Thursday, October 13, 2005

More of Canada

This morning, we were delighted to see the sun peek it’s head out. We headed down to the falls and bought tickets for the infamous Maid of The Mist boat trip to the falls. There was only the shortest of waits, and we donned our bright blue rain parkas as the boat chugged off. I had done this trip as a child, and it’s one of my fondest memories, but I had forgotten how wet you get! Marie and I spent half of the boat trip hiding under our parks while Nigel and Lindsay tried their best to snap some photos while trying to keep their cameras dry. Still, it was a lot of fun, and a great view of the falls!

Once off the boat, it didn’t take us long to dry off, and we headed back to the hotel, hopped in the car, and drove to Toronto for the afternoon. It was a rainy drive, but once we got there the sun came out a bit. We had lunch right on the water, then walked around the piers and along the lakefront. Back at the falls, we had some dinner and an early night.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


We had an early breakfast at the hotel this morning, complete with self-made Belgian waffles, cereal, coffee, juice and fruit. We were going to swing by the university for Nigel to get some lacrosse gear, but couldn’t be bothered, so we set out for the day’s drive. We headed north along Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes District. It was absolutely gorgeous. The scenery was endless views of lakes, rivers, autumn trees, vineyards, old barns and country towns. We did stop at a few of the wineries to check out the views, and managed to buy a few bottles at the Thirsty Owl.

We arrived in Niagara Falls late in the afternoon and stopped at the border for hot dogs at a little hot dog stand, then crossed into Canada (Oh, Canada!) and checked into our hotel. While driving around, we were surprised at how gaudy and cheesy Niagara Falls (the town) is, complete with the chain entertainment restaurants, Ripley’s museums and haunted houses, one souvenir shop after another, and lots of garish signage. So instead of exploring this once romantic, honeymoon destination, we hopped in the car and drove the short distance to Niagara-On-The-Lake, Canada. This is MUCH more like it! Streets full of boutique shops, cafes and elegant restaurants, beautiful flowers and trees, and all the buildings in old colonial brick styles. We had a coffee while wandering into some of the shops before they shut, then drove back along the winding roads to the hotel. This is definitely an area I’d love to live in! And Lindsay didn’t think the golf courses looked to bad either!

For dinner, we headed to one of the chain restaurants, Tony Roma’s, as Lindsay had a taste for ribs. It was a great meal (portions way too big of course), and afterwards, we walked down to the falls to view them at night. I had remembered from when I was young that there were coloured lights shining on the water, which changed every few minutes, and we soon discovered that they are still there. We tried to walk along the river across from the American Falls to the Horseshoe Falls, but the mist and wind were getting us absolutely drenched, so we gave up halfway there and went back to the hotel. Marie and Lindsay headed to bed while Nigel and I threw on our bathers (not worn since Acapulco) and soaked in the hot tub.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


After major hassles picking up our rental car (best not elaborated on for our own sanity), Lindsay and Nigel drove the Ford Taurus back to the hotel where we loaded up our bags and headed out of the city. It was surprisingly easy going and there was hardly any traffic. We drove through the Lincoln Tunnel, crossed through New Jersey and headed north to Ithaca, New York, our next stop for one night. The last half of the drive was beautiful, full of colourful autumn trees and old country homes with pumpkins decorating their porches and yards.

In Ithaca, home to Cornell University, we walked downtown, which reminds me so much of Davis, California, where I went to university. It’s fairly small with lots of cute shops, cafes, and restaurants. We had a coffee before heading to the hotel for the night. We ordered pizza and salad for dinner, but it took so long to arrive that we were barely awake while eating it.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Bulls, Bears and an ode to Chris

This morning we headed to the Brooklyn Bridge and wandered along the South Street piers. When the fish stench got to be too much, we walked along Wall Street to the Stock Exchange. Parts of the street were blocked off from traffic and turned into street markets. After exploring those, we had coffee and lunch at a deli on Wall Street.

We then took the subway up to Rockefeller Center, where we were pleased to see that the ice skating rink was already in place. We also just happened to catch the end of the Columbus Day Parade, full of Italian-themed floats and decorations since Columbus was Italian. We wandered around some shops, including the NBC studios, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, then down 5th Avenue past the New York Public Library (closed for the holiday) and back to our hotel. Dinner was at another Tex-Mex/Hawaiian-Mex type place just around the corner from the hotel.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Chinatown fun

Today was cooler but dry at least. We took the tour bus up to Central Park and spent the morning walking through it. It is such a gorgeous, peaceful place, and the morning mist and fog was beautiful. All of the leaves have started to turn from green to bright yellow, orange and red. We gave Tavern On The Green a miss, as well as the Guggenheim (which we now regret) and Metropolitan Museum of Art, both of which had huge queues. We walked along 55h Avenue for a while, then crossed over to Central Park West and walked along the huge mansions to Columbus Circle, stopping for a bit of window-shopping and a great Tex-Mex lunch at a cute upstairs restaurant.

