Sunday, April 19, 2009

Zihuatanejo to San Miguel de Allende

Again, it's been a while since our last update. Our time in Zihuatanejo seemed to pass so quickly with visitors, and since leaving there on April 3, we haven't had as good of internet access so we're once again playing catch-up.

The week-long Zihuatanejo Guitar Festival, March 22-29, was great fun! The first night of the festival is a concert held at a large venue where most of the performers or groups (trio at most) play 3 or 4 songs each, giving attendees a sample of their style and talent. Then week-night performances are held at smaller venues, mostly restaurants and bars. What an experience! Musicians from the US, Canada, Mexico and Central America came to play, providing a broad selection of music to choose from and enjoy. Our favorite was British Columbia-based De La Terra, known for their Latin Flamenco-style. The first night when the duo played near the end of the evening, they BROUGHT THE HOUSE DOWN!!! We bought 2 CDs and attended 3 more of their performances that week.

Our friends from Sisters, Jeanne and Roger, came to visit that week and were able to attend the festival a couple of evenings too. It was fun to share our favorite place of this trip with friends from home. They conveniently stayed at Villa Los Arcos, the small hotel where we were camping in the back parking lot. One of the days they were there we drove about 45 minutes north to the village of Troncones. It is a small Mexican beach village that has been 'yuppified' with small bed-and-breakfasts / hotels, and yoga / pilates retreats. We went to the highly recommended Inn at Manzanillo, where we enjoyed a very relaxing beach-side lunch and long walk on the beach.

Nancy and Dave, who own Villa Los Arcos recommended eating Sunday breakfast in Cucayoul, a small town south of Zihua(pop. about 4,000) we hadn't yet visited. Aside from enjoying a wonderful meal, we discovered a place we plan to explore more extensively next year! The 'restuarant' is only open on Sundays from 9-2pm and is completely run by a large family. They have seating for about 75 on their large terrace patio and serve the BEST chicken mole! Regular style breakfast is also available, such as bacon and eggs, omelettes, etc. The entire extended family is involved from Grandma directing production in the large outdoor kitchen (all cooking is done on a griddle heated by a wood fire!) to the little kids doing the dishes. Those too young to work peer out shyly from partially open doors. We will go back again for sure!

Remember John's broken tooth? Well, time had come for me to get my dental work done. Before leaving home, my dentist had discovered I had a cracked tooth, explaining my sensitivity to cold and learned habit of chewing only on one side. After his quote of $1500 for a crown, I'd decided to wait till we were in Mexico to get it fixed. I had one appointment for the general cleaning, then 3 appointments: one to do all the prep and get a temp crown, another for the permanent crown to be set, and a third for final check. All went well and when it was all done, I was surprised to realize how conditioned I'd become to favoring the 'good' side of my mouth. The final price: about $600.

Fonatur, the department of the Mexican Federal government in charge of developing resorts, etc. has a new beachfront campground at the north end of Ixtapa (the resort town north of Zihuatanejo). When we had driven out to see it in mid-February when we arrived to the area, there were about 40 RVs there, mostly Canadians. When we went there with Roger and Jeanne at the end of March, we were shocked to find it completely empty! We've always been told that most RVers come to Mexico from January - March. It really is true. And those traveling from the most-northerly locations, such as Canada, have the shortest 'season'. As we mentioned before, 70-80%of the RVers in Mexico are Canadian.

There were a couple RVers who also stayed at Villa Los Arcos during our almost 7 weeks there but for the most part we shared it only with the owners' daughter and her husband.

We departed on April 3, looking forward to a few weeks of traveling to several inland colonial cities. First on our itinerary was a return to Patzcuaro, the beautiful town I described in our last entry where we'd gone for a couple days with my sister and son. But this time, we stayed at an RV park on the outskirts of town. The B&B where we stayed before had been a great location as the truck was parked on the premises and we were able to walk, and John to ride his scooter, only a couple blocks into the heart of the town. Staying at the RV park required driving the very narrow, cobblestone streets. We could not find a parking spot large enough not only for our big truck, but also big enough to unload the scooter, as using only the wheelchair in these old cities is, in practice, impossible. As it turned out, these parking and accessibility issues plagued our entire inland tour. We are glad we'd had the chance to explore Patzcuaro from the B&B so we used our days in the area to explore the nearby larger city of Morelia, the capital of the state of Michoacan, and the nearby, very large lake, Lake Patzcuaro.

Morelia is known as one of the most beautiful colonial cities in all of Mexico and from our limited experience, we wholeheartedly agree. We drove around for quite a while looking for parking and could never find any so we regret to report our tour was done completely in the truck, and we have few photographs to share. Our spirits were a bit dashed at the driving and parking difficulties but we enjoyed our day. We plan to return to the city, hopefully next year, and stay at a downtown hotel, as we did in Patzcuaro, so we can easily explore all Morelia has to offer. We've never been to Europe but our driving tour through town brought to our minds images of Spain. The city was founded in 1541, and many square blocks of downtown boast buildings constructed in the 1700s. The cathedral is also known as one of Mexico's most beautiful. It took about 100 years to build, from 1640-1744. Morelia is now home to about 600,000 people.

The following day we took a driving tour around Lake Patzcuaro. Our guide book recommended a German restuarant along the way which sounded like an interesting change for our palette. We enjoyed sausages, scalloped potatoes and sauerkraut and struck up conversation with a couple at the table next to us who, as we learned, 12 years ago moved from Los Angeles to one of the small villages on the lake. It was interesting to hear their stories of struggle and triumph at assimilating into a small, tight-knit, family-oriented Mexican village. It was several years before they felt to be a part of community but they know they will never be 100% accepted.

We also visited the small town of Santa Clara del Cubre, famous for it's copper work. Here is a copper cream and sugar set I bought:

Our next destination was the city of San Miguel de Allende, well-known as an enclave for artists and ex-pats from America and Canada.

Our experience in San Miguel taught us something about subconscious expectations. Even now, we can't quite define what our expectations were but we were disappointed. We'd always heard how beautiful the city and the surrounding area is but we just didn't see it that way. Generally we like most places we go, appreciating a place for its virtues, often overlooking its shortcomings. We found San Miguel's surrounding hills to be quite barren. This is also the "dry season" for the region, and being high desert made it even more so. Our plan was to spend one week there but after two days of driving around town unsuccessfully looking for a place to park, my frustration turned to complete and total dismay. John, being both an officer and a gentleman, maintained his composure, taking it all in stride (pun intended). I, on the other hand, had my first 'mental meltdown' of the trip.

Let me explain why: Driving a full-size truck in Mexico, with or without the trailer attached, is always at least somewhat stressful, even in the modern cities. But in these old cities, the streets are extremely narrow. Even 'two-way' streets are not wide enough for our truck to pass a small compact car coming the opposite direction. On one such street, after crossing through an intersection with four small Nissan taxi's coming toward us, we had to backup back into the intersection, to allow them to pass us, before we could continue down the street.

