Category Archives: Vegan

Is Quorn/Mycoprotein tested on Animals?

With Quorn releasing a vegan range of goodies this Autumn there has been lots of back and forward about whether Quorn is animal tested.

There are very few online sources for anything so I thought I’d post my modest contribution.

First, a quick clarification. Mycoprotein is a type of Fungi and the the base of Quorn. Quorn are pretty much the only company who uses Mycoprotein.

Here is The Vegan Society’s tweet which seems to be the “Yes it’s animal tested” source:

I wrote to Quorn to ask if they could comment on the tweet (since they didn’t reply to it publicly). Here’s the reply I got:

Dear Sami

Further to your recent email.

Is Mycoprotein tested on animals?

Mycoprotein was first discovered by Rank Hovis McDougall (RHM) in 1968. In order to satisfy the requirements of the Governments Ministry of Agriculture Fishery and Foods that Mycoprotein was safe for human consumption, a series of animal feeding trials were requested to be carried out.

Since 1995 there have been no further requirements for feeding trials and there are categorically no plans or requirements to carry out any additional work.

In a September 2015 statement, The Vegan Society said “It is good news that a major food manufacturer such as Quorn is seeking to meet consumer demand by producing an animal-free version of their products.”

We hope this clarifies our position.

Kind regards
Consumer Services Dept

I’ve looked but not been able to find the tweet from TVS they’ve mentioned, if I get hold of it I’ll add a link,

So yes, Quorn is animal tested, but it is no longer animal tested. So now it comes down to whether you’re happy to purchase a product with essentially a “Fixed cut off date” animal testing policy or whether you’re in the “Never Ever” animal testing group.

Before jumping to assumptions about where you’re Ideology lies work out where it actually lies, don’t boycott Quorn’s attempt to do a good thing but not every other company who has a fixed cut off date.

Read up on the different animal testing policies, look at your lifestyle, and make an educated decision. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The BRITs 2014

Through John Lewis Saz won tickets to the BRITs! We decided to make a mid-week weekend of it so after a lovely long lie-in on Wednesday we had pancakes for breakfast before heading off to the hotel next to the ExCeL. The journey was uneventful, aside from hopping on the wrong DLR train, and upon arrival we met up with an incredibly friendly John who gave us our tickets and explained how everything was going to work.

After a cup of tea and glamming up we shared a cab to The O2 with some Partners from John Lewis Cambridge. Should have got the train… the Blackwell Tunnel at rush hour? Whoops. None the less, we made it to the venue with plenty of time to have something to eat and a drink or two (three, actually). Saz did an unintentional sneaky by ordering a pint of beer as she handed over her ticket – which said it was only for a bottle. Sami had read the ticket and asked for a bottle. Saz got a pint.

Having seen the Brits on TV and having been to The O2 for gigs before I had some idea of what I might expect, lots of good entertainment with the occasional reminder that this is a live show. As much as Saz appreciated having a toilet break every 15 minutes it’d have been nice to have a song or some entertainment while the rest of the world was watching adverts rather than three minutes of warning us to be back in our seats by the time James Corden was ready to speak again.

The show was great, with appearances from the Artic Monkeys, Bastille, Katy Perry, Prince and the legends of David Bowie (unfortunately just the legend, not the person). There was fire, balloons and glittery things from the sky.

Lovely stuff!

The After Party was a curious affair, mostly inhabited by people excited because they were at The After Party, while the famous people were at the VIP After Party. The music was loud and 70s and with two more free drink tokens we were having a jolly time.

The guy who had been giving out the flashy light accessories by the door had taken a break (or got bored), so Saz jumped in – helpful as ever – and ensured the rest were distributed.

Closing time was 1am, and along with hundreds of other people we wanted to get a cab home. We were a bit peckish so sought out the only burger van for miles, and in great vegan splendour I devoured 4 white baps filled with fried onions, ketchup and mustard. Actually, it could have been worse!

We had plans for the Thursday after, the Wallis Collection, climbing Monument, visiting some markets. In the end we had a late breakfast, then a nap, a coffee in East Westfield before a long relaxed lunch in West Hampstead (The Brocca, not highly recommended I’m afraid!) before meeting up with Emma, Shpend, Carla, Juli, Will and Bes for Yaniv in Ye Olde Swiss Cottage.

All in all, a lovely mid-week weekend away!

