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...

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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...

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...

 

 

 

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...

 

San Luis Potosi…

September 25, 2010

San Luis Potosi had come up time and time again in conversation, and as it was on our way to the Biosphera, we decided to pay it a visit.  We were pleasantly surprised to find a pretty big sized lake not mentioned on our map about 20 kilometers outside the city and it didn’t take much for us to call it a day.  We set up camp for the evening, taking time to fish in a little drizzle and have a very sav-ory meal of spaghetti and red sauce, quite a rarity in Mexico.  We’d been saving this box of sauce for a while.  The ride into San Luis Potosi went from unnerving, as we had to ride on a freeway to get in, to excitingly comical, once we found there was a bike path, bound by little concrete walls, leading right down the center of the highway.  In it we took comfort, protected slightly from the colossal trucks passing on each side, and we cruised the 11 kilometers effortlessly toward the downtown.

I have to say that it was in this city that we encountered the most genuinely friendly people.  Everyone who stopped to ask us the usual (where are you from, where are you going) really wanted to know and took sometime listening to us butcher Spanish, asking us if we needed any place to stay, anything to drink or any local information.  One very helpful local, AG, even ran off and grabbed us a map of the area, which proved to be quite valuable over the course of the next week.

We had no intention of staying overnight in the city and we sat scratching our heads, staring bleary eyed at the computer screen in a café as it got later and later.  We were both growing a bit tired of the colonial cityscapes. As beautiful and breathtaking as they can be, they can get pretty redundant after while.  It was time for us to put some distance between us and what we felt like it was starting to become Spanish Colonial Tour 2010.

“What do we want to do next?”

One of the beauties of bike touring.  At any given moment, we can decide which way we want to go or what we want to do right and then.  We had heard about the Sierra Gorda range and planned to head there, but we had also just been given an onslaught of new information and names of places that were personally recommended as area favorites.  As we started to type in some of the names, we were bombarded with picture after picture of beautiful scenery.  Brilliantly colored waterfalls, lush cloud forests and mystical sculptures set amongst jungle green backdrops where just a few of the things we saw.

“Let’s go there!”

It was as easy as that.  We where adding a couple 100 kilometers to our trip and taking quite the zig zag way to head south, but it was a new plan that we would thank ourselves for over and over throughout the next week and a half.

An afternoon spent relaxing in a drizzle...

Trying to figure out how to get onto the highway...

...sometimes ends with just pushing the bikes up the embankment and hurtling them over the guard rail...

...to face the daily travels of beasts like this...

To our delight, we got to ride in the middle of the highway, protected slightly on either side...

A bike shop we passed along the way which graciously let us put our wheels on their stand and get a little bike maintenance done...

Ooogling in progress. This was one of the nicest, most organized shops we had seen in Mexico thus far...

Enthusiastic school kids in San Luis Potosi. Most schools here require uniforms...

What goes on when school gets out...

I've mentioned the plazas we find in each town quite frequently before. Well, San Luis Potosi had plazas of many different kinds...

The "real" plaza of San Luis Potosi, Jardin Hidalgo...

Kurt perusing the pastry aisles, as usual...

We eventually were able to pull ourselves away from all the pastries and modern conveniences of Zacatecas and, as usual, those first few pedal strokes out of the city filled us with such joy we rode on into the evening, putting more and more distance between us and the bright, glittering lights.  Our course of direction was more or less heading east, toward the Biosphera Sierra Gorda, a reserve located in the Sierra Madre Oriental, the of the other mountain ranges of Mexico.   En route we stuck to as many dirt roads as possible, getting to see and feel the impending fall season as we rode through open valleys and  worked over farmland.

Time to switch over to the other pair I think...

Goats, goats, goats. This one's for the homies. Maaaaaaa......

The heart warming sites of autumn on display...

All bound up in the desert flora...

I love the details of these...

These girls were too much. I was packing up and getting ready to push off into an afternoon of riding when I noticed their two little faces continuously peeking out from a nearby community computer lab. Eventually they came over to ask where I was from, where I was going, etc. Then they asked where I slept at night and when I told them we camped and I showed them the tent, they gasped and squealed "Campamiento!?!" Then the girl on the left very cutely, quietly and quite boldly asked me if I wanted to sleep over. The thought of this interaction brings a smile to my face every time I think about it...

Another great unhaunted, tentless sleep spot...

Our dirt road traversed beautiful open scenery such as this...

They smile every time we come in the door.

Yum...

...yum...

...yum...

Bird’s eye views…

September 12, 2010

Looking towards the Cathedral en la noche...

As we hiked up the hillside heading for La Bufa, we came across many a cave and old mine shaft. This is how the bats see la cuidad...

So much packed in there...

The sprawl starts to dissipate a bit as it spreads from the center, but only so much...

To help you absorb it all from above, Zacatecas has the Telerifico. This aerial cable car will take you across the top of the city up to the Cero do la Bufa to peer down at all those colorful rooftops...

After another great morning of dirty dirt riding and dodging kind offers for us to “stay and eat and rest” in the small town of El Maguey, we arrived into the hustle and bustle of the Zacatecas downtown in the late afternoon.  The city is built up on high ground, spreading out beautifully over the hilltops and spilling into the valley situated between.  The ride in was a slap in the face of big city highways and traffic, but we maneuvered just fine.  The Spanish influence and colonization is overwhelmingly present and could be felt immediately (and literally) as we bounced down the cobblestone streets heading for el centro.  Our game plan was to take the afternoon to explore the city, scout out some of the bigger attractions and head out just as it was getting dark to camp outside the city limits.  In our experience, we’ve found that most empty lots, whether abandoned or the sites of things being constructed, are excellent camp spaces…as long as you don’t mind some lights and the noise of careening highway traffic fairly nearby.  You can’t beat the price, the location is usually pretty close to where you want to be in the morning and most times they have a friendly night watchman who is happy to have you.

A brief overview of this great, grand and beautiful city…. Zacatecas is the eye-catching result of some serious amount of silver nearby and the Spaniard greed to extract it all.  Filled with cathedrals, plazas and museums, you can’t help but feel you are somewhere in Europe.  The indigenous folk of Zacatecas, refered to as Zacatecos, mined different mineral deposits for years prior to the Spanish invasion in 1548.  After that, they were enslaved for centuries as the Spaniards shipped load after load of silver off to Mexico city, hence building the wealth allowing for all of those fancy cathedrals and plazas.  The flow of silver slowed in the 19th century due to the political instability and revolutionary types behind them.  Enter Pancho Villa.  In 1914, along with Felipe Angeles, Villa defeated 12,000 soldiers loyal to the then president Victoriano Huerta, thus reclaiming Zacatecas, which was crucial as it was the gateway to Mexico City.  As political stability returned, though it was many more years for this to be, the silver mines did start up again and there is still one active one just outside the city.

Knowing we were going to stay in the city for a day or two, I arranged for some packages to be shipped to a hostel there.  The hostel, Villa Colonial, is smack dab in the middle of the city and after seeing the amazing rooftop view and meeting the friendly owner Ernesto, we decided to stash the bikes here and explore the city on foot, a bit of a luxury in a way.  I am proud to say I even spent a night salsa dancing my flip-flops right off my feet and challenging Ernesto, his brother and their friends to game after game of fuseball, where I managed to stay in the plus (and the Margaritas) for the remainder of the night.   The night ended with them taking me to the best taco stall in all of the city, very reminiscent to getting pizza in NY before heading back across the bridge.

September is prime festival time (Feria de Zacatecas), and this year Zacatecas was celebrating it’s bicentennial by doing things up in a grand way.  Everywhere we looked there were organized, as well as impromptu, performances, parades, fairs and celebrations.  For the next three days we settled comfortably into the city enjoying everything it had to offer.

Approaching the city on a hill...

Concrete jungle here we come...

Entering the city, trying to make it as quick and painless as possible. We got a lot of honks. I'm going to think they were all great big welcomes...

Museum...

One of the many streets...

