Friday, January 14, 2005

Flooded road north of the border

On the beach in Puerto Penasco

Shopping, of course

Puerto Penasco is on the coast but is much like a border town. It's full of Americans and the $ is used more than pesos. Apparently it is a weekend get away for people from Arizona. There are more resorts being built to accommodate Americans than you can imagine. Big business here. Tonight is our second night here. We'll head on down the coast tomorrow before all the weekend traffic arrives. We're camped right on the coast. It is gorgeous.

We spent the day walking the beach and town. The beach is full of wonderful little sea shells. Dan just shakes his head as I go down the beach picking up shells. I hope each of you will enjoy the mosaic shell mirror I will make for you for Christmas. Just kidding! Some of the buildings are very colorful, as are the crafts. Attached is a photo of the most interesting shopping we found here. We didn't even have to go inside to enjoy. We also attached a couple of photos of our adventures with the flooded roads.

We departed Anacortes Jan. 5 and arrived in Puerto Penasco, Senora, Mexico, Jan. 14. We took our time, visited friends, slept in late, got in our walking, ate good food, hit Starbuck's, negotiated flooded roads and generally poked around. The weather was cold, rainy and windy most of the way down, but has been sunny and warmer the past few days. Living in this little chalet on the road has it's challenges...nothing a little organization won't cure. We're working on that daily.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Bay by San Carlos

San Carlos Foreigner Harbor

San Carlos Fishing Harbor

San Carlos Village

Sr Pato Shell Hunting

Lunch on the Beach shell hunting

Cleaning the Shells

It’s Wednesday, January 19, and we’re on the road again after a few wonderful days in San Carlos.   Heading out of Puerto Panasco we thought it would be no problem making it to Bahia Kino before dark.  We were just beginning to find travel takes longer than it says in our guide books largely due to road conditions.  As late afternoon approached we decided to camp at Hermosillo even though the guide books had no RV camps listed.  Surely in this larger city we would find a place to camp.  It was just before dark, we were hot and tired, and by gosh there wasn’t an RV camp to be found.  We stopped at a hotel to ask, only to find it is true……no RV camps.  We ended up staying at the hotel which had a very nice exterior, lobby and restaurant but not such a great bed.  We used the room to shower, but slept in our Chalet.  That was a first for us.

The next morning we decided to skip Bahia Kino and head south to San Carlos, a small town near Guaymas.  San Carlos is a very clean, beautiful little town with lots of Americans, friendly Mexicans, a gorgeous marina, miles of beach, many huge homes, a few big hotels and many small businesses.  We stayed at an RV camp at the edge of town allowing us to get in many miles of walking back and forth through town.  Alejandro delivered fresh produce, shrimp, homemade tortillas and tamales plus many other delights twice daily to our RV camp.  I enjoyed a few tortillas until I made the mistake of asking him if they were made with lard.  I knew they tasted too good to be healthy.  Actually, both of us are slowly shedding our holiday pounds despite the basket of tortilla chips placed in front of us at every restaurant!  No, we didn’t bring a scale, but ended up purchasing one at Costco before we crossed the border.  Good thing too……………………..got to stay on top of it here in the land of lard!

The first evening we walked a couple hours before dusk to see the town and the marina.  The next day we spent the entire day walking around looking at all the beautiful homes and interesting architecture.  We found a nice 5000 square foot house with view of the bay, furnished, 20 foot inboard/outboard boat and Chevy Blazer included, for the low price of $300 K US. There are many other homes for sale, all big and gorgeous, so we haven’t decided yet for sure which we will purchase for our second home.  We’ll send photos and you can help us decide!

Our last day we went with a group of Canadians from the RV camp to Playa del Sol, a remote beach past Guaymas, and spent the day collecting shells.  WOW…the best shell collecting I have ever experienced.  It was a sunny, hot day of walking in the surf and along the beach picking up the most beautiful shells I could imagine.  Even Dan couldn’t resist and picked up as many as I did.  On the dirt road out to the beach the fishermen dump black and pink Murex shells after eating the critters inside.  These shells are different and larger than the ones we picked up on the beach.  You can tell a fresh dump by the smell.  The fresher the better to get them before the color gets bleached out by the sun.  If we would have known the work involved in cleaning these shells we might not have picked up so many!   After a great day on the beach, I prepared dinner while Dan started to work cleaning the big shells.  First you boil them, then soak them in bleach water to kill the left over critters and get ride of the stink!  Dan worked at that until after dark.  This morning our Canadian neighbor at the RV camp showed us how to use muiracid to clean off the calcium build up to show the true color of the shell.  Some of the shells will take some work, but after they are cleaned up you can spray them with glossy acrylic varnish to give them the look of the shells tourists pay mucho $$$$ for.  We have plenty of all kinds of shells for anybody who’s willing to do the clean up work on them.

As I type we are on Mex 15 heading for Alamos, our next stop.  The road has no shoulder with very few places to pull over.  If you break down you just stop in the lane, deal with it and pray nobody hits you.  So far we’ve been lucky not to hit a bottomless pothole, of which there are many.  We’ve also been able to slow down for every topes/marked or unmarked. We are headed inland to a small town full of colonial mansions that have been restored by American retirees.  We plan on staying through the weekend to take in the Home & Garden Tour and experience the Festival Dr Alfonso Ortiz Tirado, a cultural festival lasting 10 days.  We’ll probably find some time to clean up some of the shells we picked up.  It’s an adventure and we are having a blast!


Monday, January 24, 2005

Alamos

Festival Vendor

a Villa

A Alamos street

Business Veranda

Main Church

Church Door

Hung over again!

