On Juan's advice, we took the free road north of Mexico City through the foothills then south to Cholula to check out the archaeological site and colonial town of Puebla. In the morning, we woke up to tour the pyramid at Tlachihualtepetl (which means "artificial mountain" in Nahuatl). It was really neat to walk through the tunnels that Aztecs created thousands of years ago. According to the archaeological signage, three different civilizations took up residence at this pyramid structure and added or modified sections to make it their own. In the end, it was reclaimed by nature, and Spaniards eventually built a church on top of it.
Here are some valuable lessons we learned along the way:
- When you notice that you are starting to run low on funds, take advantage of banks/ATM's available at that time. You never know when you'll run into the next one.
- When taking a toll road, be sure to have enough money to get you through all toll booths to your destination.
- Trust your eyes, not signs, for an ATM. Especially if you're at a gas station in the middle of nowhere.
- If you're nearly out of cash and have not yet hit the ATM, do not get unnecessary amounts of gas and buy snacks with your few remaining pesos until you have secured funds.
- If you find yourself out of dinero between toll booths, only try to take the free road if you actually know where it is and what condition it is in.
- Upon deciding to try for the free road, make sure there is enough daylight left to really make the try in earnest. Don't leave yourself in a pinch and second-guess yourself such that you have to turn around and double back all the way to the toll road anyway.
- Even though a toll booth may say it accepts credit cards, have cash on hand. That sign may merely be in preparation for future plans to install said technology.
- Do not reserve hope that people in southern Mexico will have any interest in exchanging pesos for American dollars. And who can blame them? That's more work to go get it changed to a currency they can actually use.
- Never lose faith in the kindness and generosity of Mexicans to help others in need. Even if the need is as silly and one's own fault of getting stranded on a toll road between booths. In short: Mexicans are wonderful people.
After some trial and tribulation of our own making, we finally made it to Oaxaca—somewhere we'd been looking forward to for its cuisine. Fitting with the rest of our afternoon, we arrived on a weekend in the midst of a rally, which made pinning down a hotel a little tricky. We did finally secure a motorcycle-friendly hotel, though, and Matt got the added bonus of exercise by running up and down a few blocks in riding gear. Lucky him!
Too tired to check out the city that evening, we were happy to find everything in full swing the following morning, too. We grabbed a breakfast of tamales con mole in French rolls, champurrado, and aguas frescas, then wandered all over the city's big street market. All the sights, sounds, and smells let us know how far we've already come from home.
We finally pulled ourselves away from Oaxaca's street life and headed back out to find our way to the Pacific Coast, to the little beach town of Huatulco. What started out as a slow road through several small towns later turned into one of the best roads we've ever ridden. Ever. Over the course of the day, we traveled through desert-like conditions to tropical rainforest, and everything between. The road turned into a mountain highway full of twists and turns that took us over several passes and through the clouds. It was breathtaking. What was equally impressive to the natural beauty of everything was the presence of houses and farms dotting the steep terrain all along the way. We even ran into (almost literally) turkeys at 9,000 feet elevation!
Just before we got to the good part of the road, we pulled off for lunch at a roadside stand and some very nice locals tipped us off to take a shortcut to Huatulco, but we never saw said turnoff and ended up riding this highway for about five hours. By the end, we were about ready for a break but still in awe at how amazing the ride was.
Based on another recommendation from Juan, we set our destination for a hotel run by yet another fellow rider and couldn't have been happier with the lodging at the end of another long day. With laundry piling up and our own energy levels running low, we decided to stay an extra day in Huatulco to play catch up. Being on the water, we couldn't pass up the opportunity for some ceviche, either.
Next, we head back inland to make our way to towards Chiapas and the famous Palenque ruins.