It’s hard to believe we’re already at the end of June and our Mexico adventure is nearly done.
Almost, but not quite. More on that in a moment!
From now on, we want to start keeping these monthly travel updates so A. we’re not constantly repeating ourselves to interested friends and family and B. as much as we love writing detailed blog posts about everything we’ve seen or done, we just don’t have the time. Hopefully, these updates will serve as an interesting summary of what we’ve been up to each month and we will also share our plans for what’s coming next. Because we’ve got big plans for what’s next!
Anyway, back to what we’ve been up to in June. We started the month in the vibrant Guadalajara, Mexico’s second most populous city, where we enjoyed all the benefits of big city life over the small coastal towns where we had been for the previous two months. We stayed in two different hostels, one good, one really not good, plus a last minute night in a lovely hotel when we decided we couldn’t stay in the ‘not so good’ hostel for another night.
Sometimes you just have to accept you’re not going to get the shot all to yourself
Initially we enjoyed the lower temperatures and humidity that being inland offered. Until an uncharacteristic heatwave struck and we were back to melting and taking several showers a day. We tried local delicacies such as ‘pozole’ (pork broth with cabbage) and ‘Birria’ (spicy goat stew) and of course sampled the tequila that Guadalajara is probably most famous for. We even got to see the annual tequila festival where local distilleries proudly display their best agave plants and everyone generally celebrates the wonder that is tequila. We checked out cathedrals and impressive colonial buildings, went to a VIP cinema and mall as well as sampling the local craft markets.
Venturing a bit further afield we spent a day visiting the beautiful city of Tlaquepaque and mourned our inability to stockpile the gorgeous arts and crafts due to traveling with just 40 litre backpacks that now barely contain our clothes.
Goofing around in Guadalajara
Easily the highlight of our stay in Guadalajara was meeting up and spending time with our friends Pablo and Eva who made us feel so welcome and shared their city with us. Without doubt, no matter where we go and irrespective of how amazing or beautiful a place is, it’s always the people you meet that make a place really special and cement it in your heart. Pablo and Eva did that for us in Guadalajara.
We reluctantly moved on from Guadalajara to discover the highly acclaimed cities of Guanajuato and San Miguel De Allende. Both of these cultural gems, so rich in colour and history lived up to expectation and, despite sore legs from walking up and down the steep hillsides, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring them. Apart from the ‘mummies museum’ that is. We really can’t say we enjoyed that experience.
The views worth the climb
We then headed south, via Mexico City, to the state of Oaxaca (pronounced Wuh-haa-ka), celebrated for it’s bio-diversity, indigenous people and food. Our cosy Air bnb had excellent wifi which meant that we were finally able to take a breath and focus on some work projects, as well as watch the start of the football World Cup.
With over two weeks to delve into all that the capital Oaxaca City had to offer, we didn’t need to rush and took our time exploring the ‘must dos’. Petrified waterfalls and swimming in natural infinity pools in the jungle, climbing up 2000 year old pyramids, sampling locally made artesianal mezcal and all seven types of ‘mole’ sauce were just some of the highlights. We’ve learned that Mexico really isn’t the place to come to if you’re trying to lose weight.
Hierve el Agua, one of only two petrified waterfalls in the world and utterly enchanting
It’s also worth mentioning that not for one moment have we felt unsafe anywhere we’ve stayed. If we had to choose the place we felt the least comfortable in, it would be the tourist trap town of Puerto Vallarta, and that’s only because we stood out as visitors and therefore couldn’t avoid attention from anyone trying to make a living from tourists. In Guadalajara particularly, which surprised us with it’s diversity of appearance, we blended in, and were often mistaken for locals. At least until we unleashed our broken Spanish, which always gave us away.
Our experience so far has been that this is an incredible country, with it’s friendly and hard working people undeserving of the sweeping generalisations made against it. Beware believing all that you see in the media! You’d be forgiven for thinking, as we did, that the U.S is anti Mexico with all the hype about walls and immigration camps. We’ve been amazed to find that more than two million North Americans live here and that number is on the rise. What an extraordinary thing then that there is so much anti Mexico hype – and that it doesn’t appear to be reciprocated.