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Tikal

Sat here as Alex fertilised the forest gives me a short break from both our footsteps and our nattering.

I read my Lonely Planet a little before scolding at myself and just listening. Slowly at first, much like your eyes adjusting to the brilliance of the stars the volume slowly increases until the buzzing of bugs is only interrupted by birds chirping and trees rustling – and the odd fool with his MP3 player going, I politely reminded him I’d go to a disco if I wanted music. Turns out he works there, but what does that matter? That’s even more reason he should follow the “No Music” sign – which also forbids a small dictionary’s worth of other things.

Three weeks later, I finished writing this

Tikal is an awesome place, I’d love to have been the first person to write about it because it’s such a cliché. Walking down jungle paths between pyramids, climbing up them to peek at the tops of others poking out the trees.

Yada yada, I loved it but we had a different mission.

Yavin IV

Tikal, you see, was the set for the rebel base in Star Wars IV.  A fact pointed out by Steph (or Paola, or both perhaps) a few weeks earlier during our Star Wars Marathon.

So here we are on a mission to find X-Wings and support the rebel cause. hmm perhaps not sensible words to be using in these politically unstable countries!

Temple IV is the one used, though the noise of the X-Wings must have rustled the feathers of the much animal life (including Toucans!) we saw later that evening as we waited for the sun set.

Heading out as the light rapidly faded every leaf became a terrifying spider. We ducked into a bat cave (not knowing it was one until we reached the end) and finally got back to our hotel – El Jaguar- where we had rented a tent in their garden, and whiled the evening away drinking Micheladas and eating expensive pasta.

Flores

The next day we headed to Flores, I’d made a careful list of all the great sounding coffee shops, drinking establishments and food places I wanted to visit and Alex had agreed to a crawl of the lot of them. Unfortunately a truck ran into a power line and the whole of El Petén was out of power, so most places closed down. We whiled away the evening in our hostel, Hostel Las Amigos, and I had the chance to visit the well-worth-the-wait Cool Beans in the morning for breakfast. After breakfast I bought an excellent new book which kept me entertained during the 7 hour bus journey back home.

Xela (Quetzaltenango) and the Re-Inspiration of Awe

These last few months I’ve been to many different places and, lets be honest, most places are pretty dull.

That’s not to say they cannot be enjoyed, especially in the right company, but dusty standard issue roads lined with concrete block houses aren’t the most inspiring places to visit.

Before I had quite identified this trend I was becoming a tad concerned that I may have been growing tired of traveling. Perhaps there’s only so many times it’s fun to explore the layout of the market, drink 12 coffees in a day to find the best coffee shop and after a time you wonder if you’re taking a photo because of the admiration for the scene in front of you or just out of habit.

My puzzlement was dispelled yesterday morning, however, as I walked down Xela’s 12th Avenue and felt familiar waves of being the first tourist ever to visit this town.

The walk from the bus stop took around half an hour, I’d picked a first class bus over taking chicken busses because it was only a couple of dozen Q’s more (~£2) but meant I could spend the 4 hour trip working on the laptop kindly let to me by Alejandro after I broke mine for the third and final time.

The feeling climaxed, as it should, as I entered the “Parque Central” – the Town Square – big impressive buildings surround the really nicely designed park/square with not only trees and patches of grass but rows of columns, monuments and steps up and down to things. Watching down over this, and all of Xela are cloud covered mountains reaching into the heavens above even the 220m of altitude we already have.

I spent one wonderful day and two half days reunited with my triumvirate, Claire and I explored the market and failed to find the Soy Milk Lady; Alex and I had a heart to heart in the park as we finished our beers and watched jolly gringos stumble home. I also spent a great amount of time in Artisano, an incredibly Vegan friendly restaurant-café and slept in the very cosy Don Diego Hostel. The next day, I headed to Huehuetenango.

Passover in Guatemala

Last night I had the pleasure of hosting a [[Passover Seder]] for a dozen [[gentiles]] with a keen sense of interfaith interest.

As I made my way to Guate’s house a couple of weeks ago I got in touch and asked if he would allow me to have a [[Pesach Seder]] at his house, he and his family are most welcome. I also invited Clare and Alex, my Panama to Guatemala travel buddies.

