June 20 – 24: Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara

I spend a down day in Puerto Vallarta: Walk the Malecon, happen upon the cap hill (gay) neighborhood and have brunch, then buy $1.50 flip flops. I take an awesome afternoon nap, then a long food-walk with the new flip flops (mixed results), then I happen to catch the end of game 7 of the NBA final over a pizza, at touristy la dolce vita.  I was so craving pizza.

The next morning, I chat with a couple of american exchange students and the hostel owner’s friend who’s filling in.  Meanwhile I’m trying to deal with health insurance stuff and I can’t even without whining for help on FB.

I float around towards the outside of town.  Google Maps does not factor in that many city roads consist of fairly large, round rocks embedded in the ground.  They’re like cobblestones, but with no obvious attempt at planarness.  By floating, I mean, having a general idea of where you want to be a few KM away, and then go with the flow of the city to get there.  Local cyclists have their ways through the craziest road choices/conditions.

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These are not fun to ride a bike on.

While doing this I pass a small, inviting looking bike shop.  My tires have been feeling a bit squishy and it occurs to me I haven’t taken a proper pump to them since Tempe.  I ask if they have a pump.  They do, and Carlos the shop owner is super excited to talk and help.  He gives me a valve adaptor (I had on at one point, and now I do again), a sticker for my bike which I apply immediately, and my new favorite tank top.  Meanwhile an older guy shows us pictures on his phone of a bike tour he did of Cuba.

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Carlos of Tia Cleta

I take a selfie of us with my receently cruched phone.  The crunch happened on the beach in sayulita, and my mistake was putting the room key in the same (one and only) pocket of my shorts, then forgetting about that, then butt-planting on packed sand.  But it’s taped up, still functioning perfectly, with obstruction in the screen, and it’s an awesome low-keyification.  I feel better about pulling my phone out in arbitrary situations now that it looks like a piece of crap.

A random guy strikes up an animated but good natured conversation with me about america and mexico as I continue floating.  I flame off on facebook over my frustration with the health insurance thing.

The floating meets up with the route at this spot on the north end of town, and goes over a bridge that is definitely closed for cars and barely open for bikes.  I pick up some fruit for provisions.

Things are looking more and more sparse, so I get on-line for what might (and will be) the last time in a long time.  Friends on FB have helped make clear what I need to do for the insurance thing, and I get it done, from my (crunched) phone, on the side of the road, but only because I have a bluetooth keyboard to work around a bug with the site (for chrome on android).

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Health Insurance Application Workstation

It’s also time to cache up the most likely route and the elevation profile.  For some reason, I did it for the entire way to Yotorito nearly 600KM away, which basically messes with the resolution of the elevation profile.  But this is what it looks like.
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Also, I know Guadalajara is a major town, but I don’t really know anything else about this route or any of the towns on it.  I have a couple of bananas, a mango, and some home made cookies for provisions.  Food-wise, I’ve become a fan of not carrying a bunch for the sake of carrying a bunch.  I’ve gotten kinda fond of carrying the least possible food, often no food, actually.  For one, it’s a motivator to engage with food sellers, eat more locally made stuff, and with more variety.  It’s also liberating to get away from the perceived dependence on constant nourishment, and your brain and your body are in the same boat.  You brain can’t give your body the food, even if it wants to, so it can focus on just keeping going until you do get to your next chance for food.  Unlike with water, I think being able to go for several physically exerting hours between eating is a sign of good physical health…you can do what you need to in order to draw on reserves.  I think the minimal sustenance that you need on an hour to hour basis is water (and electrolytes to hold it in?).  It’s liberating, psychologically, to demonstrate to yourself that you can go as long as you’ve ever needed to go without any food, and know that you’ll still be fine.  When you’re no longer preoccupied with stockpiling food, you can put that attention into what you’re eating, when your brain and body get the chance to choose what and when to eat, together.

When the road quiets down, and the climbing starts getting kinda steep, it sinks in, I have no idea what to expect the next few days, and I’m downright giddy about the infinite potential this entails.  I’m entering a distinctly new phase, hills and jungle.  No more desert, no more ocean.  I have every reason to expect that there will be heavy rains, they’re well overdue.  I don’t know if there’s an Oxxo between here and Gaudalajara.  I don’t know if I’ll be sleeping indoors or out.  The only safe bet, based on experience, is that it is going to be delightful, whatever it is.

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Half a notion of what I'm in for...

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And so it is.  The climb is long and steep.  It’s my biggest climb day since somewhere in Utah, and hot and steamy.  My first chance for more fuel is a coco frio (cold coconut) stand on the side of the road just before a town.  The town probably has a store, but in any case, yes I want coconut water and coconut meat.  I have to order a second one for the meat as I didn’t specify the first time.  No matter.  The stand is inhabited by a mom, dad and two girls, one maybe 9 and the other around 5.  The 9 year old is shy and wary of me at first, but as I settle in, she gets increasingly (re)animated with a sparkly pink cased phone that she’s using to play songs and dance around the place.  By the time I’m eating coconut, with chili, salt and lime out of a plastic bag with fingers, she’s sitting at the table across from me.  She plays the opening hook of “I’m worth it” https://youtu.be/YBHQbu5rbdQ , locks eyes on me and sings along as I shoot partially chewed coconut up into my sinuses.  She laughs, but then gets self conscious like kids do that maybe I’m laughing at her, not with her, to which I say “I know that!” and she smiles and goes on doing her thing.  Oh what I would give to have captured the entirety of the moment, with the mom and dad doing their thing, the little sister looking on at her older sister admiringly.  Just a really adorable, happy seeming family.  When I’m about halfway done the coconut meat, I throw the rest in my handlebar bag, hold out my peso coins of which the mom takes I think fewer than standard price, and say farewell.

I go into town and get some more provisions, local baked goods, banana, nuts, cookies.  It doesn’t look like a restaurant is in the cards for this evening and I don’t want to have to go to bed hungry if I end up camping.

More intense climbing ensues, and it feels like it’s dusk for a long time, but that’s just storm clouds in the distance blocking the sun.  It gives everything a weird light.  The hills are round and piled on top of one another, and the road weaves around one to the other, making the road go down and up, but generally up.  Often the weave is actually a cut into the side of a fairly steep hill, or even into the top of a hill.    The hills are covered in thick jungly foliage, with long stretches of bird-song melodies, and deafening cicaida cresendos.

Eventually there’s a massive bridge, gratefully sparing the road from descending and re-ascending a great distance in order to span the river that has carved a canyon.  It spans from one hill range to another, and then I’m at about 2/3 of the major climb up into the highlands.  It’s about 90 minutes to sunset and a good time to figure out where I’ll be sleeping for the night.

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I get to a tiny town and ask some men sitting around in front of a minimart if they know where I might camp for the night.  One of them directs me to go into a lumber yard and open air wood shop and ask for Ricardo, saying “I hope he’s around” as we part ways.  Happily, he is, and he greets me with a “Hey man, how’s it going?” said as if he had been expecting me.  He shows me to a workshop with a roof but no walls, a nearby toilet, and then goes back to what he was working on.  I set up my bug net, eat the remainder of my food, and go to sleep.  I wake up to loud thunder and nearby lightening.  The roof has a single, small leak that is dripping on my legs, so I grab my raincoat and throw it over the bug net, then I go back to sleep.

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Ricardo's textile shop and my crash pad for the night

In the morning Ricardo is nowhere to be found so I leave a note thanking him and take off.  I grab some food at the minimart and eat it on the spot, then am on my way.  In the middle of the final and steepest part of the climb, a guy in a red pickup truck going in the opposite direction stops to chat.  He’s getting honked at by other drivers, so I ask him if he wants to pull off the road to talk and he does.  His name is Clarence and he’s from Canada and starting a bike tour company.  He’s worked as a guide for someone else’s company for a few years, and now he’s going to strike out on his own.  We selfie-up and he asks if I’d like money or anything.  I take his coins, amounting to maybe $1, as I’ve used up my own and a lot of the smaller fruit vendors will refuse payment rather than make change for even a 20 peso note.

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Clarence and I

I get to the pass and enjoy a long descent while observing a drastic change in the foliage.  This side of the hill is evidently in a rain shadow as the jungle canopy is replaced by sparse evergreen and cactus and air is notably less humid.

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The end of the climb into the highlands.
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The virgin

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A few hours later I roll into what turns out to be a historic town called Mascota.  Around the town’s main plaza, there are a dozen extended cab police pickup trucks, and for each of them, 4 or 5 heavily armed Jalisco state troopers.  It’s a fairly strange site, made a bit more so by one of the troopers having his shoes polished with a large automatic rifle sitting in his lap.  I polish off a large helping of steak fajitas, then an ice cream and then dip into some of the food I buy from a couple of different “mini supers”.  I’m happy to find a large bag of trail mix, even though it’s one thing that is not cheaper down here, I’d guess because nuts and dried fruit aren’t produced locally.

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Mascota "Publo Magico" on my way out

It’s getting to be the time of day when I find a place to spend the night, so when I spot a group of people hanging out at a mini super, I ask for “hotel o campamento”.  Nobody in their group speaks english, and I have “bicycling head”…my brain has difficulty thinking of words and my mouth has difficulty forming them.  I go down the dead-end side road that I think they’ve instructed me to.  It goes by a nice looking home where there’s parents and a few young daughters.  I try to explain to the father that the people at the shop up the hill directed me this way and I’m looking for a place to sleep for the night.  He speaks fairly fast, despite my asking him to please speak slower, and assertively.  I think I get the gist, that there’s a hotel on the main road that should only take me 5 or 10 more minutes to cycle to.  His daughters are giggling and I think saying to him that he should just let me camp by the river (at the end of the dead end road), but he’s not having it.  So I thank him and double back to the main road and continue on.  After another 20 minutes pedaling I decide that if there’s no evident accommodations beyond the top of the incline I’ve nearly reached, it will be an awkward night camping road-side.  Alas, there is a hotel, in the seeming middle of nowhere, just beyond.  It’s 300 pesos a night, more than I’ve paid for a night’s accommodations in several weeks, but not so much that I’m going to turn it down.  Another hard rain comes down during the night.  It wakes me and I’m glad to not be weathering it in my bivvy.

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Hotel in the middle of nowhere

In the morning I discover that there is a small village just around a bend where there are dueling grills on opposite sides of the street.  I’ve already had a fairly hearty breakfast of the remainder of my large bag of trail mix, but I can’t pass up the opportunity, so I have a quesadilla and coffee.  As I’m eating I watch a caravan of a dozen Jalisco state trooper trucks roll by.  I’ve seen this group of trucks 3 times now, and wonder if it’s really the same trucks or different caravans.  I also wonder why they roll so deep.  I’ve seen many groups of heavily armed dudes riding in or hanging out around trucks, and none yet have smiled, waved, or nodded acknowledgement.  I assume that the very real prospect of using their weapons at any moment is why these groups don’t express the warmth or enthusiasm that I’ve come to find is the norm for Mexicans in general.

