Our last morning in Tepic was something of a hassle. Instead of being fully prepared and ready go as we normally are, we still had a couple of things to take care of. Getting our roof laundry, returning the wrong medicine to the pharmacy, and simply packing our panniers. As a result we got on the road much later than anticipated. Good thing that the ride out of Tepic was beautiful and mostly fun. We had a nice breeze going while climbing up to almost 5000 feet of lush green mountains, and were pleasantly rewarded with 10 kilometers of downhill cruising at the end of the day before we got into the town of Jala.
As has become our go-to method we just simply sat down in the city plaza, watched the local happenings, and hoped to get offered a free place to stay from somebody. While the latter didn’t turn out the way we thought it might, we still got lucky. A security guard from the palacio presidencial (basically city hall) right at the plaza suggested that we simply camp in front of the building – there would be security all night, and we’d have a peaceful sleep. Once night fell however, a bunch of carnival rides that reside in Jala year round powered up in all their shiny glory and began blaring Mexican pop songs. As a result, that very kind security guard invited us into the palacio to camp on the stage of a big auditorium. We happily accepted the offer, set up our tent, and agreed that this might just be the oddest place we have ever camped at.
Shortly after we nodded off to sleep, we were suddenly awoken by something that sounded like a musical earthquake. Thundering, reverberating noises of unbelievable magnitude made us sit up in our tent and look at each other puzzledly. What was going on? We quickly found the source of this audio hell. A merry band of mariachi players apparently chose 10:30PM on a Monday night to practice their “set” (I am using the term very loosely here) in the central plaza, right outside the palacio. And by that I mean it sounded like a freestyle jazz exercise, cranked up to eleven with all the players on speed. That, or a class of sixth graders who have just started band class and are instructed by the teacher to try their new instruments out for the first time by making as much noise as humanly possible. All at the same time. Even the security guards just shook their heads in bewilderment when we asked them if this madness was normal. To our relief, if you could call it that, band practice only went on until midnight or so.
Surprisingly, we felt rather decent the next morning, no PTSD from the midnight music extravaganza. The cool, mountainous ride was an absolute delight. Perfect weather, a nice breeze, great road conditions, all of which contributed to us having a lot of fun on our bikes, even on our last 1400 feet climb. Magdalena, a town about 70 kilometers west of Guadalajara, was home base for the night. As there was no camping allowed in town and a huge thunderstorm was about to dump massive amounts of rain on us, we decided to give ourselves a break and turn in at a hotel. Hotel El Opalo might just have been the nicest place we have stayed since our emergency stop in Colonet back in Baja…all for the low low price of $18. Even better (and that is something that keeps saving us money) is the fact that pretty much everything on mainland Mexico is much cheaper than in Baja, hotels included. And all prices are up for negotiation, which seems to save us about 20-50 pesos each time we’re in the market for a hotel.
After Magdalena we had to make a point call. Get to Guadalajara in one extremely strenuous day or take it easy by going on a side trip along the Ruta del Tequila to reach Guadalajara in two days. The Ruta del Tequila is a road system concocted by the Mexican government to promote the local tequila industry to tourists. The Ruta connects multiple cities west of Guadalajara and winds along flat-ish country roads, a welcome respite from the thrum of the autopista. (Note from Alex: Apparently, Mexican law stipulates that only agave grown in the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Zacatecas can be distilled and branded as tequila. We were reminded many times by the local tequila aficionados that the swill that makes its way into the United States should be considered undrinkable.) Logically, we ditched the painful one day trip and went the two-day alcohol route. Good thing we did that, as the ride was almost completely car-free, and really scenic thanks to the wide ranging fields of corn and agave in the shadow of an enormous volcano. I guess the only thing really missing was the tequila. Where’s the free samples when you most need them?