Before I explain about parking, let me describe the downtown area itself. These old cites are fascinating. They are beautiful. I love the old churches. San Miguel is similar to Patzcuaro in that the cobblestone streets, and the accompanying narrow sidewalks, are edged by walls, with doorways and gates, not store- or home-fronts. When you see inside these gates and doorways, there are beautiful courtyards, quiant homes, and thriving businesses. It's remarkable to speculate on the historic settings that caused and created this style of architecture. I imagine the dangerous times, the cultural and political upheavals that caused families and micro-communities to basically wall themselves in.

Now fast-forward and consider the implications of this architecture for today's tourist looking for a place to park, especially our truck. We aren't sure what percentage of the population own cars but we do know most Mexicans today do not use a personal automobile as their primary source of transportation. Public busses, walking, and increasingly, bicycles (and let's not forget hithhiking) are how most people get around. And most cars on the road are compacts. Because of this, designated parking lots are rare; cars are parked parallel along streets. Spaces left open are generally sized for compacts. Full-size trucks, especially ours with its long wheelbase, simply will not fit. The parking lots we did find were located within these walled areas I described, accessed through narrow gates. Because the streets are so narrow, and the gates are also narrow, our truck could not even make the turn into any of the parking lots we found. Many times a right turn even at an intersection required a "3-point turn".

Yeah, I know, I'm whining. You may be wondering, "Why didn't you just take a taxi?" into the downtown area? The cobblestone streets, extremely narrow sidewalks, steps, etc. make wheelchair use almost impossible. With the exception of those we see begging, we RARELY see disabled Mexicans out and about in any towns. This has led some Mexicans to think that their country 'just doesn't have that problem'. Au contraire! In every town, city and village we've visited, we've seen mulitple disabled people sitting in doorways, closed-in behind doorways and gates. How blessed we've been in our ability to enjoy life despite John's disablity.

Maybe it's due to accumulated travel fatigue, but I encountered what I used to try to avoid in my long-distance running days--I "hit the wall". Whatever the underlying cause, I was ready to quit the race and come home. The finish line--crossing the border--was all I could see. Thankfully, John coached me into pressing on with our travel itineray and the next day we drove to Guanajuato. But first, he encouraged me to venture into the heart of San Miguel on my own to see the sights. So, our last afternoon in San Miguel I did just that. The cathedral is beautiful and the downtown is worth several days of exploration. There are art galleries galore, bountiful boutiques and gift shops, and shading courtyards offering delectable dining. I so regret that John was not able to get into the center of town to see it all.

The next day we drove to Guanajuato which is about 60 miles west of San Miguel. When we left the main highway out of San Miguel we had picked up a hitchhiker. As John says, "We picked him up at the Guanajuato turn off, and dropped him off in the middle of no where." But 'no where' was where he knocked on the side of the truck, signaling we were at his destination. It was a nice day trip through the rolling hills and countryside in anticipation of another city we'd heard so much about.

I'll once again quote from our guide book: "Guanajuato, pop. 70,000, is crammed onto the steep slopes of a ravine, with narrow streets twisting around the hillsides and disappearing into a series of tunnels. This impossible topography was settled in 1559 because the silver and gold deposits that were found here were among the world's richest. Much of the fine architecture built from this wealth remains intact, making Guanajuato a living monument to a prosperous, turbulent past...The University of Guanajuato, known for its arts programs, gives the city a youthful vibrancy and cultural life that are as interesting as the colonial architecture and exotic setting...It's ideal for walking, but tricky to drive around."

They weren't kidding! There are two main one-way streets where traffic flows through town. In 1905 the Guanajuato River flooded the town, after which the river was diverted. Now, due to increased traffic, that old river bed has been converted and traffic flows west to east on this subterranian roadway. At least eight other tunnels have been constructed to cope with increasing traffic. We were prepared for the challenge and studied the guide book and even Google World the night before our visit and we still could not find the center of town. We did find the tunnels though! Absolutely amazing! These are not just short jaunts through a mountain. They are 'Disneyland-like', as John describes, constructed of large stone slabs, where upon entering, there is no light to mark the end of the tunnel. We don't know the exact length but neither of us have ever experienced tunnels such as these. We agreed we need to come back to Guanajuato and stay at least a week, hire a taxi driver to give us a good tour to get oriented before venturing out on our own again. Though is was only a driving tour, we did enjoy the day and we thought the countryside surrounding Guanajuato was much prettier than around San Miguel, possibly due to the unique setting of the city in the deep, narrow valley.

We returned to San Miguel on a different highway, drawing a loop on our map to mark our route. As previously described, Guanajuato is situated in a deep ravine and as we climbed the twisting road heading northeast, we picked up another young hitchhiker. Hitchhikers here do not expect to ride in the truck cab; they have all readily hopped into the bed of the truck and settled in for whatever the distance would be. This young man raised the hood of his sweatshirt, put in his Ipod ear-buds, and nestled into the corner of the truck bed for the ride to Dolores Hidalgo.

We left San Miguel the next day, shortening our stay there to four nights instead of seven. We were ready to see Guadalajara, and hoped our driving and parking challenges would be left behind as we arrived in Mexico's second largest city. Stay tuned! The next installment of our story will be ready in a few days!

These first few photo albums really are connected to the last blog entry but I never got around to posting them so...

This first album is just a few pictures of the coastline between Rancho Buganvilia and Zihuatanejo:

These are pictures taken over the course of our entire stay in Zihuatanejo:

These are family pictures--lots of our days golfing with Robert:

These are of our first visit to Patzcuaro when we stayed at the B&B:

Just a few, of the few copper pieces I purchased:

Mostly around Lake Patzcuaro:

Friday, March 20, 2009

Zihuatanejo--part 1

It's hard to believe it's been more than a month since we've updated the blog!

It's been a full month:

As I described in our previous entry, Rancho Buganvila is a delightful RV park. We kind of lost track of time and days there. We became lazy travelers: mostly we just hung out, read books, chatted with other RVers during sunset gatherings at the palapa, worked on some sewing projects, and Gracie and I walked at least once every day to the beach. The park, with Sandy and Cynthia providing such a welcoming atmosphere and plenty of friendly RVers, seemed to become a world unto itself, interrupted only by visits to the nearby village of La Placita for groceries and a meal or two. The worst part about staying there was that John could not get on the beach to join in my and Gracie's afternoon playtime. Gracie has become an amazing beach dog! Maybe we'll have to return with our ATV!

We love having the navigator with us and its Mexico maps are fairly accurate.

You can see how windy the highway was.

