From Playa del Carmen to Laguna Bacalar - Mexico round-up

From Playa del Carmen to Laguna Bacalar - Mexico round-up

It took a while but as the 11 hour flight from London to Cancún was drawing to an end it finally started to dawn on me that I'm on a holiday - on an actual holiday - going somewhere a bit further away. The flight itself went relatively fast, BA had a nice selection of movies and ok food and the 3 hours of sleep I had the night before (thanks to another night of zouk and late night packing yet again) helped me to pass out instantenously as the flight took off.

It was +27 C when I arrived to Cancún in the afternoon. I got randomly picked for security screening in customs (yes, it was random! :D) and got to practice my Spanish right away with the cute & smiley customs officer. Found the bus to my first destination, Playa del Carmen without effort and was on my way. Was happy I had an easy start (good choice for my first Latin American stop?) and the bus was good even in European standards - was I really in the "shabby & dangerous" México??

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San Cristobal de las Casas – cooling down up in the mountains

San Cristobal de las Casas – cooling down up in the mountains

San Cristobal de las Casas is a town in the Chiapas region mountains, located 2000m above sea level. I took a whirlwind minicab ride to San Cristobal from the Palenque jungle and was greeted by a cold cold night air upon arrival. I wouldn’t say I was delighted to be there, tired from the jerky ride, arriving to a dark, wet and cold little town. After a long walk through town (thinking ‘ok, the pedestrian street and the restaurants look nice’) I got to my hostel, took a hot shower and collapsed to my bed.

The morning was even colder than the night and I was in shock – I want back to the beach, NOW! I decided to give the city a try and went out for a walk wearing basically all of the clothes I could think of, luckily all my warmest clothes were clean! And I could finally give the all the sand, sea and sweat covered clothes to the hostel laundry for a proper washing. Before 9am it was still nicely cool out and I was enjoying my ski pants. But suddenly, some point between 10 -11 it was so hot I couldn’t take my clothes off fast enough. The sun was really piercing! First looking for the sun and now looking for the shades, I continued through the town. There were lots of lovely pedestrian streets with shops of beautiful local handcrafted clothes, bags, woodcarvings, clay animals, Zapatista dolls. The area seemed to be full of artisans and artists!

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Machetes and mushrooms in the Palenque jungle

Machetes and mushrooms in the Palenque jungle

Ok - didn't see either machetes or mushrooms in Palenque. But that was the what I had basically pictured from all the Palenque stories. I'm sure both were available, no one just thought about offering either to me (luckily).

We arrived 6 am to Palenque pueblo after a lovely (the buses are better than in Europe!) but still tiresome night bus ride. An hour late but just in time to see the sun rise behind the jungle hills, all wrapped in strips of mist. I was travelling with a Chinese girl Yuxing from Campeche and we hadn’t manage to secure a hostel, so we took a taxi to an area close to the ruins in the jungle, El Panchan, which was supposedly a lovely place. And again, we were not disappointed. There were couple of hostels with many cabanas spread in the jungle and amongst them some restaurants and tour agencies. I took a walk on the paths around the different cabanas and saw a nice creek teeming with fish!

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City life in Merida and the colorful Campeche

City life in Merida and the colorful Campeche

Leaving from the adorable Valladolid it was not easy to feel at home in Merida. It’s a city of about a million people and what feels like a million cars too. Streets are packed with people with either meandering or (more often) rushing and pushing. The weather was hotter and the hostel, even though very nice, was not as good comparing to the warm-heartedness of Valladolid. But as before, I’ve been meeting really nice people from around the world and enjoying my time with them - Emilia from Sydney, Patricia from Monterrey, Allison & Pat from the UK, Yuxing from China.

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Nature explorations in Yucatán: flamingos, crocs and cenotes

Nature explorations in Yucatán: flamingos, crocs and cenotes

After a night of beers, Mexican shots and stories, I got up at 5am yesterday to jump on a second class bus to Tizimin with Pedro. There we would – if lucky – change straight away to another bus for Río Lagartos. It was pitch dark when we sneaked out of the hostel  and headed to the bus station.

When we arrived to Tizimin our connection to Río had already left so we went to see if we could find a collectivo (a shared taxi van) but no luck either. So we walked around the poor little town and had a fantastic 10 peso breakfast. I can tell you there are zero tourists in Tizimin - and frankly after the gorgeous Valladolid it felt the only interesting thing to see is the local people!

