An Illicit Cave Tour and Farewell to Mexico

As of today’s writing, Ned and Charlotte and I have been on the road for over two months and have driven nearly 8,000 miles. We spent two months in Mexico, flew to Cuba for a four day side trip and have now crossed the border into Belize, making it country number three. We are still feeling great about the trip, and we still love each other (ok, maybe just one or two spats here and there!). Our only frustration is time. In spite of not having a schedule, we have a schedule! We plan to leave Charlotte safely in Costa Rica while we fly home for a bit. After that we are constricted by weather and seasons as we pass through Central America and on into the Southern Hemisphere. It will all work out, but we do need to keep moving.

Our final days in Mexico didn’t feel much like Mexico at all. Once we hit the Cancun area it felt like we were back in the States, but it was a necessary diversion in order to fly to Cuba. After Cuba we regrouped in the cute but touristy town of Playa del Carmen where we had some great meals and worked on the blog.

Prior to flying to Cuba, however, we had one final Mexican adventure…

On Monday February 17 we woke up in yet another cane field. The night had been peaceful; our hiding place off of the busy highway to Cancun had worked out well. This area was a Mayan Empire hot spot, and ruins, big and small were everywhere. There were also several caves to explore. We were feeling the time crunch having spent an extra month in Mexico, and so opted for visiting just one cave, the biggest one, of course… X’tacumbilixuna’an!

We followed the signs to the cave, but when we arrived the gates were locked, and a big banner indicated that the whole place was closed for maintenance.  We looked around and noticed that the area showed serious neglect, as if it had been closed for years.  Bummer, we really wanted to see this cave.  In our typically rebellious style, we searched for a way around the gate.  The place was deserted.  We might as well see if we could sneak in, right?   Simultaneously, two things happened.  On the ground, I spotted some pages, obviously torn out of a porn magazine, featuring male models.  The pages were carefully weighted down with rocks…okay, weird…and we were approached by a really shady looking character carrying a tattered backpack.  Were those his porn pages??   He was trying to tell us something in his native Indian dialect, and I could barely catch a word.  I finally guessed he was talking about money and wondered if he might be offering to be an illicit guide into the caves.  Hmmm, might be interesting.  “Dinero?” I asked, and he nodded.  In Spanish, I asked, “Is it possible to get into the caves?” He nodded again. “Can you guide us?” Another nod.   “How much?” “50 pesos,” he replied.  That was about 4 bucks. “What’s your name?” “Manuel.” “Okay Manuel, let’s go!”

We followed the signs to the cave, but when we arrived the gates were locked, and a big banner indicated that the whole place was closed for maintenance. We looked around and noticed that the area showed serious neglect, as if it had been closed for years. Bummer, we really wanted to see this cave. In our typically rebellious style, we searched for a way around the gate. The place was deserted. We might as well see if we could sneak in, right?
Simultaneously, two things happened. On the ground, I spotted some pages, obviously torn out of a porn magazine, featuring male models. The pages were carefully weighted down with rocks…okay, weird…and we were approached by a really shady looking character carrying a tattered backpack. Were those his porn pages??
He was trying to tell us something in his native Indian dialect, and I could barely catch a word. I finally guessed he was talking about money and wondered if he might be offering to be an illicit guide into the caves. Hmmm, might be interesting. “Dinero?” I asked, and he nodded.
In Spanish, I asked, “Is it possible to get into the caves?”
He nodded again.
“Can you guide us?”
Another nod.
“How much?”
“50 pesos,” he replied. That was about 4 bucks.
“What’s your name?”
“Manuel.”
“Okay Manuel, let’s go!”


Then the wind shifted.  He smelled as bad as he looked.  Remembering the porn pages, I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.  Would Charlotte get robbed by co-conspirators while we were away?  Would we be ambushed once inside cave?  For that matter, would the cave be dangerous?  It was closed down for a reason!  Oh, what the heck, out on a limb is where all the fruit is, right?   We grabbed headlamps out of Charlotte, and as a last minute thought, I pocketed the pepper spray I keep on my backpack.  I noticed Ned had picked up our huge Mag Light, and I figured that could be used as a weapon too.  We were prepared now.

Then the wind shifted. He smelled as bad as he looked. Remembering the porn pages, I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. Would Charlotte get robbed by co-conspirators while we were away? Would we be ambushed once inside cave? For that matter, would the cave be dangerous? It was closed down for a reason! Oh, what the heck, out on a limb is where all the fruit is, right? We grabbed headlamps out of Charlotte, and as a last minute thought, I pocketed the pepper spray I keep on my backpack. I noticed Ned had picked up our huge Mag Light, and I figured that could be used as a weapon too. We were prepared now.


We climbed over the fence and down some steep stairs.  I was excited, but still apprehensive.  I knew Ned was not worried, but that’s always my job anyway.  I decided that from here on out, I was going to maneuver myself to stay behind Manuel.  I was not going to have a surprise attack from behind!

We climbed over the fence and down some steep stairs. I was excited, but still apprehensive. I knew Ned was not worried, but that’s always my job anyway. I decided that from here on out, I was going to maneuver myself to stay behind Manuel. I was not going to have a surprise attack from behind!


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Down we went, into the bowels of the earth.

Down we went, into the bowels of the earth.


The caves and infrastructure were in total disrepair, and piles of rock had fallen from the cave roof onto the walkways.

The caves and infrastructure were in total disrepair, and piles of rock had fallen from the cave roof onto the walkways.


The lights looked like they hadn’t been used in a decade.  This was perhaps a “Darwin” moment.

The lights looked like they hadn’t been used in a decade. This was perhaps a “Darwin” moment.


The cave was huge, and there were some very deep holes; not the most spectacular we have seen, but still impressive.  Our footsteps echoed in the vast stillness, and we found ourselves whispering to each other.  It really was a bit spooky, considering the circumstances.

The cave was huge, and there were some very deep holes; not the most spectacular we have seen, but still impressive. Our footsteps echoed in the vast stillness, and we found ourselves whispering to each other. It really was a bit spooky, considering the circumstances.


Manuel actually turned out to be an enthusiastic, if not terribly knowledgeable guide, laconically pointing out cool features without explaining their geological significance.  He was even chivalrous, offering to help me over rough spots and lighting my way with his flashlight.  The lack of personal hygiene and the porn pages?  Well, that was his business.

Manuel actually turned out to be an enthusiastic, if not terribly knowledgeable guide, laconically pointing out cool features without explaining their geological significance. He was even chivalrous, offering to help me over rough spots and lighting my way with his flashlight. The lack of personal hygiene and the porn pages? Well, that was his business.


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Overall it was a great experience.  We got a private viewing of a really cool cave.  I was relieved, however, when I emerged alive and bounded back up the stairs into the fresh air and sunshine.

