Jan 1, 2017

From Waves and Tides to Potholes and Ruts, The Long Road to Campeche

I would rather have a mind opened
by wonder than one closed by belief.

Gary Spence

Tuxan (place of trees), our home sweet home for our first 2 weeks here
As stated in the prior post, we traveled by land (car) rather than boat to come to Campeche near the Yucatan on the east side of Mexico.  As the quote aptly states above, we feel we didn’t see much, traveling at 65-70 miles/hour, but we were rushing a bit to get away from the cold of winter and see the Monarch Butterflies.  We will hopefully travel more slowly on the way back.  Thankfully, while ‘wintering’ in the Campeche area, we can hike, bike, and take our time visiting.

We are finally where it is a balmy 65-70F at night and 85-90F in the daytime – a pleasant winter temperature.  The ocean water is around 80F, perfect for swimming and relaxing.

Why Campeche?  Since we will most likely never sail on the Atlantic side of Mexico we thought we’d come visit the fast way.  It is a good pied-à-terre to visit other nearby areas like Yucatan, Tabasco, Belize, etc.  We will see what adventures come up.
On side of congested city street, traveling in style
Nopal field
The little that we saw at such traveling speed confirmed just how much agriculture there is in Mexico.  We leave behind marshland with oyster farms on the west coast as well as sand dunes and cacti inland.  We travel through fields upon fields of asparagus, citrus, date, black olive, nopal, grape, hay, pecan, squash blossom, zucchini, pineapple, papaya, mango, sapote, strawberry, avocado, agave, spinach, cabbage, onion, broccoli, peanut, garbanzo, banana, and frequently sugar and corn as far as the eye can see.  We end up near coastline again with mangroves and rainforest.  Dry dun-color desert to lush green jungle. 
In our initial week, we spot our first shy toucan and marvel at blue crowned motmot birds.  What beauties.  We also encounter a live Yucatan scorpion and one, thankfully dead venomous snake, the lancehead or Bothrops Asper, a type of viper.  There are 5 venomous snakes found in this area of Mexico.  Most people never see any.
A few days before Christmas, selling trees and poinsettias
moving among the heavy traffic with wheelbarrow
Here waiting for red light to turn green

Women walk along the road carrying prickly nopales, piercing the center of each pad with a sharp stick, piling them up like pancakes along a pole to avoid their sharp spines.  Others are swinging hand-woven baskets to get our attention for the fresh strawberries they have for sale.  Cows enjoy eating the agave leaves not used in the process of making Tequila and left in the harvested fields.  Corn is for sale, 10 cents/ear.  Sheep, goats, horses and cows, often led by shepherds, are eating what is left in picked fields or along the highway.  Fast traffic barreling by doesn’t seem to spook them, they must be used to doing this.  Trucks full of brooms, hammocks, chairs, bricks or live animals indicate what is locally made, grown, or sold. 
Selling gourds, arts and crafts
We see a molasses factory yet see no sugar cane fields around that specific area.  Grapevines are being tied up or trimmed during this ‘dormant’ season.  Spent and dry corn stalks are made into stacks which will later be turned into mulch.  Cut sugar canes are neatly piled awaiting transport to the mill.  Most fields are too small to use large equipment, a lot of the farming is still done by hand and with horses or burros, corn rows not quite as straight as they would be would a machine have been involved.  Few fields are left fallow, regenerating.  Irrigation ditches are being repaired or reshaped. 
Ploughing the old way
A few cock farms, the fighting kind, intersperse fields.  Beautiful animals destined to a very sad end. 
Snowy mountain top north of Mexico City on Arco Norte bypass
We go from sea level to over 8,000 feet in elevation and back down again.  In the mountains, windy roads enveloped with heavy fog slow our progress and block our view of what are probably beautiful ravines and valleys.  Back in a large valley, we see snow on the nearby peaks.  Radio fades in and out but is mostly out.  It is a quiet drive.  We have elected to use the toll roads, supposedly faster and safer but much more expensive. 
Many portions of the toll road are not that great but are, thankfully, being worked on.  Orange cones lit from within, line many miles, a lot easier to see them that way in the dark.  A truck painting yellow lines down the middle of the road has its back tires completely yellow from misdirected or over-spray.  They are not using new technology to paint roads. 
One of the bad things about roadwork is that after it is finished, they do not take down the old road signs making it a little confusing at times.  You will have a stop and a yield in the same location or you will have something saying not to pass when there is clearly a passing lane, etc. 
Corn stacks

