Grand Canyon to Fresno

It’s early Wednesday morning in Fresno. I’m sitting outdoors at a Starbucks Coffee table, watching people drive by, talking on their cell phones, texting, listening to the silly morning shows and the ever scarier news. They’re grabbing their bucket-sized coffee mugs without even getting off their cars – efficiency, I guess… I’m sitting alone, sipping my coffee and munching on an overpriced piece of preprocessed carbs (leaning the lingo from the hyper-wife). The place is busy, most young people getting in and out in a hurry, some retirees lingering indoors for hours – talking, reading newspapers or just sitting quietly, enjoying the drink.

It’s only 8.00 AM and the temperature is already in the upper 80’s. I move inside, looking for the air-conditioned breeze. Soft jazz tunes flowing from the hidden speakers are topping up the cacophony of noises: steaming coffee machines, people’s chatter, baristas calling orders, doors opening and closing, chairs scratching the floor… Slowly, I work my way up to the comfy armchair in the corner. It takes persistence and time, but just like the retirees, I have plenty of it. The car is left at a local repair shop and I rode the bike to this chain, characterless coffee shop to write this little update.

The brakes needed tune-up to bust my confidence level. Couple of days ago, we came down from the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in Sierra Nevada. Fortunately we entered the magical, giant forest from the south, which means we had to climb the steep, curvy roads in a 7,000 feet ascend. Getting down to Fresno, the road was of a much lesser incline with only a few winding bends. Next stops are going to be Yosemite and Lake Tahoe before visiting Sacramento. Good brakes will be essential, while traversing the Sierra back and forth.

The barista yells another order: Grande Iced Skinny Caramel Orange Mango Machiato! What, the heck is that? All I understand in “grande”, which in the Starbucks units of measurement is a medium size. Still, that’s 16 oz of liquid… Anyway, it reminds me that I’ve written the last trek update in Grand Canyon and in the meantime, we’ve moved a few states to the “left”.

In the Grand Canyon we had an opportunity to see elks, mule deers and plenty of other wild- (and yet surprisingly domesticated) life passing through our campsite. That of course to top the wonderful views down the world’s most famous hole in the ground. We even found the strength and courage to hike down the canyon. Not to it’s very bottom, just to the Cedar Ridge, but we joined the club of only 5% of visitors, who dare to set foot below the rim densely spotted with shops, lodges and restaurants.

The weather was very cooperative with chill nights and pleasant, sunny days. Considering that just a week before, there’s been snow on the ground, I think we got very lucky. Unfortunately, our luck left us upon leaving the park. Headed to the Zion National Park, we decided to stay for the night near Page, Arizona at the Colorado river dam at the southern end  of the Glenn Canyon. The place in known for it’s uncommon views that attracted lots of science fiction movie makers looking for the Moon or Mars-like views. It also draws a lot of photographers, who seek the perfect light down at the Antelope, one of the few slot canyons around here. When we set up the tent, the wind started blowing, black clouds rolling in from the west. The weather forecast for the next day called for rain, a lot of rain… As one of the fellow campers put it, we were lucky to experience such weather in this otherwise very hot and dry place. Well, I guess everything depends on your point of view…

We decided to fold our camp before it gets wet and headed west. Passing the campground gate I turned the windshield wipers on. The timing couldn’t be better… For the next few hours we drove in heavy downpour. Our moods were gloomy, but the car got washed off of the dirt it accumulated on the different deserts.

Approaching Zion, the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds, when we entered the park, it cleared off almost completely, giving us truly unspoiled views of the most unusual and colorful rock formations we have ever seen. Dominated by reds and deep browns, the park is a mecca for all sorts of outdoors enthusiasts. Even though there is a winding road going through the park, large of it’s portions are only accessible by foot. The free shuttle delivers thousands of amateur photographs, hikers, climbers, bikers and boaters to the heart of the valley, from where they have to carry their gear to all the breathtaking places you see on the postcards. None of them complain. Not even the campers, who are offered only the basic of amenities: picnic tables, toilets and cold water. There are no showers, no laundry, no coffee, no Internet, nada… Fortunately, in the adjacent village of Springdale there is plenty of entrepreneurial folks, who know how to take advantage of this situation and offer those services at such astronomically high prices that are only matched by the cosmic views of the valley.

