Wiggling to Oaxaca

Where I Rode:

Day 1: Jalcomulco –>  Huatusco –> Coscomatepec de Bravo

Day 2: Coscomatepec –> Fortin de Flores –> Acultzingo –> Puente Colorado

Day 3: Puente Colorado –> Tehuacan –> Tecomavaca –> Cañon Sabino

Day 4: Cañon Sabino –> Cuicatlan –> Tonaltepec –> Huitzo –> Ciudad Oaxaca

 

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Rooftop sunrise on my final morning in Jalatlaco. After 4 turbulent days of white water kayak education, it was time to leave this sweet little Veracruz rafting town to continue South… but with a mixed heart. I’ve been feeling an attraction toward stability and consistency lately, and Jalcomulco is the first town I’ve crossed in a while that clearly and positively offered that possibility. A funny community, the populace is 50% locals/farmers/fisherman, 50% rafting guides. Seriously. Anyone between 16 and 35 here is either a guide or is dating one. But I felt completely welcome here from the moment I arrived, was even invited to stay in the home of a couple Chilean raft guides living here for a couple seasons. Despite the pull to nest, I felt a stronger drive to continue on South toward Oaxaca and some family that is living there for the year. So with deep appreciation and grand hopes to return, I bid Jalatlaco farewell.

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Getting out of dodge not a second too soon. The bugs in Jalatlaco were PLENTIFUL. A combination of small mosquitos and a new (to me) species of tiny black fly rendered my legs a war zone. All these little bloody dots were the result of missing a 1” band of skin with the repellant. a perfect ring of bites around my leg all formed within about 5 minutes.

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 Crossing the Rio Antigua to head South via an old suspension bridge with its deteriorating slats made me cross my fingers to avoid falling through with my heavy bike into the swift currents below. Luckily I was told the creaky sounds I heard beneath my tires were pretty common, the bridge would bend and sway quite a bit without breaking…

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Riding back up into the mountains meant cooler air and a return to small colonial towns. In Huatusco, they have quite an interesting form of tree trimming in the town square…

 

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The seemingly endless farmland South of Xalapa. These were actually squash plants being grown along a steep mountainside. Pretty neat layer of leaves floating 5’ above the ground.

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Seemingly endless ravines filled to the brim with lush green plants and flowing fresh water. Beautiful, but an energetic challenge: It seems that most of the mountain valleys run East/West as the rivers flow out to the Gulf of Mexico. So in order to travel North/South, one must climb and descend each and every ridge and valley. Not much flat ground around here.

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One of Mexico’s more confounding road tendencies: the sudden reversal of traffic to opposing lanes on tight mountain turns. I assume this is somehow related to safety for tractor trailers descending on this 16-18% grade death climb over the mountains, but a very strange experience. As I approached the turn, a large truck was descending, coming right at me in my (right) lane! Looking down at the confounding pattern of arrows painted onto the pavement, I realized that somehow it was I who was in the wrong lane. I pulled off the road to let the truck by, and proceeded to switch back and forth across the lanes of traffic with every tight turn!

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Crossing another valley out of Orizaba toward Tehuacan.

 

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 It was 7pm. The sun was starting to set and I needed a place to camp. Unaware of how populated the land ahead of me would be, I took advantage of the uninhabited old farmlands around me to scan for flat ground. Across a barren field, I saw some large caves on the hillside… I thought to myself… I bet it’s flat in there… It would be lovely to keep the tent dry from the impending evening rains… Let’s just see. I climbed up the hillside and into that big cave to find a soft, sandy dirt bottom and perfect rain protection.

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A lovely peaceful night.

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Crossing back onto the West side of the Veracruz mountains into the state of Puebla, I left behind the lush verdant landscape to return to desert conditions.

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Dense green mountainsides with a full fabric of flora competing for space and light were now brown, emaciated, desiccated plains.

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 Crossing a low river valley, the elevation dropped from the high country I’d been exploring for the last few days into low desert at about 2000’. There was virtually no breeze here and the hot air was stagnant. At one sweat-covered moment I looked at my bike computer to find it was 43 degrees Celsius. Okay, (43 X 9/5) + 32 to convert to familiar Fahrenheit equals… what? about 110 degrees. I don’t know how accurate my thermometer is, but it was the kind of heat that makes you feel like you’re slowly dying. Plus I’d managed to contract some sort of stomach virus upon leaving Jalcomulco. So with a grand exodus of liquids in every direction, I was certainly struggling to remain hydrated… and losing.

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At least the mountains around here left me enraptured with their beauty.

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Again in search of a secure campsite, I followed the vague suggestion of a friend and crossed under a locked gate with tales of abandoned but well maintained cabins hidden up a hillside by a canyon. The location had been given to me by two other cyclists who’d discovered the spot by chance a week earlier. I followed the faded 2 track for a couple of kilometers into the mountainside until it ended at this stone staircase.

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Up a small hill, I found the uninhabited compound! Two cabins, complete with mattresses and solar lighting. A shower yurt with running water from rain-filled catchment tanks was around the corner.  The shower was glorious, almost too hot from exposure to the daytime sunlight… almost. The doors were all open, just begging me to stay. So I did. 

