Monday, March 9, 2015

Inland travelling, Mexico City and butterflies.

2100, 27 February 2015, Alongside, Marina Palmira
Note: Managed to download some of the photos but not all.. Please check again later when we are able to find an internet connection that can support the downloads. We will have lots more of photos to share.

Today is our eldest son’s Chris’, 42nd birthday. Happy Birthday Chris!!!

It has been an eventful 2 weeks since we arrived here at Marina Palmira. We have traveled inland, seen some wonderful sights and are ready to continue cruising north into the Sea. We leave tomorrow, midday.
Our trip inland began on the 12th. The airport here in La Paz is on the other side of town but, it is an international airport now with daily flights to the US. We were quite impressed with our reception on Volaris airlines. It was an easy and quick check in and we waited a few hours for our flight to depart. The terminal is quite new and comfortable but it is infested with cockroaches so we made sure not to place our carry-ons on the floor. None of the Mexicans seemed to take notice as these creatures skittered across the floor.

Because we were out of internet range for most of the time leading up to our trip Ann, (Full and Bye), had made most of the arrangements for the trip. She and Dick flew in from Manzanillo and we meet them a few hours after our arrival. She did an outstanding job!! When we arrived at our hotel in Mexico City we found ourselves in a very nice, small hotel, just a few blocks from the Zocolo, or the huge square in front of Presidential Palace and Basilica where preparations for a major concert for Saturday night were in high gear.
We only had a few days in the city so the following morning we boarded a local bus and headed for the Museum of Anthropology. What a fantastic museum!! For the next 4-5 hours we toured this vast establishment full of vestiges of former Mexican civilizations taken from many of the temples and ruins that dot the southern Mexican countryside. We all looked like geeks with those rented personal, electronic guides slung around our necks but the instruments enhanced our tour with descriptions and history. The museum was so big, the guide so detailed and the temperature so cold in the museum, that after 4-5 hours we decided that we had had enough. We skipped through the last few exhibits, missed the entire upper floor and headed back to our cosy little hotel to warm up.
Mayan calendar

Mexico is truly a foodie’s paradise. Within a block of the front door we had more choices that we could decide on; BBQ chicken, all the assortment of Mexican traditional dishes, Chinese buffets ($7 per pers), pastry shops, MacDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks, and many Mexican imitations of the US chains. It was truly hard to decide. Another feature of this huge city is that establishments are grouped as to their nature. There were whole streets of ladies clothes shops, others of men’s clothiers, hardware and electronics stores and even an entire area of musical instrument stores where Ann and Fran were able check out the prices and styles of guitars they were looking for when they went to Paracho.

The following day we took a taxi to the outskirts of the city to see the pyramids at Teotihuacan. As we approached the site we were awed by the sight of several hot air balloons flying over the ancient ruins.  Dating back to the 17th century AD this site was the centre of the largest pre-Hispanic Mexican empire. Over a period of 600 years the city grew to a population estimated at 125,000 people and spread its influence as far as Honduras and El Salvador before it was abandoned in the 8th century. The main features are 2 pyramids dedicated to the moon. Our guide was superb leading us through massive site, explaining the history of the locale in detail. His version of how the pyramids were built according to the movements of the celestial bodies, how the Aztecs, relatively late comers to the area in the 15th century, discovered the site centuries after it had been abandoned, how they marveled at the architecture thinking it impossible for mortal men to have built such things, their renaming of the pyramids after the Sun and Moon, etc, etc, etc, is not mentioned in any of the tourist guides books.  For anyone visiting these wonderful historical sites we highly recommend hiring a guide otherwise you will miss sooooo much. Dick and I climbed all of the 250 steps of the higher of the 2 temples huffing and puffing all the way.

Temples and baloons

 With our guide, Manuel
Climbing the sun
Pyramids of Egypt and Mexico share some interesting dimensions. Coincidences???
Moon pyramid

That evening, tired as we were from having traipsed all over the pyramids, we joined the crowds heading for the Zocolo concert. We arrived to a gathering of several hundreds of thousands of people gathered in this huge square to see and hear one of Mexico’s most popular Banda bands, something Azul. It wasn’t our type of music but it was fun to be part of the celebration. We decided to return to the comfort of our hotel after an hour or so. It was a very well disciplined crown, probably due to the massive police presence estimated to be about 2000 members.
On our last day in Mexico city Dick and I ventured into the subway system to find the bus station we were to leave from the following day. Meanwhile the girls went to the presidential palace for a tour. Later we all took the subway and train to the outskirts of the city, to the famed Aztec floating gardens that we had heard so much about. Today they don't look anything like they did when the Aztecs were here. They are probably rolling over in their collective graves knowing that their precious waterways are being abused by thousands of small pole barges carrying paying passengers, bumping into each other for headway.  Other barges carry musicians, food and drink vendors, souvenir hawkers and the like. The entire canal system is like a party gone wild. It was fun!

Playing bumper boat on the ancient Aztec waterways
Mexico City boasts a population of over 23 million people and because of this they have developed very efficient transportation systems to handle the daily traffic of people. The subway can get you just about anywhere in the city for about 42 cents. Buses have similar rates and the extensions of the subways are light rail systems with similar fares again. We used the metro on several occasions and were impressed with the service. Bombardier built many of the trains. A most unusual aspect of subway/metro usage are the hawkers that board the trains and sell just about anything from food, to pens, soap bubble tubes, colouring books, spirographs, toy airplanes, etc. The most irritating ones were the music vendors who carried a battery operated boom box in a backpack, belting out the music they were selling. Each vendor had a monotone voice describing his/her product and price, they wandered down the aisle and got off at the next stop and boarded another car to begin their spiel all over again.

