unguja you can find the Stone Town which is a World Heritage Site whose architecture dating back to the 19th century reflects the diverse culture of the Swahili people. As Zanzibar is mostly known for its spice industry and tourism, the scent and mixture of different spices only make the tour through this place even more amazing. So, hurry up and book your visit to Tanzania!

Bazaruto Archipelago

Bazaruto Archipelago travel blog

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Renowned as the “The Pearl of the Indian Ocean” the Bazaruto Archipelago represents a group of six islands in Mozambique. If I could choose one place to get lost, I would not hesitate for a minute before choosing this destination. If I tell you now that some of the most popular activities here are horseback riding along the beach coast, diving and snorkeling through the crystal clear water along with the oceans residents like dolphins, seahorses, turtles and sharks, you would probably mark me as a liar. But this is only a small glimpse of this Archipelago. And because I prefer nomadic travels, which means that I tend to travel lightly and without a lot of money, I was happy to find out that there are a lot of affordable options when it comes to accommodation,transport and similar.

Mauritius

Seychelles travel blog

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Perhaps my favorite destination on this whole peregrination was discovering the volcanic island nation of Mauritius. If you wish to experience Mauritius in all its might, do not hesitate to take a walk along the tea plantation or sugarcane fields. Another exciting venture is discovering the hidden villages of this place with its blend of cultures. Here it is not unusual seeing Muslim, Christian and Hindu people living side by side. Get acquainted with the locals and absorb their culture. Visit the carved Mauritian temples, see the world’s largest idol of the Hindu god Ganesha and participate in the local traditions. If you are liquor enthusiast, do not miss the chance to try one of the best rums in the world. This is truly a place where everyone can find something to their liking. From the impeccable wildlife, native flora and fauna, rainforests, waterfalls and mountainous surfaces to their cultural life, traditional cuisine, local markets and festivals – it really has it all.

Seychelles

seychelles travel blog

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If you wish to admire the miracle of nature in all its glory, well then Seychelles are the perfect destination for you. I have never seen such a complex and versatile natural blend in one place. Seychelles are comprised of 115 islands, all of which contain enchanting nature life. The second largest island named Praslin is known for its tropical forests which are home for countless animal and plant species. It is said that General Charles George Gordon of Khartoum was convinced that the Vallée de Mai Nature Preserve was the Biblical Garden of Eden. Its rare wildlife, coral reefs, white sand beaches and nature reserves are only a small part. For a more artistic and cultural approach, in Victoria, which is the capital of the Seychelles, you simply should not miss the National Museum of History or the Natural History Museum. Creole cuisine with its classic spicy dishes and exotic influence are best felt on the local markets, such as the Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market, which is actually the hotspot for the local people.

Maldives

maldives travel blog

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Possibly the most famous African destination, Maldives is known for its tropical allure and heavenly surroundings. The best way to fully experience this place is to get to know it from the inside. So do not hesitate to talk with the locals and ask them to show you their customs; join the fisherman on one of their deep-sea fishing trips and do not fail to taste some of their traditional foods and beverages, like raa, the local brew which is a type of sweet toddy made from the crown of the coconut palm. But beside its secluded paradise life, because of its tourism industry, Maldives also offers a wide range of luxury resorts which are quite popular among newlywed couples. Maldives also has a completely different side. The capital Malé, which was traditionally known as the King’s Island was founded as a trading post in the 16th century by the Portuguese. It is mostly known for colorful buildings and historical mosques. Besides this, in the National Museum, which is located in the Sultans Park, you have the opportunity to see artifacts like the coral stone head of Lord Buddha and various ancient weapons. Its crowded streets and busy lifestyle truly create a visible contrast to its paradise beaches, for which Maldives are mostly known for.

If you are in any way similar to me, if you have a brave soul hungry for new experiences and adventures, then do not hesitate for one minute before heading to Africa. Do not be afraid to grab this life by its horns and live it fully. There is no better way of experiencing life than exploring all the worlds’ phenomena. And always remember that no destination is unreachable and the only limits you have are inside your head.

Amy Goldsmith is a business assistant from Melbourne. Her job allows her to travel a lot, which also happens to be one of her greatest passions. Find out more about her travels on Twitter.

