I am very happy to say that I got my camera (a Canon Powershot SD780IS) working again after reading through some online forums. I had gotten a few grains of sand or something of the like in the lens when I was on the beach in Mexico. When I would turn the camera on, the lens would try to open, then the camera would display "Camera Lens Error" and would power off. The key to success after various fix-it attempts was to slide the corner of a plastic zip-loc bag through the rings in the lens and dislodged whatever was in there. As such, I also retrieved all the pics I had taken in Mayto, Mexico.
Now that I have a working camera, I will be making a full post on Guatemala next week. It is Semana Santa (Easter) here in Guatemala and there are massive religious processions starting on Thursday, 3/28/13. I am hoping to grab some good shots of the action going on here; and, will be driving to Tulate, Guatemala, which is a beach town about 3 hours east of me, to get some warm weather for the holiday weekend and take more pics.
Soooo..here are some other shots from Mayto, Mexico from January 4 - 10, 2013:
When I was volunteering at the ranch in Mayto, we had pizza nights every week with their wood-fired oven. Here is me with Tatia, the daughter of a couple, Seth (from San Diego, CA) & Chris (from Guanajuato, Mexico) camping in their VW Bus on the ranch. We were mixing up a batch of oatmeal/raisin cookies to bake in the pizza oven with the leftover coals when all the pizzas were done.
Here are the rammed earth blocks that were made just a week or so before I arrived. They are all for the backpacker's dorm that was going to be started once a working bulldozer was found in the area. We got a little worried on New Year's when it was unexpectantly raining like crazy, since these bricks melt in the rain. They fortunately had enough tarps to cover everything up and the bricks were saved.
Now this is how cover crop gets planted, Mexican style. You get 4 people to ride on the back of a tractor and drop beans, lentils, or other nitrogen grabbers into the tracks that are being tilled underneath you. The 2 outside seats are extra fun because you are constantly trying not to fall backwards into the tire as you drop beans. Here I am with 3 of the other volunteers (from left to right: Cedric from southern France and Mary & Skyler from Seattle, WA)
I know I mentioned the turtle camp on the beach in Mayto, but never got to show how turtle days went down. Here is the pen where the Turtle Camp volunteers re-bury the baby turtle eggs to protect them from people digging the up and eating them:
The shirtless, Jesus-looking guy below is David from Germany, one of the turtle experts. He is teaching German in Guadalajara, but also spends weeks at a time here at the Turtle Camp. Each of the small, circular fences behind them is a turtle nest...
The hole they are digging below was a success...
You can see below the girl is literally scooping out handfuls of baby turtles by the end of it...and all 79 tortugitas were alive! There are usually a few who do not not make it or are not ready to hatch.
Their little notebook to track the data and some eggs from the hatched turtles:
And, lastly, the photo that everyone there takes..themselves with a new-born turtle:
Again, the yurt, which looked down on the turtle camp from up on the hillside, the day the roof was going on:
Unrelated, there was a dam being built near Mayto, and one day we drove about 20 minutes back through Granger's friend, Nico's property to get a look at it:
There was this really modern, white house built right at edge looking down on the dam that seemed really out of place because none of the Mexican houses around here look anything like this:
My last few pics are of the my camping spot the day I left the ranch to live on the beach. Mayto is still the only beach I have been to on this trip where everyone was cool with cars, motorcycles & 4 wheelers driving on the beach. There were so few people and trucks/cars with 4 wheel drive that you rarely saw them on the beach. Luckily there was this little section of rocks I could park on just in case the tide came up, and it did.
After leaving Mayto, I headed south along the coast, making stops in La Manzanilla, Maruata, Acapulco, Mazunte & Boca Del Cielo. Here is a link to my route on Google Maps up until my stop here in Guatemala:
Click Here to See My Entire Route Thus Far on Google Maps
Please check back in about a week for some shots of Guatemala and the re-kindling of my blog.
It's Thursday 2/14/13, Valentine's Day (Dia de San Valentin), and I am writing this from my hotel in Acapulco.
I have finally left the small towns of Mayto & Villa Del Mar after almost 6 weeks. The people and places of this area have taken a place in my heart and I will definitely go back to visit again after this massive Pan-American road trip.
Since it's been two weeks since my last blog, I don't know where to start. In an attempt to capture these small towns, I borrowed my friend's camera the last weekend and went picture crazy.
