Tag Archive for 'crafts'

Over the Sierras, down to the beach

In proper A&a style, we didn’t roll out of Oaxaca until 3:30pm when we left a week ago yesterday. We packed and planned a bit. We said goodbyes to Paty’s family, and all our friends one last time. We went to the bank, the post office, and stopped at the zócalo for a last popsicle. Aran bought a last pair of earrings from the street artists. OK, two. Then we rode two hours down the mostly flat Oaxaca valley to Ocotlán, where we spent the night in a room to which the proprietor had lost the key. We intended an early start the next day, but due to some bad tacos, we were in bed until 11, and didn’t head out of town until 12:30. Our intention was to make it to the next large town, at the base of the Sierras. At 5:45, as the sun was setting, we realized we would never make it as far as Miahuatlán before dark. We pulled into a roadside tienda to ask whether we could spend the night camping on their property. The gentleman we spoke with was real drunk. He encouraged us to keep going to Miahuatlán – that we could get there on our bicycles in 30 minutitos, sin problema. We knew this was untrue, but we decided not to stay at the tienda, even though the guy offered us Mezcal. Half a mile down the road, an empty “taxi” (read: pick-up truck with benches in the bed) passed us and Aran yelled to Andrew to flag it down. This is no small feat on a bicycle, but we managed, and in no time, we were flying down the road in the back of the truck, watching the daylight disappear completely as we rolled into Miahuatlán. Cheaters? Maybe. Regretful? Not even a little. Surprising how easy it is to get places in something with a motor.

The next morning, (nine tamales, three tacos, four cups of atole (hot, creamy rice drink), 1 yogurt, and 1 quart of pineapple juice later) we headed for the hills, and began the hardest day of climbing we’ve had since day 2 when we climbed the Paso de Cortes. We climbed for 30 kilometers to 2500 meters and enjoyed alternating southern and northern vistas of the Sierra Madre del Sur as we wound around the ridge in the late afternoon. We pulled into San José del Pacifico, a town everyone told us was famous for its magical mushrooms. We figured we were high enough, and so did not sprinkle any on our salads, but we did appreciate our room key decoration quite a bit.

Another slow morning including a bit of exploring the town meant that we didn’t leave until 12ish, and since we proceeded to climb further to 2800 meters (which meant more beautiful views), we cycled a very short day to a mountain “comedor” (eatery) that sat next to a soccer field – perfect for camping. We ate a dinner of the freshest, most delicious trout we’d ever tasted, caught by the husband and cooked by the wife who owned the comedor.

We spent the night sleeping in all of our wool clothes and awoke to frost on the ground outside our tent. Our final day of cycling before reaching the ocean included the most drastic changes in climate and vegetation we’ve experienced without flying or driving. It is quite amazing to wake up on a frozen soccer field and go to sleep in the hot, heavy air of the tropical Pacific coast. We were assured at several points that day that our ride would be “pura bajada” (nothin’ but down). More lies. We have decided that the words “plano” and “bajar” actually mean “rolling” and “hilly.” It is best for our morale to assume this.

But, we made it to the ocean at last! And we’ve spent a few days on the beaches of Mazunte and Puerto Escondido. The Pacific is lovely and refreshing, and the fish is almost as good as that trout in the mountains. We spent a particularly nice day at Mazunte, swimming, visiting the Turtle Center of Mexico, backpacker-watching, and hiking around at sunset. Yesterday we rode the 65 km to Puerto Escondido, which bears striking resemblance to parts of California. Although the water is warmer. Shortly, we will leave our “magical hostel” with “great folks and great veggie fare” (thanks for the recommendation, Mike Stocking) and take a bus from here to Salina Cruz before biking back up into the mountains. Yes, we know this is considered cheating by some harder-core bike tourists, but at least we will bike the hard part! We are looking forward to being in San Cristóbal de las Casas for Christmas, and then heading north to Palenque where Andrew’s parents will pay us a visit.

Acatlán to Oaxaca in only 4 days!

Aran’s hand is almost all better, healed up very nicely. All the cycling must be good for it.

But wait! First, we should tell you what we did in Acatlan. Not much. Slept, read, hung out with the clan of the Hugos, had some stomach troubles (Pepto and atole fixed that up), wandered downtown, and visited the studio of a remarkable craftsman who’s family makes ceramics using pre-columbian techniques. They showed us the two types of dirt (sands and clay) that they pulverize by hand, then mix together with water to create a very supple sculpting clay. The pieces are formed by hand with simple tools, as needed, on a rotatable stand (no potter’s wheel), and then allowed to dry in the sun. When dry, they are smoothed with a wet rag, and then painted using natural colorants, again from pulverized dirt of different colors. As soon as the paint is dry, the make everything very shiny by rubbing with a piece of obsidian, and then bake the pieces in a wood fired kiln. Beautiful, intricate stuff, and so smooth. All we could take was pictures, of course, so here are some. (If you’re curious, they will ship, but they don’t have a website. Let us know if you want more info).

Finally, on Saturday we told the Hugos that we must be getting on to Oaxaca, as we were anxious to begin our language schooling. After a hearty breakfast and a lot of pictures, they handed us a GIANT bag of peanut bars for the road, piled into their car, and we followed them on our bikes to the edge of town. So, we returned to our friend the free road, Mexico 190.

