Never Travel to Mexico

If you feel the craving for an adventure, please do me and yourself a favor – do not go to Mexico! Seriously, please forget about that crazy idea. Find a more civilized place to spend your hard earned money. You wonder why I say so? Well, an old friend of mine recently helped me understand all the mistakes we’ve been committing along the way. Lessons learned, here’s a little roundup of reasons, not to travel to Mexico (in no particular order):

  • Mexico doesn’t have a decent culture, it’s just folklore

    The guides might try to sell you on the greatness of the ruins of some several thousands years old Indian civilizations, but in fact those are  just big piles of rock. Just like the supposedly old (500 years whoop-ti-do!) colonial towns with their narrow, cobblestone streets spotted with churches and other architectural “marvels”. The museums are full of shiny items stolen by rich guys from the poor ones, some of the most “famous” paintings look like comic book murals. The colonial towns resemble Disneyland for retirees, except they’re open 24/7, the staff doesn’t leave the set after dark and they speak with that funny accent.

  • Fast food is hard to find

    I know you’ll find it hard to believe, but it is rather difficult to get a decent burger or a slice of pizza in this country.  Burger Kings, Subways, Pizza Huts and McDee’s are only in bigger cities or tourist areas, everywhere else is only this damn spicy, healthy, made from scratch Mexican food – guacamole, tacos, gordittas, tamales and other nutritious nonsense. Not much fat, nothing’s pre-processed and everything’s fresh. And you have to watch the people preparing your food right in front of you. Instead of being miserable working for a minimum wage and dragging their feet, they rush around smiling all the time! Obviously, they’re on drugs or are otherwise retarded…

  • You might get accidentally killed

    With the ongoing wars between the drug cartels, police, army, American IRS and God knows who else, you might end up being in the wrong time in the wrong place.  If you “accidentally” enter a crystal meth lab, or get possession of illegal substances, chances are you’ll “accidentally” get killed.

  • You might get accidentally inspired

    Unsupervised wandering in places of unspoiled natural beauty, coastal paradises or colonial marvels in small, sleepy towns of  central Mexico, may cause sudden desire to uncover ones artistic nature. We all know, without appropriate dose of alcohol, the effects can be dangerous.

  • Mexico is boring

    Not much going on here – festivals, concerts, parades only once a week or so. If you have enough kahunas to drive around Mexico, your only adventures will be on the roads, trying to navigate around potholes and avoiding closer encounters with the topes. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you’ll definitely find a lot of it in any watering hole or strip club within 100 miles south of the US border. Or north, when I think about it! But then again, you may get killed, accidentally…

  • Beware, Mexico is full of Mexicans!

    Not only will they tidy up your room, up-keep your garden and clean the pool, they will also drive you around in a bus or a taxi, they’ll sell you stuff at the store, wait your table and prepare your food at the restaurant, even treat you at the hospital, should anything happen to you! Like in the US, they are everywhere, except…

  • They don’t speak any English in Mexico

    Even if you somehow get to grips with the idea of being surrounded by Mexicans all the time, you need to know that a great majority of them, doesn’t have the decency to speak any English! They expect you to learn Spanish! Can you believe that? They want you to speak foreign language when you’re abroad!?! As if travelling wasn’t frustrating enough!

  • Mexico is expensive

    The hype is that Mexico is so much cheaper than the civilized World. Well, it’s not. Unless, you’re looking for substandard products and services. You know, like hand made pottery, which is almost as expensive as the cheap junk from China, you buy at Walmart. Or a fine hotel room in one of Mexican vacation spots, which will cost you almost as much as a cheap motel room in a shady part of Chicago.

  • Mexico is smelly and dirty

    Oh yes, it is… Trash is flying high on the highways, those cobblestone streets are densely spotted with dog poo, sewage flows in the open, the street kitchen smells mix with the odors, giving it an unforgettably… Pittsburgh’ish experience.