Refusing to pay $5 for shower or an hour of decent Internet access, I decided to develop a few days worth of a body odor, and visited the local library to maintain connection with the rest of the World through their flimsy wi-fi. My wife and kids decided against my better judgment and allowed the local shower-moguls grow prosperously, while our travel fund (read retirement savings) was melting quickly. In the result, even the snakes we’ve met on the less traveled trails were giving us right of way… Despite of the shortcomings of the campground infrastructure, we did fell for the enchanting beauty of the canyon and decided to visit more of them. The plan was to do a little loop, following highway 12, one of the most scenic in the US to Bryce Canyon, then to Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches, except… we felt it was bit too early to visit most of those higher altitude places, where temperatures at night were falling to the upper 30’s. At the time we thought it was cold, so we decided to work on our trek’s itinerary and allow for a second touch down in Utah on our way back east. This time in the midst of summer.

In the meantime, it was time to wash off the dirt, refresh and warm-up our frozen limbs (and other body parts). What better place to do that then… Vegas! We remembered the city from our previous visit. Well, maybe that’s an overstatement. We remembered the city from the pictures we have taken (or were taken of us) during our previous visit. We were much younger then, childless and worry free. We enjoyed the ambiance of the city much more. At that time we were spending the afternoons at the hotel pool, partied at night and slept during the days. Just like any other tourists there.

But the times and our view on pleasures changed (I think that’s a better way then saying that we got older). Walking down the Strip at noon we sweat in the scorching heat, even more trying to answer some of our kids questions. At lunch time it is much easier to find a buzz happy hour then a decent food stand. Seeking refuge from the heat and looking for kids friendly attractions, all we could find were huge shopping malls with their “famous” aquariums…

At least the hotels are inexpensive and plentiful. I managed to wash off the canyons dirt, but after a few days in Vegas I acquired a much more difficult to get rid off distaste for the city. For some people cheap drinks, expensive shopping, glamor and gambling might be the dream vacations. For us, it’s like visiting a different planet. In fact, the streets are filled with extra-terrestrial creatures and living zombies that crawl up at night. Unlike the last time, we’ve spent the three days in Las Vegas visiting local library, cooling off at the pool (whole day, not only afternoons) and sleeping at night.

Twelve years ago, I planned to visit Death Valley. Unfortunately, at that time we were traveling in a rusted, well beaten up Oldsmobile, which among other things lacked one essential feature – working air conditioning. Getting ready for the passage, sitting at a parking lot, waiting for the steering wheel to cool off enough to be able to touch it, I made the mistake of letting Agnieszka read the chapter dedicated to Death Valley in our guide book. Fortunately, it was a cheap book and not very thick. Therefore it didn’t hurt that much when she smacked me on the head with it…

This time, I made sure the air conditioning works well, we have enough gas, ice and water before we set off. Since the temperatures in the spring are still rather moderate, we even decided to risk an overnight stay at the bottom of the valley, 200 feet below the sea level. With very strong winds, it was like sleeping in a tumbling dryer. I had to get up few times at night and affix the tent poles, which were about ready to take off. Still, it was much more appealing experience than the city we just left behind…

On the other side of Death Valley is a mountain range, called Sierra Nevada. It raises steep from the desert – dramatic shift in the landscape – preventing easy access to Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite parks from the east. We’ve decided to circle it from the south and approach the Giant Sequoia National Forest from Lake Isabella. Granted, it wasn’t the easiest of drives – a twisted, narrow road climbing up the hills, causing some of the passengers to develop motion sickness. But the views were breathtaking!

