Solidarity and political energy in Chiapas

During a 14-hour coach journey from Mérida (Yucatán) to San Cristóbal de Las Casas (Chiapas), our driver failed to warn us that we would not be entering the city but would instead be left at Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas. It was only when I inquired as to why it was taking so long that he told us we would have to follow further instructions in Tuxtla to get to our final destination. The reason for all the faff and confusion was the number of blockades on major motorways used as a sign of protest by teachers in the southern states of Mexico.

On 19th June six people were killed during violent clashes between the police and protesters rallying against education reform and colleagues’ arrests. Two of these people had ties to the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE). Since then, unionised teachers have blockaded streets, a shopping centre and even train tracks in the western state of Michoacán. They have also forced some bus lines to cancel trips to Oaxaca and blocked a highway. In Oaxaca City, protesting teachers have set up an encampment in the city’s main square. (More info here.)

This whole uprising began in Oaxaca to bring light to the injustice and violence brought about by a corrupt government and the police service. But solidarity has spread all over Mexico, including Chiapas, its neighbouring state. So as we were making our way into the state of Chiapas, we had to walk through some of these new blockades, organised by other teachers and unions.

With our backpacks we walked through people camping with their families, men and women selling food to the protesters making sure they knew they were being supported, and taxi and combi drivers helping people like us get to our destinations. I only had a chance to speak to one teacher to see if she could help us, thanked her for her instructions and wished her good luck. I should have stopped to talk to some of the other teachers in more depth to get a real opinion about what’s going on. It’s hard to find proper facts and opinions about political occurrences in Mexico due to the country’s corruption.

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After 20 hours of travelling we eventually made it into San Cristóbal with very little problem. As we were walking around the city centre, one I had fallen in love with during my Christmas travels,  it was obvious that the population were yet again displeased, angered and losing faith in its country’s institutions. Political graffiti is sprawled across parts of the centre, declaring “todo el mundo odia la policía”.  I also came across a market vendor selling products like bags and t-shirts spreading revolutionary political messages, and projected onto the exterior wall of the city’s main cathedral were videos showing footage of the protests and blockades with information about the educational reforms.

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With all that has happened in Oaxaca, it’s definitely not the best time to be going into the state. One fellow traveller we met was trying to get into Oaxaca on his motorbike but has been spending the last couple of days trying to find an open gas station as the majority are out of use due to lack of fuel deliveries as a result of the blockades.

Everything seems okay in Chiapas; just a lot of political energy. We may have a little trouble getting into Guatemala on Saturday if we come across any blockades, but we should arrive safe and sound.

Mild anxiety and homesickness kicks in again

I’m in the third city out of 13 and I’m already feeling homesick for Colima. Not a great feeling when mixed with a fresh batch of mild anxiety.

The beginning of my trip could not have gone better. My host in Quéretaro, Amira, is an absolute joy to be around. She’s bubbly, friendly, thoughtful, great fun, and generally a really lovely gal. My last night with her and her friends felt so comfortable and relaxed that I really was not looking forward to leaving them the next morning. We were sat around the table that night, eating curry (which I made from scratch of course), drinking chelas, and narrating all kinds of stories. A really great bunch.

After a couple of days in Zacatecas where I stayed with a really sweet couple, I’m now in Aguascalientes. It’s a bit strange to be shifting from people’s homes every couple of days, but all my hosts so far have been really thoughtful and caring, and they really understand the concept and ideology of Couchsurfing.

Aguascalientes is a very large city, but its city centre is quite small but pretty with lots of character. The problem I faced today as I ventured out on my own was a mix of the hordes of people surrounding me and giving me strange looks, the confusing bus routes, and the extremely strong sun. I know this a problem that always hits me really hard; here in Mexico especially, something I came to realise on my first short solo trip to Guadalajara. I know ways to deal with it like deep breathing and reassuring yourself that there is zero rush and no need to get all panicky. But for some reason I sometimes struggle to put these practices into place. Today wasn’t too bad, but it shocked me because it hadn’t happened for a while.

