Puebla & Oaxaca

February 6, 2016, Trip: ¡Viva México!
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We found the only RV Park in the Puebla city area which we were not impressed with but it was in an okay location. While Fran did some shopping, Doug worked a couple of hours and then we relaxed.

Saturday morning, we took a “combi/collectivo” (local public transport van) to the El Centro part of the city to walk around and check out the colonial buildings with the tiles they are famous for. It is a clean centro with cobbled streets and decent sidewalks built in the colonial style. We enjoyed a nice breakfast in a little restaurant near the beautiful town square and then found transportation back to the town where Tigger was parked, Cholula, which has a famous pyramid with a church on top of it.

church atop the pyramid

The pyramid was originally built as far back as 2000 BC but had been built upon and built upon over centuries until in the sixteen century, a church was built on top. It is considered that largest pyramid in the world, based on mass. When it was discovered in the late 1890’s that an actual pyramid was underneath, archeologists dug eight kilometres (five miles) of tunnels in their explorations. Nowadays tourists can walk about 800 metres of them and then walk up to the top to see the church and the 360◦ views as far as Puebla and the surrounding volcanoes (mostly dormant but one was smoking) and mountains some of which are actually snowcapped. The air here is still somewhat polluted so the vistas were not as clear as they could have been. The town of Cholula is quite quaint and has a beautiful “Zocalo” (town square) with nice trees and sidewalk cafes.

Side note: There is no translation for “Doug” in Spanish so we struggle to introduce our selves to the locals. The best way is to say “Douglas” and pronounce it “Dooglas” – then they get it. Fran has begun introducing herself as “Francisca” as that is a name they recognize – not the short form nor Franchesca.

After a bit of a fiasco leaving the campground (the gate was only open on one side and it was hard to get Tigger out because there was a car parked directly across the street and when we turned out, the spare tire on the front touched that car and set off the alarm! No one came and there was no damage but that finally woke up the security guard at the gate and he opened the other side so we could get out much easier). We spent that afternoon driving southeast to the city of Oaxaca in the state of the same name. There were plenty of rolling hills, more dry conditions unlike Jalisco and Michoacán.

We opted to drive to the city of Oaxaca via the toll road and that meant NO TOPES!; a pleasant driving experience. It, of course, was not free but saved us four hours of driving on non-toll roads WITH topes. The traffic was light and the speed limits are good and we made the 350km drive in less than five hours.

iOverlander had a parking spot mentioned right in the core of the city for what seemed like a reasonable price but when we got there, they wanted double that price so we said “forget that” as there were no services so we found a Wal-Mart on our GPS and spent the night there.   The store was not open 24/7 so it was fairly quiet and they keep the parking lot well lit. (Life is going to be different once we leave Mexico and our little Garmin can longer aid us in navigation – to counter this we have downloaded an app called maps.me on which you can download the maps and routing of any country in the world and it has a search engine to help you find stores, gas, accommodations etc. It works well with iOverlander so that’s a plus.)

Sunday morning we took a cab to the archeological site known as Monte Alban which is high up above the city about six miles away and was pretty impressive; is considered to be the first planned city in the Americas. This site was well-defended back in the day as it is so high up, lookouts could see for miles. It began about 500BC and went through a few transformations and governments. You are only able to climb the pyramids located at either end and being up so high, the views of the surrounding mountains are spectacular. Oaxaca is not quite as smoggy as Puebla and Mexico City, but the view was still hazy.

other end

We got a taxi back into the city where we strolled the tranquil streets of El Centro some of which are car free and it was quite pleasant on this late Sunday morning. Doug enjoyed making balloon animals for some of the children (something he has done several times before). We saw and heard many tourists in the city of Oaxaca, from all over the world.

pedestrian street in El Centro

We enjoyed a nice lunch at a sidewalk restaurant on the Zocalo where many families were enjoying their leisure time and vendors were selling their wares. We took another short cab ride back to Tigger to drive into the countryside to a state park called “Hierve El Agua” – petrified waterfalls.

