Six months in Mexico.

An Englishman takes a tour by motor home. 

Mexico 41, 1st June 2004

I got into the plaza about 8.30 and found parking space. Nice plaza. Then I moved off to the museum and waited until it opened at 10 am. OK, but not worth a special trip.

I noticed a tyre shop and asked if he could replace a front tyre. Well, I've been asking the question a few times, I could do to replace it. The Mexicans say it's OK but then lots of Mexican vehicles would not be allowed on the road in most any other country! The front tyre size is hard to match, the tyre shops keep suggesting near equivalents! I asked also he could replace one of my rear tyres, which is not really urgent. He said could I wait 5 minutes, he'd try to get either one or both tyres, and bicycled off down the road, and returned a little later with a tyre over his shoulder. Unfortunately it was a rear tyre but after a little haggling I had it fitted for 750 pesos which is a pretty good price for a tyre of this size.

I stopped at a small town on the road, I think it was Tepeaca, I was attracted by a church.

Notice the colour of the sky. Later I was plied with samples of every variety of ice-cream a vendor had in stock, about a dozen! They were all good, hard to choose which one. Then, in between some stalls, a wedding group was approaching a church.

Well. I have to add (in August 2005). At the time I thought it was a wedding group. But about a year later a certain G Baker read this report and put me to rights. It's not a wedding group at all, it's a celebration of a young woman's 15th birthday, something rather special in Mexico. She would normally be escorted by 14 couples, or, in this case, it seems, by 14 young men. So I stand corrected, with thanks. I've left the other paragraphs as I wrote them at the time since this is meant to be my account of my travels as I wrote it at the time, and you can therefore see my errors!

I think the groom is on the far right, don't know who the guys in bow ties are. They look as though they could be heavies, friends of the bride, there to make sure the groom doesn't change his mind!! I'm probably being unkind to them.

They had a band with them in the procession.

I mentioned the colour of the sky. Just after I took this photo the heavens opened and it rained rain the like of which you don't see in England.

I reached Puebla and decided I didn't like the town, there was absolutely nowhere to park in the centre, I drove around for an hour. It was now getting dark so I drove out of the centre to look for somewhere to stop for the night. I noticed a signposted car park and drove in. I noticed a police car in the car park which was a good sign, then realised I was high up, with, once I'd scrambled up a bank, super views over the city. On the way out of the car park, to check on views round the corner, I noticed a couple of policemen in a car. Is it OK to stay the night I asked. Yes they said, OK, but move to the other side of the car park. No problem, I did.

Some while later, bang bang on the side of the van. Hello I said to another policeman. Seemed he was not happy that I was parked there. We laughed over our inability to communicate and he called on the radio and told me someone was coming over who spoke English. It seems that the car park, although signed as a car park, is not a public car park, it belongs to some government establishment, and my English speaker was actually head of security. It also seems that the policemen I spoke to earlier were not policemen they were security guards, and as such had no authority to give me permission to stay. No problem says the chief, my man here will show you where you can park..

We drove about 100 yards up the road to a place with an even better view over the city. I was introduced to 2 policemen who were there for the night, they would watch over me they said, and we spent some pleasant time not communicating verbally but with many handshakes and smiles!

That's just a small part of the view, it doesn't really show on a photo.

I got down town before most people, and there was loads of room to park just outside the tourist office. When it opened I found two very pleasant gentlemen inside, they showered me with information and leaflets and joked with each other and me while they practiced their English.

I wandered around the town much happier now I am safely parked for the day.

That's the cathedral from the main plaza. Now David Tanzer had told me he had had the best meal of his life in Puebla and gave me the name of the restaurant. One of my guide books suggested that this restaurant had gone downhill a little since achieving fame, and the tourist guys suggested another locally, which they said was as good, but cheaper, so I decided to go there for lunch. Before lunch I popped back to the van, and heard music coming from the nearby cultural centre. I went in and listened for a while, it was good. So was lunch. I wouldn't exactly describe it as the best meal of my life, but it was good. I looked back at the culture centre. The musicians had gone from the small plaza, now there were dancers, different groups one after the other. These girls took my eye.

I went to the famed Amparo museum, mostly pre Hispanic art (that means before the Spanish came a conquering) and there are also decorative objects and furniture from the later Spanish period. All beautifully presented but didn't quite hit it off with me, went over my head, I preferred the railway museum I went to next. Not a lot to see there, some trains and carriages including this engine but I liked it.

It was too big and heavy (285 tons) for most of the Mexican railway, and could only be used between Mexico City and Ciudad Juarez in the north.

I headed off to my last night's spot for the night then realised I would be near a Sam's Club so diverted slightly to do some shopping. It came on to rain heavily again, with thunder and lightning. I don't know where I got the idea Mexico was arid and dry and there was never any rain. The roads turn into rivers, there are floods up to a foot deep even on the main roads. Since most Mexicans don't slow down for floods there's usually a car or two sitting at the side or even the middle of the road after these floods. They are presumably wondering why their car doesn't go any more. One bus passed me at speed, creating a wave of spray which totally engulfed my van.

Anyway, no problem I thought, I know where I am going, and it's only about 3 miles. Ha! When I left Sam's Club I couldn't get to the other side of the carriageway to get back. There must be a way, but I couldn't find it. I saw a sign to a road I knew. When I reached the 6 way junction I took off on the wrong road and got hopelessly lost. You remember it's dark, it's absolutely tippling down with rain, the roads are flooded, Mexicans drive like bats out of hell, signposts are almost non existent as are markings of road names, and maps are, being kind, rough approximations. I guess I drove about 20 miles to get back here, after asking directions at 3 petrol stations.

The police aren't here tonight but I guess it's OK to park.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 42, 3rd June 2004

In the morning I made a quick tour of the cerro which is the hilltop park, with a few forts, interesting, and pleasant in the trees.

I had been noticing a whirring noise when I turned the steering to full lock, now I realised it was there all the time. I opened up the bonnet (if you're not English, work it out!) and had a look and listen and check. The power steering fluid reservoir was showing no content. Oh Oh. I found an auto parts shop, bought fluid, and topped up. That problem solved. Then I noticed a biggish tyre shop so I asked about my front tyre. He had 3 available! I selected the cheapest, 950 pesos, not a bad price. I've had a good start to the morning. It won't continue!

I drove out to Cholula, I wanted to see the pyramid here, the widest ever built, measuring 450 metres along each side and 65 metres high. It's now just a grassy mound and has been like that since before the Spanish arrived. Archeologist have dug tunnels through the pyramid, first north/south then east/west, with side tunnels 8 km in all. Took around 20 years of careful digging to make the tunnels and as you pass through you can see the different construction stages.The construction is different to most of the Mayan pyramids. In each case there were several stages of construction, each time a larger pyramid being built on top of the previous. But here the infill between the various stages, and also immediately behind the stone facing, is adobe, a modified, strengthened, earth. The Mayans used stone as infill. Of course, they are not really construction stages. A pyramid is built, then another, entirely new one is built on top. They calculate it took 800 years more or less constant building to get to the final stage........................

There is a superb small museum with models of the pyramid showing some of the different stages. The Spanish built a church on top.

here is an idea of the tunnels.

And here is a view of the plaza south of the pyramid.

This fellow was sitting just on the right of the above picture. The head is about 3 feet high, he's not a midget.

The view from the church is nice

and so is the interior of the church.

I called at the tourist office and again got welcoming smiles and a lot of help. Most Mexican tourist offices are hardly worth bothering to visit, they don't have a lot of information, and seem to treat tourists as just part of the job. Here, and in Puebla, I felt I was getting individual treatment, special favours of this map or that piece of information. Nice!

I headed off north. I did say the morning's success would not last. I hit a tope at about 35 mph. It was round a corner, exactly the same colour as the road, no warning signs, in a quiet stretch of countryside, high, in front of a small closed up factory, and I probably wasn't paying enough attention. Grrr! The back end of the van crashed on the road, there were bangs and crashes, things fell around everywhere.

I bought a 4 litre bottle of wine yesterday at Sam's Club. In the rain and such stuff last night I just temporarily stowed it, and forgot to move it. It tumbled on to the full 17 litre crystal glass bottle of drinking water I had just bought a couple of days ago and both smashed. I'll get plastic next time, that's 21 litres of red liquid sloshing about! Could have been worse though, most of the wine and water mixture was collected in a big plastic container the water bottle was standing in. The air conditioning cover, which has been gently breaking for some time, fell off. Took a while to sort it all out, to rinse things off. My vacuum cleaner, real handy present from Danny in Des Moines, got drowned, it was in the plastic container with the water, hopefully it will dry out.

Then it rained. And rained. Heavily. I pulled into a village square, next to a pretty church, asking if it was OK to park. There were rivers running down the road, over the depth of my tyres where I parked.

You know, I used to think it was always dry in Mexico. How many times have I been caught in heavy rain here? Maybe a dozen times, in 3 months? I've been in rain forests and jungles. Last year in the USA I don't think I saw rain, except for East Texas, and the balloon meet in Albuquerque.

It rained most of the night, but just regular rain.

On the way into Tlaxcala I passed an interesting fountain.

I drove around the centre of town a few times but couldn't find anywhere to park so gave up. Pity, there were two adjacent plazas, both looked nice. I went to visit a church on top of a hill, where it is believed the Virgin Mary appeared in 1541, and where a local man in the 18th century spent 25 years decorating around the alter.

Outside I spotted an official electricity company vehicle and a man up a pole, making a new connection for a house.

He was just crimping his wires on to the open lines. That must be how it's done. Neat how he climbed the pole, using a couple of looped ropes.

I replenished my wine supply and headed out to my planned campsite passing through superb pine forests on the way up.

The site is at 10,100 ft in a national park. When I used to balloon over the Alps, we would switch on the oxygen about this altitude!

Good view from my parking spot. Good price too, 32 pesos! It's actually a cabin and camping resort run by the government. The view was nice at night too, little lights twinkling all over the place.

I've managed to keep my CD writer working, I've now cut another 5 CD's from my hard disk stock of mp3's. The tune I've been playing over and over for the past couple of weeks is Ken Colyer's "Goin' Home". Ken Colyer is sort of the father of British Trad Jazz. He didn't start it but he was the real enthusiast, he worked his way to New Orleans on a cargo boat then came back and played, introducing the style and also many of the players that started the Trad boom of the late 1950's. As well as liking the tune the words sort of reflect my current ideas, if you want to hear it I've put it on my website for download. It's 3.1 Mb and CD quality, it is on the opening Mexico page. You'll have to scroll down to find the link though, I've sort of hidden it from the riff raff!

While writing it's come on to rain again, just steady rain, the views gone, it's all cloud...........

Well it rained all night, again, and I was cold in my light sheets and blanket. Not cold enough though to dig around in my storage for my sleeping bag, which I packed away for the summer a long while back! I'll have dig it out now though, since I can't drag myself away so quickly from these views and this forest, I've just booked in for another night. And how nice to have a real hot shower instead of squeezing around in the van, or having an outside over all wash using a bowl.

The mountain behind, La Malinache, a dormant volcano, is the reason for the national park.

At 4460m, or 14,630 ft, it is around the same height as Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps.

I walked around a little through the forest, I drove a short distance to charge the batteries in the van, it came on to rain heavily in the afternoon, so I relaxed and read, and looked at the view, and fiddled with my computer.

Next day was much the same, except for the drive, it's now late afternoon and there is a pause in the rain, it might even have stopped for a while, so I am going to pop into the local town to check emails, and it will let the batteries charge up properly, since there is a good chance I might decide to stay here tomorrow as well!

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 43, 7th June 2004

The drive to the local town, where I went to check emails, was superb, through around 10 miles of pine forest. The town was pleasant too.

It rained again during the night, it was not a great day for driving, so I decided to stay on. I decided this was the last day though, and fortunately the next morning, Saturday, set out clear, no rain in the night. I stopped at the gate and one man who I knew asked, hello Mr. David, when are you going? When I said "now" he talked for a while, said I must come back soon, and could he write to me, seemed sorry I was going.

Mexicans are lovely people. They are friendly, they are pleasant, they try to please, they are curious, what's my name, where am I from, they are keen to chat, even if they don't understand. So I was sad to leave Malintzi, both people and the place. I'm often sad to leave the places that I know, and the people I have met. But my need to explore is greater! So I drove down the road through the pine forest playing Ken Colyer loudly...........

"Goin' home
Goin' home
Yes I'm leaving
Leaving here today
Because if I don't leave now I won't be going nowhere..........."

I bought another 5 gallon container of drinking water, plastic this time, from a bread shop. I paid 10 pesos for the water and 5 pesos deposit on the container. Now when I bought water in the crystal glass jar I paid 120 pesos including deposit, he also quoted me 90 pesos total for the plastic. I do hope it is not the bread shop that has got the deposit wrong, they did not look like they could afford to lose 75 pesos. I queried the 5 pesos as much as my limited Spanish allows. I then wasted a lot of time on a slow internet connection trying to update my web site after I'd spotted another railway engine

and in the late afternoon it rained a bit and cloud descended. I reached Cuetzalan missing I am certain some spectacular scenery in the mist, but I have to go back that way, so no matter. I planned to park on the zocalo, the plaza, but turns out it's not just a pedestrian plaza but the only way to reach it is up huge flights of steps so I stopped on the street and wandered around. I saw a car park sign but on asking a bus driver there he said it was just buses. However he said, go knock on the door there. I did, a young lady said, yes, you can park over there. I finished up showing the van to 2 youngsters from the house and 2 men, I'm not really sure who they were!

There's a big market here Sundays so I checked it out. it was fun. I bought a machete. Not your standard huge used by everyone machete costing 30 pesos but a smaller one, only 12" blade, with better steel and a scabbard, for 100 pesos. I tried it on a coconut. Boy, these machetes do work well!

The 2 boys arrived when I returned to the van, Manuel age 12 and his brother Pepe age 9. I gave them soft drinks and they invited me into their house. They had a computer and a translation program! Their elder sister arrived, I'd spoken to her last night, and we all sort of conversed. I say sort of, these translation programs still have considerable room for improvement. But we managed, they fed me a delicious snack. How long is it since I remarked how lovely people Mexicans were? A couple of paragraphs? The family here just went on to prove that.

I then headed to the local ruin, Yohualichan. The buildings were built on earth based, stone faced pyramids, and the earth base shows. They have been hit by earthquakes too, that has helped the slipping..

There are niches in the pyramids on the stepped walls, on one pyramid niches within niches.

Can you see a couple top left of the picture? We later met, chatted briefly, and arranged to meet for dinner. They are from Indiana, been living in Mexico City, soon to be living in Texas. The next picture shows more how the terraces have slipped.

My next call was the local waterfalls, I went to just one of several.

The next picture is taken from exactly the same point as the one above but looking the other way.

It's pretty everywhere round here. There are superb views from the road, with steep drops down into valleys. You'll have to imagine the views. Luscious green valleys, with more green valleys, misty, in the distance, super to look at, but no good for photos! however, here is my route so far.

I met with Phil and Megan for dinner. Megan has been researching Mexican life styles for a year, they have just got married, and are on a 15 week honeymoon in Mexico until Phil starts work in Dallas.

I plan to visit caves in the morning.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 44, 10th June 2004

I didn't find the caves in the morning. Well I did find one, but for some reason I could not understand there was a problem to visit it. I had a map but didn't find any of the others.

Although it rained during the night - that must be the 10th day in succession it has rained quite hard for a good part of the day - it turned out dry in the morning, although misty, and I drove a beautiful route. This is a view of San Andres, where I saw the waterfall yesterday.

Along the route.

Two waterfalls.

Further along the route.

Another waterfall

A little valley

Yet another waterfall.

A river.

Another river.

Note. Those are not tiny pebbles in a stream. They are huge rocks in a river. See the pile of 50 Kg sacks front right of the picture looking like grains of sand?

It took nearly 30 minutes drive to get to the road the other side of the valley on the next photo.

Another view of the same bit of road, the same bend on the right.

Did I mention clouds?

Here's a village in the distance.

This is part of the road.

This was a wonderful drive. Beautiful, really beautiful. It actually took me 2 days, I stopped for the night along the way. As it happened, I nearly stopped longer than I intended. It came on the rain in the afternoon, quite heavily, so I stopped to wait for it slow down a bit. Fortunately I was ready to go after an hour, then I found I had left the headlights on full beam, the battery was flat. I was pretty sure it would recover in a while, but I got the generator out just in case. I couldn't start it. Fat lot of good it is having a generator as back up if you can't get it to go. I'll have to get it fixed.

Have you noticed the same thing I noticed? The countryside is green, green, GREEN! I didn't know Mexico was green! There are waterfalls everwhere tumbling out of the rocks, streams gurgling, everything is green, I drove slowly and then kept stopping to admire the view. And the views unfortunately are not the sort of views that come out well on photographs, they are too big, vast panoramas, I could (and did) stand and admire for ages, the photos only can give a minute taste of the real thing.

