Oaxaca was in our sights but we wouldn’t make it in one stretch. We opted to crash in the rather contemporary Tehuacan, just over halfway between Mexico City and Oaxaca. The roads were excellent and the view was majestic. Despite reminding ourselves we needed to fuel up shortly after leaving Oaxaca, it slipped our minds. Perhaps we were distracted by the vistas provided by the raised road but alas we had roughly 30 miles left in the tank and a calculated 40 miles until the next town. As veteran eejits in this field we snapped into our drill;
- Drop to the more fuel-efficient speed of 80-90km/hr.
- Slide back in the seat and crouch forward to get as much of our tall frames under the windscreen to maximise aerodynamics.
- When approaching any considerable hill declines, shifting to Neutral, killing the engine and free-rolling.
- Mutter soft words of encouragement to our now sentient bikes in a hope they’d listen and safely guide us to the next gas station.
We kept it up for about 10 miles until a gas station appeared out of nowhere behind a rocky outcrop. Christ on a bike with Jesus on the handlebars, I remember the relief rolling over us. We lucked out yet again.
With nothing booked we’d be winging it in Tehuacan. We pull into a hotel that looks decent only to be met with a rather peculiar and alarming sight, 20-30 people, blindfolded, holding on to each other by their shoulders being led somewhere. You could imagine our initial reactions and thoughts. This is Mexico after all. If it wasn’t for the laughter and smiles creeping out from under them blindfolds confirm it was a birthday ruse, I would have thought we’d stumbled across another bunch of protesting teachers :/.
Since were were only really passing through we were only concerned with feeding ourselves and grabbing a quick drink that evening. A friendly local overheard us trying to decipher a menu and came to our aid with recommendations. Perfect.
Oaxaca was our target destination. We had heard nothing but good things and it did not let us down. Lots of cobblestoned streets, a famous large market and food stalls a plenty. We made a beeline for our hostel, the Casa Angel Youth Hostel. They had nowhere to bring the bikes in but said we could park them right outside the door which would suffice. Oaxaca was warm, very warm and our dorm lacked the ventilation required to disguise two smelly bikers whose gear(especially our boots) was starting to carry a pong. Our poor Argentinean room-mates! I wouldn’t blame them if it we were the reason they were gone the next day!
I have come to notice that when traveling, there are generally two plans of attack for a new place:
- Explore said town, soaking up the culture, people and energy and
- Seek out adventure activities, excursions and unique attractions in the area.
After many delicious Mole(chocolatey sauce native to the region) Chicken dishes and aimless wanders through this pretty colonial town, we decided on Hierve el Agua for a day trip. It was an hours ride from Oaxaca. The road was perfect save for the last 5 miles which were very much dirt road. Nothing our trusty KLR650s couldn’t handle. Hierve el Agua is a very unique mineral formation, duplicated in only one other location in the world. Sulphurous water bubbled up into these overhanging pools where we swam and chilled out for a couple of hours. A weapon of a Mexican lady was selling fresh coconuts. She’d precisely hack the coconut with her machete until she could thrust a straw through and serve it up. After we’d drank them dry, she’d go at it again carving all the coconut meat out for us. Not a bad return on investment for about 2USD!
Then, in the middle of tranquil paradise I’d heard it; something familiar that instantly removed from this alien world and transported me back home; the unmistakable accent of a Cork man. Oddly, it was music to my ears. I hadn’t heard the brogue since I left Texas and I was keen to have a chinwag with a fellow Irishman who seemed to be few and far inbetween in these parts. Mexico must be one of the few places left where the Irish wanderlust and diaspora have not infiltrated. I’d not met another Irishman(or Irishwoman) in Mexico and this absence left me craving the interaction even more. Rory was finishing up a brief Central American jaunt and was about to be heading home. Turns out he was staying in our hostel so naturally we shared a few cold ones and talked some amount of shite, which I enjoyed thoroughly.
