Mittwoch, 29. Januar:
Just outside Oaxaca, there's something to marvel at again: The "Tule Tree" (el Árbol del Tule), a montezuma cypress with a trunk measuring 42 metres girth and 14 metres diameter and a height of about 35 metres. It's the thickest tree in the world, makes the church next to it look like a tiny chapel!
Do you notice anything?
How about now?
Along the way, we see lots of agave fields and Mezcal distilleries today, as well as the giant Corona brewery. We ride to Mitla, where there's supposed to be another architecturally impressive place of ritual worship we could visit. But the village is very badly signposted and kind of annoying, so we turn around soon and go back to the Carretera looking for a place to camp.
We pitch our tent in a field next to the road - it's the first time in nearly eight weeks that Dave and I camp by ourselves. Not counting the herd of cows around us who don't seem to be interested in us at all.
Gefahrene Strecke: 51,3 km
Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeit: 14,2 km/h
Nachtlager: in einem Feld an der Straße (Kuhfladen-Camp II.)
Donnerstag, 30. Januar:
Two Dutch girls in the hostel in Oaxaca had told us about another one of a kind sight that is definitely worth the bumpy detour from the highway: Hierve el Agua.
The warm water that's bubbling out of four springs here is over-saturated with calcium carbonate and other minerals, which not only make the pools on top look so invitingly turquoise...
... but also remain behind when the water slowly trickles down the cliffs, building these "petrified waterfalls" - similar to stalactites in caves. We get to know Mike from China and Sami from Spain who tell us about a guided walk down to the bigger one of the two rock formations.
Here we are standing on top of the "Cascada grande" where the water is coming out of two little springs, forming these puddles before trickling over the edge slowly.
During our hike down to the bottom of the waterfall, our "advanced in years" guide constantly finds himself waiting for us young guys. Especially at this narrow and steep spot, where only a dodgy wire serves as a railing, we realize that the old man with his walking cane could easily leave us in the dust, but unfortunately our hiking boots are with our bikes!
View from half the height.
Sami and I at the bottom of the "waterfall".
I wouldn't necessarily drink the water but a quick shower is a real treat on such a hot day!
There are huge ants around here, with extremely big heads.
After the hike, we jump into the pool again. Now in the late afternoon, there are hardly any people around and we enjoy the quiet and the stunning views of the valley right behind us.
Wird echt Zeit für einen Spanischkurs...
In the meantime, we had parked our bikes secretly in an empty holiday apartment which apparently hadn't been looked after for a while. When we come back, there's a man cleaning in there, telling us that it's 300 Pesos per night to stay here. Dave: No no, we don't stay for the night. It won't take us long, we're out of here in one hour. Man: Oh, so you only want the apartment for one hour?
It's definitely time for a Spanish course...
Back in the village of San Lorenzo Albarradas, we camp next to the church.
Gefahrene Strecke: 26,44 km
Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeit: 9,43 km/h
Nachtlager: neben der Kirche in San Lorenzo Albarradas (Kirchen-Camp II.)
Freitag, 31. Januar:
The men of the village watch us in amazement while Dave and I pack up in the morning, and they ask all sorts of questions.
Es folgt die anstrengende, aber schöne Fahrt durch die Sierra Madre de Oaxaca. Alle paar Kilometer ein Dorf mit kleinen Geschäften, ansonsten nur wir und die Berge. Und der erste Wasserfall, den wir in Mexiko sehen! Die Straße ist geteert, aber gut aufpassen muss man trotzdem, dass man nicht in die teilweise recht beachtlichen Schlaglöcher fällt.
What follows is a strenuous but beautiful ride through the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca. Every few kilometres, there's a village with small shops; other than that it's only us and the mountains. And the first waterfall we see in Mexico! The road is paved but you still have to be very careful not to fall into one of the respectable potholes.
It's the weekend of the patrocinium in San Pablo y San Pedro Ayutla, so the chaos in the town is even bigger than usual: merry-go-rounds and food vendors in the middle of the street, wild traffic manoeuvres, people and the noise that comes with it.
The indigenous people of the Mixe (say "Mihe") has its own language which is spoken by around one hundred thousand people in this area.