Looking for a place to overnight, we found ourselves going up on a lone road, which 15 miles of narrow curves later ended up in… dead end. Tired, hungry and a bit annoyed, we decided to get back to Lake Isabella, were we pitched our tent on the river’s edge. We weren’t alone. It was Friday night, opening to the Cinquo de Mayo weekend… Fortunately, the mountain steam with it’s constant humming was louder then the drunken neighbor’s midnight attempts at “We Are the Champions”. Despite of lack of basic amenities at the primitive campground, in the morning I had to admit that the setting was actually quite nice. Moreover, since we didn’t pay for it, I simply had to include it on my list of best places we stayed at…

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks span over many square miles of mountains and offer quite a few accommodations. Spoiled by temperatures at foothills, we chose a family friendly, showers equipped campground at Lodgepole, almost 7,000 feet above the sea level. Going uphill, I watched the temperature drop about 3 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000 feet of elevation increase. The upper 70’s quickly became 50’s during the day and barely 30 at night (my wife is convinced it was even less than that). We stayed for couple of nights, did a few hikes, never met a bear. Nadia was relieved, Alex disappointed…

The car is ready, all brake pads replaced, rotors machined, studs fixed, nuts replaced, even some other small repairs I didn’t know were needed were performed. Tomorrow we leave sunny and warm Fresno, leaving it’s economy supported by a substantial donation from our travel budget. We are ready for the next adventures, vehicle safe and sound, bracing ourselves for cold nights and scenic roads. Warm cloths aboard, I must not forget the brown paper bags…

Trek Updates

We haven’t had many chances to update our whereabouts lately.

I wrote about San Blas and Celestino, but those places are long forgotten. We had another two stops in Mexico. One in Las Glorias, near Los Mochis, where we had an opportunity for a three days camping experience, almost right on the beach in a real nice Mexican resort (Mr. Moro). The price was right, the amenities solid, the sunsets beautiful, the only one problem were… motorists on the beach. In Mexico, the new rich get their pick-ups, ATV’s and other loud nonsense vehicles and race along the coast. You’ve got to be real careful, as the traffic resembles that of Livonia’s peak hours on the Big Tree Road – i.e. a vehicle every few seconds, which is not enough to call it a jam, but enough to make you look twice before crossing the street. Mexicans enjoy much greater personal freedom and liberties than people in the United States or other “first world” countries, but some don’t seem to realize the responsibilities that come with it. In Celestino, the ATV owners turned the beach into a race track, oblivious to the fact that it is a habitat of many creatures, including the endangered sea turtles. Not to mention, pissing the home owners off big time. Their properties value doesn’t appreciate as fast as if it would, if the amateur races weren’t that popular.

The other place we visited along the coast was San Carlos, near Guaymas, a little south from Hermosillo. Nice town, but has long lost it’s Mexican feel. It’s an All American Pacific resort town, where all signs are in English. Everything is twice as expensive as in Central Mexico, but the relative closeness to the US border attracts a lot of snow birds from Canada and US southern states of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. Apparently for people living closer to the border, the US travel warnings are not as scary…

The next stop should have been the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, but when we crossed the border in Lukeville, we were very disappointed to find out that the border region is lacking the basic amenities and food supplies we were in need for. The park is right past the border, so is the campground. However, any sensible stores are only 40 miles north. We had to rethink that idea. Do we really want to stay at a very remote park in the middle of the dessert to enjoy amazing star gazing, and… add 80 miles to our trek or we continue on to Phoenix. We chose the later…

We arrived in Phoenix late at night and stayed one night at the Estrella Mountain Regional Park, south of town and then moved to Lake Pleasant, in it’s north part. The views were wonderful, but the temperatures were killing us. From 8.00 AM to sunset, the heat pouring from the sky made us feel like living on a frying pan. Unbearable, we thought, pack our gear and moved on.

On Saturday night we arrived in Grand Canyon and that’s were we spent the last few days. Pictures aren’t ready yet (not uploaded), therefore you’ll have to wait a bit for us to truly catch up on our updates.

The next stops will be Bryce and Zion, then we’ll continue west towards Las Vegas, Death Valley and Yosemite.