The other big problem affecting me at the moment is homesickness. Not for London, but for Colima. I’d set up a really good lifestyle back there and really was not ready to leave. I keep thinking that after these two months I’ll be back in my cute flat, back to going on day trips with friends, and back to normality. But after two months I’ll be returning to my London home which seems very distant and a tad alien. After a little while being there living with my parents again, I’ll be moving into my new uni home in Southampton. A lot of moving around.

Back to Colima. I’m missing one person in particular, and it’s hurting me a tad as I’m in two minds as to whether I should be missing them or not. I feel like I don’t have the right to miss them. I dunno. Anyway. Equis. As they’d say about a lot of things.

Update: Alice is now here, and will be with me for about a week, which is gonna be fab. We can recreate the pretty wild night we had back in Mexico City five months ago.

Colima, te voy a extrañar

Today marks my last day in Colima. If you’d told me eight months ago when I arrived that I’d actually be sad to leave, I definitely wouldn’t have believed you. Those first couple of weeks were stressful, unsettling and quite lonely. But I was proactive. The message thread on Couchsurfing where I put myself out there saying I was new to the city and wanted to meet people has been a godsend. Honestly, some of the loveliest people I have met here were as a result of the few words I posted on the site. I’ve met so many people during my time here and I’m hugely grateful to each and every one of you for being patient with my Spanish, welcoming me with open arms, and teaching me about Mexican life. But there are a bunch who definitely need a proper mention. No names and not too many details to avoid tears on my keyboard…

  • One of my first ever ‘students’ who introduced me to great bands like Bloc Party and Phoenix in our first ever convo, rung me up out of the blue to tell me he’s outside my flat to take me for some chelas, and has been begging me to take him in my suitcase for months
  • My first travel buddy in Mexico, who took me to my first salsa bar, invaded my kitchen to make a mean load of vegan tacos, and made work at the university bearable
  • Couchsurfer girl who’s completely on the same wavelength as me. She introduced me to one of my favourite places in Colima for some artisan beer and many chats about music, travelling and being an open and free spirit living in quite a close-minded city
  • Couchsurfer swinger couple who have just moved to one of my favourite cities, Granada. We definitely didn’t meet up enough
  • Another couchsurfer who has the loveliest, warmest smile, works with organisations to help underprivileged communities, and will hopefully be in London next year for a few months. I have high hopes that she’ll get into the LSE Women, Peace and Security programme which sounds perfect for her
  • ColimaFest, our small side group from the large exchange bunch. Outings to rivers, spontaneous nights out, cultural stuff around the city, and a five-hour group outing to get inked
  • One guy from the exchange programme in particular who’s so easy-going and fun that I feel great around him. His laugh is wonderfully contagious
  • One Columbian gal in particular who, despite working way too hard and always being late, is great company and will always chuck advice at me even when I don’t want it
  • My French cinema buddy, who I will 100% be visiting in Paris next year. I finally got to see her drunk (from the very pricey tequila she bought for me) on her short visit back to Colima. That definitely has to happen again
  • Tinder Lawyer Guy  who, despite our confusing and annoying couple of months talking, then not talking, then talking again, somehow managed to get too emotionally attached to me. (Long story. I’ve actually written a whole thing about it but decided against posting.) His attitude to life has definitely made me question mine for the better
  • And last but not least, a few of my students who never fail to make it to La Boquita on a Thursday night

Despite a couple of things I’m not going to miss about Colima, like waking up in the middle of the night to scratch the shit out of my mosquito bites or arriving to every class/event a hot sweaty mess, the city will remain close to my heart. I know it’s a major cliché but I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the last eight months living on Mexican soil.

Although I’m hugely looking forward to seeing friends and family again, returning home is going to be hard. I need to prepare myself for some serious reverse culture shock; moody commuters, everything in fast motion, overpriced avocados, beer, transport, EVERYTHING. Not to mention, reintegrating into the uni life.

But for now, I’ve got two and half months of travelling to look forward to. A couple of cities on my own doing some couchsurfing to begin with, then reunited with my Southampton travel buddy for a few more, reunited with my brother to visit Mexico’s beautiful coasts and Mayan ruins, and a few days in Guatemala together before I escape to a sustainable eco-project for a month. Keep an eye out for photos and more posts.

