Around the world by bike
(5 356km - 157days)
1 - 2 September - Corozal, Belize – Chetumal, Mexico - 27km
We cycled the 13 km to the border; this time there was a bit of a hiccup. On entering Belize the nice lady at immigration had given the entry stamp, but had written the wrong dates in Ernest´s passport. On leaving, it presented a bit of a problem as their computers were not connected to those of the border where we had entered. We waited patiently while the officer in charge phoned and faxed the other border to confirm our date of entry (it helped that I had the correct date). Eventually we were sorted out, and we could proceed to the Mexican side of the border.
There was no doubt that we were now in Mexico, land of colour, sombreros, big American pick-up trucks, and Corona beer. We cycled into Chetumal, the first town across the border. We needed to find a bank and a bike shop as Ernest desperately needed some bike spares. We found a nice cheap room in the centre of town, and went looking for a bike shop. Luckily we found some reasonable bike spares. I also found a good road map of the country.
We stayed the following day so Ernest could work on his bike, and gave the working parts on both bikes a bit of a clean. He worked on his bike all day long as the spares we’d found were not exactly the right thing and he had to do some modifications to make things fit. However, we did have time to walk down to the bayside waterfront, and I scoffed two of the delicious batter-fried sausage things that they sell on the street (and still had space to sip a cold Sol to see out the day).
It seems that there are so many interesting things in Mexico that we will take a long time to travel through this country (well, we only have to be out again on 23 February next year).
3 September - Chetumal – Limones - 94km
Mexico was more organised and developed than expected. We found the road smooth, wide and with a good shoulder as we headed north. The road led us past beautiful Laguna Bacalar and although there were plenty of cabanas along the lake, we continued on until we reached the small town of Limones. We even managed to find a room and had a glimpse of life in one of the small pueblos in Mexico.
4 September - Limones – Felipe Carrillo Puerto - 63km
It was boiling hot again as we set off and followed the road north. It was easy cycling along a flat road. As it was densely wooded, the scenery was rather unchanged except for the occasional small “Loncheria” where we stopped to fill up with water.
We pulled into the small town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto with its rather interesting history. The main church on the plaza is known to be the only church in Mexico to be built by white slaves.
We found a room at Chan Sante Cruze Hotel with rooms around a cool and grassy courtyard. The courtyard was littered with the most adorable little garden ornaments.
5 - 6 September - Felipe Carrillo Puerto – Tulum - 115km
It was blistering hot as we cycled along, this time we found no villages and hardly anywhere to fill up with water. Fortunately, we spotted a well along the way where we stopped and filled up. Once we reached Tulum I was surprised to find such a touristy place. The main road was lined with curio shops, restaurants and bars. Not much Mexican about this part of Mexico, as it mainly caters for the hordes of tourist coming to visit the nearby Mayan ruins.
I felt frustrated as we cycled towards the ruins, as it was hot and I felt tired, just to find them already closed. Accommodation was rather expensive so we cycled back to the main village and found a room on the main road. Although the room was fitted with a fan it hardly did anything to cool the air. Well, what did I expect!! This is a tourist town with prices to match! The beach is said to be rather nice but it was quite a distance from the town. It is amazing how some places become popular for no reason at all.
7 - 8 September - Tulum – Playa Del Carmen - 75km
We stayed in Tulum for a day. I left Ernest at the hotel the following morning, and on my way out of town I popped into the ruins. Tulum was one of the last cities inhabited and built by the Mayans; it was at its zenith between the 13th and 15th centuries and managed to survive about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico. Old World diseases brought by the Spanish settlers appear to have been the cause of its demise. The Tulum ruins are not as spectacular as many other sites, but is popular for the picturesque location.
I cycled along on my own to Playa Del Carmen, which turned out to be a fairly large and very touristy city. I turned down to the beach and found a hostel (very expensive) but I stayed for 2 days as the beach was rather nice.
Little did I know that there are two basic categories of tequila: mixtos and 100% agave. Mixtos is mainly used for mixes such as Margaritas, etc. While the 100% agave tequila, is used for shots. As with other spirits that are aged in casks, it is darker and more mellow.
9 - 10 September - Playa Del Carmen – Cancun - 70km
I cycled along what is known as the Riviera Maya, and although the road ran next to the ocean, I did not once see it. The entire coast is lined with resorts, each one more fancy than the other. Cancun is a world-renowned tourist destination. It is a strange city as it began as a planned tourism project in 1974. Since then, it has been transformed from being a fisherman's island, surrounded by virgin forest and undiscovered shores, to being one of the most well-known Mexican resorts. Most 'Cancúnenses' are not from Mexico, so there’s not much Mexican about the place (unless you consider the thousands of tacky curio stands to be Mexican!). That said, the city was deliberately located on this STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL stretch of coast!! Besides, most people who come here are on holiday and in a relaxed mood, so it makes for a real cool place!! It is therefore not surprising that a growing number of people from America and Europe seem to get stuck here.
I, (*sad face*) unfortunately had to find myself a room in the city centre as the “Hotel Zone” is slightly out of my price range (in fact they may not even allow me in, ha-ha).
The following day I went to the USA consulate to enquire about a visa. Unfortunately they do not issue visas – Merida, capital of Yucatan state, was the place to go in that regard. They did, however, give me the website for the visa application ($160 to submit the application, and then hopefully I get an interview with the consul). That would all have to wait ‘till I got to Merida, more than 300 km west.
Actually, staying in downtown Cancun was not too bad as it had a distinct local flavour. The central plaza came alive after sunset, with locals gathering for a chat and eating from the many food stalls there.
11 September - Cancun – Chemax - 136km
I left Cancun and headed west across the Yucatan Peninsula towards Merida. The road was flat and quite interesting with many small Mayan villages. I continued on to Chemax, a rather tiny Mayan town, and as can be expected I stuck out like a sore thumb. People pointed, laughed and stared in amazement!! I managed to find a room for the night and I´m sure the entire town knew my whereabouts.
I was happy that I could close the door and be out of the public eye. The room was as bare boned as it comes, except for 1000´s of mosquitos and the evidence of the previous visitor still clearly visible. I gave it a good ol´ spray and went in search of a beer and tacos. The most wonderful thing about a room is that one can have a shower!!! There is nothing quite like a shower after a long and hot day on the road. I was happy!!
12 September - Chemax – Piste - 80km
It was an easy ride to Piste past a few small villages, Tequila factories and agave plantations. In the heat of the day, these small villages appeared deserted as it was no doubt siesta time. Even the roadside dogs were too sleepy to bark, and even less inclined to chase you down the road. I even had to wake the shop owner form his midday hammock-slumber to get a cold drink. I soon reached Piste and found a room at The Piramide Inn. I also met up again with Ernest who was camping at a posada down the road. I took a walk to the famed ruins of Chichen Itza with its imposing El Castillo. The pyramid is designed to represent the Mayan calendar. Its four sides contain 365 steps (depicting their solar year), 52 panels (for each year in the Mayan century, as well as each week in the solar year) and 18 terraces (for the 18 months in the religious year).
13 September - Piste – Izamal - 77km
In the morning I went past Ernest where he was camping but he was not yet ready so I set off down the back roads towards Merida. It was a fantastic ride through dense jungle and past tiny Mayan villages. It was blistering hot and these tiny villages looked deserted as I cycled through. Soon the clouds gathered and in no time at all it started bucketing down like it can only do in the tropics. I pulled my cap down low and continued on amidst thunder and lighting. When the thunder and lightning became too much for my nerves, I pulled off and waited until the worst was over.
A few kilometres down the road, I reached the interesting town of Izamel with its impressive historic architecture. The entire town is in an okra colour - no wonder Izamal is known is "The Yellow City". It was an important city of the Pre-Columbian Mayan civilization with temples to the creator deity, Itzamna, and to the Sun God, Kinich Ahau.
After the Spanish conquest of Yucatán, a Spanish colonial city was founded atop the existing Mayan one. However, the conquistadors felt that it was too much trouble to level the 2 largest structures, so they placed a small Christian temple atop the great pyramid, and built a large Franciscan Monastery on top of the acropolis. Much of the cut stone from the Pre-Columbian city was reused to build the Spanish churches, monastery, and existing surrounding buildings.
I took a room in Posada Flory, and that night Ernest and I almost lost each other again, as he was sent away twice when he came looking for me (amazingly, none of the staff could remember a tourist woman on a loaded bike). Luckily, the second time I heard his voice and emerged from my room to sort out the confusion!
