Biking early Sunday morning through a deserted Tequila, now a very quiet town but the church already full at 7:00 in the morning, we try to find breakfast.
Only place is the market where they serve a perfect omelette, without goat head.
Not everybody has the luxury of having a pension.
Biking straight up-hill 300m ascent in 5 km to get access to the toll road leaves me totally soaked wet. As it is Sunday and we normally call home, we are happy to also find GSM connectivity here, before getting on the busy road. What a difference with past travelling where you only could call from a fixed phone, or send letters. Now you can at least see each other and see/hear how things are at home. Can you imagine living without this?
What road to take.
Again a day with a good shoulder, we need to look at the positive side: quick miles and safe conditions. As it is Sunday there are quite some road bikers on the toll road with their own support vehicle, pity we can’t keep up with them 😉 Don’t you think it is better, even if it is more boring, to follow a road with such a shoulder (when possible) than conditions as below? Of course if we would have all the time in the world, lighter set-up, no cranky shoulders etc we would probably be doing more off-road but we need to make choices.Or this? Do you notice the separation between on and upcoming traffic?
As the toll road ends when entering Guadalajara, we try to follow the HW15 but this part is so busy, crazy, with fast-moving trucks without a shoulder that we decide to follow the bike route suggested by the Garmin. Quite a detour but leading us past the football stadium of Club Deportivo Chivas and giving us a great view of this 5th largest city of Mexico with 5 milion people!
Final kms into the city there is even a biking path and avenues with beautiful old trees.
Through bookings.com we found a hotel and got a better price than booking directly with the hotel. Few blocks from the historical centre and with laundry service. What more do you want? YES; room service! After all the noise and pollution, after all the taco dinners, we decide to order spaghetti Bolognese and stay quietly in our room with a beautiful view of the city.After a perfect, late breakfast found through Tripadvisor we explore the city on foot and with a sightseeing bus tour.
First time in our life! See most of the city but it was way too quick and they did not give sufficient possibilities to hop on and off. Only in Tlaquepaque they made it a mandatory stop of minimal 30 minutes but when we started to wander and sneak in and out of all the shops we stayed for 1 ½ hour. The city is really made up of several different areas with the historical centre featuring the most beautiful buildings & details.
It is beautiful, but you realize behind this there was slavery, extinction and overpowering of the Spanish on the indigenous people and you can’t help thinking about all the blood, sweet and tears hidden in these walls. Are the buildings here also built from stones of Azteck temples? Next day we use to plan our further route, with google maps, MapOut and with info from the German “Das Latein-Amerika Bikebuch”.
Route change by coincidence?
Through Luba and Tom and their blog stepoutandexplore we now know we want to try to see the Monarch Butterflies. Reading blogs of other bikers does bring some new ideas! And there is no such thing as coincidence! How did we discover the butterflies? We met Christian (Swiss) in US, Joshua Tree National Park & Grand Canyon, Luba & Tom are biking with their dogs & their tent got 100+ holes in it by ants, they meet Christian and he knows we will be in Europe soon. So Luba & Tom contact us to see if we could bring a new tent from Europe, we read their blog and see that they have visited the Monarch Butterflies: becomes a part of our bucket-list! PS they will get their new tent through friends who are travelling to Mexico.After half day enclosure in the hotel room I am ready to run-up the walls. Frank decides to go to the barber and I decide to check-out castle the Vaca (closed ☹), museum of art, churches, graffiti art and checked the massage saloon I had seen the night before. Oops, when opening the door it was clear they don’t do the massage I was looking for. So no massage for me.
We buy the ukulele I spotted when walking around 🙂 Look forward to music at night.
Biking out of the city, first following biking paths, is relaxed. They really promote using your bike for small distances.
So we notice. Once 5 km from the historical centre the biking path disappears and we try to find our way through back roads as the HWY is too busy. Also here we get friendly help when road works force for a detour. Young guy comes to us and shows us how to continue in the best way.
Garmin Garbage Route
At one moment we decide to follow Garmin again and it leads us past a winding river. The worst emotional miles so far in Mexico. River full of plastic and human waste, overpowering smell and when we see a cow drink from this festering water I want to become a vegetarian!
Above is before and after the bridge, all plastic is blocked but the smell is unbelievable.
How is it possible that in this age there are still open sewers streaming from such big cities? To top it of we also bike past a garbage dump, still landfill. The only benefit is there is no traffic on this road.
Happy to final find MEX110 but here we are faced with again soo much traffic that I decide to buy facemasks to try to reduce to amount of fine dust we are inhaling.
Why this detour on HWY 110? Because we want to see the largest fresh water lake of Mexico. Lake Chapala, with indigenous culture on its shores and great views. It is 1100 km2 and 80 km long. Route planning is really a challenge as you don’t know the road conditions, the amount of traffic and especially the biking conditions. As HWY 110 is without shoulder we look and find back roads which is fun but also slow.
