Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Acapulco

Arrival in Acapulco was simple - we did not have any issues on the road nor in finding the resort.  In fact we arrived at the resort without realizing it and found out when we asked the security guard at the gate 'Donde esta Grand Mayan?' and he told us that we had arrived.

The resort has a great atmosphere, very pleasant respectful staff and we are greeted warmly wherever we go. We did not have to attend the sales presentation because we had already been through that in Puerto Vallarta - of course that means that we don't get our valet parking refunded (then again what is 380 pesos worth anyhow, about $22 for the week).  Our suite is awesome and the first night we unloaded our bags and headed for a restaurant on site for a celebratory (Rosalind's birthday) buffet supper.  We were the only guests there for most of the time and were serenaded and presented with a birthday message on a plate - a very special evening all round.  We rounded this off by soaking in the pool on our balcony so that we were nice and cool and relaxed before bed.




The next morning we took a short ride to the Mega grocery store (right next to Wal-Mart) a couple of blocks up the road.  Mega is a really nice grocery store, much better quality than Wal-Mart and we had fun picking up a few supplies to see us through the week.  We even stopped at the coffee bar in the middle of the store and enjoyed a nice cup of coffee (they give a couple of little pastries with the coffee) before continuing our grocery shopping.

After that it was time to explore the resort, catch up with some more green iguanas and chill out on the beautiful beach.




The beach here is so beautiful and easy to walk that one day we walked for a full hour before stopping to try a 'coco frio' (coconut with the top chopped off so that you can put a straw in to drink the coconut liquid).  It was OK and was certainly welcome as we had not intended walking that far and were thirsty (needed to hydrate before heading back), but it is not the type of coconut that we are used to and did not have the coconut milk, more of a funny tasting cool water.  There is none of the white meat that we usually associate with coconut flesh.  Chalk up another one to experience, we have now tried it but won't bother again.  That end of the beach with all its vendors and stalls was not too pleasant but it was certainly interesting seeing the locals, the many breastfeeding mothers and the squalid conditions in which they sold their wares.

One day we walked the 3 km to Mega to get some more milk and stopped for lunch at Al Sabor Del Chef which is a little cafe type eating place in the mall.  After a discussion with someone eating (Gerald asked what he was eating because it looked so good and we could figure out most of what was on the menu), we order "costillas de puerco en chile morita" (Pork ribs in chile sauce) to split - it was what they called a comida correr and for the grand price of 60 Pesos, it came with water of the day (delicious papaya water), pollo caldone (chicken broth/soup), the main meal of pork ribs, beans, spaghetti and also came with postre (desert) which was a mango mousse - a delicious meal padded out with jugo verde (green juice - made from green vegetable juices and bananas, very good!) and we were well satisfied.


Another day we decided to drive into Acapulco and check out the divers, after all isn't that part of visiting Acapulco? Acapulco is huge and busy, full of the vast differences between the wealthy tourist and the struggling Mexican.  It was an interesting drive and Gerald really has his Mexican driving skills well honed now but we are not city people and it is hard work getting into non-existent gaps in the flow of traffic and watching constantly in all directions.  It is also no good just watching the traffic lights because they may be red and a traffic cop is waving you on or vice versa - just make sure to be super aware when you hear whistles blowing.








Once into Acapulco, before heading out to the diving site, we took a detour through some very narrow, winding, steep streets up to the San Diego Fort - well worth the detour.  There is so much history laid out in the rooms of the pentagon shaped fort, everything is displayed beautifully.  The place is impeccably clean, the views are absolutely amazing and the admittance fee is only 55 pesos each (around $5).


Water cooled cellar off the main kitchen


Within the inner walls of the pentagon shaped fort

Entrance has a drawbridge over the moat, thick wooden doors and a portcullis

Royal Carriage


Until visiting the fort of San Diego, I had never realized quite how powerful the Spanish were and how many lands they controlled, nor how much of an influence has been exerted by the Filipinos. There is a strong eastern influence especially with food and culture.

Looking out over Acapulco over the ramparts from the fort, we got a good idea of what a great vantage point this was and how the many cannons could easily take out ships in Acapulco bay.  This is probably why the fort never fell to any pirates or buccaneers.  We also saw several hundred cars lined up ready to be exported.


There are a lot of decaying buildings because of lower rate of tourism (cruise ships no longer pulling in to port here) caused by the drug related violence as well the the over abundance of vendors from the every growing number of shanty towns that cling to the hills.  However, there seems to be action to encourage tourism back (the main source of income) with the strong police and security presence as we have been seeing on most of our travels.


There are lots of signs of people trying to beautify their surroundings and labor is nearly always manual - look at the mosaics being painstakingly applied to a wall of a music college in a narrow street across from the fort.