First, the Cielito in Villa Del Mar where I was teaching a small group of women how to bake different, tasty things from the ingredients they have on hand - dinner rolls, pineapple upside cake, carrot cake w/ cream cheese frosting, banana bread, coffee cake, lime pie, banana cream pie, zucchini bread, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, snickerdoodles & peanut butter oatmeal cookies. AND the best secret - how to make dulce de leche, the easy way. They use Lechera (sweetened condensed milk) as a main sweetener for desserts so I showed them if you put an unopened can of this in simmering water (yes, unopened can - take the label off first) for 4 hours you will be rewarded with a can of dulce de leche at the end. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Now, the kitchen & some of the staff. Penny ("como un centavo" as she would say), in blue, is the manager of the property & the one that hired me.
Now, where I spent most of my days, the town of Mayto:
This is the first house on the left when you come into town, with the crazy cow skull wall. Here are Granger & Bolo hanging out
Jessie, who owns one of the three tiendas in town, with her 2 kids, eating at Lola's (great tortas here!)
Some guys had cooked chicharones (yeah, they're as fatty & delicious as they look) the day I was photographing the town. Standard fare I've found in Mexico: if you come to someone's house, they will offer you a plate of food, a beer & a seat. How can you not like this culture???
Here's the tail (la cola) of the pig - I tried a piece - very tasty, my friends
And Wacho cooking up a big-ass pot of carnitas:
Ali & Viagara (I think his name is Israel but everyone calls him Viagra):
Señor Herrera (Fernando's Dad - the Fernando who owns the Rincocito)...
And Fernando's mom, Abolita, who is still running the tienda at 87 years old:
The primary school with a new paint job:
My very good and extremely hospitable friends, Granger & Teri (with another 10 out of 10 sunset in the background):
My friend, Fin, from Calgary who was sleeping in his tent on the beach, but would come hangout at the yurt most of the day. Fin, Teri & Steamboat Bill:
Inside the yurt with one of the coolest families I have met: Bro (just what he likes to be called), little Lou & Chantelle. They live about 45 mins north, in El Tuito, but came to visit twice. They hooked me up with some very cool (muy chitoh) beaches to visit on the way down the coast of Mexico.
Now for the ranch I visited with a few friends to have fresh cow & goat milk. We first put a spoon of Chocomilk & a dash of 99% pure alcohol, then let the master fill up the glass with fresh milk. This was my first time milking a cow - much, much harder then it looks.
Here's the very welcoming family who owned the ranch:
Yummm...fresh chocolate milk
I took a lot of photos here at the ranch so figured I would just post the entire album online.
Click here to see all the pictures from the ranch
There is another tiny town about 2 miles from Mayto called Tehuamixtle, known for their fresh seafood. Here's a few shots of this little fishing town:
Before heading into Tehuamixtle, you can head to the right and take a path that leads down into Pirate's Cove:
Granger, Fin (friend I met from Calgary) & myself went to collect shells and do a little fishing:
I learned the fun of shell searching from Marcella. Pirate's Cove is even less crowded (as in no one there) than the other beaches in the area so you can find some amazing shells underneath the big rocks:
Last, but not least, the dogs of Mayto who also just started living at the yurt. Teri & Granger do not actually own any of these dogs, but they spent the majority of their time up there too.
Piolin (aka Weiner):
Toby (rumor has it he has like 20 children in the area - let's just say, he gets around):
It's Wednesday, 1/30/13 and I am writing this from my cabana in Villa Del Mar, Mexico. Outside, a gust of wind. A dog barks. Cue the truck. Exit Herman; walk out into the bank (I wish I could take credit for the genius of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day)
Alrighty, I am still living between the tiny towns of Mayto & Villa De Mar in Mexico. I have somehow negotiated, without really trying, to teach baking desserts at a very small resort in Villa Del Mar in exchange for stay in one of the cabanas, 2 meals a day & pay. I had my first class today and taught the 6 Mexican women who cook here at the resort, Cielito. I showed them how to make oatmeal raisin cookies, coffee cake (with the money streusel topping) & a quick pie dough. Tomorrow I'm thinking lime pie with graham cracker crust, chocolate chip cookies & carrot cake. I hope to borrow a camera tomorrow to get a picture of this (it's still quite humorous to me). I'm having some technology troubles - my digital camera got sand in it so the lens won't open & the battery of my Droid phone with a camera can no longer hold a charge. Thus, I am presently unable to take pictures.
