Archive for April, 2012

Oaxaca and the Monte Alban Mayan Ruins

After our final night at the hotel in Cuernavaca we headed off the next morning toward Oaxaca. The drive was fine and we didn’t have any trouble finding our way even once we got into Oaxaca centro. We read great things about a particular hostel called Hostel Don Nino from our guide book and it was relatively easy to find. Another thing we read about Oaxaca was that the city was very poor and there were sometimes small protests in the main squares and plazas, but when we got there and started driving around centro and trying to find the hostel we saw the exact opposite of what we read. The city was gorgeous and there were families and children running all over Plaza Juarez near our hostel all the time. One cool thing we saw in the Plaza Juarez were tons of little kids riding those power wheels cars all over. We then spotted a guy who was renting them out for the kids to go to town with all over the plaza circling the fountains and racing each other, that was pretty neat and a great idea.

Once we got to Hostel Don Nino we were blown away at how clean and nice it was. The dorm rooms were very reasonably priced and they had some great common areas and a roof top terrace with an outdoor shared kitchen. We got our beds and met an Englishman named Gary who was sharing the room with us. After the short meet and greet we went back downstairs to ask the receptionist if we could do some of our laundry and if he knew of a great place to get some mole. Oaxaca is touted as having the best mole in Mexico so we had to give it a try. We ended up going to a little place on a street corner about a mile away from our hostel which had some amazing mole made from a special Oaxacan chocolate which is hand made in the city. It had a very rich flavor with the slightest hint of chocolate and it gave us the sensation that we were indulging in an ancient recipe handed down through the ages, which of course it was! Then back to the hostel for a nights rest before we headed out on a day trip to see the Monte Alban Mayan Ruins.

The next morning we woke up and decided to walk down toward the zocolo and catch a local bus up to the Monte Alban ruins. They left about every hour and the tickets were 100 pesos cheaper than the tour the hostel offered. We walked down to the bus station and waited for a bit while the bus got there. On the way we stumbled into a large street market that had lots of things for sale and we decided to be sure to hit the market up on the way back from our day trip. So we finally get on the bus and get our seats when the driver stands up and tells us to all get off…haha. Apparently we had to switch over to a bigger bus. The drive up to the ruins was very windy and hardly paved and there were many moments where I was sure the bus wasn’t going to be able to make the curve, but somehow it did without tumbling down the hillside on top of the houses and shacks where some of the Oaxacans lived.

We arrived at the Monte Alban ruins which were situated on the top of a very tall hill which had a 360 degree view of the city below and the farmlands opposite of the hill. Beyond that were even greater hillsides which I believe reached altitudes of 3500 meters. We got our tickets into the ruins and began giving ourselves a self guided tour of the many pyramids, tombs, and ancient stone relics from the Mayan civilization. Our first stop was the tomb area and of course Steve felt it necessary to commune with the ancient spirits of the Mayans.

We then ventured onward and found plenty of ancient wonders concealed by lush green undergrowth. We were also amazed at the amount of preserved stone carvings. One in particular displayed a wealthy family and a man depicted as a jaguar.

We climbed all the pyramids we were allowed to and I even partook in some communing with the ancients. There was also a game arena in this ancient city where the Mayans would play to the death. Apparently the arena at this particular site didn’t carry out the sacrifices toward the losing team, but other sites were dead serious about their games.

Monte Alban was a spectacular site to see. The 360 degree view on top of the hill was amazing and I can see why the Mayans chose that spot to build their city. I couldn’t help but daydream about what the city and people must have been like, a thriving civilization at the pinnacle of their greatness looking down upon the unspoiled land, planning their eternal reign. After wandering around the city we headed back toward the entrance to check out the meager museum they had. Then we hopped back on the bus back to town.

We stopped in at the market we ran into before and ended up buying some fresh french bread, lettuce, tomato, avocado, fresh Oaxacan cheese, and some chicken to make some sandwiches for dinner. Our friend Al whom we met back in Copper Canyon had mentioned that in Oaxaca you can buy toasted crickets called chapulines and we found heaps of them in the market. Steve bought a small bag full of some chili flavored chapulines so we could try them when we got back. We had a nice easy homemade dinner and some crickets for dessert. I actually didn’t try one myself cause bleh, but Steve says they taste sort of like dried shrimp…with chili…and antenna…and wings.

