Chapter 4.  Volcanic mountains

© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2005 All rights reserved.

Day 10 – January 21 – Pátzcuaro, Michoacán

(Shari) A Mexican 7:30 AM is the same as an American 7:30, however Conseula will not budge on the rate. She does not care that I have a contract. Her price is firm and that is that. It is only a matter of 50 cents per night per rig, but I make it very clear that I do not think it is fair. I pay the difference and go back to the lineup, feeling a bit grumpy. It is a rotten way to start an already unnerving day for me. We are taking a route that, in part, we have never taken before. Passing through some rather congested and convoluted towns, I just hope the streets and roads are well signed. Our first surprise of the day happens when we come across road construction about 20 mi. out. The road is completely torn up and the traffic diverts along a dirt side street. camera.GIF (1399 bytes).  We just crawl along the bumpy dirt road, but have to laugh at the makeshift topes designed to slow us even more. Come on! I doubt we could go slower without going backwards. Finally we hit pavement again and we are on a roll. It has only taken us 60 min. to travel 20 mi. We make pretty good time after that until we take the turn after Salamanca. I see a sign saying, “OBLIGATORIO TRAFICO PESADO LIBRAMIENTO.” Well, I guess it is telling us that this is a truck route. We turn right and now we are committed. That turn is one of a dozen turns around the town on extremely narrow streets and blind curves. Finally we reach the main road again and decide to eat lunch. We have managed to travel 75 mi. in 3 hr. The good news is that we only have 85 mi. to go. The group is terrific, patiently taking it all in and not complaining about the conditions. It is Mexico after all. We do our best to wait for the end to catch up wherever we can. Sometimes we block traffic and have to move on. Sometimes there is no place to pull over. Sometimes we luck out and find a nice Pemex to wait in. Usually the head of the caravan is not far from the tail. When we are forced to stop, they catch up. Even on the Morelia periférico, with its many stoplights, we do not loose anyone. We arrive at our campground and have the smaller rigs enter first. We remember that the arch is only 12 ft. 6 in. and I am concerned we may be taller than that. All but one makes it through the arch. Mel and Beth are about 3 in. too tall. They graciously park outside the gate along a quiet dirt road. Did I say quiet? There is not much car traffic on it, but oh my goodness, they are about 6 ft. from the train tracks. I ask them if they want to move to another park and offer to take them to look at it. They want to stay with the group and decide if it is too bad, they can always move tomorrow. You could not ask for a better couple than that. Speaking of not asking for a better couple, Bob B. knocks on our door and presents me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, saying, “Thanks for the great navigation job.” At our margarita party, Bert and I are offered a toast for the good job of negotiating the roads. It could be the margaritas talking or they are just glad I did not make a wrong turn again. Ha!

(Bert) At our Margarita Party I ask Carl if he’s ever spent most of the day traveling only 162 miles. He could not recall any such day, but in fact that’s what we did today. Even with an early 7:45 AM start pulling out of the San Miguel campground, it is after 3 PM before we are parked in Pátzcuaro. Our first delay is the construction around San Isidro de la Concepcion where we are diverted from the main road onto a dirt path between railroad tracks and back porches. To add insult to injury, the already bumpy road has added topes, in this case mounds of ground, that slow us from a peak speed of 8 mph to barely 3 mph. The detour is followed by a slow crawl through several small towns, navigating the narrow streets often lined with parked cars, some with two wheels over the curb. Between villages, the countryside here is rolling farmlands, squared with edges of bushes and tall trees, and often irrigated. Cattle Egrets are abundant, picking through recently cultivated fields and newly sprouted plants. A toll road between Celaya and Salamanca speeds our passage, but it dumps us into the big city and slow going again. Reaching a “T” in the road, I need to make a left turn, crossing two lanes of almost continuous oncoming traffic, plus a string of cars and trucks trying to make a similar left hand turn from another arm of the “T.” After a four or five minute wait with no progress, the turn seems almost impossible, but then a small break opens and I flash my headlights at the oncoming traffic and pull my big rig across their path. I safely complete the turn and pull to the side to wait for others to follow. It takes many more minutes for Cindy to make the turn and I begin to wonder how long it will be before all eleven rigs finish the task. But suddenly I hear over the CB that they’ve all gotten through and I am told later that a Pemex truck blocked traffic, allowing the turns. Another delay is the “truck route” around Villa de Santiago, and perhaps Shari will describe that one in her journal. My interest is at our lunch stop in the Pemex yard at the outskirts of the city. Here three farm workers are shucking corn by hand. As a very young boy growing up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, I recall seeing corn stalks propped up into “teepees.” We’ve been seeing hundreds of these teepees in the fields the past two travel days. At this field the workers are pulling the dried corncobs from the stalks and putting them in large white sacks camera.GIF (1399 bytes).  I doubt that any U.S. farmer has resorted to this non-mechanized harvesting process for nearly fifty years. Back on the highway, we enter the volcanic belt, an east-west region of mountains – Sierra Madre del Sur – stretching from Veracruz to Colima. Between the cone peaks or more rounded domes, the farmlands are fewer and most are just cleared land for grazing. We pass Laguna de Yuriria and then bisect Laguna Caitzeo. The swallow lake is the second largest in Mexico and the causeway alone stretches over two miles. I wish we could stop to look for birds, as I’m seeing many Great and Snowy egrets. I’m told later that Cindy, and independently Charlu, see a Least Bittern crouched in the swallow water near the highway. When we finally reach our campground, we have yet another delay as we slowly navigate through a tight gate at the park’s entrance. All rigs fit through the arch except Mel and Beth’s 5th-wheel. I climb on its roof to check the clearance, but even after Mel exhausts the air in his truck suspension his rig is still three inches higher than the 12 ft. 9 in. gate. So they park outside the fence, but still join us for margaritas.