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Quesadilla station (not in the middle of nowhere)

Given the hilliness of the terrain, I’ve set what I feel is a fairly ambitious goal to make it to, and stay the night, in the town of Ameca 90km away.  The first third is slow going with a lot of up and down, but I’m done with this by 1pm.  Cycling in the highlands amounts to climbing a range of hills, descending, traversing a fairly flat valley that contains a town, then repeating.  I do this a few more times and I’m rolling into Ameca by shortly after 5pm, despite losing and doubling back for a few km to recover my red blinky light that fell off when I donned my rain shell and rode through the first rain that I’ve cycled in since Utah.  It wasn’t nearly as heavy as it could have been (as I’ve seen from shelter several times now), and only lasted a few minutes

The woman at the first hotel I check out in Ameca is very friendly, the place is nice enough and clean enough, and the posted rate is 250 pesos, so that rather than spend time comparison shopping, I just take it.  I use the time when normal businesses are still open to instead find a unisex salon and get a much needed haircut.  The customer before me speaks enough english to do some translation with the woman cutting my hair, and then hangs around to talk some more.  A guy that speaks even better english stops in to chat and occasionally translate for the benefit of the 3 other people in the salon, and this extends 20 minutes beyond when my haircut is complete, and apparently past their closing time, based on their closing up shop as I leave.  I go to the row of food carts they recommended and have a variety of delicious tacos under a magnificent sunset.  Then, of course, ice cream and super market for bonus dinners and deserts. 

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Evening in Ameca

I’m rolling through the main plaza when I’m hailed by whistle by a city cop.  He summons me over and looks not happy, but I act I’m delighted to talk with him and soon his demeanor seems to lighten.  He speaks in mostly english, asking questions that aren’t quite interrogatory, but have a bluntness that’s definitely afforded by his position of authority.  In the end, he says to come back there and find him if there’s anything I need help with.  This was also said by the guy from the salon, and the following morning by a very friendly older man washing his car in the parking lot of the hotel.  It seems an open invitation to assist travellers is custom in Ameca.

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Guy on PA in support of protesters in Oaxaca

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Laying in bed back at the hotel, writing up some of this post, I realize that I’ve been hearing a rumble of thunder continuously for the past several minutes.  I go to the window to confirm that there’s continuous faint flickers of distant lightening to go with it, and as if on cue for my personal benefit, the rainfall starts just then.  I see it actually sweep across the the courtyard, painting the cobblestones with big wet circles as it goes.  These turn to a shallow layer of water that fills in the spaces between the round stones almost immediately, as the water comes down in sheets.  Again, I’m very grateful to be indoors.

In the morning, I have pancakes and coffee a nearby cafe.  A guy with an accordion comes by and serenades the cafe.  I’m ready to give him some pesos when he’s done, but he slips away while I’m distracted by a girl squishing the face of her younger brother as they both giggle and ham it up for the benefit of their parents inside the cafe.

The ride the rest of the way to Guadalajara is flat and easy.  I stop for a late lunch of tamales about 15km from the hostel where Nick, who I met in Mazatlan, is staying and where I’ll be joining him.  I have a chicken, steak, and my new favorite, pineapple tamale.

I get to the hostel and spend the rest of the evening there hanging out with other travellers as the tequila drinks and snacks are too bountiful to pass up.  It’s the middle of the following day as I wrap up this post and get ready to venture out and explore the city.

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June 15 – 19: San Blas to Puerto Vallarta

I spend the day in San Blas, eating from 5 different places and taking a surf lesson from Stoner’s surf school.  My instructor is not the longboard champion that is advertised (and runs the place and speaks english fairly fluently), but a young guy that speaks little english.  All the same, the lesson is well worth it, and I’m getting up on the board for some short runs by the time our hour is up.  Back at the hostel, Chris, the owner tells me about the hurricane and flood of 2002 that nearly wiped the town off the map, of his theory that the US government overstates the dangers of Mexico to prevent baby boomers from spending their retirement savings here, and several other interesting things.  All in all, it’s a chill, if uneventful, day off the bike.

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I had guessed that the place was built around this ficus, but in fact, it was about 6" diameter and only as tall as the building when Chris and Alma bought the place in 1993.

The next morning it’s time to be on my way again.  After a lot of waffling, I decide that I’ll at least continue on to Puerto Vallarta and if I am to double back to Mazatlan, I’ll take the bus from there.

A couple of Mexicans stop in to the hostel for a chat and to smoke a joint as I’m making my final preparations.  The hostel’s only other guest, a long-term one, offers me a handful of marijuana as a parting gift.   Apparently Nayarit has decriminalized amounts less than 28 grams.  This is definitely that, but I’m still inclined to err on the side of caution with respect to possession.  I’m also coming to realize that it’s not hard to find examples of people that have become long-term inhabitants of hostels, at least not in places sunny and beachy, like these.

I get back on the road and I’m decidedly out of the desert and into jungle, at least when not on beach front.

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There are lot's of bus/truck shaped tunnels through the foliage

I spot some light posts down a beach access road as I’m cruising down the highway.  They suggest the presence of an esplanade, so I go to check it out and indeed, there’s a concrete one, with dedicated bicycle lanes for long stretches.  It’s all but abandoned, and partially under construction.

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And there are abandoned tidal cabanas.

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I see a single, other cyclist that I chat with briefly before parting ways when I stop at a path-side outdoor gym for a little upper body stretch and exertion.

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The esplanade ends, and shortly after I’m back on road my route takes me on an unpaved shortcut of a gravel road that seems a bit ill-considered being as it’s at the base of a sheer cliff which the adjoining sea must butt up against with some regularity.  There is a flock of birds with massive wingspans circling above.  It’s my first encounter with them, and as such I’m awe stricken enough to stop and marvel for a bit, but I’ll come to find that they’re fairly common along this stretch of coast.

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The guy who I saw cycling on the esplanade catches up with me again.  Perhaps he didn’t take the shortcut?  In any case, I go for a fist bump and nearly swerve into him.  His name is Nacho, short for Ignacio.  We share a chuckle at our near collision and after chatting for a bit, he invites me to his place up the road.  I’m welcome to crash for the evening, but it’s barely after noon, and I want to cover more ground, so I gratefully decline.  I am, however, interested in partaking of his mango tree, which I learn of after telling him that I’m on the lookout for roadside mango bounties.  At his place he introduces me to his mom, a niece, and a marijuana plant of which he’s fairly proud.  Then he shows me how to select the freshest of the mangos that have fallen onto a soft ground cover of leaves, based on the viscosity of the nectar that oozes from the stem nub.  I end up staying for the better part of an hour eating two of the five mangos I take, discussing his recent trip to Tiajuna to see an ex-girlfriend and her folks, his work as a surfing instructor during the tourist season, and project plans such as the bamboo being cultivated for a future back-yard cabana, and some bicycles being collected in the shed to have parts salvaged for a rig he can use to do a multi-day ride and camp with some friends.  If I were a bicycle-tour-lifer I would probably accept the invitation that was mentioned in passing and make it my mission to get his bike suitable for touring, and then see how far I could get him to ride with me.  But I’m not, at  least not yet.

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Roadside fire. Probably controlled and intentional. Probably

I’m back on the road another hour when I spot a truck full of no less than 20 people standing in the bed.  It’s not uncommon to see smaller groups of people standing in the beds of such trucks, which are like pick-ups, but with bed walls that are enforced by welded steel beams and are about 4.5 feet tall instead of the standard 1.5.  But I find this one somewhat intriguing based on the sheer volume of people.  About 5 minutes earlier, I’d had my external battery slide 50 feet down the road when it popped out of my handlebar bag after I took a particularly big jump over a speed bump.  So when I encounter a speed bump as I gape at this large group of people gaping back at me, I decide to go around it instead.  As I try to cut back onto the road from the dirt and gravel shoulder, my angle is apparently too slight and my bike slides out from under me, not unlike it had done at a considerably higher speed a couple days earlier.  Again, I crash.  This time, I kinda just land on my butt and roll onto my back.  I sit up to see the large audience in the truck that is still pulling away from me.  Some are already laughing and/or cheering, probably at my expense (as in, not necessarily for support), but this increases by at least a factor of two as I raise my arms and clasp my hands in faux triumph.  I have a couple of minor abrasions, but I’m not hurt at all or even that shaken up, and the enthusiasm of my fleeting audience gives me the best laugh I’ve had so far this day.  In a mental triage I quickly conclude that this crash was just another bout of laziness, with perhaps just enough premeditation that when it went bad, there weren’t any consequences.

I stop in a town at the place I think the people in town are telling me is the only place to get food in that town at that hour.  I think the only thing I manage to convey to the woman in the dusty kitchen is “carne, por favor”.  I sit outside, alongside a row of old men, as instructed, and a short time later receive a good sized plate of diced and sauteed beef with a side of refried beans and a pile of freshly made tortillas.  Per some advice about travelling the region that I’ve recently read, I ask how much it was before eating it, lest I be extorted some outlandish amount with no basis to negotiate.  It would be 40 pesos ($2.30).  A few of the several old men that were hanging out there when I arrived have something served to them a short time later for which they hadn’t made any discernable request, that they tuck into eagerly.  Did I just subsidize an afternoon snack?  I’m not sure, but I’m happy for it if I have, especially for such a modest amount.  I also get a horchata, in a second lesson that “agua” is often short for “agua fresca” which means horchata or sometimes a tamarind flavored sweet drink, after being quoted the 40 pesos.  I give the woman 50 pesos, figuring the extra 10 should cover the additional drink, but a short time later she comes out with change.  I thank her and tell and gesture to her to keep it.  Tipping in Mexico is not institutionalized like it is in the US, but modest expressions of gratitude and generosity are appreciated, and it seems to be basic good form to ensure I’m giving at least as much as I’m receiving, w.r.t. random acts of generosity.

Not that I’m not full, but in the next town I succumb to a craving for something sweet with a package of cookies and two bananas.  I eat them in the town plaza, surrounded by men in rancher hats sleeping on benches at the apparent height of the day’s siesta.

I’m no longer on track to meet my goal of making it to Sayulita that day, so I decide to look for accommodations in the next beach front town on my route, La Penita de Jaltemba.  I spot a hotel a few kilometers before town and stop in to find out the rate, mostly for a baseline of what to expect as I’m hoping to find something closer to the actual beach.  The initial quote of 500 pesos drops to 300 as I try to explain that I’m going to look at other options and then possibly return.  They’re a sweet family, and the hotel seems relatively upscale, with a pool and AC in the rooms, so I’m not deliberately bargaining…I’m really just interested in seeing what else, lower scale, might be out there.

Sure enough, in town, a hotel one block from the beach quotes me 200 pesos, and after quickly checking out the room, I agree to take it.  The older woman that’s running the place is absolutely adorable, and when I try to convey that I’m eager to take a shower, she responds by letting me know that yes, one of the men hanging out in the lobby would be able to cut my hair for me.  She gives me a quizzical look as this sends me to a fit of laughter before joining me, in her much lower key way, in said laughter.  She’s slight of build, but has an air to her that lets you know that she’s tough as nails.  This, along with her warm but undeniably wry smile, channels fond reminiscences of my recently deceased grandmother.

I take my shower and then stroll around town.  I stop to enjoy a sunset along with several dozen of the town’s residents.

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Then my now customary concerted comestible consumption commences.  There’s to hoping you can forgive and deal with the occasional and somwhat forced alliteration.  Back in my room I doze off as I try to finish my daily duolingo spanish lesson and awake a short time later to the sound of heavy rainfall.  I leave my hotel, go to a restaurant across the street and have a final dinner.  About an hour later, back in my room, the power starts to flicker.  Then it goes out.  It comes back on in spurts, the last of which is accompanied by an incredibly bright arc of electricity outside my room in an alleyway.  This may or may not be the short circuit responsible for the power remaining off for the remainder of the night and well into the morning.  The rain continues for a couple of hours, but does little to cool the air.  Without the ceiling fan to keep cool, and resigned to being damp from the incredible humidity, I resort to going from cool shower straight to towel laid out on bed.  At least theres no bugs to contend with.

