US Border to Belize by bus!

Old Jul 15th, 2018, 08:40 PM
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US Border to Belize by bus!

This is the continuation of the following trip report but now switching to the Mexico and Central America forum: Canada to Belize without flying?

Monterrey is a city I've been to now 5 times over the last 15 years. It feels to me sort of like a gateway to get to many parts of Mexico and beyond, if one chooses to enter by land. I've long enjoyed the pulse of the city but shocking though it is to admit, I'd never been to el Rey del Cabrito or to las Grutas de Garcia, two omissions corrected this trip.

The Grutas de Garcia were actually an hour by Uber from our hotel by the Macroplaza, the Hotel Gran Ancira (which Pancho Villa commandeered for nearly a fortnight in the early 1900s) and in a rural desert locale that felt completely removed from the Nuevo León capital. The cost each way was 300 pesos but split between two, really very reasonable. And the Grutas themselves unbelievable. Unless you take a long serpentine path, the only access to the Grutas is by teleférico in a spectacular setting up high on a mountain face surrounded by dry mountains in all directions. The cable car is worth it on its own but then we enter the caves and instantly leave the 34 degree C dry heat for a 18 degree C moist cool of these caves which are like a cathedral such is their immensity. With stalactites meeting stalagmites in columns or draping down almost like a pleated skirt, colourful displays bring a magic to the vast pale-grey roofed caverns which exhibit often a surprisingly gorgeous geology. Since this is Northern Mexico, it should not surprise that some of the geology is interpreted to have a Catholic symbolism and that there's a Capilla de la Virgen de San Juan within the cave systems. In addition to structures like the Árbol de Navidad, el Infierno and el Crucifijo, there's some other natural geological formations in the cave that resemble a camel, the head of a donkey or my favourite "el Gorila" which the guide said looked a lot like Homer Simpson, bringing a laugh amongst the exclusively Mexican plus us tour group.

Leaving the Grutas was a bit dicey as Uber would not pick us up there. We ended up on this no-frills clunky minivan that seemed to be transporting some random workers to the town of García; two of the workers had gold teeth and exchanged a smile at the sight of these extranjeros joining the ride. We hadn't the right change but the driver must have felt sorry for us and gave us the ride for free. From García, plenty of Ubers were available back to Monterrey.
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Old Jul 15th, 2018, 08:46 PM
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Here are some pictures of the Grutas de Garcia.
The teleférico


The colourful Grutas


Stalactites meet stalagmites to form columns.
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Old Jul 16th, 2018, 04:54 AM
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Loving your report, but no links to the pictures.
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Old Jul 16th, 2018, 06:05 AM
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Thanks schmerl-- Also for letting me know you can't see the pictures. I uploaded via the Fodor's attachment option in the advanced options and interestingly enough, I see the photos I uploaded in the body of my report as hoped, so I wasn't aware something wasn't working.
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Old Jul 16th, 2018, 09:11 AM
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*Intro to Zacatecas*

I'd been really not so far away from Zacatecas in years past, visiting nearby San Luis Potosí and cities to the south and north such as Guanajuato, Saltillo and Queretaro. I knew it was a recommended destination, but it was always a bit out of the way relative to my travel goals in central Mexico. Well, let's put it this way--I'm sorry I had not prioritized it more.

Arriving from Monterrey, I quickly got the sense of being somewhere special, with the distinctive red soil and sweeping vistas of hills & valleys readily visible when entering the city via Omnibus de Mexico. The colonial center rivals that of the other great similar cities of central Mexico. My friend commented "like Guanajuato just not quite as colourful but replete with charm". He'd not been to Guanajuato, so I added that it wasn't quite as mobbed with tourists like Guanajuato, a pity in a way, but not too surprising as the city is a bit more isolated relative to some of the further south destinations. Zacatecas did remind me of Guanajuato for its Spanish colonial completeness as well as the stunning views available from high vantage points and teleférico of the grandeur of the city below. Seeing barely any turistas extranjeros, Zacatecas is in my mind one of North America's most underrated destinations and I felt privileged to be staying in the heart of the city

