The beachy side of things…

November 21, 2010

Our first coastal town of Puerto Escondido proved to be as anticipated… full of beach side palapas, hotels, motels, surf shops and the more than occasional sighting of Europeans and Australians.  Puerto Escondido is  well-known for it’s world-class surf break, aptly named the “Mexican Pipeline”, with waves reaching as high as 12 meters in between May and July.  For the most part I laid low in the shade, reading and relaxing.  Meanwhile Kurt was lucky to find Tello at Bicitodo, a bike shop he owns and runs in the Puerto Escondido center.  Tello was super kind and allowed Kurt to use his shop and tools to replace his bottom bracket bearings.  He also gave us some great Bicitodo T-shirts to rock.  A few days later, as we were leaving town, I returned with Kurt to meet Tello’s wonderful wife and take some photos of all of us together in front of his shop. If anyone passing through or living in the Puerto Escondido area needs their bike worked on by a friendly and knowledgeable mechanic, Tello at Bicitodo is your man.

It was here that we also bid adieu to our buddies Wolf and Javier.  We did it up right the last evening with a huge group effort dinner and some late night belly flops in the hotel pool, something the night watchman wasn’t all too impressed with.  The guys were great to let us crash in their hotel room too, forgoing a night of wild camping for some quiet, comfortable sleeping with a ceiling fan oscillating overhead.

From there, Kurt and I headed south along the coast, dipping into the sleepy beach towns of Mazunte, San Agustinillo and Zipolite.  It was here that we had the pleasure of running into our friends Juan Diego and Luis the Chef, two travelers we had met back in the Huasteca.  They’ve been hitchhiking their way around Mexico and have settled down to work for the season in Zipolite.   Both are natives of Mexico and have chosen to leave their border towns behind due to all of the current drama and chaos.

From there it was a mere 10 kilometers up and over another little ridge before dropping down into Puerto Angel.  A slightly bigger town, Puerto Angel had some fancier looking hotels and some bigger hillside homes, though mainly it is used for its fishing port and naval base.   I let my pure white belly get a little crispy as I was sucked page after page into Confessions of an Economic Hitman, a book full of unsurprising, cringe worthy facts depicting disgusting corporate American greed.  Something we see the effects of on a daily basis, no matter whether we are traveling or at home.

Moving right along, we plopped on over to another bay we had heard had good snorkeling possibilities.  We are currently without snorkel gear, but figured it would be beautiful nonetheless.  Indeed it was.  So beautiful we ended up camping there for two nights, even though the owner of the petite bungalow hotel at the other end of the beach told us “Oh no.  No.  There is no camping there.  Um, there is a cheap hostal right up on that bluff.  See there?….”  I inquired, “But this is a public beach, no?  The coastline is federal property.”  “Well, yeh” she said “but there are um, these boats and um….” and just let her sentence trail off to nothing.”  I thanked her for the info and left some small Kelly foot prints in the sand as I made my way back to Kurt who had already settled quite comfortably in the sandy nook, where our two peaceful days of “no camping” commenced.

We had a few visitors over the next two days.  I would watch as Kurt shuttled back and forth between the rocky edges of the bay, a trail of at least 4 local kids behind him, trading him the crawdads they’d dug up for bait in exchange for the drop lines he made for them with old plastic soda bottles and fishing line.  And then there was our dog pal, quiet Slim Jimmy Buttons, who hung around with us, chasing the shade of the day, hoping for a snack or two came meal time.  I can’t remember the last time I moved so little during the course of a day.

We eventually peeled ourselves away from our little paradise and after about a half a day’s worth of riding we bumped head long into Bahias de Huatulco.  Cruise boat central.  We didn’t get close enough to the docking area to see any actual ships (which I was kind of anticipating in a strange way, as I have never actually seen a real live cruise ship), but we could feel the presence through all of the perfectly green sod road dividers, gate‘s glaring back at you where an entrance to a beach seemingly would be and huge shiny and reflective signs directing you to “Terminal F”, “Terminal K”, etc.  We chose “Terminal Moving Right Along” and did eventually find a great camp spot on a beach a bit further down.  The only evidence of hotels we could see were a mere smattering of sparkling lights tucked up into a hillside.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.

