[19. October 2007]
This is what we knew from our apartment after we booked it on the internet: www.vrbo.com/19312
It sounded perfect and we were looking forward to it very much. It sounded nearly too perfect and so we were prepared to be partially disappointed once we were there. But there was no reason to worry. It is as nice as we could have imagined it!
After sleeping out we choose between playing tennis, pool billiard or beach volleyball, in-between we relax in one of the four Jacuzzis or pools or we just walk along the beautiful beach. In the evening we make a BBQ on our patio with a view of the ocean, go to the Sauna or we go out in nearby Rosarito. The major drawback about this situation: we get a terrible muscle ache from all these sports…
While passing the boarder in Tijuana everything went so fast (nobody cares who crosses the boarder in this direction) that we forgot to stop at the Mexican boarder control to receive the tourist card we need. One evening we drove back to the boarder to finish this business. Tijuana, famous for its corruption, dirt and violence. We got a taste of it: we were stopped by a policeman because we were driving too slow and therefore were a danger for the traffic! We had heard of such situations and we knew from the first moment what all was about: the policeman waited to be bribed. Of course this was not an option. We did what we told ourselves we will do once we come into such a situation: be complicated. Unfortunately Beat forgot his driving license and was behind the steering wheel… The policeman wanted us to pay the fine in cash. We insisted on paying it later by cheque. So he tried to explain us he can not fill out the form for the fine as he needs a driving license number. We proposed he should use the passport number or just use the driving license of Stefan. He decided this was not a good option. Instead he told us we have to follow him to the judge in town! After we asked him whether this was a proposal or an order he was not so sure about the idea anymore… After discussing with him for half an hour he gave up. He told us he was going to make an exception because we were students and we were so stubborn. Man, it was so difficult to wait with laughing till he was gone :-)
Baja California North
[31. October 2007]
On the first day after our long brake we cycled for 13 kilometers. Then we gave up. After Stefan was blown off the road by the incredibly strong wind we decided it was too dangerous to cycle under these conditions. In a restaurant we met Nancy from San Diego who lives in the condominium “Las Gaviotas” right across the street of the restaurant. She explained us that this wind is called the Santana wind, happens every year and lasts for several days…
As we could not continue with cycling Nancy invited us to stay at here place. Thank you! We spent the afternoon watching the huge waves and the sky turning red because of the smoke of the many bushfires caused by the strong wind.
In the evening we had dinner with Nancy’s son Scott and Sylvain & Shannon, two neighbors who Nancy invited because Sylvain is from France (he is the winner of the 1999 world cup in boardercross snowboarding) and we could speak a little French with him. Hmmm, yes, we did, two sentences maybe. French is too far away now between all the English and Spanish.
The following day the wind was still very strong and we did not risk to cycle under these conditions. We enjoyed watching TV (something we did not do often in the last months), reading, writing diaries and watching the crazy weather outside. In the evening we were invited to the “Monday night football dinner” organized by the few permanent residents of Las Gaviotas (most of the houses are only occupied on weekends and holidays). Such evenings are the reason why we travel by bicycle. With the bike you have to stop unexpectedly sometimes and it is there were you run into the most interesting situations.
Once the wind had slowed down we started cycling towards the desert of the Baja California. During the first break we met Anthony who started cycling in Las Vegas (where he comes from) and goes south as we do. We decided to cycle together for the moment and look how this goes.
Soon we realized that cycling speeds are different. While he was going up the hills faster (he has less luggage and more power) we just saw him disappear in our rear view mirrors on the downhill slopes. After some kilometers we lost each other, but in the evening we stopped at the same restaurant. Together we rented a room for three (for 10 Dollars, welcome to Mexico!), but the following day we did not cycle together anymore.
