An Englishman travelling Mexico by motor home.

Exploring the Mayan Ruins and more..........

 

25th February 2004 Heading to Mexico

After I got back to the UK after my US trip I managed to do the things I planned, I
visited my Mum every day, which was nice, I went to France and saw my daughter
Eleanor. I had been having some problems with my French bank, they had made
some deductions of around $1000 from my account that I did not understand
and they would not respond to my emails asking for clarification. So I took
the opportunity whilst in France to hand out some pamphlets around the local
town explaining my position. Within 4 hours I received a response from the
head office!

Colin Butter asked me to visit for the Icicle Meet, I made a couple of
balloon flights with him then continued down to Romsey as planned. I had
intended to call and see Simon Faithfull on my way back to Hull but Helen
phoned to say Mum had another stroke so I went straight back. I got in to
see her, she died during the night. We were very sad, but she was 95, the
last 6 months or so she had not a high quality of life, she needed to be
lifted into a wheelchair to be moved, for example, it would have been worse
after this last stroke.

At the end of January I went again to France, to make annual inspections on
some half dozen French owned but UK registered balloons. Soon after
returning I headed away again to Cyprus for 10 days to visit with my son
Daniel and family, picture of self and granddaughter Charlotte attached.


Then on 18th February I left for Marshall, flying in to Dallas, to collect my van with the
idea to head off the Mexico. I finished the journey with a 3 hour Greyhound
bus trip, Micki's family met me at the bus stop with my RV, it was like
coming home!

After a few days at Micki's, getting my ducks in order, as she puts it, and
making a few running repairs to the van, I left for New Orleans, it's Mardi
Gras time. I hoped to make contact with Tom Donnelly but had trouble with
the phone. I noticed 3 buses leaving a an RV park and guessed they were
going to see a procession, so I followed. I parked the van right next to the
procession route, on a side street, it was raining so I settled down for
dinner while waiting for everything to start, which it eventually did,
around 3 hours late. I stayed there overnight so I was well placed for the
main processions which started around 9 am and were more or less continuous
until 4.30 pm. Lots of floats, lots of people, lots of beads (they throw
bead necklaces off the floats. I've got about 10 Kg of them!) Luckily the
rain held off.

I'm now heading along the coast towards Mexico. I suspect it will be harder
to send emails from there, in any case I will not be looking so hard for
places to send emails since the bad news I was half expecting but not
wanting about my Mum has been and gone. I've also no intention of trying to
compete with my own literary masterpieces (!) describing my last
trip............

If you are interested to receive spasmodic and maybe near illiterate reports
of my progress please hit reply to this email and I'll put you on the list.
Don't please hit "reply all", I'm sure no one else is interested to know
whether you want to read my notes. Do nothing and you'll get nothing else
except my best wishes for your future which I'll wish you right now. And
I'll look forward to being in contact again some time.

Remember, just hit reply if you'd like updates.

I've edited my last trip into a form that can be printed as a Word document
which is available on my web site. Take care, it's 100 pages long......

Best regards

David Barker


Hiding from the rain in a Kinko's in New Orleans



1st March 2004 Mexico 2

Hi

It seems most people want to continue to receive my trip notes!

After leaving New Orleans I reached San Antonio on Friday and called in to see Jim Cullum's jazz band at Riverside. Jim is part owner of the bar which was started by his father, and he has been playing there almost 40 years...........I enjoyed it.

 

Riverside is interesting, walks along the river, lots of restaurants and bars, lots of life.

I was around quite late, until most people had gone home!

I'm now about as far south as you can go in Texas, and it's getting hot. I've packed my sleeping bag and am wearing lighter clothing. I'm planning to cross the border later this morning. Although I'm told there are internet cafes everywhere I don't know how easy it will be for me to send out these round robins. So if you don't hear from me you'll know why............

Best regards

David Barker

From a Kinko's at McAllen, Texas

 

4th March 2004

Sorry about all these repeated mails! I was trying to add everyone's address onto my web based email. Two main problems. First, with Outlook Express I am used to just clicking on any address that appears in the headers, whether in the from, to, or cc fields and getting the option to add to the address book. Doesn't work like that with my webmail. You have to cut and paste addresses.

Second thing was, I was working with Outlook Express open. I've set it up so that when I am on line it jumps in and downloads mail every 5 minutes. So every 5 minutes OE would leap in and download my mail, so removing it from my web site!! When I realised what was happening I could get round that one!

So, back to the trip. I got into Mexico. It was real easy, I was just waved through everywhere. I couldn't understand it until I got to the immigration check about 20 miles into my journey. I should have called in to immigration to complete the papers. There were no signs, no one told me! It's all done now.

First night I turned off the road into some trees. The next day I visited Cuidad Victoria and found a Walmart. The second night was a picnic spot by a waterfall, lovely and green. The next day I visited San Louis Potosi and found another Walmart. Then I found what I had been running around searching everywhere, the Mexico's "Red Guide" showing maps and town plans of Mexico. Of course I'd already got the Lonely Planet Guide to Mexico, The Rough Guide to Mexico, and the People's Guide to Mexico, and the Rough Guide map of Mexico. But I wanted, and eventually got, the Guia Roji. Roji is the name of the publisher and doesn't actually mean red, but who cares.

In San Luis Potosi I noticed the hotel Simon and I had stayed at on our little aeroplane trip to Costa Rica, and drove past a few of the sights we saw. That night I found a big rock near the road, and hid behind that. I paused briefly in San Felipe and actually took a photo in Dolore Hidalgo.

In San Miguel de Allende I took a walk around. I bought a book with two walks, I'll do the other tomorrow. It's a nice town, lots of Americans have homes here, there's a good climate. Here's the parish church.

I think I might be able to send an email so I have returned to my parked van to write everything. Of course I'm not far from the main square. Just to prove it I stood on the square and took a picture. There's quite a lot of traffic. My newly bought (in Cuidad Victoria, from a friendly camp ground host) Camping Guide to Mexico advises owners of RV's not to even contemplate risking the narrow cobbled streets in the centre. I think it might be a bit tricky in a 40 ft coach, if you don't know the roads. Yikes! A tourist bus has just slowly driven past me, the driver was eating a tub of icecream.

I was almost finished with these notes when a drum beating became rather close. It was a Mexican Indian dance around the town square. I've no idea why.

Now I'll go and find if I can send this email..........It's real handy being able to write it and be in sight of the square.

I've already explored a spot to park tonight, just outside the town on some scrubland behind a church. I'll be OK unless they close the chain on the entrance, and it doesn't look as though they use it, the chain that is.

Ah. Just for anyone concerned about my health, I have slightly modified my modus operandi. I now lock the doors at night. I don't fix the windscreen cover since you can't drive away with it fixed. I keep a big torch nearby. And I've bought a tyre walloper, so I can whack my tyres with it and check they are full pressure, just like a real truck driver. I keep it real close at hand in case I should get an urgent need to go wallop my tyres.

Best regards

David Barker

 

7th March Mexico 4

First, these trip updates are rather large because I am including photos. If you have limited access, or find it hard to handle these huge emails, tell me and I'll put you on a special list without the photos and send you MINUTE files! Sorry if you had a problem with this one.

I didn't make it to my chosen parking spot near San Miguel de Allende. There was a bit of a traffic jam so I followed a bus, I guessed he wouldn't get stuck in a narrow street. He didn't but he went the wrong way (for me) so I pulled off in the first space I could find. Turned out there was a rather fine view over the town, the famous view over the town, there were twinkly lights everywhere. Here it is in the morning. The dark is shadow, it was EARLY morning!

 

There were lots more dancers in the town square, celebrating "Our Lord of the Conquest". Whoever he was. But it seemed they had come a little distance. At a guess there were 8 troupes with around 40 dancers and 2 drummers each, my were those drums loud! And some of the dancers danced for 3 or 4 hours.

I debated whether to go to a jazz concert but with sax plus piano it sounded way too smooth for me. I headed off and found a small quarry facing away from the road for the night. Just a bit to the right of the photo was a superb vista with, as I write this, lots of twinkling lights.

One snag. The van was not exactly level. When I was cooking the cooking pots had a tendency to slide off the gas ring.

I'll mention here that prices are quite low in Mexico. I made 4
photocopies today. 5 cents each. I bought potatoes in the market. 20
cents a lb. Strawberries 50c lb. That's cents as in US cents. Very roughly 5 US cents is 4 Euro cents or 3p. Work it out.

There are almost exactly 20 pesetas to the £sterling. that makes 1 peseta = 1 shilling. Easy for those of us who can remember shillings.

Gas stations don't usually take credit cards.

I'm told there are 3 distinct cheating methods in the gas stations

1 They don't zero after the last customer and pocket the extra
2. They short change
3. Quickly zero after filling and demand inflated monies.

As I moved toward the Monarch balloon sanctuary I drove through beautiful countryside. Mountains, trees, and green. Eventually after a 12km rough road which climbed and climbed and climbed (There were no other RV's in the car park!) I reached the entrance to the Monarch butterfly sanctuary. What an amazing sight. What amazing butterflies. They mate here, then head north at the end of March, towards the great lakes, or California. The next generation will mate again on the way. Eventually, the 5th or 6th generation will return here in November. No single butterfly makes the round trip. There were about 100 million of them. A storm in 2002 wiped out 80%, but they seem to have survived this. In Mexico they are all in quite a small area, maybe 50 sq. miles. They will all fly about 3000 km, at the rate of about 120 km per day, using wind currents, and preferring to fly in valleys. Not all their destinations, in the North or in the South, have been discovered. There seemed to be nearly as many people coming to see the butterflies as there were butterflies!

Here's a sky full of Monarchs.

Here's a tree full of Monarchs.

Here's what happens to the males after they mate.

They die. Really, they are as thick as that on the ground. Good job it doesn't happen to us, hey fellas!

Here's a Monarch on a shoulder.

On my continued way I noticed this bit of road. It sort of stops. Somewhat abruptly.

I found a nice spot for the night, down a track, then noticed a shadowy figure outside. I jumped out to say hello, offered him a beer, it seemed he didn't drink, so I gave him a Dr Pepper which he shoved in his pocket and said thank you. We then had a discussion. Hard, since he doesn't understand English and I don't understand Mexican. It was a long discussion, very friendly but obvious he didn't like me being where I was. I said I would move but he didn't understand. Eventually he understood I was only wanting to stay the night. I think he thought I had ideas to stay there for ever. When he understood I was leaving in the morning he said non comprendo, thank you very much, and disappeared into the night.

I'd already made a note to buy an English/Spanish dictionary.

Best regards

David Barker

 

9th March Mexico 5

So I bought a dictionary. I'd looked up Walmarts address, there were actually 2 in town, I couldn't make head nor tail of it. Then by chance I saw a Walmart, bought my dictionary, and headed out of town. Of course I passed the other Walmart on the way out.

I tried a different technique for the night. With my new dictionary plus some phrase books I cobbled together "I would like to park here tonight" and headed off the main road to a local town. Biggish town but no bar to ask if I could park outside. The streets were far too narrow to park but someone found me an English speaker who eventually found me a back yard to park in. I hadn't thought to buy a big enough reserve of beers to thank everyone involved, I'll get bigger stocks next time. I've not run out but am pretty damn close.

I forgot to include a photo from the butterfly spot. The way most people arrive there.

Makes an old RV seem like luxury travel.

As I checked though my emails I found a problem had occurred with my French tax return so I went back to the Internet cafe of last night to send a few more emails and check on a web site. Later, the road was being dug up in the centre of one town, a policemen waved me up a side street. Up was the right word. Up and up. No signs where to go, no other policemen, so I partly returned to try to find my way round. I got back to the other side, another policeman waved me up another side road. All narrow bumpy roads I kept grounding my tow bar. Of course the roads were full of other drivers trying to find their way round too.

Eventually I got out and saw a dual carriageway road heading my way so I drove alongside looking for a way on. I had just found an entrance when I saw a big sign with arrow saying Globo Aeronautico. I followed it. I was told it was the other side of the next town, Yautepec. The other side of this town nobody had heard of it. I was just about to give up when I stopped to ask a small group. They knew it! I asked them to write down directions but they said they would take me. two girls with a small child got in my van, their father (or grandfather) took off in his pickup and we followed. Wow! That was nice. At the balloon site there was no one there but a local gave me a brochure. There was a phone number, I got someone to ring, (he wouldn't let me pay the phone call) but the balloonist was not there, back at the weekend. The brochure mentioned a restaurant where they took breakfast after the flight, the Dona Jimena, said it was the best in the area. I found my way there, it was closed today it being the early part of the week, but I had a long and pleasant chat with the owner, Martin Resch, a German who had opened the restaurant 13 years ago. I left a note for the pilot, whose name I now forget, and headed on my way.

I found a small road heading up a mountain, I realised it was heading towards radio towers on the top. So I'm close to the top of the mountain, south of Mexico City, in a little clearing in the scrub, obviously people only rarely pass, the well made road has unworn grass growing between the cobblestones. I've got distant twinkly lights for company and oldies are playing on the radio and with a home made margarita in my hand I am pretty well content.............

And with a bit of luck there won't be the cacophony of sound in the morning like there was this morning cockerels starting up at 4.30 waking up the dogs who woke up the donkeys and so on. I tried ear plugs but it didn't make a lot of difference.

Turned out it was a good spot. Hardly a sound, just the occasional unmuffled lorry on the distant highway.

Best regards

David Barker

 

11th March 2004 Mexico 6

I pottered along in the general direction of Oaxaca. I don't drive very fast, in built up areas I crawl. There are road humps everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. They call them topes. Sometimes they are marked , usually not. Often they more or less hidden from view in the road surface. Sometimes they are really vicious. I probably cross at least 50 every day, and just about every day I miss seeing one or two. With the RV pots and pans crash, everything in the fridge crashes, doors open and cupboard contents spew out, the tow bar digs into the road surface. So if I crawl through the towns there is less of a bump if I hit one by mistake.

There are various hints that one is around. If you see a small knot of people gathered at the side of the road then they may be waiting for a bus, which means there are topes. Topes are at every bus stop. Or the people may be just curious bystanders, watching for the results when someone crosses the tope too quickly. Well if you just standing, why not be with the action? There are roadside stalls everywhere, selling drinks, fruit, food, pots, you name it. One favourite spot is by a tope, the speed you have to go over the damn things you have time even to bargain for something that's on offer while you are crossing. But they are sometimes out in the countryside for no apparent reason. Maybe it's a bus stop and there is no one waiting for a bus.

While on the subject of roadside stalls, and there are lots, almost every house along the road will have a little table with something on it and someone sitting, waiting for a customer. I am intrigued though by the way sometimes everyone jumps on the same bandwagon. In one place there were stalls selling birds in cages, animal skins stretched out on a rack, and something else I could not determine. But there must have been 50 identical stalls in a period of about 3 miles. In one village in the space of about 100 yards there were at least 8 huge signs offering WC facilities. In another every alternate stall had strings of sausages hung up, dark red strings and green strings, they looked quite attractive. They were all hung on identical stretchers at right angles to the road with the strings of red sausages nearest the road, and the green farther back. Even if the rest of the stall was just knick-knacks, they would have the sausages.

Some 100 miles short of Oaxaca I passed round the edge of a town I saw a workshop offering washing and lubrication. I needed an oil change and the building was high enough to get my van in so I had the oil and filter changed at a cost of $12. I don't have the van washed. I think the older and scruffier it looks the less likely it is to appeal to bandits. As it was late afternoon I asked if I could park alongside for the night, no problem, just don't run over the dog! Then I drove to around the town but suddenly there was a bang and steam spraying everywhere. I waited an hour, refilled the radiator, and started to drive towards the service station but only got about 200 yards before the same thing happened again. I abandoned the van at the side of the road and took a taxi to the lubrication place, they had struck me as being honest, and also spoke a little English. You need a mechanic they said. Yep I said. It seemed to me like a cylinder head gasket had gone. Come back in the morning at 9 they said, we know a good mechanic, and they drove me back to the van. In the morning the first mechanic was too busy, they drove me to the other side of town, an associate of the second mechanic, I think he is sort of partner, eventually took the job on, gave me a ridiculously low quote, and then we drove my van round to the workshop. Fortunately he too can speak a little English, enough for us to communicate.

