Cuba! Communism Visited

What is the one thing Americans can do in Cancun that they can’t do at home? Go to Cuba! Being a Communist country, the U.S. government has declared Cuba an “enemy of the state,” making it impossible for American citizens to travel to Cuba from the States and illegal to spend U.S. dollars there. However, if you happen to be in Mexico, and have pesos in your pocket instead of dollars, then it is but an hour-long plane ride away to truly step out of your comfort zone.

We spent a quick four days on the island; two days in the streets of Havana and two days in the country at a little resort village visited only by Cuban vacationers. It was a quick overview. A taste of what should be a seven coarse meal. But we savored the flavor of our tiny bite and came away with a belly full of observations. There are many conflicting words to describe Cuba. Sad. Joyful. Grey. Vibrant. Dead. Alive. Suppressed. Inspired. Hopeless. Hopeful. I took a lot of photos. I hope some of them captured a bit of what we experienced… Please make sure you read Kat’s emotional observations at the end of this blog to get her perspective on this eye-opening experience.

1a (740x1280)
1b (1129x1280)
1c (1280x960)
1d (1280x1073)

We did very little research on Cuba before jumping on the plane.  I read one travel website the night before we left Mexico.  We were as ill-prepared to visit a new strange place as we usually are.  I did manage to glean that the best and cheapest places to stay are in private homes called Casas Particulars.  We scored a good taxi driver at the Havana airport who had a friend with a house… he made a phone call to Martica en-route into the city.  We had our place to stay.  Martica, her husband and her son are among the lucky few who’s family got to keep their home after the Revolution.  They try to make ends meet by renting out bedrooms and serving meals to their boarders.  There are hundreds of homes like this throughout the city.  We had several long conversations with Martica over meals about her daily life, all in Spanish as she spoke no English.  Her resigned demeanor painted a picture of hopelessness, and Kat cried when we left her.

We did very little research on Cuba before jumping on the plane. I read one travel website the night before we left Mexico. We were as ill-prepared to visit a new strange place as we usually are. I did manage to glean that the best and cheapest places to stay are in private homes called Casas Particulars. We scored a good taxi driver at the Havana airport who had a friend with a house… he made a phone call to Martica en-route into the city. We had our place to stay. Martica, her husband and her son are among the lucky few who’s family got to keep their home after the Revolution. They try to make ends meet by renting out bedrooms and serving meals to their boarders. There are hundreds of homes like this throughout the city. We had several long conversations with Martica over meals about her daily life, all in Spanish as she spoke no English. Her resigned demeanor painted a picture of hopelessness, and Kat cried when we left her.


2a (1280x825)
We arrived in Cuba in the early afternoon and were settled into Martica’s house by 3pm so we went out walking in search of bottled water.  The grocery store we found had shelves barren of meat or vegetables or much of anything else except lots of soda and alcohol.  The cereal boxes were all little single packs.  We learned later from a taxi driver that beef is illegal to eat.  If you kill a cow its 30 years in prison, if you kill a person, it’s eight.  Why? “Because Fidel says so,” we were told.  We also quickly learned that paper products are non-existent.  No toilet paper, no napkins and of course no paper towels.

We arrived in Cuba in the early afternoon and were settled into Martica’s house by 3pm so we went out walking in search of bottled water. The grocery store we found had shelves barren of meat or vegetables or much of anything else except lots of soda and alcohol. The cereal boxes were all little single packs. We learned later from a taxi driver that beef is illegal to eat. If you kill a cow its 30 years in prison, if you kill a person, it’s eight. Why? “Because Fidel says so,” we were told. We also quickly learned that paper products are non-existent. No toilet paper, no napkins and of course no paper towels.


Ciego Montero bottled water, number 1 in Cuba.  That’s because it’s the only one in Cuba.  It was very minerally and tasted pretty bad.  But an option was not a choice.

Ciego Montero bottled water, number 1 in Cuba. That’s because it’s the only one in Cuba. It was very minerally and tasted pretty bad. But an option was not a choice.


Once we had water we wandered the streets around Martica’s neighborhood.  The old world architecture was stupendous.  The level of decay was heartbreaking.

Once we had water we wandered the streets around Martica’s neighborhood. The old world architecture was stupendous. The level of decay was heartbreaking.


Ok, I admit it.  The number one reason I wanted to go to Cuba was to see the old cars.  They did not disappoint.  The whole country is teaming with them and in Havana they seem to outnumber post 1960 vehicles by about 3 to 1.  More on the cars later.

Ok, I admit it. The number one reason I wanted to go to Cuba was to see the old cars. They did not disappoint. The whole country is teaming with them and in Havana they seem to outnumber post 1960 vehicles by about 3 to 1. More on the cars later.


The cars were cool, but the people we met and got to know were magical.

The cars were cool, but the people we met and got to know were magical.


5a (1280x817)
5b (1280x805)
Propaganda about the Revolution can be found anywhere there might be a foreign tourist around to read it.  You’d think it happened yesterday, not in the ‘50s.  We never saw newsstands, newpapers or magazines.  There are no ads on TV, only government propaganda between shows we were told.  We only saw one working TV in the two houses we stayed in.  It was showing a Cuban baseball game!

Propaganda about the Revolution can be found anywhere there might be a foreign tourist around to read it. You’d think it happened yesterday, not in the ‘50s. We never saw newsstands, newpapers or magazines. There are no ads on TV, only government propaganda between shows we were told. We only saw one working TV in the two houses we stayed in. It was showing a Cuban baseball game!


6 (1280x1264)
6a (1280x1130)
Human backhoe.

Human backhoe.


Some fruits and veggies are sold in the streets from homemade carts, but it was clear that a poor Cuban’s diet is mainly carbs from bread-based meals, usually fried.  Small, mostly bread sandwiches with a thin slice of ham and cheese and “peso pizzas” (dough with cheese) could be bought for pennies on the street.  Meals in restaurants were very expensive.  The exchange rate of the Cuban CUC is about one to one with the U.S. dollar.

Some fruits and veggies are sold in the streets from homemade carts, but it was clear that a poor Cuban’s diet is mainly carbs from bread-based meals, usually fried. Small, mostly bread sandwiches with a thin slice of ham and cheese and “peso pizzas” (dough with cheese) could be bought for pennies on the street. Meals in restaurants were very expensive. The exchange rate of the Cuban CUC is about one to one with the U.S. dollar.


In a country where most of the populous owns next to nothing, the pride in the faces of the owners of the old cars is like a window in to their souls.  This old Buick has a Mercedes diesel.  About 99% of the pre 1960 cars have had most or all of their running gear changed out to Russian, Japanese or Korean bits.  Almost all are diesel.

In a country where most of the populous owns next to nothing, the pride in the faces of the owners of the old cars is like a window in to their souls. This old Buick has a Mercedes diesel. About 99% of the pre 1960 cars have had most or all of their running gear changed out to Russian, Japanese or Korean bits. Almost all are diesel.


10 (1280x859)
Around 5pm we came across this crowd in the street.  They were all clamoring to get into Las Vegas – Bar that is.  The Las Vegas Bar resembled its namesake about like the rest of the Cuban lifestyle resembles life in America.

Around 5pm we came across this crowd in the street. They were all clamoring to get into Las Vegas – Bar that is. The Las Vegas Bar resembled its namesake about like the rest of the Cuban lifestyle resembles life in America.


If it weren’t for the modern bus, this shot could be 1955.

If it weren’t for the modern bus, this shot could be 1955.


12a (1280x1090)
Our first evening we were charmed into riding around with Alfredo in his Coco Taxi, a small Tuk Tuk like three-wheeler with a two-stroke motorcycle engine and a bright yellow fiberglass body that looked like half a lemon rolling down the road. (I can’t believe I didn’t get a picture of one, they were everywhere)  As we rolled along, we asked him questions about his life. He struggles to pay a high monthly flat fee to the government for his taxi license in addition to trying to purchase the tiny taxi from the government.  Alfred was raised by his Dad because his mother was “crazy.”  His Dad “liked Castro,” but Alfred’s opinion of the dictator is “he is an asshole.”  Not the first, or the last time we heard Fidel described with such glowing reverence.

Our first evening we were charmed into riding around with Alfredo in his Coco Taxi, a small Tuk Tuk like three-wheeler with a two-stroke motorcycle engine and a bright yellow fiberglass body that looked like half a lemon rolling down the road. (I can’t believe I didn’t get a picture of one, they were everywhere) As we rolled along, we asked him questions about his life. He struggles to pay a high monthly flat fee to the government for his taxi license in addition to trying to purchase the tiny taxi from the government. Alfred was raised by his Dad because his mother was “crazy.” His Dad “liked Castro,” but Alfred’s opinion of the dictator is “he is an asshole.” Not the first, or the last time we heard Fidel described with such glowing reverence.


“Ask me if I give a sh*t” seemed to be the attitude of this government guard at the telephone company.  We went there with Alfred who needed to pay for more minutes on his cell phone.  The phone Co had closed early, a situation that made Alfred very upset.  He argued with the guy then turned away, resigned to the fact that this was life and he could do nothing about it.

“Ask me if I give a sh*t” seemed to be the attitude of this government guard at the telephone company. We went there with Alfred who needed to pay for more minutes on his cell phone. The phone Co had closed early, a situation that made Alfred very upset. He argued with the guy then turned away, resigned to the fact that this was life and he could do nothing about it.


13b (1280x564)
13c (828x1280)
Alfred took us to the Necropolis De Colon, a huge vacant concrete square with these huge neon images of Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara that glow all night long.

Alfred took us to the Necropolis De Colon, a huge vacant concrete square with these huge neon images of Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara that glow all night long.


14 (1280x984)
Later in the evening, after he’d driven us all over the city sightseeing, we bought Alfred (and ourselves) a few beers to cheer him up.

Later in the evening, after he’d driven us all over the city sightseeing, we bought Alfred (and ourselves) a few beers to cheer him up.


16 (1280x847)
17 (1280x878)
18 (1280x813)
The next morning we walked to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.  It appears to be one of the few grand old opulent structures from bygone days that the communist government has maintained as a tourist destination.  I found it ironic that they are capitalizing on the famous people and the lifestyle they so detested before, during and after their Revolution.

The next morning we walked to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. It appears to be one of the few grand old opulent structures from bygone days that the communist government has maintained as a tourist destination. I found it ironic that they are capitalizing on the famous people and the lifestyle they so detested before, during and after their Revolution.


A view of Havana from the beautiful grounds of the National Hotel.  I wonder how many free-spending tourists stay at this hotel, marvel at the food and the views, then ride around in air-conditioned buses viewing other government approved sites, only to go home and proclaim they’ve seen Cuba and it is grand!

A view of Havana from the beautiful grounds of the National Hotel. I wonder how many free-spending tourists stay at this hotel, marvel at the food and the views, then ride around in air-conditioned buses viewing other government approved sites, only to go home and proclaim they’ve seen Cuba and it is grand!


24 (1280x853)
24a (853x1280)
25 (1280x853)
25a (1280x957)
25b (1280x873)
We rode around in this cool 1955 Plymouth for a while.  Its owner, like every old car owner we talked to, was so proud of his car.  As we understand it, (remember we are interperating all this in Spanish,) up until three years ago, people were not allowed to own these cars unless they had been in their family since before the Revolution.  Since Raul Castro has taken over the reins from Fidel, he has loosened the rules regarding car ownership.  Before, one could lease a car like this from the government, but now they can own them outright and modify them as they see fit.  This Plymouth sported all Toyota running gear.

We rode around in this cool 1955 Plymouth for a while. Its owner, like every old car owner we talked to, was so proud of his car. As we understand it, (remember we are interperating all this in Spanish,) up until three years ago, people were not allowed to own these cars unless they had been in their family since before the Revolution. Since Raul Castro has taken over the reins from Fidel, he has loosened the rules regarding car ownership. Before, one could lease a car like this from the government, but now they can own them outright and modify them as they see fit. This Plymouth sported all Toyota running gear.


“End the Injustice!”  This huge billboard was along the highway coming from the airport. Our taxi driver tried to explain to us what it meant, but in the Spanish/English translation we didn’t get the whole story. Evidently these five Cubans are being held by the U.S. government for something (?) while Cuba is holding a CIA agent who was caught trying to establish Internet service in the country. Both governments are at a stalemate over the issue.  The same taxi driver described Fidel as “Loco” and his brother Raul as “Stupido.”   “End the Injustice!”  This huge billboard was along the highway coming from the airport. Our taxi driver tried to explain to us what it meant, but in the Spanish/English translation we didn’t get the whole story. Evidently these five Cubans are being held by the U.S. government for something (?) while Cuba is holding a CIA agent who was caught trying to establish Internet service in the country. Both governments are at a stalemate over the issue.  The same taxi driver described Fidel as “Loco” and his brother Raul as “Stupido.”

“End the Injustice!” This huge billboard was along the highway coming from the airport. Our taxi driver tried to explain to us what it meant, but in the Spanish/English translation we didn’t get the whole story. Evidently these five Cubans are being held by the U.S. government for something (?) while Cuba is holding a CIA agent who was caught trying to establish Internet service in the country. Both governments are at a stalemate over the issue. The same taxi driver described Fidel as “Loco” and his brother Raul as “Stupido.”
“End the Injustice!” This huge billboard was along the highway coming from the airport. Our taxi driver tried to explain to us what it meant, but in the Spanish/English translation we didn’t get the whole story. Evidently these five Cubans are being held by the U.S. government for something (?) while Cuba is holding a CIA agent who was caught trying to establish Internet service in the country. Both governments are at a stalemate over the issue. The same taxi driver described Fidel as “Loco” and his brother Raul as “Stupido.”


This is the main office of the only bus company that services the whole country. There were no computers or even a normal ticket counter. Everything was written by hand and kept in school-kid like folders. We tried to take a bus to a location in the country but it was booked up for the next three days!

This is the main office of the only bus company that services the whole country. There were no computers or even a normal ticket counter. Everything was written by hand and kept in school-kid like folders. We tried to take a bus to a location in the country but it was booked up for the next three days!


28 (1280x922)
Just hanging out with the laundry.  There seemed to be many more people not working than vice-versa on the streets of Havana.  Why work when there is nothing to gain from it?

