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North America » Mexico » Sinaloa » El Fuerte
April 10th 2006
Published: April 12th 2006
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On the edge of the world..On the edge of the world..On the edge of the world..

Standing on the edge of the balancing rock which juts out over the canyon (well, you just have to don't you) If you are really brave ( or stupid) you can make it wobble!


Pressing the “send” button was the last task my computer performed before hitting melt- down. It had been developing strange and erratic behaviour and is now well & truly kaput. Circuit Board history I guess.
Originally Graeme was keen to wait to get home before purchasing another, due to potential import & warranty problems etc, but a few days of pestering to use his has soon changed all that. We need to be a two computer family again ASAP

Our journey back up through Mexico began by heading along the Eastern coastline where the road runs parallel to the coast for many miles. At one point there are 3 islands, which are now connected by 2 long bridges, and often there is the ocean on one side and a lagoon on the other.

Travelling along these country roads provides us with the opportunity to glimpse many fascinating scenes. Here the countryside is lush and green, cows and horses stand chest deep in water, cooling off. There are tiny fishing villages, people snoozing in hammocks, interesting road side stalls and it is a bird watcher’s paradise.
I was also fascinated to see market stalls set up outside the
Bridge from Isla AguadaBridge from Isla AguadaBridge from Isla Aguada

One of the long low bridges that make it so much easier to travel the coastline
local jail, selling clothes, hammocks and food.Perhaps ours should try that and reduce costs a bit.

In contrast to the area we had left, where the leaves and grass were beginning to turn brown, there was a definite feel and look of spring here. Trees were full of pink blossom and tiny green budding leaves.
From Frontera we said goodbye to the coast and turned inland to commence our journey through central Mexico.

We travelled with high expectations as our next stop was to be a city named Oaxaca (Wah HAH kah) . Everyone we met who had been there said it was one of their favourite places
Not so many years ago it was a remote area but now there is a good winding mountainous road with a few small villages along the way, including one famous for distilling mescal (rougher tequila , you can smell it in the air)
We watched the scenery change yet again, as we wound our way uphill. We saw the agave plant reappear however in this area used to make the mescal. There were fields of cacti and plants that to us, looked like weeds. We discovered later they are
Oaxacan rugsOaxacan rugsOaxacan rugs

A few example of the brightly coloured, hand woven rugs. You can get any size or pattern.
a selection of herbs and plants cultivated for use in the handmade rug industry, which this area is famous for. They are used to make, or to set the natural dyes for the wool, of which the rugs are made. For example they use indigo leaves for blue dyes, alfalfa leaves for green , nut tree bark for brown , and pecan shells for tan . They also use the cochineal bug for the many shades of red; these are cultivated on the cactus leaves.

This area also has the greatest amount of indigenous Indian people. There are many different groups, speaking different native languages. Mostly they live in the villages surrounding Oaxaca. These villages are each famous for different types of traditional craft: green pottery, black pottery, rugs, and these crazy looking wooden animals called Alebrijes, “fanciful animal”. It is a craft shopper’s paradise.
Each village has a different market day; where you can hear the different native languages being spoken as well as Spanish. Some of these languages do not have a written form so speaking them in the family home keeps them alive. We now have 2 words of Mayan and one of Zapotec; it could
Rug WeavingRug WeavingRug Weaving

Demonstration of the weaving process. If you didnt want a rug before , you did after having the entire process demonstrated and explained.
be a long lesson!

We really enjoyed a trip to Teotitilan Del Ville, the village famous for rug making. We were shown the whole process from plant growing to the finished product. It really is a work of art. The whole village is occupied with this industry and within it entire extended families do their own designs and colours…... truly a co-operative.
We decided we wouldn’t buy a rug for ourselves (no floor or wall on which to put it) but chose one for Trish & Neal, pointed one out to Martha and Randy, who were with us, and which they purchased. Then, typically for us, decided we would buy one after all, but out of the hundreds of designs, couldn’t find “quite the right one”.
Several days later and completely “rugged” out we staggered home with a purchase.