During the Monday night football evening in Las Gaviotas we learned to know Jim who owns a factory in San Quintin. He told us to go there once we pass it so we can spend the night in the factory’s guest room. We were happy about the offer but when he told us “a hundred Mexican girls are working there” we were even more looking forward towards this place :-) It was interesting to see inside such a factory once and it was very interesting to see how the workers were peering at us as if we were aliens from Mars when we were walking by with our bikes. They were working very silently so we could hear the “hola chico, te quiero, hola güero” quite good…
After San Quintin the fun times were definitely over. As we were getting inland the temperatures rose high during the day and the road led into the mountains of the Baja. Cycling was hard and improvisation was always needed to find a place to stay for the night. Besides camping in the wild we set our tents up besides a restaurant once (with a “shower” consisting of a bucket of water) or we stayed a night on one of the few campgrounds. Motivation was not always on the best during these days but in the evening – after the work was done – it was always a great feeling to relax in the nice desert nights.
Did you ever ride on a touring bicycle on an average speed of over 40 km/h for more than half an hour? Or average above 30 km/h for more than one hour? The altitude we gained during the hard days in the mountains paid off in a way that could not have been better: the road was going slightly down for tens and tens of kilometers to finally end up in a plain of never ending width. As the wind was with us we could enjoy “flying” over the desert. To complete the perfect day we found a nice hotel room in the evening to shower and relax.
With an oasis in front and the wind in the back we finished our cycling marathon (eight days and 900 km of cycling without a break) with a 154 km-day and an average speed of 24 km/h. We were flying again.
We could not have chosen a better place for a break. The wind is blowing through the date palms, San Ignacio is a quiet and nice village and everywhere it is GREEN around us.
Baja California South
[10. November 2007]
Leaving the oasis of San Vincente we were back on the hot and hilly roads of the Baja again. Happily only two days later the next perfect spot to relax and recharge our batteries was ready for us: the wonderful beaches of Bahia Conception. We chose one with fewer facilities but picture perfect scenery. This way we could set up our tents on a nearly empty beach and swim alone in the crystal clear water.
Alone with us on the beach was the camper of Klaus and Pervin. After working as a mechanical engineer and physician in Germany they decided to choose a different way in life than the career they were “expected” to make. They are more or less “on the road” for 25 years now. Instead of leaving early in the morning we sat talking, philosophizing with them for hours. It was perfectly worth cycling in the big heat afterwards. Not often is one given the chance to learn so much in such a short time…
Loreto is one of the cities the Mexican government is trying to turn into a huge tourist place like Cancun or Acapulco. It seems like they did not manage very well until now. When we were looking for party on Saturday evening at nine there was nothing going on. As we had a hard cycling day we were close to go to bed early. But then we were telling ourselves that we can not go to bed on a Saturday evening so early. So we went into the next bar for a quiet beer.
There were only two American guys in the bar and we started chatting with them a little. James and Jens are in the Baja to prepare for a race across the desert. After some Margaritas the evening turned into a lot of fun and party in several clubs and James and Jens sleeping in our room instead of camping somewhere in the bush.
Best for us was the invitation of James to stay at his boat which is stationed in La Paz, our final destination on the Baja. It was a good decision not to go to bed at nine already…
There were 360 more kilometers of desert roads, including the climb up to the Sierra Gigante, left between us and La Paz. On the morning we started cycling this last bit Pius didn’t have any hunger. After the climb into the Sierra Gigante there was still no appetite but a dizziness and weakness resulting of the lack of energy. Instead of camping in the bush we preferred to cycle on to reach Ciudad Insurgentes, where we found a hotel room. It was a good decision as Pius went to toilet for five times this night! This would not have been fun in the bush (out of the sleeping bag, out of the tent…).
The following day was not better concerning the sickness. Still we did not want to stay in the middle of nowhere any longer. The completely flat desert and the arrow straight road did not really help finding back to good motivation. To get things behind us faster we cycled two days of 120 km again, the last one with hills again and a nasty headwind.
We were very happy to be in La Paz, finally. For the first time bicycling was not our best friend anymore. We hope and we are sure this will change again.
The time we spend now in La Paz makes up for all the hard time we had in the desert. We have our own room on a big yacht, during the day we enjoy wakeboarding, snorkeling or just doing nothing on one of the pools or the beach of the marina. During nights our captain Dave “Wolfie” Wolfsen and his assistant Brian “Cookie” Cook show us the interesting places of La Paz from bowling to perfect BBQ to clubs where only hard seaman should go…
We would like to say thank you very much to James, Dave and Brian for the very generous invitation and the wonderful time we can have here.