Just hanging out with the laundry. There seemed to be many more people not working than vice-versa on the streets of Havana. Why work when there is nothing to gain from it?


I just love this shot.

I just love this shot.


30 (1280x960)
This street artist seemed quite fond of Hugo.

This street artist seemed quite fond of Hugo.


This was a beautiful walkway from the Capital to the Malecon. The architecture of the buildings on either side was striking. Unfortunately, many of them were in serious decay or gutted out all together.

This was a beautiful walkway from the Capital to the Malecon. The architecture of the buildings on either side was striking. Unfortunately, many of them were in serious decay or gutted out all together.


These human-powered taxis were another way to get around.

These human-powered taxis were another way to get around.


Patriotism in spite of it all.

Patriotism in spite of it all.


Mobile hardware store.

Mobile hardware store.


The only reading to be found.

The only reading to be found.


35 (1280x852)
36 (1280x853)
37 (1280x853)
Street graffiti.

Street graffiti.


Strange access to a playground.

Strange access to a playground.


Showing off to the neighbors.  Love that blue.

Showing off to the neighbors. Love that blue.


This hairdo seemed to be all the rage.

This hairdo seemed to be all the rage.


41 (1280x853)
42 (1280x853)
43 (1280x625)
44 (1280x1256)
45 (1280x853)
46 (1108x1280)
The Capital.

The Capital.


48 (692x1280)
My Dad had a Buick like this in college. A 1948 Roadmaster convertible.

My Dad had a Buick like this in college. A 1948 Roadmaster convertible.


This is not a Saturday gathering of an old car club.  These are all working taxi cabs waiting for fares in the Parque de la Fraternidad in downtown old Havana.  Hundreds of pre-1960 American cars still ply the streets and highways of Cuba.  I had heard about them for years and they were my main reason for visiting Cuba.  After the Revolution in 1959, all importation of American goods ceased.  As I understand it from asking around in my terrible Spanish, for years, no new vehicles from any country were allowed into Cuba, and only certain individuals who had cars prior to the Revolution were allowed to keep them.  Over time the government “acquired” most of them and leased them back the people.  Only in the last three years have individuals been allowed to own them outright.  The pride of ownership radiates from the owner’s faces.  These cars provide a glimmer of joy in an otherwise bleak existence.

This is not a Saturday gathering of an old car club. These are all working taxi cabs waiting for fares in the Parque de la Fraternidad in downtown old Havana. Hundreds of pre-1960 American cars still ply the streets and highways of Cuba. I had heard about them for years and they were my main reason for visiting Cuba. After the Revolution in 1959, all importation of American goods ceased. As I understand it from asking around in my terrible Spanish, for years, no new vehicles from any country were allowed into Cuba, and only certain individuals who had cars prior to the Revolution were allowed to keep them. Over time the government “acquired” most of them and leased them back the people. Only in the last three years have individuals been allowed to own them outright. The pride of ownership radiates from the owner’s faces. These cars provide a glimmer of joy in an otherwise bleak existence.


51 (1280x826)
Not just old cars abound. Many great old trucks are running around too like this 1951 Ford. If you look closely you’ll see it is actually a newer truck underneath, (probably Russian) with the Ford body widened to fit. Cubans are the Kings of Bondo.

Not just old cars abound. Many great old trucks are running around too like this 1951 Ford. If you look closely you’ll see it is actually a newer truck underneath, (probably Russian) with the Ford body widened to fit. Cubans are the Kings of Bondo.


This 1959 Chevy wagon has been modified with an opening back door and is converted inside with side mounted seats facing inward. It is used as a bus.

This 1959 Chevy wagon has been modified with an opening back door and is converted inside with side mounted seats facing inward. It is used as a bus.


Almost every car is extensively modified mechanically.  Almost all are now powered by small diesels from Japan or Korea.  All seem to have later manual transmissions, even if they were originally automatics, and most rear axles are Toyota or Russian in origin.  In addition, many have lost their original independent front suspensions which wore out long ago on Cuba’s potholed roads.  Many, like this ’46 Ford, now have beam front axles and leaf springs. (Ok all you collectors reading this. Yes, I know, ’46 Fords always had beam front axles with a single leaf spring. Bad example I guess, but it is a cool pic of an old Ford and it now has TWO leaf springs!)

Almost every car is extensively modified mechanically. Almost all are now powered by small diesels from Japan or Korea. All seem to have later manual transmissions, even if they were originally automatics, and most rear axles are Toyota or Russian in origin. In addition, many have lost their original independent front suspensions which wore out long ago on Cuba’s potholed roads. Many, like this ’46 Ford, now have beam front axles and leaf springs. (Ok all you collectors reading this. Yes, I know, ’46 Fords always had beam front axles with a single leaf spring. Bad example I guess, but it is a cool pic of an old Ford and it now has TWO leaf springs!)


Lots of Willy’s “Crackerboxes” running around.

Lots of Willy’s “Crackerboxes” running around.


Convertibles seem to garner a higher fare as taxis and get to park in the fancy area with the tour busses.  It doesn’t seem to matter if the car was originally a soft top.  Both of these Chevys, a ’54 and a ’55 have had their tops chopped off while the Buicks are the real deal. The black ugly car is a Russian Zil limo from the ‘60s – ‘70s. I don’t even know what the cool building in the background is! It’s all about the cars!

Convertibles seem to garner a higher fare as taxis and get to park in the fancy area with the tour busses. It doesn’t seem to matter if the car was originally a soft top. Both of these Chevys, a ’54 and a ’55 have had their tops chopped off while the Buicks are the real deal. The black ugly car is a Russian Zil limo from the ‘60s – ‘70s. I don’t even know what the cool building in the background is! It’s all about the cars!


Most of the interiors have been upgraded as well with tuck and roll upholstery and modern steering columns. (No airbags here though!)  Note the truck four speed shifter sprouting through the floor of this Buick, a car that most certainly had an automatic originally.

Most of the interiors have been upgraded as well with tuck and roll upholstery and modern steering columns. (No airbags here though!) Note the truck four speed shifter sprouting through the floor of this Buick, a car that most certainly had an automatic originally.


While most are rough edged working cars, this Willy’s wagon was a show piece with its Mitsubishi diesel covered in chrome.

While most are rough edged working cars, this Willy’s wagon was a show piece with its Mitsubishi diesel covered in chrome.


There was another parking area in front of the Capital building that only contained perfectly restored cars that seemed to be there for display. These convertibles, a ’58 Edsel, ‘55 Chevy and a ’59 Buick could have won awards at any car show in the States.

There was another parking area in front of the Capital building that only contained perfectly restored cars that seemed to be there for display. These convertibles, a ’58 Edsel, ‘55 Chevy and a ’59 Buick could have won awards at any car show in the States.


On our way back to Martica’s house we caught a ride with this guy in his ’53 Chevy. It had a Hyundai engine, Toyota transmission and a Russian rear axle. Note the Subaru steering wheel connected to an Audi steering box. It kind of reminded me of that old Johnny Cash song.

On our way back to Martica’s house we caught a ride with this guy in his ’53 Chevy. It had a Hyundai engine, Toyota transmission and a Russian rear axle. Note the Subaru steering wheel connected to an Audi steering box. It kind of reminded me of that old Johnny Cash song.


61 (1280x1181)
62 (1280x1209)
63 (1280x937)
64 (1280x902)
65 (1280x1013)
66 (1280x947)
67 (1280x849)
68 (802x1280)
69 (1280x1095)
70 (1280x1229)
71 (1280x781)
72 (1111x1280)
Just down the street from Martica’s we came across this impromptu jam and dance session that had broken out in the street for no apparent reason other than love.  We realized that there was something other than old cars that gave the Cuban people joy.  Music.  These guys rocked!  After about a half hour it just broke up and everyone went on their way to wherever.

Just down the street from Martica’s we came across this impromptu jam and dance session that had broken out in the street for no apparent reason other than love. We realized that there was something other than old cars that gave the Cuban people joy. Music. These guys rocked! After about a half hour it just broke up and everyone went on their way to wherever.


Our final dinner at Martica’s.  She really pulled out the stops for us, serving us chicken and a salad.  Things that many Cubans can’t afford to eat.  During our meal we talked with her about the many things we take for granted like eating anything we want, travelling when and where we want, skin care products she can’t get, toilet paper and the Internet which is banned in Cuba.  She had such a fatalistic approach to her life, like, “this is how it is and it is never going to get any better so I just exist.”  We are sooooo lucky.

Our final dinner at Martica’s. She really pulled out the stops for us, serving us chicken and a salad. Things that many Cubans can’t afford to eat. During our meal we talked with her about the many things we take for granted like eating anything we want, travelling when and where we want, skin care products she can’t get, toilet paper and the Internet which is banned in Cuba. She had such a fatalistic approach to her life, like, “this is how it is and it is never going to get any better so I just exist.” We are sooooo lucky.


The next morning we hopped in this Chinese made Geely and headed for the countryside.  After we had found the buses full to anywhere, we struck a deal with a taxi driver outside the bus station.  He agreed to take us an hour and a half outside of Havana to the small resort village of “Hotel Moka” which he recommended.  He’d drop us off, then come back two days later and pick us up and take us back to the Havana airport, all for 100CUC or just under $100US.  The bus would have been half that, but the experience we got from this arrangement was priceless.

The next morning we hopped in this Chinese made Geely and headed for the countryside. After we had found the buses full to anywhere, we struck a deal with a taxi driver outside the bus station. He agreed to take us an hour and a half outside of Havana to the small resort village of “Hotel Moka” which he recommended. He’d drop us off, then come back two days later and pick us up and take us back to the Havana airport, all for 100CUC or just under $100US. The bus would have been half that, but the experience we got from this arrangement was priceless.


Our first conversation with Alain, our driver, was about the USA and his feelings towards Castro and his country’s government.  “Castro is a sommabitch” he told us emphaticly.  He showed us the home screen on his cell phone – an American eagle and flag.  Wow!  If Alain could float his taxi we’d have been on our way to Florida.  He told us many things as we rolled along, again all in Spanglish, so I hope we got it all right.  The most profound thing I remember him telling us was when we asked him why nobody ate vegetables, only fruit.  All around us were endless acres of fallow farmland with a year round growing season and plenty of rain. “Nobody wants to do the hard work it takes to grow crops. Why work hard on land owned by the government who will only pay them a paltry salary for their labor?” We asked, why aren’t more things grown on the sly and sold on the black market?  Answer:  “People have no money to buy anything.”  “Fruit just grows wild so there is no labor in producing it. Just pick it up.”  “There is no incentive in my country for the people to do anything.”   Classic Socialism.  Take heed America! Visit Cuba before you vote next time!

Our first conversation with Alain, our driver, was about the USA and his feelings towards Castro and his country’s government. “Castro is a sommabitch” he told us emphaticly. He showed us the home screen on his cell phone – an American eagle and flag. Wow! If Alain could float his taxi we’d have been on our way to Florida. He told us many things as we rolled along, again all in Spanglish, so I hope we got it all right. The most profound thing I remember him telling us was when we asked him why nobody ate vegetables, only fruit. All around us were endless acres of fallow farmland with a year round growing season and plenty of rain. “Nobody wants to do the hard work it takes to grow crops. Why work hard on land owned by the government who will only pay them a paltry salary for their labor?” We asked, why aren’t more things grown on the sly and sold on the black market? Answer: “People have no money to buy anything.” “Fruit just grows wild so there is no labor in producing it. Just pick it up.” “There is no incentive in my country for the people to do anything.”
Classic Socialism. Take heed America! Visit Cuba before you vote next time!


The Russian Embassy. A rather imposing structure.

The Russian Embassy. A rather imposing structure.


Once out of the city the highway was good, but empty. Horse drawn carts shared the tarmac with the few trucks and cars.

Once out of the city the highway was good, but empty. Horse drawn carts shared the tarmac with the few trucks and cars.


Roadside fast food. These guys were selling roasted chickens and homemade cheese. Free enterprise in a communist world.

Roadside fast food. These guys were selling roasted chickens and homemade cheese. Free enterprise in a communist world.


When we arrived in Moka we were invited to stay with the family who owns this spotless house in the village. Elizabeta and Tomas live with their granddaughter, Marita, who is three. The little girl’s parents are working overseas. Tomas makes a living as a musican. What a treasure this family was to find!

When we arrived in Moka we were invited to stay with the family who owns this spotless house in the village. Elizabeta and Tomas live with their granddaughter, Marita, who is three. The little girl’s parents are working overseas. Tomas makes a living as a musican. What a treasure this family was to find!


Our room.

Our room.


Elizabeta’s kitchen.

Elizabeta’s kitchen.


A view of the village and the small lake from the only actual Hotel.

A view of the village and the small lake from the only actual Hotel.


Housing apartments.

Housing apartments.


Portable clothes line. Moka appeared to be a government built resort town within a National Park.  We saw very few foreign tourists but there were quite a few Cubans there for the weekend.  There was a nice Hotel with a swimming pool and a tennis court. We snuck in and tried out both.

Portable clothes line.
Moka appeared to be a government built resort town within a National Park. We saw very few foreign tourists but there were quite a few Cubans there for the weekend. There was a nice Hotel with a swimming pool and a tennis court. We snuck in and tried out both.


86 (853x1280)
This guy keeps pigeons in cages on his roof as pets.  In the morning and evening we watched him release them to fly around.  Then he would give a special whistle and they would come back and settle in to their cages.

This guy keeps pigeons in cages on his roof as pets. In the morning and evening we watched him release them to fly around. Then he would give a special whistle and they would come back and settle in to their cages.


Gotta have at least one Flatfender picture, even if this ‘52 CJ3A was now 2WD and had a Suzuki rear axle.

Gotta have at least one Flatfender picture, even if this ‘52 CJ3A was now 2WD and had a Suzuki rear axle.


Necessity is the mother of invention.

Necessity is the mother of invention.


89 (853x1280)
90 (1280x853)
On a walk through the jungle we came across these two guys spear fishing in the river.  He caught three fish during the five minutes we watched him!

On a walk through the jungle we came across these two guys spear fishing in the river. He caught three fish during the five minutes we watched him!


