Saturday, February 28, 2015


Feb 26th
We entered our last state in Mexico today. Hola Chiapas!

Thanks again to our hosts Rodrigo and Lupita! We can't thank you enough for everything.

We invited our new friend Max to ride with us today. In the morning we all attempt to leave early. Unfortunately Danny gets a flat tire first thing. Despite the delay, we manage to leave quickly and once  we're on the road we make good time. Suddenly one of Max's spokes break. He offers to hitchhike but we have spare spokes and decide to take this as an opportunity to learn how to fix a broken one. It takes a while but eventually we are successful! Max's wheel holds up well for the rest of the day. 
Danny and Max struggling to pump up Max's tiny road tires. 

Inevitably we start our climb into the mountains as it is starting to get uncomfortably hot. Luckily, the scenery is beautiful and the road has so little traffic that we can ride three across and talk.

Near the top of the hill we stop for lunch in a little town. It's hard to motivate ourselves to get going afterwards, but when we do we find ourselves desending into a wonderful valley. Unfortunately, on the descent one of my shiftng cables breaks. What is wrong with our bikes today? It is only beacause of an amazing tailwind that we make it to our goal destination: Cintalapa. Here we meet some amazingly friendly firefighters who let us camp at the station. We use their stove to make a pasta feast for dinner.
Sunset behind the fire station 

Feb. 27th
We sleep very well outside the fire station. Thankfully it's a cool night and the next day is overcast. The traffic on our road has increased, so when we reach an intersection with the toll road we hop on it.  Toll roads always have nice shoulders for us to ride on, and this morning we have some beautiful mountain scenery to enjoy as well. 
The Maseca factory! (The company that produces corn flour for basically every tortilleria) 

We get into Tuxtla (the capital of Chiapas) around lunch time. After fighting through the typical mess of traffic on the city edges, we spend our afternoon trying to get pills for malaria prevention and food shopping. 
Yep- everyone is piling their garbage in the middle of the street. Why? Apparently no one wants the pile next to their house or business, so in the middle of the street it goes.

Errands completed, we make our way to Tuxtla en Bici, a house for cyclists sponsored by the Tuxtla cycling group. Here we meet Roberto, founder of Tuxtla en Bici, an extremely friendly and energetic young guy. He tells us all about different bike rides and clean air initiatives in the city. There are a lot of great events happening here! 

Cool posters promoting cycling and cleaner city air

As the evening progresses, more and more people come over and it turns into a full fledged party that lasts until 3 AM. We try to go to sleep around midnight with little success.

Feb 28th
After a night of little sleep Danny and Max spend all morning trying to get their second dose of the Hepatitis A vaccine. Apparently most people in the health care system are incompetent and it's next to impossibly to try to get something. They go to 4 different places before finally receiving the vaccine. In the afternoon we take a trip out to visit El Cañón del Sumidero, a large canyon right next to the city of Tuxtla. The canyon was originally formed by the action of a geological fault and then further carved by rivers flowing from the nearby mountains. At some point, a dam was created and the canyon partially flooded. Thus, now the water is calm without a noticeable flow and is only disturbed by the motor boats that zoom up and down.
To reach the canyon we take the public transport known as "Colectivos"- small cars in which they cram far too many people. When we reach the entrance to the park we check out the map and learn that if we want to hike in for a view we'll have to walk up an 18 km road. As we try to decide what to do, a pickup truck pulls up and offers to give us a ride. The people in the truck are extremely nice and take us to all of the viewpoints. 
The true Mexican experience- too many people in the back of a truck. It's a negative stereotype in the US, but in Mexico, it's something we see all the time.

On the way up we also get a great view of the whole city of Tuxtla nestled into the valley. We enjoy seeing the canyon with sheer walls more than 4,000ft tall and jungle-y vegetation. But even from up here I can see trash from the city glittering in eddies of the river and it seems sad that this natural place has been altered so much by man.
The city of Tuxtla 
Beautiful canyon
In the evening we go out for a special treat- pizza! But pizza is very expensive here so we supplement our dinner with tamales.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Zanatepec, February 24

Rodrigo, Lupita, and the youngest of their three children

Rodrigo, our host in Zanatepec, is an English teacher, and he invited us last night to speak this morning with his class.  How could we refuse?!  Due to the late start of his classes, the heat, and the 3,000 foot hill that lies about 13 miles from here, we decided to stay for the day in this little Oaxacan town.

Unlike our last two class presentations, which were more like, well, presentations, this one was more of an interview.  We were introduced to the 15 and 16 year old students as not knowing any Spanish in order to force them to speak in English.  They asked us a few questions, but their grasp of the language was tenuous at best, so they were reluctant to speak up.  We soon revealed our mild capability in Spanish and lapsed into that language, and the students became more talkative.  It was quite a challenge, being interviewed in Spanish, but I think we did pretty well!  

