Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende

MexicoPosted by Malin Mon, December 27, 2010 02:33:04

Guanajuato is an interesting historic mining town tucked into a valley up at 2000 meters. In 1540 the Spanish discovered gold and later silver in this area and it became one of the most influential mines during the colonial period. In 1810 the first battle against Spanish troops in the war of independence happened at Alhondiga granary in Guanajuato. Driving into town all the narrow winding roads was pretty confusing. Luckily the GPS helped us with the navigation, and we found the campground with walking distance to town and we could park the car.

Two days is probably not enough time to explore this city, but that was the time we had given ourselves.

A short cut to town took us through one of the many tunnels and we ended up in one of the many narrow roads.

From a viewpoint we got a good view of all the colorful houses in town. This was also the first time in months where we actually spent some time in a city. And it was also a good opportunity to do some shopping for Christmas gifts. It was plenty of small interesting shops and a marked to look at, and we were all able to find some good gifts.

From Guanajuato the road took us up to 2500 meters and we got good views over the green hills before descending down to 1800 meters. San Miguel de Allende was where we wanted to celebrate Christmas, and it was a good campground in town with excellent Wi-Fi, so we could all Skype our families.

San Miguel de Allende is another old charming colonial town. It is a bit more westernized when it comes to shops and restaurants because many North American’s have moved down to this area.

On the 24th we were told from our fellow campers that there would be a Christmas gathering in between the campers where everyone could join. The owners of the campground had made a huge pot with traditional Mexican soup and a hot drink, everyone else brought a dish and we ended up having an amazing Christmas buffet.

We had not expected anything like this and it was a very pleasant surprise. For the first time it felt a bit like Christmas (it is strange to celebrate Christmas so far away from home and with no snow…). With a pretty full stomach we headed to the restaurant where we had made a dinner reservation. We were able to eat a good dinner before heading back to the campground and the Christmas gifts.

The six of us (German, Swiss and Norwegian couple) had bought two presents each and with a gift exchange we all got some nice presents. Saturday was a good rest day (with a tiny tiny hangover) before driving towards our next stop, Mexico City.

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MexicoPosted by Malin Sun, December 26, 2010 06:38:55

Driving out of Atotonilco el Alto, Charly, our excellent Swiss host, took us to a local cheese producer, QuesArt. QuesArt uses cow, sheep and goat milk to produce their cheese, and they produce 25 different kinds. Most of the cheese are transported to and sold in Mexico City. We had already tasted the cheese in Charly’s restaurant and would like to get a glimpse of the production.

The milk had not arrived yet that day,

but we were able to see them making fresh cheese “rolls”.

In one room the brie was sliced up into pieces.

One of the big fridges contained camembert maturing in different stages. At the end of our little guided tour we came to the best part, tasting….

After the tasting there were a couple of cheeses we just had to buy, and they are now in our fridge waiting to be consumed. Mmmmm…

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Atotonelco el Alto

MexicoPosted by Espen Sun, December 26, 2010 06:10:59

Our first plan was to drive south along the Pacific coast before turning east and then drive back up north to Mexico City. Unfortunately for us and the drug dealers, the authorities in the state of Michoacàn declared war on the drug dealers earlier this year. So after talking to several locals, which recommended us not to go further south, we turned around and started looking for a nice place to celebrate Christmas.

In Maruata we heard some rumors about a beach a few kilometers to the north that used to be full of turtles at this time of the year. So we pulled of the road and drove down to the beach to have a look...

From the coast we aimed for the town of Atotonilco el Alto where we wanted to check out the local tequila production. We've seen lots and lots of blue agave fields along the roads, so it was definitely time to try to get to know a little bit more about Mexico's "national drink".