  • Friends and Family will consider you nuts

    Since impression is reality, you’ll be obliged to get yourself a nutcracker. Or a saddle, if they consider you a mule… Those who love you most, won’t disguise their real worries and speak out loud calling you names and laughing in your face to discourage you from making the biggest mistake of your life. Be grateful!

I’m sure the list could be longer. For now, that’s how much we’ve established. If you know of any other reasons we should not travel to those “uncivilized” countries in general, and to Mexico in particular, please share. Just make sure it’s not experience based – those are heavily subjective, and therefore biased. Make sure the advice is based on popular opinions, urban legends or at the very least, superstitions. Popular media and social networking sites provide plenty of material!

Heroic Puebla de Zaragoza

After couple of days on the rather uninviting shores of Costa Esmeralda, we headed back to mainland. Going south west and once again crossing the Sierra Madre Oriental, we headed towards the Heroic Puebla of Zaragoza, better known as just the Puebla. It wasn’t raining any more, but the sun didn’t peek out from behind the think cover of clouds until we hit the highlands plateau. And then, all of a sudden, it was sunny. Just as if the valley was on a different planet…

Puebla isn’t much different from other colonial cities in Central Mexico. It’s definitely larger, but shares the same qualities that made us stay in San Miguel de Allende. The city is always sunny, always busy and vibrant, very “artsy” and multicultural – if it wasn’t for the distinct features of their inhabitants, one could easily mistaken it for Paris or Barcelona. There are fashion butiques all around Zocalo, the main square, with an adjacent cathedral (that took 300 years to build) and city hall, number of various museums all around downtown and modern facilities just outside. Thanks to it’s 5,000 buildings in a catalog of Baroque, Renaissance and Classic architecture, Puebla is considered to be a World Heritage Site. Impressed by that number, we thought it may take a while to properly explore the town. Fortunately we’ve found a reasonably priced hotel just a block away from Zocalo.

The first night, we stayed around the main square, enjoying the nightlife atmosphere – mariachis playing at the Zocalo and around the restaurants, crowds of people wandering in all directions, shop windows luring with all kinds of beautiful items. The next morning, we took a very long walk to the planetarium and the museum of play and science, which were supposed to be the greatest attraction for kids. Unfortunately, we didn’t check the opening hours in advance and ended up flattening our noses on it’s locked glass doors. Needless to say, all (three) kids and Mommy were rather upset and for lack of better alternatives, resorted to exploring more traditional, several hundreds years old attractions.

03-Jan-2012 11:04, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
03-Jan-2012 11:07, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
03-Jan-2012 11:12, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.125 sec, ISO 800
 
03-Jan-2012 11:36, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 400
03-Jan-2012 11:53, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
03-Jan-2012 12:01, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 200
 
03-Jan-2012 12:01, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 45.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
03-Jan-2012 12:12, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
03-Jan-2012 12:15, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 
03-Jan-2012 12:17, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 45.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
03-Jan-2012 12:20, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 9.5, 28.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
03-Jan-2012 12:23, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
 
03-Jan-2012 13:18, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
03-Jan-2012 15:34, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 200.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 400
03-Jan-2012 18:30, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 400
 

Things I Hate About Mexico

You did not really think there were any, did you?!?!?!Yes, the time came to write about things that I am not too fond of. There really are not that many, but we all are aware that paradise does not exist. There always has to be a balance. Night and day, black and white, hot and cold, fire and water, yin and yang, good and bad…..you get the idea.

First thing that bothers me the most is that Mexicans do not put the trash in its place. Trash is everywhere, especially noticable in the mornings, on our way to school, before anyone had a chance to clean it up. Lack of garbage bins does not help, but still it is no excuse to drop it on the ground wherever. Waste management system works pretty strange here. The truck comes 3 times a week and rings the bell. This is a signal to take out your trash and bring it to the truck. Unfortunately, people who are on a tight schedule leave their trash bags unatended earlier in the morning, or even the night before, which then becomes a dining area to endless hordes of street dogs. Now, that makes me nervous! Just a little bit… enough to make my kids wash their hands a million times a day and make sure they religiously eat their probiotics.