*Upcoming: Activities in Zacatecas*

Last edited by Daniel_Williams; Jul 16th, 2018 at 09:39 AM.
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Old Jul 16th, 2018, 11:01 AM
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I've also never made it to Zacatecas, though it's been on the horizon for a long while. It is a favorite of a friend of mine, who lives in SLP. Looking forward to your report.
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Old Jul 16th, 2018, 11:41 AM
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I can see the 3 photos in post #2. AMAZING!!!!!!!
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Old Jul 16th, 2018, 01:34 PM
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Fra_Diavolo--How lucky your friend is to be so close to an entertaining city that made me feel in Europe at times! Not to mention that you know I think SLP is pretty fantastic too!
Suze--Glad you're appreciating the photos! For only 80 pesos, I got that spectacular cable car ride plus a tour of the amazing caves. My friend and I were thinking about how inexpensive this amaze-balls (to use my friend's expression) experience was and how much more it would have cost in Canada. I just looked at the Grouse Mountain (Vancouver) cable car price in comparison... shocking!
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Old Jul 16th, 2018, 03:05 PM
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Daniel, it's amazing how much we're on the same Mexico travel page...or as they say in Spanish, "estamos en la misma onda"!
We just got back from a border trip in May which included 2 nights in Monterrey and 1 night in Santiago, just south of the city. Indeed, Monterrey is a fascinating city overlooked by many. And this time we visited the Grutas, too. But last time we too stayed at the Ancira, which I agree is one of Mexico's classic hotels. And so reasonable for what you get at under $50 US when we were there. Great location, just a few blocks from the Sierra Madre Brewery and the Macro Plaza where my wife enjoyed a great massage! (In the Plaza, not the brewery).
As well, we stopped in Zacatecas, which I concur is arguably the most beautiful colonial city in Mexico.Similar to Guanajuato in a sense, but more 'handsome' if that makes sense.
We stopped on the way to Zacatecas in Durango, 2 nights, and Parras De La Fuente for 2 nights. I'll do a trip report one of these days...

Last edited by baldone; Jul 16th, 2018 at 03:09 PM.
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Old Jul 16th, 2018, 03:18 PM
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I was gonna post a pic of the Gorila, but couldn't figure it out. It came out huge. Whow'd you do that?
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Old Jul 16th, 2018, 03:38 PM
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Originally Posted by schmerl View Post
Loving your report, but no links to the pictures.

I can see the photos. Have you by any chance disabled photos/videos in your settings??
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Old Jul 16th, 2018, 07:57 PM
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Baldone-- I'm glad to have you in the chorus of ones who appreciate and have been to Monterrey and Zacatecas. How interesting & coincidental that you too were at the Ancira (what's this about a brewery--I need to check this out!)--another tie that binds us is that I even went to the Pueblo Magico Santiago admittedly way back in 2003, as part of my very first Mexican trip where I remember having a particularly magical meal while charmed by the setting nearby the Presa de la Boca. By the way, when I went to check my photo settings, there's a tab entitled "recent" photos, and your el Gorila was there (not too large either)--so happy to hear you made it to those exceptional caves. One day, I must also go to the Cola del Caballo when in the Monterrey area.

I view Guanajuato and Zacatecas as less a competition and more of an embarrassment of riches--I do feel I need to spend more time in Guanajuato to get to know the city better though, having only spent a few hours there as a day trip from Queretaro in 2015. What I did see was awfully gorgeous.
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Old Jul 17th, 2018, 05:03 AM
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The pictures are there now. I don't know what was wrong the other day.
Once again, great report and great pictures.
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Old Jul 17th, 2018, 07:14 AM
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*Zacatecas activities*

My first evening, as is typical for me when visiting a new place, we explored my immediate surroundings. Right down the hill from my hotel, the Casa Torres, was the cathedral, which had a particularly gorgeous churrigueresque front. A group of male and female dancers in cowboy hats and boots were doing a dance to what amused me to realize was a Spanish version of Juice Newton's Queen of Hearts. A brass band was parading down the street with a reminder to Mexicans that the elections were *tomorrow* and to get out & vote.

The greatest highlight of Zacatecas for me was taking the teleférico round-trip from the peaks of El Grillo to la Bufa which give expansive views of the city below. Once across we walked to an even higher point on la Bufa where there were not only more great views but a handsome mausoleum to some Zacatecas soldiers. Also by the teleférico was the Museo de Toma de Zacatecas, the site of a horrific battle during the Mexican Revolution involving Pancho Villa & Venustiano Carranza that devastated the city.

I also found it interesting to see the Minas del Edén, silver mines that one can access via a small train and hard hats. What terrible conditions the miners had to work in; while I was there only an hour, I found it mildly claustrophobic--I can't imagine working there regularly. Even the water one could see, a beautiful blue colour visible at low points in the mine I found must have been a wicked temptation as the water was deadly due to having leached in the metal ions. I found it fascinating that the miners would keep a canary with them. Why? The canary would sing and when it stopped, it was evident that the oxygen level was dangerously low and it was probably time to evacuate to safer ground.

