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Getting Ripped Off in Mexico
Trip Report

Getting Ripped Off in Mexico


Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Puebla, Mexico, North America

Lat/Lon: 19.01640°N / 97.2667°W

Object Title: Getting Ripped Off in Mexico

Date Climbed/Hiked: Feb 9, 2004


Page By: Brian Jenkins

Created/Edited: Feb 15, 2004 /

Object ID: 169122

Hits: 9620 

Page Score: 77.48%  - 8 Votes 

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Friends Chris and Isaac whom I had met and had been tentmates with during an expedition course of Mt. Hood in 2002 emailed me in July of 2003 with the idea of climbing Orizaba in February, 2004. I hadn’t given much thought to climbing in Mexico since there were always so many more mountains closer to home. But, the thought of going up to 18,000 feet sounded really cool so I was in.

Day One
After many emails and a few phone calls over the past 7 or 8 months, travel day finally came February 4. Was pretty harsh getting up at 3:15 am to make my early flight to Houston from Portland, especially after being up until after midnight packing. But luckily, there was no one sitting next to me on the flight so I stretched out and slept most of the way. Met up with Chris and Isaac in the airport in Houston and was extremely happy to find out Isaac was fluent in Spanish (how did I not know this before?). So, things were looking up already.

The flight to Mexico City was unremarkable except for the customs forms to fill out. I was bad and lied about not bringing food into the country. I had about 30 pounds of it in one of my bags. Once we were there, we eventually found the right baggage claim area and upon picking up one of my large duffel bags, I discovered it was partially open. I would later discover my heavy fleece pants had been pilfered either in Houston or Mexico City. (Nice!)

So, about my duffel bags. Had two of them about 50 pounds each at least with gear and food for a week. Was just SUPER fun putting those things on my shoulders, walking through the airport for short distances until dropping them when I couldn’t take it any longer. Repeated this many times on our way out to where the buses were supposed to be to Puebla.

Once we got outside, the second ripoff of the trip occurred. Cabbies must band together to pick on the gringos that come out of the airport with what I can only imagine are big red targets on their shirts. We were told there were no buses from there to Puebla, you had to go to the bus station and that was a short cab ride away. I remember reading Secor’s book about how this was NOT supposed to happen but we didn’t see any other option so we agreed to the $30 cab ride. (Keep in mind that I came from the Chicago area, Chris grew up in New York and Isaac around Minneapolis so we all didn’t think that much about a $30 cab ride.) We hopped in this guy’s minivan/taxi and went for about a 10 minute ride to the bus station, where, we were informed it would be another 50 pesos to unload our bags. Then, the jerk wanted a tip. A smartass handing of $1 to the cabbie from Chris later and we were huffing our bags up the ramps to the bus terminals.

Imagine our surprise when we discovered that it cost us each only $7 for a two hour bus ride to Puebla. I will give props to the Mexican bus system -- very efficient, timely and decent………..well, except for the choice of movies shown on them. We watched a Thai martial arts movie dubbed in English with Spanish subtitles that had graphic language, violence and nudity among families with children on the bus. Interesting. But, I chalked it up to us being typical uptight Americans.

Made Puebla only to find the last bus to Tlachichuca had already gone for the night. (Excellent!) So, with Isaac bartering for us in Spanish, we luckily arranged for a cab to the Hotel Gerar an hour and a half away. The cab was loaded down with our 9 duffel bags like the car on the Beverly Hillbillies and I wonder how the front wheels weren’t off the ground but, whatever, we were moving. Made Senor Gerardo’s just before midnight and planned on heading up to Piedra Grande via his Jeep the next morning at 11 am.