We hit the sack and got up early the next morning to get on the road again onto Puerto Escondido. Our roommate Gary mentioned to us at around 10am when we were about to leave that the drive took him 11 hours by bus to get from Puerto Escondido to Oaxaca (he just came from there a few days before) and Steve and I thought we wouldn’t make it before dark. We then found out that the big buses take a severely longer route to get there as the buses can’t handle the highway that takes you straight there. Surely our car could make it and the drive would only take about 6 hours (according to the receptionist.) Well, we hit the road onward to Puerto Escondido and boy was that highway complete crap. Terribly windy all the way and just in horrible disrepair. It was SO bad in fact that we ended up getting a flat tire along the way! Here’s how that went down.

Just before we left Oaxaca to get to Puerto Escondido, we refueled and also put a little air in our tires. The Mexican roads really take it out of the tires. Then we started on the crazy windy road. About 3/4 of the way there we stopped off the side of the road for a pee break and I noticed that there was a faint hissssssss sound coming from the car. As I got closer I heard it coming from one of the rear tires and sure enough there was a hole right smack dab in the middle of the sidewall. The tire wasn’t flat yet but air was escaping and we knew we would need to replace the tire when we got to Puerto Escondido. We used some gorilla tape to temporarily patch it, but as we drove on the tape came off and eventually the tire went flat. So we emptied the trunk and put our spare on. We also discovered we had two spare tires with us, one regular sized spare which takes up most of the room in our trunk right now, and another donut spare under the floorboard in the trunk. We used the normal sized one, but it was a little low on air itself.

We got safely to Puerto Escondido and decided to get some new shoes for the car the following day. More on Puerto Escondido in the next post!

Steve also broke the record for longest distance traveled while in neutral on this hill which clocked in at 11.3 miles shattering the previous record of 5.4! Just thought you’d like to know :)

Day 3-4 of Mexico City and Xochimilco

The next day in Mexico City we woke up and had some breakfast in the hostel, grabbed our cameras and started on the metro down to a southern part of Mexico City called Xochimilco to see some old canals that exist there. Apparently the entire area where Mexico City exists today was a giant lake, I believe at the time Mexico’s biggest lake, which existed during the Aztec empire. All that remains of the lake today are 180km of canals and water ways with floating gardens and homes which are only accessible by festively and brightly decorated gondolas. Of course there were plenty of these gondolas and there were plenty of locals waiting at the embarcaderos to give tourists rides through the canals. They offered various length trips and we opted for a 2.5 hour tour of the canals. And as you can see by the little kitty taking a leisurely bath here, the atmosphere was laid back and tranquil.

Our captain steered the boat with a long bamboo rod which he used to push us along the water by the bottom of the canals. He spoke no English but was very patient with our Spanglish and still made the effort to describe to us the history of the canals and the ancient civilizations that once dominated this area of Mexico. He spoke slowly and clearly and even though we didn’t know all of the vocabulary we were able to loosely figure out what he was saying bit by bit and it was very interesting to hear him talk about the history as we sailed softly along the water.

Of course this place wouldn’t be complete without other smaller gondolas floating around and boarding their rafts right along side the ones with the tourists and families enjoying the canals to play marriachi music, marimbas, cook food, or pedle souveniers. It is Mexico after all, there is always a chance to buy something you don’t need everywhere! We politely declined the music, food, and souvenier boarding the entire time and just enjoyed the scenery and history lectures. But of course we had to get some giant Coronas for our ride!

There was one part of the canals that would take a long time to get to, which we opted out of seeing because the price was too high, called the Island of Dolls. Apparently a little girl drowned in one of the canals and to vindicate her spirit one of the locals started dredging toys, dolls, and stuffed animals that drifted down the canals and despite their condition hung them from the many branches of trees that hugged the canal bank on a specific island. It created a very harrowing and disturbing display of remembrance and caution. We really wanted to see this island, but it was a bit pricey so we opted for the “replica” Island of Dolls which was along our main route through the canals.