Secondly, it is their impatience, hot blood or temperament. However you want to call it they just have a VERY hard time waiting their turn. It’s just like that term does not even exist in their vocabulary. You can see it mostly on the road. The Mexican way of driving is…..what can I say…..mad. The roads are not great, lots of cobblestones, potholes and topes, the speed bumps. They had to force them to slow down because they have very little regard for speed limits. Oh well, I will let Robert do the driving here:-)

Thirdly, it is the safety. Even though we have not had any problems, nor any of the people that we met were hurt, it is at the back of my mind on a daily basis. Especially arriving from a fairyland like Livonia, NY. It is and it will be in my mind because I am a parent. This will never change no matter where I go, especially in big cities and other crowded areas. I always pay attention to where my kids are and hold their hands on the streets when crowds are present.

This is it! The positives certainly outweigh negatives. I will continue to enjoy this beautiful country to the fullest. We have just came back from a tour around central Mexico, next Morelia and Ixtapa:-) I already can not wait!

Costa Esmeralda

After visiting Las Pozas, Sotanos de las Huahuas and El Tajin, we decided that we needed a break from all that jungle and mountains attractions of Sierra Madre Oriental. From Poza Rica, it’s an easy ride to Mexico’s Gulf Coast resorts area, known as Costa Esmeralda – a stretch of beaches between Veracruz and Rio Tecolutla. It was about time to find an inexpensive camping and repair our budget, severely impaired by unplanned nights in expensive hotels.

Federal Highway #180 connects Poza Rica with Veracruz and runs through Tecolutla and other villages of Costa Esmeralda parallel to the Gulf Coast shore. For about half an hour we drove up and down a 10 miles stretch between La Vigueta and Casitas, looking for a camping spot. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of Areas de Acampar, often called RV Parks (we haven’t seen a single RV there). As usual, it’s a good idea to shop around as the amenities and prices vary significantly from place to place.

We settled on a place called “Trailer Park Alicia” – a very decent and fairly priced place, right on the beach. Within minutes Nadia and Alex were in the pool, while Agnieszka proceeded to prepare delicious shrimp tacos with guacamole – yep, we’ve been fairly well “Mexicanized” already…

In the evening, armed with a bottle of red, we approached fellow campers and started a little beach party. Since it was the New Years Eve, we stayed up late that night – probably until 10.30 PM or so… At midnight, woken by the fireworks, we celebrated beginning of 2012 with a quick run to the bathroom.  Going back to sleep wasn’t difficult at all. The night was uneventful and we got to recharge our batteries. Little did we know, how much we would need it.

The next morning, we welcomed New Year on the beach. Taking a long stroll along the shore, we got a glimpse of Costa Esmeralda’s Resorts… What a disappointment!

Lets start with the sand. Unlike Yukatan and the Pacific, the Gulf Coast of Mexico is mainly the color of chocolate (or whatever else dark brown comes to your mind). I’m not sure what’s the reason for that, but it gives an impression of the beach being dirty. Well, maybe it’s not an impression after all. One can see oil rigs in the distance and find spills of black, thick substance on the sand. None of the US beaches in the North looked contaminated. Costa Esmeralda on the other hand looks just terrible!

Tons of trash only amplify that impression. Everywhere, there are empty beer cans, water bottles, nylon bags, plastic waste and other more or less identifiable man made objects. Apparently, there must be a significant shortage of garbage bins in the region. Or rather it’s a country wide problem, but that subject grants a whole new post altogether. For now, suffice it to say, that these weren’t our dream coastal holidays…

The second night a violent storm made a landfall nearby. We used our car to shield the tent from strong winds blowing from the Ocean, but we couldn’t protect it from the heavy rain. Needless to say, for some of us the night was almost sleepless. With amazement (and a bit of unhealthy thrill) I was looking at palm trees bending half way to the ground, expecting the coconuts to smash on our heads or the tent to blow away any second. Obviously, nothing like that happened, but the scenes were like watching some of the more catastrophic relations on CNN.

