North America

The Interview: Jennifer Idol talks Diving all Fifty States of America, The Muddy Middle and why you'll never use a straw again.

Frozen with horror at the sight of the Deep Horizon Oil spill left Jennifer Idol with guilt and regret at not reaching for her trusty camera to record the sight in time. Luckily rather than dwell in the past she chose an empowered response in the moment and set her heart on sharing the stories of our underwater world to people everywhere. 

Between 2011 - 2014 Jen combined her passions of design and scuba diving to become the first woman in the US to dive all 50 states. She recorded her extraordinary journey and is now a published author to boot. We talk The muddy middle, our culture of immediacy and why you'll never use a straw again!

The Interview: Living Legend Lynn Hill on How to tackle fear and achieve the impossible.

Today WanderWomen Club caught up with world legendary rock climber Lynn Hill to talk tackling fear, following your bliss  and how to achieve the impossible….all through the lens of her extraordinary and inspirational climbing career. 

Lynn Hill, Valley Uprising, Discovery Channel

Lynn Hill is a living legend and one of the worlds' best known rock climbers. One of the first women in the sport, by 1986 she had quickly moved into the top ranks.  She redefined what is possible by being the first person (male or female)  to free climb the ascent of the most famous big wall climb in the world  - The Nose on El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, California.  A decade before anyone else.  A true wander women she has travelled the world competing and winning over 30 competitions including the “Wimbledon” of the climbing world (Arco Rock Master) five times.  In 1999 Lynn led a small team of women to the island of Madagascar to do a first ascent up a steep, two-thousand-foot wall of granite. She’s been a guest at the White House, appeared on the Letterman show and is four time winner of NBC Wide World of Sports Survival of the Fittest competition.  

Lynn’s remarkable achievements are featured in the Discovery Channel’s award winning premier of their Elevation weekend series this Saturday April 25th. Valley Uprising explores the evolution of the 50 year old sport from its beginnings in Yosemite Valley, California. 

Now 54, Lynn still combines her love of climbing with travelling the world and motherhood.

WW: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat today Lynn, its a huge privilege to get to speak with you.  I love this quote of yours: 

Throughout my life, one of the underlying qualities that has inspired me to pursue my vision of what is possible has to do with trusting in what I truly love and believe in.

That sounds similar to Joseph Campbell’s “follow your bliss.” I think its great that you believe our success in our chosen field is intrinsically linked to doing what lights us up. 

What advice would you give to women still struggling to try and discover what that is? 

Lynn Hill:  Well fortunately for me it wasn’t a thing that i struggled with, to find what I loved.  I naturally gravitated towards that. If someone hasn’t identified that, they need to reflect on what they enjoy because sometimes we have an interest in something and we don’t acknowledge it, a pastime and hobby, but if they have an interest then follow it , explore it and give it the chance to turn into something more. I know that its something younger people struggle with, perhaps because there is so much choice and also that things get obscured by all the other demands of life. But if you really simplify and reflect on what you WANT to do then that's where you can recognise and start developing your passion.

WW: How did you manage to combine focusing so fiercely on your passion and what you love with bringing a baby into the world and the sacrifice or balance that mother hood has required? 

Lynn Hill: I consider it a juggle because you can’t do everything all at once, if you have a child you have to prioritise, so once you’ve sent children of to school you can start doing things yourself.  There’s a real need to do what I call “me time” and that's something we do ideally for an hour or so on an almost daily basis. I still climb three to four times a week and that’s enough to feed my passion. 

WW: I’d like to talk with you about your relationship with fear and how you tackle it. Fear comes in many forms, when we’re trying something new and taking a step into the unknown - what advice would you give on how to manage that based on your experience climbing.  

Lynn Hill: I  think fear is a good guide to keep us alive, we don’t have it we might not take necessary precautions but its also important to not let fear take over and stop you performing how you want to perform. 

So I focus on the solution to the problem.  I do a mental shift and do not focus on the fear but doing what I need to do to resolve that situation. 

If i’m in a dangerous situation on the rock face, I can either move forward to the next hole or I can move back or down climb (which is precarious.) Those are really the only options. There is a visual process that accompanies this. I imagine my hand going to the next hole and grabbing it. If i see that in my mind very quickly then I know its time to go and that I need to act. If i don’t visualise the next move or if I continue to feel awkward and fearful then I know i need to stop, relax, re evaluate the solution and look for another situation.

WW: So you’ve become very in tune with your instincts, about the timing around when its right to pause and evaluate and when its time to act quickly also which I could definitely apply to decision making process in my own life!

