Wednesday 13 February 2013

Watching the Sunset in Punta Zicatela

A second installment from my trip to Mexico...

How can I possibly find the vocabulary to describe where I am, sitting on the terrace of a thatched palapa overlooking the Pacific ocean just north of Puerto Escondido in Mexico? There are huge craggy rocks and several types of cactus growing out of  them, and the sort of evergreen undergrowth indigenous to this coast.

It’s maybe five or six minutes from sunset, the sky has taken on a rosy glow, the sea is crashing underneath, the waves rolling onto the white sand underneath. It’s a blissfully peaceful moment, almost spiritual – the house goes quite, no one wants to speak for fear of breaking the spell.

Tim is swaying quietly in the hammock, I’m on one of the low wooden chairs, barefoot, just watching mesmerized as the golden ball of sun sinks slowly over the sea and disappears below the horizon like a giant free-range egg yolk. The little fishing boats are speeding towards the harbour. The pelicans are flying slowly home to roost by the lagoon. The colours of the sky and the clouds are changing from burnished orange to dusky pink, gold, to bluey greys and eventually almost charcoal. Suddenly, bats fly out from under the eves in their hundreds, like tiny little birds. When the glow of light leaves the sky the cicadas start to sing in the undergrowth and a little gecko (tiny lizard) clucks as it races up the wall. How can such a tiny lizard make so much noise? I don’t feel like moving.

In a natural landscape like this one can understand how ancient Mayans worshipped the sun. 

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Winter Sun in Puerto Escondido, Mexico

We've had a wonderfully relaxing week here at Punta Zicatela doing virtually nothing except reading , swimming and chilling out, I've had several delicious massages and one long walk. Mind you that was a complete endurance test, I'd forgotten that Rodolfo's idea of a short walk is a 6 hour and a half hour tramp over the mountains! The scenery was of course spectacular, mango , papaya, bananas, and lots of coffee bushes, huge tree ponseittia, tall whispering bamboos and a million vanilla vines romping up any available tree.

We saw women with their children around them picking coffee into baskets and the men processing and raking it out in the sun to dry, you can't imagine how much work goes into our cup of coffee and how little money they get paid for it.

The walk ended in a village called Santa Maria Tiltepec, We, at least I, tottered to the one and only pub, cum village shop cum radio station where as we arrived the man was announcing that a donkey had just been found and could be claimed at the back of the pub, The cold can of beer he handed me was one of the best things I've ever tasted !

We were quite a curiosity in the village and a girl got her pet parrot to walk up my arm and perch on my head. Afterwards we went along to a local potters house where Rodolfo collected two huge preordered terracotta comales and braziers.

They insisted on feeding all 10 of us in the courtyard of their family home,they cooked hand made tortillas which they had ground from their own corn, We ate them with beans, again home grown and a volcanic salsa made from tomatoes roasted on the comal with tiny rare chillies called tuzta. There were chickens running around so they broke a few eggs into a polystyrene tray,whisked them with a spoon and then cooked it like a flat omelette on the hot comale over a timber fire.

We ate it greedily with the tortillas and beans, simple , delicious and all from that place shared with such generosity of spirit.

The town of Puerto Escondido is crawling with tourists and surfers so we don't go down very much , I'm made a few forays to the Mercado, once with Rodolfo and once with Ana's husband Hugo, it was brilliant to have an interpreter, I'm normally at a huge disadvantage not being able to identify lots of strange ingredients or to ask what to do with them. With Hugo, I picked up courage to buy some of the scary dried fish being sold by several stalls and the indigenous woman I bought it from, explained how to eat it flaked on tostadas with tomato, coriander, lime and lots of finely chopped harbenero. We slathered guacamole on the tostadas and piled this mixture on top and it was a great hit.

On another trip I bought a molinillo for frothing hot chocolate, some tiny dried camerones, dried hibiscus flowers to make the Hamica drink and a clay comal to cook tortillas on.