Come morning, I can’t find the room key, then vaguely remember a light knock on my door from the night before, so my best bet is that I left it in the door.  Indeed, the endearing matron smiles and kindly rolls her eyes at me when I tell her I can’t find it, then retrieves and gives it back to me.   Going out, one would have to notice the thawing of the ice boxes throughout town and the absence of usually superfluous shop lighting to realize there’s still no power, as restaurants bustle and business otherwise proceeds as usual.  I grab a breakfast and make a little friend at the
table across from mine.

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Riding out of town is pleasant, but with the previous night’s rain cooking off, the day is incredibly steamy.  From vistas you can literally watch the steam rise from the lower hills.  My phone, a source of a near constant stream of audio while riding, is clearly not adjusting to this climate very well, and my headphone jack starts shorting out with increasing frequency.

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At the top of a long climb, I pull into the shade of a large tree in a turn-out and peel off my sopping wet button-up long sleeve shirt, my equally wet balaklava, biking gloves and hat and hang them all on a sunny stretch of barbwire fence to dry out while I eat the 3 remaining mangos from Nacho’s tree.

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This turns out to be my last climb before the turn off to Sayulita.  It’s 3km from the turn off into the town, according to a highway sign, and for a moment I contemplate skipping it and going for Puerto Vallarta by nightfall.  But then I recall Nick’s (from the hostel in Mazatlan) praise for the place, and besides, what’s the rush?  As I enter town I’m surprised to find it crawling with gringos.  I easily see more white people in my first 3 minutes bumping down the river rock cobble streets than I have in the 3 weeks since I crossed the US/Mexican border at Nogales.  The streets and town plaza are litter free, and packed with colorful shops.  It is clearly a tourist town, thankfully devoid of any big american franchises, that’s nice and enough of a change of pace that it’s an easy decision to stay for at least a night.  I find a hostel on my phone, walk my bike the block and a half to it, then get a enthusiastic and warm greeting from the guy at the counter.  I assume he’s american based on his fluent english, but later learn that he grew up in Mexico, close to the border and natively bilingual.  I get the impression that, for this guy, and people in general that have clients that are backpackers travelling by vehicle and so are on some level obligated to express some interest in their story, mine is a refreshing change of pace.  Either that, or hospitality folks are just that good at making everybody feel like their particular story is actually interesting, mine included.

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I get the tour, settle in, shower up, and head out.  I hit the beach which has tents set up for massage and surf board rental, the latter of which I inquire about rates.  I go to a beach front restaurant and have a late and probably ill-fated lunch of shrimp fajitas, then tool around eating, reading and napping until I grab a dinner and watch some of the US vs Ecuador soccer match.  A few minutes into the second half I determine that something is very amiss in my gut, and that I need a bathroom immediately.  I use the restaurant’s, but when I need it again a few minutes later, I decide to settle up and head back to the hostel where I can use a toilet with whatever frequency is required, and less self consciously.  Getting change for my bill takes long enough that I do require a second use of the restaurant’s toilet, which holds me over just enough to get back to the hostel less than a block away.

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Before gastrogeddeon

It’s not an unfamiliar bug for me, though it’s my first stroke of bad digestive luck I’ve had on the trip.  There’s a slightly sharp pain in my gut that feels as if I have a cubical turd stuck in it.  It triggers the biological urge to defecate, but then only liquid comes out.  It sucks that it happens, but I’ve been through it enough to have some confidence that my body is capable of recovering enough to not be toilet tethered within 12 hours, and completely recovered within a few days.  Thankfully, it’s not a busy night at the hostel.  There’s only one other guest in the 8 bed dorm, a friendly guy named Hector from Monterey (MX, not CA) I’d met earlier that evening, and he’s not back until at least 4am, and even then, my then 30 minute spaced toilet trips are not seeming to interrupt his sleep.

By sunrise, I’m feeling a bit better, and while I picked this particular hostel because it did not have a 2 night minimum stay, I’m not inclined to get on the bicycle and take my chances finding places to relieve myself roadside on very short notice.  I take 1/2 an imodium and some some ibuprofen with a liter of water and then go downstairs for a breakfast of toast, cereal with regretfully, partially soured milk (which is served again the next morning, fully soured), and coffee…the last of which I both want and do not need to be drinking at the moment.  After waiting for an hour for my gut to give me a miraculous and unmistakable go-ahead for leaving town, and not receiving it, I pay for a second night.  Hector has gotten up, and he’s smoking some pot at the front desk that doubles as a dry bar, which strikes me as a bit brazen given the posted rules clearly state drugs are prohibited, but the staff on the other side of the bar don’t seem to care or even really notice.  We strike up a conversation, and quickly determine that it would be fun to hang out for the day.  He appreciates the fact that I’m doing my trip solo and recounts his friends saying that they think he’s crazy for doing even weekend excursions, like the one he’s currently doing, on his own.

We head to the beach and find a wholesome looking Mexican family to ask to watch our phones and wallets as we go for a swim.  Then we go and rent a board for the day.  Hector hasn’t surfed before, so I give him a 30 second version of the 1 hour lesson I’d gotten in San Blas a few days earlier: how to position yourself on the board when you’re lying on it and how to position your hands and feet as you hop up.  He’s a quick learn and standing up on it in his first attempt following my abbreviated lesson.  Meanwhile I’ve discovered that the ripping sound coming from the crotch of my only pair of shorts as I was straddling the board during my first session was, as I feared, the seam which has long had a minor hole giving way so that it was open well up my backside.  Thankfully, unlike many in these parts, I prefer wearing underwear under board shorts.  I leave Hector with the board and head back to the hostel for my needle and thread to repair my shorts, bringing back our stowed valuables in the process.

This takes a bit longer than I’d hoped, and I’m finishing when Hector shows up.  He’s left the board with the rental place and suggests grabbing some lunch.  We do, and I notice that it’s pretty great hanging out with both a fluent english, and a native spanish speaker, and with Hector in particular, conversation is relaxed and easy.

The hostel and the beach are about a block apart, so we spend the rest of the day bouncing back and forth.  I finish our time with the board while Hector is back at the hostel.  Most of my time in the water is spent bobbing up and down on waves, waiting for one worth going for which is incredibly meditative.  I’m wearing the long-sleeve button up shirt that is my every-day bicycling shirt, because as my only long-sleeve synthetic shirt it’s my best sun protection.  It also results in a good deal of attention.  As I’m walking down to the beach, some crafts merchants shout laughingly that I can buy a tie to go with it in the shop across the street.  Historically, this sort of attention is not something I’ve enjoyed.  It tends to make me feel self-conscious concern that I’m the butt of a joke for which I should be embarrassed.  But I’ve been the focus of so much consistent attention on the bicycle, and seen so much first-hand evidence that such jokes are good natured, that I’m not only enjoying it, but I realize that I’m inviting it.  I feel an unmistakable element of pride in standing out from the many other gringos, strutting down the cobblestones in my somewhat flamboyant, peacock patterned dress shirt, crudely stitched board shorts, big hair, and bare feet.  There’s times when it’s better to be lower key, but beach bumming in Sayulita is not one of them.

In the water I’m approached by a number of people based on my choice of shirt.  One group, from California, is particularly interested in my story, and we chat for a bit.

I return the board to the rental tent for the day, and head back to the hostel.  There, Hector and I share a couple of beers.  Then a group of Mexicans join us and the conversation quickly transitions to Spanish.  The group from the water shows up out front, loading up a station wagon, and notices me in the courtyard.  Even though I’m kinda implicated by the piles of marijuana on the makeshift coffee table (that keeps getting knocked over resulting in non-trivial losses), I go out and we snap some photos, exchange some info, and say goodbyes.  Back in the hostel courtyard, one of Mexicans wants to know what that was all about, to which I explain, with Hector’s help, that I’d just met them in the ocean…that they’re my new “sea friends”.  Likewise, I’m finding myself tempted to keep asking for help in getting caught up in their highly animated conversation when I realize that it’s asking a lot of Hector to be my personal translator while he’s getting to know these guys.  They work at El Cameron, the beach bar where THE party is going down later that night, and if I were Hector I’d be happier to be able to focus on the conversation at hand.  So I amble off and do some duolingo on my phone and give him some space.  For a bit at least, but then I don’t want to seem anti-social, so I head back over and strike up side a side conversation with the guy that wanted to know about the Americans out front.

After the other Mexicans take off, Hector is contemplating looking for a woman that he chatted with the night before, and I encourage him to.  I hang out in the courtyard on my own for a bit, jotting some notes.  There’s an Australian couple hanging out in the bar area that seem friendly enough.  There’s also an American hostel worker making out very unsubtly with a Mexican hostel worker at the front desk.  I’m happy having some alone time in the courtyard.

A few minutes later, a guy that turns out to be a Swiss citizen of Sri Lankan and Tamil descent comes back to the hostel with a couple of beers and joins me in the courtyard.  I call out, jokingly “hey there, what did you get?” to two women guests with shopping bags coming back to the hostel.  It’s makings for a dinner salad, which when they’re done with, they come over and join us.  One of them is from Buenos Aires, and the other is from Spain (sadly I forget where specifically).  All 3 of my new companions have just finished exchange programs at universities around the country and are doing a bit of travelling before heading home.  The women are keen to go out dancing, and are happy to hear that I know where the party is going down.  It’s just about midnight, which I’d learned earlier that evening is the best time to show up, when we decide to get going.  Happily and coincidentally, Hector comes back to the hostel just then to check in, and now 5 of us are headed to the party.  None of us actually knows exactly where it is, but we manage to get there.  It’s a safe bet that I’m not the only one whose developing a bit of a crush in the process, that 5 node directional bipartite graph is highly connected, but I’m easily the most self-conscious about it, knowing that my new companions are barely (if even) half my age, even if they wouldn’t guess as much.  But it’s all just harmless flirting with the additional energy bourne by such attractions, and we have a fantastic time.  The music is a modern take on a traditional genre (again, name sadly forgotten).  There’s a break in the beat that’s so small and seldom that initially it strikes me as a defect in the recording medium, like a section of stretched cassette tape.  But it happens regularly, and it’s also 2016.  Eventually my brain adjusts, and then latches on to it, and dancing to it is delightful.  Some random guy asks the Spanish woman to dance, and they break into a coordinated, semi-traditional dance that to my eyes, is kind of like the inverse of Salsa.  Instead of 1,2,3 with a foot thrust forward on the 1, it’s a foot pulled back on the 1.  There’s impromptu hula hoop LED light shows and fire dancing on the beach, which I confide to the Spaniard that I think they’re cool, though not as cool as watching her dance earlier.

By about 2:30, the Swiss guy has taken off about 30 minutes earlier and I’m myself at the point where I could keep going and probably regret having done so in the morning, or let my better judgement prevail and call it a night.  After some internal struggle I go the latter route and wish Hector and the two women good night.  I haven’t had much of an appetite all day, so I indulge some munchies that reveal themselves as I pass a 24 hour convenience store and get some digestive biscuits, yogurt and banana which I eat back at the front desk/bar of the hostel where the American and Mexican workers are still making out, seemingly bound by a sense of duty to not abandon their post, but unbound by any sense of discretion.

The next morning I’m feeling well enough that I know I’ll be going on my way.  The swiss guy is heading to Puerto Vallarta as well, but to catch a flight that departs before I’ll get there.  Hector believes he has a reservation for an AirBnB in PV that night, but will figure out later that it’s actually the following night.  He ended up sleeping on the beach some time after the two women headed back to the hostel.  The women are headed North somewhere and keeping to themselves in their dorm where I go to wish them farewell when I’m actually leaving.