We saw many beautiful homes along the canal banks and enjoyed sitting and drinking our massive beers and leaning over the front of the gondola and trailing our fingers along in the water. It was kind of romantic too,  just to be there floating along the tranquil waters. When everything was said and done we thanked our captain and gave him a little tip for the great adventure and went on our way back toward the Zocolo. We decided to have some dinner at a local restaurant that looked like it would be really tasty but ended up being sort of meh. Then we bought a small bottle of tequila and shared it back at the hostel while the movie Fight Club was on that a number of other travelers were enjoying.

The next and final day in Mexico City we grabbed our cameras and started walking out toward Alameda Central to check out the Laboratorio de Arte Alameda. We walked up and down the streets trying to follow our map to the location and walked past it twice before realising that the building we were looking for was closed and under construction. No wonder we couldn’t find it right away! Darn.

So we then took the metro again down to the Bosque de Chapultepec to see some museums and things in this giant park in the middle of the busy city. We got there and walked a ways before actually entering the park area and seeing a giant monument dedicated to the Child Heros. Then after that we spent a good couple hours exploring the Museo de Arte Moderno which had lots of fascinating pieces from lots of different artists and periods of time. The day was getting a little late and we needed to head back to get a bus from Mexico City back to Cuernavaca so we decided to leave the park after the modern art museum. Oh, and this cool mosaic tiled building was just a random cool building I found while we were walking earlier in the day.

As we were grabbing our things from the hostel, Steve was talking about how he really wanted to get his ears pierced so he could eventually have some small plugs. I said, well go ask the receptionist at the hostel if he knows of a piercing shop! Well there just so happened to be a piercing and tattoo shop just around the corner on the third floor of the building overlooking the Zocolo. We went up there and the two guys running the shop, who were very nice and spoke a little English, helped Steve pick out some small earrings to get his ears pierced with. I totally got jealous and wanted a piercing too, but I couldn’t think of one that I wanted that I didn’t already have or had before. So we both decided to get some piercings together and we only paid a total of 350 pesos (about $25 USD) for three piercings! Everything was sterile and clean so we went ahead and just did it on a whim.

We will have some updated pictures later down the road after the piercings heal a bit. Then after our adrenalin rush we hopped on the metro back to the South City Bus Station and found our bus back to Cuernavaca. We arrived before dark and went to go get our room in the same Hotel Iberia before going to the parking garage to get our car which was still safely there. This time the guy who was running the parking there spoke perfect English and helped us get our car out. It wasn’t until we parked it back at the hotel that we realised the parking tenants had a little fun with all the dirt on our car and wrote some funny stuff all over it in English no less. It said “Wash me white boy” and “Dirty Mexicans” and “I won’t get a wash until I return to the motherland of US of A” haha! We decided we would finally wash the car later to get the rubbish off of it. We thought having English finger writing in the dust would make it more of a target for something.

All in all we are glad we went into Mexico City and saw a little of what it had to offer. One could spend months going all over the city and seeing all the towns and buildings and the uniqueness it has to offer, but perhaps on another trip we will enjoy some of the other sights there. Next stop is Oaxaca!

Day 1-2 of Mexico City and the Teotihuacán Ruins

The bus ride from Cuernavaca to Mexico City was a lot of fun and it was nice to have someone else drive for a while. We enjoyed the view out the windows and listened to music with our headphones. As we were nearing Mexico City I noticed a very thick layer of smog everywhere. You could barely see a few miles into the distance it was so thick. I had read that the pollution in the 21 million population Mexico City was pretty bad, but apparently in recent years they have started to take more environmental measures to reduce pollution. One thing I read was that they only let certain cars with certain license plate numbers to drive on certain days. Based on what I could see it didn’t look like it was helping much.

We finally arrived in the South City Bus Station which was right next to the metro station. The metro system in Mexico City is super easy and we were able to get to the Zocolo on our own no problem. Each line has its own color and each stop has a name as well as a symbol representing the stop. And all the stations have the name and symbol all over so you know exactly which stop you are at.

