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By: Zdenko Kahlina
Winter Cycling in Mexico
What are you waiting for? Get away from Canadian winter and come to Mazatlán, Mexico. Enjoy the sun during the winter months riding your bicycle like I did for past two months. It is safe, fun and most importantly, it is not overly hot there at this time of a year.
During my stay in Mazatlán, my most common route was riding the bike from Olas Altas beach, along the famous malecón promenade, competing with ‘pulmonia’ cars and other traffic on the rough city streets. Its 17km long ride through the city and touristy Zona Dorada (Golden Zone) to the northern side, where the biggest Mazatlán hotel Riu is located. The area is called Cerritos. At Cerritos I would turn Northeast, away from the ocean, onto road MX503, heading out of town, towards tool highway MX15D and further up the hill to libre road MX15, which connects Mazatlán and city of Culiacan on the north. To get to La Noria (Spanish name is La Noria del San Antonio), first I have had to reach pueblo El Habal on a busy road MX15. It was only a kilometer distance to cover. From there a beautiful vinding and paved road (MX503) goes northeast and proceeds into the rugged foothills of Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains.
With the agriculture and cutover areas along the road I was riding by the great patches of thorn forest. There was also a lot of dumped garbage on both sides of the road and it appears to me Mexicans do that without hesitation.
The road is only used by local Mazatlecos and tourist bikers like me, so I was never alone on the road. The vehicle traffic was minimal and I had plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. It was on this road that I met guys like Carlos, Paul, Brendan, Denny, Lee, Robert and several others. Lee and Robert were here from Calgary on their winter training. I wanted to ride with them, but they were to strong for me. Several times I joined a group of riders in front of Rico’s cafe in El Cid marina, and we would all come here on this route. Couple of times I met a group of young riders and their coach, ex professional Jose Manuel Garcia (Chepe) who rode for American ‘Toyota’ team between 2006-2008. He was doing a good job teaching these youngsters how to ride bike.
Puerto de Canoas and Los Limones
From El Habal the road goes mostly uphill towards La Noria and its 22 km distance to La Noria. After riding over the first hill and only 3 km on this road, there was a tiny village Puerto de Canoas, where horses are trained in dancing by local charros (horseman). This village has only 345 inhabitants and one dusty street. Lazy dogs did not even move from the middle of the street when I was going by…
Next along the road, just over another small hill was pueblo Los Limones with its 195 inhabitants who live there. From the main road I could see beautiful graveyard that almost looked like the village itself, because there is a lot of big tombs built around each grave (see picture bellow). Many of the tombs are as big as real houses.
About a kilometer further on the left was ‘Rancho El Puente’ but the main gate was always closed and I never had a chance to peek behind the fence. It looked like a very nice and well maintained rancho. Another hill further up the road was a turn-off to village of El Salto. I went there couple of times. The village itself was 5km away from the main road on a newly paved side road. This village has only 192 inhabitants, mostly rancheros… small church and elementary school. It was interesting to watch students dressed in their uniforms playing in the school yard. They all look the same.
Upon return to La Noria road, about 2 km from El Salto connection, was a big roosters farm. Roosters can be seen from the road individually tied to small white shelters in several rows. Other younger ones are kept in pens. This is the attraction, where most Mazatlán tour companies bring tourists, on their way to Los Osuna distillery tour further up the road.
Few more kilometers further is a sign pointing to Hacienda las Moras. This is renovated hacienda, more like a hotel, with authentic Mexican furnishings and art, at the foot of Sierra Madre Mountains, only 30 minutes from Mazatlán by car. I never paid a visit to the villa because it is 3km of white gravel road before I could reach the hacienda. With my expensive road bike and narrow tires I always try to avoid going on any gravel roads.
Next, down the road was El Espinal, another tiny pueblo with its 278 inhabitants. I turned into this village from the main road only once. Road through the village was covered with soft sand and I had trouble riding on it with my narrow race tires. That’s why I said earlier that I try to avoid gravel roads. This time I made exception, as curiosity prevailed. I survived without crushing and was cheered on along the way, by local boys who were playing and drinking in the shade of one huge tree.
