Archive for Juli, 2011

Panajachel, Guatemala – Obtrusive vendors

Freitag, Juli 29th, 2011

Panajachel is a busy tourist town thanks to its location at Lago Atitlán. Visitors shove in the narrow roads, mainly hippies of modern times who might have daddy’s cheque in their pocket. Nothing’s cheap here. Boat trips, excursions, guided hiking tours are offered for steep fares mainly by Ladinos. Indígenas are cheap workers or offer craftwork. Especially in the main shopping road Calle Santander not a minute passes by without being offered to buy something. Either you quickly leave town or get used to be permanently pressurized to purchasing. It might bug a bit, but the lively, cheerful, pulsating Guatemala fascinates.

In the afternoon we meet Patti who runs a guesthouse with apartments in town’s best location ( Patti is a friend of Tessa when she still lived in Guatemala. We have met Tessa in Mexican Pátzcuaro and visited her in San Miguel de Allende. We expect her here in a few days. Besides, Patti committed herself to a project that she has founded some years ago: supports education, health and nutrition of the Indigene population, but for pets and street dogs as well.

Panajachel, Guatemala – Road block

Donnerstag, Juli 28th, 2011

We make our way down the steep volcano hill without damage. Via the big city Quetzaltenango we’ve got to get to Salcajá to the large roundabout at the town’s end from where the important junction Cuatros Caminos and the Pan Americana can be reached. But not a chance! Here road chaos is prevalent. The street is blocked with parking vehicles, car drivers try to turn round in-between. Fast food stalls already settled to offer snacks and drinks. Roadblocks were erected around the circle and people gather. What’s going on here?

We park on a piece of fallow land and are cleared up. People demonstrate for higher salaries and the blockade shall last for another seven hours. That’s not exactly what we’ve planned for today. Frustrated we have to understand that the complete crossroad area was cordoned off and that there is no loophole. 40 minutes pass by until drivers from the other side seem to discover a sideway and draw closer to where we are. We start immediately towards them. After minutes only we meet halfway and drive soon via a clumsy field path.

Finally we can continue on CA 1 to Alaska. This is how the cold and draughty plateau is called that makes up the highest point of Pan Americana in Guatemala with 3060 m. Eventually we turn off to Sololá, a mountain village at 2100 m that represent an important trade centre between highland and pacific plain. Thoroughfare is difficult for large rigs, even when following the sparse signs for heavy goods traffic. No problem for our two compact campers. Tuesday and Friday are market days where it might be difficult to get through, but it is possible to spaciously drive around town. Soon the road continues down with stunning views to Lago Atitlán. The lake at about 1500 m elevation is surrounded by volcanoes and is regarded as the country’s most beautiful mountain lake. It forms Guatemala’s touristic centre with Panajachel as main town.

Out of three camping options we choose the most likeable one at the end of town, but only a mile away from the centre. The access road, a mud path, is completely grown over and the gate is stale. Mike, the American owner, obviously didn’t have camping guests for a long time. He is old and impoverished and would like to sell the ground. He acknowledges that we would be in better keeping with the other campgrounds but is happy when we decide to stay. Since years camping fee is 35 GTQ pp. Since there is neither electricity nor water Mike grants us to stay here for half price. That’s more than fair; the site is locked, safe and quiet, and constantly guarded by Mike and his dogs.

Campana Camping, Panajachel, N 14°44’16.6’’ W 91°08’56.9’’

Volcán Chicabal, Guatemala – The holy crater lake

Mittwoch, Juli 27th, 2011

The earth quivered again last night. All of us woke up, the owner of the parking lot ran out of his house. It wasn’t as strong as the last one in Mexico, but well perceptible. The usually harmless Volcán Chicabal owns a beautiful crater lake, surrounded by dense vegetation and mystic atmosphere thanks to the gathering fog. The climb to the 2900 m peak is simple but exhausting due to the steep path. After reaching the park administration’s box office over the greasy trail we have to pay 15 Quetzals. Then we go further uphill where the peak hides in dense forest. A sign brings us to a viewpoint from where stairs lead to the crater lake 200 m deeper. We circumnavigate the lake that measures half a kilometre in diameter and is 300 m deep.

