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Uruapan – Riding horses up Volcán Paricutín, the ruins of Tingambato and the Parque Nacional de Cupatitzio

Ollie and the sneaky Nigel  #hoptgf“But we’ve never ridden horses before.  How are we meant to ride them up a volcano?”  This was a good question from Ollie when we were thinking about taking a trip to Angahuan to visit Volcán Paricutín.  That is a problem for future Rich and Ollie I said, so we decided to take a bus to Uruapan, Michoacan.  There was a heavy US State Department warning about all non-essential travel to this particular state due to the mayor having only recently been assassinated, but we thought that us being neither a government official or Americano, it mattered not.

All the pics, without the rabbit, click this

Our balcony view of the plaza

Our balcony view of the plaza

The bus to Uruapan was 4 hours from Guadalajara, driving through the Central Western Highlands of Mexico.  I know I keep saying this about Mexico, but this landscape was absolutely incredible.  The seemingly never ending green hills frame the landscape as we zipped up and down towards Uruapan, driving through some remote Purepechan towns on the way.  Arriving in Uruapan, a quick taxi ride takes us to the Central Plaza, where Ollie sniffs out the cheapest accommodation on the block at Hotel Colonial for M$200 a night overlooking the main plaza, while I sit in the plaza with the packs, watching the locals watching me.  The hotel being rough around the edges we decide to have a couple of drinks before an early night.

Volcán Paricutín appeared in 1943 out of nowhere and rose to 410m within a year.  This area of the highlands is populated by the Purepechan people and they all managed to escape with their lives, but the lava flow decimated two towns. The volcano then continued to grow until 1952, where its black cone still looms over the landscape at 2800m, still smoking in places, with two smaller ones next to it.   There are visible ruins of the church form one of the villages, sticking out of a lava flow still which we also intended to visit on our trip.

Ollie and Benito set off

Ollie and Benito set off

We took a bus to Angahuan, 1 hour out of Uruapan, and before we knew it we were greeted by some locals who had us on horses on moseying on towards the summit, after agreeing the price of M$900 for both of us for the day including a local guide, Benito. (It is impossible to be on a horse and not use words like ‘mosey’ or tip your hat in a way of greeting people.)  My horse, ‘El Capitan’, was a moody bastard but after some disagreements, we understood each other.  Ollie’s horse was smaller and I named him Nigel.  Mainly because he was sneaky, and continually wound El Capitan up.  The trip took us 2¾ hours through the pine forests of the highlands, with the

Approaching the Volcano

Approaching the Volcano

ground turning to black volcanic ash as we got closer.  The saddles were wood with a wafer thin strip of leather covering them, making the ride torturous at times.  When it was time to get off, about 300m from the summit, our bodies hurt in most places, but we were soon attacking the back of the Volcano with Benito showing us the way.  Passing through various steam vents, where the rocks all around us were hot to the touch and the floor felt hollow, he soon had us scrambling up a treacherous rocky slope, ignoring the set path.

 

A strong beast  #hoptgf In amongst it  #hoptgf

Getting a feel for the steam

Getting a feel for the steam

Starting the ascent  #hoptgf

A long way to go  #hoptgf

The view from the top was stunning, like a scene of a Tolkien novel, but with fewer Orks and more beauty.  The ground below was a black cooled lava field, with steam seeping through, but this would then relent, giving way to fields of green before reaching another black mound.  There was so much steam and cloud, it was hard to tell which was which.  After admiring the view from the top, it was time to descend and we almost skied down it in shoes.  It was great fun.

