September 25, 2003

Playa del Carmen

We got out of Merida as quick as we could last Saturday - it was boiling hot and there was no beach.

After a lengthy session of consultation, experimentation, and finally, purchase, in a hammock shop (I bought a six-seater), we jumped on the bus to Playa del Carmen.

And all of a sudden, it was as though we weren't in Mexico any longer. It was like being in Noosa. There's a paved pedestrian mall full of relatively tasteful souvenir and craft shops, as well as a number of very nice Italian restaurants, and one outstandingly cool bar. It's called Deseo and it's a rooftop arrangement, with a little pool bearing the cryptic message in tiles: "AWAY FROM YOU". The drinks waiters and the drinks are equally delicious, and you sip mojitos, tamarind margaritas and piña coladas while lounging about on great big beds. They project old films onto the white wall, and there's a DJ there on weekends. We drank there every night we were in Playa del Carmen, and the last night Tristan told us so many ridiculous stories that Mel and I fell asleep on our comfy divan. Tristan raved on, underterred.

There are lots of little clubhouses on the beach, where people organise your umbrella and beach lounge for you, and can make you cocktails if you wish. The sand was covered in red gringos who had neglected to apply sufficient crema de gringo (no danger of that with us - Mel was a psycho with the sunblock) and there were hundreds of Italians, who clearly disdain any sort of sun protection, and although most of them were as brown as raisins, they all put their chairs out of the sun and rotated them at regular intervals in order to inflict the greatest possible damage.

I tried talking to one of these creatures, only to discover, to my horror, that my brain only has space for 1.3 languages. I used to speak Italian quite well, but my spattering of Spanish has squeezed it out. I was very sorry about this. I'll have to make sure I get back to Italy before it's totally beyond recall.

Basically, we didn't do much for our last few days in Mexico - we just lay around on the sand, reading. I plowed through "The Rachel Papers" by Martin Amis - very entertaining. We did some snorkeling one day, which was fun - there were lots of gorgeous fish there.

On Tuesday we took a bus down the coast to Tulúm, a Mayan ruin that is perched right on a cliff overlooking the gorgeous Caribbean water. The setting is really spectacular, and there were some hilarious pink gringos there, all roaring at one another. Those people can be so entertaining. It's funny to be with other Australians again, taking up the good old sport of laughing at American tourists. They just make it so easy sometimes.

Tristan and Mel came chuckling out of a silver shop one day, where some gringos were buying up big. Tristan reported hearing the following conversation, and he did quite a nice Georgian drawl:

"Now, honey, we still need presents for Joe-Beth, Peggy-Sue and Barbara-Ellen. Now, I want you to look out for some things, you hear?" said a kindly wife.

"Buying useless crap's your passtime, not mine," roared her tender husband as he glared at the shop's entrance, plotting his escape. How hilarious.

I bade farewell to my excellent traveling companions on Wednesday and headed back to Mexico City. Mel and Tristan went back home to Australia, and for a moment I envied them. I am looking forward to my final destination in so many ways.

Posted by Sarah at 06:13 PM | Comments (0)

Mexican ruins

These have been a total highlight of the trip. We saw Monte Albán, Palenque and Tulúm, and here are my impressions. I hope I haven't made too many mistakes with my historical detail. Forgive me if I have.

Monte Albán is a Zapotec ruin, right outside Oaxaca. It dates from 200 to 800 AD.

The Zapotec people preceded the Maya, who built the most famous ruins in Mesoamerica (Palenque, Chichén Itzá and Tikal). The Zapotecs were pretty smart - they invented the first Mexican calendar aroun 500 BC.

They settled in a valley (there were 20,000 people living in the city by the first year of the common era), and decided to build their ceremonial centre on top of a tall hill. They had no knowledge of metals, now wheel, and no domesticated animals. To flatten the hilltop, they had to break stone against stone by hand and carry them away. They had the plan for the centre all organised before they commenced. Archeologists think it took at least three or four generations just to flatten the hilltop. I was amazed to hear this. What kind of faith must people have had in their leaders and gods to work so hard on a project that even their grandchildren would never see completed? And how about the leaders themselves? They stuck to the plan with a sense of focus that seems astonishing.

