sailing homepage : trip reports : 5: pv to zihuatanejo : colima road trip
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Jan 25-26: Road trip around the state of Colima, ancient caves, mayan ruins, volcanoes, quaint cities, and skinnydipping in El Saltos waterfalls

[ written by Sara ]

We rented a car early Thursday morning, with an agenda to see caves, waterfalls, and the volcano in the two day boat break we had planned. Will loves rental cars, and this one was no exception. He has been crazy about a car VW offers in Mexico, the "CROSSFOX", an offroad-edition (cross-country, I guess) of the popular small "Fox" car.

We couldn't get a CrossFox, we got a Ford Ka. It's not cross, not angry, it doesn't even look annoyed. Yep, it's a Ka-lm Iguana. Will came up with this 'joke'.

Ford Ka-lm Iguana


Te-kill-ya plant

The idea was that we would be able to cover more ground on our own than in a bus with other tourists. We were right, and as the saying goes, "the journey is the destination." On our drive up the mountains, we saw fields of blue agave plants, unmapped lakes, and gorgeous vistas.

What a beautiful lake

Our first stop was the Las Grutas de San Gabriel, which promised caves used in ancient rituals. We drove from Manzanillo to Ixtlahuacán and turned right onto a dirt/cobblestone road leading to the tiny town of San Gabriel. There, we hired a guide to take us up the hill to the caves. We waited while he started the generator for lights, and waited a while longer for all the bats to get into their hiding places. I hate bats.

Our trusty steed


The power source for the cave

I have been to caves in Wisconsin. In my experience, they are big openings that you walk into and poke around in, and then leave. Not this cave. The opening was buried inside the mountain. I couldn’t see the bottom of the spiral staircase.

Staircase down down down


Indiana Jones stuff

We entered the cave through a tiny crawlhole. It was a little intimidating, but once we got inside, we were amazed. There were the remains of a pyramid, built around 900DC, leading up to the entrance/exit of the cave. It was cavernous. I could totally understand why it was a sacred place, and why it was used for religious ceremonies.

Stalagtites? Stalagmites?



We were surrounded by these amazing formations. Apparently, stalactites take about 100 years for every 3 inches to be formed. Nature is so cool! Will and I took a long time looking around, appreciating how amazing it was to be down there, in this ancient holy ground. We were alone. It was incredible.

On the way back to Ixtlahuacán, we crossed the path of several cows. Coaxing these guys out of the way was difficult. They move at their own pace. It was entertaining.

Ok, dude, get moving


Uh, lets get out of here

We stopped for a quick bite to eat and were happy to see the pleasant little town up close.



Town square

Next stop, Los Ortices for ancient ruins. The road improved, which was encouraging. But, wait, what’s that? Off in the distance, dust was rising from the road. These guys look huge when sitting in such a small car - the Iguana is so low to the ground, with no protection from angry bulls, and equipped only with a lawnmower engine.

They're charging!


Whew, they missed us

We also saw pigs in the river, and lots of other farm life. Like turkeys. Will insists that this turkey is different from all the others he's seen, but I think he's really just a city boy. We got within a few miles of Los Ortices, near Los Asmoles, but the road was washed out and rutted, making it impassible for the Ka-lm Iguana to continue.

That's a fat hog


Funky lookin chicken

We got back on the freeway, and made our way to Colima. It was a quick trip, and by 4PM we were checking into the clean and cheap Hotel Merced. There was just enough time to go to the museum of regional history, so we made our way in that direction.

Catedral Basilica Menor

Some important diety

The museum had a temporary display about the personification of deities by the native Indian groups from 1200BC. People essentially believed that if they dressed like a god, the gods would recognize them. It was the ultimate dress for success model. They wore headpieces, fine jewelry, and had carvings made of themselves depicting their favorite deities.

In the permanent section, there was a room showing a recreation of an ancient tomb. The next indigenous group to live in the area believed that dogs brought your spirit to the next world, so people were buried with their dogs, hollow ceramic pieces in the shape of dogs, and ceramic pots for sustenance for the long journey. This totally explains all the perros lying around Mexico!

Burial chambers


Lookee there!

Upstairs, in the 1500s, the Spanish discovered the beautiful region of Colima, bringing Polynesian techniques of coconut farms with them. They came by sea, since the mountainous borders prevented them from coming by land. It was neat to see the glass buoys and nautical instruments.