Relieved to have made it to the top  #hoptgf Mordor    #hoptgf Aware that we are quite close to the edge  #hoptgf More lava field  #hoptgf The summit of Paricutin  #hoptgf Smaller volcano at the bottom  #hoptgf Lava field  #hoptgf Cross from a miracle working bishop who stopped the lava in 2010  #hoptgf So is she  #hoptgf

Templo san huan parangaricuto

Templo san huan parangaricuto

Back on the Captain and Nigel, we headed for the San Juan ruins of the Templo San Huan Parangaricuto.  After couple more hours, passing through the landscape of ash and pine, which soon turned into fields of avocado trees, the spire of the church was visible.  Benito took us on a tour over the black solidified lava to the church spire and through the doors, which were only just about visible.  The only other part of the church that survived was the altar.  The lava had come to a miraculous halt just in front of it, where it remains today, covered in decorations from the locals who still go there on holy days.  We both agreed that this is one of the strangest things we had ever seen.  After a quick quesadilla made with blue corn by a local Purepechan lady on top of an oil drum skillet and washed down with a  beer we were back in the saddle of pain and soon back to Benito’s village, where the local language is Purepechan.  We moseyed back into town, observing the local ladies in their colorful dresses and long platted hair carrying wood or babies, while children ran riot in the street. The air was filled with the smell of burning wood and the sounds of a woman’s voice in the native tongue announcing that she had rice for sale.  We said our farewells to Benito and hopped a mini-bus back into Uruapan for an early night.

Entering the church #hoptgf

the altar where the lava miraculously stops

the altar where the lava miraculously stops

Templo San Huan Parangaricuto,   from what was once the inside #hoptgf Inside #hoptgf Stone and lava #hoptgf about to fall on our guide #hoptgf Were once windows #hoptgf

The next day, we woke, unable to move.  Getting out of bed was almost impossible, but we headed to the Hotel Victoria, to have some coffee, eggs and a chance to exploit their free wi-fi. (The only place in town we have found where there is wi-fi, if you are planning on visiting and staying somewhere without…like us)

Moon pyramid of Tingambato ruins, #hoptgfAfter 5 cups of coffee and some damn fine eggs we got a bus to the town of Tingambato to see our first ruin. A beautiful little town set on what I would call the slope of a valley, with the ruins site at the bottom of the hill. The site is small and dates from around 450AD. But is well preserved and wonderfully kept.  We were the only people there so had freedom to wander around in peace.  Soon we decided to walk the mile back up hill through the town where we watched the locals all eye us with curiosity and a hint of suspicion (but never anything other than friendly)

A free Mexico #hoptgf

The plaza of Tingambato ruins #hoptgf Whatever you do, don't climb on the ruins #hoptgf

Deciding to give our aching bodies more punishment, we head back to Uruapan and for the Parque Nacional de Cupatitzio , which is only 1km from the main plaza.  Paying the M$25 gringo fee to enter, it’s like being in another world.  The river Cupatitzio thunders through in a series of waterfalls surrounded by tropical plants that cover the canopy above.  The locals get in free, and were out for a Saturday stroll taking photos in front of the many man-made water features.  If you were a kid, this place would be heaven.  It’s enormous and has endless areas to hide in.  You can get genuine peace and quiet here, despite the sheer amount of people walking around.  After losing a couple of hours wandering around, we decide to head back to back to our uncomfortable beds and rest our aching limbs in preparation for the journey to Mexico city

Parque Nacional de Cupatitzio #hoptgf One of many water features Nother waterfall shot, Parque Nacional de Cupatitzio #hoptgf The waterall shot, Parque Nacional de Cupatitzio #hoptgf

Rio Cupatitzio #hoptgf

Uruapan was a wildcard destination, and turned out to be spectacular.  It is certainly off the gringo trail of Mexico, but if you decide to go, you will be handsomely rewarded for the effort.

Calle Independencia, Uruapan

Calle Independencia, Uruapan

For all the pics, click here

 


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Guadalajara – Plaza’s, Lucha Libre wrestling and the ‘magical town of Tequila’

Plaza de  Armas #hoptgfGuadalajara.  Mexico’s second largest city.  A five hour bus ride from Sayulita and after Ollie purchases bus tickets from a chicken shop we’re off and before you know it, into the first heavily populated area we’ve been in for quite some time.  The bus takes us to an area called Zapopan, about 7k from the center, so after a cab ride through the busy streets we’re outside a huge church adorned with neon crosses on the spires in the Sunday evening market below.  In the center of the square is a monument to the Blue Agave, which I will come to later.  As we have only eaten some crisps in the past 12 hours, we search the street food offerings.  “I want one of those”, I shout at Ollie like an excited toddler in a Disney store.  Of course, I don’t know what they are, or have the ability to ask.  Ollie negotiates and soon we’re enjoying hot tamales (corn meal, chicken and sauce wrapped in a corn husk) and they’re pretty damn awesome, especially eaten on the steps of church in a packed square in the center of Guadalajara.  After we watch some older dapper gentlemen vie for the affections of glamorous dance partners-to-be in what I can only equate to an evening tea dance in another corner of the square, I get the feeling we’re going to enjoy our next few days here.