Mexican mountains = silver = spanish invasion = elaborate churches and plazas everywhere. This is the Cathedral. Built between 1729 and 1752, the detailed carvings have been interpreted as a giant symbol of the tabernacle...

Striking resemblance...

Celebrating to the beat...

...and honking...

...and honking...

...and honking. We learned each day of the three week festival is designated to a different essential operation, and they celebrate individually by getting together (today was Friday and the day for taxi drivers) and driving in a caravan from La Bufa to the fair grounds, swerving, honking and throwing candy out the windows...

Mustachios for sale...

A little self-portrait. In front of me was the Plazuela Francisco Goitia, which is used as an amphitheater for street performances...

It was great fun to explore all of the shops nestled into the tiny streets snaking everywhere. They were intimately adorned with a whole assortment of things we really have no use for at this time...

One of the many picturesque and worn streets...

Kurt getting off his shift from the mine...

A long way down...

Viva La Revolution!...

Eat...

...and eat...

...and eat...

...and eat...

Step 1- Have a tiny spotted dog wander into your campsite in the morning and, upon witnessing her small frame and obvious rib cage, decide a day started with a bit of water and a stale tortilla would be a good idea...

Step 2- After spending a bit of time together, maybe or maybe not having gently rubbed her behind her little ears, have her attend to your every move as you pack up for the morning...

Step 3- Attempt to leave like it's no big thing...

Step 4- Get trailed. Try and convince yourself it is only the food she wants, not you, just the food, just the food...

Step 5- After about 5 kilometers, realize she means business and consider which of those winter clothes can be tossed to make room in your pannier...

*It was tough, but we eventually lost her around a bend way too far down the road.

Sombrerete and beyond…

September 5, 2010

A view of the city of Sombrerete. This was the biggest city we had been in in Mexico thus far. It was very exciting for us and made us even more anxious for Zacatecas...

Riding around on the architectural wealth of Sombrerete (Photo: Kurt)...

I love maps. Here is the one we get to look at all day...

For cows...and cyclists?...

...and again. I would say we maneuvered over about 10 of these that day...

Geode love...

Some long days of riding must end with a dinner of cookies and beer...

We happen to pass through the town of Santa Barbara just as their anniversary festivities were at a peak. I got to witness my first rodeo...

...and as grand as it was, I had to look away most of the time. Seriously scared and confused cows are too much for me...

Yvette, a rodeo beauty...

Fans hoping for some action...

Determined to make it to Zacatecas this day, we rose before the sun. Kurt, with an early cup of coffee already in his system, took pleasure in flipping the eggs as high as he could as the dawn broke around us...

One positive thing about finding your camp spot in the darkness is that you get to enjoy a nice surprise of lit scenery in the morning, as we did here with this lake...

Just another perfect dirt road, no big deal...

The seemingly abandoned town of Nueva Australia...

Door jam love just outside of Zacatecas ...

Always taking the path less traveled, no matter what...

If we stopped to stay with everyone who offered us up their homes, we'd have to renew our Mexico visa several times over. Here is Kurt with Francisco and his family, Victoria, Poncho, Edmond and Sumeria. They approached us while we ate lunch next to a church and invited us to come "take a rest, have a shower, and have some food", the common offerings. We declined, as it was only midday and we wanted to cover more ground, but we did take them up on their offer of purified water they kept in the garfon in their living room...

Holy frijoles!...

We spent the next few days wrapping our heads around where all of those beans actually come from...

Bedding down in the corn field...

This was some great riding. Often our map is wrong and local directions prove to be extremely unreliable at times. This particular late afternoon we rode along some plots of farmland for a while, mostly on tractor roads, heading in the south-easternly direction we wanted...

...until we hit a wall and had to source out our next direction from the height of the rubble...

Inevitably heading towards the larger city of Zacatecas, we again are keen to stay on the smaller, dirt (when possible) roads.  As we approached our second lake in hopes of more fishing, we were faced with yet another extremely crumbly and rocky descent.  Even going very slowly, I found myself slipping and sliding and forced to pitch my bike and bail at certain points.  As I was regaining my balance at one point, I heard a truck behind me and I decided to move over completely and wait until they passed before I continued.  The two guys in the truck slowed to ask if I was okay and if I wanted a ride down.

That is not a mountain bike” one of them said  “This road is very dangerous on a bike, even with suspension.

I insisted I was okay and they continued on.  Once the road started to level out, I caught up with Kurt, who was now stopped and talking to the men in the truck.  One of the dudes introduced himself as Fidel and invited us to his house that evening in the town of Canatlan.  We had not originally planned on heading in that direction, but it was easy to reroute ourselves and we took him up on the offer.  We put in another great half day of riding, including a lovely picnic by the lake, and moved on to meet Fidel in the plaza of Canatlan.  As we were about 8 kilometers outside the town, a jeep pulled up alongside us and slowed down.  It was Fidel and his wife Juanita, checking to see if we were okay and still coming.  So nice of them…

We spent the evening getting stuffed on Juanita’s cooking and learning all about the local Durango mountain biking scene, of which Fidel is a very active member of.  To my delight there was also a tiny tiny squeaky German Shepard puppy named Princessa just begging for attention.  Upon waking and having breakfast, Fidel, after finding out Kurt is a bike mechanic, asked if he wouldn’t mind looking at some of the local guys’ bikes and doing some tune ups.  We then spent the full day down at a nearby auto parts shop, with Kurt fixing bike after bike.  It allowed me some good time to work on some bike projects of my own that I’d been meaning to get too as well, such as shimming out all of my panniers so they hold snug to the racks again and sewing in some new padding to old, worn out riding gloves.  Everyone left with a smile and I am happy to report there are some smooth running bikes back on the streets of Canatlan.

Dinner with Fidel and Juanita...

Bike talk...

We got to see some great recent Mexico racing shirts, a rarity since we have been here...

It started with one bike...

...then the word got out and more started to show up...

...and some more...

...until the sidewalk was filled with bikes and local bikers. Here's the Canatlan Mountain Bike crew...

They were pretty adamant about me taking a photo of their URL, so here you go...

Funny thing was... there was a bike repair shop right around the corner. However, Fidel told us they didn't fix "competition bikes"...

What I imagine it may have looked like from Berkeley Hills many years ago...

Like living in a daydream almost all of the time...

We had an episode with some bees a bit back and Kurt lost his glasses while being stung repeatedly over and over. These are the new ones he picked up. Now I get to check out my hairdo all day when we have close conversations...

Please let me know if I take too many photos of green hills and you are getting tired of seeing them because I'm not...

The mini teapot bell gets them everytime (Photo: Kurt)...

Greetings from the shore of Lake Santiaguillo, a popular place for Menonites to settle...

La Mina…

September 5, 2010

Not long after leaving our lakeside camp spot, we were back on dirt and the day was fantastic.  We began by cruising right along the edge of the lake, taking in how big it actually was.  The road then led us up and out of the lake valley and we streamed along in wide open ranch land and desert-y landscape.  The hills were present, but everything was fairly firm and graded relatively well, so it was a whole day on dirt where I didn’t have to push my bike once.  Man it was awesome!  I felt happy and strong and back in action.  I have also discovered the wonder of Tang and I am not ashamed to admit it.  Paired with a little salt, it’s a homemade Gatorade and I stay much more hydrated during the day.

After a good chunk of riding we dropped down into the small town of Casas Blancas.  Immediately we sought out some supplies for dinner and some water, planning to continue on our way.  We approached a group of men sitting outside a liquor/snack store and I asked if they might have a source of water we could use, adding “no tomar”, which indicates that we don’t plan to drink it and any hose or faucet water will be fine.  I was then taken around the back where the kind lady of the house interrupted her laundry routine to fill our 6 liter bladder to the max.  Thanking then, we moved around to the neighboring street and proceeded to filter the water into our water bottles, a process we have to do several times a day.

