South through the Colonials

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September 13th 2009
Published: September 13th 2009
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Parral was just a positioning day for us, after the Copper Canyon, our next goal was to visit some of the colonial cities. We left Parral on September 2nd southbound. The land to the south was what I would call altoplano, or high plains. The land was high, relatively flat, and mostly open rangeland. It reminded me of the foothill areas in southwestern Alberta. Cowboy country, and indeed we are seeing lots of ranches and all the men are in cowboy hats. There was a range of mountains far off on the west, and the road paralleled them as we traveled south. As a prairie boy, I also felt at home in seeing a straight road, disappearing on the horizon. My expectation for Mexico was more along the lines of the dry and desert areas we saw on the Baja and coastal areas along the Gulf of California. I have been awakened to the fact that the geography and climate of Mexico is very diverse. They have mountains and forests. They have places with snow in the winter. They have open rangelands where cattle graze. They have a timber industry. There are so many areas that I have seen that remind me of Alberta and British Columbia. It may be perhaps because we are traveling in what is the rainy season here, but I was also surprised at how green everything is. The altoplano seemed to run about 6300 feet in elevation, with variation of a couple of hundred feet, and this continued for about 200 kilometers south of Parral. The road then ran into a hilly area, and slowly started descending into a river valley. The road we were on was headed towards the city of Durango, but we turned off and headed east just south ot the town of Rodeo. Rodeo seems to live up to its name, we saw a large facility for just that. The shortest way to Zacatecas, our first colonial city, meant that we had to head east for a while before turning south again. The road in the altoplano was straight and we made good time, averaging about 80 kmph, but slowed down a bit as we turned east and followed a river. Our goal that day was to reach a town on the map we picked as a likely place to overnight. Cuencame turned out to be what looked like a bit of a transportation hub, and we didn't like the look of the motels we found there. There was a town with a bigger dot on the map about 70 kms south, so we continued on. For some reason, the speed limit on the highway went up to 110 kmph. On all of that straight road south of Parral, the posted speed limit was 80. This road was not as straight nor as in as good a condition. The only thing I could see as different was that we had crossed the state line from Durango into Zacatecas.

Perhaps I should digress a bit and say that Mexico is divided into states just like the U.S. We entered Mexico into Baja California, and traveled south into Baja California Sur where we caught the ferry across the gulf to the state of Sonora. We traveled east into the state of Chihuahua to see the Copper Canyon, then south into Durango and then Zacatecas. The capital cities of the last three are the same names as the states. From Zacatecas we were in Jalisco for a bit, then into AguaCalientes and Guanajuato.

We had a good day on September 2nd, we put on nearly 500 kms. The bigger dot town was Juan Aldama. We arrived about 4 PM and had a good look around the town before choosing a hotel on the highway. After we unloaded the bikes, we went into the town centre to look around. We were looking for an internet cafe when we stumbled on a car wash, so we went back to get the bikes. They were pretty dirty after a couple of days of intermittent rain. We watched as a couple of guys went to work and gave the bikes a thorough cleaning, certainly the best wash my bike has seen since I bought it. It cost the equivalent of about $2.50 Canadian.

Our hotel wasn't the greatest looking from the outside (or inside the common areas). It was undergoing renovations and we just about walked away, but in the absence of anything else, we asked to see a room. The room turned out to be good, so we decided to stay. It was only 250 pesos (about $22), the best price so far for a room. It rained hard overnight, and we awoke to a flood in front of the hotel, effectively shutting us off from the highway. The road we took around to the back of the hotel was now a fast-moving river more than a foot deep. Our planned drive that day was only about 200 kms so we weren't in a hurry to leave. The rain had stopped by mid-morning, and checkout time wasn't until 2 PM, so we waited for the river to subside. It didn't look like that was going to happen by noon, so we took a walk to see if there was another way out and discovered a back trail that joined up with an on-ramp to the highway, and while there was water in the way, it was only about 6 inches deep and about 30 feet across. We could do it. We packed up and left, crossing the big puddle without problem.

The run south to Guanajuato was more high plains until just before we arrived when we climbed back up into some hills. Guanajuato is an old colonial mining town, perched in narrow connected valleys. The most interesting thing about the town at first glance is that all the main roads around town are tunnels - the mining heritage used to solve growing traffic problems. Once upon a time there was also a river flowing through the town. Every hundred years or so it would flood, so they eventually diverted it, and made the river bed another road through town. They have tried to give the old town of Guanajuato its traditional look, and have not put up a single traffic light. The traffic in town is horrendous, and to get around you really need to know the tunnel system. It was not uncommon to see the downtown area in virtual gridlock. We got stuck in enough of it while searching for a hotel. The first place we checked with was way beyond our budget, but they kindly recommended a place (at the other end of town). Fortunately there was a tunnel that took us most of the way there. We checked in and parked the bikes. The Hotel Abadia was at the west end of the downtown area, and was an easy walk to the town centre. They had secure parking for our bikes, at a lot on top of a hill behind the hotel. A bit of a hike to get up there, but we didn't use the bikes for two days as we walked everywhere. The main point of interest I had in mind for this town was the Diego Rivera museum, but there is so much more to see and do. We enjoyed eating in the market, sitting at a sidewalk cafe in the town centre park, and walking around to see the interesting buildings and streets. There is also a funicular that goes up to a good viewpoint overlooking the city. We planned a two-day stay, but wound up taking three as the third day we rode the bikes to look at a couple of nearby towns, Dolores de Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende. Hidalgo has the political significance of being the birthplace of Mexican independence. Hildalgo, in a town meeting, shouted (“el grito”) the need for independence from Spain. He was captured and later killed for his speech, but it set the wheels in motion that eventually led to independence. Next year, 2010, is the bicentennial of independence, and work in the square where Hidalgo made his shout is already underway. We stood on the steps of the very church where the speech was made. After a short stop in Hidalgo, we rode on to San Miguel. This town has a large American expat community, a lot of artists and crafty people make their homes there for winter or all year. We immediately noticed the large gringo community as they filled the streets and restaurants. It was funny to hear English being spoken in the streets. We stopped into a Remax real estate office and spoke to the (American) staff there. Bruce and his wife (an artist) have been there before scouting for a winter home or vacation spot.

