From the ferry terminal, it was a quick drive to Hotel Lerma (described by one reviewer as "monk-like," which the single bare lightbulb above our bed validated) that had secure courtyard parking, showers and wifi. We loved this location - 2 blocks from the malacon and walking distance to numerous markets, plazas, and cathedrals. Besides walking (and taking the occasional pulmonia taxi) around old Mazatlán, we had a fun afternoon renting bikes and riding north to the tourist district.
[Side note: Nearly all of the other tourists we'd seen or chatted with to this point in Mexico were Mexican-American (in northern Baja especially) or Mexican. It seems that the timing of our trip has exposed us to a different experience than others might have during high-season in these same places. A beach full of North Americans would have a totally different vibe. At the same time, we wouldn't stand out as much. We had a few funny encounters where a vendor spotted our sunburns and went for the hard sell.]
We had a great time in Mazatlán (including our first margaritas of the trip and several great meals), but the heat was draining us (no a/c in monk-ville), so we decided to head to the mountains.
The change in flora and fauna after crossing into the state of Nayarit was striking. The hills greened up along the highway and at our camp there were such beautiful blooming trees and so many birds! Laguna Santa Maria del Oro is a volcanic crater lake with a bunch of resorts and camping around the shore. When we drove in (on a Sunday afternoon), every restaurant, beach, and roadside pull-off was packed. Luckily, El Ranchito had only one other group of campers and let us park the van in the primo lakeside spot. We arrived just before an evening thunderstorm and could not have been happier. (We literally sat in our camp chairs in the rain.) We cooked proper dinner (for the first time in weeks) and fell asleep to rain on the van roof. Aaah. In the morning, we busted out our kayak, paddled around the lake, and are happy to report that a divorce is not impending. It was lovely but convinced we could find even cooler weather, we packed up Tuesday and headed for our next mountain location.
Again underestimating the distance we could drive (especially after a late start), we ended up in Tequila for the night. Home of Jose Cuervo, Don Julio, and the like. In what may turn out to be our biggest fail in Mexico, we drank no tequila in Tequila. I had a terrible head cold (probably from sitting in the rain, duh.) and Scott was beat from some challenging driving, so we grabbed dinner and retired to an air-conditioned hotel room to watch a few episodes of El Chapo on Netflix.
Feeling better the next day, I drove while Scott navigated some serious craziness. [Side note: In Mexico, there are often 2 roads you can take, the free or the toll road. We got bit by some high tolls after leaving Mazatlán (to the tune of $18!), so we stuck to the free routes as much as possible, despite the topes (speed bumps). Small, large, marked, unmarked, so many topes!] Scott found a "shortcut" and we're pretty sure we ended up driving on an incomplete highway (later confirmed by google maps) for about 5 miles. Like, when we got to the next junction, there was no ramp to the direction we wanted to go because it hadn't been built yet. Oops! The funny thing is, we drove past a work crew at one point and none of them gave us a second look. Kind of sums up driving in Mexico in general. Our next destination (near the mountain town of Tapalpa) was the campground at La Ceja paragliding school. As you would expect, it had an amazing view of the valley below and also a restaurant serving wood-fired pizzas. The owner and all the employees could not have been kinder so we hung out for 3 nights, did some laundry, relaxed, watched a few flights and visited Tapalpa. Such a pretty town! They were setting up for the middle school graduation in the main square and we got to see some of the student projects showing their studies for the year.
Our planned volcano hike at Nevado de Colima was thwarted by cold and rainy weather, so we made our way to Guadalajara. We were lucky to find Olga's Querida hostel, with a private room and bath, and ridiculously helpful owner Lucy. She got us a discount on parking for the van 2 blocks away and had great tips for enjoying the city. That night, we ate tortas abhogada and walked the historic district. It was kind of like Times Square, with superhero buskers and cheesy venders, but with beautiful buildings and the main Cathedral as a backdrop. The next morning, we decided to use the bike share to explore some other neighborhoods but turned a corner where we expected a bike lane and found the whole street closed to car traffic- Bike Sunday! We had missed our Portland neighborhood's Sunday Parkways while prepping to leave, so this was such a great surprise. We followed the route for several miles and then continued our walking tour around the city. We visited the enormous market, sidled up to an English language tour of the haunting Orozco frescos at Cabañas cultural center, and had Buffalo wings at one of the seemingly dozen wing joints in our hotel's neighborhood. The next morning we successfully caught a city bus to the fancy-pants suburb of Talaquepaque with lots of shops and galleries full of local pottery and other crafts. All very lovely, but not souvenirs likely to survive our trek (so many topes). We hopped on bikes again to get back and stopped in the beautiful Agua Azul park, with aviaries and a huge butterfly enclosure. We had a fantastic fusion-Mexican dinner in a hipster neighborhood, complete with non-lager local beers. Such a treat!
On Wednesday we made some serious miles (ahem, toll roads) to our most anticipated Mexican city, Guanajuato! It did not disappoint. From the challenge of getting to our campsite at Morril RV, to the gorgeous vistas, to the cool museums, we loved everything about it. One day we caught a bus north to Valenciana and took a tour of a silver mine and the next we took a bus up the hill to the mummy museum (seriously creepy, photos not included), so we're basically experts at navigating Mexican cities by bus now. We also got our first taste of rainy season. It started dumping after we got back to our campsite the first day and we hunkered down in the van. After maybe 45 minutes, Scott opened the side door and discovered that we had become an island in over 6 inches of water! By morning, it had drained but we moved to higher ground to be safe. Good thing, because the next day's drenching was even heavier.
We were sure this would be the spot where we would finally run into some overlanders headed south, but we were the only campers for the 3 nights we were here. We're starting to suspect that the smart travelers aren't on the road across Mexico and Central America during rainy season. Guess we'll keep looking for those other seasonally-challenged folks as we head south! (Spoiler: We find them!)
Our route and stops:
Next up: Waterfalls, festivals, ruins, volcanoes, and cacti in central Mexico!