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 Turns out this was an ecotourism campground. Signage explained that this was a habitat for the endangered species of parrots called Guayacamas. They lived in the huge canyon up the mountainside from here. Even though I’d already ridden for 10 hours that day, of course I had to hike up and see… It would be a short 1000’ climb up to the overlook of the canyon. Sunset would be coming soon, so I had to hurry!

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Interesting new species of plants, new to my eyes,

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Flowers,

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 Succulents,

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Trees,

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Other succulents.

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 Having climbed about 1200’ up the mountainside, I arrived at the bird viewing area. A small trail lead down a steep embankment to the canyon rim.

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 Wow. Enormous cliffs dropping 1000’ into a small river drainage. I guess all the parrots love nesting in in the little pockets along the cliffside. Unfortunately I think I arrived a bit too late in the evening, they’d all turned in for the night. I could only hear their squawking echos up the cliffs while I watched the setting sun over distant mountains.

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Oh, wait. Setting sun. That means it’s getting dark. In my haste to hit the trail I completely forgot to bring my headlamp. I rushed back down the mountainside on the steep loose rocky trail with failing flip-flops, arriving back the cabins with just enough light to see the trail before me. Given the location in a deep valley at low elevation, the cabin was almost unbearably hot. Stripping down and laying on one of the mattresses, I sweated myself to sleep…. for a few hours…

Some time later I awoke to a flashlight shining in my face. Still nude, I rushed to cover myself from the unknown intruder.

“Que haces aqui??” He said, asking what i was doing in the cabin.

Turns out the doors had only been left unlocked because guests had reserved the cabins for the following night, and the group had just arrived before sunrise to hike up the trail and see the parrots. The staff was entering to clean and prep the cabins for visitors when they encountered my bare ass. As I rushed to get dressed, I tried to come up with some half-assed excuse for my presence while hastily packing up my gear. They told me they could call the police, that I was trespassing. I should have known better. This place was far too well kept to be abandoned. But my excitement about the place, combined with uneventful story shared by my cyclists friends’ stay, led me to overlook logic. Lesson learned. Luckily they did not report me. I apologized profusely and rolled the bike back down the stone steps as the dawn light began to emerge.

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Tired, jarred, and embarrassed, I hit the road for my final 130km day of riding into Oaxaca.

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Still deep in the low mountain valley, it got hotter fast. By 9am it was already over 100 degrees. Still very tired and dehydrated, I struggled to stay on the bike once the road veered uphill to begin a big, 6000’ climb. After my 3rd stop within 30 minutes of climbing, I didn’t have it in me to continue. I hid in the shade for 30 minutes, fighting against my negative thoughts, and came to a challenging decision.

Since getting off the Alaska ferry over a year ago, I’d only accepted one single ride, back to onto my route from a 750-mile detour to Burning Man. I have taken deep pride in knowing I propel myself through all the terrain, the steep hills and endless valleys. I only took that one ride from Burning Man to save the 2 week bike ride back to my planned route on the Colorado Trail for fear of being too late in the season. But in this moment my ego was no match for the dehydration, exhaustion and onset of heat-related illness. I flagged a pickup truck and reluctantly loaded the bike into the flatbed. Hilariously, the truck climbed up the hillside for only 2km and 800’ before it stopped again to drop me off. The men in were working to reintroduce vegetation to the hillsides by the road and had arrived at their worksite. Somehow, magically, that 2km was enough to put me back onto the saddle. I thanked the kind men profusely for saving my ass, and continued to ride. My pride was more injured than anything else in that moment. Perhaps not such a bad thing.

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Endlessly curving road climbing up the mountains, above the clouds, leaving the hot valley behind.  Over the 400 kilometers I rode from Jalatlaco to Oaxaca, I measured about 35,000’ of climbing up and over endless hillsides and mountains. Not a whole lot of flat ground in those parts!! 

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Super cool plants up in the hills.

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End of day 4. 8000’ of climbing later, I rolled down the long valley into the city of Oaxaca. My cousins Adam and Meg had moved down here for the year with their 4 year old Graciella. How lovely to be received by a sweet painting in my own private bedroom!

6 Responses

  1. Ephemera Wilde
    | Reply

    Scott, thank you for this glimpse into your journey – beautiful photographs!

    • Scott Pauker
      | Reply

      Thanks Ephemera,

      So lovely to know you. I hope we stay in touch. Important to keep the Sangha of fellow seekers together and vibrant. Love!

  2. John Fontanilles
    | Reply

    I’ve had the middle of the night, unlocked cabin, flashlight wake up as well; the joys of a traveling cyclist. And I know you of all people know this, but it’s not about the miles pedaled, its about the experiences over those miles and sometimes hitching a ride can result in an amazing experience.

    • Scott Pauker
      | Reply

      Thanks Fonty,

      I agree. The ego slowly recedes over time. But it’s surprisingly large, so it’s a long process. Funny how long it takes to learn what it’s all about. A lifetime.

  3. Mom
    | Reply

    We’ve missed these wonderful entries, thanks for posting.
    Hard for a Mom to see bug bites and dehydration, but comforting to know you survived!
    Gorgeous flowers and mountain views — sorry you didn’t get to see the parrots.
    VERY brave to spend a night in a mountain cave — any other living creatures sharing?
    Bless Adam and Meg for the respite!
    Where are you now?

    • Scott Pauker
      | Reply

      Hi Mom! I’m in Chiapas. San Cristobal de las Casas. Let’s talk soon!

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