From El Salvador we rode west through Guatemala. We had heard good things about Guatemala from a number of backpackers heading south but unfortunately we were unable to really explore the country. Most tourist destinations are fairly spread out and to get to them on the bikes would have taken a significant amount of time, time which we had already decided we wanted to spend in Mexico. By now, we know the kind of trip we are on and the kind of stuff we want to do with the remainder of our time and have come to terms with the fact that we just can't do everything. When all the elements fall into place, we are happier than you could ever imagine. Surf (with a small crowd), cheap accommodation, cheap food, abundance of fruit and veg and a feeling of authenticity in a place; these are the things we are searching for. We like the simplicity of it all, when its simple, we tend to stay a while. That's why we were in El Salvador for so long and why we were ready for Mexico.
Whilst we were in Guatemala, we visited Antigua, it was a beautiful colonial city with an active volcano right on it's doorstep. Sitting drinking coffee on the roof one morning we were lucky enough to see huge clouds of black smoke billowing out of the erupting crater. Whenever we are in a city we get really excited about the food and Antigua didn't disappoint. Every morning we would head to the plaza, down the cobbled streets and past the markets for corn tortillas or tostadas with avocado and hot sauce, we ate some great food in Guatemala and definitely felt like we were getting closer to Mexico. It was also a great place to catch up on sleep, a welcome break after our regular 4.30am dawnies in El Salvador. Riding across the country was a real insight, we passed small road-side pueblos, stopping for coffee, chatting to the local people and in some places it was truly beautiful, green mountains and volcanoes in the distance but sadly the road verges were often strewn with litter. We stopped overnight in a busy town about half way to the border and pulled up to the hotel we had marked on the map as a cheap option for overland travellers we found online; I had either marked it in the wrong place or these overland types have a lot more money than us as it cost a fortune. Just as we were putting our jackets on to drive around and find a seedier looking option with a little less soft jazz floating through elegant outdoor spaces a suave looking guy came out and told us he too was a motorcyclist and would love to offer us a room for cheap; cheaper than we were hoping to pay so we jumped at the chance. People really are nice.
After crossing so many dodgy borders we were pleasantly surprised by the Mexican border, we were the only people crossing and the place looked brand new. Unfortunately, with that, came a classic jobs-worth immigration officer. The guy working the desk basically decided that he wasn't going to let the bikes in because the ownership document we have is white, not yellow. After unloading our bikes and finding as much evidence as possible we finally managed to persuade him and his boss that the bikes were indeed ours and we have indeed ridden through ten countries before arriving at the Mexican border. He eventually let us through and we we finally in Mexico! A long time dreaming of this moment and we had reached it. These goals are funny, we set them but they are pretty abstract. There is no welcoming committee, just us and a ton of miles to cover before it gets dark. Wrapped up warm with all of our clothes on, we weaved through the hills of Chiapas, heading to San Cristobal de la Casas.
All you punk rockers or radicals will be familiar with Chiapas and San Cristobal as the home of the Zapatistas. On new years day in 1994, the masked and armed rebels came out of the hills and descended on the city of San Cristobal to occupy the municipal building and stake their claim on the threatened lives, rights and land of the indigenous Mayans in the area who were being severely oppressed by the Mexican government. As we rode through the hills of Chiapas, it struck us how traditional and untouched the Mayans' lives were in the hills. There was corn growing everywhere, people working the fields by hand and old ladies in traditional dress carrying heavy loads of collected wood on their backs, rural life that was such a far cry from life in the USA, it was hard to believe it was the next country up. We stopped for Elotes, or corn-on-the-cob at a hilltop pueblo. As we set off towards the city we saw signs for EZLN occupied territory. Big signs that declared that this was Zapatista territory and the road could not be widened. Complete with a school and EZLN baseball nets. We knew that we were heading towards Zapatista territory but we really surprised to see evidence of it so close to the road, we had assumed they would be deeper in the jungle.
We carried on through the hills and when we arrived in San Cristobal we wove through the cobbled streets full of colourful colonial buildings and found the hostel we had decided to stay at, it was cheap and central which was good but it was totally full of daft hippies which was not so good. We shared a single dorm bed and went out and roamed the streets looking for good cheap street food. The strange thing about travelling overland is that you never board a plane and arrive in another country to see the clear contrast. You never even fall asleep on a night bus and arrive twelve hours later somewhere new. Every mile we travel we are awake and conscious to take it all in; in that respect, Chiapas wasn’t so different from Guatemala at all, which wasn’t that different from El Salvador in some ways, which in turn means it wasn’t so different from Peru or parts of Chile. We weren’t transported into a Mexican dreamland of Fajitas, Luche Libre, Tequila and Sombreros but though the change wasn't as stark as we had imagined it might be the food we found was a real treat and as always there were subtle differences.