The metro is easy to use, but it is jam packed all the time. When the train stops people flood on and off as fast as possible. Sometimes people get pushed around and trip and fall. The drivers sound the alarm for the doors closing so quickly and we have seen many people get nearly stuck in the doors. Some people’s bags get caught in the closing doors and they have to pull their bags in. THEN there are the constant barrage of people walking up and down the train yelling at everyone that they have this and that for sale. Apparently this is illegal so they get on discreetly with a backpack of stuff, then bust out headphones, lollipops, bandages, books, anything to try and sell to the riders on the metro. Some of them even hook up speakers in their backpacks and they get on the train and then blast music which plays samples of various songs and they hold up pirated copies of cd’s for sale for the songs they are playing through their backpack. There are networks of these people everywhere trying to peddle anything they can all the time. At first we were like “Really?” and then we got used to it.

Once we finally got to the Zocolo, or the “eagle stop” (the symbol for the Zocolo stop was an eagle…see how easy that can be?) we got out and the Cathedral was staring us right in the face…as well as hundreds of sidewalk vendors and merchants selling pirated movies and music. Sometimes you see blankets with clearly printed out and burned dvd movies and then you will see a couple kids rush to pick the blanket up and fold up with the movies inside while a federal police vehicle drives by. It is like a cat and mouse game with the pirates and police here.

We found our hostel which was called Mexico City Hostel and checked in for a few nights into a large bunk dorm room. This is the first really big hostel we have been to so far during our travels. There were lots of people from all over staying here and we had plenty of roommates through out our stay. We still had plenty of daylight left in the day so as we were settling in we decided to go out and explore the Zocolo for the afternoon. While we were in the hostel regrouping our plans and route through the city it just started raining really hard out of no where. Then came the flashes and booms of thunder and lightning, but a little storm wasn’t going to stop us. We grabbed out rain coats and we hit the streets.

Our first stop was a huge pawn shop one block away from our hostel. We peeked inside the large building and most of the shops had jewelry and that was it. There was one small area that had some artwork and sculptures, but the rest was jewelry, mostly gold. We were hoping for some weird and crazy stuff but oh well. After that we headed to the cathedral. Everyone was stuck inside and waiting for the rain to stop. We must have looked like the crazy people going in and out through the rain from building to building. The cathedral was much like the ones we had seen before and offered a bit of sanctuary from the rain.

Then we headed toward the Supreme Court of Justice building which was supposed to have dozens of huge murals painted inside. We got there and asked the front desk if we could see the murals and they wanted some collateral in the form of ID’s but we left all of our ID’s and passports back at the hostel. No use carrying those around if you don’t need them right? Well we did, but luckily the guy at the desk had us write our names down on a piece of paper and let us go through anyway. We had a blast walking through the Supreme Court building…where in America could you just wander into a government building like that and just wander around looking at things? There were murals from many different artists old and new. One mural which really stuck out to us was by Rafael Cauduro. It depicted some very graphic political themes and it also incorporated minor demolition to the walls with bricks and crumbling plaster which was apart of the paintings. The entire mural spiraled all the way up 4 stories of one of 4 corner staircases in the building. It was amazing, but unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me. Here is a link to his website with some imagery of the mural. http://www.cauduro.com/obra/murales/SCJ/scj.html

After the Supreme Court of Justice building we came outside and noticed the rain had stopped. We stopped into a restaurant and had a light dinner and then headed back in to the hostel to check some emails and have some beers before bed. Some other travelers were watching a chick flick on the TV and Steve and I did some computer stuff and watched hockey. Right before bed I got this shot of the street outside the window of our room in the hostel right near the Zocolo.

The next morning we woke up and had some free breakfast at the hostel consisting of eggs, toast, fruit, and coffee. We ate quickly because we heard that there was a tour going from the hostel to the Teotihuacán ruins today and we wanted to see them. Our first Mayan ruins! So at 9am we were ready to go. We thought we were just going straight to the ruins but the tour had some other interesting stops for us to see. First we stopped at some ruins that were right in the heart of Mexico city itself. We remembered reading about these ruins in our book. Apparently over the years Mexico City was built and little did anyone know that there was an ancient Mayan city sitting right underneath them. It wasn’t until the 1980′s that the city discovered the ruins and started excavating. It was wild to see such ancient ruins amidst this huge bustling city.

