Well there appears to have been a (very) belated recognition of the sublime quality of my song writing. About bloody time!! So much so that I have gathered up the road songs to date and put them on a page for your viewing convenience (see menu bar at top of Home Page). At the conclusion of the trip some drunken Irishmen and I are going to get the instruments out – maybe in a pub at the southern tip of Argentina – and record all of the songs from the road ( available in time for Christmas on CD and iTunes for US$9.99 – pre-ordering available).
6th February (Mexico City – Calpulalpan) (88km)
7th February (Calpulalpan – Huamantla) (84km)
Heading 440km East-South-East from Mexico City to the gulf coast and the seaside city of Veracruz. Am still at altitude (2,000 – 2,500 metres) and it’s cold. The snow-capped mountain beside the road is the highest in Mexico and I’m feeling the chill winds. I haven’t got 100% power in the legs and it’s best not to push it out too far. Rain rolls through in the afternoon so getting off the road seems like a good idea.
Whatever possessed me to stop in Calpulalpan remains a mystery. After a while you develop fairly accurate impressions when rolling into a new town. The antennae buzzed as I rolled into this strip of truck repair and tire shops and decrepit old hotels, yet inexplicably and to my chagrin, I ignored them and stopped. Therefore checked into the Los Pinos Hotel, or at lease tried to. It turns out that the hotel is also a knocking shop for the passing truck drivers, and business is brisk.
Attitudes to bicycles in rooms vary. The old mama [and lead scrubber] was decidedly anti-bicycle and wanted to have me put the bike in the back shed (can you imagine?!) and therefore tried to stop me taking it into the room. I blush now to remember my advice to her (refer rude song below).
By contrast, am tonight in the Hotel on the Park in the charming little town of Huamantla. The room is three times better than the Los Pinas (and the bike is welcomed into the room).
8th February (Huamantla – Perote) (104km)
Today was a study in ineptitude and misfortune:
- Headed out of Huamantla in the wrong direction, wasting 10km;
- Two punctures on a road I didn’t need to pedal had I a sense of direction;
- Replaced tire cleverly mashing the rear brake pad assembly;
- Tried to get onto the toll road but was refused by over-zealous officials;
- Into a head wind for the last 20km, including the extra 10km that I didn’t need to do if I had any sense of direction this morning.
The ride, however, got done somehow. If Perote is not the coldest place in Mexico it must be close. People are actually wearing ponchos to ward off the cold. The town is shrouded in a thick mist as I approach and by what I can make out, this mist is probably doing the place a favour. The moister must roll up the 2,500 metres from the coast. Today will be the last cycling day at altitude as tomorrow morning will drop off the mid-Mexico plateau and then be at sea-level again. I’ve been at 1,500-2,500 metres since the ride up The Devil’s Spine’ to Durango so it will be interesting to see how being at sea level effects the breathing.
Tonight in the never-ending pursuit of excellence and new challenges, I have actually maintained the bicycle. Yes, single-handedly, I have replaced brake pads on the rear wheel and adjusted them. Am therefore ready for the big 2,500 metre drop to the coast tomorrow and might even be able to stop at the bottom.
9th February (Perote – Veracruz) (170km)
Blasted off the plateau down out of the blanket of cloud and swooped down onto the coastal plain. Rolling for most of the morning then into the heat of the coastal plain. The road into Veracruz became a bit of a nightmare with loads of traffic and a disappearing shoulder making progress difficult at times.
Veracruz is really hopping. Gone (for the most part) are the chubby crooning gauchos and farting sousaphones in favour of the clacking percussion and Latin beats of the Caribbean. Great seafood and people putting the salsa moves down in the city squares. Your correspondent (being, of course, the recognised ‘King of Samba’), would include dancing images here but regrettably am constrained by commercial considerations.
Veracruz is a bustling port city and the historical starting point for the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire. It was Mr Veracruz, while the Governor of Cuba who unleashed ‘Cortes the Killer’ to conduct the conquest of present-day Mexico from this town in 1521.
