Coconut mania

The best with reaching the Caribbean side if Mexico isn’t the climate, the hot turquoise weather and the cliche sandy beaches. It’s having all the coconuts I can only dream of managing to eat within an arm’s reach.

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Perhaps it’s because I’m originally from Norway that I developed a passion for coconuts, as they’re so rare and exotic to people in the North. I can’t remember when I had my first coconut, so apparently it wasn’t a mind-blowing moment, but my fanaticism definitely grew stronger through traveling and possibly with some help of the popularity explosion of for example Thai food wherever you are in Europe…

Anyway, I’ve become a coconut fanatic and it’s been a while now that I’ve consciously planned my trips around the globe according to where they have delicious and locally grown coconuts. At least that’s where I’m heading..

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Of course I knew Mexico is one of the hot spots in that regard, but as much as I knew it, the country is big and it’s not until you are in beachy regions that you actually find them everywhere.

The 24 hours I spent in Bacalar were rather boring, yet good for a break on the long way from Palenque to Tulum and to get a peak of the beautiful Bacalar laguna. But most importantly it was a perfect place to start consuming fresh coconuts. To my thrill the guesthouse I staid at had eight coconut trees in their garden and dozens of coconuts spread around the lawn, and the owner told me to pick and eat as many as I wanted. I took him seriously.

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In Tulum (where I am at the moment), there are coconut trees and vendors on every street and I feel like in heaven with my new routine of cold coconut juice and flesh for brunch, evening food and night food. Also, since we’re in Mexico, you can only imagine all the ways they offer to serve you the coconut flesh. Coco enchilada, limenada, with tamarindo, or mixed with alcohol… And the best, they’re all natural, healthy, locally produced and not distinct.

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Why I travel without a plan

Sometimes when you reach a destination I think it’s a good thing not having booked a room. Without it you find yourself much more alone and lost and quickly understand that you really have to just speak to people. Often – especially in countries like Mexico – this means you’ll quickly make new friends.

Like I did yesterday when I arrived to Tulum.

I won’t brag about being wild and crazy with no idea about the destination or at least the street I’m walking in. After the birth of the smartphone those things are sorted with a finger click as long as its battery is charged.

Still, I find it very exciting to just arrive in a place and take it from there.

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After I had talked to a couple of locals and a lovely French couple on the street about what area of the main road was the best, I walked towards the side they meant was the most central. Walking down the main street I realised Tulum is a little bit like what we refer to as Syden in Norwegian. And Syden to us, predominantly means Spanish or Greek holiday destinations to where Norwegians flock each year for some beach and sun.

On the main street of Tulum – like on the main streets in Syden – you find shops, bars, restaurants, more shops and more bars as far as the eye can see. Though I must say that here many of the places look a lot more stylish than what I’d expect from a main street in Syden. In Tulum plenty of bars and shops already got my attention due to the mix of gorgeous textile products from the most popular Mexican regions like Chiapas and Oaxaca.

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As I’ve just spend a week in Chiapas many of the products aren’t that new to me, besides they are pricier here than in for example San Cristobal. However a couple of new products stand out in Tulum though and that’s the coconut lamps. And the hammocks.

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While I had my bit of hammocking in Bacalar the last 24 hours, I certainly can’t wait to drink and eat from the many coconuts around. But last night my priority was first to find some green food before sorting out my accommodation situation.

After walking down the main road I picked a tempting Mexican place because I find them to normally be quite good at offering green varieties although they might not have specific veggie plates for you. To my positive surprise the Tripadvisor reviews of the place were very good and so I sat down with a girl at my age that had a table to herself on the sidewalk.

We started chatting and one hour later we had each others’ numbers and an arranged meeting on the beach the following day. My new friend’s name is Daniela, she is originally Mexican, utterly beautiful and smiles a lot and I liked her style at once. She just moved to Tulum from Los Angeles were she has lived almost her whole life and recently married an American. Most of her family lives in DF, and now due to some residency issues in the US she had taken the tough decision to come here to work while her husband is “back home” in LA while they get some permits sorted. She spoke about him with such a beautiful tone that almost I fell in love with him too.

Que bonito el amor..

After dinner I decided to go for the nearest hostel to the restaurant and ended up in a vibrant little street that cuts of the main road called Calle Centauro Sur that holds lots of cool bars and restaurants and a chill local/international vibe. My hostel is called La Cigana and I first paid for only one night as I planned to go and find a place by the beach later, but today when back after biking around I decided today to likely stay here the week. They have bikes to rent and a really nice and chilled staff that helps you out with anything.

Love it.

Ah, and the below bar chairs are another thing typical for Tulum as far as I’ve understood.