Unfortunately we missed the cliff divers because we got there after lunch and their next performance was only going to be at 7:30 in the evening, we had to pay 20 pesos to park the car before we found that out so went for a stroll around the area but there is nothing there except for some really questionable looking dirty food stalls and the usual mechanic shops etc.
Site of the cliff divers with viewing platform
We got out of there quickly and headed down towards the beach area to look for somewhere to get something to eat.  Once again it was a bit of a fight with the traffic and the very narrow streets - somehow it just works though.  Look at the bus stops in the middle of the street, pretty clever really because there is a bus lane in the middle of each side of the road so you can get off the bus in the middle and get another bus going in the opposite direction without having to cross the street.

Enough already of this city, let's get out of town and head back to Playa Diamente to get a very late lunch.  On the way back I saw the most beautiful bay with a Marina, surely with all those big boats out there, there must be somewhere where the more wealthy people don't mind eating?


Looks beautiful doesn't it?  Well the up close and personal truth was not a beautiful site and there were many food vendors that I couldn't (wouldn't?) bring myself to get food from but we finally found one place that looked better than others so we decided to take a chance.  The restaurant had a lovely view of the bay and even had it's own swimming pool - I can only imagine the fun that is had there late in the evening when tequila and swimming pool come together. It was actually a pretty nice place and we had 'dedos de pesco' (fingers of fish, nothing like fish fingers though) with rice, lettuce and tomato slices which we washed down with a corona and a coke - when we questioned the waiter about type of fish it was (it was a very firm nice flavored fish) we found out that we had been eating marlin.



One the way out we saw some more examples of the exciting wall art that is quite prevalent in Mexico - there is actually quite a following of Mexican graffiti and murals.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Puerto Vallarta to Acapulco

We decided to leave Puerto early in the morning so that we would stand a good chance of getting to our overnight stop in Zihuatanijo before it got too dark - estimated drive was 740 km and a bit more than 11 hours.  The morning was pleasantly cool and we managed to get on the road about 7:15 before the sun got up - we did not encounter any issues with the morning rush hour or anything much except one wrong turn which we soon managed to correct.

This leg of the journey takes us all along the coast and not on the toll roads - we thought that this would be much more fun than taking the longer and 'safer' toll road route up through the inland roads towards Mexico City especially since the coastal road was only about an hour longer per google maps.  Maybe it was a lot shorter but that one hour turned out to be several hours but much more fun and much more beautiful.

The sun starting coming up shortly after we left the city behind us, we were smelling a lot of smoke and saw a layer of smoke spreading miles and miles through the valley as we started climbing into the mountains from Cabo Corrientes  It seemed to follow us for more than an hour or so and we thought maybe crop fields were being burned off as we have so often seen, later you will find out (as we did) what was really going on in that area and pretty much everywhere that we traveled on this leg of our adventure.

Beautiful trees canopied the road and we drove with the windows open listening to the birds singing their morning chorus.


The coast road (MEX 200) was in a much better condition than we had anticipated and was very good until about 10 miles before Tomatlan where they are busy rebuilding the road and bridges completely.  Anyone planning on taking this route in the near future should also be aware of the fact that there is major reconstruction going on around the Rio San Nicolas area and you will need to navigate dirt tracks winding around for quite a few miles - take care and be sure to travel slowly and in good weather and light conditions.

We are also still seeing the military presence frequently which is very comforting and shows that Mexico are really working to make the country a safer place for everyone - we have not had any problems at all on the roads and are very impressed so far.

Typical middle class town

Interesting dome house on the hill

Just before La Cumbre we started seeing banana plantations, when I looked at the map (it was a great idea to bring an actual map with us to see the big picture of where we are instead of just the GPS device version), I found that the are is called Punte Chiquita - go figure!


Village life has it's own pace and it's own transportation style.


Rounding one bend in the mountains, we came across the most beautiful beach that we have seen so far - this one is near Santa Aloma and the beach has not really been discovered yet.  There are lots of beaches like this, far off the usual tourist route, miles from any of the populated areas with their shopping centers and airports etc.  It would take a couple of days for most people to get to these destinations but still they appear to be begging for development - then again, since we saw many spectacular sights like this one, maybe the current tourist destinations are handling the need?

Come along on a tour of some of the beaches and villages that we passed on our way between Santa Aloma and Manzanillo.

This marks the spot of a deadly accident the same as a simple white cross does on roads in USA





Took this as we crested the top of another tope

Never was quite quick enough to the capture the picture of the miles and miles and banana plants.

Mango trees are everywhere and we often saw many trucks loaded with crates of mangoes being offloaded to roadside vendors.


How can 1 tree growing by the edge of a dusty road in the middle of nowhere be so beautiful.


