Tag Archives: Mexico

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
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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. There 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 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

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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.

Zipolite: Stormy Weather, Intoxication and Inactivity

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Beach Bumming at Dusk in Zipolite

After a monster journey of more than 24 hours, during which I took a shuttle bus from Xela to San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico and a proper bus from there to Puerto Escondido, I arrived in the beach-bum town of Zipolite, Oaxaca around midday. The sky had been overcast since arriving in Oaxaca and it rained on the way from Puerto Escondido to Zipolite. I had been wondering how the driver of the small bus could actually see the road through the downpour. But in these parts of the world when travelling by public transport, you just have to surrender to the circumstances and/ or pray you arrive in one piece. It had stopped raining when I arrived in Zipolite, but that was only the proverbial silence before the storm.

Mexico Travel and Zipolite: Past and Present

I had visited Zipolite 19 years ago, almost to the month. I travelled with a friend I’ve known from secondary school. We arrived at Houston International Airport in the US from London Gatwick airport on the day that France won the world cup football. I remember it was terribly hot in Houston. We took a bus to the border and travelled for four weeks or so. It was our first time in Latin America and neither of us spoke a word of Spanish. It was a formative trip for me. I still love the colours corn yellow, terracotta and deep blue, which are very popular in the country and I really liked the people and felt rather frustrated I couldn’t communicate with them at the time. After that summer I did several Spanish language courses for about two years.

Of course Zipolite had changed, but the same beach-bum vibe was still there. The posada my friend and I stayed at 19 years ago and the American owner, Daniel, were still there, to my surprise. I was treated to some herbs upon arrival and after doing a tiny bit of work I got intoxicated and did nothing, as one does in Zipolite. The town is slightly off the beaten track about an hour from Puerto Escondido, yet it tends to draw considerable crowds during Holy week and in December and the first half of January. Zipolite was our first experience of tropical beach 19 years ago. The sea was blue and warm and not grey and fresh like the North Sea. The ocean at this part of the Oaxacan coast is wild and tends to have strong under currents, which doesn’t make it very suitable for swimming. When there is good swell surfers and body boarders can be found in the water. Zipolite is also known for having one of the few nude beaches in Mexico, but just like 19 years ago, only a few people bare all, so travelling to Zipolite just for the nude beach would be a bit of a disappointment.

Zipolite: Beach of the Dead

According to some stories Zipolite means beach of the dead due to the sea’s strong and dangerous under current. Besides the under current, Zipolite can also be considered the Beach of Dead due to its invitation to do absolutely nothing. The town is not a party place, yet there is considerable alcohol and drug use and herb consumption is ubiquitous. As much I was attracted to Zipolite again for the sun, sea and herbs, I was also keen to do some work. The latter however, totally didn’t happen for both superficial as well as deep-seated reasons. The day I arrived it was drizzling now and again. The days after, Zipolite and the wider region experienced a proper storm and it was pouring down for days on end. I had no idea so much water could come from the heavens and with considerable winds and thunder, the whole ordeal was terribly dramatic. I changed rooms three times because water was pouring in and electricity was cut several times. When the storm had finally eased off, phone lines were cut, the roads out of town were blocked and the waves and beach were covered in tree trunks, branches, coconut skins and other natural debris. There was considerably damage to some properties and roads, but luckily no casualties. People were drawing comparisons to the hurricane of 1997. It was most peculiar when the sun finally came out, as if the rain, winds and thunder were all just a dream. It might be low season and the place a beach bum location, the community quickly got into action clearing the roads and cleaning the beach, which I found most admirable.

The Action after the Storm

I felt rather annoyed with myself that I didn’t do an awful lot more than nothing in Zipolite. But then, that is Zipolite and perhaps the necessary stage to move to another level, like the period after the storm. Next up is a yoga retreat providing plenty of tools to keep me mentally, spiritually and intellectually entertained.