12.16.2002-01.17.2003       Zacatecas, Mexico to Taxco, Mexico
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Our arrival to Zacatecas marked a significant date for the Swiss and myself. It was exactly six months from the day we had arrived in our respective starting cities in the Far North. We celebrated with an outing to an Italian restaurant, followed by a trip to a local night club. The club was empty but we stayed anyway, the staff assuring us people would be arriving shortly. Despite their assurances no one ever did show up. We left several drinks/hours later, noting that since our arrival they’d added a doorman and a gate at the entrance. Keeping up appearances I suppose. Obviously we had a few things to learn about choosing night spots. But who could blame us? After six weeks in the country Zacatecas was the first Mexican town I’d encountered with life. The live music in the plaza wasn’t an assault on my eardrums like that I’d heard in all the little towns prior. I was even fortunate enough to be in town for a free performance by Mexican guitar virtuoso Paco Renteria. And we left the next night club outing in the trusty hands of the family-staff at the hostel.

It was a mere two days ride to the next destination, San Luis Potosi. We had heard that, despite its size of 700,000 inhabitants, San Luis Potosi was a pedestrian-friendly city. The first evidence of this was a bike trail leading us through the outskirts of the city. Once we arrived in the center we dismounted and walked along a pedestrian mall that stretched for well over a mile. A day of walking amongst the colonial buildings and lounging in the many fine plazas followed. I countinued to treat my cultural deprivation with a trip to the Theater of Peace to watch a Folk Dance Festival performance. The next night we all went to the cathedral to watch a performance by the San Luis Potosi Symphony. Our next destination would again be only two days away--San Miguel de Allende. My tolerance for watching brown hillsides all day was growing thin so I was grateful for the close proximity of the destinations. The day we rode into San Miguel would be our last(at least for the near future) together. One of the advantages of being an American at this stage of the trip is that returning home is not such a huge endeavor. I left my bicycle and gear in San Miguel de Allende and flew back to Minnesota to spend the holidays with family.

I was mindful of how my body had felt after my last long break so I hopped on the excersie bike regularly during my stay. Nonetheless, after I returned to my bike after the New Year I suffered. My stay in Minnesota had turned me into a lowlander again and no match for the hills and high elevation of the Bahia. My first destination was both close and had historical significance--Dolores Hidalgo, the birthplace of the Mexican Independence movement. When I was leaving the next morning a strange thing occurred. When I asked a traffic officer for directions out of town he replied in terms of the number of blocks and the directions of the turns. This was significant because it was the first time in Mexico that I’d been given straightforward directions. Navigating Mexican cities is a constant source of frustration for me. They are often a maze of one-way streets and locating a building or route out of town can be cumbersome. Street names are often useless. In an effort to pay homage to every important historical figure and date, state, city and place street names change as often as every block. And though Mexicans are always more than eager to provide directions they almost always use as their reference points local landmarks. If I were a local this would be fine but I consider myself lucky if I manage not to forget-miss the first landmark-turn in a sequence of directions.

Next up on the silver city tour was Guanajuato. Much of the city’s traffic moves underground so I had to navigate through more scary tunnels to get to the center of town. I arrived two days before Three King’s Day and the city was in a frenzy, as parents did their last’minute shopping for what is the biggest gift-giving day of the year in Mexico. I spent a day in Guanajuato doing what had become almost routine for me in these colonial towns--walking, looking at churches, visiting a museum or two, hiking up to an overlook of the city. Of course no visit to Guanajuato is complete without a visit to the Museum of Mummies. The dry climate and mineral content of the soil in the area combine to mummify human remains in record time. Bodies are constantly being exhumed to make space for new ones, thus providing an endless supply of fresh material for the museum.

I was happy to leave Guanajuato. San Miguel de Allende had been the first town on the mainland I’d encountered that had a heavy gringo presence and this had continued into Guanajuato. My next stop of Valle de Santiago was certainly off the gringo trail. It was nice to be a novelty again. On my way into the center of town I hadn’t noticed any hotels. I simply stopped and looked a little confused/lost. In no time I was being escorted by two other bicyclists to a hotel that met my criteria. As I began shuttling gear from my bike to my second-floor room I was surprised to find the hotel clerk fretting over the fact that I was leaving my bike un’attended on the sidewalk. She said they’d carry it away if I didn’t bring it inside. I wondered who they were, perhaps the friendly folks that had escorted me there in the first place? I found her remarks laughable and left my bike out on the sidewalk just a bit longer to spite her. The next day I was in another big city, Morelia, capital of the state of Michoacan and former home of another priest-turned-revolutionary, Jose Maria Morelos.

