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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.