When culinary dreams come true – Cycling from Michoacán to Mexico City
From Morelia to Mexico City
Lesson learned: Loot out for shelter after the first thunder
Most wonderful miracle: Exquisite delicacies for a couple of pesos
Animals we saw: donkeys, horses, mosquitoes, frogs, goats,
Days on the bike: 3
Kilometers cycled: 227
Average kilometers per day: 75.66
Total kilometers cycled: 28,687
Cycling from Michoacán to Mexico City
Missed the last entry? Here it comes: Green Michoacán – Cycling Central Mexico
Blog auf Deutsch: Wenn kulinarische Träume wahr werden – Von Michoacán nach Mexiko Stadt
Morelia was where we did the smallest presentation ever, there were Maria, her daughter Andrea and their friends Fernán and Marion. No crowd is ever too small, but with this familiar ambience we had all had quite some beer before we even got started. It was fun. We spent one off day in Morelia, walked around town and simply enjoyed a hill-free day.
Our next big aim was Toluca, near Mexico City. Apparently we would have to expect a 1000 meter climb for every 100 kilometers towards Toluca. Will we ever reach a flat area again? It was a really easy start, but soon google maps decided to send us onto a bumpy and muddy path.
A local farmer told us how steep, stony and confusing that path was. He sent us two kilometers further onto the motorway. In general we don’t enjoy freeway cycling too much. There’s no villages, no shops, no people and usually a fence around the landscape. But did we really want to get lost in the hills again?
It was a very long climb, but the gradient was rather consistent and as usual we had a wide shoulder all to ourselves. The smell of pine trees and flowers on the side of the road accompanied us all the way up. There was one strawberry stand on the side of the road, so we had an entire basket of them as a snack. We spent the night in a pretty little town called Maravatío de Ocampo. On the way here there had been so many places we could have visited, if only we had had more time and stronger legs. There were the hot springs “Los Azufres” as well as a “Pueblo Mágico” (magical little town, there’s only 111 of them I the country) Tlalpujahua.
It had become a bit of a ritual to fix one of Roberto’s flat tires every morning. This morning we didn’t come far, because our pump was broken. We had bought it in Southern Canada, this has been the one that had survived the shortest time. Even our pump from Lidl had made it all the way from Germany to Australia. Fortunately Maravatío had a bike shop with pumps.
For breatfast we had Gazpacho, that’s a local specialty made of fruit with chili, lime, salt, cheese and freshly squeezed orange juice. We were waiting for our fruity salad, when a man biked past us on his food-stand-bike. He sold Tamales from Oaxaqueños, that’s corn dough filled with chicken and sauce, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed until firm. Well, now that I was on it I also bought a cup of Atole, that’s a thick, hot and sweet drink on corn basis.
I was so full, but when we reached the outskirts of town I stopped for more. How could you ever say no to Rambutan? We had tried them first in Thailand and eaten them daily in Malaysia, it’s one of my Southeast Asian favorite fruits! I bought only quarter a kilo, since my belly was still too full with the triple breakfast. Today must be the day of yummy treats.
The “State of México” (yes, we sadly had to leave Michoacán behind) welcomed us with the strongest storm so far. We managed to get the rain jackets out of the panniers in time and seconds later the drops pelted down on our legs as if they were icy needles. What a day to be riding in shorts. The next exit wasn’t far, so we biked on to the very first building – a pharmacy – where we waited out the worst part. We continued for few kilometers, then Roberto had another flat tire. Good thing we had a brand new pump!
Another good thing was that the air was gone right next to a corn stand, so I got myself a yummy cup of roasted corn with vegetables, mayonnaise, chili, salt, cheese and lime. As much as I may complain about all those hills we climb every day, it’s a good thing I can eat as often and as much as I want and I don’t gain weight. I don’t think I’d like to know the amount of calories I take in on a normal day like today. To freshen it up it’s a good thing there’s cheap fruit too. Mangos and tunas (prickly pear) cost 25 Pesos for four kilos. Even for me four kilos is a bit much though.
It was getting late and we had to hurry if we wanted to make it to Jocotitlán before sunset or the next thunderstorm. Google promised us a flat ride. Of course that was a lie, but nevertheless we made it just in time.
Warmshowerer Jesús Irán, his brother José and Fernando and their cousin Benjamin from Guadalajara had already been waiting for us. The four of them love cycling and travelling. The three brothers and their mother ran a grocery shop and studied in university at the same time. They had decided to wait until Jesús Irán, the oldest, finished his studies, then they would take turns. Every year one of them would study, one would travel and the third would work extra hard to finance the three of them. That’s brotherly love and trust.
