Monthly Archives: August, 2013

King Of The Road

The Spanish may have defeated the Mayas but the Belgians beat the Spanish in Puebla. Okay, it was back in 1986 and okay we beat them on penalties but still … it counts as a win! 🙂 So today, we went to see this city which was conquered by Belgians!

We started off on a take-it-easy groove until we noticed that it was already 10:30am, we still had to pack and we had to leave our room before the standard 11:00am check-out time. Putting all our stuff back in the car felt a little strange and a sad feeling fell upon us having to leave the comfort of the hotel behind. Unfortunately we can’t put the hotel in our car and we have to keep moving to see more beautiful things so we started our own ‘Avenue of the Dead’ getting out of DF.

Today there are no pictures from the car drive. We were to busy listening to the navigation bleeping like crazy, trying not to scratch the taxi squeezing in from the left, making sure we took the right turns and not hitting the boys and girls trying to sell toilet paper from the middle of the street.

Once we were outside the centre and could properly breathe again, the familiar sound of the car engine running brought back the calm feeling of cruising down the Mexican highways. It was only a short drive to Puebla. Along the way we could see the volcanos surrounding the city. Again there are no photos from the road as the navigator was too busy getting money out and putting the change back in her purse every 20 meters for the toll roads. We do have a photo though from Puebla at the top of the mountain to give you already some visual. The city lies next to the Popocatepetl volcano (5,426m high!), which is now again active.

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Once we were in Puebla and managed to find our campground, we wanted to walk up to the archeological site of ‘Cholula‘ when we noticed a big grey cloud moving closer towards us. So instead we walked up to the supermarket and afterwards took Rodrigo to go to the site. We were totally surprised by the content of these remains. The tour started under the ground where we could see remains of old temple staircases.

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Then the signs brought us to a big area outside (200m further) where we could see the remains of a very old town. The site was huge! And it seems that here also layers were put on top of each other to make a bigger, newer building (otherwise people had to be very very tiny having to walk through those streets).

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The real spectacular view came in the end where they had reconstructed some of the sides to give the feeling and idea of what it used to look like.

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Then we used all the energy we still had left to climb all the way to the top of the mountain where a modern church is standing today. You can see that Marijke was quite struggling keeping her breath but in the end the view was amazing! We could also see very clearly where the rain was heading. 🙂

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The trip up completely exhausted us so we drove back to our campground where we used the time to do a little washing and make dinner.

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…until it started to rain very heavily. So we took all our things and went hiding in the car. Sitting in our car, it feels like a completely different world compared to yesterday. When we close our eyes we still dream about the clean toilet seat, warm showers and clean sheets on a big soft bed. 🙂

Trailers for sale or rent

Rooms to let, 50 cents

No phone, no pool, no pets

I ain’t got no cigarettes

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrhAC0dFis0

It All Started With A Big Bang!

On our second day in ‘la DF’, we had targeted the ‘Museo Nacional de Antropologia‘ to brush up our knowledge of Mexico’s rich history. It definitely is a very interesting introduction to all the types of architecture you can find across the Mesoamerican sites. The museum itself is located in a beautiful building (with the largest umbrella covering the central patio), next to the Chapultepec park. We paid the standard admission fee of 57 pesos (about 3 euro, the price for every museum we have visited in Mexico) and spent the whole day inside. We learned to separate our Olmecs from our Toltecs and our Aztecs from our Mayas.

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After an introduction to anthropology (Neanderthals, Homo Sapiens etc.) we explored the first civilisations in Mesoamerica, an area that covers Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. Although the artefacts are quite basic, you can already see the first signs of how the typical style of the Mayas is being developed. As you can see, Marijke took full advantage of her audio guide to learn about everything in detail.

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The classic era (from about 200 AD) starts with the building of ‘Teotihuacan’, the city that we visited earlier this week. There is a beautiful reconstruction of the ‘Temple of the Feathered Serpent’ (in colour) inside, as well as some of the most important statues.

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In the classic era, other cities were developing as well – and we look forward to visiting the most important ones during the next weeks.

