The Epi-Blog: Home at Last

Today after 3 weeks visiting family around the country, we moved back into our lovely home in Sheffield, met our new neighbours, and started the mammoth task of unpacking!

On Tuesday we start at our new jobs: Carys as a Project Officer for the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust in Stirley near Huddersfield, Me as a Clerical Assistant at the Cancer Clinical Trials Centre in Sheffield. We are actually really looking forward to coming back to work!!

We want to say a HUGE THANK YOU to EVERYONE who has read the blog. Your messages and support have been fantastic. We are so grateful, humbled, and amazed by how many of you followed our travels and ramblings throughout the year. It has been a joy to write this blog πŸ™‚

From this beginning at Manchester Airport:

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To arriving back in London:

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We have LOVED our travel adventure. We have farmed in Norway, sailed the Arctic Circle, ridden a train across Siberia, walked on the Great Wall, lived in China for 3 months, found our yogic selves at an Indian Ashram, floated candles on the Ganges in Varanasi, toured New Zealand in a hippy campervan, Christmas in Mexico, explored Mayan ruins in the jungle, swum with sharks, and seen the Panama Canal.

But we love coming home even more πŸ™‚ The green grass, crisp air, cheddar cheese, family and friends have made our homecoming very special and we are looking forward to seeing more of you very soon xx

One last thing I really have to say … If we can do it, so can you!

And so we say goodbye! We are off to start our next adventure whatever it may be πŸ˜‰

Love Char and Carys xxxxxxxxx

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Panamarama!

Well, here it is, our last blog from “the road”!

We leave Panama City tomorrow, destined for the green, green grass of home. Looking forward to cheddar cheese and Branston Pickle.

But first, a look at our time in Panama!

We started in Boquete, a small town in the mountains of Panama. The cool mountain air was wonderful! We stayed in a lovely hostel, by a trickling river, peaceful and quiet. There was even a resident cat that took a liking to my bed πŸ™‚

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And a board game about working the Panama Canal!

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We were here to hike amongst the mountain forrests. We walked over many rickety metal bridges, through dense jungle, and past beautiful waterfalls.

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Someone even had a swim in the freezing cold water (apparently being so cold your legs go numb is ‘addictive’)!

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We saw lovely nature including; lacewing butteflies and tiny dragonflies.

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But most impressively, we saw the very hard to spot, Resplendent Quetzal! In fact, we saw two!

This is the female with her short tail:

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And the male with his long, beautiful tail feathers:

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We think they were guarding a potential nesting spot – a hole they had hollowed out from a rotten tree trunk using just their beaks! Mating starts in March πŸ™‚

After all this nature nonsense, it was time for some man made industrial marvels! So we set off for Panama City! The final destination in our trip!

A huge sprawling city with massive shiny skyscrapers clashing with the old dusty streets. Check out this impressive one!

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New and old mix throughout the city, this is the view down at the docks, where men in old worn out boats bring in fresh fish daily.

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New buildings and old buildings mingle!

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And Panama hats are on sale everywhere although we never saw any locals wearing them …

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First stop in the city was The Panama Canal!! We actually drove over it on the bus in which was awesome πŸ™‚ The next day we went to the Miraflores Locks which has a viewing platform and a museum!

I could fill this blog with a million pictures of huge boats going through the locks and bore you with a thousand facts! But I’m told not everyone is as geeky about the Panama Canal as me so I’ll just stick to a few!

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This boat was the biggest!

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It even has scratches down the side because it only just fits in the lock!!

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Carys played at traffic control in the museum …

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And we enjoyed a simulation trip through the canal (speeded up as it would take 10 hours in real life!)

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Fun Facts!
1. Opened in 1914. The first boat through was the SS Ancon from the Atlantic to the Pacific
2. On Feb 29th 1968 the record number of ships passing through the canal in one day was made: 65. Normally its between 30 – 40.
3. On Sept 4th 2010, the millionth boat went through the canal! It’s name was Fortune Plum.

So another life ambition ticked off the list! πŸ™‚

We also visited the Biodiversity Museum which was fascinating! The building itself was crazy!

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We learnt all about how over millions of years, the tectonic plates moved around the earth and eventually Panama formed a land bridge between North and South America. This caused the Great Biotic Exchange. Animals from the North could now mingle with animals from the South! And this joining of the land masses, and seperation of the Oceans, meant the whole climate of the world changed! The new land mass caused airflows to change and made Africa dry and Europe warm enough to live! Panama is super important!

Here I am with a Giant Land Sloth. Now extinct.

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And so our last day came around. We went for a long walk in the Metropolitano Park to enjoy the fresh air and wildlife πŸ™‚

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So, bags are packed, passports at the ready. All set for coming home!

See you all soon!