Turns out it was a cylinder head gasket as I suspected. At intervals during the day I would jump into a pickup with Louis the mechanic, we would buy bits from various parts stores which I would pay for, he would work on again. He kept on working until about 11 pm (we even went out looking for parts at 9.30 pm) and he was back at 9 this morning. I guess I might have spent approaching $40 on parts. The engine is almost all back together now. I just noticed the mechanic carefully making a gasket for the water system from something that looked like a piece of cardboard. Just the final touches now, couple hours more maybe, make sure it goes, and see if the bill really is as little as I was told. Then on my way, passing the lubrication place, I need to say thank you and leave a tip.

It's midday and the job is finished. $250 total including the bits I bought. Didn't quite break the bank. And if anyone remembers $250 is about one third the cost of my getting just the idling speed fixed in Tucson last year.....And as a bonus we replaced the temperature sender unit on the way. My temperature gauge now works. I will have advance warning if the water is going to boil again.

Best regards

David Barker

 

13th March 2004 Mexico 7

In the afternoon I just carried on down the road, took a photo of a village en route,

The monastery at Yahuitlan,

then turned off on a little used track for the night

and lo and behold. Whilst I was admiring the sunset 4 people walked past, presumably parents and two 20ish daughters, all dressed for the town, high heels etc. We exchanged pleasantries. In the morning, 7.30, I was about to move off when a young man walked past, again dressed for town. I gave him a lift to the next town.

(I suppose I had better mention that only the daughters were wearing high heels, and that while I no doubt make lots of errors I can actually tell the difference between strings of sausages and garlands of chili peppers. Duh!)

I drove straight by Oaxica, too much traffic and I'm coming back through the town, but by a different route. I want to get to the Yucatan without too much delay, before it gets it's hottest. I did stop and look at Yagul, ruins of a settlement, the remaining bits built around 750AD

After that was Mittla (The place of the dead) which was thought to be a ceremonial centre. Some superb friezes

Which were in a line on top of 3 doorways. I found a more impressive set of friezes by another courtyard

Hard to tell but they were all made from tiles

They had some super tourist stalls

I watched a man ask a price, he was told 110 pesos (10 pesos=$1) he bid 100 pesos and seemed well satisfied to agree a bargain at that price. So did the stallholder. I am about the world's worst bargainer but I'll bet he could have got it for about 30 pesos! (I did today manage to buy 3 small avocados for 5 pesos, originally offered as only 2 for 5 pesos)

I stopped late at a not perfect place for the night, saw a super sunset, jumped out and took a photo.

Then I realised the flash had come in automatically. So I turned off the flash, put the camera on a tripod, set for delayed exposure so I would not wobble the camera with the extended exposure, and took the perfect picture.

Goodnight and best regards

David Barker

 

16th March Mexico 8

Didn't do a lot the next day, just pottered along. I noticed I'd got what sounded like a slightly blowing silencer,I checked with a mechanic, he said not to worry, it's the exhaust gasket blowing, no problem, worst that will happen is it might be noisy. Maybe one day I'll get it fixed, meanwhile I'll live with it. It's not very noisy and I think it's not an easy replacement. That evening I spotted a woodyard a little off the road, I asked if I could park there for the night, and got an immediate answer, yes. No ifs and buts, just a straight yes. It had taken me a while to work out how to ask the question in Spanish.

In Tuxtla Gutierrez I noticed a Sam's Club, no Wal-Mart. So I joined and stocked up, mostly on drinks. In the afternoon I took a boat trip up the Canyon del Sumidero.

I carried on to Chiapa de Corzo and parked in the plaza. You can just see the van behind the tree.

I did say just. There was a nearly 500 year old brick built thing with a sort of pond in the middle.

I couldn't work out what it was, but it did say it was the only one in Mexico. Nice little town Chiapa. It was Sunday when I got there, all sorts of stuff going on in the square, kids in best clothes for the crowning of the junior king and queen of something.

I stayed parked in the square for the night, it was a bit noisy, then continued on to San Cristobal de la Casas. Another really nice town,

the market and area around was full of Indian ladies selling wares, all dressed in very colourful and smart embroidered blouses. A very proud people. Even though many of them don't have two pennies to rub together, they are existing just on the bread line. You see lots of people walking all over Mexico, but more so round the Indian villages. I plan to go out to a couple of their villages on the way back, can't take a camera, they are very touchy about photos.

I must press on, there was an unusual shower of rain today which reminded me the rainy season starts in the Yucatan in April, after that it gets unbearable, I started the trip really quite a lot later than I would ideally have liked.

I took another photo in the centre of San Cristabel

and planned to park up for the night in a secure parking suggested by the tourist office. I had a detailed map but couldn't find the entrance so I've stopped under a street lamp outside a Corona (beer) distribution centre. That'll do just fine. It actually turned quite quiet until about 6.30 am when everyone is starting to go to work, and I'm beginning to stir anyway.

The high hill scenery since Oaxaca, apart from 100 miles or so crossing the isthmus has been quite stupendous. Magnificent views, up and down almost like a roller coaster. San Christobel is 7000 ft for example, Chiapa, close by the canyon floor, only 1500 ft. Green green huge hills of trees scattered with minute homes (hovels probably most of them) and patches of cleared ground. This region, San Cristobal and around has noticeably less litter than I have seen elsewhere and is consequently much more pleasant to drive though. In some areas litter is in an almost continuous line along the side of the road and almost every place where you can stop is almost knee deep in discarded bags of rubbish with most every roadside bush festooned with old plastic bags.

Best regards

David Barker

 

18th March Mexico 9

Here are some of the views on the road from San Cristobal to Palenque. First a waterfall.

Now some pictures en route

This is the waterfall Misol-Ha

Now some pictures from the ruins at Palenque. Temple de la Cruz

View from the temple de la Cruz

The palace

Temple de les Inscriptiones

This is also the tomb of Hanab Pakal. The tomb is now closed to the general public, but if you call at the museum before entering the site and make a specific request, and are literate enough to write down your reasons for needing to view the tomb, then you are given an appointment. I got to see it, it was worth a bit of head scratching to think of my good reasons. The appointment was late afternoon so I decided to stay in Palenque another night instead of moving on.

I'm actually staying at a camp site/RV park. There was a rebellion in this area 2 or 3 years ago, there have been robberies along the road, and I've got the feeling Americans are not well liked by some - although only some. Most people give a friendly wave when the see the van is American but a small boy threw a bottle in the road after I passed, a guy in a quarry threw a stone in the general direction of the road while I was driving past. Maybe I'm imagining it. Anyway I'm in a campsite, it's costing me $5 a night. There's warm (not hot!) showers, clean washing and toilet facilities. I've met some great people here. Mac from Quebec, left this morning, he's been coming around here for around 40 years, works 8 months, comes here (or around here) for 4 months each year with his RV. He stays in the same sort of places I do. There's a young guy from Alaska, one more payment to go on his university loan, he was fixing his car. There's a lady masseuse from Vancouver Island on the way to Costa Rica, driving a VW camper, picking up work on the way. She's also picked up a young lady friend. I don't mean to insinuate anything there, I just don't know! (what a day and age we live in. Time was you were allowed to make a friend of someone of the same sex without needing to explain it away) There's a French Canadian in a big rig with his car behind, he's pleasant. I realise my conversational French is better than it was, I managed to talk to him in French almost intelligibly (although maybe not intelligently) . There's a French Canadian more or less lives here in a cabin. There's a whole bunch of people living behind in open huts, sleeping in hammocks. Mac says they're all on magic mushrooms and most don't have the money to get back home. There is a nice bar restaurant here, I had a superb fish thing last night for dinner, all of $7, I think it was the most expensive item on the menu. There was some good live music too. It's 8 pm. Time to go investigate tonight.

Best regards

David Barker

 

22nd March Mexico 10

Next day I headed north, to Campeche which is, apparently, due south of New Orleans. Nothing much to see on the way but I liked Campeche. Walked around the town in the first evening and watched a musical fountain

Parked up in the tourist office car park. Here's the view from my parking spot

There's something to be said for this boondocking. I'll bet most people in expensive hotels don't get that view from their bedroom window. Walked and drove around the town in the morning, visiting various museums, mostly fascinating, then got the front disk brake pads replaced. Similar stunt to before, I got driven around to a couple of places to find the pads, I paid cash, got a 20% discount because it was a garage order. The garage owner pocketed the invoice for the pads, didn't give me a receipt when I paid his bill. No problem for me but it doesn't take a financial genius to work out that, used correctly, that's a pretty good method to minimise your tax bill. I got change from $20 when I bought the pads, the labour charge was $15. Wow! I wanted the rear brakes checking but it was too late so I arranged to go back in the morning and went to a crummy sound and light display and parked up again in the tourist office car park.

I don't know what exactly the garage did in the morning. Well, actually I do know what they did, I just don't know why! He took out the half shafts to take out the back wheels and get to the brakes. Anyway after 3 hours he seemed happy everything was OK, I paid the bill, $25, and continued on to Edzna, a Mayan city. My photos don't do it justice so you don't get to see them. Bit it was an amazing place. I carried on to the sound and light display at Uxmal, that was good. I'd read that you could park overnight for a nominal fee. I asked and was told $10. I didn't count that as nominal, just to park overnight, so drove to the end of the road and parked for free in a pull off opposite a hotel. It rained and rained during the night, I'd left my centre windows open, and a few things like sheets and seat cushions and my clean shirt got wet. They're dry now.

Uxmal was great. I walked round and round in the morning, went back to the van for lunch, then walked round again. My legs were nearly dropping off I'd done so much walking.

My photos are not doing the place justice. The size of the buildings, the size of the blocks used, the height of the buildings, the size and quantity of the intricate mosaics, my photos cannot show the scale of the things. You'll have to come here and see for yourself.

Pyramid del Adivino

This is the doorway at the top of those steps.

Quadrangle

Skull and crossbones!

There were lots of people there. Most noticeable were the French, both by their numbers, bus loads of them, and the fact that they never stopped talking. Of course the French are into culture. Maybe that's why I am here, I've been exposed to the French systems....

So on to Kabah. This is most notable by the almost bizarre way masks of the rain god Chac are repeated over and over again on the front of one building

The round bits are the eyes, the squarish section in between, slightly lower, is where the curved nose has broken off.

There are 5 sections like this, around 300 masks in total. Below is the only one that is more or less complete

So I am now in the Kabah car park, with permission to stay the night. "No problem" the guardian said when I asked. I think he said stay a month if you want but I'm not sure about that!

Best regards

David Barker

 

25th March Mexico 11

So in the morning I left Kabah for Sayil, only about 10 miles away. Here's the palace.

.

The paths between the ruins at the sites are nice too. Note the stones to the right. Now it's just a pile of stones. Don't know what it used to be.

Next came Labna. Best known for it's arch.

Then, again quite close, Loltun Caverns. Very big, really big, must have been formed by an underground river, but not very pretty. A few stalactites and stalagmites. As a point of educational interest, the base rock in the Yucatan is limestone, there are no rivers, and since there is almost no rain for 8 months of the year water was quite a problem for the Mayans. They dug big cisterns in the ground and channeled in the rain that fell in the rainy season or in some places they were able to take advantage of sinkholes.
I stopped for the night alongside the culture plaza in Ticul. This is the Church that was close by.
Couldn't work out why so many people were walking past the van in the early morning then realised that walking round the culture plaza was the morning exercise route. They use a lot of cargo carrying trikes around here. Some of the ones for passengers have sunshades. They will often push a lot of weight, I have seen 2 adults and 2 children in front, also, several times, 6 x 50 Kg sacks of cement. I think it's around 25p (50c) into, or out of, town.

Around the end of the 19th century there was a lot of money made from sisal production. It's used for ropes etc. The big estates have now folded because we use materials like nylon. But as an example of the money that was there this superb building is the now disused machine shop in Yaxcopoil, once used to process the sisal.

I went to Celestun, famous for flamingoes. There were lots more than this but what do I show you? Just a few, like this, or a red line of thousands of flamingoes in the distance?

There are crocodiles.

And, less dangerous, mangos.

I stayed the first night on the street in the town, the next night in the car park by the recently burned down information office. The sea food is good, I had a mixed plate, superb.

I left early in the morning for Merida. I've found how to buy tortillas from the village production units. They have machines that grind the maize into a sort of flour, water is added from a carefully adjusted tap, then machines that cut the pastry into circles and cook it. I now buy 1 peso's worth (that's 5p or 10c), for about a dozen tortillas. I only eat about 6 for lunch but haven't yet found away to buy less than 5 pesos worth! I did some food shopping at Sam's Club and Carrefour (yes the French Carrefour, here in Mexico) and am now ready for more ruins in the morning here at Dzibilchaltun.

Best regards

David Barker

Boondocking behind the church in Dzibilchaltun, Yucatan, Mexico

 

Mexico 12 28th March

I was the first visitor at the Dzibilchaltu ruins, just when they opened 8 am. I easily got talked into taking on the services of a guide, he spoke excellent English and his fee was $15 for 11/2 hours. However, back to yesterday. I missed out a picture of fishing boats.

I also missed some more trikes and a nice plaza.

Back to the ruins. The guided tour was interesting, well worth the small fee, but nothing terribly photogenic about the ruins. They are not in a good state, they are not so interesting as previous ruins, but the are the longest known inhabited Mayan city. They have a cenote.

This is where they got their water. At the far end it is over 40 metres deep and the source cave has been explored almost 1500 metres horizontally. It is believed the water comes originally from the sea and the salt is removed by the limestone, which is the base of all the Yucatan. Millions of years ago the Yucatan was at the bottom of the sea.

I parked up in a better class area in Merida, high garden walls to the left of me, and high garden walls to the right. Round the corner I went to an internet cafe. Slow connection, email was OK but I couldn't upload my updates to my web site, nor could I update my AntiVirus. On top of which it was by far the most expensive connection yet, $2.50 (£1.25) for 30 minutes. So much for parking in better class areas!

On to Motul where I took a buggy tour.

I also spotted a sign in the gardens that, not knowing a word of Spanish, amused Simon and I when we first saw it on our little plane trip through Mexico 5 years ago.

It doesn't mean what we thought it meant.

I'd noticed an internet cafe on my wanderings, so called in. A really fast connection, everything worked, and the cost was only 60c (30p) an hour. I updated everything I could think of. The town centre was full, it was a town holiday, the Yucatan governor was calling by to speak to the assembled masses, there were photos everywhere showing the things that had been built or improved since he came into office. Looked impressive to me.

On entering Izamal I spotted a pyramid so I climbed it. This is the view from the top.

Note the area below the pyramid is not at ground level. It is about 200 metres by 180 metres and about 20 metres above the ground. What a construction to make a pyramid base of those dimensions! The pyramid itself is about another 15 metres higher and still pretty big, look at the size of those steps. The steps are in the middle, not those huge terraces on the side.

I found a parking spot for the night just under the pyramid

then went and took another pony and trap ride.

After I got back I asked the driver if it was OK to park on this small plaza for the night. No problem he said. I was just heading off to visit the monastery when an official looking guy asked me if this was my RV. Yes I admitted. Been there long he asked. No not really I said. Are you planning to stay there for the night he asked. Yes, I admitted again. He looked shocked. On no you can't do that he said, you have to move. Oh well I thought to myself, back to plan A, up by the pyramid. I'll not tell him where I'm going.

No, he continued. You have to park right in front of the town hall, we have 24 hour security there. I always tell the RV's to go there. If anybody says anything tell them Arturo told you to park there. Thanks I said, are you a policeman? Yes he said. Tourist police. My job is to help tourists. I'll be around in the morning if you need anything. Oh wow!

I'd already been noting I like the Mayans. They've been stopping me and saying hello as I wandered through towns, then chatting in broken English, always trying to help. One guy told me how much English he spoke, holding his finger and thumb about 1/4 inch apart. Spanish he said, showing about an inch. Maya he said, using both hands about a foot apart. I'll translate for metric users. That's 5 mm, 25 mm, and 30 cm.

