Heading Inland

Trip Start Jan 12, 2007
1
7
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Trip End Nov 19, 2007


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Flag of Mexico  ,
Sunday, April 22, 2007

Leaving Puerta Vallarta, we took the windy, hilly Mexican 200 down the Costa Alegre through several different microclimates (thick jungle, dry rolling hills with pine trees, etc.) towards Manzanillo. Although they can´t be seen from the highway, the Costa Alegre is apparently full of exclusive resorts. At the one and only hotel that did let us take a tour of the property (go figure, we are driving a dusty ´87 VW Van), rooms were going in the neighbourhood of $800 a night.

Our destination the first night was Tenacatita, a one-street beach town, 10 kilometers off the main highway. After "Safety First" Adrienne checked things out with the (only) cop in town, we "boon-docked" next to an abandoned grass hut that was perched on the edge of a beautiful beach. The fact that it had a non-flushing outdoor toilet that was not yet fully loaded and thus usable was a huge bonus.

Thirty kilometeres or so further down the coast is Melaque (pop. 7,000), where we spent 3 nights. The campsite in "downtown" Melaque was full due to the lingering Semana Santa crowds, so we headed to the town's outskirts where we found an average hotel with an above average parking lot that doubled as a stunning campsite: we were sandwiched between the ocean on one side and a large lagoon, full of migrating birds, on the other.

Melaque shares a bay with its more lovely sister, Barra de Navidad (pop. 7,000), which was a 20 minute beach-stroll from our campsite. Barra grabbed us right away and, along with Sayulita, has probably been our favourite of the quieter Mexican beach destinations. Like Sayulita it has a good mix of authentic Mexico and upscale, tourist glitz, though on a smaller scale.

Another fifty kilometeres or so south is Manzanillo, where we arrived on April 13th. Manzanillo does not have any campsites so we stayed at a luxurious hotel (by our 2007 "road trip to Mexico" standards, that is) but for whatever reason - perhaps it was the dreaded "beach fatigue" - Manzanillo was the first well-known resort destination that didn´t work for us. We continually asked each other if we were missing something but after much exploration, we realized we had indeed seen it all, and so moved on after only 2 nights.

After Manzanillo we finally turned inland, driving 70 kms northeast to Colima, the capital of the tiny state of the same name. There wasn´t a person to be seen when we arrived mid-afternoon on a Sunday but by evening the main plaza was packed, the concert band was playing in the gazebo, and we had our first small taste of the charms offered by Mexico´s "colonial" cities (note: take this last sentence to be "foreshadowing" for our next blog entry). And by the way Bob, your daughter wants you to know that, unfortunately, the days of free appetizers in Colima´s main plaza are long gone (just like that dreaded walk - uphill both ways - to school.

The next day, on our way out of Colima en route to Guadalajara, we took several back roads so that we could get a closer look at the two volcanoes that serve as the backdrop to the city. One of them - El Volcan de Fuego - has been spitting ash for the last several years. Our drive to Guadalajara - although only 200 kilometers, much of which was circling the volcanoes - sucked as the tolls were high, the road was in a deplorable condition, the cars on the free road, right beside us, were passing us, and for about 10 kilometeres we were in the midst of a dust storm. In the end, though, we "battled" through and made it to the big city.

Guadalajara is Mexico´s second largest city with somewhere between 4 and 8 million people (depending on which guide you read) and as we approached its outskirts, the traffic on the 4-lane highway started to get thick, the sun began to wane and our stress levels started to increase. The fact that the campsite was difficult to find only added to the tension and soon we were at each other´s throats. After the tears (of one team member) dissipated, we opted for the newish/clean-looking hotel on the side of the highway that was advertising rooms for $32.

For those more worldly than us, the bells probably would have started to go off when: (1) the motel had no office to speak off - rather, we spoke to the attendant through a microphone, as if we were at McDonald´s drive thru; (2) the attendant wanted cash up-front and didn´t give a rat´s ass about our name; (3) the room had its own attached garage but no front door; and (4) the lighting in the room was so dim that Old Man Gowe could barely read his book as he relaxed in the sunken bedroom.

