24 January, 2008

Zihuatanejo Hiking Adventure

I had always wanted to go to Zihuatanejo, a tropical paradise on the Pacific shores of Guerrero. It lies southeast of Lakeside. A few years ago, my wife and I headed there in our old van. It broke down seven times on the trip due to ingesting dirty gas along the way. We never did make it to Zihua. Shortly afterward we bought a new Honda CR-V that has been extremely reliable and appropriate for exploring Mexico. However, after our van breakdowns my wife has always said no to travel. Therefore, this year I organized an adventure travel trip for my hiking buddies.

The plan was to drive straight through to Zihua, enjoy being there and casually hike from downtown to the furthest point of the bay toward the south, a seven hour sojourn. This would involve hiking along three different beaches separated by rocky headlands. Each beach would offer a different character where we could eat, drink, swim and people watch. Later we would visit two national parks and the Paricutin volcano on the way home.

We left Lakeside at 8 AM Monday in two full cars -- Al Borchardt, Norm Tihor and Don Simes in my SUV, and Duncan Poole, Herb Foster and Dave Riddell in Clive Overton's Volkswagen. Ocotlan was an hour away, the highway 37 exit from the Mexico autopista was another hour, and then after many miles of very twisty and rough roads we were into Uruapan for lunch about noon. From Uruapan to the coast we enjoyed a new, high quality, high speed highway through dry and mountainous country to arrive at the coast about 3. A final hour along the twisty coast highway 200 got us to Zihua by 4.

Here Is A Google Map With the Location of Zihuatanejo. Close map window to return.

Our priority was to hit the beach and have a cold beer or two while looking out over the bay. Surprisingly everybody felt great after such a long trip of 568 km. Here we all are: Duncan, Dave, Herb, Gerry, Don, Clive, Al and Norm. (Double click images to enlarge. Use browser back arrow to return.)

I had reserved the dormitory for us at Angela's Hostel, about three blocks from the beach. It was an interesting location right beside Zihua's busy market. The owners Gregg and Angela were extremely friendly and helpful. We felt like honoured guests in their home.

As you can see the hostel was a lovely and clean place with plants, fresh paint, and bright colours everywhere. I prefer to stay at hostels as they encourage friendly mixing and have common areas for people to visit and cook, although we ate our meals out. In expensive hotels, people isolate themselves as if in fear, for example, they watch the elevator floor numbers change, without greeting anyone.

Our accommodation was simple, inexpensive (100p) but perfectly adequate allowing us as a group to share the adventure. Everyone had a separate fan and all were necessary as it was quite hot and humid all night long. Here, Don jokes with the others about their bunk bed accommodation. Home Sweet Home.

Finally, the cold beers under the palapa beside the surf. Beer ran between 10 and 20 pesos. Norm was in charge of finding the best two for one deals.

We had made it, but were not the first to arrive. At first glance the cruise ship seemed to fill the bay and we thought every bar and restaurant would be packed but it was not so. They were gone by sundown. That evening we walked along the elevated boardwalk. It was a romantic sight with all the twinkling stars, candlelit restaurants and coloured lights. I missed my wife!

The next morning we went to Bananas for breakfast and then headed out on our hike along the coast. First Playa Municipal and over the walkway to Playa Madera. Near the end of this beach we headed up over the hill (as shown below), past fabulous views and beautiful resort hotels, and then back down to sand at Playa La Ropa.

What a beautiful, relaxing hike this was. The trail was truly level with not even a root or rock to trip over. Were we ever being spoiled.

La Ropa was indeed the best beach, wide, with perfect sand and delightfully warm water. It is bordered by palm trees and lined with sunning beds and low-level seafood restaurants. It was only necessary to buy a coffee to use the facilities so we stopped and enjoyed ourselves for the rest of the morning. Half of us went swimming while the others watched the best bikini show imaginable.

It was a blue sky day, hot but without the crowds. We were totally content and I couldn't talk anyone into being pulled on the big rubber banana by a power boat nor even parasailing.

However, eventually everyone wanted to explore further along the coast. So off we went sliding on slippery wet rocks to get to our final beach, Playa Las Gatas. This was good practice for the final part of the hike.

Whereas other people take a water taxi to this beach, we had walked and enjoyed every section along the way. Las Gatas is a small, cove-like bay, with shallow water. It is pleasantly crowded with beach umbrellas, sun beds and seafood restaurants. Unfortunately there is considerable coral which is sharp and makes swimming poor.

After exploring around for a path up and over the final headland to get to the lighthouse on the point, we found our way blocked by a continuous high fence and an upset land owner. So, time for another beer and a delightful seafood platter for lunch. I'm not much into seafood so it was a great opportunity to sample various items. However, I quickly learned that he who hesitates is left with scraps as those in the know quickly overfilled their plates. Etiquette comes second for hungry men.

What a tropical paradise! We soaked it all in and felt elated by our good fortune.

