On March 15, 2007 we finally decided to leave Puerto Vallarta behind. We pulled into the gas station and filled up 'Nilla before trekking through the entire town of Vallarta to reach the highway on the other side. It was a hot day and we were sweating just rolling through town. The highway breeze could not come soon enough. We were barely out of town when we noticed signs to a highway roadstop that included waterfalls, crystal clear pools of water and a beautiful gorge. Rather than pay some ridiculous entry fee to a parking lot, we pulled off the side of the highway near what looked like a worn path through the
brush. We walked all but 30 seconds before seeing that the trail led down a passable area of the gorge right to the waterfalls and water pools. Score! The trail was a bit slippery in our sandals, but we were cautious and made it to the top of the rocks without problem. The rocks were even more slippery under our sandals and Michael decided to reach the bottom of the gorge barefoot. It was a wise decision as the rocky path down was steep and required a quick stop before hitting a pool of water. The gorge was beautiful and peaceful. The roaring sounds of the highway only a few hundred feet above were all but silenced. Geraldine walked down a different section of the gorge and reached the top of a drop off that created a waterfall. We played on the rocks in the gorge for a while before making the scramble back up to 'Nilla and eventually hitting the road again.
The highway from Puerto Vallarta was slow going as it led right into the coastal section of the Sierra Madre mountains. The early part of the drive was filled with small but steep climbs and descents with numerous curves, twists and turns. After a while and a rather large climb, we were driving on what appeared to be an alpine plateau road in the mountains. The roadside was filled was tall evergreens with a thin covering of needles and large oak trees. The landscape seemed so undisturbed. Maybe time passed quickly, but to us, it was not long before we had crossed over the mountain range and were driving in the valley on the other side. The valley contained a lush vegetation and numerous brooks, creeks, streams, and rivers. We loved the ever changing scenery.
We had a hand written note on our map that read "Perula - Must See"
. As we rolled up on the town of Punta Perula, we figured that this must be the place. We read deeper into our guide book and learned that there were two actual RV/Campgrounds in Punta Perula.
This was definitely worth a look around. We rolled down the main drag in town and did not find much more than a the General Store, a hotel/motel and a few restaurants. It was late afternoon when we arrived and the town was all but shut down. The first campground we saw signs for was inland and we passed on this one. The second campground boasted beautiful sites, clean bathrooms, internet and beach access. We decided to not pass up the chance to camp in luxury. When we arrived, the campground was very basic and most of the services were no longer offered.
The owner/operator was not even at the campground nor expected back for a few days. We chatted with fellow travelers from Canada and decided that with less service and higher prices we would camp just outside the gate. From our dirt road campsite we watched as fishermen were launching boats into the water to head out for the night. Other fishermen were tying their boats up a little tighter as the surf was pounding on the shore. Michael went out to the beach and offered to help, with smiles the locals thanked him and explained that it was all under control. Once the boats were either in the water or tied up correctly, we joined fellow campers on the beach for a nightcap and to watch the sunset. It was a wonderful end to our first day of road travel in over two weeks.
We woke up early the next morning and hit the road toward San Patricio Maleque. 'Nilla has still be experiencing some indigestion (fuel problem) where she chugs along every now and then. We have been replacing the simple parts until we find the reason behind issue. We were certain that a little gas treatment and a new fuel filter would solve our problems, however this was not the case. In Maleque, we stopped off at a general repair shop for another opinion on the problem. This time it was suggested that we try to change the spark plugs and distributor cables. The mechanic reasoned that if the contact was not great we could be getting a pause in response of the system. The price for all the work was under $30 and we decided to go ahead with it, even though it did not sound like the best diagnosis of the problem. As he was at it, we knew that the console would be removed and the air filter could be changed. Michael dug around the van and found the replacement air filter, however we had one small problem...it was too small. At this time we would like to extend a special thanks to PartsSource in Calgary for selling us the wrong air filter.
The shop searched their inventory and to our dismay, they did not have the correct filter.