So in a few hours I’ll be on a coach to Querétaro, my first stop out of 13, leaving this small, hot, but lovely city, what has been my home for the last few months.

So long, Colima. Te voy a extrañar.

Lessons learnt: living in another country is hugely rewarding, I need a job to fund future travels, and paths will always cross.

Puebla: adoptive family, murals and Lucy Rose

A couple of months ago one of my favourite artists Lucy Rose announced a string of free shows in Latin America, with a few in Mexico City and Puebla. As I’d been to Mexico’s capital a few times I thought I’d take this opportunity to explore new soil and finally visit a fellow Southampton student (Bex) in her new Mexican hometown of Puebla.

Over the weekend I stayed with her and her adoptive Mexican family which was quite different for me, as during my time in Colima I’ve experienced a host family/lodger situation, a Mexican student house share and living alone. Seeing how comfortable and confident Bex was with her Mexican parents and brother filled me happiness and only a tiny bit of envy.

Throughout the trip I kept thinking to myself how lucky Bex was for finding (or being found by) this lovely bunch. What would my year abroad have been like if I’d really got on with the host family I’d originally stayed with? Would I have met all the people I’ve become so close to? Would we be like a little family unit? These questions rushed through my mind but I knew deep down that everything that has happened so far has been because I’ve had the guts to tell people when things just don’t work for me. So I knew, as I stayed and admired this family that a setup like that wouldn’t function quite so well for me. I value and cherish my independence and freedom far too much to live with a Mexican family; they tend to be very full on, almost too loving and protective, especially if you’re a foreigner.

It worked out amazingly for Bex, and I’m so happy and pleased for her, but coming back to my flat on Tuesday morning reaffirmed how essential it has been to me to have my own space with the independence and freedom I’ve needed to appreciate these last few months in Colima.

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On my final day in Puebla, Bex took me to Xanenetla, a barrio known for its poverty, lack of resources, and dangerous streets. As part of a rejuvenation program, Colectivo Tomate began a transformation of the neighbourhood through a host of bright and meaningful murals. The artists speak to the families who live there, hear their stories, and work with them to design a mural that reflects them, which will cover the fronts of their homes.

Bex formed a great relationship with this neighbourhood and the artists as part of her YARP (year abroaders’ dissertation) and was lucky enough to be asked to paint a mural for one of the families. All of the house murals have a huge significance to the families, illustrating the heartache of losing a loved one, of the struggles of Mexican poverty, or the beauty of a close-knit family working through familial problems.

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As many of my friends know, I’m a huge fan of the Bombay Bicycle Club gang. Rae Morris, Liz Lawrence and Lucy Rose, all of whom have performed with the boys either touring with them, on their records or both. So when I heard Lucy Rose was coming to Mexico, I was over the moon. It was another chance to see her (for free, yet again) and meet her (for the third time). She is one of the most humble and genuine artists I’ve ever seen live, with faultless vocals, so I knew I had to make it to Puebla.

For the past seven weeks, Lucy Rose has been travelling all over Latin America visiting fans who have invited her to come to their hometowns. Completely out of her own pocket, with only her husband Will Morris (the brother of fellow artist Rae Morris) to help guide her through her shows, she has put complete faith into her Spanish-speaking fans to find her a venue and provide her with accommodation.

Puebla’s venue was Profética Casa de la Cultura, a library, café, bar and restaurant with a lovely sepia-toned courtyard in the middle. Rose jumped straight into her first track in the courtyard, and I think it’s fair to say that all of us fans sat cross-legged around her where in complete awe from the first second. Lucy Rose’s vocals are perfect and, in my opinion, better live than recorded, especially when it’s just her and her guitar.

During her set she thanked her Mexico City hosts and fans who had travelled with her to Puebla to see her perform again, her Pueblan hosts, and the whole venue. For an artist like Rose who isn’t “mainstream or commercial”, a fan-organised tour like this just goes to show how important music is to people and how it can travel. “Thank you for looking for me, for finding me. I don’t know how you did it, but thanks.” Through the wonders of Spotify and Facebook, fans all over the world have found Rose’s talent and she thanked her Mexican fans for caring so much about music that they discovered her albums and invited her to their hometowns to do what she is so clearly passionate about: playing music for true fans.

