Mexico Accommodations — As diverse as the countryside, the cities, and the people

5 03 2018
I decided to fly through the air and live in the sunlight and enjoy life as much as I could. Evel Knievel

I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from writing – as in over two years! — having way too much fun enjoying life and taking no time to write about it.

However, we recently completed a two-week sojourn between Puerto Morelos at the southeastern tip of Mexico back home to Guanajuato in the center of the country. Our normal quick-trip version is only 2500 kilometers which we normally drive in two long days. But with side trips, getting lost, sight-seeing, enjoying special times with dear friends, and just appreciating The Mexico Experience, this trip racked up over 4000 kilometers – nearly 2,500 miles.

Motivation for our unforgettable journey was a visit by Peter’s sister and brother-in-law from the United Kingdom: Fiona and Chick Hutchings. We wanted these English world-travelers to experience the “real” Mexico – beaches, mountains, pueblos, street food, tuk-tuks, police and military stops (all exceptionally polite), topes, and more….

We tend to travel – not exactly cheap, but reasonably – opting to stay in smaller towns rather than in the more expensive heart of cities or the classic beach resorts. This also allows for a more “Mexico” and less “touristy” experience.

Thus, we leave the relative luxury of our Puerto Morelos beachside condominium to head toward Palenque in the state of Chiapas.

Quintana Roo’s highways are the dullest part of the journey. Although QRoo has incredible white-sand beaches with seven-shades-of blue Caribbean sea, the only view from the roads is a flat, green corridor of tall jungle and scrubby brush, broken up by the occasional pueblo and dog-in-the-street.

Just before dusk, we found a delightful basic hotel, surprisingly, in the industrial edge of Ciudad Campache: Hotel Bambu with spacious rooms, king-size bed, decent mattress, hot water with great pressure, and a reassuring view of the secure (if not exotic) parking lot. Attached was an excellent family-run restaurant with an hospitable staff who kindly prepared special dishes just for us — and since they only served soft drinks, we brought our own beer and wine (with no corkage fee). At 550 pesos (about$30)/night — this set the bar high for our nightly stays!

We always travel with our own electric  hot plate, espresso pot, and favorite coffee blend from Veracruz, because, with a few notable exceptions, Mexican coffee is usually instant Nescafe, thick mud, or merely colored water. So with steaming mug in hand, we head out early the next morning. More green corridor interspersed with palm trees, the golden-sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, and the ever-present “Mexican Airforce” (pelicans)  — finally arriving at Palenque just before dark.

At the suggestion of friends, we thought we’d check out accommodations at nearby Misol-Ha Cascades (waterfalls). Being Saturday night, we were a bit concerned that all their 14 cabañas might be full, but !Hey! – Let’s go for it! After paying 10 pesos/person at the Ejido’s (local indigenous people’s) rope-over-the-road entry, darkness officially descended. The only ambient light was from the restaurant/registration area, but our greeter had a flashlight to show us available cabins in the surrounding jungle.

Although there were “family cabins” with multiple bedrooms and a kitchenette, we opted for a duplex directly beside the waterfalls – which, at this time of night, we could hear but not see. Despite being a weekend, much to our surprise, only one other cabin was occupied. We were virtually alone in the forest and slept to the “white noise” of cascading water – and awoke to a cacophony of birdsong.

Following two nights in jungle-forest paradise at only 250 pesos (about $13 US dollars)/night and many delightful meals and cocktails in the restaurant (at exceptionally reasonable prices), we traveled onward, across Chiapas. So far, we’d been incredibly fortunate in finding comfortable accommodations at a great value.

That changed.

We’d planned to visit San Cristobal de Las Casas high in the mountains, but our friend Robert had driven that route the previous week and strongly advised against it – ranting about disgruntled local men stopping him and other tourists to extort money – threatening to scatter nails under the tires if they didn’t pay.

With this warning in mind, I asked a local tour-van driver about the situation. After a poignant pause, he replied, “Perhaps they’re not doing this any more.” He suggested we drive about five hours on up toward San Cristobal and ask someone in Ocosingo if it would be safe to go on. If not advisable, there was a secondary road we could take through the mountains to go the rest of the way.

That option did not sound appealing.

Thus, we took the “The Loop” on the other side of the mountains along the border of Guatemala. ?Porque no? Why not? New territory for us. Always up for An Adventure.

So – off we drive – up and up and up into mountains of green, towering forest — and topes!!

Topes— Speed Bumps – Vibradores – Reductors – Ropes — Muffin Tops – Slow-you-down humps in the road — or just rocks. Many, followed by pot-holes and road drop-offs.

An un-imaginable number of these speed bumps – from gentle slopes to abrupt “walls” designed to slow and damage the vehicle if not “respected.” Every curve. Every village. Every hovel. A speed bump (or several) for each. In more than six hours, we traveled only 350 kilometers (about 200 miles). Thus, we did not reach our hoped-for destination before dark.

