Day 9: 153km to San Fernando
Day 10: 77km to El Encinal
Day 11: 115km to Cd. Victoria
Day 12 & 13: Cd. Victoria
Day 14: 126km to El Limon
Day 15: 131km to Cd. Valles
Riding South from the Border
Wow, pretty treacherous day thinking back to my first one riding from Reynosa to San Fernando. No pictures… all riding. Wasn’t feeling like I was going through a particularly great place most of the day, people not waving and looking away or giving hard stares in response to my “buenas tardes” – never a good sign. That’s since changed drastically as wonderful people have entered my trip, but the first 300km south of the border was hard territory. Significant local, state, and federal police as well as marines and army presence as I passed and was passed by long convoy’s of masked gunmen all standing on racks in the back of fancy new american trucks. Lots of checkpoints… no problems going south of course, they are only checking for El Narco heading north – fighting the american funded war on drugs, aimed to choke the supply lines of all forms of drugs from their markets of american noses, veins and lungs. Reading about the history of El Narco in Mexico from the earliest Chinese immigrants bringing opium seeds to the Siniloan highlands to Mexican cartel’s overtaking of the Colombians to the recent turf wars and paramilitary death squads. It all reminds me of reading about the Lebanese civil war… so many factions, twists, turns and levels – you can start from one focal point but it all gets pretty mess and complicated quickly!
Anyway, my first day ended with me cycling the distance for the next place with a hotel in San Fernando (the hotbed of Los Zetas I’m told… whoops!) – and an ending you couldn’t make up. High speed winds and a dust storm crusting my eyes as I rolled into a spaghetti western town after dark, bushes blowing across the street, wild dogs chasing me, and eventually being led down dark and increasingly narrow roads to find a hotel and arrive just as the desk lady was locking up for the night! I closed the rickety door to my shanty hotel room, collapsed on the bed and had to laugh to myself.
One positive change since then has been people’s excitedness at seeing me come through. I’ve had umpteen people ask to take selfie’s with me, and even been pulled over to take pictures, or have had cars slow down just as I see a barrage of cell phones pointed my way! This is usually a nice cheer and a chance for me to hear and practice a little espanol, but like all things can get a little annoying at the end of a long day.
The chap below was keen to hear all about my bike… he was obviously a bit of an enenthusiastHe spoke slowly so that I could understand much of what he was saying, and joked about how he was heavier than me and couldn’t go as far… He also asked about spare parts and I showed him my extra spokes and tools.
Nearly to Cd. Victoria to meet my first couchsurfing host in Mexico, I couldn’t resist picking up all the oranges I could carry for about $2, very sweet and delicious. It was worth the extra weight.
Thoughts at the 1000km Mark
And…… 1000km mark! 11 days in and 1000km under my belt, not bad I felt! On my route from Cd. Victoria to Cd. Valles (where I am now), I actually bit off more than I could chew and started to realize I need to slow down a little. I’ve been very comfortable on the bike, but I have not been giving enough time to important maintenance things like eating enough and stretching. It’s been hard to get enough calories, especially good calories while on the road. Some of the sections I’ve been riding there’s not a whole lot between cities which for me may be a day apart, so options are pretty limited. I’m figuring it out though, getting a bit better with cooking with my stove and more comfortable in knowing what food is available where.
The single biggest challenge has been the psychological one – finding the strength to continue riding through some really tough moments without letting your mindset get down. Invariably, each of these hard moments is eventually reward and satisfaction once the moment has passed and you managed to get through it… the challenge is controlling your mindset while in the moment, knowing that you will come out on the other side one way or another. One thing I noticed is that it is easy for me to go fairly internal when my mood is bad, so I don’t put out good vibes to the people I’m meeting and in turn they aren’t putting good vibes towards me. Being conscious of this is important because it has a bigger impact on my mindset and ability to function in that environment. So, even when I’m not really feeling it, I’m trying to smile and greet people with enthusiasm and in turn have felt a lot more warmth – especially in the tiny little isolated villages I am passing through.
When I arrived in Victoria, a started to see a few more cyclists as well as a lot of youth arts and culture. I enjoyed handing out in “Plaza del quince” which would become a focal point of my stay in Victoria… a nice public square with lots of benches and sculptures, and young people playing music, skateboarding, break dancing… Finally I felt like I had emerged from the industrial and militarized north and was into Mexico. Mario was particularly excited to see a cycle tourist, and helped guide me to my destination as well as invite me to a weekly critical mass type bike ride that is held to promote cycling once a week.
Alex was my host for three days in Victoria, and it was such a lovely stay! I really enjoyed being in a family enviornment, chatting and sharing a few meals with everyone there. I survived my first small bout of food “adjustment”, and had a nice balance of resting, getting things done on my bike and online, and seeing the city. Alex is working in performance and as a teacher. Highlights include seeing her school where she is currently taking a diploma, meeting fellow students and friends, going to a radio interview to promote an upcoming event, going to a rehearsal, going to the bank to sort out some banking problems and practicing my hula-hooping skills!
It’s these kinds of authentic and immersive experiences which make travelling so fulfilling for me… I often prefer to accompany hosts and locals in regular life activities from which I can just sit back and people watch, and let whatever interactions come to me. One main highlight however was climbing up the mountain right behind Victoria. Alex and I woke up early and headed up before it would be too hot. It was a pretty grueling 100 large stairs section to the base of the path, then bouldering over some jagged sections for at least 750m, then a more tame hike up to the flag which overlooks the city. At the base of the mountain is an army base that you have to register and pass through. It was nice to see all the army guys who have to hike this mountain every day, as well as the common spaces they live, share time with family, play basketball, practice trumpet.
After leaving Victoria, I crossed into the tropics! Yay! And a healthy breakfast at a bus stop. It’s funny how excited I can get just for the use of a table surface and bench to cook on after stealth camping multiple days in a row!
And, I managed to get my ipod fixed with Alex’s computer! Praise Jah! So that’s me for now, sun screen on, white boy in Mexico, rocking tunes spinning wheels on route to Ciudad Mexico