"You're crazy; Mexico is a violent and dangerous place!", was the standard reaction I came to expect if I mentioned my upcoming trip, in the US. My travel agent was reluctant about the plan and seemed uncomfortable to be involved by selling me the airline ticket out of Mexico City for two months time. "Mexico is a violent and dangerous place," I got in Socorro. "You're psychotic!", I got from the border patrol near Hachita. "You've got guts! You're crazy! I'm married to a Mexican and they do things differently down there!" I got from a woman at a petrol station in Lordsburg. I felt, therefore, somewhat apprehensive the night I made camp just short of the border at Antelope Wells, wondering what I'd got myself in for, and just what tomorrow would bring.

Oct 6th / Day 9 / 610 km
Five minutes across the border in the morning was one of the few pieces of graffiti I would see in Mexico. Written across the back of a road sign, it read "God bless all." Hmmm... sort of different from all the build up.

Twenty minutes across, I met my first Mexican. He was eeking a living, labouring on the roads; he was poor, probably illiterate, dirt from head to toe, and one of the kindest, salt-of-the-earth types you could hope to meet. I apologised for not speaking Spanish, but this did not discourage him from a 10-minute monologue about himself, his family, the countryside, some history, and he finished with an offer to drive me to Janos, 60 km away (for which I thanked him but politely declined). So far so good.

That evening, coasting down out of the desert into Janos found me cruising past the local high school. A group of senior girls interrupted their basketball game to watch and to call out with catcalls and whistles. Getting even better.

Janos was only a dusty truckstop with a couple of cheap hotels and many little eating places. But the burritos proved excellent; the Mennonites have settled nearby in Nuevo Casas Grandes and have prospered, establishing a tradition of making good cheeses for which the area is renowned.

Oct 7th / Day 10 / 689 km
Into Nuevo Casas Grandes the next morning, and a visit to Paquime, the Indian settlement that is about the only reason to be in Casas Grandes. It's from the same period as Chaco, and with the same T-shaped doorways; they walked a long way to discuss interior design. They brought macaws from the tropics, and seashells this far inland for necklaces. They must have been fit. The visitor's centre is good; continuing my respect for Mexican museums.

Oct 8th / Day 11 / 750 km
Onward towards Buena Ventura, and I kept receiving the warm response from passing trucks to which I had become accustomed - waves, horn-toots. A semi pulled up beside me at a set of lights in Casas Grandes, and the driver hung out the window, a big smile on his face and arms gesticulating, "Where are you coming from?! Where are you going to?! Ah, this is great!". I had lunch by the roadside at a crest, admiring the view, and almost every passing vehicle would wave or flash lights. It was shaping up to be a good trip.

Into Buena Ventura at the end of a long haul, I found a reasonable-looking hotel, and met Sean & Mia in the next room, down from Santa Fe for a few days touring by motor bike. Sean, last year, had made his first bicycle tour through Mexico, but with the luxury of six months available to him he had been heading all the way to Tierra del Fuego. That was the plan anyway; unfortunately a family emergency caused him to abandon the trip in Costa Rica and return home. He anyway had many stories to tell, and had an address book bursting with the contacts he had made. Guatemala was his favourite because people were, if possible, even nicer than in Mexico, the scenery more lush, the traditions more untouched. The war was hardly evident and people are going about their normal lives, so he found Guatemala safe for touring. I heard this same opinion later from a guy travelling northwards, so I'm interested to continue further south.

