December 22, 2004

Happy Holidays to All.

Feliz Navidad y Prospero Ano Nuevo, a todo.
Here a few new posts to last through the holidays. We are back in the states now, enjoying Christmas with the Goddards. Cheers to all.
Dan and Rachel.

December 19, 2004

Friday evening we were reading up on the campgrounds in Torreón and Saltillo, which we were planning on staying at in the coming days. Neither place sounded very nice, or very interesting. Dan was glancing over our trusty AAA México map when his keen grasp on mathematics lead him to announce that Zacatecas would only add an hour per day to our driving time. Zacatecas was a city I had been sad to miss and factored heavily in our decision to take the Espanoza del Diablo road. I had wrongly assumed that it was an either/ or scenario. But we have a standing 100 mile rule. If something or someone we want to see is within 100 miles we are permitted to detour.

It is as such that I write this from the grand city of Zacatecas. I am so glad we made the decision to come here as this city is vastly different from the other parts of México we have visited. Zacatecas is a true Colonial Méxican city. It is steeped in history and has a very cosmopolitan feel.

The Cathedral, acoording to our Lonley Planet guide, is "the ultimate expression of Mexican baroque.

We camped right above the town at the Hotel de Bosque which has a fantastic view albiet a frustrating location. From the hotel you can see everywhere you want to go. The arial tram, to the mountain overlooking the city, is literally next door. Zacatecas, however, is a city of walls. The walls around the Teléferico (tram) and our hotel make it impossible to get to it by any way other than a half-mile walk around.

The El Cubo aqueduct.

Saturday we made camp around 2pm and then ventured into the city. We spent the entire day sightseeing. There are so many historical sights to see that you need more time than we had. We managed to see most of the area around the Cathedral and then ventured up to the Quinta Real Zacatecas. This place is maybe the coolest hotel I have ever seen, and if I had money I would be writing this from there. The hotel is built in the ruins of the Plaza de Toros San Padro, the bullring. The rooms are mixed in among the old bleachers; the bar is in the bull chutes. If anyone reading this has been wondering where to go for a fantastic vacation, might I suggest this city and this hotel. I made Dan promise to bring me back.

The concierge at Quinta Real was a delightful woman who gave us a much needed map of the city and recommended a restaurant for dinner. Her recommendation was right on and we feasted on the local specialties of Carne Adovada and Soupa Azteca. Dan got so caught up in the romance of the city that he even bought me flowers while I was away in el baño, this is greatly out of character for my beloved, and much appreciated by me. After dinner we got to see the city at night. What a sight!!! All of the historical buildings are lit up, as is La Bufa, the hill and church overlooking the city. If it is possible Zacatecas is even more beautiful at night.

This morning we rode the teléferico to La Bufa, but much to our dismay the entire hill was shrouded in fog. We toured the church, shops and museum and then walked down La Bufa back to the city center. Walking the streets of Zacatecas feels like you are in Spain. The streets are cobblestone and extremely narrow. Houses run flush with the streets, smooth, colorful walls broken up by ancient looking wooden gates. Taxis wiz past knowing which of the seemingly impassibly steep and narrow roads will get them to their destinations.

One of the very narrow streets.

Statue of Poncho Villa

Ruins of the Convento de San Fransisco.

Overall Zacatecas is not to be missed. It stands out from all of the other cities we have visited. Again we were the only gringos on the streets but we were welcomed bu all we met and greeted in English by many Mexican/ Americans who are here for the holidays. The city is riddled with cafés and coffee shops. The people are sophisticated and formal. We had a hard time re-adjusting to using the Usted form of Spanish, the formal form, and managed to butcher the language even more than normal.

I warn you...I went a bit door crazy.

This building is not painted, that is the real color of the stone used to build it.

We toured a few more churches and then decided to call it a day. Tonight we are camped on the outskirts of town at the Hacienda del Bosque. Tomorrow, assuming we stick to our plan we head for Saltillo and our noche final en México.

December 21, 2004

Adios Sayulita, Hola Durango

December 17, 2004

Our last days in Sayulita were wonderful. We soaked up as much sun as we could and got in a few last surfing sessions. For our final dinner Bob, Sherry, Dan and I went over to Lorenzo and Estella’s house for family day. Tuesdays they close up the restaurant and have friends and family over for a potluck of sorts. It was a fantastic way to end our stay. Adrian drew us a Feliz Navidad card which we will treasure and we exchanged gifts with their family. Once again we are overwhelmed by the generosity shown to us by others.

Dan's last wave of the year.

It was with very heavy hearts that we left Sayulita Wednesday morning and headed north. Fortunately for us we spent the night in Teacapan which helped to ease the blow. Once again we were showered with fresh shrimp, fish and this time lobster, as well as copious amounts of cervezas. Unfortunately we couldn’t join in their fiesta for too long because we had a long day ahead of us and needed rest.