Even with all of this coastal riding, we actually only got close to the beach  if we wanted to and for much of the time the Pacific is not even within eyesight.  The rideable highway down the coast is, understandably due to the firmness of the land, set back a ways inland, so for the most part the views are not all that spectacular and it is hot, hot, hot.  During this time I was quite happy to reminisce about the fantastic adventures we’d had thus far, weaving our way down through the center highlands of Mexico, rather than taking the entire coastal route down from California.

Saying goodbye to the sun on the sands of Puerto Escondido...

...and again...

Pancho Homer...

Puerto Angel, where the fisherman drop off loads of dorado fish all day long...

Follow little sandy roads like this, and you will be rewarded big time as we found out...

Sunrise at our pristine "no camping" spot...

A bit timid at first, this little guy eventually let it all hang out and scampered across the beach for some grassy cover. Those little bug eyes are the best...

Hidden cove of daydreams and sandy naps...

As I mentioned above, much of our coastal riding is not actually on the coast at all. On this particular day, this was one of the only chances we got to get a glimpse of the big blue Pacific...

Peering out from another hidden camp spot, I viewed these two fisherman setting out in the early morning hours...

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…I quickly added some more salt to it.  WordPress will not let me post videos at this time ((errr…. or more like I won’t pay to let myself post videos at this time), so please click here to see the big splash…..

http://pocket-thunder.blogspot.com/2010/11/whaahwaahahahhaasplash.html

So long slime…

November 19, 2010

Our water bottles have taken to looking like aquariums in recent times.  Given the opportunity, we scrub them out the best we can, only to have the slime and mold return shortly after.  I’m happy to share we’ve found a solution that far surpasses our hands and sponges…

Notice the large brush, usually used for the insides of 5 gallon garrafons...

Her face is making the same expression ours do sometimes when looking into the bottoms of our bottles...

These girls were truly the greatest. After all the hard work of cleaning them out to the max they then filled them up with fresh clean water and sent us on our way, no charge...

Destination coastal…

November 19, 2010

After leaving the hustle and bustle of the city tangle, the four of us rode into the late afternoon, jump starting our journey over to the long-awaited Oaxacan coast.  Well Wolf and Javier had been happily splashing in the waves a few days before we‘d met them in Oaxaca, but Kurt and I on the other hand have both been in need of a salt bath for a while.   Over the course of 3 days we pedaled our way up over those Sierra Madre yet again.  Just as excitedly expected, eventually we reached what seemed to be the summit of the range and looked out over the many green ripples leading to the west coast below and saw… water!  A lot of it!  An entire ocean‘s worth.  It took us a good half day to zip down the other side and by day’s end we were swimming in the rolling surf and drinking in the fire colored sunset.

 

Cruising along (photo: Wolf)...

It was great riding and hanging out with these guys. I got to pick Javier's (front) brain about his profession as a nurse and got to hear from Wolf what it's like running a bike touring company in Berlin...

You grow these agave...

...and you get to make this mezcal. The mountainous region of Oaxaca State is known for its mezcal production. Agave, I learned, is not considered a cactus. For awhile it stayed in the lily or aloe family, but now gets its own classification as Agavaceae.

 

Morning breakfast concoctions taste better with a group...

 

Perfect beginnings...

 

...perfect endings...

 

In the distance, the ocean!...

 

In the foreground, the joy! (photo: Wolf)...

 

 

 

 

 

 

How you get it done…

November 17, 2010

Sizzle it...

Chop it...

Try and take breaths in between eating the beejeebus out of it...

Monte Alban…

November 17, 2010

About an hours ride out of Oaxaca stands Monte Alban, what was once the center of Zapotec culture.

This monumental hilltop functioned as the Zapotec’s center place and capital as they succeeded in conquering much of the Oaxaca area between AD 300 and 700.  Supposedly Monte Alban was the first “urban existence” of the Americas, run by a highly priest-dominated society.  Over the course of time, and for various reasons, the population of the Zapotecs dwindled down to 1,200 and the Mixtecs, another indigenous Mexican tribe, sought fit to take it over, before loosing it themselves to the Aztecs.  During the period of colonization, it took the Spaniards four expeditions (at least) before they succeeded in their own take over of Monte Alban.  Hence, it was in 1529 that the Spanish moved into the nearby city of Oaxaca and caused the number of indigenous population to drop drastically.

