Archive for the ‘Guerrero’ Category

Taxco, Silver City

Once you get passed the over 300 silver shops hawking their wares, some authentic, some eclectic, some silver plated, and some the award-winning real deal, you realize that there is a distinct reason that Taxco is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sheer act of constructing the place over three hundred years ago is concept that requires some deep contemplation. The impossibly narrow and insanely steep streets wind and twist their way up the mountainside, turning the average daytime stroll into a heart-starting hike up to the Templo de Santa Prisca at 6000 feet. The Catholic church itself is in serious competition with it’s brethren in Oaxaca for the greatest combination of splendor and the grotesque; with almost every conceivable space adorned with intricate baroque, bas-relief sculpture and Anglo-Christian frescos, Prisca out-duels Santo Domingo on engineering prowess alone.

The actual mined silver from Taxco is long gone, the bulk of the current stock imported from newer Mexican resources, China and India, but the silver maestros remain. Some of the technical silver artisans are amongst the worlds best and it shows. But there is more to just dropping your remaining tourist cash on some 925 trinkets. Our personal find was a small doorway hidden below the central zocalo. Initially manned by an unassuming and intimidating Mexican abuelo, the Bazaar San Francisco was a painstakingly adorned personal collection, all for sale of course, of some of Southern Mexico’s most ubiquitous art. The owner, an obsessive-compulsive collector, made it clear that while he’d sell anything, including his original Mayan and Toltepec carvings and figurines, this was his home, his passion, his life. He said that if he had enough money he wouldn’t sell anything, he also said that since it was his house that he could sell stuff “mas barato, no es caro” than the other boutiques that had to fork over a stiff rent every month.

If you could manage to make your eyes focus on a single object the entire collected works was truly inspiring. We made a few purchases in hopes that his wife would notice the new openings and congratulate him on battling his hoarding obsession, one gringo sale at a time.

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We are home… back in the USA. But that doesn’t mean the blog is finished. Quite the contrary. I have lots of posts to go up from the last two weeks in Mexico. We drove so much and had wifi so little that the blog had to wait, but some of the best stuff is yet to come. I wrote it mostly as it happened so its still present or recent past tense. Hopefully you are still with us. If not no worries. There will be a few post mortem posts too, but back to the story. I think this is one of the better, albeit way too long, and colorful, posts. I tried to tone down the swearing a bit but it just didn’t sound right. It sort of betrayed the emotion of the moments, so if you are offended, sorry, sort of.

Popocatepetl Volcano from the Puebla side

Today was the worst day of the trip… No the van didn’t break down and we didn’t run out of gas on the side of the road. Natalie didn’t run off with some swooning Mexican suitor tsssst, tsssting at her from the steps of a passing doorway. We didn’t hit anything with the van or break off anymore parts. We got lost. We got lost at least twice depending on your definition of lost, maybe 5 times. We haven’t really been lost yet. We’ve made a few wrong turns and gone out searching for something that wasn’t there but for the most part we’ve had an idea where we were going and how to get there. Usually we know where we are and where we need to get to, but getting on the highway or cuota is the tricky part, that happened today too.

We left Puebla and headed for Taxco early in the afternoon with plenty of time to make the three and a half hour drive by nightfall. A seemingly simple day that starts on one side of the volcano and ends in the mountains on the other side. It all started when I missed the turn for Cuautla and ended up heading south on a toll road. We exited and found ourselves on rural roads paralleling the highway but not finding any on ramps. After more than an hour of never-ending 10-tope villages (albeit with some pretty churches) we found an illegal dirt road entrance, prayed for no federales and four-wheeled it onto the toll road – high fives, back on track. Right as we merged off of the shoulder and on to the highway a Green Angel came passing by, we held our breath that he wouldn’t care about our foray. He passed, unimpressed with our exploits. Three minutes later a swoon of state police came firing down the highway behind us, sirens blaring and lights blazing. Damn, that Green Angel called the real cops on us – we are going to jail. Mexican jail. Not white collar, 3 squares, movie watching, get ripped while working out seven hours a day American jail; but rather the don’t drop the soap, hope you live from the multiple stabbings, come out a serious drug-smuggling criminal cartel member – Mexican jail. Either that or this was going to be a really expensive bribe, the kind of mordida with a really expensive phone call home for a loan that will take the rest of my life, should I survive, to work off.

