Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Helping to safe sea turtles and searching for silver in Mexico's colonial center

Dear followers of VanBaelenGuillot,

We want to thank you for tuning in again in our blog and already want to thank you in advance for the comments, we love each one of them! And also they encourage us to continue posting!

Let's pick up where we left the last time: Puerto Vallarta. This bay of 40 km long is packed with hotels and is oriented at receiving Americans. We didn't like it to much as we were always addressed in English - not something for which you go to Mexico. We have heard that the place has always been touristic but that the main construction of hotels started only 8 years ago. So we were happy to leave this place, going south. Mireia had one dream, since she was planing the trip, which was to visit a Tortugario, a place where they try to help to increase the turtle population, which are currently endangered. Two options presented themselves and we decided to go to the first one we passed. Obviously, the road there was quite bad due to the recent storms. The place we go to is named Mayto and we almost missed it! Originally we wanted to stay there for a day or two, just to see what was going on, but we got persuaded to stay a week to help a bit and to be there in the weekend when there would be a group of school children. In return for our help we could put our tent or hammock (we decided hammock) in the palapa and use the toilets and showers.

The overall experience was great, we helped the team with releasing newborn turtles and joined them on the evening patrols to find turtle nests. These nests are emptied and the eggs are placed in a nest nearby the Tortugario. Like this the nest are not plundered by animals or others humans (who want to sell or eat the eggs). During the weekend we joined the kids on a boat trip where we saw more turtles, dolphins and a a large manta of two meters wide.

Apart from the animals the other great thing was the beach. After Puerto Vallarta it was great to be on such an isolated beach. On top the ocean was very cool here, the waves were very strong, which was a bit scary in the beginning. Afterwards going to the beach is like going to an attraction park: We go in the water to wait for the largest waves to come, then we try to go as close to the breaking point to jump up - free adrenaline. In addition we also met other travelers at the beach. In Mayto there is a ranch where travelers go to work, like this we met Joan, a Swiss who is travelling by bike for two and a half year. Also Myriam and Maximiliano, who turned travelling into their life and who are roaming around. As we do not see a lot of tourists, it is super nice to meet other travelers and to share experiences and ideas! We hope to meet them again soon!

After a week on the beach we decided to continue our trip. We didn't really want to leave as Mayto was such an idyllic place but we wanted to see some other things. We would explore the colonial center of the country now. First we visit Guanajato, the second largest city in Mexico, which we really enjoyed due to the pleasant mix of modernism and colonialism. It is also interesting to finally see the city life in Mexico, which is very much different from the life in the ranchitos (a ranchito is a Mexican village which is even to small to be called a village). From there we go on a whole colonial tour passing Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, San Louis Potosi, Guanajato and San Miguel de Allende. We are not going into the detail of all these places, as they are somehow similar. All are somehow mining towns that have a similar structure and a lot of churches. 

In Zacatecas we were very lucky to arrive during the international festival, meaning there were a lot of people and a lot of activities. We therefor enjoy a modern theater show of which we do not understand anything. Luckily there are fireworks involved so it was interesting.

Also in Guanajato we were lucky to arrive during the annual cultural festival, a true spectacle. The city was full full full on Sunday so we were a bit stressed, but we could visit it better on Monday morning. It is truly an amazingly beautiful city with a lot of squares. On top, the city is tunneled for a large part, which makes it interesting to drive around.

And the third interesting city was San Miguel de Allende, which is very different from the others. It appears to be a more pure colonial town, where they work hard to preserve the colonial atmosphere. All houses are painted in one of the three or four available colors (ochre, orange and yellow), there are view electrical cables visible and the center is free from traffic lights. Unfortunately, nice Mexican places have the tendency to be full with Americans (no problem with them of course - but we are in Mexico and we don't need a Starbucks) + the prices are increased accordingly.  

To conclude, we are really enjoying Mexico! After visiting the USA for seven weeks we were surprised with the natural beauty of the country, but we also saw that it didn't have much to offer from a cultural aspect. Here in Mexico, the culture is everywhere and it is easy to enjoy it (the nature on the other hand is less easily accessible than in the USA). Already here for four weeks, we don't think we'll be in Belize or Guatemala within another four weeks, knowing we still have Mexico City, Oaxaca and the Yucatan peninsula to visit!

Thanks a lot for reading! Enjoy the rest and feel free to leave some comments! We really enjoy them!


The road followed in the last 2 weeks

Our home for a week has a few hotels less than our previous destination, Puerto Vallarta

Sleeping in our hammocks for the week - after that sleeping in the car is like sleeping in a ***** hotel - Thanks to Olga and Pablo for the hammock +the book (diary)

At night we helped the team to find turtles: Mireia takes the eggs out of the nest while Mitzi from the tortugario inspects the turtles

Oeps! Unsharp! But you can see us, the turtle and the eggs which are going to be 're-nested' nearby the camp

Liberation day! 160 turtles came out of their egg today and are released simultaneously - at sunset to avoid birds, they can eat them!!