We look at five hotels before finally settling for the best and most expensive one in town. Not that we complain about the price of 180 pesos (15 CAD), but first we have to haul our gear up that narrow staircase which is crammed with flower pots. Toilet and shower are in the hallway, warm water is limited. In the morning we notice that the ceiling paint is flaky and spread all over our stuff.
Gefahrene Strecke: 47,24 km
Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeit: 10,04 km/h
Nachtlager: Hotel El Mirab in Ayutla
Samstag, 1. Februar:
And another waterfall! The day begins really nice with views like this.
After only thirteen kilometres, we are stuck on a hill with 14% ascend. But already the first car we flag down readily takes us over the craziest hills and up to 2500 metres altitude.
Afterwards, we keep climbing and descending between 2700 and 1900 metres altitude. We see many little waterfalls and creeks along the road, and during our many breaks we enjoy the mountain panorama. Rolling down into Totontepec, we even have to stop a few times to cool down our brakes, that's how steep it is!
In Totontepec angekommen, sind wir leider viel zu erschöpft und grantig, um diese liebenswerte Stadt richtig zu genießen. Die Menschen hier überbieten an Freundlichkeit und Hilfsbereitschaft alles, was wir auf dieser Tour bisher erlebt haben, bieten uns sogar ein Bett im Gemeindehaus an. Doch wir wollen einfach nur unsere Ruhe und verziehen uns ins Hotel.
When we arrive in Totontepec, unfortunately we are way too exhausted and grumpy to relish this lovely town. The locals outshine everything we've encountered so far in friendliness and helpfulness, even offer us a bed in the community centre. But we just want to be by ourselves and disappear into the hotel.
Gefahrene Strecke: 36 km (plus 16 km per Anhalter)
Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeit: 11,58 km/h
Nachtlager: Hotel in Totontepec
Sonntag, 2. Februar:
Sunday morning six o'clock in Totontepec. Time to sonicate the whole area with religious songs of the church choir via loudspeakers. The roosters join into that crowing - ALL of them. Thanks to our earplugs we finally fall back asleep until suddenly the hotel owner stands in our room.
View from the road down to the roof of a house, where there are corncobs drying in the sun. In the mornings, you can see women carrying buckets full of corn to the mill so that they have freshly ground cornflour for their daily tortillas.
We haven't ridden / pushed two kilometres yet when two men stop us and question us about our tour. They are particularly interested in my camp stove which I show them. At some point, the older one of them goes: I have work to do in Chinantequilla, do you want a ride there?
As customary in Mexico, we passengers stand on the back of the truck.
One of the hills is just too steep for the vehicle so we have to get off and push.
Short picture stop at the top of the way with great views over the switchbacks in front of us.
After saying good-bye, Dave and I roll down to Comaltepec before briskly climbing back up again on the other side of the river towards Choapam.
Summer flowers growing into the road.
The road conditions are getting worse now because numerous landslides cover one or both lanes.
About nine kilometres before Choapam the paved road finally turns into a gravel path.
We cannot pitch our tent fast enough to escape the mosquitoes: Dave's legs after I treated most of his bites with Swedish herbs.
Gefahrene Strecke: 16,28 km (plus 17 km per Anhalter)
Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeit: 10,9 km/h
Nachtlager: neben der Straße
Montag, 3. Februar:
In the morning it's raining slightly, so we wait because we don't fancy riding on a mud track at all.
Even when it's dry, this "road" is quite the challenge: The average grade today is 7.5% - most of the time we push the bikes. And we begin to understand why donkeys are such popular vehicles here.
Short stop at a waterfall.
Pushing for twenty metres...
... and another break. That's how we do this.
Für uns bedeutet das, dass wir in aller Öffentlichkeit mit dem schwachen W-Lan der Gemeindeverwaltung kämpfen, unser Gepäck verladen, Carcassonne spielen, kochen, fotografieren... Hundert neugierige Gesichter verfolgen jeden unserer Schritte, aber noch wagt es niemand uns anzusprechen.
The little town of Choapam welcomes us very warmly. We can camp in a covered hallway between the police station and the administration, directly next to a basketball field where the kids are playing until 10 pm. We've seen a few community centres like that in the mountains. They seem to be very popular with old and young locals alike, and play an important role for the community spirit as everybody gets together here.
For us that means that we are in public when we struggle with the weak WiFi from the town administration, carry our gear around, play Carcassonne, cook, take pictures... A hundred or so curious faces follow every one of our steps, but so far nobody dares to talk to us.
