Sunday, April 30, 2017

Acapulco to Salinas Cruz

Our initial stage adventure, with it's vacation stops, is coming closer to an end.  After Cancun, it is all free form and we will start looking for a place to hang out for a bit longer than a week or two.  So far, we have travelled about 2,500 miles - passed over many topes (and hit hard on more than we wanted to), paid about as much in toll fees as we have in gas but have driven a surprising distance on less gas that we had expected.  Our fuel consumption from Acapulco to Salinas has averaged a little over 50 mpg and we have not filled up since about 20 km outside of Acapulco.

Just outside of Acapulco, we stopped in San Marcos for gas - the car is filthy now after over 2,000 miles of driving in very dusty conditions and we could barely see out of the side windows anymore.  Gerald started cleaning the side windows and the attendant began cleaning all of the windows off with a small jet of water - we almost had a car wash while filling up.  The windows all had a good cleaning and we could see much better for many miles after that.

It is amazing how everything changes within a few miles from one place to another.  The stalls that we passed at the side of the road suddenly became filled with beautiful baskets, clay pots and brooms.  A few miles later we were back to the common coconut stalls but we started seeing plantains being sold as well.

In Islaltepec, clothing and salt were the main item being sold, the most beautifuly embroidered dresses and huge sacks of salt.

Can you imagine buying salt in huge sacks like this?  It is pure sea salt and very cheap - I guess the amount of salt you use depends on how many margaritas you drink?  To be fair it is very coarse salt and is used a lot in cooking.  When the weather is this humid (Think Houston or Durban) you need salt to replace what has been sweated out.


The drive to Salina Cruz is all along MEX 200, very straightforward and without all those toll roads.  This means that we are following the coast all the way but a lot of time is spent up in the mountains on narrow winding roads.  We alternate between good roads and some non-existant roads (rocky dirt stretches) where the road is being rebuilt.  The 'Movar Mexico' project is in full swing and the roads are either very good or in the process of being rebuilt.  There was one pueblo (north of Pinotepa) though that had huge potholes everywhere all the way through and this leads us to believe that road maintenance is the responsibility of the pueblo within it's boundaries and the national rebuilding project covers between the pueblos. Just outside of the pueblo, there were beggars at some of the potholes standing with a shovel in one hand and the other hand stretched out for 'donations'. There were no topes in this town but they didn't need to spend money building them because even the local taxis were almost at standstill speed trying to avoid the potholes.

Each area naturally has it's own economic generator such as ranching, banana, papaya, mango or corn farming.  All labor is manual, there are no harvesters, no big tractors and we have only seen one or two small tractors in the couple of thousand miles that we have travelled so far. We have even seen mounds of corn husks in the middle of fields where a group of farm workers have been sitting husking corn right there in the field.

We noticed a few sawmills along the road with redwood colored sawed timbers for sale.  There weren't any large trees in the general area but lots of palm trees and then we noticed palm slabs (still had the bark).  They were palm wood!  What a beautiful looking wood.

At one point we saw that there is a coffin manufacturer in the region because we saw a couple of loads of coffins being transported. They were magnificent looking coffins and again highlighted the fact that the departed are well respected in Mexican culture - I don't think that we routinely buy such beautiful coffins in the USA unless we fall prey to salesman at the funeral home or are part of a very wealthy family.

Some of those topes are so bad that even when we come to a complete stop and crawl over, the tope hits with a solid thump.  Mexicans are great entrepeneurs and there are always hands out (for donations), vendors of anything from Coco Frio to anything saleable right at the topes but we are now noticing muffler shops have also popped up next to a lot of the topes.

Everywhere, even in the poorest little pueblo, the flowering plants and trees are magnificent with vibrant colors popping up in the most unexpected places.  Verandas/balconies, at the side of the street, in the middle of a field, everywhere has so much beauty no matter if it is an arid area or the lush sub-tropical areas that we have passed through.

Stopping at a pueblo (Cuajinicuilata) along the way for lunch we drove along the main road looking for a clean place with people eating there (we never stop at the first likely looking place but rather go further up the street and then come back to what we think is the best place for us), we drove around the block and came across another example of Mexico manually at work.  Can you imagine any town (even Hardin) manually digging a trench for sewers?

Amazing tortillas with that magic mix of corn and flour, handmade and cooked on a wood-fired stove moments before you eat them, they were so hot we could hardly handle them.  A smile and a compliment (in Spanish) to the tortilla cook, produced a couple of extra tortillas for us.

As we pass through Cuajinicuilata bear in mind that we are still on MEX 200, the main highway along the coast. Notice how narrow and crowded the road is!

