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North America » Mexico » Oaxaca » Oaxaca
September 29th 2012
Published: September 30th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Saturday 22/09/12 – Last night was interesting. We slept in a cliff-top house that’s right next to a working lighthouse. The lighthouse was slightly down the cliff from the house which meant we were at exactly the same level as the top of the lighthouse. It was like someone was doing blockies in their car outside our bedroom window all night – the light-show would have made a good setting for a slasher movie. We had parked the bikes inside the courtyard of the hotel which meant that warming up our bikes was everyone’s wakeup-call this morning. We headed out of town and crossed the state border into Guerrero. There were many small villages along the road including one with a man who was chopping up a large and disturbingly thick snake with a machete, I think he spotted it crossing the road and jumped out of his car to grab some impromptu dinner.

The jungle on the sides of the road is beginning to get really thick. At some stages there was vegetation about 3-4 metres high on the sides of the road, and in some parts, it was forming a canopy across the road. I was riding along and moved over to the right side of the road (the right side is the right side – but it feels like the wrong side) and went too close to the vegetation, a vine snagged onto my right handle bar and almost pulled me into the jungle (like in the cartoons where the vines are alive and wrap themselves around peoples ankles and arms). After some crazy wobbles I managed to get the bike under control. There was also some fairly heavy rain that caused a few flooding roads, but nothing that we couldn’t handle.

We arrived in the city of Zihuatanejo and visited 4 different hotels before we found a suitable one. During our search, a really sleazy guy kept following us and trying to tell us we could stay with him for really cheap if we followed him to his house just outside of town. After sternly telling him no for the 10th time, he still followed us to our hotel and then waited outside for about an hour. We locked the bikes up and didn’t leave the room till he left. He is the first obviously dodgy guy we have met in Mexico so far, almost everyone else we’ve talked to have been really nice. The hotel we found was very cheap and clean, the only problem was the toilet didn’t work. Hmmmm….



Sunday 23/09/12 – We spent another day riding to the city of Acapulco. The roads on the outskirts of Acapulco were the worst roads I have ever been on. There were potholes everywhere (some knee deep), big sinkholes that were chest high, roads crumbling into cliffs and maniac bus drivers. Adding to the experience was the incredible police and military presence here. We rode through 4 military checkpoints on the way into the city – it has a very large port and is renowned for its drug trafficking problems. We had previously picked out a hotel on the net, however (trying to) find it turned into an epic adventure. At one point we rode up a street with an incline of about 40 degrees; it got pretty hairy when it turned into a dead-end and we had to turn around. It was so steep that the front brakes wouldn’t hold the bikes and we were sliding backwards in a slow-motion, terrifying, backwards, borderline-out-of-control descent. After a few similar experiences we quit even trying and headed down to the waterfront in search of the first decent looking place to stay. We randomly picked one on the beach in the old-city right next to the plaza, and it turned out to be great! At first I was pleased because the hotel had two cops armed with machine guns outside (one kept asking me all about our trip), but then after thinking about it I was a bit concerned about why the hotel had two cops armed with machine guns outside…

For the evening we walked up to the famous La Quebrada where we watched the sunset over the water, and then some incredibly brave young men doing cliff diving. Most of the older divers (late teens) jumped from 20 metres high, usually with a few flips to wow the crowd. The final diver jumped backwards from 25 metres high, did a flip and entered the water feet first. They were absolutely amazing! When I was a young teen I used to jump into the blowhole entrance at Blackmans Bay from about 11 metres high (feet-first and wearing wetsuit boots)– and I thought I was pretty good…



Monday 24/09/12 – Today we went to the wharf and jumped on a glass-bottom boat for a trip out to the nearby Isla de la Roqueta. The trip out meant we had a view of the entire city and bay area (Acapulco is situated in a C-shaped bay). The deckhand was a young kid with plenty of tricks up his sleeve. He jumped off the boat, swam over to a cliff, somehow managed to climb out of the water and up the cliff to about 15 metres high and then dived off like it was nothing. Later on he went over the side and picked up an urchin from the bottom, he then cut it open and swam under the glass bottom boat a few times with the urchin in his mouth. There were hundreds of tropical fish swarming all over his body and face; it was amazing and strangely disturbing to see.

