Archive for March, 2010

Uxmal – 29th March

31/03/2010

Tonight is our first night to sleep in a car park.  It won’t be the last!  There’s no formal campsite at the Uxmal ruins but the car park is grassy and the public toilets are some of the cleanest I’ve seen anywhere (some things become important when you’re travelling).  Oh – There were some very cool ruins as well.   

We arrived from Merida at about 2pm, had a very quick lunch and then spent the rest of the afternoon exploring.  Then back to the camper for a quick BBQ and back to the ruins for an evening light show.  See photos.

Car park camping – and below Uxmal

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Merida – 27th & 28th March

31/03/2010

Arrived in the campsite in Merida after one of the easiest drives so far. The roads in very good condition and relatively empty. Even the ring road (Merida is about the same size as Dublin) was ok.

The Rainbow campsite met expectations (very low). The first thing that struck us was the heat. We’d been travelling with the engine aircon and hadn’t noticed the increase. It was in the late 30’s when we got out.

There were a couple of other people in the site including a German couple who’d been travelling for a few years and were trying to decide between turning left (Russia) or right (Canada & Europe) when they reached Alaska.

At about 5pm we were lifted out of our chairs with music so loud you’d swear we were up front at a rock concert. It turns out there were local elections pending and the way to get votes is to set a kind of Samba party on street junctions and then make the drivers ears bleed. It stopped at 7pm. Not so bad. And started at 7am on Sunday morning – much bad.

The campsite appeared to be without bugs and we sat outside for dinner. Big mistake – Susan Emma and I were eaten alive. Jane was overlooked. Maybe her skin blinded them.

In the morning we headed into Merida centre. It’s one of the oldest colonial cities in Mexico with lots to see & do (and shop!). See Susan’s comments.

On the way back to the campsite on a public bus (painless and in almost as good a condition as Dublin buses and quite unlike anything we’d seen anywhere else in Mexico) we spotted several big supermarkets a mall and a Sears. I was persuaded to “check out” the mall (3 to 1 – unfair). Just like Dundrum except there was an ice skating rink in the centre!

This small part of Mexico is much wealthier than anything we’ve seen so far. For the first time we felt conspicuous because we looked under dressed and a bit unclean rather than rich gringos in their posh camper.

Mexico has proved to be a little bit cheaper than the US for most things except imports which are more expensive. Fuel is 8 pesos/l versus $2.55/US Gal. Still much cheaper than home but we are driving an RV giving 9mpg on a good day.

We arrived back at the campsite only to be threatened with Police if we didn’t pay an extra 100 pesos for the girls. The woman running the campsite was very aggressive and said that if we didn’t pay the extra we had to leave or she was calling the Police. It was 7pm and the nearest campsite was 40kms away. I got the feeling this was a scam but I ended up paying.

Susan Says:

We spent Sunday(Domingo) in Merida, the busiest day of the week when the city is thronged with tourists and locals.  Our first stop was MACAY, the museum of modern art, which is housed in a beautiful building, with some of its displays in a lush, green courtyard. Then to the cathedral. The street in front was lined with people making crucifixes, from wheat, flowers, leaves etc. These were bought by the hundreds of people visiting the cathedral for Semana Santa (Holy Week) which is celebrated in a big way here. The Mexicans are a very religious people – many of the houses have shrines either inside or outside, with statues, candles, flowers etc.

Then to the plaza where live music and Yucatan dancing (we’re in the Yucatan province) was taking place. Old and young danced together. It was very colourful but not a patch on Irish dancing.

Then, having just exited the Tourist Office, we were accosted by a little Mayan woman who insisted on escorting us to a Casa Artesania (craft shop) around the corner. Ten minutes later and $50 poorer (starting price $3000)  we left, complete with a Panama hat for me, not Ian, it’s just not his style. Having donned my new hat we headed to Amoro, where we ate lunch in a nice, cool courtyard. Ian, Jane and I had tasty Mexican food, as you do.Emma, having consulted the menu for a long time, eventually settled on vegetable soup. When it arrived it was very green and very suspect. Result, a hungry Emma!

Our last stop, after checking out the market, was Government Buildings, a “must-see” according to the guide book . It had huge murals depicting  Mayan history and was worth  a visit. Then off for the bus.

Just an aside – the photo of me in the last posting with my bum in the air was not me posing, but me making the girls’ bed. Bed making has never been so challenging!

Emma buried by sister in Isla L’Aguada

Evidence of child abuse. Jane was worse but refused to be photographed

Road to Merida

The Cross Maker

Yucatan Dancers

My hat seller – i look happy!