Oct 9th / Day 12 / 835 km
Attempting to get out of Buena Ventura I had my first brush with the restaurant breakfast, which established a tradition for the rest of the trip. Food was good - huevos mexicana with tortillas and frijoles, but (a) the restaurant doesn't open 'til late (8.30 am) forcing a late start, (b) the standard size servings don't measure up to what's needed for cycling. One can have three breakfasts, but that's time consuming and the waitress is inevitably eyeing you strangely by the time you're ordering the third. Instead, I came to indulge in the delights of the bakeries... the previous night I'd pick up a half-dozen or so yummy things (which would be insanely cheap; maybe USD 0.80 in toto), a tub of yoghurt, some fresh fruit, and with coffee, breakfast would be a highlight. I was able to be on the road by 9 am. But on the hill climb out of Buena Ventura I learnt the hard way... I hit the wall only 1/3rd of the way up and had to stop to prepare a big bowl of muesli; time consuming and unpleasant, because you tend to collapse at some random spot that is not chosen for the scenery.

At the top of the climb... three dubious-looking characters were sitting idly by the roadside. I stopped for the view and we fell into conversation, and of course they turn out to be nice guys. They had been collecting pinons all morning and had three large sacks, from which they gave me a handful to try and they showed me how they crack them. They were attempting to hitch a ride down into Buena Ventura to sell the nuts at the market. One guy was holding a pretty serious-looking slingshot so I challenged him to hit the coke can over the other side of the road. He beamed, picked up a rock and effortlessly sent the can flying; I was impressed. He could place a rock within a 10-cm circle at 20 m, and uses it for hunting.

Down now into Gomez Farias arriving during a rather nice sunset, but unsure as usual quite what the town would offer. I was to learn about the warm hospitality of rural towns. I cycled the length of the main street getting oriented - the street is lined with people, there's music playing, taco stands are doing a roaring trade, it's a Friday evening and everyone is out. A truck with three young women fell in pace beside me; they were watching shyly, but then smiled and laughed and waved when I acknowledged them and gave them a smile. It's a town of only a few thousand people, but oh the vibrance!

I checked into a third-class hotel, and portaged my gear into the room in the usual three loads, each time having to excuse myself as I walked in front of a small group glued to a B-grade movie on TV. They gradually became curious about these to-and-fro antics, and by the time I was wheeling the bicycle through, they'd forgotten the TV and we were suddenly all talking about the trip, and the area, and we had maps spread out, and they were giving advice. We had dinner together in the little hotel restaurant; they taught me how the comida corrida is eaten, among many other things.

Oct 10th / Day 13 / 920 km Onward to Matachic the following morning, and my new friends from the previous evening were out the front to see me off. A gorgeous morning's cycling followed, level, easy going, cool, nice scenery. A car passed me, and to my surprise, pulled over, and the driver got out to talk with me. He was a rancher, well off, and was on his way to go mountain biking for a couple of hours in the hills, would I like to join him for the ride and stay with him and his family this evening? I'd love to, but unfortunately I didn't have the time; I had to average 75 km a day every day for the next month and a half to get to Mexico City. So unfortunately I had to let the opportunity go.

Mid-afternoon my friends from Gomez Farias passed me on the road and stopped for a chat and to offer me a ride. I declined, explaining that I'd lose the bet I'd made with Marc in Socorro as I was leaving; a bottle of wine if I didn't make it all the way without accepting a ride. They pointed out in fun that it was ok, that he couldn't see! We chatted for a while and they continued on their way.

Through Temosachic, I noticed there are only kids and old people; no-one of working age. Stopping at a grocery store for a coke, the proprietor explained that everyone is in the US working, and many will come back upon retirement, as he had done.

Arriving in the little rural village of Matachic upon sunset, I stopped at the plaza, and found myself surrounded by half a dozen curious kids. They wanted to know all about the trip, and enthusiastically led me to the hotel. After settling in, getting clean, and having dinner, I returned to the plaza to find the place hopping - a live band was playing, lots of people had come, dressed well, many couples were there, some were dancing, and many were enjoying the music. Just a regular Saturday night in a little town of maybe a few thousand. This scene must have been playing out all around Mexico; people everywhere enjoying the living. Now to call Craig... quick search... no public phones in town... the telephone cabinets have closed by this hour... try the hotel... they've lost the key to their phone... overhearing this, a woman in the kitchen invited me to use their phone at home and leads me down a dusty street to her house; comfortably furnished. We agree upon a rate, and while I talk with Craig, her son is discretely out of sight but timing the call with a stopwatch; obviously a familiar procedure. After the call, we talk for a while, settle up, and I depart back down the darkened street to my hotel, with the sound of distant music and laughter carrying over from the plaza.

