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Five by Bike: Cycling from Portland to Patagonia

Faithful Obscuraphiles, it delights me to no end to introduce you to this piece’s author, Vincent Levy. Currently Vincent is in the midst of an epic bicycle journey that started in Portland, Oregon and may ultimately see him to Patagonia. When asked about the impetus for such a trip, he gave me a variety of sound answers ranging from the desire to throw himself against something bigger than his confusion, to finally making good on a feeling he’d had since childhood that an adventure like this would be an opportunity to make life really worth it. Regardless, Vincent’s chutzpah and knack for describing the curious, unexpected stops along his path make us lucky to have him as a contributor to the blog.

Without further ado, I give you Vincent and “Five by Bike.” - Sarah

Pluma Hildago - Vincent Levy - Biking through South America

Unlike other modes of transport, it’s not necessary to prearrange your experiences when traveling by bicycle. They are waiting, turning before you down the kaleidoscope of road. All you have to do is reach them. When I left Portland, Oregon last September to bike south through Latin America, I didn’t bring a guide or directions, and I enjoy what I have experienced more for its having found me. Here are five of the most enjoyable, curious places the road has provided thus far.

1. The Lost Coast California, USAVincent Levy - California's Lost Coast - Biking from Portland to Patagonia

The Lost Coast is a 90 mile section of coastal mountain range too stubbornly-graded for the Pacific Coast Highway, which comes inland through the redwoods instead. This haven for black bears and marijuana growing operations has enough unspoiled land and hearty folk to fill more than a few verses of Whitman. Its denizens have minted their own currency, the Mattole. Hidden in Petrolia is an old hippie high school in a wooden barn whose Merry Prankster-esque painted school bus sits growing moss. From Mattole Beach there is a three-day coast hike south where it’s possible to sleep in an abandoned forest service tower and eat mussels straight off the rocks if you visit in springtime. The Lost Coast officially ends in Shelter Cove, a town rumored to be haunted by massacred Indians, I learned, after I saw a woman crying in the clouds the night I slept on its beach.

 

2. La PuntaTijuana, MexicoLa Punta - Tijuana Beach - Mexico USA Border - Atlas Obscura Blog

(image by nathangibbs)

Painted donkeys, prostitutes and mariachi bands await Americans across the border in Tijuana. Not far to the east are vast, purgatorial slums of tires and cinder blocks built up along the border mountains for people waiting to cross Stateside. A Home Depot and Walmart buffer these extremes. Often overlooked is La Punta, the northwestern-most point of Mexico. Here the border fence–decorated with thousands of white crosses hung in commemoration of those who died trying to cross clandestinely–runs to the ocean, where it’s possible to set foot in a neutral zone during low tide. The fence also features an enormous graffiti mural of a fanged Micky Mouse grinning from the U.S. side clutching a sombrero-ed Mexican, sadistically representing American influence in modern Tijuana.

 

3. Pumas Porra - Mexico City, MexicoPumas Porras - Mexico City Futbol Soccer - Estadio Olimpico - Atlas Obscura Blog

The most fervent football fans in Mexico support the Pumas in Mexico City´s Estadio Olímpico Universitario. Get a ticket in the “porras” section to stand in the pulse of the singing, screaming, spitting devotion that roars from the stadium for 90 minutes. Prepare for heightened passion and riot police during a classico match against local rivals Cruz Azul or (especially) Club America. Around the 80th minute the Estudiantes will serenade their Pumas with an anthem about the club’s colors, blue and gold.

¿Cómo no te voy a querer?
¿Cómo no te voy a querer?
Si mi corazón azul es y mi piel dorada.
¡Siempre te querré!

Estadio Olímpico was built on UNAM’s campus for Mexico City’s 1968 Olympics. The outside of the stadium features an enormous mural of the UNAM crest by Diego Rivera, and was painted psychedelically during the games by artist Lance Wyman. Inside, American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos famously gave the black power salute from the podium during their medal ceremony.

 

4. Pluma Hidalgo - Oaxaca, MexicoPluma Hidalgo - Vincent Levy - Five by Bike - Cycling from Portland to Patagonia

Pluma Hidalgo’s eponymous “pluma,” or feather, refers to the white clouds that permanently cap these mountaintops. Biking into Oaxaca’s southern mountain range required climbing 1,300 meters out of the desert and into the beginning the hot, sweet tropics. It is the region where Oaxaca’s famous coffees and chocolates are grown. The plants got riper, the air wet. I was buzzed by a flying squirrel and at the peak, a flayed cow’s head pointed its horns at me from a butchers hook. In the center of town, a toastador roasts coffee that local farmers bring throughout the day in bags or taxi trunks. It tastes like fruit. A prime spot for a fresh cup is in the plaza, where the owner of the cafe projects films for the town to watch each evening. Or take it to the basketball court behind the market (where I slept that night), and watch the sun set into the sea amidst a chorus of parrot songs echoing through the jungle mountains.

 

5. Maya Pedal - San Andreas Ixtapa, GuatemalaMaya Pedal Salsa Verde Blender - Vincent Levy - Atlas Obscura Blog

(image by Bingletron)

In and around the town of San Andrés Itzapa in Guatemala are bicycle machines that husk maize, pump water, turn blenders and make roofing tiles–all using pedal power. These bicimáquinas are invented at Maya Pedal [http://wwww.mayapedal.org], a nonprofit that takes donated bikes from the U.S. and Canada and turns them into sustainable machines to help campesinos complete time- and labor-intensive work in a simple fashion. Visit the shop on a chicken bus from Antigua, or stay as long as you want; volunteers run the shop, living on the second and third floor, cooking communally and hanging out with locals who walk slowly up the hill past Maya Pedal’s open doors.

[All images copyright Vincent Levy unless otherwise noted. Used by permission.]