:: Mexico ::
On the road again
November 13 - December 7
After Projimo it felt a little weird to be by ourselves again, a little weird but quite nice. While driving along the coast the days and beaches blur together with reoccurring themes.
DRIVING: To keep it interesting we listen to books on mp3, groove to music, study Spanish, explore the cosmic questions about life and talk about our loved ones at home. Josh is the starter, Heather's in the bull pen making jewelry, writing, and navigating, always ready to take over when Josh gets car-butt.
MILITARY CHECK POINTS: Contrary to threatening warnings, we never had any problems or had to pay. Maybe because we answered any question with a smile, saying, "Este viaje es nuestra Luna de Miel" The young men in uniform gave an open-mouth smile, opened their eyes wide, tilted their heads back and waves us through. Well, the group of uniformed men did swell with laughs and wave their thumbs high when Josh used the Luna password with four young Canadian women smiling in the back.
TOPES: Life here is set at a slower pace, and topes insist on pacing the cars. Topes when entering and leaving a town and throughout the towns- doesn't matter that the road is eroded to deep crevasse- so that the car can only go 5m/hr - they still have topes. Sometimes there is no warning sign or marking- we skid to a stop before jolting us into the air and slamming us to the ground. Lots come with potholes, many sharp. Often the locals provide spray painted warning signs and sometimes take the opportunity to sell food or hold some twine across the tope demanding a toll.
SLEEPING: Usually we find a beautiful, safe, free or at least very cheap place for Elephant and often pitch our tent. Rarely, we really live it up by getting a hotel room or cabana. In Oaxaca we parked and slept around the plazas or along a neighborhood of colonial style houses. Sometimes we search for hours just to end up asking if we can sleep in front of someone's house or restaurant and once, in dire need, at a Pemex. That night we tried to ignore the noise, the yelling and rumble of trucks passing. We talk ourselves to sleep putting out an intention: Sueno con los angelitos, [Sleep with the Angels] And ya know what? We haven't had to fight off prowling robbers yet! Pigs, Yes. But we've been safe thus far... knock on wood!.
PEMEX, the national gasoline company of Mexico, was formed in 1938. This monopoly contributes 1/10 of Mexico's exports and 1/3 of the Government's revenues. No wonder it's bathrooms are cleaner than most restaurants. They are well lit, open 24 hours and served as a great bivy spot when necessary.
SAND! Oh wow, the sand. White, crystalline sand. Dirty, dusty sand. Crumbly, crunchy sand. Muddy, murky sand. Sand like 7-grain bulk cereal from whole foods that doesn't expand or get slimy when wet. SAND. Black, fine sand. Sand in between my toes and in my hair. Sand in the bed when sleeping. Sand when chewing. Sand jammed in the door. Sand in the sunscreen. Sand when putting contacts in. Sand when making cooking. SAND! Sand. We don't have to try to be one with it, we are one with it.
UNATTENDED FARM ANIMALS- Dogs, not so uncommon.. but constantly swerving to avoid horses, cows, donkeys, goats, chickens, turkeys and pigs!?! But few cats. Quite curious.
THE BEACHES so many, but a few of our favorites:
We learned how to surf in the gentle yet consistently good waves of Sayulita just north of Puerto Vallarta. A small, hip, beach community. Very Santa-Cruzy. Another energy vortex, with lots of local art and health crazed espressos. As we slept on the beach all we had to fear was the occasional coconut bomb.
Stopping in Mismaloya, just south of Vallarta, we camped between a quaint creek with foot bridges to small cantinas and the great wall of a mega-resort. The wall protected paying patrons from the riff-raff, but didn't keep our sandy, road-weary bodies from gorging in their hot tub. Planted palm trees and water trickling off cement molded boulders created a surreal atmosphere in contrast to where we recently came from . . . Projimo, authentic Mexican character.
Next came a never-ending string of "I-kid-you-not" perfect beaches stretching down the Pacific coast of Michoacan, arguably Mexico's most beautiful and untouched state. Golden sand, rocky islands, quaint coves, fishing villages dot the coast where turquoise waters meet lush mountains, audiences of curious children and impromptu campfires. We gave Prescila, our kayak, some exercise at Faro Bucerias and Boca de Cielo. The ocean was rough but the islands peaceful and desolate at Faro. Then Heaven's Mouth offered a tranquille, bright morning paddle.
SUNRISE & SUNSET along this magical coast is consistently amazing. Mama Mar never fails to deliver stunning vistas. The whole world slows down, all eyes turn toward the magnificent colors and thanks is given to one's higher power for yet another marvelous day in paradise.
November 25 - December 1
Originally an Aztec city, Huaxyacac, meaning "the nose of the squash." Everything the travel guides say is true. A colonial town where Artesianes dominate the streets and women nurture the food with chocolate and indigenous culture permeates everything. We climbed a couple days near Mixla ruins. Black ware ceramics. Pre-Colonial Art. Silver & Stones. Mole. Hand-woven rugs. A spectrum of Mescals, hallucinogenic alcohol. Monte Alban- truly impressive and mystical ruins where we spent our Thanksgiving.
