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Feeling Like an Old Fool (Day 95) -Ejutla to San Jose del Pacifico, Mexico | We're Not There Yet

Today is my birthday! We had hoped to reach the coast by today so as to enjoy the ocean for the first time since Florida, but we had a mountain to climb and it looked doubtful that we’d be able to cover enough ground.  So we got up as early as possible in Ejutla and were on the road by 8:00.  The ride was instantly more difficult than yesterday’s and we were back working our way across gently rolling hills.  Both M and I thought that there were things wrong with our bikes, the kinds of things that slow you down greatly, until I remembered that this is just how it is to ride on hills at higher altitudes: you go much more slowly despite the amount of effort that you exert.  We had hoped that two weeks in Oaxaca would acclimate us to the altitude, but we didn’t exercise much at all during those two weeks, and so the exertion on the hills really was draining.  That said, the fatigue cleared up and we were soon making our way through absolutely spectacular scenery.

The squiggly line indicates the ridiculously hilly climb we had in store for the day

The area out here is far removed from the more populated feel around Oaxaca, and we passed by corn and agave farms, flocks of sheep, and more stunning mountain views off to our left and right.  It is Sunday, and one thing that we’ve come to appreciate about Sundays in Mexico is that it’s barbacoa day.  Barbacoa is steamed or spiced mutton, which is sold from roadside stands that are open only on Sundays.  You get some barbacoa tacos and then a free cup of soup made from the stock that the mutton is cooked in. It’s delicious, a rare treat, and is always served in an interesting setting.  Our chef spoke excellent English, having worked in Memphis for 11 years.

These tacos were ricos!

After the tacos we bypassed that fourth and final town in the Central Valley (Mihuatlan) and headed on towards the mountain.  Our destination was San Jose del Pacifico, which we understood to be almost all the way up to the pass over the mountain range.  We debated just taking a truck, since it’s my birthday and I’d rather get to a pretty mountain town and relax than sweat our way up a mountain…but we decided to give it a shot, since it was only 2 PM.  So we started the climb.

It is a mountain, no doubt about that.  Long rows of switchbacks and no flat areas at all.  Eventually I saw a little restaurant on a curve and we decided to stop there for a bite to eat and a drink.  So we ordered some food, and while we were eating it, it started to pour down rain.  We asked the owner how long it usually rains for (as we’re used to about an hour of rain) and she said that it could rain all day.  Since it had taken us a long time to reach that point, and she said that we were only halfway to San Jose, we decided to take a truck (little pickup trucks run up and down the mountain, acting like taxis for the people who live here who usually have too many livestock; lumber; or farm tools to fit in a taxi).  But…we couldn’t find any empty trucks.  So we put on our rain gear and started back up the mountain.

Mocking us or cheering us on?

After about 20 minutes it started to pour down rain again and an empty truck passed us by.  I quickly flagged it down and we delightedly loaded our bikes into the truck bed.  We sat down next to the bikes (there was a canopy to shield us from the rain) and we congratulated each other on our good fortune, since we had by our estimates another 1½ hours of climbing to do…

…which turned out to be wrong.

The truck went about 50 meters further uphill, around a corner, and then started its descent.  It turns out that we had ridden clear to the top of the mountain before hiring a truck to drive us down the other side.  Now that is a real bitch.  It’s not easy to ride a bike up a mountain, but you get to think about how you’re storing up all this good “mountain karma” to be used up rolling gleefully down the other side.  And we blew it.  As it turns out, San Jose del Pacifico sits way down the mountain on the other side.  So we that in the truck bed, feeling like fools, while we careened around curves that would’ve been amazing to ride through.  We rode through banks of heavy, heavy fog, past sheer cliff faces, and past a famous retreat where the Mexican shaman, Maria Sabina, fed psychedelic mushrooms to George Harrison.  This area, owing to its continuous rain and cool temperatures, is famous for its mushrooms, including the psychedelic variety.

Not for the fainthearted

Anyhow, we reached San Jose, and it is absolutely spectacular.  It has the feel of a ski lodge town, with wool hats and sweaters on sale from cozy wood structures.  But it’s also tiny.  We got a room for $15 that looks out over the whole mountainside, and then spent a fortune ($20) on an utterly mediocre birthday dinner.  Still, it’s beautiful here.

Downtown San Jose del Pacifico

NBD, just the view from our hostel

Tomorrow starts out with another big climb, but then we’ll drop down out of the cold, high mountains and ride all the way down to the Pacific, a drop of over 2,000 meters, where we expect to feel heat for the first time since Houston.

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