So where do we go from here? Well, for the last two weeks of our 5 month trip, we have decided to move to the Oaxacan coast and the town of Puerto Escondido for some beach time. I’m hoping to try surfing again, although PE is famed for it’s ‘pipeline’ and 30ft waves so I’m not sure how well that will go. July is also the start of the egg laying season for the Olive Ridley sea turtles and we want to help in the conservation efforts and protect the females as they clambor ashore to lay their eggs on the beach.
Our final few days in Mexico will see us exploring Mexico City, with it’s esteemed museums, the Teotihuacan pyramids and lucha libre (mexican wrestling) all on the itinary, before flying to Toronto, Canada for a few days and then finally on to the UK. We are both ready to spend a few weeks at home and looking forward to catching up with friends and family, doing all the ‘stuff’ that needs taking care of and can’t be done easily from abroad.
Beyond that we have one other trip booked that we’re VERY excited about! As it’s my birthday in September we wanted to do something different and a bit special so we’re going to…. Iceland! Yes, we’ll be leaving our Mexican wardrobe behind, packing the snow gear and heading north for a short visit to see if Iceland really lives up to the hype and the hefty price tag. Let us know in the comments if you’ve ever been and have any suggestions or reccommendations? We already know some of the things we’ll be doing but are always keen to hear other’s idea.
We plan to return to Mexico for the end of the year and continue our exploration on the east side of the country then travel south down into Central and ultimately South America. The time scales on this are still flexible and we may fit some more of Europe in before we leave if we can.
Whether you go for a day or a month, the UNESCO World Heritage site of San Miguel De Allende should definitely be high on your list of places to visit in Mexico. With a climate often described as perfect, and beautiful colonial architecture thanks to its importance as a silver mining city during the 1700’s, San Miguel is a tasteful mixture of both Mexican and the Canadian/American residents who have chosen to settle here. Rich in history, the city also played an important role during the revolution, as the first city in Mexico to declare independence from Spain.
Still not convinced you need to visit this cultural gem? After a day spent investigating the city, hopefully you’ll be convinced by our 5 top reasons you should definitely go to San Miguel De Allende:
1) It was voted the Best Small City in the World
If you’ve never heard of Mexico’s San Miguel De Allende, don’t worry, neither had we until last year when it was picked as 2017’s best small city in the world by Condé Nast voters. Intrigued, we immediately put it on our list of ‘must visit’ places in Mexico to see if it lived up to the hype.
So you don’t just need to take our word for it!
2017’s best Small City in the World. Fact.
2) It’s picture perfect
San Miguel is absolutely stuffed full of gorgeous little cobbled streets and plazas and it’s colonial style buildings maintain a consistent, tasteful theme of terracotta hues. There’s a romantic, unspoiled charm about the city, partly thanks to the laws that were passed to safeguard it from modernisation, meaning you won’t find any traffic lights or neon signs, for example.
At an altitude of around 6000ft what you will find are plenty of views out over the mountains. So, whether you’re into finding the best Insta-worthy spots for a killer picture or simply prefer to find a shady plaza to just sit and take in all the scenery, you’re going to be spoilt for choice in San Miguel De Allende.
We enjoyed just wandering around some of the streets to the south of the centre, finding tucked away boutique shops and soaking up the ambiance.
Exploring the streets in San Miguel De Allende
3) It’s foodie heaven
You’re not going to find it hard to find great places to eat or drink in San Miguel. We highly recommend trying brunch at Néctar . This utterly charming little restaurant offers an organic veggie/vegan menu and also has a great tea and coffee selection. Steve particularly loved the Vietnamese iced coffee, the perfect way to cool down after wandering the lanes. The food and service are top notch but what really sets this restaurant apart are the many nectar feeders decorating the courtyard which attract multitudes of hummingbirds. Who wouldn’t want to watch these adorable little birds flitting about over tea?
Have some tea at Néctar, you won’t regret it!
Later on, when you’re in need of refreshment, you can enjoy cocktails and tapas at Luna rooftop bar, located in the Rosewood building. As well as top notch food and drinks, you get the best view in the city. This restaurant isn’t the cheapest option in town but it’s worth the splurge and a memorable way to finish the day.
