A Travellerspoint blog

Oaxaca

The Conspiracy and the Guelaguetza

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From Puebla I returned to Mexico City to meet up with a friend of Brenda´s who spent the whole night one night telling me about this magical trip he was planning to Oaxaca. I waited patiently for about three days only to find out that the promised "trip of a lifetime" was not be and I would have to create my own. Not such a problem for me and certainly no surprise that I would need to adapt to another change of plans. As I am quickly learning, in Mexico many promises are made but not they are not always fulfilled. For that reason I temper my expectations and am seldomly dissapointed. I did however take adavantage oif my days in Mexico City to go to the National Museum of Anthropology and study up on the indeginous cultures I was hoping to learn more about in the coming days. The museum is full of more than 5000 ancient artifacts and took me two days to make my way through. Here is perhaps one of the most famous artifacts the Aztec Sun Stone often mistakenly called the Aztec Calender.
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Another cool site I was priveledged enough to see was the representation of the dance of flyers
of Papantla. They start from the ground and eventually climb to more than fifty meters while one man at the top magically plays his flute. The flyers are tied to the mast by their feet and continually circle for more than twenty minutes. Here they are at their highest altitude
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Oaxaca is probably the most talked about state in the Mexican republic boasting lots of eco tourism more than 8 active and thriving indigenous communities, and best of all I would be arriving just in time for the famed Guelaguetza. The Guelagutza is a more than two hundred year old tradition of a gathering of all of the native communities of Oaxaca for a week of traditional food dance and arts and crafts. The idea is that the children of Oaxaca will never forget their hertiage and indigenous roots. Needless to say this all sounded fanatastic so I headed off to the bus to station solo, bought a ticket for a 6 hour journey and settled in for what promised to be an exicitig and eye opening adventure.

The 6 hour bus journey turned into 8, but I would have been happy if it had lasted longer. The last 5 hours where magnificent as the bus wound its way throught the varied vistas of the Sierra Norte mountain range. Its is almost impossible to describe the sense of peace I felt to finally be far seperated from the big cities, traffic noise, constant sounding of car alarms, police sirens etc.. and settling into the vast countryside of Mexico. I picked up a magazine at the bus station called " Mexico Desconocido" or the undiscovered or unknown Mexico. I read an article talking about a group of pueblos that had set up multiple day hiking trips at 3000 to 4000 meters through the Sierra Juarez. The only accomodations offered are rustic cabins, and the only restaurant are comedores, which are essentially dining rooms in a small house with nothing but the daily menu to choose from. As the bus was guiding me through cactus forest, rocky ledges and pine tree valleys, I decided that the hiking trip was a must.

Unfortunately my arrival in Oaxaca was tempered by a street riot that had taken place that day. The locals were protesting the commercialization of the Guelaguetza, and threating to block the entrance to the concert hall which they had successfully done the year before. Things got out hand as they often do here. The protesters were violently put down by the police, sparking random riots throughout town, gasoline was poured down the streets then lit on fire. This also led to the explosion of a city bus that was parked unoccupied. Needless to say my thoughts about the Guelaguetza were starting to chage, only to be further dampened by the fact that Ticketmaster were handling ticket sales. I was starting to agree that perhaps it was over commercialized. The ticket prices were the equivalent of about three days salary for the average Oaxacan further limiting participation from the local towns people. Not exactly the Mexican Cultural Experience I was looking for. Especially since the local indigenous community were apparently not behind it.

