mexico

A Momentous Occasion

*NOTE:  Delayed post due to very limited internet access.

When we crossed into the Yucatan, I didn’t expect it to feel like the momentous occasion that it did. It felt like we had accomplished something cool, to have driven this far. Our goal was to be in the Yucatan by Jorge’s birthday. We arrived the night before.

Jorge celebrating his 47th birthday in Progresso.

For people visiting my site for the first time, this blog is about taking a year off from work to travel overland from California, through Mexico and Central America, to Panama. We have been gone almost six months now. Our goal is to spend Christmas in Panama, and spend New Years in Costa Rica with our friends Sonja and Rose. They are flying from Los Angeles to join us for several days.

Sonja and I go way back. We met in Los Angeles 23 years ago, when we were both 25 years old. We were on a very similar "life path" at the time, as we happen to be again 23 years later. In 1993 we lived in Hollywood, and eventually got apartments in the same building, next to the Chinese Theatre and the Roosevelt Hotel. We’ve had so many great times together, living in the same city and traveling together.  I am really looking forward to seeing her, and her daughter Rose in a couple months.

We decided to rent a house on this leg of the trip, after finding out that an RV park was more expensive. So we found a small beachfront house, with enough room to park our trailer. I was really excited, because I always wanted to live right on the beach. I thought it would be so great to get in the ocean anytime I wanted to, and have my kayak ready, just a few feet from the water. Photos of the house's patio and beach below.

The house was simple and cute, and was in a tiny beach community call Chelem. There weren’t any tourists to be seen, but there were Americans who owned homes along the beach. From what I understand, you could get a small, modest house right on the sand for about 130K. We rented the house from two American guys from New Orleans, who are now living in Chelem.

The guys didn’t give us an address, just directions with landmarks. They were going to meet us at the house and give us the keys. We arrived before they did. We parked our truck and trailer on the road, and Jorge and PJ went to see what the beach looked like. PJ took the opportunity to relieve himself. A local guy approached Jorge and said, "You have to clean up after your dog." Jorge replied, "I did." He had bags with him and had immediately picked up after PJ, and then kicked some sand over the spot. The man said, "No you didn’t, I saw you kick sand over it." Jorge answered, "No I picked it up." He showed the man the bag. The man still didn’t get it, and said, "I am not going to do it, it’s your dog." Jorge said again, "I picked it up, this is the bag." Then the man said, "You need to clean up after your dog." He walked away with an angry look. Very weird.  Jorge came back to the truck and told me about the incident. Great, I thought, we are already having issues with the neighbors.

We walked over to the front door of our rental house. There was a small casita in front of the house, and again, there is the same local man. Great, he lives right in front of our house. He was short, in good shape, probably mid 40's, with bloodshot eyes. Right away I realized he was drunk.  I was surprised Jorge didn't notice.  He looked at Jorge, and asked if we were renting the place. When Jorge answered yes, he completely changed his tune. He shook Jorge’s hand, and made a couple slurred jokes. Turns out he is the caretaker of some of the properties on the beach. He said his name was Antonio. Later, when we were alone, Jorge and I nicknamed him "Banderas", just for fun.

The owners of the house arrived and showed us around. Jorge asked if he could trim a palm tree next to the driveway, so we could move our trailer in. They said no problem. Things were good with Banderas for about fifteen minutes, until he saw Jorge take out his saw and begin to trim the tree. "No, no, no, no, BIG PROBLEM!" he said. Jorge told him the owner said it was okay. "No, it’s a problem. I take care of this yard. It’s a problem." Jorge walked over to the owner’s truck and let them know that Banderas wasn’t happy, so they politely told Banderas it wasn’t a problem. He wasn’t a happy drunk and he seemed pretty pissed when he walked into his casita and slammed the door. That was the beginning of our beautiful friendship with him.

Over the course of the month we were in the Yucatan, we noticed some distinctive differences in this region. For one, there were more police check points. One Saturday night there was a check point before the entrance to the highway. Instead of checking your car and giving you the once over, they had a device that everyone passing through had to breath into, to check for alcohol in your system. When we got up to the officer, he put the device up to Jorge’s mouth. Jorge thought it would be funny to sing into it, as if it was a microphone. Luckily, the officer thought it was funny. You never know how it will go with Jorge’s jokes, sometimes it's awkward.

