Archive for August, 2012

To Teacapan and beyond- Vive Mexico!

Posted: August 9, 2012 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel

We left Mazatlan feeling rested and a bit reluctant. We had such a good time, right there on the island, that it was hard to leave such a spectacular place. Was that the climax? Had we peaked on our trip, or was there more to come? What adventures lied ahead? All of these questions crossed our minds as we made our way toward a small town named Teacapan, also on the ocean, that bragged of multiple beach campgrounds to choose from, according to our camping guide-book.

Beach driving

After a fairly short  hour and a half drive, then down a two lane road, we finally came upon the first markers of the campground we chose. We passed the driveway initially, because the sign was faded and hidden behind some tree branches. The camping guide had said this place was special. It offered many camping amenities and beach sites, along with a restaurant, and soon to be built laundry facility. We had not been able to do laundry since we had crossed into Mexico, so this was a welcome addition. However, once we turned around and pulled up to the entrance, it was clear the place was closed. Possibly indefinitely…..Grass was over growing the cottages, the chain fence crossing the entrance was rusted, and appeared to have been there a while. The name of the facility was “Los Rancho”. I believe it truly was a lost ranch. The cottages were neglected of maintenance. Either the campground was closed for the season, or our 20-year-old campground book was obsolete?

We trudged on to the next choice in the book. Again, it was not well-marked, however, we did find a dirt road that appeared to lead back into the Coconut tree fields. Just as we were about to enter an old two-track lane, we noticed a sign on a half-open fence gate that said the name of the campground, so we made an abrupt turn entering the coconut tree field. We followed the drive back a mile or so, over ruts, bumps, sand, and mud, before popping out the other side of the coconut farm. The exit was chained across the driveway. We could see some people picnicking on the other side of the chain close to the beach, but it did not appear to have camping accommodations. Yet, again, our book had failed us, or because we were travelling in the off-season, it may have been closed.

No worries, we will travel on to San Blas! It is only another couple of hours, and we can still make it in time to set up camp. Bernard said, “I know they have campsites there, it is a more touristy area”. So off we went. Travelling back up the highway away from Teacapan. As we pulled into San Blas, we could not help but notice the welcoming entrance.

Welcome to San Blas!

Marlin Statue

As we drove through the large arch, our excitement blossomed once again. On both sides of the streets were vendors and restaurants displaying Lobsters! Most of them appeared to be cooked on a large fire pit or barbecue grill. The air smelled of fresh seafood and burning wood. The sun was blazing down, but we just had to roll the windows down to take in those amazing scents.

Lobsters on the Barbie!

After making our way through the gauntlet of seafood, we tried to navigate the one way streets. The one way sign generally consists of a small black board with a white arrow painted on it indicating which direction to travel. The “sign” might be on the side of a house or business, or any other place found to be convenient at the time of hanging it. I also found it useful to just turn down a street and look to see which way the cars were pointed. If they all were headed toward me, well I made a wrong turn. A helpful, but impatient driver also “pointed” me in the right direction a time or two, after turning on the wrong street. Apparently, the middle finger also means, “you are going the wrong way gringo”, in Spanish of course.

Wrong way!

Clearly marked

One way

After only circling through town twice, I noticed a small shop selling ventiladores, or fans. We were looking to buy one for the campsite and tent as the humidity and heat hung around well after dark each night. We had brought a 12v battery operated fan, but I was concerned about killing my battery running it all night. Plus, when sitting at the campsite,the little fan would only work for one person. We pulled up to the store front and looked at the fans. We were able to communicate enough to have him let us try each one, checking to see which one moved the most air. The prices were clearly marked and seemed to be reasonable. We settled on one, and due to the price, Bernard decided to get one too. We noticed on the tag there was some other word along with the price, that we did not understand. As it turned out, that little word made the price significantly higher. We have got to learn more Spanish! We passed on the fans, one more night with no air moving.

As we were leaving town headed for the beach campsite, we passed by the Lobster again. This time, our senses would not let us pass. We sat down at a table under an open air restaurant. Ok, let’s be honest, it was a tin roof nailed to some logs supporting the roof structure. Flys were over head flying in  frenzied formations, eyeing the fresh food on tables, waiting for their opportunity to “fly-in” for some dinner. The waiter came over to ask us what we wanted to eat. We all had Lobster on the mind, so we tried to communicate that to the him. He spoke absolutely no English whatsoever. We were able to get the order in by having him repeat the options several times. Angela and I went for Lobster de Diablo, guessing from the name it was spicy. Bernard ordered his “Lobster” some other way, admitting afterwards that he had no idea what he just ordered.

