Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dear Lonely Planet Authors...

I understand how you might be really excited about the buses in Mexico - compared to the rest of Central America, they are, in fact, incredibly luxurious. I mean, they are not retired American school buses, and there are no chickens riding in the center aisle - that does all go a very long way. And most of Central Americab buses are still, in fact, these chicken buses... and I doubt that Mexico has been free of the chicken bus for all that long. However... when you start telling me how super luxurious these Mexican buses are, I, ahem, feel compelled to mention Argentina and Chile. See, they've invented the concept of a 'Cama' bus. (cama = bed in Spanish). And that's generally your standard class of bus - there's also a Super Cama, and a semi-Cama (which I duly tried to avoid). The Mexican buses would qualify as semi-cama: 4 seats to a row, which recline fairly comfortably. If you want to talk about super luxury though, talk to me about Cama - just three big, wide, super comfortable seats to a row, they recline awesomely, and the bus attendant serves you steak and red wine for dinner on board. This is basically your standard bus in Argentina and Chile (unless you get close to the Bolivian border). The full-Cama actually gets even better - the seat fully reclines, becoming an actual bed(!). So yeah, I'm just sayin' - the Mexican semi-cama's are nice and all, but I miss my Argentinian buses! Really I'm just surprised that the Lonely Planet Central America authors don't seem all that familiar with South America. Or maybe riding the chicken buses has shaken all those cushy South American memories out of their heads?

In other news, mom, dad, you forgot to mention that I apparently had a long lost twin sister!? No? Still don't have one? Well, ok, but I did run into Anna on a tour to the waterfalls around Palenque, and she and I seem to be leading parallel lives - a few things in common that came up over the first hour or so of conversation:
- fellow Russian Jew, born in Moscow (later determined that she actually lived in the same neighborhood too)
- emigrated to America with her family in '89, and she's just a couple years younger than me
- her family lives in Southern California
- she currently lives in Seattle (while in residency at UW)
- specifically, lives on Capitol Hill, a whole block from Office Nomads, where I've been working the last few months and knows several people that I also know there
-has traveled lots, including South America, India, Israel, etc. and is currently spending a month working at a hospital in Palenque as part of her residency. Ok the working in a hospital in Mexico thing we definitely did not have in common... I'm trying hard to avoid even having to visit any hospitals down here. I've not been to med school either, thankfully!
- she and her fiancee like to go wine and beer tasting in Washington and Oregon
- coup de grace: Anna's had three surgeries on her shoulder to keep it from dislocating. I've only had one, but mine seemed to take after the first time... She may be the first person I've ever met (other than my surgeon), who actually knows what a bankart capsuloraphy means!
- we, of course, know some of the same people in Seattle too

So yeah, totally random people you meet on the road in Mexico! Was a lot of fun to have somebody to talk to about Seattle for a while too, in Russian no less... Made me rather miss Seattle though!

A late coming addendum: ok, so the buses in Mexico really are incredibly, amazingly nice compared to Mexico's neighbors. I've just arrived in Flores, Guatemala, which involved a 3 hour ride in a van on the Mexican side of the border, and was followed by a six or so hour bus ride on the Guatemalan side. The first 2/3rds of which, along unpaved roads. It may just have been the least comfortable bus ride I have had in all my travels! I've had time to think about this, and there are some compelling candidates from Burma, Bolivia, Russia, Cambodia... but this one is certainly up there! Mexico may not have Cama buses, but I can totally see how spending any time on the buses in the other Central American countries, you'd come to absolutely love the Mexican versions...

Speaking of having time to think on the bus, I also had a bit of time to consider the necessities of immigration formalities. Yes, you are supposed to do it, but the Guatemala immigration post was a good 30 minute ride from the border itself (a river, which you cross with the help of a 15 year old piloting a boat/canoe), and I wasn't really under any actual obligation to stop (and give them my five dollars). I'm pretty sure the situation is going to be exactly the same tomorrow when I get ready to leave Guatemala for Belize... Well, at least the Guatemala stamp in my passport is pretty cool and gigantic, so that was worth my five bucks, right!?

And now, a few recent pictures:

The afore mentioned Guatemalan bus that I'm not so fond of...

Back near Palenque - the Agua Azul waterfalls

There's a couple big waterfalls outside Palenque - this is Misal Ha

Oh, there's also some ruins there too... more coming soon on all the ruins down here!

I was really just expecting beaches and Mayan ruins on this trip, but a brief detour to San Cristobal also shows off a bunch of Mexico's colonial architecture! Main Cathedral as night falls.

And the beautifully decorated Templo de Santo Domingo

There's also a pretty spectacular canyon nearby - CaƱon del Sumidero

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