Monday, January 31, 2011

Ripped off!

While enjoying the culture of Oaxaca and relaxing on the beach here In Punto Arista some low life in Tijuana was syphoning our current account of nearly 50,000 pesos that about £3000. How it actually happened I'm not sure, but we have met others that it has also happened too. I haven't lost my card and am always very careful to protect my PIN when drawing money out of ATM's but somehow my card number and PIN have been read from an ATM machine by someone other than the bank. I was told that you couldn't draw out more than £300 a day but the low life was drawing out, on some days, over £800. It has all been reported and my card has been cancelled and a full fraud investigation will ensue and hopefully we will get the money back when they have finished the investigation. Luckily for us we are 2000 miles away from Tijuana so it couldn't have been us which seems to be the main part of the fraud investigation.

So before you all start sending us money, let me say that we are not destitute, and although this is very unpleasant, isn't the end of the world or our trip.

Two things I have learned so far from this experience.
1. Make sure you have 2 cards on any account you use with different PINs. In our case Jill has a card so although mine has been stopped we can still draw out money on Jill's card. If you don't have access to your account because you card has been stopped you can't get any money out of ATM's, which could make things very difficult.
2. Make sure the bank doesn't give you a large overdraft facility. I manage our account on line and transfer money from a savings account when needed. We had about £1000 in the account as a direct debit for our credit card was due. Little did I know that we had been given a £2500 overdraft facility which enable so much money to be drawn out.
Apart from that life has been very relaxing in our Cabaña by the roaring ocean. We are off today (Monday 31/1/11) towards Guatamala to take up our 2 weeks of intensive Spanish lessons. Pimsleur in the hammock is going well I can now say 'Hola soy la señorita Gomes, no hablo español pero entiendo un poco' . Might be useful sometime!
Bye for now.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Punto Arista

Jill wasn't that impressed as we rode into a deserted town, run down and rubbish blowing around. There were one or two people hustling to get us into their restaurants but everybody else was having their siesta as it was about 1430 and the thermometer on the bike was reading 92 °F. We rode up and down the main road stopping at various hotels asking prices. The 280 pesos a night hotel was falling apart and the 1000 pesos a night didn't offer anything more than the 280 pesos hotel except it wasn't falling apart. We met a couple of gringos on push bikes and asked where they were staying and were directed to José's, a Canadian who has been living here since 1982 and created a camp ground with Cabȃnas that we read about in our footprints guide, but couldn't find until directed. (He complains he isn't busy but hasn't got round to putting up any signs directing you to were he is.) What was going to be a weeks stay started with 2 nights because Jill thought a place by the sea would be very different. Cabȃnas on the beach and a nice Malecon to walk along, all swept clean and tidy. However once she settled in and did some reflection it wasn't as bad as she first thought. The reality rarely lives up to the dream and we signed up for another 5 nights. It is lovely just to be still, to watch the sun rise, to battle with the waves in the heat of the day, to eat Mangoes and lie in a hammock trying to learn Spanish from Pimsleur Spanish 1 recorded on the Ipod. But first Nancy needed a service, so I spent 2 half days striping down and filling up everything that needed stripping down and filling up. I stitched up the wind shield that had broken when the bike fell over in Culiacan and re-fixed the instrument console that had broken 2 of it's p-bracket fasteners. Having got everything back together we set of to do some shopping and Nancy was very sick. She spluttered and wheezed, belching out black smoke; the more I revved her the worst it got so without provisions I was back to taking Nancy apart. The electrical side was working fine so thought it had to be fuel. I had stripped the carburettors down and cleaned them so something I did wasn't right. I'm sure there is supposed to be a little brass bit that sits in the carb housing that the main jet holds in place? It's missing on both carbs but as Nancy was working fine when we arrived, they must have fallen out into the sand without me knowing, when I was doing the service. These bits are about the size of a small finger nail and hunting around for a few minutes I found one in the grass and sand underneath where I was working on the bike. I was then able to show Jill what we were looking for and we spent the next 3 hours on our hands and knees searching the area with head torches as it was now dark. Other members of the camp site came over to help but by 21.30 nothing had been found, so we called it a night. I had a restless night dreaming of little round bits of brass that I couldn't get hold off and woke to resume the search early next morning. A French Canadian couple said they prayed late into the night that we might find the bit and within another half and hour, right were we had looked at least 5 times the night before, the bit jumped out of the sand at me. What a relief. Praise the Lord. Incidentally the French Canadian couple lost their keys later that day but luckily found them after another long search. So now Nancy is running fine again. Enough words though so here is a picture taken from my seat at the bow of a canoe that we hired from José and paddled down the mangrove lagoon behind the camp site with Peter our German neighbour. We set off at 0630 with the dawn chorus and life was everywhere. As the sun rose birds dried their wings while other waited patiently for breakfast. An amazing place.
So we talk; we listen and try and learn Spanish; fight with the waves of the Pacific ocean, which is 5 minutes walk away; have siestas, and don't visit any Churches or ancient monuments. We will have to leave here sometime but not yet.

Mangoes are best eaten in the sea.

