Archive for Mai, 2011

Zacatecas, Zacatecas – Mexico’s most beautiful city?

Dienstag, Mai 31st, 2011

It shall be the most beautiful city in the surroundings, if not of entire Mexico: Zacatecas is, who would guess so, the state of Zacatecas’ capital. And really, thanks to almost inexhaustible precious metal deposits the city looks back on a centuries-long rich inheritance, what appears in the exquisite architecture of the houses made from pink sandstone. Built on a hilly area on an elevation between 2400 and 2700 m the town contains a pleasant, spring-like weather all year round. Not only the meteorological climate is nice, the city’s atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. Many of the 124,000 inhabitants speak English, even the night guard and the ice cream woman, despite there are less visitors than in other better-known towns. Rarely any city so warmly welcomed us, and we thankfully suck in the flair.

The centres of all colonial cities are extremely congested and hardly offer parking possibilities. Once made an unfortunate turn, we are caught in narrow side alleys of which thoroughfare cause us perspiring hands. A parking lot at the centre’s edge offers us to park during the day for 30 Peso, and to stay overnight for 50 Peso. The kind guard even offers us electricity and water.

For the moment we visit the neighbouring Mina El Éden (80 MXN pp). Equipped with a helmet, we go down into the mine by train before continuing on foot. There is a small mineral museum, and then an English speaking guide leads us through the tunnels. From 1580 on silver, gold, iron, zinc and lead were mined for 380 years. The productive mine was only shut down because some city houses were in danger of collapsing. Today there is a discotheque in 120 m depth, probably the deepest one on earth. We get a good impression of the harsh, even life-threatening working conditions of the Indio, adults as well as children. They had to chisel tunnels into the mine, following the veins of ore – as workers for a pittance, and as slaves for no money at all. Having survived the childhood, their average life expectancy was 35. Metal mining is continued today on other spots around the city under more human conditions.

At the mine’s back entrance is the cable car station that brings us for 40 MXN in ten minutes onto the city hill Cerro de la Bufa in 2700 m elevation. Up there is a museum and statue for the famous revolutionary leader from 1914, Pancho Villa, and Zacatecas’ patron saint’s pretty chapel as well as a fantastic view to town. Instead of going back by teleférico, we walk down the steep path with many steps through narrow alleys to the cathedral. The ecclesiastical building, completed in 1752, is regarded as a masterpiece of Mexican baroque that’s called Churrigueresque style. This style is characterized by overladen ornaments, conveying flowing movements to obscure the shape below. Zacatecas is blessed with many churches and museums, beautiful shops and restaurants as well as with an aqueduct from the 18th century. It doesn’t provide the city with water any more, but its 39 arches can still be admired. All attractions are within a foot walk from the parking lot (La Roca del Roque, at the entrance of Mina El Eden, N22°46’35’’ W102°34’49’’).

Durango, Durango – The Wild Bunch, now with flashing blue lights

Montag, Mai 30th, 2011

Victoria de Durango, capital of the Mexican state Durango, obtained some degree of fame as backdrop for numerous Hollywood productions, first and foremost late westerns like “The Wild Bunch” or “Pat Garret and Billy the Kid”. Stars of the golden age like Lillian Gish, John Wayne and Clark Gable as well as more recent actors like Jack Nicholson John Belushi and John Travolta shot movies here.

And yet Hollywood plays just a small role in Durango’s long history that goes back to its foundation in 1563. To its landmarks belongs the baroque cathedral with its twin towers where an affectionate nun is said to haunt in full moon nights. A mansion from the late 18th century, Casa del Conde de Suchil, houses a number of shops. A bank settled fantastically in the square inner courtyard. The waiting benches were put up under the new glass roof, and the counters are grouped around under the arcades. Unfortunately we are not allowed to take photos, but at least we succeed in getting a snapshot with the telephoto lens from outside. The government palace is mainly interesting for its inside. Well-known Mexican artists designed huge murals. A part of the palacio de gobierno is closed. The friendly guard gives us access to take some images after asking kindly.

Today’s agitation happens on our way south on MEX 45. For the time being clouds mount up in front of us, it seems to rain in the distance, but we only get few drops – heralds of the approaching rainy season. Just before Fresnillo we stop at the hard shoulder to examine a PEMEX station regarding its suitability as place to sleep. Suddenly there is a police car and two officers. The “speaker” talks in a terrible dialect from which I understand only half – maximum. Then two more squad cars arrive and four more police men from whom one speaks clear Spanish. From where we come, where we go, and what we transport, he desires to know. He allows us to continue driving as he finds out that it’s all about a camper.