By the way I hope you are seeing these files as I intend. If you are using OE it's probably OK but I don't know about users of other emailers. You are suppose to see a bit of text, a picture, a bit more text, another picture and so on. All in the body of the email. If you're not seeing it like that, and have to click on attachments, update your email program!!!

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 13

I forgot to mention anything about Merida. In general, I didn't much like the town. Too big, too busy. Street parking not allowed for several streets around the centre. The main plaza - which I drove around several times - was entirely devoted to tourist stalls selling the local knick knacks. Me I went to a specialised hammock shop and bought a hammock. At $20 ie £10 it didn't quite break the bank. I haven't tried it yet but it seems fine. I also bought a seat fitting, a sort of riser which lets air circulate behind and below when you are driving. Seems to work but it's uncomfortable, I may throw it away. I went to an anthropological museum which was great, and drove up and down Paseo de Montejo a few times. This street was created in the form of the Paris boulevards. Doesn't quite work, but well worth my time driving up and down. Oh, and I couldn't find Wal-Mart would you believe. I had the address and also instructions on how to find it from an English speaker at Sam's club. It's 3.5 Km further down the same road as we are on he said. I also had 3 or 4 maps of the city. Still couldn't find it. Wasted over an hour driving around looking.

Back to my overnight stop in Izamal. Parked in front of the town hall I didn't get mugged. But traffic started at first light, about 5 am. And Mexican traffic is noisy. Really noisy. My van, with it's blowing exhaust gasket, is tame compared to most. So I upped and moved to my first choice spot, next to the pyramid, where it was quiet. I even slept late, until about 7:30.

In the morning I went to a laundry I had noted, my sheets could do with washing. My current washing technique takes several days, and of course I need the sheets every night. The laundry was shut, I went and climbed the pyramid again, this time remembering to take my binoculars, then called again at the laundry. It was still shut on my 3rd call, at 9:30. Then it dawned on me. It's Sunday..........

My current washing technique? Well, self service laundromats are almost non existent in Mexico, so I put a couple of shirts, washing powder and water in a coolbox I am not currently using and let the whole lot bounce around for a couple of days as I drive. Seems to work pretty well, of course it gets lots of bouncing on Mexican roads. I leave the whole lot in the bathroom so if the bouncing gets too severe I don't get flooded out.

I visited the church and the monastery and had another look at the pony taxis.

I pottered on along some small roads through some small town and finished in San Felipe. I have arranged to make a boat trip in the morning to sea a cenote (a fresh water source), provided the boatman can find a couple more people to share the cost. 6 would be ideal but there's not a lot of tourists around. There's no one staying at the local hotel, and I was the only person in the hotel restaurant, and barring roadside stalls, it's the only restaurant that was open. I had a delicious shrimp thing, I've forgotten what it was called. It's a local specialty.

Talking roads, I've mentioned repetitive roadside stalls. Couple of days ago in one small town there must have been 8 temporary roadside stalls selling meat. Each with 3 or 4 bits of meat hung up. I've not seen roadside meat stalls anywhere else. And I didn't notice one selling fruit. I mean, just take a look at the picture above. There's enough horse carriages to deal with the simultaneous arrival of 2 tour buses.

When I chatted about the boat trip tomorrow, asked was it OK to park for the night where I was, on the quayside, overlooking the sea. 16 voices simultaneously said "si" with a few adding "no problem". You certainly do get to stay in some good spots when you go boondocking.

There were no other tourists around in the morning so I didn't make the boat trip. I watched some pelicans

then noticed a pickup which is the first I've ever seen that is in a worse state than the one John Gundersen uses to drive around his farm in South Dakota. Yes, those dark marks are holes, and that's part of the engine you can see. At least John has the engine covered up although I can probably hear him coming from Mexico.

There were no other tourists around in the morning so I didn't make the boat trip. I hung around a bit and headed off to Rio Lagartos. Means Alligator River. Well, it's a lagoon, not a river, and they're crocodiles not alligators. Guess the Spanish were wrong from time to time. Here everybody was touting boat trips but same problem, no other tourists, and it's nonsense to pick up the cost of a 6 person boat trip by one person, plus I've already seen the flamingoes. I headed off further south found a huge salt factory, and had a beer with some amigos.

I watched pelicans diving.

I watched fishermen fishing from a bridge. First they throw the net

It drops into the water

then hits the water

after which the fisherman allows time for the net to sink, gently hauls on the line, this closes all the weights together at the bottom. Seems to work. I must have watched over 100 casts, I didn't see any nets returned without fish. There were 7 guys fishing from this one bridge.

While on the bridge I made one of my rare (?) errors. A tour boat passed the under the bridge with a few passengers and the captain motioned me into the boat. I laughed and said no. Of course I should have said yes. He would have dropped me back at the bridge. Duh!

I had trouble with Internet connections again, my computer was incorrectly interpreting the local connection speed and not working. I have no idea why. It told me it was correctly connected to the internet. So my last report (Mexico 12) you again received courtesy of Colin Butter in the UK, we already had to try the system for Mexico 10. I copied Mexico 12 on to a floppy, used one of the in house computers, and sent it to Colin as an attachment to my web based mail, and after that he's done the clever stuff. Presuming you received Mexico 12 he's done the clever stuff that is! Thanks Colin.

I forgot my floppy and had to go back for it, I am now parked next to the sea, again.

Best regards

David Barker

Actually I'm now in a different town - I'll try the internet connection here.

 

1st April 2004 Mexico 14,

While I was getting up a local walked past pushing his cargo trike loaded up with logs, they were stacked up almost 6 feet high, they must have weighed a ton, which was why he was pushing the trike not riding it. He'd certainly got up a lot earlier than me. Those logs must have weighed real heavy though because, just next to me one of the wheels collapsed. Oops! I guess he realised the cause, because when he came back with another trike he took 2 trips to move the wood.

No joy on more tourists so I went back again to the region of the salt factory. This time I found the flamingoes, and lots of other birds to watch. I got my chair out, set my binoculars out, made a coffee, and stripped off to sunbathe for a while. I must have got too involved with the bird watching, I got sunburned. Duh!l

On the way out to the salt factory I saw a truck driving along the road which totally wiped out any record made by yesterday's tatty pickup. This truck had NO bodywork at the front, except for some rusty metal at the back of the engine and a little bit at the sides of the engine. There were no headlights, nothing at the front, just wheels and an engine. There was no windscreen. Every remaining metal bit was rust coloured and disintegrating. Coming down the road it was obvious the twin back wheels were not following the front wheels, they had a mind, and a route, of their own. The bed of the truck was some old planks, there were no sides of any sort. The load was some big stones, rocks, no danger of them bumping off, the truck didn't wheeze along at more than 15 mph. I didn't like to take a picture of it, in case the driver thought I was poking fun at him, most people here don't have trucks of any kind, not even old ones. However, John's pickup is noisier.

I took a picture of the sea. It really is that colour.

In Tizimin I went to check the Internet and found a young man who knew what he was doing with computers. Actually he's a systems administrator, the internet cafe is just run by the same company he works for. I'll have to reconfigure your laptop he said, and he was away accessing TC/IP properties and typing in addresses almost faster than I could keep a note of what he was doing. Anyway, it worked, a really fast connection, 87 emails downloaded in a flash, my last journal note went out quickly, and I updated my AntiVirus. For some reason the program I use to update my web pages (Cute FTP) did not run correctly, neither of us knew why. Anyway, thanks Gabriel, I really appreciate that help, it not only got my computer working but gave me some insight as to why I have been having some problems. Unfortunately your addresses won't help at the next cafe where no doubt again there will someone taking money but knowing nothing.

I parked near the main square. Unfortunately it was the quite corner where all the school kids gathered to meet and chat until late. In the morning I thought I'd get some money, the darned ATM ate my card. I had to wait an hour for the bank to open. I explained my problem to a girl at a desk, you'll need your passport she said, then go and queue for the cashier. I hadn't been in the queue more than 5 minutes when she was waving my card at me from the other side of the bank. Jeeze! Just like that! Last time a bank ate my card it was that rotten BPVdF bank in Maintenon, the one that later took money from my account without my authority and could not be bothered to tell me how it had come about. The time their machine ate my card, they said the machine was only opened once a week, they could not get the card back for me for another 6 days! I think they could learn from the Mexicans. Well, they could probably learn from most anybody.

Next call was Ekbalam

That's a big pyramid and those are a lot of steps. The covers are protecting original stucco carvings

This stuff really is original, from 700 AD! It's wonderful! This was the kings home, the room you can see was his "office", it became his burial chamber, When his tomb was discovered, there was his skeleton in the room, plus those of two children, presumed to be his servants sacrificed so they could be at his side in his next life. There were 39 pots with 7000 valuable items, 5000 pieces of shell jewelry, 2000 of opal jewelry, and 3 pearls, presumably traded. The stucco carvings were all preserved because after his death a wall was built in front of the structure, and the space filled with limestone chippings so that the stucco would not be damaged. The doorway was a jaguar's mouth, the bumpy things you can see front sides and top represent teeth, the rest of the detail you cannot see on the photo, but it really is marvelous. I'm realising that it is really worthwhile to use the services of a guide on these visits, they don't ask a lot of money, and you get a lot of information. This guide asked $10 for about an hour of his time.

I've seen a lot of ball courts, even in pueblos in Arizona, but I don't think I've mentioned them. This is one of the best preserved (or reconstructed) I've seen.

Midway along the sides, on the vertical bit, was a stone ring. The idea was to get the ball though the hoop without using hands or feet. The game had strong religious significance. I've read that often the captain of the winning team would offer himself for sacrifice. I've read that the players would all be captives and the losers would be sacrificed. Well I suppose that would add a certain sharpness to the game! Truth is, no one really knows what the rules were, or what was the significance.

I drove around the village of Ekbalam and took a photo of a typical present day Mayan hut.

Sometimes they are oval, that one is square. One room, not a lot of furniture. The sleep in hammocks, much cooler than beds. Ladies were making them in that village, but I already bought one. So I gave out some of my Mardi Gras beads. Wow! I'd no sooner given out 3 than there were 30 outstretched hands, where did they all come from? Luckily I have an almost unlimited supply of Mardi Gras beads!

The square in Valladolid was pretty

but the wires on the museum balcony were not.

Police pickup, with police.

I went to a cenote

and drove to another to visit in the morning. Here I have the owners permission to park overnight in the car park.

Best regards

David Barker

 

5th April Mexico 15

There is another cenote at Dzitnup just over the road from the one where I parked for the night, I looked at both. Both were much the same, superb huge caverns with a hole in the top where some of the roof had fallen in, with roots of trees dropping down into the water.

I guess unless some of the roof falls in it's pretty hard to find them. The area may be dotted with such caverns, but no way to get in or to find them.

I reached Chechen Itza and decided it would be useful to have a guide but at 480 pesos decided it was too expensive just for me so I hung around for a few more people to make up a party, 4 seemed to be the best number. A couple of American rolled up, but first to arrive was Rob, from Bournemouth which is only 20 miles from Romsey where I lived and worked for 35 years. Rob has been travelling just over a year, he's been all over the place, Australia, Fiji, Pearl Harbour, Cuba, I remember he mentioned. He finished university, worked in merchant banking for 18 months, and saved enough for the trip. After here he moves slowly down to Honduras where he has a diving job for 3 months. How did he get job that I asked? Seems he's got an aunt out there with contacts. She's actually the British Ambassor so I should jolly well hope she has some contacts! We had a few beers together then dinner, a pleasant evening.

Next morning, while failing to get my computer to work in an internet cafe, I spoke to a young couple from Newcastle, They started out in November, been to Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, and worked their way up. These sort of travels, mostly by bus, make my journeys seem to be only scratching the surface in comparison.

Of course Chechen Itza was great. This is from the top of the pyramid.

You're not allowed to climb on much there, too many people. I though the cemetery was fun, lots of skulls carved on the wall.

I learned a little more about the ball game. It's probably the winning captain who has his head chopped off, by the losing captain no less. It was presumably considered a great honour to sacrifice yourself in this way, would put you in good standing with the gods in the next world. I'll hang out on this world as long as I can, thanks.

Just before going to Chechen Itza I'd driven through the nearby town and been hailed by someone, was I looking for a trailer park. Not really I said, but how much? 150 Pesos. Far too much I said. How much would you pay he asked. 50 I said. I can do 80 he said. I'll maybe come back after I've been to the ruins I said, and wandered off back to my van. I didn't realise, but I was also wandering off in the direction of the competing, and cheaper, trailer park. I heard him say 60 so I went back. Do you have hot showers I asked? Yes he said. I'll come back I said!

So next morning I was back at the ruins until about lunchtime, then headed back to Valladolid where the heavens opened and it poured down. I was parked in the town square and planned to check emails. But I couldn't get there! The road was flooded. I eventually spotted some stepping stones and got over to check email. The rains stopped, and I decided to go to the next small town to park up, Valladolid was too busy in the centre. I'd just left when the storm started again. With the wipers on full speed I could barely see where I was going. Fortunately the oncoming traffic was in the same state, so was just crawling too. There's nowhere to pull off on Mexican roads, so I continued the 28 kms to the next town, where I stopped on the square, in front of the police station. The road here was flooded too, right across, about 6 inches deep.

I headed off to the ruins at Coba. I won't bother you with photos of the ruins, they're not special but I enjoyed the visit. The site is very spread about though, with lots of jungle paths, so I took a taxi.

I had a look at another cenote, chatted with a couple in the nearby Club Med hotel, and continued to Cancun. I needed a copy of my passport authenticating by the British consul, I finally located his office, I had been given an incorrect address, I checked that the office opened at 9am Monday - today is Saturday - and went to look for a quiet spot for the night. I found a smart cul-de-sac with a nice park and stopped opposite a house for sale. I think I maybe know why they moved. The neighbour has 3 of those little yappy dogs, one of them yapped incessantly all evening. About every 10 seconds for 3 hours apart from a short period when it was presumably feeding. In the morning I found another road access to the park with, hopefully, no yappy little dogs.

Later I did the laundromat stuff while taking a leisurely breakfast, keeping an eye on the guy washing my van. Every time you stop in a town, almost, somebody descends on you wanting to wash the car. I've resisted before, thinking a scrubby old van might deter the bandits but here there are almost no bandits and every car is spotless so mine was standing out too much. I then did Sam's Club and Wal-Mart and decided to take a trip on a glass bottomed boat. I got there in good time before the last sailing of the day at 3 pm so I thought. The clocks changed last night, it was actually nearly 4 pm. No problem, I'll go in the morning.

Cancun tourist area is amazing. 2 million visitors a year come to here play on the white soft sands and swim in the Caribbean seas and have a good time. I'm sure they do. There is everything they could need. Loads of super high class hotels lining the beach for nearly 20 Km. Huge hotels. Vast luxurious hotels, covering the whole range of cost from just expensive all the way up to unbelievably expensive. There is scuba diving, jet ski ing, parasending, jungle tours, big game fishing, golf, a hectic night life, Dallas type shopping malls,a vast choice of restaurants. Everything you could want on a package holiday. Even day trips to Chechen Itza.

In the 1970's Mexico's tourism planners decided they needed another resort to equal Acapulco. The chose Cancun, then near a small fishing village of 120 inhabitants. It seems they chose well. The town today has almost half a million population, all there to support the tourists. Rather sadly, although the Maya image is everywhere, the Maya themselves don't seem to have profited. They are still out there in the jungle eking out an existence in their peasant huts, growing maize and making trinkets for tourists.

I quickly checked email at Wal-Mart. The internet operator told me that the service on the peninsula was all run by one ISP and that DSL was fairly new here. He outlined the coverage area, and that's where I have been having problems. Aha! I couldn't get my lap top to work, again. Just to give an idea of the randomness of problems, today, using their computer, I could check hotmail. I could not access my webmail directly at earthlink nor at club-internet. The sites were just not available. But I could access my mail using an intermediary, mail2web.com So I could read, but not send, mail. Well, not quite correct. I could have sent using my hotmail account.

