Phnom Penh

Our first time to Cambodia, and we are loving it.  Until we arrived I didn’t realize we’ve been mispronouncing Phnom ….. that is not a silent P!!

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The marathon travel is over!  Arriving in Phnom Penh and climbing into our first tuk tuk of many for our Asian adventure.

What a chaotic city.  Anyone who has ever travelled with us knows that we walk and walk and walk …. 5 blocks anyone??  Mexico City has often seemed challenging for walking, you are so often looking up, down and all around for obstacles.  Well, Phnom Penh is insanity compared to that!  At first we thought maybe they don’t have sidewalks, but technically they do ….. it’s just that their purpose is for parking, small businesses or restaurants and even scooter or motorcycle driving (in any direction).  In fact even in the lanes of the road, the direction of traffic is ONLY a mere suggestion.  Pedestrians, walk at your own risk!  Every time we crossed a street we breathed a sigh of relief.

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If this was a video you would see that guys head swivelling in all directions as he tried to cross, at a crosswalk!  There is no way I even got a photo of us crossing or walking anywhere, just too perilous, each walk was dangerous ….

They do however, have a beautiful walk way along the Tonle Sap river which is wide, well lit and very busy.

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Wats and feral cats everywhere!  I’ve never seen so many stray cats of every description. They don’t bother you at all though, certainly no begging for food or attention.

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These salted snails cooked with lemongrass and lime leaves with chili are a very common snack. No, we didn’t try them …. always a wee bit leery of seafood sitting in the sun (plus Reid tried them and said the texture was off putting).  Well maybe that isn’t the word he used but you get the idea.

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These mangos though!!!  Outstanding and so very plentiful.  We ate them in salads, for breakfast and just for snacks.

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Love the way two different factions of buddhism are side by side in Cambodia.  They have a strong influence from both Chinese and Indian.

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Always monuments!  This was in the centre of another pedestrian walkway.  It is obviously the only place for safety in activity as entire families were out there walking, joggers were jogging, badminton games and roller skating – the place for it all.

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In order to recover from our arduous journey we went for a traditional Khmer massage.  Was it relaxing???  Not on your life it wasn’t.  Grant had plans to nap, as he usually does in a massage.  Not a chance of that happening as we both moaned and groaned and yelped throughout the entire hour.  (ever had a aThai massage? ha ha ha) By the time it ended we were absolutely glowing however, and enjoyed our relaxing cup of tea with the hand stimulator going.  Even two days later our calves were still tender from the experience, but we’d do it again!

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Loved staying at Corner 9 Bassac Hotel …. an oasis in the middle of a very hustling bustling city.  The rooms were quiet and comfortable and it was great to have the pool to relax with.  Their breakfasts were the best we’ve had.

The best breakfast were delicious ….. they bring the ingredients for your noodle bowl and you put it together as you like.  The pork with rice had a dipping sauce that was a bit sweet, spicy and salty … so good.  And, have you ever had rice fresh from harvest?  It is incredibly tasty.

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We did go to the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh.  This peaceful garden was once a secondary school before Pol Pot took over with the Khmer Rouge and their horrific methods of removing any citizens that were scholars, artists and effectively wiping out generations of Cambodians.  Cambodia is still struggling with recovery.  This is the only photo I took there, where it is now once again a peaceful garden with monks gathering alongside people coming to learn about the genocide that took place as well as pay respects.

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FROG!  and not just frog legs.  Marinated and fried, then tossed in a ginger lemongrass sauce that was finger licking good.  

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Betel leaves wrapped around marinated beef with peanut dusting as well as a lime pepper dipping sauce.  The pepper is so fresh (grown in Kampot, Cambodia) which means it is fragrant and very tasty without being overwhelmingly hot.  Just look at all that pepper in the dipping bowl, and yet it wasn’t too spicy.

We ate at Mok Mony 3 times over our few days in Phnom Penh, it was that good.  The owner Peter was very entertaining, and I loved his philosophy.  Go ahead and order whatever you want to try, if you don’t like it (for whatever reason) he simply takes it back.  At the end of the night they reheat all the leftovers, make rice and serve it to the homeless.  This was our first taste of Cambodian food and we were immediately hooked. We actually hadn’t heard much about the Cambodian food culture like we do for Thailand and Vietnam so this was a real bonus in our books.

