January 20 through January 23. We finally have an internet connection, so I will be backtracking on this. Internet connection is not strong enough to upload pictures-so those may come later. We stayed at Jose’s Cabanas and RV Park, 1 block from the beach. The park is run by a Canadian who has lived in Mexico for the past 40 years. The restrooms are clean, the shower are cold. But after a hot, humid sweaty day, they feel just fine. Jose will cook by request, and the food was really great, but there is no internet. We hung by the beach, drank at the local beach bars and up at Jose’s bar and restaurant. Met some really good folks from the states. While sitting outside by the cashew trees (these are really interesting), the largest iguana I have ever seen came down out of the tree and ran past us. I never knew they could be so fast! This is a good place to hole up before heading across the border into Guatemala.
Very difficult finding Las America’s RV park in Cholula. It was going pretty good for a while. Our GPS, going forward to be referred to as Bitching Betty, was taking us right there along with using our trusty camping book. However, the book and Betty didn’t account for road construction. After recalculating about 6 times, Betty gave up and just wouldn’t talk to us anymore. Somehow, we finally found it-still not sure how. The park is nice, but kind of small. Wi-fi works if you use it near the front gate by the fountain. There is also a Lavanderia about 1/2 block away. Some nice Canadians staying near us were heading into Puebla Centro for the day and invited us along to join them as they have a tow vehicle. So we were able to go into the city without taking a taxi, as our vehicle would be hard to handle in the city. Have you noticed how often I reference nice Canadians? We run into Canadians at almost every place we have been and they are the most friendly, helpful travelers we have ever met. When we got back to camp, we stopped and picked up our laundry, got prescriptions filled and decided to catch a movie. We went to see “Let’s be Cops”, kind of a stupid comedy, but it was in English with Spanish subtitles, so it was fun. After the movie, we saw that our fellow campers, two groups from France and our Canadian friends, were in the common room having drinks and chatting, so we joined them for a bit. Off to see the pyramid in Cholula tomorrow. Pictures will follow.
After Angangueo, we are starting our trek down to Costa Rica and traveling through Puebla. Our first stop will be Cuernavaca as I am trying to plot out our trip with stops not taking more that 4-5 hours of driving, and with a decent RV park. We had to go through some steep mountains and toward the bottom of the largest drop our brakes went out. However bad that seems, things turned out ok. At the intersection, we heard a really load grinding noise and pulled over about 1 mile down the road. Sure enough, the brakes were smoking and they were totally gone. Oh no! About 5 minutes later Mexican man pulls up and ask if we need a mechanic. Si! His shop was a mile up the road so we followed him in low gear. Surprise-his shop was right at the intersection where the brakes went out. His business is located in a coveted spot, I am sure. We sat back and drank a beer while we while we waited for he and his son to replace the calipers (is that what you call them? Something like that.) I was a bit nervous, because we don’t like to drive after dark and the GPS was showing our spot about 40 minutes away and we were going to be cutting it close. Once the brakes were done (about $500.00 later) we were off. The RV park would have been hard to find if not for Church and Church’s book. We stayed at El Paraiso and it was run by an 81 year old man and his wife. They speak good english and the park was very nice. Swimming pool, good shower and bathroom facilities, and gated. We took a taxi into Cuernavaca the next day and went to Cortes’s palace (he lived here for several years), the Brady art Museum, and the beautiful cathedral. Lunch was at an amazing resort in the middle of this huge city with peacocks, parrots and flamingos walking around you. ok-on to Puebla where we will be staying at Las Americas RV park in Chulula.
