Day 16: Cd. Valles
Day 17: Cd. Valles
Day 18: 86km to Xilitlia
Day 19: 84km to Jalpan
Day 20: 40km to Pinal
Day 21: 91km to Cadereyta
I’m writing from Mexico City, or just “Mexico” as it is referred to here and wow, what a place. I’ve just arrived and already what and what explosion of excitement as I cycle the streets. The energy rivals that I’ve felt in other world metropolises like Berlin or New York, but with something very unique of its own. My first impressions have overloaded my sensors, so let’s just go back a week for now…
There were two primary challenges of the past week: the first, enduring the “inner travels” caused by new bacteria and ecoi, and the second, crossing some serious mountains known as the Serra Gorda (part of the Serra Madre range which spans along the eastern part of the country)! I had a fairly uneventful few days of riding to Cd. Valles where I met and was so graciously hosted by Adolfo & Soraya. A plan for one night turned into three as I rode out the inner travels, and then it was back to the road albiet feeling several pounds lighter and needing to slowly recover my strength.
Back on the road again… I was happy to be moving and amidst the usual life of the road here in Mexico. Cows, donkeys, horses, turkeys and roosters lining the roadside… concussion jerking speed bumps at every village, cheap hotels offering rooms for 1,2 or 4 hours (hmmmm), street vendors (which I’ve now learn’t even many locals avoid) and loud, friendly people dotting the walkways and Pemex stations. Many trucks have questionable functionality, although its the regional bus drivers that are really the loco ones. Despite all this, I still feel pretty safe in the saddle. I haven’t really even had any close calls yet, although I did drop by bike in some loose gravel a few days back resulting in a scraped up knee and palm. Don’t worry Mom – in Mexico City I’m only riding on bike lanes.
I knew the mountain pass would be intense, but I had no idea what to expect. In the future, I will try to be more prepared with topographic information and more precise distances. Not knowing when the next village or the next section of switchbacks would be was challenging. Despite all my long days and hard work in the last weeks, nothing prepared me for the constant grind uphill, all day.
I rode and rode, up and up to a maximum of over 2600m, but hardly a single up and down. Rather, you climb and reach plateau areas, then descend into desert plains in the mountains, then climb again. The landscape and vegetation also changed dramatically and quickly as I made it through different sections. For someone that’s never been in a jungle before, the first section felt like the real deal to me with dense vegetation growing everywhere, canopies devouring the tight twists of the road and lots of jungle sounds. In this section I rode through think fog and 99% humidity to eventually emerge above the clouds. The small village of Xiltila offered some rest, and I wish I had more time to explore… This was the first time I saw any real publicity catering to any kind of tourism, with lots of emphasis on eco-tourism, trails, waterfalls, and climbing.
Finally after more climbing I arrived into an alpine section of the pass. Here, there was a strong smell of pine trees, lots of forest, and little villages that looked more like Switzerland than anything I had ever associated with Mexico. Eventually, on the third day, I would arrive to the final stretch and do more than 20km of downhill averaging 45km/hr. This was a great sensation after all the hard work, but the real reward was the views from the top… and being done. The last day was easily the hardest because of the heat (above 36 degrees), and being so physically exhausted. My legs had to work hard in ways they hadn’t previously, and it was a challenge to get good calories and eat enough.
I arrived in Cadereyta and was welcomed into a beautiful family meal, introductions to large extended families, a shower, and place for the night – again set up through a friend of a friend. People have been exceptionally hospitable here and it has been beautiful to connect and share experiences. My espanol is coming a lot faster when I am in this environment where very little english is spoken… so that’s good! In the morning, we had the best breakfast of this trip so far… a regional dish of lamb which is wrapped in cactus leaf and slow cooked in the ground for 20 hours… served with the usual taco fixings and sauces, and fresh cooked orange juice. I ate part of the heart which was exceptional – soft and moist with a lot of chili oil and crushed walnuts… so good! For me, a rest day was well overdue! Despite having enjoyed the challenge and beautiful scenery of the remote mountains I was more than ready to be in Mexico City, so I hoped on one of the regional busses with my bike and took the 3 hour ride into the city, by skipping two days of riding on the highway.