As I was packing up the bike to leave the magical city of Oaxaca, I started to wonder what lay ahead.
Mexico has been a particularly excellent country to travel through. The sheer variety of it is mind-blowing. This would be our first return to one of its coastlines since we went ashore in Mazatlan after our ride through Baja. With the temperatures picking up in Oaxaca, the ocean did sound appealing.
There was a KTM 1190 Adventure in the lot at our hotel, Hotel Paris (fine spot, by the way — and nice secure parking!) in Oaxaca. Stu’s KTM cravings continue to intensify.
After a bit of looping around town to find gas we drove through some very flat and empty terrain before starting the ascent of the mountains the separate Oaxaca and the ocean. Today’s ride would be exceptionally twisty and fun and see a the weather change rapidly and frequently.
As the first turns and hills appeared it was time to try and put on a podcast to listen to while carving turns.
Not a bad view from here. People build some beautiful homes out here, with little farms and gardens in the loamy fertile soil.
It was very hot out, so the best thing we reckoned we could do was to move quickly to ensure adequate air flow. That does mean you have to really hit those corners hard, but I suppose there is just no other choice. We had to do it, officer, you know how warm it is today!
But as we gained altitude it started looking like some clouds were meeting right on top of the mountain range that we were crossing.
And indeed, not just the temperature dropped: we saw some rain, which was the first time on this trip we’d been caught in it.
We sought a bit of food so we could let the rather violent rain pass. This was… possibly the worst food we’d had in Mexico yet, and perhaps one of the worst meals of my life. I am assuming villagers here eat at home, not at the street-side restaurant.
Look at that, the rain has passed!
Out from our parking spot we could see a seemingly steaming forest, a bizarre and beautiful play of earth and air as wisps of cloud ran its tendrils through the woods like a million ghostly white hands.
These are the kind of views that are like music to your eyes. Beautiful, classical music, with a range of complex layers and indescribably beautiful textures that a camera or microphone really can’t capture well.
Stu was also very impressed. And wet. Impressed and wet.
As we continued, we basically started riding in the clouds themselves, which still had plenty of moisture to go around. We rode through some sheets of rain, wet fog/cloud, and the roads were slippery as hell. Heidenau K60 tires are great for a lot of things but the grip in the wet sucks sometimes.
I believe me taking these exceptionally bad photos with my camera is what eventually led to water getting into the viewfinder. Oops. Well, they should’ve sealed it a bit better.
After about an hour of relative cold and rain we cleared a bend and it was suddenly beautiful out. We truly just rode out of the clouds, on the edge of the downward slope that would lead us toward the coast.
A short lesson in Spanish signage:
‘Curva Peligrosa’ means ‘fun turn’. The more you know! Speaking of signage, there was a massive surplus of curve indicator signs in Oaxaca, apparently, because they absolutely studded the hills in them. Almost every turn had these reflective signs showing you helpfully the the road did, in fact, turn here:
I was delighted to find another first on our trip: a proper jungle. The windward half of the mountain range receives a remarkable amount of moisture from the ocean and dumps it onto not just unsuspecting motorcyclists, but also the forests, leading to a truly lush and gorgeous forest full of palm- and banana trees and deciduous trees of all kinds. An absolute explosion in biodiversity.
This side was also quite dry, and we enjoyed being able to hit all the turns a bit faster. We did, ironically, work up quite a thirst and found this fantastic roadside family who cut and served coconuts. Highly, highly recommended:
How’s the drink, Stu?
After you finish it, you just give it to the good man and he’ll cut it up, throw in chili, lime and a few other goodies and you can eat the flesh. Delicious. Such a brilliant idea.
The twists and undulations in the road started to even out a bit, villages started appearing, and eventually we found ourselves on fairly flat ground. A massive mountain loomed behind us and the sun was rapidly sinking towards the now-sometimes-visible ocean. We crossed a bridge:
… and tried to make it for Zipolite before dark.
Zipolite was something I’d just heard about through the grapevine. I was told that despite Mexico’s somewhat conservative nature there were places where people took the laws and rules a bit less seriously, walked the beach nude, and let others do with their life what they pleased. Zipolite is one of those places, or so I was told, and I from what I heard its menagerie of crazies and eccentrics made for a very unique small beach town.
Being from San Francisco, I enjoy a good hippie beach town as much as the next guy.
We definitely rushed once we hit the coastal highway, having to ride a little bit north (boo! We should be going south!) to make it to Zipolite. A small byroad shoots off the highway after a little mixed sand/dirt/pavement trail takes you right to the famed beach town.
We got in right as the sun started kissing the horizon. I just hopped off the bike and ran to the beach. It’d been a long enough day.
The first order of things was, naturally, a dark beer, but also a quick gander at the local cuisine:
Fish, right off the boat. You can’t just pass on that.
