Long ride today, out on the road by 7am and finished after 5pm.
Yesterday afternoon was hot in San Pedro Tapanatepec (~36C or 97F) and our goal was to get on the road early and get in some climbing early. The first 27km were mostly uphill climbing from near sea level to over 800m (2600ft). Photo above was taken on first part of the climb looking back. It was hot and sweat was already dripping off my jersey. However, as we passed 8km, we encountered the first of our winds for the day and that also helped cool things off. It also never got much warmer than 30C (86F) that we reached on that first climb.
It was a slow and long climb and somehow wasn’t feeling 100%. However a cookie break at 15km definitely helped. Not much after that we crossed into Chiapas, the 11th state I’ve visited in Mexico.
Translation: The bridge along the curve of the wind. Our route was through some notoriously windy areas and we also had intermittent headwinds on the climb. They became stronger on the second half of the day after we were on the plateau.
These cows were walking along the ridge line at crest of the hill. Hooray, our biggest climb was over. However, in total today had 1300m of climb but we ended up only 500m higher than we started, so there were plenty of hills in second half of the day too…just that we would climb and descend and repeat.
We stopped in and had a filling lunch. I also had plenty to drink and still didn’t feel wonderful.
Across the way, the tortilla shop was doing a good business.
Photo above is a good summary of the next 50km through our afternoon. The roads were generally straight, narrow and went up and down across some hills. There was also a wind coming from left front side and the wind became stronger as the day went on.
At 60km, we stopped at a nice little restaurant for a break and after this cycled the last 20km into Cintalapa.
This was the church in the last village before the city.
We arrived after 5pm. The city was busy including people on horseback and many people walking.
We discovered there was a big street festival going on. The first hotel we tried was all booked up. Second one only had one room with one bed. Third one was on the square in extremely noisy location. Eventually we circled back and picked our best alternative. Overall, today ended up being quite long on the road with a lot of climbing and a fair amount of headwinds. Hence, it was nice to finally get settled in a room and relax.
Today we finished crossing the potentially windy and warm gap between Tehauntepec and Tapanatepec. As described in yesterday’s blog the winds were not as bad as expected yesterday. Temperatures rose to mid 30s (mid 90s F) but with only 54km to ride, we got a lot of riding done before the hottest part of the day.
We ate some breakfast in Niltepec before we left. The only stores open were the butcher and the auto parts store, but we had a few things from night before. At first little kiosk along the way, pictured above, I had a snack of ice cream.
We crossed this river, nice clean and free flowing water with a business or two on the edges of the stream.
Last few days we’ve occasionally passed areas where people were burning off underbrush. Looking at the road sign, looks like this also happened here.
As we crossed an overpass, kids at school below noticed us. Here they are waving back.
We came by way of Los Angeles, though there wasn’t much more than this sign.
By mid-day we found a place near the church in center of town. It was definitely hot in the afternoon and a number of the businesses seemed to close for a siesta break.
Spotted this truck with bananas on a side street. While we haven’t seen bananas growing wild yet, this suggests we aren’t too far from where they grow.
Overall, feel fortunate with both wind and heat these past two days. From here, we climb again away from the coast and likely to cooler regions again.
Positive surprises today against expectations for both weather and accommodations.
This area is notorious for Tehuantepecer winds. The part of Mexico we are crossing narrows with only a low 250m Chivela Pass separating Atlantic from Pacific. Air that gets pushed through Chivela pass can result in very strong northerly winds as described in many bike journals. In addition to strong winds, we also anticipated warm temperatures from being at sea level. While we had some wind, it was lighter than expected (and probably average) and not all headwinds. Hooray!
Our hotel had a little shrine to the virgin Mary in separate room. Reminds me a bit of shrines in countries like India.
Tehuantepec was a slightly larger town. We cycled past this statue and then had breakfast at the OXXO.
Not far from the bus station where a bus for Oaxaca was boarding.
Afterwards we started cycling flat terrain out to Juchitan de Zaragoza. A wind started picking up from left front but wasn’t bad yet.
Someone we saw riding the other direction.
Warning signs for trucks.
After Juchitan, we started coming past the first of hundreds of wind turbines. However, the winds still weren’t very strong and weather forecasts suggested lighter winds today than either tomorrow or the next day.
