Travel journal Mexico 2004 - 2005

by Claudia and PJ Potgieser




November 2004 

“Hello amigo, I will look after your carro”.  A guy with a big black moustache and a friendly face showed us the way to the offices. Crossing the border into Mexico was a piece of cake. When we walked into the office to temporary import our truck, two adults were playing Nintendo on a computer. They looked taken in the act. The youngest of the two started the procedure at a snails pace. Finally everything was ready and we were free to go.
Hola my frrrend”
A good thing we had ‘black moustache’ watching our truck, because we had forgotten to lock it! Of course this guy got a tip.
We took the toll roads south, but we did not want to pay for them. The prices of Mexican toll roads are sky high, especially when you have dual tires. Then you have to pay as much as the semi’s. To avoid the toll booths we drove around a big city. That way we missed 3 booths on a stretch of road of 50 miles. But we got hopelessly lost. After four hours we fought like cats and dogs and hit the toll road just before toll booth number 3. We had saved 20 bucks, but we were ready for a divorce ;-)) .  

Leaving the state Sonora and entering Sinaloa we had to stop at a fitozoo sanitaria. This word is not in our dictionary, so we did know what it meant. Probably had something to do with food. PJ tried to keep on driving, but he was whistled back.
“Fruit?, the man asked.
Si, naraja’s
“How many?”
Tres”, and I automatically showed him three fingers.
The man hesitated for a moment and waved us through. That is so typically Mexico! As if three oranges do less harm than a whole kilo? We had a good laugh about it. 

We spent a couple of days in Mazatlan to make pictures of the colourful iguanas. Not as good as last winter. Around San Blas we looked for the roseate spoonbill. Across the swamp we could see a tree that turned pink of the amount of spoonbills, but it was too far away to make pics. Only one showed up close by, but with the sun straight into our lens it was not a good target. 

More time was spent in La Penita. There we played volley ball in the pool, learned how to built our own web site, could drink the tap water (coming out of a well), participated in a photo contest, could use wireless Internet, camped underneath a avocado tree, bought fresh multigrain loafs of bread on the campground, made pictures of the critters (painted bunting, crocodile, grey hawk, iguanas, squirrels, butterflies), bought a kilo of huge shrimps for only 75 pesos (U$7) on the market, made new friends and got to now the old friends better.
Does this sound like heaven? No, not everything went smoothly. Our rv refrigerator started to smell like ammonia. Nowhere in Mexico you can replace this, so we decided to buy a household one. That will limited our freedom quiet a bit: not staying on free beaches or campgrounds without electricity.
We bought a fridge in the little town. But than more problems started. The old one dif not fitted through the door! PJ had to remove the door and the door frame and had to bent the frame around the fridge. Finally this thing was out and the new one could be built in.

When we get back into the States we have to buy a refrigerator on propane again, because we never stay on campgrounds there. But that was for later concern and we could start saving for this expensive replacement. 

And than PJ’s toothache started again (already visited a dentist in Colorado, who told him that he had an infection and should keep on taking the antibiotics PJ already started). We drove to Puerto Vallarta, but that dentist did not have time for him this week. Back to La Penita where we saw a dentist in a small town. We took a collectivo (shared taxi bus) and when PJ asked for the price he understood 30 (U$3) pesos pro person. When PJ gave him 60 pesos the bus driver collected and did not say a word. On our way back we realised that is was only 13 pesos pro person!
The dentist made a x-ray and his conclusion was that PJ’s wisdom tooth was pushing against the one that hurt. That needed surgery which this dentist could not do himself. PJ decided to not have it pulled here, but just see if the pain comes back and deal with it than. Because we want to be in time in the interior to spent Christmas in Patzcuaro.


December 2004
We were in time in the interior to spent Christmas in Patzcuaro. The town itself was cute, build against a hill with cobblestone roads, old colonial hotels and houses, street vendors and old churches. We did see posada’s, religious processions, but it were the same kids every night. The temperature descended every afternoon and it was around freezing every night! In the evening the market square was empty and there was nothing special going on. This was a bit disappointing, not at all like Oaxaca, two years ago, where we made friends on the campground and had a great time in town.



