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Mainland Mexico - News - bespk

Mainland Mexico

Posted on Saturday, 8th December 2012 by Eunice

We took the ferry from La Paz on the afternoon of Thursday 8th November and had a small inside cabin with a sink, as the voyage took 18 hours.  It was clean and reasonably comfortable and dinner and breakfast were included in the price of the ticket (very unusual and tasty).  We were one of only two Caucasian couples on board and it is very interesting observing the many different facial features of our fellow passengers.  The staff were  kind and helpful and despite poor Spanish we managed to get by. 
The coffee for breakfast was made by spooning a vast quantity of Nescafé into an urn, which set us up for the next part of the adventure.  Boarding and disembarking from the ferry meant we had to make our separate ways, not really a problem until we reached Mazatlan when Guy was not allowed back into the terminal.  Fortunately, for Eunice the little yellow car easy to spot on the street.  Unfortunately Guy not in best of humours as two dock workers had tried to lift car up by rear tank support.

We set off to meet with Wendy and Lloyd in north of city. They are friends of Ron and Wendy (in Loretto). Despite Wendy not being sure her instructions would get us to their place; we managed to get lost only once; having overshot the turning.  We arrived at lunch time, and enjoyed some lovely tortilla soup, followed by a good long walk on beach with Wendy.  This was really fantastic as there was little space to stroll around on board the ferry.  Mazatlan has a beautiful coastline with great surf, but a massive undertow at times.  We saw a poor turtle on the beach who had not survived, but the vultures were doing a good clean up job.  By the time we returned to the house we were soaked to the skin, as there was very high humidity and salt content in air.  Lloyd was able to give us some very helpful advice about where to go and what to see on route south if we have time.  After a good night’s sleep we departed after a late breakfast for the long drive to Tepic. 

We had decided to take the main toll roads as there are less topes (large bumps and/or holes in the road. What we in the UK call sleeping policemen. But they have a nasty habit of sneaking up on you) and we didn't want to subject the car to too much stress.  Along the coast there are beautiful flowering shrubs and pools filled with lilies, egrets and herons.  We stopped in the small town of Rosaria to get petrol and got well and truly lost.  Fortunately St. Serendipity was on hand and a lovely man from the municipal transport on his motorbike led us to the petrol station.  The remainder of the journey to Tepic was more challenging.  Passing through the towns and villages was very interesting with the stalls selling local specialities: dried shrimp near the coast, and tamales (meat and vegetables slow cooked wrapped in maize or banana leaves), as well as lots of colourful items of clothing.

We arrived in Tepic in the rush hour, which is never a good idea and decided to head for the centre of the city.  Fortunately this was clearly marked, as were the one way streets.  We eventually arrived at the square, with its impressive obelisk and federal buildings.  We found an impressive hotel on the square, which despite our very hot sweaty and tired appearance agreed to let us stay.  We had dinner in a restaurant overlooking the square, watching a bride and groom having the longest photo session either of us has ever witnessed, with pictures being taken in every area of the square, including standing in the middle of the road.  We awoke the following morning to the sound of sirens as the local marathon was taking place.  This seemed to consist of a route that was circular and returned to the square every half an hour, continuing whilst we ate breakfast.  The car was parked in a  garage under the hotel and when we went down leave, had been beautifully cleaned by the guardian of the garage. 

Our journey on 11/11/12 was much shorter in distance, but quite demanding on the car, as the gradients of the hills are quite steep, with many periculosa curves. Consequently we spent a large part of the journey tucked away to the side of the road trying to keep out of everyone's way.  We now seem to be doing quite a lot of overtaking as the lorries are heavily laden and are often towing a large trailer, not an easy manoeuvre at the best of times, but really difficult going uphill.  However the drivers are generally very considerate.  The high hills and steep gradients allow for fantastic vistas of large cultivated valleys and colourful villages and towns.  Agriculture is generally fairly rustic and there are corn ricks and horse drawn ploughs in use, as well as a large number of people working in the small fields.

