Mountains and Cities

We gaze down at Durango. Heavy smog blankets the city. We’re hesitant to descend down to it, but the city has services we need. Down we go.

My eyes burn, nose runs and throat hurts. We’re lucky to be able to leave. We take the main road out of town and make a quick escape.

South of Sombrerete we follow quiet back roads, winding our way to Zacatecas. Some are dirt, some have been recently paved and a bit is even covered in cobblestones. The map is not always correct on this.

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In Zacatecas the night lights dazzle my eyes. The architecture is stunning. Bands play in the streets. People dance. Mezcal is served from a six liter jug off the back of a donkey.

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Our Warmshowers host Francisco takes us to the Quinta Real hotel. I have been reading Michner’s Mexico and get chills when I walk into the plaza. I imagine all the bull fights of years past. Francisco hauled radio equipment here for his Dad until the Plaza closed in 1975.

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We wander the city, discovering nooks and crannies, eating gorditas, drinking cafe d’olla and visiting the panaderias.

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Leaving the Sea for the Mountains

We eat our way through Mazatlan and go for one last stroll along the Pacific. In the morning, we pedal east, heading for the mountains.

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We have been told to take the new road to Durango. It has a shoulder and is straight, mostly. We have our eyes on the old road. It is 60km longer, reportedly has 1,500 hairpin turns and the 260 kilometers take eight hours by car. Perfect.

Mostly, it’s like this, twisting and turning it’s way over and around the mountains.

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The new road just blasts through, with tunnels and suspension bridges.

We climb and climb and climb, working our way up. At around 1,200 meters I come around a corner and find pine trees.

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Pine trees! Water drips from rock walls. A canyon opens up before us. It’s pleasant, really.

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The top of the mesa reminds me of Northern Arizona. A babbling brook invites us in, and we pass an afternoon, enjoying the sun.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

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On how to leave the Baja

One day before we leave Todos Santos I receive an email from Baja Ferries. I know enough Spanish to know the news isn’t good. The La Paz Star is broken, and our boat ride to Mazatlan has been cancelled. A phone number is provided to obtain more information.

We’re told we can take a boat to Topalabambo and then a bus through Sinoloa to Mazatlan. We can go the same day as planned, but to a different destination.

We decide to cancel our tickets and explore other options. Our Warmshowers host tells us there is a cargo ferry, but women are not allowed. We investigate flying. Another friend tells us there is another ferry she is just not sure of the name. It turns out the cargo ferry our host knows about and the “other ferry” our friend mentioned are one and the same, and they do, in fact, allow women on board. Bingo.

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Only a day later than planned, we sail away from the Baja.

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We sleep up on the top deck, and I watch three frigate birds ride the wind all night long.

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We arrive in Mazatlan, curious to explore mainland Mexico.

For those interested, the other ferry option is TMC. They only sell tickets the day of the sailing, and you must go to their office at the port in Pichilingue to buy the ticket.

Family comes to Mexico

Tyndall’s parents and my sister meet us in Todos Santos for a week of sun and beach. Instead of two wheels, we bounce around Baja’s back roads on four.

We cook good meals.

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We explore empty beaches.

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We watch big waves.

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We send baby sea turtles off into the great unknown.

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We watch whales play.

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We talk.

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It was a good week. Thanks for coming.

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La Tortilleria

I’m addicted. I don’t know how it happened. Maybe it was the tacos. I started by eating a few each day. That was a month ago. I think about how many I had yesterday. Was it 15? Or more likely a 1/2 kilogram? Supposedly the “healthier choice” over flour tortillas, I’m told it’s OK by a friend who lives in Mexico.

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Maíz tortillas aren’t for everyone. They dry out quickly and break easily, dumping their contents on the floor. Their mouth feel is granular. However, they are slightly sweet, cheap, and when prepared properly have a particular bounce that makes me return for more.

Fresh is best. Each town in Mexico tends to have their own Tortilleria and it’s busy before meal time. Everyone wants a steaming stack of fresh tortillas to share with the family. As they come skidding off of the machine, workers weigh them out in stacks. 

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

They come in half or whole kilogram increments wrapped in paper. The fancier stores use bleached paper that have logos printed on them while smaller local stores use non bleached paper similar to a newspaper without any ink.

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At home, the hot stack of tortillas is kept in its paper cover and further wrapped in a towel to preserve moisture and heat.  When dinner is ready (or rather any meal because they are eaten all the time) the tortillas are placed on the table and eaten as an American would eat fresh bread.

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They are rolled up and used to push food on the plate. They are dipped in soups. They are made into food vehicles conveying tasty tidbits into your mouth. They go with everything. It’s OK to have a couple kilograms of maíz tortillas at home. They will get eaten.

Of particular note is that the warmest tortillas are the best. While eating dinner with a friend I noticed that she didn’t take from the top of the tortilla stack. Rather, it is important with a fresh stack to find a tortilla in the middle and pull it out. It’s like getting the center roll out of a fresh baked pan of rolls.

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After dinner the tortillas are wrapped up in the towel and left to cool. They will last another few days but they won’t be as good as they were when fresh. Slowly, the moisture escapes and the maíz tortillas become brittle and dry. They are rejuvenated for each successive meal by heating in a hot skillet or over an open flame. Their flexibility and bounce returns.

Eventually, the heat treatment will not rejuvenate the days old tortillas.  They are destined for a new life as Chilaquiles.

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Through the Sierra La Laguna

Time passes.

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We finally pull ourselves away from friends and leave San Jose, pointing our wheels towards the mountains. The locals call the road Los Naranjos. They tell us it’s in good shape. Out past the airport a sandy road shoots straight west and up.

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It’s the hottest part of the day and I linger in the shade, savoring my water. Not far along and there’s running water, flowing across the road. We have been in the desert so long that it didn’t even cross my mind to ask anyone if there is water along the way, but there it is. I count six water crossings before we stop for the night beside one. I can’t remember the last time we camped next to running water. It must have been somewhere in southern Colorado.

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Frogs croak and crickets chirp. We share our sandy campsite with a plethora of daddy longlegs. For some reason, there’s loads of them here. I am grateful for the floor in our tent tonight.

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Through the mountains the Pacific comes into view. We zig and zag down towards it. There’s a beach campsite down there somewhere with our name on it.

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We tuck ourselves in an arroyo and watch the sunset. I ponder the irony of a man building a beachfront home telling me not to pitch my tent in the dunes, as we’ll disturb the sea turtles.

In the morning we ride the last 10 miles to Todos Santos.