For the snaps without waffle, click here!

Guadalajara Cathedral

Guadalajara Cathedral

We stayed in Casa Vilasanta, a reasonably priced hostel about 10 mins south of the center off Juarez.  Walking through the Monday rush hour we get to Guadalajara cathedral and all of the surrounding plazas, of which there are four.  Fountains, modern art sculptures, catrinas and old buildings surround us as we wander past a food bank for the homeless.   I am humbled when a man carrying everything he owns holds his plate out to me to offer up a one of his small free breakfast burritos.  An incredible gesture which I am sure I will always remember.   After scoffing a Mexican version of a cream horn on the steps of a church in the Plaza De Los Mariachis we people watch for a while before strolling on back to the hostel.

Plaza Tapatia

Plaza Tapatia

A game of thrones #hoptgf

She can't resist a Catrina #hoptgf

Chapultepec is an area where the night life is so we headed there.  I lie, it was nothing to do with the nightlife.  I was following a recommendation about a place we could get a torta ahogada; a chili-soaked pork sandwich.  Finding the place closed we stumbled onto a craft beer bar called Grillo and proceeded to drink our dinner budget away.  If you are planning on visiting Guadalajara and want to go out, go west on Lopez Cotilla until you get to Ave Chapultepec.  Being unable to afford such a night out, we purchased a bottle of tequila and headed home for some cards and to continue Ollie’s tequila training for the big event.

I'm not quite sure, but I think it want's to eat me #hoptgf 100% Agave...100% class #hoptgf

Tortas Ahogadas, Tlaquepaque  #hoptgfThe next day, we headed to Tlaquepaque, which is to the SE of where we were staying and a 9k bus ride.  The area is pleasant enough, aimed at selling shit to tourists, but it has a calming feel to it, so a nice place for a stroll.  Also where I finally got to have a torta ahogada.  I’m not big on talking about food, but this is a great eat.  A big pork roll, cut in half and drenched all over in chili sauce.  By the time you’ve finished greedily scooping up chill sauce with the first half, the other has turned into a sponge and becomes almost impossible to eat without a spoon.  We then tried some pulque, which is the fermented, un-distilled liquid from an agave.  Giving it the big ones, I order it ‘natural’ while Ollie has it with pineapple.  I was searching my memory trying to match the taste, when I realized it tasted like pickled gherkins.  Ollie reminded me that I meant it tasted like vinegar.  I won’t be drinking it again.

To Puque, or not to Pulque...choose wisely!

To Puque, or not to Pulque…choose wisely!

Luche Libre Hermanos #hoptgfOn to Lucha Libre (Mexican Wrestling) at the Arena Coliseo and we were feeling understandably nervous, despite the effects of the pulque.  We were soon off the bus and into our seats five rows from ringside with 1L beers in our hands, listening to the crowd shout “bendejo”, “tu madre” and “puta” at each other…in a variety of combinations.  Soon, darkness, loud music, flashing lights and scantily clad women meant showtime.  Four fights.  The first three were all More time out of the ring than in #hoptgftag teams, with wrestlers moving dramatically around the ring, whilst throwing themselves at each other theatrically.  Some had masks and capes, others just leotards, but all were amusing.  The crowd was busy whipping itself into frenzy after moving into groups and seemed to be picking on other smaller groups or individuals at random.  This proved too much for the other 6 gringos sitting near us who left halfway through.    After the final fight we were out into the street where the crowd was still chanting at each other, now face-to-face.  What an experience it was.  We both enjoyed it a lot more than we thought.  If you don’t like wrestling, the scantily clad women will keep you entertained.

