In the Name of Fire: Masaya Volcano

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Cauldron of Fire; Masaya Volcano

 

After my Lake Apoyo jungle hike and the frustration it gave me- see previous post- I arrived at base camp at the back of the motor bike, that had delivered some much needed sugars. At base camp, which was a jungle lodge with a terrace overlooking the lake, I ordered some food to go and ate it in the taxi. It wasn’t the greatest of food for a too high a price, but as they say; beggars can’t be choosers. It had already gone dark before we arrived back in Granada. I had asked Swiss Guy, my hiking partner on the trek, whether he had enjoyed the hike and he said he did, but he found it way too long, which it was.

Nature Excursions and Lessons in Life

When I got to my room in a popular hostel in town, I felt the day had been a valuable lesson on multiple levels. On a practical level I could have prepared better for the trek by having a decent breakfast and bringing along some food. At least I had brought an extra litre of water, as the litre and half provided at the beginning of the track, were gone by 1-ish. On another level it taught me something about vulnerability; I’m practising being okay with being vulnerable and not in my strength. This might sound random to some, but I’m sure any independent, solo travelling female, who also might be quite strong physically, can relate. Despite wanting to be in my strength, as the world is full of whiners and people celebrating their victimhood, it’s okay that I felt weak. It was okay that I needed to depend on the kindness and perhaps the patience of others. It’s okay that I didn’t really enjoy myself for most of the day. Not everything in life is fun, although we want it to be and besides all that, I didn’t pay for the excursion. Not that I was deliberately dodging payment. When I got back to the hostel I realised that no one had asked me for funds and I wasn’t chased down later, so I considered it a life lesson that hadn’t cost me any money.

After the Lake Apoyo expedition, I didn’t engage in any more nature outings until the end of my stay in Granada and most of the time I just wandered around town in search of chilled places, where they had good food and reliable wifi. An excursion I didn’t want to give a miss was a visit to the active Masaya volcano, as I only know lava lakes from National Geographics and other nature documentaries.

Masaya Volcano; Portal to the Fire Dimension

The Masaya volcano is part of a national park with the same name, which can be visited at day time to enjoy the views and visit the exhibition at the Visitors Centre. The park has hiking trails, but these are currently closed to the public. One can visit the park after dark as well until around 8 o’clock in the evening to stare into the lava lake of the Masaya volcano crater, which is quite a magical experience. Once you reach the look-out, or rather look-down, point you are at safe distance of the crater and you need to stand at a certain angle to get a good view of the glowing lava. You’re allowed to stare into the caldera for about 15 minutes after which I would think it becomes too dangerous to continue inhaling the volcanic fumes.

Throughout the ages people have been attracted to the element of fire. Besides giving light and warmth, it also seems to mesmerise, as most people can stare into a fire for eons. Fire can also be destructive as can be experienced during and after a wildfire or volcano eruption. Yet, a little fire can make the earth fertile again and the flanks of volcanoes provide very fertile soil, so despite the danger, rumbling mountains continue to attract human settlement and activity. There are many myths from all corners of the world about volcanoes. Some tell tales of fiery gods, others of volcanoes as portals to the underworld or the Christian concept of hell. The indigenous people of the Masaya region believed the volcano of the same name, which means ‘fire’ in the indigenous Chorotega language, was a god and home to a sorceress. Spanish bastards arrived in the region in the 16th century to rob and fuck up the land and they brought with them, besides death and destruction, the idea that the Masaya volcano was a source of diabolic activity. Spanish friar Francisco de Bobadilla dragged a cross up the volcano to exorcise what he believed was the month of hell. Another brother who went by the name of Blas del Castillo seemed far less considered with ‘heavenly’ matters and far more greedy, as he descended into the crater believing the lava lake was made up of liquid gold.

Tales of the Fire Element

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In many esoteric traditions the element of fire is considered a portal to a different world or dimension. In both Islamic and pre- Islamic traditions of the Arab world, the jinn, super natural creatures also known as genies, are made of smokeless fired opposed to humans, who are considered to be made of clay. Some Christian traditions believe that demons manifest themselves in this reality through the element of fire. In the yogic and other tradition fire is associated with will and determination. In ancient Greek mythology the god Prometheus, one of the Titans, who wasn’t condemned to the Tartarus after the great battle, stole fire fire from mount Olympus to give it to mankind. (It was really mankind rather than humankind, as women weren’t considered quite human in ancient Greek times). As punishment for this Titanic crime, Zeus tied Prometheus to a cliff in the Caucasus for his liver to be picked out of his body by an eagle every day only for it to grow back during the night. As ancient Greek gods were considered immortal, but could feel pain like humans, Prometheus was to suffer until the end of time. Prometheus is considered a hero to humanists and luciferians of both past and present.