14 - 19 September - Izamel – Merida - 70km
It was once again a fascinating ride past small villages steeped in history, fascinating cultures and interesting architecture. Again we got caught in the rain but after taking shelter for a while it cleared up enough for us to continue on to Merida. We found a room at the Hotel Trinidad, a weird and wonderful place. Not quite a hotel and not quite a hostel but a jumble of rooms adorned with the strangest art/artifacts/antiques/junk you can imagine. It even had a pool set in a kind of hidden garden! What a great place. The room was more like a flat with 2 bedrooms, bathroom and small kitchen area. Seeing that we intended to seek out the American embassy in order to find out about a visa for America, we booked the room for 5 days (seeing that it was a Friday) and got quite a large discount. Just imagine 5 days in one place!!! Wow, I have not been 5 nights in one place for a very long time!!!!
We were smack bang in the middle of the Historic Centre, and that evening we took a walk about town with locals and tourists alike.
Sunday came with a bang! I went outside to see what the commotion was all about and found that it was Independence Day! Happy Independence Day, Mexico!! The parades continued through the day and it was quite interesting to watch all the various groups march past. The centre was a hive of activity with food stalls and souvenirs for sale. I tried to take some pictures but it was impossible to get even a half decent pic of the parades without getting and odd arm, leg or headless person in the shot.
On Monday we set off to the visa office (appointment No.1) and were photographed, finger-printed and had our papers checked. All was seemingly in order and we were sent off with a long list of stuff NOT to take with us to the Embassy the following day, including a lawyer, family members, food, toothpaste, etc. My word, how long did they expect that interview to last!!??
Appointment No. 2 arrived. We arrived at the consulate with armloads of supporting documents, but at least without the attorney, supporting family members and snacks for the long wait!! We waited in line until we were called to enter the building. We entered room no. 1 where we were given a numbered ticket and told to wait until our number was called. Our papers were checked and we were told to take a seat until we were called to enter room No.2. Here again we waited until our number appeared on the board, and then we had to stand behind the black line until the official (behind thick glass) could see us. After all this the biggest surprise was that they looked at our passports and application form and told us that all was in order and that the visa was APPROVED!!!! Yippee!!! We could pick it up in a few days’ time!!! Now that was as easy as pie! What seemed as a daunting task turned out rather simple in the end.
After the visit to the consulate we went looking for a bike shop, which we found down one of the side streets. I bought a whole lot of stuff for my bike and we returned to the room.
While Ernest worked on the bikes I went wondering around town. I stopped outside the Iglesia de Jesus, built in the early 17th century from stones that had once been temples of the ancient Mayan city of T'ho. While wondering around I met an interesting man who told me the history of the church and pointed out some old stones on the outer walls which still had some Mayan writing on it. LOL, in truth his intentions were most likely to sell me a hammock or a Panama hat, two items which Merida is very famous for. Nevertheless, he was very interesting and we chatted a way for quite a while about the city and the history of the Maya.
20 September - Merida – Maxcanu - 67km
It was time to pack up again; we loaded the bikes and cycled past the DHL office to pick up our visas. With our passports and American Visa now safely in our pockets we set off down the road in the direction of Campeche. Again, the small villages we passed along the way were fascinating. We also passed a few of the old henequen Haciendas (farms) along the way. In its heyday, these farms were very well-off and employed hundreds of people in the rope making business. The henequen (sisal) rope was mainly for export to Europe and North America. During the boom years, the henequen cactus was known as “green gold”. The golden age ended when sisal rope was replaced by synthetic fibers and many haciendas were abandoned and left to the creep of the jungle. Nowadays they are overgrown and dilapidated but still very picturesque. Some even had small rail lines to and from the plantations.
In the village of Maxcanu, we cycled slap bang into the middle of a lively festival (still part of the Independence Day commemorations). We decided to stay, found a room just off the plaza and settled in. The square was packed with food stalls, games, trampolines, and kiddies’ rides. People, old and young, were out enjoying the festivities. The kids played in the square and the older folks sat on plastic chairs along the sidewalk. I took my camera and joined the villagers, but I think more pictures were taken of me than what I took of the festival!!! Fireworks, floats and marches continued until late into the night.
21 - 22 September - Maxcanu- Campeche - 122km
It was an interesting day on the road as we cycled through many small villages. These villages are all interesting with typical Mexican central plazas with a church, a municipal building and always some statue of sorts in the middle. We cycled past Becal, famous for the making of Panama Hats; even the central fountain is made of gigantic concrete hats! We stopped so many times that it was fairly late by the time we arrived in Campeche. Again we got caught in the rain and arrived dripping wet in Campeche.
Campeche came as a pleasant surprise; we cycled straight into the old Historic Centre. Campeche is a beautifully restored town with pastel coloured houses, narrow cobblestone streets and fortified ramparts. Many of the old city walls and fortifications, which protected the city from pirates and buccaneers, still exist. The city is so well preserved that it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We found a room and also stayed the following day to explore the old town.
As usual, I searched out the Municipal market. I love markets - I love the light, the smells, the interesting people, the chaos, and I can wonder around for hours. I wandered around the colourful streets of Campeche, past old plazas with interesting and beautiful churches, down narrow lanes with interesting sculptures.
23 September - Campeche – Champoton - 67km
It was a beautiful ride as the smaller of the two roads which we were on, ran through the hills and at times next to the ocean. It seems that the easier and more scenic the road, the longer we take!! My bike started making some ungodly noises so we stopped by the side of the road and Ernest changed the bearings on my bike’s back wheel! (Good thing he carries the entire world with him!!!)
As usual, 3km from Champoton, the heavens opened up and it bucketed down on us!!! We arrived in Champoton amidst thunder, lightning and pouring rain, and pulled into the first place that looked like it had rooms. It turned out to be quite a nice place with hot water and air-con!!! We dripped rainwater all over their shiny floors and the hotel lady seemed to follow with mop in hand - she could not have been too pleased with us. The coast around Champoton is very shallow and it is famous for cheap and plentiful shrimp cocktails. The road was littered with movable food stalls, all selling shrimp cocktails.
24 September - Champoton – Sanbancuy - 71km
The following morning we ambled along the coast past more shrimp cocktail stands. For most of the way the road ran flash next to the coast, which lay as smooth as a lake. Pelicans soared high above us and then dove down looking for food. Early afternoon we spotted a big lake with a village on the far side. It looked interesting, so we turned down and found a typical Mexican village with an old church next to the plaza, food stalls, a few shops and even a hotel.
25 September - Sabancuy - Cuidad Del Carmen - 87km
We followed the coast and spotted some oil rigs far out to sea, indicating that Mexico has indeed its own oil fields. No wonder the price of petrol is so low. In fact I would say, lower than market value as so far we have only seen one brand of petrol, indicating that there is no profit in it for international petrol companies to operate here.
We stopped numerous times to admire the view and just watched the pelicans diving for food. Along the road I spotted some blood-red berries, which looked quite good but I was reluctant to try them as I did not know whether death would be instant or a slow, painful, drawn out process. I feared the latter so I only took some pictures and left the berries alone.
26 September - Cuidad Del Carmen – Frontera - 100km
We headed over a larger long bridge (app. 4km) back to the main land. Again the road followed the coast past small fishing villages. We entered the province/state of Tabasco and I must admit I never knew Tabasco was a state in Mexico. I always associated the name with the well-known Tabasco sauce (an American brand name). The Tabasco chili is only around 4 cm long and is the only variety of chili pepper whose fruits are "juicy"; i.e., they are not dry on the inside. Unlike most chilies, tabasco fruits grow upwards, rather than hanging down from their stems.
We cycled into the small town of Frontera, another typical Mexican town with a central square, church, food stalls and municipal buildings.
27 - 28 September - Frontera – Paraiso - 81km
We turned off the main road and followed the smaller coastal road past small pueblos with colourful buses. Along the way we stopped for a cold drink and I always find the Coca-Cola adverts quite interesting. In every country where Coca-Cola is advertised, it is accompanied by a local dish. Here in Mexico it accompanies the traditional Yucatan cochinita pibil (pit-roasted pork), cooked in a banana leaf and garnished with pickled red onions.
We continued on to Paraiso, a small town with a large central plaza and home to the colourful San Marcos Church.
