Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween in Creel

Halloween is upon us. It's very interesting, here in Creel, instead of saying "trick or treat," or the Spanish equivalent, the kids say "Halloween." Also, it looks like they primarily go into stores and restaurants instead of people's homes. Anyway, today was a very busy day for us. Being the adventurers that we are we decided to go out on our own in the valleys around Creel. There are some magnificent rock formations in these valleys, the valley of the frogs, valley of the mushrooms and valley of the monks. Our map was somewhat less than completely accurate and we got off track a few miles in. Luckily we found some locals who showed us where we could cut across a farm. Here we saw some cows going out to pasture and got barked at by some very aggressive dogs. We basically asked for directions from every local we came across, which was very helpful as there were no other tourists doing the walk and no signs. In addition to seeing the valleys, we visited Mission San Ignacio, built over 300 years ago. This area is inhabited by an indigenous group, the Tarahumara, also known as pies ligeros(light feet) because they run long distances. Speaking of going long distances, we walked about twelve miles and finally arrived at Lake Arereco. The lake was practically empty, it's the low season for tourism and the scene was very picturesque. After resting for a bit, we decided to walk up the highway to get back to the city. We didn't realize how tired we were and after a mile or two we flagged down some locals and hopped into the back of their pickup truck. They were heading into the city to get gas so we thanked them and I gave the driver ten pesos, for which he seemed really surprised. We came back to our hotel for a quick siesta and then went into the downtown area for a burrito and a quesadilla along with two "Esprites." The city is overrun with kids out trick or treating, can't wait to see what tomorrow is like for Día de Los Muertos.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Greetings from Creel! After writing our last blog post Sarah and I decided to spend some time at the local bar. It's amazing how friendly and interested the locals are. It doesn't hurt that Sarah is a pretty girl with a bald head :-). We had another lost in translation type moment where I interpreted the bartender as saying they were out of beer and then watching him give beer to everybody else. I figured out my mistake pretty quickly. We had un Indio, which comes in a 40 ozs style bottle. We met many people, a girl named Carla who had actually lived in Denver for a few years, and a young man named Huberto who said to let him know if anybody gave us trouble, yet he assured me we were not in a "barrio peligroso." The man sitting next to me, Alejandro, regaled me with the wonders of the landscapes that can be seen on El Chepe, the train that goes from Chihuahua city to Los Mochis on the coast of Sinaloa. We had originally planned to take a bus from Chihuahua to Mazatlán, but we decided based on his advice, that we should take the train instead. Sarah met a couple from Veracruz, they seemed to have an endless thirst for tequila...and were going to a "monster fiesta" later that night. Despite it being a monster party, we were tired and decided to call it a night.
The next morning we decided to go to Grutas de Nombre de Dios, or the Grottoes of the name of God. Getting there was quite an adventure. We took a bus, which we thought would take us there, but apparently the Grutas are in a neighborhood called Nombre de Dios which is quite large. After we had driven for a while, passing schools, and a lot of industry, I asked the student sitting in front of us where we should get off to go to the Grutas. He gave us a quizzical look and said that we could walk but it's very far east. So we yelled "baja" as is typical to make the bus stop and started heading east. After walking for about an hour and a half, asking several people for directions, and possibly going in a circle, we stopped at a local Inn and asked the concierge for help. Turns out the concierge used to work in Woodland Hills. He explained to us that we could walk to the Grutas, but it was at least 7 or 8 kilometers, so we took a quick taxi. The Grutas were really spectacular. Inside the caves it is very humid, and all the rock formations have funny names like Eagle, or Tyrannosaurus Rex. Originally they had found silver, but it turns out there wasn't very much. After exploring the caves and going up and down hill underground for a while, we decided it was time to relax, but it turns out that really the only way to get back to the downtown area of Chihuahua is by car. Our tour guide was nice enough to offer to take us back to town in his truck, and wouldn't accept any gas money. Very nice employees, and the tour of the Grutas is definitely worth it, just be sure to review some Spanish as the tour is not offered in English. We had a very economical lunch which consisted of a dozen tacos for about three dollars at Taqueria Anita, delicious! Also a guitarist came by and played Sarah's favorite mariachi song (using the word favorite rather lightly). We took a quick siesta at the hotel and then headed back to downtown to catch a ride on the Trolley Turistico.
Althouh the Trolley was 100 pesos per person, which seemed a little steep given our budget, it was a lot of fun. The driver/tour guide obviously had a lot of pride in Chihuahua, and was very knowledgeable. We got to see the house where Pancho Villa lived with his second of 25 wives, as well as many colonial, and 19th century buildings. In addition, they even had the car that Pancho Villa was assassinated in, a specially made Dodge from the early twentieth century. The tour guide also gave us some info about the train we took today, El Chepe.
El Chepe runs through the Sierras from Chihuahua to Los Mochis. The paisajes(landscapes) are really beautiful with the tres, mountains and the Copper Canyon, allegedly bigger than he Grand Canyon. El Chepe leaves at six every morning and so we got up early and grabbed a cab, in our haste I had forgotten to get small change from the hotel, and when we arrived at the train station, the cabbie was not pleased when I tried to give him 200 pesos for a 50 peso fare. Since it was Sunday, banks were closed, eventually we settled on ten American dollars, or roughly 125 pesos, so I guess he got a pretty good tip for my early morning forgetfulness. Finally we walk into the train station, only to find that the taquila(ticket window) is closed on Sunday! After speaking with the conductor, he said that we can buy tickets on board, but we must pay in cash. I explained our situation, how we had planned to pay with credit card, didn't have thousands of pesos in our pockets, he called over one of the military police and had him escort us into another locked building that had an ATM. Luckily we asked the soldier how much the fare was as he informed us that on Sundays only the primers class is available and it's twice as much as we had expected, oops. The ATM worked and we finally got on our way.
On the bus the conductor recommended that we stay at Plaza Margarita in Creel. We arrived to find that rooms there were about 700 pesos/Night. After some discussion they explained that there is another branch of the hotel with slightly less amenities and we were able to negotiate the price down to 200 pesos/night. On the bus we met a Frenchman, Bruno, doing a round the world tour. He said that he was in a few cities in the states, and has come to Mexico a few days ago and knew no English or Spanish before his trip. We tried to help him as he too was about to spent 700 pesos/night. So here we are, relaxing after a glorious train ride, it appears that the first class ride really caters to wealthy Mexicans, and there are many resturants here in Creel that do the same. We have been approached several times to go on tours and the prices seem a bit outrageous, so we will have to do some negotiating. Also, there is a holiday going on, a celebration for Cristo Rey, we will have to check out the festivities tonight. The internet is extremely slow here, so we may not be able to post pictures, but check Facebook just in case.

