We knew the roads in Guanajuato were tricky, especially the google-chosen route to the one-an-only city campground. So we were on pins and needles as I helped choose roads and guide Okan through the narrow streets and old tunnels of the city. Very stressful, but very rewarding when we arrived with no bumps or bruises. At one point we had to wait behind a city bus making a 3-point turn to get around a curve. Can you imagine that being a part of your daily bus route! Cars were backed up in both directions waiting for the bus to navigate the narrow passage.
But, something about pulling into the campground, which is basically a parking lot, was feeling good and I started looking forward to this city camping thing. This surprised me because when leaving the lake view, swimming pool, and grounds of the previous campground I was mildly anxious about it.
All the spaces but one were full, and we were thanking our lucky stars to have gotten that last space. We had new neighbours from Brazil, Canada, Australia, and France in addition to the Mexican family that owned the parking lot…I mean campsite.
Once parked, Okan was almost immediately in conversation with the other campers, talking about rigs and repairs. He was able to loan some tools to help with some in-progress electrical repairs going on amongst our new neighbours. Was nice to immediately feel part of a team upon arrival. Our Brazilian neighbours Luciano and Caina, were tent campers, for which I have much admiration. They noticed my excitement about their low-tech setup and were curious why that pleased me so much. My parents were backcountry hikers/campers, often taking trips on the Appalachian trail. That background led me to perhaps unfairly look down on car-camping and anything that allowed one to take a cooler of beer into the woods. Ironic, now that I am here in a sweet truck/camper setup with sink, oven, stove top, fridge, and many other perks. I have overly romanticized roughing it perhaps, but I still get jazzed when I meet folks traveling with only tents between them and the elements.
Another nice thing about our setup, was that we could see over the campsite wall and look at the view from our bed. A nice perk too when the rains started, giving me a nice place to read or play with Indigo, while listening to the rain on the very waterproof roof. The view from our campsite was so picturesque. I had seen this view on so many websites and blogposts of other campers, and to actually be here was somewhat surreal. I wondered if the town would live up to all the hype surrounding it.
We walked down twisty roads (with several almost twisty ankles), and small alleys with Indigo in the carrier, and entered one of the long dark tunnels scattered throughout the town. We would take this tunnel many times over the next several days, and by the end of our stay, the scariness and creepiness of it faded away. We would soon be able to navigate the parts where the tunnel lights were broken without our flashlights quite well. We emerged just a few blocks from the city center. We had no camera with us, and wanted to kick ourselves for such a brain lapse. The sky was dotted with puffy clouds turning beautiful shades of pink and orange in the setting sun, hanging over gorgeous colonial buildings and cobblestone streets. Even the throngs of tourists and people milling about couldn’t detract from the beauty of this town.
I have seen many cathedrals, traveling around Italy and other places, and didn’t think it possible to have the words “Oh, Wow!” escape my lips when seeing yet another grand building, but yet they did here. Especially when turning the corner and seeing the University building. There were also many quaint shops with brightly coloured dolls, puppets and masks, and a large number of references and statues dedicated to Don Quixote.
We saw street performers on the first night we were here. A band marching down the street, with people in elaborate costumes following and dancing behind them. Guanajuato even has its own “bushman”, a much more polished version than the homeless man at San Francisco Wharf who I used to watch scare the bejesus out of unsuspecting tourists. The vibe of the town made us feel like we were in a combination of Paris, Venice, and Rome.
The street food was good too, and inexpensive…so not really like Europe in that respect. We popped into the market as well, and were a bit overwhelmed by all the choices, and chaos. I kept searching the isles for something to organize our food storage area inside the camper, a battle that still rages today each time I open the door to get a snack. The market had a stall with every size, shape, and colour of plastic container, and I thought would find something. But we came out empty handed, with the exception of many photos of life at the market, and the delicious items to eat.
On the sadder side of our sight seeing, we saw a handful of women begging in doorways with their babies and toddlers, and we would see more of these women in other mountain towns in Mexico. But here they keep their heads completely covered in a shaw, so you could only see their extended hand. I’ve tried to research the reason for this, and have come up empty handed, outside finding some photos of these women, or “Marias”, on stock photo sites.
