Photography

Inspiration

Why do I like photography? Why that and not some other expression of creativity? The answer is simple. I can’t paint to save my life. See above. Yet I am better at painting than singing, playing musical instruments, dancing, acting or any other form of artistic creativity. So I take photographs. It’s easy. Let the camera and computer do the hard work, and then pass off its produce as my own.
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Estación Esperanza Youth Hostel in Guanajuato

The first week of the Easter holidays, Paola and two of her friends set off on a 5 day road trip, taking in Guanajuato and Zacatecas. Paola had planned the vacation thoroughly, booking accommodation and bus tickets, and chose for her stay in Guanjuato the Estación Esperanza Youth Hostel. This post is the story of her stay. A review, if you like. And not a good one!

Booking the place had been a little troublesome to start with, but the photos of the place on the website she visited looked nice, so she persisted. And succeeded, and the 600 peso deposit for the entire 6 bed dorm room was duly paid. At the agreed time on the agreed date,  Paola and amigas turned up to take up occupancy of their room. And that’s where things started to go wrong.

They knocked. Called out. Whistled. No one came. They did find a woman in the kitchen, rather unkempt and smelling fairly unwashed. Eventually the hostel manager appeared. Also appearing unkempt and smelling less than fresh. With a bit of a marijuana hum to him. The latter not being in principle a problem – each to their own. So long as the person isn’t so stoned it interferes with their ability to work in a professional manner. Not that any real judgement can be made to be fair, but the odour and what happened subsequently does leave one with a certain impression.

Was their room ready? “Have a seat! Relax! Have a beer!” was the reply. Ok. But….so….is the room ready? “It’ll be ready in just 20 minutes, I’m just about to clean it!” Now, I’m going to cut the story of the next hour/hour and a half short. What followed was a bunch of excuses whilst Paola and amigas sat in the lobby/lounge area. Which, aside from the ’20 minutes more’ line a few times more included: “We’re hippies here, you see!’, “The problem is the girls who were in there last night haven’t taken their bags out yet”, “Yes, I could remove them I suppose”, “They’ll be back soon”, “No, I can’t really remove them”, “I’m just going to clean your room right now!”, “Relax, have a beer, chill out, we’re all hippies here”, “I want to be your friends” (They just wanted a room and a shower), “Let me go clean your room – 20 minutes more!”

At the end of each excuse the chap would scurry off, only to reappear at a doorway a moment later to have another cigarette. A special one, or a normal one – who knows! In the end one of the amigas went up and had a look at the room – cramped and dirty as hell. The mattresses were sheet thin and served as an aromatic and artistic record of every person to have slept on it since it was last cleaned. If ever. The guy did have a bucket of black water ready to clean it. Were there actually any girls bags in there causing a problem? That, to my knowledge, was never established.

The girls, unsurprisingly, became annoyed and the chap thought carefully for a moment or three before announcing three options. They can wait. Or they can have a beer and chill out. Or they could leave and find a new place. The latter option was tempting, but would there be any rooms available elsewhere? Two set off to see what they could find, and returned shortly afterward with good news – there was another place just down the road, and they’d booked in there.

So, they took the ‘you can just leave and find a new place option’ and informed the hostel manager. And requested their deposit back. Which was entirely fair enough. They’d booked the room. It wasn’t available to them. The guy must return the deposit. He agreed, but returned a few moments later, to declare that he had to ‘penalise’ them and would return only half the deposit. That’s what I personally call robbery. If you can’t provide the goods or service, you don’t take payment for it. Of all the complaints the girls had, this is the numero uno gripe.

They found the hostel on HostelsClub.com, and it does have three very good reviews. Which he boasted about, and which, to me, look suspiciously similar. Estupendo, agradable, recomendable 100% all featured more than once, and all three reviews were posted recently. We will be adding a review to reflect Paola’s experience shortly! In summary, the place had a nice lounge area, which was as the photos on the website suggested it would be. The photos of the rest of the hotel much less so. Unhygienic staff offering an unprofessional service. Dirty looking rooms. Thieving refund policy regards deposits made in good faith.

The place that the girls did eventually stay at, Hostal del Campanero, was clean, professionally run and they had no complaints whatsoever. That would be their recommendation if you are staying in Guanajuato. The photo below is one of the very, very few they have from the place, as they waited in the lounge area.