Right behind these ruins was an old church and we got to walk through it for a little bit before heading off to the Teotihuacán ruins themselves. The lighting in the church was very blue and I got a few interesting shots in there.

It took us about 45 minutes or so to get to the Teotihuacán ruins, but right before we got there we stopped to do a quick tour of an obsidian carving and mezcal tasting shop. They showed us how they made the mezcal in the agave plants and the many uses of the plant itself from papers to needle and thread to alcohol! We got to try three different kinds of mezcal, one was from cactus and was very sweet, one was a mezcal with an almond flavor and was also very sweet, and the last was a more traditional smokey flavored strong type. They were all very good and I think the almond was my favorite. They also gave each person a little sombrero made from the fibers of the agave plant as a little gift and a young boy went around pinning the sombraros on everyone’s shirts while we tasted mezcal.

Then they showed us the various symbolic meanings of the obsidian carved statues and masks they had in their shop. They were all very ornate and beautiful. Some of the obsidian had a gold shimmer inside of them. We thought all of the souvenirs were very nice, but we asked the owner if they had just some raw un-carved obsidian we could buy. The little boy brought us out to a small rock pile in the back of the shop and let us poke around and we found a few pieces we liked. I was going to buy a small ornate cat carved out of obsidian for 200 pesos and they threw in the raw obsidian chunks for free!

After the obsidian tour we finally got to go see the ruins which would contain two major temples, the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun. The entire city there was huge. The first thing we noticed was that the place was littered with pan handlers trying to sell you tons of souvenirs and jewelry. Everywhere you turned they wanted to show you something for “nearly free.” It kind of took away from the sacred experience we hoped for, but we sort of got used to it. There was one thing unique to the souvenirs here we hadn’t seen, or heard, before. We kept hearing these big cat calls which turned out to be these clay jaguar calls that the pan handlers were trying to sell. We totally bought one because they sound awesome and we want to freak out our cats when we get home! It was kind of cool to hear jaguar calls every so often while walking around the ruins. There were also clay flutes being played as well which sort of added to the experience a bit.

So we entered the city and wandered over to the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and discovered some remains of ancient serpent heads and figures of royalty with their supposedly jade jewlery around their eyes and through thier ears.

We then walked a long distance through the areas where markets were held and advanced water preservation methods were practiced. Then to the side of the main road we got to look into one of the homes which was excavated. All of the doorways and entryways were very low to the ground as the Mayan people were much shorter than most people today. In the home there were clear signs of plumbing systems through the walls and even a shower! It was quite amazing to see.

Then we continued onward toward the Sun and Moon Pyramids. The Pyramid of the Sun was the biggest pyramid there in the city. The stairway up to the top was strenuous, but totally worth it. The stairs themselves were very large and at least 2 feet high each. Once we got to the top the view was breathtaking. Pictures can’t really capture the vastness of this entire ancient city.

After enjoying the views from the Pyramid of the Sun we were led to a cafe near the obsidian shop outside of the main Mayan city area for some lunch. Unfortunately, Steve and I only had enough money for one meal. It was a buffet and $100 pesos per person, which was kind of steep, but we remembered we brought some cookies along with us in our pack so we grabbed those and our tour guide snuck us some bananas and we headed back to the pyramids to look around some more. The guide wanted us to be back to the bus by 4:30 so we had some free time to explore around and see the Pyramid of the Moon. Before we went back to the pyramids we went into a really great museum on the outskirts of the city. The museum had lots of unique and rare artifacts that were excavated at the site. They also had a huge diorama of the city itself and what it probably looked like in its glory days… also, skeletons!

