November 30 2014

Wearing red lipstick

Is there anything more classically feminine than wearing red lipstick?

I think not.  There are even articles written about why you should date women who wear red lipstick.

I do not own said product considering I look more like Bozo the Clown than Marilyn Monroe when I wear red lipstick.  However, I am not completely immune to its purposes…sexiness, feminine-ness, boldness…the list goes on.

I was taking care of a patient recently who while admitted for pneumonia, also had stage 4 breast cancer that had metastasized to the spinal cord.  The patient in question had had a previous bilateral mastectomy some few years ago so while that was not a current issue, it was a contributing factor to her condition and mental state…which is to say was not good.  And I know I can’t fix everybody.  Hell, I don’t think I can fix anybody, but I try–even if in most cases it’s to motivate you to move your ass (a nurturing, placating nurse I am not).

I do have a point, I promise.

Whenever I’m feeling out of sorts, I head to my local bookstore, and just start randomly reading any book that catches my eye. With that patient fresh in my mind, I recently read an excerpt from a book called something like “Why I wore lipstick to my mastectomy surgery.” If that one chapter was so incredibly profound, I can only imagine what the the rest of the book is like. I probably should have bought it, but truthfully, I was looking for something a little more ‘uplifting’ to take on my upcoming vacation.  I get it.  A woman was about to lose a part of herself that biologically makes here a ‘woman’… that society says ‘this is what a woman looks like.’ So she wears red lipstick to her surgery…Red lipstick–another of society’s ways of defining what is sexy…what is womanly. How she used that color to make herself more than another cancer patient having surgery. How she used it to leave her mark– more than just an exacted pound of flesh– on the operating table. And there is something empowering about red lipstick, isn’t there? A bold, fearless statement.

I am not a lipstick person.  Or if truth be told, not really a make-up person.  And though at times, usually when I’m having an ‘off’ few days, an image adjustment has been cathartic for my Self…if only in receiving comments from people ‘you look nice today’ or getting looks from attractive men that usually don’t noticed my dressed down self; recently it has been more than my Self that needed a lift…my spirit is probably more accurate.

 

Usually, I lift my sagging spirit by traveling or doing something different.  Or being creative.  But right now I am in a box.  School is limiting my free time and free funds.  My living space is tiny and doesn’t afford the opportunity to be overly creative. I am still learning how to be good a my job.  I am still learning how to adjust to the demands of my new life.  Sometimes I don’t think I’m doing any of it well.  Sometimes I feel like I am constantly being watched. Like a person in a box. Forced to walk a straight line… a path that holds no mystery. No character.  No soul.

And then I look back. On what I have accomplished. On where I’ve been.  On where I’ve come from. On the goals I still have for my life.  And then I say “Oh, yea there she is…that merry wanderluster…that nature girl…that person who has saved lives…that person who loves animals…that person who creates things.  There she is…

“And then I say–This is who I am.” And I felt the smug satisfaction of, so there.”

So… there.

Fitz Roy and lake
Fitz Roy and lake
October 27 2014

In search of Vlad

The second post in my series of  haunted places…[in case you’ve missed it, I’ve featured cemeteries and other final resting places earlier this month].  This week it’s a story from a little place in Romania…

A story [based in history]

Once upon a time, there lived a prince in a kingdom called Wallachian.  He was no Prince Charming.  His name was Vlad Tepes.  Stories of his cruelty and thirst for blood abound – stories that make even Stalin, Hitler or Ivan the Terrible seem compassionate by comparison…Vlad was a sadistic bastard and gained the name ‘Tepes’ (‘impaler’) honestly.   His favorite form of punishing his enemies included driving a wooden stake carefully through the victim’s anus emerging from the body just below the shoulder in such a way as to not pierce any vital organs. Best to ensure maximum suffering prior to death and his methods ensured at least 48 hours torture before death.

Impalement was Vlad Tepes’ favorite method of torture, but it was by not his only method. The list of tortures employed by our sadistic prince included nails in the heads, cutting off of limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs (especially for women), scalping, skinning, boiling, exposure to the elements or to wild animals and burning alive.  He was the one everyone warned their daughters about.