It was a gorgeous and powerful little gig. It was intimate and laid back, but with a strong message. It reiterated the power and influence of music, and the reality that the industry doesn’t have to be completely commercial and consumerist.

Have a read of my review of the gig here if you fancy.

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Feeling good

I’m feeling seriously (and surprisingly) good today, and also very grateful.

Last night was Artney Festival held in Colima’s brewery, which also serves as a very cute beer garden and restaurant. (Perfect for dates, by the way.) I was looking forward to it of course, but yesterday was a ‘low’ day so it took a little while (and a couple beers) for me to get back into the swing of things. The company obviously helped a lot. Although I bumped into a few mates, I stuck with my Couchsurfer friend and our mutual French exchange friend. Both are seriously great, bubbly and enthusiastic; so it didn’t take me long to rid myself of negative energy from earlier on in the day.

I love live music, and this festival was exactly what I’d been searching for since I arrived. Mexican indie, rock, and electro. Seriously good stuff. I completely lost myself in the music, which is an incredible sensation. That’s why I love going to gigs and festivals. Even here where I hadn’t really listened to the bands much, I was completely immersed.

So after last night I was a little worried that I’d wake up low – I sometimes get like that mixed with a hangover – but I did a bit of yoga, had a green tea, showered, dressed up a bit and waited for a mate to pick me up. This guy is one of the first people I met in Colima through Couchsurfing. His partner is Ukrainian and out there they’re celebrating Easter now. So to share a bit of her culture, she cooked a lovely Easter breakfast spread for some friends. I didn’t know anyone apart from the couple but it was really lovely to meet new people.

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¡Muchísimas gracias chicxs!

Being with this bunch of people made me realise that I love having friends of different ages. We ranged from 21 (me, the youngest) up to mid-30s. Not too old, I know. But here in Mexico, I’ve made a variety of friendships with different cultures, ages and ideals. It’s one thing I have to continue when I’m back in the UK.

I honestly had such a nice time and I really appreciate this couple for being so welcoming and open.

I Skyped a uni friend when I got back to the flat, and it made me realise just how lucky I am, and how amazing it is that I’m here in Mexico. I don’t think I give myself enough credit for what I’ve achieved living out here. Travelling, living alone, challenging myself with the language, challenging myself socially, to name just a few. Just deciding to do my Year Abroad in Colima is an achievement, and I never quite realised it.

So I’m in a seriously good, grateful and appreciative mood today. And I’m gonna try keep it that way.

Six-month update

I’ve now spent half a year on Mexican soil. In that time I have met a whole host of different people, travelled to beautiful cities, dated (for the first time in my life), become a vegetarian (finally!) and now, have had three moving in days.

¡Ya vivo sola!

Moving to another country was meant to be made slightly easier by being with a host family, which didn’t really turn out to be my cup of tea. So I moved into a student house hoping that it would be better for me to be around people my age who also spoke Spanish. But before the Easter holidays I was struggling with the atmosphere in the house, and I knew that living there wasn’t going so well for me. I hadn’t decided on moving out, but a friend of a friend (who I’d met through Projecto Amigo, the charity I occasionally volunteer for) mentioned that her parents own a flat and that they’re looking for a new tenant. It would be a flat on the second floor of a house, in a very central and residential location, just for me.

Today marks my second day in my new home. It already feels much more like my own space. I can now crack on with my YARP in peace and live without house rules. (The last place had a ‘no alcohol, and no guests after 11PM’ rule…)

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Decent view of the volcanoes on the way to my flat

Aspiring Vegan

Another fairly big change in my life is that I’m finally a vegetarian. Being brought up in a Hindu (and thus majority vegetarian) family, it surprised me that I hadn’t decided to do this earlier. After spending the Christmas break with a vegan year abroader who lives in Toluca, and after watching a great documentary, Cowspiracy, I began to understand the clear need for us to be a vegan planet. With the sheer amount of water, energy and money that goes into producing meat and dairy products, it’s no wonder that our planet and its people are weakening.

