21 August – Day 30
Durango, Mexico to Mazatlan, Mexico
Today was always going to be an interesting day on the bike. Any day when you’re potentially riding a road that is known as ‘the devil’s backbone’ (Espinazo del Diablo) and is described in western media as “a dangerous road in a treacherous Mexican mountain range known for marijuana and opium poppies” is going to be an interesting day.
I say ‘potentially riding’ because – in a significant engineering feat involving 115 bridges and 61 tunnels at a cost of $2.2 billion – the Mexican government is/was due to complete a new highway that bypasses the devil and the drugs in August of this year. And it’s August right now!!
However… we couldn’t find any information about whether the highway was complete and therefore open – or not.
So on one hand, we were facing a 300km, 10 hour ride, including a 2500m descent with switchbacks galore. That’s an average speed of 30km/h. For 10 hours. I’ve ridden my pushbike faster than that! Admittedly, not for 10 hours up and down mountains/valleys/ravines etc… but still!
On the other hand, it was a 225km, 3 hour cruise on brand new tar admiring the latest that road engineering has to offer.
No prizes for guessing what my preference was! Adrian was sort of keen on the devil, but he’d also read that the road was so narrow and the corners so tight that trucks (and lots of trucks use the route) need the entire road to make the turn. Did I mention that a significant number of the switchbacks are blind corners? In the middle of drugland? With trucks going full speed ahead, on the wrong side of the road? And cattle, horses and donkeys just roaming about? So yeah, Adrian was sort of keen on it but could also see why the highway might be a good option – and he was interested in the new road from a construction perspective, too.
In the end, we got a bit of both: the on ramp we’d intended to use was not yet complete – so we took the old road for the first little bit. Then we got on the highway. Then we hit an incomplete section and had two hours of switchbacks. Then we got back on the highway… and an hour or so later, we were in our waterfront seaside hotel in Mazatlan! It’s lovely being back on the coast – although the beach here is dirty enough that I’m more likely to admire the view rather than actually go for a swim. We’ll be on the coast for the next little while, so there’ll be plenty of other opportunities for swimming.
A more general observation about travel in Mexico: there are hawkers by the side of the road offering a range of things for sale at almost every point where cars have to slow down… eg in and out of cities, next to speed bumps etc. Today, in addition to hawkers selling mangoes at 8 for $1 (one of the moments when I wished we were in a car so I could get some!), we saw bags of prawns on offer. The hawkers were standing in the sun, it was about 30 deg C, I couldn’t see any ice, and they were waving around bags of prawns for people to buy! I’m not a fan of prawns at the best of times, but prawns that that have been sitting on a table by the side of the road in the middle of summer for a few hours?! No thanks!!!