01.18.2003-02.15.2003       Taxco, Mexico to Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico
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From Taxco I decided to stick with my original plan and go to Cuernavaca. I wasn’t quite ready for the coast yet, at least not the type of coast I would find at Acapulco. Returning towards Mexico City meant more traffic, but only for a few days. Cuernavaca was pleasant enough but it was merely a crossroads for me. I departed Cuernavaca on an eight lane highway with no shoulder and plenty of traffic. Fortunately one is never far from beer in Mexico and a beer stop at a road-side restaurant was the perfect remedy for rattled nerves. The next day, as I returned to the countryside, I caught a glimpse of the mighty Popocatepetl. That night as I was sitting in a bar in Izucar de Matamoros I began to feel a bit disoriented. I was only on my first beer so I was a bit worried. Then I noticed other objects moving around in the bar and I thought…earthquake. By then most of the patrons and staff were making for the exit so I joined them. I thought perhaps the mighty Popocatepetl was erupting but what we were feeling turned out to be the ripples of the devastating earthquake that struck Colima.

From the relatively easy riding of Puebla state I entered the rugged Mixteca of western Oaxaca. In Huajuapan de Leon I met an elderly man who took some interest in my trip. At one point in our conversation I asked him how the route was to Nochixtlan, the destination of the next day’s ride. I was merely making small talk. By then I’d learned that the responses to this question were dubious at best. I recalled one of the days outside of Copper Canyon when I’d posed the same question to a woman. She replied that the route was flat. I understand that it’s easy for the car driver/passenger not to notice every little undulation that the bicyclist feels so well but there were climbs so steep that day even passenger cars were grinding away in their lower gears. I received no such response from the gentleman in Huajuapan. He gave it to me straight. He chuckled and said, You climb, climb, climb. I replied that I’d climbed quite a bit the day I arrived in Huajuapan. He replied that was true, but that I would climb more tomorrow. And he was right. It was a climb, climb, climb kind of day. There would be no lounging in the town plaza after the day’s ride slurping a grande agua fresca de horchata as had become my habit recently. Instead, I would be lucky to arrive by dusk. The man in Huajuapan had also told me that it would be very cold in Nochixtlan. He was correct on that account as well. Which was why I was surprised to find upon my arrival the younger members of the town congregating near the plaza for an open-air disco. Many of them were clad in hats and gloves. The next day I was still feeling exhausted so I treated myself to a ride on the toll road into Oaxaca, shaving some fifteen miles off the trip and perhaps a few hills as well.

In the planning stages of the trip Oaxaca had stood out as special. However, after spending nearly three months in Mexico and visiting so many colonial cities I wondered if Oaxaca would have any effect on me. Like the entrance into most larger cities in Mexico, the route into Oaxaca city passed through a lengthy, heavily polluted section of urban/industrial sprawl. After a stop in the plaza I decided I was too tired to appreciate the environs and imprudently checked in to the closest hostel. I was told I would receive my bedding later in the day. My “bedding” turned out to be a pillow case. After a fitful sleep which had me slapping at creepy-crawly things(real or imaginative), I decided I needed a new perspective. The next day I upgraded to an immaculate hostel that cost me an additional $1.50 per night but actually had beds that didn’t leave me grabbing for my therma-rest in the middle of the night. With a fresh outlook I came to appreciate the town. The size of the town, the colonial architecture, the music, the Indigenous woman selling their colorful wares in the plaza all combined to produce an atmosphere that distinguished it from other Mexican cities. The area surrounding Oaxaca is rich in Pre-Hispanic ruins as well as modern-day Indigenous villages. Day trips to the Zapotec ruins at Monte Alban, Daizu and Yagul allowed me to stretch my legs and provided a nice balance with the city’s attractions. By the time I left Oaxaca it had been added to my short list of places to return to in Mexico.

After Oaxaca city I was finally ready for the coast, just 150 miles and a mountain range away. The first day out of Oaxaca was a relatively easy ride through more arid landscape. However, Oaxaca’s claim to fame as the home of the world’s best mezcal meant that sightly maguey fields populated the landscape. The ride from Maihuatlan through the Sierra Sur was another punishing, but rewarding ride. As I rode out of Maihuatlan I passed several sawmills. This did not bode well for the environment but it did for the day’s ride--trees were ahead. Although I didn’t pass through anything approaching a forest the many pine trees I did see were a welcomed sight. From a starting elevation of roughly 5000 ft. the road climbed to nearly 9000 ft. before it began to descend in earnest. Along the way the pine trees gave way to near jungle-like vegetation. It began to feel steamy and then it actually was steamy, the steam rising up from the deep valleys below. As I began passing through villages on the lower slopes I couldn’t help but think, Life is different here. The villages were more ramshackle. Hammocks were everywhere. I arrived in Pochutla at dusk and was still sweating profusely.

The next day I made the short trip down to the coast at Puerto Angel. The beaches north of Puerto Angel are legendary travellers havens and I was eager to experience them. I stopped off at the first of them, Zipolite, and settled in at a beachside restaurant to take in the scene. I felt instantly relaxed and grateful I’d avoided the coast until that point. After several beers I knew I wouldn’t be continuing any further and took a room at a nearby hotel. The following day I explored the beaches further north. These were even better. More primitive and even more mellow than Zipolite, they also offered much better waters for swimming. For me Mazunte was the idyllic place. I traded in my mosquito-infested room in Zipolite for my always reliable tent and a patch of sand at a beachside restaurant there. For the next two days I relaxed and enjoyed the laid-back travellers’ scene. The next morning I woke feeling quite nauseous, the first such feelings I’d had on the trip. I had planned on departing that morning so I broke camp quickly and hopped on my bike, hoping biking would have its usual therapeutic effects. Or at least take me to someplace where I could puke in solitude, instead of in front of a bunch of breakfasting travellers. By the time I climbed back to the coastal highway I knew I was in trouble. Heat and nausea don’t mix well so I continued on into Pachutla again and took a room. I finally did puke in the afternoon. Several times. I even puked up water at one point. That was a first. After a few days in Pochutla I managed to drag myself down the coast a bit to Huatulco. A Pan-American cyclist unable to scarf down food all day is little more than a couch potato so I spent several more days in Huatulco lying in my hotel bed, staring at the ceiling fan. When I was finally able to stomach my staples again--bananas, peanut butter sandwiches, cup o’ noodles--I returned to the road.

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is notorious for its winds and I got a taste of them as I approached Salina Cruz. From Salina Cruz I turned inland and made the arduous trek across the windswept Isthmus. I knew more tough riding was in store for me in Chiapas so it was fitting that my entrance into that state was on a long climb. I spent my first night in Chiapas in the town of Cintalapa. Chiapas is marimba country and I didn’t have to wait long for my first performance. As part of some pre-Valentines Day festivities the high school band, anchored by two large marimba, performed in the town’s plaza that night. As a percussionist by hobby I’m always happy to find musical traditions centered around percussion instruments. I had endured the polka music of Northern Mexico. I had listened to the Mariachis of Central Mexico. Now it was time to enjoy the music. The next night in Tuxtla Gutierrez I went to the town’s Marimba Garden for another fine performance. From Tuxtla I would return to the highlands to visit San Cristobel. Visits to several natural attractions and Mayan ruins would round out the remainder of my stay in Mexico.
DistanceElevation GainFlat Tires
Leg883 mi/1421 km63350 ft/20784 m
Trip9186 mi/14783 km92 mi/149 km5
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