Part Twenty-Four: Mexico City to Veracruz

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).

Not sure what these things are.
“Las Vigas’ Not Quite Las Vegas

8th February (Huamantla – Perote) (104km)

 Today was a study in ineptitude and misfortune:

  1. Headed out of Huamantla in the wrong direction, wasting 10km;
  2. Two punctures on a road I didn’t need to pedal had I a sense of direction;
  3. Replaced tire cleverly mashing the rear brake pad assembly;
  4. Tried to get onto the toll road but was refused by over-zealous officials;
  5. 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.

 

Model Bums

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.

Cafe in central Veracruz
The Balcony Pot Plant a Trifle Over-done
Best Tacos in the World

 

Best Taco Fillings
Stalls with Colourful Ceramic Stuff

_________________________________________________

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]

Part Twenty Three : Mexico City Photos

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).

Hot work - Mexico City
Biking Sunday in Mexico City
Cathedral - Central Mexico City
Cathedral - Central Mexico City
Balcony in Mexico City
Bicycle Sunday in Mexico City
Pillars in Mexico City
Smoke Treatment - Mexico City
Street Stall - Mexico City
Me back when I had hair in USA having breakfast

Part Twenty Two: Mexico City and Why Cars Are Shit!

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.

Man in Hat

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.

Mexico City Traffic - Bliss

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.

Teotihuacan Sun Pyramid (the third largest in the world)

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.

Todger Hat

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.

Bike Taxi Mexico City

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.

Protesting Mini-van drivers

[*after Tom Leherer]

[**Mini-van drivers do in fact take it from dogs]

Part Twenty One – Food for Worms

Warning: Buff3ysbicyclingblog prides itself on being a family-friendly blog. From feedback received, we understand that some readers like to gather the children after a nice roast dinner on a Sunday night in front of the fire with some cocoa and catch up on the latest postings from buff3ysbicyclingblog. This time, however, the subjects are a bit harsh. There are graphic depictions of dried out dead people and descriptions of gobbing, so appropriate caution is advised. Dog lovers and bus drivers might also like to give this one a miss.

“Fat kings and leans beggars alike eventually become food for maggots and worms” [Hamlet]

Today’s posting tackles three of the great moral and philosophical questions so central to touring cycling:

  1. Should all dogs be killed?
  2. Is it defensible to gob at people?
  3. When we are done cycling, are we food for worms?

To address these questions we need to delve into the murky depths of road rage induced violence, animal torture and mummification. In keeping with these themes, the amulet on the bicycle must here change from smiley to grimace (Comedia to its Tragedia) (refer photo).

Grimace Amulet

23rd January (Aquascalientes – Leon) (125km)

24th January (Leon – Guanajuato) (56km)

25th January (Guanajuato)

I have just had a day off the bike to explore this truly marvelous town. Perhaps even more so than Zacatecas, Guanajuato is oozing colonial charm and grace from every cobble and flying-buttress of its being.

Street Corner – Guanajuato

Among all of the hugely photogenic facades that typify the Colonial Heartland, this town also hosts a remarkable museum; The Museo de las Mumias (The Museum of Mummies). A more disturbing and confronting place you are not likely to see as it contains …well…lots of dead people in various stages of arrested semi-decomposition. These poor sods have been disinterred from the local cemetery (mostly in the early part of the 20th century) and put on display. The reason for this is, evidently, that payment was not kept up on crypt space. So out they go. (refer photos).

Coffin Mummy
Mummies
Buried Alive

Mummy

One of the most disturbing mummies is a female who was mistakenly buried alive, and from the position of the arm across the face, there is no real reason to doubt that this was actually the case. At the time, doctors were, on occasion, unable to distinguish between seizure/paralysis and death  the tag explains, with very unhappy consequences for this woman. This really takes the local interest (nay infatuation) with matters of death to a new level. So what to take away from this? A few things:

  1. There is very good argument for cremation.
  2. If you are buried in Guanajuato, make sure someone keeps your rent up-to-date or you may find yourself part of an exhibition.
  3. Best ensure you get your kicks in this life for when its over, you are food for worms, and
  4. Ensure you hydrate properly as a body minus water is not a pretty sight.

