Road trip to Colima
04 February 2011 | Barra de Navidad, Jalisco, MX
February 4, 2011
Just back from Colima
We decided to do a brief road trip away from the boat. First, this involved trusting our anchor, and the winds, and our systems, and the neighboring anchored boats, enough to actually leave her for a few days in the lagoon at Barra de Navidad. Because we had come in at such a windy time, we had used our storm anchor - the Fortress FX-85. So we are well dug into the mud. A couple of neighboring boats offered to keep an eye on her, so we decided to see a bit of Mexico away from the coast.
We left on Wednesday (February 2), taking the ETN bus (first class, quite luxurious, plenty of room) from downtown Barra to the bus terminal in Colima. The hotel we chose (Lonely Planet's first choice) turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment, but it was adequate. The main goal of the trip was to see the twin volcanoes that are the feature of Colima's skyline. We tried first for one of the Lonely Planet-recommended guides, but they both seem to be out of business. The owner of the hotel recommended someone else, and we decided to give it a try. The volcano tours looked either too wussy or too energetic for us - the easiest tour seemed to involve no walking at all; the next level up involved rappelling down a cliff - we picked another tour altogether. But before I leave the subject of the volcanoes altogether, I should say that the Fire Volcano is currently the most active in Mexico, with regular venting of steam, occasional lava flows, and that sort of thing. The volcano alongside it ("Snow Volcano") is dormant, and the most strenuous tours climb to its summit, at more than 14,000 feet, to look down on the summit of the Fire Volcano. Somewhat more than we are prepared for...
The tour we chose instead was to the "Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra de Manantlan" an undeveloped area with a diverse variety of habitats. Our guide took us to a village at the very top of the mountain range (about 9000 feet high), where we picked up the local Presidente de Turismo, Lilo. Apparently the deal is, the commercial tours are allowed to go there if they use a local guide as well. Lilo was new to the job, and he didn't know the path, so our guide, Jupiter, showed him the way. Nevertheless, Lilo was able to tell us about life in the heights, and some of the different plants we were seeing. He picked and gave us clusters of berries called "La Tila" which he said make a relaxing tea. I asked him whether the Indian have used the acorns from the oak trees for food (as did the Indians in California). He said, no, but they make a tea out of them; first roasting them, and then peeling them, and finally grinding the peeled nut, and brewing with the resulting meal.
We saw many different kinds of trees - some that we recognized and some we didn't. There were pines with very long needles but relatively small cones, cypress, cedar and oak. One tree, the copal, had peeling bark (like Oregon's madrona trees), and Jupiter told us that they are sometimes called "tourist trees" (they peel). A tree called "Primavera" (spring) was covered with yellow blossoms. One of the most spectacular plants we saw was a pink bromeliad which grew in great numbers on the branches of large trees.
We hiked downhill (sometimes steeply downhill) for 2-3 miles to an overlook, where there is a view out for 20-30 miles. The lookout was constructed of milled-on-the-spot oak boards. (Jupiter told us that the whole area of the biosphere reserve was originally a huge clear-cut logging operation instituted by a 19th century German entrepreneur. Everything there now is second growth, and no logging is allowed. An exception is made for the residents of the village and for minimal infrastructure such as the overlook platform.) Below the overlook platform was a hidden cave entrance, which I elected not to do. Craig took pictures, so I know what it looks like!
We took a different route up the hill, which was a bit easier. At one point we diverted to a nursery where the locals are nurturing native plants and herbs. Alongside the nursery was a truck from the National University. Three scientists had set up a trapping and tagging operation for hummingbirds. These are the same hummingbirds we see in Oregon - they spend the winter in Mexico. As we watched, one scientist finished putting a band on the leg of a calliope hummingbird, fed it some sugar water, and then released it. (Who knew they made bands small enough to go on the leg of a hummingbird!?) She told us that they use several methods to trap the birds - one of which is using the ubiquitous hummingbird feeders which so many Oregonians put out in the summer. The birds are used to going to the feeders as a food source! The young woman who was tagging hummingbirds told us that one of the other scientists working there was the most renowned hummingbird expert in the world.
After the hike, we stopped for a picnic lunch in a second growth cedar grove. Under the forest canopy, there were picnic tables (again, milled on the spot, probably using the chain-saw mill we had seen not too far from the hummingbird scientists), and big old cedar stumps. The stumps were reminiscent of the ones we have in Oregon forests. After lunch we drove down the mountain, visited a swimming spot (not too tempting, as the weather was not very hot and the water was cold). We said good-bye to Jupiter, then spent the evening exploring Colima.
