Hildago del Parral to Mazatlan - 7,400 miles - 4th January 2001


Hildago del Parral is a largish silver mining town, which is famous for where the revolutionary Pancho Villa was shot in 1923. It has nothing for the tourist. Our hotel in the center of town is 7.50 pounds a night without TV. We have now learned that a room without TV is about a pound cheaper - the TV is all in Spanish anyhow. It is mainly soap operas with lots of crying and screaming.

As we both had a bit of Montezuma's revenge and it was the Christmas holiday weekend, we decided to stay 5 nights until Boxing Day. On a side trip to another mining town, Santa Barbara, we met a Mexican farmer who had married an American. His sons were brought up in America and spoke both Mexican and English fluently. We were invited to their farmhouse, but couldn't go that day as we had to get back to the hotel 15 miles away before dark. We promised to return.

In town, we met a group of racing cyclists outside a local bike shop. They were drinking beer after a hard ride, much the same as in England. After a long chat, we parted. A cyclometer we bought in another bike shop did not work and so we took it back expecting an argument. They must have known it was faulty as our money was returned without question. This was the only mileometer on sale since San Diego where it was stolen and we would have to search longer to find another one to replace it. We have one, but a spare was needed.

On a trip to the farmhouse on Christmas Eve we met the Mexican farmer, his two sons, his brother and his son. We arranged to return on Christmas Day to go for a hike up a nearby hill with his sons. When we arrived, there was his sister and husband and their children and most of their relatives. Tomales, sweet and savoury, and a maize drink were consumed along with a fruit pudding before we hiked up to the top of the hill and back. On our return to the hotel at about 4 o'clock we were given a note in Spanish to say that one of the cyclists, Thomas, who we had met the day before had invited us to Christmas Dinner at 3 o'clock. We quickly got showered and changed into our "Sunday Best" and leapt into a taxi as better late than never. At a grand house we were warmly welcomed by Thomas and his family. Although we were very late, a delicious meal and wine was served and we enjoyed a conversation in English with his parents and his family. Only the day before, we had thought that Christmas was going to be pasta and vegetables again! What a surprise.

On the road again on Boxing Day with a short 45-mile uphill into the wind ride to Villa Occampo. The owner of the only hotel showed us to a very basic room and asked for 180 pesos. "What!" we said, "That is ridiculous, the hotel at Hildago de Parral had TV and hot water and was only 130 pesos. We will give you 100". She accepted. In our now extensive experience of hotel prices in Mexico it was probably worth nearer 50. This experience was offset by the generosity at the local cafe where they would not accept payment for two Tostados (large toasted roll filled with hot ham, cheese and salad).

Off again on a very boring straight road with desert prairie either side. Since Hildago the road has climbed very slowly, about 1000ft per day. The nights are cold. The day is not much warmer and we cycled at 9000ft with warm tops on all day. Camped behind a garage and cafe as no hotels around. But, the garage owner insisted that we use a backroom in the garage as he and the cafe staff thought we might freeze to death overnight. We accepted the free offer and slept in a room warmed by a pile of compost stored in the room next door.

At last the road became more interesting as we came to the edge of the inner coastal mountains. The road to Durango was very scenic with many small villages and agricultural farms. It made us both feel much better after the depressing ride of the last three days.

Most of the vehicles on the road, including the buses, gave us plenty of room and slowed down if necessary. Some animals are not so lucky. As well as cows, dogs and the occasional horse killed by traffic we see coyotes, vultures, skunk and a great horned owl in lovely condition. It's a pity we cannot send it to our taxidermist in Maldon! We have seen coyotes running across the fields

Some figures for you:

Joan now weighs 9st 3lb (was 10.4) and David weighs 9st 12lb (was 10.12). We are not underfed, but have just lost excess fat. In fact we now find that due to the exercise we can and do eat what we like.

Prices: For example 6 bananas, 4 oranges and a large bag of peanuts is 75p (50c). Hotels are between 7 pounds and 10 pounds a double room per night. Those in the town center are inexplicably cheaper than motels on the edge. Probably to do with car parking space.

We stayed in Durango 2 nights, over the New Year. It's a large old town with a famous cathedral built in the 1500s. The road from Durango to Mazatlan is about 218 miles over the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains, with many small Logging towns on the way.

This stretch of road has some of the best scenery we have seen. The views were breathtaking and the roads smoothly surfaced. Durango is about 5000ft high and the road climbed to 8000ft where it ran along a "ridge" for about 40 miles. This ridge called "The spine of the devil" was a high road that climbed and descended many times. The road up was a "1000ft up and 800ft " down sort of road and the ridge went up as much as it went down. Hard cycling, but worth the effort. The final 60 mile descent to Mazatlan gradually took us from high conifer forests with sub zero nights to tropical lowlands and the tourist coast.