"If you don't pay attention to the process of the journey…you're an asshole when you left and you're an asshole when you return!"


Le Beach: Surfin’ and Bitch Slappin’

We hung out with our new biking friends for a couple of days on the beach while our bodies recovered.   When they decided to move on, Wolf and I decided that we would spend a few days in Puerto Escondido and surf.  We signed up for a five day lesson, so a few days turned into nine.  The surfing was fantastic and Escondido (sans punk ass Australian cool kids) was relaxing.  There was a bit more variety of food there than Puerto Arista, the sunsets were incredible, we had a fat hotel room overlooking the ocean, and we made friends with an Italian bar owner named Vera who fed us copious amounts of mescal whenever we felt like gettin’ a little loose.

So, here is Escondido explained in a three part ‘list-o-lessons’ format.

Section A: Surfing

Surfing is, umm, hard.  Wolf and I both got up on our first tries and we got a little better than that, but not much.  What we learned from surfing, in order of items learned:

1. Waves are powerful.  So powerful, in fact, that salt water actually moves from the mouth to the anus as if the digestive system is in a straight line.

2.  Jellyfish don’t have to be seen to be felt.  And not as in, “I didn’t see the jellyfish that stung me.”   That statement would imply that ONE jellyfish stung and maneuvered away quickly to avoid detection.  This was more a case of feeling hundreds of stings all over the body and in a panic slapping the skin as if that will help, of course only making it worse.  The instructor then follows up with, “The jellyfish are everywhere today…pica mucho no? Don’t worry my friend, they are harmless.  You can’t even see them. Paddle, paddle, paddle, PADDLE, PADDLE!”  What an asshole.

3. Dropping a surfboard from six inches above a hard surface causes damage that is not proportional to the distance traveled.  Nor does it please the surf instructor who has been warning of the dangers of neglect since the first day of the lessons.

4. Repairing a 4 inch gash in a brand new long-board does not cost as much as one (from the U.S.) would expect.

5. Getting cocky on a surfboard while trying to impress the one topless girl on the beach who isn’t watching anyways is not always a smart idea.  See lesson #1.

Section B: The worst day in Puerto Escondido

It was in Escondido that Wolf and I came to terms with the fact that we would not be doing much biking after leaving there.  The distances that we needed to cover with the time allotted for exploration in Peru and Bolivia were just too far.  We decided that the most prudent thing to do would be to, gulp, send our bikes home and continue in the conventional ‘backpacker’ way.  Here’s what we learned that day:

1. A place that is great for a vacation is inversely ‘great’ for getting important shit done.

2. You can haggle in Mexico to get a lot of things that you’d like cheaper, but that also means you have to haggle for trash, like cardboard boxes. Cardboard boxes are a rare commodity in Mexico. If cardboard boxes are part of a business’s day to day operations, they immediately incinerate said boxes or the boxes just mysteriously disappear.  Especially if they are larger than a shoe box.

3. The following questions CANNOT be answered at the post office: “What is the largest package you can send?”, “What would a package weighing approximately 20 kg cost us to send to the U.S.?”, “What time do you open in the morning?”, “Would you mind going to fuck yourself?”

4. In a place where obtaining materials for a certain activity is near impossible, one should investigate the practicality of said activity BEFORE spending half a day obtaining said materials.  For instance, if you are in a place where, say, large cardboard boxes are impossible to find, you should find out that shipping bikes from Mexico to the U.S. will run approximately $500 per bike BEFORE collecting 185 tiny boxes, buying 18 rolls of packaging tape, and balancing all of these materials on your head while walking all over Escondido in the 102 degree, god-forsaken heat.  Just sayin’.  At least the boxes were easy to get rid of.

5. Vera the Mescal girl is a good person to visit after this day.

Section C: Luche Libre means Mexican Wrestling in Mexican

1. Sitting in the first row of a Luche Libre bout is dangerous.  Especially if you are a blond Danish teenage girl with large breasts.

2. Danish girls wear dangerous weapons on their feet.

3. Sitting in the second row of a Luche Libre bout is dangerous.  Especially if your are sitting behind a blond Danish teenage girl with large breasts.

