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Day 317-321, 24-28 May 2009: hot hilly roads, tropical fruits and friendly Mexicans

September 10, 2009 by , 2,926 views 
Filed under Central Mexico, Mexico, North America, Trip reports

After our trip across the Sea of Cortez it was time to cross terra firma again. Only we were still not sure which route to take. It was clear that we would never make it in time to Cancun, to meet our mums, so what to do? Puerto Vallarta malecon

We decided to visit Puerto Vallarta first, as we could not believe that that such a famous place (The Love Boat!) would be nothing more than a collection of ugly resorts and polluted highways.

Our persistence paid off when we cycled over the cobbled streets of old Vallarta and onto the nice Malecon, the boardwalk. There were plenty of people about, artists, friendly beggars, loads of tourists, sand sculptors and even a set of oriental rope artists circling down from their platform.

Puerto Vallarta malecon (2)It was all nice, but it was also getting dark and we had no idea

  1. where to go to, from Vallarta,
  2. where to sleep…
  3. and, most alarming of all: we did not have dinner yet!

As usual the solution to all questions presented itself without too much effort from our side. Just when we were checking our map of Central , a couple sat down next to us and asked about our bikes and trip.

Our hosts in Puerto VallartaWhen I asked them in return about the different route possibilities – there is no straight way inland, you can go North and then East through Guadalajara, or South along the coast and then North again- they were sure that the coastal route was the best option: flat, narrow but quiet and only a few sections with drug-traffickers and other accompanying bandits. Sweet.

Cool, number 1 solved, and number 2 & 3 followed smoothly when they invited us for dinner and to stay in their house near the Malecon. Mexico is so full of friendly people, it looks like a complete different country than the media makes it out to be. Actually it is. Much, much better, as was and would be proven time and time again.

Day 317, 24 may 09: Puerto Vallarta – Near Tomatlan: 74km. Jungle to

Puerto Vallarta coastlineThe next morning we were treated to nice tropical fruits for breakfast, pineapple and papaya! Real vitamins!

It was early but hot, but the coastal route was quite shady and showed us the hidden gems of the Vallarta Bay: nice beaches, amazing mansions and boutique hotels and lush jungle and trees. 180 degrees difference from the dry desert of Baja California and even the rollercoaster road could not spoil our joy.

Our ride to El TuitoThat is, until the road turned sharply and went both inwards as upwards. The cool sea-breeze dropped and the temperature rose 10+ degrees within minutes, the jungle turned to desert and the road into a narrow steep wall with little space for our bikes. Our map showed that this would continue to 750m (2500ft) up, which did not seem like a great idea for our knees and general life expectancy, so we decided to take a lift, the first of many short ones along the Mexican South Coast.

Our friendly driver dropped us off at the top of the hill in El Tuito, stopping his ramshackle pickup only once on the way up, to buy some soft drinks for us, not accepting our money for it.

After lunch in the pueblito, we got to enjoy a nice downhill through pine forests and then a mix of dried shrubbery and other desert vegetation. We felt back in the Baja, seems that the Vallarta bay had been a one-off paradise. Soon the became unbearable, but though the Pacific Ocean should be near, no sign of it was noticeable, definitely no refreshing breeze.

The sun burned without mercy on yours trulies riding the undulating road and we had to stop several times for some shade, as well as to refill our bottles. We ended up just before sunset at a crossing close to the town of Tomatlan.

In Baja, it always cooled down at sunset, but over here, it still seemed to get hotter even. As we needed more water and it cost the same as a huge bag of ice, we solved two problems at once, cycling around the village with a large plastic bag with ice cubes, watched by curious Mexicans.

We found a friendly woman that would let us camp in her garden and even though we only put up our inner tent, it was so hot that we went to bed covered with nothing than our Ortlieb water bags and polarbottle, filled with the melting ice in a futile attempt to cool off…

It was still more than 30 degrees outside; the stupid guard dogs did not know whether to protect or attack us and the man of the house that returned drunk in the dark first fed bananas to the goats, and went back to the bar, only returning a short while later to vomit loudly in his car while abusing his helping wife. Life on a bike, always different, never far from reality.

Day 318/9, 25/6 may 09: Rollercoasting from Tomatlan to San Patricio 77+41km, 1400m up and down.

Camping between the flowersJust when we were mixing our newly discovered freeze dried soy-milk with cereals, a full-size truck pulled up at the gasstation. In the back stood more than 2 dozen kids, ranging in age from 8 to about 17. Innocent and naive as we were, we thought that this might be a poor-man’s version of a school bus, either to take the kids to school or to an excursion, as it was a weekday.

When Ivana asked the kids where they were going, the just replied with slent blank stares and took off again. The attendant explained that they were off to work in the fields, to produce the cheap fruit for export. No education for these and many other kids in Mexico, the only thing they learn is to work, and work hard.