We finally got back on the bus and headed back toward Mexico City. We had one more stop before we got dropped back off at the hostels. We went to the Basilica and visited this important catholic site which was supposedly the most important miracle related religious site in the world, next to the Vatican of course. The story goes that there was this guy named Juan Diego who claimed to have had a vision of the virgin Mary and she told Juan to build a shrine built in her honor. So Juan told the bishop and he didn’t believe him. Then Juan had another vision and the virgin Mary then told him to put a bunch of flower petals in his cloak and then carry them to the bishop. When the bishop opened the cloak the cloak had the image of the virgin Mary imprinted on the cloak and then he believed Juan so they built the shrine.

Sounds ridiculous if you ask me. We went to see the supposed actual cloak that had the imprint of Mary on it. Those flower petals must have had an art degree to be able to depict the virgin Mary as well as they did. So people from all over the world come here and crawl on their hands and knees to worship this depiction of the virgin Mary. You can go into the church/shrine and ride a small conveyor belt (yes, a conveyor belt people mover type thing that they have in airports) and slowly glide by and look up at this framed image of the virgin Mary (I guess they framed the cloak? It doesn’t really look like a cloak to me at all.) It was kind of funny to us because of it’s ridiculousness…but to each their own. The inside of the church looked really neat and had these honeycomb like lights at the ceiling though! And the windows were very beautiful.

So then after another hour of sitting in Mexico City traffic we finally made it back to the hostel. We were pretty tired from the days outing, but decided to go grab a bite to eat at a cafe and then came back in and had a few beers while we hung out on the computer and watched another chick flick someone had on with a stupid ending, I think it was called Spanglish (haha, appropriate for our trip.) Then we hit the sack for our next outing! I’ll continue our Mexico City adventures in the next post!

Morelia, Cuernavaca, and On To Mexico City

After Guanajuato it was a half day drive to Morelia. When we arrived there with our car we were pleasantly surprised at how easy this city was to navigate through because it had freaking street signs!! We found a cute little hostel called Tequila Sunrise and got all of our things situated there. We slept in a 4 bunk room by ourselves for two nights. I was still fairly exhausted and feeling pretty empty from my previous food mishap so instead of hitting the streets and looking at the town right away, we decided to get some dinner first and then take it easy at the hostel that night.

We walked to a place that the owner of the hostel recommended which made wood fire pizzas. It was a nice change of pace from the traditional Mexican food we had been enjoying up until that point. I had a salad to ease back into heavier foods, but Steve ordered a pizza that came with diced up hot dog on it. One of the hazards of not knowing most words in Spanish. We walked by the cathedral on the way back and we went inside to check it out. Another church, but they are all very unique in their decor. And this particular cathedral took about 100 years to build from 1640-1744 which meant it had architectural elements from classical Herreresque bases, baroque midsections, and neoclassical tops. I wish I remembered more of the subtle visual differences from my art history classes in college, but as we examined the building from the exterior it was easy to tell that there were numerous styles of architecture all over.

Then after dinner we went back to the hostel. I also read in the guidebook that on Saturdays the cathedral lights up and there are fireworks in the main plaza in town. We checked which day it was (we tend to lose track hehe) and found out it was Saturday! So we made an effort to go back out to the town center and get some pictures of the cathedral all lit up. When we got there the streets were blocked off and littered with people waiting to see the spectacle. It had a huge build up and countdown but the actual lighting was a little anti-climactic. It was still very beautiful though.

After that we went back to the hostel for the last time that night and were invited upstairs on to the roof to join the hostel owner and his local friends for some drinks. It was fun just being around lots of Spanish speaking individuals who were all about our age or older. We learned a little more Spanish up there and fortunately some of them spoke a little English so it was possible for us to have some more in depth conversations.

The next day we woke up and decided to sit down for a few hours and do some more in depth planning of our near future trip into Cuernavaca and Mexico City. By mid afternoon we were hungry so we headed over to a restaurant which was famous for some bean soup. It ended up being fairly fancy and pricey, but it was absolutely delicious. The traditional Michoacán bean soup was as good as we heard. So we splurged there a bit and then walked around town a bit more before retiring for the evening.