Next morning we went out to the Wednesday market to eat Tlacoyos. As compared to Tacos, Tlacoyos are usually bigger and made of fresh “masa”, corn paste. Ours was blue, because it was made of naturally blue corn. Tlacoyos were one of the region’s specialties.
On the way back we chatted about the village fair that was scheduled in a few weeks. José was looking forward to the beauty contest. Eight beauty queens would be chosen. When asked about the beauty kings, José just laughed. Seems like pretty men don’t get very many contests here. Pretty women make it to all kinds of places. For example dressed in a bikini as an advertising poster in front of the local carwash, auto mechanic or tire shop. Back in Germany I know just that cliché with chainsaw calendars. We all still have a lot to learn about respecting women.
Next day was all sunny and dry and I biked in short sleeves. Most of the time we biked on a minor road parallel to the motorway. It was a surprisingly scenic ride with little traffic. I guess the toll wasn’t all that expensive and most people used the motorway.
In the early afternoon the sky turned dark grey and the wind blew stronger. We heard the thunder coming closer. Now we had learned from yesterday’s experiences, so we fled right into the first building before the rain had even started. It was a small roadside restaurant serving grilled chicken. We ordered half a chicken and were very surprised. The place looked like nothing special from inside and out, but the food was first class gourmet taste. We were served a cast-iron pan with four crispy chicken parts, spicy roasted potatoes and nopales (cactus leaves). There was a big pot with black beans, fresh tortillas and a spicy salsa with sunflower seeds in it. I ate it all and even bought some homemade jelly from a nice lady. Roberto had put away his napkin for some 15 minutes when I was still chewing my last taco. I was unstoppable!
Back on the bike I was more stoppable than ever. I was so full, lazy and tired. The thunderstorm seemed to have gone, so we should better get going fast too if we didn’t want it to catch up with us. It was just as grey and windy as before our break.
Somehow we ended up on another one of those bumpy little paths between two fields. The wind grew stronger and stronger, the thunderstorm should be above us any moment now. We biked in between two fields, there were no trees or buildings near. We were the highest points and the only metal nearby. Not so good. Thunderstorms do get me kind of nervous when there is no place to hide. There was nothing behind us, so we biked like crazy to get forward quickly. I’m still surprised that none of our bags or water bottles fell of the bikes on this fast and very bumpy ride. We crossed a few huge puddles before we finally reached a couple of houses.
But nobody wanted to take us in to wait out the storm. They didn’t trust us one bit. I don’t know if it was because Roberto was a man (they were all women) or because I was a foreigner. Or maybe it had to do with the maximum security prison that was situated only 20 kilometers further south.
The people just didn’t understand our worries, they thought we simply didn’t want to get wet. Thunderstorms were very common here and life just went on as usual.
Of all America, Mexico is the country with most lightning strike victims, also casualties. A quarter of the country’s deadly lightning strikes happened in “Estado de México”, the state we just happened to be in. Second came Michoacán. And most lightning stroke during the early rainy season, between June and August. The odds were not really in our favor.
So we biked back to the next public building, a motorway bridge, and sought shelter in the sand underneath. The electricity lines ran parallel to the motorway and every time we saw a lightning strike the ground, the lines hummed loudly. Needless to say we weren’t too comfortable in our situation. Most lightings stroke north of us. Our way would lead us west for a few hundred meters and then straight south. We decided to take the risk, as long as it took us further from all this.
Soon we reached the country’s biggest high security tract, Mexico’s Alcatraz you could say. It wasn’t quite our choice number one for a little break and a chat, but other than that we didn’t feel in any danger at all cycling past it.
Just like yesterday, we reached our destination just before the big storm hit again. In Toluca we stayed with Seth, a warmshowerer, bike messenger and designer of the Dos Erre bicycle panniers.
Lately the pannier business has gotten very busy, Seth now employed two ladies to help him with the sewing. Now he mostly went out as a bike courier for fun. We had good chats and learned a lot about the pannier business.
Next morning we biked to the bus station, where we cheated for 45 kilometers. It wasn’t even that much the big mountain in between Southwest Mexico City and Toluca, that made us take the bus. It was the fact that the road was said to be very busy and had no shoulder for most parts.
