Aquismon was muy caliente. Hot. Burning. Blistering. You get the picture. It’s at 500 ft elevation and it was baking when we arrived at the end of day 2. We all got rooms with air conditioners but they weren’t particularly effective. The hotel doesn’t run the air conditioners at all to pre-cool the rooms so my room must have been 100 degrees when I first walked in. I turned on the AC, got out of my riding suit, took a cold shower, and then, after getting dressed, headed outside where it was cooler. Yep, it was cooler sitting outside than in our rooms with the AC on full blast. i had one of the better ACs and it took hours for my room to cool down enough so that I didn’t sweat just from being in the room. Finally, about 1:30am, it cooled off enough in my room that I could lay under the sheets instead of on top of them. The lesson from this experience – pick a hotel with a better air conditioner (better option) or stay in towns at higher elevations (best option).
On Monday morning we had a decision to make. Our plan was to stay in a different town every night but Milton was in no shape to ride with his bad elbow. Do we leave him behind and continue on with our tour? Or do we adjust our schedule and come back to Aquismon each night until he can ride again?
We finally decided that we would do a day ride today and re-evaluate the situation tomorrow morning. It seemed clear Milton’s arm wasn’t broken and, with any luck, he might be able to ride tomorrow. So we studied the maps and came up with a modified route that included most of the stuff we had planned to ride that day but had us returning to Aquismon that evening.
We also moved to a new hotel, the “Hotel La Mansion” because it had noticeably better air conditioning. It wasn’t really a mansion but it seemed like one in comparison to the other place. See the sign “banos y regaderas” painted on the wall? It is advertising that they have toilets and showers. Two options that are always a good choice, don’t you agree? If you are in Aquismon, this is the better choice of the two.
The normal morning ritual unfolded as expected. Wake up at 6am. Search for coffee while taking pictures of stuff. Yes, that’s a picture of a couple of young’uns riding their horses into town. It’s very common to see horses being ridden in town. You get used to it pretty quickly and forget that seeing horses being ridden in town is not a normal thing in most American cities.
Our plan for the day was to cross the mountains west of Aquismon passing by the Cave of the Swallows. From there we would take a dirt road almost to the city of Jalpan. Finally, we would ride the exquisite Hwy 120 east back to Aquismon, stopping at Edward James’ Las Posas on the way.
With our route finalized we headed back to the hotel to pack the bikes and kiss Milton goodbye. Adventure is waiting.
With a goodbye wave to Milton, we headed out.
We rode west across a pretty valley and then turned north and started climbing the mountain. Near the top is the Cave of Swallows, which at 1214 feet deep, is the largest known cave shaft in the world. It’s so big that you could fit a skyscraper in it. A youtube search will reveal guys base jumping into the pit.
Our goal during this was primarily road exploration so we elected to not spend riding touring the cave. It will have to wait for another visit to the area. We settled for a 15 minute break to admire the scenery from the top of the mountain.
Our maps indicated that the road was dirt from here all the way southwest across the mountains. Having looked at the terrain closely on Google Earth I was anticipating that this would be a really excellent dirt road. But, alas, the road has been entirely paved.
The road was a fun ride but, candidly, was a bit of a letdown for me because I was ready to ride more dirt. We hadn’t ridden any dirt on day 1 and though we found some excellent dirt on day 2 it wasn’t enough for me. Oh well, these things happen when you are exploring new territory.
The next road on our list to explore was also shown on the map to be dirt. And, sure enough, that’s exactly what it was. Not only that, it turned out to be particularly good riding. The first section was wide, well groomed, and nothing special. But as we road west, the road got better and better.
Imagine the amount of manual labor that went into building these two stone walls.
How did we feel about this fine road? Scott is giving you the answer in this picture. This section of riding definitely makes the “recommended” list.
There isn’t a lot of flat ground in this area of Mexico. So the locals build there houses wherever they can, which means they build them on the sides of mountains. We routinely encountered small villages and towns as we road, many looking a lot like this.
