Archive for May, 2010

Cloud Camping

Posted on May 31, 2010 by 2 Comments

After a few false starts trying to leave Oaxaca (we failed at finding yellow fever vaccinations and at replacing our broken camping chairs,) we finally made our way out of town and up into the mountains near Benito Juarez. The dirt road was in pretty good shape and we just climbed and climbed up to our destination at 10,200 ft.

There were a few sections where we couldn’t get up (even in 1st gear) because of the slope, but were able to roll back down and get a running start.

At the top, it’s tranquil and beautiful. There really isn’t much up here other than some farming and great hiking trails. At the very top we found a place to park for the night and climbed the final few hundred feet to the summit.

There is a rickety suspension bridge that connects two rock outcroppings. Of course, we had to go across and check it out.

It’s nice and cool up here and completely silent at night. Perfect for camping.

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Monte Albán

Posted on May 29, 2010 by 2 Comments

Monte Albán is only 10 km from Oaxaca city and definitely worth the trip if you are visiting.

This was the ancient capital of the Zapotecs and one of the first cities in Mesoamerica. Founded in 500 BC, the city thrived for over 1000 years.  It’s huge.  After walking around you can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to live here.

One of highlights is climbing to the top and taking it all in.

There’s a big plaza, a palace, a ball court, an observatory, stone carvings and other interesting edifices. The impressive thing (to me) about this site is that it built on top of  a mountain at 6,400 ft – a stunning setting. Photos can’t do it justice.

Apparently, they liked to drill into each others heads for some reason. Torture or medical treatment?

And, of course, some of the park vehicles are VW buses. I’m not sure what the dinosaur skeleton has to do with anything, but it looks cool.

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Kicking It In Oaxaca

Posted on May 28, 2010 by 2 Comments

Oaxaca is a large city – the terrible traffic and the giant American chain stores on the periphery are a testament to that. The downtown Centro area is quite lovely though, and a nice walkable town. There are definitely more indigenous people around, mostly selling their handicrafts in the zolcalo or at the artisans market, than in other large towns. And there are more embroidered clothes and tablecloths than anywhere.

I’m not sure what I was expecting in Oaxaca City. We’ve been through so many small villages at this point and we’ve already seen towns almost completely inhabited by different indigenous tribes. I guess that is why I was not as impressed with Oaxaca as I had hoped. Still nice. Another beautiful old colonial city.

We took the bus into town every day. Bode was again getting lots of attention and stating to tire of it. When he tired of old women touching his head and teenagers taking photos of him, he found his vampire teeth and showed them off whenever someone got too close. I was pretty proud of this inventive move, but I suggested he remove the crown too.

I so wanted to capture the beauty of the women in their traditional dress, but they don’t like having their picture taken. Some believe it will take their soul, so I wasn’t about to mess with that.  Perhaps some plastic fangs….

There are about 8 markets in Oaxaca. One market has leather goods and fruit, another has household supplies and underwear. They all have fried crickets. My favorite was the artisan’s market, where there were almost no shoppers.

Oh, and there is chocolate making! They let us try the unsweetened stuff, which isn’t really that good. It’s better when it is coated with sugar. What isn’t?

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Oaxaca Agave

Posted on May 27, 2010 by No Comments

Did I mention we were camping on an agave farm? Pretty cool.

We also got back in touch with the Bulli’s and met back up with Ane, Andres and Luca one last time before they head back to the U.S.

The campsite owners (American husband and Mexican wife) have lived in Oaxaca for 26 years. I found out that we could buy mezcal (basically just tequila, but not produced in the Tequila area) from their house, so I went to get some. He told me to bring my own bottle.

He led us to his guest room, where three oak barrels containing his finest aged mezcal sat. He pulled out a plastic tube and stuck one end in the bunghole and the other in his mouth to siphon some out. He filled my empty 1 liter water bottle and took our money. Apparently, we got a great deal on this quality stuff. Who knows. We’re no experts, but it tastes pretty good. Just the experience was worth it.  But,  I never have the camera when I need it!

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The Road to Oaxaca

Posted on May 26, 2010 by 7 Comments

Red Beard had been sounding like a popcorn machine, so we stayed a day longer than planned in Puerto Escondido. The next travel day was supposed to be a treacherous drive through the mountains to Oaxaca, so we wanted to make sure everything was just right.

Once Jason got all the parts and fixed Red Beard, we woke up early for the road ahead. We made a quick trip to the beach to watch the surfers, but there were no waves, and no surfers. Those giant swells were completely gone.

Long and winding is the best way to describe this drive. We’d heard all sorts of crazy stories about his road. It would make the driver motion-sick. It would take 10 hours (for 230 km). Mud slides. It was completely horrendous. Oh well, off we go. Like most travel stories we hear, they were highly exaggerated. People love to tell stories.

