Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Ixtlahuacan Adventure According to Ferdy

Pipe Dream’s October 2009 Newsletter or Jutta’s depressed, Ferdy cheated Death one-mo Time!

Jutta and I are back with a vengeance! When you get old you start getting forgetful. I forgot how to write. After constant pestering from “you know who” I decided it was time for an update from the zany crew of Pipe Dream. In the last newsletter, 6 months ago, yikes, I told you Jutta had made another one of many attempts on my life by taking me on a pilgrimage to Talpa (31 miles, 30 hours walking through rugged mountains) looking for a virgin! I’ll try to keep this update short but as you can probably guess, our journeys are never dull. We never did find that virgin!
Jutta and I finally made it into the big money, liv’n like the idle rich, clipping coupons, light’n cigars with $100.00 bills. Yes, you guessed it? The Eagle has finally shit at my house. Jutta and I are riding the social security gravy train. I didn’t know the government wrote checks that big? We knew there was a recession on and it was time to get on the government dole while there was still some money left.
Contrary to journeys we have taken on the sailboat, we have now discovered the fun of short trips to discover places in Mexico. We also traveled back to California and Arizona for two weddings in May. Jutta’s oldest son Brandon got married in San Diego, and my nephew Matt got married in Tubac, Arizona. What a stroke of luck - both weddings within three weeks.
Jutta and I have enjoyed many one day trips and weekends in Guadalajara. Being Mexico’s second largest city it has lots to offer. There are wonderful concerts, museums, sight seeing, glorious gourmet restaurants, etc. and all about 40 miles from our home.

 For those of you reading this in Yuma that’s less than a 6-pack ride. We have traveled to many small villages in the surrounding mountains and took a 3 day trip to Morelia and places nearby with friends from Ajijic.

As you can see, Jutta won’t let me nap in the afternoon, or sit in the porch swing and watch the grass grow. We don’t have a porch swing or grass anyway! Jutta convinced me to sign up for the local gym and I’ve been abused there on a daily basis. She just recently bought a wonderful book called “Walks and Trails around Ajijic.” That should have been my first indication she was up to something again. The book is broken down into different categories: “Ajijic village walks” - admiring the beautiful homes, murals and scenery that the village has to offer. “Novice hikes” - I’m sure these are for folks in my age category who would rather hike to a cantina with a great happy hour rather than a steep hill covered with trees and brush. “Intermediate hikes” - I am sure these are wonderful cardio workouts for younger people in great condition. And then we go on to the final category. “Advanced hikes”. Most of these descriptions and I can swear to that, were originally written in the blood of past lost hiking expeditions. They just had to transfer the blood to ink to put these hikes in print.
Yes, you guessed it. Jutta started at the wrong end of the book and we were off on the advanced hiking section. We got up from our very comfortable, safe, cozy, warm bed at 6 AM and caught the early bus on the road to Guadalajara to a town called Ixtlahuacan. This is an Indian name meaning “many stupid hikers start here and die”!! Our guide book says the elevation gain is 2500 feet to the top of one of the mountains which peaks at 8000 feet. I don’t know the name of this mountain, but if I named it they would not let me print it in this newsletter.

I had to crawl under a cow fence because the gate was locked.

 It took us three hours through the most beautiful country you have ever seen to reach the peak and antenna at the 8000 foot level. We stayed for a while and marveled at the panorama of Guadalajara to the north and Lake Chapala to the south.

Still in good spirits with my good buddy and neighbor Manuel

 Blossoms at 8000 feet   

Looking north toward Ixtlahuacan, looking south toward Lake Chapala.

 We had a great picnic lunch and lots of water. It wasn’t a religious experience but for some reason I did feel like I was attending Ferdy’s last supper.

