Cuernavaca, Morelos
Morelia, Michoacán
Guadalajara, Jalisco
Chapala, Jalisco
Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
December 19, 2001 - January 11, 2002
I went to Chapala to see why over 5,000 American retirees would want to live there.  It is a quaint community that used to look over the water.  Lago de Chapala is the largest lake in Mexico and a major source of drinking water in Guadalajara and Mexico City.  Increasing demand has drastically lowered the lake levels in the last fifteen years.  The Americans in the picture, aged 65 and above, are playing baseball in what used to be a boat anchorage. The water has receded so far that one can barely see the shore from the pier!
Puebla is a huge city, which in Mexico means it has lived a rich history.  The battle against the French for which Cinco de Mayo is celebrated took place just a short drive from the center of town.  Situated near Mexico's high-altitude volcanos, Puebla is practically a mandatory stop for those seeking to climb.  In addition to preparing for the volcanos, I managed to see some great museums including the home of a revolutionary hero that was ambushed in 1910 by Porfirio Diaz' soldiers.   

I was picked up at the Mexico City airport by Oscar; the brother of the the husband of a friend of my Dad's.  Oscar took me away from the buzz of twenty million people living in one city, the world's largest, to the relative tranquility of his parent's home in Pachuca; about an hour away.  Had my camera not been returned with the rental car, I would have some great pictures to show how we spent the next three days.  The Hernandez family was incredibly kind and generous with their time.  With each outing, I got to meet another of Oscar's girlfriends and more of his cousins.  We went to a mining museum.  We went to see El Señor de los Anillos (Lord of the Rings.)  We went to a dance club.  We went to a colonial mountain village and we went to see the world famous Pyramids of Teotihuacan.  Oscar and his family taught me a lot about life in Mexico and softened the shock of my first experience outside my country.  His father took a day off work to accompany me back to Mexico City.  He built all the furniture in his house so we discussed carpentry for several hours while I waited for my bus to Puebla.  A Oscar, a todas sus primas y novias y a Sr. y Sra. Hernandez, los agradezco un montón.
The town of Tlachichuca lies below the northwestern slopes of Pico de Orizaba and is the gateway for climbing the volcano.  The first thing I learned about Tlachichuca was that its 5000 residents have no need for an ATM.  What a shame too, because their newest visitor had just spent the last of his pesos on a bus ticket.  The second thing I learned about Tlachichuca was that its residents were incredibly friendly.  Gerardo, the owner of the hotel where I stayed lent me 200 pesos to catch a colectivo to a neighboring village that had an ATM.  Upon my return a young kid named Efrén came running to invite me to a Christmas Eve party with Gerardo's family.  This very special evening of unique traditions lasted until two o'clock in the morning.   Although I was the only foreigner, and at least a foot taller than everybody, they made me feel like part of the family.  Click for info on Hotel Gerar.
        I woke the next morning to a knock from two angry Swiss climbers with whom I was sharing Gerardo's transport to the mountain.  In their strained Spanish they told me we would leave in ten minutes.  Wonderful.  I soon crossed paths with Efrén who accompanied me to the market where I bought some cinnamon roles and had a women make me four sandwiches.  With the addition of some candy from the Christmas party, that was all the food I had time to collect for the climb.
         Gerardo drove us up to the alpine hut; a roomy stone structure at 14,000 feet.  I took a short nap and then went for a hike to calm my anxiety.  I picked my all the way up through the confusing gullies to the start of the glacier and then raced the approaching darkness back to the hut.  I felt very strong and finally confident that I had brought enough gear in my small pack.  A bunch of corporate types from New Jersey and their guide had populated the hut and kept the Swiss couple and I from getting any sleep.