Magnificent views!The waves are quite large and are very very aggressive... 

...which makes a lot of fun with a boat! Here we are together with Joan (travelling by bike), Daniel (American having a rancho in Mayto),Maximiliano and Miriam (travelling couple)

Mexico is very strict on wearing a seat belt, but standing with 20 people in the back of a pick up is absolutely no problem at all

The cathedral of Guadalajara - Mexico's second largest city

Participant in sculpture competition

This building - the cabañas - is the largest colonial building in Mexico. It served as a boarding school and now it is a cultural center.

Matrix Art in Las Cabañas

One of the +20 courtyards in Las Cabañas

Additional art in Las Cabañas

The legendary 'La Fuente' cantina in Guadalajara where, stating our guide, old men get drunk to early on the day.
The bike has been left 50 years ago by a customer who didn't have money with him, he hasn't returned to claim it.

In Tlaquepaque, a part of Guadalajara, a Mariachi is preparing his instrument for action

While others are already giving the best of themselves

The main square in Aquascalientes: Mexicans do not have the tendency to put flags everywhere like the Americans, but when they put a flag they make sure that you cannot miss it

Arches in Mexico

One of the dozens of churches we have seen in the past week

We wake up at 6 to go to a mirador to see the sunrise. It was rather disappointing, but we luckily got a free souvenir

Beautiful Zacatecas!

We wouldn't like to be an electrician in Mexico, on top the cables generally really destroy the views

"Who put this aqueduct on the road?"

"Incredible, they are putting aqueducts everywhere nowadays! Now in the middle of my house!"

Zacatecas is mining city like most of the colonial towns. We took the opportunity to take a look at what took the Spanish here.

Zacatecas with some spectacular light from the top of the cerro

We were lucky to be here during the very spectacular show

A church in San Louis Potosi

Guanajato - probably the nicest colonial town

Large parts of the city are tunneled ingeniously, allowing for pedestrian zones in the centrum

Guanajato theatre

Beautiful colors in the streets

All trees are white in the bottom - this is calcium to keep some ants away

Great timing: We visit Guanajato during its annual cultural festival

White 'La dia de los muertos' approaching, the technicians took the opportunity to dress up

Left: Old mariachi waiting to play; Right: Old mariachi waiting to play; Middle: Creepy looking friend of them not intending to play music today

The festival is a great moment for the mariachis to play for people (a song can be more than 10 euro)

A rather funny performance

One of the tunnels below the city

A beso in El callejon del beso - we took the wrong step...bad luck for the next 7 years??

San Miguel de Allende is a very authentic colonial town and has served as an inspiration for Disney Land

In San Miguel de Allende you will only see houses painted in a few colors. On top the colonial atmosphere is also preserved by not allowing any traffic lights in the city.

Street views at night
Good night!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Mexico: Marriachis, Sombreros, Tequilla and tacos!

Bienvenidos to VanBaelenGuillot in Mexico!

Currently we are already in Mexico for two weeks and we can guarantee everyone that so far we are still alive and we still have all of our belongings! By the way, the title of this is a joke: We haven't seen any of the typical Mexican stereotypes so far! Let's see in the upcoming weeks!

Having spend some time here now, we can say that it is totally different than travelling through the USA. Before everything was very organized for us and we felt very safe to leave the car behind. Here we feel that we need to do a lot of efforts to see or do something and it is very hard to do cool things on your own – you often need a guide or prepare very well. On top, we found ourselves in a busy traveling period in the USA, making it easy to talk to people, but in Mexico it is still low season as it is still too hot. Therefore we often are the only tourists around.

Anyhow, we started our trip by crossing the border via Nogales, which is a city in both the USA and Mexico. In a couple of hours we were able to get all the papers done and we were driving on the highway! We were very surprised that everything went so easy, we didn't even have to show our papers to anybody! From there we drove until Hermosillo, the first town on our route. The city had very little to offer apart from a colonial church, so we decided to continue further south to find a sleeping place. We continued to the Guaymas at the Pacific Coast. Here we found a camping which was linked to a beautiful and charming hotel, obviously we were alone. Although the city of Guaymas did not have much things to see, its surrounding cities did have nice harbors and beaches.

