Life Is A Highway…Portugal Style 🇵🇹

Driving throughout Portugal has been relatively easy. Toll highways are pristine, have little traffic, a speed limit of 120km/hr., (although many exceed this and have a tendency to tailgate), and makes Hwy401 pale in comparison. Fertile farmland with red soil, fields of eucalyptus, olive, and cork trees, depending on the region, not to mention the huge number of vineyards that seemingly covers the whole mid to northern region

The Portuguese are the masters of roundabouts, they are absolutely everywhere! Navigation is tricky at the best of times, especially in smaller villages (more roundabouts!). Bob has definitely met the challenge driving the VERY narrow cobblestone streets of the cities/towns/villages we have visited, nothing to do with the excellent navigator, I might add!!🤣

Heading out of Obidos to Coimbra, we stopped to check out the popular fishing and beach town of Nazaré. The town is split into three main districts – Praia (beach), Pederneira (main lower town), and Sitio (upper town ). Located on a rocky outcropping over 100m above the main part of the town, Sitio provides wonderful views over the bay and beach. Parking down near the beach we took the funicular to Sitio and walked the promenade enjoying the spectacular views below. This area also attracts some of the world’s best and bravest surfers and has recently put itself firmly on the global map with the biggest recorded breaking waves ever being ridden here.

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A quick stop at the huge gothic monastery in Batalha was impressive and provided a great photo op.

We passed several groups of pilgrims walking to Fatima for the 101st anniversary, (October 13, 1917), of the last apparition of Virgin Mary to three local Shepard children. More on Fatima in an upcoming blog.img_02571.jpg

Coimbra, a well-preserved medieval center and the historic University of Coimbra was the next stop for a couple of nights. This is one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world, the oldest university of Portugal, and one of the country’s largest higher education and research institutions. Impressive!! The campus is beautiful and the historic centre full of narrow winding streets to get lost in.

This city along with Porto were the inspiration for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter book series. Everywhere you look upper year students are dressed in the same Hogwarts garb-black suits and cape.

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We happened upon the town during Recepção ao Caloiro (The Freshman’s Reception) or what is known as ‘homecoming’ back home. Lots of festivities were happening the weekend we visited with freshmen wearing interesting costumes,  displaying each faculty’s colours. The garb was made up according to the creativity and imagination of their ‘godmothers’ or ‘godfathers’ who are upper class men. img_0338-1

We also witnessed the special parade known as the Latada. After marching through the streets of the city, the new students are baptized in the Mondego River thus entering into the Coimbra academic fraternity. Sounds similar to like the kind of indoctrination at Queens U. but much more traditional.

Aveiro, aka the ‘Venice of Portugal’ was another short stop to see the colourful gondola style boats gliding tourists through the canals that crisscross the city. The boats, (barcos moliceiros), were traditionally used to harvest seaweed in the lagoon that feeds the canal which was then used to fertile the surrounding farm fields.img_0350

On to Porto my friends, AND the 🚗 is still intact (as well as my nerves).

40 Years and Counting 💑

It seemed only fitting to begin our 40th wedding anniversary tour to Portugal in romantic Óbidos, also known as ‘The Wedding Present Town’. This medieval town was a gift from King Dinis in 1282 to Queen Isabel on their wedding day.  Every Portuguese queen after Isabel, up until the 1800s, was given Óbidos as a wedding present.

After landing in Portugal my ‘Polish Prince’, (aka the ‘heart of my life’), and I headed out of the Lisbon airport to the beautiful walled town of Óbidos, just over 1-hour away. We figured we would be a wee bit tired after our overnight flight and decided not to bite off too much on day 1. Good planning plus it gave us the day to explore the town and wander the twisting streets.

Before picking up our rental car we got a SIM card with data plan for my phone, relatively inexpensive compared to those at home and definitely a needed plus…gotta love modern technology not sure how we did it “in the old days”!

Castle of Obidos 
One of the lower points of the wall
Can you see the wall in the distance?
Main walking street

Óbidos radiates Portuguese charm, from the narrow cobbled streets, to wisteria/bougainvillea covered quaint white-washed, red-tiled roofed houses, through to the imposing medieval castle, which once guarded the region. Most houses have the traditional bright yellow and brilliant blue colour accents that are deliberate choices and seen throughout Portugal. Folklore has it that yellow repels evil spirits while blue serves an equally important role by repelling flies and mosquitoes.