Hammock bar chairs. Amen.

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Searching for a Shaman

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and the Gipsy Giraffe is one heck of an unforgettable experience richer!

Remember I told you that San Cristobal de las Casas has a special spirituality to it, and that the city is surrounded by mountains where people live more unconventional lives and hold workshops in meditation, yoga, human energies and so forth?

Well, now I’ve been there. And it was amazing. It was mind blowing in a way I don’t know if Ill be able to explain yet, so for now I’ll explain the journey it was searching for the Shaman.

First I was about to go up there alone, but then through talking to people I’ve met in town throughout this week, three new friends came along. The Australian couple from my hostel, and a young Mexican guy that just moved here searching for meaning. All three very friendly, open-minded and adorable people.

Before going we had tried to find some info about upcoming events, and could only trust a Facebook page that mentioned something called Instalaciones familiares. By the time we had reached the city center to grab a bus, it had started raining heavily. Suddenly we bumped into Gustavo on the main street downtown, an older gentleman (standing to the right in the below pic) I met the first night I was out on a Mezcal riot in a very popular bar called Revolucion.

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First Gustavo laughed at us wanting to go see Lauro (the main shaman of a spiritual community in the mountain) as he meant it all had become too commercial. Then he said Lauro has become an old man, besides that he supposedly is out of town.

Two of which statements I was already aware of through having talked to a guy in my hostel that had been to the mountain, and some random people on the streets (yes, Cristobal de las Casas is like that! Everybody speaks to everybody).

Furthermore he claimed that we should trust that we have all the spirituality we are seeking for within ourselves as opposed to finding it through a Shaman (yes, Gustavo is one of the interesting personalities whose beautiful saying I already told about here). I listened to him with polite interest, yet explained that we wanted to go there of various reasons and interests he might not have inside due to his specific life experiences and the fact that he is a resident. He seemed to grasp that.

The rain kept poring down and soon the soaking wet Aussies – that don’t speak Spanish – looked more and more inpatient while I tried my best to translate Gustavo’s well-meaning opinions. We thanked him and told him to meet us later to hear how our experience turned out. Arch, you can’t go walking in the mountain in this rain. Ill take you there. Vamonos! he said suddenly and pointed us towards the street where his car was parked.

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Out of the city we went. Through narrow streets with more and more worn out houses the further we got. We passed a lively fruit and clothes market with cages of live hens, and soon went up the hills towards the mountain of el Señor Lauro. All the way we sat listening to Gustavo singing to Joe Cocker from beneath a big cowboy hat, with his grey curly hair dancing to the tunes.

Gustavo left us in the mud outside of the famous Lauro’s retreat haven, where two women welcomed us and confirmed that Lauro unfortunately wasn’t present at the moment. They told us we had thirty minutes to discover the site or walk up the mountain before the Shaman would start his session Instalaciones familiares. Despite of the rain and one of the Aussies being barefoot, we decided to walk up to the mountain to check out its famous energy and see the city from there. Everyone we met on the way greeted us with a smile and Buenas tardes. One man told us where we would get the best view.

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Some houses and dogs later, we had to cross a hill on a tiny path covered with trees and huge cactus plants before we finally reached a good spot to see San Cristobal from another angle. A tiny cliff revealed itself in front of a huge rock and the four of us agreed this has to be the best offered view over the city. We lined up together and agreed without a word that the rather dangerous way up here was worth it. We stood there for a while in silence, yet in awe, and it seemed to me we had one wish in common: To stand here forever and let the pouring rain wash of our faces. It might have been placebo of course, but I´d argue one could feel something in the air up here. I felt as if I saw faces of this place´s ancestors painted on the mountains and got a weird sensation of all the destinies I don´t even know of whom exist in between the buildings on the ground. I got high on nature and high on a feeling of being united with a place I didn´t even know I needed to unite with.

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But we couldn’t stand forever. We were on a mission to meet a Shaman, and the lady had told us to be back in thirty minutes. On the way down to el Lauro, the Mexican guy told in our group me he has never met a Shaman either, but that he has dreamed about it since he arrived to the city. He´s the kind of guy that loves experimenting with anything spiritual and recreational, and told me about an epic journey on Cayote he recently did while we where on our way down. Oh, Mexico.

Down at Lauro’s place we walked around in silence in the beautiful garden, all soaked wet and rather cold. Then we were told the Shaman was ready to see us in a wooden house well hidden behind some enormous trees.

Get the story about what happened next.

Why is it difficult to say how we feel?

Not everyone finds expressing their feelings easy or having it come naturally. While the stereotype is that men have the hardest time expressing their emotions, everyone at one time or another in their life may find it difficult to say how they feel.

