I now have pictures from my parents’ trip! Here is part 3 of the 4 part series chronicling their Mexican adventure:
APRIL 1, 2009
Our last update left us at the Roca Azul RV park on Lake Chapala. We left there on March 22 and drove the scenic road south of the lake to the charming town of Patzcuaro. On one stretch we went through several towns one after another so that you could see the Feliz Viaje (Good Bye) sign for one town and the Bienvenidos (Welcome) sign at the same time. We passed a large new building with a heliport outside with the name Driscoll’s. It is a name of the distributor of the raspberries and now the strawberries grown here. Patzcuaro had narrow cobblestone roads lined with buildings of white-washed stucco with brownish red at the bottoms. It gave the jumble of different buildings a cohesive and placid look. We did our usual touring routine of visiting the town plazas, cathedrals, shopping and lunch in a Mexican restaurant.
We also visited the “Casa de los Once Patios” (house of 11 patios) where you can watch craftsmen work and buy their handiwork. Patzcuaro is nestled on a hillside next to a large lake where we took a half hour boat ride to the Isla Janitzio.
This island is like the top 4 or 5 hundred feet of a mountain sticking out of the water. There is no flat land, no roads and no vehicles but it is covered withhomes, shops, restaurants and bars. Only paths and steps lead you uphill where you have to continuously pass shops and restaurants to get to the top. There you are rewarded with the statue of Morelos. If you have any energy left, given the 7000 feet elevation, you can climb the 162 steps inside the statue to the top. Richard and Pat made it to the top but we gave up about half way.
At our arrival at the island we were treated to a group of fishing boats who did what could be called a dance as they formed a circle and then gracefully put their huge butterfly nets in and out of the water as they recreated how they once fished here.
After a few days in Patzcuaro we drove about an hour to Morelia, a city of about 600,000. Morelia does not have any RV parks so we pulled into a Wal- Mart and got permission to spend the night in their parking lot. We spent the rest of the day exploring this colonial city by car, on foot and a tour bus (unfortunately the guide only spoke Spanish). We were impressed by the central square and the cathedral as well as the no longer used aqueduct which crosses part of the city supported by 253 arches.
The next morning we headed for Pepe’s Hotel & RV Park in Tepotzotlan. We haven’t talked much about our experiences while driving but we had an incident en route that is worthy of mention. As you can probably imagine, driving a 40 foot motor home towing a car on these narrow roads is one thing but going through the small towns with narrowstreets can be an adventure. We entered one town which appeared on the map and GPS to be a straight through drive. What we didn’t know was that the road through town split into two opposing one-way streets and we wound up going the wrong way. Most small towns use traffic cops (they’re cheaper than signals) and this was no exception. These cops saw our dilemma, knew that we couldn’t turn the tight corners and started diverting traffic so that we could continue through town. We were then committed to driving the entire way through town going the wrong way on a one-way street. The on-coming traffic just moved to the side like this was no big deal. We made itwith no problems and note this as an example of how helpful the people and the police are. We later arrived at Pepe’s which is our base for exploring Mexico City about 30 miles south. We were advised not to try to drive into the city because of heavy traffic and crazy drivers (as we later observed, it is no worse than Los Angeles), so we decided to take a taxi into the city, stay in a downtown hotel for 2 nights and then a taxi back. Pepe’s is a very nice, modern and secure facility, so we were not concerned about leaving our RV’s there. The staff also made our hotel reservations for us.
CIUDAD de MEXICO
What image do you have of Mexico City? We had an image; all the bad things we heard about. It is probably the largest city in the world with an estimated population of 20 million (nobody knows for sure) and including the towns that make up the urban sprawl an estimated 32 million. With that many people, Mexico City must have everything bad that can exist in a city. After spending 3 full days exploring the city we have a new image. Mexico City may be the most beautiful city that we have ever seen.
Even at 8000 feet elevation the city is surrounded by mountains. The downtown and central district has many large parks and plazas with beautiful landscaping and big old trees everywhere. The main boulevard is the Paseo de los Reformawhich has 10 or 12 lanes and three widetree lined dividers. It must be about a full block to cross it. There are many other wide boulevards and Grande TrafficCircles with statues, monuments and/or fountains in the centers. Architecture is a mixture of the colonial buildings over 300 years old and modern office buildings and skyscrapers, however the old buildings and cathedrals dominate the scene.
