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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
7 yrs and 6 days - end of the road

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Once a Scout Always a Scout, Mazatlan to the Mariposas

Feb 18, 2016
by John

Traveling has an edge, an impossibility of probabilities. There are times we find ourselves staring at the map, almost spinning a bottle to chart our course. Unknown are the experiences, hidden by the pages of guidebooks and blogs. Chance will unravel the unexpected, revealing the moments.

We have always known that the places we visit are only the means for those we will meet. This journey is of people as it is of destinations. We are excited and apprehensive. Our hearts open, slightly scarred by what we leave behind. We move, experience, and meet. Our tails bushy, our eyes bright. We are overwhelmed by kindness, grateful for travel, and in awe of those who have touched us so.

What We Did

Playa Chacala

A neat beach community that is probably 30% gringo and 70% local. We drove to Chacala after getting the van serviced in Mazatlan, then spending a couple days in Tepic finishing some administrative items. It was the place where Irene & Simon just happened to be. Truth is they reached out and we happily headed to the beach to hang with them again. We were warned that Chacala could get really busy on the weekends so why not show up on the Friday starting a three day holiday. Even though it did get a bit busy, we had a great time just beach bumming it with Irene & Simon before they headed off to get their truck serviced.

Playa Chacala, Chacala, Mexico

A gringo ate my dingo

Playa Chacala, Chacala, Mexico

Quite the specimen of technology

Playa Chacala, Chacala, Mexico

No snap, possibly crackle, definitely pop

Playa Chacala, Chacala, Mexico

We prefer orange but green is nice too

Playa Chacala, Chacala, Mexico

Proper planning prevents piss poor performance, until a Swiss photo bombs

Playa de las Cuevas

A hard to reach spot that required some negotiating to gain access. Garrett, a gringo we met in Chacala, was our guide and worked a deal for us to spend the night. Being a Mexican holiday we didn't have the place all to ourselves as we had hoped. The road in was rutted quite substantially, nothing high clearance and good driving couldn't handle. One of the guards was a bit overzealous, startling us around 7PM regarding some smoldering embers left behind by some visiting locals. We let him use one of our water bottles to douse what remained and are still a little perplexed why he didn't just stomp them out. We are split on whether it was worth driving in and spending the night. Boats can be arranged as transport to Playa de las Cuevas or it can be hiked one way in roughly 90 minutes, both from Chacala.

Playa las Cuevas, Nayarit, Mexico

Nothing to see here, move along

Playa las Cuevas, Nayarit, Mexico

Isn't there supposed to be a swim-up bar?

Laguna La Maria

Wanting a break from the Pacific, we headed to a lake in the mountains near a volcano to explore a cave hike. We expected to stay a couple of nights, leaving after four. We camped in a grassy field near the entrance instead of lakeside due to the conditions of the sites and bathrooms at the lake. We were charged the same price, $5.50 per night, since we don't use any hookups. When we first attempted the hike we turned around near the end of the fourth cave which would have required sliding out on our bellies. We later met a guide who informed us that particular trail was closed due to dangerous conditions. He told us about another route we eventually figured out on our second attempt. We came across two giant moths, I thought they were birds until I saw them in the sunlight. Mandi wasn't entirely impressed as they startled her when they bounced off of her head on their way out of the cave.

A couple of days into our stay two groups of locals arrived. It was the weekend, so we expected some late night celebrating, one group did not disappoint. The other group, Mexican scouts from Ciudad Guzman, was a wonderful surprise. After we discussed our van and trip with one of the chiefs, Alejandro, we were soon honorary members of their co-ed troop. That night we participated in a hike to get closer to the volcano for possible spark sightings and were treated to a fabulous dinner. The next morning we were invited to breakfast, then we led the scouts on a safe hike through some caves. Ending our time together we were presented with a unit patch and neckerchief, things we will always hold dear.

What many may not know is I was a Boy Scout. I started as a Cub Scout, became a Webelos, then Boy Scout, ultimately attaining the rank of Eagle. While there have been many unfortunate issues surrounding the image of U.S. Scouts in the last few years, that should not reflect upon each scout individually. I personally cherish the time I spent in Scouts and hold a strong connection to every Scout I encounter. Our adoption by our new friends is why we travel!

