Mexico 2003 Blog

This section was our journal from our February 2003 trip to Central Mexico. We rode our bicycles from Guadalajara, Mexico to Morelia, Toluca, Taxco, Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido, and Acapulco.

We left on February 15, 2003 and started riding on the 17th. We had an incredible month-long trip, culminating with a little beach vacation for three days near Acapulco, then returned from there on March 17.

Please enjoy your visit and if you have any questions or comments feel free to email .

Mexico 2003 Trip Overview


Take a look at the Wonderful People list
and the Trip Log.

Photos from the trip are here.

Final Stats (March 13, 2003)
March 13, 2003 Barra de Coyuca R/T
Today's Mileage: 25 miles/40 km
Today's Elev Gain: 0
Distance: 807 mi/1298 km
Longest riding day:58 mi/93 km
Shortest riding day:8 mi/12 km
Wonderful People:15
Mean People:0
Mean Dogs:16
Days of no riding:2
Nights camped out:13
Nights in motel:12
Nights in people's homes:1

Guadalajara - Chapala


We´re here! We made it with no incident - flew into Guadalajara yesterday, took a taxi to the town of Chapala on the north shore of Lake Chapala. Wow, did we have stuff. Those 2 bike boxes, a huge box for the Bob trailer, and Nancy´s box full of panniers and stuff - and Mexicana handled our stuff wonderfully. It was all perfect.

We spent the evening assembling the bikes, and everything looks good. Today we took a little test ride along the lake to the village of Ajijic (Ah - hee - HEEK) and visited with some wonderful friends-of-friends Jim and Rhoda. They treated us to coffee in their beautiful home and explained why the lake is so shrivelled. Amazingly, Lake Chapala is at only 20% of its normal size. The pier at Chapala is possibly miles from the water. Reminds us of some of the water problems back home.

This afternoon was a bus trip down to the wonderful city of Guadalajara, wandering in the beautiful sunshine, sitting in cool green plazas, and exploring a huge market. Nancy´s eyes were as big as watermelons seeing how big that market was. And we found a wonderful bowl of posole (a soup of hominy and chicken) at one of the stores.

Tomorrow we start actually riding! We´ll ride along the shore toward Jocotepec, which is at the very east end of the lake, then come around on the north shore. Tomorrow´s a test-it-out day, so we don´t expect to get too far, and we hope to camp for the first time. That will have some challenges!

I am so happy to be here. I just can´t believe how beautiful it is to be in the warm sun and seeing all this.

The kindness of strangers


We've had so many kind people already. We stopped to ask a lady named Benita who we'd ask about camping in the soccer field at Tepehuache - and she took us into the village and found the right people to ask and took us to the soccer field!

The next day, when we got to the village of Manzanillas, a boy named Manuel immediately asked us if we wanted him to escort us to the plaza. Later, he took me to a bike mechanic (who jammed my pedal into the stripped crank so it will probably stay for awhile) and took us to a hotel where we could get a shower. He was great!

Second day climbing mountain


The second day we climbed and climbed and climbed some more. We just did about 30 miles but it was steep, narrow and the hardest bike climbing I have done. I have a helmet mirror which helps figure out when I have to dive off the road. I actual slipped once on the gravel trying to move over for the traffic and slipped off my bike but I caught myself. My pannier came off. And this was all in front of a bus which was coming up the steep incline. But the driver was a very good driver and was watching out. He was a just barely moving when this happened. (I don't like these Mexican bus drivers -- they cut too close -- but for this one I'll make an exception. Thanks for your good driving!)

First night of camping


We ended our day in Mazamitla camping in a horse pasture with horses grazing
around us. As we ate our rice and vegetables for dinner watching the sun change the colors of the sky and the live music from the village festival drift past us, I knew we were in the heart of Mexico where people work hard and enjoy what life has to offer.

Third day on the peaceful back roads


FLASH! We got a couple of pictures uploaded - take a look

Today's ride was so peaceful, especially compared to the past two days. We took country roads where there is no paint delineating lanes or even shoulders. The few drivers and the farmers drove slowly and gave us lots of room. As we continue our travels, we will try to find back roads like what we had today
at every opportunity. I really enjoyed today's ride through simple villages where life is slow and easy. The food is fresh and the people are friendly and the towns are quiet, especially during siesta time (1:00 to 4:00) One town we went through was especially quiet. We found out why. All the men work in the USA. That would make for a peaceful place - nobody is home!

