We spent so much time in Mexico that we often wondered if we were on an international bike tour, or just a bike ride around Mexico. I am sure a lot of people reading this blog wondered the same. I was beginning to feel a little guilty, we have a total of 13 countries to pass though, and we spent 5 months in the first one.
I didn’t know much about the country before I went, and when I thought of a Mexican this was my sterotype. Our time on and off the bike in Mexico filled us with so much love and generosity of time and spirit, and this was the real reason we travelled so slowly. We cycled through the most amazing landscapes from desert to rain forest, volcanic mountains to metropolises. It was such a great place to begin this journey.
Here are some of the things we loved the most:
Mi casa es tu casa – my house is your house. I can imagine the two of us turning up to someone’s house in the desert or another remote place, and asking to camp outside, and not speaking the language amazingly well, we must seem like aliens. We were however never turned away, we were always made to feel welcome, and people often told us to come back, or we could stay as long as we liked. Through couch surfing and warm showers we have been welcomed into people’s homes, been given keys, treated like family. Strangers have seen us in the street and invited us in to dinner, our favourite time was when an old woman who was carrying fire wood on her back invited us into her home one morning for coffee, we were tired from wild camping and sitting around her kitchen table with her daughters warmed our hearts and our bodies. When someone hasn’t been able to host us they always direct us to another friend who can. Everyone has always helped us with directions, taken the time with us; in my life in London I would often not even have time to do this. We have experienced so much more kindness than I have ever given to anyone in my life, and people give knowing that we can never repay them. As I say, we are riding in the slip stream of kindness.
The banter- I guess this sort of links to the above. We have only received good natured banter on the road, and excited honking of horns. Often it is ‘vamos vamos vamos’ (go,go,go) but we have had tiny old women telling us, ‘andele pues’ (go on then!). Our name in Mexico was ‘guera’ which means blondie, this was only ever affectionate, and this is something we miss. Our name from now on will be Gringo, which really isn’t so nice.
Corn – there is a Mexican saying ‘sin maiz no hay pais’ which means ‘no corn no country’ We loved Mexican food, and the fact that we have both put on weight since being on this bike tour is testament to that. Maiz is more than that, many indigenous groups believed that the first humans were created from maiz, and all pre-colonial groups had gods of maiz. Tortillas were only ever made with maiz, unlike the doughy stodgy horrible long life flour ones that we eat in the U.K and the states. We loved tamales and we really liked eating the corn on the cob (elote) with chili and lime which was the most simple yet satisfying street snack. There are even maiz drinks, atole a hot almost custardy drink which we found most commonly in Oaxaca, and then Pozol, a cold almost milky drink found more commonly in Chiapas. Maiz powered our pedals.
The big cities. Guadalajara. Mexico D.F – we began the bike tour spending 6 weeks in the desert and countryside, and then we made it to the city of Guadalajara. We stayed for 3 weeks. This time was so formative to our travels and our time in Mexico, we made friends and felt as though we could really experience life in Mexico, understanding a lot more about the culture. It was so hard to leave. We also fell in love with Mexico D.F (Mexico City), there was such a great energy there, amazing culture and food, and of course time to form friendships. I found Mexico D.F much less overwhelming than my native London, surrounded by amazing countryside, a really strong bike culture, friendly people and great food. These are two cities I could really imagine living.
The desert- We spent a month cycling in the desert of Baja California. I was initially really overwhelmed by the desert, the vast expanses, the risk of running of of water, the heat. This however was a great place to start our tour, putting us in good habits, we got used to camping wild, to carrying extra food supplies and conserving water. The landscape is so dramatic and the feeling so intense.
The Virgin de Guadalupe – When I think of Mexico I think of colours and Catholicism. The Virgin is special there is a shrine to her almost everywhere, streets corners, most buildings, huge stickers on buses, trucks and cars. A lot of people have a shrine in their home. We have seen a shine in a cave and whilst scuba diving in a lake, these images are colourful and intriguing and were such a strong visual presence during our time in Mexico.
The slang – It took us a few months to get used to the slang, but once we did things were a lot more fun. ‘Guey’ pronouced ‘way’ is a word for ‘dude’ which is used more commonly in the big cities, it is often thrown in at the end of most senstances. Another good one is ‘no mames!’ which means ‘don’t suck me!’ and is said as in ‘no way!’ or ‘really???!!’ ‘chido’ means cool and ‘chingon’ can mean so much. There are so many more. Sadly we no longer get to use any of these words now that we have left Mexico.
Sierra Gorda – We took a detour for a week, cycled up through the semi-desert and then into lush green mountains, waterfalls, and log cabins. Our time here was so special and I really feel this was the most beautiful place is Mexico, and so many less tourists than Chiapas and Oaxaca, a real gem. We are so so glad we took this de-tour and our friend Rodrigo for the week we spent with him there.
The noise – People use noise to communicate, vans circle the streets with songs selling gas for people’s homes. Trucks with loud speakers circle the streets selling anything from bananas to mattresses. We were woken in the middle of the night by mariachi bands playing, or people doing karaoke. People carrying loud speakers in their rucksacks ride the metro in D.F selling C.Ds. People communicate in a different way, and we loved the buzz.
Things we didn’t like….
Dogs – Leah and I agree that our saddest and most fearful times have been brought about by dogs. We have seen so many dead dogs at the side of the road in every state imaginable, newly dead with guts hanging out to those old and leatherised. We have nursed a dying dog on the side of the road, and cycled past a squashed but still alive and slightly twitching dog in the middle of the road, we were unable to help. I think the most disturbing sight I have witnessed was a dog that had sustained an injury to it’s behind and his intestines seemed to be hanging out of him, he was still walking around. I hate being in really hot towns where the strays seem as though they have had too much sun to the brain, they just seem to wander in the road, unaware of just nonplussed about traffic.
Then there were the scary times, being chased by packs of hungry dogs. People also keepthem on your roof to protect their property, it seems that people believe keeping a dog hungry keeps them a little bit mean and angry. It was also pretty depressing when in the desert and so much space in a shop it taken by dog food, and there was so fresh food available. I haven’t had my rabies jab, maybe I need to start carrying a stick around with me. In the desert oasis town of San Ignacio in Baja California there was a sucsessful nuturing scheme, there were no stray dogs. Some well meaning animal lovers out there want to do some good, sponsor a dog nutering programme in Mexico, I can give you the name of the towns and cities to hit up first. If there were less dogs in Mexico there would be less hungry, dead and dying ones.
Sex pests – 2 flashers, both in the desert of Baja California. We also experienced two disturbed nights of sleep whilst camping in Baja California caused by men giving us trouble. The most scary was when it was policemen giving undesired attention, if anything it was an experience to learn from. ACAB.
Rubbish disposal – my mum asked me the other day ‘why don’t you ever show us any of the crap stuff in your photographs?’ The smell of a dying cow burnt out cow is now singed into my memory, in some really beautiful places there was just so much rubbish on the side of the road, I think in rural places there isn’t public rubbish disposal and people can’t afford to rid of their rubbish. Sad.
- Guatemala by bike