On to the butterflies! We stayed at the Don Bruno hotel in Angangueo because there were no RV parks near where we wanted to be. It was cold here in the mountains and our room had no heat. We had to pile all the blankets from the 2nd bed in our room on top of us to keep from freezing. We took a guide up to Rosario to see the butterflies. The walk from the parking lot to the nesting area was about 1000 feet straight up-at 11,000 feet, there wasn’t much air and we were feeling it, but it was worth it. When we arrived to the nesting area, I was disappointed. There weren’t any butterflies flying around as I had imagined. Up in the trees, you could see them nesting in clumps. But, as soon as the sun started to warm them out, out they came in all their glory. The follow the sun trailing through the forest, and it was beautiful. We could not capture it well on camera, but they were all around us. We got real close to them and followed them to a stream where they were all over the ground getting a morning drink. On the ride to Angangueo, we saw lots of cool stuff. WE saw a woman crossing the road with her burro loaded down with laundry that she was taking down to the creek to wash. How do I know that is where she was going? Because for miles along this creek/river, we saw people washing their laundry there and hanging it in trees or along the bank to dry. Wow. Also along our ride, we saw some people carrying their crops (sugarcane, corn?) to the sunday market by burro. These hardy little beasts were so loaded down, you could barely see their bodies. In the picture below, look close-his face is on the right side of the picture.
The drive from Tequila to here was beautiful. We climbed almost to 7875 feet to get to Patzcuaro. We stayed here two nights before heading off to see the Monarch Butterfly Preserve. Man, it got chilly here, no more sandals and short sleeves. I actually had to put on closed toed shoes for the first time in about 5 months. While here, we took a water taxi over to Isle Janitzio in Lake Patzcuaro. There was a hugs monument and we climbed all the way to the top of its fist. WE were the only English speaking people on this island, but we managed to get a few beers, buy our boat tickets and haggle over a purchase in the store. The RV site we are staying at is Villa Patzcuaro, and it is pretty nice. Greatest Wi-Fi signal I think we have had, clean bathrooms across a little bridge, and fairly quiet.
I came across some photos I really wanted to add that I think I missed before from my Baja posts. We had our first water crossing and first goat crossing driving through Baja. The goats literally came out of nowhere and crossed over to head down a dry river bed. No goat herder in site. Another shot is our first boon dock camping site. This is the place we drove across drifting sand, got stuck, got pushed out by some Asian folks from California and drove down a crazy rocky bluff to dry camp in the most beautiful spot you can imagine. We almost lost our camper (ok, exaggeration here, but it did slide back a little bit) while going up the steep rocky bluff to get out. To get it back on, we had to do some speed up/brake fast to slam it back into place. Here are the random photos-enjoy.
The drive from Puerto Vallarta to Tequila was absolutely beautiful, we wish we would have had the Go-Pro on. From Compistale, Nayarit all the way to Tequila (and I am sure beyond) we saw vast sugar cane fields. I never knew they grew sugar cane in Mexico. As we got closer to Tequila, the sugar cane was not as abundant, but the blue agave fields took over. They grow these right up to the road. We stayed at Delia’s Trailer Park Etzatlan,, about 25 miles southwest of Tequila. It was a really great place. The drive here is partially a rock road (about 7 miles of it), but not too bad and they are working on paving it. There is only one bathroom and it has one shower, but it is clean and hot. The owner, Bonnie (not sure how she spells it), speaks perfect English and is a wealth of information on all the local sites. Her father was born in North Dakota. I highly recommend this place. There were three RVs from Canada staying here who have stayed here for the last 3 years. They were very nice and we joined them the next day on a tour through the Jose Cuervo factory and the town of Tequila. Later that night when we got back to camp they invited us into their camp for happy hour. We are loving the people we meet. We went into Teuchitlan and saw some ruins dating back to 300 BC-300 AD. They are not like the Mayan Ruins, they are actually round. We had a great tour guide who took us through. The most interesting part for me is that the discovery and excavation was led by a man who was born in Nebraska (my home state). It was really interesting. He worked on it for about 30 years, but when he died, the money dried up as the state of Jalisco will not help in any funding. Sad, there is still so much to uncover. The ruins have the most amazing panoramic view of the valley below which is surrounded by sugar cane fields and sits in the shadow of the Vulcan de Tequila (Volcano Tequila). It has one of the largest obsidian mines around. We planned to be here two nights, but as all our plans go, we ended up 3 nights here. We could stay another week and still have lots to see, as there is a new discovery of ruins close by. However, our nomadic hearts are calling for us to move on. We are moving on towards Mariposa Monarca outside of Mexico City to see the butterflies. We hope to make its as far as Patzcuaro. Michoacan tomorrow night, which is close to the capital of Michoacan and has supposedly the most beautiful cathedral in Mexico.