Learning why you have trouble expressing your feelings can go a long way into changing that behavior. Saying how you feel is something you can learn how to do, just as readily as you can learn how to fix a faucet or mend a button on a shirt. Here are ten common reasons why people find it difficult to express their emotions to someone else.

The above introduction is taken from a smart little article I just found. As I find this topic very interesting and think many of us can relate to it, I wanted to share it here on my blog. Please note that 10 reasons why it is difficult to say how we feel is written by John M. Grohol, Psy.D., and taken from a website called PsychCentral.com

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1. Conflict Phobia

You are afraid of angry feelings or conflicts with people. You may believe that people with good relationships should not engage in verbal “fights” or intense arguments. In addition, you may believe that disclosing your thoughts and feelings to those you care about would result in their rejection of you. This is sometimes referred to as the “ostrich phenomenon” — burying your head in the sand instead of addressing relationship problems.

2. Emotional Perfectionism

You believe that you should not have feelings such as anger, jealousy, depression, or anxiety. You think you should always be rational and in control of your emotions. You are afraid of being exposed as weak and vulnerable. You believe that people will belittle or reject you if they know how you really feel.

3. Fear of Disapproval and Rejection

You are so terrified by rejection and ending up alone that you would rather swallow your feelings and put up with some abuse than take the chance of making anyone mad at you. You feel an excessive need to please people and to meet what you perceive to be their expectations. You are afraid that people would not like you if you expressed your thoughts and feelings.

4. Passive-Aggressive Behavior

You pout and hold your hurt or angry feelings inside instead of disclosing what you feel. You give others the silent treatment, which is inappropriate, and a common strategy to elicit feelings of guilt (on their part).

5. Hopelessness

You are convinced that your relationship cannot improve no matter what you do. You may feel that you have already tried everything and nothing works. You may believe that your spouse (or partner) is just too stubborn and insensitive to be able to change. These positions represent a self-fulfilling prophecy–once you give up, an established position of hopelessness supports your predicted outcome.

6. Low Self-Esteem

You believe that you are not entitled to express your feelings or to ask others for what you want. You think you should always please other people and meet their expectations.

7. Spontaneity

You believe that you have the right to say what you think and feel when you are upset. (Generally, feelings are best expressed during a calm and structured or semi-structured exchange.) Structuring your communication does not result in a perception that you are “faking” or attempting to inappropriately manipulate others.

8. Mind Reading

You believe that others should know how you feel and what you need (although you have not disclosed what you need). The position that individuals close to you can “divine” what you need provides an excuse to engage in non-disclosure, and thereafter, to feel resentful because people do not appear to care about your needs.

9. Martyrdom

You are afraid to admit that you are angry, hurt, or resentful because you do not want to give anyone the satisfaction of knowing that her or his behavior is unacceptable. Taking pride in controlling your emotions and experiencing hurt or resentment does not support clear and functional communication.

10. Need to Solve Problems

When you have a conflict with an individual (i.e., your needs are not being met), avoiding the associated issues is not a functional solution. Disclosing your feelings and being willing to listen without judgment to the other is constructive.

Reference:

Burns, D.D. (1989). The feeling good handbook. New York: William Morrow

Getting spiritual in San Cristobal

Our relationship is in its early stage and yet, San Cristobal de las Casas fascinates me a lot.

There’s something with the energy. A special, like an increased spiritual one, energy. These things are difficult to define, let alone to explain, but it’s as if you can sense spirituality in the peaceful, awake and smiling local people, and on the streets among the old cars and worn out, colorful houses.

Perhaps indigenous history is responsible, or perhaps it’s the surrounding nature. Maybe even the bohemian expats living here does their share? Either way, it’s been a long time since I sensed so many kind and interesting personalities around me, overall good energy around any corner and knowledge in every wrinkly face passing me on the street.

photo cred: thefamilywithoutborders.com

photo cred: thefamilywithoutborders.com

There is undoubtedly an extra touch of spirituality in the many foreigners here too, many of which seem to be unable to leave this place. Most of the foreigners I’ve met in San Cristobal call themselves artists, yet aren’t interested in talking about anything related to ambitions in that regard. They’re simply into the making love, making art sort of lifestyle, as well as making sure to detach as much as possible from the capitalistic world view out there.

By the way, defining spirituality I like to think that:

 it’s an individual practice that has to do with achieving a sense of peace and purpose. It also relates to the process of developing beliefs around the meaning of life and connection with others.

