So our hotel is perfect! A little modern comfort in a great location and a great price! However we are constantly awoken at dawn by a rooster nearby....ha! Completely settled in though. I would quickly and repeatedly be reminded throughout this day how much more relaxed and quite easy it was for us to figure things out and get around on our own. Unlike some of our past trips like India and parts of Africa where I was really happy to have someone helping to navigate. We have this great app Tiposo which runs without wifi and it is so great for city walks, maps, Gps and travel tips, LOVE!
After breakfast we decide to take on the classic tourist sites of Bangkok starting with Wat Phra and the Grand Palace. Easy walk there though the humidity is thick. Four headed elephant on the way.
Well little side note before I begin with brief facts and pictures. Our taxi driver from the airport the other night made some comment about the "Chinese" tourists that would be there and to try to avoid them...right? This comment is even more hilarious to me now after the fact. As we approach the entrance to the complex which is surrounded by a huge white wall, droves and droves of huge Chinese tourist groups with flags and banners and umbrellas and selfie sticks (so many selfie sticks!!!!) are pouring into the gate. As we walk in to buy tickets groups are standing all over the place posing with banners saying things like "You Should Be Here!" and "Bangkok 2015" it was not exactly what I had imagined. I preface all of this because as you will see in the pictures below I did the almost impossible and tried to aim my camera around and away from all the crazy people EVERYWHERE and so you will not get a true sense of this experience without me first enlightening you in on this point. And just when I start to feel awkward about being a tourist in a touristy land, a person from one of these groups is hugging a statue with the words "Do not touch" written under it holding a selfies stick. Classic! There were many pictures that got retaken 5x as people would not just mistakenly walk in front of you but stand directly in front of you or whack you with an umbrella. Ha!!!! If this wasn't our first stop I may not have had the patience in the humidity but alas it was all quite humorous on one level and a cultural experience on the other.
But enough about the Chinese...he he he
Wat Kaew Inner walls of entry are decorated with murals of Ramakian
Each entrance to Wat Phra Kaew is guarded by a pair of of enormous yaks ha,ogres or Giants from Hindu mythology
Then onto the inner compound. The most important structure is the bòht which houses the Emerald Buddha We weren't able to go in unfortunately because they were getting ready for a cream only but the outside was still beautiful.
Well we were all ready, bags checked, security cleared and then our delay that was going to cut it close in regards to our connecting flight bumped us from crossed fingers to screwed. So back through security and up the escalator to speak with the wonderful air representative who share the good news that the only way we were getting anywhere today was to uncheck out bags and make it to JFK for a 1:20 flight 14 hours straight to Tokyo. Yikes! So there went the bulkhead seats we were excited about and instead rationalized putting out the money to get us to the next airport. The one I originally looked at but was such a pain and expense to get to I had rationalized the flight path we had originally chosen as the best for the money. Well throw all those hours of planning out the window and call an uber driver to detour us through the city to save $6 bucks on an already ridiculous fare and get us to JFK. So the adventure began a little earlier than planned but thank goodness we were able to make it work an now we are here!
Umm so this trip was in October.... It is now June 7 We leave for South East Asia June 22
So this post is more about keeping records as the story is well past it's prime. However amazing memories not the less. So mostly pictures and subheadings methinks...
The last day we woke and had originally planned on going to the university to see huge offerendas and displays. We got to the university...
Central Library (UNAM Biblioteca Central), is the main library in the Ciudad Universitaria Campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). It holds one of the largest collections in Mexico. It is in a group of landmark buildings that make the Campus a World Heritage site.
The outside of the library building is covered with various murals, which were painted by Juan O'Gorman.
However we were sadden to find out that this year they had moved the festival displays and when we finally got to where they were the line was so long it stretched for many city blocks!!!! It would be hours before we would even get in if we waited. So instead on to plan B: Xochimilco
Xochimilco variously translated from the Aztec's Nahuatl language as "garden of flowers" or "place where flowers grow" — is an outlying borough of Mexico City today.