[24. November 2007]
The only thing worth to mention about the ferry ride from La Paz to Los Mochis on mainland Mexico is the incredible price. It seems like the Mexicans realized how strategically important this ferry line is and they knew to adapt prices to tourist levels.
Los Mochis was our first contact to mainland Mexico. We were very (positively) surprised how different things were after only such a short ferry ride. The city was bustling with food stands, markets, cars, pedestrians: sheer chaos compared to the clean and quiet Baja. One striking difference was the way people were looking at us now. In the Baja we were nothing special on the streets but in Los Mochis people started turning round to look after us which can be – in case of a nice girl – quite entertaining :-)
Generally we are surprised how beautiful and friendly people here are. The nice smiles we receive here are balm for our eyes after the dry desert times.
When we went to the train station to buy the tickets for the copper canyon train we received the following information: bikes are no longer allowed on the train, things changed one month ago… Welcome to Mexico, start improvising! The security guards in front of the train station were watching our bikes with great interest. We started explaining them how they work (really, people often ask this!) and after a while we asked them whether they could help us finding a solution to get the bikes on the train. They told us we should come to the train station one hour before the train leaves and we might “find a solution” with the engine driver. A “little tip” will help him think positively…
So our bikes were riding open air on the engine of the copper canyon train while we were enjoying the ride through the beautiful landscape, through countless tunnels and over bridges of every size.
In the train we learnt to know Lisa from New Zealand. After arriving in Creel in the middle of the copper canyon we rented a nice room together with her in a cozy wood house, heated with a wood stove. Creel is on 2000 m altitude and the nights get veery cold up there. We were happy to smell fresh, cold air again after the hot time in the Baja and in Los Mochis.
In Creel we took our bikes to a ride through the beautiful landscape of the copper canyon. The trip turned out to be more of a cross exercise for us and our bikes than an easy day-off-ride. Nonetheless it was still a lot of fun. It seems like we are prepared to ride bad roads too with our recumbent bikes.
Zacatecas to Guanajuato
[24. November 2007]
The train ride from Creel to Chihuahua is not as spectacular as the first part of the trip and as the train is quite expensive, we preferred taking the bus for this passage.
Of Chihuahua we saw nothing but the bus station. We were not in the mood for cycling hundreds of kilometres through the desert again so we took the next possible bus to get to Zacatecas. The twelve hour bus ride during the night made us save the costs for a hotel room and by arriving early in the morning in Zacatecas we saw the city in its wonderful morning ambiance while cycling into the centre.
When we started cycling in Alaska our plan was to cycle all along the west coast in Mexico too. We were told by several people and books that we should not leave out the colonial towns of central Mexico. In Zacatecas we realized what they were talking about: the city lies between two mountains, the hills surrounding the city are covered with little houses of all colours and the city centre invites to stroll and look for hours.
The mines of Zacatecas and Guanajuato produced over 20% of the world silver for over 250 years. Fortunately the silver barons invested a lot of their money in their towns which turned them into the jewels they are nowadays. Protected by the UNESCO, the ambiance of the colonial times could be kept alive by banning neon signs and other excrescences of modern times.
The hostel we were staying at was full of Swiss people. How can they be everywhere? There are only seven million Swiss people but wherever you go traveling you can be sure to run into some Swiss guys!
We didn’t mind, we are always looking for some company to have a fun time. So we went out with Paco from Bern and another day Mike from Austin joined us for a game of pool billiard.
We visited the old silver mine and got an impression of the horrible conditions people (indigenous people mostly) were working under. During the worst time five persons were dying per day to get the silver to the surface and make the silver barons and the cities richer and richer.
After the relaxing on the boat, the rides with the ferry, the train and the bus and three nice days in Zacatecas, time for cycling had come again. After the last experiences on our bikes we were not so sure how much we will like cycling again. The worries were forgotten after a few kilometres: the toll road we were taking (of course without paying) was in perfect condition, we had a wide shoulder for us to ride and there was not much traffic (Mexicans don’t like to pay for driving). Biking was fun again.
