Sunday, December 30, 2007

Report 3: Terlingua, TX, to Sayulita, MX

Did we say it was cold in Big Bend? It hit 18F. in Creel, up by the Copper Canyons (Barrancas de Cobre). Fortunately the days were (are) sunny and cool. We drove from Creel to Durango, Mexico, along a winding climbing and dipping road through the canyons, which, as we mentioned before, are more expansive and deeper than the Grand Canyon. It was a sight we'll never forget and a drive we'll never repeat. Muchos curvas peligrosas!

The barrancas de cobre are the home of the Tarahumara Indians, who are reportedly shy and even hostile to outsiders. The ones we met were friendly, especially the women, but maybe that was because they were used to tourists and making a little money off us. It's easy to see how the deep canyon country can shelter some pretty isolated and isolationist types!

When we hit the flatland heading towards Durango, we knew we were in cattle country! We saw more cows there than we did in the whole state of Texas. Tad, we got lots of cow pictures. Hope some of them work out! We were lucky to be passing by this round up and lucky there was a place to pull off the road where Angie got this shot.

We're always amazed by the people we meet and how much we have in common with them. In Durango, we ran into Fred and Kaly, from Seattle. Fred plays the guitar and also has spent a lot of time on boats, and Kaly is a former ESL teacher. Mentioned to Fred that we had thought about painting La Gitana's name on her transom, and it turned out that he is proabably the most reknowned sign painter in the Northwest. People paid to fly him to San Diego to paint the transoms of their boats. In about 15 minutes, La Gitana was sporting her moniker.By the way, those palms aren't painted in the back windows; they are reflections of the palm trees on the beach of Teacapan, on the Pacific, where we spent Christmas with a bunch of really great people. We've been invited to visit some of them in Veracruz, and in Gold Beach, Oregon, and we'll take them up on it when we get in their neighborhood (that will be this trip for Veracruz).

Three days after Christmas we hit the road again heading for our Pacific paradise, Maruata. However, everyone in Mexico is on vacation right now, and half of them are on the Pacific Coast. We holed up in one of our favorite places, Sayulita (near Puerto Vallarta), waiting for the traffic to lighten up. We love the place. So do the Mexicans, and the campground is jammed with wall to wall tents. They sprout around us at night like mushrooms. Not usual environment (we prefer quiet, uncrowded places), but we can't say we aren't experiencing Mexican culture! When we got to Sayulita, the campground owner asked us who the gypsy (la gitana) was. Jim pointed to Angie, of course.

Happy New Year from the Fotogypsies!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Big Bend National Park to the Copper Canyons of Mexico

We were excited to be heading into Big Bend National Park after spending what seemed like years in Del Rio chasing down a short in La Gitana's electrical system and then going across the border to Acuña, MX, to get all our permits. Crossing the Rio Grande we were startled to find ourselves in a scene from the movie "No Country for Old Men.'' Back in the US on our way to Big Bend, we saw a lot more terrain that looked just like the movie. It's a great movie, by the way, so if you haven't seen it, do so.

Big Bend is 801,701 acres of some of the most spectacular vistas we have ever seen. It includes the entire Chisos Mountain Range, where raging volcanoes created an incredible mix of desert, rock piles, and jagged peaks. The park is full of wildlife. Going in we saw our first band of javelinas, an animal that looks a lot like a small pig. But they're not pigs, the rangers insist, they are completely unrelated animals, collared peccaries, and are found in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, as well as Mexico. Looked like pigs to us! We also saw coyotes and a bobcat, but never saw the mountain lions that also inhabit the park.

Jim was in campground bathroom brushing his teeth, when a kind of rough looking guy tried to start up a conversation with him. Jim was answering in monosylables, until the dude pointed to the miner's light Jim was wearing and asked, "Where you bought that light?" His accent intrigued Jim so he asked where he was from.
"Laugh'yet, Loosiana, I'm a Cajun," the guy laughed. 'Keith Meaux's my name. Thats M E A U X like in Geaux Cajuns." That broke the ice and Jim was still talking with him when Angie got worried and came looking for him. Jim introduced them, and then went back to the van. Angie learned how much Keith loved to talk (maybe because he was traveling alone with his dog Missy, a Golden Retriever that Angie fell in love with.).
She found out he was a pharmacist (My daddy and grandaddy were both pharmacists, he said), and that he loves to travel. He's been all over the U.S., either on his Sportster Harley, or when he has his wife, kids, or dog with him, in his pick up truck with a cap on the back. He's a true Cajun. His son is studying photography in Las Cruces, and he was going to pick him up to bring him home for Christmas, but taking his time.