We departed from our two-week stay there on Feb 15. As we've described before, Hwy. 200 can be very slow going due to curves and topes (the speed bumps so common in Mexico). We had at first planned a mid-way stop on our way to Zihuatanejo but for whatever reason, we were anxious to get here so we drove 8 very tiring hours to make the trip in one day. The further south one drives on this coastal route, even fewer towns and villages are seen. The scenery is dramatic but we were unable to take many pics as there are so few turnouts when the road is hugging the ocean cliffs, and a good portion of the route winds inland from the ocean through the coastal range. I was trying to snap various shots but with the darn delay on our digital camera, most are just shrubbery. We have learned the government has 'big plans' for the coast between Manzanillo and smaller port town of Lazaro Cardenez, including plans to build an international airport in the latter in about two years. If anyone wants to speculate long-term on a region of Mexican real estate, this would be the area. Property is plentiful, beautiful, and cheap!

The trip was uneventful except for two military check points. We're sure you've been hearing the reports of increased violence, and police and military action in response, and we're sure these increased inspections are part of that action. We always greet these stops with smiles and friendliness. And in return, at both stops we were treated respectfully. We were asked at the first stop to get out of the truck as they wanted to inspect the vehicle. John explained in Spanish that he is disabled and once the soldier heard that he simply smiled and waved us through. About 15 miles later was the second inspection point. John tried the same tact but the young soldier spoke good English so he said "OK, you stay in the truck, but (pointing to me) you come with me to inspect the trailer." When we asked him where he learned such good English, he said his aunt and uncle live in Texas and he had gone for a long visit. I took the young guy and one other soldier back to the trailer with me and asked them to wait just a minute so I could get the cat. I told them the cat is afraid of strangers and I wanted to secure her in her carrying bag. Once I secured ChopChop in her bag, I opened the door. Only one of the guys came in. He took a quick glance around and said "OK, that's all." They looked at our passports and waved us through. All this took less than 10 mintues. I told John they really weren't inspecting us as 'suspects' they just wanted to see the inside of the trailer. haha! So, adding these experiences to our very pleasant interaction with the Mexican navy when we had our boat in Mexico, we've got pretty good feelings for the military here.

Maybe you heard in the news about the police station here in Zihuatanejo being 'bombed'. That happened about 3 days after our arrival. What actually happened was that 2 hand grenades were thrown at the police station from a passing car. Please understand the problems in Mexico are between the drug dealers and cartels and the police / military / gov't who are trying to control them. Tourists are virtually unaffected by this 'war'. Tourists here are as UNAFFECTED by the problem as tourists to Los Angeles are by the 'war' between gangs and cops in Los Angeles. As travelers who appreciate Mexico, it is distressing to see the Mexican people and their economy suffer due to the American media scaring Americans from visiting. There are plenty of Canadian and European travelers here! I guess they're not getting the 'news', but they sure are having a great time here!

About 3 days after the hand grenade incident, a police truck with policemen in the truck bed was ambushed and 4 cops were killed. Even before this event, police have been petitioning for pay increases and survivor benefits. A local policeman here makes the equivalent of $450 per month and has no survivor benefits. There has been a local effort to provide funds for the surviving widows and children. There has been an increase in police and military 'presence' and we notice many wear full face masks to remain unidentified to protect their families. In our opinion these men are brave souls who, in an effort to work to protect and improve their country, risk their lives. It's a complicated situation but if it weren't for the continuing demand for drugs north of the border, much of this could be resolved. When Robert was here he was solicited almost daily to buy drugs. Is it assumed that every young gringo uses drugs? What a shame!

John's birthday was a few days after our arrival so we went out to dinner.
This was our view as we dined...

Robert was due to arrive Feb. 23, my sister Karen on the 27th, Shelli and Jay on March 1, so we had one week before their arrival to get a list of things resolved and repaired. Because of our love of this area and anticipating these visitors, we'd been looking forward this entire trip to our visit to Zihuatanejo. We also have friends from our boating days, Brent and Sue, who now live here 6 months of the year (the other 6 months in Hawaii), who we were looking forward to seeing again. Before we left Arizona in December, John had driven into a peice of rebar sticking up out of the ground at a campground and it had torn a large hole in the lower front fender of the truck. He's been looking forward to being in a place long enough to find a good repair shop, etc. and Zihua seemed like the best place so we'd put it off till here. The solution was quickly found after asking Dave, the owner of the hotel where we are staying, for a referral. He took us to a body shop where he'd had extensive work done on his truck. We'd never have gone there on our own, as it was a big out-door area, full of junk and cars to be worked on--with no identification that it was even a body shop. But the next day our truck was in and out, with the repair being done wonderfully in 4 hours at a cost of only $80.

There is a 9-mile stretch of beach south of Zihuatanejo, it's 'sections' known as Playa Larga, Playa Blanca, and Barra de Potosí. There are several access roads out to the dirt road that runs the length of this area and we'd learned of a bed and breakfast there that is completely wheelchair accessible so checking it out was on our "do list" also. It turns out to be the same place my sister had mentioned to me a couple years ago and we also learned they have 3 RV spots on the property! There are many beachfront properties for sale and as we explored, we had fun dreaming of living on the beach. It's a beautiful location but a little too remote from town for our liking, at least for a long term place to stay.

Here's the B&B website if any one is interested:

During that first week here John and I were out to lunch and part of his tooth (a molar) suddenly broke off, so we then were on a mission to find a dentist. I had planned to get some dental work done here (I don't have dental insurance so finding a dentist was on our 'do list' anyway) but it had now become a priority. My sister Karen owns a condo here and over the 5 years of ownership has developed an amazing network of friends, both Mexican and gringo. Her friend Frank, a relocated Canadian and fabulous photographer, offered us a referral to his dentist. We found stairs outside the dental office, but used the ramps we use to get the scooter off the truck, and John easily accessed the office in his wheelchair, drawing looks of amazement from the dentist. John's tooth is doing fine now! I had my teeth cleaned and will get further work done on them next week.

John's scooter had been making a 'scrunching' noise in the right rear wheel for quite a while (even at home) and, assuming the problem was the bearings in the electric motor, he decided to see if a mechanic here could fix it. We found an electric motor repair shop. The bearings had to be ordered, so Ulysses, the repair guy, said "maňana". Uh-oh. But two days later, we were thrilled to have it successfully repaired with new bearings in both motors for less than $70. The scooter is now quiet and smooth running. We can't emphasize enough how wonderful it is for John to have the scooter here. It makes such a difference in his ability to get around, going for walks, etc. The days without it he feels quite confined. It creates quite a sensation among the locals though--nobody's ever seen the likes of it here.

This picture was taken at one of our favorite restaurants, La Escalera.The food is wonderful and the view of the by is fabulous!