What’s in a Volcano

Modern day volcanologists don’t do folk tales, as conventional science and mythology don’t mix. According to them volcanoes just gives us a scientific inside into the inner workings of our planet, yet the fascination and the longing for an unearthly link with igneous rumbling mountains remain.

top image: Welcome to Nicaragua.net
middle image: jewelexi.com

 

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Nica Vibes: Colonial Shabbiness and Hiking Frustration

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Lake Apoyo

On my third attempt to get to Nicaragua from Miami I succeeded. The first time my flight was cancelled, as Miami International Airport was suffering delays and cancellations in the aftermath of a certain hurricane, that prevented me from travelling to the Bahamas. The second time I was still living on Cancun-time, which is an hour behind Miami-time. This meant that instead of arriving a bit under two hours ahead of departure time, I arrived a bit less than one hour ahead of take-off and I wasn’t allowed to check in my luggage. Important note to the traveller-self; ALWAYS check the local time when arriving at a new destination.

So, on the third attempt the next day I managed to make it to Nicaragua. As I wanted to avoid the capital Managua, as I’ve been told it’s ugly on many levels and there doesn’t seem to be much of interest, I headed straight for the colonial city of Granada. After having spent almost four months in North America and especially having disembarked from Miami, the first thing I noticed about Nicaragua, besides its lushness, because it’s winter and therefor rainy season, is its underdevelopment.

Granada; on every Corner a church

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Street Corner in Granada

Granada, like the colonial city Antigua Guatemala, is a major tourist attraction in Central America and like with the old capital of Guatemala, I was rather underwhelmed by it. It’s by no means the Disney Land that is Antigua and Granada is a great base to venture to nearby attractions like, volcanoes, crater lakes and jungle landscapes with great biodiversity. Due to Nicaragua’s general underdevelopment the centre of Granada is not as well maintained as a colonial city like San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico. The city does have many churches, none of which I visited. To my surprise Dark Fairies are considered rather exotic, although, like other Central American countries, Nicaragua has a black population predominately living at the Caribbean cost. Many people felt the need to make a little proverbial song and dance about me in the form of looks and comments and I experienced more catcalls then anywhere else during my trip. Despite that, I think Nicaraguans, or Nicas for short, are very friendly and kind people.

Apoyo Crater Lake; the Hike

Lago Apoyo, lago meaning lake in Spanish, is a body of water in a volcanic cater in the vicinity of Granada, that is sourced by subterranean rivers. I had booked myself a hiking tour around the lake and was looking forward to getting some physical exercise. Besides, I had been dragging my hiking boots along for several months without having used them. Lunch would be included in what was presented as a picnic and there would be the possibility to swim in the lake. I don’t have much hiking experience, but I thoroughly enjoyed my trekking in Peru and Colombia. This hike, however was a different matter.

Besides having a few pieces of dried mango I bought at a local hippy centre, I didn’t have breakfast. I wasn’t hungry and I was picked up by taxi before the hostel breakfast was served. It was just another guy from Switzerland, me and the guide. At the beginning of the track we we’re given a litre and a half of water and our lunch, which consisted of a small bag of fresh fruit and a hamburger. Since I don’t eat meat or wheat, lunch was not going to be very substantial, but I wasn’t bothered. When we started our hike, the guide took out a machete, which made me giggle as it looked rather dramatic and gung-ho. I wasn’t giggling or remotely amused a few hours later.

The Rise of Hiking Frustration

Lago Apoyo is surrounded by jungle. There are no paths and any paths created by means of traffic and machete-action get overgrown within days, especially now in rainy season. So the guide’s machete was a necessity rather than a gung-ho accessory. Trekking through the jungle like that is cute for a few hours. After that I got rather annoyed.

We broke for lunch and had our ‘picnic’ at the bank of the lake. After having been sweating like a pig, dipping into the lake was refreshing and soothing as the surroundings are so tranquil. Yet, as if we were on a break from our office jobs, we only rested for half an hour, which was just way too short in my opinion and I hadn’t even been eating. After lunch the guide picked up the pace considerably. Although I had been a bit out of shape in terms of exercise- extreme hatha yoga doesn’t count in my book- I was by no means unfit. Yet, walking with two men, who are experienced hikers and at least a decade younger then me, I was struggling to keep up with the set pace.