The mango season is just starting in Chiapas and with that in mind we decided to head for the coast: sun, sea and sand-Jill is delighted!! I can't remember if we had mentioned our change of plans but just in case we haven't I will tell you what we are doing. South America is not going to happen this trip. We have to be back in England by the middle of June because my son Malin is getting married to Eunice and somehow I think we should be there for that. It has taken us nearly 8 months to get this far and getting over the Darian Gap will be expensive, for at best only a short while in South America. So what was going to be an adventure of all the Americas, has now change to just North and Central. Also we are whizzing down to Guatamala fairly quickly. We both feel that our lack of the Spanish language is stopping us really engaging in what we are going through here in Mexico and we have a sense that we are missing so much, since we can't ask anything but very simple questions, and we can't understand information on plaques at the side of monuments, churches, museums etc., we are visiting. Of course we can make observations about what we are seeing and how we feel about it, and we have done that here on the Blog, but we just can't satisfy our curiosity without a better understanding of Spanish. So we have decided to head for Guatemala and enrol in a Spanish school where we live with a family for a couple of weeks and have 4-5 hours one-to-one lessons with a teacher five days a week. Before we left the UK Jill mentioned that she wanted to spend some time in a Spanish school in Mexico, but having spoken to other travellers, it seems Guatamala is the best place to go as it is cheap and we have been recommended a couple of schools.
Having become fluent in that 2 weeks! we will then head up to the Yucatan before re-entering Guatemala and heading down to Panama, where we will turn around, head back into Mexico, seeing the bits we missed on the way south, and then make our way back towards the USA , as it will be easier to get Nancy back to England from the USA/Canada. So we have just under 5 months and 5 more countries to explore. Keep watching this space.
So as I was saying we decided to head for the coast while making progress towards Guatemala, and to that end left Oaxaca on the 20/1/2011 heading just south of east along the Mx 190. But before we really got started Jill wanted to visit Teotitlán del Valle, the village that we went to watch carpets being woven, to buy a bag. Bag in hand and at half the price that we were quoted while on the tourist bus, we headed down the 190 which was another 10 out of 10 road, with good black stuff, lots of sweeping bends and magnificent views of the mountains, without much traffic. As we drew nearer the coast the land flattened out and at Santo Domingo Tehuantepec we were greeted by a rather austere Seňora. We stopped at Juchitan De Zaragoza to buy some oil for Nancy, as it was time for a service being 5000 miles since leaving San Francisco and talked to the local Basic Honda dealer, who thought any bike over 125cc was massive. Taking the road to Union Hidalgo we passed the local rubbish dump which didn't seem to have any way of containing the rubbish and it was being blown everywhere. Along side the road was the general dump for earth and building waste and further on was the rubbish that people couldn't be bothered to take to the dump. One of the things that is difficult to understand about Mexico is the rubbish. It is nearly everywhere. On the beach, dumped by the side of the road just outside towns, thrown over into valleys through the mountains etc., but in total contrast the centre of towns and cities are swept and the pavements are washed down, making them very clean places and a pleasure to walk around. If this is not seen as a problem now, which it doesn’t seem to be, it soon will be, and I have no idea how they are going to educate people into being responsible for their waste, as education isn't very high on the agenda here. Passing a very large wind farm at La Venta we re-joined the Mx 200 and just as the road was getting interesting and the sun was getting lower we stopped at the Hotel Palma Real in Nitepec, and a very nice place it was too. Setting off early the next morning and wishing for cereal and cold milk for breakfast we stopped at a place that served cereal and cold milk, a very unusual thing in the middle of nowhere and we indulged ourselves grandly. Having eaten our fill we set off and entered the state of Chiapas before turning off the Mx 200 at Tonala towards Puento Arista and our Cabȃna at José's, a block from the roaring Ocean, and beautiful sun rises along the 32 Km beach.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Oaxaca Trips

We decided to stay on for longer than originally intended and see some of the things that are in the vicinity. So on Monday morning we were picked up at the hotel by a tour bus and taken to Tule tree which is the world biggest diameter tree and is around 2000 years old. It was quite impressive but we weren't allowed near it to give it a hug. We then moved on to Teotitlán del valle, a community that specialises in making woollen rugs from natural dyes. We were given a demonstration on carding the wool, spinning, which Jill tied her hand at, and the different colours that could be achieved with Indigo, moss, marigold and of course cochineal. This little beetle lives on a cactus and depending if mixed with Lime (acid) or baking soda (alkaline) will colour things from bright red to purple as Jill's hand shows. We then watched a carpet being woven before being offered wares to buy. Next stop was Mezcal factory. The sword like cactus is first cooked on a stone lined pit for days. It comes out all soft and sweet, after which it is cut up into smaller pieces and crushed and the juice is drawn off, which is lovely and sweet, and thrown away or fed to the donkey that pulls the stone. (shame I thought it was the best bit) The fibres are then put into a white oak barrel where hot water is pored over them and left to ferment. This fermented liquid is then distilled more than once and the resulting liquor taste like paint stripper. There are 4 kinds from right to left: - Just out of the still (rough as rats). Year old with worm in it (bit smoother). 5 year old (getting to be drinkable) and the 8 year old which wasn't bad. They also mix it with fruits to mask the taste, and we were told it was good on Ice cream. Slightly the worse for wear we piled back onto the bus and headed to Mitla, the ancient city of the dead, which had some amazing stone pattern that were made from individual pieces and not carved. The larger stones are not held together by mortar, but just very finally worked. The tomb chamber were underneath the main living structures.
Wednesday arrived after we had had Tuesday off where we wrote the blog and posted the GPS back to the UK by DHL to be fixed, and we headed down town to pick up the tourist bus past piles of grasshoppers to Monte Albán, the Zapoteca policital and culture centre from around 500 BC until 800 AD when for some reason not known it was deserted. It is on top of a very large hill and all the water had to be carried up to the site. The site gave great views of the Oaxaca valley below and the scale of the site was very impressive. Pictures say a thousand words so here are some pictures. The round stone design is very unusual.
We then had an interesting ride down into the Oaxaca Valley and on the walk back to the Hostel Jill brought herself a carpet which she has sent home.