Swimming is not allowed here (too cold anyway), because the lake is sacred to the Maya. There are places of ritual worship everywhere, it could be a cross or just a tree stump, but there are no ceremonies right now. We take a second path from the lake uphill without stairs, and then we head back down to our campers. Parking is possible in front of the box office as well, but this is better in dry season.

San Martín Sacatepéquez, Guatemala – Road changes

Dienstag, Juli 26th, 2011

Once again we jump in the hot water and under the icy shower. A 15-minute walk away following the eco trail there are two more and completely lonesome pools. The whole facility with rampant ferns, callas and other big-leafed plants along the slopes in an actually chilly cloud forest climate is pretty charming. Not less engaging is Volcán Chicabal. In San Martín a small road climbs the volcano, but suddenly the concrete path turns into a very steep field path from clay. No fun when it rains (we are in rainy season), especially when going downhill with an eight tons truck. Heaven sends a parking lot at the side of the road where we can overnight for 10 GTQ.

Parking lot at access road to Volcán Chicabal, N 14°48’29.2’’ W 91°38’53.0’’

Zunil, Guatemala – Well cooked

Montag, Juli 25th, 2011

We leave a farewell letter at the church’s door, and then we return to Huehuetenango. In the supermarket situated in a modern mall we realize that everything is available, but slightly more expensive than in Mexico. After just 80 km we leave the Pan Americana again in San Cristóbal Totonicapán to get to San Andres Xequl. The inconspicuous village owns Guatemala’s most colourful church front what can only be seen when standing on the plaza. There are no signs at all. At the entrance to the village we meet Kim from the United States who is volunteering in developing eco-tourism. She offers to show us the village. The 16th century church with the gaudy yellow background is decorated with three-dimensional angel figures, vine branches and other coloured ornamentations that origin in Mayan culture. The chapel up on the hill is painted as well and offers a good view over the town.

Kim brings us to Maximón whom we perhaps didn’t find on our own. He is a kind of saint who doesn’t have the best character and has to be placated with offerings. Maximón is a life-size mannequin that changes its host every year and is offered to give up a separate room. Most people contribute cigars or schnapps. In case he grants the petitioner’s prayers, and the keenest wish for a trip to the USA to earn money for some years there comes true, the saint receives a gift: a hat, sunglasses, a jeans, or cowboy boots. And so Maximón (or San Simon) looks a little bit like an American gangster from the 60s. In San Andres Xequl there are two of them. At night, both are put to bed, and they spend the day sitting in armchairs. As a tourist we might visit the bay lad for 5 Quetzal per person and take photos as well. There are some other Maximóns in towns close by, but there they are more commercialized and photos are charged separately. Here we may even attend a ceremony in a side room where cigars, lemon, fragrant tree bark and candles are burnt. Where is the border between Catholicism and original Maya religion? There is none. Two religions melted to perfect syncretism.

On a side road we reach Cantel where 17 glassblowers founded the coop COPAVIC years ago. The only use glass for recycling and export to many countries. Their glasses are cheapest here and make nice souvenirs. It’s only a few kilometres to Zunil where a tiny road leads to Fuentes Georginas. The slopes are covered with steaming vegetable fields, since their fruits are irrigated with warm water. High in the mountains at 2400 m elevation the well-known hot springs are situated at the side of the volcano Zunil. The entrance fee is 50 GTQ pp and 10 per vehicle, and if we pay for two days we might stay overnight. The hot water directly rises from the “inactive” volcano and pours into two pools made from natural stones that contain water with little more than body temperature. A third pool is so hot that the entry can be managed only with plucky speed. Even then we can only stay for minutes, otherwise the circulation would collapse. Soon we are red as a lobster and well done. Afterwards we don’t mind too much that the shower water is ice cold. I mean ICE cold. But who wants to smell like sulphur?