This little guy must have been 5ft #hoptgf Fuego...all mouth and no trousers...#hoptgf 6 guys to stretcher this one off #hoptgf useless ref #hoptgf

A field of Agave

A field of Agave

The next day was Tequila time.  Jalisco is the state in which the ‘Magical town of Tequila’ is (magical officially since 2004 apparently) and is the only place Tequila can be officially called Tequila.  Like champagne basically.  If it’s not made there it’s called Mezcal.  Tequila is made from Blue Agave, which is a cactus-like plant, and there are fields and fields of the stuff around Guadalajara.  The area around Tequila is stunning.  Rolling green hills make an impressive backdrop and add to the ‘magic’.

A real life (well dressed) Jimador

A real life (well dressed) Jimador

We booked a day trip of Tequila for M$300 each through ‘Tequila Tours’ and our first stop was an agave field where we met a real life Jimador (agave farmer) who showed us how sharp his tools were and explained his part in the process.  Tequila has 41 distilleries around it, all knocking out delicious bottles every day, but we headed to Jose Cuervo…the first…the daddy, to see how they knocked out 50,000 litres of the stuff each day.  You would be forgiven in thinking it was the town of Jose Cuervo really as they seem to dominate it.  Nevertheless after a free margarita or two we toured the distillery and learned a surprising amount.

Serving up our double double Familia reserve #hoptgf

Tequila will only be 38% abv legally on the shop floor.  The difference in price and quality range from how long it’s been aged or if it’s actually 100% pure agave.  That Cuervo Gold shit we all drink after a few pints is not pure, which is why it makes you feel so awful in the morning.  After a coupla’ freebies in the factory one of which was around 60% (a first pressing) we headed out into the bar area again where we were plied with more free margaritas.  We then decided to drink some of the ‘Cuervo Family Reserve’ and watched the barman extract it directly from the barrel.  He served us up two double doubles which we sipped for around 90 minutes like you would fine single malt scotch.

Ok, so it's not a raven, but just imagine it is...on the Agave pineapples

Ok, so it’s not a raven, but just imagine it is…on the Agave pineapples

Guadalajara is an old city with a young and aspirational population.  The universities there mean that the streets are filled with grungy teenagers all sipping beers or coffee in flat-peaked caps in the various bars and cafes. However you can find the old historic beauty all around including the Mariachis that just seem a part of life here.   It is a charming place and somewhere Ollie said she could live.  I certainly couldn’t because after a month I still don’t speak any bloody Spanish…

These took 90 mins to drink #hoptgf

For the full gallery, click here


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Mazatlán and Sayulita – A slice of the Pacific Coast of Mexico

Baja Landscape as the ferry starts its slow crawl

Baja Landscape as the ferry starts its slow crawl

The night ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan. This is not something that I am looking forward to. The Baja ferry across the Sea of Cortez or the Gulf of California….whatever it is. Roughly 250 miles to Mazatlan, (it doesn’t look that far on the damn map!). Promises to be at least a 17 hour trip. We say goodbye to La Paz with a final fish taco at 1200 and get on the bus for the ferry port. You have to be there 3 hours before you see. I would find out later that this is due to general disorganisation. That’s unfair actually. Just a general need to do things a long and confused way. While we’re at the port some Americans who can feel the spirit of the Lord start some joyful music with a keyboard and tambourine, whilst many baffled Mexicans just look on. It was a nice relief really until they broke out in a quite inappropriate rendition of the Titanic soundtrack…without irony of course.

For the photos and none of the waffle, click here!

2013-11-03 17.34.17Boarding the boat we met another (more chilled) Yankee (Matt) who was heading our way of course after taking a more adventurous hitchhiking journey through Baja, and now planning on heading as south as his money can take him. Finally getting onto the boat the truckers were busy smashing back the cervezas in the canteen and on deck whilst we found our seats. All the while being treated to an 80’s top 100 count down. The final straw was Tiffany’s only hit ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ and with that we retreated to the deck with the half-cut road warriors.

