The following morning we decided to drive around town and see a few additional sights before leaving Taxco. Michael was still not feeling 100% so Geraldine volunteered to be driver for the day. With a tourist map in hand we followed the road signs leading up to the church known as Barrio de los Guadalupe. The map did not show that the road was 15 feet wide with parked cars on both sides and two way traffic. We were in a bit of trouble with
'Nilla half way up the steep hill and traffic coming down at us. We veered off on a side street to find traffic not moving at all. About ten minutes later, we witnessed a truck selling tanks of propane reversing up the side street. This was the cause of the gridlock. We were shocked at the spectacle of driving in Taxco and Geraldine was nearing her limits with the driving situation so we decided it was best to head back down the hill and find a parking lot. We followed the waving hands of residents, shop owners, and other vehicles to navigate 'Nilla out of the labyrinth and back to the main street. This was not as easy at is sounds. We had a few people come out of there homes to move parked cars and at one point a taxi actually reversed about 4 blocks to pull out of our way. This was obviously the wrong day for Geraldine to volunteer driving. She has only driven in Mexico a handful of times and the
job of making sure both mirrors were not clipping other cars (or buildings) as well as trying to keep 'Nilla's speed under control on the steep hills, was quite a challenge and she got rather stressed out. We realize now that it is quite essential to have a small compact car in Taxco. With 'Nilla nearly back down the mountain, we encountered a 280 degree corner. This took several attempts and numerous forward and back motions to coax her around. At the bottom we regrouped, found a parking lot and decided the city was best toured on foot or in a taxi. We found a taxi quite quickly and started off back up the mountain to see the sites. Hector the cab driver agreed to be a quasi-tour guide and take us to the two best lookouts Taxco has to offer. We hit Barrio de los Guadalupe and the El Cristo monument for fabulous views overlooking town.
After the short 1 hour city tour via taxi we were dropped off downtown in the middle of the spring festival. There were kids in costume riding on cars and walking the streets tossing candies to the spectators. There were handfuls of parade princesses that rode atop cars that were elaborately decorated with their names splattered across the windshield. Some of the vehicles were so heavily decorated that we wondered how the driver was able to navigate down the cobblestone streets. Geraldine was enthralled by the spectacle and stood on the sidewalk admiring the little children. She was even tossed a few candies in the process. The parade seemed to be never ending and we had to get moving if we wanted to get out of Taxco.
We headed back to the main square to find the silversmith once again. We were hoping that he could have a look at the antique turquoise ring we purchased.
The silversmith quickly examined the ring and agreed to add in a missing stone, however since it was so old, the deep blue colour of the turquoise was no longer available. Now we have a ring with a stone slightly off the colour of the rest. We could not beat the repair price of $20 pesos or $2 CDN and we left happy as we bid farewell to our new friend. From there we walked the one block down into the town square where we found Casa Borda. We wanted to have a look around the old Borda Mansion which was now an Art Gallery. Casa Borda was a beautiful piece of architecture and houses many historic community functions including a library, book store and the art gallery. The building and its many rooms were impressive.
It was nearing mid-day and we were right on pace to leave Taxco. We ventured down the cobblestone streets and found 'Nilla with little effort. We warmed her up for a few minutes before leaving a trail of dust to settle on Taxco as we rambled down the road to Cuernavaca. Cuernavaca is a rather large town that is southeast of Mexico City. We simply drove through Cuernavaca and were impressed by the length of the ring road. It took us nearly an hour to cross town. At one point, Michael spit out the window and directly onto the hood of a shiny new VW Jetta. Ooopps! We got shuffled around in traffic and never did see the VW again. The crappiest part of the drive was when we could see a layer of smog lining the skies to the northwest and nothing but clear blue skies ahead toward the town of Cuautla. The smog was hovering over Mexico City and could be see from over 150km away.
