162 miles (260 km) | 6 days of riding + many days of exploring
Day 32 – March 10, 2016 – Yurécuaro to Ecuandureo
We decided to begin our journey out of Yurécuaro on dirt roads, navigating through rural farm land before linking up with the autopista. The ride took longer than expected – all day – but it was incredibly quiet, the land dotted with wheat and vegetable fields. Overall the terrain was flat which made it a nice, mellow ride. Dirt roads require a lot more physical effort than smooth pavement, but these quiet, tranquil backroads make the extra time more than worth it. We talked a lot about transforming our touring set-ups (saddlebags on our bikes and riding pavement) to do more bikepacking (ditch the saddlebags and center all the weight on our bikes to do dirt roads). It will be a process and we will have to shed a lot more weight, but we both know we are carrying things that we are not using on a regular basis. Poco a poco, as they say here in Mexico – little by little. For lunch, we stopped beside a wheat field and took shade under a tree. We whipped up a quick meal of guacamole & salad with tostadas and took a short siesta. Only two or three cars passed in the hour we were stopped! We absolutely love these quiet little roads and hope to do more of them.
Towards the end of the day, Mehedi got a flat tire which he patched, then had to patch twice more after it continued to leak. An hour later, the sun was nearing the horizon and we needed water before finding a place to camp for the night. On the outskirts of the next town, Ecuandureo, we met some local goat shepherds who stopped and spoke with us about our travels. After learning we were American, they asked us if we supported Trump. They were thrilled to hear that not all Americans do. We spoke with them for awhile as Mehedi patched his tube and then they were on their way.
Unfortunately, we were unable to find an on-ramp once we made it to the autopista, so we had to make one! We lugged our bikes and all of our gear over a barbed wire fence and through an irrigation ditch before crossing heavy traffic to get to the right side of the road. Once we finally got back on the autopista, Mehedi got yet another flat tire! Finally, he swapped the tube and we were able to push on into Ecuandureo. It has truly been an adventure today!
We arrived at dusk and went to the Plaza, parking our bikes in front of the church. Mehedi went inside as people were giving confessions to the Father. The only way to gain permission to stay at the church was to speak with the Father, who invited Mehedi to sit down and give confession. "Pardon me Father, but I am just here because my partner and I are traveling by bicycle through Mexico and we need a safe place to stay for the night."
"Would you like to stay here?" he asked.
Within the hour, the Father invited us into the church's warm auditorium where we set up our sleeping pads for the night, and as we were preparing food for ourselves, he came in and invited us for dinner.
We were ushered into a room with all of the brothers and sisters of the church, who served us taquitos, tacos, tamales, bread, atole and hot chocolate. They were incredibly hospitable and asked a lot of questions about our journey. It was a long day but so nice to be treated to a home-cooked meal by wonderful people. Our hearts are so full.
Day 33 – March 11, 2016 – Ecuandureo to Panindicuaro
Today was a long but rewarding day of cycling on the autopista. On our climb out of Ecuandureo in the morning, we pulled up to a Papa John's for a water break. A couple of people were just coming out of the pizza place, and they stopped to chat with us about our travels and then took a photo. It was such a great start to the day, meeting people who were so inspired by our wild journey! For the rest of the day we talked about how good it would be to have pizza – we haven't had any since we've been in Mexico.
The pros of the autopista are mellow gradients and wide shoulders – often resulting in covering great distances. The cons include heavy traffic, noise and exhaust/smog. There were some amazing climbs and descents today, though, and we really made the most of it by covering over 40 miles. At lunch, we climbed off the road into an irrigation channel to get out of a strong cross-wind. While eating. we noticed the landscape was covered in beautiful shards of obsidian – from the size of a pebble to a grapefruit! We wished we could have taken more with us. but settled for a single, small shard. Mehedi saw a huge black snake there, too.
At the end of the day. Mehedi got another flat tire before we took an enormous descent into Panindicuaro. Our goal was to reach the highway junction in Panindicuaro, which would allow us to head South towards Pátzcuaro – and at the highway junction stood another Papa John's! It was an incredible reward at the end of a great, long day on the road, and because we talked about pizza all day, we felt it was a sign that we needed to treat ourselves for a change!
Just as the sun was setting and our bellies were full of pizza, we noticed an albergue (swimming pool) and recreation area off the highway junction. It seemed like a perfect spot to camp for the night. We rolled down on a small dirt road and asked for permission to camp, which the owners kindly granted. We camped on a big, flat grassy field next to their fish pond and enjoyed the last light of the day.