Anyway, the ruin is very impressive, although simple when compared to the detail you can find in other places, like Palenque. Our guide told us that the Zapotecs practised human sacrifice only modestly - maybe a few times a year. To be sacrificed was an honour, and the ritual took place when things were going wrong. Apparently the Zapotecs didn't consider their gods to be infallible or immortal, and each god was related to a part of nature - the sun, the rain, or the wind. So if the crops were going badly for lack of water, someone would be sacrificed so he could go to heaven and help the rain god, who was clearly unwell.

As one civilisation followed another, human sacrifice was practised with less religious purpose, and more political purpose, as a tool of intimidation, said our guide. (The Mixtecs were pretty keen on it, but nobody had a bloodlust like those Aztecs. The idea of honour faded from the ritual, and often slaves and prisoners of war would be sacrificed, our guide told us. The Aztecs also had a particularly gruesome method, cutting out the victim's heart while he was still alive, just like that scene in the Indiana Jones movie).

A huge storm gathered as we walked aroun the site, and it was easy to imagine how impressive it must have felt to be here during important rituals, overlooking the village and the land all around. We could see the rain moving across the valley like a thick shadow.

We traveled to Palenque from the delightful town of San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Chiapas. This was where the 1994 Zapatista rebellion had its moment of triumph, and now the local craftspeople sell little Comandante Marcos souvenirs - t-shirts and keyrings. He's become a sort of Ché.

Anyway, we loved Palenque. It is a Mayan ruin in the middle of the jungle. It's a very different part of the country - much more tropical and much, much hotter. The pyramides appear out of the jungle, and when you climb some of the higher ones, you acn look out onto the vast Yacatan plain. It's most impressive.

The ruins here are much richer than the ones at Monte Albán in terms of detail. There are glyphs on many of the buidings, and sculptures depicting gods and kings. They know that Palenque was ruled by a very successful dynasty, and enjoyed a lengthy golden age from around 600 to 800 AD, and was abandoned around 900 AD. The royal family held onto power by marrying within itself, so lots of the pictures show people with deformities.

Unlike at Copán, in Honduras, another Mayan ruin, the glyphs at Palenque can't be deciphered. But they're beautiful, and the city must have looked incredible when it was at its most glorious. All the ruins are bare stone, now, but when they were completed, they were covered in stucco and painted in bright blues and reds. There were some terrific examples of the Mayan arch, a triangular arch that is found in most of the late Mayan sites and is very graceful. The buildings here all have roof-combs, too - a sort of stone lattice-work detail that gives the heavy buildings a kind of lifting feeling.

Some of the surrounding hills near the archeological site still have temples on them, buried under the jungle. The archeologists will need lots more money if they are to go on exploring the city.

As we wandered around, nearly fainting from the heat with our friendly guide, Victor, we could hear the monkeys screaming in the jungle, and we saw a Tucan fly past. Victor said we were lucky.

Our last ruin, Tulúm, is appealing mostly for its position - the temple is perched on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean. It's a walled ceremonial centre that is one of the latest Mayan cities. As in other cases, the ordinary people lived outside the part of the town that was built from stone, and only came inside for special occasions. Tulúm is a small ruin, and we walked around pretty quickly. It was hot and we were keen to jump into the sea.

I think all the great pre-hispanic cities in Mexico and Guatemala, except for the magnificent Aztec city of Tenochtitlán, now Mexico City, were abandoned by the time the Spanish arrived - Mónte Albán started collapsing around 700 AD, and Palenque was abandoned by 900 AD, with the other Mayan sites in Mesoamerica (Copán and Tikál) collapsing around the same time. The cities quickly became hidden by the creeping jungle and couldn't be seen. Nobody knows exactly why these great Mayan cities, or Teotihuacán, the ruin just outside Mexico City, were abandoned. Maybe famine - some people say the cities grew too fast and the food supply couldn't keep up. Maybe it was also because they had a lot of wars among themselves. It's a mystery.

Posted by Sarah at 01:07 PM | Comments (0)


This was the first stop on our ten-day trip around the south of Mexico. One of the best things about Oaxaca is saying it. Say it: Wah HAH kah. Sounds great.

On Monday 14 September, myself and my traveling companions, Mel and Tristan of Melbourne, headed to Oaxaca, capital of the eponymous state. We took a bus to Puebla for lunch first, on the advice of Cecilia's parents, who gave us the name of a restaurant that serves a very good enchiladas de tres moles. It was called Fonda Santa Clara.