In the Desert the Beasts Come Out at Night

They say you learn something new every day…..or night in this case. We were woken up in the middle of the night by noise coming from the grabage containers. Rackoons, we thought who else… in rare cases bears, coyotes or maybe bobcats… We were quite astonished to clearly distinguish the sound of hooves on the pavement. Puzzled we looked outside to find donkeys passing by our tent. Yes, in Arizona there are hords of wild DONKEYS roaming through the trash:-0 And there was a big pile of poop to prove it in the morning:-)

Mexico City

Sitting at San Carlos’ oceanside, getting ready to leave the country, I’m realizing how many posts from our travels around this country remain unwritten to this day. I think I wanted to make them special, just as the places we visited, but in the influx of activities, they just remained forgotten. We’ve got the pictures uploaded to Picasa, so it would be a great shame if I didn’t at least post them.

So chronologically, after visiting Cholula and Teotihuacan, we arrived at Mexico’s capital. Obviously we’ve been warned about odd and even days driving allowances, speed kidnappings, pickpockets and thousands of other dangers in Mexico City. Fortunately, we’ve been spared any of them. We found a nice, inexpensive, little hotel in downtown and used it as a base for our unlawful escapades throughout the city.

I have to admit, driving in Mexico City is no fun, especially downtown where it is easy to get stuck in traffic jams on the narrow one way streets. But with a little imagination and vigor, you can easily maneuver your way out of almost any trouble. Driving in Mexico, just like driving in any large city is about concentration and… charisma. You just need to be less of a gentleman and remember that the traffic speeds are much slower than on a highway…

During our stay, we had just about enough time to visit El Zocalo, the city’s main square with Templo Mayor (remains of an old Aztec temple), Palacio Nacional (presidential palace, full of shiny objects and decorated with Diego Riviera’s murals) and the Cathedral, then took a subway to the Bosque de Chapultepec, where we took a long walk in the park, but also visited the Museum of Anthropology (the Maya “calendar” anyone?) and Papalote Museo Del Nino (a cross over between a movie theather, planetarium, museum of science, museum of play and a huge playground). Following my wife’s “strong suggestion”, we also spent a few hours in Casa Azul, the house where Frida Kahlo used to live with her husband Diego Riviera (and for some time also with Leon Trotsky).

We’ve only seen a small fraction of all the tourist attractions Mexico City has to offer. In order to visit all of them, we would need not three days, but probably three years… I think we will need to come back for more!

Around The World in Soccer Mom Mobile

Following our emergency evacuation from San Blas, in the middle of Semana Santa, we headed north along the coast of Sea of Cortez. About four hours later, we arrived in Celestino, a small fishing village right off route 15D. Quite surprisingly, there were several campgrounds, right on the beach and we were lucky enough not to settle in the first one we’ve came across. Celestino RV park, owned and operated by Chris and Marissa is a US style gravel campground, offering all hookups, electric service, clean bathrooms with hot water showers at the lowest price we’ve seen so far. We decided to stay for three nights, especially as we only needed to pay for two…

Celestino RV Park doesn’t have much to offer in terms of tourist attractions. It’s just a gravel beach front lot with amazing sunsets and very decent star gazing opportunities. Doesn’t have a pool, not even an Internet connection, just the bare necessities for motorized campers. What it does provide is peace and quiet. Even in the midst of Semana Santa, all park guests are in their coaches right after sunset, all you can hear at night is just the sound of waves crushing on shore and you wake up in the morning to the singing concerto of exotic birds flying all over colorful bushes and palm trees bordering the campground.

When we arrived Chris, the owner welcomed us at the entrance. Hearing that we are from Poland, he mentioned that a couple from the Czech Republic pulled in the day before. We found them without problem and parked right next to their shiny, fully armored Toyota Land Cruiser, covered in maps of the World and hand written marks showing the route they’ve covered. Our neighbors started in Europe and after conquering the African off roads shipped the car to Southern America, where starting from Cape Horn were already more than half way to Alaska. From there, they plan to continue their trek through Russia back home. Their vehicle, rather plain in terms of modern day technology, looked quite impressive with weld-on aluminium containers, roof-top spare tires, stainless steel plates covering the hood and countless devices mounted all over the car. Our dusty, soccer-mom mobile wasn’t quite a match.