Since the local weather forecast for the next few days was hopeless, we decided to fold the wet tent and move on to our next destination. Just a few miles further, we were able to assess damage the storm brought to this poor region. Water flooded banana plantations, houses and the main road. Luckily (or a bit recklessly) we drove through a flood filled pond just minutes before the only road to Puebla got closed down.

01-Jan-2012 13:15, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 200.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
01-Jan-2012 13:14, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 9.5, 85.0mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 200
01-Jan-2012 13:07, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 108.0mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 200
 
01-Jan-2012 13:10, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 85.0mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 200
01-Jan-2012 13:09, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 45.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
01-Jan-2012 13:05, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 85.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
 

Casa Azul

During our recent tour around central Mexico we visited the capital, Mexico City. The visit would not be complete without visiting museo Casa Azul, a house of the gratest female mexican painter Frida Kahlo. The walls of the house are painted blue, her favourite color that is why it is called Casa Azul, a Blue House. She grew up there with her 3 sisters and later lived with her husband, famous artist Diego Rivera.

What a vibrant personality she was! Starting with her image, hair styles, dresses and her unibrow.

Her life was far from perfect. She suffered polio as a child and later was nearly killed in an accident that shuttered her spine, ribs and pelvis.

She spend long weeks in a hospital, that is where she started to paint. She had to be on constant pain medications to exist. Due to this accident she could never become a mother, suffering miscarriages over and over. The story of her life touches me enormously, walking through her house with teary eyes I could not help thinking that this is the way it was meant to be. Her art would not be as meaningful or maybe there would be no art at all…?

Her paintings are her biografy, reflecting her experiences and suffering in life. Some say it is folk, some say it is surrealism, I say it is very candid and touching. She is the essence of Mexico.

Her house is filled with every day life objects, put in its place like she still lived there and just stepped out for a moment. I waited, but then everyone was ready to move on so I just whispered bye and cought the last glimpse of her on my way out.

06-Jan-2012 11:25, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 70.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 400
06-Jan-2012 11:25, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 9.5, 70.0mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 200
06-Jan-2012 11:46, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.022 sec, ISO 800
 
06-Jan-2012 11:46, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 800
06-Jan-2012 11:50, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 3.8, 28.0mm, 0.167 sec, ISO 800
06-Jan-2012 11:51, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
 
06-Jan-2012 11:52, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 70.0mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 800
06-Jan-2012 11:53, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 45.0mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 800
06-Jan-2012 11:54, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 55.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 400
 
06-Jan-2012 11:55, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 45.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 200
06-Jan-2012 11:55, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 70.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 400
06-Jan-2012 11:56, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
 
06-Jan-2012 12:00, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 200.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 800
06-Jan-2012 11:59, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.022 sec, ISO 400
06-Jan-2012 11:56, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 70.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 400
 

Place of Invisible Spirits

Nadia practicing Yoga in El Tajin

During our two day visit to Xilitla, we have visited Las Pozas and Sotano de las Huahuas. The later is a large cave in the middle of a jungle, where at dusk, we have witnessed several flocks of macaws and thousands of swallows dive deep into the dark abyss. A very unreal experience. Unfortunately, despite shooting almost 400 photos, I couldn’t capture the moment. Instead, here’s a short excerpt from a 2006 BBC movie called The Earth.

We have left the wild, but beautiful region of La Huasteca driving South-East towards Poza Rica. Even though it’s only a distance of 170 miles, it took us almost the whole days to get to El Tajin. What on a map looked like a decent highway, turned out too be a really bad maintained road dotted with small towns, countless speed bumps, crazy drivers and unmarked potholes able to hide a midsize sedan.

We were up for a large disappointment, when we finally made it to Poza Rica. This large city, unlike most towns we’ve seen in Mexico doesn’t have a picturesque Centro or narrow, cobblestone streets. In fact it looks like a modern, US city – busy and functional, but charmless.

