Lakes, Indian history and Butterfly mecca! (&vids)

Trip Start Jul 15, 2009
Trip End Jul 15, 2010

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Where I stayed

Flag of Mexico  , Yucatan Peninsula,
Monday, December 14, 2009

This is a biggy, It's been a while so I have squeezed it in.

The bus arrived in Guadalajara at 5:30am and upon opening the storage doors I literally found a sack of rocks on my bike, pressing down on the derailleur. Nancy had a suit case thrown on hers! Luckily both bikes survived.

Guadalajara is Mexico's second largest city. I’m not sure of the numbers and didn’t and really care for cycling through the heart of it fully loaded. We all opted to head straight out following the gps around the city edge through some industrial areas with housing and smells to fit. Once on the highway out we saw loads of cyclists heading to Chapala and back. It was neat to see people kitted out. We were going the same way but we were slower, wider, and with no shoulder to ride on this was a little scary with all the traffic.

Now cycling at 1500m we were in a different world, also different state. Instead of the isolated roads and the freezing cold nights we had in the Serria Madre Mountains, we were baking in the sun riding on busy roads through lush landscape. Chapala was a lakeside town; apparently 6000 gringos live there amongst others from various backgrounds. One Guatemalan guy told us Chapala has the second best weather in the world behind Nairobi, Africa. It was a very nice holiday town, old buildings, water Front Park with bustling markets, music, and people with big pockets. The houses here were nothing like the rectangular, mud brick and concrete coloured towns we were use to. There was fine architecture and wonderful looking houses, most of which were locked up behind huge gates and surrounding walls. After soaking up the atmosphere we continued our journey around the gigantic lake discovered this new side of Mexico. The traffic was heavy with trucks transporting fruits and veg from the lush farms around the lake and many buses that couldn’t help but zoom passed a foot away from my handle bars. There were massive gun shots, well more like canon shots, ringing out and I couldn’t figure out why. People didn’t seem to flinch even though they were ear piercing and often made shit myself. The smaller towns around the lake were the typical rough looking towns but instead of Burrito stands they sold fresh sliced fruit. Pineapple, watermelon papaya etc... Chopped up with a small machete and served in a bag with a little salt and lime for 10 paso’s = 50p. A bag of orange or carrot or anything juice was the same price.

Camping opportunities were scarce now as this land was prosperous farm land. So, we were now asking farmers to set up camp on their land or just finding an unused field out of sight from the road. Once again people seemed happy to have us stay on their land and it almost felt like "why were we asking, of course" After thinking about it I believe this unwritten rule may be common and date back many years to when people had to walk everywhere! Like in Norway, the rule is you can camp anywhere you like on people’s property; you just have to be more than 150 meters from their house. One awesome spot was a field that slanted into the lake though its long grass. The bird life was riotous with flocks of swallow type birds flying in close accurate formation, white cranes chilling out, eagles hovering over top trying to pluck they birds from their formation and a couple of hounds splashing around chasing birds. The wildlife was so rich around here there was an unpleasant side effect. Road kill! I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it all now. The skunks are bad, they stink for days after they have been mashed, however they don’t smell as bad as the rotting, dogs, cows and horses which are more frequent than you’d believe. The owners don’t tie them up or they break free. The trucks give them the kiss of death and no one cares about it, or removes it. I guessed the loud gunshots, sringing out all day and all night echoing of the surrounding hills, were to scare the birds away from the farmers produce. These would merge with the constant music played. It was surprising to hear stereos blasting out Mexican music at anytime of the day and night. Even out in the middle of nowhere some farmer would have a sound system going in the middle of the night or the workers would have a car stereo cranking.

We cycled though some cute little towns around the huge Chapala Lake and then made our way to the bustling city of Zamora. On the way we saw the formation birds again and while trying to get some good footage I tripped on some barbed wire slicing four cuts up the back of my calf quite nicely. Time for a hotel! Where we stayed was 250 paso’s for me and 290 for Nancy and Matthew. That is like 12.50 pounds. The place was beautiful. I was in a traditional room (lower  rate) but the building was a palace. The nice rooms must have been special. The town was busy, had markets everywhere with nic nacs, street food which fed us well, bike store and a massive Spanish cathedral.  

Further along we had a climb and drop to the next lake. This lake was a little different. The largest town, Patzcuara, was my favourite to date. A large colonial town which still stood as it was built in the 15-1600’s. The village had terraced houses, like stable rows, walkways under arches holding up second floors, a few town squares of grand palms and gardens, cobbled roads leading around the basilica perched at the top. Large, old and still running like the old village except for the infinite amount of minivan taxis everywhere and Mexican tourists.  