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The post-classic era is dominated by chaos and warfare – and ends with the arrival of the conquistadores in the 1500’s.

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Marijke found the Olmec colossal heads most impressive. These 12 ton statues depict the heads of important Olmec rulers. There exist only 17 of those and they are truly colossal!

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Another important piece in the museum is the ‘Piedra del Sol‘. It is undecided whether this is a calendar, an altar or something else. With its 3,7m across, it’s pretty impressive anyhow.

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This museum is really worth a visit – and we feel we have only explored half of it in a day. Thanks for the tip, Laurent, it was definitely worth it.

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After a walk in the Chapultepec park we went back to the hotel to prepare the next few days and went for beer and nachos at the ‘Beer Factory‘. We were happy to learn that there is more to Mexican beer than just Corona or Sol. Sure, those beers are refreshing on a hot summer day – but so is a cold glass of water.

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Since ‘The Dawn of Men’ is really not that long

And every galaxy was formed in less time than it takes to sing this song

A fraction of a second and the elements were made

The bipeds stood up straight, the dinosaurs all met their fate

They tried to leap but they were late and they all died (they froze their asses off!)


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ES2OyRQeclk

We Built This City (On Rock And Roll)

On our Olympic tour of the Americas, we have now arrived in Mexico City, host of the 1968 summer olympics. Mexico City, or ‘la DF’ (Districto Federal) as it is known locally, has even hosted the football World Cup final twice in the legendary Aztec Stadium (more on that later!). Even Eddy Merckx came here in 1972 to break the hour record in cycling (49,431 kilometers). So definitely worth a visit… to make it even more appealing, Patrick’s friend from work Laurent spends quite some time here so it was great to catch up with some people from back home!

Patrick started the day with some light infotainment on the TV, where they advertise products to make your butt look bigger! Yes, bigger (left on the TV screen is before).

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However, we are not here to watch daytime television! First of all, this is a big city! With over 20 million people in the metropolitan area, it is about the same size as Mumbai or Delhi, making it the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere. Given the size of the city, it is not so easy to find hidden treasures! However, we were very impressed with the ruins of Aztec ‘Templo Mayor‘ in the city center.

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When Mexico City was founded by the Aztecs around 1325, they named it ‘Tenochtitlan‘ and extended the main temple seven times. The temple was destroyed by the Spanish in 1521. It’s a miracle that anything remains and has been found again, as everything above ground was knocked down and covered by the ‘Zocalo‘ – which is now the main square of Mexico City. It’s only when they wanted to fix the underground electricity lines in 1978, that they uncovered this great sleeping treasure.

At the entrance of they site, we were impressed with a huge stone disc representing Coyolxauhqui (*). The original is inside the museum, but this replica shows the full colours.

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We walked between the seven different layers of the temple, discovering snakes, toads, dismembered gods, skulls, altars and… a sewage drain that was dug through the temple unknowingly a long time ago.

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Next to the temple, the Templo Mayor museum shows a lot of artefacts that have been recovered. They also have an impressive collection of Mesoamerican sculptures.

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Don’t be fooled by the pictures, the last one representing ‘Tlaltecuhtli’ is about 14 square meters and weighs 12 tons.

After the museum visit we walked around town for a bit, across the the occupied Zocalo (teachers protesting against education reforms) towards the ‘Palacio de Bellas Artes’. At the time, it started raining heavily as well but as you can see, someone came prepared!

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We took a taxi back to the hotel and decided to stay another night in Mexico City as we still want to explore more although the traffic is mad and the taxi drivers act like they are the only ones on the street.

Say you don’t know me

Or recognise my face

Say you don’t care

Who goes to that kind of place

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1b8AhIsSYQ

(*) okay, there are going to be more complicated and unpronounceable names coming. We try to be as correct as possible, but don’t shoot the messenger.

This Is My Church

When we arrived at the campsite, we had a small dinner and went to bed. Temperatures were dropping to 22°C, which is the coldest we have been in over a month! The cathedral of San Juan Teotihuacan made sure that we knew very well what time it was every fifteen minutes! We woke up at 8:00am and after breakfast and showers we were ready for ‘Teotihuacan‘, the home of the gods and the most significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas.