Everyone I invited expressed their delight at the prospect. Some I knew were genuinely interested – either because of my existing knowledge of them or from the twinkle in their eye at the prospect. I must admit I presumed some, though curious, were simply up for anything.

Blown away would be a suitable way to describe my feelings every time someone else expressed interest in coming. Deeply honored at their interest in my culture would be another. From an original 5 people (Guate, his sister and parents and myself) we had 11 people cross the city to sit around the table. What started out as my reluctance to skip Pesach out of lack of external motivations has turned into a table load of intrigued faces.

The day began with a huge shop. Alex and I went first to Organica, then the Israeli store in town and finally the supermarket for anything we couldn’t get from the community friendly stores. A pop into a shop with a printer had several copies of a specially edited version of the Greenbury Haggadah ready for the night. Later, Byron would have to pop out for another 5 to meet the growing demand.

Back home the cooking began at 3pm, following on from how I usually do things at home I was running late and worried the Cherry Soup wouldn’t cool in time. Or worse – the Chocolate Matza Cakes wouldn’t set!

A Vegan Twist to the Seder

As a festival dedicated to freedom it doesn’t seem quite right to use products of slavery at the meal. With Fair trade chocolate, my best Fair Trade T-Shirt and a total absence of animal products I made my modest effort. If everyone did the same, perhaps slavery might one day become something we can be ashamed of our ancestors for.

After some reading of the Internet I decided on a Beetroot to represent the of Pascal Lamb sacrifice – though the best reason I could think of was the blood like drippings! The china lamb of back home would have been even better, but 8000 miles away. I couldn’t find any explanation for why a boiled potato makes a suitable substitution for an egg as a symbol of mourning – so we shall have to work on that for next year. (Eggs are the first thing served to mourners after a funeral).

As much as I value and love my tradition, it’s no excuse for cruelty.

We have no Yamulkas, said Alex

Alex, the travel buddy with no specific interest in religion but a general interest in everything, pointed out we have no Kippot. After making the cherry soup, and then reading the recipe (in that order) he set about making one for everyone out of the cardboard Matza boxes. With some pens to decorate them everyone – men, women, Jews, Christians and Atheists – were soon adorned with Vietnamese style Kippot.

The Punters Arrive

The Seder was due to start at 9, so that Guate’s parents could get back from their church meeting. At 6 I realized Alex and I had hardly eaten all day, so I served up some of excess the Matzagna filling with crackers  which kept people biding nicely over until the main course on page 21. Before we got started, I assigned some parts to some people to save having to break the Seder up. Great enthusiasm ensured and Paola took some photos of me looking very tutor like.

The Cups One Through Four

The Seder started well, and continued for a full 4 hours through to the Nirtzah at nearly 1am. Fielding the questions, seeing the translations (for Guate’s parents) and feeling the involvement from a group we, in England certainly, wouldn’t expect to be so engaged in someone else’s culture was truly one of the best things I’ve ever done.

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Not the cheapest way to eat

but a darn fine way to end the day.

I can’t recall if I actually do, or whether I just think I do, so I often avoid starting blogs with "So the plan was…" but this time, at least, I’m going to let it fly because it’s even more appropriate than usual.

The plan this morning was to set off at 7am with Clive to [[Panama City]]. I’d get my laptop screen fixed, he’d do his shopping for boaty things and we’d probably both be back in time  for the pot luck at Captain Jack’s pub/hostel/hub of travellers.

Things rarely "go smoothly" and today wasn’t by any means a disaster. After pulling several blanks on laptop screens and outboard motors I left my dear Bubbles (that’s the laptop, because she floats around me causing trouble) in the friendly and capable hands of MiniComputers. I had just popped into a different store who tried to fit a semi faulty screen – which would have saved me  40 USD at the expense of a slightly dodgy back light – who failed at that, and (as you’ll read later) damaged my VGA card. Unfortunately I didn’t insist they got her back to the state I’d arrived with her in (since I was only going to try and get the screen changed elsewhere), so didn’t realise they’d broken something until it was too late.

Time for the Boat Stuff

Off we set to our first chandler, which turned out to be a guy, a desk and a phone to the warehouse. Not quite for what we had hoped. After much persuasion from Clive, the gave us (another) 5% discount and agreed to ship the items from the warehouse in [[Colón]] to Panama City so that we could collect them by 5pm.

Satisfied we hit up Electronica Japan for some awesome cool LED light strips and other toys for me to fit on to the boat.