The first challenge when you come to a new place is to find a place to stay for a night or two. We asked around in town, and at one place, Franc (from the Swiss, orange VW) was told that another Swiss guy was running a restaurant and guesthouse just outside town. Excellent! After some searching and dead-ends, we finally found Charlie's Gourmet Restaurant in Santa Elena. We sent the Swiss couple in first, of course, and we ended up staying at Charlie's place for two nights. And it really was a gourmet place!

And of course, Charlie knew the local tequila distilleries, so we ended up on a guided tour and tastings at 7 Leguas. This distillery is using both traditional and modern techniques to make tequila, and the tequilas they sell are a combination of these.

Cooked agave is crushed to get out the juice

The juice and the crushed agave is put into these big tanks for fermentation.

And a pic from the more modern part of the distillery. 7 Leguas produces about 1000 liters of tequila per day.

At the end of the tour and the tasting, the owner of the distillery showed up to say hello. We had a really nice time, and their Extra Añejo is by far the best tequila I've ever tasted! We also had to promise to tell our countrymen back in Europe that shot'ing tequila (which is the "normal" idea of how to drink tequila in Norway) is NOT how you should drink GOOD tequila!

Cheers! (Or skål, as we would say in Norwegian)


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Pacific Coast

MexicoPosted by Malin Sun, December 19, 2010 15:21:47

After a pleasant crossing of the Sea of Cortez we found ourselfs in Mazatlán. Trying to navigate five cars together through the streets of Mazatlán would have been a bit too much for us, so we decided to drive to Escuinapa too stock up on food. From Escuinapa we drove south on a peninsula to Teacapán. On the peninsula it was a lot of farming activity and in the early morning the fields were buzzing with workers.

Looking at the map and doing a bit of planning for our travel in Mexico, we realized this would be our time to see the Mexican Pacific coast , so our drive continued south along the coast. Driving from Teacapan to Tepic was our first meeting with the Mexican toll roads. First we paid 170 pesos, and we thought it was affordable for the distance to Tepic (about 140 km), but then the second and later the third toll booth came along... In the end we paid 300 pesos (about 25 usd) and we thought it was pretty expensive. (I have no idea if most Mexicans can afford to pay this amount for driving on a good road). From Tepic to Sayulita we were back on the normal road that was winding around and over small hills going down from about 1000 meters (3000 feet) above sea level to the coast. Driving behind a big, slow truck for a while, we got some firsthand experience with macho Mexican driving, and it is no wonder people die in car accidents in this country. With the time you save and the lower risk for meeting a crazy kamikaze driver around a curve, it could definitely be worth paying for the toll road.

Happy to be alive we got to Sayulita, found a place to camp, and had a walk on the beach, and a swim in the Pacific Ocean. A little later when we were about to cook dinner, we heard music and a parade not too far away. Dinner was postponed, and we run over to have a look. It turned out to be a parade for Virgin of Guadalupe . Following the parade we ended up on the town plaza, and there we saw food stalls and a stage.

After dinner we went back to the plaza for crêpe with chocolate, banana and Kaluha for dessert.

A thirteen person band entered the stage and started playing. The band kept us literally entertained for the rest of the evening as it was hard to get any sleep in our tent/cars until they stopped the music at 3 o`clock at night. Still it was great and fun to see the celebrations for Guadalupe with children running around, teenagers dancing, and elders sitting on every bench and corner chatting and having a good evening.

Further south along the pacific coast we stopped for a night at San Patricio-Melaque, Rey del Pascuales, had two nights in Playa Palma Sola, and now we spending our third night at Maruatha Beach.

The Michoacan coast is really beautiful, and the people we have met so far have been really sweet. Driving through all these nice places, were restaurants and palapas has been built for tourists on the beaches, it is kind of sad to see that we almost have every place to ourselves, even if it is getting close to the peak season. I feel sorry for the locals that have invested in tourism, and then the tourists do not come as they are too afraid to travel to Mexico because they only hear the bad stories. Still, we do of course know that not everything is all good in Mexico. We have just decided to turn around and drive back up the coast a little before heading inland, to avoid the south east of Michoacan and the area around Morelia because of recent drug related violence.