We weren't disappointed. The restaurant was all decked out in green, red and white for Independence Day and the food was just as festive. Three little chicken enchiladas, each one glistening with rich sauce - one red, one green and one brown. The brown mole is made of all sorts of chiles and spices, and is dark because of the main ingredient - chocolate. It's amazing and tastes like nothing else on earth. I love it. I have no idea how they make the red one, but it's tasty, too. The green one is made from crushed pumpkin seeds and it's delicious. We had tequila with sangrita (spicy tomato juice that comes in a separate little glass) and some beers, then wandered around the pretty town and hopped back on the bus for Oaxaca.

It was raining when we arrived, but this wasn't going to deter the lively residents, who were crowding the square, enjoying the carnival rides that had been set up and cheerfully spraying one another with cans of white foam. We missed the Grito - the cry that the state governor makes from the balcony of the Palacio on the Zòcalo, or town square. This is what Padre Hidalgo shouted when he kicked off the War of Independence: "Mexicanos! Viva Mexico!" Apparently it gets everyone going, because the city was swarming with foodstands, jewellery stalls, people selling pirated CDs and all the citizens of Oaxaca just cruising around and pouring in and our of bars.

We had unfortunately checked ourselves into a truly repulsive youth hostel for the evening. Our ceiling leaked, the toilets were disgusting, and the vacuous hippie platitudes scribbled onto the walls were of an inanity not to be believed. People that brainless shouldn't be let out of sight by their parents, let alone let overseas. We bolted the next morning, quick smart, and installed ourselves in the pretty Las Rosas, right near the Zócalo.

The party was still going, and we breakfasted at a street stall. A woman was plucking chunks of dough from a mound, flattening it between her palms, and cooking fresh tortillas which she used to make special cheese sandwich things, whose name escapes me, but they weren't exactly quesadillas. Mine had chewy cheese and zucchini flowers inside. It was delicious.

Shortly after breakfast there was a huge procession though the town, which included all the schoolkids, kind of just ambling along, followed by ambulance drivers, firemen in very snazzy yellow outfits, and scary looking riot police doing the goose-step and carrying unnecessarily large weapons, if you ask me. It was pretty funny.

For me, the best thing in Oaxaca, besides the gracious town itself, was the church of Santo Domingo. It's full of incredible detail and so much gilt! You look up and the ceiling is just as crowded as can be with painted stories of the saints, the creation, the Passion, and everything else the Catholics are into. It's very entertaining and extremely beautiful.

But the best thing is the museum next door, in the old Dominican monastery. The monastery is so beautiful, with its simple, light, elegant cloister. Inside is a terrific museum of the history of Oaxaca, including a wonderful collection of Mixtec jewellery. Archeologists found it inside a tomb in the Zapotec city of Monte Albàn. After the Zapotecs skipped town, the Mixtecs continued using the city's ceremonial center, and they left lots of jade and turquoise jewellery, as well as engraved bones that I think they used to draw blood for sacrifices to the gods. They were very keen on human sacrifice. There was even a human skull decorated in a mosaic of tiny turquoise stones.

The Spanish stuff was less interesting, of course, but I was amused to learn that the missionaries had to change to style of their crosses when it became apparent that the sight of Jesus on a crucifix got the natives confused - they thought Catholics practiced human sacrifice, too. So the Dominicans took him off.

Outside the monastery, there is the most amazing garden you can imagine. It's all cactuses. Every imaginable shape, from tall skinny ones that form spiky, uneven hedges, to those ones that look like a stegasaurus. The shadows they cast in the setting sun were beautiful.

In the evening, what luck, there was a concert in the cloister. A Cuban pianist, a Mexican guitarist and a French violinist variously played work by the Argentinian tango composer Piazzola (that was my favourite), someone else I've never heard of, and Prokofiev. The Prokofiev was very stirring.

The next day we headed to the town market, which was a sight. There was every imaginable variety and size of chile, more kinds of tomatoes than I knew existed, and great mounds of bright red fried grasshoppers, which Oaxacans like to munch on. We weren't game. There were also women slicing the spikes off the leaves of the stegasaurus cactus. The Mexicans eat it, but I don't care for it. It's kind of slimy.

Oaxaca was my favourite place besides Mexico City.

Posted by Sarah at 01:06 PM | Comments (1)

September 24, 2003

back in Mexico City

It's been a couple of weeks since I've written, as I've been busy traipsing around Mexico with my friends from Australia, Mel and Tristan.

