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!