We stayed at an RV camp less than a half mile from town making it easy walking back and forth a few times a day.  We walked between five and seven miles each day going back and forth and seeing town. We enjoyed a latte every morning and some afternoons on the patio of what became one of favorite our places to relax, hang out and watch people.  I actually learned to say the full  Spanish sentence for ordering a latte.  We attended a few free outdoor concerts on the plaza.  We ate great food from street vendors (40 pesos, less than $4 US for a few tacos with all the toppings) to a gourmet dinner ( an appetizer of tiny pancakes topped with smoked salmon with guacamole, an entrée of pumpkin seed incrusted chicken, sweet corn flan and delicately steamed green beans and tomatoes, a dessert of chocolate cookie and crème, a margarita for Dan and a glass of wine for me) for 350 pesos including tip which is approximately $30 US) and everything in between.  Impeccable service.  We’ve got the food thing down pat.  We generally eat one meal out, eating a light breakfast in the Chalet then eating lunch or dinner out depending on what works into our schedule.  When we eat out we split a meal, trying hard not to come home with 30 extra pounds.  Many thanks to Robin Romero for her flank steak recipe, Mary Mandell for her Cabbage Crunch recipe, Jerlyn Caba for her curry salad options, Ed & Judy for their salad dressing recipe………………all of which I have made variations of in our little camper.  When I cook I make enough to have one more meal of left overs.  It is working out nicely.  Beautiful, fresh produce is available in every little town.  We can pretty much find everything we need in terms of groceries.

Over the past 30 years a community of American retirees and creative types have snapped up many decaying colonial buildings to renovate and convert into hotels, restaurants and homes.  On Saturday we went on a Home & Garden Tour of three haciendas owned by Americans.  From the outside of the buildings you see only adobe walls, windows and doors.  Inside you see magnificent courtyards surrounded by numerous rooms full of Mexican artwork.   The tour money helps fund the local kids through college.  There is an active group of approximately 80 Americans owning homes and facilitating the education of these kids.  Every Saturday the tour includes 3 of the 80 haciendas.  In two of the haciendas the owners were home and took us through their homes.  In the days following the tour we saw tour guides and the owners of the haciendas around town.  They recognized and greeted us as if they knew us.  We met many people, Americans and Mexican, and felt we had made friends.

We are falling in love with this country and the people.  If we didn’t already live in Paradise we just might consider moving to one of these wonderful small Mexican towns.

Next we are headed to Creel on the train then down Copper Canyon.

It’s Monday, January 24, and we’re on the road to El Fuerte after four grand days in Alamos.  The timing of our arrival in Alamos couldn’t have been better.  Their annual Festival Dr. Alfonso Ortiz Tirado started just after our arrival.  This is a ten day cultural festival with the focus on music of all kinds from indigenous to jazz to opera.  It attracts thousands of visitors to this small town.  Vendors set up around the town square selling trinkets.  Small food stands line the streets.  Music is enjoyed at several venues around town.  The atmosphere is very festive.  The town was full of people making for great people watching, but it was not so over crowded you couldn’t enjoy the festivities.

Wednesday, Febrary 9, 2005

Plaza Machado

Court Yard at the Angela Peralta theater

Inside Angela Peralta

Pino Suarez Market

Oldest Bakery in Mazatlan

Ground Cleaner in Copala

Lunch inCopala

The pigeon leaders

The Rain came down in Mazatlan

Caranaval on the Malecon

We arrived in Nuevo Vallarta/Puerto Vallarta Monday evening after a fun week in Mazatlan.  We spent the week exploring, eating and experiencing Carnaval.  We stayed in an RV camp just off the beach between the Malecon and the Zona Dorada (Golden Zone/Hotel Zone).  The Malecon is a ten kilometer palm-lined promenade built on a sea wall.  It was a great location for walking or riding the bus to every place we wanted to go.

The Monday after we arrived we were walking down a main street full of tourists on our way to get a massage when we heard a loud whistle and somebody calling DAN.  We looked around thinking this was crazy, nobody knew us in Mazatlan.  Turned out it was the couple from San Diego we had met on the Copper Canyon adventure, trying to get our attention out the window from the bus.  It was bizarre.  We ended up connecting with them a day or two later at the marina.  We got together with them for dinner and browsing in old town one evening.  They gave us lots of tips (good restaurants, oldest bakery, best cheese pie, outings to small towns nearby, etc.).  We feel like they have become friends and are hoping to see them up our way in the future.   Our massages were wonderful.  No fru, fru massage, the real deal. 

We took the bus downtown several days.  In downtown/old town we enjoyed the huge central market full of produce, meat & bakery stands, small cafés and booths full of misc. “stuff”.  We visited the newly renovated Teatro Angela Peralta, the two main plazas, the cathedral, the oldest bakery in Mazatlan (several visits), a few art shops and a couple of restaurants.  We enjoyed walking the narrow streets with the old architecture and numerous photo ops.  The Malecon was gorgeous and a nice walk along the water.  We walked at least eight miles everyday just getting around town and seeing the sights.  Good thing because there’s just too much good food here.  We have eaten lots of good Mexican food, from little road side stands to street vendors to nice restaurants, but finally had a craving for Asian.  There were a few sushi bars near our RV camp.  We walked by them nearly every day wondering if they could possibly be any good.  We broke down and gave one a try Thursday evening.  It was extremely good.  So good, we went back for lunch another day.  That should hold us for awhile.

We only took the truck out one day and that was for an outing to Copala, a very small, old mining town founded in 1550, approximately 50 miles from Mazatlan.   We spent the morning walking town, enjoying the quiet and taking in the beauty.  Dan took many photographs and I followed a sow with her three piglets around as they foraged through the back streets of town.  We finished up our day there with lunch at Daniel’s which is famous for their banana coconut cream pie.  Lunch was definitely a “split the meal” deal.  It was nice to get out of the city for a day.

For the most part the weather has been great on our trip.  Midweek it started dumping rain all night then cleared up during the day……… until Saturday.  Was a downpour all day.  Didn’t keep us in the trailer though.  The temp was still warm, just wet.  We spent all day out in it and returned to the trailer looking like drenched dogs.  Sunday it was sunny again just in time for the big Carnaval parade down the Malecon.  Which brings us to the subject of Carnaval.  We’ve decided it’s basically just an excuse to drink beer and sell T-shirts and trinkets.  There was a published schedule of events but when we arrived nothing seemed to be happening in most cases.  The gastronomico event was supposed to be the kick off of street vendors selling traditional Mexican food around the plaza.  Never happened due to the new upscale restaurants around the plaza having a problem with sharing the business.  We, along with numerous others, sat on the Malecon until almost midnight waiting for the fireworks display until we finally realized it had been canceled due to rain earlier in the day.   The parade, however, did take place, even close to schedule!  It was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on the Malecon.  We headed down with our fold up chairs around 3 p.m. to get a good spot.  The first few “floats” (actually beer and bread promotion trucks) passed by us a little after 6 p.m. then it was another hour or more before the thirty some floats arrived.  The parade consisted mostly of barely dressed dancing girls, huge floats with barely dressed girls aboard, and a few bands and horses thrown in along the way for good measure.  I’m not sure what we expected.  I guess even the Rose Parade is basically a bunch of big floats with girls aboard dancing and waving to the crowd.  What we enjoyed most was being part of the crowd (lots of gringos, but mostly Mexicans), watching the kids and taking in all the curb side entertainment while waiting for the parade to arrive.  Barely dressed girls on one of the first floats tossed granola bars to the crowd.  We gave ours to a little Mexican girl next to us.  Next thing we know her family is sharing the meal they brought with us.  We have found the Mexican  people to be gracious and friendly in every town and village we have visited.  As for Carnaval, once will do it for us.

