London: Home sweet home

Many people we met along the way told us that London is the best city in the world. We proudly agreed. Not only is it home to many of our family and friends and the centre of the universe for most things we like to do, it is also home to our lovely sofa.

And so, with that in mind, we came home after 404 days, 23 countries, cars, buses, boats, trains, planes, motorbikes, donkey carts, top 10s, top 5s and top 3s, lakes, mountains, volcanoes, deserts, oceans, rain forests, rivers, rice and sauce, rice and beans, crackling rice, pandas, spiders, horses, camels, snakes, butterflies, sting rays, the same 4 t-shirts, French, Chinese, Cantonese, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic,  hostels, tents, yurts, hotels, people’s houses, people’s roofs, people’s gardens, leones, francs, cedis, renminbis, pesos, dollars, bolivianos, quetzals, lempiras, cordobas, colons.

9696 hours together. Eleven thousand photos could never do it justice.

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Sunrise over London

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The home straight

We left Mexico with heavy hearts (and terrible hangovers) and flew to Hong Kong (where I was born and grew up) for Part I of my sister’s global 30th birthday celebrations. Four days of heavy drinking, eating and not keeping to budget ensued.

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The familiar view from the Peak

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How i miss this view!

One broken ankle (not mine) later we were on our way  to the Philippines for Part II of my sister’s birthday celebrations.

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My sister’s boyfriend, Chris, jumping over 22m in to the sea at Ariel’s Point, Boracay

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Sunset in Boracay

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The view at breakfast in Boracay

We spent the last part of our trip around the world hanging out in Manila with my family and travelling to parts of the Philippines we’d never been to before.

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Tagaytay volcano

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Lechon – my favourite!

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Catching the train around Manila

 

After hanging out in Manila and Tagaytay for a while we went on a road trip with my parents. First stop – trekking in Banaue rice terraces.

 

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Our guide was better prepared for the rain than we were

After a beautiful drive on roads hugging the mountainside our next stop was to see the hanging coffins in Sagada.

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Hanging coffins

Next stop – the beautiful town of Vigan: cobbled streets and beautifully restored traditional Filipino houses. And most importantly – delicious food.

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Famous Vigan (but definitely not vegan) sausages. We bought loads to bring back to Manila with us

Final stop – the beach! The most Northernly coast of the Philippines and absolutely stunning.

 

 

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Oaxaca

I’ve already written extensively about Oaxaca in the food blog because when we were there, we mainly just ate and drank. When we had finished eating and drinking, we wandered about until we had metabolised sufficiently to be able to consume again. However, Oaxaca is a beautiful state in Southwestern Mexico and it’s capital, Oaxaca de Juárez, absolutely deserves it’s own post.

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Santo Domingo church in Oaxaca de Juarez

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Plaza de Santo Domingo at sunset

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Colourful street in Oaxaca

Our days mainly unfolded in a format similar to this: Eat….walk…. repeat….drink mezcal….try to walk.

Mezcal is made from distilling the piña (heart) of the maguey or american agave cactus. Tequila is a type of mezcal made from a specific agave plant. Tequila is to mezcal what Champagne is to fizzy wine (kind of).  The tequila advocates will tell you that mezcal is unrefined and mezcal aficionados will counter that tequila lacks the complexity of flavour of mezcal. What is certain is that the tequila industry is much more regulated and commercialised than the mezcal industry. Where big factories pump tequila to the world’s piss heads, oaxacan families produce just enough mezcal for their family to drink or for special occasions. Recipes and techniques are passed down through the generations and no two batches are the same as the process is art as well as science.

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Wedding prep. Cow and mezcal

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Piñata from last week’s birthday party

There are over a hundred sub species of the agave plant that can be used to make mezcal and they all look different, grow differently and therefore taste different. Some plants can grow to over 40kg. These are then harvested and the piña carved out. A load of piñas are then buried underground and roasted for 3 days. Once cooked the piñas are mashed (normally using a horse and stone wheel). The mush is then fermented and the resulting liquid distilled a couple of times in clay pots to form the finished product. Sometimes flavours like berries or spices can be added at the distillation point and some batches will be distilled through a turkey or chicken breast, to produce a mezcal that is known as pechuga.

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Pile of piñas

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One enormous piña

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Sucking on some post roast piña . Tastes like caramel

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Mush up

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Ferment

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Home brew

Bottle it up

…and drink….