Now, to be fair, it is impossible to verify all of these stories.  There was no such thing as facebook and blogs and cameras and such in the 15th century.   Much of the information we have about evil little Vlad comes from pamphlets published in Germany and Russia and the German pamphlets, were probably politically inspired. In fact pamphlets were a form of mass entertainment in society when the printing press was just coming into widespread use. Much like the subject of Some Celebrity’s latest downward spiral into doom, the life and times of the Wallachian tyrant were easily sensationalized and given the numerous reprints.

Vlad– auf Deutch –was portrayed as an inhuman monster who terrorized the land and butchered the innocent with sadistic glee. The Russian version took a somewhat more measured view, however.  Young Vlad was presented as a cruel but just prince whose actions were directed toward the greater good of his people. No matter what language the stories agree remarkably well as to specifics–Vlad the Impaler was a sick bastard.

How Vlad became Dracula:

His princely father, Vlad II, was called Vlad Dracul (from the Latin ‘draco’, meaning ‘dragon’) after the chivalric Order of the Dragon accredited to him by Sigismund of Luxembourg in 1431. The Romanian name Draculea – literally ‘son of Dracul’ – was bestowed on Vlad Tepes by his father, and was used as a term of honor. Another meaning of ‘draco’, however, was ‘devil’ and this was the meaning that Stoker’s novel popularized.

In search of Vlad:

Vlad was born in the Romanian town of Sighisoara.

They seem to be pretty proud of their native son in Sighisoara.

Sighisoara is a UNESCO world heritage site so should Vlad return from the dead today, he’d still be able to find his way around.

Dracula’s Castle [for tourists]–but really Dominic’s house

Bran Castle, situated near Braşov, Romania, is a national monument and landmark. It was built by the Teutonic Knights in (or around) 1212, after they had been relocated from Palestine to the Kingdom of Hungary.  The fortress is situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia. In addition to its unique architecture, the castle is famous because of persistent myths that it was once the home to our villain, Vlad the Impaler.  According to most accounts, Vlad  spent two days in the Bran dungeon, as the area was occupied by the Ottoman Empire at the time. Because of the (disputed) connections between Vlad and the fictional character Dracula, the castle is marketed to foreign tourists as Dracula’s Castle.

The castle is open to tourists, who can view the inside by themselves or as part of a guided tour. At the bottom of the hill is a small park to which examples of traditional Romanian peasant structures (cottages, barns, etc.) from across the country have been moved.

The castle passed through royal hands for many generations. For many years at the beginning of the 20th century, it was the principal home of Queen Marie, who, despite her British birth and upbringing, became quite a Romanian patriot. The castle is decorated largely with artifacts from her time, including traditional furniture and tapestries that she collected to highlight Romanian crafts and skills. It was inherited by her daughter Princess Ileana of Romania, and was later seized by the Communist government of Romania in 1948. For many years it was tended to erratically, but after 1980′s restoration and the Romanian Revolution of 1989, it became a tourist destination. The legal heir of the castle is the Princess’s son Dominic von Habsburg and in 2006 the Romanian government returned it to him (Habsburg is currently an architect in New York City and probably never designed something so fancy)

The Real Dracula’s Castle

one final view of the citadel–it was a dark and stormy night day [oh come, oh….you know I couldn’t resist]

The story of how this fortress was constructed also involves a tale of revenge… Early in his reign, Vlad Dracula gave a feast to celebrate Easter. Vlad was well aware that many of these same nobles were part of the conspiracy that had led to his father’s assassination and the blinding and then burying alive of his elder brother, Mircea.  Many had also played a role in the overthrow of numerous Wallachian princes. During the feast Vlad asked his noble guests how many princes had ruled during their lifetimes. All of the nobles present had outlived several princes. None had seen less then seven reigns. Vlad immediately had all the assembled nobles arrested. The older nobles and their families were impaled on the spot.  The younger and healthier nobles and their families were marched north to the ruins of his castle in the mountains above the Arges River. The enslaved nobles and their families were forced to labor for months rebuilding the old castle with materials from a nearby ruin. According to the reports, they labored until the clothes fell off their bodies and then were forced to continue working naked. Yep, ol’ Vlad was a sick bastard.