You’ve described your rock climbing as a kind of moving meditation, to what extent has the sport become (or was it always) a type of spiritual practise for you?

Lynn Hill: It could be called a spiritual practise but its not a religious experience, there’s no traditional praying or doing it for a higher purpose. But I am tuning into a universal truth, that’s my idea of spirituality. 

 As a human being we have our interpretations and our perspective of a situation and that determines how we see it, and if you take your ego out of it and see the reality of the situation as it is then you’re better able to manage yourself in that situation. 

Climbing is a practise that makes me feel good and centred and I think that when you feel good and centred we’re better human beings; we feel better about our lives and relate to others better.  I think climbing reinforces that kind of honesty and willingness to look at the truth. There’s no hiding on the rock. Your direct action will determine whether you get to the top or not. 

WW: Let's talk about one of your amazing achievements; being the first person to free climb The Nose (El Capitan in Yosemite). In other interviews you’ve said that everyone in your peer group and the climbing community was telling you it was impossible. 

What was the motivating impulse that took you from hearing everyone saying it was impossible to thinking “right i’m going to do that!” and taking the first step.

Lynn Hill: I figured that my experience and my vision might be unique and that I had a chance of being able to do it if I kept an open mind and had a lot of persistence. I had lots of experience on that climb and different experience with other types of rocks and at a higher level from my climbing in Europe. 

 Valley Uprising, Yosemite, California.

Valley Uprising, Yosemite, California.

I felt like I had a unique combination of skills and vision that others did not have and that gave me the confidence to find a solution, and that's what I did. I think that’s a very important point. If you want to do something,  if you prepare yourself appropriately and believe in the possibility that you are going to find a solution then that approach in itself will give you the best chance possible of actually succeeding.

WW. Wonderful. Believing that your own unique mix of skills, talents and experience will create a possible solution where others have failed or haven’t gone, I think thats a perfect thought to align with when summoning the courage to venture out and do something new. 

WW: Did you have any female role models when you were starting out? 

Lynn Hill: I had a good friend that I climbed with that i’m still friends with, there weren’t that many role models when I started.  There was a woman named Beverly Johnson who passed away in a helicopter accident in 1994. She climbed El Capitan in 1978 by herself for 10 days. You have to take all the equipment you need, supplies, sleeping bag, drinking water, its hard to manage by yourself.  She was an amazing person, very happy go lucky, very approachable and a nice person; but she was about the only female rock climber that I knew.

 Yosemite Valley, California

Yosemite Valley, California

WW:  I know that gender equality issues have been important to you over the years in such a male dominated sport, how has that changed (at least i’m hoping its changed) over the last 40 years!

Lynn Hill: It has, there are a lot more women climbers now, young girls and its a sport for people of all ages. Two people climbing together don’t have to do the same climb you just need followers and rope, you don’t have to climb at the same level. I love that aspect, that everyone brings their own style and we all have different dimensions to our bodies, small, large - and we can create our own route.  

WW: You’ve spent such a large portion of your life in the outdoors, what is your relationship with nature and how has it heightened your sensitivity to environmental concerns and changes. 

Lynn Hill:   I respect nature and to me that has a spiritual side.  Its the truth, its the way the world works and you have to observe it. So obviously I want to protect nature and the large companies that are robbing the earth of all the oil and natural gases… I would like for those companies to be more conscientious about how they are getting the energy out of the earth and what we are doing to our earth, air and water or else we’ll be extinct in a few years time.There is already global climate change and i’m very concerned about future generations and would like to see more laws regulating large companies and their actions. 

WW: The documentary "Valley Uprising" airing on the Discovery Channel this weekend is an homage to rock climbing from its inception in the 1960s through to the present day, focusing on Yosemite. She’s the grand dame of the piece, how have you seen her change over the years with regards to the impact of humans on her environment. 

Lynn Hill:  I’ve seen the direct affects of global warming. California right now - I was there in January and there was hardly any snow, three years running they haven’t had enough water, and so i’ve seen climate change. Its getting warmer and we don’t have enough water, we need water to survive. Clean water! I’m also concerned about all of the things that get flushed into the sea that should be treated first. The effect of the birth control pill is changing our fish because of too much oestrogen entering the water. There are lots of problems. 

WW: How do you manage your own health these days, do those concerns follow through with your diet? 

