La Paz to Zapotlanejo: Whale sharks, Texans for company and an impromptu ceilidh!
Upon returning to La Paz, after our work in Guatemala and Peru with Operation Groundswell, we once again arrived to a full house at our Warm Shower’s host, Tuly. La Paz is a bit of a bottle neck for cycle tourists as the ferries, from Baja California to the mainland, cross only three times a week. Thankfully Tuly is an incredible host and really epitomises the Warm Showers community. On the day we arrived, we were joined by a father and daughter, who had cycled down from San Diego, and before long the numbers were further swelled by an exuberant Mexican trio, Brenda, Enrique and Benji who were cycling from Mexicali to Mexico City to campaign for greater respect for cyclists on Mexico’s roads. We spent another fantastic few days with Tuly and her family, enjoying great conversation, lots of fun with her four little Pugs and a great Saturday night at a traditional Mexican party (where we were fed like royalty!) followed by some great live rock music with her daughter.
‘Rumbo a Brasil’ with Robert and Marcio
The night before our ferry to the mainland, a couple of likely lads from Texas arrived at Tuly’s. We immediately hit it off with Robert and Marcio and, after some great conversation and laughs over dinner, we agreed to ride together to Mexico’s second city, Guadalajara. Robert’s parents both hail from the city and they were aiming to take a break there to visit his family before cycling on to Brazil, from where Marcio’s family hailed. A stop in Guadalajara coincided nicely with our first intended rest stop on the mainland, a visit to the nearby town of Zapotlanejo, where Meg had sent a summer three years previously. The dinner at conversation at Tuly’s had found its way to La Paz’s famous whale sharks with which Robert and Marcio were both keen to swim. It had been a while since we’d engaged in, what might be considered, more typical tourist activity and so we agreed to join them that morning before our afternoon ferry. And what a morning we had swimming with these majestic, gentle giants of the ocean – the whale sharks were pretty impressive too! After a fantastic morning, we bid Tuly our farewells and got back on the saddle, for the first time in four weeks, for the short, two hour ride to the ferry terminal.
While sat outside the ferry terminal enjoying an ice cold beer, we noticed a fellow cyclist approaching on a tiny, fold-up bike. We excitedly beckoned him over for a beer – thinking our convoy would now grow to five, forgetting however, that our bikes where inside the terminal and that we just looked like four sweaty reprobates sat outside a ferry terminal. Quite what Frenchman, Flavian’s first impressions were, I don’t know but he eventually got the message that we were fellow cycle tourists and he joined us for a beer. As luck would have it, Flavian had booked a cabin for the ride, as opposed to the cheap seats the four of us had booked. He very kindly invited us to occupy the remaining beds in his room and so what had threatened to be an uncomfortable 18 hour crossing with little sleep, turned into a comfortable crossing complete with beds, card games and plenty of laughs.
Sinaloa locals bely the state’s reputation
Our introduction to cycling in mainland Mexico felt very different to, the more touristy, Baja California. The first couple of days were characterised by extremely hot and humid weather though, thankfully, not too many hills. We stayed in a couple of sleepy little towns where, after the initial disbelieving stares at the four dusty, sweaty gringos parading down the main street with their heavily laden bikes, we were welcomed by friendly locals and exceptional food! The local hospitality in Sinaloa was far removed from the reputation it has gained internationally as home to the infamous Sinaloa Cartel of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman. At no point during our time in Sinaloa did we feel threatened or uncomfortable and we left in good spirits due to the hospitality we’d received. That said, we couldn’t help but feel a little dejected in the knowledge that the kind locals we’d met live in the shadows of, and have their lives directly affected by, such a ruthless cartel.