Today you can stroll throughout the grounds, clamoring up some of the structures and imagining what life must have been like back then.  Besides for the awe-inspiring dated structures, there are also 360 degree views of the valleys which splay out in all directions.  Our timing couldn’t have been better, as we were able to explore the area in the last few hours of daylight.  Of course our real wish was to explore the caverns and tombs that lay beneath all of the well-preserved structures.  Perhaps we will get our chance at some of the other ancient ruins we will explore throughout the Yucatan…

 

Archeologists have separated the structures into time periods and phases of building, with many areas still left unexplored...

The real question is, "Who cuts all that grass?"...

Yeah, yeah. Some ancient ruins. As pretty as it all was, we really wanted to take the tour of the rooms underneath these grassy hills...

As usual, the little bits of plant life growing out of the stones captured my attention for a bit...

 

Dia de Muertos…

November 17, 2010

Since arriving in Mexico, we kept it in the back of our minds that there might be a chance to be in Oaxaca for the Day of the Dead celebration.  As our travels and pace unraveled, that likelihood became a reality.  We arrived late on October 30th and over the next few days got to experience and partake in many Dia de Muertos rituals and celebrations.

It is believed that in death loved ones do not actually leave, but merely continue their life in a parallel world and for one day a year the departed can return to their homes to be with their families.  For departed children that day is November 1st and for adults, November 2nd. Everywhere you look there are archways made of marigold flowers and altars containing offerings of fruits, bread and drinks for the visiting spirits.  I was also told that some families may leave their lost one’s favorite games or activities, such as paints and brushes if they were an artist.

I visited the Panteon General, Oaxaca‘s main cemetery, both days, marveling at the commotion and celebration that was occurring.  On one hand, there was a circus happening outside the gates.  Literally, a carnival was set up, with rides and games and various stalls selling food and offerings lined the walkways toward the entrance.  Within the cemetery, the mood was still one of lightness and celebrating, but much more respectful.  Each day more and more graves would be covered in flowers, food and candles.  Some families would be gathered around, chairs set up and a regular family dinner occurring.  My favorite was the older man who brought in a xylophone and played furiously while the family danced happily around that particular gravesite.  The respect paid was so unlike the mourning you often see occupany death and cemeteries.  I must say that in glancing around, with the soft flicker of candles catching the corners of so many smiles, it was truly one of the most beautiful things I have seen in my time here in Mexico.

 

An altar with offerings to the deceased, including some rather famous icons...

Local artists decorate these large paper mache skulls and they are on display along the walking streets throughout the week...

In the evenings, the Zocalo was decorated with hundreds of candles...

...illuminating the gazebo in a fairytale like way...

The evening of November 1st was a fantastic frenzy, with celebrations and parades happening all throughout the city's streets...

Never to miss an opportunity to sell stuff, these vendors lined the walkways leading into the cemetery. A bit bizarre, but at the same time all in the good fun of the holdiay...

A walk through the graveyard culminated my understanding of the holiday. Everywhere I looked there were beautifully decorated and cared for sites, exhibiting the true colors of Dia de Muertos...

The love and honoring shown clearly in the time these offerings take and the attention to detail...

And yes, it was a lot of continuous, upbeat celebrating. Sometimes you can't help but pass out on a sidewalk...

 

Oaxaca…

November 17, 2010

All together now…wah-haa-kah.  Wah-haa-kah.  Oaxaca!  Very good…

To ensure we made it to Oaxaca for the Dia de Muertos celebration, we admittedly hopped on the autopista and cruised straight for the city.  I must say, as much as we seek out the back road dirt experience for most of our riding, our times on the autopistas (read: Mexico freeway) has been agreeably better than anticipated.  Reason being, we find the autopistas relatively abandoned.  Most drivers seemingly stick to the nearby libre, as it offers more exit options and is toll free .  These autopistas have been constructed by blasting through whatever is in its way to get to where it plans, so indeed, the is the most direct.  The libre roads, however, will follow the curve of the land and wind up, over, in, down and around to get you to your destination.  Comparatively, with the lack of traffic and the wide allowance of a shoulder, the riding has not been all that torturous.  The big trucks certainly are mindful and move over for us, rarely causing “life flashing before our eyes” scenarios.

