When a Tree Was a Cactus

This post is a part of looking back at my time in Oaxaca.

On our second weekend of excursions we visited Yagul. Well… Not all of Yagul. It was a city, and the archaeological site we visited was basically just the city centre, though I suppose there is always more to see if you have the time.

A few things about this day really caught my attention. First of all, it wasn’t quite so hot. It was warm, but only just so with clouds and a light breeze. Second, for the first time in my life I thought, “This desert is gorgeous.” Not that I’ve had a lot of experience with deserts. I just never really got the beauty of this version of Mexico until I took in the flora and mountain background. Third, cactuses grow into trees.

Okay, that last point sounds somewhat outlandish, but it’s true! Cactuses can grow into trees with trunks that have the appearance of rough, brown bark. Their leaves look like giant, thorny paddles. And there were a lot of them at Yagul which, to me, just felt weird.

Cactus Trees

Anyway… The city center in Yagul was made out of these stone walls, which reminded me a lot of the stones that we have in the Ozarks. The paths even made me feel like I was walking some familiar paths back in Missouri.

Yagul

Just like Monte Albán, there was a ball court. Also like both Monte Albán and Mitla, there were tunnels that went under the city, although we didn’t get to go in these.

However, perhaps one of my favorite parts of this day was going up the hill by this city. We climbed it partially. There were fragments of broken pottery still littering the ground, exposed years later by the storms that visited the area basically every afternoon (seriously, we were learning the art of avoiding them, although we were soaked more than once).

When our group got up halfway, we stopped at a lookout point. Below us was the valley, with Yagul city centre to the right, and farms all around. Mountains under a cloudy but quieting sky completed the look for me. It may sound weird, but I love it when the clouds are gray and moody like that.

Yagul Pano

So that was my grand visit to Yagul. It may not seem that exciting, but it was the most relaxed of the excursions we took. (Yes, “relaxed” and “excursion” just appeared together in the same sentence.)

Cheers!

Mitla y El Tule

One week had officially passed since our arrival in Mexico when we went to Mitla. Mitla is a Zapotec archeological site. While Monte Albán was a city full of markets and political leaders, Mitla was an important religious center.

Walking up you could already see the incredible mosaics. What was really neat was to notice that the designs are made up of small stones that are not held together with any sort of cement or mortar.

Mitla

If you looked close enough, you could even see some of the original red paint that used to adorn the stone designs.

One thing I really enjoyed about Mitla was the tunnels, of which a few were open for you to crawl into. I went down to check them out, but the lighting left me with sub-par photos. Therefore, you’ll just have to settle for a picture of me coming out of a tunnel.

Mitla Tunnel

Next, we went off to see the beautiful massive Montezuma cypress tree known as “El Tule.” El Tule is the widest tree in the world, and has a pretty awesome estimated age of more than 2,000 years old, according to the book sculpture at the tree.

El Tule

The tree itself is protected by a fenced off area. Furthermore, there are gardens with plenty of sprinklers around the area to keep pumping water into the ground for the tree’s extensive root system. During your walk around the tree, you might be interested in looking for some shapes in the trunk. One of the easiest to spot is the lion.

Tule Lion

Forget looking for shapes in the clouds; El Tule is obviously better.

Cheers!

Monte Albán y Atzompa

On my first Saturday in Mexico, we went on an excursion to Monte Albán, an ancient city, and Atzompa, a nearby town with a thriving market.

At Monte Albán, the first thing I did was purchase a hat. A big awkward one, just to protect myself from the sun. I burn easily, and being up in high places in Mexico is a good way to get sunburnt for a normal person. I am not normal; I burn incredibly easily. A hat is required for Lynnae.

MA Hat

Our guide showed us around the mountain top city, which was once the capital of the Zapotec empire. We were given stunning views. The moment I saw this one, I knew I wanted to climb the pyramid structure at the other end:

MA Pano

As the speaking part of the tour ended, my roommate and I took off up those steps and enjoyed another spectacular view. The area down below used to be the city’s market place, where inhabitants mingled, traded goods, and celebrated religious events. In addition to the buildings and platforms you can see, there are also tunnels under the city that people used to get around.