Somewhere in the afternoon the Dark Fairy system started to react to barely having had any food in the last 20 hours. I started to feel shaky and a strong need for sugars. As lunch was included and I expected there to be some pulpería, a shop-shack, along the trek, like I had experienced along the trails in Peru and Colombia, I hadn’t brought any edibles with me.  At some point the guide checked my pulse, told me it was rather low and that I should visit a doctor to get a check up on my constitution, which I found rather dramatic. As I REALLY needed food, the guide contacted base camp, explained the situation and arranged a food delivery further along the track. After hiking for another 50 minutes or so, we met a guy on a motorcycle, who had brought bananas and chocolate bars. Like a junkie in need of her fix, I munched on the delivered goodies and immediately felt better. Despite more balanced sugar levels, it had been decided that I would do the last bit of the track on the back of the motorcycle. I actually wanted to walk, but it was probably better to give myself a break and not keep the guys up any longer.

It was after 6 and dark when we got back to Granada.

top image: nicaragua-community.com
middle image; vagrants of the world.com

Funky Paradise in Fort America

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Arriving at the US Fortification

Disembarking at Miami airport coming from Cancun, I was harshly welcomed a short distance from the gate by a tall, handsome stranger, who I would’ve found utterly fit if he wasn’t wearing a uniform. He probably smelled me coming out of the gate and as we made eye contact like ten metres ahead, I handed him my passport before he could ask for it with a friendly ‘hiya’, which was replied to with a stern ‘be-sure-to-be-intimidated’ look. Like a lot of folk in the uniformed professions, I’m sure he had this set idea about me; chick with dreads in not too fancy clothes, must be such-and- such, girl from the hood getting in some drugs or god-knows-what. I knew, although he tried very hard not to show it, that my British accent and me stating I worked as a media analyst after he asked after my profession, utterly confused him. He repeated ‘media analyst’, who knows for what reason, revealing he had no idea, like most people, what that entails. To keep his cool, he asked me who I worked for and I looked at him with an ‘as-if-me-mentioning-the-company-name-would-ring-a-bell! look’. When I mentioned the company, adding they were based in London, which of course didn’t ring a bell, he gave me back my passport as he had no further questions and/or was confused enough. I gave him a ‘you-weird-yank’ look, which was genuine, since I barely slept the night before and did feel a bit dazed and confused. While making my way to customs I came across another unfriendly uniformed creature, who didn’t reply to my greeting when I came to his window. He asked me stupid questions just to exercise an authority he doesn’t really have and seemed surprised when I took my passport, after he stamped it, without thanking him or saying anything in general. As if the universe wanted to show me that not all people in uniforms are twats, a member of staff at the metro and bus station was super friendly and helpful. He gave me a free ticket to get to Miami Beach, a 20- minute bus ride, just because he could. I doubt any tourist in London or Amsterdam would get such a reception when taking public transport from the airport.

Tidy Funky Yankee Land

miami-beachAfter having spent four and a half months in Latin America, I was immediately struck by how clean and well organised the outside world looked. When reaching North Beach, the northern part of Miami Beach, a person, who seemed to be in his early 60s, got on the bus, set himself next to me and struck up conversation. He sounded eastern European and told me he had been in Miami since the mid 70s. He said he found hurricane Irma terribly exciting and if I knew, that it wasn’t a natural disaster and all engineered. We spoke some more on conspiracy theories before I asked him where I had to get off the bus, totally enjoying his eccentricity. When I reached the hostel, where I booked a dorm bed, I found it closed, as the place had suffered damage from hurricane Irma and I was directed to a sister hostel, that was close by. Besides a closed hostel and a few blown-over trees, I found little evidence of a hurricane having passed through Miami.

Treats of the Western World

After I had checked in, I took a hot shower with proper pressure. As Miami can be hot, they air-condition the shit out of every indoor space and that well-pressured hot shower was very much enjoyed and appreciated, as I hadn’t had a wash like that in more than four months. Besides enjoying a great shower, I could just flush toilet paper down the bowl rather than bin in, which is required pretty much all over Mexico and wider Latin America. To continue with the little joys of the western, ‘civilised’ world, I treated myself to a walking trip to Whole Foods, the hippy food supermarket chain. Although I never go to Whole Foods in London, my hippy-in-the-closet heart was absolutely delighted with so much edible hipster bollocks on offer and I went totally mental. I was only supposed to stay in Miami for one night, but at the till I paid a day’s minimum wage for all the wares I had eagerly scooped up.

