For the full photo diary of this part of the tour please click here
I can often be heard to exclaim that a change is as good as a break. Well I must be doubly refreshed as after my long break in Mexico City I’ve had a major change of touring routine in riding with Jens. The man who battled through the USA in winter without forking out a single Dime on accommodation and 100% committed to camping has been living a life of relative luxury this last week. In the six days that Jens and I have been riding together we have camped only once… I have turned into what that guy who camped his way down to La Paz would have called an ‘effing pussy’. Not only that, we have also failed to break the 50 mile mark on any of our days in the saddle. But novice cycle tourists take note; we’ve had a great deal of fun and climbed one or two beautiful hills on the way. The vegetation has turned lush and green, the people markedly friendlier (if that is possible) and we have entered the south of Mexico and another layer in this nations complex DNA.
Jens does things very differently to me and as such I am treating my time with him as a bit of a holiday. I believe pragmatism is the key to enjoyable long distance touring and it is obvious that compromise is the cornerstone of any partnership. Where as I get up early and enjoy the morning ride, Jens doesn’t really start moving until the afternoon and cycles through to dusk. While I generally carry breakfast lunch and dinner and live by my stove, my German companion is partial to restaurants and sampling the local dishes. And where as I thrive on the self sufficiency and the economy of stealthy camping, Jens (in his possible wisdom) certainly isn’t scared to sleep under a roof, shower and shit in a porcelain toilet. This is not to say that Jens doesn’t camp, cook and ride long hard days, because he has and does, just that his mindset is one step over from mine. Whether these differences stem from pride, stubbornness, practicality or my partners advancing years (he has a 15 year head-start on me) is unimportant, the fact is that they are there and I am benefiting from them.
Team ‘Velo’ didn’t depart Tehuacan, the scene of my last post, until 4pm, the latest time I’ve started cycling by a fair distance. It was Jens’ year anniversary and he decided to celebrate his year on the road by losing a very nice pair of glasses. After spending the morning retracing our steps detectives Reuter and Haley concluded that he must have left them at the restaurant the evening before. Unfortunately they were not there but hope still shone from a far off corner in the form of our waiter from that meal, maybe he’d seen them or picked them up. I would have given up hope but Jens was determined, so we waited until this chap returned to duty at 15:00, passing the time by eating and getting interviewed for local television. Sure enough our friendly waiter had the glasses and a huge smile returned to my fretting friends face. A refreshing reaffirmation of the goodness in humanity and another pat on the back of Tehuacan, a small town where the people forwarded exceptional hospitality; a Police escort to a hotel, offers of accommodation and even an old man who suggested Jens take a pair of his own glasses. A far cry from the beheadings and drug cartel activity that shapes many peoples views Mexico.
Our route took us on quiet roads down a stunning valley that we would eventually have to climb over 5,000 feet out of. After some grey and wet days the clouds decided to disperse and we were left stranded in a lush and alive land under blue skies and a blazing sun. The days have been relaxed and happy, an idyll marred only slightly by the hundred or so insect bites that appeared after our night camped just after Dominguito at the base of the climb over to Oaxaca city. The country has changed massively from that which ushered me into Mexico City and the excitement of new lands and Central America has started to bubble up.
Three days out from Oaxaca city Shermy started talking; first a tiny little squeak that I initially mistook for birds and then a louder rhythmic high pitch grind. I checked everything, at first to no avail and the issue became really frustrating and a little worrisome. After much fretting I eventually tracked it down to my rear wheel, the one that got rebuilt in Mexico City. It turned out that the bloody thing was falling apart! A couple of the spokes had worked so loose there was no tension in them at all. I knew the wheel was badly made but this was ridiculous. On closer inspection I could see that the spokes had not been crossed uniformly and correctly, they had been laced wrong and ran into the incorrect rim holes for the rotation of the wheel… basically that wheel was an absolute disgrace. I got it built by BCL Imports in Mexico City. Take note. I reached Oaxaca no problem by tightening all the spokes but it was clear I would have to rebuild the wheel again myself.
I have never built a bicycle wheel, but am fortunate that Jens was a bike mechanic in a former life and has experience with putting wheels together. It is also to my advantage that I carry the manual to my Rohloff hub, a little booklet that instructs on the correct lacing pattern for the wheel. So it was with fearless confidence that I disassembled the embarrassment that it was and set about creating the masterpiece it now is. My part of the job was the easy one; I cleaned everything off and then reassembled the wheel, lacing the spokes as instructed by my manual. Once I’d got the wheel together and semi-tensioned the spokes it was time for Jens to step in. We were lucky that a bike mechanic in town, Pedro Martinez, offered up use of his workshop and rudimentary truing stand for no charge. I watched on as Jens centered, tensioned and trued my new wheel. He did a great job and I reckon I’ve got a wheel to rival two of its three previous incarnations. Thank you Jens. I am also filled with confidence as I know the wheel is built to Rohloffs recommendations, I know because I built it myself.
We are currently in a hostel in Oaxaca preparing to set off towards Chiapas and San Cristobal De Las Casas. Staying in hotels and hostels as a pair has been a massive advantage. At present we have a private room to ourselves instead of having to share with 10 others in a dorm. I couldn’t afford this luxury on my own and am much happier to know that our bikes are locked up in our own space. In previous hotels we’ve been getting a single room for the both of us at a cost of just 130 Pesos (that’s about US$6 each). The deal is that Jens does the talking and I sleep on the floor and its working just fine. It makes sense for us to stay in these cheap hotels at the moment and I shall be interested to see whether I continue to pursue this course when solo again.
After three days in Oaxaca we continue on our way towards Chiapas tomorrow. Oaxaca is a nice enough city; great colonial architecture, nice restaurants, a vibrant feel, a general atmosphere of security and stunning valley location. Many people rave about this place and I can easily understand why. However, for me it is just another Mexican colonial city. My juices get flowing when I’m out cycling in the hills, passing through rustic little villages and unremarkable towns. No doubt I am excited by destinations but some destinations are their own worst enemy; so beautiful they become attractions and soon overrun with tourists… this is Oaxaca. There are some unmissable sites here though, in particular Monte Alban, the largest prehistoric city in the region of Oaxaca. One of Mesoamerica’s most important early cities this huge hill top archaeological site was occupied by humans from 500 B.C. to 850 A.D..Fresh from watching the end of the Tour de France, Jens and I sped up the climb to the site on super light unloaded bikes and spent hours marveling at the scale and grandeur of the place. Every view into the surrounding valleys is awesome and the city itself built around a 300m by 100m Main Plaza is of astounding scale and majesty. With plenty more ancient sites to come in the next few months I am truly salivating. Got a bit of riding to do first though.