Lots of love Char and Carys xxxx

Trees Dripping with Epiphytes – Costa Rica

Warning: This is a NATURE SPECIAL!

Costa Rica is FULL of nature reserves. In fact, 1/3rd of the country is protected land and National Parks.

Our first stop was the cloud forrest of Monteverde and Santa Elena.

We went on a night walk through the jungle!! It was amazing πŸ™‚ The highlight was seeing a sloth high up in the trees! No photo but no worries, just be patient … πŸ˜‰

We also saw:

An army of leaf cutter ants

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A Rhinoserous Grasshopper and the holes from where it has eaten the leaf

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A Leaf Mimic – Can you find it?

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Butterfly eggs

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And a big fat orange kneed tarantula!!

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(Sorry to those who don’t like spiders!)

The next day we went for a long walk through the cloud forrest reserve. It was quite empty of people so it felt like just us and the forrest. It was very wet! And every tree had hundreds of epiphytes living on it!

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And we visited a Hummingbird Garden. They had special nectar feeders for the birds. The sounds of their wings flapping at such high speed was intense! And when they land on your finger, they weigh absolutely nothing! We have hundreds of photos, here is a small selection!

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Gorgeous little things!

Still not bored with all the wonderful creations in nature, we travelled to Manuel Antonio Nature Reserve on the Pacific Coast. Another nature paradise!

Again, we saw a sloth! Several in fact! Just chilling out, eating leaves. And got some pictures to show you this time πŸ™‚

You can see his eye and nose (and upside down furry body!)

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I love this one of his claws through the leaves:

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Amazing. We also saw:

Racoons

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Squirrel Monkeys

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And confident cheeky Capuchins

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A nature frenzy!!

We altenated our nature experiences with swimming i n the sea (incredibly warm) and lazing in the shade on the beach or in a hammock πŸ™‚

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I hope you have enioyed the Costa Rica Nature Special? We certainly  did!

We crossed the border into Panama yesteday and we are now in David, about to take a bus to Boquete, a town known for its coffee and cool, fresh climate – a welcome relief we hope from this stiffling heat!!

So before we melt, bye! Xx

Land of Volcanoes and Surf – Nicaragua

Hello everyone from Nicaragua!

Since the last blog we have travelled quite a distance from Guatemala to Nicaragua. It was a long journey! First a 12 hour bus from Antigua, Guatemala to San Salvador, El Salvador. Then a night in the bus station hotel – well, 6 hours of dashing to and fro to the bathroom (!!) – and then another 12 hour bus journey from San Salvador to Managua, Nicaragua via Honduras. Exhausting!

Although we learnt a lot about Central American border crossing procedures …

1. The photo page of your passport is not necessary. As long as you pay the $5 to cross the border, no worries!
2. If your bag looks complicated (i.e. buckles, zips, compartments) no one will search it as it’s too much bother!
3. Sometimes passports are optional – you can just write your name and age on a list instead. Easy!

Managua, the capital of Nicaragua was uninspiring. With a reputation of professional pickpockets well known, we didn’t take the camera out, but you are not missing much!

The city taught us one important lesson vital for Nicaragua: the streets have no names! There are actually no street names at all. All buildings are described by how close they are to other buildings! Cue lots of map checking and block/road counting!

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We also visited the largest market in Central America! A HUGE sprawling mass of stalls selling everything imaginable! Much like this stall in Granada, people specialise in random collections of produce … yes I’d like a piΓ±ata with my eggs, clothes, and bananas please?!

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We soon took a bus to Granada, a much prettier town on the edge of Lake Nicaragua.

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From here we visited Lago Apoyo, a lake in the crater of an (hopefully) extinct volcano. The water was 25Β°c! Warm and lovely although some big waves!!

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The next day, we took a local bus to Rivas and then another bus to San Jorge and then a ferry to a huge island in Lake Nicaragua, called Ometepe Island.

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This cat sums up the atmosphere on the island … chilled!

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The island is mad of two volcanoes, both huge! And dotted around the island are signs that say “Ruta de Evacation” with an arrow. This arrow usually points away from the biggest volcano.

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We have visted the island nature reserve where Carys was most excited to see a dung beetle! (Another one from the Animal Atlas Sheran and Dave? Only the Pudu to go now!)

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We also visited a site where they have found several pre-Columbian petroglyphs. Here is one that our guide said is a lion … could this be true? How would they have known what a lion is?? (It’s more likely to be a Mayan calendar …)

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And we spent sunset on a long sand spit …

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Beautiful. And we continued our quest for idillic beaches by travelling to San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast. A great spot to watch surfing. Carys taught me to “torpedo” – riding the waves without a board! The water was warm and we had great fun!

