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Campeche (Still in Mexico...)

posted Feb 11, 2010, 8:06 PM by Paul Gareau   [ updated Feb 11, 2010, 9:12 PM ]
Wow, has it really been almost three weeks since my last post? Well, let's get started!

I left Puerto Escondido on the 24th and had an easy ride to Zipolite. Well, it was easy until I got on the road to Zipolite, which had a series of insanely steep hills that left me gasping for air. Zipolite is a pretty small town - you can stand in the middle of main street and see almost everything. The rest town is almost meant to be viewed from the beach once you get away from main street. The beach side of the buildings are definitely better maintained than the street side. 

My interactions with the some of the locals are getting more annoying and less amusing as time goes on. When I got dinner at Zipolite I ordered a Coke ("Coca" in Mexico) and even gestured toward the Coca Cola logo on one of the plastic chairs at my table. The waiter just wasn't getting it and brought me a "Coco" (Coconut) drink and kept explaining that it is what I ordered even after I kept pointing to the Coke logo on the chair. I'll take some of the blame for my bad Spanish, but sometimes I just can't make excuses for people. This wasn't a big deal of course, and in the end I got my "Coca" after all.

There was a great sunset at Zipolite, and everyone in town appeared on the beach in time for the show. 

On the 25th I had an incredibly hilly ride all the way to Morro Ayuta. I rode almost all day in the 95 degree heat, grinding away in my low gear up one hill after another. My GPS says that I gained over 5 miles in elevation, and even though it felt like this I'm pretty sure it was considerably less. The GPS also tells me that it was a 70 mile day and that I rode for 9 hours. Sounds right to me.

To deal with the heat, I've been stopping for cold drinks up to four or five times per day. Since I got to Mexico I've been struggling with a Coke addiction. I just can't drink enough of the stuff and it's probably doing a job on my teeth. On this day I stopped for a Gatorade, then Tacos with a Coke and an Iced Tea, then later another Coke and an Ice Cream Sandwich, and lastly another Coke. 

The next day the hills gave way to a nasty headwind, and I rode through that to a town I didn't get the name of. I was planning on riding farther, but I got a flat at the town when I was *ahem* ... stopped to get a Coke. I rode through the town and down a dirt road for a few miles, and was shocked to see a water park on my way to the coast. I stayed at an Enemerada where I didn't have to pay for camping, but they more than made up for it by charging me 20 pesos per Tostada.

Next was a fun ride to Juchitan. Did I say the wind was bad the day before? The wind through the Southern part of Mexico is among the worst in the world (I've heard) and has been known to blow over big trucks. Here's what it's like to ride in this kind of wind... It might be steady for a while, so you can lean into it and more or less keep your balance. Then a big gust comes and blows you off the road - literally. You swear, get your bike back on the road, get blown off again, swear more and repeat the whole process again and again. When it's not the gusts blowing you off the road, it's passing busses that temporarily sheild you from the wind, instantly "sucking" you into the road. You correct your steering so fast that your front tire skids across the road and you manage to stay upright - this time. Ahh well, touring isn't all beaches and palm trees after all.

In addition to riding through the crazy wind, I rode through the towns of Salina Cruz and Santo Domingo. Neither one was very appealing, but there was an interesting clash of old and new - I would see Ox carts hauling wood, and people walking herds of goats down the side of the road, in what was otherwise a typical small city. Pretty neat I thought.

Uhh - did I say it was hot a few days earlier? On the next day it was about 100 degrees F in the shade, and I think I had a mild case of heat exhaustion. I had to stop and rest in the shade of a few bus stops, and I really had no energy and no appetite throughout the day. 

That morning, I met a Canadian couple (I think Canadians are planning to invade Mexico) who were biking from Vancouver to Panama. They were a little behind schedule and were hitching from Puerto Escondido to San Cristobal, so I didn't get to ride with them. Later in the day, the wind wrapped around the mountain range that I was riding along and gave me a decent tail wind for a while. I had a great wild campsite in a huge field, with mountains looming on the horizon.

The next day I headed into the mountains. I didn't realize how much I had missed them. The views are always so great that I don't even mind the effort. I still had pretty low energy and my legs were feeling pretty week. That's probably because I didn't have much of an appetite still and wasn't eating properly. I rode until twighlight and the scenery kept getting better and better. Green grassy hills, with grazing cows in front of huge granite (?) cliffs. Just incredible. I found a good campsite in some farmland that a guy on a horse cart was nice enough to refer me to. I had ridden about 45 miles with about 2500 feet of climbing.