Overall it was a great experience. We got a private viewing of a really cool cave. I was relieved, however, when I emerged alive and bounded back up the stairs into the fresh air and sunshine.


Having survived our crazy cave adventure, we drove into the two-donkey, one house town of Cayal where Margarita ran this tiny restaurant out of her home.  She cooked us a great breakfast of scrambled eggs, refried black beans and tortillas, which we ate with gusto.

Having survived our crazy cave adventure, we drove into the two-donkey, one house town of Cayal where Margarita ran this tiny restaurant out of her home. She cooked us a great breakfast of scrambled eggs, refried black beans and tortillas, which we ate with gusto.


This little guy came out to wish us a warm farewell and “Buen Viaje!”

This little guy came out to wish us a warm farewell and “Buen Viaje!”


We spent our last night in Mexico parked in a lonely campground in Bacalar, just a few miles from the Belize border.  Our final Mexican dinner was in this cute little restaurant where we cracked open the Belize map for the first time.

We spent our last night in Mexico parked in a lonely campground in Bacalar, just a few miles from the Belize border. Our final Mexican dinner was in this cute little restaurant where we cracked open the Belize map for the first time.


Mexico was a gift of amazing memories.  Our eyes were saturated with gorgeous scenery and vibrant colors.  Our bodies were fed with delicious food, and our hearts were filled with the warmth and kindness of the people.  There is something about the Mexican people which is hard to describe and impossible to forget.  Their spirit manifests in smiles, waves, loving hugs, impeccable manners and eagerness to help strangers.  Mexico had become comfortable.  We were sad to leave and will miss the people. Ahh…but new adventures await…

Mexico was a gift of amazing memories. Our eyes were saturated with gorgeous scenery and vibrant colors. Our bodies were fed with delicious food, and our hearts were filled with the warmth and kindness of the people. There is something about the Mexican people which is hard to describe and impossible to forget. Their spirit manifests in smiles, waves, loving hugs, impeccable manners and eagerness to help strangers. Mexico had become comfortable. We were sad to leave and will miss the people.
Ahh…but new adventures await…

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!

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Living quarters

Living quarters

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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.

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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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…


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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.


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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.


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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.

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

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

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More beach sculpture…?

More beach sculpture…?

Wait…

Wait…

Oh!!

Oh!!

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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.

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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…

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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.

Lost Way to the Lost Mission – Copper Canyon Adventure

Back in December of 2004 I traveled with a group of four wheeling friends to Barrancas Del Cobre, a Parque Natural in northwestern Mexico and home to Copper Canyon, Mexico’s answer to our Grand Canyon. We traveled a dirt road the 90 mile milk run from the rather touristy town of Creel, on the rim, deep into the canyon to the old silver mining town of Batopilas, then 8kms further down the river to the “Lost Mission” of Satevo. This three domed cathedral was built by Jesuit missionaries sometime before 1750 and stands out in these rugged remote canyons like a space ship in an Amish field. Known for over a century only to the local Tarahumara Indians, its existence was “lost” to the knowledge of the outside world until a mining boom created Batopilas around 1880.

After reaching the mission in 2004, our travel plan was to then do some “real” four wheeling and head northwest to Urique and on westward to Chinipas on some very remote, rough tracks before reaching civilization at Alamos, near the coast. However, it was raining during our entire trip. Locals in Batopilas assured us that we would never be able to cross the swollen river at Urique and thus would have a long backtrack to Creel. We opted on the safe side and headed back the way we came. Ever since that retreat I’ve wanted to return to the area and complete that run…

Kat and I arose from a rough sleep and watched our ferry dock at the tiny port of Topolobampo. Bleary eyed, I drove Charlotte from the bowels of the ship and on to the Mexican mainland. Kat climbed in and we looked at each other.

Now what?

“Well, I’d really like to take you to Copper Canyon… the back way,” I said.

“Let’s go!” replied my ever adventurous soul mate.

We headed for the port exit. Passing through the parking lot we noticed several Overland vehicles gathered. We stopped and met the group, a bunch of Germans with three Toyotas, a Land Rover and a Ford Raptor (!) They were also heading for Copper Canyon and for about five minutes we almost joined them. The Land Rover was having electrical trouble (of course) and they indicated they could be a while. I foresaw what that meant… add a vehicle, add an hour. We said goodbye and headed off on our own adventure.

We hadn’t gone 20km inland when I passed a cop waving his radar gun out the window of his menacing looking Dodge SRT patrol car. The lights came on and I was busted. I was going 43mph. He was a typical tough guy cop with a trailing sidekick. He repeatedly demanded my license, ignoring my dumb, “No hablo espanol, habla Inglés?” and “No comprendo señor.” I comprendoed all right. He clocked us at 70km in a 60km zone. About 42 and 36mph. A 6 mph ticket, but you’d think I’d just outrun Mario Andretti while getting away from a bank heist. He started babbling something about going to the station with him tomorrow (today was Sunday) to pay the fine, which was 1200 pesos or roughly 100 bucks. I tried to explain that we were not going to be around mañana, but of course he knew that. He wrote 1200 on a piece of paper then 900 ahora (now) next to it. Yeah, I got it. Been here before. I offered him a 500 peso note ($40) which he quickly pocketed with his first smile. He then explained to his partner how they were not going to inconvenience us with a ticket and a trip to the station since we were on vacaciones. Hope they had a nice day with lots of beer on us. Welcome to the Mainland Amigos!

We headed north on the four lane toll road for about half an hour before getting itchy feet for a back road. We turned east on the first one we came to and quickly learned that our Garmin GPS is a great urban tool. Put it on a back road in Mexico and it’s not worth the dust it collects on our dash. It thinks it knows where it is though, and we spent the rest of the day thinking it did too as we followed a very circuitous route from El Fuerte towards the town of Alamos. We never did make Alamos that day but we sure saw some great thorny desert and neat hidden Ranchos. We camped hidden under a bridge and finally found Alamo around ten the next morning. A wonderful breakfast was had in a beautiful courtyard restaurant, the gas tank was filled and we headed out for day two of our backwards jaunt to the Lost Mission.

Charlotte rolls onto the Mexican Mainland for her first time after spending the night in the bowels of the ferry.

Charlotte rolls onto the Mexican Mainland for her first time after spending the night in the bowels of the ferry.


Local Topolobampo dock workers enjoying breakfast with us at this little open-air restaurant we hit once we left the ferry.

Local Topolobampo dock workers enjoying breakfast with us at this little open-air restaurant we hit once we left the ferry.


Once we got off the highway we began passing through little villages with colorful houses like this one. Check out the power meter built into the concrete pole to the right of the house.

Once we got off the highway we began passing through little villages with colorful houses like this one. Check out the power meter built into the concrete pole to the right of the house.


