Archive for Juni, 2011

Ciudad de México, D.F., México – Long Mexican history

Mittwoch, Juni 29th, 2011

The National Anthropological Museum in Mexico City is a jewel. It is a must even for museum grouches if willing to shed light on the various Mesoamerican cultures. The museum is huge and nearly too much for one day. The ground floor of the u-shaped building houses besides an introduction to anthropology twelve galleries that pay attention to Mexico’s different advanced cultures. Among them are the Toltecs, the Maya, the Aztecs, Teotihuacán, Oaxaca and other regions. The upper floor holds collections of clothes, houses, objects d’art, religious artefacts as well as information about festivals and social organisation of the 56 surviving indigenous nations of Mexico. In the inner courtyard of Museo Nacionál de Antropología stands an eleven meters high pillar, surrounded by a water curtain, and covered by an 84 m long canopy. It is thought to be the largest concrete structure in the world, resting on a single column. (Entrance fee 51 Peso pp)

Coyoacán, México – In the workshop

Dienstag, Juni 28th, 2011

In one of Bernardo’s three workshops we want to carry out several works on our Unimog. Despite this is routine maintenance that Joerg usually does alone – oil change, changing oil and fuel filters, and replacing the front brake pads – five mechanics jump zealously and helpfully around the truck. Bernardo’s workshops do not only repair Unimog but everything from motorcar to truck what demands a lot of knowledge from the mechanics. Bernardo has a contract with the Policia Federal to maintain all their vehicles. Furthermore, we change our heater of which the boiler was leaking a couple of weeks ago and we had to weld it. Bernardo refuses to take money for the mechanic’s hours.

Coyoacán, México – Refined hospitality

Montag, Juni 27th, 2011

Hospitality is a high good in many countries. Bernardo and his girl-friend Alma, our new Mexican friends, welcomed us so warmly in their wonderful city house in Coyoacán, part of Mexico City. Bernardo invites us in the evening to an excellent restaurant to show us sophisticated but traditional Mexican cuisine. We assure him to eat everything and he orders a variety of dishes to try. It is absolutely delicious. There is a tasty soup from roasted pork skin, puréed with chillies, and another milder one made with crushed black beans. We get tacos with duck meat and avocados as well as tortillas with cooked tongue in vinegar stock with onions and carrots. Then we try two different fish dishes with white fish under onion-habanero-topping and tuna in bean sauce and also three different desserts: a homemade fruit ice cream, a sharp chocolate soufflé and a kind of strudel – a pastry baked with fruits and a low-salt fresh cheese called panela that’s a little bit similar to fresh Italian mozzarella (very tempting combination). We learn that Mezcal, agave schnapps like tequila, doesn’t have to taste like tequila but more like Grappa. There are roasted grasshoppers on the menu, but I’ll try them next time.

Teotihuacán, México – The mysterious pyramid city

Samstag, Juni 25th, 2011

Who were they? Where did they come from? How did they live? And why did the leave? Until now not much is known about the creators of the city Teotihuacán, even its original name is unknown. It was built about 200 BC; its heydays were between 200 and 500 AD with estimated 85,000 inhabitants and an area of more than 20 sq km. As the Aztecs arrived in 1250 the pyramid place was abandoned for hundreds of years and partially destroyed. Overwhelmed by the facility the Aztecs thought that the gods themselves derive from here. They named the place Teotihuacán, home of the gods. They baptised the two largest pyramids after the sun and the moon and the 40 m wide and two kilometres long main road Calzada de los Muertos, road of the dead, assuming that the pyramid stumps along the main axis are funeral places.

With this and nearly everything else the Aztecs were mistaken. Humans – although with a lot of mathematical and astronomical knowledge – were the city’s creators. It is thought that they destroyed it themselves on abandoning. It is known today that the pyramid plinths are no graves, but their purpose is still shrouded in mystery. Sure is that there were units of accommodation and certain quarters for special occupational groups like weavers, dyers, potters, farmers, and traders. Their craft workmanship was highly developed and their creations of birds and the feathered snake influenced entire ethnic groups down to Guatemala.

