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Published: December 26th 2017
We crossed the dangerous (no wall but a fence) border at Nogales. This has to be one of the easiest crossings. You just drive past the American huts, along the two lane highway, get waved over have a quick chat with the Mexican guard and off you go. You stop at Km 21 where you get your vehicle import sticker (TIP) and your six month tourist card. Or not, in the case of one couple we met at San Carlos who forgot to stop and had to drive all the way back!
When you meet up with other travellers it is always fun to chat and exchange a few “Crossing the border” stories. Most of us have had some sort of hassle, mainly from the US because they just don’t appear to know the rules or maybe they do but just change them each morning, perhaps to make the day more interesting. Imagine the morning briefings in the immigration office. OK, today let’s ignore the visa regulations, or let’s pretend Canada is part of the USA. The best one so far though is the couple coming from Canada on their way to Mexico. The B Guard asked them
their destination, Mexico they replied. Well, we can’t let you in, you may smuggle Mexicans back in your vehicle! Forget the wall, they need to build a transit corridor.
Our first stop was San Carlos. We stayed here 12 years ago, everyone we met who had been here recently had said we would find it had developed.....really? We couldn’t see where, it looked the same to us. We stayed a few days, cycled around, and enjoyed a few margaritas whilst we planned our route.
As you know from the previous blog we were in Mexico a bit earlier than anticipated. This meant we were here in time to experience the Day of the Dead celebrations which were at the end of the month and was something we both wanted to see. Patzcuaro is one of the best places to do this so we considered heading straight there. Graeme had driven many miles (3,049 to be precise) around Alaska and back to Mexico and we were looking for somewhere to sit a while and chill. If we did this there were things we would miss along the way plus we didn’t want to rush, so
decided against it
We agreed to head down the coast to Lo de Marcos. It was a few days drive away, is situated on the Pacific coast on the Riviera Nayarit and had been recommended to us. Here the jungle creeps up to the ocean shore and the deep blue seas lap onto the sands. It truly is a beautiful area and the place where most RVers who are happy to travel a little further south spend their winter. We arrived to find a lovely RV Park and also that we were ahead of the crowd, we were only ones there. In fact when we called just before our arrival they were not actually open yet. We soon found out why, could it possibly be something to do with the humidity? Our first day we got up, strolled along the beautiful beach, enjoyed the warm morning, discussed if we would walk into town, cycle or whatever and then........The humidity hit. You either sweated New Orleans style or kept inside to keep cool. ......... We stayed a few days; it didn’t change so decided to head inland.
Now we were on the move again we
decided we could still make Patzcuaro for the Day of the Dead. We called Jose to ask what day the main celebrations were on and asked him to call the Ranch to check if there was room for us. There was good news and bad. He told us that the main day was Tuesday, which we could make and yes, there was a lot of room at the Ranch,........... Because the bridge to it was closed for work so no one in a large vehicle could get there. A new plan was required.
Last year we had read about San Juan del Lago RV Eco Park. It said that you needed to ring before arrival, especially if in a large Rig as you have to be guided through the village, so we gave it a miss. Since then we had met Bernard and Christine who had stayed there and would be there now. They highly recommended it. It is outside Morelia and about an hour from Patzcuaro so we could still visit for Day of the Dead, we decided to head that way.
It was a two day journey from Lo de Marcos, well,
it should be. We had to go around Guadalajara (second biggest city in Mexico) so set off early. Our plan was to get past there and then find a Pemex station to stay in overnight, thereby ensuring we arrive at the RV Park in day light the next day. Remember that golden rule, don’t drive in the dark.
When driving around Guadalajara the general advice is that you have to look out for the police as they like to stop you and try and extract some money. As we planned to go around the Periferico and therefore avoid the city centre we were optimistic of having a trouble free journey.
The first hiccup came as we headed towards the city on the motorway. The Federales (State Police) waved us down, indicating we pull over. We stopped and as Graeme got out and walked towards them I have to shamefully admit I hid our money. Actually that’s a small worry for here at least I knew he wasn’t about to be shot!