In a neighbouring village we visited “the biggest single biomass in the world” which in plain words, to you & me is a tree. Not just any old tree though, this one, a cypress, is 2,000 years old and magnificent. Its girth is 161 ft and it is a 164 ft high, dwarfing the church it grows next to.
Looking for bugs!Looking for bugs!Looking for bugs!

Graeme & Randy examining the cochineal bugs they cultivate to make the red dye's with.


Oaxaca, just as everyone said, is a great place. Along with the crafts, art, shopping and eating it also has one of the most impressive pre Hispanic ruins.

Mounte Alban was founded approximately 500 yr BC. Having chosen their ideal site the Zapotecs then spent the next 100 hundred years flattening 3 square miles off the top of the mountain! (I can understand that. It’s like choosing the perfect house then ripping it apart) After achieving this spectacular feat they then spent the next 600 years on the building process. I think this must be the first long term urban planning.
We had a great guide, a young Zapotec guy who also filled us in on a lot of cultural and family things.
The Zapotecs were a very advanced culture; their building skills, calendar and writing formed the basis for the development of the Maya who followed.
They were also fabulous craftsmen, if you could afford it (its not discreet) the jewellery, made of gold, silver, turquoise and jade would not look out of place today. The pottery was also wonderful, I really loved the beautifully detailed little incense jar, in the shape of an armadillo - type creature scratching its nose.

The food here is different. As well as all the usual things there are Tamales, Tlallunda and chapulines (grasshoppers…… we passed on those)
Now as you know from the last blog our Spanish can sometimes lead to confusion (by the way the glasses are great). One thing we have learned though is to never ignore a word on the menu, even if you think you have worked out every other ingredient. Why? Because without fail it will be some part of a pig, any part, and parts you wouldn’t normally think available, there it will be, on your plate. In the markets they have pork fat stalls selling whole side of pork crackling…….. it puts a bag of pork scratchings to shame.
The other day whilst waiting at the bus stop I noticed a young lad stirring a huge cauldron of “something” steaming. I thought it may be a “mole”, so wandered along to have a look, only to find, amongst other bits, a pig snout and jaw peering at me.

But really Oaxaca is famous for the national dish “Mole” Essentially mole is a sauce served with chicken or pork. There are 7 different types. Verde, Rocco, Poblano, Colorada, Coloradito, Amarillo and Negro
The sauces consist of ingredients like chilli, chipotle (smoked chilli) peppers, peanuts, almonds, pecans, cinnamon, aniseed, tomatoes, onion garlic, and herbs, and for mole Negro……. chocolate, which Oaxaca is also famous for. Guess which one is Graeme’s favourite?
As mentioned earlier, pig is also involved, as the best moles are the ones made with lard….. Still at least it isn’t looking at you

This is definitely the city part of our trip. We set of for Puebla where our main aim was to visit the ruins of Tepanapa in Cholula. Again this is different experience. It is the largest single pyramid built in Mesoamerica and was constructed between 200BC & 800 AD. It is still mostly covered up. The difference here is that you can go inside.
As normal for this era the people would build a new structure over an old one (like Russian dolls) every 52 years, therefore each structure would become considerably larger then the previous one. In total there are seven structures. This is common to all these ruins but here the archaeologist have dug 5 miles of tunnels through the structure and identified
TepanapaTepanapaTepanapa

"Church on a hill"
each layer. So in the middle of this pyramid you can see the previous flights of steps and platforms. It was really fascinating.

Now the thing that makes it all the more interesting is……… along came the Spanish; who saw this huge mound, at least 213 feet high, in the middle of a huge flat valley. They didn’t ask themselves, as perhaps you or I might “I wonder what’s under this?”, but thought what an excellent place to build a church. So they did and very pretty it is to, though to us, not nearly as impressive as the pyramid. Interestingly, an earthquake in 1999 caused considerable damage to the church’s structure but the pyramid escaped unscathed.
Whilst here we also visited the house in Puebla (now a museum) where the 1910 Mexican revolution began, I was greatly fascinated to see the bullet holes still in the walls and doors. The guide insisted in giving us a free Spanish lesson as we went around but I am not so sure how often we will be using “revolution” and” bullet holes” in our daily conversation.
(Although, what we have heard re our current government perhaps it may be useful after
Mounte AlbanMounte AlbanMounte Alban

Just look at the little tiny people in the middle of the picture to get an idea of the size of this place. You can also understand why it took so long to build.
all!) Still, it entertained the Spanish part of the group.
Our next stop was to be the Pyramids of Teotihuacán, the largest ancient city uncovered in Mexico.
Now, the thing is, it is on the north side of Mexico city and everyone you meet tells you that you do not want to go anywhere near Mexico City.

