<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Postcards Library 17
Little Log


Stephanie is one of those persons who can fit a lot of words onto a standard size postcard -- usually by writing sideways, around corners, and even upside down if she can find some extra space. Most of these go to family and friends. But some of them -- those which document our RV adventures -- find their way onto this portion of our website...


Postcard: Caravan to Mexico

January 8, 2000

Today we started our Mexico Caravan. We actually arrived at our designated campground in Nogales yesterday afternoon, and were given a very thorough check-out by our Wagonmaster and Tailgunner. The former, Arnie Bish, will be our leader. His rig will be first in line as we head out on the roads each day. He, or his wife Jan, will radio back instructions -- "turn left at the next intersection" or give advice, " topes (bumps) ahead". Larry Chuippi and his wife, Nancy Raimondi will be the" tailgunners", the last ones in the line. They will be there to assist anyone who needs anything -- from finding gas stations to fixing flat tires. Hopefully, we will not need their services. Each rig has been "stickered" with yellow Adventure Caravan stickers, and numbered. We are number 8. Each has a CB radio -- if we want to talk to either the Wagonmaster or another rig, we are to start the conversation by stating our number.

Our checkout consisted of much more than this sort of checkout, however. We learned, on this first afternoon, just what we will need, document-wise, to cross into Mexico. In semi-neat piles, I laid out our vehicle registration and title documents, our passports, drivers licenses, voter's registration cards and copies of all these. We will see tomorrow what we will actually need. There are 17 rigs, in addition to the 2 leaders, so the border crossing will probably take some time.

And this cold Nogales morning, our caravan spent the better part of 2 hours waiting in lines to get these documents processed. Once we got into the first door, where we presented our tourist cards for verification and stamping, things progressed quite smoothly. But in addition to our caravan, there were two others, so waiting was the order of the day.

About 10 am, we were off to Guaymas -- following our Wagonmaster like a string of baby ducks their mother. This day was 260 miles, a long way with such a late start. Most of us made it without problem, but numbers 2 and 14 had to return to the Nogales checkpoint to get their documentation redone. Since he had to stay with them, we lost our tailgunner right away. The rest of us drove slowly, waiting for them to catch up, which they did in about an hour. Then #2 developed car trouble. This time, it would take until dark before our caravan was whole again.

Even on this first day I noticed a growing camaradarie in our group. Several folks from Wisconsin had known each other before this trip, and had planned to caravan together, but most started as total strangers. You certainly wouldn't have known that from the rousing welcome we all gave our missing Tailgunner and his particular group of baby ducks!

We stayed this first night at the RV park attached to the Playa Cortes Hotel. This is a lovely Mexican hotel right on the water. We walked out to the water's edge and watched the Brown Pelicans and Forster's terns dive for fish. I saw American Oystercatchers, myriad Western Gulls and filled my yen for a little birdwatching.

Our first day ended with dinner at the hotel, and the passing of the sheriff's badge. I'm sure that every tour leader wants its members to wear their badges at all times; they will get to know each other's names, and can better be "counted" by the Wagonmaster. Adventure Caravans accomplishes this in an interesting way. If you are caught without your badge, you are fined 2 pesos, and must wear a sheriff's badge on a cord around your neck. You can only get rid of this by finding someone else without his or her badge. So far, everyone is being a very good sport about this, and we are collecting pesos for an ice cream party in Mazatlan.

It was a long day's drive and everyone turned in early. Tomorrow will bring us to the colonial town of Alamos, and the day after that we will be in El Fuerte, gateway to the Copper Canyon.

Postcard: Train to the Copper Canyon

January 11, 2000

The Copper Canyon. Nearly four times as large as the Grand Canyon, and 280 feet deeper. Home to the Tarahumara Indians, those mysterious people who prefer to live in solitude, and whose culture remains very much the way it was at the time of the Conquistadores. I have long wanted to see and explore it, but I was a bit apprehensive about just going there alone. In fact, going to Copper Canyon with a group is one of the reasons we chose this particular Adventure Caravan.

We had camped on the grounds of a motel in El Fuerte, some 82 kilometers from Los Mochis. This meant we were going to get to sleep in. No 4 am wakeup for a 5 am train departure for us. We didn't have to leave until 7:15. Even so, we were up and making coffee by 6:15, anxious for the beginning of our Copper Canyon adventure. At 7:15 our bus arrived (no RV travel today), to take us to the train station. Here we were met by our guide for the next 2 days, Bill Wallace, who described our trip. We would have a private car, with lounge and observation platform.