 

 

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Mariposa time

We did a day trip from D.F to Michoacan to La Reserva de la Biosfera Mariposa Monarch to see some butterflies. We had wondered about whether it was worth spending hours on three different buses just to see some butterflies but Mike and I found it hard to resist another World Heritage Site. In any case, neither of us have ever seen millions of butterflies before and you can only see them for a few months in the year. The butterflies fly south from America into Mexico and follow the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains to the butterfly reserve. As we walked through the forest we saw the odd butterfly here and there and I was pretty excited. Our guide laughed at me taking pictures. I didn’t understand until we reached the main area where the pine trees seemed heavier and denser –clumps of orange and brown weighing down branches. It wasn’t until the sun came out that I realised these were millions of butterflies. It was incredible standing in the trees surrounded by the beating wings of butterflies and feeling the soft whisper of wings against our skin.  IMG_6305

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Guardian of the butterflies

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looks like leaves – they are actually millions of butterflies. They close up to keep warm when the sun isn’t out

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Sun warming the butterflies up – starting to open up

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More butterflies getting warmer and ready to fly about for a bit

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Imagine this but so many more…

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Like autumn leaves

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Guadalajara

Guadalajara, in the west of Mexico in the state of Jalisco, is home to two of the most Mexican of Mexican things – tequila and mariachis. It’s like a caricature of Mexico, with cacti as far as you can see on rolling hills dotted with men wearing massive hats.

Uncharacteristically we picked a really crap hostel and an even crapper first meal and we didn’t even have one tequila on the first night. Bad start. We really picked things up on day two though when we went to Tonala market and tried loads of food we hadn’t eaten before and then finished off the night with some tequila and some tequila based drinks.

Tequila cocktail in a bowl

Cazuela: Tequila cocktail in a bowl

Tequila has always had a place in Mairi’s heart (and liver probably) but it also has an actual place about 60km north of Guadalajara. This was a pilgrimage and I was a willing disciple. Before you get stuck in, it’s always good to know what you’re imbibing, so we went on a bit of a tour around a few tequila haciendas.

29,204 from today

29,204 from today

Tequila is a type of mezcal but it’s only made from blue agave cacti of which the best quality are found in Jalisco. Once the cactus is ripe the jimadores (farmers) use a special knife called a coa to carve the piña. This is then baked and then crushed. The juice is then left to ferment and then distilled to make yummy yellowish tequila, then distilled again to make silver tequila. Sometimes it is aged in a barrel to make reposado. We drank it all. We also went to a tequila bar in Tequila (I think it’s just called a bar there) which is supposed to be in the top 15 bars in the world. A very old man, who was in the bar when we visited, invented a cocktail (tequila and coke) a loooooong time ago and we drank that too.

Blue agaves

Blue agaves – if it doesn’t say 100% blue agave or something similar on the bottle, proper tequila it ain’t

Cao

Jimadore carving a few pinas

Mairi and her cao

Jimairidore

Jimadore Mike

Me and my cao

Pinas waiting to be baked

Pinas waiting to be baked

A lot of pinas waiting to be baked

A lot of pinas waiting to be baked

Old way of squeezing out the juice

Old way of squeezing out the juice

Tres mujeres ageing in the barrel

Tres mujeres ageing in the barrel

Product

Product

Just a couple more then

Just a couple more then

La Capilla

La Capilla  – best bar in the world

We pulled ourselves just far enough out of our hangovers to spend the following day having a look around the old town of Guadalajara, seeing some of José Clemente Orozco’s famous socialist murals and checking out some Mariachis. Mariachi music was invented and made popular in Guadalajara. It is normally made up of violin, guitarron (massive guitar), guitarra de golpe (small guitar) and trumpet but just as important is how the players look. And how better to complete a hangover than to  eat in the restaurant that’s in the Guinness book of records for the fastest service – our full meal arrived in 1 min 50 seconds,