Other Creatures of SoBe

At the hostel I got to chat with Miami resident Larry and fellow visitor José. Larry seemed to be at the hostel, because his own house had been affect by the hurricane. I first thought José, to be Italian, but he proudly stated he was from the Caribbean. I made a few guesses, but only when he hinted that his country was on an island that it shared with another country, I finally guessed right he was from the Dominican Republic. Larry had never left the United States and although he had travelled a fair amount in his country, he said he felt apprehensive travelling abroad. Not only speaking no other language than English, but also being black held him back. I told him, as a sister of colour that, although people can be prejudiced, the colour of his skin should not withhold him from travelling abroad. I told him about my experience with the-handsome-such-a-shame-about-the-uniform border person at the airport and that I’m pretty sure I confused the shit out of him. (I might be giving myself way too much credit here, but as you don’t catch that many travelling Dark Fairies, with whichever accent or nationality, I’d like to believe that this credit is due).

top image: giphy.com
second image: tripadvisor

Stormy Weather, unfocused Dark Fairy Spirit

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Yogic Beach in the Bahamas

After leaving Tulum I went in search of beach chill in Holbox (say Holbosh). Several people had recommended it to me and I expected it to be considerable less pretentious and more chilled than Tulum. The main reason for my flight was that I wanted a beach at crawling distance, rather than a 20-minute hot and boring bike ride away. Holbox is a small island at the northeastern edge of the Yucatan peninsula, that can be reached by ferry from the sleepy town of Chiquila.

Rainy Days, Hippy Food and Mass Tourism on some islands

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Holbox Town in dry weather

The town and the wider island are quite touristy, but, indeed, rather chill. The place is well-known for whale- shark watching and its flamingos. I did manage to enjoy the beach and some very good yet, slightly overpriced food, however, the few days I was there it rained a fair amount. As Holbox doesn’t have paved roads, the dirt paths become a muddy mess after it has rained and exploring the village becomes far less enjoyable; One needs to wade through large puddles and I did leave my wellies (rain boots) at home. So, after a few days in Holbox I went in search of sunnier beach chill in Isla Mujeres, a 20 minute ferry ride from Cancun. If Holbox is quite touristy, then Isla Mujeres is VERY touristy, as it attracts mass-tourism crowds. The island has a beautiful beach at the North side of the Island, which I, ironically, didn’t visit. The island is covered in shops, where one can buy clothes, souvenirs and other tourist bollocks. There are so many shops and not that many people seem to be buying as far as I could observe, shop owners and workers must be bored stiff and I wondered how they all could be making a decent living. Despite mass tourism and no beach visit, I did have a chilled time working and consuming good food in hippy cafes and practicing yoga in my room. But I could have been in any other ‘mass-tourist paradise’.

The Storm, the shattered yogic Dream and the Wandering

That I was in some tropical mass-tourism trap didn’t matter, because in a few days I was supposed to fly to the heavenly island archipelago of the Bahamas to spend three weeks at the Sivananda ashram for a yogic lifestyle in paradise. I had been looking forward to it for weeks, yet a certain meteorological phenomenon they named Irma, was seriously ruining these plans. I had my head stuck up in my bony yogic arse, anxiously spending considerable amounts of time with the airline carrier, that was to take me there, and the ashram that cancelled my booking. Meanwhile property, infrastructure and livelihoods of millions of people were threatened, as I was rather occupied with my First World problems and had totally lost a sense of perspective. I had booked two separate flights; one from Cancun to Miami and one from the city in the Sunshine State to Nassau in the Bahamas. Initially my flights were postponed, as the air carrier didn’t allow me to cancel the flights for a refund.