We then took the subway to Chinatown. During our entire stay in New York, there were threats of terrorist bombs on the city’s subway system. Supposedly all bags were to be searched, and security was to be increased. However, we never once had our bags looked at, nor did we see any security. We did see some guys in HazMat suits outside one station, but it was a false alarm.

In Chinatown, we walked along Canal Street as I was looking for a handbag. . We were able to give Marie and Lindsay a taste of what some of our experiences were like in China. I ended up buying a few bags. I bought one from a guy who offered to take me to the back room for all of his Louis Vuitton stuff, and I had to go to the back to get the designer label stuck on like a sticker. The other bag I got from one of the “take it and run” guys who stop on the street, quickly open up a huge sheet full of his wares, then bundles it all up again for a quick getaway when police are spotted.

We wandered back to the hotel for a coffee and a bit of relaxing before walking down the street to an Irish pub for drinks and a great meal. It was nice to get a bit drunk have a chance to chat to Marie and Lindsay about the two family members we lost while we were gone.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

"You're Fired!"

Today we saw uptown New York and Brooklyn from the top deck of the tour bus. It made for quite a wet experience since it pretty much rained the entire day. Still, we enjoyed seeing all of the old, rich buildings and famous shops. We got off the bus at Central Park South and tried to have a coffee at the Plaza Hotel, but it's closed for renovations. Apparently they're making it residences with only a few floors left as hotel rooms, since it's such a desirable location and so many people just live there anyway. So instead we had a Starbuck's at the Trump Towers, drying off and warming up as we took in all of the hideous golden decor. I definitely remember it from my first trip to NY years ago.

After drying off, we headed back out into the rain for a delicious lunch at a traditional New York deli. The afternoon was spent wandering around shops such as FAO Schwartz, Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Tiffany, and Kate Spade. And of course, we didn’t buy anything.

After a wet and soggy day, we grabbed a coffee at the Dunkin’ Doughnuts across the street from our hotel and took it back to our room to relax. Later in the evening, Nigel and I headed out to the Lower East Side for some more shopping. We enjoyed walking around this neighbourhood as it is full of original and quirky shops, lots of pubs and bars, cheap and expensive restaurants & cafes alike, and streets full of people out and about.

On our way back to the hotel, we grabbed some salads from Wholefoods and took them back to the hotel for a late, light meal and relaxing.

Friday, October 07, 2005

First Day in NYC


We all had a bit of a sleep-in this morning, but were up in time for our free breakfast of muffins and less-than-average coffee downstairs. From our hotel, we walked up to Time's Square and got on one of those double-decker tour buses to take in the sights. We sat up top, open to the air, and got off at Battery Park. We made the impromtu decision to take the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty, so after a quick pretzel, we got in line and were on the next boat. Despite the rain clouds in the sky, the air was clear and we had some beautiful views. We got off at the statue and walked around it but didn't go up the base (the statue itself is closed because of security-aka terrorist-issues). Finished in 1886, the statue was actually built to promote French republicanism.

It was a long, cold wait for the ferry back, but luckily we were in line under some cover, as it started to rain not long after we got in line. It was windy and cold, so we skipped Ellis Island. From Battery Park, we walked to the site of the World Trade Centre. It was astounding how big of a hole has been left in the ground after the rubble was removed. There is a great display of the history of the twin towers from their conception, through construction, destruction, and what has been planned to replace them. It was sad to remember September 11th, but great to see that most of the surrounding buildings have been renovated, and that pretty much everything is "back to normal" so to speak.

From there, we walked to Tribeca, a quaint neighbourhood full of cobblestone side streets, unique shops, excellent restaurants, and tree-lined streets. We celebrated Marie's birthday with an excellent meal at a great little place, complete with many drinks and dessert. We walked up Broadway, stopping in some shops along the way to Union Square, where we got on the subway back to our hotel.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Dumplings in the Big Apple

Our taxi picked us up today at the un-Godly hour of 4:45 am. We were sure we'd need a caffeine fix at such an hour, so our kind taxi driver drove us to several 7-elevens until we found one NOT cleaning their coffee machines and had a fresh brew. We were sure to get ourselves to the airport a generous 3.15 hours ahead of our scheduled departure flight, so as not to repeat the scene last time on leaving Mexico City.

We checked in with no worries, and had plenty of time to waste. No shops in the airport were even open at this time, so we just sat there. And sat and sat and sat. After about an hour of people-watching, the boredom was enough to drive us to drink. even though it was just after 6:00 am, we hit the bar, which was, mercifully, open. The rules of international airports dictate that it's always beer o'clock as it's the cocktail hour somewhere in the least, those are our rules. Not that we need any rules to drink alcohol whenever we feel like it. Nigel had a few beers, and I had a few vodka cocktails, and we spent most of our remaining pesos.