Cool restaurant in Merida

Isla Aguada 26th March (about a week behind a schedule I’ve been ignoring!) and 7,046Kms

26/03/2010

Woke up this morning parked in front of a white beach.  Cool or what!  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.  (check previous post also -below – both uploaded at the same time).

Our van is the one on the left

Pelican on “stick”

The Girls looking angelic (illusion). Pelican still hanging out in the background.

The Bridge to Isla Aguada.  We spent about 500 pesos on tolls yesterday

Thursday 25th – Heading out from Catemaco

26/03/2010

We had our first really hot night last night.  It was 38c during the day and only dropped to 31c during the night with humidity around 85%.  I’ve just found out that the Aircon in the van is not working properly!  It looks like the compressor is on the way out. I never got a chance to really test it in the US because it wasn’t hot or humid enough.  On the plus side, while there are an awful lot of bugs – very few of them are of the biting type. 

We did a boat tour the day before yesterday which Jane has already ably described.  We also went to see a beautiful waterfall near Catemaco yesterday.  It feels like we are starting to do tourist stuff rather than just driving and sleeping. 

Here’s a guy diving for crabs.  They stay under for a out 2 minutes and then pop up.  Not good when you’re using an outboard

Emma terrorising the pool in Catemaco

Susan looking flattering

 Jane chilled out reading a Dan Brown book for the 3rd time

First “Crash”

The waterfall trip also marked or first motor accident.  Luckily it was single vehicle!  I was pulling into a tight space keeping an eye on either side of the van and suddenly Bang!  I’d forgotten about the overhang above the cab and hit an awning in front of a shop.  No real damage done though.  Clearly Susan’s fault because… Well Because!

The Catemaco waterfalls

Others in the Catemaco park

The Villas Tepetepan RV park in Catemaco is the busiest we’ve been to so far (US included).  This is probably because it’s in a good crossroads spot and has a very positive write up in “Mexican Camping” by Church 7 Church – the bible for Mexican camping (aka the only decent book).

On our first day a Canadian couple, Helen & Bob, came to say hello and we quickly got talking about what to do in the area.  Susan mentioned that she had to find a laundry and they immediately insisted on taking it with them as they were getting some done as well.  They ended up been handed three big bags!  We ended up spending a couple of very pleasant evening drinking CRW* with them.  We continue to meet very friendly and helpful people.

*Cheap Red Wine  – in cartons, no grape mentioned

Helen, Bob and the Irish suspects

A Wagon train of 17 large RVs pulled into the park on our second day here (23rd I think – loosing track).  They’re an organised tour with a wagon leader and loosely based on the US wagon trains of old.  These guys had been down to Panama and were heading home after 72 days on the road.  One of the staff was very helpful and gave me all their stop points and their Garmin route trace.  This was particularly decent because they usually protect this info as part of their “secret sauce”. 

Yesterday evening Terry & Mike Church (the people who wrote the “bible”) also rolled in.  They’d also been down to Panama a few years ago and were very willing to give advice.  We grabbed them this morning just before we headed off for Isla Aguada and asked them to sign the book.  I mentioned our destination for the day and their immediate reaction was – “You’d better go now”.  They’d done the same drive in the opposite direction the previous day and it had taken over 9 hours.  It was already 9:30 and you don’t drive at night if at all possible.   

Drive, Drive. Quick stop at Aircon repair shop. Can it be easily fixed? – No.  Arse. Drive, Drive, Drive……

We’ve rolled into the campsite at 6:30 and I’m absolutely knackered.  Small restaurant on site. Pizza for dinner.  How come Susan always manages to find a restaurant when it’s her turn to cook (driving days).

Monkeys, mud facials and crocodiles

24/03/2010

Jane Says:

We visited the Nanciyaga Ecological reserve today. It was cool , but the only really enviornmentally friendly thing were the toilets (buckets). I decided that even though I am a hugger of trees , my principles could not stretch far enough for me to use them. We took a boat to various places around the reserve. First stop, mud facials. And that’s all it was. Pure, gloopy, gloppy mud with no added gold flake, donkey intestines or any other crap that beauty companies put in their  facials. And it worked too. We washed it off with fresh mineral water a few minutes later. I might post a picture of it later.