It was only a short drive to the site and before we knew it we were immersed in the rich history of this city, which was built between 200 BC and 250 AD and was home to over 125.000 people. Our exploration started at the temple dedicated to the Feathered Serpent, whom the Aztecs much later named Quetzalcoatl. The temple is a religious and political centre and its importance can be derived from the more than hundred people that were sacrificed when it was built. Not so long ago hundreds of mysterious golden spheres were found under this building, whose purpose yet needs to be discovered.

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The temple sits on a plaza that formed the religious and political center of the city.

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From this plaza, the ‘Avenue of the Dead’ leads to the other temples and pyramids in the city. It’s oriented 15.5° east of north and was used as a way of marking important days in the calendar. The size reminded us of the National Mall in Washington DC, very open, wide and long and flanked by impressive buildings.

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The second pyramid is the ‘Pyramid of the Sun’, which is the name the Aztecs (who came here on pilgrimage) gave it as history doesn’t know how the original Teotihuacanos named it It’s 75m high, making it the third highest pyramid in the world. It was built in several phases, as the Teotihuacanos like to build things on top of other (older) things. It’s an exhausting climb to the top, but a rewarding view!

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From the top, you have a great view of the ‘Pyramid of the Moon’, which sits at the end of the avenue.
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The ‘Pyramid of the Moon’ is a bit smaller with only 43m, but it’s a more complex structure as it also mimics the mountains in the background.
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Also here you have a beautiful view over the historical site.
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Next to the pyramids, there are also several temples that are worth seeing, all decorated in fine detail with the important symbols such as butterflies, parrots, snakes and pumas!

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We had a very late lunch at the restaurant on-site as we were starving after 4 hours of walking in the sun. After we had recovered, we rejoined Rodrigo on the parking lot and drove 45km to downtown Mexico City. The drive was pretty smooth and we managed to find the hotel without any detours. More on Mexico City tomorrow!

This is my church, this is where I heal my hurt

It’s in the world I become, contained in the hum, between voice and drum

It’s in change, the poetic justice of cause and effect, respect, love, compassion

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02BUCVBHSKw

That’s The Way (I Like It)

When we woke up this morning it was already 9:00am. For sleeping in a tent with open windows that is actually quite an achievement. So fully charged for the day we tried to leave our campground only to find another car parked in the middle of the exit road. As the bushes on the right were blocking Marijke from getting out, Patrick went to look for the owner.

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Whilst Marijke was waiting she noticed an avocado tree right in front. Hopefully ours will look the same in a few years 🙂 (which reminds me … Els, you need to take it in before it starts freezing at night…). In Mexico they probably don’t have that problem although it is getting more chilly in here too. We only reached maximum 30°C the last couple of days.

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Once we got out, we went for the first big tourist attraction … our very first Meso-American site visit in a city called Tzintzuntzan. If you see this name on the map, you just can’t ignore it. The name simply begs for further exploration. 🙂

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There were hardly any explanation boards but there were people available to provide you all the historic information you wanted (in Spanish of course but our knowledge must have improved as we could perfectly understand the guy). This is also how we got informed that we were walking over dead people, literally. You could actually see the skull fractures on the ground. Apparently the rain cleans more and more ground revealing new bodies within the cemetery. We weren’t sure wether to be amazed, appalled or annoyed that this historic evidence was not more protected. So we went for the ‘ow’ reaction and took a picture. 🙂

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He also explained that there was a palace on the site for the leader of the army and that he used to take the leader of the defeated army back home to have him offered to the god of war. He was also allowed to have 5 wives which were all living in the same house. The picture below used to be their in-house patio.

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Tzintzuntzan is also known for one of the few sites where they found symbols carved in stones. We’re not sure what they mean but the left one is ‘ladder’ and the right one could be ‘water’ or ‘grain’.