Top of the hill – Km 15
From El Espinal road goes uphill for full 5 kilometers. The climb is not very steep, maybe around 3-4% which made it easy to ride. At the top was exactly 15 km away from El Habal and the beginning of this road. This is a spot where most local bikers are turning around and head back to Mazatlán, or they would continue downhill towards La Noria. Sometimes I would also turn around here, because according to my Garmin bike computer it was already 43 kilometers away from my hotel. Going back the same way would make for an 86 km bike ride, what I thought was long enough for me and my age group. But some other times I would continue down the hill and made it all the way to La Noria, which was halfway point in my 100km ride.
From the top it’s all downhill to La Noria. It’s an easy ride, but I was always keeping in my mind that on the way back it will be all uphill again. Before reaching La Noria, on my right side was historic charming facility called ‘Los Osuna’ with its huge agave fields and distillery.
La Vinata Los Osuna – is the largest Blue Agave plantation and the oldest tequila distillery in Sinaloa state. Accessed only from this winding road from Mazatlán, that traverses fields of beautiful blue agave plants in neat rows. I could see one dirt road leading into the hills, assuming it leads to the main ‘hacienda’ on the property.
This place will make you feel you’re in real Mexico, while seeing huge old trees and natives dressing very typical cloths. You can enjoy seeing the fields of Blue Agave considered world patrimony due to the beauty of seeing the horizon totally painted in blue for this well-known Mexican plant. The factory at Los Osuna sat idle for three decades before the current family restarted it. They use yeast isolated from soils in the area and do not add additional sugars, only those found in the ripe piña (pineapple) of the agave, which is cooked (steamed), crushed (to extract the juice), fermented and distilled. The addition of non-agave sugars produces mezcal ‘mixto’.
This is another big tour destination for many curious tourists from Mazatlán. Here they learn about the whole process of making tequila, and for more adventurous they also have the ‘zip-lining’ adventure…
Finally soon after Los Osuna I was entering into La Noria at high speed, because the road was still going downhill. Right at the entrance was a short bridge over the dry riverbed and I was already on the main street, riding between very colorful houses, through the village.
La Noria is a lovely colonial mountain village located just 40 minutes northeast of Mazatlán by car. It has 1271 inhabitants. A day trip to La Noria is an experience that you will remember for a long time. Founded in 1565 as a mining outpost, La Noria prospered from mining for over three centuries. There are still active mines in the area. La Noria is one of the best places to go to experience real rural Mexico, with cowboys, rodeos, the antique church of San Antonio, and lovely adobe houses. I was impressed with most houses and its colors, as they were presenting real Mexican stile.
Many traditional crafts are practiced to this day in La Noria, as in many surrounding villages between Mazatlán and La Noria – including pottery making, leather saddles, leather sandals, belts and machetes. Several leather factories are located here. You can stop and watch saddles, sandals, belts, and other leather goods being made right in the shops. Other sights are the church of San Antonio and a very old jail that is still in use. Many of these La Noria artisan workshops, especially leather saddle makers, welcome visitors and enjoy showing how the crafts are made.
La Noria is also home to the El Habal ranch, where you can experience traditional Mexican cuisine in a rustic country environment.
Past La Noria
Few times we also headed up the La Noria Rd past La Noria and found more promising looking country side but no any other side roads. This road eventually leads towards San Marcos, El Recodo and Villa Union back on the highway MX15 to Mazatlán. For most of the way down from the mountains, the road follows river ‘Rio Presidio’. I didn’t head too far up, perhaps only 5 km past La Noria, knowing how far from my hotel I was already. Some of the guys I met in Mazatlán (Paul, Lee, Robert) regularly rode this loop of 140km with last 25 km on a busy highway from the airport to the city. Very dangerous!
The relative danger or safety in this area changes frequently, so be sure to ask several different locals before visiting this areas alone. I had no problems on the La Noria Like I already mentioned in this blog, I saw many road and mountain cyclists also using this road. This is definitely the most popular training route in Mazatlán.
Hope you have a good season and I hope to see you somewhere on the road!
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