So I’m currently labelling myself as an “aspiring vegan”. The goal is stop consuming animal products completely but I’m finding it a struggle here in Mexico. Speaking to my cousin about the topic I came to realise that self care with regard to your diet is the most important thing, when you realise the huge benefits of veganism and are thinking about changing your eating habits. You can’t help the planet in this way if you haven’t figured out what’s right for your own mind and body. So I will continue being a vegetarian and aspiring vegan until the time is right.

A visit from the family

My parents and my aunt paid me a lovely visit out here in Mexico during the Easter holidays, with us parting ways just a few days before my 21st. But before our travels I spent a few days in Guanajuato, a colonial city full of culture, colour, and a great student vibe. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to (technically) couchsurf, but I ended up being lucky enough to tag along with two of my French mates who’d arranged to stay with a friend who studies in the city. Our host, and tour guide, was great and knew all the sights as well as some great bars. (With deals like a beer and a shot of mezcal for $25 (£1), I’m not surprised I woke up with the worst, dirtiest hangover ever.)

The city is gorgeous, and reminded me of Granada with its cute shops, small winding streets that feel like a maze at first, and steps running up and down that would kill anyone as unfit as me. The plazas are lovely and green, always buzzing, and there’s a real mix of people as its both a huge tourist destination and a student city.

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Just two hours away from Guanajuato City is San Miguel de Allende, the meeting point that myself, my parents and my aunt had decided on. I arrived at the beautiful boutique hotel (perks of holidays with parents) a couple hours before my family. Having not seen any of them for six months, other than on Skype, it was quite a surreal moment. After  a catch up about my mini trip in Guanajuato and theirs in the capital we explored the city.

My Lonely Planet says that people often describe San Miguel de Allende as a “Mexican Disneyland” and I can see why with the amount of gringos, both tourists and expats, scattered around the place. It’s a lovely city but I couldn’t help but compare it to Guanajuato, and knew that I had to take the family on a day trip there after spending some time at the famous thermal pools just outside of the city.

After a few days in San Miguel de Allende we spent some time in San Blas, a tiny, tranquil fishing village in the state of Nayarit. A few hours on the beach gave the guys a glimpse of real Mexico, as we were the only tourists around. Another site in San Blas is La Tovara, a fresh water spring, which was also full of locals which is definitely a nicer, preferred vibe for me. A boat ride through the jungle, with a host of wildlife, leads to the estuary, a clear, refreshing water spring.

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Parting ways at Puerto Vallarta bus terminal was a tad emotional after spending a great few days showing them my adopted country. Only four more months until I see them again, and three until my brother (hopefully!) comes to Mexico for a spot of travelling.  

My love-hate relationship with food

Ever since I was little I haven’t exactly had the best relationship with food. Something I have only just come to realise. Or rather, I have always loved food but struggled with how much was too much, or how little seemed too little to the family members who called me ‘skinny’ or ‘anorexic-looking’ before I’d even hit puberty.

My family is a very large one; one that is definitely centred around the strong, matriarchal and loving character that is my grandma. She will cook all day knowing her grandkids will be coming over from school, and all family events centre around her amazing cooking. Because my family is so large, with a number of parents, the different styles of parenting get pushed around a lot. So on the one hand, at family get-togethers, I had relatives telling me I couldn’t leave a single piece of food on my plate because wasting food was bad, others telling me that that was enough for a girl my age, and the rest telling me to eat up because I was ‘stick thin’. Who was I supposed to listen to?

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It also didn’t help that I was growing up alongside my only female cousin on my mum’s side, who was just three weeks older than me. Comparisons between the two of us are still made to this day: who’s more successful, smarter, gonna make it in life? It’s something the two of us can, luckily, first bitch about then shrug off together – and I hope she realises this is one competition I’m not willing to enter. Nevertheless, when we were younger people would comment on our weight, the way we ate, the amount we ate, what we ate, and the clothes we wore that would either show off our assets or hang off of us completely. We were going through changes, and for some reason our family weren’t able to realise just how insensitive they were being.

This isn’t a dig at my family. I hope they have a healthier attitude to food, weight and body image nowadays after the host of both scientific and opinionated literature dedicated to the topics since 1995 the year I was born. And also due to some of the health problems that are apparent in our family.

