January 7th. It was a Saturday. That day, all the planets stationed direct after being in retrograde motion- a good omen and an opportune time for movement. We woke up full of energy and decided it was time to move on. That feeling of attachment and stagnation was suddenly gone and we knew that we needed to align ourselves with this momentum and hit the road again. We scanned the town to say our goodbyes to whatever friends we saw along the way, and then we did it. We left San Pancho! It was an odd alchemy of emotions; there was this feeling of freedom to be back on the path of adventure and discovery but also a sort of sadness to be leaving a place that actually felt like home, a lot of gratitude for the memories and friendships we gained there, all sort of melded together with hope- that one day we would return, that it would stay the way we found it, and that we would be just as surprised and rewarded by the wonder that lay before us out in the unknown. Traveling like this, like nomads, is such a beautiful thing because we are truly so untethered. If we don't like a place, we have the mobility to move on. Yet if we do, we have the unique opportunity to stay and really get to know the culture and feeling of a place. Our curiosity had returned to us and we were eager to experience the rest of Mexico.
We decided to head inland. After five months of traveling south down the Pacific coast, we were kind of "beached out." I know that might sound crazy because, who gets sick of paradise, right? But the heat, the humidity, the itchy mosquito bites, the constant humming of the fan, and the sand everywhere- all the time- in our camper, was feeling a little old. We would miss the delicious fresh seafood but we were excited for a change of scenery.
And we got our wish! Only a couple hours inland, the landscape had already changed completely. No more were we enveloped in lush green jungle. Suddenly we were greeted with expansive views, rollings hills, citrine prairies, and lapis lazuli skies. The air was dry and crisp. We unpacked our wrinkled long-sleeved shirts and pants from the bottom of our backpacks. We felt like we had entered an alternate universe. Who knew? "I feel like I am in the mid-west," Mark commented. "I had no idea Mexico looked like this." But it does. Completely quaint and ancient and familiar all at the same time. Lots of agriculture, ranching, farmland. Roadside vendors selling produce. Miles and miles of sugarcane stretched out before us. Eventually the hills grew and began to take on the distinct look of shadowy volcanos, and every once in a while, the golden farmland was interrupted by black, hardened lava flow.
After camping out at a gorgeous natural Lake, Lago de Santa Maria del Oro, we decided to continue east to see the ruins of an ancient Mesoamerican civilization, called Ixtlán del Rio, which dates back to 300 bc. There we discovered a shaft tomb containing pottery and human bones. There were clay figurines, and a courtyard with the remains of several alters, ceremonial spaces, and support columns. Some were roped off, but others were accessible to climb on. Joey especially liked climbing them. Besides a few high-school aged locals sitting and drinking sodas a top one of the alters, we basically had the place to ourselves to roam around and picnic at our leisure. I prefer this so much to the massive crowds we will likely encounter when we visit Palenque and other, more well-known sites.
Shortly after Ixtlán, we entered the state of Jalisco. The elevation was increasing and the landscape was still refreshingly remote, offering lovely panoramic views of volcanic mountains and desolate valleys.
Due to the volcanic history of this region, with many areas still active, there are a vast number of hot springs around. We had heard good things about a thermal river nearby. The whole river is thermal, getting hotter the higher up you climb. It was pretty shallow in most areas but small pools were formed with the strategic placement of rocks. We camped here for one night, dipping all afternoon and again the following morning. The landowner was friendly and we chatted with him and his sons for a while, afterward noting how much our Spanish has improved and how nice it is to be able to easily converse with native speakers. A big improvement since our time in Baja, when we mostly sounded like cave-people with only the ability to demand food and inquire the location of the bathroom. Anywho, it felt so nice to be doing some wild camping again, especially cuddled up in our warmest blankets, with hot soup, and a thermal river!