Day 11 – January 22 – Tecámbaro & Pátzcuaro, Michoacán

(Bert) On the steep hillsides defining the northern edge of Tecámbaro we park our cars and hike the ascent, slowly because of the precipitous incline and also the many birds we see amongst the flowering and fruiting trees and bushes. We are immediately attracted to Yellow-winged Caciques, first hard to see through the trees, but later a commonplace bird often perching in the open and conspicuously noisy. A red-flowered tree – whose name I once knew, but have since forgotten - camera.GIF (1399 bytes) attracts a Violet-crowned Hummingbird and a larger darker hummingbird that shows a bold white dash behind its eye. Cindy calls Magnificient Hummingbird and finally when it perches in better light we can see the brilliant green and dabs of violet and black that justify its name. Many other birds are identified this morning, but the ones that give us the most pause are the orioles, confusing because of the many differences in the orange or yellow color patterns, varying for age and sex as well as species. As the day goes on, we eventually identify many Hooded Orioles, a few Bullock’s and a Streak-backed. A strange oriole seen briefly in the morning and tentatively identified as a Baltimore is puzzling because that species should not occur here. In late afternoon we see a similar oriole and have more time to study it. Curiously, the color division and size completely matches Black-vented Oriole, depicted as a yellow and black oriole by Webb, but all of the colored parts are bright orange rather than yellow. [Later when I return to R-Tent-III, I check Peterson’s drawings and see that he paints the Black-vented yellowish orange]. Mid day finds us looking over a heavily foliated ravine and a constant parade of colorful birds. Just when we note that we’ve lost track of Judy R.’s whereabouts – she often wanders off to bird alone – we see her leading an entourage of five young Mexican boys camera.GIF (1399 bytes).  They listen attentively as she points out birds in Webb’s color plates and finds birds through her binoculars. Later she treats each of them to a soft drink, thanking them for being her “birding guides.” Many other sightings today are worth writing about (like the Gray Silky-flycatcher I photographed camera.GIF (1399 bytes) ), but I’ll limit this journal to just one more. During lunch under tall pines, I mention that two years ago we heard and saw Grace’s Warblers at this spot. Cindy and Bob get out their iPod look-alike and attached a Radio Shack speaker and play the recording of Grace’s. Within seconds one flies towards us and alights in the pine branches directly above Cindy’s head. We get a good look at the yellow-throated bird and when Cindy stops the recording the warbler continues the song on its own.

(Shari) “I bet the birders did not have as good a day as we had,” Mel says to us. We have to agree. Today is one of those days that makes me glad I am able to do this job. It was fun from top to bottom. Today is the wedding of the daughter of the RV park owner’s business partner and the morning’s activity centers around the wedding reception that will be held in the white tents put up at the front. White balloons string along the fence and a bouquet of flowers hangs from the arch. A band of guitars and trumpets serenades the bride with sisters and mothers crying. We leave the wedding reception and six of us pile into Mel’s truck to go to the market. Today is Saturday and everybody is out and about. The market is bigger than the town’s size would suggest and we spend hours browsing up and down the aisles. Tomatoes, papayas, strawberries, cauliflower, peppers, carrots, onions, bananas, passion fruit, mangoes, broccoli are all neatly and colorfully arranged in the many stalls. Prices are cheap, cheap, and cheap. Two pounds of tomatoes can be had for a mere 30 cents. Fish and meats, knickknacks and crafts, and some clothes, the aisles just go on and on. We turn the corner and find the crafts market. Here I find wonderful ponchos like the one I bought in Guanajuato, but a third the price. I buy two more, kicking myself for paying more a few days ago. Here each of the women buys eight copper bracelets for $9. I pass on a T-shirt, but I know I will be sorry later. We find a great restaurant at another square and have lunch at an outside table. When we return we find the wedding in full swing and are invited to partake of the food and festivities. A Mexican wedding reception is much like an American one. The bride and groom dance with each other, dance with close relatives and then friends. The bride throws the bouquet and the groom the boutonnière. But they do something that I do not understand fully. The bride stands on a chair and the groom does the same about 10 feet away, each holding an end to the train of the bride’s dress. camera.GIF (1399 bytes).  The sisters or mother of each tightly hold on to the bride and groom while first the women parade in and around and under the train attempting to knock the young couple off the chair. The men then repeat the procedure. All this is done, of course, to music bellowing from six or more enormous loud speakers that resonate all the way into our rigs. It all looks like great fun. After the birders return most of our group goes out to dinner, enjoying great food and entertainment by the Dance of the Old Men. camera.GIF (1399 bytes).  Returning way past our bedtime, Bert and I agree that we each had a great day. But mine was better, I still insist.

Day 12 – January 23 – Lago de Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, Michoacán

(Bert) Our campground fronts on Lago de Pátzcuaro, a large and shallow lake with marshy edges where we walk this morning. We spend a leisurely hour looking through spotting scopes at the marsh, picking out Cinnamon Teal, Common Moorhen, a flock of Blue Grosbeak camera.GIF (1399 bytes) and our favorites: Northern Jacana. Then it’s off to join the non-birders on an excursion across the lake to the island of Janitzio. Sandy and I sit at the front of the long flat boat, watching hundreds of Violet-green and Tree swallows and dozens of Snowy and Great egrets, but except for a few Ring-billed Gulls, that’s the extent of our birding. Near the island, a circle of fishermen in shallow one-man boats cast hoop nets. One of them proudly lifts up a 20” fish he netted. While shopping the hundreds of shops on the island, we stop to sample small bite-sized fish that have been deep fried in oil - head, tail and all. Atop the highly sloped island is an enormous statue of an Insurgent from the Mexican war for independence. The stature was prominent from the boat as soon as we got sight of the island. Tom hikes up the steep sidewalk like streets – half steps, half sloping concrete – and reaches the top while the rest of us are still shopping. Tom has a lot of stamina, but then again he has lots of practice since he has climbed Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park four times – a climb that takes more than a week. Only Bob and Sue and I also climb to the base of the statue, but I continue farther up inside the statue on circular stairs until I reach the hand of the uplifted arm of the Insurgent camera.GIF (1399 bytes).  There, peaking over the edge of the cuff, I can see all of the lake and the surrounding mountains. On the way back down through the vendor-lined streets a band of clarinets, trumpets, trombone and tuba parades slowly, trailed by onlookers and me. Everyone is in a party mood – Sunday tourists, virtually all Mexican except for our small group of Americans and Canadians.

(Shari) Another glorious day! I seem to enjoy this caravan more than any of the others previous. I know I like the central part of Mexico the best anyway for a variety of reasons. The weather is cooler (maybe this year a little too cool), the shops are plentiful, and the towns are extremely picturesque. The last time we took this route, we were way too rushed. Only one day at San Miguel and two days at Pátzcuaro never allowed real sightseeing. We have had three extra days so far and maybe could use more, although the birders might revolt. Still, four birders come with us SOB’s on today’s trip. One of them even is Bert. At the reasonable hour of 10 AM, ten of us take off in two cars to the boat dock. Here we board a long narrow boat with facing benches holding 30-40 people. We are the only gringos on the boat, the rest are Mexicans and their families on vacation. No one speaks good English, but we manage to enjoy each other’s company and benefit from their singing on the trip over. One young man introduces his mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, and nephew camera.GIF (1399 bytes).  They are on holiday from Hidalgo. We learn that the nets the children are all carrying are for catching fish. When the boat docks, the ten of us agree to meet again at 12:30 for lunch. Sue, Bob and Bert take off and climb the hill to the statue. Mel, Beth, Sandy and I shop, of course. I do not see Van and Karen and Tom until lunch. The picturesque island we are visiting is called Janitzio and is depicted on the Mexican 50 peso note. I think Sandy and I walk past and view just about every vendor on the island, oohing and aahing at all the goods on display. Sandy purchases a poncho and I buy a T-shirt, two beer mugs (again to be put in storage), and a unique painting that viewed one way shows two old people and another way shows two young people, both views superimposed. Both Bert and I agree that for $1.50 we can put it up in R-Tent-III and throw it away when we get sick of it. Karen and Van tell us that they and Mel and Beth bought some chili rellenos for their dinner for $3 each. Sandy and I negotiate four for $2.50 each and watch the lady make the tortillas, cut the tomatoes, lime, and avocadoes, spoon the rice, and run down the block to obtain aluminum foil to cover our Styrofoam plate. We each give her $5.00 and she says the price is $6.00. What went wrong with that transaction? Well, I do not argue since she worked hard and we got way more food than we anticipated. At lunchtime we meet and settle on a restaurant on one of the side alleys. Totally Mexican with Mexican clientele, and no English spoken, we have some difficulty communicating. I did not realize how helpful it is when someone at least knows a little English to help me out. The workers here do not understand my accent (which does not surprise me) but not Tom’s either. It takes quite some time to arrange for separate checks. However, the food comes out good and hot and mostly correct, so we are full and happy campers. Many of us back out of the intended trip to the copper town. It has turned cold and rainy and we do not return home until 3 PM. I do see a car pull out and I know at least Sue and Judy R. are going. They will have to report tomorrow.