The hostel was a hot spot of interesting folk. We met Jaryd, a Canadian who’d left Calgary 7 months ago and was destined for Patagonia. As fate would have it, we’d randomly meet Jaryd multiple times on the road. There was a bunch of 4 artisitic Aussies who rode from LA to Baja California then down to Puerto Escondido on some KLR650s. Their site www.thehowlingsea.com is full of amazing pictures and stories.
The energy in Oaxaca was mighty so on one particular night we let the hair down and went out for a few only for it to unexpectedly escalate into a bender into the early hours of the morning. We met some American chicks who were over for a semester and knew the lay of the land fairly well. After the first bar closed, we recruited more company and cabbed to an after hours club where we ended up until 6am. It must have been a local spot as we were the only wife-beater and shorts-clad gringos there standing out like sore thumbs. Despite this, the locals couldn’t get enough of us. Lots of friendly, inebriated locals wanted to know what our deal was and where we were from. Shots were generously bought for us and I pretty sure some guy practically offered his sister up to Pat. It was all a bit mad(and blurry) but the craic was had.
Oaxaca was one of the better places I’ve become fond of so I was a little sad to leave. Off we went and yet again our reliance on Google maps failed us but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We were forced through gravel and dirt roads with no signs, forced to use our innate orienteering skills to cross a few kilometres where we could see where we needed to go to get back on track. While it was more of a stream than anything, we crossed our first river. It was only about 20 yards wide and half a foot deep but in my mind we had graduated to intrepid Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman adventure rider status.
San Jose del Pacifico
It was back to the jungle again to the lush San Jose del Pacifico. Recommended to me by multiple friends so as we ascended the narrow mountain roads into the clouds, I knew we were in for a treat. This tiny village is nestled 8400 feet up in the clouds and was a truly magical place. Mist/clouds would roll in daily, temporarily consume the town only for them to roll off during the morning and evening, treating visitors to an amazing vista. They say that on a clear day you can see the Pacific Ocean 42km away! Sadly our view was not that epic but it more than sufficed. Our bromantic log cabin was incredible. Unfortunately it was very steep walk away from the road so carrying our luggage was a pain in the hole but totally worth it. It had a fireplace and a front porch that overlooked the valley. I couldn’t help but think that it would have been better suited to a honeymooning/vacationing couple. It was far too nice for us. After all, we were on an adventure, not a holiday right??! Still, we lapped it up, we knew we wouldn’t always have it this good. There was a significant temperature drop up here which we happily embraced. While the heat is marvelous, it’s nice to get some cold sleeping weather from time to time.
For activities, we had heard about an authentic Mexican sauna called Temazcal which uses multiple stages of hot rocks and a melange of herbs which is said to offer many benefits for the body and mind. It was run by Navarro, the kind of man who just exuded good energy. He looked almost shaman-like. He was a very spiritual man and he too had found his happiness up here on the mountain. He was a herb and plant master, having trained from his Mayan grandmother who part raised him. We were led to his property where we’d be doing our sweating, about a mile outside of the village. Joining us was a lovely English couple Gaz and Emma and their two kids Gruffydd and Ramona who had been living in Mexico for the last few months. We all got to know each other over the Temazcal. Turns out Gaz was none other than Geraint Anderson, the UK best seller who penned ‘City Boy: Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile’; the laid-bare account of life in London's Financial heartland, revealing everything from corruption to it's murky underbelly. Having come from that industry myself I found his life story fascinating. Afterwards we wandered around his jungle garden and zen'd out for a while. I let the adorable Gruffydd and Ramona hop on the bike and grabbed some snaps with everyone.
What I didn’t expect to find in this magic mountain town was some amazing food. Hands-down one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. Endearingly called Gringo Burger, it really didn't look like much from the outside. It was run by an American chef who had worked in NY for 10 years. He moved out here and continues to tantalize taste buds in this far off land. There was also this Italian place that served delicious, mountain-sized bowls of pasta which heavily defeated me(a rarity in itself). Doggy bag? You betcha!
