February 04, 2011 GMT
Mexico - Yucatan

A short distance from Oaxaca after joining highway 175 heading north the traffic eased and I found myself once again on a quiet road with great scenery of wooded mountains with dense fern undergrowth as I climbed up into the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountains then wound back down the other side. It was slow going because of the twists and turns, potholes and landslides that had either deposited a pile of rocks and dirt onto the road or left a gaping void where a slice of road had slid down the mountainside. I was only averaging 25mph (40kph) on this section but it was nice to have a road (almost) to myself again after days of heavy traffic skirting around Mexico city.

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Sierra Madre de Oaxaca Mountain Road

Approaching Tuxtepec Garmin GPS took me onto a really bad section of road with more rough dirt than tarmac and I thought I wasnít going to get much further as it was already well into the afternoon but this road only bypassed Tuxtepec town centre then joined highway 145 to Sayula. Although the traffic was fairly heavy with lots of slow moving trucks there were plenty of safe overtaking opportunities and I was able to make good progress doing around 60mph (96kph). I planned to ride until 5pm then stop at the next reasonably priced motel or hotel.

Shortly after 5pm the traffic came to a complete standstill in both directions. Joining the end of the queue I could see road works half a mile ahead but after several minutes there was still no movement in either direction. I thought about turning round to go back and find a hotel and asked a taxi driver behind me how far it was and he said it was ten kilometres to the first hotel but suggested I ride to the front of the traffic to see if there was a way through before turning round, something I was reluctant to do having been conditioned by 18 months in the USA where riders as a rule wait Ďin lineí rather than push to the front. Riding down the empty wrong side of the road to the front of the queue I discovered that a truck had broken down on a single lane section of road in the middle of the road works. Parking and walking past the broken down truck and the one behind it I could see an easy route past the first truck but the second one would be a bit of a squeeze. It was better than riding back ten kilometres so remounting I passed the first truck once all the onlookers stepped aside for me then switched to the other side of the road to pass the second truck. I had to creep past the rear axles with one pannier nudging the trucks tyres and the other suspended over a steep drop down from the side of the road. Sadly in all the excitement it never occurred to me to get some photographs. I was soon riding past a long long line of stationary vehicles facing in the opposite direction and a couple of minutes before 6pm miraculously stumbled upon a motel on the outskirts of Sayula.

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Gulf Of Mexico Secondary Road

The following day I left the main highway (Hwy 180) to take a secondary coastal road through Paraiso in the state of Tabasco intending to link up with the main highway 180 again on the way to Frontera. The road had little traffic and passed through flat wetlands to the Gulf of Mexico then hugged the tropical coastline fringed with palm trees. I was brought to an abrupt halt when the road had collapsed onto the beach. There was a rough track through the palm trees which I took to see if it rejoined the road beyond the collapsed section. Powering up hill through soft sand had the bike going roughly in the right direction while the wheels squirmed independently in every direction they could think of. Rounding a bend the track had a barrier across it, although there were a few isolated tyre tracks weaving through the palm trees I didnít fancy pushing my luck in more soft sand, especially without knowing how far I would have to go before rejoining the road. Reluctantly I turned round and retraced my route sixty miles back to the main highway. I donít know how long the road has been out but my paper and GPS maps are less than a year old and they both showed the road as intact. The 120 mile detour meant I didnít get as far as I thought I would but there was no destination in mind when I set off and it was nice to ride along the coast with some different scenery after spending months in the mountains.

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I Really Have Reached The End Of The Road

Campeche on the Mexican Gulf coast of the Yucatan Peninsular was regularly raided by pirates (English, Dutch and French) for a period of over 200 years until the city finally convinced the Spanish to finance fortifying the town with a 2 metre thick wall and eight forts in 1686. One French pirate in 1685 stealthily captured the cathedral then rang the bell to summon everyone where he held them prisoner allowing him to ransack the empty houses, businesses and churches at his leisure. The wall and forts were completed in 1704 which put an end to the pirate attacks although by then piracy was on the wane anyway. Much of the walls and forts remain but the 20th century road builders succeeded in breeching the wall in places.

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Campeche Pirate Proof Walls

I was warned that the Mesoamerican archaeological sites of Uxmal, Chichen Itza and Tulum where I was heading were overrun with tourists and souvenir sellers so I had a ride out to the Edzna Mayan ruins which had no souvenir sellers and a mere handful of other tourists. I wanted to wander around some of the pre Columbian ruins in comparative isolation. The building technology of these ancient cities must have been on a par with Europe at the time.

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Edzna Mayan Ruins

Uxmal is the largest pre Columbian site I have visited to date, a complete city rising out of the surrounding jungle. There werenít any souvenir sellers inside the site as I had been told and although there were half a dozen or so tour buses in the car park the site was big enough to accommodate us all without tripping over each other.

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Uxtmal Pre Columbian City

It is claimed that Merida cathedral is the oldest church in the Americas, construction began in 1562 and was completed in 1598. Built from the stones of the existing Mayan city on the site. Any stone with Mayan carving was positioned with the carving concealed inside the wall as the Spanish Conquistadors wanted to destroy any signs of pre Columbian civilisation.

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The Oldest Church In The Americas

Posted by ianmoor@tiscali.co.uk at February 04, 2011 04:15 AM GMT

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