Mexico: an A-Z

May 20th, 2012


¡Adios! Where we say hi!, Mexicans say bye! - and so calls of ¡adios! followed us wherever we rode in Mexico, shouted cheerily from passing cars, doorways, family gatherings and hidden bystanders in trees and fields of maize. Prize for the most extreme ¡adios! though has to go to this guy, who hailed us from the top of this 50m electricity pylon and brightened up a dull morning crossing the Istmo de Tehauntepec. In true Mexican style, no harnesses or ropes in sight...

Blues. Turquoise sea meets cobalt sky in the Bahía de la Concepción, Baja California - one of the most stunning sections of Mexican coastline we rode.

Coco's Corner. Old toilets clustered around a disconnected TV set, a ceiling hung with female visitors' lingerie, and a Mexican amputee racing around on a kids' quad bike. Coco's Corner, a bizarre hideout in the middle of the Baja desert, was definitely our most surreal but also one of our best overnight stays in Mexico.

Dirt Roads. "Good roads, bad people; bad roads, good people". So said Baja Barney, who proved his own point by putting us up in his absent neighbours' beachfront condo at Gonzaga Bay, Baja Norte. This 60km stretch of dirt road and sand south of Puerticitos was my favourite ride in Mexico; here, away from the truck-dodging on Highway 1, Baja really came alive with deserted coastline and untouched desert.

Easter. This year we swapped Easter Eggs for a live re-enactment of the Easter story through the streets of San Cristóbal de las Casas, culminating in a dramatic crucifixion under stormy skies outside the church in Barrio de los Méxicanos. I still missed my Kit Kat chunky egg though...

Frutas. Inspired by Lee, our very own Man from Del Monte, we got stuck into Mexico's incredible array of fruit. Fresh sandía has never tasted so good as at this roadside stop on the Oaxacan Coast in 40 degree heat. I'm just not sure how we will ever go back to bland, long-life supermarket fruit after this...

Guerrero. After this stay with the monjitas in Vicente Guerrero, I can now add "nunnery" to my list of overnight stops. Things got even better when the Madre insisted on making us coffee, eggs and frijoles to set us on our way the next morning.

Hostalito. Finally, a hostel with some character and charm. Run by Joaquin, a Pan-American cyclist who got stuck in San Cristóbal, El Hostalito was definitely the coolest place we paid to stay at in Mexico. Real beds, a proper kitchen and a great DVD collection - everything a tent-bound cyclist craving some home comforts needs for a few nights!

Iglesias. In an effort to prove just how godly and important they were, the Spanish conquistadores left Mexico with an incredible array of churches. Even the smallest of pueblos we rode through, like this one as we left Puebla, often had an elaborate church fronting onto its central square.

Juncalito. One night became two, and then three at Playa Juncalito, south of Loreto in Baja Sur. We even left one morning and got 10km up the road, before deciding we needed just one more night and turning around again. There was nothing to do but read, doze, watch the Ospreys fish, and feast on our own delicious dorado donated by friendly neighbours.

Kayaking. It doesn't get much better than kayaking at dawn in the Bahía de la Concepción, Baja Sur. An enormous thank you to Fabian, our Warm Showers host who amazingly opened up the home he had rented for his family holiday to four hungry and dirty cyclists.

Laguna Miramar. In my ideal world, every morning would start with a swim in a lake, river or the sea. We managed a lot of early morning dips in Mexico - but few better than this one at Laguna Miramar, where even Bedders was tempted straight from the sleeping bag into the bathtub-warm water.

Mercados. If you still need convincing that supermarkets are A Bad Thing, then you should visit a Mexican market. Riots of colour, smells, and noise, Mexican markets put fun and social interaction back into our daily shopping, and came as a breath of fresh air after the sterility of the Western shopping experience.

Navidad. We might not have had a chimney, but we made up for it with beards, santa hats and roast chicken for Christmas in La Paz, Baja Sur.

!Órale güey! ("Right on dude!") With the rest of our trip in the Spanish-speaking world, it's been great to re-immerse myself in Latin American culture and language. Brushing up on our Mexican street slang with the help of Ares in Puebla and students in San Cristóbal has been a highlight.

Pueblitos. Sarah shares a bleary eyed dawn moment with a pony in Oxaltepec, Puebla as we help Dionisius to harvest the agua de miel (honey water) from the magüey cactus. The real charm of Mexico for us has been in these moments in just some of the tens of tiny pueblitos (villages) we have ridden through each day. It's easy for us to romanticise what is a tough existence, but there is an undeniable appeal in the simplicity, generosity and sense of community we found here.

Quesillo. One of the things we've missed most since we left home has been our beloved cheese. Stringy Mexican quesillo isn't exactly strong on flavour, but served in a cemita like this with milanesa (crispy breaded pork), avocado, tomato and jalapenos, it's hard to beat. I have to admit we stayed an extra day in Puebla just to try this local market speciality - and it was well worth it.