Lake Vidraru–only 1km away from Vlad’s  fortress… I might have impaled people too for that view… It’s amazing.

In the end, I learned a lot of interesting history–some of it quite disturbing–but I didn’t find any vampires, evil villains, or rich princes [Dominic must not have been home], but I did find Vampire Wine–[oh yeah, I bought some]

October 19 2014

So you want to start a blog, do you?

I’ve had a few blogs over the years.  All were the free kind with a very specific focus.  Like when I went to south america–my blog was more like a travelogue.  When I went to nursing school, my blog was all about that….travels to Europe– more travelogues.  So I’ve learned a thing or two about blogging.  I am still no expert, but…

THINGS I’VE LEARNED:

Blogging is hard.  It’s time-consuming.  The learning curve is steep.  There’s a lot to learn even if you are technology guru. Which I’m not.  Finding ‘your voice’ takes time [I’m still finding it.  How ‘authentic’ should one be?  What constitutes over-sharing? Ect, ect.]. Writing for an audience is a lot different than writing in a journal.  Editing photos [and videos too I’d imagine, although I haven’t gone down that road yet] isn’t as easy as applying an Instagram filter and hitting ‘publish’.  Design is hard.  Getting ideas from your head into html code isn’t easy.  Reading other blogs, seeing cool features you’d like to adapt but have no idea how to do so is frustrating.  Thoughts like ‘is it stealing if I  use the same plug-in as someone else?’  ‘Will they mind?’  ‘How do I adapt it to make it different, but still what I want? ect, ect’ are ever present.

So what have I learned in since starting this blog?  I am glad you asked.

1.  Defining your purpose is crucial

everglades kayaking 1

If you can answer the question “why do I want to start a blog?’  [this goes for any type of blog], it will make your life a whole lot easier. People start blogs for many different reasons. Some to showcase a house remodel; some to showcase fashion ideas.  Some blogs are set up to keep friends and family up to date on trips around the world. Other people want a blog to show their photography to the world, and some people have a blog as their career.  They network with other travelers, bloggers, products and companies and actually make a living blogging. Whatever your goal may be having a clear purpose at the beginning will help you create a blog to address those goals.

I really wanted my first blog be like a travel journal.  It’s took a few weeks of design trial and error to decide that.  Some blogs are really cool, but they have features I’d never use, and by not using them, the blog loses something.  So for now, my blog is a ‘personal’ blog. I’ve started a new career.  I’m still in school, and I still travel as much as possible.  I’ve got a lot going on.  My blog reflects that.

Of course blogging purposes may change over time. If you think you might want to blog long term, try to develop your site with flexibility in mind.  Know that a re-design is always possible, but changing things like the title, web address, and type of blog may be committing [blog] suicide.

2.  Consider your audience or who you’d like your audience to be can help you ‘find your voice’

For most people, the first few blog posts will be aimed at friends and/or family…especially if the blog is set up prior to a long trip or housing remodel.  However, if you’d like to reach a broader audience, consider who you’d like that audience to be.  Backpackers?  Luxury travelers?  People with kids?  First timers?  Retirees?  20-somethings?  Somewhere in the middle?  A unique niche?  If you are looking to get traffic on your website, write with your audience in mind and let them know what you can do for them.

For example, my short-term goal is to finish nursing school, get experience, eventually sign on with a travel company, work as a travel nurse while earning my nurse practitioner degree. That goal is so far away right now it wouldn’t make sense for me to target people who want to do travel nursing.  None of that has anything to do with travel blogging.  But right now I CAN target students–especially older students, people who have limited time and/or money for holidays, and people who want to travel– just not travel long term.  All of that has to do with travel blogging and going to school.

3.  Thinking about your blog name now will pay dividends in the future.

Choosing a blog name is hard.  Real name vs fake name?  Full name vs Partial name?  Something with the type of blog in it or not?  Something completely different?