Random billboard of a steer

And then they drove right by us, apparently they have better things to do than ruin the lives of two gringo tourists that have a bad habit of making their own ramps and exits from the toll roads. High fives all around.

The new toll road towards Cuautla is one of the best roads we were on the whole trip. Smooth, fast, empty. High fives for new roads. For an hour. It seems that the closer you get to the Distro Federal the worse the signage gets. El D.F. itself is part of the problem, it is a source of endless confusion for gringo tourists. We know it as Mexico City and if you ask a Mexican denizen of the capital in English where they are from, they will tell you Mexico City. Straight forward so far, right? Except none of the signs in the country are for Mexico City, nor are they for Distro Federal or el D.F. as it is most commonly referred to by Mexicans in Spanish, the signs are simply for Mexico. To make matters worse there is a State of Mexico in the Country of Mexico, in which Mexico City, which is signed as only as Mexico does not reside in said state. If you understood that sentence the first time than maybe you are smarter than me and could figure it out, but for us the simple word Mexico on a road sign potentially has many, many meanings that may or may not help you actually drive in the right direction.

For the most part Mexico is easy to navigate, pretty uniformly designed, constructed and predictable. Cuautla does not fit into those categories. As you roll into town there about twenty signs for exits to roads that according to said signs all go to the same place, but as soon as you exit you realize that none of these really go where you want and none of them match the map. The map itself is part of the problem. It shows two major highways towards Cuernavaca. One, more direct to the south and another toll road that goes considerably out of the way, both are symbolized as divided federal or state highways. We chose the southern direct (free [libre]) route that did not appear to wind and curve its way into the mountains and back down again. Usually when you have a libre and a cuota the choice and the navigation is rather direct, do you want to go to this town by paying a toll or not? There is no sign for the libre to Cuernavaca in Cuautla. After no less than two hours and seven retornos (such a better word for u-turn) we found ourselves in Cuautla centro in a hour long traffic jam around an overturned car in the main glorieta. Luckily the traffic was creeping slow enough that we spied the smallest road sign ever, tucked neatly behind an overgrown bougainvillea, obviously discarded as unnecessary after having obviously been the victim of some drivers’ foray onto the sidewalk – it pointed to, wait for it, Cuernavaca. Holy shit! Back on track again, I was starting to think we were going to spend the night in a Walmart or Pemex parking lot. Slightly less exuberant high fives all around.

Save your high fives for someone who gives a fuck. This is the worst road ever. Copious unmarked topes (speed bumps) lead to never ending stop lights through winding, curving, streets that share a distinct resemblance to a major divided highway only in the respect that it is divided. Trusty Mexico road atlas has let us down in a big way. In fact, the word street is a stretch, much less “highway”. Street would imply that there is some sort of drivable surface. And by drivable I’m not being picky or specific: dirt track, cobblestones, graded gravel, concrete, pavement, whatevs. This thing looked liked a war zone. Some sort of IED is the only explanation for potholes the size of fish-bearing ponds surrounded by fragments of asphalt, concrete, rebar and whatever other debris that litters path in front of you with such reckless abandon that I seriously considered getting out, locking the hubs and going 4X4 – urban assault style. I would have but the whole almost getting arrested once today kept me on the proverbial, but by no means literal, straight and narrow.  There is a brief instant where the road opens up a bit, traffic dies down and I hit 55 mph, savoring the open road and relaxing the tension from my white knuckle death grip. This is a trap. I should have known. As I snake around the blind corner blissfully enjoying my new found freedom I smack into a tope at full speed, no last minute brake slams, no dodging half my tires to one side to lessen the impact. Nope, full speed ahead, direct hit. And this isn’t one of those longer, friendlier topes that more launches us out of control in to a terrifying 9000 lb flight but one of the smaller, sharper, less round mounds of asphalt that shakes the core of La Bestia when we hit it at a more manageable, brake skidding 15 mph. The collision is tremendous, I think I would have rather hit a brick wall, testing the push bar and deer mower on the front. At least the bricks would have sustained some collateral damage too and I could point and sneer like some redneck, over-compensating my shortcomings with the size and power of my truck. But no, the tope was just fine. Amazingly the van survives as well, at least mechanically and structurally. The contents of the van are now strewn about every possible nick and cranny, and of course we are immediately stopped and searched at a military checkpoint, our casita viajera looking like we are some slovenly, nomadic, vagabond, hoarders. Incredibly no neck braces necessary either. This 60 kilometer nightmare lasts roughly two hours but eventually leads to Cuernavaca, where it is now rush hour – awesome. But also where an unmissable, giant, green and white sign gleams for the Acapulco-Taxco Cuota. We’re back, again. Half hearted high fives.