We had a great time with the kids while they were here. The first 4 nights of Robert's visit he stayed here at Villa Los Arcos (where we are camping in the back lot) then once my sister arrived he stayed with her at the condo. Robert has taken up golf in the last year or so and he brought his clubs with him. He golfed twice in nearby Ixtapa (the resort town near Zihuatanejo) and we rented a seperate cart and followed along to watch. It was fun, relaxing and a beautiful course. Shelli and Jay were only able to come for 4 nights and they stayed at a hotel just down the beach from us. It was a very nice location as we were all able to enjoy the beachfront amenities and neighboring restaurants. The best part about for us of having them here was the ability to just 'hang out'. (The picture here is Robert, Shelli and Jay in my sister's kitchen.) One day the kids and I took a boat out to Playa Los Gatos, a small cove on the south side of Zihuatanejo Bay popular for its snorkeling and beach restaurants. The cove is protected from waves and surge by a reef, perfect for viewing fish and underwater creatures.

The beach at Los Gatos, looking across the bay to Zihuatanejo. Note the pangas anchored inside the reef of this small cove.

My sister Karen arrived for a 3-week stay at her condo and it was great to share with her walks on the beach and into town, meals at favorite restaurants, lazy afternoons at her pool or the beach. But even with three weeks, the time passed too quickly and seems we didn't do all we'd intended to.

A couple days after Shelli and Jay went home, we went with Karen and Robert to the inland colonial town of Pátzcuaro. After these several months along Mexico's warm beaches, climbing to Pátzcuaro's elevation of 7,500 feet, with its pine- and cedar-covered mountains and cool morning air was a refreshing change. The town has a population of about 70,000, boasts two charming plazas surrounded by wonderful shops featuring the area's copperware and craftworks, and has numerous churches to enjoy. I'll take the liberty once again to quote directly the description of the town from our tour book:

Pátzcuaro is "the crown jewel of highland Michoacán (the state)...Its center is filled with serene plazas, impressive churches, pretty cobbled streets and tiled adobe buildings painted white and reddish-brown...The city center is fairly flat, but some streets climb steeply to the basilica just east of thh plazas. It's a very walkable city, and most points of interest are easily reached by foot." John disagrees with the idea that cobbled streets are so great, but at least he can get around them with the scooter. We're not sure how we ever managed all these Mexican streets with just the wheelchair.

We stayed at a wonderful B&B called Casa Werma. Karen had learned of this 5-acre retreat on a Zihua-based chat forum and it was perfect for us in so many ways: wheelchair accessible, within two blocks of the central plazas, and pets are welcome--as we took Gracie and Karen has her small dog too. The retreat also functions as a Buddhist retreat which also provided a unique perspective to our stay. It was a great place, and we really enjoyed our 2 nights there.

Here's the website for anyone interested in viewing this wonderful property:

I purchased colorful woven table linens and embroidered clothing, crafts unique to the area. When we leave Zihua in a couple weeks we will return to Pátzcuaro for a few days for more exploring, especially around the nearby city of Morelia.

Gracie is a great conversation starter, one of the benefits of traveling with a dog. Almost daily on our beach walks we chat with her admirers, both Mexican and gringo. As she retrieves the ball with such energy and focus, she can't help but draw attention. People want to pet her but she is so focused on the game she doesn't pay attention to them. We've met several vacationers from Oregon, many from BC, and a few from Colorado. But when we see locals admiring her, we offer the "chuck it" ball thrower to them to play with her. These types of dog toys are rare here. There are no Petsmarts with its endless isles of pet supplies. And Mexican dogs are mostly just to have around--they don't do tricks or chase balls and bring them back to you.

Real life does continue through our travels...I contracted some kind of cold / sinus infection in the last week and finally went to a doctor on Thursday. He was referred by Nancy, the hotel owner, and spoke enough basic English for us to communicate. Nancy led me to believe he didn't speak any English so I went prepared with a pre-written description, in Spanish, of my symptoms and our language translator. He was a young doc, about 35-ish, and prescribed antibiotics. The office visit cost $35. We spent about the same on the meds.

On Sunday nights here in Zihuatanejo at the zócalo, the downtown plaza, the community gathers for evenings of music, sports (there is a basketball court at the plaza), food, or various other forms of entertainment. We attended this last Sunday and inspite of the language barrier we enjoyed watching as a clown entertained the children. We had delicious hamburgers at a popular street cart operated by a local man who Karen explained has, over the years he's been selling burgers, put his children through college with the proceeds.

So, as you can see, we've enjoyed our time in Zihuatanejo. John has really settled in and says he'd like to stay longer. We've had 'vacation' time with visitors and real life experiences with local community members.

Monday, February 9, 2009

South to Rancho Buganvilias

Just when you think things can't get any better, they do! We arrived last Sunday just in time for the Super Bowl party here at the RV park, "Rancho Buganvilias". The three hour drive from Melaque took us through the outskirts of the port city of Manzanillo, the farming and ranching town of Tecoman, then another hour south along this dramatic section of coastline. The coastline south of Manzanillo is rugged and steep. As I've described before, much of Mexico's coast is similar to sections of Hwy 1 along California's coast, but the area we've now entered is especially similar to that area north of San Francisco.
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Super Bowl Party at Rancho Buganvilias
Sandy, the 40-something surfer boy from California who owns of the RV park and has been surfing in this area for more than 20 years, explained that it was only 10 years ago that this region finally got electricity! The part-time grounds keeper here at the park also owns a family farm/ranch up in the mountains about 2.5 hours away. Sandy explained that though Lalo makes a living wage from the family ranch, he and his family of 9 children live with no electricity or running water.
Sandy and his wife Cynthia live here at the 8-acre, 25-site RV park just south of La Placita, a small farming town of about 2,500. They opened the park two years ago, and with Lalo's help have landscaped the property with about 150 buganvilia plants, and banana trees. Lime and papaya trees are also being grown as a cash crop, the profit of which Sandy shares with Lalo. There are plans to add a pool and several other amenities. The park is set back above the beach, on a hill-top that over looks a beachside grove of coconut palms. A 5-minute walk down a private road leads to a pristine beach, usually occupied only by campers from the RV park, a couple of fishermen, or on weekends by a family who live in Guadalajara but own a vacation home about 1/2 mile down the beach. Unfortunately the sand at the bottom of the road is a little too thick for John's scooter to get all the way to the beach.