Other miscellaneous differences include restaurants serving lemon juice with habanero peppers and salt, to season the food with (love that!). It’s hard to find salsa or pico de gallo. The current music in the area is 80’s pop. Even small kids know the lyrics to most Michael Jackson songs. Their plazas and churches are smaller and simpler. The Maya people in this region have some distinctive features.  Many people are smaller in stature, stalky, have darker skin, and larger heads.  All these differences made the Yucatan seem different and special.

Banderas was such a sweet and thoughtful guy when he was sober. He racked our beach every morning. He also knew some fisherman who he sent over to the house so we could purchase some fish. He offered to have his wife cook it for us. He was afraid of dogs, and freaked out by PJ. Jorge told him to just say "good boy" to him, and then he would be friendlier. So Banderas renamed him "Good Boy, Good Boy", but kept a safe distance. He also started calling Jorge "jeffe" (boss), or Don Jorge (a respectful way to call a man). Banderas was always around with a smile, and offering to help if we needed anything.

I really loved the beach house. We paddled almost every morning. We would get up early, when the Gulf of Mexico is calm and flat along the shoreline, and most people are still sleeping. On the return PJ usually jumped into the water, swam to shore, and would run back on the beach. 

Chelem was also a nice place to cycle because the land is flat. There are sandy roads parallel to the beach that go for miles, and we would hook up PJ’s trailer and go on long rides with him. He ran most of the way, but we would put him in the trailer when we thought he needed a break.

The kids along the sandy roads would go crazy when they would see us pulling him. They loved it. They would chase us, and as we went along more kids would join in the chase. It was just like the first Rocky movie… when the kids were running behind Rocky as he ran through the streets of Philadelphia.  When Rocky finally got to the steps he had a big crowd with him.  It was just like that! The kids we have seen and met on this trip have been such a highlight!  They are so curious and interested.

We went to see the ruins at Chichen Itza, which was just a couple hours from Chelem. It was worth the trip. In addition to the ruins, the overall landscape was really pretty. Lots of trees and shady paths. As we left Chichen Itza, I couldn’t help but realize the drastic difference in design and workmanship between then and now. Why have we gone backwards? In many towns in Mexico you see the simplest concrete houses, and in America you see builders rushing to create track homes, and slapping them together as fast as they can. Structures today aren’t necessarily built to last the test of time. 

I finally saw a cenote, the sinkholes that are so popular in the Yucatan. Although I have been to the Yucatan before, I have never been to one. So I climbed into the earth for the first time and went swimming in a fresh water pool that was at the bottom. Most of the cenote pools sparkled from the sun beaming in from above.  

We drove and hour and a half to get to the town of Cuzama to see a cenote for the first time. From Cuzama we hired a guide to take us on a railroad cart, pulled by a horse to three different cenotes. The first was an unexpectedly small hole in the ground, which may make some people a little hesitant. There was a slippery ladder in the hole that disappeared into the darkness. At the bottom they had a light bulb hanging so you could see the water. We jumped in and the water was cool and refreshing. Photos below. 

The second two cenotes were larger and more magnificent.  We were able to dive in from some high rocks, and the guide let us take our time. 

We went on several long motorcycle rides along the coast, checking out the different communities and beaches. On one of our rides we saw several cabanas along the beach that were closed in with a fence. We stopped to ask about it, and met an older man with dyed jet black hair and who was wearing crocs (plastic shoes). He told us the place was some sort of scientific center, where they study something I can’t remember now. Finding this out, I automatically assumed the man was a scientist. That could be the only explanation for a grown man wearing crocs.  We asked him if he could recommend a place to eat close by, and he paused momentarily and replied very seriously, "If you want to eat like a fucking king go to the restaurant up the street by the marina." We smiled at his remark, while the serious look on his face remained.

On another motorcycle ride we discovered a cenote that was located deep within a mangrove forest. To get there you paddle down a narrow water trail through the mangroves. Eventually you arrive at the cenote, which was at ground level. The locals added a surrounding patio and palapa roof, and a couple ladders for people who wanted to get in and swim. There were large fish in the cenote, making it a nice place to snorkel.

