¡Hasta Luego Mexico!

Gracias y hasta luego

Gracias y hasta luego

We are coming to the end of our time here in this marvellous varied country, the next adventure beckons in New Zealand.

We spent until the 18th January in our familiar shack, Casa Rosada in San Cristobal. We had some good times there, though we were both a little lonesome and blue around Christmas. The dodgy boiler and cabbagey smell were not among the highlights either, but we had some good tequila nights with our neighbour (who has seen Elvis, The Doors, and met Tom Waits). I had many moments of Hummingbird delights in our little garden and started up a new website which displays images much better. (have a look, do –  http://www.franriley.com). So, on balance it was all pretty good. The major excitement in our last week was Matt hooking up with an excellent guitarist and very nice guy. They played Gypsy Manouche music together playing three gigs and the sparks just flew!

We flew to Mexico City, after deciding against the bone numbing coach journey, to stay once again with our dear (and very patient) friend Angeles and her sweet cat Zaha. One of the lovely things about being return visitors is that Zaha went from hiding behind the furniture to sitting on my lap at any opportunity, I felt most honoured. Matt was nobly wading through 46 Queen songs so I went off adventuring on my own, continuing my Frida Kahlo pilgrimage.

Frida's house

Frida's house

I went to the houses that Diego Rivera had built for them, consisting of a big pink one for him and a smaller blue one for her joined by a walkway to the roofs. She was miserable here and I could see why, it felt like a functional industrial unit, such a contrast to the soft quirkiness of her family home, Casa Azul. I did some serious pavement pounding that day and got lost numerous times, I developed a bit of a system in asking for directions, if four or more people agreed it was one way then there’s just a chance it could be. They are so obliging most Mexicans, but they can’t stand to admit they might not know the way, so they just make it up!  At one point two traffic police joined in the earnest discussion of where I should go while the traffic waited in chaos.

Matt finishes 46 Queen songs

Matt finishes 46 Queen songs

We said gracias to Angeles and moved into an apartment in the city (after getting lost in the taxi!) From the outside it looked really grim and squalid, but was surprisingly clean and comfortable inside. Again I went off on art adventures while Matt was manacled to the computer and Queen. They have some mighty impressive museums and galleries here, I went to the beautiful art deco Belle Artes with murals by all of Mexican big boys.  Matt finished his work and we went out exploring, among our finds were the most fabulous post office in the world, a meteorite, a bizarre perfume shop straight out of Harry Potter, a magical cafe with a scary waitress, an Escher exhibition and a modern milagro (miracle) featuring Lila Downs.

Aztec centre of the Universe

Aztec centre of the Universe

On our last day we battled our way through a crowd clutching plaster Jesus’ posted some cards, Matt checked out a street of guitars, drank beer in the sun and I had a ‘limpia’, a traditional Aztec cleansing involving herbs and lots of incense. I then went and un-cleansed myself with more beer!

Now we’re packed and ready for LA, then NZ… see you there.

Gallery of pics Click on any pic below to see full size slideshow and also check the video at the bottom of the page too!

Video of the Zocalo in Mexico City


Happy New Year from Fran

Hello delightful you,

This is a time for natural reflection as we look back on 2011 and look forward to 2012, I hope it has been a good year for you.

I don’t subscribe to the rather harsh and unforgiving New Year’s resolutions, which often lie deserted in a crumpled heap come mid February. I think a healthier and kinder practice is to  forgive yourself for any mistakes or wrong turnings you feel you might have made this year. Gently look for the learning there (and there is always learning!) dust yourself off as you would kindly to a toddler who took a stumble, and re-direct your course.

Take time to celebrate your achievements, they may be big obvious ones as recognised by the world, like finishing your degree or moving house, or they may be tiny unnoticed ones. These are almost more important, only you know how hard it was to start that sketchbook, approach that stranger or how you spent time getting to know your shadow self. Only you can applaud your courage, so please do so, acknowledgement is really important. When you are upholding things you do well you can continue to do them, instead of focusing on what you don’t want, look at what you do well and  extend your wonderfulness.