We had a great dinner with Dee Miles and friends last night and had a great time-so glad we could meet up with them. On our way back, we decided to stop in the casino and see how we did. It was fun as it was in Pesos and we really weren’t sure what the machine was asking us to do, but it was a casino so Bob figured it out. We won $140 pesos (which is about $10 dollars). We also stopped to sign up for whale watching for the next morning, so we will be staying an extra day. This seems to be the way our trip is going, no real set time limit anywhere, just playing it by ear and doing what feels right at the moment. We got lucky and came across some whales and their baby. Heading off to Tequila tomorrow-I hate to leave this great camp site, but time to see what else is out there.
The drive here was beautiful through the mountains along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. We were nervous about finding our way to the campground as it looked tricky and BB (Bitching Betty, our GPS) didn’t seem to be heading in the right direction. Sure enough she took us way off the beaten track because for some reason, there are several streets with the same name and she wasn’t sure which one to take. We backtracked to the Walmart, which was shown in Church’s book and followed their directions. Even with that, the place was surrounded by a wall and there is no signage for it We saw an opening in a wall and some gardeners out front so I got out to ask them if they knew where it was by showing them the book (they spoke no english). The gardener turned around and pointed to the office door, 4 feet from where he stood. That was lucky! The name of the park is Trailer Park Puerto Vallarta and it is perfect. Walking distance (about 3 miles) to the Malecon, the best showers yet, lots of shade, and best of all, hardly a biting bug in site!! Each place we have stayed has something unique to offer; great people, great scenery, shower and bathroom facilities, restaraunts, or safety. This one had almost all. I finally worked up the courage to go parasailing. I have a very strong fear of heights and of deep water, so of course I had to try it. So glad I did. Tomorrow we meet up with Dee and then the next day, off to Tequila, Mexico.
We decided to head to Puerto Vallarta (I know very touristy) to meet up with a friend who will be arriving on Jan 2. Since we have plenty of time, we are taking the scenic route past San Blas. The trip here was tricky and the GPS kept wanting to take us through Tepic to Puerto Vallarta. We shut her off (Bob has named her Bitching Betty) when we got close to the exit and followed Church’s guide to Mexican Camping. We stayed out of San Blas as we had heard the bugs were awful and headed to El Chaco RV park in Matanchen, Nayarit. It was a beautiful setting along the ocean, with an amazing swimming pool, fun restaurant and bar. There are only 5 hookups for RVs and they were taken with long-term travelers from Canada and US. We were able to park on the grass next to them and one guy let us use his hookup. Beautiful sunsets on the beach and during the day, the beach was full of locals off on holiday (Navidad break). The biting insects were still out in full force and we literally were bathing in bug spray. The showers did not have hot water and were quite a jog away from the camping area, but they were clean and it was hot, so it all worked out. We stopped to check out a swampy area on the way into San Blas to do laundry because we saw signs to be ware of the crocodiles. Lucky us, we saw three of them. The next day when we stopped, a boy was throwing bait on a fishing line to get one to snap at it and that was really cool to see. It was a beautiful drive to get this spot and from here to Puerto Vallarta (PV). Lots of groves of some huge fruit which we found out was called Yaka and tastes like mango.
The drive from Topolobampo to Mazatlan was pretty uneventful, we took the toll road all the way. Our hotel was amazing and right on the beach with a great pool and secured parking. One of our first priorities was contacting an RV repairman that Bob found on the internet to come take a look at our solar panels which had quit working. We arranged to meet him in the morning (Christmas Eve day), so off we went to relax and soak up the local life. We had a great traditional Christmas Eve dinner at a restaurant on the beach, it was beautiful. One of our favorite places was the old town historic area of Mazatlan. One day we took the water taxi out to one of the islands, which was full of locals. We strolled the beach, walked by the huge coconut plantation and ate lunch at one of the palapa restaurants. Bob was really wanting to get a fresh coconut because he was fascinated by the way to cut it up. It was ok, but kind of bland in my opinion. We took he water taxi back to mainland and hung out in the historic plaza for the evening, where we saw the beautiful girls getting there pictures taken for their quincenara. Later the music started and we watched a really great street performance by a band that sang in both spanish and english. The guy on the drums was really good.
