Monday, February 2, 2015

Day - 180ish to 183 Tuxtla Gutierrez (The End)

December 22, 2014

Half a year on the road!

I've reached my final destination. It's not the destination I originally planned on, but then again I didn't plan to spend 3 whole months in Mexico and make a gigantic backwards S over the country mainland, or that I would and see so many amazing people and places that would slow me down. And that is not a complaint.

In Veracruz with a dwindling cash supply and a growing desire to get back to my teaching career (Those two factors are independent of each other, I swear!) I made the decision to buy a plane ticket for December 23, so that I could surprise my family on Christmas Eve. I never told my parents that I bought my airplane ticket. They don't know that I will be there for dinner with the family on Christmas Eve. I hope there are enough Sweedish meatballs. Lefse is going to taste funny after all the tortillas I've been eating! 

I feel very content, although the last few days have been weird as I begin to make the transition from whatever it is that I do now to sleeping in the same bed, working, wearing more than 2 different shirts in a week, wearing jeans, wearing clean socks, showering with regularity, and generally being a normal person.

I arrived in Tuxtla Gutierrez a day ahead of schedule. This was fortunate because it turned out I needed that time in order to put my things together! Or apart, as is the case with the old stead. 

Taking apart the bike. That's when things started to get weird. The moment I took out the mini tool and put the hex key in the bolt for the front rack the world started to get real soft and glowy, and sounds became soft and distant. I felt like I entered a dream and each bolt I took out pushed me deeper and deeper into it.

And then I got to the pedals, which are the most annoying things to remove. A high dosage of frustration brought the real world back into focus. But I've been drifting in and out of that surreal feeling ever since. I certainly felt it when "Hotel California" started playing from the speakers of the music store across from my hotel.

Boxed bike!

So the final total is 8,018 miles (12,904km) in 6 months. And what an amazing trip it's been. Although I know I will miss being on the road and part of me wishes I could do this forever, I'm ready to go home with a song in my head that's appropriate for the end of a long journey.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Day 170something-180ish: Ventanilla to Tuxtla Gutierrez

The last week of riding has been everything to love about bike touring: gorgeous scenery, generous people, beautiful cycling roads, major milestones, and strange surprises, like this pet... anteater?.... that I encountered at a gas station. It was extremely tempermental. One moment it would be, literally, crawling all over your legs and then if you moved to quickly it would jump straight up and run away. It would cycle between manic gregariousness and extreme skittishness about twice every minute. I felt bad when I scared it and it jumped onto the table where another patron was trying to eat. 

Can someone identify what animal this is?
My camera was dead when after taking photos of what I think is an anteater, but I made it to Salina Cruz where I tested the limits of mango consumption by eating 5 in one sitting.

The mangos by themselves are probably worth the cost of a round trip flight to Mexico for anyone considering a vacation.

 The street market in Salina Cruz was right by my hotel, and I had fun going up and down looking at all the vendors and hearing the hustle and bustle of the city. The fact that I was not overwhelmed by a gigantic city tells me that I spent sufficient time at the beach. Good for me.

After Salina Cruz I turned inland. The stretch between Salina Cruz and the mountains is some of the windiest conditions I have bicycles in. It wasn't as bad as my Veracruz experience, but it was intense! I must have been expecting Veracruz level intensity because I didn't mind it at all and was able to make very good time despite a persistent and strong headwind.

You know you're in a windy area when the city is called "Windy" and they build windmills.
 While asking for a place to camp, a friendly mechanic offered to let me camp underneath his shop! I talked with him and his friends for a good while into the night. And in the morning I took advantage of a photo op.

I also talked with a construction worker who lived in Minneapolis for a number of years! We talked about the Twin Cities and the poor old Metrodome where he used to work. Fortunately he already knew it had been reduced to a giant pit so there was no grieving to do.

People are friendly. Some guy yelled at me, "Want a watermelon?" 

I can't think of a kinder thing to say to another human being. And so he gave me a watermelon and I ate a fresh, locally grown watermelon in the middle of December. Never done that before!