We met an interesting couple there, the woman was from Chile, and the man from France. They currently live in Chile and were traveling for a few months. They had been to Moscow first, and then to Mexico. They said they were headed to Cancun soon, where they would catch a plane to Cuba. They said the roundtrip flight to Cuba was about $80 US dollars. Wow, what a deal!

The capital of Yucatan is a town called Merida. Merida was just an hour from Chelem. We went there a couple times, and it didn’t do anything for me. Merida has a long history, and many old buildings, but there was also a modern side. We saw the modern side when we went at night to see a movie. I was struck by the modern mall and obviously much wealthier people. The people walking around the mall didn’t live in the modest concrete houses of Chelem. And they drove new cars, carried cell phones and wore expensive clothes. Apparently in Merida time didn’t stand still. I guess we hadn’t been in a modern town for some time, because the differences caught me off guard.

I was sad to leave the Yucatan when it was time to go. I thought a year of traveling would seem long, now I realize I need much more time. Unfortunately in April our time will be up, and it will be time to go back to work.

I am writing this blog from and internet cafe Panajachel, Guatemala. Panajachel is one of the villages surrounding Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan Highlands.  We arrived here on October 21st and rented a house in the village of San Antonio.  There is very limited internet access here, so I've been behind.  There will be lots to write about in my next post - the border crossing and what I've seen in Guatemala. 

On November 9th we will drive through Honduras to Nicaragua, where we will stay for three weeks.  Stayed tuned!!!

Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico

The next leg of the trip took us south.  We traveled through Mexico City to Cuernavaca, the largest city in the state of Morelos.

We decided we would stay at El Paraiso Trailer Park in the municipality of Xochitepec.  We would stay a week, and then proceed to the much anticipated YUCATAN.  When we arrived at El Paraiso we found the gate locked.  We pressed a button on the gate to try to reach someone.  Two minutes later and older gentleman arrives on a bicycle to let us in.  He turned out to be Roberto, the owner of the park.  He spoke English.  He directed us to a nice space under one of the many trees.  I told him that his park was really beautiful, probably the prettiest park we had been too.  He asked where we were from, and I said San Diego, California.  Jorge said Tijuana.  Roberto began to smile and asked, "Are you Mexican?" and Jorge replied, "Si."  Roberto was happy to hear that.  He extended his hand, and gave Jorge a big, strong shake.

He told us that most of his clients were from Mexico City, just an hour away.  He said some keep their RV's in the park all year, and they come down with their kids on the weekends to escape the rat race.

He said in America senior citizens usually travel in RV's, but in Mexico it is the young families that travel this way.

Photos of El Paraiso Trailer Park below.  www.elparaisotrailerpark.com

Roberto was an interesting man. I asked him lots of questions because I was curious.  He told me that he began building the park 36 years ago on a raw piece of land.  Later I saw some photos in his office, of the construction taken in 1980.  He created his own little paradise inside the tall brick walls that now surround the place. 

The landscaping and features are something to be very proud of.  He planted over 50 small trees all those years ago, and now those trees grace the park in their full glory.  They line the grassy lanes and serve as space markers for the RV parking.  There is also a custom playground, complete with a watch tower, slide, bridge, swings, benches, trampoline, and a creative garden maze.  Designed by Roberto, of course.  Next to the playground was a pool, and bathroom/shower facilities.  The park was well manicured, clean and cared for.  We paid $21 US dollars per night, with the 7th night free.

Roberto and his wife live in a house inside the park. Roberto keeps the gates to the park locked at all times.  If you want to enter or leave, you must buzz him from the gate.  He told us he would let us in an out between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm. This was a little weird.  I like to be able to go in and out more easily, but those were the rules.

We happened to be in Cuernavaco on September 16, the day marking the Mexican War of Independence.  I had never celebrated this holiday, so I was pretty excited.  Cuernavaca and the surrounding towns put up lots of decorations leading up to it.  We decorated the Mosquito (motorcycle), and PJ's cart with Mexican flags and colors.

We decided to go to one of the nearby Pueblos to celebrate the afternoon and evening in their plaza.  I knew we would return to the park past 8 pm, so we had to let Roberto know, and make sure he was willing to open it for us later.  He said that would be fine.

Photos of September 16th below.

Photos of Cuernavaca below.  As you can see, Jorge has been having fun meeting new people and dancing in the middle of the street whenever he feels like it.