Sunset over the Sea of Cortez

Sunset over the Sea of Cortez

The coast of Baja was beautiful. The rugged and elevated rolling terrain seeming alien, yet so familiar after our 10 days there. Soon there was only sea. We met up with Matt and chatted on the deck when Clarke came into our lives. (Over the next few days, I lost count of how many times we asked the question, “Where’s Clarke gone?” Only to receive an amazing unexpected answer or purely speculating on what he could be possibly doing) Clarke had left his hometown in the Mid-West (I think Tennessee) with only the clothes on his back to head to Ecuador, to buy a farm, for the woman he met two weeks previously. Such an amazing guy with an infectious spirit and lust for life, I believe made us all feel we should be a little more like Clarke. After a delicious dinner we decided to try and settle into our seats for the night.

Tropical storm…over Mazatlan. I couldn’t sleep and was starting to get a bit seasick. Decided to lie on deck with the rest of the suffering souls and focus on the lightning strikes in the distance in lieu of any horizon. A sight I will never forget.

Coast of Mazatlan and El Faro Lighthouse

Coast of Mazatlan and El Faro Lighthouse

20 boat hours later, were onshore and found ourselves in the company of Clarke, Matt and the owner of a hostel called the Funky Monkey . We were soon on our way there, having planned to stay in a hotel in the ‘Centro Historico’ initially, we decided to come with this dude and his promise of cheap digs with nice showers, comfy beds, air-con and a pool.

“Where’s Clarke man, I need to get going?” asked Salem, the owner of the hostel. Clarke then appeared with his phone telling us he had asked this girl to marry him, and we were then urged to persuade her to say yes. Thankfully it was video message…we obliged never the less.

Deer Island

Deer Island

Mazatlan is a Nahuatl (Aztec) word meaning ‘Place of the Deer.’ The 10km length of the Malecon was impressive, giving it the feel of a city on a beach, much like Vietnam’s Nha Trang (but a lot nicer in my humble opinion). Apparently the second longest in the Americas? We zipped past the Central area and into the Zona Dorada, having a tour along the way. You can see three islands off the coast, one of which is called ‘Deer Island’. I don’t think there are actually deer on it anymore or in Mazatlan for that matter. We didn’t look very hard though so I could be wrong.

I'm assured that lampost will be removed at some point #hoptgfOur time in Mazatlan was meant to be short. Only a day, but due to the hostel we stayed an extra one. No sooner had we arrived and met some other residents, we were in a convoy to see the sunset over Mazatlan, then back to the hostel for BBQ and beer. We ended up in a local biker metal bar for some pool playing and further consumption. After walking through a drive through off-license (I know!) on the way home, we sat drinking tequila until silly o’clock.

“Where’s Clarke?” someone asked. “I don’t know man, last time I saw him he was walking down the road with a cat and talking about buying a boat.”

Monkey Sunset #hoptgf Mazatlan Malacon at night #hoptgf

Go Venados!

Go Venados!

The next day was slow, but we were intent on walking around a bit and getting lost in the historical centre in true Ollie and Rich fashion. Lovely plaza Machado was a peaceful retreat from the night before followed by a view of the ‘Cathedral Basilica de la Inmaculada Concepcion.’ We then wandered around the markets, picked up some shrimp for dinner, then headed back. The evening took an unexpected turn where we ended up at a Baseball game for the local team ‘The Venados’. Drinking 1L beers and learning the rules as we went by, the game soon ended and we were back at the hostel for a last night of chill.

Plaza Machado

Plaza Machado

Cathedral Basilica de la Inmaculada

Cathedral Basilica de la Inmaculada

Early start for the bus journey from Mazatlan to Sayulita, a small surf town further south on the Pacific coast, (35k from Puerto Vallarta) that we had only heard about since we hit the mainland. After a way too philosophical conversation with Clarke at 7:30am, we headed out. Unable to go direct, we got a bus to Tepic, 4 hours down the road to Guadalajara. This bus was awful. The chemical toilet smell was overpowering and it felt like sitting in a toilet that year at Glastonbury Festival when it hit 30 degrees for the whole ride. Changing at Tepic we found fresh air as well as a bus that claimed to go to Sayulita. So on we hopped, stopping randomly to pick up locals at what we figured was the fraction of the cost, and I suspect made a tidy little earner for the driver.