Oct 11th / Day 14 / 1005 km
The next day started well. Another cool morning ride through grazing lands with sweeping views. I pass through Guerrero, another friendly-looking town. On the way out of town there was the inevitable cluster of people waiting by the speed hump, hitching rides with any passing vehicle going their way. A couple of nice-looking girls saw me coming and stuck out their thumbs as if to hitch a ride with me on the bike and we all dissolved into laughter.

But from then on the day became something of an endurance test; dirt roads, a river to be forded, some obscure unmarked turns that cost me an hour and some backtracking, and the day finished with a trying hill climb up to the mountains that contained the Basasaechic Cascada. It was sunset when I gained the ridge line and I was treated to magnificent views down over the plains to the east from which I had come. Dog tired, it was time to find a campsite. A really nice one with million-dollar views offered with only minimal searching, but there was a fence to be crossed within sight of the road (my campsites often had to be on private land), requiring the dreaded under-cover fence-portage! With the bike unloaded and stashed behind a bush I'd squat out of view awaiting a break in the traffic. During the break one dashes with a load to the fence, drops it over, and returns to cover to await the next break. Green proved a good colour for the panniers; the pile at the fence blended in nicely and was near-invisible from the distance of the road. With everything over the fence after twenty minutes, one climbs through and portages the loads onward out of sight during further breaks. It's tedious after a long day.

Oct 12th / Day 15 / 1090 km
Onward to Basasaechic Cascada the next day... pretty spectacular. Vertical canyon country covered by rainforest. The river was ever so enticing so I enjoyed a swim in the pools above the falls, but the falls, though spectacular at 246 m, probably did not live up to the claim of being the world's second-highest.

Then retrace my path for 130 km, and head southward to Creel - another stiff hill climb, and after a few days I found myself in the famous little resort town of Creel. Check in, clean up, and go search the town for the legendary Arturo of Umarike's Bike Shop. I'd first heard about Arturo from Annie & Jack at the bike shop in Silver City, and periodically from the few cyclists I'd passed on the road. The bike needed some tlc, so who better to entrust it to? After a short search I came upon a beaten-up tin shack bearing the sign "Umarike's Bike Shop", and further below "Closed"... "Could this really be it?", I wondered skeptically, "Looks most unlike the stuff of legends." And being closed is a bit of a disadvantage. There's not another bike shop worth knowing about within 1000 km, and I'm stranded. Nothing for it but to declare this a rest day and to find myself a spot to sit with a beer and to write postcards.

"Are you bringing your bike in here?" Arturo looked at me surprised, as if I had just wheeled my bike into the midst of a busy hairdresser's, the following morning.
"This is a bike shop isn't it?", I asked, suddenly alarmed.
"Yes," he replied.
"Can you do some work on my bike?"
"Yes, take it out and bring it around the side."
And so I had met Arturo. Arturo turned out to be a really nice guy and we talked for what seemed like hours about the area, the hikes, the people, the campspots. I left him then to work on the bike... new chain, new rack mounting brackets, tweak the brake balance to compensate for the failure of a retracting spring, and so on. Later that afternoon, it was time to settle up the bill... I looked down the parts list and saw he had not added a labour charge... "How about we add something for your time?" "Don't worry about that, labour doesn't cost much in Mexico anyway." That wasn't fair after hours of his time, so I persisted and eventually he accepted $20 (= USD 2.00). Such are the problems one encounters when dealing with Mexicans!