Then a few of their buddies showed up with two bottles of Vodka.  So much for the fishing.  We shared a couple of sips with them and they told us how they had always lived in this area of the jungle.  Only in the last ten years or so had anybody from elsewhere come to swim in their river.

Then a few of their buddies showed up with two bottles of Vodka. So much for the fishing. We shared a couple of sips with them and they told us how they had always lived in this area of the jungle. Only in the last ten years or so had anybody from elsewhere come to swim in their river.


Our Vodka friend’s home.

Our Vodka friend’s home.


It was very hot and muggy so swimming in the river seemed like a good thing to do.

It was very hot and muggy so swimming in the river seemed like a good thing to do.


95 (1280x908)
These Cuban tourists were enjoying the river in the designated tourist area downstream from where we met the locals.  They were munching on a huge hunk of roast pig.

These Cuban tourists were enjoying the river in the designated tourist area downstream from where we met the locals. They were munching on a huge hunk of roast pig.


Back in the village, the old cars were still the stars.  These trinkets, sold in the tourist kiosks, were made by hand out of old soda cans or chunks of wood.

Back in the village, the old cars were still the stars. These trinkets, sold in the tourist kiosks, were made by hand out of old soda cans or chunks of wood.


This is what Kat had to put up with the whole time we were there!

This is what Kat had to put up with the whole time we were there!


99 (1280x853)
But this ’48 Plymouth was worth looking under.  I discovered it was 4 wheel drive!  Its clever owner, shown here showing off his power windows through a cloud of Cuban cigar smoke, had grafted a 4WD Hyundai SUV chassis and running gear under the old beast.

But this ’48 Plymouth was worth looking under. I discovered it was 4 wheel drive! Its clever owner, shown here showing off his power windows through a cloud of Cuban cigar smoke, had grafted a 4WD Hyundai SUV chassis and running gear under the old beast.


101 (700x1280)
Just one more! Not all cherished cars are old American ones. In the ‘70s Russian cars began to be imported. Now they are old and are being refurbished by proud new owners. This Moscavitch now has a Renault diesel.

Just one more! Not all cherished cars are old American ones. In the ‘70s Russian cars began to be imported. Now they are old and are being refurbished by proud new owners. This Moscavitch now has a Renault diesel.


What is a Dana 44 doing under a Russian car? That’s like pouring vodka all over apple pie!

What is a Dana 44 doing under a Russian car? That’s like pouring vodka all over apple pie!


Little Marita was the cutest thing ever. She was way wiser than her three years. An old soul.

Little Marita was the cutest thing ever. She was way wiser than her three years. An old soul.


106 (1280x942)
107 (1280x853)
I think she wants to be a hair dresser.

I think she wants to be a hair dresser.


On our final afternoon in Moka we had the best treat of the trip. Tomas took us to his mother’s apartment in the village to let us listen to him practice music with his band partner Miguel.

On our final afternoon in Moka we had the best treat of the trip. Tomas took us to his mother’s apartment in the village to let us listen to him practice music with his band partner Miguel.


Greeting Mom.

Greeting Mom.


111a (1280x920)
112 (1280x863)
113 (1280x856)
Proud Mama.

Proud Mama.


115 (1280x982)
116 (1280x974)
117 (1280x853)
118 (1280x878)
 I doubt these images convey the soulful energy that was in the room as these guys played, but I hope they give an idea.  Through their music, these guy’s lives, and those of the two elderly listeners, are transformed like magic.  Though they play all the time professionally and have heard their songs hundreds of times, creating the music once again removed them from the stoic resignation of their daily lives.  It was a very special experience for Kat and me.

I doubt these images convey the soulful energy that was in the room as these guys played, but I hope they give an idea. Through their music, these guy’s lives, and those of the two elderly listeners, are transformed like magic. Though they play all the time professionally and have heard their songs hundreds of times, creating the music once again removed them from the stoic resignation of their daily lives. It was a very special experience for Kat and me.


120 (1280x982)
121 (1280x1127)
Music puts smiles on Cuban faces.

Music puts smiles on Cuban faces.


123 (1280x853)
124 (1280x915)
125 (1280x853)
When Alain picked us up to take us to the airport I asked him if we could go the back way and see a Cuban beach.  I mentioned we could stop for a coffee and take in the ambiance of a seaside town.  He seemed to like the idea and mentioned a “good” spot.  I envisioned a sidewalk café with a table and an umbrella. We’d sip coffee while watching tourists on their way to the beach. Hah, maybe 55 years ago.  Alain took us to this beautiful beach but it was the saddest site we’d seen.  In the 50’s this was a thriving hotel and dive center with a long pier for tying up boats.  Now it is in ruins, just rotting away to rubble with no one on the beach. After the beach viewing we went in search of coffee. After stopping at three different restaurants and being told three times they didn’t have any coffee, Alain gave up in despair. The shame on his face was heartbreaking.  He wanted so hard to please us but his country wouldn’t let him.  He was embarrassed and kept saying “This is how my country is.” Finally he just quietly said, “I just better take you to the airport now.”

When Alain picked us up to take us to the airport I asked him if we could go the back way and see a Cuban beach. I mentioned we could stop for a coffee and take in the ambiance of a seaside town. He seemed to like the idea and mentioned a “good” spot. I envisioned a sidewalk café with a table and an umbrella. We’d sip coffee while watching tourists on their way to the beach. Hah, maybe 55 years ago. Alain took us to this beautiful beach but it was the saddest site we’d seen. In the 50’s this was a thriving hotel and dive center with a long pier for tying up boats. Now it is in ruins, just rotting away to rubble with no one on the beach. After the beach viewing we went in search of coffee. After stopping at three different restaurants and being told three times they didn’t have any coffee, Alain gave up in despair. The shame on his face was heartbreaking. He wanted so hard to please us but his country wouldn’t let him. He was embarrassed and kept saying “This is how my country is.” Finally he just quietly said, “I just better take you to the airport now.”


Alain my friend, I hope someday you get your wish of going to America, the land who’s image you keep on your cell phone.

Alain my friend, I hope someday you get your wish of going to America, the land who’s image you keep on your cell phone.

128 (1280x853)
129 (1280x864)

It’s All About Perspective – Kat’s Thoughts on Cuba

Deep in thought, strolling along the covered marble and tile sidewalk, I looked up to find that Ned had vanished. I thought he was behind me but he wasn’t. I walked half a block back down the grimy walkway still musing on the former grandeur of the city. I scanned the faces of loiterers and fellow walkers. No Ned. My pulse quickened as a bubble of panic began to grow. I was not in Mexico. I was in Havana. Cuba. Enemy to the United States. Minutes ticked by, and reality rushed in as I paced up and down the block. Ned and I had pooled all of our Mexican Pesos to buy Cuban money, and he had it all. I had ATM and Credit cards, but they were American…worthless in Cuba. I did not have a dime. Where was Ned? My overactive imagination took over, and I pictured Ned kidnapped. The American Embassy! That’s where you go, right? No, wait. This was Cuba. There was no American Embassy, and I was a citizen of an enemy country who was not supposed to be here “trading with the enemy.”

By now cold sweat had broken out, my heart was pounding, and I was shaking all over. Five more minutes passed, and sobs built up, threatening to escape. I searched the crowd for a friendly face but found only dull disinterest or inappropriate leers. What was I to do? What good was clever resourcefulness in a country where cleverness was not rewarded and there were no resources?

Obviously I found Ned, (he was ahead of me by a block) but not before receiving the fright of my life and a healthy dose of perspective.

Our four days in Cuba were more thought provoking than any previous travel experience. Being a fierce advocate for freedom, capitalism and our whole American way of life, I was intensely interested in the beliefs, thoughts and dreams of people living under pure dictatorial Communism. I wanted to know everything; how they earned a living; how was money controlled; what could they own; what did the government own; how was food produced and sold; what were their limitations; where was it possible to excel; what did they think of their dictators, Fidel Castro and now his brother Raul?

With limited time, we forwent sightseeing in favor of delving in to the lives of the Cuban people. We had long conversations with taxi drivers, waiters, Cuban people on weekend getaways, musicians, the owners of the houses where we stayed, clerks who sold government sanctioned goods, poorer Cubans and Cubans who were better off.

We found the people soulful, charming and kind…human spirit peeking out from the suppression of government control. But life was hard there. There were no vibrant, colorful markets bursting with the energy of free enterprise. No Internet, no easy access to the outside world. No television, except government sanctioned programs. Unemployment was high, especially for women, and there was no welfare. With heart wrenching realization, we saw many lovely teenage girls “hanging out” with much older men. A few people owned their houses, their taxis or their market stalls, but paid very high flat fees for licenses to own and operate them. Most people leased everything from and worked for the government, receiving shockingly low wages in return. A medic (doctor) for instance, earns only the equivalent of $10 per month yet the cost of living, we found, was nearly that of the US. Everyone we spoke with complained about the disparity between wages and cost of living. It is an immense problem for the Cuban people, and of course many turn to black markets.

Some of the people found relief in the ability to work overseas. We met a man who did consulting work in Barcelona, a musician who played concerts in Mexico, Canada and Russia and a family who’s daughter and son-in-law worked as Medics in Venezuela. But these were the exception. Most were mired in the endless sameness of Communism.

Cubans, like many Mexicans we chatted with want to go or have their children go to America. But, watching their faces as they speak, I noticed a big difference. The Mexican people always have a certain dreamy look, a glimmer of hopefulness. The Cubans, however, spoke of the wish, but their faces reflected a sad fatalism, indicating a complete lack of hope. It was heartbreaking, and time after time I found myself saying tearful goodbyes to these beautiful people, wishing I could smuggle them out in my backpack.

We Americans grow up with the belief that anything is possible. We have endless choices and can come and go as we please. I have traveled in many countries and have seen how different forms of government affect the people. I have seen wretched poverty and the apathy of idleness. But there in Cuba it was not only goods and services that were in such short supply. Freedom itself, had, for most people become an impossible idea. It appeared to me that this Communist government had formed a place where the human spirit to create and grow was thoroughly repressed, and every choice, even down to what brand of water or shampoo people could buy was controlled by someone else.

Our four day Cuban sojourn was hugely emotional for me. The suffocating weight of Communism fell over the country like a dull miasma, and I felt a haunting fear of ever having to live like that. While I understand that the promise of Communism is to lift all people to an equal level, what I sensed, was that the level was much lower than we Americans are used to. It was true that we saw no extreme poverty like we have seen in other countries, but we also saw no signs of progress, pride or excellence, and the entire country had an air of disinterested neglect.

In the end it is all about perspective. We are so accustomed to our incredible way of life that we take it for granted. I feel fortunate to have felt for four days, what it would be like to live without freedom, human rights, choices, and advocacy.

Back in Mexico, I had my hair done by a beautiful Mexican woman named Berta. I was telling her about our visit to Cuba and how I found the Mexican people so much more vibrant and full of life. Berta summed it up simply, saying, “Without freedom, the people are not happy.”

Side Notes:

While there is no American Embassy in Cuba, there is a US Interests Section housed in the Swiss Embassy. In place of an Ambassador there is a Chief of the US Interests Section.

A few people were allowed to keep ownership of and/or inherit houses or cars after the revolution, but three years ago (2011) the Castro regime began allowing more widespread private ownership of houses and cars. Many are taking advantage of the new law, making payments to the government to become owners.

Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for the Cuban people.

Close Encounters of the Third World Kind

Eyes burning, sinuses clogged and throats hurting, we looked at each other in total exasperation. We were deep in Mexico City traffic. We were in hell. It was dark now, so we could only smell and feel the effects of the unimaginable smog, but earlier we could see it. The air was thick and brown and for all we complain about emisions controls in the US, we had a moment of appreciation for the sacrifices we make for superior air quality.

As Ned mentioned in our last blog, we had planned to find a hotel on the outskirts of town and take public transportation to explore the city. For about two and a half seconds we even considered taking in one of Mexico City’s infamous wrestling exhibitions. Now we had a problem. We had come too far into the city and were totally lost. We could not get a fix on our precise location and Mr. Garmin was useless due to the criss-crossing over and underpasses. We had planned to hug the eastern edge of the city on a ring road, but our opening act upon entering the confusing melee was to miss an exit; we were heading right into the heart of one of the world’s largest cities. Dimly lit street signs (when they were there at all) made no sense, pointing to streets going in completely wrong directions and forcing us into several illegal U-turns in desperation. Horns honked, lights blazed, and semis threatened to crush us under their aggressive wheels. Motorcycles zipped by with suicidal purpose through the narrow spaces between vehicles and sinister gang graffiti marked our passage along the garbage strewn streets. All told, we were mired in the filthy mess for over two hours, sneezing incessantly and sure we were going in large, madening circles.

There was no choice but to soldier on through the stop and crawl traffic, still trying to read street signs in the murky darkness. Our driver/navigator relationship was in serious jeopardy, when suddenly, out of the gloom we saw a freeway sign for Puebla which was another big city to the east of Mexico City and in the genreral direction we were headed next. “Let’s get the @%$# out of here! To #&%* with Mexico City!” Decision made, we whipped onto the “autopista” heading east and felt instant relief.

By comparison, the autopista (freeway) was a breeze. The tolls were expensive, as usual, but to our delight, about an hour out town we climbed out of the smog to a heavenly alpine elevation of 9,000ft. Unfortunately, it was also nearly 9:30pm, and there was no way off of the freeway to find a place to camp. Guard rails blocked our way into what appeared to be a lovely forest.

At the top of the pass, we saw a break in the guard rail which opened into a parking area lined with vendor stalls offering food and crafts. Ned murmured something about “how do the locals get in and out of here,” and pulled into the parking area. Sure enough, there was a frontage road, but better yet, there was a dirt road running perpendicuarly behind the stalls. Encouraged, we turned onto it and within minutes needed to put Charlotte into four-wheel drive. Wonderful! The more difficult the terrain, the less likely to have visitors in the night.

Within about a half a mile, we drove into a large, flat meadow. This would do quite nicely. We brushed our teeth, crawled in the back and fell into an exhausted sleep.

