The 10 days to Chiapas from D.F. have been filled with such diversity. This is the Mexico that I have been so excited to ride through. The autopista (the toll way) ended in Oaxaca city, so since that point we have been riding through the only main road in these parts. Its great because it goes right through the small towns and villages, but a lot of times there is no shoulder and it seems to go over every mountain possible.
The night before we reached Oaxaca city we camped off of the side of the autopista. It had been raining for a couple of hours, but this was the first time it was raining as it was getting dark. We found a nice place to camp and set up my tent in the rain. Then we unpacked our bikes in the rain. Then we cooked and ate dinner in the rain. Then we brushed our teeth in the rain and then got in the tent and slept through the night while it rained. You know that you have gotten use to your environment when you no longer notice the negative aspects. I mean, there we were, on the side of the road, cooking our dinner in the rain and it seemed perfectly normal. Good thing for quality rain gear.
Oaxaca city is beautiful, despite how touristy it is. This was my second time there, so I knew where to head. JC headed out to visit the Monte Albun Ruins, which are definitely worth a visit, and I explored the Ricardo Flores Magon Cultural center. They had a small exhibit from a local artist, which wasn’t as good as the exhibit on punk last time I was there, but good nonetheless. Later I stumbled into a free indy cinema that was showing free short films from all over Latin America. One was about a guy in prison in Mexico and another was about this crazy healing ‘doctor’ in Cuba who heals people by pulling on them and slapping them around. Some of the other films I have no idea what they were about. JC and me met up later on, comparing stories mostly about all the food we had consumed throughout the day. I am a street vendors dream. I ask what it is, what’s in it, then more often than not, I buy it. yum.
After Oaxaca city you are in a whole different Mexico. The Spanish is different. The food is different. The site of two gringos on bikes is much more of a scene. The first day out of the city we had a large climb, then an 11-mile downhill complete with switchbacks and banked curves. About half way down I got a flat, to the delight of an entire construction crew. I pulled over to fix it, and next thing I know there are 18 people gathered around me! First it was strange when I realized that they were about 15 on average, than even stranger when not one of them said a word to me. All just quietly and patiently watched me change a tube. I initiated conversation a bit, but only the foreman, the only one over 20, spoke with me. I finished, said adios, and they all said ‘adios’ in unison. A mile later I caught up with JC, we rolled through a military checkpoint, and into one the restaurant/store/house deals that we so often see. There’s where our next adventure began.
They ask the usual questions, then ask where we are going ahorita (right now), we say we don’t know, they laugh, then invite us to sleep there. The local drunk guy was in perfect form. Saying all sorts of crazy things. ‘Whose better George Bush or Osama Bin Laden?’, ‘Eating chilies will make you ride faster’, ‘You need to have a girl for the mountains cause its cold there’. He also insisted on asking us if we were gay about 1000 times. Anyway, we cooked dinner amidst 20 questions about food and my stove, then hung out with the family and some of the 15 yr old construction workers. Around 1030 we decide to go to sleep. Well, that plan didn’t work out to well. Apparently people in Mexico don’t sleep. The construction kids were up till well past 130am firing down beers and the women of the house were outside mopping before 530am. Amazing. We said our goodbyes after buying some fruit and water and rolled off into another strange day.
We spent the next night in a community center in a village that isn’t even on my map. We enquired about a place to sleep and everyone directed us to El Centro de municipal like it was perfectly normal for two gringos to roll in on bikes and sleep there. One of the workers, showed us to a storage room, opened the windows, and showed us where the bathroom was. It was so odd for it to seem so routine to house touring cyclists. The center was a beehive. The women had a volleyball game going, kids on bikes we were everywhere, tons of the men hanging out, teenagers playing basketball. We cooked dinner in the mix of it all, where we were the ridicule of the men near us. ‘That looks like dog food’, ‘Soybeans make your penis go limp’, and ‘you look like a rooster with that haircut’. Its good to know that even in Mexico I am made fun of for what I eat and look like! Most people were cool, and we ended up playing basketball and hanging out pretty late.