We checked the maps but there was no other way to go, so having planned our route we decided to set off. We failed at the first step as due to pollution and congestion problems Mexico city has “no hoy circula” (don’t drive days). The last digit / number on the vehicle dictates which day you cannot drive through the city. We had a 1 in 7 chance of picking the wrong day…… at the last minute we suddenly thought to check and yes, it was Friday and no, we couldn’t go…… The next day we set off.

Anyway despite all the warnings, that was the biggest problem we had.
The books warn that as a foreigner and in an RV you will most probably be stopped. At one point we heard a siren and saw a police van behind us,
Teotihuancan before the rush!Teotihuancan before the rush!Teotihuancan before the rush!

View from the Pyramid of the moon,along the Avenue of the Dead before the 50,000 people arrived. note the empty pyramid of the sun on the left.
we thought OK here we go …. but it just went by. As it passed we looked in and saw about 30 takeaway boxes in the back! They obviously were not going to stop for anything other than lunch. So without incident we arrived at our destination, the lovely small town of San Juan Teotihuacán.

The ruins of Teotihuacán cover a huge area. The main avenue is 40 meters wide and runs for 5km. The southern boundary has yet to be identified. We spent the best part of a day there, it was really quite empty, so we were able to have a great day climbing to the top of the pyramids, exploring the plazas and generally nosing around.

The next day, whilst on the bus to Mexico City we were chatting to a man who asked if we were going to the pyramids for the equinox? As mentioned earlier we don’t usually know what day it is, let alone the date of the equinox, so were very grateful for this information. We checked on the internet and it said that Teotihuacán was an important site where thousands of people dressed in white would visit to stand on
Pyramid of the Sun. Pyramid of the Sun. Pyramid of the Sun.

Just a few people on top, It got much busier though! The queue went right round the pyramid.There were people with oxygen cylinders stationed at the top.I think our friend is the one in the middle!
the pyramid of the sun to greet the birth of spring and absorb its energy. This we couldn’t miss, so the next morning was an early start (to think it used to be so easy) to get there by 6.00am as in previous years they had opened the gates for the sunrise. Unfortunately this year the gates were not opened until 7am, so we spent a chilly hour playing with a puppy and chatting to a Mexican guy from San Diego, California. He also thought the gates would be opened early as the previous year at 5am he had been stumbling up the Pyramid in the dark. He said he came every year and would spend the day on top of the pyramid of the sun.

Also, whilst waiting we noticed 3 large trucks, full of police arrive; we thought this was strange as there was no police presence when we visited the other day. We were not sure why but later it became clear.

When they opened the gates, there were probably only about a dozen people mostly dressed in white (Graeme did have on a white T-Shirt), some police, our friend from California and the puppy
We slowly climbed the Pyramid of the Sun, stopping at each level to admire the view. Every time we turned around the puppy was behind us. He obviously hadn’t read the signs at the entrance saying “NO PEROS” (no dogs)
As he was quite tiny we thought he would never make the very steep steps at the peak (I had problems!) and would go back.
Once at the top, (213 ft high), as we paused to catch our breath and admire the view once more, the puppy popped over the rim. The man from San Diego (henceforward known as Cosmo) dubbed him “cosmic dog”. We watched as he greeted each breathless person as they reached the top.
We spent quite a while on the peak, Cosmo lit some incense and we watched the sun rise higher in the sky. It was quite cold and cloudy so we descended and walked along the “Avenue of the Dead “ to climb the Pyramid of the Moon, from here we watched the line of white clothed people march around the pyramid in formation, perform some ritual and slowly, in line ascend to the summit.
By now the sun was out and we
Crazy cow in Mexico!Crazy cow in Mexico!Crazy cow in Mexico!