4. Plastic chairs cut flesh when broken in many pieces.

5. Wolf should be a Luche Libre wrestler.

Bonus lesson #6. Mexican Wrestling, aka Lucha Libre, is fucking AWESOME

If this section doesn’t make any sense to you, please pay special attention to the wrestling pics in the following gallery.

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Let’s ride some friggin’ bikes!

While in Oaxaca, Wolf and I were riding back from Monte Alban when this fiery little chica named Kelly jumped out in front of my bike and yelled, “Stop! Are you bike touring?”.  I could’ve killed her. Seriously. Instead, it was the start of a beautiful week-long relationship.  Her and her boyfriend Kurt had been riding for a while (Kurt for a year, Kelly for 4 1/2 months) and they hadn’t run into a ton of bike tourers in Mexico, thanks to American media (zing!).  We ended up hanging out with them for a while in Oaxaca and we made plans to ride together down to the Pacific (Puerto Escondido).

The ride was a blast.  We actually got to ride with some people who knew what they were doing as far as touring, wild camping and finding good, cheap, safe food.  Kurt even fixed a major mechanical problem on my bike in about 5 minutes that prevented me from using the granny gear.  That would have subsequently prevented me from getting very far in the mountains on the way to the coast.  Thanks Kurt!!

The first night we split up into a piece of farmland to find the best spots to camp.  This would be my first foray into wild camping and I was feeling apprehensive about squatting.  I rode alone down a beautiful dirt rode deeper into the farmland when I suddenly heard the idling hum of a motorcycle.  As I came around a corner, I found an older gentleman hacking down some weeds with a machete…motorcycle by his side with the engine running.  I slowly got off my bike and backed up until I was out of sight.  Surely, I’m machete meat if this guy sees me!!  I rode as fast as I could in the direction that I came until I noticed that the motorcycle was no longer idling.  I gave up riding and pulled over to the right as he pulled up next to me.  “What are you doing?”, he asks in spanish with a snarl.  “Looking for a place to sleep!” I figured he was going to kill me and my friends would never find me so I might as well be honest in my last few seconds of life.  “In a tent?”.   He seemed incredulous.  “Uh, huh”.  His snarl softened and he broke into a gentle laugh.  He then admitted that he owned the land and we were welcome to sleep there.  He pointed me towards some concrete slabs up the road but I let him know that soft ground would be more comfortable.  He assured me that if anyone bothered us all I had to do was drop his name and we’d be fine.  Worried for no reason at all!!!

The rest of the trip kinda went like this.  Fun, long, hard climbs followed by fast, nutty, descents.  Repeat. It was physically challenging, the views were breathtaking and the people were wonderful.  One day we were in a small shop buying some food for dinner/breakfast and the shop owner invited us to stay in her place and use her showers.  We weren’t close to stopping that day so we regretfully declined, but it was great to have that kind of energy at our backs.  We found wonderful places to camp and Kurt and Kelly were a wealth of information about touring.  After four days of riding, we rolled into Puerto Escondido right at sunset exhausted but rejuvenated.  Ahh, beach again!

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Dia de Los Muertos en La Ciudad de Oaxaca

Dia de los Muertos was a welcome change from beach life.  Oaxaca City is a wonderful, progressive city with a ton of art and is the perfect setting for these festivities.  We feel very fortunate to have spent this time visiting cemeteries, reveling with other American travelers (first for us so far), taking in the art and drinking and dancing with the locals who truly go all out for this event.  The celebration of dead relatives is respectful, but not somber.  It’s a beautiful way to express their appreciation for those that are no longer with us.  I don’t really have a ton of stories to tell about Oaxaca…everything went very smoothly and the pictures really tell the story better than words can.

We also visited Monte Alban, a pre-Mayan civilization that existed, um, lots of years ago.  The place was actually really cool in that it was situated on top of a mountain that overlooked Oaxaca City.  There are also pics of a place called Hierve El Agua which in spanish means The Water Boils.  The water comes out of the earth and has deposits that over time have developed these structures that look like cascading water falls.  And the water does not boil…doesn’t even come out hot.  Comes out nipple hardening cold.

Enjoy the pics!!