Rodrigo then took us to a guy he knew who sews and makes clothes, so that we could have our homemade frame bags reinforced.  The guy, with his old, mechanical sewing machine that far outpaced the fancy one we used to originally make the bags, expertly followed the stitching and finished both of our bags in maybe 30 minutes.  
He told us it would cost 30 pesos (~$2.25), which seemed to us to be way too little, so we thanked him profusely and tipped him well.

The rest of the day was spent reading (I finished Rushdie's The Jaguar Smile and moved on to The Time Traveler's Wife [gasp, fiction!), eating, and hanging out with another cyclist, a French Canadian named Max who is spending tonight here as well.

Mangos and Wind

February 23
We left Jalapa really early to get in some miles before the heat set in, and, with the help of a tailwind, rode hard for a few hours and made some ground.  
Early Morning Sun Rays

Then we turned on to a toll road to bypass two small cities, and, though it was nice riding with no traffic and a shoulder (how often does that happen?!), we changed directions and found ourselves with a headwind.  Still, it was nice riding.  We had passed out of the mountains and had entered the coastal lowlands; flat, shrubby palms dominated the landscape.  
We went almost 70 km before we stopped for lunch, and good thing, too, because the mild headwind picked up and turned into a vicious crosswind.  By pedaling hard and maintaining speed, we could withstand the worst of gusts without falling, but there's only so far you can lean before the wind wins and your wheels slip or you go off the road.  We had to walk some sections, but that wasn't much better: the stronger gusts would lift the rear wheel off the ground, skidding it over to the side.  I imagine this is what a being in a hurricane would feel like.  

I was proud to see that the wind was at least doing some good.  Rows and rows of windmills stretched for miles, rivaling or surpassing, it seemed, the number of turbines in the Banning Pass area near Palm Springs, California.

We arrived around 5 in the small town of La Venta, where numerous people seemed not to have noticed the gale outside.  "Oh, this?  This isn't bad.  You should've seen last month!"  I'm really glad I wasn't here last month.  None of the doors in this town open to the north, where the wind is coming from, and I understand why.

The police told us we could camp at the recreation center, anywhere we wanted on the paved soccer field.  Remembering the last sleepless night near a soccer field and making sure this time that there were no games later, we ate dinner with confidence that sleep would be in our future.  Until, that is, a guy with a whistle showed up and told me there would be games tonight from 7-10.  Which meant there would be people making a lot of noise until 11.  Now we're camped on the marginally better second floor of the rec area.  The wind is still blasting.  

February 24
...and it blasted all night but was less powerful when we left early in the morning.  
The ride was uneventful and beautiful, the mountains giving our eyes a worthy place to rest.
We arrived before 11 in the small town of Zanatepec, the site of a Warmshowers host we had contacted previously, and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon with Rodrigo, his wife Lupita, and their three "naughty" young boys.  Zanatepec is situated on the only main road leading from Oaxaca to Chiapas and farther south, so this family hosts a lot of people.  At one point they had 11 at one time!  But they have the space and are incredibly generous, and they've been able to experience the world- or at least people from all over the world- without leaving home.  It's the very beginning of mango season here, and we picked the riper ones and spent a good few hours just eating mangos fresh off the tree.

Rodrigo also told us that when the wind in the section we just came through is really bad, he frequently sees trucks rolled over and people on bikes stranded, unable to walk or ride.  We were fortunate.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oaxaca Ups and Downs, February 18-22

Oaxaca's topography: mountains, mountains, and more mountains

February 18
We said our goodbyes early in the morning to Alfonso and Alicia and headed up the hill.
Thanks guys!

Huajuapan is in a valley, so any way we went, we knew it would be up, and when you're prepared, the hills seem just a bit smaller.  So up and up we went, then down and down into the next valley, where there was a small river with a couple of waterfalls!  After being in the desert for so long (and still surrounded by cacti), the sight of this river was therapeutic.  
We stayed a few minutes then headed up the next hill to the town of Tamasulapam, stopping for lunch shortly after.  Lunch was awesome: queso blanco, avocado, and cucumber wrapped in pitas (Arab tortillas they're called here).  Crunchy, creamy, salty, and all freshly made and bought that morning!

It's always a crapshoot when you look at a 2-D map and try to decide whether the road is going up or down.  Sometimes all you see is a squiggly line, and you know that you'll be going either really fast or really slow, but you don't know which.  
This time we thought we had it figured out, but after the "pass," we kept going up, and up and up some more!  We must have been over 8,000 feet.  A group of supported cyclists on a weeklong tour was also heading up, and we chatted with them a bit before they blew past us easily on their unloaded road bikes.  

