South Of texaS 2002

On the bus

Finally! I thought we would never leave. Every time one of us was ready to go the other suddenly had something else to take care of. There is no bus directly to Guanajuato, so we were on our way to Celaya. Once there, we would need to find a bus that would take us the rest of the way. I guessed this 15-hour ride would give me a chance to brush up on my Spanish by watching and listening to hours and hours of Spanish movies and music. Normally, I like to watch the country-side stroll past, but it was nighttime, so I couldn't see much out there. Some of the movies were OK; I especially liked the one that had a luchador detective. Reading, a nap, more reading, research, and then sleep.

26 hours and 3 buses later...We finally made it

We crossed the border at 4:15am where we changed buses the first time, although we almost didn't make it due to Christian misplacing his ticket. Fortunately, he found it, and we were on our way. We made it to Celaya and had to switch buses again. The next bus took us over the mountains, where we saw a bus that had flipped over and off the road. The bus was hanging on the edge of a big drop-off and people were all over the place. Some were helping people out of the bus and others were trying to get all the luggage out before the bus slipped over. As scary as that was, it was nothing compared to next couple of hours of twisting mountain roads that at times had our bus barely hanging onto the edge.

It was about 11:00pm when we finally made it into Guanajuato. We got a cab to take us to the hotel and let me say, it was an adventure! He sped us through the narrow twisting streets and the tunnels at about 70 mph, up hills, down hills, through hills, this place looks like it was laid out by M.C. Escher. When we got to the hotel, we paid the driver and he shot off like a bat out of hell before we noticed the hotel was closed. As if that wasn't bad enough, it was starting to rain. We noticed a set of stairs across the street and at the top what looked like a covered landing between the buildings. Up the stairs to find a dry place to get our bearings and plan our next move. Once we got to the top, we found ourselves on another level of the city. The landing was, in fact, a covered walk-way to a higher level road. Regardless of what it appeared to be, it was a dry place to think. After consulting the guide book and a little exploring, we found a hotel.

We dropped off our bags and went in search of food. We found a great place, part restaurant part hostel, named Truco Siete. The restaurant was painted in bright colors and filled with local art; it was like Mexico in Technicolor. I had enchiladas and the best garlic soup I have ever had; it was a clear chicken and garlic broth with bits of minced roasted garlic, chives, and a poached egg. After that, with our bellies full, we walked around and found a cool bar named “Che Bar.” It was part of an old mine, so you have to go down some steps. The walls of the bar were naked rock and the place was lit by candle. One of the strangest things about the place was that it had a window that looked down on one of the tunnel roads. After a couple of beers it was time to explore some more. We found "Bar Ocho," a very cool bar that's owned by an American girl named Julie. This bar was also filled with art; I think this town is really big on the arts. We had some beers and talked to Sam, the bartender, who speaks very good English. It was getting really late, and we were really beat, so we called it a night.  

Today was a good day

We slept in till about 11am, then had coffee at a sidewalk cafe. We then toured the whole town and went to the Mummy Museum. This place was interesting. Apparently, since there are no ground burials in Guanajuato (because it's carved into the side of a mountain), and limited tomb space (because they have no place to expand), when residents die, their families must pay rent. If they lapse in their rent, the deceased are exhumed. Given the climate of the area, many of these bodies are mummified. The museum collects the better preserved specimens and displays them. Among their more interesting displays are the mummy baby and the woman who was buried alive. Her hands are frozen in a clawed position, as if trying to dig her way out.

The architecture here is crazy. It's like a giant child was playing with colorful building blocks and left his toys out. There are streets that appear out of tunnels, highways that run underground, houses sticking to the hillsides like velcro, and narrow pathways between houses that open up to beautiful courtyards with no visible alternative entries. Like they were secret places put there for me to discover. We had dinner at another sidewalk cafe. They seem to be all over the place here. Apparently, in Guanajuato they prefer to dine al fresco. Then we went back to the room for a nap.

Up again at 8pm thinking "Necesito elote!" Elote en vaso is a delicious treat that can be bought from one of the many street vendors. They shave freshly roasted corn into a cup, then give you a choice of toppings including mayonnaise, butter, lime juice, chili powder, delicious powdered stinky cheese, or the way I like it, “con todo.” So I got a corn to snack on. Then we found a spiffy bar, "Spanglish," which is owned by another American, Paul. As it turns out, Paul is also from Texas and lived in Houston for a while. Spanglish seems to be the hangout for all the Texans living in Guanajuato. We met Steve and Jason, two of Paul's friends from Texas, then Julie showed up and dragged us all back to her place.

