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Puerto Escondido

posted Jan 21, 2010, 8:52 AM by Paul Gareau   [ updated Jan 31, 2010, 9:44 AM ]
Hi there. I covered a lot of ground in this section, which took me from Barra De Navidad to Puerto Escondido. The weather has been challenging, with torrential rain, to temeratures in the mid 90s F. I've also been doing some longer days so that I can meet my fam in Florida and still have time to see all the sites along the way. Here are some stats:

01/05/10  to cuyutlan             68 (miles)
01/06/10  to san juan de alima  51
01/07/10  to near maruata      59
01/08/10  to nexpa  37
01/09/10  to playa azul     40
01/10/10  to troncones  71
01/11/10  to zihuatanejo          22
01/12/10  rest
01/13/10  to playa michigan  89
01/14/10  to pie de la cuesta  82
01/15/10  to barra vieja  40
01/16/10  rain day
01/17/10  to playa ventura  64
01/18/10  to past cuanjinicuilapa 62
01/19/10  to santiago jamiltepec  45
01/20/10  to puerto escondito  74

And a map:


After spending 5 full days and New Years in Barra, I headed out on the 5th toward Boca de Apiza. I passed through Manzanillo where I was planning to take my time off before I decided on Barra, and knew instantly I had made the right decision. Manzanillo just didn't interest me, and to make matters worse, I couldn't find my way out of the city. I had an idea of where to go, but I was given directions that were completely wrong by a guy in town. Eventually I did find my way out of the city, and just as I got back on the main road, it started to rain - HARD. This would be the beginning of about three days of intermittent rain. After a while, there was a break in the rain and I stopped at a gas station to eat some food and get a cold drink. Some of the patrolling military guys decided to do the same, and soon I was surrounded by about 6 guys with machine guns and some wearing face masks. The masks were pretty puzzling at first, but they wear them so that they are not recognized to keep their families safe. As usual, they asked me a bunch of questions about my trip. One of the more talkative guys kept asking me questions that I didn't understand, and I could tell he was getting aggravated. At this point I made a mental note: don't aggravate guys with machine guns. Luckily, one of the other guys translated his questions into simple Spanish that I could understand, and the encounter remained peaceful. Inside the store I asked the girl how far it was to the town I was headed for. This was a four word question, and she didn't understand any of it. This would be a constant annoyance throughout this section - I can have basic conversations with some people, yet others don't understand a word I say. On this day or the next, while I was talking to someone, they said "I don't understand English", to which I replied "Pero estoy hablando Espanol!!" (But I"m speaking Spanish!). At the end of the day I got into Boca de Apiza, where beach camping is not allowed. I was pretty happy with myself for being able to negotiate a better room rate and ask several other questions - and understand the answers - in Spanish, but then I went across the street to a taco stand and asked what meat they had in their tacos (I don't want pulpo! (squid)) and got that same blank stare. Argh.

On the 6th, I rode into San Juan de Alima. This was my first day riding in the Mexican state of Michoacan, which is known for being a very beautiful state. I rode just over 50 miles and found a good place to camp for 30 pesos. My shoes had been coming out of the pedals all day, so I decided it was time to change my cleats. I got both screws out of one shoe, and one out of the other, then I stripped the last one. I tried filing a groove into the top of the stuck screw so I could try to remove it with a screwdriver. This was taking a really long time, and it wasn't working very well, so when I saw that the owner was working on an addition to the house, I asked if he had a saw I could use. He did, and in less than a minute I had a decent looking flathead screw. Unfortunately, the screw still didn't want to budge and I managed to bend the screwdriver of my Leatherman trying to remove it. Between this and my other efforts, the shoe was basically useless so from then onward, I have been riding with my running shoes. So far it seems to be working out pretty well, which makes me wonder why I've been using clipless pedals in the first place.

My ride from San Juan to the Maruata area was incredibly scenic. It was still overcast all day and raining off and on, but it was warm enough that I didn't need my rain jacket. There was a lot of climbing, but the views were really spectacular and the effort was definitely worthwhile. The government hasn't really taken advantage of this area, and there are no "scenic pullovers" as you would see along the US coast. Many times I could see an absolutely incredible beach, but it was through a bunch of trees and bushes on the side of the road, and I wouldn't even bother to take a picture. One view that I'll remember forever was a black sand bar between the ocean and a small lagoon, with palm trees and a cliff just a little farther away. It was really unreal. I didn't make it to my planned destination that day, and just as it was getting dark I came upon an abandoned building. There was no one around and it was raining again, so I set my tent up inside as the rain pelted the metal roof. This continued throughout the night, and I felt pretty fortunate to be dry and indoors.

It was still raining the next day, and the worst rain was in the morning. I hung out at a small tienda waiting for it to let up a little. While I was there I talked to the owner for a while. He was learning English, and said the hardest part was the pronunciation. He thought that Spanish would be easier, but I thought the same thing about English! This entire conversation was in Spanish.

To be continued...

OK, we're back...

