Zihuatenejo bike shop

During my wandering about Zihuatenejo I happened upon the bike shop “Bi-zihuanas”. I decided it was probably worth getting Edna a service while I was here (she deserved it), and I’m really happy I did. The owner, Alejandro, is a very friendly bloke and Edna came out afterwards looking in great shape like she was up for a night on the town. Alejandro and I talked a bit with a mix of Spanish and English, and just about got to understand each other. Lots of typical nodding, at least from me. Alejandro and his friend Ricardo (whom I met the previous day) are bike enthusiasts; Alejandro having spent some holidays cycling in France on many of le tour routes.

I highly recommend this shop whether you need supplies (good quality stuff there) or repairs or just want to drop by for a bicycle-related chat.




Alejandro and his "Bi-zihuanas" bike shop
Alejandro shows Edna at her best. Though I was almost tempted to trade for one of those yellow bikes on the left

Calle Cuahetemoc No. 39 Col. Centro, Zihuatenejo Gro, Mexico

Zihuatenejo: no sign of Andy Dufresne or Red

I took a rest in Zihuatenejo (how exactly did Red remember the name and have any idea to spell it..?), the place made (even more) famous in the film Shawshank Redemption. It is a little different from what I expected the film to make out but it was a welcome place to spend some time. There are plenty of touristy facilities but it is all mixed with the normal goings on that you’d see in another Mexican town (unlike nearby Ixtapa, a purpose-built Cancun-like resort that was probably imported pre-fabricated from America).

Like most of the tourist places it is the quiet season and a number of places are shut. But it’s no less lively at the local markets where I like to poke around and see how the locals get on.


mexican raves

After my last post I reflected and didn’t want to make people think I haven’t enjoyed some things here. So to point out some things I’ve found funny, interesting or just uplifting, here’s a few of my observations:

  • Fresh tortillas – fresh and hot from the tortilleria, they are inexpensive and tasty, particularly for my peanut butter and banana ‘quesadillas’. As well as looking out for them along the street, I can often find one by listening for the cranking of the machine that churns these things out. Amazingly they are everywhere and huge packages of them are wrapped up into plastic coolboxes that are carted around on noisy mopeds delivered to the local mini-markets and corner shops
  • The people seem to be hard-working, or at least work long hours. Little shops are open early and close late, though a lot of them rarely look busy. Also people like to set up stands or just out of their own home, perhaps with some home cooking too. In Zihuatenejo I bought some clothes from what turned out to be someone’s house. After I’d tried on a pair of shorts I was getting the money together when the lady of the house popped out of her kitchen with some cheese and promptly offered me a piece. No vegan Daiya here though, I’m afraid
  • Most people are sociable and genuinely friendly. More so than in the US I would say
  • I love the fact there are a lot of small cars on the road, particularly the ones that I see in the UK – Ford Ka, Fiesta, GM “Corsa”, VW types, even Seat. I’m not a big car enthusiast but it makes me wonder if Mexicans can drive these, why can’t those further north do the same!
  • The local markets are always interesting, whether just for comparing hygiene, the kinds of things available, or just the type of ‘stuff’ that’s on sale
  • Traffic light jugglers. Vancouver has the ‘squeegy’ kids but here I’ve seen drivers get ‘entertained’ by juggling and handstands. Truly bizarre
  • I don’t understand what they’re saying but it’s a common sight (and sound) to hear announcements or advertising wares by way of loudspeakers precariously attached to the their roofs
  • One shout in my direction I’ve noticed is being called guerro (pronounced goo-erro as the u has an umlaut), which means ‘blonde’. I assume it’s a friendly greeting rather than an insult. I always smile back though
  • And strangely the day after I posted my previous entry it felt like I had the most friendly shouts and encouragement on the road of all my days so far. I don’t know if it’s just a more friendly region or just the luck of the day, but it was nice all the same





mexican waves

I’ve been following the Pacific coast for the last while, sometimes right next to it and sometimes inland through the hills (that feel like mountains on most days). There is some spectacular coastline to be seen, especially in the province of Michoacan, that I’ve just left. Plenty of small beaches tucked away here and there and little in the way of people and towns. The coastline reminded me of Oregon. The views were sporadic, often due to the plentiful growth of trees and bushes around the roads. But when I did catch glimpses of the water I often saw some big, big waves. They were to me anyway, but I’m not a surfer so I rarely get to see or appreciate the bigger ones.

These kinds of waves I appreciate. I’d like to see more of another kind of mexican wave and that’s from the people. I’m not expecting that kind of mexican wave (Mexico 86 and too many sporting events since), but what I encounter almost every day is the complete look of indifference as I pass the locals. Sometimes it’s a big stare, sometimes a look of incomprehension, sometimes just a ‘what-the-f…’ kind of look. I get ignored too, which is fine – I am just a guy on a bike – but it feels disconcerting to get stared at like this so often. It’s not a stare of wonderment or amazement.