Fuentes Georginas, N 14°45’01,3’’ W 91°28’48,5’’

Huehuetenango, Guatemala – Refuge in the village church

Sonntag, Juli 24th, 2011

The last two PEMEX gas stations before reaching the border crossing Ciudad Cuauhtémoc – La Mesilla are tax-exempt and offer diesel and gas for lower prices. We fill up, Guatemala will be more expensive. We get an exit stamp in our passport on the Mexican side and the temporary vehicle import permit is cancelled. La Mesilla on Mexican side is said to be impassable on Thursdays (new) and Fridays due to the market.

The Guatemalan formalities turn out to be simple and friendly. The superficial vehicle disinfection is determined according to the size. For the Unimog we have to pay 47 Guatemalan Quetzals (GTQ), Klaus just pays 39 for the Toyota pick-up. The entry stamp valid three months costs 20 MXN, the temporary vehicle import for the same period 160 GTQ. Currently 10 GTQ equal 1.27 US$ or 0.90 €. Some men who exchange Mexican Peso, US$ and other currencies into GTQ loiter around. The exchange rate is bad, but the bank is closed on Sunday. It is difficult to exchange MXN in the country since most banks don’t accept them. Nobody is interested in our truck or its content; there is no inspection at all.

First we visit Mirador Cuchumatanes that’s also known as Mirador Juan Diéguez Olaverri. This view point at 3100 m elevation offers spectacular sights into the valley and to the surrounding volcanoes. It is difficult to reach with larger rigs since the town of Chiantla is very tight and the following steep winding road no fun when riding something big. On our way down we ask ourselves where to spend the first night in Guatemala. There are no official campgrounds and everybody warns us about free camping in Central America since poverty supports violence and crime. In a tiny village nestled to a mountain we ask for the permit to camp. The place around the church seems to be the only levelled area in town. We wait for the mass to finish. I ask the lay preacher if we could use the church graveyard as a safe place. He weighs the pros and cons and eventually asks me to wait for some minutes. He goes to one side of the church and discusses, then to the other. After some minutes he returns and explains with a dignified expression that we get the permit to stay. Some people start to clap and suddenly the whole parish is applauding.

We shunt our campers into the narrow aisle between church and side building and are suddenly surrounded by rubbernecks. They jump up and down our ladder in packs to visit our camper cabin. They admire the gas stove since this is perfect to make tortillas – what else. The older women embrace and kiss me, and a young lady has to take photos with her modern cell phone form each single person with me in the cabin. The lay preacher gets some pens for the children, and then everybody goes home. A few minutes later one of the men returns with a handwritten piece of paper: the “official” permit to camp, issued by the three councillors and the community. Now nothing can go wrong any more.

Lagos de Colón, Chiapas – Water in places

Donnerstag, Juli 21st, 2011

Cascadas El Chiflón is an amazing series of waterfalls that plunge from large height into the valley. Five of them are higher than 25 m, one even 120 m. There is a hiking path beside the river that we follow to the plateau. There are some marked areas with less current where swimming is possible. Oncoming visitors are dripping wet. Were they swimming? Probably not. The upper big waterfall spreads spray that equals a shower. We are soaked in minutes and have to turn round soon before our backpack is completely sodden and the cameras suffer damage. At the beginning respectively the end of the walk there is a manger for iguana. The imposing characters are more than a metre long in camouflage green or noticeably coloured and self-confident enough to pose for some photos.

In the afternoon we are heading on to Lagos de Colón close to the Guatemalan border. The private reserve is a good departure for trips to or from Guatemala since the border crossing is only 45 minutes away. Entrance fee is 10 Peso; there might be extra costs for camping at the lake. We follow a river for some kilometres through a forest and some open spaces in the direction of an archaeological find where some beautiful spots to free camp are. The “torrential” river has to be crossed several times, but the Mexicans manage that easily with their low-riders. The river is clear and refreshing and perfect to swim in. We will stay here for some days before continuing to Guatemala.