I reached Zacatlan, nice little town, nice people, again I couldn't find the caves so I headed towards the Valley of the raised stones which from my town map appeared to be about a kilometer out of town. After about 10 Km it came on to rain and water poured down every slope.

After about 20 Km I found the sign for the park, turn to the right, then it was 10 Km along unpaved road in the pouring rain to reach about the most imposing entrance gates you ever did see. I'll take a photo tomorrow, hopefully, just now it's raining torrents.

Through the gate I stopped at the information building and 4 policemen came tumbling out, security for the park. In no time we were all in the van, trying to communicate and drinking cokes. Hey, I'm not an obvious security risk! Turns out the senior policeman was at dinner. When he got back, with 3 other policemen, we had I think 7 policemen in the van out of 8 total. Heck, one of them had to stay on duty. They admired my books about Mexico, my family photos, the amenities of the van, we looked at my world atlas to see where I was born, we swapped names and shook hands and tried to communicate some more. I don't think they get a lot to do out here. I eventually almost had to push them out so I could get on with my own dinner. I originally arranged to park overnight about 30 yards down the road but after the boss's visit they decided I should stay just were I was, right outside their office, so they could watch out for me better, for my safety. (No, I honestly don't think they wanted to watch over me to make sure I didn't beat up the ecological park, it really was for my own safety!)

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 45, 13th June 2004

Good morning, good morning I heard, from the police, then heard it again and again, from about 5 am. Eventually I could stand it no longer and drove about 30 yards down the road. That shut them up for a while. Then it started again, good morning good morning!

Someone wrote to me and asked, why do they need so many policemen to guard a park? I've no idea why it needs so many policemen to guard a park. But it turns out that the policemen calling "good morning" wanted a photo. That's me in the middle the rest are policemen.

I don't think they wanted to arrest me. They gave me a gun.

Luckily I have a computer printer with me so I was able to print a full letter size copy for them as souvenir. Unluckily I am running out of colour ink so one copy of each photo is all they got!

I took a stroll around the Valley of the raised stones.

I mentioned imposing gates to the park at the end of a 10 km dirt road.

I drove on a bit, it came on to rain, I downloaded emails, and parked up for the night.

I posted a letter in the morning. Well, I found the office of the postal service and showed my letter to a guy outside, we went in, he looked at it, held it up to the light, asked if I wanted it registered, then unlocked a drawer in a filing cabinet and placed my letter inside, all on it's own, locking it again afterwards. I think they maybe don't post too many letters in this town.

At Tulacingo I turned north to look for a pyramid. Didn't find it. I did see a sign pointing to balloons so I followed it. The Club Aerostatico Nacional, started some 20 years ago by Eduardo Cortes who died about 4 years ago but the club continues, as a passenger flying operation, run by his wife Nohemi from a huge old and beautiful Hacienda. They have balloons of course

All the balloons, baskets, and burners have been constructed here and look pretty good on the whole, the bits I could see anyway. Unfortunately my total lack of Spanish and Nohemi's lack of English made communication somewhat difficult to say the least so after being shown round the hacienda I reluctantly continued on my way.

Nohemi's brother in law Horst had been helping with some translating over the phone, told me he lived in a very pretty village, about 70 km from Nohemi that had just been awarded "Magic Village" status, and said if I went there to call by. It was on my route, so I called in, partly to explain why I had not stayed at Nohemi's.

Boy, what a welcome I received! I was invited to dinner, offered the use of Horst's Internet connection, plied with drinks, and therefore left no option but to park in his drive overnight! Horst is German although he left Germany getting on for 50 years ago, and before final retirement 4 years ago spent 25 years controlling the operations of the Nivea Company in Mexico. There were a couple of German girls staying on their last couple of weeks of a 6 month round the world tour, Veronica and Annika from Munster.

Here's Horst.

And here is a really awful photo of Horst's wife Cristina but it's all I've got..............

In the morning Cristina took me on a drive to see the local Canyon.

In the afternoon it rained of course, we all piled in Horst's car and visited a now disused gold mine.

We returned, my van battery was flat, I'd left something switched on, again, so I used my extension cord to connect to the house and hopefully charge the battery. It didn't so next morning by cunning use of jumper leads between my 2 batteries I got the engine started. I've got a switch to connect the 2 batteries but that seems to have given up too.

I fiddled around under the bonnet and found a busted fuse. That seemed to get the inbuilt battery charger running again. Of course, both batteries recharge when the engine is running, it was just the mains supplied battery charger that was down.

Next day I planned to leave but Horst arranged balloon flights for the 2 girls so I'll take them there, Horst and Cristina are otherwise occupied with a dinner party, I can maybe do something to help around the balloons. So the morning was a visit, a guided tour no less, by Cristine, to the waterfalls and Hacienda in the canyon. There are lots of basalt columns, partly seen in the next picture.

And the Hacienda..........

All the water here was used to process the gold containing ore from the gold mines in the mountains. The owner of the Hacienda, and several other local Haciendas, and who also owned all the land as far as they eye could see, was at one time reckoned to be the richest man in the world.

I took a trip to a national park and a mining village then returned, spotted a sign to the English cemetery, and visited, there must have been around 150 graves, with gravestones written in English. Many miners came here from Cornwall to work the mines and obviously they, their wives, and their children, died from time to time.

I got back to Horst's, collected the 2 girls, and arrived at Nohemi's (www.clubaerostaticonacional.com) in time for dinner. The deal seems to be, dinner, bed at the hacienda, flight, then breakfast, for 1,500 pesos per person. Seems a good price to me. ($150, or 75) Of course the girls are guests of Horst and Cristina and I'm not flying so we are all above these considerations!

It's now after midnight, early morning call is 5:30 for 6:00 departure, so I'll now say goodnight.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 46, 15th June 2004

We were up at 5:30 watching them sort balloons. Nohemi asked would I like to fly? Well, yes, of course, but I didn't want to take a space up. No problem apparently, a quick change of basket and envelope, and we were driving to the launch site. They launched a couple of 180's, with around 8 people in each, then we followed, 4 up in a 73,000 cu ft, with pilot Margarita, who it turned out has been a pilot around 15 years, and, yes, she can fly a balloon.

And the crew can handle balloons too. They worked on the first balloon, moved to the second, then ours. Just like they'd done it all before.............

Now last night, to make sure I could take souvenir photos for the girls, I put the battery from my camera on the charger. Guess who forgot to put it back in the camera. Duh! So you'll just have to take my word for it, that it was a beautiful morning, with touches of mist around in the distance, with the odd taller trees etc showing through, lending a whimsical touch to it all, that we were flying over small but deep valleys with jagged rocks lining the sides. A beautiful morning and a beautiful flight over beautiful terrain.

The retrieve was there before we landed, we were back for a wonderful breakfast at the hacienda. Now I was able to sing for my supper, so to speak. The balloon we flew is their newest, 3 months old, only 30 hours, and really very well made, with very strong fabric, but I had noticed the rip was very hard to pull, it took two people to pull it. I was able to give them a very simple easy to install improvement that would reduce the pull by 50%. You remember they have made all their own balloons here on site? They are all well made. But I was also able to suggest some simple and cheap to install improvements to some of burners and fuel systems, the burners themselves I thought to be really well made. For those that don't know, for 5 years I was responsible for the technical safety of all balloons made or flown in the UK, so I have had a bit of experience in looking at these things!

We were then taken out to a local beauty spot. All included in the price. Hey if anyone reading this is in Mexico city at some time give them a call, they give you a really good balloon weekend for next to nothing. Contact Sabrina Sabcortes@hotmail.com who speaks English passably well or her Mum vcortes@clubaerostaticonacional.com. Anyway this is where we went.

This beauty spot visiting meant we only arrived back at Horst and Cristina's place about 4 pm just in time for their early dinner at 5 pm. Well, I thought it appropriate to open one of my remaining bottles of champagne that I had brought from France, to celebrate the girls first flight, and my first flight in Mexico.

In the morning I finally managed to drag myself away from this wonderful house and wonderful hospitality from Horst and Cristina. Certainly, when I get a house, they will be welcome to visit, any time.

I headed down to Teotihuacan to see the ruins. The pyramids are big. This is the pyramid of the moon.

And this is the pyramid of the sun, with, straight ahead, the Avenue of the Dead. This avenue is 2 miles long, lined with temples either side.

I walked the length of the avenue and back. This whole city is huge, one of the largest I have visited, certainly it has the largest number of restored sites. Although, sadly, there has been an enormous amount of restoration work, almost all that you can readily see is restoration. On all the sites I have visited, the sections that are restored are clearly marked, so you can see what is original, and what is not. Here there is some original sections that have been excavated and you can see how steps etc were all covered with stucco.

This is some original painting.

Here you can see restoration work, to the top right, above the painting, the mortar between the large building stones has small stones inset, this is to show it as restoration.

Walking up and down the avenue took time, by the time I got to the museum they told me it was closed. Drat!

I have a camp site listed in the town and decided to stay there. I found it, the gate looked pretty well closed, so I drove on the next gate, that was even more firmly shut. So I drove round the block to hammer on the first gate, to see if there was anyone there. Just before the campsite there was a car park, 5 pesos. While driving round the block I thought I would ask if I could park there for the night. Sure I was told, no problem, but we lock the gate at 10 pm. That's OK with me! While talking to the car park man a bunch of kids walked up, could they film an interview with me for school! Sure, so we struggled through an interview in English.

I plan to visit the Anthropological Museum in Mexico City tomorrow but am a bit apprehensive about driving there. I have heard and read too many reports of police there demanding money. I have read in guide books that $50 is often demanded, under threat of delaying you on some trumped up charge. Another book says you will always be stopped. I have been told, whilst I have been in Mexico, that the figure is now $200 and they don't care if you just paid $200 to another policeman. I have been told that one Mexican national, driving an American car, is stopped so often now he just stops in the middle of the highway and the police give up because they daren't get out of their cars in the traffic. I was stopped myself on the way down, on the outskirts of Mexico city, for no reason whatsoever, by policemen who didn't speak English. They borrowed my dictionary and pointed to the word "prison" but when I obviously had no idea what they were talking about, they gave up. I was asked for, and paid, a bribe in Cancun, but I am not complaining about that too much, I did shoot some traffic lights albeit inadvertently. That is about the only thing I have against Mexico, the crooked policemen in the major cities, looking to scam foreign tourists in foreign registered cars. What a shame that it should be police, usually so helpful, that are the problem.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 47, 17th June 2002

I worried about driving to Mexico City so decided to take the bus and leave my van in it's expensive (!) parking. I found the bus stop no problem, and a bus arrived. I found out later they are every 15 minutes. It's about 50 km, took an hour, and cost 18 pesos. I took a taxi from the bus station to the museum, about 20 minutes, 65 pesos. They have a neat taxi system in Mexico City. At the major terminals you buy tickets for the taxis, they have a big map showing the different zones, everywhere in the same zone is the same price. Means you can't get ripped off. Well, from the terminals that is, if you wave a taxi down on the street you take your chance just like many other places. I asked my taxi driver was it his taxi, no he said, he worked for a group that owned 1,800 taxis in Mexico city.

The museum was OK, lots of stuff, a bit confusing to me, possibly not as interesting as it could have been because I've been to a lot of similar, but smaller, museums. They had a reproduction of a temple with all the paintings that I had seen as an original at Bonampak and showed a photo in message 26.

As I was leaving the museum the Olympic torch arrived outside, for a relay change.

I have no idea where it arrived from, or where it was going to after the changeover, but it was the Olympic torch right enough, there were 100's of press, TV, etc. I didn't expect to see that. Actually, I don't even know where the Olympics are being held this year, I guess I've missed that information due to my travelling.

I had plenty of time to return to the bus terminus so I walked down the road a couple of blocks and caught the metro. 3 changes. That cost the princely sum of 2 pesos. I think I'll come back tomorrow by bus again and look at some of the sights. There's an electric trolley bus running from the bus terminus to near the zocalia, the main plaza, and it should be easy to return to the bus terminus the same way since there is only one trolley route and it is easy to spot due to the overhead cables! Once there I'll take the tourist bus around the city, about a 3 hour tour. Then my plan is just to hang around the centre unless I find time to read about the things to see. This is always my problem, I don't like reading guide books, it's like work, I just like visiting the places, it's why I rarely have a plan!

It has crossed my mind to leave the van here, it is after all a secure parking, and stay in Mexico city in a hotel, but it's not a problem to come back, it was less than an hour tonight, less traffic, and I have all my stuff here.

I caught the same bus in the morning, 8 am, and found my way to the Alameda without problem. (The Alameda is the central park, the Zocalia is the central square, about 3 blocks away, and so named because they intended to build a statue there but only got as far as the plinth. Zocalia means plinth. Now many central town squares in Mexico are called the zocalia after this, the first one. I don't know why, but there you are.)

However, I divert. I jumped on the tourist bus, happy to discover that being 65, I qualify for 50% reduction on the fare. The 3 hour trip on the bus was superb, it is certainly the way to see Mexico City, from the open top of a double decker bus, with someone else driving. Seen this way Mexico City is great. Lots of nice streets and avenues, super houses and shops, lots of green park area, beautiful statues and fountains and buildings. I didn't take many pictures, and those I did take didn't come out well because they were taken from a moving bus.

Notice the Union Jack flag on a building to the left...............

I visited the Templo Mayor, the ceremonial centre of Tenochtitlan, ruins discovered in the centre of the city by accident a few years ago, there were some nice frogs.

Really, these ruins are much too new to take my strong interest, the first of the 7 or so stages was built around 1375, I have been looking at stuff more than 1000 years older. The pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan where I was a couple of days ago, for example, was built around the 1st century AD. Now that's old. There's around 3 million tons of stone and rubble in that pyramid, built without metal tools, pack animals, or the wheel. Now that's impressive. I can carry 25 Kg. I can almost stagger a few steps carrying 50Kg. I started dividing it out, 3 million tons divided by 50 Kg and gave up. It is an awful lot of men and an awful lot of journeys to move 3 million tons..........

I walked around the streets of Mexico City.

I visited the palace, super murals, and the cathedral, big but a touch bare, and walked around the zocalia, and visited street vendors, they are everywhere, selling everything you can imagine, usually at really low prices, then decided it was time to get back home - home of course being my van on the 5 pesos per day car park. However I found myself in the jewelry quarter, with jewelry repair shops around. I asked if they could repair my camera. About a month ago I had broken one of the two tiny hinges holding the cover to the area including the memory chip and socket to connect the PC lead. After a few enquiries I was directed to a camera repair shop, along a dingy passage, up some tattered stairs to the first floor,

then outside, then here was the workshop, on the right.

We can repair it the man said. Come back in an hour, it will be 60 pesos. I went back, it was fixed. It looked fine. Did you glue it I asked? No the man said. Did you weld, or solder, it? No he said. Well what I asked? Turns out that he had inserted some tiny pieces of metal in both sides of the hinge to remake the joint. It is probably stronger than it was before. Even with my most powerful glasses I can barely make out the work. I continue to be amazed by the almost innate ability of Mexicans to fix things. Next I'll have to think about the hinges on my lap top computer, they have been bust about 6 months. I've been a bit doubtful, there are not many lap top computers in Mexico, so there are not many repair shops.

I wasted another 2 pesos on the trolley trip back to the bus station and caught my bus. The trip back was a bit slow, due to my wait for the camera repair I was in the rush hour, but really, considering the number of people in Mexico City, around 20 million, I was relieved it was not any slower. Mexico is now arguably the biggest city in the world.

After I got back I realised I had forgotten to ascend the Tour Latino, a 1950's skyscraper, and until fairly recently the tallest building in Mexico, with, I read, spectacular views from the 33rd floor. Fancy just forgetting. Duh!

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 48, 19th June 2004

I went to see the museum at Teotihuacan, the one that was closed when I visited the ruins. I got there at 8 am, the ruins opened at 7 am, but the museum did not open until 10. So I gave it a miss and started heading west,
just north of Mexico city, across a flat seeming fertile plain. It's still green everywhere of course, there is rain just about every day, quite heavy sometimes, but only for a short while. It's also not blistering hot. I'm currently wearing jeans, not shorts, with Tee shirt plus normal shirt, but there is never any need to take a jacket. It is just pleasantly warm. Of course, being around 7,000 ft helps, it is presumably searingly hot on the coast..

I reached the town of Coyotopec and the road I wanted seemingly petered out so I retraced steps and took the highway. After 5 kms, where I wanted to turn off to the next town there was a toll booth. 126 peso says the attendant. What? I said, I've only come 5 Km. (I'll remind you, 126 pesos is 6 or $12. And 5 km is 3 miles) He says, it would only be 55 pesos but you have twin back wheels. The fee is for going through the toll booth he
continued, not for the mileage. Oh, can I go back then I asked. Sure he said.

