México Olvidado 

Three weeks in the state of Chiapas, a place of lush jungles, little known rivers, and drastic mountains. A land known as ‘Forgotten Mexico’ due to a history of government neglect and outright abuses of the prominently indigenous populations throughout the region. It took years of social unrest and the Zapatista uprising to finally draw attention to the area, and only recently has the government begun to invest in basic infrastructure and health services for the people of Chiapas.  

The name seemed fitting on a personal level as well, as it’s been several years now since I was able to travel for any significant amount of time. This was my first extended trip (relative to life as I now know it) since I switched my world all around. It was certainly nice to sink into something different for a while. 

The basics were broken up into two parts: a river trip down the Rio Jataté, part one; and a bunch of traveling around, part two.  

The whole idea for Chiapas started back in the summer. I knew I wanted to do an extended river expedition somewhere in the world in the December time frame. I didn’t really have any strong opinions as to where, just how long and when. I knew I wanted to run some whitewater and sleep in a tent for a while. And I wanted to do something with Sierra Rios, an outfitter with the potential to operate in various spots across the globe. The owner is a guy named Rocky Contos, and Rocky runs trips, organizes trips, and outfits trips. The company also works to raise awareness of river issues around the world, though it seems like a lot of times it’s often running rivers for the last few times before they die behind inevitable dams. I started talking to Rocky in August, checking out the website calendar, and viewing the potentially available trips. In the end, the Jataté, which I’d never heard of, seemed the best option. And I think it certainly was.  

The Jataté (pronounced something like hah-tah-te) is a guides’ river and an expedition style trip. Most of the folks that sign up for these trips are small groups of guides or kayakers, and Rocky puts them together with one or two of his guides that know the stretch. The company provides requested gear, and organizes all logistics of food, transportation, and safety (which became a major issue in the 90s due to civil unrest in both Chiapas and Guatemala).

When committing to the trip Rocky asked me to try and promote the trip. I told him it was unlikely I would find any interested individuals, but in the end my awesome friend Emilie E., who I met on the Kongakut River a couple years ago, decided to fly down from Fairbanks and join. Her presence is what made the trip super special, and it probably wouldn’t have been nearly as fun without her around. In the end it was she and I, a group of three Hungarian kayakers, two guides from Mexico, and another kayaker from the States that’s working on guiding for Sierra Rios seasonally. Emilie, myself, and German rowed gear boats while the other five kayaked. 

Nothing but good energy from both these dudes. Roberto and Bivi. Photo: Bivi.

The trip was everything I wanted it to be. It was eight days total, though lots of travel and sitting around for a couple of those days on either end. After a slow relaxing start, the canyon and rapids began on day four, and the whitewater continued until the morning of the last day. And there was a lot of whitewater. The run was mostly Class IV, but there were a few more difficult rapids, two of which we portaged—an arduous time-consuming process, but part of what makes the trip an expedition. What also makes the trip an expedition is that things are probably going to go wrong, requiring boaters to use skills they may have only trained with in the past. Things certainly got hairy in several places. Rope skills, mechanical advantage systems, quick thinking, and teamwork were critical in a couple of those situations.

Most of the rapids in the first canyon are very technical, with a lot of precision moves leading into sizeable drops. One right after the next. On day five we were seriously running and scouting rapids for seven hours. It was amazing. At the end of the first canyon things opened up and the confluence with another river significantly increased the flow, changing the nature of the rapids to big water runs with huge waves and holes to crush or avoid at all costs. The run was at the extremes of what Emilie had done previously, but even though she was anxious throughout (we later determined she got five years of experience in five days) she killed it with a smile. As for me, I wrapped a boat (for the first time in my life) in the second rapid; I got an unexpected vicious tube suck in another rapid, was ejected from the boat, and broke a fiberglass oar in half with my ribs (still not healed) on my way out—my first swim in years; I also got surfed hard in a sticky hole above a nasty strainer… But the only really bad line I had everything turned out to be just fine.  

The following blocks of photos courtesy of Attila ‘Bivi’ Hubik. Thanks Bivi!

Making moves.

The day after the trip Emilie and I hung out in Palenque all day. Ate a mellow breakfast, drank local coffee, went and visited the famous ruins, which were under construction somehow, walked around in the jungle with the amazing Pablo, an 11-year-old self-proclaimed guide, and finished it off with a feast of traditional Chiapan food. The following day we said ‘for sure a next time’ and went our separate ways. Emilie flew to Colorado and I spent the day busing it over to the capital of Tuxtla Guitierrez.  

Pablo convinced me to hire him to guide us through the jungle. Best decision of the whole trip.

Part two of the trip was meeting up with a girl from Globe, renting a car, staying in nice hotels, eating a lot of wonderful food, and freewheeling it around the western side of the state for a week. Started the run with a boat ride into Cañón del Sumidero, spent a night in the cool little pueblo of Chiapa de Corzo, headed over to San Cristóbal for a couple days where we walked and biked, climbed down a couple hundred stairs to El Aguacero waterfall and then back up, spent several days on the beach of Puerto Artista, took a boat into some mangroves, took a boat over to Boca del Cielo for dinner, made the journey to the Zoque ruin site of Iglesia Vieja and had the place completely to ourselves for the afternoon (actually after leaving San Cristóbal we were often the only people around), swam in the Pacific, strolled in the sand, rode a 4-wheeler miles down the beach, spent a night in Tuxtla and danced to live marimba music in the park.

Chiapa de Corzo
Iglesia de Guadalupe, San Cristóbal
El Aguacero
Otro cumpleaños en una playa mexicana. Puerto Artista.

We finished the trip with a day and night in Mexico City where I met up with Isaac, an online Spanish tutor that I’ve been talking to a couple times a month. He showed us some of the sights and then we ate a memorable lunch up on the rooftop patio of Hotel Zócalo Central. This is probably one of the best times to be in the big city as the weather is nice, everything is lit up and decorated for Christmas, there’s live music in the plaza, and happy people everywhere.

El Zócalo

Once Isaac went home, we headed over to the Templo Mayor ruin site and museum, listened to mariachi music in Plaza Garabaldi, walked through the huge park adjacent the Bellas Artes building, browsed Chinatown, and called it a night. The next morning we admired the sun rising through the smog while we ate breakfast on the same rooftop, took a cab through empty Sunday streets to the airport, and flew back to Tucson. There it was a goodbye hug in the economy lot and back to disparate realities. Asi es la vida…

Back when human sacrifice was fun!
Isaac and Bellas Artes
Sunday morning sunrise.

And that was it. Forgotten Mexico and remembering what the authentic self feels like at its best.

Solo bueno.

¡Feliz Año Nuevo 2023!

And that’s a wrap! Photo: Bivi. Culprit: Me.


20191211_152741Sometime this past summer I started thinking about Baja. Not sure why I hadn’t considered traveling there before, but I began dreaming up a couple of bigger trips I’d like to do in the region, both on water and on land. Before I ended up in Spain I’d been considering the possibility of driving on down and staying for a while. That hasn’t happened yet, but when I found myself with a couple additional weeks of Kafkaesque frustration in waiting on a future dependent on government paperwork and faceless inefficiency, I decided to go for a visit, some recon, a vacation, something sunny and somewhat productive to do in the meantime—call it what you will. No matter what, it seems like Mexico is always a good idea. 

