It was very noisy in the morning, and we looked out to find ourselves surrounded by cars and local policemen - it reminded us of Hil & Doug’s story in a French market place, some years ago. Also it felt really chilly, but it soon warmed up and became hot, with a clear blue sky. We had both slept soundly (the bonus of travel pills). In front of us was a little run-down park with a huge tree. We left at 8.45. We had some of the Love hearts which ‘Father Christmas’ had given me, and I had kept until now. One new message since we had last had them was ‘email me’!
We were looking for the railway station so that we could book tickets for the train to Creel tomorrow to see the Copper Canyon. Signposts were nonexistent, but in our searches we passed a place to get propane, so stopped to fill up.
Finding the railway station was more difficult. We asked at least half a dozen people as we drove down one dusty, bumpy, unsurfaced road after another. Eventually we did arrive at the railway station at 9.20, only to be told that the ticket office didn’t open until 10 o’clock. Adrian phoned to book a hotel at Creel for tomorrow night while I typed up yesterday’s diary. At 10 o’clock Adrian went over to get the tickets, only to find that you couldn’t book them here (we wanted to travel from El Fuerte, 50 miles ‘up-track’). You had to get the tickets from a certain hotel in El Fuerte, it seemed.
We decided to head for there (a nice lady had come to say that we could leave our RV at her house if we were going on the train).
We drove on through Los Mochis. We were aware of how much busier it was here than in the Baja. We stopped at some traffic lights, and a group of lads had climbed up to clean the windscreen before we knew it (for money!)
We found the road to El Fuerte after asking some locals. Adrian had a nasty moment when he went to overtake a vehicle, and a car was already overtaking him! As well as being busier, cars were driving faster!
As we headed towards El Fuerte, we noticed how green it was, with a lot of large trees. We also passed a lot of roadside stalls.
We pulled off the road at 11.20 for coffee - by now we were in hilly country, but then it became flatter and drier. We saw a lot of donkeys at the roadside.
We continued to El Fuerte. We stopped at a road junction and girls were collecting money - they said that it was for their school. We drove out 5 miles to the railway station, but all was quiet, so we returned to the centre of El Fuerte and parked - right outside the Palace. Adjacent to this was Hotel Hidalgo, where we were hoping to get the rail tickets. This was a really opulent place. The restaurant was packed, and the whole place had beautiful gardens. We wandered around this amazing maze, eventually finding the office, only to be told that the girl who sold the train tickets wouldn’t be back until 3 o’clock (it was now 1.00).
We managed to find our way through the town to El Fuerte campground, which was all on grass!!
We walked back into the town of El Fuerte. We got to the hotel office, and finally got our train tickets for tomorrow, but the girl didn’t have any change at all, so it took some wrangling with U.S. and Mexican money to actually pay the sum.
We walked up behind the hotel to a reconstruction of the original fort, which is also a museum (5 pesos - 25p, entrance each!) - from here there were good views down over the town and the river.
El Fuerte square
We walked around the attractive square (making us think of Antigua in Guatemala), and pleasant church before making our way back to the campsite. We stopped by the river to view the sun going down.
Back at the campsite we found that Bill, the owner, wasn’t there, and we needed to make sure that we had a taxi for tomorrow morning. The other campers tried to be really helpful. Bill returned during the evening, rather worse for wear, so we hope that we will get a taxi to the station tomorrow!
Sunday 15th February 0 miles
The alarm went at 6.25 - my little watch alarm, because we couldn’t find my new alarm until afterwards! I had been awake in the night, and woke with diarrhoea, which wasn’t the best thing when we were setting off on a rail trip for 2 days! Luckily it improved, but it did mean that I didn’t eat any breakfast.
Bill arrived early, and then the taxi driver, before we were ready, so it was a last minute dash. Why did he come so early? - Bill knows the train is always late! We got to the station at about 7.30 to join the several others waiting in the pleasant morning sunshine. More people arrived, and finally the train arrived at 8.45!
We found that we had been allotted seats, and ours were on the left side, whereas Lonely Planet suggested the right side for better views. The seats were comfortable (this is first class!), but we spent a good deal of our time in the space between the carriages, where the top window opened, so you could see right out.
We settled down to enjoy the journey. At first it was just pleasant countryside with deciduous trees - we came to some pretty flowering trees, mostly pink or white, but a few yellow. As time went on, the vegetation changed, from dry, with cacti, to pine trees, interspersed with the lovely manzanitas.
After a while we went through to the restaurant car so that I could have a coffee, and something as breakfast. There was no sign of any food. A pleasant lady who we had been speaking to at the station didn’t recommend the food - maybe she meant the price, as the crisps that we ended up buying cost 75p, and my coffee (lukewarm) £1.
The scenery we passed through was lovely. Much of the time we were travelling up above a river, with gorge scenery towering above us. We stopped many times, often not knowing why. Sometimes it was to pass a train from the opposite direction (it was all single track) and as well as the ‘primera’ and goods trains we passed two ‘Caravans’ with their motorhomes on flatbed trucks.
At Divisidero we knew that there was a 15 minute stop. This was the only place on the journey that you could view right into Copper Canyon. Also the local Indians, the Tarahumara, gather here to sell their wares - beautifully crafted baskets and woven goods.
Tarahumara Indians with their wares beside Copper canyon
Also we needed food, as it was gone 3 o’clock. We bought a cheese taco each (the woman had no change, so we paid for one in dollars) and ate it as we marvelled at the canyon. It has been likened to the Grand Canyon, and although it doesn’t have the colours, it is still pretty impressive.
We heard an English voice - it was from a young girl from our train who has been living in Mexico City for 7 years. We chatted briefly as we hurried back to the train.
Back on the train we talked once again to Mark (House). He and his wife were from Omaha, Iowa and had boarded the train where we had. They were very noticeable, as Mark was partially sighted, and had a white stick. We came to think of him as one of the nicest people we had met. Nothing fazed him. He loved talking to people, and had an unbelievably ‘un-American’ attitude. He had an inherited rare eye condition, which meant that his sight deteriorated from about 35 years of age. One of his two sons has inherited the condition.
Mark and his wife (both in their fifties) were backpacking around Mexico. They deplored the touristy and commercialised things. (We had a lot in common!) His wife was much quieter, we didn’t even find out her name.
As we neared Creel, we felt the air getting colder - we were now at 2,338 metres - and there was even snow lying beside the track.
Our journey had been 250km and took 8½hours. The line is ‘billed’ as a great engineering feat, and it certainly had 86 tunnels and many bridges, was cut into the side of steep canyons for two-thirds of the route we travelled and climbed some 2000 metres at 2.5% gradient, but Adrian thought it was much more of a triumph of surveying to have found a route at all than of civil engineering. It had been planned 100 years ago but this section through the mountains was only finished in 1961.
We had dozed a bit towards the end, but had really enjoyed our journey - the staff had been very pleasant, and had kept the train exceptionally clean.
We were surprised at Creel - it looked like a little logging town made up of small wooden houses. There was a taxi-bus waiting to take us to our hotel, which was only a short distance away. It was now 5.30!
Margerita’s Plaza Mexicana was a pleasant little hotel, set around a small courtyard. Our room was pleasant too, but cold when we arrived. Luckily, with the help of the young girl receptionist, we got the heater going. Meals were included, and supper started at 6.30. We were both starving, and the few liquorice allsorts we had brought with us never tasted so good!
There was a TV, which didn’t seem to work, so we braced ourselves for a quick shower (there was no hot water at first) then went across for supper.
There was a group sitting at one table - 4 Germans and 2 Canadians. Later 3 girls from our train, who appeared to be from an Eastern European country, came in. Our meal consisted of a thick creamy soup (which was just what I needed), a stuffed chilli in batter (which surprisingly wasn’t hot), rice and mashed potato. Desert was red and green jelly in a creamy sauce like evaporated milk - it seemed like a children’s party. We had a beer, and later I had a cup of tea.
It was still early, so after supper, we walked out into the cold night air, enjoying this happy little mountain village. We saw an internet café, so went in to warm up, and to read our messages.
We came back to our room for an early night.
Monday 16th February 0 miles
We had woken in the night, but then woke late and were last to breakfast! There had been no hot water for a shower.
Breakfast consisted of ‘porridge’ - actually a sort of rice pudding, which I declined; orange ‘squash’; tea/coffee; toasted rolls with butter(?) and jam: sliced banana, and scrambled egg with ham (me) and Mexicana (with chillies! - Adrian), although I thought that we had ordered the same!
We tried to pay the hotel bill, but again the lady had no change! Adrian went out to the front of the hotel, wearing his ‘Adventure Caravans’ jacket, to video the colourful wooden front door, when a Mexican chap (who turned out to be ‘Margarita’s’ nephew), asked him why he was wearing that jacket. It turned out that he was the tour guide that ‘Adventure Caravans’ use when they are in Creel!
We walked out, saying that we would go to the bank. Who should we bump into but Mark and his wife, also looking for the bank! We found it together - the queue was enormous, but we located an ATM through the next door, and both got some money. Mark had been advised to bring travellers cheques, which we have long since given up using, and found that nobody wants to exchange them.
We wondered how Mark was coping with the extremely uneven ‘pavement’ in Creel - huge steps, and enormous great holes - but he didn’t seem to bother too much. We chatted a bit more before saying goodbye - we had been really inspired by him, and enjoyed his company and fresh attitude to life. He said that his family had been given ‘genetic counselling’ - in other words whether to have children! Ironically, the son who hadn’t inherited the gene was the one who didn’t want children. Mark thought that his own life had been good, so wouldn’t advise against someone with the gene not having children. We could only agree.