Around midday we rolled into Teuchitlan, a town we selected for the ruins of the city that predated it. Before the Aztecs and the Mayans rose to power, the Guachis inhabited this area and left behind a series of unique buildings constructed in and of concentric circles. As a bonus, the local police actually suggested that we camp at the archeological site, named Guachimontones after its builders. So the first thing we did upon arriving in Teuchitlan was haul our trusty steeds up the long, winding cobblestone road that led to Guachimontones.
Well, the site was certainly like nothing we had ever seen before. And the vistas were stunning – it was pretty clear why an ancient civilization would choose to build there, with a panoramic view of the valley spread out below them for miles on end, and on the edge of a lake teaming with fish. Unfortunately, unlike the Guachis, we were not destined to make our home at Guachimontones for the night. When we asked about camping up there, we were quoted an outrageous price to pitch up our tent on an abandoned field. ($10!! We’re getting cheap.) No, thank you very much. The two men managing the archeological site instead directed us to a public riverside path where they assured us camping was free, if a little bit odd.
The path turned out to be Teuchitlan’s version of the Burke-Gilman trail, Mexico style. It was a skinny dirt track packed with bikers, walkers, joggers, and plenty of teenagers making out. We found a heavily graffitied picnic table and pitched our tent on the flattest patch of grass we could find, right next to some grazing horses. We got a lot of stares, but in general the place turned out fine, thanks in part to the local drunken youth at a picnic table nearby who offered us some sickly sweet melon liquor (which I couldn’t say no to) and some weed (which we graciously declined). Later that night we were awoken yet again, this time not by a mad mariachi band but by the local police. They announced their presence with a booming “buenas noches!” and, as we groggily unzipped the door, they bent down to tent level for a quick chat to make sure that we were safe, which also meant that their assault rifles basically wound up in our faces. Yes, we’re safe… or as safe as we can be with big guns right in front of us! Oh, Mexico.
The next day Guadalajara was calling, the time had come to get to Mexico’s second-biggest city. The closer we got to the city, the scarier the riding got. Less and less shoulder, more and more traffic, and worst of all reckless drivers weaving in and out of imaginary traffic lanes. By the time we had reached the outskirts of town we were already plenty frazzled and ready to be done with the day. We gritted it out into the very heart of the city and our home for the coming days, a little place called Casa Ciclista. Upon reaching it, a note at the door instructed us to call a number to be let in. Easier said than done, as we soon discovered that neither of our phones would make a call in Mexico and, being the Luddites we are, we have no way to access the internet. Eventually, thanks to the kindness of strangers, we eventually made the call, and in no time a nice fella named Izhak rolled up on his bike, gave me a big bear hug and Alex the obligatory beso before letting us in. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and rejoicing in the fact that we had made it safely.
To be fair, we were warned that basically everyone who comes to Casa Ciclista ends up extending their stay. We planned to stay for five nights, and just as predicted, ended up staying for nine. And with good reason! Casa Ciclista is the hub of Guadalajara’s cycling community, a cooperative managed and staffed completely by the bike-obsessed volunteers dedicated to keeping the wheels spinning. We slept on our sleeping pads in a loft above the repair shop and were encouraged time and time again to treat Casa Ciclista as our home. Needless to say, there was rarely a quiet moment. Our days and nights were filled with good company, good conversation, and more tequila than either of us had consumed since college.
Highlights included the constant flow of Spanish-German-English with Izhak and Claudia, learning to play a French cowboy card game with Thomas and Ollin (Bang!), running out of gas in Mario’s Jeep, trying out pulque, tamales, and tortas ahogadas, playing with Casa Ciclista’s pup/mascot (aptly named Bici), reuniting with my old friend Arman from Germany, an impromptu trip to the bike cemetary, getting the scoop on the best Mexican bike routes from Bernardo, an 80’s dance party, and soaking up all that residual tequila with late night tacos. Two whole Sundays were spent meandering the Via Recreativa – a genius event where the city shuts down one of its busiest roads to cars and opens it up to cyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders, roller bladers, wheelchairers, and all other forms of non-motorized transport.