In the wing mirror I watched the conversation taking place, and then Graeme strolled back, got in, started up and
prepared to pull out. What did he want I asked? Nothing really Graeme said, just wanted to know where we were going, and said what a nice vehicle we have, shook my hand and waved us on.
The instructions given for driving around Guadalajara say “ it is very easy to miss the junction to the Periferico, watch carefully for the turning” We were concentrating hard, looking out for the junction, GPS backed up by me checking Google maps on my phone. You know, I said, it looks as if the shortest way is right through the centre, but we don’t want to do that, do we?.......... oh, it looks like we are, at this point the only way was forward so we carried on. In Mexico the cities have lateral roads. There are the main road lanes and then small roads, the “laterals” either side which allow access to the businesses. Now, wouldn’t you think the through traffic would take the main lanes and shoppers the laterals? Well no. Big vehicles take the side roads and cars the centre, we were in the centre, a policeman was laying in wait, he waved us over..........
Out Graeme got, a long conversation took place, he returned to get his driving licence. How is it going? I helpfully enquired. We have very little Spanish but at times like this it is better to have even less. I joined Graeme, we apologised, waved our map around, apologised some more and indicated we were lost. He waved his forms around and indicated we should give him 20 days wages. This we understood but looked surprised and said 20 pesos (80p), that’s all? With Google translate we to and froed a bit, each explaining their situation. Eventually he had enough of us and indicated we should follow him to leave the city. He pulled out, we lost him in the traffic but we were now in the parallels so off we went, We couldn’t believe our luck, two stops in one day, well a couple of hours actually, no money exchanged and the police were very nice to us. It must be a record. Actually in all our police encounters here they have been very nice to us so far.
We carried on and started to look for our overnight stop. There was, however, the small
problem that all the large Pemex parking areas were on the northbound side, & turnoffs from these Cuotas (toll roads) are few & far between. Not one was to be found on our side of the carriageway. It wasn’t looking good for us. Christine had given us the co ordinates to the place where we would meet Arturo, we did a quick calculation and decided we could be there before dark, and as we really had no other option, carried on. Well, we were there before dark but Christine had failed to mention it then took another 45 minutes to get through the town, along the narrow unmade roads, with many topes (rough evil speed bumps), then up a steep hill, to get to the park. Let’s just say it was a long day!
Next morning we awoke to a wonderful view over the lake, all was well in our world. Time to explore.
On the road we meet all sorts of people doing all sorts of things, and this was one of the most interesting and ambitious so far. The park is a long term project for Arturo. He wants to create a
self sustaining eco community and environment and offers an American standard RV park. So far he has done an amazing job. Electrics that work, large flat sites with wide space between them, your own cactus garden, lovely communal social areas and all on a hilltop site with beautiful views. Take a look on http://sanjuandellago.com/
. It is situated close to Cuitzeo, another Pueblo Magico, near Morelia and many other attractions we wanted to visit. We planned to stay a few days but several weeks later were still there. Maybe, being so difficult to get to is a good business ploy as you tend to stay a while.
Cuitzeo was officially founded in 1550, with the building of a large Augustinian monastery that still stands today. It is situated on the shores of Lake Cuitzeo, a very shallow lake, the second biggest in Mexico, although sadly it is in danger of disappearing. Nearby is the village of San Juan where the park is. It is Mexico real life, there are no tourists here. The little town offers everything you need for daily life whilst maintaining a rural Mexican pace. Men on donkeys carrying wood, goat herders wandering along
the lanes, cattle pottering around, all of life going on in the street, festivals and fiestas. Music, always music, it always sounds like a party is going on. We settled in to enjoy the experience.
With Christine & Bernard we set of to Patzcuaro for the Day of the Dead. Originally this was a celebration for the pre Hispanic people of Mexico, and as Patzcuaro has a large indigenous population it is one of the best places to experience it. We had stayed there earlier this year and loved the town, possibly my favourite place so far, and now we were seeing it in another light.