Cancun and Bacalar; Lake chill and where not to spend time

As I would be spending a week longer in Mexico than expected, I was wandering a bit without a clear purpose. I spent two nights in Cancun as these were already booked in anticipation to my flights to the Bahamas. In my opinion, Cancun is a shithole. I have only spent time in downtown Cancun, which has no charm, no real centre, and no real places of interest. Cancun is a major tourist centre and famed for its zona Hotelera, which is a large stretch of concrete jungle consisting of hotels along the beach. I have been informed that is pretty crap as well, unless you are totally into package deals and mass tourism. Cancun as a city didn’t exist before 1970 and has been developed with mass tourism for unimaginative yanks and other (wannabe) gringos in mind. After my time in Cancun, which felt like wasted days, I made my way down south again to the town of Bacalar. Bacalar is a sleepy place located at a fresh water lake with the same name. People predominately visit, with the purpose of chilling and doing water activities like paddle boarding and kayaking. Furthermore, the town has a small 300-year old fort and several cenotes in the vicinity one can visit. Once again, I didn’t do any of that and spent my time chilling and working in hippy cafes. Bacalar is another stinking hot place, where after 9.30 am, you just want to chill in the shade or, when you’re already boiling, under a massive fan.

As going to the Bahamas was a clearly not meant to be for me this time, I decided to keep the flight to Miami and fly from there to Nicaragua instead. Miami has withstood the hurricane relatively well, yet the airport experienced delays and cancellations several days after the storm had passed. My postponed flight to Miami was cancelled and I was put on a later flight on the same day. My connecting flight to Nicaragua, however, was cancelled, which made me spent a day in the city after I managed to enter Fort America.

top image: bookyogaretreats.com
middle image: destinationsmagazine.com

Mayan Magic and Caribbean Tranquillity

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Cenote Azul

While I am still residing in the state of Quintana Roo in the Caribbean part of Mexico, I have been escaping the pretentiousness of Tulum caused by the so-called Tuluminaties, many of which are from yankee decent. Tulum has been termed the Williamsburg of Mexico, Williamsburg being a trendy neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York; a faux-eco chic resort for American hipsters and fake bohos. Besides that, in recent years real estate, managed and owned by Mexicans and foreigners alike – as far as Mexican law allows foreigners to own land- have been illegally confiscated by the state. This is done purely out of greed, as more pesos can be generated by building some more fancy resorts further diminishing any true hippy vibe that might have been left.

 

A Taste of Mayan Civilisation

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The Ruins of Tulum in real life

Besides terribly overpriced fake hippy bollocks, Tulum and the wider region do offer a few gems worth visiting. One of them being the famous Mayan site, consisting of ruins of a pre-Colombian settlement situated right at the coast. The city, one of the few walled cities the Mayans built, is argued to have been known as Zamá, which means City of Dawn as, the settlement looks out over the ocean in eastlerly direction. Zamá is considered to have been an important trading hub and a prosperous and well-protected city, besides being and important site of worship. The convention amongst archaeologists is, that the site was inhabited from the 6th century AD and was at its height between the 13th and 15th century housing up to 1600 inhabitants. The arrival of the Spanish at the end of the 16th century, lead to depopulation of the settlement by means of murder and disease. The site is housed in a well set-up archaeological park and the ruins are well-preserved and have, as you can imagine stunning views over the Caribbean Sea. The park houses a small beach for visitors to dip their toe into the sea and as the current can be strong, often it is not an awful lot more than that. As the site is very well-known, it’s rather touristy and it pays to come early to avoid the crowds. I spoke to travellers, who entered the park at sunrise, in August at about 6.30, for a truly magical experience and no, other visitors to annoy you.

Staying cool in the Jungle

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Cenote chill

Another experience to be had around Tulum is having a dip into one of the many cenotes. A cenote, literally meaning ‘cave water’ in the Yucatec Mayan language, is a fresh water reservoir in limestone bedrock, usually of considerable  depth, which gets its water from an underground river or stream. The term tends to be linked to these water deposits in the Yucatan peninsula, yet similar natural reservoirs have been found in other countries. It is said that cenotes were formed millions of years ago when the Yucatan peninsula was covered by sea water. When water levels started to decrease, a coral reef was exposed forming a limestone base. As limestone is porous, rain water was able to seep through the stone forming underground rivers. When the limestone base giving shape to the roof of a cave would collapse, the underground reservoir would be exposed, giving form to a cenote, most of which are cylindrical in shape and contain very clear water. The ancient Mayans had strong connection to these cenotes. Not only were they a water source, they were also used for religious practices and were considered portals to the underworld. According to Mayan mythology Aluxes-  singular Alux- which are spirit-like creatures, comparable to gnomes in western legends, are guardians of these cenotes.

