I keep referring to this part of Mexico as the mainland, as if Baja California is an island. Leah was sad to leave Baja, she said it was her first love. I said that it would probably be like your first ever boyfriend that you look back on with fond memories but realise you had out grown each other. We had spent 4 weeks on the peninsular, and I was itching to find out what REAL Mexico was like. Over the past 10 days I have been finding out.
you can view the pictures that belong with this post here
11th June Ferry to Mazatlan
12th -17th June Mazatlan
Cycling the 12 miles to the ferry was one of the hardest cycles of the trip, I was still not over the sickness which had caused me to stay in bed up until making the journey to the ferry. I LOVE getting on ferries and it’s a pretty normal part of cycle touring in Europe, but as I still felt pretty bad it was more a case of getting through the journey. We had to show our passports and go through scanners as if entering a new country. I think the only strange thing was that foot passengers had to walk through all the cargo, which was quite a long walk, and then up some steep steps, it was so hot and we saw a really old woman faint on her way to the top. We sat on the floor of the deck whilst we watched the sun go down over Baja, whilst trying to avoid some American Christian missionary men who wanted to chat to us, and tell us that we hoped we realised we would never find husbands now, as men would be too intimidated by us.
Again, we lucked out in Mazatlan. Leah’s friend James (who I met when I was in California, so he’s now my friend too) had a friend who lived there and he gave us the keys to a place he had. We spent the days there riding up and down the amazingly beautiful promenade and visiting the beaches. Although I didn’t feel sick anymore I wasn’t really ready to ride. Mazatlan was the perfect place to get an introduction to REAL Mexico, it was a proper city where things happened, we stayed until Monday as there was a little music festival in the town, and Manny (who’s apartment we were staying in) is also an artist and was doing an exhibition at one of the music events. One morning I was trying to clean the apartment and went to the corner shop to buy a broom, we went into the shop a lot, probably as there was a great selection of baked goods and ice lollies and the lady who worked there had taken great interest in us and our trip and would ask us lots of questions about it. Anyway, so I didn’t find a broom, and returned to the apartment, only to find a few minutes later a boy on a bike with a huge trailer attached selling all sorts of brushes, mops and brooms, so funny! Mazatlan was hot and humid, we would shower and then instantly be covered in sweat, we’d lie in bed at night sweating, we’d sit on the balcony sweating. I think this made us slightly worried about the leg ahead and may have been why we stalled on leaving for a few days.
17th June Mazatlan to Escuinapa
We woke early and were on the road by 7am, determined to try to beat the heat. I thought about the Einstein quote – ‘I feel balance when in motion’, as I felt at ease to be back on my bike and on the move. Cycling out of cities is never fun, but we managed it pretty well and before long we were on the MEX15, the road that we would follow for the next 300 or so miles. Here we had a choice……
Toll Road vs Free Road. There were pros and cons of each – the toll road is more direct, smoother surface and with a wide hard shoulder, but with more lorries, the free road would wind more but would pass through small villages and farms and potentially better views, but potentially more dangerous. We opted for the free road for the time being so we could experience more of the surroundings.
After spending a month in the arid deserted terrain of Baja California I was instantly struck by how different things would be. After 20 miles of riding we stopped at a small town for breakfast, in Baja towns of any size were something you’d cycle all day (or even days and days) to get to. The colours were amazing, lush trees and fields, flowers and butterflies, passing small villages with people waving us by. It was like the brightness had been turned up on a computer screen, it was what I had imagined cycling through Mexico would be like. We made it to the town is Equinapa at around 4pm which is usually the hottest time of the day. As this part of Mexico is more populated it seems we wont be camping as much, but we found a hotel which 120pesos, so like £6 for the room. We spent the evening wandering round the town, eating ice lollies, these lollies are special, not made on a huge scale and packed with fruit, with a choice of leche (more of an ice cream type) or juice, (for more of a lolly style) – we now have a 2 a day habit. Stupidly we didn’t want to pay the extra money for air conditioning and our room was like an oven, so I just laid there all night sweating, on a bed which felt like it had been stuffed with saw dust. We have had some really bad nights sleep, usually involving being afraid when camping but this was the worst nights sleep so far on the tour, and at 3am I blew up my camping matress and went to sleep in the open air corridor of the hotel.
18th June Esquinapa to Acaponeca
We left later than planned, at 8:15 due to the bad nights sleep. We were in the mango growing region and cycled miles upon miles passing through mango orchards, the map pointed out Aztec ruins up in the hills. We planned just to stop for lunch in Acaponeca, it was quite a strange town and it took us ages to find food, and after that we couldn’t be bothered to keep on cycling, so we crushed a few ice lollies each and found a room.
19th June Acaponeca to Tepic
We’d planned to go to Puerto Vallarta on the coast to visit one of Leah’s friends, we were up and ready to leave by 7am but luckily Leah checked her emails and found out that her friend wasn’t in town. This meant a last minute change of plan – to head inland to Guadalajara. We cycled along the free road for around half of the day, the land was becoming more agricultural and apart from the humidity it felt as though it could have been rolling through and English country lane, for a moment I thought of home and missed my cycle rides with my lovely friends there. After doing 40 miles before 12pm we made the decision to push on to Tepic on the toll road (cycling a total of 80 miles that day), it was fast and direct, and there was no where else to stop, so we aimed for this. We had no trouble cycling past the barriers of the toll, initially worried that we would be charged, instead the men wanted to talk to us about our trip and give us water. The wide hard shoulder free of debris on the toll road was a real treat, but it was a difficult journey, we begun to climb slowly and gradually uphill and we were making slow progress as it was also the hottest part of the day, we had no choice but to keep going, our journey also delayed by having to leave the toll road to go buy water somewhere.
