Food glorious food

The last few days have fully cemented our love of Mexican food. From eating out less than once week in the US and Canada, we’ve now moved to eating out at least once a day. We’ve spent most of the last week in cities or near them which has given us ample opportunities to try lots and lots of new dishes. It is so different, and so much better, than the tex-mex food we’d eaten in restaurants in Europe.

We camped outside the city of Puebla in the small town of Cholula. The threat of an approaching thunderstorm hurried us through the small tunnels dug by archeologists under the worlds largest pyramid.

20131123-213650.jpg

The pyramid is still covered by trees and grass, so it doesn’t look as impressive as some of the smaller uncovered ones.The Spanish built a church on top, whether this was to show their ultimate power over the subdued locals after the invasion, or if they had not realised that the hill was a overgrown ancient pyramid, no one knows.

20131123-213757.jpg

The following day we headed off to Puebla in a taxi to have a look around and try out a new food market stuffed with vendors cooking local specialities. It gave everyone a chance to try something different. Sorry but we were too busy stuffing our faces to take photos of the delicious dishes.

Puebla was an attractive city with a pretty central square, lots of churches and pretty buildings covered in painted tiles.

20131123-214032.jpg

We’d heard about a new campsite near Oaxaca in Tule from some overlanders in Cholula: www.overlanderoasis.com which turned out to be lovely and is a great spot for overlanders to park up and base themselves for a visit to Oaxaca. They have space for just a few vehicles but it is lovely and clean and the Canadian owners Leanne and Calvin were so welcoming. We were just settling in and checking Facebook when I saw a post from: De uma America a Outra saying “On the way to Oaxaca”. They are a Brazilian couple from Canada with their 5 year old daughter Olivia. We had met them for just half an hour in Baja and had hoped to see them again somewhere on the way, especially as the girls got on so well even in the brief time they were together. I’d just pressed send on a message to them, telling them that we’d just arrived in Oaxaca too, when their camper pulled in front of the campsite. The rest of the day was spent chatting and playing.

Oaxaca is famed throughout Mexico for its cuisine, so it seemed a good place to take a cooking course. We’ve eaten so many delicious things but haven’t a clue on how to prepare them ourselves. The Brazilians: Marcia, Andre and Olivia joined us for the 4 hour course at Casa Crespo, along with four friendly others. First, a trip to the market not only introduced us to a whole pantheon of fruit and vegetables that we’d never seen before but we also picked out the ingredients for the feast we were about to cook.

20131123-214151.jpg

20131123-214159.jpg

20131123-214236.jpg

In the market we got a chance to try one of the local delicacies, grasshoppers fried in lime, chilli and garlic. Lucy was keen to give them a try but found them too garlicky for her tastes.

20131123-214335.jpg

20131123-214344.jpg

Back at the restaurant the meal preparation progressed at a great rate. We cooked 4 types of salsa including one flavoured with the worm that is found at the bottom of a mezcal bottle. A refreshing drink of cucumber, lime and just a touch of chilli. Guacamole, normal tortillas and tortillas flavoured with courgette flowers. Quesadillas with cheese and grasshoppers and herbs.

20131123-214513.jpg

20131123-214528.jpg

A special type of shrimp soup cooked with a hot stone dropped in just before serving.

20131123-214640.jpg

The piece de resistance was the famed Oaxacan mole, Oscar the chief, rattled off about 10 different types that we could prepare but we chose the special mole for parties, wedding and funerals. This sweet, tasty sauce with a kick can be served over any type of meat. I think I counted 17 different ingredients including chocolate. It all had to be fried individually, blended and then cooked and reduced for over an hour. Luckily we had a sous chef to help with that part. It might not be the easiest thing for a quick supper after a day on the road but it was delicious.

20131123-214755.jpg

20131123-214803.jpg

A drink on the terrace, put us in a good mood for a delicious, long lunch. The three girls were brilliant throughout playing happily in a corner, until it was time to make the chocolate ice cream, made with rich Oaxacan chocolate, suddenly Lucy found a keen interest in the cooking process.

20131123-214931.jpg

20131123-214954.jpg

We staggered back to Tule with very full bellies to see the worlds widest tree in their central plaza. It is supposedly over 2000 years old and totally dwarfed the church beside it.

20131123-215114.jpg

The following day we headed into Oaxaca to look around, it is gorgeous historic town. In the colectivo taxi in the way into town with the Brazilians again, with 7 of us we easily fill one of the shared taxis that run into town, we got talking about tamales. Steve has been itching to taste this morning snack of maize paste filled with a variety of fillings and sauces, wrapped in a corn husk and steamed. On a mission once in town as it was now nearing midday, we asked where the best place to get them and searched the nearby market to find the ladies tucked down an alley with their still warm bundles. All the different types were delicious, as were the empanadas.

20131123-215221.jpg

20131123-215239.jpg

We were then fully fuelled for an afternoon of churches, looking around and museums. We saw a rather fancy wedding where the helpers were dressed in beautifully embroidered Oaxacan costumes, they were happy to pose for a photo outside the church. Later the same wedding party had a band and dancers leading the guests to the reception and we managed to get close enough to see them properly once all the guests went in.

