The amazingly lucky co-incidence of meeting Rodrigo (a fellow cycle tourist we met whilst we were cycling through the Sierra Gorda) led to us spending a truly special week in the area known as the Huasteca. The area spreads across several states of Mexico and is defined as the area in which the Huastec people had influence of in pre-colonial Mexico.
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The Huasteca 3rd – 10th August
It turned out that not only had Rodrigo cycled from Ushuaia (the Southern most tip in South America) to Alaska, but he had completed the 30,000km (20,000 miles) journey in 10 mouths, making him a bit of a celebrity in Mexico, you can see some of the photos of his trip here and some interviews of him here. It was really special for us to meet someone that had cycled the journey that we were are hoping to complete. We fired questions at him, and shared stories. Of course there were scary stories, near misses and injuries (saddle sore so extreme that he could not walk for 2 weeks and was on anti-biotics) but he was so positive about his experiences and he was truly excited for us, and it made our journey seem even more possible.
Rodrigo was in the process of building a hotel on the lake of the town of Jalpan. Even though the building is still just a wall-less structure we slept on matresses on the ground. Once the hotel is built the plan is to also set up a company offering trips within the area. So, with Rodrigo’s knowledge and love of the Huasteca we ditched our bikes for a week, and we visited places we would never have known about, and way off paved roads.
On Sunday morning we headed off to Xilitla. Each Sunday people who live in the mountains surrounding the town come down to sell their produce in the market, fruits, and flowers, coffee and goats cheeses. A food unique to the area is Zachaquil, ground maize, cooked with fat and spices and boiled in a giant banana leaf in a wood oven for around 12 hours. It’s eaten with pickled vegetables and it was truly delicious. The area is also known for it’s coffee, and we made sure we sampled plenty. The mountains around Xilitla are sub tropical rainforest and here interlaced between natural waterfalls and pools the British Surrealist Artist Edward James built towering Surrealist sculptures in concrete, these cover acres of the rainforest and we spent a whole day swimming and jumping into the pools and discovering the gigantic sculptures amongst the forest.
One night we decided to experience the Sótano de las Golondrinas. Here each night a flock of around a million swallows fly into their nests located within a vertical cave hole, 450m deep. The birds fly in almost a hurricane anti-clockwise formation, at around one point a minute a group of birds breaks off from the group, darting down into the cave. Before this trip I didn’t think I would have been interested in watching a bunch of birds flying around but it was a pretty spectacular sight. We were laying on these rocks on at the edge of the cave, watching thousands of birds speed above us, it sounded like rain and wind. We camped that night just above the cave, making an amazing campfire dinner, before getting up at the crack of dawn to watch the birds exit the cave. They fly in a circle to gain enough height before they are up and out of the cave, again it’s a flock of birds breaking from the circle around once a minute.
Each day Rodrigo would take us to different swimming spots, lakes, canyons, waterfalls, swimming caves, white water rivers. We had such an amazing time, we called it ‘a holiday from a holiday’.
10th August Jalpan to Vizarron
11th August Vizarron to El Geiser
We left the area a week later, making the same journey in reverse to leave the mountains, it was strange to speed down the hills it has taken hours to climb. Rodrigo had recommended low traffic roads all the way to Mexico City. I was really sad to leave the Sierra Gorda and to say goodbye to Rodrigo- and we cycled through dusty semi-desert and sky made up of grey cloud, it seemed to reflect how I felt. That night we camped behind a café/someone’s home/farm in the mountains, and ate cake from the café for dinner. We woke up to be surrounded by cloud, it felt like we were on the edge of the world. That day we cycled easily to some geiser hot springs. The hot water comes from a volcanic vent and the area has been made into a water park. The hot sulphuric water is used to heat the swimming pools in the water park. Then there is also an area where the water and steam comes out of these huge vents and at 95degree Celsius it was scoldingly hot, people would sit in these little caves, trying to stay there for as long on they could, before running out. It was pretty crazy, people running out of the caves on wet concrete, unable to see with the steam. There was camping at the pools and it seems to be a place for families from Mexico City to spent the weekend; people were so friendly, and we got adopted by a few families for the day.
