THE DOG BLOG
Lovers of Travel
~~~En Route to the Caribbean~~~
An occasional blog to be read from Top to Bottom
January 19, 2006
I decide I can't wait until reaching Costa Rica to resume writing,
On a Mission from Dog. My soul is crying out to finish this work. I
begin in San Miguel de Allende. I discover a place to camp outside of
town, just a mile away from my new travelling friends. It's on the edge
of farmland, but it's January and the fields lie fallow.
After much deliberation, I decide on a route south. Less than an
hour out of town, the same fuel problem returns that has plagued me
since three hours after entering Mexico. I contemplate returning to San
Miguel de Allende. There lies safety and a mechanic who speaks English.
The same mechanic in fact, who apparently hasn't quite solved the
problem despite cleaning out the carbeurator, air filter and checking
other possibilities. I decide to forge on, with hope and forty words of
I ease the van along a number of hours. I decide the fuel filter
needs to be removed again. I stop at a road-side mechanic. It's a job I
can do myself, but I don't have a large enough wrench. The man, who
appears to be in his 60's and sits idle in front of his tiny one-room
office, doesn't have the right wrench either. I continue.
The next mechanic has a shop alongside a tire repair place and is a
hubbub of activity. We're on a busy highway and the 'cuosta' or toll
road, is heavy with trucks and traffic. In my best mime, I tell the man
the problem and he removes the filter and in the process notes the PCV
valve is filthy. For everything, and about 40 minutes of his time he
charges me about $5. He jokingly admits he'll accept other formers of
payment. Laughing, I pay him the $5.
I continue along my journey and decide to stop early for the night
when I see a dirt track heading off into desert scrub and cactus. I
pull no more than 15 meters off the two lane road when black smoke
pours from the exhaust. The engine dies. And won't start.
"Dogs, we're going for a walk. Let's worry about this when we get back."
It's still warm when we return to the van. I want to camp further
off the two-lane road to be more secluded. The engine starts...barely.
I egg the unwilling vehicle on another 75 meters until we're behind a
tree. I gather some wood for a fire and cook dinner. The dogs romp in
scenery reminicent of Africa-minus the cactus. When it gets dark, I get
out my laptop and resume writing.
January 20, 2006
On our morning walk, three dogs bound alongside a cart driven by a
donkey while an old man sits in the seat. The dogs look healthy. I hold
Bruiser back from any interaction, not wanting to upset the donkey. The
man says something about my dogs and I earnestly wish I could
communicate. Instead, I just laugh, wave and say, "Si, si! Buenos
Dias!" I feel imbecilic.
The moment of truth arrives. Do I forge ahead and hope the road
ahead has enough small villages with mechanics, or return to
yesterday's mechanic, if I even can? I start the engine. It sounds
fine. Once again, I forge ahead.
Amidst heavy traffic, I still haven't reached Puebla by the end of
the day. On a hunch, I take a dirt road which leads down to fallow
wheat fields on rolling hills. In the distance are some of North
America's tallest mountains. Snow sits atop one. Though I can hear
traffic from the road, no one can see me.
We head down the hill for our afternoon walk to pathways made by man
and animal. We spend the next two days in a wonderland of canyons and
crevices that forge their way deep into the valley, while above, lawns
sheered by sheep and surrounded by Louisiana-South-like trees drip moss
from their limbs. Plants which I've only seen sold as novelty items in
Wal-Mart type stores hang from trees and bud into incredible pink
January 21, 2006
Reluctantly, I leave. I need to buy more supplies and it's time to
move on. I've done a lot of writing. I head towards a city by the name
of Puebla, planning to stop there and perhaps buy a few pieces of
pottery which I hear is painted using Arabic influences. On the way
into town I pass a few shops and see incredible designs fly by in a
blur. But the highway intersects outside of Puebla and towards the
direction I'm heading. Suddenly, I'm outside of Puebla's city limits.
It's afternoon and I'm tired. "I can't see everything..." I console
myself, and happily continue. After ten kilometers, guilt creeps in and
I decide to return to stay the night at a RV campsite listed in my
guidebook. I return the ten kilometers, then another 15. Traffic is
heavy. It's hot. I get lost. I get lost again. I feel I'm forever going
up and down one road which never takes me where I want to go. I give
myself one last chance to find the place.