Well, we never made it to Todos Santos as I came down with a really harsh case of food poisoning. It happens. So time to leave Baja.
Taking the Ferry. We arrived at the ferry 2 hours early as recommend by people at the ferry ticket office. Well, for Bob and I, 2 hours early means more like 2 1/2 to 3 hours early. Which was a good thing as we could sit and watch what other people were doing and try to figure this thing out. I was a bit nervous because the driver is the only one allowed to be in the vehicle for loading which meant that we would be separated for the first time in our journey. Given our limited understanding of all things spanish, it usually takes the two of us together to figure things out. This was our first test on our own. Here is how it went:
The driver drops you off at a building that you need to walk into and go through a security screening, while he drives the vehicle onto the ship. As Bob was one of the last passenger vehicles loaded it would go one of two ways-first in first out, or last in first out. We were hoping for a bit of LIFO here. I got in line and waited. It was a very long line. A very nice young lady in line with me noticed I didn’t really have any bags to check and she directed me to a short line where I could go to, stick my bag in the X-ray machine and walk right onto the boat. Ok, that was the first hurdle. tip: if you do not have bags to check, just a carry on, you can go to the short line.
I followed the other passengers onto the ship and found out where to get the key to our cabin. There is only one key and you have to leave your ID as deposit, which you get back when you are ready to depart and return the key. I only had my passport on me and was a bit nervous parting with it, but it is what it is. I went to the room, dropped my bags and now I needed to know how in the world I was going to find Bob. I waited around the lobby thinking that maybe that is where the drivers come after parking their vehicle. After about 20 minutes, I saw him coming through the door looking for me. tip: bring an alternate form of ID with you like your drivers license so you don’t have to part with your passport. Make arrangements on where to meet up when you both get on the boat.
We were puzzled as to why so many of the passengers who did not have cabins were already laying down and sleeping. It was only 2:30 in the afternoon. Hmm… On the recommendation of some people we met in the RV camp the day before, we got in the long line for food, as we had been told that it runs out early. The food is included in the price of the ticket, dessert and soda are extra. After that we went out on deck to watch them finish loading the boat. It took about 2 more hours, so we were an hour and a half late leaving the dock. They really cram those semi trailers on, it was something to see. After loading, we went into the bar to have a drink. It was packed, and all the seats had already been staked out while the boat was loading People are respectful of the fact that if there is a teddy bear, pillow, blanket, etc. on a chair, that table/seat is taken. We scored a couple of seats at the bar thanks to some very nice Mexican guys. Gracias! 1 beer and then we decided to go take a nap in the cabin as it was going to be a long night. tip: the passengers who came in early to stake their spots for sleeping and sitting in the lounge were smart-they had done this before. I should have come in earlier to grab a spot, but am glad I didn’t. We had a cabin and many of these families did not-they needed the spots more than we did.
We set the alarm for about an hour before we were supposed to come into port. We got up and went down to turn in our key and try to figure out what we do now. Only the driver can be in the cargo hold, so once again we would be separated and have to figure it out alone. We weren’t sure how this would work or where I was to meet him. After an announcement in spanish that we did not understand, the drivers started lining up so Bob got in line. They took them by the level they were parked on. I waiting till they took him and then I followed some passengers off the boat. Our 2 week spanish class helped me read the signs and follow along to get out of the ship. Bob called me when he got to the truck-he was the last vehicle off the ship (darn that FIFO) and the only overlander on the entire ship. We expected to see others, but it was all locals. tip:the signs that you see as you leave the ship that say passengers (not how they spelled it) sin bolsa (not how you spell it-the sin is the key) is the area where the people without checked baggage go. You wait by the curb and as the vehicles come out of the ship, they drive up and pick you up.
We made it to our hotel which was about 1/2 mile away from the marina. The next morning we knew we were in trouble when we ordered breakfast. We ordered Huevos Ranchers and cafe. the waitress had no idea what we were saying so I pointed to it on the menu. She said it EXACTLY like I did. What the heck? Oh well, on to Mazatlan!!
We have enjoyed our stay in La Paz but are getting a bit restless. We have been here 2 weeks, which is the longest we have stayed in one place. To summarize our stay:
We have eaten all the local food mostly at the recommendation of our maestros at Se Habla. Items we have tried:
- Mexican pizza-which comes with chorizo, ham, beans, and jalapeños.
