Touching back down…

March 18, 2011

What took us 6 months to ride our bikes toward, we flew into in a matter of hours.  We were right back in Cancun, landing in an airport we had only visited once in order to try to extend our Meixco visas in their immigration department.  We stepped off the plane, tanless, carrying backpacks and wearing clean clothes.  The reactions we got were funny.

“Hey, backpackers!  Wanna ride? Wanna ride”  Wanna taxi?  Wanna go to the hotels?”

“We’re cyclists” we grumbled.  And then we started our walk out to the highway where we planned to hitch as far down to the Belize border as we could.

If you’ve ever cycled toured, you can probably relate to the feeling of pride you have when you arrive somewhere by bike, having rode there all by your own power and gumption.  Being without bike, we did not feel very whole.  Luckily, it only took us two rides to get all the way down to the border.  We arrived about 3 kilometers from the checkpoint and settled our tentless selves into a cheap motel for the night.  The next day, we walked across into Belize (not getting charged an exit fee this time, thank you Mexico).  We happened to catch a bus right there from Customs all the way to Ladyville, where the airport is, for $8 Belize each (total $8 US for both of us).

By early afternoon, we were unlocking the door that had safely kept our bikes from view in the semi-abandoned hotel next to the Belize Airport.  John and Judy, the missionary proprietors of the place, had kindly kept our bikes secure for the almost two months we were gone.  We can not thank them enough for this help.

We did unfortunately find, to all of our surprise, the room had not received enough ventilation, and most of our stuff was  molded over and the bikes pretty rusty.  It was a bit of a sock to the gut.  Based on the way the outside of our frames look, we shudder to think of all the deterioration there must be on the insides.  These last few months definitely took off some serious life from the bikes.  But… what are you gonna do?  We cleaned and fixed them best we could and washed our stuff, including our sleeping bags, which were very overdue for a washing anyway.

By the second evening in Belize, we were whole again, setting off in a direction untraveled by us.

 

From the air, back to the blue...

We spent the afternoon after landing getting to the border. Within two rides, we were there. One trucker gave us a ride all the way to Chetumal. I happily sat in the back singing along to the 90's power dance jams he put on especially for us. There's nothing like a little Ace of Base to get out those plane ride cobwebs. Overall the journey went like this. We hitched...

...we walked...

...we took a bus...

...and one more breezy ride...

...and we were back where we had left off,. the Ladyville airport...

The picture I know you have all been waiting for. That is where our bikes were stored for the time being, thanks to John and Judy, the owners of the joint...

Hello mold. I'm taking my pants back now, thanks...

And rust!...

Sheesh. Had we had more time and the circumstances been different, we would have definitely done a bit more research on a dryer place to store our stuff...

Some comedy for the day. Given the total house cleaning of the bikes and panniers, I was able to find this huge (the picture doesn't do it justice) rusty bolt Kurt had hidden in one of my pockets months ago, apparently. Go ahead, you can laugh. I did. And to think, I'm already a pretty slow buffalo...

What it looks like when our bags explode...

Both of our chains needed to be replaced. Luckily, we do carry extras that di not get rusted over. Kurt's is actually a chain and a half, given his bike's length...

And some new goodies were added, such as this little frame bag Kurt had made for me while we were in New Jersey...

It's perfect for holding all of those little bits that normally get lost in my handlebar bag...

And this great recycled bike pin, thanks to my cousin Toni...

 

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Tulum

February 23, 2011

These next few posts will be going back in time a bit.  Quite a bit, so please bear with me.  I also don’t have many notes from this time, so I am trying to convey everything from my pea brain memory at this time.

Having left Isla Blanca and our dreamy existence there, we headed back to Cancun to deal first hand with the prospects of flying (yes flying! the one thing we said we really didn’t want to be part of this trip) to Cuba.  Days passed, and each time we visited the travel agent and discussed further the possibility of getting us and our bikes over there, our hearts dropped more and more with the mention of cost.  Things really started to add up.  Not only are there tickets to contend with, but bike boxing, storing stuff in the meantime, purchasing insurance to be covered while your over there (oh yes, that is now a reality of Americans looking to “sneak” into Cuba).  The list goes on and on.  I’d be happy to answer any specific questions one may have with bike travel to Cuba, as I did take notes the whole time.  To list them here would take up too much time and space.  If your curious, please email me directly.

In the long run, there was an ixne on Cuba-ey.  We sat in the travel agent office and I peered up at the world map on the wall. My eyes couldn’t stop looking at Mongolia.  Yup.  Mongolia.  So large, so far away.  And yet, a place I want to spend some serious time and effort bike traveling around.  Our funds only take us so far, so indeed every penny counts.  We will have to work long before reaching Mongolia, we both know and understand, but thinking about it so early in the trip does help us make certain decisions.   These helpful thoughts are what encouraged us to decide against a month in Cuba.  To read Kurt’s excellent (and much more detailed) account of this same experience, please click here.

So…. dear American embassy, let it be noted… Kelly and Kurt did not go to Cuba this time thanks to all the regulations put into place. (As I am writing this very much after the fact, I must add that it is a huge relief we did not go to Cuba.  As most of you know, Kurt and I needed to leave and head home very unexpectedly and as fast as possible from Belize a week or so later.  Had we been in Cuba, this all would have been an even bigger nightmare that it actually was.)