But we are followed and we don’t get far. In Fresnillo one of the police cars passes and cuts us, two more are waiting on the hard shoulder, willing to violently stop us. They must have seen this in one of the movies. Or were they part of the film crew? We are suddenly surrounded by uniforms and flashing blue lights. What utter confusion about a single RV. I count five cars and ten officers. Isn’t that a little bit much for two tourists? This time they bring one English speaking civvies. The other nine stand along a wall like stuffed dummies, trying to maintain a non-binding smile – just in case we are really harmless tourists, and not to leave a too bad impression. They check passports and driver’s license, and then they ask again for the vehicle’s kind. Did we have weapons? No. Knifes? Yes, BIG kitchen knifes. The man doesn’t have a pronounced sense of humour, but he accepts my explanation. We carry out their request for a look into the cabin, but we don’t put the ladder. A single glance from outside convinces him, it is really a motor home. Who did expect that? Where is the problem, we want to know. They aren’t used to this kind of vehicle. And the slightly disproportionately large police presence? That’s how it is in the state of Zacatecas; this could happen to us in each village. I am looking forward to that! The city police officers remained all the time acceptably friendly with just a hint of arrogance. Anyway, we prefer to make some miles and look for another gas station.

It doesn’t take long, and a state police car circles around us, but we remain unplagued. If one day I come up with the idea to earn my money with drug trafficking or arms running, please remind me of taking the oldest and most inconspicuous car I can find, to dress in frilly blouse, cardigan, pleated skirt and lace-up shoes, and to put on horn-rimmed spectacles and a headscarf. That should work then. On the other hand, nobody ever searched our truck…

In the meanwhile the sky darkens alarmingly. A sandstorm rolls up and wraps us. We have to close all windows, not really funny with these temperatures. Then thundering and flashing starts, but again there are only drops of rain, just enough to bind the last eight rain-free weeks’ dust on the paint, unfortunately by far not nearly enough to wash it off.

Pueblo Nuevo, Durango – Devil’s backbone

Sonntag, Mai 29th, 2011

La espinoza del diablo may rightly call itself one of the world’s great roads. 170 out of 340 km from Mazatlán to Durango run in endless curves, following one another, from sea level up to 2800 m and then back down to 2000 m – wherefrom the name devil’s backbone comes. We can’t count every single bend, but a projection amounts to about 2000 curves. The views into the fertile green mountains with their deep valleys and gorges are worth the trip. The high elevation leads us into fragrant pine forests. Although it is hot in daytime, it is dryer than at the coast, and the evening chills down pleasantly.

The ascends take the under-motorized trucks to their power limit, the 100 km long descend to the west is a torture for the braking system able to be detected by the sense of smell. The trucks are extremely loud: Uphill they sound like a helicopter, downhill like machine guns. Do the drivers wear ear plugs or are they already deaf? How can they stand this the whole day? There is little traffic today, but it is Sunday. So there are nearly no trucks holding us up during our way into the mountains, and the other way round we don’t disturb anybody during our slow brake-kind way down.

We have to pay attention anyway. Time and again a 20 years old pick-up driver appears who inherits immortality and passes us God-trusting even in front of a blind bend. Oncoming semi-trucks are a constant danger. They generally cut left-bends. In right-bends they take a big swing into the oncoming lane to not slip with their last axle from the road in the narrow radiuses because of their huge turning cycles. Hundreds of crosses erected along the road show the many car accidents where partially whole families were obliterated.

Mazatlán, Sinaloa – Tropic of Cancer

Samstag, Mai 28th, 2011

It’s an HH climate: hot and humid. No wonder, we are in the tropics. After one and a half days drive we cross the Tropic of Cancer for the second time after Baja California in southern direction and reach Mazatlán, the second port that is reachable by ferry from Baja. Tourism rules the image with countless hotels, restaurants, bars, and a rich variety of campgrounds and shopping possibilities. We decide for the quiet and pretty San Fernando RV Park close to the beach. Full hook-up, clean swimming pool, internet and palm trees are due to a lack of clients 150 Peso instead of 24 to 27 US$ in high season.

But Mazatlán has more to offer: a long promenade where roaring Pacific waves roll up, and two plazas with 19th century architecture. The cathedral Immaculata Concepcion, neo-Gothic on the outside, baroque in the inside, and Italianate Teatro Ángela Peralta, named after the opera singer born in Mazatlán stand out. Since neither ice cream nor pool can cool us down we decide: We’ll go to the highlands tomorrow.

Los Mochis, Sinaloa – Six canyons

Donnerstag, Mai 26th, 2011

To not waste the morning – the train would depart only at lunch time – we decide for another excursion. It shows us more of the six-canyons-land of the Sierra Tarahumara, part of the Sierra Madre Occidental. We have enough time to admire the views into the gorges, from one spot we can look into three canyons at the same time. There is an option to take a ride with the newly built cable railway (by Swiss engineers), but 250 Peso for two times ten minutes journey isn’t inexpensive, whereas the excursion costs us 200 MXN, but safes us 100 on the train ticket. Since we enter the train in Divisadero only, we can safe some money. Return tickets for the rail can be bought on the train only. After nine and a half hours we swing into Los Mochis and find Arminius undamaged on the campground.