We roamed the streets eating tostadas, esquisites, elotes, camotes, arroz con leche and other great little treats you wouldn’t find in the majority of Mexican restaurants back home. Everything was so cheap, five tostadas, smothered in frijoles, avocado, queso and salsa for 10 Pesos (50p). We found the taco joints near the taxi rank and they cost 10p each so we filled up on them too. I think Sally could have bought almost everything in the market but settled for a small rug which was ridiculously cheap. I can’t wait to get home and put it with the Moroccan stuff we brought back from our trips. We are going to have to rename our house ‘Morexico’- never a bad thing.
We had been in two minds about trying to visit an active Zapatista ‘Caracol’; there are loads of reasons not to go but also they have relied heavily upon the support of the outside world to maintain the momentum of the movement. In the end, after lots of research, we decided to ride out to one and see if we could get in. We had heard that the process was pretty full-on. We were expecting to arrive at the gates, hand over our hand-written letter to an armed and masked guard to be considered by the board of governors. If we were let in, we were expecting to hand over our passports and then we were to be escorted round by another armed guard. When we got there, there were Zapatistas in masks at the gate, we waited for about fifteen minutes and were let in. There were no guns in sight and none of the women or the handful of people in the village were masked. We walked through the village with our guide who didn’t seem to be able answer many of the questions we had for him. The village was a ghost town. We recognised lots of the beautiful murals from books, magazines and online but there weren’t any people.
The uprising was twenty two years ago now and many reports online seem to suggest that the movement has retreated back into the hills with very little in the way of a battle to fight anymore. We hoped that the village we visited was the ‘tourist’ museum and that a few people were posted there to show the few visitors around and raise some money selling the odd bit of merchandise and that out there somewhere in the hills of Chiapas were Mayans living a traditional life, unthreatened by globalisation and the Mexican government. We don’t need to see that if it does exist in some way but it was cool to see the murals first hand.
After a couple of days we were desperate to get to the coast, we picked a spot in Oaxaca that we had heard good things about, 380km from San Cristobal. We got up early and descended through the hills and over to the windy coast. We passed through Tuxtla Gutierrez and took a wrong road on a complex flyover type arrangement, We should have gone about six blocks to the west and bypassed a lot of the city centre but as it was we went straight through the city, this was maybe 7am, just as the sun was rising. The roads were blocked off with tyres but there is nothing worse than being off course in the middle of the city, I could see that if we kept straight we would re-join the original route so we persisted, it was so early I thought we would get away with it. As we passed the first road block, the market that I thought we were riding through turned out to be a huge teacher protest. Maybe two hundred people had set up camp in the CBD of the city, stringing wires above the road so cars and trucks couldn't pass, there were banners and tyres blocking the roads and everywhere people were waking up on their makeshift beds. We crawled through about eight blocks of this, ducking our heads under the wires and nodding to the odd half awake protester. I think they were as bemused as us so we got away with it and carried on down to the coast. Sadly twelve protesting teachers had been killed in a neighbouring town a few weeks earlier.
At one point we were riding at 30kmh through a wind farm, the bikes at almost a 45 degree angle which was pretty stressful. When we got to the spot, it was desolate, a big expanse of windy beach with nothing but one fancy surf camp. We knew there were spots in the area and in the mornings the wind would be offshore but the prospect of camping in a boiling hot, windy Star Wars style landscape wasn’t really appealing to either of us. We also heard that the surf guides from the camp and a couple of others in the area will threaten you and force you to pay to surf the spot if they let you at all. They advertise ‘empty waves’ to their rich clients and enforce this through violence and extortion. What a world we live in. We went to the nearest city which was about fifteen kilometres away and were debating staying there for the night. We got talking to an old guy who was inviting us back to his house to stay and eat and see his boat. Super nice of him but we decided to split and ride another 130km to the next spot; he assured us it was nicer and a lot less windy.
So after 510km, one of the longest days riding on the trip so far, we arrived in a beautiful little tropical beach village and negotiated a crazy good price for a little wooden cabaña to stay in. We were excited to surf this spot, it was the home of a ‘secret’ competition in the mid 00’s and has a very good reputation. We caught a couple of days of alright waves there, pretty small but still a lot of fun. When we pulled Sally’s board out of the bag for the first surf, we noticed a huge crease across the top, must have been El Salvador, the last time we used them. We rode the board up to Puerto Escondido and put it in for repair and went back to our cabaña just in time for a four day long tropical storm to hit. The cabaña had a solar panel but it wasn’t too great, especially when the sun didn’t shine for four days. We sat in the dark with biblical rain coming down for a couple of days with nothing at all to do which wasn’t a highlight of the trip but it was kind of cosy. As soon as the storm cleared we headed to Puerto Escondido to pick up the board.
