Sunday, 1 May 2022

Oaxaca State... Its pretty nice here

Sorry, its been a few weeks since my last post.

We are still in the Mexican State of Oaxaca.  Coming from such a small country like the UK it's hard to get your head around the size of countries like Mexico. For example, Oaxaca , which is one of 32 states, is 4 times bigger than Wales and the same size as Portugal. 

So far we have only been in 2 states, Veracruz and Oaxaca. We are coming to the conclusion that getting around the remaining 30 States might take a few years. 

Our last Blog post ended at the Pacific coast town of Zipolite, which was an eye opening experience.  Heading slightly north we found ourselves at the very small coastal village of Ventanilla. The community here rely on tourists who come to see their sea turtle hatcheries and Crocodile infested Mangroves.

Every night Patrols comb the beaches looking for either the huge Pacific Green Turtles or the smaller Dolfino Turtle. 

I was lucky enough to join one of the patrols. Their aim is to protect the turtles themselves from being killed for their meat and shells and to also collect the eggs and hatch them out in a much safer, well protected, sanctuary.  Turtle meat and eggs are a well desired delicacy in the restaurants of Mexico.

After a few hours of patrolling, we came across a huge, 150 kg,   Pacific green turtle and stayed with her until near daybreak whilst she hauled herself up the beach, dug a huge hole in the sand, and layed about 70 eggs and buried them before returning to the ocean. We then retrieved the eggs and delivered them safely to the hatchery. It was a real privilege to witness.

We were only able to use a red light to see the event as white light can disturb the Turtles and cause them distress.



Just a few hundred meters inland from the coast was the large freshwater Mangrove lagoon. This wetland was home to a huge number of birds and reptiles including large crocodiles. Ironically the tour guide with only one arm insisted it was safe to go there.






The busy town of Puerto Escondido wasn't really our thing. It was a Mecca for young hippy types trying to find themselves and surfers. It did, however, give us a great opportunity to meet up for lunch with some well known Adventure Motorcyclists, Spencer Conway, Cathy Nel and Elpeth Beard. All of whom have completed amazing journeys, circumnavigating the globe. Spencer was telling us about his incredible ongoing plans to get his motorcycle through the mountains and jungles of the Darien Gap. 



Laguna Manialtepec is a 15 km long brackish water that kisses the Pacific Ocean, mixing seawater and freshwater during occasional high tides . This is also home to fantastic birdlife including Ospreys, Black Hawks and more Crocodiles.  It is, however, more famous for its Bioluminescence which is caused by a specific Algae that exists in the water.  A night time boat ride and a swim in the pitch black was a slightly scary experience but it was fun to see your movements illuminated.  Swimming in the dark in the middle of a Crocodile infested lake, and lighting yourself up now sounds a bit stupid   We didn't get any pictures of this so I stole this image from the web.


The Crocodile proof inflatable Kayak came out and we spent a few great days enjoying this lake. 






The Pacific was a great place to spend some time. Although Brilliant for surfing the sea was often a little too rough for swimming. One place that offered calmer seas was San Agustin. Here we met up again with our old friends Sigrids Sigrid and Peter.





The sea here was much calmer and relaxing.

Whilst here Pat took the opportunity to take part in a full weekend online seminar for overland travel called the Armchair Adventure Festival. It was great fun and highly recommended.  


Like most people these days I spend a few hours a week browsing interesting media on Youtube. For a couple of years I have been an admirer of a French Duo who play the Cellos, aptly called 2 Cellos 
Whilst staying on the beach we spent some time chatting to a really nice French guy. It wasn't until after he had left that I realised that he was in fact 50% of this very successful act.

Whilst at the coast we realised that our shower tray, Which I made 10 years ago, was feeling a little spongy. An exploratory look ended in it being removed as it was suffering from rot. 
 


I decided to have a new one manufactured in Stainless Steel. This meant back to the bigger city of Oaxaca to find a fabricator. After a day of buzzing around the city on my scooter, I eventually found a guy whose work looked good. He was tasked with  the job . However, I have since learned that when a Mexican business says " Yeah 2 weeks no problema " this is in fact a very conservative estimation . So 4 weeks later our shower arrived. Luckily he had done a great job and it fitted carefully.






Life in a Big Overland Camper keeps you busy. There is always a list of jobs to do. I actually have three lists. " Jobs I need to do, "  " Jobs I should do but probably won't ever get round to doing  " and " Jobs have no intention of ever doing. 

Whilst waiting for the shower we set about the jobs list and by the time it arrived I had actually got halfway through the "Jobs I have no intention of ever doing list " so our waiting time wasn't completely wasted.
We even caught up on some long overdue medical checkups and dental work.

We also took time out to celebrate  Pat's 60th Birthday. lots of Food drinking and cake with our great friends Peter and Sigrid. 



Back in 2019 we left our truck in Peru and returned to the UK for a few months, because you need a Holiday from your holiday.  During this time we flew Portugal and hired a camper van for 2 weeks, because you need a holiday from your Holiday from your holiday.
During this trip, we met a couple from Liechtenstein called Denise and Alex.  Forward fast 4 years and they only turned up on the site we were on. What a small world.