Popocatepetl from the Cuernavaca side

Rush hour turns out to not be so bad, and we are coasting towards Taxco in no time. Wide open toll road finally twisting and winding away from the volcano, our ever present reminder of just how far we have not gone in all this time. By now we are exhausted, cranky, and slightly less enchanted with Mexico than we were just the day before. But the smooth, silky cruise has us soaking in the audio book adventures of Nick Twist and trying to calm down. Calming successful. So successful that I completely airmail the turn off from the Acapulco-Taxco cuota to the Taxco-only cuota. In my defense, there was very little warning and the last minute maneuver to make the ramp would have tested the outer limits of the van’s top-heavy aerodynamics. And there is, of course, no exits or retornos for 12 kilometers. 24 kilometers and another 26 minutes later and the crisis is adverted, Taxco or bust, with bust a likely, but rapidly diminishing scenario. With the realization that we may need to conserve every last drop of remaining energy to survive, we abandon the actual extension our fingers for a high five and resort to the weakest, most un-celebratory fist bump of all time.

I’m pretty sure the cuota into Taxco is a tourist trap. It essentially parallels the libre for 80% of its 60 kilometers with very few villages and thus little to no topes along the way. It is almost like the libre is teasing you along the way, entirely visible with traffic moving along at the same clip, and numerous chances to exit the cuota, seriously, you should exit dummy, no, ok we’ll take a little more money at the next booth and then give you another chance. Any other day we would have gotten off and saved the cash, I have no clue how much it was but it didn’t matter, the home stretch.

Descending into Taxco is amazing, the hillside city, all black and white with red tile roofs, has this cohesiveness that we haven’t seen anywhere else in Mexico. It seems that there was actually some urban planning and some zoning laws. Planning a long, long, time ago. Planning at a time much before the descendants of Henry Ford imagined a behemoth e350 and well before someone lifted that e350 into the beast that it is; and certainly before I added a two-bicycle rack that extends the total length past 18 ft. There are no campgrounds in Taxco, but there are a bunch of hotels and frankly at this point the thought of setting up even the smallest of camps is wretched. Natalie has marked a selection of hotels that sound decent, have parking, and are in our shrinking price range. We decide on one near the central zocalo. The instant we saw the turn up the mountain we knew it was the wrong choice, but the days’ events have exhausted our ability to make any sort of intelligent utterance much less a decision. Taxco is a maze of impossibly narrow, incredibly steep, switch back cobblestone paths that are overrun with Volkswagen Beetle taxis and scooters swerving around seemingly unmake-able corners at speeds only legal on the Autobahn. About half way up the street a bug comes barreling down at us, realizing its not going to win this game of chicken it reverses its way up the hill to the intersection to let us pass. We stop, waiting for the path to clear. Meanwhile a scooter has come from below and is about 10″ from the vans’s bumper, I come off the brake to the accelerator to follow the retreating bug up the hill and she stalls, sending us drifting backwards into the scooter. I’m pretty sure he honked in an effort to salvage the life flashing before his un-helmeted eyes but what could I do? I managed to stop our momentum with the e-brake and he continued honking wanting us to get the hell out of the way. Not wanting to kill him and him being unwilling to back down the hill even a few meters I signal for him to pass. This takes a solid 5 minutes as he has to lift the scooter over the concrete steps that flank the van’s tires because it isn’t wide enough for both to fit, actually its not wide enough for us to fully open our doors to yell at the guy. Finally he gets by, La Bestia roars back to life and we are climbing, climbing to an intersection with a transit cop directing traffic down the one-way street we had intended to turn on, directing traffic in the opposite direction than the direction the street actually goes in. We ask him how to get to our chosen destination, he says go left down the hill back to the main street, circle back two more streets and start your ascent again.

