The 130 mile ride to Taxco was uneventful except for the fact we got blasted by quite a bit of rain. But shortly after we climb the mountains of Michoacan state past endless fields of flowers with giant volcanons gracing the horizon. We then up to chilling temperatures as we reached 10,000 feet elevation. As we approached Cuernavaca more flowers, ranching and agriculture. Then the bustle of the busy city until we find the road to Taxco out of the city. The nicely banked roads of the cuota (toll road) outside of Toluca going towards Taxco make for the best riding I’ve had in a month. They got even better after the toll road ended. The bike is balanced perfectly, my suspension tuned and my confidence combined with great weather and the feeling of making progress all contributed to greatness of this day.
Arriving in the magical hillside town build in the late 1500’s with homes, churches and businesses tumbling down into the rough cobble-stoned streets of Taxco made my day. We arrived here with a tad of daylight left. But the challenge of riding up, down and around 30 degree steep one way narrow alleys and streets combined with a meandering city plan that would confuse any modern day cartographer have us riding at dusk. Not a problem. We’re in the city. Finally, after asking for directions for the fifth time to find a hotel picked at random from my Lonely Planet guide (they offered off street parking) we found it. Riding into the parking lot took us on a near 90 degree plunge from the crest of the road. Whew. My new home.Perhaps most unique about Taxco is getting to the historical city center doesn’t require meandering through industrial suburbs like Zacatecas, Durango and Guanajuato and to some extent San Miguel de Allende.
Taxco (pronounced Tass-co) is a great city for a little cardiovascular exercise. Leaving our hotel room to go anywhere requires climbing 50 steps then marching up a number of streets until reaching the zocólo, which always is a good base to explore any of these colonial cities. Beyond its unspoiled hillside setting which offers great views, what makes Taxco unique is its status as perhaps home to the largest collection of silver artisans and jewelry makers in all of Latin America. Victor, a quiet man with a receding hairline married to a silver designer, Doris, has been living in Taxco for more than 10 years but has been coming here since a kid with his parents. He tells us that more than 2 tons of silver is shipped out of Taxco every day. And so important is this to the UPS operation out of Mexico City, if the shipment from Taxco is running late on a given day, the UPS plane headed to its Louisville hub in the states will wait.
We spend a couple nights in Taxco enjoying breakfasts at the traveler-frequented Cafe Sasha (no relation to my fearless night riding travel partner), taking walks through the market and window shopping at the creative, and then not so creative, jewelry shops in town. At one point, Sasha and I decide to explore the shops — from the finest on the zocolo to the hidden gems tucked into the twisting turns of alleys and cobblestone streets. We learn to understand the cost per kg and any artist or design premium that is tacked on. I’ve been wearing a silver bracelet purchased in Indonesia more than 10 years ago. But sans jewelry, Sacha has an eye out for a certain type of bracelet. I decide to look for a couple pieces for family and friends stateside.
I’m not sure what happened. But after a couple hours roaming the silver (plata) shops I was eager to return to one where I’d identified a nice necklace and earrings as the perfect gift. We had spent 20 minutes in the shop a few hours earlier. The woman eagerly showed us many bracelets and the necklace I considered. Sacha tried on 4 or 5 different bracelets. When I returned to the shop several hours later (Sacha went looking for an internet cafe) the woman was furious and on fire. Using speed Spanish all I could decifer is that she was convinced that Sacha left her shop wearing two bracelets. She pointed to security cameras and video monitors indicating she had captured him on camera. She held up two plastic bags that once held the bracelets in question. Apparently, Sacha had stopped into the shop moments before looking for me. She threatened to call the police. Sacha adamantly denied any wrongdoing. Still, he wasn’t going to wait for the police.
I told the woman that I was sure there was a misunderstanding. And while I’d only known Sacha for a few weeks and traveled with him for even less time, I couldn’t imagine him stealing. But did I know him that well? I returned to the room where Sacha and Jeremiah were engrossed in the “what to do” conversation. Sacha was ready to bolt town. I had promised the woman that I’d return. Fearing potentially corrupt police activity, Sacha refused to return. We argued, contemplated and strategized for hours. Soon, the shops were closed. We’d planned to leave in the morning. But I felt I hadn’t kept my word and was determined to return to the site of the alleged crime to simply tell the woman that Sacha promised he didn’t walk out of her store with anything and he was simply fearful of the police. Perhaps I could mediate a truce?
We called a few of our new Mexican friends to ask opinions. The suggestions were contradictory. One told us to call the police and report that Sacha had been wrongly accused for a false crime. The other told us to leave town and forget about it. This isn’t the USA. In many situations, you are guilty until proven innocent. This Sacha feared most. He was in no hurry to spend a few extra days in a Mexican jail. While Jeremiah leaned to my point of view, he was living on borrowed time. His visa and temporary motor vehicle import permit were about to expire. He had made a test journey into Mexico in May. Therefore his 180 day Mexican lease expires on November 3rd. If we had to wait to spring Sacha from jail he’d face potentially expensive fines at the border. This added to the unknown factor about road conditions since the major hurricanes of Stan and Wilma had battered Southern Mexico, we all faced a dilemma.
In the morning we took off for Oaxaca.
The situation was very strange. The shop that attested to the shoplifting was a high-end reputable establishment. Sacha had been crying the blues about money and his quest for cheaper hotel rooms. Though I can’t imagine he’d intentionally walk out of a shop with unpaid merchandise. Though as Jeremiah questioned, why was he shopping for silver bracelets giving the condition? No matter what, we weren’t going to wait around. We took Sacha for his word. We had to. We’d shared hotel rooms for several nights. it’s the travelers creed: we trust each other. With our belongings. Watching our bikes. Everything.
I liked Taxco. But unfortunately it left a bad taste in Sacha’s mouth. One thing’s for sure. I will return someday. And I’ll visit that shop.
On our way out of town we take a side trip to the massive caves of Cacahuamilpa (Grutas Cacahuamilpa). While I’ve visited caves all over the world, as part of tour entirely in Spanish along with a group of 50 or so 10th graders from Guerrero, the tour takes a couple hours and meander more than a mile underground. Wondering if they’ll ever end, I term the caves: Grutas Sin Termine (caves without end). The most amazing part is the massive stalagmite that is shaped like the national symbol of Mexico – a bottle of Corona.