Our guide books did not contain a lot of information about Aguascalientes, our first stop after Zacatecas. We thought we just cycle there to find a cheap hotel room and then cycle on the next day. Once we were there we were very happy the day’s ride was easier than we thought and we were arriving early. Another beautiful town was welcoming us. We walked around the plaza where the locals were enjoying the evening sun, visited the modern and beautiful shopping mall and spontaneously went to cinema. We love going to cinema, especially for 2 dollars :-) We could have stayed in this city for several days again but if we do this in every nice place we will not reach Fireland in 5 years…
As easy as the day from Zacatecas to Aguascalientes was as hard was the one from Aguascalientes to Leon. The landscape became hilly, the shoulder was full of gravel and the estimated 130 km turned out to be 145. Additionally a stretch of 60 km without water and a flat tire challenged us this day. We managed to carry enough water while cycling through the desert in the Baja California but once we are back in civilisation we run dry!
Totally exhausted we arrived in Leon and were looking for a hotel. Leon is a city of 1.6 million inhabitants and on the road into town there were many hotels called “auto motel”. When they explained us that a room costs 200 pesos – for four hours – we started realizing what kind of hotels these were. The fourth hotel finally gave us a room for a whole night, very cheap and the most incredible room we ever had: private garage, mirror over the huge, round bed, window between bed and shower (!), paper towel dispenser besides the bed, TV with adult movies… The ladies from the reception were very friendly to us, more than friendly even; they hardly wanted to leave us alone. They wanted to take pictures with us, look into our most incredible eyes and and and. They explained us that such beautiful, tall and handsome men are very rare in Mexico and they do not often have the pleasure to look at someone so interesting. Hmm, this was good four our self-confidence :-)
From Leon it was only a short ride up to the mountains and into Guanajuato. The ride into town was an adventure as large parts of the road system of this town are underground. The city is built so narrow in-between hills that there is just not enough space for all roads on the surface.
When we said we liked Zacatecas very much we now have to say we love Guanajuato. Beauty is one level higher here. Wherever in the town we go we find a nice house, a nice view over the city, a nice square or just soak in the lively ambiance of this town.
Together with Marie from Australia, who stays at our hostel too, we like to walk up the hills through tiny streets between the colourful houses and let our cameras run hot. Pictures say more than words here.
We were lucky to be in Guanajuato during the weekend so we could also explore the nightlife of this university town. We only learn to know exchange students or other tourists but we don’t complain as long as we are having fun
Through the heart of Mexico
[07. December 2007]
Between Guanajuato and Morelia we learned to know the advantages and disadvantages of the Mexican road system. For parts we could cycle on a brand new highway that was not even opened yet. A perfect road for us alone. Mexico is investing a lot in its road system. Everywhere we go we see new highways or plans for their construction. Maybe one day this country can pass its reputation as one of the worst countries for bicycling to another one…
Later “our” highway was opened already to the public and the security guards did not want to let us pass even though we promised just to ride on the shoulder. Until now we never had a problem getting onto the highways. Even thought there are always signs that prohibit cycling we just passed the toll booths with a smile.
The alternative to the highway is the “libre”, the main road that all the trucks and people without money (with the cars with real bad combustion) take. There is no shoulder and people drive like crazy. We heard of other cyclists taking the bus in this part instead of taking the “libre”. It was bad to ride for us too, we were swallowing a lot of exhaust, but there was never a security problem. We are more and more convinced that the recumbents give us a special status on the road, different from a bike. All the stories of bikers jumping into the ditch to escape from trucks: we don’t know these problems. Cars or buses passing by too close: we can count the cases with one hand and it was not very dangerous. So, moms and dads, no need to worry, we are on the good way to survive :-)
In Morelia we had a reunion with Marie from Guanajuato. She brought her friend Tristan, whom she met in Guadalajara and together we stayed in a room with two beds. This was the only way to get an acceptably cheap room in very expensive Morelia.