We left Guanajuato on Tuesday morning the 8th of September and set out for Patzquaro. Another colonial town, it has the best (in my mind) look of a Spanish town with its two-story buildings surrounding the town square. It had a lovely drive into the town with a street lined with big pine trees. We parked in the town square and walked around eventually choosing a hotel (Hotel Posada San Rafael) that met our needs including a secure parking area inside the hotel walls. We spent the evening having supper in a restaurant inside one of the courtyards of an adjacent building, then walking around the town square after dark watching the city life go on. Earlier in the day, there was a huge parade of decorated cars driving around the town square honking their horns. We also saw some elementary age children marching around the square. I asked our waiter what was up and he showed me a poster - we had just arrived in time for the 475th birthday party for the town of Patzquaro!

On September 9th, we left the high plains area and started descending towards the coast. We didn't really stop to see anything, just kept going to make some time and get to the beach in time to enjoy the rest of the day. We arrive in Playa Azul around 2:30 after a rather long day of twisty roads.

As a motorcyclist, I live for twisty roads. I have cultivated a list of them, mostly in British Columbia, and will drive for days to get there just to ride them again. Some favourites include the roads between New Denver and Kaslo, the road south of Kaslo to the ferry; the road from the Needles ferry up to Lumby. The Duffy Lake road between Pemberton and Lillooet. Having been riding in Mexico for the past two weeks, all I can say now is that the B.C. roads are for pussies. Most of Mexico is covered in roads that go up and down mountains and follow the contours of the rugged terrain. Nowhere else on earth could there be roads as well maintained, long, and twisty as the roads here. Today, on the ride down from Patzquaro, I was beginning to beg for some straight roads for a change. After 5 hours of downshifting, upshifting, accelerating, decelerating, and throwing my body weight around, in and out of corners, I had had enough. I wasn't having fun anymore. Too much twisty? I thought I would never see the day.

In Playa Azul, the touts were on us as soon as we parked our bikes by the ocean. Did we need a hotel - these were good! Come and eat over here! This was obviously the off-season, the place was dead and everyone was hungry for business. This beach town is off the beaten track for gringos, about half-way between Manzanillo and Acapulco, and seems to serve a Mexican clientele. We did our usual thing of just driving around, choosing a hotel and inquiring into rates. We picked a place that looked OK, and it cost us only 300 pesos, or about $25 Canadian. It had secure parking for the bikes which was a point in its favour.

My next blog entry will cover the rest of the coast, and our trip into Oaxaca.

A complete set of my pictures can be found on my Flickr Site

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


Dolores HidalgoDolores Hidalgo
Dolores Hidalgo

Church where Hidalgo made his grito for independence

14th September 2009

I'm breathless......
I was held captive by this piece I must say. Rode those windy roads with you and even got sick of them...then you saying you had had enough! Laughed over your comment on our windy roads home here being for pussies! When you mentioned seeing the Rivera Museum in Guanajauto, I envied that. I love his paintings and thought I'd bring out a Puzzle I have with his Lady selling Flowers and do it this evening!! The accomodations you chose sounded reasonable and safe for your bikes. That watery experience you had kind of made me nervous but knew as I read you'd get thru it! Oh, by the way, I'm your Moms fellow weaving buddy if you hadn't guessed upon seeing my name, sorry! Great writing, keep up the great reports and the pictures are wonderful. I'm excited over the next Lap! Stay safe....."J"
16th September 2009

Good job
Good job on writing about these wonderul places. Most people only think about the resort areas when they think of Mexico for vacationing. However, I personally feel that the colonial cities in inland Mexico are much more entertaining and enjoyable. I especially like Guadalajara and Guanajauto too!
16th September 2009

Too much twisty! Hilar Pops. Great pics. I already have a few picked out I'd like to frame.
17th September 2009

Sure enjoy following your travels John.
6th October 2009

With all those cars lined up in the street I am thinking I would be skipping the birthday party... I know people who live in San Miguel de Allende and they love it - though it seems that with all the Americans moving there it really is losing its former self - for me, kind of sad... I agree with the "Great pics" - I can see the shot of all the houses on the hill in Guanajuato, blown up, in a frame on a wall. You are becoming famous for your writings - I have people asking me for your next update - as they say keep those cards and letters coming and continue to BE SAFE!
3rd June 2012

Nice picture
colorful matchboxes houses

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