It’s a scant 50K to the hostel I’ve scoped out in PV, so I take my time, stopping at stands to get coconut water from the source, and then scraping out the young meat.  I stop at a bicycle shop that is, puzzlingly, closing in the middle of the day on a Saturday, but there’s an employee leaving as I roll up so I ask for a screw to replace one that has fallen out from one of my pedal clips.  He’s happy to oblige and his woman friend seems genuinely happy to stand by as he provides me unsolicited and unneeded but genuinely sweet and appreciated assistance with the repair.  We say farewell and shake hands as if we had just spent the day together, and I’m all but overwhelmed by their warmth.

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Entering greater Puerto Vallarta metropolitan area. I believe this sign is actually intended to disallow the use of ALL stemware while driving.

I get to the Chanclas (spanish for flip-flop/thong, but also slang for raging/partying) Hostel in Puerto Vallarta, which turns out to be only 2 months old.  The owner comes downstairs from the second story establishment to meet me as I’m deciding where to lock up my bike, and escorts me up with the bike.  He’s a soccer fan, and after I stroll around the esplanade and take in the sights for a couple of hours, I watch the first half of the Mexico vs Chile Copa Cup quarter final with him.  It’s very “no bueno” for Mexico, and I’m a bit low on sleep  and pretty tired, so I turn in for the evening.

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Malecon plaza in PV, with band and old folks dancing.

June 9 – 14: Mazatlan to San Blas

I was all but decided that I would take a hiatus from the bike tour, flying home to Seattle from Mexico City to wait out the heat come mid-July.  The seed was planted as I started my North-South traverse of the Sonoran desert, and the notion flowered as I took on this arid expanse, day in day out for, what, a few weeks?  But reaching the beach in Mazatlan, the oasis that was the Funky Monkey, then continuing on and realizing how much of a stride I’ve hit, I’m pretty solidly not inclined to cut this short, even temporarily.

It also helps that I’ve gotten to a region where pay accommodations (bed, shower, walls and usually AC and other luxuries) are available for $10-20/night, a negligible amount, even for my hyper-frugality (though I know not for many bicycle travelers).

Here’s the stride I’ve hit, at least the last few days.  I wake up and take my time to get going, not setting out until as late as noon sometimes, finding then eating a big breakfast, drinking probably too much coffee, and watching whatever city I’m in wake up in the process.  Then I head back to the room, where I’ll do some exercising of the 90% of my body that will be not getting it on the bike (bicycling is not a great workout), then shower, then do an exhaustive application of sunscreen.  Once I get going, I set a destination goal within a few hours, and push myself as needed to reach it.   Ideally, it’s a little ambitious, unless there’s a destination that justifies going a slower so that I can spend at least the night there. As much as possible, I stick to roadside fruit stands and grills, and avoid Oxxo’s (the ubiquitous Mexican convenience store) for mid-ride re-fuelings.  I don’t like to eat all that much when I’m riding any more.  Used to be that I couldn’t eat enough, but now I don’t feel particularly hungry until I know I’m done for the day.  If my goal for the day is modest and the proprietor seems happy (if not eager) to have me take a break with them, I’ll take one or more of these as opportunities to hang out and work on my Spanish.  There are many fold more interesting and delicious looking places than can be stopped at if I’m going to meet my daily goal, but then, this is the very point of the daily goal.  I enjoy becoming a stronger rider and farther-reaching explorer more than I feel I’d enjoy becoming an uber conesuer of tacos and mangos.  Come evening, of late, rather than scoping out camping possibilities, I’m rolling into a small city, larger than a town, but small enough that there are literally hundreds of them per state, I’d estimate, and delighting in the character of the place.  As the sun goes down, these small cities come alive.  I check in to my chosen accommodation, shower up, unload the bike, then cruise town, basically eating my way through it.  I’ll start with a savory, seafood or meat, then another, then move on to a frozen thing, say handmade popsicle or chocolate covered banana, then some more treats to bring back to the room, where I’ll watch a little soccer (there’s always some on, Copa Cup, in particular) and then pass the eff out.

Ok, so that more or less covers the last couple of days.  The two nights before that (and after my last post), I spent the day tooling around Mazatlan, enjoying the perks of a big, resort-y city by day.  The second night I spent at the Funky Monkey, I joined the staff and another guest for a farewell meal for one of the staff.  Other than Salem, the owner, they’re doing work-aways, a program where you contribute to the work required to run a hostel, in exchange for board, and maybe some other comp (I haven’t asked).  My third and final night there was a Friday night.  A fun couple came to stay the night and we basically hung out and partied, also going out to catch game 4 of the NBA finals.  The party ended up on the roof, which is where I decided to sleep that night (no, not pass out, just go to sleep).

That night, I’d talked excitedly with the couple that had arrived that evening, and who were travelling by large van, about putting my bike in their van and travelling with them for a ways.  Even if it were for one day, we’d cover more ground than I would cover in over a week.  It seemed like a great idea that night, but come next morning, I was less excited about turning my bike tour into a bike and hitchhiking thing.  Also, they were packed and ready to go by the time I was finishing waking up and showering.  We agreed it still sounded like fun, but were torn on whether or not we should go forward with the plan, so I said that we should flip a coin, which they immediately got and agreed with.  The coin said I should not catch a ride with them, and that was that.  I’m sure they would have been a blast to get to know more, but like ferry hopping, I also think it’s a slippery slope to start combining hitchhiking and easier transport options into the mix.  And for what?  I really don’t have an ultimate destination objective.

I want to also mention Eric, a Mexican I shared a dorm room with, and who has been staying there an extended amount of time.  He is, I can tell, even though I only spent maybe an hour talking with him, and excellent teacher.  He’s passionate about mesoamerican history in the region, and he instinctively weaves in spanish at a rate to optimize benefit to my learning of it.  He’s yet another reason I really enjoyed my time at the Funky Monkey.

Come Saturday morning, post-coin-flip, I was really tempted to hang out and stay another night.  Salem and the other staff had ordered delivery of smoothies and pizza and were basically taking the day off, and this seemed in many ways so much more appealing than climbing on my bike and heading out into the heat to exacerbate my already low level of hydration.  But eventually that’s what I did, and it turned out to be a good call. The day was brilliant, and once I was out of the city into some tropical countryside, it felt soothing.

That said, Salem had mentioned in passing, the day before, the possibility of me contributing some work in exchange for board, and this has planted another seed.  I’m now easily more inclined to make my way back to Mazatlan (say, by bus, from Puerto Vallarta when I get there in a day or three) and work on the construction of a room on the rooftop that it seems they could use help with, and have Eric teach me Spanish and history for a while (figuring out some arrangement that he’d be happy with), than I am to pull the plug and fly back to Seattle.  Coin flips are not to be trifled with, but this might call for one.  If you, dear reader, have an opinion, I’m all ears.

Anyways, I’m writing this from San Blas.  I’m in a super cheap hostel-type thing that I found on AirBnB run by a self-identifying ‘old hippy’ that has a fridge full of essentials on sale, on the honor system.  I think I’ll stay at least the day tomorrow to surf.

The wifi here seems pretty solid, so at the risk of frustrating myself with WordPress’s fickleness when pictures are involved, I’m going to throw in some in…

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Hotel IQ de Escuinapa
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View of sunset over plaza from ice cream shop.
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Suuuper sweet lady that gave me refreshing coconut and mango treats as well as a great lesson in spanish
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Miguel writing for me "que dios te guide por todo camino" or "may god watch over you all the way"
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San Blas plaza
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San Blas beach sunset
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Sunset from roof of Funky Monkey (and palm tree planks for construction project)

June 3 – 8: Topolobampo to Mazatlan

It’s really funny how some prejudice mixed with a little lack of friendliness can taint an impression of a place.  Yes, Sinaloa is home to the worlds most powerful cartel, but does that mean that it’s a bad place to tool around on a bicycle?  I think I was reasoning “well, it can’t mean that it’s a *good* place to tool around on a bicycle.”  Oh, but is it ever.

I must have misunderstood Alfredo about the jet ski event, or it was also an ATV event, because there were a half dozen ATVs being lined up on the beach, with massive coolers being hauled out as I ate breakfast and finished loading up my bike.  I think if my Spanish was stronger and/or if I had my wits about me a bit more, I might have stuck around to see what it was all about.  But I had just eaten a cold can of diced vegetables, and was out of food and nearly out of water, and didn’t want to have to depend on the generosity of my hosts even more.  That said, I gladly accepted a small bottle of water from one of the coolers that had been pulled out onto the beach, by one of the pullers.  Shortly after, I said my goodbyes and started making my way back to Los Mochis.  This was pretty uneventful, though there were stretches of fast road with no shoulder.  One guy honked as he passed too close and fast, to which I threw up my arms like “what do you want me to do?!”, to which he threw up his arms while looking in the mirror and slowing down.  His passenger rolled down the window and they were yelling something as I pulled down my balaklava, nearly caught up and was trying to think of the spanish to approximate “so, you don’t have time to slow down before you endanger my life, but you do have time to afterwards to yell at me” which was a hopeless prospect.  Just as well, they didn’t slow down enough for me to catch up, and then I remembered that I’m in cartel country and by the accounts of some, I’m dumb to even be here, never mind riling up the locals.  I mean, this has been in the back of my head, and I think it’s been good for keeping my entitlement in check with respect to flaming off at aggressive or careless drivers.  Even in this case I was basically just saying “what?!” not anything actually antagonistic.

That has me in a little funk for a while, but this is negated (positivated?) by a series of very nice interactions with locals.  I think my perception of unfriendliness the day before was both motivating and motivated by the plan to ferry past a large stretch of Sinaloa.  WIth this off the table, I can’t deny that the vast majority of my interactions are either obviously positive, or neutral, the latter case based largely on confusion on the part of the other person at seeing me.  One guy pulls over, hugs me as I go to shake his hand, and gives me a can of vitamin water.  The hug is a bit awkward, as I’m self conscious about the fact that I’m drenched with sweat, and I’m straddling my bike, and he seems like maybe kinda a gym buff, not someone I would guess is a hugger, but he’s too excited to not go for it, and I’m happy to oblige.  We chat for a bit, mostly in english, but my struggles with spanish are paying some dividends, then we part ways with another awkward but awesome sort-of hug and fist bumps.  Next, I meet Eduardo, who catches up to me when I take a water and snack break in the trapezoidal shadow of a street sign I’ve pull up next to.  I’ve gotten good at squeezing shade out of unlikely objects.  He’s wearing a radio on a cord around his neck, and after we talk for a bit, he says ‘OK, let’s go!’.  We’ve already established that he’s only got until the next town 9km ahead, but it’s nice to have a cycle companion, if only for a few km.  I draft off of him for a while, and then go to return the favor, but he drops back really far.  I doubt he’s unaware of the advantage, so I guess he’s just not into it and I let him pull ahead again and draft some more.  He’s rail thin, but still enough to put a dent in the 45 degree head/side wind…maybe because it was an angle wind.

The town he pulls of into is Guasave, and the strip of businesses that run along the highway a short ways later include a bunch of american fast food restaurants.  I haven’t done one of those in Mexico yet, I’m a touch taco’d out anyways, and something fast is exactly what I want so I can keep going.  I feel on a roll but it’s getting to be early evening and while I’m at 50 miles for the day, only a little more than half of that represents forward progress, what with my beach detour.  So, I drop into burger king and get a double whopper.  I regret it as soon as I start into it, but calories are calories, I’m getting a much appreciated AC cool off, and I’m back on the road in under 20 minutes.

