The ferry to the mainland carried us south of the Tropic of Cancer and we sure could tell. The past month of Mexican cycling has been a bit of a crazy, sweaty fiesta. The music is pumping, the atmosphere is buzzing and the heat of the tropics is all around. Mexico is regrettably in the news for all the wrong reasons at the moment and we were given many warnings about this country which is trying to deal with a flourishing drugs trade and associated cartels. Our Lonely Planet had this to say on the matter:
“Thanks to grisly drug murders – including widely reported beheadings in Morelia and Acapulco, you can hardly buy a ticket to anywhere in this great country without triggering warnings from well-meaning friends about the inherent dangers of travel… The fact is, even while travelling through areas where the cartel is endemic, rare is the moment that you’ll notice anything out of the ordinary. Except that is, for a stretch of the Michoacan Coast, where La Familia, perhaps the most notorious of them all, operates and owns the roads.”
Now it so happened that our route did involve this particular stretch of coastline but even here we didn’t notice anything amiss. People have been incredibly welcoming and keen to hear about the trip and share their stories. Although tragic, Mexico’s drug problems seem to bypass most tourists.
The Mexican Pacific coast is home to some stunning beaches and cracking surf. We stopped at a little place called Neixpa to sip banana milkshakes and watch the local surf competition. Further down South we came to Zihuatanejo, home to the famous beach in The Shawshank Redemption where Andy and Red meet up at the end of the movie. It really is a paradise. Here we met Jackson, an American logger and his wife Barbs, who were taking their first vacation in 15 years. Barbs had always wanted to visit Zihuatanejo ever since she saw the movie and Jackson surprised her with tickets for their anniversary.
Andy + Red’s beach, Zihuatanejo
Down the road from Zihuatanejo lies the previously mentioned Acapulco. This sprawling city is the original Mexican beach resort. Back in the day, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor all came here to sip pina coladas and soak up some rays. Unfortunately it has recently become more famous for its drug related murders. It definitely had a bit of a sketchy feel and we kept a close eye on our wallets as we walked to see the notorious cliff divers. These guys clamber up a sheer rock face several times a night, before leaping into the churning waves below. We were treated to an awesome display of their bravery, including a striking finale in which the chief diver dove into the blackness with flames streaming out from his outstretched hands.
Right: Cliff divers. The divers jump from the light in the top right corner.
The wildlife has continued to be as jaw-dropping as it was in Baja. Iguanas scuttle across the road, little geckos peer down from ceilings and neon coloured birds swoop from tree to tree. A tropical frog joined us for lunch and roadside lagoons house some pretty fearsome crocodiles. On one occasion Nick swerved into the road. I couldn’t think why until I suddenly noticed the angry snake hissing away on the hard shoulder.
In early April I clocked up 10,000 miles pedalled so far. We celebrated with a swim in the pacific and on returning to the beach were greeted by a smiling Mexican boy who chatted away to us enthusiastically. Now I have previously taken quite a lot of Spanish classes and should really be able to understand a simple question such as, do you want to play football? Sadly, this was not the case. After repeating his question at least 5 times and receiving in answer only our gormless expressions, the boy despairingly planted his face in his hands and then picked up the football and mimed what he wanted. We duly obliged and spent a lovely time mucking about on the beach as the sunset.
There have been a few low points during this Mexican party however. We have had a couple of crashes. Nick’s was a legitimate fall caused by his having to brake sharply to avoid an overzealous bus whilst mine was more ridiculous… Of the two of us, I am definitely the more scatty cyclist. Distracted by the scenery, I frequently cycle off the road – a move which Nick has thoughtfully named ‘doing a Jess’. On this occasion I managed to fall down a grate.
As well as our cycling scrapes we have also been a bit plagued by illness. A couple of days after the ferry Nick woke feeling a bit sick. Now Nick isn’t really a morning person and his enthusiasm for cycling is never at its highest at the start of the day. So when he wasn’t overly eager to start pedalling, I remained sceptical and thus we duly set off. One hour later I reached the peak of a hill to find Nick projectile vomiting into the bushes. He turned to me with puppy dog eyes that seemed to say, “See. I told you I was ill…” Needless to say I felt pretty bad, especially as he was then an absolute trooper and continued to cycle another 100km that day.
The dodgy tummies continued down the coast and a few weeks ago something worse struck. We both developed fevers, muscle aches, rashes and some impressively swollen glands. We spent a couple of days shivering and sweating in a little village before clambering back onto the bikes like unsteady, new born fawns and pedalling slowly off. A few days later we discovered that our symptoms matched those for Dengue Fever. “Wow”, I thought, “Dengue Fever, how exotic!”, before remembering that it’s not spread from person to person, making it highly unlikely we would both have it at the same time. On reflection, it was…probably just the flu.
Dengue or not, we decided it was time to stop and have a longer break whilst we got some energy back. And that is how we come to be in the awesomely chilled out village of Mazunte. Tell you about that in the next post.