Abort. Abort. You have derailed. No way in hell is that happening. So we turn back down the hill, full white-flag surrender to a hotel with a gaping archway and plenty of flat, open parking. We check in, its a decent hotel with hot showers and a small living room with a balcony and a fantastic view. We test the bed and decide that once again we will be sleeping in the van. We watch the end of the college football national championship game , an experience that is rather surreal considering we know nothing about either Auburn or Oregon and the play by play in Spanish is a bit beyond us. We shower and hike up the hill to town in search of some street tacos and adult beverages. High fives are definitely in order over some delicious al pastor and Victorias: three and half hours turned into nine.

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Seriously, the place has two names. Every guidebook calls it Playa Ventura and every map labels it Juan Alvarez. I’m guessing that the later was the original and it didn’t quite have that ring that brings in the tourists. Regardless of the name it is a beautiful Mexican beach town filled with enramada restaurants and little casita hotels. We ate and camped in front of some really beautiful rock formations in what is supposedly a fun little beach break. We wouldn’t know considering there is still no surf. Plenty of time for reading and writing though.

So Cute...

Every night I go out of my way to ask the purveyor of the enramada or rv park or whatever spot we are camped about the security of the place at night and whether it is safe and chill. My new favorite Mexican phrases include seguros and tranquillo. The answer is usually pretty straightforward, if it is safe that is. If not, there is some general stumbling around until you get something along the lines of mas o menos (more or less safe – thanks that tells me a lot) or es peligroso en los todos de mexico (the whole country is dangerous).  The purveyor of our little enramada gave me the straight answer, totally safe, muey tranquillo, especialmente en la noche. Apparently her definition of safe and mine diverge slightly. Honestly it seemed pretty chill and we stayed up reading in hammocks well into the night. About 3 or 4 in the morning I woke up to what I thought was some sort of seed falling on the van, a weird echo. And then I heard it again, and then I realized we weren’t parked under anything, so my initial estimation of seeds falling on the van was not all that possible. Turns out, some baracho hombre (drunk dude) decided to hunt pigeons or some shit at three in the morning with a .22 caliber rifle. I was never really scared of the boy scout gun and the guy never really got that close to the van but I didn’t really go back to sleep until the ruckus subsided. I’m pretty sure that the incident had nothing really to do with Mexico. Dudes in the country, and this is as country as it gets, as country as rural Kansas or as country as rural Alabama, get drunk and go shoot some shit in the middle of the night, the only real difference is that there were quite a few people around and the cops never showed, oh and guns are legal in Alabama but not in Guerrero.

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La Clavadistas de Acapulco

I have only ever wanted to visit Acapulco for one reason. The original Pacific Mexico resort town is a sprawling, seemingly unending mess of high rise and resort development along, what I imagine at one time was thrilling and spectacular coastline. No more. Unchecked development has left Acapulco with one remaining attraction. But if you have seen the cliff divers you know: they are awesome. Since the surf continues to be non-existent we have decided to put in some serious kilometerage, our goal was to be in Acapulco for the 12:45 lunch time performance and drink some beers at the La Perla Restaurant while watching the show. It was wishful thinking to make it in time for the show. We actually got an early start and I had Natalie out of bed before 8! But the traffic and topes make for an incalculable drive time. We rolled in just as the show was getting out. Bummer. Normally the next show isn’t until 7:30 so we thought we were out of luck, but we asked and they had two extra shows scheduled for the Carnival Cruise ship that was docked. Perfect.

