Zapotlanejo to the Guatemalan border

Punctuated by punctures and random acts of kindness!

Posted by Gordon Dunlop on May 5, 2016

Reinvigorated after an incredible week spent with Meg’s host family in Zapaotlanejo, we set back on the trail through the backbone of Mexico between its two biggest cities, Guadalajara and the gargantuan metropolis of Mexico City.

We quickly clocked up around 30 miles when Meg then developed a flat tyre. As fate would have it, as we were sat by the roadside repairing the puncture, a friendly face from Zapotlanejo, Hector, passed by and screeched to a halt! With his local knowledge, he insisted we ride with him to a special campsite he knew of. Just when we thought we’d left the Zapotlanejo hospitality behind, Hector took us on a tour of the impressive Zamorra cathedral, bought us a delicious traditional dinner, before driving us to the campsite. Arriving in the dark, it was difficult to see what was so special about the campsite. The morning sun, however, revealed a mystical lake with magical trees whose roots sprawled across the length and breadth of the campsite. It was like a scene plucked straight from a Lord of the Rings film!

Unfortunately, punctured tyres were to become a fixture of our time on the Mexican mainland. Thankfully, though, help was almost always at hand in the form of a ride to the next bike shop or even a bed for the night. While cycling along a beautiful tree-lined country road, in the early evening sunshine in the state of Michoacan, I felt the demoralising emptying of air from my tyre and, with the sun going down, we decided to call it a day and head to the nearest village. The village was eerily quiet though, after ten minutes of knocking on doors, we eventually came across a local.

We asked Arturo if there was a place in the village we could camp, however, he was having none of it and invited us into his home to stay with him! We were promptly ushered through the family home where there was a large gathering of locals. We then had bowls of delicious pozole thrust into our hands and we feasted as we watched the beautiful Michoacan sunset and chatted with the locals. We asked what the gathering was in aid of and were shocked to hear that Arturo had actually just returned home from Idaho, US, to bury his mother and that this was the funeral wake. To be afforded such kind hospitality, while the family were grieving for a loved one, was truly humbling. It’s also worth mentioning that the state of Michoacan shares a similar reputation to that of Sinaloa in that it is considered one of Mexico’s most dangerous for drug cartels. As with Sinaloa, we were treated incredibly well by the locals and our memories from the state are nothing but positive (save the flat tyres!)

After negotiating the ring road giving Mexico City a wide berth to the north, we entered Puebla state where, alas, my puncture woes continued. Thankfully too, so did the kindness of the locals. On one such occasion, when our pump gave up on me while repairing a tyre, we had little option but to accept a ride off route to the nearest bike shop. Luckily our destination was home to an inspirational Warm Showers host, Reyna. She and her mother very kindly opened their doors to us at short notice and we shared a great evening with them. Reyna does some fascinating work in women’s empowerment and with trade unions around the region and she entertained us with her stories. As it later transpired (through the wonders of Facebook!) she’d also housed three of our friends from Pisco Sin Fronteras, two years previously, while they were on their own trans-American journey.

As we left Reyna and Puebla behind, we closed in on another Pisco Sin Fronteras connection. Five years previously while Meg and I were volunteering in Pisco, Peru, when not working and hatching plans for trans-American bike trips, we were spending time with the craziest, most friendly and interesting people. Buddha certainly falls into that bracket! Buddha, so-named for the huge tattoo of Buddha on the back of his shiny bald head, had been in touch insisting we pop in to say hello if we were passing through Veracruz. We’d both been struck by his laughter and effervescent personality in Pisco and so how could we refuse? We spent a fantastic weekend enjoying Buddha’s generous hospitality, sharing many stories and laughs from our time together in Pisco.

We’d successfully crossed Mexico and reached the Gulf of Mexico, where Veracruz lies. The climate and culture in this part of Mexico is noticeably different to the other regions we’d cycled through. As we made our way south through Veracruz state, we were struck both by the humidity and the distinctly Caribbean feel to the villages we passed through. We cycled through palm tree-lined roads, passed by banana plantations and villages where life was very much lived in the slow lane! This vibe continued throughout the rest of Veracruz until we reached our final Mexican state, Chiapas. We’d been told by many Mexicans that Chiapas was the most naturally beautiful state in Mexico…and it didn’t disappoint!

Chiapas was memorable for its verdant cloud forest and for its quaint colonial towns. While stopped in the state capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez, we decided to take a rest day to visit the much heralded, Sumidero canyon. The sight of the canyon’s steep green slopes, which we got to admire both from the top of the cliffs and from the bottom by boat, vindicated the claims of the many friends who had called Chiapas Mexico’s most beautiful state! The trip was a great way to mark the beginning of the end of our time in Mexico. From there, we cycled on to the beautiful colonial towns of San Cristobal de las Casas – reached after a 50km uphill slog – and, Comitan del Dominguez, where we enjoyed our last Mexican dinner in the main square to the sound of some traditional local music. The sight of the community coming out and sharing the music and dance in such a convivial way, was a fitting end to our time in Mexico and reflected our experience across the country. Despite the country’s well documented problems, our experience was of a country where people are getting on with life as best they can, looking out for each other, as well as for the odd passing cycle tourist!