Xmas 2009 in Mexico, including Ballooning, Sea Turtles, and Crocodiles

Here's a bunch of photos from various Xmas activities in Mexico this year. First up are some photos from when my Mom was visiting. Heidi gave all of us a balloon trip, going up over the 2000-year old pyramids at Teotihuacan, which are ruins north of Mexico City. The big pyramid there is actually the #3 largest in the world, after Egypt. (#2 is also in Mexico, at Cholula, though it's largely still buried and has a Catholic church built on top of it.)

Then there are also some photos from Xmas itself, when we went to Huatulco in Oaxaca, and explored around a crocodile-filled lagoon, and then went snorkeling. Below that are some cute Fin photos, and finally a few old ballooning ones from two years ago that I never put up, but seemed apropos here.

Also of note: earlier photos from our trips (at ground level) of the Teotihuacan pyramids and the Cholula pyramid.

And, I put up a YouTube video of us just barely avoiding the pyramids from the air.

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Ballooning over the Pyramids at Teotihuacan, Mexico City

We showed up at 6:30 in the morning. Mexico is not an early-rising country, and it was quite dark. The instructions said to drive til you see a sign for a gasolinera, and then turn behind it. There was a big circus tent set up, which was sadly not for us. Here's Heidi and Jorge, who helps run the balloon operation.
The circus advertises an Espectaculo de Mikel Jackson. He's very popular here, what the world record-setting simultaneous dancing of Thriller, and so forth. You can see Mexico's largest pyramid in the distance, just to the right of the gigantic duck-themed garbage can.
Behind the tent, the burners are fired up.
A small balloon goes up to test the winds. Actually, this one just hung in the air without going up, so I concluded there was an inversion layer going on. When we returned, it was still there, and I finally figured out it was on a string.
There were four balloons going up this morning. Here's ours.
They're running large (cold) fans to blow air into it.
Piper checks out the action on one of those fans.
Once it's inflated, the burner goes on. The whole process takes half an hour or so.
Here's Ramon, our pilot.
All of us here, including my mom, Piper, and Heidi.
Now we're off!
OK, this is cool. We quickly headed toward the pyramids. This the largest one (wikipedia), seen from behind. The pyramids here were built by early residents around 0 BC, then taken over by the Aztecs as their own city about 1000 years later. The Aztecs were killed off when Cortez arrived, and the pyramids were literally untouched, unstudied, and largely covered up until the early 1900's. Even now -- just 20 miles from the world's 2nd-largest city -- there's tons of little hills all around, each of which is a dirt-covered pyramid, temple or other cool building.
We were cruising over one of the modern towns, San Francisco de la Purificacion. These are pretty typical houses for Mexico... lots of concrete, metal, and a couple of dogs. (No, it's not a slum.)
Note the decorations over the street, for Xmas.
Now we're gettng closer to the pyramids. We cruised over the pyramid at about 20' AGL, no joke -- here we are well below the top (it's 250' high). The photo sure looks like a blue-screen image, but it's totally legit. This felt akin to hang gliding off the Washington Monument -- try getting away with that in the US!
Sunrise over the pyramid. The entrance gates open in about 15 minutes.
Ramon had an altimeter with him, but Heidi noticed the rest of his instruments were turned off. "Es mi primer vuelo" ("It's my first flight") he said a few times, though I don't think he was telling the truth. He flies in the mornings, and then works days in (coincidentally) a balloon-making factory, where they make advertising balloons, banners for airplanes, and whatnot.
This is the newest structure at Teotihuacan, which is a very fancy house with a lot of rooms inside it.
The two large pyramids.
Looking down, we were cruising over mostly farmland. What they are farming all around is rows and rows of cactus. These are all prickly pears, which make tasty fruits (tuna, not to be confused with atun, which is the fish).
The first balloon goes down!
We cruise (literally) about 3' over a power line. But I suppose the balloon has enough inertia that it's not going to suddenly drop 3'...
We avoided all the prickly pear farms, and set down in a cornfield.
Here comes the retrieval truck. Not shown is the farmer, who showed up on his bicycle 3 minutes later, and was very upset at Ramon.
We found some very cute perritos in a nest in the corn.
More puppies! "It's like a farm, but of puppies!" says Piper.
We've driven back to the balloon shop. This was a big operation, with at least 18 different ballons on the palletes here.
Here's a handy GPS track of the flight. There was very little wind, and we went about 3 miles (2 miles direct) in 55 minutes. The crazy s-shaped curve? It turns out that balloons have much more control than they're given credit for: if the pilot wants to change their speed or direction, they just go up or down til they find the right wind at a different level, and ride that.

