Western Mainland Mexico (plus some skydiving photos!)

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North America » Mexico » Guerrero » Zihuatanejo
September 21st 2012
Published: September 24th 2012
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Wednesday 12/09/12 – After a rough night spent on the floor of the lounge, the ferry arrived in the large port city of Mazatlan (in the state of Sinaloa) this morning. The ferry had 4 car decks (our bikes were on level 1), and despite our best efforts we couldn’t understand the messages over the dodgy PA system. After a while one of the ferry workers came in to the lounge talking about ‘numero uno’ so after checking he was definitely talking about us, we grabbed our gear and headed down the almost vertical stairs. They did have an elevator; it was the size of a shower unit and was limited to only 3 passengers at a time. We got down to level one where there was only about 5 cars and our bikes left – they must have been unloading for the last 20 minutes! We hastily threw all our gear on top of the bikes and rode up the ramp and onto the wharf. After a quick meeting with the customs officials, we were let loose in Mazatlan.

The port is located on the edge of the old city, which is a maze of twisting streets amongst some really old buildings and churches. We had earmarked a nice little hotel in the old city which we found about 20 minutes and about 5 wrong turns later. We dumped our gear and walked back down to the centre of old town where we found a huge old church and local market. The church was one of the most elaborate that I have ever seen, it was built in the 1800’s and had some incredible sculptures of the usual catholic saints but looking much more Mexican than I have seen before. I noted the church had 5 services every weekday and 10 on Sundays!

The people over here love their motorcycles. I had one guy step out in front of me and stop me just so he could tell me how beautiful the bikes were. I thanked him and revved the bike making like I was going to run over him; he got out of the way pretty quick. I am sure he was just being friendly, but I didn’t feel comfortable. I also saw a whole family on a small motorbike today (a Honda 125): Dad was driving, mum was behind him with a young child squashed in between them – and there was a young kid about 4 years old standing on the fuel tank and holding onto the mirrors. It’s not uncommon to see children still wearing nappies standing on the fuel tank and holding the mirrors while mum or dad is riding down the street. We picked up some fantastic local fruit from a vendor in the market and headed back to the hotel for an early night.

Thursday 13/09/12 – We visited the Mazatlan Museum of Anthropology which had some displays with English transcripts. This part of the world has some incredible history with some of the best and most spectacular archaeological sites in the world. Eastern Mexico and Guatemala are where the Mayan civilisation peaked; we can’t wait to visit some of the ruins over the next few weeks.

We headed down to the beach and walked along the city waterfront. We came across a cliff diver that was entertaining a small group of people, so we watched him dive into the ocean from a precarious perch about 14 metres high. We hung around the beach until sunset and then grabbed some tacos and salad from a street side restaurant. On the walk back to the hotel we got hassled by a few homeless who were very persistent, they even followed us into a shop where the shop attendant told them to leave (at least we think that was what she was saying).

Friday 14/09/12 – We left Mazatlan and headed south. Mazatlan is one of those cities with a very distinct delineation between city and bush where all of a sudden you’ve left the city and you’re riding out in the country. With an eye to adventure we decided to stay off the toll roads and use the smaller local highways and roads. After a few hours battling with trucks and some terrible drivers (many cars are so banged up they look like they’re made from tinfoil), we came to some plains which are underwater due to the current rainy season. The locals are fishing from small boats and canoes where the river has flooded over the plains. Since arriving on the mainland of Mexico we’ve noticed that the climate and environment have changed dramatically. Gone are the cool cacti and desert sculptures, now its tropical jungle and flooded rivers that are everywhere; and the weather is still hot but sooo humid. After walking outside for 5 minutes you feel like you’ve been rained on, my skin feels like Velcro – it sticks to everything! We later checked the weather online and discovered that the humidity in San Blas was at 100% this evening…

I saw my first wild iguana scurrying across the road today. It was only small, but that didn’t detract from its iguananess. We rode into the coastal town of San Blas (just north of Tepic) and found a cool little bungalow on the beach at ‘Stoners Surf Camp’.