During this, we were approached by a man speaking excellent English asking the usual questions.  He warned us of cartels up ahead, but insisted they would want nothing to do with us  and proceeded to explain a bit about himself.  He had grown up in Chihuahua and started working in the mines around the age of 16.  Moving through the ranks over the years, he now is the head boss at a mine they were in the process of setting up a few kilometers away.  As with all mining operations, there was a camp being constructed nearby as well for workers, visiting geologists, drilling experts, etc., and Angel invited us to stay for the night.  We were pretty keen to keep going, but with the offer of a cold beer on the table, we decided to hang out for a bit.  The rest of the night is history.  We tied a good one on with the towns folk/mine employees and stayed in the camp for not one but two days.  With all meals being provided (unlimited cereal and milk!), beds and warm showers, we settled in pretty comfortably for a bit.

The following day I went with Angel to the location of the mine to check it out.  We drove out a ways, climbing effortlessly in the huge truck over hills and switchbacks that would have taken us the better part of a day to traverse on our bikes.  So far they have dug about 1,100 meters into the mountain, which is about 15% of the way they plan to go.  Slowly but surely, over the next 20 years, that mountain will be coming down layer by layer.

What happens after that?” I asked.

Then we plant some trees on it.  The Environmental Consultant came by and told us we’d have to plant pine trees.  They are going to import them from Afghanistan, a special kind that will grow well here.

I proceeded with more questions about the future of the town, grasping how much things were about to change in a big way for the people of Casas Blancas.  New schools, new roads, new funds pouring in.  For 20 years at least.  The mine is called La Pitarilla and is backed by the Canadian mining company Silver Standard.  Silver, copper, zinc and gold will be extracted through the calculated process.

After the mini mine tour, we went to go see some of Angel’s horses, some of which have serious papers to boast.  For all you horse fans out there, I got to see the grand-daughter pony of the 1979 world champion race horse, Dash for Cash.  What a day, let me tell you.

After a few more meals with the miners, and another good night’s rest, we packed up our things once again and headed south.

Heading out to the mine...

Just a hole in a rock wall, really. Of which they will extract some 20 million over the next 20 years...

This is the view from Angel's office. Not bad...

What every boss may or may not wish to have in their own office...

Just to remind you we are still in the desert...

Part of the newly constructed mine camp...

The man behind all the action and our gracious host, Angel...

If you are running for office this year, you may want to consider the seriousness a mustache brings to the situation...

Mind the spikes…

September 5, 2010

They are everywhere.

How the desert does acupuncture...

Dainty leaves do their best to hide the dainty daggers...

Toothpicks do grow on trees...

These give you at least a bit of a chance, as they hug their branch so closely...

La Presa…

September 5, 2010

Excited at the prospects of doing some fishing, Kurt and I made our way out towards Presa Lazaro Cardenas. We had about 80 kilometers to cover that day and we stayed on it best we could hoping to reach the lake just as the sun was dropping and the mosquitoes were swarming.  It all worked out perfectly.  The last 20 k or so was a serious descent of some amazingly picturesque paved road, dropping us into the town of El Palmito, located right on the lake.  We did our usual peruse through town, answering the typical questions and getting nice pats of the backs from elderly ladies before setting off again to find our spot.  As we wound around the lake, we were confronted with a huge damn (which we found out later had been closed off just that very morning).  The damn of course came with a huge barricaded building for government monitoring and somewhat of a concrete landing strip.  After that, there really was not much of a shore to spread out on and all of the sides just dropped off into huge craggy boulders before reaching the lake.  We decided to hop the railing and shuttle our stuff down and set up right on the patio.

Over these few weeks we’ve come to realize that it really doesn’t matter so much where you camp.  Granted there is a lot of of private land, we’ve yet to run into any trouble or anyone telling us we couldn’t camp somewhere.  Even on the private land, the farmers or ranchers usually just give us a nod and a wave and leave us alone.   Usually we hide off in the woods somewhere, looking for spots that will offer shade when we wake up and have our leisure morning time.  However, sometimes we’ve realized it is best to just camp in the open, making it clear of your presence.  We’ve been hidden way way out somewhere, with hardly a path in site, let alone any buildings or structures, and had visitors walk up on us out of nowhere, always just friendly and curious.  Then there have been other times when we’ve been right next to a highway, or on the edge of the heavily touristed canyon, and we’ve not encountered but one other person passing by to blink an eye.  And as with our experience of camping in the canyon, we decided some nights that it really was best to camp right out in plain view, with the thought in mind of “Hey, hi, here we are.  We know you have weed growing back around that corner and we want nothing to do with it.  We just want to get some rest and continue on in the morning.  Muchos gracias.”

So next to the lake we camped on the concrete, no undoubtedly the flattest spot we’ve had thus far, and Kurt cast out the line a few times in hopes of catching some fresh dinner.  I spent the time floating on my back, feeling truly weightless and oblivious to the rest of the surroundings except the darkening of the sky up ahead.

A perfect way to spend any afternoon...

Pure magic...

Kurt caught some little ones, but nothing sizable enough to justify a death in a frying pan...

Strapping down my panniers before heading out in the morning (Photo: Kurt)...

Another view...

Having tackled the canyon, we set our sites on a string of lakes dotting our map.  This meant we’d officially be leaving the state of Chihuahua behind and entering the state of Durango.  The riding was mellow and a mixture of both road and dirt.  It was during these days that we started to drop ever so slowly out of the Sierra Madre, winding down through beautiful valleys filled with acres and acres of crops.  It felt quite productive and rewarding to get some 60-70 mile days in again, looking at the map after the days’ ends and seeing big chunks accomplished toward our next destinations.

The electric colors of things mixed with chipping paint gets me every time...

Time for some pedal maintenance...

Sprinkle pancakes never get old. So heady, I know...

The Sierra Madre. A beauty you pay for with your calves and thighs...

You may be wondering what kind of things would puncture a Schwable Marathon Extreme tire and tube loaded with slime. I will inform you it is spikes such as these...

We needed some electrical tape. They had it. Case closed...

A military check point as we enter the state of Durango. I snuck this one photo in before they caught me. The military is not very photogenic...

I love riding through farmland. 1) it's beautiful and 2) the tractors make everything nice and flat...

He was going to whiten his teeth, but he just got a tan instead. (RIP Mitch H.)...

"Anywhere but here, please. I've been in this field my whole life. I'm ready for a change. Please take me with you."...

Not as good as my friend Dave's, but spoon smushed humus is made with lots of dedication and love and provides an excellent change of tortilla filling...

I will start this one by saying oooooooooh boy, this one really pressed my buttons.  Granted this was our second time climbing up and out of this 8,000 ft deep canyon, you’d think the whole experience was already signed, sealed and delivered. And it was in a way.  There was a bit of the up thing, then a whole lot of the up thing and when I thought I had just about had it, some more of the up thing, paired with similar grunting, pushing and swearing as I had the first trek out.

We began just after visiting (or pretty much coincidentally passing by) the Mission De Satevo, a great big gaudy renovated church positioned smack in the middle of this desert canyon.  Built in 1760, it was probably beautiful back in its day, however newly renovated and pink stucco-ed to the max, it agreeably looks like the smuggler’s bar on Tatuine in Star Trek.  It was here that we ran into an area guide who spoke English very well.  We hit him up for some directions and suggestions for ways out and he highly recommended we go back to Batopilas and take the well traveled road from there.  Then he let on to the fact there was a new road just across the river that climbs quicker faster and which would put us up on top in a matter of 6k.  The mention of a new road and both our eyes lit up.  Decidedly we’d be taking that one.  We thanked him for the info and rode off towards the bank of the river, only to find it too deep and moving too swiftly to get across.  Our next option was to backtrack a bit and cross the small swinging bridge we had seen earlier.

On our way we ran into some kids who took the pleasure in shouting “monies” “monies” “monies” “dinero” at us, not something we have encountered very often thankfully.  It was already hot and sunny and I was hurling my bike over mini boulders yet again and was not in the mood for the heckling.  So I decided to try something new and started shouting back at them in the same tone “monies” “monies” “dinero” “pesos” “yen” “baat”, any form of currency I could think of.  It worked like a charm.  My pestering them was followed only by some very confused looks and silence.

