Sunday, November 30, 2008

Anti-Club Med Maruata

Ah, Maruata...

Paradise for many and hell for more precious travellers. If the hotel makes your vacation, then Maruata isn't for you. If outstanding wild beauty and living with the natives intrigues you then Maruata throws you in whole hog. Staying in simple palapas (thatched roughly hewn wooden structures) in the midst of Nahuatl (Aztec descendants) homesteads you are likely to meet Grandma having a bath at the pila (local wash basin) on your way to a reluctant rendition of a western bathroom.

Maruata is well outside capitalistic and mainstream Mexico. Her beaches are stunning, the rocks worthy of a good scramble, and boat trips take you up the remote coastline. With a tiny amount of luck you might see grey whales migrating, or sea turtles mating, or manta rays jumping. A ramble up Maruata's longest beach is sure to reveal countless turtle tracks leading to sandy nests jam-packed with eggs. A conservation program works hard to save these vulnerable critters. Even with the extra effort of humans they estimate that 1 in 100 turtles born makes it to reproductive age.

Check the refrigerator in town for a tasty all natural yoghurt drink from the interior of Michoacan state. Don't hesitate to buy a litre and if they have mango buy two.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

El Faro

There is a place that I like to go to when I need to drift away from where ever I am. For me it is the perfect place to get completely away from it all and fortunately it is not an imaginary place, but a real live place that I have had the pleasure of visiting several times. This place calls itself El Faro after the lighthouse that sits atop the far end of her gloriously golden beach. 3km of cement road whisks you away from highway 200 to a ramshackle collection of cinder block houses and palapas and two or three corner stores filled with mistreated produce and a huge assortment of packaged goods, but this is not what you come for.

You come for the unspoiled chicle sand that slopes dramatically down to tall waves that break hard and pull you into a steady tumble if you don't time your entrance into the water just right. Once in you are quickly rushed by schools of surgeon and goat fish or carefully inspected by darting sargent majors. Pay attention to the whirling pools of yellow foam that upon closer inspection reveal themselves to be thousands of tiny prawn-like creatures.

You also come to visit with Angelita and her family who graciously produce delicious hand-made tortillas while Guero the yellow-headed parrot looks on. Life is slow and simple.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Queen of the Court

It would be easy to breeze on through La Placita (The Court) without batting an eye, but you'd be missing a bike touring gem: La Reyna (the queen) Hotel the home and hotel of Humberto and Maxine. What makes this a gem? Humberto used to race bikes back in the 60's and the yearly visits of our little band of cyclists along with the many other bike tourists who make their way down the Pan Am every year has revived his passion for cycling. He has a wall devoted to his adventures and thoroughly savours his occasional visits from bike tourists. Together with his wife they run a quirky and lovingly maintained little hotel. There are always plenty of interesting fowl pecking their way around the yard and Maxine has my dream outdoor kitchen.

Ask Humberto to ride with you down the coast a distance and I'll bet you he can't resist...

Sandstone Guadalupe

Heading straight away from Tecoman across the flat hot Colima coastal plain, lime trees give way to banana trees, the state of Colima gives way to Michoacan, and hot flats give way to growing hills. Our trip takes a turn into a much more remote stretch of coast.

Past La Placita the land is ejido land. It is communally owned by the Nahuatl people (descendants of the Aztecs). All decisions about the lands are made by the community. For over 100 km development is little more than some small scatterings of palapas (thatched structures), small cinder block buildings, and a few randomly supplied corner stores. Life is focused mainly around the sea and on the weekend and holiday crowds that rush to the beach to escape the chilly interior of Mexico. Life moves at an entirely different pace here. Our first sampling of this is having a sloooow breakfast while lounging under an enramada at Playa San Telmo. This little beach is home to one of my favourite Guadalupe shrines in the country.

November brings the eagle, sting, and manta rays in close to shore and at this beach they are always active. This year while swimming the manta rays were soaring below and leaping out of the water all around us. It's not exactly a comfortable feeling when the waves are rough and the visibility is less than clear. Always shuffle your feet on entering and leaving this beach it gives any stingrays that might be resting in the sand the warning they need to clear out of your way.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Breakfast in Paradise

The road to Paradise winds lazily away from the Manzanillo toll road through forgotten coconut groves. Traffic is light and unhurried and sometimes lingers curiously behind us just to observe the circus of pasty pink cyclists on heavily laden bicycles making their way through their land. With any luck, while relaxing after breakfast, you might get to see Ferdinand the mellowest bull in Mexico out for a morning stroll on the beach.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Camarones a la Diabla

One of Basil's favourite and much anticipated dishes comes from the Manzanillo market. Above is a photo of the ultimate shrimp feast after a hot and meandering bike ride into Manzanillo's bustling centre past her lengthy resort strip and impressive container-filled cargo port. In spite of being Mexico's largest port, Manzanillo ranks in the top 5 for cleanest beaches in the country. It is also the sailfish capital of the world, but we come for the swimming and the shrimp.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Try Tejuino

There is a deliciously refreshing corn drink sold in markets along the coast called Tejuino. It's base is corn masa (the same stuff that makes up tortillas) it is then mixed with water and raw sugar, boiled to a thick consistency and lightly fermented. When preparing it to drink it is mixed with ice, water, lime, chile and a dash of salt. The key in preparing many pre-hispanic beverages includes pouring the beverage from on high several times to aerate it. The end result: some of the planet's best gatorade! Look for tejuino vendors in Barra de Navidad and kick back, relax, and rehydrate...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Viva La Revolucion!