Cascadas El Chiflón, Chiapas – Early reunion

Mittwoch, Juli 20th, 2011

Lagos de Montebello National Park shall have lakes in most resplendent colours. There is no entrance fee, but we come immediately under siege from boat trip providers and guides of all classes that want to show us the lakes. Admitted, there is not too much to see from the road, but the mountain weather isn’t too inviting today. We have already heard from other travellers that the park is much commercialized. We can’t stand the aggressive yelling and leave. The parking lots wouldn’t have made a quiet overnight place anyhow.

Actually we have arranged to meet tomorrow with Petra and Klaus whom we have met earlier in San Cristóbal. But in Comitán de Dominguez where we decide to buy some grocery they accidentally show up in the parking. They want to head to Cascadas El Chiflón today and we follow. Entrance fee is 20 Peso pp, camping 25 pp for a silent place with view to the river.

Lagos de Montebello, Chiapas – 52 lakes

Dienstag, Juli 19th, 2011

Without any problem, just crossing some military checkpoints, we drive all the way along the Guatemalan border. To reach Lagos de Montebello we finally have to climb to chilly 1500 m elevation. The area is mottled with 52 smaller and bigger lakes that have most different colours with sunshine. The major part was declared a national park, but a part is in the hands of a coop. Ejido Lagos de Tziscao takes 15 Peso entrance fee and allow camping on all parking lots at all lakes they own, as well as on sites in the town of Tziscao. We invest another 80 Peso for camping on a very quiet area in the end of the village that belongs to a hotel with good lake access. It is well to cold to swim! The lake’s water level rose for four metres during the last two unusually intense rainy seasons. Some parts of the terrain disappeared; some trees stand in the water and some houses too close to it. Local residents fear that the current rainy season will bring more flooding while in other parts of Mexico lakes dry out.

Bonampak, Chiapas – The Maya’s colourful paintings

Montag, Juli 18th, 2011

A smaller, less known Maya town is located 140 km south-east of Palenque close to the Guatemalan border. Bonampak was probably only a secondary principality. But here in the hot and humid rain forest something was conserved that decayed in other places long time ago. In three rooms of a temple 3 m high well preserved murals are found that are thought to be the most elaborate in Mexico. The colourful works of art show scenes from courtly life as well as acts of war. These murals proofed for the first time that the Maya that were thought to be peaceful entered into campaigns and killed enemies.

We are stopped at the access road to Zona Arceológica Bonampak about 9.5 km in front of the destination. Everybody has to park his car here and pay 70 Peso pp to the ejido that owns the road for a bus shuttle to the excavation site where the gate to the pyramid site opens for another 41 Peso entrance fee. We overnight at Campamento Lacadones, a small eco tourism project where we park on a grass field for 35 MXN pp. There is a river to swim in, but it contains muddy water in this season.

Palenque, Chiapas – Exotic Maya town

Sonntag, Juli 17th, 2011

Palenque was built by the Maya. First indications to settlement date from 100 BC, and the town reached its height from 600 to 800 AD. Palenque is neither the oldest nor the biggest of all Maya places, but one of the most beautiful. Surrounded by tropical forest a small creek flows through the antique city and pours forth in beautiful pools that must have been popular then. Buildings and pyramids are scattered over the area. A four-storey tower on top of the palace that was probably used as observatory and watch tower is special as are the jungle atmosphere and the howling monkeys.

From the Maya Bell campground we have to walk for 2.5 km steeply uphill to the main entrance, after the visit it is possible to follow a jungle path to the museum, from where it is just one kilometre back to the camping. Entrance fee costs 51 MXN pp.

Palenque, Chiapas – A case for swimming

Samstag, Juli 16th, 2011

La Cascada de Misol-Ha is haunted by Mexican bus tours as well. Not as spectacular and well-known as their neighbours there are less food and souvenir stands. A mighty broad jet of water lands after 100 ft / 35 m with a splat in a turbulent pool. A slippery path leads behind the water curtain where pleasantly fresh mist spreads out. The pool is clear even in rainy season and invites us to swimming. Because it is quite deep and has a lot of current nearly nobody dares to swim here and we are more or less alone. Ropes were stretched over the water star-shaped so that it is not possible to be driven away, but many Mexicans can’t swim. For the 20 MXN entrance fee pp camping would be allowed as well.