Until today only 15 % of the city is excavated. But the area is still huge. Comfortable shoes, sun and rain protection as well as some provisions are recommended. The sun and the moon pyramid can be climbed and offer stunning views to the site. The sun pyramid is said to be the world’s third largest – after the famous Egyptian ones. The entrance fee is 51 Peso pp, parking is extra. There are regular busses from the campground, but it is possible to walk as well (distance 3 km).

San Juan Teotihuacán, México – Hoy no circula? That sounds Spanish to me!

Freitag, Juni 24th, 2011

There are a lot of non-transparent and partially incomprehensible traffic rules regarding driving in and around Mexico City. We want to clarify some of these rumours to make travelling easier for other passengers:

1. The outer northern highway ring around Mexico City is finished. It’s called Arco Norte, respectively MEX 40D. It is a toll road, but a good access road coming from the north, and by far not as expensive and used as the highways further in the city. Take care: There are no gas stations, parking lots, restrooms or catering along MEX 40 between Tula and MEX 132D.

2. There are two sufficiently well-known campgrounds at the edge of Mexico City, Pepe’s Hotel Posada in Tepotzotlán and Teotihuacán Trailer Park in San Juan Teotihuacán. Both have good bus connection for city visits, but the last mentioned is preferred by some travellers due to the world-renowned pyramid place Teotihuacán is just a few kilometres away. The only practical way to approach it is MEX 132 that is accessible from MEX 40 as well. The campground is not situated in the hoy no circula zone (more later) the owner assures us, although this is sometimes claimed, even in the “bible” Mexican Camping from Church & Church. The one-way regulation when reaching the campground mentioned in the same book doesn’t exist on our visit.

3. Hoy no circula means „don’t drive today“ and is a ruling to dam exhaust emissions. On each weekday and on each Saturday cars with certain license plates are not allowed to drive, decisive are the last digits of the car’s number plate as follows: Monday 5 and 6 (and each 1st Saturday of a month), Tuesday 7 and 8 (and each 2nd Saturday), Wednesday 3 and 4 (and each 3rd Saturday), Thursday 1 and 2 (and each 4th Saturday), Friday 9 and 0 (and each 5th Saturday, if applicable). This regulation does not apply to vehicles younger than eight years. Contrary reports, the rule is not valid for foreigners, aren’t true. Besides vehicles with a number plate outside of Mexico City (Distrito Federal) or the State of Mexico are not allowed to drive between 5 and 11 a.m. on weekdays. All these restrictions can be extended in case of smog. The PEMEX gas stations around Mexico have detailed information.

4. We couldn’t figure out exactly if a vehicle of a bigger size like ours is allowed to drive on the Periférico. This is a highway through Mexico City free of junctions and traffic lights, partially built on stilts. It is not allowed for delivery trucks to use it. There are different opinions if the ruling applies only to vehicles with a truck license plate or if it refers to the vehicle’s size.

5. Fines for infringements are drastic. Police officers have the right to confiscate vehicles. They will be stored for a day on a cordoned site and a high fine on the impounded car has to be paid.

Jalpan, Querétaro – Through all Mexican climatic zones

Donnerstag, Juni 23rd, 2011

Devil’s backbone is here. Forget Espinoza del Diablo from Mazatlán to Durango. This here is much better. MEX 120 from Xilatla to San Juan del Rio doesn’t only have more curves than the MEX 40. We have to cope with many more elevation metres and the scenic diversity is fantastic. We start in the tropical rainforest of Huasteca Potosina, spiral upwards into the biosphere reserve Sierra Gorda with dense green alpine coniferous forest fauna at more than 2500 m elevation, and just descend some hundreds of metres into the semi-desert of the central highland covered with brush and cacti.