Typical home with blue trim
Birdseye view from the wall

The name Óbidos dates back to ancient Roman times and means “walled town.” Perched on a hilltop, the medieval castle walls are 45 feet high. The town is completely contained within the high city walls and it recommended to see the town through a birds-eye view by walking the wall. Initially I was a bit apprehensive as some parts are very narrow, the stones slippery and there are no railing on one side, BUT the amazing views of the town and surrounding countryside made it so worthwhile.

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Traditional entertainment in the square

The main gate into Obidos contains a beautiful tiled chapel that overlooks the main thoroughfare. The blue and white 18th century glazed tiles, seen throughout Portugal, called ‘Azulejo’, depict the passion of Christ while the ceiling represents the crown of thorns.

Obidos is known for ‘Ginja’, a cherry flavoured liqueur. Ginja is a favourite spirit in Portugal and apparently few places make it better than Óbidos (which is why this specific brand can be found throughout the country). Many vendors were selling shots of it on the main street so of course we had to try it served in a chocolate cup which is eaten after. Delicious!!

Our small B&B, Casa Picva, was just outside the wall. It is a 400 year old home full of many wonderful antiques and continues to be in the same family. Our hosts were wonderful and gave us some good travel tips and directions.

We were steps away from a portal entering the town, convenient and picturesque, especially after sunset when the day tourists/buses vacated the town, leaving it almost to ourselves.

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Next up, travelling the coast before a stop Coimbra.

Oaxaco: Finding Shangri-la

From Playa del Carmen we flew to the beautiful state of Oaxaca (wha-HAH-Kah) starting our sojourn in the city with the same name. Earlier in our travels we entertained ideas of perhaps heading to Belize and Guatemala but as they say, “all the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. So we came up with Plan B, better to err on the side of caution, slow down, and head back to the Pacific Coast. Bob was marginally better so we decided not to push our luck.

Just when you think it couldn’t get any better, you come across yet another absolutely beautiful place and you fall in love all over again!! The state of Oaxaco has everything one could dream of: a beautiful colonial city, indigenous towns, rolling mountain ranges, lush valleys, unbelievable weather, and gorgeous beaches. IMG_2900Oaxaco City- beautiful buildings, zocalos bursting with people, art galleries, gorgeous  woven blankets, hand embroidered shirts, musicians, so much talent. It truly is a cultural and culinary epicentre where trying to choose a restaurant, bar or coffee shop is nigh on impossible. Mole, a traditional sauces that comes in 7-distinctive flavours are a Oaxacan signature. We only tried the mole negra on pollo (chicken); rich, smokey, spices and flavoured with chocolate.

In the beverage department, aside from the ever popular mezcal (another agave based liquor), Oaxacan favorites include chocolate con leche (steaming hot chocolate spiced with cinnamon), jamaica agua fresca (hibiscus flower drink), and aqua horchata, (cinnamon rice drink). I will definitely be making these when we get home and have stocked up on the ingredients to do so. For my Kombucha making compadres, the hibiscus flowers are sure to make a wonderful tasting brew. 🌺

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Balloon vendors in the zocolo
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Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán, at one time a monastery
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Colourful buildings
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We crossed paths with these guys a few times as they hauled their wares uphill

We spent several days enjoying Oaxaco City before heading to the Oaxacan coast opting to fly on a small 12-seater plane. We had read the alternative, busing it for nine gruelling hours on a narrow switch-back mountain highway is terrifying! Life is too short to be whiteknucking it for that length of time. Bob got to sit up front in the right seat and was in his glory chatting with the pilot as we flew between the mountains during our 40-minute flight.IMG_2462

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Part of the long & winding road we passed up!
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El Captain & 1st Officer Bob

Bahias de Huatulco, or just Huatulco (wah-TOOL-coh), was our first and ultimately last stop and is actually an area, not a town per se. It is Mexico’s youngest planned resort and is made up of a series of 9 bays and 36 pristine white sandy beaches along a 26km jagged coastline. The main areas include the marina/port area of Santa Cruz where the cruise ships pull in about 4-times per month, the all-inclusive resort area of Tangolunda, the Marina and smaller hotel/condo Bahia Chahue with its “Blue Flag” beach designation, and the small town of La Crucecita with restaurants, numerous shops, markets, etc.