Sold the van and then took a bus down from Albuquerque, crossed the border in El Paso, stayed a night in Ciudad Juarez. Powered up on some huevos rancheros in the morning, and spent a day of air travel over to the peninsula. It was one night in a cool little hotel in San Jose del Cabo, and then on to the beach. Didn’t have any plans whatsoever, so bumped across town in a local bus the next morning, hopped in a shuttle headed to the Pacific side, and got off when I saw a dirt road heading down to the ocean.IMGP0828Ended up in the sleepy town of Cerritos ten years too late, but still enjoyed spending a few days in what was once a quintessential Mexican fishing village turned surf spot. The area is currently being hammered by development and habitat destruction, with a vibe trending hard to gringo tourist, but it was a good place to flail around with a surfboard for a few days. The afternoons were hot and humid, and the nights crisp and cool on an empty beach. It was fish tacos and a couple of Indios each evening, and in bed with a book around 8 p.m. listening to the exploding surf through the frond walls of a palapa. A couple good runs, lots of walking around, a few decent waves, and color filled skies at dusk. Super tranquilo.  

It was a final Sunday morning surf session, and from there it was a long hot walk back up that dirt road, a back-of-the-pickup ride from some locals, and a bus to Todos Santos where I spent a couple hours poking around town and taking photos.20191208_153342

That evening I arrived at the malecón in La Paz, capital of Baja California Sur, just in time for a stellar sunset and a Christmas concert. I stayed a full week in a little apartment just outside of the central district, and spent my mornings brushing up on grammar at a Spanish school, and afternoons checking out the city and the local beaches.


I probably could have repeated the schedule for a couple more weeks without getting bored. It was great to speak Spanish for a few hours each morning, and then head off on my own around lunchtime. Would have been amazing to have had someone to cruise around with, but between studying and exploring I kept pretty busy. Highlights of the week were runs down to the malecón in the early a.m., getting exactly what I’d hoped from the classes, lots of great food, a couple of sweet hikes, an art walk with local guide Amelie, visits to the local beaches, bike riding on the boardwalk, and basking in lots of sunshine and sunsets—which there may soon be a dearth of in my life. The scenery is amazing down there, the juxtaposition of desert and sea something special.20191212_164003

20191209_164101Check out: Colectivo Tomate

20191211_163001My last day in town was Saturday, and I joined an all-day tour out to Isla Espiritu Santo. I rarely sign up for group tours, but when I do it’s always fun to watch the guides in action, to experience the day from the other side, to hear the same tired guide jokes I’ve personally repeated hundreds of times. And the tour itself was awesome: a morning boat ride out to the island, checking out a frigate rookery, swimming around with sea lions, a ceviche lunch, a lucky encounter with a pod of playful dolphins, and snorkeling with whale sharks to end the day. The activities/ecosystems also seemed to be responsibly managed and protected, which was uplifting to see. That evening there was a big holiday affair on the malecón, complete with loads of food vendors, a night boat parade, and fireworks. An entertaining end to the week.IMGP0961 (2)

IMGP1041From there it was up early in the morning and out of La Paz. On to Guadalajara, Juarez, and over an hour of standing in a barely moving line with hundreds of people on the international bridge waiting to process though customs. Once across, it was a couple hours in downtown El Paso, vibrant and lit up for the holidays, and then back to the hyper-depressed reality of bus travel in the US. It was up to Albuquerque again, and over to Amarillo, and into low clouds and gray skies and cold wind and dreams of deserts and oceans and sunshine. It was smiles from thinking about conversations with locals, and all the tacos consumed, and simply knowing that it’s all down there, whether I ever make it back or not.20191210_172542

Yucatán y Barranca del Cobre

Have been meaning to do this for some time. Finally getting around to it. Took a trip to Mexico a while back, January and February of 2017. We started the trip by getting dropped off at the border in Presidio, TX, from there walked across the bridge into Ojinaga, and then bused down to Ciudad Chihuahua. The following day we took a national flight across to the Yucatan, spent several weeks hanging out in Tulum, and another week traveling around the peninsula. Afterwards, taking the long way home, we hopped a flight to Sinaloa, took El Chepe, the train, up into Copper Canyon, and spent several days in the area before heading back to Ciudad Chihuahua, OJ, and the Big Bend. The following text comes out of the journal I kept, sporadically, throughout those weeks. As will quickly become apparent, it’s in Spanish, or at least some resemblance of the language. If you’re not a Spanish speaker, or my butchered attempts prove too difficult to endure, hopefully the pictures will provide a story of their own. Highlights of the trip were biking around Tulum and neighboring sites; visiting ruins and cenotes; taking three weeks of classes at Metzli, a Spanish language school in Tulum; running a 10k in Valladolid; riding the train into Copper Canyon; spending a day walking in the canyon with Julio, a Tarahumaran guide we met the day we arrived; tooling around Creel on mountain bikes; eating lots of amazing food and meeting a whole lot of really awesome people.





Estamos en México hace dos semanas. Ahorita estoy sentado a lado de un cenote muy tranquilo que se llama ‘Zacil-Ha.’ Hay música, un cenote pequeño con una pequeña tirolesa, sillas para relajarnos, un bar, y más. Montamos las bicis desde Tulum, donde estamos quedando por tres semanas en una cabaña en el norte del pueblo. Hemos estado asistiendo a clases de español por una semana y media, y me gustan mucho la escuela y los maestros.

Salimos de Tejas el 20 de enero, cuando también Donald Trump asumió la posición del presidente de los Estados Unidos. Pienso hay muchos, como yo, quienes van a recordar ese día como un día muy oscuro en la historia contemporánea de nuestro país y tal vez el mundo. No quiero escribir mucho sobre estas temas, pero es casi imposible ignorar que está pasando en EEUU, y tampoco puedo fingir que todo va bien – pero no puedo hacer nade – ni desde aquí o si estuviera allá, pues es mejor leer las noticias con medida. Pero cuentos sobre él están en todos lados y el día en que nosotros cruzamos la frontera hubo una huelga en la aduana para protestar por dos cosas – lo que se llaman ‘el gasolinazo’ en México, y la ascensión del Trump. Bueno – ya lo mencioné – seguemos.

Cruzamos sin problemas y aquí solo hemos encontrado gente muy amable. Comimos en Ojinaga y compramos boletos para el camión a la Ciudad de Chihuahua. Llegamos aquella tarde y comimos en una taquería antes de ir a la cama. El hotel era limpio y quieto y dormimos bien hasta las cinco en la mañana cuando nos despertamos y fuimos al aeropuerto. Volamos a Cancún. Pasamos otra noche en hotel y comimos en el centro Yo pedí un tipo de pescado estilo Maya. El mesero era Maya y tenía buen sentido de humor. La próxima mañana fuimos a Playa Langosta en Cancún, una playa ‘publica’ entre todos los hoteles y resortes grandes que hay para alla. Es un espectáculo y no quisiera quedarme en ninguno de ellos por más que uno o dos días. Son resorts tipo ‘todo incluso’ y imagino que no es una experiencia muy mexicana. Salimos la ciudad a las dos, y llegamos a Tulum media tarde.

Cuando llegamos a donde estamos quedando era el cumpleaños do la chica de la pareja que cuida las cabañas. Ella se llama Adriana y su novio, Luis. Pasamos una buena tarde charleando con ellos y el padre de Adriana, quien era de España. Comimos un poco y después fuimos en bici para encontrar la escuela donde tuvimos que ir la próxima mañana. La encontramos por fin, pero estaba oscura cuando regresamos a casa.

Empezamos el lunes en la mañana. Fuimos a clases del grupo en las mañanas, clases privadas en las tardes, y hicimos todas las actividades que ofrecieron – yoga, arte, clase de baile, juegos de mesa, clases de cocinar, etc. Al fin de la semana yo estaba cansado, pero aprendí mucho y tuve muchas oportunidades para hablar español. Mis profesores eran Agustín, Toño, y Aura. También hay Mauricio, Lilliana, Sara, Guido, y más. Me callan muy bien todos.