Well the original road did not peter out but it was rough. Very rough. After about a couple of miles I reached the camp site in Tepotzotlan that I was heading for. Gate firmly closed, no bell, no sign of life. So I parked on the plaza for the night.

The front of the church is decorated with an all types of carvings.

The interior is unbelievably lavish with painted and gilded statues and ornaments.

There is a Jesuit monastery adjacent, beautifully built with wonderful shaded gardens and paths.

I then headed off in the general direction of Toluca. On the way I spotted a lawnmower repair shop so dropped my generator in. The mechanic looked at the plug, checked the spark by holding the lead to see if it made him jump. It did. Then he pulled the starter cord, it fired on the second pull! Next door was a car upholstery workshop, so I got this guy to sew up my split passenger seat. At this rate I'll have everything like new in no time.

I carried on, I couldn't find the road to Toluca but no matter, the scenery was stupendous. You know, sometimes I can't hardly believe I'm actually in Mexico and seeing views like this. I drive down the road looking at everything, often laughing to myself or with a silly grin on my face it's so beautiful. I was really sad to leave my house in France, I thought I was settled there for the rest of my life, but they say, every cloud has a silver lining, and if I'd still been there, I wouldn't have been here, if you get the hang of that, and, over all, I think I am probably happier now, travelling.

I stopped for the night in a state run camp site, in a pine forest near Santiago Acutzilapan at something approaching 10,000 ft altitude. Although I was a bit cold it was so nice there I decided to stay a second night and while there get my washing done at the laundry. Unfortunately when I found the only laundry it the town, in the morning, it was closed. All the washing machines were broken I was told, so I continued on, with more views. Yesterday was cloudy, so I didn't take photos. Today I did.

Of course, I have to have lunch.

And then continue on.

I diverted to look at another ruin, Calixtlahuaca, which has a circular pyramid, but which is, by my interests, newish.

As with many other structures, there are several stages of building, one on top of the other. Here are very steep steps from, I think, stage 2.

 

After Toluca I climbed up towards the extinct volcano the 15,390 ft high Nevada de Toluca, there is a 20 km dirt road runs almost to the top. I stopped for the night at the final gate, 13,300 ft., and was amused to think most people who fly balloons have not been up this high in a balloon, and I'm here in my motor home! I've actually been up to 22,000 ft in a balloon, I once spent an hour and a half up there trying, successfully, with Simon, to find a wind that would NOT take us towards a huge glacier over the Alps. At the gate, back here on the ground, they told me I would not be able to drive the final 6 km to the summit, the road was too narrow, I would have to walk for 2 km (with 2,000 ft climb) to get to the top. I'll see what tomorrow brings.

It's started raining, good, that means clear skies and good views in the morning. It's also very windy, from time to time the van is rocking, I've checked the brakes are on, and I am closing the bathroom window, for the first time ever, there is a cold gale blowing through. It also reminds me, I'd better get my sleeping bag out of the cupboard, a couple of sheets and a Mexican blanket are not going to keep me warm up here tonight, I've already put a sweater on and I saw patches of snow high on the mountain on the way up.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 49, 21st June 2004

I was a bit cold during the night even with the sleeping bag, but when I put on more clothes and spread my blanket out over the sleeping bag and it was OK. In the morning I found out why it was cold, it had been snowing. A damp, sleety sort of snow, it had settled on the van in places. The furnace in the van doesn't work at high altitudes so I had to remember ideas from my childhood (before central heating) and snuggle the fresh clothes in the sleeping bag to warm up before putting them on. (Marvelous isn't it. The heating doesn't work when I'm high up and it's cold and I can't use the air conditioning when it's too hot).

However, things improved with a hot coffee, both stove burners running full blast for a short while,(I don't want carbon monoxide poisoning) and a new man on the gate who, with a bit of persuasion, let me drive up to the crater. Here's the road at the start, with snow above.

Here's some views.

There's lots of those little pointy hills around. These sort of huge panoramic views do not show up well on photos but I'll have to mark Nevada de Toluca down as the best huge views of my trip so far.

When I reached the crater I thought this was it. But round the corner was another lake.

Yes, I did climb a bit to get this photo. The next picture might give an idea. I've given a hint to help spot the van.

A young man I'd already talked to caught up with me here, he'd run up the mountain. He's been here 20 days, training for marathon running, he's hoping for the next Olympics. So far his best time is 2h 15 min, the world record is 2h 5min. Anyway, when we were a bit lower down he said we were around 4,500m so I guess this was taken from about 4,550m or almost 15,000 ft.

Yes I know, almost same photo as the last one. But one's got the van in, one's got me in. Looking the other way from when we were lower down there was lots of snow on the mountainside.

Yes that white really is snow. On the climb up, on the sunny side, there were some gorgeous flowers scattered about.

As I drove down I re entered the tree line, more flowers, wild lupins I think.

Soon after I reached the main road I was waved down by Fernando who I'd also talked to earlier, he was lunching from the back of a pickup with some others from his club "Mountain Magicians" - they go around climbing mountains. So I joined them for a pleasant snack and a drink and a sort of chat then when it came on to rain it put short to the proceedings and I continued to Valle de Bravo, passing through luscious thick green pine forests before I decided I didn't like driving in the rain so I pulled off the road down a short track and stopped by an aeromodeler's flying field, and that's where I am now.

It was not so cold during the night, and in the morning I continued down through the tall pine forests which are more like the French or Swiss Alps than any thought of Mexico, even to the fields occasionally appearing as breaks in the forest.

I really needed to find a laundry. I was down to my last shirt, a new one, Marks and Spencers, present from my Mum years ago, I had been saving it, well I needed it today! I found a laundry, dumped my clothes etc., and went to look for the camp site. Another thing I needed was a proper shower. I found what appeared to be the right place on the lakeside, from the description in the book, but couldn't find the way in. Not to worry. After I'd driven past it a couple of times a battered old pickup stopped alongside me and the driver waved me to an opening in the fence. The driver, the boss, had noticed me driving past in my motor home and had come to collect me. The fee of 100 pesos is more than I have ever paid before, but I really needed that shower, and the service is pretty good.....Three men came to light the boiler just for me for my shower, there are no other visitors so they had put it out. Mostly the place here is a storage and launching place for boats on the lake, there are a few caravans in storage too. Those are trailer homes in American speak.

The view is superb. This time more like the Italian lakes than Mexico. This is the view from my parking spot.

After my shower I pulled out my chair, fixed a margarita, enjoyed the view, and read my guide books. Then I went back to explore Valle de Bravo with it's lovely old cobbled streets and nice plaza.

Tomorrow I think I'll drive around the lake, maybe climb that hill just opposite, behind the houses in my picture, which the man cutting grass told me gives a beautiful view over the town and the lake.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 50, 24th June 2004

So I climbed the hill in the morning, all on foot, and here's a picture of the boatyard where I stayed last night.

Valle de Bravo is certainly a nice place and different to everywhere else I've been. Around this hill I climbed, and in the neighbouring town of Avandaro, are 100's of expensive and beautiful houses, such as you might find around the French Riviera. No peasants shacks with earthen floors to be seen, no pickups full of people either, not even the collective minibuses, just taxis to ferry people about. There are town houses of course, and the regular market. There are nice streets, some of them steeply twisting and causing a touch of difficulty with my motor home. This one was OK.

It came on to rain so I went to look at waterfalls. Here's one.

and here's another.

Same waterfall, different viewpoint.

Beautiful waterfall but interestingly not 100% natural! The river on it's original course has cut a valley and drops down this valley in a series of small cascades with a moderate waterfall at the bottom. The cunning locals have cut a channel along the rim of this small valley so the main part of the water now tumbles down the side of the valley in this spectacular waterfall. That's fine with me!

I wandered off around the lake and parked for the night by the plaza of a small town. In the morning I stopped on a spot overlooking the lake for about an hour then climbed out of the Valle de Bravo area with spectacular views looking back.

I stopped to check my map and a newish pickup stopped with smoke and fumes coming out all around the engine. He had some water and started pouring it into the radiator. I managed to stop him and took cover. In a few seconds all the water he had just put in erupted out of the radiator in a boiling plume of water! After a couple more fast starts like that I refilled his water container from the van and dribbled the water myself into his radiator. Eventually all seemed OK and he departed.

I found a stream with a grassy flat area so took a slow lunch in the sun. I passed close by the Monarch Butterfly sanctuary I had visited may back in March, then noticed a sign to an archeological site, I had not noticed it mentioned in my guide books. It was pouring with rain but I toured the site, umbrella up. Each site is different in some way. This pyramid was constructed between 800 and 1200 AD in only two stages, but has been built with natural rocks, only the steps and the corner blocks were preshaped.

Even in the rain it's a good view.

I asked the guardian if it was OK to stay on the car park for the night, he thought a moment and said yes. Here I won't be bothered by noisy early morning vehicles, I am up a hill right at the end of a small dirt road.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 51, 27th June 2004

I'd given the guardian a beer last night, he seemed to appreciate it, so before I left I propped another by his office door.

I forgot to mention, I dropped by Zitacuaro yesterday in the pouring rain. As well as wanting to investigate the church and the plaza I mainly looking for something to replace the drive belt for my vacuum cleaner which had broken. The vacuum cleaner, a gift from Danny Campbell in Des Moines, Iowa, has been really useful, but it's no good without a drive belt and you can't get the belts in Mexico, I've already found that out. (Danny - you should have given me a spare belt!) I didn't stop in the plaza but I did see a repair station for my brand of computer. If you stay here 2 days the repairman says, we can get the bit to fix the hinge on your computer, we don't normally do laptop repairs. When I said I'm not here that long, he said OK, in Morelia they do laptop repairs there and they will fix it.

I stopped in Tuxpan, friendly little place. No luck with the drive belt, but one place I asked was a radio repair spot. I've been having minor problems with my car CD player, it's full of dust. The man blew the dust out and refused payment since he couldn't get the radio out of the dashboard and do a proper repair. I take a daily tablet for a minor prostrate problem, I'm running out of tablets and haven't been able to find a substitute. I did here, and at a fraction of the price I expected to pay. Internet worked fine too. So did the phone to Acer in Mexico city to find the address of the computer repair shop in Morelia. Funny how you get to like some places!

I crossed to Morelia by the Mil Cumbres road (1000 peaks), it was bit hazy but a good trip.

Lots of views like this.

First call in Morelia was the computer repair shop. Sure she says, no problem, we can do that. It needs a new screen she says. She looks at my papers and says it's still under guarantee. I thought it was 1 year guarantee but seems it's 2 years. That's good. We need photocopies of invoices etc she says, so I go to the photocopy shop. Just by the way, everywhere in Mexico is full of copy shops. Few people have their own copier, you go to the copy shop. It's not expensive, just different. I get back, we fill in all the forms with my name, address etc. OK she says, it will take about 30 days. 30 days? Yes she says, it has to go to Mexico City...............

So the hinge didn't get fixed.

Apparently people have boondocked at Wal-Mart here, so after shopping there I did the same. Up bright and early in the morning so I found a parking spot near the plaza. I meandered about, bought a set of 6 classical CD's from Sanborns. Mr Sanborn is the richest man in Central America apparently, but the price of my CD's, 280 pesos the set, was OK. The cathedral is nice.

I took a trip round the town on the tourist bus. If you look carefully you can see a tourist bus in the 1st picture above. It's behind the middle car. Whilst looking carefully, can you also see a pigeon and a police pickup? I meandered though more shops, I sat on the plaza, I watched small boys (successfully) trying to catch pigeons. A gentle, nice, day.

Everyone says the cathedral is especially nice at night. It was raining so I took my umbrella.

There were people sleeping under the arches round the plaza. Hey, I've found out why all the plazas are surrounded by buildings with arches over the pedestrian ways. The Spanish king Phillipe II decreed that it should be so, to give shelter to the various market sellers who always gathered around the plaza. Central plazas are always beautiful, in all the towns.

I was intrigued by one small group sleeping out under the arches. Young people, they didn't appear to be down and outs, they had seemingly good quality blankets. Mexican backpackers maybe, run out of money? I caught one girl's eye, she seemed embarrassed, almost hunted, she didn't have the look of a peasant. I'll never know the reason they were there.

The peasants, the people without money, who walk everywhere, huge distances, mostly Indians, the indigenous peoples, they are a proud people, they look at you without flinching, they are not ashamed to be caught looking at you.

With the rain and everything I didn't feel like moving so I just stayed where I was, on a street near the plaza.

In the morning I sat on the plaza for a while, wasted time on the internet - I had to go back to pick up my notebook that I'd left there last night. Bought another fruit thing, I've forgotten the name, full of different fruits chopped small with all sort of bits and pieces of powders and sauces added from jars and bottles, topped up with fresh squeezed orange juice. Delicious! I picked up a couple of things at Wal-Mart and carried on to Quiroga where there is a camp site. I don't know where the day went. I did waste a lot of time tracking down a drive belt for the vacuum cleaner, trying all sorts of shops and suppliers. I managed to buy on "O" ring gasket seal of the right size and it works. I drove through Quiroga and stopped by a nice view and it came on to rain so I've stayed here, on a road junction. I've noticed police driving by from time to time.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 52, 29th June 2004

In the morning I wandered round the Sunday market in Quiroga and bought stuff I mostly didn't need such as batteries for a torch which I later found didn't work. But it was a nice market, it held my attention a long time. One of the local crafts is woodworking, I particularly liked the children's high chairs, only around 100 pesos too, ($10), what a bargain!

I noticed about half a dozen slightly different styles of manufacture, varying probably due to the different workshops, but all attractive. I then took off to drive around the Patzcuaro lake and pulled into an RV park for the night at Patzcuaro.

Next morning I decided to have a look at the central heating furnace and I fixed it. It works! The heater fan recalculates the heated air inside the van, the air for the burner is drawn in from outside and the burnt gases go back outside. The air inlet pipe had become dislodged and the fan was actually blowing air onto the burner flame . This kept blowing it out! Anyway, it works now.

I took regular (collectivo) boat to the Island of Janitzo. It leaves when it's full, or when the captain decides it's time to go.

On the top is a rather unattractive statue of local independence hero Morelos (the town state capital Morelia is named after him).

It's possible to climb up inside and peer at the view from inside his raised wrist.

There was the regular light shower in the afternoon but it soon dries up.

I was sitting at one of those tables but under cover. Notice the style similarity between these rather attractive chairs and the high chairs I liked at the market? There's a local village specialising in wood furniture, they probably come from there, I'll have to go take a look.

Patzcuaro is a pretty colonial style town - colonial means dating back to the time when Mexico was a Spanish colony. There's a couple of nice plazas, when I got back from the island I just wandered around, I'll stay at the same RV park tonight and look around the town again tomorrow.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 53, 1st July 2004

Before I left the campground I spent a little time cleaning the mud off a top corner of my waste water tank. It has a slight leak when full, presumably resulting from the time it dropped off it's moorings a couple of months ago. It was as I suspected, some of the sealant where the pipes enter the tank had become damaged. I'd already bought some silicone sealer so I daubed that around.

Then I just wandered around Patzcuaro. It's a beautiful little town. All the house shops etc are painted in the same way, and all the commercial names use the same style painted over the doorways, first letter of each word in red, the other letters black, like the sign on the right.

All the roofs are attractive and matching red tiles. It all goes to show what years and years of sensible town planning can do.

I bought a paper - Mexican edition of the Miami Herald! - and sat in the plaza and read it.

Actually there are two plazas close to each other, and I read the paper in the other one................

There's an ex temple, now a library, with a mural on the end wall.

There's a little museum with a reproduction (50 years old) bone and stone floor. In between the stones are animal bones.

And it's 13th century ruin of a pyramid.

There's a nice market where I bought delicious bread. I think Patzcuaro has knocked San Cristabel de las Casas off it's perch as my favourite town. There's not so many museums and similar places here but as a town to be in it's just great. Even the camp site is pleasant. A touch more than I like to pay but worth it.

Next morning I was back in the town. Actually this was the day I visited the museum so the above photos are out of sequence but after that I headed towards the village where they make the wooden furniture.

On the way I looked in at a little village church. As with every other church I have visited in Mexico it was crammed with flowers and the altar screen was quite sumptuous.

I looked at a couple of furniture workshops and pulled off the side of the road. There was almost no traffic so I stayed here for the night. It rained and rained during the night so in the morning I stayed in the same spot, actually writing these notes, until the sun broke through the clouds about 9.30 am.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 54, 2nd July 2004

I went round about 30 furniture makers or suppliers in Cuanajo. There were some superb pieces. This was my favourite but it's a blurry photograph, not enough light, I didn't support the camera for the long exposure.

The table top is hand carved in relief and shaped with holes cut through, it looked gorgeous in real life. A real fun piece. Price was 9,000 pesos ($800 or 450) for the set, table and chairs. I would love to own that! And at that price! Wow!