Saturday 15/09/12 – True to the name of the camp, the owner was lying in a hammock listening to reggae music and smoking a joint this morning. Kenz and I however were far from chilled-out and relaxed. We got eaten alive from mosquitoes, sand lice, and possibly bed bugs during the night, and the crappy fan provided no relief from the humidity. There was sand in the bed, and we discovered in the morning that the sheets had someone else’s old crusty blood stains on them (it’s ok, we were in our silky sleep sacks). We decided that Stoners Surf Camp wasn’t really our ‘scene’ and organised some other accommodation (complete with A/C) for tonight. We then headed out to a crocodile rehabilitation centre that is located way out in the mangrove forest on the river’s edge. It was a long, dangerous, dirty, hot and at one stage tearful ride through the forest but it was worth the trip. We were the only people there besides the workers who were cleaning out some of the cages. One guy would jump the fence with a broom in his hand and start cleaning whilst another guy with a pole would hassle and distract the crocodiles – it was pretty wild!

Tomorrow is the Mexican Independence Day (the liberation from the Spanish in 1810); however tonight is when everybody celebrates. We were thinking of spending the night in the state capital of Tepic which is only around 25 kms away, however that city is renowned for its violence and political unrest. Mexico just had a presidential election this year, and there has been some unrest recently, we decided it would probably be a little more relaxed in San Blas during Independence Day; luckily the hotel we moved into is only about 3 blocks from the town plaza.

Wow, the Mexicans know how to party! We didn’t know there was this many people in the town. Thousands were in the plaza dancing and singing. At 10pm the local mayor stood on the balcony of the plaza and yelled out a small speech that starts with ‘Viva Mexico’ and then he lists all the important people in Mexican history such as first president, revolutionaries, saints etc. After each name the crowd responds with ‘Viva’. It was great fun with everybody yelling. There was also an insane fireworks display, where we can’t believe the town didn’t burn down. The rockets would sometimes shoot off above the crowd at right angles instead of shooting up into the air. By the end the crowd was covered in smoke. Also all the kids had their own fireworks which added to the chaos (apparently anyone could buy fireworks off the priest in the church!?!). Finally a band was set up onstage in the plaza to finish the night off. Also tonight there was a boxing match at a Las Vegas casino between two Mexicans for a world-title, with the broadcast being shown by many bars, adding to the excitement and festivities.

Sunday 16/09/12 – We were woken by a parade marching down our street at 8 am this morning. It seemed to mostly consist of high school marching bands, however there were a few others marching such as firemen and the army. The navy was represented by a man being towed in a boat whilst wearing a full wetsuit and SCUBA gear – he must have been soaked in sweat by the end. The town was pretty much asleep for most of the day after last night’s celebration. We walked around the plaza and spent the day relaxing.

Monday 17/09/12 – We left San Blas knowing that we had over 350 km to ride today. 350 km in Mexico is equivalent to about 650 km in the USA in time, mental strain and wear on the bikes and us. We left riding down the Carratera Libre (free highways) which are always far more interesting and fun than the boring Carratera Cuota (toll highways). Sometimes when riding in Mexico time seems to slow down, after squinting at your watch through eyes stinging with sweat you realise that you’ve only travelled 50kms in the last hour. Today was one of those days…

After about 100 km Kenz’s bike chain started slipping, which is normally no big deal to fix. However to my horror I realised that it was because her rear sprocket was practically clapt out. The sprocket teeth had worn down to little nubs. We had adjusted her chain a few times since we got new chains and sprockets about 6000 km ago, but I never really checked the teeth condition (you’d expect at least 20,000 km off a new sprocket). After a quick evaluation of the bike setup, I realised that the fools in Colorado didn’t put equal tension on the top and bottom of the chain – and my bike’s rear sprocket was the same! After spending about 2 minutes in a flickering quantum state of anxiousness and rage (We are going to breakdown in the middle of the jungle and get killed / I’m going to carry this bike back to Colorado, set it on fire and ride it through the Kawasaki dealers front window) we tightened both chains, crossed our fingers and hoped they would last another 250km to the state capital city of Guadalajara.

After a quick discussion we decided to travel on the toll highways, they are usually quicker, straighter and require fewer changes in acceleration (which is when the chain usually slips). Three hours, 250 km and 35 painful dollars in tolls (!) later, we crossed into the state of Jalisco and arrived at the capital city of Guadalajara without further incident. After organising a service and new parts for the bikes in a mix of Spanish, English and ‘charades’, we found a hotel in the historic city centre. Now that we have come inland the weather is blessedly cooler and far less humid – it almost feels like a hot summers day back home.

