A Travellerspoint blog

MEXICO-OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

A trip to Merida and Oaxaca

sunny -27 °C

Amita and I have traveled all over the world but one country we really wanted to visit was Mexico mainly because of its history, amazing geological features, and rich cultural heritage. It is recorded in history that many regions of the United States were part of the Mexican Empire, but that is ancient history and let us move to the modern age. Incidentally, Mexico is one of the world’s favorite tourist destinations. The most famous being, Mexico City, Cancun Beach, among others.
We live in the Philippines, in Manila, a crowded city, and you may know that the Philippines has some of the world’s loveliest beaches. Thus, we wanted to explore the attractions off the beaten track. Season wise February/March was a good time to visit Mexico and Amita started her research well in time. Her research is very detailed and in contact with whoever can help her with better. Her research includes checking all details, hotels, rooms, surroundings, and let me tell you, we always get one of the best deals, rooms, and locations. She finally zeroed in on Oaxaca and Merida because of their history, culture, and sightseeing options.
We traveled from Manila to Los Angeles by the 5-star All Nippon Airways with a short two-hour layover at Narita. The lounge at Narita Airport is fabulous with all kinds of food, Japanese snacks, soft drinks, juices, tea, coffee, and alcohol. There is a sushi counter where you need to stand in line to get your sushi. Japanese are really innovative and that shows the way the beer dispenser is designed. Once you put your glass on the stand and select your brand of beer, the container holding your glass will tilt and then the beer trickles down slowly. As the glass gets filled, the container gradually straightens up so that you get a glass of beer with just the right amount of froth. Cool.
The flight from Narita to Los Angeles was not bad, about 10 hours. The Japanese food in the plane was interesting with 12-14 different items of varying colors, all in small quantities but good. Once we reached Los Angeles International Airport, after a long walk to the Immigration Area, we had to stand in line for about two hours. A bit tiring but that is life. We stayed one night in the Embassy Suites by Hilton, quite near the airport as our next flight was at 10.30 am the next day to Merida with a two-hour layover at Houston. At the Houston airport, Amita’s niece, Ujjaini Grigg (Munni), and her husband, Murray, came over, and we spent some time over coffee and tea.IMG_20200820_190522.jpg IMG_20200820_190605.jpgAmita and Munni must have met after more than 40 years.

We promised to meet again during our return journey, when Munni’s mom, who is Amita’s cousin, will also meet us at the airport. After a pleasant hour, we continued to Merida, in the Yucatan Peninsula, by American Airlines reaching about 8.00 pm.09D574B1DC58C140569BBB0433282EFA.jpg

A taxi brought us to our hotel, Casa del Balam, an old-style hacienda, on Calle 60, very near to the City Center, called the Centro. Merida, the capital city of Yucatan Province was founded in 1542, was built on the top of the Mayan City of T’Ho. The layout of the city is grid-based with odd-numbered streets running east/west and even-numbered running north/south. The streets are called Calle, for example, Calle 61. 09A01AF6BFB1E2D5467D3A90E02C2CE1.jpg

An interesting feature in Merida is the street crossing markings. At these corners, one building will have a terra cotta tile on which an image is painted or embedded. Each of these tiles, about 264 were in existence. I have seen many, such as a dog, a lady, various birds, a scorpion, and so on. It is believed that each of them has some significance or story. These were probably installed to help illiterate people to identify their location.IMG_20200823_104011.jpg
Source: maryloudriedger2.worldpress.com
Merida is a warm place especially when we were visiting, but considering the so many nice features, such as excellent food, colonial buildings, wonderfully friendly and proud people, and lively/festive mood of the city, I think we had made a good decision of visiting Merida. Just walking around the lively street with interesting shops, colonial buildings, colorful showrooms, the busy restaurants, musical concerts at the park, finely dressed people dancing in front of the church, the military/police band can keep you entertained throughout the day.
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A tour of the city is a must as you see many parks, historic buildings, and modern ones.
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We had a Mexican breakfast of Tamale and Huevos Rancheros in a restaurant near our hotel. The security guard of our hotel kindly walked us to the restaurant. Fantastic food and excellent service. We always check out the local specialties and delicacies, of course, all after Amita’s research.
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The Yucatan province has many historical and archaeological sites such as the Mayan temples and cenotes. Many of these are within short distances from Merida. We went on a day trip to see the Mayan temples and cenotes. The most famous and well-restored is the Uxmal which was the capital of a Maya state. Some reports indicate that Uxmal was founded in around 500 AD by Hun Uitzil Chac Tutul Xiu. Some of the wonderful structures there are, the Governor’s Palace, Throne of the Jaguar, Nunnery Quadrangle, and Pyramid of the Magician, among others. It was wonderful to stroll around the structures and appreciate the ingenuity of the Mayans.
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This is a truly wonderful place to visit and learn about ancient Mexican history.

