Thursday, October 16, 2008

Caves and Good Eating

That ladder led down to my first snorkeling lesson. It's a pit with water 14 meters down from the edge. It was left there by a chunk of the asteroid that theoretically killed the dinosaurs. The water is very blue from calcium deposits. There are tree roots growing hanging down from the ceiling next to stalactites (I tried my hand at climbing both-- the roots were a lot easier, I got all the way to the top of the cave). The water is quite deep and supposedly out of sight in the darker depths lie human skeletons. These pits were worshiped by the Maya, sometimes by sacrifice.

To review: I went snorkeling and climbing tree roots in a pit full of water, traces of space rock, and human remains.

It's called a cenote. They're all over the Yucatan Peninsula. They are the only open sources of fresh water there, part of the reason why the Maya worshiped them. The peninsula has no real lakes or rivers, rainwater just seeps through the igneous rock underground, filling these cenotes.

I got to see two: Yax-Xa and Kankiriché. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get good pictures from inside. I tried finding good ones online, but I'm not using the fastest connection in the world and can only really find one or two of Kankiriché.

This brings me to some bad news. My camera is officially on the fritz. The screen is now unusable in shooting modes, the thing won't focus well even under great lighting conditions, and some of the images are getting messed up. It's had a little trouble since I arrived in Mexico, but it's gotten worse and worse lately.

The cause? A faulty CCD connection. It turns out that Canon USA has actually issued a recall on the model, because it gets messed up in "hot and humid conditions." It will replace it for free, shipping included. The catch? You have to be in the US. They won't do international orders. I've been directed (very nicely and apologetically) to Canon Latin America. I'm hoping to hear back from them soon, but I'm not optimistic.

But anyway, on a lighter note, I've still managed to to keep busy. I've kicked up the pace a notch, I'm now writing from Flores, Guatemala. Since my last post, I've been through Mérida, Piste, and Tulum in Mexico, shot through Belize with a brief stop in Caye Caulker, and then right across the Guatemalan border to where I am now.

Aside from things like one unforgettable 4 km walk to a deserted beach under a full moon, there have been yet more ruins and more dancing. Dancing in Mérida's weekend fair (live bands, stalls etc. out on the street every weekend of the year) with some of the best salsa dancing I've seen in my life. And then there were visits to the ruins of Chichen Itza and Tikal, two of the biggest Mayan ruins out there, one being named one of the seven wonders of the modern world. But I've written a lot about ruins and dancing already. I want to write about something else instead.

I've realized so far that I've left out one of the most enjoyable parts of traveling abroad: the food. I'm writing this with my spiral notebook sitting next to what was (until it rapidly disappeared) a plate of Guatemalan churrasco beef, tender enough to slice with the side of your fork, immersed in a simple tomato salsa with rice, steamed local vegetables and thick Guatemalan tortillas, plus the ubiquitous lime and hot salsa (habañero this time).

My friend and host in Mexico City, Jorge, told me that I was going to miss Mexican food a lot when I got further south. It's not just the tacos and tamales, but things like pollo pibil-- chicken wrapped in banana leaves and slowly cooked underground, or the more simple courses like elotes and esquites, maize with huge kernels with lime, chili, a pinch of salt, and sometimes some cream and cheese to go with it. Oh and then there's the Oaxacan chocolate. I found chocolate in Oaxaca so good that two Swiss backpackers I met were raving about it.

Still, if I can take as an indication the grilled lobster tails and coconut rice I had served to me by what must have been one of Belize's fattest chefs (Roger of "world famous" Jolly Roger's, right on the beach of Caye Caulker), not to mention of course what I've been finding here in Guatemala, Mexico is going to have competition. No doubt Jorge would put it all down to the shared Mexican border, but I've had great stuff in both countries during the short time I've seen them in action.

Here's the trick: eat local. If you're eating only where the tourists eat, the food you're getting is probably not as good and definitely more expensive. Watch out for English menus and credit card acceptance. Where I've been so far, these are bad signs. Look further, to where the locals are eating: the food will be cheaper and tastier. For anyone who is interested, I've got more tips. Let me know and I can send the to you (if enough people do I can post more here). But for now I've got other people wanting to use this machine.

So, I've got two more days until I meet my Agros team in Chichicastenango and then we head up to Belen. More from me when we start working.

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