Friday, 27 February 2015

Mexico City

We are spending our last couple of days in Mexico City.

I can't say I was overly stoked on coming here - but due to the fact it was likely the cheapest way home (rather than spending 10 hours to get back to PV).

Mexico is the largest city I've ever visited - there are about 8 million people living in the city (20 million in Greater Mexico City).

It's got a bit of a reputation up north. Polluted (still is...) and crime ridden. From what I've read, they've worked hard cleaning it up. The pollution is still there, but it's no longer the most polluted city in the world (I'm not sure if they cleaned up, or somewhere China just surpassed it)...and crime wise - it's a big place and so far, anecdotally, it feels safe enough.

I still am pretty paranoid, especially riding the Metro....but in any big city, one should be.

We kept close to the hostel the first night and today we took the metro to the Anthropology Museum and Chapultepec Castle. The Museum was maaaaaaasssivvve - way to much museum for one go. We did make it through but frankly, near the end we were looking forward to finishing. 'Luckily', a lot of the exhibits were in Spanish which gave us a valid excuse not to read everything.

The castle was pretty cool...the exhibits were all in Spanish - so it was just looking at the pieces/building and scenery.

The Cathedral

Favorite building in Mexico City (Latino Americana)


Best part of the Anthropology Museum

Favorite part of the Chapultepec Castle

What a great view!


View from the hostel terrace.

Latino Americana building at night.

Chapultepec Castle

Passport Please

We arrived in Mexico City yesterday.

During the check-in, the hostel staff asked for our passport (standard procedure). I stuck my hand into my bag pocket where it always is - only to find it wasn't there. After a quick, progressively sweaty search - I handed my bag over to my ladyfriend.

She couldn't find them either!

We quickly retrace our steps. The passports have lived in the same spot, more or less undisturbed, until we bought my ticket.

She swore she put them back in the bag!

So at this point, the hostel staff takes our drivers licenses. Meanwhile, our lives flash before our eyes. Stuck in Mexico. Gf needs to be back for the 4th.  I've already spent 330 on a non-refundable ticket leaving in two days...

DISASTER!

I am just about to loose my mind when my hand lands on the passports.

Disaster averted. Best feeling ever. :-)

F-ing Expedia

Airline pricing is a shell game at best. I think I hate booking tickets more than I hate buying/selling vehicles (in other words a lot).

I booked my flight the day we left Guanajuato. The prices had risen since we flew down - but only by $100 - so no big deal. My gf wanted to pay for hers separately, so we started the process simultaneously.

I finished before her, and as I did so, she got an increase stating the price had risen. Whoops. She refreshed only to find - to our collective horror - that the price had skyrocketed to ~$500CAD from $330CAD.

WTF.

Looks like we were bidding on the same seat or there was some fuckery involving cookies/ip tracking. We decided to leave it a little to see if it cooled off

We revisited expedia today hoping that the price had fallen - nope - it now was ~$700CAD for not even the same flight.

Shit.

So in the end, she found a flight on Skyscanner that leaves an hour or two after me (so at least we can head to the airport at the same time) for about what I paid ($340CAD). The problem is, her travel time is 8hrs more than me!

So yeah. Moral of the story - book your tickets on Expedia during the same transaction...

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

King of the Hill

There is a light house on the side of one of the hills here...I have no idea why.

Yesterday morning we went for a bit of a trek and climbed one of the 'peaks' surrounding Guanajuato (the lump of rock here) - the directions that my gf had were loose at best. We first walked to the dam on the east side of town, as that was where it seemed the trail head was. Nope.

So we decided to make the best of the walk and walked along Panorámica Road...until the hill appeared. Still, we were unsure of where to go (looking at the sat images, it's clear)...so we just climbed straight up a ridge to a road that seemed to lead to where we wanted to go.

Turned out, it was the path we were looking for. It was a grind up the back but the view was amazing.

We stayed up there as long as we could (temps were rising and we didn't really have much in the way of water/food) and descended - bought a bottle of ron (rum) and called it a day. Unfortunately, the combination of dehydration from hiking/sunburn and alcohol lead to a bit of a slow day today. After the rum, we checked out a local hole in the wall called 'Los Lobos' with a few other hostelites.










Monday, 23 February 2015

Guanajuato

We've arrived in Guanajuato, our last stop before Mexico City.

Guanajuato was a big question mark for me. We had stopped briefly at the bus terminal last week on our way to San Mike (I feel I'm familiar enough with San Miguel Allende that I can call it that) - and frankly it didn't look like much. According to an erroneous Google search, the hostel appeared to be only 1.2k from the terminal - which caused some confusion as we had seen some amazing looking photos online so it was a little odd. Nevertheless - we seemed to have exhausted San Mike (getting spoiled) and were ready for a new place to explore.

I was set to walk from the terminal to the hostel as we had done in San Mike....but luckily my girlfriend checked the map again...turns out it was 7km to the hostel. I love to walk, but that's a little long in 27ºC wearing a rucksack. So we caught a bus.

I am really happy that we did. First, it was 10 pesos for both of us...and secondly, I didn't realize this (ladyfriend informed me on the way) - Guanajauto's main roads are tunnels under the city/highway.

These aren't modern, tunnels either. In fact, I was convinced that the bus was going to clip an arch and knock out a cornerstone - collapsing the entire system and burying us alive (more bodies for the museum maybe? - more on this later). The other insane part is that there are intersections in the tunnels...Mexican intersections....something I don't think I've experienced. Again, had a puckering moment when the bus veered down a tight side tunnel. I wanted to scream "It's not going to fit!" but remembered we were on public transit, where the driver had done the corner a million times.