Oct 17th / Day 20 / 1396 km
Back on the road out of Creel the following morning, and it was a lovely run downhill to Basihuare through vertical canyons and vast cliff faces, then a grunt climb out the other side of the canyon, and another wonderful winding downhill run to the Urique River on roads that were frequently cut into the vertical cliff face. (The Urique is responsible for Copper Canyon, as the Colorado is for the Grand Canyon.) I had the road to myself, and was transfixed looking in awe over the abyss. Eyes back to the road for an instant, the road sweeps sharply 90d left, I'm too fast, the safety railing approaches head-on, I glimpse the 100-m drop over the edge, onto the brakes hard, sliding, too fast, lean hard into the corner hoping for no loose gravel, and as I streak around the bend I see the railing is all bent outwards where someone else had likewise been transfixed by the view but wasn't so lucky. I laughed heartily and flew on down and down to the river below.

It was Arturo's suggestion to camp here, I cursed as I was portaging my gear, sliding awkwardly down the 45d scree slope and getting scratched pushing through the scrub to the river. But once encamped, wow, what a spot! Vertical cliff faces plunge into the river, ferns and moss all around, my private swimming hole, a little waterfall just upstream... after swimming, I lay back with wine and olives, writing letters. Life is good.

Oct 18th / Day 21 / 1460 km
Another grunt climb the following morning, and onward over the next few days through fog and rain from hurricane Mitch into Hidalgo del Parral. In Parral, after calling Craig, passing on news and receiving Luis Rodriguez' dinner invitation in Morelia, I found myself a popular little restaurant for dinner. Food was reasonable, and the people-watching was great. A stunning woman came in with a couple of acquaintances at the next table, chatting, joking, gesticulating enthusiastically, enjoying their time; very Latin. After dinner, there was some discussion at their table and to my surprise she came over to join me. She was warm, presently boyfriendless, we chatted, and she left me her phone number.

Oct 22th / Day 25 / 1747 km
On the way out of Parral I stopped for more wine. The supermarket was vast and shining and new, and the store manager was obviously proud of this baby. I was locking up the bike in the carpark (actually it was heavy enough that few people would be likely to move it anyway) when the manager kindly beckoned me over and directed me into the store with it so he could have it watched over for me. He enquired what I needed, showed me around the store, took me to the wines, and recommended a nice red. We discussed the road ahead and he warned of `bad people', which was a tad scary - first time a Mexican had warned about that. I later encountered no problems, but the atmosphere did change three days out of Parral.

The valley in which Rodeo is nestled is particularly poor. The first sign is when you stop and find yourself surrounded by kids eager to know how much the bike is worth. Elsewhere you get surrounded by kids, but they don't care what the bike is worth. People would not wave, and they would stare as I rode by. A disinterested old woman behind the counter at the store in the poor and dusty village of Donato Guerra just stared at me when I asked for water. After many seconds she raised a tired arm and waved vaguely in some direction down the road to another store. Her spirit was broken by a lifetime of hardship and poverty. Alcohol was a problem, and crosses every few km on the roadside marked the casualties. One such cross stood in the midst of a mass of broken coke bottles by the roadside; obviously a recent bingle with a truck.

The road to Durango had a 120-km straight that took a day and a bit to travel. It was daunting to be in the middle of that with the grey line of road disappearing into the shimmering horizon ahead and disappearing into the shimmering horizon behind, surrounded by desert scrub, with vultures circling overhead and only the occasional vehicle to be seen. I was glad for all the water I was carrying. One just had to be awake on the day of reaching The Bend, which I managed to negotiate without incident.