So I am now parked near one of the free beaches. Great, until a bus arrived a while ago, with it's engine running full blast to keep the air conditioning going and disgorging it's occupants to shout about and presumably rush down to the sea. Well, I'll have a drink of wine in the new wine glass I bought today. It being Mexico you can buy things in 1's. Suits me. Yesterday I bought 1 toilet roll, normally you would buy them in 48's!

Best regards

David Barker

 

7th April Mexico 16

In the morning hung around over an hour waiting for the consular assistant to arrive. She'd been visiting the jail to check on an Englishman who had been drinking too much the night before. We did the papers, and I discovered that post, even air post, can take 2 months to the UK, so I found the directions to DHL. I then went on the glass bottomed to see the coral and inhabitants. The world's second longest coral reef runs south from here. Superb. Here's some coral.

and a turtle.

I took lots of pictures of fish too but they wouldn't stay still long enough to get the camera to focus on them!

I looked for DHL and on the way shot a red light. They hide them in Mexico. A policeman behind stopped me, told me I'd shot the red light, and asked did I have time to go to the police station? He said the fine would be about 600 pesos but since I was a tourist he could help me, if I gave him 300 pesos. I said how about 200? He said OK. Marvelous. You can even negotiate on bribes to policemen.

I found an internet spot, everything worked perfectly, I even updated my web site. Then I noticed a dentist standing at his gate. I had a chunk of non urgent work to do so I asked was he missing a client. He said yes, one hadn't turned up. So he did the work, very well, and said the price was 2000 pesos. I'd been expecting 1000 at the most, hoping for maybe 500. I said, I don't think I've got that much. So he said he could help, how about 1500 pesos? I said I OK. So you even negotiate with dentists. Next time I'll ask the price beforehand though.

As it was now dark I headed off for the parking spot I'd found a couple of days ago. The roads seemed sort of similar but not quite as I remembered them. I found a pleasant spot, next to a park, alongside a boat on a trailer with a flat tyre. So presumably it had been there a while and the locals didn't care.

In the morning I drove the length of the hotel zone, stopping for a quick look at a couple of public access beaches and continued south to Puerto Murelos. Talk about sublime to the ridiculous, I couldn't see a hotel when I arrived. Nor many people on the beach. I parked on the plaza which was next to the beach.

It was quiet. I bought another Mexico guide book in an English language second hand bookshop and headed of to an even quieter spot to take a shower. Damn, I was nearly out of propane. Not knowing when the next propane station would arrive, I daren't turn the water heater on, and took a cold shower. I HATE cold showers. I hate cold water full stop, which is one reason I don't swim a lot. I'd no sooner had my shivering shower (outside temps approaching 30 degrees C!) and turned my van round than I came face to face with a propane truck. I waved him down and bought propane. I didn't know whether to be pleased I'd found propane or mad that I'd needlessly almost frozen myself to death. I found another 100% perfect internet shop. Well, nearly perfect. They found a new scam. An extra 10 pesos if you use your own lap top! (Remember. 10 pesos = $1 = 1 Euro, and 1 peso = 1 shilling = 5p. More or less.)

So on to Playa del Carmen. My camping guide mentioned a very hard to find very cheap parking lot right next to the beach. It was right on all counts. In the evening I wandered round the town, next day I did the same, with a long beach walk thrown in. I like this place. Nice beach, nice high street paralleling the beach, loads of people having fun.

Couple things missing compared to Cancun. No endless rows of high rise $200 a night hotels, and nothing near as many attractions striving to part you from huge numbers of dollars. OK the high street is full of small shops trying to take your money but we're in Mexico in a tourist town. If I was into beaches and diving and snorkeling I would come here. No doubt. It costs all of 65 pesos ($6) to get here by bus from Cancun airport if you're interested!

So I'm here tonight and about to go find how the internet is here!

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 17, 9th April

 (next day)

It's a nice place Playa del Carmen. I guess I'll just hang around for a while. There's loud music until 4 am from just down the beach but you can't have everything.

(next day)

It's a nice place Playa del Carmen. I guess I'll just hang around for a while. There's loud music until 4 am from just down the beach but you can't have everything.

(next day)

It's a nice place Playa del Carmen. I guess I'll just hang around for a while. There's loud music until 4 am from just down the beach but you can't have everything.

(next day)

It's a nice place Playa del Carmen. But I guess it's time to move on. Here's the view from the parking lot.

I did think about going to the Isle of Cozumel (the ferry is in the distance in the picture) but my book said unless you were into snorkeling or diving don't bother. It also said if you WERE into snorkeling or diving it was about the best place in the world. I also today counted 5 cruise ships parked off the island, it is apparently a popular destination for them, so the quayside is lined with 100's of tourist souvenir shops. Yuk!

I talked to the guys running the car park. Gave them a few beers actually. The car park closes on 22nd May to build a hotel here. I hope they install double glazing. There's loud music until 4 am from just down the beach you remember. They were keen to tell me their finances. The actual operator works on the beach selling dingy etc rides on commission. He had a good day he said, he'd earned $30. He pays $200 per month rent for the car park, and pays his friend $20 a day. On a good day he'll take $100 but has just had to pay $200 to have a load of rubbish cleared. They both live here in shelters on the site, they are here 24 hours a day. No running water, no electricity. The main guy dreams of having a house where he can keep things, and have a TV to watch for a couple of hours each night, with water, and lights he can switch on. He's been working on the beach 12 years now, he says it's too long.

I managed to find a reasonable place for emails. I couldn't update my website, even wrecked part of it, but I'll survive.

So on to pastures new.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 18, 11th April

I moved on down the coast a touch to Paamal. The beach was OK.

At Xpu-Ha I'd been recommended to the Bonanza camping site, it seemed fine and at 40 pesos a night was incredibly cheap. I'd been paying all of 100 pesos in the parking lot at Playa del Carmen! Anyway, here's the beach at Xpu-Ha.

You maybe notice a certain similarity in these beaches on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. Beautiful white sandy beaches, blue sky with puffy clouds, deep blue sea, palm trees lining the beach. I guess if you are into beaches that makes them sort of, well, ideal. Talking palm trees here's a coconut palm I am parked next to. Note, for obvious reasons, next to, not under. I took the photo out of the van window looking, almost, straight up.

You can see other things from the van window. Here's a land crab.

He's about 6 metres away from my window so I had to zoom in a bit. I would guess those claws are about 5" (12cms) long. He's no real danger, just rustle something and he's down his hole in a flash. There's another 8 or 10 crabs in the area, he's the biggest.

And you know, palm trees really do grow from coconuts!

I picked a bad weekend to be here, in a way, it's Easter and I think everyone on the Yucatan peninsula who has a tent has brought it here. There are tents everywhere, around the car park, on the beach, everywhere!

Trouble is this is about the only bay on this coast, the Riviera Maya, where you can pitch a tent. Whilst the beaches are all state owned, and free to everyone, the big hotels and condominiums own most of the property behind the beaches so you just can't get to the beach without going through their property, which they generally don't allow. Well, I can usually get through, I don't look remotely like a local, I'm about a foot and a half taller for a start, so I could be a client or a potential client. I also doubt most of these hotels would enthuse about a stack of tents - there are 97 someone counted just in this small area - pitched around their main entrance.

I keep meeting nice people as I move around. It always makes leaving a trifle sad, in a way. I probably won't see them again. Here I met a bunch of English girls who live here, girls, well I suppose they are late 20's or early 30's, I'm no judge, Vicki has been living here 9 years, she and her husband are building a huge beautiful house just off the beach. She's making some mirrors and frames to sell. Since that's something I know about I passed on a few suggestions but they probably weren't needed. Another guy, an American, with a German girl friend, he's been living here or another similar park, for 12 years. He spent 9 years as a tour guide and gave me some ideas of places to see. There's Giovanna from Milan who flies paramotors, runs the local shop here in the winter and goes back home to Italy in the summer. I met Pierre and Lise Doyon from Quebec - they invited me to dinner. Nice of them. They've been here since December, they go home next week.

Time for me to move on too. It's Easter Sunday. The camp is emptying, most people are back to work tomorrow. I've been here a couple of days, and idyllic though it may be I quickly get bored with sun sand and sea. Even if the water is warm enough even for me to swim in.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 19, 15th April

 I wandered around and said goodbye to everyone and headed off to Akumal. There I found the Yal-Ku lagoon, what an amazing place to swim.

Then to Actun Chen, with an amazing cave system, oodles of stalactites

and lots of places with tree roots growing down,

they need to drop 36 ft (12 metres) to reach the water level. Just about all of the Yucatan, remember, is limestone rock, with just a thin layer of soil above. Underground rivers are everywhere. Here the cave system finishes with an underground cenote, a freshwater spring.

Another view

About halfway down the picture of course is the water level, the rest is the reflection.

After I left here it was too late to go anywhere else so I picked up emails at Akumal and headed back to Xpu-Ha where I knew there would be a place to park. I got invited to dinner again by Pierre. It was the same dinner as last night, heated up, but that's how you go, It's fine with me. Followed by a pleasant chat. Turns out he is a Christian since age 32 he's now 52 so I had an analysis of how his problems were solved by his beliefs and how he analysed my problems. I hadn't actually realised I had these problems, but there you go.

Best regards

David Barker

 

 

15th April, Mexico 20

In the morning I headed towards Xel-Ha. It a sort of eco theme park. Beautiful lagoons. Lots of stuff like swimming with dolphins

Yes they are jumping over the swimmers! There are fish everywhere. Go to the right place the sea is full.

There are some beautiful cenotes. Cenotes you may remember are freshwater sources, coming from the underground rivers, sometimes accessible because the roof of the underground river has collapsed.

The whole area here is stuffed full of iguanas. You see them everywhere, in the jungle, around the Maya ruins. I've not mentioned them before because they are so, well, common. Road signs say, mind the iguanas. Here's one. Normally the tail goes on for ever, almost twice the body length. In common with many of it's kind, this one has lost some of it's tail.

I asked if I could park outside the park for the night but they told me it's not allowed. Miserable lot.

So I've finished up on the beach at Tullum. There's been the most amazing thunderstorm. Multi forked lightning the such of which I've never seen before. Then the thunder! I've never heard such loud thunder, not ever in my life. Heavy rain for a while, but not really much in total.

Best regards

David Barker

 

15th April, Mexico 21

Next morning I went to see the Tullum ruins. Some people say they are the most beautiful of all, being beside the seaside, beside the sea. As the song goes.

They are beautiful but I wasn't so impressed with the ruins. Maybe I'm getting blase.

Then I headed off to Punta Allen. It's only 30 miles (48 km) along a peninsula but about he worst road you could imagine, or so all the guide books say. They did say allow about 3 hours, depending on road conditions. David Tanzer told me he did it in 2½ hours. Bully for him. It took me 25 hours (for 30 miles). Mind you I did stop a few times on the way. There were beaches to see, coconuts to collect, a bridge to stop and admire, potholes like you never saw in your life before, craters more like, many right across the road, about 1000 of these, at a guess, mostly full of water so of unknown depth. I met a couple of convoys of hired jeeps, having the time of their lives on this adventure journey. I noted some driver's faces drop remarkably when they realised an aged driver in an aged motor home was undergoing the same perilous route that they were fighting along with their 4WD vehicles. (I got 4WD but all 4 are at the back!) I doubt I hit the tow bar hitch, the receiver, on the ground any more than about 50 times, and I only got stuck once, and then I had less than an hour to wait before a truck came along and pulled me out. The tow bar hitch was grounded on a rock, holding the van in the air so to speak, and the puddle was so deep that one pair of back wheels were in free water, I could just spin them around by my hand! There's not a lot of traffic on this road even though it's the only way into and out of Punta Allen. Except by sea of course.

On the way I noticed an abandoned house and parked behind it for the night. There were 3 old hammocks in the house, one was bust, there was a half bag of maize flour and half a bag of beans on a shelf, and some empty tuna tins around. Nothing else. Looked as though someone had been there, and gone. I opened some of my coconuts and managed to drink the milk, then consumed the coconut as aperitif with margaritas. It's great to pick a coconut off a tree then open it up yourself.

In the morning I heard some voices and noticed a soldier standing outside. Hi I said, and signaled hang on a tick. When I got out the soldier said hi, no problem. I finished dressing, gave them all a coffee, and discovered they were camping in this house. I've noticed several small groups of soldiers along the route, I think know what they are watching for, it's drugs being smuggled ashore on this long coastline. I though at first it's a pretty primitive sort of life but then I guess we would give our guys a tent and expect them to do a similar thing. We'd probably give them a bit better support, one of them asked me if I had a spare battery, their torch had run out, but it's the local style. Maybe he should have been more frugal with his torch! Another asked me if I had anything to read, all he had was a brochure for Mexican telephones but of course all my stuff is English.

On the way next day I noticed a Mayan temple by the road.

It's quite small, maybe 12 ft by 10 ft, but inside it has a true Mayan arch. It's not been restored. Just here, all on it's own.

There are loads of beautiful, deserted, beaches

There might be 10 people on this 30 miles of beach but I only saw 2 of them.

Of course you can get problems with deserted beaches. Nobody cleans them.

But what a place to live. You could tidy that lot in about a couple of hours.

I've just noticed the size of this email. Over 1 Mb. Ooopps! Hotmail I think has a limit of 2 Mb so it only needs 2 messages this size to bounce an account. I'll send it in 3 goes.

I went for a walk in Punta Allen, then had dinner, then got bought lots of beers by some local fishermen. Well, two. So I'll just have to stay tomorrow so I can buy them some beers back. (The bar closed before I realised all accounts had been settled.) That's going to be tough. Staying another day that is, not buying some beers. Now just what can I find to do to keep myself occupied tomorrow?

Maybe I'll go talk again to the German guy with the non tourist restaurant in Cancun who was fishing off the pier, or the couple back packing looking for somewhere to stay. There lots of mosquitoes around. My (Mayan) fisherman friends reckon mosquitoes prefer white blood because it will make them grow bigger. The mosquitoes that is. Me, I'm realising that you seem to develop antitoxins or something in the blood, these bites which used to affect me badly now just cause a temporary irritation, gone in about 30 minutes.

Best regards

David Barker

 

15th April, Mexico 22 

Yesterday afternoon I went on an walk they've built, with 3 observation towers. I didn't see a darned thing except for a tiny hermit crab and a
couple of ordinary looking birds. So in the morning I went round the walk again. Similar result, except I didn't see the hermit crab. I wandered a bit further and found a few mosquitoes, that's all.

So although I had found a super parking spot right on the beach I've decided to leave. I actually asked one of the fisherman if I could stay for the night where I was parked then, near the restaurant. Oh no he said. Too much noise, go down by the beach. No question whether it was OK to park for the night, he didn't even consider that. Too much noise he said! There is a noisy generator in the village but it switches off at 10 pm so then it's candles, batteries or bed.

I got back to Tulum in only 5 hours. I got stuck again once going back but by chance only had to wait a few minutes until a truck came along and pulled me off the rock. There's not a lot of traffic on that road, you see about two other vehicles per hour, and I've only seen 6 trucks in total. They are small trucks hardly bigger than my RV but with way better ground clearance.

In Tulum I checked email, talked to the internet shop owner, and parked in my previous spot by the beach. Continuing my move south I visited the ruins at Muyil in the morning. The pyramids are steeper here.

There was an interesting walk through the jungle. To give some idea of scale the length of three tree trunks showing in the middle of the picture is rather more than 6 ft (2 m)

There was a cave with bats

and later a butterfly hitched a ride

I half planned to stop in Limones for the night but the plaza was surrounded by fairground rides so I thought not. I headed on to Bacalar where my book listed 2 inexpensive campgrounds. Unable to decide which one to try first I looked at the plaza which was deserted apart from a couple of policemen by the police station. There were people about but they were all round the high street shops. It stayed quiet all night. This is Bacalar from the Lagoon where the water is totally clear, in many shades of blue, being supplied from freshwater cenotes or sinkholes in the 61 km long lagoon.