The weather here is outstanding, nothing but sunshine and blue skies. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Eco-friendly, safe, very clean, no building is higher than 4-stories, (aside from the all-inclusive resorts), and has a very laid-back vibe; definitely a haven for Canadians, especially from the western provinces. It maintains its Mexican culture and has avoided all the big North American franchises. Pssst, now the word is now out!!

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Great map showing the bays
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Bahia Maguey
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La Crucecita zocalo with Virgin of Guadalupe church in the background

Renting a car we headed further up the coast to the towns of Puerto Angel, Zipolete, San Agustinillio, Mazunte and Puerto Escondito. We met up with my gym buddy and friend Joanne and her husband Fred in the San Agustinillio/Mazunte area and enjoyed a laid-back, fun-filled week. These are small ocean-side beach towns where you can enjoy watching hump-back whales, dolphins, and sea turtles. Puerto Ángel, a small fishing town and naval port, wasn’t too impressive, Zipolite is known for its nude beaches, San Agustinillio for its tranquility, and Mazunte named a Pueblo Mágicos in 2015.

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Road that passes through Mazunte. Truck taxi in background.

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Mazunte, considered the bigger town of the four, is especially interesting, lots of new-gen hippies, yoga enthusiasts attending a world famous yoga instruction facility, backpackers, and options for those who enjoy….well let’s just say other diversions! What happens in Mazunte stays in Mazunte (right Joanne?).😇

The Santuario de las Tortugas is also in Mazunte and was developed over concern with the declining number of sea turtles. Up and down the coast, but especially in the Mazunte area, marine and some freshwater turtles come to lay their eggs each year. The major income for the families at one time was hunting turtles for their meat. All that changed in 1970 with a ban on turtle meat and eggs and was replaced by ecotourism based on the conservation of turtles and a cooperative natural cosmetics industry was developed. Interesting fact, the Body Shop founder visited Mazunte in the early 1990s and impressed with the sustainability efforts agreed to distribute cosmetics made here with local ingredients.

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Open air bar and Kombucha!
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What about Bob? As close as he got to the 2018 Zipolite Nudist Festival!
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Enjoying the gorgeous sunset with Joanne, Fred & Bob

Bob has always been interested in visiting Puerto Escondido to have the experience of watching surfers ride the “Mexican Pipeline”. Being so close, (~67km), it only made sense to head up the coast to Playa Zicatela. A very wide 3km long beach, we watched as surfers hit the big, very scary waves as the sun was setting. Again there are several bays to dip your toes into.

While walking the beach late one afternoon we were fortunate enough to join in on a turtle release. The baby turtles hatched earlier in the day and after a short educational overview we watched and cheered them on as they scurried into the surf, some tumbling back as the waves crashed down on them and finally sweeping them into the big, vast ocean waters. This is a common practice up and down the coast and one can only hope they survive.

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Surfers-Playa Zicatela, Puerto Escondido

On one of our last days in Huatulco we treated ourselves with a day pass to the adults-only/all-inclusive Secrets Resort and Spa.  Such a nice treat!!

Other than meeting up with our kids and friends in Playa, we certainly didn’t plan a beach vacation this year. But life had other plans for us and we wouldn’t change a thing. I am a firm believer that life unfolds the way it should, and yes Bob is back to normal (whatever that is!). Tincture of time is a wonderful thing.

Hands down, the best location we visited this year was the state of Oaxaco and we would definitely come back in a heartbeat.

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Our hotel pool, just perfect for cooling off 🌊

Family, Friends and Play(a) Time

8 – 17 February 2018  [okay, so just a bit behind on the wanderings but catching up!]

We decided to make Mexico our travel destination this year with an ulterior motive in mind, let’s meet up with our adult kids to celebrate our son Mike’s 35th birthday, a milestone, for us anyway (how did he get to this age so quickly?). Planning got underway and the next thing we knew our longtime best friends were also planning a vacation in Playa around the same time. Let the fun begin!

