Dec 23- Jan 11
Descending 250kms from Tequila to Puerto Vallarta (population 300,000), the climate is noticeably more humid and warmer. It’s the same latitude as Hawaii and feels the same. I was able to park 2 blocks from the south end of the malecon (seawall). With the surf crashing on one side and all the big hotels and restaurants across the street, it is quite beautiful. The very nice beach stretches for miles along the Bay of Banderas. Most of the people on the malecon watching the street performances and eating the street food are Mexican and most of the people across the street in the restaurants, bars and shops are American. There were great sand castle sculptures, drumming and fire dancing, and talented spray can artists. There was a strong gay presence. The bars and night clubs were going strong well past midnight. One block off the malecon, the scene is very Mexican. I spent Christmas Eve day exploring the central area. Lonely Planet lists 7 art galleries and I made the mistake of seeing the best one first. Galeria Dante has a museum quality selection of bronzes, water sculptures and art and every other gallery pales.
On Christmas, I moved 20 km north to Bucerias (still on the Bay of Banderas) and stayed at my first campground to dump, get water, top up my batteries and use a good shower. Full of Canadians, I was treated with great hospitality to a wonderful Christmas dinner with all the trimmings for $5! Terry arrived on Boxing Day. Staying on the street next to the campground, we had another amazing encounter as two former patients, Moe and Anne Zibin from Castlegar, (whom I had been attempting to find their address from Lola Sherstobitoff), walked past the back door of the camper. They have been wintering in the Puerto Vallarta area for 11 years and rent an apartment across the street. The tiled roof of their building is home to thousands of long-tailed bats. They take to the air at dusk and return at dawn, making a significant dent on the surrounding insect population. After a nice visit and coffee we headed north to spend some beach time.
Terry had stayed at Sayulita previously, but the beach was solid people and deck chairs, mostly gringos, reminding me of Waikiki. This week is when Mexicans also head for the ocean. After a quiet night at Lo de Marcos, we headed for Chacala, described as a very quiet beach with a few campers spread out amongst the palm trees. Instead there were the same few campers totally surrounded by 7000 Mexicans who had taken up every square inch of real estate. We eventually found a deserted lot with a rocky beach on the Bay of Matachen south of San Blas. We visited the crocodilleria but passed on the jungle boat trip, then drove to Tepic (population 300,000, elevation 920m), the capital of Nayarit State. We climbed the small mountain north of town for great views of the city and countryside. There was a huge cross and crucifix and many Mexicans on top. The State Government offices had wonderful colorful murals. Back in Guadalajara, we shopped in the huge market and cruised the plazas before departing for Guanajuato State, historically Mexico’s richest as it was the source of 40% of the world’s silver. It was also the birthplace of the revolution of 1810, Mexico’s most glorious moment.
The gorgeous city of Guanajuato (population 100,000, elevation 2017m) is built on impossible topography, crammed onto the steep slopes of a ravine, with narrow streets twisting around the hillsides and disappearing into many tunnels. With much fine architecture built from the rich silver and gold deposits intact, it is a living monument to the past and is a Unesco World Heritage site. When the Spaniards retook the city in the 1810 revolution, they retaliated with the infamous ‘lottery of death’, in which names of Guanajuato citizens were drawn at random and the winners were tortured and hanged. The centre is quite compact with a few major streets and lots of tiny alleys making it easy to get lost in the maze of crooked passageways winding up the hills. All west to east traffic is routed on underground roadways and there are at least 8 tunnels to cope with traffic. After wandering around orienting ourselves (and seeing the usual spate of churches), we spent New Years Eve in the streets listening to the free music emanating from the many restaurants and we actually lasted till midnight. One of the highlights was a reenactment of the story of the daughter of a wealthy family who fell in love with a common miner. They conducted their relationship in the Alley of the Kiss, a tiny alley where the balconies of their houses practically touch. New Years Day we walked up to La Pipila, a huge statue that looms over the historical district and gives tremendous views of the town with its multicolored houses. We ate wonderful sopes of zucchini flowers, cheese and peppers. It is a great walking town and one can spend hours getting lost in the alleys and pretty squares with its many Italian fountains. Guanajuato’s busiest tourist attraction is the Museum of the Mummies. The area’s mineral content and extremely dry air combine to preserve bodies amazingly well in just 5-6 years with grotesque forms and facial expressions. The corpses are disinterred from the public cemetery! if a body is not claimed by the family after 5 years. Only 1-2% are display quality specimens. Their claim to fame is the world’s youngest mummy, a 5 month old fetus whose mother died in childbirth. Quite unbelievably macabre. The Museo y Casa de Diego Rivera (where he was born) commemorates Mexico’s most famous muralist and artist. Leaving town we drove the Panoramica, a winding road that circumnavigates high above the town. Total expenses for December was $1,770.