It is best known for its canals, which are left from what was an extensive lake and canal system that connected most of the settlements of the Valley of Mexico. These canals, along with artificial islands called chinampas, attract tourists and other city residents to ride on colorful gondola-like boats called “trajineras”
It is kind of touristy but still really fun. Marachi bands float by and will play on your boat
...and Chimi feeling bad made sure our boat was stocked with plenty of beer too.
It was fun to relax and dance!
A quick stop off the boat at the Isla de las Munecas - The Island of the Dolls...which personally was not impressive or really something I cared for or about but ehh...
The Legend goes : It is said that a girl was found drowned in mysterious circumstances many years ago on this island and that the dolls are possessed by her spirit. Local legend says that the dolls move their heads and arms and even opened their eyes. Some witnesses claim they had heard the dolls whispering to each other, while others who were on a boat near the island said the dolls lured them to come down to the island.
Ok Back on land and back to the Zocalo to check out more displays for the festival and some free time to explore. ¡Ay Chihuahua!
When we got back Thom decided to head into the palace to check out more murals by Diego while I walked around the square and into the church.
There was a big offerenda displaying names and pictures of deceased loved ones.
Huge constructed scuptures
This was a huge display recognizing the missing students..... (http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/crisis-mexico-disappearance-forty-three)
Celebrating the culture of the native peoples of the region
Meanwhile inside the palace:
We then met up with Javier and some people from our group at a great beer spot which had lots of good Mexican beers (not just Corona!)
Javier is a home brewer as well so this was a great pick for Thom especially!
My favorite pic:
The place had an awesome view of the Zocalo
Next we left the beer place for a more classy drink on the 41st floor of the Torre Latino building. These pictures do no justice
So Mexico City use to be an island...now it is a sea of lights!
The best was the bathroom and the last stall in the ladies room which I used BTW...... HA! Full moon arising!
We finally headed out to another restaurant for our final meal and while this trip was short it was jam packed. I loved Mexico City and the people I met there. Our guides Chimi and Javier were great and I can't wait to go back and explore more soon especially since it is so close! There is more than Cancun people and you should definitely check it out! Ok onto South East Asia in TWO DAYS!!!!
Ok so first off I am just realizing that it is February and I totally forgot to do the last entry for a our last day/night in Mexico City and I need to do that soon because well that was October....and this is not October and the Holidays have been over and come June we will be somewhere else.
But today kids I need to do a "first world" traveling vent, so if you are not interested in my sarcasm and "woe is me" rant I totally get it and you should just stop reading this now and wait for more pretty pictures to come in the upcoming posts. However, if you want to know more about the madness that can go into making your dreams happen on a really shallow and snarky level then by all means come along! (Warning there will be math involved as well.) Reality Check :Things in this post are really not "THAT" bad, and I am lucky to even have such problems so don't take this the wrong way, part of this is just silly anyway.
Ok so I know nobody else REALLY cares about this but after weeks and hours of research I now know why Americans don't go to South East Asia... And let me first start by saying that I am not talking about the first time we decided to go and booked a trip and then it got canceled or the second time we thought we would go but something else stopped us.
No I am talking about this time now 2015. The trip is booked and will run so that's good. We got help from a friend and a great deal to make it happen, wonderful. We plan to bookend our trip with time by ourselves to explore on our own, (not booked but a plan has been made, simply fabulous as of now.)
Then there is the every trip has its "thing" but usually that involves international bureaucratic crap called a "visa." South America we didn't need one, India I thought was pretty crazy but even though it got screwed up, it worked out and turned into a fairly easier process then the following year. Yes, East Africa was nightmare that we brought on upon ourselves.
5 visas (that is finding obscured hidden forms on outdated websites that all say different requirements and forming a ridiculous time line to send them out and crossing your fingers you get them back in time) that in the end we should and could have just bought along the way but like everything else with that particular trip, little information was shared so you live and learn.