We then visited a couple of cenotes. A cenote is a natural pit or sinkhole resulting from the collapse bedrock that exposes the groundwater underneath. Cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya sacrificial offerings (Source-Wikipedia). There are about 6,000 cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula of many sizes and different accessibility from the surface. The cenote water is generally clear as it is mostly rainwater. However, the water in cenotes near the sea coast is salty.

The first cenote we visited was Xbatun. It was not crowded. The water was cool and clear. The cenote is not very large but beautiful. You need to walk down some steps to reach the edge of the pond. Snorkeling masks and life jackets are available.IMG20190219124324.jpgIMG20190219123905.jpgIMG20190219124527.jpgIMG20190219122635.jpg

Many of the cenotes attract cavern and cave divers who swim underwater from cenote to cenote, of course with an expert diver as a guide.

Not very far away is the Cenote Dzonbakal. It is managed by a rural community. This is another beautiful cenote open to the sky. Wooden steps have been installed to go down to the edge of the water. IMG20190219130318.jpg
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On the way back we stopped at Hacienda San Pedro Ochil (place of the fox in Maya) for lunch. The website of Yucatantoday provides an interesting insight into this restored hacienda. It was originally built among the pre-Hispanic settlements and finally in the 19th century, the present structure evolved.
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Source: Cristiano S. foursquare.com

The main house is a restaurant where we had great Mexican food, Cochinita Pibil, which is slow-cooked pork wrapped in banana leaves. The hacienda has its own cenote and amphitheater, a museum. You can also see the henequen plants, the drying racks, machinery, chimney and chapel, trolleys, and rails.
The hacienda is also a wedding destination. 10FE8F25FD75DAA6C73BB9E6A0638C7E.jpg

On our way back, we passed a quaint little town in which there was a market with a fruit seller playing wonderful music with his guitar.4890EAEDFF820D00F50BDF97BB7801FD.jpg488E9C25A54B4F13D864ECB3CFCDEF38.jpg

On 21 February 2019, we traveled from Merida to Oaxaca by Interjet Airlines. There was a stopover in Mexico. As usual, Amita researched and selected Hotel Siglio XVII on Calle Porfiro Diaz, no doubt, one of the best hotels to stay in Oaxaca. It is a fully restored 17th Casona (meaning large house). It was probably a nunnery. There are two square patios after the entrance lobby. Both patios are surrounded by verandahs and rooms. The first patio includes the kitchen, open dining area, offices, and an art gallery. It has a sliding roof in case needed. The second patio is a beautiful garden with a wishing well, surrounded by verandahs and rooms. The roof has a garden, a lap pool, a bar, and a gym. 44E074D3D1389C94B3FE9E8DCEFF362F.jpg44DDDE51A2F9EC4C14559D530DAEE03C.jpg

The breakfast has a lot of variety and good. The staff is extremely pleasant. The hotel is well maintained, neat, and clean, ably managed by its Manager, Adriana.IMG20190225171200.jpg