But which one?
had warmed up so we returned to the Pyramid of the Sun, where more and more people were filing up to the top, we watched the Aztec dancers who had arrived to perform in the plaza below.
Throughout the morning, gradually more people arrived, but we thought that perhaps the internet had slightly exaggerated the numbers. What we didn’t know was the precise time of the equinox was 12.30, and there were about 50,000 or more people to arrive! By the next day the roads were completely blocked, as people had set up stalls, shops and cafes on the 4 lane main highway.

Throughout the day people continued to arrive, there were whole families in white, hundreds of coach loads of people from vast distances and groups of people in traditional indigenous dress performing rituals and dances. The pyramid we had so casually climbed a couple of times that morning became more crowded than a London tube in rush hour. From a distance the top of the pyramid of the sun came to resemble an iced bun; all you could see was thousands of people in white balanced all over it. In the middle remained Cosmo, leading people in the celebration of spring.

Later we checked the internet to see if we could find out how many people had been there, (approximately 1 .3million over 2 days), ah, so that’s why there were 1,500 police deployed, and to our delight the main photo on the BBC website was……… a picture of Cosmo on top of the pyramid. It was a wonderful experience.

Whilst in this area we thought we had to go and visit Mexico City. Almost everyone we had met had told us how awful a place it is, polluted, crowded, congested, unsafe and to avoid it. However as we were so near we felt we had to go and see for ourselves. Yes we went on a weekend and a public holiday but we thought we were in a different place to the one described; and perhaps we were. Mexico City has an estimated population of at least 20 million, out of which 10 million had left the city for the holiday, (lots of them at the pyramid?) Perhaps that was why it was so nice? We found it no worse than any other large city. It is easy to get around either on foot or on public transport. It was 2 Peso (11p) to get anywhere on the Metro and buses were not much more. The pollution not so bad on these days and the people friendly. Whilst finding our way around we were frequently offered help and given directions.

We found Mexico City a modern, vibrant city with an interesting history. The original city was built in the middle of a lake, which no longer exists
(Long since covered by the worlds largest city) but which leaves the city buildings with a “sinking” problem. The huge Cathedral Metropolitana, the largest church in Latin America, is supported with scaffolding in an attempt to stop further subsidence.

The Aztecs chose this site about 1325 when they saw an eagle standing on a cactus eating a snake, which they interpreted as the fulfilment of a prophesy. By the time the Spanish arrived (1519) it was a magnificent Lake city built around canals and causeways, with many temples, plazas and palaces. It was one of the world’s largest urban areas of its time.

The original Aztec temple was almost completely destroyed by the Spanish and then built upon, but the ruins of Temple
Cheers!Cheers!Cheers!

Graeme & I having a much needed beer in a bar in the silver mine following the "mummy" musuem episode.
Mayor have now been exposed and are right in the middle of the main plaza.
It is really strange to see the two cultures’ buildings side by side……. one so grand but simple and plain….. the other so ornate.

Quite a lot of the architecture is influenced by the French, giving it a different feel and look to other colonial cities we have visited so far. There are many green spaces, plazas and boulevards, wonderful museums and art galleries. We also saw our first Starbucks for months. Funnily enough it was next to the American Embassy, which you could easily identify as; funnily enough it is the only one in the street surrounded by a high concrete wall, barred wire and loads of policemen.

It’s amazing what you learn as you travel. We went to visit Leon Trotsky’s house and museum. I didn’t even know he lived in Mexico let alone died here. Yet again we inspected more bullet holes! This was the first assassination attempt carried out in May 24th 1940 by a group of drunken Mexican artists and Stalinists, dressed as policemen they were let into the compound by an insider. They then peppered Trotsky’s’ bedroom
Calles- jones in GuanajuatoCalles- jones in GuanajuatoCalles- jones in Guanajuato

One of the underground roads of the city. It makes it a great city to stroll around
with machine gun fire but still managed to miss. It is said that Trotsky survived by hiding under the bed but we have doubts. Perhaps they were just better artists than assassins and should have stuck with their day jobs.
But on August 20th 1940 the guy with the pick axe did a better job!
We had an excellent tour by the curator, who had attended Sussex University.

