1 September – Day 41
Oaxaca, Mexico to San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico
When I first looked into a basic itinerary for our trip through the Americas my primary thought was to ensure that the distance travelled each day was achievable both in terms of the roads to be travelled (condition & twistiness) and Lauren’s relative inexperience with long distances on the bike. A long distance in this case is not the Iron Butt (1000 miles in 24 hours) type but comparative to the distance I’ve ridden on several occasions with and as preferred by my dad (circa 350kms). Lauren has more than proved her ability to accommodate our relatively long rides and on more than one occasion cracked the whip to keep us going a little longer to the next town. I had planned this section – ie the trip from Oaxaca to San Cristobal – over 3 days however we acknowledged our preference for more time off the bike at our destinations by covering this distances over a single day.
The road from San Cristobal to the mountains was fairly flat and straight and we made good time. Leading up over the mountains, the fresh tarmac allowed me to have some fun and keep a little more momentum than usual through the corners. Of course then came a little rain, and the road turned to old tarmac and then to dirt through some roadworks and we were back to the slow going slog typical that has been typical of Mexico. From 1,500m we dropped back down close to sea level and once again hit the hot and humid coastal weather.
After we jumped on the toll road we started making good time to our destination. We passed through apparently the world’s largest wind farm which is quite an awesome site in terms of the staggering number of windmills however they are quite a controversial topic amongst the local indigenous population. While the location takes advantage of the high winds that pass through the area during monsoon season and the outcome is relatively environmentally friendly power generation, the locals have been unfairly compensated in terms of the rental paid for the use of their land (in the region of $100US per hectare per year) and the subsequent harm that the low frequency vibration causes to local fish and animal stocks.
Pushing on, we left the coast and once again climbed back into the mountains where the road traverses its way around every bend and contour, however there is now a toll road that uses a series of tunnels and bridges to whisk those who prefer it to their destination in about a third of the time… Lauren’s preference was obvious and I crumbled… however to be fair I did revel in tackling the high-speed corners of the toll road on a for once smooth surface.
The rain had been on and off for most of the ride and so the wet weather gear had been worn for most of the trip. Upon cresting the top of the mountain and onto the plateau it was soon obvious that the dark grey wall on the horizon was waiting for us. Suffice to say we copped a downpour and the road was quickly covered in 2 inches of water. At least the stream of water down my visor was easier to see through the usual spots – it was literally raining in sheets, not drops. The locals didn’t surprise with their actions though, some kept going at full speed dousing everything around them as they aqua-planed on by, some stopped in the middle of their lane and put their hazard lights on, others slowed to a crawl until two foreigners on a motorcycle overtook them and they did all they could to get back past. I do remember overtaking one car in the middle of all this and then seeing that car getting stuck behind me in the pile of sand that had been dumped and extended across the lane at least a foot deep. While visible when not raining and possibly avoidable it was completely invisible under this deluge. Needless to say, had I not fortuitously changed lanes at that moment, the outcome may have been a disaster.
As we passed through Tuxtla Gutierrez, the major city for the region (thankfully on a bypass that missed the chaotic traffic that would have been downtown… except for a short segment where the GPS and road signs didn’t agree with each other and then the road signs disappeared altogether..), the rain ceased and the road wound its way up from 800m to 2,000m with an associated cooling of the temperature. The fun began almost immediately as the massive change in altitude combined with a single lane in either direction meant that we were coming across slower vehicles thick and fast, with faster ones coming up behind us just as quickly. Two actual lanes effectively became five unofficial lanes as everyone jostled for position. You would think you were in the queue to overtake the semi-trailer in front and then find a car next to you facing off with the car coming down the hill pushing them and us off the road. Utter chaos really, I’m just glad the Beemer has a bit of go when needed.
Arriving in San Cristobal de Las Casas we once again commenced the search for a hotel that could accommodate both us and provide secure parking for the bike. While we usually try at least two or three, we wisely (luckily?) found one slightly off the town square but still right in the centre that ticked all the boxes. We made a bee-line for the plaza and walking streets to fill our famished bellies and found an excellent wine bar selling regional wines and tapas. After quizzing the owner about the motorcycle pictures gracing the back page of the menu, we managed a brief but entertaining Spanglish discussion of bikes that lead to a round of tequila shots on the house as we left after our meal. An excellent end to a long and tiring day!