Elido Guazarachi to El Vergel, Chihuahua

After a morning soak in the hot springs, it was time to get back in the road. First though, a massive push ‘n bike out of the canyon. Finally, it topped out on a ridge, where clouds were hurtling across the sky.

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Mexican style cattle grids. A little extra fun on those endless climbs.

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Luckily I came prepared – my Mexican picnic kit was at the ready to keep me going. Spicy salsa, corn chips, tortillas, cheese, avocado, tomatoes, a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lime.

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Back in Pinolejo again, the junction village we passed through on our way to the springs. From here, we peeled off onto a different dirt track to bisect the main Guachochi road further down at Baquiriachi.

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It was incredible riding, some of the best backcountry trails so far. The riding conditions were rough though – including lots of exposed rock bed – making for slow, filling-loosening progress.

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Up and down. Up and down. This seems to be a common theme for riding in the Sierra Madre. When the King of Spain asked Cortez to describe Mexico, he was said to have crumpled up a piece of paper and thrown it on the table.

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Whenever we topped out, our eyes scanned buckled ridges for where we might be heading. Armed with little more than the combination of lamentable maps and unreliable local knowledge, it’s hard to glean any distances once you head off the main road – most of these dirt roads aren’t even marked.

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Finally, we did hit pavement at the junction settlement of Baquiriachi, and began a fast, winding descent that unravelled through an incredibly dramatic, sheer sided gorge. For a whole 25 kilometres. What an end to the day.

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It felt like we were really leaving the Barrancas – the chasm-like canyons – through which we’d toiled for the last few hundred kilometres. 100kph gusts did their best to veer us across the road, as the last light of the day bathed the landscape in a warm glow.

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Each tree cast its own shadow.

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That night, we camped under the stars in a dry gulch just past Balleza, before joining a dirt road once more at San Juan – a short cut to Los Janitos, on the paved road to El Vergel.

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And for once, it was fairly easy going. A quiet, beautiful country back road, where we waved to passing cowboys. Suddenly, it was beginning to feel like this was the lazy, easy going back country Mexico I’d been looking for. The climate felt warmer, and so did the vibe.

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Jason, ever the unconventional tourer, even cracked open a can of Tecate to ensure a mellow start to the day.

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A little further down the road, we stopped to watch a flock of some fifty vultures, gathered round picking a dead calf – its eyes were long since pecked out. Jeff and Jason challenged me to creep up towards the carcass, and get as close as I could until the very last vulture was scared away. I took my mission seriously. Over the next 10 minutes, I paced surreptitiously ever closer, step by step, until I just a couple of metres from the calf, and there was just one bird left. Thus began the Vulture Standoff – in what was to become a highlight of the day. The vulture leant down to peck at the calf. I stepped forward. The vulture looked up. I stopped. The vulture dummied a peck. I froze mid step. We both waited. We both watched each other. Until the vulture couldn’t resist another peck. And I stepped forward. And the vulture dummied a peck. And I froze mid step. A psychological battle between man and carrion eater.

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When all this excitement was over, we hopped back on the bikes and took to the road. Then the climbs began once more. They were steep, but at least they weren’t too long.

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In the distance, the dirt road lay draped across the hillside, lurching up and over each mound, as a searing sun beat down upon us.

Offering brief respite, fast descents came in reply, dropping us straight back down again.

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It was nice to leave the painted concrete blocks that typify most of the villages I’ve seen in Chihuahua, for the more traditional adobe buildings I associate with Mexico.

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Taking the time to seek out these back roads is proving to be really worth it. We had the place to ourselves, bar the odd cowboy, and paused by a river for the perfect picnic lunch. This was fast becoming a classic ride. Definitely one for the Mexican Roads Hall of Fame.

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Yep, it really was just cowboys and us.

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Finally, our dirt track emerged back onto the highway, where a group of soldiers in balaclavas were peering into the back of pickups and inspecting their innards. Then began one of the longest, climbs so far – a straight climb for some 25 kilometres, that no one had thought about mentioning to us. Clearly, we had a debt to pay off after that massive descent to Belleza the day before. We were exhausted by the time we made it to El Vergel, after camping out on a roadside ledge.

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Food. Need food. We soon sought out an eatery for a few platters of burritos. There, the waitress wore what seems to the height of Mexican fashion. Slick back hair, tight jeans, high heeled boots and a lurid top (stripey pink, turquoise and black). With impressive attention to detail, she’d finished these off with matching earings and hair bunch, while stick on glittery nails provided the final distraction when handling our tortillas.

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Restaurant decorations. Ode to the Trucker.

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Mestizos chilling out. Love the hats. Definitely on my ‘to buy’ list.

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Apart from being yet another key point in the narco network – we were told several times not to ride this road at night – logging is also big business in these parts.

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The kind of classy hotels that are to be found in El Vergel.

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And the constant forrage for food. Here’s a pack of 12 Maniceros, one of our latest discoveries. Working out at 2 pesos a bar (15c) they’ve jumped straight into the Mexican Food Hall of Fame (more on that later).

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Expecting another few days in the saddle before a proper chance to resupply, we loaded up on the necessities of life: avocados, tortillas, fruit, veg. And a bag of dried meat might come in handy too… Then it was back on the road for the last climb out of the state of Chihuahua, and onwards (finally!) into Durango.

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