Day Two
The next morning we had some errands to run before heading up so we got up early and had a great breakfast at the Casa Blanca restaurant just down the street. We then headed off to find a bucket to filter water from once up at PG and a fuel canister. Seems that Isaac’s fuel canister smelled like gas (IMAGINE!) when they went through the airport in Minneapolis so it was confiscated. We went to Senor Reyes’, the other main transport/outfitter/guide in Tlachichuca, only to find that he refused to help us since we were not his clients. NICE! Luckily while we were buying a bucket at a small local hardware store we ran into a guy who said we could use his and he’d sell us some white gas too. (Note for all of you thinking about going down there -- you can get fuel and canisters in the Sears in Puebla or Mexico City, but unless you are going through Sr. Reyes, you won’t find any in Tlachichuca) We had to hop in the back of this stranger’s pickup truck and drive to his house to get it but we figured it was ok. This guy was also going to be ferrying a solo climber from Canada up who was in his front seat and we talked to him a bit. He looked like a refugee from a bad 80’s band with thick curly hair short on the sides and big up top. (He would later end up only making it to 16,000 feet before getting sick and coming down.)

Anyway, we get back to Senor Gerardo’s and find out the road to PG is closed at about 12,000 feet due to the big storm the week before. We have probably 80 to 100 pounds of gear each as we were planning on a ride to PG and not having to worry about it. What do we do? We could try to hike up with all this stuff or Gerar says he’ll try to arrange for some mules or what? While we were trying to figure this out, 11 am came and as we did not want to hold up the transport for another climber, we said we’d wait another day to see if the road opens up any. Senor Gerar is ok with this and takes off. We decide to try to do somewhat of an acclimatization hike up a local “hill” (over 9000 feet high but the town is somewhere around the low 8000’s). We start walking west of town towards a ridge called El Cerro that has a set of 3 crosses in 3 different places as you hike up its trail.

We amble up towards the trail and I snap this picture trying to get the contrast between snowy peak and dry desert below. Halfway up, I got the picture below which is my favorite from the trip. I like the desert below and the blue sky above.

Oh, did I mention the evil sharp varieties of cactus that line the trail? Small, palmlike fronds that slice the calves. Another kind has sharp barbs that go in and detach. Then, when you pull them out, they take a nice little fleshy chunk as a souvenir. Our name evolved for these from the Fucker Plants to the more proper, El Fuckre. (pronounced “El FOO-cray)

We made the summit and had a small snack while the scarves or whatever they were that were attached to the crosses planted there flapped against us as in this picture. Got a bit off trail on the way down, enjoyed a few more scars from the plants but made it back in time to talk to Senor Gerar that night about what he found out about the road to PG.

We learned that the road was still closed but he could arrange for a mule to carry our stuff up the trail. We figured a mule would get just as stuck as we would so we might as well try to hike in ourselves and save the money. We just decided to go ultra-light so that night we pared down our gear. No snow pro, less food, no tent – we’d just stay in the hut, etc. Heck, we even used a pee bottle to bring up the white gas to save on weight. Chris and I decided to share contact lens solution, we tore route pages out of Secor’s book instead of taking the whole book, etc. It was all very Mark Twight-esque (although I am sure he’d think we still carried way too much).

Day Three
Next morning we loaded up the transport vehicle and were off. Several stops were still needed as Gerar gave us his cell phone and we stopped to get a calling card from a local store. This would allow us to tell him when we were ready to get picked up. Little did we know that the calling card was bogus and the phone turned out to be just extra weight.

The ride up to Piedra Grande was fine if not a bit slow. We stopped around 10,000 feet as a woman in a Land Rover was up there trying to get up as far as she could with her family. Gerar stopped and told her to not continue on as we were about to enter the 4WD section of the road. While we were waiting out that conversation, I snapped this photo of Popo, Izta and La Malinche off in the distance. Not too much further up the road we hit impassable snow and got out to begin the hike up.

Senor Gerar decided he would walk with us for a little bit. Maybe to check us out to make sure we were worthy, maybe just to be nice, who knows. We walked maybe a quarter of a mile or so and he turned back. A few hundred yards after that, we sat down for a rest, neither one of us wanting to show weakness before that point in front of him. We plodded on a bit very slowly trying not to let the sudden altitude gain until that point get the best of us. We all live near sea level so this was a big jump for us.

Luckily for us, a man on a horse came by. He said his name was Antonio Ramirez Morales. Isaac traded pleasantries with him in Spanish and he ultimately asked if we wanted him to take our gear up on horseback. We all gave a resounding “hell yeah” and agreed on 300 pesos. Once he got our gear tied down on his horse, the price suddenly jumped to 350 pesos. Geez, this kind of crap never ends in this place, eh? (The third ripoff of the trip) We were just happy though to get rid of the weight as we all had about 50 pound packs. (our “version” of minimalism) We went quickly from that point on up the trail and came around a turn to see Piedra Grande up ahead. Soon enough we were up there and checking out the hut.