Views over San Miguel De Allende from Luna Rooftop Bar
4) Marvel at the beautiful churches
We thought we’d seen enough baroque/gothic churches during our journeying around Mexico and San Miguel has it’s fair share, but we couldn’t help but be particularly awed by the pastel pink La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel which lies adjacent to the main square ‘El Jardin.’ It even reminded us a bit of a mini Sagrada Familia. The plaza itself is the perfect place to rest out of the sun and admire the church since ornate benches lie under the dense shade provided by huge square pruned Indian Laurel trees. This is the perfect place to sit and people watch.
Beautifully ornate and so pretty in pink La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel
5) Shopping at the ‘Mercados’
I’m a sucker for hand crafted jewellery and love perusing the little market stalls that usually fill the plazas in Mexico. San Miguel De Allende has a mix of both these kinds of souvenir item, plus high end boutique clothing and art if that’s more your thing. The markets (or ‘mercados’) themselves form part of everyday life here rather than being a novelty for tourists, since locals will shop at them too. As such, there’s a strong emphasis on local ingredients and artisan crafts. Two of the principle markets you can easily check out are Mercado de Artisanias and Mercado San Juan de Dios. Both have locally made, traditional craft and food items and are open daily. They are just a five minute walk from the main square and provide a great chance to interact with the locals, as well as shop.
We had a fantastic day exploring San Miguel and can honestly say that it probably is worth all the hype. Whilst the sizeable ex pat community means you are more likely to hear English spoken than Spanish in some parts, something we generally try to avoid, don’t let that put you off! If we’ve managed to convince you that you really do need to go visit and you’re wondering how to get there, here are some tips to help plan your visit:
Getting to San Miguel De Allende
Because we were staying close by in Guanajuato (and running out of days), we decided to do a day trip rather then stay in San Miguel De Allende. As a small city, you can see most of the sights fairly easily in a day. That said, we could happily have spent more time there and plan on returning another time to do the things we didn’t have time to do, like visit some of the museums.
Getting to San Miguel De Allende from Guanajuato is an easy 1.5hr bus ride from the main bus station, costing around £10 per person. We used Primera Plus and got a luxury bus with comfy reclining seats, air con, movies and a loo. When you arrive in San Miguel, come out the bus station and hop onto any of the local buses that say ‘Centro’ on them and head towards the main plaza ‘El Jardin.’ It takes about 10 mins and costs around 50p. We would usually use Uber but the buses in San Miguel De Allende were so easy it was worth saving a few pounds. There are also plenty of bright green taxi’s if you prefer to go that route.
Have we convinced you to visit San Miguel De Allende? Maybe you’ve already been; did we miss anything off our list? We’d love to know what you think so tell us know in the comments.
First off, If you’re unsure what Workaway is, start here first and then come back… I’ll wait.
Ready? Ok, great!
In my prior post I spoke about what workaway is and how it works, but there are obviously many variables as to what accounts for a ‘good’ workaway placement. We are currently in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Mexico at a guesthouse workaway placement and feel like we have really struck gold. We work up to 3 hours in the morning, Monday to Friday, in exchange for accommodation and use of all the facilities. Our days are often working 9-12 before I go for a swim in the pool and read my kindle while floating on a rubber ring. We then have time to our own work online in the afternoon before having dinner and relaxing/going out for food in the evening. When done right, workaway can be a truly fulfilling experience, and we are meeting some amazing people along the way.
Our work is quite basic and easy, usually just cleaning the rooms or areas we share such as the kitchen, and sometimes there are other projects that our host asks us to help with. Come 12pm, and often earlier, we are finished and have free reign to seize the day as we wish, as mentioned above.
So, what makes a good workaway host, and how can you be a good ‘workawayer’? These are some of the basic principles which, although they seem simple, can often be overlooked or forgotten.
Choosing the right Workaway for both you and your host
Now, this should be obvious, but bear with me. When looking for a workaway placement, in my mind you should be looking for three things;
Where do you want to do a workaway placement?
If you don’t like cold temperatures, then maybe don’t go to Finland in the winter. Once you’ve chosen your location, make sure it’s somewhere you can get to. Don’t arrange a trip in Japan, but then realise you can’t afford the flight prices, or you can’t get a visa to enter a country such as the USA. Do your research on the country first, and make sure that, most importantly, you can get there, and secondly, that you will have things to do in your free time.