As we left Sinaloa and crossed into the state of Nayarit, I endured one of my toughest days of the whole trip. Unlike previous days of steep climbing where we would be rewarded with a long descent, the road from Rosamorada to Tepic just kept on rising. Added to that, the humidity was really beginning to take its toll on my energy levels. What kept me going was the sight of Meg conquering each summit, with her usual resolve and determination and, somewhow, still with a smile on her face. We finally reached Tepic by late afternoon and credit must go to Meg, Marcio and Robert for patiently putting up with a rather crabbit (adjective /ˈkɹabɪt/ [Scottish] bad-tempered) Scotsman! Thankfully a hearty roast chicken meal and the thought of some Warm Showers hospitality does wonders for the spirits of a weary cyclist. That night we stayed with Hector, a cycling enthusiast who has cycled all of Mexico’s states and spent most of the night furnishing us with great advice for our trip south. Later in the evening, we heard a knock at the door and in walked Brenda, Benji and Enrique – the Mexicali cyclists we’d met two weeks previous at Tuly’s in La Paz! We spent a great evening in the company of Hector and the Mexicali three, talking cycling, all things Mexico and generally just wallowing in the wonderful community that is Warm Showers.
Crossing the backbone of Mexico towards its second city
Thankfully the next day to the town of Ixtlan del Rio was more forgiving. No shortage of hills I must add, however, at least today they were rewarded with the downhill respite we’d been craving the day before. The town itself had a great vibe – a real community spirit was in evidence from our arrival in the main square where the locals were enjoying an evening of traditional music and dancing. After feasting on some delicious enchiladas we sat in the square to soak up the atmosphere. The friendly locals were intrigued with our bikes and stopped to chat with Marcio and I while Robert and Meg entertained the local kids with their handstand routine! A friendly face then enquired if we had a place to stay for the night. Jose Luis ran a half-way house for travelling migrants and very kindly opened it up to us for the night. Although basic, the place had a great library and a palpable energy and we had great conversation with Jose Luis and his friends. They shared their own stories as well as those of the hundreds of migrants who had passed through their doors both on the way north to the US though, sadly, also on the way south to their homelands having being turned away at the border or deported. Perhaps even more sad is the fact they have ‘repeat customers’ who, having been turned away, work for a period of time in their homelands to make enough money to make the perilous journey all over again.
From Ixtlan del Rio we had a morning of uphill but were again rewarded with a steep downhill after lunch followed by a long flat towards Tequila region. We could see the impressive Tequila Volcano in the distance which served as a marker for the town of Tequila. At the start of the day we’d tentatively set Guadalajara as our destination but knowing that an overnight stop in Tequila was probably the more likely option, leaving us with a short morning ride to Guadalajara the next day. At the beginning of the flat section I got my first flat tyre of mainland Mexico and so fell behind the convoy. The first flat was quickly followed by a second and I fell further behind. Once I finally got back on the road, I started to motor along so as not to hold up the rest of the group. As I neared the turnoff to Tequila at around 4pm, I was hoping beyond hope that the guys had decided to stay there for the night rather than cycle on for a further 35km to Guadalajara. Imagine my joy when I saw the cheery faces of Meg, Robert and Marcio, perched on a rock patiently awaiting my arrival! We then had a really fun downhill into the town of Tequila and, after sampling some of the local speciality, had a great night spent at a fun hostel and went out dancing with the owner and his friends. After a couple of hours of salsa, one of the girls asked what a typical Scottish dance would look like. Within minutes, an impromptu ceilidh had kicked off and the Mexicans, and Americans alike, got right into the Scottish spirit of things. Quite what the locals, sat downstairs, made of it all remains to be seen!
A surreal arrival and more Mexican hospitality
The next morning constituted a short ride from Tequila, through the agave fields with a seemingly endless array of Tequila plants, and eventually into the outskirts of Guadalajara. As the area became increasingly more urban, so the traffic increased and we had a few scary moments while crossing some of Guadalajara’s busy intersections. Thankfully, Robert’s family had arranged to meet us to provide an escort to cross the city to their home. What an entrance to a city that was! We were escorted along Guadalajara’s main ring road by one car in front and one behind, with banners marking our arrival, and were cheered on by passing cars who beeped their horns and wished us well – it was such a surreal entrance to the city! We spent a really nice day with Robert’s family and were, ourselves, treated like family. The whole extended family had gathered due to a family tragedy and yet, despite this, we were still afforded the most incredible hospitality and treated with such kindness. It was a fitting finale to our time with Robert as we bid an emotional farewell before he set of to go back to Texas to work for two weeks. Marcio on the other hand, rather liked the sound of a rest week in Zapotlanejo with Meg’s friends and the three of us made their way to the town for an unforgettable week shared with some fantastic people (see Meg’s ‘Uplifting News’ blog on Zapotlanejo.)