the road we chose

24th-31st July San Miguel de Allende 31st July San Miguel de Allende to Queretaro1st August Queretaro to Bernal

you can view photos from this post here

Our stay in San Miguel was extended by a week due to Leah becoming poorly,meaning that we ended up being there for 2 weeks. The day that we finally left Leah ran down the hill to collect her anti-biotics and then we hit the road.

Being on the road again felt so liberating and surreal for both of us, it felt new and exciting just like when we first started out.  It seemed as though it was downhill all the way to Queretaro, I wonder if it was or if being back on our bikes felt as though we were flying.  We stopped at a service station and ate some long life cakes, the type we would normally avoid unless it was our our last resort, but as we acquainted these with life on the road even they seemed exciting to us!

Queretaro is another state where the state capital has the same name. I got a good feel for this place, a small and friendly city with some beautiful colonial architecture.  Here we had arranged to stay with a warm showers host (the cycle touring hosting website),  however as we were arriving to the city a week later than planned it now wasn’t possible for us to stay with them.  Anyway, the host was keen not to let us down and they arranged for a friend to host us. We were so lucky to stay with and meet David and Ceci, and their two children Raul and Sara, such kind and warm people; they let us sleep in their home even though it meant that the whole of their family slept in one room for a night whilst we took their other room.

The following morning Leah and I went to a cafe around the corner to get some breakfast, here we ate an amazing omelette of nopales (the leaf of the nopal cactus) and guacamole with the best freshly made maize tortillas, it was so good that we spent a lot of time talking about it afterwards.  Whilst eating Ceci had driven past and seen our bikes outside the cafe and came to join us, as did David.  Here we sat and looked at the map together, we asked about the best route south, making our way to Mexico City.  On the map Ceci pointed out the Sierra Gorda, the national park which makes up about a third of the state of Queretaro.  Ceci was such an animated and friendly person but just talking about the Sierra Gorda she became even more so.  She told us about how there were lots of waterfalls and rivers and the terrain went from semi-desert to dense forest, she explained that there was a rich culture heritage in the region .  Leah and I didn’t need much convincing, it felt as though we had spent so much time in towns and cities recently; we were craving nature, adventure and quiet roads.  We just weren’t ready to be in one of the biggest metropolises in the world, and to spend the coming days on the hard shoulders of motorways.  So just like that we changed our plan.  We quickly emailed our families to let them know our route had changed and off we went.

We cycled easily through the outskirts of the city and into the countryside.  On the road we were handed some bottles of drink from a passing car.  These acts of kindness are something we were initially suspicious about when we first started this trip, but now we happily accept these for what they are; we obviously always trust our instincts but it seems that some people are just excited to see us on the road.

That night we arrived at Bernal, a picturesque village famed for its narrow steep mountain which shadows over the village, Peña de Bernal.  It was getting dark when we arrived and we needed to make a plan about where to sleep.  We got chatting to Luis, an artisan selling jewellery in the town plaza, he suggested that if we couldn’t find somewhere to stay then we could camp at his home, we asked around a bit but decided to take Luis up on his offer.   He described his home as a ‘hippy community in an old church’.  Luis took us to a bar further up the hill, the kind of place where people from outside of the town would never know about; we drank some beers and played table football, and that night Leah and I slept on the floor in front of a stone bread oven, being disturbed only by the mosquitos buzzing over our heads.

2nd August Bernal to km104 on the MX120 highway

That morning Luis repeated his offer of taking us to climb up the Peña and spend another day in the town, but Leah and I were keen to keep cycling, so we headed on our way.  We breakfasted on Gorditas (Gorditas translates literally as ‘little fat ones’ and then are thick fried maize tortillas which are sliced open and then you get to choose a filling from a huge selection of dishes on display, I usually get eggs in a tomato sauce or peppers with beans).  Heading out of Bernal we gained our first police escort of the trip; I’ve read other cyclists blogs about being escorted across whole countries; to us having someone drive slowly behind us, and therefore slowly down all of the other traffic felt frustrating, and as though we were being rushed.  We are also pretty wary of the municipal police here after one particular incident in Baja California. Heading out of the village it quickly became hillier, the roads were beautiful, narrow and winding.  Whilst sweating up a hill a car passed us in the opposite direction, it slowed down and asked the usual questions ‘donde son? donde vienen? donde van?’ (Where are you from, where are you coming from, where are you going?) We get asked this a lot and as we were sweating up a hill in heat whilst being followed up a police car I think we weren’t too enthusiastic with our response.  Then the driver shouted again ‘I am a cyclist too, please stop’ so we did, and thus blocking the whole road (as the police car had stopped in one direction and then the other car stopped in the other).  Our conversation with Rodrigo was brief, he told us he was a touring cyclist too, he lived in Jalpan, the town we were aiming to reach in a few nights and he said he could help us with routes, so we took his number and said goodbye, keen not to keep blocking the traffic.

