The highest point in five years – Cycling the Central Mexican mountains

Paso de Cortes en bici

All the fog disappeared and we had a beautiful ride back down

The highest point in five years – Cycling the Central Mexican mountains
: Mexico
From Mexico City to Córdoba
Lesson learned: Master google believes a river could be a road
Most wonderful miracle: Volcano vistas with blue skies
Animals we saw: donkeys, horses, goats, dogs, sheep, cows, pigs, chicken, butterflies, snakes, geckos
Days on the bike: 6
Kilometers cycled: 360
Average kilometers per day: 60
Total kilometers cycled: 29.047

Cycling the Central Mexican mountains

Missed the last entry? Here it comes: When culinary dreams come true – Cycling from Michoacán to Mexico City
Blog auf Deutsch: Der höchste Punkt der Reise – Zentralmexikanische Bergwelt

Time flew in Mexico City. We spent much time with other Mexican cyclists and met a lot of bike travelers. I still can’t understand they didn’t sell 28 inch Schwalbe Marathon tires here. The bike travel market was a big new thing and it was constantly growing.

Cycling on our own lane

Cycling on our own lane

Crossing the city by bike was surprisingly easy. Nevertheless on day one we barely made it from the Southwestern suburbs to the southeastern suburbs. It was another 15 kilometers until we finally left the big city behind us. Today we were accompanied by one of our new friends, Kodiak.

Kodiak the Mexican bike tour guide

Cycling (and stopping) with our fiend Kodiak

A few years ago he had turned his passion into his profession and ever since organizes bicycle tours in Mexico. The first 20 kilometers after Xochimilco were pretty much uphill. Not so easy after more than three weeks without cycling. But we took our time and followed the professional’s advice to stop at a shop for a quick beer break.

Breakfast in Xochimilco

As a local from Xochimilco, Kodiak knew where to get the best breakfast.

It was a good day. Kodiak left us just before we reached the pass, he had biked that same tour up and down in the morning before meeting us, for him this was just a quick warm up. From here on we spent the rest of the day in between villages, fields and forests.

The volcano route!

The volcano route!

We found a nice and clean and very cheap 180 Peso room in Amecameca. The little town was situated just below the volcanoes Iztaccíhuatl (inactive) and Pococatépetl (active). And this is Mexico, so yes of course there is a tragic legend about these two.

Kodiak from Mexico City

See you again some day, Kodiak!

Princess Iztaccíhuatl and warrior Popocatépetl fall in love with each other. Iztaccíhuatl’s father permitted a wedding under one condition: Popocatépetl would have to fight in the war in Oaxaca. He agrees and leaves for the war. A rival, who was also in love with Iztaccíhuatl returned early from war and told her that her fiancé had not survived.

Iztaccihuatl and Popocatépetl seen from Amecameca

On the left there’s Iztaccíhuatl and on the right there’s Popocatépetl

Iztaccíhuatl then slowly died of a broken heart. When Popocatépetl returned (very much alive), he sees his dead love, takes her body and lays her down on top of a mountain. Until today he spends day and night next to her, boiling of anger and sadness.

Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl

The painting was nicer than the actual view. Happy we did the climb up the hill anyways.

Isn’t that a story? On a clear day you can even see the two snowy peaks all the way from Mexico City. Unfortunately all we saw were clouds. So we had to get closer. Our way to go was the “Paso de Cortés”, a partly paved road that led to the pass in between the two volcanoes.

On the Volcano route

On the Volcano route

It was a bit of a rough day of cycling. All we did was 25 kilometers, but all of them were uphill. Everything around us was green, cold and foggy. There were pine trees and colorful flowers all over and very little traffic.

Tourist information in Amecameca

Little touristic information stall in Amecameca. Got great help there!

The steep slopes were covered in a long yellow to green grass that hung down in skeins as if it was the hair of my friends from high school who were quite a lot into punk rock.

cycling up the Paso de Cortes

It was a bit of a foggy day

At 3200 meters of altitude the ride got a bit more difficult for us. The air was thin up here. So far the highest point that we had reached by bike had been 3175 meters back in Kyrgyzstan.

