It was a late summer morning while sitting at our Powell Lake cabin sipping my morning coffee staring out the window watching the rain pelting off the front deck’s surface and listening to the gentle lake waves lapping against the shoreline that my thought reflected upon our two night March excursion to Amatlan de Cañas in Mexico. There was a bit of guilt included with my reflections as we’d planned to document our Mexican trip as soon as we arrived home in early April. However, it wasn’t long before we were absorbed with our spring gardening tasks, our struggling to obtain a permit to construct a workshop in our backyard and our rushing up the lake to energize our cabin for summer usage. Needless to say we were busy and focused on local activities and the writing and sharing of our late season Mexican trip slipped in a rather rapid manner to the “back burner!” Our wonderful spring and summer season was upon us and either we are getting slower at task completion or we include too many. We’d like to think it’s the latter! As April and May slipped away it wasn’t long before July was in the rear view mirror and the grandkids, bless their souls, chewed up August. September slumber was quickly upon us and the lake boat traffic stilled to a slow ebb. Now was the final opportunity to either write and submit this article or chuck the story idea and move on to next season’s Mexican trips. As the old cliché goes, “Better late than never!” So here is the reporting of our last season’s travel experience completed just before packing and departing for our home away from home – Los Ayala, Nayarit, Mexico.
An early departure saw us tossing our bags into the Xterra’s rear compartment, and as usual our first stop was the nearest Pemex station to top up the gas tank. On the road again it wasn’t long before we pulled into Las Varas for our second stop at Angelina’s Restaurant, one of our favourite, to enjoy a hearty breakfast consisting of huevos rancheros and a Mexican omelette complete with hot cups of coffee. Finally, with both fuel tanks topped up, the vehicles and ours, I anticipated driving directly to our final destination- Amatlan de Cañas. But, as we reached the outskirts of Mesillas, Doreen suggested we stop to visit our young friends, Mario and Elizabeth, at their roadside coffee shop. They’re a young family we met years ago to visit their coffee plantation and to scramble over rocks to view stone carved cliff petroglyphs. We usually visit once or twice a year sharing pie and coffee, and purchasing a couple of bags of their scrumptious coffee. After a warm visit and another cup of coffee we were back on Highway 200 heading towards Compostela. Today the highway was not busy, making the twisting turning drive to the Compostela junction pleasant not having to deal with impatient drivers passing blindly or being stuck behind a slow truck.
You can view “Compostela: The Overlooked City” published May 14, 2014 on Jaltemba Bay Life.com
At the intersection near Compostela, we drifted to the right and took the cuota highway 68D toward Guadalajara then switched to the libre road stopping at Ahuacatlan for lunch. We wandered the town’s picturesque plaza stretching our legs and taking pictures while checking out the street taco stands for our lunch. We employed one of our golden travel rules and selected the busiest stand to enjoy chicken tacos and juice. All the people eating there can’t be wrong!
After our lunch we drove through Ahuacatlan picking up Highway 4 proceeding towards Amatlan de Cañas. While the highway is a secondary road it was in good condition climbing over the mountain range. Although one must be alert watching for loose rock on the road or on-coming vehicles cutting corners on the curvy road.
We arrived at our destination mid-afternoon providing for an early hotel check in, or one would think, but I’d forgotten our road atlas and hotel information on our bungalow table in Los Ayala. At this point I wasn’t a popular individual! Thus it was with a bit of luck that we found our hotel. Following a one-way street in the wrong direction we passed a hotel entrance and Doreen recalled the posted name as our destination hotel. Fortunately, this let me off the hook!
Being mid-week and after a holiday weekend, Bungalows Los Pavos Reales (the peacocks) was empty. The owner, Alfonso Ron, gave us an opportunity to select the room of our choice. We settled on a comfortable second story room providing a splendid view of the hotel’s beautifully manicured and appointed lawn and pool area. Alfonso was extremely helpful lending us a cooler for our food and beverages plus advising on the best local restaurant for dining. While relaxing on the balcony playing cards, four peacocks joined us for an extensive photo opportunity which brought closure to our day. We certainly did not realize that these relatively large birds could fly as well as they demonstrated, safely soaring from our balcony to the lawn.