Next stop was a tour of the reserve. Plenty of Mayan statues. All replicas though, almost all of the originals were in museums in the States. That didn’t really seem fair. We drank mineral water from the river out of cups made of leaves and saw where the movies Apocalypse and The Medicine Man  were filmed. The trees used in the movies were artificial so as not to affect the actual trees (they chopped them down a lot)

The  last stop was to a small island.  There were hundreds of monkeys on the island and you could tempt them out using fruit. They were absolutely gorgeous. You’d toss them the apple pieces and they’d catch them with one paw, and if it fell in the water they’d crawl down the branches to get them . Unfortunately, we didn’t get any  pictures because Emma being the giant twat that Emma is took  pictures  of absolutely nothing.

Some photos

Emma & Susan in the Sea at Costa Esmeralda

fishermen on lake Catemaco

Susan trying to get rid of some wrinkles

all the girls trying the same

Jugglers in the street in Catemaco

Birds on the lake

Two crap pictures of Howler monkeys

20/03/10 – Mexico day 4

20/03/2010

20/03/10 – Day 4 since leaving the US and 6,117Kms into the trip (includes almost 1,700kms looking for the camper).  We’ve arrived at the Costa Esmeralda  and crossed through the Tropic of Cancer.

The drive from Victoria was a long one and a lot harder than I’d thought.  We left at 7:30am and headed out in vicious crosswinds.  Lola (The satnav) promptly told us the only way was through the center of Victoria – I would hesitate trying that on a motorcycle.  We found the bypass by signs and good luck.

We drove pretty well nonstop for 10 hours on roads that went from near perfect (very rare) to some of the worst I’ve ever been on – including Africa.  We saw and sometimes hit potholes 20cm deep.  There were hundreds of them.  You could usually see them  or be warned because the surface was already very poor.  But sometimes they were in the middle of a good stretch and you were on them before you realised.  I’m a little surprised the van survived completely intact.  Only one glass broken.

The girls were great during the drive.  They did a little school work and then read or played Nintendo for the whole time.

The Costa Esmeralda is meant to be a big holiday destination but all of the campsites are near empty.  The one we were heading for was closed but we ended up staying in ‘Alba Yuri’.  I think we’re out of season.  Contrary to the descriptions, none of the campsites have Wifi.  This is a real pain as I’d hoped to be able to use Skype at least until we got into Belize.  We only noticed afterward that the one next door had 6 or 7 Canadian campers, better looking and cheaper.  We’ll probably move today.

Susan says:

Thank God for Michel Thomas – on Helen’s advice I got his “Teach yourself Spanish” set of cd’s and am continuing to work on it. There is little or no English spoken in Mexico so with what I know , what Jane knows and our dictionary, we’re just about managing. The first thing I had to learn were the meaning of the road signs – kind of essential.

The contrast between the US and Mexico is huge, apart from the roads which Ian has mentioned.  Yesterday, to get to the Emerald Coast we drove through an endless number of towns and villages along the way. There are no footpaths, just dusty tracks up to the houses, all painted in bright colours. Then we rounded a bend and came upon this spanking new school “The Children’s Garden” in Spanish of course, with the name Maria Montessori  emblazoned across it, so she’s alive and well in Mexico.

The town we visited on our last stop, Ciudad Victoria was an eye opener. We took a taxi in to avoid the mad traffic. It was a bustling town, full of colour and activity. There are street vendors everywhere selling hot food, fruit , clothes etc. Eating hot food from street vendors is fine, but fruit and veg are a big no no. They have to be washed in a special solution because of the water. We managed to have tacos for four in a little restaurant for $5. Not bad!

No school today, it’s Saturday so we’ll head for the beach soon. We need to walk off some of our barbecued steaks! One good thing is that there is no nice bread to be had, unlike France. Thank God for small mercies!

Emma Says:

The day before St. Patrick’s we went to a party at Palm Gardens.   I helped serve the food.  It was fun.  After the food there was dancing and of singing. Then the adults had Irish coffee it looked disgusting but of course I did not try it. Tonight we are staying beside the sea the campsite is nearly empty there is only 3 other people staying here. There is a campsite just next door it is a bit nicer than ours. So we are going to stay there tomorrow night.  We are in Mexico at the moment and when you’re driving people stand on the road and ask for a drink but we never give them one.  Today we drove for ten hours but luckily it was not hot.  The roads were really bumpy and  there were huge potholes in the road.  We had to do school while we were driving but we did not do very much though.  The showers in this campsite are nicer than in the last campsite.

Jane is having writers block – but will return shortly!

18/03/10 – Cuidad Victoria, Mexico

18/03/2010

We’ve made it to our first destination in Mexico. The border crossing was painless.  Both the US and Mexican guards wished us Happy St Patrick’s day.  The roads are worse than in Texas but still better than those I encountered crossing Louisiana and Alabama.