Spent the bulk of the morning sitting in The Grand Cafe sipping coffee. The waiters here wear white jackets and black bow ties and have been doing so since the 1920’s as the photos around the walls attest. The lads on the glockenspiel out the front whack out some pretty tasty rhythms too. I’m going to go right out on a limb here and pronounce the tacos at the Morada Marina as the Best Tacos In The World. I’ve not had better in Mexico anyway so it must be true.
If you are easily offended and don’t like dirty ditties, please do not read beyond this point as you’re not going to like it. Don’t email me about how rude it is as you have been warned.
Song for The Los Pinas Hotel in Calpulalpan:
Ohhhhhh……Calpulalpan is hard to pronounce
And there aren’t many words that rhyme with pronounce
Not one to let that stand in the way
The whores are so fat cause they’re paid by the ounce
The old mama-san at the Los Pinas
Is not adverse to a bit of penis
She doesn’t like bikes, even though she’s one
But her tires are flat and so are her buns.
Her head’s all wrinkled and her gut’s full of sperm
Some been there since century’s turn
But there’s always room for a little bit mooooorrrrrreeeee…….
If you’ve got 10 pesos then she’s your whore.
[Kazoo solo and tattooed dancing girls if available]
To celebrate the purchase of my new camera lens (a Sony 1.8f 135mm) a thing of the most wondrous beauty, here are some shots I took in central Mexico City. The bicycle shots are mostly from the Sunday morning when some of the streets of Mexico City are cordoned off for bicycle use only (there is hope for this place after all). For no apparent reason other than the fact that I just got it, there is also a shot taken of your correspondent in LA (thanks Andy).
29th January (Tequisquiapan)
30th January (Tequisquiapan – Tula) (100km)
31st January (Tula – Mexico City) (120km)
The working title for this post was, “Why cars are shit and mini-van drivers have unnatural relations with dogs”. My editor, ever mindful of losing readership prior to the release of my forthcoming series of travel books, advised against this title. Admittedly, there is a case for such a title being construed (justifiably) as being an affront to dogs.
In performing myriad feats of daring-do on a daily basis during this trip, I have on occasion (half-jokingly) awarded myself the epithet ‘hard-core’. Now, having just ridden a bicycle south into the heart of Mexico City, I can safely place all inverted commas and false modesty to one side and declare myself, without a hint of a blush, truly, categorically and unequivocally HARDCORE! The ruin site of Teotihuacan to the north of Mexico City is named ‘the place where men become gods’. I would posit the view that the weaving around buses, mini-vans, trucks and cars in the midst of four lanes of rabidly insane traffic coming into Mexico City during a thunderstorm is the place where touring cyclists become demi-gods.
Quite a ride! Not satisfied with merely blasting through the manic traffic generated by 22 million people (about a million of whose cars, buses, mini-vans, tractors, mopeds and trucks having just passed within a foot of your palpitating correspondent), I decided to add 0.5 to the level of difficulty by wading through a series of thunderstorms, dodging great bolts of lightning that had me scrambling for cover on more than a few occasions. Great shafts of electricity struck straight to earth giving rise to the very real fear that the previous morose blog post might very well be the last for buff3ysbicyclingblog. Then this truly hardened former Boy Scout decided to crank up the challenge a further notch by getting himself hopelessly lost twice (adding almost 20km to the ride!). That meant that my arrival went way beyond dark. Sodden and stressed, I was so tired and wrecked from the road that on finally reaching the centre of the city and the safe haven of the Amigos Hostel at around 8pm, I shot a video and managed to chop my head out of the picture. Pure genius.
I’m told that the total number of automobiles in Mexico City is now 10 million, almost double the number of the year 2000 (geo-mexico.com). That is almost one car for every two people (man, woman and child). According to the Mexican Center for Sustainable Transport (CTS) for every birth in Mexico City, two new cars enter the city’s vehicle fleet – 300,000 in total (National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics). Adriana Lobo (Director CTS) notes the following, “To make more roads to solve the transit problem is like proposing to solve the problem of obesity by buying bigger pants.” [Treehugger.com]
Regrettably, the implementation of the heralded ‘Green Plan’ for Mexico City which reportedly includes miles of dedicated bicycle track will come too late for this demi-god correspondent. Regardless, the planners of such bike tracks inevitably fail to appreciate that a bicycle is a form of transport (for actually getting from point A to B) in addition to being a way to get a bit of exercise and fresh air. The tracks, when they do eventuate, therefore tend to amble around the place, and terminate abruptly at little loops where one is supposedly to merrily treadle back from whence one came.
