Thursday, November 26, 2015

Mexican buses

Now, some random facts about Mexican buses:
- There are first class and second class buses, and in most cities, there are also first class and second class bus stations. If you ask at the first class station if there's a cheaper bus, or even ask directly if there's a second class bus or bus station, they'll probably say "no". I lost some money because I learnt that too late. In some places there are even third class buses. 
- The first class buses are pretty good, but nothing compared to the ones in Argentina and Chile. But then again, Argentina might have the best buses in the whole world, so that's not a fair comparison.
- First class buses also often have a website with times, prices, and even the option to buy online. All of this is quite surprising, to those who got used to traveling in Latin America - in most countries in the continent that's not the case at all. It is sometimes a bit complicated to find out exactly which company goes where, and I'm not aware of a single website that has a search option for all companies in the whole country. This one is pretty good, though:
- There's also something called a colectivo, which are vans that usually go out whenever they fill up, and are run by smaller, local companies. It's sometimes cheaper and sometimes more expensive, I haven't figured out if there's a pattern.
- The local buses in most cities I've been to don't have a specific color or number to tell them apart. They just have all the different places they go to written on the windshield. It can get really confusing, and the ability to read fast, especially in the dark, is a must, because if you don't signal them to stop, they won't. 
- Surprisingly enough, even in the colectivos it seems I always get the same price as locals. Not once have I felt I was being deceived or charged tourist prices.
- In most colectivos and local buses there's the driver and the ayudante, or the guy that collects the money. A lot of times, the guy that collects the money also sits at the window and shouts the destination at people, trying to convince them to get on the bus. This is much more common in Oaxaca and Chiapas than in the rest of Mexico. Maybe it's the Guatemalan influence...
- Not to get too far ahead of myself, but man, are Mexican buses so much nicer and newer than Guatemalan ones. That's not necessarily a good thing, though. I know many a traveler that missed Guatemalan buses once they crossed over into Mexico. 
- I don't know if this is real or just a feeling, but it seems to me that in Mexico, if somebody sat next to you and then a double seat opens up, they'll move over there every time. It might be because I'm a gringo, but I'm not sure. Anyway, that struck me as different.
- As with many other things, urban public transport inside Mexico City is quite different, and it's a whole different type of mess. 
- the photo has nothing to do with buses, I know, but hey - there are tuc-tucs in Oaxaca! 

Oaxaca - Jan-Feb 2009

I arrived in the city of Oaxaca, capital of the state by the same name (by the way, a little known fact is that Mexico is officially called Los Estados Unidos De Mexico- the United States of Mexico, and it's a federation of 31 states plus the separate federal district). The city lies in a semi-arid valley, and is surrounded by a desert with a large variety of cacti. Well, I'm pretty sure in Israeli terms it wouldn't count as a desert, but in Mexico it is considered one. It actually reminded me a little bit of the semi-arid desert around Jerusalem. On the bus there I could already see one of the things the area is famous for: hundreds of fields of agave, a plant used to make the local drink mezcal, line the road to the city. The surrounding area is predominantly brownish yellow mountains, and is beautiful in a harsh way.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Chiapas- Jan. 2009

Ah, the mountains. In the Yucatan Peninsula I knew I was missing something, and once I got off the bus at Palenque I realised what it was: topography! The peninsula is extremely flat, with nothing more than an 80m hill in sight, and even that's a rarity. So when I laid my eyes on the green mountains of Chiapas, a smile emerged on my face, as if by itself.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Yucatán - Dec. 2008

[I'm gonna start and publish my edited group emails from my first trip to Mexico, back in 2008-9. It's been pretty interesting to read them from my current perspective, 6.5 years later and again in Mexico for a few months. Some things haven't changed, some things read as extremely naive, some are just interesting in the light of so much more knowledge I have today. Anyway, while reading, you can keep in mind that this was written by a past version of me. Or not, whatever strikes your fancy.]

