The running man…

October 18, 2010

 

We first witnessed him in Zacatecas and he’s here again in Morelia.  With great character, he is seen on all major stop lights prompting folks to move across the intersection at a considerable speed.  At first he exhibits walking at a moderate pace, but as the seconds tick down he breaks into a run and then a frantic sprint.  Always amusing…

 

Running...

All out sprinting...

 

 

 

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Laguna Chapala…

October 16, 2010

It’s a big lake.  The biggest in Mexico.  And at one time you could see almost down to the bottom they say.  But not any more.  The agricultural mayhem that goes on for miles and miles around the lake has cause the lake, and coincidently the hovering atmosphere, to become a soft shade of taupe.  But it’s still a nice body of water to hang out by and you can even fish for some catfish and carp.  Just no swimming.  Well, you can swim if you want to, but we saw but 2 people taking a dip in our entire week of cruising around the lake’s shores.

The lake also, similar to San Miguel, has a few towns that invite the retiring x-pat communities to settle comfortably.  The presence of Americans, Canadians and Europeans can be felt along the lake’s shores in the towns of Chapala and Ajijic.  This of course led to a many conversations in English about our journey and even better, some very excellent invitations into beautiful lakeside homes for some rests and meals.  There is a road running just alongside the entire lake, which made for quaint days of riding and around the remainder of the lake it was business as usual.  Small Mexican towns, roadside tacos stands and the usual truck avoidance filled our days.

The largest fresh water lake in Mexico, Lago Chapala...

The heavenly glow of a late night taco stand...

Overlooking one of the towns on the north side of the lake...

Graffiti like this excites me to no end...

A sign outside a little bike shop in Ajijic...

Kurt whiled some hours away casting into the lake...

And for bait.... cheese and balled up tortillas...

Magnificent viewing as the sky...

...slowly fades...

...into night...

Marie and Duncan, two British Columbians, who not only offered us a comfy sleep in their beautiful home, but Marie also hooked it up with a bag of quinoa, something we will not be able to get until further along into South America...

And as luck would have it, we ran into Bob, another Canadian, for the second time as we were riding around the south side of the lake. He invited us to stay for the evening with him and his family (including the 2 crazy poodles) in their hacienda situated right on the lake's edge...

The property is seriously abound with fruit trees and other plants and flowers that Bob's wife, Soledad, has put much time and love into reviving...

 

Bob most recently has started a company which provides the byproducts of organic worm farming to local farmers and horticulture stores in the area...

Worms hard at work...

And I'll leave you with the goats. These little ones were but 2 weeks old...

 

A zig for our zags…

October 14, 2010

As I’ve mentioned before, there is a bit of planning to our ventures and then there’s also a whole lot of looking at a map and “let’s go there!” excitement that propels us.  In this fashion, we were once again heading in a zig zag easterly fashion towards Lake Chapala, the largest lake in Mexico.  We had heard mixed reviews ranging from that it was beautiful and fishable to that it was nasty and polluted.  We decided to go check it out for ourselves.

The ride from San Miguel took us about 2 days and we were cruising along nicely, covering some great miles those days.  I had woken up one morning with an incredibly sore back, which I passed off on having pulled a muscle stretching the night before.  Over the course of the day the pain mysteriously got worse and spread down into my hip sockets, making it quite difficult to ride.  We reached the lake later on that afternoon and scrambled to find a camp spot so I could lay down and get some rest.  As I fell asleep, I knew I had a slight fever but passed it off again and nestled in, excited for our ride around the lake in the up coming days.  From here on out I will spare you the icky details, but I came down with what we self diagnosed as Dengue Fever.  Man oh man was I sick.  I can’t remember a time in my life that I was this sick.  The symptoms are those that offer no relief and after 2 and a half days I was still laying in the field we had set up camp in, barely able to pick my head up off my Thermarest.  After getting some fluids in me, Kurt, who had been keeping excellent watch over me, moved me into the shade and packed up all of our gear.  I rode in a delirious state the 3 or so kilometers to the closest town of Ocotlan, where we holed up in the nearest motel we could find.  There I immediately plopped in the bed and slept off the fever for another 2 and a half days.

Dengue.  There’s the long and the short of it.  It sucks.  It’s pretty much unavoidable in a way as its caused by mosquitoes.  There is no vaccine for it and I’ve read there are no specific antibiotics for it either.  Just have to wait it out which we did.

Without Kurt I really don’t know what I would have done through this time, as I was so incapacitated by the symptoms of the fever.  Everyday I feel lucky to travel with him, but in these days his companionship was absolutely necessary.  Everyday we look out for each other and help one another, but this time proved to be the icing on the cake of icing that is our friendship, partnership and love for one another.