In-between there is some fine architecture. The “five missions” in the northeast of the state Querétaro are only little known. They were all built by the same padre in the middle of the 18th century to convert the local indigenes. Two of the churches are situated directly along MEX 120, Landa de Matamoros and Jalpan. They were conserved with care so that their colourfully decorated facades with the unambiguously indigene elements are shown to advantage.

Xilatla, San Luis Potosí – Culture in the jungle

Mittwoch, Juni 22nd, 2011

Las Pozas in Xilatla is a unique obliquity in the tropical jungle. Deceased Edward James, born into a very rich British Family, translated his life’s dream into action. He melted the huge exotic garden with an enormous number of art objects from concrete and metal. Edward James himself was a mediocre successful poet and artist but one of the biggest Maecenas at that time. Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso and René Magritte belonged to his closest circle of friends. Dalí said the eccentric is “crazier than all the Surrealists put together”.

This appears on his property as well, which James used first to grow orchids, then as a zoo, and finally to realize his architectural fantasies. With 150 local workers at times he worked for 30 years at this project that was never really completed. Countless art objects created by him, odd distorted buildings, waterfalls, pools, and brooks were integrated into a vast maze on a hill. Since we prefer to see the area (entrance fee 50 Peso pp) without a guide, and there are not area maps, just few hundreds of metres later we stand in front of a pond and we are not sure how to surmount the obstacle that’s deep and slippery.

Joerg decides to take off his shorts, to shorten his t-shirt and wade through the pond with the cameras above his head. I choose the way over the wet and slippery wall enclosure, a narrow path with water on one side and several metres nothing on the other. The Englishman really had a weird sense of humour. Henceforth Joerg walks completely surreal in a soaking wet slip through the art park, the shorts in his hand, I only have wet shoes. Edward James would have got sheer pleasure out of us. Fortunately we are the only visitors. Nowadays the park falls more and more into disrepair. The millionaire left it to the children of his Mexican employee and confidant since he didn’t have own descendants. His only marriage with a Hungarian ballet dancer ended in a scandalous divorce.

Micos, San Luis Potosí – In the jungle

Dienstag, Juni 21st, 2011

The farewell wasn’t easy and only possible after several swims, but we want to go to the Micos cascades. Finally arrived there we really need a bath. 42° C are a lot and unusual in humid jungle climate. The 70 Peso entrance fee including camping are quite all right, but the site disappoints us. The waterfalls are rapids, there is mud and stones grown over with algae, and the water isn’t very clear. Theoretically we can drive down to the river at night and park there somewhere between snack and souvenir stands. That is so little inviting that we prefer to stay in the daytime parking lot and weather the storm there. It flashes and thunders, the thunderstorm got caught in the valley between the mountains, but there’s not too much rain. Nevertheless: The rainy season started.

Although the site wasn’t completely convincing, Cascadas de Micos promise some cooling off in any case: N 22°05’57’’ W 99°08’52’’.

Tomasopo, San Luis Potosí –Paradise on earth?

Montag, Juni 20th, 2011

Is there a paradise on earth? Maybe not really. But the Cascadas de Tomasopo come close to. A whole lot of waterfalls pour into natural pools, some ankle-deep, some measure several meters. We can jump in or shower under the cascades. The pools flow into rivers who receive the water of other falls downstream. The turquoise-coloured pools are just cool enough to be felt refreshing, but warm enough to stay for for an hour or longer. The area is surrounded by a tropical garden, exotic plants and flowers, colourful birds, big butterflies, and dragonflies. Are we still in Mexico? Oh, yes, Mexico doesn’t only consist of dry hills and cacti.

We are in Huasteca Potosina, a djungle-like area in Mexico’s central east, the world’s northernmost tropical rainforest. Most travel guides unintelligibly pay little attention to it. Accordingly it was difficult to find information, but several Mexicans recommended us to come here. The region received its name from the Huestecs, a Indigene tribe that lives here, and San Luis Potsí, state and capital. We may camp on the grassy parking lot in front of the Tomasopo waterfalls for 20 Peso per person and car (makes 60 for us). Over and over we dip into the crystal-clear water with the tiny fish and consider ourselves to be in paradise – no matter what was the answer to question one.

