Archive for May, 2010

Guadalupe Mountains NP – 27th May

29/05/2010

Took an easy drive retracing our tracks back to Guadalupe National Park for our sleepover.  Pretty high up so it was nice and cool at night.

We hiked 9km up McKittrick Canyon the next morning.  Why?  – because it’s meant to be a lush paradise with waterfalls amid the Chihuahuan desert.  The vegetation did change and we did spot a very small stream (which you were forbidden to step in) but not quite the paradise the brochure photos led us to believe.  You should always read the small print.  It turns out that much of the river system went underground after some big storms in the 1960s.

Sleepover location in Guadalupe

Only bit of water on he hike

Relaxing at the deserted Pratt Cabin in McKittrick Canyon

Advertisements

Carlsbad 26th May

29/05/2010

Got stopped by US Border Patrol and they first stated that they were “US Border Patrol” – I said I already knew (because it was written on their shirts, their cars and 10 foot high on the building).  They then asked when we entered the country (this was while he was looking at the passport stamp stating we’d entered at Los Indios on 18th  May – I guess it was a cunning plan to catch me out).  I ended up having to explain the whole thing.  He asked me was it a vacation or a Mission.  Susan told me to ease off the humour – they don’t understand it.  Hmmph!

We stopped off at the McDonald Observatory on the way to Carlsbad.  It’s in the Davis Mountains of West Texas and houses one of the biggest optical telescopes in the world – The Hobby-Eberly.  We got to see inside one of the domes but the girls were a bit disappointed because we didn’t actually get to look through a telescope.  Apparently they also have a laser system measuring the distance to the moon.  Didn’t see that though.

HET in background

Humming birds outside the observatory

Got to Carlsbad in reasonable time although the drive from Big Bend was a lot longer than I’d anticipated.  I’m clearly going much slower than the SatNav thinks is appropriate.  The campsite was ok but it got invaded by about 60 teenagers in dome tents.  They went to bed early but were up again at 5:45am.  Not great for the 40 winks.

The cave system is the big attraction in Carlsbad and it was impressive.  The main chamber is as big as 14 football pitches and the walk in is nearly 3kms with a drop of about 79 floors.  Luckily they have a lift shaft for the return journey.  These are the most spectacular caves I’ve ever been in.

Not the best picture of the cave but you can just make emma outin the bottom right hand corner wich gives a sense of scale 

Big Bend 24th -25th May

27/05/2010

I last visited this place 20 something years ago when I was travelling from San Francisco to New York (via Mexico) on a hippy bus.  Descriptions of what happened last time I was here by email only.  Amazing scenery with desert, hill country and river plains all in the same park.  First night we camped right on the banks of the Rio Grande.  Mexico was only 15 metres across the river. 

Next morning we took a short hike to a viewing point (see pics) to the constant cries of “It’s tooo hot”.  To be fair it was about 105F in the shade and there wasn’t any.   We then headed off down a dirt road to some hot springs on the banks of the Rio Grande.  Guess what? – “It’s tooo Hot”.

It’s Tooo Hot! – Hiking up to the viewing point

View from the top

Cassidys in Hot Springs.  That’s the Rio Grande and Mexico in the background

Some Artful looking Cacti

 We then headed to our second camp location in a basin shaped valley at about 1650m altitude.  A dramatic change in temperature and the backdrop was sensational.  I don’t think any pictures (I take) can give the right sense of scale and majesty.  

The road up to the campground had a warning of no RVs over 22 feet (ours is 26) because it was too narrow, steep and twisty.  It felt like a major highway to me after the roads in CA.  

The camp ground was small and relatively busy so it was difficult to find a level spot. Oh Well!.  Then I found out that the bloody fridge doesn’t work when it’s not level.  Oh Well!

