Thursday, November 4, 2010

Day of the Dead

Leading up to the Day of the Dead sugar skulls and plastic wreaths abound in every town. Our little group of cyclists slowly plod their way up to the town of Angahuan, Michoacan at the edge of the lava flow of the volcano of Paricutin. Purepecha announcements echo across town like some kind of continuous chant, people scurry about town buying flowers and wreaths in preparation for the celebration of the Day of the Dead. The atmosphere in the cemetery is not somber. The whole community turns out to tidy the graves and make their offerings spending the evening and day with their dearly departed. Kids run and play. Prayers are made. Food is shared. Plates of tamales are extended to us. The feeling is overwhelmingly warm and welcoming.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Festive Oaxaca

It has been silent here a long while, but being in Oaxaca through Guelaguetza it is hard to keep quiet - especially through all the fireworks and festivities. Wandering amidst the carnival of colour and the hopeful energy that flows at events like this, it is difficult to understand the hesitation anyone might feel about coming here. As in life, if you keep your eyes and your heart open, Mexico is as beautiful as you allow her to be.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mexican Doughboy?

Mexican bakeries abound even in the smallest of towns. Most evenings the aroma of baked goods wafts out into the streets tempting passersby to load up on what are mainly sweet breads. I have learned over the years that, for Mexican bread to be at all enjoyable, it really must be eaten the day it is purchased. In my opinion, breads here look and smell a lot more exciting than they taste. They certainly do come up with a good variety of shapes for their breads, but I have yet to discover a huge variance between their flavour and texture. Perhaps with time, I'll be better at discerning their subtleties. For now, I'll keep following those aromas and will never resist a roll that comes out of a wood burning oven - especially one that is lovingly created by a happy fat baker.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Isla Soyaltepec

What would life be like in a world without cars? A half hour boat trip through islands that are little more than tree tops takes you to the Island of Soyaltepec always remote, but now exceedingly remote since the flooding of the Temascal Reservoir. One benefit of the dam is that all 500 of Soyaltepec's residents have electricity, but the roads are grass or mud and stone and donkeys traffic all consumibles from the turkey studded wharf to the town at the top of the half hour climb. After days of rain the locals are pleased to see strangers picking their way along the muddy tracks towards the summit of their island. Local women proudly promote their embroidery, a local drunk keeps a good tune on an avocado leaf, livestock roams free and the 18th century church has the best view on the island.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

San Pedro Ixcatlan

To the right off Highway 182 just past the village of Surprise and some 7 kilometres down a cement road surrounded by blue waters and idyllic pastureland is a tiny slice of Oaxacan paradise. The pace is slow, everyone acknowledges you as you walk by, and you hear Mazatec more than Spanish in the streets of San Pedro Ixcatlan. Some thoughtful soul decided to share this dreamlike village with the outside world by building a hotel at the top of town's most distant hillock. Spend a few days nourishing yourself on seafood and basking in the simple beauty of the surrounding islands.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mazatec country

The gentle road that winds it's way along the banks of the Papaloapan river through groves of rubber trees and sugar cane is a welcome reprieve as we enter the wide open and warm country of the Mazatec people. Embroidery abounds, fields are fertile, and the weather holds out allowing some of our clothing to almost dry.

Leaving behind the Tuxtepec's paper mills and the largest brewery in Mexico, we turn west and make our way to a little visited gem in a forgotten corner of Oaxaca state: the 1000 islands. Fish, fish, and fish abound and are the main way of life for these people who just 55 years ago grew mainly cotton, coffee, and rice. Sleepy San Pedro Ixcatlan pokes out into the flood waters of the Miguel Aleman dam or Temascal reservoir and nestles itself nicely alongside the imposing presence of the Mazatec holy mountain Cerro Rabon.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sierra Juarez

It's not that there has been no sun on our little turn through the north of Oaxaca. We left the valley with the sun on our backs, but when the clouds roll in and you're at altitude the only way to escape the cold is with a hot beverage, a heavy blanket, and/or a fireplace. Homes are not heated in Mexico the way they are north of the border. When it is cold, it's cold. We still managed to pull ourselves out from under our blankets on our rest day to head out by mototaxi for a small sampling of the biodiversity of the forests of Sierra Juarez.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Return to the Sierra

I stalled out. For some reason I got stuck and could blog no more. Not even cycling in the highlands of Michoacan or along the Pacific coast could pull me out of my slump. I was unwell while exploring our new Oaxaca route a few months ago and between guiding tours and moving in to our new place I have had little energy to spare since, but I'm back and reinspired by having nearly completed this new Oaxaca route with our first group of riders.

Here I return us to that climb from Oaxaca to Ixtlan de Juarez and on to Cerro Machin and Pelon and then that tremendous 3000m drop down into the spongy lush Papaloapan basin. We thought it was epic having done it in the rain and fog and then the dark, but this time we got to add the presence of ice and snow into the mix. Perhaps it is just a really mean mountain that doesn't really like to give up cyclists to the other side? All I know is: blankets can be hard to come by when it is cold and rainy in a place that is always hot, and clothing that varies from wet to damp isn't much fun at all.