the people of the clouds

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1st September – D.F to Tepoztlan

We finally made it back onto the road, leaving D.F behind. The cycling itself wasn’t difficult however we reached a point on the road which was 3100m, it was at the point that we were beginning our descent that it began to pour it down with rain. Then came the thunder storm, there was so much rain in our eyes and a thick dense fog that we could not see, it was getting late too so we had no choice but to keep cycling. It took all of my concentration to keep my vision on the road and the position my bike on the right side for the hard shoulder, my hands here so cold from the rain that I couldn’t feel them, making it really hard to keep my hands on the brakes. I think if someone had asked me what my name was at that point I would have struggled to answer, the only thoughts in my brain to keep myself on the road.  The lighting would light up the whole sky, helping light up the road for us, at the time this seemed so important. We finally made it to Tepoztlan, but not before I fell off my bike, my front wheel falling into a giant pothole which was obscured by a puddle. We arrived soaked and cold, our friend Rodrigo had put us in touch with one of his good friends here, and we were greeted with a big hug from ‘El Gallo’, we warmed ourselves with hot chocolate and hot tamales from a street stall.

2nd – 5th September Tepoztlan

Gallo said we were welcome to stay in his home for as long as we wanted. We went on a walk up the mountain side to the pyramid Tepozteco, made to honour the god of pulque, an amazing site overlooking the beautiful town. Pulque is a fermented drink made from the Maguey plant, a type of agave. It has been drunk since pre-colonial times, the god of pulque (Tepozteco) means 2 rabbits. If you drink too much it is said that if you get a visit from 4 rabbits, the god of the drunks. The drink is fermented live so only lasts a certain time, meaning it is not possible to sell commercially. On our way down from the mountain we found a Pulqueria, which also doubled as a families living room. We had to ring a bell and wait before we were allowed in. Pulque is sort of sulphuric in taste, like a strong dry British scrumpy cider, because of these it is often mixed with fruits during the fermentation process. We drunk a pint of guayaba pulque, followed by peach flavoured, and then another with agave syrup. This was so delicious, by the end I think we were definitely dancing with 4 rabbits. We were pretty merry and decided it was a good idea to run home in a thunder storm. We made to to Tamara’s house, a friend of Gallo who fed us pozole, an ancient maize soup with lots of great ingredients, lime, corriander, avocado and chili. Tamara also gave us a huge bag of her home made granola to keep us going on the road.

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The following morning I woke up feeling cold to the bone, and feverish, we had planned to leave that day, but it seems like that cold that I had been trying to get over in D.F had come back after 2 days of being caught in the rain again. I spent a day in bed, and the following day we decided to stay just as a buffer. We have both had our fair share of illness since being in Mexico, and our general rule tends to be that we must have a day feeling normal and being ‘normal people’ before we hit the road again, this requires lots of patience, but it has to be.

5th September – Tepoztlan to San Juan Roboso

El Gallo, our host in Tepoztlan was a lot of fun. We knew anyone who was a good friend of our dear Rodrigo would be completely golden. He had lived in this town his whole life, and identified himself as an indigenous Tepoztecan. Over beers the night before we left we invited him to ride with us. We have invited many of the cyclists we have met to ride with us, even for a few days, but so far no one has taken us up on the offer.

Leah and I started to reminisce about our only other cycling companions – there was Marco, who we met on the Mexican border, who guided us through Tijuana and then accompanied us for 2 days of cycling, he had planned on joining us for more time but he was afraid of the roads and when he realised that we were not going to get buses or stay in hotels, and that I wasn’t going to accept his marriage proposals (despite his home in Cancun) he made an excuses and went back to Tijuana. We made jokes for a while about Marco but in reality we realise that he empowered us so much by guiding us through our first few days in Mexico, and in doing so he empowered us to feel as though we didn’t need him any more. Then there was Randy, the cyclist from Alabama who we met the day after we left Marco. Randy was sweet, but didn’t speak any Spanish and Leah and I were still forging our own bond, we didn’t want to tie ourselves down to cycling with another person, so after one day we told Randy that he should go his own way (this was after his blocked the toilet in the motel we were staying in). Randy gave up half way through Baja California, struggling with the solitude of the desert and his lack of Spanish, he now seems to be blazing it through Canada though, so good for him.

Anyway, sorry for the diversion. Gallo took us up on his offer, and that night he attached his rack to the back of his bike, he cancelled his work as a carpenter for a few days and then the following morning we were on the road. The first half of the day was pretty horrible, we cycling along the autopista and then through some industrial towns, I was feeling pretty nervous about the traffic, falling twice in a sort period of time had made me feel a lot more humbled by the road. We crossed the state border from Morelos to Puebla and the road turned into beautiful countryside.

Further down the road we cycled into a racing cyclist Onet. We got chatting about our trip, and we asked him if he knew of any places we could camp in the area, he didn’t but suggested that we could stay his his home, he gave us his address before he raced off, he was moving so much faster than us. That night we slept on the floor of the out house of Onet’s home. Onet was lovely, he had grown up in the USA but when his mother died he was deported, I dont understand the way these things work but it was something to do with his papers. He had had a good job in California, but since being back in the village for the past 7 years he had only been able to find work farming sugar cane. He lived in this village with his wife and baby, he was really quite despondent about the work situation, about the corruption in the government and the current political situation. He said he hoped to become a serious racing cyclist, and that one day he wanted to make a trip like ours. Gallo invited him and his family to his home in Tepoztlan, I hope they make the trip sometime. There are many people we meet who we end up thinking about a lot, and how things will turn out of them, Onet was determinately one of those people.