What’s inspiring with people like this, is that none of them know where they’ll go from here. It’s just not a topic. They rather show you how much they’re in love with this very moment of life, focusing on what happens here and now around them. Which – hands down – isn’t an attitude people overwhelm you with when closer to societies highly impacted by the rat race mentality.

So, why does some places have this effect on people? Or why does some places attract these people? Or even; how do people’s attitude towards life effect a place or society?

Pondering over these questions quickly opens for the chicken and egg argument, I guess. And as always there are several factors to take into consideration when reflecting over subjects like these. Walking around in San Cristobal, and even while writing this, I often ask myself if the ‘spirituality’ is something everyone senses. Like, as something presently stronger than in other places?

When out traveling, I often sense it in places where nature is more present and important to people’s lives. And we all know nature is full of the purest energy. But so are human beings. And personally, I’ve always been more people-oriented than nature and landscape-oriented.

Thus, for some reason I assume the kind and relaxed energy I sense in San Cristobal is put in place by the people living here. But again, it’s obviously also adopted by the many visitors, and perhaps that’s how the place has been shaped over time. Various residents Ive talked to also claim that the mountains surrounding the village represents important spots where influential and spiritual individuals have lived for decades, perhaps centuries.

photo cred: google images

photo cred: google images

Apparently there are a couple of places where people arrange energetic and spiritual events open for all to attend. I’ve always wanted to try something like that so I’ll definitely go up there one of these days, hopefully to find interesting ways to treat whatever topics that concern me. Maybe it can be a good way to find the tools to stop worrying about some things, and be more confident about how I feel. A helpful way to enforce a beautiful inner journey, which I always find equally important as the outer journey we’re constantly on when traveling.

Because although we tend to forget, a journey is much more than seeing things and ticking of destinations. It’s equally much about being on an inner journey, developing as individuals and moving on with more knowledge, reflections and tolerance about the world and people in it. Though that’s not always something all places we visit evoke in us.

When traveling solo I think the above concept is even more predominant. Due to the simple fact that one has to trust strangers even more in addition to learn how to spend time with oneself. Both of which are good lessons for self development.

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one of the main streets of San Cristobal

Honestly, I didn’t expect anything special from this place, but quickly got that wonderful feeling that sneaks up to us when living now and then: that this is the place to be. There is no other place I’d like to be, right here, right now.

It be a coincidence or not, two beautiful souls I’ve met in San Cristobal by now have said things to me about this very topic without even knowing me or whatever I struggle with. Separately they’ve told me they think I’m in the right place to find out of things. Quite randomly they´ve both even claimed that people like me has to confidently live more through the feelings, as opposed to through the thoughts.

Fair enough. But what does that really mean?

I´ll continue thinking about that for a while, and hopefully Ill get more input on the matter as time goes and Ill get to know more people with more views on it. Right now Ill run out to grab some tortillas in my spiritual neighbourhood. 😉

Peace, J

Edit two months later: If you started reflecting about the advice the two men had given me as mentioned above (regarding living more through our feelings), I´ve now written something about it here.

San Cristobal de las Casas, where have you been all my life?

Honestly I can’t remember what I actually imagined about this place before coming here.

I was excited about it yes, as everybody I know that’s been to Mexico told me San Cristobal de las Casas is a must-see. Together with the smaller village San Juan Chamulas, it’s supposed to be one of the Chipas region’s hippie-like and colourful mountainy villages, I was told.

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Well. CHECK CHECK CHECK!

Besides, Oventic – where the Zapatistas live in their own demanded autonomy – is a neighbouring village, reachable for specially interested. I’ve indeed been especially interested in the Zapatistas since I first learned about the movement in University. (I´m very into social movements, but that´s another story).

Before arriving to San Cristobal de las Casas, I hadn’t worried about accommodation as Id seen online that the place was full of decent hostels. After three hours of traveling on roads of various standards, away from the weird little place Bacalar, the bus left me and my metall-seat-tired-bum at the station downtown. As I started walking with my overweight backpack towards the center I was quickly moved by the look of the place.

Welcoming me were old, narrow streets full of small cement houses painted in all kinds of bright colors and busy working women on every corner dressed traditionally with cotton blouses tucked inside wide woolen skirts. Already on the first block I walked down I’d seen a blue house with yellow door frames, two neon orange houses with turqoise window sills, a pink house with grass green borders and numerous worn out balconies with ceramic flowerpots and painted chickens on them.

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From the look of the people in the streets I felt much closer to the pre-colonial history of this country than in Mexico DF.

A closeness that comes with a price I’d say, because the streets are full of seemingly deprived indigenous people (including kids) working as street vendors. Everywhere I’ve gone till now, most indigenous people (out of whom only the women are dressed traditionally as mentioned above) seem to be selling textile, sculptures, fruits and cigarettes, or polishing shoes. Fortunately Ive spotted some shops and cafes managed by indigenous people as well.