Just as we're on the way out of town, who do we meet rolling up the street only Jaryd. Our Canadian amigo must have hightailed it on his bicycle as we'd only left him in Oaxaca two days behind us! Some man.
The ride to the Pacific beach town of Puerto Escondido was another fun hair-raiser. I was conscious of my now near-bald rear tire so every tight bend I leaned in on was potentially the last in my paranoid brain. I would be convinced the bike was handling differently only to pull over and find the tire would be completely fine. The mind sure can play tricks. Eventually we arrive in La Punta or The Point, suitably named because of the nearby point break, a place strategically picked by us in anticipation of much surfing. Our digs here is a beach cabin/hut not more than 100m from the water’s edge. It comprises of one bed and a mattress on the floor which we make due with. Our time in Puerto is spent mostly eradicating the pasty whiteness of our sun-deprived skin and in the warm Pacific Ocean where we surfed twice a day without fail(to varying degrees of success). The vibes were chill and the beers a plenty. The place was heavenly and our first taste of beach on the trip. The last bit of ocean I’d seen was off NJ two months ago so it was pretty exciting to be reunited with ole blue.
I celebrated my 28th birthday here sipping on fresh coconuts and being treated to a beach-side massage Pat had generously bought for me. To top it all off, I was lucky to catch the unexpected release of 200 baby turtles only 50 yards away. It was a thing of beauty and incredibly humbling to watch. A perfect ending to a glorious day. 28 was going to be a good one :).
I spotted them as we were eating dinner one night; two weary bikers, rolling in on their 2003 Africa Twins looking for a spot to stay. Doth my eyes deceive me? Had we finally met some fellow adventure overlanders in the midst of a great journey? I see them peel to a stop nearby and almost skip over to greet them. Who are they? Where have they rode from? Where are they going? I was gripped with excitement and had to know. Enter Jeri and Dagowin, two twenty-something Dutch lads who had rode from Santiago, Chile and were en route to Alaska. Having saved and planned for 3 years, Jeri as a social worker and Dagowin as a plumber, they were finally living out their dream trip. Fuckin A, my heroes. I pointed them to where we were staying and for the next few days, we drank and were merry. We swapped routes, tips and stories. I didn’t want to part ways, I wanted to absorb all the wisdom they had picked up on their trip. I would after all be riding back the way they came. They were incredibly knowledgeable about their bikes having diagnosed and fixed many a problem since they started out. Interestingly, they said we were the youngest riders they’d come across overlanding by a fair bit since they left Chile!
We all left the same day and excitedly rode together for an hour before we had to part ways. It was such a rush to share the roads with these friends we’d made, brief as it was. For that hour, I pictured us as knights riding into a great battle, united by two wheels, on a quest for something greater.
Our final Pacific beach side venture before we started riding north east into the Chiapas region was La Ventanilla. Yet another recommendation from a friend. After parking our bikes and taking all of our gear off, we were led off down the beach and onto a small boat where our guide began to take us into a lagoon. Not quite knowing what to expect, the place was pleasantly surprising. I can only describe it as a mini-Galapagos Island sort of ecosystem. The relatively small red and white mangrove lagoon was home to many crocodiles, big iguanas and many birds. Our guide spoke in Spanish and much to our surprise we were able to understand a lot of what he said. He pointed out a huge 75 year old croc not 5 metres away from us and fed the docile iguanas a leafy snack which caused a stir on the mangrove island on which they lived, slithering and sliding all over each other trying to get their fill.
Sandy-arsed and freshly freckled, thus concluded our Mexican Pacific jaunt. The next time we’d see her would be in Guatamala some weeks later. For now though, our quixotic mission continued back inland to the beautiful regions of Chiapas and Quintana Roo, further cementing my love affair with this splendid country.