There is so much to do here we decided you would need a minimum of a week to really see it.
We walked for miles, travelled on all forms of public transport, visited and ate in many places and as a bonus still came home with both kidneys! (Urban myth). Lesson one; always find out for yourself, or go on a public holiday.

Our colonial city tour continued as we journeyed on to San Miguel de Allende and then Guanajuato, both really beautiful places.

Guanajuato was particularly interesting. It is built on the steep slopes of a ravine, Why? Because in 1559 some of the worlds richest gold and silver deposits were found here, and the city grew up around the mines. At one time, the Valenciana silver mine produced 20% of the world’s silver, and the buildings here reflect the wealth of that time.
However, it is difficult to build roads up the side of a ravine, so to solve the problem of modern day traffic, tunnels have been constructed and subterranean Calles-jones (roads) created by using dried- up river beds. The result is a fascinating maze of underground paths and roads. You can disappear down steps in one plaza, travel along the tiny crazy roads and alleys, and pop up further across town. It’s all a bit “Alice in Wonderland”.

Even more surreal was one of the strangest afternoons of the trip so far, when we visited “Museo de las Momias”
The soil in this area has rather special properties; the mineral content combined with the very dry atmosphere preserves the town’s earlier occupants.
Some years ago when the local cemetery was full, some bodies had to be exhumed. It was found that they had “mummified”, with horrible scary facial expressions, so what would you do with them? The Mexicans, who embrace death somewhat differently to us, (“day of the dead” being one of their biggest celebrations) decided putting them on display would be
Wonderful viewWonderful viewWonderful view

This is our hotel, all the rooms overlook this magnificent canyon. Many Tamahumara people live scattered throughout this barren looking terraine. This canyon group is larger then the Grand Canyon.
good. So those considered to be of “good enough quality”, and whose relatives could not pay for reburial elsewhere, have been placed in the museum! It is like something out of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. There are over 100 partially clothed, semi - decomposed bodies lounging around.
At one time they were all stood upright along the walls. At least now they get to lie down again…… well most of them. You can enjoy delights such
as; “the worlds smallest mummy” and “the buried alive mummy”. This one we were assured happened by mistake! We emerged unsure of what was the stranger, the museum, or us for paying to go. You are not allowed to take photographs here but I assure you its all true.

Guanajuato is a perfect place to spend time doing nothing much. Beautiful sunny days, coffee shops, and bars, mariachis and musicians, It is an arty university town with a large student population; a people watching paradise. But time goes on and we were colonial- citied- out. It was time for a change. We headed north to see some canyons.

Our destination was to be El Fuerte from whence we would board the
Tamahumara LadyTamahumara LadyTamahumara Lady

The Tamahumara women dress in these many patterned clothes. The baskets they weave come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, they are made from different coloured grasses & pine needles.
Ferrocarril Chichuahua al Pacifico, (commonly known by travellers as the “Copper Canyon railway”) to journey through the Sierra Madre Mountains. It is said to be one of the world’s most scenic rail journeys and we thought we should experience it for ourselves.

The rail line was built to link the mountainous interior of northern Mexico with the Pacific coast. It took 90 years to build this engineering marvel. In is 406 miles long, climbs from sea level to peak at 8,000 ft, passes through five climatic zones, has 36 bridges and 86 tunnels, one of which does a 180 degree turn inside solid rock. Although built for practical business reasons the beauty of the landscape it traverses has made it a popular tourist trip.
There are several stops on the journey in the canyon area where you can disembark and stay to enjoy the spectacular scenery, trek, bird watch and organise trips deeper into the canyons.
Although known as the Copper Canyon it actually is a series of canyons carved out by six rivers. In total, the area is four times larger than the Grand Canyon.

This area for many thousand of years has been home to the
Shy ChildShy ChildShy Child

I caught this child peeping out from her doorway when we were visiting a Tamahumara cave dwelling, she wouldn't come out any further.
Tamahumara Indians. Until the building of the railway they had been isolated by the canyons within which they live. They are a reclusive shy people famed for their long distance running ability. The men run a distance of 160 km, or more, through the mountainous terrain and canyons. If that isn’t enough; they kick a small wooden ball all the way. The women have it easier as they only do 90 km and flick a hoop!
The women are also renowned for their beautifully woven baskets and pots which are made from pine needles and grasses. The colour combinations and patterns are wonderful; they can weave them almost without looking.
Although now exposed to tourists these people maintain their traditional lifestyle with very few changes, ( other than selling many more baskets ), most still live as cave dwellers or in tiny log cabins, they move with the seasons, have a diet of mainly maize and beans, maintain traditional customs and clothes, the men drink tequila all day and the women do all the work!
So as you can see, we had lots to look forward to.