My spirits are high and I’m making good speed when I hear something that sounds like it might have come off my bike.  I turn around to look for it, and I overcompensate for not drifting in that direction (left) and drift to the right, off the pavement and into some sand that comes out from under a guardrail.  There’s a lip to get back on the pavement and I know I can’t make it with the narrow lane the guardrail leaves me to work with, and the bike is sliding under the guardrail slowly, wheels first.  The sand has slowed the bike down from 15mph to no more than 5mph, and some kind of instinct kicks in.  I push off the bike leapfrog style over/around the handlebars that are getting lower as the bike keels over to the left (the wheels sliding right, under the guardrail).  The shoulder is about 3 feet wide, and I’m thankfully able to disregard the car factor.  The bike comes to a crashing stop but I still have momentum as I land mostly on my feet, but also kinda gorilla like, with my hands helping me from splaying out on the gravel strewn pavement shoulder.  I’m letting out an involuntary sort of grunty ‘errrgh’ of exertion and bracing for pain from the impending roll, but then I stop, still on my hands and feet.  One of my fingers got pinched on the nail pretty badly, but a quick body inventory confirms I’m more or less unscathed.  Next I instinctively start saying “oooh buddy” sympathetically to my rig.  The front fender is all bent up, but that thing’s on its last legs anyways.  My handlebars are turned a full 180 degrees…I have a super tall stem that allows this (with some forcing) even though I have dropdown handlebars because it seems the bike (which I got for $400 off of craigslist) is a few inches too small for me…but those pop back around.  One of my front bags has been pried off partially, but it’s still in tact and goes back on.  I unbend the front fender and then spin each wheel slowly to test that they’re still in good shape (and not rubbing).  I check out the drive train and breaks, and they’re fine too.  All systems are go, and I thank nothing in particular (atheist) for my good fortune.  I think about how much luck was involved, and if some subconscious part of me calculated the risk of that happening, factoring in my chances of reacting as effectively as I managed to.  I decide one takeaway is that maybe I should call it a day, and just then I see a sign for a Hotel.  It’s the first in (and very likely to be the last for) some time.  It looks like it’s also a sort of truck stop with an Oxxo about 100 meters down the way.

I find out they have a room, and the price is 200 …no make that 250 pesos ($12, no $15).   The room is a pit, but it’s a family joint, and they seem nice, even if I’m getting a gringo rate (can you blame them?).  I take it and take a shower under a stream of water dropping from a headless shower pipe 4 inches from the grimy wall.  I don’t care, it feels great to cool off.  And the AC works.  I figure out that the TV shares a tuner with the one the kids are watching in a living room/passage way I have to walk through to come and go.  I go to the oxxo and get some cookies, yogurt and banana for dinner, and eat it out front.  A guy that looks like a skinny version of the actor who plays Machete pulls up in a truck, goes in, and comes out with wet hair about 10 minutes later.  When the sun has tucked away and the mosquitos come out, I go to retire to the room and discover little signs that the guy likely showered in the bathroom of my room: the bathroom door not shut completely at it was when I’d left and the toilet that I’d peed in but not flushed is flushed.  But there’s no indication that he touched any of my things splayed out on the beds, so no point in making a fuss.  I go into the main area and the kids are done watching TV, and with the daughter’s help, we tune the TVs to some soccer game and I go back to my room and really retire for the night.

In the morning, it’s Oxxo for coffee and biscuits for breakfast.  I randomly check out AirBnB for the town of Culiacan, having noticed an abundance of cheap hotels on booking.com and realized that it’s a city large enough that there might be some.  Sure enough, there are a couple of inexpensive, and nice looking places.  Pitty, the woman with the least expensive one gets back to me very quickly. I say that I’m 140 km (87 miles) away and will book it once I get a bit closer.  I decide that if I manage to knock off the first 40 km by noon, then doing another 100 km between noon and sundown is viable and I’ll book it then.

I stop for some fruit and some ‘cooler burritos’ in Guamuchil.  The interactions are a bit odd with both vendors.  The old man selling fruit (2 oranges, 2 bananas and a mango for $0.70) is speechlessly transfixed by my bike.  At the burrito stand, the guy doing the transaction a locks me into a steely and disconcerting stare.  He won’t look away, he wont show any reaction to smiling or anything that’s not essential to the transaction.  It’s eerie, but at the same time, there’s a few guys hanging out around the stand that are all smiles and friendly questions, so whatever.  I decide maybe the vendor guy (who’s probably late teens, early 20s) is on some kind of zombifying drug.  Or he hates me.  Oh well, you can’t win them all…

I get to 100km remaining at 12:08, decide that’s close enough, and book the room.

For me, in the absence of unfavorable conditions (headwinds, long/steep inclines, etc) going between 12 and 14 mph is not the hard part.  The hard part is the hours per hour that I’m actually moving.  Once I stop, 3 minutes can turn into 20 in what seems like the briefest moment of zoning out and enjoying the fact that I’m not pedaling.  With fees, the airbnb put me out $15, so it wasn’t high stakes.  But the land is far less arid as I’m getting farther south, and becoming cultivated (mostly corn), and camping on the edge of cultivated land is not great.  Plus, Culiacan is evidentially large, and there’s a distance into a sizable city’s metropolitan area after you’ve gone where you’re kinda committed to staying indoors, or having a sketchy night camping.

So, I resolve to make my stops efficient.  One problem is, the ‘old’ highway, 15 diverges from 15D, the new toll highway, and no matter what, Google Maps absoulutely refuses to give any bike route (even one for two nearby points only transitable via 15D) that has the bike going along 15D.  I figure Google Maps has it’s reasons and take the old highway.  I’ve gotten used to the ubiquitous Oxxo stores being spaced along the highway, never much more than 50km apart, but this isn’t the case on the old highway.  I don’t like Oxxo-ing for food, but I do like Oxxo-ing for gallon jugs of water and keeping myself in good supply.  I’m down to my reserve 1.5L bottle when the town that has been advertised for some time as the next opportunity for services, fails to produce an Oxxo, or even a Six (mostly a beer counter chain, but carries water in 1.5L too that will do in a pinch).  I see two older men sitting near a table lined with yellow liquid in coke bottles and ask them for some water.  One of them puts out his hand for my bottle, and I give it to him.  He takes the only non-yellow-liquid containing bottle on the table, a plastic jug, and empties it into my bottle. I thank them and pull out 20 pesos, to which he points to the other guy.  I hand it to him and he thanks me and encourages me to sit down and cool off.  This is not in my hours per hour optimization plan, but these guys seem pretty great, and I have a mango burning a hole in my saddle bag.  We struggle to understand one another, my brain somewhat heat scrambled, but they’re patient, and we share some good laughs (one about how the one guy’s wife bosses him around, another about what a piece of shit Donald Trump is).  They’re brothers, and they live right there, basically, if I understand correctly, and maybe one of them is a truck driver.

After about 20 minutes, I get their photo, and hand them the slips I had made, to which they point to their flip phone and have me write my phone number on the back of both of them.  Then I’m on my way.

I’m down to about half of this 1.5L, my last water, when I pass through another town with a taco stand.  It smells delicious, but I’m now tracking to get in 20 minutes before sundown, so I ask for just water.  The guy working the tables takes me over to their big 5 gallon bottle, which we use to fill up my narrow mouthed bottles by tipping, wasting a lot of his water.  He doesn’t seem bothered, and he smilingly waves off the pesos I try to give him.

Now it’s just me and 60 more kilometers, ample water, and, let’s see, some “sin azucar” strawberry jam.  I pull that out into my handlebar bag and decide when, based on the next likely quick food opportunity, I’ll be spooning it into my mouth.  I’m not even that hungry, really, but I can tell my legs would appreciate the boost.

It all goes as planned, with my quick food stop being for just a fantastic pineapple popsicle full of big chunks of actual pineapple.  Driving in the city is a bit hectic, but Pitty is awesome at guiding me to her place over the AirBnB messaging app.  She even sends a google street view view of her place to help me find it specifically despite some strangeness with the house numbering system.  I message her when I get to it, she comes out to meet me, and shows me the place.  It’s really quite beautiful, and she has a handwritten note for me with the wifi password, an apple, some grapes, a cold liter of water, and the AC already doing its magic in my room.  She introduces me to her lovely family, and I feel like I’m in heaven.  I already think I might want to stay an extra night, but I don’t want to mention this and then change my mind.

I take an amazing shower, and feel just great, but the hunger is now coming (maybe triggered by the grapes and apple I’ve inhaled), so I ask Pitty for dining out suggestions and about the advisability of me being out and about in her town at night, which I’ve just learned is the capitol of Sinaloa and headquarters for the cartel.  She gives me good suggestions and assures me that I’m fine in the city core and her neighborhood.  I end up at a place called “Salad In Box”, which is, I gather, a regional chain.  It’s absolutely perfect.  I get to pick 2 proteins, 4 vegetables, and dressing and other garnishy toppings that are tossed into a large serving of leafy greens and comes to about $7, easily less than half what it would be in Seattle.

On the way back, I stop by a supermarket and pick up dessert/breakfast makings of yogurt, fruit, and granola.  Back at the house, Pitty is watching Game of Thrones (broadcast, it’s Sunday night) with her sister, but takes time out to chat, make sure I’m settled in, and attempt to get her 18 year old son who speaks english fluently, but is a bit shy (and I’ll learn the next day, living with asperger’s) to engage with me.  Pitty speaks basic but solid english.  Her sister speaks none.  Pitty will leave for work around 7:30 in the morning, but her sister will be there.  All in all, I feel completely at home.

The next morning, sure enough, my legs are crying uncle.  I’ve been doing 60-80 mile days since Hermosillo, so 7 days back-to-back.  I think it’s time to give the pistons the day off.  I’m also IMing with a local woman fluent in english on Tinder who is interested in sharing a dinner just based on it probably being interesting to hear about my trip and stuff.  So, I IM Pitty and she says “sure, don’t worry about it”.  I’d learned that she had long since been a host on couchsurfing.com, and that I was only her second AirBnB, which she had just finished setting up a week earlier.  For the amount that she’s charging, I definitely prefer the AirBnB arrangement over having to worry about being sufficiently appreciative the whole time.  I tell her I insist I’ll pay for the second night in cash (save us the AirBnB commission).

I check out the Jardin Botanico, a park along the river, find a bookstore proper and finally get a fold-out paper map of Mexico, then hit the Forum mall and get good wifi for my first time in Mexico at a coffee shop called “The Italian Coffee Company” or something like that, along with some mega whey protein powder stuff at a GNC to throw into my calorie reserve bank.

Riding around the city without any bags is exhilarating.  A couple of drivers couldn’t have come closer to taking me out had they been trying.  In both cases they pass by me on the left, as I’m riding with traffic on the right side of the road, then cut me off while stopping suddenly, leaving me with no option but to apply my breaks as suddenly, or careen into the side of their vehicle.  I suspect that at least the second one wasn’t trying to take me out because I turn to glare at him as I pull around his vehicle, and he’s messing with something in his passenger seat, oblivous to the world around him.  I give up on him noticing my glare and start tsk-tsk nodding my head and chuckling for my own benefit when I notice another driver, waiting to pull into traffic has been watching it all go down.  He and I make eye contact and share my chuckle about what an idiot the oblivous driver had been, and by just having another person to share the moment with, my fear and anger immediately evaporate.  I think, in general, Mexico has been very theraputic for me in that regard.  So many crazy things happen around me every day, many of them things that would usually anger me, but that’s just not part of the social norm.  “Esta bien, esta bien”, or “it’s fine, it’s fine”, is the mantra.  Crazy, or infuriating, is in the eye of the beholder, and there’s really nothing to be gained from beholding it.  Conversely, I feel free to do things from which I’d usually refrain for fear of being considered crazy.  It’s a very live-and-let-live vibe.