Our first attempt at finding a shelter for the night failed miserably. Lured by the name and decent looking exteriors, we attempted to drop anchor at one of many local Auto Hotels.  Unfortunately, we were told that the rooms (and curtain covered garages) were only rented for up to… six hours. Hmm…

Haunted Mansion - plantation style hotel near El TajinHaunted Mansion - plantation style hotel near El Tajin
Haunted Mansion - plantation style hotel near El Tajin31-Dec-2011 09:20, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
 

Since we came there to see El Tajin and not to make local hotel moguls richer, we decided to leave town and look for accommodation near the archaeological site. That was another mistake. It was already dark and way too late to find a camping. Our only option was finding a room. Except, near El Tajin there is only one hotel – charming, but dated plantation style house. I have no doubt it used to be a really chic place – some two hundred years ago… Nowadays it’s missing almost everything you would expect from a hotel – there’s no internet, no towels and only sparsely some hot water. Even the owners left (or died) already, leaving a haunted mansion business in the very capable hands of their… handyman. What remained from the good old days were the prices, eagerly adjusted for two centuries of inflation.

We were tired and it seemed that we had no choice. After loosing a small fortune on a room lacking some of the basic amenities, we rolled out our sleeping bags and went to beds. I’m sure we would have gotten even more memorable souvenirs from the bargain if we decided to use the hotel linens.

Our luxurious hotel had a restaurant, a very nice looking indeed. Except, there was no one to operate the kitchen. Imagine our despair when we had to leave without even as much as a cup of coffee in the morning! Quite frankly though, the night was peaceful and quiet – no fire crackers and no drunken serenades at midnight – which helped us get over those minor annoyances quickly.

We have arrived at the entrance well before 9.00 AM. Unlike hotels, there is no shortage of food joints in El Tajin. I wouldn’t dare calling them restaurants – that would be a great exaggeration, but if you look beyond the bare ground floor and plastic seats, they do offer some decent, inexpensive breakfast options. Regrettably their coffee comes automatically sweetened… Oh well!

After getting past the crowds of vendors, we arrived at the entrance. A large, modern, concrete complex of building hosts a small museum, restaurant, restrooms and offices. The archaeological site is fairly large and we have spent the whole morning wandering aimlessly between smaller and larger pyramids.

A view from the living quarters towards the ball game and the Pyramid of the NichesA view from the living quarters towards the ball game and the Pyramid of the Niches
A view from the living quarters towards the ball game and the Pyramid of the Niches31-Dec-2011 12:10, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 

Even though undoubtedly  interesting, I have to admit that our first encounter with the remains of the ancient civilization was rather disappointing. As usual, we came unprepared – without knowing what we’re looking at, all buildings looked like nothing more than a bunch of very old rocks. Only after doing some research, I found out that the site we visited, was in fact a capital city of the nation of Totonacs. The site’s prosperity falls between 600 and 1200 AD. An excerpt from Wikipedia article on the city:

Its significance is due to its size and unique forms of art and architecture.[10] The borders of the city’s residential areas have not yet been defined but is the entire site is estimated at 2,640 acres (10.7 km2).[13] To date, only about fifty percent of the city’s buildings has been excavated, revealing a series of plazas, palaces, and administrative buildings within a two-square-mile area.[5] Unlike the highly rigid grid patterns of ancient cities in the central highlands of Mexico, the builders of El Tajin designed and aligned buildings as individual units.[15]There are several architectural features here which are unique to the place or seen in only rarely in Mesoamerica. Adornment in the form of niches and stepped frets are omnipresent, decorating even utilitarian buttresses and platform walls. Stepped frets are seen in other parts of Mesoamerica but rarely to this extent. The use of niches is unique to El Tajin.[10]

Haunted Mansion - plantation style hotel near El Tajin
Haunted Mansion - plantation style hotel near El Tajin31-Dec-2011 09:20, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
31-Dec-2011 09:21, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
31-Dec-2011 09:21, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 108.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 800
 
