Day 47 – March 24, 2016 – Morelia to Toluca (by bus)
Today we took a bus to save on more than a week's worth of cycling. Bus fares are incredibly reasonable in Mexico and a common way for the middle class to travel internally. We felt conflicted about it but are behind schedule and looking forward to spending more time exploring Puebla, Oaxaca and Chiapas. The bus ride took about 3 and a half hours. We cycled to the bus station across town in Morelia and hopped on a large, double decker bus that was packed to the gills – and thankfully air-conditioned. The ride was beautiful but we both were a bit sad to pass by so many exquisite places, imagining what it would be like to pedal every mile of it. We both came to the realization that sometimes we might have to hop a bus to save time or money or avoid bad weather. We got to Toluca as the sun was setting and cycled to the home of Seth who ran a cycling co-op and now produces his own bike bags and accessories from recycled bike parts and materials. Check him out at Dos Erre. Mehedi picked up a sweet handle bar bag that has held up extremely well. After chatting with Seth for awhile and checking out his awesome studio and line of bike accessories, we went to bed to get an early start to Nevado de Toluca tomorrow.
Day 48 – March 25, 2016 – The trek to Nevado de Toluca
After much deliberation, we decided to make our way up to Nevado de Toluca by hitchhiking. Nevado de Toluca is an extinct volcano with a crater containing two lakes, La Luna and El Sol, the sun and the moon. The Nahuatl name is Xinantecatl (meaning The Naked Lord), its highest peak standing tall at 15,394 ft elevation.
We hitched our way almost to the rim of the crater and couldn't believe there was a road leading people all the way up, only 2km (a little over a mile) from the crater's edge. We arrived at noon and there were at least 100+ cars already parked at the top. We set up camp in the designated area – flat but exposed – near the ranger's station. As we began prepping lunch, a motorcyclist came down to camp near us for the night. He was also touring, but on his motorcycle. Meeting other travelers is great. Erin got to practice her Spanish and he practiced his English with us. Before sunset, we hiked up to the edge of the crater, a short 2km climb. There were half a dozen snack vendors set up along the trail, and unfortunately, lots of trash. This was not a pristine, undisturbed natural preserve that we hoped to find. We came back down from the crater disappointed by the amount of trash and erosion from heavy foot traffic. We crawled into our tent to escape the incredible winds that ripped across the top of the volcano. By sun down, we were surrounded by a dozen other campers for the night, whose tents were blowing down with the strong gusts. This is one big advantage to having a four season tent – well worth the extra weight. That night, we stayed up late talking about the detrimental effects of heavy tourism and over crowding in places like this, and went to bed wondering how we can leave a positive impact as we continue to travel.
Day 49 – March 26, 2016 – Nevado de Toluca and back to the city of Toluca
After a sleepless night, we crawled out of our tent to watch sunrise and get an early start into the crater. We set out first to circle Lago de la Luna, the smaller lake of the two inside the crater. Not long after we arrived, a group of guys showed up with a bunch of firewood clearly harvested from living trees on their way up the mountain. Having a fire inside the crater is prohibited – as it should be! – in order to preserve the lakes and the surrounding tierra. Frustrating to see! After we hiked around La Luna, we hiked up and around Laguna del Sol, where we found three more groups building fires next to the lake's shore as well. We pulled out our zero-impact cook stove, and cooked up some oatmeal and made chai for breakfast. We talked a lot about how our influence and voice should be used to help educate and inspire people to adopt the "Leave No Trace" ethic. We talked about pollution, the destruction of the natural environment due to unmitigated tourism and lack of education.
We hitchhiked back down the volcano and into the city of Toluca with a wonderful family, whose teenagers enjoyed practicing their English with us. We made our way back to Seth's and had a mellow afternoon reading and writing, yet deeply affected by what we had seen at Nevado de Toluca.
Day 50 – March 27, 2016 – Toluca to Lagunas de Zempoala
We left this morning excited for the day ahead! We rode through the streets of Toluca on Easter Sunday – unusually quiet for this big city and such a nice start to the day. Our first stop was the sweet, small pueblo of Metepec. There were classic Spanish colonial churches that we've seen everywhere, mixed with wild castle-like buildings. Every tienda and home is painted a different, vibrant color. We were charmed and wished that we had stayed here a night, but we still have a lot of ground to cover – yet another reason to return. We cycled on through a string of small towns, slowly ascending up to the mountains that sit between Toluca and Cuernavaca. After lunch in Tonantzin (yep, avocado salad with tostadas again!), we were flagged down at a police checkpoint. As Mehedi rolled up, the cops noticed there was a machete on his bike, and this gave them the perfect opportunity to extort a bit of money out of us.
"You need a permit to carry a weapon like that," they said.
"Sirs, it is not a weapon. We are living on our bicycles and camping – this is for firewood. It is not used as a weapon. We are not looking for any trouble," Mehedi told them.