That made me think how ill equipped we really were for this journey. We did fairly well in the States where the National and State Parks provide all amenities to weekend camping warriors like us. Every camp site has a fire place, a picnic table, water and electric hookups, sometimes a grill and even wi-fi internet coverage. There are laundry facilities, clean bathrooms, hot showers and camp stores if you run out of supplies. In Mexico, most campgrounds offer just the basics: mostly run down, incomplete and not very clean toilets, showers with occasionally warm’ish water and… that’s about it. Those handy propane bottles fueling our camp lights and portable stove are not available in Mexico, so our cooking abilities are severely impaired. Even a morning cup of coffee becomes quite a challenge and turns into an hour long hunt for a nearby coffee shop (usually ends up on a gas station). Our portable cooler doubles as a picnic table, even though it really gets messy when we forget to pull something out of it ahead of time.

Despite being on the road for quite a while now and spending considerable amounts of time putting up and folding down the tent, we still didn’t quite figure out the routine. Somehow, on the travel days, we can’t seem to get our act together quickly enough to cover some distance in the daylight. Usually we can’t leave the campground before noon. True to our motto, we sleep longer, then struggle for a shot of caffeine, mess around with breakfast, clean after ourselves, dress up and eventually start packing. And even though we’ve done it hundreds of times already, some of us are still standing clueless faced with the complexity of few poles and a piece of fabric.

How did we make it so far…?

Semana Santa

Semana Santa, the Holy Week preceding Easter, the Mexican Spring Break is one of the more fiestive periods in Mexican calendar. We have been warned, that most Mexicans from the interior of the country will join the Occupy movement declaring all beaches and coastal areas free from boredom and liberated from any rules. Despite spending five months in San Miguel de Allende, a city which knows how to party, we truly didn’t expect what we were about to experience…

We arrived in San Blas on Monday, which gave us couple of fairly calm, although painfully aware of mosquitoes days to explore the town. Ignorant of it’s history and past importance for the entire western hemisphere, we thought San Blas is just one of many small, sleepy coastal communities like many in this part of Mexico. At that time, we didn’t realize that San Blas was the first, once fairly large, very powerful and influential port on the Sea of Cortez. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Mexican naval base, we wouldn’t have known that there was a port at all! The fishermen in their little boats with outboard engines account for about the whole maritime traffic in this area. Inhabited today by roughly ten thousand people, it’s hard to imagine, this community was once several times larger and under the orders of the Spanish crown, ruled this part of the World.

We used the time before arrival of hordes of Mexican party-goers to discover the town. This actually took us only few minutes – there isn’t much beyond the main square and a few blocks in either direction. The time saved on sightseeing, we spent relaxing on the beach, taking surfing lessons and exploring miles of sand dunes.

On Wednesday, the amok started. Our campground, empty when we arrived, quickly flooded with hundreds of people. Most of them arriving in groups of twenty or more – usually in just one or two vehicles. The small family of iguanas, who lived in the bathrooms got quickly evicted and the palace has been conquered by Mexican women getting ready for their night on town. And I mean the entire night, not just a lousy evening, but literally the whole night. After dusk, the entire downtown area has been turned into an open air disco, with people drinking, dancing and (unfortunately) singing until dawn, at which time the party moved from downtown to the beach, where continued uninterupted until the following dusk. Then the cycle started anew. For five days in a row, the town, the beach, the campground were all ruled by forces of chaos and the Mexican fraction of the Occupy movement. I doubt if there is any affiliation…

Seeing the amount of people on the beach, we decided to escape the crowds. Fortunately, in a nearby village of La Tabera, there is a small farm of cayman crocodiles, a perfect attraction for the underage members of our crew. They loved the ride on the river in a small motor boat, seeing all kinds of wildlife was just a minor addition and didn’t really affect the experience. In fact, the most interesting part of a visit to a crocodile farm, filled with huge caymans, a jaguar and a few other, exotic species was… feeding the fish. Even the pond with crystal clear water and a tree branch swing couldn’t compete.

Two nights of passive partying was about all we could handle. On Friday morning we packed our stuff and kissed the midget mosquitoes goodbye. I’m sure we won’t miss them, even if we were to painfully remember them for several more days.