This is Creel!
We wandered up and down the little main street of Creel, hoping to get a map - we had been told that there was a shop next to the mission selling English books. We went there, and the very pleasant lady sold us a local map costing one peso! (and she actually had change!) Outside there were a few of the colourful Indian people with their wares. The children are always so hard to resist. We bought a little wooden dressed doll and a woven belt - each 75p! It did mean that we were then able to take a photo of them without feeling bad!
Two little Tarahumara girls who I bought a belt from
We had now paid our hotel bill, and collected our bags, so we made our way to the station. There was a coffee machine in here, and I eventually got a cup of coffee (admittedly sweet!), after the ticket man had come to sort out the machine.
Outside there were more children with their wares. We did so want to buy a little woven bag from one little girl, but of course she had no change, and we had used up all of ours. Another little boy stood with pleading eyes. These Tarahumara Indians are very quiet, and don’t hassle at all. The dogs around seem to have a similar attitude.
The 11.30 train came at 12.20 and we began our homeward journey. We had loved our visit, and plan to return to Creel when we drive north again in a couple of months.
There were less people on the train than yesterday, and we were able to sit in the seats we wanted. We enjoyed the scenery even more on the return journey. At the Divisidero stop it was much quieter, with fewer stalls.
We bought a filled taco for lunch, and again viewed the canyon, which looked even more superb today. We managed to buy a little woven bag, but I didn’t like the colours as much as the little girl’s. We also bought another bottle of water, which was really essential! We left here at 2.20 and stopped next at San Raphael, as we had on the outward journey, for the crews to change [we only did the exciting part of the train route, the whole route being some 650km long - 14 hours, and the crews swap halfway in time, and take the train back in the other direction - A]. Several Indian women had gathered here with their goods to sell. It was heartrending to see them quietly hoping that someone would buy, and then slowly gathering up their things and wandering off, one with a baby strapped to her back.
At Bahuichivo a large group of people, many German, got on noisily, and it was a while before the quiet serenity returned. The staff on the return trip were far less friendly. We enjoyed the superb scenery in the late afternoon light, this time glimpsing the ‘last spike’ marker - written in huge letters in the mountain side. The last part of the journey, after it had got dark, really dragged. We didn’t reach El Fuerte until gone 8.30p.m. (nearly 2 hours late!), where our smiling Mexican taxi driver was there to meet us and drive us back to the campsite. We paid him, but he didn’t have any change! So he is going to bring it in the morning!
We both felt pretty exhausted, and Adrian joked that we had not had time to do the washing up before we left. However, when we got inside the Bam, there was something much worse to greet us - in spite of our discussion, the fridge had been left off! The freezer part had been full of meat and fish. Despite my weariness, I cooked the last of our huge prawns, and while we were eating them, I cooked the chicken and minced beef, then fell into bed exhausted just after 10 o’clock.
Tuesday 17th February 68 miles
Despite the warm evening when we had returned, it was very cold in the night. We were up quite early (we had to collect our change from the taxi driver when he came to collect today’s travellers).
The day quickly became very hot. I had 2 days diary to type up, so started straight away. We stopped for breakfast (the milk had gone off, so it was toast and ham for Adrian, with yogurt for me). We were just about to start eating outside, when a lady came along and started asking us about the Copper Canyon trip, as they were going there tomorrow. After our quick reply, it was a very one-sided conversation, with her telling us places we must stay further south. Eventually she left, and we ate our reheated toast! We both had showers during the morning, and I continued typing until coffee time, when Bill arrived, so we paid him for our nights here. The woman’s husband then came over to chat, just as I had made our drinks! By now it was really hot, and we had to sit in the shade. It was the first day that the heat really hit us.
By the time we left, it was midday. We had enjoyed this campsite - being on grass gave it the feel of a pleasant English campsite (only the bougainvillea gave it away!)
We had directions to a nearby dam, and headed that way, crossing the Fuerte River and driving a few miles through pleasant country. When we reached Lake Dominguez, the tarmac ran out, so we just stopped in the dusty road and viewed this tranquil scene with its plentiful birdlife - herons, egrets, caracaras, coots and many more. It was too hot to sit outside, so we sat in for lunch, enjoying our peaceful surroundings (in the middle of the road!).
It was 1.30 when we started back towards Los Mochis. We were enjoying the pretty countryside, with occasional glimpses of the river. At the small town of Dos de Abril, the children were coming out of school, the girls, as many we have seen, in their uniforms of white shirt and tartan skirts. On the outskirts of Los Mochis, Adrian had a brainwave guess at the road we wanted to take to find Walmart. We had hoped to get my photos printed there. Once in the carpark, we got the disk ready to take in. The photo place was just inside the door, but there was no customer digital machine. I could see a digital machine behind the counter. Adrian had a look, and a long discussion with the man, who spoke no English. Later, he called across a young girl who spoke a bit of English. She, like many people, thought that it was great that we were from England. We weren’t sure about the developing, so opted to have the first 4 pictures printed only. This was achieved with great difficulty! We were concerned about both the size of the pictures, and the price. We were right to be concerned, as the 4 pictures cost 70 pesos (£3.50) - they were done as a portrait, which he cut up afterwards. Also, the quality and finish wasn’t what we wanted, so we were glad that we had just had the 4 done, but do wonder whether we will be able to get more done while we are away.
While this was all happening, we did some shopping in Walmart, buying most of the things we wanted, including teabags and eggs (which only come in 12 or more). However, we didn’t get a nailbrush - ours had fallen down the loo when Adrian was emptying it today! It was now 5 o’clock, and we didn’t know where we were going to stay tonight. The Walmart Carpark didn’t seem suitable, and any RV parks nearby were ridiculously expensive. We decided to trust it to chance, and headed out towards the Mex 15, the main road south. Just as we reached the junction, we both remembered the huge truck parking area we had seen as we set off for El Fuerte. We had to do a ‘Retorno’ (U turn), but at 5.30 we pulled into the back of this huge area, beside a couple of other RVs, and felt really pleased with ourselves.
Adrian cooked fish outside for supper and we enjoyed this with new potatoes and fresh veg, followed by pineapple. We had seen a fire burning not far away, but luckily it died down.
Wednesday 18th February 273 miles
It was another cool night. We woke early to see mist across the valley as the sun rose. We were just about to have breakfast when we heard a plane very low, and a crop sprayer zoomed over us, missing the Bam by inches. The other 2 RVs saw it coming, and hurriedly moved away, after it had flown over them, skimming the top of their vehicles.
We had our breakfast and set off south, having got some fuel from the Pemex. The man cleaned our spray spattered windscreen. It must be peak spraying time, because as we drove south we saw more planes and could smell the insecticide. I am not a ‘greeny’, but I didn’t like it. The crops in this flat area did look good, but at what price?
We continued past Guasave and paid our first toll - 31 pesos. A cheek we thought, as there is no other road to take. We passed a ‘caravan’ going in the other direction and were glad not to be on one! We turned off to the ‘free’ road, through the town of Guamuchil and then out into the countryside again, looking really pretty with pink flowering trees dotting the hills.
We stopped for coffee and a palmier beside the road, and soon afterwards were annoyed to have to pay another 31 pesos, although this was meant to be the free road.
We now came to the large town of Culiacan. We spied a Walmart, so did a ‘retorno’ to get there, to see if they did digital pictures. The answer was ‘no’, so we attempted to drive on through this busy town, with its fast moving and inconsiderate traffic. We managed to find our way out, despite very few signs, and eventually got on the road towards Mazatlan.
We soon stopped for lunch beside the road, where the traffic drove past noisily.
We passed the Tropic of Cancer marker and turned off almost immediately to the beaches north of Mazatlan.
We were rather dismayed to see how built up this area was, and longed for the wildness of the Baja.
We had read in our book of a free camping area here, but that no longer exists. We pulled into an RV place by the beach, and were immediately greeted by a Canadian chap. We walked on to the beach, which was lovely, then came back to the Bam and sat outside it to have our cup of tea, but could only see the RV next to us! We were aware of a lot of ‘noseeums’. We went for a walk along this lovely sandy beach, watching as the sun lowered in the sky, and paddling in the water. As we got back to the RV park, people started talking to us, in particular Tanya, who now lives on Vancouver Island, but was born in Bristol. We chatted for some time, and discovered that the cool north wind had also been blowing here, and it has only just got warm (it has been really hot all day). We had read that ‘Carnaval’ is really big in Mazatlan, apparently the biggest in the world after Rio de Janiero and New Orleans. We now realised that this starts on Saturday, so we tried planning what to do.
Adrian cooked pork on the barbie, with baked potatoes and veg. The stars were good again, but it felt damp and cool when we walked on to the beach at bedtime.
Thursday 19th February 56 miles
It was a milder night. We saw the sun come up, and ate breakfast outside. Adrian got chatting to the couple next to us - Canadians with a young daughter. The wife had trained at Richmond as an ice skater when she was 15.
We walked on to the beach, and had a bash in the waves then walked along on the fine sand. We came back and had showers and were about to have coffee when a chap came along and started chatting. People had been very friendly here, but he was actually staying in a different RV park associated with this one. He was a man in his sixties, from Washington DC. He was quite small and trim, and rather conventional looking, but he wore one ear ring and 2 necklaces, and had tattoos on his arms. At first we thought that he had a strange manner, but he was a deep thinker, with a rebellious streak. We talked a lot about politics, but like Mark, he could think for himself, and had no illusions about USA! We enjoyed the chat.