For those who want to see the paradise as well: It is located north of Tomasoso at GPS N 21°56’21’’ W 99°23’46’’.

San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato – Fools’ parade

Sonntag, Juni 19th, 2011

Thousands of participants – children, adults and animals – prepare themselves for this day for months. Dressed up in imaginative costumes, following music coaches bouncing and dancing, the fools’ parade moves through the city at the Dia de los Locos. Every year on the Sunday that follows the day of St. Anthony the whole town is thrown into a turmoil. Those ones not participating in the parade flock to the city to watch and have a party. We look for a place in the beginning of the parade. The advantage is that there is not only more space but the participants are in the boiling heat still cheerful and energetic enough to dance and pose. After seeing each hundreds of pirates, witches, smurfs, SpongeBobs, fur animals and supermen, and after being kissed by a profoundly ugly devil with awfully distorted teeth we are happy to get out of the sun.

Mineral de Pozos, Guanajuato – A real ghost town

Freitag, Juni 17th, 2011

Once one of Mexico’s most important mining centres, today ghost town; once prospering silver mine, today historic district; once lively big city with 80,000 inhabitants, today quiet village with 2,000 remaining residents: Mineral de Pozos was founded in 1576 and left in the revolutionary years. The French and Spanish mine owners went back home, the workforce moved to Mexico City.

The major part of the former city can be visited only from outside due to danger of collapse, but some of the former mines are accessible. There are no signs in town; we have to find our way by asking. Without paying any entrance fee we can stroll around between the ruins and imagine the life of an unequal divided society of most rich owners and very poor workers.

Tonight we visit the former teacher Marjorie, and tomorrow we’ll meet Barbara’s husband, the Archaeological professor, and their friends.

San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato – Obtrusive gates and innovative churches

Donnerstag, Juni 16th, 2011

A craftwork dealer, a professor’s spouse, and a retired teacher – we’ve met those three ladies in Pátzcuaro. They are all Americans living in San Miguel de Allende. Tessa isn’t at home yet, the first one on our visiting list. We decide to see the historic centre so long, which shall be very narrow. As if we haven’t had enough excitement today. But another nice police officer protects us from worth things to happen and directs us to a parking lot where we just fit under the gateway. Unfortunately the gate closes in the middle of our driver’s cabin. We don’t want to tear it off, but the young car-park attendant finds himself unable to open it again. He seems helpless and gives the impression of being a little bit too uninvolved. So I convince the gate with muscular strength to open, whereupon it doesn’t close any more. My bad conscience is limited, and when we will return later it will work again.

San Miguel de Allende has the usual density of churches. Parroquia de San Miguel is outstanding. The colonial church from the 17th century received a new facade in 1880. After studying pictures and postcards of European churches the autodidactic Indigene architect helped San Miguel achieve a completely new outward appearance. Following the example set by the Ulm Minster an unknown mixture to date of neo-gothic style and Indian elements was created.

Guanajuato, Guanajuato – Subterranean horror

Donnerstag, Juni 16th, 2011

Guanajuato, seat of government of the state of the same name, shall be worth seeing. It was fixed on our agenda, but again things change. Already when entering the outskirts wildly waving young men try to stop us. Once we do so, they climb on our truck without being asked, want to heap a lot of information on our head in a strong Spanish dialect and mumble something the campground we want to go to doesn’t operate. The situation is obscure, so we take off to town, being irritated. Later in the evening we get to know that those college boys volunteer to bring strangers through the city or a particular destination, but of course they have to be tipped and they might work as touts for certain hotels, restaurants, or campgrounds. Anyway, we only have to seats – should I have taken one on my lap? This city is said to be impossible for strangers to find their way when being here for the first time. But this we can’t know yet.