I’ve decided that the cruise ship industry is a total rip-off, I’m pretty sure the patrons never see one glimpse of the real Mexico, they see a tightly constructed montage of what the resort industry thinks that gringos want out of a vacation. It’s a total façade, but it’s a good chance to eek out some much needed revenue for the local economy. When we first rolled up to La Quebrada the general admission for the 12:30 show was MX$35, or almost exactly US$3. By the time we had parked the van and strolled back over for the special cruise exhibition the sign had been replaced and the admission was now US$7. I’m 100% positive that not a single cruise shiper thought it was extravagant or expensive, and I’m not complaining, charge what the market will bear right? We decided against the general admission and that if we were going to be overcharged our MX$450 lunch of ceviche, chips and guacamole, two pina coladas and a couple coronas was a far superior waste of our money.

The divers are amazing though; if you ever have time to check them out its well worth the $7 or $40 or whatever you end up spending. I’ve included a couple photos and videos but if you want to see some better cinematography check out this dude’s video. While his soundtrack selection is questionable and the overdramatic montage at the end is way overdone, the first 80%, if watched with the sound on mute is quite good.

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Lewis decided to check out Zihuatenejo for a couple days and we have, in the interest of time eliminated all overnight stops that we can easily fly to on another trip. We dropped him off near the marina and unsuccessfully searched for parts for the fishing reel – it’s a lost cause. After making the required stop for helado (ice cream), we pushed south for another hour to a pair of small beachside highway towns. We had heard rumors of a really good beachbreak accessible only by four-wheel drive that broke on any size swell. After some semi-serious off roading we ended up on the top of a cliff with a short walk down to a perfect, albeit small, right hander peeling off over and over again. We grabbed our boards and scrambled out for a quick sunset session, fully planning to camp it right there on the top of the cliff. I jumped in and stroked for peak. Just as I reached the outside, about 10 meters further out, unmistakably a fin sliced through the surface, its owner disturbing the evening glass off ever so slightly. It wasn’t a big fin,  but it wasn’t a dolphin either. 98% sure it was el Tiburon, a shark. I’m also, in retrospect 95% positive it was a small shark and most likely totally uninterested in me. Fight or flight doesn’t do percentages or rationalization either. It says turn the fuck around and paddle into the next bit of whitewater that will take you to shore yelling for Natalie to go in as you cruise towards the shallows. Natalie was still on the inside as she continually refuses to listen to my badgering her that she isn’t duck diving correctly. I think Jesse will have to teach her when we are back stateside.

Ultimately we decided to not camp on the cliff and make the 3 km trek back to La Barrita, a beach town of 10 houses, and camp it an an enramada restaurant hoping for comparable surf there in the morning. A continually more dismal swell forcast has us fanging it to Acapulco for the lunchtime cliff divers and possibly to Oaxaca State by nightfall.

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Cliff Divers!

I had high hopes for Troncones and the surf spots nearby; the Ranch/Secret, Salidita and the Troncones beach breaks. But the swell has been just dismal. Lewis and I broke out the long boards just to get wet one day but its been puny. We took the opportunity to do some laundry, catch up on some internet and drink some cocktails. The spot we are camped in is the newly opened Troncones RV Park / Casa Canela (not sure which is the correct name but it is south of the T and across the street from Roberto’s Bistro). We were the first ever guests and Lewis was the first paying customer in the casita’s they have for rent. John, the owner of the park, is a really nice guy who went out of his way to help us out on a couple fronts. The park itself is a good spot, they have some work to do still, putting in a pool and some formal showers and an upgraded bathroom would go a long way to justify the cost which was high for us but reasonable considering that Troncones is a full gringo town and ungodly expensive. Coming from Nexpa everything was at least 5 times what we had been paying.

