Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Monte Alban

Today we went to see the ruins at Monte Alban which is the oldest 'planned' city in the Americas; whatever 'planned' means - can't really imagine these great conquerors having to apply to the local council to build a city!!!

The plan was to leave early to beat the crowds and the heat but the rear tyre on the bike was flat - again... it turned out that the dodgy Mexican tyre mechanics had butchered the valve; luckily there is a petrol station just around the corner so I could repair it there.

Monte Alban itself is pretty amazing. (I know, isn't everything these days?) It's basically the top of a mountain that the Zapotecs decided to flatten so they could build a city, (housing some 40,000 people at i's peak) on it. It was built and lived in/on between 500 BC and 850 AD and was then neglected until around 1300 - 1500 AD when the Mixtecs came and squatted for a while; opening some of the old tombs to bury their own important dead. They did in fairness, put oodles of gold silver and other such goodies, (Rolex's, iPods, Armani suits I would imagine!) in with the dead so they did at least pay some sort of rent. Those particular tombs weren't discovered till 1931 which must have been quite a find!

The site became a world heritage site in 1987 so is now protected which is a good job as it really is quite something to see although personally I think a good coat of paint wouldn't go amiss!

We then took a ride out to one of the outlying villages where much of the local crafts that this area is famous for is made; in this particular village everyone seems to make brightly painted wooden carvings called Alebrijes; nothing like a bit of competition to keep the prices down - certainly a lot cheaper than buying the same stuff in town. We of course had to buy something; a 6" high fire breathing dragon; it does come apart, (legs, wings, flame etc) but it still should prove interesting carrying it around on a bike for the next however many weeks, months...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Zihuatanejo - Acapulco (165m) - Pinotepa Nacional (184m) - Puerto Escondido (91m) - Zipolite (49m) - Oaxaca City (166m)

The road here from Zipolite to Oaxaca was amazing. It was quite a crazy mountain road constantly twisting and turning and climbing, reaching it’s highest pass at just over 9000 feet. The landscape changed as we climbed. Early on in the ride and closer to the coast it was still jungle. As we moved further from the coast, and without noticing the transition we were soon in pine forest! (and in places so very like Cyprus!) For the first 90 miles it was so twisty we never got out of 3rd gear (out of 5!) and according to the GPS our average speed was just 29 mph!!

Once up and over the mountains the road came quickly downhill onto the plains at about 5000 feet and straight away we noticed the change in temperature – hot again (we’d been so cold in the mountains but never quite got around to putting on our fleece jackets!) Passed through Ocotlan on our way into the city of Oaxaca and saw all the shops selling the black pottery that this part of Oaxaca Valley is famous for.

We were on a mission to get the punctured rear tyre sorted and stopped at the first place we saw. They sent us off around the city to another place, who also couldn’t help but on our way to a 3rd possible we found somewhere ourselves. It wasn’t the ideal tyre but it’s the right size and was fitted for free straight away by a frightening bunch of cowboys (who Chris had to keep an eye on to stop them from doing things wrong and damaging the tyre and the wheel rims) It’s a job done and ticked off – one that might not have been much fun trying to sort out. By chance as we drove away from the shop, took the first turning signed for ‘centro’ we’d ended up on the exact right street for the Hostel we were looking for! It's a tidy little place just 3 blocks from the Zocolo and is just less than $15 a night!

We dumped our things and went striaght back out to explore. As we'd ridden into the centre I’d got to see how beautiful the city is. It’s crammed packed with old buildings, most restored and bustling with people and street vendors galore. Several blocks have been pedestrianised and full of art galleries, handicraft shops and restaurants. Of course there’s the magnificent Zocolo and huge cathedral – the centre piece of the city. We walked to the market which takes up a whole block, and even this late in the day was still really busy. It seemed you could get anything there – fruit & veg, handicrafts, clothing and lots of weird and wonderful food many of them specialities of the region. There was Oaxaca cheese ‘quesillo’ which is a stringy goats cheese, a variety of it which came packed full of herbs and chillis which was a particular fav of ours! There was lots of chocolate and dozens of varieties of ‘Mole’ which is a black paste substance made from chillis, herbs and chocolate. It’s basically a savoury flavour with a kick and is commonly served with chicken. All of these things were available to sample as we wandered round the market. Chris also sampled some grasshopper larvae ‘chapulines’ – it was finely chopped and spicy and apparently quite nice...!