After lunch in Loving Hut and while popping into Mamallena’s, the hostel I stayed in recently, we called the supplier to try and get him to deliver to the hostel. Naturally he declined with a dismissive "I’ll try". Clive spoke to Will (our reason for visiting the hostel) and we got on our way to pickup the goods and get home (after collecting my laptop of course).

Clive made another cringe-worthy attempt to knock another 10% off our bill before finally relenting. Sometime during this I called up MiniComputers who informed me they couldn’t replace the screen. It was now 6:15pm and too late to try another store, so my options were:

  1. Not fix Bubbles yet, I still have 4" of working screen.
  2. Go home, return tomorrow at a cost of only $4 USD but 6 hours of travel.
  3. Find a hostel with space in an affordable bed, fix Bubbles in the morning and hope to return in time to visit the monkeys with Alex and Claire (my new crew mates).

I chose option 3, called up the Balboa Bay Hostel and booked myself a bed. Some Internet time later and a chat with another guy staying in the hostel I was ready for dinner – and had a very good sounding computer guy as a backup in case my last resort in the morning didn’t work out.

The Expensive Dinner

I had heard about an excellent grocery store on Calle Argentina, so flagged down a taxi to take me there. During some nattering chitter chatter the driver recommended a few vegetarian restaurants, he took me to one which was on the way but it had closed, though he said there happened to be another one next to the store I was heading to so that was pretty much win win.

That turned out to be Greenhouse, a restaurant who try to be environmentally friendly. They do really good food I had a saladey thing of some kind with a real fruit juice, followed by some whole wheat pita with home made humous to pass the time so I could spend more time in the restaurant.

 

The End of the Sorry Tale

The next morning I headed to the final computer shop on my list, they wanted $20 just to look at her. If someone has that little confidence in their own skills, I’m happy to agree with their opinion. I called up my last resort backup guy I’d spoken to the night before – a friend of someone else in the hostel – who sounded like my kinda guy. I left Bubbles with him and finally got out of Panama at 3pm, back at Portobelo by 6 where I spent an hour having a shower and making some pasta before trundling around the village to find my crew mates and a cold beer.

Next Week

Breaking blog chronology here, a week later after a trip to the San Blas Islands I met up with my guy again. He was unable to fix Bubbles, he could have got the new screen in but the video card on the motherboard had been damaged and would cost several hundred dollars to replace the motherboard.

 

I didn’t take any pictures in Greenhouse, so those above are taken from: http://panama-realestate.biz/greenhouse-lounge-and-cafe/

A perfect day in Oaxaca

After a comfortable and productive (thanks to my recent Laptop purchase) bus journey from Puebla to Oaxaca I clambered off the bus and asked for directions to Independencia. Easy as cake, I asked a few people along the way and everyone knew exactly how many blocks and what I’d pass. What a relief after Puebla!

Soon enough, I was standing on Independencia. I checked the number, I was in the thousands. Ah dear, I wanted something less than 10! Never mind, and to the tune of Just Keep Swimming I set off for what I thought was going to be a long trek. I had not yet learnt, you see, that that in Mexico each block is one hundred regardless of how many houses are on there. So a mere 10 blocks later I had arrived!

That night I ate well, slept well and had the pleasure of partaking in a small birthday ceremony for one of the house mates. I was staying in an open house run by some great people who are starting a project to acquire land in order to become self sufficient and then to to open it up to anyone who needs it. An admirable goal and I met some dedicated people, but it’s not quite my capitalist cup of tea.

So I can’t say I was too disappointed to fall back to my CouchSurfer when the group announced they were all going for a trip, and if I had somewhere else that might work best (for everyone, since we’d only just met they didn’t want to hand over the keys just yet, and if they were all going I’d be all alone anyway).

Sami meet Ricardo. Ricardo, Sami

After a few text messages on Monday evening I had arranged to meet Ricardo in the Zocalo (town centre) in the morning. As often happens when you contact many CouchSurfers in one town, I remembered little about him – let alone what he looked like – but I knew I’d not made contact with anyone I didn’t like (which doesn’t really narrow it down). So in front of the cathedral I sat and waited for someone with that “Are you the person I’m looking for?” expression. After an uncustomary (for Mexicans) “Sorry I’m late” text he soon showed up and so began the day which was to begin the week.