Oaxaca is the capital city of Oaxaca State. The Spanish arrived here is 1521 and set about building a Spanish city. In 1872, the name of the city was changed to Oaxaca de Juarez, in honor of its most famous, Benito Juarez who served as the president of the country from 1852 to 1878. The city is the primary attraction for tourists, especially the cultural and historic buildings and monuments. Further, the lovely fun-loving people add to the charm and fun. There are many churches, monasteries, and parks, the most notable is the Almedade Leon Plaza and the Santo Domingo de Guzma Church. 485D48A0D87D683F3860F262965B4A87.jpg
A lot of cultural activities are held all through the year, especially around the Church and the zukalo (park) which can be considered the center of gravity of the city. You can hear the music by the symphonic orchestra,IMG20190224122933.jpg
and watch people having fun, A80AF2EAA5342C23306C1C5420D74AEA.jpg watch people dancing to its music, A995DB48E86A26FB480F60147F6D75C4.png
see funny dance shows, Screenshot..18-49-18-45.png,
admire the stuff being sold by colorful peddlers, IMG20190225181110.jpgIMG20190225175527.jpg
and also a fiesta.A7095C76D97204D725CED00A8FFC9600.jpgA708C6A4B72813E45ED5731F273C4FAB.jpgA7080B8100D01644E623F819ECE382F4.jpgABD42310A4E18FCA141D90F4C834EF8D.jpg
You can also visit the nearby markets like the Benito Juarez market and mescal shops. Mescal is sold in the streets as well. Other things on sale are jewelry, toys, food, and other household day-to-day needs.
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Oaxaca and the nearby more ancient Monte Alban were designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

We celebrated Amita’s birthday on 22 February in Oaxaca. ABFF2516BBF629496ED8CA721D71B003.jpg
About 70 kilometers from Oaxaca, there is a very interesting site called Hierve el Egua, meaning “the water boils”. The site consists of two waterfall-like rock formations called cascadas petrificadas or petrified waterfalls. These have been formed by water that comes to the surface through cracks and fissures on the mountainside. The water is saturated with calcium carbonate and when it flows slowly down the rock face stalactites are formed. Then there is the cascade chica, also known as the amphitheater.

There is a natural platform about sixty meters wide and contains four springs. The water from these springs collects in small pools and two artificial pools. The color of the water is turquoise due to the presence of minerals. D7E79079922C10DED4811E5246163348.jpgD7EAFBADDDA9EFE663EC03D0F4684014.jpg

This is a wonderful place for a day trip, swimming
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and photoshoots.D7F1A7BE9E45F4AACBFDB3B670688996.jpg

About 9 kilometers from Oaxaca is the ancient archaeological site of Monte Alban on a low mountain range from where you can see the city of Oaxaca.D96B8C080A68AB0F33747F0FA53903C2.jpg
It is believed that the city was formed in 500 BC. At the entrance, there is a lobby and a museum. This site was actually a complete city with a population of more than 5000 people. D991D9FCDC0BDCD0FF9A804903B1F751.jpgD995AB76B57C39AF231ECF6D620E2193.jpgD9998F23ABC20BA9035D5DE4F561A1D6.jpgD985E65CC57DA547435A1FFAB441DCD0.jpgD96D4D80DAB963B60E1343C458E741EF.jpgD962FD74C56388B83591074BAB2C8A67.jpg

The center of Monte Alban is the main plaza surrounded by many buildings located around it along with many carved stone monuments.
A favorite site for tourists, therefore an early morning visit is recommended. You can hire a local taxi and keep it waiting for a couple of hours. D9709317FC030F0864D3C2ED5B920A0D.jpg

We had one final shopping to do which was a zapotec rug. We drove to a village named Teotitlan de Valle, which is a weaver’s village to buy one.
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Well, it was time for us to leave this wonderful land and friendly after two weeks of exploration and fun. We flew from Oaxaca to Houston where we had a four transit time and as planned we met with Amita’s cousin, Mayadi, Ujjaini, and Murray.
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After this wonderful holiday, we returned to manila via Los Angeles where we stayed for a few days.
WONDER WHERE WILL BE GO NEXT?

Posted by ajaysg 01:12 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Kenya-A Nature Lover's Paradise

Awesome Masai Mara

A visit to Masai Mara was on our cards for a very long time. Amita and I made it earlier this year. This article shares our wonderful experience over ten days in Kenya, visiting the Masai Mara Nature Reserve and the National Parks of Amboseli and Nairobi.