I get back to the flat for a pre-dinner shower and a cat nap in the AC.  It’s a ridiculously hot day outside, but thankfully a bit cooler when I head to Cabanna to meet my dinner date at 7:45pm.

She greets me with a kiss on the cheek, european style, and the conversation is easy.  She’s been trying Tinder for a few months, and has chatted with a bunch of connections, but I’m the first one that she’s met in person, for which I feel pretty honored.  She’s moved back to Culiacan and in with her family.  She has three brothers, and generally it sounds like, at least in this part of Mexico, things are a bit traditional/conservative wrt expectations and norms around interactions with guys.  That is, women are routinely given a hard time by their families and boyfriends about how they dress and who they talk to.  We chat for about 2 and a half hours, and then call it a night.  I grab some cookies and ice cream on the way home for a late-ish night snack.

PItty had filled me in on her morning schedule the first evening that I’d gotten there, and the next morning I make sure I’m up and downstairs in time to say goodbye to her in person.  She’s heating up some tamales and sauteed zuchini for her breakfast.  She offers to heat some up for me, and it’s delicious.  We look at photos of her world travels, with her, her two sons that I’ve met, a daughter that’s off to college, and an oldest child, a son, who she says is dead.  Pitty is such a engaging person, clearly incredibly invested in her children, and so learning about her eldest son is pretty heartbreaking, but I don’t want to pry and we leave it at that.  She’s got over 40 endorsements from guests she’s hosted via couchsurfing.com, and she proudly shows me some of them, and recounts some of the more endearing ones.  Then we wash some dishes together and then it’s time for her to head to work, so she shows me how to get the keys into the house after I let myself out and lock the door behind me.

I ride a half mile to a coffee shop I’d spotted the day before and grab a coffee and review my route for the day.   I’m cycling out of town when I spot a street performer who has painted himself silver, set up a stage consisting of a 5 gallon bucket in the middle of a busy intersection, and for each red light of one of the directions, ignites 3 batons, juggles them a bit, and then extinguishes them to leave himself time to collect his contributions before the light turns green.

The terrain is definitely hillier than it’s been since getting to Mexico, and the going is a bit slower.  There’s also the first hint of moisture in the air since crossing the border, and the landscape starts to turn greener.  Aftter about 50km, I get to a town which is my first opportunity for lunch.  As I’m scoping the town out, a woman in the passenger seat of a car coming up besides me calls out and is holding out a dewey-cold bottle of coca-cola.  I gratefully decline and ask if she has any agua instead, and she says ‘si’ as she hands me a 32 ounce styrofoam cup with a green straw sticking out of the plastic lid. It’s about 2/3 full, and when I take a sip, discover it’s horchata.  Oh well, some highly refined sugar water isn’t going to kill me, and I don’t want to be ungrateful.  When the car pulls away, I pour it into one of my plastic bottles and continue scoping out for a taco stand.  I find one that looks promising, with a grill that’s being put to heavy use along with a fan that is billowing smoke out.  I walk up to the grill and the proprietor asks me how many tacos I want.  I say 3, and he instructs me to sit down.  There’s no open tables, so I take a seat a table with two guys, one my age, and one that’s maybe in his 70s.  Standard questions and answers, and I try to make conversation by asking the older guy what he does for work.  I’m resolved to go analog with attempts at conversation.  Paper and pencil for words I can’t make out verbally, and phrase book for words I don’t know.  This has mixed success.  When they leave, the old guy says a salutation that I don’t know and gives me a kind of backhanded wave.  I worry that I’ve somehow offended, and he’s letting me know as much with this gesture, but a few hours later, I get it again at an Oxxo stop, and there, I get some explanation that this is a common way of saying good day in these parts.  When I go to leave the taco stand, the proprietor asks if I want some water.  I do, and he points me to the cooling water dispenser at the back of the place.  I take out a 100 peso note, intending to pay with a sizable tip, but it’s refused.  I ask “why?”, and he shrugs in a way that says lunch is on him.  I thank him ‘mucho’ and continue on my way.

Having taken the previous day off, and experiencing multiple spontaneous acts of generosity, I feel like I’m hitting a stride.  The road, however, is increasingly only one lane per direction with zero shoulder.  I WhatsApp Pitty and ask her about the toll road.  While waiting for signal with which to get her reply, I also ask a watermelon vendor at the corner which is where I have to decide if I’m going to take my best opportunity to cut over from this road to the toll road.  He says that the toll road will definitely be better for bicycling, and so I head in that direction.  A dog starts chasing me (it’s the third of the day), but this time, just for grins, and a little bit of primate resentment at being barked at and chased, I give it chase instead of dismounting and disarming it.  The road is flat and I’m already going close to as fast as the dog when he starts, and it’s not much effort to pedal hard enough to pull away, even while taking a little acceleration hit to turn my head several times to make sure that the dog isn’t within bite-striking distance.  He chases me for a couple hundred meters at about 25mph, then gives up.

I get to the toll road, and there’s a couple of women holding an impromptu checkpoint (asking for donations).  I talk to them for a bit, and the pad and pencil approach works.  I make a donation, and then get on the highway, and it’s like paradise.  It’s much cleaner than the old, non-toll road, wide shoulder, tree lined, and it’s the golden hour.  I pedal for about 30 minutes, and then it’s time to look for places to sleep.  I take a side road, which doesn’t yield any good prospects, but does lead to another road that will take me back to the highway.  On this road, I come upon 4 boys with bikes.  One of the boys is trying to pry at something on one of the bikes with a stick.  I stop and ask “what’s up”.  The boy with the stick points to the front derailleur of his friend’s bike.  It’s gotten jammed up into the front chainwheel somehow.  “Si si si” I say as I go through my handlebar bag and pull out my (knockoff) leatherman, open it into plyers mode, and hand it to him.  Using this, he’s able to easily pry the derailier clear, and all four of them start exclaiming things I don’t understand, but seem generally happy and grateful.  I get underway again, and then notice in my mirror that they’re behind me, pedalling rapidly with their non-road gear ratios, presumably trying to catch up.  I slow down to let them, and then we ride 5 abreast, chatting as much as my spanish allows.  When we get back to the highway, I ‘air’ fist bump the kid I’d lent the tool to and zip off.  For fun, I’m guessing, the kid whose bike needed to be fixed, tries to keep up with me for a while.  I would have played along more, but I was running out of light.

I take another side road, and as I’m scoping out some possible prospective sites, a creepy looking low-rider shiney black pickup with blacked out windows rolls up the gravel side road off the highway, and pauses to look down the side road of the side road I’m currently scouting out, before continuing on.  Probably harmless, but I do like it best when zero people know where I’m camping, and I can probably do better.

I find another pullout, and this leads to a road that has at one time been driven by vehicles, but judging by the large briar bushes in the road, hasn’t been in some time.  This leads to a trail, and then a clearing where people have clearly camped before, but not very recently,  It’s a perfectly suitable site, and I set up my bug net and strip down.  The air is muggy and everything feels slimy, like I’m no longer a water-based creature but have morphed into something mineral oil-based.  I eat the rest of my food with a protein shake, and then use a little bit of water to clean up, but I don’t have a whole lot to spare.  Sleep is decent, but I miss the AC of the previous 3 nights as my pad puddles with sweat even well after sunset.

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Camp! That sack looking thing on the tree on the right is a bird nest! Wish me luck with posting this with a pic!!!

When I’m up at 6:30, I break down camp, have a protein powder shake for breakfast, do some minor repairs to a bottle cage on my bike, then hit the road.  18 miles down the road, I get to an Oxxo.  It’s breakfast rush, and there’s a little taco stand set up inside the Oxxo.  I get 4 tacos, coffee, biscuits, and water, and eat them with the other patrons; construction workers and soldiers toting automatic weapons.  I have 120 km to cycle to get to Mazatlan.  It’s overcast and really sticky out, and my legs don’t seem quite as happy as they usually are, but I pound out the kilometers.  I stop for more tacos and snacks at 2:30 in the afternoon, and then roll into Mazatlan.  I head to the hostel that I’d booked online earlier that day, and am met by the American ex-pat owner who says he looked up my facebook profile when he was trying to narrow in on my expected arrival time.  He shows me around, then I shower, take a dip in the pool, chat with a Danish woman, then take a nap.  The hostel owner wakes me up to see if I’d like to join them to see the movie “Bad Neighbors 2”, and more importantly, indulge in the massively portioned popcorn.  I do.  We go see the movie with the Danish girl and a dutch guy who are both volunteers at the hostel.  It’s utterly stupid, but also genuinely hilarious, and for 30 pesos ($1.80), well worth the price of admission.  I gorge on popcorn, cramming it into my face by the fist full, as one does.

We return to the hostel, they turn in, and I stay up for a bit to write this post.  And now I’m all caught up!!

I’ll be staying here tonight and tomorrow night, and then onwards!

May 30 – June 3: Hermosillo to Topolobampo

I say goodbye to Moises, and as we part ways, so too do I return to the shameless ways of a budget vagabond.  I buy breakfast makings, along with calories for the trip to Guaymas, at the near by Walmart, and eat them under the shade of a tree near an entrance to its parking lot.  I try to find a paper map at a few places, but have no luck.   Five days and several inquiries later, a basic road map or even atlas has completely eluded me.

Having driven the route the day before, I have some idea what lay ahead.  Ever since my slight mis-adventure avoiding the highway, and traversing private ranch land the day I got into Hermosillo and met Moises, I’ve been reluctant to take roads that are secondary according to Google Maps.  Thus, highway 15 is my only option, along with the only option for cars and trucks travelling North to South on this side of the country.  It is generally two lanes per direction, separated by a wide median, but under perennial reconstruction.  Sections being reconstructed will have 1 of the directions’ two lanes closed off, with traffic diverted to the other half, which becomes a non-separated, often shoulder-less, one lane per direction highway.  This is the worst of all possible roads for cycling, as you have to take the one and only lane from every vehicle sharing your direction.  So, the far more prudent choice is to ride the side under construction.  Sometimes this means several miles of several lanes of brand new concrete to yourself, in which case you can pretty much ride with your eyes closed, or focused on your phone.  Often it means passing construction workers and their large equipment, which itself commonly entails taking the alternate dirt road around the construction of a small bridge or other project.  I’ve been at this for five days now, and I dare say, I’ve gotten pretty good at navigating this particular obstacle course.  When the concrete slabs end, there’s often a 1 foot drop, along with 1 foot spaced sections of 1 inch diameter steel rods sticking a foot out of the side of the drop from about halfway up.  The most efficient thing to do here is to fly off the edge, pulling up on the handlebars so that you clear the rods and both wheels land at once, minimizing impact shock to the loaded bike.  But sometimes there’s a makeshift gravel ramp covering some or all of the edge, or there’s a pit or a sandtrap just after the edge, and in this case, a flying dismount is extremely ill advised.  It’s impossible to know for sure until you’re within a few feet of the edge, so it’s important to be going fast enough to clear the rods, but not so fast that you can’t stop.
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I’ve learned a number of things about navigating highway construction sites that I won’t bore you with.  I’ve also learned a lot about how roads are built, or at least have learned to have a deep appreciation for the massive amount of work it involves.

Food-wise, I’m absolutely loving the roadside taco stands.  Tacos for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I’m not getting primarily tacos only because it’s something I can manage to order, but because it’s kinda synonymous with “light meal” in the sense that you can get pretty much any tasty morsel you can imagine scooped onto a couple of tortillas, which themselves come in considerable variety.   The women that work the stands have all been, in my experience, patient and happy to help me navigate my choices.  Several of them have seemed perplexed by my disinclination to have a coke or soda along with.
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So, we’ve covered food and transit, which leaves, at least for the last 5 days, sleep.  The first night I slept just North of Guaymas, having been unable to extricate myself from one last extended conversation with enough daylight to go into town for dinner before camping.  It was a beautiful site, next to a massive organ pipe cactus, with a fireworks show of heat lightening off in the distance.
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The second night I slept just short of Ciudad Obregon.  I fell asleep taking a quick break to rest my eyes just after arriving at the site, with about 45 minutes of light left.  I woke up with insufficient energy to deal with the mosquitos that I suspected I should…but I was also in some denial.  This was the first night that bugs were really any consideration whatsoever.  I was covered in bites by morning.

