Just a day away from New Year’s Eve, we sat in an abandoned hacienda in Sierra Alvarez. It had been a three hour drive up from Guanajato that afternoon, and we had arrived in the dark. This is not something I like doing. There’s multiple reasons, and not just that it’s not recommended to drive at night in Mexico. For one, it’s much harder to assess a camping spot in the dark as you can only see a matter of metres around you. It’s harder to level the car too. Sometimes, it can be rewarding. When you arrive in the nighttime to something looking rather non-descript only to open the curtains in the morning and reveal some beautiful landscape, that’s pretty good. But, on the whole I much prefer daylight, you get a better ‘feel’ for a place.
In this particular instance, we negotiated surprise potholes as we climbed up a small and mainly tarmacked road through the mountain. Still completely unable to locate reverse gear, Lee and Jaro struggled to push Ruby up and over the lip of the road as I tried to negotiate going backwards down a small steep side road that led to a flat spot. Jaro’s torch clipped to the bike served as some kind of reverse lighting, but it was still not ideal. Had we arrived in daylight we would have probably seen the far superior parking spot, a huge flat area, easy to drive in and out off on the other side of the road; Kikki showed me the pictures later.
Still, it was quiet, secluded and perfectly decent for one night. We got a fire going in the chill of the evening at high altitude.
The following morning, we had another two hour drive or so to reach Tamasopo. Everyone else was already there, searching for a potential camping spot. We headed east to meet them, a pretty road to drive as it wound through the mountains and slowly descended towards Rio Verde. Here we needed to stop off for some New Year shopping. We had been asked to pick up a few things on behalf of the others, who had now located a reasonably priced campsite for the next few days and weren’t near a big shop anymore. Considerably stocked up on booze, and with some ingredients to make our contribution to the ‘bring and share’ meal that was planned, we headed off on the final hour of our drive.
We didn’t have much choice except to take the toll road, there not really being any other roads to speak off. Still, it wasn’t as expensive as some we had used and I couldn’t help but enjoy the scenery. We circled the base of mountains and crossed some flat and sparse plains in-between. Then we paid to leave the toll road (something I find really annoying) and begin our descent into Tamasopo. minutes away from our final destination. Here we descended through the jungle, green is an understatement. Water was everywhere and the plants that lined the roadsides thrived. After a steep descent, we were in the town. Driving onwards and out of the town we turned off on a dirt track just outside the town. Clem waved us down the track and we pulled into a neatly kept grassy field to join the other two campers along with another large converted fire truck we didn’t recognise.
The campsite was indeed a good find. We didn’t expect any facilities when we heard it was only 100 pesos a night, so flushing toilets was a pleasant surprise. We were still at that point, after any major work, still just happy to arrive anywhere with no issues. We parked up, grabbed a beer and caught up with everyone. The large camper introduced themselves as Gianni and Fabia from Switzerland. The location was lovely, we were told about the rivers and walks around the area. The rivers surrounding us were thermal. The nearest river to us that ran past only a few metres from the camper wasn’t particularly warm or cold. Clem had Hanno been enthusiastically using this to “arschbombe” and cool off.
Now at a much lower altitude, it was significantly warmer. They told us that a short walk away, was another warmer river, which you could walk to and then float down back to our camping spot. For the meantime, we were happy to relax where we were, this included Aimee.
The following day was New Year’s Eve. We spent our day relaxing by the river for the most part. At one point, we went for a short walk. At the top of our river, it was possible to cross over, walking in the shallow water before it fell into a pool below.
We walked across a field, before navigating more walkways around water as it gushed all around us. Water lilies and reeds lay in the crystal clear waters as we crossed over to the warmer river.
I was very excited by the large amount of air plants around us, and promptly rehomed several.
One by one, we crossed the another river, before jumping off an overhanging tree into the next river. It wasn’t exactly warm, but pleasant enough. We floated down in the milky blue water, Spanish moss hung in metre long strands from the trees all around us as we floated.
A little way down, the colder river from our campsite merged in from the right. At this point, it was cleared the difference in water temperatures. We swam across the end of the colder river to climb out on the bank and walk a few minutes back the camper. Feeling suitably relaxed, I started some cooking.
As a group, we had decided that everyone was going to contribute a dish to our pot luck that evening. There was no real planning or co-ordination. We vaguely discussed what we would do in order to maintain some kind of variety. Hanno and Kikki made a selection of dips and vegetable sticks to dip in them. Jaro made a nice salad. Clem and Emilie made devilled eggs and a whole roast cauliflower. I made some fresh bread and some couscous cakes with an olive dip. The table was full of food and considering that it hadn’t taken too much effort from any single person or much planning it looked fabulous. We couldn’t wait to get stuck in.
The Swiss couple were invited to join us too and contributed some really good homemade brownies. We ate until we were incredibly full and happy. I couldn’t help think we were rather fortunate, while our families back at home throughout Europe sat in isolation we sat down an enjoyed the company of good friends and food. Amongst this positivity, it seemed that 2020 wasn’t quite done with us yet, as we cleared away the last of the food it began to drizzle, putting a quick stop to our plans of welcoming in the New Year around a roaring fire.
Emile whipped out the pop up gazebo and memories of three weeks of living in it while broken down at Cerritos came flooding back. That seemed a while ago now. In a few minutes, we were back in the dry, wistfully watching our fire sizzling outside. Apparently, in our absence they had tried putting a fire in the gazebo and had somewhat suffocated themselves, not to be repeated. We picked at the last of the food as the time edged closer to midnight. Lee decided that with the weather change it was finally time to make that Irish whiskey he had been craving. Suddenly, we checked the time and it was midnight, we had nearly missed it. Quickly we poured a hasty glass of champagne and in a soggy tent in the heart of Mexico we toasted to 2021, to a better year, we all hoped. We had bought some party poppers for this moment, so we filed outside and set them off, immediately regretting the decision as millions of pieces of plastic confetti exploded into the air and littered the wet field. Happy New Year! That would be an interesting clean up, trust Mexico to make plastic confetti.
It was odd to think that we had lived in this country, completely unplanned for nearly a year. No one could have predicted the highs and lows of the year that we had experienced. We hadn’t seen our families for over a year, Aimee had been attacked, our camper electrical system hadn’t stood up to Baja and neither had the engine. We had been chased by the police in and out of beaches more times than we could remember. Despite everything, I don’t think we will look back on 2020 in a negative light, it’s just a good story. We have made some friends that I hope we will keep for life. We learnt (or tried to learn) a new language and experienced a culture very different from our own. We have been pleasantly surprised again and again by the kindness of strangers and their willingness to help us, without even asking.
If there was anything to be learnt by this year, it is that while we saw difficult situations bring out the worst in the odd few people, in a crisis, the overall majority are the opposite and go out of their way to be kind, supportive and lovely people. On a day-to-day basis, our world is not the negative place it is often portrayed to be and on that note, we would like to say thank you the large number of people who gave us their tools, encouraging words and safe places to stay that meant we could still be here and welcome in 2021 with a smiles on our faces, in the pouring rain.