We arrived in Tequila in the early afternoon of Sunday and found a very basic hotel along a main street leading towards the square.  After the previous night this was a real change, but clean and adequate.  We were glad we had chosen it.  After checking in we found there was a fiesta in the centre of the town, with amazing groups of singers, musicians, people dancing, food stalls serving a fantastic variety of local specialities, cowboys demonstrating their lassoing skills and of course Tequila.  It was great fun, but very noisy.  This is after all Mexico.  It did not take much persuasion for us to go on a tour of a Tequila factory where the process was explained, and we got a chance to taste the drink.  You really do need the salt and lemon to drink it neat, but it is delicious as a Margarita. 

Mexican beds are generally hard, but our bed that night was also the noisiest ever.  Every slight movement caused a groan from both of us and the bed.  Perhaps we were too large for it, as we are beginning to realize that most people here are generally considerably shorter than us, (not to mention the difference in complexion and colouring).  Having finally managed to fall asleep by lying as still as possible, we were awoken in the early hours by gun shots.  Feeling somewhat jaded we departed the town, heading for Ajijic, on the shores of Lake Chapala, due south of the city of Guadalajara.   

Driving through Guadalajara was a nightmare, cars, lorries and trucks pushing and shoving, traffic lights it was difficult to see and a complete lack of lane markings on the road, which allows everyone to drive where they like.  Consequently we managed to get lost, but after a deviation, eventually found ourselves on the right route.  It took some time to regain our sense of humour, but this was reinstated when seeing a ranchero riding his horse down the central reservation, whilst talking on his mobile phone.

Lake Chapala appears to be an enormous crater lake.  The ambient temperature is distinctly cooler than we had previously experienced, but very pleasant.  It is understandably a tourist area, and attracts many ex patriots from the USA, Canada and Alaska.  They have a Lake Chapala community centre, where you can get information about local facilities and activities, a library and video rental.  Ajijic is also renowned for it artisan culture, particularly wood carvings and basket work.  Most of the streets are cobbled and flanked by small vividly coloured single or two storey buildings.  It is a lovely place with lakeside walks and lots of artisan shops, local markets and picturesque squares.  Guy was keen to check the car over and service it.  Fortunately the hotel had a  large flat parking area, with a shady tree.  Meanwhile Eunice; having realized that communication was an increasing problem each day, thought we should enrol in some proper Spanish classes.  Unfortunately, there was nothing available locally for a further three weeks but after an extensive Internet search we managed to find a course in Oaxaca, in a weeks’ time.

After two nights in Ajijic, we resumed our journey west and south towards Morellia. More hills and valleys to chug up and whiz down (as fast as the car will go, which is still jolly slow).  Our journey of 210 miles took us over 6 hours to drive.  Having just passed through yet another toll booth on the road we were pulled over by the police.  the usual panic set in, somewhat heightened by the fact that all of the police here carry AK 47s.  All was, however, well and what they wanted was a photo of themselves, us and the cars, ensuring that the guns were not too visible whilst these were taken.  They then stopped the traffic to allow us back onto the road.  We arrived in Morellia in the early evening and after a bit of a search managed to find a hotel right on the main square.  This is a beautiful old colonial town, with a fascinating history, a university and lots of lively people.  It also has a very strong artisan culture with brightly coloured pottery, woodwork, clothes and other artefacts.  Our room initially seemed fantastic as it looked out over the square, but we had not allowed for the fact that Mexicans wake up at night - real party animals who also like to rev their cars loudly.  Both rather grumpy and tired we finally fell asleep to be awakened by the earth moving, not what you might think, but an earthquake of 6.3, 70 miles away.  Nothing to worry about in Morellia and hardly noticed by the locals.  During the day Guy went to the out of town Telcel store to sort out a wi-fi dongle and SIM card for the phone; being taken there by a taxi driver who waited patiently until he was ready to return and the kind and helpful staff in the store, who sorted out what he needed and provided the SIM card for free.  We then explored the town visiting the regional artisan centre, housed in an old church, with galleries downstairs and workshops above - so much fascinating and beautiful work.  A change of rooms to the back of the hotel for the following night allowed for a more restful sleep and restoration of spirits.