 

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The streets around the Royal Palace are for pedestrians only, and you will be sure to spot plenty of monks around.

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This old colonial building is for sale or rent ….. just a wee bit of a fixer upper.

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This old abandoned building has been taken over by squatters, and is full of families.

Phnom Penh has been great, a busy hustling and bustling city that was our introduction to Cambodia.  Now on to smaller areas as we make our way up to Siem Reap.

 

One Magical Day

We left our B&B at Santa Elena after breakfast, ready for a day of adventure in our rented car.  Good thing we were ready because it was one full day.  It seems that everywhere you look in this region you will spot ancient pyramid structures.  The town of Izamal  has 3 of them in the midst of town – it could be right beside a house!

Our first stop was at Labna,  I love the ruins that are so quiet, it allows you to feel the peace, the energy, and to just listen to the birds.  This is one site believed to be very important as it housed around 3,000 Mayans in the 9th centre.  Don’t miss this on the Ruta Puuc as the architecture is truly Puuc style and very interesting.   They were well known for their cisterns, at their peak they had 60 around the city.  As many ruins as we’ve seen I’m always impressed with what they were able to do in ancient times with so few tools.  There is something about wandering around these structures without crowds of people that allows you to feel the vitality of civilizations past.

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Just loved the magnificent old trees, Vivi loved the natural swing!

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These beautiful structures were spread over quite a large area, and they haven’t even restored it all.  In 2006 they completed the restoration work we were able to see.

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No, we aren’t allowed to climb on the structures, but I think sitting for a photo is okay ……

 

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So many years later, the structural integrity of this building was still intact.  The only restoration needed was in the arch and stairways.  Obviously a brilliant civilization to be able to accomplish all this.

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It was hard to tear ourselves away from this beautiful setting. BUT, caves are waiting!

Loltun Caves “Grutas de Loltun” were just down the road, and an amazing experience.  That road though!  After driving miles in the Yucatan it is so refreshing to drive down a road with something to look at – lined with lush orchards, banana and palm groves.

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Yes, we are going down in there.  Some of us under duress.  (no, I’m not looking at you Vivi)

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It is necessary to take a guided tour through the caves.  Our guide, Ricardo, was full of information, including the fact  that we would only be seeing 2 k of the 10 k trails.  They are very protective of these caves, and understandably so as they are the most important cave system in the Yucatan Peninsula.

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Can you see why we didn’t want to tell Vivi why we were so far underground?  These stalactites were enormous!  No stalagmites form here as the minerals get washed away during the flooding in rainy season.

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This particular stalactite is hollow!  The cave structure received it’s name from this. When you hit it in one area it makes a “lolllll” sound, and a second area makes the “tunnnnn” …. lollllltunnn.  We were able to replicate this ourselves, and felt the reverberation right through us.

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The light is coming from a hole above.  Mayans didn’t live in this cave structure, but rather used it for worship, or protection from either animals or enemies.  They would also use it to drive animals to it, who would then fall to their death in order to be eaten.  Standing here, surrounded by energies from civilizations past, it was one of those moments both Vivi and I thought would be imprinted on us.

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These hand prints on the walls are just some of the evidence found here – a treasure trove for archeological studies.  Evidence has been found that has been carbon dated to over 2,200 years ago.  That boggles my mind.

Same day, can you even believe it is the same day?  We are off to cenotes.  You know Grant, when we’ve got a rented car it is not going to sit around …..

Just outside of Izamal is a series of cenotes called Santa Barbara.  In the Yucatan peninsula there are over 6,000 cenotes – natural sinkholes.  They are formed when the limestone bedrock, forming the roof of an underground cavern collapses, exposes the ground water underneath.  Not when a meteorite struck as some believe …..

This one in particular is fun to go to, as you can choose to walk between the cenotes, ride a bike, or get pulled by horse on a rail track.  You know with Vivi we are always going to go the horse route, as with Hayley, Sloan and Stella when we were here last.

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Seated on a cart, these little horses pull us along at a pretty good clip to a series of 3 cenotes.

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The water is crystal clear and so refreshing.

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Some cenotes have quite a large opening above to let in light, but others just have an opening large enough to have a ladder going down, and enough room to climb it!

