20 March 2020
It is with sad hearts that we have had to cancel the last two legs of our adventure – exploring the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee with our sailing friends Ric & Sherry, and cruising the BVI’s on a 48 ft power catamaran. So we are now coming home on one of the last Westjet flights out of Puerto Vallarta on Saturday and will then isolate ourselves for 14 days. Good thing we have lots to do when we get home.
We have spent most of time here just enjoying the pool and the sun at the resort. We did walk into town one day but were not impressed with how touristy and expensive Puerto Vallarta has become. We also took the bus into Bucerias. We did some shopping and got some great prices as the vendors are pretty desperate for sales due to the lack of people in what should be one of their busiest times. We visited one stall and were going to buy a dress but told her we had to go to the bank first. She said take the dress and come back to pay her probably thinking it would guarantee a sale. We said no we would be back which we were. She was very grateful. We then met up with friends Ric & June for a few brews on the beach and to listen to some great music.
We had fun at the Mexican Fiesta night and listened to one of the best Mariachi Bands we have ever heard. There were 4 violinists, 3 guitarists each with a different type of guitar and 2 trumpets and their music was magical. There was also someone making balloon hats for the kids but due to the small turnout he was making them for the adults too. There was also prizes and fireworks.
The week we arrived the resort was at 90% occupancy and now it is more like 20%. We talked with our waiter last night and he says all the schools are now closed in Jalisco state and they have asked all the restaurants and bars to close over the next few days. While they have been slower to react to the coronavirus pandemic they are not finally starting.
We are rebooking our BVI adventure for the end of 2020 and hopefully will be able to hook up with Ric & Sherry around that time as well. Not sure if we will get a full refund from the airlines for our cancelled flights or a credit which we can use to rebook our flights. We are thankful we used a travel agent this year to book all our flights as he is doing all the work.
Life is an adventure, not an ordeal so you just have to go with the flow…….
We Have Been Everywhere Man
13 March 2020
The last week in Guadalajara has been a busy one. As well as doing some more shopping in the markets, reading in the squares and people watching, we have also taken a couple of tours.
Our first tour was to Guachimontones. This archeological site was discovered in 1969 and is home to some of the only round pyramids in the world. These pyramids were used for religious activities and built 2000 years ago by the Teuchitlan people who lived in the Tequila Valley by the river. There are seven pyramids at this site and six of them are still intact. The largest has 52 steps corresponding to the weeks in a year and is in the centre of the site. Around this pyramid are square platforms where structures were built for the important members of the tribe to watch the festivities out of the weather. It is believed that a tall pole was placed at the top of the pyramid and possibly used for pole dancing or musicians. Each of these pyramids have shaft tombs below them where the people were buried with the most important buried at the deepest depth and the less important at levels all the way to the top. The site also includes two ball courts which were used to play Mesoamerican ball games. Players used their hips to control the ball and smash it from one end of the court to the other. These games were used to settle disputes for political or religious reasons and could sometimes end in death for the winning captain. We apparently had to the best guide at the site who spoke excellent English and is a descendent of the Teuchitlan people.
We met a mother and son on the tour who wanted to go to the wrestling event that night and asked us if we wanted to go with them which of course we said yes to. While the arena was only about 6 blocks away from our hotel, the staff told us to take a cab as the area around the arena was not safe at night as it was one of the sketchiest areas of the city. We arrived, got our tickets with the help of a local and took our seats in the bleachers. It really wasn’t wrestling but did have a lot of slamming and tumbling and cheering. The group of young men in front of us were continually heckling others in the crowd and we think it had something to do with new girlfriends but not sure. It was a fun night out.
Our second tour was to Lake Chapala and Aijijic. Our first stop was at the ranch and store of the most famous mariachi singer in Mexico, Vicente Fernandez who they call “The King of Ranchero Music”. Unfortunately, you can no longer visit the ranch as apparently his health is deteriorating and he wants his privacy. However, we did visit his store which has more cowboy clothing in one place than I have ever seen. Our second stop was at an organic tequila distillery. We tried several types but honestly nothing tasted that great. Pat was having fun with two younger guys on our tour and managed to polish off about 10 ounces of tequila which is a lot for him as he doesn’t even like tequila. We then drove on to Lake Chapala which is about 1 ½ hours outside of Guadalajara and hosts a large gringo population due to the more moderate climate. They say Lake Chapala is the largest and cleanest lake in Mexico which is deceiving as the lake looks very green and cloudy which must be due to a sediment bottom. The lake is 80 km long but only 35 feet deep and is a source of water for the area. We stopped for lunch in Aijijic and went for a short boat ride onto the lake. We then spent some time in the town of Aijijic but due to the time of day a lot of the shops were closed. The streets and sidewalks are very narrow and it was sometimes difficult to walk down the streets but overall a cute little town.