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Bob & Ganesh on Quinta Avenida

It had been over 10 years since our last visit to Playa del Carmen, located in the Riviera Maya, and needless to say it has expanded exponentially in all directions. This is definitely a resort town with every North American franchise you can think of and no shortage of tourists. Yes, there is a bit of Mexican culture providing you venture off of the main walking promenade, Quinta Avenida or 5th Avenue. What hasn’t changed though are the white sandy beaches, warm turquoise waters and endless hot, sunny days.

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Enjoying the sun, sand & surf with our besties!

Getting to Playa a few days before our kids, we were able to reacquaint ourselves with the area, stock up on groceries, check-in to our Airbnb, and rent a car. Mike arrived first, followed by Lauren and her friend Jovana from Vancouver a few days later. They ran into the same standby problem we did and didn’t get their red-eye flight the night previous. 😞

Our dearest and long-time amigos, Brenda and Robert, arrived around the same time we did and although we don’t see them as often as we would like, since their move from Kingston, time stood still and as the saying goes, we picked up right where we left off, never missing a beat. Love you guys!! ❤️

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Mike’s first Mexican breakfast!
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Mike enjoying the suf.
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The girls finally arrive!
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Tacos & margaritas anyone?
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Mother & daughter!
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Father & son!

Lovely dinner out with family and friends followed by cake for the birthday boy.    🎉🎂🎈

 

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Is that you Lauren? Street art on building looks like our daughter!

 

Hitting the beach was the norm most days and we found a couple of favourite spots. The top things on the Birthday boy’s list were a visit to some Mayan ruins and swimming in a cenote. Since time was limited we opted to visit the Mayan ruins of Coba as Chichén Itzá was about a 3-hour drive away.

It was a very long, hot walk into the jungle to see the ruins, most of which are still covered by the dense jungle surrounding the site. At one time this ancient Mayan city was estimated to have had about 50,000 inhabitants. Coba’s claim to fame is the largest network of elevated stone walkways called sacbes (white roads) that were used to connect the multiple residential buildings.

We headed off looking for Nohoch Mul, the main pyramid of Coba, standing 42m (138ft) tall, making it the second tallest Mayan Pyramid in the world with a total of 120 steps to the top. We scrambled through the various ruins scattered throughout the archeological site eventually finding it.

Over the years, the steps have become weathered and eroded from use. Most climbers ascended up the middle, making use of the large guide rope. The steps looked far too slippery and treacherous and with the hot mid-day sun glaring down on we decided climbing to the top was not for us. We, as well as several others, watched other braves souls inched their way to the top with many crawling slowly down backwards!

 

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Indiana Jones & Lara Croft!

With over 6,000 cenotes or interconnected groundwater pools in the Yucatan Peninsula we took the advice of Tripadvisor and headed to Cenote Eden El Jardin, (Garden of Eden), just outside Playa and towards Tulum. It is an open cenote about 5m (15ft.) deep, with fresh, perfectly clear, cool water. There are platforms and rock ledges to jump off of; Mike was the only brave one and took the challenge to plunge into the water far below. Snorkelling provided some interesting underwater scenery and the day we visited a scuba diving rescue course was being held.

The name cenote means ‘sacred well’ and were revered by the Mayans. They settled villages around these spiritual wells, believed they were a portal to speak with the gods and used them for human sacrifices.

 

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Tres amigos! ❤️
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Family beach time

The long-awaited fam-jam/vacation was over in the blink of an eye. Everyone was heading off in a different direction, including us.

Our next stop was Oaxaca City in the beautiful state of Oaxaca.

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Quick stop in Puerto Morelos after dropping Mike off at the airport
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Adios Playa! Playa coast, resorts & a very nice looking golf course below

 

Marvellous Mérida

Pastel buildings, some faded and peeling, traditional Spanish colonial architecture, deserted streets with little traffic was the scene that greeted us as we made our way to our Airbnb in Mérida. Having an eagle eye view as our plane descended we could see the city sprawling below, not such a small place after all! We took a local bus from the airport and somehow found our way on the grid-like streets, not an easy task for Bob in particular. Somewhere between the horse-back ride to see the Mariposa Monarcha and the miles of walking in Mexico City the dull ache of sciatica blossomed full scale and was taking its toll on mi esposo! Perhaps it was the sudden change in altitude; we left CDMX at 2,200m (7,200 ft) above sea level to Mérida a mere 10m (30 ft) above sea level. Walking any distance was very difficult, so we hunkered down in our comfortable little apartment taking taxis and short walks, as the pain permitted, to explore this lovely city.