Another highlight of Big Bend was going to the hot springs. We had to drive La Gitana down a bumpy, rocky road, then walk down a trail past ruined buildings and cliffs marked with birds' nests of clay, pictographs, and petroglyphs to the banks of the Rio Grande, where we found an old salt soaking in the 105 degree weather and one of the Mexicans who wade across at every tourist point to sell their "contraband" handmade walking sticks to the tourists squatting by his side. Until 9/11 this mixing of tourists and Mexicans who live in isolated pueblos in the Coahuila and Chihuahua deserts was encouraged, but now they are considered security risks to the US. We basked in the water, and if you got too warm, you coud drop a leg over the rock into the Rio Grande, or even take a dip if you didn't mind the pollution.

As we left the park, a wonderful pink apparition rose before our eyes. It was Kathy's Kosmic Kowgirl Kafe. Unfortunately the Kafe was closed and we didn't get to see the Kosmic Kowgirl, but there were three women there playing guitars and singing folksongs. They sang a couple for us and Jim was tempted to get out his guitar and join them, but we had to push on for the border.

The first part of Chihuahua, between Presidio and the city of Chihuahua, was some of the most desolate country we have encountered. It could have been used for a movie set on the moon. But as we drove further south, things began to look more prosperous. First we saw vegetation, then farms and ranches with more cattle than we had seen in Texas, and orchards of pecan and apple trees.

We hoped to bypass the city itself, with its 1,100.000 people, but Jim managed to get us right in the middle of it looking for a
Wal-Mart to buy an extra water jug.

Heading out towards Creel, and the Barrancas de Cobre (copper canyons) we left the farm land and began to climb into evergreen covered mountains. The mountains and canyons here (the canyons are 4 times larger than the Grand
Canyon and the deepest one is deeper) are the home of the Tarahumara Indians, perhaps the most reclusive and traditional Indians in North America. They are reputed to be shy and even hostile to outsiders, but Angie managed to get some great portraits, which you'll have to wait for our next downloatd to see.

That's all for now from the fotogypsies. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

12 December 2007

After three days of glorious weather, temps in the 80's, we feel like we've been plunged back into winter again. And here on the Mexican border in Del Rio, Texas, of all places. If La Gitana (the gypsy) didn't have a heater my hands would be too cold to write this. We came here because of the name, of course, and to get our insurance and vehicle permit for traveling in Mexico. Then we'll be on our way for a few days in Big Bend National Park, where it's even colder than it is here. The weather forecast does say it will warm up to the fifties, so we're hoping!

On our way down we took X-ways to St. Louis, where we planned to head off on blue highways through the Ozarks. But Angie had a yen to go to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to visit the studio of Michael and Shelley Buonaiuto. They are the artists who make the little figurines of people bursting with life that are so popular at the art fairs. Luckily this kept us on the X-way, because we ran into an ice storm that would have made the mountain roads treacherous. Though nothing like the ice storms that hit this region a few days later, it left an inch thick coating of ice on our van.

After a quick visit with Michael, who was up to his ears packing orders for Christmas (Shelley was in Florida), we headed straight south for the Texas-Louisiana border. We ran into dense fog in the mountains, and when it flattened and cleared, we drove through long stretches that reminded us of nothing more than the poorer regions of North Carolina or the UP.

Night caught up with us right after we crossed the Texas border (near Texarkana). We realized we couldn't make Padre Island in one easy day (and those are the only kind we like), we diverted to Austin, where we knew we could hear some good music. While we were listening to the Michael Malone quintet, a very progressive and hot group, we had one of the visual highlights of our trip so far. In the Elephant Room, the restrooms are in back of and on either side of the stage, and women have to cross between the stage and the audience to get to theirs. We noticed one tall, good looking young woman in tight jeans heading that way, and you can be sure that Jim was watching when when she came out. Soon, so was everyone else in the club, because she had an eight foot tail of TP trailing from the back of her jeans. Everyone tried to stifle their giggles, but she and her date were gone by the end of the set.