Back on Mex190, we had 66 km to go to Huajuapan, and of course, we were still in the Sierra Madres, so the 11:20 start didn’t leave us a whole lot of time to make it there. We biked all day with a lot of breaks, stopping to eat Hugo’s peanut bars a few times along the way, and near the end of the day we crossed from Puebla state into Oaxaca state. Bad news. Oaxaca clearly doesn’t maintain their roads as well as Puebla, so the road surface is very rough, the potholes are more prevalent, and it’s generally slower going. Around 17:30, we stopped to buy water, and Andrew asked if we could pitch a tent outside the tiendita. The proprietress, though a bit surprised, said it wasn’t a problem, so we unloaded our bikes and set camp in the yard outside the shop, which was also the family’s house. The daughter brought us some lawn chairs and the family turned a light on for us while we cooked our refried beans with hot dogs and cheese on toast that we had bought in addition to the water. We fought with the neighbor’s dog over our dinner. Two boys belonging to the family thought we were about the strangest things ever, and made a good game of spying on us before getting brave enough to offer us some fresh-but-not-quite-ripe guavas. In return, of course we gave them some peanut bars. Their grins were priceless. At around 4:30 the next morning, the roosters next door started going at it (the sun does not rise until 7:22, give us a break guys). By the way, this was the first time Andrew has camped without any rain falling in the last 7 years (of 10ish experiences).

Of course, on Sunday morning, we went down all of the meters we had so painfully climbed on Saturday, and arrived in Huajuapan de León before noon. Andrew went into the market to buy some more food, (amazing how often we need to do that) and got some very strange looks when he asked for only 2 bananas and 1 avocado. Those quantities simply aren’t normal in Mexican markets. It’s by the kilo, you American fools! Getting a too-late start once again, we made for the hills, which we found plenty of. More twisting, curving, up and down on 190, now with worse surface conditions. We planned to make it to Tamazulapan, elevation 2000ish meters, and near the end of the day, we saw the information signs for it in the middle of a long downhill, followed by the Tamazulapan hydroelectric plant. However, no sign of the town at the bottom of the hill, and as we started to climb again, the heartfelt grumbling and whining began. A local told us that it was just 6 more km! Woohoo, but of course, all of it was heartbreakingly uphill. We arrived and checked into the very first hotel we saw, and were far too tired to be duly impressed by the banana palm in the garden in the courtyard. We did more than appreciate the delicious, cheap, and convenient restaurant on the ground floor. Hot water shower, washed some clothes, charged all the batteries, had a good night sleep.

Monday we took it easy, which included – yep, you guessed it – yet another late start. And lots of breaks. We began the morning wandering around the town to buy more provisions and ate tamales in the square while admiring the unusually bold and friendly street dogs. Aran considered tossing them some tamale, but Andrew thought better of the idea. About 30 minutes into our day’s ride, we took a break to try traditional cookies. The extremely friendly vendor found us highly amusing and offered us free samples of everything he had and made a present of a few oranges.Another hour down the road, we stopped at a tiny church and found a Horrible Spiny Lizard missing his tail. We took several more gratuitous breaks and managed to cover just 40km to the town of Yanhuitlán. The final downhill was an interesting one, because the road was under serious construction and the crew was holding cars on both sides for half an hour at a time to get work done. We asked if we could go through and the flagger radioed for permission, and told us we could go slowly. Definitely not the USA sort of a work site. At one point, a boulder the size of a couch came bounding down the side of the hill, scaring us and the nearest worker significantly. We pedaled significantly faster, and nothing bad happened. Aran and I then wandered around the town looking for a place to spend the night, eventually deciding on the proffered ENORMOUS front yard of the ENORMOUS church. A few kids dropped by to see what we were up to, and spoke way to fast for us to understand all their questions, but other than that it was a pretty peaceful night.

In the morning, however, we found that we were next to a construction site, as the enormous church is being refurbished. The stones are being hand carved with chisel and hammer in the back of the church, and then ground to the perfect shapes with electric grinders. However, this meant that the night time restrooms were closed, and we began to be in great need. Luckily, the sweet owner of the well stocked tienda in town let us use hers. No toilet seat is pretty standard, as is not being able to flush the toilet paper, but the problem started when Andrew tried to flush and the water just gurgled and rose. Horror! He definitely considered climbing out the window. Mercifully, after some 5 minutes of plunging, it all went away, and everything was OK. Whew.

We got on the bikes, expecting to make it about 60km, and need to be creative about finding a camping spot. 15 more kilometers of Mex190 and we came to the Auto Pista, Mexico-Oaxaca Cuota. That last bit means that it’s a toll road, and that means bikes aren’t allowed, but it also means that the road is well paved, and there are huge shoulders that are great for biking. We were a little nervous when we came upon a congregation of Federales a few kilometers in, but they just waved as we passed, and we continued downhill (fast!) for many kilometers. We stopped for lunch under an overpass where we met a bus auditor waiting for the next bus to pick him up so he could check the passenger list, tickets, and money. He works 16 hours a day for 8 days in a row, then has 4 days off. Either we misheard, or that sounds horrible. He comforted us with the news that it was downhill the rest of the 50km to Oaxaca. Nope. It was up and down in about equal parts for the next 40km or so with one big downhill in the middle, and the last 20km were almost flat. We ended our longest day, 94km (longest day by far) in 9 hours at the Mezkalito Hostel in Oaxaca, and just about dropped over immediately.

For the last 4 days we’ve been kicking around Oaxaca and spending considerable energy trying to decide what language school will be the best for us. We believe we’ve found it! And in fact, we moved in with our wonderful new Mexican family yesterday. More on that soon. Monday, we begin classes at Amigos del Sol!

(Thanks again for your continued comments, we love them. We’ve done 564km so far, and we’re going to take a break to learn Spanish now. We’ll post occasionally while we’re here to let you see what Oaxaca is like and the side trips we take.)