The shop owner offered to take Michael into town to get the correct filter while the other work was being done. We could not say no that that type of hospitality. Our luck had returned as we found the correct air filter at the first shop. The only problem was that the price was $100 pesos ($10 CDN). That was a bit outrageous, but we needed to have it. We would have bought more, but this was the only one in stock. At least we have the correct size and product code now. The work on 'Nilla was completed in short order and we continued on our way down Mexican Highway 200. We had been hitting Military check points along the highway however they all seemed to be very uneventful. The checkpoint after the repairs was the most thorough one to date. They wanted to see everything. The only question they asked was "What's in here?". We now have a better command of Spanish and communication with the soldiers was much easier. We actually used Spanish terms to describe the things in our van. What progress we have made.
The drive along Mexican Highway 200 provided some amazing views. From Maleque to Marauta we saw astounding views of the ocean and coastline from high atop cliffs at the side of the highway. Each turn of the road brought another beautiful view and it was hard to keep our eyes on the road. The sections of the road and lower elevation boasted striking trees in full bloom with yellow flowers. The trees stood out like light beacons on the lush green backdrop.
We reached our destination of Marauta late in the afternoon. We did some reading about Maruata and learned that it is one of the main beaches where black sea turtles come to lay eggs. Nearby there is also a turtle conservation area and they release thousands of turtles of different species back into the ocean every year.
The place was all but deserted, which is generally how we like it. The beach was covered with restaurants and these low flat palapa type Enramadas. These are used for beach campers to pull their cars under the cover of shade and to hang hammocks or pitch tents. It was such a novel idea to keep everyone and everything out of the hot, hot sun.
Unfortunately for us, 'Nilla was about 6 feet too tall to fit under the Enramadas. There was one guy sitting in front of a restaurant area that we asked about camping. The two options were to either pay for a cabana at $20 CDN or park anywhere we found room and stay for free. Hmmmmm....let's see....we opted to park for free. We walked along the beach and within minutes we were approached by three people that seemed to have enjoyed their day. We were offered beer and formally met Miguel, Myriam and Felipe all from the state of Sinaloa to the north. We engaged in some small talk before we decided to grab a table and sit down for some more drinks. The party began to pick up steam and before long, everyone was chatting away like old friends. Our new friends ordered dinner from the restaurant, which consisted of barbequed fish, rice, tortillas, hot salsa and side plates of French fries and garlic shrimp. There was enough food to feed everyone and the meal was delicious. We even had extra company for dinner. A passerby on the beach was welcomed to the group. Domenic, from France, was a welcomed addition to the crew although he only stayed but an hour. As the evening wore on, the drinks continued to flow until the Federal Police showed up. The police asked us about what was happening and we explained that we were enjoying dinner and drinks. Miguel jumped up from the table to deal with the Police and we thought it best not to get involved as our limited Spanish may have made the situation worse. After a short while of talking and handing over a few hundred pesos to the Police, we were back in business to carry on enjoying ourselves. We did not ask many questions and it seemed to be better this way. After a few more cocktails, we headed back to 'Nilla for the night.
The following morning Michael got up early and walked out to the beach to check out the morning activity. The beach was a buzz with traffic including fishermen, children, birds and insects. As Michael walked down the beach he was most impressed with how close he was able to get to a Great Egret that was lounging on the shore. There are pictures of the Egret feeding, walking along and simply sitting staring at the ocean. It seemed as if the Egret used the beach in the same manner as humans do, or vice versa. The far end of the beach is where more cabanas and residences are located. Women in the village were doing chores including laundry along the shores of the lagoons across from the beach. It was like a step back in time to see how this tiny village lived simply without many of things we consider modern conveniences.
Sure the boats are now fiberglass with outboard gas powered motors and the nets are likely a nylon synthetic product, however laundry was still scrubbed on a board in the water and food was still grown in the fields not bought at the store. It was a delight to see the children running around playing outside with sticks and using their imagination, rather than being strapped to video game controllers. To be bold, somehow life seemed better here.
After photographs, we were greeted by our new friends and offered to join them for breakfast. We donated some cooking utensils and helped with the preparation of chopping onions and tomatoes. Miguel was kind enough to cook eggs and steam tortillas for the entire group. We did the dishes as a thank you. It was nice to see everyone again in the morning before we took off down the road and they headed out on a boat tour of the islands. There was even enough food to feed the stray beach dog that had become fond of our group. The little dog had been so well fed in the past two days that he was actually turning down the crappy food and only eating the good stuff.