Before New Year’s Eve we left the interior and drove back to the coast to meet our friends Art & Sally in Sayulita. With them we had a good start of the New Year with Mexican traditions. On the campground a man build out of palm leaves was burned at 12 o’clock. The Mexican people threw little pieces of paper into the fire. On the paper they had written a list of unpleasant things that had happened last year, illness, regrets and fights. By burning they ensured such unhappy events will never return.
Other Mexican rituals were carrying cash in your pocket (good luck), carrying dollar bills (for the more ambitious ones), walk with a suitcase out of your house (if you want to travel) or wearing red underwear (to beckon love). Now we understand why we saw so many red lace’s in the supermarket! 


Every morning PJ and I walked a jungle trail north of the little town. Jammed between the ocean, the highway and the town, this little piece of forest was full of colourful birds (green parakeets, tityra, woodpecker, trogon, chachalaca), butterflies, flowers, strangle figs and palm trees. Often it was a cacophony of sounds. When we heard screaming one morning we even thought that there were monkeys here, but it was a family of coati’s, a mammal with a long nose and a long tail.


January 2005
On January the 4th we said goodbye to our old friends and waited on another campground for some Dutch travel friends. Guido and Brenda arrived with their Toyota Landcruiser on the 11th. This couple has sold there flower shop in the Netherlands (north of Amsterdam) in 2002 and had shipped their car to Australia. Since then they were on the road. We met them 6 months ago in Hyder, Alaska and they were on their way to South America.



They were so enthusiastic about the birds in San Blas that we decided to travel back together one hour north.
The next morning we took a boat trip into the mangrove forest. We saw small crocodiles, turtles and iguanas. Between the mangrove the bromeliad and tiger-lilies were blooming. But we were doing this because of the birds. Highlight was when we saw a boat-billed heron, a small heron with a very special beak.
On our way back the guide was going faster. He was doing this trip about twice a day, so you would think that he knew what he was doing...

When a boat was coming from the other way, none of them was reining in and the boats crashed into each other! Our boat was pushed against the roots of the mangrove and one of the back of our pews broke in two. Because PJ’s quick reflexes his camera gear was not covered under the braking wood. When nobody was hurt and nothing was broken (except the back of the pew) we had a good laugh about it. This is so typical Mexican. 

We had lots of fun with this Dutch couple. We laughed at the same jokes and were at ease at each others company.


When we were shooting some water birds at a lagoon along the road a Mexican boy on a bicycle came along.
“I can take you on a two hour boat trip to a lagoon which is full of flamingo’s”, José Antonio said.
Every beginning birder knows that there are no flamingo’s in this area of Mexico, but Antonio probably meant the roseate spoonbill. PJ and I were looking for this bird for a three years or so, so we loved to go with him.
After we had negotiated about the price and had halved it the four of us we stepped into his boat. His friend Nacho joined us. Antonio started full speed over a wide river. He zigzags between floating island of water plants. In the top of the trees we saw different birds of prey. We had no clue how far the lagoon was. PJ and Guido, both with their long lenses were in the front of the boat. When they wanted Antonio to slow down for some water birds, Nacho said: “Laguna mas aves” (lots of birds in the lagune)

We were anxious.
After 45 minutes Antonio stoppeds his boat.
“From here you have to walk to the lagoon”
“Yes, walk”.
Antonio never mentioned that we had to walk! Everyone knows that you can’t walk to birds without disturbing them. The Mexican boys jumped out of the boat bare-footed and started walking. Giggling we started to follow them. Soon we saw the lagoon full of birds, but no spoonbills! The boys kept on walking and all of a sudden we sank till our ankles into bad smelling mud. We could not help laughing. Of course the birds started flying away. We decided to return to the boat and tried our luck on our way back. Our sneakers were smelling and our pants were full of mud splashes.
Fortunately we saw a tree with four spoonbills on our way back. We made lots of pictures of these pink birds. We were glad we were with the four of us. Now we could see the fun of it. Antonio had screwed us badly, but we kept laughing about it. 


Guido talked PJ into another boat trip, but this time out on the ocean! We made a deal with a fisherman to see the blue footed booby.


Further south we stopped at Boca Beach, a trailer park on a beautiful white sandy beach with palm trees. In the evening we were playing a game of cards when we saw people on the beach with flash lights. What were they doing?
We saw a huge crocodile walking the beach! He was at least 4 meters (12 feet). PJ grasped his halogen spotlight and lights the croc while Brenda and I were making video and Guido took pictures. This prehistoric animal walked from the lagoon into the ocean.