Perhaps it wasn't the fanciest of rail cars. Perhaps it was even a bit odd looking. Bill has taken a regular rail car, and cut off the last 1/3 -- right down to about 2 1/2 feet from the floor. This floor is covered with several layers of concrete. Along the sides of the car are a dozen or so mismatched observation chairs right out of the 1950s. It is very Mexican. It was the only place to be as we climbed into Copper Canyon.

The morning was cool, but the sun warmed us rapidly, and the observation car became more and more crowded. The train track is narrow, and every so often if you look down, you really look down -- several hundred feet. . The track clings to the hillside. Where it cannot cling, it crosses ravines on narrow bridges, or goes straight through the mountains -- we would go through 68 tunnels, each way, on our trip. Occasionally we could look down and see a relic of a train car that didn't make a turn or get across a bridge, adding an extra shiver to the voyage.

For the first few kilometers, we passed through a jungle. Massed trees and cacti, lots of dry grass, and vines covering everything. The relentless green was broken by occasional splashes of tropical color, trees with vibrant purple blossoms, yellows trumpet vines and the brilliant white of the kapok tree. The cliffs became progressively steeper. Usually brush covered, occasionally bare cliff faces jutted out of the green. On the shady side of the tracks, these rock faces were lichen covered, on the sunny side, cacti grow. My head was on a swivel, trying to look everywhere at once.

Every so often, as the train rounded a bend, I saw people along the tracks. No roads, no houses, no fields and no crops, just people. Curious as to how they got to this remote area, I learned that they are railroad workers, who are dropped off from the train to maintain the line. And soon we came to the first of several small box-car towns, where old box cars have been turned into housing for the workers. In one of these areas, the train tracks loop back on themselves in such a way that you can see three levels of track and three views of town, all at one time.

At Cuiteco, I got my first view of the Tarahumara Indians. At the station, 6 women came out to stand by the train and offer baskets for sale. All were dressed in colorful blouses and skirts and each had a shawl on her head. Their baskets were intricately woven in the browns, greens and pale colors of the grasses from which they are made. The women held out the baskets for us to see. Not a one of them uttered a sound. What a difference from the vendors I have encountered elsewhere in Mexico.

Tonight, I am sitting on the balcony outside our room at the Posada Barancas Hotel, overlooking the Copper Canyon. I look down on mesquite and pinyon clad ridges, with the steep walls of the canyon in the distance. Bare rock extrusions form fanciful pillars and spires. Below me, and a bit to one side are some Tarahumara homes. I can see the clothes hanging on a line between two trees. The bells of a tethered donkey sound down the canyons. The hotel is most attractive -- a washed orange stucco building which just matches the surrounding rocks. And the view just won't quit. As the sun sets, each minute shows off its own special glory. Each room has tile floors and there are natural wood railings on the balconies. Shortly, our group will meet for a Margerita before dinner. An incredible finish to a fabulous day.

Postcard: "F" Stands for Flexible

January 13, 2000

At the very first meeting on the very first day of our caravan, our Wagonmaster told us, "you are going to Mexico. It may be that everything doesn't go quite as planned. Remember, the "F word" -- and always be "Flexible". What a prophet he turned out to be. For example, one day at the Copper Canyon...

The more I see of the Copper Canyon area, the more differences I notice between it and our own Grand Canyon, to which it is often compared. What we generically refer to as "Copper Canyon" is much more than just a series of canyons. It encompasses thousands of miles of mountains, pasturelands and ridges. Binoculars will show you small, and extremely rustic homes, each separated from another by miles of rough terrain. You see a maze of footpaths running across improbably steep slopes. The only way the Tarahumara can get from one farm to another, or from their homes to the nearest communit,y is by walking (most do not have horses). As a consequence, they are wonderful walkers and world class runners. One of their games involves running for miles through the mountains kicking a ball ( men) or throwing a twisted horsehair ring (women). It is still a very remote area; though the number of tourists is increasing, they still are few. The only way in from the west is by train. The result is an unspoiled, quiet area where, if you look at the stars at night, you will not see the lights of a single airplane.

