Up until now, most of my riding has been high speed, mile-munching highways.  Boring.  Its not the kind of riding most riders like to do, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil.   Not this day though, this day was the first REAL day of riding, the kind where you follow a snaking mountain road up and then down again, occasionally going through a small town and seeing what life is like there.  The kind of riding where you get off the main road and explore the back roads, just to see where they go, sometimes finding a delightful find that was not in any guidebook by pure serendipity. 

Leaving Rioverde I took Mexico Highway 69 South, towards the Pueblo Magico town of Jalpan de Serra.  The Pueblo Magico towns are recognized “magical” towns, which are beautiful, or have significant history, or extraordinary legends.   Jalpan de Serra is one of these, located in the heart of the Sierra Gorda and contains two Franciscan Missions.  

As I headed south, I kept seeing dirt side roads heading off the main road, so I decided to take one and see where it took me.  Off the main road and making a trail of dust, a dog decided to chase me, but I left him in the distance with a twist of my wrist.   I was passing fields of corn and workers whose heads swiveled as I passed, wondering who the crazy guy on the big bike was and what he was doing back there.   I crossed a creek, hoping it wasn’t wheel-sucking mud under the water that would leave me stranded and walking for help.  After about a half hour on this road I came to a small town and turned up its dirt streets, finding the main town square and a small market near it where I bought a cold water and took a break.  Locals looked at me as if I had just landed in a spaceship.  I guess we bikers do look a little like spacemen in our riding gear.   

I found my way back to Highway 69 and as I passed the town of Conca, I spotted some church steeples rising in the distance.   I turned off the main road again and found the church, a Franciscan Mission called The Mission of San Miguel the Archangel.   After Parking Bella in front of the Conca sign for a photo op, I went into the church to see what it looked like.  Like all the other Franciscan Missions of Fr. Junipero Serra, it was fairly plain and very catholic.   

I continued down the road and as I approached Jalpan, I saw a sign for Carnitas and a guy roasting pork under a tarp, with several locals digging into plates of pulled pork.  I slammed on the brakes and made a hard right, coming to a stop on the side of the road in a cloud of dust.   Two huge Carnitas tacos (only a couple of bucks) and a coke (I can’t think of the last time I had a soda, but he didn’t have any water and I was thirsty) later, with a full belly, I mounted Bella and continued into Jalpan.  

I parked in the center and got off to walk around.  There was a display still up from the Dia de Los Muertes, and a few people sitting around in the noontime heat, their bodies contorted to stay under the shade and not let the sun’s rays hit them.  I walked around a bit, checked out the Mission, had an ice cream, and then decided not to stay there for the night, but, rather, to continue on to Xilitla, another 60 miles away through the mountains.   I got out my Booking app and made a 2-night reservation for the Sierra Linda hotel, right off the town square in Xilitla.

The road to Xilitla wound up to about 6000 ft elevation before dropping down again on the other side of the mountains.  I went from dry heat and high desert in Jalpan, to clouds, humidity, and a rainforest environment on the other side.   It must be a dangerous road, because I saw quite a few roadside shrines. I pulled into the steep streets of Xilitla, a hilltop town, and was dismayed to see that the hotel I had chosen was halfway up a steep pedestrian staired-street.   I parked at the bottom and climbed up to the hotel, huffing and puffing the whole way.  They then told me that the secure parking was another block DOWN the steep street.   I rode Bella down to the parking and was surprised to see 3 other adventure bikes there already, all with British Columbia plates.   Unfortunately I never did see the other riders at the hotel.  

There are certain things that it is very hard to do with Pulmonary Fibrosis.  One of them is climbing stairs and hills.   I get very short of breath very quickly.  It took me a half hour to climb back up that hill from the parking with my Mosko duffle on my back, even though its only about 300 yards.  I would go 10-15 yards and be breathing so hard I thought I would pass out, so I would have to rest a few minutes to get my breath back.  It was a struggle but I finally made it, after having people 10 years older than me ask if I needed any help and saying I didn’t look good.  My pride wont let me ask for help, and I hate looking like an out-of-shape wimp, so I always say I have a lung disease and I just move slower than most people because of it.  Somehow it makes me feel less embarrassed if people know there is a reason behind my struggle.   

That evening, completely worn out from my battle with the hill, I skipped dinner and just walked about the town square a bit. It was busy, as the people came out after dark to enjoy the cooler night air. I took a few pics of the colorful night scenes and then headed back to the hotel to go to bed early so that I could rest and explore the next day.   

When morning came, I was delighted to see that the town square had been taken over by a bustling market.   I wandered around, checking out the goods and food for sale at the various stalls.  You could get anything from cowboy hats, to mugs, to clothes, to all kinds of food.  I bought myself a small bag of fresh churros and munched on them while wandering about.  In the afternoon, musicians started playing music and the town’s residents were dancing on a wooden dance floor, their boots and shoes stomping during the music’s chorus and making the dance floor jump.  All seemed to be having a good time doing the traditional dances in the afternoon heat.   

Xilitla is known for its surrealist gardens, known as Las Pozas, which were built just outside of town by a wealthy eccentric English artist named Edward James.  James died in 1984 but the gardens are still there, slowly being taken over by the jungle.   In order to see them you have to take a guided tour, which lasts 1.5 hours.  I am not much of one for tours, but It was a fascinating one and the guide, who spoke English, was very knowledgeable about James and the gardens.  He even carried an Ipad to show us various things about both, including pictures of James when he was young.   

I cabbed it back to town in time for an early dinner of pizza at a restaurant near the hotel (I know, pizza in Mexico.  I can only eat so much local food before I am craving something different).  I wanted to hit the road early the next day, as rain was forecast later in the day, so I was in bed by 8:30, falling asleep to the fan of the air conditioning, at least until 11:30, when someone on the street outside thought it would be a great idea to set off a succession of M-80 type firecrackers, making it sound like a war zone.  All part of the adventure of international moto-travel!