The following is a better photo and was a slightly better price, probably because I was talking to the man who actually made it and painted it. It's a fruit design, carved in relief. I looked out back and sure enough there were 4 or 5 young men working away, sanding and carving. He said he could make any designs so presumably could duplicate the parrot version. The same designs seem to be made all over the place, presumably it's the norm to take an idea from someone else, improve on it, and then have your design copied in turn. Or maybe they go out back periodically and have a punch up between themselves for copying! I don't know!

This table was quoted at 8,000 pesos, (400, $750), quality was the same in both cases, very high. Remember I ran a woodworking business for 30 years and am not quite a novice when it comes to judging quality in woodwork. Beautiful finish. He said would drop to 6,000 for a quantity of 10. He would probably bargain lower, that was his first offer. Maybe he would go to 4,000 pesos. But even 6,000 would mean delivered Europe for around 400. You buy at 400, sell on at 600, i.e. 50% mark up, shop retails at 1400, i.e. 100% markup plus sales tax. Would it sell in the UK for 1400? I think so. I was very nearly tempted! If I had still been in business I think I would have bought some to try.

In case anyone reading this really is tempted, his name is Pedro Judrez Garcia, he is to be found on the right hand side a kilometer or so before you reach the village proper, and his phone is 01 434 343 31 78.....................his address is just Cuanajo, Michoacan.

The parrot design was at Muebles Joana, just by the cross roads at the entry to the village, 01 434 343 30 69.

I moved back towards Patzcuaro, stopping to admire the view on the way.

Then later.

Note there are now real fields and stone walls. The fields are brown because there is corn growing and the fields have been well cultivated. The first photo was taken looking the same way but I was then the other side of those hills centre left.

I was now starting north around the lake. First stop was Ihuatzio, another ruin. That makes 46 ruins visited in total but they are all getting very recent. This one was 13th Century. This is the view from on top of one of the twin pyramids.

And these are the pyramids built on a platform.

I carried on north along a dirt road but with superb views over the lake and reached Tzintzuntzan (where do they get these names from?) where there is another ruin. I got there only 30 minutes before closing time so asked if it was OK to stop the night in the car park. Yes, no problem.

Here there are 5 pyramids on a huge long high platform. Must be 200 metres long. Each pyramid has a sort of circular pyramid attached to the front. Vary rare to find anything rounded - the corners of the platform are rounded too. It's presumed they had round temples on top of the round pyramid extensions.

This is the view from the platform. Beautiful, again.

I was going to continue on round the lake but started back towards Patzcuaro to get another view of the lake so continued on. After all I've already been round the lake, even if it was raining that day.

After stopping briefly in Patzcuaro I climbed up the Cerro del Estribo for a view over the town. At the end of the drive up there are 417 steps. (I didn't count them myself.......I forget where I am after counting about 20 steps, my attention wanders!)

But when you get there the view is pretty good.

That's provided you don't fall over the edge. See where this path goes off into space in the above picture? That's exactly what it does.

Around the other side of the hill there was another quarry, another path going into space, and another stupendous view.

I parked up in the same place I had been a couple of nights ago, near the painted table village, and then went towards Santa Clara. It was a touch misty in the early morning.

Santa Clara is famous for copper beating, there are maybe 60 different workshops around the town. I watched at the copper museum. I watched this man for nearly an hour, off and on. It's a slow process, copper beating. In that hour I could notice very little difference in the shape or size of the piece he was working on.

They start with a red hot solid block of copper.

Then up to four of them whack it in turn with sledgehammers. Not surprisingly that makes it flatter.

I've managed to hide one of the whackers. He is behind the man in the blue shirt. There were actually four of them. The man sitting down is turning the ingot round. It's quite clever the speed they go at, it's actually the first time I've seen four sledgehammers at work like this although I know it is a black art practiced in metalworking shops all over the world.

Lake Zirahuen I was told is smaller, cleaner, deeper, and prettier than the Patzcuaro lake. Yes it's nice that's for sure, but there's not so many places to admire it from. I found one spot where I ate my lunch. Which reminds me, they bake delicious bread all around this area.

Next stop was Tingambato where there is another ruin. A bit older than most around here, it dates from around 600 AD. The ceremonial centre remaining is quite small and there is a ball court, rare in western Mexico. It's a slightly different design to most. Just about all are in the shape of a capital letter H the main playing part being the horizontal bar. Here the 2 verticals are very much abbreviated, almost non existent. Anyway, here is the pyramid.

I've parked in the ruins car park for the night.

Best regards

David Barker

Mexico 55, 6th July 2004

I checked out the small Sunday market at Tingambato and moved on to Uruapan. Nothing much special about the town itself, nice square. Actually it's 3 plazas joined together, about 300 metres long. It's 500 metres lower than Patxcuaro and is much warmer, the name of the town means eternal spring. After a beautiful sunny start it rained. Really rained. Most of the roads turned into river, there was no way that drains could cope with this much water. Here's a shot of water running off the gutters. It's blurry because I took it through the van window, and with that much rain tumbling down I didn't want the window open more than a few seconds.

This is the effect it had on the roads. This van is parked, the "bow wave" is caused by the water flowing past.

This is a real bow wave. This pickup is on a dual carriageway, the main road through Uruapan, just by the roundabout starting the main route into the centre. You can see the water is up to the sills on the parked car behind.

This is the same road further on, the blue car and the pickup are driving

So are these two.

See the size of those rain drops! I intended to stay at a camp site in town, but they were renovating the entrance gate, it didn't look as though I could get in. Plus someone had parked half across the entrance. I parked round the corner. The water there was about 6" deep right across a 4 lane road, and flowing at 2 or 3 mph. I didn't bother to look for a dryer bit of road, ALL the roads were flooded.

Lucy and Lucas, whom I met later, also saw the storm in Uruapan, and took these pictures.

The water didn't seem to bother him too much,

This is a police car braving the floods.

I took an early start to see the national park which is in the town, it follows the local river from it's source in the park, lots of water again, this time organised and under control. The planners of the water features, the waterfalls and the fountains and paths have done a wonderful job, gently adding their bit to nature.

Here's a waterfall. This one might even be 100% natural.

Water just pours out of the rocks on the side of the path. This isn't a waterfall - just water running out of the rocks.

This is artificial!

There is a trout farm in the park, they offer fresh trout for sale and boy! they are fresh. This is what happened when I thought that would make a nice dinner and asked if I could buy just one trout. He went fishing and brought back just one trout, cleaned it, and now I can say it was delicious!

All in all it's a very nice park easily absorbing a 2 hour stroll.

In 1943 a farmer nearby was out working in his field when the ground began to shake and swell and steam and sparks and hot ask shot out. At first he tried to cover it but then fled. It was the start of the Paricutin Volcano which was active for 8 years, now there's just a few wisps of steam. It's not really big, it produced a cone about 300 metres high but it's interesting.

There's a church half buried by the lava.

I tried to get a photo showing the church partially engulfed but this was the best view I could get, and I had to fake this one by ducking down behind some lava! The trouble is from almost all angles it just looks like a low church built on the lava, you have to climb around to see the gaps in the lava and the lower part of the church. There's a spiral staircase starting at about the level of the tower in the photo, you wind down around 10 metres blow the lava down to the old ground level!

Tonight I'm parked at the visitor centre, costing all of 41 pesos for the night, but there's hot showers for the morning. I met and passed a few drinks with Lucy and Lucas, I mentioned them earlier, a pleasant young couple from the Czech Republic, here in Mexico for a month to study turtles but squeezing in a holiday beforehand.

There's four adorable puppies living on the campsite, they belong to the guardian. Lucy took this super photo. I wish I had!

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 56, 9th July 2004

The hot showers didn't appear in the morning. I had a few promises from the caretaker that he would light the boiler, finally I actually watched him light the boiler. After 30 minutes still not hot water. I checked the boiler, it was not alight. So I tried to light it myself, it kept going out. I shifted to the boiler for the ladies showers. Success! 30 minutes later I had my shower! Meanwhile I had been taking short walks, making friends with the puppies, doing a bit of maintenance on the van such as carpet cleaning and vacuuming, similar sort of maintenance on the computer, and taking a leisurely lunch at the viewpoint.

Lucas and Lucy had gone off to climb the volcano, 12 km hike, I did not even consider joining them. But we met up later and had another pleasant evening.

It's rather a long hike to the bus stop from the tourist centre so I gave them both a lift into Uruapan in the morning after regulation photo. The volcano is in the background.

They decided to go to the supermarket where I was heading - I bought a new frying pan, 40 pesos - then dropped them off at the bus station.

I spotted another computer repair shop and stopped by. Must be 5 or 6 I have called at now, generally they say, we can't do laptops. Normally when you open a laptop the lid, which is the screen, stays where you put it. For 6 months now mine has been floppy I have had to more or less prop it near the vertical to use it, I have been worried it would fall back and break the screen. Anyway this guy starts gently probing with a small screwdriver and finally clips out a small faceplate which eventually allows access to the hinges. The two screws holding the hinge were totally unscrewed, the threads had gone in one, no problem, in a couple of seconds he was back with a slightly larger screw. The lid is much tighter now but he is not satisfied. He takes the other hinge cover off and tightens the screws. I am thinking "perfect" but he now starts dismantling the surround to the screen. Sure enough, there are two more screws on each hinge. All were loose. With these tightened the screen positioning really is perfect.

50 pesos he says. I was so relieved at getting it fixed I gave him 100 pesos ($10, or 5). Bit over the top I thought afterwards but it didn't exactly break the bank.

Next stop was waterfalls. 40 minutes to walk down says one guide book, lots longer on the way back. Nice waterfalls just south of Uruapan.

I took this photo from the same spot as the last, just swung around to the right. The water is just pouring right out of the rocks.

There was a complete rainbow, look the end is just this side of those hills, now where's that crock of gold?

I noticed it was already 7.30 pm so stopped by the plaza in the next town. Is it OK to park there I asked a policeman who was sitting on the steps of the town hall. Without drawing breath, no problem he says.

Next morning I walked around the town centre, spotted the post office, and posted a letter. I asked for more 10 peso stamps. He offered 8.5 peso stamps. These will be OK he says. I must have looked doubtful because he now came up with an offer of two 6 peso stamps. He seemed to think that was near enough too. Turns out he doesn't have 10 peso stamps or even 5 peso stamps. I've said before, I don't think they send many letters in Mexico. Come to think of it, I don't recollect ever seeing a post box.

I turned off the tourist route and headed west, still in the general direction of the coast. Lots of green fields, crops growing everywhere, even I noticed tractor repair shops. I've hardly seen tractors anywhere else never mind special repair shops for them.

I saw a doctors sign in Buenavista and called in. I take a daily tablet for a minor prostrate problem, I'd brought a good supply but am getting low, and haven't been able to find the same tablets here. I bought some the pharmacy told me were equivalent but I was not sure, the drug name was different. He told me yes they were OK but suggested a different make and said they were the best. He wouldn't let me pay for a consultation.............

I stopped briefly just after and a car pulled alongside. Did I have a problem? No I said. OK he said, I saw you stopped in Buenavista and then again here, I wasn't sure. Claudio he's called, he's an artist, lives close by where I stopped, just 2 days ago returned from a visit to Vietnam, and he has a website........I'll look at it.

After about 70 miles of fields the road started climbing to cross the range of hills to the coast. Quite pretty.

Claudio had told me the road turned into a dirt road for about 20 Km. I reached Coaloman and there was the dirt road. I decided to stop the night, parked near the town centre, and asked a policeman sitting on the steps of the police station if it was OK to park there for the night. Without drawing breath, no problem he says.

Strange how thing repeat themselves.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 57, 12th July 2004

After sending emails I opened the can of Czech beer that Lucie and Lukas had given me, that they had carried with them in their back packs from the Czech Republic. Mmmmm! Delicious!

It turned out the dirt road was only about 2 miles long and was the bypass
to the town. If I had stayed in the town centre and taken a left out of the
plaza I would have been on paved roads all the way. The scenery improved.

I've got loads more photos like this. It's great when you are driving through it, but after 2 or 3 the pictures all look the same.

I reached the Pacific Ocean again.

I turned inland a short distance, checked email, and continued to a small town where there was an army post next to a small closed up looking plaza. (Neither of the two shops on the plaza was open, the police office looked permanently shut) Can I park here I asked a soldier. Not just there he said - I was right in front of his sandbagged lookout post - on the plaza is OK. We'll watch out he indicated, tapping his eye and pointing.

I was early, so I walked around the plaza, I sat on the plaza, then I cooked dinner. All the while a small cat or kitten was yowling, moving from under my van to a car the other side of the road, then back. I made dinner then sat on the steps by the back of the van, talked, sort of, to some locals and tried to make friends with the meowling cat. It was as thin as you can imagine almost like a pencil on long thin legs and scruffy as could be. I picked it up, it weighed nothing.

Finally I went to bed, and slept badly. Partly as a result of sitting outside in the low country where I discovered later I had been bitten to death and I itched all night, partly due to the now unaccustomed heat, and partly due to the yowling cat, now under my van all the time because the other car had now gone, and it was raining. The cat didn't stop yowling and didn't go. First problem I solved sensibly, with Sting Eze. For anyone travelling to biting insect areas do not travel without some form of insect bite reliever. For me Sting Eze works brilliantly.

Second problem I solved stupidly. Do not do what I did. I fed the cat in the morning. I had some steaks I'd bought but found tough. After a whole steak, cut up in small pieces, the cat stopped yowling and didn't go. It now looked like a pencil with a big bulge in the middle. I noticed it had lost most of it's whiskers a while back, they were all cut off evenly, and now they were growing again, and it had scrapes on one ear. Because it had been around the square so long and was so thin and scruffy I presumed it was living wild. I hope it was, because I took pity on it and brought it with me. Like I said, stupid.

So now I am travelling with small cat which has hardly ever stopped purring or sleeping since I picked it up, often doing both at the same time, I'll have to find a home for it eventually but meanwhile I can put a bit of weight on it.

Later in the morning it started raining again so I stopped driving. No sense in driving in the rain, nothing to see. I made friends with the cat, looked at my guide books, checked some stuff on the computer then looked at a beach. The sand here is black.

I continued to Cuyutlan where I checked out the salt museum and the turtle museum. They were collecting coconuts from the coconut grove behind the museum, wow, I haven't seen that before. No ropes, no safety, just climbing.

I tried it myself later, no way have I got the strength to do that!

The book said it was OK to park an RV at the turtle museum but they said not, but no problem to park on the beach, so I parked on the beach.

The cat won't go out of the van unless I go out, it follows me around, and when I go back in the van, he does too. (It's a he. I've looked!)

I couldn't swim there in the morning, huge breakers, so I moved back to the beach by the town. Lots of people,

lots of them. Here there was a shallow part, OK to wade out into the sea but not really deep enough to swim before another breaker knocked you back. I had fun for half an hour and gave up, picking up a shower on the way out. Hot showers for 10 pesos they said. No hot water but in this heat it didn't really matter.

Manzanillo was not really exciting. I thought I might stay in the not exciting trailer park but seemed it was shut so I asked if I could park in the Pemex petrol station. Yes, no problem.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 58, 15th July

Today it rained. Of course it was a lovely sunny day while I was shopping buying such previously non essential stuff such as cat food, cat litter, cat litter tray, etc etc. So then I drove to Playa La Audienca which is a really beautiful beach surrounded by superb and presumably expensive houses. Quite a lot of US registered cars around. If I had lots of money and wished to have a nice house with good views and super swimming beach nearby then I guess this would do me. However I don't have lots of money and I'm not too enthralled by beaches and swimming so I am not even tempted. Even without the rain. I drove around a little, admired houses and views, and returned to the Pemex gas station. 100 pesos worth smiled the lady attendant. You have a good memory I said. But 200 pesos today, and is it OK to stay the night in the lorry park?

Yes it was of course. I passed some time in conversation, if that's what you can call it, with a young man from Durango. At least we swapped a beer. Age 23 he already owned his own truck and he had a breakdown, he was there last night. Is it a big problem I asked? No he says, dead battery, 300 pesos, that's all. Parked next to me was an artic (semi) tractor unit, out of 4 tyres on the back 3 had no rubber at all on the treads they were worn down to the base reinforcing.

Small cat is not very well. Put delicately you would say stomach upset. Probably not used to cat food. But it still enjoyed hiding under trucks, climbing on the tyres, and so on. My young friend from Durango and I spent about 10 minutes looking for it one time, then it just appeared. Durango friend told one stretch of road I should not miss. it fits in perfectly with my outline route plan.

I called in briefly at a supermarket for more provisions I had forgotten, if briefly is what you call it when the cat wants to explore the car park for half an hour, and arrived at Barra de Navidad. Nice little town, I drove around, parked, and walked to the front. A pleasant young man approached, would I like an airplane flight over the area. No not really I said but eventually we agreed on the cut down rate of 400 pesos, I'm hungry he said, no tourists today and it rained all day yesterday! Normal rate is 550 pesos per person which is not expensive. And of course I like flying. At the airstrip I said, I've been here before. I looked in my log book and yes, 11th November 1999, Simon and I landed here, returning from Costa Rica in his Cessna 177. At that time we circled the town a couple of times to wake up a taxi, then stayed the night. I hadn't recognised the town today, I'd driven on different roads, previously we took a taxi and walked the pedestrian ways.