But tonight I find myself feeling extremely bloated and very guilty of it. Since speaking up about my low spells, I began to realise that comfort eating is actually quite a serious matter. For me, it has led to minor binge eating – sometimes in secret so housemates and relatives wouldn’t judge – and then feeling bad about it and almost hating myself because I said I would stop.

Something I’ve also begun to realise is that I can’t see food go to waste. So if the people I’m with order far too much in a restaurant and can’t finish it, something inside of me tells me I need to eat that to not waste it. But really, what is this doing? Eating all of that food despite being full from my own meal won’t help the impoverished people around the world who don’t have access to healthy, nutritious food. I guess this is a complex I picked up when I was a kid.

And because of people having very contradictory opinions about my figure when I was younger, with some relatives saying I had the figure of a model and others saying I looked anorexic, I’ve struggled to be comfortable with my body for all these years. There are times when I feel great and love my body – with the help of people who can appreciate it too – then others when I just want to take a bit of fat from one place, pop it on another. That’s why today I look in the mirror and think I need to get rid of the little tummy I’m getting, I miss my more prominent thigh gap, and where have my hip bones gone?

I’m sure some of you will read that and think it ridiculous, and yes, it kind of is.

It’s fine that my body is changing – it’s finally reacting to the sometimes-excessive amounts of food I eat. But now that I’ve pinpointed the problem I know that I need to try stick to a food schedule, resist temptation, snack on fruit rather than slump in front of Netflix with a spoon and a jar of Nutella, and get back to a better swimming routine.

I’m not sure whether the problem has worsened (maybe Mexico is to blame?) and that’s why I’m finally getting my thoughts out, or whether something triggered me to really think about my attitude to food. Either way, I’m working on it.

Christmas Travels: Oaxaca, Chiapas and Mexico City

Christmas 2015 was quite different to how I’d spent Christmas last year: no Christmas dinner with the uni housemates, no huge, loud and slightly intoxicated family meals, and definitely no snow. This year it was spent with the other Southampton-ers living out here in Mexico, going whale-watching, spending the early hours of Christmas morning on the beach and spending the first day of 2016 under a waterfall in a canyon.

My trip started alone with an overnight 12-hour coach journey to Mexico City, grabbing the Metro, freshening up in a hostel and dumping my backpack there so I could wander the busy streets. After only a few hours there, meandering through a few artisan and book markets, I knew I’d have to leave a few days at the end of my travels to spend more time in the city.

Oaxaca City, Oaxaca

I met my three other travel buddies (the ones who I’d be with the majority of the time) at the bus terminal later that day to then move on to Oaxaca City.

Only a short walk from our hostel in Oaxaca was the main centre, with beautiful architecture, artisan stalls around the colonial style cathedral, cute brightly coloured buildings and a host of coffee and chocolate shops.

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From the city there are two main tours that people go for: Hierve el Agua and Monte Albán. We headed to the former with the rest of the Southampton group, braving an open-back truck winding up dirt tracks through and up the mountains. The whole experience reminded me of previous travels in India: the rustic roads, beautiful mountain scenery, and even a few rickshaws. The natural platform on the rock formations has a few springs of blue water in which you can swim overlooking the mountains. A truly great experience realising just how high up you are.

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Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca

Puerto Escondido is an extremely touristic beach town, which was definitely not what I had expected. The hostel we stayed in was great, with friendly staff, a pool, a bar with some great cocktails and mezcal shots, but it was clear that people were here to get smashed and high. The beaches were quite lovely but overcrowded and I couldn’t help but think I’d seen much better beaches before.

However, we still had a great time. We spent the early hours of Christmas Eve on the beach swimming and gazing up at the huge host of stars. We also made it to a very early boat tour to dolphin and whale-watch which was truly breath-taking.

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Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas

Tuxtla isn’t the nicest of cities – it’s big, grey and a bit like Mexico City in that sense. But this was our base for a couple of tours: Cañón del Sumidero and Aguacero. New Years Eve saw us sitting on a lancha going through the deep and narrow canyon spotting a host of wildlife and admiring the canyon’s wonderful scenery.

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Spending the first day of 2016 under the Aguacero waterfalls was quite surreal. Over 700 steps down to the base of the waterfall (with the knowledge that we’d have to walk/struggle back up) was hard work but 100% worth it.