So I usually try for a friendly wave, perhaps a ‘hola’ or ‘buenos dias’ and more often than not I’ll get a friendly response back, but not always. Perhaps the people are just guarded or baffled, but it can be a little off-putting. I realise I’m not entitled to any special treatment, and I rarely get any outright hostility, so I just have to get on, keep positive and keep waving and smiling as best I can.

As well as the luscious roadside growth and greenery, there are plenty of animals I’m encountering on the road (dead and alive). There is plenty of roadkill and a few live animals too. Strangely I’ve encountered cows and donkeys and tiny red crabs on hillsides, and plenty of dead snakes, armadillos (sadly their ‘armour’ is no match for tonnes of fast-moving metal and tyres), dogs, frogs, butterflies, crickets/chicadas, more crabs…and every day I encounter the arresting smell of some recent animal death.

Still, it’s not all morbid. There are plenty of people who wave, cheer and say hello. A lot of drivers have these kind of ‘car alarm’ horns that they push when driving past. I haven’t got to used to it yet as it’s such a strange sound that I tend to associate with annoying car alarms back home, but it’s generally a positive sign to me from whoever’s driving.

Another roadside feature are the ‘hombres’ by the roadside toting their machetes. It might sound bad but really they are just workers, whom I often see chopping at the roadside vegetation or walking back from their harvesting work. I’m not really sure why they do the roadside chopping (do they get paid? who pays them? is there something special about the green stuff they’re chopping?) but it’s such a common sight I don’t raise an eyebrow when cycling or walking past these guys.

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Beans does not mean Heinz

It’s fair to say I haven’t quite got into the spirit of the food here in Mexico yet, as I don’t often eat out at one of the numerous stands or restaurants that offer the typical Mexican comida. Mostly I make my own vegan creations using the same ingredients though, and that’s generally good enough for me for the moment. Yes there’s a limited choice for me – plenty of tortillas and beans but beyond that it’s hard to pick out new things and get people to understand what I do and don’t eat.

However when it comes to fruit and other things I’ve got plenty of options and though I miss (in particular) the BC blueberries it’s been more than compensated by mangoes, pineapple, papaya, melon, oranges, guava…and now plenty of coconut! This area has lots of coconut dulces (sweets) and though much of it also contains milk I’ve found enough without to keep me in coconut dessert for many a day.

Entering Puerto Vallarta I knew I’d have a lot more flexibility, though I’m used to getting just one or two options (it’s almost disconcerting to get lots of options…). So the first place on my hit-list proved to be the only one I needed. Good food, plentiful portions (buffet), and very reasonably priced. For breakfast it’s got a mix of Mexican dishes (including beans of course, plus pancakes that I skipped on) and I went back again for dinner. I piled on the vegetables (grilled and fresh), various salads (tomato and basil was particularly good as I haven’t had basil for ages) and some hot grilled veg with soy chunks (pretty tasty). Alas I had to pass on the stuffed peppers and creamed cauliflower. And I topped it all off with a small portion of (non-Heinz) beans…

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And for those of you who have no clue what the title means, or just want to remember a classic, take a look at ‘clever’ Kev…

Four punctures in two days. Why not a fifth while I’m at it..?

I’d had my first two punctures a couple of weeks ago on the La Paz – Todos Santos road (unbelievably in the same place when riding back). Bad luck, big nails, but I’d probably done well to get that far without one.

The other day I ride towards San Blas and notice the rear tyre sagging. Ok, how did that happen? Any puncture is annoying and particularly so when fully loaded.

The sun was out and it was warm, so things could have been worse. But job done and I’m off. A while later – same thing. Feck. This time I was within sight of San Blas so I gave the tyre a blast from the pump and hoped I could crawl into town in reasonable shape. And after another quick pump stop I did. Later I checked the tyre and it seemed ok. Repaired the tube, all good.

Next riding day today and a couple of hours in and FFS. Happened again. This was business so the new tube came out. No problem!

I stopped further on to buy some tasty fruit (mango and dinky little bananas). Back on the bike…no feckin’ way. Yep. So, back to where I started and put the most-repaired tube back in. And amazingly it held out long enough to get me through.

Four punctures on the road, the fifth a delayed action one and then having to pay over the odds for a new tube (gringo tax?). But checking the tyre again I think I found the culprit. Whatever had got me near La Paz had just enough bite coming through to get my tubes. Too small to do anything about, it’s patched over and 100% fixed. Right? Better be or Edna will be looking at some quality time by herself.

Rain: a perfect way to get demotivated

Despite the book being a good read and inspiring me to get south to my Fair Trade visits, it is still a book (although technically it’s not even that, just random digital bytes). So it can’t double up as a rain shelter, as much as I’d like it to (or how about a car??). And it’s motivational prowess only goes so far…waking up the other day to the particularly loud noise of dripping water and splashing outside my door, I didn’t feel good. I’d been up in the night anyway and heard the rain. Now it was still coming down and in the early dawn ‘light’ I could tell it wasn’t going to brighten up anytime soon.