Oct 27th / Day 30 / 2173 km
A brief stop in Durango to restock, and onward to Zacatecas. Driver's behaviour changed; unconscious of cyclists, the'd leave what felt like only inches of room when passing (it might have been a metre, but at 100 km/h that's scary). The technique I developed was when a car was approaching from behind I'd move to the centre of the lane to obstruct their path and force them to cross to the other side of the road, then I'd move back to the edge and I'd have metres of clearance. Yes, it's obnoxious, but it's a matter of survival. Don't try it with buses, they won't move over. Trucks are the best, they change completely to the other lane on their own accord. But when two trucks pass where you are, it's up to you to throw the bike off the road as a matter of self-preservation. One then has to spend some time extracting the bike from the scrub by the roadside. The worst trap, for which I could develop no defence, was where a car was overtaking a truck as they approach from behind. One cannot see the car for the truck, the truck cannot move over for the car, and neither would give a warning that it'll be a close shave. You cannot run off the road with the approach of every truck because of the time and energy involved, so one just has to keep checking the mirror. Headwinds (which seemed perpetual) were a problem because they carry away the truck's noise and they can approach silently, giving you no warning that they're descending upon you. Truck tyres are impressively large as they flash by at 100 km/h only half a metre away.

Oct 29th / Day 32 / 2372 km
Into Zacatecas and I'm stunned by the wealth. It's a Colonial city supported by the silver mines that have been operating 400 years. Getting in towards the city centre, the road was turning in a direction in which it shouldn't; time to check the map. A whistle came from behind and I turned to find three cute women, probably uni students, leaning over a 2nd-storey balcony checking me out. My Spanish proved too limited, so I had to go back to the task at hand and soon found my way to the hotel.

Oct 30th / Day 33 / 2474 km
Coming out of Zacatecas the following morning, I stopped at the Pemex petrol station for petrol for cooking, and got involved in the usual explanations with the curious station attendants. It was nice they wouldn't accept payment for the half-litre of fuel, so I thanked them and proceeded onto what became the worst 30 km of road I travelled.

It was single-lane, no shoulder, and the traffic was dense and fast in both directions. After being run off the road repeatedly, sometimes making only 30 m before being among the cactus again, I was somewhat stressed when I reached the town of Luis Moya. Then, cycling slowly through town there came a sudden "Bang!!! Grind! Grind! Grind!" - a broken spoke. Needing a quiet spot for the repair, I wheeled the bike over to the Pemex, unloaded, extricated the tools, and half an hour later had a healthy bike again, ready to go. A chat with the station attendant and he told me of a back road that is little travelled and much more pleasant than persevering with the remaining 50 km to Aguas Calientes on the main road. That was an unexpected bonus; had the spoke not broken where it did I would not have had that conversation and would have continued having a bad time. (I had been getting concerned for my life on that stretch.) I passed through a little town and observed a curious garbage collection system... the householder stacks the garbage at the curb as usual, but when the truck comes around, the three big guys on the back of the truck do nothing but blow a whistle, at which the householder comes out of the house and throws the garbage up into the truck.

Camping opportunities weren't so great that evening, but after a night's rest spent sandwiched between a cornfield and a cluster of bee hives, I felt surprisingly refreshed. I passed through Aguas Calientes and took lunch under an interesting 25-m-high contemporary sculpture of Saturn which just happened to be standing by the roadside. A couple of guys sat down nearby and we talked; turned out they were civil engineers and had built the statue, but unfortunately with the change of government at the recent election, funding for the arts was cut and no more such projects would be built. They were feeling down.

Onwards, and I found myself standing at a fork in the road. Left, the road was busy, shoulderless, and breaking up under the pounding of heavy traffic. Right lay the gleaming new Maxipista with wide, enticing shoulders and little traffic due to the expensive toll. So right I went, and after a couple of hours I came to the toll gate part way along the road. The guy on the toll booth looked distressed and told me that bicycles are not permitted on the Maxipista, and so I was sent off to see a supervisor. She proved to be really sweet. She explained as sternly as she could muster that bicycles are not permitted on the Maxipista, then took me aside, pointed to a barrier beyond the toll gates, and whispered "If you cycle up to there you can cut through back onto the Maxipista. But please keep well right and take good care, and all the best!"