A final pièce de resistance in the city was taking the double decker bus that showcased the city's highlights as three young women dressed as Condesas in Virreinal style regaled us (in Spanish) with ghastly myths and legends of the Spanish colonial period.

Zacatecas is a jewel on the continent. I don't know if I'm sad or happy that it is not on most foreign visitors' radars--so many had never even heard of it when I told them I was going. My friend stated he finds the North American media focus on Mexico offensive. A pity but then again, keeps the prices reasonable and a feeling of having a gem that's not overwhelmed. So, maybe I should lie and let people think how scared I was.

*Next: Moving further south in Mexico: New discoveries in Puebla, first time in Villahermosa & Tabasco*
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Old Jul 17th, 2018, 07:40 AM
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View from la Bufa


Churrigueresque front
Pictures of Zacatecas
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Old Jul 17th, 2018, 09:21 AM
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Have I mentioned how gorgeous the scenery is in Mexico? Pretty much from a bit north of Monterrey south to Orizaba in Veracruz state. In truth, among the most stunning I've seen in North America. It is such a treat to be travelling such territory.

*Queretaro and Puebla*

In Queretaro, where I had lived for a month studying Spanish, it was mostly about meeting friends and we visited the Cerro de las Campanas where emperor Maximilian was executed (and informative Museum there). It was fun to introduce my friend to this dynamic city, where we ate supper at the atmospheric Chucho el Roto (Robin Hood of Mexico) where a musician played in front. My friend's arrachera was to die for. I enjoyed as usual the dancing in the Jardín Zenea. I love the energy of Querétaro, which has a place in my heart.

*Puebla*

My friend unfortunately was not feeling well for our day in Puebla, so plans to go to Cholula sadly had to be cancelled. I had been to both Puebla & Cholula before, but I was disappointed for him as I know he loves exploring cities & learning about pre-Columbian civilizations. Other than trying to be helpful to my friend, I didn't stray too far from my hotel, the NH Puebla.

However in doing so, I got to try some dishes I'd never had before, tacos árabes and chiles en nogada. The chiles en nogada surprised me in that I imagined this dish to be spicy, when in fact it is slightly sweet...a meat-stuffed pepper bathed in a walnut cream with pomegranate seed topping. So happy to try these 2 local specialties. As far as places are concerned, I was happy that the oldest library in Latin America, the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, was open *and* I discovered a new area of Puebla just the other side of the Zocalo from my hotel which was so colourful, dance- and music-filled and lively, near the Plazuels de los Sapos that I had no idea existed--I liked Puebla before seeing this area but after seeing this part, I was smitten.

*Villahermosa. Really was a 2 night stay just to split the journey from Puebla to Belize. I had no idea what was in store!*
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Old Jul 17th, 2018, 02:56 PM
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The newly discovered area of Puebla that had me smitten.
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Old Jul 17th, 2018, 06:14 PM
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This description of your progress through colonial cities is timely for me. Having sold my home and had my parked car wrecked, I now have months to travel with no constraints whatever (except budget as usual). Trying to decide between Mexico or back to Asia. I'm enjoying your report very much.
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Old Jul 17th, 2018, 07:54 PM
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Looking forward to your Villahermosa and Tabasco report, 2 places I've not visited yet. And Orizaba, which coincidentally, we visited too for the first time in January.
On prior trips to Puebla, we stayed at Hotel Royalty before discovering Hotel Colonial, right around the corner from 6 Sur, where our go-to restaurant Mesón De La Sacrista is located. Love that part of centro, nice pics.
Ditto Chucho El Roto. We alternate between there and 1810. Now that 1810 now has Hercules, a local microbrew on tap, I'm conflicted. Unsure if Chucho has it; need to check it out. What's cool about both is that the musicians take turns playing at both restaurants so as not to play over each other.
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Old Jul 18th, 2018, 08:43 AM
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Thanks for commenting on your enjoyment, mmeperdu! I'm excited for your prospective plan of Asia vs. Mexico--sounds like a turbulent but interesting time in your life.

Baldone--I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on Orizaba--I only saw it from the ADO bus and the scenery I find phenomenal--but I'd love to know if it's interesting to stay there--maybe for hiking? Or colonial sights?

Nice also to know now that you share my appreciation for Chucho el Roto! Do get the arrachera there if you've not already. As for Tabasco, I only got to see Villahermosa in that state, but My interest has certainly been piqued to discover the state more.
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