Apr 5, 2008

Back to cycling 27/02/08

We didn’t give San-Blas the attention it deserved. We just arrived the previous day, noontime, found a charming old colonial hotel (cheap) and enjoyed the live atmosphere of the town. At 22:00 the main plaza was still alive, with food stalls, people and music.
After a month in deserted Baja-California, which falls asleep a minute after sunset, and a week on the very small Folie-Douce, we finally reached the main land. We headed south on a small winding road, beautiful and calm. Everything was green, or at least after the desert, everything was green. It was the dry season (1,000,000 mosquitoes in San-Blas didn’t know that) and we could only imagine what’s it like after the rain.
After 7 days with only water around us, and a month in the desert on notorious highway 1 in Baja, we were cycling on a quite, hilly road, surrounded by lush green vegetation and by people.
It was getting dark and we were looking for a quite rancho to camp in. we were about 2 km from a town, near the Pacific Coast Road (Carretera 200). The usual dilemma: entering town in search of a cheap hotel and not having sufficient day light to leave, or camp before town and cross town in the morning, in time for breakfast. Searching for a hotel is time and energy consuming, not worth it if we arrive late and leave early. Camping is so easy (well, we’re used to it) and the serenity of the ranchos is addictive!
There weren’t too many options for camping. Then we saw the perfect place – a shut-down deteriorating swimming-pool. No one was there. The guys working in the field across the road told us that the owner will arrive in an hour or two, and they think there won’t be any problem. Meanwhile they invited us for a beer (it’s very typical, Mexicans drinking lots of beer at the end of the day). Soon the owner arrived and accepted these funny tourists, after we promised we’ll leave early in the morning.
This was the first of many long nights, in which Gal couldn’t sleep due to her 1,000,000 mosquito bites, one from each mosquito in San-Blas. Every now and then she woke-up Rami, so he can relate.

Pacific Coast Road – Carretera 200 28/02/08
We reached the Carretera 200, a classic cycling rout through Mexico. Gal was terrified. People told us that this road is wider than route 1 in Baja, but they were wrong! It was narrow, with no shoulders, and 10 times the traffic. Rami agreed we should find side-roads, but the dirt road to our left was not what he hoped for. A man waiting in the junction said the road is OK and the scenery is beautiful.
It was terrible! The climbs were extremely steep. One third of the time we had to push. The steepest parts were tiled with pebbles – even worse for bicycle. And the heat, the tropical heat.
We were running out of water. A passing car offered his help. He apologized, “no water, but do you want a watermelon?”. Quickly he chopped one with his machete and set off with a smile.
After another 2 hours of fighting, still far away from civilization, Rami gave-up, feeling pain in his ex-hernia, his belly (excuses-excuses) and we hitched out on a pick-up truck. Frustrated of both roads we camped not far from Puerto Vallarta (PV – as the North-Americans call it).

Terrible pebbles.
Amazing watermelon.

Gringo-Land 29/02/08
Reaching a big city on bicycle is not so trivial. We try avoiding entering toward sunset, because then we’re “stuck” there, with no possibility to leave. Cycling with a trailer in the city could be dangerous, but, Puerto Vallarta (PV – as the North-Americans call it) is not a typical big city. Our travel-book writes that the city is stretched over 17 km, near the beach and that it’s the second biggest resort in Mexico.
We’ve been hearing stories of PV since Baja, or, to be precise, since La-Paz and the sailing scene over there. From what we’ve heard, and who we’ve heard it from, we imagined quite an accurate picture. So, we prepared for the worst and contacted Victoria, through Couch-surfing, and were invited to here home, near Nuevo-Vallarta, one of the neighborhoods.
We exited the freeway to Nuevo-Vallarta and circled the golf club, in search for a pedestrian, for directions. There were none! We were in a bubble – a North-American bubble! People don’t walk in the street, but drive a car with the windows closed, all the houses are huge, surrounded by high walls, everything so far away like in cities in the US, that walking is out of the question. And Taco stands – nada! We’ve entered a US suburb, a sterile US suburb.
Finally, we got directions to the other side of the freeway. It was like crossing a border, back to Mexico. Many Taco stands, small shops on every second corner; the Mexico we liked, which made us feel comfortable. We stayed the night with Victoria and her family and enjoyed the evening in a good local restaurant.

With Victoria and her family.