Instead we spent a few days with the amazing Gaspar and his cousin Michael, both Couchsurfer hosts living in a small Cancun apartment.  These two are Angels in true form.  When Gaspar agreed to meet us at 12:30 one night, he was taking us back to an apartment where 7 people where already sleeping, crashed out in hammocks, cots and on every inch of floor.  The kindness of strangers never ceases to amaze me.

From Cancun, we began our leg down the coast, heading for Tulum and further for the border of Belize.  Tulum was uneventful, as we did not go in to see the ruins.  We’ve had our share for a while.  We did however have the pleasure of meeting not just one, but several bike tourists.  After months of hardy running into any other traveling cyclists (our route and the current misconceptions of traveling in Mexico have a lot to do with that), there was a funneling effect of all those that were out there, now heading for Belize.  We initially met Silke, a solo-traveler from Germany, who we immediately decided to wait for and head south together with the next day.  Later on in the day we also met a French man who was finishing his 6 month trip down for Alaska in a few days.

After running errands around town, including falling headlong into the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, Kurt and I slept soundly next to the waves and under the cover of the coastal mist.  The next morning, we met Silke early and the three of us continued our journey south down the coast.

The coast close to Tulum is riddled with small bars, restaurants, guest houses and nicely designed eco-homes. We watched the sun disappear behind the clouds and rain, before watching it disappear behind the edge of the ocean, signaling the end of another day. We then nestled in the nearby mangrove and slept anticipating our ride with Silke the next morning...

One of my favorite cycling snacks. If looking at this picture makes you uncomfortable, I completely understand...

A 5 kilometer jaunt off the highway affords us this pleasant lake to post up at for the evening...

Lake Ocom....

The day starts with a beautiful sunrise...

The inevitable effects of our time spent on the coast...

Compared to such spots as Dubai, Ibiza and Vegas, Cancun holds its own as one of the world’s largest and most happening party spots.  My only previous experience with Cancun consisted of staring wide-eyed at MTV and thinking really?! I must say however that our real-time experience was non other than quite pleasant.  Honestly.  It was.

For starters, we spent a few days in the lap of luxury thanks to my mom.  She had booked her winter vacation at an all-inclusive resort but 5 kilometers away from where we’d been camping in Puerto Morelos.  At first I will admit it was hard to come to terms with the resort business and the Americanized version of Mexico one enters into, but once my mom was there to spend time with any feelings of wanting a hurricane to take out resorts like these melted away.  Highlights included numerous Scrabble games (when I say numerous, I mean about 10 over the course of 5 days), walks along the beach, some tennis, obviously lots of eating and drinking things we normally wouldn’t (this is starting to sound like a personal add) and overall great quality family time.  My mom and I also had the pleasure of stumbling into a family doing yoga one morning, guided by their daughter, Kelly, who had just been certified as an instructor.  For the next week I joined them every morning for a regular practice.  I can’t express enough how great it was to do yoga with other people, especially with a teacher as great as Kelly.

We rang in the New Year with cheer and made our way towards the actual city of Cancun on the 1st, with our destination of the evening being Isla Mujeres.  Our main plan for the island, besides the usual taking it all in, was to hopefully land a spot on a sailboat heading for Cuba.  We had a bit of a time restraint, as our visa deadline was mere days away, but figured it wouldn’t hurt to try.  It’s an understatement when I say we learned a lot about the prospect of sailing to Cuba, as well as all the technicalities of just going to Cuba in general, which we had expected.  In the end, we ended up heading back to the mainland with the intention of purchasing airline tickets.

As usual, the call of white sand and beaches with no one on them drew us down to Isla Blanca, a bit north of Cancun.  Following a dirt road for about 4.5 k, we ended at a beach we happily called home for two days.  Having scored some old National Geographics and with the intent of finishing a Farley Mowat book Kurt and I have been sharing, the days passed easily.  Feeling rejuvenated from our quiet time, something that I can now vouch for as being possible in Cancun, we headed back towards el centro to check some big items off our “heading for Cuba” list.

The mum! Precious cargo. We took some time to ride my mom back to Puerto Morelos to check out the town and our camp spot...

Along with the mum came some amazing gifts of couscous and not-found-in-Mexico spices, essential hub parts, chains, a fresh t-shirt and new shoes. I am finally able to put these puppies to rest. They've had a long haul and, as you can see, were just barely hanging on in the end. The inserts had completely removed themselves from the bind of the shoe...

The fast life of downtown Cancun...

The scene as we waited on the docks. The ferry over to Isla Mujeres was the first time my bike has ever been on a boat. Verrrry exciting. It's a commuter ferry, leaving from Puerto Juarez every half hour and costing 70 pesos one way. One could argue that's a lot to pay for a 20 minute boat ride, but ours happen to come with a beautiful sunset and live music, making the experience quite worth it...

It was on Isla Mujeres that Kurt parted with our dear friend Larson, the tried and true sleeping mat that's been in use for the last 6 months. After Thermarest refused to warranty their malfunctioning product Kurt had been traveling with (apparently you are not supposed to get them dirty, who knew?) he found Larson on the side of the road in Arizona. Larson was quite versatile and will be greatly missed...