We checked out the mummy museum while here, which looked quite close and a nice walk on the map, if you didn’t account for the hills. For the 5 minutes I was able to read a panel or look at a display, it was really fascinating. The rest of the time was spent chasing Indigo who only wanted to play hide and seek in the dark and eery rooms. He wasn’t scared at all of the very very dead people with their gruesome hollow faces and expressions of agony. He still talks about the museum, and for a while he thought all dead people were called mummies. He is the easiest kid in the world to talk about sensitive topics, he just listens to the information, and rolls with it. We remembered the camera this day, but the batteries ran out shortly after arriving at the museum so we only have a few snaps.
I was nervous thinking that we’d be hitting yet another mountain town right after this experience, but Indigo was doing really well and enjoying touring the streets without much fuss, as long as he could eat popcorn. Okan’s back on the other hand was not doing so well (and still isn’t). Something we’ll have to figure out before we get to Patagonia where we hope to hike into the mountains…we’ve got some time before we get there to get in shape, or maybe start that yoga on which we are still lagging, but Indigo will also be bigger and heavier!
Back at the campsite, Indigo played with the owner’s grandsons, and it was interesting to see the social dynamic unfold. There was a bit of two-against-one going, and I was transported back in time to my own grade-school years where the dynamic of three can get a bit unpredictable and tricky to navigate. But for the most part, the boys spent their time helping each other pound old nails/screws into old boards they found laying around the lot, using rocks as hammers. I can’t believe they didn’t smash their fingers, and if they did, they were definitely keeping it mum, so they could keep on playing.
Guanajuato is also the site of our very first “camper dance party”, which would be the first of many. It started with Indigo playing on his piano, and getting Okan to dance along to Yankee Doodle (a preset song on his piano) saying “listen to this great rock and roll song, can you hear the bamming of the drums?” We have re-directed his music tastes somewhat since then, and he’s now a big fan of Michael Jackson and the Blues Brothers.
We said our goodbyes to our fellow campers, exchanging information with the hope we’d see them again down the road, and headed for San Miguel Allende. We were pretty irritable because we kept passing streets, unable to find the entrance to the campground that’s in the middle of town, hidden somewhere on narrow one way streets while Indigo was wailing away in the back seat. We finally found the door, and it was such a tight fit, we barely squeezed the truck through. We later learned that there was a bigger door on the other side of the campground. We recuperated by taking ourselves out to dinner. We loved our first meal in a small corner restaurant, and enjoyed a rainy walk home to the camper.
It rained on and off a lot in San Miguel, but not like the downpours we had in Guanajuato. Indigo enjoyed walking in the rain for the puddle jumping, which was thankfully saving Okan’s back a bit. I noticed in San Miguel that windows everywhere were decorated with ribbons of all colours, and styles, many with tiny bells on the end, jiggling in the breeze. Here is one of the better shots, but I still hope to make a collage of all the windows photographed one day.
We were thrilled to see everyone from the Guanajuato Campground show up in the San Miguel campground. We cooked breakfast for our tenting Brazilian friends, to give them a break from food prep in the rain. Indigo had already warmed to them, shouting “my friends are here!” when he saw them. But as always, he’d gotten so warm that he basically moved into their campsite, taking his camping chair with him for his visits. But with Luciano and Caina, it feels like extended family and it was much easier for us to relax while he was with them. We knew they would send him home when they needed their private time.
We headed off to walk around town, and even fit in a couple of open air and free museums around town. I noticed while walking many day spas nestled in quaint alleys, and upscale shops, and nice cafes. It’s a town full of expats, and modern conveniences.
I heard about the bell chimes in San Miguel, but I didn’t realize just how much and often they would be ringing, starting at 7am. The number of chimes didn’t relate to the current time, they were not the same number of chimes each time, and I was determined to figure out the pattern, so I religiously started counting chimes every time they sounded. This gave me a bit of a project every morning, and every 30 minutes thereafter for several hours, as well as in the evening. I counted between 55 and 111 chimes, with no rhyme or reason relating to the given time. So then, I timed the chimes. I finally concluded that they ring them for about 60 seconds every 30 minutes, and some guys are just faster at pulling the rope attached to the bell than other guys. This might or might not be the case, but I don’t know what keywords in Google will lead me to the answer. To solidify the notion that perhaps I’m a little nutty with quantifying things, I also counted my steps when walking through the Guanajuato tunnel to town (about 700 steps on average in case you are wondering).