The Journey Isn’t Over Until It’s Over

We are out of San Miguel de Allende and on our way back to reality, looking for a job, exploring different options. That however, does not mean the adventure is over. The way I look at it, we are starting yet another episode of this Family Sabbatical Road Trip. Tonight I’m sitting at a picnic table at Los Cocos, a campsite in San Blas, small coastal town in Riviera Nayarit. In the rare and very short moments of truce, between treacherous attacks of some kind of midget mosquitoes, I find just enough clarity in my mind to realize that excluding our European episode, this surfer’s paradise is probably the most distant from Rochester during our trek. We are far from home and it took us nine months to get here. Granted, five of them we’ve spent grounded in the most picturesque of Mexico’s colonial towns, but it means it will still take another four before we truly get back. And we don’t plan on taking the shortest route either…

As much as I liked it in San Miguel de Allende, I think I’m also the most content that finally we are moving (…and we’re grooving) again. We started to feel very comfortable there, so before we got too attached, we decided to hit the road.  We left on Friday heading south towards Ixtapa and the first stop was… Roca Azul, a little dated resort in the town of Jocotepec, on the west coast of Lake Chapala, about 20 miles south from the outskirts of Guadalajara. Because of a failed arrangement, at the last moment we decided to skip the beach resort town and head directly West instead. Well, I guess this blog isn’t called Wanderlust for no reason…

We stayed in Jocotepec for three nights, enjoying the pools, getting re-adjusted to sleeping in a tent and making friends with a very nice family from Puebla. We liked it there and despite fairly low temperatures at night, got some decent rest – must be the fresh air, coupled with the tranquility of the neighborhood. That’s a welcome change from the constant fiestas of San Miguel.

From there we kept on pushing West, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. We arrived in San Blas on Monday afternoon, planning to stay for two nights and escape the Semana Santa (Easter Week) craziness using a ferry from Mazatlan to La Paz on Baja California. The plan backfired, when we tried to make a reservation for the Sea of Cortez crossing. There are two companies (that we know of) that offer the service – Baja Ferries and Ferry TMC. The first one is an overpriced tourist carrier, the second is a freight shipping company that can accommodate some tourists at significantly lower rates. Unfortunately Ferry TMC doesn’t allow young children on board, and Baja Ferries is booked until mid next week anyway. Since we need to leave Mexico in about two weeks, it means that we’ll have to skip Baja and instead head north towards US border in Nogales.

A little disappointing, for us who already failed once, 12 years ago trying to get from Baja to mainland Mexico, and for the kids who were thrilled about the idea of a sea passage. But that isn’t necessarily all bad news. After traversing Baja we were planning on a “side trip” back East to Grand Canyon, Zion, Brice, Las Vegas, etc… before returning to California and continuing north to Oregon before turning east on the final descent to Rochester. Skipping Baja means going straight up to Arizona, saving a fair amount of money on gas and the ferry tolls. Money which converts to additional weeks in Yosemite or Yellowstone. Baja can wait – maybe when the kids get a bit older we will do the peninsula on motorcycles…. and maybe we’ll finally get to cross the Sea of Cortez on a ferry…

That’s why today, we decided to extend our stay in Riviera Nayarit for a few extra days. We don’t need to hurry anymore, there is no “train” to catch, we will be beach bums again. We can relax on the beach, take a few surfing lessons, eat marlins, langustas and other seafood treasures at bargain prices. The beach is much nicer then Costa Esmeralda, although nowhere near as beatiful as Riviera Maya. Los Cocos has free WiFi Internet, so I can spend nights drawing maps of our future adventures (or these boring updates). Agnieszka and kids are sound asleep, only midget mosquitoes, giant iguanas and chihuahua size cockroaches keep me company. From a distance I can hear that San Blas has officially kicked off Semana Santa festivities. The whole town is singing aloud (and not necessarily clear)…

So, to paraphrase Yogi Berra’s words: The journey isn’t over until it’s over! Take it with a grin of salt..;-)