And so all that was needed after double doses of kind strangers was to see some amazing scenery while traversing perfect cycling roads, which I got. For me, the road between Salina Cruz and Tuxtla Gutierrez has been a top cycling road. Maybe sans the windy part, although that wasn't bad. There was a climb up a mountain that was steep enough to be called climbing a mountain, but not so steep that I hated it. Just right for Tyler. And then at the top it gave way to rolling hills. And amazing views.

A real lake!

Looking across the plateau.

Every so often in Mexico you come across some very cool murals. I very much enjoyed this one. Another pannel had a psychadelic sort of Jesus and Mary thing, but I liked this one best.

And then I hit 8000 miles. It happened to be on a hill. It happened to be on the final hill. It happened to be at the top of the final hill! It was by no means the toughest hill I've done, but it was 2 miles of pedal spinning. Just enough to make me work for it.

After 8000 miles it was all downhill to Tuxtla Gutierrez. I cruised with a dumb smile on my face, as shown below, the whole way.

And it was in Tuxtla that my poor old tire finally kicked the bucket. I noticed a ticking noise in rhythm with the wheels, and when I stopped to check it out, I was horrified to see a gigantic rubber tumor buldging out of the side of my tire. It was the most bizzare looking bicycle malfunction I've ever had, so I grabbed my camera to try and take a picture. Before I could get the camera to work the bubble burst with an earsplitting pop. Curiously the tire didn't deflate, and I was able to ride it the remaining 2 miles to my hotel. I thought I was seeing the innertube bursting through the hole in the tire, but now I have no clue what it was. I will report back after I replace the wheel and I can see exactly what the burst tumor was.

They say Schwalbe Marathons are the most durable tire. I say that if mine can hold up for over 2,000 miles after being sliced through the side, they are tough indeed!

Days 166-170something: Ventanilla

From Puerto Escondido to Ventanilla I traveled about 42 miles. Not very far. And once I was there, I hunkered down for another extended stay. 

Fisherman netting fish between Puerto Escondido and Ventanilla.

My first beach was La Ventanilla. I used this as my basecamp while I made day trips to the nearby beaches for the next four or five days.

I've really lost track of the date and days and all that.

It is an ecotourism spot that protects sea turtles, a lagoon containing crocodiles and endangered green iguanas. I did not know any of this when I went there. I just asked how much it was to camp, found the price agreeable, and then before I knew it a pair of French travelers were telling me about all these amazingly cool things. They first told me about the crocodiles that hang out at the edge of a lagoon. So we went and to my surprise there was a gigantic crocodile. Then as we were walking back they asked if I was going to watch the turtle "liberation" that was happening.  I had no idea I would get to witness one of nature's great miracles happen before my eyes!

Crocodile at lagoon's edge.

They have a fenced off area where they allow the endangered sea turtles to hatch without the danger of being preyed upon.  Then in the evening, when predators are fewest, they gather the tourists, make a starting line and people watch as the little buggers scuttle towards the sea. It's funny to watch them go into the water and then get pushed back by a wave, and then get pulled down towards the sea again as the wave recedes.

La Ventanilla is an interesting place because they rely completely on the fees for tourism. The fees are well worth the experience. The guide explained that similar projects that are funded by the government tend to come and go depending on which politician gets elected, and by being independent they are able to operate my stably. The guide was really cool.

Gentle creatures of the sea, start your flippers....

 The turtles were the night I arrives. I spent the next day wandering the beach, reading, and going on a short but amazing tour of the lagoon. As I said, the guide was very knowledgeable. He spoke very fast, but I was proud to be able to understand everything he said! My Spanish has improved after all!

The largest crocodiles in the lagoon are 9 meters long. This was one of the bigger ones.
I got to see these crazy little critters. They are endangered because of habitat loss and because they are delicious to eat. I did not build any roads across their lagoon, or cut down any of the mangrove trees that they live in. I also did not eat any. I did my best to be a friend to these beautiful creatures.

The male is the larger, orange one. The females are smaller and green. They are all green iguanas.

This male iguana apparently wants to mate with me!