Now, when I say hut, I really mean shithole. The place is infested with mice with one outhouse nearby. Why it is there, I can’t tell. It is filled up to the seat cover with feces so you really can’t sit down on it. There is no door on it, it faces the hut and everyone there and any sizeable rock in the surrounding area has piles of shit and used toilet paper around it. One of the things the profile page on summitpost says is that there are no fees or permits needed to climb this mountain and it’s obvious there really is no governing body taking care of the place, or, at least none that was apparent. Maybe “they” check it out periodically and we were just at the far end of the cycle, who knows.

So, back to the hut. It was filled with people and we were lucky to get the top shelf in the back of it. People were melting and boiling water and getting packs ready all night long. Our plan was to take an acclimatization hike up to 16,000 feet the next day but I got maybe 4 hours of sleep that night and was still sucking wind the next day. Some Mexican climber had been boiling water deep into the night and the fumes that came up to us in the top shelf were noxious.

Day Four
I decided to abstain from the hike the next day to hopefully take it easy and start breathing easier. I melted water and then filtered it through my purifier while they hiked a bit. I also got a chance to talk to some of the other climbers in the hut.

One of the really cool things about the hut though was the amount of quality climbers and various personalities we encountered. There was “Frenchy”, a 62 year old man who was there with his wife. They live at the base of Mont Blanc and he does that one as a dayhike when the mood hits him. Needless to say, of all the climbers while we were there, these two kicked everyone’s collective ass in strength and endurance and speed on the route. When Frenchy came in the hut and looked around at the condition of things, he muttered “Ah, Mexico” and went about trying to do his own thing. In talking to him, we discovered they have climbed in all the hotspots: Himalayas, South America, Alps, Africa, etc. He was our choice for Alpha Male of the hut.

Another climber was a young Mexican who was searching to put up a new route on Orizaba. He is headed down to South America to try to put up a new route on Alpamayo soon too. He also bombed this mountain up and down.

Others included “Scotty”, a Scotsman who apparently works 1 year and then takes 4 off to do this kind of thing. He couldn’t imagine why we didn’t just all quit our jobs to do fun things like this. He told us tales of trekking through Mongolia, Alaska, etc. He was the last one besides us to stay on the mountain that week.

There was a large climbing group from Colorado that would end up taking all day to do the route and then get lucky when they came down to have the first trucks that were able to make it through in weeks take them down the mountain. Several Mexican teams came and went throughout the week as well as one German team.

So, as I talked to some of these guys while melting snow, Chris and Isaac hiked up the route to just under 15,000 feet and then came back in clouds. Seems every day like clockwork about 1 pm clouds roll in and stay until dinner time. After which, they clear up and the night is pleasant and clear. We were also lucky to have a full moon this week which made it easier for the climbers to move up without use of headlamps.

That night in the hut was worse than the night before. There was never any time that someone was not making noise, heading out to summit, boiling water, puking from the altitude or just waking up to chat loudly without respect for anyone else who was trying to get some sleep. I was still sucking wind and got absolutely zero sleep. We had decided that afternoon to stay an extra day and not try for the summit this night as I was still not acclimatized. I was really thankful my buddies did this for me as I really wanted to climb this sucker.

Anyway, that afternoon we discovered the cell phone wouldn’t work and sent word down to Gerar via some climbers who were heading out to not pick us up until the next day. This would also allow me to do an acclimatization hike on the day in between. This was a Godsend as I was starting to get loopy from lack of sleep by now. So much so that I abandoned the idea of the hike up to 16,000 feet to sit and rest. Chris and Isaac were a bit tired too so they did the same.

Day Five
The day was spent melting/purifying water and talking to others. Trying to get a nap in but it was useless. And I still was sucking air. The sleepless night had been a nightmare for me as every time I would come close to sleep, my body would take a deep breath and it would wake me up. This was literally torture all night long.

The really good