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Puerto Arista

Puerto Arista is a tiny little beach community, population 150,000 if you count the mosquitos.  And I counted about 149,972 mosquitos.  We rode over to Jose’s Cabanas after arriving which the good book assured us would be a great place to stay.  The good book did not tell us what a strange and interesting stay it would end up being.  Jose is an expat from Canada so I can only assume that Jose is an acquired name.  You can’t really ask Jose direct questions about his name, the amount of time he’s been there, or if he’s running from the law.  Jose doesn’t like such questions.  He did like talking our ears off about how bad the American government has gotten and how he’s not happy with his own Canadian government.  Of course he hasn’t lived there in 35 years (figured out only by a series of well spaced cunning questions which I’m sure he’s received before and probably knew what I was doing before I did!).

Anyways, Jose cooked us a wonderful meal (fresh fish caught that day) and assured us that the longer he made us wait for it the better it’d taste.  And he was right…about the making us wait part.  The fish was pretty darn good as well.  He then got us stoned which I can only assume was so that we would continue to nod and agree with all of his rants.  In all seriousness, Jose was a great host and was very patient with us at the end of the week when Wolf and I could only imagine he was ready for us to be outta there.  I’ll explain shortly.

The first couple of days were consumed with checking out what the island (not really an island) had to offer.  We were directed to a sea turtle sanctuary at the end of the island which was all but deserted when we arrived.  There were piles of sand uniformly distributed in these ‘sandboxes’ and a couple of crocs in shallow pools of water.  The only human there was this young guy named William who was running the place.  He took us under his wing and showed us the ins and outs of rescuing eggs from the beaches, burying them in the sandboxes to incubate them, pulling them out of the sand when they hatched, and then releasing them into the ocean.  We have some pretty incredible video of this which will surely break hearts and as soon as I upgrade my service to allow video, I will be happy to post it.  Maybe it will make youtube soon.  Anyways, all in all that experience was mind blowing.  We ended up releasing about 800 turtles that evening with William and that’s par for the daily course during the mating season.  The locals try and get the eggs before William does because they believe the eggs to hold powerful health and aphrodisiac effects.  William explained to us that if you’re caught killing a turtle for the eggs, you’ll go to prison longer than if you’re convicted of murder.  See, even Mexico gets it!

The rest of the week was spent lazying around the beach, sleeping during the afternoon and getting enough energy to slog to the surf for sunsets.  The sunsets, as you see in the pics, are stunning.  No sunset left anything to be desired.  It didn’t hurt that the beach we were on was so deserted that whichever way we looked, no boats, no planes, hardly any people, nothing but beach and the glow of the sun setting. Life’s hard.

We had decided to leave Puerto Arista on Friday morning so we woke early, ate breakfast, and loaded our bikes up to ride to the center of town so we could catch a collectivo into Tonala, the nearest town with a major bus station.  We were eager to get to Oaxaca for Day of the Dead festivities.  And eating synchronizadas (tortillas with packaged ham, melted cheese and doused in warm mayo) was getting old.  As a matter of fact, I’d eat my only child before I ate another one of those damned things.  Puerto Arista had NO veggies, NO fruit, NO real food at all.  Even the seafood was overpriced and not very good.  Needless to say, we were done.   We said goodbye to Jose, rode into town, waited for about 30 mins for a collectivo, decided to check the internet to check the bus schedule and found that the next bus wasn’t leaving until 1130 PM that night.  Doh!  We thought about riding into Tonala but decided we’d rather stay at the beach one more day than spend it in a dusty town.  With our tails tucked between our legs, we rode back to Jose’s and asked if we could hang out for the day, and also asked his 25 year-old son, Robin (who was visiting from Tuxtla), if he could give us a ride to Tonala that evening.  “No problem, guys!” he says.  Uh-huh. No problem.

So we wasted away for another day, enjoyed a few last beers with Jose and jumped in the truck with Robin for a ride into town.  We get to the bus station without a problem at around 1030 pm and Wolf goes in to buy our tickets.  As I’m pulling our bikes out of Robin’s truck and saying goodbye, Wolf comes around the corner defeated shaking his said and screams, “Nope! Sold out!”.  Are you shitting me? Sold out?  What could we do? We bought tickets for the next bus, AT 1130 PM THE NEXT DAY, and humbly asked Robin to take us back to Puerto Arista.  “Shit guys, might as well enjoy the town of Tonala and have a few beers while we’re here!” Robin exclaims.  Just as I’m saying thanks but no thanks, Wolf chimes in, “I’m down for a beer!”.  Lordy.  I’m no angel when it comes to drinking but sometimes that voice in your head is loud and you should just listen to it.  Instead I told it to shut the fuck up and said, “Rock n roll, let’s light this candle!”.  Maybe I didn’t say that…maybe I did.