Las Puertas de San Miguel

Architecture of San Miguel de Allende is stunning. There are several gems that form the ambiance of this beautiful town. Amongst them libraries, government buildings, restaurantes, hotels, houses and churches of course. Most are colonial style with neoclassical and neo-gothic details. Combining all that with cobblestone streets an achitectual jewel was born, loved by tourists but impossible to walk on in high hills:-)

When I got to San Miguel de Allende, the focus of my camera was on doors. Some old, labouriosly carved of wood, others simple made of metal or intricately decorated, all very beautiful, eye catching and tempting setting the tone for what’s inside. This gallery is 5 moths old, patiently waiting to be published, I finally decided it is the right time. To say goodbye to georgeus San Miguel that will stay in my heart forever:-)

Spring is officially here!!!!

Yes, to confirm that all the Jacaranda trees are in full bloom with gorgeous purple flowers. They are all over SMA just in time to start Semana Santa, very important time for all the catholics here in Mexico. The view is just breathtaking, see for yourself.

The monarc butterflies are waking up to start their long journey up North pretty soon. Hummingbird nests are popping up here and there but due to their size visible only to the most observant.

Our tree, that was once a Christmas Tree got transformed to welcome new season. It became a home for owels that were made of… Yes, you guessed it, from toilet paper rolls.

With help from my beautiful children, we painted the rolls different colors, then we shaped the roll and used black marker to draw the features of these gorgeus birds. Very easy, cute and fun even for the youngest ones. The shape is also great to make kitties, but we do not want any of them in our tree, especially with the eggs just about to hatch:-)

This is a great recyclable project because all you need is a tree branch, old paint bucket and some paint. This could easily be a permanent exposition in your house or a daycare, the docorations would just be changed to reflect changing seasons. Let me know what you think:-)

 

Teotihuacan, the Birthplace of the Gods

Alex sitting in front of the Pyramid of the Sun

Before we set off for another adventure, I believe we need to catch up a bit on our recent whereabouts. Remember the trip around Central Mexico we took at the turn of the year? Well, that didn’t finish in Cholula. After staying couple days in Puebla, the next morning we visited Cholula, the biggest pyramid in the World. It was quite impressive, but frankly not even remotely as impressive as the tourists “must see” attraction near Mexico City – the old Aztec city of Teotihuacan.

Teotihuacan, is  just 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Mexico City, which makes it a perfect day trip destination for side trips from the country’s capital. The main attraction are of course the pyramids, which are the largest structures built in the pre-Columbian Americas. Apart from them, there are also large residential complexes, and the famous Avenida de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead).

We arrived at the archaeological site mid afternoon and started our visit with a quick walk around the museum, set up next to the ancient buildings, gravel parking lot and wooden tiendas (stores, selling cheap, Chinese made, pseudo-Aztec, pre-Columbian tourists junk). In fact, with 83 square kilometres (32 sq mi) the site is so large, that there are five different entrances, each capable of handling thousands of visitors.

In the times of it’s splendor, Teotihuacan is believed to have been home for as many as 125,000 people, which makes it one of the largest metropolis of that era, not only in Mesoamerica, but World wide. Some of the very well preserved structures are supposedly multi-level living quarters, but the two, most remarkable are of course the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon.

A model of Teotihuacan, with a fraction of the Pyramid of the Sun in lower left corner, Avenue of the Dead running across center and the Pyramid of the Moon in upper right corner.
A model of Teotihuacan, with a fraction of the Pyramid of the Sun in lower left corner, Avenue of the Dead running across center and the Pyramid of the Moon in upper right corner.04-Jan-2012 16:47, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 400
View from the Pyramid of the Sun (half way to the top)  towards the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.
View from the Pyramid of the Sun (half way to the top) towards the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 17:05, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
The Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico.
The Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 16:58, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
 
