Now that we’re outside of the Baja Peninsula, we have more roads to choose from! And we stupidly took the toll road from Mazatlán to the city of Tepic. It meant not taking the slower, free road that passes through the every town, but it also meant a two hours’ drive cost about $20.00. We found consolation in the green mountain scenery.
Tepic, the capital city of Nayarit, has been in the news lately for several “grisly murders” committed by members of drug cartels. A mass murder had occurred about a month before our arrival.
Anyway, we were only staying one night. We went downtown to see the cathedral, which was holding a mass at the time, with many people undoubtedly praying for the future of their mountain town.
More physical measures were taken by the police. About eight of them were on a huge armored vehicle which blocked an intersection just off the main square. A couple of them with semiautomatic rifles followed us down a side street as we browsed the Huichol jewelry stands. It was like having our personal bodyguards, which I liked. Then I remembered the reasons they needed to be there, and got a little spooked.
We bought some peanuts and pumpkin seeds off the street. They were still warm from the ash they had been roasted in. Then we headed back to the RV park and had a good night’s sleep in the cool weather.
The Lonely Planet mentioned a beautiful lake inside a meteorite-formed crater called Laguna de Santa María del Oro. It is just outside of Tepic, so we didn’t hesitate to try it.
It was a great recommendation. We drove some of the nearly 7 km-long perimeter of the lake, on a mostly intact cobblestone road. We saw restaurants with their patios over the lake, and smelled fish being fried. Ocassionally we heard accordions and guitars playing tender folk songs. Though it was a weekend getaway for many Mexicans, for us it was like a scene out of a very romantic past.
We parked at the El Ranchito campground and jumped off the dock into the lake! We were swimming in clear, jade water and encircled by the old crater walls, now covered with foliage.
On the second day we cycled around the lake. The road was a hilly and bumpy, but gave us great views. Plus there’s something about cobblestone roads (as opposed to dirt and, obviously, asphalt ones) that goes to my heart. I don’t know who labored so hard, but they took a lot of care laying out those lines and patterns, stone by stone!
Later on the ride, I heard a cute squawk up above us. I looked up and saw a bird bouncing from tree limb to tree limb. It had black floppy tail feathers that were over two feet long! It looked like a quetzal, but it was black and white (ornithologists?) I think I scared him away when I yelled “Oh my God look!” So, unfortunately no pictures.
For lunch Edd tried the regional specialty chicharrón de pescado, battered and fried pieces of fish with the skin included. Edd ate his whole plate but didn’t feel very good afterwards. He spent the afternoon napping.
The desire to swim in other fun places didn’t end there. There are natural springs in a few towns on the Ahuacatlán–Amatlán de Cañas Highway, and Amatlán de Cañas has hot ones. Despite the warm weather we thought we’d try it!
This highway was completely the opposite of the toll road. It was steep and twisty, and we had to stop three times to let the transmission cool down. But we weren’t the only ones with troubles. When we made it over the pass and started the winding descent, two army trucks were parked on the side of the road, and no less than 10 uniformed soldiers were scanning the steep cliffside for something. We couldn’t see who or what was down there, but their situation was probably not good.
When we made it safely to Amatlán de Cañas, we saw the hot—no, STEAMING—water, running down the side of the mountain and into a river. There’s so much of it that three balnearios, or designated swimming spots, use it to warm their various pools.
But our long journey put us there at 6pm, and Balneario Amatlán was the only place open for another hour. Their pools were warm, not hot, but still relaxing, and admission was inexpensive (40 pesos each). They also let us park outside overnight.
In the morning, Edd couldn’t resist traipsing down to the river to find a spot where the scalding spring water mixed with the cold river water. The risk was that if you went an inch in the wrong direction, it could mean serious burns. We waded very slowly and every couple of steps we reached down to touch the water. Once Edd found a happy place, he didn’t move for an hour.
We are meeting Donna and Tom (from Macon) in Puerto Vallarta this Friday, so we had to make our way back to the Pacific coast. We were going to do it on the small roads but after a shit driving day over the mountains we decided to take the easiest road out, paying tolls if we had to, and taking a detour to the town of Tequila!
From Mexican water to Mexican whiskey!