I can’t honestly say I remember what we did the first day, I remember getting told off in the market for testing the avocados (“Don’t squeeze them if you’re not going to buy them”, to which I refrained from a “but how do I know if I want to buy them, then?”) and I remember catching a very bumpy bus back to Ricardo’s house. I thought that bus would never end. 20 whole minutes later, I put my spine back in line and we hopped off. It wasn’t intentional, but with a combination of Ricardo being late for work in the mornings and me forgetting how early the buses stop running (9pm) that turned out to be the penultimate bus in my whole week in Oaxaca.

Ricardo was a fantastic host, he owns and runs a restaurant with his parents and also works with other restaurants to help them attain a particular star rating. So his working hours were flexible, and for anything aside from work it seems he was a punctual person – only the second I’ve met in Mexico! We hung out a lot, usually in coffee shops and pubs. Oaxaca has no shortage of coffee shops, virtually all with Wi-Fi (though my favourite didn’t and one added 10 pesos to my 12 peso bill for using it!).

He took me to his favourite places, let me go up the hill on my own and I hung out with his friends my new friends and whoever else was sitting in the pub at the time. If this were one of the days of creation, God would have looked upon it and seen that it was good.

The Perfect Day

Wednesday morning started like any other day – in someone’s house in the suburbs of a small city in southern Mexico. After an avocado based breakfast (remember the lady who’s fruits I squished? The next lady along had a better pear.) Ricardo announced he was late for work, so into a taxi we hopped. Since he was working all day, I had the day to myself and I had big plans. I’d been making good progress with work, and today felt like a good day to fly ahead with an actual solid days work. Possibly the first since I left Currency Solutions.

I started in Cafe Brujula, one I’d heard about from Maureen and various travel guides, I heard the internet was slow but the people nice. I ordered a black coffee (local and organic as is the standard in Oaxaca) and sat down to crack on.

I had managed a good few mugs, several solid hours of work and had just finished up a blog post when Ricardo text me saying he was going for Lunch so how about meeting for a coffee in Coffee Beans? “Excellent, about time for a coffee break” I thought to myself. I paid up and headed the three blocks to meet him.

I explained a dilemma I’d been having, I want to try the local brew but I’m afraid it’s too hot out to be drinking scorching hot coffee at this mid day hour. He explained that I was in the right place for such a dilemma, since Coffee Beans have a menu of iced and flavoured coffees. By the end of my week there, we’d been through all of the flavours and even come up with a few flavour combinations of our own.

Ricardo headed off to work, and I decided I’d probably had enough coffees for one day if I wanted to have a hope of sleeping that night. I headed to Mina Street, a few blocks south of the Zocalo, where Maureen and I had found a Wi-Fi enabled chocolate cafe selling an assortment of flavoured hot chocolates. Local and organic, naturally.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working my way through a host of flavoured hot chocolate drinks while churning through another bucket load of work. That evening, Ricardo and I returned to Coffee Beans for some beers. Unfortunately there’s only one local beer and we didn’t discover it until late in the week (though we managed to squeeze one in just in time for me to still catch my bus as I left!).

An excellent day 🙂

All good things must come to an end

Nothing last forever, even a blissful week in Oaxaca. Early in the week I had ordered an extra battery for my laptop, so I could have twice as much time on the busses, but when the Genuine HP 9 Cell battery I had ordered arrived it turned out to be a compatible 6 Cell for the same price. The lying scumbag in the shop stood his ground nonetheless and persisted that it was as ordered. I took my deposit back and met Maureen in Coffee Beans for quick drink, a short rant and a ponder. Eventually it became apparent that I wouldn’t get another chance to get an extra battery, this one wasn’t too expensive (1050 pesos, around 50 GBP). So first thing Sunday I returned to Del Boy.

I booked my bus ticket for Sunday night, paying the extra 90 pesos to have the super luxury deluxe bus which had a power connection for up to 12 hours of work all the way to San Cristobal! Though I did stop to sleep, admire the view, and chat to the slightly nuts gringo in front of me.

My last two hours in Oaxaca were spent with Ricardo, we were happily finishing off the flavour list in Coffee Beans when we remembered the local beer we’d heard about but not yet tried! Oops, I was so carried away with the coffee I forgot the beer! (Saz would not be impressed!). We rushed off to the bus station, left my back pack in the left luggage and shot off up the dark northern streets of Oaxaca vaguely following my now battered tourist map courtesy of the tourist office on day 1.

