We were lucky enough to leave our bikes with Mike and Heather in Ajijic which we made the trip back to Ensenada for Christmas. Leaving us feeling very inexperienced on the world travel stage Mike travelled the world for eight years in his youth so understood well the conversation where people say “come stay with me when you get to so and so” they forget the conversation while you turn up on the doorstep six months later hoping wasn’t a false promise. Anyway, they looked after our bikes and ourselves brilliantly so we must say a big thanks to them both (Oscar the dog too).
Over Christmas we had decided to take a little side trip over to Cuba, flying out of Mexico City – which now left us with a week of riding to get there. After two weeks off over Christmas it left us bright eyed and bushy tailed, keen to get back cycling again and in search of more adventure. Scoping out the route there looked to be a lake road we could take on our first day back on the bikes which would lead us all the way to Ocatlan, not too far only about 40 miles or so. We thought it would be an easy intro to get back into the swing of things.
It started out relatively easily, the lake road was pleasant, not too hilly and there wasn’t much traffic either. It was hot, sunny and our legs well rested. As we got further and further on the road started to get less and less maintained. Now Loz isn’t the biggest lover of a bone shaking road but as our day total was only going to be forty miles it didn’t seem too much of an issue. What we didn’t bank on was the road being mortifyingly hilly, instead of following the banks of the lake as we anticipated, the road meandered up and down the adjacent mountain, providing spectacular views and snaking through little fishing villages but forcing Loz into a state of horrendous grumpiness as pushing the bike became more frequent that riding it. We passed through villages where we were chased by school children who were fascinated by our ridiculous bikes, we were laughed at by locals calling us crazy and eventually were stopped by a pick up truck wondering what the hell we were doing. Just to set the scene……. We’d had two weeks off the bikes over Christmas, back at sea level in about 18 degree heat where we had over indulged in all things Christmas related, suddenly we’d been dropped back onto our bikes in 30 plus degree heat at 1500m of altitude. Now I’m sure everybody has seen a fish ride a bicycle but Shamu?! Well, Loz looked like Shamu and not matter how well Sea World had what whale trained I’ve never seen Shamu ride a bicycle. Loz wasn’t having much luck either. We (Loz) had been mainly pushing for approx two hours, the road was a vile combination of rocks, sand and near vertical ascent so when the pick up truck stopped to ask if the two gringos needed help their arm was nearly bitten off. Our bikes were loaded into the back of the truck and we were driven the 10km over the mountain to the beautifully tarmaced main road. Our pride was only slightly dented as the pick up truck also had a fair amount of trouble negotiating the ‘road’, it would have taken us hours to get over the mountain and would have most likely ended up in tears, darkness and possibly an argument. As it happens all things happen for a reason as once we’d profusely thanked our saviour and were firmly back on tarmac a guy called Heilo cycled up behind us….
I was cycling along counting my lucky stars and vowing to eat less food in order to counter the current Shamu situation. A chicken had just crossed the road in front of me and promptly gotten hit by a car, there were feathers everywhere and a white one had just landed on my left thumb. I’m not normally one of being too superstitious but I had a little smile to myself none the less. Next thing I know is a guy cycles up beside me and shouts ‘Hey’ I nearly jumped out of my skin as I had been concentrating too much on chicken feathers to be aware of my surroundings. As quickly as he was there he sprinted off and pulled up next to Herbie about 100m ahead of me. This guy turned out to be Helio and had just offered for us to camp in his garden. I’m sure I’ve gone on about this before but one of the big things we are trying to do on this trip is say ‘yes’ more, so we said ‘yes’. We follow him into town, arrived at his house and promptly insisted he speak to his wife about picking up a couple of strangers on the road. Luckily she had absolutely no trouble with it and before we knew it we were showered, changed and kicking ourselves that our Spanish is so bad. Helio and his wife Daniella have two absolutely wonderful children who seemed pleased enough to have two extra people to play with although they couldn’t quite get their head around why we couldn’t speak Spanish so much have thought we were enormous children ourselves.