So after all this dillydallying, or what seemed to be after lying around for nearly a week, I was most excited to hold some food in me enough to be confident to carry on.  And here I learned another new thing about bike touring…you can get sick and then you can get better, better to the point of not being sick any more, but getting better to the point of being as strong as you were before you got sick or being able to ride the way you could before is a whole other story.  This takes much longer and it was frustrating to me to find this out.  I was so ready to hop back on the bike and pedal, pedal, pedal and make up for what I felt was a lost week, but my body just wasn’t ready for that.  So we took our time for the next few days and truly soaked up the lake and it’s surrounding towns.

**At the time of writing this I would like to convey that I am 100% okay and back on track and riding with vigor and there is absolutely no need to worry.

 

How chilaquiles get done tentside. An excellent way to start the day...

Kurt joins the daily hustle and bustle...

Mexico MTB pride...

A beautiful ending to the day, but I presume it was at some point in this field that the little bugger passed along the illness...

 

San Miguel de Allende…

October 14, 2010

As the saying goes, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  San Miguel is a nice town, quite colonial and pretty to look at.  Aside from that, it is quite touristy and has an overwhelming x-patriot presence, making it indeed feel like the Mexican Disneyland.  I will say however that we hung out for the Friday night light show they cast on the church with lasers and it was really quite impressive.  Running for about 15 minutes, the show takes you step by step, in its laser light fashion, through the course of Mexico history.  At the time, the show had been occurring only through the month of September during the bicentennial celebration time, but we heard the shopkeepers are trying to make it a permanent fixture in San Miguel every Friday night.  Aside from the lasers, I was very happy to leave and continue our heading east toward Lake Chapala.

 

Mexican Disneyland indeed...

Festive as always...

As the sun goes down, the celebrations begin...

...and soon there are street performances everywhere...

Another one of my favorite translations...

The Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, which mason Zeferino Gutierrez constructed based of a postcard of a Belgian church...

The show begins promptly at 9:15. Seen here are the colors and patterns representing Mexican indigenous crafts...

...and later on an image of Miguel Allende himself...

Unfortunately what I couldn't seem to get past was how much of San Miguel was like this...

 

We left Xilitla late in the afternoon and began snaking along the beautiful but tight and narrow Sierra Madre road.  It was but an hour before dusk started to descend and we found ourselves caught in quite a rainstorm.  After about 30 minutes of riding with no hope of turning off onto anything to camp, we came upon a small house gracing the entrance to what seemed to be a corral and pasture area.  Hoping to just get off the road, we approached the front door to ask the owner’s if we could pitch our tent in the plot of grass out front.  When we did ask the farmer, who was still dressed in his work garb, rain gear and some sweet gleaming white Air Nikes, without hesitation he showed us to a separate building in the back.  Not only were we now out of the rain and off the road, but we had our own cozy room complete with a bed and electricity, more than we could have ever asked for.  We spent a nice warm and dry night in the place and the next morning were invited to stay as long as we wanted before the farmer took off for work.  Talk about hospitality!

The ride over the next few days was up, up, up.  Climbing for full days without end.  The scenery in turn was unbeatable and looking back down after every twist and turn proved to be a reward each time.  After two more days we found ourselves with the long-awaited descent down out of the Sierra Gorda park and after another two full days we found ourselves facing the giant walls of a box canyon.  It was a pleasant ride up and out and before long we were camped listening to the late night whistles of passing trains and preparing ourselves for San Miguel De Allende which awaited some 30 kilometers away.

 

Our dry spot for the evening...

 

 

The Reserva de la Biosphera Sierra Gorda. Over 90% of the region is privately owned. Grassroots efforts by the locals led to the reserves establishment in 1997 and many of its communities are involved first hand in its sustainability...

 

 

Up at this altitude, the area was densely forested with much old growth...

 

 

Much of this area resides within a cloud forest for most of the day, covered in orchids and teeming with exotic birds...

 

 

Another excellent thing coinciding with our ride through the area... my reading of an ancient copy of White Fang. There was no actual publication date in the book, but there was a note scribbled by a gifter which was dated 1910. All the pages were still intact and it was as great of a read as all the times I've read it before...

 

 

One of our descents down into a high mountain valley, the town of Ahuacatlan de Guadalupe seen in the distance...

 

 

A good example of how sometimes when you've seen one, you've seen them all...

 

 

And then there was the grand descent down out of the range. From those clouds whence we came...

 

Brightly colored downtown San Miguel Palmas...

 

 

…we found our home for a few days.  With surrealist sculpture creeping through all sorts of corners of the jungle, we happened upon one particular concrete room that looked unfinished and rarely visited by the masses.  It was from here we set off one day to explore our surroundings and found ourselves on an excellent multiple hour hike climbing up through streams and scaling muddy mountainsides.