This is Barra. Not from the air, obviously.

This is from the air.

and this is Hector by his wonderful flying machine, a 172 Cessna. His email is hectorgonzalezs@yahoo.com.mx.

When I realised I'd been here before, I looked around the town again. This is the first hotel we looked at in 1999.

Now Simon and I have several things in common. We like flying, we like traditional jazz, and we like beer. But we also don't like paying more than the minimum needed for a hotel. Then we feel we have more to spend on eating. Not that we go in for expensive meals even.

But I found our 1999 hotel. It was not in this state when we stayed here, but it was getting close!

On the way back from the airfield Hector suggested a quiet road to park, so that's where we are now. I'll maybe take a photo of the airfield tomorrow.

Really, it's too hot for me here. After dinner I walked up and down the road for half an hour to get rid of some of the perspiration. Even then, it's too hot, you don't feel like doing anything. OK I suppose if you have come here for week and plan to just lie on the beach. I think it's a lovely little town to come and stay, one of the best. Not overdone for tourists, just pleasant, and normal Mexican.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 59, 16th July 2004

I drove to the little airport in the morning, left Hector a couple of photos - he wasn't there so I stuck them in the door of his plane. Forgot to take a photo of the airstrip which is a pity, it looks more like a cart track than an airstrip. When we took off yesterday we had to avoid a bunch of cows on the runway.

I headed north, stopping at a couple of little towns on the way.

After a while, photos of these places all begin to look the same. Like photos of green hills. Which reminds me. Away from the coast but still on the lower coastal strip, the scenery was pretty good too. Amazingly green, green all the way. I can't get over it. I thought Mexico was brown all over but it's all green. I know it's the rainy season just now, but it's been green everywhere.

I had the idea of continuing to Puerto Vallarta to meet up again with Lucie and Lukas who were now camping out at their 2 week turtle hunt but it was getting lateish so I turned off to El Nogalito which my book said had a trailer park. Well, it did. By the time I found it, it had stopped being a trailer park and turned into a health spa. Go up to the Nogalito restaurant she says, you can park there. Up I drove, a steep muddy track, the gate was firmly locked. No place to turn so I gingerly reversed back down. In front of the new spa one time trailer ark I ask a local, can I park here, etc.,etc. No problem he says.

It rained and rained during the night. Kitten cat by the way is getting cleaner, fatter, and more contented almost by the hour. He's even started playing in the rare times when he is not sleeping. He likes to travel sitting on my lap, which is fine, I know where he is. The only time I hear any meowling now is in the 10 minutes before meal time, and then it's not much. It's more of a meow than a yowl. He'll be fit to have his photo taken soon. He has fully accepted that the van is home, when he goes outside to explore he stays very close, usually under the van, which I suppose is familiar ground, under a vehicle.

I'd had a light on the dashboard come on intermittently, saying, "check engine". So I called at an auto electrician's, he said come back at 4 pm. Then I noticed an automatic transmission workshop, so I stopped to have my transmission oil changed. I found the turtle chasers camp site but all were out. Barring one young man, dead to the world, in a hammock. Back at my 4 pm appointment for "check engine" a different man said, we don't have a computer, try next door. Next door they fiddled away adjusting this and that, and finally were satisfied. We took a test drive, the light stayed out, and the engine was improved. Two men working, off and on, for two hours, 400 pesos. I can live with that.

I returned to the Ecoturtle camp and all were now there, total of 14, except, of course, Lucie and Lucas, who were still in town. A real nice bunch of young people, all volunteers, from all over the place. Belgium, Korea, Germany, France, UK, Czech Republic of course, lots more places.

I've already been to a couple of turtle centres and learnt a little about turtles. There are 8 varieties in the world, 7 are to be found in Mexico. All 7 are endangered, and the eighth, from Australia, looks like one of the endangered species, so all 8 are protected. The turtles come ashore during the night, lay their eggs in the sand, and depart. Lucie and Lukas's turtle hunters patrol during the night looking for turtles laying eggs, then after the turtles have departed dig up the eggs and re bury them in a place safe from predators. Some of these predators are human!

Lucie and Lucas returned and invited me to join their shift on patrol, 10 pm to midnight. And would you believe, we found a turtle! There's usually only during the whole night, on average. Of course, I couldn't take flash photos while she was laying, but here she is filling in the hole where the eggs are.

Now she's heading back to the sea.

She was quite big - I would guess the shell was 2 feet long by 18" wide (65 cms by 45 cms). Here are the ecoturtle girls recovering the eggs.

They counted 97 eggs. They are in a leathery sort of shell, about 1.5" (4 cm) diameter. Close on 100 makes a big volume of eggs, even though the turtle is quite large.

Next day I continued northwards. Sayulita is a nice town, and Rincon de Guayabitos was fine, the latter packed full of Mexicans on holiday, There were even some "no vacancy" signs up, the first I have seen on the whole of my trip. Here are some pelicans having fun on the beach.

I reached Playa Chacala about 2 pm and decided to stay the night. Again, loads of holidaymakers, it's now the school holidays, and again I tried to go for a swim. Again I was defeated by the breakers! I'm not a confident enough swimmer to go much out of my depth in the sea so after playing with the waves for half an hour I gave up.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 60, 20th July 2004

In Chacula I found a bunch of puppies, 11 in total. Here are 10 of them.


From there I headed North, pausing in San Blas to buy provisions, heading to Mexcaltitan, a small island where it is reputed the Aztec peoples originated from, leaving here around 1116 eventually arriving Tenochtitlan around 1325. Whilst interesting, the dates don't stir me, it's the older Mayan cities I find of more interest. The drive was hot, I looked at some wonderful beaches, if I was interested in wide open beaches and swimming and heat I would have been in paradise.



Mexcaltitan island was OK, I was there an hour, met a small American group who asked if I would like to take a hitch back with them on their private hire boat - I came collectivo, 8 pesos/person, private hire is 50 pesos/boat load. I took the hitch (I waited an hour for the collectivo boat to depart on the outward trip) and in all the conversation forgot to say thank you. So if it's not too late, and if they are reading this, thanks for the lift Ken and others. !

Small cat has found a shelf high above the window. It's where I keep my camera. I don't know how he gets up there but I've seen him getting down. He falls! There's no space for him to make ready to jump.

Since I've given this little cat anti worm tablets, (thanks for reminding me Page), he has been eating like you just wouldn't believe. Maybe as he has put on weight his tummy has expanded! As I write this I have found I can let him out of the van now without problem, he knows it's home and where the food is, but he rarely goes out unless I am outside too. We have also now gone 24 hours without finding, shall we say a mistake, away from his litter box.

I planned to make a campsite at Laguna Santa Maria del Oro, a crater lake reputed to be 100m deep, the campsite is run by an Englishman but I was running far too late. I pulled in at a Pemex gas station for the night.

Next day there was a jungle view.

And finally I got to see the Laguna Santa Maria del Oro.

I reached the campsite, nice place. The Englishman running it says he wants to retire and I can understand. 30 years running a business even in such an idyllic place is enough.

Next day I took his favourite walk, up out of the side of the crater on to a pass. Took me 3 hours there and back. Wiped me out for the day. I sat and talked with Paul, a teacher from California, holidaying in his RV with his family, for much of the rest of the time, after doing some cleaning etc round the van. I'm staying here again tonight, those hot showers are great!

Lethargy seems to be setting in. It's now another day and I'm still here. About all I have done today is look at the lake and walk around a bit. Except, Paul lent me his kayak so I was able to paddle around a bit too.

Tomorrow I must move on. I'm running out of time. I've only 5 weeks left in Mexico and there is still lots that I want to see.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 61, 24th July 2004

I rather reluctantly left the lake heading in the direction of Guadalajara passing through lava fields by the extinct Ceboruco volcano.



I decided not to climb the 15 km cobblestone road to the summit even though there were promises of steam vents on the way. Whilst not a cloudy day, the top of the mountain was covered in cloud, there would have been a limited view. I didn't enthuse about 30 km of cobblestone road either. At Ixtlan there is another ruin. This one is interesting because there is a round stone temple. The site dates from around 400 AD but the temple is probably later than 1000 AD.


This was my 50th visit to a ruin. Here's the list.

Yagul
Mittla
Palenque
Edzna
Uxmal
Kabah
Sayil
Labna
Dzibilchaltun
Izamal
Ekbalam
Chechen Itza
Coba
Tulum
Tiny temple on Punta Allen road
Muyil
Limones
Oxtankah
Lamay
Dzibanche
Kinichna
Kohunlich
Chacan Bacan (by binoculars only!)
Hormiguero
Xpuhil
Becan
Chicanna
Calakmul
Balamku
Palenque (2nd time)
Bonampak
Yaxchilan
Chincultic
Tenam Puente
Tonina
Dainzu
Monte Alban
Zaachila
San Martin Huamelulpan
Cholula
Yohualichan
Teotihuacan
Templo Maya
Calixtlahuaca
San Felipe los Alzati
Ihuatzio
Tzintzuntzan
Patzcuaro
Tingambato
Ixtian del Rio

As I already mentioned, the later ones are generally less impressive than the Mayan ruins. With this in mind, and having reached my half century, I think I'll give Mexican ruins a miss from now on. Actually, there are few if any on my proposed onward route.

I parked in Tequila for the night, and had a very pleasant evening wandering around the town and the squares and the shops and the church. Tequila is one of the 14 towns marked as "Magic towns". There are several distilleries for - you guessed - tequila in the town and I took a tour. The bole, the centre part of the blue agave plant is harvested after 8 hears, smashed up and squashed, the resulting liquid is fermented with yeast then distilled. Sometimes flavouring are added. Sometimes tequila is matured for 3 years, sometimes it can be drunk immediately. There are different varieties. All taste pretty good. I was intrigued with two things. First, 100 year tequila is not 100 years old. It's just a name. That could be confusing! Second, the opulence of the organisation was in stark contrast to the streets and houses and people outside. The warehouse, with several 1000's of barrels of maturing tequila were in a beautiful glass fronted warehouse with tiles and stone columns at the entrance. The offices and meeting rooms were luxurious. The staff were superbly dressed in designer uniforms. There was a mural by a famous painter at the entrance. There was a hacienda, beautiful, with trimmed lawns and manicured gardens.

The factory was a model of modernity. The single filling line for example was running at 200 bottles per minute. That's quick. It's also a lot of tequila. The factory works 3 days a week, 12 hours per day.

After the tequila I got stuck in a fierce traffic jam by Guadalajara. There was even a lot of traffic on the ring road.

I'm going to give Guadalajara a miss. I headed for a camp site by Lake Chapala but it's closed so I parked on a side street. I've got the van booked in at an auto electricians in the morning, the cruise control has given up on me, there are a few other minor electrical jobs to do also, and I've parked my washing in a laundry, to collect tomorrow. I'm also thinking about looking for an upholsterer, my driving seat has started coming apart, it needs some sewing.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 62, 26th July 2004

I didn't have a lot of luck with the cruise control. After a lot of checking the mechanic told me the problem was in the control box which he couldn't fix and which needed replacing. To temporarily jump forward a day, I asked at a Ford main dealer if they had the part, they said no, they didn't make them any more, the vehicle was too old. It's 1988. So I'll now need to look for a copy. Or a cleverer electrician who can fix the box. Whist a day into the future, I'll mention I've now found an upholsterer to sew up my drivers seat.

The front of the garage was stacked up with American cars. They were mostly visiting the lakeside supermarket which specialises in catering for foreigners, some were at the next door butcher who at my glance seems to have learned how to butcher meat. All spoke English all the time to everyone, just about all the men were wearing shorts - the locals do not wear shorts. There is a big local foreign community. With a local website
http://www.chapala.com/ also a free very well produced monthly colour newspaper with website www.chapalareview.com. The British Society meets the 1st Saturday of the month by the way, the Canadian Club 2nd Wednesday of the month but only September to May. So Jerry, they don't clash, you'll be able to visit both when you get here. There's good looking houses to rent from around $400 per month, somewhere to live while you look around. There's loads of other societies to keep the oldies occupied. (Hey I'm one of them. I guess Jerry is too!)

I couldn't parked anywhere near the local town plaza. All the area was full of cars, many foreign, in any case the plaza looked full to the brim, probably expatriates taking in the Mexican lifestyle. And why not? It's cheaper living here, so pensions go further, and it's a nice temperate climate.

I followed round the north coast of Lake Chapala, a mistake since the road fizzled out into a dirt track. It's marked on the map as a paved road. There was one spot with a super view of the lake. Here's a picture of the road.

But about 20 km later I got back to paved road and continued along. I noticed a town called La Barca so I had to visit, with a name like that, and parked up for the night near the plaza.

It was not interesting driving yesterday afternoon and today. Muggy weather, bad visibility, no mountains near of any note, and alongside the roads just fields of stuff, maize mostly. I got to Irapuato and asked the way to Sam's Club. A young man said he'd take me. He was at a bus stop, I presumed he wanted to go in that direction. He got lost twice, I'd have done better on my own. After about 10 minutes we found Sam's Club and the young man demanded US$5 for guiding me. I said no way, not $5, I'll take you back to where I picked you up. On the road he pulled a knife on me and said give me US$5 so I did a quick circle in the road and pulled into the guarded entrance to some private houses. The guard came out, the knife disappeared! Eventually, when I threatened to call the police, he accepted 20 pesos - around $2. I would have given him 10 pesos ($1) as tip if he hadn't asked for anything. I could have avoided the whole thing if I'd given him his $5 but this way he won't be so keen to rip off a tourist again. After taking the $2 when he got out of the van he picked up my reading glasses from the dashboard and took off at high speed. When he realised that I could run as fast as he could, and that I was really angry, he stopped and gave the glasses back. It's not a typical example of Mexico, this sort of thing can happen anywhere, and anywhere else they would probably want more than $5!!

So when I went back to Sam's Club it cost me an extra 5 pesos tip to the car park man to keep an eye on my van in case angry young man returned!

And after all that, I didn't buy anything. I did notice on our roundabout travels to Sam's Club a sign to panorama area so I returned and followed that. They are laying the roads for a housing estate, no houses yet, but superb views over the city.

In Guanjuato I looked at a campsite with space for over 100 rigs. Not a one there! So I moved on to a smaller (and cheaper!) campsite near the centre of the city where I settled. No one else here either. There's space for little cat to go out and play.

I'm reading a travelogue somewhat similar to mine
(it used to be http://www.latinlatitudes.com/Journal_Index.htm) written in 1999 in which they mentioned they stayed 2 months at Lake Chapala in August, they said they stayed because of good company, whilst I did not intend to stay that long it sounded a good recommendation. After I left the area I found an alternative camp site, listed on the internet, just round the corner from the one that has shut. Maybe everyone is there. Maybe there is no one there! Certainly, I'm sure the people I saw around the store were more or less permanently there in the area not RVers.

I walked down to Guanjuato centre, 15 minutes from the trailer park if you walk through the tunnel, I climbed the steps to go over the top. On the way I encountered a dance session. I didn't get a good picture, the man with his back to us is dressed as a bull, all the other dancers wore masks, some playing the part of horse riders wore a belt with a small model of the front end of a horse attached at the front of the belt, and the back end of a horse attached to the back of the belt.

There was no sense in taking the van, apart from the fact there is absolutely nowhere to park, a good portion of the city road system is underground so there's not a lot to see when you are driving. There is even a ring road which is almost entirely underground. Most of the city is built on the sides of a ravine and many of the surface roads are too narrow for my van. The buses are OK they know where they are going. The city was built here because of silver mines, for 250 years Guanjuato produced 20% of the world's silver. And the underground roads started because the river used to flood, so they dropped the level and put it underground. Then they put it lower underground and used the previous river course as a roadway.

All this underground road stuff means they have not needed to mess with any buildings on the surface and many beautiful buildings remain.

The theatre is just off the main plaza, which is quite small, there is not room for anything bigger.

High over the city is the statue of an independence hero.

I climbed up there by the furnicular. From the top there is a super view over the city. I redescended by foot, there was a huge queue for the lift. So I've got a spare return ticket for the furnicular if anyone wants one.

I redescended by foot, there was a huge queue for the lift. So I've got a spare return ticket for the furnicular if anyone wants one. It's quite a walk up hill to get back to the trailer park so I took a taxi.

It's a nice place Guanjuato, there's lots of places to see, I think I'll stay here another day, maybe two. Tomorrow I'll drive around the panoramic road and call in to visit some outlying spots, the next day finish my walk around the centre of town.

Oh, the answer to Jerry's question about what happens to the cat when I go back. As the politicians say, I already made my position clear on that one. See Mexico 57 paragraph 9 line 2.