20131123-215348.jpg

20131123-215401.jpg

20131123-215413.jpg

20131123-215444.jpg

20131123-215423.jpg

20131123-215511.jpg

20131123-215521.jpg

Into the Heart of Mexico

We managed to get out of the campsite in San Miguel de Allende without major incident although we did have to hold the traffic up while I reversed down a one way street the wrong way. We then drove high up into the mountains as we were hoping to see the Monarch Butterflies that migrate to certain mountains in Mexico at this time of year. As the campsite was not open we just camped in the car park for the night.

20131118-170726.jpg

20131118-170748.jpg
It was a very peaceful night at 3000m. The next day we hiked up to see the butterflies. Their story is amazing. Every year they migrate from Canada and the US to a few spots in Mexico. The following spring they migrate back. However not every generation migrates. In the summer they only live a few weeks, so only one in about four generations actually does the annual migration. No one quite knows why they do it or how they find their way to the same spot every year. We saw thousands of them but as it was not very sunny they were not that active and mainly hanging in the trees or on the floor.

20131118-170902.jpg

20131118-170931.jpg

20131118-170954.jpg

After hiking down the mountain we drove a short distance off the mountain and were lucky enough to find a campsite which we had not heard about anywhere, Cerro Chino only 30kms away. This site is just outside Aporo on the way to Ocampo. It was a quiet place to stay run by a very friendly family. Alisha and Lucy practiced their Spanish while playing with the owner’s daughter Sophia.

The next day we drove around the Arto Norte to avoid Mexico City and to get to a campsite just outside the city in San Juan Teotihuacan. Although the roads are good the other truck drivers often drive like maniacs. The road is very hilly and while the trucks crawl up the hills they then tear down the other side praying that their brakes will work when they reach the bottom. Sometimes they don’t and we saw two bad crashes where the trucks brakes had not worked. While driving around the Arco Norte Gilly and I decided it would be crazy to be so near to Mexico City and to not actually go to see it, so when we arrived at our campsite we enquired into how to get into the city.

Early the next morning we set off to the local bus station to catch the bus into Mexico City. Unfortunately the first bus driver reversed into a wall so we all had to get off and get on the next bus 15 minutes later. After that things went smoothly and after catching 2 metros once we got off the bus, we arrived in Zocalo the main square in Mexico City. Unfortunately it was full with a large political demonstration and the side streets were full of riot police.

20131118-171110.jpg
Everything seemed to be pretty calm though so we continued with our exploration.

First we went to the cathedral.

20131118-171235.jpg
And then to the Aztec ruin the Temple de Mayor. This was the major temple of the Aztecs but the Spanish destroyed the whole city and rebuilt their colonial city on top. This Temple was only rediscovered in 1978 and they are still excavating parts of it.

20131118-171350.jpg

20131118-171414.jpg

20131118-171446.jpg

20131118-171511.jpg
On the way out of the temple we paused to watch the Aztec dancers.

20131118-171651.jpg
Unfortunately due to the demonstration the National Palace was closed which was disappointing as we had wanted to see the murals by Diego Rivera. After a typical Mexican lunch we set out to see if we could find some of his murals elsewhere. Eventually we arrived at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso. This was a beautiful old Jesuit college with murals by Jose Clemente Orozco.

20131118-171802.jpg

20131118-171831.jpg

20131118-171854.jpg
We were sure there was a Diego Rivera mural there so after searching the place we went to find the gift shop and found a picture of it in a book. Thinking we had missed it we asked the shop assistant where it was and she explained it was in the concert hall but that it was closed. One of the young guides overheard our conversation and told us to follow her, whereupon she led us into the closed concert hall so we could have a private viewing of the mural all to ourselves. This is just one example of how friendly and helpful the people have been to us in Mexico.

20131118-171938.jpg
After this we wondered down the main street, Madero to catch the metro back to the bus station. Fortunately on the way we passed the Museo Mural Diego Rivera which houses one of his most famous works Suena de una tarde dominical en la alameda central.

20131118-172046.jpg
It was great to spend a day in Mexico City and the trip in and out and was very easy and cheap (16 dollars return for the 4 of us). We wished we could have spent longer as we would have loved to have seen The National Palace, the Frida Kahlo museum and the Archaeological Museum.

The next morning we were up early again to get to the entrance of Teotihuacan by 8am before all the tour buses arrived and before it became too hot. Teotihuacan is a complex of pyramids which was part of Mexico’s biggest ancient city. The city was built between the first and fifth centuries AD and whilst it fell into disuse in the 7th century it was still revered by the Aztecs many centuries later. When we arrived we first climbed the Temple of the Sun.

20131118-172202.jpg

20131118-172233.jpg

20131118-172311.jpg
Later we climbed the Temple of the Moon.

20131118-172434.jpg

20131118-172512.jpg

20131118-172545.jpg
Before walking through the rest of the site and finally the museum. The whole site is very impressive but we were glad we set out early as it was filling up when we left at midday for a well earned rest.

