Sunday, June 25, 2017

San Cristobal to San Miguel de Allende

On June 14, 2017 we left San Cristobal de las Casas for a drier and warmer climate.

San Cristobal is point A and San Miguel de Allende is point E on the map.  Point F is Ajijic on Lake Chapala.
Over 6,000 miles (10,000 km) driven in Mexico since April 1, 2017.

We headed out of San Cristobal on  the 190D toll road towards Tuxtla Gutiérrez.

Rugged peaks and looking down on the clouds between San Cristobal and Tuxtla.

Rugged peaks on Mex 145D just before crossing from the state of Chiapas into the state of Tabasco.

Stayed cable bridge across the Coatzacoalcos River on  Mex180D
Yes, we have been travelling around so much in Mexico that we ended up backtracking to almost into Coatzcoalcos again ;)

In all our travels around Mexico, we have seen roadside vendors selling pineapples, but this is the first time we have seen pineapple fields.  And there were thousands of acres of pineapple fields, as far as the eye could see, around the general center of Veracruz.
Pineapple fields near Juan Rodríguez Clara in the state of Veracruz.  The black in the distance is netting, apparently, to protect the crop.

Roadside vendors selling crates of mangoes for 50 pesos per crate.
We spent the night in Córdoba (Note the accent on the o!  Its pronounced cór-do-ba with the emphasis on the first syllable, not cor-doba.).  It had been a long day driving so we grabbed a quick bite to eat at the KFC a block down the road from the hotel and walked around a small square before retiring for the night.

The next morning (June 15) we headed out of Córdoba towards Puebla.

Leaving Cordoba, the closer to Puebla and Mexico City, the more interesting the architecture became.
 We stopped for gas and a latte at The Italian Coffee company near Esperanza.  From the back of the store, you have a great view of Pico de Orizaba, also known as Citlaltépetl, which is a stratovolcano, the highest mountain in Mexico and the third highest in North America (per Wikipedia)
Yes that is snow on Pico de Orizaba, the highest mountain in Mexico.  Photo was taken June 15, 2017.

As the valleys got larger, so did the fields and more of the fields were farmed with tractors.  Here is corn growing along side the road before Puebla.
A building in the shape of an eagle.  Sorry about the speed limit sign!  Most people on the road ignore them so you can too!

Closer view of the Eagle.

Not just a generic fly over, but a stayed cable one!

A colorful facade for a stadium?  We couldn't see what it was from the toll way. 

Trauma hospital with heli pad on the roof.

Entering the State of Puebla on Mex 150D
More farming, mainly corn.

As we get closer to Mexico City, we are seeing more industry.  This appears to be a particle board factory as we kept seeing truck loads of particle board sheets and shelving on the highway.  The plant superstructure was a strong reminder to Rosalind from her particleboard manufacturing experience days.

The hay was mowed with a tractor, but it's being raked by hand!

More farming, several places we saw them cultivating the corn with a horse drawn single row cultivator with the farmer walking behind it.  Up in the mountains they plant corn on steep hill sides that are even too steep for a horse.   

Shepherd tending some sheep.  Notice the corn to the right and cabbage to the left.

More interesting building architecture.  A seafood restaurant in the shape of a ship.

We skirted around Mexico City on the toll road.  We had heard that a few months ago some tourists accidentally missed a turn on the toll road and ended up lost in Mexico City.  Their GPS likely took them down a road that went into the city instead of on to their destination, we have had that happen a couple times with both Google Maps and Waze.  They ended up having to pay 6 local cops US $50 each (for some unknown misdemeanor) to get out of the mess.  Which brings up another very helpful tip for people wanting to drive in Mexico.  Facebook.  Rosalind has joined the FB group 'On the road in Mexico' which has been invaluable for us and she has been answering questions from others.  The Mexico City incident info came from that group.