We also stayed the following day. I did my laundry and as the town hosts an interesting market I went on a walkabout, strolling through the markets and narrow streets, enjoying the local food, shopping for chili peppers and just enjoying the local culture.
29 - 30 September - Paraiso – Villahermosa - 81km
It was boiling hot by the time we left and it was one of those days that the heat really got to me. I felt exhausted and it seemed that I could not keep those wheels turning. Hardly 20km down the road, we took a look at Comalcalco, a Chontal Maya archaeological site, not too far off our route. As soon as we arrived the mosquitos descended on us like bats out of hell! I covered myself with mosquito repellent and set off to explore the site. I found Comalcalco to be remarkable, as it differs from the other Mayan sites, in that the structures are built with kiln-fired bricks (due to a lack of limestone). More amazing is that the bricks are similar to those used by the Romans, and that Roman-like figurines were discovered on the site. When an oyster shell base mortar, used to bind the brick, was removed, it revealed markings on the back of the bricks. These markings are believed to be the brick makers’ fingerprints and are nearly identical to markings found on Roman bricks!! It boggles the mind!!! Is it possible that maybe, just maybe, the Romans arrived here 1000 years before Columbus?
We continued on to Villahermosa, past Cunduacan, a large University town. Along the way we stopped for a cold drink and I could not believe that I got attacked by fire ants, yet again!!
Villahermosa turned out to be an interesting city with a large and busy old center where the smell of local Mexican food hangs in the air. The pedestrian malls in the city centre make for easy wandering around.
The following day we stayed in Villahermosa to visit Parque La Venta, where there are Olmec artifacts from the La Venta archaeological site. The artifacts were moved here for protection from oil exploration activities at the original site. The park is best known for its ten foot high Olmec basalt carved heads. Little is known of the Olmecs which makes them even more mysterious. There are 28 Olmec carvings in the park and the pieces are well placed in a lush tropical garden. The park is quite large with a zoo and lake, so we spent some time wandering around.
1 - 3 October - Villahermosa – Teapa - 70km
We headed inland along the flat banana covered plains towards The Sierra Madre de Chiapas en route to the Pacific coast. It was hot and humid as we cycled onto Teapa where we thought of staying next to the river. The place where we were heading was just outside of Teapa but was closed, so we returned to the city centre.
It was bucketing down so we stayed put in Teapa and instead went to visit the nearby caves. The caves were fascinating, with eight chambers and an underground stream. The walls were covered with stalagmites and stalactites and it was beautifully lit up, but the best was that we were the only people there. I took loads of pics but none really captured the beauty of the caves; I wish I had a tri-pod.
4 October - Teapa – Tapilula - 80km
We left Teapa and soon were on our way up the Sierra Madre de Chiapas. It was an exceptionally scenic road, past waterfalls, across rivers, under moss-covered cliffs and past small mountain villages deep down in the valleys. We were going at a snail’s pace – higher and higher up the mountains. When I heard people referring to the road as the “old mountain highway”, I should have known we were in for some climbing. It was after 17h00 when we arrived at Tapilula, found a room, and wandered around the village in search of food and drink.
5 October - Tapilula – Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan - 37km
We were hoping that we were close to the top, but the road headed straight up the mountain again and we climbed and climbed. Slowly we edged our way up until we reached the cloud level, but still the winding road took us higher and higher. The fog was thick and cool and at times I could hardly see Ernest behind me. The road was narrow and steep and I needed all my energy and concentration just to keep the bike in a straight line and out of the way of the traffic in the low visibility.
Finally we arrived in the mountain village of Pueblo Nuevo with a square, a market, a few shops and the usual roadside stalls selling tacos. Luckily for us, these mountain villages all seem to have some kind of accommodation. We found a nice room with a hot shower, and due to the altitude it was the first time in many a month that I needed a blanket!
6 October - Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan – Bochil - 40km
Once again it was a short but beautiful ride over the mountains to the small village of Bochil. The road led past numerous waterfalls and swinging suspension bridges over the large rivers. The area surprisingly reminded me of Nepal. Bochil turned out to be a busy little village with shops, churches and markets.
7 - 8 October - Bochil – Chiapa de Corzo - 70km
From Bochil we headed straight up the mountain for about 12km and then down into the valley for another 12km. That set the scene for the rest of the day, as we seemed to climb up mountains and descended into valleys all day long. Finally we reached the huge descent into Chiapa de Corzo and flew down the mountain at breakneck speed. We sped down the switchbacks all the way into the town of Chiapa de Corzo in the valley below. The downhill speed was fast enough to make me worry about hitting a pothole or getting a blow-out. On the way down we passed cascading waterfalls, spraying us with a fine mist.
Chiapa de Corzo turned out to be a rather interesting old colonial city with a long history.
The following day I took the boat up the Canon del Sumidero, a spectacular ride where cliffs soar above the River Grijalva, past equally spectacular waterfalls cascading down the steep cliffs. The boat ride offered stunning views of the gorge. Along the way we spotted crocodiles, monkeys and plenty of bird life. The Sumidero Canyon is a narrow and deep canyon surrounded by a national park. I believe that the canyon’s creation began around the same time as the Grand Canyon in the U.S., formed by a crack in the area’s crust and erosion by the Grijalva River.
9 October - Chiapa de Corzo – Tuxtla - 16km
10 October - Tuxtla – Cintalapa - 83km
It was a steady 25km climb before we reached a downhill for another 25km. I never complained about the downhill section and was more than happy when (at the end of the day) we rounded a corner and saw the road, yet again, heading downhill to what seemed like a long flat section. Once down, the road was however not as flat as it looked from the top.
In the small town of Cintalapa we found a room at the Hotel Palatsio; it was not much of a palace but comfortable enough for the night. Ernest cooked up a mean spaghetti bolognaise, which we devoured in record time.
11 October - Cintalapa – San Pedro Tapanatepec - 80km
Soon after we left, we met two cyclists going in the opposite direction. I expect that we will now start to see more cyclists as we are on the classic North/South cycling route. After chatting for a while, we left with the knowledge that (although hilly) there were no major mountain passes on our way. We cycled past a roadside grass fire, something I don’t like!! The smoke can be really dense and the burning embers blow across the road. This creates a dangerous lack of visibility, and coats our sweat-soaked bodies in black soot. We cycled past fields of millet which seemed to do quite well around here. Up and down we went until we came to a long downhill and we could see the Pacific Coast Way in the background. Still the road continued down, past stunning valley views. Finally we arrived in San Pedro Tapanaepec. We were not sure whether to stay there or continue on, so if in doubt stay put! It seemed like we were now finally over the Sierra Madre de Chiapas and back in the heat and humidity of the lowlands. I did not quite realise how much cooler it was up in the highlands.
12 October - San Pedro Tapanatepec – Juchitan de Zaragopza - 111km
Every day comes with its own set of problems, and down on the flats we had to deal with the wind. We cycled past the town of La Ventosa - which (I think) means "the windy place" in Spanish. La Ventosa is in the heart of a giant wind farm along the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, (the narrowest point between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico). I understand that it is the difference in temperature between the two oceans which creates a virtual wind tunnel in the gap between the Sierra Madre Mountains. From what I’ve heard, the wind gusts are so strong at times, that it takes the roofs off houses.
13 October - Juchitan de Zaragoza – Morro Mazatan - 73km
I was mentally unprepared for the hills, wind and heat. We followed the coastal road, which did not run flash next to the coast but mostly inland over the hills. From time to time we caught glimpses of the coast but then the road turned inland over the hills again. Long slow hills with, I must admit, also long slow downhills. Eventually we passed the tiny peblo of Marro Mazatan with a tiny tienda, a restaurant with three rooms and a few houses. We booked into one of the rooms and Ernest cooked a huge meal which we had no problem polishing off.
14 October - Morro Mazatan – Barra de la Cruz - 94km
We cycled along the coastal road parallel to the Pacific Ocean en route to Acapulco. It was a slow and exhausting day as we headed up and down the never-ending hills. At least it was a scenic ride; it looked like spring with plenty of pretty flowers alongside and butterflies darting across the road. It was a hot and hilly day, so when we reached the turn-off for the small village of Barra de la Cruz, we turned down and found a real surfing village with some simple accommodation and places to eat. We booked into a basic wood and thatch cabana with two sagging beds and a rickety fan. Our neighbours were surfers from Australia. I was too tired to do anything else but lie under the verandah in a hammock and shoot pictures of the grass around me.