Our first night on Padre Island we pulled into Mustang Island State Park, scene of much craziness during spring break, but now practically empty. We'd been intrigued by the name and wondered if there were really wild horses there as there are on Okracoke, but the campground there was dismal, with the RV's stacked on top of each other, so we thought we might try camping on the beach. The beach is narrow, with barely enough room to drive along between the high water mark (it was high tide when we drove in) and the loose sand where the dunes begin. The wind was honking straight off the gulf, the salt spray was flying, and we were afraid we might get stuck in the sand if it rained, so we settled for boondocking in the main beach parking lot. We shared this part of the beach with only one other camper, a homeless man who was hauling his worldly goods in a makeshift trailer behind his bicycle. He set up his tent at one end of the beach, so we chose the other and spent a quiet evening looking at the Big Dipper and Orion and listening to to surf pounding the shore.

The next day we moved to the free (to us--our favorite kind!) Malequite Campground, and though we didn't find a lot that interested us photographically, we spent a quiet day resting up and meeting some great people. This campground has no amenities, and as a result seems to attract campers we have more in common with. Our nearest neighbors had all spent a lot of time sailing and/or living on boats, so we had lots of stories to tell.

Jim "taking it easy" on Padre Island. (In case you're wondering, he's cleaning bird doodoo off the picnic table.) The bus next to us isn't typical of our neighbors--but then we seldom saw him and never saw his partner, if he has one.

(Click on any of the photos to see a larger version.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Blue Highways to Texas, 2003

October 9, 2003 Ann Arbor to Eagle Pass, Texas

Dear Friends and Family,

We spent the night in a luxurious motel room (a suite, really) here in Eagle Pass Texas, ready to cross over into Piedras Negras, Mexico. What a change this king size bed and the extra room with couch, desk and refrigerator, from Howie, who has little more than a bed and storage space, and where we have to be careful not to bump our heads when we turn over in middle of the night. Not to downgrade Howie! She is serving us well, and we are growing very fond of her.


For those of you who haven’t met Howie, she is the full size 1990 Ford Econoline cargo van that we bought from Howard Bond. We had been talking for years about getting a used van, outfitting it for camping, and making a trip like this, so when Howard, in one of his newsletters, offered the van that he had been using for his workshops in Colorado and the UP, we jumped at it. Howard had already outfitted her to suit a photographer, with secure storage for cameras and tripods and other valuables, a platform for setting up a tripods on the roof, and bunks for himself and Margaret, and even a pot to pee in. She was even white, to be cooler in hot climates! She had 100,000 miles on her, but almost all highway miles, and Howard had taken such meticulous care of her that she only looks and acts half her age. About all we had to do to make her suit us was (since we are both a little larger than Howard and Margaret) was to make Howard’s bunk extendable into a double bed and take out a partition between the driver/passenger compartment and the rest of the van so that we could push the seats back a bit further. We also went down to Elkhart, Indiana (RV heaven) and bought a super captain’s chair for the passenger side (the driver’s side already had a pretty good one). You can guess who sits in that one most of the time!

We’ve been taking a lot of back roads and “blue highways” and so getting a good look at the midsection of our country in a way that you don’t see it from the expressway. . . . From St. Louis we headed down route 67 toward Memphis, which took us through the Ozarks. We were enjoying the scenery, which reminded us a little of western North Carolina, when we realized there was something very different about this place. There were no billboards! How nice not to be bombarded with blaring announcements of auto dealerships and flea markets every 500 feet. We wondered if Missouri had a law banning billboards in this region. In Arkansas the green hills gave way to rice paddies and cotton fields (and interesting junkyards!) and we realized we were in “the South.”


One of the best things about traveling the way we do is that you meet such interesting people. Mary Beth was one of those. As soon as we drove across the Mississippi into Memphis, we stopped at the visitor’s center. Mary Beth was standing behind the counter looking like she wanted something to do, so Jim walked up and said, “You look like you’re just waiting to talk to us.”