The next morning we attacked ‘the crossing’ of PV. It was a long way. It started with a million huge hotels on the right, totally blocking the view of the ocean and on the left were big shopping malls like Walgreen and chain restaurants (McDonalds etc.). Everywhere we looked we saw concrete. The one road was packed with local busses, stopping every 200m for passengers, cutting us on the way. It was the law of the jungle over there.
Then we reached down-town. The road was paved with pebbles – just what Gal needed for her stiff neck. It might have been nice 50-100 years ago, in the times of wagons, but now, in the era of cycle-tourists, it was terrible. We escaped the pebbles to the promenade which was filled with the usual tourist crap, but, at least no pebbles! After 2 minutes policemen told us it’s prohibited, so we walked.
Another hour we were out of town, heading south, on a beautiful cliff, jungle all around us, wondering why is this concrete monster so popular with North-Americans. Along the cliff were many expensive mansions one of them had a Tequila-tasting shop. The drunk manager, an American, invited us for many expensive shots, but the owners invitation to camp outside, near the road, instead of in the huge empty balcony, persuaded us to continue, in search for our house for the night.
All we wanted, after this exhausting day, was a quiet camp-spot on the beach and, to our surprise, we found one, or, to be precise, it found us. While Rami went to investigate the small beach of the village Boca-De-Tomatlan, one of the locals talked with Gal and invited us to camp next to his house, at the end of the bay/village. It was a perfect spot. We built camp and enjoyed the sunset. A few of the locals hung around, chatting with us and even brought us a fish dinner.

The cliffs.


Climbing inland.
The kitchen of a rancho.

After a few days away from the beach we made a 3 km detour to Punta-Perula, a small ex-fishing village. We decided to camp away from the ‘full-hookup’ RV camp. We opened our tent on a beach-volleyball court and enjoyed the big waves. Rami went to sleep early, after fighting with Gal. Earlier, he was whining about the difficulties and energy wasted in camping especially on the sand (the nemesis of bicycle components). He needed a palapa (against the dew) and a concrete base for the tent and gear. Gal tried explaining him that in an air-conditioned room there will be neither humidity nor sand, but she’ll not have the luxury of falling asleep to the sound of the waves and wake up with the sunrise to enjoy her quiet, empty beach. And, she prefers to sit on the soft, natural sand than on concrete! An hour later, the guy who earlier gave Gal 2 4-gallon sacks of drinking water visited and warned us that our campground will be wet in the morning. He helped us move the stuff. Rami fell asleep and Gal enjoyed the sound of the waves.
We woke up to see big waves, crashing hard in front of us. Rami prepared coffee. He didn’t want the stove to fill with sand, so he put it on our blue tarp. Gal tried warning him that it’s a stupid thing to do, but Rami insisted on fighting the sand. A few minutes later we had a new huge hole in our beloved blue tarp. Then the ants attacked. The tent was full with hundreds of small ants. The war went on for an hour, when we finally won the battle. An hour later the tent was full of ants. We saw that they were entering through the net. We gave up. We hoped that later they’ll go back to their home. In the evening it became cooler and they left.
During the long hot day Rami got totally burnt and Gal got a terrible headache. The one good thing (except for the beautiful beach) was the fish dinner we cooked.

Punta Perula.

Rami's perfect tan.

We entered “coconut land”!
All around us were tall, proud coconut trees. For the next few weeks we’ll be cycling through coconut plantations, every now and then passing a huge coconut mountain, enjoying the intoxicating smell. We slept in coconut rancho and the friendly owner gave us different kinds of coconut to taste.

Coconut rancho.
Coconut land.
Human made volcano.

Tecoman 08/03/08
After crossing Manzanillo, another huge concrete gringonized resort area, we found ourselves in Tecoman. We hoped it will be a nice enough (what is nice?) town, to celebrate Gal’s birthday in, and anyway, it was time for a hotel, that time of the month…
We thought of Colima as an option, but didn’t feel like cycling up into the mountains, on the autopista, and leaving the beach.
We reached the center and got a bit confused; it wasn’t what we hoped for, more like a big village without a live center. Then Gal recalled that we contacted Hector, from Tecoman, via Couch-Surfing. We emailed him 10 days earlier and forgot all about it. We called him, he was a bit surprised, but a minute later he said he will pick us up in 10 minutes.
He turned out to be the perfect gentleman. He was in a confused period of his life, so our timing seemed good. He made us feel very comfortable in his apartment, a feeling one will never get in a hotel and we spent a lot of time together. That night he took us to a Taco tour in the ’city of Tacos’ and then to “Las tres gordas” (the 3 fat women) for typical food and took us a few times to the local beach, Pascuales, which has waves which are sometimes comparable to the big Hawaiian waves.