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View from hill-top RV park
Though La Placita is close by, the only way there is on the highway so our daily walking routine is on hold for now. This makes the pace of life slow and easy, with activities centered around the beach or the park's large palapa where cold drinks are available and campers gather every evening to socialize and watch the sunset. Sandy and Cynthia also host a community dinner one night per week, and make homemade pizza on Saturday and Sunday evenings which are also sold to locals in town. Days are very warm (mid- to high-80s) but an evening breeze usually kicks up and we sleep with the windows and doors wide open, listening to the waves crash on the shore below.
Sandy speaks Spanish fluently, is well-known in town and offers great insight to the people of this area. I noticed at the grocery store a few days ago that the clerk was very shy. I didn't give it much thought but later when we were discussing with Sandy the impact gringos have on a community he explained that the locals here are still getting used to having foreigners visit their little town. Speaking of the impact of gringos: Lalo's daughter is very ill and campers have contributed about $500 so she can travel to a larger city to receive the proper treatment. There is a local family with a disabled daughter interested in purchasing a scooter and we've offered to bring one down next year if they can't find a source in Mexico.
We took a side trip to the foothill city of Colima, pop. about 123,500, one hour inland from Manzanillo. Our guidebook explains that "the city was quiet until the 1950s when mining and Pacific Rim shipping, fishing, and tourism brought thousands of new jobs. Manzanillo became a major port and manufacturing center, boosting Colima to a government and university headquarters, and trading hub for the meats and crops from valley and coastal plantations, farms, and ranches." The prosperity of the area is obvious by the cleanliness of the city, the automobiles and trucks on the road, and the kind of stores and businesses located there, and even by how people were dressed. Lining the highway into town were the same car dealerships we see at home: GM/Chevy, Honda, Ford, Nissan, etc. The downtown is beautiful with a traditional Mexican plaza and pedestrian area surrounded by beautiful hotels and government buildings, and the central cathedral, all beautiful examples of Spanish heritage architecture. We walked around the downtown area and did a driving tour of its "beltway" area. We passed several smaller but similar plazas and churches, the university, and upscale shopping areas. We both liked Colima but I really liked it and hope we can visit again for an extended stay.

Downtown plaza in Colima

It was time for another haircut and it turns out that Javier, the guy who works here at the RV park as a waiter on the nights when dinners are served, is also a stylist! He lived in California for most of his life, most recently in Santa Barbara where he worked in a salon for about 7 years, before moving back to Mexico about 5 years ago. He lives in the little beach community San Juan de Alima about 30 minutes north of here. He was born in this area and was 6-years-old when his parents moved to the US so he speaks English and Spanish, but didn't get married till he moved back. I took advantage of the haircut time to ask him questions about what it's like to come back to Mexico. He said locals don't know exactly how to treat him. In some ways they consider him to be a gringo because of his fluent English, his style of dress, and his general mannerisms are more American than Mexian. When I asked him if he feels more American or more Mexican, he said he feels more American but really wants to return to his roots. He is the only one in his family to return. At the rate my hair grows, and with it so short I need frequent cuts, I should have at least 2 more interesting haircut experiences!

Getting my haircut "under the old oak tree"...

Gracie ate something at the beach on two days ago and was pretty sick for about 24 hours. I was in the water playing in the waves with some friends and saw her eat something on the beach. Then a few minutes later I saw her throwing up so ran back to the sand. She must have thrown up about 20-25 times, and coughed and hacked for hours, like something had irritated her throat. She's better now, thank heaven! The RV park owners have two dogs and last week the vet from a nearby town came for a visit. He was treating their dogs, and anyone else's who needed anything. Several of the dogs here have been infested with sand fleas and a kind of tick that is resistant to Advantage/Frontline. But, Gracie has had neither!! Good girl!!!! It's nice to know that if we had an animal emergency, we'd quickly know where to take her though!

Pictures of Rancho Buganvilias CG and Colima:

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Puerto Vallarta to Melaque / Barra de Navidad

A man once said,
"The fear of doing a thing is usually worse than the actual doing."
That’s John!

Taken in downtown Puerto Vallarta as we headed south.

Our departure from Puerto Vallarta 12 days ago was smooth. I snapped a bunch of pictures on our way through town, partly to keep myself distracted but also because I’d taken so few the days we had been there. You will notice when you look at the pictures at the web link below that the pics are random, from the passenger seat of our truck. Not the usual travel shots, just views of passing through town. As we walk around various towns I hesitate to take pictures of houses, etc. I don’t want to appear to be gawking. Some of these scenes I would not have taken had we been on foot. These pictures illustrate the typical scenes of Mexican residential and road side buildings.

Our first destination after PV was the small town of Perula. It’s the first seaside town close to Hwy 200 south of Cabo Corrientas, the mountainous point of land that shapes the southern edge of Banderas Bay, where Puerto Vallarta is located. Curving through and climbing over, the road led us through a pine forest and across a river. Winter is the dry season so the wide river bed easily contained its diminished flow but erosion lines showed evidence of a mighty summer and fall run. There is an eco-tour company that has built zip-line structures through this river valley. We were fascinated by how dry the vegetation appeared as we descended the southern side of this mountainous area. We wondered if it was a ‘rain shadow’ effect or drought but were later told by locals it is normal for winter. In seeming contradiction to this, temperature and humidity increased as we entered this new southern region.

Perula...I think this is my favorite trip picture so far! You can't see due to the glare but there are sailboats anchored in the distance.

Perula is a sleepy little village, smaller even than Lo de Marcos but has several campgrounds. The beautiful flat beach and friendly people bring snowbirds back year after year. The beachfront campgrounds were full so we stayed at one a couple blocks off the beach, managed by an American-born Mexican guy named Chino. What a character! He was born in East LA and was at one time a ‘gang banger’, with the tattoos to prove it, and we were told he’d done some prison time too. But, he’s straightened out his life and is married with 4 small ‘rug rats‘--his words, not mine. He’s well liked by all the snowbirds and locals. The 10-site RV park is adjacent to his mother’s nice little hotel. An American woman from New York runs a little road-side hamburger joint called ‘Lola La Gringa’s’. John was dying for a burger after all the shrimp we’ve been eating. We learned Lola arrived there 8 years ago. After driving south in Mexico for just a few days, she arrived in Perula, liked it and has never left. There seemed to be more to her story but we didn’t ask…

We decided one day to take a little driving tour of the surrounding rugged coastal area. There are several luxurious resorts accessible only to guests, and multiple public beaches accessed by one-lane dirt roads. As we explored our way south we decided to check-out the possibilities for our next destination. We visited Tenacatita, Boca Beach and the town of Melaque and decided Melaque was best for our planned 10-day stay.

Tenacatita is a small town about a mile from the bay and mile-long beach known by the same name. The long, flat beach is lined with restuarants and there is a popular campground there. The day we were there the waves gently lapped the shore as many people swam and snorkled. There is a rocky coral point also popular for water activities. As we ate dinner a truck load of soldiers passed us. Some were off loaded and walked the beach, picked up at the opposite end. There is a Marine base near Melaque, responsible for patroling this area.