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Next to the palace you could see big walls rising. These are actually the sides of the temples (or Yacatas as they are called). There were 5 located right next to each other.

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From the top of the hill you also had a beautiful view on the nearby lake. We didn’t go there but we did have lunch in a local ‘Cucina Economica’ where we ordered ‘chilli negro’ and ‘bistecca en salsa’ which both delivered a plate with rice, beans and meat as well as a basket with green (suspicious?) tortillas. It didn’t look as fancy as yesterday but it definitely tasted as great!

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Ready for the rest of the day, we continued our journey towards the next site, Teotihuacan. All started well until we wanted to avoid Mexico City city centre. The moment that we decided to take a parallel route, traffic signs went completely missing and our GPS went crazy which resulted in driving 80km back north. 😦 At least we had a pretty view out of the window.

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After some stressful moments and incredible driving manoeuvres (especially from others), we managed to find our campground.

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Tomorrow we will visit the oldest site. More amazing pictures to come for sure!

That’s the way – aha aha – I like it!

When you take me by the hand

Tell me I’m your loving man


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dd–tIkrVoA

Should Never Have Left The Crystal Lake

This morning we had tortillas with chocolate paste for breakfast at the ‘Lago De Chapala’. And they were delicious! If the Mexicans would have been looking at us they were probably thinking we’d gone mad. 🙂 I hope we didn’t break any universal tortilla-rules. Maybe it’s an unknown, yet to be discovered local delicacy…who knows 🙂 Along the road the plants still looked very familiar. We saw again a lot of corn fields, bean bushes and this time also coconuts for sale.

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But the highlight of the day was the truly delicious lunch in a local restaurant called ‘Restaurant Bar Del Lago’ in Jamay. We ordered ‘majochetes con cameron y assasetas’ and ‘cameron a la diabla’. We also got a type of taco as appetiser with fish eggs.

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Fully stuffed we went back on the road in the familiar car positions and drove all the way to Quiroga. We came across a lot of small towns as well as incoming traffic but we managed to get everywhere safely until this little bug scared the hell out of us. Whilst we were driving Patrick felt something behind his ear and something hit Marijke against the shoulder and then we heard a big thud. Unsure whether someone just threw a stone in the car or whether we lost a car part and it somehow hurled itself up in the car through the open window (okay that was a long shot, but you never know with Rodrigo), we discovered this little creature on Marijke’s seat.

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Marijke got out of the car (on her bare feet), Patrick threw it out and we continued the drive; with closed windows! 🙂 The reason why Marijke hasn’t driven the car yet: this is what the Mexican roads look like in the local towns.

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Here’s the driver’s perspective on driving in Mexico:
  • There is only one golden rule: you must slow down at the tope (speed bump) or you will leave half your car behind you. Topes will be clearly marked with yellow paint and signs – or hiding in the shadow. It depends.
  • Signs with speed limits are there for information only
  • The double yellow line in the middle of the road is there to help you keep driving in the middle of the road
  • The sign “do not overtake” is purely ironic and actually means “go ahead, now’s the time to overtake”
  • You can easily fit 4 cars next to each other in a two lane road
  • Trying to overtake a bus is an invitation to a duel. Be prepared to lose!
  • You are allowed to overtake a car that is overtaking another car when there is only one lane
  • It is a sign of weakness to drive behind a car with a foreign license plate – you must overtake asap to defend Mexico’s honour!
  • If you use your indicators, it means that the car behind you can overtake you – nothing more, nothing less
  • You can save a lot on car maintenance by not using indicators, lights or even your brakes
  • You can take a wide turn as wide as you like, you can even use the other lane.
  • You may have license plates or not, you may be only twelve years old, you may transport a horse in your pick-up truck – it’s all cool and you are welcome to join the Mexican roads!

As Patrick has now mastered these rules, he no longer needs to take pictures. For information, this is the reason why Patrick isn’t allowed to take any pictures: can you spot the lake?

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Driving up to our first Meso-American town, next to ‘Lago de Patzcuaro’, we saw this bizarre hill. One side of it seemed to have collapsed.

