Mexico 71, 23rd August 2004

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

I headed north, nice scenery on the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi didn't seem to be having many problems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I went to Paquime ruin.

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

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

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

Best regards

David Barker

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