We had been hearing tales of the treacherous road through the mountains to Ciudad Durango. We had hemmed and hawed over driving it for weeks before settling on tackling the Calle de Espinoza del Diablo (The Devil’s Backbone).We awoke bright and early Thursday morning and hit the road. Nine hours later we had traveled roughly 230 miles. You read that right it took us nine hours! The Devil’s Backbone was all that we had heard and so much more.

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Right off the bat we got to take this little detour, through the river.

It is the most beautiful and terrifying road I have ever driven. And when I say I have driven, I mean Dan. Often people ask me what Dan does for the blog. Originally we had agreed to split writing duties 50/50, somewhere in the first weeks of the blog this was forgotten and Dan has never typed a single word of the text you read in hear. However, here is what Dan does. First he helps me remember details, names and times. He allows me to read the postings to him and we make corrections as a result. On occasion has been known to take a picture of me so I can prove to you all that I really exist. Most importantly however, Dan drives.

The "straight" part of the road.

I think I have mentioned before that we joke that Dan’s five years as a paramedic was practice for driving this rig. In the US we shared driving, although Dan still drove more than me. Since we hit Mexico I have not driven once. I would not have been able to drive El Espinoza because I had to close my eyes and pray as we navigated every blind switchback and met a semi barreling towards us in our lane. Next time you are complaining about paying taxes stop, and thank your lucky stars that we have shoulders on our roads in the US. Mexico does not believe in shoulders or guard rails.

Somewhere in the past few years I picked up a fear of mountain passes. This is a bit problematic seeing as how everywhere I want to go requires driving over them. None the less I am usually able to contain my panic. This was not one of those times. I honestly covered my eyes at every turn. I gasped a minimum of 50 times and seriously considered walking the rest of the road on at least two occasions. That said, and from the safety of this level parking spot, I am really glad we drove this way.
Daniel Lawrence Goddard, you are an excellent driver. Thank you.

The mountains, creeks and especially the tiny mountain pueblos were phenomenal. From the western turn off you immediately begin climbing. There are only 185 miles from the turn to Durango, but in those miles you cross every climate and ecological region of Mexico, all while going from sea level to 9200’. We climbed through cactus, Joshua Trees, conifer forests and even wild poinsettia fields. After you complete The Spine the road levels out and you enter a high desert plateau, and the temperature drops considerably. Just before you get to Durango you go through an area that for all intents and purposes could be Southwestern Colorado. Approaching Durango, Mexico from the west, looks almost exactly like driving into Durango, Colorado from the south. Dan and I were amazed by the similarities. Adding to this were the places we passed with familiar names like San Juan, Mesa Verde, Piedra and Santa Rita. It was a very strange sense of déjà vous.

This part looks just like the road between Cortez and Durango.

Here are a few signs I could stand to never see again after today's drive.

Our guide book talks only of the campground in Durango. We passed another one before getting to Durango, probably about 30 miles west. It was a park (I am not sure if it is state or national). From the road it looked like there were at least ten spots available. The entrance has a large white gate and there is a ropes course next to the campground. We passed many restaurants that I would guess would allow you to camp overnight if you ate there. Also there are many boondocking opportunities along the way.

Mary's Cocina, the restaurant we stopped in for lunch.

Dan enjoying a hot cup of Nescafe- I really didn't know they still made this stuff.

El Salto, a milling town on the west side of the pass.

We opted to head into Durango for the night. The Campo Mexico Hotel is a fine enough place. For 150 pesos ($15) a night we got a level spot with electricity and the key to a neighboring room for a bathroom and shower. The motel is located east of the city center by I’d guess 2 miles. A taxi to the plaza is only $15 pesos ($1.50). For the first time in months we had to use our sleeping bags last night, it was that cold.

Today we ventured into the city. We did a walking tour of the plaza and surrounding area. The entire day we did not see a single other gringo. It seems the tourist community has not found Durango yet. Even though this is not a tourist city we were treated very well and felt safe everywhere we went. I’ll stop jibber jabbering now and let the pictures tell the rest of the tale.

Plaza de Armas.

The Cathedral Basilica Menor built from 1695 1750.

A light sconce on the Teatro Victoria.

The Palacio de Gobierno is filled with murals depicting Mexico's history.

The Mercado.

Merchant in el mercado.

Our rig at the campground in Durango.

Someone tell Sandra Mapel that I took this picture for her.

December 13, 2004

Rellenos y Bicicletas

With the prank wars over, Dan Meredith and I settled into a more civilized lifestyle. We surfed a bunch and enjoyed all that this charming town has to offer.