Day 34 – March 12, 2016 – Panindicuaro to Naranja de Tapia
We had a good, early start out of Panindicuaro and rewarded ourselves with an early lunch of ceviche and tostadas at a small restaurant on the side of the road – some of the best we've had in Mexico! The ride was a good one – small, rolling hills but overall mellow. During the ride today, we received many honks and fist pumps and saw many fellow cyclists on the road. In Yurécuaro, we were told that the next big town of Zacapu was known for its cyclismo (cycling culture). Just before entering Zacapu, we stopped at a gas station for water and the clerk was very excited about our journey and gave us a big, frozen bottle of water for free. Such a treat on this hot day!
Upon entering Zacapu, we navigated toward the market. As we arrived, a group of shoe-shiners excitedly welcomed us with pats on the back, high-fives, clapping and cheering. Wow! They must not see too many people traveling by bicycle here, but clearly they're impressed. They offered to watch our bicycles so we could enter the market together on foot. One might not think to trust such an offer from complete strangers, but we knew immediately that we could. Zacapu had an abundant food market, and we walked away with a crate of fruit, vegetables and spices. Outside the market, we chatted and shared a bag of guayabas with the shoe-shiners.
We left Zacapu around 3pm and traffic started to pick up – unfortunate circumstances given our small, shoulder-less highway. We tried to find a place to camp but didn't see anything suitable. As we cycled into Naranja de Tapia, we came upon a place called Naturista Naranssani. We were warmly greeted by Dr. Salvador when we walked onto the grounds. He told us, "I was just reading about how God sends blessings in physical form. You both are an example of this." Wow, what a way to be greeted upon entering this beautiful place! Dr. Salvador offered us a safe place to camp on the grounds of the natural healing center and retreat. The center focuses on homeopathy and alternative natural medicine. At dusk, Dr. Salvador invited us for supper – which turned out to be an enormous, delicious and 100% vegan meal of soup, salad, stuffed tomatoes and amazing whole wheat buns – hands down, the best bread we've had in Mexico so far. We pitched our tent behind a pool house on a grassy field, next to an apple and orange orchard. Mehedi worked on carving some spoons and fixing gear while Erin rubbed arnica into sore muscles. practiced yoga and read. Very thankful for another wonderful day on the road.
Day 35 – March 13, 2016 – Naranja de Tapia to Tzintzuntzan
We awoke to a very cool morning with frost on the tent. Just before leaving. Erin's stomach and chest started to hurt. Dr. Salvador invited Erin into an examination room where he proceeded to do some electrical impulse and cupping therapy. It was an interesting experience and alleviated the chest and stomach pain immediately, however, shortly after departing from the center. Erin began to feel very tired. We still had a full day of climbing ahead of us before a descent into Quiroga and Tzintzuntzan, so we decided to try to hitchhike for some of the way. Not long after putting our thumbs out, a man and his daughter pulled over to give us a lift to Quiroga. We loaded up our bikes and enjoyed the gorgeous ride to the mountains above Lago de Pátzcuaro through pine and oak forests. The man refused the gas money we offered, "con mucho gusto." We had lunch on the bustling plaza of Quiroga and then cycled the last eight miles into Tzintzuntzan.
As we entered the Plaza in Tzintzuntzan, we noticed it was very quiet. We made our way to the main church and old Jesuit convent. which had an enormous beautiful garden full of 400-500 year old olive trees. Unfortunately, the Father refused when we asked if we could camp for the night. It is surprising that we have only been turned away twice when we've asked to camp somewhere. We never expected to be turned away by a church though, so it was back to the drawing board. It was nearing dusk and because we couldn't find a safe place to camp, we had to get a cheap hotel on the edge of town for the night.
Day 36 – March 14, 2016 – Tzintzuntzan to Pátzcuaro
We spent the morning exploring a bit more of Tzintzuntzan and cycled up to the Purépecha ruins. The Purépecha people have inhabited the area around Lago de Pátzcuaro for over a thousand years, establishing the Tarascan state in the 14th century. The Purépecha is one of the major coinciding empires of the Aztecs, with their capital of Tzintzuntzan. At its peak, it had a population of 25,000-30,000. The ruins were incredible with enormous stone palaces and ceremonial structures. One can only imagine what the empire might have looked like before European contact.
We found a wonderfully quiet, small road from Tzintzuntzan to Pátzcuaro that hugged the lakeside. The ride was absolutely gorgeous and one of our favorites so far, with exquisite views of the lake, winding through quiet indigenous pueblos filled with pottery and crafts. It was a hot afternoon, so we picked up half a watermelon which we enjoyed upon arriving at Plaza Pequeña in Pátzcuaro. As the afternoon cooled off, we were offered a free night at Gran Hotel in exchange for some photography. While the sun was setting, we found some sweet tamales and mole with fruit for dinner in the nearby market. Another truly beautiful day!