We hit the ‘coastal road’ again but caught exactly one glimpse of the Pacific; most of the time we were just sweating up and down the few dozen smaller and bigger hills. Nothing too serious, just annoying in the sweltering heat.

Again the average temperature was above 31 degrees and we were happy that the friendly gardener that let us camp in his flowery vivero, offered us use of his garden hose and water-tank to freshen up at the end of the day.

An early start gave some refreshment, but after 35km –including already 700m/2300ft up !- it was hotter than ever and we started to curse our friendly Vallarta host that had recommended this ‘flat coastal’ road that was neither, and which we doubted he had ever been on. He definitely never had cycled it in his life.

Time for lunch, and things improved considerably when we stumbled on a nearly-deserted guesthouse, with swimming pool, fruit-dropping mango trees and an internet cafe. Heaven! Of course our lunch lasted longer than planned and we decided to camp here, being offered more mangos than we could eat. Life was not so bad after all.

Day 320, 27 May 2009: San Patricio – Manzanillo 76km, 370m up and down

Coconut and banana treesWe had entered the state of Colima, which we had been dreaming about since we found out that a large part of Mexico’s fruit originates here. We were not disappointed, as the bumpy desert abruptly had given way to fields of coconut palms, mango trees and banana trees, while smaller orchards and roadside stalls offered all kinds of other natural goodies.

Coconut cutter campA few women were chopping enormous piles of brown coconuts in half; they only collected part of the fruit for the cosmetic industry, discarding both the juice as well as the tasty heart, so we filled up our bottles rather than letting the healthy water flow onto the thirsty sand.

Ivana eating coconutsThere were many mango trees with thousands of fruits dropped onto the forest floor. Apparently due to the transportation and export (to the US) hassle and cost, it is too costly to harvest and sell them so they just rot away. Except the ones that fitted in Ivana’s big Ortlieb bag of course :)

Lunch at the beach near Santiago, ColimaAs an added bonus, the road was nearly flat and we not only got to see the ocean, we even got to touch it when stopping for lunch near a nice swimming .

What goes up has to come down, even when not literally, and things deteriorated seriously after lunch. Traffic increased to annoying numbers when we approached the busy city of Manzanillo. Lack of signs made us follow a dead end street to the harbour for several km. Noise and exhaust of the buses, cars and freight trains rose to lethal levels and to top it, we got into a huge fight about which route to take. In the end I gave in and up and let Ivana decide, resulting in another detour of several kilometres.

After 75km we were more than exhausted and while still angry we rung the doorbell on a house that had a big gate and a nice garden; both necessary for a safe camp in an urban zone.

Spontaneous CouchSurfing hosts, ManzanilloAn elderly couple opened up and listened to our story. Soon they invited us, not just for dinner, but also to use one of the extra rooms upstairs, so instead of fighting and sweating in our tent, we got a shower, Mexican and a ventilator to cool us down.

We deserved it.

Day 321, 28 May 09, Manzanillo – Boca de Apisa, 91km

Unused overpassThe fruity flatness continued and though the average temperature was above 31C/ 88F again, it was still a relatively pleasant ride though the field, only interrupted by a few hours of lunch in a truck-stop to avoid the heat and a short visit to the ugly City of Tecoman.

Cattle farmer in Colima state

We were aiming straight for some nasty looking hills, but turned right before reaching them, back to the direction of the Ocean. We did not notice that our total recorded distance had silently increased to a 5-figure number until later that night, 10,000km (6250mi) on the road!

We had been looking forward to camping on the beach, but when we followed the 5km/3mi long turnoff, we discovered that the road literally ended at the ocean, with just a few meters of sand separating us from the big powerful waves.

Fruit stalls along the routeArmed with nothing much more than the knowledge that we had entered drug-trafficking country we were not being overly comfortable with the stares of some local youth and the lack of water and safe places.

So, tired as we were, we headed back up to the main road and asked a farmer if we could pitch a tent on his land, which was situated next to a military checkpoint.

Camp between the ducks and chickens As there were dozens of different feathered friends around, Ivana preferred to camp under the roof. After being chased into our hot tent by a battalion of nasty mosquitoes, we fell into a restless sleep, blissfully unaware of the fact that I would visit 3 different doctors in 3 different hospitals in the next 24 hours…

Kowalski! Status report!

  • Many many MangosMangos eaten: countless
  • Metres climbed in 5 days on the ‘flat coastal road’: 2500+
  • Average temperature during those 5 days: 31C/88F.
  • Km cycled since Prudhoe Bay, Alaska: 10,020!
  • Vertical meters/climbed since PB, AK: 83,460 (52 miles)
  • Santos Travelmaster problems: zero.
  • Knee & back report: positive, taking care and working fine.

Here are the road profiles, for those masochistic enough (or smart enough to cycle this in winter) to take it on:

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