Best regards

David Barker

Mexico 63, 28th July 2003

I did drive around the panoramic road around Guanjuato. It's a long road, around 25 Km (15 miles) total, winding in and out of ravines about on the edge of the city limits. It's a fascinating road, passing abandoned mine workings, I believe at one time there were around 150 mines in the area, so there is a few to be spotted. All along the road there are superb views of Guanjuato and, strangely for Mexico, stopping points at the best viewpoints. Usually, as I've mentioned, in Mexico there is almost nowhere to stop on the roads. The are no field entrances to pull into, there are no fields, and few tractors to make an entrance necessary. There no verges to pull onto, at times I've driven miles and miles until I can find somewhere to stop even for a few seconds, say to get a bottle of water from the back, or to pick up a map that has fallen out of reach.

On the way around I visited the museum of mummies. That was macabre. The city cemetery is small so if relatives do not continue to pay rental charges the bodies are exhumed and either reburied elsewhere or cremated. Due to the mineral content of the soil though the bodies are actually mummified and 119 of the more "interesting" have been saved and put on display. Yuk! I didn't take any photos. There was a dozen or so children including the "smallest mummy in the world", an obviously pregnant female, and a male who judging by his mummified remains had private parts almost reaching down to his knees. I went to a bull fight years ago in Spain. Same reaction. Glad I went, but I don't want to go again!

A couple of years ago I visited the catacombs in Paris. That was, in away, more dignified. Over the last couple of hundred years or so around 7 million bodies have been exhumed in Paris, for the same reason, not enough room in cemeteries, and all the bones have been transferred to the catacombs, neatly stacked, and clearly marked which cemetery they came from. The catacombs are the underground quarries that supplied the stone for the Paris buildings. The sheer number of bones there somehow stops it being gruesome. Plus the fact that they are just bones, not dead bodies. Makes a difference.

I continued and looked around the Valencia church, lavishly built by the owner of the Valencia silver mine, and then visited the remaining surface elements of the mine. This was the richest silver mine in the area for 250 years and is seemingly still worked in a small scale.

I rejoined the panoramic road about 2 miles from my parking spot, going clockwise, but I enjoyed the incoming trip so returned, about 15 miles anticlockwise. I remembered Sam Edwards - he's on the circulation list for these trip notes - has a house here but when I checked my emails from him he's not here just now. I easily found the house though from his directions, it's right on the panoramic road. Here's the view from close by the house. What a super view to have from your dining room window!

Next day I wandered around Guanjuato again. Here is the narrowest alley in the town. It's called the kissing alley because rumour has it that a couple in love were forbidden to meet, the girl lived in the house on the left, so the boy rented the room on the right, and they used to kiss over the balcony. But they were discovered, and met a tragic end!

The alley is just off this plaza, on the right.

I explored the market then went to Alhondiga de Granaditas. It used to be a granary, was turned into a fortress, it's now a museum, and it's where the independence hero I mentioned a couple of days ago tied a flagstone his back to ward off Spanish bullets, and crawled up to the gate setting it on fire hence allowing the attackers to gain access.

I wound my way back to the centre. There were 4 donkeys right in the centre. I don't know what they were carrying but it looked pretty heavy.

Back in the centre here is another photo of the theatre

and another of the main, triangular, plaza

where I stopped and had a doze.

I tried another mechanic to see if I could get the cruise control fixed, but he said they were very rare in Mexico, he would need to get a computer to check it out, that would take 3 days. Then of course it's not certain he can fix it. I guess I'll have to wait until I return to the US, after all, I can't say a cruise control is essential for driving. but I haven't given up hope! It's like the storage tube for the hose for the used water tank. That's busted, it's a buy anywhere concertina chimney liner. Anywhere except Mexico that is. They don't have many chimneys!

Tomorrow I leave. Via Dolores Hidalgo. Looks the prettiest way to head northwards towards Durango. I've enjoyed my stay in Guanjuato. It's a lovely town. Lots of things to see. I think Patzcuaro remains my number one favourite though, if I was going to live in Mexico. It's much quieter, it seems much smaller, although it's not, with 50,000 in Patzcuaro compared to 75,000 in Guanjuato. Although maybe I could survive here if I had the view that Sam has!

This the view from my trailer park. Could be worse.

About the cat. He's sleeping right beside me now, he generally sleeps somewhere on my bed at night, he has become quite used to the travelling life, he doesn't stray far when I let him out when we stop, he always knows exactly where the van is, if there's trouble of some sort he is back in a flash. It's about 5 days now since I had to scrub the carpet, he's learned about litter boxes. Except I wish he wouldn't come in from outside to use his litter box then go back out again! He's filling out to about normal size. He should be judging by the amount he eats. I looked ages ago on the US government web site, it seems there are no specific regulations governing the importing of cats into the US provided they are free of infectious diseases but it reminds me, I have one more check to make on the regulations. It will be a great deal easier finding a good home for him in the US than in Mexico. The regulations for importing cats into the UK are almost impossible, they need to be hard wired with identification tags 6 months before entry, they need vaccinations 6 months before entry also. I've been through that already with one cat. For those who have asked it's time I took some photos. And I haven't got a name for him either. Usually if you call a cat it just takes a note and thinks it might respond later. I'm training this little cat to respond to "dinner". I don't know if it will work but I'm trying. I keep saying dinner when I feed him his favourite food. And if he chances to be passing by when I am calling "dinner!" I give him some dinner. I know there are some people who claim to have successfully trained their cats so I live in hope.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 64, 31st July 2004

The next day started out dullish so I delayed leaving Guanjuato, worked on my web site, I'd noticed some errors on the site, I played with the cat, and generally relaxed. The sky cleared just after lunch but it was now so late in the day I decided to stay another night! The van door was open all day, the cat stayed inside.

Next morning was dullish, again, and there was very low cloud reaching quite a long way down the mountains. Since I wanted to see the view on this drive I waited, about 1 pm it was all cleared, so I continued on. Well, after I caught the cat I did. Again the door was open all morning, the second that I am about to close the door to depart little cat shoots outside and hides under my van or an adjacent car. He climbs up the springs or on top of the tyre so he's sometimes hard to find. After I got him it was a beautiful drive. Here's the view looking back.

As you can see in the distance it's a bit murky still, so I didn't take any more photos.

I reached Dolores Hidalgo about 4 pm and just sat on the square. Very pleasant, very relaxing. I'm not sure for how long I would enjoy just sitting on a plaza watching the world go by, with someone singing and playing electronic organ in the background, quite decently, but for a couple of hours it was nice.

Next morning was bright and sunny and I drove to Ojuelos, about 70 miles, stopping in each small town to make a circuit of the plaza and taking a glance at the church. Just about every town or village has central plaza with footpaths, seats, neatly trimmed hedges and trees, with church and municipal offices alongside. Having said that, where I am now there is nice plaza, but no church or municipal offices. Could well be that I'm not on the main plaza. However I've driven around and found other plazas but none seem more appropriate. Maybe it's the exception that proves the rule.

Now I'm en route to Aguascalientes. Pretty in places.

I've notice the cruise control works spasmodically. (Ever the optimist I keep trying to set it.) I don't know what that means. Maybe a bad contact somewhere, or a component in the control box breaking down. When it's in it generally stays working. I've noticed if I even think of touching the brakes it goes out. Of course it's supposed to cut out if I break but I'm thinking it's maybe a touch sensitive. But Wayne tells me he has been told that independent repair shops can usually fix them for under $100 in less than an hour. He also came up with a rather lewd suggestion linking the mummified corpse with rather large private parts and what might have happened over the balconies in the very narrow alley. He also had a rabbit called dinner but after Danny's suggestion I should make it clear I have no intention of eating this sweet little cat. Even fried with salsa. When I call "dinner" it is what it eats, not what I eat.

Aguascalientes is a nice city, wide pleasant streets, nice people - a guy from the tourist office noticed that after I left I wandered into the Capitol to look at the murals and rushed out of the office to give me another brochure. You can't see the murals in the photo. They are on the far end wall behind the staircase upstairs, and on the walls immediately left and right.

I looked inside the cathedral. Nice ceiling.

Here the cathedral is behind us on the right, the capitol is the building on the left.

Another view of the cathedral from the plaza.

I drove around a little, called in at Sam's Club to restock my drinks store only to find that due to the elections today and tomorrow sales of alcohol are temporarily banned! I'll survive. Some while back I bought a litre bottle of Tequila at Sam's Club, on special offer with a free half litre bottle. I put them in store. When I needed more Tequila a week or so ago I found that the half litre bottle was totally empty, the contents had leaked over a fake leather bag and all the fake leather had dissolved. Now this was a good Tequila. I wonder what it does to your insides? And what about the drinkable stuff I found that was 12 pesos ($1 or 60p) a litre? That's nearly gone and I'm still here.

I stopped at a little town up the way towards Zacatecas. Fell into conversation with a street vendor of corn on the cob. He ran after me and introduced himself. Another example of the good reception I see from Mexicans everywhere. He was laughing all the time, he has 8 children, eldest 24 youngest 10, his wife died 2 years ago but he has a new wife age 29 he told me! Just by the way, I've mentioned before, everywhere is full of street vendors, with little roadside stalls, some on wheels like Pancho's corn on the cob, some built each day, some sitting behind a small pile of produce on a sheet of plastic on the ground, maybe chilies or bananas, some with a small table outside their house, some just walking around carrying such things as a display of jewelry or snacks on a tray, and everywhere, on almost every street, there are small grocer shops. They are not there to rip off the tourist, this is the life style. This little town I suspect sees few tourists. I knew it was here, from the map, but I had trouble finding it. When I found it, or what I thought was it, I could not find the centre, I had to resort to a technique I have often used before. Most streets everywhere are on a grid pattern. So I drive until the town is coming to an end, turn left or right, take the 3rd street back the way I came. Most streets are one way, alternating directions, one to the left, one to the right, and so on. I keep going like this until at one of the intersections I spot a plaza, or a church.

There was a wedding at the church. I took a few photos, popped back to the van, printed out the best photo (I have some photo paper with me) and gave it to the couple before they left the church!

I had trouble finding my way out of the town in the morning. I found myself going the wrong way on a one way street to with two cops on foot beside me and another two in a car coming towards me. They were all very nice about it, holding up the traffic while I got myself sorted out. Another dumb gringo they were probably thinking.

I stopped in Guadalupe and tried to visit the transport museum. It was shut, so I visited the museum next door. It was full of huge superbly painted religious paintings. Pity I'm not into paintings.

I also read a little about Zacatan. Sounded a great city until I read my Church's camping guide. Big vehicles are prohibited from entering the city. My twin rear wheels put me in the big category. I was planning to park at a trailer park a little to the North of the town but I changed my mind and decided to stop in a more expensive park just by the teleferico. Skirted the town on the by pass and found the trailer park no problem. But it's not a trailer park any more, they are completely rebuilding the motel. However I parked there for the day while I visited the Eden mine. You can see where the miners have dug upwards almost vertically following the veins of silver, gold, iron, copper and zinc ores. I haven't seen a mine like that before. Apparently conditions in the mine were so bad in the early days that up to 5 miners a day were dying from mining related illnesses.

I also intended to ride the teleferico up to the Cerro for a superb view over the city but took one look at the queue (it's Sunday, people go out on Sundays in Mexico) and decided to walk down to the town. The cathedral is nice with a stupendous main facade which is hard to photograph, here is a side view.

I noticed people were lining the streets and asked at an information kiosk. There is a carnival procession at 5 pm I was told. I waited and waited then waited some more. By 6.30 pm the first of the bands arrived followed by a float.

It's not a jazz band but they were OK. Afterwards came troop after troop of folk dancers, dancing around. I saw 2 groups from Germany, 2 from Austria, 2 from Canada then some Mexican dancers dancing in the style of Slovenia and Czechoslovakia. I had to leave, I need to find a parking for the night, and as I crossed the road I could see group after group of folk dancers still to pass my spot.

I drove a little to the north, to my originally intended park. I didn't find an internet spot yesterday or the day before, and of course today I can't drive into the town and it's a long way to carry my lap top. So this issue of my journal is getting longer and longer............

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 65, 5th August 2004

After a late start I drove back to the outskirts of Zacetas and parked by the teleferico to go up to the Cerro. There was a super view.

In the centre is the cathedral.

From the top I could see there was an excellent road leading up to the Cerro so after returning to the van I continued round the periferico and drove up to the top, the car park was full so I didn't stop, and continued back down on another road. The whole journey around gave excellent views of the city, rather similar to the panoramica at Guanajuato. In fact many aspects of Zacetas are similar to Guanajuato, both were silver mining towns, both are built in valley, both have a similar architecture, both are fascinating to walk around, and both are almost impossible for driving!

I'd noticed a sign pointing to Durango just behind the Cerro, so I continued on round and took that road, it looked interesting heading off into the hills. I joined the main road by campsite of last night and continued northwards, stopping in Sombrerete for the night, after finding the town museum still open. Free admission and a superbly presented little museum, nice little town again with a mining background.

North of the city was a pleasant view back.

I'll mention here that just about all the driving since Tequila, with just a few exceptions, has been through flat not terribly interesting countryside, and continues like this to Durango. The fields are pretty well cultivated, the region is much more affluent than many I have seen in Mexico, there are tractors, there are many more cars and pickups, many of them new, and the house, whilst many are still small, are real houses.

One of my guide books mentioned a new national park near Sombrerete, Sierra de Organos, so named because there are rock formations looking like organ pipes. Several western movies have filmed scenes here. At the entrance I was asked, when was I leaving? It was only noon, but I said tomorrow. OK the man says, 20 pesos, it's 10 pesos a day. I drove in, found a superb campsite, and took a stroll around. It was super, it reminded me in a way of Monument Valley in the US. Little cat liked it too because we were in the same spot for a while, he could run around, climb trees and so on. I took a longer walk in the morning.

I took loads of pictures. Because the rocks took on a different aspect almost every few paces, and because some rocks were near and some were far the whole scene kept changing. I walked up one valley and down the next. At one spot, in the midst of nowhere there appeared a large concrete picnic table and barbecue stove. There was no sign of a path anywhere.

This was the view from my van window at the camping spot.

I continued to Durango and restocked my drinks store at Sam's Club then parked up for the night in the Wal-Mart car park. I had read many reports that said the road from Durango to Mazatlan was spectacular so I am headed off that way. I will have to return by the same route because I found out too late I need to approach the Copper Canyon from the east, my provisional route took me to El Fuerto on the west, and there are no other roads across the Sierra for 100's of miles apart from this one! So I either must miss it out or do it twice. I'll do it twice. I said the road up to Durango was flat, within a few minutes of leaving Durango it all changed.

Just a few minutes further on.

The road continued winding in and out of valleys with beautiful views. At El Salto it came on to rain in the early afternoon so I parked here. Since I have come this way to see the view there is no point in driving in pouring rain. By the time it cleared up, about 4.30, it was not really worth starting off again, I certainly don't want to drive this road at night.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 66, 8th August 2004

The guide books that said that the drive from Durango to Mazatlan was spectacular and they were right. But first I drove through forests with the occasional field full of wild flowers rather reminiscent of Alpine pastures in the spring.

I stopped and small cat practised tree climbing. Going up.

Got there.

Going down/

Actually there were 6 supports for the roof on this broken down shelter. Small cat climbed 4 of them to the top.

Now I started to climb the sierra then descend.

Lots of spectacular views as you can see. There had even been a landslide at one point blocking the road. I was lucky, when I arrived there was a 2 mile long line of traffic, I only had an hour and a half to wait, heaven know how long some people had been there. Probably since early morning, as I mentioned there was a lot of rain yesterday afternoon. I reached Concordia and looked for the internet spot. The first man I asked - well he wasn't the person I asked, but he overheard - and since he spoke English said I had to go to the next village and gave me the name of the paper shop there which had the internet. It wasn't in the next village, it was one street away from where he was when I asked him. As I found after driving round everywhere. Well, that's where the shop was, but it obviously wasn't up to internet standard. They sent me round the block a few times, eventually people stopped waving at me I'd been round so often. The internet shop was unsigned, looked like a private house, and was opposite the paper shop.It had a really good high speed connection though. I had some good news, an email from my daughter holidaying in Australia. I hadn't heard from her for over a month I was beginning to worry.

Back on the plaza I re-encountered an oldish man (probably about the same age as me!) who had not known what I wanted but had done his best to help. As had everybody I asked. I spent a pleasant hour not communicating with him. We had one thing in common, he was called David.

About 6 am the church bells rang loudly. Shortly after a not very pleasant voice started blaring out from loudspeakers. I'd heard the same voice last night and now realised it was the amplified voice of the priest conducting a church service. It didn't get me to church but it woke me up and I was on the move before 8 am which was not a bad thing, it had been very hot when I arrived last night so I could get the bigger part of the climb back done in the cooler part of the day. Up around Durango although warm it was pleasantly warm, down in Concordia it was too hot for me, and too hot for the van to climb easily without boiling.