2. What type of work are you willing to do?
This is important, as you don’t want to be waking up depressed every morning, knowing you have to do work that you hate! If you don’t like children, don’t apply for a workaway with children, even if it’s in a location you really like. The host will always put on their listing the type of work they are requiring help with. It will help no one if you’re evidently hating the work you’re doing, or alternatively, if you’re not physically able to do the work requested. I couldn’t do a job that required someone with knowledge of horses and the ability to ride. If you’re being asked to clean rooms, expect to clean toilets, and if you’re not ok with that then you could either contact the host for more information (see point 2) or don’t apply and look for something else that suits your requirements. It’s good to be picky about what you’re going to do as you want something you can enjoy and put your full energy into!
3. How long can you workaway for?
Often you will see workaway hosts requesting that people stay for a minimum amount of time, whether it be two weeks or six months. Respect this. If you can’t commit to the minimum time then don’t apply, even if you really like the look of the placement. It’s not fair on the host, who then has to train someone new to continue the job you’ve now left. On the flip side, maybe they would be happy if you went for a pre-agreed shorter time frame with the possibility to extend if both parties agree.
So, these are three quite important aspects to take in to consideration before you even contact a potential host. They may seem obvious, but nonetheless, I feel they are three important unwritten rules that are worth sticking to.
Communication is key
So, you’ve found your dream workaway placement and they are showing that they have available space on their profile. This next point is not just important at the start when arranging a placement, but throughout the whole arrangement. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your host if you are ever unsure about anything or have any concerns. This is meant to be an enjoyable and beneficial agreement for both parties. Where possible, I would recommend that you try to arrange a rough working schedule, obviously with some flexibility when necessary, before starting. This can avoid any confusion about working times between you both, and in turn avoid any underlying tension or potential disagreements further down the line.
Another important point to remember about communication – don’t forget that the language that you are using might not be the native tongue for your host; yet even if it is, sometimes there can be communication errors. For example, Anthea and I were asked by our friends at the guesthouse if we wanted to have dinner with them there that night – great! We arranged to eat at ‘half six’, and then thought nothing further of it for the afternoon. At 17:40, we were told our dinner was going cold and to hurry up downstairs. Our initial confusion was rectified when we realised our error – in England, we refer to 6:30 as ‘half six’, whereas our Turkish friend thought that ‘half six’ meant ‘half to six’ – i.e. 5:30!
An innocent and fairly innocuous misunderstanding, but you can see how the ramifications could be worse if this meant that you missed a train, a collection time, or were late to start work on the first day!
Having a clear and open communication with your host can save many problems further down the road. Even if you might feel a bit uncomfortable to speak about your concern at the start, it will only get worse, and potentially turn to resentment, if you sit and say nothing. Anthea and I both stated to our currents hosts that we are quite open and honest, and asked that they be the same with us. If they have any problems with anything to just tell us how to change and improve, rather than say nothing or, maybe worse, just try to make subtle hints; one half of this travelling relationship (*cough* not me *cough*) doesn’t pick up subtle hints very well at all! Thankfully, our current hosts are two very laid back, open and direct Germans who we work amazingly well with (we think…)!
Read the reviews on the Workaway website
They’re there for a reason folks, so make use of them. Reading the reviews of other workawayers can give you a good sense of the work type and schedule that you would be expected to complete, as well as giving you a sense of the personality of the host themselves. Maybe they prefer to keep themselves to themselves after the work time is finished, or maybe they like to take you out and about to show you the local attractions.
The reviews can give you a good scope of what potentially lays ahead, and you might read things that you want to ask the host about – ‘Is the hot water fixed? Are there still noisy neighbours? Do they have any pets?’ Etc.
Stay safe, be prepared, and be respectful
Finally, and maybe the most important of all, is that you must always feel safe and secure. Don’t use workaway as a last gasp attempt to keep travelling because you can’t afford even one night anywhere else. You should always keep some money aside so that if there’s any problems such as not being able to contact the host or find the hosts location, or worst-case scenario, you just don’t feel safe alone with another workawayer or the host, you can always go and get a room somewhere last minute at a hostel, hotel or Airbnb.
Give someone the address and contact number of where you are staying, and vice versa give an emergency contact number to your host, so if there are any accidents or emergencies, someone else knows how to contact you or someone for you. Similarly, make sure you note the address and number of local services, such as a doctor’s surgery and hospital.
