Our paddling season ended fairly abruptly in mid September when we went from warm harvest weather to cold and snow. Back in the spring when we were making our winter plans, we decided that a venture back down to Mexico to paddle in November would be a great way to bridge between fall paddling and our Ecuador Christmas Adventure.
Our first Mexico paddling experience was earlier this year in February with Ben Kvanli of the Olympic Outdoor Centre in San Marcos, Texas. He had such a solid knowledge of the area that we decided to work with him to arrange a “reunion” trip to go to Mexico for US Thanksgiving with the new friends we met on the February trip. It was a bit of an epic journey… Whitehorse to Vancouver, Vancouver to Los Angeles and then Los Angeles to San Antonio.
Ben’s trips are based out of San Marcos, Texas and everyone piles into a white van and drives 16 hours to the San Luis Potosi region of Mexico. The van leaves San Marcos at midnight to hit the Mexican border at first light and then make it down to Aldea Huasteca, the main lodge, by early afternoon. 16 hours in a passenger van are not the most comfortable way to start a trip and definitely caused some humming and hawing on our part – did we really want to do that again? Ben’s coaching and guiding ability tipped it over the edge for us – he did such a great job with Hunter in February and it was a safe road schooling opportunity in rural Mexico.
As with any paddling trip, there were some unexpected adventures along the way…
- The friends that we had originally planned to go with on the trip were unable to go at the last minute, which was a real disappointment. The upside was we made 3 new friends that I’m certain we will also cross paths with in the future as we continue to adventure. Hunter’s first response was “we’re going to paddle with strangers?” and then I reminded him that our friends that we were planning on going with were strangers when we met them in February…
- broken valve stem on one of the tires when we tried to fill up the air just prior to crossing the border in Pharr, Texas, resulting in breakfast at a Mexican bakery and roadside shop. When you shop in a Mexican bakery, you are given a tray that is about the size of a 12 inch pizza and then you go around and select the goods from the various cases. We bought a few items we knew (croissants, danishes) and a few items we didn’t – probably 8 items in total, for a whole $3.00
- broken belt on tire #2, discovered while driving, which resulted in us driving at half speed for the last 3 hours of the trip. The upside of this was we went into Ciudad Valles and had dinner at Tacos Richard – a favourite of Hunter’s from February. This was the beginning of him boldly ordering his own food and venturing into use of Spanish, something he was fairly unwilling to do in February.
- big bulge in tire #3 that was discovered on day 3 during shuttling, which resulted in a long leisurely lunch in Valles at a restaurant with internet access while it was replaced. More menu decoding and ordering for Hunter
- Tim ended up getting moderately sick due to some Tacos at the Hotsprings and this kept him from paddling the class 4/5 Santa Maria run, which is a 7 hour paddle and has a take out where you climb up the side of the 300 foot Tamul waterfall. The flip side was we had a well needed sleep-in as a family and spent a down day laying about in the sun on the grass and playing soccer, which made Hunter really happy.
- We all enjoyed the patio life at the end of the Santos River at the Huasteca Secreta and ended up not getting on the road early enough to make it to Ciudad Victoria on the way back to the border. We ended up pulling off the road after driving the highway in the dark too long and wandering into the town of Llera de Canales. After driving around in circles and accidentally driving down a one way street the wrong way, which happened to be in front of the Police station, we ended up having a friendly chat with a Police Man and he found us a hotel to stay at. You get the keys by walking into a small storefront that sells clothes and tourist items and then walk around the corner and down the block to get to the hotel, which is up some stairs and on the 2nd floor of the building. There were 6 rooms in total, with 4 of them being finished. The upside is that they were relatively clean, had showers and basic wifi. The highlight of this stop was the family run taco shop that we found, and ended up sitting out in the street on plastic chairs while eating dinner. They were so excited to meet us that they asked for a group photo before we left.
Overall the paddling was good – the water was warm, we weren’t in dry suits and Hunter successfully paddled a number of drops and runs that he wasn’t comfortable paddling in February.
Upon reflection, the biggest highlights of the trip were all about Hunter:
- The growth that was evident in his paddling skills and confidence level.
- His continued willingness to engage with people of all ages and backgrounds – I can confidently say that he made more new friends than we did on this trip…His new buddies Jo and Cole helped to make this a special week.
- His desire to be independent and learn how to engage in Spanish. He learned to order his own food and at one point asked for money so he could go and get himself an ice-cream, which meant heading off to another area of the large mexican grocery store we were in and managing the transaction on his own.
While we didn’t get much “book learning” done during our 7 days away, this was another validation of the positive impact that Road Schooling has on kids and it continues to excite me about the possibilities as we go forward.
We’re all busy working on our Spanish and looking forward to Ecuador in three weeks!