I stopped taking notes after this, so I'll have to wing the rest of it...

The next day was an uneventful 48 miles into Ocozocautla. 

I had another short day next from Oco to Chiapa de Corzo. Since it was only about 40 miles, I decided I'd check out the Zoo in Tuxtla Gutierrez. Except for having to ride up an incredibly steep hill to the zoo, this turned out to be a great decision. The zoo features animals from all over this part of Mexico, so I got to see some monkeys, birds and big cats, including a huge black panther. Very cool.

I spent the night in Chiapa de Corzo, and headed out first thing in the morning, regretting that I hadn't seen more of the town, or taken the boat tour through the canyon. This was my last day of riding in this 9 day stretch, and I had about 6000' of climbing to do. This would be a new single-day climbing record for me - I think my previous record was 5000' of climbing on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route - that was to an overall elevation of 12,000'. The climb started out pretty well and I thought that I'd be in San Cristobal by maybe 3PM. Well, the climb ended up taking a total of about 8 hours and I arrived at San Cristobal a little before dark with one of the best "bikers highs" ever. Gotta love those endorphins. As I was cycling through town looking for a hostel, someone ran up to me and told me there was a hostel for 50 pesos just up the street. I checked it out and it looked good, and I ended up spending the next three nights there. A guy named Mitch was there on the second night, and since he had been traveling north from Argentina (by bus and motorcycle) and I have been traveling south, we spent a while looking at maps and suggesting places the other person should see.

A few days earlier, I had heard that Philip and Valeska would also be in San Cristobal at the same time, so I was looking forward to meeting them there. I had met them back in Oregon, and they're also headed to Argentina as part of their around the world bike trip. On Tuesday morning (Feb 2) we met up and took a cab to a "traditional Mayan town" that I can't remember the name of. All the men and woman there wear the traditional clothing and the town square is filled with vendors selling everything from fruit to crafts. We each paid about 20 pesos to enter the Church at the center of town, but there was no photography allowed, so I don't have any pictures of the inside. Even though I'm not religious, I have to say that it was a pretty cool place. There were no pews as you'd expect at a church. Instead, it was filled with pocelain-faced statues of various saints, all in glass boxes, most with mirrors hanging from their necks. The floor was covered in pine needles, and the only illumination came from the hundreds of candles inside, and the beams of light cutting through the candle smoke from the windows.

Valeska and Philip had taken the "mountain route" across Mexico and met Nikki in Mexico city who they rode with for about a month. The four of us met up again for dinner and found a great pizza place on the pedestrian road through town.

I decided that it was rediculous to rush and miss things I was interested in, so the next day I signed up for a tour that would take me back to Chiapa de Corzo by bus and into the Sumidero Canyon by boat. No regrets there - the canyon was amazing, with walls towering 3000 feet above the water. We saw various birds, some monkeys in the trees, and a few crocodiles. Really good stuff. The last part of the tour was an hour in Chiapa de Corzo, so I got to see the town after all too.

Over the next two days I rode about 200km (120ish miles) out of the mountains with one stop at Ocosingo. Even though I was losing all that elevation I had worked so hard for, there were so many hills on the descent it was hard to believe I was losing any elevation at all. I was in the mountains though, and I was loving it. I rode through more "traditional" villiages, only without the tourism that the place we visited from San Cristobal gets. More men and women in traditional clothes, and women on the side of the road tending flocks of sheep. Now how cool is that? I stopped at one of the towns (er.. maybe for a Coke?) and talked to a guy who told me that they still speak a native language there, and that Spanish is their second language. At another stop about 12 kids walking home from school took an interest in my trip and bike, and asked me a bunch of questions about both. I'm usually not comfortable taking pictures of people in the towns I'm going through, but I thought I could get one of all the kids crowded around my bike. They don't seem to like having their picture taken though, and they all started to run away when I took my camera out. I don't know what that's all about...

On one of my decents on the second day, I sped by a group of people taking pictures at a pretty incredible overlook. I heard them screaming my name so I stopped as fast as I could, and rode back to see that it was the girls from the group I had met back in Puerto Escondido. They told me they were staying right near the ruins at Palenque, and I said I'd look for them that night.