The fort was unfortunately closed for renovations, but I admired the colour of water in the Azure Cenote then continued to Chetumal, on the border with Belize (formerly British Honduras). I toured the wonderful Maya culture museum, visited the ruins at Oxtankah, and the city museum showing how the city looked before it was totally flattened in a hurricane 30 years ago.

I've parked in a parking lot fronting Chetumal Bay which looked great when I came here. Turns out it's another young persons meeting spot, music at full blast, highly tuned and noisy engines being shown off to admiring friends, loud conversations. If they don't go soon it'll be me who goes, no big deal, there are small parking lots all the way along the waters edge.

Best regards

David Barker

 

20th April 2004, Mexico 23

It was me that moved. When I emerged from the van to look around, the car park was packed full. I think an adjacent building which to me had looked disused is maybe a night club. The boulevard fronting the bay is packed with traffic, vehicles nose to tail, they do U turns and go back. There was no traffic at all this afternoon, and I found out there was none next morning, Sunday.

As I expected I found a good spot for the night when I moved, then in the morning I drove around a little, it's a nice town, full of wide boulevards. All the guide books say don't bother to come, except for the culture museum, but I liked it. I did some shopping, drove around the bay boulevard again to say goodbye the Caribbean Sea and headed west for more Maya ruins.

I decided to take the small road to the first ruin, and found a totally new scenery. It's a sugar cane area, there are fields of sugar cane. Now
fields are something I have rarely seen in Mexico. There are also entrances to these fields used by vehicles. Now that really is something new. There are loads of places to pull off the road, normally there is nowhere to stop, even to look at a map for a few seconds, I have driven over 20 miles before I could find somewhere to pull off the road just long enough to pick up a bottle of water from the fridge at the back.

Anyway at the end of this road is a sugarcane plant with about 100 trucks lined up with sugar cane, mid April and the sugarcane harvest is in full swing.

I could not find the route out of the town. Nobody seemed to know the way to the next town shown on my map. Eventually the passenger in a taxi said I should go back to the main road (35 miles) the way I had come and continue from there since the road I was looking for did exist but was in a very bad state and there were so many junctions I would not find the way. So now I am next to the main road parked in a quarry for the night.

I looked for the other end of the road but couldn't find it. Must be the locals were right last night. So I headed off towards some ruins. The first was Dzibanche. I was just paying the entrance when I noticed the lady there had the same rucksack that I bought yesterday, I showed it to her. I cut the logo off she told me. I thought that a brilliant idea, the logo was horrid, so I went back to the van to remove it. She followed me and watched. She was not very busy, up to the time I left, 2:30 pm, I was the only visitor of the day. You have a lot of beers she said. (Mucho cerveza) Yes I said. Then "Oops!" I said, problem. Cutting the stitching for the logo also cut the stitching holding on the clip to close the rucksack. No problem she said, taking the rucksack, and beckoned me to follow. She fished under the counter and produced needle and thread, and started sewing. Well before she had finished there was an ice cold beer standing on the counter. She wouldn't take any money. Next time I passed I gave them some of my Mardi Gras beads which were well received!

I first drove by Lamay, being restored.

then to Dzibanche itself.

All these steps and all the walls you see in all the pictures from all the sites were originally covered with stucco, like a sort of plaster, you would rarely see the actual stones. Both inside the buildings and outside they were covered with stucco and normally painted red. Of course the stucco is not so durable and normally just the stones survive. Here are some stucco carving that have survived on some steps.

Not very clear I admit but about 1000 years old. I doubt that all steps everywhere had carvings, but all were covered in stucco.

Also included in the admission was a visit to Kinichna. Here's a superb view from the top of one of the temples.

The Mayans rebuilt their temples every 53 years, that was the end of one era in their calendar and they needed to start anew. Usually they rebuilt one temple on top of another, or one pyramid on top of another. As they had already a building underneath, each time they rebuilt they went a bit bigger. I don't think they rebuilt every temple every 53 years but they were certainly in a constant rebuilding cycle. In Kinichna in two temples they built out rather than over, leaving the original more or less intact in situ and it's fairly easy to see the stages. The temple to the top right of the red line that I have drawn was extended so the base needed to be extended also. To the right of the red line is stage one, to the right of the blue line is stage two, and to the left of the blue line is stage three.

Talking of extending reminds me, in Muyil I was amused to be given a very much second hand admission ticket, they are supposed to be torn out of a book and be not previously used, and in the car park at Tulum I was not given a ticket for my quite expensive 50 pesos car park fee, on exiting when I said I had not been given a ticket they said that's OK no problem!

All these places are in the jungle of course

and here is the Kinichna car park.

More jungle

Kohunlich plaza

Those are stands on the left for people to watch. About 80 yards long. (1 yard is 3 feet). I've no idea what they would be watching. Maybe native dancers? But it's quite some plaza.

Kohunlich is famous for it's temple of the masks, originally 8, each 9 ft (3m) tall. Carved in stucco.

I chatted with the guardians and arranged to stay in their car park. There were 6 howler monkeys high in the trees howling away. Even in this rotten photo you can see which one is the male.

Best regards

David Barker

 

20th April, Mexico 24

First call in the morning was to be Chacan Bacan. In the distance I could see a pyramid with a thatch cover over something but I could not find the way in. The only likely looking road was closed with barbed wire, the locals sent me in all sorts of directions so I gave up. They even sent me to a lake. It actually was quite a pretty lake. Similar type road as that to Punta Allen but shorter. I started out to Rio Bec. After about 5 miles the road deteriorated to the level I didn't want explore more so I gave up, again. The road later to Hormiguero was OK I could get up to about 5 mph in some stretches and the first building I saw was amazing.

Next call was a quick visit to Xpuhil.

Apart from Pyramids the building style round here is lower, there are often two towers on a building with a false temple on top and false steps up to them. False steps because they are unbelievable steep with minute footholds, OK maybe for a mountaineer. And yes I know there are three towers here. That's what makes it special.

I found the town plaza and parked in a parking spot next to the police station. Then I noticed there was a sign, police vehicles only. Oops! I asked a nearby policeman in my best Mexican if it was OK to park here for the night, he conferred with a colleague who checked with another, and yes it was OK, no problem. By one of those fortunate quirks of language Mexican "no problem" translates directly to English "no problem". And OK turns out also to be an international term. Another English term by the way that always seems to be understood even by non English speakers is "Would you like a cold beer?"

Next morning I was at Becan on the dot of 8 am.

Becan is unusual because it is surrounded by a defensive moat. Forget the blue, that's artistic licence, it was a dry moat.

In this local style there are internal stairways and passages. The arrow above points to the start of a passageway. Below is the pyramid top right on the plan. Note the two towers bottom left of the plan by the way.

There was a stucco relief found only 2001 still showing it's original red colour.

I spoke with a pleasant German couple from Munich. (If you're reading this, pleasant German couple, send me your email. I might do a European tour next year!)

I called in to another close by ruin, Chicanna. This was mostly residential buildings, probably some of the upper classes from Becan. Kings lived in palaces, priests in temples, nobles in high class homes, craftsmen (such as stonemasons) were the middle class, then there were the, well, I hardly dare use the word, (uugh!) peasants. The peasants lived round the edge of the cities in thatched hovels and did most of the work. I think if I'd lived in those times I'd like to have been a noble.

Many of the cities were abandoned before the Spanish arrived. In fact when the Spanish came the Maya civilisation seemed already to be falling apart. There are lots of theories, that it was due to internal conquests, that they moved to other cities, that they did not understand crop rotation and the land became infertile, and so on. The cities were here for about 1000 years, and were strongest from about 500 to 950 AD. That's when the most active constructions were made although building continued up to 1500 or so, building each building on top of another, getting bigger all the time.

How did they lose this building knowledge? Their amazing astronomical knowledge? How could they once make those wonderful writings, hieroglyphics, then not even be able to read them? Why did all these peasants leave the cities and go back to the jungle? The best theory I have read is that it was drought. The whole area here, almost every city I have visited, has a water problem of one sort or another. In Kabah I noted one building had 300 masks of Chac, the rain god, on the front, he must have been very important to them. Apparently there is a very strong correlation between the amount of rainfall and the building work done. Less rain, everybody is out in the fields growing food, no time for building. The theory I read was that after years of serious drought the hierarchy quarreled amongst themselves about who, which god, was responsible and a combination of angry killing of each other and self sacrifices to appease the gods, maybe combined with over extending areas following conquests, left no one but the peasants and the craftsmen who could chip stones etc but not design buildings or make writings. All the others, the people who knew these things, were dead.........So, back to huts in the jungle.

In Europe the Greeks etc were able to progress without major setback. What would have happened here I wonder if the Maya had continued advancing after the years around 1000 AD instead of regressing?

My own journey continues to Calakmul. They close the road to the site at 6 pm and don't let people in after 4. No problem, I could do with a rest, they offer free camping, actually it's a very pleasant camp site the rangers have made, they've even put a couple of fluorescent 12v lamps to light up the campfire. Of course I don't need a campfire or extra lights and anyway can't get my RV down the forest footpath to the campsite. The rangers did not speak English but again no problem in understanding "would you like a cold beer?"

I asked "do you have mosquitoes here?" No they assured me. Then I noticed something about an inch long was settling in to devour my leg. No mosquitoes I said, just bigger. They laughed. You shouldn't wear shorts they said. I was into my van like a rocket, windows shut, fly screens actioned.

The road to Cakamul is long, 60 kms (40 miles) and only goes to Cakamul. Nowhere else. I set off soon after 7 am and had a minor disaster en route. They've been cutting side branches on the road, one cut heavy branch was left sticking out into the road. Too high to get a car but just the right height to get me. It put a small crack in the top right corner of the windscreen which is spreading. If I need a replacement I've got potential problems. My 6 month Mexican vehicle carnet, my Texas tax plate, and my Texas technical inspection certificate, are all fixed irremovably to the windscreen.

Cakamul has the highest pyramid in the region. 54 metres high. One French girl who hates heights had bravely climbed it and nearly had heart failure when she found that out. I wouldn't have told her if I had realised.

Now you're in for a rare treat. A picture of me on top of said pyramid.

Next stop was Balamku where they have uncovered some original red painted stucco carvings.

Here is a detail of the centre carving.

I was just about to take these pictures when the battery in my camera went dead. So I hiked back to the van to re charge it. Whilst hanging around , for something to do I whacked my tyres with my tyre whacker. Hey it works! I had a flat on one of my twin rear wheels, I've no idea how long for, it's about a week since I last whacked them, I've noticed to real difference in handling on the van due to this flat tyre, maybe it's been rolling slightly more, but it's hard to tell, might be the road surface.

I stopped at a tyre repairer. When he got the tyre off I noticed it was split down the sidewall. Oops I thought. No problem I can fix it says the tyre man (In Spanish, I understood every word). So he grinds it down a bit inside and sticks on a patch. I wouldn't trust it on a single wheel but on a double it's OK, and this pair of tyres is coming up for replacement. 100 pesos. Worth every peso. (100 pesos = $10 = £5)

I spotted a track going into a wood. A bit narrow but I got in. I've cleared some branches so I think I can get out again in the morning.

It's starting to get unbearably hot. My Tee shirt is perpetually damp, in the van this afternoon perspiration was actually dripping off my forearms, I am needing to drink vast amounts of water. I just ran (non drinking) water out of my tap. It is pleasantly warm OK for a shower without extra heat..

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 25, 25th April

I stopped in Escarcega to see if I could fix the windscreen crack. A guy I met in Calakmul had said he thought there was a system to stop a crack spreading. I asked around in the town and finished up with a windscreen specialist who said he could fix it. He got an old hacksaw blade and made a new scratch at right angles to the one I was worried about, then charged me 100 pesos for about 5 minutes work. I had shopping and stuff to do in the town, then I noticed the crack had not stopped spreading, so I went back. My rip off guy tried again but only managed to make the crack longer. He gave me my 100 pesos back. I don't really know if I was glad he had his just deserts and failed to rip me off, of if I was fed up that his "cure" did not work.

I continued on to Palenque. I was thinking hard about this tyre repair, I wasn't really happy about it, also wondering if I needed new shock absorbers, and I knew I need an alignment check. I found people who could supply, or check everything, and I promised to return tomorrow.

I returned to the camp site where I had stayed before and hurtled directly to the showers.

In the morning I re visited the ruins. I found lots of stuff I had missed before, and was able to look at much that I had seen with a much more experienced eye. I hadn't seen this guy for example.

I was still impressed by the way it was all on the edge of the mountain, and the jungle.

Also there were so many ruins close together.

I melted back to the campsite and jumped in the pool. Someone remarked it was too warm to be refreshing but it suited me fine. I'm not into cold water dips. It's nice, a pool next to the jungle.

Also the waterfalls by the ruins.

I went back to town to do the stuff on the van. They'd forgotten it was Saturday today and they had not told me they closed at 2 pm. I managed to buy a new tyre to replace the patched one, and wondered whether I should get 2 more. The price was OK, 830 pesos, not fantastic, but OK.

I melted back to the campsite and jumped in the pool. I asked someone if they knew what the temperature was today. Don't know they said, hot. There are power hookups here, so I was able to run the van air conditioning. Nice.

I'm going to head south in the morning, to the ruins at Yachilan and Bonampak. I think I'll make it a short visit, I do need to be heading for cooler climes. I'm having to be very careful with my driving to stop the engine overheating and whilst for a month now I've been encouraging the refrigerator by stocking it up with bags of ice, it now won't get cold enough to keep things frozen in the frozen food section.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 26, 28th April

I left Palenque reasonably early after stocking up with such things as ice. It was a fantastic journey south through lush green jungle with misty mountains lining up on the left and right and pyramid type hills all over the place, just as though someone had tipped out some big child's building blocks.

I reached Bonampak. You reach a parking spot, the ruins are 6 miles further on. Fortunately there is a bus service 70 pesos return but in my case, since there were no other tourists, they sent me by private car. Walking the rest of the way to the site I passed a parked Cessna 185 flying something like bunches of banana leaves from heaven knows where. The landing strip was even narrower than Sayache in Guatemala where Simon and I landed on our trip to Costa Rica, the jungle on either side was hardly wider than the plane's wingspan.

This is Bonampak.

The stele you can see in the middle is huge, 20 feet tall, and only about 1 ft thick. Must have been hard to carve without breaking it.

Even on the photo here you can just make out the king in the middle, wife on one side, Mum on the other. I don't know which is which. About AD 780.

There are some original paintings in the three sections of one of the temples. This lot appear to be playing musical instruments, apparently to celebrate.

Remarkable state of preservation, from about 750 AD.

It's maybe not a good idea to come to Bonampak when there are no tourists. I think my driver forgot to come back to collect me.

I managed to get a message back to him then continued to Yaxchilan. Here you need to take a boat, about an hour each way, minimum 3 passengers. It's late afternoon so I've settled down in the car park for the night, with permission, to wait for a couple more people in the morning.

It's hot. I've realised I can measure the temperature because I have a digital medical thermometer with me and blood temperature is the sort of number I am into here. It's 9 pm and I'm getting a reading of 35.7 degrees C ambient (96.3 F) inside the van. Earlier it was showing 41 degrees C (106F). And today has not been the hottest day by a long way. I don't have perspiration dripping off me.

I'm right by the river, the other side is Guatemala. Ready to go to Yaxchilan in the morning.

And the howler monkeys in the jungle are howling. I've knocked off a couple more large margaritas and I've opened a beer. Even if the freezer is not working I can keep the beers cold by dropping them in with the ice. However at this rate I soon won't care!

I've parked under a nut tree. Every now and then a nut drops off and hits my roof with a huge boing. No, I wouldn't be here if it was a coconut tree...............

It's an hour boat trip to the ruins at Yaxchilan, it's rather expensive to hire a boat on your own but some kindly French people from Tours allowed me to tag along. I was hoping to take part of their cost but not so. The driver wanted 200 pesos, paid to him! Here's structure 33, high above the main plaza. The roof comb here is only about half the original size.

Like many of the ruins, it is rather magical being set in the middle of the jungle with the background of the howler monkeys.

Here are the friends from Tours, in front of a building that houses a maze of tunnels.