We awoke to find that it was cold.  Our handy Auto Zone thermometer told us it was 28° in Charlotte, and our Lowrance GPS indicated our elevation was 9,500 ft.  Stumbling sleepily out of the bus to stretch in the dim, misty morning light, we saw that the sun was still behind a tall, steep mountainside.  In fact, turning slowly around, we were amazed to see the same steep slopes wrapping 360° around us.  We had fumbled our way into a crater!!

We awoke to find that it was cold. Our handy Auto Zone thermometer told us it was 28° in Charlotte, and our Lowrance GPS indicated our elevation was 9,500 ft. Stumbling sleepily out of the bus to stretch in the dim, misty morning light, we saw that the sun was still behind a tall, steep mountainside. In fact, turning slowly around, we were amazed to see the same steep slopes wrapping 360° around us. We had fumbled our way into a crater!!


The sides of the crater were steep enough that I had to use my own four wheel drive (two feet, two hands) to climb up to the rim.  But the exercise felt great after so much driving.  Ned and I hiked around the rim to the other side and bushwhacked our way back down the opposite slope.

The sides of the crater were steep enough that I had to use my own four wheel drive (two feet, two hands) to climb up to the rim. But the exercise felt great after so much driving. Ned and I hiked around the rim to the other side and bushwhacked our way back down the opposite slope.


Back on the autopista, we dropped quickly out of the mountains and into the smog. We had been told by several people to visit Puebla, Orizaba, and Cordoba, but we found the entire Hwy 150 corridor too crowded and too polluted. We blew by on the toll roads, and at Cordoba, turned southeast on a yellow road toward Presa Miguel Aleman, a reservoir in a more remote area.
This was sugar cane country!  The yellow roads turned to dirt, and the pageant of this sweet commodity was dramatically played out as we drove along in a drizzly mist.   The crops thrived in this warm, humid climate in the valleys between “King Kong” looking mountains.

This was sugar cane country! The yellow roads turned to dirt, and the pageant of this sweet commodity was dramatically played out as we drove along in a drizzly mist.
The crops thrived in this warm, humid climate in the valleys between “King Kong” looking mountains.


Machete wielding men labor hard to harvest the cane.

Machete wielding men labor hard to harvest the cane.


Trucks carry the harvest…

Trucks carry the harvest…


…to the processing plants.  Recognize the “Domino” brand label?

…to the processing plants. Recognize the “Domino” brand label?


Once at the plant, the drivers line up to have their loads tallied and dumped.

Once at the plant, the drivers line up to have their loads tallied and dumped.

Most of the drivers were asleep in their cabs, confirming our suspicion that they waited in line for hours.  This poor guy looked like he’d been waiting days.

Most of the drivers were asleep in their cabs, confirming our suspicion that they waited in line for hours. This poor guy looked like he’d been waiting days.

Raw cane went in…processed liquid sugar, poured into tankers, came out…

Raw cane went in…processed liquid sugar, poured into tankers, came out…

…and beautiful rivers downstream suffered.  The pools beyond this fall were not only brown, but also covered with sudsy foam.

…and beautiful rivers downstream suffered. The pools beyond this fall were not only brown, but also covered with sudsy foam.

Hand painted, public service messages like this have been common throughout the remote areas of Mexico.  This one warned against Dengue fever and the dangers of standing water.  I’m pretty sure I even spotted a Leprosy sign out of the corner of my eye once, but failed to get the photo.

Hand painted, public service messages like this have been common throughout the remote areas of Mexico. This one warned against Dengue fever and the dangers of standing water. I’m pretty sure I even spotted a Leprosy sign out of the corner of my eye once, but failed to get the photo.

A ferry!  This would be fun.

A ferry! This would be fun.

We were trying to find an obscure road south of Vicente around a reservoir, but after we loaded Charlotte onto the ferry, we asked if this was the right way to get to the reservoir.  No, we had to go back into Vicente and take a different route…no ferry crossing after all.

We were trying to find an obscure road south of Vicente around a reservoir, but after we loaded Charlotte onto the ferry, we asked if this was the right way to get to the reservoir. No, we had to go back into Vicente and take a different route…no ferry crossing after all.

Back in Vicente we could not find the road south.  We drove around in circles for a while, and finally got pulled over by a truck load of AK47 toting cops wanting to know what we were up to.  We played our stupid tourist parts again and they loved Vaca Muerta (our dead cow head).  All seven of them were very friendly so Ned got the brilliant idea to ask for a police escort to the road.  The head honcho agreed, and we followed them through the village to a tiny dirt road we would never have found on our own.

Back in Vicente we could not find the road south. We drove around in circles for a while, and finally got pulled over by a truck load of AK47 toting cops wanting to know what we were up to. We played our stupid tourist parts again and they loved Vaca Muerta (our dead cow head). All seven of them were very friendly so Ned got the brilliant idea to ask for a police escort to the road. The head honcho agreed, and we followed them through the village to a tiny dirt road we would never have found on our own.

The dirt road led through more cane fields.  Darkness fell, so eventually we turned off on to a muddy track and drove deep into the fields to hide among tall stalks.  It was muggy and buggy, so we stayed “indoors.”  Dinner was left over soup heated on the Coleman stove inside the bus and salad made in and eaten out of the lettuce bag.

The dirt road led through more cane fields. Darkness fell, so eventually we turned off on to a muddy track and drove deep into the fields to hide among tall stalks. It was muggy and buggy, so we stayed “indoors.” Dinner was left over soup heated on the Coleman stove inside the bus and salad made in and eaten out of the lettuce bag.

Ned slept well, but I had an uneasy night listening to strange sounds among the rustling canes.  “Children of the Corn” kept running through my mind.  By morning, though, all was well.

Ned slept well, but I had an uneasy night listening to strange sounds among the rustling canes. “Children of the Corn” kept running through my mind. By morning, though, all was well.

Tiny poorer pueblos along the dirt roads

Tiny poorer pueblos along the dirt roads
43b (1280x960)[caption id="attachment_347" align="alignleft" width="800"]How to make a thatched roof… How to make a thatched roof…

We saw pollos (chickens) roasting in the front yards of several casitas in a village called Cabeza de Tigre, (Tiger’s Head).  They looked delicious.

We saw pollos (chickens) roasting in the front yards of several casitas in a village called Cabeza de Tigre, (Tiger’s Head). They looked delicious.

We were hungry so we decided it would be a good opportunity to have a local encounter.  We pulled up to one of the huts and asked if they would sell us a chicken.  It was a great choice.  The little home was also a one-table restaurant and the family was precious.

We were hungry so we decided it would be a good opportunity to have a local encounter. We pulled up to one of the huts and asked if they would sell us a chicken. It was a great choice. The little home was also a one-table restaurant and the family was precious.

Antonino, Anita and their daughter Raquel, who was 7 months pregnant, were the perfects hosts.  We were treated warmly and graciously.  Antonino told us he was of Maztecan descent. We really enjoyed our breakfast of fresh roast chicken, tortillas, rice and a delicious salsa.  He laughed telling us the chicken was so fresh it was running around this morning!

Antonino, Anita and their daughter Raquel, who was 7 months pregnant, were the perfects hosts. We were treated warmly and graciously. Antonino told us he was of Maztecan descent. We really enjoyed our breakfast of fresh roast chicken, tortillas, rice and a delicious salsa. He laughed telling us the chicken was so fresh it was running around this morning!

Antonino said he rented rooms to Mexican tourists on their way to the reservoir.  We showed them pictures of where we spent night in the cane fields (las cañas) and they laughed, thinking that was so funny.  They said we should have stayed there with them!

Antonino said he rented rooms to Mexican tourists on their way to the reservoir. We showed them pictures of where we spent night in the cane fields (las cañas) and they laughed, thinking that was so funny. They said we should have stayed there with them!

56b (1280x853)
Anita proudly offered to show us her beautiful, well organized kitchen.

Anita proudly offered to show us her beautiful, well organized kitchen.

58bc (1280x853)
Antonino was surprised to learn that the Spanish word for cilantro is the same in English.

Antonino was surprised to learn that the Spanish word for cilantro is the same in English.

Anita showed me how to make the salsa, but wanted to make sure we had a blender…uh, no blender in Charlotte!  But some of you may want to try this…it was so good! Add all together in blender: 2 Jalapeños  2 Tomatillos - raw 1 Garlic clove 1 Cilantro bunch Salt Simple and delicious!

Anita showed me how to make the salsa, but wanted to make sure we had a blender…uh, no blender in Charlotte! But some of you may want to try this…it was so good!
Add all together in blender:
2 Jalapeños
2 Tomatillos – raw
1 Garlic clove
1 Cilantro bunch
Salt
Simple and delicious!

The reservoir was unremarkable, but the 182 red road west toward Teotitlan was insane!  We climbed yet another 6500 ft. in to a rain forest. We could tell it would have been gorgeous but the fog and drizzle kept visibility low the whole way.  It was hard driving for Ned; tortuously tight turns, sheer drop-offs, blind corners, on-coming traffic and heavy fog…and it was getting dark.  We had decided on this route because we suspected it would be beautiful…but we couldn't see much of anything.  We did climb through the mist at one point, popping into great views of huge, fog filled valleys.

The reservoir was unremarkable, but the 182 red road west toward Teotitlan was insane! We climbed yet another 6500 ft. in to a rain forest. We could tell it would have been gorgeous but the fog and drizzle kept visibility low the whole way. It was hard driving for Ned; tortuously tight turns, sheer drop-offs, blind corners, on-coming traffic and heavy fog…and it was getting dark. We had decided on this route because we suspected it would be beautiful…but we couldn’t see much of anything. We did climb through the mist at one point, popping into great views of huge, fog filled valleys.

77b (1280x909)
The backside of the pass was dry desert and an absolutely spectacular, airy drop back down 6,000 ft.  Are you getting the idea that Mexico is mountainous??

The backside of the pass was dry desert and an absolutely spectacular, airy drop back down 6,000 ft. Are you getting the idea that Mexico is mountainous??

By night, the city of Teotitlan was full of shady looking characters.  We drove on and found an awesome place to hide for the night.  We slept well and woke up to a beautiful mountain desert view. We desert rats do best in a warm arid climate. Ned made bacon and eggs. I worked on photos.  We did some stretches and got back on road. The road was still super windy, heading south toward Oaxaca.

By night, the city of Teotitlan was full of shady looking characters. We drove on and found an awesome place to hide for the night. We slept well and woke up to a beautiful mountain desert view. We desert rats do best in a warm arid climate. Ned made bacon and eggs. I worked on photos. We did some stretches and got back on road. The road was still super windy, heading south toward Oaxaca.

We had been shower-less camping for 5 days and checked into a hotel in Oaxaca to refresh, do laundry and work on the blog.  Breakfast on the plaza was a real treat.  The city had a wonderful energetic feel.

We had been shower-less camping for 5 days and checked into a hotel in Oaxaca to refresh, do laundry and work on the blog. Breakfast on the plaza was a real treat. The city had a wonderful energetic feel.

The surprise orchestral concert added to the upbeat atmosphere

The surprise orchestral concert added to the upbeat atmosphere

The Oaxaca region is famous for Moles, sauces made with chocolate.  Our meals were delicious.

The Oaxaca region is famous for Moles, sauces made with chocolate. Our meals were delicious.

93b (1280x895)
Textile and basket weaving is also important here.

Textile and basket weaving is also important here.

We had heard about this regional delicacy…deep fried grasshoppers!  Evidently they are supposed to be full of lead, so the Mexican government has banned them.  Obviously some vendors still sneak them into markets.  The guy carrying these around got pretty fussy with me for snapping this photo. No, we didn’t try them.

We had heard about this regional delicacy…deep fried grasshoppers! Evidently they are supposed to be full of lead, so the Mexican government has banned them. Obviously some vendors still sneak them into markets. The guy carrying these around got pretty fussy with me for snapping this photo. No, we didn’t try them.

10 miles out of Oaxaca, is the small town of Santa Maria Tule where the Overland Oasis is located. Ned had read about this place and felt we should stay there. It turned out, the ex-pat Canadian owner Calvin, is a total gear-head just like Ned. They spent two days yakking about VWs, race cars, off road races, tools and who knows what else! I finished the red & yellow road blog. Check out Calvin and his wife Leanne’s 1957 Greyhound bus that they have lived in for years. It’s now parked somewhat permanently under the awning.

10 miles out of Oaxaca, is the small town of Santa Maria Tule where the Overland Oasis is located. Ned had read about this place and felt we should stay there. It turned out, the ex-pat Canadian owner Calvin, is a total gear-head just like Ned. They spent two days yakking about VWs, race cars, off road races, tools and who knows what else! I finished the red & yellow road blog. Check out Calvin and his wife Leanne’s 1957 Greyhound bus that they have lived in for years. It’s now parked somewhat permanently under the awning.

On our way to breakfast in Tule, we walked by this textile shop.  This man was vigorously working his loom.  It looked like hard work, but the results were beautiful.

On our way to breakfast in Tule, we walked by this textile shop. This man was vigorously working his loom. It looked like hard work, but the results were beautiful.


Only locals were eating in this open air street restaurant.  We were served lovely Oaxaca cheese omelets with rice, black beans, (obviously) handmade tortillas and another awesome salsa.  Of course I had to ask what was in this one.  Here it is: Avocado A small bit of Serrano chili Cilantro One raw tomatillo Lime juice to preserve the color

Only locals were eating in this open air street restaurant. We were served lovely Oaxaca cheese omelets with rice, black beans, (obviously) handmade tortillas and another awesome salsa. Of course I had to ask what was in this one. Here it is:
Avocado
A small bit of Serrano chili
Cilantro
One raw tomatillo
Lime juice to preserve the color

After Tule we drove south toward Puerta Angel and up over another beautiful pass.  The sunset and scenery was gorgeous, but I was not enjoying it.  I was in the back sick as a dog.  Evidently, the hand rolled Oaxaca cheese I bought in the market is not suitable for Gringo stomachs.  I ate some that morning.  Ned did not.  By the time Ned shot this photo I had already lost a bunch of my breakfast via dual ports on the cold drizzly pass and was threatening to lose more.

