February 22, 2006

To the Central Highlands

Playas Novillerno
Guadalajara Plaza and Cathederal
Fountains of Guadalajara
Guanajuato Street
San Miguel, Our Hotel Courtyard
Playful Sunday in San Miguel
A Busy Central Plaza
Sleeping Beauty at the Market

We did not drive all that far south from Mazatlán, maybe three hours. We slowly worked our way away from the coast, and we wanted to spend one more night there. So we turned west and drove about 25 miles. We stopped at Playas Novillero, a little beach town with only a couple of worn hotels. We found one that was suitable and checked in. There is absolutely nothing to do in this town except drink beer and look at the surf and wade a bit in the warm waters.. And that is exactly what we did until nightfall. An old lady was serving fish dinners down the block and so we ate. With no TV in our room we watched a DVD on the computer.

Wednesday, the 15th, we drove from here to Guadalajara, Mexico's second city. It has beautiful historic city center that stretches for a dozen blocks. We arrived in the late afternoon, found a low grade but reasonable hotel in the city center. We walked to a central square by the cathedral. Here on a bandstand were more than a dozen Mariachis performing a wonderful concert. We stayed until it ended then walked hundred meters to another square were some more modern Latin music was on. We only stayed for a short while. The night out was great.
The next day, I spent some time getting my brakes checked. Then we began to explore the historic museums, governmental and church buildings of the center. It is a beautiful city.

On Friday we drove to Guanajuato. The town was as lovely as I remembered and one of my favorite in the central highlands. We checked into a hotel. We walked to the Jardin de la Union, a wonderful place to meet a friend, have a drink, eat diner. All of which we did. There are always dozens of musicians hanging out in this park, hoping that you will hire them to sing and usually someone does. We were lucky that the table next to us hired a Mariachi band of at least seven musicians to sing and sing and sing. Now the normal price in ten dollars a song, but I am sure the hour plus concert was less for the people at that table. The music was great and we enjoyed what was a free performance for us. After a great dinner we slipped back to our room, but not before really enjoying the joyful, vibrant Friday night in a Mexican town. The thing about this town and so many others is that they are so alive with people: meeting, talking, dancing, kissing, playing, and shopping. There really is nothing like it in North America and much of Europe.
Saturday we continued to explore the city. We visited the Diego Rivera museum. It is in a home where his family lived for a few years when he was a young child. We passed through several small plazas and rambled down very narrow winding cobblestone streets. We stopped at the Mueso Iconográfico del Quijote. This is a museum dedicated to art works depicting Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Almost all the pieces are from the 20th century and most were very enjoyable. At 2:00 we had arranged to meet Charlie Montemayor. He is a Midwest retiree who has written a book about his move to and life in Guanajuato where he moved some ten years ago. We talked for several hours in a lovely outdoor café.

One of the Pools at La Gruta

Sunday we traveled to San Miguel de Allende, where we have been ever since. San Miguel is a very comfortable little town. Many Americans live here. Luckily they have not changed the wonderful essence of this town. Like Guanajuato, there is a vibrancy that is evident everyday as people go about their business and enjoy their lives. The Americans have done some nice things for the community, too. The best, in my opinion, is the public library. It is in a very old building with a large courtyard. While it is a stop for most of the tourist groups, mainly it is a place where Mexicans and Americans can retrieve books, log onto a wireless network, use a library computer, or do your home work. Language classes and tutoring is available for Mexican kids. All of this, we saw being done and more. The library was different from US libraries in that it has a gift shop and a small restaurant. Many hours we spent there soaking up the atmosphere and working on-line. It is a fairly slow paced city in some ways. But from what we can see there is a lot to do: lectures, plays, movies, art classes, tours and social events. They say that it is a very expensive place to live in Mexico, but it has not been so expensive to visit. Our accommodations have been $30 USD per night and food has been quite reasonable too.
We discovered that despite the dry, brown landscape the highlands do green up in the summer. We were told that they actually get more the 20 inches of rain annually. I need green and I never thought that I could live in the highlands because it was a desert. Maybe I was wrong about the highlands.
Yesterday, we visited a large market that is only open on Tuesdays. They sell everything there from fresh foods to clothing to tools to the kitchen sink. There were dozens of make-shift restaurants too. In the afternoon we drove about five miles north of town to an area where there are several hot springs and spas. We visited the best known of these La Gruta to enjoy a couple of hours in the waters.

Today we are off to Morelia.

Posted by bill at 09:59 AM | Comments (1)

February 13, 2006

Sonora and the Sierra Madres

Press HERE to see a slideshow from Northern Mexico.

