Monday, April 11, 2011

Bus Mexico's Pacific Coast, East to the Gulf Coast

Playa Principal Zihuatanejo    

Bus Pacific Coast to the Gulf Coast
     Mexico's first class buses are legendary for cheap and safe travel.
     I have bused the 2300 miles of the Pacific Coast several times while looking for the fishing villages and quiet beaches where I vacation for a few weeks. I have also toured the coast by camper on Coastal Route 200, going both north and south. I find, however, that the easiest way to travel Mexico is by first class bus.
      Buses use as hubs the once wealthy colonial cities of great historic interest along the coast, cities such as Acapulco, Manzanillo, and Mazatlan. These cities were seaport towns of Colonial New Spain's Asian trade with the Philippines and the spice islands.
     If you love history you will love these port cities where the Spanish built wooden sailing ships that left from their deep water harbors as seagoing traders.   The Spanish traders continued the journey that Columbus intended when they headed west to Asia, the Phillipines, and to the Moluccas or Maluka Islands in search of exotic trade goods and spices such as nutmeg, clove, and mace.  The ships returned with cargoes of silks, jade carvings, ceramic tableware, and exotic spices destined for the castles of the Spanish Kings.
      In their success the ships attracted competition from England and the attention of pirates, often one and the same. To counter the threat, forts once guarded the harbors from pirate attack. These forts are now historic museums, the most notable, Fort San Diego a 1615 garrison that was rebuilt in 1778 on a hill that overlooks  Acapulco Harbor.
Surfing Mexico's Pacific Coast

     During a recent Pacific coast beach vacation I decided to explore another dimension of the Spanish Colonial era; I wanted to bus to the inland mining communities where gold and silver once built wealthy colonial cities during the 16th and 17th century. I had my sights on places like Guadalajara, Morelia, Aguascalientes, San Louis Potozi, Zacatecas, and the richest mining town of all, Guanajuato.
     These cities are bus hubs in Mexico's extensive bus system. The elegant old colonial cities thrived on gold and silver mining that built baroque cathedrals replete with gold leaf interior detail.  The old church buildings were taken over by the government and now are museums and ornate old mansions that house cultural centers.
     In these old cities of Renaissance-style buildings, a visit to the downtown area seems more like a visit to a walled city of Europe than a tour of the central highlands of Mexico.

     From my posada in Zihuatanejo on the Pacific Coast I poured over the Guia Roji book of road maps while I planned a bus trip east across Central Mexico.

Tzintzuntzan Ruin Site, Patzcuaro       

      For my first stop I would head towards the nearest inland city, Morelia, which I would reach after a several-day visit to Patzcuaro. I wanted to visit again the ruins of Tzintzuntzan on the shores of Lake Patzcuaro. I hated to leave Zihuatanejo however, that is one great beach town.

     Each morning during my winter visit to Zihuatanejo I would walk the fisherman's trail along the beach for exercise.  I would walk a couple of miles or even more if I went all the way to the lagoon at the end of Playa La Ropa to feed the crocodile, although he is pretty well fed from scraps tossed out by the restaurant.
     From there I would walk back up over the hill and along the beach or I might catch a micro bus back to the fisherman's beach for breakfast at a beachside restaurant beneath an umbrella. Once at the restaurant I could sit for an hour or so and drink coffee after a breakfast of eggs and toast with strawberry jam while I watched the fishermen unload their catch.

     As the fishing boats came in from pulling longines and gill nets, the fishermen would set up an impromptu market under the shading palms. They displayed their fish in front of a parade of shoppers who came in to bargain over a fillet of sailfish, a game fish called locally Pez Vela, or to haggle over a kilo of dorado, a delicious blunt headed fish know in Hawaii as Mahi-Mahi.

Playa Principal Zihuatanejo   

The chefs from the local restaurants would send their helpers to scoop baskets of whole red snapper and to strap them to the backs of motorcycles for the trip to the restaurants for the afternoon huachinango specials.  Ladies ambled off to the their tiendas with a whole dorado slung over their heads or baskets of shrimp balanced on a ring of cloth arranged on heads that seemed immobile as they walked.
     Orange baskets were piled high each morning with fish and with the tentacles of octopus sticking out and wriggling to escape as they lined the seawall and waited for the market boys to haul them off.
     Around me each day at breakfast I could hear the symphony of friendly banter. The call of the sea birds as they swooped in for a bit of fish skin tossed from the cleaning tables added the treble notes and the breeze that came whistling down the deep bay from the open ocean to rustle the palms added the bass. I had my breakfast serenade each morning and I hated to leave Zihuatanejo.

     A friendly taxi driver named Rene Brooks Morales who I had hired earlier gave me his cell number, 755-108-7043, but I didn't need it.  I met him at the zocalo by chance the day before my planned departure and I asked about bus service east. He insisted on taking me to the bus station where he went in the terminal with me to help me book a bus to Patzcuaro, a place where he once lived. He asked questions that I might not have asked.

     This trip to Patzcuaro would include two buses, he advised. He planned to make it the shortest and yet the most scenic bus trip.
     The first bus would be a Parhikuni Bus to Uruapan for 315 pesos. ($30. USD) The bus would take the high-speed road to Uruapan and from there I would catch a local bus to Patzcuaro leaving every fifteen minutes and costing 48 pesos. ($4. USD)

Olmec stone sculpture, jalapa Museum
Veracruz State, Mexico 

Patzcuaro would by my first lengthy stop on a bus trip from west to east across what is called The Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, the high country of Central Mexico.
     My last stop before heading north to the border would be the Museum of Anthropology in Jalapa, Veracruz.  There I would marvel once again at the huge stone sculptures created by the Olmec culture 3,500 years ago.
     The great stone heads sculpted by the people we now call Olmec are realistic, three-dimensional works of art carved from 20-ton blocks of volcanic stone. Viewing them would be a fine ending to my tour of the great stone cities of Mexico.
     Be it baroque cathedrals based on the work of the Renaissance built by silver barons to honor their God or Olmec sculptures created uniquely in the delta of the Coatzacoalcos River, built to honor Mexico's first emperors, I would have  an unhurried look at the stone icons of Mexico during my trip.

     A Mexico bus trip would give me time to delve into Mexico's rich history, a deep one at that; the Olmec heads go back to 1,200 BC, nearly a thousand years before the Athenians built the Parthenon.
     Buses would take me through much of Mexico's history in stone, stone  pyramids,
stone sculpture, and baroque stone cities.   I planned to see as much of it as I could while busing west to east across the high plateau of Central Mexico

Next, Bus to Patzcuaro and Zintzuntzan

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