Escaping the City

Mexico City provides a short reprieve from the road. We wander the city, eating cups full of fruit and vegetables. It’s bigger than it looks on the map and my legs get a lot exercise.

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There’s a bike path south, out of the city that follows the railroad. We ask about it, and again and again are told it’s dangerous. A nice bike shop helps us plan an alternate route south. We weave in and out of traffic. Stopping and going, slowly finding our way out. Raw sewage runs across the road and I fail to avoid it. I wish for soap and a place to wash my hands. Tyndall has some gastrointestinal distress. One could say it was a bit of a shitty situation.

Donkeys hauling wood reappear. Nopale farms cover the hillsides. The air is thin and smokey. The city is slowly releasing it’s grasp. Mexico’s two highest peaks loom above the smog. We’re riding towards the Paseo del Cortes, a road that sneaks between the two giants.

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I look up and see what looks like an ash cloud spewing from Popcatepetl. A few minutes later, another one. I stop and look around. No one else seems concerned. We keep riding.

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The road winds up through pine forests. At the top, we take in the view before enjoying the dirt road descent down the other side.

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Farms reappear for a short time. Then, cars and people everywhere on the outskirts of Puebla.

Elaborate churches dot the cityscape. In Cholula we try pulque. A drunk lawyer is adamant that we can’t follow our desired route to Oaxaca. He insists there are narcotrafficers there.

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We find our own way from Puebla, taking a bus for a bit to try and leave the people and smog behind. We succeed, sort of. I’m craving silence and wide open vistas free of human evidence. Women with children, men riding bicycles. Everyone is looking for their space in the world.

Every night fireworks are let off. Loud blasts fill the air. I’m not sure if this is a usual occurance, or if there’s something special going on this week. The roosters in the country seem pleasant in comparison.

We point our wheels toward Oaxaca, curious about southern Mexico.

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Finding Green in the Sierra Madre Oriental

From Zacatecas we head east and south, but mostly east. We’re trying to shake the desert, but it’s got a hold on us. Ojocaliente, Ahualulco, San Nicholas Tolentino, Rio Verde, Cardenas.¬† Camping under a big Joshua Tree seems like a good idea, until I impale my head on it for the third time. Look before you sit around here, there might be something spiny out to get you.

Finally, finally we see green. The landscape changes. Birdsong fills the air. From Las Canoas to Tomosopo we drop down into a lush green valley. At the bottom, cane field after cane field. We share farm roads with trucks piled high, some with cane and some with kids cane pickers.

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Instead of cookies, I stuff my frame bag with fruit. Oranges and bananas of all kinds are available.

Rio Tampaon has the type of camping we have been craving. The grass is kept clipped by a revolving cast of horses. A skunk wanders by, and we hold our breathes. He doesn’t notice us, or just doesn’t care.

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Green is good.

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Tanchachin. Aquismon.

We pretend we are tourists at Sotano de las Golindrinas. By luck, we arrive in the evening and see the swallows returning to the cave. I just sit and watch, as they enter the cave by the hundreds in a big whoosh of wind.

In Xilitla we do the same, and spend an hour or two poking around Las Pozas. It’s nice, I suppose.

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We have never been good tourists, so leave the attractions behind and look for the places no one else visits. The roads wind up and down and around and over and through the mountains.

Agua Zarca. Pisaflores.

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Coffee is grown up high. Flat spaces are hard to find. Our kilometers per day decrease as our calf muscles increase. One day we climb 6,000 feet in 24 miles. I (try to) find zen in turning the pedals.

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Juarez. Metztitlan. Flat ground.

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The main road moves us south for a bit before we wander off again. Up in the high, dry hills I question my judgment. Climb high enough though, and the high dry hills turn to oak trees and pine forests. People live here, farming terraced fields ringed with magauey plants.

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One final climb up out of Mineral del Chico and we’re deposited onto a high plateau. It’s (mostly) all down hill from here.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

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My tires hum as I turn the pedals quickly over flat ground, but already I miss the mountains. Life is simpler there.

After some mapping mishaps, we have realized Google Maps is the best. Download a section for offline use and go. You might be surprised at where you end up.