I wish you a wonderful New Year.

Small Stones

I have an exciting project I’m launching tomorrow to celebrate the new year with a happy new website. I’m participating in ‘Small Stones’ challenge. This means posting up a small piece of writing, a very immediate and personal piece which will tell you about me and my moments in a way you have never heard before! I have also decided to post up a photo or a art work each day, some from my day to day life as I travel in Mexico, some from my ever growing collection of images I’d like to share with you.

I’d be so delighted if you would join me there and please take the time to comment, it means so much.

You can find me here www.franriley.com

Also, have a look at some of my highlights in this Smile Box slideshow I put together.

Muchas Gracias Amigos

No sleep to Chiapas

Our garden

Buses in Mexico are fantastic, you can go pretty much anywhere in relative comfort and cheaply too.  Thus we left the familiarity of Oaxaca for the Southern mountain town of San Cristóbal de las Casas in the state of Chiapas.  The bus left Oaxaca at 8.30pm and arrived at 7.30am – a bit of a journey! The seats were very comfortable but I managed about an hour’s sleep, Fran did a bit better, but we arrived feeling pretty exhausted and weird from lack of sleep.

Our BedroomOur new home for the next six weeks or so was to be Casa Rosada, an apartment in the central part of the city.  We had booked this some time ago on the internet and had arranged to meet someone outside the house at 8.30am, (we thought the bus arrived later) so we had to wait for 50 minutes outside the house on the street.  There was a lot of activity going on as we are opposite the store house for the local market, so there was a constant stream of people with massively loaded barrows and hand-carts taking their stalls to the market site just around the block. 8.30 came and went and no sign of our host, we gave it another 20 minutes but still nada. As you can imagine we were getting pretty tired and fed up by now, so we tried to call him, eventually getting through after some confusion with public telephones and cell phone codes (don’t ask).  Anyway, turns out we were supposed to be there yesterday, oops…. Luckily the next door neighbour had a key and came out to rescue us.  His name is John and he is a Mexican/American living here in San Cristobal for part of the year.  It was a relief to get in and John gave us the low down on the place and we finally flopped down for some sleep.

The first few days at Casa Rosada were difficult, mainly because it was so cold!  We were so used to the constant warmth in Oaxaca and it came as quite a shock as the temperature was way down at about 8 degrees celsius.  Also we could not get the Boiler working and the apartment seemed generally bloody freezing.  We were both feeling a bit like orphans as well because we had left all our friends behind in Oaxaca and knew not a soul here.  Eventually after a few days and with the help of Sebastian, our Mexican host, we got on a more even keel and things seemed a bit brighter.

The surrounding mountainsSan Cristobal is a fascinating city, a lot smaller than Oaxaca and with very high indigenous Mayan population. We have been walking around the shiny pavements and taking in the cafes and restaurants.  There is a more ‘alternative’ culture here, alongside the Mayan influence, the European side of things seems more geared towards new age styles. There is a big Zapatista presence here as well which is very tangible in all the graffiti everywhere. (San Cristobal was the centre of the Zapatista uprising in 1994). (See guide books/wikipedia for more blah).

It’s good to be somewhere else, although we are missing our friends and of course there’s Christmas and all that at the back of our minds.  I’m not sure if I care or about Christmas itself, but it’s definitely a time of year when friends and family are important and we are so far away.  We also decided not to go to Nicaragua, so we are going to miss our pal Austin which is a great sadness for us, (abrazos to you mate). Still, here we are a third of the way through our trip and soon we will kiss goodbye to Mexico, there’s still plenty of things to do here but the idea of New Zealand is looming…

Over the next few weeks we will be exploring more of the area, but here is a gallery of pics of what we’ve been up to so far. Hope you enjoy and don’t forget to comment too..