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OK, now we are off to Costa Rica! Going to get the bus now! Bye! Xxx

Belize and Guatemala

Hi everyone!

So since the last blog we have travelled to two countries, Belize and Guatemala!

Belize was incredible! White sand beaches, palm trees, coconut rum, laid back Caribbean atmosphere … gorgeous!

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We arrived into Belize via boat from Mexico and stayed on the island of Caye Caulker. A tiny island (you could walk round it in less than an hour) where there are no roads just sand, and no cars just golf buggies! The motto on the island is “go slow” and it’s hard not to!

But we dragged ourselves out into the Caribbean sea for a snorkeling tour on the coral reef (it’s a hard life I know). It was the BEST THING EVER!!! There were millions of multi-coloured fishes darting about the coral everywhere we looked! And then we saw sting rays, and manta rays! Huge and graceful! Including the rare speckled ray! And a morray eel! And the SHARKS!! We swam with Nurse Sharks, very docile and safe apparently but this is little reassurance when it’s swimming right by your feet! We explored an old shipwreck and swam along the edge of the reef. It was the most beautiful underwater world. And the water was so warm, like a bath! Totally hooked now on snorkeling!

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Here I am extactically happy:
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And we also loved seeing the pelicans! The bird in the middle is a Boobie!

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And this little hermit crab:

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And trying lobster for the first time:

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After this paradise, we travelled to Belize City on a water taxi. We only stayed here one night before making a long, uncomfortable journey to Guatemala – due to an error in ticket booking (not our fault) we had to sit on plastic stools in the aisle of the bus for 4 long hours! Exhausting journey!

In Guatemala, our first stop was Flores. A lovely town on an island in the middle of a big lake. Although the island appears to be sinking … this should be a main road … but now more likely to be used by boats!

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And the sunsets were stunning:

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From Flores, we took a day trip to Tikal, some more Mayan Ruins!

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It’s true we have seen MANY Mayan ruins, but honestly they are all different and we learn something new each time. Such as; the king built this temple to look like his wife! I’m not sure what she actually looked like!!

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And a view over the jungle was pretty cool:

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But the real excitement at Tikal was the wildlife!

Spider monkeys:

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Occellated Turkey:

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Coati:

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A weird catapillar:

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Oropendular birds:

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Big ant nests that climb trees:

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As well as a wild pig and black vultures!

A natural treat!

From Flores, we travelled to AntiguaΒ  (Guatemala, not to be confused with the Caribbean island of the same name) which is where we are now.

Antigua was once the capital of Guatemala, but in 1773 it was almost all destroyed by a huge earthquake and the capital was changed to Guatemala City. The result is that none of the destroyed buildings in Antigua were rebuilt and so the ‘new’ town is built around the ruins. The old cathedral was particularly beautiful:

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And the street music performances were great! This is a Marimba band, seven men playing the same instrument!

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And street performers!

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What do you think of this water fountain??!

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Antigua is located at the foot of a huge volcano, one of over 30 in the region, some of which are still active!

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The shopping in Antigua is fantastic. Here is Carys trying on a traditional woven Huipul … what do you think?

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And the buses are colourful!

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We have just returned to our hotel in Antigua after a two day cycling and kayaking trip to Lake Atitlan. A huge lake, surrounded by volcanoes and Mayan communities.

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Cycling was great, mostly downhill! And our guide was fantastic! In March he will be competing with his team in an international mountain biking race of 300km in 4 days! Woah!

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And today we have been kayaking on the lake:

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All great fun πŸ™‚ And good exercise!

So that’s all for now as we are about to take a very long journey to Nicaragua!

Love C and C xxx

Mayan Mayhem

Happy New Year everyone!

Wishing you peace and happiness in 2016!

Since our peaceful Christmas in San Cristobal de las Casa, we have travelled quite a distance across Mexico.

First stop was mystical Palenque: crumbling Mayan Ruins in the jungle. It was great fun clambering over the ruins and tree roots! We were Indiana Jones and Crocodile Dundee!

We even got to go inside a Pyramid, through it’s narrow, humid tunnels to see the tomb of the Red Queen! Creepy! It’s red because of the cinnabar used to dye the body and sealing the tomb.

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From Palenque, we took a night bus to Merida, a lovely town in the Yutacan Penisula. It was here that we discovered:

Beautiful architecture:

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A local fiesta:

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Elephants are a legitimate member of the nativity scene:

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The hottest hot sauce!

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We took a fantastic day trip from Merida to some ‘cenotes’ – limestone sink holes filled with the clearest groundwater.

To get there, you have to take a horse and cart ride; it was very bumpy!

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We had a good swim in the cenotes. But they are soooo deep, you can’t see the bottom which is very scary! We had to keep reassuring ourselves that we would float and not sink!