Plans for the day are made throughout the year gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the three-day period families clean and decorate the graves of their relatives with ofrendas (altars), which often include orange marigolds called here cempasúchil
( Nahuatl for "twenty flowers"). In modern Mexico the marigold is sometimes called La Flor de la Muerte (The Flower of the Dead) as they are thought to attract souls of the deceased to the offerings. They also add tequila, candles, books, toys, photographs, and anything
else the departed was particularly fond of. Mariachi Bands are engaged to play their favourite songs and generally they have a good time eating & drinking as the families commune for one time every year with their departed relatives. We wandered around the cemetery taking it all in. It is a beautiful and joyous way to remember our dead, I think we should all do it, especially the tequila bit.
In town flower stalls and market stands lined every space, people were milling around, many, including the children, in full make up and beautiful costumes. There were caballeros on horseback and bands parading through the street, it was an amazing sight to see.
With so much to look at we didn’t get to the lake edge to watch the candle lit boats float across to Isla Janitzio. That definitely remains on the “to do list”.
The time at San Juan swiftly passed, each day something new popped up to experience. We did usual touristy stuff like revisiting Morelia, had a great day at Los Azufres hot springs, where we wallowed in mud, green water and the hottest steam room / hut
I have ever been in, soaked in the village hot baths, an interesting experience (very clean stop this one) and we also got involved in some local events. Arturo took us all to the Rodeo, a colourful noisy but repetitive event and to the local beauty pageant.
Somehow the organisers thought or heard we were photographers and asked Arturo to ask if we would take pictures of the girls at the lake. We had no idea why they thought this but we all agreed to go and take pictures anyway, but other than that we had no idea what it was exactly all about. Arturo told us where to go and at what time. Obviously, as we are a not Mexican we arrived on time........ To wait a bit and then a bit longer, and as Arturo is Mexican, he didn’t arrive at all. Eventually we followed the trucks to the lake and watched with interest as many people and props, like a boat, and urns and flowers gradually turned up. Christina, Christine & I took many pictures, mostly random, communication being a small problem. Before we left Christine arranged for the organisers to come the next
day to view the pictures and choose their favourites.
Obviously, not being Mexican, the next day, as agreed, we had all the pictures sorted and ready for viewing, and obviously being Mexican no one came until about four days later. We really must adjust to Mexican time.
Some days later Arturo said the official pageant was being held in the Plaza on Saturday and he would be attending, had a table organised for us and Bernard was to be a Judge, the International Judge! We should be there by 18.30, he would meet us later. Now, we were getting wise to this so we went for supper stayed past the given time before heading off to the plaza. We needed to try harder. We arrived, the plaza was almost empty, it looked all ready for a party but one being held some hours later. We sat at our table and people watched, we waited for Arturo, perhaps he could explain more..... Well, what do you think? Graeme won the bet, Bernard handed over his money. Eventually everyone drifted in. And some hours later the show was on. The girls we had photographed at the
lake now paraded in their beautiful dresses, did some dancing and gave a speech before being formally judged.
The girls’ families and supporters had drums and banners, balloons and batons, there was much chanting, singing and calling for their favourite. Unfortunately my favourite appeared to have a much smaller family, who were strangely quite so I threw my lot in with them. It was a noisy, crowded, joyous evening. It was also one of those surreal on the road moments when you ask yourself, did I ever imagine we would be sitting at a Mexican beauty pageant. (We forgave Arturo for his non appearance; he had been working hard all day.
Last year on our way to Mexico City we were going to visit the Biosphere where the Monarch butterflies winter but didn’t, so It was still on the "to do" list Christine & Bernard said they wanted to go, did we want to join them? Of course we did, so off we all went for a day out.