Mañana, of course. They hadn’t even started it yet. We pitched the tent in a hostel on the beach and hung out, read, cooked and relaxed for a couple of days until the board was finished. The surf was flat so there was no Puerto Escondido show to watch unfortunately. Oaxaca had the real ‘traveller’ vibe. Dudes with short dreadlocks and bandanas practising ‘bar flair’ on the beach, dudes wearing ponchos (seriously, it’s 35 degrees), Bob Marley coming from every speaker, the sickly smell of weed coming from every group of sunburned layabouts and we even heard rap-metal coming from one group. Rap Metal. It’s 2016.
We were having a nice time in Mexico but were keen to find our ‘vibe’. Once the board was finished, which they did a great job, we loaded up and headed to Guerrero. We found a spot on Ioverlander about half way to our final destination and set up camp on the beach for the night. Early the next day we made our way to the next spot we had in mind, a classic longboard point-break. It was small and we had no longboards so after one day’s camping on the beach under a palapa, we headed to the next place. Following miles of dirt roads down to the beach, we arrived on a cool little scene. A few Americans had been surfing that morning, the swell was finally picking up and were eating at a basic little cantina drinking a couple of post surf breakfast beers. We asked the ladies running the cantina whether it would be OK to camp and they were happy to have us, they didn't want us to pay as they couldn't guarantee security, nor did they have any amenities, i.e. bathroom or shower but the deal was that we would buy breakfast from them and what a great deal it was. We jumped in the water and had a really fun surf, when we came out, the whole place was deserted, leaving just us alone with a little palapa to set the tent up under, it felt great to be free camping again, always good not to spend money and appreciate the solitude of the wilderness. The next seven days followed a pretty similar structure- wake up early, make coffee, surf good waves with nice people, eat a great breakfast from the chicas at the restaurant with our new friends (Kim, Mandy, Bailey and all the Texan crew you guys are the best) and maybe surf again. Once everyone left we would sit in the shade of the palapa and read until it was time to cook pancakes in the afternoon. We would then read and nap until the evening when we would cook dinner of rice, eggs, a couple of veg, left-over tortillas we scrounged from the tables that morning and some hot-sauce. We would then sit up drinking the neat vodka some American guys left us until we would retreat to the tent and sweat and sleep until morning. Pretty good.
Guerrero has a reputation for being a very dangerous state in Mexico, we felt a bit stupid camping on the beach, like we were maybe pushing our luck but at the same time we felt safe so we kept doing it. The last night a truck pulled up at about ten pm, it was dark and the headlights lit up the tent as we drifted off. We woke up immediately and snapped into action; this was it. We were pretty calm and held it together but we knew were about to get robbed, probably at gunpoint, in the rain that night on the beach. We stashed a few important things, hard drive, passports, bank cards etc in our board bags we sleep on and sat tense and stiff waiting for the tent door to open. We weren’t sure if it would be a gun or machetes, we weren't sure how many of them there were but we waited it out. After ten minutes or so of holding our breath, the truck left. Just us again. We breathed a big sigh of relief, although Sally was convinced they were just doing a reccy and would be back in the night to finish the job. She looked like she wasn’t going to sleep all night but ten minutes later was fast asleep. We feel lucky that everyone was so friendly and our experience free camping in Guererro was so safe and enjoyable, we really hoped it would be. In fact, as we were packing up to leave, we moved a helmet and found $60 tucked into a boot. So our tent did get broken into while we were out surfing- not to steal from us but to leave us an anonymous donation. Whoever that was, thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts, it means more than you will ever know.
A week of feral beach life is a good amount of time in one go for us, any more than that and in this kind of heat and it starts to get a bit much, we knew how much money we had saved by free camping all that time so were dreaming of a cold beer and a room somewhere new. We rode north into Michoacan, another state with a terrible reputation for violence and cartel activity and found a sleepy beach town with a world class left hand point break. We negotiated a really good price on a wooden cabaña all to ourselves for a few days. Well within our budget but came with electricity, private bathroom and shower, kitchen and fridge. It had a balcony and a front porch and you can see and hear the sea from it. I think it might be the most beautiful place we have stayed since Alejandro’s Chilean cabaña in November last year and man that cold one tasted so good.
We hope to be in Baja in a few days and will update when we can. We've been travelling with some Australians in an amazing van heading the same route with us and look forward to some more good waves together.
Thanks for the patience. x