Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Exploring the mountains of Eastern Mexico

An uneventful border crossing at Laredo and then we were on our way southwards through the flat sage-bush plains of Nuevo Leon until, eventually, ranges of impressive mountains started to raise their heads over the horizon. Nestled at their feet is the bustling city of Monterey. We joined the bustle of peak hour traffic and eventually emerged on the southern side of town as the evening sun lit the spectacular ridges above the city. After a bit of confusion we found the spectacular winding road that took us steadily upwards into Parque Nacional Cumbres de Monterey. As the sun set we pulled into the little mountain village of La Cienega de Gonzales where we found a place with cabins where we were able to set up a base for the next couple of days of hiking and just relaxing into Mexico.

From there, we continued southwards following an impressive range of Mountains that extends from just south of the US border in Nuevo Leon down through Tamaulipas. Much of it is protected but virtually all is forested. Our next foray was into Reserva de la Biósphera El Cielo. We spent a night in the small town of Gómez Farías and the following morning, as I was exploring the edge of town a man harvesting nopales (edible cactus) in a field saw me watching birds and told me about a guy who lived higher in the mountains who new all of the birds and could make them come to him by whistling and squeaking. So we packed the truck and made our way up to Alta Cima where the first person we spoke to was a cousin of the guy we were looking for – which may not be surprising as it was a very small village! So the next couple of days were spent wondering around the forests with Estéban, an extraordinary bird guide who managed to find most of the species that I was looking for including the super-cute Tamaulipas Pigmy Owl. We parked the truck in his garden and ate with the family and in return for their incredible hospitality, we left them the surplus solar panel that we had from Texas. If you ever want to bird in this area I seriously recommend you go to Alta Cima and ask for Estéban the bird guy.



He also told us where we could find Military Macaws – in the main street of a little town called Jaumave, and sure enough, there they were, although apart from the birds the town had no other attractions.

Our next destination, Puente de Dios was stunning – a beautiful campsite to ourselves on the the river with a delicious swimming hole, and a nice little hike to some impressive falls where you could swim into caves under the Bridge of God by holding onto ropes and pulling yourself up against the current.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

On the road again: Texas Torment

After almost three years in Honduras I have decided that it is time to move on and resume my Pan-American journey southwards. The conservation and ecotourism project that I have been helping to develop (Montaña Santa Barbara - La Fuente de Vida) has now got to a point where it can no longer grow solely on a voluntary basis. We will be looking for external funding and if successful, my plans may change yet again but if not, South America, here I come!

So one would think that the obvious way to get to South America from Honduras is to head south but, for someone as geographically challenged as I, that would be too conventional (you can see a map of my previous attempts at Unfortunately the wear and tear of 4 years exploring the back roads from Alaska to Honduras have taken a toll on my truck, and I felt that, in order to get it fit for the next stage of the journey, I should take it back to the US where I thought (wrongly) that I would find the expert mechanics that could get me ready for the road south.

Flavia, a friend that I had made in Honduras is travelling with me. She flew to the US to visit family while I made a mad dash through Guatemala and Mexico to get to Austin, Texas as quickly as possible. We had arranged for her to meet me two weeks later thinking the truck would be ready and we would hit the road. How differently things turned out to be! Ford took almost a month to replace the rear axle after telling us it should take two to three days! Consequently we had to hire a car and stay in hotels while they screwed us around. Unfortunately they kept telling us that it would be ready next Wednesday, then next Monday, then next Thursday so we felt that we should stay around Austin, taking short trips down to the gulf coast and out to surrounding towns and state parks. Eventually it became apparent that, after ordering all the wrong parts it was going to take forever, so we jumped into the rental car and headed north to New Mexico and then to Colorado to escape the stifling 100+°F heat and stifling boredom of Texas.

I've always wondered why Texans are so proud of their state (every third person is wearing a Texas t-shirt) and, after nearly three months there I have come to realise why: it is flat – a few undulations are touted as “the Texas Hill Country” - which would pass un-noticed in any other state; only one National Parks – there are few natural or scenic features that would warrant this status; the beaches are grey with grey sloppy waves and a greasy on-shore wind that makes one wander if the gulf oil spill is still leaving its legacy; the State Parks are OK relative to the rest of Texas but most would not warrant a mention in a list of national attractions. The majority of rural towns are in a state of sad decay and the major cities are dominated by shopping malls and outlet malls on the roads between them. Austin, with its aim to “keep Austin weird” was a welcome cultural oasis in an otherwise super conservative rampant capitalist red state. Pecan Grove RV park on the south shore of the city, and the nearby Shady Grove bar and restaurant, and Barton Springs, where we went for our regular afternoon cool-off swims, saved out sanity. Thanks Austin! Fredericksburg was also a great escape, thanks to its excellent restaurants and bars and some great local music.

So why do Texans so proudly profess their identity? Methinks it's a survival strategy to avoid acknowledging just how incredibly ordinary the state is. In Texas, you begin to understand how it is that Trump came to be and also why there is such a strong anti-US sentiment abroad.

So a road trip to New Mexico and Colorado was our survival strategy to avoid going completely mad. A couple of days were spent in Las Cruces where we hiked in Organ Mountains park and had an evening supper under the most spectacular stormy sky with a backdrop of jagged mountains lit by the setting sun.

In Albuquerque we took to the mountains of Cibola National Forest as well as scrambling over the dunes of the White Sands National Monument.

In Colorado, we hung out with Flavia's brother in Boulder, drinking great beers and eating delicious food in cool bars, cafes and restaurants between exploring the surrounding mountains. It's amazing how a state border crossing can transfer you into another world – sophisticated people with a culture that is not based on cash alone. What a relief to be out of Texas!

Finally got the word that the truck was ready, so returned to Austin to pick it up – a month to put a Ford axle in a Ford truck – crazy. But they had all sorts of reasons why this was reasonable and why we should take the loss on hotels and car hire rather than them. At the end of the day they are just little workers trapped in the machine, and if looking after a client means taking a loss for the company, then they are not going to do it – because they will probably loose their job!

But the drama was not over – we still had a fridge problem that needed addressing, and while it was being worked on at Camping World, someone stole our solar panel. Again, not their problem, even though I stacked our gear where they told us to. More little people trapped in the machine. Everyone is incredibly nice until something goes wrong, in which case the customer comes last. Ah Texas!

Bought a new solar panel and then got a phone call from Camping World 3 days later telling us that they had “found” the solar panel in a trash dumpster, so I now have a spare, even though I don't really have room in the truck to store it.

So finally, with everything sorted, we hit the road, and made our way to the Mexican border. Whilst North Americans are all terrified of Mexico, I find the US much scarier and, frankly, I couldn't wait to be out of there.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

And another year passes in Honduras

I´m afraid I have been very remiss with my posts  - it seems that when you stop travelling, the amazing things that you see everyday become the norm (though no less amazing for that) and the inclination to document everything diminishes. Needless to say, my love affair with Honduras continues and it seems I will be here for a while, so instead of writing about the past months, I'll let the photos do the talking.

My house by the shores of Lago Yojoa

...with the view from my front verandah...

...and the adjoining garden of El Cortigo
Lots of roomto stay here if you choose to visit...which you should!!

And the birding is among the best in central America. My list for Honduras after one year was greater than my total life list for Australia!

And can you believe that after a year here, I still hadn't got to the islands. Well, I finally remedied that with trips to Cayos Cachinons ......

Breakfast on our private island

...and to Guanaja...

Hummingbird with good taste
And their is always something interesting to see in the forests...

And no shortage of good company!

Celebrating yet another birthday with great friends!