We drove all of Day 1 on good graded dirt roads like this, passing huge cacti and thorny bushes with beautiful purple flowers adorning the hillsides. The roads were lined with barbed wire fences made from hand-hewn fence-posts.

We drove all of Day 1 on good graded dirt roads like this, passing huge cacti and thorny bushes with beautiful purple flowers adorning the hillsides. The roads were lined with barbed wire fences made from hand-hewn fence-posts.


This village reminded us of the song from Mark Knoffler and Emmylou Harris, “Donkey Town.”

This village reminded us of the song from Mark Knoffler and Emmylou Harris, “Donkey Town.”


On the morning of the second day of our quest to drive the back way to the Lost Mission we arrived in Alamos. It was a super clean old town with cobblestone streets and wonderful turn-of-the-century buildings.

On the morning of the second day of our quest to drive the back way to the Lost Mission we arrived in Alamos. It was a super clean old town with cobblestone streets and wonderful turn-of-the-century buildings.

Charlotte was offered courtyard parking so she could watch us eat a great breakfast at this beautiful restaurant we found in Alamos.

Charlotte was offered courtyard parking so she could watch us eat a great breakfast at this beautiful restaurant we found in Alamos.


Too bad we hit the restaurant for breakfast and the bar was closed. It looked like a pretty cool place to hang out with all the tequila offerings adorning the walls.

Too bad we hit the restaurant for breakfast and the bar was closed. It looked like a pretty cool place to hang out with all the tequila offerings adorning the walls.


We haven’t been hurting for lack of eating on this trip!

We haven’t been hurting for lack of eating on this trip!


Every little Mexican town has its church and Alamos was no exception. Although this one wasn’t too exciting to look at from the outside…

Every little Mexican town has its church and Alamos was no exception. Although this one wasn’t too exciting to look at from the outside…


…the inside was pretty spectacular.

…the inside was pretty spectacular.

Now following our paper National Geographic map, we headed into the Sierra Madre mountains on a still fairly smooth dirt road, heading for the village of Milipillas. We crossed over the first of what, over the next two days, became many spectacular passes. Each one offered tighter, steeper switchbacks and a rougher surface than the last; and the views – the pictures will never do justice to the jaw dropping sites we took in.

Late in the day we passed through Milpillas. This was a REMOTE town, 80+ rough miles from anywhere. The main track through town was a creek bed complete with hub deep water and the roughest holes and ruts yet. The buildings were the usual tumbledown shacks with broken junk everywhere. However, just about every other house had a new pickup and/or a shiny quad. The kids were dressed in sports clothes and the women in tight jeans and the latest fashions. At the school yard, teenagers were working on laptops! It was all very weird. What business are these guys in???

We drove on. The Nat-Geo Map was proving to be very inaccurate as well, so we were now following the Garmin again which was assuring us it knew where it was taking us. (We’re either slow learners or eternal optimists) After another hour at 10 mph in 1st or 2nd gear, and with the light fading, we reached a dead end. The “road” turned into a quad track and then a horse path. But ‘ol Mr. Garmin still insisted we were headed for Chinipas. We turned back and ran into three caballeros on mules who, through sign language, indicated the road to Chinipas was back another direction out of Milpillas.

Since it was now dark, we made camp for the night and broke one of our cardinal rules. We camped alongside the road in plain view. We hadn’t seen another vehicle on the “road” since around 2pm so we figured we were safe. We made a nice dinner, played music and crashed around 8pm. Around 9 we had our visitors. Two drunken teenagers in a Suburban pulled in, blocking our escape route. With stereo blasting they banged on Charlotte’s windows until I opened one a crack and acknowledged their presence. In their inebriated state their Spanish wasn’t much better than mine, so playing dumb seemed to be the conversation of choice. Eventually they tired of getting no fun out of this game and returned to their car. As a last gallant act of bravado, the passenger grabbed one of our folding chairs we had left out (another rule broken) and they roared off, poor Red Chair dangling out the passenger window.

We spent the rest of the night with one eye open and discussed our mistakes in the morning. We were lucky this time. From now on we hide before camping, no matter how hard finding a spot is. A moment of silence was observed for Red Chair. In a way it seemed fitting that it went on to a new home in Mexico. It was given to my daughter Emily, 12 years ago by Coco, our iconic Mexican friend in Baja. It was the Energizer Bunny chair. It had out lived at least five other el cheapo folding chair partners and was still going strong. I hope its new owner treats it well.

We drove back into Milpillas and began our new form of navigation – ask the locals. After several inquires it became apparent the road we wanted wasn’t out of Milpillas, but Chinacas, another village not on any of our maps, yet another hour back down the trail we’d covered yesterday. Leaving Milpillas, we were flagged down by Fren who needed a ride to Chinacas. Fren was an old rancher who now only owned about 100 head of cattle and a small Ranchito back near Alamos. He had a long way to hitch-hike but didn’t own a pickup because driving made him nervous. His body language indicated so did mine. Before getting out he showed us the correct road and the Lost Gringos were once again headed for the Lost Mission.

After leaving Alamos the roads deteriorated and life became much more remote. By mid-afternoon of Day 2 we arrived in Milpillas. This was Main Street which was a running creek-bed. We had an impromptu drag race with these four young girls, who were cruising around on a fancy quad.

After leaving Alamos the roads deteriorated and life became much more remote. By mid-afternoon of Day 2 we arrived in Milpillas. This was Main Street which was a running creek-bed. We had an impromptu drag race with these four young girls, who were cruising around on a fancy quad.


“No passengers.”  “No one under 16 may operate this vehicle.” “Always wear a helmet.” Yeah, right!  You might add, “Always let the youngest one be the designated driver!’ We marveled at all the new, expensive machinery and fancy clothes in this otherwise run down little burg.

“No passengers.” “No one under 16 may operate this vehicle.” “Always wear a helmet.” Yeah, right! You might add, “Always let the youngest one be the designated driver!’ We marveled at all the new, expensive machinery and fancy clothes in this otherwise run down little burg.


Some of the older folks still had more traditional forms of transportation.

Some of the older folks still had more traditional forms of transportation.


Leaving Milpillas, the road got rougher and less travelled. It should have been our first clue that maybe we were going the wrong way.

Leaving Milpillas, the road got rougher and less travelled. It should have been our first clue that maybe we were going the wrong way.


But we followed it for over an hour until it turned into a horse path shortly after this. Time to turn around and backtrack. Thank you, Mr. Garmin.

But we followed it for over an hour until it turned into a horse path shortly after this. Time to turn around and backtrack. Thank you, Mr. Garmin.