15 October - Barra de la Cruz – San Pedro Pochutla - 70km
It was a steep climb out of Barra de la Cruz back to the main road. I even had to push the bike up the steep hill. Once back on the main road, it was once again up and down the never ending hills until we reached Pochutla. I must admit I was getting kind of tired of these hills. We found a room, walked to the nearby supermarket to pick up some stuff for supper, and then it was an early night for me.
16 - 17 October - San Pedro Pochutla – Puerto Escondido - 70km
The road finally seemed to level out and it was the flattest the road has been in days! We soon arrived in Puerto Escondido and headed straight for Playa Zicatela.
We spent the day at Puerto Escondido where the waves are fast and furious. The beach is also known as The Mexican Pipeline, one of the top ten surfing meccas in the world. We stopped at Playa Zicatela, known for its dangerous surf breaks where the waves are extremely powerful! There is a certain electricity in the air when the big waves roll in, a feel of madness and craziness prevail as these powerful waves provide adrenalin rushing rides.
I am naturally drawn to the pounding of the waves and I´m sure that most people can spend hours gazing at the waves rolling in. Sitting there I could almost feel the power of the waves crashing ashore. I took loads of pictures just sitting there and enjoying the spectacle.
18 October - Puerto Escondido – Roca Blanca - 45km
It was a really interesting cycle past lakes and farmlands. Soon after we left, we spotted a turn-off for Roca Blanca. After debating for a while, we decided to turn-off to see what was down the road.
We found a rather interesting beach with some great palapa restaurants on the beach. The coast is wonderfully undeveloped and October is such a good time to travel here as it is uncrowded and prices are low. It did not take us long to make up our minds to stay for the night. It was a beautiful beach with hardly anyone around. The room was rather interesting as it was no more than a few planks stuck together. After sunset the bugs descended and there were little else to do but turn off the lights, turn the fans on full, and cover yourself with a sheet!!
19 October - Roca Blanca – San Jose del Progresso - 48km
So far I have only seen one brand of petrol in Mexico - my guess is that gasoline and diesel prices are subsidised, since the Mexican government owns the production. It is possible that the government subsidises gas prices in order to curb inflation and make fuel affordable to the poor. No wonder they all drive huge petrol guzzling monsters!!
20 October - San Jose del Progresso – Santiago Pinotepa Nacional - 60km
It was one of those blistering hot days that leave a person totally drained. We headed over the hills as the road headed inland. It was so hot that I started feeling dizzy and light headed. On reaching Pinotepa, we found an air-con room for a change, as there was no way I could handle anything else. We took a walk to the local supermarket and stocked up on some food and drinks.
21 October - Santiago Pinotepa Nacional – Cuajiniculapa - 57km
Although it was still a rather hot day, I did not find the heat as bad as the day before. After some time of cycling I stopped to wait for Ernest who disappeared into thin air. After waiting for a while I turned back to see what had happened just to find him around the corner replacing a gear cable. We continued on, and as the road flattened out it was not a bad ride after all. In fact, it was rather scenic with wild flowers growing two meters high along the road; beautiful colours of yellow, orange and purple made it a wonderful ride.
22 October - Cuajiniculapa – Marquelia - 66km
At first we were lured into thinking that it was going to be an easy day as we started off along a relatively flat road. Soon, however, it was boiling hot as we headed up long, slow hills again. I watched the perspiration drip from my face onto the tarmac as we climbed up the hills……..drip, drip, drip, pedal, pedal, pedal. It was, however, still beautiful as the wild flowers were still in full bloom and so there were plenty of birds, butterflies and bees to be seen.
We found ourselves a room in Marquelia with air-con - unfortunately the air-con did not work so we asked for another room with a slightly more effective air-con. That evening it never really cooled down and at 22h00 it was still 30°C but felt like 36°!!
23 October - Marquelia – San Marcos - 81km
It was an uneventful day on the road, boiling hot and with the usual amount of ups and downs. We found a rather comfortable room in San Marcos with rooms around a pool, just what we needed. Ernest got some eggs and salad stuff from the local shop – just the thing for a light meal.
24 - 26 October - San Marcos – Acapulco - 86km
It was another sweltering hot day, and even the beautiful wild flowers along the road seemed a bit faded. The way into Acapulco was far more challenging than expected. The road climbed steeply up the mountain and then descended into the beautiful bay of Acapulco. Once in the city it was easy to find a room as there were so many hotels one could pick and choose. It was still the low season and most places offered good deals.
I have decided to take a month’s break and go visit in South Africa. I´m quite excited to be doing something different for a change and now have to start organising where to store my stuff until I return in a months’ time. It will be a very long two days of travel, something I´m not looking forward to. Leaving Mexico City Airport at 9h05 on 30 October and arriving in Cape Town at 21h40 the following day.
At least there was still time to go see the famous Cliff divers of Acapulco. Not only do they plummet from an amazing height into a narrow channel, they also have to time the dive with the incoming waves, as the channel is not very deep. Getting to the top of the cliff is another challenge, as first the divers have to swim across the channel and then, like geckos, climb up the steep cliff to the top where they seem to ask for protection at a little shrine, from what can only be the Diving Gods.
27 - 29 October - Acapulco – Mexico City - (by bus)
We were up early packing and re-organising out stuff. The friendly owners of the hotel in Acapulco allowed us to store the bikes and bags until our return. Ernest decided to go with to Mexico City and will return after a few days to Acapulco and continue north along the coast.
At 9h30 we boarded a rather comfortable bus for the long ride to Mexico City. The bus ride was approximately five hours and took us from sea level to about 2,400m.
On arriving in Mexico City, it felt like a whole new country. The city is huge and has a population of nearly 20 million people. The city is vibrant and cosmopolitan, full of life, colour and weird and wonderful people. The city is ranked as the eighth richest city in the world and sitting at an altitude of more than 2,000 metres, it is therefore much cooler than Acapulco.
We headed straight for the historic centre known as The Zocalo. The heart of the area is the main square which is the largest square in Latin America and the third largest in the world after Moscow’s Red Square and Beijing's Tiananmen Square. I may also add that I think it is one of the most beautiful, surrounded by beautiful old buildings, the main cathedral and the Palacio Nacional.
Currently the city is preparing for two major festivals; The Festival of Mime and the streets are therefore already full of silent shows with performances by mime artists, and the Day of the Dead / Skulls Festival and just about all the shops are made up and kids are running around in scary costumes.
I kept an eye on the news for the approaching Hurricane Sandy. The news did not seem good as it appeared to grow both in size and strength as it headed for the East Coast of the United States. All flights to and from Washington were cancelled for the 28th and 29th and I feared that my flight the following day would also be cancelled.
30 - 31 October - Mexico City (and Veracruz)
Early morning I checked the internet and sure enough, my flights to SA via USA were cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy. I still took the underground to the airport and re-scheduled for 5 November. Impulsively we hopped on a bus to Veracruz, down east on the Caribbean coast. The southern bus terminus in the city (one of a number) is modern and new, and the bus we took was luxurious with airplane-like service! We zooted down through the mountains via tunnels and high bridges. Along the way we passed the highest peak in the country, the snow-capped Pico De Orizaba. After only about five hours we were back at the coast, in the warm and humid Veracruz!!! (Note: Veracruz is the first Spanish colonial town in Mexico, established by Cortez days after he set foot ashore).
1 November - Veracruz
It was the “Day of the Dead” (Dia de los Muertos); a time when people remember and honour their deceased loved ones. The idea is that the spirits return on this one day to be together with their families. Offerings are put out, consisting of flowers and small amounts of food. There are parades, floats and people dress up in all sorts of scary costumes. All in all, a whole lot of fun.
In the centre of town is a wonderful market where one could find pretty much anything and have just about anything fixed from clothes, bags, wallets, shoes, etc. For a small amount I had a new zipper put in my bag and I then headed to the waterfront for a short boat ride around the harbour with beautiful sunset views. As if that was not enough, I hopped on a bus for a short tour of the city, all loads of fun.
2 November - Veracruz – Mexico City - By Bus
It was a novelty to just hop on a bus and travel all the way back to Mexico City, a trip that normally would take us a few days. The festivities of the Day of the Dead were still in full swing and the central plaza a hive of activity. We found ourselves a room at a reasonable price and I headed straight back to the main plaza as the festivities were still in full swing - floats, bands, and loads of people.