When we first arrived in Mazatlan I saw a lady with a nice short hair cut and asked her where she got her hair cut. Before we left I finally broke down and had mine cut by the same guy.  My hair dresser in Anacortes had written instructions for how she cuts my hair.  Daniel spoke some English so I asked him if he would like me to read the instructions to him.  He said yes, so I did.  Then he cut my hair exactly like he cuts everybody else’s.  I’ve had better cuts and I’ve had worse cuts but I’ve never had one as cheap as this cut………….30 pesos, less than $3 US.  No photo to follow!  I guess it wasn’t all that bad because Dan didn’t die laughing and ended up getting his hair cut at the same shop.  Although he had the same problem getting them to cut his hair like he wanted.

Mexican flavors are really growing on us and not just on our hips!  We purchased a tortilla maker and Dan tried making flour tortillas.  Turns out the flour tortillas are made by hand, not by using the press.  Hum….we were wondering why they were shriveling to little pads of dough.  The corn tortillas are made by pressing the dough in something that looks like an old hamburger patty press.  We haven’t tried the press with corn dough yet but that’s in the plan for this week.  Making our own will be a good way to skip the lard.  We’ve also purchased a lime squeezer and are putting lime juice on everything we make.  The squeezer is a marvelous little invention kind of like a garlic press.  It allows you to cut the lime in half and squeeze out the juice without having to pick out the seeds.  The limes here are smaller than golf balls and very sweet.  We should import them and make millions.  We’ve also purchased Abuelita, a block of chocolate flavored with spices and cinnamon.  You shave off pieces, add it to hot milk and use a molinio (something that looks like a wooden child’s toy, but is actually a type of whisk) to froth it into hot chocolate of sorts.  We haven’t tried it yet because we had a hard time finding the tool, but we are set now.  We’ll let you know how it turns out.

Our neighbors in Anacortes graciously offered us the use of their condo here in Nuevo Vallarta at Paradise Village.  Turns out they did not have it rented for a couple of weeks and offered it to us.  We didn’t think we’d be this far south by now, but it worked out perfectly.  We were ready to take a break from the trailer.  Will be an interesting contrast to staying in our little trailer at the RV park!   We’ll spend time seeing some of what Puerto Vallarta has to offer, spend time on the beach, plus take day trips out to several  small towns in the area along the coast.


Friday, Febuary 17, 2005

Too Many Margaritas

Kitchen on the Home Tour

Endless Pool Home Tour

Living Room Home tour

Sayulita

Bucerias

Anniversary Dinner Guadalajara

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!!  Hope you are doing something wonderfully romantic to celebrate.  We are camped on the outskirts of Guadalajara.  We had planned to stay in Puerto Vallarta until Wednesday morning, but headed out a couple of days early due to the hot, humid weather.  It should be a little cooler and much less humid in the mountains.

As we drove along the coast road from Mazatlan to Vallarta we were amazed how quickly the vegetation changed from dry to tropical, becoming very lush.  Along the way we stopped at a couple of roadside stands to pick up freshly baked pineapple bread and fresh fruit.  The fruit stands were very interesting with numerous kinds of fruit we had never even heard of.  We purchased very small bananas (which taste much more citrus than those we get in the states), pineapple, star fruit, some kind of fruit from the cactus family (white, milky and squishy on the inside with an interesting taste that didn’t grow on us), and yaka.  We fell in love with the taste of yaka.  The fruit pod is larger than a football and contains a lot of fiber, but surrounding each seed is this delicious yellow fruit, a hybrid of seven different fruits.  We even saw an armadillo crossing the road.  It is the first live armadillo we have ever seen.  Very exciting.

The condo we stayed in at Nuevo Vallarta was a bus ride away from almost everything we wanted to do.  We enjoyed several afternoons on the beach…………….watching parasailing, reading, looking for shells on the sand, and walking miles along the beach.  I was very excited to find two live sand dollars, the first live ones either of us had ever seen.  They have little tentacles around their edge which they use to move from place to place and anchor themselves with.  The sand dollars stand on edge on the floor of the sea verses flat, like you find them on the sand when they are dead.

We spent a couple of days and a few evenings in town exploring and eating.  One morning we went on a home tour of four casas.  We fell in love with the first one.  It’s for sale and would be ours if we had $2.9 million.  It comes with a full staff and all furnishings and décor.  We’ve included photos of the living room and the infinity pool.  I’ll be playing the lottery when we get back to the states in the hope we can move in next winter.  We enjoyed going to town in the evening when it was cooler.  Saturday evening downtown was very festive with lots of street performers, food vendors and music.  We thought the last bus to Nuevo Vallarta was at midnight.  Unfortunately, when we headed for home around 11 p.m. we found the last bus was at 10 p.m.  Some guys on the neighborhood bus told us to hop on and go as far as we could on that bus, then catch a taxi from there.  We were dropped off at an intersection on the highway and luckily a taxi buzzed by right after we got off the bus.  It would have been a five or six mile walk in the dark back to the condo from there.  We had already walked numerous miles in town.  We figured the taxi would cost us big time, but no so, only 70 pesos, but we had to tell him how to get there.

We enjoyed lots of great food, as usual.  We haven’t had a bad meal since we arrived in Mexico.  Still, the best food is found at the roadside stands and street vendors.  When we order we sometimes aren’t sure what we’ll be getting but it has always been good and it’s sometimes a surprise.  We especially like the street vendors that have a big hunk of pork roasting on the grill.  They slice it off when you order and put it on whatever.  The “whatever” and the condiments that go with it are a little different at each booth.  We were able to purchase corn tortilla dough at a little tortilliaria just down the highway from where we were staying.  We made several meals at the condo and Dan is getting pretty darn good at making tortillas. 