So there we are, pedaling along through the isthmus of tehuantepec, when things got weird. First we lost the shoulder when our highway split from the 185 highway. Then the trucks and the people we passed weren’t so friendly. The sky became overcast. Next thing we see is a man on the side of the road waving for us to stop. We evaluate the situation, he is with a women, has a nicer truck with a license plate, and is dressed casually. We pull over. He asks about our Spanish, we respond, ‘Si, hablamos un poco’, and he starts ranting and raving ultra fast about how dangerous it is where we are. We got him to slow down, and he tells us where we are is very poor and that there has been a string of assaults recently. Some bandits held up a gas truck not too long ago. We ask about camping and he says absolutely not. He is from San Cristobal, Chiapas and offers to drive us there. We politely decline. He says good-bye and we get back to riding.
Now it is getting darker and looks like it will rain. Tension increases and we start look at everyone with a little fear. This feeling had not been a part of this trip at all. We decide to hurry onto the next village. When we roll in we get some odd looks instead of the usual smile and friendly greetings. In the store the woman says she knows of no such place to sleep. Little kids ride bye without laughing or saying hello. What the hell is going on? Then the woman comes out and suggests the centro de salud, or the health center. Perfect. We gun it to there. Inside a very friendly woman in her 20’s sees our bikes and understands our questions in broken Spanish. She takes us to see the ‘Commadante’ of the village. He happens to be across the street with a bunch of people. I told her that I study nutrition and she misunderstood and introduces me as a student of medicine. Oops. We clarify and the Commadante and the local doctor are very helpful. They tell us there is a Dengue Fever epidemic and that we have to sleep inside.
Next think I know, we are in the back of a pick-up truck with our bikes and about 6 men with rifles. They take us to an empty house, unlock it, show us around, and then leave. They also told us they would guard the house throughout the night. Suddenly we have an entire house to ourselves! Unbelievable. Sometimes I can’t even believe the situations I end up in. So we spend the night on the floor of this house, hoping to not catch dengue fever. In the morning we took pictures of the various animals who made their home on this property and went back to el centro de salud to thank them and because I wanted their address. The Doctora who helped us the night before was again very friendly and happy to give me the address. Then she gave me her personal email. Nice. We left happy and pedaled off through the danger zone into Chiapas.
We had a 12-mile climb into the state of Chiapas and it was one of the most memorable experiences of this entire trip. It started ultra hot and humid. Within a couple of miles it started getting dark and raining. It felt so nice. So nice that we didn’t bother with rain gear. Then it started down pouring! oops. We at least got our jackets on and kept going up. Huge streams of water were rushing down the road. Then we turned a corner and there was a flash flood! It was coming off the mountain to our left, running across the road, and into the valley on the right. At first we road, then it got to deep and the current too strong. We had to carry our bikes through the rushing water while trying to avoid rocks tumbling down the mountain through the water. We took our time because there was no guardrail, there was nothing, to our right to prevent us from falling off the road into the valley if we would of slipped. Amazing. We eventually got to the top where the state of Chiapas welcomed us. It was a very important moment for me because riding to Chiapas has been on my mind for so long. And now here I am. Successfully have ridden my bike here. We asked in the first village about sleeping and they directed us to a hotel 8 kilometers further on. We got charged a gringo fee, but it was worth to be able to dry our stuff and cook out of the rain. Also gave us a chance to empty the 5-inch puddles from our panniers.
After some more climbs and a beautiful descent into the valley we are in the capital city of Tuxtla Guiterrez. We’ve done the usual, eat at the vegetarian restaurant, hang out in the zocolo, listen to our favorite song by the band ketchup, and eat lots of street food. Unfortunately, JC has come down with what every gringo fears when traveling: The runs. Long morning in the bathroom for JC means today is a day off. We got him some medicine (no prescription needed and it cost less than $4!! The USA could learn a lot from Mexico when it comes to health care…) and ahorita he is sleeping in the hotel room. Tomorrow we hope to embark on the 30-mile uphill climb to San Cristobal de Las Casas. After that we have an eventful week seeing giant ruins, two more countries, and the tropical rain forest. Wow, this trip is actually winding down. Just hope that JC feels better soon. More updates soon!