I went through at least 10 names before I decided on Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats, and I’ll get to why I decided on it in a minute.

First, I didn’t want use my full name as my web address, and besides, I have a fairly common name with a teeny tiny twist on the spelling of my last name.  If I type my name is a google search, the first few pages are other people with the same name as me.  However, if you want to blog under your real name and that name isn’t all that common, you shouldn’t have problem.

 If you decide to choose a pseudonym [aka something other than your real name], there are two main  things to consider:

  • Is that name available [as a domain plus any other platforms you might want to use such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Reddit, ect]?  I didn’t have Twitter before I set up my blog so once I decided on a name, I set up a Twitter account with the same name…[@Adventureadikt in case you are wondering…I’m still not very Twitter savvy yet, but I’m working on it.]  I created a Facebook page as an adjunct to my personal page [called Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats…]  My Instagram account was already set up.  I just changed the name and have to refrain from posting pictures of my cat everyday, but I’m finding Instagram the easiest to use.  I’m still debating the usefulness of having Google+, Pinterest, ect account devoted to my blog, but I have already staked claim to Pinterest and Google+ as Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats.
  • Is someone else using the name you want?  If so, in most cases, it’s prudent to choose another name to avoid creating audience confusion and blog confusion.  I’m sure there are cases where it exist, but imagine the confusion for someone coming to your site but perhaps going to a porn site instead…

I first thought of creating a blog using the name Peripatetic Michelle.  I thought it was snappy.  Most people didn’t know how to spell ‘Peripatetic’, or what it meant.  I spent a lot of time spelling that word then explaining it meant essentially the same as nomad…which is a lot more common word and a lot easier to spell.

I then thought something like Out and About with Michelle would be cool.  That’s entirely too long of a name for a web address.  Out and About was taken, and I didn’t want to change the spelling too much in order to claim it. I them thought of names like Michelle’s Big Adventure [oh wait…I don’t have a big adventure]  On the road…[taken].  I went in a different direction thinking of my favorite travel quotes, poems, ect…

  • Two roads diverged[taken]  The road less traveled [from Robert Frost’s poem…taken]
  • All who wander [taken…from a Tolkien quote]
  • I’m not lost [also taken…also derived from the same quote]

Ultimately, I decided on Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats for a couple of reasons.  Life can become very stagnant without having dreams [or goals].  I think everyone should have a dream–whether it’s something lofty like visiting every country in the world or trying to find the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. The second one being it’s a nod [albeit a slight one] to the fact that I am NOT a full-time traveler.  Traveling is by far my favorite activity, but I currently have a job at a hospital, go to school full time, and have two kitties at home that keeping me on my toes.

kaos-loves-the-computer-too

4.  Platforms and hosting has nothing to do with shoes and parties

I am so glad I researched this before my first blog.  Everyone said use WordPress.  It will make your life easier.  I like easy so I used WordPress from the start.  I have never used anything else and I have not had any issues…

If I have any problem with WordPress, and really I don’t, it’s that there are SO.MANY.OPTIONS …widgets [not just -something discussed in Economics class] and plug-ins, themes and menu…it’s a bit overwhelming in the beginning.  There’s also the free [with wordpress.com] or the paid [just the name of your site].

For this blog, I use the self-hosted one at wordpress.org.  I do have to use a hosting site and I use SiteGround…I’ve never had issues, but I really don’t know enough about them.  I just googled ‘self-hosted servers’ read the reviews, and picked one.  I’ve used BlueHost in the past and while they were OK, contacting customer support usually turned into an all day affair.

Do yourself a favor though, use wordpress from the beginning.  Seriously.

5.  Choosing the right technology will make your life easy

Potion making at old operating museum

Technology is advancing every day, but choosing the right tools makes life a lot easier.

On my first big trip to the UK, I had a 2 SLR cameras and a point and shoot camera [OK…my first, first adventure was still on film!  I sound so old!] and a CD Walkman.  I used PIN telephone cards to make phone calls and sent my negatives back home.  It was frustrating.  It was slow.  Then I upgraded to a DSLR…It was still mind-nummingly frustrating to get my photos off the camera onto my Facebook page. My next adventure was a month long trip through the north eastern US and parts of Canada.  I traveled with a netbook and the same cameras.  I used my regular cell phone, but it didn’t work for the nearly two weeks I was in Canada.