City and Salad

Salad Days

We have just spent a month in an apartment in the amazing city of Oaxaca. The rooms had super high ceilings, thick adobe walls and were an attachment to the spectacular church next door. The apartments surround a lovely little fountain and garden with massive banana plants, all giving an atmosphere of hushed monk-like serenity. This all changes as you pull open the heavy wooden doors to the street and experience a multi-sensory assault, the noise, brightness and smells of the city hit you like a thump. I’ve always said Mexico is a land of great contrasts!

Mostly we lived pretty quietly and cheaply, but had some excursions including:  Sunday jazz in a gorgeous tropical garden, visits into the centre where you never knew what might be happening, (a revolutionary film set, a literary festival, models wearing bridal gowns), a woozy visit to a mescal bar where we were persuaded against our better judgement to play/sing ‘summertime’ with the house jazz band, making food for our friends, cocktails on a rooftop terrace and weekly visits into the country to play with our buddies in San Pablo Etla. We have met so many interesting people here who have shown us great generosity in welcoming us into their community.

Ocotlan market

Our big trip was to Ocotlan, somewhere I remember putting a big tick next to it in the guidebook, but we never got around to going when we were here two and a half years ago. We were the only ones on the trip so had a personal car and escort.  We went first to the Ococtlan museum in the convent next to the church. It had been recommended by friends but we were very underwhelmed and slightly hysterical at first as we were shown yet another old empty wooden box from the 17th century. When we got upstairs however I understood why we had been advised to go. There was a large gallery full of  Rodolfo Morales paintings and painted pillars. We both became instant fans, his work is richly coloured and beautifully observant of Mexican life, with ethereal spiritual elements and a great confidence in imagination, think Chagall meets Matisse.  We then visited the market which is hard to describe but I’ll give it a go: vast, fun, bewildering, shocking, hilarious, tasty, colourful. Next we were taken out of town to a small market where the good ladies make textiles, the workmanship and skill that go into these crafts is humbling. Matt hit it off with a tiny woman who explained the symbolism of each design in a woven belt, which he just had to buy.

Beautifully alive wood-carving

Next was my favourite, a wonderland of inspiration and imagination, the Alibrije (al-ee-bree-hay) workshop in Jaleisca. These are carved totemic animals which are then painted in extraordinary colours and patterns. I was like a kid in a sweet shop and couldn’t get enough of watching this extended family at work. We were particularly impressed watching how they made the natural pigment, crushing different ingredients and mixing them on his hand, the brew included copal, lime juice, and pomegranate seeds.

We said goodbye to our place in the city, after a fond farewell with the caretakers who told us we were ‘gold star’ tenants(!) We got a cab to San Pablo Etla where we took up residence as home/dog/cats,/sheep/chicken/guinea fowl/rabbit sitters. The owners of the house who have a beautiful adobe home and run an organic lettuce farm were going back to Boston for 10 days and wanted someone to care for their place, enter Fran and Matt. That is one of the wonderful things about traveling without rigid plans, it means we can respond to some of the wonderful things life chucks at us.

Hello sheep!

So we have lived our salad days walking an ancient dog and her even more ancient father, being entertained by the chalk and cheese cat team, one very vocal, confident and demanding, one very sweet and shy, (they remind us very much of our cats Ernie and Mabel). Matt had to intervene in a battle to the death between Garibaldi (he’s the panther-like one) and a large snake.  Again, life is mostly quiet eating gorgeously fresh lettuce and eggs with occasional bursts of friends and music.  We had our first Thanskgiving and had a wonderful time, remembering how much we have to be grateful for and having a big old nosh up, featuring Matt’s pumpkin pie. We had our last (for a while) session at Bodega Boys and I made a bit of a fool of myself singing a thank you song and weeping through most of it. Still, as Winnie-the-Pooh, that wise and learned bear says:

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”


Check out the gallery here and don’t forget to comment below!