Our dreams of sailing to Cuba only escalated with views like this...

...and this...

Isla Mujeres is 8 kilometers long and only about 650 meters wide. There is a scenic byway along one side of the island, rolling along between million dollar homes and a cliff side...

The seashell house, my favorite...

Our days on Isla Blanca truly felt like a vacation from a vacation...

The day began as all days of rest should, swinging in a hammock perched on an old, but sturdy dock...

The color of this water never ceases to capture my attention...

...as did these curious little things. Rolled up on the surf, they were little thin-layered balls filled with what looked to be water and sand. They had a pink coral of sorts attached to the outside and they were no bigger than the size of a superball...

Ten toes to the warmth, putting an end to the day ...

Caribbean Christmas…

January 8, 2011

Our Yucatan journey was coming to an end as we neared closer and closer to the far edge of Mexico.  Our destination for this little bit… Puerto Morelos, a tiny fishing spot/low-key tourist town located a good bit aways from the hustle and bustle of Cancun.  Our morning started as all mornings do when I know we’re close to something very new to me… by telling Kurt over and over how excited I am.  This day did not disappoint.  We happily rode the bike paths along the main road, used mostly for front loading trikes carting wood, before turning down a quiet road leading to the coast.  The area is riddled with cenotes, bright blue and green freshwater sink holes ideal for snorkeling and swimming, as well as “adventure” resorts, advertising zip lines, atvs, and wild outdoor activities.

The Caribbean came as a greatly welcomed shock.  You can do as much research as you want, viewing pictures of the ocean, the sunsets, the thick and colorful fish, but until I rode straight up to the edge of the dock, there was nothing to truly prepare me for the happiness I was going to feel.   I must admit, there are not many times I get the kick-you-in-the-guts accomplished feel.  Most days it really just feels like a bike ride from A to B with excellent camping in between.  I am happy to say though that this Caribbean viewing flashed our entire journey thus far through my head and it felt great to squish my feet in the soft white sand and stare across our watery prize.  What usually takes a couple of hours on a plane to reach, we had finally met after months of pedaling and bicycle travel.

Puerto Morelos is like that comforting back porch offering respite from the annoying high school party.  It was hardto believe we were but 50 kilometers from a place compared to Vegas, Dubai and Ibiza.   Camping was relatively easy, as long as you don’t mind dragging and pushing your bike down through sand for a bit.  We stayed down in an encampment with, at times, 4 other tents of travelers and local kids, having fires nightly.  The common question from home has been how did you spend Christmas Day?.  In words, I spent it… marinating vegetables, doing yoga, reading in my hammock, giving out haircuts, fishing off the pier and swapping campfire stories with a well seasoned man from Nicaragua.  Not bad, I’d say.  Not bad at all.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere we go...

And there we had it... bikes + sand + water + Kurt = bliss. The waters are much more tranquil than their Pacific counterparts, but the area is frequented by devastating hurricanes. 4 years ago Hurricane Wilma caused billions in damage...

Like a dream, the water switches from this clear turquoise color to a deeper sapphire blue where reefs are present. The Mesoamerica Barrier Reef, passing off the coast of Mexico, Belize and Honduras is the second largest reef in the world...

The sand quickly envelops every part of you and everything you have, and I'm sure will remain in our bags for months to come...

Saved by the buoyancy of citrus. The last sips of a cold, refreshing cerveza, complete with lime. Happy holidays and cheers to all...

Despite nightly rainfall, our days ended with campfires from scavenged driftwood...

Chichen Itza…

January 6, 2011

Recently crowned as one of the “new seven wonders of the world,” a visit to Chichen Itza proves to be a theme park-like experience… just without the rides and games (unless you make your own, of course).  Throngs of people exit from tour buses throughout the day to stroll around on the grounds and catch a glimpse of the very impressive structures.  This is the site most well-known for its Mayan calendars, found in the buildings and columnar layouts around the site.

All pathways are lined with locals selling the usual Mayan fare.  Handmade (mostly) wooden and stone carvings, painted ceramic bowls, hammocks, t-shirts, statues and figurines fill your vision as you make your way from ruin to ruin.

In an effort to save a couple pesos (and the boredom that can often accompany visits to these piles of rocks), I was designated explorer and photographer.  The entrance fee is a cringeworthy 160 pesos and after I perused the area, I was very pleased at our decision to only pay for one ticket.    I arrived early in the day and traversed the organized walkways, making note of the massive buildings.

This is the attention grabber as you enter into Chichen Itza. Besides for being an impressive work of architecture, El Castillo is also a massive Mayan calendar. Click here to read more...

The observatory, El Caracol, in which windows of the dome align with certain stars throughout the year, working to allow priests to plan rituals and celebrations accordingly...

Chichen Itza is definitely the most renovated all of the ancient Mayan establishments...

Numerous chambers are found within these structures with hieroglyphics sketched inside, some which have yet to even be translated...

Jose, one of the stone carvers working within the grounds...

Many time temples grace the grounds, seeing an influx in visitors during the equinoxes...

And again, the columns... letting me know it's about time to find Kurt and head on down the road...