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Mexico

History Lesson

My last day in Guanajuato has almost passed, and although it is the nicest town I have been to, it is also just about the smallest and pretty much every nook and cranny can be explored at leisure in three days. The people here are a funny old lot, as they tend to be for different reasons across Mexico! This is the first place I have been to where the natives seem genuinely unfriendly, despite it being a fairly touristy/studenty town where many of the population come from elsewhere. They speak the best English I have encountered so far too, but are utterly unwilling to use it! Nevermind.

Having ditched the Gap year Brits I have met up with a few other travellers to wander around with. The town itself is really like an oasis of calm in an otherwise turbulent country, with gangs of Mariachi bands all kitted up in their glittering ceremonial gear strolling the streets all evening, playing for anyone with a few spare pesos. The climate is just about perfect, with long warm sunny days, low humidity (we’re up at over 2000 metres here) and refreshingly cool evenings. Mexico has a very diverse ecology and a fascinating history by the way, which I may as well mention. People oft seemed perplexed as to why I wanted to go to Mexico, I guess due in part to their perception of the country.

My own knowledge of Mexico was pretty limited this time last year, and consisted mainly of the impression of a few mega beach resorts (Cancun, Acapulco et al), filthy cities, and vast barren empty spaces inland. I knew it had been a Spanish colony of course, and that there were a few old ruins around from Aztecs or whatever, but always assumed these to be lesser sites than those in Peru and Central America. In fact, Mexico contains 10% of the worlds bird, plant and animal species in just over 1%of the the worlds total land mass. Its coral reefs have some of the best diving sites on the planet, and beaches to match (if only all the Americans would go away so you could see them!).

Two thirds of all plant and animal species reside in less than a dozen countries, and Mexico is one of them. There are huge barren spaces further north, but I have otherwise been amazed at how green the country is, even in the baking hot Yucatan. History wise, there has benn much going on, from Spanish conquests and colonialism, the War of Independance, the war against the USA (where Texas was won and annexed), numerous revolutions and a horde of limited invasions by the USA, Spain, France and occasionaly Britain. And every event has at least a dozen monuments to commemorate it. I had read that Mexico City contained more art than anywhere in the world, and after a 4 hour tour on the Autobus Turistica (an open topped double decker from Blighty wouldnt you just know!) I can believe it.

Statues galore, big and small and often colossal. As many museums as there are cafes and Mexican flags in every town centre so large that you could quite comfortably build a marquee from the material and house 1,000 people. As for the ancient civilisations, well Im not sure they are all quite as ancient as some of the more famous south American Inca chaps, but their ruins are on a scale to match anything, including the worlds third largest pyramid at Teotihuacan. I also doubt any one has surpassed their mind numbing scale of mass heart ripping sacrificial ceremonies. On occasions, 20,000 people have parted company with their tickers earlier than planned in a single session in an effort to appease the chosen gods of the day. Anyway, glad to have provided this little dose of education, but Im hungry now, so here endeth the lesson…

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Mexico

Guanajuato

Buenos dias from Guanajuato, a fantastic little town nestling in a ravine 2000 metres plus above sea level. It is a fairly wealthy town, thanks to the old silver mines from whence 20 per cent of the worlds supply of the metal once came from. The whole town is actually registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it takes only a 10 minute stroll to see why. The streets are all impossibly narrow, trailing up and down hills, and often weaving through long tunnels (which were once mines), and all are cobbled….Mr Tarmacadam obviously, and happily, never made it this far west!

The houses are colonial with a huge number of cathedrals, mansions, and museums. The only downside so far was my misfortune in bumping into three Brits on the coach and ending up at the same hostel as them. They happily confessed that they had been in Mexico for two months and hadnt seen a thing as they were out getting pissed every night. I did suggest that boozing can be done in the UK, at less cost, and that I myself would feel a total w@&ker going to another country and never seeing the outside of a bar. I dont think my subtle dig really sank in, as 10 minutes later they merrily invited me out on the piss and seemed genuinely surprised when I declined. Dickheads!

I dont mind going out for a drink but I could see how their evening was going to go…..binge consumption, followed by much vomiting, followed by waking everyone in a mile radius up at 4 in the morning. I have now found another hotel, but had to suffer one night of being awoken (as I had earlier predicted) at 2, 3 and then 4 oclock by the idiots, who were all blowing chunks and arguing about who ate who´s hot dog. Nevermind…..I got my own back at 8 am when I left.

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