It was less than 10km from Cholula to Puebla and the cities are basically connected. With 1.5 million people the city is huge (3rd largest of the country), but the historic centre has remained largely intact and is very attractive.
We had been invited by CouchSurfing host Hiram and his family, who own and run a very popular Mexican restaurant together. Still he had time to do a quick city tour with us and gave us a lot of tips of where to go while he was at work.
The zocalo or main square is the courtyard of the huge Cathedral, with Mexico’s highest towers. Rich people see it regularly as it appears on the 500 pesos note (about USD$ 40, more value than most Mexicans see in one bank note).
But maybe the best part of Puebla is just strolling around the centre, through colourful streets lined with colonial houses, with patios and balconies.
Tourists and locals are enjoying themselves everywhere on the terraces and restaurants and in the many shops lining the streets.
Puebla has always been a Catholic stronghold and this has resulted in many religious celebrations, many of which have the benefit that a lively street market will take place, just a few blocks away from the zocalo.
We enjoyed the different foods for sale, the fair rides for kids, the artesanias, the music and the general positive atmosphere. Had I said before that everybody should visit Mexico? Just in case I’ll do it now: do not let biased political media scare you away from a wealth of culture, nature, gastronomy and friendliness, visit Mexico.
There, I said it.
Now, I invite you to take a look at some impressions of the market and the city. (Click for a larger version, these and more photos of Puebla are also in the photo section here).
Mexican treats in El Balcon
We arrived back late at ‘El Balcon’, the restaurant of Hiram’s family. Late at night it was still completely packed and several people were waiting outside. No, it is not (yet) in the Lonely Planet as it is (just) 7 blocks away from the centre, but the locals clearly know where to go. Even when they changed locations a while ago, the clients followed for the clear and honest food.
Hiram also took us up the Cerro de Guadeloupe, which is not only the place where the French were defeated on 5th may 1862 (hence all the street names all over Mexico named 5 de Mayo), but on clear days you can also see the silhouette of Izta, the mountain known as the sleeping woman.
He introduced us to his friend and fellow CouchSurfer Leandro. We did not have time to visit his place, but had some good discussions about life and saw some more hidden gems of the city together.
Hiram’s parents were worried about our trip and hugged us close and shed some tears when praying for our safe journey. We are not religious ourselves, but the care and love of people that were strangers 3 days before keeps on surprising and warming us. So maybe the prayers do help as we will take care, so we can meet more great people like them and maybe one day return the favour.
Back on the road again..
Fortunately we found the way around the steep hill when we left Puebla, sooner than we would have liked. If we’d hurry, we would maybe have time for one more activity before we really had to get to Cancun.
Our mums were already getting very worried that there would be nobody to pick them up when arriving in 2 weeks. But before we would leave the Mexican highlands to get back down to sea-level, there was one place far from it that I wanted to visit…
Samuel & Emilia have build up a popular family restaurant in Puebla, which is now mainly run by their sons. They had invited us into their home and made sure we were well taken care of.
They were worried about our trip and when we left Puebla, they hugged us close and shed some tears when praying for our safe journey. We are not religious ourselves, but the care and love of people that were strangers 3 days before keeps on surprising and warming us. So maybe the prayers do help as we will take care, so we can meet more great people like them and maybe one day return the favour.
It felt weird to cycle fully loaded once again. Once we closed the door of Brian’s apartment behind us we were back on the road, even if it was just for 5km
We headed into the Marina on the North side of La Paz as agreed with Michael & Deborah. They had come over for dinner the night before; I had prepared a kilo of shrimps that Brian had told us to use. It was spiced up with a jalapeno seasoning and Ivana had cooked an excellent curry. It was goodbye to a large kitchen again, as the Good News (the name of the boat) had a very small kitchen area and as we would often not be all awake at the same time, we would not really cook big meals anyway.
We started unpacking the bikes on the pier and I tried to make the bikes as small as possible, taking of the pedals, lowering the seats and turning the handlebars. We managed to tie both bikes and some bags at the front of the ship and the rest of the bags went inside, under our little makeshift bed next to the kitchen.