During our week in Cuernavaca, we also drove up to the Xochicalco Archaeological Ruins.  Photos below.

We have since left Cuernavaca, and I am writing this post from the Yucatan.  It took us 22 hours of driving over the course of two days to make it in time to celebrate Jorge's 47th birthday.  It was an exciting journey.  The first night we slept at a Pemex station (gas station).  We parked next to truckers also resting there.  The Pemex station requested $3 US dollars to keep an eye on us overnight, so sweet! 

We also had two tire blowouts on the side of the freeway.  Both on the trailer (not the truck).  We had a spare on a rim, and another spare without a rim.  So for the second blowout we had to use the motorcycle to find the nearest town and have the tire put on a rim.  That Mosquito is so handy!  Photos below.

Stay TUNED!  Much more to come from the magical Yucatan.

Gettin' Around

Photo taken at San Miguel de Allende Mercado.

Of all the things we have for this trip….we both agree that the best thing is the “Red Mosquito” motorcycle we bought in Puerto Vallarta.  It’s a little Italika 115 that we picked up brand new for less than $800 US dollars.  The truck is big and uses a lot of gas. We can go far and fast on the Mosquito, and it costs us less than $5 a week for gas.  We take that motorcycle everywhere, and it is much more fun.  We use the truck almost exclusively as transportation from one destination to the next, and the Mosquito and bicycles otherwise. We have a cart for PJ that attaches to both the Mosquito and the bikes, so he can come with us.  Jorge also added a plastic crate on the back of the Mosquito so we can use it for grocery shopping or to do laundry.

We have our rhythm now on this road trip.  Things are getting easier and we have various systems in place when we are on the move.  Things aren’t as complicated as I thought they might be. 

As we prepared for the trip we weren’t exactly sure how we would work with money.  Should we have a sum of money hidden in the truck or the trailer?  How much cash should we carry?  Turns out to be very simple.  Most ATM’s allow you to withdraw 5000 pesos (roughly $260 US dollars) at a time.  It works for us to withdraw 5000 pesos each, every 10-14 days.  I usually put half of that in a secret place and carry the rest.  I think Jorge carries the full amount with him.  We don’t need much.

We haven’t used credit cards, just cash from the ATM.  In Central Mexico a meal at a restaurant or food stand has cost us about $3 US dollars per person.  Many of the "restaurants" are actually someone's house.  They open up their kitchen, maybe add an extra table or two. Some cook in front of you, and others have a few pots of homemade food on the table, and you just serve what you want.

The other day at the market we bought 6 tomatoes, 3 onions, 8 limes, and a handful of jalapeños for under $1 US dollar.  At the same market I got three healthy bean tostadas - with lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and salsa for about .50 cents TOTAL for all three!

Photo of Guanajuato (left), San Miguel de Allende (right).

I was really looking forward to finally seeing Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.  We planned on staying in Guanajuato the usual two weeks, and taking a side trip to San Miguel during that time.  We got up early to start the 5+ hour drive from Guadalajara.  About a half hour into the trip we stopped at Pemex for gas, and Jorge noticed we had a broken lift spring on the trailer.  Jorge decided to just pull it over to the side of the Pemex and weld it right there.  I ran across the highway to one of the food stands and bought some chicken, tortillas and drinks.  He finished in 45 minutes; we had lunch, and were back on the road in an hour.  We were pretty impressed with ourselves.

Jorge welding the lift spring on trailer.

There were two RV parks in Guanajuato, and I thought one was too small for our 5th wheel.  So we choose Bugamville RV Park.  For the first time, we were a little disappointed in the park.  It was very “blah”.  It consisted of a fenced-in, big open grassy field, an office, restrooms, restaurant and small playground on one end.  No trees.  No personality.  More importantly, the whole place looked closed.  After about five minutes a teenage boy appeared and opened the gate and let us in.  The park turned out to be just fine.  PJ had a whole field to run free.  It cost us $14/day.  We were out exploring most of the time anyway.

Bugamville RV Park, Guanajuato City, Guanajuato

The morning after we arrived we left PJ at the trailer and jumped on the Mosquito to check out Guanajuato.  I had seen photos, and heard it was one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico.  After spending two weeks there, I will say it was by far my favorite place on the trip so far, and it is the most charming city I have EVER been to. 