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This cenote is largely an open area, just look at the roots on the trees above us stretching for water.  In rainy season they are underwater.

At long last we are ready to find a place to stay in Izamal.  Only 70 k from Merida this entire historical district is painted with a bright, vivid yellow giving the city a nickname of “the yellow city”.  This is a beautifully quiet little place, lovely to walk around.  Right next to a home you might see the remains of a pyramid.  The town centre has 3 pyramids around it that are easily accessible.

We found an amazing little B&B to stay at.  Juan and his staff were amazingly friendly and attentive.  Not only was the place a beautiful spot to relax, it was quirky enough to have us wandering around looking at it all!

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This Franciscan monastery is at the centre of town.  There are so many images of Mayan gods in the town, on the ruins, that it provoked the Spaniards to build this large structure overlooking Izamal.

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These beautiful little carts and dressed up horses are available to use as a taxi, or to just have a tour of the area.

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We loved this beautiful little spot!  Viv and Wilson had the blue bungalow, and we had the pink.

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The owner, Juan, was very friendly.  This is the jungle room, and the entire room is painted like this!  Incredible to view, but I’m not sure how restful ….. I might have been apprehensive about getting attacked!

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And ….. that’s a wrap on a simply magical day.  We finished at Kinich Restaurant, traditional Yucatecan food.  This dish of chicken on a white bean puree, with tomato and nut sauce was lip smacking good.  That glass of green hovering on the edge of the photo is a Chaya drink, an herb somewhat like spinach.  Delicious and refreshing.

Time to return the rental car to Merida, so we headed to Progresso first for lunch, and a search for some flamingo winter resting grounds.  We did find them but not close enough to be photo worthy.  In spite of that, we loved seeing them in the mangrove – so beautiful and graceful.  This was the moment I wished for a real camera instead of my phone! Maybe someday.

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The 7 km pier at Progresso is ready to welcome cruise ships …….eek.

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I don’t understand why Mike hasn’t insisted I get a selfie stick yet.  Maybe because he knows Grant won’t carry it?

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Crabster Restaurant – how’s this for a mile high crab & shrimp burger?

After this we returned the car to Merida, staying for one night at a slightly sketchy hotel with a quirky host …… Grant blocked the doorway with his pack!  Funniest part was trying to find it, we got to the right address but no hotel.  So off we went, walking down the road with our bags.  Eventually I phoned the hotel and got an English accented Canadian who said “oh, are you the people with bags that were at the door”????  Should have been our first clue and kept us walking but it all adds to the adventure.  Or, so I tell myself.  Its time to hit the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Juan Chamula

I love getting a glimpse into other cultures.  We always enjoy searching out areas where the locals hang out, and you aren’t quite as likely to run into crowds of international travellers.  We’ve experienced Chiapas, Mexico before, but this time bringing along cousins Vivian and Wilson allows us to share with them the magic and beauty of some of these amazing Pueblas. Chamula is high in the mountains, over an already high city of San Cristobal de las Casas.  We returned the following day, when it was misty and cloudy, but I didn’t take any photos without a guide to let me know when it was advisable.  On that day it was literally like being in a cloud.  Just simple mist in the air, clinging to everything, but no real rainfall.

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Go to the cross in front of the church, town centre in San Cristobal de las Casas.  Look for someone representing AlexyRaul tours.  Be there just before 9:30, and you can hook up for a tour to San Juan Chamula, and San Lorenzo Zinacantan.  The tour is about 3-4 hours (250 pesos – $17) and is one of the best we’ve ever been on.

Both Chamula and Zinacantan are indigenous villages (populated by the Tzotzil – Mayan tribe) a short distance from San Cristobal.  These villages are unique in that they are autonomous from the rules, laws and taxes of Mexico.  They govern themselves entirely.  One of the things we noticed about that is the cars don’t have any licence plates, and virtually as soon as you can reach a gas pedal you can drive…… Needless to say, this can only happen in your village.  Chamula is fiercely independent, and they do not take kindly to outsiders.  A man may marry or bring in an outsider (polygamy is acceptable) but not a female.  No outside males may ever reside in Chamula.  Be very careful taking photographs here, and certainly don’t take ANY of the religious leaders or ceremonies.  Our tour guide explained that we were able to take photos of general scenes, and if that happened to capture some individuals, that is the best you can expect.