I had decided that this was the time to clean the outside of the Bam, and rid it of its salt, dust and insecticide! Adrian did the roof, then it was a joint effort. It was good to see the Bam looking cleaner than it has done for ages! (until the next dirt road!)
It was now time for lunch, so we sat in the shade to eat this, and finally left this happy little RV park at about 1.30, after Adrian had said goodbye to the Canadians (Dale & Alice ) next door.
Our plan was to drive up into the hills today, to visit a couple of interesting villages, then return to an RV park nearer to the centre of Mazatlan for the weekend, to enjoy the Carnaval.
We drove on into Mazatlan, not liking the resorty area we had to drive through. As we neared the RV park we were heading for, to book a site, I saw a post box - I had been trying to find one to post a few cards home, and they are not easy to find.
We were pleased to find that the RV park did have room for us, and cost less and looked better than we had hoped. We drove out of Mazatlan, stopping to get some fuel, but feeling pleased with things.
We had to drive south for 20km to Villa Union, then turn off in the direction of Durango. As we got into the hills, they were prettily dotted with yellow and pink flowering trees amongst the tall cacti.
The first town we wanted to see was Concordia. Just before the town, we stopped by the furniture makers that this town is renowned for. Young boys had cycled to the roadside workshops, and enjoyed Adrian taking their photo and showing it to them. There were rows of chairs, tables and bed heads, all beautifully polished.
Boy carving a chair, Concordia
We continued into the little town, down narrow streets lined by attractive one storey houses. In the centre was a church with an intricately carved front. Beside it was a neat little square, with a group of young children having fun in the bandstand. They called out to us, and once again enjoyed Adrian taking their photo, some being really bold, and others hanging back.
Children at Concordia
We drove on a bit through the town, then continued into the hills for another 25 miles to the little town of Copala. The countryside made us think of Honduras. This town, like Concordia, dates from 1565 (the Spanish). Copala was an early mining town, but has now become a little tourist stop off.
We had to leave the main road and drive on a cobbled track downhill and then back up again. We found a spot to park, which was lucky, as the road afterwards became very rough.
The town was really attractive, but unlike Concordia, kids here expected money. One young lad asked us to take his photo on a donkey, then asked for $1.
Boy on donkey, Copala
Next he came up with a carving from tree bark - another dollar (but it was good). Later he asked us if we wanted him to take us to the mine. We declined. The square in front of the pretty church looked lovely, with bougainvilleas adding that superb bit of colour.
The church and bandstand, Copala
It was nearly 5 o’clock, and everything was closing up - the village obviously depends on daytime visitors.
We now had to think where to spend the night. Adrian had noticed a hotel-restaurant (Daniels) on the way into the village, and wondered if we could stay in the parking area. We went in to enquire - they too were just closing up (pity, as it would have been nice to have had a meal there), but the owner (English speaking) was there, and said that it would be fine.
We collected the Bam and positioned ourselves, and then walked out and down another cobbled street in the warm evening air.
We came back and ate a meal of chicken (cooked the other day), mushrooms, new potatoes and veg, enjoyed with a surprisingly pleasant bottle of wine. The stars were really bright when we looked out at bedtime.
Friday 20th February (20 02 2004) 46 miles
We breakfasted on fruit, in our lovely exotic surroundings. We had thought of breakfasting in the restaurant, but it wasn’t open at 8 o’clock as it said. It did open soon afterwards, so we went in and walked down the tunnel which was part of the old mine. We came back up to the restaurant area and looked at the many photos and newspaper cuttings on the wall. I was reading one about Daniel, but Adrian had actually gone outside and was talking to him. Daniel was certainly an interesting man. He had been born in California, but his grandmother had been born in Copala, so after his father’s death, he and his mother had returned there. Between them they set up first an RV park and later the hotel restaurant. It was Daniel, and his mother, who had brought about the resurrection of the forgotten little mining village as a tourist destination. He had employed many of the locals, but always worked alongside them. He was now suffering with his back, and was living adjacent to the restaurant, but had nothing to do with the running of it. He must be in his 70s, but his wife, who Adrian spoke to, but I only saw photos of, was younger, and had a Dolly Parton sort of look. The article I read made him seem like a benevolent Father Christmas figure (he even looked a bit like it), but he was very humble and unassuming for such an influential person. I saw him as a rather sad figure now, who had worked hard all his life, but was now like an ailing fish out of water. He said that we could stay another night, but we thanked him and said goodbye, and at about 10 o’clock drove over the cobbles out of the village, stopping to look into the cemetery, where his mother is buried. A small group of children followed us in there, and pigs scrubbed in the dirt outside. We began our return journey from the hills. We had wanted to pull off by some of the various lovely flowering trees, but there was never anywhere to stop.
A flowering tree we could stop by
At Concordia, we pulled in to one of the pottery places we had missed on the way up. The simple brown pots were ridiculously inexpensive.
Lovely brown pots
We were just pulling out again, when I noticed that the huge cacti here were in flower - we had been looking at the buds on earlier plants that we had seen. We had to stop again and photograph.
Fantastic flowering cacti
We continued now to Mazatlan, and found our way back to La Posta RV Park, passing Gigante supermarket, which we would have shopped in, but they had a height barrier!! Once in the campsite we found ourselves a spot, and ate our lunch outside. A large iguana scurried by! We were surprised at a cool breeze, and at the sea mist which rolled in briefly on this otherwise hot day.
Later we had a swim in the good sized pool. We walked back along the road to Gigante, taking a rucsac to hold the small amount of shopping we bought.
Back at the campsite Adrian lit the barbie, as we listened to the excited sounds coming from the nearby funfair.
We ate steak, baked potatoes and cauliflower, with another good bottle of wine. We had bought some New Zealand butter, which was much nicer than the rancid stuff we had been eating.
Afterwards we walked out and enjoyed the atmosphere - it was unusual for us to be camping by a place where there was a lot of activity. We were only a couple of minutes from the sea, so I had to have a little paddle. A lot of cars were driving back and forth, but there weren’t too many people walking. Young people were crowding into a disco, and others were eating at restaurants, several of which were playing loud music. One of them we had to stop by, as the live band was performing REM’s ‘Losing my religion’, and they were excellent. We wandered round to the funfair, but by now the sea mist had rolled in again - this time appearing to come off the land! It would cost £1 each to go into the fair, and not much seemed to be happening, so we returned to the campsite at 10.30.
Saturday 21st February 0 miles
We had a leisurely start to the day, breakfasting outside in the sunshine, before going across to the office to use the internet. We sent our latest email, and received one from Emma with delightful photos of Ruby, and with the lovely news of Jon and Lyndsey’s engagement.
We walked out to the photographic shop we had seen last night, and left my CD of photos to be printed, hoping that we had done the right thing! The girl who served us was very pleasant, and spoke English, but she was the new girl!
We came back and had a refreshing swim, then it was back for lunch in the shade.
After lunch we left to go to the old town, to have a look around and to see something of the carnival celebrations, ending with fireworks. We walked along to the ‘circle’, and got on a bus saying ‘centre’. We expected it to just follow the coast down to the old town, but were dismayed to find it going further and further away from where we wanted to go. We were just about to get off, when it turned again, and eventually came to where we wanted!
The cathedral, Mazatlan
We made our way to the cathedral first, another fine structure next to an attractive square with a bandstand, like so many we had seen. We had a nasty moment when my camera played up, but as on the previous time it happened, a new battery cured it. We were staggered by the number of shoe shiners around the square - I couldn’t imagine wanting someone to shine my shoes (even if I had some that needed cleaning). Somebody was playing music on pan pipes - it reminded us of San Isidro a year ago.
Close to here was the Angela Perulta theatre - a fine opera house which had lain derelict for many years, but has now been restored. There was a small entrance fee to enter here - more than it should have been for us, as the man had no change! We had read of Angela Perulta - a renowned opera singer who had died of yellow fever aged 38, when the ship she had arrived in at Mazatlan carried people infected by the disease. Carnaval performances are held here, and the Carnaval square adjoins it. There was already a sense of anticipation in the square, and a band was playing loudly in the bandstand here.
Fireworks being erected for the evening
We made our way down to the beach, where the huge fireworks were being erected. We walked along Olas Altas, the road by the beach. There was evidence everywhere of things going to happen - beer tents and hot dog stalls were everywhere, and people were arriving with their small stalls selling goods of all kinds - food and souvenirs. Most stalls had 2 bicycle wheels (often new) as a base to move it along, and the owners were preparing their corn or tortillas or homemade crisps.
A quiet moment with two mermaids
We sat on a wall above the beach and ate a coconut choc ice from a vendor and watched the activity. We realised that we were really much too early, as nothing much was being sold, and we had several hours until things were going to happen.
We wandered round some more, then sat on the sea wall to watch the sun go down. Now of course, it became cooler, and I only had a thin cardigan with me, as we hadn’t wanted to cart too much stuff around.