We drove about 70km/45 m to a tiny village called San Lorenzo Albarradas where we paid a small toll to drive the road that accesses the site. After paying an entrance fee and a parking fee, we were able to camp at the far of end of the lot and stay overnight directly above the site. We enjoyed a nice hike down to the mineral pools which are beautiful shades of blues and greens due to the mineral deposits in the springs supplying the pools. There was no an overabundance of water but it was pretty.

site view from above

There were some locals swimming in them but they were not quite warm enough for us and the showers at the main site were not open to rinse off in, so we opted to skip the tepid soak. The water then spills – well, more like dribbles right now – over the sides of the cliffs to create “petrified waterfalls” from all the minerals in it.   There was a short hike to the top of a second waterfall which only had a small spring on it but spectacular views of the main one. It was another beautiful sunny Mexican day but rather windy up here. The spot is again surrounded by mountains and lots various types of cacti. There were not a lot of people here which was nice and we camped in the lot here for the night for a small fee.

Monday we made a driving day to make some miles so we can spend more time when we are at beach locations. J

On our way back to the coast, we stopped in the little village of Santa Maria El Tule whose claim to fame is the largest tree in the world: El Tule. It’s said to be between 2 and 3 thousand years old and it takes forty two people to circle it holding hands. There are actually two large trees on the church property, both of which are fenced and have signs about not touching the branches. They charge you a small fee to enter and you can walk around the fence of the oldest one. It’s a Mexican cedar aka Montezuma cedar. The town is quite quaint and well cared for with a very calm looking square around the church and town hall but we found NO signage to the tree; had to ask twice to find it.

other tree

We now drove to Puerto Escondido on the coast – a distance of only about 350 km/230 miles – in about eight hours! The first part of the road is double lane but once you get out of the Oaxaca city limits it reduces to single lane and then miles and miles and miles of mountain twisty roads where your top speed is 40km/25m an hour so slow going. The scenery was pretty and some of the summit views were beautiful. This part of Oaxaca has more water and there is more vegetation and farmland.

We arrived just outside of Puerto Escondido and went to one of the few campgrounds that advertised having Wi-Fi and full services. It was empty and sadly in need of some TLC but it was late in the afternoon and we just wanted to stop. We set up and then walked the two blocks to the beach and walked for a while. It’s a beautiful beach, Playa Zicatela then we go past some rocks and you are in Playa Principal where there lots of boats anchored. Puerto Escondido sees its share of tourists and has some beach front hotels but not as many beach cafes as we’ve seen in this type of town.

view of the bay in Puerto Escondido

Next morning, the power in the area was out and so the wifi was down too for about an hour. Doug had a conference call and then we left to run some errands before heading south a bit to a better location ON the beach.

We landed in Playa Zipolite, a place with a sort of hippy laid back vibe some but not a lot of nudism (mostly older men!), which seemed weird in Mexico. We stayed at a little place on the beach with cabanas and palapas (we parked along the back) and were able to use our extension cord to get power. Wi-Fi was pretty good but did crap out sometimes. The place was actually pretty full but many were long timers not overlanders. The beach is very nice and wide, has nice sand and palm trees but the surf is a little rough. We saw surfers and boogie boarders out there but did not venture in any deeper than our thighs the first day.

We ended up spending three nights instead of one at Playa Zipolite as it was so pleasant. The days were hot (around 90F) and the nights cooled comfortably for sleeping without AC although we did use our fans for circulation. There were very few barking dogs and no roosters waking us up in the morning. The people were nice and everyone was very laid back. We met and spoke a lot with a man named Roger from New Jersey who has spent many a winter down here. He was a good source of info our upcoming journey into Belize & Guatemala. We also met a French Canadian couple while walking in town and they ended up parked next to us. Unfortunately they had the flu and we did not see much of him but Lucy came out the day before we left with questions about the place.

Playa Zipolite beach

We did go into the water but not that deep as there is a pretty strong current but we had fun. There are a few surfers here too. Most of the beach had a red flag up for conditions (not safe) but one section was yellow. The water was a nice temperature and quite clear.

The sun continued to shine and we had a hard time deciding to leave and move on. However our propane tank was empty and we needed cash. Lucy asked us about banks and we told her we were leaving for partially that reason so we took her into the nearest city with us when we left and she took a cab back. We got propane after asking for directions about five times; some cash and produce and went about 40km further south to a place called Playa San Augustin which we also loved.

