Cycling in Southern Mexico from Oaxaca to Tapachula

Map of our route in Southern Mexico with some of the spots we visited: a) Oaxaca; b) San Jose del Pacifico; c) Zipolite; d) Salina Cruz e) Zanatepec; f)Arriaga (just after crossing in Chiapas); g) Pijijiapan; h) Mapastepec; I)Tapachula and j) Ciudad Hidalgo (border with Guatemala)

Map of our route in Southern Mexico with some of the spots we visited:
a) Oaxaca; b) San Jose del Pacifico; c) Zipolite; d) Salina Cruz e) Zanatepec; f)Arriaga (just after crossing in Chiapas); g) Pijijiapan; h) Mapastepec; I)Tapachula and j) Ciudad Hidalgo (border with Guatemala)

Oaxaca state is a seductress. From the amazing UNESCO world heritage colonial city of Oaxaca where there is always something happening in its leafy central plaza to the indigenous villages in its mountains and on the hot, humid coastline, to its beautiful beaches and delicious cuisine, it is hard to pull yourself away because you are just enjoying life so much. We pulled ourselves away from Oaxaca city after over two weeks there and soon find ourselves in Playa Zipolite on the Oaxacan coast for another two weeks.

Leaving Oaxaca city, we rode in the flat Valley of Oaxaca for the first 60km and then the road steeply rises after Miahuatlan where it became unrelentingly uphill.

Mountains in Oaxaca

Mountains in Oaxaca

Bryan had found a little shade at one point and was waiting for me to catch up. He asked if I wanted a water break and I said, “We’re almost at the top. I’ll stop for some water there.” Well a few switchbacks later, we indeed reached that place I thought was the top. There were signs that said “Cerro Metate” Mt. Metate. You would think that once you get to the top of a mountain, there would be a little downhill on the other side. Well these mountains defy that logic. There was another about 4 km after that before I saw the first level looking, maybe even a little downhill dip at San Andres. Roads don’t seem to consider the grade here. I think it’s because there were well used walking and donkey trails before roads. Though the landscape is dramatic with tall mountains covered with pine trees and deep canyons, houses dot the steep mountainsides like tin stars in a field of lush green. The ride is challenging but it was amazingly beautiful. With every switchback climbing up the mountain, I would look back out onto the valley that we rode in from Oaxaca city on and marvel at how small and toylike the farms and towns have become. As we crossed into the mountain range, it was mountains after mountains, like wave peaks on an endless sea. The colour of the mountains would fade from deep green to green with bluish tinge then blue and then lighter and lighter shades of blue until it seemed to meld with the blue sky. Donkeys brayed, seemingly working themselves up into a bit of an hilarously sounding braying frenzy, echoing through the narrow valleys and rising up to the ridgelines. Turkeys gobbled and dogs barked as we pedaled past their home ranches.

San Jose del Pacifico

San Jose del Pacifico

We made it to San Jose del Pacifico, is a little indigenous village / hippy hangout at 2500 m elevation full of cheap “cabanas.” It is really tranquil here as the village sits on a ridgeline right below a peak with sweeping valley canyons on both sides. A mist rolls in in the late afternoon, reminding me of the Himalayas. It is amazingly cold here and I wear both my hoodies and my toque. It is hard to believe that we’re only 125km from the hot, tropical beaches on the coast! It is very peaceful here in this couple restaurants and couple stores village that we can walk across in under 5 minutes. We have a cleansing ceremony with Shaman Navarro (see previous blog post – https://maggiemwoo.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/temazcal-with-shaman-navarro-in-san-jose-del-pacifico/) afterwhich we felt completely rejuvinated.

Temazcal with shaman Navarro

Temazcal with shaman Navarro

After Suchixtepec, a little indigenous town perched on top of a mountain with steep cliffs on all sides with houses, shops and farm fields that seemed to defy gravity, the road dived off the mountainside in a series of steep switchbacks.