El fin de semana fuimos con otros estudiantes a Coba, unas ruinas Mayas. También visitamos un cenote, ‘Choo-Ha’ –era súper chido – una lagunita adentro de una cueva. Cuando entramos era algo nuevo que nadie de nuestro grupo ha hecho antes. Después de 5 minutos de estar allá nadando, se fue la luz y la electricidad en todo el pueblo. Nos quedamos otros 30 minutos en la oscuridad y salimos después. En domingo encontramos algunos corredores de Tulum quienes tienen un grupo oficial. Se encuentran cada miércoles y domingo para correr juntos. Yo corrí con Frank, quien es entrenador profesional y loco para correr. Corrimos en el camino de la zona hotel desde la cruce hasta el arco que marca la entrada a una reserva. Después desayunamos en “Tapich’ el restaurante de un canadiense que también le gusta correr.

En la tarde fuimos a las ruinas de Tulum, un sitio increíble. Me encantaron las ruinas aunque hubo un montón de gente (los nacionales se pueden entrar gratis en domingos). Nos quedamos un par de horas caminando por las ruinas y leyendo los letreros. Y ya, — hoy es miércoles. Fuimos a Playa del Carmen en lunes, otras ruinas ayer, y ahorita estamos aquí. Estoy en una clase diferente (solo estamos asistiendo clases en las mañanas esta semana) y todo va bien. !Es Tiempo para saltarme al cenote!     X————-X


Ruinas de Tulum



Ataque de Gaviotas

Fuimos en una excursión el fin de semana pasado. Empecemos muy temprano en la escuela y salimos con otros estudiantes y el chofer, Arturo. Manejemos dos horas hacia el norte del estado Yucatán. Llegamos al río Lagarto donde embarcamos en una lancha para dar una vuelta en el río. Vimos a tres cocodrilos, y muchas aves como garzas, fregatas, águilas, cormoranes, y flamencos. Al final pasamos por una laguna, laguna Rosada, donde los flamencos pasan varias veces en el año. Dicen que hay temporadas cuando hay hasta 40,000 de ellos, pero solo había algunos 100 más o menos. Estuvo padre verlos en su propio entorno. Después nos entramos en un canal muy salado donde se podía flotar sin hacer nada. También nos cubrimos con barro de la orilla, un baño Maya según el capitán de la lancha. Pasamos 15 o 20 minutos allá, y al fin bajamos el rio hasta el mar, cual era en azul lindísimo. Enjuagamos en el mar para quitar el lodo y después fuimos a almorzar en un restaurante. En la tarde visitamos dos cenotes, ‘Kikil’ y ‘Hubiko.’ Nadamos en los dos y fuimos a Valladolid después. Visitamos el convento San Bernardino y despedimos a los demás para quedarnos en el centro.



Laguna Rosada

El próximo día me levanté muy temprano – demasiado temprano porque no sabía que estábamos en otra zona horaria – para correr en la carrera de la virgen de la candelaria. Era una carrera rápida – yo corrí lo mas rápido que pude y terminé en alrededor de 43 minutos (10k). Despues fuimos a Chichen Itza. Valía la pena aunque no tenía mucho interés en ir al principio. Había un montón de gente y además más de 200 vendedores por lo menos, pero caminar por las ruinas era impresionante. Intenté imaginar cómo estuviera la vida en aquellas épocas, pero pienso es imposible tener una idea con certeza. Imagino que todo era muy, muy diferente y dudo que ser un ser humano significó lo que significa hoy en día. No hay chance que pensaban como nosotros y todo el mundo parecía lleno do espíritus poderosos. Vida y muerte no representaba nada parecida a que creamos hoy. Que interesante sería vivir un día con pensamientos y creencias así.


Chichen Itza



Convento San Bernardino

Regresamos a Valladolid en la tarde y fuimos a comer un almuerzo fuerte porque era domingo y queríamos observar las tradiciones locales. Comimos guacamole, totopos, un filete de res con papas (yo) y Erin probó una comida típica de Yucatán cual era un tipo de tacos (más o menos) rellenos con huevo duro con salsa de calabaza – la salsa estuvo rica pero los huevos eran mucho – como comer una docena de huevos al mismo tiempo – que bomba de colesterol! Me sentí un poco mal por el sol después de la carrera y el paseo por las ruinas, pero al fin caminamos por algunas horas por la ciudad. Al fin, terminamos cerca de la estación de autobús en un bar, el ‘Yuk-Tko,’ donde tenían botanas gratis, incluso una de chayote que era bien rica. Era el día del ‘Súper Tazón’ en EEUU también, y vimos el partido por una hora antes de regresar a Tulum (ganó Nueva Inglaterra en ‘overtime,’ escuché el día después). Llegamos a la cabaña a las once y media y dormimos muy bien por estar tan cansados. !Que buen fin de semana!                                                                                X—————-X



Gran Cenote

Mahahual, Quintana Roo. Pasamos otra semana en la escuela Metzli y todo fue bien. Estudiamos con clases del grupo en las mañanas y tomamos otras clases privadas por las tardes. Mi maestro era Agustín y estuve con Anna de Minnesota. Para clases de conversación tuvimos Antonio, y mis clases privadas hice con Lilliana. Era la mejor semana y pienso que aprendí algunas cosas por lo menos. Todavía estoy sintiéndome un poco lerdo para aprender, pero recibí muchos comentarios buenos de los locales, pues tal vez no soy tan malo al fin. Fuimos también a otros cenotes – ‘Cristal, Escondido, y Gran Cenote’ – cual era excelente para practicar el ‘esnorkel.’ El Gran Cenote esta en una cueva y el agua es tal vez 10 metros de profundidad. Puedes nadar entre estalactitas en el agua y también ver a algunas tortuguitas y peces. Había también un pavo real que le gusto hacer escándalo cerca del área para comer. Fuimos también a la playa un par de veces. Una noche para caminar abajo de la luna llena. Yo corrí el circuito de las ruinas una mañana cuando Erin fue al dentista – donde todo fue bien. Viernes en la noche fuimos a la casa de una profesora, Aura, para tomar algunas chelas, comer botanas, y charlar. Fue buena noche y tuvimos la oportunidad para hablar mucho. Salimos domingo en la mañana y llegamos aquí a las doce.

Estamos en ‘la cabaña del doctor,’ un chavo amigable que nos dio sugerencias sobre que deberíamos hacer en Bacalar. Mahahual es una linda lugar y no hay mucho tráfico o bastante ruido. Nuestro cuarto esta 100 metros desde el mar y una playita con sillas y una pequeña muelle. Vienen cruceros casi diarios, y este es como la gente gana la vida aquí – vendiendo artesanías, comida, recorridos, etc. a los que vienen desde los barcos. Hay banquete que va por todo la zona turística donde no se puede manejar. Todos quieren venderte algo, pero la mayoridad de ellos son amables. Hemos comido en el pueblo muchas veces, y todo es rico, frito, y bien barato. También corrimos en las mañanas y hay un buen camino para correr que no tiene carros ni mucha gente. También es de polvo que es mucho mejor para mi cuerpo que el pavimento. El mar aquí es bien hermoso y muchos colores de azul, incluso un azul eléctrico. Después de todo el bullo en Tulum es lindísimo estar aquí con la tranquilidad.              X————-X



