Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Oaxaca Edition

G’day from the lip of the Chiapas jungle, the cusp of the Pacific Ocean, the depths of Gulfo de Tehuantepec and the guest bedroom of American ex-pat Carlos Magnon, dual sporting enthusiast, world traveller and host to us for the last 3 days! Once again I begin the task of documenting the latest chapter of our adventure and exploration of Southern Mexico, this time from the mountains of Taxco to the tiny beachside town of Puerto Arista. The region held our attention easily, from the outstanding motorcycling roads snaking through the endless mountain ranges, to the smoking volcanoes of Puebla, the ever-changing Pacific coastline and the delightful historic towns we found ourselves in, to source the beloved taco. So with that, I urge you to kick back in your favourite old chair, light up the pipe, and savour the leathery oaken textures of The Matt, Atley and Ferg Show: Oaxaca Edition.

Newsflash! Geeky guy gets paler and geekier!

There's nothing sweeter than parking your motorbike inside the foyer or dining area of a hotel or hostel.

The week in Taxco was enjoyable and relaxed, but we were all eager to mount our magnificent mules and continue the trek once my wrist was up for biking. Previously, the idea of going to Mexico City had been discussed, amongst ourselves and many different people, and we eventually decided against it. Surely it would be too big, too busy and too dangerous for Dual Sporting. But when the Manager of our Taxco hotel discussed route options with us, he was horrified to hear we were within 2 hours of the nation’s capital city and were not planning on visiting it. We valued the opinion of this man, so we took his suggestion on board and headed into the heart of the city, with 22 million other people! It took only 10 minutes of traffic hell before we were cursing the name of that man, and frowning at the over-populated mayhem that squirmed before us. 3 sweaty hours later we were immersed in the insanity of downtown Mexico City, doing our best to stay calm, and headed to our safe point, McDonalds. Not even pausing for a McChicken, we grasped for the free wifi to figure out where the hostel was, so we could get the hell out of the pandemonium. Rivalling the poor experience we had at the crack-house hostel in Salt Lake City, The Downtown Beds Hostel should be avoided like the plague. It is some kind of soulless pet project, running off the side of a brand new high class hotel, and funnily enough was recommended to us by the SAME misguided man who recommended Mexico City. Every entrance or departure from the hostel involved an awkward 50 meter walk through an open air 5 star restaurant, for the snooty guest to glare and frown at our filthy selves, and for the suspicious army of staff members to hastily radio one another to double check our validity to exist. Finding parking in the midst of manic metropolis was no easy task, and in the end, checking into that hostel took 2 painful hours, and left our wits ground down to a blubbery, heaving pulp. Thus it was no surprise that we fell back to our university training and soothed our sizzling brains with the sweet comfort of cheap tequila. An hour later we were new men, and gladly strut out to gather dinner and inspect the district. Sidenote: Mexico City is referred to as DF by everyone here, which stands for District Federal.

Mexico City has a church.

Ferg lights up a tastey smoke at the end of a huge root.

The underwater photographs have been banned from publication on this site.

Alas I did not get the same safe and happy vibe that New York and Tokyo both gave me, and we were quickly back in our hostel, wondering why on earth we’d come this way. But we at least needed to have a little look around, so the next day we set off in tourist mode, walking around the centre, then catching the subway to DF’s equivalent of Central Park, Parque de Chapultepec. There we found the free zoo and acres of empty parkland for us to graze and mew in, to forget about the jostling sidewalks, the swerving cars, the screaming locals and the sullen gorillas sitting sadly at the zoo.

Sweet mountain cut roads lead to sweeter natural springs
Girl eats corn.

Feeling choked and uncomfortable in the city, we made our exit the next day and narrowly survived the 3 hours of high intensity riding, swerving, braking and finger raising that was required to reach the outskirts of the city. Luckily we were recharged with an extended session of majestic mountain roads, but this time dotted with good old gum trees (the euycaliptus tree, native to Australia)! With some surprisingly Australian looking sun-burnt farmland scenes around us, we carried on until stopped by the thrilling image of a smoking, snow-covered volcano on the horizon. We considered changing our route to see if we could find any bubbling lava, but decided to push on to Puebla as planned.

We were offered expensive, crappy campsites with no view. Instead we went and camped by that river for free.

Outdoors Guy spies volcanic activity!

Keen to see what the volcanoes were all about, we did some research and found that another volcano was easily accessible and climbable from Puebla: La Malinche! After buying some supplies we spent 4 confused yet happy hours travelling thirty eight kilometres through dusty small towns to locate the campground at the foot of the volcano. We intentionally spent the night there, sleeping at 3100 meters above sea level, to acclimatize ourselves to the thinner air. 8am the following day saw us panting foggy breaths into the 2 deg C morning as we fell into step for the day’s ascent to the 4500 meter peak of the currently inactive volcano. Atley’s proud history of Zero Exercise Ever didn’t do him very well at that point, and his poodle-like panting, hip-clicking limping and haggard-face-of-deathening was a grave reminder to Ferg and I that computer programming is indeed the number one cause of heart disease on Mexican volcanoes. But he’s not just made of gangly limbs, excessive body hair and a complete lack of aerobic fitness, he’s got game and heart and wanted the summit, so we shared his gear out amongst us, and the three of us slowly but surely climbed above the clouds to the stand-alone peak, to bask in a humbling 360 degree view of surrounding Mexico. We were not alone on the peak, but shared it with a constantly changing crew of sweaty, panting locals who were taking part in a RUNNING RACE up the mountain that day. All up it took us 5 hours to ascend and 3 hours to descend the peak, the highest point on land any of us have stood and it’s a memory of accomplishment that we’ll all keep with us for many years.