Along the drive to Cuautla the highway rolled passed the active volcano that had a stream of smoke coming out the top. We learned the active volcano is named Popocatepetl, which is shortened down to Popo. Popocatepetl is Mexico's second highest mountain and the neighbouring mountain of Iztaccihuatl is the third highest. Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl form the Eastern border of the 'Valle de Mexico', which describes the valley among a towering rim of mountains. While Izta is a dormant volcano, Popo is still active and had its last major event in 1994. As recent as 2001, Popo spewed out smoke and ash creating an alert for the people that live it is wake. There are over 30 million people that live within striking distance of Popo. Popocatepetl means smoking mountain and Iztaccihuatl means white woman. There is a legend that describes Popo as a warrier that was in love with Izta, who was the Emporer's daughter. Izta supposedly died of grief while Popo was at war. When Popo returned he created the two mountains; lay Izta's body on one and stood holding her funeral torch on the other. We have been told that using some imagination Izta does resemble a woman lying on her back. We did not see the image, but that does not mean you will not.
We continued along Mexico Highway 160 when we happened upon some church ruins at the roadside. There was a partially overgrown dirt road leading off the highway toward the weathered rock structures. Without hesitation, we pulled from the highway and bounded down a heavily worn cobblestone road.
Poor 'Nilla was bouncing from side to side...and generally all over the place. It took several feet of flooring the brakes but 'Nilla finally came to a stop. We then had the challenge of turning her around and finding some level area to park. Once we were parked and ready, a truck pulled off the highway and parked in front of us. Not sure what to expect, we sat and stared at this foreign vehicle. The other driver did the same and for a few minutes, it was an odd experience. The other driver then pulled forward and explained that his farmland was at the end of the rocky road and he needed to pass to get to his field. 'Nilla was covering most of the road. We manoeuvred the vehicles around the narrow road like chess pieces, until the farmer could pass and we could stay parked. Everyone was happy. Excited to explore the ruins, we jumped from the vehicle and raced up the hillside. The ruins sat atop the hill and the main church was heavily overgrown with vegetation. There were partial buildings scattered along the landing at the top of the hill. On closer inspection, we noticed that the perimeter wall sof the church and buildings were still partly intact. It is more likely that this was once a mission with the number of outbuildings we could see both on top of the hill and all around the base as well. There were remnants of fire pits and empty beer cans strewn about, telling a tale that this may be a local party spot. We did not wait until nightfall to find out.
Back on the road we pushed on down Mexico Highway 160 to get closer to Oaxaca, our next destination spot. As night was fast approaching we knew that our arrival to Oaxaca was going to have to wait another day. We then set sights on Tehuitzingo a small town that the Highway cuts right through. On the approach to Tehuitzingo, we took time to stop and enjoy the sunset. It was totally dark when we finally made it to Tehuitzingo and we were happy to find that large parking spots were available at the PeMex gas station. It had been a long day and we were both looking forward to turning off the van and getting some much needed rest. Not so fast.....Houston we have a problem! As we climbed into the back of the van we noticed a dark red trail of liquid along the floor leading to the back of the van. Hmmm...what could that be we wondered? Oh no.....BEET JUICE! We were like ants under the shadow of a human foot as we scrambled around in every direction. We were not sure what to do.
Finally, we calmed down enough to open the pantry doors to examine the extent of our problem. There was beet juice everywhere...on the walls, shelves, doors and all over the other food. For two tired travelers, this was the worst thing to see. Oh well, there was no use crying over spilled beets...time to get cleaning. We literally had to empty the lower 2/3 of the pantry and wipe down all the food. It was quite an effort, as we have tons of dried and canned goods. As we picked through the carnage, we did eventually find the broken jar of beets and made quick work in disposing of it. We figure that the jar must have cracked when it hit another jar in front of it. The pantry is not as fully packed as it once was, and things are now able to move around a bit more. Fear not though, we have now taken steps to avoid any future problems.
The best part about urban camping is that everything we could ever need is within walking distance. At this spot there were two restaurants, a bar and a few convenience stores right across the road so Michael celebrated our cleaning success with a beer. In the morning, we were both anxious to wash up a bit at the gas station. Michael was out the door first and walked over to the Pemex. The bathrooms were locked and according to the attendant they were broken. Funny thing, we remember them being open the night before. Foiled again! No big deal, we drove 5 minutes down the road to the next Pemex.
Take a minute to view our photo album: http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow.jsp?mode=fromshare&Uc=16xvaj2z.3vfexnlr&Uy=c7tvoc&Ux=0