The Mexican flipper…

December 31, 2010

… or the Yucatan Pancake.  Mexico’s side boob?  We spent a week riding across the flat, flat, FLAT side tail of the Mexican landscape, really rounding out our Mexico riding experience.  We traversed a network of small back roads, some dirt, as we passed through small towns mostly unvisited by outsiders.  We also found ourselves on some great roads neither our map or Google maps would allude to.  With a little local information, nothing makes us smile more than getting to explore roads whose existence go unrecorded.

With a greatly anticipated and highly looked-forward to visit from my mom approaching, we cruised along heading for the Carribean and the adventures that await us in Cuba and beyond.

Quintessential bike touring scene...

...through flat fields and pasture land...

The Yucatan and its subsequent marshes are known as a home for an abundance of varietal birds, making a pair of binoculars and a good bird book something of longing...

Tried as I may, I could not pull this curtain any higher to reveal the face of the Divine Baby Jesus. My imagination has run wild ever since. Awkward fro? Double chin? This cart was part of a carnival set up to celebrate Guadalupe, something Mexico does for the whole month of December...

Ants. Our nemesis, especially the biting ones...

How those ants see us...

Beautiful, but difficult to ride in, gypsum sand...

The way Mexico does decorative mailboxes...

...and the way I do holiday cheer...

As we eat lunch, consisting of our staple fresh fruit and tortillas, the usual curious crowd gathers. As most kids do, they fool around with each other trying to get our attention before a bold young girl plants the inviting "Donde viene?" These times are then filled with wide eyes and many giggles, hands down my favorite part of this traveling...

Rogue cotton plants alongside the road...

As dusk settles in, there is never any worry about traveling these roads well into the night. Aside for the occasional fellow biker, traffic is unseen...

Camping in the Yucatan is ample and sweet. Every kilometer of road offers numerous trails to turn down, mostly used for beekeeping and logging...

 

These one room, thatched roof huts were sharing the living space with the usual concrete structures found in villages...

 

These kids rode along side us for a short time, moving at a very fast pace for their set up. I told them they were very impressive and they were noticeably very proud...

 

Behold the almighty maize seen everywhere, even in the architecture...

 

 

 

Palenque…

December 31, 2010

More ruins?  Yes.  More ruins.  The Yucatan Peninsula is dotted with literally hundreds of ancient Mayan settlements, and we choose to visit some of the more well-known and sprawling.  This brings us to Palenque.  Outside the actual site, the nearby forest land is quite settled with cabanas and campgrounds full of fire spinners and Rainbow Gatherers giving the area a very hippy vibe.  It was not uncommon to hear trance music blasting around corners.

We set up our hammocks in a marshy field and planned our visit for the following day.  After a quick ride up to the entrance we negotiate leaving our bikes with the men at the gate (for a small fee) and take off to explore some of the most well-cared for ruins in the Yucatan.

 

Some very enthusiastic ducks we met along the way. They are but 3 weeks old...

Palenque spreads out over 15 square kilometers, but only this main section is excavated and cleared for viewing. The map helps to show just how much is going on around the center of the site...

Templo de la Calavera (Temple of the Skull) greets you as you enter the grounds. It's got a very cute but ominous bunny feel, as you can see...

At one time, the buildings were all painted very bright hues of blue and red...

From the rubble in the background you can see there is always some uncovering and discovery still in the process...

The layout as seen from the Templo de las Inscriptiones, which is noted as being perhaps the most celebrated burial monument in the Americas. It's also the tallest of the Palenque structures...

Eye-pleasing piles of rocks, really....

There are several waterfalls cascading from the flow of the Arroyo Otolum river...

... and plenty of dense forest to walk through. Though certainly not as old as the ruins, I find these tall works of nature much more interesting and appealing...

Bonampak…

December 29, 2010

About 15 kilometers off the Carretera Fronteriza, hidden in the dense Lacanja jungle, sit the ruins of Bonampak.  As one of the more recently discovered ruins (1946) they are a pleasant place to visit and proved to be much more fun to explore than some of their more crowded counterparts.  Archeologists are still in the process of uncovering other sites in the surrounding area.  Bonampak is most well-known for its brilliantly colorful murals, the very things that enticed us to pay it a visit one afternoon.

 

The road into Bonampak. The last 10 kilometers or so are impeccably packed dirt and currently in the preparation process to become paved. There is a fee to travel the road, 20 pesos for bikes...

Huevos de Toro. (Insert your chuckles here) They are not edible in any form...

Bonampak was never a major city and spent most of the Classical period under the rule of nearby Yaxchilan...

The area of jungle has been cleared to make the ruins navigable, but the borders of tangled green are ever-prominent and encroaching...

Within the Templo de las Pinturas...

Bonampak means "painted walls" in Yucatecan Maya. During some of its early uncovering, visitors splashed kerosene on the walls in hopes of bringing out the colors more...

 

Most images depict tumultuous battles and the sacrificing of prisoners...

 

The frescoes of Bonampak are arguably the finest murals known to pre-Hispanic America...

One of the unpainted Edificios located on site...

 

 

Las Guacamayas…

December 27, 2010

Another stop along the border loop brings us to the ecological reserve of Las Guacamayas.  During the 1960’s a group of about 40 families relocated to the area after having been granted land by the government (a touchy subject with the indigenous locals).  They were also given pairs of mating Red Scarlet Macaws and have since been breeding and protecting the rare and beautiful birds.

