April 17, 2014
Told in the collective first person, jointly from Stu and Janell Clarke's perspective.
Narrated Audio Blog
From Real de Catorce we were on our own and headed for San Miguel de Allende. It was our first leg in Mexico without support (Hank and Jochen). We were perhaps overwhelmed for the first two days trying to find our feet. Our Spanish was non existent so we quickly discovered 'street' food. It's cheap, tasty and you can point at the pots of food you want, just make sure you smile and say 'por favor' (Spanish for please) so it doesn't come across as rude. If you prefer somewhere to sit and relax for a while, the rooftop restaurants are something fun and different and you can enjoy looking at the church towers or down on the brightly coloured streets during the day or sparkling lights at night. Mexico really comes to life at night but with the warm evenings it's no wonder families and friends are out mingling, socialising and shopping.
We spent 3 nights in San Miguel at the start of the Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter). This was a very special time to be in town as the celebrations were everywhere. On Palm Sunday, we watched a parade through town with day time fireworks (just big explosions that set off car alarms to add to the ambience). These fireworks were used throughout the Easter period and every one of them startled Skyla, which set off a chain reaction of barking dogs throughout whichever street we happened to be in. San Miguel is an expensive town by Mexico standards, this is due to a very large US Citizen presence, many retired American's move to San Miguel and this brings money and a more western culture, art galleries here were well worth the visit.
We had a wonderful time in San Miguel and made a great contact in Riccardo from Costa Rica who we had promised to stay with when we passed through. Due to the cobblestone roads and congested traffic that quickly appeared on the San Miguel streets, we decided to pack up early and be out before 7am. As usual with our laid back approach, we were out before 8, still enough time to beat the traffic and start on what we expected to be a fairly short ride. We decided to take the free roads instead of paying tolls, mainly because it allowed us to see the countryside and interact with the villagers during our stops. We certainly didn't regret this decision, but it did turn what should have been a nice easy 2-3 hour ride into an all day affair, getting stuck behind trucks bellowing out black exhaust, riding over aggressive topes (speed bumps), winding up steep hills (again behind slow trucks) and hitting patches of unsealed road full of ruts and potholes. If this is what you expected then sure , it makes for a great day, but you can't expect to cover 400km very quickly. Paying the toll sends you on a direct route and is usually 2/3 of the distance or shorter, a great example is a bridge that we could have taken (and should have taken in hindsight), the bridge was about 5km across a wide lake, we took the road around which totalled about 30km. In case you were wondering what kind of saving we made, well the toll was about $1 so about $2 for both bikes.
So anyway, we got to Morelia with plenty of time before sunset and rode into the town center. Morelia has plenty of culture and history which is obvious from the architect. However, the traffic was horrendous and we made the quick decision to pass through to the smaller town of Patzcuaro, this was a decision we certainly didn't regret. We found a hotel in Patzcuaro for peanuts, and not because it was run down or lacking features, it had everything, good internet, hot water, accepted dogs, secure parking, comfortable double bed, TV, central location with a great view, we couldn't fault it at all. It wasn't until we reached our next destination, Oaxaca, that we learned about the issues in Patzcuaro. It seemed that the local community had created a vigilante to fight the drug lords and this had boiled over and involved military intervention and there had been conflicts for the past month or so involving heavy fire fights. While we were there, we saw nothing of this activity, just festivities and joy by all (maybe the start of the holy week before Easter had something to do with this). In the town square we found plenty to do, great food for next to nothing and huge portions with plenty of leftovers for Skyla and we listened to live traditional music while drinking Margaritas.
After 2 nights in Patzcuaro, we decided to undertake a really epic ride to Oaxaca about 850km away, we were confident that if we took the toll roads and left early, we would make it without too much drama. The route took us past Mexico City, but a good bypass system meant we didn't get close enough to see any urban sprawl. We rode past a number of ancient ruins, but we just didn't have the time, and knowing that we would see many many more in the coming weeks, we pressed on. About 140km short of Oaxaca, the sun began to set, and not wanting to ride in the dark and feeling content that the morning ride would be short we pulled into a small town to find somewhere to sleep. The town we pulled into hadn't seen a visitor since the Mexican revolution (or thereabouts). We asked around for a hotel and were given some vague directions. We followed these directions but with nothing jumping out at us, asked again. Eventually we found a lady very surprised to see a foreigner but claiming to be a hotel owner, she showed us the hotel, it was down an isolated road, but the grounds were huge, plenty of parking, but no other cars. The sign outside was weathered but read "agua caliente" or hot water, as we were in need of a hot shower it sounded great.
The room again cost next to nothing, and it was huge, 2 double beds placed far apart and heaps of carpet in between. Stu did a quick ride back to town to get something for dinner and returned with 6 burritos and 2 coronas, probably needed more of both but it certainly hit the spot. After dinner and a quick shower (cold, but with the expectation that come morning it would be nice and hot) and hopped into bed.
The next morning we were up before the sun and quickly packed the bikes. Again we endured cold showers, which was harder than you'd think in Mexico as we were up in the mountains at about 1,000m altitude and a fair way inland, so the temperature certainly dropped come morning. Even worse than the cold shower was the fact that the gate was locked and the owner was nowhere to be found. The compound was surrounded by a high wall with broken glass set into the top specifically designed to stop people from climbing over. We were trapped with or without the bikes. We let Skyla have a good run around the grounds while we waited and did some exploring of our own, there was a stairway up to a second floor with a large entertainment area and rooftop terrace, but it hadn't been used for a while. Further up the stairs would take you to the rooftop, there were no barriers to stop you falling the 2 storey's to the car park below and so Skyla was kept well away. After about an hour the owner finally showed up and left us out, apparently very confused about the lack of hot water, but we didn't bother with any explanations and quickly hit the road.
Having taken the scenic route, we arrived in Oaxaca just after lunch, we had a couple of hotels in mind and quickly set about hunting them down. However, they were either booked out, too expensive or would not accept dogs. We visited about a dozen hotels and hostels before deciding to give up and just camp at the local campground, these aren't too common in Mexico but we did know one existed, and needed a quick stop at MacDonald's to use their free WiFi to help locate the site. Once there we found it to be a very under-utilised facility, in fact we were the only customers and were upgraded to a cabin at no extra cost, an offer way too good to refuse. The park only really had one cabin with a small area for campers, although we didn't really pay too much attention, the facilities outside the cabin didn't seem too flash, but with a nice view over Oaxaca, it was a lovely place to enjoy a glass of wine and relax over Easter. Oaxaca had lots to offer, some great ruin sites, nearby towns with local art and crafts as well as the mountains, caves and other natural beauties. Over Easter the town centre was alive with activity and we spent a lot of time wondering the streets partaking in festivities.
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