We rely on our two GPS where we inserted the coordinates of the campground. It works until the two of them disagree at a junction, we follow the wrong advice, and from now on events come thick and fast. It gets dark around us. One of my travel guides informs that in 1965 a dry riverbed under the city was converted into a street tunnel system to reduce the city’s traffic problems. The road winds for kilometres underground like in a maze. The last sentence in my travel guide is: “It is very dangerous and not recommended for visitors.” What does this statement want to tell me? I might know soon.

There was no warning sign, nothing that states height, width or weight limits. We drive into the unlit tunnel that soon splits up being a one-way then. The walls right and left get closer, unfortunately the ceiling does as well. It is all one-way, no possibility to turn round, and the traffic behind us pesters. Joerg races panic-stricken through the pitch-dark underground, hoping that none of the old beams juts out more than the others. The tunnel splits up again and again, and we have to decide in seconds which way to go to not get stuck in a narrower or obstructed tube. Sometimes Joerg pulls the steering around hard since in one of the tunnels people wash their cars, and that doesn’t seem to be the right way. What a strange world under the earth is this!

The blue and white bus signs are a bit of consolation. As long as we are on the bus route, there are at least no width problems. We can only hope that the height is enough, since the busses are a bit lower than Arminius. On the rare occasions a tunnel is briefly interrupted and daylight penetrates the darkness, I stick my head out of the window and try to establish how much space we have left at the upper outer edges. It doesn’t seem to be much, some centimetres. At least. That lasts for kilometres, every moment we expect a scratching, scraping sound, and a solar panel to splinter into thousand fragments. But nothing happens, and after ages daylight appears. Our gooseflesh would bring honour to any poultry.

But it’s not over yet. Two policemen at their car wave us to the right, but our GPS say left. We ignore the officers, but then I have a feeling the GPS want to bring us back into the tunnel system. There’s another policeman, and we stop as a precaution. He thinks we don’t fit through the tunnels and directs us back to the police car. I doubt that the other tunnel is really lower than the first one, but I don’t attach value to figure this out. With flashing blue lights the squad car escorts us out of town to the ring road. Always those stupid tourists, they might think. But it would have been helpful if there had been some officers on the other side of town – instead stupidly waving teenagers.

Herewith our Guanajuato adventure ends. We turn our back on this probably beautiful, but somehow unpleasant city.

Silao, Guanajuato – Jesus is big

Mittwoch, Juni 15th, 2011

On a 2900 m high mountain close to the city of Silao a statue of Christ stands enthroned. It shall be the second largest of the world, but that’s not completely true. Counting the high plinth where a church is located on two stories one could put Christo Rey on the second place after the 36 m high monument in Poland. But plinth isn’t the same as statue, and for the remaining 20.5 m only a standing at the rear places, even far behind the famous statue of Christ in Rio de Janeiro, is left.

For the moment, we have to try to find Christo Rey. First many signs with white Christ icons on blue background point the direction, suddenly they disappear. It is essential to know that abruptly one has to follow the signs to El Cubilete how the mountain is called the monument was erected upon. That’s Mexican logic. In the end of a several kilometres long cobblestone road that steeply climbs the mountain we find Jesus. Big yes, but not overpowering. From here we have a wide view into the vast country. This place in the mountains is pleasantly cool, quiet, and peaceful. We decide to bed down on a remote parking lot below the statue for the night.

Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán – Craftwork and pork knuckle

Dienstag, Juni 14th, 2011

Lake Pátzcuaro is an idyllically located lake between rolling hills and pre-Columbian villages. The loop is just 90 km long. In many of these towns still today their traditional trades are practised. In one village beautiful coloured award-winning wooden masks are made, in the next one straw huts in all shapes and sizes. We find pottery or lacquer work from wood bowl and trays with bright flowers. Another community creates statues for the garden or the typical small chapels, shrines and sanctuaries at the side of the road, the next one makes wrought-iron tables and chairs. If you ever pass by Lake Pátzcuaro, don’t miss the Rolf who runs a German-Bavarian restaurant on the south-western shore. It is a beautiful location with a pretty garden, ponds with trout, ducks and other animals. And the food – made by his son – is delicious!