 

Most of our extended loop was ridden on the Fronterra Corozal Highway, brushing the edges of Guatemala. Here we encountered more military check points than we have anywhere else in Mexico. The soldiers tried to be serious as they asked to open our bags, but you could tell they were just as curious as any other local. I'd often hit them up for drinking or cooking water if their camps had any to spare, which they were always happy to give...

Strong roots, looking very missile-like...

I think about writing odes to the jungle when we are exploring, I love them that much...

A bit of filtered light, while the branches shake from jumping howler monkeys, who were too quick for me to catch a good photo of. Instead I got this monkey to hold still for a bit...

The majestic Red Scarlet Macaw...

Unfortunately, despite several trips down to the river's edge and peering all over the surrounding land, the only ones we actually got to see were in these cages. Macaws will find their mates within the first 2 years and spend the rest of their bird lives being faithful to only them...

There is no organized camping at Las Guacamayas, which worked out great for us, and we were invited to camp in the big open soccer field, lending its hand to a spectacular open view of the sunset...

Then it was back on the road, heading towards Bonampak and the Yucatan. The locals around here have been successful in keeping the Pemex gas monopoly out, so the area sees a lot less traffic than it would normally. People who do venture into this area must purchase gasoline from the local tiendas for a very high price. Luckily, as cyclists, we can only be happy to the fact this keeps more motorists off these excellent roads..

 

Las Nubes…

December 27, 2010

Suckers for spectacular waterways, our first stop along the border is Las Nubes, an area of turquoise colored water pumping through the jungle.  having just experienced a heavier than normal rainy period, the water was certainly flowing, making swimming a more dangerous endeavor.  The area of Las Nubes  offers camping and cabanas and has a restaurant right on the river, though we opted to camp on our own outside of town.  There is a small day fee- $30M, or roughly $3 US, that goes towards maintaining the area.  During swimming season, this would be an ideal spot to barbecue with the family.

 

The landscape really begins to give us the jungles we will be exploring as we head down into Central America. Lots of green and lots of moisture...

Virtually pristine and unspoiled...

... except for areas like these. Much more than a case of bad aim, trash on the ground is as common as tortillas in Mexico...

The bold and beautiful Las Nubes...

...funneling into the jungle, swimmies not included...

With morning hours to spare, we hiked around on some nearby trails, getting lost within the big rooted trees and huge verdant leaves...

In order to reach Las Nubes, there is a 10 kilometer dirt road you must travel. Guide books will refer to it as "out of the way." We would call it "pretty much perfect."

Jungle camping...

...including fresh picked fruit in the morning. As usual, our only visitor was a local out hunting the evening before. He gave us a huge smile and wave, as is the Mexican way, and made sure we had enough to stay warm and dry...

Another day begins...

No good bike trip would be complete without the ever-present dirtstache...

...or an abundant supply of animal crackers. Cheap cycling fuel with a crunch and lots of storytelling possibilities...

Those pockets come in such handy...

Not out of the mountains yet, we enjoyed a few more climbs and windy descents...

 

Taking the long cut…

December 27, 2010

After San Cristobal, the next destination we plan to head for is Palenque.  Though these ancient ruins sit about 230 kilometers away, we decide to greatly lengthen that distance and opt for a big looping route down along the Guatemala border. Luckily those extra hundreds of kilometers we choose to add come included with beautiful big leaf jungles and pairing clear waterfalls, eerily croaking and roaring howler monkeys, a mix of dirt and winding paved roads and our choice of the many mayan ruins that lay hidden in the land.  After a few goodbyes in San Cristobal, we set off in a light mist heading south towards Comitan and beyond.

Always a refreshing thing to see after being bombarded so constantly with Coca Cola and other advertisements. This one simply requests that the evil government and its relevant employees stay out of the area. Chiapas Zapatista communities, alive and well...

We arrived in the small town of San Francisco a few hours ahead of a yearly bike race through the hills. We joined the town and waited in anticipation as the pro riders approached via the PanAmerican Highway...

 

And the winner is...

 

 

Piles and piles of school children unloaded from buses to watch the teams of riders come in. It was quick to figure out who were the local heroes of the day. The race was mixed with international participants as well, mostly from Europe...

 

What a way to start the day. I don't think I'll ever tire of waking up in new places, having found our campspot in the darkness the night before...

 

High desert. The landscape was rolling plains with crisp, clear skies as we ventured down to the Guatemala border. I entered into a Willie Nelson marathon as the cornfields blurred along the sides of my vision...

Mosquito territory. Preparing ourselves for the worst, we kept the extremities covered as much as possible, as well as a constant fire. And who doesn't love a good morning fire?...

 

 

 

 

Sweet, sweet riding…

December 1, 2010

While I was out having my moral cultural dilemma, Kurt ran into Tom in town.  A fellow mountain biker and San Cristobal resident, Tom offered to take us out on a ride the next day to see some of the trails and natural wonders outside the city.   The day was fantastic!  After a chest burning climb (at this point we were pounding up pavement at close to 2700 meters), we turned off into the woods and enjoyed a morning of riding though cloud forests and swoopy, pine carpeted single track.  It was wonderland-like to say the least.