"The fine is 5,000 pesos. You'll have to go back into town and pay it," they told us.
"Please sirs, we don't have that money," we told them.
"Then what can you pay?" they asked, clearly implying they were willing to take a bribe. It is common knowledge that the police are corrupt in Mexico and rather openly encourage people to bribe them.
Ten minutes later, we were on our way after paying our first bribe to cops in Mexico – 200 pesos or about $17 USD. Oh well. Onward!
Before our ascent into the mountains, we stopped for a coconut water at a roadside vendor. We did not have much shoulder and the traffic began picking up in the late afternoon, but we still had a lot of ground to cover. After several hours of climbing into the mountains, we descended at dusk several miles to Lagunas de Zempoala. The park rangers gave us a beautiful, safe spot to camp overlooking the lake and close to the ranger's station. We later were told this area is dangerous and a popular local gang hang-out. There were about fifty people when we arrived at dusk, and all of them left shortly thereafter as the park was closing. The rangers were very kind, even offering us some of their local mezcal and assuring us we'd be safe camping near the station. We were safe indeed, and Lagunas de Zempoala was a highlight of this leg for us.
Day 51 – March 28, 2016 – Lagunas de Zempoala to Cuernavaca
We started our day with a quick, steep descent into the city of Cuernavaca. We had to stop halfway down the hill to give our brakes a rest as they were extremely hot from the steep descent, and we noticed that several cars with smoking breaks also had to stop for the same reason. We arrived in Cuernavaca by the early afternoon and waited for our kind Warmshowers host, Marianna, a friend of a friend of Seth's from Toluca. We tried the traditional dish, tlayudas – a thick corn tortilla filled with beans and topped with nopales, cheese and salsa. Delicious! Aside from occasional seafood, we've been almost entirely vegetarian on our trip. When we try the local cuisine, it reinforces that decision! The food was absolutely amazing, and served with sweet smiles and laughter by a local woman and her two young daughters working their small food cart on the busy streets of Cuernavaca.
On our way to Marianna's, we stopped to pick up her son Isais, and met her father Joel, who was really interested and supportive of our journey. We went back to Marianna's, where we chatted over dinner, and caught some good sleep. We stayed with Marianna for three nights and her father Joel for a night during our stay in Cuernavaca.
It is very warm here during the day, hard to believe it's only the beginning of Spring. We have so much heat ahead of us – summer in the tropics awaits!
We have also been in several large cities lately: Morelia, Toluca, now Cuernavaca, and soon we will be in Puebla. We both seem to be longing for the quiet countryside.
On our last day, we got an early start leaving Cuernavaca and were both excited to get back on the road. After leaving Marianna's house, we had an unfortunate delay.
Erin was cycling a bit too fast down a hill, accidentally bumped into Mehedi on her right, which sent her directly into heavy traffic on the left, where she was hit by a car. The car ran over her front tire, but thankfully, she was okay – just a few bruises and scratches. The bike however, needed a new shifter cable and front wheel, so it meant we'd have to stay in Cuernavaca for another day.
Joel came and picked us up and helped us out – picking us up, bringing Erin's bike to a local bike shop for repairs, and then generously took us out for a delicious lunch of soft tacos with chile rellenos and all the fixings. He then let us get settled into his house for the night. Erin was pretty shaken up about the whole thing, and ended up taking a long nap in the afternoon. In the evening, Joel and his wife insisted on taking us out for dinner as well.
Have we mentioned the incredible hospitality in Mexico, yet? Only every single blog post so far...
Tomorrow we set out for Cholula and Puebla.
Day 55 – April 1, 2016 – Cuernavaca to Cuautla to Cholula
We left Cuernavaca this morning for our two to three day trek to Cholula/Puebla. We first cycled into a town called Tepoztlan, a beautiful Pueblo Mágico, set against enormous cliffs. We had lunch on the plaza – tacos with all the fixings from the market. It was a hot day! Tepoztlan was truly lovely, definitely a place we both want to return. We continued on a small, two-lane highway out of town and then linked up with the autopista. Unfortunately, the autopista had a very small shoulder and at a certain point, the guardrails eliminated what little shoulder we had. After yesterday's accident, the high-speed, heavy traffic and no shoulder were too much for Erin. We pushed onto the next big town, Cuautla, where we would take a bus to Puebla so Erin could recover from her car accident.
As we cycled through Cuautla, a nice man who ran a restaurant stopped us. We chatted with him for a bit about our travels and he offered us refreshments. We weren't sure about the bus schedule, so we didn't take him up on his kind offer, and instead hustled our way to the bus station through the busy streets of Cuautla. Our bus to Puebla left town about an hour later, and we arrived safely at around 8:30pm.
We booked an Airbnb for two nights in the colonial town of Cholula, that has a lot of history and the largest pyramid in the world. After arriving in Puebla, we had a 10 mile ride to our place in Cholula. After an hour and a half navigating Puebla after dark, our Airbnb host kindly offered to pick us up and take us the last couple of miles into Cholula. It was a very long day, but we were happy to shower and fall into a cozy bed.
