Ride South – Oaxaca to Chiapas

Come on, do I really have to leave Zipolite? At this point, I’d met locals that had given me a coke bottle full of cloudy (purportedly) ‘mezcal’ that I really enjoyed and we’d made friends with half the town. We never thought we’d find another town like Skagway on our Ride North, but here it was. And it was a nude beach, at that.

We had to go. Stu fired up the KLR and almost steered the KLR into a wall at speed thanks to the 1+ foot deep sand we were parked in, so I decided to spare my (dry, bah) clutch and just push my bike out to the street.

L1003766

Where we loaded up the bikes in searing hit. Pro-tip: put your helmet in the shade while you do this!

L1003769

All nicely packed up. We looked our old digs up and down once more and had some breakfast in town, where the local policy was clearly spelled out:

Screen Shot 2018-11-10 at 6.39.04 PM

I’m not entirely sure if all the locals really adhere to this rule…

After a bit of snacking we had the hot air of the road blast the tears off our face that beaded our cheeks after tearful goodbyes… Okay, perhaps it wasn’t quite that sad, but I felt less than motivated to move on.

Screen Shot 2018-11-10 at 6.40.57 PM

This is our route today. The coastal Oaxacan route 200 is super fun, twisty, offers gorgeous ocean views and plenty of great (and not so great pavement). It’s not terribly busy, either.

We pulled right up to two guys really ripping up the road on their smaller bikes and got off for a drink and made some new friends:

L1003770

We gave them some stickers and patches. One of them was named ‘Galileo’. What a cool name, man.

Salina Cruz was an interesting town. Coming from a very naturopath hippie micro-beach community, we were thrust into an industrial port town where a gas refinery and trash fields around it burned in the distance. Tons of people were in and about the town, and it had a decidedly different atmosphere and feel than all of Oaxaca we’d seen so far. We found the edge of the state, and not a particularly happy slice of that edge.

The day’s ride had been hot and exhausting and after looking for camping near the water we just gave up and got a cheap hotel instead. We wanted to rest up a bit after hearing some horror stories about the road we’d do the next day, anyway.

We were planning to ride to San Cristobal de las Casas, a ‘pueblo magico’ in Chiapas, the final Mexican state. To get to Chiapas, you have to cross what’s know as the isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico’s narrowest little piece of land. As the Sierra Madre hunches down and the volcanic mountains of Chiapas and Guatemala arise to its East, wind gets channeled in from the Caribbean and blows across the isthmus at great speeds. We heard stories of toppled trucks, motorcyclists unable to stay on the road, all sorts of terrible tales of horror.

I recalled the great video from Becky (Motoventuring) where they were blown over on the road.

Well, we went on the ride and while it was windy… it was kind of a joy. Tons of windmills (quelle surprise!) and trucks on this route, but by no means the Death Winds we’d heard of. We probably got lucky, or some aspect of it might have also been the penchant for drama people have. We’ve heard a lot of horror stories and have yet to find a road or place that was quite as bad as people said!

L1003776 L1003777 Hey Stu, what do you think—
L1003782

Yeah, he’s cool with it.

After the flat terrain of the isthmus, the mountains pick up again. Roads snake up a set of rolling hills which rapidly turn to scenic mountains and before you know it, this gorgeous state of Oaxaca is no more:

L1003789

This is it, the last state of Mexico! We can’t believe it. Despite having seen so many parts of it, we were still craving more. Every part of this country is a delight.

L1003790

And would you know it, Chiapas would prove to be no different. Look at this dramatic, gorgeous landscape. Hot, but gorgeous.

L1003791

The road into Chiapas, towards San Cristobal de las Casas, is stunning. Probably in my top 5 rides of all of Mexico. This unreal, golden set of dry hill vegetation turns to greener and more colorful varieties of scenery before fading right back into dryness and golden hues again. A feast for your eyes — and the road, a feast for the soul.

Screen Shot 2018-11-10 at 6.45.59 PM

And there’s quite a bit of road to cover! We entered the hills near San Pedro Tapanatepec (what a mouthful), to cross the highlands of Chiapas and then make a blast for the hills near Tuxtla Gutiérrez and hopefully ride into San Cristobal by sundown.

L1003794

The flatlands were smoky. We rode through thick smoke for a good 30 minutes until we ran into the source: burning fields. We were absolutely starving but decided to push through this to save our own lungs, and found a mariscos (seafood, yep, perhaps a bad idea) out here in the highlands to chow down on. Surprisingly good!

L1003795

In Tuxtla Gutiérrez we gassed up and found a Minecraft bike (?). We debated if we wanted to check out the town but it seemed truly dreadful to us, and we had a bit of sunlight left.

L1003803

Boy, am I glad we drove up the mountain to San Cristobal.

As we ascended through hills and mountains outside of Tuxtla, we rode through our first small Mayan villages. Unlike Aztec culture at large, Mayans continue to live to this day, still cultivating corn at high altitudes, still speaking their Mayan language and observing a lot of its customs. The dwellings, while somewhat modern, were still dotted on the ridges of mountains by the roadside and were still surrounded by stalks of corn and other traditional crops.

The people on the side of the road looked like they could’ve been here many centuries ago. It was a powerful reminder of just how strong Chiapas’ native identity and culture is to this day — something that is the source of many conflicts with the Mexican federal government.

L1003830 L1003831

There are the hills they live in, and the hills they have lived in for generations upon generations. And we’re just lucky enough to see them as they are in this small snapshot of time, bathed in golden glows of a setting sun.

L1003834

I suspect the Spanish had something more tangible in mind when they were out here looking for the gold of the natives, but this can’t have been a bad consolation prize. Sunsets in this high country are magical, and the warm light played with the cornstalks in a beautiful fiery way.

L1003840

L1003850

Ah, how can I keep going? I have to stop and take photos. I have to keep moving, too, as we hate riding in the dark in unknown places and on mountains without great visibility and into a town we’d never been in… but, the scenery. Just look at it:

L1003884
L1003863
L1003872

L1003885

I’d stop to take some photos, and Stu would overtake me. I’d keep riding for a bit, and fly by Stu on the side of the road, taking photos. The process would repeat so often that eventually I was trained to listen to that big pig of a thumper’s roar echoing of the mountainside and make sure I had my camera ready to snap him rolling by:

L1003886

And with that purple glow, the sun had been laid to rest. Only the light from our own headlights poured over this twisty road now, the last few dozen miles to San Cristobal, no doubt scenic but it scenery and views now invisible to us.

It’d been a solid ride, and we checked into the Rossco Backpacker Hostel, which we were told gives a free night to bikers. We were not just warmly welcomed, but for the same price they gave us a full room to enjoy in the back and a beautiful spot in the courtyard to park the bikes. Tomorrow, we’d set off to explore San Cristobal and make plans for Chiapas and what lay beyond the Mexican border.

But first, beers, food, and a bit of rest from our taming of the isthmus and chasing up the Mayan trail.

You may also like