Date: Fri, 2 Oct 1998

Subject: Newsletter 2 - Mexico Mainland



Okay, about a year since we sent our last newsletter! This one is about the remainder of our travels in Mexico - the remaining 5 months.


 I don’t think it will be 5 times as long as the last one as we don’t have our diary anymore so I can’t remember half the things!


 We finished off our last newsletter heading for Creel, which surprisingly enough for us we actually did - you know how great we are at heading in the opposite direction to which we intend!


 Stani had always fancied doing the train through the Copper Canyon but on finding out that there was a cheap train (as opposed to the $1600 luxury one that one always reads about in the travel magazines) we decided to go for it.


Whilst in La Paz we asked a Mexican friend to ring & find out if we could take our bikes on the train. No problem - the price was 42 pesos (about $5) & the bikes go free! Of course that was until we got there & there was much shaking of heads & advice to speak to the train driver. In the end we decided a bribe was required - being the tight fisted travellers that we are we were reluctant to acquiesce to that recourse (adamant in fact) and with the help of some Kiwi’s we’d met, we dumped the bikes on the train without permission.


Of course we got consistent harassment from the conductor for the first couple of hours but in the end he left us alone.


The train ride was everything we’d hoped - spectacular scenery & each stop provided views of traditionally clad Mayans. Quite a change from Americanized Baja. Especially fun were the dozen or so kids who jumped on at each stop & ran up & down the carriage selling tamales, hot chocolate, grizzly sweet coffee, crisps etc. Stani was especially enchanted with the sign in Spanish on the train that read "Keep the train clean - throw your rubbish out the window"!!!!!!!


The ride out of Creel to Hidalgo was something else. The scenery remained spectacular, as were the 5k sheer uphills & downhills (brakes screeching!). Stani's chain was tried to its limits & failed miserably - breaking on average 4 times a day. Our bike book recommended this route only for the most toughened of bike riders - we didn’t feel hard in the end - exhausted is more appropriate! One would have thought the rainy season had started - it POURED. Of course our waterproofs are fab - except Stani’s were in England & she had to resort to wearing bin liners!


We then headed through the mountains to the silver cities of Durango, Zacatecas & Aguacalientes. These all had superb scenery & gorgeous colonial architecture. Good pacing too - each of these main cities were about 70 km distance from each other.


Temperatures were right, not too hot & not too cold. Durango is famous for its nearby locations of Villa del Ote & Chupaderos where just about every Clint Eastwood & John Wayne spaghetti western seemed to have been filmed. Great if you’re a spaghetti western buff (which we’re not!) boring if you’re a cyclist. However, it was made up by the pretty little villages selling loads of cheap fruit.


On arriving in Aguacalientes, we were snapped by a local photographer & appeared on the front page of the regional newspaper the next day. As we had previously been interviewed for a paper in Baja, Richard had appeared on Mexican TV; both of us had appeared in the local newspaper in Los Mochis, we were beginning to feel like super stars in Mexico.


 It’s hard after all this time to remember details but what I remember of Zacatecus was all the restaurants shut about 7 (about the time we started to think about eating), the streets had a crazy paving that Stani could not cope with as she had metal cleats on her shoes & kept on sliding everywhere, with the result that by the time we left she could hardly walk for pulling all her muscles.


 In Aguacalientes we found a superb veggie restaurant (the only really good one on our travels to date) - divine setting in a courtyard with fountains, plants & a Buddha. The owner took one look at our skinny frames & starving faces & treated us to 2 breakfasts for the price of one. We spent that night in a local park deciding we wanted to actually see the newspaper Article as we always cycled off before the paper came out but it was a camping night so not cheapo hotel! The next day everywhere we stopped people would look at us, look at their paper & start smiling & waving. We were stopped constantly by people wanting to chat. We decided to go - way too much attention! But one good thing came out of it - we stopped in a bike shop to get a few spare parts & the owner treated us to everything for free!


Onwards to San Miguel de Allende we headed, where we intended to stop for 2 weeks to enrol in a Spanish course. But luckily for us we intended to stop for 2 weeks to enrol in a Spanish course. But luckily for us we stopped in Guanajauto 1st. Here we met a Mexican /English couple who apart from being incredibly generous, putting us up for a couple of weeks, introducing us to their friends, showing us around, arranging for us to house sit this fabo house over Xmas & the New Year (including a maid!) for free - they were great fun to be with too! We spent over a month in Guanajauto doing a Spanish course for a couple of weeks (actually a complete waste of time but we made lots of friends & had lots of parties!) We met some mountain bikers who kept inviting us out for rides & Richard even got lent a bike by one of the guys so he could enter a bike race in San Migual. We visited he mummy museum - quite quite gruesome! Both of us agree that this was one of the highlights of our trip (- Guanajauto not the mummy museum!) so far. We met an American couple cycling who were doing the same trip as us but on a tandem! 


