Well it’s about time we slowed down enough to write an entry. That is one of the trip goals after all! We’ve been in Mexico two weeks now and have overcome our initial doubts about our decision to travel here this way and are beginning to relax a bit more Right now we’re camped overlooking the city of Guanajuato where we are taking language lessons at one of the local schools.
In my experience achieving a goal always has some element of disappointment or anticlimax. Crossing the border was no different. Even though we’ve been on the road a few months crossing the threshold into Mexico has always been seen as the start of the adventure. If adventure is discomfort, difficulty and danger recalled from more comfortable places then those initial days lived up to the name.
Allie and some of her new perra amigas in Las Glorias
There’s a reason we were the only ones in the campgrounds we visited. September is still considered the wet season here and wet comes in several forms. Here it is humidity. Stagnant heat hangs all along the Pacific coast stirred only by the brief afternoon sea breeze, with no comfort coming during the nightly rain and thunder. Lows hit 85 degrees with 80 percent humidity. Think drowning in a sea of your sweat, which made sleep at night extremely difficult. It reminded me of summers in the Midwest without the air conditioning. Because our A/C only runs when we drive, what the weather is doing outside is what we live inside the van.
While we weren’t surprised we did forget how the heat can sap your will or motivation to do much of anything. So it didn’t take long for us to abandon thoughts of a meandering coastal tour and we began spending most of the daylight hours driving south, heading for the central highlands and some relief. San Carlos, Las Glorias, Mazatlan all became brief stops rather than the relaxed easing into the country we had hoped.
Lisa at La Luguna
It was as the hills rose outside Tepic on our way to Guadalajara that Lisa spotted a note in one of our books about a little campground off of the toll road and at the edge of a lake in the center of a volcano. Decision made, we wound our way the few miles through a small town and down into the caldera. La Laguna was another all but empty campground. This time however, it was because it was more of a weekend resort for Mexicans rather than an off season norteamericano haven.
Our one night stay turned into three, as we discovered the joy of sleeping again. Cooler temps overall and the relaxed atmosphere of the lakeshore talked us into sleeping in, reading and walks along the lakeshore. When we were finally ready to go (a German friend we’d made tried to talk us into staying for a month – it’s the best place in Mexico in his opinion), we discovered that a major fiesta was the next day. La Dia de Independencia is the Mexican holiday of independence from Spain and it all started in Dolores Hidalgo, a small town near our destination. Since we didn’t really feel like sharing the roads with the whole country in fiesta mode we decided to stay put, using the time to continue our chill mode. With the passing of the crowds we headed out and further up into the highlands, past Guadalajara and into the colonial towns of the state of Guanajuato. The capital city, also called Guanajuato, came recommended by a few expats we’d met at La Laguna as a funky university town, with cheap eats and an authentic colonial feel.
The city itself is an old silver mining town that is built into a steep ravine. Its tight quarters have prevented the strip mall sprawl that has overtaken so many communities around the world. It has retained the cobblestone streets which are a maze of preferencias (roundabouts) and tunnels. Driving requires a serious sense of humor as you careen along nameless one-way streets avoiding buses and mules. Fortunately we found our tiny little trailer park (four parking spots in a backyard) the first night and haven’t moved the van since. We even managed to haggle our way to a better deal here, getting power, water and banos (toilets and showers) for $10 a night.
Our campsite in Guanajuato
The town is a walker’s paradise with all kinds of nooks, backalleys, stairways and tunnels. The many plazas throughout the city are strewn with benches inviting one to sit for awhile. From our camp, it’s a twenty minute walk to el centro where we take language classes for four hours a day. It became painfully apparent our first days in country how critical our language skills will be in enjoying ourselves here so we figured we’d better get a foundation established sooner rather than later. Guatemala was seven years ago and the Spanish we learned there didn’t come back as fast as we’d hoped. Classes are challenging, requiring a lot of concentration and homework, but we’re starting to see the benefits after the first week so we’re here for at least another week, possibly more.
The school is Escuela Mexicana and has 25 students at the moment, mostly Americans. We take two hours of private instruction, then one hour of grammar and another of practical vocabulary. We met a father and son from Oregon, some teachers on sabbatical from Indiana, and a family living in Puerta Vallarta for a year with their two teenage daughters. The teachers are nice and it is exciting to start thinking in another language again. A joke another traveler told us once was “What do you call someone who can only speak one language?” The answer? “A gringo”. We endeavor to move beyond this.
The view down the street from our school
As it’s Saturday we’re taking advantage of the weekend to familiarize ourselves with the city more, it’s markets and laundries specifically. For $20 we get a backpack full of fresh food to last us the week. Tomorrow we’ll take in more of the local sights that we haven’t got to already. We’ve already made friends with some of the locals and are looking forward to making more connections along the way. While I type, Lisa is trying her hand at making authentic sopa de arroz (Mexican rice) and refried beans.
In all, the initial frustrations were quick to fade and we are feeling more comfortable and are enjoying the differences more as we move through this wonderful landscape.