We arrived, and arrived we did. This was no off license serving up the local brew, this was a beer emporium with at least 5 dozen beers from around the world and Mexico. Tempting though it all was, we had a mission. Buying a light and a dark version of the local we drank like louts on the street as we headed back to the bus stop. I have no special words for the local beer, but I’m glad I enjoyed it 🙂 We stopped on the way to the bus station only because I saw a bubble tea place and felt a desire to pay homage to Ol’ Sarah-Jane 🙂

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Oaxaca’s Hill of Doom

Well it’s really not so bad, but the few people who I’d spoken to about climbing this hill, slightly to the west of Oaxaca central, didn’t seem so keen to come with. I didn’t think it was so bad. There’s a wide path consisting of about 10 sets of stairs taking you right to the auditorium at the top. Entering the auditorium made me feel like a [[Gladiator]]. After the climb I was slightly out of breath as I walked through the cool shade of the tunnel, curving at the end so the lions can’t see you coming. I soon forgot about [[Ancient Rome]] as I climbed the final (so I thought) set of steps and looked down over a lake of buildings which was Oaxaca, filling the valley between the mountains and spilling through the gap between them to the North East.

A collection of slacking police sat chatting with their guns on their shoulders busy guarding a totally empty plot of concrete, throwing them a very Mexican “Buenos Tardes” I continued my journey up. Another half a dozen set of steps and I could see into the auditorium from the back down to the stage. The city, mountains and sky form the backdrop to the stage and you can really see why this has been a popular spot for events for many years.

The Planetarium and Observatory

Another 5 minutes up hill, along a path surrounded by trees which look like they’re bowing down to the east, lie the Planetarium and Observatory. The former is a modest size but the small exhibition outside looks well done and presumably the inside is of a similar quality. Unfortunately there’s nothing in English so my explorations stopped short. With diminishing hopes for a star studded evening I continued to the Observatory. It didn’t look promising, and a local who had come up here (with a couple of buddies) for some exercise panted between breaths that it wasn’t functioning at all anyway.

Despite the closed auditorium, all Spanish planetarium and shut down observatory I’m a big fan of the hill. It’s got a wild feel to it (though it’s being conserved by  a local group of volunteers who plant trees) and is more tranquil than an empty park on a Tuesday morning.

HUB, Oaxaca

Last summer I went for an interview at TechHub in [[Old Street]]. I’d never seen a place like it before and thought it was a fantastic idea, had the company had the money and I not been running off to Mexico it’d have been a great place to work. Maureen has found a similar place in Oaxaca (remember when I said I might not come home?). I’m meeting her in a short while to have a visit, but based on her description and my experience at TechHub it’s essentially an open plan office where freelancers, start-ups and teeny businesses can base themselves to enjoy the office culture which you can’t get working alone and to be able to network with people from different industries and sectors. So if you need a designer, you can walk around and ask for a designer. If you need a [[videographer in Oaxaca]], just pop over and say hi!

So about coming home…

Now of course I’m going to come home eventually, because London and my life there is far to fantastic to refuse, but it’s getting very tempting to stay here longer. Here being Oaxaca. With local, organic coffee on every corner and chocolate (also local, organic and almost always without milk) like you’ve never tasted before it’s going to be hard, even with gems such as Chococo back home!

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Puebla – Probably a magic town

I’ve heard Puebla described as an array of wonderful things. Though I can’t say I’ve had much luck here. This is my second attempt at a day trip, the first went something like this.

Today hasn’t been much better, my plan included walking to FedEx (1.7km) then to Loving Hut (another 1km) and then getting to the Cathedral one way or another before leaving by sundown.

But I felt a bit lazy, asked a bus driver if he went to Reforma (most of the way down the one road to FexEx). After some suspicious looking though he said yes. I paid my 6 pesos and sat down nervously.

The only good thing about this bus journey to the wrong part of the city was the nice chat with a guy from a nearby town. I alighted and by chance I found a MailPack, my hopes rose! It might not be FedEx but at least I can rid myself of carrying this package.

No such luck

For some reason even though they send the package with FedEx, they have more strict rules than me going to the FedEx office directly. After much picking things up and saying no they said the Spanish equivalent of “I think you should go here…” and even gave me bus directions.