This wonderful open-air ‘kitchen’ makes the absolute damn best fish and shrimp. I think it was the best shrimp I’ve ever had, period. That makes for one of the best and the worst meals in my life all in one day!
This was a great beginning to a stay in Zipolite that went by far too fast. We met some locals and drank the night away. We rolled our bikes into a sandy, crappy beachside hotel so we had a place to stash our stuff safely. It was also right next to a bar called ‘A Nice Place’.
It was a nice place.
Zipolite is a bunch of ramshackle structures all dotting a beach that is flanked by dramatic jagged rocks.
Around sunset, you can actually see the sun spilling through some of the eroded rocks, spilling it last bit of warm and orange light into the cove.
It’s a stunning sight, and it never gets old.
Then, as the sun starts to set and move against the horizon, it somehow feels like it lingers, as if the light that spilled in past the rocks hangs in the air like smoke.
We were so mesmerized by this that we routinely forgot about the sometimes powerful waves and nearly drowned our telephoto lens…
It’s all good, we kept it dry.
Zipolite’s a small place, so you see most people come out to watch the sun set. This couple had a beautiful moment as the last light was slowly extinguishing and giving way to a clear starry sky:
And then that was it. But a purple glow of the sun remained and we had another nice night out with some really great people we met and instantly got along with. It’s fun how easy it is to make friends as a smelly motorcycle bum.
The next morning it was time for Stu to do some work on his fork. What’s the best possible place to work on motorcycles? I’d say a sandy courtyard of a crappy beachside hostel is just the ticket.
Alright, give me your war face!
Ah, yes, this is our accommodations. The place isn’t much, a sort of driftwood-fire-hazard by the beach, but it was ours for a few nights, and it did great. The owner was a total ass to us, but I kind of love that. Who doesn’t dream of quitting everything and moving to a tiny nude beach paradise far away to heckle strangers every day?
I know I do.
Speaking of dreaming, Stu was looking dreamy so I took his portrait.
It was our third day in Zipolite already, and it was starting to become apparent that if we had any say in it, we’d probably stay around for a long time. Perhaps we should do something productive or keep traveling, I would tell myself.
And then I’d walk by our regular spot:
OK, we’ll stay just a little longer.
Zipolite’s main drag is paved (!) and has all sorts of fun little shops and restaurants. The food’s great almost anywhere and there’s tons of gluten/meat/dairy/cat/dog-free meals available everywhere. I personally eat everything, but despite their laid back attitudes in life a lot of hippie types tend to be very picky eaters.
Ah, how can you not love this place? Wandering around was a joy, with the town being so tiny. We were offered some exotic psychedelic drugs on the street at times, too — it’s not often you see a kind stranger offering to sell you some DMT. It reminded me of San Francisco a year or 10 back, where in Dolores Park you’d get offered a multitude of fun mind expanding substances if you just sat around with your friends on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
On the beach the drug of choice was alcohol, though, especially in the form of a nice chilled Pacifico. Ahh.
I took a short hike up to the ‘meditation point’ which overlooks the cove. You get to really see the remarkable texture of the jagged rocks from up close — when they’re not covered in cacti and other interesting plants, that is.
I have to admit, just the salty air and rushing waves really felt calming after what felt like such a long time riding inland.
A change of pace.
Oceans have a grounding effect on me. I’ve always lived near the ocean, and as a kid I found its sights, sounds and smells uniquely inspiring and important. There’s a saying in Dutch, that goes something like ‘to go and have the wind blow it out of you’; to have the ocean winds clear your head, and cool you down.
Oceans do that. I suppose that’s why this little meditation point was here, up on a cliff being battered by waves, up and away from the town and in a bit more wind than the cove the town hides in.
I walked back, the wind now playing a softer ballad through the little paper ribbons on the trail.
It’d be our last night in Zipolite.
I wrote a bit in my hammock and had a beer as I sorted out some thoughts. Being on the road every day is nice; you get new sights, make new friends and have adventures every day. It lets you take your mind off a lot of regular thoughts in your mind, and it helped me lift myself out of a horrible depression I plunged into after my divorce.
But you do have to take time on the trip to reflect, and think a bit. Let the thoughts intrude on your mind so you can sort some things out.
But as the light on my sandy feet turned orange, it was time to snap a few photos of the sun dipping behind the rocky outcroppings again. Stu ran out with our new friend Laura, who enjoyed photography herself:
her brother Alexander and Bregje, our other new friends had already set up a nice little beach base right outside of A Nice Place:
Where we could grab ample beverages to talk the night away and lament our having to get back on the road. Zipolite would be an easy place to ‘lose a trip’; with how cheap it is to live here, it’s tempting just to stick around for a while and see if you can work out some things in your life or write that novel you always wanted to write.
And sometimes you’re lucky enough to make wonderful friends there, as well.
With the glow of sunset vanishing we turned to the glows of a beach bonfire where old, young, hippies and locals all gathered to warm themselves, play music and dance.
Here’s to the crazy ones.