Day 13 – January 24 – Zitácuaro, Michoacán

(Bert) From Pátzcuaro, the farthest west location on this season’s trip, we head east to Morelia, laboriously circling the large city on its periferico and continuing through the rolling countryside on a two-lane road without shoulders. After 11:30, we begin to climb in elevation, especially when we pass through Parque National Cerro de Cuernica. A serpentine highway threads steeply through mountains thick in tall pines. For more than a half hour I can only see one vehicle – Mel and Beth’s 5th-wheel – behind me, and even that is visible only half the time, so twisted is the road. We top 8000 ft. in elevation and then descend 400 ft. to a Pemex that marks our lunch break stop. We climb yet again, but then make a slow descent through broad valleys surrounded by volcanic peaks. Unlike most of what we traveled through the past few hours, here in the valleys people live and they have cleared the flatter parts of the land for farming, now mostly dry grasses. The cone and dome shaped mountains are numerous and I envision what the scene must have looked like when these volcanoes were active, the earth flowing with lava, the peaks erupting, and the air acrid and hot. Shortly before reaching our campsite we pull into a Pemex to detach our tow cars, which Shari then leads on, along with the smaller RV’s. Shari and I remember the difficulty of taking the larger RV’s into the gate of the hotel parking lot, so I wait another 10 minutes before leading my group, giving time for Shari and Sue to block traffic so we can make a wide turn. When I arrive, I see two gates and hesitate on which to enter. By the time I decide it’s the second gate, I’m not as well positioned for my turn as I’d like. I swing wide into the left lane and approach the gate on the right. Both sides of the entrance are walled to 4 ft. in white stuccoed stone and I cannot clearly see the proximity of the right rear side of R-Tent-III relative to the wall. I hear Bob shout over the CB to stop and back up, but it is too late. I’ve already scratched one of the compartment doors on the RV. I back up and make a straighter approach and pull into the park, then run back to help others make the turn. Bill is already too far into his turn and as badly positioned as I was, so he also sustains damage. Meanwhile the traffic is blocked up on both sides, so I motion them on. It takes at least 10 minutes for the backed up traffic to pass. We then get the other large rigs safely through the gate. Inside the hotel parking lot, most of the rest in the group are unaware of the mishap that Bill and I have had, as their entrance was uneventful. To calm her frayed nerves, Shari calls for an earlier time for our Happy Hour. Just before dusk, our party is interrupted when brightly colored orioles and tanagers arrive on the flowered trees and shrubs adjacent to the stucco perimeter walls. We again see Black-vented Orioles, but unlike two days ago, these are the expected yellow, not orange. The orioles leave as darkness falls and we all retire into our RV’s.

(Shari) Well I guess there is nothing to write in my journal today, I think to myself. It has been a relatively calm day of driving. I see a new Pemex on the side of the road about 6 mi. from camp. I convince Bert to stop and unhook the cars, since I remember the turn into the campground is sharp. Our Tailgunner two years ago scrapped the sides of his motor home when entering. Sue and I will have to stop traffic so that our big rigs can use the left lane in making the right turn. I don my orange vest and lead the cars and the little rigs to the camp. I turn into the first entrance. Wrong! Good thing the rest of the cars and rigs are little and the drivers can recover and make the turn at the next entrance. I am barely out in the street when I see Bert come along leading the big rigs. He swings wide, BUT NOT WIDE ENOUGH. You guessed it! He scraps the right side of our nice new motor home on the low white brick fence. I do not even see it since I am holding back a bunch of unhappy Mexicans, honking their horns wanting to get past. He backs up and goes through again. This time he makes it. Four more rigs go through the narrow opening and then it is Bill’s turn. He does not make it either and scraps his side. By this time Bert comes roaring up the slope, after parking R-Tent-III, and hollers at me, “Why are you not watching?” I am holding this traffic up, warning everyone to take it slow and wide and I AM watching my side of things. I feel just awful and even have to wipe tears from my eyes. We have an unscheduled margarita party and I do get to feel better. Bill is so nice about the whole thing too. His rig, a Beaver Patriot, is just as pretty as ours, but now it too has a big white scrape along 3 or 4 of the bottom cabinet doors. To top matters off, our satellite will not work and I cannot get e-mail out, nor talk to my dad in Wisconsin. What a bummer of a day!

Day 14 – January 25 – Angangueo, Michoacán

(Shari) All 21 of us pile into six cars to trek up the mountain to see the butterflies. After an unscheduled scenic side trip - read that as getting lost - we get back on track, but not before negotiating a one-way street in the wrong direction. Mel has difficulty turning his truck around and a Mexican semi, also going the wrong way on the one-way street, blocks him in. I am about two blocks up the street and realize something is amiss. The storekeeper that has been chatting with me runs down the street and makes the semi back up. Then Mel too can back his truck the two blocks to make the turn. We stop at the hotel to make lunch arrangements and hope the people there understand we want to eat off the menu not a buffet. We will see what we get when we get there I guess. Bert is waiting for us in the parking lot and shows us where to park, where to get tickets and how to negotiate the horses. Yes, horses! The butterflies do not live where it is convenient to see them, so the Mexicans offer horses to ride. Mel was worried about Beth and the altitude, (over 10,000 feet) but here she is, getting on a horse to make the 45-min. ride up and over the mountain. Bert and I decide to walk as do Judy, Sandy, Carl, Charlu, Tom and Ken and probably some others ahead of me. Two years ago, I rode a horse to the butterflies and walked back. That year the walk was easier. This year the butterflies are at another location, and the walk is straight uphill for the first half an hour or more. Mexican young men follow and pester us to take the horse. I tell them no and no and no again to no avail. They still follow and pester. At the top of one crest, I stop to rest and drink some water. Finally they depart and Bert and I are allowed to enjoy the peacefulness of the woods. I stop and rest numerous times that first half hour or more since it is so steep or I am just that much older. I loose Bert someplace along the way, off chasing some bird I suppose. I just plod along, following horse hooves in the dirt, to my destination. About an hour into the trip, a large group on horses returns, passing me by. They say I am almost halfway there. Oh my, I feel like I must be almost there and wonder if I am going to make it. The path turns into a gentle slope downhill and then a steep downhill. Our group is just now returning from their view of the gorgeous butterflies. When the sun peeks out from behind the clouds, the butterflies take off before alighting on another tree in the forest. They look like ornaments in the sky, quietly fluttering. Time is running out and I have to return. I negotiate a horse for the return and Judy R. and I are the last ones. She too made the walk in and wants a ride out. Stepping on a rock, while my guide Juan holds the horse steady, I swing my leg up and over and alight on the wooden saddle. This horse seems very fat, because it hurts to spread my legs that wide. After a 30-min. ride, I cannot stand it anymore, and ask to halt the horse because I want to get off. I do not know all the Spanish for this but Juan understands the look on my face. I give him the 50 pesos for the whole return trip plus a healthy tip. Judy is delighted that I wanted to stop because it was hurting her too. Bert meets us at the bottom and says he never did get to the butterflies because he could not find me and thought I had given up and returned to the car. Well, I cannot even holler at him for not waiting for me. We get into the car and drive down to the hotel to meet the rest of the group for a late lunch. I am starved for sure and do not even feel guilty about eating since I know whatever I eat will not even begin to account for the calories I expended.