Travel in the Mexico during the rainy season usually means terencial downpours in the afternoons, and often times makes for some spectacular scenery. I spent my first five days in a small but friendly hostel making friends with other travelers from all around the world. Often times we just wandered the citiy streets looking for good food and a relaxing day. Each day terminated with a fabulous summer storm washing the streets and buildings clean and cooling the evening air. Here is a good shot of the afternoon sky in Oaxaca
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I did manage to get early and take a trip to the near by ancient city ruins of Monte Alban. Monte Alban was the most important city during the Zapotec reign, and has been wonderfully preserved. Sitting high on the mountain top, it gives a wonderful panorama of the valley and the Sierra Juarez to the north.
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After five days of exploring the town, I finally got my act together to head out to the Sierra Juarez. I arrived at the second class bus station chicken bus to head up to the mountains at 8 am only to find that it was standing room only. There were a couple of Dutch girls in the same predicament so we decided to put our pesos together and go by collectivo or pick up truck with benches in the back. When I arrived I settled into the comedor for a quick breakfast and set off for the two day hike. I was joined by two other Dutch travellers and two German travellers. We set off for a 5 hour hike that would bring us to the overlook of the valley at 400 meters. I was amazed that at that altitude there was still plently of greenery. That afternoon, about three hours into the hike it started to pour down rain. The rain finally stoped when we arrived back to the lodge. Just in time .........Now freeezing cold and wet we went directly to the cabin to get a fire going. Eric had a deck of cards and we spent the night drinking Mezcal, playing cards, and staying warm by the fire.
Definately the peaceful escape I was looking for and it didnt matter that it rained on us all day the following day as well.
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The news was heavy with rumors of a potential demonstration to prevent the opening of the Guelaguetza. The strong left wing activitist group The Zapatistas had alledgedly come from Chiapas to support the Oaxacans. For these reasons amd a few personal resrvations I decided not to stay for the Guelaguetza, instead I headed down to a small beach town called Mazunte. I hopped into a small mini van and again enjoyed another magical trip through the Oaxacan mountains to the coast. Mazunte was exactly as I hoped it would be. Nothing but small cabin style palapas, hammocks for rent on the beach and a real laid back beach atmosphere. A friend I met in Oaxaca had arrived the day before me and had arranged for a local fisherman to take us out fishing the following morning at 6 am.
Heres a shof the sunrise before heading out
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Needless to say the fishing trip was a success with my friend Mario pulling out the prize a 10 lb beauty. We pulled out 6 in total and were the talk of the beach when we beach washed the boat and unloaded our catch. We managed to make lots of friends with our nightly fish fiest and tasty cerviche to eat on the beach during the day. My friends from the Netherlands showed up as well and we hung out together a few days before I headed out.
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During my stay in Mazunte it occured to me that I often take the beach for granted. When I think about losing myself in nature I seldomly think about beaches. I usually tend towards mountains and waterfalls, lakes and rivers. Perhaps that is becuase most beaches are so overbuilt with High Rise hotels and resorts that they loose a large part of their natural appeal. Mazunte is far from over built and definately reminded me how wonderful it can be to be on a secluded beach. And few things compare to taking a swim in the ocean on a hot day. Here's a shot of the sunset from Punta Cometa. Its about a 1 hour hike down the rocky shore line and through a bit of forest to get there, but well worth it.
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Posted by natewhd 10:43 Archived in Mexico Comments (4)

Puebla y Hidalgo

Mole Poblano y la Naturaleza

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Flying back into Mèxcio City from Gudalajara I was determined to get on my way south. Brenda and I decided to to spend the following weekend in the Sate of Hidalgo. The first night we stayed in the Plaza center of Pachuca, which was a priority of mine to be able to watch the USA win the Gold Cup final over Mexico. Needless to say I was only person in that local watering hole signing the praise of the red white and blue, but they were all pretty good humored about it. Later that day we headed out to a town called Real de Minas, which is a really quaint old mining town with narrow winding stone paved streets, vibrant colored buildings and houses, and not a single person in a hurry to do anything. The town was actually supported by an old silver mine owned by the British. It still shows the influence of the Brits who lived there as much as 100 years ago. In particular the food has a really strong British influence, which is not always a good thing.