I finally arrive to discover the site is packed with a German group
travelling in ten separate motorhomes. The campground is completely
unappealing. There's over 6 dogs, some leashed, some unleashed. There's
lots of barking, which Bruiser leads from his perch, his head craning
out the window. It's a lot to put up with for one night. I leave. I
take a shortcut back to where I began, which adds another 1 1/2 hours.
I eventually arrived frazzled in farmland. Again, I find a huge tree to
camp behind. Every step we take on our very late afternoon walk sends
up billows of talc-like dust. The wind picks up just as I'm trying to
cook an evening meal. I am not happy.
January 21, 2006
In the morning I see from my taller vantage point, a weasel-like
creature scurrying off towards some trees, laboriously making its way
across the furrows and sisal plants. The dogs pick up its scent but
it's already long-gone.
In less than 30 minutes of driving, we go from sweltering heat, to
San Francisco-like fog and cold. I stop the van by the side of the road
and close all the windows and extract gloves I'd packed weeks before.
The road takes us over Citlaltepetl, Mexico's tallest mountain and
through tunnels and alongside precipitous vantage points. There is no
view from this height, only fog and the knowledge it's a very long drop.
Our descent brings us into humidity and out of the dry heat which
has been my only experience in Mexico. The dogs pant. I spend hours
doing seemingly endless errands and checking email.
We drive towards the Gulf Coast, towards Coatzacoalcos. I do more
errands. I find a place to camp along a dirt road which run alongside
power lines. A man walks by and for the first time I'm able to ask the
one line I've been practicing while driving; "Si puende accampo akia??"
Can I camp here? He of course assumes I'll understand his response. I
gather I can. It's hot at night, and oppressive. I sleep badly.
January 26, 2006
I leave our site groggy, and discover I'd camped less than a mile
away from the ocean, where wind would've made for a wonderful night's
sleep. By now, the wind is blowing a gale and the sky is dark and
foreboding making our walk along the beach gritty and exhausting.
Days of driving come and go. Everytime I feel it will be a short
day, it ends up long. The weather turns bad all over this region and
buckets down with more rain than I've experienced in years. Once on the
toll roads, it's difficult to get off and impossible to stop. So all
the vehicles beside me crawl along, barely able to see in front of us.
Driving through Villahermosa, I see a Wal-Mart and eager to find a
propane canister for cooking, since an outdoor fire won't work in the
rain, I drive up the road for several miles looking for a place to
turn, and then head several miles back. The huge store seems to have
everything, but Mexicans are not keen campers and though there's a few
tents, there's little else in the way of camping supplies. It's now
dark. And on the way out of town, I see yet another Super Wal-Mart. I
I've made it a rule not to drive at night, but this time I'm stuck.
Mud flies up and hits the windscreen. It's drizzling with rain, but not
enough to do more than smear the mud. For an hour I follow two small
red lights in front of me. I'm desperate to leave the road, but unable
to see any turnings. I'm aiming for Palenque, but fear I'll arrive dead
if I continue. When the surrounding traffic thins out, I drive at a
snails pace until I see a small lane on the left. I turn.
It's a gravel road and after passing a small village with a few
houses, all I see is barbed wire fences on either side. A man wearing a
cowboy hat gallops towards us on his horse. I'm in cattle ranching
territory. The lane is narrow but after a few miles, it widens. I stop.
For the first time during my travels, I don't hear the sound of traffic
at night time. It's peaceful and wet. And hot. An hour after going to
bed, I hear the sound of another horse galloping by.
January 27, 2006
I wake to incredible beauty. And rain. I'm in the wettest part of
Mexico and it rains almost non-stop for the next four days. My skin,
dry from being so much of the past two years in the desert, drinks up
A Mexican man rides by on his bicycle and stops to chat. Though he
worked in Alabama for a short while, he speaks almost no English and he
assumes from my one word replies that I know more than I do.
Nevertheless, it's a very pleasant exchange. When I drive through the
village, everyone turns to look and I know he's already told his
friends where I'm from and where I'm going. I don't mind. Their village
was a welcome place to camp.