After we ate and rested we crossed to the other side of the mountain. We were anxious to hike down to Ajijic and home. The guide book said 2 ½ hours, all down hill, or so Jutta said. I’m going to read that chapter later when she is not around. Well, we couldn’t find the trail down and got thoroughly lost. We walked up and down mountains for another 8 hours. During the rainy season these mountains are densely covered with trees and brush. Unless someone has cut a path with a machete or you can find a cattle trail it’s tough to get through it. We finally arrived at the main road just before it got dark. We left at dark and arrived home at dark. Much to Jutta’s dismay I cheated death once more. I have already put together a survival kit to take next time. A liter of Tequila, 6 limes and a hammock. Who could ask for more and what could be more lifesaving?
That’s all for now. I’ll live to hike another day. All kidding aside, retirement life in Mexico is like living in paradise. Most of Mexico’s problems you hear about are on the border. Stop watching CNN! Please send your dollars to the “Help Jutta kill Ferdy in the Mountains Fund”. A dollar a day keeps Ferdy away!
Adios, from the shores of Lake Chapala
Ferdy and Jutta

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hike from Ajijic to Las Trojes

Time had come for another hike in the mountains. We had met our neighbor, Manuel, some time ago but didn't know he liked to hike. We started talking and a date was set to hike from La Cristina over the 8000 foot ridge to a little rancho, Las Trojes, on the northside of the mountain range behind Ajijic.
On September 15, 2009, the three of us started out at 7 in the morning. We each had a small pack with food and drink and Manuel sported a machete which proved to come in very handy. When he was a boy, he used to hike this trail with his father and grandfather carrying huge packs with food to last for three months to their cornpatch near Las Trojes. He told us that he hadn't walked this trail in quite a few years and hoped to find it again.
We took the bus for a few miles west to La Cristina. As soon as we got off the bus we walked through some thicket along the highway and, sure enough, there was the trail heading toward the foothills. It was just getting light and it promised to be another beautiful Ajijic day. It had rained the night before but the water tends to soak right in and the trail was only slightly damp. During the rainy season it usually only rains at night, hardly ever do we have a rainy day.

At this time of year, the hills are lush and green.

The trail took us gradually up a long ridge into the Sierra las Vigas with incredible views toward the Lake Chapala.

View across Lake Chapala toward Mt. Garcia

Manuel, our friend, neighor and guide

Ferdy on the trail

Wildflowers were everywhere, especially in the higher altitudes

Wild marigolds grow everywhere

View toward the small settlements west of Ajijic.

Wild Dahlias

A welcome repast on the ridge

Did I say earlier that it never rains during the day in the rainy season? Well, as we were hiking along the foothills, the clouds were a welcome sight because they kept the temperature cool. By the time we got close to 7000 feet, those clouds got thicker and it started to drizzle. The drizzle turned into a steady rain. Fortunately, Ferdy and I had some flimsy rain ponchos that we always keep in our pack. Poor Manuel had nothing except his hat. At least, the foliage was very thick and by pausing for a while under some of the trees we didn't get completely soaked. Finally, when we reached the ridge, we were above the clouds and the sun started to peek out. The going on the trail was fairly rough.  Now we realized why Manuel brought his machete. He had to clear the trail for us as it was quite overgrown with underbrush.

More wild flowers.

After a great picnic of cold chicken, boiled chayotes, chiles, apples, plums and lots of liquids, we started our descend on the north side of the skyline toward the valley of Las Trojes. The vegetation changes on the north side. While the south facing slopes have very dense underbrush, the north face is more open. We walked through an airy oak forest and then came through a large area that had been replanted with pine saplings.Unfortunately, a wild brush fire last year burned most of the newly planted trees.

The Rancho of Las Trojes down in the valley.

Bushes and Wild Flowers blooming everywhere.

Almost there!

On the way to the village.

Riders are a common sight in the villages of Jalisco.