For those who enjoy cycling in the rain, I salute you. You’re brave. I’ll do it if I have to, and in Vancouver that’s to be expected. And I prepare for it. Here it’s a little different. It rains. And it’s hot. No point donning rain gear as a) I don’t have any, and b) even if I did I’d be giving out more moisture in sweat than in the rain coming down. So…decision to make: I went back to bed.

The roads were covered, rivers pouring through the streets. Not only would it be unpleasant, I figured it would be pretty sketchy. Would it clear up? The one good thing about these parts is that when it does stop raining, it can clear up pretty quickly. The downside of that…bloody humid. Still, this rain seemed like more fun than back in Vancouver., at least it is while I’m watching from a dry spot inside.

I mooched around in my room, looking out every so often, debating what to do. I could go…maybe a shorter ride today. Hmmm, better to stay though…but do what? The ‘hotel’ was not up to much, the town was pretty quiet, and there was no coffee shop (however, there was a pizza place I stopped at the day before where I went to try to charge up my laptop and it was very friendly. They let me stay there without buying anything (no drinks available and I didn’t fancy a cheese-less pizza) but I got propositioned by an old lady, or possibly a young bloke, I couldn’t tell because it was written on a piece of paper). Anyway…

Luckily by late morning the rain had eased and I knew I’d feel better to get at least a few km done. So a shortened day it was, and through the bright clouds and occasional spot of rain on the way, I got sunburned. Nice touch.

I find days like that really difficult to get going, and had I been in a nicer spot I probably would have stayed. I can’t keep avoiding the rain here or I’ll ever get anywhere (it’s chucking it down again as I write this) but usually there are enough dry spells in the mornings to give me the chance to get somewhere before the heavens open. And my god it does.

Just a wee shower, right?
Where's my anorak?


Some Fair Trade reading

Aside from daydreaming and watching my back for lorries while on the road, I manage to find a bit of time for reading along the way. To keep weight down I bought a Kindle before I left and although I would prefer to read a real book, it has many advantages when travelling. Being able to download all the Dan Brown classics for one…(just kidding).

One book I’ve just finished which I found very inspiring for my ongoing travelling is called “Javatrekker: Dispatches From The World of Fair Trade Coffee”. Written by Dean Cycon, owner of Dean’s Beans in northeastern USA, it covers a few of his trips to visit potential and existing Fair Trade coffee co-operatives. The stories are all interesting, some outcomes are unfortunate, some inspiring, but all a good insight into some of the processes involved in trying to be a successful Fair Trade co-operative.

It’s certainly helped me get some motivation for my own visits and I’m really looking forward to learning this kind of thing for myself. And I hope my stories will be equally compelling…

Here’s a link to the book for more info:



Imagine if we lived like this…

Nostalgia is often given a generous helping of exaggeration. We (of a certain age) like to think how life was better in the old days, at least for some things. Playing football in the street? Amiga 64? Wandering off for a day or afternoon as a kid and nobody panicking and texting the world to make sure nothing’s happened…it did used to be like that didn’t it??

In Mexico it feels a little like a nostalgic return to those sort of days. People here still have their mobile phones and cars and televisions but there’s a more relaxed sense of living and far less paranoia about cleanliness and living that we (in the west) have lost over the last several years. I haven’t been diligent in keeping examples, but here’s a few things I’ve noticed lately:

  • Lady in market store opens a fridge door, slices off a piece of cheese and pops it her mouth then wanders off
  • Man driving a knackered scooter, wife/girlfriend on the back, baby on her lap, just held with one arm
  • People shop for what they need today and tomorrow, not next month. The fruit and veg are ripe now(!) and don’t need to wait a week (except the peaches and pears which are from the USA
  • Man in supermarket picks up some squid from a frozen stand, checks it over and drops it back on
  • Worker in supermarket takes little cakes out of one plastic packet and puts them in another to make it more full (all by hand of course)
  • On a shelf of dried plums I noticed that they’d been there a few days. Some clever dick had gone and replaced the labels on most of them to pretend they had been placed there the day before, when it was the same batch
  • Strangely, in the tortillerias, they are very careful about putting gloves on to take your money to avoid cross-contamination. Well, the tortilla is a matter of national pride I suppose
  • Walk across the road wherever you like. In fact, walk on the road if you want, no one cares. Cycle the wrong way down the road. Don’t signal if you’re driving.

I guess most of these are tiny details but there are many, many more and the overall effect makes me realise just how over-the-top we are in the west with regard to cleanliness and responsibility. We know this already but seem caught in the juggernaught of modern living that has no reverse pedal. I’m not saying life is better here, it’s just different.


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