After Tule we drove south toward Puerta Angel and up over another beautiful pass. The sunset and scenery was gorgeous, but I was not enjoying it. I was in the back sick as a dog. Evidently, the hand rolled Oaxaca cheese I bought in the market is not suitable for Gringo stomachs. I ate some that morning. Ned did not. By the time Ned shot this photo I had already lost a bunch of my breakfast via dual ports on the cold drizzly pass and was threatening to lose more.

This cute little cabin was a god-send.  Ned spotted this place just cresting the alpine pass and made a quick u-turn to check it out.  It would have been quite romantic without the food poisoning.  The night was rough, and I was grateful to not be camping in the cold.

This cute little cabin was a god-send. Ned spotted this place just cresting the alpine pass and made a quick u-turn to check it out. It would have been quite romantic without the food poisoning. The night was rough, and I was grateful to not be camping in the cold.

Back on the Pacific coast in Puerta Angel.  This little bay was pretty, but the area seemed very impoverished.  Mentally and physically challenged people seemed abundant and begging was rampant.

Back on the Pacific coast in Puerta Angel. This little bay was pretty, but the area seemed very impoverished. Mentally and physically challenged people seemed abundant and begging was rampant.

109b (1280x960)
This is where we finally got our last blog out…

This is where we finally got our last blog out…

After a camping night spent in a sandy wash and several foiled attempts to reach a private beach…this was our reward.

After a camping night spent in a sandy wash and several foiled attempts to reach a private beach…this was our reward.

113b (1280x960)115b (1280x906)
This fellow found himself straddling a curb and unable to move forward or back. Charlotte and Ned did their good deed for the day, winching him off.

This fellow found himself straddling a curb and unable to move forward or back. Charlotte and Ned did their good deed for the day, winching him off.

We spent Valentine’s Day in the romantic town of San Cristobal de las Casas.  The city is rich in both Native (Mayan descendants) and Spanish Colonial history.  Beautiful woven textiles and handmade garments are everywhere.  The woman on the right is Mari.  She hand sewed the blouse I bought.  The skirts the girls are wearing are thick fuzzy wool, a very popular style here.

We spent Valentine’s Day in the romantic town of San Cristobal de las Casas. The city is rich in both Native (Mayan descendants) and Spanish Colonial history. Beautiful woven textiles and handmade garments are everywhere. The woman on the right is Mari. She hand sewed the blouse I bought. The skirts the girls are wearing are thick fuzzy wool, a very popular style here.

Mari also made these gorgeous pillows.

Mari also made these gorgeous pillows.

The youngest shoe-shine.  I paid him 5 pesos for the photo, but that didn’t come with a smile.

The youngest shoe-shine. I paid him 5 pesos for the photo, but that didn’t come with a smile.

And the youngest street hawkers.  It was a bit sad to see so many of these kids selling and begging on the streets, but most of them looked pretty healthy.

And the youngest street hawkers. It was a bit sad to see so many of these kids selling and begging on the streets, but most of them looked pretty healthy.

The markets were the most colorful yet…

The markets were the most colorful yet…

135b (1280x946)136b (1280x1089)
Amber, fossilized resin, is another hot commodity in the area.  Maribel explained how real resin glows vivid turquoise under an ultra violet light.  The fake stuff, mostly cheap crystal does not.

Amber, fossilized resin, is another hot commodity in the area. Maribel explained how real resin glows vivid turquoise under an ultra violet light. The fake stuff, mostly cheap crystal does not.

Ned couldn’t believe there is an adult shorter than me on the planet.

Ned couldn’t believe there is an adult shorter than me on the planet.

140b (960x1280)141b (1280x722)
Mexican fast food consists of roadside taco stands and pollo asado (roasted chicken) stands.  Lunch time found us driving through Ocosingo on a red road heading north toward the Mayan ruins of Palenque.

Mexican fast food consists of roadside taco stands and pollo asado (roasted chicken) stands. Lunch time found us driving through Ocosingo on a red road heading north toward the Mayan ruins of Palenque.

I was immediately drawn to Luis and his shy, charming smile.  It was Saturday, and Luis was helping his mom, Juana at their little chicken stand.  He was polite, courteous and hard working.

I was immediately drawn to Luis and his shy, charming smile. It was Saturday, and Luis was helping his mom, Juana at their little chicken stand. He was polite, courteous and hard working.

Luis had never heard of Baja California, even though it is a Mexican state, so Ned brought out the map and showed him our route.  Juana watched with obvious pleasure and pride.

Luis had never heard of Baja California, even though it is a Mexican state, so Ned brought out the map and showed him our route. Juana watched with obvious pleasure and pride.

We chatted a bit, and Luis told me he was learning English in school and some day wanted to go to the United States.  We practiced counting to 20 and reciting the days of the week and months of the year

We chatted a bit, and Luis told me he was learning English in school and some day wanted to go to the United States. We practiced counting to 20 and reciting the days of the week and months of the year

Tales of our travels brought a local audience who listened with rapt attention.  I was sad to leave and wanted to take Luis with us.  He took our contact info and promised to email us if and when he ever could.  I truly hope he does.

Tales of our travels brought a local audience who listened with rapt attention. I was sad to leave and wanted to take Luis with us. He took our contact info and promised to email us if and when he ever could. I truly hope he does.

What the heck are these bean-like things everyone has drying in their yards???

What the heck are these bean-like things everyone has drying in their yards???

I was so curious I had to stop to ask.  It was coffee as I suspected!  So I had to buy some…it is wonderful!

I was so curious I had to stop to ask. It was coffee as I suspected! So I had to buy some…it is wonderful!

“Mountain grown…the richest kind!” Yup, those are coffee trees growing up on those cliffs.

“Mountain grown…the richest kind!”
Yup, those are coffee trees growing up on those cliffs.

We had heard of the waterfalls at Agua Azul, but nothing prepared us for their stunning beauty.

We had heard of the waterfalls at Agua Azul, but nothing prepared us for their stunning beauty.

175b (1280x758)
Local boys showing off in the pools

Local boys showing off in the pools

Kat showing off in the pools

Kat showing off in the pools

The spectacular ruins at Palenque…actually Palenque was the name of the Mayan king who built this Palace around 600AD.

The spectacular ruins at Palenque…actually Palenque was the name of the Mayan king who built this Palace around 600AD.

Palenque himself depicted here with a serpent

Palenque himself depicted here with a serpent

A decapitation, our guide told us

A decapitation, our guide told us

Nature takes back its own!  These rocks I’m standing on are really huge ruined buildings which have not been excavated.  There are thousands like this strewn throughout the jungles of the former Mayan empire.

Nature takes back its own! These rocks I’m standing on are really huge ruined buildings which have not been excavated. There are thousands like this strewn throughout the jungles of the former Mayan empire.

198nb (1280x853)
We hired Rafael to take us around.  He was more knowledgeable than we could have imagined, explaining Mayan numbering, mathematics, history, calendar, astronomy and much more.  I’d share some, but it was mind boggling, and I’ve already forgotten most of it.  I’ll let you know if it ever comes back!

We hired Rafael to take us around. He was more knowledgeable than we could have imagined, explaining Mayan numbering, mathematics, history, calendar, astronomy and much more. I’d share some, but it was mind boggling, and I’ve already forgotten most of it. I’ll let you know if it ever comes back!

191b (960x1280)
Living quarters

Living quarters

202cb (853x1280)
Rafael calmly and with a straight face explained how to eat termites and how nutritious they are.

Rafael calmly and with a straight face explained how to eat termites and how nutritious they are.

Tastes like chic….uh, carrots!

Tastes like chic….uh, carrots!

“I don’t care how much they taste like carrots, Rafael, I’m not eating a live bug!”  But I did. They really did taste like carrots!

“I don’t care how much they taste like carrots, Rafael, I’m not eating a live bug!” But I did. They really did taste like carrots!

After Palenque we made a beeline for Cancun, mostly on the autopista. However, we veered off long enough to take in Izamal, the yellow city. Almost all of the buildings in the town were painted yellow. The effect was striking.

After Palenque we made a beeline for Cancun, mostly on the autopista. However, we veered off long enough to take in Izamal, the yellow city. Almost all of the buildings in the town were painted yellow. The effect was striking.
We had no interest in Cancun, except that there is one thing that Americans can do there that they can’t do at home…stay tuned to find out what we’re up to next!

Blind Corners – Cool Stuff on the Red and Yellow Roads between Mazatlan and Mexico City

On January 26, we left Mazatlan, both surprised that we had enjoyed an entire week there and also happy to be moving on. Deciding we needed to make some time getting south, we hopped on a toll road. Our Mexico maps show these “autopistas” as green lines. They are considered the primary highways. The red line roads are called secondary roads, and the little yellow ones are tertiary. These red and yellow routes are the roads we prefer to take, along with the white dirt ones of course! Most of these roads wind circuitously up and down gorgeous mountain passes and through agricultural lands. They are generally full of blind corners and are sometimes hard to follow, providing lots of local encounters as we ask for directions. The primary (green) roads are great if you need to get somewhere quickly, but the tolls are expensive and you miss a lot. They are like freeways back in the States where exits can be many miles apart and small towns are bypassed altogether.

We made good time running south on the green 15, but north of Puerta Vallarta we jumped back on the 54, a red road, to get to San Blas. We didn’t know much about this small coastal village, but picked it as good place to start wandering the red roads down the coast toward Puerta Vallarta. Ned and I are happy to gather anecdotal information about places, but for some reason, we have done no internet research, nor have we bought any guide books. I guess it’s because we share a common spirit of exploration and prefer to discover on our own what lies around the next blind corner.

The main entrance into the village of San Blas was lined with these outdoor restaurants.  The clientele looked to be all locals…not a gringo in sight.

The main entrance into the village of San Blas was lined with these outdoor restaurants. The clientele looked to be all locals…not a gringo in sight.


Each restaurant displayed this tantalizing array of fresh seafood being cooked on open grills.  We picked out a large piece of marlin and a whole dorado.

Each restaurant displayed this tantalizing array of fresh seafood being cooked on open grills. We picked out a large piece of marlin and a whole dorado.


Yes, this was a meal for just the two of us piggies, and yes, we ate it all.  We had to fight for our meal with about a thousand flies, but it was delicious!

Yes, this was a meal for just the two of us piggies, and yes, we ate it all. We had to fight for our meal with about a thousand flies, but it was delicious!


It was getting late, so rather than trying to find a private spot on the beach we rented a palapa from a crusty fellow named Alfredo.  It looked like a lovely spot, but it became apparent very soon that this was not the best idea.  The whole area was hot, humid and just plain dirty.  Flies were not the only insectesoid inhabitants.  There were sand fleas, millions of sand fleas.  Blind corner!  Before arriving we had never heard about the sand fleas of San Blas. That’s what we get for not doing research. Since our hazing, we hear everyone talking about the infamous sand fleas of San Blas.  In spite of having mosquito screens over the open door and windows, we sweated through the muggy night while being eaten alive by the vicious creatures.  We suffered brutally for the next week with hundreds of bites that oozed and bled and itched like mad.  We had breakfast in the central plaza the next morning, but overall, found San Blas to be jaded by tourism, dirty and not really that quaint.

It was getting late, so rather than trying to find a private spot on the beach we rented a palapa from a crusty fellow named Alfredo. It looked like a lovely spot, but it became apparent very soon that this was not the best idea. The whole area was hot, humid and just plain dirty. Flies were not the only insectesoid inhabitants. There were sand fleas, millions of sand fleas. Blind corner! Before arriving we had never heard about the sand fleas of San Blas. That’s what we get for not doing research. Since our hazing, we hear everyone talking about the infamous sand fleas of San Blas. In spite of having mosquito screens over the open door and windows, we sweated through the muggy night while being eaten alive by the vicious creatures. We suffered brutally for the next week with hundreds of bites that oozed and bled and itched like mad. We had breakfast in the central plaza the next morning, but overall, found San Blas to be jaded by tourism, dirty and not really that quaint.


Amazingly, just south of muggy, buggy San Blaaaaaaas we discovered this lovely stretch of beach which we had all to ourselves.  We enjoyed several very peaceful hours just hanging out, writing the Mazatlan blog, running and working out on the beach and scratching our flea bites.

Amazingly, just south of muggy, buggy San Blaaaaaaas we discovered this lovely stretch of beach which we had all to ourselves. We enjoyed several very peaceful hours just hanging out, writing the Mazatlan blog, running and working out on the beach and scratching our flea bites.

11b (1280x960)
Later in the afternoon, following the meandering red road down the coast south of Santa Cruz, we found orchard after orchard of trees growing these very large, strange dangling things.

Later in the afternoon, following the meandering red road down the coast south of Santa Cruz, we found orchard after orchard of trees growing these very large, strange dangling things.


After miles of puzzling over the mystery orchards we spotted this sign in El Llano showing a picture of the dangly thing.  “Pull over!” I cried.

After miles of puzzling over the mystery orchards we spotted this sign in El Llano showing a picture of the dangly thing. “Pull over!” I cried.

It was a place that served homemade helados (ice cream).  The lovely girl spoke no English, but I asked her about the thing on the sign.  She explained that it was a Jacka or Jack Fruit and most of the helados were made with the fruit.  We couldn’t resist.  Ned had a pure Jacka ice cream with a Jacka marmalade topping, and I had coconut (another major local crop) ice cream with the Jacka marmalade topping.  I don’t usually eat sweets and hadn’t had ice cream in years, but I have to say this was like heaven!  Unusual flavors and so worth it!    So I had to ask…”Why is it called Jack Fruit?  That’s not a Spanish name.”  Ok, here’s the story.  Remember, this was all in Spanish, but I swear this is what she said.  (Some of you will probably Google it and you can correct me if I got it wrong.) There was an American soldier named Jack who was starving in the Jungles of Viet Nam during the war.  At one point the nice ice cream girl mentioned World War 2, but I’m pretty sure she meant the Viet Nam War.  Anyway, Jack discovered this fruit, and it kept him alive.  When he returned home to Miami he brought some “semillas” (seeds) with him, and the Jack Fruit became a big commercial crop.  Someone (not sure who) then exported the seeds to this region of Mexico, where there are now acres and acres of flourishing Jacka orchards.  Implausible?  Sure, but I’m going with it!