We were really happy that both our city camping experiences went so well, and we really enjoyed our time. Gave us confidence that we could also manage a good time while camping in our first parking lot, which is where our next campsite would be.
We had been wrestling with whether to go to see the Monarch butterflies in the mountains near the town of Ocampo for over a week, and I finally convinced Okan that we needed to go for it, or I would regret it (and therefore he would) for the rest of our trip and possibly our lives. All the guide books said the butterflies were around between January and March, but no where did they day March 1st, March 30th, or somewhere in between. We didn’t want to do the long drive if there were none flying about. So I researched the hell out of it, writing hotel owners/tour guides near the sites, finding information on their migration paths, etc. I got nothing but vague answers, because there is no pre-set date that the butterflies decide they need to all hit the road and fly to north america. We were banking on the “we took a group yesterday, and they were very pleased” as the closet thing to confirmation that the butterflies would still be there. Seems with climate changes, and food supply changes, etc…these things are very very variable.
We were getting a bit irritated at all the tolls along the way to the butterfly sanctuary. Sometimes only 5 minutes would go by, before you’d be at another toll booth scrambling for change. But given the horror stories about the number of topes (bumps) on the non-toll roads, we decided to pay up for the faster driving. On the way up the mountain, the steepness and the roughness of the road, combined with the massive elevation gain was giving Machete a heap of trouble. The transmission temperature was rising too high, so we had to pull over to let her cool down. The problem was finding a place to pull over, as the road was so narrow, and overhanging a cliff, and traffic was both directions. Okan was on edge, and at this point still wasn’t convinced that the butterfly excursion would be worthwhile.
We got to the parking lot of the butterfly sanctuary and boy was it cold! I broke out my hat and mittens. We hoped it would help us sleep and be well rested for the big hike ahead of us in the morning. We did the opposite of common sense, which would have been taking the horses up the mountain and walking down. We decided to walk up, which was really rough as I was already ailing from altitude sickness, taco de carnitas sickness, or a combination of both.
Thankfully we were paired with the best guide for which you could ask. She noticed I was struggling, and stepped off the trail into the woods to find a good sturdy walking stick for me. Later still when I couldn’t breathe and was feeling nauseous, she went into the woods again, picked and crushed a herb into her hands, and made me put it under my nose. Finally she insisted on taking my backpack, and then took Indigo’s hand and walked him up the mountain, chatting and pointing out butterflies and plants along the way.
Once to the top, I sprawled out on the meadow on my back trying not to puke, and just stared at the thousands of butterflies taking flight around us. It was simply amazing. Okan must have taken hundreds of photos that day. To think that one of the guides said that their numbers were very diminished this late in the season. I can’t imagine what it looks like at the height of the breeding season. The horse ride down was actually quite rough. On such a steep decline, it’s hard work stopping yourself from launching forward and tumbling off the horse.
On our drive out of the parking lot, we bumped into Adrian and Lorraine, our neighbours in the previous two towns, who were just arriving. They were just a stones throw away from the parking lot and we wondered why they were stopped on the side of the road. Their RV just couldn’t make it up the last bit of hill, making us appreciate our robust truck even more. Luckily they were able to sleep there for the night without issue, and see the butterflies the next day.
On the drive down the mountain, we must have gone a different route, because we didn’t go through the mining town with the crazy twisty steep roads. Instead we went through the small town of Ocampo that was having a market day. Our only difficulties on the drive down, was that the ropes and tents across the road were so low as we passed each stall, that the locals had to raise them with long poles so we could get through.
As we drove to our next town we were feeling great about having made the detour to see the butterflies. Okan thanked me for not giving up and pushing him to go there. I wrestled with my altitude sickness and migraine on the remainder of the drive, but was feeling great that everything had turned out well for us in the end.
It was really our best “city campground” so far! Now we are in Antigua Guatemala hoping that we have the chance to meet you guys again!!!
Luciano and Caína
Love these blogs so so much. Your family is very inspiring. Please keep them coming. Just amazing!