The Monarch butterfly may be the most widely recognized of all American butterflies. It has distinct orange, black, and white wings. While
beautiful, this colouring actually sends a warning to predators that the monarch is foul tasting and poisonous. The reason for this is that in their larval stage monarch caterpillars feed almost exclusively on milkweed and the adults get their nutrients from the nectar of flowers. The milkweed is actually a poisonous toxin and stored in their bodies which makes the monarch taste so terrible. It is the search for milkweed that drives their migratory path.
Millions of Monarch butterflies make the astounding 3000 mile journey from the USA down to Mexico to roost for the winter. (obviously butterflies don’t have borders) During the migration tens of thousands will land on a single tree in certain areas along their migratory path. Monarchs can travel between 50 - 100 miles a day and it can take up to two months to complete their journey, all this by an insect with a wingspan of about 4 inches and weighing no more than a ¼ oz. If that’s not amazing enough it’s the way they do it that is so fascinating.
It takes the Monarch four generations to reach the wintering area. The first three generations have a
2– 6 week life span. During this time they will mate and produce the next generation which continues the northward migration. The fourth generation is different, they have a lifespan of 6-8 months. These are the butterflies that migrate south for winter and were the butterflies we went to see. Due to warmer than usual weather conditions they had arrived early this year, but by February there will be millions more. Never the less, when we hiked up through the Biosphere there were many hundreds of thousands hanging in the trees for us to see. When you first look for them they are difficult to spot because they are so densely grouped together in the trees they look like a huge mass of leaves. Then you realise the mass is thousands of butterflies.
We planned to stop on the way back at Tlalpujahua, another Puebla Magico. We didn’t know anything about it and I still can’t pronounce it, but a Pueblo Magico is always good to wander around. As we neared we were amazed to see so much traffic as all day, up until now the roads had been empty. Cars were parked everywhere and I mean
everywhere, along the side, distant streets crammed, car parks full, cars tipped sideways in ditches, (literally, at 90 degrees. I have no idea how they got out.) crowds of people walking along, huge boxes piled high, we wondered what was happening. We soon found out.
Tlalpujahua was home of the Dos Estrellas Mine, once a leading producer of gold. Then in 1937 a major landslide of mud and mining debris damaged the mine and buried about one-third of the town. Thus ending the mining. In the 1960s, a local by the name of Joaquín Muñoz Orta began making Christmas tree ornaments here. This eventually grew into what is now one of the largest producers of ornamental Christmas decorations (Adornos Navideños) in Mexico. The classic ornaments are simple hand-blown glass spheres, often filled with sparkly paper or twine, but there are over a thousand different models available with shapes such as fruits, Santa, reindeer, snowmen, monkeys and more modern styles like Pac man or Kitty.
Now about 70% of the town’s economy is based on this craft. The town was like a huge Santa’s Grotto. Not only did almost every shop sell Christmas baubles, angels,
reindeer and Santas but every plaza had a huge marquee packed full of stalls selling Christmas baubles, angels’ reindeer and Santas .................. and everyone was buying.
We wandered around amazed, with Jingle Bells playing loudly in the background , huge Christmas tree illuminated in the street, snowy covered restaurants, people everywhere clutching their newly purchased decorations, it was our first festive moment and so unexpected.
With Christine and Bernard as our only full time neighbours we had been mostly “home alone” at San Juan. When we arrived we knew there was to be a Caravan of 17 vehicles arriving later in the month but hadn’t anticipated still being there. Now that day had arrived. Now, we thought getting one vehicle through the village was challenging enough, getting 17 should be interesting, particularly on the Rodeo day. Arturo had worked hard to make their arrival as easy as possible and arranged for the police to clear the village streets, he escorted them to the park gates in groups of 4 then we all participated in encouraging them to climb the hill, waving, pointing helpfully up the hill, giving thumbs up and taking pictures. All made
it although a couple required a bit of a tow.