The next day we were going to head to Cuernavaca, but before we left Morelia we decided to stop by the Morelia Zoo on the way out. It was actually a really nice zoo with a pretty decent variety of animals to see. One thing I noticed right away was that some of the habitats were very accessible. For example you could have stuck your hands and fingers through the fencing or gates of some of the cages and for some of the smaller animals like the meerkats, the only thing stopping you from jumping in and hanging out with them was a short 3.5-4 foot wall which you could walk right up to and bend into. It was cool because you could get closer to the animals for pictures, but I couldn’t help but think of how many “incidents” the zoo must have had up to that point with reckless children or stupid adults getting too close and getting hurt. There was a hyena cage and you could literally pet their wet noses through the chain link fence if you were brave/stupid enough.

We walked around the zoo for a good couple hours before we finally left for Cuernavaca. According to my map and Google Maps it should have only taken us 3 or 4 hours to get there from Morelia. We were driving along and once we got to the area on our map where Cuernavaca SHOULD have been, we started to get frustrated. We passed through a toll and asked the gentleman there if he could direct us to Cuernavaca. Apparently we had to keep going at least another 100km from where we were on a completely different highway. What the hell map! The location of Cuernavaca on my map was off by at least 50km and on an entirely different highway! So onward we went south toward Taxco and then back up toward Cuernavaca. We saw a spectacular view of a large canyon off the side of the road and we pulled off to take a few pictures.

It wasn’t until we passed Taxco that we finally saw signs for Cuernavaca, and at this point the sun was starting to set fast. Steve was driving and we were both trying to decide if we should just stop and stay in a hotel along the way as we still had 70km to go. We always read over and over and heard from other travelers to “Never drive at night in Mexico.” Steve assured me and himself that he would get us safely to our hotel in Cuernavaca even if we had to drive in the dark for a short amount of time. We were skeptical but decided to push onward.

The first thing we noticed was that there are no street lights anywhere on any of the roads in Mexico, unless you are in a city, but sometimes even then they are few and far between. We finally reached the outer city limits of Cuernavaca driving along through the main street. After 15 minutes Steve saw some lights go on behind the car and someone on a loud speaker spoke something in Spanish so we pulled over and I got our licenses and registration ready. The gentleman who was in the vehicle came over and was very cheerful and said something along the lines of us not needing to pull over. He wasn’t a police officer, but a tourist security guy…what? Either way, he was very polite and said flashing the lights didn’t mean we needed to pull over, but just to get out of his way, haha. So he asked us where we were going and we said Cuernavaca and he pointed us in the right direction (which was the way we were going.) He bid us safe travels and we were back on the road.

We finally made it into Cuernavaca and it was a little late. Most everything was closed up including the hotel we tried to get into to sleep for the night. The door was closed tight and knocking or ringing the bell had no effect. We were just about to leave when we saw a couple walk up to the door and stop so I jumped back out of the car and asked if the hotel was still open. Just as that happened a smallish younger gentleman peered out of the door to let the couple in and I tried asking him if he had any rooms available. He did, but for double what the book had indicated. He also told me that they didn’t have any parking, which the book also said they had. I threw my arms up and said thanks and went back to the car to check the book for an alternative hotel. We did end up finding one which was supposedly about the same price and had parking.

As we drove through the one way streets to find the hotel we were once more stopped by some federal police. This time they were legit. They were in a huge white truck and there were about 3-4 of these guys with assault rifles and everything. We were pulled us over and they all got out and looked the car up and down. I noticed they checked the plates immediately and then one of them came over to Steve’s window and said in Spanish our lights were off. Steve face palmed and wholeheartedly apologized for forgetting to turn the lights off. We asked the officer if he understood English and he said no. Great.

Well, we could sort of get what he was saying anyway, and he told us the infraction for driving without lights was $1000 pesos. Wow…So then he sort of said something along the lines of him writing us a ticket for $1000 pesos. But then he just stood there looking at us waiting for us to say something. So I said in Spanglish “Ok, please write us the ticket” He said something back to us that we didn’t understand. Then I asked where we needed to pay the ticket and he said that we needed to pay it at something called the Office of Transportation? So I then again told him to write us the ticket and said we would go to the office tomorrow and pay the fine and then Steve asked him to write down the directions to the office for us.