Laguna La Maria, Colima, Mexico

Sure, it's safe, why not

Laguna La Maria, Colima, Mexico

That doesn't look so bad

Laguna La Maria, Colima, Mexico

Are we having fun yet?

Laguna La Maria, Colima, Mexico

Cafe, cafe! Cafe con leche, cafe!

Santuario Sierra Chincua - Monarch Butterflies

Our tentative plan, since shipping to the Mainland, had always been to meet up with Irene & Simon at the Monarchs. We were undecided on which route to take from Laguna La Maria, ultimately skipping the Michoacan coast to arrive on time. They have become dear friends of ours yet our paths will eventually diverge as our trips are different. When we reached the Santuario Sierra Chincua parking lot they were already set up. Soon we were all off huffing up the hill at over 10,000 feet on our way to see the butterflies. As the sun broke through the clouds the forest started to come to life. 10s, 100s, 1000s, then 10s of 1000s or more began fluttering about. An experience we all shared together, an unbelievable memory.

That evening we all met Dagmar & Manfred, an energetic and lively couple from Germany also running the Pan-Am. A big dinner was had and stories were shared. The next morning we all hiked back up to see the butterflies again before sharing more stories over lunch. Dagmar & Manfred soon departed and those of us remaining accompanied Simon up the hill one last time for the perfect shot. It was wondrous.

Santuario Sierra Chincua, Michoacan, Mexico

Is the northern side supposed to be covered in moss or butterflies

Santuario Sierra Chincua, Michoacan, Mexico

It's finger lickin, finger lickin good y'all!

Santuario Sierra Chincua, Michoacan, Mexico

Can you see the butterflies through the trees?

Santuario Sierra Chincua, Michoacan, Mexico

Easier than a dog at border crossings. Thanks for the photo Irene and Simon

Nautica Olas de la Valle

Irene & Simon got a lead on a less visited Monarch sanctuary and a campground nearby. We ended up spending four nights there but never made it to see the butterflies, sorry Simon. El Amigo Santiago, the owner/operator, was a real treat and surrounded by antics. His daughter, Fatima, melted our souls simply by telling us her age. We ventured into Valle de Bravo once, it's a really cool place. The small town a short hike around the lake became our go to for supplies.

Nautica Olas de la Valle, Valle de Bravo, Mexico

No, we aren't stalking you. Why, could you tell?

Honorable Mentions

While we don't list every place and thing we do there are some that stick in our minds. Weeks later we catch ourselves mentioning them to others or just savoring the memory of the exquisite cuisine we consumed. Here are a couple standouts.

Cafe Luna, Tepic

A nice western style cafe in front of the Los Pinos RV Trailer Park. The cappuccinos were excellent as was the WiFi. We spent half a day there sucking down the go juice while getting caught up on our blog.

Antojitos Mexicanas Jade, Chacala

Authentic food prepared and served by a husband and wife. She took us into the kitchen area and let us try all of the dishes she had prepared so we could order exactly what we wanted. Her mole chicken quesadillas will probably never be surpassed. A great find by Irene & Simon.

Cafe La Yerbabuena, Yerbabuena

There was a mention about a rustic cafe up the road in the Laguna La Maria entry in iOverlander. Easily the best coffee of the trip. The beans are grown, picked, roasted, and ground onsite. The owner spent some time in the U.S. and is a wonderful guy. The looks might scare some away but any die hard coffee fan would be an idiot not to stop in. We had 2 cappuccinos each then bought 1kg of ground coffee all for 200 pesos. If he had more vacuum sealed available we would have filled the van to the brim and left broke, it is that good.

Say what? (2)
Feb 19, 2016 at 10:55 AM
Wow. I have to zoom-in the picture few times to believe that they are all really butterflies. They covered the tree. Awesome.
Btw, if we were not in right time then would we see a bunch of caterpillars ? :)
Feb 19, 2016 at 11:22 AM
Hey Sri,

The Monarchs are really fascinating. Soon the migration north will begin. Friends of ours were looking into them and discovered that there might be a small pocket of them in south Florida. We suggest coming to Mexico to see them but there could be an alternative within 8 hours of you. We hope all is well and tell everyone we send our love!
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