When people return from holiday and they’ve had a good time, you always hear them say “…and the people were SO nice!” like this is some sort of surprise or shock. Is it actually a reassuring sign that deep down most people genuinely are good? Mexico has seen us enjoy so many unmotivated, generous acts that it’s difficult to sum them all up.
We’ve experienced the country from a rare perspecitve; by arriving by bike and avoiding the main tourist areas where we can. The Mexican people we have spent time with in these smaller towns and villages have always wanted to know more – about our trip, about our homes and about our impressions of their country. This last topic is always interesting. We’ve been asked more than once “what were your impressions of Mexico BEFORE you came here”. Whilst we chose to ignore them, our time in the US was littered with conversations warning us to expect a country full of murderers and thieves; and with people begging us to reconsider our planned travel there.
The reality we have found is that people go out of their way to help, to welcome and to feed three dirty cyclists who are, let’s face it, basically on a long holiday and don’t deserve such gifts. From Roberto who allowed us to camp at his ranch the second night we were in Mexico, to the lady yesterday in a village pharmacy who filled our bottles of water for free when she was selling bottled water from her fridge, it feels like it has been an endless line of people queueing up to be good to us.
After four months in Mexico and on the verge of entering a new country (Guatemala), we can’t help but reflect on how lucky we’ve been to meet all these wonderful people in a land which according to the worldwide media is so dangerous. But then perhaps it’s not luck but the fact that Mexico is actually just brimming with lovely people - the troubles they have are contained to a minority of the population that makes front page news everywhere else.
We will share our impressions of this country with anyone who will listen: Mexico is fabulous. Go there and see for yourself. The people we have met and the food we have eaten (there’s been some good cycling and attractive scenery along the way too) has enriched us, enlightened us and inspired us to offer the same generosity and hospitality when we get home…if that’s the lasting impact of a “bad” country, we’re pleased we ignored advice, and we look forward already to our return here.
Our last three weeks in Mexico were no exception to the enjoyable experience we’ve had throughout. We finally managed a departure from San Cristóbal after a long month where we’d been trying to flush out unwelcome parasites (oh, there you go, something we didn’t enjoy about our stay in Mexico: unwelcome doses of entamoeba histolyica, giardia and hookworm for each of us!). The trip to the border via a very circuitous route saw us weaving around Chiapas, a beautiful state with wonderful sights.
Leaving San Cristóbal after a month was a shock to the system. Despite the parasites, we made the most of our time here, enjoying a free film festival, a live Easter crucifixion re-enactment, meeting a lively group of Mexican language students and soaking up the picturesque settting from our rooftop terrace at Tierras Mayas language school...
First stop out of San Cristóbal was the stunning waterfalls at El Chiflón. Great to be back on the bikes and back in the countryside.
We had time on our hands in San Cristóbal so made a supply of power bites - the ultimate cycling energy food...oats, caramel, raisins, nuts...all squished together into little calorific balls and no need to cook - perfect for the inevitable early morning snack stop.
The state of Chiapas is in parts autonomously controlled by the Zapatista Movement, a group of indigenous Mexicans who have been fighing for equal rights and recognition since the 1990s. The Mexican government seems to largely ignore them and they hold control over their own villages in this area. We cycled through many Zapatista controlled villages en route to Laguna Miramar.
We took a quiet road through the mountains and surprised lots of locals who don't often see tourists, let alone tourists on bikes.
Popping out in alpine valleys such as this one was a surprise to us too. It felt more like we were in a corner of Switzerland than Mexico...quite different from the deserts of Baja that we cycled through, back in November.
Reaching 10,000km of cycling on our trip so far and a brief pause taken to pinch ourselves a bit and to reflect on the scores of great people we've met, the hundreds of tortillas we've eaten, the thousands of photos we've taken...
...and then back to business; another day, another dirt road. We bumped downhill and then slogged uphill on unforgiving stony paths in baking heat to lead us to Laguna Miramar...
...often it all got too much and grabbing the opportunity to lie down and snooze after lunch was far more preferable than setting off again straight away.
These dirt roads are not to be disrespected either. This photo was taken at nearly 7pm - the sun is sinking and we are still short of our intended overnight stay by 10km. So we ended up stopping in the next village and camping outside a shop.
The next morning, the local kids crowded around the bikes, asking questons, prodding parts and trying on James' fetching cycle accessories.
Reaching the last village before heading out to the laguna, we stocked up on fruit and veg at this roadside stall. Sweet mangoes, fresh potatoes, soft avocadoes, ripe tomatoes. Mexico tends to sell just a few types of fruit and veg, but what they sell is very tasty indeed.
Having paid our fee to enter the park and being reassured by locals that we could take our bikes with us, we set off for Laguna Miramar, one of the most remote and beautiful natural sites in Chiapas. First though, a white knuckle bridge crossing...
The locals were right, we "could" take our bikes along what was by all accounts a dirt horse track. In parts, it was pretty and the riding was easy...
...mostly though it involved pushing, sweating, swearing and crying our way up and down enormous rutted slopes and over thick tree trunks.
Thankfully the end destinaton proved to be worth the effort. Prime camping spot on the beach at the laguna's edge, where we more or less had the place to ourselves.
Perfect place to spend a rest day and cook up a fried spuds/guacamole lunchtime feast.
Miramar: calm and beautiful in the mornings.
Sweating our way back out to the road was about as much fun as it had been on the way there...but this time we had our priorities right: jump straight in the refreshing river and cool off before doing anything else.
We had two options to leave this remote area. First option: another steep dirt road with possible Zapatista fees to be paid and a less than accurate map of the area. Second option: a lancha boat ride down the river to pick up a more frequently used road and a more direct route to the border. We opted for the lancha and took our bikes for a ride along the river...
A common sight for us in the last few weeks: a local who has spent the morning drinking more than his fair share of booze and passed out in the front of the nearest abandoned building or patch of grass before lunchtime. Unfortunately, sticking out like a sore thumb in these areas, means we attract the attention of most of the local drunks (those who haven't yet got to the passing out stage), leading to many incoherent and baffling conversations.
Our final day in Mexico was spent visiting the Mayan ruins at Chinkultic. We soaked up the views and wandered around the impressive remains of a Mayan settlement from over 1000 years ago....and Lee took a short nap at the top.
Over the border into Guatemala and we are welcomed by the sight of the Cuchumatanes mountains - the highest range in Central America...the stage is set for more hills and more dirt roads...