The following day Ernest and I took the underground to another part of town, partly to see if I could locate a United Airlines office, and partly to see another part of town. I also looked for a few gifts but none seemed appropriate for what I wanted, as I was determined only to take hand luggage.
Finally the 5th arrived and I took a taxi to the airport and Ernest took the underground to the bus station for his bus back to Acapulco. I booked in and was ready for my LONG flight to Cape Town. The first leg was a four hour flight from Mexico City to Washington. The flight was completely full and after boarding there was no space for my carry-on bag in the overhead compartment and it was booked in with the other luggage. On arrival at Washington Airport, my carry-on bag seemed to have disappeared - so much for my determination only to take hand luggage! It did however reappear later and as the airport is huge I had to run to make my connecting flight.
The plane landed in Dakar but unfortunately we were not allowed to disembark. The good thing however was that the people sitting next to me left in Dakar and I had the entire row of seats to myself.
5 - 6 November - Mexico City – Cape Town
The following day Ernest and I took the underground to another part of town; partly to see if I could locate a United Airlines office, and partly to see a different part of town. I also looked for a few gifts but none seemed appropriate for what I wanted as I was determined only to take hand luggage.
Finally the 5th arrived and it as “take two” as I took an early morning taxi to the airport. Ernest took the underground to the bus station for his bus back to Acapulco. I booked in and was ready for my LONG and arduous flight to Cape Town. The first leg was a 4-hour flight from Mexico City to Washington. The flight was completely full and after boarding there was no space for my carry-on bag in the overhead compartment and it got booked in with the other luggage. On arrival at Washington Airport my carry-on bag seemed to have disappeared - so much for my determination only to take hand luggage! It did however reappear later and as the airport is huge I had to run like mad to make my connecting flight.
The second leg of the journey took me from Washington to Dakar. The plane landed in Dakar to refuel but unfortunately we were not allowed to disembark. The good thing, however, was that the people sitting next to me left in Dakar and I had the entire row of 4 seats to myself. The third 8-hour leg from Dakar to Johannesburg was therefore a relatively pleasant snooze!! How lucky can one be! Once in Johannesburg it was once again a rush to get a connecting 2-hour flight to Cape Town but once again I was fortunate to be sitting next to some very nice and talkative gentleman from Cape Town, which made it a pleasant trip.
I got picked up from the airport by Amanda and Erika and drove home in luxury. We sat talking until the early hours of the morning, like only sisters can! My internal clock was completely out-of-sync and after about 3 hours sleep I was wide awake again. That set the trend for the next few days.
7-9 November - Cape Town
The next few days we ate, drank and chatted nonstop! The kids all seemed to have grown to double their height since I last saw them!! They have gone from kids to young, beautiful adults!! I sat listening to their life journeys and was utterly amazed at their maturity. How time flies!!!
10 - 30 November - Cape Town
Erika organised a wonderful weekend away at the nearby West Coast National Park. We did almost nothing except for eating and drinking….. Fantastic! Amanda and I managed a few days away to Stilbaai to visit my mum and to relax in our ancient holiday home.
I was terribly bad as I saw none of my friends I wanted to see. Instead I did absolutely nothing most of the time. I was surprised at the new and funky coffee shops in the centre of town. My cousin Ansie showed me the “new way”!! They even have a bicycle friendly coffee shop… where cyclists get a good deal and they have space to store their bikes. What a great idea!
Soon, however, it was time to get back to my bike and to my horror I discovered that my return flight was going to be even longer!!
30 November - Cape Town, South Africa – Mexico City, Mexico
I finally said my goodbyes and boarded the plane for my long and arduous flight back to Mexico. The flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg went smoothly; the only hiccup was that after landing there were no wheel blocks to be found to place in front/behind the wheels!! Have you ever……... the stairs could therefore not be attached and there was not much to do but wait until the said blocks could be traced!! It was already a rather tight connection and I had to run like crazy to make the connection. At first I was told that I was already offloaded, but in the end they opened the doors and I sneaked in at the last moment.
The biggest surprise came once I arrived in Washington. I assumed that again it would be a 4-hour flight to Mexico City. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a 13-hour flight from Washington via Chicago and Houston!!! My word, what a performance!!! That will teach me to check my flight details carefully before booking.
I finally arrived in Mexico City on the evening of 1 December. After changing a bit of money, I took a taxi to the Terminal Sur Bus Station, checked on the bus schedule for the following day, and headed for the nearest hotel. Needless to say I showered and slept like a baby.
2 - 3 December - Mexico City – Acapulco - By bus
Well rested I headed back to the bus station, bought a ticket, had a quick cup of coffee and a bite to eat and then I was on my final stretch back to Acapulco. I was more than happy to be back in Acapulco and reunited with my bike. The weather was fantastic and at 8pm it was still 30° C without a gust of wind and the ocean was not much cooler! I was happy to be back in my familiar world of the unknown.
The following day I stayed in Acapulco to reorganise my bags and to buy a few things I needed for the road. I, however, spent most of the day on the beach where the fruit sellers peddle their wares, neatly carved onto pieces of art.
4 - 5 December - Acapulco – Mazatlan - By bus
I received an email from Ernest that he was waiting for me in Mazatlan. I decided to cheat and take the bus there, as it would take me way too long to cycle. I went to the bus station, bought a ticket, and by 16h00 I was on the bus with bike and bags. It was an overnight bus and it was very comfortable with aircon and plenty of legroom. The bus took the highway which is a rather long way as the coastal road is very narrow and slow going.
When I arrived in Mazatlan, Ernest was waiting at the bus station and had already found a cheap room in the old part of Mazatlan for us. That was so cool, as I hate looking for a room. The Hotel Lerma had rooms around a large and spacious courtyard/parking area which made for a very comfortable stay and at 200 Pesos for the room it was very reasonable. The weather was wonderful and we ate at a sidewalk café so there was no need for cooking.
6 - 7 December - Mazatlan
We spent the day walking around the old historic centre and along the beautiful beachfront. Then we cycled around town looking for a bike shop to get some spare parts but could not find what we were looking for. However, we had the bikes washed at a carwash and they did not even want any money, just a Coca-Cola; how cool is that. We bought some ingredients for a salad which we ate with rolls from the local bakery.
The following day Ernest worked on the bikes while I inspected the rest of the historic city centre. With the bikes all fixed up I was ready to get back on the road. I must say that Mazatlan is a really nice place and one can easily hang around here for a while.
8 - 9 December - Mazatlan – La Cruz de Elota - 108km
We left Mazatlan and cycled the 110km to the small town of La Cruz de Elota on our way north. Along the way we crossed the Tropic of Cancer. It is always loads of fun to try and take a pic like this, as first we need to find a spot to place the camera and then run like hell to try and be in the picture!
Along the coast, north of Mazatlan, one can find many little shrimping towns. Men head out in the early evening in small boats and return just before dawn with their nets bulging. The tilt-shift maybe fake but the shrimps are real.
I thought I could feel a cold coming and we stayed the following day as well. Ernest spent most of the day fixing his bags and sewing up some cloths that needed mending.
10 December - La Cruz de Elota – Obispo - 58km
The road north was pancake flat as we cycled past large vegetable plantations. Tomatoes are one of the native Mexican plants that have become an essential ingredient in the cuisine of many countries. Growers in the state of Sinaloa are the main producers and exporters of fresh tomatoes, and the vehicle number plates even depict a tomato.
We were on a toll road and there were little villages or shops along the way. We turned into a small village to fill our water bottles and the people were so friendly that we decided to stay for the night.
11 December - Obispo – Aguaruto - 85km
+We headed back to the toll road, and although these big roads are mostly uninteresting, it was an easy ride as the road had a wide shoulder which made for comfortable riding. We turned off for Culiacan but did not want to go all the way into the city and thought we could stay on the outskirts. Our map was however not that accurate and we landed up on an unnamed road heading into the city centre.
We past a motel and decided to enquire about the price; it was however a “love motel”, renting rooms by the hour. They did however make us a good deal for the night as they most likely never had 2 clients on bicycles arriving at their establishment. It turned out to be a rather good deal as the room was huge and had a relatively fancy bathroom. It came with all the trimmings of mirrors, dimmer lights, a huge bed, etc., etc. We even had a large flat screen TV with ………..ummmmmm, limited channels!! I do not think that anyone has ever cooked themselves a meal in one of these rooms!!
