Friday, April 2, 2010

Back to the United States

Northward Journey
Day 1 - Tepic, Mexico

My ambivalence about leaving Puerto Vallarta showed up in procrastination about getting last minute chores taken care of. On the 29th, Israel and I were still empyting and cleaning the casita, and I had to find a place to buy Mexico car insurance. Mine expired way back in December. It was after 2 pm when we left Vallarta. Israel decided to ride with me to Tepic, and take the bus back to Vallarta. through the winding jungle highway, past the beach communities of Sayulita, San Pancho and Compostela.

It was dusk as we pulled into the dusty outskirts of Tepic, actually the city of Jalisco. I took a turn onto a side road looking for a place Bo could pee. We were parked waiting for the dog to do his business when a barefoot girl in a black cocktail dress offered to show us to the local hotel. She led us on foot to the old Azatlan Hotel, the only hotel in town. $220 pesos, so the price was right. But the sheets had cigarette burn holes and the pillows were lumpy. Fortunately, I brought my own. I tried not to think about what the mattress probably looked like underneath. In the morning, Israel and I both were disappointed to discover only cold water emitting from the shower head. It was misery, but we took turns easing ourselves under the chilly torrent.

After Bo's morning constitution, we set out for a PEMEX to fill up and to locate a bus stop where Israel could board a bus for the long ride back to PV. The gas attendant was an older woman with immaculate makeup, hair and rhinestone earrings to accessorize her coveralls. She checked the oil, careful not to break her long, manicured fingernails.

Israel and I made our way back to the turn-off for the Cuota highway. We were both tearful, finally forced to face our parting. but we stifled our tears. I had a long drive ahead and he would have to go to work as soon as he arrived back in PV. We embraced one last time. I gave him 300 pesos for bus fare, loaded up Bo and was off, heading onto the CUOTA highway.

Day Two - Mazatlan, Meseta de Cacaxtla

I settled in for the long, zenlike stretch of highway over the mountains and lake country. I was relieved to make my way past army checkpoints on the outskirts of Mazatlan. A few miles north, I wanted to see the ocean at least one last time before heading inland, so at the first, "retorno," I took a left onto a gravel road leading to an archeological site on the coast. The dusty road eventually lead to a tiny village of thatched houses. I took a hard right where a large hog lay on its side and made my way to the archeological site of Meseta de Cacaxtla. A "museum" of thatched bldgs and archways was manned by an old goat herder with an animal I have never seen before in my life. -- an anteater of some sort, with a long snout and a long, tapered tail. It looked across between a badger and a raccoon. The funny little beast followed Bo around. We were both unnerved by the animal's curiosity, but eventually I decided he would do no harm to Bo.

We made our way through a clearing and the Pacific Ocean opened up before us with miles of unspoiled beach with a large field of black rocks and tidepools and gentle waves as far as we could see. What made the spot so amazing were the petroglyphs etched into the rocks. Human figures, swirls, phallic symbols, geometric shapes. I wandered among the tidepools, and picked up sea treasures, including a big fat sand dollar, and sea urchins, long dead, wedged in the rocks.
Bo and I explored the beach and the tidepools for an hour, then made our way back to the car. The anteater was waiting for us. He sipped out of Bo's water bowl and sniffed in the dirt. I chased him around for a few last photos before we headed back onto the highway.

The Power of Serendipity

The unexpected discovery of Meseta de Cacaxtla was the highpoint of my first day alone on the road. I had determined that I would not be held captive by a time table on the drive back to the US. I am learning to follow my nose where it leads, to be mindful of serendipity. The road to this amazing place was marked only by a sculpture of a famous petroglyph -- a swirl sign that has become something of a talisman for me. I believe there are no accidents. This symbol appeared in my path for a reason. Too often, we skip such impulses to explore because of vague misgivings about where the road might lead, or the irrational belief that "saving time" is the ultimate priority. Saving time for what? Checking into the motel at 7 pm instead of 8 pm? I may not pass this way again. I don't want to miss the blessing or the adventure. On my way back to the main highway, I was able to snap photos of boys on bicycles herding goats down the road.

After following a tip from another tourist to check out some casitas for rent in a remote beach community off the main highway (mile marker 59, Mex 15), I followed another winding, gravel road for 15 mi., only to discover no vacancies. The proprieter recommended a motel at La Cruz, further down the highway. I stopped briefly to snap a photo of buzzards perched on a cactus, but Bo and I were both beat. I was relieved to turn back onto the main highway. I stopped for the night at La Cruz, a lovely little fishing village I'd passed through on my way south eight months ago. There was a cute motel, La Celestina, modern and clean and only 300 pesos for the night. Bo and I ate a dinner of fried camerones (shrimp) and fell into bed. The bed was clean and comfortable, which made up for the discovery in the morning that once more, there was no hot water...