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Overturned bus

The third night I took a $27 room at a nice, resort-ish hotel with an outdoor pool.  I stayed up until 3am attending to a mental to-do list that included sewing stuff, minor bike repairs/adjustments, low-key-ifying my rig (no more cell phone mount on handlebars or USB attachment to generator hub) and doing a dry-run setup of my bug net.  The hotel was right outside of Navojoa, the town South of which the US DoS’ travel advisory stops and its travel warning begins.  I wonder if because it’s on the edge of what is understood to be cartel territory that it’s such a pleasant, thriving, but low key town.  I had a great time cruising around with my unloaded bicycle, going on my doomed mission to find an actual, physical roadmap, and buying supplies.  There are lots of busy businesses that clearly cater to a local middle-class income, as opposed to Los Mochis (that I would get to the next day) that has a lot of flashy establishments and casinos and stuff.
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Coming into Navojoa, I spot the first of what I’d categorize as a long-haul cyclist, in action, that I have since getting into Mexico. I notice him when he’s maybe 500 meters ahead, and it takes me a good 3 or 4 km to catch up to him. We’re in total nothing-land, and he’s sporting only the slightest satchel. I’m of the belief that when you’re on super flat, smooth terrain where the main source of loss is air resistance, having some dense weight on your bike is something of an advantage once you reach cruising velocity, so even though I over take him, he’s definitely hauling ass. Not to mention the visible wobble to his wheels and generally less than dialed-in rig. As I pull up along side him, I ask him if he has any water. He says yes and starts to maybe pull it out of the tiny satchel, but then I ask if he wants any water, and pull one of my 1.5L bottles (it alone is easily 3x the volume of whatever is in his satchel) out. I’m super excited to have encountered him, and doing nothing to conceal that. He gives a nodding shrug and reaches for it while we ride side-by-side, at at least 15kph, probably closer to 20 on the wide highway shoulder. He uncaps it deftly, puts it to his mouth and takes a pull, and then re-caps it and hands it back with a smile that reveals very few, very dirty teeth. I slip it back in my bottle cage and mentally downgrade its contents to tap water. I’m no germphobic bio-snob, but I do have my limits. He seems content and intent to go back to pounding the pedals, so I wish him well and pedal on ahead, using my weight advantage to its fullest once I get back into cadence, but 15 minutes later when I need water, and hence need to swap the downgraded bottle out with one on my back rack, it takes him less than 3 minutes to catch up. So, I pull out the bottle he drank from and hold it out and say “I give to you” (or at least try) as he passes. He gives me a smile and a ‘no thanks’ nod as he taps his satchel, and passes without slowing down. About a minute later, I start back up and I can see him in the distance. I gain some ground on him, but don’t catch up completely before he crosses the highway. Not long after that, I see another guy on a bike, then another, and then it’s apparent we’re in the greater Navojoa ‘suburban’ area. It’s about 6pm, and I realize that these are bike commuters. I see at least a dozen more, probably closer to two dozen when I cruise into and out of town from the hotel after checking in. I haven’t seen bike commuters around, especially with such ubiquity, in other cities so far, and not for not being in their greater areas come quitting time. I have been for Hermosillo (albeit on a Saturday), Guaymas, and Ciudad Obregon, so I suspect this large population of bike commuters is another novelty of Navojoa. In any case, making such an exuberant fuss about crossing paths with this first one must have struck him as pretty odd. But I’m guessing he’s not the first local to see me and think ‘gringo loco’.

The fourth night I camped off the edge of some cultivated land, where there wasn’t a lot of flat, obstacle free area, and where the mosquitos were ferocious.  I set up my net successfully, and fell asleep gratifyingly watching several dozen attempt to get in, but was dismayed come morning to see that I had bumped a side of the net so that it was propped up by some straw-grass and now there were several dozen blood-gorged mosquitoes attempting to get out.
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The plan was for the fifth night to be spent on a ferry to La Paz, Baja, but the ferry that usually admits passengers is out of service for repairs until June 15, and the other ferry only allows “cargo”, which means any vehicle (including motorcycles) and driver, but no passengers, ruling out the possibility that I could hitch a ride.  This was the possibility I had in mind when I made the 30km trip out to the terminal, even though I had learned of the “cargo only” thing in Los Mochis.  That, or that they would allow me and my loaded bicycle to be considered a “motorcycle”.  I met a trucker in front of the terminal who spoke some English and took up my cause, pleading with them that I had bicycled several thousand kilometers.  As his pleas seemed to turn to protestations and a woman from the ferry company that looked like she was in charge said something to him likely along the lines of “if you keep it up, we won’t let you on the boat” to which he turned around, walked away, and threw up his arms, I knew my case was lost.  Outside, as I got ready to ride back in defeat, he and a parking lot security guy suggested that I could take a bus to Mazatlan and take a ferry from there.  I hadn’t conveyed that going by ferry at all was, in large part, a means of getting to Mazatlan.  I didn’t see any point in driving that home, so I agreed that this sounded like a good option, but if I were to bicycle to Mazatlan (a ferry cheat seems acceptable, a bus cheat less so), was it dangerous?  For me, yes, it’s dangerous, but mostly at night.  I get the feeling that if I stick to staying on main roads in daylight, and keep my head down, as it were, I’ll be fine.

On my way back into town, I’m thinking I’ll take a room in one of the many cheap hotels I saw heading out to the Ferry terminal, when I pass a sign for a beach 8KM off the highway.  I’ve come all this way, anyways, I thought, and scoping it out on Google Maps, seemed like there should be some good camping options.  I’m up to 80 miles for the day when I see some kitesurfing kites.  Excellent, I bet there’s other foreigners there and that they’re probably camping at or near their kitesurfing spot.  I get there, and there’s about a dozen people hanging out and a half dozen in the water, though no other people that are obviously foreigners.  I ask the people behind the bar about the possibility of camping, and they seem to have to ask someone else.  I pull my bike into the bar, disrobe down to shorts and take a glorious dip in the perfect-temperature sea.

I’m reading my kindle in the bar and snacking when Alfredo, the owner of the place, introduces himself.  He says I’m welcome to sleep here, but do I have sleeping things?  I’m not sure what he means, though I suspect he means bug netting, and I say I do.  He also says I should expect a lot of people to be back come morning as it will be Saturday and they have a big event planned, involving a lot of jetskis and those rocket attachments that hoist people out of water (one of which is in the water at the moment).  We talk about his kitesurfing school and the possibility of me doing a session or two the next day.

As the sun is setting, the sand fleas come out in force.  I feel bad for Alfredo as they immediately empty the place.  The only real defense on hand is to be standing in front of one of the industrial strength fans they have scattered about.  Without this, they attack viciously.  My bug netting is some cheap stuff I got on Amazon before I left, and it’s great for mosquitos, but it’s so coarse, I’m certain it will be useless for these tiny fuckers, so I pull out my bivvy and am relieved to see that it’s section of bug netting is sufficiently fine.  I’m scrambling to get it set up when an older guy that offered to sell me some repellent for 100 pesos restarts the power that had been cut to the fans and moves one to point directly at the spot I’ve made for myself behind a DJ stand and platform made entirely of wood pallets.  This stays on all night, and is key to not overheating in my bivvy as I squirm around with it sealed closed via the screened section.  I don’t even seal it closed when I’m using it to protect from rain…it’s extremely tight and pretty uncomfortable.

It’s the next morning, and when the guy comes back to continue his duties (emptying garbages and such) I give him the 100 pesos for the gesture of setting up the fan and looking after me (as I noticed he had been doing throughout the night).  He gets the repellent, of which I take some and hand back the bottle.  He has a questioning expression as he pats his pocket with the peso note and I point at his pocket, then the fan, and say “esta bien”.  Head dip, slight smile, and we’re on the same page.

It’s 9 in the morning and I would have thought the people would be here by now, but then, the heat is just now getting to the point where the sand fleas are fucking off back to wherever they don’t die during it.  I’m now covered in both larger mosquito provided spots, and smaller flea provided ones, but I’m quite happy at the serendipity already provided by my change in plans.  I’ll stick to the coast on the mainland, and in about 4 more days of pounding out taco (and caffeine) fueled miles, I’ll be in more verdant climes and out of El Chapo’s turf.

May 27 – 29: Santa Ana to Hermosillo

I’ve got good 3G-ish coverage in Mexico so far, but not a lot of WiFi/broadband, and the only real grief I have with WordPress and blogging from my phone is around the pictures I try to include in the blog posts and what a crappy job the WordPress android app does of uploading them. The fact that it insists on uploading photos itself instead of integrating with some of the obvious photo hosting solutions is a bit broken, IMHO. So, I’m going to stop using WordPress to share photos, at least FTTB, and use instagram @raspyripple (which are also at http://facebook.com/je.calvert) instead.

I wake up at 7 and have the complimentary breakfast: eggs with ham and cheese, beans, toast, etc.  Back in the room I watch some news in Spanish while doing stretches and exercises, drink more coffee and take a bonus shower.  On the one hand, it would be good to get an early start and beat the heat, but on the other hand, if I splurge for a room, I kinda like to make the most of (or close to) the time I get to spend indoors.

I’m checked out by half past 10 and hit the supermarket that I had gone to the night before.  I get a pre-made salad, some freshly made tortillas and PB, J, and banana to go with, yogurt, granola, a mango, some bran bars, and a few liters of water.  I eat the mango out front and reminisce about my five months in India that was concluding this time two years ago, and how lucky I was that my time there overlapped with mango season.

I get underway and I resolve to just see how the highway pans out.  It’s actually not bad at all.  The shoulder is wide and completely ridable.  It’s separated from the right-most lane by a dashed line that has tighter gaps between the line segments, and it seems to mean that the shoulder can and should be used as a lane by obstructively slow vehicles.  A benefit of this system is that the shoulder has less debris in it.

I’m averaging 13+ mph after 2 hours riding, with long stretches of easy, swift riding that feels pretty good.  The woosh of semis is a bit tedious, but when I start to notice it, that just means I need to push my earbuds back in a bit more snugly.  I stop at a bridge for a dry river for some shade to have my yogurt and granola, but there’s remnants of somebody living there and it seems a bit creepy, so I continue on looking for any source of shade for a food break.  I end up using a pedestrian overpass for the highway that I find after another 4 or 5 miles, eating right along side the highway.  It’s loud and dirty, but there are so few sources of any shelter from the sun, I’m happy to settle for it.

Back on the bike, I’m hunkering down, grateful for the wide, safe-feeling shoulder, but growing increasingly tired of the monotony of the riding, when a trailer being towed by a big pickup truck passes and one of its right-side radials flies apart.  It seems at the time like it started flying apart just as it passed me, but it goes on flying apart for at least another 10 seconds after it passing, leaving those ubiquitous fragments of tire that can be seen along side and scattered about pretty much any highway anywhere in the world. I watch the truck and trailer pull in to the shoulder lane, but they don’t stop…at least not before I lose track of them on the horizon.

