You're here for a good time, not for a long time.

You're here for a good time, not a long time.

May 9, 2011

Hit the Ground Running

Mexico is known as ‘la tierra de manana’ (the land of the big tomorrow); with the combination of laid back Mexican culture and extreme heat, everything can always be taken care of the next day.  With both of us under this spell, it’s a wonder that Alex and I ever made it to Cuernavaca at all.  Somehow, after three days of hard riding, we trudged in right on time.  And even though we’ve been in no hurry since we arrived, this has been one of the most action-packed weekends of the trip.

Al and I intended to wake up at 7:00am again on Friday for our final leg to Cuernavaca.  I made plans with Cintia via Skype to meet in the town center at 1:00pm.  But after the past 1000 kilometers of hard riding under the Mexican sun, we didn’t get out of our hotel until around 9:30am.  As usual, we were trying to avoid the tolls so we chose to ride over a twisty windy mountain road to get there.  According to Google, the ride from Toluca to Cuernavaca takes about an hour and a half… if you know where you’re going.

We started out in the morning and took the first high volume road we encountered.  Over the past few days of wandering through Mexico it came to our attention that when we follow the main roads, they always lead to where we want to go.  Because every street here loops around on itself, there are eventually see signs leading to the destination if you stick it out.  Friday morning, that was not the case. 

The two of us rode through Toluca at least thirty minutes before deciding that we simply had no clue how to get to Cuernavaca.  We stopped at an Oxxo (Mexico’s AM/PM) and started asking for directions. 

The peculiar thing about Mexicans is that they want to help so much that sometimes they will start making up directions to a place even though they have no clue how to get there.  This happened about three times to me before I finally met a lady who actually knew the area.  I never caught her name, but this professionally dressed, middle-aged, Mexican woman sat down in her SUV and drew me a map, wrote step-by-step directions, and also listed all the little towns we would be riding through.  She is a veterinarian and an excellent cartographer. 

Pulling away a hint of a sense of direction, Alex and I took off towards the mountains following our Post -it Note map.  Sure enough, the veterinarian angel had sent us in the right direction and we were making great time weaving through the Toluca traffic.  What Google didn’t tell us was that we were riding right into the middle of BFE Mexico and there would be absolutely no street signs leading to Cuernavaca.  Many Mexicans don’t usually travel far from where they were born; so naturally, the road signs only list the next couple villages on the road… not the major cities 100km further.

We must have turned around and asked for directions five times during the next hour and a half trying to find the one road leading over the mountain range into Cuernavaca.  The ride sent us through the most authentic Mexican villages I have yet seen; think of the guy from your imagination who is wearing a sombrero while sitting on a donkey wearing a fat mustache and a pancho… yepI waved to him as I rode by.  Finally, though, we made it to the Y in the road and Cuernavaca was assuredly to the left.

A word on Mexican roads, they are absolute shit.  There are no guard rails.  The white and yellow lines are faded beyond recognition.  The potholes are either three inches deep or filled in two inches higher than necessary.  The shoulder (if there is one)  is actually a passing lane (or a parking spot).  There are strawberry vendors on the side of the freeway.  And on top of all of it are non-marked speed bumps of varying sizes indiscriminately placed everywhere you might be inclined to go fast.  Like I mentioned, though, somehow it all flows better than the constant gridlock we encounter every day in the United States.

With only an hour left until our meeting time, Alex and I hit the mountain road to Cuernavaca hard.  After being pulled over by some cheerful cops who checked ourID’s, we sped off into the best ride of the entire trip.  The two-lane road climbed high into an evergreen ambiance with huge peaks looming over us in every direction.  The higher we went the more I felt like I was crossing Hwy 20 in the Northern Cascades.  We passed through farm fields, forests, and mountain lakes in some of the freshest air Mexico has to offer.  On top of the beautiful scenery, the tarmac was perfect for any motorcycle.  There were so many back-to-back turns that my arms were already tired by the time we made it to the pass.  Even better, it was all third and fourth gear riding which gives a very broad power range to take any turn at any speed.

At the topwas a Mexican national park called Lagunas de Zampoala.  From what I saw, it is a series of little lagoons tucked in the bottom of a series of valleys amongst the dense coniferous forest.  We didn’t enter because we were already cutting it close on our reunion with Cintia, but we both agreed toreturn and visit the park in the next few days before we head further south.  It was too amazing to not go back.  With twenty minutes to spare, Al and I rode into Cuernavaca and started following the signs for the town center.  Despite getting completely lost for a few miles, we arrived at the meeting place (Burger King) only ten minutes late.

Since then, Cintia has had us running rabid through Cuernavaca for the last three days.  After the initial salutations, she immediately took us to our new home about ten minutes away.  Alex and I are sharing a one room apartment with a kitchen and two beds in a gated community.  The owner, who obviously is made of Mexican money, wanted $45/night but we eventually argued him down to about $37 (still too much but it suits us well).  After a quick shower we went out for lunch and then made another huge grocery run.  If we’re paying nearly $20/night for rent, neither us is going to spend a peso on food outside of our own kitchen for the next week. 