Our ride from San Jose has been one of my favorite in the whole trip maybe because of our temazcal cleansing ceremony but also because we saw the landscape change before our eyes from 2500m elevation to almost sea level. We rode down canyons for kilometres after kilometres, hardly pedaling but giving our breaks a work-out on the windy roads. We went from little indigenous villages perched high on mountain ridges and the steepest corn fields i’d ever seen, through pine forests fluttering with butterflies and the sounds of birds, down into little homesteads surrounded by banana trees and small coffee planations nestled in the dense jungle.

Into the tropics! Goodbye pine forests. Hello luscious bananas!

Into the tropics! Goodbye pine forests. Hello luscious bananas!

It was walls of vegetation with vines hanging from trees that crowded every possible space, especially near the streams. Huge green leaves draped from tall trees and bamboo groves sprung thickly on the side of the road. Every once in a while, there would be streamers of colours hanging over the road in the brilliant greens, broadcasting a little village with a little church and friendly people who would wave and say hi to us.

We got to the beaches of Oaxaca and immediately fall in love with the funky Playa Zipolite with its 2.5km stretch of sandy beach and free-spirit attitude where nudists strolled the beach beside hippies with a head full of dreadlocks, yogis stretching in the sunshine and surfers dancing in the pounding waves. Zipolite is known as one of the only nude beaches in Mexico.

Playa Zipolite

Playa Zipolite

We spent two weeks at Zipolite and tried boogie boarding and bodysurfing the crashing waves. Nude bodysurfing is an interesting experience as the powerful waves bring us to the sandy shore. Boogie boarding is a lot harder than it looks! The name Zipolite is from a local indigenous language meaning “beach of the dead”, a reference to the strong ocean currents and the wicked waves. In our first time, we shot out into the crashing waves and we were all shown Mother Nature’s power. Boogie boarding, like surfing, is an art. You have to be at the right place at the right time to hit a wave in the right wave. A little too early or at the wrong angle and the wave crashes on you and tosses you around. The wave took me and smacked my face into the sand. I came up a little shook up with a scratch on my cheek under my eye but fine. Looking more like a pirate seems like a trend on this beach. Talking to people after, it seems like learning the respect for the waves and its tremendous power is a common first lesson. Hubert, a friend from our hotel said “It happens to everyone!” He pointed to his ear “The board hit me here.” I tried boogie boarding again a little later and it was wicked fun. The waves tried to pull my board under the water again but now I knew and kept it up for a wicked ride in the froth to the shore.

Stephan with Bryan and I

Stephan with Bryan and I

We also spent our time in Zipolite relaxing in hammocks, dancing under the stars at a bonfire on the beach for Valentines and celebrating my 27th birthday with Stephan, a friend who lives in Prague that makes very persuasive suggestions for us to continue our cycling journey in Europe.

After Zipolite, we fly like the wind and ride all the way from the beautiful beach to Tapachula by the Mexican/Guatemalan border. We ride 650km of our total 912km of this portion, over two thirds of the distance in one third of the total time spent in Southern Mexico!

Our warmshower host’s kids took me on a boat ride in Laguna La Cotorra

After being in the mountains for so long where you work really hard to make a 65km day, grinding uphill at 5-7km an hour, it is really amazing to do 20km/hr on flats again. We rolled out of Salina Cruz at around 7:30am and was already in Tehuantepec, 18km away, by 8:30am and then eating our second breakfast at the Oxxo by Juchitan at 10am with 42km riden from Salina Cruz already! The roads were good, with shoulders and they were so FLAT!! We have not had such flat stretches since the Baja. By around noon, we have made it to La Ventosa about 60km from Salina Cruz. We are riding through rows and rows of wind turbines that was lazily spinning.

I am reminded of Don Quiote with my metal steed, charging through the field of these white metal spinning giants. However, I am not here to battle the wind turbines themselves as Don Quiote fought the windmill thinking it was a ferocious giant. No, we race across the flat lands in defiance of the invisible force that propells the turbines and mills – the wind itself! La Ventosa is renowned for being a windy places. It is located in the mi ddle of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where the land narrows and it is the shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. Located between the high mountains of Oaxaca and the high mountains of Chiapas, the isthmus is also flat and becomes a crazy wind channel. The winds can get ferocious here – so much so that when the winds really blow, the road is closed first to trucks and trailers and then to the heavier vehicles like SUVs and vans as the wind will blow them off the road. On a bike, it would be absolute hell. Bryan and I, however, was really lucky. The winds were just a breeze when we rode through. Knowing the horror stories that this place could hold and also rejoicing in the amazing ability to just fly over the flat land, we decided to keep riding and made it to Zanatepec that night. We did 130km in one day, which is our longest yet!