We reached the island and were greeted by some floating vendors trying to sell us almost anything you could expect from boats, kayaks and jet skis. On the way back to the city, the boat stopped over an underwater statue of Mexico’s patron saint Guadalupe, much to the delight of the Mexican tourists on board. We also got some entertainment by the grooving captain who was playing a Spanish version of Bryan Adam’s “Everything I do, I do it for you” over the speakers whilst singing along and swaying to the music. He also gave us some commentary on the mansions built along the waterfront; regrettably the only word I recognised was Leonardo DiCaprio. The waves had picked up pretty rough by this time so Kenz was pretty happy when we made it back to the harbour.

After doing our first proper laundry since San Diego (!) we walked around the plaza and downtown district. The evening was spent watching the movie ‘Three Amigos’ which Kenz had never seen. She didn’t think it was very funny at all. I wish I had known this before Vegas, not liking Three Amigos is almost a deal breaker…



Tuesday 25/09/12 – Our trip out of Acapulco was even more exciting than the trip in. I won’t bore you with a minute-by-minute description of the experience, but I will tell you about the shouting match we had with the local police. After narrowly avoiding a toll road with some sneaky manoeuvring, we came to a bustling intersection with typical Mexican chaos around us. I was trying to convince Kenz to run the red light and make the right turn like we (and everyone else) often do – but Kenz with her steely determination and stubborn views on doing what is ‘right’ said NO! After a gruelling 2 minute wait for the light to change we took off only to pulled over by about 6 cops hidden around the corner. They were accusing us of running the red light which (for once) we didn’t. The remarkable thing was the cops couldn’t even see the lights from their position; they were just pulling everyone over with plates from other states/countries and accusing them of running the red light. We had a couple of local taxis that drove past us and through the red – and they didn’t get pulled over. The only English word they seemed know was red and a shouting match ensued: red, green, red, green, RED, GREEN, RED, GREEN, RED, GREEN, ROJO, VERDE! After this 2 word discussion went on for a while, the cops demanded our licences and passports, and we immediately knew we would have to pay to get them back so our response was just green, GREEN, VERDE! Finally the police boss who knew English came over and was more interested in the bikes than bribing us, so we took off before he changed his mind. We had read that the traffic cops in Acapulco were pretty much the worst in all of Mexico, so we were glad to get away without having to empty our wallets. We also had to ride down a road which was flooded by a burst water main. It wasn’t a drama as the water was only ankle deep; however a bus roared past Kenz splashing her with dirty smelly water – it was hilarious!

We decided on a ‘creative’ route for the next two days to travel from Acapulco to Oaxaca to avoid the toll highway and to shave an impressive 40 kms off the other highway. This decision was one that we often regretted and often applauded over the next 2 days. Today 6 hours of hard riding yielded just 300km and left us dirty, frustrated and exhausted; however we had seen some spectacular country side and traditional villages with women herding goats and men using donkeys to hall goods around the villages. After riding through many towns that had no hotels, hostels, bungalows, or houses that I would trust to stay up for a full night, we came across a large city called Tlapa that we weren’t expecting but were happy to see. Despite our best efforts, we still got stung by the tolls which cost us equivalent to US$32 for just over 80km travelled.

Whilst Kenz was in a hotel trying to organise a room for the night, I was outside keeping an eye on the bike and checking out another bike on the street that had been setup for touring. Before long an energetic and friendly Mexican guy named Eduardo came bursting out of a nearby building shaking my hand and wanting to know about the trip. It turns out that also has aspirations of traveling on his bike to Central America and South America. He was meant to leave on the trip this morning but got waylaid visiting his son in Tlapa. After swapping stories, ideas and plans for a solid hour, Kenz and I wished him luck and farewell and headed up to our room. When organising rooms in Mexico we have learnt to say that we are married otherwise we end up with two or three beds (and one place in Mazatlan wouldn’t take couples unless they were married!), however they may have got the wrong idea tonight as I think they put us in their ‘honeymoon suite’. It was an eerily/creepy room with love heart print on the bed-spread, curtains and heart shaped pillows.



Wednesday 26/09/12 – Today we found out why they call the wet season the WET season. After a night of monsoonal rains the roads were bedlam. The potholes are now full of water, so you don’t know if they are just small puddles or a knee-deep wheel-destroying hole. Also there were many land/mud slides overnight which made the roads incredibly dangerous as they had usually occurred on corners surrounded by steep banks or cliffs. One mud-slide was across the road and although single lane high-sprung traffic could get through, it had a rock the size of a VW Beetle in the right lane. A local man was clearing the road using just a shovel and a pick axe; I would have liked to see him tackle the giant rock. We also carefully rode past a section where the road had sunk and crumbled off a cliff leaving a 10 metre section of missing road (like aliens had just beamed it up!). Only about a third of the road was left, we rode way up on the gravel shoulder just in case anymore decided to disappear.