Creel, Chihuahua – The nimbly marihuana farmers

Mittwoch, Mai 25th, 2011

One of the most obstinate indigenous nations is the Tarahumara. 400 years ago they retreated into the mountains of Sierra Madre Occidental to escape the unpleasant missionaries’ ideas. Still today they live their traditions, although in the meantime under the guise of the Catholic Church. But they don’t let themselves be persuaded to give up their rites and polygamous lifestyle – two wives per man are standard. Despite the harsh living conditions in the mountains, where the winters are snow-covered and ice cold, the springs are hot and dry, and only late summer and autumn offer a short growth period during the rainy season, the men act reservedly with regard to work. They preferably leave this to the women and devote themselves to beer and tequila. Officially potatoes, corn and beans are cultivated. It is left unsaid that marihuana and opium poppy are grown on secret fields in inaccessible valleys.

The Tarahumara call themselves Rarámuri what means the nimbly people. Their lifestyle forces them into long hikes in high elevation what helps them achieving an extraordinary physical fitness. Playing the traditional national sport Rarájipari two opposing teams run around an improvised mountain course kicking a wooden ball – barefoot or in sandals. The match can last several days.

The women in the village of San Ignacio de Arareko wear colourful valance skirts, pleated blouses and even more colourful headscarves. They carry their babies in big fichus. The girls help their mothers at the stands where they sell woodcarvings, wickerwork and woven goods, the boys are sent with a small variety to actively sell souvenirs or, in case of non-success, obtain money by begging. The cutest snotty-nose brats naturally have the highest success rates. Men are not seen however.

The rustic stone church San Ignacio in Arareko makes a gathering place for the Tarahumara where they can perform their traditional dances. There are only a few benches around the walls for the audience or tired dancers – although a Father comes from Creel on Sundays to say mass. Our excursion to the Rarámuri brings us to one of their cave dwellings with open fireplace and integrated chicken coop and goat barn, and to the beautiful waterfall Cascada Cusarare although there is not much water now. We get to see a museum with sacral paintings from the colonial era and the horseshoe-shaped lake Lago Arareco with its original rock formations.

Creel, Chihuahua – Dream vacation for train fans

Dienstag, Mai 24th, 2011

The Grand Canyon, one of the world’s big miracles of nature, has to be conquered on foot, all the way down and up again. The Barranca del Cobre, even bigger although less known superlative is a must for train fanatics, a highlight for sleeper riders, one of the big rail travels locomotive friends dream of. The railway line from Chihuahua to the Pacific should be the fastest east-west-connection on the continent, but it was finished only 100 years after planning start. In those days ships already passed the Panama Canal and roads, cars, and trucks existed. But still today the construction of the railway line is a masterpiece of engineering. The iron worm spirals up- and downwards for 673 km / 325 mi through 86 tunnels and over 37 bridges, from sea level up to 2440 m / 8000 ft elevation of the Sierra Madre Occidental and down in 13 hours. El Chepe, how the train is called, is the last remaining passenger train in Mexico, but the line is used by freight transports as well. For some tourists not the rail travel is the decisive reason for the journey, but the landscape. The Copper Canyon, where the train passes through, has with 30,000 sq km the numerous size of the Grand Canyon and is nearly 100 m (around 100 yards) deeper. Six rivers carved into the copper-coloured volcanic rock that was the canyon’s namesake.

Three times per week the second class trains leave at 7 o’clock in one or the other direction, the first class daily and an hour earlier. The second class isn’t significantly more uncomfortable that the first but has no restaurant car, just a snack bar. But there’s everything else: A stop at every train station (the first class only stops at selected stations), Mexican welcome and farewell scenes, and vendors shouting into the wagons, offering fruits, juices and local fast-food. Mexican life pulsates here, and that makes the trip so exciting.

In the beginning the train glides through the intensely irrigates fields around Los Mochis, passing tiny huts with gardens, dogs, cars, and sometimes even air-condition. They might look poor, but never hopeless, and always tidy. Cacti stand in disconcerting but peaceful unity with banana plants and hardwood trees. The train ascends higher and higher, in adventurous 180°-bows, along slopes and over bridges that are hardly as wide as the train. With the pine and juniper forests in higher elevation it cools down to more bearable temperatures. Indio women and children stand at the stations, trying to sell their craftwork: dainty baskets, pearl necklaces, and braided bracelets. The train stops for 15 minutes in Divisadero to offer travellers the opportunity to look into the impressive Barranca de Urique canyon, as well as to buy Indian craft and the typical lunch snacks. Now the steepest section of the line follows with a 360°-curve in a tunnel and the highest point that the rails reach. Then El Chepe starts its descent. Nearly on time we arrive at 6 pm in Creel where the hotel bus is already waiting for us. The small hotel Plaza Mexicana, where rooms on two floors gather around a snug inner courtyard, is delightful. Wrought-iron tables and chairs with sunshades, rocking chairs and finely carved wooden benches invite to rest. The rooms were lovingly decorated, as well as the bathrooms with their hand painted ceramic in glowing colours. We get the double room with half board for 600 instead of 700 Peso.