Blog Films Travel

A quick visit to Honduras

January 24, 2016

honduras travel blog

When we were in Antigua, Guatemala trying to plan how to get to Nicaragua we seriously considered doing what many other travellers were doing and catching a bus directly to Leon (about 19 hours with only one stop).  But, we decided it would ultimately be a shame to not at least see a few things along the way.  So we caught a shuttle at 4am to Copan Ruinas.  It was a pretty little town, nothing special and nowhere we wanted to stay longer than a couple of days but the ruins were really fun.  We saw Macaws, a squirrel, a weird little ant eater/rat thing and that I think was a capybara and of course some fantastic ruins.

Here are a few photos and I also made a little video (at the end) 🙂

copan ruinas travel blog

copan ruinas travel blog

copan ruinas travel blog

copan ruinas travel blog

It’s quite hard to see but this staircase is actually a hieroglyphic history of the society that lived here. There are around 2000 symbols depicting different moments in history – and it’s the only remaining artifact of it’s kind. How fascinating!

copan ruinas travel blog

I was so excited walking around these ruins – I totally missed my calling to be an archaeologist. I kept squealing and grabbing Guy’s arm to show him an inscription on a stone or the rooms in a house.  Exploring old stuff is my thing!

copan ruinas travel blog

honduras travel blog

copan ruinas travel blog

copan ruinas travel blog

This photo makes me smile every time I look at it.  If I had to pick one photo that best described Guy I think this would be it.  In the outdoors, wearing an All Blacks t shirt, trying to make me laugh. 🙂

copan ruinas travel blog

copan ruinas travel blog

Getting out of Copan Ruinas was hard! We looked at going to Lake Yojoa but it seemed really expensive for what it was, the Bay Islands had a high malaria risk and the rest of the attractions seemed pretty misseable. But we couldn’t get a direct bus to Nicaragua, and we didn’t want to go through San Pedro Sula & Tegulcipaga so (after a couple of hours of wandering the city being told there was no way easy to get out) we ended up getting a shuttle into El Salvador that evening and then crossing back into Honduras the next day to cross into Nicaragua. It was a huge day, in a hot and very cramped van and not one we want to repeat in a hurry!  In hindsight we should have stayed a few days in El Salvador and broken the trip up, but we had to make a decision there and then because the shuttle was already full and it just didn’t occur to us.  So we ultimately ended up spending nearly 24 hours on a bus afterall…ugh travel!

Anyway it was fun and I’m glad we got to see something of Honduras and El Salvador even if they were only flying glimpses.  We’re in Leon, Nicaragua for the next week before heading to the Isla de Ometepe where Guy’s volunteering at the Fuego y Agua race.

I also made a little video! One of my goals this year is to make more videos. I love photography but capturing moments on video just adds such a visceral element that’s so fun.

 

Guatemala Travel

A Guatemalan Christmas

December 26, 2015

When we decided to stay in Xela to take another language course we purposely decided to stay in a home stay in part because we wanted to experience a traditional Guatemalan christmas.  We knew nothing about it before we came, except that the majority of people are Catholics or Protestants so we expected a religious element.  While we did get to experience the religious side of the celebration, the rest of the even was a teeny bit of an anti-climax.  Firstly, our school didn’t have any Christmas themed activities or excursions like we were hoping they would.  We know our old school in Oaxaca has a group meal with some traditional foods, and goes on a walking tour around the city to see some of the Christmas-y sights so we were expecting something similar here but nothing at all happened.

Secondly, our families celebration of Christmas was about as low key as you can get. They did decorate the house with a lovely tree and pine needles sprinkled all over the floor (apparently it’s illegal to cut down trees in Xela so instead people buy big bags of pine needles and distribute them through their homes to get the Christmas-y smell). There was also a cute little crafted creation displaying the birth of Jesus, and some decorations on the walls.

christmas in guatemala

christmas in guatemala
We learnt during our classes that Christmas is celebrated differently amongst different families in Guatemala.  Catholics celebrate differently to Protestants, and then there are some families that choose a more ‘modern’ celebration and those who retain traditional practices. I think our family fell somewhere in between, and they were also unusual in that they don’t have any family that lives in Xela with them (normally people go around visiting their friends and families houses taking gifts of food and eating something with the family).  When we got home from school I asked if I could help at all with the preparations, and although the family didn’t seem too keen initially I insisted so they let me help make the food with them.  They told me that it was only women’s work to prepare the food so Guy wasn’t allowed to participate.  We sat and chatted for a couple of hours as we filled and folded banana leaves with a mixture of mushed rice, chicken, raisins, prunes and salsa.  They were all put into a couple of huge pots and cooked in water for a couple of hours later in the evening.

christmas in xela

christmas in xela

christmas in xela, guatemala

christmas in guatemala

christmas in guatemala

We also learnt how to make ponche – cinnamon bark, dried hibiscus flowers, pepper corns, tamarind seeds, ginger, sugar and water.  We drunk it with a shot of rum and it was DELICIOUS.