After a bit of searching we were able to find some chalet style cabins and settle in for a couple of nights. At about 3000 meters (9500ft) its gets really chilly at night time. Definately a welcome change form sleeping in Cuernavaca in 90 degree heat with a fan aimed directly at me all night long. It was also nice to get a little taste of fall weather from back home, and to build a fire in the fireplace. Unfortunatley they didnt quite have the idea of dryed and seasoned wood, but they were happy to give me a bottle of gasoline to use to start the fire with. Heres me trying to get it going, that bottle on the mantle is the gasoline!
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In the morning we headed out to check out our surroundings and found that we were really close to the famous Primas Basalticos. A waterfall forming large vertical stones that stand more than 150ft in height. It felt wonderful to finally escape the busy city traffic and noise and make my way back into nature. We spent the entire afternoon hiking around the area and later visiting the ex hacienda de San Miguel Regla. Ex haciendas en Mexico are now almost always converted into enormous hotels with 200 to 300 year old buildings and accomodations. The weird thing is that all of the haciendas were basically slave camps for the indeginous natives of Mexico. Wealthy Europeans,(mostly Spanish) constructed these enormous complexes as farms, ranches and production houses. There are usually quite beautiful but I couldnt see myself staying in one. It woiuld be like turning an old southern plantation into a hotel, and offering accomodation in the old slave quarteres. Maybe they do it, I just havent heard of it.
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So after a great weekend out in nature we headed back to busy metropòlis of Mexico. I called the director of the language school in Cuernavaca and reminded him that he owed my a bottle of Don Julio Reposado (very fine tequilla) as a result of the USA winning the gold cup. He acknowledged but said he refused to send me the bottle, I would have to come get it. With Cuernavaca just a 1.5 hour trip I decided it was worth it and set of the following morning. I arrived at the scvhool, collected the bottle, and reunited with some friends who were still there. After a fantastic night out I stayed with the same family I had been staying with previously. Cristina sat down with me in the morning, went over my map, and we decided on a route heading through Puebla. I ruished to the bus station to catch the 1PM and off I went to Puebla.

Puebla is problably the most charming Mexican city I have visited. I`ve seen lots of charming towns, but the cities usually leave a bit to be desired. Puebla on the other hand has the feeling of a small town in a city with almost 2 million people. The arquitecture is a beautiful and unique toi anything i have seen so far. Building are faced with decorative red tiles, and listellos. Wrought iron railings decorate the balconies and heavily detailed cocncrete cornice surrounds widows, doors, balconies and roof lines. I passed many peaceful days just strolling through the city streets and markets and eating Mole poblano in the local comida corrida restaurtants.
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One particular day I wandered around the neigborhood behind the old San Francisco convent to eat lunch in a typical food market. After a fantastic meal that set me back a whopping 30 pesos (about $3) I found myself relaxing a park bench underneath a willow tree. Completely relaxed it wasnt long before I dozed off for an afternoon siesta. This is something you could never do in Mexico City becuase you`d likely wake up without any of your belongings. As the storm clouds started to move in I knew that it was about time for the regualar afternoon downpour. I put on my raincoat and headed back towards the hostel through the ceramics market. An unexpected gust of wind tore down the alleyway leaving broken vases, glasses, bean pots, and tazas in its wake. The artisans stood motionless in disgust as they stared at what must of been days or in some cases weeks of work lying shattered in the stone streets. Above the noise of the now pouring rain and flapping awnings, I could hearing the crunching sounds of the cermacis uner my feet and the those of the other pedestrians. Perhaps Im just a bleeding heart, but I decided to return the following day to make a few purchases.

I also made a short day trip to the town of Cholula, which is home to one of the many ancient Mixeca ruins sites. Also on a clear day you can catch a glimpse of the Popocatépetl volcano. I was hoping to take a hiking tour of the olcano, but recently they have limited access due to speculation of another eruption. The volcanoe last erupted around ten years ago. I did the best I could here to get a shot through the clouds.
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Heres an Spanish Catholic church built on top of the ruins of Cholula . This is a common practice signifying the Catholic churchs` succesfull conversion of the Indigenous people to Catholocism.
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I also managed to make lots of friends in Puebla with other travllers and locals. One of the employees of the hostel invited me out one night with his friends to watch a fe soccer games. He like many other Mexicans i have met, started the night by telling me he was going to teach me to drink tequilla. You can probably imagine how that turned out. After a wounderful time in Puebla I headed back to Mexico to hook up with some friends there who were headed to Oaxaca.

Posted by natewhd 09:58 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

Back to School in México

Hugo Chavez! Should have known

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Well it came to my attention that the reason I was not able to get tickets to Copa America(thus changing my plans) was because Hugo Chavez bought all of the available tickets to give as gifts to his loyal supporters. Oh well, thats life in Latin America.

So I can honestly say that my lack of updates is precisely related to my recent lack of activity. My stay in Cuernavaca provided me the opportunity to do things I haven´t done in a while. I got settled in to a consistent schedule, sleeping in the same in bed and eating three hearty home cooked meals a day. I spent a fair amount of time thinking about how easy it is to get settled into a comfort zone. I was extremely content with my less than 300 sq ft living space, in fact I only used about half of it. I chuckled a bit to myself when I remember my 4,000 sq ft home back in the states, and less than than 10% of that space is sufficient.