Like other Mexican cities, the tourist authorities want you to think that their city is different - that it has features not to be found elsewhere. For Colima, it is true to some extent - or maybe we just haven't seen other cities like this. On Wednesday evening when we arrived, we walked to the Plaza de Libertad (the central square) and found a Oaxacan restaurant ("Ah que Nanishe") which was really quite good. They had three sorts of mole (chocolate based chile sauce), and lots of other delicious looking things we didn't get to try. After dinner, we spent time in the plaza next to the Cathedral where there were two different groups putting on the same pastorela (nativity play) on opposite sides of the fountain. It took us a long time to figure out what was going on. There was lots of marching around, lots of songs which were chanted by some and sung by others - in a variety of different keys. Some of the characters were in masks, and some of the men, dressed as kings, had veils across their faces and carried swords. In each group there were 8 individuals dressed in what looked like - for all the world - Three Musketeer costumes, but in pastel colors. One group had a devil, and both had angels. The people in pastel colors held staffs with noisemakers and plastic flowers, and they hit the bases on the ground rhythmically to the music/chant.
After awhile a baby Jesus appeared - one for each group. Then it became obvious that part of what was going on was adoration of the baby Jesus. A helpful onlooker explained to us that the people in the Three Musketeer costumes represented shepherds. She also explained that this celebration is done 40 days after Christmas, and represents the ending of the period when all the babies were put into hiding to avoid Herod's edict that all babies (potential Messiahs) be killed. She was less clear about all the sword play and simulated violence, which seemed to be a convenient - and even sanctioned -- outlet for some of the young teenagers' pent-up energy. The woman seemed to say (and once again we reached the limits of my fluency in Spanish) that this is a celebration unique to Colima.
After our biosphere tour, we returned to the Plaza de la Libertad, and the event of the evening was a concert by the State Band at the bandstand/gazebo. They were quite good, and as they concluded the concert with pop melodies from the 30's, 40's and 50's, a number of the listeners got up and danced.
Like other Mexican cities, a major feature for the young people seems to be driving around the streets endlessly in the evening, accompanied by police cars flashing their blue lights. There seems to be no point to the police display, except perhaps to say "we're here, we're watching you..." When the police have an actual emergency, they turn on the sirens, which we heard a number of times, particularly in the middle of the night, and particularly under our hotel window. When we had checked in to the hotel, the owner took great glee in telling us that hers was a family hotel, whereas the one next door was for transvestites, the one beyond that for gays, and the one beyond that charged by the hour. So perhaps the police were more interested in that street, although we found everyone to be pleasant, polite, and not the least bit offensive or threatening.
We finished our time in Colima this morning with visits to the Palacio de Gobierno, where we saw some fabulous murals depicting Mexican and Colima history (with emphasis on the brief tenure of Miguel Hidalgo as a parish priest). In the Palacio de Gobierno there is a small museum with pre-Columbian ceramic pieces, and across the corner of the plaza there is the regional history museum with more of the same. The pre-Columbian artwork is stunning. The ceramic pots were done by very talented and skilled artists. They also made lots of ceramic dogs which were found in burial sites. Apparently the people believed that the deceased person needed a dog to guide them to the other side. Although we didn't see the original in either of these museums, the most striking dogs to be seen in all the gift shops were a pair of dancing dogs. My mother had one of these reproductions. Jupiter explained to us that the dogs aren't actually dancing; they are fighting. One of the dogs has lines on his back - he represents the older generation, which may win because of knowledge and experience. The other dog has no lines, and he represents the younger generation, which may win because of strength and quickness. The older dog is whispering into the ear of the younger dog, passing knowledge from one generation to the next. According to Jupiter, although everyone calls them dancing dogs ("perros danzantes") they are properly called The Fight of the Generations.
We returned to the boat this afternoon; found everything in order. As the water taxi was bringing us into the lagoon, a sailboat was trying to enter, and was stuck in the mud. Dinghies from a number of sailboats went out to help him get off the mud bank. Strong winds this afternoon means he had a difficult time anchoring as well.
We're glad to be back on the boat, and look forward to sleeping in our own bed. But we sure had a good time in Colima, and hope to do another road trip soon!
Best wishes to all -
Craig & Barbara Johnston