It was a place that served homemade helados (ice cream). The lovely girl spoke no English, but I asked her about the thing on the sign. She explained that it was a Jacka or Jack Fruit and most of the helados were made with the fruit. We couldn’t resist. Ned had a pure Jacka ice cream with a Jacka marmalade topping, and I had coconut (another major local crop) ice cream with the Jacka marmalade topping. I don’t usually eat sweets and hadn’t had ice cream in years, but I have to say this was like heaven! Unusual flavors and so worth it!
So I had to ask…”Why is it called Jack Fruit? That’s not a Spanish name.” Ok, here’s the story. Remember, this was all in Spanish, but I swear this is what she said. (Some of you will probably Google it and you can correct me if I got it wrong.)
There was an American soldier named Jack who was starving in the Jungles of Viet Nam during the war. At one point the nice ice cream girl mentioned World War 2, but I’m pretty sure she meant the Viet Nam War. Anyway, Jack discovered this fruit, and it kept him alive. When he returned home to Miami he brought some “semillas” (seeds) with him, and the Jack Fruit became a big commercial crop. Someone (not sure who) then exported the seeds to this region of Mexico, where there are now acres and acres of flourishing Jacka orchards. Implausible? Sure, but I’m going with it!


Since it had already been an afternoon of discoveries, we were delighted to spot this sign directing the way to Playa Las Tortugas, Turtle Beach.  It was about four miles off the main road and all along the way the signs warned against driving vehicles on the beach.  How exciting!  This had to be a turtle sanctuary.  We knew this area was a natural habitat for sea turtles and could not wait to see what was going on there.

Since it had already been an afternoon of discoveries, we were delighted to spot this sign directing the way to Playa Las Tortugas, Turtle Beach. It was about four miles off the main road and all along the way the signs warned against driving vehicles on the beach. How exciting! This had to be a turtle sanctuary. We knew this area was a natural habitat for sea turtles and could not wait to see what was going on there.


We drove through some beautiful agricultural fields and then through a coconut palm orchard…

We drove through some beautiful agricultural fields and then through a coconut palm orchard…

…where we arrived at this sign…What???

…where we arrived at this sign…What???


Were we duped!  We laughed so hard at ourselves.  It was a gorgeous resort with huge, expensive villas like this for sale and rent.  We wanted to drive through to look around, but the Mexican gate keeper looked dubiously at Charlotte and shook his head.  He did kindly tell us that we could drive back down the road a half mile, then through the palm orchard where we could camp on the beach.  It was getting dark, so we were grateful for the tip.

Were we duped! We laughed so hard at ourselves. It was a gorgeous resort with huge, expensive villas like this for sale and rent. We wanted to drive through to look around, but the Mexican gate keeper looked dubiously at Charlotte and shook his head. He did kindly tell us that we could drive back down the road a half mile, then through the palm orchard where we could camp on the beach. It was getting dark, so we were grateful for the tip.


The mosquitoes were bad here, so we put up our awning with our homemade netting and cooked up an impromptu supper.

The mosquitoes were bad here, so we put up our awning with our homemade netting and cooked up an impromptu supper.


This one is for Jason and Danielle who gave us this awesome Bug Zapper.  Thanks you two, best tool ever!  Get ‘em Ned! Sitting in our little anti mosquito room, listening to music and enjoying some quiet solitude together, we suddenly realized that there were things crawling on our feet and legs.  Grabbing a headlamp, we found red ants all over us.  Our safe zone did not preclude ground crawlers!  Fortunately they were not the biting kind, so we swung our legs sideways over our chair arms (off the ground), rested our heads together and continued with our musical interlude.

This one is for Jason and Danielle who gave us this awesome Bug Zapper. Thanks you two, best tool ever! Get ‘em Ned!
Sitting in our little anti mosquito room, listening to music and enjoying some quiet solitude together, we suddenly realized that there were things crawling on our feet and legs. Grabbing a headlamp, we found red ants all over us. Our safe zone did not preclude ground crawlers! Fortunately they were not the biting kind, so we swung our legs sideways over our chair arms (off the ground), rested our heads together and continued with our musical interlude.


The morning presented us with this lovely scene, but we were over the ants and the mosquitoes.  We were still deep into our itch-fest from the sand fleas, so we moved on without coffee, breakfast or exercises.

The morning presented us with this lovely scene, but we were over the ants and the mosquitoes. We were still deep into our itch-fest from the sand fleas, so we moved on without coffee, breakfast or exercises.

We had had good reports about a town called Sayulita, and decided to drive around for a look. It was a lively, energetic place. Although it was quaint, colorful and artsy, it was also hugely crowded with Americans, Canadians and Europeans, both visiting and living there. We drove on without stopping; great town, just not our style.

Showers and the Internet awaited us at a two night hotel stop-over in the town of Bucerias, home to friends Peter and Nancy. This adventurous couple spent six years sailing around the Caribbean, Mexico and Central and South America, and we had a great time visiting and getting some helpful anecdotal information about Mexico.

Our goal after Bucerias was to spend at least one night in nearby Puerta Vallarta exploring the city. After 30 minutes of driving around the bustling city, we found an illegal parking spot and strolled down to the Malecon, the oceanfront walkway. It was lovely, and the restaurants looked very nice, but we were not enthused. Turned off by the crowded streets and booming tourism, we realized that, for now at least, this was the wrong track. We needed to get out of the city and back onto the red and yellow roads.

We were very hungry however, but rather than fancy dining on the waterfront, we opted for this awesome taco stand way back on a residential side street of Puerta Vallarta.  This is Maria, who served us delicious pork stew out of her crock pot.  Maria lived upstairs and had six grandchildren, two of which came in for a snack while we were eating.  We were treated like grandkids ourselves, and it was so delicious we had seconds (which made Maria smile even more).  Then we high-tailed it out of Puerta Vallarta! We took the 70 east (a red road) and headed up into the mountains. These two desert rats were immediately relieved and happy to be off of the buggy, muggy coast.

We were very hungry however, but rather than fancy dining on the waterfront, we opted for this awesome taco stand way back on a residential side street of Puerta Vallarta. This is Maria, who served us delicious pork stew out of her crock pot. Maria lived upstairs and had six grandchildren, two of which came in for a snack while we were eating. We were treated like grandkids ourselves, and it was so delicious we had seconds (which made Maria smile even more). Then we high-tailed it out of Puerta Vallarta! We took the 70 east (a red road) and headed up into the mountains. These two desert rats were immediately relieved and happy to be off of the buggy, muggy coast.


Tempting roadside attractions.

Tempting roadside attractions.


We drove by this charming place in La Estancia, outside of San Sebastián in the state of Jalisco and realized that it was a tequila distillery.  Looks like we hit the jackpot on this blind corner!

We drove by this charming place in La Estancia, outside of San Sebastián in the state of Jalisco and realized that it was a tequila distillery. Looks like we hit the jackpot on this blind corner!


The still!  Tequila in the making.

The still! Tequila in the making.


Eduardo, the owner was passionate about his tequila.

Eduardo, the owner was passionate about his tequila.


The fun part…tasting!  I’m not sure how, but two bottles, one coffee flavored and one regular ended up in our “pantry.”

The fun part…tasting! I’m not sure how, but two bottles, one coffee flavored and one regular ended up in our “pantry.”


Who needs tail lights? For that matter, who needs a horse trailer?

Who needs tail lights? For that matter, who needs a horse trailer?


The region had very nice feel. We drove on through beautiful wooded mountains and river gorges.  There were more haciendas than ranchos, and the whole area had a more Spanish than native Indian flavor.  The towns were clean and cute, and the people were happy, friendly and prideful.  The river gorges eventually gave way to rolling green hills and fertile valleys tucked between thickly forested mountains rising to alpine heights of 7,000 ft.  Glossy cattle grazed on the hillsides and healthy orchards grew on the valley floors.

The region had very nice feel. We drove on through beautiful wooded mountains and river gorges. There were more haciendas than ranchos, and the whole area had a more Spanish than native Indian flavor. The towns were clean and cute, and the people were happy, friendly and prideful. The river gorges eventually gave way to rolling green hills and fertile valleys tucked between thickly forested mountains rising to alpine heights of 7,000 ft. Glossy cattle grazed on the hillsides and healthy orchards grew on the valley floors.


It was getting late, and this lone restaurant just outside of Mascota caught our attention. We had an awesome dinner cooked and served by Berta, her daughter, Eva and the rest of the family. This was cattle country, so of course our plates were loaded with Arrachera, which is marinated, grilled skirt steak.  Tender and delicious.

It was getting late, and this lone restaurant just outside of Mascota caught our attention. We had an awesome dinner cooked and served by Berta, her daughter, Eva and the rest of the family. This was cattle country, so of course our plates were loaded with Arrachera, which is marinated, grilled skirt steak. Tender and delicious.


Ahhh…Micheladas…beer with chili pepper, Clamato and lime with a salted rim.

Ahhh…Micheladas…beer with chili pepper, Clamato and lime with a salted rim.


It was dark by the time we finished eating, and the family was going to let us stay overnight in their parking lot.  Then Eva's husband mentioned that it would be quieter in the field across the street, so this is where we spent a very peaceful night.  The family was warm and caring, and we were happy to be sleeping in Charlotte up in mountains where it was cooler and quieter…and no bugs!

It was dark by the time we finished eating, and the family was going to let us stay overnight in their parking lot. Then Eva’s husband mentioned that it would be quieter in the field across the street, so this is where we spent a very peaceful night. The family was warm and caring, and we were happy to be sleeping in Charlotte up in mountains where it was cooler and quieter…and no bugs!


We loved the town of Mascota.

We loved the town of Mascota.


65acb (1280x945)
We had (much needed) coffee and breakfast in a little café with a European flare. (It kind of looks like I have some of that tequila in my mug rather than coffee!)

We had (much needed) coffee and breakfast in a little café with a European flare. (It kind of looks like I have some of that tequila in my mug rather than coffee!)


Luz Marie and her employees made our wonderful meal.  Luz Marie had an interesting philosophy.  Most of the other Mexicans we spoke with warned us that the state of Michocan was too dangerous (thanks to the drug lords) to travel through.  But Luz Marie had just come from a nice visit to the capital city and was emphatic that there are good and bad people anywhere you go.  We tend to agree with her.

Luz Marie and her employees made our wonderful meal. Luz Marie had an interesting philosophy. Most of the other Mexicans we spoke with warned us that the state of Michocan was too dangerous (thanks to the drug lords) to travel through. But Luz Marie had just come from a nice visit to the capital city and was emphatic that there are good and bad people anywhere you go. We tend to agree with her.


At a small market in Mascota this little lady was actually hand-making piñatas.

At a small market in Mascota this little lady was actually hand-making piñatas.


And this lady was hand-making shoes!  These had genuine tire tread soles and a very native Indian style…I had to buy them…for a whole 150 pesos ($12).

And this lady was hand-making shoes! These had genuine tire tread soles and a very native Indian style…I had to buy them…for a whole 150 pesos ($12).


Local boys shooting the breeze in the central plaza of Mascota.

Local boys shooting the breeze in the central plaza of Mascota.


Berta had told us that Talpa de Allende, a village about 10 miles off of the 70, was holding a festival for the national holiday, Dia de Candelaria and that thousands of pelegrinos (pilgrims) would be making their way into the village to pray to the Virgin Mary.  Many, she said would be arriving crawling on hands and knees in spiritual humility.  She warned us that it would be too busy and that we should avoid it.  To us it sounded like a local experience not to be missed!

Berta had told us that Talpa de Allende, a village about 10 miles off of the 70, was holding a festival for the national holiday, Dia de Candelaria and that thousands of pelegrinos (pilgrims) would be making their way into the village to pray to the Virgin Mary. Many, she said would be arriving crawling on hands and knees in spiritual humility. She warned us that it would be too busy and that we should avoid it. To us it sounded like a local experience not to be missed!


Many groups paraded into the square to wait their turn in the church, and the village was hopping.  Lively music sprang from several bands, street vendors lined the central plaza, children played and adults gathered.  And this was only Friday.  Sunday would be the biggest day of all.

Many groups paraded into the square to wait their turn in the church, and the village was hopping. Lively music sprang from several bands, street vendors lined the central plaza, children played and adults gathered. And this was only Friday. Sunday would be the biggest day of all.


There were also several groups in native attire…but none crawling on hands and knees.

There were also several groups in native attire…but none crawling on hands and knees.


84b (1280x1176)
Talpa.  “It’s just another town along the road” -JB

Talpa. “It’s just another town along the road” -JB

We continued east on the 70 and through more beautiful country, then turned south onto an unnumbered yellow road at Ameca toward San Martin de Hidalgo. We eventually came to Laguna Chapala, the largest lake in Mexico (but very shallow) where we took the south shore road. We did not care at all for the feel of the place. It was dirty, and the people were not as friendly, appearing rather wary of foreigners. Darkness fell, and the traffic was horrific. To make matters worse, the road was under construction the entire way along the lake. There was neither a place to camp nor any hotels or motels. We were agitated and had nowhere to spend the night.

So this is where we hit our all time camping low.  We found this tiny dirt track paralleling the highway and under an over pass.  It was loud from trucks rattling over the overpass, full of garbage and smelled like a dead carcass.  But it required 4-wheel-drive to get there, and it was pretty well hidden from the road.  It was the best we could do.  We could not put the screens up because of the smell, so it was hot and stuffy in the bus. We spent a restless, paranoid night and got out of there at dawn.  With dread, I held my nose and jumped out to snap this photo.  This is definitely one of the risks of adventuring forward, off the beaten path with no plan.

So this is where we hit our all time camping low. We found this tiny dirt track paralleling the highway and under an over pass. It was loud from trucks rattling over the overpass, full of garbage and smelled like a dead carcass. But it required 4-wheel-drive to get there, and it was pretty well hidden from the road. It was the best we could do. We could not put the screens up because of the smell, so it was hot and stuffy in the bus. We spent a restless, paranoid night and got out of there at dawn. With dread, I held my nose and jumped out to snap this photo. This is definitely one of the risks of adventuring forward, off the beaten path with no plan.