We entered a forest where the sunlight filters through trees similar to madrones. There was a canopy of moss and orchid stalks to marvel at...

New life sprouting everywhere...

...and every shade of green you could imagine...

The ride was a mix of dirt roads and single track, absorbing breathtaking views the entire time...

A few kilometers out we visited El Arcotete, a giant arch in a cliff side, with a subsequent cave to explore as well. Not a bad thing to pair with some awesome mountain biking...

There's nothing that gets Kurt grinning ear to ear like some epic single track...

The moral dilemma…

December 1, 2010

10 kilometers outside of San Cristobal sits a small but bustling village.  It perches in the Chiapan highlands and is nestled amongst plots of land used for growing the usual vegetable varietals.  This town is called San Juan Chamula and it is the epicenter of the indigenous Chamulan people (Tzotzil), most well-known for their unique religious practices.  The Tzotzil have held strong to their rejection of Catholicism, exiling those in the community who chose to convert.

I had read and heard that within the church there is commonly sacrificial chicken killings, chanting and practicing medicine men and women and thousands of candles and worshippers praying to St John the Baptist, whom they revere to be higher than Christ.

Naturally, after hearing such things, I wanted to see them with my own eyes.  I wanted to feel what it was  like to be in a place with that kind of energy hanging in the air.

Herein lies the dilemma.  On any given day, we are riding through similar towns, passing through their markets, chatting with the locals, getting laughed at by the kids, etc.  Chamula, as I would come to find out, was quite similar to most towns we have ridden through.  However, what sets it apart and, quite blatantly, puts it in the guidebooks are these ritualistic practices that occur within their religion and church.  For $20M the townsfolk will let you enter the church and witness the goings on.  All photography is strictly forbidden.

Kurt and I had discussed going several times.  Our debate was whether or not it was okay to intrude on people in this way.  To walk into their religious space like that, to peer at them and see with our own eyes the things we had been described.  Granted they are charging an entrance fee with the mutual understanding of you probing into their realm.  The age-old question of “is nothing sacred anymore?” seemingly rears the answer no.

I should mention we have a thing about being “tourists.”  I think a lot of people do.  The mention of the word and immediately the image pops into my head of a person with a camera around their neck and a fanny pack around their waist  But the reality of the matter is that we ARE tourists everyday.  One can argue that maybe the more appropriate term for us, given the circumstances, is travelers.  The fact we live on our bikes, day in and day out, we have come to interact with people differently then the folks arriving by a bus or out of a van for a few minutes.  Traveling on the bike at our pace makes us more accessible.  Maybe it makes us more real in a way, or perhaps it just heightens our alien status, but the bikes do give us a bit of a twist.  Still, there is no denying we are far from indigenous or local descent and have come to have a look-see.

We went back and forth a bit about it.  Kurt had made up his mind that he was not going to go.  He believed strongly that it was intruding on something, in addition to him lacking an interest in religious devoutness anyways.  Plus, there was a coffee museum to visit in the city.  I agreed that I couldn’t get past the intrusiveness of the matter and let it slip out of my mind for a bit as we walked up the steps of another church in town, taking in the view of the whole city.  But… I just couldn’t stop thinking about it.  What would it look like in there?  What are they doing?  Will it blow my mind?  Will it change me in any ways as a person?

With all traveling and experiencing and seeing, those are the questions that get answered along the way.  Traveling in itself is a way to rhetorically raise these questions on a daily basis.  Your path answers these.  There is a whole lot of randomness to our traveling, but in general we CHOOSE our path, one way or another, with these little decisions.

I chose to ride up to Chamula.  I justified it with the $20 entrance fee, the fact it was in a guide-book.  It didn’t feel right, but I had to give myself a reason.  I also figured it would be a nice ride up into the mountains and I’d get to see a whole ton of other things along the way.  Kurt and I parted ways, I went and consulted with Joaquin on some directions and headed up.  The ride was pleasant enough, pretty much straight up for those 10 k, and it turned my brain off completely from thinking about where I was going and what I was going to do upon getting there.

Once I got into town, I made my way through the streets lined with the usual woolen wares, embroidered clothes, blaring music stalls and taxi stands.  It was Monday, the middle of the day, and I was alone on an unladen bike, a nice way to arrive in a new town I thought.  Aside for some homes scattered in the hillsides and those tiny roadside shops, the church and its zocalo drew all the attention.  Naturally the road I was on ended there, and I hopped off my bike and began to walk through the market, where I felt comfortable zig zagging through the rows of fruits and vegetable and colorful clothes.  I kept my eye on the church the whole time.  There was a line of children and adults sitting outside, definitely not of the tourist kind, and a gruff looking man with his arms crossed near the door.  Nothing felt right about me going up to that door and going in.  There was no denying the feeling.  I realized at that point that I just couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t justify locking up my bike, buying a $20M ticket and walking through the door to stand in a place that I had no business being in.  For really all I was there to do, as pleasantly and unobtrusively as I could, was to gawk at what was inside.

I left the church grounds behind and began to walk my bike through the market again, back towards the street I had entered on.  A man stopped to chat with me about my bike, asking about the trip with the usual questions.  I immediately felt more comfortable with the whole situation.