Our planning started many months earlier with Amita doing all the research, such as a good time to visit, what are the positives and negatives in each season, what to see, where to stay, and of course select the right travel agent who would facilitate everything during our stay. After a few months of internet study and phone calls with the tour operators, Amita decided to visit Kenya from 10-20 January (good season as per the internet). The best season is said to be from July to September if you want to see the thousands of wild animals migrating from Tanzania to Kenya who move in search of grass. Incidentally, a large number of these animals are caught by meat-eating animals especially when they cross the Serengipiti River. You can access Kenya Migration Pictures on the internet for lots of wonderful pictures of the wildebeest migration. Manila and Nairobi are well connected. Note that you need a Certificate of Vaccination for Yellow Fever for which you need to go to the Bureau of Quarantine Office near Manila Port and get vaccinated. These vaccines are valid for ten years.
After extensive interactions, we finally selected Natural World Kenya Tours and Safaris as our safari partner. Pic_1.jpgOur selected campsites were the Fig Tree Camp at Masai Mara and the Kibo Camp in Amboseli. The safari partner arranged everything including airport pickup and transfer on arrival at Nairobi airport, airport transfer to Wilson Airport, air tickets, transfer to the Fig Tree Camp, tent stay and food, Park fees for all safaris, once on the way from the airstrip to the Camp and two more every day, including additional airport transfers, stay at the Kibo Camp, three safaris, and a safari in the Nairobi National Park.

Our wonderful journey started right from the airstrip. On the way to our camp itself we saw, giraffes, elephants, impalas, warthogs, Thompson gazelles, Elan antelopes, and a few birds.

The Fig Tree Camp is located along the curving Talek River and the Park is just a footbridge away. The Camp has a reception area, a gift shop, a huge dining area, serving three buffets every day, a well-stocked bar, relaxing lobby, a swimming pool, and a whole lot of tents, very private, and overlooking the meandering Talek River. Most of all a very nice group of staff, very friendly and courteous. The food was excellent.
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Some facts about the safaris. There are two basic options. One is to contract a Nairobi based tour operator who will arrange your transport from Nairobi, book your camp stays and also arrange the safaris with the help of Nairobi based guides/drivers. The other option is to arrange the safaris using the Camp’s own facilities. We preferred the second option and instead of a six-hour road journey both ways, we traveled by air.
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Both options are probably good but we felt that our option would suit us better.

The next day, we were met by our guide, Mr. Hiram Mwangi, a tall and well-mannered person, who has been working at the Camp for 16 years (his photograph is on the company’s house magazine). We were lucky to get such a nice and knowledgeable person to guide us over the next four days. 362a0600-ea6d-11ea-816a-2b211f1415a5.jpg
The security guards were colorful and friendly. They are Masai and they carry catapults to chase the monkeys and baboons. 69929390-ea6d-11ea-816a-2b211f1415a5.jpg
They also carry a deadly wooden weapon called Rungu. It looks like this.IMG_20200327_171441.jpg
Though the real ones are not as colorful.
They warned us not to leave anything in the verandah as the monkeys would take them away, especially spectacles. They also kindly called us to show the hippos, a crocodile in front of our tents and elephants across the river, whenever they were sighted.
The next four days were fantastic. The weather was mild, slightly cool in the morning and night, and pleasant during the day. It rained a bit in the afternoon for two days. We went on 7 safari rides, morning safaris were from 6.30 to 8.30 am and then from 10.30 am till 12.00 noon. The afternoon safaris were from 3.30 to 6.00 pm. During these trips, the guide will drive around the park covering as much area as possible. Every day was different and wonderful. You could see many aspects of wildlife living. The grass-eating animals prefer short grass so that they can see the predators early and be prepared to run if required. It was great to see a lion stalking the animals who are on full alert.IMG_20200315_204427.jpg
Actually, this male lion is just looking. He will send the female to do all the hunting later and then share the bounty. Male lions are generally lazy. Incidentally, according to our guide, lions prefer zebra meat.
During these four days, we saw so many animals in their natural habitat, not at all bothered by the humans who hover around them in vehicles. Every day was a wonderful experience. We saw giraffes, elephants, Impalas, Topi antelopes, warthogs (also called Kenya Express as they run very fast), Thompson gazelles, elan antelope (largest antelopes in the world), zebras, dik-diks, zebras, Grant gazelles, crown cranes, hammer cobs, coli bustard, Egyptian geese, hyenas, tawny eagle, weaver birds, cock hat geese, ground hornbill, long-tail sterling, Malabu stork, baboons, monitor lizard, mongoose, guinea fowls, turtles, hippos, cheetahs and of course the majestic lions.
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Now, I will write about the King of the Forest, the majestic lions. Thanks to Mr. Hiram’s expertise, we saw lions every day in different situations. On the first day, we saw the relaxing lions.IMG_20200315_203915.jpg
The next day, we saw a full pride, males, females, and babies out for a stroll.20200113_123546.jpg
We also saw a honeymooning couple.IMG20200113163137.jpg. A typical couple goes away from the pride to a quiet place in the forest. After about seven days without food, the females hunt a deer or some other animal and the couple enjoys a grand feast before they return to the pride.
Another day, we saw a pride of lions walking past us, two one-year-old males, six females, and four babies. 98458572BA7E74603F4A24862E73EBE7.jpg
Suddenly, a huge male lion came roaring. It seems it wanted to take over this pride.f6ad9530-ea91-11ea-8c61-ab2ac3c6b453.jpg
The two young males immediately walked away quietly knowing very well that they were no match against the big guy. The females were more aggressive. Four of the females protected the babies by taking them to a faraway bush while the remaining two went after the intruder and chased him away. The entire episode looked like a movie. Jungle lore is that to take over a pride, the male lion first kills the babies after which the females become docile and amenable to the attentions from the new boss. The other young males go away to start their own pride.
On our last safari, thanks to Mr. Hiram again, we saw the same pride resting under bushes. The babies running around and jumping on their mother/aunts and elder brothers just like humans.