Los Mochis, Sinaloa – Arminius abandoned

Montag, Mai 23rd, 2011

In Los Mochis we find the only remaining campground. We are the only guests, but it is kept open all year round. I negotiate with El Jefe, the owner, to keep our truck here for four nights. He agrees on reducing the price per night from 250 to 200 Peso, but he refuses my further attempts on getting a discount. He had to appoint a watchman just for our truck. Well, I agree, it is better to have a guard, since Arminius will be here alone for two nights. El Jefe lowers himself to make a reservation by phone for my chosen hotel and to call a taxi for tomorrow morning. Our rail travel can start.

Topolobampo, Sinaloa – How does a Mexican ferry ride smell?

Sonntag, Mai 22nd, 2011

The ferry to Topolobampo, how Los Mochis’ harbour is called, shall cast off at 2:30 pm. Not sure how long procedures will take, we arrive at 10 am. First we pass customs, since vehicle papers are checked when leaving to mainland from Baja California with its special provision. We have to press a button that lights up nine times a green light, but a red one on every tenth trial. The lamp is red, and the very friendly customs officer apologizes for having to check our vehicle. The brief opening of two closet doors and drawers as well as the bathroom door doesn’t take much more than a minute to satisfy with the rules. The chronically bad-tempered lady at TMC asks if we drive a motor home. “No, a small truck.” I’ve learnt my lesson. We are sent to the scales where we are classified, measured, and weighed. Our personal data are entered in “driver” and “adjutant” – that’s me – since in Mexico most truck drivers have a co-driver.

Back to the ferry office we are curious to see the result since we couldn’t identify the code for the vehicle’s classification. To ship as a RV would be much more expensive. The ill-tempered girl types on her computer keyboard and presents the correct bill: Arminius is transported as small truck for 3300 Peso; the co-driver gives us 710 MXN. Hence we safe 2000 Peso compared to TMC’s camper-class.

The shipping – we start an expected half hour later – is an olfactory experience. The two restroom doors – one for the toilet, one for the urinal, there are no other differences – in the tiny icy air-conditioned passenger room with two oversized flat screens stand wide open. The facilities have been cleaned, but a blind truck driver would find them without hesitation. I leave the establishment and pass the kitchen, whose little inviting odour remains insignificant, since it only caters the crew. Passengers can buy chips, cookies, popcorn, microwave-warmed packet-soup, and sodas. For more comfort you have to travel with the other company, Bajaferries, but the local flair is here. The next scent experience is brought by a huge truck, built around the Stone Age, with a bonnet as big as our Arminius, who is highly loaded with fresh hey. Unfortunately this smell doesn’t last long, since the next freight consists of dozens of silent goats with huge horns squeezed together on the loading space. Their excrements can probably seep onto the deck. This stench will stay with us until the end of the ride.

There are not many women among the passengers that are mainly male truck drivers, but those must thank God daily for the invention of Lycra. Without stretch material it would be difficult to squeeze into such tight fitting t-shirts that don’t hide any spare tyre. Finally we arrive in Topolobampo two hours late, but with a lot of new experiences.

La Paz, Baja California Sur – Busy beach days

Samstag, Mai 21st, 2011

We stay three days at El Tecolote Beach, but we are busy. We say good-bye to Regine and Walter, two Swiss globetrotter friends whom we already met in the USA, but we probably won’t meet them again on the road. We also part from our American friends Bill and Barbara from La Paz. I dare to get my hair done by a Spanish speaking hairdresser, and it turns out well, better that ever before. On the beach, we meet a French family that gigs around with their little son for a year from South to North America. Since they had a bad experience with TMC ferries that didn’t keep their price agreement when the time for payment came, we go another time to the harbour. We place Arminius so that the office ladies can see the truck. We receive the same offer like last time. What is still no guarantee, isn’t it?

In the evening the winch is employed again. A Jeep dug itself into a dune and needs help. Luis, the driver, sees that it is a lot of hassle: clearing away everything in the camper to be able to move, winching, coiling up the cable and driving back – it takes 30 to 40 minutes altogether. Luis doesn’t only help us winding up, he gives us all the beer in his ice box. 20 minutes later he returns with a portion of ceviche, raw fish salad, and a bunch of freshly baked tortilla chips from the neighbouring seafood restaurant. One of the nice and smart guys! Then we are ready to leave Baja California that we liked very much indeed.

Todos Santos, Baja California Sur – City of All Saints’ Resurrection

Mittwoch, Mai 18th, 2011

With the morning the flood comes back. The wind picked up and lets the wave rise to immense heights. Meter-high glassy-green walls come hurtling towards us until they overturn and disperse into white foam. With at least equal power they dive under the next wave and flow back into the sea, carrying everything away that’s not well anchored. The surf that thunders against the rocks explodes 30 m high, so that even Arminius looks like a dwarf. Pelicans impress me with their flight skills. They surf the incoming waves, they let themselves being pushed by the air cushion, and, right before the wave rolls over, sail out of the deathly tunnel.

For our part, we sail to Todos Santos, that means All Saints, a town with a pretty plaza and Andalusian architecture. The original mission was destroyed like so many others, but eager monks created replacement. Numerous cafés, restaurants and art galleries contend for the visitors’ dollars. The road to the fresh water lagoon with many waterfowls is suitable only for small cars, not for RVs.