San Miguel de Allende
We arrived in San Miguel about 4:30 pm and with the hotel address in Waze we were taken thru the city center.  It was an interesting drive since we had no idea that the streets were so steep west of the central church square.  Lucky we were going down and not up.  I'm not sure the Prius would have been able to pull up those steep streets with us two and everything we own!
Whoa, that's steep!

Almost at the bottom!

The church from our roof top hotel room

Our roof top hotel room.  It was really nice being on the roof since there was no air conditioning.  The cool evening breeze would cool us down.  And we could hear the church bells and fireworks all night!

Hand carved head board.
Breakfast on the rooftop mirador.  Notice the guy on the building across the street filling the propane tank, 3 stories up, no safety rope!  He leaned over the edge of the building threw down a rope that they attached the propane hose to and he hoisted it up. 

What you do when you want to sell your vehicle in Mexico.  You cannot sell your US car in Mexico unless it was made in a NAFTA country (even then it is really difficult).  All sorts of regulations that seem to change frequently!

View of San Miguel looking west from one of the highest points in the historic district.on Zacateros road.
The longest street in San Miguel.  Notice the cobble stones!
Parish church of San Miguel
Rosalind at the entrance to Parish church of San Miguel

Waiting for the car at the hotel, parking was 3 or 4 blocks away.  Remember the propane guy on the roof a few pics up?  That was the roof of the yellow building across the street behind me.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sixteen Days in San Cristobal de las Casas

We arrived in San Cristobal on a cold, wet evening - it was Monday May 29th and I was nervous about just how long the cold and wet conditions would last.  I came to Mexico for (among other things) warmth and sunshine so that I could get rid of the annual S.A.D. but this was not looking promising because we want to be at a reasonably high altitude to get away from the humidity and overly hot temperatures at the coast.

Staying here for 16 days was a complete change and adjustment for us after being on the road for two months with 2 weeks in Tulum being our longest stay.

The down town area is a mix of very narrow little cobblestone streets, the tourist area around Real de Guadalupe (pedestrian area) and the Mercado Viejo where there are great bargains to be had and where the locals shop for everything from fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, clothes, hardware and everything in between.  Join us on an adventure through the market where the sights, smells and sounds are so different from anything that we have every experienced.  I cannot believe the hundreds of little stalls crammed in under tarps and in the main building.  The building is mostly devoted to meat and fish and the smell can be quite nauseating as you slip around the wet floors.

We grabbed a bite to eat at one of the tacaerias in the market - Quesadillas with meat, were delicious and cost only $1 US for two.

After a couple of quiet days 'at home' we ventured out into town again and explored the more touristy area along Real de Guadalupe - the area is filled with very narrow cobblestone streets that you can't imagine are the roads that are used to drive through town all the time - of course most are one way with one driving lane (almost) and a line of parked cars.

The older buildings are made from adobe bricks

The streets are narrow but very clean and well maintained.

Real Guadalupe - the artsy pedestrian street that is in town.

We had to wait for a truck to finish loading and reverse out here so that we could get round the corner.

The pedestrian tourist area of Real de Guadalupe is vibrant, colorful and constantly filled with people milling around, meeting and greeting, shopping and exploring.
Bakery (panaderia)

Real Guadalupe 

another part of Real Guadalupe 

We stopped at a coffee shop that one of our friends in a local expat FB group has just bought.

An afternoon spent exploring the area and admiring the view and many churches:

I didn't even count the steps up to the church but at 7,000 feet I felt that climb.

A couple of young ladies fresh out of school asked us to take a picture of them (in Spanish) but when chatting to them later, we found out that they were from England and were on their way to Guatamala by bus.