We took the truck out a couple of days to visit Bucerias and Sayulita, small towns in the area.  Sayulita used to be a small fishing village but has become a surfer’s paradise due to the beach with fairly big waves.  The surfers are driving the cost of real estate up and it is becoming less of a little fishing village, although the streets are still about a car and a half wide. The beach is beautiful.  On the way back up the coast we plan on staying there or in another small beach town in that area. 

The hills and valleys on the way over were green and quite beautiful.  We knew we were getting close to Guadalajara when we started seeing fields of agave cactus (Tequila is made from this) ………… then smog.   We had a bit if a problem locating our RV camp.  The first one on our list had closed down to make room for high priced homes.  The next one, near Colima, was hard to find in the midst of all the rush hour traffic.  Just when we had given up and were headed to one out of town near the lake, we happened into the one we were looking for.  Sometimes things work out.  After getting set up, we walked to a restaurant just down a dirt lane from our camp.  We had a wonderful dinner of empanadas, Devil Fish (grilled white fish with spicy red sauce) and Tres Leche Cake to celebrate Valentine’s Day, the 25th anniversary of our first date. 


Sunday, February 20, 2005

Busy Bench

One of the many Squares, Guadalajara

Guadalajara Church

Since heading inland our trip has become much more adventurous and, at times, very frustrating.  We felt lucky to survive Guadalajara.  It’s a big city with a population of 4 million.  The RV camp we ended up in was a rat hole.  The first night in Guadalajara Dan ate or drank something that caused him to be sick all night.  He slept half the next day while I checked out the dumpy RV park and tried to get something other than cold water out of the shower in the dilapidated washroom.  That was it for me…….when he woke up feeling better we headed out to find another RV camp.  After searching for the three other camps listed in the guide book only to find they no longer existed, we decided to head downtown to get a hotel.   With trailer in tow, in heavy traffic, completely lost for 3 hours, never locating any hotels, we ended up back on the street where our RV camp was located.  Mentally exhausted, we gave in and went back to the rat hole.  We planned to get out of that town the next morning.  We’d had enough!

After a good night’s rest we decided to give town another try.  We headed to Centro on the bus and made it, no problemo.  We also saw about a dozen hotels we had missed the day before (with Dan trying to negotiate the trailer through traffic and me trying to navigate with a lousy map).  Spent the day walking around the big, dirty city.  Really it’s not a big city like in the US.  It’s more like a small town of one and two story buildings that covers a large area and houses 4 million people.   Never made it to the artsy suburb because we weren’t able to find the correct bus.  Actually, we were lucky to make it back to the rat hole because we managed to jump on the wrong bus.  The bus route took us off the main streets onto dirt roads into small neighborhoods.  We got further and further away from where we were trying to go and it was getting dark.  Getting a little scary.  Luckily the bus route took us back onto a paved major road that led back to the rat hole.  We were able to walk four miles to get home.  The only positive thing about the rat hole RV camp was getting to share the shower with this gorgeous American hunk.  I finally found warm water for a shower in the men’s washroom (actually Dan found it), which was in much better shape than the women’s.  We were outta there bright and early the next morning.  Enough of the big city for us.

On our way to Toluca, we decided to check out the Santuario Mariposa Monarca near Angangueo.  From late Oct. to early Nov. millions of monarch butterflies arrive in these forested Mexican highlands for their winter hibernation.  At night and in the early morning the butterflies cluster together covering whole fir trees weighing down the branches.  As the day warms up they begin to flutter around, descending to the humid forest floor for the hottest part of the day.  The sanctuary offers tours to see the butterflies and we thought this would be spectacular.  After a cold night’s sleep on a typically hard Mexican mattress at a hotel in the very small mountain town of Angangueo, we were up at 6 a.m. and on the road with the mother of our “tour guide”.  She passed us on to a Mexican man and his son, neither able to speak English, and sent us on our way.  The original deal was for us to go by horse.  After walking quite awhile, trying to communicate with the man about using horses, we finally got our point across.  He went back and got the horses.  Up the trail a ways he abruptly stopped, requested payment and appeared to be dropping us off in the middle of nowhere.  We hadn’t seen one butterfly to this point.  As we were ALL getting frustrated trying to communicate, a truck with two Federal Sanctuary Protection officers showed up and read him the riot act in Spanish.  We were trying to get the just of it.  It sounded like we were not able to go further and had been cheated so we started to walk back.  We met up with some Germans who were hiking in to the sanctuary and decided to join them and see what happens.  They had a young Mexican boy guiding them via body language.  We found the butterflies and as Dan said…….he has seen more butterflies on the windshield of his motorcycle going over Monarch Pass in Colorado!  Truthfully, there were many butterflies and it was a gorgeous site, just not the millions we thought we would see.  We have come to realize we Americans have high expectations.  In the end, we realized the Feds were probably getting after our guide for taking the horses too far in.   If we would have had more information we could have simply hiked in and enjoyed the butterflies without all the extra hassle.  Hoy…gringos!   We ended up walking out then heading to Toluca.

The drive to Toluca on back country roads was one of the more interesting parts of our inland trip so far.  Here we were, just 24 miles from Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, seeing men and women doing laundry in the creeks by the roadside and fields being plowed with oxen.   Toluca is a colonial city of 400,000 surrounded by an industrial mess.  We hit there at evening rush hour and amazingly enough found our motel (no RV camps here?) with little hassle.  Decided not to stay to see the city so we headed for Taxco the next morning where we are spending a couple of days.  Having a great time so far.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

OH, the streets of Tasco!

Mexican Tourists Town

The place was busy

Kind of a slushy vendor

Mercado Man

How do you polish black boots and white threads?