The Spanish School, Chac-Mool in Cuernavaca turned out be the perfect choice. The setting was tranquill, and I got a chance to meet a lot of interseting people. The school was not packed full of college students looking for graduation credits, to the contrary it had a much higher percentage of professional students. I was fortunate enough to spend the majority of my time there with the same classmates. I developed a bit of a reputation for contravesial comments during our conversation classes, but those who know me arent surprised by that. Here is shot with me and some classmates and teachers at Trishs´ going away party.
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Living in the house with me in Cuernavaca were three other American students, and one Mexican girl who is studying at the University in town. For the most part it was pretty tame, but we did managae to have two pretty full house parties and attend a few others. The atmosphere in Cuernavaca during the summertime is great, but it has the feel of a vacation spot. I decided that that was OK, because in a way my stay in Cuernavaca felt like a vacation from travelling. One night in particular my friend Doug had his friend Mike stop by on his way to Belize. Doug and Mike are both Antropology students at U of H. Anyway, we set out to watch a soccer match and have a good time, We wound up in a little hole in the wall bar listenting to fantastic live music and being pestered like mad by a 50 something drunk Mexican guy who just repeated the same three sentences over and over again. The bar had a set of bongo drums, so Doug went up and gave it a pretty good run, playing the bongos to music he´d never heard before. Later that night, about three AM, we ate what seemd like the best Tacos al Pastor I´ve ever had. Here´s Doug on the bongos
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I was able to fill my weekends with the occasional excursion to a nearby locales. One of my favorites was the city of Toluca. Toluca has a beautiful city center that has real colonial feel for such a big citiy.There are mountain vistas from just about everywhere including the famous Nevado of Toluca. It is a Volcano that remians snow capped just about all year long. Unlike Palm Springs there is no tram to get you there, just a windy cliff hanging road. After arriving and heading all the way to the top we were hoping to stay in a mountain refuge and do some exploring the next day. When we payed the toll at the entrance the attendant assured us that we´d find accomodation at the top, well what do you know. We arrived at the top at night time to find that the only refuge was being remodeled.Bad information! Something I´m getting used to here in México. So faced with option of sleeping in the car in sub 0 temps, we decided to head back through the thick evening fog for a lodge in town. Here is a shot of the Nevado of Toluca from a distance. You can get an idea of the fog.
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I also headed out to Guadalajara to visit my brother in law(David) and niece(Allison). The night I arrived it was Pepe´s birthday and we celebrated the better potion of the night. The family was extremely hospitable as they had been the time before, and they kept me extremely well fed including a delicious Pozole for Fathers day. Unfortunatrely my brother in law and niece had to leave earlier than I, but on of Davids cousins was nice enough to show me around the city. Here´s a shot of me with the people who took such good care of me in Guadalajara.
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I have now left Mexico City and am making my way south. I promise that the updates with be more regular....or I´ll do the best I can.
Thanks to Julio and a victorious USA I also have a full bottle of Don Julio repopsado in my bag, you know for those cold nights on mountain tops.

Posted by natewhd 11:14 Archived in Mexico Comments (4)

Home and home in Mexico

Stuck in second gear

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Sorry for the long delay in getting the post up, I have been having a little trouble uploading pictures and was trying to wait until I was able to get that done. Anyway, as soon as I am able to get pictures uuploaded, ill be sure to post them in the blog. Also anyone interested in having a look at more trip photos can find them here
http://new.photos.yahoo.com/natewoodhead/

After picking up the speed to a near vacationers pace to finish in Germany on May 9th, things have definately slowed down a bit. The original plan was to show up in Mexico on May 9th and enroll in a Spanish immersion class on May 12th. The fork in the road came when Brenda told me that she had resigned her job and wanted to travel to Tabasco before returning home to start interviewing for a new job. A week later they had convinced her to stay, and thus spinning me back to plan "A" I headed south to Cuernavaca to begin the Spanish immersion program.
My time back in the states gave me some more practice at something I have always been terrible at, saying goodbye to friends and family. My friend James is off on an extended trip to Asia, you can read about his travels here
http://jamesholst.travellerspoint.com/[/url]
And my friend Mandy has moved across the USA to Oregon, driving home the well known truth that you can never go home again. It was probably the most difficult saying goodbye to my brother after doing almost everything together the last few years, Ill miss him dearly over the course of my travels.