12 December - Aguaruto – road side camp - 75km
The weather was perfect as we set off. Since crossing the Tropic of Cancer the landscape has become notably drier and the weather somewhat cooler. Although still hot, it was far less humid and just perfect cycling weather. After 75km we spotted the perfect place to camp, next to a petrol station. They had a nice grassy bit, toilets and showers and even a restaurant. We pitched our tents and sat watching the sunset while having a beer.
13 December - Road side camp – Guasave - 80km
We packed up in our own time and continued down the road. Again the weather was perfect and we still cycled past vast fields of vegetables. The north of Mexico is clearly feeding the country. These all looked like large and very slick farming operations judging by their fancy equipment. Some sections are completely covered with a type of shade cloth and in other fields the individual rows are covered; I guess to keep the birds at bay.
The day went smoothly - the only irritation was the 3 flat tyres Ernest had, and it started drizzling just as we neared the town of Guasave. We pulled into Guasave, found a room, did some shopping and that was us done for the day.
14 - 15 December - Guasave – Los Mochis - 67km
Another fantastic day on the road; smooth and flat with beautiful scenery past vast fields of beans and maize. Each plantation seemed to have its own beauty of colour and lines. It was one of those days that I was truly grateful to be out on the road. Soon we arrived at Los Mochis where we planned to stay for a day to do laundry and so forth. At first I thought of taking the ferry west across the Sea of Cortez from Los Mochis to Baja California Peninsula. On the other hand, the going on this side has been so good that we decided to carry on northwards and take the ferry across from Guaymas.
The following day we did some laundry and Ernest repaired his pack, which was showing serious signs of aging.
16 December - Los Mochis
We packed up and cycled out of town. 5km down the road I discovered that my front rim was broken so we headed back into town. It was Sunday and the bike shops were closed so we had to wait for the following morning to get a new rim.
17 - 18 December - Los Mochis
We took a walk to the bike shop and bought a new rim, which was quite easy. The difficult part is spoking and trimming the wheel, something at which Ernest has become quite a pro, and after a couple of hours the wheel was as good as new.
I, however, managed to get myself a serious bout of food poisoning and was as sick as a dog all night as well as the following day. The day went past in a blur and I did not do much but stay in bed and as close to the bathroom as possible.
19 December - Los Mochis – Diaz Ordaz - 64km
I dragged myself out of bed, loaded the bike and set off down the road again. I did not feel 100% but managed to cycle the whole morning without puking at the roadside. We arrived in Diaz Ordaz quite early but thought it a good idea to stop, find a room and just hang out for the rest of the day. Diaz Ordaz was a typical small Mexican town with a Pemex Service Station (The only company that is authorised to sell gasoline in Mexico), a Santa Fe Supermarket, a Tecate Beer Shop, and of course the ever-present grilled Pollo restaurants. We cycled down the dusty streets and soon found a local motel.
Ernest took a walk to the supermarket and got some ingredients with which he cooked a good spaghetti bolognaise for supper (I managed to eat my share, although my stomach was not yet perfect).
20 December - Diaz Ordaz – Navojoa - 110km
I felt much stronger so we continued on, cycling the 110km to Navojoa. The road followed the railway line (always a good thing) as the country side is slowly becoming less and less lush each day. We entered the state of Sonora and therefore also the Sonoran Desert. I understand that the Sonoran Desert is the only place in the world where the famous Saguaro cactus grows in the wild.
It was another easy day on the road and soon we arrived in Navojoa, a busy city where we found a room for the night.
21 December - Novojoa – Ciudad Obregon - 70km
Our Doomsday ride turned out rather uneventful as we pedaled further north towards the city of Obregon. It was a bit of a miserable day as we encountered road works after road works (narrow sections where traffic could not get past us). The traffic had also suddenly increased and we encountered a steady stream heading in the opposite direction. Many of these “Snowbirds” are from the USA, and are flocking south!! USV’s loaded to the hilt with luggage, bicycles and other paraphernalia passed us, heading for a warmer climate. Some vehicles even towed a second loaded car; God forbid that you should be on holiday and not have the whole family mobile!!
Once in Obregon we found a cheap room right in the city centre. What a madhouse the town was, with everyone out to do their last Christmas shopping. We bought some succulent goat-meat rolls to see us over, and then Ernest made a good potato salad for supper - enough to feed an army!
22 December - Ciudad Obregon – Vicam - 53km
It was a short cycle to Vicam; again I was astonished at the increase in traffic. It was a non-stop flow of traffic heading south. The holiday season is clearly now in full swing. Fortunately we are heading in the opposite direction. At last we are cycling past loads of cacti. Before I arrived in Mexico, the first picture that sprung to mind was the iconic desert scene with a Mexican sitting beside a huge cactus and wearing a big sombrero. How wrong was I!!!
As we cycled into Vicam I had a flat tyre, which Ernest quickly fixed. We also spotted a roadside hotel and decided to stay for the night and continue on to Guaymas in the morning.
23 - 25 December - Vicam – Guaymas - 77km
We arrived in Guaymas, a sad little port city. At least it has a nice little waterfront. The fountain was even synchronised with Christmas music. From here we plan to take the ferry to Santa Rosalia, Baja California, but we just found out that the next ferry is only on Wednesday, so we have a day or 2 to kill.
On Christmas Day I took a walk down to the waterfront which was packed with new shiny toys. The scene was rather universal with kids dressed in their Sunday best, playing with their new toys. Some going ten to the dozen, and others rather careful with their new found freedom.
26 December - Guaymas – Santa Rosalia – By ferry
It was finally time to leave Guaymas and take the ferry to Baja. The ferry only sailed at 20h00 so we had plenty of time to kill. While waiting I spent the afternoon clicking away, making the local herons the most photographed in all of Mexico!! Fortunately the ferry was not very full, with plenty of empty seats for us to spread out and get a good night’s sleep.
27 December - Santa Rosalia
We arrived in Santa Rosalia at 7 in the morning. Santa Rosalia is unlike any other Mexican town. With its brightly painted clapboard houses, inns with large verandas, tiny stores and prefab churches, it resembles a typical one horse town from an old western movie set. I soon found out that it was in fact an old French copper mining town. A walk around revealed quite a few old locomotives and other pieces of mining machinery scattered around town. The most interesting piece of information was the history of the church. The old prefabricated church in the centre of town was built for the Paris 1889 World´s Fair, allegedly designed by no other than the famed Gustave Eiffel. After the fair the church was disassembled and stored in Brussels for shipping to West Africa, but it somehow turned up here!!
28 December - Santa Rosalia – Mulege - 65km
We headed south in the direction of La Paz and it looked more and more like the Mexico I always imagined, blue skies and cacti!! We soon arrived in the small village of Mulege, home of the former Jesuit Mission Santa Rosalia de Mulege. The village has quite an interesting history. Along with religion, the Europeans brought with them diseases to which the indigenous peoples had never been exposed, and to which consequently they had no immunity. By 1767, epidemics of measles, plague, smallpox, typhus, and venereal diseases had decimated the native population. Out of an initial population of as many as 50,000 indigenous people, only some 5,000 are thought to have survived. How sad is that!
We found a cheap room and Ernest cooked fettuccini with a good bolognaise sauce, enough to see us though the next day as well.
29 - 30 December - Mulege –Los Cocos Beach - 31km
Soon after we left Mulege, we found ourselves along the beautiful shores of Bahia Concepcion. The beaches were pristine and the water blue-green. Many of these beaches are makeshift RV parks where American and Canadian campers were parking off to escape the North American winter. We soon made friends with the other campers, including Gord and Gwen, who had recommended Los Cocos beach to us earlier (I even had a hot shower in their trailer, and Gord gave us a whole can of drinking water). My gears had been giving trouble due to worn-out cables, and Ernest replaced those for me in the afternoon. The next day dawned beautifully. We decided to stay, and Ernest went fishing with Gord on his boat. On their return Gord fried up the catch of Sand Bass and Trigger fish, and he and Gwen invited us for a good dinner!!