For Me?!?

When the food came out, we had a large plate with 3 lobsters on it split open and covered with red-hot sauce. Man was that ever good. I usually prefer it dipped in garlic butter, but this was some kind of good stuff! Bernard on the other hand ended up getting Marlin. At this point he was so hungry, he said it was fine. In the end, he said it was also delicious, so we all made out good.

On our way out-of-town, we stopped at the Pemex, a government subsidized gas station found throughout Mexico. Premium was about $3.10/gallon. Not a huge bargain like we had hoped would greet us in Mexico, however still cheaper than back home. The attendants topped off our gas tank with 500 pesos. I found it is easier to just hand the attendant the amount that I want as opposed to figuring out how to say another denomination in Spanish. That will come soon enough. My gas cap door has started giving the attendants a problem closing. It has a lock on it and has to be adjusted to make it latch. I have figured out the correct procedure to get it to close, but an unsuspecting attendant is confused when it wont close. I usually just jump out and latch it myself. Almost every gas station in Mexico is full service. However, when they see our filthy trucks, we do not even get an offer to wash the windows. I think they figure it is pointless.

We drove down the road toward the beach of San Blas. We passed a crocodile farm and a sign saying not to enter the creek due to crocodiles. You don’t have to tell me twice. We finally arrived at a hotel that appeared to have camping, and were told, “yes, you can camp on the beach for $50 pesos each (about $3.75 us)”. There were also showers and bathrooms at the restaurant that we could use. However the restaurant closed at 5 pm, so there would not be any opportunity for dinner there.

As we were setting up the tents, the winds coming off of the ocean were tremendous. The flaps whipped rapidly, and we were comfortable working to set up camp. A few day beach goers were watching from a distance with curiosity. They seemed to have the whole family out there, most likely for a barbecue or fish fry. They were friendly, waving as we passed by them. We walked up to the restaurant, though it was closed, to access the internet. The mosquitoes ran us out, as they tried to pick Bernard up and carry him away. I was able to grab ahold of his flip-flop and pull him back to safety just in time. Whew another disaster diverted!

Tents on the beach in San Blas

We were told that we could walk down the beach and straight into the next town over, so later that evening we decided to find out what they had to offer and maybe get some dinner. As we walked, we noticed that this beach was not as nicely kept up as the other beaches we had been on. There was trash piles and debris washing in from the ocean. Of course this was the low season. Maybe they keep it nicer when all the tourists are here. We walked along a beautiful rock ledge cantilevering over the ocean waves on one side and a sheer rock cliff on the other. The road was gravel with pot holes and large rocks mixed in. You can tell it is not heavily travelled, but very sufficient. We did some video footage and plan on putting this up on youtube and/or Facebook soon, so keep an eye out for it.

As we entered town, we noticed a huge Coca Cola sign. In any country, in any language, it is always the same and a welcome sight. There were several road side stands set up grilling fish, chicken, corn, seafood, or selling fruits. It was quite a small little town, but quaint. The town square was directly on the ocean, providing a beautiful view. We chose a restaurant, another seafood place where no english was spoken. Either we will get better with our Spanish, or we will have to begin teaching English soon! We were serenaded by the local town drunk, so obliterated, he could hardly stand, let alone walk. He would start one direction and then almost fall backwards in the other. All the while he was fighting an imaginary opponent. He flailed his arms around like an amateur boxer nn his first fight night. He soon fell right on top of the coconut pile next to the vendor selling them. The vendor tried to get him to move on, but finally had to cut open a coconut for the drunk to get him to leave. The drunk laid back on the sidewalk and tipped the coconut upside down over his face, covering himself in bitter, white coconut juice. He sat up smiled and tried to walk away. Eventually he wandered on down the street. Amazingly during this whole episode, he never spilled a drop of his alcohol from his bottle with no cap. What talent!

Sleeping on the beach started out pretty nice, that evening, as we could hear the ocean waves, and the strong wind, blowing through the tents. However, as the evening wore on, the night breezes dissipated, until all there was left was stagnant air and humidity hanging in the air, threatening to choke us. There is nothing like lying in a pool of your own sweat hoping that morning would come, so you can get back in the air-conditioned truck and drive. This solidified the fact that we would be getting a fan asap!