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Built on the Mayan city of T’hó, Spanish conquistadors, lead by Francisco de Montejo, renamed Mérida after the Spanish town of the same name. Carved Maya stones from ancient T’hó were widely used to build the many Spanish colonial buildings in the centro histórico area and are visible, for instance, in the walls of the main cathedral.

Much of the architecture in the city, reflects the opulent European influence of the time, with Spanish courtyards, French doors and Italian-tiled floors.

IMG_0450  The capital of the Yucatán State, the once thriving sisal industry made this area very prosperous and a center of commerce, not to mention culture. Agave plant fibre was harvested to make henequén, (rope), and many maquiladoras, (manufacturing plants), opened. However, with the invention of artificial fibres the plants closed, commerce suffered, the wealth of the city declined leaving behind remnants of a more affluent time. This is evidenced by the grand mansions along the imposing Paseo de Montejo. This wide boulevard, built during Mérida’s prime at the end of the 19th century, was the attempt of city planners to emulate the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City or the Champs Elysées in Paris.

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Paseo de Montejo

The Plaza Grande in Mérida is very typical of Spanish colonial towns: a wide green square or zocalo where people come to meet, hang out, and enjoy the shade of huge laurel trees. As with other cities and towns, the zocalo is framed on one side by a cathedral with the other three sides housing government buildings, banks, cafes, and restaurants.

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Cathedral de Ildefonso
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Plaza Grande & Cathedral de Ildefonso
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Polished marble tiled floors of Palacio Municipal
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Palacio Municipal exterior
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Roaming vendors in the square

One of the buildings framing the Plaza is La Casa de Montejo built in 1549. It originally housed soldiers but was soon converted into a mansion where members of the Montejo family lived until 1970. Nowadays it houses a museum and bank. The outside facade is remarkably well preserved and shows triumphant conquistadors with halberds standing on heads of the barbarians who are depicted much smaller than the victors.

 

As with any city, a visit to the market is a must especially after reading a brilliant account of the Merida markets. This sentence aptly summed up most Mexican markets we have visited: “It was chaos. Mérida had taken the jigsaw puzzle called “Shopping”, hacked up the pieces with scissors, stuffed them into a piñata, and then hit it with a rocket launcher.”

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Mérida gave us time to regroup and come up with a plan to try and deal with Bob’s back and subsequent leg issue. He needed a prescription for the same medication, (no, not THAT wonder drug), he took when dealing with a previous bout of sciatica. An American style private hospital with English speaking physicians was recommended by our Airbnb host, so off we went to the emergency department. Despite our initial reservations, we were pleasantly surprised by the efficiency and professionalism of everyone we came in contact with not to mention the ridiculously low cost of seeking such care.

Reflecting back we saw most of the recommended sights and feel we did the city justice. We did miss some of the evening activities as there seems to be something going on almost every night and our typical long walks were also shelved for the time being. Definitely not fun being laid up while travelling, but must say Bob is a trooper and made the best of this unfortunate situation.

Looking forward to connecting with our adult children and our long time best friends, we headed off to Playa del Carmen. Sun, sand, surf and hot weather might just be the right antidote for Roberto!!

Where Have We Been????🌞☀️💫

It’s been quite a while since our last post! Apparently ‘Mexico life’ has gotten in the way, but hey we’re not complaining, it could always be worse!! Where to begin, well lots has happened, saddle sores have healed, sciatica abated, reunions have been had, new friends made, and overall life goes on and we feel blessed and are thankful for every single day.  So we shall begin the update, picking up from where we last left off, (small chewable chunks as Bob likes to say), on our travel saga with all its twists and turns. 😎

The last you saw we were heading out on a bus to yet another Pueblo Mágico, a small town called Valle de Bravo. This town is about 160km from Mexico City and is a very popular location for weekend visits, especially for the more affluent residents of Mexico City and nearby Toluca. We thought we had purchased direct tickets to the town, but this apparently was NOT the case. When the bus pulled over along the side of the highway at an unmarked stop and the bus driver told us unceremoniously to get off,  in our Spanglish we asked “is this Valle de Bravo?” He just shook his head, pointed to the right, hopped back into the bus and headed down the highway. Looking around we didn’t quite know where we were BUT a friendly cab driver, (hummm, wonder why), told us that Valle was about another 40km in a different direction. Full bore into negotiations we finally agreed on a fare and off we went on the winding road at top-notch speed. What we have learned, there are two speeds for cab drivers here in Mexico, stop and go like hell!!

