Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mexico Week 1

Our first day in Mexico was spent travelling from Mission, Texas to Ciudad Victoria. We were surprised at all of the beautifully seeded fields that stretched to the horizon. I thought that the Mexicans must have ‘auto-steer’ on their tractors, as the rows were as straight as can be. One of our caravan leaders informed me though that the locals are just well-practiced farmers. Our first day also was one where we learned how a caravan works, relaying messages up and down the group of 18 rigs with our CBs, to inform each other of road conditions, traffic hazards, and travelling directions.

Our second day was a shorter day of travel, and I remember mentioning that I could picture Zorro riding through the short trees and hilly terrain. It was somewhat dry in that area, and hot weather. We camped behind a hotel near the city of Tampico, and had use of their beautiful pool and garden facilities.

Our third day was one of very long travel. We discovered in a big way that you can’t make fast time on Mexican roads. We dodged pot-holes that entire day, and also had a good working over with ‘topes’, the speed bumps that are located in every town. (One town had 13 topes!) The scenery was beautiful, as we travelled through lush orange orchards that climbed high onto the hills around. To me it was reminiscent of vineyards in Italy. Mexico’s beauty began to really take hold of us that day. And in the evening, we were installed into an RV Park along the Emerald Coast on the Gulf of Mexico. The waves of the ocean were rather violent there, so we enjoyed the pool facilities instead, especially the water slides. J We stayed at
this locatio
n for three nights of fun.

On a day-trip from the Emerald Coast, we visited the exquisite ruins of El Tajin. This site included 6 or 7 pyramids and several other buildings and facilities, such as 17 ball courts. Some of the structures of this location were only discovered within the last 20 years, and the jungle had to be removed carefully from on top of them. Our guide explained the ritual ball games that were central to this culture; these included the bi-annual human sacrifice of the winner, which was considered to be a great honor. The ‘jewel’ of El Tajin was the pyramid called the ‘Temple of the Niches’ which included niches or alcoves numbering the days of the Mexican calendar. I was very impressed.

Right beside t
he El Tajin ruins we were thrilled to see the Papantla Flyers. This is a team of men who climb up a 90-foot pole and then swing round and round the pole on ropes as they descend to the ground. The descent took about 10 minutes, and how these men remained conscious in an upside down position for that long is a mystery to me. It was quite interesting to see.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

From San Antonio, we headed south. We had a few days to spare before having to be at the southern tip of Texas, so we camped along the beach at Padre Island National Seashore. This barrier island seashore is 70 miles long, and we were delighted with the opportunity to drive on the beach (we've never done that before). Water currents in the Gulf of Mexico tend to lead right to this stretch of beach, so there are plenty of shells to find, but also a lot of sea trash as well.
We were also pleased to be allowed to collect seashells at this national park. We had fun searching the beach at every low tide, and also learned to identify several of the varieties. The Visitor Center had examples of most of the common shells, as well as 'sea beans' (any seed which floats over the oceans, including things like coconuts; these seeds can migrate all the way from Africa.) Padre Island is composed of three habitats: the beach, the grasslands, and the dunes. We saw all three of these in our explorations of the island.
We also learned that Padre Island is one of the major nesting grounds for the endangered Kemp's Ridley turtle. Unfortunately, nesting season doesn't occur until April.
We had a wonderful few days camping at Padre Island. We were in the campground about 100 metres from the beach. We noticed that some people parked their motorhomes right on the beach for camping; I guess that excitement will have to wait until next time.
For the past four days, we have been in Mission, Texas, preparing for our 6-week tour to the Yucatan area of Mexico. We got our travellers' visas and vehicle permits. And, over the past few days we have been meeting new arrivals who will be a part of our tour group. We are looking forward to an educational.

Friday, February 1, 2008

San Antonio, Texas

After completing the historic Natchez Trace Parkway, we made our way westward across Louisiana, which had much more farming activity, and into Texas. Eastern Texas was quite picturesque with large forests (and forestry) and lakes. We camped at a Corps of Engineers campground right on a dammed lake (west of a town named Jasper). As we proceeded westward, however, the land opened up into more ranching pasture land, and it was nice to see cattle again.

We camped near San Antonio for several days, but the rain and cold kept us inside. On one hot, sunny day we ventured into the city for the purpose of seeing the Alamo. The Alamo was a mission in its origins, but is better known now for the part it played in the Texas Revolution, as the birthplace of Texan Independence. The battle between the Spanish army and about 189 Texans and supporters lasted for 13 days, but in the end, all of the American defenders of the Alamo were killed. Among the famous men who died there were James Bowie (known for his Bowie knives) and Davey Crockett (the famous frontiersman from Tennessee). We saw items owned by each of these men as we went through the Alamo, but as it is considered ‘the Shrine of Texas Liberty’, we were not allowed to take photos in the building.

A few miles from the Alamo, we went to the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. We visited two of the four mission churches contained in this park. The first was Mission Concepcion. We were absolutely awed by this church. One of the aspects of this site which makes it so impressive is that the church is all original. Built in the 1750s, it still looks in great shape. I was fascinated also by the original frescoes which still adorn the inside of church. Apparently in its day, the entire fa├žade of the church was also covered with colorful frescoes; what a sight it would have been to see. As it was, it seemed to me that we were walking through old Spain.

The next site we visited was the Mission San Jose. This location had some restoration done to it, and was more extensive in that it had a large walled courtyard around the central church. The walls were built with rooms within; these housed the local natives who worked at the mission in the 1700s. The living quarters had built-in ovens and stoves which were made of clay/plaster, just as the walls were. Our experiences at the San Antonio Missions were wonderful; we only wish we would have had time to see all four of the church sites.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Natchez, Mississippi

The terminus of the Natchez Trace (ie. MP 0) is the city of Natchez. Oh, by the way, the name Natchez is pronounced like ‘matches’, only beginning with ‘n’. Natchez was one city that seems to have escaped the ravages of the Civil War, and is known for its many antebellum mansions that date back to pre-Civil War days.
We visited the home of William Johnson. Known as the ‘barber of Natchez’, William Johnson was a freed slave who became quite wealthy by owning and operating several barber shops. Historically, he handed down a 'treasure' by keeping excellent diaries, explaining different aspects of life of his day.

We also visited the mansion named Melrose. It was built 20 years before the Civil War, and still has most of its original furniture and floor-coverings. The interior is exquisite. We were amazed at the high ceilings – 14 ½ feet. It’s a must-see for anyone in southern Mississippi.

Natchez State Park, Mississippi

At Mile Post 10 on the Natchez Trace is Natchez State Park. We stayed in this campground for several days too. But the most exciting event that happened while we were there was that it snowed. The locals said that it hadn’t snowed there for seven years. We had thought that maybe during this year away we wouldn’t see any of the white stuff. The kids took advantage of it to have fun making snowmen. Elise even made snowmen depicting the entire Ritchie family.

A side-trip from Natchez State Park took us to what remains of a magnificent mansion. We arrived at the Windsor Ruins at dusk, and it added to their mysterious atmosphere. Ironically, Windsor survived the ravages of the Civil War, only to be destroyed a few years later by fire caused by a smoldering cigarette.

I enjoyed the mural of the Natchez Trace Parkway at the Visitor Center. We also thought the wildlife was exciting to see. There were lots of deer, but the animals/birds that we found most fascinating are those that we don't have at home: the armadillo, wild turkeys, and the bright red cardinal birds.