The following day we taxied to the bus station on the north-west side of the city and bussed to our next destination, Angangueo. Situated high in the hills a few hours west of Mexico city, Angangueo, a 17th century silver mining town is the jumping off point for Mexico’s principle monarch butterfly preserves. Again we had a wonderful little self-contained hotel on the outskirts of the village. We were now close to 7000 ft and the temperature hovered around freezing at night. There no heating in the rooms but there was a generous pile of blankets on the beds. While we were here we met up with Ian and Ellen who were staying at another hotel in town and also there for the butterfly tours.

The following 2 days were dedicated to visits to the monarch butterfly reserves close to the village. Once our transportation arrived at the preserve we chose to take horses up to the viewing areas. That was a good decision because at 8000+ ft it didn’t take long before we lowlanders were winded. The two locations we were taken to were spectacular. The first day was quite cool so there were few butterflies actually in flight but the trees were covered with huge bunches, like grapes. The following day was warm and sunny and there were millions flying through the forest, clinging to trees and plants and, their dead, littering the forest floor. They arrive here in early November, breed and, the females leave in early March migrating north. By the time they arrive in Canada they have gone through 4 generations.

Bunches of butterflies keeping warm-ish....
My horsewoman....
Obligatory mug shot

 Fresh morel soup in the making, delicious!!!
When we arrived back to the hotel that afternoon Fran joined the kitchen staff to learn a few dishes. She wasn’t let off that easy and was tasked to help serve what she had helped cook. Her experience as a waitress in England was put to good use.

After our 3-day stay in Angangueo we boarded another bus for Patscuaro, another 4 hour bus ride further west. The route wound through quaint towns and fertile valleys and the centre of much of Mexico’s water-melon and avocado crops. 

Patscuaro is one of Mexico’s many ‘magic towns’ which follow strict guidelines of history, culture and architecture. It is another town similar to Alamos where we visited a few months ago before departing Guaymas. The drawing card in Patscuaro is the town’s market, in particular, the sights and colours of the fresh produce. The smells of the traditional food cooking in the stalls the sidewalk, vendors selling pottery, straw hats, wooden carvings and furniture, locally woven fabrics, clothing and rugs were almost too much for the senses. For our dinner that night we chose a couple of ladies cooking chicken and veggies on the street. It was cheap and tasty but chewy; the chicken was, surely, older hens and roosters.
Chicken feet anyone?

How about dried fish, little ones?

Hand forged tools. Check out the crow bars.
Cheap baskets
Fantastic colours.
Giant celery!

Mexican favoutite. Fresh veggies and fruit. Just add salt and hot sauce.
Purses made of plastic bags and pull tabs
We made this hat salesman's day

Our hotel (Hotel Encantada) was a lovely old 17th century place lovingly restored over the past 15 years by an American lady. Service was superb. Our room featured a small galley (which was rather redundant), 2 floors, a huge bath, in-room internet router, breakfast service and real heating….. On our second night all guests were invited to a small party where we were offered canap├ęs, margaritas, pozole (soup) and entertainment from a classical Mexican guitarist, followed by a concert from a group of 20+ guitarists.

On the last day Fran , Ann and Dick went off to Paracho on a guitar quest. Fran and Ann had been looking fwd to this for the entire trip. They arrived in the town renowned for its concentration of guitar artisans after a 90 min ride through rolling countryside bordered by ancient volcanos and lakes. What followed can only be described as a frenzied search for the perfect (budget dependant) guitar.

The following day we were back on the bus for a 5 hour trip back to Mexico City. On the metro though town we bade farewell to Ann and Dick who went to the airport for their flight back to Manzanillo. Fran and I had another night in the city but in a hotel close to the airport this time, where we were able to chill out and rest before our trip back to La Paz. We took advantage of the heated pool, sauna and hot tub, had an early dinner and stayed up to watch the Saturday night bullfights (yes they still do that) and later, part of the Academy Awards. Having been away from movies and TV for so long none of the titles meant anything so we soon got bored and slept the night away.

We arrived back to Gosling in mid-afternoon and since then we have been preparing for our departure tomorrow. The workman I had hired to do some teak refinishing did an OK job so for the past few days I have been continuing his efforts and correcting some gaffs but It now looks like we will be ready to leave tomorrow as planned. The shopping and laundry have been done, the propane and outboard fuel replenished, the engine checked, water tanks filled and the boat washed.

20:00 the following night, At anchor, Puerto Ballandra.

We are back in this beautiful anchorage 18 days after having been here with Mike and Dove. It is only 9 miles from La Paz but feels like a world away. We departed just after noon and arrived here by 1500. We were dismayed to see a couple of sea doos screaming around the bay and a large gin palace entering with speakers blazing electronic music but it is dark now and the noisy ones have gone back to the big city, leaving us in peace. It sure is nice to be back to our relaxed way of life watching another incredible Mexican sunset, reading, fishing, seeing how many Candy Crush levels we can go thru in a sitting; can it get any better?