Entering the National Park Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl

Entering the National Park Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl

Little walk in the Parque Nacional Izta-Popo

Roberto and I went out for a little walk next morning

It was 2012 when we made it on top of the Alabel Pass with cotton shirts, shoes with holes and no gloves (story here). But we have learned from our mistakes. Today we were dressed more adequately for the climate.

Puma territory at the Paso de Cortes, Mexico

We better take care not to surprise a puma.

I was quite exhausted and needed a stop every couple of minutes. We had five kilometers to go when I was about to get off the bike and push, but Roberto had the perfect idea: music!

Empty roads on the Paso de Cortes

At least there wasn’t much traffic

Pretty flowers

Pretty flowers

There was space for 15 songs in our phone, so I had picked only sing-along-good-mood songs. There was so much loud and imperfect singing, poor Roberto couldn’t even hear the original songs anymore. But it helped and I finished the ride without another break.

View onto the volcanoes

Valuable moment with no fog at all, only some clouds

Eventually we reached the pass with its information center, maps, hiking routes, camping possibilities and climbing information. They even sold snickers, tea and coffee!

The information Center at the Paso de Cortes (Pass of Cortes, Mexico)

The information Center at the Paso de Cortes

Up on 3690 meters it was getting cold early, so we pitched the tent. It took me a while and when I was done filling the mats with air I was really exhausted. We ate our dinner standing in the cold drizzle and went to sleep very early.

Roberto cooks dinner outside in the cold


The night was cold, below zero. Good thing we kept our water bottles inside the tent for the night. During the night we both heard a deep growl, like a thunder. My first thought was an avalanche, Roberto imagined a jet fighter. As we found out in the morning, we must have heard the lava inside the Popocatépetl.

Paso de Cortes at 3692 meters above the sea

We’re pretty proud of ourselves!

We got up early and walked over to the visitor center for breakfast. It was a three-minute walk but I needed another three minutes sitting down to recover from the exhausting hike. I’m simply not used to such heights.

Cloudy view

That was about as good as it got

We spent the morning with a few short hikes, but mostly waiting for the clouds to disappear, so we could at least see one of the two peaks there right in front of our eyes. It was noon when we finally gave it up.

Little walk through the National Park

Little walk through the National Park

It was a bit of a bumpy ride but fairly easy with our bikes. The fauna was too pretty and we simply enjoyed sitting in our saddles and rolling in between trees, flowers, potholes and rocks.

Tijuanense on the Paso de Cortes

Tijuanense on the Paso de Cortes

Eventually we reached the first little village. In its center it had the prettiest little church. This building would have been a major attraction anywhere else, but here it the state of Puebla it was only one out of many.

Red mountain flowers

Quite a colorful landscape up here

Cycling el Paso de Cortes

The way back down

We crossed Cholula and got into Puebla City, where we went straight to Beto’s and Mariana’s place. We had met Beto back in 2013 in Malaysia, where we biked north towards Thailand.

Paso de Cortes

Little lake

Shortly after he returned home, finally met Mariana in person (they had been in contact online for quite a while), and fell in love. Now they are happily married and spent their honeymoon cycling in Cuba.

Paso de Cortes en bici

All the fog disappeared and we had a beautiful ride back down

Green mossy plants

So much to discover

Next morning the skies were blue, not a cloud to be seen. We had a perfect view to both the “Popo” and the “Itza”. Was that the sun making up for its unexcused absence during the last days?

Paso de Cortes by bike

Roberto on the way back down

Clear view to the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl from Puebla

My birthday present

It was my 30th birthday and I simply took the view up to the snowy peaks as a pretty cool birthday present. Nevertheless I would have preferred clear skies back when we were up there, real close to the peaks. Mariana invited us to her parents’ place where I even got cake, a tequila and “Las mañanitas”, a Mexican birthday song.

