Archive for the ‘Mexico’ Category

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.

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.