Today is our last full day here so we packed a lot in, To start the day Rodolfo had arranged for us to leave before dawn to drive in convoy to see tiny turtles being released into the sea in a turtle preserve in Chila.
It was an extraordinary thing to experience, turtles come back to the place they were born to lay their eggs, each turtle lays between 80 and 150 eggs in a nest in the sand, then they cover them up and go back to the sea never to return. There is a long tradition of eating turtle eggs in the state of Oaxaca. Many species of turtles are now seriously endangered so the practice is banned to try to build up the numbers once again however there's a lucrative black market in the soft shelled turtle eggs and many people are very poor so it's a battle of wits between the poachers and the rangers.

In about 30 days the little turtles start to hatch out in the warm sand and in nature start to scuttle towards the sea. Apparently only about one in 100 survive because they are gobbled up by the sea gulls and other predators.

When we arrived at the Turtle Santuary they got us to line up about 10 ft from the waters edge, they placed a little turtle gently into each of our palms. On the count of three, we were allowed to put them down onto the sand. They instinctively started to scurry towards the sea with their tiny flapping flippers. It was so funny like a little Turtle Derby but I felt sooo privileged to witness it.

Just after we had released them a flock of pelicans hovered overhead, we were all traumatised but apparently the pelicans don't fancy them so there was a sigh of relief all round.

Keep wondering how my little fella is doing, he was quite a lively little chap !

It was bright by then so we raced off to Las Negras to join an early morning bird-watching trip in a flat bottomed boat the Manialtepec Lagoon. It was absolutely fantastic, we saw over 100 different species of birds, Michael Malone who has been running these trips for over 32 years had a set of brilliant binoculars for everyone so we had terrific sightings.

By about 10 o'clock we had reached the barrier where the lagoon meets the sea. A local family had set up a little cafe in a palapa on the sand.

They served the fresh fish and shrimps from the lagoon all absolutely freshly cooked on a huge comal over a wood fire. Closeby, a chap was chopping the top off green coconuts and serving them with a straw, delicious refreshing juice which apparently helps to wash the parasites out of your system !

After our little feast we raced back through the lagoon and back to la Punta for a swim and to watch the sunset. We managed to get some lobster so I cooked dinner, they all loved it particularly the potato salad.
Rodolfo arranged for their cook Angelina to show us how to make a special type of Tamales Amarillo de Pollo wrapped in banana leaves for our last breakfast, she used 32 guachillo and 7 coseteno chillies in the salsa, it was fantastically delicious and surprisingly not too hot.

We had a last swim, packed up and are now on our way to Mexico City where we will spend a night before coming home.

Friday 1 February 2013

It's hot in Siem Riep!

It's hot. 34 degrees today. Were staying in a lovely timber clad hotel overlooking the river in the centre of Siem Reap, the main reason why tourists come here in their thousands is the UNESCO heritage site of Angkor Wat closeby.

Cambodia had 2.1 million visitors last year and over half came here! Eleven years ago there were neither traffic lights or Tarmac roads in the area, now there are a whole bunch of fancy hotels, two golf courses and lots of foreign investment. There's also an emphasis on green tourism all be it in it's infancy but the intention is there.

On Wednesday morning we started off in one of the bustling local markets, beautiful fresh produce, lots of unrecognisable greens, fish and shellfish in every shape and form, salted, dried, smoked, pickled... Women butchers perched cross-legged on raised benches chopping all sorts of unmentionable bits of freshly slaughtered meat.

The traditional clay and tin cooking utensils are quickly giving way to brightly coloured plastic from China. Thousands of people work in the market and they are all busy, busy, busy, selling, delivering, chopping, wrapping, grating coconut, juicing fruit, grinding spices... Later we drove out into the countryside to see one of the floating villages. Fascinating as ever driving through the rural areas and little villages.We stopped to buy bamboo rice from a little stall on the roadside, the rice is literally cooked with a few black beans in a piece of hollow bamboo and cooked slowly over a little fire, moist, sticky and delicious.

We took a boat right out into the lake to see the houses floating on rafts, again thousands of people live from fishing and all the associated activities, salting, drying, selling.....

Everyone was super friendly and good humoured even when our boat broke down and we had to hitch a lift back on another boat.

In the evening we had delicious Cambodian food at a restaurant called Sugar Palm.

We've an early start this morning, 5.30 am to get to Angkor Wat for Sunrise. Haven't been able to sleep, too hot, so I've been practicing my typing instead!