In the tunnels there are bats of course.

Even spiders.

This rather handsome specimen is almost 4 inches (10 cm) tip to tip. The boat trip was good, jungle on each side. There's a thatched roof on the boat to keep the sun off the passengers.

We stopped for a few minutes on the Guatemalan side, so that we can say we have been there.

I transferred some pictures on to CD for Ann, they all looked at them on the computer, I had a shower, it was now a bit late to move on today so I'll go tomorrow. That seemed to suit Ann's son Greg who had spotted same games on my computer so I left the computer with him for a while. We all had dinner together very pleasant, I've been asked to call by when in Tours and I just might do that, I drive through there several times a year to say hello to my cat Tippex who is also on long holidays near Poitiers, just south of Tours.

After talking to Thierry and Alain I have decided to continue on south and then west along the Guatemalan border, I was previously wondering about returning via Palenque. They tell me it's a pretty route going south, I've since looked it up in a guide book, that says it's nice too! And generally higher so it should be a touch less hot.

It rained heavily during the night which cooled things down in the van. Made it bearable in fact. The drive along the border started out very pleasantly with jungle on either side. Lots of military checkpoints on the way with checks of papers and searches of the van. Not surprising really, we are only a couple of miles or so from the border and right on the main route for smuggling drugs into Mexico.

I noticed I was getting low on petrol, it's over 200 miles since I have passed a gas station, so I popped into a convenience store and bought 20 litres. I thought I would be ripped off but no, I paid only a touch more than pump prices. Going back to the van I noticed the propane tank had dropped at one end, the bracket had come unfixed. There was a mechanic's workshop just opposite, they chopped off a bit of angle iron and welded it on to support the bracket. On re-inspection they weren't happy with that and said they needed to put another support on another part of the bracket. They re dropped the tank, welded on another support for the bracket, and were happy. Then they made me crawl right under the van to insect their work. Then they charged me 100 pesos ($10, £5) for the best part of an hour of time, including some very skilled welding work, for the two of them. I gave them 120 pesos!

Then the scenery became superb. Into the mountains, climbing up to 3,000 feet and dropping again.

Then I got into the Montebello Lakes area. There are 59 lakes here in the National Park. Here's one of them, Lake Tziscano. The distant mountains are in Guatemala and actually so is a small part of the lake that you can't see, round to the right.

We're now at about 3,000 feet so it is much cooler, much more bearable than at Palenque or near Yaxchilan.

I drove into a car park by one of the lakes, asked a bored looking policeman "Ser possible estacionar aqui esta noche?", he said yes, so here I am. If you don't speak Spanish and can't work it out what I said it means, roughly, "Is it possible to park here for the night".

I am now going to try to get my route through Mexico marked on a map that I can send out so you can see where I've been. If I manage do it tonight you'll get it with this message. If not, later.

OK here it is. The route out is turquoise, the route back is pink. I've actually driven 10,000 Km (6,200 miles) since starting this journey on 21st February. This image of the map is fairly high quality and if you want to view the route more closely it can be doubled in size.

While playing with statistics, I have now myself driven the motor home 25,000 miles (40,000 km) out of it's total 102,000 miles(165,000 Km)

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 27, 2nd May 2004

In the morning I walked around, visited the grotto, incredible cave descending down and dripping, but muddy and impossible to easily descend. Also I'd forgotten my flashlight, but here's a nearby arch with river running through.

On the way back I encountered some bird catchers. Catching measuring then freeing birds, mostly humming birds, for research, wish I'd taken a photo. On to Chinkultic.

That's the plaza. The plaza was overlooked by hills and they built on the hills.

Here's an example of building one structure on top of another. They filled in the space between with rocks.

I had to buy more gas. No filling stations. First place I asked quoted a silly price, 140 pesos for 16 litres, I said no thank you and drove on. At the next convenience store I paid around pump price, 100 pesos for 17 litres, actually I bought 34 litres. Doesn't take an Einstein to work out the first price was a rip off. It seemed I was using a lot of fuel so I have added up the mileage. On this Frontier Road there are no places to turn off, except to reach villages. If you start one end you either continue to the other end, or you turn back. There's no where else to go, no road junctions. You start one end, you finish the other. No alternatives. I labour this point because on the whole 491 Km (306 miles) of this main road with no turnoffs there is not one filling station. With a car there is nowhere to go except the other end. Sure there are two places you can catch a boat to Guatemala but for people only, there is no car ferry. Can you imagine? You start a road and there is nowhere to go except the other end more than 300 miles away.

I went to Tenem Puente. You can't easily make it out on this quality of image but my van is in view in the car park centre top.

Here also they had hills, and used them when they built. This is the view from a high terrace looking away from the plaza and the main area of the city.

There are actually 3 ball courts here, all close by to each other, I've no idea why they had so many. Maybe here they did play the game as a sport, they can't have been chopping the heads of all the captains each time they played.

Here's another example of building one on top of another. It's easier to see here, where the restorations are less complete. Notice the stonework here on the 2nd phase is much higher quality then the first.

In Comitan I got some stuff done on the van. First alignment. (Eng: track and camber, Fr: parallelism) While checking that they noted that one end of the anti roll bar was not attached. Ah! That's why I thought the shock absorbers were giving up. They're attached that using bits they had around. It goes around corners much better now. I suspect it has been unattached for the whole of this trip. Now I just had someone telling me that in the US you can get stuff to stop windscreen cracks spreading. Sure. Now these Mexican mechanics are good, sometimes brilliant, but they don't have stuff to work with. Such as tools. When I had the new tyre fitted the guy needed a spanner (a wrench), he had to borrow one from the mechanic next door. When they had adjusted the alignment they checked they had got it right by using a tape measure on the separation of the front and back of the front wheels. I also had an oil change in Comitan, they also checked the air filter, it was almost choked with dust. Now it's clean I might get better fuel consumption.

Oh by the way the bunches of leaves that I mentioned earlier being flown in by the Cessna were tobacco leaves.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 28, 3rd May

I wasted most of the morning in Comitan, wandering round, visiting museums, sitting on the plaza. Then I drove on towards Ocosingo. All my guide books and also an Englishman I met at Xpu-Ha had suggested that Rancho Esmeralda was a great place to stay. Seems it's shut. I couldn't find out why, it was apparently being run very successfully by an American couple. However the guard at the Tonina site suggested I park on the football field just round the corner. No amenities, but free!

The Tonina site has without doubt the most beautiful views from any of the cities that I have seen.

On the way down to the Yucatan I had driven past the turn off for waterfalls of Agua Azul, meaning to visit on my way back. Now I had returned via the frontier road I had to backtrack some 40 miles to see them. But it was worth it.

The water is a wonderful turquoise blue. I talked with Tawny from Washington, who has been living here 2 months, and who has been all over the place. She's lived 2 years in Blackpool and 2 years in the bush in South Africa, in Greece and in Italy, amongst many other places. She's driven an old RV down through North and South America to Tierra del Fuego, as far south as you can go and been moving around for 20 years. I'm meeting some amazing people. She told me there were some superb falls about an hour's walk downstream and gave me instructions. First, don't take any valuables, there are signs posted saying there's been some robberies. Next go to the village, about 40 minutes walk, and ask for the cascades and a guida. I did that and held up a 10 peso coin. A man immediately delegated his son to be guide. It was rather a fun procession. Small boy, then me, then 4 more even smaller boys along just for the fun of it. Walking through their village it's obvious these people here don't have anything. Even in the comparatively wealthy Agua Azil park area some of the young girls working in the restaurants, who have left school to help the family finances, work a 12 hour day and are paid 90 pesos per month. Yep. $9 a MONTH.

The falls were wonderful, amazing huge falls. Thinking of the robberies I only took my small camera so didn't get any worthwhile photos. It was hot, really hot, walking through the jungle. When I got back everything I was wearing was absolutely soaked with perspiration. I went swimming. A touch cold for me but what a background for a swim.

Now it is the morning of my second day here, and it's raining. Not hard by local standards but it's heavy rain. 2 hours so far and showing no signs of stopping.

It did eventually stop but there was still lots of low cloud around, visibility was generally poor. I'll leave tomorrow, hopefully everything will be clearer. I've been along the road before, there are lots of good views, it would be a pity to miss them.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 29, 5th May

It rained again during the night but not so heavily as before. There was still a lot of low cloud but nonetheless I decided to move on from Agua Azil. I've been here 3 nights now, the waterfalls are very pretty,

but 2 and a bit days is enough, and the batteries in my van are getting low, I need to drive to recharge them. Another couple arrived last night, Robin and Stockwell, they've been travelling a year now, in a Jeep, on the way to Panama, only another year left they say. But I have to call by if I am ever in Seattle where Stockwell has a house. I gave Tawny a lift down, or rather up, to the main road, she's going into Palenque for the day, shopping and such like. She's says she's going to email her Mum the digital photos I took of her yesterday, since it's 8 months since she was home! She'll catch a minibus to Palenque and back, I'm heading the other way.

I only got about 30 miles and the engine stopped. I could see smoke coming from some wiring around the motor and guessed it was an electrical fault. After a little while a taxi stopped and asked if he could help. Well, I didn't understand a word, but I guessed that was what he was saying. I said "mecanico electrico" (I'd seen it written on roadside workshops) and with signal he indicated he would send one from the next town. Next two guys in a truck stopped and wanted to tow me into the town. We tied on a tow rope but then the mechanic arrived so we untied the rope and they left, refusing to take any money.

The mechanic fiddled for a while, he seemed to know what he was doing, he found something wrong, and said he had to take it back to his workshop to fix. When he returned he had two more guys with him who I guessed were the local red hot experts because they took over and he watched. Eventually the engine burst into life. Total time about 3 hours, total cost 800 pesos. I reckoned that included the tip so what they got was 800 pesos. I've no idea what they did.

After they left I noticed the temperature gauge had stopped working. The wire had probably burned out with the others that had melted insulation. I drove into the town but didn't spot their workshop. I'll get it fixed some other time. I noticed an internet cafe and sent emails. Almost wished I hadn't, I had great trouble getting the connection to work and when it did it went like snail. Anyway, now I'm in San Cristobal de las Casas where I was headed originally. I've been here before and I'm parked up in the same spot under a street lamp outside a Corona (beer) distribution centre. Funny. I haven't had a beer all day! Started tonight with a home made margarita (only last night Tawny said my margarita was the best she'd ever tasted!) followed by a Mexican wine which is surprisingly good.

The scenery on the road from Palenque to San Cristobal is some of the best I've seen. Even with the low cloud it was impressive but I remember the magnificence of the views when I came down. I parked in the same spot that I parked in when I passed here before.

It rained during the night and was almost cold. I wandered around, visited the market, again, took pictures of the cathedral

and a church

and another church which I later drove up to. There's a lot of steps..........

I bought a superb coffee table book on the Mayan cities and yet another guide book,(I now have 6!), did my laundry (well, actually someone else did it, I just paid, 90 pesos for 9 kg) I did some shopping, reorganised my drinking water system, wandered around some more, went to the market, visited a jade museum with a superb replica of Pakal's tomb as it would have looked at the time of his death, surrounded by over 1000 jade items, (Pakal was the famous king from Palenque whose tomb I visited), I climbed some steps to another church, spoke to a German couple Mila and Markus who have spent a year cycling south from Vancouver and plan to continue for another year, checked emails and bank statements, by now it was dark and I drove up to the church on top of the hill to admire the view. I'll hardly been there a couple of minutes before 2 policemen checked me out, I wandered back to my van, then a police car stopped, and I was advised again that this viewpoint was a tourist area, not safe to be in at night.

I drove back to my previous spot, remembered it was very noisy with traffic this morning and deciding I would err on the side of safety and went to look for the secure parking that I had tried to find last time I was here. This time I found it, I'm parked safely for the night, and it's cost me 20 pesos.

I've got a theory why the wires burned out. When I had the welding repair made on the propane support I noticed the guy disconnected the battery presumably to save any shorting out. I thought this was the main battery but I've now realised it was the supplementary. So the electric welding was done with the battery connected, this might have caused some shorting out and the subsequent electrical failure.

The fridge is working fine now that it's a touch cooler. But I noticed one interesting thing when I was having the problems. It seemed to work when I was parked on an uphill slope but when I was on a slight downhill it did not work so well. Normally I would park down hill, if there was a slope, because that suits my sleeping arrangements, I prefer to have my head higher than my feet. But I have no idea why the fridge should work better when inclined one way rather than the other.

Best regards

David Barker

Mexico 30, 7th May 2004

In the morning I went back to the church on top of the hill to admire the view and then continued on to the Grutas de San Christobel, a huge high cave, with a walkway running back around 400 metres. Lots of stalactites.

Back in the town I went to a couple of small museums, met up with a Japanese man taking a year off University studies, we wandered over to the market and took a delicious and very cheap (25 pesos) fried fish lunch. It came on to rain heavily, at some time it's rained every day I've been here, it's actually quite cool. Strange that only about 100 miles away at Agua Azul I was absolutely melting. My plan was later in the afternoon to visit Casa Na Bolom, now a museum, guest house, and research centre for the study of local Mayan cultures. There's a tour at 11.30 am and 4.30 pm, but seems today it's closed. No problem, I'll go tomorrow.

I read my books and decided it was time to get a laminated colour photocopy of my driver licence. Some police I'm told have a tendency to hold your driver licence until you part with lots of cash following trumped up charges, better to have a copy to hand so there's no problem if you lose it. There's copy shops on almost every corner but I only found two making colour copies and both their machines were out of order! I returned to my 20 pesos parking spot and worked on the files to update my web site.

In the morning I gave upon the hunt for a colour copy and used a print from a scanned copy that I have on file. It's not so good as a real colour copy but hopefully it will work. The laminating only cost 3 pesos!

I went to Na Bolom, and discovered that the 11.30 tour is in Spanish. The English tour is at 4.30. So I did my own tour. The information in the museum was fascinating and I had more time to look than I would have had on a tour. I was sorry when I'd finished it all. I bought their interactive CD which on first glance seems to be superb information a but unfortunately the presentation is very dated. Things move so quickly now in this technology age that a presentation such as on the disk soon gets out of date.

I headed off to look at a couple of typical Indian villages as the guide books recommend. I seem to have caught the middle of some ancient ritual. In one church there were lots of people around, and I would estimate around 3000 candles in that one church. I don't know what makes today a special day. Every 15 minutes or so there was a huge explosion from a firework presumably to drive away evil spirits.

I drove on towards Chiapa de Corzo, one of my guidebooks suggested a cave and waterfall at El Chorreadero was a worthwhile small detour on the way. I got there just as they were closing, they said no problem to park for the night and I would not be disturbed since they closed off the road. Soon after the four people working closed the cafe there and started to walk down the road. It's almost a mile to the road junction. Least I could do was to give them a lift to the spot where they locked a wire across the road!

Next morning the cave was OK. Most people go to swim in the lower pools, but if you go in past a prohibited no entry sign, with flashlight to hand, you find a waterfall inside the cave, which is pretty impressive. It looked very tricky to climb up the waterfall to follow the river further back in the cave, but I suppose it has been done. Here's the waterfall out of the cave.

And here's the view from inside the cave.

I can't give you a photo of the waterfall inside the cave, it's too far away for the flash, and not enough light on the falls to get a picture without the flash.

However, they do have some vultures (I think he was waiting for me to take his picture)

and some interesting tree roots.

In Chiapa I looked at a couple of not very interesting museums and then a not very interesting ruin.

Maybe I'm not being fair because I got ripped off on the entry fee! It is however older than most of the ruins I've seen, and it's situation cannot help. Being near to a comparatively recent town will mean that any fallen stones will have been recycled into newer buildings. There is actually another ruin, part of the same complex, free to view, in the centre of the dual carriageway running around the town.

I got talked to for ages by a beautiful and charming 51 year old lady supermarket owner, a lawyer by profession, who was keen to practice her English. She's been happily married for 30 years she told me and couldn't understand how it could be that I wasn't presently married! No way!

Notwithstanding all the foregoing, Chiapa de Corzo remains one of my favourite little towns.