The ride into Oaxaca was no different.  Having made it a day sooner than we anticipated, we contemplated camping outside the city for the evening and heading in first thing in the morning.  But as these things go, with the movement of traffic, the draw of the bustling surroundings and the allure of a new place we had heard and read so much about, we were soon pulled right down into the middle and heading for el centro historico.

Immediately we were swept up in the festivities.  The Zocalo was completely alive.  Huge sand art scenes, depicting Day of the Dead specific art, were splayed out all over the pathways, some still in progress of being created.  Aside from the various booths selling food, art and the local indigenous jewelry and fashions, there was a whole new array of folks selling candy skulls and skeleton chocolates, sketches of the dead dancing about, candles, offerings and the likes.

We hung around the center for a bit, taking it all in.  As to be expected, along with the holiday came an influx of tourism and other gringos.  Enter Bob.  On our way to go find some food we were approached by a very boisterous Texan who had ridden his motorcycle down for the week.  His riding buddies had taken off for a few days to go to a rally down south, but instead of heading with them, Bob just wanted to “put the bike away and not touch it for a week.”  Over…one of the best dinners we’ve had in Mexico, Bob’s very kind treat…I made a joke that his staying in Oaxaca was also due to the fact he was also a sucker for folk art and needed some serious time to take it all in.  All jokes aside, this was actually true and one of the main reasons Bob had come down was to explore his interest in cochineal, a red dye made from tiny insects that live on the prickly pear cacti in the area.  After the Spanish invaded it was the export of this dye that essentially put Oaxaca on the map.  Without this, there would never been such historical events as “the redcoats are coming, the red coats are coming!”  We spent the evening and following morning in Bob’s company, swapping all sorts of stories and information.

After our initial night of Oaxacan fun, we moved out of the car park we were kindly allowed to camp in thanks to Bob and over to Jenny’s house situated a little ways from the city sprawl.  After having such a great experience with Fausto in Morelia through Warmshowers, we decided to give Couchsurfer a try.  Jenny was fantastic to let us stay in her backyard for the better part of the week as we explored the city and waited patiently for some mail to arrive carrying some essential bike parts.  It was here that we also got some good bike maintenance in and I learned how to take apart and regrease my hub.

It was in Oaxaca during these days that we also met the first other cycle tourists we have seen since entering Mexico (well, we met one other verrrrry briefly around Lake Chapala, from Argentina, heading in the opposite direction, but I‘m not really counting that).  Wolf and Javier were heading to their buddy’s wedding in Antigua, Guatemala and were taking the long way to get there.  Over the next few days we ran into them several times and made plans to ride over to the coast together.  With our packages nowhere in sight, the four of us headed towards the coastal range on a Friday afternoon.

The Oaxacan scene is filled with tons of traditional, and not-so-traditional, art. All of it caught our attention...

The sand sculptors hard at work...

...creating masterpieces such as these. The Zocalo walkways were filled with colorful depictions of the Dia de Muertos holiday...

Per usual, colonial architecture on a crisp, clear day. I think when they paint these buildings they paint them to compliment that kind of sky...

Black mole. In Mexico, there are seven different kinds of mole, which is a sauce made from fruits, nuts and sometimes chocolate. As you can see, mole is not a sauce to go with a dish as much as it is the actual dish. We are working our way to trying all seven kinds. So far the yellow is my favorite...

Kurt and Bob going over all the places you can stash things on a BMW motorcycle...

Jimminy crickets! A common snack found around these parts...

I can't get enough of these markets. Kilo de arbol? Media kilo?...

Oaxaca is known its chocolate and cheese. Here the chocolate is mixed with sugar before being pressed and sold...