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6th September San Juan Roboso to Acatlan

Onet’s wife kindly made us breakfast of coffee, sweet breads and chiliquiles before we hit the road. Onet accompanying us for the first 10km. Here we cycled well in the heat of the day. Gallo was struggling due to a knee injury so sadly he had to get a friend to come and pick him up on route. I think Gallo was pretty gutted to go, he said he cried the whole journey home. He gave us a gift of his metal hip flask, filled with mezcal, something to drink on nights when we are cold or afraid whilst wild camping. We continued up and down hills, admiring the breathtaking cloudscapes. I think one of the advantages of the rainy season is that the most breathtaking and seemingly unreal clouds seem to form in the mid afternoon a few hours before rainfall, like nothing I have seen in my life. That night we found a little waterpark where the owner said he could camp for the night. He was so kind, and even gave us a plate of rice and beans each for dinner.

7th September Acatlan to Huajuapan

The following morning we got up and on our way, cycling through this lush green rolling hills, of this area between Puebla and north Oaxaca which is known as the Mixteca. The indigenous people inhabiting this area are known as Mixtecs, which means people of the clouds. Riding my bike through this area, I truly understood how they gained this name. The hills, and then the arrival of rain in the afternoon meant that we didn’t cover much ground that day. We stopped at Huajuapan, finding a cheap hotel and eating from street food before passing out.

8th September Huajuapan to Tamazulapan

9th Tamazulapan to Oaxaca

The landscape of the Mixteca was becoming more stunning, and the hills more undulating. That night we had hoped to make it to a town further down the road to where one of our friend’s cousin lived but because of the hills we realised it wasn’t going to be possible. Cycling up a hill I saw a bike parked on the side of the road, I found Nemanuel resting under a tree. He was from Oaxaca and was heading to Huajuapan to visit a friend (the same journey we were doing in 2 days he was doing in 1). He was so happy to meet some other cyclists on his home land, he shared his picnic with us, and we made plans to meet up when we all made it to Oaxaca. We hadn’t planned on staying in Tamazulapan that night, but just after we were about to head out after a late lunch we realised the sky had turned a pretty ominous shade of grey, so rather than head out into late afternoon rain we decided to stay put, find another cheap hotel, and just get up really early and cycle all the way to Oaxaca the following day, which is what we did.

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10th-17th September Oaxaca

We had planned to be fairly organised with our time in Oaxaca.  We were both feeling quite concious about how we needed to speed up our travelling a little bit, so with this we were fairly organised with our time in Oaxaca, playing to stay for 3 days.  However things didn’t work out that way- it was the weekend of the Mexican independence and this meant fireworks and street parties, which everyone told us would be better experienced in the city.  This turned out to be an amazingly good decision as the road we were planning on taking got closed that weekend due to severe storms and floods.

Oaxaca is a beautiful city and somewhere which makes it onto the backpacker route because of it’s charm. We spent so much time wandering the artisan craft markets, if I had a home I would have bought so much! Instead we ate lots of the traditional Oaxacan produce – mole, hot chocolate, coffee, pan de yema (egg yolk bread usually dipped into hot chocolate), chapulines (grasshoppers) and an indigenous drink called Tejate which is made with the fat of cacoa.

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We also went to Monte Alban, the Zapotecan pyramids just outside Oaxaca city, this was a bit of an adventure as Nemanuel led us on a hike through the hills and dense bushes, to lead us in through the back of the site, one of the motivations was to avoid paying the entrance fee, but really the best thing about it was to feel like Indiana Jones, emerging from the bushes to find this ancient site.

Like in D.F and Guadalajara Oaxaca also has a cyclist group which organises night rides.  The night we took part on the ride was cold and rainy, and only about 30 people turned up, but we rode through the city, with a sound system and blowing whistles, it was still good fun.  Afterwards Ruben, the leader of the cyclist organisation in Oaxaca, invited us to drink mezcal with him,.

We stayed with a couch surfing host called Victor, he was very sweet, he took us to eat at his favourite Tlayuda place a few times (a Tlayuda is a giant hard tortilla with beans and cheese, is often folded, and this way of eating tortilla is unique to this area, and although it’s basically the same ingredients as every other Mexican dish, people tell you that you MUST try it! ).  Victor was quite a special character, his main loves here Voltswagen vans, a radiohead album which he played on repeat constantly throughout the week, and HOT CHOCOLATE).  Each morning he would ask us for breakfast and then make a giant pot of milky hot chocolate, and we would all sit around drinking at least 3 cups of it with sweet bread.  Often we would say we’d had enough, but he’d insist on making more, and often he would insist on making some just before bed.  Victor was a man who really knew what he liked.

We met up with Nemanuel, the cyclist we met on the road, and we joined a street parade called a calenda, we carried candle lanterns whilst paper mache giant puppets danced, and women with colourful cycle skirts spinned around in front of us.

During the night of the independence day parties the mood was apparently more sombre than usually, on account of many people’s disillusionment with the government.  The whole week before the independence day there had been huge protests across the whole of Mexico, the countries teachers are on strike. The night of independence fireworks went off in the streets and there was a band and dancing in the town square.

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