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Later in the afternoon the topic of religion came up and for the first time they asked us what religion we were.  Our reply that we were atheists was met with a slightly awkward silence which I quickly tried to fill by saying that we found other religions very interesting and we loved to learn more about them.  A little while later they invited us to go to church with them, and although we didn’t really want to we couldn’t face causing them any more disappointment so we agreed (much to their delight).  The church was absolutely beautiful, with columns adorned in twinkling fairy lights, a huge christmas tree laden with sparkling ornaments and a wonderfully detailed construction showing Jesus’s birth.  We got there early which was lucky because by the time the service began the place was completely packed with people sitting and standing in the aisles and spilling outside.  The sermon was conducted in Spanish, and while we understood parts of it it didn’t hold much interest for us.  We passed the time people watching which was fascinating, especially admiring the women in their traditional outfits and the gorgeous babies being so lovingly cared for by the young and old.

a guatemalan christmas
We arrived home at about 10pm, cracked open some beer and red wine and sat around the table talking about Football (the father is football mad).  We gave the children presents of chocolate and candies which were warmly received, and the parents a box of assorted cookies and a bottle of raspberry flavored Mezcal from Oaxaca which weren’t quite so warmly received.  I’m not sure if they didn’t like the presents, or if they felt awkward because they hadn’t bought us anything, or if they just don’t show a lot of emotion but they didn’t seem too impressed and offered a lukewarm thank you.  The cookies have been eaten so I guess they didn’t hate them.  Update: a couple of days later they told us that they’re keeping the bottle of Mezcal for when their daughter graduates high school (in three years time).

a guatemalan christmas

christmas in xela, guatemala
At around 12am the gas ran out so the food which was only half cooked couldn’t be eaten.  The mum rushed out to try to find a shop that was open but didn’t have any luck so we nibbled on some peanuts and pineapple slices and let off some fireworks in the street.  That was really fun actually because here you can buy the sort of fireworks that are banned in New Zealand ha.  We all hugged and said Feliz Navidad to each other.  At 1am the father returned from visiting someone and bought a bottle of gas with him – our saviour!  So finally at 2am we ate pachas – traditional food for christmas and drunk ponche with some run in it. Another student staying in the house had also made yorkshire puddings and gravy which were delicious (or so we thought – I’m not sure the family liked them too much).  The food was nice, but it wasn’t quite the feast we had anticipated.  There wasn’t any dessert, or a range of dishes – just the pachas.

christmas in guatemala
By 2:30am we were exhausted so we hugged everyone goodnight (this family loves their hugs!) and went to bed. The next morning we woke around 8am but the family was asleep still so we decided to go for a hike up one of the mountains which was really cool.  Guy went for a run up there last week after school and upon reaching the summit had a little boy sitting alone in a tree say to him “es muy peligroso” (it’s very dangerous) and then found a bunch of police standing around looking shifty, so I was a bit apprehensive about going up it but it was really fun – it had great views of the city and we saw hawks gliding in front of us. When we came back to the house we had leftover pachas for lunch and spent the afternoon watching Game of Thrones in bed (we’re rewatching the first season).

christmas in guatemala

All in all it wasn’t the Christmas we were expecting, but it was fun to experience something a little different.  We don’t know where we’ll be next year but I think we’ll make an effort to make it a little special next time.

If you like please feel free to share!

christmas in guatemala

New Zealand Travel

The Best of New Zealand: Kaitoke Regional Park (aka Rivindell)

June 27, 2015

It wouldn’t be fair to call myself a huge Lord of the Rings/Hobbit fan (not fair to those true diehard fans) but I have re-watched each movie several times, wasted many hours laughing at cast interviews on YouTube, and visited the Weta workshop more than once. So when me and Guy recently got the chance to go away for a long weekend I insisted suggested that we drive out to Kaitoke Regional Park and camp for a couple of nights.  It was such a beautiful spot, we were able to set up our tent right next to the river with a backdrop of the gorgeous hills.  We hiked, swam in the river and sat around a bonfire pondering the intricacies of the universe.  It was pretty magical.