By staying in the cheapest place in town we happened to meet Sjaak again, a biker on the Panamericana whom we met in Canada already and who stayed in the same hostel in Guanajuato, too.
“As usual” there were of course other Swiss people too in the hostel. When we were cooking for everybody there were six Swiss, Sjaak from Holland and Marie & Tristan from Melbourne. It was a great evening, remembering us to the times when we had that many people gathered in one of our shared flats in Zurich.
The road after Morelia through the region of “Mil Cumbres” then showed us that there are some jewels hidden in the network of roads with heavy traffic. Part of the oldest road in Mexico this route winds up a 1000 meters through the thousand hills giving the region its name. A new road avoids the pass and therefore there was hardly any traffic on our road. Since a long time we were cycling for the cycling again and not to make it to the next town. What a great feeling.
In the evening we wanted to camp in the wild but when we bought water at a small shop and saw the rain clouds in the sky we asked the owner of the shop, where we could stay for the night. Of course we knew that there was no hotel or camping around but asking people like this had already been a good way of staying at private peoples places during Pius’ bike trip to Russia. We ended up sleeping in the yard of the house with our mattresses and sleeping bags and we enjoyed the rain dropping on the roof saving us from the rain.
The bit of Spanish we learned until now (we are so lazy) was sufficient to chat a little bit with our host and to find out that she is a mother of 28 (!) children, 20 of which are still alive. She started with 16 and had a child every year until 44. Niños, niños, niños, welcome to Mexico!
In Zitacuaro we were looking for a hotel that would store our bikes for some days. There was an important date in Mexico City waiting for us so we had to take the bus there and return to our bikes later. The first, very cheap hotel did not even want to keep our bikes in a single room that we would have paid fully. They seriously wanted to explain us that we would have to keep on paying the double room we wanted to stay in for one night. It was there where we found out that our Spanish is even good enough to find the appropriate words while being very angry… This was our first bad experience during all the time we spent now in Mexico. Never ever had anyone tried to cheat us, nor was anybody unfriendly. We are sure it will not happen so soon again.
To our surprise we found a hotel right across the street that offered us a room for the same price and agreed to store our bikes on the private rooftop for as long as we wanted. There we went, Mexico City we are coming!
On our important date in Mexico City we met 100’000 people: we had tickets for the final of the South American Cup in the Aztec Stadium. Visiting the biggest active football stadium in the world was a thing we were looking forward to for a long time. Finding a game that filled the stadium almost (capacity is 115’000) was luck at this time of the year and the reason why we came to Mexico City from Zitacuaro already.
The best football teams from South America (America from Mexico and Arsenal from Argentina) played a football maybe as good as the first Swiss league but they made up for it with many fouls and following funny discussions. We did not care; we were there because of the stadium and the incredible masses of people and they were as impressive as we imagined it to be.
This time it was not a coincidence that there were other Swiss people at the hostel we stayed at. We met Brigitte and Bernadette from Morelia again and learned to know Ramona & Lisa this way. These four girls had been traveling together earlier already.
During the day we experienced Mexico City by walking through the city center. 20 millions of people were surrounding us and it seemed like during the day they all needed to come to the city center. Four-lane streets were turned into one-way roads because of the people flooding from the sidewalk onto the street. Some streets were even completely without traffic as it was simply impossible to drive through the masses of people.
On Saturday evening we wanted to go out for a beer or two. The girls first wanted to stay in the hostel and have a beer there. For good luck we could convince them to come to a bar around the corner. After some Mescals and Tequilas in the alternative-style bar we started writing a logbook in the bar’s guestbook about the funny things that happened. Together with the nice waiter from this first bar we walked (lurched) through the streets of Mexico City to look for some place to dance. Definitely one of the funniest evenings of our tour, thank you girls!
Before we returned to our bikes we made a day trip to Anguangueo with its nearby butterfly habitat. Millions of butterflies migrate to this place every year from Canada to spend the winter here. Gathered to huge bunches they hang in the trees, unable to move during the night because it’s too cold. Once the sun warms them up they start flying around and fill the air. IF there is sun. Well, we can’t always be lucky. We still saw some of them flying and it was a nice hiking day...