We are glad to have been able to spend enough time in Guadalajara to really experience the city. We have noticed many more people begging here, some by selling something or entertaining and some just asking for money. Many are elderly or handicapped and some are definitely homeless. I guess all big cities have this problem. The other thing we have noticed is people line up to catch the bus. How civilized!!
So, we are now moving on to our last Mexican leg of our adventure – Puerto Vallarta. We are watching the Coronavirus travel restrictions as this may affect how the rest of our trip proceeds however we are hoping for the best.
08 March 2020
While we enjoyed spending time with our friends and family in Manzanillo, it was time to get on the road again for the next leg of our adventure. So, we hopped on the luxury bus for Guadalajara. These buses have bathrooms, foot rests, TVs with Spanish movies, snacks and lots of leg room. If only the airplanes could be like that. The trip was about 4 ½ hours and along the way we saw huge fields of papaya and agave as well as miles and miles of greenhouses which we think housed berries. They have raspberries, blueberries and blackberries here. The last hour was getting us from the outskirts of the city to the bus station which was located closer to the centre of the city. We noticed massive manufacturing plants coming into town and apparently Guadalajara is one of the most important manufacturing centers in Mexico. Guess that is why the unemployment rate is only about 3%.
Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico and is comprised of 4 districts with an approximate population of 7,000,000. We are staying in Centro which is also known as the historical district of the city. Our hotel, The Hotel Morales was originally a home and guest house and in the late 19th century was converted into a hotel. In 2009 the hotel underwent a two year major renovation to bring it into the 21st century. The hotel is beautiful and much of the original architecture has been preserved as well as some of the original furniture. The staff for the most part speak good English and are very friendly and helpful.
The first thing we try and do when we visit a new city is take the hop on hop off bus as it gives a great overview of the city. We were surprised to find out a day on the bus was only 100 MXN which is about $7.00 CAN. Our first stop was Tonala which is where the big Thurs/Sun market is. As it was Sunday we were able to experience the market in it’s fullest. Have to say while there was some authentic stuff most of it was from junk. We did however find the linen store and were able to get some tablecloths. In the stores they don’t really barter but we were able to get a few pesos off as we were paying cash. We hopped back on the bus and did the Zapopan loop which is another district in Guadalajara. As we were only able to do 2 of the 4 loops of the tour in one day, we went back the next day to do the 2 other loops. As it was a Monday, we only had to pay 90 MXN – what a deal. The first stop was Tlaquepaque which is the artistic district of the city. We loved it and saw some great art and furniture all of which we would love to bring back if we could. We did however find a mask though to add to our collection. We stopped for lunch at the biggest restaurant which takes up a full city block. We are impressed with all the great street art and how much of it is around. Once back on the bus we did the loop of the historical district which includes the Guadalajara Cathedral, the Court House, City Hall and the Symphony Hall. There are numerous squares where people gather, as well as the largest markets. All only a few blocks from our hotel.
We spent a day exploring the markets and the streets around Centro. No matter what you are looking for, you will find it somewhere within a few city blocks. Each block is dedicated to a certain product, ie electronics, kitchen ware, clothing, shoes, etc. We were in awe of the stores selling dressing for Quinceanera which is the celebration of a girls 15th birthday. These elaborate dresses come in many colours and styles and cost between $1000 and $2000 US. The Jewelry Market is 4 floors with more silver, gold and sparkle than you can imagine with the bottom floor dedicated for jewelry makers. The Centro Market which burnt down in 2014 has been rebuilt and provides residents with groceries on the bottom floor and restaurants on the top floor. The main shopping market is a rabbit warren of stalls selling pretty much anything you can imagine.
We also took a food and historical tour of Centro with Paul who introduced us to some of the food unique to Guadalajara including Birra (goat stew) and torta ahogada (sandwiches stuffed with pork and covered in sauce), as well as drinks such as Tejuino (made with fermented corn and cane sugar) and Cazuelia which is made with grapefruit, orange and lime juice, soda and tequilla (my new favourite). We enjoyed visiting the food markets and understanding where to eat, what to eat and how to eat it.
