The city of joy is how the locals repeatedly referred to their hometown as I was chatted up by friendly Kolkatans. Some refer to it as the city of firsts, for pioneering a number of achievements in India, or a city of palaces, for its wealth of architectural beauty. Kipling described it as a “city of dreadful night”, “magnificent”, “the many sided”. I can’t remember visiting a city with so much characterization attached to its name. Kolkata is probably all those things to different people.
During the day, its streets are filled with constant hustle and bustle, smells and car roars continuously compete for attention – often against the backdrop of architectural awe, creating a scene rarely replicated elsewhere. Buildings too, compete for attention. While some are nursed to withstand the perils of the city’s humid climate, others – full of history and culture – stand crumbling, waiting for better days. Some streets provide a moment’s rest before spitting you back out. Amidst chaos and the high-paced environment people always found ways to gracefully slow down, eager to strike a conversation – tell a story about a neighbourhood, their job, a cultural event, and of course, no conversation is complete without a mention of cricket. If couple of days is anything to judge by, Kolkata is all those things they call it.
“Querida viejita: Qué es lo que se pierde al cruzar una frontera?
Cada momento parece partido en dos. Melancolía por lo que queda atrás y, por otro lado, todo el entusiasmo por entrar en tierras nuevas.”
Che wrote these words as he crossed the border into Chile from Argentina across this very mountain range (a bit south from Santiago) in 1952. It was his first border crossing on the famous motorcycle trip, I find these words to be true for many of my own border crossings. Santiago is my first city in the Americas south of Mexico, leaving me packed with plenty of enthusiasm. I had a burning desire to move here for school when I was 19-20 but it never came to be, I went to Europe instead. Years later I’ve finally made it and the first thing to spark my curiosity (entusiasmo por entrar) is the massive cordillera, steep and imposing. For the most part I grew up in a city by the mountains, so I’m no stranger to mountain views. However, mountains this massive next to a city this large is something special. Santiago, with its population of over 5 million is located in a valley surrounded by mountains trapping the pollution inside, making it one of the most polluted cities in South America. You can see the smog permanently hovering above the city. Yet the mountains tower above that too.
Despite having spent months in Mexico I haven’t really spent all that much time in bigger cities. Merida is one of the few where I did stay for a little while. It’s in some ways my favourite place I’ve seen in Mexico. As I’ve mentioned in my previous Merida post it makes me feel like parts of the city are stuck in the past. This street is a good example of the impression Merida has left on me. It’s close to the market area, a fairly narrow street full of run down beautiful colonial buildings. Many of them are falling apart and there are a lot of similar buildings around the city. Their condition does give it a certain character and appeal like it’s not trying to impress you, it’s just is what it is. This particular photo has also been my wallpaper for several months now.
I’ve finally spent a few hours going through the Mexican photos from over the summer. Given the experiences I’m surprised I haven’t filled my SD cards 100 times over, but I still captured some interesting memories. This probably being the most relaxing. At the time we’ve been working in small communities on the Yucatan Peninsula and with a weekend off my colleague and I decided to take a last minute trip to Tulum in Quintana Roo.
The first photo is from the cabin we stayed during the 1st night. The latter photo is after hours of driving dirt roads in the national park just south of Tulum, which has, no doubt, been a weekend highlight for me. At the end of the park on the coast side is a dead end with a small village of Punta Allen, living off the coast. It’s been a little tiring getting to the village but has been totally worth it.
Along the road to the village there are a bunch of small openings cleared out by machetes. We took a few out of curiosity until we found one that lead to the isolated beach, on the second photo. I set up my orange hammock, got my book out, we put on our swimming attire and played a game where we own a private beach. While the cabin is sure sweet I think I prefer stumbling across a gem like this. Clearly we weren’t the only ‘smart’ ones as there were some ropes laying around left by previous visitors from over the years. What would you prefer?