xxx

Instituto Cultural Cabanas

Mural

Orozco mural in the Palacio de Gobierno

Mural

Mural in the Instituto Cultural Cabanas

Rootitoot

Rootitoot

Mariachi in Plaza Garibaldi

Mariachi in Plaza Garibaldi

Mariachis

Mariachis

Blink and you'll miss it - the fastest served food in the world

Blink and you’ll miss it – the fastest served food in the world

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Distrito Federal, Mexico

From Costa Rica we caught a flight up to Distrito Federal (or D.F. as those in the know call it). We spent a couple of weeks in Mexico’s sprawling capital – broken up by some brilliant side trips to Oaxaca and Guadalajara (more on that soon). It would be easier to say that we didn’t know what to expect with D.F but it isn’t true. We did have expectations. And they weren’t high. I’m not proud to admit that we realised we had been completely socialised by such a negative view of Mexico City. Our preconceptions included scenes from that film Girl on Fire where Denzel Washington runs about trying to avenge a cute little blond girl kidnapped by nasty drug lords, as well as remnants of American journalist voices shrieking about how dangerous it is to walk the streets after the dark. None of this was helped by American travellers we met in other parts of Latin America who looked at us like we were crazy that we were going anywhere other than Cancun.

We couldn’t have been more wrong. D.F is one of the few places I would live in if I could. It’s got the energy of New York, the artiness of London, a thriving food culture that would rival HK – and something else that I can’t put my finger on that makes it uniquely and wonderfully Mexican. On top of that people are friendly, helpful and fun. Oh and did I mention the cheap margaritas? What’s not to love?

We stayed in an airbnb with a brilliant 30-something Mexican – born and bred in D.F who persevered with our Spanish and gave us an insight into what it’s like to be a local in one of the nicest areas in D.F – Condesa. In our few weeks In D.F we wandered through beautiful, leafy squares, parks and streets picking up as many tacos and margaritas as we could on our way.

Our airbnb, condesa

Our airbnb, condesa

Sunset at the park

Sunset at the park

DF

DF

Graffiti

Graffiti

DF streets

DF streets

More DF streets

More DF streets

Looking out over the city

Looking out over the city

We did the obligatory visit to see lucha libre. I was a bit worried it would a tourist fest but it turns out that it really is a popular Mexican pastime. It was made even more fun by our airbnb host, Jair, coming with us and explaining everything –the rules (still very confusing to me!); who I should be cheering for; stories about the most famous wrestlers; and the different masks that people in the crowd were wearing.

Not sure Mike or Jair would last very long in the ring..

Not sure Mike or Jair would last very long in the ring..

Terrible picture because we weren't technically allowed to take pictures inside

Terrible picture because we weren’t technically allowed to take pictures inside

From one end of the culture spectrum to the other…. There were more galleries and art spaces than I had ever imagined but we had to prioritise in our relatively short time. And there was no way that I was going to miss Frida! Casa Azul, in the beautiful district of Coyoacan, was Frida Kahlo’s home – where she was born, grew up, lived with her artist husband Diego Rivera, and eventually died. It was also where communist Leon Trotsky sought asylum from Stalin’s Russia. Many years after she died, Rivera turned Casa Azul into a museum in Frida’s honour. The house is a treasure trove of Frida’s art and belongings and Mexican folk art. We loved wandering around, thinking of all of the history and understanding more about one of my favourite artists.

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Frida's paints as she left them

Frida’s paints as she left them

Famous Diego Rivera mural with Frida and a young self portrait of himself

Famous Diego Rivera mural ‘Alameda Park’ with Frida and a young self portrait of himself. The mural is much wider than this – and depicts the history of Mexico. We spent a long time walking up and down and noticing more and more details. 

D.F: we love you! We’ll be back….

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Food Special – Mexico edition. Edibles

Warning: This is going to be lengthy. It may take some time to get through but bear with it as it will be rewarding.* Mexico is food heaven. That’s not to say that when food perishes it ends up here. Quite the opposite – It felt like Mexicans invented food and are showing the world how to eat. In Mexico we ate the best and most interesting food since we were in China. I wouldn’t want to say which of the two is better as they are incomparable (not least because China is so big). However, the range and freshness of the produce and dishes we tasted, as well as the passion the locals had for their cuisine was unrivalled. We ate in Michelin starred restaurants, on the road side, in markets and in people’s houses and it was all excellent. We had so many good things in our mouths that I need to split this blog into edible and drinkable. The drinks are what possibly tips Mexico past China for me so we’ll do that separately. Here goes….

*The authors of this blog will not be held responsible for any dribbling or excessive consumption post reading of the blog.