We spent some great days with these guys including a day out to some local attractios . 

Not far from Oaxaca city is the tourist site of Hierve El Agua or Petrified waterfalls. An interesting geological feature with far too many steps to make it suitable for humans. 







After this we visited a Traditional family Mezcal distillery .
Mescal is a very popular, locally produced spirit that is created from the hearts of Agave plants that you see growing everywhere. 
The process included cutting all the leaves of 7 year old plants. Cooking them for several days in a big fire pit. Crushing the baked hearts to extract the juice and pulp then distilling the residue to make 85% pure clear Mezcal.
The beauty about Mezcal is that it appears to be able to be mixed with just about anything . Pat liked the rasberry variety. Our friends enjoyed a special brew that might of had a bit of Marijuana in it. You can even get it blended with Viagra. Apparently, this is very useful if you get really drunk. 
It stops you rolling out of bed .










After all the samples and a slow sobering up lunch break, handmade we visited the small town of Teotitlan which is famous for making handmade rugs using only natural dies and materials. 







Nights on Site were always fun with lots of games with the 4 Amigos.   Denise, Alex, Cate and Kurt.















Monday, 7 February 2022

Another Day Another Continent. Hola Mexico

Having waved goodbye to our beloved home in Cartagena, Colombia we hot footed it to Mexico to meet her at the other end.

Historically, the Immigration services of Mexico have automatically given everyone 180 days of entry on arrival into their country. However, very recent policy changes have now stopped this and in order to get the maximum 180 days entry, you have to be able to justify it to the Immigration Officer upon arrival. We really wanted the maximum allowance but had heard of travellers, in a similar situation to ourselves, only getting 60 days or even 30 days.

Although our final destination was the Port town of Veracruz we did our Immigration process in Mexico City Airport whilst transiting through. We queued in the Disney style cattle run  for about 2 hours and eventually our turn to state our reasons for being given 180 days entry arrived. 

Out of the six Immigration Officers available, ours looked like the most miserable. I had spent the queuing time rehearsing, in my best Spanish, all the things I wanted to tell him. We had pictures of the truck and even a 5 month campsite reservation ready to deploy. We were ready for battle.  The immigration officer didn't even look up but held out his hand         " Passports ". we handed them over and I went for it " Hola Senor, Es Posible " before I could even finish the sentence he had stamped 180 days into our passports, thrown them back at us and shouted "Norte" ( Next )

Feeling somewhat robbed of our fight,  we were more than happy that we had been granted the maximum allowed. 

Although the old historic town center is very pretty, Veracruz is primarily an industrial and military port that is situated on the west coast facing out into the Gulf of Mexico.

We arrived at our hotel on the central Plaza on the 21st of December and Cloud 9 was due to arrive the next day. 

Christmas in Latin America actually starts the day after Halloween so it was in full flow when we arrived.

Our local shipping agent called "Cevertam" had had our documents in advance and had told us that it would take between 5 and 7 working days to get the vehicle released from the port after its arrival. This suited us fine and we were looking forward to spending a relaxed Christmas in our Hotel. 

The next day the truck arrived and we obtained our Temporary Import Permits from the Banjercito bank. It took all morning to get them with a big Queue outside the bank followed by a bank clerk who managed to make 20 minutes of work last for 3 hours including two coffee breaks during the process. 

On the morning of the 23rd I went with the Cevertam staff to the port to inspect the vehicle and be present whilst the Customs checked all the documents, Engine and Chassis numbers, etc. It was also scheduled to be searched again by the Port Police and their Dog.  

I was really pleased to see that the truck was in one piece and had no signs of any breakins or damage, which is a common problem when shipping. The first check scheduled was the Chassis number checks of the truck. This instantly caused problems as the Chassis plate displaying the required numbers is situated inside the passenger door, which couldn't be opened as it was sealed and only the drugs search team could break the seal. They weren't due for another few hours. Neither was the second team of customs officers who were required to examine the chassis number on the motorbike. Basically, this meant that the three examining teams had to talk to each other and work together which appeared to be a problem. Eventually, they all got their act together and the seals were broken and we could go inside. The search was thorough and the dog appeared to enjoy it. We didn't have to empty everything but quite a lot. The last stage was the motorcycle, which sits high on a rack across the rear of the vehicle. I purposely positioned the bike on the rack so that the chassis number, which is under the wheel arch, can easily be seen from below. This apparently wasn't good enough. The female Customs Officer, with far too much makeup, wearing trousers that used to fit, wanted the bike lowered to the ground. Despite my protests, she insisted so 15 minutes later it was standing in a big puddle on the tarmac.  At this point, the officer in the spray on trousers lay in the puddle with her torch in hand trying to read the chassis number which was really hard to do. Trying to contain my laughter I watched on and after about 10 minutes, having now soaked up the entire puddle into her clothes, she asked me if I could put the motorcycle back on the rack so she would be able to see the number. Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take any photos in the secure Port area.