The risks of not knowing what lies around the next blind corner, however, are offset by the wonderful surprises that await us.  We were now driving yellow roads northeast of La Barca and through Ayotlan and had not seen another gringo tourist since Puerta Vallarta. Yay! In this tiny village of Jesus Maria I jumped out of Charlotte to ask this young man if I could take a picture of him with his donkey.  He not only let me get the photo, but he offered to let me ride the sweet critter!  Not going to get that in Puerta Vallarta!

The risks of not knowing what lies around the next blind corner, however, are offset by the wonderful surprises that await us. We were now driving yellow roads northeast of La Barca and through Ayotlan and had not seen another gringo tourist since Puerta Vallarta. Yay! In this tiny village of Jesus Maria I jumped out of Charlotte to ask this young man if I could take a picture of him with his donkey. He not only let me get the photo, but he offered to let me ride the sweet critter! Not going to get that in Puerta Vallarta!


Another discovery along the yellow road…this ancient estate, Hacienda de Atotonilquillo was build in 1613 by a Spanish rancher and later, in 1650 was sold to Jesuit priests.  We got the grand tour from Cuauhtemoc who, ironically, was proud of his Aztec heritage.

Another discovery along the yellow road…this ancient estate, Hacienda de Atotonilquillo was build in 1613 by a Spanish rancher and later, in 1650 was sold to Jesuit priests. We got the grand tour from Cuauhtemoc who, ironically, was proud of his Aztec heritage.


One of several large bedrooms

One of several large bedrooms


The chapel

The chapel


Signing Cuauhtemoc’s guest book, we observed that the few visitors he received were Mexican.  This was a remote area.

Signing Cuauhtemoc’s guest book, we observed that the few visitors he received were Mexican. This was a remote area.


Traveling northeast on more yellow roads, we passed field after field of blue agave, the origins of blue agave tequila.

Traveling northeast on more yellow roads, we passed field after field of blue agave, the origins of blue agave tequila.


As the day ended we found ourselves driving through privately owned agricultural lands with no open space in which to camp.  We spotted some far off hills which looked undeveloped; promising camping turf.  Off we went at sunset, heading through some corn fields, trying to follow the power lines to get to those hills.  But we got busted.  We passed an old farmer in his truck who motioned us to stop.  We did not.  We kept hoping we could get to the hills.  Though it was now dark, we could see his truck in the next field over, stalking us.  Neither of us had our lights on.  He knew we were going to hit a dead end.  When we did, we had no choice but to go and meet him face to face.  We turned on our lights and so did he. When we met, Kat hopped out, playing the lost tourist.  He and a younger man got out of their truck to meet her. The old man was bristling, asking if we were lost and telling us that every bit of land we saw was his.  She smiled and explained that we were trying to get to the hills to camp but could not find our way, could he please help us.  Fortunately her Spanish has been coming back nicely which really helped as he spoke no English. He warmed quickly as they chatted.  We introduced ourselves formally.  “Alfredo” then insisted we camp right there in his field next to a shack where his son and daughter-in-law slept to watch over the farm.  We were apprehensive at first, but were delighted when his son, Gorge showed up with his friendly wife Leticia, who hugged us both when we met.

As the day ended we found ourselves driving through privately owned agricultural lands with no open space in which to camp. We spotted some far off hills which looked undeveloped; promising camping turf. Off we went at sunset, heading through some corn fields, trying to follow the power lines to get to those hills. But we got busted. We passed an old farmer in his truck who motioned us to stop. We did not. We kept hoping we could get to the hills. Though it was now dark, we could see his truck in the next field over, stalking us. Neither of us had our lights on. He knew we were going to hit a dead end. When we did, we had no choice but to go and meet him face to face. We turned on our lights and so did he. When we met, Kat hopped out, playing the lost tourist. He and a younger man got out of their truck to meet her. The old man was bristling, asking if we were lost and telling us that every bit of land we saw was his. She smiled and explained that we were trying to get to the hills to camp but could not find our way, could he please help us. Fortunately her Spanish has been coming back nicely which really helped as he spoke no English. He warmed quickly as they chatted. We introduced ourselves formally. “Alfredo” then insisted we camp right there in his field next to a shack where his son and daughter-in-law slept to watch over the farm. We were apprehensive at first, but were delighted when his son, Gorge showed up with his friendly wife Leticia, who hugged us both when we met.


We spent a very peaceful night in Alfredo’s field.  In the morning Gorge and Leticia pointed us to a water tank to wash (I guess we smelled like we needed it!).  Amazingly, it turned out there was a hot springs on the site. The water was hot! They cooled it in a reservoir and then used it to irrigate the tomato fields.

We spent a very peaceful night in Alfredo’s field. In the morning Gorge and Leticia pointed us to a water tank to wash (I guess we smelled like we needed it!). Amazingly, it turned out there was a hot springs on the site. The water was hot! They cooled it in a reservoir and then used it to irrigate the tomato fields.


And then, to our delight, we were invited to breakfast.  Another great surprise around a blind corner!  We followed Gorge and Leticia to their home which was next to Alfredo’s. The whole family lived in a large compound just outside the village of Romita, with several family dwellings all sharing common kitchen and bathroom facilities.

And then, to our delight, we were invited to breakfast. Another great surprise around a blind corner! We followed Gorge and Leticia to their home which was next to Alfredo’s. The whole family lived in a large compound just outside the village of Romita, with several family dwellings all sharing common kitchen and bathroom facilities.


It was Sunday, and on Sundays the family enjoys a special breakfast of menudo.  I tried hard to appear enthusiastic as I gulped the rubbery guts in trepidation.  Menudo is a spicy tomato based soup featuring the stomach lining of pigs…uggh, but when in Rome… The experience was exceptional and the family was warm, welcoming and gracious. It was interesting to notice the men claimed the table and the seats. The women and children waited for the men to be served before helping themselves to what was left. We felt so guilty gagging on the ghastly gastronomicals as the kids watched us hungrily. We obviously had cut into their portion of their once-a-week breakfast treat.

It was Sunday, and on Sundays the family enjoys a special breakfast of menudo. I tried hard to appear enthusiastic as I gulped the rubbery guts in trepidation. Menudo is a spicy tomato based soup featuring the stomach lining of pigs…uggh, but when in Rome…
The experience was exceptional and the family was warm, welcoming and gracious. It was interesting to notice the men claimed the table and the seats. The women and children waited for the men to be served before helping themselves to what was left. We felt so guilty gagging on the ghastly gastronomicals as the kids watched us hungrily. We obviously had cut into their portion of their once-a-week breakfast treat.


After breakfast I noticed the men got up and left the kitchen for the barnyard, so I followed suit. The kids were then allowed to sit and eat their menudo and Kat offered to show the ladies photos of our trip.  When she came out to get her laptop she found me sharing shots of tequila with the boys…at 9:00am!  But, of course, it was Sunday. I asked if they went to church since everyone is Catholic and every town has an elaborate church. They laughed and said Sunday was tequila day!

After breakfast I noticed the men got up and left the kitchen for the barnyard, so I followed suit. The kids were then allowed to sit and eat their menudo and Kat offered to show the ladies photos of our trip. When she came out to get her laptop she found me sharing shots of tequila with the boys…at 9:00am! But, of course, it was Sunday. I asked if they went to church since everyone is Catholic and every town has an elaborate church. They laughed and said Sunday was tequila day!


The guys also said Sunday was no trabajo (work) day but that didn’t apply to old Alfredo. He buzzed around the compound feeding cows, moving bags of feed, etc. while the younger guys just hung out and drank. I felt kinda guilty watching him so slipped away and took some pictures of him.

The guys also said Sunday was no trabajo (work) day but that didn’t apply to old Alfredo. He buzzed around the compound feeding cows, moving bags of feed, etc. while the younger guys just hung out and drank. I felt kinda guilty watching him so slipped away and took some pictures of him.


144b (1280x960)
It was a tearful goodbye at 11am when we took final pictures and rolled out of there – Kat bleary with tears, me blurry with tequila and beer.

It was a tearful goodbye at 11am when we took final pictures and rolled out of there – Kat bleary with tears, me blurry with tequila and beer.


The guys may not go to church on Sundays, but the women did.  They were all cleaned up and ready to go into town.

The guys may not go to church on Sundays, but the women did. They were all cleaned up and ready to go into town.


Our next destination was Guanajuato, a hill town known for its cool tunnels that undermine the town. Most of the traffic is routed beneath the city in ancient, stone-lined tunnels that wind everywhere. It’s easy to get lost in them and I was glad to have a maneuverable Charlotte to navigate them. We never could have gone here in some of the huge Overland trucks and motorhomes we have seen.

Our next destination was Guanajuato, a hill town known for its cool tunnels that undermine the town. Most of the traffic is routed beneath the city in ancient, stone-lined tunnels that wind everywhere. It’s easy to get lost in them and I was glad to have a maneuverable Charlotte to navigate them. We never could have gone here in some of the huge Overland trucks and motorhomes we have seen.


152b (1280x1047)
Overlooking Guanajuato with its colorful buildings.

Overlooking Guanajuato with its colorful buildings.


The main market caught our attention and camera lens.

The main market caught our attention and camera lens.


165b (1280x960)
167b (1280x913)
171b (1280x960)
172b (1280x960)
Because most of the traffic was in the tunnels, many of the streets of the hilly town were catacombs of tiny walkways make up mostly of steep stairs.

Because most of the traffic was in the tunnels, many of the streets of the hilly town were catacombs of tiny walkways make up mostly of steep stairs.


181gb (853x1280)
Local parking for the public bathroom.

Local parking for the public bathroom.


We moved on from Guanajuato to San Miguel de Allende, a beautiful artsy city to the east. Many ex-pat artists live here, and we found the place to have a lively, international feel to it. It being a four day Mexican holiday, San Miguel, like Guanajuato was packed with Mexican tourists on holiday from Mexico City. They were a pleasant relief from the hordes of gringo tourists in the coastal towns. Here the gringo, Canadian and Europeans seemed to blend in and we c ouldn’t tell who lived there and who was visiting.

We moved on from Guanajuato to San Miguel de Allende, a beautiful artsy city to the east. Many ex-pat artists live here, and we found the place to have a lively, international feel to it. It being a four day Mexican holiday, San Miguel, like Guanajuato was packed with Mexican tourists on holiday from Mexico City. They were a pleasant relief from the hordes of gringo tourists in the coastal towns. Here the gringo, Canadian and Europeans seemed to blend in and we couldn’t tell who lived there and who was visiting.


The Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel Cathedral was a site to behold at dusk. Its tolling bells could be heard for miles around.

The Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel Cathedral was a site to behold at dusk. Its tolling bells could be heard for miles around.


Since the town was packed we found all the hotels full, so we did the next best thing when in an urban environment and in need of a shower, we checked in to our first RV park. The Weber RV and tennis club contained the first “Overland” vehicles we have encountered since the Baja ferry. We were wondering where they all were. There were also many motorhomes, most of them parked for months, their owners hiding out from the cold northern winters of their homelands. We set up our ARB awning and fit right in.

Since the town was packed we found all the hotels full, so we did the next best thing when in an urban environment and in need of a shower, we checked in to our first RV park. The Weber RV and tennis club contained the first “Overland” vehicles we have encountered since the Baja ferry. We were wondering where they all were. There were also many motorhomes, most of them parked for months, their owners hiding out from the cold northern winters of their homelands. We set up our ARB awning and fit right in.


We stayed in San Miguel de Allende for two days enjoying the restaurants and cool vibes of the town. Not being much for art and art galleries, I can’t say we indulged in the many available, but we really liked the nursery market with its amazing botanical displays…

We stayed in San Miguel de Allende for two days enjoying the restaurants and cool vibes of the town. Not being much for art and art galleries, I can’t say we indulged in the many available, but we really liked the nursery market with its amazing botanical displays…


202b (1280x960)
203b (960x1280)
Kat overheard the mother of these kids explaining to them the importance of taking care of their newly acquired tiny, potted plants. They happily posed for a proud picture with their new possessions. Just like American kids right? lol – maybe if they were cell phones!

Kat overheard the mother of these kids explaining to them the importance of taking care of their newly acquired tiny, potted plants. They happily posed for a proud picture with their new possessions. Just like American kids right? lol – maybe if they were cell phones!


After our RV experience it was back to hiding in the bush for us. We headed southward towards Parque Los Marmoles on as many yellow roads as we could. Why? Because nobody had said anything about it so we figured we’d be the only gringos there - more blind corners. En-route we camped back in the high desert where Kat dreamed up a tasty chicken soup.

After our RV experience it was back to hiding in the bush for us. We headed southward towards Parque Los Marmoles on as many yellow roads as we could. Why? Because nobody had said anything about it so we figured we’d be the only gringos there – more blind corners. En-route we camped back in the high desert where Kat dreamed up a tasty chicken soup.


Trail-side Chicken Soup ala Charlotte for you to try out: Chop up giant green onions Brown in olive oil in big soup pot Add cut up boneless skinless chicken breast (actually I cut it up with kitchen shears in the pan so I didn't dirty up the cutting board) Brown chicken Cut up and add: Some Mushrooms 2 Big Roma tomatoes  3 Tomatillos 1 Broccoli crown 1 Large carrot Add:   Splash of balsamic vinegar Big Drizzle of lime juice Salt Pepper Basil Cook till veggies done Add some Parmesan cheese and serve It was quite tasty, but please don’t ask me for any measurements…I don’t have any idea!

Trail-side Chicken Soup ala Charlotte for you to try out:
Chop up giant green onions
Brown in olive oil in big soup pot
Add cut up boneless skinless chicken breast (actually I cut it up with kitchen shears in the pan so I didn’t dirty up the cutting board)
Brown chicken
Cut up and add:
Some Mushrooms
2 Big Roma tomatoes
3 Tomatillos
1 Broccoli crown
1 Large carrot
Add:
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Big Drizzle of lime juice
Salt
Pepper
Basil
Cook till veggies done
Add some Parmesan cheese and serve
It was quite tasty, but please don’t ask me for any measurements…I don’t have any idea!


These guys enjoyed watching our morning rituals.

These guys enjoyed watching our morning rituals.