A turtle sunning itself on a log.
 So that was what I did my first day. My second day, I set out to find the fabled "Zipolite." Zipolite was recommended to Daisy, Jason, and I by a man we met our last night together in a Hostel in San Miguel Allende. He said it was great because a bunch of hippies live and/or visit there and who smoke marijuana and walk around naked at the nude beach. I did not partake in the marijuana, but of course I did do a little skinny dipping. I did not want to go through a case of sunscreen so this was a short lived thing.

That same day I met Ruth and Will, (not at the nude beach) who are cyclotourists from London! They are in for the real long haul, coming up from Brazil. They have been on the road for over a year. Way over a year. They are journalists and so you know their blog is worth checking out.

San Agustina beach at sunset.

After chilling in Zipolite for a day, I decided that for my last day I would rent a surf board and learn to surf. This was a bad idea because surfing is hard. I was cocky thinking that because I get good at every sport I try I would be able to get up on a surf board by the end of the day. I was wrong. After an hour long lesson I was on my own. Because my instructor didn't tell me how to  how to read them the probability of me even getting a chance to stand up was diminished significantly. Two hour later I decided that I would need another week of surfing to be successful. It left a bad taste in my mouth, so I decided to stay another day so that I could have a positive experience to remember my last day at the beach by.

I decided to go on the whale/seaturtle/dolphin watching, cliff jumping, snorkeling tour. I am glad I did because I was able to see dolphins, a giant sea turtle, a GIANT sea turtle, and go snorkeling. We weren't lucky enough to see a whale, so to make up for it our guide did a legitimate cliff dive. The rock he jumped off is 2-3 times higher than the one we jumped off. It was impressive and reminded me of Casa Bonita in Denver, Colorado. I have to say this was way better than Casa Bonita in every way.  

So after 5 or so days on the beach, I decided it was time to get a move on.
While typing this I had a sudden realization: The Pacific Ocean has been a recurring theme on this trip. I have seen a lot of the west coast coast! Anchorage is on the ocean, I saw it again in Canada when I took the ferry from Prince Rupert down to Vancouver Island, then the Washington coast, then San Diego, then multiple visits in Baja, then Mazatlan, then finally Oaxaca. For an inland dwelling soul that is a lot of saltwater! It's been great, Pacific ocean. Goodbye!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Days 163-165: Pueblos Manconmunados to Puerto Escondido

After a wonderful time in the tranquil mountains of Oaxaca, I decided that my bike may be in danger of breaking an axle or derailleur on the unbelievably steep and rocky roads. My bike is designed for pavement and light gravel, not trampling over mountains with 50 pounds of extra crap tied to it. 

I regreted that decision as soon as I was back on a busy highway huffing exhaust from passing vehicles. When you are in a perfect place, you forget about all the things that make it perfect. 

But there was no way I was going to climb back up the mountain, so I kept going in search of the next big thing. The next big thing turned out to be the world's largest tree. But wait, I thought I saw the largest tree in Sequoia NP? And I thought my other cycling friends saw  the largest tree in Redwood NP? Well turns out it all depends on how you define it. In Sequoia, they are very diplomatic and most plaques say "The largest tree in the world by volume." Here, they just say "The largest tree in the world." But let it be known that Thule tree is the largest tree by girth of its trunk.

European tour bus riders. 

This elicits the child in me to imagine all sorts of things. 
Me standing in front of El Arbol de Thule
 I blew past Oaxaca, the capital city and went on to a more seculded section. I was not ready for modern civilization yet. But before I got too far out of the city, I decided that it was time to cut the beard. It just wasn't fun anymore.
 I felt very naked, but it was a relief to have it gone. I don't feel any remorse. I did feel a lot of razorburn, however.
 It took me a couple days to get all the way to the coast. After a day of easy riding, I encountered the western set of mountains, and boy were they rough. Many potholes plagued the highway, which was incredibly treacherous on the downhills, and in the places where they were repaird they did not smooth out the patches so it is like they decided to invert the pothole and turn it into a plateau! I decided that if it was time for my wheels to fall off, so be it.

They didn't fall off, it was just mildly annoying.

