Climbing, climbing, climbing: From Mazatlan to El Palmito
Our first order of business after departing the ferry was to get our bike bags sorted and to have some breakfast. The pastry they served for breakfast on the boat just wasn’t going to cut it. After that was done though, we were on the road, following the GPS track that I had imported into my iPhone, leading us towards El Espinazo del Diablo.
By the time we actually got underway it was a little after 11:00 AM, a late start for us on a typical day. The sky was overcast, making for cool riding as we departed the city. The roads we traveled on were relatively quiet until we reached the actual highway itself. Once there, the trek to Durango started in earnest.
We really had no idea what to expect on the mainland. The first thing we noticed as we rode along the highway was how green everything was. I mean seriously green. So much so that Rebecca and I both commented that the terrain reminded us of tropical Grenada. It was a stark contrast to the predominantly hot and arid Baja where we spent the previous 3 months.
Look how green everything is!
The climbing we were promised began almost right away.
We also had little info about the route that we were taking, other than our friends enjoyed it and that it would involve a lot of climbing on the way to Durango. What surprised us though was how heavy the traffic was. Worse than no shoulder, the road actually had a ditch directly off the road. This gave us zero room to move as the cars, trucks, and buses whizzed by us, sometimes only inches from our handlebars. To make matters worse, the weather went downhill and it started to rain. Chilled from the rain and stressed by the traffic, Rebecca and I were both ready to call it a day when we reached the first real town, Concordia. We found ourselves a little hotel – one that from the outside we were unsure if it was in business or not – and did our best to warm up and rest knowing that tomorrow would be another day.
My Fantasy at this point was a hot shower and a warm bed. We were not ready to stop yet though.
There were very few photos taken on the first day’s ride as the traffic was just too heavy. We had nowhere to stop to safely take photos. The second day on the Espinazo del Diablo was entirely different. The beautiful road we had been promised finally materialized.
Not only did the scenery improve on the second day, the heavy traffic that had us shell shocked on day 1 all but disappeared. If the road was dangerous at all it was only because we were frequently distracted by the incredible views on each side of the road. Unfortunately, the weather did not improve and we spent the latter part of the morning riding in the rain. Our friends had urged us not to miss Copala so when we came to the turn off to the town around noon, we left the highway to check it out.
Copala is approximately a kilometer off the highway, down a beautiful cobblestone road. When we arrived at the town, soaking wet I should add, we asked for directions and were pointed towards a restaurant. At that point in time, all we really wanted was some shelter from the elements. Following the instructions of one of the locals, we dragged our bikes up under the porch roof of the restaurant and changed into some dry clothes.
Our stopping point on day 2 out of Mazatlan was the small town of Copala.
Shortly after ordering some food, a gentleman came up to greet us and we began speaking with him about the usual things: where we were coming from and where we were going. It turned out that the man we were speaking with was the owner of the restaurant, Alejandro. After just a few minutes of conversation, Alejandro invited us to spend the night in his restaurant. He was essentially offering us the keys to his business! Who does that?
Even though it was still early and we could have ridden on further, the pouring rain made the decision to stay a no brainer. Following lunch, Alejandro gave us a little tour of the town, showing us around his gallery (he is also an artist, making and selling custom leather masks), his old restaurant location, and a tiny museum of sorts that is set up in the old town jail. In addition to being an artist and a restaurateur, we read on our friends’ blog that he is also the town’s minister. Given how great of an ambassador he is, we think he should be the Mayor too!
Alejandro, the owner of Alejandro’s Restaurant.
This is the view we awoke to in Alejandro’s restaurant: the top of the town church.
Our bikes were inside with us, warm and dry.
When we awoke in Copala, we were happy to see that the rain had stopped. As the two previous days had been quite short, we were determined to put in some more miles. The near constant climbing was no surprise to us so moral remained high as we pedaled to higher and higher elevations. The climbs were never incredibly steep, but we did stop on multiple occasions to rest our legs and to attempt to capture some of the beautiful surroundings on our cameras.
The shade that I missed while riding in Baja is plentiful here.
Higher than the clouds, and this was just the beginning.
The newer superhighway would show itself from time to time.
We had read that the construction of the new highway had negatively affected many of the towns that existed along the road we were traveling, and that was entirely evident. Many of the villages are now no more than ghost towns, with all the buildings boarded up and abandoned. The ones that do remain, I suspect, are a shadow of their former selves. We stopped at many of the places that still had restaurant signs posted, only to be told that they stopped operating when people stopped traveling on that road. The price of progress. 🙁
Restaurant up ahead? Don’t believe it.
Sadly, many of the villages along the old highway are now just ghost towns. When the traffic went away, so did the ability to maintain a livelihood. We saw this over and over.
A double tractor trailer heading towards the tunnel.
Most of the climbing wasn’t steep but it was never ending. Flat spots to rest were almost non-existent.
It was amazing to see how rapidly the foliage changed as we climbed. We went from the cactus in Baja to palm trees along the coast to huge forests of pine trees. While the initial portion of the road reminded us of Grenada, we could just as easily have been riding through Canada at this point.
As we climbed we went from palm trees to pine trees!
Unlike the first day on the road, traffic was extremely light after Concordia.
Pine cones. We could have been riding in Canada!
Someone worked pretty hard to make this shrine!
See the town below the bridge? We have to go down there next. For the record, when you know you have to climb higher, downhills are not desirable.
Passing under the bridge that you can see in the above photo.
Another huge difference between Baja and the area we were riding through was the abundance of water all around us. Not only did we come across several streams and small waterfalls, at almost every turn in the road we’d see water pouring from the rocks. I imagine that this was magnified by the recent rainfall, but still, finding water here should not be the challenge that it was in Baja. For that, we are grateful.
Also unlike Baja, water is everywhere here!
The superhighway makes an appearance again.
Instead of going up and around the land, the new road cuts right through it in many places.
We, on the other hand, follow the contours of the land.
Tropic of Cancer. Coming across this was unexpected.
We gained a lot of elevation since arriving in Mazatlan.
Peaking through the pines.
Yes, that tower is in the clouds.
These images don’t do the mountains justice.
Suspension bridge on the new highway.
For the first point on this trip, we put in a full day of riding. We rolled into El Palmito at around 5:00 PM, our legs weary but our minds content from having such a productive day. The village itself surprised us a bit though. There were a lot of people out and about in town, but many of them were on motor bikes or 4-wheelers. We even saw kids riding mini bikes, 2-3 per vehicle. It struck me as strange, and as they zipped around town, it made me think of all the movies I have seen with motorcycle gangs in them.
Without much difficulty, we found ourselves a cheap cabaña to stay in (only 200 pesos). Finding a restaurant for dinner was a bit more challenging. By the time we got around to eating, they had all stopped serving. Oh well. Snack food for dinner would have to do. It’s worth noting that the temperature was significantly lower in El Palmito than what we had become accustomed to. In only a couple of days, we had gone from hoping to get air conditioning in a hotel room to wanting central heating. In this case, our room had neither, and so we had to resort to wearing long underwear for pajamas, and piling 20 lbs of blankets on top of us to stay warm.
The sun shows itself at the end of the day, lighting up the village of El Palmito.
El Palmito, while friendly enough, was a tad strange. There were dozens of people on motor bikes and 4-wheelers running around town. It reminded me of a little bike gang like in a movie. There were even kids on mini bikes! We haven’t seen that anywhere else.
Note: Our friends did write in their blog that they had received a tip about the heavy traffic between Mazatlan and Concordia. Because of that, they avoided that stretch and took the toll road which, although busier still, has a nice shoulder to ride on. Somehow we missed that crucial detail.