Naturally, the place we were camping was most likely “off limits to camping” according to someone, so we kept a low profile.  The humorous bout came one night when, after settling into our tent, we lay quietly talking and preparing to fall asleep.  All of a sudden we saw lights flashing around outside the structure.  “Busted” we thought and prepared to give ourselves up and have to pack up everything and move.  Kurt got up out of the tent and moved towards the opening of the building and as his eyes fell on the jungle in front of him, he saw that there was not one just one light flashing around, but 30 or more lights flashing in all sorts of haphazard, seemingly confused directions.

When his eyes caught focus he realized there was tons of people trekking in a weird and organized fashion on this trail in the middle of the night.  Some had headlamps, some had flashlights and some had no light at all.  The concrete structure we were hiding out in was a bit off the path so the horde of night hikers did not really venture over, but one curious guy did.  Hilarity ensued when the guy got relatively close and Kurt, who was just standing in the doorway looking at him with his eyes having been adjusted to the level of darkness, said “Buenos noches.”

At this point the guy, who was viewing the whole experience through the eye of a camcorder while still wearing a headlamp mind you, jumped back so surprised and frightened.  He said nothing like the whole interaction never happened and spun around quickly and walked the other way back towards the very odd, very strange huge group wandering down the dark trail in the surrealists jungle area in the middle of the night.  We found it hilarious that this guy thought that he had been busted or caught somewhere he shouldn’t be.  Too funny.  We can only imagine what a bunch of folks were doing wandering around in the jungle in the middle of the night, seeking out surrealists sculptures and waterfalls and unable to communicate properly with another human being when spoken to.  I’m sure Ken Kesey would have loved this group.

Concrete camping...

Early morning light filtration...

What it was going to be we may never know...

Jungle coffee time...

One of the many, many waterfalls found nestled in the hillside...

The trail, just barely there...

It wasn't long before we chose this path instead...

Eight legs and kickin' it in the jungle...

I love these things. Air plants (hi Sharon!)...

This day of hiking was fun beyond words' descriptions...

Getting excited to head farther south and more into climates such as these...

The view of Xilitla in the mountainside, after our muddy scramble and popped out into a clearing...

Las Pozas…

October 7, 2010

Built adjacent to a series of waterfalls which cascade down the mountainside, Las Pozas is certainly a dreamer’s heaven.  It stands as a truly intricate labyrinth of concrete temples, bridges and spiral staircases that do more than a little to contribute to the surrealist nature of what we know as art.  Las Pozas is the vision and creation of Sir Edward James, an artist born into immense wealth in Sussex England, but who instead rejected all aristocratic conventions and spent his time with artists, poets and existentialists.  James sought out a place to begin living out his surrealist dreams and longing to create and settled on Mexico.  After a snowfall and freeze killed many of the orchids (18,000) and animals he was caring for, he began work on a project that could not be extinguished by the elements.  Throughout the 60’s and the 70’s, James, with the help of his friend Plutarco Gastelum and at least 25 Mexican laborers (some say 150), installed more than 200 steel-reinforced cement constructions into the 20 acres of jungle rainforest.

The results of his work, much of it still unfinished, are absolutely breathtaking and awe-inspiring.  You could spend days climbing around on the staircases that lead to nowhere, dipping in the pools or exploring the structures and their painted concrete eyes and flowers.  Very much in the way that James’ constructions took from the natural landscape of the jungle, now the jungle seems to be taking it back from James.  At the time of his death, James made no plans for further building or maintenance of Las Pozas and now the sites are beautifully overgrown with moss and lichen, adding to their mystery and decay.

We’ve read there is a documentary,.Edward James- Builder of Dreams.  We think it may clear up some things so we are keen to get a hold of it at some point.  Either way, we left having many more questions than when we first arrived, but felt truly inspired in our own dreaming and building projects we’d like to do someday.

 

The entrance, as seen from the road...

 

Twenty (20!!) million dollars in concrete...

 

What the jungle is now taking back...

 

 

Built to work with and for the elements...

Without plans for the future, electrical sockets like this one are left to deal...

Precision...

A personal favorite...

Kurt doing his best Eddy Jim impression...

Bamboo, forever and ever and ever and...

Just plain captivating...

Yes, they were slippery...

The hands of time...

 

Xilitla…

October 7, 2010

Most people know only of Xilitla (pronounced he-leet-la) as the town closest to Las Pozas, the surrealist sculpture garden nestled in the jungle, but we found Xilitla had all of its own charm and glory.  We arrived on the last day of the weekend long festivities and were just in time for the race through town.  The cobblestone streets twist beautifully up along the hill the town is built on and noticeably absent was the overwhelming feel of Spanish influence.  There was the usual market, plaza and church, but the north end of town was pleasantly jam-packed with Mexican liveliness and just regular old street sales, services and neighborhoods.  Having found a spot to call home in the woods nearby, we let ourselves settle into Xilitla for the next two days, before continuing on through the Huasteca region.