But we are heading to Palenque to Maya Bell Campground. It offers full hook-ups, a pool that’s fed by a jungle river; it is close to the archaeological place and hosts howling monkeys. In the evening life music lures us into the bar where generously mixed cocktails are available. One of the band members sings tunefully and reconciles us with Mexican music.

Agua Azul, Chiapas – Nearly blue water

Freitag, Juli 15th, 2011

Las Cascadas de Agua Azul means “cascades of blue water”, are the most famous waterfalls in Mexico and perhaps the most beautiful ones as well. Rio Yax plunges down several steps over wide rock stairs. Of course the water is not completely blue during rainy season, more green-brown. But the waterfalls hold a particular attraction in the jungle atmosphere anyway. We skip swimming, but it would have been possible. There are lots of souvenir and snack stands that are completely interested in Mexican tourism and that might thwart the pure nature experience. A friendly„no gracias“ instead of ignorant passing is often appreciated with a smile. The 35 Peso pp entrance fee allow in addition camping on the big parking lot, which is pretty quiet after all the excursion busses have left.

Tuxtla Gutierrez + San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas – Deep gorge

Donnerstag, Juli 14th, 2011

The Rio Grijalva canyon is up to 1000 m deep. In 1527 2,000 Chiapa-Maya pounced from the steep rock faces into the voluntary death to escape enslavement by the Spaniards, who burnt their leader to death before. In the Cañon de Sumidero there are turtles, river crocodiles and numerous waterfowls. One either takes a boat from Chiapa de Corzo for 180 Peso pp for 2.5 hours ride or drives from Tuxtla Gutierrez to the panoramic road on the canyon rim where several miradors offer stunning views into the canyon and down to the river. The 25 MXN entrance fee for the national park are valid for both accesses the same day.

Arriving in San Cristóbal de las Casas, a popular tourist town with the customary cathedral, churches, pretty handcraft shops and cafés, the campground at Bonampak Express Hotel is closed due to renovation. We have to cross the narrow town to Rancho San Nicolás, the only alternative. The roads are very tight and since the GPS doesn’t work very well here we do some compulsory sightseeing rounds. It is no fun to drive here with larger rigs. On the campground we are happy to see a German vehicle after long time. Petra and Klaus already spent six months with their pick-up camper in Mexico and we spend a really nice evening together.

Ocozocoautla, Chiapas – Earthquake and camping in children’s home

Samstag, Juli 9th, 2011

The earth quivers. Remarkably. Even Arminius’ suspended cabin shakes. The trees on the parking lot bend back and forth and it becomes clear why parking under a coconut tree with fruits is not recommended. After seconds the impressive tremor abates. Later we research that it was an earthquake with strength of 4.9, and the epicentre wasn’t far from us. There shouldn’t be injured persons or considerable damages. But the reason to head on is more the sultry, paralyzing heat. The climate in the highland is more pleasant.

In the evening we reach Hogar Infantil in Ocozocoautla close to Tuxtla Gutierrez. The children’s home was founded by American residents and houses orphaned, impoverished, abused, abandoned or street kids, provides them with food, love, teaching, education and opportunities for their future. There are four campsites on the big lot with electric and water hook-up. Payment is neither expected nor accepted. It is just possible to donate via the American website ( The principal warmly welcomes us, the kids keep a distance, and just the sheep surround us that keep the grass short and contribute to the agricultural income of the home. It is a great idea for travellers to stop here; it is peaceful, quiet, and safe: N 16°46’33.7’’ W 93°23’02.8’’.

Huatulco, Oaxaca – From cloud forest to jungle

Freitag, Juli 8th, 2011

The region is somewhat odd. Most Indígenas live in very primitive shacks. A not inconsiderable amount of the male population stumbles along the road, lies sleeping in the ditch, or sits around with a vacant look in their eyes. I guess that the men here are of no use and the main burden of working is left to the women. This delirium-like state is caused by alcohol and other intoxicants. It is a weekday right after breakfast. Some of the less drunken ones raise their bottles to us and beckon us to drink with them. With pleasure, maybe next time. The unusually strong military presence confirms our feeling that money isn’t always earned legally here.