The cenotes around Tulum vary greatly in shape and size and many of them are part of a natural park, some bigger than others. These parks can be accessed by paying a fee, varying from €2.50 up to €15 for the larger parks. They are popular with locals and tourists alike and popular cenotes can get rather crowded at weekends and public holidays. Dipping, swimming or (free)diving into a cenote can be a great way to cool down on a hot and humid Caribbean day. It’s important to bring mosquito repellent, as in the more shaded and secluded spots the bugs are likely to eat you alive.

After cenote-cool I travelled to the tranquil, but still rather touristy island of Holbox (say Holbosh) at the north-eastern edge of the Yucatan peninsula. The beach is lovely and tranquil indeed, but considerable less chilled in the rain. As the island has no paved roads, exploring and even wandering around town in rainy season is also less idyllic, assuming you left your wellies (rain boots) at home. So off I went again like a true wandering Dark Fairy spirit.

Top image: playadelcarmen.com blog
bottom image: Kike Abed 

Silence, Urban Vibes and Travel Deceptions

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San Cristobal de las Casas

It has been another eventful month. I finished model 2 of the spiritual path that is Hridaya yoga and afterwards I did a 10-day silent retreat, as I felt in the groove. The retreat officially confirmed to me that I am a recluse, as I loved spending my time not speaking and being internalised. It’s a bit like being stoned. I did find it a challenging experience on a different level.

Surrendering in Silence

I had moved accommodation and the new place I was staying at was extremely hot and the ceiling fan only seemed to circulate the hot air. Despite leading a terribly healthy lifestyle I was dealing with some skin issues and the combination of the heat and dermatological challenges resulted in sleepless nights. Only six weeks ago I manage just fine with little sleep being on a total roll. This time the sleep deprivation lead to an inability to go deep into meditation, which is a big part of the retreat. This I found a rather frustrating ordeal after having had a pretty solid meditation practice for more than two months. After 10 days in silence many retreat participants raved about the life-changing process they had just experienced. For me it was mainly about surrendering. A submission to the current state of the process, that might not be to one’s liking, but it is what it is. So one accepts what is, observes what is and is aware that one is not one’s experience.

Finally leaving Mazunte… or not

After the silent retreat I stayed in Mazunte for a couple of days and then I had planned to travel to San Cristobal; A colonial town, the capital of the state of Chiapas and another place labelled pueblo magico. Despite my profound experiences at the Hridaya yoga centre, I had enough of the heat, the dust and the small-town-es of Mazunte and I was dying to leave. I left the accommodation that was too hot to handle for me and went, yet again, to neighbouring beach town Zipolite. I would just chill in a hammock the whole day and catch a bus in the evening from the nearest bus terminal in Pochutla. However, when I arrived at the bus terminal after a 40-minute taxi ride, there were no more tickets left for the night bus to San Cristobal and I was forced to spend yet another night and day at the Oaxacan cost. The next night was the night that I boarded a bus to San Cristobal de las Casas for considerably milder weather and urban vibes.

Urban living in San Cristobal

I planned to do some hiking and other day trips from San Cristobal, but for the week I was there I made the city my home. I did yoga on the roof terrace of the hostel I stayed at and worked from my laptop in funky cafés enjoying absolutely delicious, yet overpriced, hot chocolate and other treats like cocadas, which are coconut sweets, and to-die-for passion fruit macaroons. It was pleasant spring weather during the day and slightly colder in the evening. After five days of sunny weather, the sky became overcast and the rainy days had come to town, which was a sign for me to leave and I embarked on the monster journey to Tulum at the Caribbean coast.

Hot faux- hippy farts in Tulum

Tulum, another pueblo magico, has – or rather; had- this legendary reputation of a laid-back hippy mecca and I planned to stay a considerable amount of time before leaving the country to my next destination. Tulum is known for its Maya ruins and its clear-blue coloured ocean. Right at the beach you can find the expensive resorts and condos, while lesser mortals can be found in Tulum town, an urban development about three kilometres inland on both sides of the motorway, that leads to Cancun travelling northbound. I stayed in a lovely hostel very close to the bus terminal, as accommodation at the beach cost a mint. The hostel, the ruins and meeting up with resident Alberto, who I got to know in Mazunte, where he worked in the kitchen at Hridaya as a karma yogi, was what I liked about Tulum. Besides that I find the place overpriced and highly overrated. I imagine Tulum to have been that bohemian paradise 20- or perhaps even 10- years or so ago. I’m sure it’s still a paradise for bohos with very fat wallets, but the more it is about the moolah, the less boho it gets. Tulum is not a pretty or scenic town and the road to the beach is one straight, busy and boring stretch and it takes you at least 20 minutes by bike to hit the beach. When I was in Tulum, that beach was either sandy and covered in seaweed or rocky and sharp for you to injure your feet and other body parts. I was seriously underwhelmed and went immediately in search of some beach paradise considerably less pretentious and far more affordable. So after five- rather than fourteen- days, off I went.