I was shooting for a town named Caleta de Campos, which according to my map had a beach and a lighthouse. I stopped at the road to a town called Nexpa (not on my map) to try and see how much farther I'd have to go. While I was there, someone drove by and gestured toward the town, encouraging me to go there. Shortly after, a young couple got of a bus and started walking into town. They said it was nicer than Caleta, but with fewer services. I decided I'd go there. Nexpa isn't really a "town" at all, it's really more of a surfing village. There are a few outdoor restaurants, a store a bunch of places to camp and cabanas. It's a pretty cool spot. There was a great sunset, and everyone was watching something really big jumping almost completely out of the water. It was too far away to tell what it was, but some people said it was a whale, which I was a little skeptical about. Pretty cool nonetheless.

Next was Playa Azul, a much bigger place than Nexpa. I still managed to get a spot on the beach, and as usual, I only paid 30 pesos for camping (about $2.40). During my ride I heard a loud "BANG" from just below me that really startled me. It turned out to be the first innertube blowout of my life and was the result of my tire finally wearing out and tearing a little along the tread. I had been carrying a spare tire for almost 7 months and I finally had a chance to use it. Almost everyone who rides the PanAm uses Schwalbe tires, and most of them use the Marathon XR model. Some people claim to use only two sets of tires throughout the entire trip, which I always found hard to believe, but my own made it to just over a month from my half way point. Further down the road there was a good view of the ocean, and I could see some whales that were pretty close to shore.

On the 10th (January) I rode 71 miles to a town named Troncones, just north of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo. It was hot, as usual, and I stopped for a while in the shade on the side of the road. A young couple drove up and stopped to make sure I was OK. They were Aaron and Meridith (I think) from the US, and they had toured across the US together a few years ago. Meridith told me about drinking Coconut milk to stay hydrated, which I had never tried. Eventually they drove off and I started riding again, but after about 10 minutes they were back with a coconut for me to try! The cocunuts are cut on the top and bottom to create a "barrel" shape, and there is a hole on the top to drink through using a straw. I wasn't a big fan of the coconut milk, but it was a really cool thing for them to do and I definitely appreciated the gesture. 

Once I got to Troncones, I started searching for a place to camp. Everywhere I went recommended some other place for me to try. I finally found a place that would let me camp for free, if I agreed to buy breakfast there in the morning. That sounded like a good deal to me so I pitched my tent and went down the street for some tacos. That night I could hear some music coming from down the beach, so I walked down to check it out. One of the restaurants had what I guess would be called a talent show - there were quite a few different performances, from break dancers, to couples dancing in traditional constumes, to lasso performances. Pretty fun to watch.

The next day I just had to do a short ride into Zihuatanejo. It's a smallish city and as usual with cities, I wasn't hugely impressed. I like small, quiet places better. There was a nice hostel there though, and I got a private room for just under $10 per night. Since I was due for a day off, I decided I'd take it there. I rode through Ixtapa on my way there, but it was really just one gated driveway after the next, all leading to big all-inclusive resorts. There was a beach at the end of the road, and a fenced off area with alligators, iguanas and birds. My trailer had a flat tire at the beach so I repaired that as a bunch of locals looked on.

On the 13th I was back on the road and feeling especially good. I started riding at about 9AM and didn't stop until noon. The place where I stopped was just a little village, and I got a 55 cent coke and ate my PB sandwhiches in the shade. At 12:30 I was back on the road and I decided I'd "go long" and do the entire ride to Acapulco that day and the next. It ended up being a 89 mile day and I had one of the most interesting camp sites of the trip. I had been seeing signs along the road for two beaches, but those just tell you how far it is to the beach, and they eventually dissapear, leaving the navigation to the driver. I stopped at a town to get a drink and enough water for the night, and asked the woman at the store where the second of the two beaches was. She didn't have a clue what I was saying, and got her daughter to get her son, who knows some English. I refused to speak in English, so I asked my questions in Spanish and he answered in English. He drew me a map to Playa Michigan, told me I had to go through a small town and that there would be a lot of "gringos" on the beach. I rode through a maze of streets in the town and stopped at one point to make sure I was going the right way. The guy I asked was talking pretty fast, but I made out "lancha" (boat), which left me pretty confused. After the town was a long dirt road and I was surprised there would be so many gringos at such a remote place. Finally I got to a river where there were a bunch of lanchas, and understood why I had to take a boat to the beach. Just as it was all starting to make sense, the driver of the boat headed down the river toward the ocean and asked me when I needed to be picked up, and made sure I had enough food and water. Hmm... We finally got to the beach, which was almost completely deserted, although I did see a few people at the far ends of the beach. I was amazed by all the restaurants along the beach, and I couldn't stop thinking of questions such as, "Who comes here?", "How do they all get here?", "Where do people sleep?", "How do these little restaurants cook enough food to feed the 100s of people who could fit under their palapas?". It was a mystery. In the morning the son of the guy who dropped me off picked me up, and he said not many people go there, even on the weekends. I was still confused.