Lynn Hill: I believe strongly in supporting the organic food industry even if it costs more, its the right thing to do for my body. If I buy meat its organic and eggs are free range. Its both healthy and I make ethical choices on how the animals are raised. 

WW: And to keep fit, you still rock climb and do you do any other kind of exercise?  

Lynn Hill: I like to ski, alpine ski, running, mountain biking, yoga to stretch -  I like to keep up my stretching as I  was a gymnast when i was younger. I also surfed once in the last year!  

WW: Your climbing has taken you all over the world do you still enjoy travelling? what do you get out of it now that you are no longer travelling to compete? 

Lynn: Yes i was in France on my last trip,  its great to see friends and I speak French and Italian.  I do enjoy speaking in another language, I feel like a different person. I enjoy meeting new people and seeing different places and cultures and that gives me a better perspective. Travel allows me to have a different perspective on my life as an American woman and to reflect on my own values.  

WW: Has what motivates you in climbing changed over the years? Is it all about the highest peak, beating other people or how important is the journey to the top?

Lynn Hill: At this point,  yes, its become more about the process.  Its my medicine, my moving meditation and my way of connecting with people. I climb with friends more and more and when I climb I feel like a child. Even though i’ve been climbing for 40 years it doesn’t ever get boring to me. 

Lynn thank you so much for your time its been wonderful talking to you. Lynn stars in Valley Uprising this weekend on the Discovery Channel, April 25th 8pm ET/PT - the award winning premier of channel's Elevation series. 

Watch a sneak preview here...

 

END 


A Redwood Retreat, Cactus Scramble and Life Lessons with Ed

A year ago I came to Portland, Oregon for the World Domination Summit, a fabulous event gathered by the Art of Nonconformity blogger Chris Guillebeau which is just about to ki At the end I travelled down to California and visited friends in San Francisco and LA. But one of the absolute highlights of my month in the states in 2014 was when I decided on an impromptu visit to the beautiful redwoods of Santa Cruz and stayed with a lovely old gentleman called Ed in his log cabin in the woods:

“I understand that i may not always have the ability to make the right decision. However i do have the ability to  make a decision and then make it right.”

I get shivers (or “goosies” as JLO might say) as i finish the line of the paragraph in the book i’ve been given - appropriately entitled “ “The Traveller’s Gift.” 

Its summed up the magical way I got to spend my final weekend in the States making Cactus Omelettes with a life coach in the middle of the redwoods.

I always thought the more conscious I became  and the more I learn about myself the easier life would get. Hah! not so my friends. If anything there’s so much more to consider, and some days I feel overwhelmed with the unforeseen consequences and potential pitfalls of making decisions.  And none of this is particularly aided by living the life of a long term solo traveller where you are required to make a seemingly never ending number of decisions all day every day. 

Should I take the chicken bus with the 18 year old backpackers or the overnight train with the random chain-smoking moustachioed man? 

Should i risk eating the tripe being fried on a communal grill pan at the local street market or trust the man who tells me that the “special” in the “special” pizza just means extra flavour? ad infinitum…

My plan had been to spend the last two weeks of my month long sojourn in the USA  just working and living in LA. By day 5 of LA i’m bored. My glands and tonsils are swollen, my throat feels like a scratching post and my asthma is terrible. 

I’ve also remembered that the whole idea of me working becomes absolutely ridiculous anytime you put me anywhere near a beach. I’m English for goodness sake, its our default mechanism to strip off in the midday sun and lie prostrate cooking under it anywhere near water and sand.

I’ve seen a conference happening back in San Francisco and because I don’t want to be indecisive I  confirm my attendance and book a return flight form LAX to SF for the final few days of my trip.  

And then I regret it. Really all I want is to find a way to be amongst nature not sitting in a Holiday Inn in downtown San Francisco but then the shoulds begin:

You’re not on holiday anymore - you’re travelling, you should do something productive, you should network and make the most of the opportunity to meet people, you should do something useful…

I’m still not always very good at deciphering the little voice that knows best - or even sure when its the right one i’m listening to. How do I know the voice telling me to sack the conference and go into nature isn’t just fear, procrastination or laziness in disguise? The same voice that throws delayed gratification out the window and prompts me to go for bagels rather than broccoli?

The honest answer is, i’m not sure yet. But what I can do is make a decision. And then see how it feels and adjust my course if necessary. Make a decision and THEN make it right. 

I decide to miss the conference if I can find accommodation easily that fits the bill. 

Immediately on scouring Airbnb up pops a a little redwood cabin entitled Scenic Retreat just outside Felton in the Santa Cruz mountains. It looks perfect and it seems i can get there on public transport - the owner has even said he’ll pick me up from the bus station.