Nautical instruments


Glass buoys

The museum went through the remaining history of the area. It was really interesting, but too long and sordid to go through here. As we left the museum, we decided to sit in the plaza across the street, and were curious to see a couple of men setting up chairs. We wondered if there would be a wedding there later that evening. We went to grab a drink and some snacks and asked the waitress about the chairs. As luck would have it, there would be an open air concert later that evening!

Wonderful gazebo


Street scene

We wandered around the streets, meeting people and finding craft markets. (Notice the new orange scarf?) We grabbed a picnic dinner from Burger King - hey, everyone needs a break from Mexican food once in a while - and sat down to some wonderful live music. Will bought me a rose, and we danced with the locals.

What a sweetheart (written by Will)


Dancing beside the gazebo

Live band


Will brushes away the cobwebs

After the music, a sweet lady and her sister came to give us a kiss on the cheek and to ask if it was our honeymoon. They were so welcoming, and it was wonderful to be in a new part of Mexico. We wandered around, and found the open game area, where we watched a group of men play chess.

Will was obviously interested, and was invited to join them. Although nervous, he persevered and was ecstatic when he won. "I feel like I just beat Eli again!!!" (He was on the chess team in high school, and won the Ottawa Regional Chess Tournament second board after beating Eli in the finals).

After a full day, we were exhausted but excited about the next day’s adventures. We planned to start by seeing some ruins and go to the volcano de fuego from there.

We got up early, grabbed some breakfast, and headed to La Campaña. These ruins are from 900DC and are just being excavated. The park has 124 acres, and only 2 acres are open at this point. However, the ruins were in very good shape, and were very impressive. La Campaña means "the view" and these were religious grounds for sacrifice and priests’ living quarters with a stunning view of the volcano in the distance. Carvings on the stones have lasted to current day.







After the ruins, we found ourselves headed to Laguna La Maria, via Comala and the Zona Magica. We stopped to ask directions, and picked up a passenger waiting for the bus to head up to Suchitlán to visit some family. It was on our way, so we told him to hop in.

We pulled off at the Zona Magica, where your car will roll backwards, uphill, if you put it in neutral. We tried it both directions, and it works! The legend is that it is magnetic fields pulling you, but Will swears it’s an optical illusion. He said something about the magnetic fields being so strong that they would distort our vision. Whatever. Either way, it’s in some of the prettiest country I’ve ever seen!

Going uphill!


Road to nowhere

We dropped off Julian, our passenger, and he recommended a restaurant in Suchitlán for lunch. Having just had breakfast we were anxious to get up to the volcano. We went from a paved two-lane highway to cobblestones, then to a dirt road, then to a pair of tracks in a grassy field, and finally we had to ditch the car and hike.

There's a volcano under there ... somewhere


Hiking through the rain

Unfortunately, the peak of Mexico’s most active volcano was shrouded in mist. Never mind that, we decided to go up the mountain to see if we could see anything interesting like lava! All we found was rain, a strange new species of jungle cows, and more beautiful scenery.

Feeding time!


Angry looking jungle cow

As we headed back down the volcano, we realized that we were starving. We decided to take Julian’s advice and have lunch in Suchitlán. It was delicious, and the patio was nice and cool. We had fresh todopos y salsa, chile rellenos with meat inside, grilla mixta, and chocolate caliente. MmmmMmmm good.

What a great place


Great mug of homemade chocolate

Newly fed, we headed over to the waterfalls at El Salto. The road there was windy and parts had had fresh mud/land slides. Will was driving the Ka-lm Iguana like a rally car. I hung on with white knuckles.

Windy and dangerous


But beautiful!

We reached the waterfalls of El Salto an hour before the park closes at 6PM, but the place was almost completely abandoned. The overcast skies and cool weather must have kept everyone away. The falls are really incredible. The water is clean and refreshing, and the current pushes you around and down into a calm pool.

With no one around, we stripped and dove in, excited to have accomplished our goal of caves, volcano, and waterfalls.



Taking off our shoes

Will strips down


And gets swimming

After toweling off, and discovering the locals had been watching, we quickly jumped in the car and drove back the 60km to Manzanillo. We decided to explore the nightlife in town; it was pretty tame compared to our wonderful road trip, so we cut the night short, dropped off the car, and returned to our home on the sea. Wanderlust greeted us cheerfully, and we slept well, knowing that we had seen part of Mexico that is truly unique.

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