Back at Bar Ocho, things started hopping. We met three new friends: Zulma, Rosavio, and Juliana, who then dragged me off to some disco around the corner. It was one of those typical oontz oontz places, pouring crazy heavy drinks. It was the most well-spotlit place in that part of town. I thought Christian was right behind me, but it turns out he had no idea where I went. All three of the ladies were flirting with me, and I could tell they wanted me to stay with them, but I had to do the responsible thing and find Christian. So, after a little drinking and dancing, I went back to Bar Ocho, but Christian was gone. I went to the hotel and found him waiting in the lobby, since I had the only room key.

Time to head to Mexico City

We checked out and went to get some coffee. My head was still spinning from last night. Julie asked us to come by the bar before we left, so we did. She fed us and gave us some T-shirts, and told us to keep in touch. Our bus didn't leave for a couple of hours, so we did some last minute exploring/shopping. We found the Mercado Hidalgo; it's the main market and it's huge. The market is in what was once a train station. Walking in, it's like every flea market you've ever been to, combined and Mexi-fied. Upon entry, I was greeted by an orgy of tantalizing aromas. The first thing I saw was the food section, where a variety of fresh fruits are being served with chile, and various dishes are being served from the veritable food court of venders. Next is the riot of souvenir, clothing, and jewelry mongers all loudly proclaiming their wares. Winding through the narrow aisles, it was easy to lose myself among the throngs of shopping families. Upstairs, there were electronics, cookware, and other sundry gadgets for reasonable prices. Looking over the balcony was like looking down on an ant colony: organized chaos. All of the different stores set out on the first floor created a maze of aisles that are a delight to get lost in. Viewed from above, it was easier to get my bearings and devise a path to the stall I wanted to visit.

Then we hopped a bus for Mexico City. It was very late when we got there, and the hostel we planned to stay at, Hostel Mundo Joven Catedral Mexico City, was full. This is a really nice hostel as far as hostels go. They had a cafe and an internet bar, though, so we were able to slow down for a minute and think about our next step. After a lot of calls we found a hotel, Hotel Azores, and settled in for the night.


The hotel was a nice change of pace, it was a little small but the beds were soft and the toilet had a seat. Refreshed, we headed out to see the town and, let me say, this place is crazy big and amazing! We wandered around the Zocalo (roughly means square) most of the day. The Mexico city Zocalo is the second largest square in the world after Red Square; there's lots to do and see here. We found a bar on the top floor of a building facing the Zocalo and looked over all the events going on. In one corner a concert, in the middle traditional Aztec dancing, another corner another concert, and venders all over the place. After a day of exploring and haggling for goods we went to the hostel to hung out the rest of the night drinking beer and coffee, talking to fellow travelers, and surfing the internet. We needed to call it an early night, because tomorrow morning we are going to see the pyramids, yes, pyramids in Mexico.

Holy Temples and Tequila Batman!

We woke up early today to pack. We need to be at the hostel early for the tour. Our first stop was the shrine of the Lady of Guadalupe. It's a huge church complex that houses a cloth with the image of the Lady of Guadalupe imprinted on it. There is a huge procession of worshipers crawling toward the image, and priests sprinkling holy water on everyone. My camera was malfunctioning going in, but after being hit with holy water, it began functioning normally again. Coincidence, or camera possession? Next we were off to the pyramids. This place was so big! We all climbed the Temple of The Sun, but when it came time to climb the Temple of the Moon, our guide told us that we were out of time. He said we could look around the gift shop if we wanted, but we needed to get back soon. I decided I was going to climb the Temple of the Moon, even if it was just me. The climb almost killed me. I had to stop halfway up to catch my breath, I was climbing so fast. The view was well worth the climb, though. From the top of the temple, the landing strip was fully visible, and the sight breathtaking. Next they took us to a souvenir shop, of course. Then they took us to a tequila distillery. After a full day of site-seeing, we went back to the hostel to drink, check our email, and kill some time before our bus left at 11:30pm. It should get us to Oaxaca by 6:00am where we have to wait for another bus at 8:00am to Pochutla, close to Zipolite. 

Finally in paradise!

After all night and day on buses and one crazy “Collectivo”(a shared taxi) ride we have made it to Zipolite (I could stay here forever). Zipolite started as a hippie commune back in the '60s, and it's pretty much become a backpacker's mecca. It's so beautiful here; the hotel (Lo Cosmico) we found was no more than a collection of huts with thatched roofs. The landscape looks like a relaxed tropical movie set; mountains, palm trees, thatched huts on a sandy beach with clear blue water. I walked up and down the beach and found a place to eat, and had some of the best enchiladas I’ve ever had. I realize during this trip I’m coming across a lot of “the best I’ve ever hads” and I think some of it has to do with the experience, regardless I’m glad I’m having them. Went back to the room to shower and change, then back out to check out the night life. We found a couple of good bars and drank some beers and went back to our hut for some shut eye.