Right from the start I felt that my Central American trip would be very different from my South American one. Initially, the main difference was sand vs ice. Where the first trip started out with snow-capped mountains, glaciers, whitewater rivers, waterfalls and multi-day treks, the second one was beach, beach, sun & beach.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Gaping Hole: Buenos Aires & Montevideo- May-June 2008

As I've mentioned before, I'm writing these blog posts several years after the actual trips described in them. They are heavily based on the group emails I sent back home while traveling, emails that served as a kind of travel journal for me, as well as a way to both tell my family and friends what I'm doing and showing them I'm alive and well. Now I'm faced with a bit of a problem, since I have nothing written about the end of my South American trip, which spans a month and a bit in Buenos Aires and a 1-week sidetrip to Uruguay. I don't know if I didn't write anything at the time because of the enormity and complexity of Buenos Aires - both as a city in itself and as a bundle of personal history, complications and emotions for myself - or out of simple laziness. It's probably a bit of both. What I do know is that it wasn't for lack of time; I probably had more free time in Buenos Aires than at any other point of that trip. And several long trips later, I can say that I've learned that often the relationship is an inverse one: the more free time I have, the less of it I spend writing long, detailed emails about what I'm doing.
What I will do right now, is post a combination of translations from the notebook I kept (world-famous from the FTTN sections in this blog) and my not-so-hazy (I hope) memories. I'll try to keep it relatively short...

Istanbul travel recommendations

Keeping up with a recent theme, here are some of my suggestions for a visit to Istanbul.

Maybe they're obvious, maybe not, but I’ll start by mentioning some of the main tourist attractions:
The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet), Suleymanie Mosque, the New Mosque, and many others - all beautiful and everyone can enter freely as long as they take off their shoes and cover their legs and shoulders. Entrance during praying times might be restricted. The Turkish word for mosque is 'camii'. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Icelandic travel recommendations

Several people have asked me for recommendations on things to do and see in Iceland. I've answered them each in turn, but I thought I might as well write down a comprehensive post and link to it. Well, here we are, 7500 words after that thought.

If you’re reading this because you’re actually planning to travel to Iceland, all I can say is: lucky you!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My recommendations for Israeli movies and music

Following up on my travel tips and recipes, here are some of my favorite Israeli movies and Israeli musicians. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

FTTN: Buenos Aires - "Trip mode"

I want to write now about one of the most important and influential phenomenons that brings about the pleasure in traveling. Simply put, you enjoy a lot of the things you do and see while traveling because you're traveling. This may sound stupid or self-evident, but bare with me. My claim is that the fact that you're traveling, and constantly looking for new experiences and new sights, opens up your mind and your eyes. You come to expect to have fun, to expect things to be interesting and peculiar and beautiful and noteworthy. The same bird, the same field next to the highway, the same sunset, all of which you notice, enjoy and value while traveling, might have gone unnoticed in the pace and routine of your everyday life. I'm not talking about the big stuff: volcanoes, glaciers and huge cathedrals. Those, while usually the "official" reason to go to a far-off village or hike for a couple of days, often take a back seat to other, more unexpected and surprising, if more "mundane" experiences. It's happened to me many times, that things I enjoy and remember the most were not really noteworthy in the usual sense of the word. Making coffee in the valley before heading up to a lookout point is sometimes more pleasant than the view up top, a conversation with a restaurant owner outside the national park with the amazing waterfalls can be the highlight of the day, and the bus drive somewhere was often more interesting for me than the place itself. That's where the mind-switch, or what I call "trip mode", comes in.
The expectation to enjoy yourself, to be impressed or simply to have a pleasant time is often a self-fulfilling prophesy. And included in this claim is the opposite one: many impressive, noteworthy and beautiful things pass by us unnoticed on our everyday life, and we don't assign any meaning to them even though we could (maybe should...). If you don't look for the beauty in something, you might never find it, no matter how close to you it is. One of my biggest goals in life is to achieve this kind of mind-switch, to be able to turn it on and off at will. If I could isolate this feeling, this predisposition towards the outside world around me and the events that I observe or experience, and apply it at all times and places, I think that would lead to a full, happy and satisfying life. Both your life and the world (as you experience it, at least) would be much more beautiful. I am sure that there are people who live their life, or at least most of it, like that. Seeing the world through rosy glasses, enjoying the little things, positive energies, it's all in your head (a very common Hebrew expression); they're all different ways to describe what I'm talking about. 
Of course I don't think this mindset is unique to traveling, but I do think traveling has a tendency to bring it out. But every good thing has its limits, and I felt it a few times, when I became "overtraveled". The constant movement and change start weighing on you, and they themselves become a kind of routine, and you lose the sense of wonder. I can think of at least 4 times when that happened to me, the first of them coming at the time I wrote this note in Buenos Aires. And in every case I ended up staying in one place for a relatively long time. The continuity, the routine and the calmness of knowing that the next day will be similar to the previous one become the exception instead of the norm, and, at least for a while, attain that same feeling of novelty and not-necessarily-explainable enjoyment. 
Until you feel you need to start moving again, of course. And on and on it goes.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Some quotes from Conrad's Lord Jim