The next morning we got up, and decided to do some much needed maintenance on Bernards truck. We had dismantled his winch and he has been carrying it around in the back for the whole trip. It would not do us much good if we needed it and it was in peices in the back. After some scratching our heads, sweating profusely in the direct sun, and laying in the sand, it was finally back together!

Bernard taking a siesta….I mean working.

We packed up and drove back into San Blas for some site seeing and pictures. Bernard likes to take pictures of old churches. There was a nice example in the middle of town. Once we parked and walked to the entrance, it was clear that there was a wedding going on. This did not deter ol’ Mr. Bernardo, no, he walked right in like he was on staff. He began snapping pictures of people, the church, even getting up to the bride and groom in front of the priest! I tell you a camera goes a long ways for gaining access even to the most sacred of things. I am sure the bride is wondering, “where are those photos that one photographer was taking….”

Beautiful architecture

Wedding crashers!

Tiring from walking around town, we headed farther down the beach to another campground that offered luxuriously green grass, shade from coconut trees, and an elevated parking area above the ocean and rocks below.

Lush green grass

Coconut tree shade

There was electricity, so we could cook with the electric frying pan and use the lights. As an added bonus, we could get internet access from our roof top tents! This was nice. We could avoid the mosquitoes that San Blas is notorious for. We spent most of the night on the laptops, while Angela read a book. There was a beautiful sunset right out our tent windows. The showers were clean and a welcome sight after sweating most of the day.

Beautiful sunset view from the roof top tent

We decided two nights was enough to experience what San Blas had to offer, so the next morning, we packed up, after Angela made wonderful blueberry pancakes in the skillet! They really hit the spot. There is just something about eating food prepared outdoors, while camping, that cannot be matched. It seems to taste so much better, or maybe you take the time to appreciate and savor it more. We hopped back on the “highway” heading south toward Puerto Vallarta.

You can see more pictures of our travels on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/centralamericaoverlandexpeditions

Please scroll back to the top and sign up to our blog on the left hand side, if you have not done so already. You will not be spammed! This is for notification of new posts only. Chao!

Advertisements

Mazatlan -We finally made it to the coast!

Posted: August 2, 2012 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
Tags: , , , ,

We had made good time getting into Mazatlan, so we were confident we would be able to find our campsite before dark. As we drove up the highway, things began to take on the big city feel again. 3 lanes of steady traffic met us about 10 KM before we actually got to town. The traffic was slowing due to a military checkpoint. We had to laugh at the apparent cutbacks the military there were experiencing (check out his skateboard!).

Scary Military man

Mazatlan is a very busy town. It is tourist oriented so the streets are packed with people. As we drove in we were in bumper to bumper traffic 3 lanes wide. We were looking for the shortest route to Stone Island or isla de las Piedras, to be accurate. This was supposed to be a small rural island just off of town. It took nearly an hour and a half to make it to the other side. At one point there were 4 wheelers riding in traffic, one with 3 people hanging off of it with no helmets. Vendors jockeyed their way through the lines trying to sell their products. Taxis were cutting people off, zipping in and out of lanes as if they owned the road. All the while we were travelling along side the ocean. It was a beautiful view, the sun gleaming off the water. The beaches were equally over populated. The water looked like a shipwreck with heads bobbing everywhere.

Not the floating heads, but close…

We could not get through that area quickly enough. It was getting late and we just wanted to get set up on our campsite and relax after that long days drive. We asked directions to get to the island. After a few missed turns and stopping to ask yet another person for directions, we finally found our way heading down the road toward Stone island. After about two miles along the paved road, we passed an exclusive golf course community. Almost immediately the road turned to gravel. It was dry and dusty, and gravel stuck in our tires to be catapulted a minute later into the air. We were following Bernard as the night began to close in. Here we were again, driving to a destination unknown, in the dark. It seemed like we were driving for miles, as we could only do about 20 MPH due to the relentless chatter bumps. We were passing mango and coconut orchards, and occasionally seeing a tractor. On and on we drove, no indication where the end was.