Estamos saliendo hoy. Corrimos esta mañana y comimos en la playa, aunque el desayuno no era tan bueno. Ayear fue ‘el día de amor y amistad’ (14 feb) y cenamos en un restaurante popular que también está cerca del mar. El ambiente estaba romántico, pero la comida tampoco no era nada especial. Parece que lo más cerca al mar que esta el restaurante, lo peor está la comida. Bueno, estamos sentados a la orilla ahora y tenemos media hora antes de tenemos ir al camión. Ayer, en la tarde, pedimos un kayak del gerente de las cabañas. Nos alquilamos uno, mas equipo para hacer esnorkel. Remamos a arrecife y nadamos algunas veces buscando peces antes de que pasamos una piedra y pedazo de arrecife abajo. Fue muy lindo todo y vimos muchas especies de peces. Nos quedamos en el agua hasta que estábamos congelados. Tomamos un poco de sol, y remamos de regreso. Estoy allegro que al fin hicimos algo, porque siempre he tenido ganas de hacer esnorkel en la península Yucatán.                                                  X————–X

Aeropuerto, Ciudad de México. Salimos Cancún esta mañana y estamos esperando otro vuelo a los Mochis. Después de Mahahual, pasamos algunos días en Bacalar y un par de noches en Mérida. En el camino a Bacalar tuvimos una llanta ponchada (pues la llanta se explotó). Esperamos un rato para que los dos chóferes pudieron cambiarla, y era poco chistoso mirar a los pobrecitos encontrar problema tras problema (como no tuvieron gato al principio). Llegamos a Bacalar en la tarde. Hacía mucho calor. Comimos una botana cerca del lago, y después fuimos a un recorrido en la laguna. Nuestro guía se llamó Sergio, y él me dejó dirigir la lancha por mayoridad del viaje. Pasamos tres cenotes – negro, esmeralda, y ‘coquitos’ – También pasamos la isla de pájaros que era llena de cigüeñas y dos espátulas rosadas. Al fin, pasamos al canal de piratas para nadar y tirarnos desde una barca pirata de concreto. Esa noche comimos comida vegetariana y vimos a algunas niñas bailando para el aniversario del pueblo.

El próximo día fuimos con Rodrigo para un recorrido en kayaks. Cruzamos la laguna otra vez, y pasamos por la canal hasta otra lagunita. De hecho, Rodrigo no era un buen guía, y pasó mucho tiempo en su teléfono. También, no sabía nada sobre la naturaleza, y llamó a todos los pájaros ‘garzas,’ que obviamente no eran. Después, desayunamos con él y Wilbur, su ayudante. Cuando terminamos, hicimos un mini-tour del museo del ‘fuerte’ que hay en Bacalar cual era para defender la ciudad contra las piratas. Al fin, fuimos al cenote azul y nadamos por media hora, incluso saltamos de un árbol. Terminamos a las dos en la tarde, y estuvimos un poco decepcionados con Rodrigo, aunque yo tenía un buen día a pesar del comportamiento de él.


Amanecer en Bacalar

En viernes, nos dormimos un poco tarde y cuando nos levantemos caminamos por el pueblo otra vez. Pasamos un museo, y nadamos una vez más en la laguna. Tomamos un camión en la tarde, vimos bastantes películas y tuvimos que usar toda la ropa que traíamos por el frio que hace en los buses de ‘primera clase’. Aparentemente, paga para estar en otra zona climática. Llegamos a Mérida a las siete, y fuimos al centro para mirar un partido de ‘pok-ta-pok,’ un juego tradicional de los Mayas que estaban demostrando en el centro. Comimos buena comida en un restaurante con patio y música en vivo. Próxima mañana fuimos en colectivo a Chablecal y caminamos hasta algunas ruinas que se llaman ‘Dzibilchaltun.’ Eran muy padre, y también hubo un cenote, cenote ‘Xlacah’ – mi cenote favorito de todos que hemos visitado. Regresemos en la tarde, caminamos otra vez por la ciudad, y regresamos a Cancún. Cuando llegamos en Cancún fuimos al hotel, nos cambiamos rápida la ropa y fuimos a correr. Era una linda atardecer. Corrimos por una hora y terminamos en la playa. Caminamos un poco, y regresamos a hotel. Tomamos unas chelas cuando estábamos sentados en la piscina, y después cenamos en el restaurante. Tuve una buena conversación con el mesero y después dormimos bien. Fuimos otra vez a la playa esta mañana, y desayunamos cerca el terminal ADO. Y ahorita estamos aquí y sale el avión en 30 minutos (ojala). Próxima parada – los Mochis.                                                               X————————X




Arepo, Chihuahua, México. Llegamos a Mochis muy tarde. El chico del hotel nos avisó que no era buena idea salir en la noche por razón de los carteles y los problemas que plagaran Sinaloa. Dijo que la escuela había cerrada aquel día por una amenaza de violencia. Pues, fuimos a la cama y dormimos cinco horas antes de salir otra vez a la estación de trenes.


Mapa de Ruta


El Chepe

El tren – ‘El Chepe’ – fue muy divertido. Era mi primera (o segunda, o tercera) vez viajar en tren. Compramos boletos de segundo clase, como en esta época todos los vagones están conectados y casi no hay diferencia. Pasamos mucho tiempo afuera, entre los vagones, donde las vistas fueron mejores y pude escuchar a los sonidos del tren y ferrocarril. Llegamos a ‘Arepo’ o Posada Barranca, a las tres en la tarde. Tuvimos una reservación en ‘hotel Mansion Tarahumara’ y subimos muchas escaleras para encontrar nuestro cuarto. ¡Que increíble! El paisaje afuera de la ventana y desde el balcón es marvillosa. Casi no podía creer que era nuestra habitación, pero dos días después todavía es. En la tarde, pues el atardecer, vimos algo que parecía torre de castillo muy cerca a nosotros. Fuimos alla pensando que era mirador, y asi era, pero poco descuidado. Ahorita no hay escalera y tienes que subir escalando por una roca enorme hasta donde puede pararse. Otra vez, las vistas eran inolvidables. Había un chico solo allá. Él estaba admirando los paisajes también y poco a poco empezamos a hablar. Su nombre era Julio, y después de poco tiempo, nos hicimos planes para que él nos guía por el cañón el próximo día. Y lo pasó. Ayer, comimos desayuno en el salón de hotel, empacamos una mochila, y nos juntamos con Julio. Pasamos todo el día caminando cañón abajo, y después regresamos por otra ruta. Caminamos hasta una vista asombrosa donde pudimos ver el río Urique por cañón arriba y abajo. Nos acompañaron dos perros, Rocky y su ‘socia.’ Julio es tarahumara y sabía mucho sobre las plantas y los animales. Habló poco, pero contestó todas de nuestras preguntas. Pienso que caminamos 30 kilómetros o algo así. Fuimos al ‘nido de águilas’ y de regreso para aquí. Un súper día. Caminamos un poquito más aquella tarde, hasta el supermercado y después para cenar en la casa ‘cafetería’ del Victor, un señor que también trabaja para el hotel. Era una buena experiencia y estoy agradecido que tuvimos la suerte conocer a Julio. Hoy, continuamos.                                       X————————X