All of the tiny villages that we passed through had groups of stray dogs patrolling the streets or sleepily watching the traffic, however every village had at least 3 dogs that would try and chase us down. It’s not a pleasant feeling riding along a goat-track of a road with a number of wild dogs running along barking next to your ankles. I always try to ignore them and concentrate on the road however I also always have visions of them pulling my calf off my leg as I ride past!

After midday, an unreasonable amount of water decided to fall from the sky. It didn’t let up for hours which resulted in many sections of road becoming rivers of bright yellow muddy water. We were tempted to stay in one of the larger villages for the night, but decided to push on to Oaxaca. So after a day of almost 10 hours of riding for just 400km, we road into the state capital city of Oaxaca in the state of Oaxaca (pronounced wah-ha-kah). We eventually stumbled across a cheap hotel with secure parking near the old city centre. All we cared about at this stage was getting a hotel which had hot water to warm up our prune-ish extremities (on a side note: the Spanish word for hot is ‘caliente’ which means their hot taps have the letter C on them – it led to a number of unnecessary cold showers for the first few days in Mexico!).



Thursday 27/09/12 – What a day! We headed towards the Monte Alban ruins that are only 5km outside the city. We spent 2 hours ‘exploring’ the city suburbs (exploring is my dignified way of saying we were totally lost) before we found the ruins. I was once again pleased that we were visiting a tourist attraction in the off-season as the ruins were almost deserted. The ruins were simply stunning! I could (but won’t) write a 100 page essay on them, and could (and did) take hundreds of photos.

The city was built in several stages between 500BC and 1500AD. Originally it was home to the Zapotec people (with modern-day descendants still residing in the area) who abandoned it in 850AD for reasons unknown. It was then used by the conquering Mixtecs as a sacred area and burial site up until the 1520s. Both civilisations showed incredibly advanced scientific thinking as the cities were designed around astronomy. They used constructions to represent a link between themselves and the gods during different times of year. For example, one of their pyramid-temples had a tiny skylight that only let a single beam of light shine through for a few days during the summer and winter solstice. This signified the changing of the season which influenced many aspects of their lives such as agriculture and festivals. I had no idea of the complexity of the societies of the pre-Columbian Mesoamericans. For instance the third largest city in the world (at that time) was in Mesoamerica, and they had the vigesimal number system (rather than the Roman numbering system) as well as the number 0 long before the Europeans!

The ancient city of Monte Alban is built on the mountain tops above Oaxaca, and consists of many buildings (such as temples, shrines, tombs, dwellings, a palace, a ball court, and even an observatory) whose location within the city are all aligned according to their understanding of astronomy. The main structures are a massive pyramid to the south and the northern great plaza. We scaled the southern pyramid, whose dimensions are an impressive 120m x 112m x 11m high, with burning legs as the steps were 34 cm wide but 47 cm high! The view of the ancient city and the surrounding modern city of Oaxaca was worth the effort. The northern plaza is an even more impressive 300m x 180m and houses many smaller dwellings and temples on top.

We returned from the serenity of the ancient city to the modern-day city to be met with awful gridlocked traffic and disgruntled bus, taxi and tuk-tuk drivers. We have become quite adept at sneaking down the inside of traffic, or weaving down in-between lanes when the traffic is bad. Yesterday we came across a traffic jam that went for about 5 blocks, we made short work of it by some sneaky zig-zagging across lanes and in between buses and taxis. It turned out the traffic was so bad because the 4 lane road suddenly became a single lane street – now that’s some quality town planning!

We went into the city food market for lunch today, it was a giant shed situated on the interior of a block which was only accessible by a few small entrances. It would be easy to walk past it and not know it was there, however we followed our noses and had some great quesadillas (tortillas filled with cheese and chicken, then folded in half and grilled) and tamales (a steamed corn husk filled with ground corn paste, chicken, sauce etc.). There was also a lady walking around selling roasted grasshoppers by the scoopful. We lashed out spending 2 peso (about 15 cents) on a small handful which we thought may have complimented the meal. Whilst interesting and marinated with garlic and other herbs, we thought the few we sampled were enough for us. If I didn’t know what I was eating I could probably eat a bagful, the secret is to just swallow – don’t crunch!