Nov 2nd / Day 36 / 2669 km
A day later I was luxuriating in Guanajuato's vibrant ambiance, visiting Heinz Andernach, Eli Brinks, and Victor Migenes at the Astrophysics Department. I talked at length with Heinz and he shared his experiences from his ride to Uruapan a few months ago. Advice ranged over roads, bike shops, volcanoes, internet cafes, coffee shops, hotels, and bicycle spokes (of which he unfortunately had many break). Nice to benefit from such first-hand experience. He convinced me to go to Uruapan direct and not via Guadalajara as I had intended. Good advice as it turned out; Michoacan was marvellous - tropical, mountainous.

Departing Guanajuato was sad, but a nice side was it turned out to be an easy 75 km; downhill, tailwinds, lightly trafficked roads, sweeping views. On a small hill climb I rode by three guys building a brick fence by the road, one looked up and called to the others "Look at the bicycle!" We exchanged waves, and they called out encouragingly "Go! Go! Go!", and cheered as I made the hilltop.

Only thrice did I feel threatened by people in Mexico, and each incident reveals something of the society. Once was in the plaza in Morelia... I called Luis upon arrival but he was not immediately available, so I waited in the plaza for a couple of hours with the bike. Three American youths with big egos and bad attitudes came and sat opposite. No problem arose, but the feeling was uncomfortable. Another time was late at night in the near-deserted bus stand at Toluca. I baulked at going down to the platform to await my bus to Zihua when I saw I'd be alone and exposed. I chose to wait instead in the ticket lounge, when three young Mexican women walked by me confidently, directly to the platform, without a concern. Obviously I was still carrying some unnecessary baggage from my time in Australia and the US. The last time was when I was camped in a forest, it was late at night. Rifle shots rang out from a couple of km away, some hunters probably after wild pigs. At long odds, a round whistled over my head through the treetops, and I spent the next couple of hours lying wide-eyed, ears straining for their movements. It was a stray shot that I doubt would have happened if they could have known I was there. I met many travellers from Australia, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and USA with wonderful experiences to relate; none mentioned any bad encounters. Heinz shared with me an entertaining piece from R.J. Secor's "Mexico's Volcanos: A climbing guide". In Chapter 2 he has a subsection on "Bandits" which starts: "I have never encountered a bandit in Mexico. But this appears to be the number-one fear of Americans visiting Mexico." (2nd ed. 1994, Publ.: The Mountaineers, Seattle, USA)

The back roads to La Piedad were a good recommendation by Heinz, for which I was often thinking of him gratefully.

Nov 6th / Day 40 / 2960 km
After lunch, on the Carpan-Cheran section of road, a call sang out to me from a roadside restaurant; the owner was waving and smiling and beckoning me over for a coke and a chat. He was interested in working in the US as a carpenter and was networking. He was a nice guy with some initiative, so I left him my address in return.

