Written November 24, 2015
Six days of mountain riding has delivered us to Tlaxcala, where we have booked an Airbnb casita for a week. We’re finding that after several days of riding, we‘ve moved far enough to seem like we’ve entered a different land, and we need to stop for a few days and get to know the place. Indeed, since leaving San Miguel de Allende, it’s become more difficult to spell and pronounce the names of towns and cities, as the native culture in the south exerts a stronger influence over everything. Time to stop and find out what’s going on.
We have spent the last week in the Sierra Gorda range, which lies to the northeast of Mexico City, separating the wet Gulf of Mexico lowlands from the dry interior. These are tall and high-relief mountains, and we found our elevation to be over 2,800 meters (~9,200’) high. Crossing and then re-crossing this range over two days, we found ourselves in the thickest fog I’ve ever ridden in at the highest points, and our speeds dipped well below 20 mph for 10-15 miles (jeez, people, turn your lights on!). Daylight turned to near darkness with the thick fog and trees hanging over the road. The Sierra Gorda separate desert from jungle rainforest. Once over the top, the change is quick and dramatic, in the same way that Douglas fir gives way to Ponderosa pine when you cross the top of the Cascades, but the transformation is even more dramatic, as though you’d gone from Burns, Oregon to the Hoh rainforest in one jump. Vines and banana trees yield to high, thick-canopied pine forest and, as you top the highest pass, the fog instantly clears and you are in brush and cactus in literally seconds.
Pinal de Amoles is high, near the very top of the mountains, and we stopped there on the way east. A very small town, we found a snug but somewhat dirty room for very cheap, and found out only later that there was no toilet seat. At that, Jalene offered to take over the duty of selecting a room for us, and I agreed happily. Some things are better left to her, and we both agreed that with no sign of a woman present, we should have been suspicious of this hotel. When a woman runs the place, it’s generally a much cleaner and well-managed place to stay. After a great dinner at the restaurant next door, we wandered through town and found some chocolate flan for dessert. Yum! Next day found us over the mountains and down, down, down to Tamazunchale, a super-busy river town about 150 meters above sea level. It was hot and humid here, and we got lucky and found a nice, cheap hotel in town. This one was clean and nice. With the letter missing from one tap handle and the other marked “C,” it was the usual puzzle to find out of it meant Cold or Caliente. Jump right in and you’ll soon know.
I had my own adventure in town. I had forgotten to leave the keys with our friends in San Miguel de Allende, and I needed send them back. After chatting with a police officer and finding out that the post office had been closed down two years prior, I went looking for a padded envelope and found out from the proprietor that there was an “Estafeta”, which sounded like the local UPS equivalent. Sure enough, the Estafeta office had a scale on the counter and packages piled for pickup, and they were able to deliver my envelope in a couple of days. While most things here in Mexico are much cheaper than similar US things, this was one that was not, costing 195 pesos, about $12 US. Ce la vie. But it was one of those simple tasks that turned into a small, interesting adventure, involving many different people trying to answer the gringo’s halting Spanish questions, and the gringo trying to figure out what he was being told. Each one ended with a new friend, and a lot of laughter at our mutual efforts to communicate. I’m smiling as I write, remembering the fun of it.
The forecast called for rain by mid-day, so after sending the keys off, we hit the road. We crossed back over to the west side of the mountains over an incredible road that twisted and turned, rose and fell without letup for about 150 miles. We went from near sea level to over 9,500 feet. On the west side, the land opened up, but the road continued to twist and turn down through canyons and arroyos, up and down and up and down. The riding became faster as the vegetation disappeared and the sight-lines opened up. We had terrific fun this day except for the super-thick fog again at the very highest points, but that was just another adventure to have, one which I wish I could have photographed somehow to show you how ridiculously bad the visibility was. The road became wet and so slick in the fog that I could spin the rear tire just by rolling the throttle open, and on our little loaded 650s, that is seriously slippery pavement.
On our way over the mountains, we briefly talked with a couple from Canada on motorcycles, but we didn’t have a safe place to pull off and talk, and so I gave them a card and hope they see our website and contact us. They are headed south and seemed like nice folks, and she was riding a 650GS like ours…
The next town was called Ixmiquilpan, a busy highway town, and so we grabbed a reasonable and new-looking concrete box hotel, and were surprised at how nice our room was and how cheap it turned out to be. Dinner was great, but with the excellent margaritas and slow sipping shot of mezcal approached twice the cost of the room – oops! Oh, well, we’re having fun, and we can splurge once in awhile.
Onward we rode, and spent a night in Zacatlan, a kind of touristy town in the Puebla Magico, an area promoted as the Magical Mountains and Magical Towns. Indeed, Zacatlan was very cool, with lots and lots of vendors around the cathedral square, and we also met an English-speaking coffee shop owner, whereas there was no English almost as a rule in the towns we had recently been in. It started raining as we walked around, causing us to check the weather forecast for where we were going the next day (Cuetzalan). We saw nothing but rain for a week at least, and so we decided to head southwest instead, where there was nothing worse than partly cloudy forecast. We booked an Airbnb casita in a town called Tlaxcala, which would give us a break for a week or so, and assure us of a good wifi connection for Thanksgiving Skype sessions back to families in the US. Such are the things our plans revolve around.
Funny thing about Zacatlan – we had breakfast in a small restaurant just off the square, and there was something about the feel of the place that made you believe you could be in Hood River or Astoria or even Newport. Friendly, lots of little tables, obviously a local favorite, people coming and going, the staff laughing and smiling, and just a relaxed atmosphere. Really a nice way to start the day.
The next day was some fairly flat riding, but it had some fun stuff thrown in early in the day as we crossed over a short but high pass and then started a slow slide down, down into the agricultural area which occupies the great valley area of which Puebla and Mexico City are central. This is fine farming country, and seems to have plenty of water and good soil. Volcanoes dominate the horizons to the southeast and to the west, contributing to the rich fertile land. Our Airbnb would not be available until the following day, so we stopped short in Apizago, tired but happy, and found a place to stay for fairly cheap at one of the many “Auto Hotels,” which we had not tried to this point.
An Auto Hotel is a place where one (or more likely two) can drive into a walled compound and rent a room (for a specified time). Best for motorcycle travelers, each room has a secure, out-of-sight garage where no one can see the vehicle. We asked for the all-night price (mucho macho!), pulled the bikes into the space below the room and drew the curtain across the garage front. Jalene Googled the name of the hotel out of curiosity, and confirmed we were in a “kiss-no-tell” hotel, and we chuckled about it until she saw the news article about the girl who was accidently (?) strangled during some rough sex 5 years earlier in OUR ROOM. We talked about it and when Jay realized I didn’t care, she put it aside and we stayed in the room, feeling we were just getting a little more adventure for our pesos. Too bad we’d missed the Diaz de Muertes by a couple of weeks. Aw, screw it, let’s forget it and get some sleep. (Note from Jalene: I did a fair amount of praying during the night!)
Tomorrow we head down into the crowded valleys below Mt. Popocatepetl, home to the huge metropolises of Puebla and Mexico City.
Click HERE for the photos.