Sonora River Valley
Arizpe Hills
Arizpe's Old, Old Mission Church
And Inside the Mission
Copper Canyon from Devisadero
The Trail to the End of the Canyon
Canyons Abound
The end of Copper Canyon
In the Cowboy Cantina
With Ranchero Music in the Air

We begin where we left off on Monday, 7 February, in Nogales:
Before leaving the town, we bought Mexican car insurance ($167 for six months) and did a little internet checking at the library. Then we drove into Mexico. About twelve miles in we stopped for customs and immigration. It did not take very long. The six month visas were $21 each and the car permit costs about $30. Before we left we found a turist office for Sonora, where we got some information that we ended up using. We continued down Federal highway 15 until we got to Imuris. We stopped to look at a mission church, then east to Cananea and then south. There were many very old towns along this route with old missions. We stopped at Arizpe, founded1649. This little town of 1700 soles was the first capital of Sonora. It was a beautiful little town with an incredibly old church. We spent the night here.

We continued south, stopping at each little town that had something interesting to see. But the valley scenery was better than the missions. Eventually we got to Federal highway 14 and turned west to Hermosillo. When we got back on 15, we followed it a few miles and turned east on 16. We were quickly in the Sierra Madres, which are very beautiful. We drove until dark and stopped in Yecora. Like so many of these mountain towns it is very poor. The roads are primarily dirt and gravel and the dust is thick. We were quite surprised by the cost of things in this town. Given the quality of the hotel, it was expensive at $40 per night. We check others too, where the prices were lower - but the quality of the rooms were much worse. The only reason for the high cost of food and other things here, is that it is so far from any decent sized city, take a whole day of driving to get to Hermosillo or Chihuahua

We continued east on 16 and then turned south to Creel, arrive in the late afternoon. Creel is a good sized town on the train-line that runs from Mochis to Chihuahua. It is this train-line that has made this area so well known. First we checked into a nice hotel and paid even more than the night before, but it was nice and breakfast and diner was included. We used the few hours of light that were left to walk around and get info about the area; I even looked into trying to ship my car down to Mochis. That was a no go; but I know they do ship vehicles from Chihuahua to Mochis, because the next day we saw car loads of gigantic recreational vehicles and a car or two that were being shipped by rail. The railcars are pulled on to a siding at the best locations where the owners stay in them.

We took it easy the next day. We drove to two locations to view the Copper Canyon. First we went to the famous train station stop of Devisadero, where the Copper Canyon begins. It was only thirty miles away, but it took almost an hour to get there on very good paved road. The canyon is beautiful and it is but one of many in this area. As I took out my binoculars and looked around the high mesa that abound in this area, I could only marvel and the occasional residence and wonder how they could build in such a remote location. I had heard that it rivaled the Grand Canyon, but this is far from true. Yet this area of many extremely deep canyons is special in its own way. The altitude from the tops of the hills and mesas around the Copper Canyon are 7000 to 8000 feet above sea level. We hung out here for an hour our so, then drove to the end of the Copper Canyon in a round about way that took about two hours. They reason that it was only two hours is that the canyon is quite short, less than 50 miles long. We returned to Creel before night fall. As the night before, we stopped at a little bar that had a wonderful fire to keep us warm. Oh, did I fail to mention, it gets cold enough to freeze water in the nights.

We doubled back the next day, covering much the same ground as the on Wednesday. We drove all day to Ciudad Obregon. We only stopped twice along the way. First, we stopped to see the falls at Basaseachi. We had to hike a kilometer into the forest to see it. There is not much water this time of the year, but still it was a sight spilling out of an old lava and falling 800 feet into a beautiful boxed canyon. The second stop was for another one of those Mexican horrors, the Military search of your vehicle and personal items. Nothing infuriates me more that to be bothered by this most uncivilized behavior. Why nations continue to treat all there citizens like criminals when there is only a handful of people out of ten-thousand that break the drug and arms laws is beyond me. All people who travel are punished for the sins of a few. Thank god that we have probable cause laws to stop such harassment in the USA. Finally, just after dark we arrived in Obregon.

After a bit housekeeping, or better said clothes washing, we headed off to find a bit of coast line. It ended up being a but of a wild goose chase. We got to the place where there was a beach, only to discover that there was no town only a wild life preserve with a road so bad that we did not make it to the beach only a kilometer or two a way. We decide to drive a few miles more to Alamos, which we got to after navigating some hairy detours. Alamos is a very expensive, but cute old town. And when I say expensive, I mean crazy expensive for Mexico. Yes, there were two at $60 but the rest started at $125 and went to $400 USD. We ended up at a campgrounds that had a few bungalows and even that was more that $50. We were extremely hungry and ate diner, and had wanted to go to a fiesta at the town hall. Too late we discovered that there was a price to be paid that included diner and drinks. Having just eaten, we passed on it. Maybe that was all too the good. I have never really been in the classical Mexican, cowboy cantina. But we found one on the main drag and entered cautiously. More than half the men wore their cowboy hats. These were rough-looking, hard-working Mexican ranch workers. There were few women in the place, mostly servers. They all seemed to be dressed to catch one of these cowboys. Then there was the Ranchero band, singing their cowboy songs. They started out slow, but end up flying. It was great; it was fantastic.