Moving on, we went through Dolores Hidalgo, the birthplace of the 1810 revolution, on our way to San Miguel de Allende (population 100,000, elevation 1840m). Rated as one of the top 20 places in the world to retire, it has a large expatriate community and vibrant arts scene. The parish church with its pink wedding cake towers is the most spectacular from the outside of any church yet seen on the trip. We walked up to the mirador (viewpoint) with its fine views of the town. In the large market, Terry purchased a wonderful off shape tin mirror and a hammered copper sink with inlaid monarch butterflies. The corporation bought us a lovely dinner in the most expensive restaurant in town to celebrate Terry’s mother’s birthday on January 2nd. The temperature dipped to below freezing two nights in a row.
After a long drive we arrived at the Monarch Butterfly Reserve. Every autumn millions of Monarch butterflies arrive for their winter hibernation having flown from the Great Lakes region of Canada and the US, over 4000 km. At night and in the morning the butterflies cluster together covering whole fir trees and weighing down the branches. As the day warms up they eventually all start to fly and can completely cover the ground like a brilliant living carpet. They mate in March and over 3-5 generations make the return trip to Canada. We hired a guide in Anangueo (elevation 2980m) to make the rough drive up the mountain for another few thousand feet to the town of El Rosario for 400 pesos. At the entrance of the sanctuary (cost 35 pesos), we were assigned a guide who takes you on the one hour ascent to where the butterflies actually are. It was the most incredible experience of the trip so far, especially when the air is filled with fluttering butterflies. We were alone in the forest with the symphony of thousands of beating butterfly wings and the sound of cascading water (Terry’s words).
That afternoon we drove through Morelia on the way to Patzcuaro (pop 50,000, elevation 2175m), the crown jewel of highland Michoacan state. The historical centre is filled with plazas, impressive churches with rustic exteriors, cobbled streets and tiled adobe buildings all painted white and reddish-brown. It is wonderful town to walk and we explored the many artisan shops with incredible lacquer ware, hammered copper, baskets, masks and furniture. The folk art museum housed in originally the oldest university building in the Americas (1540) was a highlight. Cow’s knuckle bones and vertebrae tastefully decorate between the flagstones on the floor. We were treated to a Michoacan cultural highlight, la Dansa de Viejolitos, a rich indigenous tap dancing performance complete with masks, canes and traditional costumes danced by young boys.
After a shopping spree where we purchased a beautiful full set of dishes (58 pieces with eight, six piece settings for 5800 pesos), we headed for Volcan Paricutin via Uruapan (the centre of the avocado industry). In February, 1943, a farmer was plowing his cornfield when the ground started to shake and spout steam and ash. A volcano started to rise from the spot and within a year had risen to 410 meters and its lava flows had engulfed two surrounding towns. Near the edge of the 20 square kilometer lava field, the top of the local church protrudes eerily from the sea of solidified, black lava. It’s the only visible trace left of the two villages. When you enter the town of Angahuan near the volcano, you are immediately swarmed by men and boys on horses who want to guide you to the volcano. With excellent instructions in the Lonely Planet, one isn’t necessary and we easily found our way through town and along the 30 minute long dusty track to the church in the lava field. We passed on climbing the volcano that takes all day.
With promises to spend some quality beach time, we had a long drive day through fields of sugar cane and lovely scenery to Manzanilla on the coast. Bypassing this large unattractive industrial city and port, we drove through miles of coconut palms and banana plantations north to Barre de Navaidad and Melaque. The wintering place for scads of Canadians, they are pretty beach towns. Deciding to stay at a campground, we settled in to a lovely night with huge surf pounding out the back door of the camper. Enjoying the laid back ambiance, we stayed a second night and then traveled 30 km north to Tenacatita and camped in front of a great beach bordering a coral lagoon and snorkeled twice. This was only the second time I had snorkeled in my life (the last time was in 1979 in Hawaii) and I really enjoyed it. Terry loves swimming and this was a highlight for her. Returning north to Puerto Vallarta and the plane on January 11th, I was sad to see her go. It was great traveling with her. After dropping her off, I was able to make the long drive back to Melaque before sunset. We have made plans to meet in Sacramento on March 17 to explore the Napa Valley and then drive back to Canada together. I hope everyone is enjoying the winter. It sounds as if the west coast is taking a beating again this winter.
Ron (which means rum in Spanish, one Mexican said it was like having tequila for a first name)