I know these situations are going to arise over and over while traveling.  The whole point of traveling is to see and experience things different from what you know.  I descended the mountain feeling good about my decision and in the realization that these things will have to be taken on a case by case basis.  And in this particular case, I left the people of Chamula and their religious practices be.

 

I cruised down the mountain despite the ever-present rain storm over the city of San Cristobal...

...and took shelter under the awning of a coffee union as the rain poured down...

Gettin’ the hair did…

December 1, 2010

Peluquerías are common all over Mexico, especially in the cities.  Upon arrival you’ll get to peruse some charts that are very helpful in aiding with your style decision.

Keeping it fresh...

The flat flat flat top caught my attention...

And these two look uncannily like my two brothers, sporting some amazing beard work...

Street art…

December 1, 2010

Street art is common all over the world, whether it be a stencil on a wall, a full mural or an impromptu live performance.  San Cristobal had much of the same, with examples seen subtly on every single street I walked down.  I appreciate this very much.    Clearly showing the city’s political past and present, the art has a wonderful way of representing the general sentiments of the area.

Murals...

...and graffiti...

...stencils...

...and taggings...

...are all part of the routine of the street artist...

Some statements are bold...

...while others are mini message boards...

San Cristobal de las Casas proved to be everything and so much more than I had anticipated, launching it easily into one of my top 3 favorite places in Mexico thus far.  The energy and vibe of the city and its people, including the surrounding mountains and villages, did much to warm my heart, excite and inspire me over the week we decided to stay.

Though originally the state capital, the city has remained on the quainter side for many years.  The indigenous presence is still large.  During the colonization, the take over of the land left the people in slavery, sickened with diseases and unable to recuperate their incredible losses.   Over the course of history, many groups have fought for, and gained, the rights of the indigenous people back.  The most well-known, and still active, is that of the Zapatistas, an autonomous self governed group of Mexicans (both indigenous and non) who focus on land reform for the people, among other things.  Chiapas overall is well established with  Zapatista presence and as San Cristobal is the heart of the state, the leftist political energy can be felt all around.

We started with a settling into El Hostalito, where we were offered a night of free sleeping thanks to the incredible Joaquin and his Warmshower ways.  Originally from Spain, Joaquin did his own bike tour across the US and couldn’t get enough, so he continued down into Mexico and settled in San Cristobal.  He’s a fixed gear fanatic and has recently started a bike shop along with the hostal.  Along with his friend and business partner (and incredibly creative pants maker) Marie, they run a place that easily felt like home after only a few hours.  We unloaded our bags and explored the city and its awesome market of fresh produce, picking up supplies for our planned dinner feast.

The days flew by and were both super fun and very productive.  Marie let me use her sewing machine to remake a better fitting bug net for my hammock, getting it more ready for the approaching jungle country.  We shifted our stay over to our Turkish friend Cihan’s house, and together him and I visited the Traditional Mayan Medicine Museum and  the Amber Museum, while taking a massive walk around the streets of San Cristobal.  Kurt and I also got in some extra rides on unloaded bikes outside the city, which is always a huge highlight in a new place for us.

We’ve done quite a bit of research and route planning, and with our brains and imaginations spilling over with local advice and recommendations, we are both antsy and excited to get this next bit of travel under way.  I know for sure this is not the last time I will visit the city of San Cristobal.

 

The streets of San Cristobal, so colorful and festive...

One of the black fuzzy skirts so many of the ladies rock quite fabulously...

outside the bustling market we enjoyed scouring so much for fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, etc. ...

The market and individual produce stands throughout the city all have their products arranged in a careful and aesthetically pleasing manner, which adds to the whole experience...

 

Inside Pura Bici...

Outside Pura Bici, the usual question/answer session...

Many of the soft drinks in Mexico are still sold in these continuously recycled thick glass bottles...

These little stoves are a must have for the cold winters spent in a concrete room. Recycled out of different sized tins, they serve as a portable heater and run off charcoal or wood...

Sunday afternoon strolling...

A work in progress...

The Cathedral, which has been restored many times over the years due to destructive earthquakes...

The Palacio Municipal, one of the buildings overtaken by the Zapatistas during their 1994 defiance of the signing of the NAFTA agreement...

As it has been brought to my attention that people really like seeing pictures of Kurt and I doing things together, here is one of us helping prepare a big feast on the day of Thanks. Kurt ended up not chopping off of my hand and the beets turned out... (Photo: Ginger Roberts)

...just delicious...

The view from the steps of Cerro de Guadalupe...

Heading up…

December 1, 2010

So this climb.  It starts in Tuxtla and heads up into the Chiapan highlands, destination San Cristobal de las Casas.  Tuxtla sits at a mere 530 meters, while San Cristobal is a much more oxygen gulping 2,160.  And when it was all said and done, it was within a beautiful pine forest that we found some cool air camping and looked at each other to exclaim, “Damn!  That was a great day of riding!”  We took the old route, rather than the newly blasted out autopista and every twist and turn seemed more rewarding than the last.  It was a well graded continuous climb for about 45 kilometers.  Along the way we traveled through many Tzotzil and Tzeltal villages, getting our first true glimpses of the ladies with their black fuzzy skirts and exquisitely hand embroidered shirts, dripping with color.  San Cristobal awaited us but 15 kilometers from our camp spot (where we had an amazing feast of pancakes with apricot jam!) and we rolled through the remainder of the climb in the early morning hours, arriving in the city’s center with a whole day ahead of us to explore.