Rancho el Tejón. Wherever we have gone in Mexico, we have been bowled over by people's warmth and generosity. One of our first experiences of Mexican hospitality was with Cristina at Rancho el Tejón in Baja Norte. We stopped by to deliver a package from the infamous Coco, and Cristina immediately invited in to stay the night - before sending us on our way with a huge slab of chocolate cheesecake the next morning. These are the moments that put grins on cyclists' faces.

Sunrises and sunsets. Baja California does sunrises and sunsets like nowhere else I've been. This was the view from Playa Réqueson, where we unrolled our mats and sleeping bags for the night under a palm palapa.

Tortillas. Flour, corn, blue, machine pressed, hand patted, large and small - our daily tortillas changed as we moved south through Mexico, but they remained at the centre of Mexican food we loved. Stuff them with carne asada, pastor, adobado or fish and you have mouth watering tacos; fold them over and fill them with chicken and cheese and you have empanadas; fry them and spread them with frijoles, avocado and cheese and you have crunchy tostadas; stretch to pizza size and add toppings and you have tlayudas. Tortillas will be with us for many more miles to come, but maybe never again in such glorious variety...

Ubiquitous. Wherever you find tortillas, you'll find the comal - a simple but ingenious hot plate over a gas flame at the heart of Mexican cooking. In Amecameca, we feasted on Tlacoyos, folded blue tortillas stuffed with frijoles and white beans and toasted on the hot comal. Whenever we next find ourselves with a kitchen to call our own, a comal will definitely be first on the shopping list.

Volcán Popo. Mainland Mexico has forced us to rediscover our climbing legs - and we were straight in at the deep end when we left Mexico City and climbed between the two sleeping giants of the Popo and Ixta volcanoes. Except Popo isn't quite asleep - the rumblings and ash clouds we saw as we rode through were just the precursor to much more dramatic recent activity, which has seen the area closed off.

Waking Up. I normally find waking up a traumatic process at the best of times, but dragging yourself out of your sleeping bag certainly becomes a lot easier when you open your eyes to morning views like this. Another spectacular sunrise at Bahía de la Concepción, Baja Sur.

Extra Curricular activities (OK, I struggled with X). In between the cycling, and certainly when the parasites invaded in the second half of our time in Mexico, we found plenty of time to indulge in reading. Or at least Lee did until he tragically knelt on his Kindle - at which point he took up knitting instead. No wonder we get so many stares.

"Yo soy de los EEUU" ("I'm from the USA"). Mexico wouldn't have been half as much fun without Lee. Despite his constant struggles with the English language (let alone the Spanish), our shared passions for tacos, beards, Fritos, more tacos, being easily distracted, and - just sometimes - cycling very slowly, made him our perfect third wheel.

Zapatistas. Our final Mexican leg took us into the jungles of Chiapas and Zapatista territory, where in the mid-90s the Mexican government waged war against an indigenous uprising. Even here, Mexican hospitality ruled supreme - proof perhaps that despite the enormous political and social problems that the country faces, the indomitable Mexican spirit and warmth that we have experienced will help to preserve the uniqueness of this fascinating and varied country.



6 Responses to “Mexico: an A-Z”

  1. Sam Wyld Says:

    Phenomenal set of pics, as always. That sunrise… wow! Actually really, really envious! I want to float away my cares in a bath-warm lake!!! *sulks* xxx


  2. Edgimundo Says:

    If you didn’t make it to Cancun for a beer in Senor Frogs then you didn’t really experience Mexico at all. Probably worth turning back now…

    PS How many times did you have to check that to make sure you hadn’t left any letters out? And did you have to check with anyone that they were in the right order?


  3. Al Crosby Says:

    Looks awesome, as ever. I won’t even pretend not to be jealous. Glad it’s going well. James – that beard – surely it’s slowing you down, or is that the idea?!
    Have fun, Al


  4. Mum and Dad Says:

    You’re a clever sort of chap aren’t you! It wasn’t till I got to the comment above that I clicked that you had actually managed the full A-Z!! Well done and what great pics again. Missing you more – not less – aa time goes on. Love you bith loads and hope the parasites have gone on holiday by now!
    Big hugs


  5. Margy Says:

    yes this really is something else, the sun rise & sun sets are beautiful. All well here, but a little sad as our dear friend Dick Everett died last week. Dick had Motor neurones disease, it really is dreadful but, bless him he never complained and died very peacefully immediately after being anointed.He had 4 daughters,Liz, who was Katie’s bridesmaid, Rachel & Katherine who came camping to Italy with Ann & Dick, when we went with Phil & Tony etc. They were & are wonderful friends. Katie & I & Tony are going to the Funeral tomorrow and then I am going with Helen & the girls to Lutterworth after school.
    Happy Birthday again Sarah & much love,
    Margy xxxxx


  6. Chrissie Says:

    James and Sarah… so enjoying reading your blogs… The Mexico you found sounds just wonderful and yes it makes the heart sing to know that all these lovely people you have met have welcomed you and given you such hospitality. Do hope your little intestinal visitors give up and clear off though! with love Auntie Chrissie…
    Sarah… belated birthday greetings for 23rd.. hope you found cake!


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