The map indicated only villages. Tobias, our GPS, showed a strip of hotels in an upcoming wide-spot-in-the-curvey-mountain road called Maravilla. We know better than to trust Points of Interest on Tobias, but driving these roads at night was not an option. So we followed his directions. Not a hotel in sight, and certainly not a string of them. Open and well-lit, however, was a 24-hour funeral parlor where we asked about hotels. One. Around the corner. We’d already passed its drooping sign three times without realizing it was a hotel. Its name: Los Esperamos (We Wait for You).

I examine a room (Do we have a choice?). Two rooms are available (In reality: This dump is deserted). Less than basic, with no hot water, no heat, moldy walls, bare bulbs, a vine twisting out of the rusty air conditioner. But the sheets look clean. And. They’ll provide an extra blanket. Four hundred pesos. My inside voice says, “Are you f*#ing kidding me?” To the proprietor, I say, “!Muy caro! Very expensive!” Well ok, she tells me, 300 pesos. Still horribly overpriced at $16 US dollars, but we need it. Any port in a storm, so to speak.

As we enjoy a nightcap glass of wine –and Chick, his cigar — on the patio beside the motorcycles and towel-covered parrot cage, scruffy resident dogs wander in-and-out of our rooms. One curls up on Fiona’s bed. As we settle in for the night, Peter and I close the windows, put on the extra blanket, and snuggle down in the Mexico “matrimonial” bed, only slightly wider than a USA “single.”

At the risk of Too Much Information, Chick informed us that his evening’s entertainment while sitting on the commode was watching a cockroach ramble along the wall, eventually scampering into the sink (which had no faucets) and into Fiona’s panties, which she planned to wash the next morning during her cold shower. Being a fellow who won’t kill any living thing (except, perhaps mosquitoes), he allowed the intruder to stay warm and snug for Fiona to discover and deal with in the morning.

Next morning – mist and crisp mountain air. With no hot water, a shower is out of the question. So, perhaps a brisk wash in the sink – but –unlike Fiona and Chick’s, our sink has faucets but the pipe is disconnected. The towels, we discover, are riddled with holes – significantly large ones.

Peter makes coffee using our carry-everywhere electric hot-plate (not bad for heating the room, either), and we take a steaming mug to our neighbors. Fiona has disposed of the cockroach and is preparing for the day. Chick, cocooned in thin blankets, shivers in the bed, having spent a miserably cold night. We glance around — “Hey, Chaps – why don’t you close the windows?”

A pleasure to leave Maravilla – through drop-dead beautiful scenery and the least-maintained, most dangerous roads of the trip which could literally cause “drop-dead.”

Next stop, Esquintla, Chiapas. Hotel St. Jorge. We opted for adjoining “junior suites” at 540 pesos (about $30 US) for two nights – a welcome break from the constant driving through topes and rough roads. Pure luxury. Vaulted ceilings painted with clouds and cherubs, shared walls with open glass at the top so you could hear the proverbial pin drop next door – and a balcony! Ideal for evening cocktails to watch the streets roll up at dusk and for morning coffee to hear the city come to vibrant life at daybreak.

Just for grins, we take a tuk-tuk tour of the town. We made that driver’s day – 250 pesos (about $13) for the four-hour tour of the village – gigantic 400-year-old cieba trees, cultural center, neighborhoods, lunch, and later, “the best tacos town.” He drove by the next day to warmly bid us good-bye.

On to Barra de Santa Cruz, Oaxaca. Our most relaxing experience of the journey – a lakeside hideaway owned by our friend Mac MacEachern. Five nights of tranquil lake living just a few kilometers from Huatulco’s golden beaches flanked by mountains, breakfast lovingly prepared by Estella the housekeeper, dinners at Las Gemelas restaurant with toes-in-the-sand, serene nature, hammocks, visits with Mac, and time for Peter to play guitar.

We were privileged to experience a visiting osprey hunting for her breakfast over the lake.

Next stop for another novel experience, a “motor hotel”– a No-Tell Motel which rents by the hour as well as by the night. We select these whenever we can because – for ultimate privacy and security — each room has its own garage. Many also have “dumb waiters”  – Call in your order for tacos or sex toys delivered discretely to your room. El Oasis near Mitla, Oaxaca, was not quite that sophisticated, but it did offer a mirrored bed, interesting television channels, and a “special” chair (which, imagination going wild concerning the previous occupants, we decided not to sit upon), and two complimentary bottles of water or soft drinks  because we purchased “toda la noche” (all night).

On to Puebla, a UNESCO World Heritage Site founded by the Spanish in 1531. This colorful city has more than 70 churches in the historic center alone and over 1000 colonial-era buildings adorned with its famous Talavera ceramic tiles. Architectural styles range from Renaissance to Mexican Baroque.