During the previous afternoon’s bike ride into Guanajuato a bus driver made a silly mistake of pulling out on me and then, to compound the error a few moments later, deliberately attempted to run me off the road. Unfortunately, this driver ignored a few important rules:

1. Observe Rule 37.5.vii of the international road traffic code, (“Don’t piss off a touring cyclist”)

2. 37.5.viii If you ignore #1, don’t get caught at the next traffic light; and

3. 37.5.ix If you ignore #1 and #2, don’t leave your window open.

There are days when a cyclist can imagine inflicting all manner of pain on other road users. It was suggested to me some time ago by a Welsh cyclist that other road users would be shocked to learn how much ill-will is festering in the mind of a touring cyclist, particularly towards any who might break rule 37.5.vii.

Now, the art of gobbing at stupid people is a particular skill and needs to be practiced, perfected and then handled with care. Don’t try this at home without strict supervision. Should someone be silly enough to disrespect a touring cyclist the trick is to lob a gob, not directly at the idiot but in the general direction. I like an angle of approximately 20 to 25 degrees off target and a few yards short. The art is to lob the lung oyster in such a nonchalant way that it could conceivably have merely be a biker clearing his throat rather than a slight. The effect on your subject is a sudden and profound silence and a few seconds of uncertainty during which you can almost hear the mental cogs grinding: “Did that cyclist just gob at me?” “Was he just gobbing?” “Should I be angry?” “Did my friends see me get gobbed at?” While those cogs grind, you pedal away, claiming victory.

The bus driver? Well, he touched the bike in an aggressive manner so he just gets to wear a gob through his open window. Brave when surrounded by two tonnes of rusting steel, the much vaunted local machismo was a tad lacking once awarded a nice juicy gob to take home with him. On reflection, I feel this was an appropriate, if not even an overly tame response. The last time I resorted to such a tactic was over 15 years ago in Istanbul when some louts kicked a can at my bike. The launched oyster was mid-flight en route to its intended target while I hit 3rd gear and powered off to safety (discretion definitely being the better part of valor when dealing with Turkish football hooligans).

You may well ask, how can your usually mild-mannered solo adventure cyclist get so engaged? Part of the answer lies in the bond that builds up between bike and rider. It would be better to take my first-born off up a hill and dash its brains out against a rock (a la Lady Macbeth), than damage or disrespect my bike right now. An email that came in to buff3ysbicyclingblog asked if I would keep the bike after the trip. The answer is an emphatic ‘Yes’. It would be impossible for me to sell a touring bicycle once we have shared all the trials of the road together. It has also been put to me that engaging in road side banter just encourages people to trouble cyclists. Balls! It’s great fun to get involved in the nip and tuck of verbal jousting regardless of the language. This, for me, is an integral part of the travel experience.

A dog on a road is the natural enemy of the cyclist. There are a number of ways to react to dogs. Some suggest just stopping – and the dog will stop. No fun, and if the dog is vicious, you get bitten. To my mind it is not good enough that a dog can threaten or inconvenience a cyclist. I favour a violent response.

An essential accessory for a touring cyclist is a weapon and mine is a walking cane, strong and light. This has numerous advantages over counter-measures such as bear spray/mace, electronic beepers etc. Importantly, you get the direct satisfaction of inflicting pain. This is helpful training for a dog as it discourages future pursuits. I’m not a dog-hater but I do take issue with dogs loose on the street. Giving the dog owner a good slap is also a worthy idea.

When caning dogs it is important not to show your hand/stick too early. A lot of dogs, (particularly in this part of the world), get the odd whacking. Therefore, if you brandish the stick too early they get the idea and back off, ruining your fun. Far better to keep the cane hidden on the far side of the bike and only raise it at the last moment, when it is too late for the dog and you can make good contact. Go for the snout, they yelp like banshees!

Now, I’m not anti-kick. Giving a dog a good kicking has much to recommend it. It is, however, more difficult to get close enough to get a good leg swing in but it can be done with practice. It’s all about lulling the dog into a false sense of security, teasing it in, as one would a fish, and then letting it have it. Tremendous fun.

Back at the Hostel of the Angels the wall sockets are hanging off frayed wires so at any moment your correspondent could be joining those same angels, or more likely the mummies up the road.