For a box full of things too sentimental to just give away I was growing very tired of having it.

Nearly There

Now came the second good thing about Puebla, the bus driver (not the lying “Just give me some Pesos” one) had fantastic taste in music. So I was rocking out to some classics for which I don’t know the name including, heartbreakingly just as I was alighting, my current favourite The Cranberries – Zombie.

Rocking out on a second class bus in Puebla

It’s been a good couple of weeks for me and that song since Gaby took me to Celtics Bar in Mexico City and the live band played it. Still, I managed to get off, the weight of the package probably helped.

Soon enough I fond myself filling out in triplicate (which is even more frustrating when it’s on [[carbon copy paper]]) the To and From addresses, Package Contents, Value, Purpose, Country of Manufacture, etc., etc.  etc. Bear in mind I’d already done this for MailPack on forms with different logos at the top..

Finally, a bill

Upon being presented with a MX$960 (£50) bill I forgot to hesitate and ask if there was a cheaper, slower option and handed over a debit card – relieved to finally have been able to post it home. The only item which didn’t make it in was my dead kindle. I’d done enough lying for a lifetime to want to do any more and have to fill in another “potentially harmful radiation device” form.

Filled with joy and madness at having free hands I gleefully left, in my mind replaying a generic air-punching scene from some film or other (in the case of my illustration, from a website). With an hour and a half ’till my bus to Oaxaca I had time for the vegan restaurant – and directions to boot!

The Final Straw

If the package fiasco hadn’t been enough to taint my view of Puebla, walking blind around unmarked and delicately named roads with locals who don’t know their area, finally resolving to catching a taxi for 2 blocks just to not have to search out another building number to find the restaurant which turned out to be either closed down or not yet ready (it looked like a closed bank) was the final straw. Even had I not been out of time, it was time to get out of this wonderful sounding but not in my stars this time city.

I caught a 3rd class bus to CAPU (the central bus station) and within the hour was breathing a sigh of relief as my ADO bus pulled out to get me to Oaxaca 4 hours later.

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WorkAway Coatepec

I joined WorkAway.info because it was much cheaper than WWOOF (30GBP for 2 years worldwide membership, compared to 20GBP for one year just in Mexico). It has far fewer opportunities in Mexico (18 vs. 80) and they’re not what I thought my ideal placement would be (Bar work, Administration vs. Organic Farming and Permaculture). However I am very glad that I did!

I’ve just spent 10 days living with Shayla, a most fantastic person who has WorkAwayers to help her with day to day things such as walking the dog and helping her to drink fantastic smoothies and enormous salads. Shayla had some medical problems (Doctors included) 4 years ago which left her with some damaged brain tissue meaning she now has no balance, unable to continue her awesome career at Apple she moved to Mexico to heal. She’s hosted volunteering travellers for just over a year since her partner died.

You’d imagine someone with bad luck such as that could easily fall into a depressing cycle of bad Hollywood movies and microwaved ready meals. Shayla, on the other hand is living in the today, enjoying a healthy life of endlessly wonderful and (usually) incredibly healthy food (During my one short week we enjoyed Portabella Burgers, Mushroom Masala, Chocolate Chip Cookies, fresh brown Rice milk).

We may have gone a little nuts for Portobello mushrooms on occasion.

In between meals life was simple and good and involved walking to market with Choco – the lovable pup who’s not sure if he’s a cat or a rabbit – and relaxing in the sun. Shayla and I shared a fantastic bond and a sometimes spooky ability to have the same thoughts. We both love our kitchen knives and spinach smoothies (though Shayla definitely wins in the Smoothie Lover contest) and as a tech savvy person we can appreciate hanging out together whilst also using computers. Some people find that unsociable, uncomfortable or rude but we just got on with it 🙂

(Not) Off to the Falls

On my penultimate day in Coatepec Shayla’s next WorkAwayer arrived, Mai. This meant I could use the Monday to visit the Waterfall! There are few falls around Coatepec, one of which is a short walk from Shayla’s part of town. While experimenting with coffee in Mexico’s “Capital of Coffee” I had got chatting to the waiter who had then invited me on a cycling trip to the falls with him and some of his friends – he could even lend me a bike. Awesome! So I arranged the morning off with Shayla and awaited his email that night. Nothing came. A few days later I popped into the same coffee shop and saw the guy again, he said they had cancelled due to the weather but Monday was going to be nice and they’ll certainly be making a trip! No worries, I’ve met enough Mexicans to know they’re not the worlds most reliable people.