We were a bit flustered about being followed by the police and we ended up taking the wrong road, rather than stopping and looking at the map. This was such an amazing mistake, the road we took led us through beautiful semi-desert mountains, with barely any traffic, we felt like we had our own road, apart from the donkies and goats and goat farmers.  Luckily the police stopped following us, I think they had come to the border of the municipality, however further along down the road a car slowed down next to us, it was Rodrigo again.  He had gone to Queretaro on business and was returning back through the mountains.  He offered us bottles of water and had bought especially for us local goat’s cheese and bread, as well as biscuits.  We stopped and chatted properly this time, we found out that he had cycled all the way from the bottom of Argentina to Alaska, and on finishing his trip decided to move to the Sierra Gorda, he loved this place and was in the process of building a hotel.  He was really excited to see us as not many touring cyclist come up to the Sierra Gorda, alternately Leah and I were in ore to meet someone who had made the same trip we were making, and more!  Rodrigo understood how happy water and some basic foods would make a cyclist whilst climbing a hill in the heat.

15km further down the road we reached a village, as we cycled through a woman standing at a fruit stall ran out into the road and passed us a bag of bananas.  She said they were a present from a man in a white van, it was Rodrigo again!  The mountains made for slow miles and we had become tired, we weren’t able to cycle and more so we found a clearing off the side of the road and camped in the mountains out of view from any passing cars.

3rd August km104 to Jalpan

We slept soundly for 12 hours before making coffee and heading on our way, it was great to camp again, the first time we had used our tents since Baja California. We weren’t carrying much water as we had expected to make it to the next town the night before, so our impromptu wild camp combined with our lie-in meant that we were heading out in the heat of the day with only half a bottle of water each.  It was only 12km to the next village on the map, but it was hot and the road made entirely of up-hill switchbacks.  There was nothing we could do but cycle, the views seemed to become more beautiful the further we climbed, whilst we became thirstier.  We had only ever cycled without water once before, and we were cursing ourselves that it had happened again.  I cycled quite far ahead of Leah, finding it easier to keep within my own thoughts rather than speak with someone else about how hard it was.  It was Saturday and there were quite a lot of cars creeping up the mountains too, people honking their horns encouragingly.  One car that passed me had its window open and cheered me on as it drove passed, I shouted at the car ‘tiene agua?’ (Do you have water?) The car stopped ahead, they were a couple from Queretaro; they didn’t have water on them, but said they would drive to the next village to look.  I thanked them but said it wasn’t necessary, obviously hoping that of course they would return.  Now l I seemed to be chanting ‘water, water, water’ in time with the turn of the pedals.  It was probably about 20 minutes before the car passed again in the opposite direction.  Berto and his girlfriend had driven to the village and had bought back Gatorade, 5 litres of water plus cereal bars.  Berto explained that he was a cyclist and was happy to help, they were heading to Jalpan too, so we exchanged numbers and said we would all go for a beer that evening.

We made it to Cargo only 4km up the road.  Leah and I bought a huge picnic and spent ages relaxing and eating.  It had taken us 3 hours to climb 12km, and we were shattered.   It was a further 20km of constant switch backs, cycling uphill through the semi-desert.  I would stop and look at the view, and try and count the layers of mountains, the seemed to go on forever, it was so beautiful.

As we continued to snake up the hill the landscape slowly changed, first some trees appeared, this gradually turned in to forest, which slowly become more lush and dense until we were surrounded by fern and bracken, moss and waterfalls.  We entered through a village called Puerta de Cielo (door to the sky) we were now around 2500m above sea level.  It was like nothing I had seen before but we were actually in the clouds, they were moving around us on the road as if they were dancing.  The fog was now pretty dense and it started to hail, it was hurting my skin but at this time I was enjoying the elements on my skin, less than an hour before we had been in the semi-desert surrounded by cacti and vultures, and now we were in the clouds and hail of a dense forest, it was a magical experience.

We had now reached the highest point and began to enjoy 40km of thrilling downhill, through villages made up of log cabins, many road ride stalls selling apples, we could smell log fires burning as we passed through, making the feeling of being in a mountain forest more intense.  The views were overwhelming, steep vallied mountains covered in dense forest, no pictures could capture their intensity.

4th -10th August Huasteca

We arrived in Jalpan the previous evening, tired but energised by such varied and contrasting landscape I didn’t know it was possible to encounter in one day of cycling.  A week has now passed here, the Sierra Gorda is only one small part of the area known as the Huasteca.  Here we have swam each day in waterfalls, lagoons, canyons, visited native villages, and Rod the cyclist has become a dear friend of ours.  We are completely in love with this area and there is so much more to say that I will have to wait for another blog entry to explain fully.

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