20131118-172639.jpg

20131118-172712.jpg
We have been in Mexico 4 weeks now and are really enjoying it. We are starting to learn a lot about its cultures both ancient and more modern as well as enjoying its varied cuisine.

We have also completed more than 21,000kms since we set off back in July.

Mainland Mexico

Our first stop for the night after leaving Mazatalan, was at Laguna Santa Maria del Oro. A deep lake in a volcanic crater surrounded by lush forest. The scenery all day was so different from Baja California, we drove through fertile volcanic hills filled with sprawling vegetation. The drive down into the crater was a little tricky as the flourishing foliage overhung the twisty downhill road. It was fine for cars but difficult for a vehicle as high as ours. At our stop for the night: Koala Bungalows and Camp was right on the lakeside. We met a Mexican protestant congregation on their church retreat there, they were very welcoming and friendly. Their two pastors and families were Canadian and we were invited to join their team games and campfire. Our girls soon connected with the Canadian and other children and we were sad to leave in the morning.

20131113-175920.jpg

20131113-175942.jpg

20131113-175953.jpg

We continued eastwards to the small town of Tequila, famed of course for the spirit. It was a very pretty bustling little town with tequila distilleries scattered throughout. A bit like Champagne, only the spirits made from the blue agave cactus and distilled in the area are allowed to be called “Tequila”. Although not really tequila drinkers, apart from the odd margarita, it seemed a shame not to find out how it was made on one of the distillery tours. We’d seen the blue-green fields full of cacti all around the area and the huge hearts or “pineapples” they make the spirit from being transported into town. Fortunately we’d stopped to ask directions at the first tourist information stand at the edge of town. They suggested we park our truck right outside their stand, where the road was reasonably wide while we took one of their tours. It turned out to be an excellent idea as the roads got progressively narrower the closer they were to the picturesque historic centre. We held back from the tastings during the tour, so we could enjoy the margarita at the end.

The “Fonda” were we had our lunch was still decorated for the day of the dead celebrations. There were folk dancers in the square outside and there were a whole range of Mexican dishes we hadn’t had a chance to try before on the menu. It made for a very pleasant afternoon.

20131113-180056.jpg

20131113-180112.jpg

20131113-180130.jpg

20131113-180140.jpg

20131113-180153.jpg

20131113-180208.jpg

20131113-180220.jpg

20131113-180231.jpg

20131113-180243.jpg

We headed out into the countryside near Etzatlan to Delia’s RV park. The girls were thrilled with the newly hatched chicks, dogs and friendly owners. It was a delightful place to stay the night and yet again it seemed a shame to move on after just a night.

20131113-180500.jpg

Roco Azul at Lake Chapala, was our stop for the next night and we arrived in time for lunch. It is a large “beach club” beside a lake with an RV park in the corner. Being a lovely Sunday afternoon it was full with families enjoying picnics, the pool, playing football and there was even a church service singing the same worship songs we have at our old church in Prague, apart from it been in Spanish of course. We met a lovely Mexican family who were interested in overlanding and spent an interesting afternoon chatting with them while all the kids played together in the pool. Our girls are still quite shy and occasionally resistant to playing with non-English speaking children, which is ridiculous as neither of them have ever lived in an English speaking country, so they are very used to playing with children from many other countries. Maybe it is because they are both so imaginative that their games are usually very language centred, it’s not like if you chuck a football at them and everyone can get involved even if they can’t understand each other, it just isn’t their thing. Hopefully that will change overtime and we were pleased to see them playing with the Mexican children with attempts from both sides to understand each other’s instructions.

20131113-180610.jpg

The following day was a long drive to San Miguel de Allende, a town described by our Lonely Planet book as “Mexican Disneyland”. That aside, it is a stunning small city with colonial architecture, cobblestone streets and art galleries on every corner. However before we could explore its delights we first had to negotiate its narrow streets and enter the tiny gated RV park in the centre. In most of the towns we have stayed in, we’ve had to walk or bus in which is not always much fun with tired kids. Here, we were pleased to find the main campsite was just a few minutes stroll to town. We’d emailed the owner in advance who warned us it was going to be a tight squeeze for anything over 26 feet (we are just over 27 feet). Steve was still game though, after checking it out on foot. It was a stressful maneuver first backing it into the gate and then reversing down the narrow alley with tree branches and building roofs jutting out from both sides. However he did a sterling job and is now just having cold sweats about getting out tomorrow. The entrance is the red gate on the right.

20131113-180729.jpg

Despite our slightly sniffy guidebook review San Miguel del Allende turned out to be delightful for wandering around and exploring, so we extended our stay here to 3 nights. I think that maybe Steve would just like to delay getting out of that tiny gate again…

20131113-180931.jpg

20131113-180946.jpg

20131113-181001.jpg

20131113-181016.jpg

20131113-181027.jpg

20131113-181056.jpg

20131113-181146.jpg

20131113-181208.jpg

20131113-181224.jpg
Lucy did some window shopping and was trying to work out how many weeks pocket money she’d need to save for a dress like this…..not the most suitable attire for overlanding but a girl can dream.