Southern Mexico

Written by Michelle

On our last day before leaving Mexico City, we took a day trip up to Teotihuacan, an ancient Mesoamerican city that once had an estimated population of 125,000 or more.  As we departed Mexico City, we started working our way south- to the state of Oaxaca. We were particularly excited for Oaxaca because they are known for their incredible cheese and hot chocolate. We were also excited to once again be traveling with a tent (we picked up a new tent in Chicago)!  Unlike when we were in Baja, the fall-like weather in inland Mexico was perfect camping weather.

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The ruins of a Mesoamerican village, Teotihuacan. Established around 100 BC
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The Pyramid of the Sun, the largest building in Teotihuacan and one of the largest in Mesoamerica.

Our first day back on the moto was filled with a nice twisty climb up to a gorgeous, but very chilly, high mountain pass between the high volcanoes of Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, a long dirt road descent back to more temperate conditions, and many small, but very lively and vibrant, villages. We made it to our campsite as dusk was approaching. One hundred pesos (about $5) got us a scenic campsite in a botanical garden park that included a shelter to set our tent up inside.

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Descending from the chilly mountain pass
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Small town character
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Campsite at botanical gardens

After making a hot breakfast the next morning, we packed our bags and headed off to Oaxaca City. We enjoyed the bluebird sky and mountainous twisty roads. As we pulled into The Overland Oasis, a small camping spot just outside of Oaxaca, we quickly met the other three groups staying there: a German photographer, Norbert, and his wife, Bettina, traveling south in a huge Mercedes truck rig, a Swiss couple Christa and Johann, who have been overland traveling for six years in their Landcruiser and the other was a younger California couple, Alex and Josiah, who work remotely and decided to spend a few months in Mexico. We enjoyed getting to know and connect with everyone. And yes, the cheese (which is similar to fresh mozzarella string cheese) and the hot drinking chocolate in Oaxaca were amazing!

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Oaxaca Bound

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Campsite at Overland Oasis
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Oaxaca night scene
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Oaxaca night scene

We spent election night at a bar in Oaxaca with Alex and Josiah and about 20 other American expats/travelers. I don’t want to go into it too much here, but it was a rough night to say the least. Upon exiting the bar around 1 a.m., another fellow election night watcher came up to me and said, “the look on your face all night reflects the way my heart feels.”  We were planning on packing up camp the next morning and heading out the next day, but ended up staying at the Overland Oasis an extra day, as we spent the next day moping around in a shocked and depressed state instead.

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US election day making headlines in Mexico
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Election night in Oaxaca

These past few months have been filled with so many questions about our views of the presidential candidates. Locals and travelers (from all over the world) alike, regardless if we knew them or not, would freely come up to us to ask our opinion. Multiple people have emphasized to us how much an impact the US president has on the whole world- not just Americans, or Mexicans, or Swiss, or Germans, etc. Since the election, we obviously continue to get many questions.  It amazes Evan and I that although “we” have elected a president who says disparaging remarks about Mexicans, Mexicans continue to be so welcoming and friendly.  For example, Evan and I went for a run the day after the election. Some friendly older lady heard us and came and opened her gate.  She invited us into her yard and was so excited to show us her gardens, fruit trees, and have a conversation with us (we tried to understand, as she only spoke Spanish).  Following our run, we went to the market to search for ingredients to make a veggie stew.  After buying a bunch of produce, the lady at the market grabbed another handful of potatoes and threw it into our bag with the largest smile on her face.  As we were waking away, her grandson picked up a handful of tangerines and threw them into our bag as well.  We are so thankful that Mexicans don’t treat us as disrespectfully as our president elect treats them.

When in Mexico, it is hard to stay away from the gorgeous coast for too long. So after a few nights in Oaxaca, we began heading toward the heat of the coast once again. Instead of taking the standard pavement route, we opted for connecting interesting dirt roads through many small remote villages. This required a decent amount of route finding and chatting with friendly locals, who gladly pointed us in the right direction. Although we ultimately found our way through, we ended up on a few very steep goat tracks, single tracks, farm roads and sandy walking paths. We spent a night wild camping in between a couple of the small villages. As we were setting up camp, we chatted with a local who was walking home from his days work with his donkey and bushels of corn. He was filled with smiles and jokes, which we were trying our hardest to understand in Spanish.

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Departing Oaxaca
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Riding thru a bamboo forest
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Off route in farm fields
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Singletrack fun
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River crossing to link up disconnected roads
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Dirt is fun!
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A friendly local stopped for a chat as he was walking home from work
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Wild camp
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En route to the coast
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Can you spot Michelle?