Today we spent more time wandering around the city. It's just such a great place! This morning we visited the ‘Centro Cultural de Santo Domingo’. Here is the Oaxaca Cultural Museum and next door the Church of Santo Domingo. The church was spectacular with incredibly ornate ceiling Sistene chapel styley and a massive Nave centre piece.

The museum occupies a completely restored convent and is enormous. Sadly for us all exhibit tags were in Spanish but just wandered around the place was an event in itself as the building was beautiful – wide open corridors, windowless picture windows overlooking the various aspects of the city, chunky wooden doors leading into the individual exhibit rooms.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


We've had a wonderful few days in Zipolite. It's a picture perfect tropical beach that would be so easy to just stay forever! About a mile of pale soft sand and crashing waves. A small cobbled or dirt road Mexican village backs the beach and all the buildings are just simple palapa shelters and huts. There are dozens of cabanas and palapa huts for rent to stay in right on the beach. We've got a great little place - a row of quiant cabanas attched to a palapa restaurant bar. There are shaded verandas and hammocks hanging from every available post and beam, 4 poster beds with mosquito nets hanging from them and brightly coloured Mexican rugs, throws and tableclothes making it cheery and welcoming. And all for $20 a night! In addition they serve mean wood fired pizzas and their 2x1 happy hour cocktails are available from sunset till closing!!

Today we took a short hike through the jungle up and over the headland at the end of this bay and into the next bay and beach. A much quieter place there's no development and just a couple of dusty trails to access it. The waves here were slightly less menacing than on Playa Zipolite so we had a good cool down before the hike back.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Dolphins, Turtles & Stingray

We're now on Playa Zipolite. About 40 miles east of Puerto Escondido. It's beautiful - very tranquillo. We have a nice little room right on the beach where the sound of the waves may well keep us awake - we've yet to find out!!

Yesterday we went out from Puerto Escondido on a boat trip to see wildlife. We went out offshore a good couple of miles at a reasonably steady pace and then slowed when we eventually came across what was to be our fist sightings of dolphins. Dozens of them jumping up out of the water, swimming alongside the boat, ducking and diving around in the wake, and all the time just so close you could touch. It was incredible! You could hear the noise they made when they took air right in front of us in the bow of the boat and occasionally heard a kind of whistling sound from them too. In amongst them all we also saw a whale - only a couple of brief sightings as it heaved itself out of the water so I'm not sure what kind it was.

Later we saw another school of dolphins. Apparently these were a different variety and on the whole they were a little more sedate - just moving smoothly up and out of the water, not quite so much darting around like the others. They stayed with the boat for a long time just playing around in the water alongside us. In this particular area the water was FULL of tiny jellyfish so no putting hands in water this time!!

Next we got up close and personal to a great turtle. Rightly or wrongly (I suspect the latter) the boatman actually caught the turtle in his hands and held it for a minute or so, so we could all see it up close. This was a big-un! At this point we all dived in the water ourselves to cool off far out in the middle of the ocean and when the guy let go of the turtle it swam right amongst us! (again though I don't know what species it was)

Finally as we were heading back to shore I sighted a fair amount of splashing around. We turned the boat and on closer inspection it was a shoal(?!) of sting-rays. All flapping around just below the surface. We got to watch for a while before they suddenly all moved off en masse and we watched their shapes glide off underwater and underneath us. We did see one jump right up out of the water before they went!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Acapulco & La Quebrada

Acapulco didnn't really excite us - it was a hot, busy, crowded, noisy city. However the Cliff Divers were INCREDIBLE. We watched a late evening performance - 10.30pm so the whole area was floodlit. They dive from about 100ft into a narrow rocky tidal channel. There were 5 divers, and they all scramble up the rocks first a part of the 'performance. There was no great fanfare, music or commentary which I'd expected - just them doing their thing. First off 2 guys dived in sync with each other - perfect timing. Then went a couple of solo divers - one of them completing a somersault mid-air. The finale was another solo diver, but he turned off all the floodlights so the area was in darkness, then lit a fire at the top of the cliff, lit 2 burning torches from the fire and after the build-up he dived off holding a torch in each hand down into the swirling dark sea below - amazing stuff! They all really are something else!