No, this was all lost on us as we congratulated ourselves for stumbling upon such a reasonably priced, modern motel with secure parking for the van. It wasn´t until we turned on the TV and were bombarded with channel after channel of (free) porn that we started to put 2 and 2 together. And we were left with little doubt once we noticed that the first 4 or 5 items on the room service menu were condoms and there were flyers on the bedside tables advertising sex toys.

It tuns out that in Mexico there is more that separates "motels" and "hotels" then where you park your car. Given this, and the fact that we were told in the morning that $32 had in fact only bought us 12 hours of room time, we headed to the campsite which, as it turns out, was about half a kilometre down the highway. From our location in the burbs it took a dizzying hour on a crammed city-bus, repelete with our own busker, to reach "el centro" and so we stayed in Guadalarja for only 1 day/2 nights before moving on.

About an hour south of Guadalajara is Lake Chapala, the largest lake in Mexico and the source of Guadalarja´s drinking water (although, it is apparently too polluted to swim in). Along the north side of the lake lies the little towns of Ajicic and Chapala.

A gringo store-owner told us that Ajicic is now about 1/3 Canadians, 1/3 Americans and 1/3 Mexican, with the gringos being artists and/or retired folk. We opted to stay in Chapala (15 minutes farther east) which has fewer gringos, lots of big trees that shade the streets, an active little main plaza, and a restaurant called Cucumbers that served, for next to nothing, the best shrimp quesadillas and gringo breakfasts. Our budget hotel (no camping here either) was perfect in that it was on a small hill, had a rooftop patio with views of the city and the lake, and allowed us to immerse ourselves in about 60 channels on the TV, including the US CNN feed (in our opinion, Larry King absolutley botched the interveiws with the families of the Virginaia Tech victims). We used one day in Chapala to bus back into the suburbs (on the other side of the city from where camped) of Guadalarja to see the famous markets of Tonala and Tlaquepaque.

We left Chapala on April 21 and continued northeast to Guanajuto, where Adrienne had found us a Spanish school to attend for a week...stay tuned.

Highlights of the last 3 weeks or so (there is a theme here):

-The first night in Barra de Navidad we ate at a street-side restaurant - Camela´s Club Diner - and had one of the best meals of the entire trip - caesar salad with fresh prawns followed by chicken and spinach crepes. At $8, all included, Camela´s creations were mouth-watering.

-Indulging in "mangoes on a stick", which are an essential part of Mexican beach culture. They are traditionally sprinkled with chile powder and served like a popsicle - a healthy alternative to a cerveza in the mid-afternoon heat.

-"Choco-Flan", a delicious dessert made partly of flan, partly of chocolate cake. As we consider choco-flan to be an integral part of Mexican culture, we feel it is our duty, as tourists, to sample choco-flan throughout Mexico. Not easy work, but necessary to get the true cultural experience.

-On the way out of Melaque/Barra, we heard a grinding noise coming from the back of the van. After Adrienne diagnosed it (by chasing after the van while I did figure 8´s in the parking lot) as a problem with the back wheel, we stopped to have it checked out. Only twenty minutes and 5 bucks later something was tightened somewhere on the wheel, and we were on our way.

-Live music at a bar on Friday night in Ajijic. We had front-row seats (not by our choice) at a small bar where we took in the sounds of 2 classically-trained guitarists, one Mexican, the other a hybrid, who claims to have lived in the West End of Vancouver for a couple of years (but also claims to made music with the likes of "Gord" Lightfoot, etc, etc). The Mexican had an enormous voice with perfect pitch. Sadly, I was too shy to request "Guantanamara" (or maybe it was my girlfriend that wouldn´t let me). Although they played mostly Mexican favorites, the hybrid managed to squeeze in some Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison for the 60-something expats (deep thought: we have moved from campsites full of retired Canadian snowbirds to small communities of retired American expats...not sure which is better?)


Low-lights:

-nothing to report right now: let´s be honest, we´ve been on vacation for almost 4 months.
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