They met me here in Mexico City on Saturday, 12 September. I was already happily installed in the delightful Palenco apartment of Cecilia de la Macorra's family. Cecilia is one of my best friends from New York, and she was in town for her brother Jaime's wedding.

Her family is a wonderful example of the general excellence of nearly every Mexican I have encountered. These people are extremely friendly, warm, gracious, helpful and hospitable. Their mini-ness also makes them very lovable. The de la Macorras are particularly mini and unusually lovable.

The whole weekend was a huge family-fest. Ceci's enormous blended family is pretty complicated, as both her parents remarried when she was little. Her mother, Edna, lives in Barcelona, as her husband, a book publisher and writer, is the Mexican consul there. They flew in for the wedding, and on Friday night took the whole family, plus me, out for some delicious modern Mexican cuisine - I ate snapper in saffron sauce on a bed of special strange truffles that grown on the corn husks. It was terrific.

Ceci was a tour guide extraordinaire, and was always anxious to see that Mel, Tristan and myself were well lubricated with tequila, and very well fed. We were happy with this arrangement, and soon became quite obsessed with the national Independence Day dish, chiles en nogada. This is a roasted green pepper, stuffed with mince and dried fruit, smothered in a rich walnut sauce and decorated in pomegranate seeds and coriander so that it resembles the tricolor Mexican flag. Independece Day struck on the Monday after we arrived in Mexico, so the city was full of flags and fairy lights and banners - there was a terrific air of celebration everywhere.

Mexico City is just wonderful. It has 20 million people which creates an incredibly vibrant, hectic atmosphere. The neighbourhoods vary enormously one from the other, so it's like a whole lot of cities rolled into one, and the huge gulf between the haves and the have-nots gives the city its special character, too - it's so sophisticated and hip and international (not just wealthy yet unsophisticated, like other capitals in this part of the world), but at the same time life for so many of its citizens is just a matter of hand-to-mouth survival.

The city's centre is dissected by gracious Hausman-esque boulevardes that do little to speed up the traffic in this car-clogged town. If you're in a bad traffic jam, it can take up to an hour to move a few blocks. Ceci, whose size belies her sargeant-major spirit, surprised Mel and Tristan one day by leaping from the car to remove a roadblock a policeman had just placed in her way. She won't take any nonsense, that Ceci.

We spent that Saturday exploring the lovely colonial San Angel neighbourhood with Ceci, including a tour of the house where Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo once lived. The cactus fence is super-cool, and the bridge joining their two seperate studio apartments initially appealed to me as the perfect domestic arrangement, until I learned that it was there so that Frida - who was a cripple, you know - could hobble over the footbridge with Diego's lunch! His apartment didn't even have a kitchen. We had a leisurely browse through the art market, after enjoying our large tequila-soaked lunch, then Ceci and I rushed back to the apartment for Jaime's wedding.

The bride, Carla, is Bolivian, and the traditional religious ceremony will take place in her country, but to speed up her immigration process (the couple lives in Mexico City) they decided to have a civil service here. About 150 people crammed into the apartment, and after much signing of papers, the party began. There was lots of drinking, plenty of excellent conversation, and later on, dancing. At one stage there was even some person-throwing. I thought Jaime's friends were going to break the ceiling with the groom's head. Ceci and I ended up going out afterwards with a couple of others, to a club.

It was pretty cheesy and full of wealthy young show-offs pretending to enjoy the hideously thumping and totally passé dance music. At one stage, I announced my intention to visit the ladies' room, and took off across the dance floor only to be almost crash-tackled by the very gallant (some might say excessively gallant) Alberto. "You can't go to the bathroom by yourself! You don't know what the men here are like!" he shouted. Well, I knew what they were like, alright. I knew they were sleazy little numbers, but I didn't think they were dangerous. I was very amused. Alberto waited patiently outside the door for me and took my hand to protect me from the marauderers on the dancefloor.

He should have paid more attention to the men of our own party, one of whom was very pushy. This is a problem in this part of the world, I've found. I think Latin women must make a habit of playing hard to get, because so many of the men here can't take a hint. When you dance with them, they try to kiss you, and when you indicate that you don't wish to, they say "Why don't you want to kiss me?" and pull a very sad face. Such a stupid question - there's only ever one reason why, and it's too rude to articulate, but in fact they do put you in the position of having to be impolite in order to get your message across. It's quite silly. Anyway, I managed to escape his clutches and get into the apartment at around 6am, after nearly falling asleep into my early morning tacos (this is what Mexicans do at 5am after a night of drinking). Ceci and I were exhausted.