This next pedal procession took us along highway 190, completely skirting Mexico D.F. , Puebla and the likes.  As much as we were curious to see what the biggest city in Mexico looks and feels like, the involvement of getting ourselves and our bikes in and around it was not something we really wanted to deal with.  Instead we went through the smaller cities of Izucar de Matamoros, Acatlan and Huajuapan de Leon, before the final stretch to Oaxaca.

 

The riding was again fantastic, the roads not terribly trafficked and the scenery something to occupy our eyes' time with...

The road signs however proved to be a bit off. Here is one we saw along the way, listing the kilometers to Oaxaca at 222...

...and another, about 45 kilometers after the first. This happened several times over the course of two days and it was always amusing. Luckily, our Guia Roji lists pretty accurate and reliable kilometer distances...

And we can never get enough...

...of ending our days...

...with sunsets as spectacular as these...

Just one of the many stalls we passed as we got closer to Oaxaca, selling flowers in preparation for Dia de Muertos...

Just perfect for an end of the day rinse off...

Even as we got closer and closer to the city (I have to admit that at this point we were riding on the Autopista) the scenery was still beautiful...

 

One tortilla…

November 3, 2010

...two tortilla...

three tortilla, four...

...five tortilla, six tortilla...

...seven tortilla, more...

These next few days took us blissfully through more Sierra wonderfulness, tiny towns and farmland galore.  I must admit, throughout this trip I often don’t photograph the most beautiful things or places I see.  I apologize for that and the fact I am inevitably not sharing them with you.  However, when it is so beautiful it takes your breath away for a second, whipping out the camera is nowhere near the front of my mind.  Here are a few that did make it past the starry-eyed gazing…

Sweet pink corn bread tamales...

Tire tree...

We ran into this group of road cyclists in a small town just outside of Tequesquapan. They were from Mexico City and out for day ride in the mountains...

Don't even try to tell me you were not just eating those vines mister! This kind of reminds me of the time we caught my youngest brother with chocolate all over his face, denying he had eaten the ears off of my easter bunny...

One day we spent nearly half our time tackling some climbs just outside of Parque Nacional Nevado de Toluca. At 4,690 meters, it is the fourth highest peak in Mexico. Upon cresting the saddle we were saddened that the fogginess of the day (mixed with the ever-present pollution of Mexico city drifting over this way) nixed our views of the peak. Lucky for you, I am awesome at computer drawing and simulated what it probably looks like on a clear day...

After running into so many excellent people from Mexico D.F., we were second guessing our plans to bypass the city. We stopped into Ixtapan de la Sal to tackle some errands and were befriended by these guys. They were there for the day with their families and kindly shared in some midday beers with us...

Bike parts, Jesus and snowmen. What more could you need?...

Tucked away orchard camping...

Fields and fields of flowers lined the roadside, filled with carnations and these fuzzy pink flowers (UPDATE: thanks to my friend Viva, we now know these are called coxcomb)...

With so many things to see and explore in Mexico, you could spend years in the country and still only scratch the surface.  At this point, we are about halfway through our 6 month visitors visa and we have started to really map out a plan for these next three months.  In doing so, we decided we where going to ride straight for Oaxaca, traveling mainly on the carretera to help move us along.  The days are really dipping into the fall season and having ventured back up into the Sierras for some of this route, we found ourselves pulling out our windbreakers and sleeping cozily in our sleeping bags at night.  An excellent 8 or so days of riding this was.  Here is part one of our scoot down to Oaxaca…

 

Not long after leaving the bustle of Morelia, we rode back up into the glorious green, also a designated Parque National Area. While picking up some eggs for the following morning, we were approached by Andy, an extremely bright and mature high schooler whose family owned some land nearby. Andy camped with us along their lake, staying up to enjoy the fire, even though he had to rise at 6 am to get to school. Here we took turns throwing the football to Andy and his brother...

Be still your hearts. I give you Duke, one of the dogs lucky enough to live with Andy and his family...

Fresh mountain springs are found right along the road...

...and Christmas Tree farms dot the hillsides...

I continuously remark with joy when we don't really research what is along a certain route. These days were full of all sorts of surprises, like Presa Valle de Bravo...

 

...along which we visited a few bike shops. I had to restrain myself from taking this Ruby Elite out for a ride, as that was my road bike in California. Cobblestones and road tires aren't the best combination...