All over this lively city you will find outdoor cafes, theaters, beautiful churches, museums, art galleries, unique shops and welcoming parks and plazas.  Guanajuato is set into a narrow valley, and colorful houses are squished up the mountain sides.  The streets are walkable and clean.  Although there is lots of activity in the streets, the ambiance felt unexpectedly quiet and peaceful. It was the strangest thing.  Jorge noticed it too.  It seems like you can hear the fountains in the plazas, conversations in the restaurants, church bells or the wandering musicians, but you don’t really hear traffic or typical city noises.  Photos of Guanajuato below.

I think the amazing and unique tunnels of Guanajuato contributed to the quiet factor.  They efficiently divert, hide and limit the traffic around the city center. The tunnels are an intricate network of roadways underneath the city, allowing you to move easily and quickly to wherever you need to go.  I was really captivated by these tunnels, and hadn’t ever seen anything like it.  They were quite a sight, with pretty decorative entrances and open stretches revealing the tall rock/brick walls leading up to homes and places of business.  I was impressed by the complexity and efficiency of it, especially since they are quite old.  In the more narrow tunnels water drips in. 

It is my understanding that the tunnels are converted underground caverns where the Rio Guanajuato (River) used to flow.  The river was rerouted in the mid-20th century.  There are even footpaths in all the tunnels, and entrances and exits for both walkers and cars throughout the system.  Walkers used stairways leading in and out.

Speeding through the tunnels on the Mosquito, exiting into the beautiful city, and racing through the narrow streets and winding steep alley ways made us feel very James Bond.  A motorcycle is the perfect transportation in Guanajuato because many roads are too steep and narrow for cars and trucks. 

For our side trip to San Miguel de Allende we decided to board PJ for the 3 days we were there.  I found the Pet Hotel San Miguel de Allende, which turned out to be an AMAZING place.  They charged $10 per day.  PJ has been boarded a few times and he doesn’t like it.  He also doesn’t like going to the vet.  He hates the vet so much that I have to sedate him so he will allow the vet to examine him.  The vet gave me some sedation pills to take with me in case I needed them.  I usually give him one pill an hour before his vet appointment.  I am embarrassed to say I decided it might be a good idea to give him half a pill before taking him to the pet hotel.  My thought was that it would calm him just a little, to make it easier.  Well, that turned out to be a very bad decision. 

After giving him half of the pill, he quickly got very lethargic.  It scared me, because he had never gotten that lethargic with a whole pill.  On the way to San Miguel we stopped to get coffee.  As we returned to the truck we saw that PJ had moved to the front passenger seat.  He was staring at us through the window with a blank stare.  Then he started to waver from side to side, and suddenly he fell face forward into the passenger window.  We could see one paw reaching for the window, and the top of his nose facing up.  Oh my God, I couldn’t believe his reaction.  What had I done?

I opened the door gently, so he didn’t fall out.  Then I slid into the seat and just sort of held him while he looked up at me with glazed eyes.  It was the most terrible feeling.  I wasn’t sure why in the world he was so drugged up.  I was scared, wondering if he would ever be the same. I thought Jorge might be really upset with me, but thankfully he didn’t make me feel bad. 

It all worked out in the end.  The pill wore off and he went right into the boarding place with no problem at all.  The owner was very professional and knew how to handle all kinds of dogs.  I was the problem, not PJ.  Later Jorge thought it was funny to remind me of what happened, and threatened to call immigration and have me deported for the incident. I laughed about it, but I didn’t really think it was funny.    

Photos of Pet Hotel San Miguel de Allende below.

San Miguel de Allende easily takes you in.  It's warm and inviting and you are calmed by the colors and the people. I first heard about San Miguel when it was a featured city on the HGTV show, House Hunters International.  I knew I'd love it, and it was so cool to find myself standing right there on the streets of San Miguel.  I have had many moments like that on this trip.  Before leaving I would be driving home from work, or trying to fall asleep at night and I would think about specific places I wanted to see.  I would research those places, and look at maps, and now I was actually right there.

On the first night we took an hour long trolley tour around the city.  I like to do this to get the layout of a place, and then return to the places I'm interested in on my own.  This particular tour was fun because in addition to pointing out the highlights, the tour guide filled us in on the legends associated with different areas.  We did end up returning to many of the places she pointed out.