All of a sudden, from nowhere, I saw Bernard turn his lights on high beam and hit his brakes. Coming straight at us was a herd of what appeared to be horses running right down the middle of the road. They did not appear to care that we were there. It was a sure collision if they did not give. Bernard had the stout ARB bull bar on the front of his Landcruiser, but surely it would not take the repeated blows of a frenzied horse stampede! Then from the back of the pack a cowboy on a horse divided the stampede by riding into the middle of them. This caused them to just barely miss us running by on both sides of our vehicles. I could feel the earth rumble as their hoofs pounded the dirt road. I thought I could hear the air pass through their nostrils in heavy breaths as they passed, but soon realized that it was mine that I heard. As the cowboy approached us, we waved and he tipped his hat and continued on. Did that just really happen? Are we getting so tired that we were all seeing the same mirages? No, it did happen, the dust was still thick in our headlights to prove it.

Stampede!

It was all but dark as we pulled into what appeared to be a deserted rural town, also known as Stone Island. All of the streets were sand or dirt, and the businesses had coconut branches as roofs. We stopped at a campground right on the beach along the main street where we had entered. The gate was closed and locked. There was only one lone light on in the corner of the property with an RV sitting for sale under it inside the fence. It must be another casualty of travelling during the off-season we speculated. Just about then a frail little old man walked up to us to see what we wanted. We explained we needed a campsite for camping with tents. He informed us this was a camper site, not intended for tents, but that there was another one just around the corner in the coco field.

We followed his directions but did not find any resemblance of a campground, the dark starless sky not helping any. Bernard hopped out at the only thing still lively in town, a bar, with loud mexican music blaring into the night sky, echoing off the ocean waves. He was given more directions, “You passed it. Turn by the big tree, and go toward the speed bump, but don’t go over the bump”, the local drunk said. We headed back the way we came and still did not see anywhere to camp.

Of course, tired and frustrated again about trying to locate and set up in the dark, Bernard tried one last resort. He walked up to a hotel that had their lights on and decided to ask  if they knew where the campground was. A minute later, Bernard rounded the corner laughing and talking with a muscular built seemingly, American. He said, “I know right where it is. I will take you to the lady that owns it.” He said, “follow me on my ATV”. A minute later he was back and said he could not locate the key. Bernard offered his passenger seat and we were off! Back past “the big tree” turning onto another sand road. At the end, next to the bar where we just were, we drove out onto the beach. Bernard and the hotel owner, Gary, jumped out of the truck looking for the lady to allow us to camp. A few minutes later they were back. They had not found her. Gary, said, “I will let you camp on my beach in front of the hotel.” This was welcome news, we were finally getting somewhere. Even though it seemed really late, because it was so dark and the town seemed to be asleep, it was only 8:30, due to a two-hour time difference from home.

On the very short drive back to the hotel, Gary and Bernard talked of the fact that Gary had been in the army some 20 years ago and when he got out, decided he wanted a quieter, simpler life. He married a local Mexican girl, and together they have built a beautiful hotel and bought a restaurant beside the hotel on the beach. He said he loves his job now living on the premises. The name of his hotel, is Stone Island Gardens, and the restaurant is Carmelita’s. We highly recommend both as they are so friendly and helpful. Bernard showed Gary his license plate “Desert Storm Veteran”. They became immediate friends!

As we pulled up to the entrance of the hotel, Gary said, “or I can give you both rooms for the night for a really great price”. We were definitely interested, since it was dark and it was still quite humid. He allowed us to park in the hotel parking area, a nice parking garage, that we just barely cleared with our roof top tents.The Discovery 2 was really close, with its high roofline, but we made it. He guided us into the spaces and asked if we were hungry. A resounding yes, since we had not eaten all day. We met his wife and they told us there were some nice restaurants around, but the locals go to the place back up the street, good food and cheap prices. We were shown our rooms. Yeah! They had A/C! We were excited, since it was so humid and hot still.

Beautiful ocean views at Stone Island Gardens

After settling in, we walked down to the small restaurant that was recommended to us, and sat down under a roof structure outdoors. It was open air, but the ceiling fans made it more comfortable, along with the fact that we had cool rooms waiting for us back at the hotel. Angela and I ate for $3.50 total! Bernard’s was nearly $6.00, because he ordered two full meals, since he was so hungry. We had been pointed in the right direction. I love these prices! We both had gorditas, salad and a coke, Bernard had two Cheeseburger dinners. As we sat there for a few minutes, all of a sudden people started coming out of the woodwork. The place was filled with what appeared to be local people, excitedly chattering in Spanish, largely oblivious to the fact that we were there, though they all smiled, and said, “Hola”, or “Buenas Noches”.

