My Travels

Why Mexico Rocks!

 

We all know that Mexico doesn’t exactly have the best P.R. reputation at the present. Homicides, kidnappings, drug cartels, etc. And then, of course, we have the situation with Trump. It seems like Mexico is the last place anyone wants to visit. Over the Christmas holidays, I traveled through this amazing country, and I’m here to share with you why Mexico rocks and why you should consider a trip there.
Most of my countrymen – and other foreign nationals – prefer to stay at resorts on the coast, such as the Mayan Riviera, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas. Prior to my trip, I had only gone to Tijuana on a day trip from San Diego. I didn’t have the best impression from, and many Mexicans that I had met over the years told me Tijuana is not exactly authentic Mexico. So over two weeks, I traveled through southern Mexico, starting in Mexico City and finishing in Playa del Carmen. I hit hotspots such as Puebla, Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Campeche. It was fantastic! Even Mexico City etched a special place in my travel memories! I also felt as if I had experienced things that resort-goers rarely experience. Furthermore, I didn’t feel unsafe during my entire trip.

So, what makes Mexico so special?

1. A foodie’s paradise – tacos, tlayudas, mole, enchiladas, the freshest peppers and spices, the list goes on! Note: Mexican food here is not like those typical Tex-Mex restaurants; it’s a whole new ball game, and the food is much spicier. Still, you will not be disappointed with Mexican gastronomy. And if you are looking to up your cooking skills, this is the place to learn. When I was in Oaxaca, I came across a renowned chef, named Gerardo, and his cooking school La Cocina Oaxqueña. Not only did I learn some new skills, Gerardo was an amazing teacher and hospitable. He first takes you to a local market to buy the ingredients, and then brings you to his house to do all the cooking. Totally worth a day out of your time in Oaxaca!

20200101_144624

Typical tlayuda.

2. Civilizations past – you know them! The Aztecs, Olmecs, Mayans, etc. A visit to Mexico is a chance to step back and time and trace these Pre-Hispanic civilizations. When you’re in Mexico City, you will be in the old Tenochtitlan. This was what Mexico City was called prior to the Spaniards’ arrival. It was also the center of the Aztec Empire! It’s mind-blowing to know that you are in the land of some of the most interesting ancient civilizations!

3. Natural wonders – this is a piggyback to point number two. Chichen Itzá, Teotihuacan, Monte Albán, Palenque, etc. Some of these are considered to be the great wonders of the world. Another natural wonder is a cenote. Cenotes, which are scattered in the Yucatan Peninsula, are natural sinkholes in caves. They offer a natural dip in an underground lagoon, where the visitor is soon congregated by minnows and other small fish. I visited one near Merida, and it was definitely a trip highlight!

20200106_113515

Cenote

4. It won’t break your bank – Mexico is cheap compared to other places out there. You can easily have a plateful of tacos and a beer in a taqueria for six U.S. dollars. And Mexico is a great place to practice your bargaining skills when you visit the local markets. They are also optimal for authentic souvenirs. In short, a trip to Mexico will definitely be easy on your wallet!

5. Friendly locals – despite what you may have heard, Mexicans are really friendly, and they really want tourists to visit their country. They are fully aware of the negative narrative going around. I struck up interesting conversations with a few locals (it helped that I’m fluent in Spanish), and I found them to be helpful.

A few helpful tips to Mexican travel:
1. Brush up on your Spanish – this will make your trip more enjoyable, and it is a must if you visit Mexico City, or CDMX as it is colloquially referred to.
2. Include Mexico City – it’s not as bad as P.R. makes it look out to be. With great restaurants, and a chance to discover Aztec history, this city should not be excluded. It was my favorite place, and IMHO, no visit to the country would be complete without CDMX.