At this point we started to put some pieces together about this encounter. The officer started to smile and sort of chuckle at us. He leaned in closer near the window and said something quietly to us. We didn’t understand, but I kept repeating “please write the ticket and we will go pay it at the transportation office” and he kept getting lightheartedly frustrated and repeating himself as well. Since we didn’t know what he was saying I sort of gathered that maybe he was trying to get us to bribe him so he would let us go. We kept telling him we didn’t understand.

I then tried telling him that we were lost and looking for Hotel Iberia. He said he knew where it was and we could follow him there and we said thanks. But then he just kept standing there waiting for us to do something…waiting for us to give him money. We told him we didn’t have any money on us (which was a lie, I had just recently hidden our cash in the glove compartment when we got out of the car to use the bathroom at a gas station earlier that day.) We said all we had was a card. Then his eyes got wide and he said a few more things to us in Spanish and we said we didn’t understand so he sort of gave up and told us to follow him. He led us straight to a bank with an ATM. Whaaat! He expected us to get money out of the ATM to give to him and he wouldn’t write us a freakin’ ticket! I wanted some written proof of an infraction and I had read online never to give a police officer money. We loosely told him (lied to him) that all we had was a credit card and it wouldn’t work in the ATM. At this point his demeanor started to turn a little sour as he got increasingly frustrated with us. His police pals were in the back of the truck murmuring things to him as well. He told us to follow him once more.

So we followed and they led us straight to Hotel Iberia. Thank goodness. He got out to talk to us one more time and I think he said that if we get caught driving with the lights off at night we would have our licenses taken away. We said thank you, and they sped off obviously frustrated with us. Steve and I looked at each other and just sighed together in great relief. We just got ourselves out of a $1000 “ticket” with the federal police! We played stupid and tried to explain we wanted the ticket in writing to pay at the office and they got fed up and left us alone. I read about these exact experiences with other foreign drivers online before our trip and one way to get out of the situation was to play stupid (while being polite) and they will usually just give up and be on their way. I think the police probably saw our plates and took advantage of the situation to try and get some extra cash out of us. But all things considered, we should not have been driving at night in the first place and forgotten to turn the lights on. Steve felt like a bonehead, but we were just glad the situation was over.

We finally got into the hotel and took some much needed showers. We then went down to the reception to ask the owner if we were allowed to leave our car parked at the hotel for 4 days while we bused into Mexico City, then return and stay another night at the hotel. He said that he wouldn’t be able to let us do that, but he said there were lots of public parking with gates down the street. So we decided the next day we would go find a secure lot to leave our car, but of course we would have to pay.

The next morning we walked down the street to get some breakfast at a little cafe and then we went to the Robert Brady House which was recommended to us by our friend Richard. It was a house that was turned into a museum which used to belong to a man named Robert Brady who was a renowned collector of antiquities. He traveled the world and collected art, sculpture, furniture, and everything in between from many places and filled his home very elaborate and beautifully with the things he found. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take photos in the house, I think they saw how big my camera was and freaked out, but you can visit the website to see some photos at http://www.bradymuseum.org/aboutus.htm I loved this house, everything was laid out so neatly and it looked as though Robert Brady really appreciated the things that he collected and loved to show them off in an elegant and tasteful manner. His last will and testament stated that his home be left exactly the way he left it so people could enjoy it as much as he did.

After the Robert Brady House we found a parking lot that had some secure gates and we asked to leave the car there until Friday while we were in Mexico City. One of the gentleman there spoke fairly good English so he understood what we were asking. He said it was Ok and gave us a flat rate for 4 days and 3 nights of $420 pesos. Not too bad I suppose. Then after we secured the car a boy came up and asked if we wanted the car washed while we were gone. The car is totally filthy and has dirt all over it, but I declined because the paintings on the side of the car (which I need to catch up on, it’s hard to find shade and a safe place to paint the car) would wash off. I need to seal the paint first. (Remember this for a future post!) Anyway we declined the offer and headed off to the bus station to get a ticket to Mexico City which was about 1.5 hours away. On to Mexico City!

 

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