Coast to coast: Guerrero to Veracruz

My family first took a Troncones vacation together in 2000.  I bet we’ve been eight times in 18 years.  We’ve always stayed at the same place, Casa Escondida, and every time we return, we’re always excited to see Inéz and Diojenes who have been taking care of Casa Escondida the whole time.  Troncones is only about an hour by car from the Zihuatanejo airport, making it easily accessible for my parents and sister from Los Angeles and for my brother and his family from Anchorage.  Ferda and I took an overnight bus from Querétaro.

The bodysurfing’s often good in Troncones, and there are surfers out on some days as well.  The sleepy village, the pool, the beach, good food, time with family — it’s a wonderful place to spend a week.  We found Antonio again who put together a fun morning on horses on a mercifully cool day.

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New Year in Querétaro

Querétaro’s historic center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.  In 2008 National Geographic Traveller ranked Querétaro 13th on their list of the 200 best historic destinations for tourists.  That downtown historic Querétaro is a super place to visit is certainly no secret, yet somehow I had never been there before.  Only a short bus ride from Mexico City, it’s certainly easy to get to Querétaro.  Ferda and I showed up in the late afternoon on New Years’ Eve with no hotel reservations.  Mexicans, of course, travel like mad during the holidays so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we had a little trouble finding a place to stay.  It didn’t help that we had lots of luggage — we were lugging around climbing gear — and my cell phone wasn’t working.

I had been phoning some hotels earlier in the day, but then the calls wouldn’t work from Querétaro itself.  What I learned is that in Mexico you need city codes, but once you’re in the city, even with a cell phone, you can’t use the city code.  So with your cell phone you need a different number to call the same place depending on where you are in Mexico.  Do other countries work like that?  It seems strange and has the effect of making one even madder at billionaire Carlos Slim, charging high prices for both lousy and strange service.

Once I got the phone figured out, we found a good place to stay with plenty of time to enjoy the New Year festivities.  The downtown plazas were full of people, lights, and dancing.

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Adventures with Isaac: DF, Hidalgo, Potrero Chico

Mexico City is my favourite big city.  I always enjoy visiting and staying with Isaac.  Why is Mexico City my favourite?  I started thinking the reason was that I really hadn’t been to that many big cities, but that’s not so true — Tokyo, Jakarta, Delhi, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Mumbai, Wuhan, Kolkata, Istanbul, London, Los Angeles, Xi’an, Paris, Rio de Janeiro…  According to Wikipedia, I’ve been to over a third of the cities with over 10,000,000 inhabitants.  So what’s so great about Mexico City?  Partly, along with Los Angeles and Istanbul, it’s one of the big cities that I know the best, and partly it’s because Mexico City is just a whole bunch of different towns, neighbourhoods, villages in one urban mess.  San Juan de Aragón where Isaac lives, Tlatelolco, Centro Histórico, Tepito, La Basílica, Coyoacán, Cuidad Universitaria, Xochimilco — they’re all so different from each other and interesting in their own right.  I was hoping Ferda would like it.

We spent the first day visiting some of the highlights in the center with Isaac.  Ferda really wanted to see Frida Kahlo’s house in Coyoacán so we headed out there another day.  However, this was the week between Christmas and New Year, and the line to get in was incredible.  It looked like the wait could be hours, and that’s not how we wanted to spend our afternoon.  I had hoped we’d have a chance to get back there where we came through Mexico City again at the end of our trip, but it didn’t happen.  Because of the way the tickets work (and the long distance from San Juan de Aragón), it makes sense to visit Anahuacalli and Frida Kahlo museums on the same day.  Because of museum closures and weekend crowds, that has to be Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.   We didn’t make it, but now we have an excuse to go back.  Isaac thinks it’s amusing that Frida Kahlo has a worldwide cult following, but many of these followers don’t even know who Diego Rivera is!

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NW Sonora’s treasure: Pinacate National Park

If there are any nice beach places on the northern Sonoran coast, I haven’t found them.  On this driving trip with Megan and Ferda, we went to both Desemboque and Puerto Peñasco, and both were stunningly awful.  With a cold wind blowing, dust in the air so we could barely see, no pedestrians, and more closed buildings and businesses than open ones, Puerto Peñasco felt like the apocalypse.  It was unrecognizable for my first visit 25 years earlier.  I don’t even think we found a part of the city that existed 25 years ago.

The draw to this region is a real gem — Pinacate National Park, a place that has changed for the better in the last 25 years.  Roads and access have improved, but it still feels like a bit of an adventure.  There’s a fantastic visitor’s center with solar power, excellent exhibits and information, and a couple, short interpretive trails adjacent to the visitor’s center where you can learn about desert vegetation and Tohono O’odham culture.  A bit farther north is a 80km sign-posted scenic dirt road to get near some of the craters that the park is famous for.  There you’ll learn about the region’s geology including the difference between tuff and maar craters and the difference between aa and pahahote lava flows.  There’s even a designated campsite at Tecolote with picnic tables and fire pits where we stayed two nights.  If you go, come prepared with food and water as there’s not much out there.  You can, however, buy firewood from El Chicle who lives near the Biological Station.

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Following the footsteps of Father Kino

On this road trip we usually just camped where we wanted, often looking for places after dark since we were covering big distances and it gets dark so early in the winter.  This isn’t always the most comfortable, and Megan didn’t always like the places that we chose to spend the night.  At some places near the US-Mexico border — the area around Hachita, Animas, and Cotton City comes to mind–, it seems like we saw more border patrol vehicles than people.

In Tuscon, however, we stayed in a private room in a hostel for three nights.  One interesting aspect of this was Ferda being able to experience another slice of US society.  At my parents’ place in Newport Beach and visiting my friends in Boulder, Ferda mostly met people with university education, good jobs, and incredible knowledge of the world.  Staying at the hostel were mostly single men, some finding day jobs in Tuscon, others looking for work in Tuscon, hoping the prospects there were better than where they had come from.  There were a few other travellers like us, but that seemed to be the exception.  Everyone was friendly, of course, and most people were curious to hear from Ferda how life is in Turkey and if the political situation really is as bad as the news says it is.

And, breakfast!  Hahaha.  Anyone who’s been Turkey knows how serious the Turks take their breakfast.  Our hostel was “breakfast included” which meant some employee (probably a volunteer getting lodging in exchange for work) mixed waffle mix with water in a huge bowl and plugged the waffle iron in.  Self serve: pour a large spoonful of batter into the waffle iron and, if there’s any left, pour syrup on the waffle when it’s ready.  Tahdah, breakfast!

On the other end of the spectrum is the beer selection in the US.  Ferda was constantly amazed by the wide choice of beers, and how in every city, the selection was different.  We found great beers and a great selection at bars or restaurants in Newport Beach, Boulder, Tuscon, and San Diego.  Each restaurant had a selection that rivals anything you’d find anywhere in Turkey.  Or even Germany for that matter: during our recent trip to Hannover, it was the same narrow beer selection over and over.  The variety of beers in the US is quite incredible.

These beers are at Ermanos in Tuscon where there are 34 beers on tap and many more available in bottles:

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