Filled from eating a great authentic meal, we headed to bed to sleep off the long day we had just finished, and marvel again at the seemingly chance meetings with people who went out of their ways to accommodate us and make us feel welcome. We were beginning to see a pattern here….

After waking up early the next morning refreshed, we met down at Carmelita’s for coffee and enjoyed the beautiful day and the ocean view from our chairs in the restaurant. “Man, this the life” we thought. Can it be any better? Coffee, the waves lapping in, vendors setting up for the day. This was my idea of paradise! We ordered breakfast, and hooked up our laptops to get online to let our families know we were ok.

Bernard having coffee at Carmelita’s

Headed to work

We explored the island, and walked on the beach. It was very clean with a gradual approach, so walking was easy. You could stand at the edge of the water and wait for a wave to come in. You could feel the sand erode out from under your feet like a mini foot massage. It was glorious, albeit hot! It was so nice being on the island away from the general population of Mazatlan. It was a small community feel. Though there were small boats to bring tourist over, it was nothing like the mainland. I don’t know at what point we began to look at “tourist” as “those people” as if we were local, but I think it was somewhere right around here. We began to really feel like part of Mexico and its beauty instead of just visiting for a few days.

Angela “testing the water”

Scott in the “surf”- Bernard in the background

We decided to stay a couple more days while we waited for my brake light switch to come in at Autozone. We got up in the mornings and ran on the beach early before the heat set in, began to get friendly waves from people recognizing us after being there a while. Even the guy pedaling horse rides was in a jovial mood. I guess you just stay in a good mood when you live in paradise everyday. We found lots to do and see, even driving the trucks out onto a rock barrier reef watching workers try to salvage equipment from a sinking ship.

The “Happy Horseman”

Siesta, while watching work in progress

The rock barrier reef

“On the rocks”

We took a boat ride to the mainland to visit Autozone and the bank. We needed to get more pesos as there were no ATM machines on the island. On the small ferry-boat, we met DJ, a “local” Canadian that had been there for two years already. She had rented a house and had made it her new home. She told us of her travels and asked us about ours. She had worked on several sailing vessels as a deck hand and made her way down to Mexico. She was definitely a free spirit and friendly to talk to, claiming to speak her own version of “Spanglish”. After arriving on the mainland, being so early, there was only one golf cart style taxi. Dj made her way there first. As we passed to find another, she said, “Where you going”? We told her, and she said, “hop in, its right on the way”.

We were dropped off at the Autozone and then we walked around to do our other errands. By this time we were getting very tired from the heat and walking. We stopped at a McDonalds trying to get internet access and an ice cream. We were only able to get one, the ice cream. The internet was down. If we had to choose only one, my choice is ice cream every time! So we waved down a taxi and headed back to the boat ramp to go back to the island.

We stayed in the hotel for 3 days. The fourth day, Gary’s wife Anna, said she had a group of tourist that had booked the hotel, so we wouldn’t be able to stay that night. We went to breakfast at “Lety’s” on the beach, meeting the owners son there. He told us we could camp on the beach in front of the restaurant/hotel for no charge and use their bathrooms and showers. Man, finally we got to pop the tents, ON the beach! We popped the ARB tent and Ironman tent with little effort. As you can imagine, we were quite the spectacle setting up our site. People stopped to look and see what it was that we were doing. We pulled out the Ironman awning for shade and set up the lounge chairs watching the waves roll in under the sunset. Just before dark, we noticed a couple of sand crabs popping out of their holes to see if all the people were gone. We watched them for a while before moving, of course which prompted them to shoot back to the protection of their holes in the sand.

Beach side accommodations!

Campsite on the beach

The next day, we made the repair, organized our vehicles, said good-bye to our new-found friends and we were off headed towards Teacapan, a little town on the beach that promised several campsites on the beach. Gary told us we could drive 6-1/2 km up the beach and avoid driving on the chatter bump road again. What? Drive nearly 5 miles down the beach? You didn’t have to tell us twice. We had a blast dodging high tide and keeping momentum to plow through the soft sandy beach all the way to the golf course. What an amazing place to find, away from the usual tourist oriented areas.

Driving along the beach!

If you enjoy these posts, please tell your friends and families to follow along. We enjoy having participation from you, the readers. If you have not done so already, please sign up in the box to the left. WE WILL NOT SPAM YOU! This is only an automated notification of a new posting. See you in Teacapan!