Friday, October 28, 2011


We arrived yesterday in Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico. After a lengthy bus voyage we have both decided that bus travel was definitely the right choice. After a slight delay at the border due to a drug sniffing dog having a lot of fun with an orange t-shirt, we passed into the Estados Unidos de Mexico. Once in Mexico we were able to stop on the way to Chihuahua at Villa Ahumada, a small town famous for its cheese and rumored to be the birthplace of the burrito. Obviously we ate a burrito and a quesadilla, both of which were quite Delicioso. Also, in Mexico various vendors take the liberty of boarding the bus briefly to sell their items, we were offered a variety of things ranging from pumpkin candy to homemade potato chips, or papas caseras. We shared a large container of papas caseras con todo which came with a few sauces poured on, as well as a lime. Due to our delay at the border, we arrived at the bus station at about 5PM. While we were wandering around the bus station, which is quite a distance outside of the city, a friendly local saw our obvious confusion and offered some advice (which we ignored, but he was still helpful). There are numerous people in this area who have lived or worked in America due to its proximity and many people speak a little English, regardless, everyone we have asked for help has been very friendly. Back to our situation in the bus station, we decided to get on an urbano, or city bus, of which there are many that basically drive around in circles around the city. This one dropped us off at the Catedral de Chihuahua which is about five blocks from our hotel. Unfortunately my trusty compass failed me, and we walked five blocks in the wrong direction before asking a friendly young man carrying a machine gun (Policia) for directions, he told us that it was ten blocks in the other direction, so we got a nice tour of the town square on the way. We checked into our room at Hotel San Juan, for which we had no reservation, and the room, although basic, is much more than you could expect for about $12 US (150 pesos).