Boca Beach is located about 2 miles south in Tenecatita Bay. Known for its 3 mile-long white sand beach, there are a couple campgrounds there. There is little else, only one small grocery store and one restaurant. The Boca Beach Campground, owned and run by a Canadian guy married to a Mexican woman, seems well run and cared for. We chose not to stay there for 10 days as there just isn't enough to interest us. And the campground was very sandy, (as opposed to hard pack dirt) making it more difficult for John to get around.

We’ve now been at Melaque for a little more than a week. After the Revolution (1917) large land parcels, known as ejidos, were deeded back to citizen groups. Three such ejidos--Melaque, San Patricio, and Obregon--have melded into the town known as Melaque, population about 8,000. The campground is located on a spit of land at its south end. Ocean waves crash, literally, on one side and a lagoon brimming with wildlife, including several crocodiles, ripples on the other side. We are camped on the beach side and as I sit typing this, I glance
out the window at sand and waves…Ahhhh. The surf was too rough for the first five days to venture into the water but yesterday I enjoyed my first swim in comfortably warm ocean water.

The view out our window...ChopChop likes the breeze blowing in.

Further south down the beach is the town of Barra de Navidad, population about 3,000. It’s not a long walk--about a mile--but the sand is soft and deep. We chose to drive there. Melaque's town center is bustling with activities and serves as the main commercial zone for this area. In addition to grocery and hardware stores, car repair shops, doctors and dentists, and home-decor and furniture stores, the town offers its visitors lots of little shops and restaurants, an open market, and many small hotels and condos. Gringos who chose to live here--and there are plenty--needn't travel out of the area for any goods or services. The ramps we use to get the scooter on to the truck needed some repair so yesterday we took them to a welding shop. There are also a couple of computer shops in town.

The heat and humidity caught up with me and our first few days here I spent sleeping and reading. We try to take our daily walks in the mornings and have walked through most neighborhoods and down most of Melaque's streets. We've noticed several lots that have been fixed up for single RVs, complete with palapas and outdoor kitchens, an attractive option to purchasing a condo or house.

The little town of Barra de Navidad is more oriented for the fly-in tourist. Unfortunatley there are no RV parks there, but there are nicer small hotels, more up-scale shops, and restaurants. And across the lagoon is the very fancy Hotel Grand Bay and its golf resort. A water taxi can be taken across the water for about $2. There is a marina for pleasure yachts too. This area is a popular spot for cruisers, many of whom anchor in the large lagoon. We brought our hand-held VHF radio so have been listening to the morning radio nets, reminding us of our previous life aboard.

The only deep-water port city of Mexico's west coast, Manzanillo, is about one hour south so we drove down and spent a day there. This is the city where the movie "10" was filmed in the 1970s. The Las Hadas Resort, where the film was made, remains an impressive site nestled into the hills of the Santiago Penninsula. One of the challenges we've had on this trip is manuvering the truck around crowded narrow streets, even without the trailer in-tow. Manzanillo was no exception. We drove through the old town section near the large industrial port area but could not find a parking spot. Most of the hotels and condos are in the northern part of the bay, known as Santiago. The beach is beautiful but we didn't see the charm in Manzanillo that we've seen in other towns and cities.

We attended a fund raising event for a local charity that builds schools for underpriviledged and migrant farm-worker children. They also built and maintain a school / care facility for disabled children. It was a fun night of music and good food. We met a couple from Oregon there, Carl and Olivia. Carl uses a wheelchair too so it was interesting to exchange travel stories. They live in the Portland area and rented a bungalow here for a couple months this winter.

We've enjoyed the company of new friends and shared an interesting dinner out with our Canadian neighbors. Conversation occasionally turns to economics and politics. One repeating comment has been, "When American catches a cold, its neighbors get the flu."

Here are the links to the web albums for the various places mentioned:

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Getting to know Lo de Marcos

As we spend our last few days here we feel a tinge of sadness at the thought of leaving. In what at first seemed to be a village with not much to offer we've found very friendly locals, we befriended a couple of Americans living here, and we've settled into a regular routine with our favorite walking routes and places to stop for a cold drink in the afternoon.

This has been a full and varied week:

Our friends Larry and Joanie, who we mentioned in a previous blog, were visiting their friends in Puerto Vallarta for two weeks so we had the opportunity to see them a couple more times. When we were all sail-cruising Mexico in 2000, Joanie had written a couple articles for a California-based sailing magazine and she's always encouraged me in my writing efforts. (Thanks Joanie!) She had learned about a writer's group that meets every Saturday in Puerto Vallarta and invited me to attend a meeting with her last weekend. We didn't know what to expect from the meeting and discovered a thriving group of writers made of both full-time and seasonal PV residents from North America and Europe. Those 50 people at the meeting are but a small part of their membership. They are hosting a conference next month with Linda Ellerbee as the keynote speaker. Anyone curious can see the group's website here:

John went to a boaters swap meet with Larry and George while Joanie and I were at the meeting. Then Winnie joined in and we all went to lunch at a little restaurant tucked back in the Mexican community of Jarretadera. We'd never be able to find that place again without Larry leading the way!

Another day earlier this week, John and I drove into PV to do a "dry run" of how we will pass through the city with the trailer when we head south in a couple days. What an experience with just the truck--it's going to be a REAL adventure with the entire rig! There is a bypass for Hwy 200 that avoids the downtown / old town center of Puerto Vallarta but getting from here to there still requires quite of bit of driving through the busy congested city streets. No way do you want to get stuck in the narrow cobblestone streets of old town with an RV!!! One of our stops for that day was Costco--we're still looking for M&Ms for John-- and along the way we discovered a very nice, newer residential area with wide, smoothly paved roads that COULD lead us the way we need to go but in an effort to keep that area quiet, big rigs (trucks, busses, etc) and towing of any kind are not permitted.

After driving around for about 2 hours, we think we've got our route planned. After determining there really was no other way than the congested central street leading toward downtown, we then needed to find the exact location of the left turn to the bypass road.

Sounds straight forward, right? I think we've described the "lateral lanes" before--one or two lanes, seperate from but parallel to the main lanes. Strange as it may seem, left hand turns are usually made from these lateral lanes on the far right-hand side of the street but in this instance our left turn to the bypass road is from the central lane. To add to the mix, we've been told that large vehicles are required to stay in the "lateral lanes" through this busy area. So, we first need to be in the far right lateral lanes, then at the appropriate place merge into the central lanes--but not too soon!--in preparation to get over to the left turning lane to the bypass...all this amidst very busy traffic flow, narrow lanes, large delivery trucks and busses, etc. So, we marked each merging point on our GPS. Once we get onto the bypass, it's fairly smooth going except for 2 narrow tunnels and about 8 blocks of "old town", complete with cobblestone streets, pedestrians, cars parked along the sides, etc. No doubt, it's going to be an exciting morning! Whew!!