One fun thing that happened was that my timing coincided with a massive supported group ride from Oaxaca towards Puerto Escondido (but not all the way). Hundred of people accompanied me as I rode. What amazed me the most was that many of them were riding single speeds. Nothing against single speeds, but they are not usually the prefered choice of bikes for 15 miles of sustained climbs at 6 % or higher gradient. As a result many of them walked, but they never gave up. I was very impressed.

In addition to the company, some of the support trucks and vans gave me goodies as I was on my way. I don't know if they thought I was part of the group, or if they were just nice, but I got a sandwhich, oranges, soda-pop, red drank, and sweet bread. Not all at the same time though.

While riding with the group, we passed through a long stretch of nothing on the mountain. I assumed that because the other riders were still riding, a city must be close. I was wrong, and ended up having to ride through a rainstorm that turned into one of the most gorgeous sunsets I've ever seen because the sun lit up the clouds from below, making the entire sky yellow and orange, and against that backdrop you could see the individual raindrops falling through the sky. And of course all of this is happening while I careen down the mountain at 25 miles and hour trying to avoid the treacherous potholes I described earlier. For safety's sake and because I was feeling emotionally overwhelmed by all the beauty, I didn't take photos of the sunset. But I did get a photo of a massive rainbow. 

I made it to the next city after dark, and was allowed to camp in a park where many shops and comedors were taking advantage of the huge number of visitors. The next morning I plodded onward up some more mountains, (see the pattern?) and then down, down, down to Puerto Escondido, a touristy citty that is famous all over the world for its beaches and surfing.

 For over half the trip, I greeted mountains with vigor and spirit. But the western range of mountains in central Mexico were my undoing. Now that I am on the Pacific Coast (again) I will proceed as slowly as possible to delay my inevitable reentry into the mountains.

Here are some photos that are interesting:

I may have posted this one already. I tried drying my socks over a fire in the mountains. This worked, but after they dried they very quickly started to melt the polyester/nylon. These were my only socks. I now must buy new ones.

Each region has their own style of taxis. Some of them are motorcycles with wagons attached. This area uses tri wheeled... things. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

158-162: Los Pueblos Manconmunados

After leaving Llano de los Flores, I made my way for a group of small pueblos of indiginous people known collectively as "Los Pueblos Manconmunados." Together, they have created an ecotourism industry that is well organized. I have been looking forward to this since Daisy and Jason told me about them over a month ago! 

I was not disappointed when I got there. The villages are remote and there are very few cars and traffic. Although I had to walk my bike up many of the hills because they were so steep and bumpy, I didn't mind because it was so beautiful and relaxing. 

Evil road. No potholes, but there are many sharp rocks and it is very steep. 

The first town was called Amatlan. I set up camp, read my book, and admired the magestic nature of mountains. This admiration was heightened by the last three days of climbing.

Campsite in Amatlan. 

Mine from 1910 that you can enter until a rubble pile blocks your way 60 yards in.
 The next day I went to Yavesia. The road was awful and I did a lot of walking, but luckily it is less than 10 miles away.
More evil roads, made even more evil by slippery water.
In Yavesia I hired a guide to show me around the city. Things got weird when he took me to his house and the professional-customer relationship started looking more like a friendly host-guest relationship. I rolled with it while worrying about what sort of bill I was racking up.

Helped deshell chocolate beans and walnuts.
 The guide let me stay on his porch, which he said would be warmer than the ground. His wife also cooked me dinner, and then breakfast in the morning. All my worry about the cost was unfounded, he was just being very hospitable!

The next morning I took his advice and hired a car to take my stuff to the next village so that I could walk through the forest with the guide and get to see what that was all about. It was the steepest hike I've ever been on. I was glad I had a guide because the trail is completely unmarked, and there are many branches that you could get lost on. Also, Israel has  a deep knowledge of the nature there and is passionate about sharing it. I learned a lot about the plants, the history of the place, and the animals that live there.

Using a scythe to break open walnuts.

 I slept in a rustic cabin in the middle of the woods at the trailhead that night. And the next morning I went on another hike with a different guide in Cuajimoloyas, but shorter and less intense.