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In search for our campground we came across a ‘acampamiento’ sign so we stopped to check the place in more detail. Today we’re camping in the most beautiful place so far. I mean, the guy has a garden as long as a football field and it’s adjacent to the lake… That’s difficult to beat, wouldn’t you agree? And we love the grass! It’s almost ankle-deep so it feels supersoft. So today… no more driving. We will enjoy the sunny afternoon on the terrace looking out over the garden and enjoy a good book. Later today we will sit in the backyard and enjoy the sunset over the lake.

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It’s shining like a chandelier

Shining somewhere far away from here

I got to get out of here

And find my way again

I’ve lost my way again


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5DsI_eCK7Y


You Shook Me All Night Long

That distant thunder came closer and closer until we were in the middle of a tropical rain storm. For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon, it comes with a lot of lightning, strong winds, heavy rain and loud thunders. Marijke was trying to hold the tent from the inside so the back wouldn’t rip apart whilst Patrick had to close all the ‘curtains’ so it wouldn’t rain inside. That made it become super hot inside the tent as the air couldn’t escape. The storm lasted for hours. It was only late in the morning that we fell back asleep but then the morning sun quickly woke us up again. In other words, we didn’t sleep much. 🙂

The morning didn’t bring much comfort either as we had to wash ourselves in a dirty shower (if you only pay 6 euro for camping, you need to adjust your standards for hygiene). This was again a complete waste of effort as by 10:00am we were sweating our pants off already.

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Whilst Patrick was reading a book, Marijke tried to take some pictures of the local huge butterflies – we saw one that was over 10cm long – but they were too fast to capture on camera. So instead she got a shot of this helicopter-libelle and this shell found on the beach.

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Suffering too much from the heat we hided back in the car with the full air-co on and started to drive to the camp site for today: ‘Rocca Azul’. We had to pass again over the water-road. This time Marijke took some pictures.

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On the road back we came across some deep water pools – caused by the nightly rain – so we took a different road. As the navigation had no idea where we were driving, we got a little bit lost within the small town. The cobble streets surely woke us up :).

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Back on the road everything went smoothly again until we hit a traffic jam…. You would think that in such a big country like Mexico there would be plenty of room for everyone… Especially around Guadalajara the traffic was hectic and it was a matter of honour not to drive behind ‘the foreign car’ so we were overtaken from all directions by everyone!

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And then, we arrived in an area looking completely unlike anything we’ve seen so far in Mexico. Big haciendas were adjacent to this sweet cobble road which was decorated with green plants. And all the houses had a garden.

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There is really beautiful nature around here too so once we parked the car, we took a short walk across the camp site.

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We’ve already planned our morning swim too 🙂

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Had to cool me down to take another round

Back in the ring to take another swing

The walls start shaking, earth was quaking

My mind was aching, we were making it

And you shook me all night long

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lo2qQmj0_h4

Maria En La Playa

Today we saw the true beauty of Mexico. Beautiful lava rocks and waterfalls near La Ciudad, curvy roads on big mountains in between Durango and Mazatlan – with big roadworks and engineering projects – and a tourist-free ocean in Novillero. We started of the day by crossing small Mexican towns.

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When visiting the waterfall of ‘La Ciudad’ we came across the first challenge of the day: a big water pool in the middle of the road. We didn’t want to stress Rodrigo too much – it was already a very bumpy ride to this spot – so we parked the car and continued on foot. This didn’t stop others from crossing the water though. 🙂

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Surprisingly we came across these bizarre looking rocks when walking up to the waterfall. We’re not sure how they got formed but they looked amazing!

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After the walk back, we continued our drive but we had to take a de-tour across the mountains as the highway was still being worked on. There was also fog rising from the valley which made it extra difficult to see anyone behind the corner.

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And then … le moment suprème du jour: the Tropic of Cancer, the most northern point on our planet where the sun can shine right above your head! Patrick was very proud to be crossing this imaginary line by car! We started our journey at 49° N, we are now at 23°26′ N (although the line shifts a bit every year). Next stop – the equator!