Some few hotels and ranches offer rooms at the beach that’s also not suitable for swimming. The town itself was built in the 18th century two kilometres inland at a spring. It unexpectedly dried up two centuries later, brought agriculture to a standstill and made Todos Santos practically a ghost town. In 1981 the spring suddenly bubbled again and gave the town a second life.

Los Cabos, Baja California Sur – Mexico meets America

Dienstag, Mai 17th, 2011

Coming from the lonesome dirt road and the dream beaches, Los Cabos and the corridor can cause a cultural shock. The two cities San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas at the peninsula’s southern tip are commonly known as Los Cabos. They are touristic, commercial, and Americanized, but clean, pretty and covered with greenery as well. The 28 km in-between are called The Corridor, a four-lane highway with palm trees and bougainvilleas. The whole thing is a stronghold of luxury tourism with marinas for mega yachts, five star hotels, villas and condos, jewellery and souvenir shops, restaurants, art galleries, and many entertainment options.

Los Cabos shall be the most expensive holiday destination in Mexico or at least well on the way. San José del Cabo is still the more „Mexican“ of both cities. It has a beautiful historic plaza with restored colonial buildings, a mission that’s not the original one but has a long history, and a colony of artists. Tourism that’s ailing and harsh competition lead to aggressive pricing policy and partially offensive touting for customers (more in Cabo San Lucas). A tout lures us into a shady and cool terrace bar at the plaza (La Internacionál) with wonderful view. The ice-cold beer is just one dollar – hardly more than in the supermarket.

The Corridor accommodates nearly every market an American or other heart could wish for: If Wal-Mart or Home Depot, if Costco or Sam’s Club, they’ve got everything. Cabo San Lucas is a place for partygoers and bargain hunters who chase the best happy hour and all-you-can-eat offers. Huge cruise liners spit their human freight into the city. It’s a bit detrimental to the ambience that the coast is completely blocked by buildings and nearly not accessible. Even Cabo San Lucas’ landmark, finisterra, land’s end, Baja California’s southernmost tip with its characteristic arch can hardly be spotted.

42 km north of Cabo San Lucas the road meets a huge dry wash with ATV and dune buggy rental on both sides. You need a 4×4 to reach Playa de Migriño, a popular surf beach, though way too dangerous swim. The waves are impressive even with low tide. The more high tide comes in the more water brushes against the rocks and sprays high into the air, and the rollers conquer the beach.

Zacatitas, Baja California Sur – Caribbean feeling

Montag, Mai 16th, 2011

The beaches until San José del Cabo have a built-in Caribbean feeling with the perfect blue-white colour combination. There are some resorts, ranches or settlements in-between, but then we reach the next beach where we could camp for free, swim, and get a nice suntan. The coastal dirt road El Camino Rural Costero is regularly graded and pretty much suitable to any vehicle. The more we approach the south cape the more the Pacific influence is noticeable. Waves are bigger, surf smacks into the shore, and undertows make swimming partially dangerous. But there are still quiet beaches to find.

El Rincón, Baja California Sur – Best of all beaches

Samstag, Mai 14th, 2011

The most beautiful and secluded beaches of Baja California are situated at the south tip of the peninsula from La Ribera on. Here’s the sand white, the water turquoise coloured and warm, mobula, small manta rays, jump high out of the water, and in the background copper-red mountains perfect the image. There are even complimentary sunshades for instance at El Rincón although they don’t have a long life. Cattle roaming around freely love to eat the dry palm leaves with which the shades are covered. They seem to be a welcome change to the monotonous cacti diet. There are a few windsurfers, kite boarders, or anglers around in daytime, but we are alone at night.

Los Barilles, Baja California Sur – Town of cheerful early retirees

Freitag, Mai 13th, 2011

San Antonio and El Trufino are two small neighbouring towns that bloomed in the 19th century during Baja’s short silver and gold rush. A newly paved shortcut takes us from San Juán de los Planes back to MEX 1. Today, there is not much mining to see, even the ruins nearly disappeared. At least El Trufino has got a chimney that besides the fact that Gustave Eiffel is said to have designed it looks pretty ordinary. The village was Baja’s first settlement that was built without a mission, but has got an old church nevertheless. The piano or music museum is famous in the area where besides old pianos other music instruments are exhibited. The actual attraction is the odd museum attendant who has to be called most of the time, and who might give a private concert. A donation is expected.

Further south the highway leads to San Bartolo, a good spot for a lunch or coffee break. Not only restaurants and coffee shops line the street but candy shops and market stands offering mangoes, papayas, grapefruits, avocados, and other fruit. When MEX 1 meets the sea again we are in Los Barilles. There are some Mexicans around, but the image is coined by American early retirees roaming around on their ATVs. Dieter and Cherisse, the two kite boarders from yesterday, very early retirees below 50, have their house at the beach where they survive the harsh American winter. There is no quad, but other toys to bear the long Mexican days.