Thinking about what to do over the weekend I got in touch with an old friend of mine. He tells me he has a 32 year old collector’s bike in his garage. It’s a funny old bike but with a barely touched 500cc engine. He obviously knew what my response would be. It’s been raining nearly everyday since I’ve been back. Luckily for us it was a clear November day so we took the bikes up north into the mountains, to the roads I can ride with my eyes closed. But why would I close them with breathtaking views like these. I forgot how beautiful these mountains are and riding these curves again is truly surreal. I took the photo on the way back almost in Vancouver with a few wider spots with viewpoints to stop and stretch. Perfect time too with the sunset.
Unlike the title of that rock song this view couldn’t be anywhere else but Vancouver. After several years in Europe and some other places I’m back to British Columbia, the place I know better than any other in the world. I’ve left and come back here many times over the years, this being my longest time away, and it does feel a little weird coming home. Though maybe it’s just the jet lag 😉 There is however always a little nervousness about it, sort of like seeing an old friend. How long will I stay for? I’m not yet sure. For now it’s family, friends and familiar peaks while I decide on my next step. This scene gives me a nostalgic feeling, so I thought it appropriate to post an HDR retroish version of the photo too 🙂
On a side note I’ve been having some technical difficulties with the website. Over the next few weeks I’ll be moving my host and will possibly try some new things. So if the website is down or looks like a 3 year old built it, don’t panic. It’s just me trying to fix things up.
I’ve caught these farmers just outside of “Blanca Flor” with a couple of post work brewskis next to this old beetle. I snapped this photo and then moved a bit closer for another shot. By then one of the farmers had noticed me and lets say the shot that followed isn’t exactly G rated 🙂
My experience in Mexico might be a little uncommon as I spend a fair share of my time in places where a large part lives off social programs or doesn’t own a proper toilet. I’m sure the things I learn aren’t true to all of Mexico, however, from my experience in Campeche getting alcohol in certain parts isn’t very straightforward. First there is an issue of getting a licence. A lot of businesses in small towns don’t even bother getting one. And then in the state of Campeche, there is also a fairly strict time limit that goes along with the license (apparently similar laws apply in other states). What’s slightly surprising (I don’t mean any disrespect) is that most places I’ve come across actually follow this law. But as usual, one finds a way with time.
With no signs or any sort of official directions Blanca Flor proved to be an absolute pain to find. As much as google is useful in bigger cities it’s completely useless in a lot of other parts of the world. Getting directions in Campeche has been an “experience”. People either don’t want to admit they don’t know the way and send you nobody knows where or they try to replicate a series of twists and turns with their arms. Not very effective if your arm doesn’t bend in 6 different places. “Stop by the bush after the curve” on a road full of bushes and curves isn’t very helpful either. But after countless of u-turns and dozen of “turn here, turn there”s we’ve pinpointed the location by the foolproof method of trial error. As a result we didn’t manage to get what we had wanted in the village and a man did show me his crutch. But it was a place to see anyways. What’s the point of an adventure if everything goes as planned.
All the best to you reader, and when you take your shower today remember that there is a family in northern campeche without a clean place to poo. But they do have satellite TV.
It’s been a while since my last post. Not for the lack of photos but rather time and limited access to internet. These days I’m travelling for work around southern Mexico. Culturally it has so far been a great experience. On a professional front things have been less than great for various reasons I won’t bore you with. But as it is often the case during such travels the key is an open mind and patience.
This photo is from a small rural village of San Antonio Yaxché in Campeche. It’s primarily inhabited by the descendants of Maya. Nearly everyone speaks spanish but the primary language of communication still remains maya. If I’m correct yaxché refers to a certain tree in the mayan language. We were supposed to run an experiment in a local school. Sadly for us (and the kids who usually attend the class) the room had an aluminium roof filled with holes. So, of course, during our experiment the rain came down like it’s the end of the world. Besides the people and the material getting wet, it was impossible to shout over the noise from the rain drops hitting the aluminium roof. Unfortunately, we had the cancel the sessions.
Here’s a photo of one of the few streets in the village. I haven’t seen it rain this hard for quite a while. The rain “laguna” on the photo went quite deep in certain parts, but some people didn’t seem bothered at all.
San Antonio Yaxché is an ex Hacienda. You can still find some ruins around the village, one of them is this arc that stands at the entrance to the village.