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We were happy to be back on the straight highway after turning from one corner into the other and being almost killed 3 times by a truck coming from the other direction in the wrong lane. So we were happy to see that Mexico also has tunnels.

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After a long drive we finally saw our destination ‘Playas de Novillero’ getting closer. We could already spot the ocean from the car. We had read about a restaurant ‘Su Amigo Manuel’ that also lets you camp outside, so we went looking for it. It was not difficult to find in a village with only one road. 🙂 We parked the car on the beach and enjoyed the sunset with cameron and pescado frito from another local restaurant!

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We went to sleep listening to the sound of the ocean, the evening breeze and a distant thunder.
Aqui en la playa, Maria
Come se goza
Aqui en le playa, Maria
Tu me provocas

Seven Horses In The Sky

Okay, we did not see any horses in the sky (we did see a guy transporting a horse in his pick-up truck yesterday!), but we did see a lot of birds, turtles and this truly amazing duck! 🙂

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It was a long drive today all the way from Chihuahua to Durango (700 kilometers in total). As there was nothing else to do today then look out of the car and entertain ourselves by playing word games, we don’t have many interesting pictures. We saw a lot of desert land as well as farms and vineyards (peanut trees, corn fields, bean fields and other local vegetables).

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We also saw many small tornados in the desert sands. This one was especially close to us.

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What most surprised us though were the toll booths. In total we crossed 9 (!) and paid more than 800 pesos (that’s about 48 euro).

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Tomorrow we will arrive at the ocean again at a place identified by Gilbert as a must-see location which is not swamped by tourists yet. On the way there we will cross a major – but imaginary – milestone!

Seven horses in the sky

Seven horses passing by

Seven horses won’t get tired

See how they running


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvPnv6iPL0o

J’ Entends Siffler Le Train

Our tent was warming up in the morning sun so we got up and asked the reception desk for our shower key. The shower was both very nice and very painful at the same time. It was nice to have some warm running water but the beam was so strong it felt like one of those Japanese torturing methods (in other words, it felt like rocks being thrown at you). Once all freshened up, we said hello to some family members over Skype and then we went to the taco-stand by the road to eat breakfast (taco, bacon and eggs with mashed beans and veggies on the side). Gilbert still didn’t want our money so we promised to come back for lunch.

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We drove up to the Copper Canyon. We’re still not sure why it’s called copper as it’s all covered in trees. We do know that it’s actually one big canyon area consisting of 6 ‘small’ canyons. We walked up within the tourist village near the first viewpoint and waited by the train station to see ‘El Chepe’ coming in. We were lucky and got to see 2 trains arriving at the same time.


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Then we headed back to Creel to try the lunch at our local food stand. On the menu: cow intestines called ‘Tripitas’. We both tried some but Marijke wasn’t a big fan of the meat flavour (it’s quite strong) and Patrick was too brave to say he didn’t like it either so he was offered a whole taco 🙂

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After lunch we headed back on the road hoping to be able to cover some distance. The road from Creel to Chihuahua has a lot of farm fields to offer, most of them containing apple trees but we also saw corn fields and grapes.

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As we arrived quite late in Chihuahua, we went for the first best option on sleeping accommodations. The first motel didn’t have a toilet seat so that one was rejected. The second one seemed to look okay so we paid the nightly price. It was only when we entered our room and turned on the tv that we noticed this place was not used for sleeping only… You know that you are in a classy joint when you can pay by the hour! There is also strange equipment available of which we have no idea of its purpose.

We guess this is the room service delivery box… You know, not to get disturbed…

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But we have no idea what this thing in the corner is supposed to do… Any experts that can help us out :)?

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It has to be said though that it’s the first super clean room that we come across. Tomorrow we will go further on the road heading towards Mazatlan – it may take us 2 days to cover the 1,000 kilometers to get there!

J´ai pensé qu´il valait mieux

Nous quitter sans un adieu

Je n´aurais pas eu le cœur de te revoir

J’ entends siffler le train

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_UbNicrWXk