I haven't even looked into the process for SEA yet but I know it will require only be one for Vietnam. So with all our wonderful experience of filling out forms and getting certified money orders and bla bla bla...we got this right? Hopefully they at least have a working website with proper forms, that alone would blow my mind compared to the process in the past.
Anywho................ And I am just going to say that I am never surprised just more like "Well come on honey, did you really think it would be that easy?" And then we look at each other and laugh and pass out a round of Advil.
I have also learned from flying to far away places to be much more aware of how long you are going to spend in an airport between flights, what time of day that will be verses what time of day your body thinks it is and can you even leave the airport at all to enjoy a break between flights.
However, either I am doing something totally wrong or after a month of research and comparison to fly to Bangkok you need to either have super dollars or you need to be prepared to sleep for 22hours in a Moscow airport, or risk your legs exploding from a blood clot as you sit on the plane for 14+ hours to Hong Kong, or you have to pay for visas to other countries you will only see for a total of 5-8 hours...
And while we are at it what the hell is wrong with Philadelphia International that they need to be so much more expensive than everywhere else. I hate you. You taunt me with your easy access yet your flights are ALWAYS more expensive.
I feel like this could be on the PARCC because it is becoming that confusing and difficult....lol Here Pearson is it too late to add this one to the nonsense?
Two adults want to buy a plane ticket to Bangkok. They live closer to Philadelphia but it is too expensive to fly anywhere in the world from there for some reason. Probably because they hate people named Kelly and Thom. So then there is Newark and JFK but if we go to JFK we need to factor in time and costs to get to this forsaken airport that might as well be a third world country of its own. So when looking at prices from there are they really cheaper if you need to pay to rent a car to get there? But there is more!!! So much more!!! (Don't forget kids to show how you got your answer..... I got mine by dragging my middle finger up to the computer screen)
When comparing flights there are LONG ass layovers ranging from 8-22hours....
And that would be cool because that would mean that if you actually wanted to see say the the Red Square or St. Basil's Cathedral you could do that and stretch your legs and maybe even sleep in a bed!!!! What a concept!
This particular flight would involve you and your husband saving about $1,000 but would require you to pay back all that money with your soul and willpower to live. You see you would fist need to get to JFK, ok not the end of the world but more planning and possibly money is needed. Oh but I forgot that you need a visa too. Now you need to spend money to get to JFK, at minimum $300 (maybe more, transit visas are for those staying at least 24 HOURS not 22 so there is that and then we would need a double entry for departing and returning and then a hotel room of some kind for over night and transportation to and from the airport and so on. Or I could do this for 22 hours of my life as well:
Or I could pick a different plane or airline you say? Sure we can fly for close to $1200 more and do almost the same thing but in Frankfurt I wouldn't need a visa! (Are you keeping track of the math?) Or I could do 13 hours in Delhi smeh.... or 22 hours in Finland.... and it is not that much cheaper and there is less things I am interested to see in Fineland (not that I am against the Fins or anything, it was just that my heart didn't jump with excitement when I saw one of the top attractions to be a market of frozen fish) There are no direct flights there. I looked into flying to LA and then to there I looked into flying to London, or France and then flying to there.
So the moral of the story is planes don't go where people from your country don't go. And people don't want to go where it is too hard to get to. In the end we will bite the bullet and do it and make it happen in what ever form that needs to look like...
but it doesn't mean weighing out all of these ridiculous options doesn't make you nutty along the way.
This morning we had an early rise as we were heading to Tepoztlán and it would take us two hours or so the get there. Thom and I decided since we were up early anyway....(time difference I guess) that we would try breakfast at the Casa de los Azulejos or "House of Tiles" that we heard was worth it for the building and history. This place remember from the first post:
Now we were kinda confused about the menu and strapped for time so I forgot to get a picture but here is one I am borrowing to give you an idea:
Ok so into the vans and time for a nap.... Then we arrive two hours or so later at Tepoztlán. According to myth, Tepoztlan is the birthplace over 1200 years ago of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god widely-worshipped in ancient Mexico. Remember that info from the last post too? I liked this town very much nestled up in the mountains with lots of fun markets.