The staples in Mexico are corn based – tacos, tortillas, dorados, carnitas, tamales, elote… the list goes on. All undeniably Mexican and all offer a distinctive texture. Then there are the fillings. You could write a volume of encyclopedia describing the variations and spend a lifetime eating all the combinations. Most prevalent are tacos and in taquerias they are normally served in portions of five. Five definitely isn’t enough and at first I thought ten seemed a bit ridiculous but it turned out not to be.

Tacos al pastor, San Cristobal

Tacos al pastor, San Cristobal. Similar to a shawarma but with pork and served with lime and pineapple and chilli.

Tacos and 5 salsas at Conchinita, San Cristobal

Cocinita Tacos (slow cooked pork) and 5 salsas at Conchinita, San Cristobal

Cazon and camaron tacos (shark and prawn) from Campeche

The humble Cazon and camaron tacos (shark and prawn) from Campeche

Taco from...

The posh taco from Pitiona, Oaxaca

Pork belly taco from

The frankly outrageous pork belly taco from Pitiona, Oaxaca

Tamales from San Cristobal. (bola - corn tamale with pork and chile simojovel and chipilin - plantain tamale with chicken and chipilin herb)

Two Tamale variations from San Cristobal.  Bola – corn tamale with pork and chile simojovel and Chipilin – plantain tamale with chicken and chipilin herb

Tamale with mole negro from Mercado de 20 Nov. Oaxaca

Tamale with mole negro from Mercado de 20 Nov. Oaxaca

Dorados con carne en su jugo (crispy tacos with meat and gravy) form Tonola market, Guadalahara

Dorados con carne en su jugo (crispy tacos with meat and its soup in a cup) from Tonola market, Guadalahara

Elote form San Cristobal. Corn on the cob, smeared with mayo and chilli

Elote from San Cristobal. Corn on the cob, smeared with mayo and chilli

I was excited about tacos but didn’t expect that sandwiches were also serious business in Mexico. They really have taken sandwichery to another level.

Slow cooked pork Torta from Tortas Al Fuego in Mexico City. The best sandwich in the world

Cocinita Torta from Tortas Al Fuego in Mexico DF. The best sandwich in the world. All the ingredients are cooked on a hot plate, then a bean smeared buttered bun placed on top (still on the grill) and then all squished down. Served with lime and a couple of salsa options. Impossible not to order two. Sometimes whilst still eating number one

Genius at work. Tortas el fuego, Mexico DF

Genius at work. Tortas Al Fuego, Mexico DF

Ahogada from Ahogadas Migue in Guadalahara. Ahogada the new best sandwich in the world. Pork filled bread dipped in a spicy tomato sauce and served with a spicy oniony salsa.

Ahogada from Ahogadas Migue in Guadalahara. Ahogada, the new best sandwich in the world. It’s made using salty, crunchy bread that’s soft in the middle. The sandwich artist fills the bread with pork and some token lettuce and then dips the whole thing in a chilli tomato sauce and serves with a spicy oniony salsa. The bread holds it’s shape and doesn’t dissolve…until it’s in your face that is.

Man making ahogadas

Artist at work making ahogadas. 

And then in Mexico DF the actual best sandwich in the world. THE MIGHTY PAMBAZO. Dipped in a sauce made of guajillo chiles and then fried. It's like a deep fried chilli sponge stuffed with pork. This is sandwichery like I've never seen

And then in Mexico DF we stumbled across the actual best sandwich in the world. THE MIGHTY PAMBAZO. Dipped in a sauce made of guajillo chiles and then fried. It’s like a deep fried chilli sponge stuffed with pork. This is sandwitchcraft like I’ve never seen

The greatest sandwich on earth.

The greatest sandwich on earth

Of course to go alongside all that, Mexico is famous for lip smouldering, tongue blistering, throat corroding, ass blazing chillies. Pasillas, poblanos, habaneros, cascabels, jalapeños, moritas, guajillos the list goes on.

Mexico - chilliphile paradise

Mexico DF standard condiment basket- chilliphile paradise

Chiles

Chiles from Tlacolula Sunday Market

Chiles de Mexico

Chiles de Mexico in Tlacolula Sunday Market

Habanero chile sauce. BURN

Habanero salsa made at our table at Casa Oaxaca. BURN

Chiles. The best thing to come out of Mexico since all the other amazing things that come out of Mexico

Chiles. The best thing to come out of Mexico since all the other amazing things that come out of Mexico

But then there’s also mole. I’d only ever tried it once before and I didn’t love it, but in Mexico they don’t just have the rich, dark one. I still don’t love it but it’s such a complex flavour that I couldn’t stop eating it.