When we arrive in Mezcala the only hotel is closed because the owners are in Guadalajara. Joshua, a kind local young adult, wants to show us an other place where we can sleep and eat, 4 km from the centre, Paraje Insurgente, he walks us all the way there. In broken English explaining that where we are going is the representation of the independence of his people. He also explains that the lake is very polluted, which is confirmed by what we have read: in the 1970’s there was a high concentration of human waste and agricultural contamination in combination with high usage by Guadalajara causing a drop in water level, decrease of fish stock and increase of algea. This resulted in reduced food and income for the surrounding villages. There is an improved cleaning system but what we see is different, still very murky water and small streams heading to the lake are also not clean. No dipping for Frank or me.
We can only camp here as the restaurant and hotel seem to be closed. Joshua offers a place at his grandmother but that means biking back 4 km and it is getting dark, also we don’t mind to camp again as it will be behind the building and there will be a guard.
Camping and lesson learnt
The great view makes it an easy decision to stay. I bike back to the beginning of the village to get food and water while Frank sets up the tent. The local shop has everything we need to make a basic meal and there are a lot of local children interested in my bike. Biking back around 10 kids follow me and are interested in how we have arranged our campsite. After running around the campsite some of them leave, others stay to chat a little bit. When it is almost dark all off them leave. In the morning we cannot find the bags with our toiletries. We first think we have left them in Guadalajara and call the hotel, the hotel will check if they have found them and will call us back in 2 hours. When packing the tent we find Frank’s bag, open with stuff out of the bag, hidden under the tarp. Was it an animal? How did this get there? Then suddenly I see items which were in my bag laying a few meters behind the tent and when we remover the first layer of the tent we find all items which had been in my beautiful bag, also hidden under the tent. But the bag is gone.
So you can imagine that we leave with mixed feelings. We first want to go back to the village, but as we only know a few names, we don’t have photo’s, with our poor Spanish and it only being a toilet bag, we decide to not try to get it back. Let it be a good lesson to be even more careful ☹.
Over the hill and far away
There are two options of biking to La Barca: following the lake with a small road which is indicated on Google maps bike route but not in the Garmin or on MapOut or biking over the mountain and following MEX35. As Franks shoulders really got a beating yesterday with the off-road we followed to Mezcala, we decide to bike over the mountain. Seems that the road out of the valley has not changed in hundreds of years. Bumpy and 15%+ ascend.
I apply my tested method for over 8% ascend: count a certain amount of pedal strokes (depending of the %) and rest a certain amount of seconds. Only when restarting at a very steep part I slip from my pedal and then it is not nice to have a bike with a top tube/cross bar. Days after I am still feeling it. But we make it up the hill without pushing! And in Poncitlan we treat ourselves on real coffee with cheesecake!
Just before Ocatlan we have lunch at the roadside and somebody stops a bit further to come and chat with us. Lives in Texas and speaks reasonable English. Focused on mountain biking and interested in where we are going.
Lots of industry here, production of MDF, fabrics, production of animal feed, all waste goes into the Lena river which ends in the Chapala Lake. But they are also pro biking as there is a real biking path separated from the road following the lake! Awesome!
La Barca is really an industry town which almost never sees oversea tourists. After checking out several motels we find one in the old centre and have a great taco dinner with El Senor Carbon.
Biking out of the city we stock-up with fruit and vegetables and are waved off by a parrot saying ADIOS to us.
Another long day
Today we follow the toll road 15D. Lost’s of ascend and descend but never more than 5%. After 40km and already being 13:30 I would not have minded it to call it a day but we don’t find a hotel at the only exit and I don’t want to camp behind the tollbooth as I know I wont sleep with all the noise. It would also have been to early to already set-up camp. Only possibility is to bike 60km further to Panindicuaro as we see 2 possibilities on Google Maps. Luckily it only gets dark at 19:00 and we do make it just before sunset. When we arrive at the gate of the hotel everything is closed. Feeling lost we are saved by a friendly lady who speaks very good English and makes us happy by saying that she just called the owners to let them know there are customers in front of the gate and a few minutes later they are there.
Leaving early next day to hopefully arrive earlier in the next village. Good 15D conditions and a beautiful ride. Not too much traffic as it is again Saturday! Time is going too fast. Climbing a lot. No High tea but High Lunch at 2.236 m. While we think to have some spare time Frank got his first flat tire from iron threads (from broken truck tires). Bummer, fixing it in the middle of the day under a blazing sun.
We have to bike a few km from the highway but the first hotel has disappeared, next one looks closed but is open and still has a room. We don’t get a key as we can close our door when we are inside. When we leave to wander through the city we still don’t get a key as the attendant will open when we come back, only one key for all the rooms. Strange.
This village is totally different, all houses are white with red stripes. Gives a very nice view.
At the main square we see a lot a beautiful young nicely dressed people. Seems that they will get their graduation picture taken by the key photographer of Morelia. He moved back to Mexico 30 years ago, even being a dentist he choose to focus on making picture of graduations and other parties Great to see how he and his assistant direct the set-up for a perfect picture.
We also meet Hector on his BMW, focused on visiting 111 pueblos magico (magical villages) and this village is one of them. Today he did 700km!
And yes we have again taco dinner!
Time for a good rest after a good week of biking! Even with the two non-biking days of Guadalajara we still made the average of 55km over 7 days!
Will next week bring us the butterflies? Will it be sunny? Stay tuned.