After our first day on the bike again we started using something that will probably change the way of our trip: couchsurfing.com. This homepage connects travelers from all over the world. Some are traveling, others are at home and offer a place to stay to travelers.
So we stayed at Jorge’s place this evening. The plan was to meet in front of the Wal Mart in Toluca and then go to his place. What we did not know is that there are some five Wal Marts in Toluca and in the town before Toluca. Poor Jorge was driving around for nearly two hours, checking out all the Wal Marts in Toluca until he found us a little outside town!
At least this gave us enough time to buy food and we could make up for the worries by cooking a good dinner. After all the nights in hotels and in the tent we finally stayed at a locals place and as he spoke English we learned many interesting things about living and working in Mexico. Thank you Jorge for our first, perfect surfed couch!
Our calculations resulted in approx. 125 km from Jorge’s place to Taxco, our next goal. We knew it will be first going down a lot as there is a big incline going up to Taxco in the end of the day. What we did not know is that the whole day was going to be peppered with hills and hills. After 138 km, a 10 km incline of 6% average inclination (after 110 kms), 1630 m of altitude gain and the tiring ride into Taxco in the dark plus looking for a place to stay we were completely exhausted, our bodies were close to collapse. We had found out where our limits are.
After a long phase of just lying on the bed without moving a muscle, we hauled our bodies to a good restaurant and enjoyed a terrific meal. After weeks of cheap tacos this was the moment where we thought we could afford an “upscale” meal for once.
We were not even sure whether it is worth doing the detour to go to Taxco. There would have been a shorter and definitely less exhausting way in our direction. We have already seen Guanajuato, so what should be new in Taxco? A lot! The style of the city with the small alleyways on the steep hills and the beautiful colonial style buildings is the same, yes, but the mood in the city is completely different. It is a lot touristier here but the charm of the city did not get lost. At the moment there is the national silver fair and there are thousands of people crowding the Zocalo in the evening, listening to street artists and Banda bands, a great pleasure especially for Pius as their Tuba players are extraordinary!
Welcome to South America
[26. December 2007]
The next place to stay after Taxco was offered to us on the road: Emanuel from Cuernavaca is a bike traveler too, one of the few in Mexico. Together with his friend Omar he cycled to Panama and around most of Mexico. Their cycling adventures in Mexico made them famous; they even met the Mexican President after their big trip!
We were staying at Omar’s place and had our first intensive course in speaking Spanish together with him and his wife Leticia. In the morning we were invited to a nice restaurant for breakfast and we had a nice morning together. Thank you for the nice stay!
On the way to our next stop in Puebla we had a big brother watching us all the time: volcano Popocatepetl was on our left for one whole day, we cycled around it and always had a great view on the impressive mountain. For the first time on mainland Mexico we decided to camp in the wild again. Not because there were no other possibilities but to enjoy the cooking, the view on Popocatepetl and the quiet nights under the stars. We love to go to bed early in our tents and read a little, listen to some music, write diaries – just have lots of time for ourselves.
In Puebla we found another possibility to surf a couch, this time at Yecas place. Together with her sister and her cousin she lives in a shared flat and there was a nice sofa waiting for us.
Puebla is called the food capital of Mexico and we of course wanted to try whether this is true. After extensive testing our conclusion is: TRUE! We do not remember all the names of things we tried, but it was delicious.
Not only Mexican food was on the menu during our days in Puebla. To say thank you to Yeca and her flat mates we cooked a typical Swiss meal, Roeschti and Zueri-Geschnetzeltes. The three Mexicans enjoyed the meal and we did so too. It was great feeling at home for a while for us, at least culinarily.
Puebla is famous for the big VW factory employing 15’000 people. In advance we tried to get a reservation for a tour through the “VW city” but all tours were full already for more than one week. In our German guide book we found a phone number of the person who is responsible for tour bookings. The name sounded very German and we gave it a shot and called this number, introducing ourselves in German. Things were easier then: three hours later we were sitting in a VW combi cabriolet, riding through the factory. We were driven right through the assembly lines, monstrous presses and welding robots: paradise for a Mechanical Engineer!