A Few Animals

Just a few km away is a little animal park (Reino Animal, aka Animal Kingdom). They have a new attraction, which is that they put people on buses with wire mesh windows, tie dead meat to the outside, and then drive them through a zone of lions.
Also, their star attraction, Jorge-Luis, is a big fan of the carrot.

Sea Turtles and Crocodiles, Oaxaca, Mexico

Change of pace. Also over Xmas, we went to Huatulco, in the state of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. Here Piper encounters a security guard taking care of the pool at night.
Heidi and I went snorkeling, and here's a ray that she found.
We also did some low-key paddling around an island with a lot of pelicans.
Piper liked to stick her head under the water from the kayak and see what was down there.
Near Huatulco there is the town of Mazunte, which has two main attractions: sea turtles, and crocodiles. The turtles used to be hunted there, but that was banned a dozen or so years ago, and now there is a big sea turtle rescue center there. Here, two tortugas del mar hug each other.
And three more are following Heidi and Fin.
Check out those tortugas!
This one is a little bit sick.
Now we've gone up the road to the lagoon of the crocodiles. The sign warns against swimming.
We hired a rowboat driver, Ernesto, to take us through the lagoon.
And whoa! Just 2 minutes after we entered, we found our first croc! He's just hanging out in the water. There are about 220 of them here, spread across 400 km^2 or so of mangroves. (Alligators are more common in the US, but here these are crocs.)
Heidi, Fin, and Piper are all looking for crocs.
Fin's very cute.
And there one is! It's about a paddle length off the right side of the boat.
Piper is scared. (Heidi said before I talked her into going: 'I am not taking a three-month old baby into a crocodile-filled swamp, in a rowboat, after dark.' So picky...)
Here's a bird.
We walked down the beach and -- check it out! The sign advertised La Liberacion de las Tortugas del Mar -- they were releasing sea turtle babies into the ocean. A guy came up with a cooler of maybe a dozen turtles from the sanctuary.
A lot of them get eaten by things like -- well, crocodiles. But these at least made it into the ocean, thanks to the gathered crowds.
We also rented a boat and went snorkeling for a day. Here our driver, Marco, scans the horizon while not drinking his alcoholic beverage ('New Mix,' which is a combination of Squirt and tequila).
Heidi and Marco saw a manta ray jumping in the water as we were driving around (but not me). Allegedly there are dolphins and whales here often close as well.
Piper is preparing to jump in. Both Heidi and I got stung by a few jellyfish while in the water -- allegedly there because of a warm tide.
Here are some fish.
Marco takes care of Fin while we are in the water.
Piper prepares (again).
Piper as seen from below (shark-view?).

Phineas

Here's Fin with a bird.
And Fin camping in the front yard (a posed picture, for the Throop 2010 calendar).
And he very much enjoys his French giraffe named Sophie (article).

Ballooning in Charlottesville (old)

Rewind. Here's a few photos from when Heidi and I went to Charlottesville, VA back in February 2008. We went ballooning there too, but I never put up the photos. It was a lot colder there, and it was more of a DIY operation (one pilot, and a ground-support person, but we did the balloon packing, lifting, etc. ourselves.)
We took off from a field next to a strip mall, and flew probably 10 miles in an hour.
The coolest thing was the snow on the ground: as we were going over the ice, it's all silent except for barking dogs, and deer. The dogs one could expect, but it was super amazing to hear the deer running thru the forest, crunching their hooves in the ice, 2000' below us.

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Henry Throop

Last modified Fri Mar 5 17:27:32 2010