We were so impressed by the market that we returned for dinner as well. This time we ordered what we thought was a chicken platter, however it turned out to be a chicken broth filled with diced tomatoes, rice, avocado, onion, peppers and fried pig fat. It was delicious!



Friday 28/09/12 – We went over to our favourite market for breakfast this morning. We decided on the traditional bowl of hot chocolate milk served with a sweet bread roll. The Oaxaca region is very traditional and often holds on to their ‘old ways’. It is often described as almost being its own separate country as the food and culture of the region is quite different from the rest of Mexico.

We had planned on walking around the city for most of the day, however after about 2 hours we had only walked a few blocks – we kept bumping into other adventure motorbike riders! We have only passed 2 on the road since San Diego, and then met 3 different and independent groups in 2 hours. Probably the most noteworthy was an American guy in his sixties who was riding from the US to South America and never coming back. He was a real weirdo who had a tenuous grasp on reality – we definitely won’t be forgetting him in a hurry. There were 2 younger Americans (also on KLRs) who were staying at the same hotel as us and heading to Panama. We chatted to them for a few hours whilst we did some bike maintenance and they did oil changes and bike tinkering. We all had similar KLR stories such as riding down the highway with a subframe bolt snapping or flying off. They have had some problems with their bikes though, for instance one of them burnt out an ignition coil in Baja, and a road side genius mechanic wired in a car ignition coil which had since survived all the way to Oaxaca! We then came across a Belgian couple on BMWs who were doing the same trip as us but south to north. They were happy to chat and lend us some advice about the road ahead and what to expect (and what not to).

After talking with all these interesting people, I then got accosted by a Jehovah Witness in the central plaza. She was an American so I had no qualms about challenging her beliefs (I don’t want to be a loud mouth tourist belittling local people for their beliefs – but I have no problems doing it to another tourist who approaches me on the street and challenges me). It’s funny how critical and scornful she was of Christianity, Judaism and Catholicism, but she refused to see how her beliefs as a JW come up short under similar scrutiny. After about 30 minutes I mentioned my interest in science and biology and her immediate response was “If evolution is real, then why is humanity getting the worst it’s ever been?” At this point I realised this women had stolen 30 minutes of my precious life which I would never get back, and I wished I had spent it more constructively perhaps by seeing how long I could go without thinking about penguins or maybe walking down the street pretending I was a race car making revving noises and adding my own commentary.

We then headed all over the city checking out the historic town centre and many cathedrals and old buildings in the area. The cathedrals in this area are certainly the most impressive I have seen on the trip so far, with not one unadorned surface in the Santo Domingo church. Another one had a glass coffin with a Jesus manikin inside – complete with robes, fake blood and a crown of thorns. It was so freaky. The most impressive visit was to the Oaxaca Cultural Museum which was surrounded by the Botanical Cactus Garden. The museum had an incredible display of items and artefacts from the region dating from pre-Columbian history to the Spanish conquistadors.



Saturday 29/09/12 – We waved goodbye to Drew and Jeremy (the American KLR riders heading to Panama) before heading downtown to a 1 on 2 cooking lesson that we had prearranged for today. Nora, a native Oaxaquena, was our cooking teacher who only teaches recipes for traditional Oaxacan food using local ingredients. We headed down to the local market and purchased an incredible number of ingredients before returning to her house to cook a 4 course meal. Our entrée was a great guacamole with local cheese (quesilla – kind of like stringy mozzarella) on some grilled cactus. We then had a chicken consomme prepared with garlic, hierba santa (similar taste to fennel), squash flowers and more quesilla. Our main dish was chicken with mole estafado and minted rice. For dessert, we made tamalitos (baby tamales) with sweetened ground corn, pineapple, coconut and raisins steamed in corn husks. We also made a hot salsa with dried worms as one of the ingredients!

Oaxaca is famous for its mole sauces (pronounced mol-ay) and there are seven traditional moles. Kenz has tried three of them since being in Mexico, but not the one we made today. This one contained many ingredients, including tomatoes, plantains, chicken stock, bread, chocolate (!) and about 10 other herbs and spices. Thankfully, Nora provided printed recipes for us to take home so we didn’t have to memorise it all. We then got to sit down and enjoy all the food we made, it was a great meal and a great day.


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