Van in Basin.  Fridge not working – Orange bits not big enough

For those old enough to remember the “Road Runner” cartoon – Here’s an actual Road Runner.  And they do

San Antonio 22nd – 23rd May

27/05/2010

It’s got a lot quieter since we crossed into the US. We’re back in campsites with all the facilities laid on, hot showers, toilets that you can flush , a laundry and most importantly, swimming pools. We’re also back driving on highways with not a tope (ramp) in sight. Yesterday we drove through a prairie.  There wasn’t a house or a person in sight, the odd car and a few one horse towns. This compared to all the activity on the roads in Central America.  The vendors along the road, with maybe a parrot perched on a stick, or an iguana dangling by the tail, a girl cycling along with two dead chickens hanging from her handlebars or the numerous women with babies on their hips, and balancing buckets of water on their heads. We do appreciate the good roads but the scene is not nearly as colourful.

We spent four days in Palm Gardens, Harlingen, recharging our batteries. As Jane reported, we did lots of shopping, but not too much for her.  This was not due to lack of effort on my part.  She’s just so bloody fussy!  Hair was cut.  The van was left in for a service, to make sure it hadn’t suffered too much after all the abuse it had received.  Much to Emma’s delight we drove around in a 7 seater SUV for the day.

On Saturday we headed to San Antonio, on Senan’s recommendation. It’s a place to see and be seen. We visited the site of the Alamo, where the famous battle took place between the Alamo defenders and the Mexican army, led by Santa Ana.  We strolled along the Riverwalk, a waterfront path that’s lined with bars and restaurants, all vying for your business.  We were lured in by the offer of two margaritas and an appetizer for $6.  The food was good too!

Cassidys posing at the Alamo

Waiting for the bus in San Antonio.  Look at the happiness all over my face

Emma chilling besde the pool in the San Antonio RV park

Texas 18th -23rd

24/05/2010

Most uncool non-teenager picture I could find – Ian

Jane Says…. We got to Palm Gardens without incident although if Dad had informed me of the friggin terrorist attacks (he didn’t) there would have been one. For my birthday I got a hammock, a sticky chocolate Wal-Mart cake, Dairy Milk chocolate bars and a shopping spree in Kohl’s (Emma bought more stuff than me). She decided I should only get a hammock ($32) and she should get 5 American Girl outfits ($150). I told her to bu&&er off. We arrived in San Antonio yesterday. It’s a bit weird. There are a load of guys yelling about Jesus.

Run for the Border 14th – 18th May

20/05/2010

We’ve just finished a dash from Lake Atitlan to Harlingen, Texas.  2,400Kms on shit roads in 5 days.  We did this because of the stories of the worsening situation in Northern Mexico.

First overnight stop (14th May) was Rancho San Nicholas in San Cristobal.  10 hours driving.  The campsite wasn’t much to write home about (toilet flushing was by means of a bucket and the place was invaded by a bunch of teenagers playing drinking games and chasing until the early hours – Yes I’m an old fart) but there were a number of other overlanders parked up and it was interesting to trade stories.  The troubles in Northern Mexico were a common topic.

Second night stop was back to Lake Catemaco. Only 7 hours driving.  We’d stayed here on the way down and the campsite was packed.  Completely empty now and feeling a little eerie.

Third night stop was in Neptuno on the Emerald Coast.  This place was also buzzing when we came through on the way down but it was completely empty except for one Canadian guy who’d been there for 6 months.  He confirmed what we’d already guessed – The Canadian couple we’d met here on the way down were the same ones who were hijacked just North of Cuidad Victoria (Northern Mexico) on their way home.  They were left on the side of the road with just the clothes they were wearing and their two dogs.  The same thing happened another Canadian couple on the same day.   This apparently all happened in broad daylight on a main road.  The Canadian guy had a bunch of other stories more in the “rumour” category.  He was opting to store his van and fly home.  It’s been very hard to separate scare mongering from truth.  Didn’t sleep well.

Decided to stick to main roads, not stop and follow directly behind big trucks (kind of hiding) as much as possible.  This is not as easy as it sounds because the trucks tend to speed a lot and the Mexican Police love to give speeding tickets to tourists.  The “not stopping” policy was also hindered by my recent need to use the toilet on a very regular basis (no further detail required!).

