Mr John – An Apology

I’ve just reread the previous post – very mean spirited, I was clearly in a terrible mood! I should clarify that despite the oddness of ‘Mr John’s’ house and indeed, existence – the folk art on show was exceptional and the house itself was a work of art…which just held too much art. Anyway! Moving on…..

We find ourselves just south of Cancun, well more specifically, Cancun airport – because on Monday G’s girlfriend has to sadly fly home …..however, we are also boarding a flight ourselves, to the home of rum, cigars and nuclear near-misses – Cuba! With Obama normalising relations with his supposedly naughty neighbour and Amercian tourists set to flock south in a beige wave of high socks and selfie sticks, we figured we better see the island before the high-rises set in. I’ve said before that it’s nigh on impossible to be the first to do anything anymore, but you can certainly be among the last – depressing but true!

A quick round up of stuff that’s happened recently though. In Merida, the girls and I went to a nature reserve to ogle flamingos with a film-making couple from Quebec. I told a few questionable anecdotes over lunch and then an old lady and her daughter asked if they could join our boat tour to help split the costs. The lady in question did make one stipulation to me however – “Now I like silence when I’m enjoying nature, and I’ve noticed that you, young man, are a bit of a talker. So is there any chance you could keep it down a bit?” I was stunned into silence for the duration.

We made our way to one of the wonders of the world – Chichen Itza, which we’d been told was saturated with tourists. Not at 9am in the morning though – we almost had the whole pyramid to ourselves! We followed this up with more ruins at Ek Ballam and a few cheeky visits to cenotes, which are sink holes numbering in their thousands around the ancient asteroid crater that marked the death of the dinosaurs. Some of them plummet down to apparent eternity while others resemble vast caves with stalactites and stalagmites you can swim between. Our favourite had a rope swing, which shows our priorities.

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Mr John

“Do you want to come tour a rich couple’s house and look at their Mexican folk art collection?”

No. Not at all. Never ever.

That would be the usual response but for reasons that remain a mystery I was there at 10am, in the cluttered lobby of this 17th century wannabe spa hotel in central Valladolid (pronounced bayadoleed naturally). The house had more art than it knew what to do with. Some of the art had other art on it. Art was stuffed on to shelves like a colourful tribute to Macro. Then you’d realise the shelves were also art and behind that art was more art on the walls. The guide, a local chap in a specially made polo shirt was suddenly interrupted by the owner of this landfill of art, a large barely mobile man who was referred to by everyone as ‘Mr John.’ In his southern drawl he explained that his house had the largest private collection of folk art in Mexico. He then lugged his bulk into his courtyard where he sat by his fountain and played with his ipad while we walked around him and his wife (even less mobile) and gawped at the art. Occasionally a phone or a doorbell would ring and the unmovable couple would bellow into their walkie talkies for one of the people in polo shirts to attend to this “poor favooor.” They sat on their sun loungers (indoors) while we traipsed through their kitchen and living room, tangibly aware that MrJohn and his wife were very much exhibits in their own museum. They’d amassed so much art there wasn’t any room for them to live in this place, despite it’s palatial dimensions, to such a degree they were now marooned on their sun loungers, bereft of working limbs, left to gurn at bemused tourists as they floated by every morning for 60 minutes. The whole thing was like a Wes Anderson movie or a particularly odd Roald Dahl story. It was one of the most fascinating mornings of this whole trip.

Ok I will write more as a lot has been going on but my 9 year old laptop is proving as temperamental as Gina’s battery. I just wrote this on an iPad with predictive text forcibly on and a space bar that is as sensitive as a butterfly’s wing. I want to frisbee throw it into the sea.

Look into my San Cristobal

I hope Hogmanay was a hoot and 2015 has been like an especially gratifying foot massage so far!

We brought in the new year in the low-rise tribute to Asia – San Cristobal. The town rests up in the clouds, about 2000 metres above sea level, with tiled roofs and people dressed like they came straight from Tibet. There are key differences of course, in that they all eat tamales and still play Mariachi music WAY TOO LOUD – but the place made for some interesting comparisons. The town is also home to the Zapatistas, a group of Chiapan rebels who’ve been fighting for indigenous rights against the suits in Mexico City for 20 years. Nearby villages had banners all over them declaring their freedom from national rule and the armed police and soldiers were notably conspicuous by their absence. Weirdly though, they’re obsessed with coco-cola. As in they include bottles of coke in their religious ceremonies (which also include chicken sacrifices). Not sure what the marketing department are up to at Coke HQ but one of the “ethnic villages” we visited had a huge red advertising hoarding at the entrance that read “Welcome to Zinacantan – Drink Coco-Cola.” Carbonated rebel stronghold aside, the villages were pretty depressing and run-down in comparison to San Cristobal, which had plenty of bars for us to drink in the new year. Strong word of warning – don’t drink Mezcal. Mexicans everywhere are ditching tequila for this new popular spirit as it represents the old way of life and supports smaller businesses who make the stuff. It also tastes like tractor fuel and the hangover will melt your brain like a Salvador Dali clock. It’s not a drink, it’s an ordeal.

Onwards to a huge waterfall called Misol-Ha, which we swam under in the morning, giving us the full cascade to ourselves (and some monkeys that growled like bears). Then on to the Mayan ruins at Palenque that were festooned with tourists but understandably so. The place was lost to the jungle for 800 years so it appears everyone and their dog is making up for lost time. It was exactly as I imagined – temples, pyramids and various carvings depicting death. Great stuff.

We’re now about to leave Campeche on our way to Merida, which perches on the north of the Yucatan peninsula. G has already left for Cancun, where his girlfriend is arriving very shortly. This meant for the first time in 3 and half months I have been separated from my dear Gina, a harrowing episode that will be resolved next week when we reunite again – I may buy her some flowers (Gina, not G’s girlfriend). The highlight of Campeche was probably yesterday when Catriona, Ellen and I decided to have a beer in a traditional cantina. Swinging through the saloon doors we noted all of the barmaids were A) overweight and B) dressed like prostitutes. Upon ordering the beer we realised there were posters of half-naked women all over the walls and some customers were being led into a mysterious room at the back. Maybe these barmaids WERE prostitutes. Then the TV blared into life. More naked women writhing around to Mexican rap. The patrons all watched intently, munching on their nachos like they were at the cinema. Was this a waiting room? We tried to finish our beers quicker but one of the “barmaids” brought us a snack to share, which tasted like cigarette ash and fish poo wrapped in tortillas – they resembled giant rank cigars. As the video got more sordid we chinned our Coronas and bailed, too prudish for Campeche and too sad that finally we’d finally found some inedible Mexican food. Strong start to 2015!