¡Ay Caliente!

After breakfast, Christian went to check out two small towns “Mazunte and San Augustinello” down the road. I wanted to just lay on the beach and do nothing. It would be nice to just clear my mind and not worry about any schedules. People so rarely get a chance to just do nothing. Wearing only my sarong and a pair of sunglasses I hit the beach. After a little while of communing with nature I met some other like-minded travelers. We had some beers, played in the surf, had some more beers, and enjoyed the sun. Unfortunately, I forgot how strong the sun was down here, so I got myself a nice all-over burn. Christian came back late afternoon and we got some dinner, then checked out the disco and some other bars. After some beers we called it a night.

Busy doing nothing

We decided to pack up and move down the coast to the next town over: San Augustinello. It's a lot more laid back here. Since I'm burned, I can't do much so we found a restaurant (Palapas Olas Altas) to rent us some hammocks (yes, a restaurant rented us hammocks, for about $1 a night), and I chilled out there while Christian went exploring. It was right on the beach, so we got to go to sleep listening to the ocean crashing. After the sun went down, we went to a couple of bars to eat and see what the nightlife is like here. It's very slow here, mostly families, so it was a comparatively sleepy little town in between two backpacker meccas. We were back early and sleeping by 10:00 pm.


Up early today (no choice). The restaurant was opening for business. Rolled out of the hammock and had breakfast. Next, we went to Mazunte to see what it was all about. Mazunte is another backpacker's mecca. After hanging out on the beach for a while, we climbed up the side of the mountain to what they call Sunset point. After that, we explored the town a little then headed back to San Augustinello. We had dinner at one place and hung out at another, talking to some other travelers, but it was getting late (not really) and I'm tired. Plus, the only light I have to write by is the ones hung around the virgin Mary shrine, so I'm calling it a night.

Our Heads if They Weren't Nailed On

I woke up and finally got to take a shower for the first time in days. After that, we heard of a place that had real coffee, not Nescafe like all the other places we've been. For some reason, Mexico is having a torrid love affair with Nescafe. It's instant coffee everywhere we go. So we had breakfast and some real coffee. We went back and packed and after debating whether or not we paid with some lady, I finally told her we paid the man and if he didn’t tell her then that was her problem, not ours. I'm not about to pay for one night twice. We got our bags and hopped a camioneta to Zipolite to get online for a while before heading to Pochutla. 

Zipolite is the only town between the three that has internet access. I wanted to go into town and get our tickets first but Christian insisted it would be easier to just buy them once we got there, so reluctantly I said OK. We spent the day in Zipolite then hopped the last camioneta to town where we ran into our German friends (who we met earlier at the restaurant with the hammocks) who asked me if I left my Chacos at the Palapa this morning. I checked and realized I did. The good thing was that we had to go right by the place. The bad part was Christian left his hat at the internet cafe in Zipolite. 

At the Palapa, I asked the driver to wait a moment. We jumped off. I ran and got my Chacos and hopped back on. Christian took a cab back to Zipolite to get his hat and then into town. We met up at the bus station. My ride cost 10 Pesos and his cost 6 pesos for the camioneta and 80 pesos for the cab. At the bus station we found out they only take pesos and we were fresh out. No Visa, no dollars, no travelers checks. And all the money changers were closed. This is why I like to get my tickets early, just in case. Anyway we found an ATM, got our tickets and something to eat and got on the bus. The bus takes 12 hours. Fortunately it's a night bus and I might get some sleep.

You Can't Stop Here! It's Zapatista Country!

We spent all night on the bus and managed to get some sleep. We got to San Cristobal between 11am and noon. Our bus to Palenque didn't leave till 5pm so we had a little time to kill. San Cristobal was the center of the Zapatista rebellion and the local people think of them as heroes. Every corner has some little girl selling little Zapa dolls. Though in principle I may agree with the Zapatista cause, I'm a grown man, so I don't want to buy dolls. So we found an internet cafe and checked our email and drank some bad coffee. Later I had some bad pizza. It was getting close to time for our bus so we went back to the station. 

San Cristobal was a pretty town. Either we had poor luck and found all the bad spots, or they just don't have any good restaurants there. It's probably the former. 11pm we arrived in Palenque and checked into some place that calls itself a Youth Hostel ( 2a. Avenida Sur Pte [Av. 20 de Noviembre] between Central Sur [Independencia] and 1a. Pte Sur [Abasolo] ), but with the poor standards this place keeps there's no way it is one. We went to a couple of discos with some guys we met on the bus. When I got back to the so called hostel, the door was locked. I knocked, and the old lady came out and just looked at me. After a minute or two she opened the door. I went up and passed out.