MA Top

For sports fans, there is a Mesoamerican ball game court in the city as well. You may have heard in your history classes that in some places, the winners of the ball game won the right to be sacrificed to the gods, but there is no evidence of that having ever occurred at Monte Albán.

After we finally came back down the steps, we checked out some of the other archaeological wonders in the city. My favorite part was definitely the carvings that we found lined up. I was always fascinated by Central and South American ancient carvings, but seeing some in person was surreal.

Carvings at MA

At the end, we went to the market at Atzompa. There were so many things to buy, including alebrijes, mezcal bottles with actual hooves on them, and pottery, not to mention food! My roommate bought a rather large selection of delicious conchas, which are a type of Mexican sweet bread. They go fabulously with Oaxacan hot chocolate!

Atzompa

And that’s my Monte Albán experience in a nutshell. For anyone planning to go in the future, my advice is to bring sunscreen, a big hat, and cold water.

Cheers!

My Birthday Weekend

As you all probably noticed, I’ve taken a month-long break from my blog. In that time I’ve taken a great final trip (which I will get to in just a minute), finished all of my assignments, taken one of my final exams on campus, and started working on studying for the final pieces in my other two classes. I’ve also returned to the States, readjusted to the time (my friend who studied in India was right; coming back is worse!), and spent some time with my family and friends.

Like I said, I took one last trip for a grand finale travel weekend. The sixth of December was my birthday, so I thought, why not travel? Since I had not yet been to the Cliffs of Moher, I made seeing them my goal. My usual travel partner agreed to go with me provided I did a good chunk of the driving. (And yes, that means that I do have some sort of ability to drive a manual!)

We left after classes on a Thursday night, heading to Sligo where we would stay that night. This took quite a while as the only way out of Belfast was through considerable traffic. Belfast is big compared to what I’m used to, but it’s not that big. Where on Earth did all the cars suddenly come from?

Anyway, after we escaped the traffic, we ran into rain. My favorite. Not. Eventually, we did make it to Sligo, to a hostel which clearly had no heat. The weekend wasn’t starting off well, but that’s okay. What was coming made up for it.

The next morning we got started straight away after breakfast. The weather was still rainy, but the sun was making a valiant fight to come out. And it did. And then it rained. And then it was sunny, again. Repeat. Though, at the time, I was quite irritated with this annoying and unpredictable weather pattern, it made for an amazing day (well, weekend) of rainbows. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many rainbows we saw over Friday and Saturday.

Yes, we had seen rainbows in Ireland before, but we had never seen them like this. I remember remarking at the first rainbow that I had never seen one so vibrant and clear. Well, I’m happy to say that first rainbow was a weakling!

It became an enjoyable hunt for rainbows, trying to find places to photograph them, and doing so as quickly as possible before they faded away. The rainbow above is the best one we got all weekend at a beach down a tiny one lane road. It was gone not even a minute after I snapped the picture.

I should point out that we weren’t just looking for rainbows the entire first day. We were actually traveling down to the city of Galway and stopping any time we saw something interesting, including random beach signs. One which we followed led us to a gorgeous beach where the sun became our best friend for some truly amazing photographs. I’ll share just a few with you….

Some other things we stumbled upon that day were one of St. Patrick’s churches, a Dark Hedges look-alike, many sheep (it is Ireland, after all), and some pretty intense Irish mountains.

Some of those intense mountains. On the right is Mweelrea Mountain. Climbing that mountain is officially on the bucket list!

I suppose I also can’t get away without mentioning that I also learned how not to drive a manual. We were okay, and the car was too. It just wanted to slide around the wet road and eat a little grass.

I’m just glad that, in the moment of this chaos, for once no pictures were taken of this extremely embarrassing event. I also admit that yes, looking back it’s kind of funny that I tried to go off-roading in a little Mazda.