31-Dec-2011 09:52, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 135.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 800
31-Dec-2011 10:38, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 55.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
31-Dec-2011 10:43, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
 
31-Dec-2011 10:49, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 55.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
31-Dec-2011 10:54, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 85.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
31-Dec-2011 10:53, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
 
31-Dec-2011 10:59, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
31-Dec-2011 11:11, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
31-Dec-2011 11:14, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
 
31-Dec-2011 11:25, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
31-Dec-2011 11:33, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 70.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
31-Dec-2011 11:34, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 200.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 400
 
31-Dec-2011 11:43, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
31-Dec-2011 12:14, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 70.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
31-Dec-2011 12:11, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
 

Las Pozas

After a long drive on a winding roads through Sierra Madre Oriental, at the end of December, we arrived in Xilitla. It’s a little town in the picturesque La Huasteca region of Mexico. Rather unremarkable, and similar to all other little towns we’ve been driving through, with one exception though. This little pueblito hides a few secrets… One of them is known as Las Pozas, a garden in a jungle, just outside of town, full of surrealist concrete sculptures and buildings with no apparent purpose. The garden sits on over 80 acres of waterfalls and natural pools. Here’s an excerpt from a Wikipedia article about Edward James, English aristocrat and eccentric artist, who created this jungle retreat:

Las Pozas is near the village of Xilitla, San Luis Potosí, a seven-hour drive north of Mexico City. In the early 1940s, James went to Los Angeles, and then decided that he “wanted a Garden of Eden set up . . . and I saw that Mexico was far more romantic” and had “far more room than there is in crowded Southern California” [9]. In Hollywood in 1941, his lifetime friend and cousin, Magic Realist painter Bridget Bate Tichenor, encouraged him to search for a surreal location in Mexico to express his diverse esoteric interests.[10] In Cuernavaca, he hired Plutarco Gastelum as a guide. They discovered Xilitla in November 1945.[8] Eventually Plutarco married a local woman and had four children. James was “Uncle Edward”, to the children called James,and frequently stayed with them in a house Plutarco had built, a mock-Gothic cement castle, now a hotel – La Posada El Castillo.[11]

Between 1949 and 1984, James built scores of surreal concrete structures with names like the House on Three Floors Which Will in Fact Have Five or Four or Six, the House with a Roof like a Whale, and the Staircase to Heaven.[11] There were also plantings and beds full of tropical plants, including orchids – there were, apparently, 29,000 at Las Pozas at one time [12]– and a variety of small casas (homes), niches, and pens that held exotic birds and wild animals from the world over — James owned many exotic animals and once took his pet boa constrictors to the Hotel Francis in Mexico City.[11].

Massive sculptures up to four stories tall punctuate the site. The many trails throughout the garden site are composed of steps, ramps, bridges and narrow, winding walkways that traverse the valley walls.[13] Construction of Las Pozas cost more than $5 million. To pay for it, James sold his collection of Surrealist art at auction.[11]

In the summer of 2007, the Fundación Pedro y Elena Hernández, the company Cemex, and the government of San Luis Potosí paid about $2.2 million for Las Pozas and created Fondo Xilitla, a foundation that will oversee the preservation and restoration of the site.[8]

We walked from the hotel, through the town of Xilitla, down to the gardens. The weather was gorgeous, the views worth every shot. We enjoyed a whole morning and a good part of the afternoon in the park.