La Ventana, Baja California Sur – Under sail

Donnerstag, Mai 12th, 2011

Only 40 km south-east of La Paz there are more beautiful beaches. Public La Ventana beach, popular with windsurfers and kite boarders, is accessible via the paved road BCS 286, crossing the two settlements La Ventana and El Sargento. Especially in winter the reliable north wind attracts water sports enthusiasts and chases off flying insects. The first-rate surfing conditions care for a prospering American real estate market. It is fun to watch the kiters. On of the couples seems to like us and we’ve got the next invitation for tomorrow.

La Paz, Baja California Sur – Cuban beer in Mexico

Mittwoch, Mai 11th, 2011

The Mexican restaurant breakfast is sumptuous. Meet or fish with beans, rice, and tortillas. Together with it we drink fresh fruit cocktails with promising names like Dracula, Vampire, V8, or Osteoporosis. The mercado in La Paz is not only a place to take ones breakfast that lasts the whole day. Here we buy fish from the fish dealer, chicken from the poultry man, or pork and beef from the pork respectively the beef butcher. We get fruits and vegetables from the produce stand, cheese in the dairy corner, and oven-fresh flour or corn tortillas in the tortilla bakery. And if not sure, we can try everything before buying.

La Paz is with 200,000 inhabitants Baja’s third largest city, very Mexican, friendly, clean and pleasant, and therefore popular with many American expats. Bill and Barbara, two early retirees from Texas, show us the mercado, the five kilometres long malecón, which is the promenade that shall be the world’s longest one, the Plaza Constitución with Jardín Velazco park and the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de La Paz, built in 1861 by Dominicans as a replacement for the original Jesuit church from 1720. This was burnt down 1734 in an Indio revolt and finally abandoned 14 years later. The historic governor’s mansion and the cultural centre with the Galeria de Arte Carlos Olchea are worth visiting as well.

Bill and Barbara talked to us at the beach of Bahia Constitución and invited us. Together we study Mexican kitchen. There was fish fillet with mango salsa yesterday, and today we decide for enchiladas. People drink wine with it, beer pure or Cuban (with lime, English sauce and Tabasco), or margarita. Or everything. Hic.

La Paz, Baja California Sur – Ferry studies

Dienstag, Mai 10th, 2011

What wasn’t possible in Tecate is pretty simple here: to get the temporary import permit for our Unimog that’s necessary for foreign vehicles outside of Baja California. It takes half an hour until all papers are filled in, copies are made, the customs declaration is issued, and the vehicle classified. But the ladies in the Banjercito office at the harbour are very professional and multilingual. For 592 MXN we receive a permit that’s valid for ten years. It is necessary to present a credit card on the vehicle owner’s name, the title, passport, and the immigration card. There are two ferry lines from Pichilingue: As well Bajaferries as TMC head for Topolobampo and Mazatlán.

During Bajaferries operates well organised and English speaking, although with partially higher prices, communication is more difficult at the TMC counter. How to explain a shapely Mexican rustic beauty in a miniskirt what is a Unimog? The attempt ends in two different prices – the last one is higher – since small campers are not scheduled with TMC. The offer to ship as small truck is still better than the price offered by Bajaferries. Besides they propose to stay in the camper on the upper deck. We can neither buy the ticket nor make a reservation since it is low season. We can only hope the offer will still be valid in a week or so.

Pichilingue, Baja California Sur – Basic foodstuff

Montag, Mai 9th, 2011

North of La Paz’ harbour named Pichilingue is some beaches that become prettier the farther they are from the city, some with restaurants, some not. The most beautiful and largest beach is El Tecolote nearly in the end of the road. Here are two restaurants, some sunshades for free and some for rent, dustbins, and complimentary camping possibilities. The beach is white sand, and the water shallow. We are alone here except a Mexican family that listens to cheerful music, plays soccer, swims, and drinks beer. There is no need to worry about the beer drinking woman well advanced in pregnancy. Beer is considered basic foodstuff and quite a few pretty healthy offsprings romp around to give the lie to any prophecy of doom.

Loreto, Baja California Sur – The protective Virgin

Samstag, Mai 7th, 2011

As we wish to leave San Javier next morning the road is blocked. A rally comes through town, a kind of veteran’s race from Mexicali to La Paz. Nobody including the village policeman knows how long it’ll take and how to acknowledge the end of the rally. After one and a half hours watching dune buggies, dirt bikes, tuned VW beetles, and jeeps all waiting parties unanimously decide to raise the road block. The village policeman watches indifferently. We only meet two isolated race participants and one that had a breakdown.

There are only 40 km to go to Loreto at the Sea of Cortez, a city that’s completely adjusted to tourism. This appears in the good supply and accommodation options, but as well in the high prices of the souvenir shops. Loreto has got a pretty promenade with palm trees that is called malecón in Mexico, and even a small beach with sun umbrellas. Besides, the city owns the oldest mission of Upper and Lower California. Had the statue of the Virgin of Loreto to remain in a provisory tent in October 1697, a stone church was built for her between 1699 and 1704 that was expanded and restored several times. The original statue of Nuestra Señora de Loreto de Conchó can still be seen today in a side room of the church and is dressed in a new gown every year. In return the saint protects her church: It survived the 1829 hurricane as well as the devastating earthquake of 1877. The restored altar piece also dates back to the mission era.