Another blast from the past that visualizes on every corner are the functioning Volkswagen Beetles. They are everywhere, exist in all colors and seem rather popular. I mean, they even serve for driving classes:

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I asked a man in my hostel what’s up with all the Beetles.

Oh, el bocho, he said, referring to a beetle in Spanish. It used to be a very popular car when it first came to Mexico. Since then we’ve produced our own Volkswagen cars, therefore we have so many. I think the last bocho was made only ten years ago.

Now that I think of it, one could assume it’s due to the fact that I LOVE old beetles that I love it here already, and for sure it definitely has something to say with my instant good feel in this town. It took me a day to start dreaming of living here for a period with an old beetle to take me around, with a small flat in a pink-painted house whose balcony is perfect for my morning coffee hour and where I can create art in the evenings.

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One day maybe. Why not?

Regarding my hostel, El hostal de Paco, it’s perfect. I found it as a result of many coincidences, which of course adds up to my awe for everything here. As it’s located quite far away from the other hostels I had spotted on booking.com I realised upon arrival that my backpack was too heavy for me to get there walking. So I started walking towards a sign saying “we got rooms” on a random street, when a taxi driver stopped next to me and the driver asked if he could help me. After I had mentioned the name and address of El hostal de Paco, he confirmed it was in close distance to the town center and I jumped in.

When driving down the two main streets however, I understood the hostel was further out of the center than a couple of the others Id found, and got a little annoyed with myself never having booked a place before my arrival. Still, I decided to trust the driver and also knew that whatever is called town of San Cristobal de las Casas, is within small distances.

Words can´t explain how happy I am today that I didn´t go for that tiny gut feeling in that taxi! The welcome committee in the El hostal de Paco was beyond imagination and made me realise in a second that I’d chosen the right hostel. I think I have to write a story one day about all the personalities I´ve met here, but for now these features are worth mentioning:

  • The owner (Paco) is the perfect chill host with a big C and H. He´s as weird, funny and occasionally annoying as can get , but since I tend to like odd personalities, I think I almost love him. His way of yelling WELCOME HOME! YOU ARE ANDREA RIGHT? WE´VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU!, actually made me feel a bit awkward in the moment I entered the building with my huge backpack on (and admittedly a bit annoyed after the long journey), but after finding my place here Ive realised that that one glimpse of a feeling like WHO THE HECK IS THIS MAN AND WHAT KIND OF A PLACE IS THIS? WHY ARE YOU YELLING AT ME? only were products of my own realisation of Gosh-Jeanett-you´re-outside-of-your-comfortzone-now-travelingsolo-on-top-of-everything-feeling-a-bit-insecure-about-it-all kinda thing. I even forgot about my potential allergies to the two adopted (former stray) dogs living in the hostel who jumped at me when I arrived, and decided to trust Paco who assured me that they never enter any of the guest rooms. Honestly though, seeing how he treats the dogs was another reason I was convinced this hostel is the best in town! I´ve made it clear right? I feel at home here.

Other features:

  • I’ve been placed (for my self) in an authentic old fashioned 7 people’s dormitory that must be over three meters tall, with the walls painted in sky blue.
  • A German retired man with a US citizenship has lived here for 2 years (!) and the first thing he did when I came was to show me his German museum: his room covered with miniature castles and train stations from Germany made out of paper or plastic. Yes, he is another oddy that´s for sure, but I also already love him! The story about his life and reasons to be here is to be continued, but to give you a picture I’ll share this picture I took of him this morning while I had my breakfast in the kitchen. He always starts his day like this:

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He sits there, in the middle of the hostel´s patio, which he calls his office, for an hour or so with a book, coffee and beer.

  • Then there’s a young, beautiful Australian couple – that’s been traveling in Mexico and Guatemala for a year – renting a room for two months. Due to having adopted a dog (that they had seen in a small cage in a pet shop and felt sorry for) on the way, they’ve now planned to work in Canada for 6 months over winter season in order to save up enough money to get the dog with them overseas back to Australia.
  • More stuff worth mentioning about the owner Paco then; he´s extremely friendly with regards to longstay guests and seems much more into having longtime guest as opposed to random tourists just coming for a day or two. It´s as if he´s creating his own little community here where everyone is invited to come and live. Hah! He´s also constantly making jokes about the German man, and never answers seriously to any question about himself or the dogs, which can be a little pain in the ass attitude at times, but as for advice for where to eat and travel and what to visit however, he is the King.
  • Last interesting guy around is a Mexican in his late 20s who came for a month to escape some love issues back home. He works on his computer and seems to be going through an interesting phase of life. I already consider him a good friend after having spent several days with him in the village, out on bars, chatting, drinking tequila, laughing and sharing life stories. There you have it: I already have a new person in my life I consider a good friend, only because of this weird little gem of a hostel (and random pick of it).