After we got all that figured out, we explored a little along the downtown waterfront. PV's downtown consists of two areas: the tourist area full of shops, restaurants, and nightclubs-all in buildings constructed since the "discovery" of PV after the 1964 movie "Night of the Iguana" starring Richard Burton, and la zona romantica ("the romantic zone"-that's really what it's called!) where there are more of the same but all housed in old-town buildings, some 100 or more years old. These two areas are side-by-side but seperated by the River Cuale. A few years ago Puerto Vallarta was hit by a hurricane and the downtown waterfront was severly damaged. A blessing in disguise! A 5-story parking structure has been built and the malecon (wide sidewalk) along the beach has been widened and extended, including a pedestrian bridge over the river, making it possible to walk continuously for about 1.5 miles along the water's edge. When we were here in 2000, this was very challenging with the wheelchair as there were no curb cuts and the pavement was old, cracked and uneven. To make it even better this time, we had the scooter with us and carried the wheelchair too. Where ever we go we get lots of curious looks and "thumbs up" signals.

On our way home from Puerto Vallarta we stopped to see Daniel, the guy we'd met up with in Nogales, AZ and we'd all crossed the border together. He's the guy I mentioned who is working here now as a boat broker. He's loving life in Mexico and is making plans to stay long-term.

After our long and stressful day driving in Puerto Vallarta we were happy to arrive back "home". We have developed an afternoon routine of walking a certain loop through town. We found a lovely little spot for our afternoon bebidas (drinks): We usually have a coke and a beer--bet you can't guess who drinks what--with a tip included costs $30 pesos (about $2.50us) One day I had no coins, only a $50 peso bill and she didn't have change (it's common that no one has change) but that's all I had so she said to just come back the next day to pay. So, we did and had a delicious lunch too! That was the first time we'd eaten there. It as very good, prepared in her VERY BASIC kitchen there on the sand.

(There are more pics of this little place in the web album, linked at the bottom.)

One day while we were taking our daily walk through town we chatted with a woman from Colorado. She, her husband and 10-year-old son are living here in Lo de Marcos for one school year to give their son the cultural immersion experience. They've rented a simple beach-front house. Her husband travels home about once per month on business. She said the school materials lag a bit behind compared to 4th grade at home but their son is thriving and having a wonderful time here. We've also befriended a retired couple who have RV'd in Mexico for years but due to health issues have simply rented a house here for a couple of months to avoid the stress of driving the RV down but still enables them to enjoy all the pleasures of being in Mexico.

In addition to our afternoon walks, we continue to enjoy evening strolls through town a few nights each week. Since the holidays have passed, there isn't quite as much activity but all the shops are open and we love the food sold from the street vendors. Last night we were sitting along the sidewalk sharing a plate of tacos when we were pleasantly surprised by the Mexican couple, Noa and Esthela, who own the RV park we stayed at in Celestino (up north of Mazatlan) stopping by to say hi. They are having a weekend holiday and noticed us there. That was a pleasant surprise!

One highlight of this week was an evening we spent out with a large group of RVers from this park. One guy organized about 40 of us--pre-arranged for the taxi vans, etc--and we all went to a restaurant about 15 miles north of here. It is a newer business, owned and operated by a very musically-inclined Mexican family. The brothers have a great band that plays the best of '60-70s rock'n'roll mixed with great Mexican music. Most people may think of Mariachi music when they think of Mexican music but there is so much more to it than that, which we've hearing. We love the romantic classical guitar style, especially when it has a bit of a Cuban / Salsa flair to it! Part of the family does all the cooking and restuarant duties while the band entertains. The children dance too! There were three very young girls, dressed and dancing in very contrasting styles but so adorable! The girl in the green dress stole my heart. Her face always had such a serious look as she seemed to be concentrating on the steps to her classical style. The other girl very quickly imitated baby-boomers as they did "The Swim" or line danced. It was great fun and we had lots of laughs. John and I even danced to a couple of slow songs. As we were leaving I told the lead singer that they were fantastic but we really liked the Mexican music the best.

A few final notes:

Because it is legal to ride in the back of a pickup and hitchhiking is so common here that everyone does it, both young and old, we are now regularly picking up hitchhikers. This week we picked up a young couple headed toward Guadalajara with their backpacks and guitars. We took them 15 miles up the road, as far as our destination, and left them at a gas station to catch their next ride.

When we left Costco the other day our bill was about $850 pesos which seemed high since we'd bought very little. But when we did our calculation later, we realized that because the peso has devalued against the dollar making even the "Kirkland" products carry a higher price tag here than Costco in the US, the price was about right. Even though we've adjusted our thinking to pesos versus dollars, $850 still sounds so high but really it was only about $61us.

I've finally added more pictures to the web album of this beautiful RV park where we are staying so you can see those in addition to more pics added to the Lo de Marcos album. You can know what pictures you will be seeing by the final words on each link at the end of the blogs:

Friday, January 9, 2009

Exploring the Nayarit coast

As we've described previously this southern-most 25-mile stretch of the Nayarit coast is dotted with small coastal towns. Lo de Marcos, where we are staying, is located about midway between Peñita de Jaltemba to the north and Sayulita at the south.

Peñita and its neighboring Rincon de Guaybitos are home to about 4,000 locals but, according to tourist information, the population swells to about 8,000 during the winter. Rincon in particular draws many part-time residents and visitors. It is located in the southern end of a small bay edged by a long sweeping beach. The hotel district consists of two paralleling mile-long roads where also many small condominium complexes and 4 RV parks are located. Like so many of the towns we've visited, restaurants and shops selling beach clothing and inflatable water toys line the narrow sidewalks.

Some people we met further north are staying at one of the Rincon RV parks and a few days ago we went to hang out with them and explore. The park where they are staying does not have the amenities we have here but its beachside location is "perfecto". We met many of the RVers staying there (two of whom are from Cannon Beach and know our next door neighbor in Sisters who is also from Cannon Beach--SMALL WORLD!!) and a group of us walked a few blocks to a beachside restaurant for a late lunch. Two of the couples from Canada drive to and leave their RVs in Arizona, then ride their motorcycles into Mexico to tour. They are staying at a small hotel there for 2 months (for $35/night) and taking short side trips.

After lunch John and I walked through town to investigate the other RV parks and take a closer look around town. Even though we like the village of Lo de Marcos, we found Rincon very appealing mostly because the streets are all paved (with interlocking blocks not black top or cement), which makes it better for both walking and "scootering" around, and because Rincon also has more activity, stores, and services, we've already chosen the RV park we'd like to return to!

The RV park we like, and will return to if we come back to this area next year, is right on the beach in front to the orange-colored hotel building.

Another day we visited the small village San Francisco about 8 miles south. It's similar to Lo de Marcos in that only the main road is paved but different in that there is an ecological preservation organization based there, bringing in a different kind of tourist, many of whom are part of the eco-tourism trend. The few shops located there were a little more upscale, catering to both North Americans and Europeans. The beach was simply gorgeous and the day we visited the waves had attracted about 25 surfers.

