4 Jun 07 – Killeen, TX to Monterrey, Mexico
This is on the Texas side of the Mexico-America border, in Laredo. Guns are illegal for citizens of Mexico, not just visitors. I bought my vehicle license for Mexico in this city.
You can see here that on the border, the line leading to America is a lot longer than the line leading to Mexico. I just drove straight through, was never stopped.
This was a complicated process. I didn’t understand what was going on except some numbers helped me go from point A to point B. I picked up my tourist card and my vehicle permit here.
American flag in the not so far distance. I forgot to cancel my sprint cell phone plan. I was very fortunate because the American signal was still in affect, being fairly close to America from Mexican side of the border.
Monterrey, Mexico. They try to wash your windshield with water bottles for money, just like in Los Angeles. Made me feel right at home. When they sprayed their water on mine I turned my wipers on and they moved on.
This is the group of high schoolers from Marietta, Georgia’s First Presbyterian Church. A pretty large group of kids, who drove for 1500 miles in 3 days to build houses for the poor in this region. The church has been doing this for some 20 years. Every one of these people, young teenagers to older guidance counselors, were warm and friendly. I’ve never felt so welcomed before in my life. This was the first of 5 nightly service they would hold in Monterrey.
5 Jun 07 – Monterrey to Tampico
Keith is the main youth pastor. He was very welcoming. He introduced me to the church the night before, saying “I want to introduce you guys to Elliott, who I mentioned may be joining us for the service earlier today.” He had remembered every bit of information we had exchanged, where I’m from, where I’m going, where I’m gonna be working, and what school I attended and what I majored in.
The next day, we went working in the outskirts of Monterrey. The more secluded places tend to smell almost literally like trash.
Making concrete. We would get 4 shovels and go around mixing gravel, sand, cement and water. Doing this all day was pretty tough work.
“When I pulled in to Hotel 88, I was actually lost. I was following signs that seemed to say Hotels this way and that way, and somehow, it led me to this one off the street a bit. I went in looking to get a price quote when I ran into a bunch of Americans. I was pleasantly surprised and excited, and asked one of them if they speak English. Eddy was the one that came up to me, asking if I need help. I said well, do you know how much it costs for a room here? It turned out to be pretty expensive at around $450 pesos (they use the dollar sign, which is very confusing because some places here use that to mean American dollars). That was a lot higher than the one I passed by about 3 miles back, for 250 pesos, so I was gonna go back.
Eddy tells me to wait, and comes back and tries to shake my hand with 40 dollars in his hands and says here, take this. I back away, surprised, saying, no I’m sorry, I can’t take that. And that went around for about 2-3 minutes, him insisting I take at least half of it and me saying I budgeted for 3 months, so finding cheap rooms is something I have to do every day. I said thanks so much, and he left, knowing that although I really appreciated his gesture, that was not something I could readily accept.”
This man epitomized how I always believed a Christian should act. I told the youth pastor Keith about his gesture, because I know Eddy’s not the type of person that would go around telling everyone how he tried to do a good thing that day.
This is the best taco I’ve ever had. I don’t think I’ll ever have better ones.
These are the ladies that made the tacos. Mexicans have been very friendly.
6 Jun 07 – Monterrey to Tehuacan
Hello all. I´m alive and well. Changed my itinerary a bit, went to Monterrey, Mexico, and then came here to Tampico, Mexico last night.
So far, I´ve gone on a mission trip and helped build a house with a church group that traveled 1500 miles from Georgia to Monterrey, got pulled over by a cop for speeding and bought my way out for 100 pesos (10 dollars), just came back from the beach, and had the best tacos I´ve ever had for $3.50. I find that the further I get from the border, the friendlier and more understanding Mexicans seem to get. Next stop is Oaxaca.
I would upload some pictures, but I really can´t right now. I´m at some internet cafe that charges like 80 cents an hour. Pretty awesome.
Playa Miramar in Tampico. It’s deserted now, but it’s a nice place where you can park your car behind any part of the beach you want and you just sit under the umbrellas all day. Water was warm. I hear that those seats are all full during high season.
A lot of military presence in Mexico, readily carrying heavy machine guns. I’ve been stopped about 5 times so far by the military, but they’ve always been courteous and understanding of the situation. They carry big guns, but they’re just doing their jobs and I’ve felt safer because of them.
This is apparently the only bridge that leads south out of Tampico. It took me an hour to find it.