The flight from Mexico City to Dallas/Fort Worth was uneventful. Unfortunately, we were on American Airlines, but nothing too bad happened. In Dallas, we got our bags, went through immigration and customs, re-checked them, then took the shuttle bus from the international airport to the domestic section. There were 2 soldiers in uniform on the shuttle, coming home from Iraq on a 2 week furlough. Nigel got his first taste of Texas when a few of the old men on the bus started clapping for them as they got off at their stops. Don't Mess With Texas. At the domestic terminal, we had just enough time to grab some lunch to-go and get on our flight to New York, knowing the American Airlines crew wouldn't feed us.

We arrived in New York around 3:00 pm, got our bags, and took a shuttle bus from La Guardia to Grand Central Terminal. It was so fun seeing New York with Nigel for his first time. I had been before, but I was 12. It was a short trip into the city, and from Grand Central Terminal we could have hopped on a free mini-bus to our hotel, but it was only about 12 blocks, so we put our packs on and walked. It was great to be in a city with huge buildings and long streets again.

We walked up Park Avenue South to our hotel, the Wolcott, on East 31st Street in Midtown, checked in, and checked out our little room. It's a really old hotel, so the rooms are small, but okay. After a shower, we took the subway to Chinatown in Lower Manhattan and walked along Canal Street. Tons of stalls and little shops line the streets, selling all of the knock-offs and copies of name brands, plus pretty much anything else really. It honestly felt just like China. We ended up eating dinner at a little place called Shanghai Cuisine on Bayard Street. The place was packed, so we knew we'd found a good place. We had dumplings and Tsing Tao beer and ate with chopsticks and really felt like we were in Shanghai again, the very beginning of our travels. It was awesome.

After dinner, we decided to walk a little way along Broadway and pop into some shops. We ended up walking from Lower Manhattan, through Downtown to Midtown and our hotel, over 30 blocks. But it was fun, we found some great shops, and we were just loving being in such a huge city with so much going on.

Back at the hotel, we watched some TV then went into the lobby to wait for Nigel's parents to arrive. We read some magazines and the newspaper, and waited and waited. Finally they arrived, and it was so great to see them! It had been nearly 11 months since we'd seen them. They were exhausted as they'd flown from Adelaide to New York in one go, but they did a great job of staying up to share some champagne before we all went to bed just after midnight.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Very Last Day

Well, it's sort of a sad day for us. Technically it's not the last day of our trip, but it's our last day in a foreign land, so we feel like it's the last day. So what did we do? Saw an American movie of course.

It happened to be the best day to see a movie, as Wednesdays are half price. I think we paid about US$1.20 each to see 'The Wedding Crashers.' Over the weekend at my sister's in L.A., my Aunt Nancy had been saying how it is now her favourite movie and worth a good laugh. We were glad to have an afternoon of giggles, and a movie in English after Clifford "el perro rojo grande" dubbed in Spanish on the bus.

We walked back to our hotel through Barrio Chino to browse more knock-offs and rip-offs at the stalls packed tightly along the streets, then just enjoyed our last views of the sights of Mexico City and speaking Spanish. We should have gone to bed early with such a long day tomorrow, but we didn't.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Laziness taking over

Not much was accomplished today. We slept in, took our laundry in, then walked around Barrio Chino to browse the cheap stalls selling whatever. We used the internet, got some dinner, watched some TV. I guess it looks like we're getting pretty lazy in our final days of travel...

Monday, October 03, 2005

The last ride

Our opinions of Acapulco somewhat restored by the cliff divers and a good dinner last night, we decided not to press our luck and wanted to head back to Mexico City for our last few days in the country. We caught a nice ¨Pluss¨ bus for the 5 hour ride back to the capital, our very last bus ride. Looking back on the last 11 months, I´d be curious to know just how many bus rides we have been on...I´ll have to count them. It was an uneventful trip (though we were treated to Clifford´s Big Movie dubbed in Spanish), we caught the metro from the bus station to our hotel, walked around a bit and went to the chemist, then got rotisserie chicken takeaway for dinner. Glad to be back in Mexico City after Acapulco.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


Waking up to a new day, we were determined to find the good side of Acapulco. We promptly checked out of our dingy hotel and took one of the many air-brush painted, pimped out buses to the resort hotel area and found a place for US$30, with a swimming pool. A lot of money for us, but a bargain in this town. It is really hot and humid in Acapulco, so after having some lunch (as it was lunchtime by this stage), we went for a swim in the pool, very refreshing. We then showered and were going to watch the famous cliff divers, but they only have one afternoon show, the others being in the evening. So we got on our bathers and went down to the beach.

The beach as Acapulco looks pretty much how we expected. High rises dotting the sand along the pacific. There were lots of people out on the beaches and eating at the many restaurants. We were happy to see that most of them were Mexican vacationers. We walked along the beach for a while, searching for a good place to sit for a while and go for a swim. This idea was quickly shot down when we approached a river of water rushing from the land into the ocean. If the smell didn´t give away what is in the water, then the piles of black and brown gunk floating in it does. It was and endless supply of raw sewage spewing out into the water. We couldn´t really believe it at first, and stood there for a while watching locals try to make the huge leap across so as to avoid stepping in the tainted water. It was so disgusting. The hotel pool was turning out to be an even bigger bargain than we originally thought, as there was no way we were swimming in the ocean now (despite the fact that tons of others didn´t seem to care/know and were happily frolicking in the ocean).