We were wondering what to do for supper, and glanced at the ‘Lonely Planet’ pages we had photocopied. One of the recommended restaurants, Puerto Viego, was very close to us, so we made our way there. We were told that all the tables were booked for tonight but we were able to go in and sit at the bar. This was an excellent ploy, as it was warmer in there, and we enjoyed a superb meal - I had beautifully cooked prawns, for which the town is famous. We drank a couple of beers, and watched the staff preparing diligently for the busy night ahead - the busiest of the year, Carlos the manager told us. We watched as all other callers were ushered away, and hundreds of cans of beer were packed into the huge chests, which had been filled with great blocks of ice, energetically broken up by the workers. Everyone was really pleasant to us, despite them being busy. What’s more, when we came to pay the bill, the total was only £7! It must have been our lucky day - while we were eating, a young waiter changed the normal menus for a special carnival one, which was much more expensive!
Back outside, crowds were now gathering, and it was becoming increasingly busy. We wandered about some more, wondering when and where tonight’s ‘happening’ - the ‘burning of the bad humour’ would take place. The scant information we could find all said different times! Some time after 9.00, with the crowds really thick now, a breakdown truck hoisting an effigy, a bit like our Guy Fawkes, arrived. We joined the crowds following along behind it, when a pleasant Gringo man told us that the crowd would suddenly rush backwards when the effigy exploded. We climbed on to the high pavement, when after an eternity, this happened.
The burning of the bad humour
Now it was the waiting for the fireworks, billed to start at 10 o’clock. They didn’t of course, and the waiting (never my favourite thing) became quite tedious!
When they did happen, they were good, but the performance was made less than pleasurable by one of the many loud bands near us playing excruciating ‘music’ at ear splitting pitch! There were at least 8 large stages, each with a band of around a dozen or more, and each outdoing the other for volume!
Once the fireworks were over, now gone 11.00, we tried to make our way homeward. This was a bit like trying to leave Glastonbury Festival - you could only go along with the crowd, many of whom were Congo-ing along the street! As we progressed slowly, we passed many more groups of musicians. The make-shift cafes were filling up, and as well as a great many people trying to leave - there were lots of families with babies and young children, far more were arriving. When we came to the barrier (we hadn’t paid, because we had arrived so early, but the entrance now was 15 pesos), the queue to come in was at least a quarter of a mile long, and there was a long line of police frisking people.
Once out of the actual area, there were still people and vehicles everywhere. We started our 3 mile walk back, hoping to catch a bus, but none passed us. Gradually the crowds thinned, and we carried on walking up alongside the sea, eventually getting back to La Posta RV Park and the Bam, where we fell in to bed at 1.00 am! We are glad to have been there, but we won’t need to do it again!
Sunday 22nd February 0 miles
Well, we slept well! We came to slowly, and breakfasted outside, chatting a bit to the Canadian couple next door. Later we found out that he had been born in Scotland, but had spent his childhood in Zimbabwe. His elderly mother has recently moved reluctantly from there to South Africa, where his brother and sister also live. He himself went back- packing as a young man, to Europe and then Canada, and settled there. He visits Africa frequently to see his family.
This was to be a catching up day, so we soon got busy with the washing, even doing the duvet covers and large towels. The machines here use tokens, available from the office, which wasn’t open when we started our task. As we had only got one token ready, it was fortunate that the lady came to empty the tokens while we were there, and we were able to put in our second load. Ironically, today turned out to be cloudier than is usual, so the washing took longer to dry.
We wanted to phone Nicky, to wish her a happy birthday, and after several tries, we were able to get hold of her and Paul, and so ask about his new job.
So the free day passed quickly, as they always do! We did walk out to the photo shop to check on the photos, as agreed with them, but the place was closed, despite them saying it would be open today. People were already gathering in the street, as the parade finishes near our campsite. We came back for a swim, and after a light supper of beef tacos we left at about 7 o’clock, carrying our chairs.
There was still a long wait before things happened, but in fact the best part was the ‘people watching’, as the vendors plied up and down selling trinkets and toys, which every child seemed to buy.
Before the Carnival procession
The atmosphere, with the anticipation, was great, and the crowd was extremely quiet and well controlled. Then the parade finally began, but I can only say that I was really disappointed. I had been expecting something Latin American, but this was so westernised! It was rather like Bridgwater Carnival (but with not such good floats) or a 4th July parade. It hadn’t the flair of Calgary Stampede. OK, I’m not a fan of parades anyway, but there was very little talent here, just a lot of really untuneful and unnecessarily loud music! The most enjoyable group were some who were still performing amazing acrobats, after a 3 mile parade! Also my eye was taken by a little boy of 3 or 4, dressed in clown type costume but walking ahead of the rest with great confidence.
Adrian was amused at a young boy by us, who looked in total disbelief when he heard Adrian speaking English! The family next to us had a cute little brown eyed girl, of a year or so, who kept on going right to the end.
The parade ended at about 10.30, but the crowd had already started to disperse. Unlike the great partying that I had imagined, most people seemed to be making their way home. We were glad tonight to only have the short walk back to our campsite. Once there, we sat outside chatting until nearly midnight, sharing a glass of wine with our neighbours Dave and Corry.
Monday 23rd February 86 miles
We both woke late. We ate breakfast of grapefruit followed by toast outside.
Adrian bought a large bottle of drinking water from Rosa, who convivially and efficiently runs this pleasant campsite, and we filled our 5 bottles.
We walked along to the photographers and collected my photos, which we were really pleased with. After that it was a swim in this pleasant pool, then showers, and we finally left this pleasant campsite at gone midday, to the sound of fireworks coming from the Children’s Parade. We wondered if the many children who were involved late last night, were parading again today.
We needed to visit 3 large supermarkets - first Gigante, to buy some more wine like we enjoyed last night and some more New Zealand butter (which we found cheaper in Walmart afterwards!). At Walmart we bought some more wine, then had lunch afterwards in the car park. Disaster nearly came when we tried to leave, as the car sunshade, which was very low, extended right over the roadway out. We just scraped the very top of the Bam, but no real damage was done.
Lastly we visited Leys, as Adrian got tonic there before, but this one had none. All we bought was a bottle of bubbly for my birthday.
At 2.45 we finally left Mazatlan, driving south on the Mex 15. We stopped at Rosario to view the church, but we couldn’t go inside to see the gold leaf decorations on the altar, as there was a funeral taking place, and the church was packed.
The church at Rosario
We continued to Escuinapa de Hidalgo, where we turned off to Teacapan. This was on a long sandy beach, and we finally pulled in to la Tambora camping area at 5 o’clock. We walked out to the wonderful beach, and paddled in the shallow water, but the actual campsite was fenced in, so we had to walk out through the adjoining palapa area.
We came back and watched as the sun went down. Adrian saw the ‘green flash’. We talked to a lady with a similar looking van to ours, who had been at Mazatlan. As we had been told that there were a lot of midges here, we didn’t attempt a Barbie, and I cooked some excellent bacon and we ate ‘BLT’ for supper.
Tuesday 24th February - Shrove Tuesday 6 miles
It was a partly cloudy morning but soon cleared. Being pancake day, I cooked pancakes for breakfast, which we enjoyed with maple syrup. Soon after 9.00 we left to walk along the beach towards the free camping area. It was beautiful walking along the fine sandy beach, fringed with palms, and with a variety of bird life - egrets, herons, gulls, frigate birds, willets. We walked right past the camping area, intending to walk on into Teacapan, but the track looked a long way, so we turned around and stopped for a swim in the calm sea, sheltered here in a bay.
By the time we returned, it was 11 o’clock. At about midday we drove on round to Teacapan and parked. We walked around this dusty little town, looking for an RV park in our book. We then drove around looking for it, but when we finally came to the right spot, we found that the site wasn’t there any more.
We decided to head for the ‘free’ campsite, (which cost 50 pesos!) The situation here was really beautiful. We put out the awning, and sat beside this lovely palm fringed beach to have our lunch. It was windy, so there were none of the dreaded ‘nonos’ that we knew were here.
We read some of our diary, but were interrupted at one point by some noisy Mexicans who pulled in beside us, talking loudly and then playing their loud music ‘Mexican Style’. My ‘Paddington stares’ finally sent them away!
We knew that there was a Carnival parade in Teacapan, starting at 4 o’clock, so set off to walk along the beach into the town. We needed to use our ingenuity when we reached a river! We negotiated it and got to the town square, where there was a lot of anticipation amongst the locals, waiting for things to happen. Stalls were being set up - we bought some excellent churros from a chap who was piping the dough into a large enamel bowl filled with hot oil. His young daughter was breaking them up and coating them with sugar. They were delicious. There were several ‘gringos’ around, we chatted to one lady from northern California who looked like Anne Overeynder.
We enjoyed seeing all the children and babies - Adrian was busy with his video camera. Many of the tiny girls were dressed in spotless white dresses. Most were in their best clothes, mainly westernised - jeans and t-shirt, and with their hair done specially.
Waiting for the procession, Teacapan
The parade finally came along some time after 5.00. It was a pretty low-key affair, but quite fun.
The onlookers and one of the floats
Afterwards we wandered along with others into the square, where the atmosphere was like a fifties fete, with amateurish stalls of ‘Roll the marble’, hoopla, darts and tombola (for tequila!). It would seem that the real party started later, but now it was time for us to make our way back along the beach to our campsite.