Happy birthday to Gal 09/03/08
We decided, finally, to visit Colima, our first colonial town. We left most of our stuff at Hector’s and he gave us a lift, on his way there. It was a quiet, hot Sunday noon – a big sleepy village with a colonial air to it. In the evening changed. People came out of their holes. The town came to life and was totally sober: in every shop there was a sign saying alcohol is not sold on Sunday after 16:00! Even begging and birthday excuses didn’t help. Knowing a bit about Mexico – that took us by surprise. In the Zocalo, the main plaza, a Big Band was playing and around it couples were dancing. We were enchanted. Sunday night dancing in the plazas of Latin-America has quickly entered our agenda and raised our expectations of Colombia where we plan on learning to dance Salsa.

Dancing in Colima.

The following morning Rami got a shave and a haircut (for Gal’s birthday?) and we took a bus back to Tacoman. We arrived just in time for Hectors lunch break. He suggested we go to Pascuales beach, the best shrimp-burgers around. The beach was beautiful, empty, millions of coconuts and continued forever. The waves were huge. We couldn’t estimate their size. We stayed there till the evening; the last bus back was at 20:00, a bit after sunset, we were told. Sunset was beautiful, but there wasn’t a 20:00 bus. By luck, a surfer from California gave us a lift to town. He defined himself as an “experienced” but not “professional”, coming down here twice a year. Today the waves were about 6m, he said and added that when the waves are BIG surfers are pulled in with jet skies. This was our first “surfing experience” on this trip.

At the barber.
Hector and his Sky crew.
Coconuts!!!!!! On the way to Pascuales.
BIG waves.

After another day of updating our blog, we set off towards the beautiful beaches of notorious Michoacan.
Since Baja, we’ve been warned about Michoacan, one of the biggest Marijuana producers to the USA; “even the police doesn’t go there!”. 2 years ago the army arrived and ‘cleaned’ the main and only coastal road, the 200. As we crossed the Colima-Michoacan border, the road deteriorated and the scenery improved. The road winded on cliffs, overlooking the ocean, with barely any concrete around, especially after passing the big mine at Aquila, leaving the big trucks behind (90% of the traffic).

A bit before sunset, we were climbing a big hill, just before Ticla (another famous surfing beach). At the top was a fantastic viewpoint. Antony, an American who 10 minutes earlier passed us, was parked there, checking out the surf with a pair of binoculars, waiting for us. While resting and enjoying the scenery, we small-talked, and he invited us to sleep with him and his girlfriend, Noreen, in there small, simple but beautiful open air palapa, 5 km away, on a quiet perfect beach. He mentioned that he hopes the guests will cool down Noreen, after they’ve been fighting all day. We appreciated the gesture and accepted.
We arrived just in time for a beautiful sunset on this perfect beach. We enjoyed a lazy morning; coffee on the beach and a good breakfast. We had a great adventure, thanks to Antony who decided to stop and wait for us.

Sunset on Antony and Noreen's beach.
Antony and Noreen.
Beaches on the way.

The perfect beach 13/03/08

Antony and Noreen told us we are in a national park, thus no big hotels or concrete. They recommended a beach, 30 km away: you turn west on a dirt road at km 152. The road went up and down, revealing coves and small bays. Then we saw the perfect beach; not too big, not too small, golden sand, big black rocky cliffs closing from both sides, isolating the place and coconuts behind. Rami pointed a problem: the beach is inaccessible. 2 km later we reached the 152 milestone and a dirt road…
Indeed, It was a perfect beach (well... the sand is not as thin and as soft as in Israel, and it was the dry season – not so green) and it was all for ourselves. The 3 palapas there were deserted, our palapa owner slept in the village and let us feel at home and use the kitchen. He told us that a year ago a cyclist, going south from Alaska, stopped there for 10 days, his first long stop!Gal slept on a hammock for the first time.

Our perfect beach, hidden.
Going down to the beach.

Michuacan cliffs.

Our small hosts. Gal: I'm bigger!!!!!!!

We found basil & dill for the salad.

One of many Iguanas.

Nexpa 15/03/08

Idan & Nir, 2 Israeli surfers, saved us from building our tent (due to high prices during Semana-Santa, a two week vacation, when all Mexico attacks the beaches) and took us in to their cabaƱa.