Our adventure really began after we checked in. We decided to walk around the town square and outside of the Catedral there was a military band playing, at this point we aren´t sure if that´s a nightly occurrence for lowering the flag, or if that was a one time thing. We wandered over to the local TelCel shop and purchased our SIM card, here called an AmigoChip. We also partook of some local fare, some gorditas de nata which were a sweet bread, but not too sugary. It looks like corn dogs are very popular, however we have not yet partaken. Getting the phone registered later last night was quite an ordeal, it would appear that Sra. Rodriguez left me woefully unprepared for actual communication in Spanish as after five or six frustrating minutes I asked to speak with someone in English. The only information they needed was my name, birthday, and where we lived in Chihuahua. Might have to brush up on our Spanish. We ended up watching some TV later that night, and went to sleep with the noise of a friendly soccer match in the background.

This morning, after our first good night´s sleep of our adventure, we decided to take a walking tour of the city. We originally were in search of a small coffee shop, but somehow the directions were lost in translation and we ended up about a mile out of the way and on the other side of a major freeway. We walked through many parks with trees, fountains, and statues. Notably we came across a statue of Anthony Quinn (prounced like Queen) and we asked someone who that was. Turns out the person we asked had lived in Minnesota for a time. We eventually found our way back to the downtown area and found a different coffee shop, Cafe Imperial, we each had a coffee as well as a rebana de pay de piƱa(think slice of pineapple pie). It tasted more like a danish and was very tasty. We continued our walking tour through the city, attempted to pay our immigration fee at a bank, but the line was too long, so we continued. For a late lunch we found ourselves at a small "hole in the wall" type of establishment. We each ordered a burrito, however burritos here are very different than the large Chipotle-sized burritos we are used to. It was essentially whatever meat we ordered wrapped in a tortilla. We decided to top it off with two tacos each and a soda. Total bill was 52 pesos, or about four US dollars. We headed over to the Plaza de Armas, and then went into the Casa Chihuahua. Casa Chihuahua was originally a Jesuit school, and over time was once a military hospital, a prison, the mint, offices for the federal government, and now a museum. It was the prison that housed Hidalgo. The museum had a lot of information about local art and history. It had large exhibits for each of the three major regions of Chihuahua state, llanura, sierra, and desierto (plains, mountains, and desert). In addition, there is one pilar that remains from the original Jesuit construction which was also Hidalgo´s cell. All in all, it was a very educational 2 hours, and all for 20 pesos each with student ID.

We have had a few "lost in translation" type of moments. When we were eating lunch, Sarah asked if there is anything special going on for Dia de los Muertos, and it was interpreted to mean that we were asking if the restaurant was doing anything special. At first we were both a little shocked to hear that nada happens on Dia de los Muertos. Upon further explication, we realized our misunderstanding. Also, many people have stared/commented on our shoes, they seem to be a hit with the locals! This is a place that likes the production of cowboy boots, I´m trying to convince Sarah that she needs a pair in purple.

At the moment, this hotel does not have wi-fi so this is being written on a computer someone threw away in 1994 so no pictures for now. Hopefully when we get to Mazatlan we will upload some. Tomorrow we are planning on taking a ride on the local Trolley Turistico, so check back for more!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Leaving Los Angeles

Here we are at the bus station. After many emotional goodbyes with family and friends, our bags are packed and our passports are ready. We barely got our visas for Brazil yesterday, talk about last minute. Now the real fun begins, I can practically taste the chile rellenos and aguas frescos. Here comes the Crucero bus now, see you in Chihuahua!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hair Cutting Video!