The five kilometers from the bus stop to Roberto’s cousin’s house were some of the most dangerous we had ridden in Mexico. We biked through a dark and narrow tunnel, took a left on a road with no traffic light, and crossed busy intersections on very steep roads. We were so happy when we had finally reached our destination. There were plenty of bike paths in the center of the 20-million people town, but out here there was nothing.
We left the bikes with our cousin and went up North for a family reunion. It was a meeting of all the children of Roberto’s great-grandparents and their families. The eldest of every family group (being the grandparents or their oldest child) presented his or her spouse, siblings, their spouses, children, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, grandnieces and grandnephews etc.
We all got name tags. Good thing on an event with more than 100 people of whom most people only knew a fraction in person. We ate, drank, danced, laughed and late at night we all drank Mezcal from the same glass.
We all woke up with a sour throat. What I hoped to be a bad hangover turned out to be a nasty cold, or as they say in Mexico, a “gripa”, “infectión” or “alergía” against nothing in particular, which are three very different things, but they are often used to describe symptoms of a simple cold. There actually is a word for a simple “cold” (resfriado), but I’ve yet to hear somebody use it. Sounds too harmless I guess. It’s like we all had man-flus.
I am a believer in “a cold takes 14 days without medicine and two weeks with”, but my opinion was politely ignored. Health is extremely important here and we all were compelled by Roberto’s aunt to see the doctor. Roberto and his parents were stuck with antibiotics for a week, I was lucky enough to get away with nothing but some ibuprofen. We spent the following week in between tissues and self-pity. Mexicans are incredibly helpful and kept telling us their secret teas and balms with honey, ginger, garlic, chamomile and essential oils. Nevertheless there was no way we could quit our medicine.
We did a presentation in the city still with snotty noses. But we filled the room and some even had to sit on the ground. This was when we finally met many of the Mexican bike travel legends that we had only been in contact with online.
All that bureaucracy (visa stuff), family visits and getting fit again took us three weeks.
Mexico City, or as the locals call it “La ciudad de México”, short CDMX, is a very old city. It was built back in about 1325 by a group of nomads, called the “Méxica”.
Legend has it that their god Huitzilopochtli told them to settle down where they would find a nopal cactus that grows out of a rock and has an eagle sitting on it that’s eating a snake. Well, that happened to be the case on an island in the middle of lakes and ponds. So the Méxica built their capital “Tenochitlán” on that island.
Until today the image of the eagle is part of the national flag. The swimming gardens worked out just great, but the more their town grew, the more difficult it got to construct buildings. Therefore even today you can see many crooked buildings in the city. There’s still ponds under those streets.
When the conquerors came, they built their churches right on top of the half-buried ancient temples. Today you can see a good part of the ancient “Templo Mayor” in the very city center, right next to the cathedral. The other half of the temple is still buried under the cathedral, but as by now both of them are old buildings, it’s too risky to dig for ruins, because the cathedral might collapse.
Mexico City is situated on some 2,3000 meters altitude in a valley between three mountains. Too much wind is none of the habitants’ problems. On the contrary – the lack of wind is a problem, because there is a lot of smog (20 million people) and it can’t really get out of its valley. Every now and then during rainy season there are clear days, but most of the time I’ve seen grey skies in CDMX.
Mexico City is so big, the streets are always full, no matter the time of day or night. Therefore many people move by bike or subway. The subway system is quick, very easy and cheap, but it is popular and often you’d have to start making your way towards the door at least two stations before your planned exit. 4.7 Million people use the subway on average every day, that’s the entire population of New Zealand in Mexico City’s subway system!
On a Sunday we explored the city by bike. That’s the day when many of the main roads were closed for general traffic and open for pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, wheelchair users, runners and inline skaters. On our special Sunday they even closed a full loop of 55 kilometers! There were even free rental bikes. You only have to wait in line and keep two IDs as a deposit.
Cycling in the center is quite fun on any day of the week, because there are so many bike paths. A bit further out things get trickier.
Much fun as we had, we still missed the nature. Apart, we seemed to only ever get sick in cities, Tijuana, Mexico City and a few months later Berlin. We were ready to get out of the traffic and into the woods. Away from the grey buildings, the smoky buses and the people who seemed to always be in a hurry. It took us quite a while to pack our stuff and say “hasta luego” to everyone, but then we were ready to go.
Just behind the city limits the adventure awaited us. We were headed for the highest mountain pass so far, the Paso de Cortes that led us right through the Izta-Popo National Park, in between two volcanoes, one of them still being active.
So we made our way up to the highest point in five years. More on that adventure in the next blog: The highest point in five years – Cycling the Central Mexican mountains.