There is no direct connection from Oaxaca to the state of Chiapas located to the east. One either has to head via the gulf coast in the north or the Pacific. We decide in favour the shorter southern route and fight our way through one of many mountain chains in Mexico, the Sierra Madre del Sur. This road contains more curves than anything else we have seen in this country. It takes us into the foggy, rainy cool at 2,800, covered with landslides. On descending agave and conifers soon give way to lush tropical vegetation with huge banana plants, mango and palm trees, ferns and bromeliads. A parrot crosses the road flying. The tropics’ sunny mugginess reaches for us.

In the afternoon we reach Huatulco. A mega-tourism project that puts even Cancun in the shade shall evolve as the government wants where some years ago only a fishing village and undergrowth spread on the beach. At least the jungle around was declared a national park and ugly multi-storey buildings are unwelcome. Anyhow, there aren’t many hotels yet and if there will be many in the future is doubtful since there is no feeder infrastructure. The only campground in the area is used as a beach parking, and there doesn’t seem to be any camping due to locked bathrooms and showers. But at least it’s free of charge. When parking here, take care not to stand under a coconut palm with fruits that could cause severe damages on a camper’s roof or solar panel.

To get to the beach we have to cross the jungle that’s flooded in rainy season. Some stepping stones and semi-rotted wood pallets make for an adventurous way through the swamp. The beach is shared with few hotels, but there’s not much going on. Despite the protected bay impressive Pacific waves run in. There is not really cooling from the tropical heat. The sea has 30° C and swimming is like a sportive interlude: Waiting for some smaller waves, dashing into the water, dipping in and immediately running out before the next big wave brakes and pulls us into the ocean with its mighty undercurrent. The good site would cost 50 MXN pp if operating. Club de Playa Tangolunda, Bahías de Huatulco, N 15°46’23.0’’ W 96°05’59.1’’.

Monte Alban, Oaxaca – City in the clouds

Donnerstag, Juli 7th, 2011

Everybody knows the Aztecs and the Maya. But it’s less known that there were several other advanced cultures before Christoph Columbus’ arrival. The antic city Monte Alban for instance was founded around 500 BC by the Olmecs. Later the Maya gained some influence. But only the Zapotecs accomplished the architectural masterly performance and led the city to reach its peak between 250 and 750 AD. The “people of the clouds”, how they called themselves, levelled a mountain and filled depressions to build the city. The buildings of the urban and religious centre that are visible today come from them. Afterwards the Zapotecs left Monte Alban and settled elsewhere. The Mixtecs used from 800 on the decaying town to bury their dead, richly equipped with gold.

Monte Alban is spectacularly situated on a mountain high above Oaxaca with a splendid view to the surrounding peaks. It is not as big as Teotihuacán, but the usual pyramids can be found here as well. This site radiates friendliness and atmosphere, and we really love this spot. There are some special qualities like stone tablets with unidentified hieroglyphs or nude dancers whose meaning is still unclear.

A contemporary witness of the Zapotec era stands in the village of Santa Maria del Tule. The tree is more than 2000 years old, has a girth of 58 m and is one of the world’s largest trees. The cypress is located in the church graveyard that can be accessed for 5 Peso pp. The entrance fee is used to preserve the tree. El Arból del Tule is 14 m in diameter, is more than 42 m high and weighs over 636 (metric) tons – a real giant.