For the group Arturo had arranged a cultural evening, did we want to go? Leave by 17.30.... Really, for a show and dinner? We just can’t break that habit, we left at 17.30. On the way we passed Arturo going in the opposite direction. What time does it start we enquired, Oh about 6 or 8 he said, we looked at each other and drove on. Well, we were there at 6, queued at the bar until about 7, (worth it, great margaritas) and the evening started about 8 , so accidently this time he was spot on. We were delighted to find that Arturo had arranged for the dancers and the beauty queens to attend so we were able to get a closer look at their beautiful costumes. We were greeted by some of the villagers and organisers who recognised us from the earlier events, we were beginning to feel like locals.
But it was now time for all of us to leave. Christine and Bernard were heading to the coast, we were going inland and the Caravan was also moving on. Again
Arturo had arranged for police to escort the caravan out through the village. We discussed our plans, Christine & Bernard had further to go so decided they would leave at day break. We didn’t have such a long journey ahead so decided we would let the caravan go then tag along at the rear to save causing any more chaos in the village. What’s that they say about the best laid plans? We waved Christine & Bernard off, a bit later watched the caravan disappear, gave them time to clear the village and then headed out. We would go straight through the village and be at our next destination within a few hours. Excellent.
We were just moving off when a very excited, breathless man came running towards us saying something in a very agitated manner. We couldn’t understand exactly what he was saying, we got “Arturo”, “closed gate”, “village” and “?blocked” , or something like that but could make no real sense of it all. We opened the Rig door, the guy breathless man hopped on and off we went. At the bottom of the hill he jumped out to open the large gate, we might
have struggled to do this on our own so thought this may have been the problem. We drove slowly along the lane, all was quiet, no goats, cows or people to avoid, we took the bend, still all OK, a bit further, still empty it was going well, but then we saw the back of a motorhome? Oh and another, in fact most of them. It was gridlock, only a bit different to your normal traffic jam because it didn’t only consist of motorhomes & village vehicles, but the odd donkey and horses, some rubble, dogs, children and the village donut cart. We got out to have a look to see what was happening to find that one of the rigs had snagged the overhead cables which along with the supporting pole was now draped over it. This could take a while.
It actually only took 2 or3 hours to call someone to re position the pole and wires, negotiate the cost of repair, pay the policemen and thereby liberate the vehicles and village and we were all on our way. The amazing thing was that despite causing their biggest traffic jam, probably ever, and on a
Juan O’Gorman’s mural,
In Patzcuaro biblioteca illustrating the history of the State of Michoacán.
Saturday morning, the villagers still waved cheerfully at us as we passed through. Not the donut lady though, she had sold out very early and probably gone home to put her feet up.
It was an unexpectedly long and delightful stay here. Arturo has put his heart and soul into building his dream and was the most accommodating host. We hope it all works for him. On our travels we will encourage everyone we meet who passes his way to stay there. It will be a case of stay and get the T shirt. He is going to have some made with “I climbed the hill at San Juan “printed on them. That alone will make the effort worthwhile, all the rest is a bonus. We might even return to get ours.
Next stop, Tepotzotlan just outside Mexico City and another pueblo Magico (we are ticking them off the list) The name Tepotzotlán is of Nahuatl origin and means “among humpbacks” referring to the shape of the hills that surround the area. I was a bit suspicious about this translation until I saw the oldest surviving Aztec glyph for this area features, you guessed
it a humpbacked person sitting on top of a hill.
The town may be just on the outskirts of the ever sprawling Mexico City. But once in the historic Centro you are in just another bustling local town. The main Zocola is lined by the magnificent College of San Francisco Javier built by the Jesuits between the 15th
- 17c. Today this complex is home to the Museo Del Virreinato. (Museum of the Vice Regal or Colonial Period) and houses one of the largest collections of art and other objects from this time period in the country, all amazing but oh so gloomy. It also gives you access to visit one of the most understated churches we have yet seen!!(See picture) It’s amazing what you find in these little towns.
