Written December 13, 2015
I don’t have anything exciting to tell you. And that’s fine with me, because after four months of traveling it’s long past time to simply plonk down somewhere and enjoy where we’ve come to.
We left the great volcano Pico de Orizabo behind and rolled along a combination of paved and dirt roads through the desert scrub. The hills along side us were covered with what looked like long spines or stiff hair growing straight up, sparse at first but then thicker and thicker. As the road approached the base of the hills we could recognize it as a new kind of cactus, some of them quite tall, like saguaro. Down along the gullies was another kind, branching strongly like trees, but with all the branches turning to go straight up. As we continue south, we often come across a new plant or tree that makes for a dramatic change in the landscape, and this new cacti is certainly one of them. Another example is last month, as we were climbing through the high desert of northern Mexico approaching Zacatecas, we saw Joshua trees, and they became a thick forest that one couldn’t see through. It made Joshua Tree NP up in the US seem kind of silly by comparison, there were so many of the trees and they were so densely packed.
We made our way up a broad river valley, twisting and rolling along a snake of a road through arid rocks, cactus, and sparse brush. Eventually we started a long climb over a pass that would take us down into Oaxaca. We climbed up and up, and we weren’t the only ones going over that pass. In the desert heat, there were hundreds of people on bicycles accompanying trucks carrying big glass boxes with statues of Jesus or the Virgin Mary or some other religious symbols, all covered with flowers and palm fronds. The bicyclists were not your racer types, all dressed up in lycra and spandex, no, they were mostly regular people on all sorts of bikes, some in shorts, some in jeans, all sweating in the heat, but all making that climb. They were strung out on the road over many miles, and support trucks were setting up food stops near the top to feed and refresh the peddling pilgrims. I admired them all, as I couldn’t imagine doing the same myself in such heat. The climb up that pass took us up at least 1,000 meters (~3,300’) if not more from the valley floor, to an elevation of around 2,800 meters (~9,200’), then rolled along up and down, up and down, as we rode along the ridge crest southward.
We stayed for 5 days in a small town about 12 kilometers east of Oaxaca called Tule. Calvin and Leann are Canadian transplants, and they own a place called Overland Oasis for travelers such as ourselves. We pitched the tent in the shade and had great company while we were there, not just from our hosts, but from the many people stopping there in their own travels. Many were in impressive overland rigs, and from a variety of countries, especially Europe. Calvin has a nice shop area and tools, so I took advantage of that and adjusted the steering head bearings on both bikes, and did several other little jobs on the list. Jalene’s bike has been lowered one inch front and rear, so her center stand has always been too long, making it a two-person chore to get it up the stand. Calvin offered to shorten it, and since he’s done plenty of welding on race car frames, I said okay and we did it. It really wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d imagined it might be, and now it’s easy to pop her bike up on the center stand again. Calvin didn’t want to charge us anything for it, so we found a way to kick in for the cold beer supply there - thanks, Calvin! I must give a plug here – and if you’re travelling through the Oaxaca area by bike or car or truck, you’ll want to stop at Overland Oasis for a break, and if you have repairs to do, it’s the ideal spot. Find it on iOverlander.
We said goodbye were back on the road south again, but we got a late start after a big group breakfast, and it’s slow packing up when you don’t really want to say goodbye. But we got on the road about 11, and made it to the foot of the mountains by 2:30, where we stopped after finding a nice, cheap hotel in Miahuatlan to get out of the heat. I’d eaten a bad shrimp burger the day before and wasn’t feeling 100%, so I was happy to call it a day rather than pushing over the mountains. Next morning we had a fantastic ride over the range that separates inland Mexico from the Pacific. It reminded me of Ecuador quite a bit, with continuous twisting two-lane road in various states of repair, and the occasional huge truck swinging around the blind corner at you in both lanes to keep things exciting. We dropped down out of the cool peaks into more and more humid air, which warmed dramatically as we wound down, down toward the hazy blue beyond which I knew must be the ocean. Nearing sea level, we were sweating something fierce in the hot, damp air. We reached the beach, and followed the GPS to La Habana Cuba, a group of nice, simple cabanas right on the beach at Puerto Angel. We are at the southern tip of where Mexico curves under on the Pacific side.
We are on the Pacific Ocean. Jalene and I had not seen the Pacific since we left August 10, and I had no idea how much I had missed it until it was in sight again. Once we were settled in our cabana, I could sit back and listen to the roar. I realized that the sound of the ocean, which has been a constant all these years, has been gone while we were traveling. Now that I heard it again I felt somehow restored and complete. I’ve always loved hearing it while lying in bed drifting off to sleep, and now here it is again.
The beach here runs east-west. It’s actually somewhat disorienting to someone like me who has lived on a north-south beach for over 20 years. The sun rises at one end of the beach, and sets on the other end. At night, since we’re only about 15 degrees off the equator here, the stars come up in the east, travel nearly straight overhead across the sky, and set in the west. Orion arches over the length of the beach at night for us, so just by looking up I can estimate the time of night. I’m so used to the stars circling the North Star - I’m having to relearn where things are again. The North Star is not even visible here, since it’s low enough on the horizon to be hidden by the mountains we rode over to get here. Soon we will be far enough south to start picking out stars and constellations associated with the southern hemisphere.
Our friend Chris, from Australia, has already pointed out to me how to find the Southern Cross once we get a little farther south. Some of the stars in Orion form what they call “the frying pan”, and it is a pointer to the Southern Cross in the same way that the Big Dipper points out the North Star. We met Chris at Overland Oasis in Oaxaca, he also being a traveler by motorcycle, and we shared the tent area. Chris bought a locally made Dynamit brand 250 for all of about $2,000, and has outfitted it with soft panniers and other good equipment, and has been having a great time exploring Guatemala and Mexico on it. In Oaxaca he had a local upholstery guy put new foam in the seat, making it taller and more level, and giving it a really nice material for the cover. A first-class job it looked to me, and for only 350 pesos! (~$22) With regular oil changes, it’s been running perfectly for him, and he has plans to continue back down into Guatemala to meet up with friends down there. More proof that the big adventure bikes are often just overkill. Chris is also here with us in the cabanas, but tomorrow we part ways. We wish him all the best in future wanderings, and, as with so many we have met along the road, would love to meet up with him again someday.
“Our” beach is only about a half-mile end-to-end, and so one can stroll it at leisure and, once back at the cabana, feel that one has accomplished something after walking the entire shore. Not much happens here, which is just fine with us, and our 6 days here have flown by. We’ve spent our time deciding which beach restaurant has the best food, and the winner turns out to be the one only 30 yards away. The local dogs are a treat to watch, as they all seem to get along just fine, and have a marvelous time visiting each other up and down the beach, engaging in hilarious romps in the sand, and demonstrating for the humans just how life should be lived here. I’m taking notes.
We have no links to photos this time because the wifi at the beach doesn't like uploading them. Sorry. We'll share the links in the next post. Hopefully.
Jalene is sharing the top 10 lessons she's learned from traveling so far. Check them out here.