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As much as they may enjoy reading about this bike trip, I don’t expect my non-cycling friends and family who dip into this blog will have felt much in the way of envy. The Michoacan Coast, however, may change some minds…
After eight months in the mountains, I’m now following Mexico’s sinuous Pacific coastline – via a string of empty beaches, palm thatch huts, surfer hangouts, lush forest and coconut plantations. I was told that the state of Michoacan is a highlight of Mexico’s thousands of kilometres of coastline – and it’s certainly proved so.
Sure, it’s punctuated by tortuous hills, and the beating, humid heat demands early starts to the day. But both are also a good excuse for stunning sunrise rides and long, lingering lunchtime breaks – coinciding with a dip in the sea. All in all, this is as idyllic a coastal riding as I could have hoped for. The roads are narrow but quiet, and what traffic there is seems unhurried enough to wait a minute or two for a good spot to pass – generally with a friendly peep of the horn.
it seems a world away from the spit and sawdust cowboy towns of the Sierra Madre. A few months ago I’d never even heard of Michoacan; now I find myself enamored by it, even backtracking to investigate beaches I’d overlooked. In many ways, this fluidity, and this constant sense of evolution and change, is what draws me to travelling with an open schedule. Picking up tips, going with your mood and feeling comfortable enough to completely change your plans without any sense of regret is all part of the experience. Longterm travel may bring with it a constant, and sometimes exhausting, forrage for the daily necessities of life – cheap food or digs – but it also opens up a whole new world, imbued with spontaneity and freedom. It’s one I love.
I’m also now riding alone, having travelled with Jeff and Jason since New Mexico. The Volks brothers are headed to Puerto Vallarta to meet up with a friend who owns an expat bar. Sounds messy… It’s been great journeying together and perhaps I’ll bump into them again in Central America – in the meantime, take it easy, dudes!
Another end to the day in Michoacan…
Another lunchtime break… At some beaches, like San Juan, the main road passes by just a handful of metres from the sea.
And just one more…
Indeed, you can hardly ride 20kms without coming across another long and empty Mexican beach… For the most part, Michoacan is quiet and untouristy, though the pounding Pacific surf attracts, naturally enough, surfers from around the world. La Ticla is one such spot; home to palm thatch huts, string hammocks and a chilled vibe.
At times, the road skirts right beside the beach, and at other times, it can be a stiff climb up and over a headland to get to the next ripples of sand. It's been peaceful riding. The air's filled with the heady smell of papayas. Birds with extravagant headresses swoop overhead, and iguanas crackle the roadside like noisy cinema-goers. I’ve seen several tarantulas, the size of my hand, scurry across the road…
A good reason perhaps to keep my tent closed at night… You can camp beside most sea front restaurants for just a couple of dollars. People recommend being careful here. As well as Michoacan's and Guerrero's powerful drug cartels,there are also robbers who frequent this coastline. The constant bombardment of warnings – the dangers of the road, La Familia, the robbers – can be exhausting, and it's easy to let it throw a negative shadow across your thoughts if you let it. For the most part, everything is absolutely fine. But it's also good to be careful, as incidents do happen. I heard about one recent holdup where five gunmen robbed campers on a beach in the middle of the night. The other trick is to quietly slice open a tent at night, while its inhabitants are fast asleep.
Lingering lunch breaks are a good chance to catch up on some reading, and deal with odd job repairs.
I stopped in Maruata, a sleepy beachside settlement, for a couple of days. A chance to catch up on the magazine work that helps pay my way. I couldn’t hope for better office views… Yes, I do feel very lucky…
Maruata has three beaches, each one more deserted than the next. In this, the middle beach, waves come pounding into the rocks, and white water froths through a network of tunnels.
Like much if the coast, Michoacan sees nocturnal visits by sea turtles, who beach on these shores to lay their multitude of ping pong ball-like eggs. 45 days later, the little ‘uns hatch, and scamper down towards the water. If they haven’t already been gobbled down by ever hungry dogs, they face a wave of sea birds next. About one in every hundred survive. This one passed by my tent while I was asleep, bumped into one of the pillars holding up the palapa, and then finally found the sea.
