Day 25 (1/11/11)
At 4pm, it's time to start loading the bicycles and make our way to the ferry. We get hugs from Matteo and Mel – we probably won’t see Matteo again because he’s taking a different route down the mainland, but Mel promises to catch up to us in the next couple of weeks. After living with these two for a full four days in La Paz, it almost feels like we’re saying goodbye and leaving home again. We feel a bit sullen as we pedal away from the hotel.
With our bikes fully loaded again, it takes a few kilometers to get used to the weight and change in maneuverability…and extra effort it takes to get up a hill. We make it to Pichilingue quicker than expected despite a slight headwind. There are two ferry companies out of Pichilingue: Baja Ferries runs Tue/Thu/Sun for 890 pesos and takes 12 hours, while TWC runs Wed/Fri/Sat for 810 pesos and takes 16 hours. Neither company charges extra for bicycles and tickets can be purchased directly at the ferry terminal. It is recommended to arrive 2 hours early. We are 2-1/2 hours early, giving us time to purchase our ferry tickets from Baja Ferries , eat dinner and rearrange our bags to separate what we want to carry with us on board the ferry (the cargo area will be locked upon departure and there will be no access to our bicycles until we get to Mazatlan).
We wait around in a parking lot alongside semi-trucks and passenger cars unsure of exactly where we fit into the whole mix – there is definitely a lack of personnel around to ask questions. At about 7pm, gates are unlocked and vehicles start moving, so we follow along – traffic is heading up to the commercial port we investigated yesterday and we’re glad we’ve been here before, so this dark road feels less intimidating. The line of vehicles stop behind a barricade, so we pedal to the front to ask what we do on our bicycles – the guard waves us through before the cars and directs us to the ferry for loading. As we stand there inside the belly of the boat, locking our bikes up and securing them so they won’t fall over if we encounter rough seas, all the vehicles begin driving in and people on foot start walking passed us. We double check our belongings, then fall into the crowd, making our way up to the passenger area of the ferry. We were given seat assignments when we purchased our tickets, but our seats are in a closed off area…hmm. We decide to just walk around and explore the ship for a while – we find a bar, TV lounge, mini mart, video arcade, and the cafeteria. Complimentary dinner?
Okay…we get our dinner and stare at the TV – CSI: NY in Spanish. We head back upstairs and realize there are no seating assignments – people are just sprawled out anywhere they feel like on the floor and across seats. We grab 2 rows of double seats and lay down to sleep. The TV is blasting and the lights are bright as day, but we’ll make due. Day 26 (1/12/11)
We aren’t sure how many times we woke up last night. The TV stayed on until at least midnight and the lights were never turned down. We also hit some pretty big swells that kept rocking us back and forth through at least half the trip; Shirley woke up several times hoping the bicycles were okay. At 7:30am a movie comes on – we are supposed to be in Mazatlan at 8am. We sit and we watch and we wait. At 9:30am, we decide to go on deck to see how far we are from land. We watch sailboats cruising along, birds catching fish, and a school of dolphins swim by. It’s now 10:30am and we begin making our way into the harbor – we can already see that the coast of mainland Mexico is much more crowded than Baja’s.
We head back inside and go below deck to retrieve our bicycles…which are still standing upright! We pedal away from the ferry and make our way to the Historical Center of Mazatlan. As we reorganize our bicycle panniers, a little 3-year-old Mexican girl comes over to check us out. She’s really interested in Yannick’s little chicken perched on his front rack. As people walk by and talk to us, at least 3 couples ask us how we manage to travel on our bikes with our daughter. We laugh and explain she isn’t ours – she just likes to play with us and her mom is over there.
We ride around the city and visit the pedestrian street, some plazas, the cathedral, and the Market. It’s so crowded! We aren’t sure if it’s this busy all of the time or if it’s because there are two cruise ships docked at the harbor, plus all the people that just got off our ferry. Soon, we have enough of the Mazatlan madness and make our way out of the city. The roads are extremely busy and cars cut us off left and right, but as we get to the outskirts of town, we have a wide shoulder to ride along, making us feel more comfortable. After we pass the airport and make the turn onto highway MEX-40 to Durango, we are back to what we are used to: a 2-lane highway with less traffic, allowing drivers to calm down and be nice to us bicyclists again. Along the road, there is a lot of overgrown shrubbery and we wonder what camping will be like tonight. It’s really warm and we’re sweating profusely – good thing it’s cooler in the afternoon? At 5pm, we make our way up a hill and Yannick spots a dirt path off a turnout. He investigates and says it might work for camp, so we roll our bikes down the narrowing pathway and into the trees.
There is a pretty flat area that Shirley works on for our tent platform…and voila!…perfect camp, away from the road, and completely hidden from view. It’ll be a great first night in mainland Mexico. The temperature is nice now and we sit listening to the insects all around us…so different than the silence of Baja’s desert camping.Day 27 (1/13/11)
We wake up and are mentally ready to tackle the big climb ahead of us – Durango sits on a plateau 7,000ft above us. Our first stop of the day is Villa Concordia, a quaint little town that we find quite appealing. When we move on, we battle the long uphill as the temperature steadily rises until it reaches 38 degrees Celsius. The first 40km are full of construction trucks; a new road is being built parallel to Hwy40, which is the road we are on. The highway winds back and forth with tight turns that are a bit precarious when double semi-trucks coming in opposite directions take the turns next to us. We give them a lot of credit for being able to drive their heavy loads on these twisting roads! We are also grateful for the quieter road after we pass the last construction zone.