22 km south of the city there is a possibility for boondocking at Juncalito Beach.

San Javier, Baja California Sur – The longest 50 km of our life

Freitag, Mai 6th, 2011

Actually the day didn’t start too bad. Some fishermen casted off in the middle of the night and return in the morning. The men weigh their catch, write down everything, and load it to a waiting truck. I ask the person responsible, which seems to be the man with book and pen, if I can buy a fish. He answers: “Yes.” Nothing else. I’m trying to be patient, but after a few minutes I point to a flounder I’d like to have. The man manages to ignore me what’s not that easy in the face of my height, but it’s also not so easy to get rid of me. I am waiting 15 minutes until all fish is weighed and loaded.

The fisher stares for some minutes into a gaping void, but since his wish I might dissolve into thin air doesn’t come true, he turns his attention to me. He asks me how much fish I want, climbs onto the truck, and holds two big mackerel into the air. Since I assume discussions with the taciturnity are useless, I dutifully nod and ask how much I have to pay. “Nothing.” Superb. Since I intelligently forgot to bring a bag I have to carry the fish, each in one hand. The fishers probably will have something to laugh about until the evening. I don’t care, I’ve got the fish.

Then we follow the mainly paved 40 km to Comondú that actually consists of two villages, San José de Comondú and San Miguel de Comondú. Both oasis communities grow dates, fig, mango, banana, citrus, corn, grapes, and sugarcane, again fed by a river with water from the volcanic mountains. The second village had one of the largest missions of the entire California, which was built from 1751 to 62. In the first decades of the 20th century it was torn down to build a school and private houses with the bricks. What is left was probably the missionaries’ accommodation, and is used for services today.

We follow the signs to San Javier. According to my description the first 30 km of the track shall be in pretty bad shape, but improve significantly on the last 20 km. That is the understatement of the year. I have to admit that this information might have been true when it was printed, but the situation changed dramatically after the last rainfalls. The gravel road isn’t actually passable any more with its serious washouts; unless on is an incurable off-road fan, has the corresponding vehicle as well as the experience, loves the thrill of possibly falling into the hundreds of metres deeper valley since the track just isn’t wide enough, and is willing to invest four and three quarter hours for 50 km, wherefrom nearly four hours are allotted to the first 30 km. Actually I am not, but I don’t know that in advance.

As we realize something is wrong with this track it is too late to turn back. There is just no turning area, and when the first only halfway secure opportunity to turn occurs, we are already gone so far that we don’t want to turn anymore. One always thinks it can’t be worse. It always can, that’s why this day goes down in my annals of history. The washouts are perpendicular or lengthways, most of the time the gravel is completely washed off the big foundation boulders. The situation is especially problematic at the many ascends, slopes, and in the hairpin bends where the water ran fast and took everything with it what was not heavy enough to stay. The only bright spot is that there must have been one vehicle before us, whose tracks are discernible, although this car had a narrower wheelbase and probably a lower centre of gravity. Joerg will say to me tonight that he saw me somewhat stressed for the first time in his life. That must have something to say.

In the end of the day we reach San Javier, a pretty town with paving stones and one of the best preserved missions on Baja California. During the first church had to be abandoned in 1699 due to an Indio revolt, and decayed, today’s mission was built from 1744 to 58 and shows three valuable baroque altar pieces, carved and gilded. We realize in a relieved manner that we can complimentary camp behind the mission, near fields with onions, guavas, papayas, citrus, corn, grapes, chillies, dates, and roaring cows.

La Purisima, Baja California Sur – Oasis in the desert

Donnerstag, Mai 5th, 2011

During MEX 1 leads to Loreto we take a loop through the Sierra de la Giganta. A stony track that suffered damage in the last rainfalls that are waiting to be repaired, takes us through mountains with endless cacti vegetation. The thermometer climbs to 40° C. Some dormant volcano come to sight and suddenly, we don’t want to trust our eyes, there’s green everywhere: Water glitters in the valley, and palm trees grow in the oasis. Dates, citrus and mango are still grown today in smallholders’ farming in the villages of San Isidro and La Purisima. Latter was a mission station from 1720 to 1822, then abandoned for nearly 80 years until Mexican farmers revived the area. There are only some ruins left from the original mission on private land north of town.

We hardly left the oasis when hot desert embraces us again. Too hot to sleep, we decide, and turn in La Poza Grande at BCS 53 to the constantly chilly Pacific. The soft dark sand beach in Puerto San Andresito belongs to a fishing coop. The men grant us to complimentary stay here after we asked friendly. They just care for a soda that we have in our fridge.

