streets of silver

you can view photos that belong to this set here

11th July –  GDL

12th July –  GDL to San Miguel al Alto

13th July –  San Miguel el Alto to Santa Ana

14th July –  Santa Ana to Guanajuato

on the road again

We set our date to leave Guadalajara, we woke up early we finished packing, I wrote my blog entry, Bernardo came over to take photos, Donaldo came over to say goodbye, and then before we knew it was 3pm, and we decided at that moment we didn’t want to leave that day.  Jorge was there, he said he wasnt surprised, he’d seen other cyclists do the same so many times before.  We  took off our padded shorts, got dressed back into normal clothes, and resolved to just leave early the next morning instead cycling in one day what we had planned to do in two days.

The following morning we were finally made it out of the door of the casa ciclista, cycling through the streets of Guadalajara one last time, heading West. We made it out of the city without too much trouble and on to the toll road.  It felt so good to be riding again and we cycled 80 easy miles, through the lush Jalisco countryside.  Grey clouds and thunder and lightning lumed ahead but we stayed dry, making it to San Miguel el Alto before dark.

How to sleep

Leah and I had been having conversations about how we wanted our trip to be: in Baja there were lots of official campsites, and as there were also big distances between any civilisation we would often find ourselves needing to camp outside people’s cafes/homes. Cheap hotels are only slightly more expensive that official campsites, but really in Baja we could go a week without having to pay for somewhere to sleep.    Before arriving in Guadalajara we’d cycled for a week on mainland Mexico, and had not camped at all during that time, there were no official spots and this middle part of Mexico is way more populated so it doesn’t seem as straight forward.  It wasnt just the issue of money that had prompted this conversation, we missed camping, and we missed the interactions with people and how we would feel when we found somewhere unusual to stay.  After cycling all day and feeling so influenced by our surroundings checking into a hotel would feel like checking out.  Sometimes this is a good thing, and sometimes it isn’t, so our plan for this forthcoming leg was to find places to sleep SAFELY and for free.   San Miguel el Alto  felt similar to England with its heathland and dry stone walls; a stunning farming town in the centre of lushiously green countryside (aside from the fact that all the men seemed to be rancheros, wearing cowboy hats) so…. that night we rocked up at the huge church in centre of the town, there was a marriage in progress so we sat around waiting  and watching, we then found someone who looked official and asked if we could pitch our tent within the plaza of the church.  They came up with a better idea of letting us sleep within some dormitories within the church buildings.  That night after eating a huge pizza we slept so soundly.  The next morning we explored the town, ate some amazing breakfast of cake followed by Chilaquiles, before setting off.  The priest told us we would always be welcome to return any time we wanted.

We cycled happily through the rolling green countryside which was feeling increasingly like the British Countryside I was so familiar with.  I know direct comparisons aren’t always necessary but my perceptions of what Mexico is are changing all the time.  The lush countryside means there are volumes of dairies, and interestingly to me – many cajeta factories.  I have mentioned before cajeta is a boiled milk caramel, often known as dulce de leche… yummmm.

Again that day we cycled well, crossing the border into a new state, Guanajuato.  That night again we found some unusual lodgings – we wanted to camp in a field but couldn’t find a suitable spot, so again we turned up to a church in the tiny village of Santa Ana del Conde.  Here we found a huge monastery with a very hospitable monk who let us sleep in one of the out houses of the church.  The following morning was Sunday, the priest and the monk reminded us that it was the day of rest and they were in no rush, mass was not until mid-day.  They insisted we had breakfast with them. The breakfast was so laid back, we feasted and talked about our trip, their village and the local area.  We were packed off with sweets and fruits and told again we were always welcome to return.  Whilst everyone else went to mass Leah and I took the opportunity to swim in the monastery pool.  That day we cycled to Guanajuato, filled with happiness at this interaction with such kind people.  How lucky we were.

Guanajuato

15th and 16th July  – Guanajuato

The state capital is also called Guanajuato.  During the colonial period the equivalent of 5 billion US dollars of silver was extracted from the hills surrounding this town.  And to this day this region continues to be one of the richest in Mexico.  The wealth in the city is apparent, full of ornate churches, theatres and plazas, all set within a beautiful valley with brightly coloured buildings creeping up the hill-side. I have visited many Spanish Colonial cities – Sevilla, Granada, Cartagena de Indias, but none as ornate as this.  For us, the most intriguing part of the city was the  extensive network of tunnels that runs below the city.  These tunnels were original dug to prevent flooding within the city, but are now used for cars and buses, meaning that the city above is predominately pedestrianised, it was thrilling to ride our bikes through the subterrania.  The city is also famed for its Mummy Museum, the largest collection in the world; as well as being the birth place of the Mexican Artist Diego Rivera, his old home is now a Museum in his honour.  For all of these reasons we decided we needed to take a few days to explore the streets, the tunnels and the museums.