The Jesuits were also responsible for building another monumental structure in this area and it was this we had come to see. A few bumpy kilometres outside the town is the Aqueduct of Xalpa better known as the Arcos Del Sitio. The building of the aqueduct commenced in 1706 by the Jesuit to carry water from the Oro River to their monastery and college
in Tepotzotlán. It was an ambitious project, the total length was to be 40 Km but because the Jesuits were expelled in 1767 it was not completed until the 19century and then restored between 1993-97.
As you bump along the narrow upwardly winding road, climbing higher and higher and take yet another curve you suddenly get your first glimpse of the aqueduct nestled on and across the hillside.
The structure you see today is 438 mtrs long, has 43 arches and, where it traverses the gorge, has four levels reaching a height of 61 meters, making it the highest aqueduct in Latin America. It snakes across the hill side and over the gorge, a really pleasing vision to look at.
We wandered around exploring, walked across the top, over, around and under it, the only people there. In every area of Mexico there are so many things to see that wonderful sites like this barely get a mention.
When we arrived at the campsite in Tepotzotlan we were a bit surprised to find it full, due to another Caravan from the same Quebec company
as the one @ San Juan. Fortunately they managed to squeeze us in, as the next day they would be leaving.
After the Caravan left we were the only people in the camp site apart from a Swiss guy & his wife, who had been travelling for 8 years in a 30 year old Iveco van, but they left a few days later to fly down to a mountain village in Tierra Del Fuego for 6 months to stay with the inlaws!
Yet again we had the place to ourselves until an Airstream trailer pulled in. We walked by and a voice said Hallo, you were in the Baja last year. It was Ian & Marnie who we had met in Los Barriles. They joined us on the trip to the aqueduct and we agreed to share a taxi to do a bit of tourism to visit Frida Kahlo museum and Xochimilco both places we missed out on our last time in Mexico City.
I knew Mexico City or Tenochititlan as it was in Aztec times was originally an island but I had never considered the area surrounding it. This area
was once a collection of shallow lakes and islands linked together by artificial waterways and causeways
About 1000 years ago the pre Hispanic people created floating islands called chinampas to increase the area available for agriculture.
On the shallow waters of the lakes, rafts were constructed of juniper branches. Lakebed mud and soil were heaped onto these rafts and crops planted. The rafts remained tied to juniper trees and would eventually sink, and then new ones would be built on top to replace them. Over time, these sunken rafts would form islands. As the number of the chinampa islands increased, areas of the lake were reduced to canals. These “floating gardens” were an important part of the economy of the Aztec Empire and Xochimilco in the Aztec Nahuatl language means “the place where flowers grow” Visiting them is a chance to glimpse into not just pre-Hispanic, but pre-Aztec Mexico.
A favourite weekend pastime for the locals is to float along the canals on the brightly coloured boats. Smaller boat float by selling beer, tacos, sombreros, jewellery and anything else you could possibly need for a few hours on the canals, whilst
(music, always music) Mariachi bands float by calling out for requests to play. Other than the Mariachis, being a weekday our trip was a much more peaceful experience. With the brightly coloured boats, music & food it is a cheerful way to spend an hour or two but there is a creepier part to this trip, the Chinampa known as the Island of the dolls.
This Chinampa belonged to a man named Don Julián Santana Barrera, According to the legend; he discovered a little girl who had drowned in the canals in mysterious circumstances. He also found a doll floating nearby and, assuming it belonged to the little girl, hung it from a tree as a sign of respect.Soon after he began to hear whispers, footsteps, and anguished wails in the darkness, even though he lived miles away from civilization. Driven by fear, he spent the next fifty years hanging more and more dolls, some missing body parts, all over the island in an attempt to appease what he believed to be the drowned girl’s spirit.When Barrera died his body was reportedly found in the exact spot he found the girl’s body fifty years before. There are
now hundreds, maybe thousands, of dolls hanging from trees on the tiny island. A journalist who visited the island claimed it was the creepiest place she had been.