29-Dec-2011 11:17, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
29-Dec-2011 11:31, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 200.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 400
29-Dec-2011 11:53, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 200.0mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 400
 
29-Dec-2011 11:28, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 200.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
29-Dec-2011 11:37, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
29-Dec-2011 12:02, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 400
 
29-Dec-2011 12:03, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
29-Dec-2011 12:06, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
29-Dec-2011 12:09, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 400
 
29-Dec-2011 12:11, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 200
29-Dec-2011 12:15, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.0, 28.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 200
29-Dec-2011 12:15, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 
29-Dec-2011 12:26, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 45.0mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
29-Dec-2011 12:22, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
29-Dec-2011 12:21, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 
29-Dec-2011 12:19, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
29-Dec-2011 12:19, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 4.5, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
29-Dec-2011 12:27, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 400
 

I found this documentary about Las Pozas, done by BBC in their series Around the World in 80 Gardens, with Monty Don:

Traveling by car in Mexico

Some of our readers were wondering about the practical aspects of traveling by car in Mexico. And obviously about safety of such extravaganza. Some of them even consider coming over and needed a few tips. Instead of responding all of their concerns individually and writing hundreds of emails, here are some of the things I would recommend:

  • First and foremost, here are the formal requirements for crossing the US-Mexican border. Yep, everything in that article is accurate, and even though it sounds complicated, you can get everything done at the border within an hour or so.
  • When you shop around for Mexican car insurance, check online and compare at the border. The agents in Laredo wanted between 30% and 100% more then an online quote.
  • If driving through Laredo (like we did), use the Columbia bridge crossing. It’s few miles West from Laredo, and it may seem like burning a lot of gas, but the crossing is almost always empty, so it’s easier to get the paperwork done and you get onto the highway right away and don’t need to drive through Nuevo Laredo.
  • Hit the border early (Columbia opens 8.00 AM) in the morning to have much daylight for driving through the border region.
  • After crossing the border, “unlearn” everything you’re been taught about traffic rules and safety on the roads. There don’t seem to be any… your imagination (and vehicles capabilities) are the limits!
  • Avoid driving after dusk. It’s for your own safety – the roads are badly lit and their surface is unpredictable (rocks, potholes, drunks, animals, etc…).
  • Make sure your vehicle is in good shape before crossing the border – finding good mechanics and/or authorized dealerships is much more difficult than in the States.
  • Make sure your vehicle has got some decent clearance between the undercar and the pavement. Some of the speed bumps (called “topes”) here are 4 to 5 inches tall. And they’re the most frequent and popular feature on the roads in Mexico. Some of them are marked, most take you by surprise…
  • The longer and wider the rig, the more difficult it will be to maneuver some of the narrow streets. Most of the towns in Mexico were build, before Mayflower anchored Plymouth. The streets only allow for bidirectional traffic of unloaded donkeys. There is a street in San Miguel de Allende, where we have to fold the side mirrors of our minivan to get through…
  • The paid highways (called “cuotas”) may seem expensive, but are well worth the 100 pesos or so, per 20km… or so – I didn’t quite figure it out yet – there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to their prices. They are no German “autobahn”, but as good as any US interstate. Unless…
  • … unless the “cuotas” are only one lane roads. It is common that you pay for a highway and drive on an equivalent of a well maintained US county road. In such case, the two lanes and the shoulders (if any) are spontaneously upgraded into a four lane highways.
  • The  non-paid highways (called “libramentes”), or lets just call them the paved roads, are… paved (at least for the most part). They remind me of the long forgotten and never attended roads in some underfunded US counties. Except…
  • …the “libramentes” are always busy. Usually it’s motorized traffic, but not necessary: cars, wagons, bicycles, wheel barrows, tequila fueled pedestrians and animals (wild and domesticated) are a norm.

And most of all, don’t be alarmed by everything you read in the US media. 99.9% of people here are very friendly. At the worst, some of the poor fellows may try to fool you for a few pesos you at the gas pump (make sure the pump is reset and shows zeros before start pumping). But at the same time, they will go out of their way to help you, should you be in trouble.

Oh, and remember, plastic is very much useless in most of Mexico (except for larger and tourist cities) – cash is king! So be sure to exchange your hard earned dollars for pesos before crossing the border. Or get it from an ATM – the rates are usually better then the border region crooks. Just remember that the ATM’s are not as frequent as in the US.

More questions? Let me know!