Mole - two kinds from Oaxaca. There are actually 7 types in Oaxaca and they are made by combining dozens of spices. Negro; Rojo; Coloradito; Amarillo; Verde; Chichilo; Manchamantel.

Mole – two kinds from Oaxaca. There are actually 7 types in Oaxaca and they are made by combining dozens of spices. Negro; Rojo; Coloradito; Amarillo; Verde; Chichilo; Manchamantel.

Loadsa mole in Oaxaca market

Loadsa mole in Oaxaca market

Turkey mole negro from Casa Oaxaca, Oaxaca.

Turkey mole negro from Casa Oaxaca, Oaxaca.

Rabbit amarillo mole from Casa Oaxaca, Oaxaca.

Rabbit amarillo mole from Casa Oaxaca, Oaxaca.

Two types of mole (one aged) from Pujol - one of the top 15 restaurants in the world. There are no other pictures of this meal as we may have got a lot drunk.

Two types of mole (one aged) from Pujol – one of the top 15 restaurants in the world. There are no other pictures of this meal as we may have got a lot drunk.

And for desert or a snack or whenever you can get them really…

Delicious Churros from Tonala street market outside  Guadalahara

Delicious Churros from Tonala street market outside Guadalahara

Churros from Tonola

Packing a couple of Churros from Tonola

Churros with a naughty little salted caramel in the middle

Churros with a naughty little salted caramel in the middle

But all of that was really just the stuff we knew about already. Here are some of the delights we discovered and shoved in our faces. Like Hernan Cortes before us we also forged a path of discovery, munching our way through Mexico.

Goat Birria seller

Birria de Chivo seller in Tlacolula Sunday Market. Birria de Chivo is the typical dish from Jalisco – goat slow cooked over an open fire.

Goat Birria

Goat Birria and a couple of Mariachis.

Goat barbecoa - consomme, tacos and meat

Goat birria in its own soup served with tacos and salsa

Tlayuda from the market in Oaxaca - Like a Mexican pizza - flame cooked tortilla with beef, ago, salad, stringy cheese and a good slug of chilli sauce

Tlayuda from the market in Oaxaca – Like a Mexican pizza – flame cooked tortilla with beef, avo, salad, stringy cheese and a good slug of chilli sauce

Tlayuda from Mercado de 20 Nov in Oaxaca.

Another tlayuda from Abuelitas in Mercado de 20 Nov in Oaxaca. This time with cerdo and chorizo as well as beef.

Flor de calabaza (courgette flowers), form Tlacolula Sunday market.

Flor de calabaza (courgette flowers) on the pass, from Tlacolula Sunday market

Flor de calabza quesadilla from Tlacolula Sunday market

Flor de calabza quesadilla from Tlacolula Sunday market

Frijoles and chile relleno from Oaxaca market. Pobalano chilli stuffed with pork and nuts and battered in egg.

Frijoles and chile relleno from Oaxaca market. Pobalano chilli stuffed with pork and nuts and battered in egg.

Pan de cazon from Campeche. Like a shark tortilla lasagna

Pan de cazon from Campeche. Like a shark tortilla lasagna

Then there was this. I can’t describe how happy this place made me.

Up there with my favourite places to eat in the universe. BBQ alley in Mercado 20 Nov. in Oaxaca.

Up there with my favourite places to eat in the universe. BBQ alley in Mercado 20 Nov. in Oaxaca.

 Step 1. Pick your meat. For us, mixto with tesado (dried beef) chorizo and marinated cerdo

Step 1. Pick your meat. For us, misto with tesado (dried beef) chorizo and marinated cerdo

Step 3: Admire what you've just been presented with - grilled chilis and spring onions. Fresh big totrtillas. Sides of guacamole, avacado, salsa, nopales, salad

Step 2: Wait for it to be BBQ’d then admire what you’ve just been presented with – grilled chilis and spring onions. Fresh big tortillas (sold separately by women from baskets). Sides of guacamole, avacado, salsa, nopales, salad

Step 4: Roll up and eat

Step 3: Roll up

Step 5: EAT EAAAAAT

Step 4 and 5 and 6: EAT EAAAAAT

Nopales (cactus)