The fourth night stop was the rear car park of Hotel Country Express, North of Tampico.  Classy!  Only 6 hours driving.  Looked like a quiet spot for the night.  Until a convoy of trucks and cars started arriving at about 9pm.  These are guys who buy second hand trucks and cars in the US and then drive them down through Central America for resale.  You have tractors (the front part of American Artic lorries) pulling three more tractors and SUVs towing a couple of cars each.  It’s like a scene from Mad Max.  This wasn’t too bad until they completely boxed us in.  Not the best outcome given my current frame of mind!.  They protested that they would certainly be leaving before us in the morning but they finally moved after we talked to the security guard.  Didn’t sleep well.

The convoy were up and gone by 5am.  We split at 7am and ran for the border.  This was the section where the troubles occurred.  65-70mph on roads I wouldn’t drive at 40mph at home.  Right up the arse of trucks (probably pissing them off.  Don’t care).

Got to the border by lunchtime.  No incidents.  The US homeland Security let us back in.  This took a while because the guards at the crossing are used to dealing with Mexicans and other Central Americans and they clearly didn’t know how to process Visa Waivers for Paddy’s.  Although they didn’t admit this.

Got to Palm Gardens and walked down (Walking in Texas – unheard of) to the local steak house for a celebratory dinner.  Susan and I had “Bird Bath” Margaritas (about 1 & ½ pints  each).  Jane was afraid we’d be too hung over to go shopping for her birthday.  No problem for Susan.

No pictures. we weren’t in the mood.  Pity we didn’t get pictures of the Mad Max convoy though

Jane says…..

16/05/2010

Wednesday is my birthday I have demanded that I be in the U.S. for it. This means we have to drive through Mexico like a blue arse fly (Dad taught me that expression).This is reasonably challenging, as the roads in Mexico are absolutely crap. Yesterday we were charged $10 to drive on a road that looked like it had accientally gotten itself caught in a largish paper shredder. Mum has just announced that if I don’t write some “quality blog” I won’t be in the U.S. for my birthday. She has also decided that I have to write about borders. I hate  borders.  I’m not writing about borders. I’d fall asleep doing it.  

Mum set a pack of rashers on fire today. She is an extremely intelligent person. She set a bottle of honey on fire once. That was very clever.   (Susan – That’s not fair –   it was years ago and besides, look what I have to put up with)

Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala 10th – 13th May

14/05/2010

Arrived here on Monday with the intention of staying two nights, but it is so nice we’re staying for four. It’s a lovely grassy campsite, with a pool overlooking the lake. The lake itself is surrounded by three volcanic mountains. And best of all, there are other campers, including a Dutch couple whom we had met in Mexico on the way down. We’re just chilling out here. Yesterday we went back to the books. We set up school at the picnic table and I went off to do the washing up at the communal washing up area. I was soon joined by a little Guatemalan lady who chatted away to me, not in Spanish, but in one of the many indigenous languages spoken here. I understood not a word but this didn’t seem to bother her. She helped carry back my dishes to the van so I invited her in to look around. She was soon joined by all her grandchildren who seemed fascinated by us. They sat up at the table, drew pictures, played Frisbee, but for the most part just smiled and giggled at us. They were really cute. We didn’t get much schoolwork done that day.

Some friends we met in Panajachel

Ian setting up office by the lakeside

Emma says:

Yesterday Jane and I went on a canopy tour. First of all we had to climb up 275 feet, then when we got to the top, Mum realised she couldn’t watch us on the zip wires, so she walked back down and waited for us.Victor the guide went first, then Jane was going to go next  because she is the oldest, but when she was hooked on ready to go, she chickened out because she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to stop at the other end.  I had to go first and it was brilliant. It was easier to stop than I thought. Jane came after me and then Carlos, the other guide. There were 7 different zip wires. When we were finished we went on wobbly bridges. You have to be hooked on to walk across them. Then we got out of our gear and we met Mum and we had nachos with cheese. The zip wires were in a nature reserve just up the road from the campsite.