So, we decided to have a drink instead, even though they are not cheap. We settled in under an umbrella at one of the many places on the sand, and decided to splurge on US$10 for 2 drinks. We placed our order, only to be informed that it would be another 35 pesos for the use of the umbrella and chairs! It only took us about 3 seconds to laugh at the man, jump out of our chairs and quickly walk away. We think these restaurants have a lot of nerve to charge for the ¨use¨ of their umbrellas and chairs when they are already asking an arm and a leg for drinks and food anyway. We finally managed to find a guy willing to let us use his umbrella and chairs for free if we bought a drink. So we had 2 beers for 40 pesos (we´ve been paying about 16 pesos for 2 beers) and sat there for a while, just watching the people.

We walked back to our hotel along the street, thus avoiding the disgusting sewage this time, and went back to the hotel for another swim. We relaxed for a bit before heading over to watch the clavadistas, or cliff divers. The cliff divers of Acapulco have been delighting spectators since 1934, jumping from 25 or 35 metres. Where they perform now is a beaufiul spot on the Pacific, and we arrived in time to enjoy the sunset. When the show was about to start, about 6 divers (in speedos) climbed down one side of the cliff, turned on the spotlights, then scaled the opposite wall (they dive into a small inlet between 2 cliffs when the tide is high). They all prayed to the Virgin Mary at one of 2 altars they have up on the top, and then one by one they dove it. It was pretty cool, and they had my heart racing. We were glad there was no cheesy music or anything.

Afterwards, we took a pimped out techno bus back towards our hotel, and lit our mouths on fire with delicious tacos al pastor for dinner, before heading back to the hotel and to bed.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


Today didn´t really start off great, and only got worse. We went down to one of the bus stations in Taxco around 11:00 am to catch the 12:10 bus to Acapulco. They wouldn´t let us buy tickets until the bus arrived. So we waited and waited, and still the bus did not come. Nigel kept asking one of the ticket ladies, and she said there is a lot of traffic, and the bus will come, just keep waiting. So we waited and waited some more. 1:00 came around, and by 2:00 we were really frustrated. They just kept telling us there is a lot of traffic. Well, the next bus was scheduled to leave at 2:40, and we didn´t want to miss out on this bus either. Finally we talked to someone who said that the 12:10 bus had broken down and was not coming, and the bus at 2:40 was also cancelled. Well, did I give them a piece of my mind! We had been waiting for over 3 hours, only to be told the same thing over and over, NEVER once any information about the services being cancelled. We were pissed, and the guy who works the tourist information booth vouched for us as well. Never take the Estrella Blanca group buses in Mexico. So we stormed out of there and walked about 1km down the road to another bus station, the Estrella de Oro buses. Here is was a sea of calm and quiet. We bought our tickets for the 3:00 ¨Pluss¨ service to Acapulco, one step up than the Primera (1st) class and the same price as the other crappy company. They were friendly and helpful, the bus showed up and we left on time. And it was a pretty luxurious 5 hours to Acapulco.

When we arrived in Acapulco, it took us over 2 hours to find a hotel. Not only were they way overpriced, they were dirty and gross as well. We struck out in the resort hotel area, so went to the supposedly cheaper area and still couldn´t find anything. I sat in the Zòcalo for a while while Nige walked around some more. By 10:00 pm we had to settle on a not so great place for US$22. In desperate need of a beer and some dinner by this stage, we dropped our stuff in the room, and headed out to get some food. This is supposed to be the cheaper area in Acapulco, but we struggled to find a reasonable priced taco place or anything for that matter. We finally found a place tucked in behind some tourist stalls, but the food was so greasy and gross that I barely touched my tacos. Nigel ate his hamburger and sorry excuses for french fries, but didn´t enjoy them. We then headed to Oxxo, Mexico´s version of 7-eleven (though they have these too) and got some 2-minute noodles. When we got to the beer fridge, we read a notice saying that due to elections, no alcoholic beverages may be sold in the city for the next 2 days. What!!??? That was just the last straw for us. So far, Acapulco is not really a place where we´d like to spend any time. We took our noodles and microwaved popcorn back to our hotel, where Nige managed to get the girl to sell us a few beers. They were overpriced but cold. But after the day we had, we didn´t even really enjoy them.

Friday, September 30, 2005


Other than walk around and enjoy the town itself, there isn´t much to do in Taxco. Actually, if you love to shop and have money, it´s a great place to waste a few days. But we hate shopping, and have no money, so we found ourselves just wandering around all day. And that´s about it. I guess we´re getting lazy in our last few days here.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Skipping Cuernavaca

This morning we took the metro to one of the bus terminals and got a bus south to Cuernavaca. It was only about 1 hour 15 minutes, so a really short jaunt. When we got there, we looked at a few hotel rooms, which were all way overpriced. And we couldn´t really remember why we were in Cuernavaca in the first place, as there doesn´t seem to be much to see. So we just kept on walking across town to the other bus station, where we got on a bus to Taxco, only about 1.5 hours southwest.