 

Pleasant grade on a beautiful day...

...gave way to the valley below we had left behind...

The fresh air was welcomed whole heartedly after the weeks of coastal heat and humidity...

A mix of traditional Mayan designs with some modern twists, these fabrics more than caught my eye. I had to go inspect...

...and was rendered speechless with the minute details and the thought of time put into each piece...

As with most mountain ranges this high, the greenery found along the way...

...is the result of some heavy moisture hanging in the air way up there...

Along the way we were surprised to pass the town of Navenchauc, with many of its buildings and structures sitting in great amounts of water. We did a bit of uncovering and found out, very depressingly, that the runoffs for the town's high altitude lagoon are, and have been for 2 years, clogged with plastic bottles and waste from all the greenhouse pesticides they have been using. Flowers are a high commodity in the area, specifically marigolds, and the switch from growing maize in fields to these greenhouse endeavors has inadvertently caused the back up. With such high rainy seasons and lack of drainage, this is the unfortunate result. The option to pump the water out is also on hold as all the water pumps in the state are being used in other cities and towns. More than 100 homes are out of commission...

Turtle Camp…

December 1, 2010

There’s certainly something to be said about watching 1,000 plus baby sea turtles scramble their way towards the ocean each night.  Kurt and I had the pleasure of experiencing this two nights in a row while staying at Campamento Tortuguero in Puerta Arista, a place where volunteers help hatch and release Olive Ridley turtle eggs on a daily basis.  The incubation period for these type of turtles is 45 days.  It is estimated that 1 out of every 1,000 survives.

 

Every day over a thousand baby turtles hatch and are gathered up to be released later that evening...

Yes, that is a bucket just teeming with little baby sea turtles...

On your marks... get set.... go! Turtle races on the daily...

Off on their own to battle the odds...

Amazingly, the one turtle that does survive will return to the very beach it was hatched on to lay its own eggs...

The turtle camp has been in operation for over 20 years, saving 1,000+ turtles a day from poachers, 4-wheeled vehicles and the hungry bird...

The whole experience was quite awe-inspiring...

 

We split from our coastal jaunt and headed the little ways inland toward Santo Domingo Tehuantepec, where we hoped to get word of parts delivered to Oaxaca.  No luck, so we decided to extend our journey down the coast a bit more.  We still had hopes the parts might arrive any day (with our optimism combined, you should hear the stories we tell each other) and planned to stay in bus range of picking them up.  Puerta Arista was but a day’s ride away anyhow and we had been briefed with some incredibly amazing turtle videos taken by Wolf and Javier.

Puerta Aritsta turned out to be the kind of beach town one might dream about.  Currently in the off-season, the scene was mellow as could be.  The locals were more than friendly and treated us like they see us everyday, something we really appreciate as we very often get the traveling circus stare.  One man, upon witnessing us breaking out our stoves to cook with, came over first with the offer of salt or other spices from his home.  Then he came back with a bowl of what was a tangerine lime cross.  Eaten straight they proved to be a kick in the mouth, but good.  Squeezed into our beers, the taste was incredible.  Free beach front camping was easy to find after leaving the one lone strip of hotels and tiendas behind and we whiled the days away in the shade and swimming with every chance we could.  It was hot.  Sweaty drippy hot, even when not moving.  When we left, we waited until the sun went down to scoot back inland, enjoying the 40 or so kilometers in the moonshade.  So long pacific!  It will be a few months until we see it again, the next time being in Central America, perhaps Guatemala.

 

Sometimes I was lucky enough to leave my bike behind and act as cargo on the daily rides to town from our beach camp spot...

The location of Campamento Tortuguero, where we stayed for a few days releasing baby sea turtles into the ocean...

Keeping a keen eye as we head away from the coast. Unfortunately, I did not see any giant flourescent green iguanas on the way up...

The beachy side of things…

November 21, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

...and again...

Pancho Homer...

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

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

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

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

Hidden cove of daydreams and sandy naps...

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

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

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

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

So long slime…

November 19, 2010

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

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

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

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

Destination coastal…

November 19, 2010

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

 

Cruising along (photo: Wolf)...

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

You grow these agave...

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

 

Morning breakfast concoctions taste better with a group...

 

Perfect beginnings...

 

...perfect endings...

 

In the distance, the ocean!...

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

How you get it done…

November 17, 2010

Sizzle it...

Chop it...

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

Monte Alban…

November 17, 2010

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Dia de Muertos…

November 17, 2010

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Oaxaca…

November 17, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sand sculptors hard at work...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

And we can never get enough...

...of ending our days...

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

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

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

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

 

One tortilla…

November 3, 2010

...two tortilla...

three tortilla, four...

...five tortilla, six tortilla...

...seven tortilla, more...

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

Sweet pink corn bread tamales...

Tire tree...

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

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

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

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

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

Tucked away orchard camping...

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

The warmth of Morelia…

November 3, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone's favorite revolutionary...

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

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

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

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

When religion turns into some beautiful art...

This was my favorite wall...

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

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

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 ...