Oct 29, 2011

Its Ancient History

Almost everyone who travels into Mexico will become aware of the ancient cultures that once populated this part of the world and the cities they built. Over the last decade of traveling in Mexico we have visited several of these ancient sites, and walked on stones that were laid so many centuries ago.

The indigenous people of Mexico domesticated of corn about 9000 years ago, and went on to build large, complex societies.
Much of this Mesoamerica legacy stands in the remains of pyramids scattered through the country and down into Central America. According to one source, there are 4000 separate sites of ancient ruins, most of which have not been uncovered. These cities, each flourished for many centuries, and for various reasons, expired, and were abandoned. The jungle then grew back around them and over them, and they mostly disappeared.

We stopped at the RV Park in Cholula and walked across the city to the site of The Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as Tlachihualtepetl. It is the largest archaeological site of a pyramid (temple) in the Americas. The pyramid stands 55 metres (180 ft) above the surrounding plain and in its final form it measured 400 by 400 metres (1,300 by 1,300 ft).

We got a very good guide, Proferio, a retired biology teacher, who spoke excellent, if deliberate English. He first took us through the museum and explained the models, and then on a hike around the site. When the Spanish arrived, they built a church on the top of the pyramid.

A couple of days later we arrived at an rv park we knew near Palenque.
The Palenque ruins date back to 100 BC to its fall around 800 AD. After its decline it was absorbed into the jungle, but has been excavated and restored and is now a famous archaeological site attracting thousands of visitors.

By 2005, the discovered area covered up to 2.5 km² (1 sq mi), but it is estimated that less than 10% of the total area of the city is explored, leaving more than a thousand structures still covered.

As we approached the coast we had an opportunity to stop along the highway near several more sites. We were at a Pemex (gas station) when the attendant spoke some English. We were considering staying there for the night, and the Pemex guy, Abram mentioned that he was soon coming off shift and could take us to visit the nearby ruins a of Kohunlich. We all, including Pippin, squeezed into Don & Pat’s van and spent a lovely afternoon hiking around another remnant of ancient life.
The site was settled by 200 BC, but most of the structures were built in the Early Classic period from about 250 to 600 AD.

Abram showed us a tree that had peeling bark, which the locals call a “tourist tree”. Yes, it is because many of the pink people from the north come down for their holidays and get sunburned.

It is somewhat mind-bending to see these old sites and hear about these ancient history. We have learned that little is clearly known about these ancient cultures. Their populations grew and subsided several times. They were scientifically advanced in many areas, and very spiritual, building great temples wherever they settled. For this they needed to cut down vast forests of trees to burn limestone to make cement which may have caused a breakdown in their water and food supply.
There are few remaining traces of their written history, as when the Spanish arrived in the 1500’s, they destroyed all that they found. Still, their descendants have survived and largely adapted and integrated to modern life. True indigenous people make up a very small proportion of Mexican population. The vast majority is comprised of Mestizoes -- people of mixed heritage. A nice blend to what there is from the old and the new, I think.

Oct 19, 2011


We drove a day and a half from the US border to San Miguel de Allende, one of our favorite stopover points driving through Mexico. This is our 5th visit to SMA, and a great place to take a breather and smell the fresh air.
On some trips we have spent a week or two here where we have taken intensive Spanish language classes,festivals and and once the “Day of The Dead” celebrations, as well as lots of strolling along the bustling streets and markets. If you don’t know, SMA is one of the more popular places for US and Canadian ex-pats to visit and settle. At 6000 feet, it has an “ideal” climate -- never too hot in the summer, and at this latitude, pleasantly warm in the winter. It is a haven for many artists and musicians with an active bilingual cultural life.

Each visit we scour the Artisans Market and pick up a few things for our palapa.

On Sunday we lingered in the main plaza and eavesdropped on a couple of the strolling mariachi bands.

Our regular rv place, La Siesta, is now under re-development, so we are very comfortably parked at the San Ramon Balianerio just a few kms up the road. As well as having a warm swimming pool and a hotel, it is a working farm with fields and animals on the property. It is just enough off the road to be peaceful in the evenings, and fortunately, does not have barking dogs and crowing roosters nearby, which always seem to be in the next yard in city parks.

Yesterday we took a day trip to Guanajuato and Dolores Hidalgo, two other special cities in this area.

Guanajuaoto (GTO) is a Unesco Heritage City, is set neatly in a valley of narrow winding streets, stairways and colorful buildings. It is also known for its university and cultural life.

