After leaving the beautiful Pacific coast, we headed inland to experience the culture, landscapes, and the food! First stop on the inland destination list was Oaxaca. After hearing mixed reviews about the city, we decided to go check it out for ourselves. We were a little hesitant after reading our friend’s Brad & Sheena’s bolg: http://www.drivenachodrive.com/2012/02/oaxaca-pilgrimage/ and another blog from 30 for Thirty: http://30forthirty.org/2012/11/12/the-tale-of-cuatro-gringros-and-the-oaxacan-curse/ a blog on the travelers curse in Oaxaca. We spent the first day exploring the tourist market and then, after prices proved too high for a couple of vagabonds, we explored the markets for the locals. You most certainly could get lost for hours in the local markets. A hodgepodge of fruit, meat, and livestock venders awaited us, as well as several trinket venders. Tom had fantastic tacos for about 5 pesos each.
After spending the day getting lost in the markets, we decided to look for a good place to park for the evening. After trying several hostels and hotels, we realized that there were no parking spots in front of any of the accommodations. We decided to stealth camp in the middle of the city. We basically just found a flat spot to park and didn’t pop our top or do much to make it obvious that two people and two dogs were actually sleeping in the van. Taking the dogs out to relieve themselves proved to be a bit of a challenge, but it was free. After settling into our van, we were just about to make our bed while laughing that the Oaxaca curse didn’t affect us when Tommy used too much strength to move the surf boards and CRACK! He accidentally cracked the side of the wind shield… so much for no curse. Luckily the crack is all the way on the side of the passenger seat and doesn’t affect either driver or passenger views.
The next day we visited our first ruins of the trip. They weren’t Mayan, but they were equally as magnificent. After walking around the ruins, we did some meditation and tried to soak up the beauty. It was a bit hard not to think of the movie Apocalyptic and envision heads rolling down the steps while hiking around. Thanks Baja Ferry for playing that movie at 8 a.m. during breakfast when we crossed from Baja to the mainland a few months earlier… Either way it was beautiful.
That night we decided to forego stealth camping and camped in the city park. The city park is actually on top a very steep hill so we were elevated on top of the beautiful Oaxaca. We had many visitors, including a handful of cops, come by and check out our vehicle. Camping, let alone car camping, is a bit of an anomaly in Mexico.
We decided to explore the mountainous park via bicycle. We had a ton of fun riding around taking in the mountain flora and breathtaking city views, until I fell into a cactus. Luckily I was wearing gloves, although it still hurt.
That day also happened to be Thanksgiving. We thought about trying to find an expat store to get some cranberry sauce and other Thanksgiving goodies, but then we decided to get Tacos instead. This was the first day I was homesick… a bit nostalgic for family and friends… but then I realized I was in Mexico on the best adventure ever!
From Oaxaca we ventured into nearby villages. We visited the largest living tree in the world. We went on a mescal tour and learned the secrets to making the infamous wormed drink. They let you taste all sorts of mescal to get you good and drunk so you get buzzed and decide to buy at least a couple of bottles before you leave. Great marketing strategy! On top of that you are buzzed enough to try a fried cricket…an Oaxaca specialty. They were very crunchy and salty. For those of you coming to the wedding, we are serving them as an appetizer.
Our next stop was the indigenous villages where they are known for weaving beautiful rugs. We decided to splurge and get one for the van. I am not sure we would have purchased it if it weren’t for the lingering effects of the mescal.
From the beautiful indigenous towns, we drove off the beaten path up into the mountains. We found a miradora (view point) and camped. There was a huge foot bridge connecting mountain tops. Although hesitant, the four of us slowly crossed the bridge. That evening we witnessed a glorious hail storm. We put the rug on the wood floor for warmth, comfort, and insulation, grabbed a warm beverage and spent the evening listening to the storm.
The next few days we spent driving and camping in beautiful places on our way to San Cristobal, including caves, waterfalls, and swimming holes. When we pulled up to the turn off for the caves, the road was blocked. (Mom: don’t read this part). We were in an area of Chiapas that was somewhat known for their violence so we didn’t want to park next to the main road, yet we didn’t seem to have any options except for one of us to walk the half mile down the barred off road searching for guards to unlock the gate. I decided I would walk down and search for someone while Tommy protected the car. After hiking for about 5 minutes with Hydro at my side, I came up to a little house. Next thing I know 5 or 6 men were walking towards me with very large machetes at their side. I discreetly placed my hand on my pepper spray and didn’t discourage Hydro from growling. After summoning up the courage, I explained in my best Spanish that we needed someplace to camp for the evening and we were hoping we could camp in front of the caves. The men all smiled and said it would be fine….whoo. They unlocked the gate and Tommy drove the car down.
The guards were instructing us where to park our car, when all of a sudden I felt excruciating pain around my ankles and up my calves. The guard was trying to figure out what I was doing when his flashlight dropped to the ground and we saw millions of ants on the ground. Luckily we weren’t standing in the heart of the pile, but the 30 or 40 bites that Tommy and I each endured were painful enough. The caves proved to be worth all the trouble. The next morning we hiked into them and were taken aback by their beauty.
San Cristobal is a beautiful, hippy town in Chiapas, Mexico. We camped in a cool park on the outskirts of town where we met a cool group of folks from LA, Mexico, and Australia making a film on the end of the Mayan calendar. We spent a couple of days here riding our bikes into town, making friends, and counting the number of hippy mamas we saw (1 in 10 women were pregnant, hippy expats).
Agua Azul was next on the list; gorgeous blue waterfalls and swimming holes. You could walk for around 4 miles and barely get to the top of the waterfall set. Tommy, Lika, and I played in the water for hours while Hydro sat comfortable and dry on shore.
Getting into the mindset of the end of the Mayan calendar, we decided to venture to a couple of Mayan ruins- Tonin and Palenque. We wandered around their gorgeous ruins and loved exploring the internal pathways and staircases.
We spent our last few days in Mexico outside of a town called Chetumal. The name of the camp was called Gringo Dave’s. The site was situated on a beautiful lagoon. Hydro and Lika loved the grassy space. Dave was beyond kind. He took Tom and me out to try delicious food. It was the best food we had tasted in Mexico. We went three nights in a row. The food was basically cooked and served in a small family’s home and it was fabulous! Tommy celebrated his birthday at Gringo Dave’s and in addition to spending the day kayaking with me and the pups, the folks in the restaurant on site made him a cheese pie (the closest thing to a cheesecake I could find).
Tom and I spent a total of 2 and half months in Mexico. We feel like we could have – should have spent a lot more time. Most of the camping was free or close to it; the food was fantastic, the culture beautiful and the surf amazing.