Getting off on the Central/ South American leg of my trip has proven much more difficult than the first (and much more brief) European leg. Im definately starting to feel like the grass is growing under my feet. And although I have no schedule to keep, I am starting to get anxious to get moving on. My niece and brother in law will be in Guadalajara in a few weeks, so Ill make a trip to visit them and reconnect with some friends made on my last trip there. After that some decisions will have to be made.

But I have managed to pack a little excitement into the last couple of weeks. We somehow managed to get tickets to "The Classic of Classics" a semifinal league championship match between Club American and Gudalajara Chivas at Azteca Stadium. This is far and away the most watched and important soccer match in all of Mexico, and we mixed our way into a stadium filled with over 110,000 fans to see the spectacle. The Club America cheering section or "Barra Brava" was just below us and the entire section rocked to the beat of the constant drum roar, chanting , and waving flags of their fanatical fans throughout the entire 90 minutes. Ive seen soccer matches in a lot of venues, but Im no sure Ive ever seen a stadium match the intensity of Azteca stadium. Its easy to understand why the Mexican National Soccer team has a near perfect record in that stadium, and the US have never won there. The streets before and after the match were lined with police in full riot gear and flag waving fans dancing and celebrating in the streets. America got a 1-0 victory on their way to advancing to the final and losing to Pachuca in the Championship.
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The match capped a week which included a trip to Valle de Bravo and a Tepozlan. Tepozlan is one of my favorite little towns around the capital because of its sleeply town center and a challenging climb up the dried river bed to an old indigenoius temple and ruins at the top. It is defiantely more like climbing a rocky staircase than a hiking path and it takes about 1 1/2 hours to reach the top. The locals believe this to be a source of great energy and enduring health, and many of them make the climb once a week. Once at the the top, you can catch your breath and lye down on the ledge of the temple. The view is good, but the peaceful calm, and satisfaction of having completed the trek is worth a rest.
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Valle de Bravo was less than impressive and basically a low rent style tourist trap. As if the 5 hour drive to get there wasnt enough, we capped off the evening was the ever so fun collision with another moving vehicle. Fortunately no one was hurt, and before I could get out of the car to see what was going on the other driver screamed "fue tu culpa" (it was your fault) and sped off. I guess thats how they deal with car accidents down here. The good news is that Ive had parking tickets cost more than the body repair.

I feel like something would be amiss if I didnt at least mention my living arrangement. While studying in Cuernavaca I am living with a Mexican family who host students studying in the various Spanish immersion schools in Cuernavaca. This has been a nice change becuase I eat all home cooked meals, and rest my head in the same bed every night. There are also a couple of Mexican students living in the house who study at the local University. It is defiantely lively, and they usually invite me out for nights on the town and house parties, and lots of opportunities to meet locals. Although many times I am employed as a translator between the locals and the other students from the States. At least I know how Oscar and David felt before I could speak any Spanish. Im hoping to participate in soccer match tommorow night with some newly made friends from a party last night.
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Cuernavaca is a beautiful little city and the capitol of the state of Morelos. It is home to some amazing musuems and monuments such as the Palacio Cortez with and amazing mural by the international renowned Diego Rivera. A beautiful and lively historic downtown, and you guessed it, lots of Chilanga y Gringo tourism. Never the less it is extremely safe by Mexican standards, and still reasonably priced. In as much as i am enjoying my time here, I have begun to think daily about where im going next. Cleary a sign that its about time to get moving on.

Dissapointment set in when I was not able lock down Copa America tickets, thanks to a little procrastination on my part, and major procrastination on the part of the Venezuelan Government not putting the tickets on sale until six weeks before the tournament start date. This has me reevaluating my trip plans. I may elect to start heading south through Mexico and Central America in leiu of flying to Venezuela. This is the beauty and consequence of not having a schedule. I am constantly enchanted by the stories about Yucatan, Oaxaca, and Chiapas in my culture and history class, thus persuading me to possibly follow the land route south into Central America and eventually by boat from Panama to Venezuela or Colombia. Oh well, these will remain decisions for another day. For right now Ill focus on having a good time in Cuernavaca and making the most of my Spanish program.