After crossing the bridge we started once again up the canyon, via the nueva carretera.  They were not kidding.  This was certainly a new one.  So new I don’t think anyone has really even attempted to drive it yet.  Downed trees, rock slides and chunks of missing road were a few of the obstacles we encountered over the next few days.  Again, the going was slow.  On the second day I took off my bike shoes and switched hiking shoes, resolving to get better traction as I pushed up the scree path.  The following day I completely removed my pedals for a few sections, having grown tired of jabbing myself in the calves.  It was once again a battle for the top.  After another three days, we finally began to wind up through more trees, leaving the site of the abyss behind.

And just when I thought my legs might completely commit mutiny, we turned a corner and started to go down….yes down!…through wooded apple orchards, filled with red and green apples, children and chickens.  I quickly hopped over the fence and shoved as many in my pockets as I could, craving some natural sugar after so many days of pasta and lentils.  The little kids watched me curiously from the edge of their yards, giggling and squeaking out shy “holas” when I  said hello.  All of a sudden I felt completely rejuvenated and remembered exactly why all of the fumbling, pushing and cursing under my breath is necessary sometimes.  Being out there and then returning from that place to appreciate what is around all the time.

It was another day and a half before we reached the town of Guachochi  and all the comforts it had to offer.  Here we splurged on a $20 motel room, made a mud room of the bathroom and kicked back comfortably while we watched the rain continue to pour down outside.

And up around this bend we have...a big pink church plopped right in the middle of a canyon...

Things were pretty desolate for the holy day of Domingo...

Each switch back is just as exciting as the last, believe me...

Clearly much more rain water traverses this road than the weight of either cars or trucks...

...and sometimes there is hardly a road at all...

.The camp saw comes in handy once again...

Who says biking isn't an upper body workout? (Photo: Kurt)...

One look around quickly rewards you for all your efforts...

...but don't forget to look down, you never know who you might miss...

A day in the canyon on a new road would not be complete without some pannier shuttling...

Camp where you wish, even in the middle of the road, no one will be by to tell you not to...

Having run out of fuel, all of our meals were cooked over fire...

Who can really complain when every turn of a corner reveals sites such as this...

Just what every off-road, calorie depleted, sweat shedding bike tourist wants...some Villa Viva. Armed with his really, really cheap tequila, this dude saw us as a great excuse to start an impromptu party in the middle of the road, blasting mariachi music from his truck and handing out snacks. Him and his compadre were sure to warn us of the "dangerous folk" in the area. The only danger we really considered was riding on roads these guys were driving...

And like that, after days of dirt, the road turns to pavement...

...and our epic canyon adventure distinctly ends here. Ten points to whomever can name that episode...

There certainly is a “stuck in time” feel to the town of Batopilas.  Stretched out narrowly along the riverside, the town is an array of big stucco buildings, an impressive and popular el centro and many hotels and guest homes.  Being that it was the off-season, we did not get the regular tourist vibe that I am sure emanates through the streets during other times.  Interestingly enough, after Mexico City Batopilas was the next city to receive electricity in Mexico.

Besides us gringos, there were the very colorful and present Tarahumara, Raramuri and cowboys pacing the streets.  We arrived late in the day, and after inquiring about homestay prices, decided to ride back out of town a bit and camp at an abandoned hacienda we had seen on the way in.  It may have been the best spot in town too, because the porch we set up on looked down right onto the river.  As always, there was some curious onlookers who came to visit us in the morning and we learned the hacienda was still in slow process of being built.  It was hard to tell that from all of the broken glass and shattered wood furniture inside, but whenever the family does start to move in, they are going to have the best spot in town.

Welfare checks were handed out that day and the lines for the Tienda Communitaria (Government subsidized grocery stores, different from the regular tiendas, supers, mini supers, or abborotes) and the lines were out the door, with people picking up the food necessities, as well as new sandals, Tupperware and I saw one man with a brand new calculator.

We spent most of the day on the search for the cheapest food we could find.  Without a bank in town and with no one accepting any form of credit, we had 200 pesos to our names.  Unsure of how long it would take us to get back out of the canyon again and to a town sizeable enough for a bank, we stocked up on the usual staples of rice, pancakes, beans, pasta, potatoes and my new favorite mood brightener…peanuts.  We leisurely left after hanging out in the plaza for a while, watching another impending thunderstorm and guessing its direction.

Our priceless accommodations. Why pay to stay when there are always abandoned places just waiting for you to warm...

A bit of the riverside sprawl...

Homes on the main street...

How mechanics do it on the banks of Batopilas...

The Tarahumara women on line to pick up their subsidies...

Inside the walls of the fortified and very official,though crumbling, Hacienda. This was quite the spot back in its day...

...but now it's just beautifully overgrown and haunting...

To begin, we can confirm that indeed there is a road that goes from Urique to Batopilas…almost completely.  Our overly optimistic 2010 map denotes it is there, we will just tell you that the journey will involve some grunting, pushing, pulling, heeing, hawing, scurrying, scampering, slipping, sliding, shuttling and…maybe some riding.  Here’s a brief outline of the experience:

Day 1- Leave late afternoon and ride enchantingly down alongside the river into Guapalina where you will ford a river quite deep and swift after discovering the swinging bridge you were told about is not actually there.

Day 2- Rise early and start the half riding/half pushing day.   Break to rest arms.  Push more.  Break to rest legs.  Push again.  Hop on your bike, but don’t clip in because falling off while struggling to climb a steep grade covered in loose scree is a likely scenario.  By nightfall you reach what you think is the top, and gleefully begin to look for camping.  Luckily run into a young cowboy who, when answering his “a donde va” with Batopilas, instructs you that the road to Batopilas is back the way we had just come.  Flop down on your sleeping pad and decide to figure it out in the morning.

Day 3- Ride back in the direction you just clawed your way out of.  View what looks to be some sort of end to a road about 1000 feet above, with only a faint outlines of smattering of goat trails in between where you stand and said road end.  Investigate the situation,  which reveals that indeed the road you need is quite a ways up there and even walking along those trails with nothing on your back or in your arms proves to be an unbalanced endeavor given the very narrow and ever crumbling path.  Make some tea, eat some noodles, procrastinate a bit.  Bite the bullet and start the 3 hour endeavor of shuttling the bikes and all the panniers up these goat tracks over the course of multiple trips.  Get to the top, enjoy a sweet descent for a bit, before getting caught in torrential downpour.  Rest your tired muscles wondering what the next day will bring.

Day 4- Spend a morning pushing and riding along several ridges, with no real view of the deep canyon you are anticipating to be seen.  (Highlight of my day (and maybe in the top 5 of my life thus far): while riding through a little town (two houses) a family stopped to ask where we were coming from.  When they found out we’d come from Urique (which feels like another world at this point, kind of like you stepped through the looking-glass when shuttling up and over that mountain) the elderly lady in the bunch steps forward and gave me the biggest toothless smile I’d ever seen, while reaching out and grabbing my hand to shake it, continuously shaking her head and smiling in disbelief.)

Later on, feeling like a true sucker and glutton for punishment, you descend yet again into the second deepest part of the deepest canyon in North America, with another 6k spent riding alongside the river, plopping you in the town of Batopilas.

So in the end, to confirm…you can get a loaded touring bike from Urique to Batopilas.  If you are reading this and planning to go in that direction, they may even have the road completed by now.  Who knows.  Either way it is, as always, well worth the effort.

Well, I just think that is a great name for a restaurant!...

After witnessing my quick photo snap of the restaurant across the street, these enthusiastic kids insisted they get in on the action...

With no bridge to be found, we wade across...

...and begin the push up the loose and crumbly road...

Laying on the ground and photographing the small details is a great way to take a break...

Kurt waiting for me at the top after day 1. Based on the size of that peanut shell pile, it took me a bit longer to get up there...

But of course. Up there is the road we need to continue on...

Pannier removal...

One of the many goat track shuttles...

Narrow, narrow paths to traverse...