Our route went mostly north for 10km with light headwinds before turning more to the east.
Sheltering underneath one of the bridges, we met two Mexican cyclists who had started in Guadalajara and were on their way to Argentina.
Wind turbines continued for many kilometers.
At 55km, we stopped and had lunch at nice loncheria in small village. After this our winds were tailwinds at least as much as headwinds.
Not sure where you can swim, but sign suggested something near.
At 80km, we came to our intended destination Santiago Niltepec. While Google Maps suggested a possible hotel, other cycling journals hadn’t noted it. Hence, was expecting to ask around and perhaps sleep on basketball court again. Surprise, found a nice little hotel (Las Palmas) and it even had air conditioning. Overall, weather and accommodations turned out better than I would have guessed this morning.
Three days cycling brought us close to sea level and town of Tejuantepec. Along the way some very hilly terrain to climb up and over and a finish in warm temperatures in the mid 30s (high 80s/low 90s F). Day One, San Jose Gracia
Our climbing started on first day just after leaving the hotel. Here is a view looking back from almost top of the hill. After this we had a long descent and started to see many more cacti and different plants.
The next hotel was closer than 165km, but found it interesting to already find a notice out for one a long ways away.
A photo from part way down the descent, looking back up to where we came from. Road surfaces were reasonable and grades were rarely more than 5-6% so those who like zooming down hills would like Oaxaca.
As we descend, mosquito-borne diseases are more of an issue. Here was public notice about fighting dengue fever.
One of several villages we cycled past and through. Overall an arid region without much farming, though does have agave plants and a lot of mezcal factories.
We had lunch at restaurant “California”.
After lunch, a longer climb including this cow standing along the road.
A view looking up at the climb with cactus in front.
Hooray, made it to the top! Now time for the descent!
Watermelon is one of the crops grown here.
At last we spot the village we plan on staying.
Found the hotel in town. Through the night we could hear trucks as well as see their flashing lights. Day Two, La Reforma
A lot of climbing today through beautiful landscapes.
Once again climbing started right away, though first 19km to El Camaron wasn’t extremely hilly.
Some large trees were source of these logs. Larger than any trees we’ve seen along the way.
After El Camaron, there was a 15km climb of 600m (2000ft). Not too hot so time to put the bike in low gear and slowly climb the hill. One thing I find interesting is road signs like “don’t drive tired” and place locations like “portillo nejapa” use the same black+white colors and fonts. Often it is obvious from the description but occasionally need to question, is that the name of a village or a cautionary note.
Hooray, our 15km climb was done and time for another descent.
Another nice little place for lunch. Today it was quesadillas with meat and cheese. They flatten the tortillas from dough with a press and cook everything over a wood fire.
After another hill (over 1300m of climb today or 4000+ft), this sign told us folks in the town spoke a native dialect and not Spanish.
Our destination of El Reforma had a public health wall about typhoid.
There was no hotel in this town, but locals let us camp on edge of the basketball court. It was noisy through the night with roosters, trucks and locals coming to sit next to the court and chat. Otherwise a nice camp. My thermarest mattress took much longer to deflate, so think we patched many but not all of the holes. Also unfortunately, rolled over onto my normal glasses so will wear prescription sunglasses instead. Day Three, Tehuantepec
A easier ride today as we descended close to sea level. As we finished our ride it became both warmer and windier, giving an early indication of road ahead.
Another public health wall.
Hanging from a tree, looked a bit like a birds nest.
We didn’t stay at the hotel “isis”.
As it became warmer, the horses also took refuge under the trees.
Unfortunately, a lot of trash along the highways here, this next to a sign telling folks not to litter.
We’re on the flats now, but one can see hills in the background.
Overall arrived at a hotel by 2pm and turned on the air conditioning. Nice to complete this bit to the coast and time to plot out the next segments. The Mexican isthmus narrows here and there are a lot of wind farms, so expect both some heat and some wind.
Nice to be back on the road again. Today a shorter and relatively flat ride along the valley east from Oaxaca.
Obligatory shot of two of us now riding together as we left the hotel. We had a later start today and overall planned a shorter day to see everything was set up.