Truly a Mountain town

View from a Restaurant

Central Plaza, Tasco

In our last e-mail I feel I gave Guadalajara kind of a bum wrap.  Our high frustration level was partly our fault.  We weren’t adequately prepared for the big city and the drastic difference of travel inland.  We didn’t realize RV camping would become so limited.  Now we realize how lucky we were to even find an RV camp, even if it was a rat hole.  In the towns between Guadalajara and Oaxaca there were no RV camps.  We didn’t feel safe dry camping, so hotels were our only option.  No matter the cost, high or low, the motels we have experienced in Mexico are pretty basic with extremely hard mattresses.  We sleep on a firm mattress at home so when I say HARD, I don’t mean it.  It’s like sleeping on a box spring.  Our rating system is a 1, 2 or 3 Tylenol mattress.

The fact that Dan was ill and I was somewhat nauseated for most of our time in Guadalajara also effected our time there.  We’d been in other frustrating situations in Mexico previous to Guadalajara and had worked through our options quite well.  Not feeling well seemed to hinder our ability to do this.  Plus we weren’t adequately prepared with information.  Once you head inland especially to the larger cities, you need more than the standard travel guide books, impossible to find in Guadalajara.  Plus, it’s hard to find much written in English or detailed city maps that extend beyond Centro.

On our way to see the butterflies we talked with some Canadians at a rest stop.  They were living at Lake Chapala, 26 miles from Guadalajara, for 6 months.  They validated our frustration with the limited street signage and gave us several tips that would have made our visit to the city more enjoyable.  Apparently the taxis are cheap and much easier to deal with than the bus system.  Anyway, we may give Guadalajara another try on the way home.

We are quick learners.  We’ve had a plan from that point on.  Our time in Taxco was great fun although getting settled there was a bit of a challenge.  From my reading in the Lonely Planet guide, I realized pulling a trailer into the old silver mining town with a population of 90,000, could be tricky.  The description of the town reminded me of Virginia City, Nevada.  Our Nevada friends can relate.  “Clinging to a steep hillside, it’s narrow cobblestone streets twist between well-worn buildings…………………..”  No RV camps so I did the research on hotels.  Our plan was to try the first one on the outskirts of town to avoid pulling the trailer through the busy Saturday traffic.  The first one came up too fast with limited signage so we missed it.  On to plan B, then to C.  We ended up inching through the main road through town and back looking at all our hotel options (luckily without turning over the trailer), finally settling on the most expensive resort on the hill.  It was the only place there was parking for our trailer.  Dan negotiated a narrow twisting road to the top of a steep hill to get us there.  The hill was so steep Dan had to put the truck in 4 wheel drive to get enough traction on the cobblestones.   I held my breath at every switchback hoping we were not driving ourselves into a dead end parking area we could not turn around in.  It worked out and we were settled.

Taxco is a delightful town full of cobblestone streets, old buildings and beautiful plazas…….a real photo op for Dan.  The town is a national treasure so most of the tourists are nationals.  Arriving on Saturday it was full of people with lots going on.  We rode the tram down from the resort then caught a Volkswagen Bug taxi (standard mode of tourist transportation) to the center of town.  What a ride through the very narrow streets!  The streets in town are barely wide enough for one “bug” and a person walking.  Drivers beep before they round a corner to warn the oncoming traffic.  They fly through the streets at an incredible speed (no seat belts).  We came within a couple of inches of having a head on with another taxi on the way to town.  It was exciting.  Spent the day walking town, taking photos, touring sights of interest, enjoying the Mercado, shopping for silver bracelets, eating good food, lingering over iced Cappuccino in a café on the Plaza Borda, and people watching.  The many stepped pathways through the city were lined with booths and people.  At the Zocalo, central plaza, the limited parking was so tight, men would help people park then split tips with the 4 traffic cops.  The traffic cops used whistles to move traffic and to “yack” back and forth.  We stayed in town into the evening enjoying the festive atmosphere on the plaza.  The next morning we slept in late for the first time since Guadalajara and caught up on e-mail before heading to town the next day.  The town was not as busy or as exciting on Sunday as it was the previous day, but easier to get around in.  Had another great day in town before hitting the road to another adventure.

We arrived in Oaxaca Monday night.  So far we LOVE this city and will probably spend a week here.  More on this city over the week.  This morning we’re off to schedule a cooking class.  The adventure continues……………………


Sunday, February 27, 2005

Cactus Tree & Sr Pato

Oaxaca street

Zocola

The Best Tortilla's in Town

Monte Alban

Monte Alban

Weaving Dyes

Donkey powered Agava crusher

Zapoteca distillery

Grapefruit Juice Stand

  We arrived in Oaxaca Monday evening after a long, HOT drive from Taxco on a winding road through the mountains. We looked ahead at options for staying at one of two small towns in between, but as we passed through these towns we decided to keep moving. None of the hotels looked halfway descent and some even had out-houses for toilets. It looked like we could make it to Oaxaca before nightfall. We've been especially careful about not being on the road at night for safety reasons. Determining we would arrive in Oaxaca very near dark we decided to get a hotel verses trying to locate one of two possible RV camps. After researching on the internet we weren't sure either was still open. It was a smart move on our part. Amazingly enough we drove straight to the hotel, parked fairly easily and had the evening to get oriented. Our hotel overlooked town and Dan was able to use the map to get some idea of the layout of town.

The mattress at the hotel was the best one we have slept on in hotel in
Mexico so far. The next morning we disconnected the trailer and took the
truck in search of the RV camp. It took awhile, but we finally found it. The streets aren't marked very well in most of the Mexican towns we've visited so far. When we left the trailer in the hotel parking lot we had positioned it so we could easily hook it back up to the truck and get out of the lot. Little did we know it was actually a public parking lot that filled up with cars EVERYWHERE even lining the road in and out. It was a
challenge but Dan was able to get the trailer hooked up and us out of there
without damage to us or them.

We were settled in at the RV camp by noon allowing us time to walk to town to probably the best English language bookstore in all of Mexico, stocking almost every Mexico related title in print in English. We were looking for detailed information on Oaxaca and a detailed map of more than just Centro. We found the detailed information, but not the map. Still, we ended up much more prepared to negotiate and enjoy the town.