Camping and Agriculture


We continue to ride a modest amount of miles each day. (average 30) We have decided to take the backroads and stay off the primary and most secondary roads. The wonderful outcome of this is we are really being able to see wonderful country, small villages and culture we would not have dreamed of.

What we thought were roads with little traffic was not what I had anticipated. The first part of our trip has brought us through heavy argicultural area. We passed miles and miles of avocado orchards.

We actual camped in an avocado grove. It was so beautiful. The bottom part of the trees are painted with white paint as an insect control. The trees are have rich green waxy leaves and are about 30 feet tall and spaced about 50 apart. We found a grove where some women were working at the harvest and got permission. I was a wonderful peaceful evening. And in the morning we had all the avacados we could eat.

Big trucks go with heavy agricultural areas. In one part of our journey we biked along miles of sugar cane fields which are being harvested. Huge trucks overflowed with the stalks which reminded me of bamboo stalks. The roads and the shoulders and the side slopes where covered with the stalks that fell of the the trucks. Luckly we just rode over them with our tires and continued our journey. All morning the trucks passed us on the narrow country roads.

The farmers are very attentive drivers and used to swerving to miss pedestrians, livestock, and slow moving vehicles like us. The drivers were for the most part very courteous. It did get intense when we screamed down the winding road, which had overgrowth to the edge of the asphalt. I rode as fast as I could down the mountain staying with the speed of the traffic. I got off the road only once to let traffic pass. At the bottom of the mountain we came into a sugar cane production facility. The monstrous trucks lined both sides of the road for as far as I could see. It was overwhelming to be a tiny biker weaving around such heavy industry. What a sight.

The town we were entering, Los Reyes, was a few miles past the sugar factory. That road had even more traffic. I walked most of it. If there was less traffic I mounted my steed and rode. Randy, on the other hand, got into the zen of it and peddled his bike and bob trailer in and out of the chaos. But we survived to bike another day.

Paricutín Volcano and Village of Angahuán


On Friday we arrived at the "youngest volcano in the world", the Paricutín volcano near the village of Angahuán (Just northwest of Uruapan). Here´s what I read about Paricutín in my 4th grade Junior Scholastic magazine - maybe you remember the article too: "In 1943 Juan _____ was working in his cornfield when he saw a crack open in the earth. Lava eventually buried his field and grew into the word´s youngest volcano, Paricutín."

We took a horseback ride to the ruins of the nearby village and its 16th century church, which wrere completely buried. Just the church towers emerge from the lava flow. It makes you wonder what it was like to find the village buried in lava.

The village of Angahuán was possibly even more interesting than the ruins. It was by far the most indigenous place we´ve been -- most of the people are Purépecha and many speak exclusively Purépecha, no Spanish. It looked like a village in rural Guatemala or Peru, with women carrying their babies in their shawls and hauling firewood on their heads.

Nobody Home!


In village after village we´ve talked with young men who are home just for a month (for the holidays) from their work in the US. It seems everyone is working "on the other side," as they refer to it.

In Angahuan, the village of only 2000 people by the volcano Paricutín, 61-year-old Marcos told us about his 8-month work stint in Virginia, at a factory with 300 other folks from the same town. To enter the US he had to travel to Tijuana, walk a day and a night to cross over, then made his way to Madera, Californa, and got a cross-country ride to his minimum-wage job in Virginia. Of course he sent most of his $6.75/hour home to his wife and family. How´d he do that?

In small town Lázaro Cárdenas, Jalisco, 20-something Luis explained to us (in English) why the village was deserted and the roads were so pleasantly calm. Almost everyone had already left to go back to work after their holidays. A week earlier, he explained, the plaza, now empty, was filled with cars - there was no place to park.

In Cotija, a surprisingly upscale town in a very backcountry part of Michoacan, we were surprised to see lots and lots of nice, fancy newish cars cruising the plaza, many with those incredibly loud sound systems and hard rap music. We asked our host at the hotel: All the young men are home from working in the US. Then we started noticing the license plates: Georgia, NY, Florida, New Jersey.

We only have to ask the effects on both our culture and theirs of such wholesale transplantation of a generation to "the other side."

Changing Plans and Avoiding Traffic


A prime objective now is finding roads with modest traffic. Since most of the major roads have no shoulder, it can be pretty unnerving to ride along with big traffic. So we´ve been seeking out the smallest of the backcountry roads, which is good, but it means that we´re not tracking with our plans at all. Today we´re in Pátzcuaro (halfway between Uruapan and Morelia) and it´s one of the few times we´ve been on our planned route, and we won´t be on the planned route again for awhile. We´re going to go way north of the Pátcuaro lake and avoid Morelia, then come down to Ciudad Hidalgo and go to the Monarch Butterfly reserve.