We also spent a day at the zoo. While not as big or diverse as the San Diego Zoo, it was well done in its own right. There was an overhead gondola which takes you from one end of the zoo to the other, a train which takes you amongst some of the smaller animals and a safari ride which takes you through the larger animals and gave us an opportunity to feed the giraffes. We visited the Aquarium and got to see the penguins. They swim so fast you can’t even get a picture of them.
We have eaten both good food and bad food. We have eaten Mexican, Italian and Asian. We have eaten food we like and some not so much. The only thing we refuse to eat is the tacos made with animal innards. Yuck!!
Still in Manzanillo
28 February 2020
Well several weeks have gone by and we are still in Manzanillo. We have stayed with Pat’s brother and sister-in-law Brian and Donna in Club Santiago, and with our friends Andy and Tina in their condo at Villas Del Palma. We have enjoyed beach time on Happy Tuesdays (all day happy hour at Oasis) and pool time at the condo. We have been out for meals and had some great food both Mexican and American style. Really enjoying the seafood.
We went on a 6 mile hike up to an abandoned house which overlooks both Santiago Bay and Cenicero Bay. It wasn’t an easy hike due to the heat but we made it with lots of water and a few stops along the way. We also took a day tour with Dani which started with a drive through the port area. Manzanillo has the largest port in Mexico and is a mass of containers and trucks. At any given time, you can see at least a half dozen freighters waiting to get permission to enter the port. We then went to the 5 de Mayo Market in Centro Manzanillo where we had Pozole which is the traditional white corn soup of Mexico. The place we went to won the 2019 contest for the best Pozole in Mexico and I have to say it was pretty tasty and very filling. We then walked through the market and were amazed by the quality of the meat, seafood and produce offered and the lack of smell considering the amount of fish and meat being sold. Even got a picture of Pat with a cow’s head. We then headed off to Comala City with a stop at a banana plantation, a salt farm and a brick making operation. Not something any one of us would want to do - hard labour in the hot sun every day. We had lunch in one of the local restaurants on the town square and you only pay for your drinks and they keep bringing appetizers until you say no more. They are mostly small taco’s and tostadas but good nonetheless. We then went to taste some tequila and local fruit booze before getting on the road again. The Rodeo was in town so we went to see what was happening. Unfortunately, their was a concert happening that night so no animals or cowboys to be seen. However, we got to see the stadium which was an experience in itself. Not somewhere I would want to be full of people. It was built with timbers and boards and no nails or screws but everything is lashed together instead. You could feel it shaking with just us walking on it and can only imagine what it would feel like full of people. The boys went window shopping for cowboy hats and gear and we then loaded back on the bus to head back to Manzanillo. We stopped at a waterfall on our way back but only our tour guide’s wife went swimming as we were all too tired but the water did feel great. You can’t swim under the falls though as you will get sucked under and could drown. Apparently, there are many deaths a year here. It was a great day and we learned a lot about the area. Our tour guide spoke excellent English so it made the trip very informative.
We finished off our time here with more pool and beach days, dinners out and dinners in having found the best BBQ’d ribs, chicken and arrachera and walks on the beach.
It is now time to begin the next leg of our adventure by getting on the bus and heading to Guadalajara. Stay tuned…..
Pat Turned 65!!
09 February 2020
Manzanillo is a city spread along two bays with Centro and the port on the Bahia de Manzanillo and the swimming beaches along the Bahia de Santiago. We are staying in Club Santiago which is a residential area along the most northern portion of the Bahia de Manzanillo. It is a ritzier area with lots of gringos. There are numerous condominiums as well as duplexes and single houses with many having for rent or for sale signs. We are on the main drag and only a short walk to the highway where we catch the bus.
We are spending our time exploring and using the buses which are only 9 pesos ($.65). We have been into Centro, visited the Saturday market in Santiago, visited our friends Andy and Tina in their condo, had a beach day and watched Superbowl. The buses are great as you can either take the direct route, or the scenic route depending on how fast you want to get there. We have eaten street food, eaten at local restaurants and cooked at home. We have walked the beach, the main streets and the side streets.
Only negative is Pat had to see a doctor. Turns out he has bronchitis which is now on the mend. Had to stop drinking rum for a few days due to the drugs.
Had the gang over for happy hour on Pat’s Birthday before going to dinner at Oasis. Had a great meal and a great view of the full moon on Bahia de Santiago. Good fun had by all.