Just before we were due to depart Stani got bitten on the knee by a German shepherd & sat in bed for a week in great agony feeling sorry for herself. But on the return of Doreen (the owner of the house) this was all dispensed with as she decided all this feeling sorry for oneself was simply not on, invited her friend Patricia over & stocked up on vodka & happily persuaded us to drink the week away!


Eventually we had to go - SOB! We headed to Mexico City where we did risk our lives daily by cycling around but lived to tell the tale! Anyone who says MC is too dangerous shouldn’t be listened to. It’s a beautiful city with so much to do & no more dangerous than any big city like London or NY.


In Oaxaca we suddenly realized we were on the gringo trail - way too many backpackers & although the city was nice it was no more special than any of the other silver cities we’d visited. We’d heard too much about how wonderful it was so we were bound to be disappointed. Especially as the local Telmex office (Telecommunications) had no free internet service like everywhere else & that we’d begun to consider our right!


Mariposa - I forgot the Monarch Mariposa Reserve near Zitacuaro. Bloody hard work to get to but really worth it. Before leaving England we went to France for the weekend & visited futurescope. We saw one of those total surround movies about the Monarch butterfly that migrates from Canada to Mexico. Guess what - we were there actually when the butterflies were! WOW & WOW again! Sorry I’m not particularly articulate as the sight was worthy of Keats. Envision blue skies, white fluffy clouds & an open plain with clouds of orange / black butterflies - each with a wing size of your palm (well Stani’s anyway!)- thousands of them in the sky, on your head, shoulders & down your trousers (I kid you not!) Imagine having difficulties knowing where to place your feet in fear of treading on not 1 but 10 f them, huge pines that are not identifiable as such because they are not green but a brilliant orange! If somebody said this to me I still wouldn’t have an inkling of what a fantastic experience this was!


After we headed into the Yucatan Peninsula to do the Mayan route. We visited Palenque, Cuba, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Tulum, Teotihucan and more besides. At first we were overwhelmed by their majesty & splendour but then we ended up doing too many in too short a space of time & got jaded. Teotihucan was memorable as the 1st we visited - the Pyramid of he sun was 64m high , 213 m sq at base - covering almost the same area as the

Great pyramid of Cheops in Egypt. What was fun was being fit from cycling; we climbed to the top with relative ease. Then we sat on the top, smoked a cigarette & sniggered between ourselves at the red faced panting tourists who finally scaled the heights & peeked their heads over the top!


Tulum should have been awe inspiring with its white sanded, blue sea coastal setting. Unfortunately it was a grey, showery day & this detracted considerably from the beauty. More enticing were the Argentinian fire blowing acrobats that entertained us in the evening.


Palenque was special for its jungle setting and the fact that we had met up with another German cyclist - so we had another person’s perspective. Chichen Itza was a disappointment. Not because it didn’t live up to our expectations but the fact that we were there for the Spring Equinox. On this day the sun hits the balustrades of El Castillo (the main pyramid) and the image of 2 serpents are formed running down either side of the staircase. However, along with us was what seemed like half of Mexico and we felt that we were at a Woodstock festival instead of a sacred Mayan site!


We actually missed several Mayan sites (thank God!) because we stopped unintentionally in Escarcega for a few days. We had cycled into town intending to stop only for food supplies & a beer. Whilst Stani admired (NOT!) the gun display in the central square and sucked gratefully on a litre of Pacifico, Richard went shopping in the market, only to find 2 other English cyclists eyeing his cycling shorts & coming to the conclusion that with his blue eyes he was probably not Mexican. After all meeting up in the Central square & swapping stories for 2 hours we decided we’d better book into their hotel & sample the local rum. The next day we decided that another day of celebrating the gathering of cyclists was in order, so Eric & Kate went to stock up on supplies at the offy across the street & came back with 2 more cyclists! Ingrid & Jeronimo were heading north from Tierra del Fuego so between the 6 of us we had lots of information to trade.


What I still can’t get over is how lightly packed Kate & Eric were.  They’d already cycled Europe, Turkey, Afghanistan, India, China etc & were carrying a computer, SW radio (Kate what time & channel is the Archers on?) and wait for it - an OVEN! But they still only had half the stuff we did! I have deep fond regards for Kate & Eric but will never forgive them for showing Richard that oven. He will never forget their tales of pizza, homemade bread & chocolate brownies! I see it in his eyes every time we can’t find any bread & have to settle for a soggy tortilla! Take note fellow cyclists - Kate & Eric also left us with another legacy. The information that keeping your water bottles in wet socks keeps the water cool & placing a towel in the back of your cycling shorts stops the sweat running down your back & prevents that sore chapped bottom at the end of the day.

These things sound crazy but they WORK!


We eventually left Mexico on the day our tourists expired - 6 whole months! We loved Mexico & still regard it as our favourite country to date but Stani was cheering as she rode across the border into ENGLISH speaking Belize!


Our exploits since then will have to wait another newsletter another day.


Thank you all our friends for your patience with our long silences & remember although we don’t correspond regularly we think of you all often. We love hearing from you all so don’t be shy & send us an update of what’s happening in your lives.