IMG_6059Valle de Bravo, another gorgeous little town, sits on Lago Avándaro, a man-made lake, the result of building a hydroelectric plant that was completed in 1947. The lake, ringed by thickly wooded, mist-clad mountains is a center for water sports and paragliding. The town’s steep cobbled streets are lined with well-preserved red-tiled colonial buildings and anchor the Plaza de la Independencia and the 17th-century San Francisco de Asis Church. It is like eternal spring here, green foliage, lovely flowers, warm days, cool evenings

The main street is a jumble of shops and restaurants with the one road leading into the town continuously gridlocked. The day we arrived school must have just been dismissed, parents and kids swarmed the streets making walking difficult, especially while trying to drag our bags and find our hotel in the hot afternoon sun.

Making our way down the hill to the waterfront we weren’t overly impressed, the area looked seedy and a bit rundown. There were many speedboats and sailboats docked in the water but there seemed to be a lack of docks.  Hawkers tried to entice us to take the half-circle tour boat trip around the lake that apparently provides a great view of the waterfront and the sky-scraping rock called La Peña,  the precipice where paragliders take their flight. We quickly decided we weren’t particularly interested in enduring the booming disco music for the hour-long trip, guess we are just spoiled with our beautiful Kingston waterfront and vistas.

Next stop, Cuiadid de Mexico or as we know it Mexico City.

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Gorgeous, colourful poinsettia bushes
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Walking down one of the streets in Valle de Bravo
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Breakfast time near the zocalo
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Breakfast & Spanish lessons in our garden
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Angel meets 😇
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Time to stop & smell the flowers 🌺
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Making fresh tacos  🌮 

 

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Time to move on
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The gathering
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Adios Valle

 

Chasing Butterflies at the Reserva Mariposa Monarca

Located in the easternmost corner of of Michoacán and bordering Mexico State lies the 563sq km of the Reserva de Biosfersa de la Mariposa Monarca (The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve). The reserve was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 2008 and is now protected to preserve this sanctuary for its most precious annual visitors. There are three areas in the reserve to best to view this marvellous feat of nature, El Rosario, Sierra Chincua, and Cerro Pelón, all high up in the mountains. The first is the most popular, with up to 8,000 visitors a day, is apparently very commercialized and the area ruined by illegal logging – we weren’t particularly interested in joining the hoards! The second is located at a higher elevation, which means cooler (cold) nights. Apparently many of the hotels in the area aren’t heated and since cuddling can only go so far, it was a no brainer – a hotel with no heat was definitely not for us. So the third, and closest to the town of Zitácuaro seemed to fit the bill. It had descent hotels and was only a 45-minute taxi ride away from the reserve entrance. Actually this latter is in Mexico State, is the newest and best preserved reserve and was recommended to be the best choice, albeit we would need to endure a very, very steep climb. So needless to say we were all in for Cerro Pelón (aka Bald Hill).

Every autumn monarch butterflies from the US and Great Lakes area of Canada make the 4,500km journey to hibernate in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico. And … we finally found them, not without acquiring some major saddle sores and a bit of sciatica (Bob’s other side) mind you! We did this trip just over two weeks ago, (a bit behind on our blog), and although this is too much info, our butts have just healed, Bob’s back, well let’s just say he is still struggling, but I guess better to lay low at 30C rather than the alternative.

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Monarch laden fir trees

Arriving in Zitácuaro on a late Sunday afternoon we were quickly able to make the necessary plans at our hotel, (in Spanglish mind you), and hired a taxi for the next morning, to take and wait for us at the entrance. So excited, the weather looked promising and the prediction was for sunny skies. Apparently if the weather is cool, cloudy or raining the butterflies may not leave their roost and subsequently be less active.

