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.)