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Arriving in Chamula, our first stop was the cemetery.  Not the solemn place we come to expect in Canada.  Large family groups gather on a regular basis to visit, laugh, talk, eat and drink with their departed family members.  A band is even hired! All those dry pine needles are from previous visits.  They will routinely be replaced by fresh needles.

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The church, and square is central to all activities.  Built as a Catholic Church, it quickly became more Mayan.  The decorations are all part of Mayan life, and inside it is an interesting combination of Catholic saints and Mayan worship.  You won’t find any pews, or altars, but rather a floor lined with pine needles, candles burning, live chickens and flower petals.  Don’t forget the Coca Cola.  This pop has a life of its own here – considered quite sacred, used in religious ceremonies and just consumed by the case.  We even noted a sign for a village named San Juan Coca Cola.  There are family groups scattered around, each with their own healer, performing ceremonies, and praying to the saint of their choice.  NO, I certainly didn’t take any photos inside.

 

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Sunday is a big market day, with both Chamula residents, and those from outlying villages offering everything you can think of.

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The residents of Chamula speak Tzotzil, and wear traditional clothing all the time, not just on festival days.  The black skirts are woven from the wool of the black sheep you see grazing on the hillsides all over the place, while the men wear the white tunic primarily in the warmer weather, but a woven black coat in the winter.  Black sheep are so predominant here that if a family member causes trouble, they are considered the “white sheep”.  Not the best photo, but I had to crop from a large “scene” photo.

 

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The women often have a scarf or shawl on their head, perhaps to keep the sun off?

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We had taken the tour with Alex and Raul  tours about 7 years ago, and returned the following year so Mike and Hayley could experience that.  We have visited the villages since, but with Vivi and Wilson along, we wanted to have them get the same information.  It is really refreshing to find a tour guide that has such respect for the areas we are allowed into.  He also took us into a “holy” home, where some religious ceremonies were performed.  Needless to say, no photos were allowed, but how I wish I could have recorded that room with the incense and smoke absolutely filling the space, such that it was difficult to see across.  The floors are covered with pine needles, and the saint is protected from view by multiple levels of foliage.  The elders and religious leaders were praying and the musicians kept up a steady beat.  It is literally impossible not to be moved in such a setting.  Alcohol plays a large part of the ceremonies too, with them consuming “poxx” or “posh”.  Over 40% alcohol, it is distilled from sugar cane and helps, with the repetitive music, take them to a “higher level of consciousness”.

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These women are selling fleece recently sheared, for the woven garments.

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The women of Chamula gather to socialize on market day.

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Can you even imagine how warm these woven wool coats are?  Note the 4th man, with the “rifle” over his shoulder??  That indicates he is a policeman.  They carry sticks, to represent rifles, and travel in pairs throughout the village.  That wheelbarrow is full of bags of freshly cut coconut and mango, just waiting to be drizzled with hot sauce.  Delicious!

When you return from a visit to these villages, it is with a sense of experiencing the surreal.  A guide allows you the comfort to see the areas you wouldn’t otherwise be able to.  We don’t often hire them, but when we do, it is to make sure we are understanding the cultures and customs of a region without offending.  These indigenous villages are that situation, and when I get home, I often drift back to these moments, with a sense of privilege that we were able to experience this.  I want so many more photos than I take, just to memorize the images of such beautiful faces, unadorned with makeup and certain on their path, unchanged for generations.  We did notice certain differences this time, in that more people had cell phones and I can’t help but wonder how that will change their future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Lorenzo Zinacantan

Zinacantan is an Indigenous village outside San Cristobal.  We recommend you tour this village with a guide (we suggest Alex and Raoul Tours).  In combination with a tour to San Juan Chamula it will take about 3-4 hours.  Just meet up with Raoul or one of his members at the cross in front of the church in San Cristobal.  Be there any time between 8:45 – 9:30 in the morning and you can join in with a group.  What is really impressive about this tour is that they are so respectful of the villages you are going to visit. We really enjoyed our time with Raoul Jr, and loved the way he interacted with the elders of the villages.

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You might wonder how you will find one of the tour guides here ….. but you will.