Last of all, this person is inviting you into their home and/or place of work. Respect it as such and treat it as you would your own – unless you live like a stereotype student, obviously! Helping with small tasks, even outside of your agreed ‘work hours’ can make a huge difference. Emptying a bin, refilling water, washing up or vacuuming a room for example, are all small tasks that will mean a lot to the host, and really help establish a rapport and relationship. Go that extra mile for them, and you’ll get it back in return, I promise.
Hopefully this has answered some questions you may have had, or maybe even some you didn’t realise you were going to ask. Above all, remember that workaway offers a fantastic opportunity that will more likely than not result in you creating fantastic memories and building friendships for life, so enjoy it!
Have you ever done a Workaway? Would you consider doing one? Tell us in the comments below….
Workaway: What it is & Other FAQ:
- First things first, this isn’t an affiliated post, and the thoughts and opinions you read here are all my own, uninfluenced by anyone except maybe Anthea!
People often ask Anthea and I about our current plans, and how we manage to travel as we do. We’ve spoken previously about working online for income as we go, but we often get blank looks whenever we mention our use of the website, www.workaway.info.
We sometimes get people who’ve vaguely heard of the concept, but often they’ve not, and replies range among the following:
‘What on earth is workaway?’
‘What are the benefits of it? Isn’t it just free labour for nothing?’
‘Oh, I’ve heard bad things about that. Is it safe? It sounds dangerous to stay with a stranger.’
So, to help those who are interested and are considering using the website themselves in the future, let me answer a few frequently asked questions.
What is it?
To start at the beginning, workaway is a cultural exchange program in which workers (workawayers) work an agreed amount of time each day/week in exchange for accommodation and sometimes food as well. The great thing about workaway is that there is such a variety of possibilities. This isn’t just working on a farm like WWOOF programs, and the chances are that whatever your skillset, there is somebody somewhere in the world who would benefit from them.
What can I do?
Almost literally whatever you want to do, and many places accept couples or friends together too.
Good with kids? There’s plenty of au-pair/babysitting possibilities in every city around the world.
Good at DIY? Help people design and build their dream homes in exotic jungles or help to build a school or housing for those in less wealthy countries.
Native English Speaker? Any country that isn’t native English speaking has people desperate to either teach them and family members, or to teach at a local school. From Buenos Aires to Madrid, choose your dream location and away you go.
Proficient at designing websites? Good with animals? Wanting a party lifestyle in a hostel? The next Monty Don* in the garden? Happy to get down and dirty doing laundry and cleaning rooms?
You get the idea; Whatever you want to do, there’s likely to be someone, somewhere that needs your help. We’ve both used it to good effect now, and estimate that by the end of May, we’ll have saved ourselves at least between £1700 to £2,000 in accommodation costs going by average Airbnb costs we usually look for (£15-£30), and what’s available in the areas we’ve been (often upwards of £50 a night in Sayulita for example).
*Anthea’s informed me that Alan Titchmarsh isn’t the relevant modern-day gardening guru anymore. Sad times indeed.
How many hours a week? What’s the accommodation like?
The requested hours for working are usually 3-5 hours a day, 5 days a week. This can obviously vary quite a lot, but personally I don’t think you should ever do more than 25 hours a week. Accommodation can vary from a private room or studio, to shared hostel dorms or even a tree house or tents! Information on accommodation will always be made clear on the listing when you are messaging to contact the host.
Are you not just free labour?
Ideally no, although undoubtedly there are some postings on the site which are aiming to secure just that. Workaway is meant to be a cultural and skills exchange; it’s not just about securing a free place to sleep, it’s meant to give you the opportunity to experience places that you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to explore, with a local showing you around and teaching you about the culture and the language where required. The work that you do is intended to ‘give back’ to the host in exchange for them giving up a room for free.
Why not just get an Airbnb?
As I mentioned above, there is so much to learn from doing a good workaway placement. You get to see an area at ground level as a local, you get to meet those locals and develop relationships which in turn can lead to other advice and opportunities. Sure, it can be great to have an apartment to ourselves, but by doing this current workaway in Mexico, we’ve met so many incredible people with inspiring stories to tell – as well as being able to get advice from people who’ve already travelled to places we are planning to go to! It can be difficult to meet new people if you are in an area for a short amount of time and renting a whole apartment, whereas workaway placements can often have the opposite problem of so many people passing through.