Outdoors Guy feels cold.

Outdoors Guy poses with Posing Guy.

La Malinche

Snot that steep.

Gasping for breath at 4500 meters.

The view from the top, into Mordor.

A couple more pleasant days of motorbike travel took us south to the history-packed city of Oaxaca, pronounced wah-ha-kah. We stowed the mules in a parking garage and checked into a highly recommended hostel called Casa Angel. Once settled in we were promptly invited to a Oaxaca Film Festival function, to sample free servings of the liquor local to that area: mezcal. A cousin to tequila, mezcal is also made from the agave plant, a pointy looking cactus grown here in Mexico. Initially we weren’t quite sure how we felt about it, so like the good researchers we are, continued to sample it long into the night, luckily with a constantly increasing number of friends with whom to discuss our findings! By the end, to thank the town, we performed a hectic yet graceful dance sequence that was observed by 4 or 5 pleased looking Mexicans.

Some of our friends on the rooftop at the Oaxaca hostel. Aaaaaaand a guy in a Toga.

I would like to say the next day was different, but the film festival was a week-long dealio, so we again mingled with film makers and film critics, for more delightful film showings accompanied by mezcal. Late on this second night was when we met Lizzee and Teegs, and we formed the excellent plan to have our mules haul us to Hierve Del Agua the next day, a natural spring, somewhere in the mountains. Ever true to our word, we all saddled up the next day, with Charlie from Adelaide filling the one vacant seat, and we took the delighted girls down the highway, up and over a gravelly mountain, and to a wonderful set of natural rock pools on the edge of a cliff. For me it was an awesome reminder of how privileged we are to be freely exploring these new lands, on motorbikes, at our own pace, in our own way, living our own dream as we write it each day. To celebrate that realisation, we went to the final film festival party, for a few more films, a little mezcal and a couple of tacos on the way.

Teegs and Lizzee Dual Sporting!


Mexican road trips are awesome!

All up we hung out in Oaxaca for an easy week, while we waited for some spare parts to come to the Kawasaki dealer there. We had a fine time in that city, wandering around the churches, cathedrals, squares, galleries and cobblestone streets.  In between all that we were entertained by the film festival, our many new friends from all over the world who we were staying with us at the hostel, and initiated the first weekly rooftop toga party at Casa Angel.

The new hog.

Follow me this way, to paradise!
But we are men of the road now, and regardless of the delights in Oaxaca, the highway’s sturdy, beckoning voice summoned us to continue revelling in the jaw-dropping mountain passes, heart-tickling high speed corners and bug-filled gusts of fresh Mexican air that whistled and thwacked into our various ventilation holes. So onwards we marched, south, dropping in elevation, back into humidity and salty sea breezes, to the Pacific Ocean that never fails to remind us of home. Puerto Angel was where we ended up, in an empty, expansive hotel, run by a lovely old senora who hugged us when we left 2 days later. We dined on fresh fish and shrimp, snorkled around pretty little beaches and were taken out to sea on a cheap boat tour in search of turtles and dolphins to hassle.

Stiiilllll on holidays....

Cool waves.

Cool dude.

Cool hotel lady.

From Puerto Angel we had 2 days of yet more amazing coastal motorbiking roads, surely delivered to us by the Gods of Kawasaki and the spirit of Naomi, Alberto, Rene and yes, even that pampered Scottish guy from Trainspotting. In some long forgotten conversation with someone over his Mexico map, Atley had circled a beachside town called Puerta Arista. With no more information than this, we rolled down the road toward that particular beach, passing some old guy on a Honda Shadow motorbike. Once in the tiny town, we were just about to pick which hotel to stop at, when the old guy pulled up beside me.
“You know where y’all goin’?” he yelled from bike to bike.
“No idea,” I yelled back.
“Well follow me then.”
“Where to?”
“My house!” And with that, Carlos from Lousianna opened his throttle, and took us 100 meters further, then down a short sandy road, and pulled up beside his sprawling jungle home. A dual sporter since the 50s, Carlos, now 71, has been retired since he was 40, travelling the world by boat, motorbike and camper, until settling down in what he calls the greatest place in the world, Puerta Arista. 2 beers later we had an invitation to set up tents in the garden and stay for as long as we wanted. While here we’ve dined at beach side restaurants, slept in hammocks, lazed by the pool, eaten fresh fruit and heard more stories from Carlos’s life than had we been at sea ourselves. Travelling is a privilege and a pleasure, and his hospitality exemplifies this perfectly. We’ve spent hours discussing our next few weeks of travel, and drawing on Carlos’s extensive travels through the area, have come up with a path that skirts the Guatemalan border on the Mexican side, and into the last undisturbed portions of this country.

Carlos teaches his guests how to party.

Our tents in Carlos's yard.

Our taxi ride back from lunch.

Found some more cracking, and some more Mexicans to fix it.

Annoying photos of food # 43. This plate of 4 delicious tacos cost 12 pesos (USD/AUD $1)

So with that, we say HABLAMOS LUEGO AMIGOS! Buen suerte!

Watch in full screen!!


  1. Best write up yet! Was laughing so hard last night. Good travels!

    1. Yes! Muchos gracias mi amigo! Indeed the times are treating us well. We are now reclining in yet another wonderful Mexican hostel, this time in the midst of Chiapas, the jungle state!

    2. Dudes! I probably shouldn't brag but I just had the most awesome and amazing week sitting at my desk working and not going outside. Incredible.

      Too bad you all are missing that feeling. Sucks for you guys.