Of course every town has it's major churches and cathedrals, this one looks very much like the one that we drove up to just after we left Zihuatanijo.

In San Jose del Progresso we saw yet another type of taxi - suddenly the taxis changed from tarp covered pickups to Tuc Tucs.

The roadside stalls changed again as we got closer to Puerto Escondido and we see a signs of a little more 'wealth' in the state of Oaxaca.  It is much cleaner and prettier, there are lots of signs alongside the road about not throwing out trash and keeping the roads clean - an attempt at education about a clean environment being a healthy environment is taking place.

The little house in Puerto Escondido is so well built and so beautiful - I did not expect anything this nice for the $38 (US) that we paid per night through Airbnb.  There are some bargains to be had if you read the reviews well.  The house is very easy to get to because it is right off MEX 200, no driving through other streets to get there but you do have to know where it is.  A quick phone call to Ana and there she was, waiting at the side of MEX 200 to show us where to turn in (no addressing standards here!).  Lovely big rooms, immaculately clean and very tastefully decorated - everything that we need for a comfortable stay including purified water, new appliances, a very comfortable bed and even a few cold drinks in the fridge. Ana even drew two maps for us to show us how to get to the beach and where everything is around here. There is a little portable swamp cooler in the bedroom and amazingly it actually works well because the humidity is not high at night here at the house even though we are only about 1 km from the beach.  If we could find a place like this for a longer term rental in somewhere like Guanajuato or Lake Chapala, I could definitely see us living in it for a few months or so.

After settling in at the little house, we took a drive down to the beach.  First we went to look at the area around the Zicatela Point, this is a 'do not swim' beach because it is a crocodile haven but there is a very local little town here and big swamps with a lot of bird life.  We drove on towards the main beach (Playa Zicatela) which is a surfing paradise and has a lot of shops, restaurants and hotels - everywhere is clean and well maintained and Ana promised us that all the restaurants are good.  After walking a little and checking out a couple of the restaurants we stopped at one little open air restaurant for supper (El Cafecito Zicatela) - chicken cooked in a yellow mole for Gerald and chicken tacos for Rosalind.  We washed this down with Orange and Papaya juice for Gerald and Rosalind's new drink of choice 'green juice', this particular one was parsley, celery, cucumber, pineapple and orange but most have also had spinach as well.  This delicous meal came with some bread rolls and each plate also had rice and some lettuce one one and steamed green beans on the other and came to 245 pesos, including tip (about $13.60 for both of us).

The night stayed hot but the humidity dropped and we managed to get a reasonably good night's sleep - much better than we had expected to get without any air conditioning.  Even the roosters didn't wake me too early, mostly because their crowing only sounded like heavy breathing because it was muffled by the white noise of the portable swamp cooler and the ceiling fan.

We found the most amazing beach, Playa Carizalillo, where the surf is good, the sand is white and the water is cool and great for playing in the waves.  It is a small beach with lots of chairs and sun shades which seemed to be for the bars and restaurants that have sprouted up under that roofs the entire length of the beach.  To get to this beach you need to go down a lot of steep steps (yes, that means that you have to climb up them again after a day playing in the sun and water).  Even though there were a lot of people there, it wasn't really crowded - Gerald found himself a good spot in the shade of a tree part way up another set of steps that led to a hotel.

Gerald gave the car a wash just before we left the beautiful little casita in Puerto Escondido - after about 2,300 miles driving through all sorts of terrain, she really needed it and is looking respectable again now for another couple of thousand miles.

The road from Puerto Escondido to Salina Cruz was more of the same that we had experienced on the way into Salina Cruz. It follows the coast in varying degress from scenic views of the ocean to mountainous winding roads a few kilometers from the coast. We passed through some lush areas where the trees were flowing in vivid colors.  I recognized the Coral Tree (Lucky Bean Tree) but I have never seen a tree with vivid blue flowers like this - from a distance I thought they were Jacaranda but these are blue, an incredible vivid blue.

As usual, there were several local transportation choices.

As we got closer to Salina Cruz, the terrain became more desert like and there were a lot of Pipe Organ Cactus - they were in flower, beautiful yellow flowers sprouting out from the top of each pipe.

One more beautiful hill, a tunnel and we had arrived in Salina Cruz.

Since we have had some decent meals at beach front restaurants, we tried heading for the beach in order to get some lunch.  Unfortunately this is as close as we got to the beach, this is definitely not like Puerto Escondido and is more of a naval base than a beach town.

Salina Cruz however is not impressive, we have not found much to like about it, it is a busy little town of a lower caliber than Puerto Escondido - that place has spoiled us both with the beauty of the place and with the nice accommodations that we had via AirBnB.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


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.