The last tests of the autopilot did not go 100% well, so we decided to do more test the next morning to prevent going around in circles later. This meant that we had to sleep at sea for the first time on our trip, but . The weather was nice and we had no problem with the calm waves, but the heat was keeping us awake.
The next level: Off to Puerto Vallarta!
The next morning we really took off. Michael fixed the autopilot and after some restarts it worked wonderful. There was not much wind so we had to use the engine most of the time. We were just passed the port of Pichilingue (named after the Dutch port of Vlissingen!) when I saw some big as well as small things jumping out of the water.
The big things turned out to be huge Manta Rays. Most of them were just cruising along, with only their two different coloured wingtips sticking out of the water: one side is light and the other is black as are their belly/back. But others made big jumps and floated more than a foot or two above water before falling back into the sea.
Michael thought that they might jump like this to squash parasites upon impact. Having grown up in a low grade video game era (cough..commodore..cough..64.cough :)), I just felt we were entering the next level.
The smaller critters were flying fish, though they looked more like walking fish, staying very close to the water surface. We were still feeling ok, but were fearing seasickness the moment we would leave the safe coast and head into open water…
We sailed through the evening and anchored in a small bay, totally trusting our radar, GPS and depth meter (I am pretty sure there are more suitable terms for all of the things I write, but I am a rather complete Nautical N00b, as I usually stay away from sea-level as far as possible :))
Cleaning the dinghy and the first dolphin shows
We had been lazily enjoying the first part and had slept well, but in the morning we had our first job to do: clean the dinghy! After only a few weeks in the water, a lot of stuff had grown on the bottom of the rubber boat and it took several hours and hard labour to scrape it off on the sandy beach and then row it back to the Good News.
As a reward we got to see our first dolphin shows soon after: a large group of playful dolphins appeared on the horizon and soon they crossed our path, jumping out of the water as they passed. We all stood on deck, applauding when there was yet another high jump.
The next few days we would joke about the ‘10 o’ clock & 5 o’ clock show’ as there seemed to be a contest going on somewhere, with many groups participating. Some of them far away, others swam next to our boat and seemed to enjoy racing the Good News!
Night Vision & high powers
As we had helped successfully with raising, lowering and changing the sails and I have plenty of GPS experience, the captains trusted us to watch the boat at night. We took 2 hours shifts, with the other 3 persons sleeping.
It was peaceful and intimidating at the same time, sailing through the dark night, with hardly any difference between the water and the sky above it. Just the sound of the small waves hitting the bow and the wind in the sails in complete darkness, save a small light at the mast and the glow of the radar and GPS screens… The graveyard shift was hard and regularly I had to stand up the bench with my face into the wind to stay awake.
The 3rd night we suddenly noticed some lights ahead and got on the radio to find some sleepy Mexican fishermen floating on a couple of boats, each a few kilometres apart. As Michael knew they use huge nets, we tried to find out where they had dropped them and fortunately Ivana’s Spanish speaking skills were available. Still we barely missed some buoys, but nothing got stuck in the engine.
It was an eerie sight, looking underwater: with goggles, I could see the rays of sunlight disappearing into an endless depth, from light to black, erasing any sense of distance. It was refreshing though
We also had some time to talk about deeper meanings of life and travel. As Michael & Deborah were active evangelists, our conversation inevitably hit the religion bump. We believe in a separation of church and state, freedom of religion as well as from religion, and politically and socially –human rights- we were clearly also on opposite ends.
Michael was sure that there was a deeper meaning behind our journey and miscellaneous ‘talents’, even though I assured him, that we are simple, independent people and do not work by decree of Higher Powers. We would have some interesting email conversations afterwards as well, agreeing to disagree.
Still we had developed a tight friendship over the past days. Clearly even deep-rooted basic beliefs are not strong enough to hold same-minded travellers apart.
Michael had it planned well and we entered the bay of Puerto Vallarta in the late morning. We were happy we had had the opportunity to live the cruiser’s life for a few days and even happier that neither of us had gotten sick. Still it felt good to have some solid ground under our feet.
They decided to stay a night in the marina and as we were crewmembers, we also got our complimentary day pass to the accompanying resort. This meant the s-word! Swimming-pool!
