There’s not much to say about a day like today. It was absolutely beautiful riding, but also deeply exhausting. We left Izucar de Matamoros by 8:30 AM and set out with an understanding, thanks to the “terrain” feature on Google Maps, that this would be a rough day of hill riding. We got about 5 km out of town before the first, and probably biggest, ascent of the day. It was a monstrous climb up a mountainside that lasted for the better part of an hour. It was only by chance that, turning around to check on M’s progress behind me, I saw the massive, snow-capped volcano that must’ve been hidden for the past few days.
Crazy volcano that gives a sense of the terrain
I took another picture of the volcano higher up the mountainside,
From the top of the first hill of the day
and about 20 meters past this shot, I realized that I was at the top of the mountain, so I took this picture of the other side.
View facing the other side
The day was much like this, steep climbs and steep ascents. We stopped in a tiny little town (Tehuitzingo) for some lunch, at a little outdoor restaurant that advertised plates of the local specialties. I tried a plate of the molé with chicken, which was much better than any molé I’ve ever had before. I found out later in the day that Puebla state, where we’re now riding, is famous for it’s molé, just like Oaxaca state is to the south, but that Oaxaca’s is much sweeter. That’s the kind that I’ve always had in the past, and that I don’t care for. For those of you unfamiliar with molé, it’s a sauce, often dark brown, that is made with chocolate and other spices. Anyhow, this is hardly interesting stuff.
A day of just hills. Very, very hard riding
We pushed on after lunch, and ended up on what felt like an interminable uphill. M ran out of water and I only had a few sips left. We were so beat, I was ready to start walking the bike, that I worried that we wouldn’t be able to find any water before we were in serious trouble. But just then we reached a little storefront grocery. We stopped for a while, drinking water (and I swilled down a couple cold beers), while we talked to the owner of the tienda, who spoke passable English. He had lived in Brooklyn and North Carolina for about 5 years, working in a Korean shop in Brooklyn, and a grocery store in North Carolina. But then he got stopped for a driving infraction and, because he was in the USA illegally, he was sent to prison for 3 months and then deported.
This isn’t the venue to get political about our country’s approach to immigration. That said, it kind of strains common sense to think about why our government would pay to keep non-violent offenders in prison for 100 days, when the whole point is just to send them home anyway. That’s like finding an illegal trespasser living in your garage, and then feeding and clothing him for a few months, before you tell him to get off your land. Also, if you’ll let me rant a bit longer, I still haven’t ever come across a job that illegal immigrants have actually taken away from American citizens. They take on only the worst jobs, with the worst working conditions, jobs that no Americans would accept anyway.
Okay, rant is over. Honestly the most striking thing about the conversation with this guy was the normalcy of it. Here we met a totally sweet and unassuming guy who worked in the USA, lived there, made friends, bought clothes and two cars, kept a regular job – was basically a totally normal person, except that at the first run-in with the authorities was thrown in jail and lost everything (couldn’t get his money out of the bank, couldn’t collect or sell his cars, clothes, or other possessions). It was just a very sad look at the human side of an otherwise vicious political debate.
Anyhow, we were exhausted and barely felt like we could make it much further, but it turned out that this little tienda was at the top of the mountainside, and our destination, Acatlan de Osorio was just another 15 km of winding downhill away. After descending about halfway, a Mexican guy on a racing bike in full spandex regalia caught up with us and offered (at our request) to lead us to a cheap hotel. He escorted us into town, shouting at everyone we passed along the way (the guy must be something like the unofficial mayor of Acatlan) and dropped us off at the nicest hotel we’ve stayed at on our trip so far, and also the cheapest ($18 per night). Weirdly, though, the only people who we’ve seen working at the hotel (including running the front desk) are three girls who can’t be older than 14.
These crazy huge cactus trees were everywhere, which is weird, since we were hardly in a desert
We were so exhausted by the time that we got in that it was a struggle just to leave the room after we showered, but we walked out into the central square (every Mexican town we’ve been in has a great central park, usually across the street from the large Catholic church) and went looking for food. Weirdly, we couldn’t find any restaurants, but we were able to buy some rolls, some rotisserie chicken, and some cold beer and we ambled, slowly, back to the hotel to eat and drink and watch an episode of HBO’s Deadwood, which we got a copy of for our computer.
One final note: I don’t know if any of you have watched Deadwood, or read any Cormac McCarthy novels (All the Pretty Horses, Blood Meridian) for that matter, but having done so I had a real hope that little Mexican towns would be quiet, sleepy and somewhat rough around the edges. I’m happy to say that that’s exactly what they’ve been. The smaller the town, the more character they’ve had, and the more that Mexico has turned out to be the charming and gritty heir to the Old West that I had hoped it would. Even here in Acatlan, men wear cowboy hats, cowboy shirts and boots. The tiendas are plaster-coated and painted in bright colors, and it’s never too hard to find a bottle of tequila.