Tuesday 18/09/12 – The city of Guadalajara was established by the Spanish Conquistadors in the early 15th century and has been steadily growing ever since. It has now spread and engulfed a few previously neighbouring cities and is home to over 4 million people. The historic city centre is an amazing place with many of the original and early buildings still present and being used. Most cities and towns in Mexico seem to follow similar planning system which includes a large central plaza which is bordered on one side by a huge cathedral and on the other by the town hall or government building. There is usually another one or two cathedrals within a few blocks of the plaza, and the streets are normally one way due to them being quite narrow. The centre of town was simply stunning, we walked around and explored many places including three cathedrals, the famous Degollado theatre, many great fountains and statues, the Spanish Inquisition building, town hall and other historic areas. The most impressive place was the Hospico Cabanas which were built in 1810 and has been used as a military base camp, asylum, orphanage, and most recently a museum. The main chapel is home to 57 murals/frescoes by the Mexican artist Jose Clemente Orozco. They were painted over two years in the 1930s and depict the impacts on the Mexican native people by the conquest and its consequences, evangelisation, forced servitude of the Indians and the slow birth of a new distinct society. They are both horrible and beautiful as they are equally critical of the Indian world, the Conquistadors and the (then) new hybrid society – rather than simply criticising the changes that the Spanish bought to Mexico.

We went to pick up the bikes from the service centre this afternoon. They had just started doing the bikes and said they would be ready in 20 minutes. 20 minutes to do a full service plus a new chain and rear sprocket? Knowing that 20 Mexican minutes are about 3 Australian hours we agreed to come back tomorrow.

After our big day of walking the streets of Guadalajara, we decided some over-the-top entertainment would top the day off – and you can’t get more OTT than Mexican ‘Lucha Libre’ (wrestling)!!! Besides from soccer, wrestling would have to be the sport that Mexicans are most passionate about. We decided that we would go to the Martes de Glamour (Tuesday of Glamour), it’s a weekly show by CMLL - the oldest wrestling company in Mexico who recently celebrated their 75th anniversary.

We headed down to the arena with our tickets with no idea of what to expect. After grabbing a quick dinner, walking to the arena and getting patted down for weapons we were shown to our seats in the third row and the chaos began. The crowd were totally insane, they were jumping up and down, swearing, drinking, chanting, screaming, abusing the baddies and cheering the goodies – all in indecipherable Spanish. Five times during the night one or more wrestlers got thrown off the top rope and into the crowd who were quick enough to dive out of the way before getting involved by picking up the goodies, dusting them off and pushing them back into the action. It was very different to the American WWF wrestling that you see on TV, most of the wrestlers (and the crowd) were wearing the traditional lucha masks, and despite it mostly being predictable and fake, there was a cultural feeling about the whole event. Our favourite wrestlers where Barbaro Cavernario (Barbarian Cave?) and Maximo - a flamboyant wrestler who in the middle of the match would plant a huge kiss on his opponent who would then be so ‘stunned’ or ‘upset’ that he was able to be pinned thereby losing the match.

Afterwards we walked a few blocks to wards home before wisely flagging down a cab. The city has a chaotic feel to it during the day, during the night there are many places I wouldn’t want to walk through. On the way home we saw heaps of mariachi band members walking the streets or advertising their bands on the street corners. It was pretty amazing to see, they looked like the guys from the movie ‘Three Amigos’.

After the action packed day of exploring the city, going to the wrestling and walking the streets with the mariachis, the biggest drama of the day occurred when Kenz snagged her fingernail on something and bent it right back. Now that she has her weird fingernail with crusted blood under it, her insect bites still showing from San Blas, her strange sun tan where it unevenly peeled in La Paz, dark rings under her eyes from too much travel and too little rest, and the typical sweaty and dishevelled look that occurs in the tropics – she looks like a leper or someone from the Zombie Apocalypse. Soon, kids will start to cross the street when they see us coming…

Wednesday 19/09/12 – We had organised to do a Tequila tour today. The region of Tequila is only about half an hour from the city, and knowing almost nothing about Tequila (except that it tastes like paint stripper) we thought it would be fun. We walked to the town plaza to get picked up, and there was military everywhere – even more than usual for Mexico. Trucks were driving around with camo soldiers manning those giant roof-mounted machine guns and soldiers were on every street corner. It turns out that it’s the Mexican Day of National Security and there was an event being held in the town plaza.

