Travel Blog 17: Highway 120



Sleeping in a mountain village led to an early rise. With no concern for people harming me, my distraction came from high walls and street lights. The clock read 5:15am. I laid there, wanting more sleep. Instead, I decided to hit the road, at least to a different spot. It took 7 moves to turn around on the ridiculously narrow road, but I finally made my way. Back to the beast of highway 120, I pulled off at the first turnoff. Looking out into the foggy mountain air as light began to show, I could see the green of the giant mountains on both sides of the valley. I decided to boil water for a coffee, hoping for a sunrise to dry the wet road and clear up the foggy vision. Sitting in nature, silence filled the air as no cars or trucks passed through yet. I sipped my hot coffee, listening to birds begin to wake. It was impossible to not observe the detrimental valley that sat alongside the road that could potentially go out at any time. Finally a car passed. Then another. People were waking up. I wanted to get out of this area before too many cars hit the road. A two lane highway meant everybody needed it and most were familiar with it. The only thing worse than getting stuck behind an incredibly slow truck is having a fast car riding my tail wanting to get around me. Add in dogs randomly crossing the road, motorbikes showing up out of nowhere, and topés (speedbumps) appearing on sharp curves.

For the most part, the drive was empty and lonely until I turned a corner to see hundreds of people along the road. Just like that, a village appeared. I parked to go walk, leading me to tamales on a park bench, tacos at a popular stand, and gorditas from this lovely family I couldn’t deny. Stores seemed happy with their roadside businesses. Any car driving the wild 120 has to pass through Ahuacatlan de Guadalupe, and it is definitely worth the stop. 

Highway 120 is the heartbeat of Jalpan de Serra, the next big “pueblo” (town). All cars passing through are potential targets as customers. Several roads jolt off the main one, showing a character to Jalpan that I fell in love with immediately. Markets were full of variety for kid’s clothes and toys, various household needs, and my favorite, vegetables. Walking up a steep hill to the plaza, I met Patrick sitting with his guitar. He plays music and sells local products to make money. He told me he had to save his money for a bus to Xlitla. I offered him a lift, giving each other a travel companion. 

About ten miles from Xlitla, Patrick directed me to stop at a side road where five other cars were parked. Music played and laughter filled the gentlemen sitting together. Patrick asked if I’d ever had pulque before, which I had not. We tasted the alcoholic drink before purchasing a mug. The flavor and texture was unique at first, but looseness definitely kicked in. The men selling were having a ball of a time, laughing and dancing. Patrick was happy to show me that experience. He then informed me his home is with his parents seventeen kilometers on this side road. If I drove him there, I was welcome to stay the night. While I was wanting to reach Xlitla, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see what life’s like in the area.

In his parent’s home, Patrick had a firm bed in a room full of his own art and creative outlets. His mother spent most of her time sweeping the floors. His father worked with wood outside, designing guitars. The television was on the entire time I was there. They cooked all their meals on an open fire in the back. Eggs and potatoes were one meal. Spaghetti was another. Patrick walked me up the mountain to his dream; the land he plans to dig out for a bar/restaurant with a nice view. I even helped him dig the area a bit as I understood his vision. Language was a barrier, but it was incredible to see this family’s “normal.” I slept inside Blaze on the street out front of their house, listening to the sound of mountain silence all night. 

While they wanted me to stay one more day, I had to complete my journey to Xlitla, the town I’d been hearing so much about since San Luis Potosí. It’s one of the “special places” in Mexico. I drove Patrick to Xlitla, where he directed me to Las Pozas. This would be good for both of us as he could sell his products to visitors and I had permission to stay in my car outside the popular attraction. I walked to Xlitla Centro to see a vibrant crowd of people. Being Sunday, I’m not sure if I was catching the tail end of Market Day, but I saw so much variety in food, art, and clothing. Xlitla certainly has a genuine feel to it. People are friendly, sincere, and quite adventurous. 

Highway 120 weaves through gorgeous terrain, providing access to the remarkable landscape. Observing lives at high mountain elevation adds a new perspective. Getting in and out of these villages is no easy task. I feel grateful to see this part of Mexico, connecting with the people.

Once I left Xlitla, I had many more twisting roads that would eventually lead me to the coast.