Here in Mexico they celebrate “Day of the Dead” (DOD). It is a time to remember and honour those who have gone. And of course there is the party side - Halloween (these Mexicans cannot resist a party). The 2 events have fused together into not just the 2 official days, but a whole week. Everywhere we go there are massive selections of DOD lollies, racks & racks of DOD bread, DOD decorations, skeletons, skulls, flowers (1,000’s of them, mainly gold & crimson ) They go and clean the graves & hold an all night pilgrimage in the cemetery. They also build a shrine/memorial in their homes & cover it with flowers, food, tequila….all in memory of the deceased.
But back to our travels, where DOD activities are in progress everywhere. We leave Oaxaca to head further south into The Valles Central to explore the craft villages. Our first stop is El Tule to look at the “world’s biggest tree”. The cypress is actually pretty amazing (apparently 11m in diameter & 42m high). Then on to Teoitlan Del Valle, stopping at one of the many weaving shops where they specialize in natural dyes. I just had to buy another table runner. Then on to the Sunday markets at Tlacoula. (Again, full of flowers, DOD lollies & stuff – mountains of stuff!) Before heading over a mountain range to Hierve El Agua where there are amazing mineral springs that flow over a clifftop, creating limestone pools. Sadly it was too cold to swim. We stay overnight & after more exploring the next morning head north again this time stopping at the ruins at Mitla. A village & church have been built on the site, so there isn’t too much left, but there are 100’s of craft stalls desperately wanting to sell their wares.
We now have a long drive ahead of us across some mountain ranges heading towards Veracruz. The road is narrow & winding, but it is a spectacular drive through misty forests. Cloud forest is the perfect name! There are waterfalls everywhere & lots of slips. It wouldn’t take much to close this road. We try to overnight in Los Llanos de Flores Nat Pk, but they are not impressed, so we find a spot near some trucks. It is a very chilly night. The following day we continue driving through more forest. Finally we are on flatlands with bananas & sugarcane, eventually stopping at a Pemex Station at Chocoman. It is here we meet Jose, who invites us to dinner at his house tomorrow. He lives in the next town, so we decide to explore the local area. First we head to Coscomatepec. The streets are clogged with markets for DOD (Jose tells us they are on all week.) We stop & explore. The town is situated in the shadow of Mexico’s highest Volcano – Pico de Orizaba at 5610m. We decide to head up the mountain to see if we can see the volcano. It is hidden in the mist so we eventually give up & retrace our steps, trying to avoid the congested town. We leave GR2 guarded at the Pemex station & head to Jose & Marta’s house for a lovely dinner. Jose makes beautiful leather shoes & boots & Marta is a nurse. They have 3 lovely children. After a lovely evening Jose takes us back to GR2. The Pemex is very noisy, so we move on to the supermarket. The next morning the sky is clear & we can see Volcan Orizaba above the town. Wow.
It is a very scenic drive through an amazing gorge. The slopes are covered in coffee, macadamia trees & sugarcane. We drive slowly through the colonial town of Coatepec (the perfect way to see a town if you don’t want to stop & explore) & continue on to the city of Xalapa. We have planned to stop at the huge museum there, but lack of signs & no GPS coordinates means we give up trying. After some rough roads & 1’000s of topes we are glad to get onto a toll road – so much more relaxing (definitely worth the few dollars it costs). Finally we arrive at the camp ground at San Juan Teotihuacan. There are 4 other overland vehicles in storage, but no one else. Not even staff to give us the Wifi code (bummer). From here we plan to visit Mexico City – the biggest in the world with a population greater than the whole of Australia
We have read all the warnings & are prepared. We find the bus & head into the city. It is only $3each for the 60min ride to Central Norte Station. Then we have to get on the subway (cost here 30c each) – we must change trains 3 times. All good & eventually we arrive at the Zocalo (plaza) right in the middle of the city. Wow, where do we start. Coffee first, toilets at a nearby hotel (essential) & then shopping. John wants a Mexico bike riding shirt. No joy with the shirt so we head back to the Zocalo to buy tickets for the on/off tourist bus. There is enough time for a look at the magnificent Cathedral before we head off on the tour. We don’t get off, instead watching the city spread out before us (albeit very slowly through the congested streets) for the next 3 hours.
Finally off the bus we return to the Zocalo to join the throng looking at “Day of the Dead” ofrenda’s/alters on display. Most of the children are in Halloween costumes carrying plastic pumpkins for their treats. Then it is an early dinner of Burritos before we head back to the Metro. It is getting late & the first train is pretty full. We get to the second train & it is packed. Masses are waiting. When a packed train arrives there is pushing & shoving to get off & then more pushing & shoving to get on. The queue is still huge. Then of course there are dubious looking guys leaning against the walls. Hmmm, not a good feeling. We look at each other & simultaneously say “Taxi”. Above ground it is dark & we leap into the first free taxi. 30 minutes later at the tiny cost of $5 we are at our bus station. The best $5 we have ever spent. We buy our tickets & join the queue. We go through an x-ray machine & get frisked! Another queue. Getting onto the bus I am frisked again (never been frisked twice), an armed guard comes on board, & we are all videoed! Scary stuff – I guess all the checking should make you feel secure, but somehow it just makes me think about things going wrong! It is quite a relief to get back to GR2.
Church bells & noise continue all night for Day of the Dead. The next morning we decide NOT to return to the City, but instead head to the Teotihuacán Pyramids (hopefully our last ruins in Mexico) & find people pouring in. After all it is Saturday. Fortunately the place is so huge it doesn’t really matter. Before heading in we watch another troop of Voladores doing their thing on a pole. We then walk for miles exploring, & climb the Pyramid Del Sol (the world’s 3rd largest pyramid – note we climbed the 2nd largest at Cholula a few days ago- the one with the church on top)
It is time to head off out of Mexico State while it is the weekend. Our next destination, after finding our way through all the ring roads, is San Miguel de Allende. We don’t arrive until the following morning. Our campground is beside a plaza. Church is on & the street is full of parked cars, in fact one is parked over our entry gate. So we clog up the whole street while we wait for someone to open the gate. John pushes the offending car out of the way – luckily it isn’t locked, & we squeeze in. Now all those cars can stop tooting! Finally we meet some other Overlanders. There are 6 other vehicles here from Canada, USA, Germany x2 & France. It’s great to chat to other travelers & glean some tips. Another bonus is great Wifi. We pull ourselves away to explore town. It is chookers with restaurants, craft shops & Americans. Very pretty, with a gorgeous church, but too touristy for us. Back at the campground a young Aussie couple (Anita & Andrew) have arrived. We spend the evening chatting before heading to a local taco stall for dinner.
Our next destination is Mats Hammerlund Racing. He specializes in building racing cars, but also does work on motorhomes. John has emailed him & we also met him on the rally – we have been told to come after the rally. So we head off, eventually finding his yard. The next 3 days & 2 nights are spent here (John tells me it has fulfilled his dream of sleeping amongst so many racing cars!) John is busy helping the Mexicans modify the front screen protection bars, repair the washing machine, repair the spare wheel carrier and various other things that have shaken to bits after about 120,000km of rough roads and tracks .
Sadly the Wifi is so weak I am forced to do a massive spring clean. GR2 hasn’t looked so good for ages. Until next time.