The next day was spent again crossing amazing switchback laden passes with spectacular views and dizzying drop-offs into the canyons below. The roads didn’t require four wheel drive but they were rough enough for only about ten to fifteen mph – all day! We dropped into Chinipas around noon and followed a local pickup as he picked his way through the wide river to access the town. Yes, following the locals is the only way to go! Mr. Garmin didn’t even show the river. Once in town we had a nice encounter with a young high school boy who proudly practiced the English he had been learning in school by explaining our next leg towards Témoris and the famed Chihuahua-Pacifico Railroad. He directed us out of town and on to the next pass, this one more exciting than the last and with the added bonus of passing by the huge Palmero Mineral open pit mine half way up. We have no idea what they are mining but there sure is a lot of it!

Two hours later we were through Témoris and now following the rail lines of one of the world’s greatest engineering feats. The Chihuahua-Pacifico Railroad was completed in 1961 and features 39 bridges and 86 tunnels. One section drops 7,000 feet in 122 miles and there are several curved bridges which reverse the direction of travel and one that creates a complete 360 loop on itself as it allows the train to climb and descend these wild canyons.

We turned southeast away from the train at Bahuichivo and had a yummy chicken dinner at a little restaurant that doubled as someone’s house. We munched our bird while the friends he was pecking around with that morning, eyed us from the front yard.

After a nice HIDDEN camp spot under a full moon, we began our fourth day of awesome dirt roads, endless switchbacks and breathtaking views toward the town of Urique which lies deep in the actual Barranca Del Cobre Parque Natural. We were getting close now to country I had hoped to see back in 2004. Almost at the bottom of the most spectacular set of switchbacks yet encountered, we picked up Alfredo. Alfredo was walking a bull down the steep road with his son, when our arrival spooked the animal and it got away. We stopped so the son could catch the critter and struck up a conversation with the old man. His legs were killing him and he asked for a ride. He was 62 and looked 75. He had lived all his life in Urique. He showed us where he’d gone to school, and explained how he once crushed his leg and required eight surgeries. Now he “exercises every day and is never sick.” We dropped him off in front of a restaurant he recommended and, after declining to join us, hobbled off towards his casa somewhere in the village.

We had another great meal, one of what was becoming our daily routine; wake up in Charlotte about 6:30; lie around talking until 7:15 when the sun comes up warming things; get up, make coffee and do a bunch of stretches and exercises before firing up Charlotte; climb behind the wheel and drive. Sometime during the day we pull over to cook or we find a good restaurant and have a big pig-out, our one meal of the day. Then drive a bunch more until it is time to look for a camp spot before dark. By 6:30 it is dark, and we are munching a light snack in Charlotte if it is cold or there are bugs, or out under the stars watching the full moon rise if it’s nice out. We’re in bed by 7pm reading or playing cards. It’s a rough life but someone’s gotta do it.

During our meal in Urique we struck up a conversation with two local guys. Neche was a Tarahumara Indian and Jose was Mexican. When we left, Kat was touched when Jose looked her straight in the eye, shook her hand and sincerely said, “You will always have a friend in Urique.” Such a scary place, this Mexico!

Fast forward to the middle of Day 3. A lot happened before we had the camera out again. Like loosing Red Chair to our previous evening’s thieves and finding the correct road thanks to our hitchhiker, Fren. What? You are only looking at the photos and reading the captions? Hah, caught you! Better read the text to get the whole story!   After leaving Milpillas and Chinacas for the second time, we drove several hours over a huge pass until we caught our first glimpse of Chinipas, far below on the Rio Oteros. This was a big deal since up to this point we weren’t really sure if we were going the right way.

Fast forward to the middle of Day 3. A lot happened before we had the camera out again. Like loosing Red Chair to our previous evening’s thieves and finding the correct road thanks to our hitchhiker, Fren. What? You are only looking at the photos and reading the captions? Hah, caught you! Better read the text to get the whole story! After leaving Milpillas and Chinacas for the second time, we drove several hours over a huge pass until we caught our first glimpse of Chinipas, far below on the Rio Oteros. This was a big deal since up to this point we weren’t really sure if we were going the right way.


There was no bridge across the Oteros River to reach Chinipas, but fortunately we saw a local Chevy picking his way across. We figured he must know where the deep spots are so we quickly followed.

There was no bridge across the Oteros River to reach Chinipas, but fortunately we saw a local Chevy picking his way across. We figured he must know where the deep spots are so we quickly followed.


After getting directions from the English practicing school boy in Chinipas, we continued east up these amazing switchbacks. The road was good again because of the mine half way up.

After getting directions from the English practicing school boy in Chinipas, we continued east up these amazing switchbacks. The road was good again because of the mine half way up.


The Palmero Mineral mine wasn’t some little hole in the ground. It was a BIG hole in the ground; an operation that rivaled strip mining anywhere in the world. We never did find out what they were hauling out of there or where it went. The road we’d come up had no haul trucks on it and was too windy for them anyway. Further eastward we found the road once again rougher and narrower so it all remains a mystery. We figure they’ve got a hidden four-lane freeway through the mountains to the coast!

The Palmero Mineral mine wasn’t some little hole in the ground. It was a BIG hole in the ground; an operation that rivaled strip mining anywhere in the world. We never did find out what they were hauling out of there or where it went. The road we’d come up had no haul trucks on it and was too windy for them anyway. Further eastward we found the road once again rougher and narrower so it all remains a mystery. We figure they’ve got a hidden four-lane freeway through the mountains to the coast!


Now it’s the morning of the fourth day of traveling eastward toward the Lost Mission. Every steep pass revealed views more breathtaking than the last. Every time we spotted a town far below it was a small triumph, an assurance that we were still on the right track. No road signs out here, just broken Spanish directions and hand signals from the locals. This was our first sighting of the town of Urique and the Urique River.

Now it’s the morning of the fourth day of traveling eastward toward the Lost Mission. Every steep pass revealed views more breathtaking than the last. Every time we spotted a town far below it was a small triumph, an assurance that we were still on the right track. No road signs out here, just broken Spanish directions and hand signals from the locals. This was our first sighting of the town of Urique and the Urique River.


Getting closer to Urique. Who built this road anyway? It is phenomenal how they found a way down this cliff-side, let alone cut a road to boot.

Getting closer to Urique. Who built this road anyway? It is phenomenal how they found a way down this cliff-side, let alone cut a road to boot.


This is Antonio whom we picked up on the way to Urique. Gotta read the text for the details!

This is Antonio whom we picked up on the way to Urique. Gotta read the text for the details!


Um. Mystery Meat Machacha tacos at the restaurant Antonio took us to. They were great.

Um. Mystery Meat Machacha tacos at the restaurant Antonio took us to. They were great.


Restaurant chatter. This was Jose and Neche, two Urique locals we chatted with during lunch. When we left, Jose sincerely told Kat she’d always have a friend in Urique.

Restaurant chatter. This was Jose and Neche, two Urique locals we chatted with during lunch. When we left, Jose sincerely told Kat she’d always have a friend in Urique.