We re-negotiated the stream, and were walking along the beach past another camping area when we spotted the RV of Dave and Corrie, who had been next to us in Mazatlan. We walked over - they had just seen us - and together we all watched as the sun went down. Both Adrian and Dave had seen the ‘green flash’ last night, but Corrie and I hadn’t. However, tonight there was no ‘green flash’! They invited us into their rig, and we drank a glass of wine or two, and chatted some more! By now it was dark, and we had to make our way back the half mile or so to our campsite. They kindly lent us their torch, and we set off. Luckily we had walked this route this morning, and knew that there was a track we could follow, as the tide was coming in, and we couldn’t walk along the beach. We reached the Bam at 7.30. I quickly got a meal of prawns and sweetcorn tacos, but what we had thought were delicious large prawns were some awful synthetic stuff which I just couldn’t eat. At least the wine was good!
Wednesday 25th February 229 miles
It was a cool night, and I hadn’t slept well. We awoke to a beautiful morning and saw the sun rise, making lovely light on the water. We got up early, as I wanted to return the torch to Dave. We walked along the beach - at first we could see their camper with the red kayak on top, but then it was hidden from view. Luckily they hadn’t left, so we gave them their torch, and they gave Adrian a couple of bottles of tonic. We said our goodbyes, then walked back to our site. We had really enjoyed meeting them.
We ate our breakfast on the beach, and I had a swim, and we left at 8.50.
We drove back 25 miles to the Mex 15 at Escuinapa then continued south on the Mex 15.
We were amused to see a police car which had pulled over 6 cars on the other carriageway. They seemed to be quite happy, so perhaps the police just liked the look of one of the cars, which was quite posy.
Then this turned out to be one of those days. I had seen on the map a place called Mexcaltitan, which was a tiny island in the middle of a huge lagoon area. We differed in our idea of how to get there.
We stopped to get fuel, then turned off on to a road which went between lagoons, with wonderful birdlife. After a while, we thought that we were going the wrong way, but as the road ran between lagoons, there was nowhere to turn round. Eventually we did, and returned to a small village where the road divided. Adrian had an enlightened conversation with a Mexican truck driver, who was fixing on his water bottles. He said that we were going the right way, so we continued, until we met the junction. This was with an unsurfaced road, whereas our inadequate map had shown a surfaced road.
At the junction we met a Canadian chap, whose van we had seen several times near Teacapan. He said that he had driven the 8 km and back - the road south didn’t connect - which is what I had thought, but that you could get to the island from there. We now returned also - in retrospect, we wish that we hadn’t.
We drove right back to the Pemex - a total of 50 miles. It was now 1.30, so we stopped to have lunch - enchiladas - before continuing south.
We soon turned off to the road that we wanted, driving over 30 topes or more. Then we came to the village of Poza de Imarra, which I was pleased about, as it was on our map. However, the tarmac ran out here! We drove on through the village, asking at every corner the way to Santiago Ixcuintla. The whole village was of cobble stones. We found our way out, and continued driving. Then I realised that the place that we were heading for wasn’t Santiago, but Sentispac. As Santiago Izcuintla was such a long name, it appeared over the previous ‘dot’ on the map. After many more miles, we returned to a small Pemex and asked the way to Sentispac. She indicated that we weren’t going the right way, and that if we continued, we would get to Santiago. This we did, - a road not on our map - but at this point, with the lack of any signs whatsoever, we knew that this was the time to give up.
We found our way back to the Mex 15 south with more difficulty, and continued towards San Blas. Even then, things were not straightforward - we came to a road to the right signed as Mex 54, which on our map was 15 km further on (we found later that road numbers had been changed). We continued to our road, and drove through pretty, green, hilly country until we finally got to San Blas.
We drove through this old, cobbled town to the shore, then returned. We had hoped to find information about the ‘jungle boats’ which leave from here, but no-one was about. We left and drove about 10 miles south to a campsite called Playa Amor, which we had read about. When we finally got there, we found a space above the beach, but reversed into a coconut palm in placing ourselves!
Anticipating my birthday
We got settled in above the ocean. Being the day before my birthday, we started celebrating by opening a bottle of bubbly, as it would be 26th in England by now! We sat outside above the glorious waves, and watched the sun go down, but there was no green flash tonight. Adrian lit the barbie and we enjoyed excellent pork chops, with baked potatoes, listening to the sound of the waves.
Thursday 26th February Rosie’s 61st Birthday 20 miles
What a beautiful day and setting for my birthday! We ate our breakfast of fruit outside, then I opened my cards and presents. I had some lovely cards, from Renee and Lena, Val and Mike, Paul and Nicky, Emma and Stuart, Simon and Laure, Hil and Doug, Jill and Tony. Adrian had made me one. The colours were mostly blue and green this year!
I was more than delighted with my presents. From Emma I had a really pretty blue(ish) bracelet, some butterfly silhouettes and pens, and some heart shaped hand warmers. From Renee I had a coral necklace like one I had as a little girl. Adrian gave me a headtorch like Mike’s, and a wonderful CD by Colum Sands, who we had loved at Towersy. Val’s present was really moving - a book by John Chalkley, formerly of Bishopshalt, written after he had spent some years on the South Pacific island of Vaitupu, and a picture of his of Ua Pou. I felt quite overwhelmed by everything. It was extra poignant as we were in a setting rather like Ua Pou right now.
Delighted with my presents and cards
I took some time to take it all in, so it was then coffee time! We had brought with us a part of the joint birthday cake that Renee had made in January. We even had candles and yesterday Adrian had blown up some balloons.
So late morning we headed back the 10 miles to San Blas. When we got there, we found that the outside locker door was open. Despite the bumpy road, all we lost was a couple of disposable gloves! Our luck was in! We were hoping to go on a ‘jungle river’ trip and this worked out brilliantly.
All set for our boat trip
It was 3 hours of heaven. There was just us and our boatman Joel, who spoke a little English. We meandered along the river between the mangroves, looking out for wildlife. There were crocodiles both large and small, turtles, and dozens of birds. Most we had seen before, but this trip was so serene and personal.
Some of the birds we saw were egrets, both snowy (with their ‘painted’ yellow feet), and greater; boat billed heron; yellow crowned and black crowned night heron; anhingas; a night jar and something he called a black eagle.
The journey ended at a simple restaurant beside a spring fed swimming hole. We had an hour to spend here, so we ate first - prawn and octopus ‘cocktail’, with crispy tacos and extras. We enjoyed a beer with this, and looked down at huge fish swimming in the clear water.
Then there was just time for our swim in this tropical paradise before being boated back to the start.
It was 3.15 when we got back to San Blas, the trip had been really great.
There was a track up a hill nearby, where there were the ruins of an old church and fort. We wandered up there, when we had found the way, and enjoyed this bit of history, with views down over the whole San Blas area of dense greenery and water. We had been warned of mosquitoes in the San Blas area, but had no trouble on the river at all, however, up on the hill I got quite a few bites! That decided us not to stay in San Blas itself, but to head back in the direction of last night’s stop, just past the village of Aticama.
We had seen an Internet Café in Aticama, so stopped off there to read our messages, knowing that I had a few birthday ones. Also we had suspicions that some people were having trouble sending to us. It was great to read the messages, but time was rushing away - it was now 5.30 - so we drove on through the village to a large beach palapa restaurant called El Coscorron.
Adrian enquired here to see if we could stay for the night if we ate at the restaurant. They agreed - at a price - at first they said 100 pesos, but when Adrian pointed out that the nearby campsite of Playa Amor only charged 90 pesos, they said that we could stay for 70.
We pulled over to the far side of the parking area, and just had time to enjoy the sun shining down on the water, before it surprisingly disappeared into a low bank of cloud!
A sundown paddle
We enjoyed a quick aperitif before going over to the restaurant. Here we were given the option of shrimp or fish, so we ordered one of each. It was quite the worst meal we have eaten in Mexico, but enjoyable and memorable all the same. This was because we were joined by a Mexican called Alvaro, who came across to our table almost immediately and tried to talk to us. As he didn’t speak English, and we don’t speak Spanish, this was quite amusing! He was later joined by another Mexican called Candilario, who was a rather intense fellow. He often strolled over to put music on the jukebox - Mexican of course, and loud, as it always is!
A memorable birthday meal
My meal consisted of breaded prawns from the freezer, and I was amused and surprised when Alvaro, saying something like ‘can I’, took one of my prawns, and went to get some ‘piquante’ sauce to put on it before popping it in his mouth! Later he ate one of our tortillas! We, and he, were drinking beer, but Candilario was drinking tequila, which he brought in from his vehicle! Later he brought us a tomale - a maize dough, wrapped in corn husks, which he had made. It tasted a bit like suet pud, but was luckily quite palatable, as no way could we have refused! Then, as soon as they came, they both left. We had paid the bill (including the camping fee), and they did have some change, but not enough - that’s how they must get their tips!
Just before 8.30, we walked back across the barren, grassless parking area (which had the automatic sprinkler going on). It had been a super birthday.
Friday 27th February 39 miles
Another beautiful morning. We ate breakfast outside, looking through the palm trees to the sea, where a group of pelicans were perching on the rocks. It was already hot. We had a short walk and left at 9.30.
As we passed Playa Amor, we saw that there was an ‘Adventure Caravan’ in there, and the place was packed out. Thank goodness we didn’t go back there! Also the thought crossed our mind that they would all be going on the river trip today, so weren’t we lucky yesterday?
We listened to my lovely Colum Sands CD as we drove on south. We found ourselves in Santa Cruz by mistake, and drove through this dusty little town, with mounds of gravel half blocking many of the narrow unsurfaced roads. We saw the mangiest Mexican dog ever.
