Riding against the grain.
This post marks something of a breakthrough: it brings this blog properly up-to-date for the first time in about nine months of travel.
Instead of reporting on what happened several weeks ago, this post is about what just happened and I’m hoping I can keep it that way. Well, I’ll do my best… We only have a few weeks left in Mexico now and who knows what the wifi will be like once we start bike-wandering around Central America.
An extended stay in Oaxaca has been what’s enabled this catch up. A four day break became nine days after we arrived in Oaxaca exhausted from the previous 13 days of mountainous riding (see previous post also) and then both became sick with colds. Maybe without the colds we would have extended our stay anyway? Oaxaca has that kind of appeal. It’s the home of molé, mezcal and chapulines (grasshoppers) and is famous for having arguably the best food in Mexico, a bustling market and zocalo, diverse culture and amazing cathedrals.
Anyhow, back to the story…
We’d taken a day off in Juxtalhuaca to try and get some life back into the legs. Good thing too – seeing as the first thing we did leaving town was ride right back into the hills and up a 1000 metre climb. We’d do over 2500 metres by the end of the day. All this effort couldn’t be in better surroundings though – pine forest, small settlements and only the odd farmer’s truck rattling its way down the hill.
I don’t know what chinkunguya is but if it’s anything like dengue I hope we don’t contract it! The first saddle of the day: 1000 metres in 14 kilometres.
Local women in the village down in the next valley.
The Forest is Life. Beautiful forested countryside again as we headed up the next climb.
Resting in the shade of the valley floor.
And then way back up again…
To Santiago Nundiche. Here we hoped to find somewhere to spend the night, and as we arrived on the main street in town a small group was gathered drinking beer on plastic chairs outside the front of this house and store. Standard behaviour for a Sunday in Mexico. Before long we too were drinking beer and resting our legs, with the promise of a room upstairs in the house. Our drunk host was a talkative fellow (and asked us the same questions repeatedly) but he and his family were great hosts for the night. We asked politely for some food and received scrambled eggs and tortillas – cooked while we played with their four-year-old daughter who spoke a lot more Spanish than we do.
Some of Mexico’s indigenous populations have their own twist on catholicism – sometimes incorporating it with much earlier animistic or shamanistic beliefs. Churches through this region have had unfamiliar decorations and representations of saints and holy figures or symbols.
Looking back at the mountains we crossed riding from Juxtlahuaca.
On paper the following day’s riding looked quite civilised; the landscape trended downhill all day, but we still managed to climb 1900 metres over the course of the day. It was one of the biggest contrasts in climate and flora we’d experienced within Mexico – transforming from pine, to epiphyte draped forest, to cactus and whole mountainsides covered in palms.
The venerable Volkswagen Beetle. If there is a car of Mexico, I think this is it. We see many of the older classic Ford and Chevy trucks too, but nowhere else have I been where you see many of these classic Volkswagens – still in loyal service after many years. Sometimes they’re battered and hanging on for dear life, while others are lovingly looked after; resprayed and pimped.
Goodbye pine, hello palm and cactus.
Come mid afternoon we found overselves overlooking a broad and deep valley. A 700 metre descent led us to the bottom.
A major washout on the way down the hill. Partially repaired, but still a little dodgy to bypass.
We waded a river at the bottom of the hill and then began climbing back out on a mixture of 4WD, single track and a reasonable dirt road, much to the surprise of this old man on a burro who had never seen a couple of gringos on bikes on his stomping ground before.
Our routine through this part of Mexico has intentionally been to ride village to village. While we miss the wilderness and quiet tent nights as we had in Baja, we find contact with local people valuable in adding a further dimension to our experience here. It’s a challenge sometimes, to arrive in a town tired, dirty and sweaty and to have to ask around sufficiently to secure a safe place for the night, but those interactions alone can make the effort worth it.
In Yutanduchi de Guerrero we asked around and turned up nothing, so took a cue from Zoyatlan a few weeks back and decided to ask the commisario. Being a bigger town, the office was much busier, so we ended up waiting outside for a while – like naughty school kids waiting to see the headmaster. In the end we decided to find food first, and while eating scrambled eggs (again!) just around the corner we soon had an offer of a place to pitch our tent by the family that owned the small comedor.
Yutanduchi de Guerrero.
Beautiful trees with bright red epiphytes growing either side of the river in the valley below Chidoco. Another long and steep climb led back out.
We ate half a pollo al carbon between us for afternoon tea in San Antonio Huitepec.
Our final night before the luxuries of Oaxaca was spent in San Miguel de Peras. We arrived on dusk after another day of more than seven hours moving time and 2500 metres elevation gain; exhausted in other words, and were pleased to find that town had a simple posada (guest house) with attached restaurant. Of course the only thing on offer in the restaurant was scrambled eggs and tortillas!
A long climb led us out of San Miguel Peras and along the range. Soon after chatting to this friendly chap we were blazing a dust trail downhill towards Cuatros Venados and the Valle Central where the city of Oaxaca sits.
Santo Domingo cathedral.
Many families come from the mountains surrounding Oaxaca to try and ‘make it’ in the city. Some find work but many don’t – resulting in people of all ages begging and busking on the streets.
The quinceanera is a Mexican tradition where a big celebration is held for a girl’s fifteenth birthday. It’s a big deal and whole shops are dedicated to this tradition, selling dresses and decorations.
Oaxaca’s museum of culture; one of its most famous exhibits a turquiose covered human skull from nearby Monte Alban – a major temple site.