Moving on… We got to Galway unharmed and sought out our B&B. Since it was my birthday, we decided to splurge a little, and boy am I glad we did! The B&B we stayed at was gorgeous. The beds were comfortable and the home was incredibly warm. The woman who owned the place was so sweet and welcoming. We stayed two nights and the other guests were very quiet and courteous. The breakfast they served was delicious and completely made up for the fact that we had no access to a kitchen as we would at a hostel. I really can’t find a single thing to complain about at this place.

We found the city centre of Galway to be equally as lovely as the B&B. That first night we took a walk around past the Christmas market and all the little shops. We visited a bar which was decorated “American style.” Apparently their definition of America is Texas country, cowgirls, New York city lights, and 80’s rock mixed with 90’s grunge. It was my type of music for the most part so I can’t complain, but the band playing wasn’t all that great.

I did have fun looking at all the license plates and finding Missouri’s state plate as well as Virginia’s. After the band at the first bar finished we went to another bar, which at midnight started playing live music. This band was definitely better. It was a great way to ring in my birthday.

The next morning we took a little trip around Galway and visited the markets and shops. When we had finished looking around we grabbed the car and headed off toward Moher making a little stop along the way.

I had looked up Corcomroe Abbey and it seemed like a nice little place. It wasn’t too far off the way to the cliffs, and when we got there we saw, you guessed it, another rainbow. Unfortunately, I failed to get a photo of this one.

The place is well maintained and it even seems that the cemetery is still in use. I really enjoyed that it was so large originally but still quite intact despite the years and weather.

Moving on along, we finally got to the Cliffs of Moher. Shortly before we arrived, a dense cloud of fog descended on us. We bought our tickets anyway and decided to have a lunch in the car before we ventured out.

Luckily enough, it was windy, so there were periods during which the weather cleared enough that we could at least take some pictures and see the cliffs. Unfortunately, it was windy as I said, so every time we were getting some good photos, the fog would obscure the view again. I guess the wind proved it was both good and evil that day.

When you first arrive there is a pretty decent view of the cliffs going off into the distance… which you can view behind some safety barriers which are quite a way back from the edge. However, if you keep walking the barriers disappear.

We hiked along this direction until it started to get dark. You see, I was very concerned about falling off the cliffs in the dark. Obviously, falling off a cliff in the daylight is much better. For this very concern, we walked back before it got too dark. I’m glad we did because it started to rain  heavily.

We got back to Galway safely and dried off before we went into the city centre for an amazing dinner at a pasta house. I’ve never had pasta made fresh like that before, and it was a meal made in heaven. The next day we headed back across Ireland to the university. We stopped along the way at a castle in Trim.

The castle at Trim.

It was a really great three-day weekend adventure. This was also my final adventure away from Belfast. It was bittersweet and, despite the finicky weather, I’m glad we went.

After that weekend I only had one more week of classes, a weekend to say my goodbyes to all my friends and do a few last-minute things in Belfast before flying back to the States. So I guess that’s it. That was the end of my trip.

But that’s not the end of the blog! I’ve got a few more things that I want to say in a few more posts, so keep checking back in the future to hear more. Eventually, I’ll also share which international adventure I’m planning next!

Before I forget, I need to say a very special thank you to my travel partner. He put up with my incessant talking, strange eating habits, an unintended car accident, and so much more all while recovering from having his appendix out the weekend before. So, thank you, A, for a fantastic weekend and the truly unforgettable memories!

Cheers!

Scotland in Four Days

I mentioned earlier that I was going on a longer trip to Scotland, four days in fact, and indeed I have! A German friend and I woke up early to catch our flight to Edinburgh. Once we landed, we made our way to the city center and the first thing we did was jump right into tourism mode by going up the Scott Monument.

 

The Scott Monument is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott and has 287 steps, making it a whopping 60 meters high. So, as you can imagine, it was quite an interesting climb. Want to think about the implications of climbing a Gothic-style monument built in the 1800’s? Let’s.

First, spiral stairs:

Second, no proper windows, so you’re definitely dizzy:

Finally, the stairs get narrower as you go up, so much that even I was getting a bit panicked by the lack of space. But, once we reached the top, the views were lovely, so I was happy!