So when we first arrived we were free to either walk around and shop or hike up this very steep mountain to the Aztec pyramid of El Tepozteco. We opted for the hike.
So once again, here we are kids, up the mountain with no oxygen due to altitude.....
Not nearly as bad as Machu Picchu but definitely slowed and humbled by the lack of oxygen. So was pretty much everyone else who was hiking the mountain both in and outside of our group so that made me feel slightly better about the whole thing...lol
Thom went ahead with some of the guys and I opted to do some of the trail with other ladies from our group and the end by myself.
It was more peaceful and personal by myself to not have to worry about anyone else and to push myself on my own. I liked it very much.
Finally the top!
Greeted by my husband of course...
Oh wait maybe not! These little Mexican Raccoons as I will call them have many different names but are actually Coati. They are super friendly but beggars.
Oh there is my husband! Let's go up shall we?
Making out on the ruins!!!! That is how we roll!
This is me on top of El Tepozteco.
It is refered from Tepoztecatl, the pulque (alcoholic beverage) god whose temple is on top of one of the mountains that make up the ridge. (this is what the internet told me at least????)
This is Me and Javier.
The views up here were wonderful and worth the trek.
Coming down the mountain was much easier and faster than going up of course. We stopped and got some tasty sherbert/waterice off the street where I learned the difference between limón (lime) and lemon...he he he We soon met up with Chimi and the group and had a few moments to check out the local market.
People were selling items for Dia de Muertos such as sugar skulls
Marigolds- the flowers of the dead.
Which oddly they use almost like our pumpkins. They are hollowed out and then faces are scratched into them.
I saw some families using them as lanterns at night later that evening.
Then just by chance we caught a small parade that was happening. They were walking through the streets to the main square. Check out these videos for a glimpse:
We met in the courtyard of the church where there were many things happening. The church was also decorated for Dia de Los Muertos.
There was some kind of folk dance competition happening on one side of the courtyard and some of the people from the parade we saw earlier were gathered around another area performing this dance. I am not sure exactly what it is suppose to symbolize but it has something to do with the Jaguar being the Spaniards I think first whipping the people of the land into working but then they rise up and all get whips and fight the Jaguar. Ummm those costumes must be padded because later it got really violent with the whipping! You can hear them ringing the church bell too. Here is a taste in the video:
After we headed to Roxana Bentes de Moura's restaurant/house where we would be eating lunch as well as creating our own altar for Dia De Muertos.
Roxana and the women here were absolutely wonderful! I will try to explain more about the day and the rituals here through what we did. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas, honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. Visitors also leave possessions of the deceased at the graves.
An ofrenda (Spanish: "offering") is a collection of objects placed on a ritual altar during the annual and traditionally Mexican Dia de los Muertos celebration. An ofrenda, which may be quite large and elaborate, is usually created for an individual person who has died and is intended to welcome him/her to the altar setting. Ofrendas are constructed in the home as well as in village cemeteries and churches.
The use of Marigolds is also important.
In modern Mexico the marigold is sometimes called Flor de Muerto (Flower of Dead). These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings. Here is Thom helping to make the trail from outside to our altar so that the dead can find their way.
Most ofrendas contain three levels or tiers: on the topmost tier are placed photographs of the deceased and/or images of various saints which are positioned in a retablo which forms the back of the altar. Some people had a picture but most of us just wrote the name of a loved one lost on a piece of paper. We each were given a sugar skull as well.
On the second tier are placed food items including such things as mole, candy, pan dulce, and especially a sweetbread called pan de muerto...
as well as bottles or poured shot glasses of tequila or mezcal
On the bottom-most tier are placed item such as lit candles, a washbasin, mirror, soap, and a towel so that the supposed spirit of the deceased see themselves and can refresh themselves upon arrival at the altar. We had masks and flowers.