Finally, the top!  The descent into the next valley was fantastic but nowhere near as long as what we had come up.  We talked with the supported cyclists again as they visited what must have been a centuries-old church, and we saw them a third time as we pulled into the town of Nochixtlan.  The riding at the end of the day had been in a valley, which meant it was flat!  More or less.
Beautiful, flat valley

The hotel that the supported tour guys (and one gal) were staying in was a good deal- 200 pesos or roughly $14 US- so we stayed there, too.  And we didn't mind lugging our bikes up five flights of stairs, because it was quiet all the way up there (and a nice guy carried Tam's bike up for her).

February 19
Oaxaca City!  The toll road into the outskirts had a great shoulder, and we enjoyed going farther down each downhill than up each uphill.  The actual city, like most cities, wasn't so easy to bike into.  The taxis and buses were crazier here than anywhere we had seen.  
Here there are four lanes, but the middle two are going in the wrong direction...

Teachers striking in the Zocalo

While we were excited to visit Oaxaca for a number of reasons, peanut butter was one that you might not expect.  We officially renounced our search to find peanut butter without hydrogenated oils and sweeteners and gave in to the reality of eating Skippy, and Oaxaca was the first place where we could find it.  Oh, how far we've sunk.  And oh, how good was that Skippy with some freshly ground chocolate.

After visiting the main plaza, we headed over to the place of a Warmshowers host, Lauren, and had a great time hanging out late into the night with her and her partner, Kiefer.  We had wanted to update the blog there, too, but I think we got our priorities right: 1) playing with this adorable puppy.

February 20
Lauren rode with us to the farmer's market, a group of stands not too far from her place.  We got some goodies for the road, and I ate a drop of what must have been the spiciest salsa in the world.  The way out of town was super easy; the old railroad was converted into a bike path and takes you all the way past the craziness!

Our first stop was in Tule, where there's the biggest tree in the world (widest, not biggest by volume).
Pretty big.

We left late and only had time to get in about a half day of biking, which took us to the town of Mitla.  Here there are groups of Zapotec ruins over six hundred years old, some of which are unrestored and scattered throughout the town.  We arrived just in time to walk around the gated ruins before they closed for the night.  These specific buildings are know for their intricate stone mosaics.

A guy who works to help tourism in Mitla invited us to stay at his house!  We are wary of tourist helper people, as they're usually looking to get their hands in your pockets, but Armando was genuine.
It was interesting to talk with him about the clash of indigenous and Spanish culture, a clash that's still being felt today.  It's easy to see in Mitla; a church stands on top of many of the original structures.  He was interested to hear about Alaska and how things work there.

February 21
The day was already hot when we began.  From Mitla we went up and up, but we were excited to ascend because the higher we went, the cooler it was and the more trees there were.  You could say that we're sick of cacti.  Unfortunately, just as we were reaching the high elevation pine forest, the road took a decidedly downward turn for about 20 kilometers.  
View from the top

Shucks.  Now instead of 80 degrees, it was 90 degrees.  And back up we went.  After the next big pass, we stopped at a little restaurant to cool off.  We don't usually drink anything but water, but a cool can of guayaba juice definitely hit the spot, as did a dip in the river!
Surrounded by cacti

The rest of the day took us through a big gorge with steep walls, the shadows making interesting patterns with the setting sun.
The river gorge

We found a little town and camped out near there next to the river.  The sound of the rushing water, followed by a pre-bedtime swim, made for a restful night.

February 22
The best night's sleep I've had in awhile. I do love rivers.  We woke up super early to beat the heat and immediately began climbing.  All the better; climb in the morning when it's cool, descend in the afternoon.  Again, just as we reached the pine forest, the world fell away and we went all the way back down.  On the way we picked up twelve mandarins, a block of cheese, and two bananas, all for 21 pesos (roughly $1.50), and all of which we ate before and at lunch.
A nice view from along the way

It was super hot at the bottom, and we reached a little town around 1 and stopped for a long while.  No point biking during the hottest part of the day.  The lady who owned the store we stopped at (really the store was the front room of her house) said that the rest of the way was flat, but we didn't believe her.  Flat?  In Oaxaca?  Turns out she was mostly right.  It wasn't just flat; it was waaaay downhill and then flat.  All in all, we must have lost over 7,000 feet of elevation today.  And if we thought it was hot before, being at the bottom of this new valley was like being in a furnace.  Palm trees lined the fields.  For the second time, the first being just south of Mazatlan, I truly felt like we were in the tropics.
We paid a few extra pesos tonight for air conditioning.  The forecast for tomorrow says 94 degrees.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Unexpected Rest Day

We accompanied Alfonso and Alicia today to a remote village in the mountains.  We met and hung out with a local family for a little bit, read by a river, and ate wonderful homemade food.  The mole (MOL-ay), a nutty sauce which Oaxaca is famous for, was the most delicious thing I think I have ever tasted, yet I was unable to finish my bowl because it was so spicy!
The ladies making the mole in a big pot.  