Two that have to do with traveling:
'An outward-bound mail-boat had come in that afternoon, and the big dining-room of the hotel was more than half full of people with a-hundred-pounds-round-the-world tickets in their pockets. There were married couples looking domesticated and bored with each other in the midst of their travels; there were small parties and large parties, and lone individuals dining solemnly or feasting boisterously, but all thinking, conversing, joking, or scowling as was their wont at home; and just as intelligently receptive of new impressions as their trunks upstairs. Henceforth they would be labelled as having passed through this and that place, and so would be their luggage. They would cherish this distinction of their persons, and preserve the gummed tickets on their portmanteaus as documentary evidence, as the only permanent trace of their improving enterprise.'

'We wander in our thousands over the face of the earth, the illustrious and the obscure, earning beyond the seas our fame, our money, or only a crust of bread; but it seems to me that for each of us going home must be like going to render an account. We return to face our superiors, our kindred, our friends—those whom we obey, and those whom we love; but even they who have neither, the most free, lonely, irresponsible and bereft of ties,—even those for whom home holds no dear face, no familiar voice,—even they have to meet the spirit that dwells within the land, under its sky, in its air, in its valleys, and on its rises, in its fields, in its waters and its trees—a mute friend, judge, and inspirer.'

And two that are more about the general condition of man:
' "Mon Dieu! how the time passes!" Nothing could have been more commonplace than this remark; but its utterance coincided for me with a moment of vision. It's extraordinary how we go through life with eyes half shut, with dull ears, with dormant thoughts. Perhaps it's just as well; and it may be that it is this very dullness that makes life to the incalculable majority so supportable and so welcome. Nevertheless, there can be but few of us who had never known one of these rare moments of awakening when we see, hear, understand ever so much—everything—in a flash—before we fall back again into our agreeable somnolence.'

' "Marvellous!"[Talking about a butterfly] he repeated, looking up at me. "Look! The beauty—but that is nothing—look at the accuracy, the harmony. And so fragile! And so strong! And so exact! This is Nature—the balance of colossal forces. Every star is so—and every blade of grass stands so—and the mighty Kosmos in perfect equilibrium produces—this. This wonder; this masterpiece of Nature—the great artist."
' "Never heard an entomologist go on like this," I observed cheerfully. "Masterpiece! And what of man?"
' "Man is amazing, but he is not a masterpiece," he said, keeping his eyes fixed on the glass case. "Perhaps the artist was a little mad. Eh? What do you think? Sometimes it seems to me that man is come where he is not wanted, where there is no place for him; for if not, why should he want all the place? Why should he run about here and there making a great noise about himself, talking about the stars, disturbing the blades of grass? . . ." '

Thursday, June 21, 2012

God is in the small details, #5

- People selling "artesanias" absolutely everywhere in Salta. And the winner of most unlikely place goes to the Amphitheater, a small, natural canyon about an hour away from any town, where there were several vendors.
- Redundant names you keep running into in different areas: Laguna Azul/Verde, Garganta del Diablo, etc.
- An old woman in Salta, who told me (with a smile) about how Ushuaia is not for people like her, but for tourists like me, that don't need to work too much for their money (she was quite right, I'd say).
- The story of the musicians in the restaurant in Purmamarca. "It's so touching to see two Bolivians play the Argentinean national anthem with such feeling" (they musicians were Argentinean, but from the far north).
- The cute soldier/policeman on the drive back to Salta, who started a whole spiel about the law regarding seatbelts, which apparently would've been pretty long, and exclaimed "Gracias a Dios" when we told him we don't speak Spanish.
- The hair salon in Salta with the inviting sign outside of it: "Compro Cabello" (I buy hair). Why didn't I sell them some? I had an obvious surplus at that point in time...

FTTN: Mercedes and Ibera- Authenticity

Authentic. How many times do you hear that word during the trip? But is what we, the visitors, call autenthic, really so? And if not, is there anything that is actually authentic? Is there any way to recognize it as such?
An attempt at definition is probably a good start.