We´re clearly not going to make it to Oaxaca! We´ll probably go over to the butterfly reserve, then go south to Taxco, then find our way to Acapulco.

Saturday´s weddings


Saturday, February 20, 2003 marked the 60th anniversary of the explosion of the volcano Paricutín. It seemed every town within 30 miles was celebrating the day with either outdoor fairs or weddings. We actually saw 3 weddings in three different towns.

Around 2:00 in the afternoon we where riding a very isolated road from Paricutín to Paracho, where the traffic was mostly cowboys, cows, pigs, roosters and dogs. We climbed into the town of San Felipe, a very poor looking town. Most of the house had walls made out of rough milled trees. The fences to keep in the livestock was falling down. Not a single structure had paint.

As we rode past a fence we heard the most wonderful music and thought it might be from a CD. We stopped to listen. It was live. We followed our ears to the origin and found ourselves in the mist of the most festive wedding. Everywhere we saw colored crepe papered bouquets of flowers. All the women had silk ribbons in their hair. Food flowed in abundance, and beer was everywhere. White balloons adorned the blue tarped canopy and the 15-piece Mexican brass band played the most wonderful music.

It was a joy to stop in and have a beer, experience this event and ride on. It left both of us in awe that such a seemingly poor village created one of the most spectacular celebrations of love and community.

We saw to more weddings that day before the sun set and we setup our tent behind a barn. What a great day!



We made it to the beautiful town of Pátzcuaro. This town is reknowned for its artisans. Every third block seems to have a church and a plaza, and vendors selling their handmade wares and home cooked dishes.

The draw to this town is the Pátzcuaro Lake and its many islands. We took a boat to the Island of Janitzio. The boat ride transported both the locals with their goods and a few tourists. From afar we saw a statue on the very top of the island rising 500 meters above the docks. It looked like the statue of liberty from a long distance, one arm pointing toward the sky, but it was the famous general Morelos. We climbed to the top of the island where the inside of the statue had murals depicting the Mexican War against the Spaniards. (1810 - 1814) The fight for independence is a very big event for the Mexican culture especially around this area.

The children of the island kept begging for one peso (about 10 cents US). It is common and a way of life for these people. I have a hard time understanding the need to send the children out to beg for their next meal.

Americans have a wonderful life.

On the way to Morelia


We made it to Morelia.

We have been taking the tranquilo roads, all the back roads, which has been wonderful because we meet great people in small villages. Matter of fact we were adopted last night and stayed in this small rural home belonging to wonderful strangers.

It was very late in the afternoon, getting toward dark, and we needed water so we asked a family in a tiny village if we could have some water. This was the home of Bardamiano and his wife Conselo. Well, they not only gave us water but they gave us their world. We had dinner of carnitas and tortillas, slept in their compound, and Conselo cooked a wonderful breakfast of eggs and chili. They had cows, pigs, chickens, and five dogs. It was a wonderful experience. They were very poor but they had electricity, hot water for a shower which they turned on for us and hearts full of gold. Just incredible. This was the kind of experience I had hoped would happen we we planned this trip and it became a reality.

Tomorrow we have to go back onto a real highway, and the name of the area we'll go through has us scared: Mil Cumbres, which means the Thousand Peaks. We'll be climbing. Hope we're up to the climbing and the traffic on a real highway after all the easy country roads we've been on. We can't find another route to Ciudad Hidalgo...

Thousand Peaks


We left Morelia and headed toward the Mil Cumbres, which translates to the "thousand Peaks". Traffic in the City was incredible but we just wove our way through the capital rush hour traffic. Within one hour we were climbing into the most beautiful forest. And we climbed. The visita offered such breath taking views the climbing was not the focus of the day. We climbed for 25 miles.

When we got to the top we stopped to talk to to Canadian gringos whose car had broken down. Justin and Curtis where traveling to somewhere but they did not know where to. Curtis was going to explore the world for two years. Delightful young guys.

As we talked to them, I watched a fire erupt at the home across the road. As the guys talked about venturing around the world, I went to explore why the three children who set a huge pile of old lumber on fire were trying to put the fire out with small plastic buckets and no adult was present. The flame soon lapped 25 feet into the air. I jumped into action with the 3 guys following suit (finally). We all became firemen determined to save the near by houses and forest and maybe all of Mexico from complete devastation.