We went back into town to find another place that had been recommended to us by a FB expat community group - very interesting place called La Vina de Bacco.  For every drink that you buy, they present you with a free tapas.  We sat a bit uncomfortably on tiny stools outside at a barrel/table because we wanted to people watch and somehow ended up in conversation (and at their comfortable table) with a couple who were in town from a small farming community in Guanajuato - Mohammed and Blanca are Mexicans (though Mohammed was a US citizen from California) and after sharing some food and drinks and lots of conversation in both Spanish and English, we parted firm friends vowing to meet up again when we are in their area.  I came away from there happy to have made some friends and excited at the prospects of going to the Guanajuato area - somehow I have always had a feeling that we would be spending time around San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Chapala and Ajijic and from our conversations, that seems more likely than ever.

Another day we took an afternoon walk around our neighborhood and checked up on the progress of the antico (traditional house) that we had seen being built on a previous walk.

This bicycle has been turned into a water pump for the mixing of the mud.

We ended up in conversation with a lady that lives on the street that we were walking in.  It didn't take long for her to extend an invite to see her home and we ended up spending a pleasant couple of hours visiting with her - another friend already - once again our conversation was a mix of Spanish and English.  We are so lucky to be meeting up with some people that are able to speak more English that we can speak Spanish at the moment but we are improving.

In the garden with Christy

Membrillo (quince) tree in the back yard
Christy was disappointed that she did not have any galletas (cookies) to go with out coffee so she produced some ate de membrillo (a firm jelly slice made from quince and sugar).  We also had some of the figs that she had preserved from the tree in her yard.

Yet another trip down town to the Mercado and we ended up bumping into Mohammed and Blanca and having coffee with them.  After we parted, Gerald and I went walking around town and up one of those very steep sets of steps

We eventually ended up at a small local Maya restaurant away from the tourist street.  We had a wonderful 3 course typical local meal which included a small Margarita - the food was really good and amazingly cheap at $86 MX ($4.70 US) each.  Eating local really is the way to go here and there is no need to eat at the so called 'better' restaurants where most tourists eat.  We enjoy the local food much better and that is our meal for the day.

Las Cascadas and Lagos de Montebello Tour Day.

On a day that appeared to start out with no rain (some days start like that here but it doesn't last), we got up early for a tour that we had booked.  Driving into town is always an adventure because finding parking in those narrow little streets (think lanes) is as difficult as finding a clean, free toilet.  Since we arrived in town just before 7:30 am we were able to find a parking spot quite near to where we needed to meet the tour operator.
Outside El Gran Cafe waiting for tour operator

We were off to start gathering the rest of the tour group shortly after 8 and then headed out to our first stop - Las Cascadas de Chiflon, which is about a 2 hour drive away, in the mountains near  Tzimal (nearest city Comitan).  It was so nice to just sit in the bus and watch the scenery an all the interesting artisan stalls, especially for Gerald who always misses so much on our travels because he is driving all the time - it was nice for me too, not to have to concentrate on looking for topes, animals and general navigation.
A school that we passed by in the mountains
The agriculture out here in the mountains concentrates on sugar cane and there were many, many fields of cane growing - looking very healthy.  We even saw a small hand cranked press with a boiling tank which seemed to be used to process some small quantities of cane into what we presumed are the raw sugar cones that are common in Mexico.  These cones are formed by boiling and evaporating cane juice.

Since we are seeing many different heights/ages of sugarcane, I researched online and found that once the cane fields have been burned (to more easily release the sugar) and the field has been cut, the field is irrigated and new shoots emerge from the perennial base. There is some dispute as to whether the perennial base is good for 5 years or for even 8 years.  We did also find out that there is actually a sugar processing plant in nearby in San Francisco Pujiltic which would explain why we see so much sugarcane growing in this area.

As we approached the Cascades park, we could see the biggest of the waterfalls in the distance - we thought that it was a fire in the mountains until our guide pointed out that it was Bridal Veil Falls.

Bridal Veil falls looking like smoke up in a rift.

Arriving at Cascadas la Chiflon we were greeted by warm air and the sound of rushing water - we followed the raging river uphill on the left side in awe of the power of the water and the beauty of all the falls that we passed on the way up.
Beginning of the trail.

