Travel journal Mexico 2009 - 2010

by Claudia and PJ Potgieser




14 December 2009
At the small border crossing Naco, Arizona we crossed into Mexico. Our poor Spanish was now really rusty and the custom officer gave PJ the advise to learn to speak Spanish, that would work as magic with the girls! He apologized to me and gave me a fat wink. It was a relieve to have a nice officer for a change. We first drove along the west coast (in La Penita we said hi to our Canadian friends) and then into the Interior of Mexico. We arrived in San Miguel de Allende; a beautiful old colonial town. We are at 6700 feet so the nights are pretty cold.


Only eight other trailers were parked at Trailer Park La Siesta and we soon got to know all the inhabitants. The trailer park is spacious and we had a large spot. The restrooms are nicely tiled and Internet is fast. A modern supermarket is across the street and the old town is a twenty minutes walk. When we discovered a bakery who baked whole wheat bread we were very contented.



On December 24th we were all invited for a pot-luck X-Mas lunch by the people from another trailer park, in the center of town. There are only 12 spots in this tiny place and two days earlier PJ and I had parked in front of their gate, but we could not made the turn! PJ also got nervous by the honking motorists behind him. In hindsight it was too bad because in this trailer park were a couple of world travelers heading to South America and some young couples too. The lunch was very nice.

The next day the people from our trailer park organized a pot-luck
X-Mas dinner. Everybody brought his specialty and the booze was abundant.
We especially got along with Juan and Christopher, a couple only seven years older than us. About 23 years ago Chris emigrated from Texas to Mexico and met Juan, a folkloric dancer and English teacher. They are together ever since. They live in northern Mexico and also Chris is an English teacher.

With ten other campers we went out for dinner. PJ ordered pork with mole; a sauce made with over 30 different ingredients including chiles, garlic, anise onions and chocolate! I ordered Chile en Nogada; roasted poblano chile stuffed with ground meat, nuts and fruit then napped with a creamy walnut sauce and garnished with pomegranate seeds. The red, white and green are meant to represent the Mexican flag.
                                           Chile en Nogada, the colors of the Mexican flag

        Pleasant lighted and ornamented streets in San Miguel de Allende

Christmas crib with fluorine lights                    Christmas crib with life sheep


La Parroquia de San Miguel ArcŠngel

Tuesday is market day in San Miguel de Allende and with Norma & Croft (a Canadian couple), Juan and Chris we went to the market. The merchandise was colorful and was displayed the Mexican way. We ate gordita's from a stall; thick disks of corn dough, griddle fried and filled with cheese, beef and beans - a Mexican pocket sandwich.



On December 31st we went with Chris and Juan to La Gruta; a hot spring in a exotic surrounding. There was also a dark tunnel leading to a cave where the water was even hotter. Two kids were hesitant to go in and I asked them if they were afraid to go into the tunnel. I made it even worse when I told them that there were bats in the cave. When they finally showed up, they had to laugh about it.


                                                                     Follow me if you dare      Further than this the camera did not work

We went for a Mexican breakfast. I had chilaquiles con huevos; broken corn tortillas baked with tomato sauce, cream, cheese and a fried egg on top. Of course it came with the unavoidable heap of refried beans.
After we were all wrinkled from the hot water and we massaged our necks under a strong stream of water, Chris drives us to Atotonilco for a visit to a church. He took only one wrong turn and entertains us with good imitations of Texan farmers. There was a celebration in the church for a girl who just turned fifteen. This is a big thing in Mexico and the 'bride' was a little ill-at-ease. A mariachi band was waiting for her outside to serenade her.
Back at the trailer park PJ told everybody: "We went to visit a church and I got a virgin".


   Next to church there were stalls with religious junk. One of the salesman told us that the little hole in the middle of the cross is a telescope to heaven. If you look through the hole real close, you could see the Virgin of Guadalupe. Guess what? It was true!

We celebrated New Years Eve at the trailer park. We circled the wagons to create a cozy corner out of the wind. Norma found a old washtub at the park's junk area which we used as a fire pit and of course there was plenty food and booze. PJ made a lasagna. I had put a five hour dance music list on the I-pod and we played it all! I taught the boys the Chile-Chile-Cha-Cha and Juan taught us the moves that belonged to the Mexican songs that we played. We danced into the New Year!


Happy New Year!