Before I move on, I will give you an idea of little resort I am staying on....with my new Mexican family that has adopted me:
Yes, I am the tall gringo in both pics
It may look like I am part of this big, happy family, but I just met these people about 15 minutes prior to this photo. While eating breakfast at the Cielito, I met these extremely nice folks, the Meza & Gomez families from Guadalajara, and they asked me to take a picture. A few of them spoke English so I know it was not my bad Spanish. I assumed they were asking me to take a photo of them, but they were asking me to be in their family photos - hahaha. It's not a coincidence that I'm wearing white too - I went and changed - how could I say no??
I pity the fool that don't like bugs!!
What do Mr. T & bugs of this area have to with each other - nothing! I just wanted to regrab the audience's attention. I've been meaning to mention the ridiculous bugs in this area because they are some of the gnarliest mo-fos I have ever seen. First, the well-beloved scorpion:
This scorpion above was found on the inside of the solar oven at the ranch. First, what the hell is a solar oven - well, it's cardboard covered in aluminum foil cut in a specific way as to concentrate the sunlight to one specific point....where you put what you are baking in a black cast iron pot. Here is the solar oven:
Wait a second, I have digressed! Back to scorpions. I have learned there is a sizable range of scorpions in the area, some almost harmless to the fearful translucent one that can make it necessary to get 20 shots from Rosa, the local scorpion lady.
Golly mister, look what I found in my bathroom last week:
This ridiculous insect is called a "Canclis" by the locals and is the biggest bug I have ever seen. I measured from the back of it's foot to the end of it's antennae and it was just under 10" long. That is a clove of garlic I added to the picture to give you some size reference. I brought this to the Rincocito and showed Marcella, Fernando's wife, who was not taken back by it at all. She just said, "Oh, that's a small one." What?!? She said the body will get to be like 3 times the size of the one I found and the antennae up to 12" long. I still can't fathom this. If you can see in the picture, the bug has arms on the front with pinchers and will use them on you though it is not poisonous. These freaking monsters actually eat scorpions so Marcella lets them live.
It's Tuesday, 1/22/13 and I am writing this from Villa Del Mar, Mexico
I say Mayto, you say Tomato
The little town of Mayto that I have been living in for the last 3 weeks can’t possibly be forgotten. I found this small town when looking for farms to help volunteer with. I found Rancho Sol y Mar on www.helpx.com, which is one of a few websites connecting farms & volunteers.
The town of Mayto (pronounced My-toe in English) is only about 200 people – no police department, no fire station, and there is one woman in town, named Rosa, you go to if you get stung by a scorpion. It was originally called Maito because it became known for its corn (maize) and tortillas (yeah, the same in Spanish) but was changed in the last 5-10 years for reasons unbeknownst to me.
The people I met in the first few days were just straight up characters and like something out of sitcom. There’s Fernando who runs the “Rincocito” a bar/restaurant/hotel on the beach where everything is on the honor system.
When you get a beer, a bag of chips, or even have dinner, you just mark it down on your page in the spiral notebook on the counter which acts as his accounting system. Pretty ingenius.
Then there’s another Fernando who lives nearby in a school bus on the beach, marked “Cool Bus” by taking out letters s & h on the side as you can see in the pic:
The story goes that he just decided one night to stay in his bus (I don’t know where he got a school bus) when a huge flood came through and washed away everything he owned. He has been living in the school bus on the beach for years.
As for gingos, there's just a few in town. One American couple, Dan & Holly, run Rancho Sol y Mar where I was volunterring. The other couple in town, Granger & Theresa, have moved down from Colorado and have chosen this tiny town for their retirement. They have recently finished building a yurt on the side of the mountain looking out over the beach with a million dollar view.
That is Granger on the left, showing the construction to a tourist named John. The thatched rooves they are looking down on is the turtle camp.
They have become great friends of mine and so I have spent a lot of time cooking and watching the waves roll in.
Back to the randomness of the Mayto – on the beach there is also a turtle camp. A biologist from Guadalajara got funding to start a little operation with volunteers to help save the endangered turtles.
The issue is that locals have been digging up and eating turtle eggs for years as it is supposed to help your sexual stamina (don’t try this at home, kids). Now, when the female turtles return to lay their eggs, the turtle camp volunteers go dig up the eggs and re-bury them in a little protected zone for 2-3 months. Then, based on the date they buried them, they dig them up and see if they have hatched. Anyone nearby can help release the baby turtles into the ocean. The most I have seen being dug out of one hole was 71 baby turtles – handfuls of them being pulled with each scoop. The downside is that only about 1 out of 100 of these baby turtles will return to lay more eggs.