Barranca del Cobre


Creel, Barrancas del Cobre, Chihuahua. Llegamos hace dos días al pequeña ciudad de Creel. Parecía un poco loco al principio, después de dos días de tranquilidad completa, pero ahora me gusta mucho el pueblo. Ojala que tuviéramos más tiempo aquí. Ayer anduvimos en bicis desde el pueblo a muchas formaciones de piedra. Valles de los hongos, las ranas, las monturas, las chi-chis, y los monjes… El lugar de los monjes era mi favorito, y muy impresionante. Había muchos grupos diferentes de columnas verticales hecho de piedra. Yo hubiera poder pasado todo el día allá, pero solo tuvimos tiempo para almorzar y después caminar un poco por las torres de piedra. De regreso fuimos por otra ruta y montamos por un bosque de pinos hasta lago Arareko. Vimos al lago por un rato, y después encontramos algunos senderos hecho para las bicis de montaña. Era bien chido pasar por los ranchos de los Raramuris en bici, aunque no estoy seguro que opinan ellos. Imagino que quisieran que todo fuera como era antes de los Españoles, los mestizos, y por supuesto los gringos – pero no es así. Es poco triste ver a sus niños intentando vender recuerdos en las calles aquí. Sin educación, no pienso que van a tener una vida feliz. Yo estaba muy cansado, perro alegro cuando regresamos desde la cena anoche. Dormí bien, pero estoy deprimido hoy porque tenemos que salir y regresar a EEUU. Todavía tenemos una noche más en México. Vamos a Chihuahua (la ciudad) esta tarde. Ojala que regrese aquí pronto.                                              X—————–X


Ciudad Chihuahua

Terlingua Ranch, Tejas. Otra vez, y no estoy emocionado estar aquí. Salimos Creel medio día en camión. Pasamos por Chuatemol, y llegamos en la capital a las cuatro. Tuvimos un cuarto excelente muy alto en el hotel ‘Palacio del Sol.’ Caminamos mucho por el centro, vimos algunos mercados, y admiramos los murales en el palacio del gobierno. Cenamos en un restaurante cerca del zócalo, y después regresamos al hotel para disfrutar la habitación. Esta mañana nos despertamos temprano y miramos la tele y hicimos ejercicio antes de que tuvimos que salir a Ojinaga. Nos recogieron la hermana y madre de Erin. Fuimos a un restaurante en OJ, pasamos la heladería, y vinimos aquí. Yo anduve en bici por un rato antes de hacer la cena. No quería regresar. No quería salir México de verdad. No quiero estar en este país lleno de odio e ignorancia. Fue un buen viaje, aprendí mucho. Conocí a buena gente, y tuve la suerte conocer más de un país lindísimo. !Que viva México!


!Que Barbara!



Where does one journey stop and the next begin? Is it a moment of departure, or arrival? The minute you leave one place, or the hour you enter the next? A geographical shift, a border crossing, a change in location names or physical address? Or does it begin with a change in consciousness, a refocused alignment in attitude? Does it get going the instant the thought occurs to go, or the minute the first plan of motion is followed through with? Perhaps, if one feels the need to compartmentalize, clear delineations may be by found and argued. Perhaps, there is no beginning, no true end.

For our current purposes, however, I will say that this trip began an hour or so after something else was finished, which was the income generating before the actual travel. The expenditure of energy involved in the shoring up of resources. The work which allows for the not-work, always an expedition, of sorts, unto itself. In this case it was San Antonio, Texas and 30 even days of attachment to a noisy parking lot full of harvested Christmas trees from North Carolina and the PNW. Our job being, as it were, to sell them to suburban families in search of status quo holiday décor. We did that, for twelve hours a day, but really more like 24 as we couldn’t leave the lot at night, having been contracted to stay with the trees at all times, for those 30 successive days without break. So, in reality, I suppose it was more like 720 total hours in the end – nothing in real life as it looks in those tiny three numbers. As I mentioned, an experience all of its own, though not the focus of the rest of these words. Suffice it to say, that when the last of the little trees left the parking lot that final afternoon, there was a significant shift in mental focus, an ease of tension, a release. Though the physical location, noisy, hectic, and unstimulating as it was, had not been altered in any way save for the disappearance of the inventory, a palpable modification of intention signified the shifting of one thing to the commencement of another.

We spent another couple nights there, on the lot next to the intersection with the same staccato roar of traffic piercing the air around us, but the days were far different from the ones before. There was time downtown, a day of walking in the cold and riding bikes in the rain and just feeling a sense of freedom only available to those who have been without for some time. There were different neighborhoods, and a couple of restaurants, paths by the river. There was exploration and spontaneity and a sense of relaxation even in spite of trying to see as much as possible in the time we chose to be there. There was a slow Sunday morning, the packing up, and the inevitable departure. The open road before us and no real plans and the undeniable sensation that the intense monotony of the past 30 days had never occurred at all.

From San Antonio we cruised the freeway the few hours to the coast, going first through Corpus Christi, then south down to Padre Island National Seashore. We arrived in the cool evening hours to the sounds of wind and gently lapping waves, a light mist, and the scent of unseen flowers blooming in the darkness. The next morning we discovered that the park allows visitors to drive and camp along the beach, which is exactly what we decided to do, traveling several miles south across the sand and finding a place to just be for a few days. And that was it. Sitting, walking, running, reading, sleeping. More than anything, decompressing I think, letting the hums of the ocean replace the remembered barrage of suburban traffic, those bullying modified mufflers trying without end to scream meaning into countless existential crises.

It was foggy and cool for the first couple days we were there, brilliantly sunny the last. We hopped in a van with a couple of park service volunteers that last morning before leaving, and went cruising around looking for birds. I am a longtime admirer of the avian world, and appreciate knowing the common species wherever I might be spending my time. I am not, however, a ‘birder,’ and probably never will be, the checked boxes and life lists and driving to garbage dumps and wastewater treatment ponds to complete them not seeming nearly as appealing as casual observation. But I like to hang out with those who know more than I do whenever possible, and always appreciate the opportunity to look at animals through spotter scopes worth more than some cars I’ve owned. It was an enjoyable couple of hours, though slightly foreign to my idea of outdoor activity as we never strayed more than 20’ from the van. The couple’s enthusiasm for ticking each species of the day’s list was an even blend of infectious and absurd. After driving in loops in order to scan the bay, the beach, the duck ponds, the dunes, and a sadly unfruitful radio antennae (where was that peregrine, he’s always there…), our pencil-ticked sheets showed a grand total of 35 birds, a new record for the short time they’d been there, and a joyous success.

That afternoon we made our way back west and down to Laredo, having decided over those past days to head into Mexico for a while. There it was a couple of nights in Casa Blanca State Park, a day of errands, a final decision to store the van and board the bus rather than drive ourselves. It was a long walk across a harsh urban landscape from the storage facility to the Turimex station. It was a three-hour ride turned to seven or so, including the hour-plus spent sitting in standstill traffic on the bridge over the Rio Grande. It was the day before Christmas Eve, and hordes of heavy laden pick-ups carried gifts and goods home for the holidays.

We spent that evening in Monterrey in a hotel just down the street from the central bus station, surrounded by acres of gridlocked vehicles and fruitlessly blaring horns. An almost comical cacophony of anger and futility. In the hotel bar there was a company Christmas party in progress complete with Santa hats and potentially regrettable happenings on the dancefloor. The main entertainment was a man with long gray hair and glasses seated casually on a barstool surrounded by sound equipment. He seemed to be a professional karaoke singer who took requests on cocktail napkins and kept the crowd going with some real belters. It was much too loud to hold a normal conversation, but quite fun to watch from the edges.

In the morning things were a bit more tranquil when we walked back to the bus station to find our local connection. We were headed west of town an hour or so to Hidalgo, Nuevo Leon, and then from there to a climbing area called Potrero Chico. Some information was available on the internet as far as how to get there, complete with a photo of the appropriate window to purchase tickets. Much to our chagrin, however, when we arrived at the counter everything was exactly as shown in the photo, minus the destination placard of Hidalgo. It was quite funny to hold the screen up while viewing the real world version of the scene, as even the counter woman looked almost exactly as the one in the photo, however, that one word was missing and nothing else. It was like one of those find the differences games come to life. Once the amusement wore off, however, there was little to be done but try and figure out how we were going to get to where we wanted to be going, which provided the basis for an ever more confusing set of conversations and wanderings around the city center. In the end, and after several hours of mild frustration, we managed to find, board, and ride the bus to Hidalgo and finally arrived around noon.