We splurge for a hotel near the zocolo (main square) for an “executive suite” with a bathtub for the exorbitant price of 876 pesos. We’re hmmm-ing and haw-ing over the price until we realize that’s only about $45 US dollars.

From there, through Zitacuaro, Michoacán, and across the state line to the tiny village of Mancheros, Mexico, to stay at JM Butterfly BnB. The migration of the monarchs and being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of them on the reserve of Cerro Pelon is another topic, but the BnB itself, with its tranquil setting at 8,500 feet above sea level, expansive vistas, delightful people, and amazing home-cooked local cuisine is well worth the trip.

We stay three nights, enjoying the company of hosts Ellen and Joel, guests from around the world, homey atmosphere, mountain hikes, a horseback ride up to 10,000 feet into Cerro Pelon Butterfly Preserve, and a Mexican cooking class.

Thus, at the conclusion of two weeks and 4000 kilometers on the road, our visitors from the United Kingdom arrived at our home in Guanajuato – a cultural city like no other – having experienced a cross-section of the “real” Mexico, with hotels and accommodations as diverse as its cities, its countryside, and its delightful highly hospitable people.

About the Accommodations

Condominium Las Iguanas, Puerto Morelos. I rent my condo through VRBO/660904 for $225 USD/night. One-half block from the white-sand beach, ten-minute stroll into town.

Hotel Bambu. Campache. 550 pesos/night (about $30 USD). Family-run. In-hotel restaurant with friendly hosts. No alcohol, but we brought our own wine and beer. A comfortable, welcoming place to stay when you’re on your way to elsewhere.

Misol-Hal Cascades near Palenque, Chiapas. 250 pesos/night (about $13 USD). Excellent restaurant/bar that was open as long as we wanted to stay. When they ran out of red wine, we brought our own. Internet in the restaurant. We’ll definitely return.

Hotel Los Esperamos. Maravilla, Chiapas. 300 pesos (about $16 USD). Don’t bother.

Hotel St. Jorge. Esquintly, Chiapas. Jr. Suite. 540 pesos (about $30 USD). In-room internet. Basic room with “matrimonial” bed 500 pesos. For 40 pesos more: king bed, vaulted ceilings painted with clouds and cherubs, balcony. It has hot water, but not necessarily today.

El Oasis. Motor hotel (no-tell motel). Mitla, Oaxaca. 300 pesos (all night, $15 USD). Comfortable and secure. Mirrored ceiling, “special activity” chair, private parking garage, king bed with mirror.

Hotel Gilfer. Puebla. One block from main square of the historic district. 876 pesos (about $46 USD). Executive suite with shower and tub and lots of hot water. Internet in the lobby and restaurant.

JM Butterfly BnB. Mancheros, Mexico (nearest large town: Zitacuaro, Michoacán). 1250 pesos (about $66 USD). Beautifully decorated theme rooms, local art, comfortable mattress, luxurious bedding and towels, hot water, lots of natural light, spectacular views. Full breakfast included. Internet in the living room. Tours of Cerro Pelon Butterfly Preserve, cooking classes, hiking, horseback rides, other activities. Uniquely memorable. We have stayed here before and will return again and again.

The Route

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Highlighted road is the total journey — starting at the far-southeastern tip of Quintana Roo, 4000 km with us to the middle of Mexico. Fiona and Chick then traveled over 4000 more km via bus to visit more family in Sonora in the north….

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

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The Road Less Traveled

11 08 2015

I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

 Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.

Jerry Seinfeld

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Bumpy. Circuitous. Infinitely more interesting than direct-and-smooth. Through blind trust – or dumb luck – on our road trips throughout Mexico, Peter and I have experienced unforgettable gems– routes familiar only to the local farmer or sheep-herder.

Peter is addicted to his GPS. We have Gladys the Garmin – who delights in guiding us through the center of cities during rush-hour traffic — and Tobias the TomTom who directs us onto paths even he doesn’t recognize. “Unknown road” or “No route possible” should be a clue.

DSC_9848A side note to anyone using a GPS to drive in Mexico. Don’t trust it. If you don’t already know how to get where you’re going, along with a detailed paper map, you’re in deep trouble. Mexico Maps on both Garmin and TomTom are incomplete at best. Worse than its not knowing the roads is that the device will decisively turn you onto a road, then after a few miles demand, “Make a U-Turn.” Don’t trust it!

Driving home to Guanajuato from the Guitar Festival in Paracho, Michoacán (touted as Mexico’s most dangerous state according to the USA’s mass media), we’d passed through pueblos named Aranza, Rancho Seco (Dry Ranch), Carapan, and then entered a slightly larger town named Purepero.

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Ahead, I spot the green highway-directional sign for La Piedad, toward home. Tobias, in his computerized English accent, directs us to Turn Right, although the highway sign clearly indicates straight ahead.

¿Por que no?Why not?

So we turn right onto a cobblestone street, curving through neighborhoods….

and through more neighborhoods….

