South by West- camping from Alaska to Nicaragua

Travel time: January 2003 - January 2008  |  by Jerry Bazant

10- Butterflies and mummies

Butcher scare; Road tunnels; Traffic rules: Bus drivers; Lessons in history; Museum of mummies;  Monarch Butterflies; Pedro Ten Kids; Crazy drivers; 
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It was getting late. We were driving along a lake to Durango, wondering where to stop for the night.  But the luck was with us. Above a big gate was a sign PARQUE DEPORTIVO - Sport Park. Inside were couple of families having a barbeque. We opened the gate and drove over a big hump inside. I asked one picnicker if we could to camp there.
"Go and ask in that house over there", he replied and sent with me his young son.
We found a hole in a fence and walked to the house. We turned a corner and I almost shit my pants. In front of me was a man holding a big knife and blood on his arms. What??? Then I noticed a table behind him and on it was an axe, pile of meat and a cow head. He had just butchered the cow.
"Camping ? No problema" and gave me big chunk of fresh meat.
 

...churches, museums, fortress, concert halls, university Guanajuato has it all...

...churches, museums, fortress, concert halls, university Guanajuato has it all...

The next day we arrived to Guanajuato. This city of about hundred thousand people is crammed on steep hillsides, surrounding the old colonial town centre below. At one time some 40% of the world's silver was mined there. Many mining shafts and tunnels had been dug into hills in search of silver veins. Later some tunnels were enlarged into a network of road tunnels that connect different parts of the town.
Streets and tunnels were full of cars but in spite of very few traffic lights or cops, there were no traffic jams. It took me a long time to figure out what made the traffic tick. The main [maybe the only] traffic rule was "you go - I go - he goes", kind of flip flop of cars at intersections. It worked very smoothly; cars, trucks, motorcycles and buses kept moving without honking, shouting or arguing.

...narrow, crooked streets, easy to get lost...

...narrow, crooked streets, easy to get lost...

But the most incredible thing was to take bus ride through downtown. Streets were very narrow and there was no room to spare between our bus and other vehicles or buildings. The driver was handling the big bus like it was a minibus, turning tight corners without slamming breaks or jerking and passing so close to walls I could touch them. 
When two buses met in a very tight spot, one would pull over to the side and the other would crawl until they were almost touching. Then the first bus would inch forward or backward to give little more clearance and the other would pass. Drivers obviously knew this routine well, they never hesitated, but to a visitor it looked awesome.

We also took a bus tour of the city. Guanajuato was the cradle of the Mexican Independence and our tour guide was a history buff. He was asking for dates of revolutions and battles, names of Mexican presidents, he was teasing us and challenging. The whole bus was participating like school children, clapping and cheering when someone got the correct answer.

...old mining tunnel converted into a road tunnel. The modern entrance is misleading...

...old mining tunnel converted into a road tunnel. The modern entrance is misleading...

The tour ended at the Museum of Mummies. The soil in the nearby cemetery contains minerals that inhibit decomposition of bodies. When graves were dug out, mummified bodies were found, many in perfect conditions. Mexicans have obsession with death and mummies were put on display in a museum. Free tickets were courtesy of the tour so we joined the line. Inside families with kids were shuffling from one corpse to another [there are over 100 on display], gawking at mummies of babies and children still dressed in clothes they were buried in some 200 years ago. It was overwhelming.
 
Christmas found us in a small place called Angangueo that had some Canadian connections: every fall millions of  Monarch butterflies fly here from Canada. Anguangueo did not have a campground and we were looking for a hotel when a woman parked behind us. I asked her if she knew some good, inexpensive hotel.
"Would you rather camp?" Of course! " So follow me," she took us to a recreation hall in the town and we camped there for free.

...inside it feels like driving into a mine...

...inside it feels like driving into a mine...

She was a local tour guide and offered to take us to the Butterfly Sanctuary. "The road is bad, you need 4x4."
We agreed for her to pick us up the next morning at 7AM. Well, at six thirty somebody was knocking on the camper. I opened the door and outside was a stranger.
"I am here for the lady, her truck is broken," he said " she sent me to take you to the Sanctuario. Hurry up."
Cursing, we were getting ready when at seven the lady showed up. There was some shouting and screaming outside and the guy left. He was another guide who overheard us arranging the pick up and decided to sneak us away.

...the Museum of Don Quijote gives Guanajuato international flavour...

...the Museum of Don Quijote gives Guanajuato international flavour...

Nine km of a rough road brought us to the Butterfly Reception Centre operated by an Indian band. In the auditorium was an interesting display explaining  the life and migration of Monarch butterflies. Do you know that Monarchs returning to Canada are the third or fourth generation of original migrants? Experts are still trying to figure out how Monarchs can return to the place where their great grandparents were born.

Outside we saw a short Indian warming up by a fire.
"I am the licenced guide " he said pointing at a tag around his neck "I will take you to the Sanctuario, my name is Pedro."
They take the Monarchs seriously, there won't be any body snatching here.

The path was steep and long, too much for Sue, so I went alone with Pedro. At 3500m air is thinner and I had trouble keeping up with him. After 50 minutes we came to a stand of spruce trees. Their branches were covered with grey, wet mass. Is that all? I was disappointed.
"The night was very cold. Monarchs start flying only when the sun is warm, maybe in two hours". Pedro was explaining.
I was not going to wait that long so we turned back. Well, all was not lost, I practiced Spanish conversation with Pedro. He was 39 years old and already had 10 children so I called him Pedro Ten Kids.
 

...Pedro Ten Kids would not let me take closer look at Monarchs, estar prohibido!...

...Pedro Ten Kids would not let me take closer look at Monarchs, estar prohibido!...

Until now I only had good words about Mexican drivers, the bad ones were all dead; why don't we adopt Mexican system in Canada? Then we arrived to Toluca, a city about 80 km from Mexico City, and the drivers there seemed to go berserk. They were ignoring red lights, speeding, aggressive, passing, double passing, even lousy VW beetle with four people inside was trying to pass us uphill in blind curves! Apparently the closer you get to Mexico City the worse the drivers are. Fortunately we are going to Taxco, another city of silver mines.

...the monument to El Pipila the hero of the War of Independence 1810 offers magnificient view...

...the monument to El Pipila the hero of the War of Independence 1810 offers magnificient view...

...In 1804 Jesuits were suddenly expelled from Mexico. They destroyed or hid what could not be taken with them. An old seminary "Templo de la Compania de Jesus" is now part of Universidad de Guanajuato. During renovation a wall was knocked out....

...In 1804 Jesuits were suddenly expelled from Mexico. They destroyed or hid what could not be taken with them. An old seminary "Templo de la Compania de Jesus" is now part of Universidad de Guanajuato. During renovation a wall was knocked out....

...and behind a torture chamber was discovered with various instruments like a nail chair and this skull crusher...

...and behind a torture chamber was discovered with various instruments like a nail chair and this skull crusher...

© Jerry Bazant, 2009
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The trip
 
Description:
This journey in our pick up truck camper took us West from Ontario to British Columbia and Alaska, then South to Nicaragua. Later we trailered a sailboat and cruised the coast of BC, Alaska and Sea of Cortez in Mexico.
Details:
Start of journey: January 2003
Duration: 5 years
End of journey: January 2008
Travelled countries: United States
Mexico
Guatemala
Belize
The Author
 
Jerry Bazant is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 12 years.
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