Only when I walk over to the schoolyard and start talking to a group of children who are practising a military march with their music teacher, the ice breaks. First of all, they want to serenade me, then they have to know everything about our trip and finally, one asks if my hair is real.
One of the girls offers to show me the church.
Some kind of moth on the wall next to our tent.
Gefahrene Strecke: 9,24 km
Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeit: 5,8 km/h
Neue niedrigste Höchstgeschwindigkeit: 16,63 km/h
Nachtlager: Gemeindezentrum in Choapam
Dienstag, 4. Februar:
Ich stelle mir das so ähnlich vor wie wenn in Großwimpasing eines Tages unangemeldet eine Gruppe Indianer in voller Montur daherreitet, neben dem Weiher ihr Tipi aufbaut und ums Lagerfeuer tanzt. Da würden wir auch Augen machen, oder?
The news of the weirdos who have bicycles instead of donkeys and a tent instead of a house must have spread like wildfire, because there are at least twenty school children crowded around us who want to try out their English skills on us. And when I buy food for the next couple of days, the women of the village watch me in amusement.
As we continue on, we can still see Choapam for a long time.
Switchbacks in front of us.
There are twelve people sitting in this truck. They are on a 12-hour journey to Mexico City and cannot fathom why we would do this kind of trip to ourselves. I'm not sure if I would swap though...
Short rest at the nicest Mexican waterfall so far. You could even swim here but we leave it at wet T-shirts. That feels good in this heat!
The road conditions are still adventurous; on the northern slopes we even have to push through the mud. But the quiet and the nature make up for the hard work.
Later, we are forced to take two breaks: First we get to a fork in the road where we have to wait for half an hour for somebody to ask for directions. And shortly afterwards, Dave has his first flat tire on his bike.
Gefahrene Strecke: 18,32 km
Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeit: 6,85 km/h
Nachtlager: in einer Parkbucht an der Straße
Mittwoch, 5. Februar:
Am Morgen tröpfelt es leicht, darum schlafen wir aus und spielen Carcassonne. Später ist es trocken genug um weiterzufahren, also fangen wir an zu packen. Da hält ein leerer Viehtransporter an und fragt, ob er uns ein Stück mitnehmen soll.
It's raining slightly in the morning, so we sleep in and play Carcassonne. When it is dry enough to ride we start packing up. But then an empty cattle transporter stops and offers to take us to the next town.
It takes the truck two hours to drive the 30 kilometres to Jalahui. That's good to know because it tells us that our rule of thumb, 1 hour by car = 1 day by bike even applies to this terrain. After Jalahui, we continue riding again; the road becomes a little bit better, flatter and newer.
When we arrive in San Juan del Rio, we first bathe in the river - together with local women and men who take off their clothes all around us and wash themselves head to toe. After seeing this, we don't count on finding sanitary facilities here anymore...
We get to camp on the covered hallway of the administrative building in the community centre, where the whole village comes together in the evening: taco stand, basketball court, men with guitars and beer, children with their bikes.
Bureaucracy in Mexico. These notices at the residents' registration office list the requirements and documents one has to produce in order to get married or apply for an apprenticeship.
Gefahrene Strecke: 8 km (plus 30 km per Anhalter)
Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeit: 7,45 km/h
Nachtlager: Gemeindezentrum in San Juan del Rio
Donnerstag, 6. Februar:
Heute stehen wir beide mit dem verkehrten Fuß auf. Es gibt tatsächlich im ganzen Ort kein Klo, so dass ich letztendlich zurück hinunter zum Fluss gehe... Toll. Beim Frühstück granteln wir so vor uns hin, und hundert Meter hinter dem Ortsschild bricht Daves Hinternabe endgültig. Zurückschieben und dem halben Dorf unsere Situation erklären wollen wir nicht, deshalb setzen wir uns an den Straßenrand und warten.
Today, we both wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Turns out there really is no toilet in the entire village, so that I end up going back down to the river... Awesome. During breakfast, we grumble away at each other, and just a hundred metres down the road Dave's back hub finally breaks. As we don't fancy pushing back and explaining our situation to all the people, we sit down in the ditch and wait.