Camped beside me were 3 families, including Satsiri and her two kids, Shanti and Aloe, hailing from what’s sounds like an idyllic part of the world – the Kootnies, in British Colombia. One evening, Satsiri and I set off to look for turtles with Lucus, a local lobster diver. We scoured the beach as the moon arced across the sky, and Lucas made Satsiri promise to bring him back a Canadian wife (the proviso: she had like turtle egg omlettes and be short, so he didn’t need to crane his neck to look up at her). In all, we found five, as well as a couple of dozen fully armed military personal who also sweep the shores each night, ostensibly to protect the turtles.
On the lookout for turtles. We wandered up and down until sunrise.
And then hiked up to a viewpoint as the light coated the cacti-flecked hills.
In fact, it proved a tricky place to drag myself away from. There can be few ‘developed’ beaches that are so laid back. The odd hammock hawker. A young girl who passes by in the evenings selling her grandmother’s fresh backed goods. Low key accommodation: little beachside huts dot the shores, some more run down than others. I pitched my tent in front of a young family's hut for 20 pesos a night
Everyone is out looking for fish; humans and sea birds alike. Leggy egrettes tip toe around the lapping waves. In the morning, fisherman gather to gossip around their wooden boats, and in the evening, local divers head off to search for lobsters.
The Pelican Patrol.
From here, I pushed onto the surfer hangout of Nexpa, where cabanas, their rooves made from discoloured palm thatch, were raised up on stilts looking out to the Pacific. Naxpa’s long, hazy beach was strewn with driftwood and odd flip flops, and the constant crash of surf set the time. Cheri and Dino – who's been coming here for almost three decades – took me under their wing, feeding me a lovely breakfast and dinner.
While we were chatting, a hammock seller past by. It was hot, and Dino offered him a glass of fresh lime juice clinking with ice. ‘I got to work,’ said the man. ‘No, sit down and drink some lemonada,’ said Dino. So he did. Then he asked for a guitar, pulled out a plectrum tucked in his trouser pocket and started to sing, in a gentle voice, songs about the Mexican revolution.
Back on my way, acres of coconut groves fringed the road. I love these tall, gravity-defying, gangly trees…
… and their fruit. An abundance of stops for refreshing, from-the-fridge coconut water kept me going in the heat.
The stretch leading into Lazaro Cardenas even had a freshly laid cycle lane, which I had to myself.
The road crossed swampy waterways feeding from the lumpy sierras into the open sea. A few crocs were basking in the shallow waters across one of them. The indigenous Indians are known to eat pretty much anything – like the local turtles and iguanas that inhabit these parts – so I was surprised these crocs were still around.
Camping at another surfer hangout, Rancho Capire. Wes, a surfer from BC who I’d met in Nexpa, rustled up a mean platter of avocados, tomatoes and onion, which we heaped onto tostadas – fried, crinkled tortillas.
The Need to Know Section
Everyone was awaiting the next big swell, chilling out in the waters or reading books in their hammocks. Not a bad way to spend the winter…
Distance: 445km (inc detours to beaches)
Road conditions: Good quality tarmac. The Colima stretch of the coast had a shoulder, which disappeared when we crossed into Michoacan. Still, the traffic is quiet and respectful, with few trucks, so a pleasant surprise. Boiling hot in the midday, with some climbs of up to 7km in length that will have you drenched in sweat. One 40km segment south of Maruata is particularly gruelling.
Beach action: Peppered all along the way. Some require a detour of a few kilometres, like La Ticla, others, like San Juan, are right by the road. There are literally dozens and dozens of them.
Food: abundant sea food, to suit all tastes and prices, from the restaurants that line the beaches. Plenty of aborretes (grocery stores) too. Local gently hawk fresh food on the beach – like warm banana bread – or avail yourself to the mounds of coconuts and papaya that are sold out of the back of pickups on the roadside.
Cheap digs: any of the beaches seem to have hotels and cabanas, or you can camp for 20–50 pesos a night. Recommended, as robbers are known to wander the shores. In Zihuatanejo, I stayed at the friendly Angela’s hostel (110 pesos for a dorm room), close to the bustling Mercado Municipal.
Internet: Sandy feet allowed. Most beachside villages have a Ciber – a cyber cafe – charging from 10–20 pesos an hour. Or you can generally plug in/wifi your laptop, for the same price.