Monday night, still no word. So I took matters into my own hands, shot off half a dozen emails on the ever trusty [[CouchSurfing]]. Last minute, I know, but perhaps….

Off to the Falls

Waking up Monday morning I checked my emails and sure enough, I had a message from Juan. Of course all Mexicans are called Juan but use other names and this one went by Carlos. He was up for a trip to the falls and would meet me at 11am at a corner I suggested. I was a little late arriving at the corner, but again Mexicans are notoriously late for everything so I wasn’t too concerned. At 11:20 I headed off on my own.

At 11:40 I had a call from Carlos. I had managed to find the only punctual Mexican in the whole of Mexico, he had arrived promptly at 11, but having left my phone number at home he had left at 11:10 to get it – I arrived at 11:15. We spoke a little and kind of decided that since I was already at the falls and wanted to get back home by 12:30 it wasn’t really practical to meet. Then the signal disappeared and we were cut off.

That aint a waterfall!

The walk to the falls was uncertain and filled with doubt. After 10 minutes I heard the tell tale sound of falling water, that was quicker than I expected. Walking closer I saw a pitiful excuse for  waterfall, actually only  dam built to power (I presume) a water wheel. I kept my faith, I’d heard a lot about these falls. I asked for directions, and was sure enough directed further up the road. I came to a bridge, with a much more open landscape including another man made “waterfall” and had another “Hmmm I’m not convinced” moment.

On I persevered, walking through a plantation of some kind of bean along a narrow concrete path (which turned out to be a covered irrigation channel) until lo and behold I encountered the mighty falls! Well “Mighty” might be a bit much, but given my expectations by this point I was excited. An open plain next to the river with yet another man made falls no doubt plays host to picnics and kids with grazed knees in the summer, and peeking up river I could see an actual real waterfall with spray and everything. Pondering how to get closer I  noticed a vague but definite path up some rocks to my right. I was a little worried that Choco wouldn’t be able to get up, but the leaper and bounder in him relished the challenge and he was soon ahead of me running around the plantation above.

I have a fairly strict rule to follow paths so as to not be too much of a disturbance and this path was testing the limits of this! After not too long we were walking through another plantation and found a more solid path leading back down towards the river. Finally, a real waterfall! Not the biggest, not the best, but an almighty splashing off a huge rock!

I sat for a few minutes, writing this very blog, as Choco explored, sniffed and jumped off rocks. All too soon he was ready to go and pee on something else so we headed back. This time he went absolutely bonkers running around the still unidentified trees. Halfway back to where we stated I saw another path, this one clearly defined and well trodden heading to the taller natural falls I saw earlier.

The Fall

This path down didn’t looks quite so secure with slimy rocks to the sides and large steps. I thought for a minute, checked with Choco who gave me a nod and set off down. It wasn’t a long path by any means, but the going was slow. Half way down I hear a yelp and spin around just in time to see Choco disappearing down the side of the rock. “Oh dear” doesn’t quite cover my thoughts but a split second later there was a splash. I hopped off the rock after him just in time to see him clamber out the water onto a ledge on the side. Neither here not there, the loyal little scallywag tried to come back to me, no use that I think the second falls will have to remain elusive. I jumped in after him (that may sound daring, but it was only 10 inches of motionless crystal clear water) and scooped him up onto the picnic-perfect plain from where we started. Choco had a shake, and I dried him off with a towel. He had another shake, then a third. The poor guy was a bit wet, but luckily the sun had come out and he dried off soon enough.

Arriving just in time to think Choco and I are still cool mountain climbers, I look up to see Carlos walking towards me! He’d managed to get here in time after all! We sat chatting by the river for a few moments before heading back to Shayla’s where he was promptly invited to stay for dinner (his first Indian food!) and general chilling out.

It was a day of frustration, excitement, anxiety, sun, uncertainty and good company. A good, good day 🙂

What did you say those trees were?

Those trees, turned out to be coffee trees. Yes, my beautiful baby beans hanging out on their tree waiting to be stripped, baked, beaten and drowned to provide me with the liquid black magic that make the world spin so beautifully. Thanks to Carlos for the identification!