The streets of San Christobal are quite narrow and traffic typically flows in one direction. This doesn't eliminate the problem of jams at intersections, but the traffic lights have been removed due to increased congestion. Instead, the rule of one has been implemented. This rule means that cars at the two inbound roads at any intersection take turns. One from the north, one from the west, then one from the north again. It worked so well that they've been able to convert some streets to pedestrian-only malls.
The Mexican rainy season is imminent and we got a taste on our first night in San Cristobal. Fiona and I both got dressed up to go out to dinner with our guide Patrick, only to have the skies open up as soon as we left our room. We thought we'd be fine under our umbrellas, but the real problem was underfoot. The cobbled streets were ankle deep in running water. Apparently it was worse fifteen years ago. The two rivers that run through town disappear into a hole just after they join up on the far side of town. With the increase of plastic being discarded, the hole blocked quickly during rains and the downhill houses would be entirely submerged. The authorities resolved the problem by digging a 100m tunnel to lead the water away, but the streets still take time to drain properly. Thankfully, our room has a gas fireplace and we were able to make great headway towards dry shoes and warm bodies in the couple of hours before we turned in.
The Chiapas region of Mexico is in the west, near Guatemala, and was once occupied by the Mayan people. The name, which comes from the Chia seed growing in the Sumidero valley was first taken on by the local warriors who even the Aztecs avoided for their fierceness. The Spanish eventually defeated the Chiapas through modern weaponry and allying with nearby enemies. More recently, the valley has been dammed for hydro-power and is 150m deep in places. One village was relocated in the process, which isn't too bad in comparison to the displacement occurring in other places like India. Chiapas provides a third of Mexico's power needs and is rich in other resources, but the people are among the poorest in the country. We learnt all this within hours of landing in Mexico. Patrick, our guide, has degrees in both history and anthropology and my head has been swimming with stories since we arrived. Fiona and I chose this trip with CultureXplorers as a compromise between my preference for a few genuine intimate interaction with local people and Fiona's preference for filling up every moment of the trip with relevant experiences and so far it's been a success. Patrick hired a boat and driver to take us out on the river where we saw an eagle searching for food, a kingfisher winging across the valley, cormorants peering into the water, vultures drying themselves on rocks, a black pelican turning its head from side to side, spider monkeys playing in trees and crocodiles sliding into the water to protect their tiny babies from humans. I was amazed to see a diving board near the boat house, but apparently the crocs have learnt to fear humans and
Drivers can be ticketed in San Francisco for not turning their wheels when they park. At first glimpse, it seems nonsensical - damaging tread by turning wheels when not moving means less grip when you really need it - but then you realise that the tyres are turned so that the car will roll into the kerb should the brakes fail. On streets as steep as San Francisco's, a runaway car could do some serious damage.
It's become a tradition among many young Australians to spend Australia Day chilling out (or going off) with friends at a BBQ with a background of the best songs from the previous year. I jumped on the tradition when I came back to Australia and this year was my second event, but will probably be the last. My new home is surrounded by bushland, making it a great place to host a BBQ or party and 15 or so friends turned up for what promised to be a great day. But then, at about number 40 in the countdown, the music stopped. One of my friends (I still don't know who) turned it off so their child could play in the living room. Forget the fact that there was a whole house full of rooms to choose for playing. Forget that they didn't ask anyone. What I'm really pissed about is that they missed the point of the entire day. And I had to take the few who were interested around to the other side of the house where I'd set up my mini system to hear the rest. Next year, I'll have the BBQ the week before and spend Australia Day listening to the music on my own.
When I first arrived in Peru, a Dutch girl staying in the same hostel told me that I must try a local drink 'made from mice. It's delicious.' I try be adventurous with food when travelling, but I'm not a foodie and I'm generally pretty fussy. I think I could manage eating guinea pig, which is a local delicacy, but the thought of drinking something from an animal was gross. Is it from drained blood? Or do they grind the meat up? Today, our guide on the Inca Trail offered us 'chicha', a local drink that was quite tasty. When I asked what made it yellow, I was told it was the maize (corn), and finally understood my mistake in translation.
The flight, with all its stopovers had taken me 48 hours and my bowels were complaining loudly. A couple I'd met on the last leg of the flight had recommended a hostal in the centre of town and I was relieved not to have to make a choice. The taxi took me directly there and I struggled through check in with my poor Spanish, then asked where the bathroom was, not even noticing the cosy courtyard or caring which was my room. Stepping inside, though, I was horrified to see that there was neither soap nor paper. I'd have to hold on a little longer. It was already getting late, but I trusted that the supermarket would still be open and went for a walk. I'd been too embarrassed to ask where to find one, so I had to explore. After only a couple of minutes, I realised that a supermarket was a concept only valid in developed countries and there wouldn't be a large sign pointing to the nearest K-Mart. I'd have to find a general store that sold basic items. I began my hunt in ever widening circles around the hostal and was soon lost in the mass of shops selling bridal gowns, car parts, fancy dress, computers, cakes, mobile phones, magazines and internet access - all advertised with posters of buxom women in bikinis. I still don't understand why these items should be easier to find than soap and toilet paper. It took me half an hour to find a small market with a man selling what I needed to avoid an explosion. Thankfully, the toilet was free when I got back to the hostal and Cochabamba is still whole. I returned