For my next adventure [6 weeks in Europe in winter], I took my Kindle and the cameras.  I could upload photos taken with the kindle directly to Facebook and while writing on a Kindle isn’t the easiest thing in the world, it’s better than depending on others for technology.

I’m still working out the right amount of technology for a trip, but I’ve got a head start on what’s too much.

6.  Blogging is hard

kayaking off tybee island

It’s even harder if you are doing it on the road.  It takes time to come up with ideas, write them out, take pictures, edit them, and post it all to a blog consistently.  A blog is not a blog without content.  And yet content–or I should say GOOD content– is the hardest part of any blog.  There are millions of blogs on the web these days, and content is what makes one blog succeed while another one fails. Content and consistency.  My goal is to blog content twice a week and add a photo post in once a week.  I have found, from reading other blogs, that it is important to let the reader know how often new content will appear.  Whether its twice a day or once a week, it’s a lot easier as a reader to say ‘oh, it’s Wednesday…let me pop over to Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats and see what’s new’ than to randomly check in and get frustrated when there’s nothing new.

I have read that it helps to have a months’ worth of posts ready before you publish the first one.  I don’t have that many, but I do have a couple weeks’ worth of posts ready.

Good, regular content is the key to successful blogging.

Foot hills trail hiking

August 17 2014

Paddle harder

Love many, trust few, and paddle your own canoe.

“You have to sign this release and watch the safety video, and then will be on our way, and make sure you check the box that says ‘no guide’.”  I looked at my friend Greg, and said ‘No guide?’ and he said ‘Yep, no guide.’  I wasn’t so sure.  I probably needed a guide, and extra time with that safety video, if I’m being honest.

nantahala-river-4

I always feel apprehension and anxiety before any new adventure because let’s be honest, I’m not the most graceful person in the world.  There’s always the chance that the boat I’m in will capsize, the equipment I’m using will malfunction, or I’ll trip, fall, and break something.  Usually once I get started, I’m fine, but those moments before, I’m a giant scared-y cat.

nantahala-river-2
Although floating down the river is nothing to be afraid of.

I took some solace in the fact that the Nantahala is one of the easier whitewater rivers  to raft in the eastern US.  It’s great for beginners [like me!].   The run is 8 miles of Class II rapids with one tiny little bit of Class III rapids right at the end.nantahala-river-3

The water was fast and mostly flat. I am not a good front boat paddler. I’d probably be a worse rear paddler. I got yelled at several times… “paddle harder, paddle harder”. I paddled harder; I paddled my little heart out. I don’t think anything I did mattered. We made it 8 miles down the river without anyone falling out.

I suck at paddling a raft. I’m decent in a kayak, but rafting, I completely suck. But every adventure isn’t always about experiencing the biggest adrenaline rush or taking it to the edge. I don’t have to be the best at everything or have the greatest story to tell. Sometimes doing something I’ve never done before allows me to challenge myself. It allows me to let go a fear… Fear that plagues everyone at some point in life. Sometimes it allow me a chance to be humble and reconnect with my inner self.

Life isn’t always a contest.

nantahala-river-1

May 1 2014

Postcards from Seattle

Sometimes I just like to take my camera around a new destination and snap whatever interests me… Enter Postcards from…    Today’s destination is Seattle, Washington. My first visit to the city was in May 2012. I’ve since returned in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.  It is my favorite city in the USA outside of South Carolina.