Stopped in Pinotepa Nacional - there's a great local market that our book had mentioned. Lots of indiginous people dressed traditional come into town for the big market days on Weds and Sunday (this was a Sunday). Lots of weird and wonderful things to look at and .

Got a puncture yesterday en route to Pinotepa. Noticed a great big nail in the tyre during the ride yesterday. We inflated it and carried on going but when we stopped for the day the tyre went down again. However lucky for us there just happened to be a petrol station right opposite and a tyre repair place right next to that - so $2 later and 2 punctures have been repaired (on closer inspection Chris also found another small piece of metal stuck in). And still managed to be on the road by 10am...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Ixtapa Island snorkelling

So we are just glutton for punishment - we actually decided to stay in 'Casa Wretched' for a second night. Today we wanted to take a boat over to Ixtapa Island for the day. The guidebook had rated it as a great place to spend the day and they weren't wrong. It's just a mile long, just off the coast. We finally got to do some EXCELLENT snorkelling - saw some really cool tropical fish - thousands of them - about now I guess it would be cool to have a 'fish spotters guide' so I could reel off some names, but alas I don't - they were just really cool and colourful! And we saw lots of spiky things hidden in amongst the coral reef, an eel and a stick fish (you know the one - a fish that looks like a stick!!).

Last night we had a suberb Valentine's meal on the seafront. And stayed out as late as possible to minimise the time spent in the room.

Tomorrow we are 'going loco down in Acapulco'. Hasta Luego...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

1150 Miles so far...

So far, 1150 miles already. Los Barriles - Topolobampo (95m) - Mazatlan (285m) - San Blas (196m) - Puerto Vallarta (106m) - Cuyutlan (201m) - Barra de Nexpa (150m) - Zihuatanejo (117m)

Now we are Zihuatanejo and as far as the room we’re staying in, wishing we weren’t. The room is SCARY – this is where my husband brings me for Valentine’s night – the old romantic....!! There’s a dingy cavern of a bathroom off the main room with no electric that works – probably because there’s water dripping down from the socket – right onto your head as you’re sitting on the toilet. The beds are covered in threadbare sheets, the only window looks out onto a small stuffy courtyard right next to noisy restaurant and is filled by a handicapped child wailing all day and a screaming baby – it’s quality – no really!!

Still last night was the opposite end of the scale as far as location goes. We found our ‘picture perfect’ beach cabana to hang out! It was a great surfer’s beach called Barra de Nexpa, which was quite deserted apart from a handful of palapas and beach cabanas. Ours was 2 level with a small kitchenette downstairs and up a rickety wooden staircase into the attic where there were 2 beds and a big open deck looking out onto the beach and a hammock swaying in the breeze where we could lie whilst supping our large cocktails, brought from the next door palapa restaurant. All rather idyllic!

The last couple of days riding have been fantastic scenery too. The coasts of the Jalisco, Colima and Michoacan states. OMG! Oregon, California coasts – pack your bags and get down here! This really gets the medal for spectacular-ness. Deserted, undeveloped, miles upon miles of twisty winding roads through banana plantations and coconut palms. Dozens of quaint little beaches, small family homes that have opened up their verandas to serve food to anyone that happens to pass by. The road has generally been very empty of other vehicles and pretty good smooth surface, the only real hazards being the ambling cows and donkeys (oh, and the dozens of ‘topes’ (speed bumps) that litter every small pueblo we pass through – they are pretty darn effective). We stop midway through our journey on most days to take a break, and have found some great little beache and coves to take a dip in the water and have a cold drink in the shade!

Puerto Vallarta was fun. Succumbed to a certain amount of tourist tackiness and went on a boat cruise out to Los Arcos to snorkel (a shame that we couldn’t even see our feet in the murky, polluted water – too many tourist boats pass through here it’s all gone grimy). On to a couple of beach villages – Quimixto and Las Animas. Both of which are only accessible by boat so quite quaint and old-worldy. At Quimixto we hiked up to a waterfall in the jungle to take a refreshing dip – the water was really cold though so it really was ‘just a quick dip!’ (Yes that's Chris goofing around in the water - he was somewhat braver than me, and much stronger - the current really was quite intense!)

