The ferry docked along palm lined bay of Mazatlan, Sinaloa. A decent sized city of over half a million people, once blessed by tourism, now blessed by its failings. The impressive Malecon stretched for 3 kilometres along its buzzing beaches and provided a spectacular entrance. Oysters sellers, musicians and beach bars, bronze statues of sea creatures and Mexican hero, Salvador Sanchez. Abel put the 8 cyclists from the ferry up on the roof of his apartment as Karl hauled the gear up from the street 3 stories below. Leaving Mazatlan the working suburbs appeared a lot poorer than those of Baja as wooden shacks and barefoot children became more common, the price of tacos dropped to a measly five pesos. As the suburbs faded the agricultural land appeared and things felt a world away from Baja. Luscious farmland sat beneath the misty looking mountains and the humidity crept up along with the smells and insects that accompany this. I was riding with Holly and Karl, a Canadian couple I had met a few times previously on my trip and Bastie a calm and typically industrious German chap exploring Mexico. We eased ourselves in with a scenic route through the farmland along the bay, chatting away, eagle eyed for the most picturesque camp. Vast arrays of birds of prey lined the route. Our bikes took a beating from the cut up roads and Bastie took a tumble. We were attracting a lot more attention than before as school busses slowed down and almost every car tooted it’s horn. Each motorcyclist yelled some presumable form of encouragement. Pulling into a beach shack, Hector down from LA to see the 20 strong table of his family ordered us beers and a huge plate of crab, shrimp and fish ceviche and we decided to take a dip and stay the night under its shaded palapa.
A couple of days on the tolled freeway, hard and fast took us out of Sinaloa and its apparent dangers into the state of Nayarit, where the tourist police were out in force. Riding the freeway was technically illegal but the toll road operators understood our concerns and were happy to turn a blind eye instructing us to pull the ladened bikes onto huge curbs to avoid the cameras that would inform the police. I attempted to ride off one of these curbs and slammed what falls between my legs into the cross bar of my bike, leaving the watching toll operators in hysterics and Karl’s huge smile twice the size of usual. We spent kings day in the lively town Acaponeta, and were invited to stay in a local families yard in the rustic dirt street village of El Chapomal. I learnt some Mexican tunes and played guitar with the families kids as the others sang along, Holly received a lesson in making tortillas and we were fed to burst. Early mornings were necessary as the midday heat was making riding uncomfortable, at least for me. This wasn’t a problem as half an hour before sunrise the dense jungle would erupt into the most startling cacophony of noise, initiated by the roosters, followed by the dogs and accompanied by the abundant array of singing wildlife. The amount of life on show was such a stark contrast from the desert laying just the other side of the sea of Cortez.
Onto the coast and San Blas, a scruffy yet charming attempt at a tourist town. It’s beach was overrun with sandflies which rivalled the mosquitos of Alaska for a couple of hours a day. As annoying as this was at first it had the plus side of keeping at bay the developed tourism of further down the coast. The town square was sinisterly rife with the military but no one seemed to mind too much. I took a few days off to try my hand at surfing and met up with Safia and a lovely family of bikers, Chris, Julie, Leo and Charlotte who were currently taking a little time off their bikes. Riding out of town, eyeing up the perfect spot for my boiled egg, cheese and guacamole, followed by banana and maple syrup, tortillas. An incredible meal. I found a break in the mangroves leading to a lovely looking Laguna, only to find as I approached the water a herd, collective or whatever you call it of crocodiles. I didn’t even realise there were crocodiles in Mexico. A Mexican mentioned it a few days precious but he laughed a lot as he said don’t get eaten which I mistook for his sense of humour. Anyways, I managed a snap before I got out of there pretty sharpish.
Popping another gear cable as I rode away, out of spares I tried to innovate with a guitar string to no avail. Two days riding in one gear was a bit of a pain to say the least and confirmation, if it was ever needed that people who ride single speeds must certainly be muppets. Next stop Sayulita, a myopic haven for the more alternative tourists, where I would do the same. The Conks invited me to stay with them, where I really felt part of the family and was suitably thrashed on numerous occasions in Uno. Edwin and Lisa my foster family from Portland were coming down to celebrate Lisa’s birthday, which we did on the wonderful beach of San poncho. We picked up where we left of and laughed and joked days away, it was good to get reconnected and see a few more of the Portland crew in their entourage. Sayulita was a comfortable place to rest up, though it really didn’t feel much like Mexico. Ubiquitous American owned property speckled its spectacular hillside, golf carts rushed round the streets but the uncharacteristically sophisticated side was pleasant for a rest. The body was a little battered through so rest involved a red pee kidney infection, a sliced toe from a surfing incident and to complete the trio food poisoning from a meal cooked myself. I turned 31, sweating profusely, head in a bucket, ass on the toilet seat (still preferable to my bike seat) in Puerto Vallarta. My solipsistic sorry state couldn’t even manage a solitary cerveza or a slice of cake. Bring out the violins.