From here we went towards our main attraction in Northern Mexico: The Copper Canyon. After just having visited the Grand Canyon, we were quite surprised about this. The canyon here is much larger than the Grand Canyon, and it is also much more different. The rock formations are more wild and are covered with trees. To visit it we had to drive 600 km in the Sierra Madre Occidental, which took us about two days in streets with pothole, curves and holes! From Creel we try to check out the canyon, but it was very hard for us being used to travel into the USA to find our way. We took half a day to organize and to indicate what we want to see and how to get there. On top we had to organize how to get out of the canyon, as it is the home base of some drug related activities, so not all roads are considered safe. Finally we have spent several days throughout the canyon and we have really enjoyed it. It has only been a pity that there had not been many hikes for us to do. Nonetheless we have seen several waterfalls (including the second highest of Mexico) and beautiful lakes and we have mountain biked around the rims of the canyon, which provided for great views and it provided us with an inside to the local tribes still living in the canyon.

Originally we found that we had to do some effort to enter the canyon, but we were wrong! Leaving it appeared to be much more difficult. After driving on a paved road for 10 km the road suddenly stopped, we knew we had to continue for 200 km to our next stopping place via dirt roads. Now, you can have dirt roads and dirt roads. Some dirt roads are actually even better than paved roads and sometimes (like in the USA) you can drive 80 KM/H to avoid the rattling. Not in Mexico. These roads are 30 km/H max and often slower as there are so many big holes to be avoided. For our last 90 KM we thought we were completely lost, as we were seriously driving up a mountain, and there was practically no sign of a road. After climbing from 400 meters to 1.700 meters we finally crossed another car who could confirm that we were on the road to Alamos. After this exhausting but really beautiful trip we arrived in Alamos, which is a well conserved colonial town. Beautiful houses in bright colours, having gardens with beautiful flowers.

From Alamos we go towards San Blas a smaller beach town. On the way we have to make a small pitstop in Mexcaltitan, which is known to be the 'Mexican Venice'. It’s a small island village which is located in a large laguna. Very cool to spend an hour there to see how the people live on a small surface. From there we continue to San Blas (for the ones that know the group Maná - muelle de san blas, it is inspired in this village) where we enjoy the beach and the oceans with the strong waves. From here we continue to Puerto Vallarta, a super large hotel resort city. We are not very big fans of these places, so we don’t stay here for long. We did however do a nice excursion here to the Isla Marietas. This island has a crater with a beach inside which was Mireia’s first dream when preparing the trip! There we saw dolfin, a large manta, sea stars and lot of beautiful fishes.

From here we will go a bit further south, after we go back up a bit. Hopefully we can see some more colonial villages before starting to see the Mayan and Aztec  ruins and Mexico City!

Hope you enjoy the rest of the pictures! Feel free to leave some comments - which we love to read and reply!

Alex and Mireia

The church in Hermosillo, our first encounter with Mexico's colonial history

As you can see it is not very busy at this camping in Guaymas

Although the hotel was beautiful

The harbor in Guaymas' neighbor San Carlos

An isolated beach which was only accessible by climbing a bit down, finally the pacific ocean become warm (we didn't swim a single time in northern California)

This beach was full with seashells!

Our first stop going into the Sierra Madre, the cascadas de Basaseachi (260 meters high waterfall) 

Camping in Creel was also lonely and the accommodations were note really prepared to receive guests

From Creel we could go visit this Valley of the monks

The Copper Canyon is still populated by the Tarahumara who moved here 400 years ago to run away from the Spanish. They are very shy and don't trust other people. Most of them lived very poorly.

The canyon also has some therms - just what we need after a long hot day ;)

Although we fine ourselves to be the only campers we are rarely alone on the road

Next waterfalls - where we were also alone!

The views from Divisadero are spectacular so they have built some kind of an attraction park here

We took a bike ride around the canyon rims, great views!

At night we had our personal guard, 'Barbara'. We are really sad that we didn't take here with us, she was behaving very well.
Alamos! Beautiful town with a very nice main square - you could see that this city is full of Americans!

Vistas of the city from a mirador

The graveyard of Alamos was completely full full full

Look Siemen, big tractors!

The Mexicans already start to prepare for the 1st of November, which is celebrated very much here, but much differently than in Europe!

On our way to the Mexican Venice - Mexcaltitan

When the water is higher the boats can enter the city

So people need bridges to cross the streets

Chihuahuas are stupid, but how cute is this one! - Claus don't take it personal ;)

From this street map you can see it is small village

Going to San Blas it becomes more tropical, the amount of mosquitos was enormous

In Puerto Vallarta we had some difficulty finding a camping, but the one we found had nice vistas

In Puerto Vallarta we can visit the Isla Marietas, where you have a beach inside a crater

Unfortunately, on the way there we saw 18 dead giant turtles which got stuck in a fishing net

And a large manta was swimming together with us! Sr.Guillot this is for you!

Taking our swimming classes we need life jackets