On Sunday, Mel and Tristan and I did more eating and drinking and cruising around with Ceci. She took us to se the Zócalo, which is the main square in the centre of town, flanked by the basilica (sinking into the mud that was once the lake on which the Aztec city was founded) and the presidential palace (full of very stirring Diego Rivera murals that we weren't allowed to see because the presidential guard was in the house, preparing for Independence Day). Mexico City's Zócalo is the biggest in the world, and that day it was swarming with people - stallholders selling little flags and all sorts of snacks, hundreds of maids enjoying their day off and hoards of people revving up for the celebrations that would take place the following day. There were little kids everywhere, all of them being carried by their fathers and mothers. Mexican people are very family-oriented and they don't go in for strollers or baby carriages. It's a very pretty sight to see so many dear little kids being hugged to their parents' bodies.

Right next to the basilica are the ruins of the Templo Mayor that was the focal point of Tenochtitlán, the colourful, beautiful, watery Aztec city that Cortès - who must have been the world's most wicked philistine - destroyed and buried beneath the austere flagstones of colonial Mexico. It's too sad to contemplate, really.

On Monday morning Tristan and Mel and I set out for our trip in the south of the country, and Ceci headed back to New York, where, as the press attaché to the Mexican mission to the UN, she has been quite frantic with the business of the Security Council, and in recent days, the visit to NYC of President Vicente Fox.

I was very sad to say goodbye to Ceci outside the apartment that morning. I will see her again in November in New York, but it just seemed like the first installment of a far more horrible departure in December. I will hate to leave her and all the others. The dear old Mexican cab driver sang me a little song and told me not to cry as we made our way to meet Mel and Tristan.

But it was wonderful to be in Ceci's hometown with her. Being a visitor is so infinitely superior to being a tourist. You are immediately plugged into a place, and you no longer have that feeling that you're outside, just peering in at it, looking like a useless gringa. I am so lucky to have so many friends from such interesting places. In fact, I got an email just the other day from my friend Marina inviting me to stay with her in Buenos Aires, so that will probably be my next stop after Peru.

Posted by Sarah at 05:47 PM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2003


Here I am all by myself in this very elegant, civilised little town.

I arrived by bus on Tuesday, after flying into Mexico City. The landing was great - the plane swoops right in over the enormous city, so that you feel like the wings will surely clip the tops of the buildings. It's quite exciting.

I missed my bus at first, because I forgot to wind my watch forward, so I arrived late at night and checked into a dear little hotel with rooms surrounding a courtyard filled with potted plants and caged birds.

I have spent my time here mostly wandering around, casually popping into churches and museums. Guanajuato is a university town nestled in a lovely valley a few hours north of Mexico City. It's full of students, who all sit around on the steps of the charming buildings and monuments. The colonial architecture is very well preserved, and the town is World Heritage listed. There's one main drag running through the centre of town, with all the other streets coming off it, ascending steeply so that many of them are actually staircases. There is plenty of activity in the streets, too, with lots of organ-grinding and accordian-playing going on, and people selling delicious fresh corn and other treats, and mariachis playing in the garden in the centre of town.

There are lots of pretty little parks and squares all over the place, too. I sat in one today, reading some Gabriel Garcia Marquez (I thought I'd better read something Latin American, but his short stories are so opaque, he makes me miss the Garps terribly) and watching little boys chase pigeons around the fountain. I struck up a conversation with an old man called Jorge. He said I was far too young, at 21, to be traveling by myself. When I told him I was 29 he said I ought to find a husband and have some babies. I didn't disagree. Jorge said he was sorry his four sons already had wives.

The churches around here - except for the main basilica, which is quite jolly in its baroqueness, full of shiny chandeliers and juicy cherubs perched atop its gilt arches - feel stale and ghostly. Catholicism certainly is a very creepy religion (fellow RCs needn't get prickly - I speak from experience as well as observation). They go in for dressing up their statues around here, and Mary usually looks quite nice, but Jesus, always considered a long-haired fellow, sports a variety of brunette wigs, many of which are weirdly foxy. The unfortunate result is that he often looks like a transvestite after a particularly rough night on the turps. In one church, the gash in his side was so deep and gruesome that his ribcage was exposed. I thought that was going too far. And of course there are all the saints, murdered in any manner of horrific ways, dressed up and prone inside glass coffins.