Day 3 -- Alamos, Mexico

After taking Bo for a brisk walk on the beach in La Cruz, we hit the road by 9 a.m. Few stops this time. The only incident on the road occurred in the morning as I watched a white pick-up truck several hundred yards ahead, pulling an open trailer loaded with grain, that started to shimmy and lose control. I was far enough back that I could pull off the highway and watch the slow motion ballet as the truck swirved back and forth across the road trying to regain control, but finally jacknifing to a stop, throwing bags of grain onto the road. I drove past just a police car came from the opposite direction.

Eight hours on the road, and as I entered the city limits of Navajoa, I debated whether to continue on to Guaymas/San Carlos, or take another enticing detour to Alamos, 50 km out of the way. It was a town where Mom and sister Kathie had visited several years ago which had inspired Mom to take up water colors. I always regretted not being with them on that trip.

I opted for the Alamos turn-off and as the sun glowed red on the mountains, I made my way onto the highway that eventually dead-ended at 17th century Spanish town of Alamos, with a pristine town square, a spectacular cathedral and well-maintained haciendas dripping with bougainvilla. After checking into Posada Don Andres, Bo and I toured the cobblestone streets and stopped for street tacos which we ate at a picnic table surrounded by some aging American "expats." I stopped at a local internet cafe where I typed a few quick emails on a stiff, worn-out keyboard, then continued exploring.

Day 4 - Nogales

I set the alarm for 7 a.m. The old cowboy guarding the gate to the hotel unlocked the padlock, and I loaded the beast. After a quick walk around to view the city's deserted architectural wonders in the quiet morning hours, Bo and I hopped in the Beast and continued on our journey.

I arrived at the border about 6 pm, with plenty of daylight, I thought, to cross over and find a place to stay for the night. But the long line of cars moved at a snail's pace. Four hours later, in the dark, in a cold, drizzling rain, we finally approached the American checkpoint, where drug and bomb sniffing dogs were led up and down the rows of cars. I had to pull the Beast into a bay where inspectors checked out the car while I took Bo, in a stupor for hours, to a patch of gravel to relieve himself. It was after 10:30 pm when I finally pulled out of the inspection area and drove to the Nogales Holiday Inn Express where I negotiated for a room -- the posted price being $150 PLUS a non-refundable pet deposit of $100. The girls at the desk took pity on me and let me have their handicapped room for $100 plus $30 for Bo. I was so relieved to be on US soil and to have a clean, spacious room with a big comfy bed, I happily coughed up the money. I slept late and took advantage of two helpings of the complimentary hot breakfast. I snuck Bo a bowlful of scrambled eggs and sausage and we lounged around till nearly 11 am.

Day 5 - Patagonia, AZ

After stops for gas and an ATM stop, it was nearly noon when me and Bo headed down a two-lane road to Patagonia. On the way, we passed a large real estate sign advertising John Wayne's ranch for sale. The scenery was spectacular, with rolling desert the color of burnished siena and giant cottonwoods in creekbeds on either side of the road. Desert sage stood in relief on the topography like cotton tufts on a chenille bedspread. Patagonia turned out to be an unexpected and delightful surprise, with a big park where I could let Bo run before driving into the tiny town to visit a couple of funky boutiques and eat a calzone at the Velvet Elvis Cafe. I lost track of time in Patagonia and it was 4 pm when I finally pulled back onto the road. We wove our way to Sonoita, some of my favorite geography southwest of Tucson, and finally exited onto Highway 10 as the sun dropped behind the mountains. I could feel myself becoming dangerously fatigued. We only made it as far as Lordsburg, where we stopped at an Econolodge for the night.

Day 6 - Los Alamos, NM

It was pedal-to-metal the next morning. We took a detour off Hwy 10 at Deming, stopping for a stretch break on a lonely, windswept stretch of desert near Hatch. We stopped once more for lunch at a funky barbecue shack in Hatch before making our way to I-25, past Truth or Consequences and Elephant Butte. I had one scare near Belen, when my oil light came on. I lost an hour when I stopped to add oil and have a good samaritan look over the car's innards before getting back on the road. I arrived at Sheila's in Los Alamos just after 6 pm.

I've decided to relax for a few more days in Los Alamos before the easy drive to the Springs. This morning I woke up to snow flurries and gusty winds. Quite a contrast to the steamy tropics I left just a week ago. More will be revealed.

1 comment:

  1. You are going back. I can already read the signs. Mexico gets in your blood.

    And, I would like to add (for the benefit of your readers who happen to be friends of mine) that I, your sister Sibyl am also known as Kathie for the first 44 years of my life. After an epiphany of sorts, I began using my first name and have never looked back.

    Lovely, Bird. Can't wait for the book.