The next day I made it to Acapulco, as expected. There is a big hill on the way into and out of Acapulco, and the road in was one of the worst ones I've seen in Mexico. Once I got there, I was shocked to see that Acapulco is really just a big city, with a lot of traffic, noise, people leaning on horns, etc. I was looking for the hostel in town, which is supposed to be on the beach, so I headed to the ocean and then asked a cab driver where the hostel is. This was another short question: "Donde es el hostel?". The cab driver replied in bad english "What? You're looking for "The Girls"?". Good greif... Back on the Baja Peninsula, a guy told me cab drivers were always the best ones to ask where "The Girls" are in any new town, so I guess it's a question they get a lot. (I didn't ask the guy for that info, it was completely out of the blue, honest.) So anyway, I decided Acapulco wasn't for me and after riding 75 miles I backtracked over the hill and to a nice little town called Pie de la Cuesta. Much better.

Unfortunately, backtracking to Pie de la Cuesta meant I'd have to ride back through the Acapulco traffic the next day, and over the hill for the third time. As I rode into the more touristy area, I realized my decision to leave the night before may have been a little hasty. I could see why people like the touristy part of town, but still, it's a bunch of big buildings and there's a lot of traffic, etc. I guess it just doesn't appeal to me as much. 

It turned out that the hill on the Southeast part of town was much bigger, and much steeper. While I was riding through town my trailer had a flat tire, and my patch didn't hold so it went flat again while I was climbing. Through the US and Canada, I think I had three flats total. I've lost count of how many I've had in Mexico, and I can't wait to get my new tires in Cancun to put an end to this. It definitely gets aggrivating!

I had decided to do a shortish day (40 miles) to Barra Vieja and on the way between there and Barra I had to search for some tubes and a new patch kit. I had only used about 6 patches of the 48 I bought back on Baja, but I had used the last of my glue coming out of Acapulco. I had everything I needed by the time I got to the third bike shop (it's pretty rare to have so many in such a small area), but I stopped anyway and talked to some of the people there for a while. The whole conversation was in Spanish, and again I was feeling pretty good about myself because of that. The guy there had a drill, so he was able to drill out the broken end of the flag pole that was stuck in my trailer, so instead of having my flag bungeed to my trailer, I could mount it properly again. 

Barra Vieja was a pretty strange place, but not in a bad way. There is a lot of poverty there, but there are also some really nice beach clubs. These are all between a bumpy dirt road and the ocean, and on the other side of the road are some very simple homes. I found an enemerada to stay at as usual. It was owned by a woman named Inez, who lived there with her family. Her daughter was a young single mom, and the whole family was trying to get me to stay there to be the dad. I was flattered of course, but I just explained that I was doing a big trip and had to keep moving in the morning.

The next morning it was raining, so I decided I wouldn't be doing any moving that day. It was my first rain day of the trip, and after riding in the rain for three days about a week earlier, I just wasn't motivated to do any more. There wasn't much to do so I studied Spanish a little and listened to my iPod.

It was still gray on the 17th, but it wasn't raining so I was packed up and on the road by 9AM. I rode 64 miles to Playa Ventura, which was another nice little town that I liked a lot. The landscape started opening up, with more fields around and views of the mountains to the north. For the first time I saw a village of huts in a field. I had ridden through many poor villages before this one, but I had never seen anything like this.

For the next three days I was inland, and camped away from the ocean for the first time in quite a while. While I was stopped for lunch in Pinotepa Nacional, a Canadian drove up and while we were talking he told me how dangerous the Mexican state of Guerrero is. This is the first time someone has told me how dangerous a place that I had BEEN is, but as I've been saying, I've never felt that I've been in danger anywhere. 

Since I was heading inland, and that's where the mountains are, there was quite a bit of climbing. I stayed at a decent hotel for about $13 at the top of the hill on the 19th, and had a great downhill almost immediately the next day. I descended through a green valley with a small river running through it, which was incredibly scenic. There were some other great views later on that day on my way to Puerto Escondido.

Puerto is another town that gets my "Two thumbs up" rating. It is definitily gringo central and every time I see another white person I feel like one of the little kids who points to me and shouts "Gringo! Gringo!". I'm staying at an $8 per night hotel which is right near the beach and the "Mexican Pipeline" - a world famous surfing break.

On my first morning in Puerto, I dropped my laundry off to have it washed properly for a change, and ran into a group that I had seen back in Zihuatanejo. We walked around for a while, got dinner and did some shopping. They were planning on taking a Salsa dancing class that night, at around 11PM. I declined the invitation, and was kicking myself for my bad decision on the taxi ride back to my hotel. It turns out they didn't take the class, or the surfing class we had talked about taking the next morning, so in the end my bad decision didn't matter much. We all went into town that night, and ended up staying out until about 3:30 in the morning. This meant I wouldn't be back on the road on Saturday as planned, but Puerto is a cool place and I still had a few things to take care of before leaving. I also figured out that I have about 1150 miles to ride to get to Cancun, and I have about a month to do it, so taking another day off wouldn't be a big problem.

Coming attractions... I'll be on the coast for only a few more days, then I'll head north to the Yucatan Peninsula. Along the way I'll go through the colonial cities of San Cristobal de las Casas, Campeche, and Merida and I'll be seeing the ruins at Palenque, Chichen Itza and Ek Balam. I'll probably post a few more times before I see all these places, but I just wanted to whet your appetite a bit. :)

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