Note from Alex: This post marks a big change of pace for us. Namely, the end of wedding season. In its brief six month lifespan, this little adventure of ours has been punctuated by not one, not two, but three weddings. We promise we’re not crazy. These celebrations of family and friends as close as family have sent us flying every which way across the globe – Germany, Seattle, and North Carolina – for little snippets of home, comfort food, and faces of the people we love. But now that the last of the weddings has passed (with undeniable flair, congratulations Heather and Adam!), we can honestly say that we have no idea when we’ll be back in our respective home countries. Which is both terrifying and thrilling. One might say… we plan to roll with it.
After an unanticipated week soaking in the many pleasures of Jalpan, we eventually had to say goodbye to Rodrigo and his hotel-to-be. The road was calling out for us again. The ride out of Jalpan could have been a real struggle, with 2000 meters of climbing to go in less tnan 50 kilometers. In other words, tears and pain for both of us. But Rodrigo came to our rescue again and agreed to drive us to the top of the mountain range, aptly named Puerta del Cielo, the gate to the sky. We said adios to the dogs and clambered into the truck, climbing into the fog-laden mountains as the temperature plummeted around us. Once we had reached the top, we bid farewell with hugs all around and began a steep, brake-squealing descent back back down into our good old friend, the desert.
The riding started off well, but took a turn for the worse around lunchtime. We gladly stopped at a food stand that offered not just tortas, but megatortas. Perfect for the hungry cyclist, right? Well, turns out to be not such a good idea when you still have thirty miles of hilly riding ahead of you. Before long Alex wasn’t feeling so good, which led to an extended stomachache break and the development of a new hill-tackling tactic: the one-handed push. Essentially, when Alex is grinding up a hill, doubled over her handelbars, barely making any progress and no longer speaking, I sidle up to her and start to push with one hand. With both of us pedaling like this, we can double our speed and save Alex’s knees for another day. On this particular occasion, we push-pedaled up over a minor mountain range and finally dropped down into the little town of Toliman right as the sun was setting. A very friendly policeman let us set up our tent in the local amphitheater, which eerily reminded us of our camping experience in the Jala’s city hall.
A short but hilly ride the next day brought us to the well known tourist mecca of Bernal, famous for the Peña de Bernal, the world’s third largest monolith. As impressive as the sight of that giant rock was, we were disappointed to find out that Bernal seems to be open only on weekends. Lucky us, it was Tuesday. Of the dozens of hotels we passed, only every fifth or so was open, which narrowed our possible choices rather significantly. Nonetheless, we eventually found someone we could bargain with to get a cheap place to stay (that means cheap by normal tourist standards, but it blew our daily budget). During the two days we spent in town, we climbed as far up the monolith as we could, watched some much-needed movies, and fueled up on cheap and delicious gorditas.
Out of Bernal we were rewarded with an incredibly gracious 30 kilometers of downhill riding. Nothing feels more satisfying after strenuous days of climbing than simply being able to roll, and roll, and roll. Unfortunately that was only the first half of the day, as we had to cross yet another minor mountain range before reaching Huichapan. Exhausted and frustrated due to increasingly difficult wind conditions, we quickly decided to regain some strength at a local pizzeria. Alex loves almost all the food that Mexico has to offer, but draws the line at pizza. (Note from Alex: most Mexican tomato sauce tastes like watered down ketchup, and quite possibly is watered down ketchup, and ketchup pizza is not good.) But this time the two for one pizza sign and promising-looking pizza oven won out, and the food got pretty darn close to satisfying our snobbishly high standards. It could also have been the fact that we were ravenously hungry. Stuffed to the brim, we strolled back to the presidencia to find a place to camp for the night. Noe, the policeman on duty, couldn’t think of a safe place in town, so he offered us his front yard instead.
In the morning we found out that Noe, his wife Maru, and their kids also owned two fluffy, two month old dogs. Logically, a sleepy Alex – who usually can’t be stirred from her slumber with food or coffee – jumped out of her sleeping bag like a shot and went gaga over the little puppies. What a way to start the day! However, if the previous day had started easy and ended hard, we had a complete reversal this time around. Climb, climb, climb, climb, climb, climmmmmmmbbbbbb… and then it was time for avocado-tomato sandwiches in our lunch break. A little one-handed pushing after that, and a few long kilometers of holding our breath past a stomach-turningly stinky lake (which we later learned is the resting place for the sewage of all 20 million residents of Mexico City), and suddenly we had a lot of rolling ahead of us before reaching Tula. We spent the following day exploring the famous Toltec ruins nearby, and considering buying bugs from the many bug-hawking grannies on the side of the road.
Another two days of uneventful riding brought us to Pachuca (by way of a random circus on the side of the road and a sketchy auto hotel in tiny San Agustín Tlaxiaca). Our intention was to stay in Pachuca for a longer period of time, partially due to the fact that it is an easy bus ride away from Mexico City, from where our wedding-bound flight to North Carolina would be departing in a few short days. As with most of the bigger cities we’ve visited so far, it turned out to be quite unnerving to enter Pachuca due to reckless drivers and heavy traffic. Once there, we had several hours to wait before our WarmShowers host was available, so we spent our first day exploring a little bit by ourselves.