20191228_093102

Mexico City

3. Download Uber – taxi drivers have a negative reputation in CDMX, and Uber is a safer, more reliable way of getting around this colossal city. I used it to get to the city from the airport. Just know some basic Spanish, as most Uber drivers don’t speak English.
4. Invest in a money pouch/belt – do not carry your wallet in your back pocket for obvious reasons. It’s better to have your money and passport inconspicuously stored.
5. Buy a SIM card – don’t expect reliable WIFI here. A SIM card means you will always have reliable WIFI. They are inexpensive and the data included will last you your entire trip (just don’t stream videos).
6. Travel in an organized tour – not comfortable traveling alone? No problem. I advocate investing in an organized tour, such as G Adventures. This way, you will be traveling in numbers with someone who knows the country inside and out.

So, I hope you are now more convinced about Mexico. If you’re still not, that’s okay too. Happy traveling!

Categories: My Travels | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

My Favorite Places in Poland

DSCN1755

So this may come as a shock, but back in the summer I completed my teaching contract and subsequently decided to return to my homeland, aka the Great White North!

I regret not posting as much about my time in Poland as I would have liked, though I did touch on the city I was living in, which was Radom. IMHO, it wasn’t exactly ‘top’ of my favorites list. So now I’m going to focus on some of my favorite Polish locales I encountered during my time there. Hopefully, you will be inspired to visit these places!

Warsaw

img_0485

Ah, good old Warsaw, or Warszawa as it is called in Polish. The capital and often the starting point to any Polish travels. Since Warsaw was a two-hour bus ride from Radom, I was there A LOT! Like almost every weekend. Because of the frequency of buses between Radom and the capital, it was the perfect day trip. Now most people I met said they preferred Krakow over Warsaw (Poles included), but Warsaw held a special place in my heart. It has great restaurants, chic coffee houses and a growing craft beer scene! My favorite place happened to be the Old Town. I was dating a Polish girl, who lived in Warsaw, and we had our second date there (great romantic spot FYI).

There was always something going there all year. And if you’re a fan of green spaces, there’s this neat park in the south end of the city. I like to call it Poland’s version of Central Park but on a smaller scale. I will always remember all the times I spent in Warsaw.

Toruń

img_0698

 

Now your average tourist wouldn’t think to include Toruń (pronounced ‘tor-in‘) in their travel plans. And I think that’s a shame! This little medieval town, located about a two-hour train ride from Warsaw, is actually the birth place of Nicolaus Copernicus. You will hear his name a lot there. In fact, there is a statue of him near the main cathedral in the center of town. I only visited Toruń once on a weekend trip, but it was well worth the journey and money! I met some locals there in a bar and ended up dancing with them in a nightclub! When you visit some of the lesser known places in Poland, it is really easy to get noticed by the locals!

I definitely recommend stopping by Toruń if Poland is on your travel bucket list!

 

Zakopane

img_0697

 

Pronounced ‘zak-o-pa-nay‘. This little town, which lies in the extreme south of Poland, is dubbed the Winter Capital of Poland. Polish winter enthusiasts flock to this town during the winter months, especially during Christmas and the first week of February (kids have a break from school during this time). Because it is nestled at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, it provides opportunities for skiing and winter hiking. Of course, Zakopane is a great place to visit all year round; summer hikers would love the opportunities here. However, many Poles will tell you that to truly experience the richness of Zakopane, you must visit it during winter. And that’s exactly what I did! One chilly, snowy weekend in February, I made the trip here. Being a winter enthusiast myself, I had to. I did a mini hike through the national park that straddles the Tatra Mountains, and it turned out to be one of the most memorable Polish experiences for me!

Another interesting thing about this town is the folklore. It isn’t long before you notice the locals wearing traditional clothing, especially the staff at restaurants and hotels. It almost felt as I was in a Polish version of Bavaria. Zakopane is also famous for its cheese-filled pastries. No trip here is complete without sampling one!

img_0696

Be forewarned: the closest airport is Krakow, so the only practical way of getting there without renting a car is bus. You can catch one from Krakow, which takes three hours. There is one from Warsaw as well, BUT add five hours to the journey. Since that bus stops in Krakow anyway, it’s better to just start from there unless you’re a fan of long bus rides.