02 February 2020
The original plan was to take the morning train, but the train company cancelled the morning run so we were forced to take the afternoon train. We arrived at the train station and waited about a half hour before the El Chepe Train arrived at the station. We were herded on and found the tourista car which is the economy section. Apparently, we weren’t allowed to use the bar car, but our tour guide Poncho managed to get us in. I think it was hard for them to justify not allowing 33 people to not buy a drink at $10 each. The first hour or so of the trip was through the flat lands before we started to climb into the Sierra Madre mountains. The Copper Canyon is made up of six distinct canyons formed by the six rivers which drain into the El Fuerte River. There are no words to describe the beauty and vastness of what we could see. The canyons while looking similar, have different rock formations, vegetation and colour so there is always something new to look at. The canyons are anywhere from 3000 to 5000 feet high and lie in the Copper Canyon National Park.
Unfortunately, with taking the later train, it meant the last hour of our trip was now in the dark so we weren’t able to see much. We arrived at the Cerocahui station and were bused to the hotel. We immediately sat down to dinner while our bags were unloaded and delivered to our rooms. We had been told to try their wine as it was special so we bought a bottle and agreed it was pretty amazing. So was the food.
The Hotel Mision was built in 1694 by the Jesuit Missionaries and when they left they destroyed the vineyards. However, before all of the vines were destroyed, some had been secretly replanted elsewhere in order to preserve the species. However, after 25 years the vines were again in danger of being lost forever, but were saved by a gardener of the family. He planted the vines on unused land near the hotel and today they produce about 700 bottles of wine a year. The wine is distinct and is said to taste like the mountains, rivers, flora and fauna of the Copper Canyon. I wouldn’t go that far, but it does taste distinct.
Our rooms were very cold so we tried to light a fire in the fireplace, but the damper was broken so couldn’t keep anything going. At least it took the chill off the room and they had big think duvets on the beds. We slept well but didn’t want to get out of bed as the air was cold (about 5 degrees). We layered up and headed out. After breakfast we visited the Tarahumara girls boarding school which offers education to the girls of the region. They come on Sunday and leave to visit their families on Friday.
We loaded onto a school bus and drove to Barrancas which was about a 1 ½ hour drive. Our hotel was on the edge of the Copper Canyon and the views were beyond amazing with every room having a view of the canyon. After lunch we went on a walking tour to see the caves where some of the Tarahumara natives have built structures into them to live. They get their water from a spring running through the rocks which drops into a pool. They have no electricity. Not really sure if they live there or if it’s just for the tourists to see. We continued on the path along the edge of the Copper Canyon which then loops back to the hotel. We hiked for about an hour and while the day was a bit hazy, we still had great views. The Tarahumara Indians sell their baskets and handicrafts as a way to make money so we saw them all along the walk.
The next day we had the whole day to enjoy the canyon without travelling anywhere. We took the cable car down into the canyon. It doesn’t go all the way to the bottom (which is 5000 ft deep) but it did go at least half way down. We could see people living at the bottom of the canyon, a network of trails going from bottom to top and small areas for farming. There are between 35,000 and 70,000 Tarahumara Indians living in the Copper Canyon and they live a simple, peaceful life. It was nice to be able to spend some time just admiring the surroundings and taking in the beauty. After lunch, we attended a basket weaving demonstration. The Tarahumara Indians are known for their baskets and the art is handed down from generation to generation. We watched as Rafina finished a basket she had started in the morning, barely looking at the pattern as her fingers quickly and nimbly wove the split sotol leaves. They start at the bottom of the basket, work their way to the top, turn and go back to the bottom again creating a double thick walled basket. The large basket she made was 250 pesos or $18 Can. We did buy two small baskets. If I only had more room in my luggage…….
The next morning we loaded on a bus for the drive to Chihuahua where we would catch the plane to Manzanillo. As we came out of the canyons, the land became flat and very dry - turns out the Chihuahua dessert is the largest in North American. The city of Chihuahua is a working city with a population of 1 million. The unemployment rate is only 2% and the major industry is the manufacturing of car parts. Pretty much every car in the world has at least one part made in Chihuahua. Chihuahua is also the major producer of apples in Mexico. We found the city walkable but dirty. Lots of leather shops selling boots, saddles, bridles and more. If only we wore that stuff. Both Pat and I weren’t feeling very well so we were back at the hotel early and to bed. Up the next morning and buses to the airport for our flights. We were flying from Chihuahua to Mexico City for the first leg and I think someone screwed up as we had to fly to Acapulco first to refuel before getting in the holding pattern for Mexico City. We then took our connecting flight to Manzanillo and arrived at Brian and Donna’s about 10:00 pm. The start of the next leg of our adventure…….