Pátzcuaro, Michoacán – Happy skeletons and dancing old men

Montag, Juni 13th, 2011

Tzacapuansucutinpátzcuaro. Despite greatest efforts I’m not able to pronounce the name correctly, to read it, let alone to remember. But why shall I succeed in what the Spaniards didn’t manage? They shortened the word, which means in Purépecha language “place of the stones” without further ado to Pátzcuaro. And that was that. The Purépecha is the resident tribe whose language can still be heard in the area.

The Aztecs had never been able to conquer the empire to which Pátzcuaro belonged. As the Spanish invaded the area in 1529 they created carnage and subjugated the people. Only two years later Franciscan monk and future bishop Vasco de Quiroga arrived with completely different ideas. He strived for a society with equal rights, founded new Indigene communities and encouraged them to practise each their own trade. This habit is still maintained, including Tata Vasco’s worship to whose remembrance a plaza with fountain and memorial was erected.

In this not too big town are quite a few plazas, and a lot of old buildings like churches, palaces, beautiful hotels with inner courtyard, a former convent, a museum, a library… Private buildings and shops have a common appearance with whitewashed adobe and red tiled roofs. There is a cute market with fruits, shoes, and craftwork. Pátzcuaro is famous for its souvenirs, pictures or figurines of elegantly slim skeletons in expensive robes. The Indigenes celebrate the All Saint’s Day intensely, but they don’t mourn, instead they have a party for their ancestors where they show the incredibly decorated skeletons.

There is another tradition Pátzcuaro is famous for: la danza de los viejitos, the “dance of the eldest”. Dancers equipped with face masks and canes limp around satirically and pull older age’s problems’ and slight pains’ leg. There are rumours that more probably the Spanish conquerors should be mocked.

Pátzcuaro, Michoacán – 5*-campground

Montag, Juni 6th, 2011

Mexico isn’t really the land for friends of free camping as we are. An exception is southern Baja California where we could stay cost-free on many public beaches. Otherwise we stand a bit uninviting at gas stations along the highway, on other parking lots or around plazas. Or we have to pay for a campground, which is not always quiet and cosy, and not clean at all. A noteworthy exception is Villa Pátzcuaro Hotel and RV Park in Pátzcuaro. The pretty town and the scenic lake are each only 20 to 30 minutes walk. The small facility rents out besides 24 lots with electricity, water, sewer and internet some hotel rooms as well. Since we are once more the only campers we have the choice for the parking areas, all on grass, some even with shadow. The swimming pool and the sanitary facilities are up-to-date and clean.

But it comes even better: In a neighbouring building a big common kitchen is situated with stove, refrigerator, sink and dining room for meetings. A second small adjacent building with large panorama windows is directly located next to our campsite with some rustic chairs, tables and sofas, and a fireplace with firewood. We are in 2100 m elevation, even in early summer the nights are cool and can stand a little fire. Immediately we make this room our office for the next days. Here we stay, since we have to make up so much work. I spontaneously forgive the camp ground owner who didn’t let herself be persuaded to concede a discount to me. She wants 180 Peso per night, with 10 % discount for a whole week. It’s worth the money anyway.

Angahuan, Michoacán – God-fearing lava

Sonntag, Juni 5th, 2011

The lava buried two villages, it rammed the church, caused one of the spires to collapse, destroyed the entire nave, and crawled further to the altar. Only a miracle can explain what happened then. Very suddenly the lava stream stopped, it froze in front of the altar, and the volcano became inactive. Should it have respected the house of God? Was it reverence? Humility?