Although no rooms are available for 75 cents these days
The Space Needle on a beautiful spring day
The famous Pike Place Market

and a self-portrait at the Space Needle

2012.8.24 Seattle Michellee

 

 

 

space needle

 

wwii-planes-museum-of-flight-seattle-washington
And finally, a bi-plane at the museum of flight
April 18 2014

Out and About in… Palenque

Although only a few hours apart and constructed at around the same time, the  ruins of Palenque are very different from those at Tikal. Both sites are awesome in their own way. Both are huge. Both boast of  beautiful, mighty temples. Both are set in a lush jungle. But both served rather different functions. Whereas Tikal was one of the  most important urban Mayan centres, Palenque was a massive  cemetery, with most of the temples used as ceremonial burial  chambers.  Jose, the guide, escorted us through the main buildings including the:

Temple of the Skull: named after the stucco relief  of a skull, thought to be a rabbit skull, on the front of it.

Image result for temple of the skulls palenque

Temple  XIII: where in 1994 the remains of the Reina Roja (Red Queen) were found.  The bones are thought to have belonged to a 40-year-old woman, and had been  preserved in red cinnabar. Although the bones have now been removed [booo], we were  allowed to visit the sarcophagus in the inside the temple and could see the red  pigment still in it.

Temple of the Inscriptions: a 26 meter high  pyramid with 9 levels, so-named because of the inscriptions discovered inside  its walls. In the 1950s a Mexican archaeologist, Alberto Ruz Lhuiller, was exploring the deep bowels of the temple, removed a stone stab in the floor of a back  room and discovered a big old tomb.  It turned out to be that of King Pakal, one of the most important Mayan rulers. He ruled from 615AD- 683AD, and  lived to the ripe old age of 80, which was positively ancient in those times  when most people died by the age of 40.

Apparently he was really tall as  well, unlike most Maya who are super tiny [exhibit A–all of the pyramids they constructed…have you seen those steps?]. Some historians debated  whether he was actually Maya at all, or perhaps came from Europe or somewhere  like that, although most now agree that he was probably just big because he got  to eat all the best food. [It is good to be king]

He’s still in his  mausoleum in the temple, although unfortunately tourists aren’t allowed to go  inside the temple anymore as people have in the past taken it a bit too literally and graffiti-ed it. There is however a replica of the tomb in the site museum which we later visited, and were also shown a video with some  footage of the sarcophagus as Lhuiller discovered it – all covered in  centuries stalactites and stalagmites. Just seeing the pyramids from the  outside is awesome, it must have been absolutely mind-blowing to find all that  stuff inside.

Grand Palace: unlike the others, people weren’t  buried in this one. Instead it was an administrative and  residential block. It’s an intricate maze of courtyards and corridors leading  into rooms with some old beds and  some old Maya toilets. The tower on the top is thought to have been used  for astronomy, although the very top part of it was reconstructed in 1930  according to how a French archaeologist thought it would have looked, but now  they reckon it probably wouldn’t have looked like that after all, but just been  flat. Oops. [those French]

Aqueduct: the Maya controlled the  course of the Usumacinta river which flows through Palenque to prevent  floods and damage to the buildings. There are some pretty waterfalls around  there, too.

Cross group: made up of the Temple of the Cross, Temple  of the Sun, and Temple of the Foliated Cross, a set of tall narrow temples with elaborate carvings. One has a cross on  the top, although it’s not actually a cross, but supposed to represent the tree  of creation.  We also walked along a jungle trail where Jose pointed out  various different types of tree (cedar, mahogany, sapodilla, avocado, mango and  almond), we got to swing on vines Tarzan-style, and also saw several examples  of un-excavated ruins.  The city was so huge that they reckon only about 5% of the structures have  actually been uncovered. Jose pointed out a huge mound behind the Cross group of  temples that is in fact another temple, which must have dwarfed all the others.  There are no plans to uncover it at the moment though as the jungle it is buried under is so rich in wildlife that a lot of poor spider monkeys, howler  monkeys, pumas, jaguars, toucans, parrots and other birds would be made homeless  if they cut it down.  So we’ll just have to make do with the 5%, which is  plenty impressive as it is.