Yesterday, Sunday, we drove hard all day, proceeded to Mazatlán. We arrived a little after dark and quickly found a motel. Motel prices are cheap here starting at about $20. We paid more for a seaside view. We ate at a seafood restaurant and the food was good.

Today was a more leisurely day. We took it easy in the morning then visited the old town in the afternoon. It is a pretty old part of the city, but this is mostly a place with thousands of tourists for the USA and Canada.

I am not sure where we are off to next, but we will keep you informed.

Posted by bill at 07:28 PM | Comments (0)

February 05, 2006

Aunt Tiny, Elton John and Jerry Miller

Press HERE to see a slideshow from LA to Phoenix.

Betty, Aunt Tiny and Judy
Me, Betty, Tiny, Loren and Steve
View from Our Rio Suite
Lake Mead Side of Bolder Dam
Great-Great Granddad's Sorgum
Jerry, Esse and Me

Last Tuesday, we drove less than 200 miles from Santa Monica to Victorville. Tiny, the last living sibling of my mother, lives there with her husband, Loren, and two of her sons, Randy and Steve. Their other son, Chuck, lives in the house next door. When we arrived Randy was waiting for a call to go to work. He is a cross-country truck driver. To our surprise, Tiny's daughter - Judy Bosic - was at there house. It was a surprise, because her home is in Florida. It was great to see Randy, but before we knew it he was off to work. We talked a lot. It was so great to see Judy; it has been years since we last spoke. I told Tiny about all the relatives that we had been visiting along the way. Chuck came over for a while, too. That night we had Chinese take-out food. There is nothing like those little white boxes. We continued chatting late into the evening.
The next day, Betty and Judy headed off to a salon for some well deserved R-and-R. They were back in the afternoon. While they were out I updated my website. Judy had to return to her sister's house and was flying home in couple of days. I got the oil changed in the afternoon. In the evening we all went out for a wonderful dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Steve can get free rooms in Las Vegas from time to time. So, we asked if he could set something up for us. He did and on Thursday, February 2nd, Steve, Betty and I drove to Las Vegas. He got us a great room at the Rio. We stayed on the 24th floor. The view was spectacular. We could see the strip, the old downtown and the mountains. Steve stayed at the Stardust. That first night we saw the Folies Bergere at the Tropicana. It was an old fashioned burlesque show and it was great: great dancing, great singing, great breasts, great costumes and great entertainers!
The next day we found a nice cheap place to have breakfast. Then we walked out on the strip in the afternoon. We asked Steve to find tickets for the Elton John, Red Piano Show. He got them. We had told him to get hundred dollar tickets. To our surprise the seats were pretty good. It was an absolutely fantastic show. Elton played his hits for two hours with one elaborate multi-media scene after another. We were just stunned. The only other surprise was when we looked at the tickets and discovered that they cost almost twice as much as we had expected. I figure that the hotel is grossing more that a million per show, two shows a night. We were beginning to feel like we were in OZ or the Twilight Zone.

To me, Los Angeles is more desert than coast. The drive to Victorville and to Las Vegas had all been desert. Midday on Saturday, we continued our drive across the great American wastelands of the great Southwest as we drove to Phoenix, Arizona. The only great source of water here is the Colorado River. Seventy years ago it was dammed in Boulder City by the Hoover Dam. We stopped to take a strong look as we passed by. It was nearly night fall before we reached Phoenix. It is a large city with maybe two million people. It is amazing and strange, all these people living in a place where no rain has come since last October. We could not find a place to stay for less than $90 - everything has gotten so expensive in the US and especially in the Southwest.
Today, Sunday - February 5th, we spent visiting with my mother's cousin and his wife, Jerry and Esse Miller. They have lived in the Phoenix area about ten years. We share an interest in our family's history, which we talked a lot about. Later in the day he showed me some wonderful photographs of my great-great-grandfather's family. His name was Charles Franklin Miller. Charles had a farm in Forest Township, Rice County, Minnesota. They raised fruit and vegetables and corn and sorghum. He had a sorghum mill and made lots of sorghum syrup every year. Amazingly a barrel was found some years back that still had some of the syrup in it. Jerry has a big gallon jar of it and another smaller pint size jar of it. It had been made by my great-great-granddaddy one-hundred and ten years ago. I tasted a bit of it and it was still good and sweet. Jerry said I could have the small jar. I told him that I would pick it up later this year, after visiting Mexico. We really enjoyed our visit.
Late in the afternoon we headed south. We were going to stay in Tucson, but could not find a reasonably price room. Tucson is in the midst of its annual gem and mineral show. So, the prices were twice the normal rate. We continued south, stopping at the border in Nogales.

Tomorrow we will be in ole Mexico. My next entry will tell the stories of that wondrous land. Hasta Luego!

Posted by bill at 10:53 PM | Comments (3)