Today this new friend and I went to the neighbouring Zapatista village together. We´ve talked about sharing an interest in visiting since I came, and finally found a good day to go.

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I honestly got some mixed feelings about the whole trip and need to reflect over it, but overall it was super interesting (for us at least…). When I get my head more around it Ill try to write a piece about it.

All in all: VIVA San Cristobal de las Casas!

Now I’m off for some delicious tacos in town. Adios!

Orphanage tourism – an issue of concern!

For a long time concerns have been raised in the tourism industry regarding orphanages attracting tourists as visitors and volunteers, and like I wrote about some months ago, the respected tour agency Responsibletravel.com pioneered when they took action and removed tour products that entailed orphanage visits among their holiday packages. The campaign got good media coverage, and it’s delightful to see the topic being on the agenda for important events like the World Travel Market.

While these are very good news and an important step for the fight against a complex issue, it’s also true that the number of orphanages in the developing world and volunteering projects for want-to-become volunteers is booming. Therefore, as one can see with other issues of concern, it takes a lot more awareness-raising campaigns and calls for action in order for travelers to get educated and the private sector and national governments to act.

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In that regard Tourism Concern just published a post, prior to an up-coming campaign against orphanage tourism, asking whether volunteers are fueling this unethical practice. In the article they point out that while nobody doubts the good intention of the donors, travellers, and volunteers who give time or money to orphanages, they still believe that orphanage tourism, and volunteerism are fuelling the demand for “orphans”, and so driving the unnecessary separation of children from their families.

Furthermore by stating that the number of orphans in Cambodia has halved – yet the number of orphanages has doubled – 75% of children in these institutions are not in fact orphans. In Ghana the figure is as high as 90% they tell the audience how important it is that they engage with this topic, even if that means just spreading information about the issue.

So please do, and while you’re on it, please also sign this petition to stop unethical practices within this field.

My first & twisted encounter in Mexico

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Yesterday I told about one of my first encounters with Mexico, – the Mezcal, and that was pretty twisted. Something even more twisted however, happened before that encounter, already on the way from the airport to the two friends that house me in Mexico DF.

Picture a humid, dark night. There are no stars on the sky, it is slightly foggy and there is no fresh breeze in the wind what so ever.

Picture a blond, 1,83 meter tall girl arrive, hungry and tired after a long journey and with a way too heavy backpack on her shoulders. She has no phone that works, but an address of a friend of a friend living in the city. She takes the strict message of the friend of a friend to order an authorized taxi seriously, pays for it and realises she really needs to pee. But the taxi personnel is already calling for her and before she knows it has thrown her bag in the trunk of a white, old car that looks just like any other white, old car.

She gets in to the taxi and off they go into the dark night.

That was how I arrived yesterday.

Shortly after I find myself in the taxi of a young man, that at first glimpse didn’t seem as friendly as I imagined Mexicans would be at all. I try to initiate a conversation with stupid comments about the weather, the hectic traffic and that I’m stunned over being in a city this size. The driver answers in an extremely little interested tone and I start wondering why the hell I didn’t pee on my way out of the airplane instead.

After three minutes the taxi driver that has seen me concentrating on my phone, asks if I’m watching a GPS.

Yes, I say.. Im trying to loc“In case Ill kidnap you?” he interrupts me and giggles.

Our eyes meet in the mirror.

“Uhm, well yeah”.. I say with a false ironic tone.

Thoughts run trough my head, my need to pee becomes stronger, and calmly I try to finish my initial phrase: “I’m just trying to locate myself in this massive city”…

He laughs out loud, looks at me in the mirror and asks where I’m from. We chit chat a little about his take on Europe (expensive, safe and far away) and soon we’ve become a bit closer.

Fifteen minutes later (me all the time secretly keeping an eye on that GPS) he is answering to all kinds of questions I’ve asked him. He tells me things like where to go for a dance in my neighbourhood, what areas not to visit never ever in the city, how I had to be very careful in general being a woman on my own and more interestingly inside info about how the authorized taxi system works. He tells me that drivers get as little as 12% of the fixed prices set up by the company and that using their own cars!