The first mission was eating churros in the town plaza where the bus dropped us off, the next, finding lunch, which ended up being tamales at a tiny shop nearby. Afterwards, we bought a few groceries, and found a taxi to carry us up the hill towards the national park and outlying campgrounds. Finding one to our liking, we set up camp for the week, grabbed our gear, and walked up into the park for a bit of evening rock climbing.

And that’s about how the next few days went. Climbing for a few hours, going out for a run afterwards, cooking, eating, repeating. Potrero Chico has become, in the past several years, an internationally renowned sport climbing destination, especially popular during winter in the northern hemisphere. It boasts masses of beautiful karst limestone, and hundreds of bolted routes at all climbing levels, many of them multi-pitch. The entrance to the park, whose name means little corral, is a spectacular looking notch between vertical cliff faces on either side, a corral gate of colossal dimensions. There is a dirt road which runs through the center of the cliffs, and on up into the park. An enormous water park, empty and ominous in the winter months, sits off to the side, just past the gate, leading one to consider the very different sort of recreation popular over the summer months as local families arrive to escape the heat of the Chihuahuan Desert. There are certainly Mexican climbers around, but for the most part, the locals prefer to drive up the road a ways, crank some norteño music, and drink beer while watching groups of foreigners eke up the cliffs around them. Tuba rhythms and the occasional trumpet section reverberate off the canyon walls as you climb.

I am not much of a climber, and never have been, though I’ve given it my best efforts plenty of times and in multiple locations over the course of many years of knowing lots of climbers. It’s simply never excited me the way that other methods of experiencing the wilderness have, and to be quite honest I often find it rather boring as so little of the time one invests in a day of climbing involves actually working your way up some rock. I’ve also recently realized, after visiting three celebrated spots in the past months, that most popular climbing destinations offer very little in the way of solitude, as lines form for certain climbs, crag dogs bark the day away, and you’re often roping up about three feet away from others groups. Erin, however, was once an avid climber who previously planned international vacations with her sister based on climbing destinations, and it’s something she still enjoys doing, and something that seems to be rewarding to her in many ways. So, as of late, we’ve been giving it a go together with mixed success. Her somewhat rusty leading skills combined with my neophyte belaying behavior often make for some emotionally charged situations, though I suppose we’re getting better each time we go out. For the first several days we were around, we went out for several hours and managed to climb a few easier routes a few times each before finding something else to do for the rest of the afternoon. It worked well enough for us, but there were certainly times when I felt, though I tried my best not to, like some kind of fraud due to the intense focus and monotonous climbing conversations which dominated the social energy of the place.

And I get it, the inability to discuss anything but the common denominator of a shared lifestyle focus, having been involved in the whitewater community for years, but that doesn’t mean I particularly enjoy sitting quietly on the sidelines in shared living spaces and tiny restaurants and the one coffee shop in the area suffering through non-stop jargon and endless references to routes, crags, and all the places in the world one could go to climb and presumably talk to likeminded people about climbing ad nauseum. All of the talking was also conducted in English, in Mexico, with little interest shown regarding that particular geographical/cultural circumstance. I will respectfully say one final thing about climbers vs boaters, however, and that is that climbers seem to be a decidedly more healthy group all around, focused more on set goals and increasing physical prowess rather than getting sloppy drunk on a nightly basis. A refreshing dissimilarity. In short, there were certainly a couple days I enjoyed more than others, and we did find ourselves climbing away from the crowds once or twice, which I really appreciate, but I wasn’t altogether broken up when the weather turned nasty for a few days and we were forced to find other ways to entertain ourselves.

The best day I had over the course of the several days of living in the cold wet cloud which set down on top of the place was when we decided to take the bus over to the neighboring town of Mina for a visit. I suppose I appreciated this day because, like so many days we’d have for the rest of the trip, it exemplified the type of traveling I really like to do – the limited plans, see what you find, everything works itself out type of 20171228_142614exploration that calls for patience and problem solving and above all a positive attitude. The type of travel that ideally leads to interactions with remote places, kind people, and unexpected events that will not be soon forgotten. I won’t bother with all of the details, as they might not seem as serendipitous in the retelling as in the actual living of them, but some of the highlights of the day were: a small but well-done museum, a well-cooked meal (you know it’s going to be good when you hear the tortillas being pounded out in the kitchen as you wait), a long cab ride down a deserted dirt road to a closed park gate and telling the driver to go ahead and leave with no idea as to how we would get back to town, eventually finding our way into the park, wandering for a couple of hours through a desert landscape and hundreds of petroglyphs, getting a ride out that evening with the superintendent who showed us the ruins of the adobe house he was born in, being invited to share a cab back to Hidalgo with a couple of local ladies sick of waiting for the bus, and getting a ride back to the campground from another local who turned around after seeing us walking out in the cold.

Around that time, which happened to be a few days after Christmas and a couple days before the New Year, the place started to really fill up with climbers, mainly travelers and college students on break hoping for some sun and fun before heading back to a winter of work and study. The weather was still cold and rainy, and as things became noticeably more crowded, we decided to move on for a while.

From there it was back to Monterrey for a couple of days of walking around the city, visiting museums, and checking out the urban revival of a city recently plagued with cartel violence and the accompanying reputation that comes with such troubles. A serendipitous, though somewhat terrifying ride from two local women in their 20s who picked us up as we were leaving Potrero (terrifying due to the maniacal manner of driving and the casual nonstop banter from both as we careened multiple times towards oncoming traffic), landed us in the heart of the city a couple of blocks from our reserved residence. We ended up at a real dive of a hostel in the Barrio Antiguo district, but its proximity to most of the major attractions made most of the egregious shortcomings somewhat tolerable. And besides, you get what you pay for, and in this case that wasn’t much from either party. The surrounding neighborhoods and multiple plazas were full of families on holiday outings, and we walked for miles the first evening we were there submersed in a festive atmosphere and surrounded by crowds of happy people.

The next morning we woke up early and toured several museums, including a contemporary art museum, a historical museum, and a cultural museum where throngs of diligent Catholics leisurely swarmed through a traveling Michelangelo exhibit replete 20171231_141248with life-sized replicas of many famous statues and paintings. Most were snapping selfies in front of the pieces, rather than of the works themselves, but hey… Afterwards we strolled along the river walk, eventually ending up at Parque Fundidora, a proud metropolitan park dotted with historic artifacts now serving as industrial art showing off the city’s legacy as an iron producing powerhouse, where sprawling acres of pathways, attractions, and open space await the weary city dweller. A true gem any city would be proud to boast. While there, the weather started to turn nasty, leaving us to seek shelter, sustenance, and coffee in a cozy diner nearby. Things were no better once we were ready to leave, so we decided to try our luck on the Metro rather than walking all the way back in the rain. Success, followed by a cozy siesta in our sparse quarters as the storm settled in to stay for a while.

Later that night, New Year’s Eve, we spent the celebrated observance of the changing of calendar years without much fanfare. It wasn’t for lack of trying on our part, as we went back out in a steady downpour and walked around for over an hour trying to find someplace to eat and perhaps listen to some music until midnight, but almost everything was closed down completely, or else dinner was by reservation only. New Year’s in Latin America is commonly celebrated with family rather than out partying. We were happy to finally get some dinner, and probably the best veggie meal of the trip in the form of some tasty portabella tacos, and a couple of beers, and ended up calling it an evening sometime around 10.