31 December -Los Cocos Beach – Loreto -115km
We packed up camp the following morning, and we had a beautiful ride south along the shores of Bahia Concepcion. In fact, it was so beautiful that we stopped every few kilometres to admire the view. It was also a bit more hilly than expected with the result that we only arrived in Loreto after 6pm and therefore in the dark. It was also fairly cold by then and we took a pricey room in the historic part of the town (not that there was a modern section, ha-ha). I was suffering from a cold and it had been a long day, so New Year’s Eve was not a party night - I was fast asleep before the clock struck 2013.
1 January - Loreto
2 January - Loreto – Puerto Escondido - 35km
We only left Loreto at 11h00 after searching for an ATM that will give us money. Soon after we left, we turned into Puerto Escondido; a rather small settlement with a fancy harbour and even more fancy boats anchored in the bay. We decided to camp and after looking around for a suitable spot we asked at the one and only hotel if we could camp there. They pointed to their lawn and were proud to point out that they had Wi-Fi and a swimming pool. The Wi-Fi came in handy but it was far too cold for a swim.
3 January - Puerto Escondido – Ciudad Insurgentes - 98km
We left the coast and headed over the mountains. It was in fact not as bad as it looked, as the road was up and down for the first 50km and then it was dead-pencil-straight through the cacti for the last 45km. In Ciudad Insurgentes we found a roadside room that did us quite well for the night.
4 - 5 January - Ciudad Insurgentes – Ciudad Constitucion - 26 km
We cycled the very short distance to Ciudad Constitucion. On the outskirts of town we found an RV Park and set up camp. It was a typical Mexican campsite, albeit a bit dusty. It was full of colour, cattle sculls, and cacti. We did a whole host of laundry and were surprised to see 2 more cyclists arriving in camp. Daniel and Simone, a German couple, were reaching the end of their trip as they have to be back in Germany in June. It was nice to chat to other cyclists and as they decided to stay another day, so did we.
6 January - Ciudad Constitucion – El Ciento Veintiocho - 89 km
We waited for the sun to warm us and slowly packed up camp. It was 11 a.m. by the time we said our good-byes to Simone and Daniel and continued on our way South towards La Paz. Again the road ran dead-pan-straight through the cacti. Came evening, we set up camp next to a small, isolated “restaurant”. At first I thought it a rather dreary place to camp, but at sunset the sky was transformed into a wonderland of colour.
7 January - El Ciento Veintiocho – La Paz - 128 km
I awoke to the snorting of a pig outside, and as I stuck my head out to see if the animal was feeding on my tent, I was greeted with the most incredible sunrise one can imagine. The entire sky was blood red and the cacti made pretty silhouettes against the sky. Once on the bikes, the flat road soon came to an end and the hills started, more like a roller-coaster; up and down, up and down!! Along the way were only a few small shops/restaurants; in fact there was a whole 60 km stretch with nothing but cacti and hills!!! Fortunately, we had plenty of water to see us through to La Paz.
8 - 9 January - La Paz
We stayed in La Paz for 2 days. La Paz is quite modern with large shopping centres and other facilities. At one of these stores Ernest spotted some suitcases, and the story is as follows:
THE SUITCASE. For the past 6 years Ernest has had a weight problem. Well, not him himself, but the problem is rather his heavily-loaded bicycle. Even before the start of this trip he had to throw out a lot of “necessary stuff”, but still he left Cape Town with a huge load. As the trip progressed, it seems, he gathered more things. Most of the suspect baggage was carried on top of the ample rear rack, and the configuration changed according to the duration of container bags, and so forth. Well, in La Paz Mexico, he saw the suitcases at Wal-Mart store, and was obsessed with consolidating everything on the back rack into a manageable package. One large, hard-shell, jetsetter suitcase (with wheels and retractable handle and all) later, and he was smiling. He has removed the retractable handle and so forth, but still the suitcase attracts a fair amount of attention from bystanders as we cycle past.
10 January - La Paz – Topolobampo - 28km & Ferry
After much deliberation, we decided to take the ferry back to the mainland and slowly started heading north to Nogales. We were rather slow as it was still mid-winter further north and hopefully it will start warming up by the time we cross the border into the States. We had plenty of time to cycle to the harbour, which was about 18km north of La Paz. The ferry only left at around 14h00 and once on the ferry, it was smooth sailing all the way to the mainland. We were treated to yet another amazing sunset and plenty of photos were taken. The ferry arrived on the mainland at 10pm. It was cold and dark, so we settled for a room.
11 January - Topolobampo – Los Mochis - 28km
The following morning we cycled the short distance to Los Mochis. Interestingly, Topolobampo is the second largest natural deep-water port in the world, known for its commercial fishing and increasingly important role in shipping.
12 January - Los Mochis – Ahome - 28km
The wind was blowing really hard as we set off. We decided to take one of the back roads and after 28km, we arrived in Ahome, a small village in the heart of the vegetable farms. It’s a really small village with a church, plaza, a petrol station and Santa Fe Supermarket (and of cause an ever present OXXO). Instead of battling into the wind, we took a room in a rather interesting place.
13 January - Ahome – Diaz Ordaz - 62km
Earthquakes seem to be a part of life in Ahome and a very common occurrence. As I waited for Ernest to finish loading up his bike this morning, the earth shook violently and no one even batted an eyelid!! It felt like I needed to get out of Ahome in a hurry! The following day I read that a 5.6 magnitude earthquake had struck Ahome. The epicenter was located approximately 97 km West of Ahome, at a depth of 10.1 km. There were no significant injuries or damage reported.
It was a frustrating day into the wind. I can do mountains….the heat; I can go without water and food…….but this friggin’ head wind is getting to me!! It is cruel and persistent and seems to be doing everything it can to push you back to your starting point.
14 January - Diaz Ordaz – Navojoa - 105km
As if backtracking was not bad enough, backtracking into the wind was worse. The desert-like scenery now looked even more forlorn. We battled along and only arrived in Navojoa when we were already casting long shadows.
15 - 16 January - Novajoa – Ciudad Obregon - 70km
It was by now already bitterly cold, not only in the mornings but in fact all day long. The sky was still clear and a bright blue, but it was icy cold and blustery. Fortunately, it was a short day to Obregon. The road ran past barren, dry and windswept scenery with just an old railway line and some abandoned and forlorn-looking railway buildings. I was thoroughly miserable, so when we arrived in Obregon I opted for a nice room (at quite a price) but at least it was sunny and warm.
17 January - Ciudad Obregon
We spent the day in Obregon, did some laundry, and lazed around not doing very much; just enjoying the luxury of a nice room. Every now and then a small object may hitch a ride and somehow manage to ride along on my journey and take root in my heart. I may add that I´m not someone who cares for trinkets and mascots, name my bike or collect stones and shells along the way. Last night, however, a tiny girl came out of nowhere and produced me with a card and said it was for good luck on the road. She was no more than 4 or 5 and to be quite honest with you, I´m not sure where she came from or where she disappeared to afterwards. I guess it will be one of those things that will live in my handlebar bag for a long time to come.
18 January - Ciudad Obregon – Vicam - 53km
We dragged our feet in packing up and cycled the rather short distance to Vicam. The road ran dead-pan-straight through the Sonoran Desert and once in the small village of Vicam, we decided to stay there for the night.
19 - 22 January - Vicam – San Carlos - 100km
We arrived in San Carlos just before sunset. It is quite a magical place that lies on the Gulf of California (or Sea of Cortez). In the evening the harsh desert landscape transformed itself into a riot of colours. We easily found a RV park to pitch our tents, as there are many Americans and Canadians that live in San Carlos during the winter. I understand that San Carlos was also the location site of many movies, including: The classic film Catch-22, The Mask of Zorro and Lucky Lady - starring Liza Minnelli.
The northern region of Mexico (where we are now), is dry and semi-arid, with a typical desert-like climate and although it is winter, the daytime temperatures are around 25°C but it gets quite cold at night.
It is incredibly beautiful here with the bright blue sky in such stark contrast to the desert-like mountains. It is especially impressive at sunrise; I just need to get myself out of the tent a bit earlier. We cycled to the Mirador Escénico, a scenic lookout, a few kilometres from San Carlos; a stunning spot with a view over the Gulf of California, dramatic Tetakawi (a hill jutting out of the sea) and the secluded coves of Playa Piedras Pintas.
We stayed another day as we were hearing reports that it was unseasonably cold further north. We have by now also made friends with the other people in the park. Joan and Mark, Lynn and Leo, as well as Brenda and Al; all were Canadians and very friendly. We also met Susan and Karla, two women who have the guts to drive one of those big RV’s all by themselves! Nearly every night Al made a good fire for all to sit around. We sat around the fire having a glass of wine and enjoying the snacks that Joan and Brenda kept bringing out!! I think we will stay another day!!
23 January - San Carlos – Desert Camp - 101km
Finally, we left San Carlos quite late on the morning of the 23rd. We waved good-bye to the friends we’d made in the park, and headed off. Again the road ran past vast stretches of desert, with only cacti and some dry shrubs to be seen. We were taking a break at an abandoned trucker’s restaurant, when we noticed two very hungry and thirsty chickens, presumably left behind by the former owners of the place. Ernest then fetched water from an old well out back and poured it into a pot from which the chickens thirstily drank, and also fed them some corn chips and sandwiches which we had in our bags (the little rooster and hen were so ravenous that they nearly choked on the food). Sadly, that was all we could do, not sure if we had only prolonged their agony. We turned onto a side road in the direction of Kino, and cycled past beautiful scenery as the road ran through the Cajon del Diablo. This is an ecological reserve of 147,000 hectares which incorporates mountains and valleys, as well as coastal bays, estuaries, and islands. The area is apparently recognised worldwide for its rich biodiversity.
By sunset we had only cycled about 100 km, and were nowhere close to any place. We set up camp away from the road under a bright desert moon. It was dead quiet and I kept hearing things grunting and gnawing. I fell asleep to the sound of jackals laughing and yapping in the distance. In the early hours I was startled by something galloping past in the dark, perhaps a couple of the local wild goat variety.
24 January - Desert camp – Kino - 97km
We woke to a stunning sunrise, had coffee and a peanut butter sandwich and set off down a dead-pan flat road. The desert is a rather unforgiving place, and every now and again one can spot animal skeletons, baked snow white by the sun. Amazingly enough, if one happens to finds water, which is the case here, it seems like just about anything can grow. This area permits for large scale irrigation and therefore produces large quantities of crops. Interestingly enough, I read the following:
“North of the Yaqui Valley, advances in pump technology after World War II allowed other coastal irrigation districts to bulldoze desert plains and convert them into wheat and cotton fields. The largest was the Costa de Hermosillo where, at its height, 887 pump-powered wells regurgitated water onto more than 100,000 hectares. But discharge exceeded recharge by 250 percent. As water tables plummeted and salt water intruded from the Gulf of California, the Mexican government finally stepped in and halved the amount of water that could be pumped. Many fields were abandoned. Other farmers switched from relatively low-value crops like cotton to high-value, high-risk crops like brandy grapes, citrus, garbanzo beans, and vegetables destined for U.S. markets.”
We cycled past vast areas of fruit plantations and even some vineyards, now in their winter slumber. Late afternoon we arrived in Kino. Kino is a small, fishing village with just a few houses and shops. We found ourselves a room, had a decent shower and Ernest made delicious spaghetti bolognaise.
25 - 27 January – Kino - 15km
We packed up at leisure and cycled to the new part of Kino where we found RV parks and a few shops. Kino is another popular place for North Americans to over winter. We found a cheap site, and although not with all the modern facilities, it was across the road from the beach and a nice and friendly spot to hang out. Ernest made some Burritos (LOL, or our version of it!) and we sat outside listening to an audiobook. It drizzled throughout the night and I was happy to be under cover.
In the morning the clouds were gone and Ernest did some laundry (I was too lazy to do mine). I took a walk up the hill behind us for a good view of the coast and just sat around doing nothing for the rest of the day. I played with my macro lens, which I find quite frustrating. The depth of field is very shallow and I just don’t seem to get the hang of it. Sigh, I guess I just need to practice a bit, seeing that I´m lugging it around with me.
In the meantime, we found an old table and chair to use and were making ourselves nicely at home. I hauled out the laptop and speakers and we sat listening to stories and, can you believe it, Radio KFM!!
28 January - Kino – Miguel Aleman - 55km
I was getting itchy feet. Ernest still wanted to stay another day but I felt it was time to move on. We packed away our table and chairs; fortunately Ernest did not want to take it with!! It was 11h00 by the time we left Kino, picked up a nice tailwind and cycled inland to Miguel Aleman town. Now, there was no reason at all for us to stop here, but we did! We found a room across from the local car-wash. Ernest went shopping and then busied himself with making a big stew/soup – there is not a hell of a lot else one could do in this dusty town!
29 - 31 January - Miguel Aleman – Hermosillo - 65km
Never, ever, waste a tailwind!! By the time we got back on the road our tailwind of the previous day was gone and we cycled the rest of the way to Hermosillo into an icy cold gust. Just before reaching the city Ernest´s front brakes broke, so we hoped to find a good bike shop. In the city centre we booked into the Washington Hotel with half decent ground floor rooms and Wi-Fi.
Not being very domesticated, I normally keep a keen eye out for someone willing to do my laundry; I wish I could add “at a small fee” but the fee is normally pretty hefty. In any event, I did not find anyone at the Washington Hotel so schlepped my laundry to the laundry trough and gave it a good rinse. I could hardly call what I did “washing”!
The following day we found a bike shop and Ernest bought a new front brake set and fixed his bike.
A walk around town brought me to Catedral de la Asuncion, where I learned about Hermosillo’s recent tragedy. On June 5, 2009, a fire broke out at the ABC child care center, leaving 49 children dead. Most of the children died of asphyxiation. There were about 100 children inside the building at the time, with ages ranging from six months to five years. I cannot imagine anything worse! Now there are 49 small crosses in the plaza, decorated with angels and bearing the children’s names.
I wandered around town, had a haircut and did some shopping at the local supermarket, and again bought a whole lot of stuff I did not really need. I did, however, find a small thermal flask which I wanted to test to see how viable it was to take coffee or soup on the road.
1 February - Hermosillo – El Oasis - 77km
We left Hermosillo in the direction of Nogales. Again the road ran pencil-straight and pancake-flat through the desert. I say desert, because that is what it is called, but it is more like a semi-desert. It was a nice warm day, a real t-shirt and shorts day. It dawned on me that we were quite lucky to be here in winter, as cycling here in summer could be unbearably hot.
In fact it was not that flat after all, as it felt like we were going slightly uphill all day. I guess, besides a headwind, a false flat comes a close second, as it looks like one should be cruising along but you pedal and pedal and never really seem to get onto speed.
We pitched camp behind the petrol station amongst rubbish and chickens. It is not the quietest of places to camp but I did not mind and found the sound of the trucks pulling in and out rather soothing. I like that they appear from nowhere and disappear into the night again. It was more the desert dogs barking all night long, that became a bit irritating. At least I could look up into the night sky and could see some fireflies and even a shooting star or two.
2 February - El Oasis – Santa Ana - 100km
The scenery was unchanged as we biked the 100km to Santa Ana. We encountered some road works, which were a bit of a pain, but once we cleared that, the road was nice and smooth with a wide shoulder (always a welcome site). Once we reached Benjamin Hill we realised that we were indeed going uphill, as suddenly we reached a gradual downhill making for easy riding.
3 February - Santa Ana - Magdalena de Kino - 22km
The next day we turned into the small village of Magdalena de Kino, situated in a landscape straight out of a Wild West movie, amongst huge cacti and surrounding hills. It is a charming town of around twenty thousand inhabitants. It would be easy to drive by and miss this village, as we saw no road sign indicating the turn-off. We cycled past, and only once we were up on the hill we noticed the town below, so we decided to turn back and see the place.
It turned out that Magdalena de Kino is quite a historic village and also the place where Father Kino (whoever he was) passed away at the Mission in 1711. In 1966 the town was renamed Magdalena de Kino after the discovery of Kino’s remains (now displayed in a monument on the plaza for all to see - so much for RIP!). Magdalena is a nice village with some cobblestone streets, a historic church, a few hotels and interesting stalls selling curios, local produce, as well as strings of dried chilies.
4 February - Magdalena de Kino – Nogales - 96km
Over the hills we went, past plenty of roadside shrines; some quite colourful in this desolate scenery. Eventually we reached Nogales, our final stop in Mexico, just before sunset. Nogales is a typical border town, half-seedy with dodgy looking money changers and cheesy curios. The town is built right up to the border and the security fence, a massive metal wall more than 6 metres high, and looks something like the Berlin Wall. We found a room close to the border crossing, as we planned to cross into the USA first thing in the morning.