Then, we took a walk up towards Edinburgh Castle. From up there, you can see the lovely building and lawn that inspired J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts and Quidditch Pitch.

We took a look at the castle as well, but only from the outside. We weren’t particularly interested in spending more money to tour the castle when we could be spending our time out and about in the city.

However, some of what we saw was a bit strange and I’m still not sure what to think of it:

I think even this mural was surprised it existed…

Then, I had a little bit more Harry Potter excitement as we went past The Elephant House, where Rowling started writing the Harry Potter series. So here’s a photo of me being rather excited about this, but annoyed by the wind and ready to warm up somewhere that didn’t have a mile-long que.

We ended up heading to our hostel, cooking lunch for ourselves, and taking a much needed nap before heading out into the dark for a trip up Calton Hill. From Calton Hill, you can see a lot of the city below, and it was especially gorgeous at night.

We spent the rest of the night enjoying Edinburgh night life (indoors, where it was warm, of course).

The next morning led us on a trip to climb up the Salisbury Crags. On the way, we made a very special stop just for me. The destination was a graveyard. Why was I so excited about a graveyard? Well, you see, Edinburgh was the epicenter of the Scottish Enlightenment, which featured a number of prominent thinkers. As an economics student, I am most excited about one thinker in particular: Adam Smith. Thus, I present to you, my little visit to his grave, and my one shoe photo from the trip (yes, really only one this time)!

More than a little excited to have found this….

Oh, and yes, we did go to the crags. They were quite windy so we basically went up a way, took some photos, enjoyed the view, and came right back down to search for a place to thaw our hands.

I really must tell you about the place we found. We saw a little tea room and decided to give it a go. It was straight up adorable inside. The place is called “Clarinda’s Tea Room,” and all of their desserts were made fresh, from scratch, that very day. They also had amazingly tasty soup made fresh, from scratch, that very day.

Oh dear, I think I am perhaps too excited about this tea room. Posting food isn’t exactly something I normally do on this blog, but here is the delicious meal I had….

Are you jealous now?

I had the lentil soup, and my friend had a very nice tomato soup. We shared a pot of passion fruit and orange tea that was equally satisfying. The moral of this story is, if you go to Edinburgh, check out this amazing tea room!

We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging around the city before packing up and heading to the Highlands. We made one quick stop on the way out of town for my friend to take some photos of the Forth Railway Bridge. Here’s a little peek of what that looked like:

So onto the Highlands! We drove up to a little town called Aviemore. It is right by the Cairngorms National Park, which we visited on day three. The night leading up to that day was full of rain. We joke that we were being punished for leaving the city because the weather only turned rotten when we left town.

What do two university students do in a National Park in the rain? It was only logical to grab a few mountain bikes and hit the trails. (No, it really wasn’t logical, but that’s what we did.) So, just to give you an idea of what a soaking wet Lynnae looks like, I’d like to provide you with this flattering visual….

Rain poncho and MBC hoodie plus a lot of layers kept me warm.

Really though, it wasn’t that bad. I complain, but in actuality I had a really good time. The park was gorgeous.

My legs were killing me at this point…

After our mountain biking adventure we packed up to head to the next destination. By this time, it was raining dismally. We were planning to head to a national park west of Edinburgh, but our plans didn’t work out. What happened is that the road we were going down, the only way to go without a five hour detour, was closed due to a landslide from the excessive rain.

We changed our hostel for the night and the next morning made our way back the direction we came from and just did little things, including enjoying the drive. On the way out, we could see the awesome power of the flood waters coming down the mountains and streams.

The water here was super high and the dam had every flood gate open.

One place we took a stop at was the Wallace Monument. It looked daunting from afar and we hiked up the hill to where it was to stretch our legs after being in the car for so long.

 

The other place we stopped before hitting the airport was Blackness Castle. It was rainy so we just looked around a bit and took a few photos before moving on.

 

That’s the story of our four days in Scotland! We saw a lot, had a phenomenal time, and it was money well spent. But seriously, go to that tea room.

Cheers!