Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Espinazo del Diablo

"Shrimp, shrimp, shrimp, shrimp" so began my mantra after 20 km of being beaten in the face by some seriously nasty headwind on our way into the city of Durango. I couldn't wait to get to Mazatlan and the beach.

Durango was a pleasant surprise and it wasn't for the chocolate cake and candied pecans I found either. I swear we were the only tourists in town and yet, with it's pedestrian streets and beautifully lit colonial buildings, Durango shone as if it had just been polished up for some international touristic event. Only there was no international event. Durango is just a lively and prosperous place. If it weren't for the fact that this capital actually sees snow in the winter I'd say that I'm shocked the place isn't full of gringo retirees. While we were excited to finally be turning onto the Ruta 40 which leads to the Espinazo del Diablo, we were also sad to be leaving this gem of a place.

Onward and upward we went only to be passed by at least a hundred local riders out for a Sunday ride. The folks were unusually accessible and curious for Mexican road riders, we exchanged stories and got the details about the ride that lay ahead. Most of them knew it intimately from an annual event arranged by Vagabundos Durango that follows this route from Durango to Mazatlan in two days and attracts over 500 riders. Were were doing it in three and it was still plenty tough.

The second day we paralleled the new toll road for a good distance and then made it to the the heart of the reason we were there "the espinazo!". To say this road ribbons, undulates, or meanders is an understatement...sinuous curves- oh yes it is all of those things. You reach a point where you feel you should must begin your descent to the sea, but the road drops twists and then regains all of the altitude you just lost. It does this countless times for more than 40 kilometres. Granted you do gradually do lose some altitude, but the only thing that makes this loss feel rewarding is the sea of disappearing blue mountain ridges that wash out to the left of you as you make you way down the road. It takes a long time before the metres disappear easily. A man directing traffic around a bit of road constuction eggs us on with accolades as to our cycling prowess and how tough these hills are. Basil moans of how this might be the toughest downhill ever.

And then all of a sudden we are at the sea and eating shrimp on the beach in Mazatlan.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Plunder of Zacatecas

The canyon lands melt away behind us as the landscape yawns into a wide open high plateau. Fluffy fat cows graze all around us and signs for lienzo charro appear painted on the walls of most towns we pass through. I delight in seeing young men in big hats practicing their rope work while riding horseback on the the grassy banks between the cattle fences and the side of the road. It is obviously mating season for certain insects as the road itself is full of the carnage of millions of giant smashed grasshoppers. On top of almost every pile of smashed sex-craved bugs more grasshoppers gather to copulate.

In Fresnillo, we hope to see some Day of the Dead celebrations, but upon leaving our hotel and making our way to the main drag, we are left speechless by a river of of parents dragging their costumed kiddies to every store in sight silently begging for treats. My feelings are so terribly confused. I love seeing kids dressed up, and, there is no argument, Mexicans know how to rock a wicked costume, but to know that commercialism and the pursuit of candy had pushed such a rich and healing celebration completely into the background is, well, troublesome. Given that this day is actually All Soul's Day and not All Hallow's Eve - this feels like little more than a greedy commercial opportunity at the expense of a much profounder tradition.

And so on we ride into the wind and ever higher into the wide open expanse that is the centre of Zacatecas. Halfway down the road we find a traffic jam. A transport truck has turned over and lost all of its cargo. The cab is completely flattened and dozens of people are mucking about the boxes and broken glass salvaging any full bottles of beer they can carry. The driver is okay. As we arrive, fully drained, in Sombrerete home to some of Mexico's richest deposits of mineral ores. I can't help but think of the parallels between the plundering halloween wannabes of the previous day, our beer looters from the afternoon, and the plundering of the original conquistadors marauding about the Americas in search of gold and silver and any other grabable loot.

Friday, November 11, 2011

State Line Shuffle

Things have a way of falling into proper scale when out in the mountains on your bike. With the sudden end to our Day of the Dead tour we decided to head north out of Guadalajara. No plan, no preconceptions, just the vague idea that we would ride over the Espinazo del Diablo from Durango to Mazatlan. Plucking along highway 23 we had a tough time shedding Jalisco. It felt a little like a game of state line peek-a-boo as we crossed from Jalisco to Zacatecas to Jalisco to Zacatecas to Jalisco to Zacatecas to Jalisco to Zacatecas.

It was at the end of our first day that our love affair with burritos began. Having pushed harder than we should have and riding well into the night we arrived to a plate sized burrito stuffed with everything in the kitchen. The burritos that followed were never quite the same, but plenty tasty for different reasons every time.

Down the road we met the town of Teul a pretty, proud, and much forgotten about pueblo magico. Tucked away between meandering state borders, many dirt roads, and rather isolating canyons and mountains this region flies somewhat under the radar of the authorities which makes it choice turf for moving illegal merchandise. Unfortunately, there have been some flare ups over who controls the area. The locals say everything has calmed down now, but poor public perception will hang on and keep even local tourists away for a long time. Walking the streets, it's tough not to be influenced by local pride in who they are and where they are from. For us the real find were "gordas de horno en hoja de roble" aka corn dough, cheese, and strained yogurt baked on an oak leaf in a wood burning oven.

And then gorditas took front and centre stage. Chubby little corn or wheat disks patted into shape and then jammed with any variety of stews. It is tough to not stop at every roadside stand to sample each woman's rendition of carne deshebrada, picadillo, mole, or just plain and simple beans and cheese...