With everything complete, we settled in for a relaxing Christmas believing that we wouldn't see the truck again until nearer the New Year.  To our surprise, our agent called us and said we could collect it late on the 24th. We declined his offer and arranged to do the collection on the 27th. 

The Christmas spirit was buzzing in the town and bands were playing everywhere in the decorated square. They were literally every 10 meters competing to destroy your eardrums. The atmosphere was fantastic and we really enjoyed our time there. We had quite cleverly changed our room to the rear of the Hotel as the deafening music was blasting all night.





Picking up the truck didn't go smoothly. A lack of instructions and dodgy paperwork from the disinterested agent Cevertam made it quite a long and unnecessarily miserable experience. I was upset with our agent who clearly had no concern for our problems.  He eventually threw a tantrum and drove off, leaving me to sort it out myself. I definitely couldn't ever recommend them but have learned a valuable lesson.... never pay upfront. 

Our first destination was the sizeable city of Oaxaca,   ( pronounced Wa hack a ). Pat Still can't say this right. The 425km 2 day drive inland acclimatized us to the local driving etiquette, or lack of it, and the power of the locals to take matters into their own hands. Some of the highways have Tolls at regular intervals. However, the locals, who initially looked very imposing, had commandeered the toll booths, ousting the regular operatives, in order to gain some local revenue for their community. They were all really friendly but if you want to pass, you have to pay. Once we had gotten used to this it was less intimidating.

Camping El Rancho was our first stop, in the Oaxaca suberb of Tule. We had arranged to meet up with our old friends Sigrid and Peter, who had found themselves in a similar position to us and had just returned to their vehicle in Mexico from their home in Belgium following covid Hiatus. Despite chatting on the phone nearly every week for the last 2 years, it was truly fantastic to see them again.

The pretty town of Tule's big claim to fame is that it, allegedly, has the fattest tree in the world. this "Montezuma Cypress" is more than 2000 years old and has a trunk diameter of just over 14 meters.






We stayed a few weeks at the El Rancho RV park. This well kept camp ground was nothing like we had seen in all of our travels in the Americas. It had well kept gardens and a nice kitchen area and Pool. We took this opportunity to do some repairs on the truck including changing the two roof Fans ( thanks Colin in the UK for posting them out ) and we replaced the Master cylinder on the clutch which appeared to be weeping and losing hydraulic pressure. Luckily a wonderful Swiss mechanic called Simon was on hand as bleeding the air out of the system became quite problematic. 


Just outside Oaxaca are the remains of the ancient Zapotec city of Monte Alban. This Unesco World Heritage Site dates back to 500 years BC and was the centre of a vast empire.  The first time we tried to visit it with Sigrid and Peter had to be abandoned as by the time we arrived at 8.30am the queue of cars was already over 2km long. Because of Covid restrictions, only 800 people per day were allowed to enter so we soon realised we were well beyond that range. The second attempt with a wonderful young swiss couple called Mattia and Livia was a successful mission. 






The old historic city centre of Oaxaca was delightful and a day out with Sigrid and Peter gave us the opportunity to try out an interesting part of the Mexican diet "Chapulines"  which are dried Grasshoppers. the adult bugs are used as a snack and the small juveniles are used as a garnish or ground up with spices. 






Decorating the streets with colourful flags and banners is a great Mexican tradition.



Whilst at Oaxaca, we managed to catch up with an Amazing friend Katrina who we first met back in Ecuador in 2019. She is the only Belarusian Woman to have ridden solo around the world. By sheer luck, she happened to staying nearby.


We enjoyed our time at el rancho. We met some great people and Pat, who loves playing games, find some new victims. 


We traveled south towards the pacific coast along a very beautiful but mountainous winding road.

I soon realised that my clutch, which I thought I had fixed, was still losing pressure and in fact had got a lot worse, resulting in not being able to select gears. 

It became a real problem .

We pulled into a restaurant in the village of San Jose del Pacifico and that was it, No pressure in the Clutch at all. 

A few tests showed me that the slave cylinder had failed, which was probably my original problem. 

We found a mechanic on google who was nearby and contacted him at 10.30pm on the Saturday night. He said he could take a look at the vehicle the next day being Sunday. 

Luckily I carry a spare cylinder.

We managed to limp to their workshop, stuck in 2nd gear, and parked on the road outside. Two Hours and £12 later we were back on the road with a clutch full of pressure. 

The young lad who fixed it had his younger brother with him who spent the entire two hours swinging of the front of the cab roaring with laughter.


The pacific coast at Bahia de San Agustin was beautiful. Warm seas and golden sands. We kayaked out about 2km and came across two quite large sharks fighting over a meal. Bearing in mind that our Kayak is inflatable we decided that being nearer the shore was a better idea. 

 




Just down the coast is the very nice Hippy town of Zipolite.

I managed to set up my wildlife camera to see what was about. 


 

Zipolite is a favourite bathing area in Mexico for Nudists. It is also a favourite bathing area for the Gay community so these lizards weren't the only wrinkly dinosaurs we saw basking in the sun