Sayulita Beach

Sayulita Beach

Driving along Highway 200 we were zipping through some captivating cloud forests as we went but we were soon back by the Pacific coast. The bus swiftly went past the Sayulita turn off with us still on board. Bus driver said he didn’t stop there, our tickets said otherwise, but we were soon off the bus, 2k further down the road. Hitching a ride back from a nice taxi man to the turnoff, we started to walk the remaining 2k into town when the heavens opened up. Seeking refuge in a mechanics garage, we watched the rain beat down on the jungle-like terrain surrounding us. Making it into town, we headed for the Amazing Hostel Sayulita and scored a couple of bunk beds for the night in a mixed dorm. (Ollie being the only female of course). A nice hostel if you’re after bunks. HI membership came in handy.

More Sayulita Beach

More Sayulita Beach

Escaping the hostel we walked around Sayulita and found it to be full of Americans mainly. Mainly surfers, but also young families, who were once surfer dudes I guess. This initially worried me, feeling like we had landed in some kind of resort town. We had, but the town has a relaxed feel about it and everyone there is chilled and is just there for the beach. I felt the Americans had claimed this place in the effort to get away from the usual American tourist spots.

The beach looked impressive. A vast expanse of dark brown sand surrounded by palm trees on hills dotted with financially unattainable lodgings. We sought refreshment in Monchis bar and got a recommendation for a hotel further down the road, (Hotel Diamante) to book for the next couple of nights where we could have some privacy. As we got back to the hostel, our American pal Matt had turned up with Cole the Kiwi who had also been at the Funky Monkey. The night was spent chilling by the pool, talking nonsense, until it was bedtime.

My only shot of Clarke

My only shot of Clarke

“What happened to Clarke?” I asked Matt. “ Oh, he’s decided to go to San Diego now for a little while.” Whatever Clarke is doing now…I wish him all the best, hope I see him again, and that he gets his farm…if that is what he still wants of course.

Ollie and Rich's Quesadillas

Ollie and Rich’s Quesadillas

A couple nights turned into four in total. Three further nights spent at the Hotel Diamante, where a swimming pool was welcomed and use of a communal kitchen meant us making our twist on Mexican dishes. Mainly, what we could do with eggs and avocados. While in Sayulita you have the option of doing many activities including canopy zip lines, boats out to the islands, renting quad bikes or the most popular activity…surfing. We just chilled. It’s all quite pricey here when you’re on a backpacker budget as you can expect, but if you’re going for a two week holiday, I couldn’t recommend it enough…if you can put up with 32 degree heat and some killer humidity at times. Your dollars will go far!

A new level of Pimp My Ride

A new level of Pimp My Ride

This way for the Muertos

This way for the Muertos

Playa De Los Muertos, is a smaller beach in Sayulita, where the waves are calmer and the sand a glinting gold colour. The water is gorgeous, also having the same shimmering effect. You get there by walking to the end of the main beach, past the Villa Amor hotel and go through the cemetery. Thus the name ‘Beach of the dead’. The cemetery is set in a jungle-like hillside, covered by palms with graves dotted all around. Dia De Muertos being just a week before, there was evidence of remembrance all around. Another day we were told of a better beach by a bartender, which we tried to walk to, but in true Ollie and Rich fashion, ended up walking a huge circle through a jungle/forest (I don’t know the difference, something to do with the climate and shrubs) track until we came full circle back into town. We spent a second day on the beach of the dead…

Playa Los Muertos

Playa Los Muertos

Hillside scattered with graves surrounded by jungle

Hillside scattered with graves surrounded by jungle

The Bulldog Happy hour

The Bulldog Happy hour

It would have been quite easy to stay in Sayulita for longer. I could sit on the beach and watch the Brown Pelicans (It’s a bit big for a pelican…) dive like kamikaze pilots into the water amongst the waves all day, learn how to surf and drink a couple of Bulldogs a night on happy hour, but we had plans to move onto Guadalajara and the Central Highlands over the next week.