We flashed our cards to anyone around, shopped in the supermarket and spend some hours near and in the swimming pools. We almost felt one of ‘them’, if not for the fact that we sipped water from our Polar Bottle instead of Mojitos cocktails and did not spend that night on our million dollar air-conditioned boat, but in our hot tent on a deserted parking lot…
It was time to fix Kowalski & Greeny up, as we had to mutilate them to get them strapped to the boat 4 days ago. We re-connected all bits and loaded them up. We had bought some Good-Bye drinks and wished our new friends a safe journey South.
Though we still did not know which road to take it was clear that it was time to hit the road again. We have to be in Cancun in 5 weeks time to pick up our mums from the airport. Mexico is simply huge and there is so much to see everywhere. Even with some rides, we will never be able to make this distance, roughly 3200km/2000mi, in time, so we need to make some choices soon..
Will we make it? Any way, Central Mexico, here we come!
They will try to help out local communities where they can in an evangelistically way. Firm believers, they put their faith in their God to take them safe across the open seas, but they are practical enough to keep a close eye on the autopilot…
Their irregularly updated blog can be found here.
Gerardo thanks his Lord every minute for his life and the challenges in it. Having been a fisherman and now a small farmer and land worker, he trust completely in his faith and his family to make ends meet.
Shot by candlelight in his small house outside Colonet, built and donated by a church group.
Pain, ethics & Doctors: getting treated in SF
Once we arrived in San Francisco, my knee got some rest, but it did not get better. After we moved to Bradley & Saskia’s place, I could not even walk and we spent X-mas inside the house.
I asked around and a friend of Ali referred us to a private clinic in town. I contacted them and could get a quick appointment with a doctor. She was an osteopath and very friendly and though she could not do much for my knee, she diagnosed my back and started treating immediately.
Apparently some of my vertebrae were a little ‘off’, causing the constant inflammation to the connected ribs and the pain that comes with it. As she is both a medic (she could prescribe me new medication, which helped to ease the pain) as well as a chiropractor, she could start fixing me right away.
Doctors are expensive and private clinics are even worse, but as I was a tourist, they waived the ‘membership fee’ and the doctor told me that she would see what could be done about the size of the bill. Even though we are covered by our WorldNomads insurance, it is always unclear when and how much I could get back, so I appreciated that.
She was a sportswoman herself and wanted to support our trip and offered me a free 2nd consultation a few days later. I gratefully accepted and after the 2nd treatment my back felt much better, though my knee was still incredibly painful and useless.
She told me that I could come back for another free treatment after our little road trip, but the night before our appointment I received an email. Apparently she had been reprimanded for offering free services.
(…) I have just finished a conversation with my employer who suggested that my offering to treat you here in this office “pro-bono” (for free) is ethically unsound. He has asked that I request that you not come by the office tomorrow, January 6th. The other visit that has already taken place is in the past, is “OK”, but no further visits should be allowed.(…)
I always thought that helping patients was the thing that was ethically sound for doctors (something about oath and Hippocrates?), but I guess I was wrong. I wrote her back that I would have gladly paid for the service anyway, but after this message I would go elsewhere.
I know it was not her choice to refuse me, but for me it is ethically unsound to pay very expensive treatments just because you might get it back from the insurance.. I even paid for a $20 membership of the Walgreen pharmacy, so my medication would be (much) cheaper, even though I will get it back from WorldNomads.
I ended up in his office a few days later and got treated right away, both for my shoulder as well as my knee. Using the Crafton technique and electronic stimulation he removed a lot of scar tissue from the knee and though the pain remained during the treatments, I could use it again.
Though I felt at times that he was aiming to kill me, the twisting and crunching of the neck and back improved the back a lot as well, though when not taking the anti-inflammatories the pain would come back quickly.
I also had a few sessions with Bobby and Steve, the in-house physical therapists, and they gave me specific exercises to strengthen the core and leg muscles that were influencing the movement of the knees. In total I had 6 appointments and though more probably would have been good, we felt that it was time to try to move on, going South again!