Is it safe?
It’s easy to forget that the trust has to extend both ways; people are inviting you into their home or place of work and hoping that you don’t destroy or steal anything. There will always be the odd horror story in any walk of life, but I’ve found that the hosts are often people who’ve been travelling themselves and have a very similar outlook on life. As I said though, read the reviews and don’t forget that if you don’t feel safe or comfortable, you can always leave.
Obviously, the same social sensibilities apply; don’t go leaving your laptop alone in a hostel lounge for 30 minutes, wonder why it’s been taken and then blame the workaway placement!
How do I make sure I can get a good workaway placement?
Well, it’s funny you should ask that, as I have another post to answer just that question…
I love a good garden. Maybe it’s a sign of my age (shhh!) but I can’t think of a nicer way to spend a day than wandering around looking at beautiful plants and flowers. Unless it’s a day that involves birds too, then I’m really in heaven! So you can imagine how excited I was when Steve agreed with me that a trip to visit the Vallarta Botanical Gardens was in order. Having read rave reviews about it we had high expectations, and we weren’t disappointed.
Having gotten used to the Mexican buses we decided to get up early and catch the one that should take us all the way there in 45 mins. I’d read several reliable sources that said the bus runs every 30 mins from the corner of Aguacate and Carranza so we grabbed some tea to go from a cafe and made our way there. The lack of any discernible sign of a bus stop doesn’t seem to be an issue here and after a few minutes anxious waiting the bus duly appeared and stopped to let us on. For 25 pesos each (£1) plus seats together that weren’t even broken, it was definitely the way to go.
We got off right outside the entrance to the gardens, made our way in and discovered that we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Even better! After the gong show noisiness of the tourist zones of PV, the peace and quiet of the gardens were like a tonic. I could already hear the exotic calls of birds that I didn’t recognise and was dying to start spotting! Ok, ok, so I’m a bit of a birder. It’s not that strange, honest!
Anyway, we made our way down to the entrance and paid the 200 pesos each to get in (about £8). We were ready for breakfast by this stage and having read lots of glowing reviews about the restaurant we made our way to the main building. The restaurant is upstairs and has a fantastic view of the jungle valley. There are humming bird feeders thoughtfully placed along the terrace (although we only saw one as it’s not humming bird season) plus a feeding station within easy view. This was attracting a large variety of brightly coloured birds and we sat and had a magnificent breakfast whilst enjoying spotting these beautiful creatures. I was even able to hire some binoculars. Which was just as well or Steve would have been stoping me climbing over the rail trying to get even closer!
We identified some of the birds as: San Blas Jay, Green Jay and the striking yellow-winged Cacique. Not having the photography equipment to get good pictures ourselves, the pics below are for reference only (all credit to the photographers)
Honestly I probably could have sat there happily all day. But we knew there was the rest of the gardens to explore so we set off and wandered around the some of the paths admiring the plants and more birds and just enjoying the peace and nature at it’s best.
We decided to hike one of the long trails that led down to the river and had planned on potentially swimming as it’s safe to do so at this time of the year while the river is low. The path there was great fun. Not as challenging as our hike to ‘Las Animas’ but steep and twisty in places and we hardly saw any other people either. After about forty five minutes we arrived at the end of the trail and discovered a stunning natural pool in between little waterfalls where it looked safe to have a dip. The water looked so invitingly cool after our hike, and having reassured Steve that I didn’t think there were any crocodiles around, we jumped in.
I don’t even know how long we spent splashing around in the river. Time kind of stands still here and being able to just kick back and not worry about anything is an amazing feeling. There wasn’t any phone signal, or wifi, so no distractions. It was utterly perfect.
In the end though we did have to leave and head back to the hacienda. We choose a different trail back and again enjoyed the feeling of being explorers in the jungle and spotting more birds. When we did get back we decided to stay and have some lunch as breakfast had been so good. So we got to repeat the experience of enjoying great Mexican food whilst watching the birds enjoying theirs on the feeding station.
I know we keep banging on about how amazing everything is here but seriously, it is! We totally recommend visiting the Botanical Gardens if you get the chance. Just remember to take your swimwear too!