Archive for the ‘Mexico 2012’ Category

Top 5 Upgrades We Made To Our Car Before Our Road Trip Through Mexico

After we decided to take our car across the border to Mexico we felt it necessary to upgrade a few things to make our 99′ Honda Civic not only inconspicuous, but safe, and as thief proof as possible. Here are the top 5 upgrades we made before hitting the road.

5. Tinted Windows

Just dark enough to appear mysterious and obscure the contents of our car. Since you shouldn’t be driving at night visibility in the dark is not a concern. Make sure you follow state guidelines when you return home as limo tints are illegal and generally unnecessary, unless you’re a gangster.

4. Kill Switch

If someone manages to break in the car, AND disable the car alarm, the car will not be able to start unless a secret and well hidden switch is disabled. This switch cuts the connection between the ignition and the starter motor at the source preventing a would be thief from stealing the car. A well trained car thief will be on the look out for the switch, but if it’s hidden well enough the time spent searching for it makes it too risky to hang around and find it’s hiding place.

3. After Market Car Alarm

This alarm comes with a pager that alerts us with a high pitched beep if anyone bumps into the car, rocks it, opens any of the doors, or breaks a window. The range of the transmitter is about 300 feet which makes it very useful when staying at hostels or hotels. Though sometimes the car will get lonely and sound the alarm just for fun, and other times the pager will actually play us a little song! For real.

2. Disabling the Drivers Side Trunk Release

We store all our camping, cooking, and other gear in the trunk which used to be accessible from the drivers side trunk release switch. By removing the lock and turning the switch to the off position and replacing the inoperable lock a would be thief will not be able to access the trunk without the original key. We leave the car completely empty so even if they manage to break in, they will not be able to steal anything.

1. Rosary

Last but not least, we “installed” a rosary on the rear view mirror to blend in with the mostly Catholic populace of Mexico. Generally, I find anything hanging in front of the windshield obtrusive and dangerous, but so far not one foul deed has befallen our car. As an extra feature Jesus dances when we turn the sub woofer up!

The Ruins of Toniná & Agua Azul

After leaving San Cristobal, and on our way to Palenque, we stopped halfway in a town called Ocosingo.  The town rested in a valley between rolling hills of jungle and mountainous forest.  The town itself was quite small and quiet.  Before we found our hotel for the night we still had plenty of daylight to kill so we decided to head straight to the Toniná ruins.  These ruins were nestled about 14km outside the city on the side of a hill.  We got there and found out that the ruins were going to close in an hour and a half so we got out tickets as fast as possible, slathered on some sun screen, geared up the cameras and headed down a long cobblestone road toward the ruins.

The ruins themselves were spectacular.  They were immediately different than the ruins we had visited previously.  They were nestled between trees and sat on the side of a hill with spectacular views of the valley below.  The ruins of Toniná contained the city which eventually brought the city of Palenque to its knees by kidnapping the Palenque ruler and it is believed that he had his head lopped off in Toniná.  Toniná also has multiple underground passages and tombs.  There were also some very well preserved and excavated wall carvings from stone which were almost entirely intact!

We climbed all the way to the top of the tallest pyramid in the city and took in the amazing view for a while before descending to the main plaza below and being shooed off the premises by a security guard as it became closing time.  It was a shame we didn’t get to spend a little more time there, we didn’t get to see the underground passages, but we still had a great time climbing around and exploring.

Below are the entrances to the underground passages which we were about to explore before getting shooed away by the guard, darn!  It looks so enticing!

As we headed back to our car we also looked to see if the museum was still open, but it wasn’t.  Every ruin site we have been to so far has had an amazing museum with lots of displays with artifacts excavated from that particular site. We always try to get a peek in the museum when we visit the ruin sites.  Next time we will be sure to save at least a few hours to wander around.

After seeing the Toniná ruins, we drove back to town and found a semi-cheap hotel right near the main plaza of Ocosingo.  The hotel also had a cafe just below it so we had an easy dinner and then spent the remainder of the evening relaxing after a much needed shower.