We continued south through several small villages, including Zacuilpan, all with their series of topes. At las Varas, where we joined the main road, there was a local market. We managed to pull into a cobbled side street and have our coffee, watching 2 little birds flying in and out of a crevice in the wall outside.
We walked around the market, which was selling a good selection of things for the locals, but nothing really for us! We took the side road to Chacala, arriving at about midday.
The beautiful beach here is very popular with RVers, who mingle with the locals. Adrian went and spoke to 4 people sitting outside an RV. One, Gordon, was English by birth, but had come to Canada, and then US in the fifties. He had intense blue eyes, and a Lancashire lilt reminiscent of Wilfred Pickles.
We were wondering where to park for the night, and at Gordon’s instigation, parked right by his RV. He and his wife (?), Lee had been coming here for 10 years or more, and had built a house in the village, overlooking the sea.
There was a camaraderie here as there had been at Los Cerrilos beach, particularly amongst the longtimers. We met several other people as we sat outside to have our lunch.
Rosie with Gordon by his new house
Gordon was then driving up to his house, so offered to take us with him. The setting reminded me of Toti’s house on Ua Pou. The house was almost ready for them to move in - a local was busy painting the outside when we visited. We left, and started walking down towards the little harbour. Almost immediately a young woman, called Triny, started talking to us. She was an English teacher, but had recently failed an exam, as it was in ‘British’ English, as opposed to American, and she didn’t understand it all. She had a very bubbly manner, and made us think of Marie. She said that she knew Gordon well, and later he said how he, and everyone, liked her.
We came down to the port, where a few little fishing boats were beached. The view across to the sandy beach with its palapas looked so like John’s picture of Ua Pou that we had to take a photo.
Chacala, making us think of Ua Pou
When we got back to the Bam, we left straight away to try for a swim. We walked along the beach to where we thought that the waves weren’t so rough, but even so, they were too rough for me, so we didn’t stay in long. We came back and washed off the sand in the shower, then had a cup of tea and some more of the birthday cake.
Another Canadian came along to chat - it turned out that he was the chap we had met on the gravel road to Mexcaltitan. He said that they finally got there, but it had taken 2 days of perseverance! He liked our van.
Again the sun disappeared into a bank of low cloud before setting.
Gordon had invited us to eat spare ribs with them up at his house, but it was too early for us, so we ate our chicken later. We walked on to the beach at bedtime - it was very quiet, with just a few locals around.
Saturday 28th February Happy birthday Mike and Kath. 67 miles
There was light cloud this morning, and the day stayed quite cloudy all day. We walked along the beach before breakfast - there were just a few locals about. When we neared the Bam, we could smell bacon cooking, so Adrian cooked bacon for us outside. We ate our breakfast outside, but didn’t get away then as we started talking to Gordon and Lee. They were very easy to talk to, and as Gordon was English, and both had visited England a lot, it was lovely to talk of places we knew so well. This was another couple we had really enjoyed meeting. We didn’t leave until 10.30.
We drove back the few miles to the main road and continued south. Fruit stalls lined the side of the road, so after a bit we stopped and walked along looking at the stalls. We marvelled at so many stalls, all selling the same thing, and nobody seeming to buy. Apart from bananas and pineapples, there were star fruit and surprise surprise breadfruit too!
The large ‘rugby ball’ is a breadfruit
We soon came to the busy little town of la Penita de Jaltemba. We had read that there was an internet café here, so drove around until we found one. We went in, and received a few more messages, and I was able to send proper birthday thank yous.
I had seen a lot of icecream shops in the town, so we treated ourselves. Adrian had a pistachio ‘lolly’ and I had a grape flavoured ice. We did a small shop in a little supermarket before driving on to Rincon de Guayabitos. This was a real touristy little place, with several RV parks that didn’t appeal at all! They were right by a beautiful beach, but were all crammed in as part of hotels.
We ate our lunch in the Bam, beside the road, before walking on to the beach, which was busy, mostly with Mexicans. The sea here wasn’t rough, so we returned to get our swimming things and then had a really enjoyable swim.
We left here at 3.20 and drove a bit further to Lo de Marcos, where there were more RV parks. We had to drive through the little cobblestone streets of the town, then along parallel to the beach, past the campsites. Again these didn’t appeal to Adrian, and we continued to a pretty little cove where there were 2 palapa restaurants where Mexicans were eating and their children were playing happily on the beach.
We had to drive back past the campsites, and I stopped by the beach and walked on to it. It really was very lovely - a wide cove with a beautiful empty sandy beach, but Adrian was having none of it!
The next place we tried was Sayulita, apparently an undiscovered village with a beachside campsite. When we arrived here, the place was packed, and the owner said that there was NO ROOM. We walked on to the beach - a lovely surfing beach. We saw the owner on our return ‘Nice beach, isn’t it?’ he said. Yes, but no good to us!
It was now getting late, and we had nowhere to stay! Ironical, when we had started off today with so many choices. We were nearing the large town of Puerto Vallarta, and hadn’t had time to investigate that.
We turned off on a road which led to Punta Mita - a triangle, which Sayulita was the northern end of, but the road around the coast was nonexistent. There was a hotel RV park along here, but we drove past it without realising. We continued for several more miles, but there were only posh hotel resorts here. We had passed a rough bit of land where cars were parked, close to a restaurant. We weren’t too happy at staying in a parking area on a Saturday night, so returned to the restaurant, where we had to drive down a very rough track
It was just a little palapa restaurant beside an idyllic cove of white sand. A chap came from a makeshift tent home, and we asked if the restaurant was open this evening. He said no, so we asked if we could stay anyway. He said yes, for a tip! We gave him 30 pesos, and bought a beer each, which we drank sitting at a table under the palapa. It wasn’t a beautiful sunset, but there were glorious colours in the sky after the sun had gone down. Despite the odds, we had hit the jackpot!
Enjoying a rewarding beer
Sunday 29th February 78 miles
We had a walk on this beautiful beach, then drove up to the bluff to have our breakfast of scrambled egg. We drove on into Puerto Vallarta. This town has now spread as a huge tourist area. We located a Walmart, and managed to get to it (on the other carriageway) with difficulty. We had coffee and the last of my birthday cake before going in to shop. It was very busy with both Mexicans and gringos.
We drove on through Puerto Vallarta, finally parking beside the road towards the far end. We had lunch - we had moved on one hour here - before walking out around the town. We were really pleasantly surprised, it seemed a very nice place. We walked along by the beach to the attractive church of Our Lady of Guadelupe. The bell tower was very photogenic, and a cherry tree had conveniently come into bloom nearby!
Puerto Vallarta with its attractive flowering trees
We bought an icecream - limon for me and rum and raisin for Adrian - and ate these by the ‘amphitheatre’ next to the sea, while men were busy erecting fireworks for a display which we wouldn’t see!
We wandered back past all the stalls and shops crammed with touristy things, but didn’t buy anything. We saw some photos of the hurricane of October 2002, which devastated this town along with many others.
We left Puerto Vallarta before 3, or now 4 o’clock, knowing that there was an inexpensive campsite just south of the town (all other RV parks were to the north).
We found our way to the turn off - a dirt track for about a mile to the small village of El Nogalito. The site was supposed to be just beyond it. Suddenly the track divided, one way going through a narrow, difficult looking ford and the other leading through a paved ford, where locals were happily playing in the water. We chose this route, and I called out to ask the locals, who seemed to say to continue. The road down to and out of the ford was extremely steep, and we grounded both times. The road out was more than steep, and what’s more, it didn’t go anywhere!
Now we were in a real fix! There was nowhere to turn round, and we didn’t know what to do! Eventually Adrian reversed down, grounding again, and stopped just before the ford. After a while, a chap came out and drove his car into the adjacent gateway, so that Adrian, with great difficulty, and felling a few branches of monkey puzzle tree, could turn around and drive forwards through the ford, and up the other side.
We still hadn’t found the campsite, but several friendly little boys let us know that it was through the other ford! No way said Adrian! At this point, a car met us and a gringo leant out and asked ‘Is this the way to the waterfall?’ We let him know that we had no idea, and it certainly wasn’t for us!
We returned along the bumpy track to the main road, and pondered what to do. The next lot of RV parks were many miles south, as the road now went inland through the mountains, and only small tracks led across the hills to the coast. We stopped to view the ‘arch rocks’ out to sea, close to Mismalayou Cove, where Night of the Iguanas was filmed. Sadly this cove, like many, has been ruined by the encroachment of large hotels.
We started ascending into the mountains, hoping for something to turn up, but we were winding through lush wilderness vegetation, with nowhere suitable as a stopping place. We drove on and on, eventually the landscape became drier and less high, and the road was straighter. We knew that we had to do something (particularly as Adrian hadn’t told me that we were low on petrol), and finally pulled in at 6 o’clock new time beside a tiny shop, which was just selling a few drinks and sweets. The owner, who spoke a bit of English, said yes, fine, we could stop there.
We went in to buy a couple of beers, and give him a ‘tip’, but not before Adrian had nearly run over a little tree outside!
We were grateful for this unassuming overnighter!
Monday 1st March 39 miles
We left our roadside spot, with the little lake out the back, at 8 o’clock new time, stopping a short way along the road for breakfast. We left here just after 9.00, and were pleased after 10 miles to find a Pemex, where we could refuel. Adrian could now breathe again!
The vegetation here was very mixed, but there were some of the tall flowering cacti. All the bridges along this road were freshly painted in yellow and white.