26th January (Guanajuato – San Miguel de Allende) (105km)

San Miguel de Allende is full of rapidly aging North Americans many of whom are reeling off shithouse poetry or planning another reading of something equally as mind-numbingly boring. It’s an odd amalgam of USA, Canada and Mexico (expats outnumbering the locals 4 to 1) The central cathedral is a marvelous church to see just when you think you might be getting churched out.

San Miguel de Allende at night

27th January (San Miguel de Allende – Queretaro) (75km)

Queretaro marks the southern border of The Colonial Heartland (which I’ve been riding across since Zacatecas). While the cities have been very beautiful, I feel I’ve probably had my fill of ornate charming cathedrals, ironwork balustrades and tree lined centro historicos etc.

In Queretaro the young rap dancers have taken over the central bandstand and are putting down the head spins and contortions in the prescribed manner replicated in every country with access to a beat box (this one cleverly constructed by mounting speakers in the side of a bucket and cutting the rear out). The music is curious in that they have gone for a mixture of Love Boat theme, Hot Chocolate and Michael Jackson. The 1980’s, of course, are best remembered by those in the popular music know as ‘The shit decade’. Had it not been for the obvious and timely intervention of K.C and the Sunshine Band, and Jimmy and the Boys, I would have to concur. The aqueduct here is the largest in Mexico and was built by a chap who fell in love with a nun and wanted her convent to have water (refer photo).

Aqueduct in Queretaro

 

28th January (Queretaro – Tequisquiapan) (62km)

In keeping with the theme of hydration, the watermelons along the side of the road are lovely and a good photo opportunity (photo). The ride to the spa resort town of Tequisquiapan is what cycle touring should be: a short day on a secondary road with light traffic through pleasant countryside on a cool sunny day with energy in the legs and the bike rolling effortlessly along. Once in Tequisquiapan I regret to advise that your reportedly hard-core adventure cyclist took the soft option and checked into a ‘hotel/spa’ for two nights and some rest and recuperation. (Post Script – avoid hotel buffets at all cost as they will open up the slouches at both ends. Why do I keep forgetting this?)

Rehydration

Part Twenty: Zacatecas – The Colonial Heartland

17th January (Durango – Vicente Guerrero) (85km)

Was terribly sad to be leaving Durango. The days here right on the central square in a lovely hotel have been rejuvenating. The city itself is such a lively place and has a youthful energy and sophistication of a college town in a great setting. To put the icing on the cake I found a bike shop with gloves that fit me. Was then brilliant enough to head out of town with no water under the mistaken assumption that there would be water along the way. There was not. Not until 55km down the road at least, by which time I had successfully dehydrated. You really can’t play catch up when it comes to such matters so once I got to the town of Vicente Guerrero and the next 45km was mostly up hill to Sobremete, it was all too much to contemplate so called it a day.

 18th January (Vicente Guerrero – Fresnillo) (151km)

Sometimes lessons need to be learned, unlearned and then learned again. One needs to fuel up adequately during the day because if you don’t, oddly, you run the very real risk of running out of juice in the afternoon. Today’s ride was compounded by the kilometre estimate being just 7km out and after the 144 km that it should have been, there was just no energy left in the tank for the remaining (bonus) 7km into Fresnillo.

I had Taco-ed up adequately at breakfast, and then headed up the hill to Sobremete which turned out to be a relatively easy climb. Sobremente is one of the few towns in Mexico where the number of churches exceeds the number of shoe shops. Just why it is that there are an inordinately large number of shoe shops in this country will have to remain a mystery. The locals don’t seem to think that it is strange that every third shop sells shoes so what the hell.

Sobremente

Across from the central cathedral you can pick up the necessary figurines. Just in case you are not sure who the forces of good are up against, the diablo figures go for a very reasonable 45 pesos (US$3) (refer photo).

On reaching Fresnillo, I went in search of food. Had I an appetite for shoe leather then I would have been very well catered for. Regrettably this was not the case and I eventually had to resort to tacos again. There seemed to be a dearth of restaurants in the centre of town: the restauranteurs  obviously having gone and opened shoe shops.