 

 Ed trying to figure out my life (well someone has to!) 

Ed trying to figure out my life (well someone has to!) 

It supports my other theory - that sometimes when somethings are meant to be  - everything slots into place. 

Ed, my host, has already said to give him a call and he’ll pick me up from the station.

“I didn’t know you were arriving so early, otherwise i would have picked up something better but are hot dog tacos for dinner ok?”

“Ed they sound fantastic but you don’t have to cook for me you know!”

“Oh it’s no problem, I try and treat everyone like a friend i haven’t met yet…”

And he really does.  We arrive at his little cabin high up in the hills. A cloud of blue hydrangea cluster at the front and two giant redwoods flank the entrance. The forest outside casts a dappled green gold light through the large windows in his cosy open plan living and kitchen room and around the corner there are bookshelves crammed full of motivational and positive texts. I already know i’m going to love it here.

 


Ed is also clearly the grandfather I never had with wispy white hair, grey eyes that twinkle and glasses that balance on the end of his nose. By the end of the weekend he’s my own personal Wizard of Oz  - having cooked me every meal, sorted out my life’s purpose for me and even given me some seriously sensible dating advice to boot. I’m actually considering asking if he may want to adopt this almost 40 year old woman. 

As he starts to cook dinner he tells me about his incredible life as well parting cooking wisdom along the way.

In his twenties his dream job was to “play with food all day and get paid for it. ” An early Dale Carnegie graduate (Carnegie was the famous salesman and author of How to Win Friends and Influence People and a forerunner of personal growth movement) he was eventually able to do just that.

A former systems engineer working in the shipping industry he was able to move to San Francisco and became a food technologist at the height of the hippie movement. Eventually he began writing a wine column for the famous Bon Appetit magazine, assisting at a top notch cookery school on the Northwest coast and even cooked alongside Julia Childs.

Oh and did you know that the black smudge around the cooked yolk of a hard boiled egg was a sulphur ring from it being cooked too long?

The next day there is a fresh pot of coffee brewing on the stove when I wake up and breakfast is slices of fresh nectarines and almond butter on toast. Perfect. 

We spend the morning at a flea market browsing curios and then he takes me into Santa Cruz and for a drive along the coast, leaving me to explore the boardwalk by the beach. 

If you’re an 80s kid its a must see because this is where Lost Boys was filmed. Its hard not to look up at the roller coaster outlined against the setting sun without hearing the eerie Thou Shalt Not Kill sound track and remember that even all these years later i’m still wearing floaty skirts and indian cotton tops in an effort to look as indie chick cool as Jamie Gertz aka Star. 


 

When I wake up the next day  Ed is shows me how to cook Nopales. These are the flat palm shaped Cactus leaves i’ve seen street vendors shave of their thorns and fry on griddle pans in Mexico City. 

Raw, they have a slightly slimy texture like Okre and taste a little lemony. He cuts them into slivers and throws them into a frying pan along with some red onion, two whisked eggs, grated cheese and freshly chopped tomato to make a perfect cactus scramble for two. 

 

 

After breakfast we head off to Henry Cowel Redwood park to visit the trees, just a short walk from Ed’s cabin and beyond Roaring Camp -  a recreation of a 19th century logging town complete with authentic steam train.

We do a short hike to take in the majestic splendour of the redwoods. None of my photos do justice to these beauties, some of which are 2000 year olds. The fibrous texture of the bark is almost fire retardant in its consistency which is why these giants still stand when other species have long fallen. 

Ed explains how the trees grow in clusters as younger saplings shoot up around a parent tree and remain in a family circle when the parent tree dies. He points out how the central core of a redwood can die but the tree can still survive as new healthy layers grow outwards (why we see rings when the tree is cut down.)

"That's a life lesson if ever I heard one," I say

"Oh there's a lesson in most things if you look hard enough," says Ed amiably.

We head back home via Felton, the nearest town. There are tangles of bright pink sweet pea growing wild on the verges and brambles with blackberries ripening on the stem. We stop to pick a few and the scent of the fruit and stains on my fingers throw me back to blackberry picking with my nan when I was a little girl.

Finally after a tip off from a white bearded friend we enjoy a free lunch at the community BBQ going on in the town hall before heading back to the cabin.