The mother and father finally arrived and just watched us. They must have thought we were possesed. After several hours we ran out of water and let the fire burn down. I am sure this is what the owners of the land would do but we American firefighters do not have the same level of experience. Well we all stood around for a few more hours watching the biggest camp fire burn down. Maria fed us some wonder shrimp soup and tacos.

We four gringos all camped that evening in the chicken coop and got up in the morning and rode away. I am sure there will be legends about us and how we saved Mexico.

Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary


Today we climbed up the most insane possible road to go to the El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. Every year untold millions of monarch butterflies make the migration from southern Canada all the way to here, and then they spend the winter here and mate before making the return journey.

It was incredible - the trees looked like they had bunches of leaves on them, but it was really huge clusters of monarch butterflies. And they were everywhere in the air. We just sat for a long time and watched them.

This is an area like many in the third world with a serious deforestation problem - increasing population means people cut down the forest to make open land for crops and livestock, to feed their families. But the Monarchs are severely threatened, so Mexico has set this area aside as a reserve. We can hope that they´re successful and can preserve this incredible group of migrating Monarchs.

Typical Mexican Family


Our friend Luis from the lavadero invited us to his inlaws’ house to camp. We had no idea what to expect but thought it would be great. We followed him up the hill and down a couple of dirt roads to his family’s house. At the end of the road was what we believe to be a very typical Mexican family home. The gate to where we’d camp was two old rusty bedsprings standing up to enclose the barnyard, to keep in the four sheep, 15 turkeys, and a dozen chickens.

The barnyard was not much larger than 100’ by 50’, but it was terribly well utilitized. Besides being a barnyard for the animals it had fruit trees (avocado, mango, peach, guava, and several other). The barnyard animal smells were powerful to my nostrils, but I shut up and smiled. I knew it was a lifetime opportunity.

We followed Luis up to the main house for introductions to the family. Father-in-law Antonio couldn’t hear us too well. Mother-in-law Simona was quite old, but rose at 3am every day to make donuts and then got to the market at 8am to sell them. Luis’ wife Elvira was working diligently making some pastries for sale on Ash Wednesday at church. They’re raising money for a 6-day walking pilgrimmage to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

All the women were working with the fried pastries. It looked like a hundred rounds of dough were drying or rising, stretched over every surface in the two-room structure. They were on the tables, chairs, counters, even the TV. The pastries then were deep-fried in the self-standing, wood-fed fryer.

After the initial introductions we were ushered into the second room, dominated by a huge television showing a university soccer match. Luis explained that Mexicans spend Sunday resting and watching soccer. Or at least the men do. But the huge, decent-quality TV stood out in contrast to the room it sat in. It was part-bedroom, part sitting room. On the whitewashed stucco walls were various framed and unframed religious pictures. Blankets were stacked against one wall and there was a single queen-sized bed, the TV on its wooden stand, two chairs. And then Luis brought out the cold Victoria beer. What a treat!

The family was very poor in many ways. They did have electricity and they have water in the cooking area, but no plumbing in the house. The toilet was a hand-flush affair, where you take a bucket of water to it and flush it that way. Laundry was hand-washed at the family lavadero (and the women must clean several sets of clothes daily, since the boys play sports and go to school).

There we were sharing ice-cold beers with a man we had just met. Luis’s heart was as large as any we’ve ever seen. He gave us the chance to experience what it’s like to live in the middle of Mexico in the year 2003.

We excused ourselves to go hang out our wet laundry on the clothesline in the barnyard. Randy and Luis continued to chat and share a beer while I worked away hanging the clothes on the line, pretending to be a good Mexican woman. Our clothes dried nicely on the line, but would smell like the barnyard until the next washing.

Washing at the Lavadero


We rode around Zitacuaro, a good-sized city of 50,000 or so looking for a laundromat, and we found them, but they were all closed because it was Sunday. So we asked for a place to clean by hand and were referred to the public “lavadero,” the place where the poor folks with no water in their houses go to clean.

Usually when we look for something we ask directions, go a little ways, ask again, and so on. We never completely understand the answer. When we got close, a kind, portly man named Luis walked us right over to the lavadero. It was sheltered from the strong sun with a wooden roof held up by concrete posts, nestled in the side of a hill. Spring water was piped directly from the side of the hill. The center compartment is a big basin for the fresh water. On each side is a work area made out of cement, with rough pebbles lining the bottom. The basin is slanted in and has a drain. We took the fresh water from the basin with our cooking pan and soaked our clothes and used laundry detergent and scrubbed against the rough surface until our clothes seemed cleaner. It was a LOT easier than washing in a hotel sink, like we usually do. But we could have used quite a lot of professional instruction!