A not too difficult day with reasonable driving; well for Mexican roads, which have a habit of running out of Tarmac or including pot holes and topes where you least expect them.  We headed for the city of Toluca, only 166 miles.  However the hills are now mountains complete with snow caps and very challenging.  We climbed up and up and reaching over 2,750 metres.  We even passed some modern cars with their bonnets open, so were feeling very grateful it wasn't us broken down.  Toluca is 70 miles west of Mexico City, so traffic density is increasing.  As usual we arrived in the rush hour, managed to get lost, but with the help of a van driver, who drew us a map, finally managed to find our hotel.  Dinner was a Chinese Mexican meal -a strange combination, but very palatable.

On the 17th we set off full of anticipation as we had to drive through Mexico City and everyone had told us how dreadful it was.  This was further exacerbated by the car making a strange noise which heightened our anxiety levels.  Having stopped by the road side to find out what it might be and finding nothing, we decided to risk it, especially as we seemed to be attracting interest from the Federal Police.  We had tried to find a route round Mexico City, but this would have made the journey much longer, so we decided to bite the bullet.  The ascent up the city (over 3,035 metres) and descent down into it are even more challenging than the previous day.  Whatever the noise had been had disappeared and we reasoned it could not be anything too serious if the car was able to drive up this mountain.  The road signs in the city are extremely difficult to follow, but working on the principle that we needed to keep the sun to our south side.  Eventually Eunice spotting some minute signs to Puebla and we managed not to get lost.  Patting ourselves on the back we nearly made it out of the city; until an officious traffic policeman attempted to accuse us of jumping a red light.  Sometimes having no Spanish can be an advantage and after realizing he was dealing with a couple of real gringos, he gave up.

Puebla is a highly industrialized city with lots of up and coming industry.  Out hotel was just outside the city centre and our room on the 7th floor overlooked the city and the active volcano Iztaccihuatl; very impressive with its snow cap, but even more so the following morning when it decided to have a little smoke!  We found a taxi to take us into the city, but unfortunately had little time to explore as it was late and we really just wanted supper and sleep.  We had a very interesting dinner of local specialities and instead of a desert menu they bring you a large plate of local sweetmeats to try.  The same taxi driver had arranged to collect us at the end of the meal for which we were most grateful.

Up the following morning for the big push to get to Oaxaca (240miles), so a long day, made even longer by the fact that they decided to close the main road in Puebla for the
a celebration, yes another one and we can't rightly recall whether it was rather anniversary of the Revolution or the War of Independence.  Getting out of the city was challenging and interesting and took us down many back roads, where people waved and looked surprised to see us.  Finally we got back onto the main Toll Road, although as we travel away from Mexico City the state of the roads becomes more interesting, with more hazards, large pot holes, mainly made by the heavy traffic, topes, metal studs and various objects (such as ropes and strips of tyre), to slow you down; not to mention the people and animals that seem to wander across the road.

Fortunately a large part of the road to Oaxaca has been recently upgraded and it made for easier driving.   The journey takes us through several ravines and then up the side of a canyon.  We felt we would never reach the summit, and had been climbing steadily for over half and hour before the contours flattened out and we reached a plateau of pink sandstone, very picturesque in the afternoon sun.  All was going well until the car began to cough and splutter.  Guy diagnosed that the petrol pump had failed and set about correcting it, with Eunice using the pump to pressurize the tank.  We had gone about 500 yards when we realized that the electrics to the pump had been accidentally switched off whilst turning off the hazard lights and electric fan which we use for going uphill.  A big sigh of relief and a resumption of normal progress.  It does just prove how useful having a backup plan can be!

Finally we arrived in Oaxaca as the day was nearing a close,(always a difficult time).
Being unsure of where  we were going we pulled into the side of the road to finalize our plans and orientate  ourselves.  No sooner had we stopped than two cars drew up alongside and offered to help.  Fortunately we had the address and phone number of where we were going written down and one charming gentleman and a delightful family drove us in convoy to our home for the next three weeks.  The delightful home of our hostess; Vicky.  After many thank yous,  shaking of hands and hugs, the lovely family departed and left us to the next part of the adventure.  The Mexicans are truly wonderful and so far have been extremely kind and helpful. 
 



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