Get lost in the mountains: a tale from Oaxaca
Hierve el Agua. Natural mineral springs that look a lot like our visit to Pammukale in Turkey years ago. Except smaller and with more chance to fall to your death. A short trip from the city that would turn into a mountain road expedition with wrong turns, drops and sleeping in new places. Now travelling as a foursome with Alex and Ida.
The ride to Hierve el Agua was Jayne’s favorite: Dirt switchbacks. The ride was uneventful, though HOT riding in the desert, and soon enough we were wading in mineral filled, slightly scum covered water. Typical tourist trap fees were attempted: Alex and I parked in the shade next to a building, and were immediately approached by a gent who informed us parking in the shade cost 10 pesos each. Needless to say we didn’t pay him, nor move our bikes.
It was a pleasant afternoon: relaxing in the sun and water, drinking cervesas, and for the Finnish among us, getting sunburned. As the burning sun dropped lower, we set off to look for accommodation.
On site at Hierve el Agua, they were asking 400 pesos. We were willing to pay half that. Since we were the ONLY tourists looking to stay the night, we figured they’d jump at the offer. They didn’t even haggle. 400 is the price. We rode away.
There was a little pueblo (town) down the road a few minutes that looked promising. We stopped in the town square, where I watched the bikes while the others inquired. Kids were everywhere, and soon they started to swarm and investigate the hairy tall man and the machines. Others came and performed jump rope tricks for us, Ida even joined in!
A couple of men, from what might have been town hall man, had a room to show us, so I joined Alex and the men while the girls watched the bikes. The good news: The room was free! The bad news: It was concrete floor, totally bare, and we foolishly hadn’t brought any of our camping gear. The more-good news: they had mats we could use! The odd news: regardless of any of this, we would have to wait for the “authority” to come and approve our staying in town at all. We waited, and played with the kids, girls watching us from up on the community center balcony giggling while the others hung around below.
In the end, we ran out of daylight waiting for the “authority”. Even if he had said yes, it turned out the mats were just thin bamboo type, the night would be cold and we had no blankets nor enough food. We waved goodbye to the kids, gave them a bag of sugar-free candy from our ill-fated DHL package, and dejectedly head back to the 400 peso cabanas. They obviously knew our choices were limited.
Alex tried negotiating again, while I took Ida for a last ditch cash saving effort to the little restaurant we had seen up the street. Maybe they had somewhere to sleep? The restaurant was close enough that Jayne and I could still talk via our helmet radios. Ida asked, and the lady said yes they did have beds. Cost: 145 pesos for all of us! Ida and I looked at the rooms: adequate! What about parking? Inside the restaurant courtyard would be just fine. So I radioed back that the restaurant was good to go. Just then, Alex came back, and via Jayne I found he had haggled them down to 300. No dice. The restaurant it would be!
More than a place to sleep, the kind lady cooked for us, so we had fresh made tortillas to go with the veggies we brought and Ida whipped up some guacamole. The family brought us over some mezcal in delightful little cups, and we played cards into the night. We retired into beds that we were pretty sure belonged to others who had been forced to sleep elsewhere for the night. Tourism is slow here any time that isn’t Easter.
On our ride over to the other pueblo, we had seen dirt roads heading off into the mountains. The magic of phone map technology showed us that one of the dirt roads twisted its way through the mountains to the highway back home. That was to be our plan for the morning.
After breakfast, Jayne won our wager on the full cost of our stay: 340 pesos (about 25$) for all of us including dinner and breakfast. Then we rode on out of there. Literally, riding the motorbikes out the front door. That was fun.
The Mountains surrounding Oaxaca are known for their Maguey cactus plantations, used in the production of Mezcal. The plantations grow like patchwork through the hills. It’s mighty hot in those hills. I bought extra water and we rode from around 11 until just after sunset, finally making it to the highway just before it got dark. The ride was complete with incredible sights, getting lost, a stranded mexican and even a couple spills.
Jayne is improving greatly at her off-pavement riding, but still travels slower than I or Alex. We would go on up ahead, then wait for Jayne to catch up every few minutes, or at any split in the road. At one such waiting point, Jayne didn’t catch up. There had been some soft sections that stretch, so after a couple minutes I figured she might have dropped and I headed back to she how she was doing. Not too far along, I rounded a corner and there she was, standing beside her fallen steed. Cricket was facing backwards, Jayne standing jacket off beside her waving hello as I approached. I skidded to a stop, turning sideways, and in doing so dropped Jugs down right beside cricket. What a sympathetic gesture.
Jayne had got caught in a soft spot, went a little sideways, and chose to lay down rather than ride off the edge of the sharp drop off. Good call.
Post spills, I decided to stay within closer radio contact range for faster response time. Jayne was beginning to get a bit weary and signs of frustration were showing. Then we all got a bit lost. I love not knowing where I am, but sometimes it’s nice to have an idea.
The map we were using was that on Alex’s phone, which for the back-country roads simply showed squiggly lines. Fortunately, it also showed which squiggly line we happened to be on at that moment. After a going right at a couple forks in the road, we found ourselves stopped at some neat looking trees. Looking at the map, we figured perhaps we needed to be on a different squiggly line looking at different trees. Though our current squiggly line might also lead us out of the hills, a passing truck stopped and confirmed that indeed, there was another squiggly line that would get us out of the mountains faster and with fewer squiggles. U-turn. It was nearing 4pm. We needed to cover some ground.
We had only just started covering that ground when a local on a small motorbike pulled up beside us asking for some assistance. He was struggling to ride on a very flat front tire. Minutes later, tools in the dirt and his bike propped precariously, we had his front drum brake (!) disconnected, wheel off and pulled his tube. The tube had a delightful 2cm gash that was unrepairable. But we were in the middle of nowhere, and our patch from the kit would cover the gash with a little room to spare, so we tried. The recommended 24hour cure time was a touch unrealistic, I grabbed reinforcement: we wrapped the tube with some duct tape to really “hold the patch on well”. MacGyvering at it’s best. Seating the tire was out of the question, there was no way the patch and rubber cement would withstand the required pressure yet, but we gave it 25psi and the air seemed not to leak out right away at least.
Wheel re-installed, his front brake wouldn’t release fully. No idea if it was like that before, but either way I told him not to use it. He’s riding dirt anyways. Back on board, the man thanked us and rode off. We didn’t see him again after we got the tools packed up and riding ourselves, so we figure he must have made it home ok. That’s what I tell myself anyways.
The repair job was the right thing to do, the only thing to do… but we were now running out of daylight. The road didn’t get much easier, and had many downhill switchbacks, which Jayne loves. There was a particularly tough stretch that required a pause and regroup, and another wrong turn that led us into a dead-end small town, but amongst all this: the late afternoon views were spectacular.
Views seen and corners turned, our squiggly line eventually de-squiggled itself into a still twisty, but now paved highway. While the sun was now below the horizon, we had made our way to the road home.
Riding at night is not ideal, but neither is riding hungry and tired. Since we would be riding at night either way, we ate first and rode second. It wasn’t pleasant, minimal road signage is even more minimal at night, and topes (speedbumps) sneek up on you, but we made it home safe, and tomorrow we’ll ride another day.
Enjoy the gallery.