We found a pleasant park called Parque David Ben Gurión that was accentuated by a huge mosaic on the ground and a giant soccer ball in the distance, which turned out to be a museum. We killed a few hours reading there, and when night fell we made our way to the hospital where we were supposed to meet our WarmShowers host. We waited…and waited…and waited. After starting to wonder whether he would ever show up, a different guy rode up on a bike and told us that our original WarmShowers host had gotten really busy at work, so he (Enrique) would now be hosting us. Works for us! The only downside was that he and his family lived at what is probably the highest point in all of Pachuca, so our day ended with a few near-busted lungs.
Given that we showed up at their house in the dark of night and with about an hour’s notice, Enrique and his family were great hosts. Enrique is an avid mountain biker himself, and completed a cross-country cycling trip from Seattle to Boston a few years back. He showed us around town, helped us try to track down a new seatpost for Alex (unfortunately unsuccessfully), and even took time out of his day to take us to the scenic mountain towns of Real del Monte and El Chico, both located adjacent to nearby Parque Nacional El Chico. A certain sense of being in the Alps overcame me when we walked around those towns, especially when Enrique took us to his favorite bar in El Chico and introduced us to what is essentially the Mexican version of German Glühwein. Enrique’s mom Maritza provided us with lots of motherly love and delicious homemade chilaquiles, something we cannot thank her enough for.
Our stay in Pachuca was topped off by a visit to the Feria de San Francisco, a month-long affair overflowing with rides, music, and all kinds of questionable food choices. The local specialty is a type of worm that lives in the maguey plant, confusingly called a chiliqüile (confusing because our favorite breakfast food, which is definitely not worms, is called chilaquiles). A handful of these worms on a tortilla constitutes the most expensive taco we have encountered thus far in Mexico, and as with most things, tastes like chicken! After devouring worm tacos and behemoth burritos, we also thought it would be a good idea to hop on some carnival rides. All of which were of the spin-you-around-in-circles-until-you-lose-your-burrito variety. (Note from Alex: I have been reliably nausea-prone from a very young age. Cars, buses, boats, planes, merry-go-rounds, swings – you name it. Part of my love for bike travel stems from the fact that I don’t have to pop a daily dose of Dramamine. Turns out I should have thought harder about hopping on a ride that was basically the equivalent of going through the spin cycle…twice.)
After an entire week of invading their living room floor, we bid farewell to Enrique and his family and were back on the road in no time. As has become the norm throughout the past several weeks, the headwind was back too. We rode past safari zoos and goats galore to arrive in Tepeapulco, a town southeast of Pachuca in the shadow of a mountain range. Alex walked into the presidencia to ask for a place to camp, and before I knew it she walked out with Alfonso, the jolly Secretary General of Tepeapulco, second in command to the mayor. He shook our hands and took a few pictures with us, and let us know that we could set up our sleeping bags in the foyer outside the government offices once everyone had finished work around 8:00. In the meantime, we could use the policemen’s kitchen and bedroom as we pleased (we ended up using the kitchen, but let the fellows have their sleeping area). And wouldn’t you know it, the place even had Wi-Fi! Tepeapulco’s presidencia easily bests many hotels we’ve stayed at.
Of course, there had to be a hook, and we got to experience it the next morning. At 5:58AM we were awoken by a policeman shaking the bottom of our sleeping bags. The cleaning lady was here, and we were about to be right in her way. Groggy and more asleep than awake we scrambled together our stuff and hoped that we wouldn’t be forced outside, where it was still pitch black and close to freezing. Luckily the cleaning lady kindly let us lounge around in chairs, drifting in and out of sleep, just like the nightshift policemen downstairs. By the time the sun peeked up over the ridge, we had roused ourselves enough for an extended walk around town, taking in the beautiful views of the mountains while sipping hot chocolate atole bought from an equally sleepy looking street vendor.
Once back at the presidencia to gather our things and hit the road, we were greeted the Miguel the cronista, or town historian. He had been sent by the Secretary General to join us for breakfast, which we later discovered was on the presidencia (thanks, Tepeapulco!). Over a delicious breakfast of chilaquiles, Miguel told us all about the little town’s history, wildlife, geology, and its central role as a waypoint for the conquistadores of old. As the keeper of the town’s honorary guestbook, he also had us write a message to the people of Tepeapulco. I left them a nice, long note in German that Alex promptly translated into flawless Spanish. I guess now we are immortalized in this small town in Mexico.
Miguel, a proud resident of Tepeapulco and among other things an enthusiastic singer/songwriter, thanked us for signing the guestbook by bringing us to the central plaza’s gazebo and singing us a song about his beloved mountains, all while gazing with adoration at his beloved mountains in the distance. Surprisingly enough, not a single passersby gave the singing man and two sleepy-looking güeros a weird look. Seems to be a common occurence that people randomly break out into song around there! Anyways, after a rousing round of applause, Miguel took us back to the Secretary General’s office to say goodbye. Without a second thought, he whisked us into his office to talk more about our trip, see our blog, and add us as Facebook friends. Well of course! A few farewell photos ensued, and before we knew it it was past noon and really time to hit the road. Tepeapulco, we will remember you always.
After so much hospitality in Tepeapulco, the rest of the day breezed by. We finally hit the hay in Apizaco, exhausted and happy to finally be resuming our course south. One more day until we reach the culinary paridise of Puebla!