As we washed we talked with Luis, who invited us to camp at his in-laws’ home. As it was late in the afternoon, and since getting to know people and their lifestyle is our first objective, we happily accepted. More in my next post :-)

Valle de Bravo


Lots of new pictures on the photos page
We are in Valle de Bravo, a beautiful lake in the mountains. To get here we rode
52 miles, up a mountain pass for 15 miles, which took about 4 hours, and then down for 25 miles, which took just a few hours more. This was the longest
descent I have ever done. I felt like I was in the Tour de Mexico, speeding
down the pass at 40 miles an hour with a fully loaded bike. I was motivated to
not let the tour buses catch up with me. They pass way too close. It is so strange that in the mountains you can hear what kind of vehicle is struggling up the mountain and how many vehicle are behind it. If there are more than two large vehicles like dump trucks, or full size buses and an assortment of cars behind that coming up behind me as I climb, I have plenty of notice from the sound echoing up the mountain pass to know when to get off the road and wait until the horde of metal monsters pass. Going down a mountain pass is not as hairy because we go at the same speed as everyone else or close to it. The similar speed makes working with the traffic a lot easier and more harmonious, the larger the difference in speed makes for more contrast and chaos. I can see a lot in my helmet mirror. Sometime I see multiple cars passing each other in the far distance but as they get closer to us the chaos melds into a manageable line of cars and trucks We all work together.

When we arrived in Vale de Bravo we wode around the lake The afternoon sun light shimmered on the huge mountain lake and all the forest trees were very distinct as they were dark in the afternoon light. The whole lake was surrounded by volcanic peaks as far as the eye could see. We stopped at a yacht club and had a refresco (a soda) on the grass, in the beautiful sun. We played catch with 4 dogs. It was wonderful to relax in such an awesome place. I reflected on how that moment is a once in a lifetime moment which will be etched in mind forever.

We stayed in a 16th century mexican posada (hotel) with a two story open
courtyard and flowering trees, old wooded railings and ceramic tiling
everywhere. The walls are white washed stucco. In the background was the two
spires of the main church. In New Mexico this would cost $150 to $200 an
night. It did cost $200 a night here but that is 200 pesos which is 20 dollars

Last night there was a hugh political rally. Huge! There was actually duelling
bands blasting out their music from alternate corners of the plaza. The election is next sunday. The PAN party, a coalition of the PRI and the Green party, the PDR, and the Partido de Trabajo (worker's party) seem to be battling it out.
Elections are a very important here. I think everyone in the region was
bused here. There was a parades. and truckloads of flag waving supporters.

The state police and regional traffic cops were found in abundance. As we ate
pizza, 5 policemen with their submachine guns came in to eat. Now where do five cops put their submachine guns sitting at a small table in a crowded little hole-in-the-wall pizzeria?
On their laps, pointing at us, and not two feet
away. They also had had pistols, if automatic rifles were not enough. Each police
officer seemed to be in his mid 20's.

Lost in Mexico


We like the backroads so much we decided to branch out and try a road we knew little about. Even the locals did not know about the road we chose to go to Taxco. Well to make a long story short, we climbed for a half a day on this steep road. We took a break at a new church where this wonderful bell was ringing. We got invited up to the bell steeple but this very old Mexican man, who was older than dirt as well as being the bell ringer. It was Ash Wednesday and we got a lesson on ringing three huge bells with two ropes.

After an hour's break we continued down the road until the asphalt road turned to dirt, and then to a poor dirt road through agricultural fields. We knew we were lost but we being the adventurers we are continued until the sunset. We set up camp at an abandoned schoolhouse in a little agricultural village way up in the hills.

We woke up to an orcherstra of sounds: Pigs on the bass. sheep on the percussion, birds on the clarinet and chickens and roosters as the oboes. The sun rose around pea fields planted all around us and the far mountains appeared as a painted background. Wow, what a way to wake up.

We made it up another 5 miles of the dirt road to a real highway and worked our way to today's destination, Coatepec.

Taxco and Caverns


Yesterday and today are big tourist days. We went to the hot mineral springs at Ixtapan, rode 40 miles, and then ended the day with a tour of the incredible caverns at Las Grutas. There are two rivers that run through an incredible cave system, taking 6 an 8 hours to traverse the cave. You can actually do the trip in a raft with the right equipment.

Today we rode an incredible uphill to get to the famous silver city of Taxco, then spent the afternoon shopping for wonderful silver jewelry. Nancy went crazy.

Tomorrow we start working our way toward Acapulco and the coast.