Quite a few beers later (being a bit modest here), we found ourselves at the Titty Twister from Dusk Til Dawn.  And Selma Hayak was there too, only she’s had about fourteen kids and loves cake.   And nachos.  And she sweats A LOT.  I finally called it and told Robin I was coming down with something.  And I was.  He was disappointed but I don’t think he wanted to see my dinner again on Selma.  So we raced home to his parent’s place and blared (seriously, blared…as in the volume could not go any higher, blared) Pink Floyd and Red Hot Chili Peppers like we used to back in the day.  After an awkward phone call from Mom checking up on Robin at 300 am, we found ourselves BACK in Jose’s cabin.  Neither of us thought we were going to get outta there.

We finally did, though, the next day after one more beautiful sunset and a final farewell to Jose and family.  An overnight bus ride to Oaxaca and we’re back in cool weather.  Thank you bloodykneejesus.

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From Mountain To Sea

We left San Cristobal on our bikes headed down to the Pacific.  We weren’t exactly sure how long it would take us, but we were excited to see the countryside and actually spend some time on our bikes.   The first day to Tuxtla was a blast.  The descent from 7000ft to 500ft in a matter of 30 miles was dramatic.   Right before we got to Tuxtla we stopped at a canyon called Canon del Sumidero.   We were able to see the canyon via lancha which is a boat with a huge outboard engine that rockets groups of people through the canyon.  The views were nothing short of spectacular…the pictures do it little justice.  The guides pointed out amazing features in the verticle cliffs that towered all around us, including falls that resemble christmas trees and of course a Virgin Mary.  These are more ubiquitous in Mexico than bloodykneejesi!!  The only sad part of this trip was the amount of trash floating in areas of the river.  They clean the trash from daybreak til sundown Monday through Friday and still can’t keep up.  Apparently the trash is worse during the rainy season when the trash gets washed down from Tuxtla.   I thought we were trash heads at home!!

We stayed the night in Tuxtla and took off the next morning to see how far we could get on the autopista (tollroad) heading towards the Pacific.   This hombre I met in Tuxtla told me the autopista was the way to go since there’s food, gas stations and even hotels along the way.  We were thinking of camping if we needed to and since there would be plenty of places to stock up on food, we took off on the autopista with two liters of water each, and a few power bars.  The road was perfect for biking – huge shoulders on both sides, rolling hills, beautiful sweeping views reminiscent of the the Texas Hill Country – just a perfect ride.   And the scenery wasn’t littered with any development.  This was great at first, but this didn’t change.  NO development.  Where were these gas stations, food stops and hotels?  Not on this road!

We rode all day with no refill of water and hardly any food.  Finally, a road worker told us about a town not too far away from where we were (maybe 4 1/2 miles or so) where we could replenish our bodies.  We were still another 10 miles or so from Arriaga, a small town where we thought we’d like to crash for the night, so we decided to stop at the suggested pueblo.   We found the small pueblo and helped ourselves to Cheetos and water while the guy manning the “booth”, for lack of a better word, looked at us like we were aliens.  I guess I don’t blame him.

After 20 minutes or so of lying in the dirt we picked ourselves up and limped into Arriaga.   I asked the clerk at the hotel to point us towards his favorite restaurant.  Apparently my spanish is not as good as I thought because we found ourselves in a place that I typically would not shit in.   We gave it a chance anyway and I’m glad we did.  This mean ass woman who ran the place cooked the best friggin’ meal I think I’d had in Mexico up to that point.  Plus they had ice cold beers.  Viva Mexico!!

After a solid night of sleep, we labored back on to our bikes and slogged the last 25 miles or so to the ocean.  It was an easy, pleasant ride made challenging only by the events of the previous day.   But after three wonderful days on the bike, we made it…Pacific Ocean!! Puerto Arista!!