We continued east and the following evening, we camped atop the Volcán de Tequila. Unfortunately, no, tequila did not flow from this picturesque volcano, scattered with enormous chunks of sharp, shiny, endlessly black obsidian. But it did overlook the magical town of Tequila, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and also the birthpace of the ubiquitous liquor. Blue agave plantations were countless and beautiful to behold.
Blue agave has been grown in this region since the pre-hispanic era and has long been used by the indigenous peoples here. After Spanish colonization, the agave was fermented, making what we now know as tequila. This small town is home to 15 of the largest distilleries, including Cuervo, Herradura, and Sauza. We walked around the Sauza distillery gardens and then had a fabulous breakfast at a local cafe, before we decided we better leave this delightful little town before we get into too much trouble with the dangerous elixer.
For two nights we camped beside Lago de Chapala, the largest lake in Mexico. Surrounding the lake was a very modest and traditional little town, lined with small churches and tiendas. We found a little campground that probably hasn't changed much since its creation in the 1980's, with soccer fields and a children's playground that resembled old carnival rides, and we did some bird watching. I love watching the full moon rise over a mountain lake.
The following evening, we visited the artesenal village of Tlaquepaque. In the town square, there was a lunar blessing by an indigenous group to honor the first full moon of the year. We were invited to hear the songs and prayers, and then smudged with the native copal. The prayer circle was a powerful invocation of protection and guidance by the sacred ancestors.
Afterward, there was a traditional performance by a traveling indiginous group from Vera Cruz. One man played the flute while five others climb up this tall pole with ropes in their hands, then they wind the ropes around the pole, finally falling backward attached only by the rope as they unwind like tiny puppets until they each reach the ground. It was fascinating.
This massive and astounding Italian Gothic Cathedral is in the modern and artistic city of Guadalajara. Often, walking around this city, I would totally forget I was in Mexico. It was so clean and innovative, so fashionable, it felt like any other big city in the states, full of international restaurants, rock-n-roll bars, large murals, and gorgeous architecture. Walking down, what appeared to be, the avenue of wedding shops, I was drooling over all of the delicate and feminine bridal gowns.
We had a few errands to run in the city, and lost track of time, under-estimating how dense traffic would be to exit the urban sprawl. The map indicated a large national park north east of Guadalaraja, so we decided to head that direction in search of a camp spot. Little did we know, there is an enormous gorge to the north of the city. We were quickly losing daylight and ended up on this lonely highway with a steep canyon to one side and massive cliffs on the other.
Finally we turned off toward what looked like a small village. Blink your eye and you'd miss it. (We try to avoid driving at night here, as we have been told it is too dangerous, for this is when a lot of drug trafficking takes place, and also, the roads can be shadowy and unpredictable, often with cattle or other animals in the road, or huge potholes... you just never know.) We saw the head lights of a pickup truck approaching us. It looked like a guy about our age, with about a half dozen barking dogs in the bed of his truck, and what appeared to be a child, sitting on the HOOD of his car. Yes, that's exactly what it was- a boy of about six years old, all smiles, going for a bumpy little ride down the cobble-stone mountain side on the hood of his papa's truck... The things you see in Mexico! I wish we had a photo of this!
Anyway, we stopped and talked to this guy, his name was Beto. We asked him if he knew of a place we could camp for the night, and with zero hesitation, he offered for us to camp on his land, giving us precise directions. A few kilometers down the road, past two cattle gates and to the left, we located his property. It was a cactus farm. Very safe and, we realized in the morning, very beautiful. God bless the Mexican people. They are helpful, hospitable, and extremely kind. Check out these awesome views!
From sugar cane to blue agave to cactus farms. We had a great week of overland adventure and as always, are intensely grateful for all of these unforgettable interactions and experiences in our travel. To be able to see the interior of this country, with all of its off-the-beaten path charm, is such a blessing. We feel truly priviledged to be able to do what we are doing. Only three more months on our Mexican visas! Next, we will discover the Pueblas Magicas of Michoacán.
Goodbye Jalisco and thank you, as always, for all the good times, the new friends, and the enchanting views along the way. Adios!!