The video from our hair cutting! More videos are up on our youtube channel here!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

St. Baldricks Head Shave

Well, we did it! I (Sarah) raised over $1000 ($1468 to be exact) for St. Baldricks and tonight, I shaved my head as committed! Matt also shaved his head in solidarity. It was a lot of fun - we had friends over to help in the cutting, trimming, and shaving. Obviously, I will have to get used to the new 'do - but so far I am pretty pleased! Of course, it's never too late to donate at:!

There's a huge thanks to be given to everyone who donated and to everyone who came to support me in this crazy endeavor!

Friday, October 14, 2011


Last Thursday, we went in to Passport Health LA to get our shots to protect us as much as possible from health risks on our trip. Our nurse was very helpful and had compiled a booklet regarding health issues we may encounter for every country we are visiting and discussed our immunization history and reviewed all the recommended shots and medications. In the end, we both got the Typhoid and Yellow fever vaccines (one-time shot good for a few years, each) and Matt got a Tetanus booster (ten year) and I got my second Hep A shot (should have done it in 2004, after getting the first for China, but switching schools, it sort of got away from me!).

Matt took his shots like a champ - Tetanus first in the left upper arm muscle, yellow fever under the skin on the left arm, and Typhoid in the right upper arm. All three in about 2 minutes. Then it was my turn. The very first, Hep A, in my upper right arm made me feel a little woozy - I could feel it moving through my arm, then my fingers were tingly, then I felt a little lightheaded - so the nurse recommended I lie on the floor and brought me some grape juice. A week later, I still have a little bruise at the injection site and it was tender for a while, too. (I know, I am such a whiner, but wait, there's more!). I also received the yellow fever shot under the skin on my left arm and typhoid in my upper right. Both of us experienced pain for several days on the right arm due to the typhoid vaccine - it felt akin to the soreness felt after a heavy day weight lifting using the deltoid. Matt felt the usual stiffness and tenderness in his left arm from the Tetanus shot.

Here's the fun part: whereas after receiving the yellow fever shot, the injection site on Matt's arm did not even need a band-aid. My arm, however, was swollen for several days and extremely tender, then remained red and somewhat stiff, and now looks black and blue like a bruise, about the size of a quarter. Apparently, 10-30% of people who get the shot have a mild reaction of this nature and as long as there is no puss or fluid coming from it, I shouldn't worry. Good times.

We decided not to get rabies vaccines, both because they are extremely expensive ($260 per shot per person for three shots plus follow up visits) and because of our natural aversion to dogs and other animals due to Matt's allergies. However, we know that should we have an encounter with a wild animal that involves scratching or biting, we will need to get to a hospital ASAP for treatment.

Additionally, we discussed the importance of protecting ourselves from Mosquitos and other insects, because they are carriers of many diseases, aside from Malaria, that do not have vaccines, such as Dengue Fever and West Nile, etc. We had already purchased a spray for our clothing containing Permethrin and Deet lotions and sprays for our skin and are going to purchase a mosquito net for sleeping (hopefully that contains Permethrin) later today. I am not so keen on taking Malaria pills for a verity of reasons - one kind is not really viable as most strains are now immune to chloroquinine, one kind is not an option for me as it interferes with other medications, one kind causes deep nightmares/hallucinations (which I am not comfortable with) as well as increases light sensitivity, and the last kind is somewhat prohibitively expensive (though that may be different in other countries). I think having serious bug protection is the most important, and one again, if either of us experiences and symptoms (fever, rash, etc) we will seek medical attention immediately. If we are able to acquire the other medication for a reasonable price in a malaria area, we may choose to take it then.

Getting the shots last week definitely made the reality that we are leaving in just a few short days VERY real!