I had some difficulty finding a campsite that night on approach to the poor little town of Cheran... after rejecting a couple of marginal spots I found a near-ideal grove close on sunset, but the farmer came over and wasn't happy for me to stay there (that was rare). He said I'd be safer taking a hotel in town, though I think he just didn't want me on his land. "Only six km to town," he said, "takes only five minutes." (yeah, if you're driving like a maniac). So onwards and upwards I ground, arriving in the dusk, to find there are no hotels in Cheran. I asked a bystander coming into town... after a thoughtful pause he replied "Nope, no hotels in Cheran." Skeptical that a town the size of Cheran could lack a hotel, I walked through slowly, looking, and indeed did not find one. Time for a second opinion in case the first guy bore some grudge. The second guy replied "Aren't you the cyclist I drove past on the hill-climb out of Carpan at 1 pm this afternoon?!" Yes indeed that would have been me, the chances against which triggered some joking. He agreed there are no hotels in Cheran. The nearest was in Paracho, which would have meant a couple of hours walking the bike on the roadside in the dark to make only ten downhill kilometres; quite a waste of a nice grade. With nothing else to do, I walked out of Cheran towards Paracho and was relieved to find another nice spot away from the road after only ten minutes; I was weary and hungry and dusty after a long day. But against all probability, a policeman was parked at the turnoff and he inevitably wanted to know what was going on. He said it `wasn't safe' (which I don't believe) and suggested I camp at the Pemex petrol station down the road. Stupid idea camping under a streetlamp. Anyway, he was police, so onward I went. The Pemex manager found the request a bit odd but anyway allowed me to stay, provided I didn't light a fire (ugh! no dinner after a long day!). Searching the plot, I found the least unpleasant spot of a bad lot, in the midst of a wasteland of builder's detritus (the petrol station was only recently completed). Altogether, it had shaped up to be about the most uncomfortable night of the trip. While I was setting up camp, the manager ambled over, gave me a quizzical look, and asked why I had chosen not to stay in the hotel in Cheran. Arghhhh! They were closing up the station in twenty minutes, and all four station attendants were driving back into town, so I packed up and hitched a ride with them (five of us and three bikes crammed into their beaten-up VW Combi) and they took me to the hotel. But the hotel was dark and the proprietor explained that they were closed down. Not good. A random guy at a taco stand overheard the predicament and knew that Pedro, across the road, had a room to rent. So two of the guys from the Pemex and I went to check it out. Yes, he had a room (haleluja!), so gratefully I wheeled in the bike. It was the cheapest room I had on the trip, at 25 pesos (= USD 2.50), and probably the most welcome to see despite being the most spartan. A birthday party was in full swing for their eight-year-old, so the three of us suddenly found ourselves with thirty kids running around, and we were taken to be seated at long tables with the parents, and we were immediately plied with steaming bowls of pozole and birthday cake. Wonderful how one's fortunes change. I think they were only half-joking when they said it was an honour to have a scientist travelled from the USA staying with them, in Cheran of all places, and that they should get a signed photo. I slept soundly that night.

Nov 7th / Day 41 / 3045 km
Next morning, the run down to Paracho was fast and lovely, with early-morning mist laying in the valley below, and little volcanic peaks poking through. In Paracho, a marching band and procession happened by while I was stopped on the roadside (such things seem not infrequent in Mexico). They were having a great time, laughing and carrying on, and beckoned for me to join. I knew not what the occasion was, nor where they were going, but joined anyway, and we were all laughing and chatting. It was a church celebration, and I soon found myself with the group at the house of one of the marchers, with the band seated playing, others were hanging up decorations, and we all were being served hot chocolate and sweet bread, and they somehow arranged for me to find myself seated next to a couple of attractive and eligible girls. The hospitality was getting embarrassingly generous, and when lunchtime was approaching and shaping up to be a feast to which I could not reciprocate, I figured it was time to be making distance to Uruapan.

Arriving in Uruapan in the afternoon I got talking with the proprietor (Abel) of the grocery store at which I was restocking my foods - turned out he rides with a group every sunday and he invited me along. Sunday morning we all met at the home of one of the guys, and the bikes were amazing... Gary Fishers, Kleins, graphite rims..., these guys are semi-pro, competing nationally. One of them, Ziranda Madrigal, had been to Australia for the World Cup mountain bike comp last year, and then to Sydney for the Olympics. They rode fast and aggressively over insanely rough stuff. One of the guys (Wilfredo) was a scuba diver and invited me along to a club dive at Zihuatenejo the following weekend, which fortunately I was able to join, and Wily is now a good friend.

While in Uruapan, I spent a day and did the must-do pilgrimage to climb the new volcano, Paricutin. "In the afternoon of 20 Feb 1943, an Indian farmer was plowing his cornfield when the ground began shaking, swelling, and emitting steam, dust, sparks, and hot ash. The farmer, it is said, tried at first to cover the moving earth, but when that proved impossible, it seemed best to keep a distance. A volcano started to rise from the spot. Within about a year it had risen 410 metres above the surrounding land and its lava had engulfed the villages of San Salvador Paracutin and San Juan Parangaricutiro." (Lonely Planet "Mexico" 1995). The local Indians make some money guiding people up the volcano, so I hired an Indian boy as a guide through the labyrinth of forking paths in the forest, and we had lunch at the still-steaming summit. (It's now a month later and I hear via Eli & Heinz that Paricutin has become fairly active again and most likely access is restricted at present.)