Nadia, Agnieszka and Alex standing on the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico. In the background, the Pyramid of the Moon and the plaza.
Nadia, Agnieszka and Alex standing on the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico. In the background, the Pyramid of the Moon and the plaza.04-Jan-2012 17:12, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
Alex, in the middle of the plaza in front of the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.
Alex, in the middle of the plaza in front of the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 17:46, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
Nadia posing on the stairs of the Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, Mexico. Behind her, the plaza, Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramid of the Sun on the side.
Nadia posing on the stairs of the Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, Mexico. Behind her, the plaza, Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramid of the Sun on the side.04-Jan-2012 17:52, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 
Nadia and Alex on the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.
Nadia and Alex on the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 17:55, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 6.7, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 200
The entire family standing on the Pyramid of the Moon, with the Pyramid of the Sun in the background, the ceremonial plaza and the Avenue of the Dead to the side.
The entire family standing on the Pyramid of the Moon, with the Pyramid of the Sun in the background, the ceremonial plaza and the Avenue of the Dead to the side.04-Jan-2012 17:57, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
Sitting on top of one of the smaller structures around the ceremonial plaza, with the Pyramid of the Moon as backdrop. Teotihuacan, Mexico.
Sitting on top of one of the smaller structures around the ceremonial plaza, with the Pyramid of the Moon as backdrop. Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 18:08, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.011 sec, ISO 200
 
Alex with the Pyramid of the Sun, the ceremonial plaza and the Avenue of the Dead in the background. Picture taken on the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.
Alex with the Pyramid of the Sun, the ceremonial plaza and the Avenue of the Dead in the background. Picture taken on the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 18:01, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico viewed from the top of one of the samller structures around the ceremonial plaza.
Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico viewed from the top of one of the samller structures around the ceremonial plaza.04-Jan-2012 18:05, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 200
A view from the sacrificial platform in the center of the plaza towards the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. The Avenue of the Dead in front, the Pyramid of the Sun to the left. Teotihuacan, Mexico.
A view from the sacrificial platform in the center of the plaza towards the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. The Avenue of the Dead in front, the Pyramid of the Sun to the left. Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 18:17, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 5.6, 28.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 
The street vendors at the Teotihuacan archaeological site even take credit cards...
The street vendors at the Teotihuacan archaeological site even take credit cards...04-Jan-2012 18:27, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 108.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 400
Alex and Nadia running towards the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent on the Avenue of the Dead in Teotihuacan, Mexico. In the background, the Pyramid of the Moon.
Alex and Nadia running towards the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent on the Avenue of the Dead in Teotihuacan, Mexico. In the background, the Pyramid of the Moon.04-Jan-2012 18:29, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 108.0mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 400
Nadia and Alex finger tracing the letters on the entrance sign. Teotihuacan, Mexico.
Nadia and Alex finger tracing the letters on the entrance sign. Teotihuacan, Mexico.04-Jan-2012 18:40, PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D , 8.0, 108.0mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 800
 

The original name of the city is actually unknown. Teotihuacan, which means the Birthplace of the Gods, was assigned many years after the fall of the city. The earliest buildings date back to 200 BCE, and it’s still unclear who developed them. The sudden decline and fall of the site is estimated to have taken place in the second part of the 6th century CE.

The largest structure is the seat of the emperor, the Pyramid of the Sun – second largest in the World, dwarfed only by the one in… Cholula. As a side note here – even though I didn’t plan it that way – accidentally and quite unwillingly, we’ve managed to see the two largest pyramids in the World, all on the same day! And quite frankly, we didn’t even realize that until doing the long overdue homework of checking facts in Wikipedia.

The second largest structure in Teotihuacan is the Pyramid of the Moon. Even though smaller than the imperial structure, the layout of the entire city suggests, it has been the central point of this ancient metropoly. The Avenue of the Dead  runs in front of the Pyramid of the Sun, but it ends (or starts?) on a large plaza in front of the Pyramid of the Moon. That suggests, that the ceremonial sacrifices were either starting or taking place in front of the smaller pyramid, the seat of the religious leaders.

On the other end of the Avenue of the Dead is the third, smallest of the three pyramids of Teotihuacan. The Temple of the Feathered Serpent is famous mainly because of the fairly recent discovery of hundreds of bodies buried underneath it. Most probably, those were the victims of the ceremonial sacrifices.

Sounds that, living in Mexico in the old times was even more exciting then today…