Even if it wasn’t the spot for filming Rivindell we would have a great time – but I have to admit it did give a little extra something to our hikes when I kept thinking “Frodo might have walked on this bit of earth!” and “Legolas probably brushed past this tree”.  Ahem, anyway you can see how gorgeous it is for yourself below.

kaitoke regional park - the traveling anthropologist

Kaitoke Regional Park - the traveling anthropologist

rivindell - kaitoke regional park - the traveling anthropologist

the traveling anthropologist

the traveling anthropologist kaitoke regional park

Kaitoke Regional Park

kaitoke regional park

the traveling anthropologist kaitoke regional park

kaitoke regional park the traveling anthropologist

the traveling anthropologist - kaitoke regional park

the traveling anthropologist - kaitoke regional park

Where: Kaitoke is about a 45 minute drive out of Wellington City – you could easily do it in a day trip, but if the weather is warm I’d recommend staying the night.  Camping only costs $6 per adult for the night (this gives you access to the toilets, showers, a bbq, power outlets and fresh drinking water).  It is a cold spot at night so if you do camp in winter make sure you’re prepared.

When: Kaitoke is open all year round (but does get cold in Winter, and if it’s been raining recently the tracks might be a bit slippery).

How: You do need a car to get there because public transport won’t take you out this way.  You’ll also need to bring everything you need with you if you plan to camp.  If you’re just doing a day trip bring walking shoes and a towel so you can go for a swim in the river.

Why: If seeing where the hobbits and elves hung out isn’t enough for you…there are several gorgeous hikes to take as well as horse riding, kayaking, mountain biking and even hunting activities for you to take part in.

You can find more information about Kaitoke Regional Park here.

Travel

To’ona’ai: A lunch like no other

May 12, 2015

The Samoans are almost excessively hospitable – especially when it comes to food.  Every chance my host family got they gave me food – and then more food for later just in case I got hungry. When I met up with a friend, or someone to interview it inevitably involved food of some sort.  Not that I complained – people who love food are my kind of people.

Most families in Samoa eat pretty simply during the week.  The majority of their diet comes from what they can grow, cultivate or catch.  On Sundays however, things get ramped up a bit and a to’ona’ai is had.  From early in the morning people start preparing this by digging a hole in the ground, lining it with stones and lighting a fire to heat these through.  Large banana leaves are laid down, then parcels of food are placed into the hole.  Typically pork, chicken, taro, breadfruit and pumpkin are cooked in this way, each wrapped in their individual leaves.  The food is covered with more banana leaves and sometimes woven mats, then a layer of soil is added on top and some of the hot rocks taken from the pit.  This is all left for a few hours and then the layers are gradually peeled off to reveal a succulent, smoky feast.

taro lalomanu

  ↑ Peeling taro with the bottom of a kids school chair and the lid off a paint tin. ↑

to'ona'ai the travelling anthropologist

  ↑ Grilled chicken, grilled taro, rice, chop suey and salad ↑

to'ona'ai the traveling anthropologist

↑ Palusami (taro leaves cooked in fresh coconut cream), breadfruit, fried fish, chop suey and rice ↑ 

I was lucky enough to experience six different to’onai’is.  One of them in particular stands out fondly in my memory.  My parents had come over to visit me and we were invited to lunch at a friends parents house.  The parent’s didn’t speak any English but they made us feel so welcome and treated us incredibly well.  We were sat underneath a fan and given soft drinks (they were a Mormon family) while we watched a baby play with some toys on the floor in front of us  Shortly after we arrived one of the younger family members bought us a hot towel to wipe our hands on (we were given the towel first, then the parents, and then my friends).  Then it was time for lunch and we were shown to a large table laden with all of Samoa’s finest cuisine.  Pork, taro, fish, and breadfruit all cooked in the umu so they had a lovely smoky dimension, as well as palusami (taro leaves cooked in fresh coconut cream) and oka (raw tuna in lemon juice with coconut cream, cucumber and chilli).

We as the guests were invited to eat first, and one of the children stood over the table with a fan keeping any flies at bay.  As we were devouring the delicious food, the baby in front of us grew tired and was put to bed on a mattress on the far side of the room. An older child of around five was summoned, given a fan and instructed to sit with the infant keeping her cool while she slept.  Incredibly she did so without hesitation or complaint – and when we left half an hour later she was still dutifully fanning her little sister.  As we were walking out and expressing our thanks, we caught a glimpse of the kitchen where around twenty people were huddled around a table eating what we recognised as the leftovers of our lunch spread. Needless to say we were more than a little embarrassed, but my friends explained to me it’s just the Samoan way – Fa’aSamoa.