We expected wall to wall people but it was really not that crowded. We expected it to be dirty but it was unbelievably clean. We expected to see poverty but saw very little of it. We maintained an awareness of possible crime but never felt we were in any danger. And topping it all off are the people.
They are so friendly and helpful. If you ask directions they don’t just point the way, they lead you there. The exception is when they drive they become very aggressive. Being a pedestrian is the most dangerous thing in Mexico City.
We took our taxi into the city early Saturday morning, went directly to the hotel and were checked in by about 9AM. We decided to take the double deck (open seating on top) tour bus which had headphones for English narration. The bus followed a big circle of the attractions with about 20 stops where you can get off and catch a later bus. We got off at the museum of anthropology where we spent a few hours but spent the rest of the day making the circuit on the bus to get a feel for the city.
The next morning (Sunday) Richard and Pat planned to go to the Shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe. We wanted to do some other things so we decided to split up for the day. With the help and encouragement of a friendly man in the hotel lobby, we bravely set out on our own to explore Mexico City using the subway and light train system. Even though we had maps and train routes, it was a bit intimidating. In fact we got on the wrong train the first time and had to come back but we soon mastered the system. The subway system needs some comments here. We don’t know if this is new or renovated but everything looks new and modern. The trains and stations are absolutely spotless and clean – no graffiti. The train cars are guided by rails but ride on rubber tires. The ride is smooth and quiet. The cars are connected by rubber bellows that allow people to walk through from car to car. There are a few seats for the disabled but mostly it’s standing room only. They can be crowded in the central district but it thins out in the outskirts. It’s not uncommon to have vendors and musicians coming through looking for sales or handouts. The cost to ride is 2 pesos (about 14 cents). As someone said “For 2 pesos you get transportation, entertainment and a massage”.
Our day started with a visit to the Zocalo (Plaza de la Constitucion) second in size only to Red Square in Moscow. We visited the Palacio Nacional whose front fills the entire east side of the Zocalo. This is the office of the President of Mexico and various other government offices. The walls of the second floor around the courtyard are adorned with dramatic murals by Diego Rivera depicting the history of Mexico City from ancient times. We also saw the chamber where parliament meets. Next on the north side of the plaza we visited the main cathedral which is most notable for its massiveness. We saw Aztec dancers on the square next to the Templo Mayor where it is thought to be the exact spot where the Aztecs considered the center of the universe. A line of people with offerings of herbs and flowers awaited the blessing of smoke and incantations of a healer or priest in Aztec garb. We were having lunch on a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Zocalo when the bells of the cathedral began ringing. We could actually see the bell ringers pulling the ropes on the many bells situated on several levels of the towers. This, along with the sound system being tested at the huge stage erected in the plaza, gave a cacophony of sound for 15 minutes until noon when the bells tolled the hour. Sunday was the last day of a month-long Festival de Mexico and el Centro Historico. Some streets were shut down on Saturday for special events and concerts. We had our picture taken in front of a replica of Le Angel whichwill travel around the world to herald the 2010 celebration of Mexican Independence.
After visiting the Palace of Fine Arts and viewing the city from the 44th floor of the Torre Latino Americana, we went to Xochimilco. This network of canals flanked by gardens is a reminder of the city’s pre-Hispanic history when a great lake became a city from piled-up vegetation and mud.
We were poled along the tranquil but yet very festive waterways, jammed with other gaily decorated trajineras(gondolas) with families and friends or just romantic couples. Mariachis, marimbas, and vendors offering beer, roasted corn, toys among other stuff hovered along side adding to the party atmosphere.
Altogether we rode about 50 miles on the subway, about 30 miles on light trains and a couple of miles each by bicycle taxi and on foot. A pretty grueling day but we got a lot done. Monday we returned to Pepe’s by taxi and rested up the rest of the day. We plan to leave Pepe’s on Thursday and start heading north to Texas. Until next time – Mike & Donna
A few of our “Update” readers have replied to our last update expressing a concern for our safety. We have not heard or seen any news since we left Arizona but apparently there must be some bad news going on about Mexico. Whatever it is must be overblown as it is not apparent to us. We feel as safe or maybe even safer than in the US. Also there were questions about how we find our way around. We have a Mexico map book which has highway and city maps and we also use a Garmin GPS with a Mexico update. We would also not be without Mike & Terri Church’s book “Camping in Mexico”. This book is the “bible” for anyone RVing in Mexico as it describes almost every campground in great detail. Also many WalMarts and Pemex Stations allow free overnight RV parking.