We drove down river a bit and crossed a BRIDGE! Damn, that wasn’t there in 2004 or we would have completed this trip then. The Urique River had been the one too swollen to cross, halting our progress. Beyond the bridge we again started climbing, yes, the steepest, tightest switchbacks yet. By late afternoon we were at probably the most remote area of our journey, at about 7,000 feet and not even sure we were on the right track to Batopilas. We hadn’t seen another vehicle all afternoon but that wasn’t unusual. Over the last four days since leaving Alamos, we had seen less than a dozen vehicles on the actual “roads” we were traveling. There were vehicles in the towns but they didn’t travel far. We camped that night in an open field up on a ridge above the road where we couldn’t be seen. We actually figured it was more likely we’d be visited by a native Tarahumara Indian than anyone driving these roads. We’d seen lots of these locals shyly peering from their low doorways or walking the roads following their cows or goats. The men seemed to blend into the surrounding terrain but the women are memorable in their brightly colored skirts and long braided hair.

By 10am, the fifth morning since leaving the pavement back along the coast, we dropped into the river bottom a few km from Batopillas. We had just completed the last of what seemed like 10,000 switchbacks and peered over maybe 1,000,000 feet of sheer drop-offs. We’d accomplished what I hadn’t been able to do in 2004. We had even done it backwards and totally alone. I think the roads are a bit better now and signs indicate they will continue to improve, a bummer for us off-road thrill seekers. This is a bucket list trip you guys – you know who you are – better get down here and do it!

The river was running about a foot deep so Charlotte got a much needed undercarriage washing in the clear water. She looked so good we decided we needed an undercarriage washing as well! Out came our onboard shower setup, heated by Charlotte’s engine. We enjoyed the hottest shower since leaving home, standing along the river bank to the curiosity of the Mexican onlookers. Crazy Gringos.

Feeling renewed, we drove the few miles into the old mining town of Batopillas. This place has seen better days but still features some great old, turn of the (last) century buildings built when it was a booming silver mining town in the 1890s. Some things never change though. When I drove through here in 2004, the river had just receded after flooding the town due to a big rain storm. This time it was obvious the same thing had just happened within the last month. Everywhere were buried trucks and piled up sand and debris. We saw numerous, less than five year old pickups filled with sand and water. I saw the same thing in 2004. You’d think they’d learn to park on higher ground when it rains. It’s funny how expensive things like pickups are abused and beat to crap from day one like they are easily obtainable and affordable. Maybe they are? What kind of businesses ARE they in around here???

Our first priority was finding some gasoline. Charlotte’s tank holds 18 gallons and we carry another 15 in cans. Normally that should cover at least 425 miles. However, all the slow going and steep grades did not agree with her digestive system. She had drunk to the tune of roughly 8mpg (!) over the last four days. Despite only going 10 to 15 mph, we were in 1st or 2nd gear the whole time and still turning 2500 to 3500 rpm, so the distance covered verses engine work ratio didn’t add up to an eco friendly number. I knew we couldn’t make it the 90 miles to Creel on the juice we had left, and of course, Batopillas still doesn’t have a nice Pemex station, despite all those new trucks around. We resorted to asking around and were directed to the local entrepreneur selling gas out of his house in five gallon jugs. We bought ten questionable (and rather strange smelling) gallons and he calmly siphoned them by mouth into our tank.

Next we wandered around the town for a bit, but finding no good restaurants or very friendly people (just like 2004) we got outta there and went down-river the 8km to the infamous Lost Mission at Satevo. Along the way we pulled over and Kat cooked up a really yummy chicken in tomatillo sauce concoction that was way better than any restaurant in these parts. The mission itself is in much better condition than it was in 2004. The large crack that was slowly breaking the main dome in half has been repaired and the whole exterior has a new surface. Still, the locals weren’t friendly and the place was locked up (just like 2004). It still felt kinda creepy so we took the picture and got outta there too. Seems like a great place to spend four days getting to right? Like many parts of this trip will be, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Where’s Charlotte? Look closely. Remember the game Where’s Waldo? This is Big Country

Where’s Charlotte? Look closely. Remember the game Where’s Waldo? This is Big Country


Not a bad view from your living room. The mountains were doted everywhere with these red roofed homes belonging to the native Tarahumara Indians who have inhabited the Copper Canyon area for centuries.

Not a bad view from your living room. The mountains were doted everywhere with these red roofed homes belonging to the native Tarahumara Indians who have inhabited the Copper Canyon area for centuries.


Every night during our week in the Barranca Del Cobre we had an incre’dible full moon. Our fourth night before Batopillas was no exception.

Every night during our week in the Barranca Del Cobre we had an incre’dible full moon. Our fourth night before Batopillas was no exception.


Soaring with the spirits of great runners.  The Copper Canyon area (Barranca del Cobre) is home to the Tarahumara people who are known for their ability to run long distances on steep, rocky terrain in light, handmade sandals. This amazing running prowess was illuminated in the book, "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall, and helped promote the concept of barefoot running and minimal shoes.  Although I was not on some gnarly goat trail, and I forgot to wear my running sandals , I was nonetheless awed and humbled to be flying along here on the wings of such amazing athletes.

Soaring with the spirits of great runners.
The Copper Canyon area (Barranca del Cobre) is home to the Tarahumara people who are known for their ability to run long distances on steep, rocky terrain in light, handmade sandals. This amazing running prowess was illuminated in the book, “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, and helped promote the concept of barefoot running and minimal shoes. Although I was not on some gnarly goat trail, and I forgot to wear my running sandals , I was nonetheless awed and humbled to be flying along here on the wings of such amazing athletes.


Down, down our final switchback pass to Batopillas. We’ve almost made it after five days of continuous awesome dirt roads.

Down, down our final switchback pass to Batopillas. We’ve almost made it after five days of continuous awesome dirt roads.


Slight overhang on that cliff there. How DID they cut these roads?

Slight overhang on that cliff there. How DID they cut these roads?


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Crossing the Rio Batopillas, Charlotte got a much needed bath.

Crossing the Rio Batopillas, Charlotte got a much needed bath.


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So we decided we otta clean up a bit too. Our hot water shower, heated by Charlotte’s engine, is awesome when we can find unlimited clean water to run through it.

So we decided we otta clean up a bit too. Our hot water shower, heated by Charlotte’s engine, is awesome when we can find unlimited clean water to run through it.


This colorful Tarahumara gal and her little one were hanging out along the river near where we entertained everyone with our shower.

This colorful Tarahumara gal and her little one were hanging out along the river near where we entertained everyone with our shower.


Entering the quaint old silver mining town of Batobillas.

Entering the quaint old silver mining town of Batobillas.


Human gas pump in downtown Batopillas.