San Francisco: cultural diversity, faded flowerpower and civil rights
The bus and streetcars must be some of SF’s greatest and cheapest attractions. Unlike the ‘clean’ BART underground, the public transport that runs above the surface is the best way to see another face of SF. It is a continuous show of people of all types and colours: tourists, homeless people; some youth dressed-up in party gear, others completely off the planet. Some people were on their way to work, others were doing their business on the bus itself.
It reminded us about Weird Al Yankovic’s Another One Rides The Bus (video & lyrics here), especially the streetcar going down Market Street was great fun
We visited Haight & Ashbury, the famous area where Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and many other musicians and artists once lived, but got depressed by its current state: a lot of so-called cool shops, selling stuff for smoking weed and ‘spiritual’ goodies, one of the few McDonalds visible in the city, and homeless kids on the streets, many of them who look like they are there by choice and that it took a long time or a lot of money to get those clothes look ‘alternative’ and worn.
It is were the movie ‘Milk’ was filmed as the historic events depicted all took place in this part of town. Not only is Sean Penn’s acting phenomenal, it was especially great to be able to see the movie in a fully packed famous Castro Theatre, which even features in the film
They included a slideshow about Harvey Milk, and an original organ player playing music while the crowds came in. The cinema was filled with locals, as every reference to local places and events were met with chuckles and comments.
It is strange that exactly in the liberal and generally intelligent state of California a law passed on election day, which basically made it impossible for gays to get married anymore. This ‘Proposition 8’ turned back a lot of civil rights that Milk had been fighting for and we went out to join a candlelight vigil to show our support.
Imagine that your partner you have been living with for 20 years gets ill and you are not allowed into the Hospital for visits, or if he or she dies, and you will not be entitled to receive any of the shared memorabilia you gathered together.
Somehow millions of people, who would not be harmed by equal civil rights thought that they should impose their ‘morals’ onto others, so let’s hope that this situation will be rectified and California is recognized as a forward-thinking State again…
Kiva: opportunities for entrepreneurs in developing countries
On a more positive note, we got introduced by Nate & Kim to their friend Jeremy. Coincidentally he works at Kiva, an organisation we have been supporting during our trip, so we visited their office in SF.
It was great to see the heart of the small company that has already made such a huge impact (they loaned over 60 million dollars to mostly one men/women businesses in developing countries on 5 continents).
We talked with Matt, the founder and CEO and took a look at the worldwide volunteers map, all very inspiring.
Read more about Kiva and their work here on our blog and lend (not donate) some money yourself!
San Francisco is great in many ways, but there were many things to see outside the city as well… next part, coming up soon: Snow in Truckee, bears & rocks in Yosemite, music in Berkeley and wine in Napa!
For the First Peoples, the land is the source of Life- a Gift from the Creator. “Mother Earth” is the center of their universe, the core of their culture , the origin of their identity as a people, the provider of their material needs.
“The land cannot be given or taken away, we belong to the Land; our birth does not sever the cord of life which comes from the Land, our spirituality, our culture, and our social life depend on it”.
Respect for all life – animals, insects, plans, mountains, rivers, skies & seas are inseparably interconnected. First peoples do not consider the land merely an economic resource. Their land depends on lives, and in relationship to the environment around them. They know that the land is to be shared. If you misuse the land, you are killing yourself. Remember the earth will survive long after you’re gone.
Traditional people think the land is there for everyone to use, the way our hand is there, the grass, the trees and animals are our flesh. nature is our religion, thank the Creator for what he has given us all.”
Roger A. Johnson, 30 august 1991.
‘Nii t’am lax ooks by’, is Roger’s original Gitxsan name, meaning ‘care for the people’ as well as describing ‘a frog on a lily pad’. His generation was influenced by residential schools, church and government, making them loose their mother tongue and culture. Roger still speaks the old language and works as a interpreter in discussions and court cases between government, mining companies and the First Nation elders.
Nowadays the Gitxsan youth is depressed and suicide rate is very high.
“We can’t cry over spilt milk! We must maintain our culture and our language. We need a huge cultural center to teach our culture and language to young and old.”
While we were talking with Roger, a car drove up. A very conservatively woman stepped out and gave Roger a booklet and drove off again. The others in her car did not come out. The cover of the booklet depicted a nice drawing of a traditional Indian sky burial. But the rest of it basically said that that was nice in the old days, but against the bible and all First Nations should switch to ‘modern’ Christian values and culture…
“I remember my Grandparents often saying to me, ‘You are my cane, You are my sunshine, You are my flower”.