The kindness of Mexicans… we’ve had plenty of instances in the trip throughout Mexico where we’ve been bowled over by peoples kindness towards a couple of random cycle tourers this one is an especially overwhelming example where a young family not only offered us a place to stay for the night but also gave us a bed, shared some stories and took us out for supper (insisting on paying for everything) and then sent us on our way with an enormous breakfast the next morning. For some time now we’ve both been in agreement that the people we meet on this trip is what makes it truly special experience and the time we spend with Helio, his wife Daniella, their two incredible children and Daniella’s sister Suzanne was extra special as we got a little glimpse into their lives for at least a brief 24 hrs. It turned out Helio is an avid cyclist himself and he plans to a tour from Canada to Mexico in a couple of years once the children are a little bit older. If you happen to be on the road in 2020 keep an eye out for him!
Leaving Ocatlan on an all time high we pulled over quickly to fill up on water as we knew we had a long hot day ahead. Leaving the supermarket we were stopped by a guy who warned us about going anywhere near the Michoacan county. He spoke perfect English and was quite forceful in his words about how it was a dangerous place for tourists to be. Our massive high suddenly crashed to an uncomfortable low, we started to question ourselves as Michoacan county was exactly where we were heading. Helio and his family knew exactly where we were heading, surely if it were dangerous they would have informed us?! After an uncomfortable discussion we decided to head on our planned route anyway albeit with a little more caution. If we had never met that guy we would be happily pedalling off with big smiles plastered on our faces, should we let one random guy ruin our day? Pedalling off into Michoacan we were a little more wary than before but in true Mexican style we were quickly helped with directions by locals, had the whole fruit and veg store helping Loz find a red onion when she couldn’t remember the word in Spanish (cebolla roja – just incase you were wondering) and were even pulled over by a member of the local government who asked if he could help with anything. Caution still in the back of our minds, Michoacan was proving to be just as friendly as the rest of Mexico! We spent two days climbing into Patzcuaro, made famous by the ‘day of the dead’ celebration on 1st November. The mountain roads were reasonably quiet and it was stunningly beautiful, the only ‘odd’ thing we encountered was the occasional guy stood in the middle of the road with a machine gun. We couldn’t work out if they were police, army or bandits? Fortunately a big smile, wave and a friendly ‘Hola Señor’ seemed to be a good enough reason to let us pass unhurt. We climbed and climbed and climbed, at one point reaching over 2627m in altitude and the garmin reading a max temperature of 40 degrees, towards the end of two days even the beautiful scenery wasn’t enough to keep Loz from complaining.
“we have to go down at some point” said Herbs
“I don’t believe you – you’re lying to me again!”
True love, eh?
Anyway, one of us was right and the other one nearly pooped her pants as she recorded a new top speed of 49mph.
The last day of cycling into Mexico City was an interesting one. Any day in Mexico would not be complete without a motorway incident. We’ve seen busses burst tires, goats being herded down the hard shoulder, more shrines than you can shake a stick at, cows in the middle of the road, horses stood in the back of pick up trucks and people cycling in the wrong direction. Today was a pilgrimage. We were pedalling down the hard shoulder of a pretty busy road into Mexico City and coming towards us was a group of approx twenty people. At first I thought they were a family out to build another shrine for a loved one lost on the road, as we got closer I realised they were carrying a glass casket of what looked like a wax Jesus, another was carrying an enormous cross and others little statues. As we passed I also realised at least one of the men was blind and was being guided – ‘there’s a couple of bicycles heading towards us’ – well, in Spanish but I think that was the gist. Whether it was a pilgrimage or not, a group of religious folks strolling in the wrong direction down the equivalent of the M1 is always a sight to behold.
As the day wore on the road got busier and busier until it was like tackling the north circular in rush hour. At a couple of points over bridges the shoulder we were cycling on got horribly narrow, we were breathing in to try and make ourselves smaller as trucks hurtled past us. Up ahead, another bridge and the shoulder disappeared completely. Loz lost it. In hindsight, it wasn’t the best place to have a breakdown. We were on the motorway shoulder, on a bridge with three lanes of traffic speeding towards us. I wanted to get off, now. However without the help of a helicopter that was impossible, cycling back the wrong way down the motorway wasn’t a good option and jumping off the bridge probably wouldn’t have ended well either. The only option was to wait for a gap in the traffic and pedal like hell. Trying my best (and not succeeding) not to cry like a baby, the rational side of my brain knew that was the only option, but the irrational ‘I’m definitely going to die’ side of my brain was taking over. It took Herbie and age to convince me over that bridge. Eventually I did the only available option and peddled like hell, luckily also managing to avoid all other traffic in the process and we did both make it in one piece to Mexico City.