Playing volleyball with a nice little kid

The village

Turkeys everywhere


Monday, February 16, 2015

Puebla to Huajuapan: Rest for the Weary

February 14
We stayed last night in Puebla at the studio of a guy on Warmshowers.  It was fine- a place to sleep, no more- but in the morning, the guy didn't show up, and we couldn't leave because we had the only keys and had to give them back to him.  Finally he arrived, an hour late, and we were eager to get on the road.

The road out of Puebla was about as good as it can get when leaving a big city.  Not too much traffic, always some extra room, and then, just outside of the outskirts, the unfinished construction zone gave us a great bike lane!  The views, as well, were great: Popocatépetl, one of the 17,000 foot volcanoes between Mexico City and Puebla, loomed large in our mirrors, its smoking top scraping the clouds.

Our wide bike lane, closed to traffic.  That's my sombrero on the handlebars.

After stopping for lunch in a little town's picturesque plaza, a police car approached from the front, sirens blaring.  We expected it to rush past, but instead it appeared to be moving very slowly, and when we passed, we could see that it was the lead car for a little kids' bike race!  The adults were biking alongside; it was possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen.

A few more miles and a few more hills brought us to the town of Tepexi, where we are camped in the yard of the town's huge cathedral.  Happy Valentine's Day!  I got Tam a tiny stuffed animal, which she promptly adopted and named peluche (stuffed animal in Spanish).  This brings our entourage to four: Me, Tam, Rex (the dinosaur on the front of my bike), and Peluche.

February 15
Before bed, we played a game: what will wake us up tonight?  We guessed bells, since we were in the yard of a church.  But no, it was a techno dance party across the street!  Exciting, but not when you're trying to sleep.

Our morning, predictably, was a bit sluggish but still enjoyable due to their remoteness.  The roads we were on became less and less trafficked as we continued, finally culminating after lunch in a few miles of a remote dirt trail through the mountains.  Riding on dirt required more focus and was somewhat slower, but it was wonderfully therapeutic to be on our own away from the noise of the road.

Pulling into the town of Petlalcingo, a few nice people told us that other travelers have camped by the main square in the walkway of the presidencia, the offices of the local government, police, and mail.  The square was quiet, except for a few vendors which we expected would leave around 6.  It was Sunday night; maybe we would get some sleep.  Yet around 7, some girls in uniforms started kicking a ball around the square, then some more came, then a referee showed up, and then, as the game began, all the families of the players showed up, too.  We watched the game, expecting things to die down after.  But then we saw other teams waiting, and when the game ended and the other teams took the field, still more teams showed up.  As well as their families and what seemed like everyone else in the town.  Does anyone in Mexico sleep?  I procured some cotton balls for earplugs, which should help at least minimally.
The church and the square of Petlalcingo (before everyone showed up)

February 16
It's almost comical how much noise there was last night.  The earplugs helped, but not that much.  Loud music blaring, a movie turned up too loud, cars driving by holding their horns, people literally yelling, the church bells going every fifteen minutes starting at 3:15, and a guy riding his bike around and ringing a cowbell incessantly.  Then, at 5:56, a song came over the loudspeakers in the plaza.  Why? I don't know.  But at least we answered one question: do Mexicans ever sleep?  The answer, it seems, at least for the village of Petlalcingo, is no.

So our day started out pretty rough, but it quickly went uphill, literally and figuratively, because, as we were climbing, another cyclist going the other direction turned around and rode with us!  His name is Elias, he's from Petlalcingo, and he loves to ride his bike!  Talking with him made the big hill seem a whole lot smaller; he's a genuinely nice guy who's curious about the world, and we enjoyed sharing what little we knew.
That's a big hill.

Elias and Me

After reaching the top, Elias turned around, and we entered the state of Oaxaca! 

Soon we were flying downhill into a big valley and the town of Huajuapan (wah-who-AH-pahn).  

As we entered the town, a van pulled up alongside me and the woman inside leaned out and invited us to stay at their house!  No intros, nothing.   They pulled over when they could, we all introduced ourselves and talked for a bit, then we followed them to their place.  Alicia and Alfonso are their names, and they miss their kids, I think, so they like to have guests!  They've hosted cyclists before and are excited to show us around some of their favorite spots tomorrow.  Turns out it's Alfonso's birthday soon, so we celebrated with a nice dinner.  
And finally, with four walls around us, do we actually have a chance to get some rest!