Taxco is a unique town in Mexico. It´s an old silver-mining town, and the silver capital of the country. I had done a report on Taxco for a spanish class back in high school, and have wanted to come here ever since. It´s very beautiful, set on steep hillsides with very narrow, twisting cobbled streets, lots of small plazas and colonial buildings. The whole town is an historical monument and well-preserved.

Unfortunately for us, the beauty of the small town is not lost on others, so we struggled to find a place to stay for a reasonable price. We finally found somewhere, not great but all we could afford. It was huge though it had 2 rooms, a kitchen and bathroom. We walked around a bit, but by this time it was late, so we had an overpriced, average dinner overlooking the Plaza Borda and then headed to bed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Doing nothing

Well, we had planned to get straight out of Mexico City today, but we slept in until nearly 1:00 (which we really needed). I still wasn´t feeling that great, so we decided to spend the rest of the day in the city to relax a bit before heading out. We really didn´t do too much, and didn´t have much energy anyway. Went to American Airlines in the Zona Rosa to change a flight, and that´s about it. But it was good, and we love the hotel we stay in here, Hotel Washington.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Back in MEX

We had to say goodbye to everyone today, which sucked, but we were happy to know it will only be about 3 weeks before we´re back again, which makes it easier. I had been sick all night from something I ate at dinner, so I didn´t do anything all morning except cuddle with Hannah and feel sorry for myself. Nigel finished some last laundry and packed up all of our things. My mom and dad came over for lunch before driving us to the airport. No dramas there, and though we were there 3 hours ahead of time, it wasn´t long before we were through the various checkpoints and sitting at the gate.

The plane ended up taking off about 30 minutes late, and it wasn´t a very eventful flight, other than my few trips to the toilet in my illness. We got a taxi from the airport into the city, where we had pre-paid for our room at the hotel Washington. We got in around 1:00 am and quickly fell asleep.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Too much food!!


Lastnight we slept at my parents´ house with Megan and Colin. It was fun to wake up with them and watch cartoons in the morning. I toasted some bagels, Shannon made some coffee, and when Nana woke up we made doughnuts, something we used to always do when I was a child. It was a lot of fun. After eating, we all had showers etc. then met Erinn and Hannah for lunch, since today is her real birthday. Nigel and I were overwhelmed at the size of the portions of food at the restaurant. We had forgotton after all of the shared meals and little snacks we´ve been eating! After lunch, we took care of a bit of business at our US bank and then spent the remainder of the afternoon hanging out. We had leftovers from the BBQ for dinner & more birthday cake. Erinn, Nigel and I stayed up a little bit to watch some TV, but it wasn´t long before we were in bed.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

BBQ Bday

Today was the BBQ for my sister´s birthday, which was a lot of fun. Lots of her friends and family came, and it was great to catch up with people and hang out. That´s about all we did.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


We didn´t do much today other than visit with the family, which was perfect. It was strange to be around so many people we know and love, since for the last 11 months it has just been Nigel and I (we do know and love each other). The weather was great, so most of the day was spent outside in Erinn and Jeff´s front or back yard. Oddly enought, we had Mexican take away for lunch, and another BBQ for dinner. A great day surrounded by family and friends. Later in the evening a bunch of us went out again. We started at The Elephant Bar, then tried to go to another place but they were closing because there had been a fight, so ended up back at TGI Friday´s, only to be kicked out (very rudely) at closing time. Oh well, still a fun day!

Friday, September 23, 2005


We were up by 5:30 this morning, packed up and were off to the airport on a little detour. My brother-in-law Jeff, with the help of my sister Shannon and other brother-in-law Ben, to fly us from Mexico City to LA for the weekend to surprise my sister Erinn for her 30th birthday.

We quickly stopped at 7-eleven for a coffee on our way to the metro. We took 4 trains to get to the airport, but it was pretty easy. We arrived around 6:30, and were told we could not get onto our 8:30 flight because it was already closed. After a bit of arguing, they said we needed to be there 3 hours before the flight. Whatever! The supervisor was the devil, and was so rude it made me speechless. We were directed to the ticketing office for Mexicana airlines so they could get us on a later flight, all the way arguing that we need to get on this 8:30 flight. The ticketing people were very nice and tried to get us on the flight, but couldn´t. The next Mexicana flight wasn´t for 3 more hours! I was overwhelmed and started crying a little, so the guy totally helped us out. He went over to Aero Mexico, a totally different airline, got us on their next flight at 9:30, and waived the US$300 fee for changing the tickets. When we had to go back to the Mexicana devil woman, the guy came with us. She informed us that she was going to get a coffee and couldn´t help us, so the guy did everything for us instead.