Day 37-41 – March 15-19, 2016 – Pátzcuaro
Our first day in Pátzcuaro was eventful. We encountered hundreds of children dressed in animal costumes in the Plaza Mayor for the Spring Equinox parade. We spent much of our first day exploring the beautiful streets of this Pueblo Mágico. For lunch, we had an exquisite meal of trout soup, chile rellenos and beans and rice.
In the afternoon, as we were leaving Gran Hotel, Erin began chatting with a woman, Dolores, who was having lunch by herself outside the hotel. As we chatted about traveling. she kindly offered us a place to stay in her hacienda. We had just booked a charming and inexpensive adobe casita from locals Héctor & Carmen for the next two nights, but wanted to stay in Pátzcuaro a bit longer, so this was the perfect opportunity. We told Dolores we'd be in touch after leaving Héctor & Carmen's compound in a couple days. Our casita, set on La Loma hill, was old and rustic and had an incredible view of Lago de Pátzcuaro.
We decided to visit the island of Janitzio on the south side of the lake. We shared a boat to the island with a friendly family visiting from Mexico City while a mariachi group sang and played music for us on our way to the island. We were told Janitzio was known for its skilled fishermen who use enormous butterfly nets, as well as colorful pottery, textiles and basketweaving. The island is comprised of a primarily Purépecha population. It was a beautiful little island but a dense population and inadequate sanitation services has created a lot of pollution. We walked around the entire island and up to the top where there was an enormous monument of José María Morelos raising his fist to the sky. José María Morelos was a revolutionary priest who became the leader of the Mexican Independence Movement after Hidalgo's 1810 rebellion and execution. We entered the monument and took the stairs to the top. enjoying reading about the history of Morelos through painted murals along the monument's interior walls. Janitzio is Purépecha for "where it rains." We bought atole from a group of Purépecha women who were brewing a giant cauldron with local fig leaves and spices. Delicious! We spent our last few days in Pátzcuaro staying at Dolores' exquisite Andalusian-style hacienda, exploring the artisanías of Casa de Los Once Patios and enjoying the craft market, taking photos around town, spending time on Plaza Pequeña, and trying the local cuisine. A big, big thanks to our friend Dolores for her incredible hospitality and support. We loved Pátzcuaro and hope to return one day.
Day 45 – March 20, 2016 – Pátzcuaro to Morelia
We awoke early and began packing for our departure to Morelia. Dolores called her friend Rosa in Morelia who runs a B&B to see if she had room for us. She didn't, but Rosa called her friend Susan who offered to put us up. We can't say enough about how thankful we are to have run into so many hospitable, warm & giving people in Mexico.
The ride to Morelia was ideal – hilly but not aggressive. The weather was cool and surprisingly the autopista was almost completely empty for the entire day. This is the first time Erin has felt 100% in about three weeks and we made great time. Just outside of Morelia. we stopped at a restaurant on the side of the road with comida tipica de Michoacán. The food was absolutely amazing! We finally tried the local sopa tarasco that we've been hearing about, much like tortilla soup.
Bellies full, we made the final eight mile push into bustling Morelia. This is the largest city in Michoacán and we can really feel it. Morelia is an old colonial city with beautiful architecture. We made our way to Rosa's B&B, who showed us the way to Susan's house down the street. Susan's house was comfortable with a lovely rooftop view of the city. We ended our day by cooking up a delicious meal of fresh local vegetables over a bed of rice. Awesome day!
Day 43-46 – March 21-24, 2016 – Morelia
Morelia is a beautiful old city full of green plazas and gorgeous fountains. We spent our first day exploring most of the sites along the main avenida. We really enjoyed visiting and learning about the city's aqueduct. The aqueduct was built in the 1780's to provide water for the city as it experienced a severe two-year drought. The beautiful quarry-pink aqueduct consists of 253 arches and is 1810 meters long.
Rosa kindly invited us for breakfast at the B&B for every morning that we were in town. We met loads of travelers and tourists from Mexico, Canada and beyond over the next few mornings at the B&B, who offered great tips for places to visit throughout Mexico. One of the highlights was exploring Morelia by bicycle. It really felt like Spring with all the blossoms on the fruit trees and enormous flowering jacarandas. We tried the local cuisine – huaraches – a sort of Mexican pizza made with a thick corn tortilla laden with toppings. We spent the evenings on Susan's rooftop garden. She had dozens of succulents and cacti growing all over the roof and patio and considered herself a true hortisexual. Ha!
On our last day and after much discussion, we finally decided to take a bus from Morelia to Toluca in order to save time and money and allow us to climb Nevado de Toluca as the rainy season approaches.
Until next time...