The following day we headed out early toward Palenque.  The road was again very windy and went up and down and all around.  About 3/4 of the way to Palenque we made a quick stop off at a site we read about called Aqua Azul.  It was supposed to be a waterfall and swimming hole with clear blue waters.  When we got there and got out of the car we were hit with a blast of heat.  We were in the jungle, baby!  We walked around the entire park area at Agua Azul and got lots of pictures and video before I couldn’t take it anymore and had to test the waters.  If the temperature had been any cooler the water would have been too chilly to swim in, but it was so hot and humid that the chilled water was extremely refreshing.

I waded in the pools for a little bit to cool off and then we hit the road again on our way to Palenque!

In the Mountains at San Cristobal de las Casas

We were very sad to finally leave Puerto Escondido, but the show must go on! Our next destination was San Cristobal de las Casas. However, since the distance from Purto Escondido to San Cristobal was so great, we had to break up our trip by stopping at Tapanatepec. This was the halfway point between the two cities so we stopped here to sleep and then move on. Tapanatepec was a modest town with a small town plaza. When we arrived it must have been rush hour for the little town as the main streets were packed with vendors, people bustling about, and mini little taxi cars and bicycles with mini truck beds on the back to get people from one place to another. We managed to find our hotel only to discover that the hotel looked in complete disrepair and must have been deserted for some time. Luckily we found another hotel that wasn’t much further away and we stayed there for the night. The Hotel also had a small cafe where we had some fruit for breakfast the following morning before heading off to San Cristobal.

The drive to San Cristobal was windy and climbed most of the way. It led us directly into the mountains and the vegetation changed from semi tropical to fir and pine trees. San Cristobal itself was a very charming city with a lovely town plaza and lots of interesting stores and shops. There were also an abundance of hipster shops, organic places to eat and buy food, and yoga studios. We saw lots of hippie hipster people wandering the streets who, I assume, made San Cristobal their home for those very reasons.

Once we found our hostel we were able to settle in and go out exploring for the evening. We ended up strolling down the pedestrian streets and seeing all the shops and vendors. We had heard that the coffee here was amazing so we decided to stop into a local cafe near the Plaza to try some of the famous coffee. It was very tasty and I would definitely recommend to anyone who goes to San Cristobal to try the coffee! After that we hit up a local wood fired pizza place and sat on a balcony tasting some delicious foods and drinks.

The following day we had some breakfast at the hostel, they cooked free breakfast every day which was really good, and headed off by car just a bit to the southeast toward Grutas de Rancho Nuevo to see our first cave of the trip! We paid 10 pesos to get into the park area which had the entrance to the cave and then 10 more pesos to enter the cave itself. The cave was pretty impressive for having a concrete railed walkway all the way through. There were lots of interesting stalagmite and stalactite formations and every once in a while you would get smacked by a drop of water from the roof of the cave. It was about 350-400km in total length and ended with a dead end before making you turn back around to exit the way you came in.

After seeing the cave, we strolled around the park area for a bit and took a look at the local artisan crafts and watched kids play in the playgrounds. The park had these two huge multi-laned slides for the kids to slide down. They were made of cement and all the kids were having trouble actually sliding down with their clothes so some of them got creative and used cardboard or flattened plastic bottles to sit on and slide down which made it much more fun for them. We also saw some parents clumsily try to slide down with their kids. Then afterwards we headed back to the hostel and decided to go out and gather a few things to make ourselves some dinner that night. We found some fruit, veggies, and meat and made a delicious beef stir fry.

While we were hanging out at the hostel we met two nice people traveling together and they mentioned that they were going to go to Chamula, a small city just outside of San Cristobal, to see some of the indigenous people of Chaipas celebrating in one of their churches. They said that there are sometimes chicken sacrifices inside the church as part of their festival and it was highly forbidden to take photos or video inside the church or of the people engaged in the festival. This was something we had to see! So we met up with our friends the next morning around 8am and walked down toward the center of town, and then some, to an area where we could catch a Mexican combi bus to Chamula.

The bus dropped us right near the church and we began wandering toward the festivities. There were giant bottle rockets being fired every so often by the locals to help ward of the evil spirits and many of the men were wearing traditional festival clothing of wool fur in either black or white which covered their back, chest, and arms. They also had cowboy hats and boots on and some of the men wore colorful ribbon outfits. The women wore long skirts made of the black wool and also wore the wool in other ways too. They usually carried big goblets with these coals burning inside them which gave off a smoke with a pleasant smell, almost like incense, but more intense. Intencense. Since It was highly frowned upon to take photos, it was hard to get some good shots of the people and the ceremonies. I really wish I could have taken photos inside the church as the atmosphere and people inside were just fascinating.