The grand finale at the top. After this section we were free to put our panniers back on and continue the riding/pushing on some fairly level dirt...

...but the road still wasn't easy-going...

...but it did have its blissful sections, including these orchards...

Prickly pear cacti in bloom, a sure sign we were again dropping in elevation...

Sometimes its hard for me to enjoy the surrounding scenery, as I have to keep my eyes glued to the road and constantly ready to navigate through loose rock...

The grandness of it all...

The happy ending...

Knuckling down with hands full of brakes, we descended the 14k down into Urique, dropping 2000 ft in one swift motion.  My hands cramped from braking so much as I realized the canyon was going to make even descending hard work.  When I reached the bottom, Kurt was already being put to work helping some local kids fix their bmx bike, a task that proved way more trouble than it was worth.  More on that later…

We found our way to Entres Amigos, an eco-friendly hostal of sorts, which offers both private rooms and dorm style rooms, as well as camping.  We chose the latter of the three naturally and paid the 90 pesos, a pretty steep price for camping (normally free to us).  It does however come with the privilege of picking anything from the grounds we felt fit to eat, as well as use of the big communal kitchen on site.  And let me tell you…the grounds we’re ripe in all sorts of ways….so many mangoes were falling off the trees you could listen to them drop onto the corrugated tin roofs every few minutes.  In addition to the mangoes, there were limes, lemons, grapefruit, an abundance or basil, some random kale and an assortment of various things I had never seen before but continuously asked the grounds keeper Tomas “what is this for?” and “can I eat this?”  We spent the afternoon exploring downtown, drinking some highly anticipated cold cervezas and plundering the local market for things to create our highly thought out dinner.  Then we went to town in the kitchen, hand chopping a great big bowl of salsa, making pesto for pasta, baking a great big chocolate cake and squeezing fresh grapefruit juice, all intermixed with sporadic swims in the very slimy but very refreshing swimming pool.  It was agreeably, if not over, 100 degrees in Urique and even sitting completely still would find you drenched in sweat.  It felt like a few back to back Bikram yoga classes.  We spent a good amount of time with Luis too, the summer caretaker, who normally resides in Batopilas where he runs an art studio and sells his paintings in various forms.

Urique, like many of the canyon towns, is mostly known for its fairly thriving marijuana cultivation.  Unfortunately for the local growers, the government has taken more and more of an interest in the budding area and the daily presence of helicopters overhead made for some wary town folk.  There was definitely a semi nervous energy in the air.

With our bellies full and a day of rested legs, we cobbled together our plans of how to get to Batopilas.  After talking with quite a few people and scouring the internet for information (they do have WiFi there), we consulted a local as to if there really was a road that went directly from Urique to Batopilas, as it indicated on our 2010 Guia Roji map.  It was confirmed that indeed there was a road that went all the way through, just 3 kilometers were not finished yet, but Tomas assured us we would be fine on our bikes.  With this information and a hand drawn map listing some key towns to ask for along the way we set off late in the afternoon heading for Batopilas.

The dizzying, squiggly worm of a descent down to Urique (Photo: Kurt)...

Hello desert cacti and warmer temperatures...

Up around the canyon bend...

This bmx was in need of some serious work and Kurt graciously offered up all the help he could on the spot...

The entrance for Entre Amigos, a beautifully crafted and cared for eco grounds...

These flowers are everywhere in the canyon and remind me of popsicles we used to eat as kids...

With ample space, sun, care and love, things down here grow overwhelmingly ripe...

The cake! Double layered chocolate with an inventive icing of granulate sugar, butter and... ground-up cereal. No powdered sugar could be found so some cereal was the best thing I could come up with to tone it down a bit. It was super sweet to say the least, but went great as a slice in a bowl of milk...

Laborious as it is, a glass of fresh squeezed juice can not be beat...

The Urique police station. We regret to post that the kids we helped with the bike came by later and swiped a few articles of Kurt's, things they had been completely enthralled with upon first laying eyes on. All of the important things were found and returned after a loooooong morning of some interrogating and searching. Unfortunately, some not as important items are quite possibly still floating down the Urique river...

Historic center of Urique. The town has been in existence since the 1600's, though the road to it was only built in the 1970's...

The local tortilleria...

Boiling some grapefruit seeds in hopes of extracting some oil to gulp down. One of the most longed after of the stolen articles is a bottle of GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract) we had, the cure-all Kurt and I were using to kill any bad bacteria that started fiestas in our stomachs. This process did the trick, but we are continuously on the hunt to find a replacement bottle in Mexico...

Having returned from our backtracking side trip to Basaseachi Falls, we were most excited to continue heading South, into the plus, toward BarrancaDel Cobre.  After days and days of rain, our stink bags needed some serious airing out and we spent some solid morning hours removing everything from our bags and letting the sun work its magic into all the moldy corners.  We made it to Divisadero later on that afternoon just as the rain started to fall again.  Lured by the description of gorditas in our guide-book, we landed smack in the middle of a heavy tourist stop.  As this is the first place you can actually get a good glimpse down into the canyon, in addition to being a stop along the tracks, the Tarahumara and their children have set up an array of stalls to peddle their various crafts, including jewelry, handmade guitars and cutlery, as well as some printed on mugs and calendars to remind you of your visit to the largest canyon in North America.

By the time we had finished our gordita sampling and pried our bodies away from the warmth of the oil drum stoves it was fairly late in the day.  The day’s rain and cloud situation was gearing up for a fantastic sunset so I enthusiastically put in my two cents about camping right on the rim.  It was certainly not hard to convince Kurt that waking up to a cup of coffee right on the rim would be a fantastic way to start the next day.  So we paced down along the cobblestone path, feeling like we were in some life-sized version of candy land, peering over into the abyss that was now graced with not one, but three sunset rainbows.  It was a breathtaking way to end the day.

Despite being up quite late that night completely sucked into Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, I was able to rouse myself at first light and amble down to the edge to watch the sun peek out and set upon a new day in the canyon.  It was here that I really first got a glimpse of the glowing copper-colored walls that give the canyon its name.  Completely in awe, I sat for a good while thinking happily on other canyon experiences in my life and how good it felt to be next to another one.  The perspective they grant is unmatched.  Tossing a rock with no landing sound to be heard or watching a helicopter disappear amongst the many folds lets you know just how big you really are in the grand scheme of things.

Thinking we had but a few miles and a swift descent down into Urique, we spent the morning on the rim, roasting blue corn tortillas for breakfast and having conversations that included the words “wow, wow, wow” over and over.  Setting off, we quickly came upon the town of San Rafael, where the evidence of the greenery business was dully noted in all of the fancy big trucks we kept passing.  And then it began….a rolling hill here, a switch back of two there.  Up up up we went.  Seemingly all day.  We had begun our ascent down into the deepest side canyon, go figure.  Spoilage alert….we missed an unmarked turn, sending us out and around and up over ridge after ridge.  It was not until the next morning that our mistake was confirmed.  The signs had been pretty clear…riding uphill that whole previous day, camping next to a rather shallow valley where we had expected a deep canyon and the fact I heard the faint whistle of trains all night, when both of us knew full well there were no trains that ran down into Urique.  We reaffirmed our gut notions the next morning, setting our eyes on the telltale sign that read Urique…54 km.  So it was another full day of climbing, before finally setting our eyes down into what looked to be a pretty official deep deep deep canyon.  We hunkered down that evening again in torrential rain, thunder and lightning and slept well knowing the dizzying descent that finally awaited us in the morning.

Sun, glorious sun...

The constant battle against the mold monster...

Tarahumara masks for sale...

Gorditas, excellent fuel for a hungry cyclist. Here we got to choose between various tortillas, stuffings (including vegetable and meat medleys) and beans or cheese...

Nevermind the gigantic canyon to the right, look at this extra long bike over here...

The first glimpse of sun hitting the canyon wall in the morning. You can see one of the reasons it is referred to as Copper Canyon...

Not a bad spot to wake up in the morning...

...or have that first cup of tea...

