We've just returned from our 3 week jaunt in Mexico. Up until now, Mexico had never really been in my top-10 list of destinations, but as Joel and Māra decided to get married in Mexico, it became our destination of choice this year. Seeing as we were flying all that way, we decided to do a bit of sight-seeing before and after the wedding so that we would get a taste of the country. On hitting the drab efficiency that is Germany's Frankfurt airport, post-Mexico impressions that flashed through my mind were mainly ones of colour and diversity - Mexico is a truly colourful place, with so many different kinds and levels of experience available in eating, shopping, travelling and people. The locals were friendly and open - and although we did have moments of cringing at the colonial air of some of the establishments we visited, we mostly felt comfortable with the locals and they also seemed comfortable with us - although I definitely need to brush up on my basic Spanish!
The first couple of days we spent in Mexico city, in a wonderful and affordable guest house in the Zona Rosa, a fairly central location. Despite being frightened by reports that Mexico city is one of the largest cities in the world with a matching traffic problem, the centre was lovely - lots of trees and shade, a tolerable amount of people, all sorts of street vendors, public art etc. We braved the metro (which, again, travel guides tried to warn us of) and found it an incredibly efficient - and easy - way to travel.
After combatting jet lag and acclimatising with the kids, we visited a couple of museums on the second day - an enormous, modern children's museum and the national museum of anthropology. Of course, the kids were enthused about the former, while we (Jem and I) were staggered by the latter. The anthropology museum displayed an overwhelmng collection of spectacular pre-columbian artifacts. Many times I was wishing I had listened more carefully in my anthropology lectures as we marvelled at the horde of objects from the indigenous cultures of Ancient mexico. The boys also enjoyed the visit - they listened wide-eyed to the tales of human sacrifices and Mayan mythology, looked at necklaces of human jaw bones, golden skulls, huge sculpted stones of crocodile skulls and serpents, etc. Set in an elegant, purpose-built builing designed by Mexican architect Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, the museum is definitely up there as one of the best museums I've ever visited.
Soon after we were off by overnight bus to spend a week in a small town on the west coast of Mexico, not far from Puerto Vallarta. The township, Yelapa, is only accessible by boat, and is nestled at the base of some big hills covered by Jurassic-Park worthy jungle. As it turned out, quite a few people in Yelapa seemed to know about our arrival before we got there, and we were met on the jetty by a teenage boy who helped us cart our bags through the town in the searing heat, depositing us in our apartment which was perched right on the shore overlooking the bay. Things in Yelapa must be hot all year round, because most of the houses there didn't have any glass in the windows, only openings in the walls to let in the breeze. The township had mazelike streets, with houses painted in various colours and plastic bunting decorating the outdoor areas. Kinda stereotypical stuff you imagine when you think "Mexico". Locals spent the heat of midday sitting in the shade, or in their hammocks, and after a couple of days and lots of painful sunburn, we decided to do the same. We had to wade over the river to get to the beach with the deck chairs, which was a novelty that never really wore off, and geckos serenaded our sandy selves to sleep every night.
When the boys first saw the ocean they ran straight into it in their excitement - clothes and all - like a pair of crazy east-european sun-starved kids - and pretty much continued the performance for the rest of the week at Yelapa. We did a lot of sitting on the beach and drinking beer - and although Corona is meant to be the equivalent of Fosters (ie. made for tourists, no locals actually drink the stuff), we certainly enjoyed many a bottle with the little green lemons on top. A big highlight for us in Yelapa was that Jem's brother Jon and his wife Courtney turned up to join us and hang out for a few days. We awaited them by sitting on our verandah, watching the water taxis coming in to the beach, and waved from the verandah as we saw them roll up. It was great to just sit around and do nothing with them - chat and go exploring and swimming together.
After the primitive, charming and earthy experience of Yelapa, we descended into the ultra-luxurious, highly manufactured microcosm of the "Dreams" resort at Puerto Vallarta. This was the setting for Joel and Māra's wedding, and we took to it with gusto, taking full advantage of the all-inclusive policy, drinking cocktails at the bar in pool around the clock, and eating sumptuous meals at every opportunity, whether we were hungry or not. Resorts of this type seem to encourage this kind of behaviour, and there were certainly loads of Americans (and a handful of Aussies!) spending their holidays "living the dream". The highlight of this part of our holiday was the meeting up of the whole Smedes clan (except Julie!). Its been a few years since all the brothers have met up - the last time at Courtney and Jon's wedding - and there is something really special about seeing all four Smedes brothers together.
The wedding day was beautiful, Jeremy and I acting as the "vedejparis" for the young couple - the Latvian equivalent to Matron of Honor and Best Man, I guess. The ceremony was led by Māra's brother, and incorporated the Latvian tradition of saying vows with feet placed on a rock, symbolising grounding and stability in the forthcoming union. After the ceremony the heavens opened and a real tropical thunderstorm ensued - a spectacular event that continued the length of the reception, with the flashes of lightning mixing with the flashes from cameras. The celebrations were over far too quickly, but a good time was had by all, and we finished off our time at "Dreams" with another few days by the pool drinking cocktails.
At the end of the trip we visited an archaeological site just outside Mexico City, the legendary Teutihuacan, another place we studied in Anthropology at UQ. The sheer scale of the valley, with its pyramids and 2-km long "Avenue of the Dead" was awesome - and you can imagine the boys' excitement as we scaled the pyramid of the sun and gazed at the valley below. My thigh muscles are still aching today as a result! Luckily we visited the valley early in the morning, before the crowds, and managed to get out before the heat and sun did too much damage. A majestic end to a wonderful trip!
By the end though, we had all had enough of exploring and discovering new places, and were happy to get home - as the plane touched down in Riga at midnight last night, Tiss squeezed my hand and jumped up and down in his seat with the biggest grin: "We're home, we're home, we're home!!!"
Tacos like you never ate in Oz
Love those street vendors... cheap freshly blended fruit smoothies
National Museum of Anthropology
The most famous object in the museum - the Aztec calendar stone - you could buy a replica of this piece on every street corner in Mexico. Incidentally, they've now concluded that the stone wasn't a calendar at all...
Yelapa beach - from our verandah
Indoor-outdoor living in Yelapa
Mid-afternoon walk - streets are deserted because the locals are smarter than us. It was SO HOT
Waterfall at Yelapa - 5 mins walk from the centre
In Puerto Vallarta they sold mangoes on sticks. Rolled in chilli flakes. Burning, burning, burning lips....
The view from our room at "Dreams"
Doing tequila shots with the inlaws
One of the many beachside dinners
Welcome to another member of the Smedes family
Traditional Smedes wedding jump
Someone must have said something funny
Mara and Joel during the "Micosana", a Latvian ceremony where the bride's wreath of flowers is removed and a scarf/hat placed on her head.
Playing our souvenir whistles that the boys got after climbing the pyramid of the sun. Mikus had an ear infection and a raging fever, so Jem carried Mikus to the top of the pyramid up all the million steep steps.
Teutihuacan - inside the temple of Quetzal-Papalotl
For a zillion other photos of our trip, follow the flickr link above right...