Diablo 45 Pesoes

 

19th January (Fresnillo – Zacatacas) (60km)

20th – 21st January (Zacatacas)*

Arrival Zacatecas

This city deserves a post all to itself as it is a truly marvellous city. It’s puzzling that it is not more touristed. Perhaps it is the off-season but the guidebook says that it is ‘off the tourist trail’. Perhaps it is a marketing thing. The name might have too many pointy sounds to be able to sell properly. The city burghers might consider a name change (throwing off 500 years of history) in favour of Zacvegas or Acazacas?  Perhaps not. It has more than enough colonial architecture that one can reasonably be expected to walk around and photograph and the feel of the city is relaxed and friendly. When I’m looking for a book someone escorts me to a shop where I can buy what I need.

Zacatecas Shop Fronts
Irresistible Charm
Zacatecas Hillside

The amulet for the day is from the Museo Zacatecas, titled ‘Perhaps I over did the mezcal last night’ (refer photo).

Zacatecas local mask

I particularly enjoy the ‘run for your life’ pedestrian signals (note the stately stroll of the little green figure which progressively turns into a jog then a sprint as the time expires (refer video).

Three Amigos

The Villa Colonial Hostel is a charming place and the manager/host ‘Aniese’ is a great guy who puts himself out to look after the guests. The view out of the top floor room is (again) out over the Historico Centro’ Cathedral so am lucky again. Thursday is Margarita night and this results in the wearing of appropriately silly hats with a friendly bunch off local university students who all lob in to take advantage of the US$2 all-you-can-drink bottomless bucket of margarita.

Understandably some of the local ladies find the charms of your ever self-effacing correspondent utterly irresistible, particularly when he is sporting the local headwear (refer photo). From there on the night gets progressively more vague and culminates in a nightclub somewhere up until the late hours. Best to factor another day for recovery.

Zacatecas Corner
Zacatecas
View of Zacatecas from hotel room

On the road to Aquascalimentes was lucky enough to see the transporting of two truck loads of dinosaurs (refer photo and video). This was particularly fortuitous as it is a very rare thing indeed to see a female T-Rex captured along with a Raptor and Centrosaurus.

Zoologist - Dr Franz Bekleckersofa

It was a German zoologist (Dr Franz Bekleckersofa)* who in the 1920’s first identified the local pod of Tyrannosaurus-Rex, hidden away in caves and abandoned silver mines south of Zacatecas, only coming out occasionally to graze on local mariachis, thereby becoming the scourge of the local musical fraternity.

T-Rex on Truck

According to the driver of the truck, these particular specimens were caught when a brave group of mariachis volunteered to got into a local field and play La Cucaracha over and over until the dinosaurs emerged from hiding to bite their heads off (only one guitarrón player surviving to tell the tale). The reptiles were then tranquilized and were being transported to a fun park for children to play with.

Mariarchis in field waiting to be eaten
Aquascalientes Cathedral

On arrival in Aquascalientes, I tried to do a piece to camera with very mixed results (refer video). More practice required me thinks. Unfortunately, while sporting a very lovely central square and obligatory grand cathedral, the place seems to reek of well…poo in more than a few places so perhaps the warm subterranean waters are playing havoc with the plumbing. Sorry town but there it is.

*[appropriate apologies to the late great Frank Zappa “Aber beklecker nicht das Sofa, Sofa!“]

Part Nineteen: The Devil’s Spine – Mezatlan to Durango

9th-10th (Mezatlan)

The ferry ride from Baja across the Sea of California was uneventful and deposited a number of other bikers and I in Mezatlan on the western coast of the main land at 10am the following morning. About six bikers spent the night spread out across the cafeteria floor watching an endless stream of subtitled movies (in Spanish, sub-titled in Spanish). Mezatlan is a bustling port city with a lot of colonial architectural flare and a charming old-town square in the Centro where wondering cyclists gravitate.

For some reason that clearly defies rational explanation, the planned route from Mazatlan is to go north-east to Durango and then cut south-east through the colonial heartland then circle southwards around the north of Mexico City. Am seemingly being carried forward to even more ridiculous and meaningless feats of daring-do. An alternative theory is that the hardcore requirement to do all of the kilometres southwards under my own steam is causing me to make odd decisions and Durango being the same latitude as La Paz, the northward journey makes some fleeting sense.