In history all the towns around the lake were given different arts to carry out so as we cycled around we saw small towns that followed the art of Mask caving or, rock caving, weaving, wood furniture and carving. These were reintroduced and encouraged by a Spanish Priest in the 1600’s. It’s a long story but from what I gathered this region was so prosperous in the 800’s that they stopped making their own pottery, etc... They imported it from the south. Their people were happy so sacrifices to the gods were not needed. The community and King did not know that they were becoming weakened by their laid back approach. Their king failed to keep the people entwined as one with projects like new gods and pyramids and instead discovered drugs from the cactus Maguey which sent him to euphoria. He gave it to the people, killed his high priest when he foretold doom, and therefore they lost their kingdom after another violet tribe, who were nowhere near as civilised in terms of writing and growing crops etc..This violent people, descendants from the Indian cave dwellers, were great at following their war god installed years before by their priests. They slowly took over in the 1100’s sacrificing 1000’s of people to their war god. It was 5000 against 60,000 and they still walked in and took the valley because its people had forgotten how to fight living in a perfect world. The dunked king brushed off the numbers of the invaders. When the Spanish arrived they thought the place was barbaric as by then it had gone backwards in terms of intelligence. Little did they know it was once as civilised as any Spanish community.

I can honestly say I got a good vibe from this region. The laid back civilised people weren’t entirely wiped out and the warriors must of been subdued after the years of cactus consumption. So they are still there but I have no idea if the Cactus is still consumed!

 In the town of Mask carvers, all of one street, we visited the world’s best “day of the dead” carver. Had a look around his show room and his tools for carving. We bought a mask each, Matthews for the front of his bike and mine for the wall. Ugly but cool!

Next town was Morelia. We could have been standing in Europe for all I knew. The nice dress sense, shops and cafes, basilica and town square looked as if it were Spain and not Mexico. Amazing considering five miles out of town and you back to peasant villages who plough their fields with horses.  

After Morelia it was time for a big climb. From 1900m to 2900m and back down. The road had the perfect grade which made it a pleasant ride up and more so coming down. No brakes on a 20k down hill are what dreams are made of.  Luckily traffic was low on this road so we could take our time riding in the middle of the road and observe surrounding fields turn to lush tropical bush then into a diverse forest near the top.  Actually at the top were four federal police pickups, full of guys suited and booted, raiding some house? They really do look intimidating with balaclavas, shades and machine guns. But when you say hi they say hi back and smile, a little!

We were now heading toward the town of Ocampo where we would turn of and ride 12k up to see the Monarch Mariposa’s (butterflies) the ride took us by surprise, steep as, rising 1000m in the 12k. It also was a dam hot day so my eyes were stinging from sweat, like someone was pouring piss into them. We made it almost to the top before conking out. Unable to go further for our bodies were drained of energy. We asked a local Family if we could camp on their property and set up with a load of kids watching every move we made. It quite a sight for these young kids to see your fancy tents and stoves, so they just stand there almost on top of your pot intrigued. Its fun to joke with them and practise Spanish. They don’t see many white people here and what they do see must just drive passed to get to the butterflies. Over at the church a lot of the town’s youth were practising for the Xmas celebration. Performing dances to the tune of a flute and drum they would do their Indian shuffle, but, all the dances included holding a machete and hitting the other machetes in this folk dance. Later on it appeared that they carried out finely tuned choreographed fights that would look good in the movies.  Also we discovered that the loud bangs we thought were to scare birds away were actually part of the countries December celebrations, I won’t say Christmas because they have many different practises some for other reasons.

The monarch butterflies were incredible, it was a different planet to walk around the forest with hundreds of thousands Monarch’s fluttering around.  They migrate from 4500k away to this one location, clumping together in the trees at night to keep warm. It really is mind boggling to see how many are there and trying not to stand on them is difficult there are so many flying around. Awesome sight!

From there it was a trek toward Mexico City. The last of it completed by bus as it would be too hectic to get in on the roads. From there I have taken a 25hour bus to Cancun to meet Cheryl. We are going to hang around the Yucatan for a week then over the Cuba for a week.

The Hostel I’m staying it here in Cancun is also a music school. Right now they have a full on jazz/soul band playing in the room next to me. Nice!
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Kelly Brown on

Wicked photo's, love hearing your stories! Hope your leg is getting better!

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