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Then Zipolite. We made it to Zipolite! Wow- what an awesome gem of a beach town- we loved it! This laid-back, clothing optional beach, and anything goes hippy town was the perfect spot for us to spend the next few days. Our typical day here included: woke up whenever, completed an hour of very sweaty plyometric exercises, made breakfast, swam/jumped in the waves for an hour or so, and then enjoyed cheap beers/dinner on the beach followed by another swim or two. Something about this place just made our hearts feel so full! We kept waking up and paying for another night at our cute bungalow until the ladies finally told us we couldn’t add anymore because they were booked up through the weekend. Time to continue on- bummer!

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Zipolite beach scene

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Local kids asked us to join them for a soccer match

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Wave jumping
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The sunsets were awesome
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Our Zipolite home

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Moto maintenance

San Cristobal de Las Casas was our next stop.  We rode two days with an overnight stay in our least favorite town yet – filled with endless trash, dust, and sickly looking stray dogs.

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Our hotel room bathroom after leaving Zipolite. Not all accommodations are luxurious.

Our ride to San Cristobal de las Casas was filled with intense fog as we rode up and over the hills. We had arrived back to the chilliness of fall, as San Cristobal is an inland town at 7000 ft elevation. Much to our surprise we ran into five other south-bound moto travelers at our hostel: Phil (who we met and had dinner with back in Baja), a South African couple, Michnus and Elsebie, who have been traveling via motos for many years, another Swiss guy, Patrick, who started in Alaska, and a solo Harley rider who started in Arizona. The South Africans, Phil, and Evan and I were all on Suzuki DR650s! It was fun to meet and chat with my first overland moto female traveler too!! It is great meeting so many other travelers- we love hearing everyone’s stories, plans, life philosophies, and prior adventures.

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Foggy ride into San Cristobal de las Casas
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Natural air plants growing off tree moss- I was in heaven!
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Colorful dried bean vendor
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The market just kept going and going!
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Interesting market finds
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Hostal in San Cristobal with our motos and friends!
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South Africans- Michnus and Elsebie

Towns that are filled with tourists drastically change the town and provide a different traveling experience. San Cristobal is filled with many poverty stricken indigenous groups who have been affected by a flooding of tourists over the last few decades. San Cristobal has the charming cobblestone streets, red tiled roofs, and old architecture buildings, but it is also filled with touristy restaurants and persistent street sellers. I have never before seen so many children street sellers as I did in San Cristobal. According to a local restaurant owner, children in Mexico are not required to go to school (even though Mexico has a free education system). Instead of sending their children to school, indigenous mothers, who often are incredibly young, send their children out on the streets to sell goods to tourists. With a lack of education themselves, the young parents are desperate for any extra money their child can help bring into the family. Many also see that their child can sell more because they are “so cute.”  Children, as young as 3-5 (often with a sibling) wandered the streets with a basket of random goods and stopped every passing tourist and at every restaurant table begging for you to purchase their good. The entire situation was really devastating. You want to help this poor family, but at the same time you don’t want to encourage families from keeping their children from attending school.  Equally as devastating was the abundance of the desperate elderly street sellers, who all appeared to be in very poor health.

Needless to say, San Cristobal was not one of our favorite places in Mexico.  (EDIT: Upon returning to San Cristobal a second time, we really did appreciate the great things the town has to offer – excellent hostels, amazing food, massive markets, and safe for walking day and night.  We went into our second visit expecting the excessive begging and peddling, so we were not caught off guard – more or less ignored it – and enjoyed the city for what it is.)   However, we were so greatful to have had the opportunity to spend much more time in Mexico than we had originally planned.  Mexico is such a great country that has so much to offer! We had a few extra days before we needed to head to another round or Spanish school in Guatemala, so we stayed in Parque Natural Ecotouristico Tziscao for a few days.

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Campsite in Parque Natural Ecotouristico Tziscao
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Looking out at the Guatemala hills from Mexico

We ran into two other motorcycle travelers in Tziscao. They were both from Puebla, Mexico and generously shared their tasty Mezcal, treated us to a beer, and shared some good conversation over the drinks. They were the second group of Mexican motorcycle travelers we have met on our trip.

The national park is embedded inside friendly indigenous villages. We walked/ran by many women washing their family’s clothes in the river and women retrieving water from the lakes and carrying it in vases on their heads back to their homes. Like many indiginous groups in San Cristobal, the locals were not speaking Spanish; the communities were still speaking their native language. It was great to see the workings of indigenous communities who have not been affected by tourism. We even walked passed a school a couple times that was full of children learning!  We camped just off Lake Tziscao, which is literally on the Guatemala border; however, there is no official border crossing to complete our exit/entry paperwork, so we had another half day of riding before we could get to the border. We did walk/run into Guatemala a couple times through. It seemed unreal, just like that we were in Guatemala! I had imagined joking with Evan when we officially crossed the border thru our Bluetooth helmet headsets and saying “this is my third time entering Guatemala.”

Unfortunately it did not happen like that. Stay tuned for our next post.

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The Mexico/Guatemala border
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Quick stroll in Guatemala

Our Route (more or less):

south-mexico-map

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