It has been a real treat for Dan and I to get to eat out a bunch. Our favorite lunch spot is the Torta Stand where for about $5 we can get two giant sandwiches, and two smoothies. Dinner we can choose from the Carne Factory, a roadside taco stand, where dinner for 3 runs $8, a family style Mexican restaurant on the Plaza, dinner for 3 $6.50 or an array of fish taco joints.

The pan lady who brings fesh baked goddies to the Park every morning.

The Torta Stand Owner.

But our favorite place is Estella and Lorenzo’s, which is just up from the campground. Estella makes the BEST chili relleno I have ever had, and I fancy myself a bit of a connoisseur. We went there for dinner Wednesday night, the rellenos lived up tot heir reputation and we lingered long enough to pay our respects to the chef. While there we learned that Lorenzo is a biker. In fact he is the local bicycle repair man, and he is the coach for the local mountain biking team. His son Adrian is the Infantile Champion of Mexico. The Infantile category goes up to 15 years old, Adrian is 14 but this year he was bumped up to the Junior level.

We love mountain biking and asked if we could join them on a ride. Better yet they offer tours complete with front suspension bikes and any needed accessories. Cost of the trip, a donation to the bike team. We set up a date for the next morning, just a 1-2 hour tour.

Adrian with his trophies.

We met them at 8am. Adrian led us over the roads and passes between Sayulita and Punta de Mita which is 7 miles away along the connecting road. Lorenzo held up the rear with me, all the time giving me some sorely needed pointers which I am eternally grateful for. We wound up and down along the beaches then through the jungle, past mango plantations and farms. We rode past a rattle snake and even stopped for a coke in a small village along our route. Our one hour trip stretched into four and we rode somewhere between 15 and 20 miles. Lorenzo and Adrian both speak English very well and were amazingly tolerant of our broken Spanish. The ride and spending the day with them, was maybe my favorite thing we have done this entire trip.

Our group stopping for a Mexican Coke.

Me bringing up the rear.

Afterwards we made our donation in money and whatever cycling gear we could round up. Dan even sacrificed his favorite cycling shorts for the cause, essentially anything we figured we could replace we left for them.

The next day we ventured up to Chacala, another surf spot. This was our first official surfing skunk. From all accounts Chacala can be a heavenly place with a long safe left break. We hired a water taxi to take us out to the break, but the swell was all wrong and the waves were breaking only about 50’ off of the sea urchin covered rocks. Because we are all in our 30’s now we were wise enough to realize that losing $20 for a water taxi to nowhere, is far superior to being dropped off for three hours at a very scary break with no shoreline easily accessible. We tucked tail and returned to the truck. From there we drove back down to Burrows a much friendlier break for the likes of us.

Meredith left yesterday, but don’t you fear she will be reprising her role at New Years when we visit her again. Dan and I went to the big PV grocery store to stock up on some of the foods we love down here.

Once we returned to Sayulita it was time for my relleno lesson. Estella welcomed me into her home while she was preparing the food for the restaurant. She showed me how she makes the rellenos from start to finish. She would accept no help from me; I couldn’t even do the dishes. I stayed for 3 hours. I was fed cookies and a traditional rice drink. We talked about her kids, about how much she loves cooking and how well she and Lorenzo work together.

Lorenzo told me that he realizes Estella is the chef, she is a fantastic cook. He is there to help her, so he chops vegetables and helps clean up. They run an amazingly clean and conscientious kitchen. Because they are cyclists they are very health conscious, they cut out fats and use only fresh products. I was truly touched by their generosity and their willingness to not only tell me how to make this, but their insistence on showing me how.

Lorenzo said his role is to be social, greeting the patrons in the restaurant and making contacts to advance the bike team. People have donated everything from cycling socks to the full suspension, disc brake, Santa Cruz bike that Adrian races on. Lorenzo estimates that it costs 1500 pesos (about $150) per kid to go to the races, the costs are in entry fees, lodging, meals etc. Often they cannot take all of the kids who want to race because there is not enough money.

Recently they were invited to compete in a 12-hour race, but they can’t afford headlamps for the riders to wear during the dark times of the race, so they could not participate. From what we have seen the kids love Lorenzo and he is a fantastic coach. His team has lots of talent, but lacks funding. I wish I had more to give, but alas all I can do is tell you about it and hope that something more may come of that. You can learn more about them at :

The past 12 days have been the Virgin de Guadalupe Festival. A fascinating festival that last 12 nights. We were fortunate enough to get to attend evening mass, where I was overwhelmed by the number of familiar faces I saw. You really can get to know an entire community in six weeks. We saw the parades and enjoyed nightly fireworks displays.

We have only a few days left here and I am desperately trying to soak it all in before we go. On that note I will pull my nose out of the notebook and enjoy the town.