Nopales (cactus) from Tonala street market outside Guadalajara

Flan de leche from xxxx

Flan de leche from Tonala street market Guadalajara

xxxx

Chilaquiles from Mexico DF. Triangles of crispy tortillas with red and green salsa, beans and cheese. Breakfast

Chapulines, (Grasshoppers) from Tonala, Guadalahara. They are toasted, flavoured and then eaten as a snack or made into sauces. It's an unusual flavour - kind of sour and not unpleasant

Chapulines, (Grasshoppers) from Tonala, Guadalahara. They are toasted, flavoured and then eaten as a snack or made into sauces. It’s an unusual flavour – kind of sour and not unpleasant

Turkeys for sale from Tlacolula Sunday market

Turkeys for sale from Tlacolula Sunday market

And to wash it all down a few things to drink that should really be in the drinkable blog but aren’t alcoholic enough so they fit better here.

Champoraddo and bread with fennel from Oaxaca Mercado 20 Nov.

Champorado (hot chocolate drink) and bread with fennel from Oaxaca Mercado 20 Nov. Served at breakfast

Two Oaxacans enjoying some chumparado in Oaxaca market

Two Oaxacans enjoying some champarado in Mercado 20 Nov, Oaxaca

Chocolate producers in Mayorodama Oaxaca. You can buy it ground, or in a chocolate caliente con agua served with bread

Chocolate producers in Mayorodama Oaxaca. You can buy it ground, or in a chocolate caliente con agua served with bread

Woman selling xxxx in Tlacolula Sunday market

Tejatera selling tejate in Tlacolula Sunday market

Woman preparing xxx in Tlacolula Sunday market. Main from xxxxx

Tejateras preparing tejate in Tlacolula Sunday market. They start at 4am and make it from maize and cacao. They’ve been doing it the same way for thousands of years.

Woman preparing in Tlacolula Sunday market. Probably the best market we went to all year

Woman preparing tejate in Tlacolula Sunday market. Probably the best market we went to all year

Pulque and Tepache from Tlacolula Sunday market. Pulque is a fermented drink made from maguey (type of agave) that Mexicans have been drinking since the time of the Aztecs. Tepache is made from corn and sweetened with cinnamon

Pulque and Tepache from Tlacolula Sunday market. Pulque is a fermented drink made from maguey (type of agave) that Mexicans have been drinking since the time of the Aztecs. Tepache is made from corn and sweetened with cinnamon

Pulque. Served in a calabas

Pulque. Served in a calabas

xxxx

xxxx

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Costa Rica, Monte Verde cloud forest

We hadn’t really planned on going to Costa Rica, but we needed to get back to Mexico and it was cheaper to get a flight from San Juan then anywhere else in that area. Once we had the flight booked it seemed nonsensical to enter a country by land and not do anything. However, we only left ourselves a couple of days and that isn’t a lot of time especially when getting into country involves taking every form of transport: taxi, ferry, taxi, bus…long walk across the border with our backpacks….bus then bus. It was one of those journeys when everything goes a bit wrong. We had to stand up on a bus for three hours and then a tree fell across the road which meant we missed the connecting bus and worst of all I needed a wee for two hours on the last leg.

At the end of all that we arrived in Santa Elena and I had the longest wee of my life. Our day of annoying travel was worth it when the following day we went on a guided walk in the Monteverde bio reserve cloud forest. It was beautiful and haunting and there are more impressive stats about the region than almost anywhere we’d been this year: There are more types of tree in the reserve than in all of Europe; more varieties of orchid than in any one place on earth; trees with more than 8000 plants growing on them; and 10% of the plants in the forest are completely unique to this area. It also rains a lot. In some places 9m a year. I think it rained about 3 of those metres on the day we went.

Ferns

Ferns

Quetzal - national bird of Guatemala but not very prevalent there. The currency in Guatemala is called a quetzal (because the people there don't see a lot of it, like the birds). Anyway, I digress, there are some in Costa Rica but there are very rare. However, there are some in Monte Verde.

Quetzal – national bird of Guatemala but not very prevalent there. The currency in Guatemala is called a quetzal (because the people there don’t see a lot of it, like the birds). Anyway, I digress, there are some in Costa Rica but there are very rare. However, there was one in Monte Verde and we birded it.

River running through the  forest

River running through the forest

Humming bird

Humming bird

The forest

The forest, moss and creepers. 

Viewing platform

Viewing platform. More cloud than forest

The canopy

The canopy. 

