Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Climbing Mountains to Christmas Festivities: Mazatlan to Zacatecas (9th - 25th Dec '10)

Russ, Lorely, Jules and I headed directly east from Mazatlan into the mountains, towards locations with frightening names such as “The Devil's Spine” and mountain passes with intimidating heights such as 2800m. Our research had rewarded us with the not-so satisfying knowledge that we had to do 7000m (in total) of climbing to get from the coast up the Sierra Madre mountains and onto the high plains that span the centre of Mexico. However, the landscape that we travelled through was rewarding, with beautiful mountain views. It was also interesting to watch the landscape change from the humidity and lushness of the lowlands, into a Canadianesque coniferous forest on the mountain slopes and then to fields of golden grasses and scattered trees as we passed over the highest point and cycled through the high mountain meadows.

However, while the landscape was stunning the cycling was pretty tough. It took us five days to get from Mazatlan to Durango and on our second day we cycled only 36kms.. what would normally have taken us less than two hours took us the entire day, cycling in granny gear uphill all day. This wasn't helped by the fact that poor old Julesy got sick and, because we were bush camping (in the not safest of areas), she had to get up in the morning and keep cycling. But she soldiered on like the trooper she is.. unlike myself when I got sick back in Baja and called a sick day and then spent the day sunning myself on the beach!
The tough mountain climbing had drained all our Christmas cheer, and only our bikes were celebrating with their tinsel adornment. However, on the fifth day out from the coast we dropped out of the mountains, into the desert and then arrived in the historic town of Durango. We got ourselves back into the festive mode by wondering the streets checking out the impressive Christmas lights and nativity scenes, enjoying a Christmas concert and hanging out with our warm showers hosts, learning the fine art of the pinata party (sing, smash and grab).
We spent a couple of days being generously entertained by the lovely Frida and Jorge (and the pug Yoda) before we had to jump back on the bikes and head south. From Durango it was a fairly relaxed four day ride to Zacatecas, an old silver mining town built on the slopes of the hills and scattered with beautiful churches and small plazas. We loved poking around the town and sitting on the terrace on the roof of our hostel. In fact we loved it so much the day we had planned to leave we carried all our bikes and bags down the stairs, packed up, rode about 500m to the bakery and then decided to turn around and go back to the hostel and stay a few more days!
Christmas found us still sitting on the roof terrace. Our ranks had swollen, having been joined by two other cyclists, Aaron from Hawaii and Pedro from Madrid. We also had arranged to meet up with Jesse (who we had first met in La Paz) and so we had a great cycling gang to spend Christmas with. We did a massive shop and a huge cook-up for Christmas eve dinner and then spent the evening entertaining ourselves with mulled wine and pinata festivities. Baby Jesus managed to find us Christmas morning (in Mexico Baby Jesus brings the presents rather than Santa Claus) and then we spent the day eating leftovers and rubbing our over-filled stomachs. Just a standard Christmas - good food, too much wine and great friends! Feliz Navidad!!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Desert Days: Southern Baja to the Mexican Mainland (28th Nov - 8th Dec '10)

For our last week on Baja the peninsular treated us to another stretch of long, open road, with a tough climb up over a mountain range and then a few days pedalling across a horizon of desert. I thoroughly enjoyed the simple, quiet camping lifestyle that we had on Baja, where our camp life was dictated by the rise and set of the sun and where it once took us a few days to realise that we had crossed into a new time zone.  Time didn't really matter so much in Baja.
The last week in Baja, from the town of Loreto to the capital of La Paz we were joined on the road by Steve from Alaska, whom Jules and I had first met back in Oregon. We spent a number of nights camped in small towns, ranchos or bush camping in the desert and we enjoyed the evenings watching for shooting stars and entertaining ourselves with word games (it's simple things..).  The desert slowly gave way to a number of small roadside stops and then the outskirts of the city of La Paz.  We cycled through the town and along to the pretty oceanfront road, finding a nice hostel in the centre of town to spend a couple of days wondering the sights. 

In La Paz we had to say goodbye to Aiden and Steve but we gained a new friend, Jesse, who joined us on the cargo boat for our night trip across to the Mexican mainland. We arrived in Mazatlan on the pacific coast and spent a few days hitting the town's crowded streets, finding the quiet back alleys, absorbing the smells and colours of the market and trying the great assortment of street food. Tacos, tortas, burritos, elote (creamy corn kernels), nachos, ice-creams and churros (deep-fried battery, sugary goodness). In both La Paz and Mazatlan the calibre of street food had jumped up a notch and we spent much of our time happily meandering through the streets stuffing ourselves with food.
In between all our eating, Jules and I had to weigh up our options and work out our direction for the next couple of months. For much of our trip we have not had to make decisions regarding our route as there have been few options. This was particularly true for Baja where there was only one road that connected to the south of the peninsula. However, from Mazatlan we had a choice, whether to head south along the coast (our original plan) or inland up into the mountains. Our cycling mates, Russ and Lorely, were heading up to the mountains of Sierra Madre and it looked an interesting, if fairly difficult, route... Well we are always up for a challenge, so we headed away from the sun, ocean and surf and towards the badlands, cold weather, and 3000m of climbing - on the road to Durango..