What else goes on Mayto? Birthday parties, and lots of them. They even closed the main street down for little Naomi’s 3rd birthday party last week…and had a whopping 7 pinatas. Last weekend there was a big 87th birthday celebration for Abolita, who is Fernando’s mom (the ones that owns Rincocito). The butchered an entire cow and had a pretty rockin’ mariachi band. Fernando even sang a few songs for his dear mom.
It’s 7:22pm on Sunday, 1/13/13 and I am writing this from Via Del Mar.
Viva Mexico! I love me some Mexico – the people, the food, todo! Mexico has taken over as my favorite country – everyone is so welcoming and friendly. Despite what the U.S. news says, it’s actually a wonderful country that everyone should visit.
So…I last left off on my blog on the way to Culiacan. That day and the next are pretty much summed up with me driving a lot (and passing the 250,000 mile mark on my truck). The main thing I have learned with driving on the toll roads in Mexico is that you can do whatever the hell you want. Passing on a double line at 25mph over the speed limit?? You better believe it. On coming cars will just get onto the shoulder if you are in their lane. I never heard anyone honk…not once. As for speeding tickets – don’t think it’s possible to get one. The only time I saw police is when they were helping someone on the side of the road. Also, heading south into the country, I was never stopped or checked for anything...ever. Here is one of the checkpoints I went through – yes, that is a guy reading a newspaper.
I could have had a donkey with the head of a crocodile and the body of a crocodile in my truck and no one would have noticed. For all you fearful people up there in the US of A – the road blocks going north were controlled by military and were stopping vehicles.
I just have to input for a second the few events worth speaking about on my 2 days of driving. First, the 4runner has surpassed the 250,000 mile mark.
It was filled with cacuates Japonese (Japanese peanuts), tamarindo dulce (tamarind), picante (hot sauce), limon (lime juice), chili seca (dried chili).
The next colossal event was sleeping in a sex hotel that night on the outskirts of Culiacan. Now Culiacan is a pretty big city, with like 500,000 people. The last thing I want to do is try to navigate a new city in Mexico in the dark. As I was coming in I saw signs for 200 pesos for stay – ching ching. That’s like 17 bucks. I pulled into one and realized what it was 200 pesos for 4 hours. Aha!! Sex motel! I don’t how these haven’t taken off in the states. Oddly enough, they would not let me stay there because I was just one one person – I needed a lover to qualify. The guy at this place told me I could go across the street though and they would let me stay solo. So I drive a short distance down the road and see there are a variety of these discount hotels. The one I settle on is 200 pesos…but for 12 hours!
Muy bien. I ask where to pay and the woman directs me to go around the U-shaped drive. This place looks very much like a storage unit with garage doors on every unit. After I came around, a guy waived me into the open garage, where I parked. He then closed the garage door to the point where he could just stick his hand in and collect the money. I paid him, opened the door to my private room and was surprised to see pretty nice accommodations – a variety of porno channels, overhead music with the flip of a switch and a spacious shower.
I opened up a bag of tomales, flipped on some crappy American movie and was good to go. I have since found out that these types of hotels are actually very safe to stay in because your car is in a garage and the workers are always outside on the driveway waiting for new guests.
The next morning I started my longest driving day yet – 14 hours from Culiacan to Mayto. I was rocking and rolling off the start, having gotten comfortable with the interstates. I stopped in a tiny town to grab some lunch and had the pleasure of meeting Jose:
He happened to be eating tacos at the same place and we started talking in a combination of Spanish & English. His English was actually excellent and I could tell he wanted to practice. Jose ended up being extremely nice and told me he farms acres of sugar cane nearby, has children & grandchildren and a few houses in the area. With the New Years coming up, I asked him if he had any resolutions and he said he just wanted to be a good person. He had made a comfortable life for himself and just wanted to enjoy it. Now the crazy part, “Jose, where did you learn English”? “In jail”. Wow! I would have never guessed. He spent 5 years in prison in Oregon for being involved in selling heroin years and years ago. While in prison, he learned English, French, Microsoft Office and who knows what else. A smart guy for sure. He is now, and has been for years, drug and alcohol free.
Just after leaving the lunch stop, I came up on Interstate 200 that forks off from I-15 and heads along the coast to Puerto Vallarta. A windy, windy, windy road that took me several hours. I could write for a while about getting from Puerta Vallarta to mayto, but will just sum it up by saying that it took me about 3 times as long as it should and I ended up going down into the jungle with some bad directions. My truck managed to rock it out the full 14 hours of driving that day. I finally made it to Mayto!