The first day of 2018 in Monterrey was far colder than anything we had yet experienced, with temperatures near freezing and a steady drizzle coming down from the dark skies nestled low across the city skyline. We eventually motivated ourselves to go on a run, however, and were rewarded with empty streets and open sidewalks. The cold air was harsh on the lungs, the breeze frigid against bare legs, and the needley rain a bit rough on the face, but we eventually got used to it and made our way back to Fundidora, seeing a few paintings and places along the way that we’d missed the day before. Later that morning, we packed up, braved the artic wind tunneling through the streets while searching for breakfast, and headed for the airport for the afternoon hop down to Tampico, Tamaulipas on the Gulf of Mexico.

Things in Tampico weren’t much warmer, nor the hotel room that much nicer, but it was more stopping point than destination. A few days earlier, we’d decided on somewhat of a whim to do a fly-down/bus back option that began as close as possible to Ciudad Valles in San Luis Potosi, a few hours by bus away from Tampico, as it turns out. Having finalized those nonspecific travel plans, by which I mean we bought two plane tickets and didn’t bother to plan much further, we mostly forgot about them until a couple hours before the plane took off. As far as spending any time in Tampico, which didn’t seem to be a highly recommended tourist destination, my general attitude holds that if you’re probably only going to be somewhere once in your life, you might as well make an effort to at least see a few things while you’re there. As such, we ended up booking two nights in town while at the Monterrey airport, and spent the next day checking out a good portion of Tampico.

The morning started with a huge breakfast buffet at a little restaurant next to the hotel. Most of the food was prepared on site, and the offerings were numerous, delicious, and hard to resist. Needless to say, we left, as will happen after one pays for an ‘all you can eat’ experience, overly sated. Erin, bloated more from multiple glasses of fresh juice than anything else, swore off of buffets for an indeterminate future. We held our bellies on the way over to a nearby bus stop and boarded the first one that came by after an affirmation from the driver that he was headed to the beach, only to be promptly dropped off several minutes later and nowhere close to the coast, for reasons I could not clearly understand. Vague directions were given as to which way we should go to board the correct bus, but we decided to start walking instead, eventually arriving at the beach an hour or so later. (Turns out a large road construction project was happening near the entrance, which was the cause for all of the initial confusion as all bus traffic had been suspended from the thoroughfare.)

Wind off the ocean amplified the pervasive chill as we walked for a couple of hours along the edge of a tumultuous sea, down a beach recently hammered by a tropical storm, now strewn with hundreds of empty palapas and battered wooden chairs. At the end of the beach was a jetty extending from the mouth of the Panuco River. The boardwalk along the top of which was the only populated area around. Aggressive gulls dashed and dove, fighting for food scraps, while vendors sold puffed corn snacks to tourists who then fed them to vacant eyed raccoons ensconced in the rocks along the pier.

From there we ended up on another town bus, and received a thorough crisscross tour of the streets of Tampico from a local’s perspective. It was not a city I would love to live in, dirty, noisy, and monotonous. I wondered at the lives of those who did, but am sure I found myself no closer to imagining their realities than they mine, if the effort was reciprocated to any degree. After almost an hour to traverse what would have taken us about three minutes in a cab, we were dropped off in front of Laguna Carpintero, a sizeable lake in the center of the city. After a salty snack of tamarindo in a cup, we almost jokingly boarded a small boat for a quick tour of the lake, imagining there wouldn’t be much to see. The night before, my interest had been piqued in seeing the place after the cab driver from the airport told me there were crocodiles in the lake, though I was somewhat skeptical of his claims. Turns out he was telling the truth, as a seven-foot long one swam just in front of the boat as soon as we left the dock. But crocodiles weren’t the only attraction of the ride, as the other side of the lake was a small wildlife refuge of sorts with multiple species of herons hanging out in the trees alongside hundreds of enormous orange-red and emerald green iguanas. Quite cool. Towards the end of the tour there was also a beach full of sunbathing crocs, which, though impressive, almost paled in comparison to all of the unanticipated wildlife we’d already seen. Perhaps my favorite part of the trip, however, was the trip host/announcer, who, in spite of the fact that he probably did this dozens of times a day for years on end, resonated fresh enthusiasm for the laguna and for his city as a whole with his upbeat attitude and positive affirmations pertaining to Tampico’s attributes as an outstanding city worthy of pride and consideration.

From there we walked to the central district, stopping to check out the obligatory cathedral and the main plaza before catching a, thankfully, more direct bus back towards where we were staying. Still full from breakfast, dinner consisted of fresh fruit in the hotel room, and breakfast the next day was no more than a couple pieces of bread and some coffee before boarding the bus to Valles.

The intention to check out San Luis Potosi had been a couple years in the making. Perhaps never a true intention, rather more of a suggestive impetus in the back of the mind. As such, finding ourselves a state away while in Nuevo Laredo, opportunity merged with subconscious slowly developing as potential reality. Two winters ago we spent several months in Argentina, where I worked on the Mendoza guiding rafts, and Erin shot photos of the rapids. While there, we met lots of kind and generous people, among them a Mexican river guide by the name of Miguel, who often spoke passionately of his adopted home state of Potosi. It was there that he spent a majority of each year running trips on the turquoise blue waters found throughout the region, and his descriptions of the waterfalls and countryside in the area left one with a strong desire to visit and explore.

The main hub of adventure based activities in the state is found in Ciudad Valles, several hours east of the capital, and a couple hours west of Tampico. In Valles we ended up staying several days in an apartment near the city center which we found on Airbnb. Our host, Don Gustavo, and his son Marco, picked us up at the bus station and shuttled us over to their place. Once there Don G provided us with an outline of the multiple locations worth visiting in the area, along with several hand sketched maps drawn over the course of our conversation. He left with an invitation to join him for a sip of tequila at some point during our stay, which we later took him up on, showing up expecting a quick nip and some light conversation only to find ourselves being served a full dinner and hanging out for several hours of casual Spanish chatter.

The biggest challenge during our stay in Valles become quickly apparent when we realized that most of the outlying destinations weren’t necessarily all that close to the city, and no one could provide us with any solid details pertaining to public transportation to and from any of the major attractions. Frustrating as this may have been, however, some of the more rewarding, though potentially maddening, experiences garnered in the course of both travel and language acquisition (and the combination of the two) arrive in the form of seemingly daunting and insurmountable obstacles such as getting from one place to another. The good news is that if you want to go somewhere in Latin America, there is almost always a bus, or series of buses/colectivos/etc., heading that way from somewhere at some point just about every day. You just have to find them. And we did, eventually, and without excessive effort and a little bit of occasional luck.

The first day there we decided to go for the easiest place to reach, which was the small neighboring town of Xilitla and the surrealist garden of Sir Edward James. The eccentric James was an uber-rich Scottish socialite who transplanted himself to the Mexican jungle in the late 1940s, eventually creating/sponsoring the construction of a paradisiacal micro-reality in the form of Las Pozas, where towering concrete sculptures and multi-storied staircases to nowhere serve to visually enhance the already fantastical pools and waterfalls on the sizeable property. I had read about the ‘garden’ years before, while in southern Veracruz, which is as close as I imagined I’d ever get to seeing the place, so it was a truly dreamlike experience to walk the paths there for a few hours and marvel at both the imagination and labor that went into the creation of such a unique locale.