We arrived in Las Trojes around three in the afternoon ready for an ice cold cerveza. Unfortunately, we forgot that in most small towns and villages, everything closes between about two and four in the afternoon for lunch. We waited for about half an hour for the bus that took us to Jocotepec on the west end of Lake Chapala. After our long-awaited cold beer at the Plaza, we boarded another bus to take us back to Ajijic. While enjoying our cerveza, we noticed the clouds over the skyline getting pitch black. We had just left Jocotepec when the sky opened up and it poured so hard that our bus driver could barely see the road.
We were extremely lucky this didn't happen while we were still in the mountains. By the time we arrived back home, we were soaked to the bones!! Another wonderful adventure.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Pilgrimage to Talpa

We met Nicholas on a February morning, a sprite man in his early seventies. He had a small welding business and we hired him to do some work for us. A few days later I ran into him and he had a cold. "Well," I said, "you had better take it easy." " No, no," he replied, "I'm walking up into the hills tomorrow morning to take my cold up there." The next time I met him I inquired about his cold. "Oh" he said, "I got rid of it. See up there?" he pointed in the direction of the 8000' high ridge behind Ajijic, "I took my cold up there and left it walking the ridge. I feel great now." I doubt if the drug companies ever made a penny of Nicholas.
We started talking about walking in the mountains and I told him how much I enjoyed hiking. So he told me all about the pilgrimage to Talpa in March.
They are called romerĂ­as or peregrinaciones, and the people who make them are peregrinos. Pilgrims of all ages, shapes and sizes come from as far away as Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Tepic, and many other places within 300 miles to pay homage to Our Lady of the Rosary of Talpa de Allende, and they come by the thousands at this time of the year.  The celebration in Talpa begins on the first Sunday in March when the pilgrims from Tecoman, Colima, walk in. Tecoman is roughly two hundred seventy highway miles from Talpa. People arrive in chartered buses, private automobiles, on horse-back and bikes. The most faithful come on foot.  They are not always the healthiest because the reason for their walk to Talpa is often to ask Our Lady of the Rosary to grant them a miracle to heal them. Walking along any highway in Mexico is a dangerous enterprise,so most use the many well-used trails that lead to Talpa.
There are no hotels or restaurants along the  route, but many enterprising ranchers use this opportunity to make the extra peso or two and provide a place to throw one's sleeping bag on the ground for a few hours of rest. About every hour of walking distance, one can find  stalls that sell coffee (usually with tons of sugar) or canela (a hot, sweet cinnamon drink that hits the spot at 3 in the morning), fruit, sodas, bottled water, beans, eggs, hand made tortillas (yum), and other Mexican staples.
However, this is not an easy stroll in the countryside. Mountains, huge boulders, rivers, sharp rocks, unfriendly dogs and bulls are a few of the obstacles one has to circumvent.
Nicholas kept talking about this yearly pilgrimage he has made ever since he was a little boy. My adventure spirit came alive and I was captivated. I talked to Ferdy about maybe joining Nicholas on this venture and he said "Are you crazy? If I want to see a virgin, I can get in the car and drive to Chapala." What a party pooper, I thought. Next time I saw Nicholas I asked about some of the particulars. He told me that he organized a bus that would take us about 100 miles to the town of Ameca. He also organized a pick-up to carry our backpacks and sleeping bags to our designated rest stops. We would arrive in Ameca at midnight and start walking carrying only a small fanny pack and a flashlight. We would walk all night, then sleep for a few hours in the early morning before tackling one of the bigger climbs, the "Espinazo del Diablo"  (Devil's Spine). The next night we would sleep under the pines at some rancho, then leave at 3AM to climb up to the Cruz de Romero and from there descend into Talpa where we would arrive around 8 in the morning. He also offered that there was always a truck somewhere that would take a weary traveler if he/she couldn't walk on.  Ferdy's ears perked up when he heard that and he consented to give the whole stupid idea a try.

Our trusty guide Nicholas.

Ferdy ready to roll

It feels good to have a fire on a chilly night.