We agree it isn’t a very good deal at all, and I suggest that maybe other taxi drivers hold the same opinion and that they could go together and demand a salary raise (I know, a very Jeanett-save-the-world-move of me).. He tells me he thinks it would be impossible and admits fearing to loose his job. “After all to be a taxi driver is a quite popular position, and unemployment is high here” he says, and continues: “But luckily, working with tourists brings extra tip money”.

I tell him I agree with that, while at the same time realising I hadn’t withdrew any national money yet. The ride was paid for with credit card at the airport and as it already was midnight and we were approaching my destination, the last thing I wanted right now was to find an ATM…

So I apologize to the driver for my inability to tip him today and smiles to him through the mirror. He replies with a slight exhalation, gives me a smile that looks much more like a grin and says: “I’ll have to kidnap you then,” before stepping on the gas pedal so we accelerate rapidly down the street.

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A little disturbed, sudden pictures from the movie Taxi driver came to my mind so I yelled: Dios Mio, que loco eres!! pretending not to sound too worried after all. Shortly after he slows down the car, giggles a little and says: We are here, honey. We are here.

As Ive never been to this place, I look out the windows onto the dark street thinking to myself what the F. was the door number again, is it really true that we are here? but before I know it he has already opened my door. I recognize the street name on the lighting GPS on my phone’s screen and decide to trust him. He puts my backpack at the front door and tells me this is a good neighbourhood, and that he hopes I will enjoy Mexico city.

I intent to pretend like nothing of the craziness Id just lived through had happened and walk over to the doorbell to find the right number to call, not sure whether to expect a knife in my back or a warm hug from the driver. My friend’s friend answer and tells me she’s coming down, and so I turn over and take the driver’s hand, saying: Im sure I will enjoy it here, muchas gracias.

Mezcal (2) – Me (0)

I don’t know if it’s a personal record, but the truth is I’ve been in Mexico for two days and already gone drunk to bed twice. One thing is to blame for that: The Mezcal.

And I speak about good Mezcals. The ones that trustworthy Mexicans recommend are equally good to drink as Tequilas. The first encounter I had with Mezcal while in the country it’s from – Mexico – happened the night I arrived to Mexico DF.

A Norwegian friend of mine put me in contact with a Mexican girl she knows that offered me to stay in her flat for some days. Fortunate as I am with my friends, the welcome committee this Mexican girl put together couldn’t be better for a slightly nervous and emotional (after saying goodbye to everybody in Canada) girl starting the third big solo travel of her life.

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Maria and her boyfriend were up waiting for me with big smiles on their faces at 1130pm when I arrived with a taxi from the airport. So was their tiny cat Fer, that welcomed me by running wildly from one living room corner to another, stopping only to look at me from behind the sofa. Considering I’m probably the biggest woman he has ever seen, I don’t blame her.

Maria showed me what was going to be “my room for as long as I needed” where I left my things before the couple insisted we had a beer and a Mezcal. We sat down in the brown sofa next to the wall covered with a full book shelf. I spotted mostly academic content in genres like politics, history, anthropology and human rights.

Part from books, shelfs in the living room was decorated with all kinds of ancient Maya sculptures and some old records. Maria’s boyfriend surprised me with a serious interest in Mezcal and showed me his selection. As if wine tasting, we smelled the different types while he taught me their attributes. Then Maria came back with a plate of chopped apples and three types of chilli powder to eat in between the sipping.

“Remember to only sip the Mezcal. What you guys do in Europe with the Tequila shots is something you’ve invented. … And it’s dangerous!” they told me.

I agreed to that and confirmed I also had some drunken-on-tequila-stories in the bag. I don’t know why foreigners started shotting Tequila or Mezcal, but it may have to do with the taste of the bad variants we use. Because quite frankly, a good Tequila or Mezcal doesn’t give you the chills every time you take a small sip.Besides the fruit-on-the-side trick is very smart. Mexicans are of world class with regard to mixing sweet and spicy, bitter and hot.

“Let’s have a beer and a mezcal” led to at least the triple meanwhile we spent two hours of intense chatting about their study times in the UK (from where the girl knows my friend), kidnapping in Mexico, Human Right issues, Indigenous people, the purpose of my journey, advices for the city and had plenty of quesadillas.

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We went to bed and I remember they said that the best about it is apparently that a good one doesn’t give you a hungover…

Now two days later, I can confirm this is a fact that is 50% true.

Because although it’s true I woke up fresh as a cucumber yesterday (and bragged about it all day, which probably resulted in chugging it again on my second night), I woke up looking like this today:

 

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Hello there..

At first it took me a while to memorize were I got that necklace…

Then I remembered it all! An elder gentleman (supposedly a bank director) gave it to me during a karaoke session we both ended up in yesterday night. Randomly I bumped into him, his colleague and another lady that were out for some after office drinks.