This morning we went for breakfast in Hotel Atitlan where you are supposed to see hummingbirds. I saw one but nobody else did.  The hotel was very nice with big gardens.  There are ugly green apartments next door and they look horrible. Jane and I had cookies and milkshakes for breakfast, and Mum had an American breakfast. Dad wasn’t feeling well, so he stayed at home in the van. In the restaurant there was lots of colourful weaving on the tables,  and colourful cups and plates.  There was a lady playing the piano in the background. The swimming pool was very nice with nice weaving on the deckchairs. After breakfast we wandered  around the gardens and got ideas for our garden. We took a lot of photographs.

Later on in the day we went into town and went to the market.  Mum bought three cushion covers and a bag.  Jane bought a ball and two scarves.  I’m saving up for the American Girl shop so I didn’t buy anything. Then we went on to the supermarket to buy food and we got a tuc-tuc back to the campsite. The tuc-tuc driver was very nice and told us about his family.

 

Ready to go

 

Emma Flying!

 

 

Hotel Atitlan gardens

 

Hotel Soleil – Antigua 8th & 9th May

12/05/2010

Sus says:

Juan Luis arrived at midday to act as our guide to Antigua. The hotel was beautiful and the city even more so. The Cassidy’s were in clover again!

 There are very strict building restrictions in the city (one architect makes all the decisions), so the facades have been retained, paint colours restricted to mainly earthy colours and cobbled streets throughout. We had a tour later on and visited the markets.  Juan Luis is much more helpful than Ian when it comes to shopping. We finished up with a really good dinner, accompanied by traditional Mayan dancing.

Meeting up after 17 years!

Juan and the girls market shopping

Volcan Agua just South of Antigua

The laundry in the city centre

A Religious procession through the city centre

We all met next morning for breakfast at a nearby Nursery cum Café (Avoca – Guatemalan style) with warm sunshine added. Then off for a visit to a Coffee Plantation. This was one of the things on my wish list and we all really enjoyed it. The girls had their first taste of coffee and loved it.  Our guide told us that it’s very helpful in calming children down (unlike adults), so we’re thinking of including it in Emma’s diet! After lunch and a swim, we headed back into Antigua again.  Juan Luisand Sylvia were brilliant guides.  They are so knowledgeable about their country and culture, and both have excellent English. What more could you ask for?

After breakfast in the Garden Centre

All having coffee at the Finca

Turicentro Automariscos – Guatemala City 6th & 7th May

12/05/2010

Having done our 24km drive back from the springs, we did a bit of shopping in Copan before heading for the Guatemalan border.  This was the quickest and most painless border crossing so far. Then we were back in Guatemala and heading for the city. The drive through the city was a nightmare. It was rush hour, we missed our turn, and had to be rescued by a very kind motorcyclist who got us back on track. The campground was great, the first with services  (water, electricity, drainage) since Costa Rica. It is also a waterpark, so that went down well with the girls.

 Our guidebook says that Guatemala is full of welcoming faces.  How true this is.

The following morning was laundry day. I called up to the office to organise a taxi to take me there. Rafael told me to come back at 2.30pm. Back I went, with Emma in tow, to be met by his two smiling daughters, Nancy and Ingrid, and his 7 year old grandson Ericcson. Off we went, but not to the laundry, to her friend’s house.  She was doing my washing. Into the car again, to go back to the campsite, as I thought, but no.  This time we went to Nancy’s house, where we were given drinks and biscuits and given a tour of her house, which she is obviously very proud of. I was then presented with a picture as a present for “Le Dia de la Madre” (Mother’s Day, which is on Monday). On the way back to the campsite we called into Ingrid’s house, a much humbler house, but equally welcoming. On our return, they had a tour of the van, and we managed to have a conversation with the help of Google translator.  Nancy finished up by inviting us to a barbecue at her house over the weekend.  How nice is that?

 Later that evening we had a visit from Juan Luis.  He is a friend of Brendan and Catherine’s and we last met him at their wedding (a few years ago!) He told us that he had organised for us to spend the weekend at a hotel in Antigua with him, his wife Sylvia and his son Manuel.  What a lovely surprise.

Juan Luis has already been great along the way, telling us where to go and what to do