Human gas pump in downtown Batopillas.


Ornate iron bandstand in the Plaza de Armas, downtown Batopillas.

Ornate iron bandstand in the Plaza de Armas, downtown Batopillas.


A Tarahumara grandma and her granddaughter in Batopillas. The little girl is clutching a pink toy we had just given her.

A Tarahumara grandma and her granddaughter in Batopillas. The little girl is clutching a pink toy we had just given her.


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Open air repair shop. No need for a tool box or work bench. As mentioned in the text, there were lots of flooded trucks in Batopillas. Here a Ford’s transmission is drained of water and a once fancy Chevy interior is left out to dry.

Open air repair shop. No need for a tool box or work bench. As mentioned in the text, there were lots of flooded trucks in Batopillas. Here a Ford’s transmission is drained of water and a once fancy Chevy interior is left out to dry.


Waiting for something to happen in Batopillas.

Waiting for something to happen in Batopillas.


Across the river from the main town of Batopillas lie the ruins of Hacienda de San Miguel. It was once the main homestead and offices of American, Alexander Shepherd, the driving force behind the 1890s silver mining operation and the building of the town. Today it is a reminder of the grandeur of the past; a stark contrast to the run down town one sees today.

Across the river from the main town of Batopillas lie the ruins of Hacienda de San Miguel. It was once the main homestead and offices of American, Alexander Shepherd, the driving force behind the 1890s silver mining operation and the building of the town. Today it is a reminder of the grandeur of the past; a stark contrast to the run down town one sees today.


Our goal finally reached! The Lost Mission at Satevo looks quite out of place compared to the surrounding structures in these canyons.

Our goal finally reached! The Lost Mission at Satevo looks quite out of place compared to the surrounding structures in these canyons.


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Some trees just really wanna live!

Some trees just really wanna live!

We backtracked through Batopillas and hit the 90 miles towards Creel. But the fun wasn’t over. In 2004 this run had been a dirt road along the river and a big batch of switchbacks leading up to the rim and out to civilization. The road had been rough but nothing like what we’d just come through. This time, shortly out of town we hit… pavement! It was nice new pavement with gutters, sliced mountain sides, a white line, the whole bit. It lasted long enough that we started taking bets on how far it would go. Then the slides started. Did I mention there were signs it had rained recently? Words can’t describe what we saw. Check out the pictures. What was once another beautiful canyon with a small road, has been decimated with a tremendous gash that runs its length with huge land-fills and slices through mountainsides. But the worst part appears to be a total lack of stabilization engineering. Just months after being cut, these mountainsides are crashing down onto the fancy new ribbon of tar, making this journey much more frightening than any cliff-side we had recently negotiated. We stupidly stopped and took pictures, wondering when the next rock would come crashing down to squash the three of us. Once it got dark it got even better. The finished road ended and the construction site began. There was nowhere to pull over and camp, as men and machines were running at full tilt, trying to finish the mess they’d started while mother nature was coming along right behind them and undoing it all. We were stuck right in the middle. For a while it felt like I was driving through a huge gravel pit on the edge of a cliff, dodging Euclids and Catapillars; earth shaking creatures of the night with blinding eyes, trying to devour the damned tourists in the hippy bus.

Finally this man-made hell spit us out on top of the rim and deposited us back on the old paved road I recalled from 2004. It was still 70km to Creel. We found a spot in the trees to hide and welcomed the peace and quiet of the night. The next morning, heading towards Creel, I shifted into fourth gear for the first time in five days and reflected that for three of them, I hadn’t gotten out of 2nd! We rolled into Creel around 10am and gave Charlotte a breakfast of proper Pemex Premium. Next we cruised Main for our own breakfast. Creel is a rather large, rather dirty, little railroad town whose main claim to fame is being a jumping off point for tourists on tours bound for Copper Canyon. We dodged the usual crap fair goods for sale on the sidewalks and had a decent brekky in a place with menus in English – always a bad sign that you’ve strayed too far toward the beaten path.

So beat it we did, down the pavement and back towards the coast. We made a quick detour to Basaseachi Falls, the third highest waterfall in North America. In 2004 it appeared to be the swiftest waterfall in N. America, but this time it couldn’t have won a pissing contest at a Fifty Year high school reunion.
Mexico Highway 16 though, I’ll put up against any windy road in the world for the having the most turns and shortest straights for over 250km. It is relentless. In a fun car it would be amazing. Someone needs to put on a rally here. Charlotte was rarely out of 2nd or 3rd gear all day but she seemed to be savoring her Premium. Her gas gauge was barely moving. We camped another uneventful night hidden up a logging road and arrived in Ciudad Obregon around noon the next day. A Wall Mart and a Home Depot were the first signs to greet us. Back in the real world, uggh. On to Mazatlan…

The rest of the day was a steady slog south-ward, down the same toll road we had bailed off of six days before. The biggest event of the afternoon was watching Charlotte’s odometer and gas gauge compete with each other. Her mileage on that Creel gas was amazing. She went from her worst tank ever to her best tank ever, back to back! The worst was 82 miles on 10 gallons. The best ended up being 338mi on 18 gallons. A normal tank is 250-260 miles tops. Hummm, don’t know if she likes or hates this new lifestyle but she has been a Swiss Watch since receiving her new alternator. I’m down with the good vibes.

By the time we passed through Los Mochis, the town just inland from Topolobampo were we got off the ferry, it was dark again. The traffic was hell with trucks and buses weaving all over and cops flying by with lights ablaze (I think they just do it for fun or to let you know they’re around). Every type and condition of car, from speeding new Cameros to smoking Bugs and beat pickups, were clamoring for limited road space. It was the kind of driving conditions that warrant the don’t-drive-at-night rule. But there was nowhere to pull off. Shops, shacks, sheds, trucks, dogs, donkeys, trucks, cars, trucks, barricades, flashing lights, loud music, trucks. I drove on, and on. Suddenly we spied a MOTEL sign on the opposite side of the divided highway. Yes! There would be no camping tonight. There couldn’t be. After three more km up the road there was a hole in the divider. U-turn. We headed for one of the most bizarre motel setups we’ve ever seen. We pulled in through a big arch and followed a tight driveway to a gate with a sliding slot-like box protruding out of the wall next to it. Suddenly a woman’s voice screamed at us from a loudspeaker hidden in the overhead rafters. Not understanding Screaming Spanish, I yelled back that we wanted a room and did anyone in the wall speak English? Eventually a fat guy with a dangling cigarette and a dirty, wife-beater T-shirt (tank top) appeared with a clipboard and asked us how many hours we wanted. “Oh, a No-Tell Motel,” Kat chirped. We told him “Toda la noche” and he relieved us of 270 pesos (about $23) for presumably the whole night. “Key?” “No,no, just go park in the garage next to 106.” As I drove under the now open gate I noticed the sign read 270p = 6 horas. Hummmm. Could be a short night. It got better. We drove down a narrow lane with garage doors and little windows lining both sides. We stopped at 106 as an automatic garage door opener exposed what lay inside. Charlotte was too tall to fit under the roof, so we parked alongside and entered the dark cavern. There was an unlocked door at the back of the garage that opened into a surprisingly clean and cheery room, complete with Greco-Roman ceiling soffits. We moved in, marveling at the lazy-Susan-like canister build into the outside wall, presumably for when the wife-beater comes ‘round at 2am and announces “times up or pay up.” Despite the plastic sheets and tepid shower water, we slept. No one spun the Susan-thingy. In the morning we worked on this blog before the phone rang and a nice calm voice told us it was time to leave. The gate was open for us and we puttered out of the compound and once again joined the hellish traffic towards Mazatlan, still 390 miles south.