While I was home for the holidays I had the oppurtinity to research some of the riding in Mexico that lay ahead. I consulted the book Bicycling in Mexico, which describes rides of one day to several weeks in duration. One of the rides it describes is the ride from Morelia to Taxco, a ride that I had planned on undertaking. I became a bit worried when I noticed the title of this ride—“Quien es el Machisimo?” The rating for the ride of Most Difficult didn’t help. Of course if I’d bothered to translate the name of the highway leading out of Morelia--Mil Cumbres(Thousand Peaks)--none of this would have come as a surprise. But I found comfort elsewhere in the book. One of the other rides it describes is the ride Fritz and I had done from Creel to Batopilas in Copper Canyon. This ride carried a rating of Ironperson. Continuously Strenuous. I assumed that this was a notch or two above Most Difficult and instantly felt better. And besides, by staying on the highway through Toluca I would be avoiding the worst of the book’s route. As expected, the ride out of Morelia began ascending immediately. When I had reached a height where I could gain a vantage point of the upcoming terrain I could think of only one thing: rollercaster ride. But the road did a funny thing. It refused to drop into any of the many deep valleys I could see from the saddle of my bike. Instead, it simply climbed. I watched my altimeter pass seven, eight, nine thousand feet. All along I was treated to something I hadn’t encountered since California--a proper forest. This was unexpected and therefore all the more appreciated. The road descended as it had ascended and at the end of the day I was ranking the Mil Cumbres as one of my favorite routes in Mexico to date.

Each year millions of monarch butterflies fly south from the Great Lakes region of the U.S. and Canada to their ancestoral mating grounds in the state of Michoacan in Mexico. I set off from Zitacuaro on a lengthy day trip that would take me to one of the five sanctuaries that comprise the monarch butterfly reserve in Eastern Michocan. I had expected a ride similiar to that I’d experienced along the Mil Cumbres--lots of climbing and lots of forest. I certainly experienced the former, watching my altimeter pass through not only seven-eight-nine but also ten thousand feet. Sadly, the later would not hold true as the land along the route was badly deforested. A stiff hike takes the visitor from the entrance to the reserve to the actual mating grounds. The sight there is spectacular but the density of butterflies was much less than I’d seen in pictures. Given the degradation of the surrounding environment this hardly seemed surprising.

I knew the ride from Zitacuaro to Toluca wouldn’t be fun. More climbing and more traffic were to be expected but I also found myself cycling through a cold rainstorm, the first real rainfall I’d experienced in Mexico. Toluca was as close to Mexico City as I dared to go on my bicycle. I left my gear there and boarded a bus for the short trip into the city. I spent a night there and crammed as many of the tourist sites into my short stay as possible. Everything was impressive but what made the excursion worthwhile was a trip to the Palace of Fine Arts to view Diego Rivera’s mural Man, Controller of the Universe. While in Mexico City I had the opportunity to see many of Rivera’s murals that I’d seen in pictures previously. For whatever reason Man,.. was the only one that struck me and I found myself sitting in front of it for quite some time. From Toluca I headed south towards Taxco. A stop at the restored hillisde ruins of Teotenango south of Toluca provided a nice break from the continuing heavy traffic. The next day traffic diminished as the route traveled through increasingly arid and hilly terrain. Less than 20 miles north of Taxco, the Caves of Cacahamuilpa provided another welcomed diversion. Taxco’s steep hillside location makes it both one of the most picturesque towns in Mexico as well as one of the most difficult to arrive in by bike. In Taxco I would have to make a difficult choice: continue south to Acapulco and a coastal route or head back towards Cuernavaca and take the inland route to Oaxaca.
DistanceElevation GainFlat Tires
Leg688 mi/1107 km43650 ft/14320 m
Trip8303 mi/13362 km80 mi/130 km5
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