Queretaro, Mexico. A long-awaited home visit.

Outside of the Sheep Mountain visitor center up in Yukon, Canada, a couple came over and started chatting. They’re from Mexico, and invited me to their home once I made it that far. I finally got there last week, to Queretaro, Mexico, a city northeast of Mexico City, with a beautiful colonial center. Here’s what we looked like, then and now.

Day 20, July 2013:
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Day 198, January 2014:
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Thanks Irene and Chris for having me!

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Mexico City; DF

A rest, here, for 5 days, the first actual rest in Mexico. Anonymity in the enormous city, in the hostel too, Ace hides in a safe place on the roof so to everyone else at the hostel I’m just some scraggly bearded American wearing the same clothes over and over. Which we’re all doing but rain pants and a cycling cap, what’s with that bro?

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I’m here with Daniel, below, who biked across the US last year and just graduated from Ohio State, moving to Sacramento soon to start working with AmeriCorps. Thanks for coming to visit!
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We spend the days touring the city, eating, playing cards. This city is epic, so much character, so much to do. We stayed in the city center by the Zocalo, the central plaza.

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Coyoacan lies south of the city center. It’s a beautiful colonial center, where Cortes originally built his home until problems with the Aztecs forced him to move back to their part of the city. There are big indoor markets here, street artists outside, cobblestones and elaborate churches. Also apparently an extremely popular coffee shop, just look for the place where everyone -everyone- is walking away from with a take-out cup decorated in the red, white, and green of the Mexican flag. Frida Kahlo’s home, the Blue House, it too is in Coyoacan as well. The house is a kind of contradiction, vibrantly painted, visually beautiful, but the artwork and the history of Frida inside bears witness to the pain and struggle of her life.

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Coyoacan, colonial, elegant.

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Then there’s Xochimilco, south-southwest of the center. The area is full of canals, upon which people rent long, flat boats and are paddled around for an hour or two or three, perfect for a little fiesta on the water. Mariachi bands and food vendors float around on boats of their own, entertaining, feeding.

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Festive.

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And a day tour to Puebla, a colonial city to the west of the city famed for its churches. Here, the Chapel of the Rosario, was deemed the eighth wonder of the Old World when completed in the 17th century, due to its ornateness. Every surface inside covered with gold gilding, unbelievable.
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Old World charm in the New World.

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More, on top of the world, the view from the Pyramid of Cholula, third largest pyramid in the world. Although the Spanish built a church on top of the pyramid, and now the pyramid itself is a tad overgrown with grass and trees, so from many angles tends to resemble a large hill.

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Other pyramids, in Teotihuacan. We stand atop the Pyramid of the Moon, the Pyramid of the Sun in the background left. Pyramid of the Sun = 7th largest pyramid in the world.

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Not to be missed, anywhere in Mexico, are the panaderias. All of these bakeries, phenomenal! Variety in opulence, from sugar-cookies to the Mexican conchas, those balls of soft enriched dough with a hardened sugar coating resembling a sea-shell, to cake “popsicles”, to whole wheat biscuits with a light chocolate coating. We did our due diligence tasting as many as we could…

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Yes please…

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Save room for dessert… Or maybe midday snack?

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Some of the best whole wheat pastries ever. So filling, and so tasty. Those rectangles in the background? Perfect for soon-to-be-less-hungry cyclists.

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Also, our favorite quesadilla stand in the city. Figuring out the Mexican eating times has taken a little while. Many street food stands are open starting late morning until the evening, but promptly close at 5 or 6. The Mexicans favor a more substantial lunch and a (much later) lighter dinner, not exactly the American schedule.

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Eating well in Mexico, check.

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But not everything is fun and games and food. A week or two ago some leaf-cutter ants visited me and the tent one night. Apparently they have a taste for tent mesh, so the inner layer of my tent now has quite a few holes and tears. A morning spent sewing up the worst offenses, productive, though now portions of the mesh look like there are giant spiders crawling up the sides. Quite a sight to wake go to. But so far it’s still usable, so that’s that.

Photos; Northeast Mexico

From the border to the metropolis. Tamaulipas to San Luis Potosi to Hidalgo to El Estado De Mexico. The Mexican people are friendly, always. Sometimes boys in town will ride alongside me for a ways, men wave and smile, though older women tend to shuffle past, studiously ignoring my strangeness. The landscape changes, desert, mountain, city, it’s all here.

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Sweeping downhills, after the sweaty uphills.

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Crossing the Tropic of Cancer.

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Framebag life.

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In a Catholic country, I tip my hat to every roadside shrine in hopes of making it to the next one safely.

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Shrimp lunch, dodging the afternoon heat, $6.

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Sugar cane, by the truckload. We both climb hills at nearly the same speed.

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Mountain life.

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Pedestrian walkway that Ace and I are just a bit too wide for.

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Host, Hipolito, in Matlapa.

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Tortilleria Lupita, Matlapa. The smell of fresh tortillas in every town ranks highly on the list of good things about Mexico.

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Urban single track.

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Aptly named hills.