Annika's 30th birthday

Birthday surprise! Gracias Mariana!

Mariana's family

Mariana’s family even sang me a happy birthday!

For a few days we left the bikes and took a ride down to Oaxaca, where we visited Juan and Alicia. See our logo? It was them who created it. It was great to see them again, but of course time flew much too fast.

Annika and Roberto in Puebla

Before …

Annika and Roberto in Puebla

… during …

Annika and Roberto in Puebla

… and after!

Leaving Puebla was pretty exhausting. It was rather flat, but there was one suburb after the other. Eventually we took a left turn and then ended up on minor country roads.

El Paso de Cortes

Some more pictures from the Paso de Cortes

The wind blew right into our faces, but at least the traffic had disappeared. It was just before sunset when we saw a 100 Pesos Hotel (about the price we used to pay in Laotian and Cambodian guesthouses). Nice!

There's many churches in Puebla

This pretty church is just one out of many many churches in the state of Puebla

We had been showed around the entire place and were about to bring our bags, when we were told that “by the way” the 100 pesos is for one hour only. If we planned on staying the entire night we would have to pay 400 pesos.

Mexico offers a lot of very different eco systems

Mexico offers a lot of very different eco systems

380 was the highest discount she could offer. In the end we were offered a smaller room with no TV for 250. It was getting dark and we had been excited by the thought of a bed, we were just too tired to mount the bikes and get back on the road. Anyways, the lady said there was no other guesthouse anywhere closer than 30 kilometers.

Big church in the city center of Puebla

Big church in the city center of Puebla

When we realized how we had been tricked, it was already too late. There was no window, no toilet paper, no soap, no toilet seat and no towels. The water was turned off and it took a long time until somebody cared enough to grab a tool and turn it on.

Filthy sink

Decided to spare you the toilet picture. But this was our sink, that we didn’t use.

The walls around the bed were greasy and the toilet was filled with a brownish water with a light film on it. It reminded me a bit of cappuccino favored pudding. The tap was so filthy, we decided to rather brush our teeth with our own water.

Cycling Mariachi

Cycling Mariachi in Cholula

Since the room was not too inviting, we went back downstairs for a beer. And again we were charged more than the usual. When I went back down, a kissing couple blocked the door. I don’t think they’ll pay more than 100 pesos.

cycling Puebla

Met another cyclist in Cholula. Emanuel showed us the shortest and most scenic way to Beto’s and Mariana’s place

We spent the night inside our sleeping bag liners, with sweaters around the motel pillows, trying not to touch anything at all. Next morning we got up early to find the owner. We still owed her 30 Pesos and asked if she had some change now. “Sure, just a moment!”, the lady disappeared, stayed away for a while and then walked past us ignoring us for about 20 minutes.

Donkey cart in rural Puebla

Donkey cart in rural Puebla

It took a while till we understood, that she still didn’t have any change and was waiting for the first customer to come in or that we would simply let her keep the bigger bill. So we went through every single pocket and somehow managed to scrape together her 30 pesos, so we could finally leave this place. I really wish that yesterday we hadn’t been too embarrassed to leave the place and camp.

Cycling Puebla

We took a scenic shorttrack over the last two passes

At the end of the village we saw the other guesthouse. A peach salesman had told us about it before. The not-so-lovely owner had promised hers was the only motel in 30 kilometers, though. After more than three months of travel in Mexico it was our first (and would be the only) bad experience in a motel in Mexico and it was also the only time we were charged more than the usual.

Mexican typical landscape

All we heard were the bees and the wind

The headwind blew just as strong as before and we had to pedal hard. To both sides of our little countryside road there were people working their fields. It was mostly cabbage and corn. The workers had brought donkeys to help them carry their sacks, oxen to help them plow and their kids to help collect what’s on the ground. For a moment we were transported right back into Uzbekistan. To our left the clouds opened for a moment and we could see the Pico de Orizaba, Mexico’s highest peak at 5636 meters.