The RV camp is located a couple of miles from Centro which has been wonderful. We've been walking everywhere and haven't had to drive the
truck anyplace. We are a few blocks from the "best tortillas in the city"
and right across the street from the "best tamales in the city" according to a booklet written by women who's spent 30 years here. We've eaten at the small open-air cafe twice and agree the tortillas are great. Dan's been watching and making mental notes so he can improve his technique. Made it to the tamale place for lunch today and the tamales are fantastic. She makes several different kinds and varies them over the week. Today we tried chicken verde (green chili sauce), chicken mole negro (black mole) and a pina (pineapple) dessert tamale. We were pleasantly surprised at the dessert tamale. The corn dough around the filling is lighter than in the other tamales. More like a cake texture than a corn meal texture.
Interesting and yummy!

The RV camp isn't all that wonderful, but I'm not complaining. It's great to get back in the trailer after staying at hotels in different towns during the previous week. It's such a drag to haul in all your stuff and sleep on a different bed (and a rock hard mattress) every night. We love the convenience of our trailer, not to mention the comfort of the bed. The bathrooms here are old, stinky and not that clean, but the water in the shower is hot IF you are one of the first to shower in the a.m.

We are camped next to two young German girls who are tent camping. They take Spanish language classes every morning during the week so are up early. They take very long showers using most of the hot water. It's a race to see if we can beat them to the shower so there'll be some hot, or even warm, water left. We've been up and rolling early all week. Lots of walking and long days. This morning, being Sunday, we decided to sleep in and pay the consequences in the shower. Slept until 9 a.m.. Luckily the girls had stayed up late and slept in also. HOT shower this morning!

There have been more camping vehicles without self-contained showers in
this camp than RVs so there is heavier usage of the shower facilities. This has not been the case until this camp. Previously we have experienced being one of the few to use the facilities due to so many fully equipped RVs. Another important point about Mexican RV camp showers..........flip flops are a necessity.

We spent Wednesday in Centro visiting a couple museums, doing some shopping, eating great food and drinking iced cappuccino. We are pacing ourselves by doing some of each of these activities daily. The guide booklet written by a woman who's lived here 30 years has been a big help.

It's helped us narrow down what things we want to do and those we don't.
We signed up for an Oaxacan cooking class we'll attend on Tuesday.

Thursday we went on a bus tour visiting the archaeological site of Monte Alban, considered one of the most important sites in Mesoamerica. Our guide was very knowledgeable which made the tour extremely interesting. We roamed the site of the excavation including a tomb discovered in recent years. Friday at one of the museums in town, we viewed the articles found in the tomb along with hundreds of items recovered during the excavation of the site. After leaving Monte Alban we stopped at a village where artisans create carved and painted Alebrijes, fantastic animals and creatures. It was interesting to see how the wood is carved, sanded, dried and painted, involving many people in the process of creating each animal. Even young children are involved by sanding the wood pieces after school. In this particular village many of the people are involved in this creative venture. The families making money selling Alebrijes purchase materials for the infrastructure of the village (roads, water, TV ,power) and hire other families from the village for to do the labor. Everyone in the village benefits. Because there are jobs in the village more young people stay, become involved in the economy of the village rather than moving on.

Friday we spent more time in Centro visiting museums, shopping, eating,
drinking and people watching. At this rate we'll make it through our list
before we leave on Wednesday.

Yesterday we took a full day bus tour. When we signed up for the bus tour the girl at the desk very blatantly tried to short change us 20 pesos.

When Dan started to carefully count the money she immediately put the other
20 on the desk. We have seen this many times in heavy tourists areas here in Mexico. We are wondering if this happens to foreign tourists in our
country.

On our tour the larger archaeological site of Aztec origin at Mitla was interesting but very much commercialized. The site was surrounded by booths full of junk targeted towards tourists. The second Aztec site was more remote and less visited. It was so quiet you could almost imagine what it might have been like so long ago. Neither of these sites has been reconstructed as has the site at Monte Alban. The tree at Santa Maria El Tule is the largest in Mexico and over 2000 years old.

We visited a shop in a Zapotecan village of rug weavers. The owner and his family demonstrated carding and spinning of the wool, explained washing of the wool, what natural plants and animals are used for the dyes, and demonstrated weaving techniques. The wool is washed with a type of root that is a bug repellant. The rugs are woven of wool dyed with naturally obtained dyes. A lady bug that lives on cactus is used for making different shades of reds and purples. The bug is crushed and used to get intense red color. Different amounts of lemon or baking soda are added to get the desired color or shade from pink to purple. Dan and I both found this part of the tour intriguing.

Our visit to a Zapoteca distillery where Mezcal is manufactured proved to be another extremely interesting part of our tour. Mezcal is a liquor similar to Tequila made from the agave cactus. The differences are that Mezcal is hand crafted rather than commercially produced, no sugar is used in the process, and it has a smoky flavor due to the cactus being smoked in a wood fire during processing. They crush the smoked cactus with a limestone wheel pulled in a circle by a horse. It must have been around 2 p.m. when we arrived at the distillery for some sampling and we hadn't eaten lunch yet. (This country eats a light breakfast early in the a.m., a mid morning snack of tortillas and eggs around 10:30 a.m., a large meal between 2 and 4 p.m. then a light dinner late evening.) There were several types of Mezcal to sample including some aged a year and a half, some aged 8 years and some fruit flavored types. One small sip was enough for me. I'm a white wine drinker. But Dan had a great time tasting ALL of the varieties. And you know him, he isn't much a drinker but he loves Tequila, so he had a great time sampling. On an empty stomach, I'm surprised he made it to lunch.� Luckily, it was right next door.

The all day tour turned out to be a long day. We were tired, but decided to stay in town to see the Saturday night action. We ate at a restaurant famous for their Oaxacan moles, sauces made from different herbs, spices and chilies. Different varieties include coloradito (brick-red chili & tomato), negro (dark, spicy, slightly sweet sauce made with chilies, bananas, chocolate, pepper & cinnamon), amerillo (yellow-orange cumin & chili), Verde (green made from beans, chilies, parsley & wild spinach), chichilo (dark, rich, made with varied chilies), colorado (dark red) and manchamenteles (made with pineapple & bananas). At the restaurant they let you choose by giving you a sampler of six types of moles. For our meal we chose chicken in three different moles and ate it on tortillas. At our cooking class on Tuesday we will learn to make one type of mole. Should be exciting!

The weather has been fantastic, sunny and warm, sometimes hot. We'll be returning to Anacortes with a tan and, hopefully, not all this Mexican cuisine on our hips!


Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Across from the Zocola

Father's Walk to Church

Street Painter

It was outstanding. We learned to make flan de vainilla, agua de Jamaica ( a drink made of hibiscus sabodariffa flowers), Mole Coloradito, sopa de nuea con chile chilpotle (soup of chilies and pecans), rajas con crema (an appetizer of chilies, cheese, cream and onions) and two salsas (red and green). I'll definitely have to do some substituting when making these recipes at home. At least the instructor does not believe in using lard! Class was held in Iliana de la Vega's teaching kitchen at the El Naranjo Restaurant. She gave us detailed copies of the recipes and we made additional notes. We participated in the making of each dish. We learned lots about fresh and dried chilies and how to dry roast chilies, garlic and nuts. Dan and I feel we will make all of the recipes in the future, some more than others. The soup was fantastic. After preparing the dishes we headed around the corner to the central market to learn more about Oaxacan delights ........fresh and dried chilies, cinnmon, brown sugar, chocolate, fruit drinks, fresh fruits and veggies. Very interesting! We returned to a beautifully set table with the meal we had prepared served by the restaurant staff. Gave us time to visit with others in the class (13 in all) and truly enjoy the dishes we had made. Quite a good deal for a six hour class. Decided to stay another day so we could go shopping for dried chilies and other special Oaxacan goodies.

Have been waiting for a shorter e-mail to share some misc. things we have noted about Mexico.

* Food is EVERYWHERE....restaurants, markets, booths, road side stands, almost every corner of every side walk.

* Same for shoe stores in the bigger towns. There seem to be more
shoe stores than any other kind of store. And the shoes the girls and women wear.....high heels, skinny straps, oh so very pointy toes. Makes our feet hurt just to watch them try to walk in them.

* Tight, hip hugger (or lower) jeans are the norm for teen girls and women alike, so matter the size or shape. Plus tight, revealing, low cut blouses on many teenage girls and young women. Much more so than in the states. Lots of skin shown by women in Mexico. We were surprised by this.

* We've seen turtle doves in three sizes. The smallest ones are just
about the size of a sparrow. They are beautiful and delicate.

* Few homeless people, but we've seen a few in Puerto Vallarta and Oaxaca.

* Not many self serve laundramats in this country. We've been lucky
to find laundry facilities at RV camps prior to Oaxaca. We have taken our
laundry to a lavandaria down the street from the RV camp here. The service
is cheap and the clothes are returned clean and neatly folded. What a
deal. It's hard to get the workers at the lavandaria to accept a tip even
though this service seems like far more work than other services, where
people seem to expect a tip for doing very little.

* A 110 peso (a little over $10) hair cut is much better than a 30 peso hair cut!

We are sad about leaving Oaxaca, but have pretty much "done the town". We would be tempted to bum around, be lazy and eat more great food if we stayed so we're headed for Puerto Escondido on the coast early tomorrow
morning. Plus, it is time to start our way back up the coast so we can be home by the end of March. We can't believe how quickly the time has passed.
Just had to tell you about our cooking class before we hit the road again.

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Some thing?

River Crossing With tree guides

Some kind of Chocolate Frap

Pacific Fishing Village

North of Escandido

The past few days have been extremely frustrating for us. Thursday we headed for Puerto Escondido on the coast. It was a LONG, HOT, CURVY road
that took all day. When we finally arrived, the only RV park listed in the
guide book was gone. We stopped and talked with a Canadian in an RV parked
along a street. He told us about an RV park that he wasn't able to get into due to the height of his trailer. We ended up staying there even though it was a rat hole. At least we had a place to park behind locked gates so we were fairly secure. We headed up the coast the next day to Acapulco. It was another long, hot ride. After much frustration locating an RV park we finally found it. It was another rat hole with the added
bonus of being infiltrated with sewer gas. I skipped taking a shower for a
couple of days because the showers were pits with no hot water. The next day we headed for Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo. The towns are big tourist areas. On our way out of Acapulco we were caught by a "bandito with a badge" for allegedly running a red light. We were lost and frustrated. Ended up paying bribe money, but at least we aren't in some Mexican jail!

There were no RV camps listed in our guide for Ixtapa or Zihuatanejo so we knew we would be staying in a hotel. In our search for a hotel we just about got the trailer stuck at the end of a road. Couldn't find any hotels in Zihuatanejo with parking for the trailer. Ixtapa is just a bunch of gated mega resorts. Decided to keep on going up the coast to Playa Azul.

We found camping in the back dirt lot of a hotel. It wasn't much, but it worked fine. Just a block from the beach. We stayed two nights. We were both thinking we had seen enough of Mexico. It's amazing what a hot shower, good night's sleep and a walk down a beautiful beach can do for a pissy attitude! We felt much better after a lazy day at the beach. We headed up the road toward Puerto Vallarta this morning. Enjoyed the coast line for much of our drive today. Arrived late afternoon at an RV camp just beyond Barra de Navidad. Had no trouble finding it. The showers are hot and it's right on the beach. Can't beat that. After dinner we took a walk on the beach at dusk. The temperature had come down and there was a nice breeze. This area of the coast is gorgeous, just not many services
for the camper.

The best part of the past few days of travel has been getting set up in the late afternoon then having a good dinner in the trailer. Dan has been perfecting his tortilla making. He's getting VERY GOOD at it. We've had home made, fresh corn tortillas every night with whatever's in the refrig to top them off.

We'll head out early a.m. to Puerto Vallarta. From there on we'll be back in territory we are familiar with where RV camps are more abundant. Plan to spend a couple nights in Puerto Vallarta and three nights in Mazatlan before heading back up the coast to the US. Will cross back the border around the 20th of March. We heard from our neighbors' Easter is a major holiday in Mexico. The water has a religious significance. The entire country heads for the beaches. We've heard the same thing from fellow campers at the RV camps. Many snowbirds are heading home. This year another Mexican holiday falls on the Monday before Easter making it a three day weekend followed by Easter week. Everyone says it will be crazy down here and we can imagine it will.

We thought of a few more misc. tidbits we have forgotten to put in e-mail.

* Instead of construction workers brown bagging for lunch, a food stand is set up by a woman or family at the construction site.

* We've seen many mothers in many towns, large and small, walking their grade school age kids to school. The mothers carry the kids' back packs for them. We've also seen mothers handing lunch through the fence to their kids at school.

