Diego to Fuego: Scorpions, Snakes, and Skeeters . . . Oh My!

by Dylan and Cheri Harris '98

Date- February 21, 2005

Location- Playa Azul, Mexico

Total miles- 1631 (2629KM)

Gear update- 5 flat tires total

Body update- some saddle sores, numb hands and we´re a bit thinner!

Dear family and friends,

So, we last updated you upon leaving Mazatlan and were riding south along the coast. The highway out of Mazatlan was insane, best described as 160 miles of highway traffic like the I-5 narrowed down to a 2-way highway during Memorial Day weekend and no shoulders. Plus throw in crazy hills that were so steep and slow, flies and skeeters were landing on us. There are now ticks to be wary of, as well as scorpions that we have found in our bags, and more “hehans” (no-see-ums) than you can possibly escape from. We have nailed down a pretty good system of travel for this hot costal section of Mexico. We get up as early as I can endure, bike in the cool (a relative term) of the morning until about 11 or so, cook lunch, then little siesta in the plaza of whatever pueblo we end up in, then bike from about 3 until sunset. It´s still hot and humid, but I´m sure it is mild compared to what we will be up against in Central America.

One of the little pleasures we have come to enjoy almost daily is what we call the “Harris Happy Salad”. It consists of a few chopped tomatoes, a small red onion, a few florets of cauliflower, local Mexican cheese (I´m not sure exactly what it is, but it´s like a coiled pile of string cheese), diced cucumber, with a dressing of fresh lime juice, avacados, olive oil, and some salt and pepper. We also make a mean fruit salad with whatever we can round up from the local fruit stands. Along the lines of food, we pulled into a small town just in time to watch a cow go from frolicking in the fields to being wheel-barrowed to the “carneceria”, the meat shop. It was very interesting to watch the entire process, something you don´t see in America. Let me know if you are interested in seeing the film clips we took, good clean entertainment for the whole family.

Coincidently while watching this event, we met up with an international group that was staying along the coast helping out at local sea turtle rescue camp. Saving the sea turtles is a big thing down here for eco-tourism- people from all over the world fly out to volunteer to work at such camps. We decided to check it out and see how we could help, or at least learn more about the program. Basically we were invited to walk the beaches from about 9pm to 5am, looking for female turtles to waddle up the beach and lay their eggs. There are high and low seasons for this, but it occurs every night, all months of the year. So we had our first sighing at about 11pm, it took her about a hour to get up the beach and dig her hole, then for the next hour we watched her freshly lay 72 ping-pong ballish eggs of turtles-to-be. It was an amazing experience to watch and actually witness the eggs pile up in the hole, then have her cover them with sand and head back to the water. Our job

was to then unearth the eggs, collect them and relocate them into the protected “kindergarten” where they would be watched 24-7 for protection against wild dogs, seagulls, ravens, crabs, and other such predators. The worst predator, however, are the Mexicans that are out to collect them and sell them for high prices on the black market. Apparently they are quite good raw with a little lime and chile (but what isn´t in Mexico?). So, every night the eggs that had been relocated in the kindergarten 42 days ago, hatch and are released to the sea at night when they have a better chance of survival towards the water. We also got to help with this process and watch a bucket of turtles sprint for the water. Apparently the turtles come to the beach about 10 times a year, but only lay eggs 5 of those times, so you could invest several hours watching a turtle, only to have them walk away from the nest without laying any eggs. The volunteers at this particular camp stay a total of

3 weeks, work at night and sleep during the day. We had a great time getting to know the team that was there and helping them that evening with this particular turtle.

Also along our travels we came upon a great church in Las Varas that took us in and let us sleep in their Sunday school room. We had a great time with Pastor Manuel Soto and his hospitable family as we stayed up late telling stories and eating fresh watermelon on their rooftop. The next morning we were blessed to accompany the pastor as he went door to door inviting the neighbors to the church service that night and praying for them if they wanted it.

After a long day on the road and several nights of beach camping, we came upon the town Cuyutlan where we met “Bristol” the local gringo. With only a few words exchanged between us, he kindly invited us to stay in one of his extra bedrooms. Again we stayed up chit-chatting with him and his son Brandon while eating real cheese, fresh ham and canned Spanish olives- truly a great way to end the day.

Another unique housing experience came when we had arrived late into town and it was getting too dark to stealth camp. The locals directed us to the courtyard between a church and school playground that they thought would be safe for us, but in the end the police took us into their office and offered us total protection and a great night´s sleep with 24hr watch.

Other than these few highlights of lodging, we have been spending the rest of the nights on the beach, in a banana crop, along a river, or wherever we found a flat place to pitch our tent. The heat and crazy-hilly costal terrain has forced us to drink insane amounts of water and limited us to riding in the mornings and late afternoons to evenings. The coast looks a lot like central coast of California, except for the coconut palms and banana trees. The towns have gotten more off the “Gringo trail” and the people are as friendly and kind as ever. We hope to be out of Mexico within about 3 weeks and into Guatamala, or as Dylan fondly refers to “the Guat”.

Thanks again for all your prayers, they are much appreciated and we can testify again and again to His faithfulness in meeting our needs above and beyond our expectations. Let us continue to know how we can pray for you.

Much love and many blessings,

Dylan and Cheri Harris '98