We took the fanicular up to an overlook place for an amazing vista view. Susan suggested that it looks like looking into a bowl of brightly coloured candy.

In Guanajuato has a unique traffic system where virtually all traffic is diverted to underground tunnels, sort of a subway system, except for vehicles. They are dimly lit, narrow, and usually just one lane next to parked cars. We had a little help from a tourist guide who hopped on the back of the truck, calling out directions, “a la derecha” (right) “derecho” (straight), and “esquierda” (left) and led us to a parking garage near the plaza centro. At the parking garage, Don got out to guide me through the forward and back turning to get us around the tight turns and ramps up to the only available spot on the 5th level. Tunnel driving and parking garages -- just part of the adventure!

We drove back through Delores Hidalgo, which is the centre for the ceramic industry in Mexico. There are dozens of factories and warehouses with huge displays of their products. Once again we found a few items to add colourful Mexican winter home.

Oct 12, 2011

No Warranty -- No Recall!

The gypsy life of living in a “caravan” has now reached five years full time, 80,000 kms, and still going strong...

It was summer, 2006, when we packed up our house in North Vancouver, put a few remaining household possessions and keepsakes into storage and took to the road with our truck and 5th wheel. After that winter in Mexico, we came up to Ontario to visit our kids, and have made Ontario our regular summer home.

Our trusty 06 Chevy Silverado diesel passed a significant mark this summer, as it crossed 160,000 kms (100,000 miles). It has been very reliable, having only needed oil changes and tires. So a couple of weeks ago, I treated her to all new fluids, as in: tranny, differentials, rad, brakes, etc. One of the cooling hoses had a small leak and was replaced, and we should be good to go for many more years. This is our second GM truck, (our first was a 99 GMC 1/2 ton) and I am a great believer in the quality and durability of domestic trucks, especially the GM’s.

As for our Cardinal 5th wheel trailer home, it has served us well. We have adapted to living in 250 sq. ft. A couple of months ago, I was reading an article in the travel section of the Toronto Star where the reporter was bemoaning his experience rv-ing across Canada with his family (which included two teen-agers). I wrote him a letter suggesting that he was missing a few points. I said in part: “Space is relative. We have lived in all sizes of houses, with all kinds of family members. All you need is a little willingness, and, you can accommodate living space to almost any size.
“We have rv-ed, full time, all over North America for 5 years. Just today, sitting under our awning, reading and watching the birds, I asked my wife when she was thinking we'd be moving back to a house. "Not for a while I hope", I was happy to hear.”

This summer I went through a small ledger which I keep a record of our various trips. Driving from Ontario to the Texas/Mexico border is over 3000 kms. On our trips north through the US, we have usually meandered a bit, going along the Gulf Coast states and up the Atlantic. We have been to New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah, and Washington each a couple of times. Our longest drive through the US has been 4600 kms.
Once we cross the border into Mexico, it takes at least 2800 kms to reach our beach home in Paamul. In these five years we have been around much of Mexico - up and down the Pacific coast, the interior, and along the east Gulf coast.
With five years of the north-south, and some trips around Canada, I added up the distances that the Cardinal trailer had traveled and was surprised it added up to 80,000 kms. That is twice around the circumference of the earth! I think that is unusual milage for travel trailers.
So we have decided to give our Cardinal some rest. We have “winterized” it for the first time and put it in storage for our return to Canada in the spring.
We found a second 5th wheel trailer, and now taking it down to Paamul to be installed in our palapa. It is a Prowler, about the same size, a little older but in good shape. So we moved “house” transferring our goods, sorting what we will want to bring that will remain in Mexico and what gets left behind for our summers in Canada. Well, actually, our summer and winter stuff is much the same, shorts and t-shirts with a few pair of jeans and a fleece or two. Which sandals and running shoes are we leaving behind and which go? Tough choices!

I suppose we will continue to drive -- it is a beautiful continent, and there is more we want to explore, but it will be more relaxing to travel without the 12,000 lbs on the hitch. We might put a small camper on the back of the truck, but eventually we will start flying down.
Who knows what the future holds?

As I am finishing this report, we are in Austin Texas, about ready to cross into Mexico. We have met up with Susan’s brother and wife, from BC, and will be showing them our route and our favorite stops along the way. We try to follow the dictum of “Life in the slow lane -- it is not about the destination, but the journey.”