The inside of the church was full of people sitting on the ground and standing around small altars surrounded by hundreds of candles. Many of the women and their children would sit and light the candles and pray while the rays of sunlight from the stained glass windows shone through to the ground amongst the smokey interior. Some people walked around with the smoking goblets and the entire floor of the church was covered in fresh green pine needles. There were no pews, only open ground with altars on the sides. Our friend, his name was Jose by the way, mentioned that if you are seen taking photos in the church the “monkeys” will come and beat you with sticks or throw rocks at you and make you leave. The indigenous people here believe that having their picture taken takes away their soul. The “monkeys” are men dressed in the white fur and also wear ribbons and sashes. It was just so beautiful and fascinating inside I wish I could have shared it visually with the world, but I guess that just means you might have to go see it for yourself one day!

After witnessing the indigenous festival we headed back into town. We had planned on making the 6 hour drive to Palenque that day, but we wanted to see the festival in Chamula instead. We didn’t have enough daylight to make it all the way to Palenque so we decided to break the trip in half again and stop in a town called Ocosingo first before heading to Palenque. The drive from San Cristobal to Ocosingo was just as windy as ever but it was fascinating seeing the vegetation change from the mountainous firs to the tropics again. I’ll make a small post about Ocosingo on it’s own as we got to see some amazing ruins and waterfalls there! Until next time!

Becoming Surf Bums in Puerto Escondido

I already talked a little about the drive from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido and how terrible the road conditions were, but aside from the flat tire we managed to reach the hot and humid beach town of Puerto Escondido with some daylight left to figure out where we wanted to stay. One tool that helped us along towards Puerto Escondido was our newly discovered GPS capabilities on our smart phones. Gary at the hostel in Oaxaca told us you could cache the google map to places you want to go and use the satellite GPS to get road maps. How come we didn’t figure this out earlier? We thought our phones would only be able to access Google Maps with either Wifi or 3G. Well anyway we feel pretty dumb for not figuring this out sooner, but it came in very handy on our way to Puerto Escondido :)

After 6 hours or so of driving through those treacherous windy roads, we finally saw the ocean peek out in the horizon. We had originally thought of staying at a hostel right near Playa Carrizalillo which was the beach novice surfers frequent (perfect for us,) however the hostel seemed dead and just didn’t feel right so we headed back to the car to consult the book in search of another place to stay. It just so happened a familiar face wandered up the beach road near the hostel and it was our friend Christopher the Swiss whom we had briefly met in Mexico City, Oaxaca, and then now in Puerto Escondido! He mentioned he was staying at a hostel near Playa Zicatela (which was a beach for experienced surfers.) So we hopped back in the car to drive along the main boulevard near Playa Zicatela in search of a hostel with some camping.

We drove along and spotted Hostel Mondala which said they had camping so we stopped in front and peeked in to check on some prices. It wasn’t the same hostel Christopher had mentioned, but it was a hostel Gary had mentioned was really cool. They had a few shady and private spots to camp and it was only $30 pesos per person per night (that’s about $4.50 USD a night!) They told us to pay when we left as we weren’t sure how many days we wanted to stay. So we set up camp got settled, and started making friends with the others staying at the hostel. They had 5 hammocks lined up in the center of the hostel where most of the other travelers would congregate and lounge around drinking and smoking nearly every night. We had so much fun meeting new friends and hanging out at the hostel when we got there we forgot to eat dinner! The people who worked (Shout out to Michelle, Lily, and Jose!) there were very friendly and hung out with everyone as well. We were really starting to like this hostel :)

One of the first things we did was take the car to a shop to get a new tire for the car. When we got to a what looked like a reputable place, we took another look at the three remaining tires on the car and they all looked pretty rough. We decided to get a new set of shoes for the little Honda which took a good chunk of change out of our travel funds, we would probably end up getting all new tires eventually with the condition they were in. We did get a deal at the shop though which helped a bit and instead of paying for four new tires, we got one free! Then we decided to get the car washed and finally rid it of it’s finger dust writing we received from our parking pals in Cuernavaca. I really wish I had a before and after picture, I totally forgot our car was green until we got it washed!