Riding and day dreaming

17th July  – Guanajuato to San Miguel de Allende

Leaving Guanajuato meant steep hills and a thousand turns, and in about 4 hours we managed to travel around 10 miles.  The pay off was the most amazing views on what may have been one of the most beautifully stunning rides of the trip.  I can not describe the happiness I feel during these moments, I feel so free and I wonder what could be better.  I begin to-day dream, so vividly that I feel as though the day dreams are queuing up inside my head.  I think of all the times I have felt the same whilst riding my bike through similar terrain, and who I was riding with at those times.  I thought about my lovely friends Sarah and Caroline and riding through the Basque Country between San Sebastian and Bilbao;  I thought of riding Lands end to John o Groats with my ex-boyfriend; and most vividly about riding through Wales with my little brother.  And of course I think about where I am at that moment, those people and those places.

San Miguel de Allende

17th-24th July  – San Miguel de Allende

Leah’s little sister spent a winter in this town and loved it so much that she wanted us to enjoy it in comfort, she therefore kindly paid for an apartment for us for a week, so here we are.  As I write this I am trying hard to sum up my feeling towards this place,  and how best to describe it,  I therefore turned to other sources to help sum it up.  Lonely Planet  (2008) describes it as  ‘a bit like being a Mexican Disney Land for foreign (mainly American) retirees.  With stunning colonial architecture, cobbled streets and enchanting lighting’.  Another cyclist who is travelling a little ahead of us describes it welll…

‘The eclectic mish-mash of eccentric aging gringos with Mexican culture here in San Miguel de Allende is morbidly fascinating in the same way that we all stare at the wreckage of an accident. Although the cobblestone-lined streets are beautiful, this is not my kind of town, but I can appreciate that even this, too, is Mexico. While normally I would avoid gringo-laden tourist towns, San Miguel de Allende has its highlights and I was determined to make the best of it… from gorgeous photography exhibits, to the picturesque architecture, to the music scene’.

Now we are coming to the end of our week here I can not believe how quickly it has passed.  We were lucky enough to arrive at the same time as a film festival, so we have been over-dosing on short films and documentaries.  All of these have been free which would never have been the case in London or New York, so we really appreciating having the time to experience this.  Our San Miguel friends have been Alex and Emily, friends of Leah’s sisters.  They have taken us to the local markets where we have tried new delicacies, Pulque (alcoholic fermented agave drink) as well as pickled peanuts, it was lovely meeting them.  Sweet Emily is a hair dresser and kindly cut our hairs to make us look a little less like scruffy mountain/desert people. At the weekend we also had some friends from Guadalajara visit, it was pretty exciting to see friends that we didnt expect to see again.

Onwards

During this time of rest I have been planning to do lots of yoga and revise lots of Spanish grammar, but it seems having too much free time makes one lazy.  I have also been trying to plan the next leg of the trip – we first considered heading north again to visit some cascades but this would mean climbing up hill for 4 days into the demi-desert, so we aborted that plan sticking to the original idea of heading towards Mexico City.  We plan on fitting in a trip to the ruins of the ancient city of Teotihuacan, which was the largest city in the pre-Colombian Americas, and at the time one of the largest cities in the world.

Leah and I have been talking a lot about our feelings towards some of the places we have been visiting. Many people were evangelical about the appeal of Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.  Although I appreciate their aesthetic beauty and why people are magnetised to these places the interesting thing is that I did not feel comfortable in these towns compared to other places we have spent time off our bikes whilst on this tour.  Aside from the stunningly beautiful riding through the ever-changing landscape, for me the most memorable parts of this last leg have been breakfasting with the monks in Santa Ana, eating the most amazing quesidillas from a taco stand on the side of a motorway after cycling 70 miles, and how Leah and I nursed a dying dog on the side of the road. So, I finish this post feeling reflective about how surprising and intriguing our feelings are towards the places we pass through, and how heavily these feeling are influenced by our method of transport.

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