Angel wing falls

Bridal Veil falls in the distance
Every time we stopped at one of the falls along the way, we got wetter and wetter but the time that we got up to the Bridal Veil falls the spray from the falls was stronger than any downpour of rain that I have ever been in - we were as wet as if we had been out swimming in our clothes.  Unfortunately for us, no-one had recommended bring swimming clothes, a towel or even a dry change of clothes.

Getting really close to Bridal Veil

So close now.

Taking the most powerful shower that I have ever had.

So much water, so much noise, so much power - this is as close as we could get with the camera although we made it to the top fence that you can almost see here - the top of the falls is out of the picture because you cannot see it through the thick spray.
Taking the trail back down from the top of the falls took much less time that the climb up and that fortunately gave us about half an hour to hang out in a sunny area in the car park, wring out our wet clothes and try to dry out a bit before boarding the van again and heading out to our next stop. Actually we didn't really get dry the rest of the day, it was just that the degree of wetness reduced a bit towards the end of the day.

Another hour driving and we got to Lagunas de Montebello National Park where there are 59 lakes with incredibly clear multi-color waters, some the colors of the Caribbean sea.  Come take a tour of some of the lakes with us.

Lagunas de Montebello National Park reaching out to the Guatamala Border
Traditional wooden rafts used to take people out to the islands.

The colors of Caribbean waters.

Look at the ferns and bromeliads growing on this pine - a common site around here and they are symbiotic, not parasitic

Gerald at the lake

At the base of the hills, behind the town, is the border of Guatemala
We finally left the lakes at 5:30 in the evening to start the 3 hour journey back to San Cristobal - the skies opened and a torrential downpour hit the area.  Our tour operator/driver was a very good and calm driver and we got safely back into town about 8:30 - luckily we passed our parked car on the way to the drop-off point so we asked him to stop there and let us out.  That saved us a walk of several blocks in the evening rain.

On our last Sunday in San Cristobal, fed up with the daily rains, we decided to get out and explore out of town ourselves.  We headed for Chamula which is a Maya township about 20 km from where we are staying.  I had read about the place being very traditional still having the old traditional mud and daub buildings, religious customs and the churches - however when we actually got there we noticed that the architectural style just outside of the village was very unique and modern with a very decorative style.

There was a market in town and it was very difficult getting parking, it also looked like rain so we decided to drive around the area instead of visiting the artisan stalls.

The churches are the same style/shape but are just decorated differently - apparently they are Roman Catholic with their own additional rites including sacrifice of hens when needed.  There are no pews in these churches and the floors are covered with a carpet of green pine boughs. We did not want to enter into the church and disturb whatever may be going on and taking photographs of the Maya people and especially inside their church would result in at least confiscation and damage to the camera so I managed to take these photos of a couple of the churches as we drove past.

The culture is one of agriculture and these people remind us very much of a mix of Hutterites and Menonites, hard working manual labor farmers who take pride in the quality of their produce.  They also keep sheep and tether them individually out along the roadside to graze there.  The main agricultural crops of this area are corn, beans, potatoes and cabbage and they grow on every available space.  We saw some of the cabbages on the way back to town and they are the biggest most beautiful looking cabbages that we have ever seen.

City of San Cristobal in the distance (along with yet more rain)

No space is wasted - we often see corn planted alongside the roads. Since no tractors are used (manually planted, hoed and harvested) no space goes wasted around power line poles or hill sides.
From here we drove back into town and went to our favorite street (Real Guadalupe) where we chatted with some of the interesting vendors, visited one of the amber stores (amber is very popular here) and stopped in Cacao Nativa, a lovely coffee shop for a latte and very nice piece of panque de nata which is a very light cream loaf cake that tasted of lemons.

One more stop at the panaderia for some ciabatta bread and we were home for supper that had been cooking in the crock-pot while we were out today.  This is one item that we are so glad that we made room for in one of our suitcases.