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San Cristobal de las Casas

San Cristobal sits in the middle of Mexico’s beautiful southern mountain ranges at around 7000 ft.  It’s a cool, crisp city in stark contrast to the hot, humid jungles we’d just escaped. The town is beautiful with old colonial architecture and very clean streets that are pedestrian friendly (no cars).  We only stayed here for a couple of days, but I loved the energy of this small town.   I think we’ll be back here.

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Agua Azul

We got up early and enjoyed a hearty breakfast before heading out on our first real bike travel day.  I was very excited to get started and we had a gentle rolling ride out of Palenque and on to the twisting winding road that would take us to San Cristobal in two days.  Heh.  The scenery was amazing and as the trucks and buses began to whiz by while we rode a tight “shoulder”, I remembered a good friend of mine saying, “Always imagine a white protective bubble surrounding your body while traveling.”  So I’m now screaming “BUBBLE!! BUBBLE!!” at the top of my longs in the hopes that the drivers of these buses and trucks will actually hear that I have a protective white orb surrounding me and that if they come too close, they’re vehicles will suffer cataclysmic damages. All awhile I’m wearing a huge smile on my face. The 100km ride to Ocosingo (halfway between Palenque and San Cristobal) was already proving to be amazing.

In our push to get to Ocosingo, I do not believe that we ate enough or drank enough water.  We stopped at stores along the way and ate at a nice roadside eatery that had some pretty decent food.  Is this what you meant by street food, Dad?  Wolf enjoying the ever important halfway point coca cola:

But the constant climbing and descending began to take its toll.   We had planned on stopping at a place called Agua Azul for lunch and continue on to Ocosingo.  However, Agua Azul quickly became our place to stop for the evening.  It took everything I had to get to the top of the entry point for Agua Azul and then thankfully we had a fast 4-5km ride down to the falls.  We whizzed by signs that warned of the dangers of hiking the road due to Zapatista movements in the area.  I didn’t care.  All I wanted was to sit and relax.  I was day dreaming a bit on the ride down when I saw Wolf slam his breaks on to avoid being clotheslined by a rope that suddenly arose from the road.  There where children and men on either side of the road holding the rope as taut as possible to prevent us from riding through.  Thankfully they were just the gatekeepers of the place and they were requiring the entry fee.  We happily paid and continued on our ride.  About ¾ of a km down the road, we encountered a more established entrance where we were asked to pay an entry fee…again.  Wolf told the guy we had already paid an entrance fee and he gave a soft smile and quietly said, “That was your donation to the Zapatista movement.”  And so it goes.

We slept in the most dilapidated, bug infested room I’ve ever slept in that night (bedbugs are part of the adventure, right?) but the falls at Agua Azul are nothing short of breathtaking.  Beautiful colors dance in the waters over rock formations that have been formed by millennia of pounding waters.  We were the only gringos left there in the evening when the tour buses pulled out, and we looked forward to being the first (gringos) to see the falls in the morning light.

The next day we had to come to terms with the obvious.  The amount of time that we had allotted to get to Antigua on bikes was severely optimistic.  There was no way we were going to get where we wanted based on the steep mountain grades and long days we had ahead of us.  We could make it if we started heading to Guatemala in that moment.  But we did not come out to Southern Mexico to conquer some challenge of riding our bikes all the way to Antigua.  We came to see the place and experience the real Mexico that neither of us had ever seen.  We discussed our plans and decided that we would have to forgo some riding in certain places in order to see and experience the things we traveled here to see.

So we found a guy in Agua Azul who had enough room for our bikes and took us up the road to catch a collectivo which would take us into Ocosingo where we could catch a bus into San Cristobal.  We felt a bit deflated…a bit like we were giving up before we even started.  It proved to be a crazy day of bumping around the back of this collectivo with our bikes bungeed to the top. Seriously…bungeed.

Smiling at the hilarity of it all.

The grades of the road into Ocosingo increased dramatically during that trip and we both felt content that we had made the right choice.  What we planned would take a couple of days of hard riding would have ended up being taking us four, maybe five days…we just didn’t have the time.

After a bumpy but beautiful two hour collectivo ride we arrived in Ocosingo and caught a bus into beautiful San Cristobal…minds and bodies intact.  So far, so good.