I get to an Oxxo at the exit from the highway to the town of Benjamin Hills, and grab a coffee and some more water.  I review the options that Google Maps is presenting to me in my request for bicycle directions from the morning’s hotel, where last I had internet, to Hermosillo, the biggest Mexican town yet for me and this tour.  I’ve already passed the one alternative to taking highway 15 all the way.  Whoops.  The next one is in a few kilometers, and I make sure to have GM set on that one and giving turn-by-turn so that at least I know when and where to consider going that alternative route.

When I get there, it is a long straight 2-lane road with no shoulder.  I stop for a few minutes to do an impromptu traffic sample, and take a photo of a hilariously honest sign that says, in English, that the hassle-free section of highway ends there. I’d seen it’s complement the day before.

Zero cars pass in either direction in the 2 minutes I’ve hung out, there’s a smiley, friendly seeming guy waiting at a bus kiosk to go in the direction I’d be going, and I kinda want to see what kind of hassle there might be upon leaving the hassle-free zone, so I take the detour, knowing full well that just because GM says that there’s a way through, doesn’t mean that there is, and it definitely doesn’t mean that it will be paved or otherwise smooth in the literal or figurative sense.

Sure enough, after going through the town about 10km in, the pavement stops.  The road is OK.  Pretty sandy in spots but not terrible.  I’m startled by what look like some kind of cat rabbits.  They have rabbit ears and heads, but freakisly long legs for rabbit and their gait is a cross between a hop like any rabbit I’ve seen, and a cat’s gallop.

A guy in a old beat up pickup stops and says there’s nothing in the direction I’m going for a long ways, and I say I know and that I’m prepared. What I don’t know is that the GM route will turn off this road, which really does go nowhere for an extremely long way. The turn off is so innocuous, I initially ignore and overshoot it by about a mile as GM quietly starts calculating a re-route despite having no connectivity, the way it does. When I double back I confirm my suspicion that the GM route has me turn onto the road that has a sign for a “Rancho Virginia”. Not great. This sign suggests there may be locked gates in my near future.

Indeed, there is. I contemplate my options, and am pretty torn. I’m about 2 hours invested into this route. On the other hand, I have no idea who owns this ranch. There are 3 padlocks linked into the chain that keeps the gate closed, which is a good sign: There’s more than one key to open the gate. I’m evenly torn, so I flip a coin to decide, and the toss is won by the “jump the gate” side. I de-bag, hoist, and re-bag, and I’m on my way. Headphones are off and ears and eyes are peeled. What if this ranch belongs to a narco? I’m not sure if I’m having these thoughts to psych myself out for the fun of it, or if it’s my better judgement telling me I’m being excessively stupid.

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The locked gate i jumped

I get to a second gate and am glad to see a sign announcing that Rancho Virginia is an ecological reserve and that firearms and other unfriendly things are prohibited. I’m also glad to see it’s unlocked, so I let myself through and proceed. I cover a pretty smooth 5 miles or so and then a guy on an ATV comes up from the opposite direction. I try to say some stuff in Spanish. He smiles and shrugs, not seeming alarmed, surprised, or even particularly interested in what I’m doing there, and then we’re each on our way again.
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In another mile or so, I come upon a ranch house, and from a distance, the road appears to end at it. I see someone under an awning, and when I wave, they quickly go inside. I ride up and a couple of dogs start barking and approaching me. They’re older dogs and loud but not particularly menacing. Then a stable full of cattle all rush out towards me. Cows are usually so meek and skittish, it’s kinda cute to see them exert themselves. Maybe they’re even bulls, but they, like the dogs, clearly have no real intention of engaging with me. But also like the dogs, they’re being quite vocal.

As I approach, I say “I have a question” in my crappy Spanish. No answer. The road I’m trying to follow goes around the house, so I take it. I take a wrong turn and have to double back to within visibility of the house and get to a barbed-wire gate (the kind where it’s barbed wire lashed to sticks stretched across the opening) and let myself through that. I’m really not enjoying any of this, but I’m so far in to this route choice, I just push through. I get to another locked gate, but I think jumping this one is going to get me off of the private property, so I do. Now I’m on a road that parallels train tracks, and those tracks definitely go to the next town, so worst case I can make my way through two sets of fences to them and walk the rest of the way, though that would take ages, it’s another 20 miles to town.

The road is pretty solid, though has plenty of sand traps. The sun is setting, so I stop in the sandy bed of a dried river and eat with plans to stay there for the night. A train passes by with a lot of people hanging out on it. I hear what sounds like could be people’s voices approaching, so I quickly move my stuff further up the river bed and further away from the road. I end up not seeing anybody for the duration of my time on the road, but a cow takes its sweet time making a lot of rustling noise, coming down an embankment, at which point I can use my bike headlamp to confirm that it is in fact just a cow. Honestly, there was almost no chance it was anything else.
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In the morning, I continue on. Three or four times per mile I have to dismount and push my bike through sand, but I’m making pretty good progress. I get to a gate where just on the other side is a trailer. The gate’s not locked, but I can hear someone in the trailer talking. I call out to them and ask if it’s possible to go through the gate and get to Hermosillo by continuing on. He confirms on both counts and lets me through that gate, and another one that puts me on what I’m guessing is railroad right-of-way. After a few more miles, I get to town. I grab some much needed coffee and contemplate whether to quit while I’m ahead, w.r.t. the dirt roads and ranch hopping, or make my way back to the highway. I decide to continue on the dirt roads, but the road South out of town is super dusty, I take a small tumble, and re-decide that I’m done with unpaved for a while.

I get back to the highway, and the shoulder is still there, so it’s just heads down, pounding out the miles, pushing the water through. Signal is fine along the highway, so I’ve passed some time finding a hostel in Hermosillo that is only $2.50 per night, in case the WarmShowers host that I’ve connected falls through.

About 35 miles out from Hermosillo, I notice long after it must have pulled over, that a red car is stopped on the side of the road, and there’s a guy standing next to it. As I approach, I can see that he’s holding out a half liter bottle of water that is maybe 1/3 full. A comically small amount of water relative to the 4 liters that my supply is currently at. But his expression is proud, and the gesture is very kind. I thank him but say I’m good. His English is highly fluent, and he asks if I have a place to stay in Hermosillo, and I say I do. He gives me his contact info and says to get in touch if that falls through, or if I’d just like to join him and some friends at Buffalo Wild Wings that evening to watch the Golden State Warriors play Oklahoma in an NBA semi-final. This honestly doesn’t sound like much my cup of tea, so I take the info thinking that I’ll most likely not take him up on his offer.

When I get into Hermosillo, I haven’t heard back from the WarmShowers host and have given up on that prospect so I go directly to the hostel. It is pretty clearly not open, with the door gated and a good amount of windswept debris piled up around the gate. I call the numbers on the sign and nobody answers.

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Nobody's home

I start looking at hotel options, and there are a couple in town, but then I think that there’s no good reason to not get in touch with Moises, the guy that I met on the road, and that my disinclination to go to a Buffalo Wild Wings is just snobbery on my part. I call and we figure out a plan to meet at the place he’s staying. He actually lives in Magdalena, a town I passed through a couple days before, but on the weekends he comes to Hermosillo, where he has friends and family, and stays in a house belonging to a friend of his. I go there and wait, and Moises arrives a few minutes later. Along with our coordinating on the phone, he’s so laid back and welcoming I’m immediately sure that I made the right choice by taking him up on his offer. I grab a quick shower, and then we’re off to watch the game. I’m rushing because the game starts at 6 and my shower has delayed us a bit, to which he explains that Mexicans aren’t big on rushing and I shouldn’t worry about it. On the ride over, I learn that he’s 27, in sales for a meat distributing company and quickly working his way up the ranks, and that after the game we’ll probably meet up with some other friends and go to the Festival del Pitic, a celebration of the founding of the city, and which I’m quite lucky to be in town for.

After a long (85 mile) day in hot desert, to be in a Buffalo Wild Wings surrounded by big screen TVs, cold beer, AC, and wings is a bit surreal. His friends all speak English fluently, and are all extremely friendly and seem excited to talk to me. Moises had casually mentioned his “friend from Seattle” would be joining him, but as he expected, they brushed it off as one of his passing, odd jokes. The game is a good one, with the group rooting for GSW who are trailing for pretty much the entire game, but pull off a victory in the last seconds.

It’s dark out when we leave and say goodbye to that group of friends. We go to pick up another friend, Leonardo, nicknamed Chippy, grab some beers, and go to a party in the center of town, within the larger festival, at a place belonging to a friend of theirs. A few years earlier he had acquired the place in bad shape. But he’s an architect and he restored it, and the party on a covered rooftop overlooking the rest of the festival is fantastically reaping the benefits. I meet at least a dozen mutual friends of Moises, Chippy and our host, all of whom speak English, mostly very fluently. The party reminds me of great parties of younger times in Seattle, before my peers and I grew up and slowed down. There’s pieces of performance art interspersed by live music. Some is improvisational, all of it is fantastic. There’s a raw, earnest energy that clearly comes across from everyone I talk to, and if this is any indication of the city at large, there are going to be some very exciting things coming out of Hermosillo.

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Performance art

At about 2am, we make our exit from the party in search of an open taco stand. Chippy is a foodie and even though his first choice has just closed, his second choice is mind-blowingly delicious. Moises and Chippy fill me in on the plans they had informed me were hatched at the party: we’re going to do a day trip to Guaymas tomorrow, eat some great food, hike around some really cool canyons, and hit the beach. It will be the first time doing this hike for Moises as well.

It’s not until well after 3am that we go to sleep, with alarms set for 9:30am. Moises does so by simply kicking off shoes and sprawling out on a couch in the living room, so I follow suit. There is AC and a fan on, which is a bit cool for me, so at some point I grab my puffy jacket to use as a tiny blanket, but otherwise, the sleep is immediate and deep.

In the morning, we grab coffees as we head out of town. Chippy works in environmental conservation, and points out all the interesting things, like jumping cactus on the roadside.

In Guaymas town, we stop at Mariscos “El Mazitanos”, a popular seeming restaurant for lunch and Chippy orders: Seafood platter, octopus and fish tacos. It’s all delicious, and the octopus is not chewy like it is at sushi restaurants. We also lament the diminutive tentacle sizes owing to overfishing.

Then we hike one of the many canyons of the Canyon de Nacapule. These are narrow canyons in the middle of the desert (though, near the coast) with fresh water springs that bring life to narrow but dense strips of tropical foliage. It’s really unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Then we grab a few beers and head to a beach, where we swim among flying manta rays, and I start to realize that the last 36 hours have been almost non-stop as I doze off for a few minutes.

I continue to doze and come to in the car ride back. Chippy points out an Oxxo that is about halfway along the long dry stretch between Hermosillo and Guaymas, which will be a key piece of information when I make the ride back by bike the following day.

It’s dark when we get back to Hermosillo, and we hit a hot dog stand for dinner, where I have my first, famous, Sonoran hot dog. This one was a dog plus chorizo inside a green chile wrapped in bacon with chiles, cheese, onions, and too many other condiments to recall all served on a massive, spongy bun.

Back at Moises’ pad, I bid farewell to Chippy. We talk about the two of them coming up to Seattle and me getting to return the favor, and I sincerely hope this happens.

I go with Moises to run some errands, but I’m completely thrashed. I can’t keep my eyes open, and he lets me stay in the car. Before he goes on his last errand, to meet a woman for a sort of pre-date date (decide if they should commit to going on a real date), he gratefully first takes me back to the flat so that I can pass out from an exhaustion that had taken 36 hours to catch up to me.

The next morning, Monday, we got an early start as Moises had to get back to work in Magdelena, and I was on my way.

That’s 48 hours ago as of this writing. I’ll get more caught up soon…I hope!