Ed has told me a bit about the process he goes through with when he conducts a life coaching session so I tell him i’d like to have a go  and before I can finish the sentence his eyes light up. In a flash he’s dumped a handful of post it notes front of me:

“Ok  - what do you love doing?”  he says

“Ummmm” 

“ Go! write it down…! ”

I start to make excuses…”oh i didn’t mean we have to do it now…”

“No time like the present!”  says Ed 

Gradually I do and post its cover the kitchen counter, then we tape them up to a flip chart and study them together. He asks a few questions and seamlessly helps me make connections and join the dots i didn’t realise were there.

He’s enthused and so am I, I can see how much he loves doing this, we don’t stop for dinner - working right through and picking at leftovers from the fridge. 

“I want you to have a clear vision and action steps before we go to sleep” he says.

The next morning I see that Ed has stamped “Born Writer” on my page in the Visitors Guest Book

I spend the morning going for a quiet walk in the redwoods before getting ready to head back to LA. 

 


As a parting gift Ed has given me a copy of the book The Traveller’s Gift and as i’m sitting in  LAX enjoying a glass of Chenin Blanc before my flight I get to this line: 

“I may not always make the right decisions, I do however have the ability to make a decision and then make it right.” 

If the last weekend has taught me anything its this, sometimes it pays to stop trying to plan the outer journey and spend more time listening to my inner compass instead and I couldn't be more grateful that I made "right" the decision on how to spend my final days in America.

I’m not sure I knew where i’d end up but because I did instead of wilting under air conditioning and the bad carpet of a Holiday Inn off Van Ness i’ll be able to look back on the last few days of this trip as one of my very favourite travel highlights where i’ve experienced not just the rugged natural beauty of the West Coast, but cooking lessons, life lessons and the warmth and welcome of real old fashioned american hospitality at its very best. 

END

An Ancient Energy Ritual, Chocolate Crepes and Castration in Oaxaca, Mexico.

This morning I wake up to witness from my rooftop - Consuela and Carlos taking part in what looks like a religious ritual in their courtyard garden. There is a table laid out with great swathes of rosemary and freshly boiled eggs - and another man (some kind of priest) looks like he is blessing Carlos. I'm guessing they are not Catholics! 

I google it later – and i'm right its an old Zapotec ritual. Curanderismos are healers - Meso American energy workers. Aztec Ometeotl is a sacred union that looks into the heart and soul of the patients. 

Altars are placed in all directons then the patient in question goes through an "undrowning" to let out what is in their heart. The Limpia or spiritual cleansing uses eggs, flowers and fresh rosemary which are all seen as representing and indeed having life giving properties. 

Today I visit Monte Alban temple and settlement which the Zapotecs who set about levelling off a mountain to build it. This (in case you were wondering) is the Number 1 # Archaeological site in Oaxaca. There are a series of tombs, altars, palaces, temples and pyramids. There is also an ancient sports court. The Zapotecs played something called Juego de Pelota - a type of football. Fun came at a price - the game was tricky in that players had to manipulate the ball using their knees, hips, elbows and shoulders and losers were often put to death by being sacrificed! 



One of the tombs - Los Danzantes (building of the dancers) has large stone slabs outside with grotesque dancers carved into them with large phallic shapes. Apparently they used to cut off the members of men and push them into their mouths before sacrifice...mmm tasty - although i can think of a few men i would have liked to do that to...! 

I get back around early afternoon and doze like a seal, its thundering ominously outside (well it is rainy season.) 

Oaxaca is famous for its dark chocolate so I have a hot chocolate followed by a chocolate crepe to celebrate this fact and then decide to have a “holiday day” rather than a “traveller” day. 

I wander around the brightly coloured schools of the main square and visit its main church and former monastery - the 16th century Santo Domingo. 

I go clothes shopping and buy some playsuits and a pair of white shorts, walk in the park and sit in the sun, then go for a lovely lunch of lobster tacos and beer in a seafood restaurant The waiter follows me out: 

“I have your number?” he enquires hopefully. Er. No. 

Zeb is baking his suffolk beer cakes back home. I miss him. 

The tents occuping all of the streets around the main square are beginning to annoy me now – I constantly have to bend over double to avoid being garotted by their lines. Time to ship on out and head for the mountains -and somewhere i'm very excited to see - San Christobal de la Casas.

Churches, churros, Palenque and the Friendly Vagina in San Cristobel - Mexico.

I arrive into San Christobal de la Casas– a gorgeous little village high in the mountains...first thing in the morning. It is such a pretty little place. Back home – the UK is going into Union Jack bunting overdrive for the Jubilee weekend.