The region of Tequila is so great for growing the plant for making Tequila as it is at the base of a volcano which has fertilised the soil, making it ideal soil for the Agave plant to grow. We went to a few distilleries with our favourite being the “Tres Mujeres” (3 women) distillery. Here we got to view the whole process from harvesting the Agave Azul plant, roasting them, extracting the juice, fermenting and distilling the Tequila. We had shots of pure tequila (85% alcohol, before being diluted for bottling) and the four types that they bottled: blanco (white), rested (aged 3 years). Despite not being a fan of Tequila, they rested and aged variety were almost able to be drunk without scrunching your face up. It was free shots at this distillery, so it got a little rowdy. Mexican people are already really friendly, relaxed and loud before they get any Tequila in them. After a few shots you could easily get karate chopped by their over enthusiastic hand motions when they talk. The Tequila here is the best in the world and so cheap, you could buy their best tequila in a hand-blown bottle which had a hand-blown glass cowboy riding a bull inside for about $70!

We also went to the Museum of Tequila which had a display of the amazing bottles that have been used over the years. We both had our fill of Tequila and slept on the bus on the way home. After going to pick the bikes up, being billed far too much, arguing far too much, and receiving a far too little discount, we returned to the hotel far less happy than our bikes were.

Thursday 20/09/12 – A few false starts today meant we left a little later than we hoped for. My bike wouldn’t start for about 15 minutes; it was apparently fixed by sheer will-force as it all of a sudden roared to life. Then I bent the ratchet trying to undo a bolt to loosen Kenz’s chain (having huge rippling muscles ain’t always a blessing). We returned to our (suddenly rich) ‘friends’ and got them to loosen the chain for us, however I think he tightened the bolt up far too much again.

We left Guadalajara and headed for the state and city of Colima. It took far longer than it should have as we accidently took a wrong turn and ended up leaving the main road, instead winding up and down mountains and the regions big (but sleeping) volcano along skinny and unkempt roads.

We walked around the town of Colima, who were having a festival in the plaza! I have come to understand that Mexicans seem to have a festival every other day – I think it’s just an excuse to chill out in the town plaza, listen to some great music and socialise.

Friday 21/09/12 – Well, guess what… Kenz chain needed adjusting and I bent the ratchet again trying to undo the bolt that the stooge delighted in tightening yesterday (I really have to concentrate on losing some muscle). We walked a few blocks to a small hardware store and bought 3 new shiny tools and fixed the chain. We headed to the coastal town of Caleta De Campos in the state of Michoacan, stopping on the way at a turtle conservation park where they collect eggs on the nearby black-sand beach, incubate them and release the hatchlings back to the ocean.

Instead of the typical boring formula of the blog, I have decided to explain the day in numbers:

325 = the number of km travelled

7 = the number of hours riding

7 = the number of Iguanas spotted

17 = the number of adult turtles spotted

1 = the number of baby turtle played with

1 = the number of dead armadillos on the road

11 = the number of free-range horses spotted

3 = the number of donkeys on the road requiring evasive action

1 = the number of cows on the road

1 = the number of dead skunks on the road

1 = the number of times pulled over and questioned by federal police

85 = the number of speed humps travelled over

3 = the number of speed humps travelled over at high speed as they were unseen

2 = the number of ‘bumps/high-fives’ with Kenz

1 = the number of volcanoes passed

2 = the number of fuel stops

3 = the number of new tools purchased

15 = the number of km of horrible roadworks travelled

180 = the number of lungfuls of dust inhaled whilst travelling on horrible roadworks

3 = the number of hotels visited before we found one in our low price range

0 = number of times I thought “Why the hell am I doing this trip?”

Additional photos below
Photos: 32, Displayed: 32


24th September 2012

Viva Mexico
Nice you are enjoying the flavor of the country. It is a very special place!

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