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Mexican charm in Valladolid and Indianajonesing in Chichén Itzá

Mexican charm in Valladolid and Indianajonesing in Chichén Itzá

After some beach life at Playa del Carmen it was time to dip into the Mexican culture. First on my agenda was to discover the Mayan history and where else to do it than at one of the new seven wonders of the world, Chichén Itzá. I unfolded a map of the Yucatan and the town of Valladolid was the closest place so decided it would be my base for the next couple days. I had read nice things about the town itself; there are lots of cenotes and the Río Lagartos nature reserve is easy to access from Valladolid as well.

I took a morning first class bus from Playa to Valladolid and immediately when we started to pull into Valladolid I was in love with the town. The charmingly shabby small streets with colorful buildings and no tourist-looking wanderers was a sight for sore eyes.

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Zouking & sightseeing London

Zouking & sightseeing London

It was a rather early Monday morning when I arrived to London, all ready & packed for an epic trip around the world. I had a generous two hours of sleep before the flight (last minute packing took surprisingly long - ok, really not surprising).  I jumped on a train from Heathrow and headed to my local zouk friend Anthony's place; he was very welcoming and my trip was off to a smooth start! Despite my weary eyes I manage to get in some sightseeing and tried to do some shopping but after a while it was impossible with the sleep deprivation.

Sleep or no sleep I was ready for some zouk that night! Anthony took me to the Lambazouk night - the "main" event of the weekly zouk nights in the city. And this was the real reason why I set aside some days to stop in London! I took the two hours of classes (the ones with Joe Koniak and Solange Dias - there are other classes too) followed by three hours of lambazouking my but off. Anthony and the lovely zouk & lambada guys did a good job of keeping me burning the dance floor: and I had a fantastic time!!

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First zouk competition - Fresca 2011

First zouk competition - Fresca 2011

Last weekend the salsa festival Fresca 2011, organised by La Nieve Fresca, took place in Helsinki. I joined the festivities on the Saturday night's big party when the Latin Championships were also held. The evening kicked off with the Finnish record attempt for cuban salsa rueda. I think there were close to one hundred couples!? Well, the big room at the "White Hall" near the Senate Square was filled with the rueda dancers.

After the rueda we started the Fresca 2011 Latin Championships with the zouk competition! It was a 20 minute freestyle "Jack & Jill" competition with 3 rounds of two songs (2 minutes each). On each song the partners were changed and for the first two songs the couples were chosen by random lottery. Normal tricks and dips were allowed but no choreographies or aerial acrobatics... which was pretty easy guideline to stick to with the "random partner" system. The dancers would be judged above all on musicality and the authenticity (the "zoukness") of the moves. The overall best female (follower) and best male (leader) would be announced the winners.

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Zouktime 2011 - Czech, check!

Zouktime 2011 - Czech, check!

I recently went to Brno for the 2nd Zouktime congress - an international zouk and lambada event. A weekend with excellent teachers, good venues, great parties, fantastic shows... There were six of us FinZoukers and about 15 other nationalites, altogether over 250 people. The organisers had clearly made an effort to make the event interesting and each feel welcome.

It was great to see the development in myself since the last (and my first) congress three months ago in Sweden! And I was surprised I'm starting to get more into the lambazouk style with its faster tempo and snappier movements. But I still have a firm hold on the slower and more creative Rio zouk as well.

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First Scandinavian Zouk Congress

First Scandinavian Zouk Congress

I took part in the First Scandinavian Lambada/Zouk Congress in Uppsala about a week ago. The rainy smalltown in Sweden had a very well organised congress with two days packed with workshops and three nights of parties... In our case five nights of parties as a large part of the "Team Finland" decided to take an overnight cruise from Helsinki to Stockholm on the way there and back. And we did indeed terrorise the cruise passangers with zouk where ever they played something zoukable!

At the congress we were 14 Finnish zoukers there, with about 120 participants altogether. The rest were mostly Swedes and there was a small group of Dutch, a couple Norwegian, one Danish and one from Australia. Teachers included Pasty & Josta, Olaya & Papagaio, Tania & Marcelo, Kwok and a number of Swedish teachers of which my favourite was Sanna Nilsson.

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