Town Closed Under Murphy's Law

We didn't do much today. Christian took his clothes to the laundry. I washed mine in the sink to save money. I got online and finally uploaded all of my journal, but before I could save it, the power went out and I lost everything. The lady saw how mad I was so she didn't charge me. We missed the bus out to the ruins, so I guess we'll have to go tomorrow. There isn't much to do in Palenque. The discos are no good. The restaurants are even worse. The power goes out all the time. Really, the only reason to go to Palenque is to visit the nearby ruins.

Ruins and Chaos Make for a Pleasant Night

We got up early to pack so we could leave this dump as soon as we got back from the ruins. We left our bags downstairs and got some breakfast. Then we went to the banco for money and to pay for our tourist cards. Found a collectivo to the ruins and, my God, this place is beautiful. Once inside we started exploring and I found my way to the top of the tallest temple. I knew I wasn't supposed to be up there but I couldn't resist the challenge (because I'm a dare-devil). Sitting on top of the temple, I could see the entire site. A timeless feeling washed over me. I felt like a Mayan king looking over my city. It had a very familiar feel, like I'd been here before. It was great. About 5 or 10 minutes went by and I saw Christian down below and made the mistake of calling to him. So Christian, the guards, and every one else looked up. I didn’t want to get thrown out yet because we just got there, so I climbed down the back side of the temple and ran into the jungle. In the jungle I found some temples that were overgrown and not yet restored; they were pretty cool. Then while hiding in the jungle, I ran into the head archeologist who was in charge of the whole park. He was from the states and a cool guy, he told me all about the ruins and the monkeys there. He also told me about Tikal and some other ruin sites. I finally found Christian and we explored the rest of the site. 

Now the plan was to go back and get our bags, then head for Guatamala. Plans don't always work out the way you want them to. Back in town, we found out the only bus (a VW mini-van) left at 7am. So it looked like we were stuck here another day. We went to get something to eat and noticed there was no power in the whole city. Fortunately, being a boy scout, I was prepared. The hotel being only half a block away, I dashed back and grabbed my emergency candle and battery operated radio from my bag, to add a little ambiance to the bar. We sat in the cafe for a while and watched the craziness on the street. With our little table near the open side wall, our candle and radio bringing some entertainment to the other customers who settled into tables near us to enjoy our light and music amidst the chaos of the street, it made our last night in Palenque almost bearable. 

Once the power came back on, we found a better hotel, which happened to be right across the street. For the same price, we got a room that looked like a real hotel room and the bathroom was actually nice (and the toilet had a seat, the first toilet seat in thousands of miles). I had to use it, I didn’t even have to go. I just had to feel a real toilet seat under me. We went to bed early so we could get up early. I'm not going to get stuck in Palenque again!

The Rode to Flores

Up early to catch the collectivo. We got in; it took off. We didn't look back. I wasn't even sure it was the right bus, I was just happy to be out of Palenque. The collectivo didn't go all the way to Frontina Carosa, so we had to catch a cab for the last 16Km. Frontina Carosa is the crossing point on the river, where you can catch a ferry boat into Guatemala. Once there, we found out the boat was 300 pesos, and we only had 170p between us. We didn't want to change any money because on the other side of the border it would do us no good. So, we had to wait and hope someone else wanted to cross over. After standing around for a while, one of the boat captains said he would take us for 100p each. We told him we only had 170p, unless he took VISA. After a minute, he said ok to the 170p, and we were on our way. 

The Rio was nice, but once we were down river and on the other side, the insanity began. Even before we stepped off the boat, we had people offering us rides. One guy said for $10 each, he would take us all the way to Flores, but we knew the bus was less than $4 each. We talked him down to $5 each so we wouldn't have to wait for the bus to fill up. He stopped at the immigration control office, and it seemed more like organized crime than a government office. There was a guy sitting behind an old kitchen table across from a row of plastic school-style chairs. He was sitting, shirt open, big gold chains hanging out...I'm not sure if this was an actual immigration office or some operation this guy set up, but the stamp looked legit enough, so we moved on. On the way, we noticed that Guatemala is full of cowboys. Everybody has guns either strapped to their shoulders or belts. Two and a half hours later, we made it to Flores. 

This place is beautiful: cobblestone streets, every building a different color, not to mention the city is an island. We dropped off our bags and went in search of coffee. The book suggested a place called the Croc Club, and I had some real coffee. I've noticed it's hard to get a bad cup of coffee in Guatemala. There, we met Pitra, a fellow traveler from Austria. She hung out with us the rest of the day, and we traded travel stories. 

More to come....I'm transcribing this from my journal when I find time. Keep reading.

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