Growing up we lived at the top of a massive hill. I remember wondering where the logic was in choosing such a spot, especially since everyone else and the good stuff was down in the village. Me and the neighbours, Ben and Sam would fly down the hill on our bikes after school on summer afternoons to play football down the cricket field. After 4 hours of heads and volleys the routine was a couple of ice pops, saving 10p to call Gary from the phone box to give us a lift up the hill. Riding up it always seemed like an absurd prospect. When luck was out we would push our bikes up, cursing them and our parents lack of common sense. Still a love for football couldn’t stop me and the lads from the estate always wondered why I bothered considering the hill and my skill. The hill didn’t get much easier until I met my first love who lived down that hill and then down another one. Our daily rendezvous down on the canal banks meant double the ride home. Young love helped some though and after years of trying I got into the habit of doing the whole thing in one go. Thanks Sophie!
I have kept that hill in mind a lot on this trip. I like to think of it as adequate mental training and hills hadn’t bothered me too much, despite crossing a couple of mountain ranges, until I left Puerto Vallarta. Most cyclists study elevation charts but I’m not one to bother, partly because I’m not interested, partly because I don’t have a GPS and partly because it’s a bit like looking at the needle before it gets stuck in your arm. I picked my route though Jalisco arbitrarily, tired of the coast wanting to avoid the main drag. If I’d have done my research or asked someone or made the slightest enquiry to a truck driver there’s no way I would have taken that road. As the road bore out of the suburbs, it started to rise, I thought of Wilberlee and geared down, 7 hours later and that hill still hadn’t stopped. I’d been through 5 litres of water and was still pissing orange. Enough was enough and Manuel, an impeccably dressed cowboy took pity and let me camp in his horses stable. He moved his horse out to the street but I felt bad for the horse and asked him to bring it back. Peeling the salt from my arm like skin from sunburn I thought he was probably a fair bit cleaner than me. That was day one. Nice and early the next day to beat the sun and a solid 3 hours of stood up climbing before an incredible descent. For about 20 minutes and then the hills started again. For the rest of the day. And on and on. For four days, reaching Guadalajara I reckoned I’d near totalled the height of Everest in terms of elevation. All in the kind of heat that you wouldn’t want to walk to the shops in. The funny thing is. As horrible it was, it’s also kind of fun and I was glad for my discrediting attitude to learning too much of the road. Sometimes the decisions you would have made in presence of all the information can be sort of typical.
Mountainous inland Jalisco again felt very different again from the state’s of Sinaloa and Nayarit. Whilst still fertile it was a little drier than the coast. Yellow valley bottoms reminded me of the valleys of California and contained the larger towns before the hills would begin again. One of Mexico’s most historic states the towns of San Sebastián, Atenguillo, Mascote and Ameca had similar appearances. Beautiful (to look at, not to ride on) cobbled streets leading to spectacularly manicured town squares full or fruit trees and noisy cohorts of birds. The squares often introducing the towns centre piece, the church. The towns were filled with horses and Cowboys, a very traditional way of life seemed to had survived, despite the state seeming richer than those I had passed through previously. Final steps to Guadalajara involved riding through the burning remains of the sugar crops. I stopped for the afternoon at a Charreada. A kind of rodeo, typical of Jaliscos traditions. Sat amongst the macho Cowboys and their families I got a lot of stick for my horribly revealing cycling shorts. Fortunately I was encouraged to swallow such a barrage of ridicule with plentiful tequila. Guadalajara introduced itself to me the next day with an incident with a truck I hope is not repeated. Off the ring road however, the city looked smart, leafy, much tidier than I had seen before and dare I say it, youthful and hip. Esteban, Yoachim and Pablo, the young Mexicans had planned out a great itinerary for me, involving plenty-full food, drinking and laughter. Monday the 24th of January, arrived in Mexico’s second city. Hardly Birmingham but life, most of the the body and most of the mind’s feeling good.