The Frida Kahlo museum was also well worth the trip. It is situated in Coyoacan, an arty suburb of Mexico City. The museum is in Fridas much loved house known as “ La Casa Azule” so not only do you get to view her paintings and creations but to wander through her home. It was here that Frida was born, lived, died and to this day remains. Her ashes are in a pre-hispanic urn, shaped like a toad and stand in her bedroom. The urn is a beautiful love story. Her nickname for her husband Diego Rivera was “little toad”. Frida requested this particular urn so she would remain in the embrace of her husband for eternity.
When Rivera died he requested the house be a museum to Frida, he also requested a bathroom remain locked for 15 years. Somehow it actually remained locked for 50 years, & when they eventually opened the door they found many of Fridas personal items, which
are now on display.
The thing I found most interesting was the development of Fridas iconic dress style. She was of half German and half native descent. Her clothes and style came from the traditional Tehuana people a strongly matriarchal society. This style not only gave her an immediately recognisable identity but helped to cover her physical imperfections. At age six Frida suffered from polio, then as a young adult was severely injured in a bus crash that resulted in her being in a full body cast for three months and left in severe pain and the need to wear corsets for the rest of her life. Frida painted her casts and corsets, incorporating them into her outfits, turning them from medical equipment into works of art.
Fridas style influenced many of today’s designers and you can see this when you compare the gowns on display from Jean Paul Gaultier alongside her own clothes. Just up the road from here is Leon Trotsky’s house. Two fantastic museums so close, which is useful as the traffic to get anywhere here is horrible.
Mexico City has a “No hoy Circular” system to assist
with the traffic and pollution problem. Depending on your licence plate number you can only drive on certain days and certain times. Depending on whom you ask or what you read Tepotzotlán is just outside the area. Ian & Marnie were going to pick up a few supplies and asked if we wanted to go. We didn’t really need anything but then thought, why not, we could pick up some beers, so joined them. As we drove off I said “is the supermarket inside the zone, the fine is huge. No problem if it is said Ian; the number plate is OK for today. Well the number plated might be OK but we had forgotten about the time issue of no driving before 11am, (it was about 10.45) and a short way down the road we were pulled over. This is getting to be a regular occurrence. Now, we were too early (fact) but we had the right plates (fact) we didn’t know if we were in or out of the zone (this is not an easy fact to establish, absolutely no helpful signs) so we didn’t know if Ian was being scammed or fined. A long and heated exchange
took place, phone calls made, phone handed over to speak to someone in a office, phone handed back. We claimed we had no money on us so were accompanied to the cash point for Ian to withdraw some, and then moved around the corner where more conversation & debate took place. Money was handed over, money was handed back, eventually half the requested amount was given with no receipt returned; I guess it was a bribe. All we know is two very happy police officers left and one very cross and considerably poorer Ian drove on.
When we left Tepotzotlán we took the long route away from the zone. We wanted to keep our lucky streak going.
We have been in Mexico for a couple of months so our “lets head south quickly and work our way back” plan has already slipped but it’s amazing we get anywhere at all in Mexico really. Each time we plan a route we note places along the way we have never heard of but now really want to see. In almost any other country most of these would be top of the tourist
list but here they are just a tiny name on a huge map.
It is so difficult to choose but choose we must, so you can see our dilemma I have listed a few places we would love to see but had to pass by.
There is Xochicalco one of Mexico most important archaeological sites. Tlahuica, Toltec, Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec and Aztec are all represented in these ruins.
Cacaxtla, one of the most impressive of Mexico ruins including high quality vivid depictions of daily life displayed on the buildings including a fresco of an almost life size jaguar.
Xochitecatl, where you can visit one of the worlds few circular pyramids.
Cantona – thought to be biggest single urban centre in Meso America, 24 Ball courts have been uncovered so far. It is situated in a lava bed landscape and all the buildings are held together by the weight of the bricks alone.
Oh and then there is Pachuca – a charming silver mining Pueblo with brightly coloured buildings, but its other claim to fame is that in the 19 century Cornish miners
came here to work and introduced football and the Cornish pastie to the inhabitants. We all know how the Mexicans adopted football, and the pasties have gone down well too, they are now the local dish although the fillings have morphed a bit.