Who doesn't love a parade? Not me, they're often too much like a long commercial, but the spontaneous creativity of Mexico has taught me otherwise. I have grown to love the impromptu parades that crop up in unexpected places at unexpected times for saint's and schools and carnival and whatever else. I remember a parade I saw in San Cristobal on one of my early visits to Mexico, it was after Christmas and I was waiting for Basil outside a shop when the shortest, fastest parade I have ever seen went by. It consisted of five scenes on the backs of flatbed trucks: live Baby Jesus in his manger with Mary and Joseph looking on, Frosty the Snowman, live three wise men with very frightened live horses and sheep, Santa Claus in his sleigh, and live Jesus being crucified with terrified looking sheep tied to the base of the scene. The five trucks went by so fast that I was left speechless. The birth and death of Jesus all in one short parade, now that's intense.

Ever since that fastest, shortest parade, I look forward to crossing paths with Mexican parades and on our rest day it was a parade for Dia de la Revolucion that pulled me from the comforts of my room. Everyone in town was out to relive the revolution. You just never know what to expect from a Mexican parade and this one did a great job of including everybody.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Barra - ahhhh...

As you make your way south along highway 200 you crest a hill and cross a series of speed bumps to find yourself in the town named for Mexico's revolutionary great, Emiliano Zapata. This region is particularly loyal to it's revolutionary figures as nestled up along side Emiliano is a town named for his compadre to the north, Francisco "Pancho" Villa. It is befitting that we stop here for breakfast the day before Mexico's "Dia de la Revolucion" or Revolution Day.

The town of Emiliano Zapata has a little known secret...there is lady who makes some of the best hand-made tortillas on the coast. The family's grandson is playing in the secret which lies behind our table in a heap on the floor. Behind that heap sits a pile of empty cobs that once held that heap and somewhere way behind that grows the family tended milpa or corn field that is the source of it all.

Coconuts and crocodiles's make up our next stop before our long lingering climb and descent into our much awaited rest day in Barra de Navidad.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Peter's Pearl of the Pacific

Thanks to Peter, who was being pushed to the extremes of guinea pigdom by his exuberant first-time guide, Punta Perula was discovered. Remote and dusty this town is perfect for lazing under palm fronds and eating the best shrimp ceviche you will ever find. If you aren't in the water chasing dolphins or manta rays, Mariscos Chee Chee is the place to be.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Richard Parker Lives Here

What goes up, must come down and after climbing up to the refreshing climes of El Tuito a lengthy descent is exactly what awaits us the next morning. Dripping green forest gradually recedes giving way to gentler and drier terrain as we slide in early to our destination.

Have you ever read The Life of Pi? If you have, then please see the title of this blog entry. If you haven't, you should it is a delightful book, but I'm afraid I just ruined the end. Hopefully you're like me, and you will forget that you ever read this post long before you pick up the book.

So, now that you have re-read the title of this post, you must be wondering where is "here"? Why Tomatlan, of course! And, while I'm not certain that the creature mentioned in the post title lives in the actual house shown above, I am certain that he lives in the Tomatlan area, and what a lovely area it is to live in. We are the farthest inland that this tour takes us, but we are also well off the beaten track. It is not uncommon to see men riding through town on horseback or to find a donkey tied up outside a shop. These are not for tourist show they are hard working beasts.

When the first Nahuatl groups arrived to this area in 1324 AD they found an abundance of tomatoes and so named the area "Tomatlan - the place of tomatoes". These early tomato-eaters had no idea how these "plump things with navels" would eventually take European cuisine by storm when the Spanish would introduce it to European markets in 1540. Initially Europeans viewed the tomato with great suspicion, many believing it to be a poisonous devil fruit, but by the 1600's it was popping up in recipes all over Spain and Italy. Just imagine Italian or Greek cuisine before the ever-present tomato crossed their kitchen tables!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Life is sweet-O in El Tuito

border="0" />

We leave Puerto Vallarta making our way along the water and then eventually inland along the Rio Tomatlan. Most of our first day is spent climbing though the canopy of pulsating green forest that spills down the surrounding cliffs to frame the edges of this ancient route. The first settlers to this area in the late 16th century did not settle in the lowlands that make up what is Puerto Vallarta today, but rather in the much more comfortable highlands that are the Valley of El Tuito. This makes for a full day of climbing up to almost 1085 meters. Compared to Puerto Vallarta, El Tuito is cool and bug free - a settlers paradise.

It would be easy to give this charming little town a miss as its centre is located a good 20 minute walk away from the main road, but what lies at the heart of this little town is a friendly colonial centre whose buildings are mostly painted with washed colours derived from local clays.