7 Jun 07 – Tehuacan to Oaxaca
En route to Oaxaca. I was surprised by the height of the bridge behind me, so I pulled over and took this picture with the camera on top of the trunk. The night before was the scariest night of my life. Stuck in a country that I didn’t know, my car had trouble climbing steep mountains of Oaxaca state, going up 8000 feet, in the dark, after 12 hours of driving, with rain and thunder all around me.
En route to Oaxaca. There was some road work up ahead, and a stretch of maybe 3-4 miles were closed to one way traffic. So we’re waiting for the other side to come through right now. These guys were marveling at the car and saying how they love the old Mercedes. Very nice people.
Monte Alban. I love how Monte Alban gives you a great view of the city of Oaxaca below. The ruin itself, being the first I’ve ever seen, was breathtaking. But now that I’ve been to Palenque, I think Monte Alban ruin itself was a bit bland.
This is where they played ball back in the days.
I met Bjorn at Monte Alban, and got to know each other almost immediately.
There’s been a lot of interest over my car. People in the know of old Mercedes love it. This man approached me and started licking his chops in the Monte Alban parking lot, so I opened the hood and revved it up for him. I think about 3-4 people have asked me about the car so far. It’s the only pre-2003 Mercedes I’ve seen in Mexico (they’ve only allowed Mercedes to sell cars there in recent years, although Mexican military and some trucks do use Mercedes).
Oaxaca. Bjorn, Teresa, and Bill. They were traveling from Oregon, and took me in immediately. Bjorn and Bill had recently been laid off by a company owned by Applied Materials and were using their free time now to travel a bit. Teresa had been to Oaxaca for a semester back in college years, and spoke very good Spanish.
Dinner at Oaxaca. Teresa welcomed me to the city with a free dinner!
The Cathedral in Oaxaca. I did go inside for a bit, but after having been through so many in Europe, I’m not really amazed by churches anymore. But I do really like this shot.
About 200 meters south of the above Cathedral around the zócalo is a lively restaurant with a band. They were very good.
Some girls were trying to get out of the way so I could take the pictures, and they were giggling all the way. They were very friendly, and yes, we did get permission from their mom if it’s ok.
At a local church in Oaxaca, where to the left of the picture, about 300-400 people were gathered for an outdoor mass.
8 Jun 07 – Oaxaca to El Mazunte (Puerto Angel)
I meet a lot of tourists on the way, and Bill was particularly fascinating. He took his motorcycle from San Diego to Panama and back, all on a budget of about 5-6K for 3.5 months. He was on his way back. He was stuck in Oaxaca for a bit, waiting for a part to come in for his motorcycle.
I’ve been meaning to use the whiteboard to indicate which city I’m in, but I hadn’t done that since day 2 or 3. I’ve been using it to write people’s names and email addresses on the whiteboard and taking pictures of them holding it, like how I’m doing it here.
Driving through the mountains from Oaxaca to Puerto Angel. Some of the scariest driving ever. We hit 9300 feet, and the car started making weird noises when accelerating on first and second gear, and when making right turns. We prematurely diagnosed it to be worn and braking u-joints. Driving through the mountains with something that sounded so serious was pretty scary, but not as bad as the drive from Tampico to Tehuacan.
I don’t know why or how, but there are several small villages on the road in the mountains. Here is the biggest in between Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido, with the church built near the highest point they could find.
Letting the car relax at 9000 feet.
This corner was pretty dangerous. My lane was entirely closed off.
We were going downhill on neutral for a couple of hours, going down to sea level from 9300 feet. My brakes stopped working, so we waited about 20 minutes to let them cool off. That was pretty scary, when I hit the brakes hard and the car refused to stop.
After a good 6-7 hour drive through some scary noises from the car, we finally arrived at El Mazunte, just off Puerto Angel. I’m celebrating with a cold beer, Dos Equis.
9 Jun 07 – El Mazunte (Puerto Angel) to Puerto Escondido and back
This is where I stayed the first night.
This is a picture of me relaxing on the beach. Just kidding.
Teresa at Puerto Escondido. I didn’t like this beach too much. I saw a bunch of American surfers here, even during off season. The water’s definitely warm here. Los Angeles beaches are too cold compared to the ones down here.
Many Mexican beaches are connected through little walkways around the rocks.