I few hours later I arrive at the Mayabel hotel in Palenque. There's
more people than I'm used to, and I want to go somewhere quieter. But
I'm tired. I stay. I'm camped amongst big motorhomes from Canada, and
more Germans. In the tier above me on the way to the jungle, are
palapas, thatched shelters where 20 and 30-somethings sling hammocks
and sleep. The smell of marijuana wafts through the air, and there's a
huge trade in magic mushrooms which you can buy across the street for
next to nothing. I feel I've stepped back twenty years into my own
crazy 20's, or directly into the 1960's. Though the costumes are
slightly different, with dreadlocks replacing afro's, there's a
preponderance of Indian cloth and ethnic weaves.
I don't belong to either group. Not the RVers, nor the dreadlocks
set. This is a theme I realize will probably stay with me. I've only
met one other couple who are working while travelling, and I've met
very, very few people in their forties. Most others my age are either
raising families, or making their mark with their careers, or both.
What am I doing? Finishing my forth book in beautiful places, while
earning a living from past projects.
January 29, 2006 I stay three days in Palenque, and it
rains almost the entire time. On the last day, there is sun and I go to
the Mayan ruins. The steps of the well-trod stones are still slick with
wet, and the crowds are more than I would like. I wish I'd come while
it rained, though the crowds thin the further I get from the entrance.
It is a magical place.
January 31, 2006
It takes me two days to get to Tulum, and though I'd heard there
weren't many people, there's too many for me. I walk the beach with the
dogs and within minutes, some police tell me dogs aren't allowed. I'd
just passed a local man walking his dog and I realize this is a tourist
town. I head back to the van, while the police yell that I have two
minutes or else they'll confiscate the dogs. This is not a place for
me. But I meet a Polish couple who live in Canada who are dog lovers.
They're debating whether to adopt one of the many beach dogs who
scavenge. In previous years, they knew and fed the dogs mother. But the
mother is not here, and they fear the police took and killed her.
The Polish couple have a tent at the far end of the beach below a
hotel called El Mirador. It is above them on a cliff that I camp, and
while on the beach keep a careful look our for the patrol car. Bruiser,
always intent on being the head dog, shows his dominance to their dog.
The smaller dog yelps and lays on his back in submission. There are no
scratches and no blood. It's all show. Nevertheless, the Polish woman
"He's so bossy, I'm scared he will hurt my little one."
"No, nothing will happen. And tomorrow, they'll all be playing together."
Indeed Dog, who's the alpha and lead, has been frolicking happily
with the dog in-between Bruiser's displays of dominance. The situation
gets more complicated when a male appears, who's mating a female. The
dynamics are fascinating to watch. The male, whenever Bruiser is
nearby, and despite the fact Bruiser is neutered, licks the females
opening as if to say, "She is mine."
The father of the young dog is also on the beach and it is either
the father, or the male who gets into a tangle with Bruiser and cuts
his ear. It's minor. It's Bruiser's life, and like a mother with
children, I realize it's not my business. It's for them to work out.
For two years Dog and Bruiser have had to abide by America's dog rules,
not the dog species dog rules. Though these are Mexican dogs, and not
African, they speak the same language. And it's a language I don't
speak. Now, it's their turn to make the rules.
February 1, 2006 All three dogs are romping along the
beach as happy as anything. Nature is wise. In the end, the Polish
couple decide not to bring the pup back to Canada with them. Initially,
it had seemed like a good chance for the dog. It would get consistent
love and food. But in the cold climate, it would be confined much of
the time and isolated from those of his kind. Here, though he certainly
won't live as long, he'll live free and as part of a pack. If tourists
continue coming, he'll continue being fed. The summer, when it's too
hot for tourists, will be a lean time. Being friendly, and a
non-producing male, hopefully he'll be spared from extermination by the
police. There are no easy answers.
February 2, 2005
I drive to a place I've heard has free camping. It is indeed incredible, reminding me of my favorite beach in Kenya.
February 3, 2005
I spend the morning writing for the first time in what seems ages.
I'm in bliss. Just after mid-day, Verena, a German girl I'd met at El
Mirador arrives. She's come to set up camp. I welcome the company.
Within a few hours I help her set-up a tent given to her and the entire
surroundings look like something from a Survivor episode. Her mission
is to pick up all the garbage, of which there's a lot. Within a short
time, the garbage in our area is all in plastic bags and she embarks on
the surrounding areas. Though not as gung-ho as she, in the next few
days we collect between us 5 huge Hefty bags.