Okay, I favored the lions, but then, a King is a King.

A trip to Masai Mara is incomplete without a visit to the nearby Masai Village. We were welcomed by the Chief’s sons who speak perfect English having studied at the nearby elementary school. These villages are typically made of mud and grass and the houses are laid out in a circle to protect the villagers and their animals from wild beasts. There were welcome songs and dances by the men and women and then we were taken around the village. The men look after their cattle, while the women look after the house, children and do bead weaving.

Amboseli

After five wonderful days in Masai Mara we flew to Amboseli, about an hour’s flight. While waiting for our plane, operated by Air Kenya, we also did some duty-free shopping. 20200116_182114.jpg20200116_181419.jpg

We were met by a guide from Nairobi. The road to the Kiko Camp was quite bumpy as it was damaged by recent rains. The Camp is near the Amboseli Reserve Park. Again a great camp amidst grassy land. A large reception area with a bar and gift shop. Next door is the large dining area. The individual tents are well spread out with a short pathway to each tent. These tents are well furnished with attached toilets and bath.9B194B1800F7D4E2B3DB4B529EA22F27.jpg9B2B1F299CFC2D4F310BBC97AF92FAA9.jpg

Amboseli is known for its elephants and of course a view of the Kilimanjaro Mountain.

In this park, you can only see the animals from the roads and no one is allowed to go near the animals. We did see a lot of varieties of deer and birds, a couple of lions, wildebeest, zebras, buffalos, and giraffes. Not much compared to Masai Mara though surprisingly, at this time of the year, the Kiko Camp occupancy was considerable compared to that in the Fig Tree Camp. Food, as usual, was fantastic, and the staff was excellent.20200118_010126.jpg90_20200119_121832.jpg
The next safari was the usual till we reached a water body where we saw one of the world’s most elegant birds, the Flamingos!!! 20200118_155618.jpgballerinas.jpg
They were in huge numbers standing in the water, searching for food. The next day, we went back to the same place and were not disappointed.
For two days, Mount Kilimanjaro was covered by clouds, but on the third morning, we could see the mountain in its full glory with a cloud necklace. Mount_Kilimanjaro.jpg
Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, has its own charm. Beautiful colonial style office buildings and hotels compete with modern structures. It is crowded as are most cities in Asia and Africa, traffic is also a problem. Nevertheless, Nairobi has two things for a short term tourist. First, the Masai Market, a treasure trove of colorful souvenirs, Nairobi_Market.png




and then the Nairobi Reserve Park. The park is home to a number of animals and birds and is also one of the few places where you can see the treasured rhinos though from a distance. Rare_Rhinos_in_Nairobi.jpg.
Nairobi also has a huge Hindu Temple.20200119_143134.jpg
Amita and I travel a lot but this trip was the best ever. The Kenyan people are so nice, the food was fine, and of course the chance to see such wonderful animals and birds.
What a wonderful holiday!!
Text: Ajay Guha
Photographs: Ajay Guha, Amita Guha

Posted by ajaysg 22:52 Comments (1)

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