January 2010, Mexico

6 January 2010
Today we have visited the best kept secret of Mexico! Cannot find it in the travel guides and the only thing I could find on the Internet was one article of National Geographic. This article in the NG magazine made Les curious and last year he went to Silao to check it out. Les is an Englishman with a Canadian passport, who is house sitting in San Miguel de Allende and is friends with Croft and Norma from our trailer park.
Every year on Epiphany a few thousand horseman climb the 6000 feet high Cubilete mountain to get a blessing for themselves and their horses. Les' enthusiasm was contagious and with Terrie and Nancy (a Canadian couple from Nova Scotia) and Les we jumped into Terrie's truck and drove on January 6th to Silao. The Cubilete mountain is easy to recognize from far away because of the 65 foot statue of Jesus Christ on top. A long, steep cobblestone road brought us to the top. Les remembered from last year that there were a lot of begging children along this road. This year he brought a big bag of oranges and distributed them along the children. What a marvelous idea! Another truck threw colorful balls at the children and somebody else gave clothes away.
Terrie parked the truck and when we got out we were surrounded by the smell of sweating horses and steaming horse patties. Mexican cowboys were everywhere, waiting patiently for their blessing. They had come from far and near and we talked to a horseman who had left his rancho two days ago and had been driving his horse for ten hours per day. 



The Mexican cowboys friendly posed for pictures and although there were hardly any other foreign tourists, we did not feel out of place.



We walked up to the chapel the sight was overwhelming. About 2500 horseman were perfectly lined up row after row. They were quietly listening to the Bible story about the three wise man who came to Bethlehem to worse ship baby Jesus. The atmosphere was serene and the snorting of the horses and the story telling over the speakers was the only sound that could be heard. We felt silent too.

Overview of the horseman from the statue of Christ


After a priest had blessed their horses with Holy water, all the horseman stepped from their horses and formed a line to be blessed too.
One of the cowboys insisted that Les should try on his long leather coat and his hat and we had to make pictures of him. Les, with his sun weathered face looked perfectly at ease with this cowboy look.

After the blessing they jumped on their horses and galloped over the cobblestones up to the feet of the statue of Jesus Christ. Some of them crawled on their knees to the statue, lit a candle and said a prayer. Their pilgrimage had come to an end. 






Driving down we could see them ascending from the mountain and at the base some of the horses were taken into horse trailers to bring them safely home. Others we kept seeing for miles and miles later.

                                                                     In the background (white arrow) you can see the Christ statue

PJ had a nice conversation with the cowboys             Mexican horse trailer                Giving a thirsty horse a beer?

We were ready for a Mexican meal. What a memorable day!

8 januari 2010
San Miguel de Allende is an old colonial town, with steep cobble stone roads, beautiful churches and intriguing murals.




The girl that belonged to these nails was sitting on a bench when I asked if I could make a picture of her hands. I guess she cannot do much more than being pretty and fashionable...

10 January 2010
To hellos, goodbyes and friends made in between...

La SiŽsta Trailer Park is a good example why we sometimes have a hard time being a traveler. When we arrived here three weeks ago, nobody came to welcome us and said: "It is good to have you here again", like what happened in La Penita, where we have come for many years. Or in Hyder, Alaska where we made lots of friends. So nobody is welcoming you, but now we are leaving tomorrow morning, we need to say goodbye to new friends. We are warmly hugged and received little presents like Mexican bracelets, the Canadian flag and Norma gave me a gorgeous embroidered shawl. We probably will meet again.


11 January 2010
We made an early start, because we had a long driving day ahead of us. We wanted to get from San Miguel to the Emerald Coast with a camping stop at the El Tajin ruins in between. In the first half hour I saw six dead dogs lying next to road, a sight I will never get used to. Along the road we stopped at a cute colored church. They probably had a fiesta recently, because we could see the bows made from painted corn husks.

We hoped to travel a large part over the toll roads, but unfortunately the dotted road in our old road map of 2004 is still not finished in 2010. So we had to travel on a winding mountain road in fog and rain. We took a wrong turn to the campground and ended on a potholed road in worse condition.    

We could not find the campground at the ruins and continued in the dark to the coast. In the morning light we could see at which nice trailer park we had arrived last night. Every spot had a palapa and a kitchen. But the price was doubled from what we read in our latest camping guide, so we moved to a cheaper place three kilometers south. The weather is cloudy and not so warm.
Mar Esmeralda Trailer Park (did not stay)       Weird water tower with water bottles in the cement
                                                                                                              Trailer Park Yuri, where we stayed for 3 days

15 January 2010
We left Costa Esmeralda with blue skies. We drove along sugar can fields and passed trucks with high loads of cane on top. At the large seaside resort Veracruz we arrived at a confusing crossing. Man were standing everywhere, with in one hand a red handkerchief and in the other a cut off plastic bottle with coins in it.


They were waving their handkerchiefs, whistling through their teeth and tried to point us in the right direction in the hope to get a tip for that. But how were they to know where we were going? While semi's were flashing by, of course we took the wrong road. Before we were able able to make a u-turn we ran into a police check and were stopped. The police of Veracruz is notorious for bribing, so before the officer had a change to say: "Buenas Tardes" PJ told him we were lost, put the map in his face and asked for directions. The officer was distracted enough to forget was he was supposed to ask us. He showed us the right way and stopped traffic so we could turn around. Nice job, buddy!