San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas

Just an hour away from Tuxtla is the charming colonial style San Cristóbal de Las Casas with a host of vegetarian restaurants, bars, quirky shops, artisan markets where all four of us bought matching jumpers (a must as the climate is quite the opposite to Colima).

Unfortunately I ended up a bit bed-ridden for a little while and on antibiotics for the majority of the time we were there. But I was still able to do what I had planned: visit CIDECI-UniTierra, an autonomous non-government community. The university, situated just outside of the attractive touristic centre of San Cristóbal, is based on the ideology of the Zapatistas, a very important leftist political group that aimed to overturn antiquated rules over land ownership, resources and power and improve the living standards of Mexico’s indigenous people.

We were shown around the site by an 18-year-old student who explained the different workshops available to students including working with leather, working in the bakery and a number of others that aim to give the students skills that they can take back to their communities. The whole set-up is really interesting and demonstrates just how much of a negative and oppressive impact the government has had on communities; CIDECI have no connection with the government, they are completely separated from that political side and fortunately are not hassled very much by them or by the police.

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Palenque, Chiapas

Yet another change of climate: the hot and humid jungle town of Palenque. Here we stayed in cabins in the jungle surrounded by the sound and smells of real nature. Our accommodation was extremely hippy, with guests mainly there for the jungle tours that let them experience Mexico’s (supposedly) finest magic mushrooms.

The two main tours in Palenque are the Misol-Ha and Agua Azul waterfalls, and unluckily for us we’d decided to go on the day it absolutely chucked it down. Although the latter was full of tourist-catering vendors selling the usual tat, the waterfalls and pools were beautiful and the lack of visitors due to the weather gave us a more relaxed experience.

We also headed to the ruins which were really fascinating. A huge site scattered with temples, some covered with carvings and inscriptions. They are surrounded by – and also covered with – lots of green, leafy vegetation in the jungle.

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Mexico City

Mexico City saw the last two travellers prolong their trip: myself and Alice who’s spending her year abroad in Toluca, very close to Mexico City. We were able to do a few of the things that I’d been wanting to do since my first day in the city back in September when we all first arrived. We spent one day in Coyoacán at the Frida Kahlo Museum which is probably the best museum I’ve been to. Kahlo was an incredibly complex and talented woman who had suffered a tough life full of pain and illness. Her art is full of a host of emotions which really spoke to me.

We also spent a couple of hours up the Torre Latinoamericana admiring the views of such a bustling, overcrowded but charismatic city. We caught the city in sunlight, during sunset and also lit up in the night sky. Looking over Mexico’s capital on the last night of my travels made me realise just how diverse and culturally rich Mexico is as a country. That you can travel just one hour away and you’re in a completely different climate, with a different cuisine, with inhabitants who have different beliefs and customs.

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The trip did have both ups and downs – getting ill, feeling homesick on NYE, and getting a bit stressed – but the ups definitely outweigh the more difficult times. It gave me a good idea about what I need to do and remember for when I next go travelling for a long period of time.

Lessons learnt: having at least one travel companion for part of the trip is a blessing, you’re bound to get ill so be prepared, and having a balance of culture, nightlife and relaxation is key.

Two-month update

I have now been living in Colima for two months. I know this sounds sort of cliché, but I can’t completely connect with the person I was when I first moved out here. Anxiety-ridden, nervous, missing organised Brits, hating the fact I have to adjust to this (sometimes) unbearable heat, and not having a clue about what I was doing at work. I’m still facing a few of these things but I think I’m dealing with them a lot better. I now have a few super nice friends, I’m beginning to get to know my new housemates better, work is improving a little bit, I’ve visited some really great cities, and I’ve started volunteering. So things are definitely looking up.

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Lake Janitzio, Michoacán

Most of the people I’ve met out here know at least some English, which I am hugely grateful for. Especially a couple of my friends who are practically fluent. Obviously this is a great advantage for me; when I’m feeling pretty lazy, or have a headache from trying to teach uncooperative students in Spanish, we can just chat in English which they are always up for as they want to keep their level up. But, the whole point of me being here is to speak Spanish so I have to force myself to keep switching languages when we meet up.