We thought we were approaching a toll road until we realized that we were going through the middle of what appeared to be some sort of vehicle distribution point.  We were used to a military presence at regular intervals along our route (inspection points thrown up much like those near the border or for drunk driving or boat inspections) but this was something quite new.


Then we passed salt pans at Las Salmas.  So you can see, between all the farming, car manufacture/delivery and salt processing, this is a pretty busy country.  Not only that, we are very impressed with the feeling of safety that the military presence and frequent showing of Municipal and federal police, as well as local security firms.  We saw naval personnel being transported to base with an armed guard as well. The military and Federal Police are always armed with automatic rifles and escorted with a mounted machine gun (and gunner) with 4 armed guards on the back of a pickup.  We are very leery of taking any pics since they are often masked..




Other methods of transportation depend on the area that people need to be moved around in.


Since the road took us right along the beach front in Manzanilla and it was lunch time, we decided to try a local beach restaurant for lunch.  We knew that this is a strong tourist area because we could have chosen to eat at KFC, DQ, Carls Jnr or Burger King instead and we also saw that Home Depot, Sams and Walmart have stores here too.




We didn't come to Mexico to stay with the same old USA stores and the beach front restaurant was a little questionable so we asked a customer what he was eating and how was it.  Turns out that the eggs are too oily but the steak is good so we shared a bifstek and papas lunch.  Though it was nothing outstanding, the tortillas were the best that we have had since we have been here, they seemed to be that magical mix of flour and corn that makes them light but flavorful - much as we didn't intend to, we ate all of the tortillas, helped down with a Corona which we shared because of the driving.



It was a long and winding road after lunch.  Once we left the town behind, we were up in the hills with lots of narrow roads, hairpin bends and drops.  We were alternately driving towards or alongside the coast or into the trees and mountains, at varying heights.  Fortunately we had very little traffic most of the way but the little villages and their different forms of transportation and differing heights (and obscurity) of topes were quite challenging at times.  As the sun started going down, we knew that we had to make Zihuatanijo before dark.  The dangers are from the road itself, not those on the road - everyone is very helpful using flashers to warn that they are stopping for topes but when there is no-one in front of you and the shadows are lengthening, it gets very difficult to see those unmarked topes.  It is also difficult to see that sawn off branch that juts out into the road at the very height of your windscreen (and head).

We arrived safely just as the sky was beginning to really darken and we found our stopping point (Villas Mercedes) without too much difficulty - thank you Waze.  I must admit though, as we were following the instructions on getting to this little local 'hotel', I was getting very nervous about what sort of shack I may have booked us into - this was not the best part of town.  When we arrived, it was the easiest check-in that we have had, the place was clean even though more like a hostel than an hotel and we were even lucky enough to get one of the only 2 parking spots behind a locked gate in the courtyard.  We had our own little room and a tiny little bathroom under the stairs - the ceiling fan would not work on anything but the highest speed setting and the air conditioner had much more noise than cooling efficiency but the bed was comfortable and we were safe and out of the night.  We didn't venture far for supper because it was late - we had a burger and nibbled of pickled carrots, peppers and garlic but it was kind of concerning that we were the only patrons.



There were some very noisy places nearby but the loud music and crowded bar would necessarily have meant better food.  After supper we took a walk along the beach front - it was magical,   Lights from distance towns crawling up the hills were reflected in the water, the waves splashed in front of us and the few locals that had been finishing a meal on the beach headed home as the last business closed it's doors for the night, leaving us to soak it in all by ourselves.

Unfortunately we did not sleep too well that night because of the warm humid conditions and the inefficient/noisy air conditioner.  Every time I turned during the night, I woke up because I had stuck to the sheets.  It was good enough to give us the break that we needed from driving and we started the day well with a decent shower and a lovely breakfast on the sidewalk at a nearby restaurant.  We had our choice of tables because we were the only people having breakfast in the area - we had huevos y jamon, including beans and queso fresa, washing it down with a delicious glass of green juice (agua verde) and a couple of cups of coffee.  Now we were ready to start the next leg of this journey to Acapulco.  On the way back to the hotel to check out, we saw a small group of expats out walking and they were picking up and getting rid of garbage from the streets as they went along - that made us think of ourselves.



Once we had checked out of the hotel which was as quick and easy as the check in, we headed out of town back to Mex 200.  As usual, the roads were somewhat confusing and we noticed most people taking a short cut but we decided to play it safe and stick with the navigation instructions.  We stopped at a PEMEX to fill up the car and got  a bottle of water, Coke and coffee for the road - we learned yesterday to start out with those goodies because the days can be long and the available places for drinks etc. can be very few and far between.  We were quite proud of ourselves when we understood the question "quieres una bolsa" (do you want a bag) and were able to answer all the questions about which machine we got the coffee from, what type of coffee was it and which flavor etc.  Woohoo, we can do this and were even able to respond with "es complicado" (it's complicated) regarding the coffee selections at the cash register.

