Mexico: Hidden Edens and High Sierras

When I came out of Parque Nacional Izta-Popo my intention was to skirt the city and head towards a few more national parks, I was doing my best to avoid the sprawling mess of Ciudad Mexico.

Unfortunately, as I learned, cities on that scale seem to have their own gravity which is hard to outrun on a bike. I spent most of the day riding through slummish extents of the city, and at about 5pm figured I needed to find somewhere to sleep. Cities not being the best place to camp rough, I set about asking people where to find a cheap bed for the night. Now, it could be that people who actually live in an area rarely know the places that rent beds, or it could be that there was simply no market where I was FOR beds, but I was greeted each time with a simple ‘no hay’. There was nowhere to sleep at the edge of Mexico City.

What followed was a comedy of errors as my 70km day turned into 105km and in that time I was still yet to find any district that looked like it might put me up. I asked a cop and he told me of an infirm care place near the hospital. I walked in, was offered a bed, and within the hour left again as I realised this really might be bordering on an abuse, given that I was sharing a room with weeping to-be widows presumably watching their loved ones die.

I wandered around in the dark and even looked in one of the rooms of a by the hour auto hotels to see what it might hold. The answer i found was an enormous room with a bed wider than it was long and a shower large enough for 4-5 people. It also had a stripper pole and a light switch that activated a pulsing lightshow. I didn’t look at the TV but my bet is that it was porn rich. It was well outside my price range anyway and at midnight I sat myself under an overpass to doze and wait out the morning.

In the morning I started climbing up into the National Park but a combination of fatigue and defeat had me turn around when it started raining at high elevations. I rode quickly into the centre of Mexico City and found a place to sleep off the experience for a few nights.

When I finally left the city I headed to a region I’d learnt about back in Oaxaca – Huasteca Potosina.

Climbing up towards the Potosina area in Hidalgo

Could have been back in Colombia or Central America

 

The ride north to Huasteca was some of the most beautiful riding I’ve had for a while. The scenery just kept changing and keeping me guessing. At one point I dropped down into a cactus rich desert and then found almost the steepest climb out to a village which might have been lost from Europe. The rain started and the climbs became green before again dropping down into a steamy valley which spelled that I was getting close.

The Huasteca is essentially a cultural region once occupied by the Huastecs, it’s a lush green area sloping down to the gulf of Mexico with an abundance of natural waterfalls, enormous cave systems and turquoise blue rivers. I ended up spending about a week down there riding short days between waterfalls and washing myself every night (what a luxury).

Natural ice cold springs in the Huasteca Potosina region

As I left Huasteca I climbed steeply up towards San Luis Potosi and veered into the small town of Rayón along the way. A gent in a mini-market was impressed by my story and bought me a bottle of powerade, then adjusted to buying all of my groceries for me – about $20 worth. My Spanish failed me at such a kind act but I think he appreciated how grateful I was. The woman who ran the store set about contacting her friends to see who would put me up for the night, but when she couldn’t get in contact I went to the municipal plaza instead to ask about camping in the main square. The president of the town looked at me and then told me there was a room behind the palace for people like me.

Cheeky bivvy at the top of Cascada Tamul

The natural pools near Cascada Tamul

 

So I was lead out back to a bare room with a couple of beds, access to a bathroom and a tap for bucket showers. Such luxury I don’t come by too often and since I hadn’t rested in almost 2 weeks I decided to stay a few nights in the sleepy little town to talk shop and drink beers with the sombrero clad men in the main plaza.

Afterwards I spent a pretty quick few days riding to head to San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas and then Durango and gaze at the pretty colonial cities for a few days at a time. After the 2 weeks out of Mexico City it was actually a pleasant time, with easy access to provisions and lots of good Mexican food to eat. The pick of the lot was Zacatecas, where I was put up by Francisco, who lived just about in the main plaza of the city and kept a small room on the roof of his building for cyclists

Climbing back up to the Sierra the landscape changed and sharp things threatened all my camping gear

Zacatecas was by far the most unique and interesting place I’ve visited in a while, with buildings built right up to the street and the whole town on board with a rustic old typography in monochrome to announce the businesses and bars scattered along the romantic cobbled alleyways. Again I tried to leave quickly but the beauty of the place, and the warmth of the hospitality kept me there for 4 nights. On the last night I made camp on a steel platform built on the roof of Francisco’s building to watch the sky darken and the city lights turn on while I drank beers.

Between Zacatecas and Durango I headed out into the hot and dusty High Sierra to search for small towns and big stories. What I found instead was some of the most challenging riding with rough pitted roads and very limited access to provisions and water. I don’t know what the temperature was but it made me realise for the first time that the route I’m planning for North America is going to be a bit of a character test for sure. I made it to a small mining camp after a few days and very gladly accepted the help of a seasonal worker there who was heading the 60km or so to Durango the following day. He put me up in a cot in the mine dorms and we headed off early the next morning to the city where I could rest for a few days.

The dusty backroads of Durango’s high sierra

The cowboys of San Miguel de la Michilía

 

Finally I felt like I was getting closer to Baja California, which I guessed would be the point that it really felt like I was close to the USA, but before I made it there I had to tackle el Espinazo del Diablo, a famous stretch of road linking Durango to Mazatlan on the coast.

A few years ago they finished the construction of a new toll road to parallel the old one, which holds claim to the most number of road tunnels and bridges in the world. While my engineering background had me wanting to check it out, the toll roads in Mexico are off limits to cyclists and I knew that the old road would offer better hospitality, quieter roads and campsites and better scenery too. Occasionally the road would flitter close to the toll road and I would see dramatic tunnels and bridges, but then it would disappear back into pine forests which would become my bed for the next 3 nights. When I finally did arrive in Mazatlan I spent a few nights looking for a private yacht which might take me across to Baja, before finally giving up on the idea and swallowing my pride and the $100 price tag which came with the commercial ferry crossing to the peninsula.

El Espinazo del Diablo

Baja California lay itself out ahead of me from here, and, at least at that point, I had no idea how hot and dry the landscape would become as I tested myself in the desert for the 1500km stretch to the border with the United States of America and a long awaited burger.

2 comments

  1. Hey Jesse, this is another extraordinary post of an extraordinary journey full of amazing places and people. Incredible! Good luck with the desert crossing and your American burger. I’m sorry you won’t be at my 60th birthday that we’ve decided to celebrate on 12 August, we but will toast you in your absence. Go well, Nigel

  2. Right on Jesse. Thanks for writing such a descriptive story to your journey through Mexico. Consider yourself a badass, and I’m rooting for you to finish strong. Keep it up, mate!

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