Having been turned back from going over the hill and now well fed and rested, we attempted an indirect route along the sea edge.

As we swung around more and more into the open Pacific swells near the point, the route became more challenging with larger rocks against impassable steep cliffs and drenching spray. Here dauntless Don waits for the next big wave to hit and soak his rock.

I decided to try to climb the cliffs to avoid the spray and find a dry route to the lighthouse. Did you know, climbing down is a lot more difficult than up. So I'm glad I didn't get too far before turning back.

Don tried a higher pinnacle to avoid the spray but that didn't lead anywhere! Notice the lighthouse on the horizon.

And so the day ended with another beer back at Las Gatas and a water taxi ride home. Both Dave and Norm enjoyed the land route so much that they hiked back instead.

In recovery mode, we all enjoyed a siesta back at the hostel after our busy day. That is not a death grip on the hammock. At sunset we headed out again to a romantic , candlelit dinner at a little outdoor restaurant that we had discovered the previous night. I missed my wife again!

The next morning after breakfast we explored the wall of high rise hotels along the main boulevard in Ixtapa, a jet set resort area up the coast. We were not impressed. There was no way to get to the beach as each resort completely blocked the way. With all the guards around we didn't even want to have lunch there. So we drove on to Uruapan. Here we are ready to hike the Eduardo Ruiz National Park.

Intrepid hikers Clive and Dave follow the river from nowhere. The Cupatitzio river starts here from underground springs. The quantity and fast flow of water is impressive.

The park is actually very tame and contains elaborate manicured walks, waterways and waterfalls. It however, is a beautiful place to relax and be immersed in nature at the edge of the city.

That evening we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the central plaza area. There were dozens of bars, coffee shops, ice cream parlors and restaurants besides the usual market vendors. In the food market, we enjoyed a very authentic Mexican meal cooked in front of our eyes. Herb poured beer from quart bottles and we toasted everyone's health. Nobody got sick!

After a great night's sleep at the Hotel de Parque (165p), we had the best breakfast of our trip including specialty tea and coffee. We all heartily recommend the Cafe Traditional de Uruapan. However, we had a buried church to find. In less than an hour, we were at the Paricutin volcano. Below, Duncan is lost in the lava field. This is not a place to fall as the lava is incredibly sharp and the footing is most awkward.

"Hey guys, I found the church!" Even having seen it before, it is an awesome sight. This is just one end of the church. The altar end is where I am standing. The size of the people to the left give you some perspective into how large this church actually was.

Our last stop was at the Camecuaro National Park outside Zamora, Michoacan. National Parks up north are areas of wilderness protection and conservation. We felt that this natural area was over used and abused. We didn't rent boats here.

Our last supper. We were happy to have a break in the long, hard trip home. It always seems much more tiring to return home. But we had had an adventurous 4 day vacation with a lot of variety in scenery, climate, accommodation and eating places. As we pulled into Lakeside just before dark, people were already talking about where are we going for our next adventure trip.

15 January, 2008

Dirt Bike Adventure up and over the Coast Range

For years I have wanted to follow the Quale River from PuertoVallarta into the coastal mountains and all the way up to Mascota in the interior plateau. Jerry Smith, who had done this route several times in the past, was organizing and leading a trip this January and I immediately asked to be included, along with Andy Doole, Ray Cawthorne, Bob White and Priest Kemper.

Words can not describe the awesome two-day trip we took, 444 miles long. For me it was the motorcycle trip of a lifetime - incredible vistas of deep canyons and craggy cliffs, rugged dirt trails that disintegrated into mountain ledges at times - a veritable carnival ride from humid jungle full of flowers and vines to arid high mountain country. It was repeatedly up one mountain side and down the other to the river bed and then up again. Unfortunately I only have pictures through the tame part of the country as the rest was so steep uphill and down that I couldn't find many flat and secure places to park my bike for picture taking. It was a wild ride at times without being able to stop for photographs or to admire the view. This was no laid back adventure poking around on a trail bike. On a group ride the highly experienced riders are often out front and out of sight, there, for the thrilling challenge of successfully negotiating each hairpin turn of which there were hundreds. When riding in the dirt, one has to pay the utmost attention to dodge the next rut, boulder or canyon-side washout, and stay on the trail, not hit a tree or the cliff face nor fly into the canyon below. And the scenery was an incredible distraction.

Four hours ride from Lake Chapala, the trip really started for me in Mascota, Jalisco, pictured below in the valley as seen from the lookout. We were to do a loop down to Puerto Vallarta, on the newly repaved mountain highway described in earlier posts, and then take a dirt road back following the Quale River. (Double-click on any of these photos to enlarge. Browser back arrow to continue.)