It was a very beautiful and emotional moment in the trip and even though it is suppose to be a celebration of a person's life it is still really hard to not feel any sadness in remembering.
Then we were in for a special treat because Roxana also plays the roll of “La Calavera Catrina" on stilts! Here she is getting herself and one of her students she works with up and ready!
Catrina is a classic iconic character for Day of the Dead and you will see children and adults dress like her or dawning her hat all over the streets.
La Calavera Catrina, also known as "Dapper Skeleton" or "Elegant Skull" is a 1910–1913 zinc etching by famous Mexican printmaker, cartoon illustrator and lithographer José Guadalupe Posada. Originally called "La Calavera Garbancera," the image depicts a female skeleton dressed only in a hat befitting the upper class outfit of a European of her time.
While the original work by Posada introduced the character, the popularity of La Calavera Catrina as well as her name is derived from a work by artist Diego Rivera in his 1948 work Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday afternoon along Central Alameda).
Rivera depicts a culmination of 400 years of Mexico's major figures, which include himself, Posada, and his wife Frida Kahlo. Rivera took inspiration from the original etching and gave Calavera a body as well as more of an identity in her elegant outfit as she is poised between himself and Posada. The intent seemed to be to show the tradition of welcoming and comfort the Mexicans have with death and especially the identity of a lady of death, harking back to the heritage of the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl. As explained by curator David de la Torre from the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, Catrina has come to symbolize not only El Día de los Muertos and the Mexican willingness to laugh at death itself, but originally Catrina was an elegant or well-dressed woman, so it refers to rich people4, de la Torre said. "Death brings this neutralizing force; everyone is equal in the end. Sometimes people have to be reminded."
We left the lovely mountain town...
and headed towards Mixquic. This town has typically been know to be one of best places to visit because the people traditionally fill the very old cemetery with candles and flowers. That is not what happened for us this year unfortunately though and still not exactly sure why. When you first arrive you see this:
Quite impressive these GIGANTIC figures towering over you.
Then you must meander your way through this incredible crowded long commercialized street fair that feels like it completely contradicts the somber spirituality of the whole occasion in a way.
But there are tons of families and people here and most are not even tourists from out of the country. There are people with their faces painted like skulls and little girls wearing big hats that represent Catrina.
All kinds of street food. It would all be fine and fun to me if it was only maybe on the other side of town and not say right up the the doors of the cemetery and church gate. But that is just my personal feeling and perhaps not what the people f the town want, I do not know nor do I want to speak for anyone but myself.
We went through the gates...
and first went into the church which was absolutely beautiful.
But then we were highly shocked and disappointed in that there were hardly any flowers and no candles or decorations or offerings at all on any of the graves. Although the cemetery itself was really cool because it was so old and the history and look of it.
But there were no families celebrating or sitting by the sides of their loved ones gone.
I managed to see one or two graves decorated but even taking these pictures felt really weird.
You see if it had been what it typically was suppose to be it would have been ok to admire from afar and give blessings and love to the families and the beauty they put into remembering their loved ones. But this was not that and some people were simply running around on the graves taking selfies. It seemed very disrespectful in a way and Thom especially, was getting upset about it. I agreed too and so we left. So times they are a changing. I don't know if it has become so commercialized or such a big "attraction" now that families are deciding to not participate in this way anymore and are perhaps keeping their memories alive at home more with offerendas? Perhaps sitting in a cold graveyard is no longer appealing to the youth who would rather be out at a street fair with their friends or participating in something more similar to Halloween and getting candy? Perhaps it is none of these things. I really can't say but even though we were disappointed our group, for the most part, was amazing in not letting this get us too down and not letting this ruin what was already an amazing trip so far. This day was already packed with so many amazing memories and history of the the holiday and culture.
Side note**** If you have wondered where all the original VW Beetles went...well I would say Mexico got most of them.
We saw them everywhere and in every color and not those modern ones that they tried to remarket to my generation in the 90s. Javier said they use to be taxis here. I did really enjoy seeing them again everywhere....