This part of the journey was uneventful and the roads were much like those that we had traveled through villages yesterday.  Lots of fruit growing and selling, lots of curves and lots of topes but I still recommend driving the coast road between Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco.

We saw a lot of goats and then understood the roadside food stalls because we started noticing that the type of food had changed from mostly "pollo" to "barbacoa chivo" (barbequed goat).  We have also noticed that the roadsides are generally clear of garbage except in certain areas where there are mounds of trash piled up.  Apparently everyone knows where to dump their garbage and these piles are routinely burned off.  This, along with the burning of coconut husks to fuel the brick kilns, now explain the clouds of smoke that we come across as we enter and leave different pueblos.

We had not been on the road for very long when we saw an interesting looking church up on a hillside in the town of Coyuca de Benitez - since we only had about 4 hours of travelling to do today, we thought that this would be a great place to explore along the way.




Stairs to the balcony - no railings here!

Looking up to the Church entrance from town
After we left the church and wound our way through the narrow streets, we encountered a lot of traffic on the road that we needed to get on to - in typical Mexican fashion, there appeared to be chaos and there were some traffic police waving traffic along for a few minutes but he never let us out and he just walk away, never to be seen again.  A little bit of patience paid of as usual and once there was enough congestion to stop the traffic moving one way, the opposite direction stopped and allowed us on to the road.  It seems impossible but somehow it just works, eventually.

We passed another cemetery in one of the pueblos and it was typical of all the wonderful cemeteries that we had been seeing along the way - there is a definite reverence of the dead here and it looks like a beautiful pueblo appears until you look more closely and the structures that are better looking than the inhabitants live in, are actually grottos for the departed.


A few more Caribbean looking beaches and we arrived in Acapulco.


Some of these amazing new roads are actually so new (MEX 85D) that they have not even started charging tolls yet.  So we drop through a new toll booth that was not yet manned, meaning that our entire trip from Puerto Vallarta to Acapulco had only cost us about 110 pesos for the one toll that we had to pay.  This was even more surprising because the roads were really in excellent condition most of the way.

Reasons to not travel on the roads in Mexico at night:

  • Topes (speed bumps) hard enough to spot during the day, impossible at night!
  • Tree branches sticking out into roads from the sides at windshield height. We saw some of these at the last minute and barely avoided them even in daylight.  As trees fall, they cut them off when they fall over the road but often they are not cut back anywhere near far enough.
  • NOT bandidos or other bad guys :)


Entering Acapulco was a much different picture from entering Puerto Vallarta, although there are more inhabitants (mostly tourists?) the skyline is different and the infrastructure appears to be much better.

The Taxis are quite different, they are sometimes pickups with covers on them, other times they are beetles or vans.

Getting your car washed here is a whole different story too - you need to look out for your local Auto Lavado, often next to where you get your car fixed by the local mecanico which may just be near the Mercado where you can buy all those lovely fresh fruits & veggies growing nearby in the fields. (easy to find near one of the town topes). Next door you may find the way to take a good rest - many people (especially in the humid beach areas) sleep in hammocks (or just hang out in them during the day if there is nothing else going on) as it allows the air to circulate around you.  I have lost sleep several times because I stick to the sheets during the night, so a hammock really does make sense.




Wow, Grand Mayan (a step up from Mayan Palace on the hotel ratings) definitely makes up for our week at the Mayan Palace in Puerto Vallarta - we should have chosen to leave there a day early instead of arriving here a day late.  The suite here is maybe even more fabulous than room that we had in Pueblo Bonita and so much better than the suite in Mayan Place last week. The kitchen has much more room and has a 4 burner cook-top instead of 2, a new fridge and ample cabinet/counter-top space as well as a breakfast bar.  This is a suite and has a huge bedroom with couch, a comfortable chair, computer table and coffee table as well as a soaking tub. The bathroom has double vanity, glass door shower and a separate toilet.  The living room is spacious with two couches, there is a full size dining table and exit to the balcony.  There is also free (slow) internet for 2 devices (though we have gotten used to being without internet, this is going to help plan our trip & accommodations for the week drive up to Cancun).  The coup de gras is the balcony because it is huge (double width in front of the living room) and spans both the living room and bedroom but wait .. there is a plunge pool on the balcony in front of the bedroom! We may not have an ocean view but the view out over this part of town, villas and a fairway, to the distant hills is every bit as beautiful and I can't wait to see the lights come on in town from a seat in the pool on the balcony.