As dusk descended we took Alfonso’s advice and walked to the nearby Toucan Restaurant. The restaurant was a local favourite for special occasions featuring a fish and steak menu. Since we often purchase fresh locally caught fish on the coast, we opted for hamburgers and fries. Our meal was adequate but certainly not inspiring. We’re spoiled with our varied excellent restaurants located in the coastal towns of La Peñita and Rincón de Guayabitos.
Early next morning found us in the town’s plaza desperately searching for our morning coffee! We must remember on our next trip to include a coffee percolator to enjoy our early coffees in the comfort of our room! At busy Sandorval Restaurant, we enjoyed huevos rancheros and a Mexican omelette washed down with, you guessed it, more hot coffee. Next, we wandered the plaza visiting Templo de Jesús de Nazereno and the Templo de Roasario. We unsuccessfully searched for a museum, but were eventually led to a small room containing local photographs.
Returning to our hotel, we collected our swim gear and headed for the hot pools. The drive was a short distance to the Balnearias Aguas Termales (hot waters). We paid our $50 peso fee and set about soaking in a few pools and swam in the larger pool before settling on a smaller comfortable pool with a favourable temperature. Just like Goldilocks, “Not too hot, not too cool, just right!”
Balnearios Agua Termales is a vast concrete structure complete with numerous levels with many pools of varying sizes and temperatures. There are numerous table and bench combinations where family groups would arrive and stake out their area unloading coolers of food and drink to spend the day soaking and socializing. I don’t think one would desire to be there on a busy weekend with the sea of people that apparently arrive during holiday periods. Or if you enjoy crowds it might be a huge amount of fun interacting and observing the Mexican families at play.
After our soak, we returned to our room and relaxed before preparing to again dine at the Toucan Restaurant. Having had our “burger” experience we both selected a fish dish from the menu and enjoyed our respective meals, retiring early to our bungalow.
Amatlan de Cañas, surrounded by La Sierra de Pajaritos and Sierra Madre de Sur mountain ranges, is a pleasant prosperous town depending on agriculture and ranching plus serving the small surrounding towns. The pace appeared rather casual with local produce being sold in the plaza from pickup truck beds, resident farmers attending to business and others occupying the park benches.
After a breakfast in the plaza we left Amatlan de Cañas to return to Los Ayala, our home away from home. We retraced our path following Highway 4 back to Ahuacatlan passing the turnoff to El Manto Water Park. Another man’s dream of constructing a recreational complex to visit and swim in one of the many cooling pools. If you haven’t visited this amazing canyon water park, do so and it’s guaranteed you’ll marvel at the amount of construction and excavating done to carve a small canyon stream into a beautiful attraction (www.elmanto.com.mx). This time we continued past the El Manto turnoff not stopping for a brief swim.
On the way home we stopped at Santa Isabel to browse a couple of the many roadside pottery shops. Great place to purchase family gifts. We were searching for the number “1” to complete our lakeshore cabin address, but had no luck. Surprise, surprise, not all was lost! Doreen discovered a set of three beautifully painted butterflies. Now at our cabin, these gorgeous butterflies adorn the wall above our front door. You can’t miss them as they further enhance our cabin’s Mexican theme.
After paying the $35 peso toll on the cuota road (toll road) we again joined Highway 200 at the Compostela intersection. We drove directly to Las Varas, which became our lunch stop. For a change of restaurant venue, we stopped at Rosita Restaurant located beside the highway and close to the town’s northern entrance. We enjoyed a fantastic meal consisting of carne asada with papas fritas on the side, plus a decadent dessert, helado de nuez (walnut ice cream).
We arrived at our bungalow mid-afternoon to a rather quiet courtyard as most Canadians by now had returned to Canada while the locals were busy preparing for the upcoming Semana Santa celebration.
We experienced a successful excursion to enjoy the area’s interior and gain a brief glimpse and flavour of the true Mexican pulse. For us, our trips are a way to escape the more touristy tone of the coastal towns and experience in a small way another aspect of Mexican culture.
In just a few short weeks we’ll be returning to the Riviera Nayarit area again to bask on the beach, renew friendships and check out the changes. Life is good!
Author’s Note: One might alter the return route driving to Ixtlan del Rio to visit Los Toriles Archaelogical site. Visit our article “The Golden Age Backpackers: Los Toriles Archaelogical Site” dated February 20, 2013. Well worth a half day visit as the temple of Quetzalcoatl is considered top notch in architectural circles.
by John and Doreen Berg
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