To top it off heading down a very steep hill, the bus encountered three vehicles arranged like this:

| *   |
|   * |
| *   |

It was pretty tight and the bus was pretty long...so I figured the bus would stop and wait. Nope, slalomed right through like he was autocrossing - barely even slowed down. It was one of the more remarkable pieces of driving I've seen yet. I'm not entirely certain it was because he had a choice - the hill was steep and I wonder if the brakes could hold us in place. :-P

Amazingly - we arrived safe. Possibly because of the ever present shrine to Christ at the front of the bus...or maybe because the law of attrition has made Mexican bus drivers the best in the world.


There is supposedly only one hostel to stay in Guanajuato. Well, there are others - but they all got absolutely atrocious reviews. We are staying at La Casa de Dante. It's a little pricey - similar to Sayulita (255ea/night) - but seeing as it's near the end of our trip, no biggy. Regardless - we only booked two nights to start just in case Guanajuato was a dud.

One thing about this hostel that we read before hand - is that it's a 150 step climb or decent in either direction - and that it was a little out of the way (15 minute walk into town). On paper, this seems a little weird - even while climbing the steps, I was thinking ("This better be worth more than a glute work out) - and boy is it ever.

Perched on the side of a super steep hill the hostel overlooks the old and very beautiful Guanajuato (we must has seen the modern tail of the city coming through the first time). Our beds are window-side and have an amazing view. Additionally there are 2 terraces on the roof.

We almost didn't leave to explore (despite being starved and peso-less)...the view was that good.

Pictures don't really do it justice:


I alluded to it earlier. The other thing that Guanajuato is known for (unbeknownst to me), is one of the creepiest museums in the world.

Apparently - there was a cholera outbreak at some point, during which the victims were quickly buried (some alive). Due to the conditions of the burial, they all mummified. Later, someone had the brilliant idea to disinter them all and display them to the public (families could pay a tax to avoid this, but no-one could avoid it).

I am on the fence about going. I don't like the idea at all buuuuuuuut....somebody I know does and I feel that I should go if she goes....we'll see.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Charco del Ingenio Botanical Garden

We went on a bit of a hike to the Charco del Ingenio Botanical Garden. We walked from the hostel. After cutting through the market and grabbing another hand pressed juice - we made our ascent up the hill.

So far the parks we've seen (mainly the big one in Guadalajara centro) have been pretty dismal. However, Charco del Ingenio was pretty awesome - especially if you like deserts/cacti (I love 'em). It made for a great afternoon outing. They use the park as a sanctuary for endangered species, it is a historical reservoir that empties into an impressive canyon and site of an old mill (only a few bricks left).

I also love ants...so as a bonus we saw a couple long lines of ants harvesting plants for food. So cool!





Bonus Ants!


Hostel Report

I'm starting to cater some of my posts to prospective travelers.

The original plan was to find a cheap short term apartment rental. We tried a few sites like AirBnB and Craigslist but didn't have any luck. I know the deals are out there (we ran into a couple that had a water front apartment in Punta de Mita for $900/mo - but I think it requires a combo of luck and planning ahead.

So instead - we've found ourselves at hostels (all of which have been booked through HostelWorld.com). I can't say we deviated far from the recommendations online (I think all we top rated) - but in case you needed more anecdotal evidence. Here is a brief description of our experience at each (I would recommend them all):

Lush Hostel (Sayulita):
  • I liked the dorms. The beds were sturdy and pretty private feeling (despite 8-10 to a room). 
  • The lockers had a plug in them (great for electronics) - however the hole in the latch wasn't big enough for a standard combination lock (had to buy a smaller one down the street)
  • Seemed pretty clean - no real complaints. The shower in our dorm didn't drain properly (despite being brand new). 
  • It was very busy, mostly Canadians (everyone staying there was super friendly)
  • Location was great - but then again, everywhere in town is within walking distance.
  • There is a bar on the roof. Which is great when you want a beer - but on the other hand, there is a bar on the roof - bring some ear plugs. The bar technically shuts down at 12 but we found the party didn't - but that really depends on the people.
  • My only real complaint is that it was expensive (250 pesos a night per person) - but Sayulita is expensive - so that makes sense.
Hostel Hospedarte Centro (Guadalajara):
  • Location was good. In the old part of town - a good base for walking around.
  • The beds were pretty flimsy - so if the person on either bunk moved it transfers to the other.
  • Felt very secure (always needed to be buzzed up)
  • Super quiet. Clean.
  • The bathrooms left some to be desired. Clean but old -  however the showers, however, had the best water pressure/hot water.
La Catrina (San Miguel de Allende):
  • Private dorms are cheap and cozy.
  • Super clean!
  • The guys working the front desk are super helpful/friendly. Probably the best staff so far.
  • Wifi works well. Plugs are everywhere (even on the roof!)
  • My only complaint is that the acoustics made it really loud. Noise travels well in this hostel. Again. Earplugs are the solution. (Update. The 4 person dorm was much quieter than the double bed single room).
  • The showers lack water pressure (so washing long hair would be a pain).
La Casa de Dante (Guanajuato):
  • Best breakfasts ever (cooked by the Mexican version of my mother). This alone made the stay worth it.
  • Million dollar view from the dorms/terraces.
  • Super clean!
  • Only small issue (as is usual down here) was the internet. Works fine in the kitchen but doesn't reach the dorms. Seems to be a pretty standard issue (rebar and brick/cinderblock construction).
Hostel Cathedral (Mexico City)
  • Well located. As the name suggests, the terrace over looks the cathedral, main square.
  • Was pretty average. The dorm we stayed in could've used a once over. Both our reading lights didn't work (Gf's strobed like a night club) and the toilet ran constantly.
  • Clean.
  • The breakfast was pretty tame. Cold eggs and toast/jam.
  • The Wifi was pretty crap/inconsistent- even downstairs in the main area.