The beautiful inside of a shrine along the way...

...which was worked into the natural beauty already in place...

Sierra Madre riding...

The town of Bahuichivo, which is actually outside the Barranca Del Cobre region. This was our first false Urique sighting...

The huge plus side to wrong turns, excellent swim spots such as this one...

This man gave us the go ahead to hop the fence and plunge into those crystal clear waters, as it was on his property...

By the end of day two we had reached the spot where we wanted to be. Below us the crevice leading into Urique, the deepest part of Barranca Del Cobre. The town seen in the photo is actually Guapalina, as Urique can not be seen until continuing around the bend...

These last couple of weeks have been nothing short of utterly epic.  Kurt and I have been chewed up and spat out by the grander of canyons, Barranca Del Cobre.  Having emerged on the other side, I can honestly say it was one of the most breathtaking and humbling experiences I have partaken in in my life thus far.  Until I get to Zacatecas and can give you a full update, here are a few photos to hold you over…

Basaseachi Falls

August 5, 2010

After seeing a few photos and hearing about the waterfalls from both locals and folks back in the states (one being my bro Kev), we decided they were definitely not to be missed, though it meant retracing our steps back to San Juanito before getting some new roads to saunter along.  After a long day of frustrating internet-ing (trying to keep this blog updated is not something these canyon lands want me to do easily), we hit the dusty trail and camped a bit of the ways down the road heading back towards San Juanito.

The backtracking did have its bonuses.  One… we got to ride past a particular pothole again that I had misjudged the seriousness of earlier, sending one of my panniers bouncing off my front rack and into the street, leaving a small hole to be patched in the side.  This second time we cruised by a road crew was filling the monster with some gravel, which left me riding away with a smile.  This pothole had been discussed many times over the previous days and after having seam sealed the hole in my pannier and velcro-ed my bags on more tightly, I was ready for a rematch.  Thanks to the road maintenance crew, the showdown was thwarted.  Two…we got to run into Naelly, a spark of a girl who we’d met in Creel but who lives in San Juanito.  It’s always nice to run into people you “know”, especially so far from home.

The ride to Basaseachi was all in all an absolutely beautiful one.  It took us about a day a half, though it could certainly be done in one.  Our slowness in these times is a result of trying to pack up in the rain laden mornings and the continual pit stops during the day to put on or take off our rain gear.  The second day met us with a sunny morning and we spent the first half of our day swooping (with little climbs interjected here and there) down towards the town of Basaseachi and the falls.  It was not long before we hit the end of the road, a col-du-sac of cars, food stalls and blaring music.  We found our way to the campground and decided to spread out along the lower part of the river.  Kurt headed back into town to grab some cold beers and things to roast while I went about setting up the tent…or almost.  Within minutes it was pouring and I decided to instead don the rain gear I’ve grown so fond of recently and take a stroll through the woods.  Then it turned into a swimming, fire roasting, beer drinking evening.

The next morning we hiked to the falls, reaching the top within minutes and peering over the barricaded edge with the other folks who gathered around on the concrete patios they have constructed up there.  With all of the rain that had been falling the water was raging!  It looked very different from the pictures we had seen, and at the rate it was pouring over there was no hope for a swim in one of the pools at the top.   At 812 feet, Basaseachi Falls are the second highest waterfalls in Mexico and also the largest continuously running waterfall in the country as well.  W spent the good part of the day hiking down to the base and then up again to the other side for some more views.  Standing next to the falls at the bottom was greatly worth every hill we climbed to get there.

The next day brought more rain and has us tent bound and tea drinking.  We emerged late the next morning and started our trek back to San Juanito.  We figured rather than retrace our steps again, we’d try to hitch a ride.  We waited our spot in the hitching line for a bit, but then got antsy and ended up riding back to San Juanito and further on to Creel over the next day.  Now we are back in the plus and heading towards this great big hole in the earth we’ve heard so much about…Barranca De Cobre, otherwise known as Copper Canyon.

Hiding out behind the glass while the daily soakage has its way...

Yes, it tasted like rainbows...

Misty riding...

The riding was fantastic! The road was fantastic! The weather stayed fairly fantastic! All around we were pretty psyched to have taken this little side trip...

Along this canyon route we passed many small communities, completely self-sustaining for the most part...

If anyone knows this dude, you know he likes his fires...

With afternoon monsoons a regular, dry wood is not terribly easy to come by. Kurt did find some buried logs however and splitting into them revealed some great cedar to get going...

And finally, some things a' roasting! These steaks cost 10 pesos each, perfect for our budget, and we paired them with some black beans we'd been soaking all day...

At the base of the falls! It was like a monsoon you could turn off by walking away! Notice the rainbow in the lower left. This picture doesn't capture it very well, but it sure was stunning... (Photo: Kurt)

We hiked up to top of the falls and viewed them from as many angles as we could. Not a bad place to eat some lunch...

Kurt ascending one of the climbs we tackled while returning from the falls...

Oh, the hilarity of it all. Have I mentioned how much I love riding in squishy socks and shoes?... (Photo: Kurt)

This morning was a golden opportunity to take some time to dry out everything that has been starting its own science projects in our bags...

It is known that for every 1,000 feet of elevation loss, the temperature rises 3.6 degrees.  We certainly have started to feel this fact as we continue on south.  With every twist and turn, Mexico has begun to open itself up right before our eyes, revealing lush valley after lush valley.  We traveled through the towns of Guerro and Guadalupe, stopping to camp by Presa Abraham Gonzalez, a rather large lake calling to us from the road.  Excited to get in a late afternoon swim, we bumped down the dirt road towards the beckoning water.  Very sadly though, upon reaching the lake, we were confronted with quite a scene.  There were ambulances parked close to the water and a few boats out dragging nets, evidently looking for a body.  Our mood sorely dampened, we respectfully crept around the other side of a lake and offered our silent prayers for the family involved in such a terrible ordeal.

The next day brought more glaring sun and flat road heading towards San Juanito.   The map we have showed this road as the alternative to get to Creel (our next destination).  It was paved the whole way and traveled mainly by farmers and locals, so we did not have to contend with too many cars.  I took advantage of some Chilequiles on a menu in San Juanito and found it tortilla heavy and red sauce smothered.  Delicious!

Now, for the past two days we’ve been enjoying a little break and what the town of Creel has to offer.  We got hooked up with a courtyard camp experience for 50 pesos each, partied down with some locals and a gang of motorcyclists and explored the bits of town we’ve wanted to.  The Tarahuma Mountains line this area, and the natives dress quite traditionally and very colorfully.  A common occurrence we enjoy is the train that rumbles through several times a day heading to or from Copper Canyon.  The freight is usually full of riders which, as you can imagine, sends Kurt out into the street to catch a glimpse of how his favorite activity is done in Mexico.

We were originally planning to head to Copper Canyon from here, but the lure of the Basaseachi Falls is pulling us ever so strongly towards them.  We’ve decided to take the next few days to ride to them, though it means back tracking a bit on some roads we’ve already traveled on.

Sunset leaving Madera...

Some early morning delicate tent magic...

Everything gets thrown into tortillas these days. A package of 10 can be purchased at the Tortilleria for about 10 pesos, or a little more than $1 US...

"Pinole! Pinole! Pinole! Give you power!" says Tony (usually said while smacking one's shoulder.) Kurt and I were sure to pick up a bag before leaving Nueve Casas Grandes and we have been mixing it in our oatmeal and pancakes in the morning...

A roadside observer...

The alluring lake we camped next to for the evening...

One of the many ups and downs of the day...

A view from just one of the canyons we road through, and its tiny village nestled in the valley...

A roadside market. These usually contain the "essentials", such as spices, sodas, snacks, eggs, and sometimes pastries...

Kurt's semi-custom rig. More on this beast later...

Chilequiles, San Juanito style...

He camoflaged best he could, but then politely posed for this photo when I explained how good looking I thought he was...

Outside the shrine...

Inside the shrine...

Mangus, the guesthouse pooch, keeping a good eye on things...