We rang Shannon´s mobile phone to let her know we´d be arriving an hour later and on a different airline, but only could leave a message since it wasn´t even 6 am in LA. It is 3.5 hours to LA from Mexico City, we flew right through immigration and our bags came out quickly, but Jeff wasn´t there to pick us up. We tried to buy a phone card, but the machines wouldn´t take our US$20 bill, no matter how many times we tried. Eventually I just used my credit card to make a phone call to Shannon´s cell phone, only to find out from Ben that they hadn´t received our message and Jeff had been wandering around LAX for about 1.5 hours looking for us! So, we got his number and rang it, but his phone was turned off. We went down to the terminal where we were supposed to arrive, but he wasn´t there either. We rang him again, finally got him, and 10 minutes later we found him. Yay!

Luckily for us, the Friday afternoon 405 traffic was not the nightmare it usually is, so it wasn´t long before we were in Valencia. Jeff rang them and found out they were all just eating lunch at Erinn´s, including my parents and Aunt Nancy, none of whom knew about the surprise. So Jeff just had us walk in the house through the garage and say ¨Hi¨ casually, which is what we did. Everyone was surprised, and my mom started crying. It was so much fun! After many hugs and lots of chattering, it was so nice to sit down and just visit. Niece Hannah (15 months) whom Nigel has never met, and nephew Colin (3) were napping, but we got lots of cuddles from niece Megan (nearly 5). We spent the rest of the day at Erinn´s, just playing with the kids and visiting the family. It was absolutely wonderful. It has been 15 months since I´ve seen my family, and nearly 2 years since Nigel has seen them. We had a BBQ for dinner and Nigel and I ate HUGE salads, a real treat! Later in the night, we went out for drinks, a bit of a challenge in Santa Clarita. We ended up at TGI Friday´s, and they were actually showing the AFL Grand Final game, which was odd. It was a lot of fun. We had a fantastic shower and fell quickly asleep (after Nige had a giggling fit) in Erinn´s huge, comfy guest bedroom bed.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Museum and Zoo

After breakfast of yogurt and coffee at 7-eleven, we took the metro to the Bosque de Chapultepec la Secciòn, a huge, beautiful park in the middle of the city. The name means ¨Hill of Grasshoppers¨ in Nàhuatl, the Aztec language. It´s over 4 sq km, and has lots of trees, paths, lakes and museums. We headed past the Monumento a Los Niños Hèroes and walked to the National Museum of Anthropology. This museum is huge, and we spent most of the morning and afternoon there. We saw lots of stuff from the various ruins sites we´ve been to around the country. It was great to see things that were discovered at the sites which we had read about while there. I think the highlights were the famous Aztec sun stone and a tomb from Monté Alban.

After the museum, we walked further through the park to the zoo to spend a few more hours wandering. We were amazed at how good this zoo is, especially considering it´s in Mexico City and it´s free! Of course we had just come to see the big cats and some pandas they have (this is the only place outside of China where pandas have been born in captivity), but they have a lot of animals.

It was after 5:00 by the time we got back to the hotel, and we headed out to get some dinner before relaxing for the evening.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

can´t remember what we did today.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Aztec ruins

This morning we had a slow start. We had planned on getting up early to head out to the ruins of Teotihuacán, but when that alarm went off, it just wasn´t going to happen. So we slept in a bit more, grabbed a yogurt and a coffee at 7-eleven on our way to the metro, and took 3 subway lines out to one of the city´s many bus stations. Oh the joys of being in a big city with an efficient public transportation network! Mexico City´s subway system is the world´s 3rd busiest system, after Moscow and Tokyo. And it is only US$0.20 a ride no matter how far you go! Bargain! It was very easy, quick, and organised. And also packed at that hour, so we had to be very careful not to spill our vanilla lattes on the nicely dressed locals on their way to work.

At the bus station, we bought a ticket out to the ruins and only waited about 5 minutes. It took one hour to get there. Teotihuacán is in a gorgeous setting, surrounded by the mountains of the Valle de México. It´s México´s biggest ancient city, was the capital of the country´s first and biggest ancient empire and civilisation. Between 250AD and 600AD, this Aztec city grew to over 125,000, and may have controlled the southern 2/3 of México in addition to all of Guatemala, Belize and bits of Honduras and El Salvador. Because of its greatness, this civilisation greatly influenced México´s later cultures.

Teotihuacán is most famous for its 2 huge Pirámides del Sol y de la Luna (Pyramids of the Sun and Moon). On first glimpse, we were not really impressed with these ruins. They seemed to be rather bland and boring. But as we walked around for over 3 hours, we discovered why this is such a magnificent site. Our first glimpse of this was at the Templo de Quetzalcóatl (one of their gods). This is a large complex surrounded by what used to be 15 pyramids but all that is left are the bases of the pyramids. The term ´pyramids´is a generic term because these are all actually step pyramids, so not truly pyramids by definition. Archaeologists started excavating the main temple and discovered the facade of an earlier structure from about 250-300AD. Because it had been buried all this time, magnificent carvings, paintings and sculptures remain intact. With this, we were given an idea of how spectacular the buildings once looked.