The red highlighted section is all pavement now. It’s a nice road that runs mostly through a valley as it makes its way southwest to the main highway (the gold/yellow roads on the map are major highways). As it nears the main highway it climbs up and over the mountains, providing the fine views I posted earlier.
The black section is all dirt. We were riding from east to west (toward Jalpan). You can see that we originally rode north and then backtracked. We were trying to loop west across the mountains but the road to the west has been abandoned and was not passable. Hence the reason we backtracked and took the road west shown on the map. It was a very good road.
All too soon (for me) we were back on Hwy 120 and riding west toward Jalpan, a city of 9000 located in the heart of the Sierra Gorda. At 4000 or so feet in elevation it was noticeably less hot than the temps back in Aquismon.
In the mid-1700s a Franciscan friar named Junípero Serra built 5 missions in the area, one of which is in Jalpan. According to Wikipedia, ” The mission in Jalpan was constructed between 1751 and 1758 and dedicated to Saint James the Greater, as defender of the faith.” Since we were in town, it made sense to visit.
The detail is amazing. All the more so knowing it was built 250 years ago without any modern construction equipment.
It was haircut day and all the trees in the courtyard were getting a trim.
One more artsy shot
After a fine lunch in the Mission Hotel restaurant (coincidentally the Mission Hotel is directly across the street from Mission Jalpan – how convenient) we hung out on the square watching the ebb and flow of humanity and taking a few pictures.
This nice lady showed up and gave us all a flyer for the Serendipity Spa. I have no plans to go there but if I ever bring Mrs. Trail Boss to Jalpan I would certainly pay for her to enjoy a day of beauty at the spa.
Our plan for the afternoon included riding Hwy 120 east to Xilitla for a visit to Edward James’ Las Pozas and then back to Aquismon for the evening.
Before we start discussing the madness of Edward James, lets talk about Hwy 120. Gents, I’m here to tell you that Hwy 120 is an amazing road. Exceptional. Superb. It’s worth riding all the way to this part of Mexico just to spend time on this road. It’s as good or better than any road you’ve ever ridden. Really.
The map doesn’t do the road justice – the road isn’t as straight as the map indicates. In fact, there aren’t many straight sections of road at all. It’s just curve after curve after curve for hours. We ended up riding Hwy 120 three times during this trip, though not all the same sections. As much as I like riding dirt I also like riding good pavement too. This road qualifies.
So, after a couple of hours of pretending to be road racers we finally arrived in Xilitla (He Lit La) for a visit to Las Posas.
According to Wikipedia, “Las Pozas (“the Pools”), near the village of Xilitla, San Luis Potosí, more than 2,000 feet (610 m) above sea level, in a subtropical rainforest in the mountains of Mexico, is a garden created by James. It includes more than 80 acres of natural waterfalls and pools interlaced with towering Surrealist sculptures in concrete. Massive sculptures up to four stories tall punctuate the site. The many trails throughout the garden site are composed of steps, ramps, bridges and narrow, winding walkways that traverse the valley walls. Construction of Las Pozas cost more than $5 million.”
It was 5:45pm when we arrived and the site closed at 6pm but they told us we would have more than 15 minutes. The closing time appears to mean they don’t let anyone in after 6pm but don’t run anyone out who is in before 6pm. There certainly wasn’t anyone rushing us out after 6pm.
We spoke with a young lady from Canada (I think that’s where she said she was from) that was really impressed with this place. When asked her how long she had been there she replied “a week”. As a point of comparison we spent about 40 minutes here and that was plenty for me. Surrealism isn’t my thing, but I did like all the water falls and would have liked to have gone swimming.
I found it very difficult to photographically capture the essence of the place so after a few tries I gave up. You’ll just have to go and see if for yourself.
A short time later we were back on the road to Aquismon and the end of day 3. The riding tally for the day was a superb dirt road and an exceptional paved highway.