We came back to the public laundry area in the old neighborhood of El Chorro. It's sort of like a plaza area.  On the perimeter there are basins in a line with a water trough above them, fed by a spring. This was the traditional public laundry area where the women came to wash clothing.  Some people still wash their clothes there at no charge.

Below the public laundry is a lovely park called Parque Benito Juarez.  This is an active city park for families, people of all ages, birds, dogs, trees and plants. 

We wandered through their Mercado de Artesanias, which was packed with handicrafts, blankets, hats, jewelry, scarves, purses, and food.  We also checked out Fabrica la Aurora, an old converted raw cotton factory.  They displayed a diverse selection of art, furniture, textiles, jewelry, home decor and so on. 

The public library (La Biblioteca de San Miguel) was also a great place to see.  They have an old theater in the library, and one night we saw, Miles Ahead, a movie about Miles Davis.

Once you visit San Miguel de Allende, you can see it is an easy place to fall in love with.  It is a popular place with Americans, and many call it home. It has a rich history, and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  From the Colonial and Spanish architecture, to the windy cobblestone streets, the boutique hotels, artsy shops and top of the line restaurants, it is an authentic, sparkling jewel. 

Photos of San Miguel de Allende below.

On another night in San Miguel we read there was tango dancing at a cultural center, so we decided to check it out.  As we entered the building we ran into an older, elegant woman wearing a….”tango outfit”.  She said, “Are you here for tango?”  We replied, “yes.”  We weren’t sure…was it tango lessons, or just tango dancing??  She said they would teach us, no problem.  So we follow her upstairs to a dance room, and there were only 3 older men waiting to dance.  Oh boy, this was going to be awkward.  I was sort of hoping it be a bunch of people dancing and sweating, and the music would be loud and we could just blend in.  I walked toward the door to put my bag down, and the woman said, “Don’t sneak out!”  Jorge whispered to me, “Do you want to get out of this?”  He said to meet him downstairs on the street and he would take care of it, which he did. 

So we wandered down the street to El Jardin, the main plaza.  There were lots of people hanging out, and mariachi’s singing in front of one of the restaurants.   All of a sudden the sky got dark and the thunder started to rumble and crack.  There was a definite storm coming.  I told Jorge let’s stay and take some photos of it, with the Cathedral (Parroquia De San Miguel Arcángelh) as a backdrop. 

Within just a few minutes it got much darker, and rain started to fall.  Another minute went by and suddenly it was pouring like I have never seen before.  Within about 5-6 minutes it turned into what I thought was a flash flood.  The steps around the plaza turned into waterfalls and the water rushed into the street creating a fast river. Jorge and I were amazed by the whole scene and just instantly got excited about it.  When everyone ran for cover, we ran into the swift waters flowing in the streets, we stood directly under the water spraying from the drainage pipes sticking out of the tops of the buildings, and sat on the plaza steps which was now a newly formed waterfall.  We were running around like kids taking video and photos and we got completely soaked. Every item in my backpack was also soaked. It was so much fun.

I thought I would like San Miguel more than Guanajuato.  As it turned out, I preferred Guanajuato.  I liked the bigger city feel, the mysterious, narrow alleys, the art students wandering everywhere, the entrances of unique restaurants and shops and the peaceful parks and plazas.  The only thing missing was water.  No ocean, no water to swim or kayak.

While staying in Guanajuato, we visited El Pípila (statue of local hero of Guanajuato}, the mummy museum (yes, real mummies!), Cristo Rey (statue of Christ). We hiked up to the lighthouse, and on the trails around our RV Park.  We also took a trip to Leon, a town famous for their shoes.

Hiking in Guanajuato.

Cristo Rey statue

Meeting the family

Jorge's Great Uncle, Ramon Martinez

Visiting the Guadalajara / Lake Chapala area was really special in so many ways.  Of all the places we’ve visited in the last few months, this turned out to be Jorge’s favorite place of all.  Interestingly, this is the area his mom and dad are from.  His parents met in Tijuana, but they both come from small towns on the outskirts of Guadalajara.  Jorge had never seen the towns his parents came from, until now.