At last, we arrive at the edge of and then out of town.

A semi-surfaced road. Should have been yet another clue.

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We drive….

And drive.

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Bump along.

The road narrows.

According to the compass, we’re headed south.

Unfortunately, we should be headed north.

Again, the road narrows. Dirt and ruts, now.

Cross a river. Literally – the road takes us through a river.

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And into picturesque, adobe and bouganvilla-laden pueblos.

When the road improves, we can tell we’re approaching a town (of sorts).

Villa Mendoza. Then Acuitzeramo.

Again, the road deteriorates to dirt ruts.

We cross a cattle-guard.

Pastoral vistas. Cows. Goats. Sheep. Donkeys. Horses. Dogs.

We wave at the occasional vaquero/cowboy and shepherd with his flock.

And. Yes.

We eventually and safely exit onto the highway to La Piedad and Irapuato

and home to Guanajuato.

Ah, yes.

Life.

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Perhaps not the most direct route, not the most smooth, not the most trouble-free –but an adventure of challenges, bumps, and beauty – and I wouldn’t trade any of my learning-journeys for smooth, uneventful, destinations.

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The journey is the reward. An appropriate gift from my daughter and grand daughters….





Mujer de la Verdad

25 08 2013

My friend and I are vacationing where we are possibly the only non-Latin American faces on the crowded malecón, the tourist walkway beside the beach, when I discover that I’ve lost my wallet.

Near-panic ensues — I practically carry my life in that wallet.

Cell phone rings.

¿Es esto Maria Jordan?

Si.

Fast deluge of Spanish I don’t understand.

Working together, we figure it out and meet.

I have named my anonymous caller, Mujer de la Verdad — Woman of Truth. She found my number and, using her own phone minutes, called to return the wallet and its contents.

My friends tell me I’m crazy to live in Mexico. Drug wars. Beheadings. Murders.

I continue to find Beauty. Joy. Peace. And honest, caring People.

I am grateful.

“Genuinely good people are like that. The sun shines out of them. They warm you right through.”  ― Michael Morpurgo, Alone On A Wide Wide Sea

“Genuinely good people are like that. The sun shines out of them. They warm you right through.”
― Michael Morpurgo, Alone On A Wide Wide Sea





Mexican baseball. It’s all about the food.

16 05 2013

My first Mexican baseball game –the Quintana Roo Tigres.

I now know all about Mexican baseball.

It’s all about the food.

Well.

And the people.

!!!And the fun!!!

 I understand there is also a competition called baseball.

Not only beer, margaritas, hotdogs and burritos - but flan! And a baseball game.

Not only beer, margaritas, hotdogs and burritos – but flan! And a baseball game.

Entering the Cancun stadium is not unlike any sporting event in any part of the world — theme-adorned Fans, venders hawking tacky toys, candy, food booths, team wares. Testosterone. Feminine energy. The raw vitality of Anticipation.

And Tigres games are affordable. Ideal seats. Four-rows up, behind home base: 95 pesos (about $8.50 USD).

Whadda ya want? Just beckon, and your gastronomic desire arrives pronto. Beer. Chiladas. Michaladas. Plumaros (a massive margarita-like concoction of tequila, sprite and salt). Rum-and-coke. Sodas. Aracherra (beef) burrito with guacamole. Hot dogs.  Weiners splayed open, then deep fried (let’s maximize the grease factor) with French fries, of course. Fried bananas. Salchiccha. Chorizo. Pork chop. Chicken wings. Kibis and bolsas (Kibis are a deep-fried eastern Indian dish Mexicanized with habenaro and marinated red onions. Bolsas seem unique to the Ball Game: small-portion kibi balls served in a plastic bag.) Elotes and esquitas (My personal faves, even though they’re Montezuma’s Revenge waiting to happen. Elotes: corn-on-the-cob on a stick. Esquitas: cut off the cob and in a cup. Slathered with mayonnaise, cheese, crema, chili and lime. YUMMM!) Flan. Candy apple dipped in a tamarindo goo and rolled in chili. Neon-pink cotton candy. Deep-fried churros with your choice of chili or chocolate.   Fried crepe stuffed with Nutella and cheese. Did I mention there’s an abundance of “fried”? What’s not to love about a ball game?

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And the people!  Moms. Dads. Babies. Kids. Grandparents.  Great-Grandparents. Hombres in droopy shorts and backwards ball caps escorting bejeweled girlfriends with five-inch heels, cleavage, and rhinestoned hair. And a few of us gringos.

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Of course we have the requisite scantily-clad cheerleaders, bouncing out from a canary-yellow sports car, coaxing the Tigres to Victory. These dark-eyed lovelies not only gyrate as expected but mingle throughout the stands.

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Alas. Chacho, Tigre’s popular human-in-tiger-costume, was absent this night.