November 28 - December 6
Zipolite, where laid-backness is contagious and living is cheap, is by far our favorite so far. (Although we keep on saying that). Groovy palapas and tasty fish dinners both go for a few bucks. We weren't the only ones who had delayed departure for days and days. We stayed a couple nights at the Shambala Hotel - the windy spiritually creative mosaic paths with overgrown vines of fuchsia and white flowers lit with torches led us to a bed surrounded in mosquito netting on a platform on the side of a hill overlooking the crashing waves and long stretch of waves . . .hmmm, M! The well ventilated "Luna" room, for less than eight bucks a night offered a front row seat for sunrise- over the OCEAN- not something I've seen on the west coast before. We then parked Elephante and camped on a bluff with the same view.
On the moon almost full, the night of our 3 month anniversary, we were sharing a meal with an eclectic group locals and travelers at Hongas Restaurant while St. Germaine and Morcheeba were playing, keeping us company. We left to walk on the beach. Bouldered a bit on rocks jutting out of the sand. We heard live music and looked around to find a great fire spinner dancing to live drums and pan flutes... mmm, M! Good lovin'
And to top it off, there is an incredible rehab community, Pina Palmeris (pineapple palms), a Community Based Rehab center, similar to PROJIMO). It was founded 20 years ago by Fredrick Douglas from Switzerland and provides rehab care to rural communities and collaborating with primary health care services. Throughout the years they have established networks with medical specialist, who provided free services. If the medical professionals can not do pro-bono work, Pina will pick up the bill. Unfortunately, like PROJIMO they are losing their foreign funding - achieving sustainability is difficult. Pina's facilities are gorgeous, well maintained, and brand-spanking new. In the late 1990's an earthquake and hurricane wiped out the campus. The Earthquake defaced the stucco, revealing the adobe, and the ensuing rains dissolved the walls. Events like this make sustainability very difficult - no building codes, no insurance here.
Heather had the fortunate pleasure to accompany a team to rural indigenous Zapotec community, a poor and oppressed tribe. We were told to eat before we left, for most of those attending the clinic would not have eaten that morning. The intention of the trip was for Pina's rehab team to collaborate, for the first time, with the governmental agency that provides medical services. The governmental group visits each rural community 1x/month and during their visit this month, the focus was the town dogs: vaccinations for their dogs and appropriately bathing and feeding their dogs. Because Heather did not know the Zapotec language, the Pina team interpreted with a respectable equinamous tone, but it was obvious that they were gravely disturbed. Although impeccably clean from the knees up to see the white coat nurses, the Zapotecs don't have enough food and water to feed their family or money to travel to a hospital, much less the care for stray dogs.
We made other stops; Pina brought a bathing chair (a plastic lawn chair) for a disabled boy - never saw the boy, because he was locked in his house. Greeting were made through the cracks in the stick house. The boy's voice sounded like it was coming from a smile. When Pina found him, he was tied tightly to a tree such that he had contractures in the shape of a tree, his family didn't know what to do with him when they went to work.
During another visit we bought some art from a boy who has cerebral palsy and graciously accepts the help and friendship of Pina. It is delicate work and Pina appears to be negotiating the obstacles, cultural difference & language barriers, extremely well, gaining more and more trust with each visit. The indigenous people have had too many white and urban folks swing through their town telling them they are doing it wrong and manipulating them. So when Pina offered to help a family teach their children who are deaf how to do sign and the family refused to have 'foreigners' come into their house, Pina calmly tried to explain their ideas and calmly dropped the subject when the family again refused.
The celebration of Josh's Birthday: woke up to the beautiful beach at Zipolite and had scrumptious crepes. After a long day of driving past more stunning beaches, Elephante began spewing steam out of his rear end in the crusty, industrial town of Salina Cruz. We found a repair shop at ten till 6 PM on Saturday- the necessary hose is nowhere to be found so we spend the night in the repair shop! Heather tried to make the best of it by suggesting we go for Pizza and rent a movie. Bueno idea, esposa! It was very interesting being the only Gringos in town that night. We certainly felt what it's like to be different from everyone else and to be watched as strangers. The hose was fixed in the morning for a small fee and we were back on the road to Guatemala, our van whole and good again.
Quetzaltenango (known as Xela, pronounced 'Shayla')
December 9 - 11
We crossed into Guatemala, a swift process thanks to our eight year old guide. With sophistication he escorted us through the gauntlet to procure the required stamps, photocopies, visas, and Elephante registration. As the border shrank in the rear-view the landscape changed - the mountains became steeper, more green, and everywhere proliferated political candidate signs.
Later that day we learned a hard lesson - leaving an unprotected Elephante in a Latin American city is a very baaad idea! After 3 hours on a busy street close to the central plaza, we returned to find our Elephante had been brutally violated. Thieving #*%#'s had broken a window and swiped some of our stuff! Although they had many hands, we lost nothing critical. We were cruelly reminded that Latin America can be a dangerous place and you need to be constantly aware in order to remain safe. This stunningly beautiful country has seldom known a time without conflict, oppression, poverty, and desperation. Luckily we have travel insurance and on the bright side Heather is in the perfect place to go shopping for cheap, beautiful clothes.. and our living room is much more spacious now without the refrigerator! Travel on!