Quite a hilarious translation...

Another classic...

The Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacifico, or Copper Canyon Railroad, tracks which run through the center of town...

The turista train. Quite a popular way for many to view the canyon, as the tracks are layed out impressively throughout many of its twists and turns, making it one of the "Wonders of Engineering"...

It was hard to resist these big juicy grapes. Most of our snacks and meals on the road consist of simple grains that stay well and are easy to carry and cook. Fresh anything is always a treat...

The Renegados, giving tattoos up on the porch. They later had us sit down for a huge feast with them...

Back on dirt…

July 22, 2010

After spending the last few days in seemingly bustling towns, connected by quite bustling roads, we were most excited for the days ahead where we could get back on some dirt.  Our visit to Mata Ortiz proved uneventful because we got there just too early and nothing was really happening at that hour.  We proceeded on to climb the newly paved grade that officially put us up into the Sierra Madres, the mountain range running through the center of Mexico.  Not long after reaching the top, we encounter trucks of various natures, all poised to continue paving those dirt roads we all enjoy so much.  Happy to be back on dirt, we wound up and down through tiny mountain roads, twisting through quaint little villages and passing endless amounts of ranch animals.  The air was cool and crisp at this elevation, which made for some very enjoyable riding.  An added bonus to this dirt road in particular was the fact that there were rarely signs informing us of our whereabouts.  Every once in a while we would happen upon a legible sign, though usually it was directing us toward towns that were not on our map.  For two days we guessed our way through most forks in the road.  Eventually the road started to flatten out and began to show signs of life, mainly that of loggers and logging trucks.  We ended up popping out on a highway passing through the town of El Largo.  Turning left, we were back on pavement and continuing our ride up through a stunning canyon, where every twist and turn revealed another stunning detail of breathtaking landscape.

The next day brought more paved ups and downs, making it feel like a roller coaster ride at times.  We made a brief stop at Cascadia de Salta only to find that barely any water was running to make for a spectacular waterfall.  Next stop was Madera, where I learned that I cannot handle two large agua frescas back to back, no matter how thirsty I feel.  There we met Carlos and his son who very kindly invited us to stay with them for the night.  Anxious to continue on, we declined the offer but swapped a few travel stories before parting ways.  Carlos informed us it was “all downhill from here” and we set out again while the sun dropped down, soon finding our ranch land camp spot.  I should mention one of my favorite parts of the day is the camp spot hunt and set up.  We’ve been making a habit each night of getting settled in and enjoying some tea and biscuits while we start cooking dinner (read: biscuits… really just an adult attempt at saying cookies).  We’ve gotten quite attached to a brand called Maria’s.  They are nice and crunchy, hold their form when dunked in warm liquids, are not too sweet and cost around 6 pesos, or $0.50.

Heading up into the Sierra Madres...

After climbing the paved grade, the road turned back to dirt. It will make for easier travel for those heading to and from Nueve Casas Grandes and Madera by car. However, we were quite happy to catch it in the undone phase...

Some interesting rock formations we passed and maize, the most common crop found in these parts...

Adobe kilns. Many of the homes are built with bricks made in these...

At times the road was steep and very rocky, not very conducive to my wiggly form of bike riding...

Our chosen camp spot for the evening. The stream was tiny and quaint and allowed for a late afternoon dip. We enjoyed the spot, until...

...we had to make a mad dash for high ground. Due to the afternoon monsoon, the stream turned in to quite a flowing river, rising an unexpected foot. The night was an interesting one, as we watched the water rise and then fall, before rising furiously a second time. We eventually had to abandon the spot and throw all the gear and bikes up onto higher ground in attempts to get at least a little rest for the evening.

The next day brought a few river crossings...

Sometimes having to push...

One of the many unmarked forks we would encounter along the way...

Signs such as these did not help very much...

A sign like this would be extremely helpful, except the town names shown were not ones listed anywhere on our map...

Jaw and teeth of some unlikely wild(or maybe not so)life...

Mind if we play through?...

Again confronted with a late day monsoon...

...we spent the afternoon constructing a veranda for our tent and frying up some potatoes to go with our endless cups of tea. Thanks to some huge puddles nearby, water was far from scarce and we relaxed in our cozy fort the whole next morning while the rain continued on....

Freshly hatched, this butterfly would not leave Kurt. He went from his shorts to his finger, continuously flapping and drying his wings. He was reluctant to let go, but eventually we had to say goodbye and Kurt placed him on a log...

Unfortunate signs that we were getting close to something and someone somewhere...

Pumping water with a curious crowd...

We made it only so far down the road, before stopping in Casas Grandes to check out some of the old town scene.  While circling around the park in the center of town we were met by Spencer, who said his wife and him had seen us on the road and he wanted to personally welcome us to Casas Grandes,  hoping with his encouragement we’d take some time to explore it.  As it turns out, Spencer was quite involved with putting Mata Ortiz on the map, having purchased two of Juan Quesada’s unsigned pots in a thrift store back in 1976.  Enamored by them, he sought out to find the artist behind them, eventually finding Quesada in Mata Ortiz.  From there they became friends and Spencer helped Juan’s pottery and Juan travel throughout the world, giving pottery seminars and the likes.  Spencer took us to a compound he is renovating and showed us some of the most impressive wood work I had ever seen.  Made by a local artist, all of the tables and chairs were made from fallen timber and still held their original form in some sense.

From there we visited Paquime, a maze-like settlement of adobe structures from which Casas Grandes  (Big Houses)gets its name.  It once was the largest trading settlement in Northern Mexico before being ransacked by the Apaches, so the belief goes.  We took time, at Spencer’s recommendation, to check out the museum there as well.  I really enjoyed looking at all the jewelry made of shells and bones, so intricate and unique in their colors and antiquity.  Further along we took another detour through Colonial Juarez, a settlement of Mormons tucked away in a lush valley.  There we met Fred who was out cruising on his bike.  He gave us as impromptu tour of the area…which consisted mainly of us riding up to the highest lookout point/massive Mormon church grounds and picking some apples.  Fred’s English was excellent and it was fun to practice my very frustrating a very poor Spanish with him.  From him we got the real scoop of what it’s like to grow up in a Mormon run area, while remaining on the outside in terms of religion and culture.

It was a beautiful evening as the sun set and we camped in a field not too far from Mata Ortiz, planning on visiting the town and its potters in the morning.

One of the many roadside shrines we see along the way. Some are elaborate, towering off the ground with brightly painted bricks, while others are more simple, made only of recycled metal and stone. They are usually filled with pictures, candles and other various offerings...

The washroom in Spencer's beautifully renovated compound. We made plans that once the trip is finite in a few years, I would possibly come back here to take a bath...

One of the rooms in the compound. Notice the intricate table and wooden bowl in the center, hard carved and polished. Interestingly, the brass bed in the back may have slept both Pancho Villa and Madero at separate times...

Some pottery shards discovered by archeologists staying at the compound. They say the area is slim pickings due to years of vandalism at the sites...

A view of Paquime, the ancient maze-like adobe settlement...

Fred, our buddy who showed us around Colonial Juarez...

Nueve Casas Grandes…

July 22, 2010

We awoke to our first sunny day in Mexico, reminiscing and swapping stories about the last time we had woken up in another country.  For me it had been about two years ago in Prague and for Kurt it had been Holland two years prior as well.  We headed back out onto the highway to take on the trucks.  To my surprise, it really wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated.  Granted the shoulder was nonexistent, the trucks were kind enough to move over to give us room or slow down to let other trucks pass before trying to come around us.  By mid afternoon we had reached Nueve Casas Grandes and our first agua frescas.

In our wandering around town looking for some good inexpensive tacos, we were befriended by Tony, who not only led us to a great place to eat, but also offered us a place to stay for the night a little ways out-of-town.  Wanting to get a few things done in town, we told him we’d think about his offer and perhaps meet him later on, at which point Tony drew us an excellent dirt map to follow.  A few hours into the night we decided to take Tony up on his offer and rode to his place of work, where he acted as night watchman for what was explained to be something of a lumber yard.