I was particularly attracted to the dead-pan-mime clown who periodically changed costume. My fave was his North-Dakota-style ear-flap hat and saggy pants. His star act? Munching a sandwich, then sharing bites with eager children.

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There was also the crazed fan affectionately referred to as Pollo (Chicken) based on his memorable costume: What else but a vivid red-and-yellow chicken suit? Pollo’s a staple at every game, rousting chants from the crowd, strutting the chicken dance and leading each Section in The Wave. Now how did this possibly happen? There’s a lull in the game. I’m out of the way, lounging by the tunnel, people-watching and minding my own business. Suddenly.  I’m Pollo’s dance partner.  ?A gringa? The crowd goes wild.

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This night, Tigres defeated the Merida team 3:1, including two home runs. Each hit was applauded by the enthusiastic band, heavy with drumrolls, and punctuated by the crowd’s exuberant cry: Tigres!

Did I mention (could we ever be more wonderfully politically incorrect?) that the batboys are dwarfs? The Merida team had one, but Tigre fans lament that “Mexico City stole ours – we’re looking for another.”

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Yes.

Mexicans know how to eat.

And how to dress.

And how to fully enjoy An Experience.

They create Amazing Fun.

Thanks to my partners-in-crime for including me in their regular sojourn to support and enjoy the Tigres: Ken and Kathy Ouellette, Amber Pierce-Schultz and Caden, Ed Murphy, Kim Temple, Anne and Steve Lowen with her mom Joan, Rob and Joanne McKinnon.

Thanks to my partners-in-crime for including me in their regular sojourn to support and enjoy the Tigres: Ken and Kathy Ouellette, Amber Pierce-Schultz and Caden, Ed Murphy, Kim Temple, Anne and Steve Lowen with her mom Joan, Rob and Joanne McKinnon.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

Marcel Proust





Viajera Soltera ~ Solo Traveler Álamos Adventure

28 04 2013

The traveler sees what he sees.

The tourist sees what he has come to see.
G.K. Chesterton

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For me, the ideal time to experience Mexican tourist areas is in Low Season….April and May are my favorites. Most Snow Birds have returned home, shopkeepers are elated at the possibility of a customer, and the temperature has not yet reached sizzling.

When traveling by bus in Mexico, it pays to be vieja. Well. Not that I ever plan on being “old,” but my official age does qualify, and I’m certainly not too proud to request the Old Person discount (no special card necessary, just proof of age). With it, my six-hour bus trip costs only 95 pesos.

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Buses in Mexico create their own Adventure – comfortable although frigid and usually showing American movies with Spanish voices dubbed over — gotta love Sylvester Stallone brandishing a knife and barking orders in high-pitched Spanish. Vendors hop aboard for a short stint to offer tamales, dulces, and fruits. On this particular trip, the special treat was a sweet quesadilla stuffed with pineapple.

I’m phasing into traveling Very Light, adding yet another interesting aspect to my trips – living out of a backpack in which my computer, two phones, iPod, Kindle, camera and various power necessities take the majority of space. (Note to self: Purchase larger backpack. Smaller computer. Fewer electronics? Nah.)

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Upon arriving in Álamos, Sonora – designated a Pueblo Mágico by Mexico — I spotted a vine-covered posada for $500 pesos/night —  including almost-good morning coffee on an almost-private patio overlooking The Square – thus providing a vantage point from which to witness the town awakening in the morning and, with a glass of vino tinto, observe nighttime activities.

Posada de Don Andrès is an ideal location — night-time perhaps not quite so perfect with the questionably-talented yet enthusiastic musician at the otherwise deserted Cantina across the street till nearly 2:00 and the Singing Truck announcing something obviously important at 7:00 am sharp…. Proprietor Jorge cautioned me that a farther-back room might be more tranquila/peaceful. I prefer the heart of activity.

Hence, I sip coffee, check emails, and watch the community come to life from my wrought-ironed, bougainvillea-adorned patio. On The Square, white-hat vaqueros lean on their camionetas, taco carts roll in, tenderos unlock doors and toss buckets water onto the street….

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Álamos , a beautiful specimen of Mexico’s Colonial period, is known as “La Ciudad de los Portales” (portales — roofed verandas or walkways).  After reserving my room, I walk up Callejon de Besos, (kissing alley) to the Tourist Center in the Plaza de Armas for a bit of local history and to arrange excursions.

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My touring chariot is an ancient Jeep which includes Ligo — an attractive guide about my age whose somewhat-English meshes nicely with my somewhat-MexSpanglish — as well as a creative paintjob highlighting marvels of the area. And.  !?just when I thought life couldn’t possibly get better?!  An Ooompahpah Ooompahpah horn which also bugles out animal imitations, cocks crowing, and tacky tunes.   I LOVE IT!