12th August El Geiser to somewhere after La Sabinita
13th August La Sabinita to Tula
The next day we headed off, pretty late. We took mainly back roads and many were actually unpaved, the cobbles were so hard to cycle on, so we would just get off and walk. After several hours of pushing our bikes up a cobbled hill we realised we were not going to get to where we wanted to that evening, so found a spot off the road between trees and cactus and camped.
That morning we got up early, we were camping close to some farm land and didn’t want any farmers to find us. Pushing our bikes up the hill I caught up with an old woman walking along up the hill with a gigantic bundle of wood tied to her back. We started talking and I asked if there was anywhere to buy food and coffee in the village. She said there was just a little shop but we could come to her house for coffee. Once we were in her house she offered us breakfast too, we didn’t want to take her food so we got some pan dulce, eggs and tortillas from the shop next door. She cooked up a delicious breakfast and it had been pretty cold on the mountain so the coffee really warmed us up. She told us that she had 12 daughters, and half of them seemed to come into the house to join us for breakfast. In the corner of the home was a huge bucket Pulque, a home brewed agave drink which takes at least 3 months to ferment, sadly she didn’t offer us any!
We continued to walk up the cobbled hill road, it finally became flat and we were able to ride our bikes again. That afternoon we made it to Tula, we had a host lined up via warmshowers but as we were arriving to the town a day late he was no longer available, however people seem keen not to let us down and we given the details of another cyclist who would host us for the night. Cesar was an amazing host, we took us to the ruins in Tula, with it’s carved stone warrior pillars known as the Atlantis. We also tried some local delicacies of meal worms and ants eggs cooked in sauce, snail mole, and dried meal worms, all served in tacos. It was sort of controversial of me because of being a vegetarian but I did not want to miss out on this and I think Leah was relieved not to have to explain what they were like. Cesar wanted us to stay another night but we were keen to keep moving towards Mexico City.
14th August Tula to Teotihucan
Leaving Tula I wanted to take the autopista as I really wanted to put some miles behind us; Cesar however was worried about the safety on this road so mapped out some back roads of us to take. Heading out of the city some people stopped us on the side of the road, they were friends of Cesar’s and had heard about our trip and wanted to take some pictures of us, and take our details so they could follow the trip. We left the state of Hidalgo for the state of Mexico and the cycling that day was pretty grim, although the roads were small but there was still a heavy flow of stinking traffic and the area was heavily industrial, lots of cement factories and thermal energy plants. Heading towards our destination of Teotihucan I was careering down a hill, I was enjoying the descent too much to think about braking for the speed bump at the bottom of the hill, and before I knew it I was off my bike, my bike on top of me, and one of my panniers as well as my mud guard wrapped up in my wheel. The traffic behind me stopped and people got up to help, I got my bike off me and both my bike and myself to the side of the road. Trying to reassure people that I was ok in Spanish whilst feeling pretty flustered as a good test. Someone helped with tools from their car to re-attach my mudguards, but my pannier was totally ripped and my front rack snapped. I was keen to keep moving and get to the town before dark, so strapped my ripped pannier to the back of my bike and kept pedalling. I had some cuts and bruises but wanted to get to our destination before sorting it out. As well as eating insects that day I also ate gravel.
Assessing the damage my front rack might be ok, only a small piece is snapped off. I will definitely need a new pannier, which I am pretty sad about as I loved my orange set and even if I do find Ortlieb panniers in Mexico City orange is not one of the most common colours. I feel lucky that nothing irreplaceable was broken, or that I wasn’t hurt more.
There is a campsite in the town of Teotihuacan, close to the ancient city, so that night we pitched our tents and I cleaned my wounds before eaten a slightly depressing dinner of cold nopales with cold tortillas.
15th August Teotihuacan
We spent the day at the site of the ancient city of Teotihucan, the site of the biggest Meso-American pyramids. The city was established by the Toltecans around 100BC and the pyramids finished around 400AD and at one point this was one of the biggest cities of the world. The site is made up of the pyramid of the sun, the pyramid of the moon, as well as the avenue of the dead, the site was overwhelming, and I think the pictures speak for themselves.
So, I write this close to the site of what you could call the original Mexico City, and tomorrow we will make the 50km journey into the current Mexico City, and we are so excite
- the road we chose
- the world is small when you ride a bike