As we stop for another break in a small village, a little pig wanders by us and gets scared when he notices us, so he runs across the street to the schoolyard filled with children. Along the highway, we pass by burros (donkeys) and goats also wandering freely.
By 3pm Shirley is really feeling exhausted, so we stop at a small store to buy some cold drinks and yogurt to cool off a little. Refreshed, we resume the hill climb and pass by a sign indicating we are at 1,700m and are crossing into The Tropic of Cancer. By 4:30pm, we stop for another break and Shirley is pretty much out of juice. We decide to make camp nearby since we’re pretty close to the end of the day anyway. Tonight we camp among pine trees! As we towel off before bed, Shirley asks Yannick to check something behind her ear…it’s a tick! She felt it bite her around lunch time, but she just thought it was one of those annoying no-see-ums that have been biting her all day. It takes a while, but Yannick finally removes the tick – no mark left on her ear, thank goodness! Too much going on fir Shirley today – she’s ready to have dinner and get a good night’s sleep. Day 28 (1/14/11)
As we pack our Ortlieb panniers, we know the uphill isn’t over. Fifteen minutes into the ride, we pass 2,000m of elevation.
We’re riding along El Espinazo del Diablo (The Devil’s Backbone) all day, which consists of steep uphills and a few steep downhills along ridges and vertiginous mountain cliffs. The views are spectacular and the traffic is not nearly as bad as yesterday. Being above 2,000m all day, we feel the rarified air in our lungs as we use the granny gear for all of the slopes. The benefit of being up high is that the air temperature is cooler. It didn’t exceed 23 degrees Celsius all day…very pleasant. Along the way, we pass by mountain springs and streams, giving us opportunities to refill water, wash up, and even do a bit of laundry…reminding us a little of our PCT days (except there is no one to wash his stinky socks upstream from us :) .
By mid-morning, we enter the state of Durango and change times again (now 2 hours ahead of Los Angeles). At 4pm, we complete the Devil’s Backbone as we pass our first military checkpoint on the mainland. We are on the high plateau, which surprisingly reminds us a lot of Tuolumne Meadows in September. At 5pm, we get to a large altitude town (3,000 inhabitants) and we head for the grocery store and the taco stand. Then, it’s the final sprint out of town to find a camp spot out of sight…and out of mind.Day 29 (1/15/11)
It was a cold night last night. We are reluctant to step outside the tent to get ready. When we finally do, the thermometer reads -2 degrees Celsius (28 degrees Fahrenheit) at 8:45am. Much cooler than the previous morning, so Yannick pulls out his GPS to check our altitude – it reads 2,800m (9,200ft). No wonder it’s been hard going uphill lately! :) But we love it. The higher the better! We are acclimating nicely and feel our bodies getting stronger. We spend the better part of the day above 2,500m and despite the rarified oxygen, we enjoy every minute of it. The landscapes are gorgeous and Yannick wants to stop every 5 minutes to take pictures! We see ice on the side of the road, views of great mountain communities, and even catch a glimpse of what appears to be a cougar (a big cat for sure).
For those interested in visiting this part of Mexico, the road between Mazatlan and Durango (Mex40) is a must…and take the "Libre" road versus the “Cuota.” The free road is in good condition with very little traffic on it, which cyclists will appreciate. One town the free road passes through, which the toll road bypasses, is Llano Grande.
As we pedal by, the town doesn’t look like anything particularly special, but soothing music being broadcasted over the whole down draws us in. After passing by people at the tiny market and others hanging out at the community center, we find the source of the music – a church on the edge of town. We decide to have a late lunch on a bench in the church courtyard to enjoy this rare moment. Soon, a man walks over to us with his bicycle and engages conversation. He eventually invites us to stay at his place…“mi casa es su casa” for bicyclists. We have to refuse though – we want to make it closer to Durango and we don’t want to take advantage of his offer. After leaving the town, we go through a couple long, twisting downhill sections that are so much fun! We speed down the hill, then climb, climb, climb back up…and zoom doooooown again, then climb back up. Gotta earn those downhills! The other nice thing about racing down hills is that we get to rack up the mileage at the same time. We make it further than expected and end the day less than 30km from Durango. Day 30 (1/16/10)
It gets colder and colder as we venture inland. When the alarm rings at 7:30am, it is really cold: -8 Celcius (16 Farenheit) outside. So much for being “technically” in the tropic!
Our water bottles are halfway frozen solid. There is frozen moisture in the tent fly…so we wait for the sun. Around 9:30am, we head for the big town. Since it is mostly downhill, we get to Durango rather quickly (11:00am). Usually we don’t like big towns. They overwhelm us with the noise and chaos that seems to be the norm…but Durango’s historico centro
is pleasant, quiet (on a Sunday morning), and has beautiful architecture.
We eat a copious breakfast of taquitos, gorditas, tamales and enchiladas, plus a drink called champurrado. We check-in at the cheapest hotel in town (Hotel Buenos Aires, US$14). The room has a queen bed and we can put the bikes inside but no windows, and no internet.
Next we explore the city on foot…for a change :) We window shop as we walk down the pedestrian-only street, visit the majestic cathedral, explore the market, and people watch at the plazas. We make mental notes for where we'll stop for desert later in the evening as we drool over ice cream, pastries, chocolates, churros, and other sweets tempting us from little shops that we pass. We eventually make up our minds for dinner plans, then go back to the plaza where a band is playing and loads of people from town are gathered to enjoy the Sunday festivities. And now, here we sit at an ice cream shop just having finished a banana split. We’ve logged 2200km so far since departing Los Angeles a month ago. And we are feeling strong!