Then it was off to the races.  Cintia took us in her car to one of my favorite bars in Cuernavaca, Los Arcos.  Los Arcos is a salsa dance bar that always has live music and plenty of covered outside seating.  The bar is planted right in the center of the town square so there is plenty of foot traffic and deep Mexican culture everywhere.  We had a great time meeting her friends and occasionally hitting the dance floor until about 12:00am… then we went to another salsa club.

Cintia next drove us and her friends to another bar called Carlos ‘n Charlie’s.  I never made it there four years ago and it’s a shame.  I have never seen dancing so suggestive yet so innocent in my life.  Both the men and the women exhibited a passion for expression that simply does not exist on the American dance floor.  I had a great time but around 2:00am the last 1,200 km caught up with me and I powered down.  Everyone else kept moving for another hour but I had to go outside, cool down, and rehydrate in the meantime.Finally, around 3:30am, Alex and I were delivered home by Cintia’s 100% sober driving.  We collapsed into bed with daylight approaching. 

Six hours later Cintia was at the door again ready to head to El Rollo, Mexico’s largest waterpark.  We got to El Rollo around 12:30pm and instantly sprinted to my absolute favorite ride.

Like all waterparks, El Rollo has a lazy river.  Ironically, though, the Mexican lazy river is the choppiest, fastest moving loop of water I have ever experienced.  The reason its torrential source.  On one corner of the loop is a man-made surf wave like you would on any cruise ship.  Water is flooded towards an upward sloped wall so people can pay to take a boogie board out and surf the ‘wave’.  Directly behind the sloped wall is a pit where the surf water pummels in and roars down an eight foot wide drain spout.

In Mexico, somehow they came up with the idea to let as many people as want pile into that pit and get swept away together.  It sounds basic, but it is the best attraction I have ever been to aside from Disneyland’s Indiana Jones ride.  The surfing wave ebbs and flows, so during the low about twenty people run in and hunker down waiting for the tsunami to rush in.  Depending on where you are, you can hold out quite a long time but eventually you will be swept away. 

I cannot explain how exciting it is to hold out against a tidal wave as long as possible until it finally takes control.  As it sends everyone towards the drain, you end up cutting down other people on the way which means it is a mass of spattering bodies draining out the end where eventually everyone is dropped into the lazy river.  The currents at the end are so intense that you can be sucked under water for ten seconds at a time without getting a chance to breath.  Just plant your feet, hold your breath, and when in doubt, grab a Mexican kid to get to the surface.  I think we went through the routine about twenty times on Saturday.

Aside from the lazy river, El Rollo is full of plenty of other attractions that have no weight limits or other common safety precautions.  We rode as many as we could but the river was where our money was spent.  The three of us left around 6:00pm exhausted and waterlogged.  Al and I got home, cooked heaps of carne asada, and had a taco buffet until we could no longer move.  That night the mosquitos had a feeding frenzy in our room and Al and I woke up absolutely covered in bites.  Since then we have been sleeping with the windows shut in an 85F degree room with concrete walls.  I consider it a strong warning for when we make it to malaria country.

Then, just ten hours later on Sunday, Cintia was knocking down the door again with more plans for the gringo visitors.  After a quick breakfast we were on the road again heading towards a Mexican archeological site called Xochicalco (pronounced Hoe-Chicago according to me).  Xochicalco is a set of ruins built into the top of a hill with stairs leading everywhere and little pyramids protruding from the top.  The most intersting part of the tor was the cultural dance taking place in the main quad under the highest point.

There were about thirty people all dressed in authentic indigenous Mexican garb including feather-filled headpieces and rattling nutshell ankle bracelets.  There was a line of drums in the middle with an old sage woman chanting and calling for resistance to the evils of the world.  Although it was scorchingly hot out, we sat and watched for at least an hour.  Most importantly, Cintia’s younger sister was one of the dancers.  After the ceremony ended we walked down to the quad to meet all the Mexican hippies.It was a whole new side of Mexico getting to knowCintia’s sister Graciela, a Spanish teacher, and her boyfriend, a documentary photographer, as well as a slew of other eclectic Mexicans who were all fired up after their big day.

Xochicalco left me so dehydrated that all I could do was go home, gorge on chorizo, and watch CSI: Miami in English.  I hate CSI, but I was at the edge of my seat last night; Alex and I have been speaking only Spanish for the past 72 hours so it was nice not to strain my brain just understand basic communication. 

Today, Monday, Alex and I are finally getting a break while Cintia is at work (she is an English teacher).  Three days done in Cuernavaca and it has delivered quite well.  We are here until next Sunday so these next few days we will be running all our errands before another weekend of intensity.  I just got sad news from the north that both Charlie and Sarah went down since we’ve been gone.  Sarah hit a pothole on a dirt road and hurt her shoulder during the inevitable laydown.  Charlie had his front tire valve stem blow out at 60mph.  That means his tire went flat instantly, he lost control after battling the wobble, and skidded across the pavement with his bike for about 100 feet.  His shoulder and wrist are messed up, but otherwise his damages sound minor.  That leaves me as the last bike standing; I’ll keep saying my prayers. 

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