We hit the road around 10:00am and according to the map we were in for a day of cruising along the straightest of roads. To our surprise, within minutes of highway cruising we realized that the road was going to be nothing but curves. The trusty map let us down yet again. We quickly forgot about our sadness and began to enjoy some wonderful vistas on Mexico Highway 200, which were mainly views from the high cliffs above the ocean and coastline below.
The view along the coast seemed to be never ending and we soaked them up for all we could. The interior views were very unremarkable until we saw a dog nearly get run over by a car in the oncoming lane. The silly dog got up to the side of the highway and then seemed to be ready to sit and wait when without warning he ran onto the highway and the oncoming car swerved into our lane to avoid crushing it to bits. The dog likely brushed up against the side of the tire as he rolled once on the highway before hightailing it back into the woods. Michael was attentive the entire time and slowed down to allow the oncoming car room to manoeuvre. We were a bit shaken up by our experience and have been even more cautious of highway dogs ever since. Mexico Highway 200 reaches a series of waterways surrounded by mangroves on the east side of the Mexican state borders of Michoacan and Guerrero. The road that crosses the border is actually on top of a massive dam that takes the water from the east and controls flow to the west. The land to the west is still very fertile and the control of water is mainly for the use of hydro-electric power.
Once in the state of Guerrero, we put the pedal down and headed for Zihuatanejo. We bypassed Ixtapa as we were told to simply expect a resort town under construction. We were pleased with our choice and reached Zihuatanejo in the late afternoon. There were a few camp areas listed, however we decided to drive around and find some street parking as we only intended to be in town one day. There was not much available in terms of street parking either in town or in the surrounding communities. We did find a campground in town that was walking distance from the beach. The owner spoke fluent English and was most pleasant upon our arrival. We negotiated a reasonable rate and decided to stay. We were set on hitting the town at night and having a safe place to park and return to sleep was worth a few bucks to us.
We would have needed to pay for parking downtown anyway. We set up 'Nilla with power at Las Cabanas and met the park dog named Carnella. Aside from the dog constantly biting of my hands, she was not that bad to have around. This was the first place we had to endure nothing but cold showers. It sounds awful, but the water was actually quite warm as it was in a solar tank heated by the sun. We both had lukewarm water to shower with and we jumped into clean clothes before heading out for a walk down to the beach. We sat in the sand and watched the locals play in the water, a wedding get underway, and families of tourists fill the restaurants for dinner. We walked up and down the beach watching the sun slowly fall above our heads over the hills in the distance. It was a beautiful site, however Zihuatanejo faces south and is surrounded by land to the west, which limits the view of the sun setting into the ocean at the horizon. Nonetheless, we were treated to a sky of ever-changing colour with a direct view of the Pacific Ocean and the boats anchored in the bay. We could not ask for more.
We headed downtown and strolled the shops in the market. It was similar to the merchant shops in every other town we have been to including the pushy vendors and overpriced stuff. Needless to say, we did not buy anything. We strolled up and down the streets and found a very cool strip of bar and cantinas. Unfortunately for us, a local music and guitar festival was ending that day and the vibe was insignificant. We heard a hustle and bustle from the downtown square and decided to head there. The were local native Indians performing a ritual dance in the square that was entertaining hundreds of onlookers. On the other hand, we were more curious about the basketball game being played on the court behind the crowd. We sat in the stands and took in some of the action. Two local teams were vying for what seemed to be local bragging rights. The stands were divided with fans that were mainly family and friends of the players and it was all in good fun. With any break in the action, the small kids watching the game would run out onto the court to practice their game of dribbling and shooting hoops. It was a total family affair. After the game we walked a bit more before catching a ride back to Las Cabanas and good old 'Nilla.
Take a moment to enjoy a few albums of photos...http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLandingSignin.jsp?Uc=16xvaj2z.3spsz63j&Uy=-lovl8o&Upost_signin=Slideshow.jsp%3Fmode%3Dfromshare&Ux=0