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Tulum as in the brochure

Mazunte; or the Congregation of Turtles and Hippies

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View on Punta Cometa

I have been in the province of Oaxaca longer than I had been travelling through Mexico 19 years ago and I have been in Mazunte, where I have my yogic training, considerably longer than expected. Apparently that is the story with Mazunte, as it is with Zipolite.

Too Hot to Leave

People plan to stay for a few days or weeks and end op staying weeks, months or even years on end. Zipolite has a very laid-back vibe, which makes lying in a hammock and getting intoxicated rather appealing and its far easier maintained for several weeks or months than one thinks. Sure, you can do so some yoga or other activity, but in general, that is not what people come to Zipolite for. Mazunte, less than 10 minutes-drive towards the west, attracts a different crowd. The village is officially certified as Pueblo Magico, or magic village, and the locals are very keen to tell you that. The tiny town of around 1500 inhabitants contains no less than four yoga schools, a centre for turtle conservation and a natural cosmetic store, the latter selling products across Mexico. You can imagine therefor that the village attracts a fair amounts of yogis, hippies, spiritual seekers, and those interested in animal conservation.

What Magic?

 

Located in the province of Oaxaca, Mazunte has the land tip Punta Cometa in its borders, which is considered the southern-most tip of the North American mainland. It is argued that this piece of land emits large amounts of bio-energetic vibes and has therefor been an important breeding place for sea turtles.

Mazunte got inhabited only recently. While nearby Zipolite started to develop as a hippy mecca in the 1960 and ’70s, people of the close by larger town Pochutla started to have a closer look at the jungles of what is now Mazunte. They came over with their machetes and claimed the land as theirs. The first Mazunte-born person in modern history is only in their early forties, meaning that Mazunte didn’t become populated until the 1970s. Due to the abundance of sea turtles, the town became the country’s main centre for the slaughter and trading of turtle meat. Although Mexicans were keen consumers, the US greatly encouraged this trade.

From Killing to Keeping

sea turtles

Somewhere in the early 1990s the turtle population started to dwindle considerably and somebody saw the light; rather than slaughtering animals one can preserve them and so the town became an eco-tourist destination, rather than a place of certain death for a prehistoric species. As neighbouring Zipolite already had a hippy-reputation, Mazunte reasoned it could be a bit ‘alternative’ as well. In 1995 the village got an official government certification labelling it as pueblo magico, which involved some government corruption I was informed by an insider. This certification entails that no big tourist developments like large hotels or resorts can be constructed and big corporations like MacDonalds or Starbuck are not allowed to settle in town. This means that whichever private person or entity- with perhaps some good connections to government- owns the land can rest assured that they won’t be forced to sell or donate it.

I haven’t visited the turtle conservation centre, which is a very short walk from the school. I have been informed, however by a local guy who works there, that if you don’t like a zoo-like environment, which I don’t, you won’t enjoy it, so I am likely to give it a miss and I’m rather occupied travelling along the yogic spiritual path. Punta Cometa draws dozens, if not hundreds of people in high seasons, every evening, who come and enjoy the sunset. There are several routes taking you there through the local forest and along rocks offering stunning views over the Pacific Ocean.

Visitors and Water Challenges

The town draws the Mexican middle classes and national and international alternative people. Many of which stay longer than expected and/ or make it their home. Despite the national and international attention and the magic, the town does have its challenges. Like more places along the Oaxacan coast, it’s very much prone to storms and hurricanes, that do some considerable damage. Still, concrete constructions are build right at the seafront, and you wonder how long it will last. Water shortage is an issue as well. Pretty much everyone uses water tanks, that only get refilled when they completely run out, so being soaped-up under the shower ready to rinse yourself only for no water to appear from the tap is a common phenomenon.

I too have been staying longer than previously anticipated, as I have gained so much wisdom at the Hridaya yoga centre and met such wonderful people. After I have finished module 2 and the 10-day silent retreat I will be doing straight after that, I think I’m ready to move on. There so much more of Mexico that I haven’t seen and that needs to be explored.