Nov 10th / Day 44 / 3096 km
Over the next week I rode from Uruapan to Toluca, taking in many things of interest. First into Patzcuaro, and a boat ride to the incredibly touristy Janitzio Island. I tried the churritos, the local speciality, little fish from the lake fried in batter. One can't taste the fish for the oil, but the nice part-Indian woman who was cooking spent an hour teaching me Spanish. It is hard to find time for study when the day from dawn to dusk is required for cycling and camp details.

From Patzcuaro, I made it into Morelia in one piece, with no more than the usual close shaves with traffic. I was treated to warm hospitality by Luis Rodriguez at the Astrophysics group, and settled in at Stan Kurtz' nice place for the night. Unfortunately I didn't meet Stan, he was at a meeting, but we'll meet in due course somewhere. In all, a most warming welcome.

Nov 14th / Day 48 / 3239 km
The next morning, I visited the tortilleria for fresh tortillas for lunch as usual, headed down to the university to check out the campus, then was off through Mil Cumbres - a spectacular area of peaks and canyons east of Morelia on a back road to Mexico City. Mil Cumbres was, unfortunately, socked in with cloud when I passed through, but what I made out through the fog was pretty impressive. That was a long day - 130 km and two 1000-m hill climbs to get into Loz Azufres. The hot mineral waters were wonderful! Getting to Angangueo the next day involved another 800-m hill climb, so it was a somewhat taxing leg, but rewarding. All the butterflies! Just amazing. The butterflies come down from northern US and Canada in the hundred-million to winter over near Angangueo, and had been arriving for a few weeks already. The tree limbs were bowed down with the weight of them all. It was a long way to fly for ones so small! I felt for them. I found it disturbing to see farmers continue to clear land right up to the border of the small sanctuary.

By 2 pm, I was back on the bike and doing the climb to the 3200-m pass behind Angangueo. During the climb I heard the `chunk... chunk... chunk...' of an axe, and many bends later, the crash of a tree in the forest near the butterfly sanctuary. Sad.

Nov 17th / Day 51 / 3578 km
Into Toluca and the end of the ride. Toluca proved to be another lively place with music in the streets, good coffee, and incredibly nice people. But unfortunately I was out of time to do the Nevado de Toluca ride, because of the dive trip, and since the Morelia-Toluca leg took one more day than expected. If I'd had just one more day I could have done it. The guys in Uruapan knew the 4600-m volcano Nevado de Toluca well because of the annual race to the top. But the day must now be spent reorganising gear, to be out of Toluca tomorrow by bus bound for the touristy little fishing village of Zihuatenejo from where the dive boat operates.

Shipping the bike proved insanely expensive (USD 400 for 35 kg of bike plus gear). Since the bike was worth only USD 235 new, I would have given it away, but for the restriction on individuals importing bicycles (if you bring a bike in, you're supposed to take it out again). As it turned out, customs did not even glance at the paperwork on my way out of Mexico City. A bike box proved difficult to find, so after trying half a dozen places I got a couple of computer boxes and cut and pasted them to size. The hotel staff would have been horrified had they walked into my room to clean in the middle of that process. I shipped with UPS. John Dowling found an ABF agent in Toluca for me, but they worked out about equally expensive, the reason for which I have yet to understand. (ABF is a freight forwarder who ships stuff by sea.) After boxing up the bike I hailed a taxi and we drove with it over to the UPS office. Half an hour in the office and the paperwork was done, and the bike was on its way to Germany.

I walked out of the UPS office into the sunshine on the street and turned sadly to merge back in with the crowds; the end of a priviledged existence I had enjoyed these last two months.

So now I know, they do indeed do things differently in Mexico.

Back to Recreations


Alan Roy
Last modified 6 March 1999.