The Mexican student group the tour was originally booked for did not appear so we had our private tour guide: Leonie is one of the many German trainees at VW Puebla and we were happy to get the details explained in German instead of Spanish. Leonie was leaving Mexico one week later and – lucky we – were invited to her goodbye party. Together with our Mexican couchsurfing-friends we drove to the house where we discovered that there were some eighty other Germans at the “little” good bye party. For us it was nice to be at a party where we could speak to everybody easily, the Mexicans felt kind of foreign in their own country…
We were climbing many hills already with our bikes in Mexico but what waited for us between Puebla and Oaxaca was giving us a new idea of how hilly roads can be. The brand new toll highway is a spectacular piece of engineering. It cuts its way through the beautiful countryside leaving a huge scar behind. Not knowing how to build tunnels they construct their roads over all the mountains here, cutting a deep groove through the top of every hill. Unfortunately the cuts were not deep enough to compensate the height of the hills, easily ranging up to several hundred meters. For cars the road must be short, not flat.
We were expecting a lot of Oaxaca and we did not find what we were looking for. The “special ambiance”, the travelers town, the student city seemed like just another city to us, but one with a huge traffic problem. All roads are always full of traffic jams. Unlike in northern Mexico people here are not so patient and everybody expresses their impatience with their horns.
Getting more and more used to ride in the heavy traffic of Mexican cities we did not care about the stuck streets a lot; we just curved in slalom around the standing cars. A part of our driving strategy consists in cutting the way off to cars, just adapting to Mexican rules. Not part of Pius’ plan was cutting the way off to a right turning bus whose driver was too high to see him. After lying on the street and shouting to the bus driver he simply wanted to get up and continue the ride as he was not hurt while falling. We still don’t know how exactly it happened but riding was not possible anymore: the rear wheel was twisted heavily, the wheel hardly turning anymore.
After a one hour bike fixing workshop on the Zocalo of Oaxaca (one of the nice parts of this city) the wheel was ok to ride but still not centered perfectly and the spokes screaming from tension. It was good enough to ride for the moment; we would be looking for a bike shop later.
The way from Oaxaca to San Cristobal de las Casas was a hard piece of work again. Additionally to the continuing hills there was a lot of traffic and sometimes heavy headwind messing with us.
Some highlights and lows of these seven days:
It’s only 65 kilometers from Tuxtla to San Cristobal de las Casas. But 1900 meters of altitude! Uff, only after 28 tacos did we feel like having compensated the loss of calories :-)
- Riding through the Mezcal capital of the world, very interesting :-)
- Waking up one morning, the tent full of ants who bit their way through Pius’ tent floor (!) and also started eating his sleeping bag
- Packing the wet tent on a cold morning with dense fog, looking forward to go back to the narrow road full of traffic
- Staying a night in the town of Juchitan where social structures are based on matriarchy and transvestites are a commonly accepted as a part of society
- Looking in vain for a bar in the center of Tuxtla, the capital of the Chiapas state, and therefore going to bed early on a Saturday evening
- Leaving North America by passing the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, welcome to South America!
Many people were asking us (and we were asking ourselves) how Christmas without our families would be. We found a replacement-family. The hostel we stay at organized a Christmas evening where everybody was cooking for each other and after the Mexican tradition clinked glasses for Christmas at midnight.
One day later a long planned and several times postponed meeting became reality: the Roadrunners from Austria whom we met in Alaska and Canada already arrived after their journey along the Mexican Pacific coast. Another Roeschti & Zueri-Geschnetzeltes became reality, followed by hours of talking. There are thousands of things to talk about and stories to be told. For good luck we have some days here in beautiful San Cristobal before we head towards the jungle of Palenque.
Good bye Mexico
[07. January 2008]
On one day in San Cristobal we turned into real tourists and joined a guided tour to the indigenous villages surrounding the city. The stay in a typical indigenous home with local food was very much the “we stare at you, you stare at us” style. We don’t like being THE TOURIST.