Puebla, Puebla + Oaxaca, Oaxaca – Una mordida por favor! Police and corruption

Mittwoch, Juli 6th, 2011

Mordida means „small bite“ and denotes the bribe that some policemen in Mexico and some countries further south ask from their fellow citizens and with pleasure from tourists as well. Motorbike officers of Policia Municipal are especially notorious. It’ll be our first contact to a corrupt police officer. We cross Puebla and nearly made our way out as a motorbike officer passes and stops us. I smile at him, but his arrogant expression and his lower lip awkwardly pushed forward don’t promise anything good. We have our generous day and speak English to give him a chance, but unfortunately we don’t know any Spanish today. The policeman doesn’t understand foreign languages, and so conversation comes to a halt. The pouting face babbles something of a “ticket”. He reproaches Joerg for „falta en el precautión“, a lack of caution. I didn’t hear anything dumb like this for months. We punish unimaginativeness with loss of points and suggest calling his Capitano and somebody speaking English. This is not exactly what he wanted. He comes to the conclusion that we aren’t worth the effort, wishes morosely „buen viaje“, a good trip, and sweeps away. The whole story doesn’t take more than a few minutes. Some Mexicans at the side of the road who watched the events congratulate us and are happy that we successfully repelled the bribe attack.

The toll free road in this highly populated region has so many annoying speed bumps, called topes in Mexico that we change to the toll highway. It leads through the unpopulated biosphere reserve Tehuacán-Cuacutlán with its beautiful mountains, covered with cacti and brush. Arriving in Oaxaca / Oaxaca we decide in favour the quieter San Felipe Campground north of town. Parking is here a bit unconventional between agave fields on a hilltop with great view to Oaxaca. Cleaning of shower and toilets is left to the residents, but one night costs only 90 Peso. The American owner and his Mexican wife brew Mescal, the “other” agave schnapps, and sell it also directly to the campers. The most expensive thing seems to be the glass bottle and the inserted small scorpion (that’s sometimes used instead of the typical agave caterpillar). The price is less than half when filled from the barrels without the zoological enclosure. We just pay 60 Peso for a litre of the medium aged variation (reposado); of course not without trying a good shot of all three different kinds – empty-stomached of course, before dinner. Whoa, the world is beautiful…

Cholula, Puebla – Church on pyramid

Dienstag, Juli 5th, 2011

Butcher Hernán Cortés called Cholula ”the most beautiful city outside Spain”. Afterwards he caused a bloodbath where 3000 humans met their death. Then he continued via Paso de Cortés to mow down the Aztecs where Mexico City is located today. Cholula isn’t only one of the most attractive but oldest cities as well. It is constantly inhabited since 5 BC. The pyramid with Mesoamerica’s largest area was built here. The Spaniards erected a church on its 65 m high point. From far it looks like Nuestra Señora de los Remedios sits enthroned on a grassy hill but upon getting closer we discern the pyramid, covered with soil and grown over with grass and trees.

The original church doesn’t exist any more; it was replaced in the 19th century. The steep ascend is worth the effort; not only to admire the altar that’s amply decorated with gold but to enjoy the magnificent view to the sister volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. The weather shows itself merciful today. Izta remains hidden, but clouds and smog around Popo disperse so that we nearly have unhampered view to the legendary smoke popping mountain. Scientists dug five kilometres of tunnel through the pyramid, from which a part is accessible. There are some archaeological finds and a museum as well.

Cholula’s inhabitants like to spread a rumour that there are 365 churches in town – one for each day. That’s not the complete truth; there are 49 only, but still more than enough for the 130,000 people. San Francisco de Asis for example has a spectacular facade with white and yellow tiles with flower patterns, modelled on a mosque. The church’s vault is outrageously splendid baroque made from pure gold. The outside walls of Santa Maria de Tonantzintla are slightly plainer with dark red bricks with intarsia of blue and white tiles. If San Francisco flaunted with gold, Santa Maria takes our breath away. All walls are densely covered with white, green and golden stucco ornaments like children’s bodies and heads that replace here the usual angels. The entire thing is so precious that it is not allowed to take any pictures or videos, but of course there are picture postcards to buy. The excessive flaunting of wealth and power succeeded: Nearly 90 % of the Mexicans are catholic, although the evangelic church is growing.

Popocatépetl, México – The smoker and the sleeper: Mexico’s sister volcanoes

Sonntag, Juli 3rd, 2011

In December 2000 Popocatépetl had its most violent eruption since 500 years. A part of the crater lid exploded and the volcano blasted stones, ash and smoke into the air. Only a month later a similar incident occurred. Some less brutal explosions followed in the next years, but in January 2008 5.452 m high Popocatépetl was back with new strength and spew an eight kilometres high ash cloud into the air. Again and again villages had to be evacuated, and since 1994 there is a security zone of 12 km around the crater that makes it impossible in the foreseeable future to climb the crater or even get closer to it.