“I am,” she said. “I’ve been waiting all morning.” She turned out to be a kindred spirit, down to sharing a love for the comic strip “Arlo and Janis.” In fact, she had just bought her “ex-hippie” husband, who dreamed of going off sailing, a little sailboat. She told us all of the best things to see on a short stop in Memphis, excluding some saying “You won’t like that--it’s too touristy!” We didn’t get to them all, thinking that we would come back to Memphis sometime, but we ate the best BBQ’d ribs we’ve ever tasted on Beale Street, and listened to some great blues played by some old guys in a public park. One of my most moving experiences was standing in front of the Lorraine Motel looking at the balcony where Martin Luther King was shot. I couldn’t help thinking how our country might be different if our best leaders hadn’t been assassinated in the 60’s. The entire motel is now the centerpiece for the Civil Rights Museum. A local panhandler pointed out the windows in the building across the street, now abandoned, where the shots that killed King came from.


We wondered what new scenes of Southern life we’d see when left Memphis on Highway 61 and crossed the line into Mississippi. What we saw was traffic--tons of it--and billboard after billboard advertising casinos. They proclaimed “loose slots” --illustrated by seductive images of women--and shows by lots of stars we remembered from decades ago plus some contemporary ones: Alice Cooper, The Moody Blues, Lisa Marie Presley . . . The traffic was so crazy with cars weaving wildly in and out that we thought we were on I-94 to Detroit.
Then we saw a stretch limo pull into the median pull out to make a u-turn, and about 20 cars followed it. Undoubtedly one of the celebrities with his or her entourage of paparazzi.


When we left Tunica County, the billboards disappeared, replaced by mile after mile after mile of perfectly flat river delta land blanketed with cotton fields. As we drove through them, we pictured another era when we might have seen men and women and children dragging their heavy bags through the fields picking the cotton. Later we saw how it is done now, with giant machines stripping the white puffy balls from the plants and delivering them to a compacter that produced huge bales the size of semi trailers. The names of the towns we drove through make a kind of poetry--Alligator, Hushpuckena, Arcola, Percy, Panther Burn, Nitta Yuma, Anguila, Blanton, and Onward.

We left Hwy 61 in St. Francisville, Louisiana, to take the ferry across the Mississippi to New Roads, from where we wound through cypress groves and bayous , across the bed of the Atchafalaya--which would be the Mississippi today if nature had her way. After crossing the longest bridge we’ve ever seen (it is at least 15 miles long) across the bayous, we arrived in Lafayette (Laff-yet) LA, center of Cajun country. We were a little disappointed in the town of Lafayette itself, but we were struck by the number of French speaking tourists we saw. We enjoyed the tongue in cheek bilingualism of the town, especially the sign over the university stadium urging “Geaux Cajuns!”

Our interest picked up when we headed down to New Iberia (where the legendary jazz trumpeter Bunk Johnson was rediscovered, given a new set of teeth, and put on the comeback road) and headed across the marshland of the Louisiana Gulf coast. Another woman in a tourist information office gave us a serendipitous suggestion, which sent us to the perfect campsite. But before we got there we stopped to visit the Rockefeller Nature Refuge. We had stopped where we saw some interesting scenery by a boat access area to the marshland. Angie was getting an egret to pose for her when a local pulled his car over and said, ‘You’re pissing into the wind here. If you want to see some great scenery, go up past the ranger station to Place Lake Road, turn left and take it up to the end.” We followed his directions and found ourselves on a one-lane road that went right out into the marshes with water on both sides. As Jim squeezed past a pickup that belonged to a couple of old guys that had stopped to fish, he rolled down the window and asked, “How far does this road go?” The old fisherman grinned and replied “All the way to the end.”

We camped on Holly Beach, near the Texas border, and as I mentioned, it was the perfect campsite. Beach as far as you could see in either direction, hard white sand to park the van on. Nobody else on the whole beach (well, a couple of temporary visitors). And our private drama when the police came in to arrest three drunks who had driven onto the beach to do wheelies. The rest of the time, though, it was perfectly serene. We set up our mosquito cabana, lit a bonfire, and spent the evening watching the gentle waves roll in from the Gulf under the full moon. Of course, every paradise has its flaw, as we were reminded when we ended up sharing our bed with millions of mosquitoes which some how got into our van in spite of the screens. We got up in the morning looking like we had the chicken pox,

Jim had been warning Angie for days about the boredom of driving across Texas. “We’ll get back on I-10 and just gut it out and try to make it in one day,” he said. But once we got past the truly amazing oil fields and refineries between Port Arthur and Houston we were pleasantly surprised by the lush rolling country we passed through. They call it the Hill Country of Texas, although is more like the rolling plains of Iowa than real hills. Only during the last hundred miles, when we left the expressway to head for Eagle Pass did we drive through the miles of chaparral and mesquite that we had been expecting.

