Windy, Winding Roads to Oaxaca

March 7, Oaxaca

Our fastest ever border crossing happened leaving Honduras and entering Guatemala. We were through in about 35 minutes. It’s never clear quite where all the time goes at the borders. Sometimes, it’s the glacial pace of the officials. Some borders, it’s just several different offices. Only rarely is it because there is a line. We have seen very few other private vehicles crossing anywhere. And somehow, the truckers have a different procedure. Another part of the process is the money changing. I am armed with current exchange rates between bordering currencies and the US dollar. Interestingly, on our way north, I haven’t really had to do any negotiating. The rate the moneychangers have offered seemed fair to me. It’s all part of the process. They are usually disappointed that I don’t want to change dollars, though. We’re usually just moving currencies along.

That’s me at the immigration window.

Changing lempiras for quetzales.

Once in Guatemala, we were heading for Coban, a town with some elevation. But first, we had to travel a section of lowland. And it was hot!!! As we headed west, we could see the mountains to the north, but it took a while for our road to appear. Then we wound our way up, gaining elevation as quickly as we could, given the heavy, slow bus and truck traffic. Between the heat and breathing the nasty exhaust fumes, I was not feeling so well when we got to Coban. But we found a nice place to rest and a great place for dinner. I was ready to go the next day.

Our pleasant hotel in Coban

And what a day it was! According to our guidebook, the 150 km between Huehuetenango and Coban takes three days by bus. It took us most of the day, but those numbers will be changing as they are working hard at improving the road. This is a serious mountain road, between 7000 and 1800 feet elevation, changing back and forth several times. The Coban end is a one lane, dirt road, heavily potholed road, with serious switchbacks and drop-offs. I really don’t understand what happens when a truck meets a bus. Luckily, most of the traffic was opposed to us, as it is much easier to just pull over for a minute to let a truck by than to try to pass it from behind. We got into the construction zone, where they are somehow widening the road. And then, pavement! New and smooth, twisty, no traffic, beautiful views. Spectacular riding. I think we are very lucky to have enjoyed this road now. Once it is finished, the bus and truck traffic will undoubtedly increase, and with all the ups and downs, it won’t be very much fun to share the road with them.

The narrow part

Under construction

One of the river valleys

Twisty pavement

Winding through the market at La Mesilla, the Mexican/Guatemalan border

San Cristobal

In Huehue, we returned to “our” hotel, where we stayed Christmas eve. It was nice to enter a town and now where we were going. And the next day, we retraced our steps back to Mexico and San Cristobal to “our” other hotel. San Cristobal had a very different feeling without all of the overwhelming Christmas effects we had seen in December.

San Cristobal

San Cristobal graffiti

From San Cristobal, we took the toll road to Tuxtla Gutierrez. It was a steady drop of 6000 feet over 40 km along a mountain ridge. If it had been clear, we may have even seen the Pacific. At least, it felt like that. As we headed on to the coast, we got another lovely mountain road to play on. It was fun.

All the fun ended when we got to the coast. We were crossing the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where Mexico is skinny and low. And very, very, very windy. We were heading west and the wind was coming from the north, we guess at speeds around 70 mph. For most of it, the road was wide with good shoulders, so we had lots of room in case we got blown around, which was happening. Most of the trucks and buses were also crawling along, but there were the regular cars that zoomed along as usual. We passed a wind farm and two towns named after wind, so obviously this was not strange weather. The road narrowed and we came over a rise into a rain storm. The clouds raining must have been miles away. We pulled off into a gravel pit/dump to take a break and hope the wind would too. It wasn’t easy to even rest there. Tom suggested we go a bit up a dirt road to try to shelter by a bluff. However, as I headed that way, the wind blew me off the hardpack dirt into loose gravel and, with no traction for the tires, it blew me down. Tom came down to help, and while he was helping me, the wind blew his bike over the sidestand. We got both bikes up, tried to find more shelter, and decided to push on. This was actually easier than trying to rest. But the game wasn’t up yet. We got to an intersection and stopped to check the map. And the wind blew me over again! And Tom’s bike again when he was helping me. Enough of this! We were through the worst of it. We scooted on a bit further to town and found a place for a proper rest (aka, a hotel).

All purpose vehicle

The next day was still windy but much less. As we headed along the coast, we were protected by more and bigger mountains, so the wind just served to keep the heat down. We checked out the uber-resort of Huatulco and then continued on to the small town of Puerto Angel, built around a charming little harbor.

The bay of Puerto Angel

Evening in Puerto Angel

Yesterday, it was up over the Sierra Madre Sur to Oaxaca. It took us about three and a half hours to go the first 95 km, not because of traffic or towns but because of twists and turns. Another amazing mountain road. No shortage of these, especially once we’ve made the decision to keep our elevation as high as possible.

Climbing the Sierra Madre Sur

View towards Oaxaca city, once we’ve cleared the mountains

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