Laura doing the dishes

But Troncones was not a bust in any sense. The park owner’s daughter, Laura is living there part time and was a very gracious host. She seemed pretty stoked to have some new faces her own age to kick it with and we were super appreciative of her “guide service”. The first day we kicked it pool side with some friends of hers that are the caretakers of the fully gringofied Tres Mujeres.

Our local escort showed us to the local watering holes, hooked us up with pool access and organized a bon fire. Local knowledge is really the most valuable when its about something to see or do that isn’t in the guidebooks or tourist mags. On Monday, Laura invited us to join some other locals and their tourista accompaniments for a potluck picnic at the waterfalls. About an hour slightly south and then east of Troncones is an off the beaten path dirt road with river crossings to a series of waterfalls and natural slides perfectly appointed for some cliff diving and launching yourself carelessly down the river. Jumping off of stuff is fun. Seriously. I’m like a twelve-year-old child when it comes to slides and thrusting myself off of something semi-serious. Skydiving, skiing, cliff jumping… bring it on. Some may refer to it as a mild case of adrenaline junky… I call it F U N, maybe I’m missing my safety compass but I’ve yet to break something that the doc’s couldn’t put back together. I had to include the picture of some classic Mexican engineering too: the foot bridge tied together with barbed wire, careful where you step – no utilitarian safety compass in this country.

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Way back when, in Mazatlan, when we finally put the oversized alternator in the van we also replaced all the belts. They had all started to crack and wear with the varied climate changes we’ve gone through. The past couple days the new belts have finally worn in and started to screech and whine on start and with any acceleration. So Lewis and I broke out the wrenches and borrowed some pry bars to tighten them up. An hour or so later and no more screeching, my mechanic training continues.

On a less successful note, the refrigerator stopped working. We woke up one morning to the freezer defrosted throughout the fridge and the thermometers reading in the 60s. Bummer. Luckily, Jim at Tronocones RV Park / Casa Canela knew a guy in Zihuatenejo that had some experience with RV fridges. I explained to him that we had tried propane and 110 AC electric and neither was working. Apparently that rarely happens where it will just break with zero cooling on either setting. 99% chance that it was vapor locked. Im not familiar with the inner workings of ammonia vapor refrigeration but apparently it is pretty common when running the appliance while not parked on a level surface, which we do with pretty consistent regularity.

Upside down fridge with cat suspect

The solution to vapor lock is to uninstall the fridge, leave it upside down for 12-24 hours, then turn it back over for another 12-24 hours. Reinstall and rock and roll. We jumped through the hoops and it appears to have removed the vapor lock but now it is not cooling all the way. I’m guessing we fucked something up with the air circulation and the fins in the back, so I’m going to give that a try, we shall see. It’s either that or the cat piss. Yep. Cat piss. Feline urine, not of urine therapy variety. There are a couple semi-feral cats on the property and one of them took it upon themselves to spray inside the refrigerator while the door was off and it was on the porch de-vapor-locking. I used bleach, vinegar, and the Mexican equivalent of Pine Sol. No luck. Still smells. Awesome

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Cascada Cliff Jumping…



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The beaches of Michoacan and Guerrero are famous for a lot of reasons, incredible beauty, sands of every color, rugged terrain, world class surf, and… Tortugas. The Tortuga Negra, or Black Sea Turtle is one of several endangered turtle species world wide. We have been lucky enough to see several of them. Almost every beach here has a turtle sanctuary where the locals dig up the turtle eggs after they have been laid and rebury them in a safe location where the sea birds, dogs, and people who would use the eggs for a local delicacy can’t get to them. When the eggs hatch the tortugitas are gathered up and released after sunset.

In Nexpa, one of the few places without a sanctuary, the locals saw them coming out of the ground, dug them up, put them in a bucket and then let them go once the sun went down. The next night in Troncones we stumbled upon another nest that was hatching and along with some true gringo tourists we gathered them up and directed them away from the frigate birds and the dogs towards the sea.

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