Posted by natewhd 18:14 Archived in Mexico Comments (7)

Croatia, The Parks and Slavonia

The other side of paradise

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Travelling down the coast of the Adriatic and Island hopping your way from Split to Dubrovnik are the most common itineraries for Croatia vacationers. They seldomly get a chance to see the other side of the country that rest in the highlands of the dolomite and limestone mountains and the farmland of Slavonia.

After leaving Sibenik I set off for the city of Zadar to use it as a hub to visit the National Parks of Paklenica and Plitivice Lakes. I didnt intend to stay long but I made some friends the first night who introduced my to some fantastic nightlife, thus making it difficult to get an early start to Starigrad the next day. Zadar was charming and similar the the other coastal cities. A walled interior with old ports and marble streets. Particularly interesting were the different city gates constructed under the rule of different empires. Here is the Roman Gate.
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Paklenica is accesible through a small town called Starigrad Paklenica. It is only about a 45 minute bus from Zadar, and the travel is beatiful as you pass through river gorges and over bridges connecting the islands to the mainland. Starigrad is usually a sleepy town, but I was there on the day before an international rock climbing competition, which filled the town and made for some interesting aquaintances.
The hiking in Paklenica is excellent and the park is extremely well preserved. I choose a 6KM hike that took a leisurely start throught canyon and then virtually straight up a long a switchback to the top of second highest peak. The day was a little cloudy but the views were magnificent, just not able to be captured well on film. Here is shot looking through the gorge to the Adriatic from the peak.
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As a result of the climbing competition lodging was booked in Starigrad so I headed back to Zadar for the night. The next morning I was able to get an early start and headed for the Plitivice Lakes National Park. The lakes are famous for being fed by waterfalls created through erosion of the limestone rock core of the surrounding mountains. The changing composition of the mineral in the water creates shade variations from crystal clear blues, to dark green to turquoise. The Park is magnificent and includes several hiking trails that make it possible to see great panoramic views over the series of lakes and waterfalls. Unfortunately, my schedule was compressed and I didnt have enough time to spend multiple days.
Here is a shot of small waterfalls and the beautiful color of the lake water.
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Plitivice is half way between Zadar and the capitol city of Zagreb. In Croatia you can pick up long distance buses on the side of the highway, you just have to flag them down and climb aboard. So I grabbed the next Zagreb bound bus and may my way to the city. On my way to the hostel I saw a bar called "Vagabund" I decided I would stop in for a beer the next day. After a day of sightseeing and walking tours I dropped in for a beer. The bartender was the son of the owner and a great guy. I wound up talking to him for hours, getting introduced to his friends and and invitation to go out and enjoy some Zagreb nightlife. After several beers and a Vagabund Pizza, I headed back to the hostel. My roommates were and Austrailian and an American that had just arrived. I invited them for the night out and we made the most of it. After a couple hours of sleep I rushed to the train station and grabbed the next train for Osijek.
One of the many beautiful parks in the "Green Horeshoe" of Zagreb

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Osijek is known for being a major river port and formerly one of the most diverse towns in Croatia. Its proximity to Hungary, Bosnia, and Serbia led to an extremely mixed population which also included Austrians, Italians, and Germans. That is until 1991, when its proximity to Serbia and prime river location made it a major battle spot in the Homeland War. I met a nice girl in Osijek who was generous enough to take me out and show me around the town. Her family fled to the United States during the war. She later told me that she is Serbian, but everyone thinks she is Croatian. This is the way it has to be if she is to live in Osijek without the resentment and discrimination of her peers who believe that her relatives are responsible for the death of theirs. The city is mostly rebuilt but buildings everywhere show the pock marks and exterior damage of the street fighting that took place 10 years ago. These are constatnt reminders for the residents that keep the war fresh in their minds.
The exterior of a historic building in Osijek
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The cuisine in Osijek is fantastic, much spicier than other parts of Croatia as a result of their locally grown Paprika and the Hungarian influence. The most impressive town monument is the St Peters and St Pauls cathedral shown here
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Leaving Osijek I headed north to Pecs, Hungary then on to Budapest and Munich. I had schedule to keep and I didnt get to see much. Only enough to know that an Eastern European trip is my future.
The town square in Pecs
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Posted by natewhd 10:19 Archived in Croatia Comments (6)

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