 No Internet at the campsite so I’m typing this in the hope of finding an Internet Café when we go into town this afternoon.    The campsite is nice and green but the facilities are very basic.  I’m glad we have our own bathroom.  It’s also almost empty.  Three Canadian couples pulled in later in the evening but they split North first thing this morning.  Most of RVers are heading home after wintering down south.  One couple had 5 and 8 year old kids with them in a tiny van.

We’re spending two nights here and then going to try for the Emerald Coast tomorrow (Friday) morning.  It’s about 500Km but the roads are meant to be very poor.

My US mobile has stopped working (no surprise).  The Irish one didn’t connect to a network for most of yesterday but finally hooked onto one this morning.  Not sure if it will receive or make calls though.

Van parked up in Victoria

Walking to the shops in Victoria

Paddy´s day (-1)

18/03/2010

We celebrated Paddy’s day with Marganne, Senan and 170 of their closest friends.  Marganne and her helpers cooked corned beef, cabbage & potatoes for them all while Senan organised the Irish coffees.  The food and company were excellent and I even got up to dance!  Emma can be seen below after devouring a green cup cake (Do you notice a pattern?).

Senan looking a little green! 

Jane and emma picking the winners at the Paddy´s day fest.

Paddy’s day (almost)

16/03/2010

We’ve decided to stay a few extra days in Harlingen and spend Paddy’s day with Marganne and Senan.  They’re throwing a small party for a 160 of their nearest and dearest.  The girls say they are going to help with the preparations.  We’ll see!

The van came back from Boggus Ford (yes that is their name) with a clean bill of health which was great news and they didn’t even charge me for the inspection.  A really decent bunch of people and I gladly recommend them if you’re this part of the world.

The park is really nice and the people are very friendly.  We’ve been entertained every night we’ve been here.

Partying Texas style

Jane met a guy.  Well not quite.  We went to look at some Cowboys riding by and Jane refused to be in a photo because she was in her swimsuit so Senan just picked her up hand handed her to Cowboy George.

Jane looking delighted with life

I went on a rampage of destruction.  Saturday night I walked through a screen door in Senan & Marganne’s and bent it up beyond repair.  Emma arrives a couple of minutes later and asks “What eejit broke that?” (prompted by Senan).  Nobody has let me forget it since “Don’t forget to open the screen door Ian”,  “Open it before you walk through”.  Then the following night I knocked into the water tap on the site beside ours knocking the head off.  It created a lovely water feature fountain shooting 6 feet into the air.  The other 500+ residents were well pleased to have their water turned off and I hope the maintenance guy was getting overtime fixing it on a Sunday evening.

My waterfront property

I thought some of you might appreciate this picture – Emma just after eating a slice of Chocolate Pizza.

And here’s the infamous Golf Cart

Harlingen

12/03/2010

We’ve stopped off in Harlingen with Senan and Marganne (Senan is Colette Houlihan’s Bro (worked with me in Indenture) – Thanks Colette).   Unbelievable hospitality (Must confirm he really is related to Sharp Tongue).   He’s helped me do a load of work on the van (putting in a safe, an extra battery, rearranging the press,strenghting the bed – don’t ask).  He’s also put me in touch with a friend who has done portions of the trip.  I talk to him tonight.  We were also “outed” in front of a 170 other residents of their park at a coffee morning.  Most of them were shocked at what we were doing.

I’ve dropped the van into a Ford dealership to check it over before we head down into Mexico and beyond.  I’m a little nervous because the transmission has been making a slight whine (Yes – I’ve confirmed it’s not Emma). 

I’ve had my first experience of delivering Home Schooling this week.  Painless as long as it’s Maths, Science and Geography.  Susan is having a much tougher time with the pupils.

Susan says (in defence of herself)!

Just for clarification, the bed was sagging because one of the crossbeams was removed to accomodate a water tank!

Also, while Ian is doing the above subjects with Jane, I am doing “drama” with Emma. I didn’t realize it was such a big part of the curriculum!  Things are beginning to get easier though.

Emma says

Hello. Yesterday I got to drive a golf cart.  It was such fun but the steering was hard. Jane got a way longer go than me.  I hope I get another go today. I want to get one from Santa, mum thinks he wont get me one but I think he will. We went to the beach the other day the water was much warmer than Ireland. We found a skeleton of a bird on the beach.  We went to the USS Lexington  it was still in the water.  In some places it was rotting.  The deck was made of wood with a metal covering.  Last night Jane got sick from Mexican food .