We spent last night in Creel, Chichuacha. Creel is a small town with several hotels, restaurants and artisan shops. Several shops sell the colorful cloth from which the Tarahumara make their blouses and skirts. These bolts are displayed outside the stores. We learned that the women dislike entering the stores, but will buy from the shopkeepers when the deal can be made outside. The local museum depicts the lives of these Indians, their history and some of their customs. Interestingly, one placard states that, although anthropologists have been studying these people for over 400 years, there is still a lot they do not know about them!

For this morning, the caravan had planned a tour to the caves homes of the Tarahumara, a walk around the Mushroom Rocks, and a visit to the Mission and its attached School. But fate had a different plan. For starters, a railroad freight car had derailed on stretch of rail between us and our rigs in El Fuerte. We were assured that this would probably not be a problem, but we did notice our leaders seemed a bit more concerned than they let on. There was a three train backup at Creel, and not one of the trains looked the slightest bit ready to roll. The station platform was full of persons waiting for the trains. Everyone was flexible; no one seemed the slightest bit upset at the delay, knowing that, eventually, the trains would run again.

So off we went to our first stop -- the cave homes. The Indians here have actually turned many of the caves honeycombing this area into dwelling places, partitioning them into rooms -- living, bed or kitchen. A good idea, as it gets extremely hot here in the summer, and the caves remain cool. The road to this area is extremely bumpy and eroded; with bus swallowing ruts on either side. 4 wheel drive would have been useful. But driver Roberto had driven this track many times, and though it often looked as if we would slide into one or another of the ruts, never to be seen again, we arrived safely. As always, we were greeted by the silent women displaying their baskets for sale. We have seen these women in the train stations, on the steps of the hotels, and at virtually every stop we have made along the way. The Indians seem to know our itinerary better than we do, and can display their wares in one place, and then beat us to the next stop -- same woman, same wares.

Our next stop was to be the Mushroom Rock area. But something had gone wrong with our bus. It would not run. The men tried to push it up a short hill so it could be started by compression, and this nearly resulted in running it off the edge of a cliff! Eventually, it was decided that the bus would need the services of a mechanic, and our driver was dispatched back to the Hotel to get another bus. Which he did, and we started off again on a shortened version of our tour. We drove non-stop through the Mushroom Rock area, disappointing the women who came running out with baskets, visited the Mission, and headed back to see if/when our train would be arriving.

To placate any frayed nerves, Wagonmaster Arnie proposed a game. We each put 5 pesos in a pot, and everyone guessed the time that the train would arrive at the station. Low and behold, the train came in within 10 minutes of its appointed time, left on time and arrived back at the station in El Fuerte early! We all had fun, got some good (and funny) pictures, and had a lesson in Flexibility!!

Postcard: In Pursuit of Pan: Grocery shopping in Mexico

January 16, 2000

On this trip, we have had the opportunity to go grocery shopping three times. We've visited small stores and the largest of "Mercados" (markets). The smallest store was in El Fuerte a small colonial town en route to the Copper Canyon area. We had run out of "pan" (bread) , a very lucky thing to happen in Mexico -- their bread is simply delicious, and we were glad to get the opportunity to go shopping. We had a couple of free hours, so we drove into town. On the way we stopped at the Hotel Posada Mirada -- just to look around. We entered from the street level, into a tiled hallway decorated with murals. We climbed up the stairs to the reception desk. Just behind the desk, we looked out into the first of a series of gardens, gardens of greenery, with brilliant blooms of hibiscus and bougainvillea scattered throughout. Neat stone paths ran through the gardens, and guest rooms were situated all around them. Another series of steps brought us to the restaurant and pool level. Here was another garden and more rooms. We didn't learn the history of this building -- but it was clearly old. And, happily, beautifully preserved. This was truly "Old Mexico" at its finest.

Leaving the hotel, we found a parking place near a corner store and asked the proprietor for the nearest panaderia. With many gestures and pointing of fingers, he told us to go to "la esquina", (the corner), and turn "izquierda" (left). In the middle of the block, we would find our panaderia. We found lots of stores, selling everything from "fruta" (fruit) to "zapatos" (shoes) -- but no no sign of a panaderia.