This beach is one of the prettiest we've seen. Please link at the end of this entry to view the SanFrancisco photo album.

Between our ventures out to explore, real life goes on much like at home. When we review the pictures from our trip in preparation for these blog entries, the palm-lined beaches and thatch-roofed palapa restaurants all start to look the same. Really, how many times can we say "The weather is beautiful, wish you were here"? So, we'd like to share some of the more day-to-day, maybe mundane yet intimate, experiences we encounter. For those of you who are following, feel free to let us know what you prefer to hear about.

Remember John's haircut experience? Well, I went for my first Mexican haircut the other day. A neighboring RVer had recommended a Canadian woman who has a house here but we really prefer to directly support the local economy and interact with Spanish-speaking locals so I went to an estetica (beauty shop) about 2 blocks from the RV park. Yeanette, the owner/stylist does not speak any English so this was a great opportunity. I went to the shop when it opened at 9am and asked if she had any appointments that day. She asked if I wanted it corte (cut) and/or tinte (tinted or colored). After telling her I only needed a cut, she said she had an appointment at 4pm so I agreed to return. The haircut went fine. She was able to understand my simple Spanish-combined with sign language and I got a great haircut. It's really these simple interactions that make the trip worthwhile and enriching, in our opinion.

A young guy was sitting in the other stylist chair during my haircut and I soon discovered he spoke some English. He told us about a local restaurant where he is the cook. I saw him the next morning when I was walking the dog on the beach and told him we'd come for dinner, which we did last night. Turns out he is a wonderful cook. I had fish fillet prepared in the Vera Cruz style--diced tomatoes, red, green and yellow peppers, and onions in a spicy tomato sauce spooned over the grilled fillet. VERY YUMMY!! We enjoyed our sunset dinner but realized we must be acclimating to the climate as John put on his sweatshirt as the temperatures plummeted to 74! We've been closing the trailer windows at night because the dip to the low 60s.

We've repeatedly described Lo de Marcos as a very small village but boy does it come alive at night, especially during the holidays and on the weekends. The RV park backs up to the church where there is also a basketball court that serves as a gathering spot. Of course last week with the continuing celebration of Christmas, then New Years, we kept hearing music at night but the holiday crowds had kept us from attending. After it seemed most of the holiday vacationers were gone and we continued to hear the music at night we walked a few blocks to the church, about 8pm, and found hundreds of people of all ages listening to music, dancing, and eating food prepared at sidewalk carts. The second night there was a vaquero (cowboy) on a dancing horse! Honestly, we couldn't see the signals he was giving the horse but it was prancing in time with the music, even pausing with its hoof held up now and then for the long notes.

This is the dancing horse.
Everyone is happy and friendly, offering Buenas noches (Good Evening) and smiles. John's scooter certainly draws attention and we've noticed there are at least 3 wheelchair-using residents here.

One of the chores that really needed doing when we got here was to wash the truck and trailer. But, we've only seen car washes in the big cities, non of which are large enough for the trailer. But nature provides...Every morning there is enough dew on the vehicles that we've been able to rinse and squeegee/chamois the trailer, and we've "washed" the truck twice. See, it's not ALL fun and games for us!

I've been doing my hand sewing projects along the way but have finally gotten the sewing machine out to work on one of the 5 projects. I don't think I'm getting as much sewing done as I'd expected....

It's come to our attention that some readers are missing the links at the bottom of each entry where you can view more pictures of the areas we've described, many with captions. There are three separate "photo albums" related to this entry:

Friday, January 2, 2009

Lo de Marcos and the Nayarit coast

"Nayarit's long, tufted coastline is one of the hidden, untouristed gems of Pacific Mexico. It blooms with verdant mountain and shoreline forest, orchard-swathed plains, great reaches of wildlife-rich mangrove wetlands, and seemingly limitless strands of golden sand." That's how our guide book describes this region and it is exactly that.

Sunday Dec. 28 we arrived to the campground where we had reservations for the month of January only to find...we didn't. There had been some kind of miscommunication and there were no spaces available till January 6. But in typical Mexican fashion, the manager made a couple phone calls and found us a space at a campground a little further south.

OK, I've got to share a little side-story here...I'd been reading a really good book written by the first American woman to sail around the world alone. (By the Grace of the Sea, by Pat Henry) She told of so many physical and emotional struggles and triumphs during her 8 year voyage with such a positive attitude that it was rubbing off on me so when he told us there had been a confusion with the reservation I just knew it would work out, and maybe even be better than what we'd expected from our "reserved" park. And it is...

When he told me the name of the park and gave us directions, I knew I'd read about that park and remembered it being very beautiful but difficult to get a spot at. I'm pretty sure it was one I'd e-mailed last summer for a reservation only to rec'v a reply that they were completely booked. Well, low and behold! that's the park where he found us a spot available for the month! It is part of a beautiful hotel with two swimming pools and lovely grounds. There is a trail that edges an estuary leading a couple hundred yards to the beach.

I took this picture from the beach looking across the estuary back to the RV park.

Lo de Marcos is a very popular vacation spot so there are many small (10-12 rooms) hotels that seem to mostly serve Mexican tourists and gringos who don't mind "roughing it" a little. "Our" hotel is an exception though. It was obvious when we arrived that this hotel caters to upper-middle class travelers from Guadalajara and Mexico City, several of whom I met and chatted with along the beach trail.

So, for most of the month of January we will be here in the little town of Lo de Marcos. These little towns that dot the coastline are accessed usually by a single road off Hwy 200. This 1/2-mile-long road, paved with paver blocks and the only non-dirt road in town, is edged by small grocery and hardware (very basic) stores, a pharmacy, a couple of lavanderias (laundry service), restaurants and hotels.

Out in front of one of the grocery stores on the main road.

There's also a good restaurant at the end of the road at the beach. We were there today with old cruising friends when this cow came wandering down the beach.

Larry and Joanie now live on Lummi Island in the Puget Sound but are visiting friends who own a condo in Puerto Vallarta --30 minutes south.

(from the left: Larry, Joanie, John, Winnie and George)

There are 6 other RV parks here and we've walked through them to check them out for future visits. Due to economic troubles in the US, all have vacancies. We considered moving to one of them because they are a little less expensive but decided the amenities here are worth it this time.

We've done a little driving around this week but with the holidays each little town has been SO crowded we didn't even park the truck! The locals say that next week will be completely quiet so we plan to do more "on foot" exploring.

John and I usually "stroll" through town in the afternoon, mostly people watching. We've taken a different road each time so we're also seeing the residential areas too. As you can see, this trip is exhausting but we do hope you are enjoying the blog.

See more pics of Lo de Marcos here: