Friday, 28 December 2012

OUT OF THE TROPICS

Since my last update, Leana and I cycled North parallel to the Gulf of California coastline - according to the map (or the Sea of Cortez - according to my guide book). We soon crossed the Tropic of Cancer, moving out of the tropics again for the first time since Capricorn in April 2011.
The road didn't actually run along the coast, but instead we travelled slightly inland, mostly on the highway through flat agricultural land. We cycled past vast fields of maize, beans, chile, cucumber, and tomato (the Sinaloa state licence plates even carry a tomato emblem). The Sierra Madre Occidental mountains formed a constant background to the East.
There are a great number of airports in Mexico, many of them international. The strech of sky above our route is obviously an important air corridor, and at just about any time the aircraft vapour trails were visible, often a number at the same time.
As we moved further North into Sonora State, the climate became cooler and drier, and the crop fields disappeared. Cowboys were grazing their cattle at the roadside, and progressively the landscape became more desert-like with large cactus along the way.
The road was often rather busy, particularly closer to the Xmas holidays when Mexicans from USA travel down to spend this time with their relatives. There are also lots of trucks on the highway, meaning lots of punctures from truck-tyre steel belt debris.
Oh yes, a belated Merry Xmas and Happy New Year to everyone who still reads this blog. Leana and I spent Xmas in the interesting if somewhat dilapidated port town of Guaymas, waiting for a ferry boat. We found a suitably dilapidated cheap room in a run-down local guest house, where many of the guests seemed to be permanent residents.
Last night we eventually boarded the ferry to Baja California state, and we landed on the peninsula early this morning. We are spending the day in the historic mining town of Santa Rosalia, before we move on tomorrow to explore this North-Western part of Mexico. During the night the ferry took us across the Sea of Cortez (or according to my map, the Gulf of California).
Daily distances cycled since my last update from Mazatlan are:- La Cruz de Elota 110 km; Obispo 58 km; Culiacan 85 km; Los Sanches 75 km; Guasave 80 km; Los Mochis 67 km, Diaz Ordaz 64 km; Navojoa 113 km; CD Obregon 70 km; Vikram 53 km; Guaymas 77 km; and to/from ferry Santa Rosalia 7 km. The distance cycled so far in Mexico is 5 367 km, and the total distance cycled so far on this trip is 102 912 km.

Friday, 7 December 2012

COASTING NORTHWARDS - SOLO

After Leana left on her vacation to South Africa, I got back on the bike and headed out from Acapulco in a North-Westerly direction along the Pacific coast of Mexico. I was also coasting in another way, taking it easy so that I wasn't too far ahead of Leana when she returned. I wasn't feeling well, and after about the second day I came down with a debilitating snotty cold (perhaps I picked up the bug on the crowded subway in the city - I subsequently learned that Leana was also very ill during much of her holiday).
On my own I had to rely on informal camping, so I had to trundle on every day until I found a nice spot on the beach at Calete De Campos village where I rested for a few days. I also had some expense regarding bicycle spares.
I needed a new rear tyre, bought one in a pueblo, and 25 km later it blew. I sewed it up with fishing line, which gave it a few more days of life. At a military check point I was scratching in the front bag for my passport, which dislodged my cycle computer. Unaware of the problem I took off, the computer fell to the ground, and my heavy back wheel crushed the poor instrument which I had been staring at for the past 4 years. Thanks again to my sister Olga (my regular sponsor) for sending me money with which I could replace the computer and buy a half-decent tyre. There are some spectacular sections of coastline in this region, deserted and often very mountainous, but beautiful if you have the energy to appreciate it.
One morning after camping on the beach I noticed that the huge turtles had landed during the night, one of them digging a big egg-nest less than 20 metres from my tent (I was disappointed that I had not seen the event - all I could do was take a pic of nest and tracks). At Colima state I turned inland, keen to see what it was like in the highlands (was I crazy, looking for more mountains?). However, it was quite interesting, the climate was drier and cooler (actually quite chilly in the night).
I camped at some interesting places, police parking areas, city sidewalks, toll-gates, and of course many gas stations (in Mexico there is only one company, Pemex). When it became absolutely necessary to do laundry, I washed my clothes in public toilets, in the ocean, and in the large heavy copper-based cooking pot which my mother gave me years ago (of course, I rinse the pot before again using it for cooking). At one gas station I awoke at midnight to find that my camp site was in the middle of a large gathering of people - the local Friday night illegal street racing. My tent was about at the finish line, and there were revving engines, screeching tyres, and excited (drunken) crowds keeping me up almost till dawn. Later, I spent the night camping in the central plaza of a small agricultural village (called a Ranchito). It was a Sunday night, when the whole village flocks to the plaza, and I had a carnival going on around me till the early hours (loud music, kids playing tag around my tent, taco stands, and so forth). As usual I was chased away from one or two places in the night when the "real manager" arrives with a dented ego because I didn't ask his permission to camp there. However, there are many kind people in Mexico, and often motorists would give me a cooldrink along the road, and when I'm camping people have given me food (I must look really down-and-out!). In the interior, just South of the country´s 2nd city Guadalajara, lies the largest lake in Mexico, Lagunas Chapala, and I cycled via that way to take a look.
Also not far from Guadalajara I passed the famous town of Tequila, with the hills covered in the grey-green agave plants from which the drink is distilled. There are many vulcanos in Mexico, and on my inland route I cycled past Vulcan Colima, Vulcan Tepic, and many more.
Back at the coast I made a turn in the laid-back little port of San Blas (where the sand flies and mozzies eat you alive). There are many wetlands North of there on the way to Mazatlan, where I could pretend to be a photographer and take pictures of the birds.
There are many ugly black vultures in South- and Central America, but the "pretty" turkey vulture (shame) is less common (living proof that you are what you eat). Now I'm in the pleasant coastal city of Mazatlan, staying in a room.
Yes, I said "a room", which means that Leana is back from her holiday and has joined me here in Mazatlan. From here we will carry on cycling Northwards together again. She also brought some spare parts for the bikes which we have been unable to find locally (and a set of used tyres for me - thanks to her cousin Ansie). The bikes have been cleaned, today I will be doing the necessary work on them, and tomorrow the wheels will be turning again. Daily distances which I've cycled since leaving Acapulco have been:- Pie De La Questa 18 km; Tecpan 96 km; Papanoa 67; Los Achotes 65 km; La Union 69 km; La Mira 68 km; Pena 40 km; Calete De Campos 24 km; Tuzupan 61 km; Maruata 49 km; La Placita 52 km, Tecoman 81 km; Colima 54 km; Tonila 35 km; CD Guzman 41 km; Acatlan 95 km; Chapala 58 km; Guadalajara 76 km; Magdalena 58 km; Jala 66 km; Tepic 71 km; San Blas 79 km; Ruiz 83 km; Palmilla 109 km; Rosario 59 km; El Castillo 66 km; and Mazatlan 30 km. The total distance which I've cycled in Mexico so far is 4 508 km, and the total distance cycled on this journey is 102 053 km.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

JEWEL OF THE EMPIRE


Tomorrow morning Leana, my cycling partner, leaves on a vacation to visit her family in South Africa. She flies off from Mexico city, so we left our bikes and stuff at the Pacific coast in Acapulco and took the bus over the mountains to the centre. She had to leave last week already, but her flight was via the USA and due to the storm her original flights were cancelled. Mexico city is huge (population 20 million), and is also interesting in various ways. At the height of the colonial era, Mexico City was seen as the “Jewel of the Spanish Empire”.
In keeping with this status, the largest cathedral in Latin America (1573) stands in the city centre, facing the expanse of the Plaza De La Constitucion (the 3rd largest city square, after Tienamen Square in Beijing and Red Square in Moscow). Facing the square (commonly known as the Zocalo) on the other sides are more colonial buildings such the the Palacio Nacional. There seems to be a constant hum-drum and commotion around the large attractive historic centre. There are scores of beautiful historic buildings and monuments in the area, also the Palacio De Bellas Artes and the Monumenta A La Revolucion.
However, there is also a modern aspect to Mexico City, and historic architecture is often reflected off modern glass structures.
Whenever possible I like to check out the metro rail systems in large cities, and this city has a modern underground rail (also partly above ground, and sometimes overhead) with about 10 main lines criss-crossing the city. During our time in the city we went all over the show on the metro, travelling on about half of those Metro lines. Quite incredibly, one can travel the whole day on one ticket, changing lines at junction stations, as long as you don't exit a station (then you have to buy another 3 Peso ticket (1 US dollar is 13 Pesos).
When we arrived in Mexico city we booked into a nice "fairly economic" hotel (thanks to Leana), with a room overlooking the happenings on Calle 5 De Mayo. We quickly took cameras and started roaming the streets amongst the festive weekend crowds. Before long one of the street clowns caught sight of Leana, and fooled around with her a bit, much to the amusement of the locals.
When Leana's flight was cancelled we spent the extra time by taking a trip down to the city of Veracruz, on the Carribean coast. Veracruz was the first colonial town established by the Spanish in Mexico. It is a sizeable port, with a fort at the far side of the harbour which history has shown to be quite ineffective. The place also has some nice colonial buildings in the historic part of town, where we stayed.
Along the way our bus took us past the highest peak in Mexico, the vulcan Pico De Orizaba at 5 636m. So, when Leana leaves I will make my way back to my bike and things in Acapulco, and carry on alone from there. I wish her a happy holiday.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

LOCO IN ACAPULCO


Eventually Leana and I have made it to the Pacitic coastal city of Acapulco. Since my last report we crossed more of the ever-present Sierra Madre mountains, before reaching the Pacific. Although the mountains slowed us down and strained our legs a bit, there were good views along the way.
Oh Yes, let me interrupt myself here! It may not seem like much to anybody else, but me and my faithful bicycle (Old Saartjie) have now clocked up 100 000 km on this trip (one hundred thousand kilometres!). The bike clock went to 99 999, and then reverted back to 0!
Once we had descended to the coastal plains, we passed many average Mexican towns which were interesting to us due to their lack of tourism (finding a budget room could become tricky, what with all the pay-per-hour places along our way). It was around that area that we passed the real “Isthmus of Mexico”, the narrowest part of land which is also a virtual wind tunnel between the Carribean and Pacific. No surprise then that there are huge electricity-generating wind farms in the area, with appropriately named worker-towns like La Ventana.
The road West along the Pacific coast often diverted a bit inland over the hot and humid sequence of seemingly endless hills. Fortunately the roadside was pleasantly flavoured by flowering plants of many colours.
Then we reached Mexico's famous "surf-town" - Puerto Escondido, where we took a day off. The waves here are legendary, and surfers from all over the world flock to Zicatela beach for the powerful barrel ride. In that area we also stayed over at local beaches in "palapa rooms", such as at Roca Blanca and Barra De La Cruz.
On our approach to Acapulco we took the coastal route, thinking that it would be less hilly. Well, surprise, surprise! To get into the city we had to cycle over yet another gigantic hill above Puerto Marques and the neighbouring wealthy suburbs below us on the slopes, where our tortured sweat flowed.
The attraction of Acapulco is the beach, relaxation, and the night life, but there is also the famous cliff divers. We went to see these men diving from up to 35m into a narrow and fairly shallow gully (they first have to climb up the cliff from the water into which they dive).
Now Leana leaves for a "holiday" in South Africa. I will accompany her by bus to Mexico city from where she flies, and then I will return to Acapulco from where I will continue cycling alone. Distances cyled since last time were:- Tuxtla 16 km; Cintalapa 83 km; Tapanatepec 80 km; Juchitan 111 km; Morro Maratan 73 km; Barra De La Cruz 94 km; San Pedro Pochutla 72 km; Puerto Escondido 70 km; Roca Blanca 45 km; San Jose 48 km; Pinotepa 61 km; Cuajinicuilapa 57 km; Mariquelia 66 km; San Marcos 81 km; Acapulco 76 km. Total so far in Mexico is 2838 km. Grand total is 100 383 km.

Monday, 8 October 2012

TABASCO HEAT & SIERRA MADRE

Since my last post Leana and I left the city of Merida on our way West (and we picked up our USA visa's on the way out). Within a couple of days we were in another historic colonial city, this time the coastal city of Campeche, where we spent a day looking around and photographing restored history. From there we cycled along a very scenic stretch of the Mexican Gulf coastline, where the road mostly ran only metres from the ocean. We also crossed a number of big bridges in the area, the 3km and 4km long causeways to- and from Isla Del Carmen, as well as bridges over various large rivers. Until fairly recently there were no modern roads in the region, and river transport prevailed. Mexico has a large oil industry, with refineries and oil rigs visible from the coast.
We followed this coastal road as far as the town of Paraiso, past Isla Del Carmen and Frontera into the Tabasco State.
Then we headed South, trying to cut through the depression in the narrow part of the country in order to avoid the mountains on our way to the Pacific coast. Somewhere along the way my odometer also clocked over to 99 000 km.
In the process we visited more Mayan ruins at Comalcalco, and at the Tabasco state capital, Villa Hermosa, we went to Parque De La Venta where we looked at ancient Olmec artifacts (including the famous giant heads carved from basalt rock). There were also some captive local animals in the park, such as the jaguar in picture. Moving on South we also stayed over at Teapa in the pouring rain, and took a tour deep into the spectacular caves just outside of town.
Then the trouble started, the dreaded Sierra Madre mountain range. Luckily the road doesn't cross the highest part, but we caught the edge of it, and that was fierce enough!. After some time in the flat humid jungle and coastline, these hills were a wake-up call. However, on the bright side, the scenery was spectacular, we passed through amazing rural villages where the indigenous ways are still strong, and the climate was nice and cool for a change.
Now we have dropped down to the lowlands on the Pacific side of this narrow part of the country, and we'll head on to that coast from here. Currently we are taking a break at another historic colonial town, Chiapa De Corzo, which is close to the Chiapas state capital, Tuxtla.
Daily distances cycled since my previous post have been:- Maxcanu 67 km; Campeche 121 km; Champoton 67 km; Sabancuy 71 km; Cuidad Del Carmen 87 km; Frontera 100 km; Paraiso 81 km; Villa Hermosa 81 km; Parque De La Venta 7 km; Teapa 71 km; Tapilula 80 km; Nuevo Pueblo Solistahuacan 36 km; Bochil 40 km; and Chiapa De Corzo 69 km. The total distance I've cycled in Mexico so far is 1785 km, and the total distance which I've cycled so far on this trip is 99 330 km.