(Bert) The Monarch butterflies near Angangueo seem to pick the highest elevations for their winter home. Using our cars and trucks we climb from 6220 ft. near Zitácuaro to 8226 ft. at Angangueo in 14 miles and then continue another 6 miles to 10,680 ft. at the Sierra Chincua Biosphere Reserve. Then on foot, and some on horsebackcamera.GIF (1399 bytes), we continue to climb still farther for another hour.  The peak is a forest with pines so tall I find it hard to see the birds feeding at the crowns. The group has gone on ahead, and Shari and I hike alone in the crisp mountain air. Shari stops to rest and I bird slowly behind her along the trail. When I catch up with her, she says she can see a red bird. That gets my attention, as the primary bird I have been looking for is Red Warbler. She points out the bird’s location, and it is in fact this remarkably red bird with dark wings and an obvious white face patch. Later we see we’ve passed Judy R. on another trail, and before she catches up to us, I get off the trail, following the call of a hummingbird. Sounds carry long distances in the forest and I keep following the call of the perched bird, but it is always deeper into the forest than I thought. Finally I must be near it, because the sound moves a few dozen feet to my right. I eventually give up without finding the source and I return to the trail. But now I can’t see Shari or Judy. I continue up trail, but still can’t find them. I know Shari found the uphill hiking strenuous, so maybe she decided to return to the car. In addition, I reach a spot were the trail splits into three and I’m not sure which way the group went, so I decide to hike back to find Shari. Along the way I hear many birds, but see few. By the sounds alone, hundreds of White-eared Hummingbirds must inhabit this forest, but they remain so hidden that I see only three. Hummingbirds and other singing birds are the only sounds I hear in the otherwise quiet forest. On the short list of birds I see, the best are Mexican Chickadee, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Townsend’s Warbler and the Olive-backed form of Eastern Towhee. I don’t see any Monarchs, but do find a pretty look-alike. camera.GIF (1399 bytes). When I reach the cars, only Cindy is there. Apparently I guessed wrong and Shari must have continued uphill to the Monarchs. Cindy and I bird in the clearing, finding many Yellow-eyed Juncos, a Steller’s Jay, and a few others I’ve seen earlier. We find two Magnificent Hummingbirds hovering in the forest, brilliantly catching a ray of sunlight in a tiny clearing. More in the open, a few Red Warblers are feeding in high bushes. Cindy plays her recording of their song and I stand ready with my camera. The song interests them and one comes closer towards me, chirping in response to the song. I take several photos including a couple clearly recognizable views. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) .

Day 15 – January 26 – Valle de Bravo, Distrito Federal

(Bert) Since we’ll have a leisurely late start this morning before we travel, I join others and bird around the campground. The grassy fields in the back lot attract hundreds of birds, the most common being Stripe-headed Sparrow, a large sparrow with a bold black and white head. camera.GIF (1399 bytes). We find a small flock of Bushtits so drab looking we at first do not recognize them, but after making a list of field marks, that’s what they must be. Perched on a utility wire, we see an odd lineup of six birds of five species all within a dozen feet of each other: Vermilion Flycatcher, Eastern Bluebird (2), Curve-billed Thrasher, Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Cassin’s Kingbird. What a menagerie of red, blue, brown and yellow colors! Off by myself in a wooded corner of the field I track a warbler that I hear chipping and am surprised to find a female Wilson’s Warbler with a leucistic dime-sized white forehead. The yellow bird looks as if she collided with a white powdered donut. In the floral gardens and pool area of the hotel, Berylline Hummingbirds feed on the many blossoms and one perches long enough in a dark tree for me to photograph. After a brief travel meeting, we head out of the hotel lot, taking care not to hit the sides of the gate wall. No problem this time. After skirting the burgeoning city of Zitácuaro, we again trek eastward through valleys surrounded by volcanic mountains. When we reach Bosencheve National Park, the scenery changes dramatically. We thread through a pristine pine forest, tall sentinels overshadowing our narrow but well-paved and twisting highway. What a beautiful parkway! After lunch, we turn south and begin a slow winding descent into a valley – Valle de Bravo – eventually coming to a large reservoir – Lake Avandero – surrounded by mountains, a popular weekend vacation spot for Mexicans, but relatively quiet on this off-season weekday. Getting off the street and into the sloping grassy field near the lake is an elaborate and slow process. We wait first for the workers to remove a portion of the barb-wired fence, since the normal entrance is too narrow for our big rigs. We alternate between allowing traffic from the south, then those from the north and then crossing into the field with a rig or two. Once inside, finding a level, dry spot takes more maneuvering, but eventually we all are safely parked.