The following morning we were in awe passing by Presa Zimapan, a manmade reservoir that didn’t even show up on our maps. There were two amazing tunnels, each about two miles long, incorporated into the cliff hugging road, carved into the mountainside along the lake’s northern shore. There wasn’t another car in site the whole length of the lake.

The following morning we were in awe passing by Presa Zimapan, a manmade reservoir that didn’t even show up on our maps. There were two amazing tunnels, each about two miles long, incorporated into the cliff hugging road, carved into the mountainside along the lake’s northern shore. There wasn’t another car in site the whole length of the lake.


227ab (1280x960)
228b (1280x960)
Both tunnels and the dam were guarded with military outposts, presumably to ward off terrorists (?) - just like Hoover Dam. When we tried to take pictures, the soldiers waved their AKs at us and said “no photos”! So Kat snapped this one from her lap at the huge, man-made cliff that had been blasted to form the dam and roadway.

Both tunnels and the dam were guarded with military outposts, presumably to ward off terrorists (?) – just like Hoover Dam. When we tried to take pictures, the soldiers waved their AKs at us and said “no photos”! So Kat snapped this one from her lap at the huge, man-made cliff that had been blasted to form the dam and roadway.


Leaving the dam, the road climbed through gorgeous canyons and afforded amazing views back at the unmarked reservoir.

Leaving the dam, the road climbed through gorgeous canyons and afforded amazing views back at the unmarked reservoir.


244b (1280x1019)
After driving for two days on great back (yellow) roads past everything from machine gun guarded dams to marble mines, we arrived at the mystery Parque Los Marmoles on which we’d originally set our sights.  Alas, as we climbed the steep road into the mountainous area of the Park, the clouds socked in and it began to drizzle. Our first rain of the trip! However, we couldn’t see a thing and after an hour’s driving north and seeing nothing but fog, we gave up and turned tail, heading south towards Mexico City. Ah well, as we’ve said before, it’s the journey, not the destination.

After driving for two days on great back (yellow) roads past everything from machine gun guarded dams to marble mines, we arrived at the mystery Parque Los Marmoles on which we’d originally set our sights. Alas, as we climbed the steep road into the mountainous area of the Park, the clouds socked in and it began to drizzle. Our first rain of the trip! However, we couldn’t see a thing and after an hour’s driving north and seeing nothing but fog, we gave up and turned tail, heading south towards Mexico City. Ah well, as we’ve said before, it’s the journey, not the destination.


Late in the day, after our foiled Parque viewing, we rolled into urban hell. All along we’ve been saying we were going to avoid Mexico City and its roughly 20,000,000 inhabitants. But, at the last minute, I decided maybe we should drive within 25 miles or so of the city center, get a hotel with safe parking for Charlotte, and take the bus into the heart of the city for a day to look around.  Well… that plan didn’t work out very well. Seems 25 miles was way too close to the core. We got sucked into toll-road freeway hell and couldn’t get off. The next thing we knew we were spit out into inner city horn honking, bus spewing, graffitied walls, middle-of-the-street vendor hawking, people crowded, urban hell and we were totally lost. Mr. Garmin, aka Einstein, as usual, was also lost, and, it had just gotten dark enough that we needed the headlights!  How did we survive? Stay tune next time. :-)

Late in the day, after our foiled Parque viewing, we rolled into urban hell. All along we’ve been saying we were going to avoid Mexico City and its roughly 20,000,000 inhabitants. But, at the last minute, I decided maybe we should drive within 25 miles or so of the city center, get a hotel with safe parking for Charlotte, and take the bus into the heart of the city for a day to look around. Well… that plan didn’t work out very well. Seems 25 miles was way too close to the core. We got sucked into toll-road freeway hell and couldn’t get off. The next thing we knew we were spit out into inner city horn honking, bus spewing, graffitied walls, middle-of-the-street vendor hawking, people crowded, urban hell and we were totally lost. Mr. Garmin, aka Einstein, as usual, was also lost, and, it had just gotten dark enough that we needed the headlights! How did we survive? Stay tune next time. :-)

Mazatlan Fluff

After five weeks and 4,000 miles on the road, I thought it would be fun to not only report on Mazatlan, but also to check in on how we are doing and what this vagabond life is like on a daily basis.

We seem to find ourselves settling into two very different travel modes, each with its own pros, cons, routines and idiosyncrasies. The first is when we are in more urban environments and unable to camp. There have been a few overnights in hotel parking lots, but most of these times we have opted for motels and hotels. So far these stays have landed on the heels of camping in the wilderness for days on end, so I have to admit the biggest blessing that comes with renting a room is a shower! Since leaving home, water temperatures have ranged from cold, to tepid, to truly hot, and our longest shower-free stint has been six days. By contrast, hot water and good pressure is the very lap of luxury.

As Ned told you in our last blog, we ended up in Mazatlan after roughing it in the Copper Canyon. Oddly, we stayed six nights. Normally we would have been gnashing our teeth to keep moving, to get out of the city and onto back roads, but there is something so different about having an open-ended trip. I think this was when it hit us that we didn’t need to get back home…we didn’t need to be ANYWHERE. Neither of us has ever been in that position. It was surrealistically relaxing, like being wrapped in a big, warm, cozy blanket. We kept looking at each other saying, “Why not stay another day…we could go explore the city some more…” Words like that have never before left either of our lips!

So stay we did. We took our time preparing our blogs. We hung out at the pool (really?). We walked and rode bikes on the Malecon (waterfront sidewalk). We took pictures of sculptures. We ate a lot. We explored the old-town. We ate a lot. We visited with our friends from Canada. We rented a Waverunner. We drank lots of beer. We ran barefoot on the beach. We explored the local market. And we took lots of showers (my record standing at three in one day).

Our timing coincided with a vacation our friends, Ian and Susan from Canada had booked at a very nice resort called Pueblo Bonito, so we stayed our first two nights there. Whew, was that out of character. Charlotte roared into the place looking like a 19th century-mountain man at a proper High Tea and I’m afraid we didn’t look any better. But we really enjoyed catching up with our friends, and oh were those showers wonderful.

After two nights at the posh Pueblo Bonito we decided to slum it a little and got a very nice, basic room in town at the Best Western (where for a fraction of the cost, there was actually working wifi, an equally good shower AND free breakfast).

Definitely fluff!  Hanging out a bit at the Pueblo Bonito Resort in Mazatlan.

Definitely fluff! Hanging out a bit at the Pueblo Bonito Resort in Mazatlan.

Ian and Ned playing a little beach Frisbee

Ian and Ned playing a little beach Frisbee

The beach outside our Best Western Hotel

The beach outside our Best Western Hotel

A little beachside serenade while sitting at the Best Western poolside bar

A little beachside serenade while sitting at the Best Western poolside bar

Sunset parasailing – another view from the Best Western

Sunset parasailing – another view from the Best Western

Ian and Susan left the posh Pueblo Bonito to visit us at our Best Western, where Ian demonstrated that he can walk on water.

Ian and Susan left the posh Pueblo Bonito to visit us at our Best Western, where Ian demonstrated that he can walk on water.

The city of Mazatlan encourages “art graffiti” and we enjoyed these little finds while exploring the city.

The city of Mazatlan encourages “art graffiti” and we enjoyed these little finds while exploring the city.

8 (1280x960)
Lots of unusual sculptures lined the Malecon, the beachside walkway in Mazatlan.

Lots of unusual sculptures lined the Malecon, the beachside walkway in Mazatlan.

10 (1174x1280)
More beach sculpture…?

More beach sculpture…?

Wait…

Wait…

Oh!!

Oh!!

14 (968x1280)
Ok, I’ll admit, we did have to bribe him with 100 pesos ($8) to do the dive, but it was worth it for the photos, right?

Ok, I’ll admit, we did have to bribe him with 100 pesos ($8) to do the dive, but it was worth it for the photos, right?

Local markets…one of my favorite parts of international travel…this one did not disappoint!

Local markets…one of my favorite parts of international travel…this one did not disappoint!

Designed by a protégée of Eiffel (Eiffel Tower), the structure of this big open-air market is vaguely familiar.

Designed by a protégée of Eiffel (Eiffel Tower), the structure of this big open-air market is vaguely familiar.

This market had it all, energy, color, clothing, food, and it was totally clean (unlike some third world markets).

This market had it all, energy, color, clothing, food, and it was totally clean (unlike some third world markets).

This market was a foodie paradise!

This market was a foodie paradise!

Notice more of the Eiffelesque structural design.

Notice more of the Eiffelesque structural design.

There were even stalls with canned goods…beautifully displayed.

There were even stalls with canned goods…beautifully displayed.

Dulces…candy!

Dulces…candy!

The bulk aisle…

The bulk aisle…

Apologies to the vegetarians for the next few…but you just have to see this stuff.

Apologies to the vegetarians for the next few…but you just have to see this stuff.

24 (1280x960)25 (1280x960)26 (1280x960)
The best thing about travel is that it takes us out of our comfort zones… We did think the poor guy was kind of cute, though.

The best thing about travel is that it takes us out of our comfort zones… We did think the poor guy was kind of cute, though.

Enjoying Mazatlan was a surprise. It was a gift given to us by time; a gift of vagabond living and an unplanned future, but camping mode is, of course, much more natural for us. We love it. Living on the road, out of the bus is so very basic. Life boils down to just a few important things like navigation, food, fuel, water and safe places to camp. In the back country our minds are sharper and more focused on survival, we observe vivid landscapes with breathtaking acuity, and daily routines are more like daily rituals.

Just for fun, I thought I would offer a peek into some of our “Smelly Bus” rituals. Ned thinks this is all TMI, so feel free to skip this and go right to the photos if you think so too!

Hygiene:

Like I said, when out in the wilderness it’s about the basics. We have the capacity to carry 13 gallons of water. Five in our water dispenser jug, three in a spare jug, and another five gallon jug in a cabinet under our “kitchen counter” with a hand pump to dispense into a large stainless salad bowl. Needless to say, conservation is critical, and water for consumption is king.

Teeth (Usually done outside):

Floss
Dispense toothpaste on brush
Brush teeth
Pour a little water from stainless drinking bottle to rinse brush
Rinse mouth with two mouthfuls from drinking bottle
If too many bugs outside or being stealth in a parking lot, this can be done in our “kitchen sink”

Ourselves:

Use lots of baby wipes
If water stores are good, a sponge bath is a nice luxury
Use lots of baby wipes

Dishes:

Use one or two half paper towel sheets to wipe off food from pots and dishes
Drizzle small amount of biodegradable soap into a pot
Add one half to one cup of water and heat on Coleman stove
Use another half paper towel sheet to wash pot
Transfer hot soapy water to other pots/and or use to wash up dishes
Offer the hot soapy water to the one not doing dishes for hand washing
Dump out soapy water and set soapy paper towel aside to wipe up table later
Use another half paper towel sheet to wipe off soapy water from all dishes
Ration out another half to one cup of clean water to rinse dishes
Use final half paper towel sheet to wipe dry
Wait for diarrhea…just kidding!

Laundry:

Some of you may not want to hear this, but we do wear the same clothes for an (untold) number of days (we only have each other to smell, after all!).
When in towns, for a few bucks a load, we have very nice local people do our laundry.
Small amounts of laundry can also be done while taking showers in hotel rooms.

Exercise:

Staying fit on the road takes a bit of creativity along with the normal discipline. We have with us, exercise bands, a jump rope and a telescoping pull-up bar that Ned fabricated onto our roof rack. Believe it or not, we are better at this while camping than in a hotel room, but we try daily to do our posture exercises and stretches, 100-plus squats and lunges, push-ups, triceps dips, pull-ups, hanging abdominal work (from the pull-up bar) and some resistance work with the bands or with local rocks. We also get the occasional run or hike in. In general we are not quite as fit as we are at home, but we’re doing alright considering the circumstances (yeah, ok, we’re getting a little soft!)

Looking back over the last five weeks, I’ve been spooked a couple of times, but everything has really gone well. The weather has been incredibly good, and with the exception of the two hundred or so sand-flea bites we are each suffering through right now (that’s a story for next time!) we both feel good. We also agree that of all the vehicles we considered taking on this trip, the set-up we have with Charlotte has been ideal. No other vehicle would have had as good a ride on bumpy roads, have been as nimble for driving down tiny cobblestone streets, have been inconspicuous for stealth camping, have been non-threatening at military checkpoints, nor would have been nearly as comfortable. We feel like everything is perfectly “dialed.” We have everything we need and nothing we don’t need, and it’s not only accessible enough, but it all fits without bouncing, rattling or coming loose on rough tracks. We do miss our friends and family, but neither of us wishes for anything different.

Our favorite way to stock up on water is through Agua Purificadoras  (water purification stations) when we can find them.  These are government run, use state-of-the-art equipment and for about 25 cents we can refill all 13 gallons…and they thoroughly wash our containers too!

Our favorite way to stock up on water is through Agua Purificadoras (water purification stations) when we can find them. These are government run, use state-of-the-art equipment and for about 25 cents we can refill all 13 gallons…and they thoroughly wash our containers too!

Wilderness tooth brushing 101

Wilderness tooth brushing 101

Wilderness workouts…

Wilderness workouts…

30 (1280x960)
Things that we took for granted at home but are scarce out here: working internet, showers with hot water and pressure and clean bathrooms with paper products, soap and toilet seats! (this one had one, it just wasn’t installed).

Things that we took for granted at home but are scarce out here: working internet, showers with hot water and pressure and clean bathrooms with paper products, soap and toilet seats! (this one had one, it just wasn’t installed).

Things we find in abundance here but are rare at home:  A handshake and well wishes from the guy who pumps your gas, warm smiles and waves from locals as you drive by and people who spontaneously wash your car without being asked.  We parked Charlotte on a side street in old town Mazatlan to go exploring.  When we retuned, this young man was enthusiastically soaping up a very dirty Charlotte.  She soon sparkled, and we paid him a few pesos for his efforts.

Things we find in abundance here but are rare at home: A handshake and well wishes from the guy who pumps your gas, warm smiles and waves from locals as you drive by and people who spontaneously wash your car without being asked. We parked Charlotte on a side street in old town Mazatlan to go exploring. When we retuned, this young man was enthusiastically soaping up a very dirty Charlotte. She soon sparkled, and we paid him a few pesos for his efforts.