When we came into the famous village of Chamula things got even worse. Chamula is said to be the only village in South America that was never occupied by the Spaniards. Mexican police is not allowed to enter the village and no taxes are paid to the state of Mexico. The Mayans have an own government for their town. A result of this Independence is the cheapest black market in the country (5 DVDs for 1 Dollar) and a never ending stream of tourists coming to see the special thing.
Main attraction in town is the church where Mayan religion mixes with the catholic church. During our visit in the church we saw Mayans sacrificing a chicken (so their bad spirits leave with the spirit of the animal) and others praying like in trance in front of rows of candles they glued to the floor. What might they have thought of all the tourists standing around them, just staring at them?
For two more evenings we had time to go out with the two Austrians. We proved what everybody knows: Switzerland easily beats Austria in football (this game was only tabletop football) and replaced our lost calories in restaurants and in the hostel with self made Caipirinhas. Late in the night (and after many Caipirinhas) we discovered that all the problems in the world are simply caused by communication problems. Meanwhile we did not at all have a communication problem with them :-)
After checking four bike shops without success we told where to find the “specialist” in town for fixing twisted bike rims. When we arrived at the shop we thought we were in the wrong place: a tiny, dirty room, the floor covered with old tools and some bike parts was all we could see. But then we could learn that a good bike mechanic is more about knowledge than about expensive tools. This guy twisted the wheel between his hands and with his foot with all the power he had. We could barely look at the scene, we were sure the rim will break every moment. But the guy did a good job and the wheel is near perfect now again.
The road from San Cristobal de las Casas to Palenque is one of the most dangerous ones in Mexico. Several bikers have been robbed in this area in the past years. We did not want to take the risk and loaded our bikes on the bus once more. When we were riding through the beautiful landscape, descending from the mountains into the jungle, we would have so much liked to ride this road on our bikes. We could see how much more value a road is if travelled by bike than by bus. In a bus everything flies by much too fast.
The short bike ride from the bus station to the place where we wanted to stay showed us where we had arrived: welcome to the jungle! We were wet from sweating after five minutes.
El Panchan is a compound of cabanas, restaurants and bars in the middle of the jungle between Palenque and the famous Maya ruins nearby. It is famous for its mix of travellers, hippies and archaeologists living there. We arrived late in the evening of the 28th December and were lucky to save the last of the cabanas for four nights: we wanted to stay here for the new years party. There we were, with our own house, a nice green in front and the sounds of jungle animals around us.
One day we visited the famous ruins of Palenque. We did not expect a lot as we were not really impressed by the ruins of Monte Alaban near Oaxaca. But then we were deeply impressed by the incredible pyramids and buildings that were built here thousands of years ago. Luckily we could join a guided tour which was really worth the money. Without all the background information this world would maybe just have looked like some stone piles to us.
Another day we visited the waterfalls of Misol-Ha, Agua Clara and Agua Azul. The limestone of the area washed into the water makes the rivers here shine in a terrific blue. Together with the intense green of the jungle and the white of the waterfalls this makes a very nice view. Even a swim in the clear water was on our program. Like Tarzan (and not Jane).
The highlight of our stay in El Panchan was still to come: the big new year party. Already the first evenings here were very quiet, there were only people eating in the two restaurants and a live band playing for them. To our surprise the new year evening was not a lot different! The new things were that the band had changed and the restaurants were totally overfilled so we could not get a table. For the “big moment” we went to a place outside the restaurants where beer was sold by the litre. We “cheersed” for new year on our own. A year we will be always travelling together! On the way back to our cabana we met Matthias and Christelle from Lausanne in the restaurant, who had been on our tour to the waterfalls too. They invited us to join them on their table and we finally had a new year party.
Only two more days were left to ride in Mexico. But these two days would change our tour. The first day was a beautiful ride through the jungle full of heat and humidity. The second day – incredible – was a rain day! We had two myths: we never had more than one hour of rain on our tour and we did not touch our rain gear since mid July on the Cassiar Highway in Canada. Both myths died on our last day in Mexico. It rained from morning till evening. OK, we can take it positive, we have an experience more now. But the myths died...