 

Racers took to the streets as the last event of Xilitla's four-day bicentennial celebration. We happened to glance the program posted on a street corner and we were a little bummed to find out we had missed the tricycle race earlier...

Ringing in the revolution...

Pedal powered grinder, found in the church entrance...

Tucked up in the mountains of the Huasteca, this is one of Xilitla's ride-able streets. Some are only a collection of steep, sloping cobblestone steps...

 

El Nacemiento…

October 7, 2010

Up next on our swim spot tour was El Nacemiento, located just outside the ripe and feisty fiesta-ing town of Chimalaco.  “El Nacemiento” translates quite literally as “the birth” and that is exactly what we got to see.  This refers to the massive amount of water that floods through as the river, after running and churning underground for miles, finally pokes its head out, spilling over rocks and meandering for all to see. Rock jumping at its finest.  After swimming for a while, we headed back through the town to grab some supplies and a beer and planned to head on in the last of the light.

The bar we stopped at was pretty happening as today was THE day of the revolution celebration, September 15th and the patrons, including the bartender, were all pretty intoxicated.  We had our beer, were offered another compliments of the bartender and then fell for the pleading “one more beer, one more beer”.  One more beer turned into a lot more beer and before the night was through, both  Kurt and I would find ourselves having sung karaoke to a very enthusiastic, pleading crowd.  Our next days ride was a short one, a mere 14km hill climb to Xilitla, which our hangovers eventually allowed us to complete.  Great times ringing in the revolution small town style.

 

El Nacemiento...

Celebrating Spaniard free existences...

If you go to bed drunk, sometimes you wake up with your stuff covered in ants, that's just the way it goes...

We ran into a mountain bike club from Mexico City who were out riding in the hills for the weekend, always an exciting endeavor...

As we wound up towards Xilitla, we started to see tiny staircase after tiny staircase leading enchantingly up the hill...

 

We had left San Potosi excitedly with a map that showed the greater layout of the Huasteca Area and some of its hot spots.  This map also included lots of little symbols of a swimming man and I am happy to report we got to spend each day of that next week riding from one fantastic swim spot to another, making it one of my most favorite parts of the trip thus far.  We had a bit of a climb heading away from San Luis Potosi and then one of the hugest descents, quite possibly the longest of my life, into a valley to begin what would become the never-ending splash fest.

We started with Media Luna, which gets its name from the shape it appears as from above.  The waters here are thermal, but verge on the very luke warm side, so really it just felt like sun warmed water.  There’s all sorts of little walkways and interesting trees growing everywhere and some of the most curious looking ducks I have seen in my life.     We happened upon it on a weekend so the place was crrrrrrawling with families, music, barbecues and the likes.  The shade had us napping in our hammocks for the better part of the day, before departing on our way to find a camping down the road.

Our riding through these parts made it clear we had transcended into a uniquely new climate and landscape, different from anything we had seen so far.  It was so…..tropical.  We now rode through lush, lush green mountains with huge palm leaves reaching out of the hillsides towards us.  No complaints there.

We dropped down into Tamosopo and enjoyed the waterfalls just on the other side of town and later in the evening met some other like minded traveling kids and spent the following day exploring some other falls, Puente de Dios, with them off our bikes.  It was another’s day ride before we had our encounter with the third water spectacle, Cascadia de Micos.  The later of these two falls were absolutely rushing, based on the time of year and the amount of water this part of Mexico has had recently.  It also meant it was not the best time for swimming, so these normally touristy places where quite quiet.  Perfect.

 

Rising up out of the smoggy sprawl that was San Luis Potosi...

 

 

We happened by this track THE very day of my brother's birthday, who is not only one of the greatest people to ever live, but also a huge Nascar fan. This one's for him. I love you Kevbro...

 

 

More of those green, hilly things we love to see...

 

 

One of the many water gulleys found snaking through the Media Luna park. Here you could (and I did) float on your back through these picturesque channels, staring up at the perfect day...

 

 

The race was on. No joke. Little man won, but at no small cost. We caught him stretching out his legs a little ways down the road when he didn't think we could see...

 

 

Idealistic Tamosopo Falls and swim spot. The water was refreshingly chilly...

 

 

Meeting Mexican travelers means getting to learn the backdoor entrances to some parks...

 

 

Exploring the mouth of Puente de Dios...

 

 

Moss covered crosses, placed at the sight for children who have lost their lives in the waters there...

 

 

Fields and fields of sugar cane. Obviously the riding this day was just horrible. Horrible. No good news to report...

 

 

A good example of one of the constantly repeated things in our days, getting directions...

 

 

As we rode, we were befriended by Jorge who was on his way home from work. He invited us to come stay at his home...

 

 

Perfect ending to a perfect day...

 

 

Jorge and his wife, Felicitas...

 

 

Cascadia de Micos...

 

 

90% of Mexico is Catholic...