Here the Mexican village has strung a dainty, peach coloured doily cut bunting that criss crosses the cobbled streets and laces between the pastel painted houses. In the main square there is a Sweets market that Willy Wonka would be proud of.

 

Tables are piled high with sticky marzipan fruits, lollipops and syrupy sponges – all thickly dotted by a moving blanket of wasps. In the background are the dark green smoky hills. In the Zocolo are stalls selling carved wood animals, embroidered clothes corn on the cob and churros – all manned by women in traditional dress - long black furry skirts and rainbow striped shawls . There are modern shops too, I find a place that does amazing hot chocolate and an arts centre teaching pilates and yoga. I try and schedule a date with pilates. I fail miserably by getting time wrong and console myself by eating deep fried churros in chocolate sauce - yum. 


The main churches are in the Zocolo. San Francisco church is a peach coloured building with terracotta vines and laurel leaves decorating a rusty door. San Juan Pablo however is quite possibly the prettiest church i've ever seen. Its a huge white wedding cake of a building -trimmed in forget me knot blue. It has a light and twinkling interior lit up with crystal chandeliers and candles. 

Kiki Suarez is a German artist that now lives in San Christobal and she has her own shop - Kikiworld – devoted to her. Although her big, bold primary coloured art is something I'd usually consider a bit too “greeting card” for my taste usually – I feel drawn to her sentiments. One in particular – "The Path to a Happy life" resonates with where I am at the moment. Nearing forty – i've handed in my notice in the middle of an economic downturn to travel the world and then who knows what. I'm not blind to the fact i'm having a rather fabulous sort of mid life crisis. 

Do you remember that Honda advert – hate something...change something. It featured bunnies in little earphones drilling things. Rabbits are my favourite animal so it recommended itself to me. Anyway. That is what I'm doing with my life. 



Hate something...then Change Something. 

The next day I decide to do an excursion to Palenque (famous Mayan ruins.) Its a five hour bus ride there and back. I get terrible motion sickness so ask to sit up front. I have to sit in the hard middle seat which – being bony of bottom – is incredibly painful but slightly more preferable to abject nausea. We journey up into the winding hills – shreds of cloud are still hanging low on thegreen and wooly slopes not yet burntoff by the morning sun. We stop first at some waterfalls (more water than Iguassu) and then arrive into Palenque around midday. Here the weather is hot and sticky, there are huge jungly heart shaped leavves that hang from vines.,mos covered stones and leaves the sizes of armchaires that I could sit in. Mexicans lounge in the grounds in wide brimmed hats, selling little figurines made of quartz and strange gimp masks constructed out of shell. Here the Jaguar King reigns. I meet a British girl and a kiwi and we join together to walk around. The Brit talks animatedly about the three Australians she's shagged that week – how average the sex is how her vagina is making friends all over the world. 



We climb up one of the temples remarking on how large the stone steps are considering how small the mayans were and sit at the top in companiable silence. 



The next day and I feel exhausted. I have ignored my instinct to go to the local village San Chuemala and try and discover more about the energy healing rituals – and have taken the tourist route of visitng Palenque instead. I realise that I don't need to try and do and see everything. I need to give as much time and credence to the journey within as to the one without. Ths isn't just about ticking off sights. 

I sit in the main square and have a huge breakfast of granola, fruit, yoghurt and hot chocolate. I think how lucky I am i've avoided traveller's tummy so far....little do I know...i have a little wander around town and then finish in the evening in a small local restaurat eating Mole – a traditional mexican casserole of beef,with carrots, courgette, and corn. Little children in raggedy clothes come around selling wooden toys. 



In the square there is petitioning for the forthcoming elections/ Reds versus Whites. The Reds have erected a bandstand and are playing loud rock music. When you dont understand the language and can just hear the frenzied hyperbole and the hype you can see how politics becomes like football – just whipping the masses into a frenzied, excitable crowd. 

It feels cold up in the mountains. Time to head South for Guatemala.

Mezcal and Mitla in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Conseuela and Carlos are a lovely little old couple who run the bnb that i've booked. They have twinkling eyes, grey hair and hug me with great warmth on my arrival. They don't speak any English but i'm gradually getting by with my Spanish and the Mexicans are very patient with my Argentinian pronounciation! Carlos heaves the 'bastard” onto his shoulders and I follow him up a winding little staircase in the middle of a huge open courtyard with a large tree growing in the middle of it. 