I've been checking gas consumption for the last few hundred miles, it was seemingly heavy. It was, sometimes down to 7 mpg (32 litres/100 km) instead of 10 (21 litres/100 km). Not the end of the world with gas at around 20 pesos/gallon ($2, 1, or 50 Euro cents/litre) but best remedied. I had a look at the air filter, it was just about bunged up, I got rid of the loose dust with a large paintbrush, but I'll look for a replacement. I don't recollect I've ever bought one and I've now driven the van over 30,000 miles.

There had been some low cloud on the way down, it was gone today, and was a beautiful journey back. I took a photo of a ford

and some more views.

Sorry about the wing mirror. Small cat was asleep on my lap, I didn't want to disturb him so had to take the pictures out of the window, and this was from the passenger side window.

I'd promised small cat though I doubt if he understood that we would stop at his post climbing spot on the way back. Just got there and it started to pour with rain, I sat there for over an hour until it stopped, drove for half an hour and the heavens opened. Thunder and lightning and hailstones, the road was awash. I'd been wondering about heading back to Durango but decided to stop again in El Salto on the plaza. I stopped by the road just before the town to make some dinner, I was just about through when a police car stopped, said it was not safe to park there, and asked me to move. They were happy for me to park on the plaza. Really the police in Mexico are really quite superb.

It poured with rain again soon after I reached the plaza, I had been hoping to buy some more fresh crisps (chips) from a stall on the plaza but of course he closed when it rained and everyone left.

In the morning I headed back to Durango and then north for the Copper Canyon, stopping on the way at Villa del Oeste where a good number of western films were made.

I made a good distance towards Hidalgo del Parral before stopping for the night at another Pemex gas station. It's generally a long straight road, passably interesting, with a few curves and good views thrown in. I did manage to discover that my new air filter has done the trick, gas consumption is now back to acceptable levels. My horn has stopped working now, should be easy for an auto electrician to fix that.

I'm planning to head westwards from Hidalgo del Parral, which is where I am just now, and approach the Copper Canyon from the south. When I reach Samachique I'll look at the road down to La Bufa, which is at the base of the canyon itself. It's about a 14 km drive with a steep descent, a 5 years ago account I read described the road as just wide enough for two donkeys to pass. Maybe it's got better since, in the account I read the writers stopped for the night next to a road making machine!

In either case, until I reach Creel there looks to be nowhere big enough to host a cybercafe so it might be a few days before I am in touch again.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 67, 13th August 2004

It rained all night and drizzled all morning. In Hidalgo del Parral I did the email stuff then decided to get the horn fixed. On the way I had a front tyre changed around, it was wearing down on the outside side. At the electricians I was told it was a small box causing the problem, they couldn't replace it until 3 pm when the parts shop opened. Then he sent me up the road with someone - all Mexican garages seem to have someone hanging around just waiting to do something. He took me to the parts shop but then went to a shack on the side. This turned out to be another electrician who checked around and said I had to wait until 4 pm when the parts shop opened. All along I had problems, I demonstrated the horn did not work, they seemed to say, so what? I WANT IT FIXED THAT'S ALL! I finally got the message through when electrician #2 rang a pal who spoke English. He took one of the horns off and said that's the problem. I tested it by shorting it out over the battery, it seemed to work fine. Consequent messages were not understood, by either side.

Soon after 4 pm the electrician returned, with 2 horns in a box. He fitted them and everything worked. It cost me 220 pesos. There is no moral to this story.

Just while he was finishing, the heavens opened, it poured down. I've used that expression before in Europe, but I didn't know what I was saying. Here it's like some above has a big heavenly jug and you are standing under the main flow. Only it's everywhere around like that the same. I drove around slowly, the wipers on flat out formula one speed, enjoying the sensation. One junction had water flowing deeper than the wheel of a parked car. The lady in front of me, a local, stopped, and turned around in the road to go back. It'll take more than that to make any problem to this tank of a motor home so I continued. Of course, the brakes didn't work after that much water, I know that.

So I followed the signs to a hypermarket, Mercado, wandered around, found a great deal on cat food, then parked on some waste ground just opposite Mercado, next to a truck that seemed settled in for the night, the driver had his two young daughters with him, age maybe 3 and 7. But no, around midnight he left, to be replaced by another truck, presumably early for a delivery to Mercado.

Super morning, I left early, spotted a propane supplier and filled up with propane. And I mean, filled up. Normally when I fill with propane the system cuts off automatically at 3/4 full so I did not take a lot of notice when the attendant turned off the bleed valve. But while he was away I had a quick squint at the contents gauge. Aaargh! The gauge stops at 95%, it was reading way over that. I bled off as much as I dare then shot inside the van, after counting to about 20 for the propane cloud to disappear, and turned on the hot water and van central heating, to use up a bit of propane. As soon as I was free of built up area I stopped, turned off all gas appliances, and turned on the bleed valve. The little wind there was took the propane way from the van. Finally the gauge was OK, 85% full, I can live with that. Literally.

Fortunately I know a little bit about propane. Otherwise I might have continued happily on, tank 100% full, no room for expansion. I bought the gas at 8 am, relatively cold, at 8,000 ft level, and I plan to descent to the bottom of the Copper Canyon, a 2000 metre (6,000 ft) descent with huge increase in temperatures, up to the unbearable, with consequent expansion of the propane and huge increase in pressure. There is a pressure release safety valve on these tanks but I know they do not always work. Sometimes they stick..................Booom!

Once I'd got that worry out of my system I continued on. Beautiful scenery, with magnificent, huge views. Here's just a snippet of these distant views, which for much of the time were all around, in all directions, and are just too big to photograph. A super road, with super views.

When filling with propane I noticed the tank moving. When I got through the overfill problem I checked it out. Some 3 months ago I'd had 2 of the propane supports rewelded, now the other 2 supports had broken. At the next town I got them fixed. 50 pesos. $5. Heck, I could afford to live here.

Now the check motor light started coming on from time to time. I had that before, it was fixed, but it's obvious now it was not a permanent fix. The garage who checked it out this time, in Guachochi, had all the right equipment, could find no problem, but suggested I change the fuel filter. This we did, the old one needed changing, but as I drove around town the light flashed on again. I went back, they spent ages checking through again, and told me I needed a new diagnostic computer sender unit, which they did not have. They wouldn't let me pay for all the time they spent on their second try to find the problem (they only charged 100 pesos the first time including the new fuel filter) and I am allowed to stay in their garage overnight, without charge. That's nice. When I asked in a mobile phone shop about the internet, he said, here, use my connection, and then would not let me pay. But it's a strange town. People look at me wherever I go. Maybe there's not many visitors, or they have nothing better to do. I asked a couple of people directions, they asked for 20 pesos before they would tell me. One of them I know had never heard of the internet so even with 20 pesos could not have given directions for me to find an internet cafe! That's why I was pleased to stay in the garage over night, I just feel a trifle uneasy here. Probably just imagination, but best to follow instincts.

About 5 pm it rained. Like it did yesterday, water running down the street. It's the rainy season. It rains every day like this.

The garage did not open until 9 so I had to hang around in the morning. They were open until 8 pm so it is long hours, and right now they don't seem to have a lot to do.

The road carried on with superb views. This has to rank as one of the most science roads in Mexico, I don't know why the guide books don't make more of it.

And then starts the descent to La Bufa and then on to Batopilas, 65 km of unpaved road including a descent of around 2 Kms in 14 km of road. Looking at the photos I took almost makes me want to give up photography. This must rank as the most science road I have ever traveled along, and my photos do NOT do the trip justice.

Ah. I guess this is one of the ones that did not make it. Let's hope my luck holds out. The "check engine" light has been coming on from time to time, so I hope those fellows were right when they said everything is ok.

The start of the views.

Similar view, with the road descending.

Really, my photos do not do it justice. You get no idea of the scale of the thing from a photo. Those cliffs are approaching 2.000 metres (6,000 ft) high.

I've now passed La Bufa. Just after La Bufa I got stuck, a drop into a stream, a steep climb out, and my low back end dug in, leaving me balanced on the back end tow bar hitch and the front wheels, leaving the driving wheels spinning happily in thin air. While I was sizing up the situation a pickup with a couple of guys arrived. They had a jack and set to work clearing the back end, I set to work at the front, with screwdriver (to loosen the stones) and small saucepan, to drop the level of the front wheels. I managed to work hard enough to cause blisters on the palms of my hands, luckily my leather gloves were to hand, I'd dug them out for protection while bleeding off the excess propane yesterday. There are not many non balloonists reading this, but I'll mention that liquid propane can freeze your fingers, leather gloves help! I managed to drop the front wheels about 3 inches, and with a couple of goes we were out. Took about 30 minutes of hot effort all round. First things first. I dug out 3 beers from the refrigerator and we cooled down, boy was that beer good! Then I tried to give them some money but they wouldn't take it. They said they worked for the council. Seems part of their job was to help people who were stuck. So if you read this fellas, thanks again. And show it to your boss so he knows you're doing your job real good!

The donks weren't a hazard, and there were more of them when I stopped, but the others vamoosed.

Just to show I really reached the bottom of the canyon.

Part of the ongoing road. There was a bulldozer working the last 30 kms of road. Because it is now the rainy season I suspect there are many landslides. Because it is only a dirt road he doesn't clear to the original level, he just clears off, and there is a new road maybe five feet higher than the old!

I reached the town, it is one road along the river, about 1 km long, with houses etc either side, no room for cross roads in the canyon. Nowhere obvious for me to park either so I stopped at he far end of the town by the slaughterhouse. The neighbours said it was OK, so I let the kids play with the kitten, and gave them some beads! No big deal for anyone.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 68, 15th August 2004

The books said there was a cathedral 8 km further down the valley so I set of to walk down to it. A touch less than half way I managed to hitch a lift in the back of a pickup. By the speed he was driving I think the driver was trying to scare me. I stood up hanging on the bar behind the cab, it was great fun! I got to see the cathedral, apparently no one knows why it was built here, there are only about 15 houses in the little village.

I didn't manage to get a lift back so I walked. I'd been wondering whether to take a walk around Batopila in the afternoon, then in the morning look at one of the mines and head back to La Bufa ready for the climb out the following morning. The van boils rather easily and I was concerned about the steep climb out. 2 km to climb in 14 km of road averages out at a pretty steep climb. I decided to miss out on the walk around Batopila, it is really nothing really special as a place, it's the situation that is amazing. I could only walk a few hundred metres into the mine, it was partially flooded, but it was interesting to see a mine in close to it's original state.

I climbed out of Batopila, that was quite a steep climb, I thought it would be a good test for the van in the heat of the afternoon. It was. It stopped and when I switched on the ignition the battery meter showed a massive discharge, there was a short somewhere. By chance about the third car that passed was the local mechanic, making a test on a car. He said he be back in about half an hour. I used the time to take a stone out between the dual rear wheels - jack the back up, slacken off the wheel nuts, remove stone, retighten nuts, remove jack. The mechanic worked for the best part of an hour, and finally located a wire that had flopped about and touched one of the very hot engine pipes, and melted the insulation. He re insulated the wire, using some second hand insulation tape I had used to reinforce a connection on my computer charger, and tied the wire out of the way using some cable ties I'd picked up in Mexico City. You never know when things might come in handy!

I drove on, passed the bulldozer making the road, and got stuck in some material at the side of the road he had just dozed. He didn't have a chain, the rope I'd picked up somewhere kept breaking, finally I had to drive it out. Back a bit, forward a bit, scoop out the loose sand built up in front and back of the wheels, repeat the process. Eventually it worked.

Back at the spot where I had stuck on the way out I approached the hump very carefully, positioned the van best I could with the help of a couple of guys in a pickup just behind me, then moved to stage two, the brute force bit. I floored the accelerator, the van shot forward, the back end scraped the ground for about 5 feet, but the momentum kept me going.

I parked in La Bufa, the man who had helped me had the hotel there and we pleasantly swapped a couple of beers in the evening. Turns out la Bufa is not much more than his hotel, his carpenters shop, a small bar run by his Dad, and a school. His 2 children go there, but there about 50 pupils in total, from Indian families who live round about in the hills.

In the morning I started off at daybreak, around 6.30 am. I held the van in 1st gear and just climbed slowly. The sun didn't actually come up until I was close to the top of the climb, the air temperature stayed coolish, and the water temperature in the radiator stayed normal all the way, it didn't even get near the worrying level. Wow! I didn't expect to get off so easily.

This is part of the climb.

The climb is more or less finished, I'd picked up a family hitching to the next village.

I'm back on the main road now, and I've bought gas (petrol). Fortunately I've stopped checking gas consumption, 130 km (85 miles) in 1st gear would have rather messed up the figures.

This main road route is really quite spectacular, lots of photos don't look good because a big distant span of distant hazy mountains just looks like nothing on a photo, it has to be seen.

Along the way is a short diversion to a waterfall, not a lot of water in the river

but it makes for an attractive waterfall.

I hitched a lift back to the van with a bunch of kids in the back of a pickup, holidaying in the area, they'd found the road route to the falls. They spoke passable English between them, they were stopped by the Lago de Arereco, I stopped to chat again. Then in Creel they drove past me, all waving madly!

I backtracked a few kilometres to a campsite bordering the lake, 15 pesos per person (!!). Beautiful situation, with hot showers even. I saw another RV parked, and stopped to say hello. Giles from Quebec, who spoke French, and his fairly recent Mexican wife, they live in Chihuahua, some 200 km to the North east, we passed a very pleasant couple of hours, me trying to remember my French, He trying to remember his English.

Little cat loved it, I was outside the van so he was happy playing around and exploring.

Jerry asked what camera I was using. It's an Olympus, 3 times optical zoom, 3.2 Megapixel, I picked it because it's small enough to go in my pocket. I put the AA battery alongside just to show the size, it actually uses a rechargeable battery

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 69, 16th August 2004

Saturday I didn't do anything much. Did some shopping . Took my dirty washing into a laundry. Wrote my journal. Watched a train come into the station. The Copper Canyon train is the only passenger train still running Mexico, it's privately owned. It's supposed to be one of the most scenic routes in the World.

I tried to collect a train timetable, apparently there isn't one. I visited a museum, and collected emails from the internet cafe. It's a nice little town Creel. I returned to my campsite, pulled out a picnic chair, sorted out and read the local brochures I'd picked up from the museum, and had a late lunch. Oh, I played with the cat.

I've decided against taking a train trip. For me to travel out and back the same day, I can only go one station, and I have a 3 hour wait for the return, at Divisadero and the road route to Divisadero follows much the same route as the train. I don't want to travel further then return the next day, it would mean leaving little cat all alone, plus I don't want to leave the van parked for so long.

So these are views from the road trip to Divisadero, and the viewpoint there.

This shows the refreshment kiosks getting ready for the next train.

Back at the campsite the sunset glowed through the trees.

There was no one at the campsite gate when I returned, nor was there anyone when I left in the morning. Pity, I didn't begrudge paying 15 pesos for a night camping. The showers were locked up though!

When I went out in the morning I found a little dog, a puppy really, curled up sleeping by the back wheels of the van. He was a nice little dog but like many Mexican dogs he ran away as soon as you went near, lucky really, I don't need a little dog as well as a little cat.

I poked around Creel for a short while, I had some minor food shopping to do, then I climbed up to the Christo Rey statue for a view over the town.

A couple of towns further on I managed to find water at the Pemex petrol station. I'm not running out but I must be getting low, the last few Pemex stations have not had water available, it's 6 days now since I refilled. It wasn't serious, I have drinking water, and at 13 pesos for 5 gallons it would not be too drastic to use drinking water for washing etc.

I continued on towards Basaseachi to see the falls. Just after I bought the petrol the road turned to a dirt road number 36. I have 2 maps, the newest shows it as a red major road, my second shows it as a yellow road number 23. If I had thought to look at the state tourist map it is marked as unpaved. But I thought, it's a major road, this dirt bit is only temporary. 97 kms later I found it was dirt road end to end. 65 miles of dirt road without going through a village or a town, no road junctions apart from a few tracks going to villages, unbelievable by European standards. I think maybe I passed one small shop on the outskirts of a village. Beautiful scenery though.

I stopped for lunch in a little track by the horses, got out my picnic chair and let little cat out to play.

Then a car load of drunken Mexicans stopped, backed up, and pulled down the track alongside me. I couldn't understand what they were saying, but presumed they were asking for beer and cigarettes. They actually had beers, a litre bottle apiece, and offered me some. They didn't seem violent in any way but they were a little unnerving, so I got little cat inside the van, bolted my lunch, wished them goodbye and was off before they knew it. Whenever I stop in a quiet place like this I always make sure I am pointed the right way for a quick getaway, so I was out of the lane like a shot, if they had wanted to follow me they would have had to cram their drunken selves back in the car, then turn it around, before they could get moving.