The road up into the colonial heartland of Mexico is known as ‘The Devil’s Spine’ and is a very very nasty 2,800 metre climb which winds and wobbles its way along making the lift a total of 4,000 metres from start to finish. Thereafter the central highlands can keep you at around 2,000 metres elevation for the next 1,000 kilometres or so before the descent into the south of the country. The softer-of-core would not even entertain such a foolish notion as going up this road, no doubt taking cushier coastal routes. We at buff3ysbicyclingblog, however, are made of sterner (and seemingly more stupid) stuff so off into the interior we go on the morrow.

Cyclists at a Mezatlan Cafe having Cevezas
Mezatlan Taxi

11th January (Mezatlan – Capilla) (92km)

Sea level to 1,200 metres elevation: The first day of climbing into the interior. A soft 25km start down the coast highway with the trucks and buses and then the smaller road turned east and started its inexorable rise through the afternoon. The last 10km of the day yielded a horrid 600 metres in elevation on tired legs and devoured almost two hours. I was, therefore, more than happy just after dusk to see the sign for the hamlet of Capilla and its basic small hotel.

Not Quite Argentina Yet

12th January (Capilla – Camp hut at top of hill) (75km)

Another 1,400 metres all up today: from 1,200 to 2,600 metres. Yesterday and today have been hellish climbs; possibly some of the hardest of this bicyclists illustrious career.  Endless switch backs up and up admittedly through some beautiful scenery but continual steep lifts kept your correspondent panting away in ‘granny gear’ for the bulk of the day, a stately 6km an hour being the best that I could muster grinding ever upward.  Passed north across the Tropic of Cancer (refer blurry photo).  Just on dusk, for some bizarre reason thought that it would be a good idea to see if there was any food or lodging in a small hamlet tucked away down the hillside below the road. Of course there was none of either and I had wasted precious time and quickly depleting energy going down a dirt road to discover what should have been self-evident.  There are various theories along the road as to how far it is to a restaurant and a town (these estimates vary widely as usual) so on sighting a tiny hut-cum-shop with all the appearance of being abandoned, this became my home for the night (refer photo).  With the tent tucked away out of site in the front area of the hut it was good enough yet the trucks plied up and down the road through the night engaging the engine brakes with scant regard for the possibility of there being a cleverly concealed hardcore adventure cyclist just next to the road in the front of a hut.

Tropic of Cancer at 1,700 metres elevation
Towards the top of climb
Hut Home at top of hill in the morning

13th January (Camp hut – Salto) (58km)

A last 2km climb just to get the blood flowing and am now onto a tableland with the main climbing all done. Where there had been no space next to the steeply winding road for all the preceding day there are now flat areas either side where one could have camped in relative comfort, had there been another 2km in the legs last night (which there definitely was not). This is now high plains ranch land and pickup truck with gaucho Stetsons and jeans being de rigor. This particular high plains drifter is just thankful to be able to roll for 50 yards at something over 6 km/hour for a change.

The legs that have simply been mountain devouring kryptonite-cored battering rams over the past two days are pretty well all spent now. After the short roll along the plateau having the bulk of the afternoon to rest in El Salto will be just the thing to recover.

The Hotel Demante (a real rough diamond) has its own particular charm.  At 120 pesos (US$9.20) a night and situated in the downtown area (which is oddly devoid of any other options), it’s a bargain. The room itself is basic and wood planked.  The shower is piping hot (it gets one star for that).  A sign on the back of the toilet door requests guests to use a bucket to scoop water from a large tank and take it to flush the toilet which is semi-operational (subtract star), but what the hell.  The porcelain basin is smashed in half but nobody there appears motivated enough to be bothered replacing it.  Some baby has started crying through the paper-thin walls and a TV somewhere is blaring out some crappy tele-novela.  Bliss.