March 28 2014

San Cristobal de las Casas

The first thing I noticed when stepping off the bus at the San Cristobal bus station was just how cold it was. As in see your breath cold. And having just come from the jungle in Palenque is was quite a shock to the system.  The city, located in the state of Chiapas, borders Guatemala, and is nestled in pine forest in the Jovel mountain valley at 2100m [about 6500ft] above sea level is considerably cooler than most other places in southern Mexico. Additionally San Cristobal is not a city usually visited by tourists, or at least not foreign tourists.  It doesn’t have any well known ruins, but the state of Chiapas has a lot going for it nature-wise, and  it is a jumping off point for crossing the border into Guatemala by land, which is how I found myself passing a few more days than planned in the authentically quaint town of San Cristobal.

On my first night in town I stumbled into a pro-Zapatista rally.  Now not being one for political events, I meandered on by, but not before getting an earful on why the Zapatistas are the best political party in the country [political propaganda at its best].  The air was getting brisk so I bought one of those ubiquitous colorful woven sweatshirt.  I thought about buying a blanket too, but then practicality won out as it would be several weeks before I would be headed back to Campeche. So sweatshirt it was.

San Cristobal takes its name from first bishop of Chiapas,  St Christopher [patron saint of travelers] and Bartolomé de Las Casas, who defended the rights of indigenous Chiapanecos.  Chiapas has Mexico’s second-largest indigenous population, and has a history rich in ancient Maya culture, many traditions of which are kept very much alive even today in the several Tzotzil and Tzeltal villages surrounding San Cristobal.  It also has a legacy of Spanish colonization, which is apparent in the beautiful buildings and churches all around the place, as well as the not so beautiful plight of the impoverished and  historically mistreated indigenous communities who continue to struggle for land and equality today. San Cristobal was one of the main cities taken by the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) in the 1994 uprising, and although the violence has quelled since ’94,  the Zapatistas are still very active in their campaign for justice – I  saw [more than one]  huge demonstration against the Zapatists in the zocalo while there, and one rally for them. Go figure.

San Cristobal wasn’t entirely what I were expecting, especially when you consider the climate, and there were definitely a couple of unexpected low points to this leg of the journey; but these things happen, it’s what makes travel interesting. Aside from that, the food was amazing, and the scenery beautiful.

Whilst in San Cristobal I have  also:

saw a pro-Zapitista rally at the church  [this is the church, but I didn’t dare break out the camera during the rally]

wandered the colourful cobbled streets

admired the colorful VWs scattered all over town.[I’m not sure about the story behind the VWs, but there were several older model of colors in various places in the city]

browsed through the colorful craft markets where indigenas sell beautifully woven goods and Zapatista-related souvenirs [which somehow seems wrong to me]

climbed up the Cerrito San Cristobal to the Templo del Cerrito

climbed up another small hill to the Templo de Guadalupe (which has a very scary looking white porcelain Jesus in a bright purple robe, and a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe adorned with flashing fairy lights)

and finally, enjoyed a night of Mexican folk music, tacos al pastor, and some honest-to God Tequila at a local restaurant/bar

 

March 14 2014

Chiapas and Zapatistas

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35 mm film.  Now it’s all digital. On Flashback Fridays I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.

The next few Flashback Fridays focus on Mexico, Guatemala, and other Mayan sites that I visited during my study abroad/independent study on Mayan Art and Architecture.

I have been avoiding Chiapas since I decided to stay in Campeche. [Yes,  I do realize that Palenque is in Chiapas,]  I have been avoiding it due to the Zapatistas that seems to thrive in the area.  Maybe I was overreacting; maybe not, but the Zapatistas scare me.  Chiapas is a poor state, and their grass-roots attempts at reform generally appeal to poorer people.  Who knows?  They may want to kidnap an American as part of their protest of NAFTA.  I’m attempting to not appear American.  I have my People in Espanol magazine, my Luis Miguel, Cristian Castro, and Thalia CDs.  I am more than willing to pass for the Spaniard that everyone seems to think I am.

Somewhere between Tuxtla Gutierrez and San Cristobal the bus was stopped.  Scary dudes with big  guns boarded the bus.  Two people were ‘escorted’ off.  I say they were kidnapped, but what do I know.  Maybe they wanted to go with the men  in black suits with the big guns. The bus left.  They were not on it.  Why?  Who knows, but that’s exactly what I am afraid of… Scary men with big guns taking me off the bus to who knows where.