An interesting side trip for me along the way to PV has always been San Sebastian del Oueste, the centuries old centre of gold and silver mining. The 10 km dirt road that led to this village was now paved! As we entered the village, there were scores of tourists wandering around that had been flown in or brought in by the bus load over the newly paved highway from PV. Fortunately, they were mainly browsers and had not usurped our favourite restaurant.

After a delicious lunch we suited up and rolled out of town, back through the oxcart narrow streets and by picturesque dwellings to the through highway.

A few kilometers down the highway we crossed the brand new bridge straddling the canyon. It was immense and looked like it could easily withstand earthquakes. The view was magnificent up and down the canyon.

On earlier trips we had to wind our way down a dirt road all the way to the bottom and drive across the river, actually in the river, and climb back up the other side. Here you can see that abandoned old road hugging the cliffs.

And so we made it to PV where we checked into the Posada San Miguel. As on previous trips, the management allowed us to bring our bikes, caked in dirt, into their lobby and also their games room. It was fun riding up and down short flights of stairs to the possible bewilderment of other guests. Our bikes are quite loud! Then it was off to the beach where we enjoyed a few two-for-one drinks while relaxing under the spell of the waves. Dinner was at an excellent place at Priest's recommendation where we could sit and watch life go by. We didn't stay late enough to witness the real action this place was known for. Later we enjoyed swapping stories over ice cream to finish off the evening. Although I understand that for some of us the night was still young, I was totally exhausted and crashed.

The next morning we were off early for breakfast at Fredys Tucan Restaurant. Our bikes must have been quite a sight waiting to leave. Andy supplied the entertainment while our breakfasts cooked.

Finally we were on our way. I was surprised how far PV stretches up the Quale river and by the traffic jamb of people trying to get to work. There were huge boulders in the canyon, some room size, that had been ground smooth, and formed deep pools here and there. Everywhere was jungle, lush and vibrant green. As we rode up into the hills we had to share the road with seven piglets and their parents, a very cute sight.

The wide dirt road gradually split over and over, getting narrower and narrower. At one important split, the lefters and righters were evenly split as well. Eventually we went left.

The route took us down to a river crossing at the bottom of the canyon, through several switchbacks that were a portent of more to come, and the first of several wipeouts. This crossing didn't look familiar and so back across and up to the decision point split to take the right branch. No problem, this was supposed to be an adventure, not a guided tour.

Further along there was a major hill climb of hairpin switchbacks. The trick was to not loose momentum in the switchback and yet not go over the cliff. If stopped in a steep turn, it was all too possible to loose control of the bike as it slid backwards with all brakes on. With these high and heavy bikes, it's hard enough for some of us to reach the ground on the level! Unfortunately here another wipeout created torn ankle tendons as well as minor mechanical problems. Although his pain was severe at times, it was possible to ride on rather than head back. After having badly broken my leg out in the boonies near here a couple of years ago, I felt a great deal of sympathy.

We had been riding in wilderness much of the day, except for the occasional ranch. Finally we came across a red Coca Cola sign in a tiny village of a few houses and a very old crumbling church. We were parched and tired, so were very pleased to stop a while and drink.

This place certainly gave us the impression of a stage coach stop. Apparently a traveling preacher comes through here once a month!

Along the way there were various river crossings including a rickety old bridge and a slimy shelf. No stopping please!

However, we had often been told about the crux of the trip, a deep river crossing. Fortunately, the crossing was not all that deep at this time but still challenging. Only one bike had difficulty and got stuck. It required several people to pull it out, and not everybody was anxious to wade in again.

"Watch out for that boulder... oops, too late." But Priest makes it through safely.

"What way to San Jose?" The right route to take was not always obvious. Fortunately Ray, in black, used to race dirt bikes. He now was readily available to quickly check out various alternatives. He knows how to steer around switchbacks using power to slid the back end around to point in the right direction. When I tried to learn, it put a chill right through me, as it felt like I was losing control of the bike - maybe some day I'll master it after a lot of practice.

Dust is always a big problem when riding in fluffy dirt. It quickly covers one's face shield and of course reduces critical visibility, makes riding curves dangerous. We're forced to wipe the dust off with our gloves as we move, but that eventually causes a face shield to become finely scratched and reduces visibility permanently. Here Bob kicks up the dust.

And Priest eats it. We often switch places in the lineup to be fair but somehow we just can't catch the more experienced ones up front.

In one area in particular, the road was extremely rugged, just a steep decending ledge along the cliff face. It really looked like it had partially fallen into the canyon below. I know I couldn't get over it with my 4x4 and I wouldn't want to try. Unfortunately I have no photographs. However, across the canyon was a monster mountain with sheer cliffs and awesome crags.

Fortunately we didn't turn back when the road was worst as it was not very much further that we rode out of the mountains and into agricultural country. It was over and I had had another thrill of a lifetime.

Finally we were at the end of the loop and back in Mascota, just in time for a hearty late lunch. I was in recovery mode, but it was fun sharing our impressions of an adventure ride thoroughly enjoyed by all.