That evening, we caught up with Miguel, who was preparing to head down to Costa Rica for the next several months to guide rafts during the slow season in Potosi. We didn’t have much of an opportunity to hang out with him throughout our time in Valles, as he left a couple days later, but it was fun to visit with him for a couple of hours all the same. Always a treat to reconnect with people you met in a totally different set of circumstances, people you never really imagined you’d ever see again. He also set us up with his company to raft down the Rio Tampaon the following day, which was an enjoyable experience and welcome opportunity to check out a new river – and our one day of no hassle transportation as the operation’s headquarters was only a block from our apartment. The Tampaon, like most all of the rivers and otherworldly swimming holes we’d eventually see in San Luis Potosi, was a brilliant turquoise, the exact color you might imagine in an advertisement for a Caribbean vacation. And while there wasn’t a significant amount of serious whitewater, there were a couple of fun rapids, and a long scenic float through deep gray canyon walls followed by a quick portage around a chunk of limestone where the entire river disappeared into a cliff blocking its passage. Lots to take in.

We stayed around Valles a few more days, heading out on a couple more excursions including a day on the Micos River (same startling blue water) where we found a guide to lead us down the river about a mile, jumping off one waterfall into the current and swimming downstream to the next in a series. It would be hard to describe this place, as with several of the other places we would eventually end up later that week, without hyperbole, so I won’t attempt to do so. Suffice it to say that the entire time we were in that portion of Potosi, we had the great fortune to see (and swim around in) a lot of places the likes of which I’ve never seen similar. And Micos was one of them. A few leftover acres of Eden, if you will.

Deciding to be done with the daily busing to and from the city, we headed out after about a week with the intent to spend some time in our tent, as we’d heard there was camping available nearby most of the other places we’d wanted to see. And there was. We based out of the town of Tanchachin for a couple of nights, checking out both the top and base of the Tamul waterfall. We spent one night a hundred feet or so from the opening of a 1200’ deep cave shaft, known as Sotano de las Golindrinas, where tens of thousands of birds, mainly white-collared swifts moving at fighter plane speeds and green parakeets, return with astounding velocity each evening at dusk, and ascend in concentric circles to leave the abyss come dawn. We stopped by the popular Tamasopo Falls for a few hours for swimming and some lunch, and later camped out a short walk from Puente del Dios, yet another improbable and almost indescribable collection of water features, including multiple falls spouting out of all directions from the porous walls of an enclosed amphitheater of aqueous crystallinity, and a natural tunnel through a land bridge one could swim underneath from pool to flowing creek. Unbelievable that such grandeur exists in this world – truly – and even cooler that you can buckle up a PFD and jump right in!


When it was time to start heading back north, we first had to travel west a bit. We camped one night at Laguna Media Luna, a warm water, spring-fed lagoon in the form of a half-moon, and then made our way by bus to the capital of San Luis Potosi, which bears the same name, the following morning. We spent the late afternoon wandering around the city, and arrived in time to spend a couple of hours in the national museum of masks, which moved into place as one of my favorite museums ever.

From the city the next morning, which happened to be Erin’s birthday, we headed due north and back into stark landscapes and lanky cactus, though I think the actual shift occurred somewhere between Media Luna and the city. It was remarkable to observe how quickly the environment changed from lush jungle to arid desert, and to marvel at the curious plants in the transition zones. After a long ride, a transfer, and a bumpy ride, we arrived at the Orgarrio Tunnel, gateway to the ‘Pueblo Magico’ of Real de Catorce, an old silver mining town in the mountains of the Sierra Catorce. The local shuttle ferried us through the two kilometer tunnel, where we departed and searched out our hotel along the steep narrow cobblestone streets of town. As it was Erin’s birthday, we splurged a bit and ended up in a quaint, stone constructed suite owned by an Italian couple, both ex-accountants who vowed not to die at their desks before moving to Mexico to begin life anew. During our two-day stay, they plied us with Italian coffee, homemade focaccia, and explanations about one of their cats, half-crazed from a recent operation.

We got there early enough to go for an evening stroll up a steep hill to the old ghost town on the outskirts of town. From there we watched the sun set behind the mountains, and wandered around the well-preserved remnants of old mines and habitations. Dinner was simple fare of beans, gorditas with nopales, and quesadillas made with local cheese and 20180115_134916huitlacoche, a type of fungus that grows inside corn ears that is somewhat of a delicacy and surprisingly good. The following day we woke up early and hiked south out of town. Spotty directions and good fortune led us out on the right road, and we eventually found ourselves climbing up and past more old mines and a few occupied dwellings, shanties burdened by difficulty and squalor. Up we went to around 11,000’ and the top of Cerro Quemado, sacred mountain of the Huichols, who make annual pilgrimages to the site. Views in all directions, perfect weather, and not another person the entire time we were walking. We made our way back down a different route, following a ridgeline over to Cerro Oregano, whose namesake grows wild across the hill, and the huge cross above town, descending from there.

The next morning we walked north of town a ways, before leaving around noon via one of the antiquated Willys jeeps commonly used for tourist excursions in the Wirikuta Desert below town. Once a day, collective rides to Estacion de Catorce are offered at an abominably low rate for what ends up being over an hour long trip straight down the mountain and across the desert into town. Even better, we rode on top of the jeep with two other passengers and the luggage. It was nice to take in so much fresh air before the bus ride that awaited us that afternoon. We spent an hour soaking up some sun in the main plaza of Estacion before boarding for the hours long ride to Saltillo, Coahuila, and finally arrived there around dark just as the weather was getting very nasty indeed. It was back to winter in a flash, with snow and sleet beginning to blow sideways across the city, and the driver didn’t even bother to pull into the station, simply dropped us off on the main thoroughfare and sped off, hoping to make it to Monterrey before things got really ugly. Which they did, as I read the next morning of a 46 car pileup on the roads through town, and heard of other multi-vehicle accidents for the following two days.

We found our hotel, back to budget and with nothing in the city really set up for that kind of cold. Once again, as we were traveling through, we decided to spend a full day seeing what Saltillo had to offer, what kind of city it might be. Turns out, a really nice one. Mellow, relatively quiet, clean, and with all sorts of museums focused on everything from the Mexican Revolution to the history of the serape. The following day, the one after we arrive that is, the one we spend walking around the city, was bitterly cold with snow falling for most of the morning and afternoon. It was hard to find a place to eat in an enclosed setting, as most of the year it’s probably a lot more comfortable to dine in an open air atmosphere. Many of the shopkeepers didn’t bother to go to work, and even a couple of the museums we were going to check out were closed due to weather. We finally found the internationally renowned bird museum open, and ended up spending a couple of hours checking out all of the well-conceived exhibits and trying to memorize as many bird names in Spanish as possible. Afterwards, we tried to find anyplace warmish to hang out, eventually ending up at the Cineplex (which, though not all that toasty, was at least out of the wind). We decided to test our Spanish skills while watching Una Mujer sin Filtro, a contemporary comedy filmed in Mexico City. It ended up being easy enough to follow with or without total comprehension, and provided several warming laughs to boot.

The next morning it was back on a bus to Monterrey, only a couple hours away. The roads were relatively clear, though several passengers used their phones to film the frozen landscape outside the windows, an uncommon sight in that part of the world. We stayed the night in the same hotel we started out in, a block or so from the main terminal, and I enjoyed the full circle sensation of return. That evening we found the nicest place to eat available in that area of town, which isn’t all that nice to tell the truth, ate our final tacos and drank the last couple Carta Blancas of the trip. In the morning it was a few hours spent on a bus to the border, the crossing, the bus station, a cab ride to the van, and straight on out of Laredo, the open road before us, and no plans for anything to be over anytime soon.