Zinacantan is similar to San Juan Chamula only in that it is an autonomous village, exempt from the taxes, rules and laws of Mexico.  This village is supported by the flower industry, and arriving in the village you see miles and miles of greenhouses, sometimes on the most impossible slope and you have to wonder about the logistics on managing those.  Flowers are evident everywhere!  They are all over their clothing and the buildings.  It is such a colourful village.  I wish I had been able to take photos inside the churches – they were absolutely beautiful with archways of flowers and banana plants.  Slightly different from Chamula, these churches had altars and a few pews.  Behind the altar though, was an astonishing array of flowers.  You simply can’t believe the colourful display.

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Part of our tour took us into a weaver’s home, where they showed us how labor intensive the weaving is.  Literally days worth to create a shawl.  THEN, they start the embroidery.

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CORN. Part of everyday life, in all its varieties.

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This is life in the village. We were so fortunate to have this family prepare a snack for us in their kitchen, Blue corn tortillas on the comal (flat cooking surface) over a wood fire.  Can tortillas ever taste better?  I don’t think so.

 

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If this is what the entry to church looks like, can you even imagine the interior?  It was stunning.

We were in Zinacantan during festival days (no accident, you know Grant looks up all this extensively!)

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All  in traditional clothing, they are chanting and dancing their way into the church for blessings before carrying on with the next stage of the festival.  (All stages include lots of moonshine!)

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Hard to imagine all the colour ….. these are the men involved in the ceremonies.

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The flowers themselves are stunning, but the artistry in the arrangements really is amazing.

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Just look at the embroidery on the clothing – this is everyday wear!

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The colours are brilliant.  It’s hard to imagine how many hours of embroidery go into the daily clothing for both males and females.

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There were all sorts of activities going on for the festival that involved the horses, but we never did catch the race this year.

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Residents of Zinacantan aren’t quite as upset about getting their photo taken.

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This guy loved having his photo taken, wish I’d turned it to video as he and his horse danced around.  See the school in the background & the cow grazing.  No need for a lawn mower here.

 

 

 

All the guys with black painted faces are panthers, the beak guys with corn in their mouths are crows, and well…. the others are jaguars.  The panthers climb that stripped tree, with the dissected squirrels (real ones, but stuffed) and throw them down to the hunters who race around trying to collect them.  We waited for hours, but no one ever seems to know when something is actually going to transpire!

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Look at all that embroidery, even the youngest wear the traditional clothing.

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You know right away this family is from Chamula by the black wool skirts. (and the suspicious look at my phone)

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If you have time on your vacation to tear yourself away from Mexico’s amazing beaches, we heartily recommend you go inland …. the culture, food and sights you see are well worth it.

 

 

Crispy Crunchy Fish Tacos

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Crispy, crunchy, spicy & creamy – fish tacos don’t get any better!

Flaky white fish (cod today), coated in the crispiest, craggiest of batters, and topped with creamy avocado, spicy chipotle cream, fresh & crispy peanut cabbage coleslaw and cilantro.    Our favourite fish tacos in Mexico are found in Puerto Escondido at this amazing spot we just had to return to.  La Olito, you do it best!  No, I’m sure these are not exactly the same, but once you’ve had them you will also want to either hop a plane for Puerto Escondido or try my version.

 

BATTER

  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup rice flour
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsp smoked paprika
  • sea salt
  • 3/4 cup beer (maybe more if necessary)
  • 1 egg

This works for about 1 pound white fish, (halibut, cod, snapper).  Cut into 2″ pieces  and dust with salt and pepper, then a light coating of flour.

Combine flour, paprika, pepper & salt and whisk to combine.   Transfer half the mixture to a bowl and set aside.  Add the beer & egg to remaining mixture and whisk until a smooth batter (it should be about the consistency of paint).  Add a bit more beer at a time until it does.  Set aside.

Heat oil in deep fryer or fry pan to 350.

Take fish that has been coated in the light flour and dip in the batter, then into the dry spiced flour mixture.  Cook pieces a few at a time so that you don’t bring the temperature of the oil down by crowding the fish.  Turn fish a few times so that the entire fish piece is crispy, crunchy and golden brown.

As fish is cooked, keep warm in a 200 degree oven until all the fish is cooked.

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Serve with:

Chipotle Aoili

To make chipotle aoili combine:

  • 1/3 cup sour cream (feel free to use plain yogurt)
  • 1 minced chipotle chili in adobo sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

This is a generalization really …… everybody has different spice tastes, and all products have different levels of flavour.  Make this your own!