Bryan with Rodrigo's son picking mangos

Bryan with Rodrigo’s son picking mangos

We stayed with an amazing Warmshower’s host in Zanatepec. Rodrigo and Lupita have been so nice to invite us into their homes and into their family as if we were old friends. We get to their house a day earlier than we arranged and it is no problem. We start getting settled into our room and Rodrigo asks what all cyclists dream of hearing, “Have you eaten yet? Are you hungry? Lupita will cook you up something.” Lupita cooks us up a delicious meal of steak tacos, serving up huge cyclist portions to Bryan and I each. Rodrigo then helps us by calling Noe, the next warmshowers host down the road who mainly speaks Spanish and arranges for our stay there in a few nights!

Camping as trolls under a bridge just before Pijijiapan, Chiapas

Camping as trolls under a bridge just before Pijijiapan, Chiapas

Mapa in the evening

Mapa in the evening

We cross out of Oaxaca state and into Chiapas and soon we get to Mapastepec, which is a bigger town than we knew. We were riding and riding through town and I was starting to wonder how we’re going to find Noe’s house. The instructions we got from Rodrigo is that Noe lives in the centro so riding there and then ask for Noe’s house. As the town started to look quite big, I was starting to doubt that a random person on the street would know Noe and where he lived! However, as we’re riding along the main road, we hear “Hola!” It is Steve, a Canadian cyclist from Montreal who we had Christmas with in Guadalajara! Steve is also staying with Noe. Noe was not actually even in town but his family took us in like we were family. Such amazing people.

Crossed 6000km ridden by Pijijiapan on our way to Noe's house. We are here with Noe's wonderful wife, Anita, and daughters

Crossed 6000km ridden by Pijijiapan on our way to Noe’s house. We are here with Noe’s wonderful wife, Anita, and daughters

Riding in Chiapas

Riding in Chiapas

The rest of our ride in Chiapas state was relatively flat beside the towering Sierra de la Madre. It is really lush here with lots of greenery. We rode through fields after fields of mango trees. The tall green leafy trees line the roads, filling the air with the sweet fragrance of their flowers. Unfortunately, we’re still a little early for the mangos. It is still orange season here and the mango trees are still either in flower or have small, unripe green fruit on them though apparently there are some types of mangos that are ready now. After being tantalized by hundreds of kilometres of green mangos literally hanging over the highway, we find some stands with big, ripe mangos and feast! We ride over 100km from Mapastepec to Tapachula in one day for our last night in Mexico. It has been a fun 4 months and we enjoyed our last night doing what we like best – eating delicious tacos el pastor and ice cream!

SOUTHERN MEXICO STATS

  • Oaxaca de Juarez to Tapachula
  • Feb 3, 2014 to Feb 28, 2014 
    Departed Oaxaca on Feb 3 Arrive in Zipolite on Feb 8; 12 days in Zipolite
    Depart Zipolite on Feb 20; 9 days from Zipolite to Tapachula on the Mexican/Guatemalan border
    This section consisted of 26 days
    Day 155 to 180 (of overall trip) – roughly month 6 in the trip
  • Total km travelled – 911.5km
  • Daily average – 82.9 km per riding day (11 out of 26 were riding days)
  • Number of rest days – 15 days (including the 12 days in Zipolite!)
  • Route – Hwy 175 from Oaxaca to Puerto Angel then just up the road a little to Zipolite. From Zipolite/Potchutla, we rode on Hwy 200, the “coastal highway” to Salina Cruz where it changes names to Hwy 185 until switching to Hwy 190 around La Ventosa and then back to Hwy 200 around Zanatepec. The rest of the route is on Hwy 200 to the border.
  • Weather – 26 days sunny
  • Accommodation – 18 nights hotel (including 12 nights at hotel in Zipolite), 4 nights wild camp, 4 nights warmshowers