It wasn’t too busy on cobblestone streets of Oaxaca. We passed Walmart and “Suburbia” on our way out of the city following the major highway east. Less traffic than the Friday afternoon I entered Oaxaca and also fewer buses to watch out for.
We were at ~1500m at interesting climate boundary where I could see a few pine trees, some palms trees and cactus all at the same time. At end of the day just a little higher at ~1700m and over next few days will be descending into warmer regions.
The local oil refinery helps the environment.
We saw multiple signs that we were on “Camino del Mezcal” as well as several Mezcal factories such as this one. Mezcal is made from Agave plants that are also planted around this factory.
I could practice my Spanish. Find it interesting to have signs like this that are not only prescriptive (don’t drive tired) but also try to motivate (your family awaits you).
Another example about “don’t drive tired” because “your life is valuable”.
We had lunch at a small comedore and after this a slight headwind.
Somewhat more interesting cliffs as we reach end of the valley.
Two bikes on the road now.
At 41km, the road split from the main path to archaelogical site Mitla and headed to Santiago Matatlan which bills itself as Mezcal capital of the world.
The main street in Matatlan has a few Mezcal factories as well as a few shops and comedores.
Friday and my class has completed. My riding partner should arrive this evening and plan is to depart tomorrow headed south east.
The class was useful, both to give me a more structured concentration on the language and for feedback when I was using things correctly and incorrectly. It didn’t necessarily go further than what I learned in Spanish classes (mostly a number of years ago), but definitely feel like I caught back up. We will see how it goes now on the road.
We had two field trips this week, one to a cultural center in nearby San Agustin. This center had multiple purposes including hosting classes, displaying exhibits as well as supporting work from artists.
For example, the headline exhibit was this work. Essentially it took a brief text about changes as rural areas urbanize and then visualized it.
A more complete text above.
The idea of taking something from one medium and representing it in another was also used in a larger “felting” center they had where artists might send images and then art center workers turned this into felted work. It was interesting, though asked us not to share photographs so can’t do that here.
We got a tour of a paper factory where they showed and described the process.
Otherwise, I’ve wandered some through Oaxaca and gotten chance to visit cafes and restaurants.
These folks were working on protest signs and saw at least one or two marches while I was here.
Also music in several of the other evenings.
Wandering through Oaxaca also came across the bus from El Bicho Latino
Fellow travelers going from Patagonia to Alaska. However, have been on the road from 2005, so at a somewhat slower pace.
Looking forward to getting back on the road. The next 400km to Tapanatepec look to be challenging with a continuation of hill Oaxaca terrain, followed by a descent to sea level (i.e. hot) and through a region notorious for wind. There are a limited set of hotels so also anticipate some nights camping. From there climbing back into the hills and another 400km to Guatemala.
First day of Spanish class today. We started with an assessment test and then were split into groups by ability. I’m in a group I would characterize as “had a Spanish class or two, though perhaps a while ago” which is about right. Not absolute beginners, but still going back to basics (e.g. definite/indefinite articles, ser vs. estar). All with small groups, ours has four people with an instructor.
One can sign up for varying amounts of time and I’m signed up for four hours per day. The first two hours are a bit more focused on grammar/written forms. This is followed by a short break and then a two hour session more focused on conversation. Later this week we’ll also have an afternoon field trip or two to artistic communities in the area.
Overall, about what I expect and nice to have a slightly more formal recap of Spanish structured as a class. At least as much, also need to see how I can keep adding to my vocabulary. I’ve definitely picked up some vocabulary these past two months on the road, though the class stretches it in a new dimension. Also noticed a word or two I’ve been using incorrectly e.g. referring to hot weather as “caliente” instead of “caluroso”. I expect folks might understand what I’ve tried to say, but are too polite to correct me…so a class also helps in that regard.
I had indicated a “home stay” on my class form, though didn’t quite realize I might need to do a bit more to set that up. The hotel has been quite nice and central, so decided just to stay there instead of a home stay for just a few nights. Otherwise I’ve gotten a chance to walk around Oaxaca. Yesterday, I found local bike shop and had brake pads updated (again). While not completely worn down, my cautious approach, weight, hilly terrain and steep grades near Cuernavaca wore the pads a fair amount – so I’d rather start afresh here than end up needing to renew where shops are harder to find.