I was on my way to a Couchsurfer meeting in a bar when I passed by them and for no specific reason – other than enjoying random encounters – I accepted their loud offer to have a drink with them.

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As all things in life: One thing led to the other, and here I’m sitting slightly fringed out with a cup of coffee, yet very happy to be two interesting Mezcal experiences richer.

Some might argue that I’m not being careful enough when I bump into people like this, but trust that I definitely take my precautions. Part of my nature since I was a kid is that I keep running into random people. And I love it. In this last case I could have just left the drunken bank men after a little while in order to make it to the Couch surfing thing, but as I had no commitment there either – other than getting to know people – I somehow felt that the meeting I already had with the loud Mexicans was interesting.

It was especially nice to hear all the stories from the oldest man’s life. He had the saddest looking puppy eyes in the middle of a very wrinkly face, and told me he had survived three marriages. After two kids and ten slightly dramatic years with one lady he went through a hard separation before he fell in love again with a much younger woman. Her dream was to get kids, but apparently she wasn’t fertile so they had to go through a long process of applications and agreements for adoption. When their adopted kids were 4 and 6 the mother got cancer and died within four months, leaving my old friend a single father of two at the age of 55.

He told me that to get through it he had to take one day at the time, and that now looking back, the experience has changed his way of seeing love and life. To the better. Now, twelve years older he is the proud father of four and step-dad of two. With glittering eyes he showed me the pictures of everybody.

Then we talked for another hour before insisted on adopting me. At least being here for me no matter what. He was like: If you ever need something in Mexico, Ill help you out. After all this I see you as a daughter.

True story. Though it might have been the Mezcal that spoke of course..

Anyway, meetings like this is what makes traveling so beautiful and interesting. It forces you to trust people and listen, to see the world with other eyes.. And even more so when you travel alone. Which is what I love about it!

And I say that without recommending that people drink too much Mezcal, of course. For Christ sake, CONSUME RESPONSIBLY guys. Ill tell myself that from now on too, as ever before.

Still fascinates me though… That the below plant can create what it can in people. 😉

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photo cred: tripadvisor.ca

I ❤ tandem biking

Venice beach and its neighborhoods are much more fun than the ones of West Hollywood (which I wrote about a few weeks ago). So, whoever advised us to rather stay in West Hollywood while here is a poop.

Truly, I didn’t get to know more than a fraction of what LA has to offer, so my opinion is probably not worthwhile to take as a travel advice…

However, it’s still my impression that the lifestyle offered in Venice is one of the best in LA. Sure, you got ubercool Silver Lake and some interesting spots further West in LA too, but I find Venice to be so much more real.

I know. It may be a touristy cliche strolling down Venice beach, gawking at the body builders at Muscle beach and getting surprised that the bay watch towers and cars look exactly like in the series.

But I loved every bit of it!

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The place itself doesn’t really appeal to the eye in terms of beauty, but its chaotic charm definitely do. The density of street art, skaters, tourists, bikers, restaurants, bars, random (and highly professional) street performances, souvenir & silly-sunglasses shops is nothing but astonishing.

The main attraction in the below picture for instance, is a rather old gentleman who lives by showing people on the street that he can stand on broken glass, with the supportive help of a random person or two holding his hands. Needless to say his engaging American entertainer skills were uncomplainable.

That we understood when realised we’d spend half an hour watching him do the same thing over and over, wooing and awing.

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Apparently one key thing to do in Venice is to rent a bike and go as far as we could by the shore. Everybody we know that knows LA told us to do so, and so did numerous bike-for-rent-stands.

To my surprise there were tons of places that rented out tandem bikes, and well…  isn’t it just everyone’s dream to bike around on a tandem and live happily ever after?

IMG_5790Off we pedaled in the baking sun, to soon remember how different the fresh breeze from the sea feels in the face when moving quickly.

Passing by smiling families on their day off. A waving hobo at a bench. Two joggers with each their dog in leash.

We pedaled all the way to Santa Monica which is a prettier side of the beach.

Pretty might be relative, but look at these funky houses.

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Pedaling all the way is relative too, as the man in front could do that perfectly fine on his own with me on the back. Another reason to love tandem biking!

This was I could shoot pictures of interesting stuff on our way.

Like this mini amusement park – right there on the beach!

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And yes! THAT color of the sky is real. It was like this every day of our visit, which obviously makes any Norwegian gal happy.

One of the things I liked the most in LA was the always bright blue sky and surprisingly fresh air – especially in Venice that is – as it reminds me of Cape Town somehow.

Also, the sand is a lot cleaner than Id assume and the water perfect for a quick dip after a long day biking.