- Nopal salad, which is made with nopales (cactus leaves), red onion, jalapeño, and a super dressing
- tacos pescado-my favorite. I tried them everywhere we went.
- Tortillas freshly made from the tortillarilla (reminds Bob of lefse, a Norwegian good).
- the best tamales sold at a cart outside the local grocery store.
- Molecajetes-a traditional mexican casseole made in volcanic stone, with spicy sausage, shrimp, chicken, skirt steak, and small onions in a broth
We attended every festival/event we could find. Our favorite festival was a Christmas concert where the children sang Christmas songs. At the end of the concert, they sang the song for Las Posadas, which is the story of Jose and Maria (Mary and Joseph) where you light candles and sparklers while singing a song back and forth. We tried our best to sing along, it was all in spanish. This was followed by snacks of fresh churros and hot chocolate, and the children whacked the piñata. They were asking for everyone to bring something to donate to FANLAP which is a foundation for underprivileged children. We had so much fun shopping and this was our first good deed we did on our journey.
We made our 2nd trip to the lavendaria to have our clothes done, with much more success than our first trip. We were able to do this without any help and even to tell them when we wanted to pick it up. Progress! They smell so good when they come back and are folded so professionally. I will say this many times throughout our journey I am sure, but it is amazing how much pride and care these people put into their work.
We received our diplomas from the spanish language school (yes, they let us graduate). We leave for the mainland on Monday (3 days from now), but before that we are headed to Todos Santos. I am hoping to get to see the turtle release and if really lucky, the whales will have made their migration down this way. I am posting photos from La Paz in a separate post as there are so many.
Ok, a few updates. Yesterday, we said goodbye to Sissi and Gunter, some really cool overlanders whom we met in Loreto and saw again here in La Paz. While they may not be headed to mainland Mexico at this time, we hope to meet them again some time down the road. Until then, we will be following their adventures on their website, alaskawilds.me to see what they are up to. While in Home Depot today, we ran into some other overlanders we met in Loreto, the flightless Kiwis. Hola amigos, it was good to see you again. While they are headed down around the loop (cabo way) and traveling to the mainland sometime after the beginning of next year, we may run into them along the way.
We had a productive and successful week so far. Taking the advice of Alexsa, our morning spanish teacher, we found the best tamales in all of La Paz, and the best I have ever eaten. We found the tortillaria and bought some fresh tortillas, which we were dying to do They were so good and warm, we each ate 2 of them on the way back to camp. Then to top it off, we went to the MEGA store and found the find of finds, VERANO 1800 Tequela Blanca Sabor Pepino. Cucumber tequila. We first encountered this decadent drink of the Gods in La Bufadora and have been on the search ever since.
Our teachers changed this week and our afternoon teacher speaks to us only in spanish, thinking we should be that far along. But the gringo blood runs deep in my veins and I just sit there with a stupid look on my face and turn to Bob to say, What did he just say????
We sat through a cultural presentation today on Las Posadas de Navidad. Ok, this is basically the story of Christmas if I get the slide show right, and they gave me a chocolate drink that is made from chocolate and maize. Or something like that. It was good for the first few drinks, but a bit sweet for me and the texture was a little strange. Adios.
Ok, a few things that I have learned so far on this trip to Mexico. These are mainly tips for future novices to overlanding, as everyone who has done any overlanding already knows these things.
1. Always wear flip flops in the showers. Trust me.
2. Be careful how you say the word pina. Said incorrectly, you are talking about a male body part.
3. The roosters here cannot tell day from night. They start crowing as soon as the moon comes up and stop after the sun comes up.
4. When the roosters stop, the barking dogs start in. Get used to both, before long you won’t even hear the roosters or the dogs.
5. Take LOTS of insect repellent and itch relief ointment along before you cross the border, you will need it.
6. Always carry a little toilet paper to the bathroom with you. You may not need it, but more times than not you will.
7. Remember to throw the toilet paper in the trash can next to the toilet, do not flush it.
8. If you see a street vendor selling tacos and the policia are eating there, go ahead and give it a try. If it is good enough for the local enforcement personnel, it is good enough for you.