But I digress. Cars are indeed categorically and fundamentally shit, particularly in an urban setting. Sitting in a traffic jam in a car must be one of the more soul destroying and mind-numbingly stupid activities available in modern life. As a former taxi driver I can attest to how life-negating traffic can be with some authority. It must qualify as one of the most stupid ways to waste a perfectly good life, along with participation in organised religion [with the obvious exceptions of those where you get free wine or lots of nakedness], synchronized swimming, curling [especially being a broom guy] and learning to play the sousaphone.
Advocates for public transport will point out that more light-rail is the answer. However, it is a sore point with my social planning theorist friends (of whom I have none*), that like it or not, people really like having access to a personalized pod of some sort for which they can determine the direction. Additionally, not everyone likes to mix with the great unwashed, and with reason.
In terms of road construction, the Chinese had it right for a while in that the major cities would have the outer third of the road space devoted to pedestrians, the next third to bicycles and the centre third to cars etc. 17 years ago I toured southern/central China on a bike and had the pleasure of riding through Kunming and Cheng Du on these wonderful roads slipping into the graceful flow of gently gliding humanity as we slowly pedaled about our daily business. Sadly, with the burgeoning middle class need to express new-found wealth through sitting in traffic jams in tin pods, these excellent roads are rapidly disappearing, replaced by lane upon lane of stationary tin pod. Sad really. I would hate to try that ride again.
The number of people living here in Mexico City is a truly staggering thing to comprehend. Whilst I pedaling to the centre (so heroically) I was pondering that I was passing 11 million souls: all planning, eating, farting, plooking, going into debt, buying stuff they don’t need, getting fat, working at jobs they are don’t like or playing the sousaphone. Given the sheer mass and frenetic flow of the merely superficially orderly traffic of Mexico City I was hoping that the city would somehow echo this madness and I could write things like, “a megalopolis packed with a teeming writhing maelstrom of sweating lustful humanity jostling and elbowing for their very survival”. Regrettably, however, the impression from the brief time that I have been here in the Centro, the reality doesn’t quite match this image. People determinedly chug along the footpaths with real intent fixed in their gazes yet the place is generally disappointingly orderly and sophisticated.
In my rambling I came across a plaza full of mariarchis (sharing tales of daring escape from Jurassic pursuit). You can hire them out by the song, the hour, or the night. They mill about like musical hookers.
The La Opera Bar is close by and a charming old bar for a beer so a cold Leon Negro will do nicely. The ornate ceilings and huge wall mirrors are all perfectly period. It is a little known fact that the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa once rode his bicycle into this place and shot a hole in the ceiling. What is even less known is why. The bar was actually owned by a then mini-van company operator and Pancho was demonstrating his displeasure at the way the mini-vans constantly cut him off in traffic. Fully justified me thinks.
At the hostel I’m feeling apart from non-cyclists in a way that is silly yet today inescapable. There is a ‘relativity’ to forms of travel which today just refuses to be denied. Yet by the same token it should not be dwelt upon for too long as it can lead to just this feeling of bike-elitism and makes you a bore. Who did it tougher? Who went further ‘out there’? Today, however, there is just no contest. Others did just buy tickets and land or were transported passively to emerge from buses or trains etc. I earned this place. I pedaled my arse off and suffered for it; dodged lightening for it; sweated miles over hill and through valley for it; ran the gauntlet of seemingly endless traffic for it. I deserve this city in a special way and will take full toll. Off to the Mexican wrestling, a football match, and sampling of the local tequila. On on.
[*after Tom Leherer]
[**Mini-van drivers do in fact take it from dogs]