My bedroom is at the top with ensuite bathroom and even an English book on the bedside to read. Outside on the balcony (more of a roof with a sheer drop onto the courtyard below!) there is a little wooden writing table and a bird cage with two bright red love birds inside – pecking and bothering each other, like lovers do. 

There is also an enormous cockroach in the toilet bowl. I end up peeing standing up. Oh well its good for my quads. I don't feel too guilty - if they can survive a nuclear holocaust then he can survive me peeing on its head. 

Downstairs there is a huge Toucan that solemnly observes me down his long banana shaped beak with a doleful green eye.

There are too many bars here for my liking that are hiding this beauty. I'm not a fan of birdcages literal or metaphorical.... 

 



Breakfast is home cooked by Consuela – and consists of tortillas, green beans refried beans and scrambled eggs. They sit down and join me and after watching me try and eat a tortilla with knife and fork (how British!) Carlos demonstrates how I should eat it with my hands. 

Oaxaca is a beautiful little town, filled with cobblestone streets and pretty churches leading down into the main Zocolo. Its raining huge drops and the streets are filled with tents of teachers protesting for more pay (more protesting!) In the evening fireworks light up the stones and I can hear the music from an open air concert in the hills. 

I go on a day excursion to Mitla and am joined by a San Franciscan called Susie who is tanned with great teeth (like all Americans) and mad staring blue eyes. She is a counsellor who specialises in post traumatic stress disorder. She informs me that traumatic events have now been renamed and are called "adverse life events."

Can it really be healthy to rename the truly terrible things that shatter our lives

"yeah it was awful, my lover left me, my house burnt down and then I had a road accident"

"Oh really, i'm sorry to hear that how... adverse..."

Then again, words are very powerful. Maybe choosing a less impactful term dilutes the impact of the event itself. I don't know - my internal jury is out. 

Mitla means "City of the Dead" and was inhabited by the Zapotec tribe – an indigenous people -from perhaps as early as 900BC until at as late as the Spanish invasion in the 16th century. It is one of the most important archaeological sites in the region and is typified by the ornate and intricate mosaic tile work on its friezes. 

We see a 2000 year old Tula tree with a 42 metre diameter and also watch a carpet weaving demonstration given by an old Teuluan woman,  slowly spinning wool like an ancient sleeping beauty on her wheel. The tour guide demonstrates how they make the red dye – cochineal - through crushing the shell of the insects that live on the cacti – and then change the colour to vivid lilacs or burnt umbers through adding lime stones or lemon juice. 

 

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We go to a Mezcal distillery to learn how the smoky tequila based liquor is extracted from the agave cacti – and then do a tasting of different flavoured shots inluding easily downable cappuccino and strawberry flavours that leaves us all a little half cut. The traditional way to do the shot is a ritual with a slice of lime rolled in crunched up worm mixed with chilli. Like anything rolled in spices and salt and downed with almost neat alcohol - the worm tastes great! 

And then we visit my favourite place of all –Hierve el Agua (literally Boiling water) ..... High up in the mountains, bubbling calcium rich springs have toppled over and calcified to give the appearance of petrfied waterfalls. The view over the misty mountain tops is cool and calm and ever so tranquil. Leading down to the cliff tops where the frozen salt streams cascade - - are bone white honey combed dips and shallows where litte pools of water have collected. An american kid takes of his socks and sits down to cool off his feet. People gravitate to the edge and then sit. This is a place to just sit and contemplate. A bride and groom are having their photos take, she froths out her veil and watches as the wind picks it up and blows it out behind her. 

We go for lunch where they are servingsome traditonal Mexican delicacies. Susan and the Colombian student she's been joined by have just decided to have beer as they can't afford the lunch. I fill up my plate with cactus salad , tacos and their crunchy pickled accompaniement. 

"I've brought back some extra grasshoppers" I say – 

" in case you want to try them." She looks horrified. 

They taste like all pickled things- a bit briny only with more legs. I was hoping for more of a peanut butter flavored crunch but they are not unpleasant. 

We leave late in the day.  Our tour guide Manuela berates us for being late (again.) We are all a little bit drunk still from the many different flavoured mezcal shots and i'm ashamed to say it but we really don't care.

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Mexico, Condessa district

I am staying with a girl called Gaby in downtown Mexico city. I have found Gaby on airbnb. I rock up at the flat and am greeted by a pretty, skinny, 29 year old Mexican with elfin hair and large green eyes. Her apartment is gorgeous, huge and light and filled with plants. She has green tea on the shelves and a quote in the kitchen that reads: 

The only journey is the one within. 