The mechanic told us to come back on Monday to fix the cracked rear boots. The gasket inside the boots were loose and was making all the noise by hitting the exhaust every rotation. I got it fixed on Monday for a total of 800 pesos. Here, we’re doing a bit of ‘off roading’, going up a hill to take a look at the vista point people at the beach recommended.
Behind me is El Mazunte, the beach we were staying at.
Teresa and me at the vista point.
10 Jun 07 – El Mazunte (Puerto Angel)
I´m in El Mazunte beach here in Mexico. It´s about an hour south of Puerto Escondido.
So far, every day has been a pretty big adventure. Hopefully, things will start to slow down soon.
Couple scares. Climbing up 9300 feet (according to my GPS) with 4 people in the car is scary. Especially when you think your U-joint has been worn and torn out and starts making knocking noises as you accelerate. The way down to sea level, my brakes were overheating and I have no doubt if I went over one more mountain it would have been over. We stopped for about 20 minutes and it was fine after that.
It turns out the problem is with one of the boots in the rear axle. I´m going to replace all of them for 1500 pesos ($150 US) tomorrow (note: ended up being 800 pesos). Too bad I´m stuck at one of the best beaches I´ve ever seen in my life.
I´ve met a lot of people here. Ran into some tourists at Monte Alban and I´ve been hanging with them ever since. I also ran into an Australian woman couple nights ago, and she seems game to go to South America with me. We´ll leave for Palenque on Tuesday morning. I´ll try and upload photos later tonight.
On Sunday, nothing else was going on, so we decided to go to the Lagune. Here’s a baby croc of 5 days I’m holding. Unfortunately, rain came pouring down for a couple hours almost immediately after this picture and we never went. But those crocs were cool. There was a bucket full of maybe 25-30 of them. Apparently, the Mexican crocs don’t eat humans, like the Australian ones do.
I went alone to get my car fixed at Puerto Escondido on Monday, while everyone else was chilling at El Mazunte. I didn’t mind the wait. I just hiked about 25-30 minutes down to the nearest beach and chilled there.
Playa Angelita, working on my tan.
Alfonso made the best damn fish and shrimp I’ve ever had.
12 Jun 07 – El Mazunte (Puerto Angel) to San Cristobal de las Casas
Saying good bye to Teresa, Bill and Bjorn. Fiona (left of me) and I am still traveling together, from El Mazunte to San Cristobal to Palenque. Now in Comitan, heading to Lake Atitlan, Antigua, and Tikal, Guatemala.
13 Jun 07 – San Cristobal de las Casas
San Cristobal. I really like the ponchos of these indigenous people here.
$100 bucks to anyone who can correctly name all these beans. (I don’t know the answer, so this offer is void)
This is the view just outside where I stayed for the night at San Cristobal de las Casas. Just beautiful. It’s sunny during the day, rains like hell for a couple hours in the afternoon, and is chilly by night.
Fiona on the left, and Dave and Louise on the right. Dave and Louise are a British couple and had been traveling for 10 months, having volunteered for the first 2 in Ecuador. They bused through Bolivia, Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, a bit of Brazil, Argentina, and all of Central America. They’re on their way to El Mazunte a couple hours after this picture was taken, an overnight bus to save on lodging costs. We made our own dinner (spaghetti) that night to save on money, but Fiona and I went out and got us a pretty decent 2005 Chilean merlot for 72 pesos (some $6.50). It was worth every penny.
14 Jun 07 – San Cristobal de las Casas to Palenque
In Palenque, Mexico. Guatemala in 2 days. Border crossings are supposedly harder than I expected. Internet is unbelievably slow where I am today. I gotta admit, though, that Palenque is a lot better than Monte Alban. Itinerary has changed a bit. Skipping Belize and El Salvador now…
Agua Azul. En route to Palenque. During dry season, this entire place is supposed to be covered in beautiful blue water. During the rainy season right now, the combination of all the dirt doesn’t make it very blue at all, but it was still worth going down there.
Bit of a hike (15 minutes or so) to the top, but it’s got a nice view of the waterfalls below.
We saw this SUV parked outside Agua Azul. Fiona and I think they’ve been through all the countries that they’ve got stickered on their luggage.
Palenque. Much more interesting as a ruin than Monte Alban, surrounded by jungles. It was quite cold and small inside one of the temples, a welcome change from the vast heat of the air just outside those stone walls.
A river cuts through in between Palenque, and if you hike a bit down, you can see a beautiful waterfall there.
That’s all from Mexico!