We have a rule not to cycle in the dark, and this was the first time since our first night that we broke this rule. As I have said before – the thing about cycle touring is that it is all our creation, you must keep working for a solution if something is going wrong, and if something goes right, it feels so great because you’ve earned it. That night we had caused our problem and we were the only ones who could do anything about it, so we kept creeping up the hills in to Tepic. Drenched in sweat and exhausted it is during these difficult parts where I think of all the people at home, and even people I haven’t met who are giving us their support. This powers my pedals; my friend Ste said to me before I left ‘we are the wind blowing up your skirt’. So, I know this trip is a challenge of our own choosing but the words that people say to us really do get stored in a little memory bank which I access during those times; please keep the words coming.
We found a cheap place to stay, spoke about what we could do to avoid doing something like that again, and then just crashed.
20th June Tepic to Jala
On arriving in to Tepic we had a weird feeling about it, it was swarming with Federales- the police who just seem to drive around standing in the back of trucks, their faces covered with black masks and holding giant guns. Maybe as it’s the biggest city in the state of Nayarit they are all based there. Anyway, after 3 days of getting up really early and the monster ride the day we decided to sleep in. We went for breakfast and ate Chilaquiles, a typical breakfast of tortilla chips soaked and cooked in tomato sauce and served with re-fried beans, eggs, usually some cheese and sour cream, oh and more tortillas – this is good cyclists food. We were so hungry from the day before that after breakfast went to a bakery and ate 2 cakes each. We left Tepic around 1, slightly apprehensive about big climbs, but determined to keep going. The ride was beautiful. Leah said it reminder her of Vermont, we were surrounded by forest and totally changing our perception of what cycling in Mexico would be. There have been a few times on this trip where we have cycled somewhere and I have gained the realisation that we have really made it somewhere, being in these new surroundings has really made us feel like that, we are now pretty far away The temperature was noticeably cooler, as we’d been climbing into the mountains so much. We made it to the small town of Jala, where we also found more amazing food – Chile Rellenos which is a mild chile pepper, the size of a regular pepper,stuffed with cheese and egg, and then battered and served with tomato sauce, these were amazing and cost about 25p each. We’ve been eating like royalty this week, benefitting from all the cornucopia of the farmland. We don’t take access to fresh food for grated after cycling in the desert.
21st June Jalla to Tequila
Over night there had been a thunder storm, and the morning felt fresh. We were no longer sweating like we had been in Mazatlan. Jala was a sweet little town with cobbled streets and a big town square, we again had Chilaquiles for breakfast before heading out. The slow climbing uphill was beginning to take it’s toll physically and mentally, and our progress was pretty slow, but the views continued to amaze us. There was one humbling experience of seeing a newly over turned lorry on the side of the road during a mountain pass, our first experience of an RTA here in Mexico. The landscape changing gradually again to fields of blue agave, used to make Tequila, and it was here we headed in to the town. We found a hostel and met Alex, a lad from Oregon who was making the same journey as us but on motor bike. We compared routes and stories, and also found out that he had met Brad and Elesha the Australian couple we had met in Bahia Concepcion. We were so excited by this, we had just been talking about them – we had both decided that if we could choose any people that we’d met on the trip that we wanted to join us on bikes, then Brad and Elesha would be them. We wandered the town, with a huge square, it was pretty lively as it was Friday evening and it seemed everyone was out. We sunk some margaritas and some more tequila drinks, we really haven’t done any drinking on this trip apart from the occasional beer, so this was a real event, and for good reason too. Unfortunately during the day due to our tiredness we’d drunk about 5 cups of coffee each, which meant either of us could sleep, so we stayed up til 4am! Today we are leaving late for a last push in to Guadalajara, Mexico’s second biggest city, and we are both excited to experience this place and to hopefully rest for quite a while, also, I think being in one place and speaking to the same people each day will help our Spanish. We are both beginning to get a little bored and frustrated with our level of conversation. Once we arrive in Guadalajara we will have done 350 miles in a week, which is a lot for us.
This week we have really started to appreciate balance. There is a balance in seeing beautiful things, that we also see some pretty horrible stuff. Leah and I have been laughing about how we show these amazing photos of our bikes on beaches and the beautiful places we pass, but because of our pace we also see everything else – the bottles and bottles of ‘liquid gold’, the rubbish and the exotic road kill, oh and over the past week we seem to have picked up on a trend of burning dead cows on the side of the road. This week was also the first time that I thought about not wanting to be on my bike, when the mountains were becoming really unforgiving and we’ve had to push ourselves and work hard to get ourselves anywhere I wanted to throw my bike down a few times (something I feel guilty about admitting), but essentially this is part of the journey, and each day I am experiencing so many emotions and still feeling really present within where we are.
- the last push for Baja