Zapotitán de Hidalgo is the town Jorge’s mom is from.  It is located in the state of Jalisco, just outside Guadalajara, and very close to the shore of Lake Chapala.   It’s a farming town of approximately 460 people.  Jorge has never met the family members from Zapotitán de Hidalgo, so we were looking forward to going there and meeting them for the first time.  His mom said to just go to the town and ask anyone where the Martinez / Flores family lives.  I told him he should call first, but he said it wasn’t necessary.  Cultural difference, for sure!  So we rolled into town and within a few minutes we were directed to the home of Elena, Jorge’s moms’ cousin.  She wasn’t expecting us, but when she found out who Jorge was, she invited us into her house.  She told us that her house was the home Jorge’s  Great Grandma grew up in.  She showed us around the house, and quickly offered to take us around to meet the family.  So she got in our truck and took us house to house.  As we drove she stopped people on the street, who just happened to be Jorge’s great cousin or great aunt.  As we stopped at the various houses, I was touched by how warm and hospitable his family was; especially since they had no idea we were coming.  

Elena and her sister, Chata, invited us to come back again for the day, to meet more of the family.  So in a couple days we returned at 9:00 am.  They had breakfast made for us and Jorge had time to ask some questions about the family.  Later Elena took us around again to meet more people. 

One of the most poignant meetings was when Elena took us to meet Jorge’s Grandpa’s sister, Maria Flores.  We heard she was very petite and had a big personality in her day.  She wasn’t expecting us when we arrived.  She lived with her daughter and grandchildren in a small brick house.  As we approached the front door we saw a woman of 90+ years sitting in a chair directly in front of the open front door.  She was very little, and very cute.  She wore pants, a couple sweaters, and was covered by a blanket.  Elena told her who Jorge was, and she looked up at him, quite taken aback.  Jorge kneeled down so she could see his face, and reached for her hand.  Her eyes were wide with surprise, and she stared into his face in silence for a moment.  She was shaking a little, and a couple tears rolled down her cheeks.  She asked if he had come from Tijuana, and then said how much she hated Tijuana and everyone laughed.  She asked about her late brother (Jorge’s grandpa), and they talked about him and other people.  At the end of the visit Maria’s tears flowed.  Everyone in the small room who had gathered around to see the reunion was teary as well, to see her reaction to meeting her brother’s grandson.

Maria Flores

The whole visit with his family was such a highlight.  Chata prepared Albondigas soup and tortillas for dinner before we left that evening.  They really rolled out the red carpet and made us feel so special.  Photos of Jorge's family and some of their animals below.

It was really interesting being in the town and visiting the family at their homes.  Since I have known Jorge’s mom for the last 15 years, I loved seeing where she had come from.  I hope to tell her about it in person when we return.  I should be finally able to speak to her in Spanish, instead of relying on someone to translate everything for me.  It was also an opportunity to get a closer look into their culture that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  

We stayed Roca Azul RV Park on the shore of Lake Chapala, next to the town of Jocotepec. A couple photos from Jocotepec below.

Roca Azul - www.roca-azul.com

For $13/day they offered a gigantic swimming pool, two thermal pools, a well-manicured soccer field, club house, picnic area, volleyball courts, and a few options for RV parking.  This was the first place we had American neighbors.  There were two American couples, an angry, single American man, and a German couple close to our RV spot. 

Jan and Bob from Oregon were the couple directly across from us.  It was such a pleasure to meet them and talk with them.  I was surprised at how happy I was to connect with people from home (US).  I believe they have been living in the park for 4 years.  Bob told me that all he knew about Mexico was that it was really dangerous.   At some point they had an opportunity to go to San Felipe (Baja), and they loved it.  They realized Mexico was nothing like they had heard – so they ended up to moving to central Mexico!  It is just crazy how life unfolds.   They enjoy the mild weather, the friendly Mexican people and the low cost of living.  Roca Azul allows their long term residents do whatever they want to their RV spot, so many have installed covered patios and put in some nice landscaping.  Jan and Bob had made their space very comfortable and pretty with their outdoor kitchen and patio, and pretty plants and flowers around their space.