It is Sunday, 1/6/13, and I am writing this from Rancho Sol y Mar, 2 hours south of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast of Mexico.
I was excited to finally cross the border and make my way into Mexico. I left my friend James in Tucson after a last stop to pick up some final outdoor items. My goal for the night was Patagonia State Park where I had found a free camping area. Like all states, Arizona does have a wine presence and the one main grape growing region is called Patagonia. I thought this was very appropriate since I am headed to Patagonia, Argentina. As I was getting close to the park, it started snowing and the temperature dropping significantly. The park was closed, but the gate was open, so I made my way to where the RVs were gathered. I wrote an entry for the blog then decided to call it a night. I woke up in the middle of the night to what was the coldest night I have experienced on my trip, with the windows icing over.
The next morning I heard the park ranger drive in to clean the bathrooms so I slid out of my bunk into the driver’s seat and drove the remaining 12 miles to the border town of Nogales.
Late December must be the perfect time of the year to cross because I crossed over the border with no wait in line at immigration or at the bank.
I got my passport stamped, stopped for a quick exchange of dollars to pesos (1:12.8 on that day) and headed south on I-15 to find the aduana office where I would register my truck. About 30 kilometers, later I pulled off at the aduana office and got my truck approved for 6 months in Mexico.
The next few days pretty much consisted of me driving a lot and learning that the highway system in Mexico is a free for all…with most people going 1 ½ to 2 times the speed limit and crossing on double lines is illegal, but very much accepted by all. In Mexico, you have 2 choices for highway travel, cuota (toll roads) or libra (free roads). The tolls roads are generally nicer and have 2 lanes per side, making it easier to pass. The free roads are one lane per side and you come up on trucks going 30-35 mph pretty often while everyone else is driving 65-70 mph. Having said that, the toll roads are expensive. Here is an example of what you see coming up on a toll – this was the priciest of tolls at a whopping 180 pesos, or about 14 US dollars.
This was also only 1 of 5 tolls I went through that day – you’re killing my daily budget, Mexico!
The first night I made it to Guaymas, and had no idea where I was going to stay. It is a nice place but I was looking to make it to Mayto by New Years Eve so I had to leave first thing in the morning. Here are a few shots of Guaymas:
After asking 2 cops and another hotel, I found the cheapest hotel in town, Hotel Malibu. I did not intend on staying in hotels in Mexico, but since I am traveling alone and have no city maps or idea of where anything was in town, I thought it was the best option. The next morning, I got on the road with intention of making the 561 km to Culiacan.
My take on Mexico
For everyone that thinks Mexico is the most dangerous place ever, you will find you are mistaken if you just do a little research.
As stated on the U.S. Department of State website, "The number of U.S. citizens reported to the Department of State as murdered under all circumstances in Mexico was 113 in 2011 and 32 in the first six months of 2012." Now please note that 5.7 million U.S. citizens visited Mexico in 2011. That would mean a U.S. citizen had 0.00001982 chance of getting murdered that year. To give you some reference, roughly 400 people in the U.S. were hit by lightning in 2011. I'll take my chances.
So, would you travel to New Orleans right now? I would advise against it. In 2010 there were 72.8 murders per 100,000 people...or 0.000728 chance of getting murdered (MUCH higher than Mexico) How about Washington D.C., Baltimore, Detroit, Oakland, Newark, Philadelphia, St. Louis - too bad, they all have higher murder rates than Mexico. The problem is that all we are fed by the media is that going into Mexico is the equivalent of going into hell. My thought is, if you have not been there, you have no justification to preach about how dangerous it is.
Of course, I am going to travel with precaution and use my head, just as I would in any foreign country. No nice clothes, no jewelry, no fancy electronics, and no driving at night.
Moving on to more positive things, I am very excited to get into Mexico. The majority of time I will spend on a ranch, Rancho Sol y Mar (Sun & Sea), 2 hours south of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast.
Rancho Sol y Mar Website
I will be making adobe bricks for a new backpacker's dorm, using fresh goat's milk to make fresh cheese and spending as much time as possible on the beach.
I will also be meeting up with friends from Napa whose families/relatives are from or still live in Jalisco. I've been told that December/January is the prime time to be in Mexico with tons of celebration going for weeks. Taco & tequila diet sounds pretty good to me. Mexico also has the best food of any country I have been to.
For the 1440 miles from San Diego (or wherever I cross the border) to Rancho Sol y Mar I have not figured out my route. Coming soon...