The Samoan people really do go above and beyond. If you ever get the chance to visit try to stay in a family run accommodation in one of the villages so you have the chance to experience genuine Samoan hospitality and cooking.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Travel

Do anthropologists get culture shock?

May 10, 2015

In 2009 I took an elective paper called ‘Intro to Anthropology’ to fill a gap in my course requirements. I had never heard the word anthropology before and I had no idea what it was or what anthropologists did. By the end of the semester I was enamoured to the point of changing my major from psychology to anthro. One of the first books I read for that course was a classic text by one of the founders of modern anthropology Malinowski – he pioneered the methods of living with another culture and immersing yourself in their language, beliefs and practices. His book detailed his time spent in New Guinea studying the Trobriand Islanders. Ever since reading it I wanted to follow in his footsteps and land myself on an exotic island where I would befriend the local peoples, learn their customs and converse with them in their native tongues.

Fast forward to 2013 and I was given this opportunity when I enrolled in my master’s degree, and my wonderful supervisors were wholeheartedly supportive of my idea to go to Samoa. Due to time and financial constraints I was only able to plan a trip for six weeks but I did so with the utmost enthusiasm. I found myself a Samoan tutor and visited her regularly, I read voraciously and I filled my suitcases with gifts for everyone from the Head of State to children in the village I would be staying in.

I was prepared for some adjustments when I arrived. I knew it would be hot, and I would be alone and it would take some time to befriend the local people and gain their trust.  But, I was filled with a naive enthusiasm and belief that because I had worked so hard to get there and prepared so well I wouldn’t face too many challenges. Boy was I wrong! I spent my first week absolutely miserable, often in tears and feeling completely lost both personally and academically.

I faced a few major challenges;

Language barriers. 

While I spoke a little bit of the language, I had been taught the formal dialect – and most people spoke to each other in the more relaxed informal version of Samoan meaning I couldn’t understand a lot of what they were saying, not to mention they spoke to rapidly!  The Samoan’s are also a people who love to laugh, they literally laugh at everything.  This extends to Palagi (foreigners) trying to speak Samoan – even if they are doing so correctly.  I found it so disconcerting the first couple of weeks when every greeting I uttered would be met with giggles.  Eventually I got used to it and learned to laugh along with them.

A drawing from the kids helping me learn Samoan body parts

Feelings of isolation.

It’s true that I was in paradise – I was steps away from a beautiful lagoon, there were coconut palms right outside my door, my fridge was filled with ice cold beer and I was eating some of the most delicious fresh tuna and papaya every day.  But, I was by myself, I had no internet connection and no one to talk to for long periods of time.  By the beginning of my second week however I had made a couple of friends, and the local children had screwed up their courage and come over to my unit where I let them draw pictures for my walls, teach me songs, and show me to open coconuts.  Soon they were coming over every day after school and my house was filled with their laughter and squabbling.

↑ Some of my regular visitors playing a game on my porch ↑ 

Cultural differences.

I was prepared to stand out (I have olive skin, light brown hair and green eyes) as an obvious foreigner, but I wasn’t expecting the completely different treatment reserved for Palagi’s (foreigners).  I was ushered to the front of queues, blatantly stared at in public, offered seats when others were standing and introduced to people as “my Palagi friend Pippa”.  Though I never got used to this, and tried to gently discourage it wherever possible I learned to accept it for the most part.

I learned that culture shock can happen to anyone, even (and perhaps especially) to anthropologists.  I don’t think there’s much you can do to prevent it either, if it’s going to happen it’s going to happen.  But, it won’t last forever or even very long. My remaining five weeks in Samoa were some of the best I’ve ever had, and I really think my initial negative experience made me appreciate it all the more.  I made many friends, experienced a true taste of island life, participated in some fascinating rituals, and wrote a thesis that I’m really proud of.

I’d love to say that this was my last encounter with culture shock but unfortunately it wasn’t.  The following year when I moved to Vientiane, Laos I had a similar experience.  Even when I returned to Mexico in 2015 with Guy it took me a few days to adjust.  I’ve finally learned to accept it as a part of travel, and I know now that it’s only temporary.  It will get better.  You will feel better.

If you have any stories of culture shock, I’d love to hear them 🙂