Oops. Too many pictures in this email, I'll stop now before it goes even bigger.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 70, 20th August 2004

I suddenly found myself on a paved road, with a sign to the Basaseachi Cascade. There was a sign saying 10 pesos entry but no one in the pay booth. On the way to the falls I passed a camp site sign, again no one in the pay booth. I looked at the falls from the first, high, vantage point. Wow! The falls are the highest in Mexico, falling 246 metres.

You got that? 246 metres. Around 800 ft.

Those are full size trees down the bottom. I walked down to a viewpoint towards the right, which was amazing. I couldn't take pictures, I was too close to the falls to fit them on one picture. It came on to rain, I got soaked, no problem, and went back and hid in the camp site I'd earlier spotted.

I started looking ahead, to plan my route. Since realising I had to hit the Copper Canyon from the east and not the west and rearranging my route to do this I had the idea I would cross back west from here, Basaseachi falls, drop down to Alamos, then return to the US on the road running north east from Hermosillo, a road recommended to me by a truck driver I met in Manzanillo.

But now I read that Hermosillo is in the middle of the Sonora desert and gets unbearably hot in summer. Now I don't like unbearably hot, nor does little cat. We did not enjoy the heat in the Batoplias Canyon when we were broken down, nor did we enjoy the heat at the western end of our Durango run, out and back over the Devil's Backbone. There seems to be no way to bypass Hermosillo and the distances down to Alamos are quite large. So plans are changed. We will head slowly north from here staying in the high, cooler, mountain areas.

While route planning I realised my all Mexico map has gone missing. I didn't use it much, but it did show all Mexico, so it was handy for planning, and it was the only one that showed the topographical features. I think it disappeared with the Indian family I gave a lift to when leaving the Batopilas Canyon. I do tend to leave everything lying around loose and that map was easily stuffable in a bag. Why they should want a road map of Mexico I have no idea, they have no car, they probably never travel more than 20 km from their home village, and better local maps are available, free, in Creel. The other maps I use are Guia Roji maps, they are in book form. So I am down to using my world atlas to find the heights of places.

I started the new, even slower route, by doing nothing all morning. Well, I fixed the central heating, it would only run on half power. It had come loose from the floor, the whole unit had shifted and the air intake to the burner was incorrect. Now it works on full power. It is actually quite cold at nights round here, I have been wearing a tee shirt and spreading towels over the blanket and sheets to keep warm. So I dug out my sleeping bag from storage, towels are not intended to keep you warm. I've had a leak from my soiled water tank when it's full, I keep having a go at it, so I plastered silicone sealer all round the leak. While doing that I noticed a tyre was not at full pressure, so I drove out to get that fixed. At 40 pesos (2, $4) a go I don't really care how many punctures need repairing.

I went back to the falls and descended by a different route. The canyon is quite amazing here too.

The views of the falls from today's route were much better than yesterday, this is were I took the photo of the falls above, and the route was much easier, climbing back up yesterday nearly laid me out.

Little cat is doing really well. He even comes when I call him, and if he thinks we are having a game - my fault, I do chase him in a game sometimes - then if I need him to come I just start the van with the back door open and he nonchalantly appears inside, you know, as though he meant to be there anyway. He normally stays within easy reach of the van, but if I go wandering off he comes with me. Not by my side, like a dog, but he's in the vicinity. He certainly understands the word dinner. He has biscuits on the go all the time, but dinner is special. It's a tin of something. He's very content travelling. In fact I'm gathering a collection of photos, 101 ways for a cat to travel happily in a motor home. The rate the pictures are coming on I might have to make that 1001 ways. Only problem is, I have a wrist strap on the camera and he likes playing with it. So if he has one eye open when I pick up the camera he straightaway leaves his interesting position and dives for the wrist strap. Someone is going to get a super little cat.

Anyway, we are back at the camping site for a second night. I updated my route map and started checking through my photos. I have 1.3 Gigabytes of photos in my Mexico folder! I also found that I have been saving lots of superfluous information with the pictures I send out with these journal reports. Information such as make and model of camera, exposure time, whether flash was used, etc etc was being saved. I re saved the photos on the last report without this information and reduced the file from 850 Kb to 550 Kb. So sorry about that. For the past 5 months I have been sending you larger emails than I need. I checked my web site photos, currently there are 23 Mb of photos on the site, by re saving I can reduce that to 15 Mb. I'll have to look for a fast connection.

The morning dawned bright and cheerful, I was much more comfortable in my sleeping bag. It's my birthday today, 66, so I started out gently and took little cat for a walk.

Then we headed off in our newly decided direction, east then north. The easterly part of the journey was superb, trees everywhere, up and down big valleys

even craggy valleys.

Then was the time to turn north, I turn left up this wide valley.

The scenery is different to any other I have been on in Mexico. Big, well cultivated fields, lots of apple trees, cows in fields. I don't recollect seeing cows in fields here before, they are usually tied to a stake or being watched by a shepherd.

I stopped in Guerrero, nice little town, checked emails, visited the town museum, where the curator gave me a guided tour, I think he was pleased to see someone. He spoke English fractionally better than my Spanish, he congratulated me on my birthday. It was too early to stop for the night so I drove on. There was no sensible place to park up in the little town I selected so I continued on to Madera where I stopped in front of the Presidencia Municipal.

I've just now added the last section of my route so here is where I have been so far.

I will be adding a larger version of the map to my web site, so it will be possible to read the names of places.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 71, 23rd August 2004

First thing I did in the morning was to get an oil change on the van. I'd also noticed some of the bodywork had come adrift and the owner of the oil change shop took me round to a pal of his who did a superb job of fixing the paneling back together. At one time there were 3 people working on it, and they charged me only 150 pesos. Actually I'd noticed a long while ago this bit of paneling was coming adrift, you could see daylight through the side of the van, under the table. I'd tried to cure it with the foam stuff you get in a can, this had stopped the daylight entering (and the water!) but it was obvious now that it was moving around and needed this correct repair.

I headed north, nice scenery on the way.

I got to Las 40 Casas (40 Houses), this is the drive through the park towards the actual site.

I was too late to go down to the houses but the caretaker took me round to some views of the houses from our side of the valley. Quite a long walk actually but interesting views. You just make out some windows towards the centre of the picture.

The English version of the information sign suggested camping was permitted in the park, but the caretaker said no, and I noticed on the Spanish version the camping reference had been scratched out. So we headed further north to look for a likely night spot. I saw one but carried on, the scenery was superb, lush green pine forests stretching into the distance, lots of huge trucks with huge loads of logs. Cat had a super time when we stopped because we were early, hidden behind some bushes just off the road. He scampered hither and thither, trying to catch birds, beetles, anything. Just as a test I tried calling him. Didn't work, he was having too great a time. Then I called "dinner", there was a thunder of tiny paws and a black and white streak transformed into a small cat sitting nonchalantly but expectantly by his dinner dish. I tried the same again in the morning, same result.

I was at the site promptly at 9 when it opened and headed down to see the houses from close up. It's a long way down. And then quite a long way up the other side.

The signposted route went only to the main house above, the cave of the windows. But I noticed some partially disused tracks leading off the main route, and followed these, and found 5 more cliff houses.

I said it was a long way down but boy was it a long way back up! The sign said 1.5 kms to the ruin, allow 40 minutes each way. I think I about made the return in 40 minutes but was absolutely melting, I took off my shirt for extra ventilation, and noticed the caretaker had come partly down the patch, I think to look for me. Because I had been exploring more ruins, I had taken over 2 hours for the round trip instead of I guess the normal hour and a half. There were no other visitors so I was getting individual attention! Back at the "office" they even gave me a glass of Coca-cola to help me cool off! That, and the help they gave, earned them a 10 pesos tip.

On the way down I noticed a squirrel up a tree.

When I got back to the van I let little cat have a run around and chatted with a couple holidaying for a few days from Chihuahua city. They offered me a drink too. Maybe I was looking like I needed one? Then I spotted small cat up a tree. Quite a long way up.

Hi didn't seem to be having many problems.

As I continued, not quite so many trees, but nice.

I reached Ignacio Zaragoza, shopped a little, decided to park here for the night, and went to check emails. At the cafe they told me the internet was down, it wouldn't get fixed until Monday. But a man there who spoke English said he had the internet in his office so I went with him and checked emails no problem. He, Guillermo Guillermocez, had a small restaurant so I had a dinner there. He didn't sell beer so I brought an armful in from the van and we swapped a few beers. He suggested I park in front of the police station which had moved a few blocks from the plaza. I did, asking one of the policemen if it was OK to park there. When they understood they said yes, no problem, and invited me into the police station where I tried to talk to about half a dozen policemen. They even asked if I was hungry, and offered me something to eat!

I didn't have a good night. I had caught the Mexican runs. I've avoided it until now, I hope it was nothing from Guillermo's restaurant because I know he is careful, he even told me they used pure water to wash the lettuce so could eat the salad without problem. You are often advised to omit lettuce in Mexico, it is often washed with tap water which is not always drinkable.

After a couple of hours driving in the morning the check engine light came on again, this time for longer periods than before, and I noticed when it came on the engine seemed to lose a little power. There was a long hill down on the way. It's just possible to make out the road dropping down.

With the descent, in total about 1000 metres, it got hotter. It was now only about 1500 metres altitude and I am even more pleased I decided not to take the route through Hermosillo and the Sonora desert.

In Casas Grandes I started to look for a garage to check the engine. While I was stopped looking around a policeman pulled up alongside and asked for my papers, I don't know if he was about to leap into a traffic police scam but when he found I had a mechanical problem he asked a nearby muffler repair shop if they could fix it, they said yes, he gave up and departed. They couldn't fix it. The boss said, follow me, and leapt into his truck. The real garage he took me to said they could not fix it either, it needed someone with a computer, so muffler man leapt into his truck again, I followed him for miles, we reached a garage who had a computer. He plugged in his computer for a few moments. Of course, the way these things work, when you have intermittent problem, the problem is never there when you are at a garage. He spoke almost less English than I speak Spanish but managed to understand that when the light came on the van lost power. He went into his office and waved a spark plug and a wiring loom at me then returned to investigate the engine. I realised I had driven the van around 30,000 miles and never replaced the spark plugs so that solved it, they set to work replacing the stuff. Several of the spark plugs were in a bad shape.

While they were working on the engine they were laughing and joking, laughing at our mutual lack of understanding of the language. It's great, all the garages I go to work the same way, unlike in the UK or the US where they just get down to the job with more or less serious faces. Here even, they had a beer, because it was hot, gave me one too.

I went to Paquime ruin.

Maybe it's because I was weak with the Mexican sickness but I was not impressed. You cannot explore the ruins, you must stay on a path that winds around outside everything. As one of my guide books puts it, it just looks like a maze. I have now visited 52 ruins and I would place this one number 52 in order of interest, and that's being generous. The museum has obviously been designed to reflect the ideas of the ruins and the end is result is a building that, put simply, is just daft. The actual content of the museum was OK although the arrangement was rather strange.

Back in the town I checked emails and met my first attempted internet cafe rip off. I noticed the man on the next machine to me had paid 2 pesos so there was no minimum time charge. I asked how much for my 10 minutes or so, 10 pesos the boss said, is that OK? (He spoke English.) Well I said, it's the most I have been charged in 6 months in Mexico. How about 5 pesos he said?

I parked for the night next to one of the plazas.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 72, 24th August 2004

I wrote up my travel accounts, wandered around the town a little, and headed north through a pretty barren area. Not like the most of places I have been in Mexico.

I stopped in the small town of Janos and found a grocery store with an internet setup. It wasn't working, a virus had got through the system and infected all his machines including the server. But he had a modem line so I was able to use that.

The scenery improved a touch after Janos as I crossed the continental divide heading west.

I reached the border town of Agua Prieta and parked in the square. It started out quietly but more and more people arrived, stalls opened up, children were cycling around everywhere, also some on inline rollers, there was someone giving mini tractor and trailer rides, then disco music started up on the plaza. Great for my last night in Mexico.

I watched Cesar Burtolini spray painting, he worked at high speed, ideas for his paintings just seemed to flow, wonderful stuff.

I bought one then wondered if he could use one of my favourite photos as in idea. It's one taken with Danny Campbell in Iowa almost exactly a year ago.

Cesar was working with circles, I hoped he could use this just an idea, I thought he might represent the balloons as circles with reflections in the water, he was good at water. But here's a problem with language, I think he thought I wanted him to make a picture of the two balloons which he did, but it was nothing like the vibrant images that are alongside him in the photo above.

I went to bed earlyish, still a little weak from my sickness only to wake up about 3.30 am, and chanced to wake small cat also. And that was it. For two hours he tore around the van, scratching away at my blanket, then doing one or two high speed laps then back to leap and scratch again at any movement real or imagined on my bed. I've never known him in such an insistently playful mood.

Now last night I had been telling him that today he would become an American cat and that is an opportunity that many Mexicans want, he was going to do it. Maybe that's why he was so excited? He started about 3.30 am hurtling up and down my blanket, pulling it with his claws, then he would make a quick circuit round the van, then he would start again. He didn't settle at all, then about 5.30 traffic started. I had no idea what so many vehicles were doing around me at that time of day. When it became light, around 6.30, I could see a line of people queuing, almost right around the block. I don't know what they were queuing for, many of them seemed to be clutching some yellowish papers. The building they were queuing against had no sign. I noticed the door opened at about 9 am, but the Queue did not seem to move or get smaller.

I have noticed by the way that people here are noticeably more wealthy than further south, the streets are wider, many more people have cars, and many of these cars are looking pretty new. Many of the pickups are large and looking new. Garage repair prices are higher, internet prices are higher.

I forgot to mention, a few days ago I found the map that I though had been pinched. I don't know if I was more pleased to have found the map, or to discover that the nice Indian couple had not pinched it.

I went round some garages to see about my check engine light. It only comes on, sometimes, and only when you are driving. Never when you are stopped. Makes it hard for a mechanic to locate the problem. Finally one garage settled on the fuel pump and I crossed the border back to the US to buy another, Mexican pumps are rubbish said my mechanic.

I know most fruit from Mexico is not allowed into the US, including apples, but mine were not very good anyway and I offered them to the waste bin at the border. Potatoes are allowed only if cooked, I'd just boiled mine for an hour and a half. 3 peaches I bought yesterday I ate for breakfast. My small stock of brandy and Tequila did not seem to go over the limit.

It was only when I got out of Mexico that I found out where the immigration office for going in to Mexico was to be found. I need to call there to clear myself and, more importantly, my van, out of Mexico. I found out I was supposed to have paid 210 pesos to a bank for my tourist visa. No one had told me that, but no problem, I just paid it and cleared myself out of Mexico. For the van they took the sticker off the windscreen, entered the info into a computer, and gave me a paper clearing my exit. Now when you go into Mexico they take your credit card details and if you don't check your car out of Mexico they presume you have sold it and charge up your credit card with a vast number of pesos. Their estimate of the value plus a bit. From what I hear this can be a very large bit.

I bought the fuel pump in the US and took it back to the garage. No he said, that's not it, that's only a 10 lb. pressure pump, you need a 40 lb. pump. Back to the US to NAPA parts. Seems there are pumps for 18 gallon tanks, and for 40 gallon tanks. I've got a 30 gallon tank, presumably modified when the motor home was built on the chassis. I've decided to wait until someone can take the pump off - it's actually inside the fuel tank - then they'll be able to get one to match at the spares shop.

So I'm in the US. In the Wal-Mart car park actually.

Here's the sunset.

Little cat is now an American citizen with all the benefits that brings. I hope those benefits will not include de clawing and not being allowed out to climb trees or whatever. There are some web sites in the US that say it is kinder to your cat not to let it outside. Ha!

So that's the end of my Mexican adventure. I was really sorry to leave Mexico, in my 6 months of travel there I have seen a lot of places, met a lot of great people, made a lot of friends, and had a super time. I have had my eyes opened. I had no idea that Mexico could be so green, that it's people could be so friendly and happy, they wave, they smile, they welcome. I had no idea that I would meet with such beautiful scenery, that the ancient Mayan cities could be so impressive, that the colonial towns could be so beautiful, or that there would be so many beautiful churches, many piled high with fresh flowers. I didn't know that each town would have a cool and attractive central plaza with seats and paths and often be thronged with people. I learned a lot, and I enjoyed.

Thank you, my friends and family who have travelled with me, vicariously, by email, and have been my companions on my journey. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my travels. I myself have whole bag full of memories.

But life, and travel, goes on. My plan now is to head up to Utah and Colorado then drop back to Albuquerque early October for the balloon fiesta. After that I don't know. Back to the UK for Christmas and to France to visit friends and family. I really ought to buy a house. I guess I shall continue to send out the odd email.

So far I've got 140 cat photos. When I get the chance I'll edit them. I have not yet captured all of his travel positions he keeps finding new places. Yesterday I thought I had lost him. He was in the cutlery drawer...............

 

Best regards

David Barker

 

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