Our bus arrived in Ameca at around midnight. Ferdy and I were the only foreigners on the bus, the rest were local people from our neighborhood. On the way, the women prayed for a safe trip and recited the rosary. Did they know something we didn't? Once we got to Ameca, Nicholas decided because we were newbies and he was getting old, we would  skip the first mountain and go on to the rancho of Estanzuelas. Ferdy breathed a sigh of relief and fell back into his worn busseat. Half an hour later we got off the bus and started walking. It was a beautiful night coinciding with a full moon. The light was so bright we didn't need our flashlights. From a distance we could see trails of blinking lights from people hiking all over the mountains. The trails were wide and with the bright moon light easy to negotiate. At about 5 in the morning, Nicholas loaded us and a bunch of other people into a pick-up and we drove to the next rancho to avoid hiking the short stretch along the highway. The temperature had dropped quite a bit and we were freezing on the back of the pick-up. Our sleeping bags were waiting for us at the rancho and it felt good to climb into them to get some warmth and a little cat nap. As the sun was peeking over the horizon, it was time to get up, get some hot beans and tortillas at a small shack, and start climbing the long, windy, and steep trail up the Devil's spine before the sun got too hot.

Early morning breakfast with hand-made tortillas. These women are up all night providing the hungry travelers with nourishment.

It's still early but it's time to tackle the next mountain.

Are we going to be there soon?

We've come a long way - you can see part of the trail on the left - but we still have a long way to climb. This scene is typical of the Jalisco mountains during the dry winter months.

On the dusty trail - but still smiling.

Young and old on the trail to Talpa.

Part of our group from Ajijic.

No problema - we can do it.

A welcome refreshment station with fresh fruit, snacks, and sodas - and a bench to sit down for a while

Finally, some well-deserved rest. We're sleeping on soft pine needles under the pine trees with a full moon shining trough the branches. What more can you want. It's Ferdy's birthday today and after a quick shot of tequila for a celebration drink, we're out.
"Fernando, Jutta, todos, levantense (get up)" Nicholas voice woke us out of a deep sleep at 3AM. Our group sleepily got up. We rolled up our belongings, put them on the waiting pick-up and started walking up another mountain to the Cruz de Romero, a large cross overlooking the valley of Talpa de Allende. The sight from the cross was awesome. All the twinkling lights of the town indicated the end of our journey. As we descended into the valley, the temperature kept dropping and it got downright cold. It was still dark when we arrived. People were walking into town from all directions. As the sun was coming up over the mountains, the town came alive. Vendors lined the streets everywhere selling anything from food, drink, pots and pans, sweets, souvenirs, T-shirts printed with a pilgrimage map, little colorful edible toys and baskets made from gum, etc.. We found a hotel room, took a well-deserved shower and headed for the next food stall for a hot bowl of pozole. We had made it!

Early Sunday morning we descend into Talpa, located in a large valley surrounded by mountains. The Plaza in front of the cathedral is mobbed with peregrinos anxious to walk into the church to see Our Lady of the Rosary.

As groups of pilgrims walk into town they buy flowers, hire a Mariachi Group and form a procession toward the cathedral

A group of proud horsemen from the mountain village of Tapalpa.

Dancers perform all day in front of the cathedral.

There is an interesting pilgrimage museum in Talpa. At the entrance of the museum, this plaque shows the distances and altitudes of the walk from Ameca to Talpa: A total of 117.32 km.

Talpa has many hotels, hostels, and rooms to let, but with all the people there, sometimes a corner on a sidewalk is the only place for a rest.

Some of the dancers sport very interesting head dresses.

More Dancers.

It was quite chilly when we arrived in Talpa on Sunday morning around 7 AM and a hot bowl of Pozole was exactly what we needed.

We spent the day sampling delicious food from the vendors, watching the dancers at the Plaza and all the people walking into town. At 4 in the afternoon our group walked into the cathedral. Nicholas had hired a Mariachi Band for all of us. They had taken the pews out of the cathedral to accommodate all the people trying to get into the church. It was quite an emotianal experience to watch many of the faithfull drop to their knees at the entrance to the church und scoot to the altar.
At eleven the next morning we all met at the bus for the drive home. But first we bought some carne asada, beans, tortillas, soft drinks for a picnic along the way. At the picnic ground we all gathered fire wood. Somebody had brought a comal - a flat metal tray - for cooking, and soon we enjoyed a fabulous lunch and reminisced about our long walk.

We arrived back in Ajijic early in the evening on Monday one adventure richer. As an added benefit we now have lots of new friends in the village who walked with us to Talpa.