But some of the creatures that profit from the empty beaches are the turtles that got more space and peace to come up on the beach to lay their eggs. Here on Maruatha Beach we found a guy running a hatchery for turtle eggs. After 45 days the eggs will hatch and tiny baby turtles in a fenced area are collected, and they are all release in the evening. When all are released together, it is less likely that the baby turtles are eaten by birds on their way to the sea. People can give a small donation and help to bring the turtles to the sea just before sunset. When we were there, about 180 baby turtles got into the sea after fighting their way into the big waves. It was amazing to see these small creatures making their way into the Pacific Ocean to start their life. Compared to all the dangers the baby turtle’s face, I might think humans have a better chance off survival even when we drive on Mexican roads.

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Southern Baja

MexicoPosted by Espen Sat, December 18, 2010 00:09:10

On the map, Baja California doesn’t really look very big. But sitting in La Paz, a city of about 200 000 people, and trying to make plans for the last 7-8-9 days on the peninsula, you realize that it is quite big after all. You could probably explore this place for years and years, and never run out of new, interesting, and beautiful places to visit. We, the four vehicles you have seen on the latest pictures, decided to head south along the east coast towards Cabo Pulmo.

The drive in from Mex 1 was long and slow. The two 4x4s had of course no issues with the rough gravel road, but the VW and the Chevrolet wasn’t really enjoying the washboards. When we finally got there it was already dark, and it never stops puzzling me how much harder everything gets when it is dark. Finding a camp spot in an area you don’t know in the dark can definitely give you some surprises when you wake up the next morning. Like finding out that you’ve camped in the middle of a small fishing village…

The coast around Cabo Pulmo is nice, but it looks like it is too late for us overland travellers looking for a free beach to stay for a couple of days. Most of the road going south along this coast has barb wire fences and huge posters with “propriedad privado”. We did find a couple of “holes” in the fence, but unfortunately, the weather wouldn’t cooperate with us, and we ended up running away from strong winds and rough sea. The roof tent makes a lot of noise (especially the rain cover) in strong wind, and I have to admit that sometimes it would be nice with a hard shell camper…

To get away from the winds we decided to go inland for a day or two. The next stop on our route was the springs at Aqua Caliente. The spring is in what is now a small dam, so when the waterlevel is high, the spring is “gone”. But once a day the locals open the valves to send water downstream to the villages, and when the water level go down, the spring becomes separated from the dam. And if anyone is planning to go there to check out the place, remember to follow a trail up along the river from the dam (it is on the right side of the river) to some beautiful pools higher up. The locals refer to the place as “the waterfallls”, and it is an excellent playground for swimming and jumping.

And eventually, we found our beach some 15 kilometers east of San Jose del Cabo. It was a public beach, but we hardly saw a soul there during the 3 days we camped at the beach.

From here we went on to Cabo San Lucas “just to have a look”. It is a touristy place, but compared to some of the Mediteranian tourist places, it wasn’t too bad. And after a week without any “facilities” it was okay to find a campground with a restaurant, car wash, internet, power, water, hot showers, etc… :)

Land’s End, the southernmost rock on Baja

Too many tourists??? Noooooooo.....

On our way north from Cabo San Lucas to Todos Santos we saw several big big whales (we guess grey whales) driving along the coast. Unfortunately, they were too far away from us for any good pictures. In Todos Santos we stopped at a hotel where a band once found inspiration for a song you’ve probably heard a couple of times… Guesses anyone?

Final stop on Baja California: The ferry terminal. After some dealing we decided to go to Mazatlan on a TMC ferry. They are not as nice as the Baja Ferries, but cheaper, and they would let us stay in the vehicles during the crossing. So as it was an overnight crossing, we popped the roof tent and climbed in. Slept like babies… :)

Next post: Pacific coast on mainland Mexico!

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