Sometimes around trees
At the end of the trip we find that the cost of tolls is about the same as the cost of the gas used to drive the distance.  Tolls, doubling the cost of the trip.  Safety and speed come at a price.  In January, the government announced that gasoline cost will go up 15-20%, wondering if that will apply to tolls too?
Many trains roll slowly by and one of them carries hoboes.  When was the last time you saw them enjoying a free ride on a train back home?  Wondering where they are headed to.  
Up until about Guadalajara, we saw various vehicles with US or Canada license plates driving by us, here we seem to be the only ones.  It is nearing Christmas and many are visiting family.  Most people fly to their destinations then rent cars, they don’t drive this far unless they are bringing many things for their families and friends.  The concept of an ‘American’ road trip is very foreign to most people we’ve met.  We get astonished wide eyes when we explain our drive from the Arizona border to the Yucatan.
We have been stopped three times by the police pointing at the front of our car.  Where is your license plate?  We don’t get one in Arizona, only one in the back.  We read somewhere that it is best to get a color copy of our license plate and stick it to the front of the car so the police don’t target us at each checkpoint.  So far, the policemen have been very polite about it so we have not done so yet but soon will.
Although we long for vistas devoid of communication towers, electric lines, billboards, and trash, the countryside is still lovely.  Smooth round hills covered with fields separated by live fences (trees as fences) or skillfully piled volcanic rocks are dotted with ponds of various sizes.  Large valleys are surrounded by volcanic cones near and far.  Mexico is a beautiful country.
Blue crowned motmot front and back
For us, the key difference in travelling this way is that we don’t get to sleep in our own bed every night.  Déjàlà, our water-based home, is a long way away.  We also drove through the infamous (for sailors) Tehuantepec Isthmus rather than sailing through it, and yes, it was windy.  For those who do not know, this isthmus is a short, low land between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.  Because of that, the wind funnels through and can be a very windy area on the Pacific side.  Sailors must be very cautious when traveling there.
Designs on local cottages
We are using Airbnb’s since many hotels are less and less friendly to having dogs as guests and because we want to meet as many locals as possible.  It has been a very nice way to meet amazing people: from a lawyer who represents undocumented immigrants to civil engineers, to a chiropractor, to a local tour guide, to someone working for Airbnb, to a woman pilot of a 7,000-ton ship with crew of 260 that does maintenance on the oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, and to her parents who graciously offered us to eat three types of fresh ceviche at their home in Mazatlán: snail, king fish or shrimp ceviche.  We never had snail ceviche before, it was delicious.
Tuxan's gate keeper
The main thing we noticed with the Mexicans we stayed with is that on top of using Airbnb for extra income, they come up with many more ways to earn money.  The lawyer is also a music teacher, the engineers are also Uber drivers, DJs and painters, and the pilot also sells beauty products.  Many have lived in the US and have come back willingly or not.  Many live in gated communities which makes it very safe for us and the car.  It lets us see a side of Mexico we would otherwise not be able to. 
The back side of home sweet home
Notice the elevated sidewalks and platforms
In two cases, we were given the person’s very own master bedroom to sleep in while they retired to a smaller room – talk about hospitality!
We are very thankful for Google maps on our phone, without it, we wouldn’t be able to find ½ the places we were looking for.  Many roads are still not labeled in Mexico and most people give direction by landmarks, not by road names or distances. 
Round style also with elevated sidewalk and platform
We finally arrived in Campeche, land of water and greenery.  One of the interesting way people build their homes in the rural area is by connecting all buildings and surrounding them with elevated rock sidewalks or platforms so folks stay dry above the wet muddy ground especially during the rainy season. 
The city of Campeche, which is within the State of Campeche, is a well-known walled city in America.  Although only 500 of the 2,560 meters of original wall remain, the wall and the baroque pastel color houses within, are so well preserved it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.  After being continually assaulted by pirates and buccaneers for 160 years, they finally decided to build better protection for their community.
Our new beach
We are happy to have arrived and are looking forward to everything new we have yet to discover: The walled city, Mayan pyramids, flamingo filled biosphere, famous Panama-style hat making, etc.
Please come along.

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