We reached the coastal area, and turned down to the first of the camping areas, in the little village of Perula. We parked, and walked along the beach, stopping at a beachside RV park called Punta Perula. We were able to park right by the sand for 120 pesos, so at 11 o’clock, we were having coffee sitting by the beach.
Lovely spot to do some catching up!
We were in need of a catching up day, and couldn’t have spent it in a more beautiful place, right beside a long unspoilt bay of fine sand.
We swam in the warm sea (Adrian even had a second swim!), walked along to the end of the bay, where fishermen were mending their nets, ate lunch outside, saw boobies diving for fish, and generally enjoyed ourselves.
Fishing boats and nets, Perula
We had put out the awning, which always seems to be a sign for the wind to get up! Of course the day just vanished.
We enjoyed ‘sundowners’, now that the hour had changed, and the sun set at a reasonable time. We started by sitting on our seats outside, but moved on to the wall by the beach.
We walked right along the beach, hoping that some of the many fish restaurants would be open, but none were. We managed to find our way back to the road, and back to the Bam, where I quickly cooked minced beef tacos, which we ate outside. We loved the fact that it was warm enough to sit out until after 10 o’clock. After having a last look at the beach we came inside.
Tuesday 2nd March 38 miles
The morning was partly cloudy, but the sky had cleared by the time we had our breakfast outside. I tried the sea, but it was too rough for me to swim, so I came back up and we left soon after 10 o’clock. Adrian had chatted briefly to a Canadian Couple from north of Vancouver, who had their eye on our spot!
We drove on round the bay, driving down a very corrugated track to a place called ‘Polinesia’. It was supposedly another camping place, but had a ‘Paronella Park - Miss Haversham’ feel to it. We didn’t think it was for us, so we had our coffee here, but then moved on south. We turned off to Tenacatita Beach, another glorious place, with palapa restaurants alongside a beautiful sandy bay.
This was supposed to be a free camping beach, but we saw no sign of it. We drove along a rough track beside the sea, and when we saw another camper beside the road, we asked him. He said, yes, just pull in above the beach, which is what we did.
We went down for a swim, but ended up just getting splashed, then coming back up for lunch, sitting outside under our sunshade. I made bacon tortillas.
During the afternoon, we walked right along the beach, past the beach restaurants, then across some rocks covered with bits of coral to a little cove beyond. There were a few campers here, and we are sure that this is what was meant as the free beach. However, it now had ‘ecological’ signs up. The track to it was extremely rough and difficult, and despite the fact that there was good snorkelling here (but we have no ‘gear’), we decided to stay put.
Another lovely spot - Tenacatita Beach
We began walking back, stopping for a lovely swim where the waves weren’t quite so rough. Pelicans and boobies were diving for fish, both being expert at it! Back at the Bam the wind had got up again, so Adrian put the shade in.
We had found that one of our cups had got broken - which tope was that I wonder? We had been talking about breakages with Dave and Corrie the other day, as they had the same crockery as us (Walmart’s best!) They said that they had broken a lot - Corrie said that they had a cat. I thought that she meant a pet one, but it transpired that they had found a cat sitting in the engine. It had sat there for many miles and wouldn’t budge, but finally got on to the transmission. We can’t remember the whole story, (it was after a few glasses of wine), but the end result was that the cat lost its tail, and the cupboards flung open and all their crockery fell out and broke! At least ours was only one cup!
We had ‘sundowners’ again, but the flidgies were annoying. We decided to try our luck at a restaurant meal again, so walked along the rocky track towards the village. This time we were in luck! At Fiesta Mexicana, a group of people was eating, and an attractive young girl beckoned us in. We enjoyed an excellent meal - Adrian had prawn and cheese filled fish, and I had seafood cocktail - prawns, octopus, conch and clam. Apart from being rather oniony, it was good. Adrian drank beer and I had a really good margarita. This was our belated ’40 years since we started going out’ meal, postponed from 29th. The view out over the beach was what dreams are made of - pity I hadn’t got my camera!
We walked back along the beach to the Bam, me wearing my new head torch, which I had first tried out last night.
We took our seats down to the edge of the waves and enjoyed a glass of wine.
Wednesday 3rd March 34 miles
We awoke to see a red sun shining briefly onto the sea, but the day became the cloudiest yet. We ate breakfast outside, again annoyed by the biting ‘noseeums’.
We walked along the beach in the opposite direction to yesterday, past all the little palapas. One or two locals were on the beach, looking for a place to fling their fishing net. The greyness gave a pleasant mistiness to the beautiful view.
It was gone 10.00 when we left. We drove the few miles to Boca Beach, driving down a road with many topes. Again the view was beautiful. There were 2 campsites here. One was really busy, the other had a very poor access, and only a few ‘front’ places, but the sand was so soft that Adrian was worried about getting stuck. Reluctantly we decided to move on.
A few miles on, through wonderful lush vegetation, was St. Patrice-Malaque. We had heard a lot of people speak of here, and one woman at El Fuerte had given us instructions to one of the 2 sites, writing on our plan of the town. Even so, we got hopelessly lost, once more reminiscent of Colum Sands song ‘Directions’.
Having over shot the town first, so having to twice pass some roadworks, we drove 3 times around the unlevel, bumpy roads of the town. One helpful chap told us that the site wasn’t there anymore, they had built 4 houses on the site. As the woman had stayed there only a few weeks ago, we knew that that wasn’t true! However, we could understand his confusion, as the place now goes under a different name! We finally stopped by the beach and walked! We had already been to the entrance to the site twice, but it was through a hotel archway, with no RV sign, so we hadn’t recognised it! (We later found that the woman had scribbled the new name on our map, but it was difficult to read!)
It was only 100 pesos, so we collected the Bam and drove in, parking by the beach of coarse sand, but behind a fence in a large barren ‘carpark’. Maybe the grey day didn’t show it in its best light, but we did wonder why the woman had raved about it, when we have stayed at so many lovely places!
Later we had a swim in the pleasant pool, but had to make do with cold poolside showers afterwards, as, despite Adrian enquiring and being told that we could have access to others, this didn’t happen!
We returned to the Bam, and I decided that we should give it another wash, particularly as it had a sticky resin on it from our encounter a few days ago with a monkey puzzle tree! The job started well, but became difficult after the water was turned off!
Adrian lit the barbie, but that too was difficult, and wouldn’t light, so he added more liquid, which set off the alarm, and nearly suffocated me!
We had wondered whether the sun would set over the sea or behind the land, but as it wasn’t there to set, it didn’t do either. It did make up for it though with the most beautiful red sky imaginable.
What a sky!
There were mozzies about, so we ate inside, and it wasn’t the best meal, as the meat was rather tough. Just before bedtime, there were a few drops of rain - the first for many weeks, but we still walked out to the water’s edge, where all was very quiet.
Thursday 4th March 2 miles
I hadn’t slept well - at first it was too warm, and my midgie bites were itching! The morning started grey, which was good for our walk along the beach to Barra De Navidad. This small town is set on a sand bar, and boats from there can take you to an almost adjoining peninsula with an imposing hotel on it. Our walk along the deeply shelving beach of coarse sand took just over half an hour. We walked around the town, which was just getting ready for the day, with people setting up their shops and others busy with the continual task of sweeping.
By the time we had walked back again, we were ready for a swim in this pleasant pool. Adrian had made the sad discovery that he had lost his nice Alaska tongs when the locker door was open the other day. We left at 11 o’clock.
We had a few things to do in the town, the first being to locate the post office and send off some long awaited cards. I needed to buy some more stamps too, and when the man saw the stamps on my cards, he said that they were not enough - it costs 12 pesos. We wonder if our earlier cards have got there. We had asked at the previous Post office - obviously that person didn’t know where England was, as we were given stamps for USA!
We next needed a launderette, and at the third attempt found one, with an Internet Café round the corner. This was all pretty good, except that Adrian’s disk didn’t load, so he had to come back and do it again. Even then, some of the emails were returned.
By the time this was all finished, it was after 1 o’clock, so we made our way to the nearby Playa RV Park, and managed to park right near the beach. This park was more expensive than last nights, but we wanted to walk into the town.
I quickly got lunch, which we ate outside-by now it was hot and sunny. We then walked right along the beach towards a free camping area. We swam some of the way back, watching the pelicans, boobies and terns diving brilliantly for fish. A lazy sort of afternoon followed - I even lay on the beach for a few minutes.
At about 5 o’clock we walked into the cobbled, dusty little town of Melaque, but not much seemed to be going on. We bought some tortillas, rolls, milk and tonic at the ‘Minisuper’ opposite.
And another lovely sky!
We came back and took our sundowners onto the beach, where we watched the beautiful sky with its many colours. We were also treated to an aerial display by the pelicans and terns diving for their supper. Another delight to see was a young chap who briefly went out in his little boat, threw out his net, and hauled in whole shoal of fish.
We came back up and I cooked a prawn omelette for supper, then we hit the town again, stopping to buy an ice cream and choc chip for Adrian.
We enjoyed walking around this happy little town, where the small town square was full of people from toddlers upwards. We walked back along the beach and sat overlooking the sea until we came in at 10.20. A beautiful place to remember.
Friday 5th March 153 miles
The beach looked lovely, and for a while the sea was taken over by the birds, which seemed to be congregating before starting the day’s activities. After breakfast, the beautiful smooth sea got the better of me, and I had a delicious short swim before we left at 8.40.
We were taking the Mex 80 into the hills towards Guadalajara. We began climbing almost immediately, and soon the landscape was a dry.