The temperature had gone up till 86F and we were driving a mountainous road along volcanic mountains overgrown with greenery. At the Catemaco lagoon the wind had suddenly picked up and waves were crashing the boulevard.




We went to La Jungla resort set in the jungle on the shore of the Catemaco lagoon. The road to get there was narrow and rough. In this jungle lots of Mexican movies were filmed, but also 'Apocalypto' by Mel Gibson en 'Medicine Man' with Sean Connery.


After a thrilling ride we arrived at the campground and were greeted by a boy with a Dutch soccer
t-shirt! But he spoke only Spanish. We were the only customers and parked on a grassy field next to the exotic vegetation. We were getting less and less luxury for our money. This time we were down to no electricity, no Internet and cold showers, but it was a special place to camp.

This is birders paradise and we saw a lot of different birds, for example a Hook-billed Kite and I even saw a toucan flying!
                                                                                                                                  The lagune of Catemaco
Our first night in Mexico without traffic noise, police sirens and breaking trucks. Not that the night in the jungle is without noises; the crickets are chirping, the palm leaves are whispering in the wind and the bamboo is moaning.
The next morning we were awoken by the typical song of the Montezuma Oropendola. This bird is about 19 inch long and was sitting on a branch just above our camper. Through the roof shutter we could observe him real close. During his call he swings upside down and flashes yellow in his raised tail. His song is an unforgettable, bizarre gurgling and hollow popping series.


In the meantime the sky had gone in overcast and because we did not want to drive the jungle road in the rain, we left in a hurry. It took us eight hours to get from Catemaco to Palenque and that was not only because PJ had to make emergency stops because I had a bout of diarrhea. It was more caused by the topes (vicious speed bumps), chaotic traffic, avoiding a very expensive toll road and detours.


Right through the center of  Villahermosa

camping part for the tenters

We drove right through the center of the busy city Villahermosa while the rain kept falling. We have bad memories of this city. In 2003 while we were visiting a museum, somebody broke into our truck and stole our camera gear.

Just before dark we arrived at the jungle campground in Palenque. We were pleasantly surprised that Croft and Norma were here too, but we did not talked to them until the net morning. Campground Mayabell is loaded with hippie backpackers who can pitch their tent under a palapa or just put their hammock up. Every evening there is life music in the restaurant and the drums, flutes and singing had to compete with the howling of the monkeys in the jungle.

Halfway the morning it stopped raining. When we had left two days ago with sunny weather, we had optimistically filled our laundry bucket with dirty laundry, soap and water. But with this high humidly it will never dry. We kept being optimistic and PJ put it on the line to dry, but in the end we had to wash it again.
We are talking to a Austrian couple, when I noticed something weird in a tree. We think it is a sloth, although it is moving pretty fast for such a animal. When Croft put the picture on his blog we soon got to know what we had seen. It turned out to be a Mexican Tree Porcupine. Later the howler monkeys played hide-and-seek with us, going in and out of the clearings high in the trees. Green parakeets flew over our heads, screaming.

                            Mexican hairy dwarf Porcupine                                                 Howler Monkey playing hide-and-seek

    The campground had a swimming pool formed by damming a jungle stream. The cabins around it were for rent and looked so idyllic. PJ had parked the camper under a huge bamboo tree. Plants you can by in the pot in North America, were growing here in the wild. Another of these greats spots.

Norma decided at 3 o'clock that it is time for Happy Hour and half the campground came to sit on our patio to have a beer. In the evening Norma and Croft invited us for dinner at the campground, restaurant. We wanted to wait out better weather to visit the ruins of Palenque, but at night PJ got Montezuma's revenge and spent half the night on the toilet. I had a restless night too, due to a returning nightmare. I dreamed that a hairy spider walked over my pillow. I  screamed horridly, turned on the light and shook like a leave. PJ always has a hard time to convince me that I just has a bad dream. I looked at him unbelieving, 'cause I definitely saw that spider running over my pillow. I always think this is a weird nightmare, because in real life I am not that petrified for spider. I have made close-up pictures of them before.
NExt morning it looked promising, but PJ felt close in on this campground and wanted to go to the (warmer) East coast of the Yucatan. We left that same day.
I put six frozen pork tenderloins, two ounces of ham and a dozen eggs (minus two) in a fleece blanket and hide them in a cupboard. We knew that crossing into the state Campeche we will get a chicken and pork check. The two eggs go back into the fridge and are being confiscated at the check, The man is happy with his loot and did not look any further.

continue part 2