Just beside the 5.286 m high sister volcano Iztaccíhuatl is situated that’s regarded as sleeping. Izta has a glacier hilltop like Popo that can be climbed with technical equipment and experience. A road crosses the saddle between the two cones. It’s called Paso de Cortés since the Spanish conqueror penetrated from Puebla and Cholula over this pass to Tenochtitlán, today’s Mexico City. From Mexico City, around 2250 m high, we climb via Amecameca to 3700 m to the National Park Office. The peaks of Mexico’s second and third tallest volcano are nearly always wrapped in clouds, and smog from Mexico covers the bases. Just for a few seconds it clears up and we can see the continuously smoke emitting peak of Popocatépetl. When continuing east we are astonished that the paved road is replaced by a gravel road that has got severe damages since rainy season started. But there are enough pick-ups on the road to make us believe that the path is passable, but sedans or RVs should check before taking this trip.

Coyoacán, México – Farewell dinner

Samstag, Juli 2nd, 2011

Bernardo throws a party for the final. He invites his complete family, at least the part that’s staying in Mexico: his mother, his siblings with families, and some friends. Just as we have had enough to eat with grilled spareribs, sausages, cheese and piquant salad made from smoked marlin the steaks are put on the grill and the dinner really starts. We can only wonder why not more Mexicans are obese.

Ciudad de México, D.F., México – Excessive Catholicism: The crooked monster cathedral

Freitag, Juli 1st, 2011

Monstrous, gigantic, swanky: America’s largest cathedral stands in Mexico City and is at the same time the heart of the world’s biggest Catholic diocese. Its completion took nearly three centuries, from 1525 to 1813. That mirrors in the different architectural styles from classic via baroque, churriguerism to neo-classic. It contains five main altars and 16 side chapels. The monster was built for eternity, but it seems to be threatened by destruction. Catedral Metropolitana slowly sinks, as the rest of the city centre, into the soft clay soil of the former lake Texco that disappeared except for a small pond.

The Aztecs already erected their capital Tenochtitlán on the island in the lake. Under sovereign Moctezuma and his successors a huge empire came into being from 1440 on, which contained large parts of today’s Mexico in the 16th century. The demanded tributes of the subjugated people in the form of gold, silver, furs, honey, cocoa and others brought the Aztecs wealth and so much hatred that two nations formed an alliance with the penetrating Spaniards and brought down Tenochtitlán faster than it would have been without help. The Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés razed the centre of the Aztec empire to the ground and built his own capital on the ruins and the slowly drying lake.

For maintenance of the cathedral costly, mostly underground restoration was necessary. In the inside of the church we sometimes stumble because the floor slopes remarkably into different directions. Steeples tilt, altars stand crookedly, and a plumb line installed decades ago in the centre of the church shows the building’s pendular movement. Even now the pendulum swings, it trembles nearly imperceptibly but continuously. The national palace is located, as the cathedral is, on the Zócalo, Mexico City’s big centre place. It was built on the knocked down palace of Moctezuma II. Later all 62 viceroys reigned here, and even today’s Mexican president has his offices here.

A spectacular discovery was made in the corner between cathedral and Palacio Nacionál during excavations for the subway in 1978. The main temple of the Aztecs, built in the 14th and 15th century that was thought to be destroyed and built over, turned up. Today only pitiful remainders of the former splendid building can be seen. Some finds are displayed in the museum (entrance for both 51 MXN pp).

Our friend Adriana whom we already met in Canada is by chance in Mexico City and invited us to the restaurant100 % Natural. Food is very tasty. The philosophy of the restaurant chain is to offer traditional Mexican food in a healthier, less fatty way. We are surprised to learn that Adriana is the founder and owner of the franchising company, although she transferred the management in the meantime to her brother. 100 % Natural has 45 restaurants in Mexico and belongs to the country’s big chains.