(Shari) What was supposed to be a relatively easy day turns stressful. Sue and I must stop traffic again on the busy road outside of the park. Since the turn in was so difficult we decide to keep the cars unhooked to the motor homes until we reach a Pemex station about a mile down the road. I block the left lane of traffic and Sue the right. Bert makes the turn easily and continues to the Pemex with the big rigs behind him. After Judy R. negotiates the turn we again let the traffic pass by. You cannot believe how backed up it gets in only a few short minutes. I always walk to the first car and thank them for their patience and if I have time walk to the next few also. That is until some anxious Mexican comes around the stopped traffic and I must halt him in his tracks too. Horns start to honk and the passing cars holler fast Spanish at me. I do not like this part at all. All of the rigs get safely through the gate and I eventually get to follow in the car. We hook up and are off again. This time we all get onto the street but have lots of traffic in and among us so that our already long train is even longer. We pass mile 3.7 and all seems good. The Tailgunner has announced that he is back on the road. We reach mile 5.2 and hear that two of our rigs made a right turn at mile 3.7. It has a large monument at its location and most of the cars turn in that direction, so it is easy to do. At mile 8.5 we find a large Pemex for the rest of us to safely pull off, but soon a worker tells us to move. We drive a bit farther down the road and some of us stop there. Bert and I wait to hear what is going on but, beyond our small group, cannot raise anyone on our CB. We hope for the best and that those who took the wrong turn will easily recover and join us. Fifteen minutes turns into 20 and I get anxious for my lost sheep. I go out to tell those behind us that we are going to unhook and see what we can do but that they should stay put. We remove the brake buddy, disconnect the hitch and cables and engage the transmission. Just as we are about to pull out, we see Judy arrive. She tells us they are on their way. We now hook up, install the brake buddy, reconnect the hitch and cables and disengage the transmission. We are ready to roll again. I know it must have been a frustrating experience to be stuck in a mess of traffic not knowing where to turn around. It has happened to us and is compounded when traffic honks and hollers. The road into Valle de Bravo is very smooth with little traffic, but is all downhill and windy. We travel through a long needle pine forest until we see a lake looming ahead of us with mountains surrounding it. We slowly drive the road since we have never been to this campground and do not want to miss the turn. I see a blue trailer on a sign and tell Bert to stop. Here there is a little opening in a barbed wire fence enclosing a grassy field, just as described to me. I know I am in the right place but the man behind the fence does not know about me. His name is Alberto and I heard Bert talk with him in December, yet he pretends to know nothing. He keeps pointing back. I say to him, “Que returno? Returno aqui?” “Estaciomiento agui? “ Still he points. Meanwhile our train of 11 holds up traffic again. Finally he removes a wide section in the barbed wire and lets us in to park. He says we can stay for a few hours or turn around. I tell him two days. He looks at me and I quickly say “Yo pago.” Upon hearing of payment he readily smiles and gives his okay. Thank goodness. So, Bert moves R-Tent-III up the road, tells everyone to unhook because again it is a tight turn, and Sue, Bob, Bob, Bert and I hold traffic and watch posts so no one else gets scratches. The rigs, cars and trucks make the left turn with no incident. We let traffic pass before Bert backs R-Tent up about one block and he too makes the turn. We finally all get parked; I rest outside in the coolness of the shade but pass the offer to go into town. For a few hours, I would like just a little bit of quiet. Soon I am ready for company and walk over to a group sitting on lawn chairs engaged in Happy Hour. I join them and also enjoy their view of the lake. It does restore my soul.

Day 16 – January 27 – Temascaltepec, Distrito Federal

(Bert) Tom poses rhetorically, “I wonder what you will write about today,” acknowledging the plethora of possibilities. Bob B. retorts, “The best part was freewheeling the mountain road.” Judy S. says, “It was a wonderful day,” and comments on the beautiful mountaintop scenery, fresh air and tall pines. For Cindy, it was undoubtedly her first “lifer” of the trip. But now, fast rewind to the beginning of the day and I’ll tell it from my perspective. From Valle de Bravo, we circle Lake Avandero just after dawn and before traffic hits the streets leading to the vacation resorts. We head out of town and into the mountains. Rounding one particular curve, we are struck by the beauty of the scene ahead of us. At that moment, Tom, in the passenger seat, and I have identical thoughts: he wonders how I will describe it my journal; I ponder the same thought. Do you remember looking at paintings in museums of early American artists such as Catlin? I always look at these with a bit of nostalgia, scenes of upper New York State, or Yosemite; scenes of raw mountain cliffs and fog lilted valleys thick in deep green forests so dense you have to look hard to find the few deer the artist has slipped into the picture. I often wished to see this early American scenery, but now mostly find the best parts studded with luxury resorts, crisscrossed with smooth highways, and burgeoning with curious tourists. Not here! We reach the edge of Temascaltepec and curve left to a pullout just big enough for our three SUV’s. Here on a cliff overlooking the city we search for swifts circling in the cool morning air, but see none. Instead, we see a Myiarchus facing us so that the underside of its tail is plainly visible.  That key field mark narrows the possibilities to two species. Ken and Tom hear the flycatcher call and I adjust my iPod to the recordings of the two prospects. Both agree they heard a Nutting’s Flycatcher, the first of our trip. camera.GIF (1399 bytes)  We backtrack into the village and park near the bridge over a fast moving stream surrounded by tall trees. I announce that we should look for American Dipper from the bridge and within two minutes one is spotted. Interestingly, this species was unknown to science until Ferdinand Deppe collected it here at this river in Temascaltepec in the 1820s. This is the start of the best part of my day – the view from the bridge. The dipper is the first I’ve seen in Mexico, and with well over 600 species on my Mexico lifelist, I’m finding it harder to add to the list. The early morning sun brilliantly illuminates a red tanager in the tree beside the stream and, from the pattern on its back, I know it’s not one we’ve seen before this trip. Once everyone focuses on the bird’s features, we mark it down as a Flame-colored Tanager and then see its mate nearby. I draw attention to a yellow bird fidgeting through impenetrable foliage, but it goes into hiding before anyone else sees it. It takes me a while to recall what the bird is, but I later recognize it as Golden Vireo. Perhaps the strangest sighting of the day – and maybe the whole trip – is a Peach-faced Lovebird prettily perched in the folds of a tall tree. As lovely as its name implies, the oddity is undoubtedly someone’s pet escaped. At our next stop, Cindy finds her life bird: a White-throated Robin. In fact, we soon tally a small flock of them, first elusive and then tame. Another highlight in the same cluster of trees is a Blue Mockingbird. A recluse rarely revealed, we get several tantalizing views and I even see the black mask on the severely dark blue bird. Bob’s highlight is soon to come. We turn off the paved road onto a dirt road that winds up the mountain, stopping for lunch on a valley overlook. We continue upward, the road rough but easily manageable. Sitting in the cool shadows of tall pines, overlooking the valley below, we wait for the birds to come to us. A Crescent-chested Warbler gives us a brief view. Three times we hear the symphonic song of Brown-backed Solitaires reverberating through the canyon. The road turns tough, the ruts deeper, the climb steeper, the path narrower. Finally, we can no longer circumvent the ruts. We are squeezed so tightly that we are forced to navigate the deep furrows, many over a foot deep. I stop to ask Carl how his SUV is doing and he says, “Fine,” but I can tell by the way Sandy’s hand grips the door handle, exposing white knuckles, that she thinks otherwise. We proceed, but sometimes Tom gets out giving drivers directions about the best way of dropping a wheel into the deepest cavities. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) Driver Bob is delighted with the ride, a real test of our vehicles. Over our handheld radios, I hear the question, “How much farther to the main road?” When I finally get one hand free of gripping the steering wheel I respond, “Three point one miles.” A half mile later, when we stop again to look at birds, Bob says, “I thought you said only point one miles farther,” and is surprised when I repeat the actual mileage. Meanwhile, Judy S. is having a delightful time enjoying the scenery, unmindful of the roads. Mid afternoon high in the mountains – 7500+ ft. elevation – is slow for birding, but we keep seeing a few, particularly Painted Redstarts. We reach smoother dirt road on our descent, and before we know it we are again on a smoothly paved blacktop road, heading back to Valle de Bravo. Later as we gather around a campfire roasting hotdogs, we tell stories to the non-birders and I show them digital photos in my camera screen of the road we navigated. While we delight in our adventure, most of them are just as glad not to have traveled our road.