We packed our bags (just like going on holiday!), parked the rig
Busy StationBusy StationBusy Station

Graeme and friend waiting for train.
up, and set of.
Well, the journey was wonderful,
We chugged uphill through scenery that changed from the flat farmland of EL Fuerte to misty hills covered with cacti, then, clinging to the mountainside the train commenced the climb through the mountains of the Sierra Tarahumara. You can look up, to the mountain tops or down into the ever deepening canyons, it sometimes runs alongside rivers and would- be waterfalls, (there has been no rain for a year), past strangely shaped rock formations or through high desert plains. At one point you can see where you are, where you are going and where you have been as the track loops 360 degrees over itself.

We stayed at a beautiful hotel perched on the rim of the Copper Canyon Here we could sit on our balcony and admire the view, the rocks changing colour as the light faded. We saw beautiful sunrises and watched many different types of hummingbird, whilst waiting for the sunset (and happy hour).

We returned having had a wonderful time viewing the canyons and strange rock formations. We also visited a cave dwelling and small settlement.
For once our timing was out as the following week the Tarahumara people were celebrating Easter in their individual way and you can go to some villages and watch. However, we couldn’t stay away a week, so with our bag, now containing a few baskets we boarded the train home.

Having just experienced 3 days of almost no modern day noise there was a Mexican fiesta going on (loudly) and we fell asleep to the now familiar sound of mariachi music; we would leave Mexico much as we entered it.

Footnotes
So after 17 Weeks, 6,000 Miles, 215 hours of driving and putting back our service date twice already, we are finally leaving Mexico. We discovered we were leaving on The Easter Weekend, missing the parades and celebrations, but there is always a festival or an excuse to stay longer and we have a deadline to meet.

What have we learned during our stay?
Well; we established how to survive those topes, concrete and canine. Those dogs have perfected it; they sit in the middle of the road as you hurtle towards them, wait for you to apply the brakes to your 16 ton vehicle and just as you slow, get up and saunter off.
Humming birdHumming birdHumming bird

There were hummingbirds of all sizes and colours, they would fly right up to you, hover and then zip away.
Unfortunately there is evidence some don’t saunter quite soon enough!

We can now interpret the confusing language on the use of the left hand indicator. It usually means, please pass, I have parked or am about to park, or maybe, overtake, the way ahead is clear and lastly and least commonly, I am turning left. It leaves you in a state of acute anxiety as you overtake just in case you made the wrong call, As you can imagine, to us it just doesn’t make sense.

There is a distinct lack of toilet seats in Mexico. Could this be a good business opportunity or a limited market? perhaps they just do not bother to replace them once the original one has gone

That 1200 million tortillas are eaten every day and believe me during our stay, we have done our bit to help

Most of all we have learned what a fabulous country Mexico is; diverse scenery, beautiful towns, great history and wonderful helpful people. Despite all the previous warnings we felt safe at all times and can’t wait to return.
Viva la Mexico!











Frog rocksFrog rocksFrog rocks

There are many strange rock formations in this area, some like a field of mushrooms,but we liked this one best.













Additional photos below
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A few snaps to set the mood.


13th April 2006

Dear Moira, Mexico seemed amazing.I thoroughly enjoy reading your blogg updates while working at good old FPH !! Look foward to the next installment Happy Easter chris
18th April 2006

Hi
Hi Moi Obvioulsy still having a ball and enjoying your adventure - miss you ! Alison xx
4th May 2006

Hi guys! Love reading your journals. Where are you now? You must have left Mexico awhile ago. Have fun and start writing again.
13th May 2006

Are you two okay? It's been over a month since your last blog. It's getting worrisome. Hope everything is fine. Take care of yourselves and stay safe.

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