A couple days before we left the area, a man named Jack rolled into the RV Park.  He was driving a gigantic, dated motor home with American plates, and towing a beat up minivan.  I was astounded when I found out that he was 84 years old, and in a wheelchair!  I was even more floored to discover he had driven all the way from Oregon, and he had never stepped foot into Mexico until now.  He told me later that this was his last move, and he planned to live out his life in Mexico. 

Once he pulled into the park he didn’t get out of his motor home for a couple days.  He was too exhausted from the trip.  Apparently he traveled with a 20 lb cat, but the cat disappeared along the way.   He told the employees at the park that he needed a ramp built, and would like to hire a caregiver.  Oh, and he also needed a mechanic to fix his side mirror that was torn off along the trip, and to repair the flat tire on the trailer towing his minivan.  As a testament to the accommodating nature of the people in this country, they worked hard to get him everything he requested.  Bob and Jan also were ready to help with anything they could. 

I was excited to check out Guadalajara, which was about an hour from the RV Park.  We actually went a few times.  It was crowded, old and interesting.  On one visit we parked the truck outside of the central zone, and biked in.  It was fun weaving through all the cars and crowded streets.  We visited the cathedral and the four plazas surrounding it.  I just HAD to take a horse and carriage ride around the city.  We paid $15 for an hour ride with a very pleasant cowboy who pointed out all the sites.  It was just a really nice way to sit back and just take it all in.

We also visited Mercado San Juan de Dios, the largest indoor market in Latin America.  When I first saw it I thought it looked a little scary, like a concrete parking garage, crammed with people.  A place I could easily get lost, and not in a good way.   I told Jorge if we went in we might not make it out alive, but I wanted to see it.  You can’t just pass it up.  So we ventured in and enjoyed the whole experience.  I think they had an entire floor of shoes.  There were millions of kids backpacks for sale, clothes, electronics, horse saddles, pots and pans, baskets, dishes, toys, soccer shirts, fruits and vegetables, raw meats, cheeses, spices, wallets, fly swatters, jewelry, and lots of cooked food!  It went on and on for days.

That evening we found our bikes just as it started to rain.  We rode out of the city center in a complete down pour.  My tire went flat about half way to the truck, as I followed Jorge.  I didn’t bother stopping or telling Jorge, I just kept riding because I wanted to get to the truck and rest my aching feet.

Lake Chapala turned out to be everything and more for us!  It is 50 miles long, and surrounded by green mountains and little towns.  There are houses and open air restaurants along the perimeter, but it is far from over crowded.  On any day you will see a horse or cattle grazing along the shore.  The lake was wide open, with very few boats.  We mostly saw fisherman on wooden row boats not far from shore.  One day we saw three young boys (probably about 10 years old), and a dog, out rowing an old wooden boat.  They were fishing, but hadn’t caught anything yet.  Of course Jorge had to joke around with them. They were so cute.  One kid had an old, tattered fedora hat on.  I wish I could have taken a photo to remember them.

Shortly after arriving at Roca Azul, we looked for a restaurant where we planned to ask if we could leave our kayak and paddleboard.  It might sound like a strange thing to ask, but it isn’t strange in Mexico.  It would be much more convenient to paddle if we didn’t have to unload and load them on the truck every time we wanted to go out.  So we found a nice restaurant on the lake, we ate breakfast and asked the owner if we could leave on boats there.  Of course, he had no problem with that!  So we left our board and kayak, and it worked out perfectly.   Paddling on Lake Chapala was really special, and PJ enjoyed riding with us and swimming in fresh water for a change.

We visited Ajijic, which is a town full of Canadian expats.  They have many nice shops, and even more fabulous restaurants hidden behind half open doors facing the narrow cobblestone streets.  A couple photos below...

In the mountains opposite Ajijic are tons of hiking trails.  We found a trail that we heard had a waterfall so we headed up the mountain.  We crossed a creek several times, making our way up.  I expected water since it was the rainy season, but I didn’t expect to see a large waterfall since the creek wasn’t too large.  After about 30 minutes we arrived at a high, gorgeous waterfall.  It was a beautiful sight.  As we continued to climb, we came to several waterfalls.  Unexpectedly, it was one of the nicest hikes I’ve been on in years.

As I write this blog, we have moved on to Guanajuato.  We’ve been exploring and oh, I have so much to tell!  It may be the most beautiful, charming city I have ever been to.  I’ll keep you posted…..