Mazatlan to Manzanillo. - 7,850 miles. January 20th 2001
Mazatlan is a typical Mexican tourist coastal town. It has two district areas. One is full of modern hotels, shops and mostly American tourists. The other half is the old town with cheaper hotels and Mexican tourists. We stayed in the old town at 100 pesos a night. It has the first decent lightweight bike shop we have seen in Mexico. It is called "Kellys" and had almost everything but the bar-bag and mile-o-meter we needed.
For the cyclist readers, something we forgot to mention earlier: One of the expensive triple bearing cartridge bottom brackets on David's bike started making alarming clicking noises intermittently since Los Angeles. Whenever a suitable bike shop was available it behaved itself. In Mexico it started again and developed a slight rock in the bearing. The problem now was that no bike shop stocked cartridge brackets or had even heard of them. Of course, they also had no extractor tool and could not replace it with a standard one. Finally in Hildago de Parral, a bike shop had a cheap Shimano cassette which was exchanged for the now very rocky expensive one. Joan's bike has the same triple bearing cassette, which is still perfect.
On the way out of Mazatlan we came across an American touring cyclist changing a tyre. After a brief chat we agreed to meet further on as he was younger and faster and would catch us up. He soon did and we cycled together to Esquinapa del Hildago. The road out of Mazatlan was busy and had little room for cyclists to maneuver. However, just past Villa Union, a new road paralleled the old and most of the traffic disappeared. It was still a boring ride of nearly 60 miles. The American cyclist, Tom from California was spending a few days cycling in the area and we agreed to cycle together. Esquinapa was an old uninteresting town, but a road from there to the coast gave us the opportunity to put a coastal loop in to by-pass the main road.
We headed towards the coast through marshes and lakes. The bird watching was superb. All sorts of water birds including pink Roseate Spoonbills and more raptors (I hope thatís not Veloci-raptors! - Mark) than we had ever seen in one area.
A slight problem was that in order to continue along the coast, we needed to cross an estuary. A deal with a local fisherman gave three bikes and three cyclists in a small boat a ten-mile trip for 300 pesos. Several miles of sandy road later we picked up the coast road on the other side. It was necessary to ride about 30 miles along another road to complete our loop and we found a remote palapa on the beach to camp under. It was owned by Francisco a 75 year old Mexican coconut farmer, who had just started to learn English and lectured us fluently in European history. Unfortunately he also told us that the road shown on our map did not exist and we would have to cut short our detour. He had a large jar of sugar to sweeten our coffee. This was fine if you did not mind an ant for every sugar grain! Above us on the rafters sat a large python and an Iguana whose job it was to keep down the mice.
Back to the main road at Acoponeta via 15 miles of dirt road through agricultural land growing mainly Tobacco. Acaponeta is a very clean town with a busy plaza. Our hotel was one of the cheapest and best yet. In the evening we sat on a balcony overlooking the plaza and had a birthday meal (Joan's) with a large bottle of beer.
We said goodbye to Tom who was heading back to Mazatlan and continued cycling south through tropical vegetation. Road kills included owls, which were relatively common, the usual dogs, raccoon' etc, various snakes and quite a few tarantulas of the Mexican Red Knee species.
The road now went through tropical forest and banana plantations and was quite scenic. We soon came to the coast again at San Blas and continued in cool overcast conditions to a small seaside town of Rincon de Guayabitos as it was recommended in the "Rough guide". It turned out to be a small tourist resort full of hotels and nothing else. A plus point was that we stayed in a small apartment with kitchen and full cooking gear for 150 pesos. We could find nothing cheaper. At 7 o'clock in the morning David bought a large piece of Dorado from a local fisherman and we had it fried for breakfast.
The road to Puerto Vallarta, although only 45 miles was over a large 1000ft climb through tropical jungle. Puerto Vallarta is a very large tourist resort with prices to match. The cheapest hotel we could find was 190 pesos. Everything was at American prices.
Our first riddle to solve was to find an Internet cafe opposite a school with horses, as described in a E-mail from Geoff and Iris Fenwick who we planned to meet. Only after a long session with a time-share salesman intent on getting us to go to a presentation did we finally find out where it was. The owner of the Internet cafe knew Iris and Geoff and told us that Iris would be there in the morning. At 8 o'clock the next morning a very surprised Iris was confronted by a total stranger saying "Are you Iris Fenwick?". We spent a pleasant day being shown around the old town and a lovely evening with fish and chips cooked by Iris. We dined in their apartment with a wonderful view over Puerto Vallarta and the Pacific Ocean. Eagle-eyed Joan soon spotted a whale and calf jumping out of the sea about half mile offshore. David spotted a peregrine falcon. Geoff and Iris had had their share of adventure as they had sailed a small catamaran from Canada to Australia with their children.
The plan was to spend two days cycling to Punta Perula where we had stayed about five years ago with a local barber. The road out of Puerto Vallarta climbed all morning and only after 40 miles did it start to descend. We could find nowhere suitable to stay and cycled on assuming that we would set up camp before it got dark. Suddenly we recognized a small junction - this was to Punta Perula. After 90 tough miles we were there. Nothing much had changed in this tiny beach village. The barber Alphonso remembered us from 5 years ago and the price for his rooms, which were now considerably smarter, had gone up from 70 pesos to 150 pesos. We bartered for a short while and got five nights for 600 pesos. After a lazy Sunday we took a bus into Melaque to do some shopping. The bus was a first class bus which as well as being twice the price of a second class bus has suspension so soft that it made David travel sick. On the way back the second class bus was a much more comfortable ride.
At the post-office we presented a well taped-up parcel that we had spent preparing for post to England. The sticky tape was specially bought in town. "No tape allowed on parcels", said the person behind the counter. "Only brown paper and string". O.K we said, "we will wrap it up in brown paper and string". Again it was not allowed. "No sticky tape anywhere" he said. Frustrated by red tape (or brown paper and string) we gave up to try another day.
David tried fishing off the rocks and caught several small fish including a reasonable sized trigger-fish. One was kept for bait to catch live bait for the next day. More fun catching small fish off the rocks, but no luck using one as bait for bigger fish. While fishing in the surf, a particularly large unexpected wave knocked David off his feet and his vari-focal sunglasses disappeared in the sea. Perhaps we can get another pair sometime.
Farewell to Punta Perula and Alphonso and on the road again. A hand-sized tarantula was escorted across the road by David to save it from being a traffic victim.
The roads are rolling, coastal, and relatively traffic free and lined with bananas, papaya, and coconut trees. The weather is hot but not too humid with warm evenings and nights.
Manzanillo is exactly the same as when we were here five years ago. This time, our room cost us only 60 pesos.