The best part? Within 15 minutes of heading inland towards the mountains, the air temperature dropped noticeably. The landscape went from beach to rain forest to mountain passes. Driving slowly was a necessity due to the curving roads, but it was the topes (speed bumps) and livestock that really slowed us down. We met cows, burros, goats, chickens, iguanas. The animals really like the road here. Dogs sleeping in potholes was a new one for us.

We stopped once for a photo, once to make sandwiches (which we ate as we drove) and once at at the market in Zimatlan. Our total trip time was around 9 hours – around 7 of which were actual driving. By the way, Red Beard did great.

We finally arrived at our campsite late in the afternoon. It was one of the more interesting sites we’ve stayed in. The owners produce mezcal and the campsite was in an agave field. The site was high above Oaxaca and in the night there were several sounds vying for our attention.  First was what had to be the largest and loudest dog chorus in Mexico – and that’s saying something.

Competing with the dogs were the small but none the less earsplitting cicadas. There is a huge population here, and each makes the sound of a blown stereo speaker on full blast.

Lastly, there were some apparently unhappy burros in the field behind our campsite. They brayed all night, Loudly. I’m starting to rethink my idea of getting a donkey for our next family pet.

It also turns out that the governor has a ‘party house’ here just across the hill. We don’t know if it’s a fiesta party house or political party house, but his sleek red helicopter would fly right over us and land on the gigante hacienda roof a couple times a day.

Despite the noise, the campsite and town were pretty great.

We also met 2 sets of folks that were traveling from Buenos Aires. A retired couple that was actually traveling around the world – they spent 18 months in South America. And, a French family with 3 children that was driving from Buenos Aires to Montreal – their trip will last one year and they are 9 months in and moving fast. They were both in bigger and better running vehicles, and it was nice to meet folks out for long-term travel every now and then.

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Full Timers

Posted on May 25, 2010 by 10 Comments

Months ago, I tried to join an online VW group”VWVANFULLTIMERS”

After long-forgetting about it, today, I got the response.

Hello,

Your request to join the VWVANFULLTIMERS group was not approved.
The moderator of each Yahoo! group chooses whether to restrict
membership in the group. Moderators who choose to restrict
membership also choose whom to admit.

If I don’t qualify, then damn, that’s an exclusive group. oh well, I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would want me anyway.

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A/C

Posted on May 23, 2010 by 9 Comments

As we started the drive to Puerto Escondido we heard popping from the back end and started having the occasional sputters and skips. Here we go again. We persisted and sweated all the way there – fortunately only an hour drive – and found a place with A/C!  Camping was not happening this night. Trust us on this one – if the room with a fan is $20 USD and the room with A/C is $25 USD, you should splurge and spend the extra five bucks.

After re-equilibrating our body temperatures, we headed out to go check out the scene. This place reminds us of a Hawaiian town  like Lahaina. Definitely laid back and has the same surfer vibe as Sayulita. But, here the surfing here is deadly serious. Because of an Antarctic swell this week, the waves are absolute monsters. Just when you think you’re watching an enormous break – it doesn’t break – it keeps growing. You’ve got to bring your ‘guns’ to this place. Bring two – broken boards are pretty common. Most folks surf without a leash to try to keep their boards from breaking. You get one try, then you’re on your own in the thunderous surf fighting your way to shore. Then you have to go find your board. You still see guys walking up the beach to two board halves in their hands. Unreal.

The heat is still oppressive, and it even keeps the surfers away except for early mornings and evenings. After the first day with monster waves, things are calming down a bit more and only up to 10-footers today. Still too big for us and still crazy hot and humid.

It was 95F today and we chatted with a friend in Austin, TX and learned it was also 95F there. Maybe it’s not so hot after all.

I checked out the bus and went through the whole tune-up routine with no luck. After a little more checking, of course I found that my muffler was loose. Doesn’t explain the missing, but explains the popping. One thing at a time, I guess.

I spent almost two hours trying to find exhaust seals in Puerto Escondido. The first place had nothing, but a guy there told me to follow him and he’d help. The next place had nothing and the next place was a muffler shop where I was left to deal with the mechanics. They insisted they needed to weld the muffler to the heat exchangers.

Over and over I said “no quierro solder!” but they persisted. They argued that with all the topes, the exhaust gaskets would just continue to disintegrate as the muffler bounces around. They are probably correct and that’s why I’m replacing them only a few months since doing it in Guadalajara. But, I’m not keen on having my engine trapped inside a welded exhaust system. I still think I could end up rebuilding the thing on the side of the road some day.

Eventually I found the rings (annillos de escapo) and the metal gaskets, but continued searching for plugs and wires (again) hoping to solve the miss problem.  It seems ridiculous but every shop acted like it was a bizarre request for such an old car… as vochos and combis continually whizzed by outside each shop. I kept asking for a VW parts place, but no one seemed to know of one. Eventually I found some plugs, but no wires. I gave up and went back to park and waited for things to cool off.

I put in some old wires I’ve been carrying around and the new plugs. Like magic, the popping went away.  The old ones looked fine to me.

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