(Shari) Today is a weenie roast and tomorrow is a travel day. Sue and I spend all morning taking care of those issues. It does not seem like much, but it consumes our time. First I want to find out where the other campground is located. Alberto, the owner here, says it is around the bend by the church. We go around the bend but do not see a church. We pull into a hotel, and find some men to ask. They talk to each other in Spanish and say, “Si, Augustine.” Apparently the place changed names, or something. A nice young English-speaking man says it is two kilometers in the direction from which we came, turning left at the dirt road, past the church. Here is that word church again. We must be missing something. We go about one mile and sure enough there is a little church on the left next to a big school with a dirt road next to it. We drive into it and we are glad we missed it the first time. The ground looks soggy and big rigs may get stuck, although a worker says, “No problemo,” when I tell him of my concerns. I then take the opportunity to ask him driving directions for tomorrow. I am of the opinion that I have to ask the same question 10 times to be able to make an informed decision. Mexicans want to help so bad that they will tell you anything to be agreeable. For example, when I ask if we would get stuck in the lot, the worker keeps nodding yes and saying “Si, si”. Finally I look up the word “stuck” in my Spanish translator and show it to him and he quickly changes his tune to “No problemo.” Anyway back to the main story. I ask for the best road to Cuernavaca and get a different answer than the one from Alberto yesterday, although they both agree we have to go back the road we came and then towards Toluca. At least this man agrees with my book. So now I have to go back and make and print new logs and maps for all 11 rigs. That is this afternoon’s task however. Sue and I then embark to find a grocery store where I can buy hot dogs and then tortillas. It is not even a weekend and the roads are just jammed, traffic moving at a snail’s pace. It must take us 45 minutes to go 2.9 miles and then find a parking spot in a lot for pay. We buy hot dogs trying to find out what is in them. “Pavo” is turkey and “cerdo” is pork. We both think the turkey will be tasteless so point to the “cerdo”. I tell her “Quarenta y cuatro,” meaning 44. She thinks I mean 44 kilos. So I say “Cada,” meaning each. Then it is off to the tortilleria for flour tortillas. I confirm that they are flour not maize and we get a stack about 18 in. high for 18 pesos. When I get home and taste them, they are corn. Darn! Oh well. These are going to be our buns and I will just use a lot of catsup and mustard. It is close to noon when we return. I grab a quick lunch before six of us squeeze into Bob and Sue’s car. We want to check out a dude ranch that they and Karen and Van found out about the other night. Bob travels in the direction he thinks it is. After traveling way farther than we believe we should, we ask for directions and are told we passed it up. We ask again a bit later and are told it is on the other side of town. I ask to be returned home, since I do not want to go through that town again. I try to print out the logs but my printer takes 90 min. a page and 6 pages times 11 rigs will take forever, plus I have to use the copier for the maps. For the life of me I cannot figure out how to turn on Bert’s printer. After 30 min. of trying, I give up. Now this afternoon’s task turns into tonight’s task. But I get an hour to read part a book, which is enjoyable. At four, Bob, Sue and I gather the firewood and by then Bert gets home with the birders. Tables are set up, chairs gathered in a circle and the fire started. Our roasted wienies, along with all the goodies everyone brings for a side dish, makes a fantastic spread. By nightfall we are full and content.

Day 17 – January 28 – Cuernavaca, Morelos

(Shari) I remember when we got our first motor home and took off for Alaska. I was such a basket case, afraid of the steep inclines and declines. Had I known about the steep inclines and declines today, I would have been a worse basket case. I can only imagine how Judy took it, as Ken negotiated the downward twists and turns on their new big rig. Two years ago, the birding group that we took suggested that we eliminate the Acapulco leg. That meant finding a new route to Cuernavaca, our stop today. We broke the new route into two segments, yesterday to Valle de Bravo and today to Cuernavaca; two legs that we have never traversed. So this morning I am pretty stressed. I hand out new logs for today’s travel and we discuss what signs we were looking for. We follow signs first to Toluca, then Ixapan, then Taxco and then Cuernavaca. At times I wonder if we are on the right road. At other times I am pretty sure we are. Either Bert or I announce each turn on the CB and it then gets passed back to the end. We wait for confirmation from our Tailgunners, that he they have made the turn, the theory being that if he has done it, all have done it. So if the front end goes wrong, the whole train goes wrong. Talk about pressure! Wonder of wonders, no wrong turns, no mad Mexicans (that I know about) and no lost sheep, although Carl and Sandy do loose an antenna coming into the park. So, Bert would say, “See, you worried for nothing.” But then I always have to worry about something. After arriving, we have some margaritas and crackers and cheese. I do not know about anybody else, but that always takes the frayed ends off my nerves.

(Bert) In RV’s, we backtrack out of Valle de Bravo, twisting and climbing slowly to 8740 ft. and then head east to Toluca, skirting the big city but still catching much of the traffic as we now turn south toward Taxco. For at least 25 miles of this route – and two hours of drive time – we view snow-covered Nevado de Toluca, an extinct volcano peaking at 15,387 ft. and Mexico’s fourth highest mountain. As we descend to lower elevations, the mountains change shape and character. Now they are sleeping giants clothed in ragged brown burlap. Up and down, we curve around the rounded buttocks, shoulders and feet of the giants. Down one extended drop, we follow a crawling furniture truck and most of us experience coasting in first gear for the initial time. When we finally reach the Acapulco-Cuernavaca toll road, I exceed 45 mph for the first time today. The 157 mi. trip took well over seven hours, but we certainly had interesting scenery along the way, viewable whenever our eyes weren’t anxiously fixed on the road.