I finally arrived at Palenque as it was getting dark, and it had been raining, so I was soaked. I finally found a place to camp, which was on an elevated platform about 8 feet above the ground, with a stream running by just below and colorful flowers on some of the plants. The area I was in just had a couple restaurants, cabanas and camping, and all the sites were connected by trails through the jungle, with foot bridges over the streams. I could hear a howler monkey occasionally not far from where I was camped, but I never was able to see it. There was always music coming from somewhere - either one of the larger restaurants, or from the "kitchen" under the tent platform where you eat whatever the woman is cooking that night. The kitchen was the cheap place to eat and seemed to be where the locals and ultra low budget travelers hung out, so the music there would be from someone strumming a guitar and maybe from people singing along. "La bamba" seemed to be a big hit.

The next morning I had to go into Palenque town (separate from the ruins) to get some money. Afterwards I went right to the ruins and rushed through them a bit so I'd be able to catch the 12PM tour bus to some nearby waterfalls. The ruins were really impressive, and I got a private tour through the jungle, where around 1000 structures have yet to be uncovered. When I got back to the tourist area, which is called El Panchan by the way, I met the Puerto Escondido girls again as I was walking by one of the restaurants. They said I should see the waterfalls, so I rushed off to grab a new battery for my camera and then to the bus stop. Either my watch was slow or the bus was early, but either way I missed it, so I never got to see the waterfalls. I ended up going back to the ruins and exploring some more for the rest of the afternoon.

While I was at El Panchan, I also met three Spanish girls who had been at the same hostel as me in San Cristobal, and a couple who I had taken the Canyon tour with from Chiapa de Orzo. 

I decided to try to get to Campeche in three days, which was far, but flat, so it seemed doable. On the first day I rode about 80 miles and struggled to find a campsite because the whole area is farmland and it's all fenced off. In the end I rode down a side road and camped in front of an entrance to a pasture. The next day was surprisingly only 60 miles, even though it felt longer, but I got to a great campsite in an abandoned mining area. For some reason I was incredibly happy to be there, and I wasn't fully sure why that was. It was in the woods, and it had been a long, long time since I had a good campsite with lots of trees around, so maybe that was it. The temerature was just right, there was a nice breeze rustling the leaves in the trees, I had a nice flat area for my tent and a place to cook my Ramon noodles, and since I got there before dark, I was able to walk down the access road and explore the mine. What more could I ask for? The mine ended up being a big pit mine, and I assume it was limestone that was being mined... Finally, on my third day I made it just short of Campeche, to a town called Playa Seyba. The signs in Mexico can be incredibly frustrating, and this day was a great example. Just outside of Playa Seyba, there was a sign saying Campeche was 44km away. I could have ridden that far, but just didn't feel like it, so that's why I decided to pull into Playa Seyba instead. Once I got into town, there was another sign saying Campeche was 22km away - that's a big difference. I was already there though, and had no way of knowing which one was right, so I found a hotel for 200 pesos (kind of expensive) and then went out for some Tostadas. 

I woke up the next morning and the room was spinning - not good... I thought maybe it would pass, so I tried packing up but I wasn't really improving, and the only thing I had ingested - some lemonade - didn't even stay down. I decided to take it easy for a while and see what would happen, and since the room had cable with an English movie channel, I was all set. Eventually the management came to kick me out of the room. I tried to explain I was sick and needed another night, which I don't think they understood, but I handed them another 200 and that seemed to clear things up. A bit later I went out to buy some groceries and had to make a dash for the door from the checkout line, so I obviously wasn't doing much better. After getting back I cooked my dinner, which stayed with me, and I rested some more and watched a few ridiculous movies - one was about genetically mutated killer wasps and a hamburger cook-off.

Today I woke up and neither the room nor anything else was spinning, so feeling relieved I packed up and headed for Campeche. The next sign I came across was just outside of Playa Seyba, and it said Campeche was around 30km away. I don't know why it's so hard to get these distances right. Anyway, I got to Campeche, found the hostel I wanted to stay at right away, and then headed back out to explore the town a bit along with one of the Mayan museums.

Now it's about 8:30PM and I still need to eat and to my laundry, so I gotta go!

Adios amigos.