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February 2004 - March 2004 : Mexico
Map of El Grande Route
El Grande
DAY 1: Los Angeles - Picacho Peak
Beginning our trip meant leaving the heart of Los Angeles and covering some distance. We loaded our backpacks onto the roof of the van and we drove. We drove all day leaving California and making progress into Arizona, eventually stopping after dark to pitch our tents and eat some dinner just south of Tucson at Picacho Peak State Park.

DAY 2: Picacho Peak - San Carlos
Another days driving over the border at Nogales and into Mexico itself.

DAY 3: San Carlos - Los Mochis
Now it's time for the adventure to really begin! There had been an avalanche on the train line for the next part of our trip and it was touch and go as to whether we would actually make it aboard!

DAY 4: Los Mochis - El Fuerte
We started the drive out of Los Mochis towards Creel in case the train was to let us down. We were supposed to be catching it today, but because of the avalanche it has been rescheduled for tomorrow. Not trusting the Mexican way of life and them telling us it would be running "manana" we opened to be safe and start the drive.

DAY 5: El Fuerte - Creel
We held onto our seats for an unforgettable journey into the wilderness of Copper Canyon that goes up to the rim of the world's largest canyon. We hopped aboard North America's most thrilling train ride as we climbed to the top of this natural wonder, to the town of Creel.

DAYS 6-8: Creel. Creel - Los Mochis
We spent three nights exploring the surrounding countryside. I was able to hike the trails of the legendary Tarahumara Indians and visit isolated hot springs nestled against steep canyon walls before successfully catching the train back to El Fuerte and driving back to Los Mochis.

DAYS 9-11: Los Mochis - Mazatlan - Sayulita
Next, three days along the Pacific Ocean - sandy beaches, water sports, exciting nightlife, even a boat trip through the jungle to see crocodiles and take a dip with them!

DAY 12: Sayulita - Puerto Vallarta
A beautiful little town where we were left to explore. Haggled in the markets and went across the most rickerty wooden bridge which I vowed I was not going to go back over.

DAY 13: Puerto Vallarta - Guadalajara
We returned to city life and we took time to investigate modern Mexico's second largest city, Guadalajara.

DAY 14-15: Guadalajara - Paricutin
We continued with a visit to Paricutin Volcano, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, explored the lava fields that had buried San Juan church when the volcano last erupted in the 1950’s.

DAY 16: Paricutin - Lake Patzcuaro
Wandering the cobblestone streets of picturesque Patzcuaro we were able to shop for arts and crafts at El Mercado. We then took a very dodgy boat to Isla de Janitzio to observe fishermen casting butterfly-nets much as their ancestors did centuries ago as well we climbing to the top of the island to climb to the top of the statue there.

DAY 17: Lake Patzcuaro - Guanajuarto
On to Guanajuato - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - where subterranean passageways and remnants of great silver mines echo this proud country's colourful and often turbulent colonial past. The most beautiful city – a must for any tourist!

DAY 18: Guanajuarto - San Miguel de Allende
On to nearby San Miguel de Allende for more local culture.

DAY 19: San Miguel de Allende - Mexico City
Next we investigated the incredible ruins of Teotihuacan, the grandest metropolis of ancient America. Were we ready for a challenge? We climbed the 248 steps to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun - the third largest pyramid on earth! We also climbed what felt like just as many steps to the summit of the Pyramid of the Moon. Half way through the trip and a night in Mexico City – the world’s largest city!

DAYS 20-21: Mexico City - Oaxaca
We headed for the colonial city of Oaxaca and climbed the historic steps of the centre of ancient Zapotec culture in Monte Alban.

DAY 22: Oaxaca - Tuxtla
Dropping out of the highlands for an exciting boat ride up spectacular Sumidero Canyon.

DAYS 23-24: Tuxtla - San Cristobal de las Casas
Ascending into the centre of the Chiapas highlands to the fascinating village of San Cristobal de las Casas, we wandered its cobblestone streets, teeming with local Tzetzol and Tzotzil Indians dressed in colourful costumes reminiscent of their Mayan ancestors. We were able to explore local markets filled with exotic foods and beautiful handicrafts and sample their breakfast bowl mugs of hot chocolate with sweet bread to dip into them.

DAYS 25-26: San Cristobal de las Casa - Palenque
We were able marvel at the turquoise-blue waters of Agua Azul waterfalls – the sunlight catching the spray was beautiful. Next we enter the deep, emerald-green jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula and the centre of the Mayan world. We climbed the ancient pyramids of Palenque and Chichen Itza.

DAY 27: Palenque - Calakmul
We visited Calakmul Biosphere Reserve deep in the jungle for a sunrise atop the pyramids.

DAYS 28-31: Calakmul - X-puha
Time to settle into our secluded beach camp on the Caribbean coast at X-puha. Here it was time to relax, as well as try a hand at cave diving – a bizarre experience for a new SCUBA diver – in the dark with no surface to go up to, just rock!

DAY 32: X-puha - Playa del Carmen
A real tourist town. Not so good when looking for culture, but plenty of shops if supplies were needed, and no need to change American Dollars as most of the shops would take them instead of Pesos at a reasonable exchange rate.

DAYS 33-34: Playa del Carmen - Isla Mujeres
Leaving the jungle behind we caught the ferry to Isla Mujeres and spent some time exploring the island.

DAYS 35-36: Isla Mujeres - Merida
On to Merida - the capital of hammock making. How many people in one hammock? What colour would you like? Sure we can sell you one Sir. Not cheap, but the real McCoy and make to last!

DAY 37: Merida - Uxmal
More ruins and more pyramids to climb at Uxmal.

DAY 38: Uxmal - Palenque
Covering ground on our way back to Mexico City and a night to chill out.

DAY 39: Palenque - Acayucan
Moving on to Acayucan, we were able to experience the unhurried pace of small town Mexico before exploring the giant stone Olmec heads of La Venta near Villahermosa.

DAY 40: Acayucan - Mexico City
A final "van appreciation" day as we headed back to Mexico City and the end of our 40 day adventure!

Tour taken with Trek America
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