A few words from Erin...
We write our blog and journal together, but I just want to take a moment to contextualize how hard this day was, and how hard this whole thing has been for me. I had never done anything like this before we started in February. I spent a bit of time commuting to and from work when I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but nothing can train you for living and traveling on your bicycle except living and traveling on your bicycle. It's been trial by fire. When I got into the wreck in Cuernavaca, I was deeply considering going home. My fear gripped me. It told me I was crazy for doing this, that I'd never finish, that Mexico to Argentina on a bicycle was an absurd goal for such a novice like me and I should just fly home already. But here I was in the middle of Mexico (literally), and the prospect of quitting now seemed so much worse than continuing on. Besides, I want to go to the end of the earth with my cariño. If I was going to succeed in the long term goal, I had to focus on one day at a time.
So I called my family for support. They told me to get off the bike for awhile, walk, meditate, read. They told me to stop worrying and focus on all those miles I cycled safely before I got into an accident. They told me no matter what, just keep going. I'm glad I listened. I write this now from San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, just before we are about to cross the border into Guatemala. I've had many hard days since that day in Cuernavaca, but I can't believe we're here. We have cycled half of Mexico now. This is not a race, it's a journey. But every day that I think about quitting, I tell myself: just keep going. And when the going gets tough, we take time off to rest and recover. Given that it is now the end of May, it is obvious that this is going to take us well over a year to finish.
Day 56-57 – April 2-3, 2016 – Cholula
We spent the next two days imbiding in the culture of Cholula. It is a deeply religious place boasting one church for every day of the year. We opted to take mellow, unloaded rides around town to get Erin back to feeling relaxed on the bike.
Exploring Cholula was wonderful, especially our visits to the market. We loaded up on fresh fruits and veggies, and most notably, the best mole we had in all of Mexico. We found peanut butter and a wide variety of moles, tahini and pepian butters. We also tried chapulines (grasshoppers), a local favorite – fried up with lime and chili, they are surprisingly palatable. In the evenings, we wrote, read, Erin practiced yoga and Mehedi carved a spoon.
Cholula is beautiful but has a dark past. In the center of town resides an enormous church built atop what stands to be the largest pyramid in the world – a sinister representation of the colonialism that dominated pre-Hispanic culture in this part of the world. Sadly this is not the only church in the area to be built on top of a meso-American religious site. Colonialism runs deep here.
Day 58 – April 4, 2016 – Cholula to Puebla
We spent the morning packing up and sorting out our gear. We separated a whole bunch of stuff that could be sent home or gotten rid of. After one last visit to town, we packed up and checked out. The ride to Puebla was windy and interesting and it's always fun to explore back roads and small nooks of a city. After about two hours of riding, we arrived at the families house of one of Mehedi's very close friends, Jose Antonio. We were warmly welcomed by Tony's father Jose Amador, uncles Nacho and Adolfo, and grandmother. Later we enjoyed some delicious platano and lentil soup that Tony's abuela prepared. It was wonderful to be around a family – especially one of a close friend. We enjoyed watching sunset from the roof of their house, with an incredible view of Itzacahuatl and Popocateptl – two nearby volcanoes.
Day 59 – April 5, 2016 – Puebla
We awoke early in order to beat the heat, and went for a nice walk to the Cinco de Mayo memorial with Amador and Nacho. It was an interesting memorial, yet a bit depressing as we saw Puebla's air pollution from the top of the memorial. Afterwards, we returned to the house to rest, eat and escape the heat. Puebla is very hot and the smog seems to make it worse. In the afternoon, once it had cooled off a bit, we ventured out to explore the center, or Zócalo, of Puebla. The plazas and gardens are beautiful with large fountains and abundant vegetation. Puebla has a nice charm and the locals give off friendly, warm vibes. People go out of their way to help you with directions, ask you where you're from and then tell you someone they know once traveled to New Mexico. Smiles are warm and wide and the proof is in the mole! Another thing we noticed was the variety of great street art. Later, we returned to Amador's casa, where we had supper with the family. Another truly wonderful day. We are very excited because tomorrow Mehedi's father Benyamin arrives! He will join us from Puebla to Oaxaca over the next two weeks.
Day 60 – April 6, 2016 – Puebla/D.F. Mexico
We began our day by organizing and packing up all of our gear. By 10am we were out of the house and on our way to the bus station. Erin stayed, explored Puebla and worked on the blog while Mehedi took a bus to Mexico City to rendezvous with Benyamin. Around 6pm Mehedi and Benyamin returned to Puebla and we all met up at a cozy, clean and inexpensive Airbnb. We had enough time in the evening to cycle around the Zócalo, visit some Talavera shops and vendors before having a delicious meal of mole enchiladas with a pitcher of tamarind juice. It is so nice to have family here and we are looking forward to our ride to Oaxaca together.