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We also took a (very long) day trip to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World: Chitzen Itza. A huge complex of Mayan ruins and architecture. It was here we realised how dangerously close we were getting to the tourist havens of Cancun and such like; the place was filled to the brim with people (many of whom were half naked and burnt) and market traders!! Nowhere near as mystical as Palenque had been! But we braved the crowds and queues and enjoyed it!

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This is the largest ball-court of the Mayans. It was here they played a very gruesome game. It involved getting a ball through hoops by bouncing it from your hip. But, and here is where it’s nasty, if you lost then you had your head chopped off!!

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And we loved these – can you see the faces?? Hint: they have huge noses!

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Craving some peace and solitude, we chose to spend New Years in a remote jungle campsite! Our stay there was certainly an experience, I’m not even sure how to describe it!

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The stars at night were spectacular, relaxing in the hammocks was a treat, and the food was delicious.

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We could have stayed forever if it wasn’t for the biting insects, frequent sitings of a tarantula, the rude (and crazy) attitude of the owner, and the lack of hot water. Oh dear we are getting old!

So we escaped the jungle after 2 nights and visited Tulum, a small town on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. Gorgeous ruins by the white sand beaches, beautiful!

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And we saw plenty of these fellas hanging out on the ruins:

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We also saw real ancient Mayan handprints used for decoration:

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So, we are now in Chetumal, a Mexican town on the border with Belize. Today we will make plans to travel through Belize to Guatemala. We have 5 weeks left of our travels until we fly home from Panama City on the 8th Feb. Exciting!

Lots of love, Char and Carys xxxx

Fiesta of Colours!

Hola! And Feliz Navidad!

We are now in San Cristobal de las Casa, Mexico. We have been here for 3 days over Christmas and it’s been lovely.

But I’ll start from the beginning … We left Mexico City and travelled by bus to Oaxaca (pronounced ‘wah-HA-kah’) and spent a few days there.

Oaxaca was so bright and colourful!

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Famous for their woollen weaving and handicrafts skills, there was lots of shopping to be done!

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Cheeky face of someone who has bought a rug too big for our rucksacks…!

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Carys also met a few locals … (her jokes are pretty bad)

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Oaxaca is also famous for it’s hot chocolate! Yum! Here I am tasting some in the local market, dipping a sweet bread roll as is traditional.

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One thing we found quite amusing was how fond the locals are of having their shoes cleaned! This is the main square full of little shoe shining stands. You sit up on the chair, under the little canopy and a man cleans and shines your shoes!

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The locals also love these huge candle shaped balloons (I thought they were big pencils but apparently they are candles!). You throw them up in the air to each other!

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From Oaxaca, we took an overnight bus to San Cristobal de las Casa, far up in the mountains (altitude 7200ft). It was an unpleasant journey. We set off at 9pm. The first 3 hours were very windy, wiggly, and made worse by the driver’s reluctance to use the brakes. Sick bags were handed out. It was grim. I guess on this occassion there was one too many bends in the road (haha).

So we were incredibly happy to arrive in a gorgeous town ready for Christmas! Not to mention the pancake and fruit breakfast provided by the hostel on our arrival! Yum!

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More shopping was done …

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San Cristobal is famous for cotton weaving and hand embroidery like this:

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Weaving, spinning, and dying Guild ladies – I have soooo much to tell you about Mayan weaving techniques but I’ll save it for when I’m back in Sheffield! I hope to be at the March meeting πŸ™‚

We even caught a show – a play in the Mayan language about a mythical king. It was fabulous! Incredible costumes, dancing, and effects!

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One thing we have noticed more than anything though, is how much Mexcians love a nativity scene! They are everywhere and they are very elaborate! Surronded by scenery, animals, and a host of additonal characters, they make quite the centrepiece for any town square, shop window, or family living room! Here is a little gallery of a handful we have seen …

Now here is a little known secret … the Mexican food we eat at home is not real!! Burritos do not exist in Mexico! And the tacos are not crispy! They are horrible and soggy! We are soo disappointed as we are not keen on the food at all!

But … we have found a few things like these crispy tortillas topped with salad, mayo and bean curd that are tasty:

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And Christmas Eve dinner! Roasted Chicken, veg and potatos πŸ™‚ Mexicans have their Christmas meal late on Christmas Eve. It was yummy!

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And we celebrated with some Mojitos!

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One odd tradition here at Christmas is the random letting off of fireworks throughout the town during the day! So no pretty lights, just loud scary noise and lit gunpowder right next to you!!

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So Christmas has been very different this year and who knows what the New Year will bring (we don’t know where we will be yet!).

Wishing you all health and happiness,

Char and Carys xxxx

P.s. seen a lot of these beauties around …

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