 

Honorable mentions go to Krakow and Wrocław. The former is especially wonderful during Christmas when the main square becomes a giant Christmas market. The latter is a neat university city, offering a authentic taste of Poland. But I think I have bombarded you enough with information already.

Sadly, I didn’t make it to Gdansk or Auschwitz. I was not able to include either in any weekend trips, nor was I able to extend my time in Poland after the teaching contract. So many things to do, so little time! However, I may not be living in Poland now but it doesn’t mean I won’t ever be back.

So with this I close the chapter on my posts about Poland. The experience there was one of the best in my life and changed me forever. Will I go back to teach abroad? Perhaps. But this moment, I am happy on home soil.

If Poland is on your travel radar, be sure to include the places I have mentioned. If Poland isn’t on your bucket list, well…maybe you should consider it!

 

Categories: My Travels | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Cuban Homestays

DSCN1153

Alright, you’re probably wondering why I’m blogging about Cuba when I’m currently in Poland. I meant to blog about this earlier in the year, but life happened, and I didn’t have the time. But now I do.

As winter is on the way, it’s time to start planning vacations in the tropics. For a lot of fellow Canadians, you’ve likely got Cuba on the radar. But instead of doing the traditional route of package holidays at resorts, why not consider doing a homestay in Cuba? I’m not suggesting foregoing the resorts, but rather include a homestay before or after your resort stay.

Myself and a good friend from Spain traveled to Cuba last Christmas and we stayed in three different homestays in Havana, Viñales, and Pinar del Rio. We absolutely loved it, and we felt as if we were experiencing authentic Cuban life! We experienced authentic culture, and discovered places we wouldn’t have otherwise. For example, our family in Havana introduced us to this dive bar serving the cheapest beer in town!

Cuban homestays?

In Cuba, they are known as Casas Particulares. The idea is you stay with a family that is officially registered with the government. The family can range from a traditional family or a single, divorced or widowed home owner. They provide daily breakfast and your own room with shared or private bathroom. The Casas are typically found away from the resorts. Since they are registered with the government, their homes are labelled with the surname of the family, family members, and the services they offer. Every casa also has a logo on their homes which looks like weird anchor in either red or blue. Blue means the house allows foreign guests to stay, while red means only Cubas can stay there. Very important to be aware of this!

So you say you get breakfast?

Yes. Now, breakfast is called desayuno in Spanish. Families will serve coffee or juice. Tea and milk is available upon request. Don’t expect bacon, eggs and waffles. A Cuban breakfast usually consists of mangoes, guava, bread with butter, montaditos with ham and cheese, and pineapples. Montaditos are small sandwiches. I actually enjoyed having a selection of fruit every morning.

Do the families speak English or other languages?

This depends on the family you end up staying with, but generally no. Having said this, it is a good idea to learn a few basics in Spanish before staying with them. If the language barrier becomes an obstacle, you can always use gestures to get the message across.

Will the families socialize with me?

Again, this depends on the family. However, you should not expect this. While they will be more than happy to help make your stay pleasant, they have their own lives to attend to. I found the families I stayed with to be cautious with foreigners for fear of saying something that might land them in legal trouble. While I’m on this subject, refrain from discussing politics with Cuban families. Cubans revere the Castros, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.

Sounds great! So how I find a Casa?

This is not an easy task, simply due to the Internet situation, which is very difficult for ordinary Cubans to get. You could do a Google search, but be prepared to spend a lot of time researching. I recommend going with an organized tour to Cuba such as G Adventures. Tours such as these arrange stays in Casas, removing the labor work of finding them yourself. If tours are not your thing, I would suggest searching for a Casa in Havana since there they are plentiful there.

Cuba is truly a fascinating and beautiful country. One should go there at least once in their lifetime. And a stay in a Casa will be an experience you will never forget – in a good way!

 

Categories: My Travels | Tags: , , , , ,

Blog at WordPress.com.