* Mexican working outside the country send back to their extended families 14 billion annually which is what Mexico exports in petroleum. Many can't afford to move back because their families would loose the income.

* Our cooking instructor told us the Spanish brought three bad things to Mexico..genocide, disease and LARD!

* Our cooking instructor also gave us some history during the class. We had no idea most of the nun's in Mexico were daughters of the wealthy Spanish and had slaves to serve them in the convents.

* There is at least one purple casa in almost every Mexican village, town and city we have passed through on our trip.

* Every village, town or wide spot in the road has at least one to four topas (speed bumps). They slow down traffic, but also slow cars down so people can try to sell you anything and everything via your car windows.

* Along the coast with small towns one after another, the curves and the topas have slowed us down to an average of 30 miles per hour. This is how it's been for the past four days of travel.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Beach South of PV

Worthless Mechanic

Addict

Taliesen West

Taliesen West Living Room

Taliesen West Yard

We are a little behind on our travelog. We've had problems with our lap top computer since hooking up for wireless internet in Puerto Vallarta. Dan has been changing settings, doing this and that, trying to fix our problem.
He finally got it worked out and we are back on line. We're on our way home now, back tracking through some towns we stopped at on the way down, so there's not so much "adventure" to share.

After a few long, hot days of winding road and frustrating RV camp experiences we were ready to get back to someplace familiar. We arrived in Puerto Vallarta thinking we would have no problem finding a good RV camp since there were several listed in the guide book. The first one we tried was no longer there. The second try was in Bucerias. Ended up twisting through town on narrow, bumpy, dirt roads to a site that was no longer there. In the process we broke a leaf spring and almost lost our bumper. Needless to say, this did not put Dan in a good mood. Our third try worked out better. We found a nice RV camp down a paved street just two miles from downtown Puerto Vallarta. The broken leaf spring presented a safety issue so we had some decisions to make before we continued our trip. Luckily, the young man at the RV office spoke some English and was able to put us in touch with a Mexican gentleman painting an RV in the camp. He thought he could find us a new spring or rebuild the old one. He took our spring and told us he would get back to us later that afternoon.

That gave us most of the day to spend in town. It felt good to get in some walking since we had spent so much time in the truck over the past few days. Dan's Uncle Donald had e-mailed us he would be in the area around that time on a Mexican Riviera cruise. We didn't think we would be able to hook up with him because we weren't sure when we would be back in the area. Turns out we are walking along the Malecon and who do we see...Donald. Boy was he surprised when Dan went up and tapped him on the shoulder! Had a nice visit right there on the sidewalk. When we returned to the RV camp the gentleman was back with our spring and had fixed
it. So we were on our way to Mazatlan the next morning.

Mazatlan was one of our favorite places on the trip down so we were excited to get back. We stayed at the same RV camp which was one of the best on our trip. The gal in the office even remembered us and put us back in the same convenient space. It was like coming home. We spent three nights there. With the 200,000 people having left town after Carnival the town seemed like a tomb, quiet but back to normal. We read, walked, got another massage, ate sushi, drank latte's, went to old town for pie de caso and generally relaxed. My cousin, Rick, from Oregon, and his family were in Mazatlan on vacation for a couple of weeks. We met with them for dinner one evening. Had a great time getting caught up.

Then it was on to Los Mochis. We hadn't been there before but there's not much to say about it. We were lucky to find an RV camp. It was the pits. On to Bahia Kino bright and early the next morning. We pulled into an RV camp and were getting ready to set up when we saw some people we had become friendly with at the Alamos RV camp. They had shared much information that was helpful to us along the way. There they were, helping us again. They let us know the bugs were horrid at that RV camp, but not at the one they were at down the road. They lead us right to it and helped us get settled in a space. Turned out to be the nicest facilities of our entire trip in Mexico. Plus, it was full
of people we had met in Alamos. The bummer part was that it had turned cold and windy. We thought we might spend a
couple of days there, but ended up spending an entire day in the trailer because it was so windy. The dust and trailer were full of sand. Reminded us of Fallon in March. We did leave the trailer to meet the gang at a restaurant across
the street for the Tuesday night special. Decided we'd had enough of the wind and headed towards the border the next
morning.

We crossed at Nogales and stayed in Tucson. Visited the Center for Creative Photography on the University of Arizona campus before heading to Scottsdale to tour Taliesin West, the architectural school and office of the Frank Lloyd Wright foundation. We took a guided tour of this former residence and studio of Wright. Very interesting. We are thinking we should incorporate site seeing Frank Lloyd Wright buildings into our future RV travels in the states.

We definitely would like to visit Falling Water. In Scottsdale we stayed at a very unique RV camp, West World.
It was actually a horse/livestock events center and RV park with some of the nicest facilities we have encountered in
the states. We wonder how many of our friends with horses and livestock have shown and stayed there.

The next day it was on to Bakers field. The day after that we were pulling out of the RV camp and discovered a bolt in the truck tire. Got it fixed and headed for Sacramento when a car on the highway motioned to us that something was wrong. We looked in our mirrors to see smoke billowing from the back of our trailer. The leaf spring mount on our trailer had broken and the tire was rubbing on the wheel well. It must have just happened because the tire had not gotten hot enough to blow..thank Heavens. We were too far from Visalia to drive it in so we worked with AAA to get a tow. The guys that towed the trailer knew exactly where to take it to be welded, but it was Sunday and we couldn't get it done until Monday morning. Bummer, we spent the night in a motel. We are getting very spoiled sleeping in our trailer. It's nice to sleep in the same comfortable bed every night. The welding guys squeezed us in first thing the next morning. We got in some walking while they worked on the trailer. The weather was sunny and beautiful and the town was full of flowers. Made for nice walking.

With the trailer fixed in a couple of hours we were back on the road. The rough Mexican roads with all the topes and pot holes have taken a tole on our little trailer. We're keeping our fingers crossed that we make it home with the trailer in one piece. We're visiting friends in Sacramento and Eugene on our way home, the icing on the cake to a fantastic adventure!

P.S. It's cold and dumping rain in Sacramento. We checked weather.com for Anacortes weather and it doesn't look any better. We are already missing the sunny, warm weather of Mexico! We were hoping we would return to warm spring weather...yah right!