February 4, 2005
It's Saturday and the place fills with weekend holiday-makers. In
the late afternoon Verena and I head to town to do errands and
internet. I make a stop at El Mirador so the dogs can frolic with their
February 5, 2005
Peter tells us that while we were in town, the police came by and
said it would be best if we all left, as bandito's would be coming by
that night. And sure enough, I'd been woken by Bruiser barking
aggressively out the window. I'd seen someone walking in the distance
who came in a big truck. They circled Peter's vehicle, but had come no
closer. Bruiser earned his keep...
The episode reminds me very much of Kenya, or the politics of any
developing country. How did the police know bandito's would be making
the rounds? And if they did know, why didn't they return to arrest
I get ready for a great day of writing. It's Sunday, and everyone
will be in church. But by noon, the sandy parking lot fills to
capacity. I curse. It's too noisy and I can't get any writing done. A
few boys start to play soccer next to the van. Bruiser, sensing my
tension barks at them. I ask them, "Por favor, if you can move a little
further away?" Meanwhile, Verena lays in her hammock between two palms
with one Mexican family on one side of her, and another Mexican family
on the other side.
"Oh," she says smiling, "when the Mexicans get together, they
laugh so much and they focus so much on the food. It is sooooo
wonderful! There's so many children, so happy and playing!"
She and I have different needs. I feel like a kermudgen.
February 7, 2005
On Tuesday, I wake to overcast skies. Myself and Peter, a German man
who's been travelling in a Land Rover for the past six months, are
"Hopefully no one will come here today."
I make a big fire in readiness for a dinner I want to cook deep in
coals, and it's not until 10:30am that the first tourists arrive. They
stay only five minutes to take pictures. They're followed by a group of
ten bicyclists, who also don't stay. All they see when they drive in
are two vehicles, and an empty, garbage-strewn beach. It's not enough
for most. Meanwhile, Peter and I stand near the entrance and
inadvertently stare as group after group arrives, then departs.
It begins to rain, just the barest of trickles, but enough to deter any other visitors.
"Oh, no, not rain!" exclaims Verena.
"Oh, rain, wonderful!" I exclaim.
I am able to write. Life is good.
During the late afternoon and evening, two motorhomes from America,
one with a Canadian emblem, arrive, as well as a Australian and Mexican
couple in a red VW camper. The Americans have three tiny Maltese dogs
and a Retriever. The VW camper has a Mexican dog they found. My dogs
aren't happy about sharing what during the day, has been their entire
campsite. Neither am I.
February 8, 2005
Despite intense sunshine, there's no one on the beach all morning
and I take the opportunity to swim and walk without the dogs, while
they're secure in the van in the shade of coconut palms. When I return,
Peter has left and the VW camper is also leaving. I hear from Verana
that while I was gone, an official we've already met had come by and
told everyone that this is private property (the land is owned by the
son of Mexico's last president) and the motorhomes have to leave.
Verena is allowed to stay because she's in a tent, and I, hidden away
behind trees can also stay. The American's had a huge fire the night
they arrived and are anything but inconspicous. We're sure it's helped
that we made it known from the beginning that we were collecting
garbage. But the rules are nebulous at best. We've paid for some of our
time here, but not all, but many others are just waved through. One
thing is certain. Nothing is permanent and it's only a matter of time
before I too need to leave. When I do, I'll head to Belize.
In the late afternoon, Peter and I drive to a restaurant five
kilometers away which has a staircase spiraling around a huge now-dead
trunk of a tree. Dog gamely follows me up, but Bruiser, after a few
failed attempts, stays at the bottom. The three-story view is
incredible, and once again I'm reminded of Watamu, Kenya, with beach on
one side, and a lagoon on the other. The only difference is wildlife.
Here, there is almost none. Years before, this used to be only coconut
plantations and it is my guess, that in order for that to happen, the
indigenous jungle and it's wildlife was destroyed. In this climate,
there should be birdsong every moment of the day, instead, there's
hardly any. There's no lizards, no snakes, no ground animals, and no
monkeys. And though I'm glad the dogs haven't upset any wildlife, it's
only because there is none. The place is dead. Hopefully, one day it
will return. But it is this absence of life, which will cause me to