We arrived pretty late, but Tony was just as happy to see us, welcoming us in with a very enthusiastic “This is a special day!” and thanking us so much for coming.  He had already been preparing us a snack of tortillas, roasted jalapenos and hot dogs in his camper van, which he told us was a Volvo (Tony was crazy about all things Volvo) but was clearly a VW with all of the name plates switched.  We got right down to business talking about bikes and being shown his Cannondale (which he claimed was made by Volvo), complete with a homemade sheath hidden in the seat post.  This was eventually gifted to Kurt later on in the evening to use for protection in Mexico, which was very thoughtful of Tony.  Tony’s family came by later on as did his friend and we all took some photos with us and them and the bikes, before retiring on a covered patio.  We were woken up a mere 5 hours later to Tony’s “my friends…the sun is coming.”  (I still here Tony’s voice in my head most mornings when I arise, warning of the sun and a reminder to best get on with things.)  Tony very kindly brought us to his home where we shared breakfast and marveled over lots of family photos (“family is the most important thing in Mexico”) and the 12 copies of the Book of Mormon that Tony had in multiple languages.  After more photos of us and Tony and the bikes in front of the Volvo, we parted ways and headed for town.

Tony (right) and the family in front of "The Volvo"...

We are clearly not the only ones who get spoiled by Tony...

A practical use of some sturdy tire rubber...

"Family is the most important thing in Mexico"...

Crossing the border…

July 22, 2010

We were accompanied by Glen on our way out of Silver City, and for the first time since Oakland I felt a pang of leaving a place behind.  As we rode away, I wondered what William and Angel were doing on that fine afternoon, a natural thought after spending such a long time in their company.  Nonetheless, I was more than happy to be back on the road, once again heading for places new and exciting.  Our journey to the border lasted two days, dodging afternoon monsoons and taking time at the last of the American rest stops to support the local economy with what US dollars we had left.  Of course, mine all went to postcards to use up my stamps.  I can say with pride that over the course of traveling so far I have written in between 40 and 50 postcards.  So many I lost track.  Having the time in Silver City allowed me the luxury of even printing out my own photos to send as cards.  If you’d like to get a surprise postcard at some point, just email me your address and I will be sure to follow through.

We camped underneath the water tower in Hachita, witnessing a lighting show far more impressive than the fireworks in Silver City.  At some points, the sky was illuminated in four different places, with brilliant white bolts striking down here and there.  After a quick breakfast in the park, we filled our water, had a few words with the locals and started to make our way towards the border.  After about 20 miles we found ourselves once again in some rain and took shelter in an abandoned garage, making tea to warm our insides.  Somehow, this was not the weather I was imagining we’d encounter so far south at this time of year.  The tea turned into tuna sandwiches as well and before long I realized it was after 2pm.  The border closed promptly at 4 and we were still 25 miles or so away.  Not wanting to get caught for another night on the US side, we started our mad dash to Mexico.  To some, 25 miles in an hour and a half is no big thing…but not so much to me.  The slow buffalo I am doesn’t like to cover miles in a pressing fashion, but this time I turned it in to high gear and kept on it.

We made the border with about 4 minutes to spare.  The guard let us know they’d be closing in a bit, but to feel free to take some photos, making sure to point out the places people take “good photos”.  It was then we realized he thought we were turning around.  We informed him we wanted to go into Mexico and were soon after escorted through the gate, which had to be unlocked at this point.  We cruised up to the Mexican immigration office and apologized for being so last-minute, explaining that we were hoping to get our passports stamped before they closed.  On came the barrage of Spanish we both agreed later on that we had not been entirely ready for.  “Where are you coming from?” “Where are you going?” “How long are you staying?” “When will you leave?” etc.  Some we had answers for, some we did not.  It took a bit to explain we would not be leaving Mexico at any point, but actually riding through Mexico out the other side.  After a bit we got all the basics covered and were granted the generous 180 days of travel.  We were also given 7 days to find a bank and pay the $262 peso turista tax.  (Currently pesos are 11.something to the US dollar, so the tax equals roughly $25 US dollars.)

Our bags were then patted down for guns and other such dangerous items and we were sent on our way.  As you can imagine, the “other side” of the fence was pretty much the same at that point.  Same grass, same ominous clouds, same mountains.  But to me everything seemed new and beautiful and exotic and Mexico.  The road did turn back to dirt, which was nice, as it always is if it is not raining.  We took a minute to take in the massive expanse of fences and barbed wire stretching as far as the eye could see, designating this land versus that land.  Pretty soon after beginning to ride again, the skies opened up on us yet again, turning it into one sloppy, slippy-slidey mess.  This mud was actually an interesting consistency at this point, making it hard for us to even stand up in, let alone push our bikes.  As with most things, hilarity ensued and I found it difficult to push my bike at times because I was laughing so hard.  We eventually made it out to the highway and took one look at the shoulder, or lack of, the monster trucks barreling down and the puddles they were each conveniently displacing and decided to seek refuge under an awning for a bit.  It was but a matter of 10 minutes or so when we were able to continue down the highway.

And here comes the big way-to-effing-go!!!  It was with that border reaching that Kurt had officially completed the Continental Divide Mountain Bike Route.  A year in the making, with several detours and some parts ridden more than once, he can now add this to his ever extending list of bike trails mobbed in epic proportions.  Way to go Kurt!  And how did we celebrate such an occasion you may be wondering?  Well, by sleeping in a field full of cow shit of course.  The sun went down and we found cover from the road in some bushes the best we could, the field just happened to be a hot spot for cow dumps as well.  With the highway to our left and mountains to our right, we just settled in for our first night in Mexico before it was too dark to see anything.  Once again, we were welcomed seemingly with open arms based on the beautiful sunset playing off the thunder clouds.

Back on the trail, heading towards the border...

The secret life of ants is something that continuously fascinates us. Kurt and I have spent a considerable amount of time following ant tracks here and there to see where they go...

To our delight, a bag containing some seriously meltable things formed into one gigantic chocolatey, nutty treat...

Bear Hunter resting at Sam's feet, two of the locals we met in Hachita. Sam picks up CDT hikers and helps them accoplish such tasks as getting back to the airport or getting more supplies. After a whole lot of "baloney" (according to Sam), he became a certified CDT trail guide...

Riding towards the ever-ominous midday monsoon...

The border patrol vehicle. Just one of the defenses used against people who want to work really hard for a better life in the US...

Gringo y gringa, having just crossed the border...

Many forms of fencery, designating clearly one side from the other...

The beautiful scene as we enter into Mexico...

A view looking back. Goodbye US of A...

Leftovers from the earlier rainstorm. It was not long before...

...the mud gave us the "push only" option. The consistency of this gray mud had me in fits of giggles, slipping around so much that most of the time it was hard to stand up straight, let alone push a weighted bike...

Our camp spot the evening, complete with lots of obstacles to practice your short distance hopping...

As muddy as it gets, you can't complain too much when you get sunsets behind thunderclouds such as these...

Silver City…

July 9, 2010

If we weren’t all packed up and ready to go…would we stay?  Silver City has been such a wonderful place to spend the last week, making final preparations before crossing the border.  Mexico lies some 126 miles away.  We will continue on the Continental Divide route from here and cross over the border at Antelope Wells, heading for Copper Canyon.  Again, the riding will be as much off road as possible, sticking high in the Sierra Madres.  I’ll let you know how Mexico deals with their immigration…

Silver City has an absolutely wonderful community, bikes being a huge part of that.  We have stayed the last week with William, a bike and overall life enthusiast and his fluffy orange basketball, Angel.  Again, everyone here is making it hard to leave.  We even have a bike escort out of town!  …after hitting up Dairy Queen one last time.  The next time I write will be from the international road!

Bike in Tree in Pinos Altos, a town a little ways outside of Silver City. Here the post office doubles as an ice cream palour, perhaps the most dream combination to me...

What dogs do in Silver City...

Downtown Silver City...

Mural outside Co-Op...