The statues made by the original inhabitants of this part of the world, on the other hand, are fresh and uplifting with their clean geometric lines and their imaginative, abstract representations of gods and animals. They look positively contemporary next to all those literal-minded martyrs. I saw lots of pre-Colombian art in a museum today, which also had plenty of exhibits outlining the history of the War of Independence, which was launched not far from here. The museum is actually inside the building where the Spaniards hid while Padre Hidalgo and his fellow rebels were launching their attack on Guanajuato. Mexico's Independence Day is on Monday, so there are lots of celebrations happening in town - I'm off to a concert this evening.

Tomorrow I leave early for Mexico City, where I'll meet my New York-Mexican friend Cecilia, and also my friends Melanie and Tristan from Australia. I'll go to Ceci's brother's wedding on Saturday, then next week Mel and Tristan and I set off on a two-week tour of Oaxaca, Chiapas and the Yucatan. Can't wait.

Posted by Sarah at 06:44 PM | Comments (1)

September 10, 2003

Antigua photos

I pinched these from my friend Didrik's website (

This is me and my Swiss friend, Julia, who traveled with me to Honduras. We're standing in front of Antigua's lovely arch, close to the centre of the town.
me and Jules

Here's one of me, Didrik the chatty Norwegian and Jose the Brazilian priest having dinner at Mireille's place
dinner table

Here's one of Mireille, our hostess in Antigua

And here's a photo of Diana, Valentin and Domenic - three of Mireille's kids (Ana is missing)
the kids

Posted by Blogs.BootsnAll at 01:47 PM | Comments (0)

September 08, 2003

With the Davilas of San Salvador

I spent the last few days with the family of my excellent New York-Salvadorean friend Rebeca.

I had a wonderful time practising Spanish with her mother, who is a very kind, warm and elegant woman, and being shown around. I stayed with her sister Teresa, her husband Jaime and her little boy, Diego. Also their crazy dog, Toy, whom Diego follows around very faithfully. The dog is in control of that relationship, I'm afraid.

Yesterday we all went to the beach near the port of La Libertad, just half an hour from the capital. The drive was lovely - you can't imagine how nutritious it all looks in this part of the world. The countryside is just busting its big green head off. Green springs up wherever it possibly can - there's lush clover-like grass by the roadside, moss all over the stones, great green vines creeping up the rock face and then big trees, their trunks clinging with lichens, reaching their emerald limbs across the road. Occasionally I see a bunch of my tall, pale, elegant compatriots, with ther greyish gum-green leaves - I greet them with my mind as I pass by in the car - but otherwise it's just as juicy-green as you like. And the deliciousness available by the side of the road! I have eaten so many scrumptious, bizarre fruits in the last few weeks. My favorite thing, though, is the coconut juice. Tastes so perfect you feel it should go directly into the bloodstream. They serve it in the nut, with a straw poking out, then you bash the nut against the ground and eat the flesh. Jamie was being very rustic and trying to fashion flesh-scoopers out of coconut shell, but he had some trouble.

I was very pleased to see the Pacific Ocean, too. The beach is black and the water is very warm. I spent most of the day on my back in the sun, reading "The World According to Garp" which I can't recommend highly enough.

The day before, Saturday, Jaime, who had a terrible headache after drinking five beers and eight tequilas with us the night before, drove a little party of us out to Lake Coatepeque, which is a gorgeous lake sitting in the crater of an ancient volcano.

It has all been most relaxing. I am now back with Regina Davila in Guatemala City after a very pleasant bus trip this morning (I love the bus - so nice looking at the countryside and women with delicious food keep hopping on and selling it to me for next to nothing). I have finally had a chance to meet Regi's kids, Ricardo and Valeria, and they're super cute. All the Davilas are excellent - Rebeca's sisters share her warmth, her sense of hospitality and her strength of character. I've very much enjoyed getting to know them better.

Off to Mexico tomorrow for the next leg of this excellent trip.

Posted by Sarah at 05:10 PM | Comments (0)

September 05, 2003

Blind Date

My Salvadorean friend Pati couldn't lunch with me today as planned, so she sent a friend of hers to take me out on a blind date.

I dislike dates of any sort, and would never be induced to go on a blind one. In this case, however, my date couldn't speak English, so it wouldn't really be me going out with him, but my Spanish-speaking alter ego. My true self would remain out of harm's way, where it couldn't be looked at or picked at or interrogated by the strange man opposite. Perfect.