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Access to the once-active mine, Libertad de la Quintera, requires four-wheel drive. Dodging cacti, tumbleweeds and lizards we wend our way up. Ligo, flashlight in hand, motions for me to get out and follow. He crouches and descends into an intimidating hole. Alice in Wonderland?

I have a momentary lapse into Common Sense: Who is this guy? A deserted mineshaft?! in the wastelands of Mexico?! What the hell am I doing?!

Good judgment, however, seldom creates Interesting Experiences.

I dutifully follow into the bowels of the earth, winding through tunnels, peering into holes where lamp light disappears to nothing, dodging startled bats that circle our heads before returning to rest on inverted roosts.

I ask Ligo to turn off the lamp. Complete. Total. Black.

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We proceed to La Aduana with its sweet little church, circa 1538. Adobe homes. Abundant flowers. Friendly people. I couldn’t resist purchasing two hand-made pillows, orange marmalade, honey and seriously-hot salsas. I visualize myself: Boarding the bus juggling plastic bags and string-wrapped parcels in addition to said back-pack – a striking image as an authentic Mexicana. (Yeah. Right.)

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 Friday evening. Town Square dutifully rolls up the streets for a while – then around 9:00, the area livens up. Apparently, anyone owning a “peeck-up truck” has it equipped with an external boom box and  hopped-up amplifiers. Singing Truck circles the area blaring songs from the 50s while announcing disco (Yes. Somewhat of a disconnect.).  The public bus arrives with screaming brakes. As this cacophony dies down the local cantina gears up. Ahhhh —  fin de semana – the week-end. Eventually — around 3:00 am – silence.

Saturday morning. On the bright side: An opportunity to actually use my newly acquired Mexspanglish idioms.

!!!???Que carajos???!!!                !!!???What the hell???!!!

 I was mentally prepared for cantina activities and weekend-revelers. All part of the “Mexican Experience.” However. At 6:00 am. Sharp. What would be the one thing a sleepy traveler might least anticipate? Re-roofing the hotel. Above my bed.  ?Porque no? ?Why not?

 At least Jorge had hot coffee waiting on the patio.

Sigh.  Nothing quite like a Mexican tourist town in Low Season….

P1270922“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”                ~  Mary Anne Radmacher ~

Note:    Pueblo Mágico

Álamos was named a Pueblo Mágico in 2005 — a designation given by the Mexican Secretariat of Tourism to towns that offer a ‘magical’ experience by reason of their natural beauty, cultural riches and historical relevance.





You did WHAT? You went WHERE? My solo venture into Mexico’s Copper Canyon

18 03 2013

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It’s been over a year.

My hiatus from blogging.

Challenges.

Growth.

Life….

Emotional journeys:

Death.

Love.

Loss.

Release.

My Mother’s death.

Re-evaluating Friendships.

Cherishing True Friends.

Releasing others.

Connection with Family and divesting Self of possessions in Colorado.

 Experiencing extremes in Oklahoma: Great Love and Ugliest Greed.

Thanksgiving in Mexico with daughter Jessica and hubby John.

Nicaragua with daughter Leslie and other elite Obstacle Racers.

Puerto Morelos, which is now Home.

Gratitude.

And now:

My solo journey through northern Mexico’s Copper Canyon.

Why?

Well.

?Por qué no?     Why not?

Barring having That Special Someone with whom to share experiences,

I prefer traveling solo.

Plan as I go.

Turn on a dime.

Meet interesting people.

This impromptu journey

far exceeded my already-high expectations….

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Day One

6:00 am ~ Boarded the train Chepe (Ferrocarrill Barrancas del Cobre) at Los Mochis, Sinoloa, Mexico, with my ticket to travel 650 kilometers to Chihuahua City ~ looking forward to majestic vistas voyaged through 39 bridges (the longest, 500 meters) and 86 tunnels (the longest, 1500 meters).

So I’m drinking coffee in the dining car, watching shrubs and saguaro cacti roll by and planning my journey. After reading various on-line sources, I decided that a “must” includes experiencing Copper Canyon via zip line (tiroleses)  ~ soaring over 1500 meter-plus canyon drops ~ and returning to the rim via cable car (teleférico). Even more importantly, however, I’m counting on this trip giving me the opportunity (forcing me?) to practice and expand my Spanish-speaking skills.

It’s tempting to take photo-after-photo of the passing scenes – but  I simply sit back to enjoy The Train Experience…..

Six hours of beauty before my first exit at Baruchivo where I selected a shuttle for Hotel Pariaso del Oso – Paradise of the Bear. Excellent choice! Family-owned. Rustic elegance (isolated ~ amazing setting ~Mexican antiques ~ wood-burning stoves).  Only three of us staying here, although two weeks ago this was home base for Caballo Blanco, the 80-kilometer ultra-marathon run in sandals.

Paraiso del Oso has  nothing to do with actual bears – it’s named for the rock formation that looks like cartoon character Yogi Bear.