A night in Mango rancho.

Semana-Santa 24/03/08
We have been warned of Semana-Santa (week of the saints), the major Mexican holiday, 2 weeks in which all the beaches are packed and Mexico City is empty. A dense forest of tents, full hotels, prices high, nothing is ‘tranquilo’ as before and the worst part for us: the small Carretera 200 was over flooded with drunken vacationers.
Everybody warned us not to cycle, especially during the second week. We were lost, not knowing where to hide.
We hoped Zihuatanejo would be a nice place to rest. The town was very much alive, with a commercial atmosphere, but yet a small town. It had a beautiful bay with a few sailboats anchoring, reminding us of the Folie-Douce. Prices were high due to the holiday, but, just cycling through this lively town, with its’ market/south Tel-Aviv atmosphere, made us want to stay. Searching for one of the cheaper hotel in town, according to our travel book, we found ourselves a bit lost, surrounded by expensive hotels. A man approached us offering his help. He suggested the hotel he is staying at, a government guest house – no holiday prices!
10 minutes walk from the center, 2 tents in the garden, 2 big mango trees and a small room with 2 bunk-beds, no lock or a handle in the door and a dirty shared bathroom. Our honeymoon suite! The better half of the deal (apart from the price) was the young Mexican friendly atmosphere, instead of the usual western travelers/tourists.
It was the first time we were exposed to young open minded Mexicans and we had a great time.

Anchorage in Zihuatanejo.
A local eatery in the market.

Pedro & Oso
That evening we called Pedro, originally from San-Francisco, living here, a programmer, working through the internet, who we contacted through Couch-Surfing. Turned out he lived just around the corner from our guest-house. We had a nice evening, enjoying the ease of communicating in a common language. The following day we were introduced to his friend, Oso, also originally from the San-Francisco area, who lives in La-Saladita, a surfing beach 40 minutes north, by car. The 2 were supposed to fly to California in Osos small plane (cessna) in a few days, but till then we were invited to spend Semana-Santa with them on the beach; an empty trailer and surf-boards are waiting for us, we just need to bring ourselves.
Debating the issue, we walked to the market in search for dinner. We encountered another tiny bread-stall, selling all kinds of sweet breads. Hidden among them were pies! They were small personal pies and looked exactly the way they should. Our experience lowered our expectations of all Mexican pastries, but, behold, it tasted exactly like a pie should taste (well, it’s been a while…). We ate 1 pineapple and 1 apple, and took 2 more for the road. We decided to join the guys in La-Saladita.

La-Saladita 21/03/08
We left most of our stuff at Pedro’s place (thanks and sorry for the mess), and Oso took us to La-Saladita. We arrived in time for the sunset. His place was a bit messy, what Americans call “Trailer-Trash”, but had all the comforts of the world: 2 RVs (we got the guest RV with the DVD player), a few hammocks tied in the shade, a coffee machine with a huge supply of coffee (Oso owned a good coffee shop in California), good music, a few surfboards and the ocean 10 meters away. He was a perfect host, which made us feel at home. We spent pour time chilling-out on the hammocks and learning to surf, Gal gave up quickly, Rami caught a few waves. We met Paula and Carlos and we all had a good time. After 2 full days it was time to leave. Oso Paula & Pedro were on their way to the small airport to test Oso’s plain (after 8 months of neglecting) and we joined on the back of a pick-up to the highway and quickly caught a bus to Zihuatanejo. So fast, that we forgot our The North Face “Blue Kazoo” sleeping bag in the pick up, so we quickly returned and waited on the beach. A few hours later, to our surprise, they all returned. The plane had a few technical problems, which postponed their departure to the US. Another good bye and we were on our way to Zihuatanejo, to Pedro’s place (and our bikes). Early the next morning we were back cycling, hoping Semana-Santa is behind us.

Osos´ place.

Relaxing at Oso´s.