Help, six years let alone six months here wouldn’t cover a 10th
Next stop, Cholula, a relaxed student type town. It lies on the plains of Puebla and has a stunning backdrop of the smoking volcano Popocatepetl
in the distance. The volcano is not a problem (currently) it’s the last earthquake that’s caused the damage here.
Cholula is famous for the amount of churches in the town, Cortez can take full responsibility for this. Having survived an Aztec ambush Cortez led a revenge attack killing 6000 Cholulans in a day. He then said he would build a church for every day of the year, or one on top of every Pagan temple he found. He didn’t quite accomplish this but he did managed 37. When walking around Cholula you might think this should make orientation easy, head for the church tower but there are 37 towers,
nearly all bright yellow, and most the same shape. However he did build one outstanding church you just can’t miss, the Santuario de Nuestra Senora de los Remedios, it proudly stands on top of Tepanapa, the largest pyramid in the world. That was pretty impressive 15th
century catholic oneupmanship at its best.
Actually it might not have been, because the pyramid was pretty much neglected and a ruin by the time they arrived. But when the Spanish came along and saw this huge mound about 213 ft high in a flat valley they didn’t think “I wonder what’s under here” but “what an excellent place to build a church”. Today, most of the exterior of the pyramid has still not been excavated, so it looks like a bright yellow church, placed on top of a huge grassy mound, but underneath this pyramid is unique because you can wander through its inner layers. Approximately every 52 years each new leader built a bigger pyramid over the last one just like Russian dolls, which left tunnels between each structure. So far seven structures and five miles of tunnels have been identified and you can wander through some of them
and see the previous steps, walls and platforms. The pyramid has survived many earthquakes including the last one but the church sustained damage and is currently closed. (Aztec oneupmanship!) .
Later we were wandering around the museum complex when we saw there was a photography exhibition, so we went in to see what it was all about. As we were gazing at the pictures a young woman came to speak to us and introduced herself as Griselda San Martin, the artist. Griselda, who is a documentary photographer from Spain, explained the exhibition was highlighting the pain & loss of families separated by the deportation rules and immigration policies between the USA & Mexico. Many of these people prior to being deported had lived and worked in the States for years and had been forced to leave their families behind. We found this particularly poignant because when in Tepotzotlán we met our first “Dreamer”. He had lived in the USA from age 3, had a an offer of a scholarship for the UCLA, knew he wanted to train to be a Doctor and had his life mapped out ..... Only now he was a waiter in a restaurant
in a place he had never lived. Oddly his parents were still in the States, but apparently this is how the deportation “lottery” works, dividing families. Many of the remaining people have legal work permits but not travel permits so if they leave they would not be able to return. Therefore they do not get to see their families at all unless they live near or visit “The Friendship Park” on the San Diego / Tijuana border. Here on a Saturday & Sunday for four hours only and under the watchful eye of armed guards on the US side people gather either side of the metal fence to greet their loved ones.
With Griselda were the members of one of the families that feature in her film. We came away feeling saddened by these peoples plight but inspired by Griselda’s work. Please look her up on http://www.griseldasanmartin.com/
and watch her short film, get the tissues out though. As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and these pictures are very powerful. We understand you can’t have unlimited immigration but these stories are heartbreaking and seem so random. I have such admiration for journalists who highlight
It is nearly Christmas time we don’t know where we will be yet. As I write this there are still ten days to go, you can go a long way in 10 days or sometimes nowhere at all. But I do know we are going to swap colonial towns, churches and museums, mountains and highlands with sunny days and cold nights for jungle, ruins, waterfalls and Cenotes, and hopefully warmer nights and hotter days.
So we wish you all HAPPY CHRISTMAS and a great NEW YEAR.
Enjoy time with your family and friends, for those that can’t. Xx
Moi & Graeme xx
ps. We made it to Palenque in Chiapas for Christmas. Next blog, jungle tales.
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