Today I got a chance to see sights around Oaxaca. I found a tour site on the Zocalo Plaza. They were offering two packages and I signed up for for 8 hours to visit:
Monte Alban, archaelogical site
Wood carvings, Arrazola
Cuilapan, ex-monastery of Santiago Apostol
Black pottery, Coyotepec
It was a nice trip and I was particularly impressed with Monte Alban.
Monte Alban sits several hundred meters above Oaxaca on mountain top. It was established by Zapotec’s around 500BC and occupied until about 750AD. It was a huge site with multiple temples and remains of buildings, fields and plazas.
Overall an interesting place to walk around. We had guided tour for an hour and then spent at least another hour wandering further ourselves.
After that to local artists area of wood carvings. Overall fairly elaborate.
Next generation of artists brushing up on their skills.
We had a nice buffet lunch and nearby restaurant including Oaxaca dishes such as seven types of mole.
The monastery and church was never quite completed, hence you see no roof on front section.
A key issue in this area are multiple fault lines which have caused earthquakes. A number of the columns had been rebuilt due to quakes and there was active reinforcing on that what remained.
Final stop was in Coyotepec where an artist performed a demonstration in matter of minutes on how he built a clay pot.
Drying and curing takes many days and gets done at particular dry times. So overall process might take a month, but he was able to show us quick creation of an initial clay pot.
Many of them for display and sale here as well.
Overall, tour was worthwhile and got a nice blend of tourist sites. The Monte Alban is high on my recommend list. The crafts places were interesting – though a chance to buy handicrafts, that I wasn’t in the market for. The monastery and church were also interesting.
Made it to Oaxaca! Nice ride mostly on smooth cuota roads, still more downhill than uphill. Plan is to spend a week in Oaxaca including Spanish class next week.
As I left Nochixtlan, I was surprised to see several hulks of burnt and abandoned trucks in middle of the road with traffic driving around them.
A sign on the charred remains of a bus gave a clue. As I understand from Internet reports like this one and this one: in June 2016, a group of protesting teachers had erected these roadblocks in a dispute with the Federal Government over education reform. Exactly what happened next is not 100% clear, but Federal police efforts to clear roadblocks resulted in 8 deaths and almost 200 injured.
The bus and trucks are still there in middle of the road, though now traffic rides around it.
At 2.2km, I was back on the cuota toll road with a nice smooth shoulder and one lane each way. Started out with a hill or two and then almost 10km of descent before the most hills between 14km and 40km. There was an occasional house like this one but otherwise rugged country.
As I was climbing a hill at 34km, I saw all these toy trucks out for sale. Not much further was a loncheria and chance for a late breakfast.
Cooking tortillas with toppings over an open fire. The cooks were having fun figuring out our Spanish and English respectively. Many of the basic words we both seemed to know in both languages, though they knew words for “chicken” but not for “egg”.
A selfie with one of the cooks.
After this another 10km of mostly hilly terrain to reach a toll booth and small store.
I thought it was interesting that Mexico also has Amber Alerts given the program has an English acronym and was named after a US abductee.
After this the hills diminished, the road became busier until end of the cuota at 67km. Here was entrance sign to Oaxaca city, though it would be another 10km to the center.
Traffic circles with statues.
Each Mexican city has been a bit different to ride. Oaxaca seems to have prioritized bus lanes on the right. This mostly works for bicycles, taxis and other vehicles to use this lane too. Occasionally I would wait for a parked taxi or bus but otherwise made my way into middle of the city.
Reached the central church and nearby Zocalo Plaza and found a hotel I had booked.
Walked over the the language school, though they were closed for the day. I had exchanged correspondence with school before submitting a registration. Registration had included a request for “homestay” accommodations but didn’t hear back. Hence, my plan is to show up Monday morning bright and early and stay in hotel next three nights.
Middle of Oaxaca seems to have mix of some protest signs mixed with commercial activity.
Otherwise, now time to sort through the tourist guide book and find some sights to check out this weekend and otherwise plan on Spanish class next week. Plan is for another cyclist to join on ride to Costa Rica and two of us to depart after Spanish class next weekend.