So this fellow came to pick me up and whisked me off to a restaurant overlooking the sea. He was a short, nuggety, dark haired lawyer, and he was still in his suit. He reminded me of my uncle, Terry Salmon, which was very pleasant, but not very alluring - when heading out on a blind date, nobody wants to be reminded of their uncle, no matter how beloved.

We ate an enormous and extremely delicious lunch. I had ceviche first, which is, if you haven't eaten it, about the best thing you can ever eat. Raw fish soaked in lime juice with some coriander and stuff. It tastes perfect. Afterwards I had an enormous plate of barbecued prawns. I raved on about god knows what in Spanish. I think the rum helped my fluency somehow.

Afterwards we took a long drive through the countryside, and ate cake in a little town in the hills. The sea looked gorgeous as we drove along the shore, and as we climbed the hills the coffee plantations looked lovely and green. We stopped by the side of the road where some farmers were loading their truck with anonas - a fruit that is in season at this time of year. It has a green bumpy skin, like you might imagine the skin of a dinosaur to look. It's the size of a cricket ball, and just inside the skin, when you break the fruit in two, is a rim of red the colour of a cricket ball. Inside that is a filling of a rosey pink, soft, wet, spongey flesh like a moist marshmallow. You dig chunks out one by one. Inside each chunk is a brown seed that looks like a chocolate clinker. You suck the flesh off, then spit the seed out the window. It's delicious and unlike anything I've tasted before.

I was dropped home by the kindly fellow, and later on we met again at a bar in the city. My hosts, Teresa Davila and her husband, Jaime, as well as Pati and her husband Carlos, and my date, of course, had a few tequilas and did some dancing. After a few drinks, my date became a little bit amorous, but his stature was a great handicap for him in this regard. He could only manage a couple of quick pecks on my shoulder, which was level with his gob, as we were doing the merengue. So that was alright.

Posted by Sarah at 05:32 PM | Comments (2)

September 02, 2003

Pirates, ahoy.

This island is a very strange little place.

The people who call it home are mostly white, and speak English, but with an accent so thick as to render them entirely incomprehensible. Really. I can only understand a word here or there. They say they are the descendents of pirates who once ran amock on the bay islands of Honduras and along much of the country's coastline. Many of them are disdainful of the latin Hondurans who come from the mainland to earn a living from the island's tourist industry.

These neo-pirates race around the streets - there are about three in total on the whole island - in golf buggies or four-wheel motorbikes. The streets are too narrow for cars, and it never gets cold enough to worry about the breeze.

It's as hot as hell, in fact. There are hibiscus trees everywhere and sandflies attack us at night but I cover myself in baby oil, which not only makes me look like a greased up porn star, but traps the little bastards and makes them too sticky to bite. Ingenious.

The water is beautiful and clear and full of fish. I saw lots of bright green parrot fish when I was diving - and a skinny trumpet fish and lots of black and yellow striped sargeant majors. I saw a wrecked fishing boat, too. It was all very pretty. Most people are here for the diving, but I have spent most of my time lying around in hammocks, reading light fiction (devoured an Isabel Allende yesterday - most entertaining) and scoffing pina coladas.

I met up once more with my cousin Brendon here, and we've had several very pleasant evenings chatting, along with his English traveling companion, James, who is soon to be dispatched to Brendon's family property in Binya, which will no doubt be an adventure for him. I'm glad that Brendon turned out to be such excellent company.

I am leaving Utila today, regretfully abandoning my Swiss friend, Julia. She
has been a terrific traveling companion - very frank and funny and enthusastic about everything, including eating, which has been perfect.

It's funny how one day I can be so relaxed and content in a hammock, watching clouds bloom over the horizon and birds sail through the sky, just reading and enjoying the breeze, and the next day I am dying for some action. I could never live on an island like this and yesterday I walked around marveling at all the foreigners who came to spend a month and have been here for nearly a year. How can they stand it? Nothing happens! The place is full of wholesome young Europeans who come from villages in Germany and France and Switzerland - pretty, small, no doubt frightfully dull places. They love nature! They love the outdoors! They have absolutely no conversation! I am sick of trying to talk to them, they are so nice!

I can't wait to get to the city, and will arrive in San Salvador tomorrow, then Mexico City early next week, I hope.

Posted by Sarah at 10:01 AM | Comments (2)