 

Beautiful, wooded camping. In the morning we were woken up nice and early by the pitch farmers who work the area...

 

The warmth of Morelia…

November 3, 2010

As we zipped down out of the hills and descended into the valley that held Morelia and all of its outskirts, Kurt and I both looked at each other and smiled and said, “finally!”  We had had our Morelia plans for a while now and it felt great to actually reach the city that until then had merely been a big, yellow highlighted and bold typeface word on our map.  Located in the state of Michoacan, Morelia is a bustling colonial city, having earned its Unesco World Heritage site status in 1991.

We ended up staying for the better part of 6 days, the longest place in Mexico we had stayed thus far.  Recently we had signed up for Warmshowers.org, an online organization which helps put cycle tourist in touch with hospitable people all over the world.  Our first experience with it led us to Fausto’s rooftop terrace in Morelia and the experience was just the best.  We spent numerous days exploring the city and hanging out with Fausto and his friends, as we could just stash our stuff and take off on unloaded bikes.  There was even an extra road bike hanging around so Kurt could partake in some of Morelia’s weekly group rides.

Fausto had been kind enough to give us his address long before we arrived so we could work on having some things shipped to Morelia.  I am happy to report that one such package came from our good friend Viva who, after reading the post about our pilfered bottle of GSE, promptly got on it to send another one along with some other natural remedies.  Receiving mail on the road and the handwritten letters that come along with them are such a special treat.  We can’t thank you enough Viva!

There were many memorable highlights of our stay in Morelia, but the one I speak of the most is my trip to the open air Sunday market.  I literally got lost winding through the streets clamored with everything you can imagine.  Piles of shoes, ladies selling turtles and ferrets, clothes hanging from everywhere, electronic bits lumped on blankets, books, school supplies, handbags, men maneuvering wheel barrels overflowing with fresh honey.  I have visited other markets similar in Mexico and a few during my travels in Southeast Asia, but this one in Morelia had me the most in awe.  It felt so alive and vibrant.  And, having left my bike with Fausto at his shop,  I truly could get lost in the crowd, which really doesn’t get to happen too often in Mexico for several reasons.

Overall, Morelia was a great place to spend the better part of a week and we left knowing Fausto is a friend we will have for a very long time.

We miscommunicated on our initial meeting place with Fausto so our very first night in Morelia was spent in this luxurious suite for a mere $7 US...

Fausto Sr. and Fausto Jr. at their refaccionario shop downtown. This is place you go if your blender blades are no longer blending properly, or maybe, say, you need some little plastic bits to splint your tent poles with...

It's hard work I am sure, but someone has to majestically pour water into this fountain all day...

The boys as they head out for a road ride. Sadly, there was no lightweight bike small enough for me. And yes, Kurt is wearing sandals with socks...

Everyone's favorite revolutionary...

Looking down the length of Avenue Francisco Madero Oriente, Morelia's main street. A big college town, the presence of students and intellectual sorts can be easily felt, especially up and down this busy corridor. There is also the ever-present fauxhawk to remind you as well...

At the encouragement of Fausto's great roommate Angelica, we made a point to really visit all of the beautiful/historical spots in the city. Their architecture is impressive and many of their insides are decorated lavishly with murals highlighting much of Mexico's history. The main Cathedral in town took over a century to build and houses a working organ with 4600 pipes. This photo is of a building I forget the name of...

Angelica also took the time to drive us out to nearby Patzcuaro, agreeably one of the most beautiful Mexican towns we had been in thus far. Here all of the adobe buildings are painted in a similar cream and red fashion and the layout of the town around its many plazas gives off a very western feel. Patzcuaro is exploding with galleries, showing off some very impressive folk art and pottery...

...which we soaked up as we strolled along through the cobblestone streets. I can't write about Patzcuaro without mentioning its incredible natural ice cream which it is also famous for. They offer many traditional and recognizable flavors, including pasta, corn, tequila, and peanut butter, to name a few...

When religion turns into some beautiful art...

This was my favorite wall...

Enjoying some adult beverages on Fausto's rooftop, the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon...

Our buddy Chuckles, who took pleasure in snuggling into our tent each night...