I went to look at the view points above the Canyon del Sumidero. On the way into the National Park I asked the rangers if I could park my van here for the night. No problem they said. I gave them a load of beads for their daughters and drove up the road to see the views.

The river is 3000 ft below. The white stuff at the top of the picture is cloud. Here's a view of Tuxtla taken on the way back down.

I parked by the gate and realised I was in the grounds of the local fire station. A few firemen came to chat, they asked was it me giving beads to the rangers? I said yes and was too dumb to catch the hint. I'll give them some in the morning. Heck, I've still got a ton left.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 31, 8th May 2004

In the morning I went to the zoo. Not a bad zoo actually. Here's some baby crocs.

And here's a bigger croc.

This guy was just posing.

And this is a jaguar. Easy to see how he hides in the jungle.

The jaguar was a sacred animal to the Maya people, many of their kings were Jaguar this or Jaguar that. It's pretty sacred to me too. The best car I ever owned was a Jaguar, a 1962 3.4 Mk 2.

After the zoo I visited 3 museums. The first I got ripped off at. I don't like being ripped off even for pennies. The sign said 5 pesos. I offered a 20 peso note. Thank you she says and gives me a ticket marked 5 pesos. I point out the sign says 5 pesos. That just for locals she said, for north Americans it's 20 pesos. To prove it she took my 5 peso ticket back and gave me one marked 50 pesos. Both I noticed were marked donation. It was not worth making a fuss about.

Now the museum of anthropology was fascinating. (And I didn't get ripped off!). I then drove by the main plaza which is really not very interesting but I did pass a smaller one that looked nice, they have free marimba music there on evening weekends, but I'm giving that a miss tonight.

All my guide books say Tuxtla Gutierrez is not a very interesting town. It's big, that's true, over half a million inhabitants, and certainly San Cristobal is prettier. But it does have a good museum and zoo and is close to wonderful views over the Canyon del Sumidero.

I called in at Sam's Club for supplies. I don't want to buy meat from most of the butcher shops I see. They seem to just chop the meat at random, and they certainly have not heard about hygiene. The really big supermarkets do seem to have got it sorted however. Unusually, there was not much steak selection at Sam's Club, it was all rather too thin cut for my liking. There were however some whole fillets. I bought one for 220 pesos, 1.5 Kg. (That's $20, £11, or 16 Euros, for 3.4 lbs.) I cut it into 8 steaks. It was so tender it was easier than cutting butter. Whatever currency you use, that's pretty cheap for a fillet steak.

I continued on to Ocozocoautla. My camping guide book says there are free parking and hookups for RV's at the Hogar Infantil children's home. I think I know why it's free. You are descended on by kids who take your van apart. What's this for, how does this work, can I look through you binoculars, can I have some peanuts, is this your camera, and so on and so forth. They are no problem, quite the reverse actually. They went when I said I had some work to do. I guess they'll be back in the morning.

They were back on in the morning. Turns out it's mother's day today, they are having a party. I gave one of the supervisors a load of beads to decorate with. There are about 100 kids in the home which is American funded. Then I went shopping, around the market, came back and tried to copy some MP3 files on to CD so that I could play them on my car radio. No way. I'd bought a stack of blank CD's at Sam's Club, they work fine on the computer (which has lousy speakers) but they won't play on the car radio. Wasted a lot of time on that. I suspect it is the CD writer on the computer not working since disks I made earlier still play. I'll do something. Maybe even not try to write any more CD's.

Tomorrow I'm heading off towards the coast, over the isthmus, a long journey with not a lot to see on the way.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 32, 11th May 2004

Maybe you're interested in my Mexican diet. I've nothing much else to write about. Lunch today was ham, goat cheese, blue onion and tomato sandwich, and a cold beer.

Dinner tonight. Olives and a margarita for apéritif. Avocado with Worcester sauce for starter, with a cold beer. Then fillet steak au poivre, with fried potatoes, onions, and tomato, with red wine to drink. Followed by half a melon, then brandy. Sounds good as you read it here, but tends to be much the same each day since I'm no great shakes at cooking!

All the while running with perspiration, I have to keep switching my fan on. Only from time to time since I have to be careful with electricity, I'm running from batteries. Most of the stuff in the motor home runs from the motor home battery, leaving the van battery just to start the engine, but running the motor home battery too low too often damages it. I also have to be careful when driving it's so hot, I have to treat the engine gently to stop it boiling too much even though I use additives to raise the boiling point of the coolant, so generally I can't use the air conditioning, that makes the engine work harder! I just open all the windows and twist the quarter lights back to force a draught.

Having mentioned all that, I left the kids home early this morning. Some hours into the journey I noticed my purse had been ransacked. Not a lot of money, it was only coins, and I know it was not the kid who spent most of his spare time with me, it was one of his friends who dropped in from time to time. I gave him and a pal balloon tee shirts when I left before I knew anything had gone. I just hope second the recipient of the tee shirt was not the boy who took my cash!

However, the above is about all of interest that happened today. I didn't get to my intended parking for the night, it was too far to drive, although I did get to see the Pacific Ocean, first time this trip, and some magnificent views as I head north to Puerto Angel. I found a track that led to some salt flats and that's where I stayed for the night. 210 miles today, mostly not interesting scenery, that's about the total that I have driven in the past week.

I don't know why all these birds were here, there were lots more than you can see on the picture.

In the morning I noticed my waste water tank had partially dropped off it's mountings. It's probably been like that for weeks. I noticed a workshop with welding equipment around and stopped. The mechanic produced the biggest crow bar I have ever seen, about 5 feet long, and just bent the brackets back into place. Then welded some reinforcing angle iron to the supports so they won't bend again. He also spent some time straightening out my rear bumper which has been bent since I almost pulled the back off the van in New Orleans last November. He asked 100 pesos, I gave him 120.

The road up the coast is actually not very near the coast so I took a 7 km long very bumpy track to get a closer look then continued on to the Bahias de Huatulco area. This is planned to be a new resort complex but unlike Cancun the hotels etc are separated by stretches of unspoiled shoreline. I didn't quite get there though. I turned to look at the first stretch of beach at La Bocana and fell into conversation with a Canadian opening a bar here. He's been travelling in a bus for around 6 years, with his wife and up to 7 children, depending, (there were 5 girls with them here between about 7 and 14) and stopping to open bars or motels or restaurants in different places as well as acting as a tour guide. He's been all over the place. I gave the girls beads. These free Mardi Gras beads are producing a bit of fun for a lot of people!

Part of the beach at La Bocana, the river Copalita enters the sea here, just behind the chunks of rock and the water is warm warm warm!

I've parked for the night on the road in front of his new bar.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 33, 14th May 2004

You may have noticed I'm moving around now in a much more leisurely way. One reason is, it's hotter, you don't feel like doing so much. It's enough just to sit around and wait until it gets cooler. Which will be about November.............

However this morning was all action. But not on my part. I watched a fisherman fishing from the beach using a hand line. He had caught something pretty big, maybe 20 Kg, and was working hard to bring it in, hauling in the line hand over hand. A 20 Kg fish, at maybe 40 pesos a Kilo, that's a lot of money by any standards. I watched him for the best part of an hour. He was probably using a 15 Kg line and it strikes me it's a pretty hard way to make your living.

There was a second fisherman winding in the line, and eventually a third, just watching.

And then, after nearly an hour of hauling in the line, playing the fish, then hauling the line again, the line broke. I guess you win some, you lose some.

Pete Kimber, the Canadian opening the bar, took me on a tour of the Bahias de Huatulco area. We collected some beers for his bar, booked the van in to get the exhaust gasket fixed, checked my emails, stopped for a beer for us, bought (and ate!) some oysters, and visited some of the bays. I did say he's a tour guide.

Ah. That's Bocana, where we started.

That's around the coast.

And so is that.

In some of the bays the water was calm and gentle. In Bocana, where I am staying, the waves come straight in from the Pacific. Great for surfing, in fact they had a major competition here last week.

We got back and swapped another beer. Pete told me stories of his experiences. Sometimes strange, sometimes stories of the helpfulness of the Mexican people. I understand these stories, I have experienced the same, but with a much longer time here, Pete has stranger stories to tell, and better stories of the Mexican people being incredibly helpful, and often refusing all offers of payment. It's a different way of living here, values are different, but most people are just pleased to help, they are incredibly friendly, Mexicans area a super people. The man who fixed my waste water tank yesterday, and his 2 sons, lined up when I drove away, and waved goodbye until I was out of sight.

Pete's wife Susan fixed a chili dinner. Superb, and even better because it was a change from the eternal steak, which I described yesterday. I'm in front of their house again, but plan to move on tomorrow.

I was in by the garage at 9 am to get the exhaust gasket fixed. Turns out is was not the exhaust gasket it was something come loose but he fixed it. He found and fixed another couple of things that I didn't know about. He also found and fixed a couple of things I knew about and which didn't really need fixing and he fixed them too! Not cheap by Mexican standards at 400 pesos buy then it wasn't a rip off either. Just a job well done. There's a cruise ship in, I went to look at it.

I was amused that I was generally omitted from the tourist hustling. The few who stopped generally started with a tentative, was I from the cruise ship? I guess that just wearing shorts and sandals sets me apart from the well dressed appearance of the cruise tourists. Not to mention I am now an awful lot browner than they are! I had some more oysters. Only 7 today.

These are wild oysters, not the cultivated varieties you get in France.

Here's a couple more views.

I wandered back to La Bocana, had a beer with Pete, borrowed his shower, it's great to have a real shower, took some photos round the house so that he can email them to potential paying guests, and rounded off with photos of the family so that they can be emailed to grandparents who haven't seen the family for years. Now tomorrow I AM moving on!

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 34, 16th May 2004

In the morning I took a few more photos of the Kimber family, a couple of photos had not turned out well, and put the lot onto a floppy disk for them. Then I had a try at fixing the power input plug on their laptop, they had not been able to use it for ages because the plug had been smashed. I got it to work for a while, then it wouldn't restart. Susan, Pete's wife, said the power switch was a bit iffy. So I left them with power, I think, but a not at the time working computer. Maybe it's OK now!

I looked around the local beaches again then headed up to Puerto Angel. There's some pretty good beaches around there too. I looked at a few, a thunderstorm came and went, I looked around some more, then parked up for the night near the Zipolite beach.

In the morning a took a few photos of beaches.

Then I went to the local turtle museum which was interesting. I shared the tour with Philippe from Geneva then took a side track to another beach where I found Philippe walking. I picked him up and at the beach we took a tour of the local lagoon. Saw some crocodiles, mostly in pens, but otherwise the tour was a bit of a washout. There were some birds.

and at the booking office for the tour they had some baby turtles.

I gave Phillippe a lift back to the road, I headed north, he headed south. He had a tiny little back pack, room for a bottle of water and a toothbrush, not much else, but he said that was all the luggage he had brought for his 15 day holiday.

I took the direction Oaxaca. The road just climbed and climbed, wonderful scenery. I got right into the clouds - it rained again, for maybe half an hour - then just as dusk was arriving came upon a small town, San Miguel. There was a policeman standing around, I asked it was OK to park in the town square, he said yes, so that's where I've stopped. We're about 8,500 ft up and it's quite cold, I put a jacket on to take the picture. Different to this morning when I was melting. May apparently is the hottest month on the coast.

It was really a bit too late to get a decent picture.

My radio has stopped working. It's stopped and started a couple of times. Now it's stopped and unless it starts itself I won't be able to get it fixed until Monday, tomorrow is Sunday. Of course it was working when the van was at the garage the other day. I'll survive.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 35, 18th may 2004

When I left early next morning I noticed I'd left a puddle of water, and some oil had run down the side of one of the inner back tyres. Hmmpph.

The scenery was incredible.

That's looking north. To the south it was all green, and forests. Just beautiful big green mountains.

The radio was still not working. I realised it had gone out soon after the last welding job when the battery was disconnected. I looked around the batteries. There were 2 parts of a plug just asking to be joined up. I joined them and the radio lit up, with everything it had got. It showed it all, warning messages, everything, on the tiny screen. None of the buttons worked, even the off button. I decided there must be a code to restart it, which I don't know, thought maybe I'd have to buy a new radio, and disconnected the wire.

Then during the next 30 minutes, whilst driving, I though, surely the off button would still work? I reconnected the wires and this time everything worked perfectly. I have no idea why. The only problem is, I can't remember how I set the clock on the radio. Maybe I'll have to fork out $10 for one of the on line radio manuals they sell from Russia. Or look at my watch if I want to know the time.

I was now descending towards Oaxaca.

I stopped for lunch and after lunch investigated the water leak. The water pipe from the sink which is supposed to go into the waste water tank was not. I guess it dropped out, and was never put back when the supports for the tank were fixed. After a lot of struggling I got it back where it should be.

From Oaxaca, I retraced my route a little, I wanted to see the oldest tree in the world, I'd missed it on the way down, and my Japanese friend 池田 眞彦 (translates to Masahiko Ikeda) had said it was well worth seeing. It's big.

A Montezuma Cypress. akin to the Bald Cypress. The trunk is 58m circumference, 14.5 m diameter. Between 2000 and 3000 years old. Total weight over 600 tons, over 800,000 cubic metres. Probably the biggest living single thing in the world. Also quite amazing was the almost deafening sounds of birdsong from the inhabitants of the tree.

I checked with the tourist police about parking for the night, they said to park behind the church, they also gave me directions to a mechanic, to fix my oil leak. He starts at 8 am. I'll be there!

I bought some tequila from a roadside stall, after tasting it. 25 pesos a bottle. Nice bottle too, handpainted. Don't know what it may do to your eyesight though after 4 or 5 shots.

I had a lovely quiet night behind the church, and met up with the mechanic in the morning. It was quite a busy place, there were 5 mechanics, plus the boss. The found a damaged seal and replaced it. Took about an hour and a half. 200 pesos. Seems I'm back to regular Mexican rates. That's not expensive.

Although I got to thinking. The guy who checked the brakes in Campeche took the half shafts out. I wonder if he damaged the seal while doing that? And the thing which was loose that I thought was exhaust gasket blowing was something that had been removed then put back when the head gasket was replaced. The welding repair on the propane tank melted some wires. And the welding on the waste water tank caused a leak from the sink because the pipe was not put back, and maybe disconnecting the battery caused the radio problem. Maybe I'm imagining it or maybe you just get what you pay for.

I continued on my earlier route a touch more, to the Zapotec ruins at Dainzu. Most of the ruins I've seen have been Maya but there are many similarities. It's older than most ruins I have seen, starting about 700 BC continuing up to 300 AD. I took a photo of someone going to plough.

Whilst in the area I popped over to look at a local church but the doors were closed. The paved plaza was very impressive, particularly as the village was at the end of a mile long unpaved road.

In Oaxaca the church Santo Domingo was very impressive, both outside

and inside

The main plaza was nice too, even if rather full of balloon sellers.

I climbed high up to the observatory above the town.

I'd decided to stay the night at a trailer park up in the hills around the left. I had directions but did not realise the road in was so bad or so steep. I'd just decided to give up and turn in an entrance when I saw the sign on the gate, trailer park. I joked with the American owner, I asked if he gave a discount to first timers for finding the place. He said everybody told him he was the cheapest campground in Mexico! Turns out that at 75 pesos he was the most expensive I have ever stayed in. That's not including the car park at Playa del Carmen. There was a good view over Oaxaca though.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 36, 19th May 2004

In the morning I chatted with the campsite owner (also owner of a textile factory, and a tequila distillery). I learned more about the strange workings of local politics in Mexico. I visited the Benito Juarez museum, which was interesting, I couldn't understand why it was free. I understood when I reached the main museum for my visits, the Regional Museum of Oaxaca, there was a sign. Today is museum day, free entry. Now that's a fine piece of local politics!

The museum was superb, the setting, a huge monastery, completed in the early 1600's, was amazing. This is a courtyard, one of several. In the background of this picture is the Church of Santo Domingo.

The whole monastery has been beautifully restored. And it's huge. I leaned out of one of the windows to take a picture of the central plaza, in the distance.