Roger gave me a Gitxsan First nation flag, which has been on my bike since. Then he waved us goodbye from the stairs leading up to his frontdoor. ‘Do not forget to wake up every morning, and shout to the world: Good Morning Canada!’.
(Sources: our meeting with Roger; Partly quoted from the local article ‘Wisdom of the Elders’ by Zanna Ove; Speech of Roger A Johnson transcribed by Julian Burge)
Holly Eden from Dease Lake had told us to visit Willie if we had the opportunity.
Willie is one of those persons that can fill a documentary all by himself. We arrived late, uninvited but were welcome and spend hours talking about his history, present and future. We talk about the history of the Tahltan people and the fights with the other first nations.
We verbally travel from the horror stories of the missionaries taking the First Nation children away to religious experiences of his friends, fights about lands and property to sharing very personal stories and advice about love & life. He lets us sleep in the first house he built, filled with more memories.
Besides being the host for a yearly 3-day gospel music festival at his ranch, Willie organises horseback riding trips through the wilderness of the nearby provincial parks: Stikine River, Spatsizi Plateau & Mount Edizia. Every trip is different and some clients come back regularly.
Willie showed us a book from a german photographer, about the area, almost completely shot during the trips he guided. No website, no email. “How do you get your clients?” I asked him. “I don’t know, somehow people seem to find me”, he replied.
More than a week later we would meet Willie again, in Smithers where we also met his wonderful wife Grace. Thanks for letting us into your life for a short moment Willie, it will last much longer than just the few hours we spent together.
ps: To make it a bit easier to get a special adventure that might just change your outlook on life, call Willie or Grace Williams in BC: 250-771-4301. Trips can take anything from a few hours to a few weeks.
Holly passed us when we were having lunch at Dease Lake, outside the library. She told us that we might be able to come to her place for a shower if needed, and that she would come back later that night. As it was getting cold and dark, we set up our tent behind the library, but found a note with a tasty cookie the next morning, inviting us for breakfast and a shower at her place…
Hi all, apologies for not posting before, we were too busy cycling, getting fed by friendly Canadians, watching bears and visiting doctors. I wil write about all of that soon, but first as promised, our day in Champagne:
We woke up to a nice day, which means: no rain Before heading out towards the seductions of Whitehorse, we decided to cycle around in Champagne, which appeared to be a ghost town. We spotted some good campsites near the community hall, wondering why our ‘hosts’ had not pointed these out. Just when we were turning around to start our trip towards Whitehorse, noticed some smoke coming out of a building. We checked it out and found a few ladies cooking in a large kitchen.
‘Do you want some breakfast?’ One asked.
‘Sit down, you can stay for the Potlatch.’
We had no idea what the Potlatch (often called Potluck) was, but we found out during this wonderful day. It was one year ago that one elder of the Champagne-Aishihik First nation had died. Now, one year later, a spirit house was built on her grave and all friends and family came together for the celebration of this occasion and to remember her.
So during the day a row of people came into the huge community hall, from very young to very old.. We were happy that we could help out during the day. I helped making al the tables and chairs ready for 200 persons and grilled several hundred of ‘Hooligans’: some small type of fish. Ivana helped serving the people, there were many courses. We got fed ourselves as well: from Moosejaw soup to fish eggs to salad and salmon. Ivana convinced teh shy children that she could turn them into animals by painting their faces. We talked with the elders as well as the younger generations. It was all great.
I spoke a while with Yoyo, one of the elders.
‘So you can tell your friends that you were with the Indians and that they all wore feathers and such’, Yoyo remarked.
I told him that that stereotype was not my impression of the First Nation people we had met so far. He looked at me, decided that I was good and started to talk about his past.
‘You know, the younger generation cannot speak our language anymore. I am one of the last ones to speak it. Our language is lower to the ground, closer to the earth. If I forgot my gloves near a tree in a big forest 60 miles away, I could explain a friend where to look for them in a few minutes. In the high speech, this is impossible’. Read more