This afternoon included a rugged 25-kilometer drive on what I would call Oh My Gawd Road to Cerro del Gallo, the spectacular lookout over Urique, bottom-most village. The road, however, was even more incredible than the destination. Sheer drop-off. No hint of a guard rail. Driver Rafael made numerous photo stops, also conveniently doubling as his opportunity to pull out the portable generator to fill a pesky leaking tire.

Following dinner lit by hurricane lamps, my two fellow travelers and I shared popcorn, tequila shots and stories by the cozy rock fireplace.

Sky and stars enveloped me in silence as I returned to my room, where, bundled under wool blankets, I fell asleep to the sounds of a crackling stove and, later, spatters of rain on the tin roof….

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Day Two

Crisp morning. Breakfast with thin coffee ~ and off to view the village of Cerocahui.  Taking photos, I got separated from our three-person “tour.” Missed seeing the boarding school yet enjoyed an even more enticing experience while attempting my fractured Spanish with locals and subsequently being invited into Lucero’s home to see her kitchen and herb garden. I broadly hinted for a taste of the boiling frijoles. Alas, they weren’t ready.

Train ~ I observed much more interesting people boarding the Economica car than my Primero one….Next time.

Exited train an hour-and-a-half later at Areponápuchi (Posada Barrancas) ~ I’d pretty much decided to take the advice of Ana Maria, doña of Paraiso del Oso, and stay in Hotel Mansión Tarahumara.  A nice man loaded my suitcase into a pick-up truck (seemed promising). Then. I realized North American and European tourists were being herded toward the cattle-car-size La Mansión bus! From the corner of my eye I spotted a battered SUV with handpainted sign for Cabañas Diaz. Yes! Sr. Armando has a room. Retrieved my suitcase. Off for more adventure along with a nice-looking couple from Guadalahara.

I did not make this journey to hang with North Americans!

So instead of $1500 pesos/night, I’m paying $250. Adequate room. Hot water. Amazing home-cooked meals. Magnificent people.

Reserved two nights.

Uh-oh.

Fireplace, a drafty door, and five (!!!) wool blankets. Could this be indicative of the approaching night?

Laura, Armando’s daughter, served up delicious caldo de pollo, hand-made tortillas, and fresh salsa with mucho serranos as her children sat by the wood stove plucking off tortillas. Also sharing the meal was an American who looked 110 but was probably only 80, goes by name Mango and built a house here 25 years ago. He’s helping me acclimate to my surroundings, pointing me toward the best tienda to buy cervesa (although it seems they Gringo-ed me ~ 100 pesos for six Tecates!).

With the afternoon ahead of me, time to see the canyon. Armando pointed me toward the rim. We’re already at about 8,000 feet. Turn left at the family cemetery, take the steps built into the mountain up another kilometer or so, past Hotel Masiòn, around some narrow ledges….

I’d heard others rave about this area and read that this is one of the largest in the world and more vast than the Grand Canyon ~ 6000 versus 4500 feet deep and four times the volume, with seven major and over 20 minor canyons rather than vertical walls down to a single river like the Grand.

Nothing had prepared me for the magnitude and grandeur of Copper Canyon.

A great start to this Journey.

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Day Three

I now know the difference between a “wood stove” and a “fireplace.” A wood stove (Paraiso del Oso) heats the room. A fireplace (Cabañas Diaz) creates delightful ambiance and heats the chimney.

And don’t let anyone fool you with Good-Old-Days nostalgia about sleeping under wool blankets, awaking with a frozen nose.  ?Really?  But this trip is An Experience ~ right?

Mexico’s Copper Canyon dwarfs USA’s Grand Canyon, and photos don’t begin to do it justice. As I’m standing at the rim, 7,500 feet above the canyon floor (Well. Only about 900 directly below me) and surrounded by incredible views, a cute young man is adjusting my harness, checking my helmet, handing me gloves, giving last minute instructions…..

Lista? Ready?

!Zip-line!

As with every venture — the first step is the hardest.

And taking flight is exhilarating!

Hiking between the seven stations of the world’s fifth-longest zip line was equally heart-stopping. Narrow ridge trails. Abrupt drop-offs. What’s a handrail? And two incredibly long, blowin’-in-the-wind suspension bridges.

Line Four. Is that dot the landing station? OMG! Over a kilometer of cable, a spine-tingling drop of over 1500 meters, and speeds up to 100 km/hour. Hooked up, pushed off, and peacefully flying ~ I gazed in awe at panoramic views experienced no other way….

A sphincter-puckering adrenaline rush.

Danger. Views. Soaring. Joy.