Love to you all!
Jim and Angie

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Paradise on the Pacific

Maruata, Michoacan 25 Febrero 2006

“Hace mucho frio,” the lady in the little food tienda said to us. “It’s cold!” Yeah, we thought, it must have gotten down to 65 last night. We were glad to have a blanket on the bed, and when we got up at about an hour before sunup to go look for sea turtles on the beach, we wore sweatshirts—at least until the sun came up. Of course by 2 p.m. it was 90 again. Nothing to do but read, take a siesta, then go for a swim in the ocean to take up the time until 4 or so, when it begins to feel like spring time again.

Maruata hasn’t changed since we were here last year, when we decided it was as close to paradise as we were ever likely to see. We are afraid that some day the developers will get to it, but Warren and Sherry, who spend five months here every year living out of their stubby old blue school bus, think it won’t, since the village is communally owned by the tribe of Nahuatl Indians who live here. They originally lived where Mexico City is today, but were driven off their lands by the descendants of the Spaniards and had to make a new life for themselves by the sea. Poor things! Now they live by fishing, and, since the highway came by here about 20 years ago, by catering to tourists. You have to be a special kind of tourist to come here, though. There are few gringos. Most are Mexicans, or alternative types from all over the world, Greece, Russia, France, Canada, Czechoslovakia. You either throw up your tent under a palm thatched ramada, or park your van or camper on the beach. Or you do as we do and pay Elodio and Martina a few bucks to park inside their wooden fenced compound where you have the luxury of shady palm trees, a place to hang your hammock, restrooms with flush toilets and (cold) showers, and best of all, the pila, or cement reservoir, where you can wash up or do your laundry. Since the lavanderia in Puerto Angel was out of water the day we laid over there to have ours done, we spent two days at the pila catching up.

Elodio is 87 years old. Nearly every day he saddles up his horse, attaches his lariat and machete to the saddle, mounts and goes off to work on his property. His only concession to his age is that he mounts the horse from a stump. Elodio gets a kick out of Jim playing the guitar, and keeps telling him to sing. It’s best that Jim just play the guitar! Warren and Sherry are semi-permanent residents. Warren spent many years on the fishing boats out of New Bedford. Now, at 60, he goes swimming everyday with wetsuit, weights, and spear gun, and he always comes home with fish. He gives many of them to the villagers, who all love him, and to other campers if he likes them. Our first day here we invited them for dinner and Angie made pasta with the shrimp we had bought in a little port on the way here. In return, we got fish for dinner the next night, and we have more in our cooler for tonight. Sherry sometimes teaches belly dancing, in Colorado, where they live the rest of the year, and here to anyone who is interested. Angie spent an hour with her yesterday, and was exhausted afterward! She didn’t know that so many parts of her body could move independently.

The locals here are mostly very friendly towards us. Sherry told us about Anselma, who makes clothes from manta, which is like unbleached muslin, so we visited her, and Jim bought a pair of long pantaloons, and she altered a skirt for Angie and made her a pair of pantalons to measure. She put ties around the bottoms of the legs to help us keep the mosquitoes and sand fleas out. Lupita bakes almost every day, loaves of bread with cheese in the middle, empanadas, and on special occasions pizza.

Angie is sitting under a palapa writng, There’s a great breeze and she is listening to the waves crashing on shore on one of the three beaches here, the one with all of the rocks, and the holes where the water comes crashing through. Jim is out swimming off the quiet beach. Warren just came back from diving with several large fish hanging from his speargun. We’ll have fresh fish for dinner tonight, under stars so bright they almost hurt. What more could anyone ask for!

It’s very hard to leave here, and we keep putting of our departure date, but by the time you get this, we’ll have left and be sadly making our way back toward the states.

Look forward to seeing you all soon!

Besos y abrazos from

The Fotogypsies

Saturday, November 17, 2007


November 17, 2007

We're busy getting ready for our big trip to the Southwest and Mexico in our new van La Gitana, the successor to Howie. Our shakedown cruise was to the maritime provinces of Canada--Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (Newfoundland will have to wait till next year). We were lucky to get some great images, which you can see in the new gallery Down East on our website Angie took this one at Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia, near Lunenberg.
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)