The best bit by FAR about Puerto Vallarta was just strolling along the Malecon at night. We were there on the weekend when things apparently do ‘hot up’. The place was packed with people, so many locals too. There’s free entertainment in the amphitheatre on the seafront – we saw some traditional Mexican dancing and also some clown performance (all in Spanish though but we got the gist that he was amusing). Also lots of street artists – mime artists, spray-can artists, break-dancers, stone balancers, and lots of sand sculptures all the way along a half mile stretch of the Malecon – and to finish off an area around the town square full of street vendors with all different types of food and drinks stands – it was such fun. It was just an average weekend thing but for us it really felt like a ‘carnival/party’ atmosphere.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The first few days on the mainland

After packing up and storing the RV, we left Los Barriles Monday morning still undecided which ferry we were going to get (either $200, 6 hours to Topolobampo, or $360, 18 hours to Mazatlan which is 300 miles south) Getting to the ferry terminal made the decision for us when we realised that the Mazatlan ferry doesn’t sail till Tuesday – duhh!

It meant we got into Topo around 9.30pm which wasn’t the greatest plan but luckily we only had to ride a mile in the dark before we found the town’s only hotel and crashed for the night after a dull ferry ride where we were forced to listen to Spanish dubbed films at high volumes (but hey – they feed you for free on this ferry!)

The next day we rode the 300 miles to Mazatlan – 7 hours on the bike in 90 degrees and wished we’d stayed in La Paz and waited for the Mazatlan ferry on Tuesday. By the end of that day I was all for selling the bike and buying an RV; no wait, we already did that bit, this was supposed to be us moving out of our comfort zones! We spent 2 nights in Mazatlan; as touristy as it was supposed to be, the old town part really was quite endearing; and of course the small matter of being able to park the bike in the hotel lobby, (well as much of a lobby as you get in an $18 hotel) helped the decision to stay!

We are now in a town on the coast called San Blas; a small old town which although has its share of wintering ‘Gringos’ is still very Mexican as is evident by the town square full of locals until way into the night – and of course the prices compared to Baja; 12 pesos, (60p or just over $1) for a beer in a beach bar!

The hotel, (the nicest of the three so far) is a bunch of rooms off a deep veranda littered with rocking chairs surrounding a shady and cool courtyard. No lobby here so the bike, (El Burro; formerly known as Donkey) spends his day lazing under the shade of a huge poinsettia tree in the courtyard.

The roads here have been ‘interesting’ to say the least. The truckers are crazy drivers – they’ll overtake on blind corners when it seems like there’s no time or space to do it safely – it’s just a constant game of ‘chicken’ for them with us on the motorbike stuck in the middle of it!!; [and Leo and Annette; if you’re reading this, you deserve a medal just for cycling this far!]

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Todos Santos

Got back from a couple of nights in Todos Santos on the west shore of the cape. Rode over on the motorbike, along with our neighbours Ken & Claudette who were on their Harley. Camped out in the town campsite and just drank...and drank! It's a real artsy town, and had 'the orignial Hotel California' (whatever the hell that means - nothing to do with the Eagles song, although they do play the album pretty much contiunusously!) A couple of a bars have mastered the art of the margarita - which Chris found out to his peril - one too many!! - the quantity of alcohol in each glass was pretty staggering - worth the $7 a piece asking price!

Watched the sunset (having spent the last month on the east cape) and saw the whales quite clearly from the beach. In the early evening they seemed pretty frisky and we saw quite a few acrobatics (be it often only the sight of the tail disappearing by the time you focus in with the binoculars!) The following morning we walked down to the beach again and saw a lumbering grey whale just 50 yards or so from the shore - SO CLOSE - it seemed to be body-surfing in the waves close to shore. SO COOL!

Now we are maxed out with packing, admin etc ready for the bike trip to the mainland. RV goes into storage on Monday. Then we'll be taking the ferry to Topolobompo....