Next we passed a mother with small son dressed in a superman costume. She directed us to the "Super Mercado" (supermarket). Surely here we would find a panaderia. No, we wouldn't. And that particular market was a tad shy of "super".

By this time we had described a square, and were back at the original store. Now we got a different set of instructions. We were to go in the opposite direction -- "una quadra" (one block), turn "derecho" (right) and "tres" (three) "casas"(houses) down on the opposite side of the street. Such is the power of Mexican bread that we decided to give it one more chance. We turned the corner and saw -- nothing. Casas there were, but no panaderia signs. At this moment, a little old woman tapped Tom on the arm. "Pan?", she asked. "Pan", we said. She pointed down the street on the other side, and we noticed some people going into one of the casas there.

We had indeed found our panaderia. A woman was selling all sorts of pan -- sweet rolls, doughnuts, bread loaves and "teleros" (small flat rolls) from the entry hall of her home. Behind her we could see her living room, complete with family pictures on the tables. The kitchen was just behind the living room and was filled with bread making equipment. Down the hall a small boy was riding a tricycle. The aroma of fresh bread was everywhere. We took a tray and some tongs, filled our tray with all ther pan we wanted, and paid the woman. The reward of wonderfully delicious pan was worth the search!

The large LEY store in Guasave was completely different. LEY is a Mexican chain, resembling a Wal Mart, where you can buy everything from clothing to toothbrushes. There is a book section (everything in Spanish, of course, so I didn't spend too much time there). The meat department is only a bit different from what you would find in the States, with plastic wrapped meats and poultry. The vegetable selection features more tomatillos and jalapeno peppers than at home, but you can buy lettuce, cucumbers and onions as well.

Again we were pursuing pan. In this store, we again took a tray and filled it with whatever pastry we wanted, choosing among "bollilos", small oblong rolls, teleros, doughnuts and cookies. This time the checker merely weighed the bread and we paid upon leaving. We had a cute young carryout boy, Arturo, age 13. His only wages were tips he gets from carrying groceries, so we were sure to give him a couple of pesos.

We explored the third type of market in the large city of Mazatlan. The Municipal Market has not changed in the almost 30 years since we were last here. Located in the heart of the city, it covers a full block. Around the edges of the Market itself are small shops and stalls, where you can buy T-shirts, zapatos, and all sorts of clothing. Some stalls sell books, new or used. Others feature silver jewelry. As we walked between the stalls, vendors came out to tell us that their products were the best and the most authentic, and that we certainly would not find a better deal anywhere in the Market.

Inside the ring of stalls is the Market itself. It is divided into sections, meats in one place, fish and produce in others. In each section there may be ten or more vendors all selling the very same type of product. This is the place where you choose the vendor from which you will buy a pig's head or chicken feet. Several butchers were at work -- with whole skinned cows draped across their counters, they were busily cutting off cuts of beef. The fish section also has multiple vendors to choose from, and the fish seemed quite fresh. And everywhere -- noise. Everyone is talking (or shouting) to one another, and many boom-boxes contribute to the din.

We didn't buy from the Market; we were unsure of what exactly it is we would be buying. Also, our group was taking a tour of the City, and we didn't relish the idea of spending the day with a bag full of fish and no way of getting it home. But the Municipal Market is one of the "must visit" places in Mazatlan for a real feel of grocery shopping on the largest of scales.

The pursuit of pan took us from the smallest of shops to huge, colorful Market places. It offered an interesting look at grocery shopping in small towns and large cities. We were able to sample a bit of each, and the pan is surely worth the trip.

Postcard: Caravan Farewell

January 23, 2000

Last night we arrived at El Mirador RV Park in San Carlos, a resort town just north of Guaymas. This will be a two night stay -- and our last caravan stop. From here, it is a scant 270 miles to the USA. The park is very nice -- even by US standards -- with wide, spacious sites, a nice pool and hot tub. Attached to the office is a restaurant which serves excellent dinners. Wasn't it unfortunate I had totally run out of food just before we got here!