Peanut Coleslaw

roast 1/ cup peanuts lightly, chop and set aside

1-2 cups shredded cabbage (add carrot and red cabbage if you like)

  • 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 4 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • salt & pepper to taste

Mix dressing ingredients together and toss with cabbage and peanuts

Heat tortillas, and fill up with fish, top with coleslaw, crema, avocado and cilantro.

 

If you haven’t packed your bags for Mexico yet …. get out the napkins and try these fish tacos.

 

 

Chicken Flautas with Tomatillo Sauce

You never know where you will find a mouth watering bite in Mexico City.  These chicken flautas, crispy and crunchy on the outside with tender tasty chicken inside, were served out of a spotlessly clean corner of a car wash!!

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Keep it simple, just the way it should be.  Using cooked, shredded chicken put a small amount on a tortilla and roll it up.  Secure with a toothpick – don’t skip this step otherwise the moment you put it into the hot oil it will want to unravel.

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Cook in heated oil (350 degrees) turning gently, just until the tortilla is browned & crispy.  Do not overcrowd the pan or the temperature will drop.   As they are finished, set aside in a warm oven until you are finished.

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Garnish with slivered lettuce, and serve with mexican crema, alongside a dish of tomatillo sauce.

(I made my tomatillo sauce by heating the tomatillo sauce and adding enough chicken broth to make a light consistency)  Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.

…….an easy cheat on the crema is to add a bit of lime juice to sour cream….

Puerto Escondido feels like home!

We’ve spent a lot of time in beach towns along the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and I think we’ve come to realize that Puerto Escondido provides everything we love about relaxing along the coast.  There is a bay to visit for whatever your activity; from calm waters to surfing the waves.  We’ve discovered Rinconada is our favourite area, quiet and calm, most residential and great restaurants.  Not only that, it is a great walk to Playa Bacocho.

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Playa Bacocho, 2 km long and a fantastic morning walk.  These waves and undertow can be treacherous, so watch the waves for 10 minutes or so before getting in.  We enjoyed swimming and bobbing in the waves every day here.

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Playa Carazalillo is perfect for playing in the water – safe and entertaining with snorkelling around the rocky areas, where turtles are often spotted.  This is also a great place for learning to surf or boogie boarding.  A popular spot with both locals and tourists, the entire bay is lined with palapa restaurants.

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It is difficult to figure out when it is going to be a “day off” in Mexico, but when it is the beaches are full of locals.  It is so much fun to watch the families arrive by the bus load, or truck bed, carting food and drink, swimming in clothes and generally having a fantastic time.  They laugh as they bob in the waves and their joy is contagious.  Who wouldn’t love to be hanging out on this beach?

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La Punta ….. a great beach for watching surfers, boogie boarding or body surfing.  Not for the faint of heart or weak swimmers.  Find a nice shaded palapa and relax with some guacamole or tacos while you are scanning the horizon for dolphins or whales.  We were treated to quite an amazing dolphin show here, with them leaping out of the water and playing for an hour or so.  I so wish either my camera or my skills had been able to capture that!

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Zicatela is the primary surf beach, and on a high surf day the waves will be packed with surfboards.

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dsc03459Our home in Puerto Escondido was amazing.  We loved staying at this small 6 unit complex with truly magnificient ocean views.

Take a peek at those ladders between our pool and the beach view …… The “ladder rep” wandered the streets with this push cart selling ladders.  Seems unlikely, but we watched that ladder carrier go from maximum capacity to these few over 2 days!

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Right across from our gate at Las Turquezas was a path winding down to the beach at Playa Bacocho, every day started with a trip down that path for a morning walk and bobbing in the waves.

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Okay, well maybe we didn’t manage to get Vivi out of her hammock EVERY day …

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Going local …. we had use of a wash machine so instead of taking our clothes to the lavanderia we washed them and hung them on the rooftop clothes line.  Now, that is my idea of laundry heaven.

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Sunsets were amazing here, so colourful and while the colours lasted for a while, it is always surprising how quickly that sun goes from just above the ocean to dropping off out of sight.

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Puerto Escondido is a prime growing area for sesame seeds, peanuts and mango to name of few of the crops.  I’ve never seen how sesame seeds grow before so that was fun!