This takes me to one of the things I miss about the UK: the British accent. Everyone here speaks English with an American accent which is obviously understandable, living so close to the States and being hugely influenced by the way things are done over there; their politics, music, TV etc. So when we were in the hostel in Morelia and I overheard a couple from Manchester talking I just had to strike up conversation. I hadn’t even thought that that would be something I would miss.

Other than the obvious Family and Friends, I miss a whole host of things but I’m pretty sure I can live without them for now. For one, proper Gujji food. My mum and gran make the best Indian food around; my cooking will never compare. I can make a decent veg curry, but I will never be able to make daal, kichidi, parathas or kheer – proper comfort food. I am expecting a huge Gujji feast on my return. Around 15th August, take note.

Most people know that music means a great deal to me. If a first conversation naturally leads to music and gigs then it is going very well. So living in a very small city in Mexico means that I am missing a LOT of live music, which is always so abundant in London. I’ve already missed the likes of Lucy Rose, Editors and MS MR which has been heart-breaking. I’ll also be missing Glastonbury volunteering which I’ve done for the last two years, and despite the hard work (litter picking Pyramid Stage from 6-12 every morning) it’s always a great few days.

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But these are all things I’m just going to have to live without for a little while. Living here means I’m in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, rich in culture, history and political energy. With amazing food, the opportunity to travel around and meet new people, and being surrounded by the Spanish language for a year, is a whole different adventure that I may not be able to experience again. So now that things are looking up, I’m seeing things clearer – this year is all about trying new things, stepping out of my comfort zone, and (dare I say it) figuring myself out.

Guadalajara: couchsurfing, buen fin and artesanías

Last week I decided it was finally time to do a little couchsurfing. With that weekend being a long one due to Mexican Revolution day, it was time to visit Colima’s neighbouring state Jalisco, whose capital Guadalajara is the second biggest city in Mexico. A young designer approved my request and replied to me within a day giving me directions on how to get to her warehouse-style home in downtown Guadalajara.

After a short three-hour coach journey I arrived in the busy city and made my way to my host’s house to be greeted with a typical Mexican breakfast of chilaquiles waiting for me. Unfortunately, my host was extremely busy the whole weekend so introductions were brief on Saturday morning.

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My afternoon was filled with cathedral/temple sight-seeing which was lovely but marred by a huge construction project running through the city’s centre making it even more congested and dusty. This weekend was buen fin, Mexico’s version of Black Friday so the whole city was completely chaotic with tapatíos and tourists searching for good deals in Guadalajara’s huge host of shops.

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That evening I finally got to know my host a little better, met some of her friends for a few beers and wandered home with a quick stop over in a very local pulquería, where they sell pulque, a fermented drink made from agave that can be mixed with fruit and herbs. (I would highly recommend pulque but just keep an eye on how much you’re drinking as it’s deceptively alcoholic!)

Guadalajara is famous for its artisans; pottery, glassware, jewellery, art, and clothing, sending many people to Tonalá and Tlaquepaque both within an hour from the capital. The former is a must if you’re looking for a bargain, but with it being buen fin it was far too hot, chaotic and busy for my liking. A bit of social anxiety was kicking in so I knew it was time for me to head out of the, what seemed to be, maze-like stalls of Tonalá. I asked around – everyone was so friendly, they just wanted to help – to see how to get to Tlaquepaque. I’d heard better things about this pueblo mágico with its only downfall being supposedly more expensive prices compared to Tonalá.

The whole environment was so much more relaxed and laid back in Tlaquepaque – I felt more at ease and took some time to just sit and people watch with a coffee in the main plaza. Bordering the plaza is un andador filled with stalls selling artisans, but in a  less chaotic and more organised and attractive manner. Tlaquepaque still had its Día de los Muertos colourful bunting up around the streets making the town look even prettier as the sun began to set.

Overall the weekend was a good one: couchsurfing went well as there was a decent balance between being independent and relying on my host, the cathedrals of the capital are architecturally beautiful (more so from the outside), the museums and art (including the graffiti) around the city are intriguing, and Tlaquepaque was exactly what I wanted from a pueblo mágico.

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