I’m getting the distinct impression that not too many tourists come through this town, or stay longer than to perhaps consult the map and get the hell out.  The townsfolk are stoic gauchos in the main who appear to view a visiting cyclist with palpable thin-lipped disdain.  Semi-pouty youths (sporting lips not sufficiently thinned as yet) hang around the narrow footpaths waiting to discover just how drab and wretched their lives will turn out.  In the mean time they try to engage your correspondent in the tired old game of, ‘shout something stupid to get a reaction from the touring cyclist’. “Fuck off dickheads!” is all reply I can muster and this, or at least the tone of the delivery, appears to miraculously cut across all linguistic and cultural barriers with the desired effect.  Best not to show any disrespect when I’ve just done that ride for I am, quite obviously, super-human and  in no mood for games.  I feel emboldened and fully licensed to kick the living puss out of transgressors lacking appropriate respect right now.  The women folk in town are, by contrast, friendly and engaging and helpful as I shop and perform mimic sock pulling (my previous pairs having been lost in hotel laundry up the road somewhere).  Am getting stocked (and socked) up on road necessities (bananas, cereal snacks, water and the like).  The ‘Gorditas’ here are a lovely variant on the ever-present taco and burrito, but comprise of now familiar ingredients.  Will now join the locals and avail myself of surely one of the best inventions in the history of human-kind, the siesta.

….Post siesta I had a muscle cramp the likes of which I have never experienced before.  My left thigh clamped up with such prolonged intensity that the pain shot a wave of anxiety right up from that dark and disturbing place at the centre of one’s being where all inner-most fears of pain, death, disease, more death, torture and foreboding lurk in wait for an opportunity to serge uninvited into the consciousness laying siege to every fiber of comfort and contentedness.  This is the hellish place usually only accessible during nightmares, rare moments of moral clarity and (most relevantly), periods of intense pain.

(refer Bosch’s portrayal of Hell).

I promise to be a better person, just let’s not have me suffer through another one of those.  This very unhappy event underscores the fact that I really have dealt out a great deal of punishment to these poor old legs of mine (aka a fore mentioned ‘mountain devouring kryptonite-cored battering rams’) over the past two days and they are obviously now reminding me of that.  Perhaps one of my kryptonite implants has sprung a leak.  More recovery time required me thinks.  Odd that a cramp should strike me on entry to a town called ‘El Salta’ but there it is.

12th January (Salto – Durango) (88km)

The road to Durango is mercifully flat and I took the ‘Quota‘ (Toll road) option as opposed to the free ‘Libre‘ road. On approach to the toll gates, pushing the bike through seemed to be enough to parry the efforts of the chap who was saying something along the lines of “Spanish Spanish Spanish Pagar (Pay) Spanish Spanish”. I plead ignorance (not overly difficult to make convincing) and keep on pedaling. It’s colder up here and the air thinner but the road gently eases down to 1,800 metres at Durango.

All Economy Class on the porch of a Cafe on road to Durango

Those who don’t suffer the pain of that little ride up the hill and miss out on Durango do themselves a disservice.  The centre of the city follows the pattern of the few Mexican cities I have seen thus far on this trip in that it is cleverly designed so that one is never more than 20 metres away from a shoe shop or pharmacy.  The Centro Historico on a Saturday night is really hopping with the bars and eateries along the pedestrian boulevard next to my hotel full of the young and the trendy and the not so young and not so trendy.  I opt for a couple of bars sporting the ‘Not-Sos’ to save all of us undue embarrassment.  OK, the girls here, while very pretty, are sporting haircuts with plastered down fringes that Linda Ronstadt would have balked at even on an ill-advised hair day.  The pointy upturned shoes and plastic stetsons on the gentlemen are not to everyone’s taste but when a local troop gives it a bit of the traditional dancing in the main street it all suddenly makes perfect sense.

The Hotel Plaza Catedral is a converted monastery.  The monks are all gone now replaced by more contemplative and philosophical folk like touring cyclists.  My particular cloister directly overlooks that huge cathedral on the main square.  You really couldn’t hope for a better location.  I even have a small writing desk (refer Photo) where I can alternately rant away at my blog or whip my back with cat-o-nine tails into a bloodied shredded mess at my leisure.  It’s got to be the best hotel of the trip so far (OK, I have stayed in some dives) and well worth the splurge of US$25 a night.