The next morning we saw his tracks coming out of the ocean, going straight to a tent on the beach! We did not know why, but the tracks made a sudden turn and went back into the ocean. What a scary idea that this monster was floating in the sea where we swam and snorkelled.

In El Faro we found another paradise for only 3 dollars per night. The ocean was rough and dangerous to swim, but to watch the waves crashing the shore was fascinating. On my morning walks I saw the beautiful Mexican Magpie-Jay with his long tail.


Brenda always bought dog and cat food to feed the strays on the campgrounds. We made lots of friends.


In Zihuantenejo (see-wah-tah-nay-ho) we stopped for shopping. This coastal town was easy going on a beautiful bay. We camped is somebody’s back yard and took the bus into the centre to walk the busy market and the streets with souvenir shops. 



Our next stop was Acapulco. Just half an hour north was a cheap trailer park on the lagoon where they filmed Rambo II. From there we took the bus into the centre, a 45 minutes ride for only 40 dollar cents. We watched the famous cliff divers, jumping from 25 to 45 meters cliff into the crystal blue waters. A 10 year old girl was practising with her dad and jumped from only 10 meters. Brave enough for us. 



Guido and Brenda wanted to continue along the coast to the Yucatan, but we convinced them that it is much more fun to travel with us to Mexico-City. We did tell them that we did dare to go alone...

February 2005
We turned inland and camped just east form Cuernavaca. We decided to do a dress rehearsal for our big day into one of the biggest capitals of the world with 20 million people. We wanted to go to Xochimilco (so-chi-meel-co), 20 kilometres south of the city with a network of canals where you can take a boat trip to see the ‘floating gardens’.

First we had to take a small bus from the trailer park to Cuernavaca (30 minutes). From there we can take an air-conditioned bus to the metro station. If only we could have found that bus station... It took us an hour to find the station and we had 5 minutes spare before the bus left. After an hour and 15 minutes we were in Tasqueňa, one of the southern suburbs of Mexico-City. From there we had to take a bus to Xochimilco. But where does this bus started? After half an hour we found the bus stop and it took us another 45 minutes to get to the boat docks. It had taken us 4 hours to get there! This must be done faster tomorrow, otherwise we can take the public transport right back when we arrive in the centre of Mexico. We tried to find lunch, but the stalls did not look appealing, so we settled for a coke and a bag of chips.
The gondola trip was a fun experience. Hundreds of colourful gondolas, each punted by one man, tried to cruise the canals. Our guide convinced us that we needed at least two hours to see it all. No wonder. It was so busy, that our man needed 15 minutes to get the boat out of the dock! Along the gondolas small boats cruised trying to sell food, flowers, curios or music. While other people paid for it we enjoyed the mariachi bands. After half an hour we got the idea of the gondola trip, but we had to fill up the two hours so our guide dawdled and was the slowest gondola in the whole canal. 
In only 3 hours we were back at the trailer park. We were exhausted and were glad that we now know where to go and where to find the public transport.


Tuesday February 4th ws our big day. We rose at 6 and left the campground at 7. Our trip went smoothly and at 10.15 we were in front of our first museum. The blue house of the painter Frida Kahlo, on my wish list for years.


From there we took the underground metro and a bus to the Anthropological Museum. It was great to see the things they had found in the pyramids and some of the replicas in real. Outside we saw the voladores, four indigenous guys ‘flying’ upside down from a 20m - high pole. The fifth guy was dancing on a little platform playing a flute. Impressive!


With the bus to the centre of Mexico, where we took an elevator to the 42nd floor of the Torre Latinoamericana building to enjoy the view. Mexico-City was spread across more than 2000 sq km in a single valley high in Mexico´s central uplands. There was hardly any smog and the view was perfect.
We walked the clean centre of the city and the square and from there we took the metro back to our bus to Cuernavaca. In Cuernavaca we got a pleasant surprise. Maya people, dressed traditional with feathered masks danced on the square. The sound of the drums almost got us in a trance. What a great end of the day. 




The next day we said goodbye to our Dutch Friends and we traveled back to Acapulco. There I was bitten by a dog on the campground. Not her fault, I just tried to feed her in the dark and frightened her. The three wounds were healing good and left only scars. Driving north along the west coast of Mexico, we stopped in Playa Azul. I took pictures of the colourful houses and the friendly people. 





In Lo de Marcus we run into our fossil friends Art and Sally again. We planned to stay a day on the El Pequeńo Paraiso campground, but we ended up staying there a week.