Everything began on February 20th, 1943. In one moment the farmer stood on his field and tilled the soil, in the next moment he fled panic-stricken as the earth began to quiver. A volcano grew under his feet, broke repeatedly in thundering explosions, and spit ashes and lava for the next nine years. 4000 humans had to leave their houses and flee, fortunately nobody was hurt.

Today the dormant crater Paricutín protrudes 424 m from its environment, surrounded by a 25 sq km big pitch-black lunar landscape that is only slowly reconquered by nature. At the edge of the lava field Iglesia San Juan de Parangaricutiro can be visited or just what is left. On one side is the entrance portal with the preserved and the collapsed spire. Climbing over the metres-high lava boulders to the other side to the opposite wall, there is the undamaged altar that is newly decorated over and again. The embers literally stopped one meter before. The heat just took the toll on some plaster figures above the altar.

The village Angahuan is starting point for the visits. Managing to squeeze past the eagerly advertising Indio who offer their services as guide with and without horse we drive a few more kilometres to the last parking lot at the viewpoint. Not without being followed by wild riders who don’t want to give up so easily. After we convinced the men that we really rather hike than ride they leave disappointedly. For some Peso we can park here, for a few more even overnight. Following the numerous horse and footprints downhill through the forest we reach after three kilometres the frozen lava. From here on – with or without horse – one has to walk in any case over the lava field. Long pants, sturdy shoes, and possibly a robust long-sleeved top prevent from being injured by sharp-edged rocks. Those who prefer the horse can ride to the edge of the crater, but that would be a day-trip.

Sahuayo, Michoacán – Tiny fish in big lake

Samstag, Juni 4th, 2011

For how long will it be Mexico’s largest natural lake? Laguna Chapala south of Guadalajara is today still 113 km long and up to 32 km wide. But the greedy large town and metro slurped half of the water from the lake since the turn of the 20th century. Most fishes were killed by pollution; surviving inhabitant is a tiny 5 cm long fish that shall be a delicacy. We relinquish since we are not sure about how the pollution was solved.

Guadalajara, Jalisco – Bus driver on piece-work

Freitag, Juni 3rd, 2011

1.6 million inhabitants in the city, 5 million in the metro, Mexico’s second largest city with a history lasting since 1542: These facts can describe Guadalajara only superficially, since it has much more to offer. A large-scale pedestrian precinct was built around the historic city core that contains the most important sights. Although Guadalajara’s traffic isn’t by any means as chaotic as the one in Mexico City there is a parking problem in the city centre, especially for vehicles above 2.8 m height. But the public transport system is fully developed in an exemplary manner, and the (only) campground provides us with perfect information for the city bus.

For 6 Peso (55 US $-Cents) we may ride the bus for nearly an hour. But I would call this a kind of temperamental. To stop the bus at the station you have to throw yourself in front of the wheels. You better have the right money on hand, chuck it on the driver’s counter, grab the ticket, seize one of the handles, or better dive full length onto the next available seat. The driver immediately sets off as soon as the last passenger has entered the bus, and he handles the rest while driving. And how the man drives! He must be paid on piece-work and according to the rounds he can manage in one shift, or he receives a stake in total passenger transport. There’s no other explanation for his style of driving, how he furiously pokes about in the gearbox and meanwhile maltreats the clutch. He brakes only in case of extreme emergency and even then in the last moment only. Else he thunders with 100 kicks over the roundabouts, but nobody seems to really care. However, we are relieved to get off in the town centre.

Guadalajara’s cathedral is huge and received after the earthquakes from 1750 and 1818 a replacement for the two collapsed towers. The yellow tiled spires are now the city’s landmark. The portal that was initially made for the cathedral can be found today at the government palace that was converted into a museum. The naked women’s busts carved in wood were eventually found inappropriate for the sacred building. The main staircase of the Palacio de Gobierno is decorated with an impressive mural that is about independence hero Father Manuel Hidalgo who fought in 1810 for abolition of slavery, and was executed for this by the Spanish clergy. A multi-lingual pensioner volunteer is dying to explain us the painting. He doesn’t refuse a tip in the end of his lecture – like always in Mexico, tips are welcome, although not necessarily expected.