I checked into my hotel at 11:50pm on New Year's Eve, just in time to sneek up to the roof and watch the fireworks illuminate the historic architecture that surrounded me.  Morelia was by far the cleanest, most beautiful city that I saw.  I was in great spirits because the climbing was behind me and my back pack was my only burden.  The next day I spent four hours in the zócalo (the plaza) writing in my journal and enjoying the warm sun.
A miserably cold and sleepless overnight bus ride brought me north. Monterey is much more like the U.S. than the rest of Mexico.  Majestic peaks surround soaring skyscrapers and franchised fast food joints.  I spent a day hiking in the nearby Canon de la Huasteca which is known to American rock climbers as Portero Chico. 
Bienvenidos a la frontera!  A second overnight bus ride brings me to a very different place.  I had planned to spend more time here but it offered little to the tourist.  Before making the symbolic journey across the border, I spent $3 for a hair cut, $6 for a gold tooth, and $1 for a cup of rotten fruit.
        The original goal was to go relax on the beach in Veracruz after climbing Orizaba but still had too much energy.  I really wanted to spend more time above tree line, so I bartered the beach-plan for another volcano.  I printed a crude topo-map from the Internet in Puebla and boarded a bus to Amecameca.  The next morning (December 29) I hired a taxi to take me to El Paso de Cortéz.  The same pass was used by Hernán Cortéz to enter Mexico City and obliterate the Aztec Empire.  While I urged the driver to take his cab up the bad road that connects the pass with the mountain, a truck swerved around us and headed up the road.  I threw money in the driver's lap and chased the truck.  I squeezed into the bed of the pickup where I met Sergio, Michel and Alinka; my climbing partners. 
      Our personalities could not have been in better harmony as we hiked, sang, laughed, and gasped for air.  Sardined in the Ayoloco hut that night, we frequently woke each other another with spastic attempts to keep the mice out of our sleeping bags.
By 5:00 a.m., Alinka still felt sick so I got dressed and headed up the Ayoloco glacier.  I enjoyed a surreal hour and a half alone on the summit and then sprinted down the Ruta Normal and hitchhiked to the pass.  Within ten minutes, the taxi driver arrived to take me back to town.
I regret not swapping emails with my comical climbing compañeros.  I think about them often.

Guadalajara... home of Mexican identity: Mariachi, Tequila, and the famed rock group; Maná.  Endless oppurtunities in Mexico's second largest city – like  spending two hours explaining to a big dude that spent eight years in a Los Angeles prison why you can't take him back across the border with you.  Evidently the only English words he learned in prison were, "I love you, you are my brother."
This picture was from Juarez looking across the Rio-not-so-Grande to Texas.  I found the El Paso bus station just in time to catch my third overnight ride to Denver.

4:30 a.m. January 11, 2002
Bus Station did not open until 6:00 a.m.
Bus left for Boulder (home) at 6:10 a.m.
Burr, I wished my mountaineering gear was not in the mail!
In addition to sprawling souvenir markets, this capital city boasts numerous historical sites like the former palace of Hernán Cortéz; the Spanish conquistador that obliterated the Aztec empire.  I spent most of my time here locating the raw materials to build a box around my pack of climbing gear so that I could mail it home.  As the postal worker counted the $75 postage fee, I envisioned him wearing my $250 mountaineering boots and down jacket.  The package arrived home however, verifying the integrity of the Mexican mail system.
Denver, Colorado
Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua
Monterey, Nuevo Leon
Finally, La Playa!!!
Ixtaccihuatl (17,343 feet)
Puebla, Puebla
         The three of us began climbing at about 2:00 am the next morning.  When we reached the glacier, they finally quit trying to speak Spanish and informed that they spoke English.  After I had strapped on my crampons for the glacier, they shared that they would not continue to the top because the cloud cover may have compromised the view.  They talked me out of coninuing alone so we headed down intending to try the next night.
         I slept until early afternoon when a timid voice spoke through the door of the hut: "Disculpe, Disculpe."  I invited him to open the door and in came a family of ten!  They needed water for the overheated pickup that brought them all up to the hut.  While I lay in my sleepingbag (in my underwear) the little kids climbed all over me and the parents asked me questions about climbing the volcano. 
         Along with all the kids in the truck, they managed to haul up heaps of firewood and a potato sac full of food, which greatly improved my meager diet.  When we finally got the fire hot we cooked baked potatos, eggs, rice, and some crude coffee which they spiked with Tequila.  We spent the rest of the afternoon huddled around the fire.  Shivering in my fleece pants and down jacket, I envied their apparent indifference to the cold.  I regrettably declined their invitation to stay with them in their rural village and watched the kids bounce around in the back of the truck as it rolled down the eroded tracks.  I turned around to see that dark clouds had buried the upper mountain. 
         It snowed all night making a second summit bid too dangerous.  I made radio contact with Gerardo at ten o'clock and we started hiking down to meet him.  I managed to get me and my disappointment back to Puebla by the end of the day.
Pico de Orizaba (18,700 feet)
The Swiss and I.
Gerardo's homemade solar water heater.
Pachuca, Hidalgo
Puerto Vallarta
Ciudad Juarez