No need to remind me; I know I am in Zapatista territory.

See, I am in Zapatista territory…. I am probably going to die here… At least I am not in possession of any of the ‘forbidden’  items: Armas [oh the irony], seeds [for planting drugs or I don’t know maybe corn], or alcoholic beverages.  And I am not planning to sell wood illegally or destroy nature.  Maybe they will leave me alone after all.  Hopefully San Cristobal will be a pleasant city to pass a few days in.

January 3 2014

Flashback Friday: Loving nature in Chiapas

Hello, all. For 2014 and beyond, I am staring a new feature called Flashback Friday featuring previous travels and pit stops.  It will be on the first Friday of each month, and hopefully enjoyable for all, including me since I see my travel days being limited the next few years while I am headed back to the classroom.  First up, my adventures in Mexico, where I lived during my last sojourn as a student.

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35 mm film.  Now it’s all digital. On Flashback Fridays I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.

In 1999, 2000, and 2004, I spent a large chunk of time traveling in Mexico.  Visiting Chiapas was one of these chunks of time.  I was here in 1999 and 2000.

Chiapas is not one of my favorite places in the world. It is one of only a handful of places in the world that I did not feel welcome or safe thanks to the Zapatistas who live in the area yet not only did I go, I went twice.

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In case you were confused as to where you were.

I was also there with my dad– who stood out negatively in every way…speaking English too loudly, making inappropriate eye contact, wearing socks with sandals, you name the infraction, he probably committed it. Needless to say, my stress level was at an all time high, with the constant boarding of the policia searching for who know what, and my dad saying, much too loudly I might add, ‘why do you think the police took those tourist off the bus?’ Not for a guided tour, I can bet you that…now will you just pretend to read the magazine and SHUT UP.  I was at my wits ends, and really wanted to ship him back to Cancun, but he really wanted to spend time with me, and I thought it best that we be out in nature rather than try to explain intricacies of Mayan history to him.  And let’s be honest, for anyone not overly fascinated in art and architecture, what I do on a daily basis, it boring…especially when it comes to writing my thesis–who wants to watch someone do that?

Misol-Ha

Misol-Ha is a spectacular 115 foot waterfall right smack in the middle of the jungle…nature at its best.  At its base is a huge plunge pool surrounded by lush vegetation; it’s perfect for swimming. [Movie note:  It’s the waterfall in the Predator movie, or so I’m told.  I’ve never actually seen the movie].

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A wet, slippery path leads behind the falls to a cave.  You can pay 10 or so pesos to explore it or wow the gatekeepers with your knowledge that 1. you are an American who happens to speak Mayan and 2. have blonde hair and speak damn-near perfect Spanish in a Castillo accent [at least according to the Mexican I encounter on a daily basis.]   Either way, I kept my pesos.  At one time, a plank of wood was balanced precariously over the cliff edge.  It looks like it could be a diving board or a lookout spot from which to view the falls, but it’s neither.  It’s just an unsafe piece of wood hanging out over a cliff. If someone hasn’t already toppled off the edge, they will one day. Don’t be that person.

Cascadas de Agua Azul

About 40 or so miles from Palenque, the Cascadas de Agua Azul – exist. They originate in the municipality of Tumbalá, where the Shmulia, Otulun and Tulia rivers meet. And boy are they beautiful.
Agua Azul

The turquoise water gathers in cool natural pools that are perfect for a refreshing dip on a hot day. Some areas are cordoned off and can only be admired from man-made boardwalks and viewing platforms. The swimming areas are clearly marked and easily located thanks to the shrieks of people flinging themselves from rope swings. Only swim in the designated areas and don’t get out of your depth as the currents can be strong and people have drowned.  Don’t be one of those people. Just enjoy their beauty.

As a side note:  the nature in Chiapas is raw and beautiful.  I noticed that I used the phrase ‘don’t be that person’ twice.  It’s a place where nature is so beautiful, so wild, you just want to touch everything, be as close as possible, but seriously, be careful.