The Teatro Degollado and the Institutio Cultural Cabañas are colonial buildings worth seeing as well. After so much culture the stomach rumbles. Mercado Libertad, one of the largest covered markets in Latin America, finds a remedy. Here are not only food stands on three stories but everything else what could be more or less useful: Meat, fruit, and vegetables; shoes, purses, and t-shirts; pens, lighters, and sunglasses; eye shadow, nail polish, and artificial nails. And much more. Made in China.

Back to San José del Tajo RV Park we shower off the city sweat. Cockroaches are commonly seen inhabitants of these establishments. But here I find small frogs. How sweet. I rather keep my slippers on. The swimming pool wouldn’t bother being cleaned as well. The campground isn’t bad at all, but the price (knocked down from 250 to 200 Peso) represents more the location than fittings or cleanliness.

Tequila, Jalisco – Tequila olé!

Donnerstag, Juni 2nd, 2011

It smells like tequila, it is called Tequila, and we drink tequila. In this city everything turns about the distilled agave juice. Numerous shops sell the brew, and some of the factories offer visiting and tasting tours. We decide for the Sauza distillery that was formerly called La Perseverancia, the big old competitor of José Cuervo that’s even known in Europe. But the old Sauza was the first to call the drink tequila. He achieved that following the example set by French Champagne only agave schnapps from the area is allowed to carry this name and he was the first to export in many countries when sales was declining during the turmoil of the Mexican revolution in 1909.

We see the huge hearts of the blue agave, the only plant that can be used. They are called pineapples due to their resemblance with the fruit. They weigh 35 to 50 kg and come from around seven years old plants whose spiny leafs were stripped off. Hearts of older agave can weigh up to 100 kg and more. The pineapples are shredded, the fibre removed by means of steam, and the juice cooked. It tastes like molasses and caramel, but not too sweet. The first distillate contains too much methanol to be healthy to drink, but we can try the second one. It still contains 70% alcohol, and there are two kinds: tequila from 51% agave and 49% sugar syrup from corn, sugar can or others (ugh) and 100% agave (even in this state mild and delicious). After the second or third distillation claro, white tequila, is bottled directly, during reposado ages in small or big oak barrels – depending on the desired taste – two months to one year to yellow or light brown colour. Añejo has to age one to three years in small barrels, some sorts even longer, and gets a dark brown tan.

One could think the 70 Peso pp for 45 min guided tour (in English language) is a bit overestimated, but far wrong! In the end the barman is called and together with our guide we sip his wonderful creations from strawberries, raspberries and tamarind or lime, orange and hibiscus. With tequila, of course. Just the drinks were worth the money. Finally we can shop tequila in the factory outlet with knowledgeable advice. They don’t have to tell this to us twice.

La Quemada, Zacatecas – Archaeology by the sweat of our brow

Mittwoch, Juni 1st, 2011

History that’s much older than the one the Spaniards brought with them can be found at La Quemada, just under an hour south of Zacatecas City. The archaeological find Ruinas de Chicomostoc (41 MXN pp entrance fee) was once important religious, political, and trade centre. Settlement from 500 to 900 is regarded as proven. Credible indications to an earlier settlement need more excavations and proofs. Still today it is not completely sure who populated the land, but it must have been a powerful tribe. Walls extend for kilometres around the area on a mountain with 360° panorama view. Bone finds in different pyramids and Mesoamerica’s largest hall with 5 m height, 30 m width, 41 m length, and 12 columns supporting the roof indicate human sacrifice. Most of the residential buildings are decayed or burnt down, but finds of food remnants and pottery proof domestic activities. Especially remarkable and emphasizing the importance of the complex is that it was never built over.

A steep stony trail leads from the parking lot via the columned hall and the pyramids up to the citadel, but it is worth the two-hours-hike even with boiling heat. All inscriptions are in Spanish and English.