Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Getting Fascinated in Mexico

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Getting Fascinated in Mexico

So many have warned us of the woes and the hardships of RVing in Mexico but as newbies in this world, nothing has stopped us so far.On November 21 we bravely left the comforts of St. David Resort and the warmth of new-found friends in St. David, Arizona to spend the first month of our winter in Mexico.When we were nearing the border, however, following some of the advice, I hurriedly removed most of mine and Bill’s jewelry, save for our wedding bands. Bill thought I was being affected by the horror stories as he had never had a problem in Mexico and felt safer than in many parts of the US.

Surprisingly, the immigration processes only took 2 hours. With Bill’s American passport and my green card, the tourist permits took no time at all. The vehicle permits, however, took longer because of the lines, the complication brought about by Vino whom we had planned not to use around Mexico (we still needed a vehicle permit or we would not have been able to bring him back to the USA), and our broken Spanish.

Once we were back in the saddle, I sat back and soon I was struck by what I saw on the way to Mazatlan, Mexico where we were to meet my children and grandchildren for my birthday, thanksgiving, and a family reunion (we had not had a complete gathering since 7 years ago). First, the Mexican countryside, just like the Canadian and American, is beautifully vast (something I could not say about the Philippines.).
Second, agriculture in Mexico is vibrant. The soil is colorfully very red, the weeds bright and golden and the plants verdant green. And, although technologically not very advanced, the farmers are into many creative practices such as the use of greenhouses, white plastic coverings, and irrigation canals and many crop dusters to protect the young and encourage the old, things I have not seen in the Philippine fields. Being beside a big market must be a plus.

Third, Mexican religiosity is evident all the way. 'Chapelitas' or little chapels the fields along the highways. They are small concrete structures, some can even hold 2 or 3 people, with an altar and crosses either inside or out. The hillsides were painted with religious sayings or images, grottos, crucifixes were erected on them.  These are much more than what I have seen in the Philippines, which is another predominantly Catholic country.
Fourth, RVing seems practically dead in Mexico except for the occasional caravan.  On the way to Mazatlan, we used 3 parks: Sonora RV Park in Hermosillo, Los Mochis RV Park in Los Mochis, and Hotel Tres Rios Trailer Park in Culiacan. They all had spaces for about 30 or more RVs, had water, electric, and sewer hook-ups, WIFI connections, flush toilets (Los Mochis even had hot showers). But they were eerily empty; we were the only game in town. It was sad to see.

Fifth, one of the reasons can be the onerous toll fees exacted regularly, frequently, and without fail. Up to Culiacan we had spent about $40 in fees at about 6 toll booths in about 600 miles (practically doubling our daily camping fee of $20 a night. So we took the Mazatlan Libre (free) route instead of the Mazatlan Cuota (toll) route the next day.  We found it slower (with only 2 lanes), more pot-holes (yes, we wondered where the toll fees went), but definitely more scenic.

But the reasons why there are no RVers may be 1) the economy, 2) the continuing swine flu scare, or 3) the perception of lack of safety due to drug crimes and other security issues. Whatever the reasons are, it is sad that the beauty of Mexico as a country and the warmth of its people are largely undiscovered, relatively unexplored, and quite underappreciated.Let me recount some of the reasons we loved our first winter in Mexico with Star and Vino.

First, the people are wonderful. We were filling up at a Pemex gas stations (all owned by the government; one price) in Culiacan when 2 brothers in a car noticed my helpless look. They so graciously led us to our campground, a good 10 minutes away. Earlier, while we were trying to park at Ley, a grocery chain, a driver got out of his car to remove the carts that were in our way. Throughout the highways I felt like a celebrity because people constantly waved at us.
I have talked about the beauty of the Mexican countryside. Next let me talk about the weather. When we left St. David, it would be 75 degrees in the day and turn 35 degrees at night. By nightfall I would be looking for my sweater. By 12 noon I would be walking in my bathing suit to the pool. Here days are in the eighties and nights are in the seventies. I went to the palapa near the beach for karaoke night and ended dancing the night away in a strappy tank top.

And then there is shopping!  Zona Dorada, the golden zone, is like Santana Row in San Jose, State Road in Santa Barbara or Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. If you wanted to get vibrantly colorful Mexican craft and exquisite, intricate or bold, one-of-a-kind jewelry, this is the place to go. And though spendy, the whole family feasted at the good ole Shrimp Factory where camarrones (and lobster) was served in countless and delicious ways.