A medicinal plant, not to be confused with the plant used to make Mescal, a liquor sort of like Tequila.

I did not realize that there was no ruck underneath where I was standing until I saw this picture.

This is my general attitude while up in the area. Relaxed, content.

Coyote Canyon

 After the hike I went to the campground down yet another rocky, steep road. I rode the brakes the whole time and worried that I would bust a spoke, an axle, or break another rack. My bike is not designed for such roads. But nothing extreme happened and I made it to the camping area, which was also where they have a small trout farm and a kitchen to cook them in. I ate two. I got to help the woman net the fish out of the holding tank and watched as she prepared it.

Instead of a swift bashing of the skull, she tapped the fish on the head "So it doesn't die quickly." I'm not sure what her reasoning is for wanting the fish to die a slow death, but it brought back memories of cleaning fish with various friends in the Boundary Waters and the jokes about the savagery of fish cleaning. 

The main big tank. They divert water from the stream, fill up the tanks, and then send the water right back in downstream.

I know Minnesota is colder right now, but it was still quite cold to be camping up here.
I regret not staying longer, but I was worried that the poor roads were taking a toll on my bike and I couldn't risk having my bike malfunction. So I began my descent down the western slopes and on towards Oaxaca, the capital city of Oaxaca, the state.

Did I mention that I was camping at 3,200 meters? That's almost 10,500 feet. That's pretty high up there.

Day 155-157: Tuxtepec to Llano de los Flores

A few weeks ago I decided I was done with mountains. I promised to avoid them at all costs. This is an impossible promise to uphold in Mexico unless you limit yourself to the coast. I wanted to go to the Pacific Coast, which has been recommended to me by many people, so I broke my promise to myself and climbed the ridiculously steep, long, mountains once again.

Waterfalls are good for cooling off and rehydrating in.

Lots of green. And a waterfall.
In a city just before the climb, I met a man named Surefin. He told me that if I made it to La Esperanza, a couple thousands feet up from where we were, that I should ask the woman at the first restaurant for him. I made it just in time before the sunset and the rain began. I found Surefin and he invited me into his house to spend the night. I was grateful for the bed and hot meal, even more so because it was so cold and rainy!

That was Thanksgiving Day. 

I wasn't able to eat turkey, but I was able to see some living ones, and the kindness of strangers gave me yet another things to be grateful for. In addition to the things I am always thankful like friends and family and all those good things, I gave thanks especially for having the opportunity to do this trip, and for going for it to make it happen! So many amazing things have happened to me because of the trip I can't even count.

Feeding teh chickens and turkeys.

Just the day before I was down in the valley.

The day I left La Esperanza, it was cold. And rainy. It was the coldest day since the first week in Alaska. 40 degrees, windy, and wet. For some reason it was miserable, but it didn't make me as nervous as when I was in Alaska. It took a lot of yelling to the road and the rain to keep myself, if not sane, at least moving forward on the bicycle and towards a warmer place.

As in Alaska during my and Nic's days of toil and misery, there was a fortuitous restaurant at the top of the mountain with cheap coffee. I ate and drank 4 cups of coffee. I didn't necessarily want to drink so much coffee, but I really did not want to go back into the cold and rain. I got a little beligerant from all the coffee, chummed it up with some of the other patrons, and finally mustered up the courage to face the cold.

Alarmingly close to sunset I made it to this camp area. I couldn't see far enough to know which way to turn at the crossroads. I figured it out and eventually stayed at "Llano de los Flores." It is an overpriced ecotourism site, but I didn't mind.

Meadow in front of Llano de los Flores

Same valley as photo above, but in the morning, with frost.
In the morning I awoke and paid a guide too many pesos in order to take me on a hike. It was a good hike, and we got to see some caves, and a beautiful panoramic viewpoint. I stayed two nights so as not to destroy my legs on the impossible mountains.

Pasali? A moss that gorws on the trees. Very light and fluffy.

I'm disappointed this is so blurry.  I'm in a cave. 

At the mouth of the second cave.