On her wall in the living room is a postcard from Foyles – a British book retailer . The lovely Susan had a copy of the same promotional postcard on her desk when we worked together – no doubt to keep her sane from the madhouse of Network Rail. 

So there you go, it doesn't matter if you are in downtown Mexico or just off the Euston road – poetry is the all. 



The next day I start trying to get into a routine of waking up and doing some yoga and/or pilates. I have some green tea then take a little walk around one of the big parks nearby. It only takes me asking two policemen to find my way out again. My sense of direction is definitely getting better. 

I write to Nico via facebook. I think at the age of 37 I may have just sent my first love letter. Oh well. Its a start.... 

Later I go in search of dinner and find a street food stall – there are two men cooking up bits of meat on two huge hot plates. There are men gathered around it ( I think they must be cab drivers.) 

I stop and stare at what's going on. They have lots of different meat – carne (beef) pollo (chicken) and chorizo, being chopped up and fried on the hotplates. On the other hot plate there is lengue (cow's tongue) but instead of the delicate pickled slivers from Buenos Aires, here the whole tongue is on the side and they are hacking off great chunks. I order a carne and am about to dress it with coriander, chopped onion and the two salsas when one of the men warns me off the green sauce – "muy picante!!" (very hot.) Then he suggests I try a pollo and a chorizo and I have one from the other plate too. He leaves and I wave goodbye – when I come to pay I realise he has paid for mine too. Free dinner! What a lovely guy – I like Mexico. Later i'm telling Gaby about it... 



"There were hot plates and meat and you put the meat on these little discs of pastry..." 

"er you mean tacos??" enquires Gaby laughing. Oh yeah - tacos! only authentic. 

The next day I awake, have a green tea and go for a run in the nearby park. Fifteen minutes and i'm left wheezing. I come back and buy some salad vegetables en route at the local supermarket where I notice they also have piles of raw meat stacked up and a plethora of cacti or Nopales as they are called. This is the type of cactus with the large flat oval shaped discs that branch away from the main body of the plant. There are little food stalls outside Gaby's apartment with men cooking up tacos and shaving off the spines from the Nopales before frying them. 

The mexicans are a short and swarthy race, I feel like a very long legged, skinny pale giraffe that's accidentally wandered into the buffalo pen. I tower above the men folk – but give them their due their staring is polite and nowhere bordering on obscene level of sexual harassment that the Portenos excel at.Before I arrive in Mexico City I am given all sorts of scare stories about kidnappings and how its worse than Columbia now for safety – my parents are convinced i'm going to be taken hostage. But sitting in Gaby's light filled apartment drinking green tea and then going for a wander around Condessa the local nearby arty and boho neighbourhood - the scare stories really seem just that. The North of Mexico has been dominated by the drugs trade and is unsafe for tourists to visit...but my personal experience of Mexico City and of the Mexicans that I met was that it is a safe and friendly city as long as you apply the usual laws of the street.

Coming from London I am already well prepared in that area – don't wander off the beaten track, stay in well lit areas, don't take your eye or hands off your personal belongings, don't flaunt wealth, don't allow yourself to get too drunk in an unfamiliar area – and if in doubt ask a local which parts of the city you should avoid. 



Condessa is a lovely leafy neigbourhood with prettily coloured houses and shops. I find a little cafe with fresh flowers on the table and have a capuccino and a coffee eclair. Then I wander into a local church. They are in the middle of a flower giving ceremony to the Santa Rosario. I am given a bunch of white and yellow carnations and gladioli. I line up with the other women and children and lay them aross an effigy of the saint and then leave. As with South America the churches here are ornate and heavily decorated with candles, gold leaf and half life sized statues of saints and Christ. The depictions of Christ, his blood and wounds are gorily life like. Catholicism is still strong and even on a week day there are often locals knelt in prayer in the churces that I venture into. 

Mexico is hot and dusty after the cold cold Autumn of Buenos Aires. I try and go into Mexico City to see some galleries but am exhausted by the time I get to the main square – called the Zocolo in all of Mexico's cities and towns. When I arrive there is a huge multicoloured market, hot dust, men dressed up as purple druids, a massive Mexican flag and a hundred tents filling the space – some kind of protest. I have developed a litte cold no doubt thanks to the poor but fabulously unhealthily tasty diet of Buenos Aires and decide to take these few days as a detox and time to get bettebefore travelling to my next destination – the little village of Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaca – like the Thomasina Miers Mexican chain of restaurants...)