Now it's time to say goodbye to our brand new, but by now very good friends. Time to say goodbye to taciturn Jerry, who changed his personality whenever he put on his new broadbrimmed straw hat with the flashy Mazatlan hatband. To Fred, whose dry wit and caustic comments on CB channel 12 livened up some very long driving days. To Charlotte, the 83 year old traveling with her daughter and son in law. Charlotte, known to all as "Granny" did a wonderful job of being our permanent "Sheriff", inventing the most ingenious "crimes", for which we had to put pesos in the pot. She raised enough pesos for dinner as well as ice cream and cake . To #14, Earl and Carol, who maintained (mostly) unflagging good spirits through a series of mechanical disasters which would have driven most of us crazy. These included, but were not limited to, 2 blown tires, losing their battery compartment on the road, followed within hours by their hydraulic jack and sewer hose! To Bill and his political discussions. We didn't agree, but had argument-free conversations. To Trucker John and his souped up CB radio who helped keep the caravan in touch when we got separated. To Vicki and Phil Edwards, uncannily similar to us in interests and hobbies.

It has been an intense 16 days. None of the legs of our journey has been particularly long, mile-wise, but the Mexican roads are narrow and bumpy. The trucks and busses passing us have often been inclined to carve their half of the road right out of the middle. On occasion, they have seemed a bit annoyed at having to pass 18 rigs -- even though we were spaced so they needed to pass only one rig at a time. And we have learned one trick of driving here: If you are in a city or a town and turn on your left turn indicator, it means you intend to turn in that direction. If you put it on on a highway, it means that it is safe to pass on the left!

In this 16 days, we have traveled small towns and large cities. We have explored the mountains of the Copper Canyon region and the beaches of Guaymas, Las Glorias, Mazatlan and San Carlos. There has been a lot to see and to do and not quite enough time in which to see or do it. We have learned to be "flexible"; and more, to laugh at ourselves and our difficulties. It has been a rich experience.

The first question we are asked about caravaning is always. "Would you do it again?". Right now, we're uncertain. First we'll take some time out for the three Rs -- relaxation, reflection and rememberance. Maybe then we'll know...

On our final night in San Carlos, we attended a farewell dinner. At the Wagonmaster's request, Tom read a poem written by a caravaner from a prior trip. Little did he know that we often do poems of our own -- so we conjured one up to describe our own experiences and read that one too. It says it all...


That poem was funny -- it really was great
But 'twas written way back in the Year '98
It describes others' travels in all of their glory
So let's make it more current, with "the rest of the story"

We've had our adventures, only partly the same
And our grupo was different -- and so was our game
Let's not dwell on the memories from caravans past
Instead let's tell our tales -- the truth now at last!

We'll start with Day One, when we traveled in order
One freezing cold morning, 'cross that Mexican border
We thought we were ready, to go on as a pack
But two in our caravan had to go back

We drove and we drove, that very long day
Until we'd made work from what might have been play
At long last came Guaymas -- and there's much there to see
But the day had expired and no time was free

We visited places RVers don't go
Like the park in El Fuerte -- where we didn't know
Until 'twas too late that part of the deal
Was that we would become those hungry bugs' meal!

Still more surprises for us were in store
On our trip to the Canyon we found yet one more:
The "luxury train car" we soon would opine
Would turn out to be of Rube Goldberg design

And the bus we would have would be absolute tops…
Quite true when it's running -- but not when it stops
The lesson we learned, as Roberto had taught us:
You must push it to start it -- that Mexican bus

It seems we were driving for most of these days
And each place that we stopped was for very short stays
Our travels weren't rapid, our speeds were not fast
The rest stops were frequent -- still, we'd get there at last

'Twas a trip where new friendships were bound to be made
We became quite a "grupo", as we toasted and played
And as good luck would have it, we all can relate
To a special sub-grupo from the dairyland state

Now Arnie and Jan are quite good at games
They thought up this scheme to make us wear names
One worked out so well it was almost uncanny
With a permanent Sheriff that we all know as "Granny"

We also were blessed with a Tailgunner crew
Keeping all the rigs running, both old ones and new
But it took several days understanding with ease
'Cause both of them speak only New Hampshire-ese

To the Master of Wagons, and Tailgunner too
We'll have to admit -- we're a handful for you!
We've teased you a bit, but we'd never trade
For the places we've been, and the friendships we've made

And at long last we know, why your Company came
To be called what it is -- an appropriate name
Whe'r by chance or design, by choice or by plan
'Cause you sure add "ADVENTURE" to the word "CARAVAN"!

Tom & Stephanie
January, 2000