Although Lonely Planet isn’t overly complementary of Zitácuaro, Michoacán’s third largest city, we quite enjoyed it, typically Mexican. We came across and numerous food carts selling tacos, sopa (soup), enchiladas, etc. near the zocalo, Bob was in his glory. We chowed down at various carts the two nights we were there, cheap eats and oh sooo good!

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Tacos al la carte
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A bowl of Pozole sopa 😋

The street eats in Zitácuaro are so good, especially the Pozole soup – a new recipe for you dad!

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Time to chow down
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Decisions, decisions!

The town is also known for its bread and trout farms, strange combination; we can attest to the bread as the buns purchased on the street corner for a mere 4 pesos each were absolutely delicious. Maybe be something in the water??image

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Town square where all the action takes place
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This little guy was 8-months old & getting his first haircut

We arrived at the reserve around 9:30 a.m., hired our guides, mounted our horses and began the 1.5 hour very steep and rocky ride up the mountain side. About a half hour in we were both in agony, straddling a horse and bouncing in the saddle was taking its toll!! Who’s idea was this anyway???

The smiles can’t hide the pain! 🐎

Monarch butterflies like basking at higher altitudes so we needed to make our assent to about 3,000m. We passed through the serene and abundantly lush forest of oxyamel firs, white cedars and wild flowers. It wasn’t until we were almost to a plateau that we caught our first glimpse of the butterfly-laden branches of the oxyamel trees and started to hear a slight flapping sound. We were in total awe.  Photographs do not adequately capture the density of the colony that surrounded us. Our guide pointed out the butterflies clinging to the tree branches and trunks in order to keep their bodies warm. The tree branches were so heavily laden with butterflies they looked like they could snap at any given moment. The trail then opened up to a wide open meadow where thousands upon thousands of butterflies were assembled on the ground, gathering moisture across the grassy area. When the sun rises and the forest floor warms they take flight in magnificent gold and orange swarms to descend on the warm, humid forest floor for the hotter part of the day. Interesting fact, Monarch butterflies cannot fly if their body temperature is less than 30C and will sit in the sun or “shiver” their wings to warm up. Once at the meadow, we dismounted and continued our hike on foot further up into the forest; I believe our timing was absolutely perfect. Watching in wonder and as the temperatures warmed, the butterflies left the warmth of their colonies and began to flirt and dance magically around us, stopping to enjoy the nectar on the wild flowers and land on outstretched arms and hands.

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Clinging to the oxyamel fir trees higher up in the mountains
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Taking flight
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Perfect peace and solitude with only the gentle flapping of wings
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Catching butterflies
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Magic is in the air
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Our horses basking in the meadow
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Enjoying the sunshine and the rest
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Male sucking nectar from the wildflowers

The monarchs in our area start to head south in late September/October when the temperatures begin to cool and their journey can take up to 2-months. They cannot survive in temperatures below 10C as the cold makes makes it impossible for them to fly and when the mercury dips below 5C, they become paralyzed and end up dying. These migrating Monarch butterflies travel between 80 to 120 nautical miles a day, depending on the wind and other weather conditions, in colonies of about 20 million insects. The butterflies travel only by day and will roost overnight, usually on the branches and trunks of trees.

By the time the monarchs reach Mexico four generation of butterflies have been through their lifecycle. The ones that do fly south instinctively know where to fly as it’s believed that their sense of direction is passed on to them genetically from their ancestors. Latest research also suggests that the butterflies possess an “inner clock” which enables them to navigate by means of the sun’s position in the sky and perhaps by the magnetic pull of the earth. In March the monarchs mate and the females begin their migration back north and lay their eggs on milkweed plants, and once more the cycle begins. How the monarchs homing system works continues to be a mystery and is another of the many unanswered questions in the butterfly world.

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Catching butterflies
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Guess they like the turquoise colour of my jacket.
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Female with a broad band of black on her wings
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We were surrounded by dense forest and monarchs, of course!

So to say we witnessed one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the world goes without saying. Magic surrounded us that day and continued to follow, flirt, and play with us as we made our long bumpy way back down down the mountain side.

Once back at the pickup area, Bob was heard muttering, “if anyone ever suggests horseback riding again SHOOT ME”! Guess the magic of the moment was meant to be broken!!!

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The long and dusted road….
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“DO NOT ever suggest horseback riding EVER AGAIN!”