November 8, 2004
We ended up spending the night at a hotel in Taxco, but not the way you would think. The hotel allowed us to park on their grounds and told us to park wherever we liked. So in looking for the most level spot, we found a location with a gorgeous view of the city. We also enjoyed watching the swallows in the evening as there seemed to be thousands of them flying overhead. The hotel charged us $20.00 USD just to park on their grounds, but since we had no other choice in the skinny little streets of Taxco, we certainly made the most of our choice.
After visiting the Internet café in the morning, we continued on to the city of Puebla and its suburb of Cholula. Along the way we encountered some of the obstacles that make this trip interesting. After following our map and making a turn off the main highway, we found ourselves approaching a tunnel of very small proportions. Of course it had no markings as to how high it was, and the local cop directing traffic had no clue. We drove up as close as we could and Don climbed up the door, onto the side view mirror holder and nearly onto the roof to determine if we could safely pass through. Using the "discretion is the better part of valor" idea, we decided that the chance of ripping off our very important solar panels was not worth trying to see if we would fit. But now we had a line of traffic behind us. Kim was driving, so Don got out and tried to get the traffic behind us to move out of the way. Ultimately he was successful, but there were some mighty annoyed taxi drivers that day.
We also had the joy of missing the turnoff to Cholula in Puebla. Fortunately Puebla is not as crazy as some of the other big cities in Mexico and we were able to find an alternate route, after we had driven nearly into the heart of the city. Alls well that ends well and we actually ended up on the street we needed to be on to find the trailer park. Amazing!
November 9, 2004
We pulled out our bicycles this morning to find that one of them had a flat tire. After working to repair the tear in the tube, we discovered that the hole just kept getting bigger once we pumped air in, so we had to use our one and only spare tube. Considering we’ve only ridden the bikes once on this trip, it was a little disheartening to already have an unfixable flat. Oh well.
We finally got the bikes on the road and headed toward the great pyramid of Cholula. This pyramid has the largest base of all the pyramids in the world, measuring 450m along each side. Today the pyramid is overgrown with plants and trees and a church is built on top, but the original structure still resides beneath it all. The original structure was built between 1 and 600AD but it has been built-over several times and has three layers of pyramids. We took a very interesting tour through some tunnels drilled by archeologists and our guide pointed out the different layers of building under this magnificent mountain. The tunnels follow the sides of the earlier pyramids, but of course they are underground – and there are nearly 8KM of tunnels!
By 1500, the great pyramid was already overgrown and no one knows if in 1519 Cortez knew there was a great pyramid there, but after Aztec warriors set a trap for him at Cholula, he vowed to build a church on top of every pagan temple he could find. There is currently a lovely church atop the pyramid at Cholula and the climb to the top affords wonderful views of the surrounding area.
November 10-11, 2004
This morning we drove around Puebla to see the sights and ran some errands. After finishing we drove the very expensive toll road to Veracruz. The toll roads certainly are straighter and generally have two lanes in each direction, but this road was not in the best condition and it cost us about $35.00USD to have the privilege of driving it. Our tolls are higher than the average car because we have four wheels on the rear axle. This is one of the reasons we try to drive the "free" roads more often, but sometimes when you want to get somewhere quickly, the toll roads are the way to go. Along the way we had lunch near the base of Pico de Orizaba – at 5611m (18,235 ft) it is the highest mountain in Mexico.
Arriving in the late afternoon in Veracruz, we once again discovered that the trailer park was out of business. After trying unsuccessfully to negotiate being able to camp in the beach parking area, an employee directed us back out of town to a new "campamento" called El Rey. It was a long way back out of town, but it was in a lovely location right on the beach and it gave us the opportunity to relax for a day (if you can call doing your laundry by hand relaxing!)
November 12, 2004
Today we drove back into Veracruz to explore the city. We parked the expedition vehicle in a shopping center parking lot and caught a bus into the city center. Most cities only have street parking and trying to find an empty spot sometimes is not worth the time spent searching for it.
Cortez made his first landing in Mexico at Veracruz in 1519. Veracruz became the Spaniards most important anchorage and until 1760, Veracruz was the only port allowed to handle trade with Spain.
Veracruz today is a typical modern Mexican city and it bustles day and night. The port is still important, but other ports in the country handle more tonnage. After exploring the downtown, we caught a taxi out to the old fort of San Juan de Ulua. This fortress once protected the city and was originally on an island. It is now connected to the mainland by a causeway and is a great place to wander around.
After lunch we headed into a hilly region know as Los Tuxtlas and our first day in the rain. This area is the western edge of the ancient Olmec region and huge basalt heads were quarried and made from the rock nearby. As goes hand in hand with lots of rain, the area is lush and fertile, and one of the local crops is tobacco.
Although we don’t smoke, we visited the Santa Clara cigar factory where we were permitted to just wander around and watch the cigar makers as they hand-rolled their trademark cigars. It was very interesting and the factory actually had a very pleasant aroma. We watched as the men and women rolled the tobacco leaves into cigars, and then rolled on outer leaves that would give the cigars a unique taste when smoked. They even had ones that smelled like chocolate, vanilla, rum and other liquors. One of the workers decided to take a few minutes from his duties and presented us with a detailed explanation of the business of hand rolling cigars.