Playa Santispak @ Bahía Concepción, Baja California Sur – Dream beaches

Mittwoch, Mai 4th, 2011

The Bahía Concepción named bay at the Sea of Cortez south of Mulegé offers around a dozen protected romantic beaches with white sand and many options for water sports. Yesterday evening we decided to take a beach break at Playa Santispak. American and Canadian snowbirds’ beach houses could be seen here earlier before they have had to be removed. Nowadays only some foundation walls and tile floors remind of the former holiday settlement. Today there is a restaurant with kayak rental and some sun shades called palapas. Like on the other beaches there is a small entrance fee that includes camping. In Playa Santispak for example this is 80 MXN per vehicle. The bay is shallow, protected from the wind, pleasant water temperatures, but many sand flies as well.

Santa Rosalía + Mulegé, Baja California Sur – The Eiffel church

Dienstag, Mai 3rd, 2011

The area around Santa Rosalía is not exactly the most attractive place Baja California has to offer, because copper, cobalt and zinc mining left remarkable scars. On the other hand this pretty and very pleasant town has the French mining company El Boleo to thank for its existence. The company started to mine copper in the end of the 19th century. One can see the French legacy still today. It is the only place on the peninsula that shows French instead of Spanish colonial architecture.

The town’s church is a beautiful simple construction nearly completely made from riveted, white painted metal, which has an exciting history to show. It shall be designed by famous tower architect Gustave Eiffel for the African overseas colonies, exhibited during the World Expo 1889 in Paris, and forgotten in a warehouse in Brussels. An El Boleo manager rediscovered the church and shipped it to Mexico. But in the 1990s doubts arouse regarding the origin of the Iglesia Santa Bárbara de Santa Rosalía that could never be dispelled completely.

One more French relic survived: The bakery Panadería El Boleo produces since 1901 baguette, bread as well as Mexican and French pastries. Old melting pots and mining equipment across the harbour make some nice pictures. 60 km south is Mulegé, completely Spanish again, with one of Baja’s oldest missions. Its style is simple and massive, maybe not that elegant, but impressive anyway. From the hill where the church is located we have an excellent view to green Mulegé River and the town. The river flows into the sea at Playa El Sombrerito that’s a good place to spot marine birds.

San Ignacio, Baja California Sur – Batman attacks

Montag, Mai 2nd, 2011

The constant wind chases us away from dusty Vizcaíno desert. Even beach strolls aren’t fun anymore. In Punta Abreojos a newly paved road starts, and we continue to MEX 1 and further to San Ignacio. The small town is situated in the middle of a lush green oasis, fed by a productive spring. Jesuit Father Piccolo acknowledged the potential of this site already in 1716 and erected a hut that served a provisional chapel. In 1728 missionaries started to build a church that was finished 40 years later.

The central plaza is surrounded by colonial buildings. On one end the mission Nuestra Señor San Ignacio de Kadakaamán sits enthroned. It was restored in 1976 and is used as a church today. It is an impressive mission with its more than one metre thick walls from local volcanic stone, the massive lumber beams, and its six metres tall carved entrance gate from the mainland. The altar is also made from carved wood, decorated with gold leaf. The high walls care for pleasant cool.

As we want to leave the church my breath stops. Instead of squealing, what was my first good idea, I say with composure: “Joerg, something is crawling up my left leg. Would you please take a photo of it?” I’m shuddering. Which creature might want to bond with me? Initially I think it is a mouse, but a closer look reveals it is a small bat. It butts in on the straps of my sandals. But it doesn’t like the flash of the camera and tries to escape, up on my smooth leg, what doesn’t work very well. The claws crawl terribly. Eventually batman disappointedly lets go. I don’t seem to be a promising alliance.

Passing the volcano Las Tres Virgenes we go through the mountains back to the Gulf of California where we stop at a lonely campground close to Santa Rosalía.

Bahía de Tortugas, Baja California Sur – Flotsam and jetsam

Sonntag, Mai 1st, 2011

The north beach of El Vizcaíno is famous for its flotsam and jetsam. Wind, waves and currents wash everything that’s in the waters of the North American west coast, from Alaska on southbound, onto this beach. Among this are even sometimes loads of drugs that were dropped or lost from a ship or an airplane. We start a search for interesting legal stuff, but we only find garbage and some bones that we can’t identify. In the Malarrimo fish camp is a big whale’s jawbone that was washed ashore, a bit to the west a grey whale idles away. The major part has disappeared except the head and some vertebras. The skin is nearly petrified, and the rest was done by carrion-eaters so that the odour experience is limited.

The coastal road from Malarrimo to the north-west ends at a lighthouse and is only suitable for 4WD. From here we take a good dirt road back to Bahía de Tortugas and further to the tiny fishermen’s village Punta Eugenia at the north-west promontory. There are signs everywhere prohibiting fishing, and regularly a kind of rangers patrol the coast to make sure nobody violates the exclusive fishing rights of Bahía de Tortugas’ four fishing cooperatives. Especially the lobsters and abalone snails that are sold for a remarkable amount of money to Taiwan bring the fishers relative affluence.

Then we head south on a desert road to Punta Asunción and further to Punta Prieta where are again secluded beaches to camp. Dolphins jump, coyotes howl, and pelicans fish. The beach close to the waterline consists of sand, but further up billions of white thick mussel shells were deposited and rounded foot-friendly during the years.