Hat Dance
Cop That!
Traditional Dancing
Dancing in Durango
Plaza Catedral Hotel
Window View from Plaza Catedral Hotel Room
Whipping Desk – Plaza Catedral Hotel
More Durango beauty

The bike is now sporting a splendid new amulet purchased from one of the many local artisan shops in Malatzan (refer photo).  This one features the wide cheesy grin mask which, as most readers would be aware, has been a recurring motif in many parts of the world since ancient times.  I’m very hopeful that this will ward off any evil, drunk, inept drivers, and the idiotic and all ignorant including trucks, buses and over-sized RVs (and idiotic youths saying stupid stuff).

Just out of interest (and because I found some smiley pictures), western culture has adopted the smiley mask through the ages and up to the present day it pops up in the most unexpected places. Witness Bender of Futurama from the USA and Wallace and Grommet from the UK (the cheesiness explaining Wallace’s penchant for Wensleydale).

Bender – “Cheese it”

Contrary to popular belief, Cochise was actually no lover of cheese and reportedly didn’t have much of a sense of humour at all.

Cochise – No lover of Cheese
Gold Hat – “We don’t need no stinkin’ bad cheese”

The above ‘bad cheese’ notation is often mis-quoted as, Dobbs (Bogart): “If you’re the police, where are your badges?”: Gold Hat (Bedoya): “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!“.  An understandable error.  Here in Mexico the smiley motif has particular significance in that we all get  to smile in the face of death at some point.

Day of the Dead Smileys

This is all getting very silly and tedious now so will sign off until have rested up here in Durango and am down the road somewhere, most likely in Zacatecas, about three day’s ride to the south-east.

Part Eighteen: Baja California Sur – End of the Desert

3rd January (Loreto – Ciudad Insurgente) (121km)

The road has turned inland toward the spine of the Baja peninsula climbing through a winding mountain pass (refer photo) and then back onto the long flat desert track for some more km churning. The climb of the morning (from the coast up to 430 metres) left me a bit weakened and I compounded the problem by not food fueling correctly so the afternoon became more difficult than it might have been otherwise.

Mountain Pass

There is only one hotel in Ciudad Insurgente and it barely justifies the name. The people there don’t really give a rat’s bot bot if the place falls apart and the building is obliging very nicely. Happily the bed didn’t fall apart during this particular night so had a good night’s sleep with the prospect of some more long flat road the next day for this last push to the end of the peninsula.

4th January (Ciudad Insurgente – Camping in Cactus Field) (132 km)

Long, flat and hot riding. Felt the energy fading away in the heat of the afternoon. In order to cope with the distances between water and supplies have been carrying a lot of water and the pack is therefore very heavy, which probably contributed to a flat tyre in the afternoon. Oddly, after the previous day  where there had been nothing in terms of shops etc along the road, there were restaurants a plenty spread along the way. It’s very difficult to predict such things so best to carry the extra water anyway. At the end of the day’s ride, I had to struggle through a fence in order to get into the desert to set camp in a cactus field just on dusk so as to not be seen hunkering down in the  field hopefully unmolested by any overly curious passers by. The question as to why someone would want to own and fence such a desert is one that remains, yet I imagine it is worth something to someone. To me this night it is worth a place to rest and is within a day’s good ride from the end of the peninsula ride.

Long & Winding Road

5th January (Camp Cactus – La Paz) (105 km)

Woke up early in order to break camp and get going before being noticed in my cactus field. Skillfully managed to get my self caught on the barbed wire whilst trying to shimmy back under the fence to the road; painful and ignominious. Such an experience gives one the opportunity for a sudden moment of clarity. This one going something like, “What the hell am I doing out here in the middle of this desert in amongst the cacti and dried goat shit about to pedal through the hot dusty day and now am bent over and caught under a barbed wire fence?” Don’t really have a good answer to that one right at the moment. Am confident that it will look somewhat different after the dust is extracted from the various orificia. These guys repairing the under side of their truck across the road didn’t help much (refer photo).

No Parking

Towards the end of the peninsula ride the familiar sliding away of the destination and once the road spilled down toward the coast I was well ready for the end of the desert run and a couple of days in La Paz reassessing d-deserting.

Here endeth the Baja experience. It’s been a ride alright down the peninsula and not while it has been beautiful out in the desert, I am happy to be out of the desert for a while.