Climbs & Cramps

March 9th, 2012

After a pretty bland diet in Cuba, we were so excited about returning to a food fiesta in Mexico.  Unfortunately, as soon as we got back, we both got sick and we stayed longer in the city than planned trying to get well.  Thinking we were on the mend, we headed into the mountains and some beautiful riding.  Although we tried to ignore it, the symptoms were still there and became a big part of our cycling days over the next two weeks….dashes to the bathroom/bushes, stomach cramps and severe dehydration.

Between Mexico City and Oaxaca we had eight days of riding interspersed with six unplanned days of resting, a ratio we really can’t afford to keep up on this trip…it would take us years to reach South America on that timescale.  So eventually it was time to see a doctor and get the medication we needed.

We suddenly had a new appreciation of our free healthcare at home in the UK; it’s a strange concept to us, paying to see a doctor.  It was a difficult decision as our daily budget doesn’t really stretch to doctor’s visits and medication but it was well worth the money!  Now feeling much better, we’re enjoying the vibrant food culture of Oaxaca and making up for lost time.

Hopefully we’re over the cramps and the nasty bugs, but there’s definitely more climbing to come as we head for the coast via some more mountains and then into Chiapas towards San Cristobal and the Mayan ruins at Palenque.

Before the sickness hit, we sample a yummy tostada in the enormous Zócalo in Mexico City. Topped with frijoles (beans), fresh cheese, coriander and hot salsa it has all the tastes and colours of Mexico on one edible plate.

19 million people live in the greater area of Mexico City so leaving by bike, amongst cars, taxis, minibuses and trucks was a bit of a headache...

But once out of the city, we headed towards Paso de Cortes which took us between two of Mexico's three highest volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. 23km of climbing later and we reached the highest point of the trip so far, 3,600m (11,800ft), with incredible views of two beautiful of which was omniously smoking and rumbling all afternoon...

Sweeping downhill and into Puebla, we met Emilio a Mexican English teacher and his students Ares and Alice. They took us around the markets, introduced us to red bananas and were amazingly generous, interesting and unexpected hosts for the day.

After Puebla we headed back out into the countryside and camped outside the house of Dionysus and Cristina. Dionysus works out in the fields nearby and one of his sources of income is harvesting "agua de miel" (honey water) from Maguey cacti. He offered to take us out in the morning to show us how it's done and so we rode alongside him on his horse and cart, to see how he harvests what's known locally as "the wine of the Aztec Gods".

The tools of Dionysus' trade are just a sharp knife and a straw to draw the agua de miel out of the centre of the cactus. Left in the sunshine to ferment the juice transforms into "pulque" a potent alcholic drink that's popular with countryside folk but not for feeble sickly cyclists!

Whilst climbing in the Sierra, we ended one of our cycling days at the town of Vicente Guerrero and were tempted to ask if we could camp in a beautiful garden. It turned out to be the local convent and the four nuns who lived there insisted we stay with them. Mother Superior even cooked us eggs, frijoles and tortillas for breakfast the following morning.

What's the easiest way to get a newly bought sheep home from the market? Stick him on top of the bus...and make sure you've got someone to help you get him down when you get to the other end...

Coming back down from the Sierra, my stomach bug decided to kick in properly so depsite the awesome views of the surrounding valley, the 50kmph speeds and the sweeping curves of a nice smooth road, I really wasn't in the mood!

Reaching Teotitlán, I was feeling pretty pathetic so James went off to find a cheap hotel and I sat on the pavement in the shade. Interrupting my self-pity, this group of teenagers, just out of school, stopped to fire lots of questions at me about our trip and James returned to find me surrounded and trying desperately to find the right words in my very limited vocab...

My trip to the doctor furnished me with lots of very welcome drugs...aniobiotics and antispasmodics are common prescriptions for stomach complaints. I was a little surprised by the lacteolfort. Prescribed to introduce more healthy bacteria to my stomach to help strengthen it, it felt very strange drinking a solution knowing there was 10 million pulverised bacteria in it! For the moment though they seem to have set up residence and are helping me out very nicely...

After a few days resting in Teotitlán, we set out for Oaxaca; through fields of lime and mango trees and past farmers driving oxen.

A day's climbing (a whole day!) and it felt like we were asking constantly "ARE WE THERE YET?!"...stopped here for a banana break with incredible views but it was pretty early on in the day so whilst high and beautiful it most certainly wasn't the top. There was more climbing to come...

...much more climbing!

Finally we rolled into Oaxaca and now it was James' turn to visit the doctor; he was given an identical prescription to mine and started his treatment straight away. Whilst resting, we wandered through the old colonial city, full of churches and art. These statues are part of an outdoor installation by a local artist concerned with the mass emigration of Mexicans to the United States.

Unlike this local, we find that the blazing temperatures in the middle of the day make it too hot to ride...

Art and graffiti on the buildings of Oaxaca makes it a stimulating place to walk around. It's in a state of Mexico known for protest and social tension and the artists who live here challenge locals and visitors alike with their expression...this one reads "silence kills".

We visited the ruins of Monte Alban just outside the city. Zapotec people started living at this site from 500BC and developed a grand city with plazas, temples and palaces.

Restoration work on some of the ruins was interesting to watch; like painting by numbers but with bricks. The stone masons here have numbered all of the original bricks so they can put the wall back together correctly.

Many of the structures at Monte Alban are still intact and give a sense of just how grand this site once was.

The heat of the middle of the day isn't the ideal time to be traipsing around Zapotec ruins; much better to find a precious bit of shade under a beautiful blossoming Jacaranda tree.

We've met up with Lee again, the cyclist from Colorado who we did some riding with in Baja California. Now we're both feeling back to health and appetites are raging, it was great to share an empanada with him and hear how his journey has been. Then, knowing that there are still many more climbs ahead, we made some drastic decisions to send some heavy kit items home. Filtering the items out started out as a fairly organised task but soon our room looked like the panniers had all exploded and left James and Lee scratching their heads trying to decide whether to keep that second crucial pair of socks...

…now all we have to do is get back on the road!