Then, who needs a roller coaster? We travelled up and down the mountain sides following a continual bend. Often the camber was so steep that it felt like being at Brooklands! The wardrobe door came open continually, and if I got up to shut it, it was open again by the time I sat down! Occasionally we would come down to a flat, fertile valley with an attractive patchwork of fields. The agaves were particularly attractive, with their bluey green spiky foliage. Apparently they are only allowed to be grown in this area, as a quality control measure for tequila, which is produced from them.
As the surroundings became drier still, we saw many of the huge cacti in flower. We stopped for lunch beside the road - the bread we had bought in Walmart some days ago had a definite green tinge, but we didn’t think it was mould.
We had planned to stop at one of two RV Parks adjacent to water parks at Villa Corona. The first we tried was closed, but the second, Parque Acuatico Chimulco, came up trumps. For only 150 pesos, we could park in an attractive, shady RV Park, and use the hot pools. We didn’t take long to get settled in, then made our way to the pools. In fact, the day was so warm, that we didn’t feel in need of a hot pool. Luckily the pool wasn’t as hot as many in Canada and Alaska, and we spent some time just soaking, surrounded by lush vegetation and huge trees.
One of the pools had jets of water, as a ‘hydro massage’, but they were pretty violent!
Apparently they empty the pools each night, and refill them in the morning. One pool is filled at 6.30pm just for those staying in the RV Park or bungalows. There are very many pools, but not all are filled, depending on the amount of visitors.
We came back to our pleasant spot and enjoyed cheese tortillas which I made. We could look down to Laguna Atotonilco through the trees.
Being in the area of tequila production, we thought that we ought to have a margarita, so sat outside to enjoy this as all the day visitors were leaving the park. The 6.30 opening of the pool was ‘on Mexican time’, so we decided to have our supper first. Adrian cooked the excellent ‘blanco real’ fish outside, and we ate this with rice before going over to join the other campers in the pool.
It wasn’t a pool for swimming in, so was conducive to much chat. We talked mostly to Hans and his wife, from Ontario, but originally from Lubeck, Germany. At 8.30 we walked back to the Bam under a full moon and many stars. Pretty nice!
Saturday 6th March 103 miles
The day started cool, but it was lovely in the pool! While there we chatted to an American couple camped by us, who confirmed that it was easy to get a bus from here to Guadalajara. It was too late to get organised for today, but we had a change of plan, and decided to go to Guadalajara tomorrow. This left today to drive out to other places we wanted to visit.
We had showers, but these weren’t really necessary, as it was the same water as the pools. We ate our breakfast outside in the sun.
By now it was 11 o’clock, so we left and headed towards Guadalajara, intending first to visit Lake Chapala. However, with inadequate maps and signs, we found ourselves heading in towards the city. We changed our plan, and thought that we would go to Tlaquepaque first. This is a suburb of Guadalajara, and known for its craft shops and markets. The journey was quite horrific - few signs, lots of fast traffic, and several maps to try to sort. We eventually got to Tlaquepaque, but by now I was feeling quite travel sick. We were able to pull into a parking place, and I cooked some cheese tortillas before we set off walking. By now the sun was very hot, but we found our way to the centre of this busy place, where there were craft shops and galleries galore. We walked into a ceramics ‘museum’ and continued wandering around the streets, getting to the church, square and market. We didn’t buy anything, and headed back, taking what we thought was a parallel road to the one we had come in on, but it didn’t quite tie up! We did eventually get back to the Bam, and at 2.30 headed out of Guadalajara towards Lake Chapala.
We reached the lake at the town of Chapala, a happy place on this Saturday afternoon, full of stalls and people. Lake Chapala is the largest in Mexico, but has receded greatly in recent years as a result of the growing needs of water for Guadalajara and other nearby places. It would seem that the level of the lake is usually lower than when we saw it, but the rains in mid-January that we have heard so much about have raised the level. The fringes of the lake at Chapala are covered with pond weed, but the little tourist boats looked pretty, in their different colours. We wandered around, taking in the atmosphere, and stopping to eat an icecream (lemon/nut).
Lake Chapala with its colourful boats
It was gone 4.00 by the time we left and drove on westwards near the lake. We stopped at the pretty little town of Ajijic, and first went into a small supermarket, which must cater for the gringos, as we were able to get a lot of the things we wanted. We walked on around the cobbled streets, but by now it was 5.30, so time to head back to Villa Corona and Parque Acuatico Chimulco. We reached here at 6.30, thinking how nice it would be if one of the pools was open.(someone had told us that the evening pool wasn’t open at the weekend)
We had a cup of tea and bun which we had bought to resuscitate ourselves, then discovered that the pool was open. This was a welcome surprise. We refreshed ourselves in the pool, chatting to Louise and her husband from Ontario, who have a vehicle similar to ours.
We came back and ate egg and chips, with frozen chips we had bought today, cooked quite successfully in the frying pan.
Sunday 7th March 0 miles
It was lovely to wake up to birdsong. We had breakfast then made our way to the pool for a quick soak before setting off to Guadalajara for the day.
At 8.30 we walked along the dusty, cobbled streets to the main road, to catch the bus. One came along fairly soon, which pleased us. It was a comfortable bus, and we really enjoyed the ride. I had asked the driver if it went to the centre, but in fact, we had to get off near the centre and catch another bus.
It was quite an experience standing near the junction, and watching each bus as it madly swerved in, then took off again. Lots of them passed us before the one came that we wanted. This was a real local bus, with broken windows, and with lots of people on it. A highlight though, was a chap with a guitar, who got on and starting singing Mexican music!
Adrian cleverly worked out where we wanted to get off, and we started our day of sightseeing. We were right by the church of San Juan de Dios, which I had wanted to see. Inside it was very ornate, decorated in gold and turquoise. There were already quite a few people about - outside the church 2 little girls arrived dressed in bridal type white dresses, presumably for their first communion. On a building opposite were modern statues of mariachi musicians, the ‘strolling minstrels’, who it seems originate from here.
We made our way to the Cultural Institute, an enormous, opulent building containing dozens of wonderful courtyards. The building had been used as an orphanage for most of its life, housing up to 3000 orphans, but was now used to house exhibitions of art. We walked into one room of paintings, and were discussing them, when the attendant started chatting to us. He said that the exhibition was only on for today, it was the work of the local art class. His wife arrived - she had done 2 of the paintings, so we said the appropriate things!
As we were leaving, a bonsai demonstration class was just starting. There were beautiful vistas down each corridor, and orange trees and geraniums added to the atmosphere, the scent of orange blossom permeating the air.
Pots in the Cultural Institute
We left the imposing building, and stopped for coffee/ chocolate and a donut at an American type cafe, then made our way to the huge covered market. This is apparently the largest in latin America. It is on 3 floors, and seemed to sell just about everything - tuxedo boots, sombreros (which originate from this area), fruit, trainers, CDs etc. etc. We tried all 3 floors, but only saw a fraction of the area.
We now headed along the pedestrian street towards the central area. The huge cathedral is surrounded by 4 attractive squares, and other buildings are packed in. It made us think of Rome and Prague - everywhere you looked, there was another wonderful building. Our next visit was to the Governor’s Palace. This was because I needed the loo, and there weren’t too many around!
Looking to the cathedral from Plaza des Armas
This palace was another feat of opulence. It reminded us of the one in Guatamala City. Above the gigantic staircase was a mural of Hidalgo (who was the ‘father’ of Mexico’s Independence from Spain). It was striking, if not pretty! Again the courtyards were wonderful, giving an air of calm and coolness.
We left here and entered the enormous, ornate cathedral. A service was about to take place, so we didn’t stop long. We needed somewhere for lunch, so wandered around the pedestrian streets, packed now with visitors, until we found a small café where we ate chips and a warm ham roll. Then it was on past the Rotonda de los Hombres Ilustres with bronze statues of local ‘important’ men, to the museum.
Guadalajara was full of delightful courtyards
This was another impressive building with more lovely courtyards - this one had humming birds collecting nectar from the blossoms of the beautiful flowering trees. The writing in the museum was only in Spanish, but we viewed a skeleton of a mammoth and many ancient pots, but mostly we just enjoyed the atmosphere.
Looking past the crowds to the Cultural Institute
By now we had seen quite a lot, and were ready to leave, so we wandered past some more craft stalls and then found our way back to the bus station (this morning’s bus had dropped us nearer to the centre).
We arrived there at 4 o’clock, and had some trouble in locating the right bus. Even when we did, it wasn’t a good choice, as it was a much older bus than this morning’s, with no air conditioning. Worse, there were a lot of horrible flying beetles on the floor! Luckily, once we got going, both the temperature and the bugs sorted themselves! Apart from a small diversion through one of the towns, all went to plan. We got off the bus in Villa Corona a little bit early, as we were keen not to miss our stop, and we walked back along the dusty, cobbled streets, arriving back at the Bam at Park Acuatico Chimulco at 5.30. I was keen to get into one of the pools, but after the hundreds who had visited today, the pools didn’t look very inviting and by now they were nearly empty of water (it’s one way to make the visitors go home!), so Adrian lit the barbie. We ate our meal of chicken in bacon, with mushrooms, baked potatoes and corn on the cob. Everything was wonderful, except the mozzies, which sent us inside after Adrian had got bitten.
We made our way over to the pool afterwards, and chatted to Hans and his wife while we enjoyed a soak (for an hour!). We will long remember this place!