Mazatlan, Mexico to Tolantongo, Mexico
Mars 24 – April 12, 2014
11 States and counting
Mainland Mexico has been keeping us very busy so we’re behind on the blog but we have now managed to set foot in Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, Guanajuato, Queretaro, Hidalgo, Mexico, Puebla and Oaxaca. Yesterday we arrived in the town of Oaxaca just in time for the Viernes Santo (or Good Friday) parade. Easter is a big deal around here, but not in the way we are used to. There are no bunnies or eggs but rather countless representations of Jesus in various states of demise or resurrection. Mary is everywhere too, in her signature colours for these parts: purple and white. It’s all very serious and rather fascinating. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we last left you in Mazatlan, so let’s pick up from there.
Kayaks and cobblestones
After landing in Mazatlan we made a bee line across Sinaloa state to get to the seaside town of San Blas. The scenery changed dramatically as we approached the coast becoming a lush jungle which was a very welcome change from the hot dry ride through Sinaloa. We treated ourselves to a nice hotel on the beach after the sleepless ferry night. The next day we exchanged our bikes for a pair of kayaks and went to explore the local mangrove forests. The Wolf found himself already missing the Baja sands, so we took advantage of low season and almost no other tourists, to play in the sand dunes and catch the sunset. Our next stop was Tequila and the Wolf, in his constant quest to get us lost, decided we should take a road that was not on the GPS. It did look paved and sort of legit, so I didn’t fight him too hard. The road ended up being under construction and blocked off. Of course, instead of turning around, the Wolf spotted a dirt road down the hill, so off we went to see if that would lead us nearer to the town of the famed Agave alcohol. The dirt path eventually turned into a delightful cobblestone road, that I was unable to fully appreciate as I was still nursing lingering fears of finding myself on a road beyond my skill level… again. We made it safely to Tequila, albeit after dark, and found ourselves a dodgy hotel for the night. Lesson we learned: if they show you pictures of the room instead of taking you to see it, that’s a bad sign.
Jose Cuervo and more cobblestones
Tequila is a town that seems to be completely dominated by Jose Cuervo. There are other brands represented, but most of the center is taken up by a gigantic compound dedicated to the the Cuervo crow and the tequila they make. We took a tour of the factory, ate some of the agave miel and tasted various kinds of the wicked brew at different stages of production. Some of them almost blew our heads off, and some were gently sippable. On our way out of town, the Wolf spotted another cobblestone road. He had formed a deep affinity for cobblestones the previous day, so we once again followed the road. This time it was lined with the oak trees that produce the barrels the and led us a few kilometers up the Tequila volcano before we decided it was going to be a dead end and turned around to get back on track. We couldn’t leave the Wolf- and Zebramobile out of all the tequila fun so we took them into a field of agave plants to pose for some photos.
The first traffic jam since California
As we approached Guadalajara on a Thursday afternoon, the dense traffic and busy city grid made it clear that we were dealing with our first real city since Los Angeles. Following our temperamental GPS, we reached the hotel we had found online to discover an interesting trick, historical facades and Spanish courtyards hiding a maze of stairs, hallways and tiny windowless rooms. Trying to follow the Wolf on the hunt for a new place to stay, I found myself blocked on the Cathedral’s plaza by a threatening flight of stairs. A perfect excuse to stop, wait and admire the Cathedral while the Wolf jumped curbs and split lanes towards our next hotel. We landed a block from the YMCA and were greeted by a 1972 Ironhead Harley and a BMW GS belonging to two American brothers retired here. With the help of their suggestions we discovered the very posh Providencia district and the hype pubs of Terranova Ave. We enjoyed chill brunches under the Jacarandas of old Colonial homes around Libertad and bounced at Chacal, a cool new club that put many San Francisco acts to shame.
A Spanish cubist dream
Our next stop was Guanajuato, a city whose world renown had not reached our ears. Unable to find a decent dusty path through the plain, The Wolf reluctantly agreed to wear our knobbies down on the “Cuota”, the express tollway. We swallowed 300 kms in a few hours to discover a city of imbricated cubes of color precariously hanging from the steep slopes of convergent canyons. To add to our amazement, Guanajuato is served by two layers of streets, one underground originally conceived as a way to channel waters from the surrounding mountains. The other overground neatly weaving stairs and inclines to adapt to the demanding relief. The silver rich earth kept Spain’s attention until the 18th century, they left an indelible mark on the city, the brighter aspect of which can be admired in the University, theater and palaces. We spent hours marvelling at the man facets of Guanajuato, from its many plazas shaded by topiary trees to the ever changing colors of its buildings around sunset.
A week of rest
Only 60 kms away lay another gorgeous colonial town, San Miguel de Allende, home to the largest colonies of retired Americans that we have seen so far. We took advantage of the hospitality of a local friend, Linda, and thoroughly enjoyed her company for a full week. My inner artist led us to join an art walk of “La Fabrica la Aurora”, a rather impressive Art & Design center, kindly referred to an adult summer camp by our host. Our stay allowed us to finally change our bikes’ oil that overheated in Baja and rid the Wolfmobile’s fuel filter of unknown debris that had choked his performance since San Francisco. We then turned our attention to route planning, devised new ways to coerce OSM, Garmin and Google maps to collaborate and mapped our way to the Guatemalan border. Itching for more dirt, The Wolf took some time to scout out the local dirt tracks, collecting a variety of cactus thorns in the process. Once he’d gotten all the crazy riding out of his system, he took me to one of the river beds he’d found for some long overdue Zebra training. We practiced balance, clutch control and manoeuvring the bike through rocks. All these drills should make it easier to follow the Wolf when the wilderness calls.
The first split
Wilderness was already knocking on the door, as the Wolf found some trails and back roads to the Tolantongo hotsprings, our last stop before Mexico City. To the wolf’s despair, the first day’s back roads were all paved. He was close to calling a cliff a trail when we saw a 2 km detour on the dirt. Things started out easy enough but the small gravel soon turned into large, loose rocks, that once again had me down on the ground. My frustration gave way to awe once we discovered that our campsite for the night would be the front porch of a unoccupied villa at the mouth of a canyon. The view made our cactus-thorns-on-rubber breakfast the next morning slightly less indigestible and wielding tire irons is a good warm-up for a day of adventure.
This was the occasion to finally put on the new Heidenau tire we’d carried since San Francisco. Then we started riding. My crash from the previous day left me without enough confidence to tackle 60 kms of unknown roads. For the first time I left the Wolf to enjoy the mountain trails while I found my way to Tolantongo on pavement. He was able to try all the crazy things his Wolfy heart desired, which included a crazy stair climb at the end (I have video to post later) He’s totally badass. This gave me time to set up camp next to the azure waters of the Tolantongo river, in a nice isolated spot. This was without counting on “Semana Santa” that drove an uninterrupted flow of tourists to our camp throughout the night. We woke up surrounded by screaming kids and tents secured to the Wolfmobile tires. While it felt very disruptive, this chaos turned out to be excellent preparation for our next stop: Mexico City.