Sunday we went to the Catedral to hear mass. About 2 blocks from it was the Mercado, the municipality market, the place where locals got all their stuff. There were a panaderia, a carniceria, a fruiteria y verduleria, a pescaderia, dry goods stores, authentic Mexican food stalls, and many other service outlets one would need. I even found a shoe repair store where I finally got the velcros on my sandals replaced for $3. It was quoted at $25 in Oakland!

The ‘Catedral’ was a beautiful place of worship. The altar was regal in character with thick golden rays emanating from Jesus and large intricate concrete patterns adorning the arches and windows. The half dome was painted and then swathed with a blue light, making it all look sublime. And the altar table had a front sculptured as the Last Supper with a tame white light bathing the figures. The ‘catedral’ was quite different from those we have seen before.

As we headed to the front for pictures of the fa├žade, we were pleasantly surprised that a lively Mexican fiesta was going on at the town plaza. A celebration of the 49th anniversary of an association of the religious of the parish was going on. Authentic Mexican dances and songs, complete with colorful sombreros and boleros, were on stage and a giant Christmas tree of Coke bottles filled with glistening yellow, white, green, and red liquid was at the back of the plaza.
And then we went to Teotihuacan through Guadalajara.There the third largest pyramid of the world still stands…the Pyramid of the Sun. April and Bill thought I would not be able to climb the 250 steps…but I kept pace with them.The view from the top was priceless…the surrounding towns were buzzing with familiar Mexican colors.  The community of ruins (Pyramid of the Moon, the Jaguar Palace, the Avenue of the Dead, and the ….Palace) have all been meticulously restored, allowing us to relive the ancient Mayan civilization, making us part of the grandeur of the oldest, most advanced culture in North America.
Finally, there was Ciudad de Mexico, probably the most populated (18 M) and, therefore, the most polluted city in the world. The Catedral Metropolitana is the oldest (1573) and largest cathedral in the Americas with 4 facades, 25 bells in its 2 towers, 12 chapels, etc. It is built on top of the Templo Mayor, the Aztec Ruins that lie below Mexico City.The Plaza de la Constitucion is at its front and the Palacio Nacional is at its left. All around this historical wonder are shops and eateries for everyone’s delight.
We thought the best shopping would be at Plaza the but only when we went to Avenida Central did we feel that we didn’t have enough time. Beautiful ponchos for only $8, exquisite earrings for only $3, colorful aprons for only $4…these are but few of the crafts we wanted to bring home. But,since home was a 190 sqft Star, we just bit our lips and feasted on spicy, delicious Mexican street cuisine of tacos, chilli rellenos, and others.

Historical sight-seeing in the city culminated with the visit to the famous park on Chapultepec (meaning, grasshopper) Hill where the Chapultepec Castle stands as the only authentic castle in North America.  It is where the reigning Emperor, Maximillian I and his consort Empress Carlota lived during the Second Mexican Empire.  It has now become the Museum of History of Mexico (Spanish and post-Spanish periods). The park also houses the Museo Antropologica which features the pre-Spanish period.

Despite these wonderful experiences, there were 3 that horrified us.One, the Metro was so jampacked during rush hours that we ended up taking a dangerous (!) taxi ride through the city to our bus station. Two, Bill lost his cell phone at pone of the many seas of humanity. Three, Bill caught pneumonia and was rendered quite ill for about 10 days. As they warned, If you have a respiratory problem, do not go to Mexico City. Bill always had sinus problems.

The way to Mazatlan was through Hermosillo, Los Mochis and Culiacan.  To Mexico City was through Guadalajara and Teotihuacan. Back to the US was through San Luis Potosi and Saltillo. At San Luis Potosi, we could not find anything but abandoned RV Parks so at 7 PM we settled for one of the wonders of the modern world…Walmart, asked the management, in our broken Spanish, to let us stay for the night…which they did.

Saltillo, on the other hand, had a great RV park at the back of the hotel. There Bill met with RVers who have not only cruised around North America but also backpacked across Europe. The hotel was gracious enough to let us use the amenities for hotel guests…the dining room, the billiards/pool room, and the karaoke!

But the lingering thoughts of Mexico are these: sunny beaches, vibrant colors (from churches, houses, tombs, dolls, jewelry, etc.), polluted city, ancient ruins, rich endless fields (of agave, cactus, and Joshua trees), spicy food, vibradores, the Tropic of Cancer (like the Tropic of Capricorn in the south, it is the imaginary line where the sun is directly overhead at noon during the 2 solstices), chapelitas, cuotas, water wells, Ruta 2010 (bicentennary celebration of independence from Spain in 2010 and the Mexican Revolution in 1910), and great people. Get as fascinated with Mexico as we did!