Pasta 25/03/08
As apposed to the Silk-Road trip, we’ve been cooking much more now. The biggest effort, on the road, is pasta, which takes a lot of time and fuel. Just chopping the vegetables, sitting on the floor, leaning uncomfortably, after a long cycling day is exhausting. Then, frying it all for 15 minutes, still leaning down, later another 20 minutes of stirring the pasta (we have only one fire) and then…
For some ingenious reason, Rami decided to strain the pasta by himself, using the cover of the pot and not our fantastic strainer (which entered the hall of fame of “Tool of the month”, another one of Jim’s improvisations). Then Gal heard a “D’oh!” and saw the pasta swimming on the ground, in the dirt. Rami, out of frustration, tried pathetically to pick up bunches of it, hoping to wash it, but the past was too hot and too dirty to pick up.
We were devastated!
Gal was on the verge of tears, but Rami just “Goofed”… “It was a GOOF!”
Our only option was to through our breakfast eggs to the sauce, creating an Italian “Shakshuka” and eating it with our breakfast sponge-bread.
So, what have we learned from all of this…?

What did I want to do?

A Taquerilla.
Mango land.

Local fiesta.

Fish 27/03/08
We stopped for lunch in a small village. We parked next to the Tortierilla and Rami went to investigate, in search of cheese, tomatoes, onions or anything edible. He saw a house filled with fish. The whole family was working in sorting and packing thousands of fish, from the nearby lagoon. Rami asked in the neighborhood shop if we can eat fish, but was told that we can’t.
While eating our simple tortilla with cheese and tomato lunch, 2 teenagers appeared and invited us to eat fish. One of them spoke a little bit of English. We returned to the fish house and a few minutes later we got more fresh fish than we could eat, fried and delicious. It was the best fish meal we had since Thailand, a year earlier!
We thanked our hosts and slowly rolled on.

Eating fish.

The famous use of deodorant by cyclists.

Acapulco 28/03/08
We were sure Acapulco will be another Puerta-Villarta, maybe even bigger, so we prepared for the worst. Carretera 200 runs straight through it. The road took a turn and revealed the city, sprawled on the hills, locked in a beautiful bay. We quickly cycled down to the center.
Wow! It was a big city! Over a million people. Everything was happening. As opposed to Puerta-Villarta and Manzanillo, the city was not only about tourism. Again the Atmosphere of south Tel-Aviv, near Alenbi and the market, but in a much larger scale. We quickly found a good, rather clean and cheap hotel, with a fantastic roof, overlooking the whole bay. The market area was fun and energetic. We even found a head lamp in a big department-shop after both our Princeton head lamps were shit, almost dead. Let’s see how long it will live…
We reached the beach towards sunset. Like in Gordon beach, there was a beach volleyball court and soon Rami joined in. Surprisingly, he was not in his best, jumping like a guy, whose been only cycling for some time now.
We decided to stay a day and work on our blog.
Even leaving town was beautiful. The famous strip of hotels passed quickly, the millions of cars not disturbing us. The climb out of the bay was tough due to the hit, but gave fantastic views, and before we new it, we were on the road to Puerto-Escondido, one of the famous names on the tourists trail.

A peek at the bay.
The local beatle taxis.
Our new headlamp.
Beach volleyball!!!
Leaving Acapulco. The cold but comfortable freeway.
Our hosts, pealing tamarind.
Gal, resting, after a tiring day.
Green, around the road.


More laundry.

Camping in a small village, near the church, with all the village kids helping.


Brother and sister surfers/cyclists from San-Francisco.

More warm hosts, the best shrimp soup we had.
The best hammock shot.

Searching for a beach to camp on.

Open shower. Gal's favorite.
The shower area and the well.

After 3 weeks of cycling in mango land and waiting for them to be ripe, we finally can pick the fruits, and so does the pig.

Puerto-Escondido 04/04/08
Puerto-Escondido wasn’t exactly our cup of tea. It was over build, like a big suburb, but lacking the energy of a down-town. The beach was not intimate nor “of a big city”. But, needing a resting day, we stayed a day in a bungalow on the beach. We finally got to see people surf big waves, doing pipelines and crashing under millions of tons of water (as they say).
We met Veco, the Mexican girl we met in Zihuatanejo, traveling and working.

The best brains of the beach, fighting the reversed fan.

Gal surfing :-)

Beaches or mountains?
Where do we continue?
After 2 months on the Pacific coast we decided to leave the comfortable carretera 200, and climb to the mountains.
An intelligent surfer (aren’t they all?) convinced us to visit Oaxaca, a big nice Mexican city, totally different from Acapulco, his favorite. The president of the local cycling club recommended the direct route, very beautiful, but difficult.
The decision was made, we’ll attack the mountains, tomorrow morning, finally see a bit of mainland Mexico, a bit of culture and history and a bit of mountains for a change.
The next morning we watched the surfers again and said goodbye to the Pacific Ocean, till we meet again.