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Guadalajara, Jal.


While waiting for the ferry to Mazatlán, I met two other cyclists on the road from Portland, Oregon. We decided to form a temporary gringo cyclist confederation, and would ride together from Mazatlán to outside of Tepic, where I headed into the mountains, and they headed back to the coast.

In Mazatlán, we found a hotel for the bargain-basement price of 70 pesos a night, and decided that at that value, we’d stay an extra night. While Casey and Scott (my just-introduced friends) took care of their business around the town, I set about discovering the many and varied delights to be found. I had a variation of Horchata which —against all expectation— I found to be better than the original. And I found a market that had many different kinds of tropical fruit for sale, at prices that meant I could buy one of everything. I found the street food to be exquisite, and the architecture that lined those streets to match.

While leaving Mazatlán, I used my shrewd negotiational skills to get a loaf of bread for two pesos more than the original asking price. I quickly resolved to learn my numbers better.

Heading south, we noticed that the landscape became more and more tropical, and with the hills it envoked thoughts of southeast Asia. We also took several opportunities to explore local towns, and despite being baffled by the choice of using river rock for pavement, I was enchanted by the plaza principales that I would see, and amazed by the architectural detail on the cathedrals in the smallest of town.

We took to taking a siesta in the middle of the day to beat the heat, and our status as curious-looking foreigners with fully loaded touring bikes gave us plenty of opportunity to practice our Spanish.

We eventually discovered that we weren’t going to be yelled at for taking the toll road, and also that we wouldn’t have to pay to ride on it. The advantage of the toll road was that it was much better engineered, smoothly paved, and had a very wide shoulder. The free road, in contrast, had precipitous drops, reckless drivers, no shoulder, and a complete disregard to grading.

We camped to first night out of Mazatlán in a mango orchard, that unfortunately had no mangoes, but plenty of mosquitoes. And the second night just off the road, failing to find a break in the barbed wire fence that bordered the toll road.

After we parted ways, the toll road that I continued on merged with the free road, and inherited all of the free road’s characteristics. I had to climb and descend several times before finally reaching Tepic at dusk, and I took the first hotel I came across. The next morning, I played asteroids with the collectivos (privately run busses that seemed more intent on running me off the road than anything else) while riding out of town, but eventually the traffic died down, and I found myself in tropical highlands. As I rode through fields of sugarcane climbing up the sides of extinct volcanoes, I wondered how I could have never seen such a beautiful landscape before, and felt very lucky to be riding through it.

I was riding on the free road through all of this, thinking that the “no bicycles” sign I saw prohibited me from riding the toll road. When I was pulled over to adjust my bike a bit, I federale stopped by to chat, and I learned that I could ride on the toll road, and it was in his opinion much safer. I also learned the word for road shoulder (acotamiento) during the course of that conversation. My Spanish improves a bit each day in that way.

After endless climbing, pine trees started to replace the tropical vine covered foliage, and corn replaced sugarcane as the dominant crop. I eventually summited over a volcano, and had an endless downhill that had me curse at how much more work I’d now have to do to climb up to Guadalajara, but at the same time I exhilirated in how fast I was going. By the time I reached the bottom of that descent in the town of Jala, I noticed that the temperature had climbed several degrees from the summit. I was amazed that I had already climbed high enough and then descended far enough for the difference in altitude to affect the temperature.

After one more climb, and similar descent, I found myself in Ixtlán del Río, and decided to call it quits on the day. I discovered a new type of licuado in the local Michoacana, and found it to be delicious. For dinner I bought a quart of yogurt with granola, and took the whole thing down. Then I made myself some sandwiches with my pineapple marmalade.

The next morning I found myself cold for the first time in a very long while, and enjoyed the sensation incredibly. I prefer shivering so much to sweating, and I finally had a chance to exchange them.

More climbing, a flat tire, four sandwiches, and becoming absolutely filthy in the exection of the day, and I arrived mysteriously at a baptist camp outside of Guadalajara. After explaining my trip to Nacho —the groundskeeper— I was permitted to stay and make full use of the showers and bathrooms (and I did…). I made lentils for dinner, and Nacho and I talked for a while in a mixture of English and Spanish about various things over a cup of coffee. Absolutely beat by the day, I fell asleep around 8pm.

The following morning, having run out of breakfast food in the sandwich binge the day before, Nacho invited me to share breakfast with him. We talked some more over a cup of atole (?), which is a drink made of corn flour, sugar, cinnamon, and hot water. It is absolutely delicious. After a while it was time to get going again, and I set out to cover the final 12 miles into Guadalajara.

While crawling up a hill on my giant tortose of a bicycle, I was passed by a dozen lycra clad bicyclistas. It made it very obvious that my racing days did not at all coincide with my touring days, and my masculine desire to catch them went utterly unfulfilled. After a while I found myself in the greater Guadalajara metropolitan area (population 2.2 million!), and through dead reckoning I found myself riding past the Corona and Modelo brewery.

After inhaling the sweet smell of mash for a while, I set for the old town, and reckoned my way to a youth hostel. Thanking god for my continued ability to find what I need without any clear idea about where to find it, I set my body to relax, and went at it full-tilt.

I took a few days off in Guadalajara to soak in the sights of this very impressive city. The architecture reminds me more of baroque Italy than Mexico, and both the number and quality of cathedrals are very high.

On one day I took a bus with someone I met at the hostel to the town of Tequila (it’s a real place!). It was a very educational and rewarding venture, and I’ve come to respect the drink tequila very much, and so far have had no reason to curse it.

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