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Perched on the edge, winding from town to town.

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Among the cacti and the rocks.

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Representing some of the best of Mexico: tacos and Coca-Cola. And the ever-present salsas, ranging from hot to fiery. Quite dangerous to sun-chapped lips.

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And other dinners, cooked on my tiny alcohol stove. Finding camping spots has rarely been a problem. Those out of sight are best, though cacti and spiky vines tend to imply that the ground will be littered with thorns. My inflatable mattress pad loses a noticeable amount of air during the night by now, though for being older than I am it’s doing pretty good. Plus, the less comfortable it is in the morning, the more likely I am to get moving sooner.

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Part of the town square in Tizayuca. Wall murals and brightly painted buildings exist everywhere here. Whatever else it may be, Mexico is certainly a pretty country.

Safely in Mexico City

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Who needs the hassle of dodging buses and taxis when you can ride in a bike party instead? Outside of Tizayuca, I met a group of cyclists heading to the Basilica de Guadalupe in the center of Mexico City. 120 riders on a pilgrimage, almost entirely riding single speeds with those flared out moustache handlebars. Great to ride in a pack in a city, especially this packed city.

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Here for a few days with Daniel. Time for tacos, panaderias, and more.

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Into the mountains, through San Luis Potosi to Hidalgo.

Through Mexico, such a land of variety. Over the past few days traverse a different climate each day. The changes start with that invisible line, Tropic of Cancer, here designated by a giant yellow ball vivisected by a bold black stripe in the appropriate place. Immediately the humidity descends, welcome back, first time in months. Proceed on the road hemmed in by mango trees on each side, which give way to sugarcane fields and sweltering heat. But it’s harvest time, so the men are out chopping down the stalks with their machetes and piling the bundles into increasingly older trucks that clank by. Soon the mountains begin, ascending first into what looks almost like rainforest, jungle, and more sugarcane, then steadily descending and climbing out of small villages successively selling oranges and grapefruit and mandarins, plantains. At the entrances to many villages banners of flags colored red, green, and white fly. I’m reminded of the stories of prayer flags flying high in the Himalayas; are the ones here on account of the recent holidays or is it just a common tradition in mountains everywhere?

Progress another day or two higher into the mountains, and the tropical trees are replaced by the more familiar pines, with a cactus here or there for good measure. The roads narrow, increasingly hewn right out of the mountain sides, same with the buildings and towns, which become increasingly farther in between. Every so often come to a bigger town which is clearly the center of commerce for the villages surrounding it, with stores and fruit carts lining the main street, and plenty of houses perched on the nearby hills. Outside of these centers there’s a quietude and peacefulness to the hills. Birds soar and tweet, drivers and passerbys imitate them with a language of whistles and calls that take the place of verbal greetings.

Mist and clouds roil about, enforcing that sense of calm in their own way. Will enjoy it while it lasts, another day or two here then heading down to Mexico City to meet up with a cousin. Sure to be an entirely different environment.

Shoutout to Hipolito and family, a cyclist who passed me one day and invited me to his home in Matlapa. Many thanks for showing me around. Cycling community and human kindness extends everywhere.

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Mexico; Tamaulipas

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Cross the bridge from McAllen, drop into a world where the chipped paint on the buildings is merely a backdrop for the bold written proclamations of things for sale. Evident right away too is the smell of gasoline fumes, off cars predominantly older but also smaller from their counterparts across the bridge. But there’s also a big public park right across the street too, and at least one in nearly every town big enough to have more than just a main street.

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Drivers have all been courteous so far. The secondary highways have little enough traffic, and the main ones usually have at least two lanes per side, so plenty of room for drivers to pass. Everyday to Ciudad Victoria featured strong winds coming off the Gulf, so with those and to avoid stressing my knee I’ve been sticking to 100km days. Nice to be back in the metric system again, though Celsius temperature reports still take some getting used to. The weather warmed up again, sunny cloudless sweat-filled ice-cream-in-the-afternoon days.

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From Ciudad Victoria, heading more or less south with mountains looming visibly to the west. Need to improve my Spanish pronto, the usual anticipated questions aren’t too bad but everything else takes a few seconds to process. Thankfully there’s time, and nowhere to go but up. Until next time.

On the border; McAllen, TX.

Resting for a few days, cleaning equipment and sending some final unneeded things back home. Flashbacks to Tok, Alaska when the same thing was happening, all the Americans shipping stuff away at US postal rates to avoid carrying it through Canada. Been spending most of my days here out and about at various coffee shops and taquerias eavesdropping on Spanish conversations to start getting used to the accent. Right knee was giving me a little bit trouble on the final two days into McAllen, hoping rest and ibuprofen takes care of it. Thankfully the land around here is flat.

Planning route into Mexico. Main advice from other cyclists has been to get 2-3 days of riding south of the border to get through questionable border violence area, so next town I’m aiming for is Ciudad Victoria. On a positive note, a few weeks ago the New York Times published an article about conditions in Juarez starting to improve. So there’s hope?

Happy new year!