The traffic eventually let up until there was practically no one on the four lane road. However, the expensive toll booths never did, and by late afternoon, as we approached the tourist Mecca of Mazatlan, we were flat out of pesos.

We had planned our arrival in Mazatlan to coincide with the vacation plans of my old travel buddy, Ian from B.C. Canada. He and his family were staying at a fancy resort for two weeks along the beach just north of downtown. Seemed like a good address to head to. Mr. Garmin, now completely in his element, lead us straight there. We bribed our way in to the gated compound with promises of renting the most expensive suite and staying a month. Once past the guards, we rolled past groomed grounds and spewing fountains as gardeners grimaced and pasty skinned, plump patrons shrunk back in fear. Charlotte, with her dead cow head leading the way, roared up and around the pristine concierge’s roundabout in a cloud of self induced dust and screeched to a halt. We had arrived at our next adventure.

Ya think?

Ya think?


Forget the dangerous curve, watch the landslide!

Forget the dangerous curve, watch the landslide!


Forget about rocks falling, how about the whole mountain !?!

Forget about rocks falling, how about the whole mountain !?!

The Ferry Crossing – Red Tape 101

Victory over bureaucracy!  It took nearly three hours, but we finally had everything we needed to board the ferry.

Victory over bureaucracy! It took nearly three hours, but we finally had everything we needed to board the ferry.

Saturday January 11, 2014; La Paz, Baja California
We awoke with excitement bright and early in our room at the Hotel Marina. Today we were catching the ferry to cross the Sea of Cortes to Mainland Mexico. Today we were leaving familiar territory behind and venturing into the unknown.

When we were in La Paz prior to going to Los Barriles, we had driven out to the ferry terminal to scope out the whole process. It all looked pretty straight forward. The woman at the ticket counter told us that the ferry to Topolobampo left Monday through Saturday at 2:30 and that we should arrive three hours ahead.

We enjoyed a leisurely morning with breakfast and final showers, packed up and eagerly headed out to the docks. We pulled in promptly at 11:30, strolled up to the ticket counter to buy our tickets only to discover that the Saturday ferry did not leave at 2:30; it left at 11:00…at night. Thus began our introduction to Mexican bureaucracy.

We stepped away from the counter to discuss our options. 1. We could wait until Monday so we could do the crossing during the day (we were told it was a fun party and we weren’t excited about a red-eye trip); 2. We could go to the beach to hang out for the day then take the 11:00; or 3. We could go back to our hotel and have cervezas by the pool where we would also have internet. Poolside at the hotel won, but first we figured we might as well buy our tickets for tonight’s ferry since we were already here.

Charlotte had to get weighed and measured for ticket classification.  For some reason theses nice guys at the scales decided to flatter her and wrote “coche” (car) on the little piece of paper instead of a the big “autobus” that she really is, saving us a bunch of pesos.

Charlotte had to get weighed and measured for ticket classification. For some reason theses nice guys at the scales decided to flatter her and wrote “coche” (car) on the little piece of paper instead of a the big “autobus” that she really is, saving us a bunch of pesos.

Back at the ticket counter, the nice young lady did not speak any English, but we gleaned that she could not sell us tickets (one for each of us and one for Charlotte) until we had Charlotte weighed and measured. It turns out that the price for a vehicle depends on the size and weight. In this case, would she be considered a minibus which was 6,000 pesos ($480) or a passenger car which was only about 2,000 pesos, and we needed some slip of paper to tell the ticket lady which. Sadly, we were pretty sure at over 6,000lbs she would be a minibus. Okay, where do we do that?

For some unknown reason the scale place was ensconced behind a gated area, and we had to pass through the customs check to get there. Unfortunately, in order to get through customs, we were informed by a federal official with an automatic rifle, that we needed a permit before we could go through customs.

“A permit?”
“ What kind of permit?”
“A temporary permit”.
“You mean our car registration?”
“No, the temporary permit!”
“Okay, where do we get that?”
“At the bank, back by the ticket counter.”

Really? Okay, back over to the terminal building. Fortunately, we found the bank easily and the woman at the counter spoke perfect English and was very helpful. In 2011, Mexico began requiring vehicles entering the country to obtain a “Carne de Passage,” a bond of sorts, which is returned upon exiting the country. Many countries require these to make sure automobiles are not brought in illegally for either sale or use, and we have heard that some countries demand a deposit of up to ten times the value of the car. Mexico was asking for $200 which wasn’t awful, but then our helpful cashier said that she needed not only our visas (which fortunately we had gotten at the Tecate border), but also copies of our visas which we did not have. Prior to leaving the US we had made about 80 copies of each of our travel documents for future border crossings, so we were prepared to give her copies of Ned’s passport and Charlotte’s registration, but not the visas.

“So do you have a copy machine?”
“No, you have to go over to the administration office around the corner….”

Waiting 4 hours in line at the ferry terminal to the sensory accompaniment of motor fumes and diesel rumblings.

Waiting 4 hours in line at the ferry terminal to the sensory accompaniment of motor fumes and diesel rumblings.

Getting the copies was no big deal, just another 20 minutes, then back to our friend at the bank with (we hoped) everything we needed. She took it all and 15 minutes later we emerged victoriously with our “temporary visa.” Now could we please get Charlotte weighed so we could get tickets?

We proudly presented our temporary visa to the gun toting federal agent at the customs gate who started out being very stern, but turned out to have gone to school in Sacramento, California. We had him laughing with us shortly as he inspected the car and asked the appropriate questions. We were almost all set to go when he said one of us had to push this button which was supposed to randomly select if we could go on or if we had to go through “revision,” which is a REALLY thorough inspection of everything in the car. Ned is an absolute master at packing a lot of stuff in small spaces so the prospect of going through “revision” was a little unsettling. They both pointed to me, and I had to push the stupid thing. And, yes, I drew a “revision.” By now we were buds with the federale dude, and he told us he had to go through the motions because they had cameras watching him. It was not bad at all. 10 minutes later we were at the scales, finally…where we got asked for another fee…

There were about six guys milling around the scale booth, none of which spoke any English. We told them we needed our piece of paper classifying Charlotte so we could buy her a ticket. We joked with them, saying “Es un coche, sí? No es un minibus!” (It’s car, right? Not a minibus!”). He laughed back and then told us we had to pay him 53 pesos.