First a motorcycle stops. He cannot take us of course, but he hands us a plate of Empanadas. Two hours later, we flag down a delivery truck, and the drivers readily shift their load so that our bikes fit on the truck.
They take us to the next village, where a bus happens to stop right this minute.
Everything happens very quickly then: We heave our gear onto the bus and are on our way into the next bigger town, Playa Vicente, where we want to take a hotel room so that Dave can fix his bike.
It takes him almost nine hours to take the whole back wheel apart, clean it and build it back together with the new hub.
Gefahrene Strecke: 100 Meter (plus 48 km per Anhalter und per Bus)
Nachtlager: Hotel Ros Bal in Playa Vicente
Freitag, 7. Februar:
Annoyed by construction noises and other special characteristics of the hotel, we move into the much nicer Hotel Imperio. Important: We can ride our bikes directly into the shower, because after our dusty mountain excursion, it's not only us who are in desperate need of a thorough wash!
Cooking in the hotel room.
Wir bleiben drei Tage in Playa Vicente, ohne besondere Höhepunkte. Touristisch hat diese Ecke Mexikos rein überhaupt nichts vorzuweisen; man kann noch nicht einmal behaupten, die Menschen hier bemühen sich einen guten Eindruck zu machen. So verbringen Dave und ich viel Zeit damit zu überlegen, wo und wie es weitergehen soll.
We stay in Playa Vicente for three days, without any highlights. This corner of Mexico has nothing at all to offer for tourists; we cannot even say that the locals try to make a good impression. Dave and I spend a lot of time thinking about where and how we want to continue.
Montag, 10. Februar:
Unsere Fahrräder fühlen sich an wie neu, nachdem Dave sie gründlichst geputzt und generalüberholt hat. Außerdem haben wir mal wieder eine geteerte Straße, und einigermaßen flach ist sie auch noch. Ich kann es gar nicht fassen, als ich zum ersten Mal seit zehn Tagen in den höchsten Gang schalte!
Our bicycles feel like brand new after Dave has cleaned and overhauled them thoroughly. On top of that, we finally get to ride on a paved road again, without any steep parts. I cannot believe it when I shift into my hardest gear for the first time after ten days!
Isla is just as ugly as Playa Vicente. After Isla, we find ourselves surrounded by pineapple plantations. Both of us had no idea what kind of plants pineapples grow on, so now we take a closer look.
And since it's suggesting itself as a campspot we pitch our tent in one of the fields.
Gefahrene Strecke: 58,64 km
Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeit: 16,29 km/h
Nachtlager: in einem Feld an der Straße (Ananas-Camp I.)
Dienstag, 11. Februar:
In a petrol station, I ask a farmer if I can take a picture of his harvest, and he gives me three pineapples.
He cuts one of them open with his Machete (always at hand) right away for us to try. Mmmh!
Die Campingplatzsuche gestaltet sich in dieser intensiv landwirtschaftlich genutzten Gegend heute sehr schwierig, denn überall sind Zäune. Letztendlich müssen wir uns mit einer Parkbucht an der Straße zufrieden geben, in der wir erst den Müll und Klopapier zur Seite räumen müssen, bevor wir das Zelt aufstellen können.
Today's search for a campspot is quite difficult, because in this agricultural area everything is fenced off. In the end, we have to take a roadside turnout where we have to clear away some garbage and toilet paper before we can set up our tent.
Gefahrene Strecke: 50 km
Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeit: 15,9 km/h
Nachtlager: Parkbucht an der Straße (Shit-Camp I. Hoffentlich bleibt's dabei.)
Mittwoch, 12. Februar:
Heute erreichen Dave und ich unseren Tiefpunkt, und zwar leider nicht nur geographisch. Auf dem Weg zum Golf von Mexiko geht es zunächst flott dahin, weil wir uns auf die Mautautobahn mogeln, aber was wir unterwegs zu sehen, zu hören und zu riechen bekommen, geht uns echt an die Nieren: Berge von Müll und Dreck säumen die Straße, stinkende Wasserlöcher, hässliche Ortschaften mit ihrem Lärm, aggressiver Verkehr, tote Tiere, brennende Böschungen. Ab Minatitlán kämpfen wir dann auch noch gegen den Sturm und der Seitenstreifen löst sich in lockeren Kies und Sand auf, so dass ich stürze. Lauthals schimpfend schieben wir die restlichen drei Kilometer nach Coatzacoalcos, in der Hoffnung auf eine schöne Küstenstadt. Pustekuchen. Bedingt durch seine äußerst verkehrsgünstige Lage am Isthmus von Tehuantepec (dünnste Stelle von Mexiko, Grenze zwischen Nord- und Mittelamerika) wirkt die Hafenstadt Coatzacoalcos mit ihren riesigen petrochemischen Industrieanlagen, den unzähligen Öltanklastwägen und den schäbigen Stundenhotels alles andere als wohltuend. Wir verschanzen uns in unserem Hotelzimmer mit Meerblick (der Sturm hält uns davon ab, zum Strand zu gehen) und beschließen, morgen mit dem Bus abzuhauen.