I traveled somewhat unprepared for the altitude, so Armando loaned me his down jacket for this venture. When he retrieved me mid-afternoon, the sun was bright, and I took the opportunity for a hot shower before the chill of the evening. He was then kind enough to take me to nearby Divisadero to walk the shops. In my crude Spanish, I asked him to return in two hours. Gorging on chilis rellanos and blue-corn tortillas stuffed with chipotle-pollo cooked on 50-gallon barrels and walking by tienda after tienda of handcrafts took less than an hour. Hotel Divisadero Barrancas looked inviting. Yes! Enjoy the canyon beside a roaring fire, via a grand picture window ~ sipping a glass of vino tinto.

Life is grand.

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Day Four

Frost. It had been a nippy night.

There was just time to take in the Canyon via horseback before boarding the afternoon train. I had explained to Armando that I grew up on a farm, riding horses ~ yet propped against the shed was my Mighty Steed. Perhaps I should carry him? Yet, soon I mounted, and with grandson Alexandro as my guide, we trotted off. I never asked my horse’s name but called him “Tortuga.” We forged a nice synergy, however, as Tortuga would stop at every curve to pant – while I’d take photos. On the return back up, he stopped so often ~ and I was loathe to whip the doddering dear ~ that Alexandro asked if I’d like to switch horses for a while. Much more interesting. As we entered town, Alexandro desperately indicated we switch back ~ I briefly considered saying that No, I was fine or pleading No entendo ~ but I relinquished, allowing him dignity.

Rocky trails. Steep grades. Grandeur. So far, I’ve experienced the canyon by train, aging car, tram, zipline, foot, and now horseback. Barrancas del Cobre ~ magnificent. Each experience better than the last….

Adios to Sr. Armando, Laura, the grandkids, and Tortuga ~ time for the afternoon train to Creel.

I now understand what the guidebooks mean when they call Creel a “teeming city.” Tourism gone wild. Pick-up trucks. ATVs. Souvenir stores. And internet! Still low-profile and “very Mexico,” yet also Very Busy. Quite the change from the serene nature and lack of ambient lights in Baruchivo, Areponápuchi, and Divisadero.

A couple glasses vino tinto “downtown” and an early turn-in at Hotel Real del Chapultepec ~ 250 pesos/night with actual heat as well as the wood stove ~ and internet. Luxurious.

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Day Five

Efrin, a Tarahumara Indian, picked me up for a tour in his bedraggled Ford Focus which immediately needed gas. We weren’t, however, stopping every thirty minutes to air the tires….

The canyon is different here ~ gentle slopes, grand boulders and stories-tall waterfalls, much-frozen this time of year. We visit Elephant Rock (yep. Looks like an elephant) and Valley of Mushrooms (phallic?).

Tarahumara Indians live in these canyons and walk the streets of Creel in their brilliant dress, selling intricate baskets and crafts. As Efrin was born here, he knows everyone. The “standard tour” included Cascada de Basaseachi waterfalls, a school, San Ignacio Mission (over 300 years old) and the canyon itself. An ancient-appearing woman was sitting in the sun, sewing, beside her door ~ a splash of dazzling color amid the ashen landscape. Upon my request, Efrin asked permission to go inside. Nestled among gigantic boulders, her home too, was gray: constructed of mud bricks with tiny windows, wide-plank floors, wood stove-oven with frijoles and nopales/cactus aromatically simmering atop, shelf, small table, cloth and basket supplies. I saw neither bed nor hammock.

Simplicity personified ~ exuding an incredible sense of color and beauty, magnificence, peace….

Two words in Tarahumara: kuira (hello/hola) and matetereva (thank you/gracias).

Afternoon train with a six-hour ride to enjoy the sunset and Chihuahua City in a delightful boutique hotel, San Filipe Real, and a very short night before catching the early morning flight to Mexico City and Cancun, then the ADO bus home to Puerto Morelos….

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Postscript

How did I fare with my Spanish language skills?
Sigh.

Sadly lacking.

Yet there was no shortage of sharing

joy, smiles, laughter

stars, waterfalls, nature

silence

beauty

goodness

connection

~ oneness ~

Did I feel safe?

Always.

 Would I do this, or similar, again?

In a heartbeat.

 I am truly grateful.

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Reference

Lonely Planet guidebook chapter, Northern Mexico

www.Mexperience.com

The Train: Chepe Ferrocarril Mexicano,  http://www.chepe.com.mx/

Hotel Paraiso del Oso ~ Cerocahui, Chihuahua ~ www.mexicohorse.com ~ MX Cel 635.108.6301 ~ USA 800.648.8488

Cabañas Diaz ~ en la Sierrra Tarahumara ~ Areponápuchi, Chihuahua ~ Barrancasdelcobre_mexico@yahoo.com ~ MX 635.57.8.30.08

Hotel San Felipe Real ~ Hotel Botique~ Chihuahua City, Chihuahua ~ MX 614.437.20.37 ~ MX Cel 614.247.1684

Were I doing this trip again, I would start the trip in El Fuerte and enjoy at least a day there. I understand it is a charming Colonial City. Not to mention that the train arrives around 8:30 rather than the 6:00 am Los Mochis departure.