We followed the Calzada de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead), which runs straight through the heart of the city, imagining what it may have looked like when all of the buildings, pyramids, hallways and plazas were complete. We were able to go underground some of the structures, seeing how the Aztecs built their chambers, rooms and passageways, then built over them a few times over the years to ´renovate.´ Some excellent paintings and carvings have been preserved due to their location underground. At the Palacio de los Jaguares (Jaguar Palace) and the Templo de los Caracoles Emplumados (Temple of the Plumed Conch Shells), we saw even more preserved paintings, carvings and sculptures. This is really the first place of ruins we were able to see how such cities may have looked in ancient times. We climbed the steep steps of both pyramids for fantastic views over the ruins and surrounding mountains.

It wasn´t too crowded, and had it not been for the many groups of schoolkids, there would hardly have been anyone there. After visiting the ruins, we spent some time in the excellent museum, which houses, among other things, many of the artifacts uncovered here. We just managed to catch a bus back to the city without having to wait, took the metro back to the centre, and grabbed some beer before heading back to the hotel and enjoying the cold beverages on the balcony of our room. Later we grabbed some dinner and walked around a bit before going to bed.

Monday, September 19, 2005


Deciding at the last minute to skip a trip into the nearby Sierra Madres mountains for a few days, we checked out of our hotel this morning and caught a bus north to Mexico City. It took about 6 hours, and we arrived in the huge capital around 5:00, just as the evening traffic was getting heavy. We got a cab into the Centro Histórico, dodged a weird art parade and found a hotel. Mexico city is huge at over 18 million people. Despite this, it isn´t the dirty, smog-filled capital I had envisioned. Maybe because it´s a bit breezy and cloudy, but who knows. It´s also at 2200m above sea level, so it´s nice and cool this time of year.

We then spent the rest of the evening wandering around the city. It reminds us of bits from other large cities we´ve been to: a bit of London, a bit of Santiago, a bit of Bangkok, a bit of others too. We love the big cities though, and it was a nice evening wandering around. We walked through the Zócalo, or Plaza de la Constitución, which reminds us a lot of Tianenmen Square. It´s a huge, open space with a massive flagpole and flag in the centre. It is surrounded by the absolutely huge, gothic-looking Catedral Metropolitana, the Palacio Nacional (President´s offices), the Federal Government offices, and a few shops, restaurants and hotels. The flag was at half-mast, and there were people forming a spiraled circle around the flagpole, holding hands, lighting candles and praying. We were not sure what it was all about, but finally figured out that today is the 20th anniversary of the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, which killed over 10,000 people.

We thought we might have a change for dinner and decided to head into the nearby Barrio Chino (Chinatown). We found it, but we didn´t find any Chinese restaurants, let alone anything even remotely associated with China. Luckily we had passed a Krispy Kreme shop along the way and treated ourselves to a little snack as we walked, otherwise we would have been starving. We walked through the crowded streets with tables and stalls selling anything and everything, and finally shared a tuna sandwich for dinner before heading back to the hotel.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

More old stuff

After having a fantastic, filling Oaxacan breakfast, we took a bus out to the Zapotec ruins of Monte Albán just west and up a mountain from the centre of town. This was the capital of the Zapotec civilisation, first occupied in 500BC and inhabited until about 950AD. At its peak from 300AD to 700AD, there were over 25,000 people living here and in the surrounding hills and Valles Centrales (Central Valleys). Mexico´s first indigenous president, the great Benito Juárez, was a Zapotec.

The ruins sit on top of a huge, levelled hill in the middle of the large valley, now overlooking the city of Oaxaca and its suburbs. Right away we could see the differences between these Zapotec ruins and those of the Mayans and Toltecs that we had previously seen. But there are also many similarities, so it is easy to see how the Zapotecs were influenced by previous civilisations. We wandered around for a few hours and enjoyed the 360 views over the city before heading back down the hill to town. We wandered around town a bit more and then had some fantastic burgers from a street vendor for dinner.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


We arrived in Oaxaca around 8:00 this morning, after a fairly uneventful ride. The town is a lot like San Cristóbal but larger, with narrow, cobbled streets and plenty of colonial buildings. It´s surrounded some beautiful mountains, with a huge town plaza full of tall, shady trees, lots of nice restaurants and shops, and tons of churches. We got the feeling it is one of the more glamourous cities in Mexico with a huge music and modern art scene (and prices to match).

After some walking around, we found ourselves a hotel and took our time getting organised before heading out for the day. We had a late breakfast and then wandered around town. We browsed some of the many craft shops, walked along the pedestrian malls, and ended up at the Iglesia de Santo Domingo. This is an old Dominican monastery built in 1608 by Mexico´s most talented artisans.