I also went zip lining. The longest zip line in Central America, over 1.5km long and 80m above the canopy. And I did it superman style which was on offer, in a ‘you’re-pathetic-if-you-don’t-do-it’ kind of way. It was incredibly awesome – like being a big, fat, beardy bird with a stupid hat and a hook in its back hanging off a wire. When I was 18, I did a bungee jump in New Zealand and thought I would never do anything like that again. Not that I didn’t enjoy it but it felt like a one off thing. So when I was standing on a precipice about to do ‘the Tarzan’, I did momentarily wonder where I had gone wrong. Oh yeah, Mairi had decided not to come with me and I clearly can’t be relied upon to behave reasonably. I made the same noise I did in 1999 in New Zealand – an embarrassingly voluble exhalation of air with an undercurrent of a whimper. The sound of pure fear.

Pre zip line. Pre fear. No handed selfie. Work that out

Pre-zip line. Pre fear. No-handed selfie. Work that out

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Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

With our time in Nicaragua running out we weren’t sure how to spend our last few days. A number of people we’d met had said they weren’t that impressed with Isla de Ometepe – an island dominated by two volcanoes in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America and 19th largest lake in the world.

We decided to take our chances and head down to Isla de Ometepe on our way to Costa Rica. A very hairy ferry journey (complete with locals throwing up over the side) took us into the lake and in to view of one of Ometepe’s famous volcanoes.

The view of Ometepe's volcano from a very rocky ferry

The view of Ometepe’s volcano from a very rocky ferry

Over the last few decades there has been considerable concern about the ecological condition of Lake Nicaragua. A number of assessments have found serious levels of pollution and sewage. A number of companies, including chemical companies, have been found dumping a whole lot of crap in to the lake for an extended period of time. This pollution, along with an extended drought in the country, has made this freshwater lake a hot topic of conversation – not least because of the recent agreement to allow a canal to be built through the canal, one of the most important sources of fresh water for the Nicaraguan people.

Whilst there are loads of things to do in Isla de Ometepe we opted mainly for maximum relaxation peppered with a few walking and kayaking excurions.

Our swimming pool

Our swimming pool

We found it a little difficult to leave...

We found it a little difficult to leave…

Room with a view

Room with a view

Happy hour watching the sun go down

Happy hour watching the sun go down

Kayaking to find crocs and massive spiders

Kayaking to find crocs and massive spiders

Chilling

Chilling

We didn’t have very high expectations of Ometepe but we loved the relaxed island vibe and could have easily pottered around the quiet island paths for much longer. But Costa Rica was calling…

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NYE in Grenada, Nicaragua

Historically Grenada, Nicaragua was seen as the sister city to Antigua, Guatemala. You can see why. They both share the same beautiful colonial architecture, wide streets and upmarket expat ‘organic’ restaurants. For many years Conservative Grenada and the Liberal northern city of Leon (see previous blog post) fought to be considered the ‘heart’ of Nicaragua. Eventually they both conceded defeat and agreed to set up Managua as a capital (mid way between the two cities).

Whilst Leon still has the heart, the politics and the bullet holes of a passionate, revolutionary city – Grenada is the more polished tourist friendly city. For this reason I was a bit worried about arriving in a sterile, soulless city. Instead I was very pleasantly surprised. We loved ringing in the New Year in this lovely city full of beautiful buildings, fun people and great, cheap drinks.

Grenada fun bus. Another journey with banging 80s rock songs that no one else on the bus understands or knows the words to.

Grenada fun bus. Another journey with banging 80s rock songs that no one else on the bus understands or knows the words to.

Church

Church

Our street. That night there were firework rockets being launched from pretty much every door

The street our airbnb was on. That night there were firework rockets being launched from pretty much every door

Typically beautiful and colourful street in Grenada

Typically beautiful and colourful street in Grenada

obsession with doors 1

obsession with doors 1

obsession with doors 2 (i could have added about a million of these but thought it would get boring)

obsession with doors 2 (i could have added about a million of these but thought it would get boring)

tiles and walls

tiles and walls

NYE. Despite the crazy headgear the party behind us weren't looking  that excited....

NYE. Despite the crazy headgear the party behind us weren’t looking that excited….

NYE street parties

NYE street parties

Getting the party started early on New Year's day

Getting the party started early on New Year’s day

Lake Nicaragua swimming

Lake Nicaragua swimming

Spot Mike

Spot Mike

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