Google maps sends us along some switchbacks

What could possibly go wrong?

Despite our bumpy adventures, we decided to give the google maps bike route another try. The route would be far shorter and would have much less climbs than the motorway in the North or the highway further south. And what could go wrong?

It was a quite long and bumpy but very scenic ride that led us to an empty river bed. We continued into the dry river and I kept on checking the route. Yes, this was exactly where google expected us to go.

Following Master Google's advice and pushed the bikes through an empty river bed

Following Master Google’s advice and pushed the bikes through an empty river bed

It was a lot of sweating, swearing and pushing and twice we considered turning around. Some parts were even hard to push for all the big rocks. So we parked the bikes and Roberto went scouting the way. It was only 9 kilometers to go until we would reach a paved road.

Very confusing road

The paved road would be a bit confusing for us

Roberto had also reached the end of the river bed, it was only one more kilometer. My arms were so tired from pushing the bike, that I couldn’t take it any longer. Regardless of any consequences I simply hopped on and biked in the lowest gear. I rolled up the boulders and enjoyed the 1.75 tires. It was pure luck that my aluminum frame survived this ride.

Bumpy ride through Puebla

We had had our first smartphone for less than a year and were already wondering how we ever managed to find our way without one

The landscape was stunning though, there were huge agaves, nopales (prickly pears) and a whole lot of colorful flowers all over. We were accompanied by butterflies and humming bees. Corn and cabbage made space for coffee.

The way down was a lot of switchbacks, then we reached a village. School had just ended for the day and we met a lot of kids on their way back home. Having grown up in a village myself, I said hello to everyone. That clearly confused the kids. Then again, I guess that there’s hardly any strangers at all in their village, even less on bikes and with a weird accent.

Kissing bicycles

Our bikes hugged while we had a look for the route

It was one last steep climb back up the hill, then we reached the countryside road. Apparently we had left Puebla and reached the state of Veracruz just behind the village. The road led us further and further down. Parts of it were so steep, that the traffic that went downhill, had to go on the inner part of every curve, even if that meant that in left curves they would have to drive on the left lane.

What's that?Changing to the wrong side of the road in order to avoid accidents? Sounds about right.

What’s that?Changing to the wrong side of the road in order to avoid accidents? Sounds about right.

There were a couple of very confusing arrows painted on the road. I am unsure as of how this extremely confusing system could really help to avoid accidents, but we followed it nevertheless, and fortunately so did everybody else. The way down to Orizaba was mostly flat and easy. Down here on just above 1000 meters, it was much warmer and also more humid. We even saw a waterfall and biked past several rivers.

The ride down into Veracruz

It was quite steep though

In Orizaba we met Aaron, a local cyclist on his way home. As a local he saw it as his responsibility to show us around a little, before we continued. So we got a guided compact tour on bikes, rolled alongside the river, though the historic center, passed some narrow lanes and eventually ended up at a freshwater spring that had tuned into a free public outdoor pool. We would have never found any of these.

Aaron showed us around Orizaba

Aaron showed us around Orizaba

Aaron guided us all the way to the motorway. It was only 18 kilometers to go to Córdoba and Aaron promised that the secondary road would have been much longer and hillier. So we sped up. With no potholes, parking cars, crossroads, traffic lights or cars in our lane we reached Córdoba in no time. This was where we met Priss. She was the sister of Alan, an active warmshowers host, who was out of town and connected us with her.

They installed a free public zoo, to male the zone around the river of Orizaba more popular

They installed a free public zoo, to make the zone around the river more popular

We came into one last big rain, before we reached Priss’ home. There was a bed all for ourselves and we were really in need of some rest. Once more we promised ourselves never to ride with so much time pressure again. But we decided to make the best out of it and enjoy the ride despite our hurries. From here it was going to be some more downhill riding. We were not too far from the sea, but this time it would be the Gulf of Mexico!
Next blog: Cycling Southern Mexico – Tabasco and Campeche by bike

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