Side note: Autumn appears to have finally struck us – very weird in February but we are encountering falling leaves and bare trees in our travels now. Wonder when spring strikes!?

We were headed to camp at a place recommended on iOverlander but when we got there it was deserted so a fellow outside a restaurant flagged us down and said we could camp outside the restaurant in exchange for buying a meal. Miguel got us power and there was a public bath/shower across the street he gave us access to; the place had a two story restaurant (food was a little pricy but excellent) and there were beach chairs, hammocks and palapas to escape the sun. The little bay here is absolutely stunning and the water was a beautiful turquoise and pretty calm. There were little rocky islands dotting the bay and there is coral here for snorkeling. We enjoyed our noodles out on the water and soaked it all in.

Fran a noodlin'

It was weird though the way this place was situated on the coast; we’re on the Pacific but the sunset sort of behind us inland!?!?! We did see a wondrous sunrise the next morning though out over the rocky out cropping.

We had arranged for a guide and kayaks to take us snorkeling on Saturday. We got a double kayak and our guide took a small single. He struggled some in the ocean as it appeared he had no rudder! He took us out into the bay and around the point into the National Park where there was a beautiful beach and lots of coral. We saw a fair amount of fish, the water was clear for the most part and we enjoyed about an hour of snorkeling. The ride back was choppy but I’m sure our guide was way more exhausted than we were.

snorkel 20 puffer fish

We showered, packed up and set off to leave when we encountered through young travelers who also looked like they were heading out and asked if they wanted a ride as they appeared to be waiting for a cab or something. This little village is SO small, we doubted they’d get one very fast. It was two girls from Chile and a young man from Argentina; he and one of the girls worked at a hostel about 20 km away and the other girl was just visiting for a few weeks. They hopped in the back and we took them the 13km up the dirt road to the highway. After dropping them off we proceeded southeast towards the resort town of Santa Cruz Huatulco where we planned to stay at a beach parking spot but it was full and the beach was a fair ways down and was small so we opted to try a campground at Playa Tangolunda.

lookout sign

There were about three other campers here; one couple from Montreal, Christine and Mark, one from Idaho Marilyn and Bob (who now live in Loreto in Baja) and an young Italian couple. There was a festival involving horses going on in town on this day and the parade was setting up here at the campground. There were many people, horses, trucks, cowboys and music. It was kinda fun watching them and chatting with our neighbours as they had a meal, listened to music and got ready to march off. It was quite amazing how they completely cleaned up their messes and cleared out so quickly before dinner; almost like they’d never been there at all.

We did take the two minute walk to the beach here but it was very hot today and it was early afternoon when we did it. The beach is quite nice; nice sand, beautiful water again and rocky islands. There are however, about five all-inclusive resorts on this smallish beach and no beach cafes or even shade to sit in unless you are wearing their bracelet. Since we were not able camp right at the beach we opted to leave this campground the next day.

The couple from Idaho recommended that we not miss a slight detour in our travel and go to Puerto Arista on the coast of the state of Chiapas, so we are heading there today, Valentine’s Day. The drive southeast to the state line was uneventful except we noticed so much garbage everywhere. It is very, very windy in this area so garbage does blow around but the fact that they dump large amounts of it in roadside pullouts is so sad. They also love to burn their garbage and yard waste which doesn’t keep the smog down, of course.

We stopped in the town of Juchitan for a few errands and while there the wind was very strong, we felt it driving down the highway and reduced our speed because of it. Somewhere nearby a fire must have been raging because suddenly the town filled with smoke and it lasted a long time. No one seemed alarmed except us! As we proceeded east, we encountered hundreds upon hundreds of windmills – what a great use of natural energy. We literally drove for miles passing them by.

Be sure to check the Pics page for galleries of photos of all the places mentioned above and many more.   Fran’s good Sony camera has begun to have a problem focusing (it is OVER six years old but the timing sucks) so we are using both our new waterproof camera and Doug’s camera for pictures for now so hopefully the photos are still decent). 🙁

 

 

 

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