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Gina, the “information goddess” has a tourist information booth in Puerto Escondido, and she can organize pretty much any tour you’d like to take.  We did go on an agricultural tour with her, and while it was informative and entertaining, it was probably a bit overpriced at 600 pesos per person.

Loved the plants here, such vivid colour everywhere you look.

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One of the people we met on our tour is Gallo …. He runs a sanctuary for critters, everything from iguanas to turtles, to crocodiles and birds.  It was amazingly clean and well organized.  For years he did this on his own, from his own pocketbook, but is now partially subsidized.  Here he is, explaining that the reason he looks like Zapata is because that was his great uncle … or great great great uncle …. some things get lost in translation!

Once you leave the interior of Mexico, often the best food is also left behind, but not here!  We had some amazing meals here and can hardly wait to go back.  We usually mix things up quite a bit when we are away, cooking at home with local ingredients and eating out as well.  This time, I’ll admit, we ate out more than not, but it was an easy decision with such good restaurants within walking distance.

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Almoraduz Cocina Mexicana de Autor – OMG …… we ate here twice it was so good.  last year I also had back ribs here that I still dream about.

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Turtle Bay Cafe was also a real winner, this sesame crusted tuna was out of this world, and so were the prawns with saffron aioli.

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After day at the beach you just know you want a popsicle ….. we tried the lime, the strawberry with slices of kiwi and mango, and the fresh grated coconut popsicle, all were simply refreshingly perfect!

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I know, I know, the crowds are quite bothersome …..

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Thinking of this moment at home …. remembering the feel of the sun and the sound of the waves ….

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The nightly crib match kept Grant and Wilson competitive right to the trip home.

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Need a pick me up?  Juice water …. I love them all, from this pineapple water, to my all time favourite, green juice.

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Normally we eat at Mexican places ….. but the aromas drifting out of El Sultan finally dragged us in, and we had their chicken schawarma pita twice!  They make their own pitas fresh daily (about 4 times a day!) and it was fantastic.

The ultimate moment of the time spent in Puerto Escondido, of many fabulous moments, was the trip out to swim with bioluminescent plankton.  This is a spot you should visit after dark, preferably really dark, or raining.  Anything to avoid a bright moon.  A short drive from Puerto Escondido and you reach Laguna de Manialtepec, where boats are waiting.  Originally  the plankton was thought to be a curse by the fisherman when their nets were illuminated enough by the bioluminescence that the fish avoided them.  Only a short ten years later they no longer think of it as a curse as 20% of their income is derived from tourists to see this phenomenon.  If you are brave enough, you jump off the boat in darkness …. I wasn’t, but Grant, Vivian and Wilson sure did.  Once in the water the movement is totally illuminated by the plankton, and it is like your body is covered in sparkly jewels.  A few nibbling fish too …..   Another moment where I wish I could have taken a photo.

In many areas of the Pacific coast this is the time of year turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in droves.  We’ve participated in helping at sanctuaries, when the baby turtles are ready to make their journey to the sea, but this is the first time we have been around when the turtles make their way onto shore to begin that process.  It is pure magic.  Just take a moment to sit and watch the waves, and a turtle will suddenly appear, then another, then another.

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This entire beach is covered in mounds ….. how many turtle eggs are under those mounds is anybodies guess.  Each turtle lays between 80-150 eggs.

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With a determined pace they make their way up the beach.

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This same beach can see 2500 turtles appear on one night ….. and no, I didn’t take this particular photo, our driver had taken it on an earlier morning trip out there.  We went at dusk to watch them coming in.

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These poor mama turtles work so hard to get  up the beach, dig the hole with their hind flippers, drop in their eggs, cover them back up with sand and tamp the sand down.  It was amazing for us to watch the whole process, and listen to the sound of the weight she uses to tamp it all down.

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The eggs dropped out in singles and doubles until the hole was filled.  Once done, she makes her way back down the beach to return to the sea.

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We are usually in Mexico for the Revolution day parades, and they are so entertaining!

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Those dancers knew that Vivian and Wilson were tapping their feet, so they pulled them right into the street with them.

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Ahh, Puerto Escondido ….. love these beaches, the sunshine, the amazing food and I just know we’ll be back.

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Hasta la vista Puerto Escondido ……