“Porqué?” “Why”
“Para continuar” “To go on”
“Pero qué es?” “But What is it”
“Es por la puerta” It’s a port fee.
“Pero no vamos en la ferry hasta mas tarde, no ahora!” “But we’re not going on the ferry until later, not right now!”

With a promise to pay later we left with our little scrap of paper which read “coche.” Olé!
Now, how do we get out of this restricted area so we could go buy our tickets and sit by pool?

We were directed to an exit off to the side of the huge loading yard which came complete with a military checkpoint. Military checkpoints are scattered throughout Mexico and normally, these are no big deal as long as you are polite, friendly, remove your sunglasses and are not carrying guns or drugs. The 12 year olds carrying AK47’s who man these stations are just kids after all. But this time was not normal. Our “greeter” was probably about 18 and told me I had to get out and walk to the other end. Getting out of the car so they can inspect it is normal. Being separated from Ned is not. My heart sped up just a bit, but I dutifully walked the 100ft or so as told. I did not, however, stay put. When Ned drove forward to be inspected, I walked up and explained in Spanish to another teenager with an automatic rifle that we were not getting off of the ferry; we had not even gotten on the ferry; we were not getting on the ferry until 11:00 that night, and we were only getting weighed so we could buy our tickets for the 11:00 ferry. With a confused expression on his face, he took pity and waved us through.

By the time we got back to the ticket booth it was 2:00. (I guess that’s why they tell you to get there three hours early.) The girl at the counter took our money, our passports and our little piece of paper and disappeared. We waited…and waited. In the meantime semi trucks already being loaded onto our ferry were clattering by not 15 ft away. The ground shook with their passing, and the ear splitting, brain rattling noise echoed between two concrete buildings adding to the whole chaotic experience. Ned finally used his 6ft of height to lean through the window to see what was going on. Apparently the copier had malfunctioned and the poor girl was staring at it, head in hands, with a look of total exasperation. Minutes dragged by. The now completely flustered ticket girl made several frantic phone calls and then continued to pointlessly poke at the machine. One of the proddings must have finally worked as the beaming girl appeared at the window waving our tickets.

The beers weren’t getting any colder at the pool, so at 3:00, our hard-won tickets in hand, we got in Charlotte for the drive back to the hotel. We noticed, however, that not only were the semis being loaded, but lots of cars and smaller trucks were lining up. Were they waiting for our 11:00 ferry? We asked an official looking woman who emphatically told us that we had to line up now. Evidently the boat often fills early leaving some on the dock without a spot. “Even if we have our tickets?” we asked. “Yes! You should get in line now!” Having jumped through bureaucratic hoops to get out of the secure loading area, we now had to get back in. Fortunately our friend at customs was still on duty, and we got through without a hitch; Ned pushed the button this time and drew the lucky green light.

Although waiting around in line at the ferry terminal to the sensory accompaniment of motor fumes and diesel rumblings, doesn’t quite compare to a poolside respite, having your house with you at all times does have its advantages. We had our own cold beer. We opened a couple, made friends with the guy in front of us and gave him one. We eventually lay on the bed, settling in to read and nap away the next eight hours.

I made friends with two delightful Mexican kids who had lived in Canada for six years and spoke perfect English.  Roxanne, 12 yrs old and Obed, 10, were traveling with their parents to a small pueblo on the mainland to live with relatives.  Roxanne loves to read, has aspirations to become a writer and dreams of traveling.

I made friends with two delightful Mexican kids who had lived in Canada for six years and spoke perfect English. Roxanne, 12 yrs old and Obed, 10, were traveling with their parents to a small pueblo on the mainland to live with relatives. Roxanne loves to read, has aspirations to become a writer and dreams of traveling.

At 7:30 someone knocked on our window and told us it was time to go load up. Yippee! We were getting on the ferry early! Then it all went hay-wire. I was told to get out, that only one person could drive the car onto the boat. Fortunately I had my daypack prepared for the overnight trip since we would not have access to Charlotte once we boarded. I grabbed it as I was unceremoniously deposited onto the pavement while Ned drove off with the house. Now what was I supposed to do? I asked around and was told to stay in the passenger waiting area until we could board at 9:30. No comforts of home now. The next two hours stretched monotonously in front of me. Ned was probably already on the ferry, sitting in some comfortable lounge!

It wasn’t really that bad. I made friends with two delightful Mexican kids who had lived in Canada for six years and spoke perfect English. Roxanne, 12 yrs old and Obed, 10, were traveling with their parents to a small pueblo on the mainland to live with relatives. Roxanne loves to read, has aspirations to become a writer and dreams of traveling. I gave her my contact information hoping she will have enough access to internet to follow our blog and keep in touch. I wish for her all that she dreams of.

At 9:30 I boarded with no problem and ran right into Ned. Contrary to my annoyed musings, he had to wait sitting in the driver’s seat in a holding area for the two hours and had only just come aboard himself. Being our typical cheap selves, we had opted to not get a cabin for the overnight ride. Certainly we could tough it out for one night. We ate an unmemorable meal in the cafeteria and then sat in the lounge where vintage MTV music videos were being shown on big screen TV’s. They were actually rather entertaining despite the brain pounding volume, and we were quite enjoying ourselves until the bartender decided that his patrons, who were mostly truck drivers, would rather watch boxing. Now we were treated to the unmelodious screaming of bloodthirsty fans at maximum volume and took our cue to go find somewhere to pass the rest of the night.

I got up from my (three airplane-type seats across) bed to watch a beautiful dawn break as we pulled in to Topolobampo.

I got up from my (three airplane-type seats across) bed to watch a beautiful dawn break as we pulled in to Topolobampo.

After scouring every public corner of the ship and despite the crowded quarters (there were people sleeping all over the floors) we were both able to score three airplane-style seats across in a sitting area where they were showing the movie, Lord of the Rings, at only half volume. We drifted in and out of sleep in various positions and degrees of discomfort to the hideous repetition of “Preeeeecious!”

With my head resting on the lumpy backpack and a chair edge digging into my ribs, I reflected on the day. It was funny, but not that bad, and all of the people we dealt with were very friendly. This was just a ferry. Putting Charlotte in a shipping container to another continent was really going to put us through our bureaucratic paces. But that’s what this trip is all about; going places we’ve never gone and doing things we’ve never done…red tape and all.