There is a corridor 150 metres long with rooms, mostly originally dormitories, leading off.

The museum recorded the story of Oaxaca state and it's peoples. There were also many artifacts from a tomb at nearby Monte Alban. Superb examples of jewelery in gold and amber and conch shell and turquoise and obsidian. The whole museum kept me occupied almost 4 hours.

In spite of all the above, and the fact that some of my friends love it, Oaxaca is not one of my favourite towns. It's too big, (about a quarter million inhabitants), it's too busy, there is too much traffic, there is nowhere to park. Although it does have a Sam's Club (owned by Wal-Mart, and similar to Wal-Mart), which for me does add to it's attractions!

In the morning I plan to visit the ruins at Monte Alban and this evening drove up there hoping to find somewhere to park for the night, but the gates were closed, so I dropped back down to a suburb of Oaxaca and parked under a street light near the village centre.

It was surprisingly quiet. No trucks without silencers roaring past at 5 am, not even cockerels crowing at 4.30.

Monte Alban was superb. I was about the first visitor of the day, at 8 am. This was the ancient Zapotec capital. What an amazing task they did, they leveled the top of a mountain and built a city 1000 feet over the valley floor, knowing that water had to be carried from the river far below and 4 km distant. At it's prime there were about 20,000 inhabitants, all supported by the peasants farming in the local valleys. Plus maybe tributes from conquered cities.

I think Monte Alban has to take the prize for the best all round views. It's superb. When I could drag myself away I headed off south along the 131 to Puerto Escondido. A long term resident at the trailer park - he's been there about 18 months - advised me against the route, he said it was full of pot holes. I'll drive carefully.

My first stop was the unfinished and earthquake damaged convent at Cuilpan.

I looked around inside, nice courtyard, and some interesting old frescos. I continued to Zaachila which was the last capital of the Zatopec empire. Most of the ruins have not been restored

but there are two old tombs there. Here's what the book says is an owl.

and this is the inside view. Note the figures on each side and at the back.

There's a market here tomorrow morning so I'll stay here. I made friends with a young man (I gave him some games after he helped with setting up my computer). He has a tiny 3 computer internet in the side of his Mum's shop, (he charges 7 pesos an hour) and asked if I could park where I was. He, and his mum, both said I'd be better on the street directly in front of their shop. Then he wouldn't let me pay for my internet. Today was free for me he said!

The market was OK I didn't buy much I didn't need much. I continued on towards Puerto Escondido. In one small town someone was selling CD's and playing them really loudly. I was intrigued with the power source for his CD player and amplifier. The wire then ran on the road surface over to his stall.

I saw more ploughing. I'm told I was probably wrong about the animals I saw before, they're not oxen but Brahma cattle, so I'll make no comment on the following, barring the fact they're obviously not horses or donkeys.

Now these guys look really determined. But did I mention donkeys?

Aren't they cute!

I turned off the road to go to San Sebastian de las Grutas. 8 miles down a road nearly, but not quite, as bad as the road to Punta Allen. Really pretty though with a small river bubbling away alongside. I went to the municipal offices to book a tour - you have to go with a guide, as the caves are not improved. There was no one there so I waited an hour, then a young man arrived and announced he would take me on a tour. Obviously word had got around that I was waiting. He bicycled down the road a couple of miles, I followed in the van, then parked, and we walked. About halfway through there was a huge whole in the floor, you could hear the river gurgling away far down below. Super, huge caves, seen by flashlight. Worth the detour.

I returned to the municipal offices to park for the night, again I asked someone, they suggested I move slightly, otherwise OK. It then came on to rain, and rain, and then rain some more. Plus point is it will make the drive back prettier with more water in the river. Minus point is I don't think I'll make it down that narrow dirt road. Even if I do I doubt I'll make it over the bridge where I turned off the main road, when I came there was a pool about a foot deep on top of the bridge. I'll wait until it all dries out a bit. I might be here a while. I've got provisions for a week and plenty of time to spare.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 37, 21st May 2004

I hung around in the village for a couple of hours, took a photo of a brilliant woodcarving, making use of the natural way of the wood,

then decided to take my chances on the road. The road was better than I expected, and there was not noticeably more water in the stream than before. It was however very pretty.

The trees growing in the water by the way look very similar to the old tree at El Tule. Apparently when that tree started growing it was surrounded by swamp, today it's not, and there's a lot of effort goes into making sure the old tree has enough water.

The road south to Puerto Escondido continued to be very beautiful, with magnificent views as the road climbed over the Sierra, winding through pine forests on the high points. I liked to stop took at the views, at the forest, at the birds gliding so effortlessly, I found it hard to stop smiling!

I bought petrol and it came on to rain. I asked if it was OK to park at the petrol station, sure, no problem, over there he said. Then the rain stopped so I decided to continue. Of course the rain started again, the cloud descended, I could barely see 20 yards in front of me. After a while I'd had enough and pulled on to the edge of a football pitch and asked a bunch of kids, 15 years old or so, if it was OK to park there. Sure, no problem. They started giggling, probably at my strange appearance and lack of Spanish. I gave the girls beads. That confused them for a while. But while I was cooking dinner they all came to visit and chat. One of them spoke English slightly better than I speak Spanish. It was tippling down with rain, they didn't seem to mind. Of course, rain here is not unpleasant as it generally is in Europe. It's a welcome relief to the preceding heat of the day. I showed them what I was cooking for dinner. It's not Mexican they said. No I said.

I noticed the combination of the rain and the evening light made my windscreen crack more visible.

As you can see it's not yet a problem. Of course, over here that's the passenger side.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 38, 23rd May 2004

As I drove down in the morning the views were terrific.

It was jungle, rainforest again, green everywhere, I nearly went back to drive again over the route I went last night when I couldn't see anything due to rain and fog.

 

Seems that the western edge of the Sierra is often in cloud, due no doubt to the hot moisture laden winds from the ocean being forced up the mountain, cooling, and, well, forming clouds, so when it rains everything stays wet, for a while at least. (Yes I realise all balloonists know all this, but not everyone reading this is as skilled in meteorology as we are!).

As soon as you drop down to the coast there is a dramatic change. Now it's hot and humid, perspiration just clings to you, but the scenery is dry, the ground arid. If it rains, the moisture evaporates almost immediately.

The green in the first picture is because the road was trundling down a river valley where there tends to be more water than normal for the area.

I arrived in Puerto Escondido and went straight to the village of Chila where there was supposed to be a modern day version of the old Mayan etc ball game played each Saturday at 3 pm. I didn't find it. Maybe it's just in the tourist season, or in the winter. After all, May is supposed to be the hottest part of the year here not a good time to be running around playing ball.

I visited the main beach at Puerto Esconidido and traversed a cunningly created path along the coast for about a kilometer. Then a kilometer back. It came on to rain, no one seemed to notice. I walked up and down the main street a couple of times. It's OK.

I parked for the night on a road near some better class houses. I'd noticed a police patrol driving past earlier, hopefully it's on their route.

In the morning I headed to the beach at Puerto Angelito, near where I parked, and had a dip in the Pacific. Even at 8 am the temperature was quite bearable, even for me. But oh, I do hate these crowded beaches..........

I had a look at the Zicatela beach, the big surfing beach here, the red flag was flying (no swimming). I won't waste space by showing you a photo, it was just a beach. I picked up emails and chatted with the internet shop owner, his 2 year old son had the flu. Then he let slip he had a 10 year old daughter. I got presents for 10 year old daughters! I gave him beads! Then he wouldn't let me pay all I owed! I managed to send and receive emails and access the internet, but couldn't update my website. Strange. I copied a CD on one of his computers, but it still wouldn't work on my in car player. He then suggested a computer shop where I could get a cleaner for my CD writer lens which I think is fogged up. I'll be there in the morning.

I went swimming again at the beach photo above but rapidly exited when I noticed what appeared to be sewage in the water. Maybe I'm wrong. I looked at another beach. I'll be there tomorrow. Then I'm heading north, in the direction of Acapulco.

Just now it's raining. But I don't care. I've found a way to improve margaritas. Usually it's one dose of tequila, then 3 doses of the special margarita mix, then lots of ice. I've found that reducing to 2 doses of the margarita mix instead of 3 gives it more kick. Whey hey!

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 39, 25th May 2004

In the morning I wandered around to look at a small cove close to my parking spot.

I watched a humming bird flitting around the red flowers and a cat with 2 grown up kittens exploring the cliff side.

Then I found the computer shop and bought a cleaner for the lens on my CD writer. It seemed to pull out a lot of dust but so far has not improved the disk writing, it crashes part way through. I'm currently trying again, I've reduced the writing speed from 24x to 8x, we'll see what happens. I also bought a small headset so I can listen to my music directly off the computer. I also thought it might get Sod's law working in my favour. "If something can go wrong, it will go wrong in the worst possible way". Well the worst thing that can happen now is that the writer works. Then I will have wasted my money on the headset!!!

I've had some problems with the engine stalling when it's running at idling speed. This is the speed the engine runs when I'm slowly going down a steep hill. It's somewhat disconcerting at this time to find that power assistance to both brakes and steering has suddenly disappeared. Oooops! So I stopped by a workshop claiming to be specialist in petrol injection. There were only 2 bays, in one bay 4 mechanics were working on one engine. They seemed to know what they were doing. I watched for a while, while my mechanic was rapidly stripping air cleaners and other pipework. I don't really know what he was doing. At one time he had a small crow bar wedged in the middle of the engine and was hitting it with a large hammer. I retired inside the van to read my emails expecting a long job.

I'd hardly finished reading before he was telling me, it's done. Sure enough it was ticking over sweetly, not "hunting" at all. (hunting =going fast then slow). It's now 100 miles later, the engine has not even shown a sign of stalling. And it has been sounding much sweeter and pulling better. Now those of you who have been with me a while may remember, and I've mentioned it a couple of times since, that in Tucson I had the same problem, and it cost me $750 to get it fixed. Today $9. (100 pesos) I know I like Mexico.......................

The disk didn't work. Obviously I had not spent enough on the headset to make throwing it away a disaster. I examined the tracks, there were variations of intensity. It's supposed to be all even.

You know, one of the fun things about writing like this is you can go back and add bits. Well, I've just gone back from what is in this account, tomorrow, and can say, I've got a disk to work! I wound back the writing speed to 4 times, the slowest it will go, and ate lunch. And it works! That's disk 1. I'll try disk 2 tomorrow. That's tomorrow as I write this, day after tomorrow in the time sequence of these notes. Shades of Strartrek!

I started heading towards Acapulco but pulled in, I realised I hadn't done a lot of forward planning. One of my guide books lists Acapulco as one of the things it likes least about Mexico, alongside bins for used toilet paper in the toilets - Mexicans think it clogs the drains. I was now sweltering so returned the short distance to Puerto Escondidas for a quick swim. One nice thing about the heat, you never need bother with a towel.

Then I headed on the 200 towards Acapulco again. again. After a few hours there was a small town to the left, I've parked between the church and the plaza. So far it's not very quiet, I think all the town's youths, plus a few more, are playing football on the concreted basketball pitch. It'll get better. Meanwhile I'll go get emails. Amazingly, there is an internet cafe here.

In the morning at 7 am a female voice came on over the village loudspeakers and talked, in a chanting sort of way, for about 30 minutes, then came back a few minutes later with another couple of sentences. I don't know whether she was exhorting everyone to go to church (the church here is less decorated and less full of seats than others I have seen), whether she was instructing them to start the day well and work harder, or whether she was just reading the news.

The Mexicans are superbly friendly. In the countryside, and in the tourist areas, people will look at the van, recognise it as being foreign, and often wave. If I beat them to it, and wave first then I almost invariably get a wave back, usually accompanied by a huge Mexican smile! They also have a way of taking best advantage of what they have. On the beaches, few of the older adults have swimming costumes, they just go into the sea in what appears to be almost normal clothes. I've seen a lot of people just sitting on the edge of the beach, being washed over by the waves from time to time, just sitting there bemused. Others are playing, splashing around like kids. I suspect it is the first time they have seen the sea, and are here on a day trip. If so, what a wonderful experience for them to finally get to see the sea!

A large part of the transport here, certainly the cheaper transport, is pickup trucks with a big frame around the back, so they can get more people in, standing. Youths like to travel standing on the back bumper or sitting on top of the cab. They get more out of the trip that way. But almost everyone is standing, or looking forward, taking all advantage they can of the journey. Somewhat different to the commuters I have seen on the buses or trains in the UK, who often sit just looking blankly into the distance.

In the main, Mexicans have almost nothing. But they enjoy what they have got to the full.

I mentioned that the van is recognised as being foreign. No RV's are imported into Mexico, and there are huge restrictions on importing an RV from the US. In 3 months I have seen only one Mexican RV, and that was home made, converted from an old car, and boy, was the owner proud of it!

A few miles down the road I stopped to look around Santiago Pinetopa Nacional and to shop for supplies. I thought of heading to the beach for a dip before I headed north on the 125 but it's about a 30 mile round trip, I'm not really a beach person, and I've probably already seen more Mexican beaches than most people. I slowly headed north and stopped in the small town of Putla. It is a maze of narrow streets but I finally managed to park in the plaza, right in front of the police station, and checked with a nearby policeman. It's OK to rest here for the night.

As I write these notes, dusk is falling. One of the policemen standing guard by the police station wandered over and closed two circuit breakers on the edge of the plaza. The lights around the plaza came on. Don't knock the system, it works!

Best regards

David Barker

 

Mexico 40, 27th May 2004

I didn't have a very calm night, and for a surprising reason. I took a late night stroll around he plaza and noticed 3 people sleeping under the arches on the north side, and 3 more just adjacent to my van. They had obviously all (sensibly) decided that near the police station was the best place to be. I've got no problem with that! But my lot talked and talked until about midnight. Then they started again about 4:30. It was impossible to sleep. I upped and moved before dawn was breaking then stopped down the road to sleep again. There was a lot of movement before 6 am, in the dark, people setting up stalls. A lot of people do seem to work really long hours. OK a lot of the time they are just sitting waiting for customers but it is long hours nonetheless.

After waking up the second time I drove very slowly, frequently stopping to admire the view. It was misty, the photos are not too good.

Of course, there were donkeys, again!

I finally arrived at San Martin Huamelulpan and looked at the museum. It is amazing how these ancients deformed themselves. Here is a skull showing 2 holes drilled in. (That must have hurt!)

They would flatten or elongate skulls and reshape teeth, or drill holes and insert jewels in teeth.

This little village of 150 inhabitants has this plaza, not to mention a truck, an official car, and at least 4 privately owned taxis. There are cultivated fields. Whist I am sure they are not rich, they do seem more prosperous here than other regions I have seen. I parked on the side of the plaza, ready to visit the ruins in the morning, and passed the time of day with one of the taxi drivers. I think he was inviting me to dinner at one point but I said no thank you, it is difficult to be sure of what is happening when you don't speak the language.

Here's the ball court.

and here's a terrace. For a not very important city, there's a lot of work went into making that terrace. But then I suppose, think of today's plaza in the village, photo above. That took a lot of work too.

For one platform, mountain top leveling, or pyramid building, (I forget exactly which!) at one of the sites I have seen, one of my guide books estimated it took 10,000 men 10 years to complete.

On the way, as I continued, I passed a little region that could have been an English country estate.

Then I found a monastery (ex convent, they call it)

The left has been renovated, the right is awaiting renovation, the middle is under way.

I stayed in Temoszulapan which had animals on the plaza

and my van, if you look carefully.(It's the white patch towards the left!)

I stopped in Huajuapan de Leon to say hello to the people who helped me when I broke there down a couple of months ago.

Then, further on the way, cacti. Almost as far as the eye can see.

Then suddenly the mostly single stem cacti changed to multi stem then just as suddenly stopped altogether.

Now I reached Tehuacan. I found nowhere to park near the centre so did a little shopping, and planned to visit the main plaza early in the morning before anyone else was there. I moved out of the centre and stopped in off in my favourite type of parking spot, a small town type plaza with church alongside.

Best regards

David Barker

 

Continue to part 2

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