9. Just in case I was wrong on #8, take some medication along. Sometime before your trip is over, you WILL get diarrhea.
Ok, that is all I know for certain right now, but will add a few tips along the way as I pick up a few more things.
Nosotros mucho gusta La Paz. We are enjoying our stay in La Paz. We have been to the Mercado, have eaten at the Uruguayan restaurant (aw, beef!), walked the malecon, drank the tequila, attended two music festivals, and shopped the local farmacon. That’s pharmacy for you gringos. I almost reached my breaking point a few days ago and was ready to do one of three things: shoot myself, cut off my feet, or fly home. The no-seums have taken to eating me alive! They still have denghi (sp) fever from the mosquitos here, so I was convinced I had that. But, since I haven’t actually seen a mosquito, they are either the fastest mosquitos in the world, or they are not mosquitos and are actually just no-seums. We were quite proud of our being able to communicate effectively to get the ointment I needed to control the itching. We even were able to drop a load of clothes off at the lavendaria to be washed. We will pick them up mañana. It should be interesting to see what we come home with. We actually had to go next door to get the housekeeper from the spanish language school to help us out. Shameful! We have finished our first week of school and can now speak a little spanglish! No surprise, Bob has picked up on the money part of things really well. Asta mañana!
Yeah, we got into a Spanish class. We will be taking a class Monday-Friday 4 hrs a day for two weeks. We have completed 2 days so far and I am not sure if I am getting it or getting more confused. By the end of class my brain is so fried I can’t even count to 20 in English!!! But we have had a great time so far. We met up with Geneva and Mike from slowcarfasthouse.com (we met them in Loreto) and ate dinner with them at a Uruguayan steakhouse. What fun and they are a wealth of knowledge and so helpful. Thanks!! While we were walking down the street to meet them, we met Dave, whom we have now met up with in 3 different places. Life is interesting here. Earlier in the day we got many errands done-we picked up our website/business cards, bought our tickets to cross on the ferry to the mainland on the 22 of Dec., got rear ended. Oh yeah, about that. Guess who was rear ended in La Paz Mexico by a cop? If you guessed us you guessed correctly. What started out as a potential ticket changed very quickly once he ran into our rear end. Bent our ladder a little and bent his pride a lot. Life is good. He spoke no english and we (ok Kim) made the mistake of saying she knew a little spanish. Maybe I thought he wanted me to show him how I could count to 20, or order in a restaurant, or maybe even recite my grocery list. That would impress him! No, he wanted to try to tell me about we were swerving and something about hitting something. I was at a loss and we looked at the damage, which was minimal to our ladder, and said “let it go?” And he said, “is all cool?”. I said “si” and off we went.
Loreto was a great stopping point. Nice little town and met some great fellow travelers, who were all full of great tips. We hope to meet up with them somewhere down the road to share adventures. We are pushing on to La Paz but are making a stop for the night in Ciudad Constitution, just because we want to check it out. We stayed at Misiones RV Park and had the campground to ourselves. It had good wifi close to the office and the owner, Paty, was a very warm and welcoming woman. One of their dogs attached itself to us and hung out at our camp the whole time we were there. His name was Jasper, but we called him Old Yeller (like the movie). During the night the humidity went way up and sounded like rain on the roof, but just heavy fog. The next day we pushed on to La Paz. We struggled to find the RV park we were looking for because it was closed, so we found Marantha RV Park, which turned out to be a much better spot. We want too see if we can get into Spanish classes, but we arrived after 2pm on Friday and they were closed, it seems like most things close up around that time here. We will check first thing on Monday and if we can’t get in, we will push on to Mainland next week. We have gotten fairly competent on communicating with taxi drivers to get us from one spot to the next using a map and a limited amount of directions. We love walking along the Malecon (waterfront) and found a nice hangout, Tailhunter, which has quite a few flat screen TVs playing American stations, especially football games.. We also spent some time getting pedicures as our feet feel like sandpaper from living in sandals in the hot dry climate. They don’t feel much softer but they did manage to scrub the layers of dirt off them. Tomorrow, Monday Dec. 8, we go to see if we can get into spanish classes.