Day 18 – January 29 – Coajomulco and La Cima

(Bert) Coajomulco seems a bit slower for birding this morning than I recall from other trips. While we see birds, gaps are long between sightings. I’m delighted with a few of the birds, however. With a recording, we remind ourselves of the song of Colima Warbler, and soon are hearing the birds at several spots. I see a likely prospect picking through the foliage and know I’ve got Colima when I see the intense orange-yellow undertail coverts, followed by a full view of the rare bird. We get good views of several Red Warblers, White-eared Hummingbirds and take a leisurely five minutes identifying a Greater Pewee through my spotting scope. Moving to the other side of the highway brings an hour-long lull in bird activity. Just as we decide it’s time for lunch and begin an uphill climb to our cars, Ron and I encounter a mixed flock of birds: two burnt orange Tufted Flycatchers, two prowling Yellow-eyed Juncos, a yellow female Olive Warbler, a calling White-breasted Nuthatch and, best of all, Elegant Euphonia, a gaudy jewel painted orange, blue and black. We meet up with Judy R. and add a pair of Crescent-chested Warblers to the list of sightings of the past 15 minutes. Starting like a lamb, we finish like a lion. Coajomulco is high elevation birding at 8625 ft. After lunch we drive to 9900 ft. at La Cima, just over the hill from Mexico City. Our two target species are Sierra Madre and Striped sparrows. I’m not 30 seconds on to the dusty entrance road when I see both on our left. Abruptly stopping, I call to the other cars through my handheld radio, saying the Sierra Madre is on a stalk of grass and the Striped is on the stubble field just in front of it. Lifers for everyone – except me – this is a lucky find. When we get out of our cars and walk the field we see the Sierra Madre Sparrow in flight and one other also, but that is the only ones we find of this endangered and very local sparrow. The Striped Sparrow, however, is everywhere, conveniently perching on the black volcanic outcroppings. From La Cima, we move south a few miles to an open pine forest crisscrossed with harvested grain plots. Again, the birding is spotty and we get most birds just as we are about to quit for the day. Within 15 minutes we tally eleven species, including Mexican Chickadee, Black-eared Bushtit, Pygmy Nuthatch, and Pine Siskin.

(Shari) “What do you suppose this is?” I ask Sue as we peruse the aisles in the Cuernavaca Super Wal-Mart. I have picked up a can of “Cabo de Penas Berberrechos al natural” looking like chickpeas with tails. I put it into my cart saying that Bert is game for anything. Along with it, go ceviche, sushi, canned calamari, liver pate, and crackers. Now I am ready for any kind of snack. The Wal-Mart is huge, and takes us most of two hours to look slowly at the goods. While we wait for Charlu to finish her shopping, the rest of us go to the food court for lunch. Here we can choose from Mexican, Chinese, hamburgers, steaks, Subways, smoothies, and/or coffee. Karen, Sue and I have “Pastor” - a corn tortilla with chopped meat grilled up on the spot - priced at 50 cents. Back at home, I finish my load of wash, and rewrite the road log from yesterday. After a dinner of fresh pollo asada (my favorite Mexican food of grilled chicken) Umberto, the owner of the park, starts his enormous bonfire. It takes almost an hour for it to cool down enough to roast marshmallows and make our s’mores. Even then, the early “roasters” get a hot face as they try to stick their marshmallows over the hot coals without roasting themselves.

Day 19 – January 30 – Cuernavaca, Morelos

(Bert) What a contrast from yesterday! This morning, birds are everywhere in numbers and variety. Banded Quail chortling in the brushy edges of a cultivated field start our day and we soon add many more species to our trip list. Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers announce their presence loudly as do the Great Kiskadees. Although I’ve seen single Rufous-backed Robins before, today we find flocks of 6-10. Streak-backed Orioles are particularly common and we watch one through the spotting scope and take digiscope photos. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) Our birding is accompanied by Mexican music floating from the nearby village and we occasionally make way for a farmer on horseback. U.S. farms are usually sterile to wildlife, but here there is as much thorn brush as field and the division gives us a pathway and standing place to view the birds. We see both the flashy and the modest. Two drab birds are named Dusky - Hummingbird and Flycatcher – and deserve the name. A Plain-capped Starthroat has a name about has long as its 4.7-in. size, but sports a bill almost twice the length of its head. Charlu checks out the birds, but is easily sidetracked by the flowering trees and can always be found with one hand clutching a bouquet of seedpods, flowers and leaves – all samples that she will study later. I find that red-flowered tree I couldn’t identify a few days ago and suddenly recall that the locals call it Frijoles or Red Bean, but I didn’t think it was illustrated in my flowering tree book. Charlu says it is Erythrina and shows me the picture, but it looks quite different to me. So she picks a flower and unravels it to show me that it hasn’t come to full bloom yet and when it does, it will look just like the picture. When we return to the cars a few hours later, Ron tells me he saw a sparrow and his description intrigues me. So, we walk into the brush along a fencerow and soon flush the Black-chested Sparrow, a black-headed bird with a striking white mustache stripe and throat. In the afternoon, I spend over an hour and a half talking to Ground Control in California, trying to get my satellite dish connected to the Internet. We succeed in communicating to the satellite, but cannot connect for e-mail and web browsing, so the technician escalates the issue to Hughes. The day ends without a call back, so I’m still relying on Carl’s linkup to send messages.

Day 20 – January 31 – Lerma Marshes and Taxco

(Bert) With several good opportunities, the group splits on how to spend their day.
Most pursue precious metals – silver at Taxco – and four of us chase a precious bird – Black-polled Yellowthroat at Lerma Marshes. Since ours is a long trip, we leave a bit earlier and reach our first stop, Huitzilac, just as sunlight is beginning to warm the tops of the forest above 8800 ft. We again here the sweet song of a Brown-backed Solitaire, but this time Judy R. and Cindy get to see the recluse singer and I see it only in flight. I identify a Russet Nightingale-Thrush, but the others have less than convincing views. All of us see the Gray Silky-flycatchers that later combine into a flock of 30+ flying back and forth over the canopy. For Charlu, the highlight is probably the wildflowers growing in an opening near the top of the trail we walk, especially the Paintbrushes similar to her Alaska home. Then it’s off to the second part of our trip. We climb still farther and then coast down into a mountain valley to an extensive marsh at 8480 ft. Wetlands at such high altitude seem strange, yet I understand much of this countryside was that way until agriculture pressures drained the marshes and those at Almoloya del Rio are one of the few remnants. Thus the bird we seek is restricted to a very small area of Mexico. We first see Common Yellowthroat, a close look-alike, both being yellow and having black masks across the eyes. At our second stop curving around the marsh, Cindy spots our target bird. The Black-polled Yellowthroat has no gray bar separating the black mask from the yellow crown of its head and its back is a duller and darker shade of yellow. I take lots of photos, but am shooting directly into the sun so I doubt I’ve got good shots. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) In the next few hours we see up to ten of these rare birds. The marsh yields high numbers of other species, including many Soras feeding in the open, 100+ Common Moorhens, hundreds of White-faced Ibises, and large flocks of blackbirds. This last catchall – blackbirds – is a group often ignored by birders because they are so common. But this time they catch my attention when I see one that doesn’t seem to be like others I’ve seen before. We start studying the flocks both at rest in the reeds and in flight, through binoculars and spotting scopes. Eventually the puzzle comes together and we sort out the mixture of birds. We identify ten different types: males and females of Bronzed Cowbird, Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow-headed Blackbird as well as Brown-headed Cowbirds that show very subdued brown heads almost as dark as their black bodies. But the real rarity is the Bicolored Blackbirds that were the start of my interest in the flock. It’s the first time I’ve seen this subspecies of the Red-winged. Its median coverts – a patch on the wing – are orange red without a yellowish border. A successful trip in my book, I’ve found my first life bird of the trip – Black-polled Yellowthroat – and the added bonus of an unusual subspecies – Bicolored Blackbird.