Oaxaca is also known for its fine cuisine, especially spicy moles (sauces) and chocolate. We spent some time searching out possibilities for a cooking class. Although it would have been fun for a day, what we found were totally overpriced and didn´t cook the main things we wanted. So we decided our money would much better be spent on a few good cookbooks rather than a class. As my mother has always said, ¨If you can read, you can cook!¨

Tired because of the overnight bus ride, we went back to the hotel to rest for a while and watch some TV before having a light dinner and heading to bed.

Friday, September 16, 2005


We were a bit lazy this morning after a late night last night. We checked out of our hotel, then wormed our way through the crowds lining the streets of San Cristóbal, all watching a seemingly neverending parade of schoolkids from every school in town and within a 20 mile radius. Seriously, it was the longest parade. Longer even than the Sonoma 4th of July parade. But we managed to get our way though to the coffee shop, where we relaxed over gourmet coffee drinks and Mexican fashion magazines. We then walked around the plaza, just enjoying the holiday atmosphere. It was nice to see so many families out, and people still enjoying the festivities. We sat down for a while to people-watch, and had a fun time watching 2 village girls play with a blow-up ball. They entertained each other for at least an hour, and were still going by the time we moved on.

To waste some time, Nigel went off to use the internet while I had my hair done. We then had some lunch at one of the many food stall still set up before wandering around some more, just killing time until our evening bus ride. We used the internet, got some dinner, gathered our stuff at the hostel and walked down to the bus station while the sun gave us a beautiful show as it set. Our overnight bus left around 8:00 for the 12 hour trip west to Oaxaca.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

¡Viva México!

Today is the celebration of Independence Day, comemorating September 16, 1810, when Miguel Hidalgo delivered his speech El Grito de Dolores and announced the Mexican revolt against Spanish rule, calling on the indians and mestizos to retaliate against the hated native Spaniards who had exploited and oppressed Mexicans for ten generations. This is not to be confused with May 5, or Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican national holiday that celebrates the Mexican victory over the French army in 1862.

We got ourselves a coffee and headed to the plaza to walk around for the afternoon, watching the excitement. The construction of a bandstand in the square was completed, and tons of women were setting up their food stalls in anticipation for the evening crowds. Some were already open, and we had some great food for lunch. School was out, so kids were running around, buying up Mexican flags and hats. All of the buildings around the square are adorned with red, white and green banners and lights of the same colours are strung up from the trees in the plaza and across streets. After wandering around, we went back to our room to relax for a while.

Later in the afternoon, we went back to the plaza, got a few beers and sat outside the cathedral, just watching the crowds go by. We chatted to a few village cute girls wanting to sell us bracelets and belts, and somehow they tricked us into giving them our leftover peanuts and pepitas. We had a great dinner, cooked up freshly in one of the little food stalls. It reminded me a lot of our church´s annual BBQ I went to every year growing up. As it got dark, we got ourselves a few more beers and watched the entertainment on the bandstand: mariachi bands and dancing in full traditional costumes. We then wandered down the pedestrian mall and had a few drinks in a bar while enjoying the live band. Nigel felt it necessary to have some tequila, being in Mexico and all. I, of course, declined and had a piña colada instead. Around 10:30 we wandered back out to the plaza and stood in the thick crowd to wait for the 11:00 fireworks. We were really looking forward to these, seeing as how Mexicans are know for their crazy fireworks displays. And we were not disappointed. On top of the governer´s palace were 4 HUGE wheels strung with different types of pyrotechnics, along with strands along the roof. The fireworks were set off from the top of the building, with the hundreds of people gathered directly below. It was crazy with the fire remnants falling into the crowd. At one point we thought that one or two of the fireworks wheels would spin right off of their axes, fall down into the crowd, and roll on through. It was scary but exciting. When they were over, we slowly wedged our way through the hordes and headed back to the hotel. ¡Viva México!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The sites of San Cristóbal

Today was a lazy day wandering around the sights of San Cristóbal. We started off with a fresh, organic coffee drink at a coffee museum/cafe, then visited the locals market, an endless maze of stalls selling everything: bright chilies of every colour, juicy tomatoes and limes, glowing white onions, fresh meat and chickens, nuts, flowers, spices, maize dough, piñatas, and anything else you could want. It was a beautifully colourful place, and fun to watch the locals doing their normal shopping. It was packed full of people, probably because everyone was doing their last minute shopping for their Independence Day celebrations tomorrow. We saw the little Señora Jolaba ladies, a cooperative of indigenous weavers making and selling traditional clothing and other garments. Of course we passed many churchs and the cathedral on the plaza, lots of hustle and bustle there to set things up for tomorrow. After using the internet, we had a late lunch and spent some time relaxing at our hotel. For dinner we went to El Gato Gordo (The Fat Cat), lured inside by the live guitar music. We shared some enchiladas, rice and black beans and a huge beer, then stopped in a game hall for a few rounds of air hockey. Nigel schooled me, but it was fun and a great little arm workout.