Today, Dave and I reach our lowest point, and unfortunately that's not only geographical. On our way to the Gulf of Mexico, we first make really good progress because we sneak onto the toll highway, but what we have to see, hear and smell there gets to us: piles of garbage and dirt all along the road, stinking water holes, ugly towns with their noise, aggressive traffic, dead animals, fires in the embankment. After Minatitlán, we also struggle with an oncoming storm and the shoulder dissolves itself into loose gravel and sand, so that I fall off the bike. Cursing and swearing, we walk our bikes the remaining three kilometres to Coatzacoalcos, hoping for a nice coastal town. Not a chance! Due to its convenient location at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (thinnest part of Mexico; geographical border between North- and Central America), the port town of Coatzacoalcos is buzzing with traffic, and its petrochemical industrial plants, countless oil tankers and sleazy hotels don't make us feel very welcome. We take refuge in our hotel room looking out on the ocean (the storm keeps us from going down to the beach) and decide to get out of here by bus tomorrow.
Gefahrene Strecke: 83,44 km
Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeit: 17,08 km/h
Nachtlager: Hotel Terraza del Sol in Coatzacoalcos
Donnerstag, 13. Februar:
Beach in Coatzacoalcos. Nothing but garbage once again.
Am Nachmittag laden wir unser Zeug in einen Reisebus und hoffen, wieder in einer schöneren Gegend zu landen!
In the afternoon, we load our gear into a coach and hope to end up in a nicer area again!
Gefahrene Strecke: 245 km (Bus)
Nachtlager: Hotel La Hacienda in Tuxtla Gutiérrez
Freitag, 14. Februar:
Es ist schon fast unheimlich, wie sehr sich die einzelnen Bundesstaaten Mexikos unterscheiden: Oaxaca war wunderschön, fröhlich und sauber. Veracruz hat uns nur schockiert und enttäuscht. Und Chiapas empfängt uns wieder sehr freundlich, gepflegt und weltoffen. Sofort fühlen wir uns besser!
It's incredible how different the Mexican states are from one another: Oaxaca was beautiful, cheerful and clean. Veracruz has only shocked and disappointed us. And Chiapas welcomes us friendly, well-kept and cosmopolitan again. We feel better right away!
On the occasion of Valentine's day, we treat ourselves to a breakfast at Starbucks. Yes, they've got one here!
After moving into the hostel, we explore the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
Lunch break in Burger King. We just need something "real", without tortillas. Oh yes, and they play Pink Floyd, Bon Jovi and Neil Young. After eating, we sit for over one hour simply enjoying the ambience. That's how far we've come.
Homesickness cure made by Burger King.
Afterwards, we immerse ourselves into the crazy street life of Mexico again, where one half of the road is blocked by all sorts of vendors which crowns the already chaotic traffic.
Small crossroads aren't regulated by traffic lights or signs, the right of way seems to alternate between the two intersecting roads. Pedestrians, mopeds and taxis though feel they are above that principle and make the whole thing very interesting to watch.
Too bad I didn't catch the vegetable vendor with my camera when she was changing her baby's diaper sitting in the middle of her produce.
Early learning: Small boy selling cigarettes.
Festive decoration in a flower shop for Valentine's day.
Young shoe cleaner at work.
Tuxtla Gutiérrez is the capital of the marimba players, and every evening there's a concert in the marimba park. Today it's particularly festive, and when it gets dark the whole plaza is full of people.
Dave and I get hold of a bench and enjoy the music for hours, watching the estimated two hundred people dancing and being glad to be here. It feels so good to be surrounded by happy people again!