(Shari) I wonder, “Is this a birding caravan?” Only three go with Bert this morning to bird, two stay home to rest, four go off on their own and eleven go with me to Taxco. Taxco, a quaint town built on hills and with extremely narrow streets, is the place to get silver in Mexico. I advise Mel and Beth to ride with someone else since I do not think their big truck will negotiate the narrow cobblestone one-way winding streets. Three cars make the trip; I ride with Bob B., Karen and Van in Bob’s car. We seem to get the last three parking places around the center square and, as soon as we get out, we have young Mexican men descend on us telling us to go here or there for the best prices and how about a tour of the church. With difficulty, we extract ourselves from their constant bantering. We all scatter in different directions, planning to meet at 12:30 for lunch. I browse the shops and find some pretty things, but decide it is all too expensive. Besides, I will just have to polish it. Judy, Karen and Sandy get some pretty necklaces though. We decide to eat lunch at a place listed in Sandy’s guidebook and it turns out to be very good. We have a nice view of the town, white buildings stacked on the hillside, much like I expect to see in Italy. The town is very crowded with loads of tourists, many of them Americans on bus tours. Before lunch, Bob gives me another present. I had mentioned that I needed some cumin and low and behold when we meet for lunch he presents me with three little baggies of the stuff. At least he says it is cumin. For those of you who know Bob, what do you think? Today is my day for presents. Bert must have been feeling a bit sheepish when Bob got me flowers the other day because he comes home with a dozen roses. Now, I could get used to all this attention. At 5:30 it is time for our potluck and even though we just had a wonderful lunch in Taxco, we manage to enjoy all the goodies spread out before us and finish with three kinds of chocolate desserts. I think Ron wishes he could have started with the chocolate but I make him do the caravan method of dishing out things, just like the rest of us. Each person stands in front of the dish they brought. Then each travels from station to station in an orderly fashion until they have completed the circuit. In that way, we all get to eat at approximately the same time, and no one finds only empty plates at the end. It is well into darkness before we all finally say goodnight.

Day 21 – February 1 – Puebla, Puebla

(Shari) “Something about a driveshaft,” I tell Bert when he asks if I understood the CB transmission. We are on a narrow windy hilly road and I have been looking for a pull off for the group to have lunch for over an hour, but to no avail. The message gets passed on again. Bob, our Tailgunner, has lost his driveshaft and the motor home is sitting in the middle of the road. I wonder where that makes him located, since he cannot be too far from the driveshaft. I doubt if a motor home goes very far without one. We relay back that we will pull off as soon as we can find a spot. Soon, a space for about seven rigs comes up on the right. We tell all who can fit to squeeze in there while we travel farther to find another spot. Another two miles or so, we come to a nice big spot for the rest of us. Bert and I get out of R-Tent-III and unhook, disconnect, reengage, etc. We are getting pretty good at this. Bert takes off down the road and I visit the business that we are blocking with our parked motor home. Neither the man nor woman behind the counter speaks English. I ask for a quesadilla. That is always a pretty safe bet. The woman disappears and meanwhile I ask for some water. The man offers me a chair and I wait. I peer around the building wondering where the woman went. There is nothing back there but a field. Soon I see her walking across the street with a plate in hand. She had to cross the busy street and walk a block to make my lunch. Now the man tells her I want some water and she has to go back. I would also like a lime, but am afraid she will have to make another trip across and down the street. I pay $1.10 and enjoy my hot crispy cheese and mushroom filled tortilla. Soon Bert comes back, we reattach the car and he says that Bob and Cindy are going to stay with Bob and Sue and that the rest of us should continue on. Bob, indeed did loose the drive shaft because the universal joint broke. Doesn’t sound good to me. The rest of us continue on, but the spring has left our step, so to speak. We miss the rest of the family and the drive is tedious crossing what seems like hundreds of topes in one small town after another. We have lonely margaritas and I voice what everyone is thinking anyway. “I sure do miss my Tailgunners,” I say. Everyone readily agrees and the talk centers on where and what they might be doing now. Bert and I are exhausted and go to bed early. “Knock, Knock.” I hear. It must be a dream I think, but it repeats. I listen some more and it repeats again. Someone is knocking at the door. Bert answers it and tells me our lost sheep are here, sort of. They are in Puebla but got lost coming into the park. Bob B. unhooked his car and drove in with it. A half hour later I hear their voices on the CB. They are close. I put on my robe and join the small welcoming party at the gate. My, those four people are a sight for sore eyes. We can hardly wait to hear their story.

(Bert) It is only 9:15 PM, but I was already asleep after a 4:30 AM start and a full day of driving. I get up in the dark, turn on a light and see who is knocking on our door. Carl tells me that Bob B. just knocked on his door to our mutual surprise. We weren’t sure when we would see the two Bob’s again. Half way through today’s trip, Bob S. had called on the CB that he was having RV trouble. Word filtered up the caravan line to us that he was stopped on the road with a broken U-joint preventing his drive shaft from turning. That’s a serious problem, not because it is hard to fix, but because it will be hard to get the part. Bob B. and Cindy stay with Bob S. and Sue while Shari and I lead the rest of the caravan to Puebla. Along the way we pass the second and third-highest mountains in Mexico, Popocatépetl (17,878 ft.) and Iztaccíhuatl (17,204). Although the snow-covered top of Popo is not visible through the clouds – or maybe it’s the smoke still belching from the active volcano – we can see the ragged top of Ixta. At our Margarita Party, Tom tells us that before the top blew off of Ixta it was probably the larger of the two peaks. I guess he should know, since he climbed both mountains in 1974. Today we’ve driven our RV’s to the highest campsite (7019 ft.) of our trip. At Happy Hour - Charlu calls it Sundowning – Tom entertains us with other stories. Carl had been telling us about birding in the Priflofs of Alaska and the thousands of Short-billed Albatrosses and many Red-billed Kittiwakes. Tom then relates a story about a friend who had a kitty that he really loved, but it died, and he had a kittywake. We groan and belly laugh at the same time. Snacks devoured, margaritas consumed – although no Strawberry Margaritas tonight since Sue is absent – we retire to our rigs, each privately wondering when the missing two rigs will reappear. Bob B.’s visit with Carl is short, as he only came by car, leaving their lost rigs somewhere on the other side of the city. Now that he has figured out how to find this hidden RV park, he returns to the others. Meanwhile a small welcoming party of caravaners gathers near the front gate. Around 10 PM we hear chatter on the CB’s and handheld radios. We open the iron gate and use flashlights and radios to guide them around the sharp turn in the dark. Hugs and stories surround the lost party and we hear that they spent most of the day chasing around the area finding a part and did not get it replaced until 6 PM. Glad to all be together again, we retire for the second time tonight.

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