The next day we decided to go down to Playa Carrizalillo to do some surfing. We made friends with some Aussies at the hostel and one of them tagged along with us to the beach that day, his name is Eddie. So the three of us headed down to the beach to hang out and catch some waves and have a swim. I rented a long board and hit the waves right away. Eddie and Steve stuck around on the beach having some drinks and going for a swim here and there. I spent a good 1-2 hours out in the water desperately trying to catch a wave, but the waves that day were few and far between and they tended to flatten out without breaking. It was tough to catch some waves, but I still had a blast out there. When I was done and got back on the beach I could immediately tell that I got a little fried from the sun even though I put plenty of sun screen on beforehand. So we had a few more drinks and then headed back to the hostel.

When we got back Steve and I asked the folks who worked there if it would be ok to do some painting on the blank walls they had around the hostel. They said as long as it was good they were fine with it, haha. I immediatly got an idea in my head to paint a giant vibrant rainbow mandala on one of the walls. What I ended up doing the following day was deciding against more surfing as my backside was sufficiently burnt, but instead painting a small colorful mock up mandala on some paper to show the guys at the hostel before painting it as a mural on the wall. Luckily everyone there loved it and couldn’t wait to see it on the wall. I was told that I wouldn’t be paid for the painting and I was totally fine with that, I was just feeling really creative and wanted to contribute some visual eye candy at this lovely spot in Mexico. By now we were REALLY starting to love this little beach town and the locals so much. The following day I began penciling out the mandala on the wall just between the two sinks and mirrors by the bathrooms.

It took me the better part of the first day, about 6 hours, to paint about 3/4 of the entire mural. It was so tranquil just hanging out among such great people, listening to some music in the background, and painting such vibrant colors on such a large scale. I had a blast. Doing some painting there at the hostel also gave my sun burn some time to heal up a bit before I could go out surfing again.

The following day I spent the morning finishing up the mural. It was really fun seeing the reactions of the others staying at the hostel while I was working on it and I imagine it was fun for them to see something like that become tangible in such a short time. The language barrier at the hostel didn’t seem to come into play while people sporadically stopped by to see how I was doing with the painting. There were a group of 5 Argentinian surfer dudes staying in a tent near us who didn’t speak any English and it was very difficult for us, and even the Mexicans staying there to understand the thick Argentinian accent these guys carried. It didn’t seem to get in the way when they stopped by to show their appreciation.

After I finished the mural Steve, Eddie, and I decided to hit the beach again for some more surfing and swimming. Before we left I went and bought a rash guard to protect my already burned back from more exposure and made sure to reapply sun screen multiple times throughout our stay there at Playa Carrizalillo. That Mexican sun can be a harsh mistress. We got there and I rented a long board and hit the waves. The waves were MUCH bigger today and there were lots of people surfing and body boarding. It was a little difficult to find a spot in the tiny cove to catch some waves without getting in someones way. I was out there for a good hour or so before coming in and then Steve gave it a go for a while. I then hit the waves once more after him and FINALLY caught a good wave. I had sort of half caught some waves earlier and was determined to get at least one that day and boy was it worth it! I rewarded myself with a nice cold beer on the beach after that :) We also did some snorkeling and saw lots of fish under the water near some rock formations and did plenty of swimming before heading back to the hostel to swing in the hammocks.

Here are some pics of Steve and I hitting the waves :)

We ended up staying in Puerto Escondido for about a week. We absolutely LOVED being super beach bums there and living on the cheap. There was a small tienda nearby that always had fresh fruit for sale which we ate for breakfast every day. Some mornings we treated ourselves to a granola, banana, and soy milk smoothie and some (I call them) Mexican eggs benedict at a local restaurant that quickly became our favorite place to eat. We went surfing whenever we wanted at Playa Carrizalillo and swam in the crystal clear blue waters and drank beer and smoked while swinging in hammocks with some of the most laid back and awesome company we could have asked for. We really did not want to leave at all. Unfortunately, we had an itinerary to follow to meet Steve’s mom in Belize a month from now so we had to get back on the road. It was sad to leave, we hugged and kissed everyone goodbye and said Hasta Luego to Puerto Escondido holding back the tears and headed off toward San Cristobal de las Casas to continue our adventure. I would not be surprised at all if we decided to return to Puerto Escondido on our way back and stick around bumming it on the cheap for as long as possible before heading back to the states :)


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